Archive | January, 2012


27 Jan


I woke up with good intentions last Sunday , and planned my day ahead: I was going to complete the frame work for two new vegetable planters and then spend the afternoon out on one of my bikes seeking the final seven clues for me to add to task sheet for the January Norwich AlleyCat Treasure hunt.

I got as far as my third mug of tea before I began playing online Chess and Backgammon. I have a passion for Backgammon and will play it at every opportunity that I can. It is less than 7 years ago since I learnt to play, and it was probably a line by the character, Locke from the TV series Lost that inspired me to learn how to play the game:” Backgammon, the easiest game in the world to learn, and the hardest game in the world to master”.  After almost seven years of playing in person and online I now class myself as a very sharp intermediate player: I win an awful lot more games & matches than I lose … … … one day I will walk into a real casino with £500 in my pocket and play backgammon on a green baize table and gamble upon my playing, and win or lose it will be for the pleasure alone of the experience.

I made it to 1.30pm continually playing online Backgammon and Chess, and then depression hit, and I literally crashed down and wallowed in self pity for the rest of the afternoon.

Some of the reasons that we have decided to use planters for this project rather than ground level beds are that we can control the soil used for growing and its fertility. We can also manage the cultivated areas easier, and the steps of the planters will discourage Oz our collie from damaging the plants. Although this is not what happened when we built the first 3 tiered stepped planter; for Oz this was just another obstacle that we had added to his adventure playground that is our garden. At first he enjoyed running up and down the steps, jumping all over it, and then digging in the fresh loose soil. So we installed a 1 metre high plastic mesh fence around the planter, and for a week it was a battle of wits between Oz and me: every precaution I took was overcome by a lateral thinking Border collie cross. Eventual y Lois managed to bring Oz under control and he even stopped going onto the open ground level 4 mtr X 2 mtr vegetable bed that we had under cultivation, although he still has a fascination for freshly turned soil as we are tilling it.

With planter steps at increments of 200 mm or about 8 inches high, management of the growing crops should be somewhat easier; the areas are positively defined and fixed, some leaf canopy of the plants in the top tiers will clear the growing tops of the plants in the tier below. Hoeing, weed control, feed application and other continuous type maintenance jobs should also be easier to undertake.

After the initial ground breaking spade work to level out the proposed sites, the filling of the planters can be done with a standard shovel and three pronged border rake I have. Post crop clearance can undertaken with my Azada

Now Azadas are wonderful cultivation tools, and great swathes of Africa, Asia and southern Europe are cultivated with them, and why British gardeners do not make more use of them is beyond me. A standard garden fork and spade are not ergonomic tools, and because the handles are not really long enough for the type of job they do many gardeners become injured; especially back injuries. Yes there is a need for the humble fork and spade, but the handles should really be considerably longer to reduce the chance of this type of injury occurring.

I am an Agricultural Engineer by trade, and I have also worked on heavy duty earth moving equipment, in the offshore oil & gas sectors, including being a deck mechanic on geo-survey and oil exploration ships, so as you can tell I come from the heavy duty end of the engineering spectrum, and I like long handled tools; no, I really like long handle tools, as this means I have to put less effort into using them, and that includes gardening tools. To this end I have several long boarder and potting type garden tools, but I have also increased the length of the wooden handles on some of them, and I will do the rest over the coming few weeks; 4 inch long handles will become 8 or 10 inches in length. Apart from reduced leverage and effort required to wield these tools, there will also be a reach advantage which will be an additional benefit when undertaking hoeing, weeding, and light tillage jobs in the planters.

In a previous post I mentioned not being frugal when purchasing gardening tools, and advised to purchase at one level above what you can afford at the time, and I still stand by this ethos. I own a lot of tools; I have my own small engineering business and so I earn my living using hand, power and workshop tools on a daily basis. The last thing I want or need is for a tool to fail one me during a job. Not only have I the expense of replacing that tool, but I also have to endure the inconvenience of lost time, and time is the most valuable asset a human being has at their disposal: once it’s gone, it’s gone forever and it can never be made up. You will also find that cheap or low cost tools have nasty habit of failing just when you need to use them at an important phase of the task at hand, and when the shops or suppliers  are either closed or out of stock.

8 Jan

It is now 3 weeks on from the Winter Solstice, and I have already noticed that the is sun climbing higher, and the are days lengthening, and with it my depression is at last abating, although I am just a little sick & tired of the almost constant North Easterly winds. Over the last week we have experienced sustained gusts of over 50 mph, constant 30-35 mph over one 36 hour period, and a continually variable from 5-18 mph, and these winds come in off the North Seas so they are invariably cold. I could really do with a break from these unremitting winds as these are the type that rob body heat quickly no matter how well dressed you are for the prevailing conditions. Even though I am wearing 3 layers under my heavy drill cotton overalls, a coat over those, gloves, a Buff as a neck scarf, and a lined Thinsulate beanie hat I am certainly feeling the cold more this winter than have any other. I have a spray painting job, and a fibreglass laminating job to do, and I could really do with an ambient temperature of 10ºC or more for at least 8 hours to complete these two jobs. Fortunately these are additional items for buffer stock, but the cold is not helping matters.

One of the benefits of the recent high winds has been a fence blowing over on some waste ground in the city, and when I get the chance I’ll be down there to collect as much usable timber as I can from this. Hopefully I will be able to salvage some decent lengths of either 3 X 3 or 4 X 4 post which is the only thing I am short of to finish erecting the walk-in-run for the chicken coop.

Lois & I have been reading up on both square foot gardening and companion growing, and it is turning out to be just a slightly complicated affair to marry the two together to suit our circumstances. Two of things that we will definitely be growing are Mushrooms and Tobacco; I’ve had a boxed mushroom kit unopened and sitting in a corner for almost two years now, and I really need to get around to using it, I also bought two varieties of tobacco seeds at the end of June last year, but it was a little too late to set them off growing. The two varieties of tobacco will occupy one planter which will be located at the bottom of the garden near to the chicken pen. After a very pleasant discussion regarding planting we have decided to grow a few more Dalmatian or Ying Yang bean plants this year, not only do they taste good but the dried beans also look good in a jar on the shelf. We have decided that the 3 tiered stepped vegetable planter that I built last year, and which cropped leaf and salad crops so heavily will mainly be used for root and onion crops at the begin of this year’s growing season. Primarily because the new planters will be heavily composted with 2 year old rotted Horse & Donkey manure; about 50% by volume.

Root crops do not fare well in freshly manured ground, resulting in deformed roots and plants that usually bolt straight to seed instead of cropping properly. However, if we get the planting and rotation correct the first two crops grown in these planters will take the edge off the manure ready for planting up with Carrots, Swede, Parsnip, Turnip and Beetroot which hopefully we will be able to harvest through the winter months. We shall be growing a few Potato plants of a couple of different varieties, but these will not really feature as part of the 9 sq/mtr project, and will probably be grown in a flower bed and a tiered set of trough planters that we are developing for 2013 gardening season and onwards. We will grow new potatoes in various 10 litre plastic food containers that I have, and this was a very successful method that I first employed 13 years ago. I grew potatoes all though the winter in 20 of these buckets, which had been sunken into a manure filled trench and basically hot bedded them; freshly picked home grown new potatoes picked on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve take some beating.

We are also considering building mini poly tunnels that can be utilised to cover each of the individual planters. These will be flat packed and stored away during the warmer months of summer, and then assembled in place to take us through the colder months. At the moment I have not decided what material I am going to use for the poly tunnel hoop frames, and although I am considering 30 mm diameter HPDE blue mains water pipe, it will probably be ¾ inch diameter mild steel tubing, basically because bending and welding steel tubing is what I do for a living; I know the strengths and weaknesses of this material, and it will be easier to adapt it to our requirements as I make the frames, or as needs dictate at a later date; I can cut things off and weld new bits on!.




Frugality; did you know that over 95% of attempts at frugality and cost cutting actually cost you more money!

Where ever possible buy one grade of quality above what you can afford. OMG; he is beginning to talk a right load of bollocks now…. Well actually I am not, because optimisation is the key word here. To start with quality materials and workmanship cost more, but these items last considerably longer, and will require fewer repairs over the long term. Garden tools are no exception to this rule, and there is no economy in buying cheap tools of any kind. Believe me I really do know from bitter experience gained over the years. Buy cheap, pay twice is an excellent rule of thumb, and so is take care of what you’ve got, and it will take care of you.


7 Jan


Did you know there is the word Yerk in the English Dictionary ?

Origin: Late Middle English cira 1400-5450

Noun (used with object);

1. to strike or whip.

2. to stir up; arouse; excite.

3. to jerk.

4. to move (a part of one’s body) with a jerk.

5. to pull (stitches) tight or bind tightly.

verb (used without object)

6. to kick.

7. to rise suddenly.

8. to enter into something eagerly.


9. a kick or jerk.

10. a thud or blow, as from a stick.

I was out late on Pilling Park last night and could hear the Foxes in the distance yelping and barking, and came to the conclusion that they were actually making a noise that was somewhere between a yelp and a bark hence my interpretation; Yerk.

Things actually started to happen today on the 9 sq/mtr project. I began sorting out various lengths of previously reclaimed pallet planking, and decided that there will be a slightly variation in the way that I will make them. Instead of using pallet stringers to make both the horizontal and vertical elements of the frame work, I will now be only using the Pallet stringers for the vertical pieces, the horizontals being made from pallet decking planks. This will save me a considerable amount of stringer timber that will be needed for another job later in the year, and will only require the halving cut outs in the verticals, as the planks are only 20 mm thick: the stringers are around 85mm X 40mm. This will provide me with a cleaner surface to fix the cladding planks to.

With all the verticals for two planters cut, and sliced but not chiselled out for the halving joints, I then picked out the planks to make the horizontals for these frames. I was sort of half expecting my friend Jonathan to call round, so I went into the kitchen to put the kettle on, and that is when all the unwanted door knockers arrived. Over the next 30 minutes I had the following interfere with my day: Sky TV salesman, Jehovah’s witnesses, a gardener, a window cleaner, a double glazing salesman, and some charity people wanting me to sign up to £2 per month. By the time I got to drink my tea it had gone cold and the North Easterly wind had picked up. I am afraid to say that I wimped out and packed the tools away and retired back into the warm and to the novel I am currently reading: Eragon.