Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Tomato Planting - at last.

Finding something to do in the garden at this time of year is not a problem. It is more a question of what to do first. I determined that today would be the day that I would plant out my tomato plants in the greenhouse border. According to my diary it is now eight weeks since I sowed the seed and just over four weeks since I pricked out the seedlings from the seed tray and potted them on. What an exciting life I lead!

With rings having seemingly disappeared from garden centres and horticultural suppliers I have been forced to improvise so that I can continue growing my tomatoes in the same manner I was shown in the ,"60's." I now use large plastic pots and those bucket containers that fat balls come in with the bottoms cut out. These are sunk in the border and I half fill them with garden compost from the compost heaps. They are then topped up with purchased compost from the garden centre. I find that this is a sufficiently rich medium for the young plants until they set their first truss and I start on the nitrogen feed.

I planted a total of twenty four tomato plants, - three rows of eight. After giving them a good watering I then erected my bamboo scaffolding. It may look a bit , "Heath Robinson," but it provides the necessary support for the tomato vines. I like to put this in place immediately after I plant the tomatoes so that their disruption is kept to a minimum.
Last Years Tomatoes

Monday, 27 May 2013

Mount Stewart in the Sun

Yesterday afternoon my personal charabanc conveyed me to Mount Stewart on the Ards peninsula. The reason for my visitation was to view the display of rhododendrons. These are not the two foot examples found at the local garden centre. These are truly specimen plants. Many of them are thirty feet in height, with a similar width. Lady Edith Londonderry who laid out the gardens which we now see, in the 1920's and 1930's ,certainly thought on a grandiose scale. Mind you she wasn't starting with a blank canvas.


The sunny afternoon had attracted perhaps upwards of a couple of thousand people to the gardens. A good many of these did not venture further than the lawns behind the house. The younger members of this assemblage sprawled on the grass. The older and more organised individuals had arrived with their collapseable chairs and bottles of chilled wine. The dear old National Trust, unbeknownst to myself, had organised a jazz band to entertain the populace. Had I had the perspicacity to arrive with a supply of vinous liquid I might well have been tempted to join this throng and doze contentedly in the sun rather than perambulate around the gardens. A lesson learnt!



Saturday, 25 May 2013

A Day in the Vegetable Patch

I checked BBC Weather this morning. It informed me that in this corner of the realm today would be sunny, dry and warmish, but that as the weekend progressed that the weather would deteriorate with Bank Holiday Monday predicted to be windy and very wet. So far the forecast has been accurate.


With today's weather being conducive to gardening tasks I took the opportunity to spend several hours in the vegetable patch. My runner bean plants, (St George), which had been sown on 28th April were very definitely ready for planting out. I constructed three bamboo wigwams and planted two bean plants at the bottom of each cane. So thirty pants in toto. The bamboo canes are perhaps a trifle light, but they were free! Two years back the winter frosts had killed a largish clump of bamboo. I was one plant less, but the upside was that I had become the owner of some two hundred bamboo canes. I might add a few more canes to give greater rigidity.


The courgette plants and the squash plants were also ready for a life outdoors so I have planted them adjacent to the runner beans. I have never been very successful in growing squash. Hopefully this year will provide a bumper crop!

Main Crop Potatoes


The rest of the day was spent moulding up the main crop potatoes and weeding the onions and the autumn planted garlic. It won't be too long before the garlic is ready for use.

Autumn planted garlic


An everyday story of gardening folk. Hey ho.


Radio 1 Threat to GCSE and A Level Results?

Londonderry's year as UK City of Culture has resulted in Radio 1's Big Weekend bringing traffic chaos, cost and what now passes for music to the Maiden City. No doubt hordes of gyrating, hip young things will be walking in a very decorous manner towards the venue for this cultural gem, clutching their flasks of tea and lunch boxes filled with egg and onion sandwiches. After every act they will be showing their approval with polite clapping and at the end of each night they will be driven home by their doting parents so that they can have their hot chocolate before drifting off to sleep lamenting the absence of such musical luminaries as AlunaGeorge and Angel Haze.


It seems strange that no one has recognised the danger that this extravaganza poses to the academic achievements of the youth of the North West. Have the City Fathers closed their eyes to the threat of Radio 1? The weekend before the little darlings commence their exams they are being tempted to forgo dreary revision with the prospect of eardrum perforating pleasure. One could even imagine, with the benefit of a few calming snifters, that Mr Gove has teamed up with Radio 1 in a diabolical scheme to lower the grades of Northern Ireland's students. Well perhaps not.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Broad Bean Day

At long last the soil is warming up. At long last the weather is beginning to favour the vegetable gardener. Yesterday's main task was to get my first sowing of broad beans in. Space permitting I would like to make a second sowing by the middle of June. Maybe a trifle late, but hopefully we will have a long hot autumn.


A beech hedge surrounds the vegetable patch. A few of last year's desiccated leaves are still hanging on to the branches, stubbornly ignoring the nascent Mexican wave of fresh leaf growth that is gradually unfurling around them. A blackbird, half hidden by the branches of the hedge and seemingly oblivious to my presence kept up a constant song to its hidden or hoped for mate. Above me three pairs of swallows dived across the sky in staccato bursts, occasionally resting on a nearby telephone wire. But, hey ho, the gardening must proceed. Labor omnia vincit and all that jazz.


I find that Broad bean plants need more support than the seed packets tend to suggest. The bed in which I have sown the beans, (Kelvedon Wonder), is about eighteen feet wide. I have three posts along the course of the planting with five or so cross members at various heights. The cross members have holes drilled in them at either side and this allows me to thread through the supporting nylon cord/garden twine. (Builders' line can provides a cheaper alternative). I have sown a double row of bean seeds. The rows are about ten inches apart and the beans in each row are approximately four inches apart.



Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Old Cars Approaching End of Road

Apparently Britain has only 291 Austin Allegros which are either on the road, or are the subject of a statutory off-road notification. So says the Daily Telegraph. This news is hardly surprising.


I for one don't have a yearning to ensure the survival of the automobiles of my youth. I remember their unreliability. I remember my father trying to crank life into a recalcitrant Hillman Minx with a starting handle. The Hillman Avenger which succeeded it wasn't much better and its predecessor an Austin Minor in standard green was infinitely worse. It was cramped and in winter it was very cold and in summer it was stiflingly hot. The heater was a rug and air conditioning meant rolling down a window. If I wanted in car entertainment I took a book along with me. Seat belts ? What were they? No I do not have a hankering for the cars of yore.


Austin Allegro RIP.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

Eurovision 2013 - Nil Points!

It is that time of year again, the time to suffer the musical non event of the year. It is time to grab your discipline and lash your eardrums with the cacophony of noise which is known as the Eurovision Song Contest.


Why is it allowed to survive? It is not as if it is a nursery for modern music, its writers and performers. Does it have any musical relevance? I would postulate that the answer is a resounding no. Despite its irrelevancy it sees to have become one of those must do, must see events in the British social calendar, joining the likes of the Boat Race; the Last Night of the Proms; The FA Cup Final; Henley; Wimbledon and The Grand National. Hardly in the same league as any of these iconic events!


The answer to my question may be because this "show" is so cringingly bad. People know what to expect and want to reassure themselves that the standard has not improved since the previous year. Few, if any, Countries appear to take the completion very seriously. Certainly the dear old UK seems to have decided not to try too hard. For the second year in a row they selected a bus pass toting singer to represent us. Not surprisingly Bonnie Tyler did not win.


The winner? Denmark crossed the line first. By this time next month few people will be able to remember the answer to this pub quiz question.

Honesty I Do

Lunaria Annua
Well yes I do know that it is one of the easiest plants to grow, but I do grow it. I suppose, on reflection, it is not so much a matter of me growing it, but rather of me allowing it to grow. From year three onwards this self seeding biennial will start to crop up all over the garden. Shady locations, sunny locations, acidic soils, alkaline soils, the catholic tastes of this flower mean that it will do well in nearly all gardens. For those who are keen on flower arranging the silvery translucent and paper thin seed pods can provide a slightly ghostly addition to their artistic endeavours.

I took this photograph early this morning before the rain started its late spring deluge. There will not be any outside gardening today. Methinks I will head to the drier and warmer climes of the greenhouse.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Bluebells Nearly Over

The bluebells in the garden are beginning to wane, but they are still providing a vibrant sea of blue and violet fluorescence under the gnarled branches of the copper beech tree.

I would rather have had English Bluebells in the garden instead of the Spanish variety which I inherited. The gentle droop of the native variety gives a softness to the woodland scene which the taller and more erect Spanish interloper fails to provide. That said there is probably a greater variation of colour with Hyacinthoides Hispanica.

Once the flowers have died down I think that I will dig up some of the bulbs and plant them in the embryonic orchard. I think that bluebells would look quite good there, once they and the fruit trees become established.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Uniform Penny Post

It was on 10th January 1840 that Roland Hill's efforts finally resulted in a uniform penny postal system throughout the United Kingdom. Prior to that there had however been various local penny post systems, most notably in London and Edinburgh. For a very short period prior to 10th January 1840 there had been a universal four penny post.


The Penny Post was undoubtedly a boon to businesses and private individuals alike. No longer were people within the realm having to pay postage charges based not just on weight, but also on delivery distance. Colby's Survey sets out the postal rates which Parliament had determined during the reign of George IV.(Postage Act 1827).

Distances in Irish Miles. Rates of Postage

0. - 7. 2d

7. - 15. 3d

15 - 25. 4d

25 - 35. 5d

35 - 45. 6d

45 - 55. 7d

55 - 65. 8d

65 - 95. 9d

95 - 120. 10d

120 - 150. 11d

150 - 200. 1s

200 - 250. 1s 1d

250. - 300. 1s 2d

(Every additional 100 miles a further sum of 1d).


It is reported that in 1832 the mail took nineteen hours for mail to travel from Dublin to Londonderry.


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Earth to Earth

Last weekend saw me at another funeral. When I was younger there was a rash of weddings. I am now entering the era of funerals, interspersed with the nuptials of friends' progeny and occasionally someone's second jump at the matrimonial fence.


Friends' parents are now falling off life's conveyor belt with an alarming rapidity. It is becoming a rather sombre and depressing feature of the social calendar. Omagh was the most recent locus for Charon to ply his trade.


I don't know what to think about funerals. For many grieving individuals the ritual and the presence of large numbers of friends, relatives and neighbours does I know bring strength and solace. For others the thought of showing one's grief in the presence of others merely adds to the trauma and is something to be eschewed. What is certain is that Cerberus is snapping at all our heels.


A Watery Grave

The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot. - Oxford World's Classics

George Eliot's (aka Mary Ann Evans), at times sylvan story of Maggie & Tom Tulliver was the selection for May's meeting of the Classics Reading Group. The waters of the Ripple and Floss feature large in the lives of both brother and sister. An idyllic childhood is spent at Dorlcote Mill, before the tribulations of adolescence and the poverty and sibling separation that follows their father's ill judged court case concerning riparian rights and his ultimate death. Eventually it is the same Floss that reunites brother and sister, but only in death.


As with Dickens' , David Copperfield there is much of the autobiography in Evans's novel. Like Maggie she grew up in the country. Like Maggie she adored her brother and like Maggie she would become estranged from her brother. Evans's elopement with George Henry Lewes is mirrored in Maggie's aborted elopement with Stephen Guest. Both authoress and character suffer social obloquy as a consequence of their, "racey," actions. Maggie ultimately retrieves the relationship with her brother unlike her creator.



Sunday, 12 May 2013

Tulips Displayed

My training holiday to Portugal meant that I was unable to attend the annual tulip festival at Glenarm Castle last weekend. Despite the shelter provided by the Estate's walled garden the late spring meant that the floral display was not as fulsome as in previous years. A week later the situation is very similar in my own garden, with two or three varieties of tulips displaying nothing but a tight green flower head. That said some of the autumnal plantings of bulbs are in full flower, providing the year's first palette of vibrant colours. I might well purchase further tulip bulbs from Bloms in the hope that I can add to my modest displays.





Friday, 10 May 2013

Monte Gordo 2013 - Day 5

Tuesday was to prove to be the toughest session of the week. The venue for our efforts was the athletics stadium at St Antonio. Track sessions at this time of year tend to be hard. You can't fool yourself when you train or race on a track. The distances are accurate. A 400m rep is exactly that. This is when you have to accept the objective truth as to your speed and fitness, - good or bad. There were ten of us for the session. We had been joined by two runners from Dublin, a v 55 and a v 60. Too many to run the reps all together we split up into three groupings. The two fastest, a v35 and a v45 were to run together. I was in the second group being joined by a v40 and a senior, ie an under 35. The third grouping comprised my fellow v55, two v60s and the two female athletes.


The first effort was a 600m. This was followed by a 400m, a 300m and a 200m. We had six minutes between each rep. My v40 compadre took the pace in the first rep. I ran close to his right shoulder for the first 500m and then eased past him to get a 99s clocking, (82.77 age graded). The subsequent reps were concluded in 61s, (51.31 AG), 45s, (37.61 AG) and 31s, (25.74 AG). With each run my lactic levels increased. Not a pleasant feeling, but a tolerance to lactic acid is what the middle distance runner aims to achieve.


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Monte Gordo 2013 - Day 4

Monday's athletic agony saw us run a pyramid of efforts on grass. This was the warmest day since we arrived, with temperatures in the late seventies. The efforts took us around a lap that extended to just over two furlongs. We ran nineteen efforts in toto. The shortest might have been about sixty metres and the longest was, rather unsurprisingly, a complete lap. Our sodden running vests were in dire need of removal and replacement by the end of the session. We completed our morning's efforts with various core exercises.


The afternoon saw us in St Antonio drinking coffee in the shade of a small cobbled square. Several sparrows hopped and chirped between the chairs and tables hoping for crumbs that didn't appear. We hoped for the cool of evening and the restorative affects of the sea breeze during our now standard beach run.




Monday, 6 May 2013

Monte Gordo 2013 - Day 3

I woke up yesterday morning to another sunny day. Tough I know. People in Portugal, certainly the natives, tend not to comment on the weather. I suppose there is not much point when there is an almost inevitability to day after day of bright sunlight and warm temperatures. The charms of frosts and drizzling rain tend to pale in comparison.


The group headed out for the morning's session just after ten o'clock. We ran for an hour around the tracks and trails between Monte Gordo and St. Antonio. It wasn't a fast run, but the breeze coming off the sea was none the less very welcome. Even at that time of the morning temperatures had risen to 73.5 degrees farenheit. A leisurely lunch preceded a few hours rest away from the heat of the day before a thirty minute beach run concluded the days training.


The eating establishment which was favoured by our custom for the evening fuelling session was most definitely a step or two up the culinary tree from the emporium which we had attended on nights one and two. Neither restaurant could however be said to offer, "fine dining." Indeed the first eatery would not I think have the pretensions to call itself a restaurant. That said we are of course not on a gourmet's holiday, more that of a gourmand bearing in mind our daily requirement for calories.


Monte Gordo 2013 - Day 2

Saturday's athletic efforts were of a more serious nature than those of the previous day. In the morning we drove to the athletics track in St. Antonio. Whilst the area has miles of trail runs it is this track which is the real draw for club and international runners. It was the venue for the British Track and Field Team's pre-Olympic preparation.


Within the grounds occupied by the track there is a large fenced grass area. We warmed up around this area and then performed our various drills. That completed we headed for the arena. All eight of us were to run the same session although we split up into three groupings based on speed for the first element. Five by four hundred metres with ninety second jog recovery was the first course. My group ran these in an average of 75s. We took it in turns to take these out. Five minutes of recovery prefaced the second element of the session, 8 x 200m with 200m recovery between. We all ran this together although there was probably a three second disparity between those at the front and the rear. I really enjoyed this part of the session. The warm weather and lack of breeze makes track running so much easier. Four of us headed these efforts, running tight together on each other's shoulders. We ran each 200m in 31s and it felt easy. One of those days when you can almost believe, almost but not quite, that you are young again.


Post our ever so healthy lunch it was rest time before the day's second session tranche of training. This was a thirty minute recovery run along the beach.


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Peas Sown

This weeks milder weather has enabled me to sow my pea seeds. The variety of choice this year is a main crop pea by the name of Hurst Greenshaft. I have grown this particular pea before and found it to be a good cropper. For the moment I have sown two eighteen foot double rows, but I might sow a further row in two or three weeks time, space permitting. As they freeze so well a glut of peas is something to welcome.


Although not the tallest growing pea nonetheless this variety does need support and my modus operandi is to have my chicken wire fence support in place from the outset, with the peas being sown on either side in shallow drills and with a spacing of about three inches between peas. The rows are about thirty inches apart.


Thankfully I don't have any problems with mice, but the growing numbers of rabbits have forced me to fence in the vegetable areas to prevent my crops becoming rabbit fodder. I lost most of my initial sowings of pea and beans last year to their rapacious incisors. It seems as if myxomatosis is no longer keeping a check on rabbit numbers.


Monte Gordo 2013. - Day 1.

The training group's annual pilgrimage to Monte Gordo commenced in earnest yesterday. In the morning we drove south from Faro to our apartment base for the week. They may not be the most modern examples of the species, but they are reasonably comfortable and quite capacious with a balcony extending around two sides. The living rooms in both of the apartments which we have taken look out over the promenade towards the sea.


There are eight of us in this year's group. A fairly varied ensemble, certainly age wise, ranging from sixty to eighteen. The individual standards of the group are however not quite as disparate as the age range might suggest. Our first day's training was a fairly modest affair. We did about fifteen minutes of core work before completing a forty five minute run which took us through pinewoods to the athletics track and then back to base along the beach. Most of the group then disported themselves in the Atlantic with self being a notable exception. Well being unable to swim or float and having a natural antipathy towards non potable aqueous substances does mean that such activities do not attract me.


The evening repast was consumed at a rather primitive establishment which had been discovered by our coach and group leader during one of his solo expeditions to the Algarve. The hostess of this culinary gem regaled us with stories of her apparent friendship with Christiaan Barnard. The main attraction of this eating establishment is probably its proximity to our apartments.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Donegal Athletic Championships Day One

Why would you organise an athletics meeting, have a timetable and then disregard it? It doesn't seem a very sensible course of action. Where is the logic? What is the rationale? All of these questions could be asked of those who were in charge of the Donegal Athletics Championships held in Letterkenny on Tuesday evening. The timetable announced that the first event would take place at 6.30pm. It was 7.15 pm before the starter's pistol recoiled for the first time.


It was then decided that the order of events should be altered. It was announced that the 3000m would be run before the 800m. No satisfactory explanation could be given for this volte face.


I don't know what occurred in the mind of the lap counter during the 3000m race, but he made that most elementary of mistakes and rang the bell with two laps to go. One athlete was prompted to start his final effort by this sound and was so spent and disillusioned when he was met by the bell for the second time that he dropped out.


I was very tempted to leave without competing in the 800m, but was persuaded to stay by one of my training partners. The first lap was somewhat quicker than I wanted and I expect this had a detrimental affect on my final time. Still an opening time of 2.18.52 (1.55 age adjusted), for my first 800m of the season was just about acceptable.