Wednesday, 29 March 2017

How to care for your lawn:

There is story that goes around Oxford about some visiter from the USA who looked at the wonderful lawns in St Johns College here in Oxford and asked the grounds man how he got his lawns so fine.

The reply was: Well, cut it and roll for about 500 hundred years and they turn out looking like this.

Well, how do you get a great looking lawn?
There are four steps and they start right now.

Mow the lawn: Make sure that you set the blades high for the first few cuts, slowly lowing the blades gradually through March and April.

Scarify and Rake: Lawns can look tired this time of the year, so rejuvenate with a thorough raking, using a lawn rake. Doing so will help get rid of dead plant matter and moss. If you lawn has a lot of moss it is a good idea to treat it with some organic mosskiller and then rake out the moss when it has died. 

Weed and Feed: This is a very important step and best done at this time of the year. Spread lawn feed by hand unless you have a big lawn in which case  use a wheeled applicator.Spend some time removing dandelions.

Seed bare patches:You might have some worn ares on your lawn, well do not worry. Loosen the soil surface and sprinkling on grass seed and then spread some compost post on it. 

What I am doing on my plot:

Still repairing my raised beds. After six years they need a bit of maintenance.

Looking after the seedlings.

Planting more potatoes.

Cutting my grass.

What I am thinking about when digging:

A wall-eyed pike is put in a aquarium. He is fed for days with little minnows. Then in the middle of the experiment, a glass partition is placed down the middle of the aquarium so that the pike is now confined to one side.

Then the researches drop the minnows, on the other side of the glass. Straight away the pike goes for the minnows, but he hits himself against the glass. He circles and hits again. He tries for a third time, but now he is hitting the glass a little less hard..

After a few more times, he just sort of nosing up against the glass. He is feeling that he is not going to get those minnows. Petty soon, he just swims around in circles and ignores the minnows on the other side of the glass.

At this point those doing the experiment take out the glass. The minnows come right up against the gills of the pike and he does not even try to eat them.

Th experiment ends when the pike starves to death. He is sure that he is not going to get those minnows, so there is no point in wasting this time or hurting his nose. again.

To my mind that is the human story, people spiritually starving in the midst of plenty. We would rather have wars and droughts then learn how to eat.  

Sunday, 26 March 2017

This sign was seen on the London Underground this week; I think it sums things up nicely.

This sign was seen on the London Underground this week; I think it sums things up nicely.

The following was seen on the London Underground this week; I think it sums things up nicely.

Service Notice:


TIME: 14 45

All Terrorists are politely reminded This is LONDON and what ever you do to us:

We will drink tea and jolly well carry on.

Friday, 24 March 2017

March is the time to dig at the allotment

March is the time to dig at the allotment.

A days work on your plot will pay dividends  later. If you weed and prepare your site now, you will get much better results for the rest of the year.

Start by  going over the soil little by litter, going down to about two spades depth and make sure you take out any weed roots that you come across. Dandelions and docks are the ones to watch out for.

Then rake the soil over to give it a fine tilth and you are all ready to go. Little weeds will come up after a few days and it is the easiest thing in the world to hoe them down.

I am always amazed how few people turn up in march to do do this. The allotment site that I am on in Oxford has 250 plots and over the last few weekends I have only seen about twenty people working on their plots.

As to what you grow...Grow what you are likely to eat.

What I am doing on my plot  

I am putting supports in on plants that may need it later.

Dead heading my daffodils

Helping my neighbor repair their shed that got some gale damage

Hoeing round my spring cabbage.

Repotted my mints; which are not doing very well at the moment.
Digging out nettles which seem to double in size overnight.

What I am thinking about while working:

What is my core and how can I heal it...if indeed it needs healing. To what do I belong?
I am part of every problem.

Monday, 20 March 2017


We are half way through March and your garden has endured long dark winter days, frost,rain and maybe snow as well. and then suddenly nature decides to time for a change and it is spring.

So you will see your plot, after lying semi-dormant and glum through the winter, wake up and ‘spring‘ into action.

Its like being a young child waiting for your birthday counting the days until the frost has disappeared.....However caution is advisable. As I write this snow, has return to New York and a cold snap has returned.

Get your sowing wrong and you will lose your plants to a late frost. Get it right and your plants  will crop earlier, extending the growing season.

Be in touch with your garden and learn how to listen to nature. Your instinct will dictate when the time has come to plant.

For myself, I watch the grass and the hedge rows...When I see growth there; I go for it because I know that  Nature has got going, the birds nest, the soil warms, sap rises and life springs forth all around you .

21st of March is an important milestone because it is the equinox which means ‘equal night‘ a time when day and night are of equal length. It is a significant turing point
in nature.Get your willies on and get out there.       
  You will find that being outside puts life’s niggles into proportion...even if you are grumpy, you will find it hard to remain so under the blue sky.

What I am doing on my plot:
Cutting my grass because it has started to grow.

Making my first move on weeds that are coming up. I notice that nettles seem to double in size  overnight this time of year. So I spent half an hour digging them up.
I once made some nettle was awful, so I will not try that again.

I have a small glasshouse full of seedlings which need looking after.

Pulled  my first rhubarb this was lovely. I reckon that rhubarb and my soft fruit pay for my plot. My wife Jean and I have a bowl every morning for breakfast and if you reckon that is worth 50 pence bowl, that is one pound a day which is well over 300 pounds year. My two plots cost 84 pounds rent year. ( they are 11 pole plots ) So I am quids in really.   

And as always tiding up and watching. 

I have also resigned from the allotment committee this week. I have done my five years, it is time for somebody else to have a go.

What I am thinking about when digging:

Another famine in and why have we come to this again. It just makes me so anger and sad. I spent much of my life in Africa and understand a little of what goes on.

We in the West have so much. If you just think of water on tap any time of the day or night...Am I thankful or just take it for granted? 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How to clean your pollytunnel

Over the years and winter months, your polytunnel will have been subjected to a great deal of damp weather. This will have left deposits of algae and other dirt on the tunnel, which will cut the light that gets through.

It needs to be washed. This is quite easy to if you have access to a hose pipe with water pressure. However, if you are on a allotment like I am then you will have to find other ways of doing the job.

I use soapy warm water and a very soft broom. I simple stand on a pair of steps and wash the tunnel gently. I try to do this when there is a light rain, which I find helps to wash of the dirt as I loosen it with the broom.

The soap that I use is Aloe Vera MPD

MPD is multiple detergent for cleaning.  It is just a one multi-purpose product  that I use for the laundry, dishes, floor, bathroom,garden pots, car, garden tools, pollytunnel and the glass house. 

A liquid detergent that is highly effective and very economical to use, made by Forever Living Products

  • environmentally friendly.
  • safe
  • great for lifting grime
  • cuts through grease
  • concentrated liquid detergent
  • phosphorus-free
  • biodegradable ingredients

non-abrasive formula contains mild aloe vera to soften and condition your hands and clothes. This revolutionary, multi-purpose cleaner is available only through Forever Living Products.

I also use this to keep my plants free of ‘bugs’ using a mild mix in a spray.

What I am doing on my plot.

I have sown spring cabbage and broad beans. I always sow my seeds in little pots or plugs 
in my glasshouse and then I plant them out when they are bigger enough. I feel I gain time by doing this and get stronger plants.

My winter onions are coming along fine and I have given them a hoe. There is still time to make a plantation of Eschallots, however the work should be done this week. On soils where it is difficult to grow onions from seeds, onion sets may be well substituted, and now is the time to plant them, allowing 15 inches between the rows. If not already done you have still time to make a sowing of leeks.

I have also sowne my sweet peas. Once again they are in pots and I will plant them out  when they are ready. I love sweet peas, they fill the house with wonderful scent.
Thoughts while digging

When am no longer here what happens to what I have done.....what I have started cannot be stopped .......  too many moving parts are in motion.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

How To Go Organic

Organic growing:

Many pesticides and insecticides that were in use to fight pest and diseases last year have now been banned. Over 100 hazardous active ingredients have been taken off the EU market for health and environmental reasons. The list is far too many to record here. This is going to make it more and more difficult to garden and use sprays to control your problems.

So maybe it is now time to start gardening organically, even if you have never thought of doing so before. Knowing the basic principles of the organic way of doing things will stand you in good stead and the Spring is a good time to start.

The whole idea is to use the strengths and characteristics of your garden to get get the most out of it. That means only choosing plants that are suitable for your garden conditions and avoiding growing anything that requires extra work and artificial help.

There is nothing to be afraid of, people have been growing so called organic food since the dawn of time. It was only since the Second World War that chemical options were available. There are still a lot of good growers about who know what they are doing. Ask around you are bound to find one who will be more then willing to help you.

The most difficult thing is too start and give it a go.

Weeds are the easiest thing to start with. Stop spraying them and get your hoe out every week and hoe round your beds.. I have two full size plots and it takes me about half an hour a week to do them both. I have one rule on my plot as regards weeds and that is:  Do not grow them!

As for bugs I check my plants every five days and spray them with a mixture of Aloe Vera MPD and water with a bit of washing up liquid thrown in.  

Obviously there is a lot more to it than that: a lot is learnt just by starting. When things go wrong, which they will, find out how to fix it and do so.

The easiest way to start is to plant some potatoes and follow that with leeks.

Growing Organic isn’t a quick fix to acquiring freshly grown fruit and vegetables but is a life changing activity that is well worth the time and effort dedicated to it.

What I am doing on my plot:

Sowing  hardy annuals right now. I make a fine surface by using the rake vigorously and thinly broadcast the seeds on it.

I am cleaning up and putting compost on my Asparagus. 

If you are thinking of putting in Asparagus now is a good time. Make sure you get it right because the plants will be there for a long long time. 
The importance of trenching, or at least doubling -digging the site ,need not be overemphasized. A bed of about five feet wide is ideal, because this will contain three rows of plants 18 inches apart. Allow one foot from crown to crown in the row itself.

I grow a lot of potatoes in large pots and so this week I have been renewing the soil in them. This is just a question of emptying the pots onto one of my beds and putting the soil from the bed into the pots.

A neighbor of mine two plots down from mine has given up and he said I could take anything off his plot that  I might need. He has quite a lot of useful wood and some paving slaps which I would find useful. So I am moving it onto my plot.
Very kind of him. 

Thoughts while digging:
If you read scripture you can clearly see that God is not nice; God is not your Uncle in fact God is an earthquake which does rather pull the rug out from under me and I wonder just where that leaves me?-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday, 5 March 2017

What to do with your Parsley:


Parsley is a multi-purpose herb that no kitchen should be without. As it is so versatile it can be used not only as a garnish but for flavoring food and as a vegetable. There are two main varieties of parsley: curly leaf and flat leaf. Both can be used for the same purposes although flat leaf parsley has a slightly stronger flavour and tends to be favored more in Mediterranean cooking. One of the great easy dishes that uses parsley is  Tabbouleh. This makes a great accompaniment to meat or fish dishes or as a stand alone salad.



25g/1oz bulgar wheat or packet of couscous
2 large, ripe vine tomatoes
large bunch fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves only, washed, dried, finely chopped 
small bunch fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, finely chopped
1 small red onion, peeled, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes


1.Place the bulgar wheat or couscous into a mixing bowl and either follow the packet instructions or cover with 50ml/2fl oz of boiling water. Stir, then set aside covered in cling film for 20 minutes, or until the bulgar wheat has absorbed all of the water. You can always add a little more water if it is too dry. 
2. Skin the tomatoes by placing them in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, peel and discard the seeds. Cut into quarters and place in a serving bowl.
3. Add the mint, onion and parsley to the tomatoes and mix well until combined. 
4..When the bulgar wheat has absorbed all of the water, remove cling film and  fluff it up with a fork until the grains are separated. Add the bulgar wheat to the tomato mixture.
5..Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil and add the salt flakes to taste. Coat all the ingredients well in the liquid. 

This is delicious served with hot crusty bread or flatbread.

What I am doing on my plot:

I have put in my early potatoes. I have put them in deep and covered  the bed with a plastic sheet to keep out any hard frost that may yet turn up.

It is my experience that the frost has got to be at least -3 and last at least eight hours to go into the earth, so the potatoes should be quite safe were they are.It will be at least three weeks before they are showing above the ground anyway.

I am tidying up my soft fruit and checking the fruit cage for damage. We had gales a few days ago.

Thoughts while digging:

I am a Black Coffee Drinker. I drink plain old French Coffee, strength 3.

Now all of a sudden most Cafes here in Oxford have “Coffee of The Day”. It seems to me that there are now hundreds of kinds of coffee and I have been trying a few, making up for all the years that I have been sheltered. I do not know why it is that alcohol and tobacco are now bad, but jolts of caffeine are suddenly good.. It is beyond me and makes me feel old.

After all my tastings I am sticking to my French in a cup and Jamaica Blue Mountain at Christmas.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

How to make Mint Sauce

 Continuing with my Cooking With Herbs hints 

Mint Sauce

Mint sauce is a thin savory sauce made from chopped mint, vinegar and sugar. It is traditionally served in England as an accompaniment to roast lamb. 


25g/1oz fresh mint, chopped
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp hot water
2 tbsp white wine vinegar


This sauce could not be any easier, but makes all the difference to a lamb dish.

1.Place all the ingredients in a bowl together and leave to steep for 30 minutes to allow the mint flavour to develop. 

For a finer sauce, put all the ingredients in a blender for a few seconds.

I also make my own Mint Tea. I just pick leaves and pour water over them and leave to brew.

Make sure you cut back your old mint now and give it a bit of a feed. I use chicken pellets and grow my mint in pot.

What I am doing on my plot?

I have seen a lot of white fly on the plot this last week and it brings to mind what am I going to do about these pest this coming season.
 I know that I never going to get rid of them but that is no reason not to fight them. A couple of facts:

White flies are not killed off by cold unless it is a long period of extreme cold like we had in 2010 here in Oxford.

Native species of Ladybird do not eat whiteflies and if you buy in ladybirds to eat them you will be supplied with foreign species which will also eat the local ladybird, which is not helpful.

What I do is use a two prong approach to the problem.

The first method is: You can mix up a simple recipe for an insecticide spray for whiteflies right in your kitchen. First, make a base mixture with 1 tablespoon of regular dish soap (not one with added bleach or an antibacterial soap) and 1 cup of vegetable oil. Pour it into a bottle that can be sealed, and shake well to mix. Note: This recipe must be diluted before using it on your plants.

Diluting the Recipe
Now that I have my base, I mix it with a pint of water of water. I mix this in a spray bottle, and shake it well. The washing up liquid is to help the mixture stick to the plant.

Using the Spray
Once your spray is properly diluted and mixed, you can spray your affected plants. Be sure to spray the undersides of leaves, since this is where the whiteflies tend to be. This mixture kills adult whiteflies and smothers the larvae and eggs as long as they are covered in the spray, so be sure to apply it liberally. Reapply every five days or so after rain or watering your plants for the best results. Be sure to spray plants early in the morning or late in the day when temperatures are cooler, as the heat may cause an adverse reaction in your plant.   

The second tool I use to keep the whiteflies down is to vacuum them up using my battery powered, hand held vacuum machine. This works very well but only when it is dry like in the mid summer.

It is always a good idea to try your mixture on one plant and wait for a few days to make use what every you use if safe and does not kill the plant.

Never use vinegar as a pest spray as it will kill the plant.

Be warned it is against the law in the UK to mix your own mixture to spray on plants. But what does the law know about Aloe Vera! 

Thoughts whilst Gardening:
Lent starts today: what am I doing about it?