Sunday, 30 September 2012

Plucking Parsley

Today's weather has turned out better than I anticipated. A bit breezy but still very pleasant in the autumn sunshine, most especially in sheltered spots in the garden. With tomorrow beckoning in the month of October it will not be too long before ground frosts become a regular feature of the weather forecasts. We have already had one night with a light frost which burnt the outer leaves of the courgette plants.

Parsley is a reasonably hardy herb although most of  the foliage does die back by late autumn. In the spring you will get some new growth before the plants run to seed. This spring growth will have very short stems. The best of the parsley is ready now and so as to ensure sufficient supplies for winter use, including the making of Christmas stuffing, I have filled three bags for freezing.  As to continued fresh supplies I have placed  a cloche over the parsley plants. This will help to keep the ground temperature up and should mean continued sporadic cropping until the worst of the winter weather hits.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Carrot Tops Cropped

Carrot Resistafly -27th September 2012.

Not a reference to individuals with auburn coloured hair but rather to the humble carrot - (Daucus Carota).

I was rather late in sowing my carrot seed this year and it is only in the last few weeks that I have been able to pull any carrots. This tardiness on my part has however worked to my advantage as I seem to have avoided the worst of the ravages of the pernicious carrot fly. I cannot claim to have  to have a totally clean crop but at least not every carrot has been tunnelled into by the carrot fly larvae.

The gardening books recommend sowing resistant varieties and erecting low barriers. This may all help but I find that it is a very rare year that the little beggars don't manage to infiltrate my defences.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Garlic Farm Delivery

Just as I was coming indoors this evening a delivery van pulled up with my garlic seed delivery. I had  sent in my Autumn planting order to the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight at the beginning of September. I have been using the Garlic Farm for my purchase of garlic seed for the past four years and I must say that the quality of the seed which I have received has been extremely good.

The four varieties which I selected are all soft neck, Provence Wight; Tuscany Wight; Iberian Wight and Albigensian Wight. There are four bulbs of each and I should get eight cloves from each bulb. Lucky that I like garlic!

I will now have to prepare a patch of ground to receive the garlics - probably some of the ground which has latterly been occupied by potatoes. The cloves are planted about two inches below the surface of the ground and some six inches apart. There is no great hurry in completing the planting, but I will probably attend to it over the weekend.

Northern Ireland To Let

Lisney have reported that almost one in five commercial properties in Northern Ireland is vacant. This is almost twice the average across the entirety of the United Kingdom. The general economic malaise is clearly a major contributing factor, but maybe, just maybe it is not the sole factor.

Every time a new out of town shopping centre is opened or expanded the media tell us that this or that supermarket or store is creating "x" new jobs. Usually one of our councillors or members of the Assembly jumps up to add his or her congratulations. 

New jobs these may be, but are they additional jobs? What happens when a new Tesco or Sainsbury opens? Do we all start eating more food? Despite the obesity problem I would suggest that the answer is no. For these stores to be successful they have to take business from existing smaller and for the most part locally owned shops. These shops won't close overnight. The owners will try to keep going. They will hope that their customers will remain loyal, but a lot of  these customers will be lured by the slick advertising of the multi nationals and the acres of free parking. Takings will reduce, employees will be, "let go," bank support will be withdrawn and these small local businesses will eventually close. The net result is probably a decline in employment and the profits of Mr Tesco and Mr Sainsbury will not be spent in other businesses in the locality.

Out of town shopping facilities may be convenient but they suck business away from our town centres and from the local economy. This may be, just may be a contributing factor to the increase in commercial property, "To Let," signs.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Weekend in the Veg Patch

It really is a pity that our weather is so changeable. Saturday and Sunday provided perfect gardening weather whilst today was just soggy. I manged to avail of the weekend's dry conditions to do a bit of a tidy up in the vegetable plot. The threat of ground frost caused me to pull the balance of the broad beans. They did not produce a huge crop but this final cull provided two bomb bags full of pods. The beans have now been extracted from their pods and consigned to the freezer. The runner beans are still producing well and I picked just over three pounds of them. I think that I will reduce their numbers next year although they do look quite nice clambering up their bamboo wigwams.

Parsnips are really a winter vegetable but I decided to pull a brace to see how they were progressing. I do not think that they will turn out to be quite as large as in previous years but none the less the sample pulling was very usable and thankfully there is no evidence of rust. They were roasted along with some beetroot before being consumed by yours truly.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Grass Session

I have to concede that I am somewhat tired after this morning's training session. It did not feel that bad at the time, but the energy levels are rather low this evening. Perhaps one or two snifters are required followed by an early sojourn to the pit. This might not be what Mr Bolt would recommend but it sounds good to me.

It was still quite cool when we started the morning's exercise, but it soon heated up - a combination of the September sun and our own efforts. We started off with almost twenty minutes warm up on road and path. Probably about two and a half miles. After that most of the group changed into spikes for the session although I decided to wear racers. The grass wasn't too soft and I prefer the more malleable sole of the racing shoe. We had four, five minute efforts with two and a half minutes jog between. The efforts were ran at just under six minute pace. One of our number who hasn't been training much recently went off very fast in the first rep. I think his mind was reminiscing about when he was younger, fitter and much lighter. His body reminded him of the actuality before the end of this first rep but he kept going with dogged determination through the balance of the session.

With the long reps completed we then ran six one minute reps with one minute jog between. These were executed at the same tempo as the previous reps and around the same gently undulating course. That completed a twelve minute warm down followed before we all departed homeward for hot showers and sustenance.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Track Tales

After Saturday's beach run I was happy to be running on firmer strata on Sunday. We ran about two miles by way of warm up before  doing a reverse pyramid of one minute efforts with reducing jog recoveries  starting with ninety seconds and decreasing in fifteen second increments. There were two fifteen second recoveries in the middle of the session. So twelve minutes of pace running.  After five minutes jog we then ran six strides before jogging a mile back to the gym where we did two circuits of six one minute exercises, three leg and three chest and arm.

Monday's travail consisted of an hour long recovery run at a very moderate pace so that the old legs were fresh for Tuesday's track session where we started off with the usual warm up before launching in to hurdle drills. Probably not the exercises of choice for those with weak lower stomach muscles! That over we ran eight accelerations before the main course of the evening's training. This consisted of  15 x 200m. We started each rep 20m into the home straight and finished 20m into the back straight. Three of us worked together taking it in turns to lead out the reps. These were run in 36/37s. We had 45s between each rep to jog across the infield to get back to the starting line. It doesn't sound too arduous but it wasn't easy. That completed we managed a short cool down prior to departing in search of sustenance.

Just as I was leaving a brown envelope was thrust into my sweaty palm.  I soon discovered that the contents consisted of folding legal tender.  Oh joy of joys! Apparently I had won my age category in a 3k race which I had run a few months back. I have decided that this windfall is not going to change me. This brings my prize money haul for the year to the momentous figure of £30. Clearly I will have to engage the services of  an agent very soon.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Chutney Days

September gluts continue in the garden. I had pulled some ten pounds of tomatoes last Wednesday. A couple of pounds had been donated to the aged parents and a few were used up in sandwiches and salads. A batch of soup, some consumed and some frozen, used up about four pounds. By today the balance was becoming a trifle over ripe so it had to be processed somehow. A paucity of room in the freezer pointed against further pottage and as an unsullied Bloody Mary did not really appeal I determined to convert the balance into chutney with the assistance of a few additional ingredients.

This chutney lark seems to be really a matter of deciding upon a principal ingredient and then bunging in some vinegar, sugar and whatever else you can think of. If you want to fry the old taste buds then clearly copious quantities of mustard powder or the like is called for. If not then more fruit seems to be the ticket.

I cannot abide the use of metric mesurement. This blog will forever remain a corner of a forgotten web that will remain a devotee to imperial measurement. No kilos here. The relation of the ingredients to my culinary masterpiece is set out below.

After an initial boil up on the ancient aga, (other stoves and cookers are available,) the concoction was left to simmer for approximately an hour before being allowed to cool and then decanted into jars for sealing. Should go well with the cold meats on Boxing Day methinks. Together with a side order of a nice malt.

Suggested Possible Ingredients

four pounds tomatoes - chopped
two  pounds of peeled and decored cooking apples - chopped
half a pound of onions - chopped
three quarters of a pound of sugar
half a pound of mixed raisins and sultanas
two red peppers - chopped
four teaspoons ground ginger
one tablespoon ground ginger
one pint ( and extra swig) cider vinegar

Monday, 17 September 2012

Leeks Getting Larger

Musselburgh Leek - 17th September 2012
The shanks of the leeks are now swelling well. They are probably about an inch in diameter. I could start using them but there is more than enough other produce in the garden which is ready and has to be cropped. It may well be November before I start pulling them and by then they should have thickened up considerably. 

The variety which I have grown is , "Musselburgh." I have found it to be very resilient to even  heavy frosts. The seed was sown indoors in late March and when the seedlings were about four inches high I transplanted them into trays where they were grown on, initially indoors and then outdoors, until the shanks of the plants were about the thickness of a pencil. I then tidied the roots of the young plants and trimmed the leaves back. You do not need to worry about keeping any soil around the roots. They were then dropped into narrow holes which I had prepared with an old poker in firm soil. Only the tips of the leaves protruded above the level of the soil. I planted the leeks in rows about twelve inches apart with a plant spacing of eight inches.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Portrush Parkrun - The Verdict

Portrush East Strand - 15th September 2012
As threatened I did indeed go along to the Portrush Parkrun this morning. Despite my qualms of yesterday the wind was not an issue.

I was surprised at the amount of activity there was at East Strand at ten to nine on a Saturday morning in September. Apart from the expected dog walkers, and some surfers, there was a large group of men playing what was clearly more than an impromptu kickabout. In addition a volleyball net was being erected and six horses were being galloped along the beach. - more of the horses later.

At the inaugural Parkrun the Portrush organisers had managed to get ninety eight people to the line. A high percentage of these were from Springwell AC which is unsurprising, most particularly since their website states that it is they who are, "bringing Parkrun to Portrush." The initial enthusiasm seems to have been particularly short lived however. Numbers today totalled only forty three. Maybe this is only a one week blip. I would hope so for the sake of the volunteer organisers.

The start point for the run was on the prom just outside Troggs Surf School. At half past nine the whistle sounded and the intrepid forty three headed along the prom for approximately two hundred yards before running on to the beach. A stretch of very soft sand followed before you got to the relatively hard sand next the water's edge. There you had to manoeuvre your way through the mini craters created by the hooves of the aforesaid horses. Thankfully there was no equine detritus to contend with and the horses had not continued along the entire strand. The tide had turned perhaps an hour before the run and none of the running could be described as firm. To continue the analogy, perhaps mainly soft to firm and very soft in places would be the best description. The sand certainly dragged at your legs. The turning point was at the White Rocks. With the numbers so low and the standard of the participants so varied the timekeeper had no difficulties at the finish line.

Prom at Portrush East Strand 15th September 2012
Will I be back? Only on a very infrequent basis if at all. Did I enjoy the course? I can't say that I did. It may be a picturesque setting for a training run but it is not a course where you are going to come anywhere close to a pb. As a general rule club runners are, I believe, going to avoid this and most other Parkruns.

Seaward to the Skerries 15th September 2012

Friday, 14 September 2012

Portrush Parkrun

Last Saturday was the first running of the Portrush Parkrun. Parkrun organise free weekly 5k runs at various venues throughout the UK and indeed the world. In the case of Portrush the name is a bit of a misnomer as the run is held on the East Strand ,so hardly a park! These runs do not purport to be high class races. The aim is to promote running as a way of exercising. A total of ninety eight individuals turned up last Saturday with the fastest time being 18.38 and the, "rouge lantern," stopping the clock at over 58 mins. As well as getting an accurate time the participants also get an age graded result so the oldies can compare their times with those of the young bucks.

I think that I might paddle along to the East Strand tomorrow and check the run out. I might even decide to participate if the tide is out and the going firm. Lack of shelter could be a major problem as it  is an out and in course. That could well be the factor determining whether I pull on the racing shoes.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Chilli Day

Chillis - 13th September 2012
Whilst there has not been exactly oodles of sun since my post of 29th July there has been sufficient to ripen quite a few of the chillis which I have  been growing in the greenhouse. Accordingly I grabbed my trusty swiss penknife from the kitchen drawer this morning (gadget to take stones out of horses hooves included) and wended my way to the chillis residence.

Whilst it was rather cool outside, the balmy warmness of the greenhouse, even at nine o'clock, was reassuringly pleasant. I pulled a total of thirty chillis, some of them smaller than others, but with a total weight of ten ounces. It is unfortunate that retailers insist on using metric weights, but carrying out the necessary calculation this works out at £12.80 worth. I will dry some of these but the bulk will be frozen.

Messines Park Flower Show

Yesterday was a sort through and chuck out day. Among the items which I came upon were several prize cards from Messines Park British Legion Annual Flower Show going back to September 1970 The prefix, "Royal," was not added until 1971 at the time of the Legion's golden anniversary.

During my teenage years and younger I entered vegetables and sometimes potplants in most of the horticultural shows in the north west. One of the shows in the circuit was that at Messines Park. The entry fee per exhibit was six pence and the prizes were five shillings for first prize; three shillings for second and two shillings for third. A fortune for a schoolboy!

I think that 1970 must have been the last show at Messines, I certainly don't have any prize cards or show schedules postdating that year. The housing at Messines Park was  erected to provide affordable housing for ex servicemen after the first world war and even in the 1960's and early 1970's many of the houses were still occupied by ex servicemen and their families. The gardens were quite large and that probably prompted the establishment of the show.

I don't remember very much about the hall save that it was long and quite narrow and of a wooden construction. It was below the level of the road and you went down several stone steps to get to it. It was destroyed in the early years of the, "Troubles," and was never rebuilt.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Training Update

Last Friday was our rest day, so no run,  but Saturday morning saw me up bright and breezy ,- well up anyway- ready for the days travail. No quick accelerations or sprinting required of which I was glad as I was still wary of my left leg causing me problems. Just a steady seventy minute run on a reasonably flat out and in route. The first mile was quite slow, but after that the miles were clocked off at a fairly constant 7.15 pace. Sunday's training was rather more tiring. After a ten minute warm up we launched into a thirty five minute run punctuated by a pyramid of six exercises with twenty reps of each exercise (total 720 reps). The running was at 7minute pace. There was then a slow fifteen minute recovery run back to the gym where we finished off with some, "plank," and two sets of one hundred and fifty press ups. I have to concede that one hundred and fifty press ups in one go is something which is presently beyond my capability, so I ended up doing a set of one hundred and one of fifty each time. My arms were definitely, "burning."

Monday's training was done on my lonesome and in the rain. I choose a reasonably flat area not far from home for my hours run. After a fifteen minute warm up I then ran four, five minute efforts at my 5K pace, (so somewhat under six minute mileing), slowing up to about eight minute mileing between the efforts and for the last ten minutes. This was the first time for many months that I had gone home with rain sodden kit.

Yesterday (Tuesday) saw me at a group, track based session. After a total of fifty lunges, a six lap warm up and a series of accelerations we then ran 10 x 400m with 100 m walk/jog between. These were all done in just under eighty seconds, which for me equates, roughly, to 3000m pace. Probably a trifle too quick for this time of year, but it felt comfortable. We finished off with a ten minute jog.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Lest We Forget

Aristocrats Go to War by Jerry Murland   - Pen & Sword Books Ltd

For today's school children the First World War, or the Great War as I prefer to call it, is very definitely the stuff of history books. But for people of my generation it is the war of our grandfathers and granduncles and therefore not quite history, but rather something talked about in hesitant, staccato bursts by those members of the family who had survived its gore.

Whilst the system of  purchasing  commissions in the army had disappeared in 1871 the officer corp of the 1914 British Expeditionary Force was still an educationally and socially exclusive club with a high representation from the aristocracy and landed gentry. Jerry Murland states in the introduction to his book that its focus will be the lives of the eighteen men who are commemorated in a small church cemetery at Zillebeke. This cemetery is often referred to as the, "Aristocrats Cemetery," in guide books.

Although his name does not appear in the Zillebeke cemetery register Murland states that it is highly likely that  the body of Captain  the Hon Arthur Edward Bruce O'Neill is buried there. He was the Unionist MP for Mid-Antrim and was the first  MP to be killed in the first world war. One of his children was Terence O'Neill who would become Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in the old Stormont in 1963.

Having read the introduction I was hopeful that this would be a book that would give me an insight into the lives and deaths of the soldiers who are commemorated in this small cemetery. Men such as Lieut. William Reginald Wyndham; Lieut. Carleton Wyndham Tufnell and Major Bernard Charles Gordon Lennox.We are given some personal details about these men, but we are also given many pages of what I found to be rather boring details of troop movements. If Jerry Murland had concentrated on the lives of, "the eighteen," and foregone his rather dry and ponderous descriptions of military engagements then I for one would have found this a much more enjoyable read.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Double Double Toil and Trouble

The Cauldron
Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble. No poisoned entrails or fillet of a fenny snake in this pot however. Instead the major ingredient was cucumber.

There was really no option but to process the new cucurbit glut by making more chutney. I was making manful inroads into my personal European, cucumber mountain with daily sandwiches and the use of pickling jars. Yesterday however provided two specimens each weighing in at three pounds and eight ounces and I had to admit defeat. I was not going to be able to munch my way through this brace before their junior brethren required cropping. Accordingly the trusty deep saucepan long since liberated from my mother's kitchen was brought up from the cellar in anticipation of today's boil up.

The two goliaths of the cucumber world, along with a lesser example, were drawn, quartered and cubed and then left salted for twenty four hours. Today the resulting liquid was drained off and the cucumber cubes rinsed under cold water before being toppled into the saucepan where they were joined by the rest of the carefully selected ingredients prior to suffering the indignity of being brought to the boil and then having to manage the ignominy of ninety minutes of simmering. That completed the resulting chutney was spooned into hot, sterilised jars which were then sealed.

The Secret Ingredients

8lbs cucumbers - cubed
12 oz sugar
4 small chillis - chopped
4 oz raisins
2 large onions - chopped
1oz dried mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1.5 oz tumeric
2 oz salt
4 pints vinegar

Friday, 7 September 2012

Thursday's Training Diary

I started off my training yesterday with forty five minutes steady rowing on the concept rower. Nothing too spectacular. Not a rowing session, just gentle conditioning. The average 500 m time was 2min 40.

The group training of the day was arranged for five o'clock. We started with four sets of ten lunges; front; front side; rear side and rear. That over we went for a thirty minute warm up run around a park at 7.30 pace. It was surprisingly warm and I think everyone was wearing more kit than was really comfortable. Still there was no doubt that we were well warmed up for the six hill reps which we then did. Speed wasn't the main idea behind these efforts. It was more a matter of running tall with a quick leg action. With the reps completed we reverted indoors for a quick circuit session, sixteen exercises for thirty seconds with thirty seconds between each exercise. This element of our training was concentrating on core stability. We are likely to adopt this format for our Thursday sessions until at least Halloween, although the workload will increase as we work on our stamina base.

Onions But Not Spanish

"Ailsa Craig " - 7th September 2012
I forked up the onions a fortnight ago. The foliage has died down pretty well and in view of the rain which is now in the offing I decided to lift them this morning. .The varieties which I have grown this year are Ailsa Craig and Red Baron. The latter does not produce bulbs which are quite as large as those of Ailsa Craig. Red Baron is more of a salad onion and the flesh is quite sweet. I grew both onions by way of sets. Lazy I know. I usually try to grow some by seed.

I will complete the drying off process in the greenhouse. The bulbs are now safely ensconced there. When the stalks are totally desiccated  and before the first frosts I  will then move the onions into the cellar and store them in an apple storage unit which I have. These should last me through until Easter

"Red Baron." - 7th September 2012

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

At Track

This leg injury of mine is taking longer to clear up than I anticipated. It is improving, but very gradually. I decided to risk the group track session yesterday. By the time of the warm down I was glad that I hadn't removed my leg support, but thankfully the  leg seems to have stood up to the rigours of some modest pace running.

There were only six of us out yesterday. The two elite chaps trained by themselves so that left the four "also rans," to train together, myself, a plastic vet (m35), a v40 and a u23 woman. After a fifteen minute warm up and six 100m strides we started into the session. This consisted of five efforts, starting at 200m and going up to 1000m by way of 200m increments. We had a 200m jog recovery between each. The idea was to start off the session at 800m pace and end up at 3000m pace. We started  with  a 35 second 200m which was a smidgen too slow, even for me, but we then got the pace on target ending up with a 2.40 800m and a 3.18 1000m.

Time for today's run methinks.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Summer Flowers

Crocosmia - 31st August 2012

They may be one of the easiest flowers to grow but that doesn't mean that crocosmia should be shunned. This genus of flowers from the iris family has a very striking florescence. They grow from underground corms and these corms scan be split up to provide innumerable additional plants. Their self propagation properties are perhaps the greatest downside of this plant as it can begin to take over a border if given the chance. Some judicious light staking is perhaps advisable to prevent the flowers being blown over in the wind. They will grow to some forty inches in height. I have both orange and red flowering varieties in the garden but I much prefer the red coloured plants, one of which is shown above. I am not totally sure which variety it is but I suspect that it is, "Lucifer."

Memories of Brooke Park

Brooke Park Looking towards St Eugene's Cathedral
30th August 2012
 I took a walk around Brooke Park in Londonderry last week. It is over forty years since I last did this. The biggest change was the absence of the imposing Gwyn's Institution and the canons looking down over the park waiting to strafe any child who dared step onto the lawns. The park wardens with their navy coats and peaked caps blowing their whistles had also disappeared.

I seem to remember that the Head Warden was a Mr Curran and that he used to carry a thorn stick. There was also a part time warden by the name of McGovern. I believe that he worked during the summer months to let others off on holiday. My recollections of him are that he wore thick bottle stop glasses and an ill fitting trench coat and that he wrote poems which he sent in to the local newspapers. There was a tractor driver called Willie Keys who would have cut the rougher grass above "Gwyn's." His tractor was kept in a large garage workshop at the rear of the building. The foreman for the park workers was by the name of McClintock and he and his family lived in the gate lodge at the bottom of the park. The gate lodge is still there, but it is clearly many years since anyone lived in it. The names of two gardeners also come to mind. Billy(?) Dickson and Billy McCahon. I do know that the latter is still alive. By the time he retired from Derry City Council he had chalked up over fifty years working in the city's parks and nurseries.

Grassed over Lily Pond, Brooke Park
30th August 2012

It was disappointing to see that the lily pond had been filled in and grassed over. I expect that that came about due to health and safety considerations, although other local authorities have managed to retain water features in their municipal parks.

At the time of my last sojourn in the park the Corporation's Education Department was housed on the first floor of Gwyn's and the public library was on the left side of the ground floor. The head librarian was a William Harvey. In latter years one of his sons (also William Harvey) ran a wholesale book business in Carlisle Road. On the ground floor, on the extreme right of the building, was the exhibition hall. I think that this must have been created , or at least revamped, in or about 1965. I remember accompanying my father to it to view various art and other exhibitions including a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Brooke Park Gate Lodge , 30th August 2012
Change is I know inevitable and the carefully manicured Brooke Park of my youth has been consigned to memories. That said the place is still very recognisable and I was surprised at the tidiness of the flower beds and the fact that they appear to be free from the ravages of wanton vandalism. Maybe there still is a park warden after all!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Jellied Beetroot - Eugh!

Beetroot - "Bolthardy." 1st September 2012
September is now upon us. This is probably the most productive month in the vegetable garden and it is certainly the time of year when the processing and preserving of crops comes to the fore. I have been pulling beetroot for the past five to six weeks, but although I am quite partial to fresh roasted beetroot the balance of the crop now needs to be pulled before the beet become too large and woody. As usual the variety that I have grown is the ever trusty "Bolthardy."

I intend to store about half the beet in a dark outhouse in wooden boxes and covered in sand. Those should keep until at least the new year. The balance will be boiled, sliced and pickled. I remember that my mother used to cube and jelly her beetroot and this was always brought out for the light salad supper on Christmas day. I never liked it. It wasn't the beetroot that was the problem it was the jelly and the cloves. I have vivid childhood recollections of dissecting pieces of beetroot from the jelly and pushing the purple coloured gelatinous goo to the side of my plate. Even now I shudder at the thought.