Sunday, 16 December 2007

I went to the allotment today, collected some onions, looked at the frozen soil, and came home.
Never mind, here's one of my favourite coins. A moneyer's ass of Augustus, the first emperor. At 30mm and 9.73g, it's quite large and impressive. The ass was a fairly low value coin; two made a dupondius, which would buy a loaf of bread. A loaf, of course, was a glorified roll, big enough to provide a meal for one. It's called a 'moneyer's ass' because of the reverse inscription; M SALVIVS OTHO III VIR AAA FF SC. The letter 'U', of course, hadn't been invented, and 'V' did double duty. The big SC stands for 'Senatus consulto', 'By permission of the Senate', as that body was still technically responsible for the copper coinage. III VIR AAA FF means, more of less, 'Three Men for Gold, Silver and Copper'; these being the three officials responsible for the mint. it was an annual appointment, and apparently M Salvius Otho had the job in 7bc.

The obverse shows what is probably a thoroughly unlifelike portrait of Augustus, who was 56 at the time, with the inscription CAESAR AVGVST PONT MAX TRIBVNIC POT. This gives his two vital offices. The Pontifex Maximus, or High Priest (the title is still used by the Pope) controlled the religious system in Rome. He couldn't actually be a Tribune himself, as the office was restricted to Plebeians, and he was a Patrician, but Tribunicia Potestas, the power of a Tribune, gave him three things. His person was sacrosanct, or in other words, to harm him incurred the death penalty. He had the power to impose the death penalty. Above all, he had the power of veto, and could annul any law. This gave him effective control of the Senate. He allowed the appearance of power to remain with others, while jealously keeping the reality to himself.

Monday, 10 December 2007

This is another Nabataean curiosity; a lead coin of Obodas III (30-9BC). Most of his bronze was issued at the end of his reign, and is associated with his minister, Syllaeus. The first coin is a bronze, 14mm diameter, and has Syllaeus' initial, in Nabataean script (a form of Aramaic) to the left of the crossed cornucopiae on the reverse. The obverse, a bit fuzzy because it was struck with a worn die, is Obodas' portrait.

The second coin is lead, 12mm, with a rather similar portrait of Obodas. The reverse is Nike (the Greek equivalent of Victory on Roman coins), with wings outstretched, holding out a wreath. Lead coins are well known from the region, but this is the latest one I've come across. Nobody knows why they were struck.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Between the weather and other commitments, I haven't managed much on the allotment the last three weeks or so. I have done a little digging, but that's all. The last three Saturdays have been interrupted by the need for a new fridge, after the last one finally gave up the ghost. We found a nice one reduced in Curry's in town, and arranged for it to be delivered two Saturdays ago. I waited in, and they eventually arrived, smelling of drink. They were unable either to deliver it, due to the lack of a stair climber to get it up to the flat, or to explain the lack of the equipment; they'd been told about the stairs when I ordered it. So I made a complaint. Last Saturday, it finally arrived after another wait, brought by two guys who carried it up unaided by fancy equipment.

Here's a nice Nabataean coin that arrived during the week. It was a locally powerful kingdom in what's now southern Jordan, with its capital at Petra. The coin is of Aretas IV, its most influential ruler, and his wife Shaquilath. Aretas ruled from 9BC to 40AD, when the kingdom gained its wealth from trading frankincense to its Roman masters. They managed to keep the source of the incense secret, and thus became vital middlemen. Because the men spent so much time trading, the women became more influential, so they appear on the coins over a century or so. Aretas married his daughter to Herod Antipas, one of the sons of the original King Herod, who was Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, a small area on the East Bank. When Antipas divorced her in order to marry Herodias, Aretas was so upset that he went to war, and Antipas was trounced. Later, he, or his representatived in Damascus, tried to have the ever-tactless St. Paul killed. The coin is 19mm across, quite thick, and weighs 3.82g, making it noticeably larger and more impressive than the average scrotty little Levantine bronze.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Not much to note on the allotment. I've checked both the hives I combined, and found that both have small broodnests with iopen brood, and capped brood with nice flat cappings. There's no sign of that dronelaying queen. So it's just a matter of waiting now, to see what comes through the winter and what doesn't.

I've planted seed of four more Trillium species; erectum, parviflorum, sessile and chloropetalum, but there hasn't been much going on cultivation-wise.

I gave a talk about the allotments to the Sutton Coldfield Horticultural Society the other night, which was a new experience. All very enjoyable though, and the fee paid for the slides I had to have made; I've currently got no way of projecting digital photos, and I gave up on film cameras some time ago, so I had to have old-fashioned slides made up specially. I've got them now though, if I ever get asked to do it again.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

I wonder what the Godfather films would look like if they'd focussed on other aspects of Michael Corleone's life, apart from having people killed, and the failure of his marriage? I ask because I've just watched the trilogy again, after watching my way though most of the Sopranos episodes over the summer. Some of the things Tony and his family do are just as vile, if not worse; we never see anyone in the Godfather films suffocate an old lady to steal the money under the bed, for instance. Yet all the Soprano family are so much more human, thanks to the more rounded portraits.

Psychologically (I used to work in mental health) it's very well done; you see all the narcissism, the insecurity, the poor relationship skills that the mafiosi have. I wonder how true to life it is? Itr's certainly more believable. But then,, the producers had so many more hours of film to work with.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

I've just discovered that today is the anniversary of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, when Constantine I defeated Maxentius outside Rome; Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the rout. This left Constantine as the master of the Western Empire, but it took another successful civil war before he controlled the whole of it. Whether you believe Constantine was a Christian or not, and I have my doubts, there's no question that the battle set the stage for the Christian takeover of the empire, and the subsequent development of the exclusive, intolerant monotheism which is so unfortunately familiar today.

Some have claimed that this rather enigmatic coin, issued in Constantinople either during Constantine's reign or that of his son, shows the bridge. There's no evidence to support this, and it's probably a generic bridge.
I've done the same with the broodless colony as the dronelayer; put a nuc, the bad-tempered one this time, in a hive where it was, then shaken all the bees out. Both colonies were in a temper, and I got three or four stings. I checked the new hive that's replaced the drone layer. the two strains are completely unrelated, but the drone laying queen made it back to the nest, and is still there. There are two distinct broodnests. I haven't seen this with unrelated queens before. I was short of time, and couldn't stop to find the queens. I left the bees to sort it out; they usually pick the right queen, and I doubt whether the drone layer, which they were already trying to replace, will last long.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

I got the last of my garlic in yesterday, and I've dealt with one of those bee colonies, whoch cearly had a drone layer for a queen. That's an unmated queen which only lays unfertilised eggs, which develop into drones. The bees were making doomed attempts to raise a new queen, and a lot of cells were being uncapped to reveal chalk brood, a fungus disease which infects the larva. All the capped cells had the domed cappings typical of drones.

I moved the broodbox aside, and replaced it with one of the small colonies I'd put in a nucleus box. this went into a full-sized box. Then I just shook all the bees from the original colony off the frames, and fet the frames back in till I had a box full. The bees found their way back into the new colony, but the queen, hopefully, didn't. I'll check everything's OK in the next few days. That just leaves one more to do, and that'll give me two golonies headed by my own queens, and two by the bought queens. I'll see what comes through the winter, then raise more queens next year.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

The hive that had eggs last time I looked now has flat capped worker brood (drone has domed caps), which confirms that the queen mated. Another one has eggs. They're taking their time, but they're getting there.

It's a miserable drizzly day, but I've at least got my walking onions in. I've planted everything, and from a single row of mini-bulbs last year, I now have a complete bed, partly mini-bulbs and partly full-sized ones. Next year I'll get to taste them.

Monday, 8 October 2007

One of those hives had a patch of eggs at the weekend, as as long as they're worker and not drone (I'll know when the larvae are capped) then everything's OK. Hopefully the others will be laying as well very shortly. It's a bit late in the season, but native British bees are known for raising queens very late, so it's not too late. It's slow progress with my hedge cutting, since it's a horrible job, but I did another 15 yards or so yesterday. I'm getting there, and once it's all cut back, hopefully I'll manage to keep pace with it this time.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

I put a frame with a good patch of eggs into the hive I thought might be queenless, but by that time they seemed to be settling down, and I wasn't at all sure. Sure enough, they made no attempt to raise queens, confirming that they are indeed queenright. None of the colonies with new queens had produced brood by the weekend, which is a worry, but it's not a repeat of the disappearing queen scenario I used to get raising them in early season. Hopefully they're just a bit slow. Drones have been flying on some days, so there's no apparent reason why they shouldn't have mated.

We've had some welcome rain, and the weather is now decidedly autumnal. I'm just carrying on with the digging, with the aim of having more beds in cultivation next year. I'm not putting much in the ground at the moment, as the space will be needed for the crops my family really appreciates; sweet corn, tomatoes, and other tender veg.

Monday, 24 September 2007

I'm getting persistent migraine again, but I've managed to do a bit on the plot. I've dug over a nasty nettle patch, which should now become productive, and stated on a bad patch of ground elder. After last night's deluge, the ground is now satisfactorily damp again; it had been getting very dry, despite the monsoon earlier in the year.

None of the three hives I gave cells to are showing any sign of brood, which is a worry. One is nasty-tempered and probably queenless, while the others, both splits from those hives I bought, are good-tempered and quiet on the comb. I can only assume that those at least are queenright.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

I got some last-minute leeks planted out the other day; hopefully they'll do something. i'm not planting out much apart from alliums though. I want to keep plenty of space for tender veg next summer, since that's what the family likes. Meanwhile I'm steadily getting the uncultivated beds knocked into shape. Despite the discouragements of the awful summer, I am at least in a good position to knock some more ground into shape before spring.

I've been pulling out the remains of some of the Great Mullein; it's a weed I tolerate for its dramatic, if too narrow, spikes of bloom. This year, for once, it wasn't devastated by mullein moth, and flourished correspondingly. I only want it down one side of the garden though, as it's too massive to be throwing up six-foot spires among dwarf plants. It's a biennial, and easily removed wherever it's unwelcome. Borage, which is grown commercially for starflower oil, is doing rather too well as always. It gets covered in bees, and I don't mind it as long as it's not smothering my crops. It's an annual, and once again, it's easily pulled out where it's not wanted. I just wish the veg. would do as well!

I'm slowly catching up with the hedge trimming. It's a horrible job, especially when I'm doing the tops of the hedges with a lumsy great thing that's not quite powerful enough, and keeps sticking. Once it's done though, i should be able to keep on top of it now.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The dry weather seems to be continuing merrily now that the holiday season is behind us! My butternut squashes are growing well at last, far too late to produce ripe fruit this year. The Cambridge Gage have mostly been eaten, and were excellent, and the Egremont Russet apples are falling. They need to be kept a while after this to become really sweet.

I've raised another batch of queen cells, and moved both the queens I got last spring into rather makeshift nuc boxes. Hopefully they'll come though the winter at the head of small colonies, to provide a reserve for next year. Three queenless colonies have been given cells. It's late in the season, but as long as the queens mate satisfactorily, and I feed them, they should be OK.

I don't normally feed bees, as a well-adapted strain should be able to store enough to get through any winter comfortably. I do it when there's a specific reason, and yesterday I gave them a gallon of syrup each, with 1/4 gallon for each of the two nucs.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Once again, good weather. I'll actually get something planted again at this rate. I'm looking forward to getting the plot back to normal, but it's taken me so long to get back to normal that it's taking forever.

One hive which I'd left queenless has produced what appears to be a good laying queen; I need to see the workers she produces to assess her better, and she's not really much good till she's survived the winter! She started laying very fast, which is a good sign; no problems getting that one mated. Apart from that, things went wrong. I put cells into a hive with a laying queen, hoping the bees would replace her with a new one; it usually works, but this time it didn't. I split a second hive, and gave both halves queen cells. The original queen moved back into the original hive, leaving a weak, queenless split, which I've now united with another hive. That left me with a decidedly nasty-tempered hive to deal with for the second time. I'm not happy, but I've got that queen out this time. The original hive is currently raising a second batch of queens. For the first time ever, I've got no honey at all, but I should have more hives going next year, at least.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

The weather has, of course, turned foul again, it's really depressing. The plot's a real mess, and while I'm steadily making progress sorting it out, it's hard to keep myself motivated at the moment. The Cambridge Gage is cropping well, with small, green plums which put the shop ones to shame. There's a decent apple crop as well, the Egremont Russet id particularly good. The fruit are pretty small though, due to the lack of any June drop this year. I'd have done better to have thinned them. The bees look OK, with plenty of pollen going into the hives; I'll check them next weekend, to see whether there's any sign of the new queens laying.

Friday, 3 August 2007

The weather seems to be brightening up at last, not that there's much left to appreciate it. The squashes are sitting doiing nothing, and the floods wiped most other things out. I've just finished lifting the garlic; the actual cloves are fine, but some of the skins had rotted, and most of the stems. I won't be making plaits this year.

The walking onions produced single bulbs and small clumps, but they were grown from small bulbils. I think I'll do better planting the bulbs, along with the bigger bulbils. They're strange things, the bulbs are like shallots, and clusters of nulbils form at the tops of the stems, where you'd expect a flower. Come to that, garlic flowers I took off ended up trying to produce little clusters of bulbils.

I split the big beehive last week, and yesterday I took out some of the resulting queen cells (from the queenless half) and put them into the two bought-in hives. I split one of them, and gave cells to both halves. I had meant to split both, but didn't have enough cells. Previously, I've done this with swarm cells, which are nicely built, hang free, and are strong enough to handle comfortably. These were emergency cells, converted from worker cells when the bees picked the young larva to become a queen. The walls were thin, and they were difficult to cut out and difficult to handle without squashing them. Hopefully they'll hatch; each hive has two, to provide a backup.

Monday, 23 July 2007

The plot was flooded again on Friday; we've had over four inches of rain over the last few days, 90% of it on Friday. I did go down and check how things were, just before the stream broke its banks. I might as well have been standing under a waterfall.

I've split the big beehive, in order to raise queens. There are masses of drones, so I should get good mating. They got in a real mood with me yesterday; that's the second bad stinging I've had this summer. As far as the garden goes, this year's crops are pretty much a washout. It's so bad it's depressing, and on top of that I've overdone it doing the GCSE marking. I finished on Friday, just as I got to the point where I could no longer concentrate, and I was getting daily attacks of migraine, which are still happening.

Yesterday was our 12th wedding anniversary. We had people saying we shouldn't be together, and people trying to sabotage the wedding. The then minister from church wrote asking me not to go ahead as a Christian shouldn't marry a Muslim, and I had one hysterical fundamentalist ring me tup to say I was going to hell. But we're still together, and where are they?

Sunday, 15 July 2007

The rain never stops, the spuds have got blight so the toms will soon follow, and the summer is fast turning into a disaster. All I can say is that my plans for the bees are working out, with one big colony churning out loads of drones, and two small ones which have no drones, but which can be split into two smaller colonies for queen raising. The early garlic is good, as are the elephants, though the maincrops, which I have yetto lift, are dying from rust. I've never seen it affect plants so badly.

The main thing now is to make sure I'm ready in good time for next year, since in this new job I don't have much time off at Easter, and no summer half term, so that's a vital coupls of weeks lost. Meanwhile, I'm still bogged down with GCSE marking; they've roped me in to do the Roman Catholic paper as well as my normal one. It's an irritant, not merely because its a horribly boring job which needs 100% concentration, but because the denominational answer is taken to be the correct one, and that's bound to annoy me. I do get the odd gem though. One kid answered 'What does catholic mean?' with 'It's posher and more elegant than the Church of England and snobs go there'. Obviously, whoever it was doesn't like their (Catholic) school.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

I hate hybrid Italian bees! Hybrids between native Apis mellifera mellifera and imported Italian queens have a horrible tendency to sting. I've been building up my native hive, which is now getting massively strong, while the two I bought have been building up slowly, despite weekly removal of brood.

My native hive is still the best-tempered of the three despite its greater strength. One of the new ones is OK, but the other is getting nastier by the week. Yesterday I had a really good stinging from them, with bee after bee going up my arm, and bees all over my sleeve, stinging it like mad. I got two stings from bees inside my veil, when mostly ones that get in there think about nothing but escape. Not nice at all, I don't want bees like that. I've always avoided the 'space suit' type of bee gear; it ought to be unnecessary with only a few hives. The way to go is to avoid the nasty bees.

The crazy thing is that back in the 1920's, Brother Adam, the most influential UK beekeeper of his time, concluded that the native British bee was, firstly, extinct, and secondly, nasty-tempered. My experience, and that of others who keep them, is that they are far from extinct, and reliably good tempered. Unlike the unpredictable hybrids a lot of bigger beekeepers seem to go for.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

It's been some time since I posted; this has been due to work pressures, exhaustion, and recently, the amount of GCSE marking I've taken on. For the last couple of weeks, I've been in school all day, then marking till 11pm or so. Meanwhile, of course, I've been getting further and further behind on the allotment. The end is in sight, however!

I got a couple more colonies of bees a couple of weeks ago; they're hybrid Italians, docile, prolific, and, from what the guy told me, probably swarmier than my existing strain. I need the bees, but I don't particularly want the genetics. So I've been keepng these colonies small by swapping frames of capped brood out into my original colony on a weekly basis. This is now getting to the point where it needs a second broodbox if this is to continue. The theory is that this keeps the new colonies small enough not to produce drones, while the original one produces loads. It can then be split, and it will produce new queens. There should be enough drones by late summer to ensure decent mating, and with so many bees available, there should be some honey despite the split. I just hope it works! The big danger is swarming, but if it looks like doing so, I'll just split it then and there.

Meanwhile, I'm a month behind with my planting out. Fortunately, it's still June, and with term coming to an end,. it should be easier to get to the plot.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

It's been a while since I posted; I've had computer problems, upgraded a lot of stuff, then had the motherboard die on me and had to replace that, the CPU and the memory as well. So the computer's been almost entirely rebuilt over the last couple of weeks. On top of that, I've had to take time off work this week due to exhaustion; missing my Easter break doing extra revision classes is really affecting me.

I've been too tired to do a lot on the allotment, but I've managed to get the purple-podded peas and some of the sweet peas planted out. I've replanted purple-possed pea and ne plus ultra, since the latter was almost wiped out by mice, and put in a late lot of crimson-flowered broad bean, in pots. I need to get some more planting done over the weeken, if the weather gives me a chance.

The bees weren't expanding beyond 2 1/2 frames of brood, and I was getting worried, but they had a couple of half-drawn plastic frames just outside the broodnest, and I was wondering whether they just didn't want to use them. So I moved one good frame in on one side, within the broodnest, and a frame of nasty drone cells just outside it, on the other. After a week, I found yesterday that the former was well and truly laid up, with 3 1/2 frames of brood present, and the latter was well on the way to being chewed away; the bees didn't like it at all, and it had great holes in it. So I moved some more good frames in. I'm a lot happier about that colony now.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Several weeks ago, a wren built a nest among the garlic plaits hanging from the shed roof. The males build up to ten, and the female chooses one to lay in. as there was no activity to be seen, i'd assumed they weren't using this one, but now they're flying in and out all the time.

I've been going like mad the last few days, potting up seedlings. I've done the tomatoes, and almost all the corn, but i still have the squashes to do. It's not a job I enjoy, but it has to be done. At least I've got more space this year, with the extra mini-greenhouse.

The bees are still on 2 1/2 frames of brood, but with noticeably more bees in the hive than last week.

Monday, 23 April 2007

I got my parsnips planted yesterday; a bit late but not too late. After having problems with germination in previous years I tend to delay planting until I'm sure about the weather.

We've had light rain and drizzle all day here. It's badly needed.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

I actually managed a couple of days off in the week, and I've been going like mad, trying to catch up on the allotment. I haven't had too much energy though, I've been too tired. I managed to mulch the spuds, with both beds now deeply buried in grass cuttings. Mice had a go at the peas and sweet peas, but the damage isn't terminal; it just means that one or two sweet pea varieties will be a bit thin on the ground.

I stayed late the other night hoping to see some bats; several were out in the gloaming, flying low up and down the lane, probably pipistrelles, as that's far and away the commonest. There was a kestrel out hunting a bit earlier, Venus was very bright, and I could see the dark circle of the moon in the arms of the new crescent, glimmering in the earthlight.

The bees are steadily building up, with two and a half frames of brood, and most of the frame in the centre full of it. They'll be popping shortly.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

I took these over the weekend; I was so tired after 35 teaching hours during the week, doing extra revision classes, that a long session I planned on the allotment turned into a couple of hours' aimless pottering. I even got there and realised that I'd completely forgotten to change into old clothes!

The Arum creticum is a mingy little thing, but it's the first time it's flowered in several years. As you can see, the Trilliums have been drooping in the heat; this is a habit of theirs as they really want all-day shade which I can't give them. They perk up overninght, and hopefully with the forecast cooler temperatures on the way, they should be better shortly. The garlic pic shows an early variety on the left, and elephant garlic on the right. The Broad Beans are coming up nicely, but I don't have many seeds in the ground yet; I tend to be pretty cautious about planting. I've started taking trays of seedlings down to the mini-greenhouses, much to Namissa's relief, and more's going to be planted this week.

I've got an easy week during the mocks; no normal lessons, and as I've got an odd student coming in for extra tuition, I've escaped doing any invigilation. So, at last, there's time to start catching up on myself.
The bee pic shows what happened when I knocked one of the boxes askew in one of the hives that had died out over the winter. An enthusiastic robbing seession immediately followed. It's obviously far easier for bees to steal honey than to make their own, and they do so to the point, sometimes, of wiping out weak colonies. The interesting thing is the the entrance to that hive has been left open, a couple of feet from their own, and they haven't found it. I use very small entrances, with mesh floors and false entrances to the rear, to confuse wasps, and it obviously works on bees as well. Since they're my own bees, I'm just leaving them to rob it out.
I had a look at the surviving colony over the weekend; they now have two frames of brood, and are beginning to expand nicely.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

I've got the Rocket potatoes planted and mulched, planted a bed of Charlotte, and planted out Verbascum, Aquilegia and Hollyhocks that I've been overwintering in pots. It's been more like June than April today, but after last year, I hope it doesn't last to long!

The bees are still on a frame and a half of brood, and I spotted the first drone of the year, with a dozen or so capped drone cells scattered about. This is really early, and I heard yesterday of someone's hive swarming. This is exceptional for April 7th. I re-marked the queen, as the original mark had rubbed off. I've sent off a cheque for two nucs (nuclei - small colonies), which should go a long way towards replenishing my stock of bees. I've asked for ones with last year's queens, so I should have them shortly, and hopefully, I should still be on the way to a decent honey harvest.

Back to work tomorrow (yes, I know it'as supposed to be Bank Holiday) and I've got a week of seven hour teaching days, doing Easter revision classes. I'm not looking forward to it.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

These crown imperials are looking cheerful at the moment, and I wish I could say the same for my more conventional orangey-red ones. these are sulking though, year after year. I find them pretty fussy; if planted in one spot, they do well; a few yards away, they do badly. The other clump do seem to get a little stronger from one year to the next though, so maybe time will sort it out.

I've really let myself in for it this Easter; I signed up for extra revision classes, thinking I'd just get a few, and I've been overwhelmed by the rush. i've been teaching every morning this last week, with the odd afternoon as well, but at least that gave me a little time for the allotment. This coming week, I've got seven hours' teaching a day, all the way through. It won't leave any time or energy for anything.

Meanwhile, of course, I'm getting behind again. I had hoped to use the holiday to dig over some of the ground I've left for the last couple of years, but there's been no chance for that. I won't need the ground for a couple of months though, so there's time yet. All the onions are in, and I'll be planting early potatoes (Rocket) later today, a bit tardily. I've bought a second mini greenhouse, which is going to be needed badly, and I've been planting seeds in pots; there are trays of sweet peas, and a couple of heritage pea varieties; Ne Plus Ultra and Purple-Podded. I haven't planted anything outside yet though apart from broad beans, which are just coming through.

I had a little old bean seed, which had shrivelled, turned blackish, and looked mouldy. I didn't extect it to do anything, but out of curiosity, I planted it alongside the new. To my surprise, it's coming up strongly.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

I've acquired this over the last week; it's been sitting by the comittee hut for a couple of years, and nobody knew what to do with it. it's going to take a bit of work, but there's nothing to stop it being turned into a decent garden bench.

I checked the bees yesterday; they now have a frame and a half of brood, lots of pollen coming in, and they seem to be OK. I've found a local source of nucs, and I'm very tempted to get a couple. I can't really afford it, but the extra bees would make a real difference right now. Apart from that, i've been putting seeds into the mini greenhouse, and I've added a second. There's still a chill in the air in the morning, but it'll soon pass.

Back to work on Monday, teaching extra revision classes. It's destroyed my Easter break, but I need the money unfortunately.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

It's been a hectic weekend with my daughter's 15th birthday yesterday. I managed to plant another bed of onion sets, plant a tray of leek seed, and start six varieties of pre-World War 1 sweer peas I got in a pack from Plants of Distinction, but that's about as far as I got. On the windowsill beside me, I have 16 varieties of tomato sprouting happily, along with squashes. I didn't get anything done today as I was at church all morning, then had to go to a site committee meeting, and didn't feel well anyway.

Right now I'm about to plant 'Double Standard' corn from Real Seeds; I haven't tried it before so it's a bit of an unknown quantity. They haven't done it before, and the variety they usually do all got eaten by mice when I tried it last year.

Monday, 19 March 2007

I managed to do a bit on the allotment over the weekend, despite headaches (I had to come home from school on Friday with an attack of migraine) and cold weather on Sunday. One bed of onion sets in now in and mulched. I've been planting peppers and aubergines, which are now germinating on top of the water heater, in the warmest spot in the house, and tomatoes, which are under the water heater. I'm growing half a dozen varieties which did well outside last year, plus a couple of plants each of ten more I haven't tried.

Between work and redecorating it's a struggle just to do that much right now!

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Wet weekend

It's throwing it down today, but at least yesterday was OK. The bees in Hive 3 were flying freely, bringing in a bit of pollen, so I grabbed the opportunity to do an early inspection. Hive 1 has died out. It had plenty of bees a couple of weeks ago, but there were only a few left, all dead, not a sign of brood, and stores still left in the comb. That's typial of the winter losses I get, and as there's never any brood, I think these later winter dieouts are down to queen failure. Queen mating is a constant problem. So that's two gone. The last one, thank goodness, had bees and a little patch of mostly young brood the size of my palm. So it sems to be OK at least.

I planted the broad beans, a bit late, and I'm doing my seed ordering this weekend, again a bit late. Most of the veg come from the Real Seed Catalogue at , who do proper varieties, not F1's, and offer plenty of good quality seed ina packet. I also put in small orders from Marshalls at, where I found a couple of heirloom peas, Purple-Podded and Ne Plus Ultra, Plants of Distinction at , who have loads of interesting vegetable and flower varieties, and Chiltern Seeds at , who again have a really interesting selection. I've ordered Couve Tronchuda, an interesting heirloom cabbage, and a couple of other things.

Monday, 26 February 2007

I had a hectic week last week, trying to catch up with work I should have done last half term when I was struggling because of a virus. Today has ben another bad day, coping with manic seven-year-olds in a local primary school. Some didn't seem to understand what was expected of them in a school, and one lad, by no means stupid, didn't know how to do up his own buttons.

It was a wet weekend, but I managed a bit of digging between showers. Now that's sorted, I'm going through my seed collection, sorting out what needs to go in over the next few weeks. I had hoped to plant my broad beans this weekend, but no chance due to the weather and the amount of digging I still had to do.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

What a difference from a couple of days ago! Heavy rain last night pretty well wiped out the snow, which was already melting steadily. Just here there's nothing left but the remnants of the odd snowman. It's all gone on one side of my plot, but there's a fair bit still on the other, which is shaded in the mornings. On the other side, where the ground slopes towards the north, away from the sun, some plots still have a lot on them. I managed to do a fair bit of digging, but I still felt shattered afterwards. I'm feeling a lot better than I was though.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


I'm still coughing and feeling bad, but at least the headaches have gone. All Birmingham schools were closed for the last two days of the half term due to snow. Thusday was dreadful; the college I work at was open, but at least it's only a few minutes' walk away. One guy made it in from Leicester. All the staff were there; there are three colleges in the group; London had ten staff off, and Cambridge 'several'. A lot of students didn't turn up. Yesterday I should have been doing supply somewhere, but the schools were still shut so I had an unscheduled day off.

Actually, it wasn't too bad for most of the day; roads were clear until about four, when snow started to build up again. The evening was chaotic. I went for a walk around the site; the pics speak for themselves.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Bad weekend

Last weekend was the first for three weeks that I was feeling well enough to spend more and on hour or so on the plot, but it was really bad in another way. My wife was due to fly to Freetown (capital of Sierra Leone) on Monday, but there was a last minute hitch with her Sierra Leonean passport. The result was that she ended up flying on her British passport with no visa. We thought she probably wouldn't be allowed on the plane, and as she had a non-tranferrable ticket, she'd have had to pay all over again to get on Friday's flight. It's not cheap either. I had a splitting headache for two days solid, until I heard that she'd managed to blag her way onto the flight. It vanished as soon as I got the news. There was no problem at the other end; you can bribe your way through anything over there. I managed to speak to her briefly last night on a very bad line; she was o the ferry from Lungi Airport to the mainland at the time.

I managed to do a bit of digging, and the snowdrops and Hellebores are doing really well.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Blood Diamond

I'm still not feeling well, and I only managed an hour on the allotment this weekend. So there's nothing really to report. Yesterday we managed to go out for a slightly belated birthday meal at a Vietnamese in town, and then went to see 'Blood Diamond' at the cinema over the road. Namissa's Sierra Leonean, and anyone watching it can imagine for themselves how we felt when the girls got caught up in the chaos.

Kumbi, who was 11 at the time, was briefly in the fighting just after the coup on May 25th 1997, which was orchestrated by someone living just round the corner from us in Ladywood. She was rescued by the US navy after the Red Cross organised a ceasefire to get civilians out, and the first we heard about it was when she was in teh air bound for Stanstead. Fortunately, after endless delays, we'd managed to get clearance to bring the two of them about a week before. She arrived badly traumatised, and is still affected by it all. Mina was five at the time, too young to understand what was happening, and never saw any fighting. But she was taken upcountry, the phone lines were down, and it took six weeks before we knew she was safe. Then it was another six weeks before we could get her taken over the border to Guinea, and flown out.

I managed to track down a link to a short filmclip about a girl who spent a weekend with us a few years ago. When she was 13, the rebels killed all her family and cut her hands off. She struck lucky, and was on her way to be adopted by a couple in Canada when we met her. She had brand new artificial hands, which looked quite convincing, but were totally useless, so they just got taken off and left behind the door with her shoes as soon as she came in the house. It's the clip at the bottom of the page.

The film makes inevitable minor errors, but the portrayal of the bloody madness in rebel-held areas is pretty accurate, as is the obsession with diamonds. The war was nothing but an excuse for all parties to take advantage and mine like crazy. Definitely worth watching.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Windy Week

I've been unwell all week, and I've really struggled to cope with teaching; I haven't been fit for anything else. But I did get down to the site briefly today, just to check how things were after the gales. Several of the more wobbly gates and bits of fence have come down, but there's no serious damage anywhere, no more trees down, and nothing at all on my plot. I'm not too surprised really; all the hedges reduce the force of the wind to the point where we don't often get anything to worry about in the way of wind damage.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Difficult week

I've had a bad week; I had a bad cold, and coping with school has been a nightmare. I had a really hard day on Monday covering art in a difficult comprehensive, then struggled to cope with three days of very intensive work in college. At least the students are an understanding lot. Friday was easier; I was feeling a little better, and just had a bunch of noisy six and seven year olds to cope with.
I got to the allotment today and found the first snowdrops are out; Galanthus caucasicus and a couple of G elwisii, not the ordinary G nivalis varieties. The pic is of Caucasicus, my favourite. It's a lot bigger than the normal ones, and not hard to find. I've planted some Tricyrtis (toad lily) seeds, and found that a pot of Helleborus argutifolius I planted last year are germinating merrily.
The rats have been busy in the shed; a pumpkin has been finished off, and the whole place stank of rodent urine. It's a problem every winter. and the only real solution would be a new shed. The old one is falling down anyway. I put down what poison I had, and if I keep going that should at least limit the numbers.
I've done some more digging on a flowerbed I'm trying to clear, and spread half a dozen barrow loads of soil from one of my mountains. These are great heaps I made in the early days on the plot, when I was digging out vast quantities of turf and weeds. I just piled it up, covered it with plastic, and left it. I've been spreading it gradually ever since, but there's still some way to go. Once spread, it produces massive flushes of weeds the first year, then settles down, and it's really good loam.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

The end of another year

I'm starting this here as a continution of my blog at . Hopfully this site is going to be more photo friendly. If it is, then I suppose I'll need another camera as the kids keep borrowing the current one.

The two pics of the plot were taken on a bleak winter's day. I haven't managed to get much done over Christmas as I've had a nasty fluey bug, and between that and the weather, I just didn't feel like it. I did manage to get a bit of digging done on the better days though. There's not too much now as every year I get more ground cleared of weeds and mulched. Once I get to that point, I don't need to dig it again, just keep mulching. I've dug over the old Jerusalem artichoke bed, and after the drought I hardly found anything in it at all. I was really surprised. I no longer need it as a screen now the hedge has grown, so I'll just plant a few and use the space for rhubarb.

Since then, I've been working on a weedy flowerbed, and I had to lift the most enormous Crinum bulbs. The pic, which was intended to be the last, has come out first, with a fork for scale. I'll get the hang of this site eventually, I suppose. When I put them in five years ago they were just large bulbs. They flowered for the first time last year, and I was very reluctant to lift them as they don't like disturbance. There was ground elder growing through them though, and it just had to go. So I ended up trenching under them, breaking enormous fleshy roots that went right down into the subsoil. They'll get over it, in time.