Tuesday, 22 April 2014

It always looks worse before it looks better - right?

So, often the phrase, it will get worse before it's better can be hard to hear but its often true isn't it - without chaos, how can we have calm. Personally I'm a general fan of continuous chaos. So with tthat in mind, I'll tell you what did I get up to whilst down 'interfering' at TRG's pad? Well one thing I was tasked with was trying to make the garden a bit tidier. Its been a goodly long time since its had some love. TRG has a shared and quite traditional Scottish 'back green' often a square, used for the washing and lolling when sunny. He shares it with 4 houses and its barely used, we all have a random assigned 'bed' ours is at the back under a whole raffle of ivy and with three large birches in it. 
I guess the words 'mature' might be used in a kind way. Mainly shrubs from the old nursery I worked at lobbed in with a few existing trees, which have certainly put on a bit of 'girth' since last we were so closely acquainted. I mind on fine lands where trees are actually cut back rather than suffer from 'die back' common in Orkney. Although I still find the 'pruning-not-by-a-gale' a strange concept, the Thuja (orientalis-pyramidalis-aurea) however prefers to dominate the stair well with his fellow chums Holly (Black Prince) and a rather spikey ornamental Blackthorn.
Monseur Thuja and his fellows and I had a few words...........and we added a gate just to remind them who's the boss. And, no its not that bonnie right now - the choices were remove tree completely or try and lift the canopy and see if it works. So far its OK but the longer term verdict is out, although its heaving with birds generally so I'm loathe to cut it right down, seems just a bit too cruel. Not its fault someone planted what they thought was a 'dwarf' conifer aside a path.
In the mean time - more garden taming at TRGs and the construction of a 'new to me but muchly traveled greenhouse' (8ft by 6ft). Complete with recycled bus-shelter panels in places. TRG's patch is now looking a bit tamer but still much to do. And I only managed to get this much done by the lovely help of our adopted 'Grandad' who's a dab hand at such quick style construction. 
As often happens, I had to scamp back to the Orkney homestead for work and left TRG to continuing the DIY on the flat who's fate is yet to be sealed - in the short term however its looking right bonnie. And here's the evidence he can not only wield a killer guitar but a mean looking drill too.
And a scampering home I went in time to meet up with some dear chums who came visiting and we scurried off on many adventures, even finding oursleves on boats - scamming lunch from a fellow blogger Sian from - Life on a Small Island cake was consumed, with great gusto. A huge thanks to her for her lovely time and hospitality and hens eggs!
And, of course given the time of year the obligatory 'dragging of the guests to the puffins' newly arrived ensued. However Team Robyn being one of those adventuring types took everything in their stride. Why not pop by and say hello over on her patch? EssexHebridean.....
Puffins and Fulmars, Brough of Birsay, Orkney, April 2014
Sadly for me whilst others continued adventures on different ferries - I headed back to the office for some teaching. Only of course to be thwarted by a random cabbage on my desk. I told you things get better, eh? I thought I'd be stuck just doing paperwork, not doing battle with a large unexpected cabbage too.
Well there were actually two rather large spring cabbages (Hispi, under poly) to begin with, but seemed rude not to spread the love around and so the poor chap out ploughing in the fields also got the same treatment as me. After all who doesn't like a random act of cabbage on the desk kindness?

And, dear readers there is much afoot regarding moving - timing is the end of May. More on that when there's news. 

Until next time, sometimes life gets a bit messy before it gets a bit better eh. I certainly hope so.

[And a huge thank you to all who wished me well with my job application to the Botanics, I wasn't successful but some good feedback was given. It's a tough market at the moment, but something will work out, it always does.]

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Monday, 7 April 2014

Five good reasons to live by the sea

Five good things about living by the sea.

No point in brushing your hair. Ever.

Views are immense and ever changing. Brain totally engaged.

Always plenty sand in your bed at the end of the night. Excellent exfoliant.

You're appetite is epic (and you never feel guilty). Awesome 

You feel alive - even when you've done. HUGE days work/commute and you're still happy to walk. There's not much wrong with that statement.

Needless to say - the new house will have easy access to beaches. Just saying."

(I don't have, nor wish to have, easy access to a hairbrush). Although I borrow one for interviews (honest injun). 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday - feet in my shoes

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr Seuss

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

This constant kitchen favourite, often much maligned garden staple of many a UK garden, is, in my mind, a proper, tights wearing, underpants over the top, proper superhero plant. Believe me I'll fight my corner on this one, I can't think of many plants with its tenacity and versatility. In fact I think it needs it own cape. The genus is Rheum, the edibles are amazing and the ornamentals are gorgeous in any garden. You'll probably have one, if you don't, please try and find space for one, they're awesome. I grow the edible kind, but then again, I'm prone to eating alot, so that makes perfect sense doesn't it.

Its the Clark Kent of the veggie patch in my mind, cooked and eaten as a fruit, its secretly a super robust vegetable in fruits clothing, but more on that in a bit. Rhubarb is one of the toughest, most common plants you'll find in most gardens. Its flashy red stems and almost umbrella sized crinkly leaves are common to most folks and it comes back every year (a perennial). Ripped from the ground and dipped in sugar, stems used as play swords, leaves as hats or the whole thing as an attractive play umbrella. Stems picked and chopped and baked in crumbles, chutney's and jams, its truly a star of the garden.
Rhubarb is also one of the easiest plants to cultivate. Its easy from seed although the plants (being perennial) take a while longer to mature and to be honest can be a bit 'scrappy' but they do come good from seed. Many folks opt for growing them from 'crowns' or baby mature plants which you'll see in garden centres at this time of year. Potted plants  tend not to be that much more expensive. However, best option in my opinion is to find a friend with a large rhubarb patch or a lovely prolific plant and ask them for a bit of it for you. 
OK so they'll have to really put a spade right through a bit of it for you - but hey, what are friends for, except dividing their plants for your pleasure? Just make sure you get a chunk of root with a few big fat buds on it. The Island Smallholder shows it so well, why not pop over? 
Once you're in possession of your lovely new rhubarb crown, dig a lovely deep hole, add lots of lovely organic matter and feed it well and plant your new to you crown. You'll be best to leave it to establish for a bit, but you'll be scoffing rhubarb next season like you've never known. And, mind on, they don't grow that well on fresh air (well they nearly do) but a well prepared hole and lots of organic matter at the start of the growing season does wonders. You'll soon be harvesting lots of lovely stems. If you want early rhubarb - forcing - a way of encouraging the new stems quicker in the spring can be done by covering the plant with forcing pots (or a large bucket) and encouraging the stems to grow. Makes for an early crop and lots of forcing pots look quite bonnie. More on that here.
I prefer a bucket, but each to their own. Where I live forcing pots are blown over easily and often break - so a bucket and a fine 'rock' does the job just grand.
Under its own steam, its generally up and about early March if you're lucky, April if you're not and will grow and crop until the autumn or potentially the first frosts. Mind on, if its frosted, don't eat the stems as the chemicals in the leaves can leach down into the damaged tissue. As for harvesting - twist the leaf off the stem, don't cut it, does less damage that way, if you don't mind.
Soon like up here in Orkney you'll be growing what seems like 'triffid' rhubarb. Yes that is rhubarb, yes its in Orkney and yes its often bigger than a small building. As much as we're all familiar with this plant - did you know it originates from regions of Siberia, China and Tibet? Now its love of growing in our UK climate (even in the windy north) seems to make more sense doesn't it? So not real shock that it grows in most gardens in the UK and is often heralded the best crop in many an Orkney and Shetland garden. In fact it doesn't actually like it hot - if the temperatures go up, its time for it to go to bed for the summer, it prefers cool climates. Clever plant.

I reckon a canny lass could make a living from rhubarb if they so wanted........like I said its a superhero plant. Hardly any pests bother it - the concentrations of chemicals in its leaves put off the most mauranding of rabbits and aphids bother the leaves on occasion but its never too bad.  The plants can sometimes suffer from 'crown rot' - just make sure yours isn't sitting in a puddle, with decent drainage you should be OK. Cultivation and some varieties on the RHS site here. Timerply Early and Victoria get my vote, as does the local Orkney rhubarb, species unknown, except I suspect it has 'giant' or 'muckle' in the name somewhere......
You see you walk passed the plants all the time in your garden (bag of sugar in hand) ready to pounce on them to harvest them, but do you really know them?

Rhubarb in its medicinal form itself has actually been in cultivation for over 4500 years (not in my garden, I'm not THAT old) a plant favoured by many in the East for its healing properties of the roots. It originally came to the UK by a cheeky wee Scottish Dr who'd smuggled the much sought after seed out of Russia, when his patron the Czar wasn't looking, which was cultivated by an apothecary in Banbury.  It was brought here originally as a medicine, highly sought after, never thought to be eaten until a hungry chap in 1777 decided to try some of the stalks stewed with a bit of sugar and rhubarb pie was borne. So we've been scoffing it since pretty much 1778 and haven't stopped since.
Did you know that whilst we love to eat the stalks and the leaves are quite poisonous containing several chemicals which are really not very agreeable, but the flower heads are edible when young?
They have a crunchy 'sour' taste an excellent bit of information about them all over at 'Of Plums and Pignuts' where this beautiful photograph came from.  
Just remember, its essential to remove all the leaf and stalk to enjoy the crunchy blooms at their best. Great pickled or with lemon too or in a stir fry. Why not give it a try?

Did you also know the 'Rhubarb triangle' exists in Yorkshire between Wakefield, Morely and Rothwell? You see you think you know a plant then you learn a whole load of new things.
 The young tender new shoots which are forced for early crops, were harvested by candlelight before they were popped on a special express train to London (and sometimes Paris) from Xmas to early Easter in the early twentieth century when rhubarb was at its peak. Forced rhubarb is still in production today, its the gorgeous pink stems you'll see in supermarkets and markets early in the season.  'Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb' has been awarded EU Protected Designation of Origin status (PDO) from February 2010. There's a similar 'triangle' in the hills of Perthshire, between Blairgowrie and Alyth, not quite as big but with tasty rhubarb nevertheless.

And why do we grow it? Well as a vegetable mauranding as a fruit baked or boiled or dipped in sugar its great to eat in pies crumbles, jams, sponges and puddings of all shapes and sizes.  Great with custard too.
As for savoury dishes - its gorgeous in a salad with beetroot and a lovely rich cheese such as Roquefort. It even makes a stunning savory curry combined with lentils, spinach and peppers.
It makes a delicious cordial drink (although I'd add citric acid or lemon to the recipe given for a bit of 'bite') and wines, liqueurs and even champagne. Recipes for many of these here but google rhubarb and see what winning combination you come up with. More good recipes here and Nigel loves it so he's got alot to say about it here.
So, have I convinced you of its superhero status yet?  Are you eyeing up your rhubarb with newly found admiration?

A proven medicinal plant, which is easily cultivated (sometimes TOO easily) in our UK climates pretty much from north to south. So low maintenance, its practically sleeping in the garden not needing anything from you at all aside a bit of organic matter now and again whilst you ready a bowl of sugar and a very large appetite. 

And yes, I'm afraid its a vegetable in fruits clothing. On the subject of this I do not lie, you're eating a very fine fleshy leaf stalk (petiole) smothered in sugar. I know it makes no sense, but its tasty. And despite an American court ruling, saying its a fruit, seriously, its a vegetable. Its good with custard though, which I'll grant you is a bit confusing. But tasty it is.

So rhubarb, my own little (or large) robust super hero plant, close to my own heart. I'm almost as fond of it as Roobarb the dog, (non-edible) horticultural hound extraordinaire. A favourite childhood UK TV series.
Also excellent with custard (a very naughty cat).
I'll stop the rhubarb haivers now. I promise.  In truth its 'homework' revision for tomorrow when I'll be proper haivering in real life.

More on that later.