GCSE Natural History Consultation Hub

I’d love to be able to contribute to the consultation below but don’t feel I have the necessary background. However, I’m pleased that the government is planning a GCSE in Natural History. Wouldn’t this have been great to study at school?

If you feel that you can contribute to the development of the GCSE, here is the link:


Looks like the onion is saying it wants to be replanted and eaten!

Posted in Gardening, Social, Wildlife | Tagged | 10 Comments

“Thanks for supporting an indie“

With libraries being closed and not set to open any time soon (presumably because they don’t create much revenue rather than because it’s harder to have social distancing in comparison with a clothes shop!), I’d been considering my options. Ordinarily, I prefer to borrow books from the library so that the author still gets a fee and there are fewer resources such as paper used. I also think it’s important to show that libraries are needed, as indeed for some they definitely are.

One author I’d recently been introduced to, Frances Brody, in turn introduced me to a website which listed independent bookshops in Yorkshire. These need custom to stay afloat.

One advantage of a bookstore over a library is the range of books. A library might have shelves and shelves of books – but the library needs to consider the general population. A bookshop may chose to do the same but can also choose a more targeted market, which I think may be the case with Fox Lane Books.

In any case, I got excited reading the titles that the shop sells. Frankly, I could have bought the whole lot. Storage would have been a bit of a problem once they’d been delivered, though. So, for the time being I limited myself to three titles and can’t wait to finish my latest novel in order to get started.

How nice to receive a personalised thank-you note!

Another grateful supplier, though of raw milk this time, is Red Lodge Farm. Today, I had chance to talk to one of the farmers, who confirmed to me that buying milk from supermarkets was bad news. Generally, at this time, most dairy farmers are making a loss on their milk, with the upshot amongst others that the welfare of the animals goes down because, without an income, how can farmers feed them properly?

Posted in Days out, Good for the environment, Reading | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Busy at home

With the weather being so good last month, I finally got down to painting the garden shed. When I’d first got it, it seemed a shame to cover the new wood – don’t you just love the smell! But then it started to look a bit shabby. Unfortunately, last summer didn’t provide quite the right weather.

You can just see the shed in the top right of the photo above because the reason for taking the photo was in part to demonstrate how much water the pond lost while I was painting the shed. Well, not actually while I was painting, but over the course of the weeks that it took, as I only had time to do a little now and then.

The other reason for the photo was because I am quite taken with the yellow flowers round the pond. I’ve planted neither the foxglove nor the poppies but they make a pleasing addition, even if neither of them are edible.

On the other hand, the cucumbers may just be edible. The seeds I sowed round the tomato plant in the pot by the pond, despite being a little old, have germinated and even my daughter seems to think this was a good thing. Maybe she is simply learning tact over bluntness but she does like cucumbers grown by others, so we will see.

I’m hoping, however, that when she says she likes the socks I’m knitting she is being truthful. I’d decided a couple of years ago, when I acquired the first fleece from Old Sleningford Farm, that I needed to learn to knit socks. And finally it has happened.

The first of a pair – the other is still on the circular needle.
Posted in Crafts, Gardening, Pond and bog garden | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Fairburn Ings in summer

Years ago, a friend invited me to have a look round Fairburn Ings, an RSPB site just over the border in North Yorkshire. At that point, I was suffering from a major depression and it didn’t clock with me where exactly we were.

It was only after St Aidan’s, a sister site, opened and my daughter and I stumbled across it, when exploring a neighbouring village, that the penny dropped. So, we went back – again in winter – and were a little underwhelmed. It seemed a little barren, if not almost sterile.

However, I’d always intended to make a trip during summer months to see if my feelings towards the site improved. So, this weekend, wanting to explore somewhere different, I dragged my daughter to Fairburn Ings for a walk.

Some very tame squirrels entertained us but I took a short video rather than a still, which I can’t load. That aside, here is a glimpse of the site in its early summer glory.

A helpful sign for bird watchers. I didn’t see any birds at the site but this list might help me identify birds at home.
There is a sign on the wall with peepholes, one of which you are now looking through. It wonders if you will be lucky enough to see a kingfisher today.
Since the foxglove flowered by the pond in the back garden, I have started noticing them everywhere. Apart from mine, they are purple, which I would prefer, but maybe one day the wild variety will find its way downwind.
Posted in Days out, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Agar flakes

I’ve had another first experience today. Earlier in the year, I made rhubarb jelly out of juice left over from stewing a few stalks. This was a success which I wanted to repeat – but since lockdown I’ve not been able to find any gelatine.

Traditionally, I make Turkish Delight at this time of year. Since a gelling agent of some kind is an imperative, I therefore decided to try my luck at the health food store we go to during our monthly outing into Leeds.

The upshot is that we came home with a bag of Agar flakes, which I had heard of but never used before.

After collecting elderflower at the farm where I am part of a vegetable CSA, I was making cordial this afternoon and realised there weren’t enough bottles. Usually, in this situation, I pour any excess into jam jars for immediate consumption – or it goes in the freezer. This time, however, the Agar flakes beckoned.

They were easy to use: simply add 1 tablespoon of the flakes per 240 ml of liquid and heat without stirring until the mixture boils. Then boil until all the flakes have dissolved.

Having seen how glorious the rose bush is at present, I couldn’t resist adding petals, which would soon have fallen, to the jelly. It will be interesting to see if any of their flavour infuses the jelly but in any case I think they are decoration for what would otherwise be a plain dessert.

Posted in Days out, In the kitchen | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Bolting onions

My curiosity has been piqued by a bolting onion near the pond.

I’m not sure I ever planted an onion set in this place, so I’m baffled as to how it ended up here. Perhaps it ended up by the pond after a bird had moved it or perhaps it got dispersed by the wind at some point. Or perhaps I’m just forgetful, as there are other onions dotted about round the garden, where I placed them because I didn’t have a dedicated space for planting them all together.

Anyway, I’ve been watching with interest over the past months. And now quite clearly there appear to be new onion sets at the top of the stem. I’d expected a flower which produced seeds and therefore wonder if it is in fact a normal onion or one which has hybridised.

The above photo shows walking onions which are now forming their own sets in order to walk across the garden. They don’t seem to have done any walking yet and the original bulb I am curious about didn’t look look like a walking onion before it bolted. However, could the walking onions be a source of hybridisation?

So, if anyone has any answers to my questions, I would be interested to know.

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An elaborate bird table

This morning, I noticed that the birds had been fussing with the straw over the beans I’d sown yesterday. I wasn’t sure if they were after the one or the other, but as we were off out I kicked the straw back in place and said to myself I would deal with it later.

Today’s exercise was an exploration of Water Haigh Woodland Park or, to be more exact, breakfast on the banks of the River Aire followed by a meander along the path till it took us to the main road. It was a pleasant start to the day and one I think we should do again before too long.

In the meantime, I needed to sort out the runner bean bed. First, I checked to see if the bean seeds were disturbed and erring on the side of caution I slipped in a few more before redistributing the straw/manure over them. Then I gave the whole lot a good watering before placing and fastening down a net cloche over the bean bed.

I feel sorry for the birds but there is plenty of other food and nest-building material for them close by. I’m also pleased with their antics because they led to me going into the shed and thus being reminded that I had planned to start planting out tomatoes.

So, the first tomato plant has gone in the pot over the drain cover, where I successfully grew one last year (different compost). The former plant was accompanied by parsley but when I went to find the seeds today I came across some cucumber seeds first and thought ‘Why not?’

Cucumbers tend not to do well for me but if they don’t work I will just sow more parsley. On the other hand, any cucumber is better than no cucumber.

Posted in Gardening, Permaculture, Social, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

A new way of sowing beans

Way back at the beginning of lockdown, I was alerted to the fact that the Permaculture film ‘Inhabit’ was free to view at the moment. As I’m not great at watching things, I’d not got round to watching it till last night and I’m glad that I did.

One of the practitioners being interviewed in the film, Susanna, explained how she had learned a technique for sowing beans from the writing of Masanobu Fukuoka. In the video she was shown broadcast sowing the beans into a field where the previous crop had been harvested and its stalks left as mulch. This meant she could grow the beans without having to dig the soil.

Now, with my soil currently being very hard, well frankly impenetrable, the idea that I might be able to sow my own beans without digging sounded most appealing. However, I wasn’t so sure the beans would survive the interest of the resident birds without a more substantial covering than crop residue.

Thus, this morning, I started out with the following space near my daughter’s apple tree:

I’d already cleared the borage yesterday, not at that point being aware it could come in handy as mulch. In any case, as mentioned above, I didn’t think plant debris would afford sufficient protection, so my daughter and I cleared the area of the rest of the plants (onions and phacelia), scattered some runner beans and then covered them with manure.

In truth, this mulch is mostly straw, so isn’t too different from the plant debris we could have used instead. However, I am hoping that the horse manure will make all the difference in terms of holding the straw down as much as anything else. It is also a lot thicker and therefore better hides the beans.

So, now, it’s a case of watching and waiting. It will be a couple of weeks, probably, before we go back to collect more manure, by which point it may be possible to ascertain if this technique would be worth continuing.

Posted in Gardening, Permaculture, soil management | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Baby rhubarb

I can’t believe it is a month ago since I last volunteered at my local organic farm. And here I was once again, this time first potting up basil seedlings,

followed by rhubarb transplants. I’d always wondered why the farm didn’t grow more rhubarb, especially considering we are in the Rhubarb Triangle. However, I potted on at least thirty baby rhubarb crowns, so it looks like things are going to change in a few years.

I have no idea how long it will take for the rhubarb to become productive but I will be able to find out in my own back garden. I had only last night been thinking of adding to my own rhubarb stock by planting a new crown near the shed, so was really pleased when I was offered one of the newly potted up transplants to take home with me.

Leaves battered by the high winds this afternoon

The little plant is sitting on a piece of Yorkshire stone, one of many which I acquired from a Freegler last weekend. He was desperate for me to take as much as I possible could, as he had a rather large pile of it sitting in the lane behind his house after both he and his neighbour had had their back yards resurfaced months ago.

I’m not sure where I am going to put it all at the moment. I’m reluctant to lose too much growing space for a garden path but I’m still stepping on too many unstable house bricks to navigate across the garden and I’ve had one too many accidents. So, once the garden is cleared of vegetation in appropriate places, at least some of the stones can be found a place.

In the meantime, I am planning my next moves in the garden. I need to sow the runner and French beans but, in spite of last night’s rain I’m still going to need a chisel to get into the soil. I have at least cleared the borage plants which were well passed their best in order to be able to access the area to be sown with some of the beans. We had enjoyed eating the occasional flower but I’d mostly left them for the sparrows who seem to have a penchant for them.

Posted in Days out, forest garden, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Yorkshire Post to the rescue

Over the weekend, I did some work for Zero Waste Leeds. They had asked if I could make a video of my composting system – and upon hearing that I wrote a blog, they asked if I could do a couple of guest posts for their website.

The Zero Waste Leeds website has lots of tips about reducing waste generally and I was pleased to learn something myself when I read another post in the garden waste section. Of course, I promptly forgot this little nugget and will have to read the post again.

However, I didn’t forget that I needed to sort out the fruit flies in the Green Johanna once I had finished the work for Zero Waste Leeds. They have found themselves an attractive site because I had not been adding enough carbon-rich material.

When I added horse manure the other week, that dampened the fruit flies enthusiasm for the heap. Then I saw last night that they were back in abundance after the addition of more vegetable peelings.

Fortunately, one of my neighbours has started passing on his Yorkshire Post newspapers to me. Back at the start of lockdown, I had offered to help him with shopping and other errands. He, naturally, wanted to thank me for my help and it occurred to me that he could do so in a way which still helped him, too.

Now, he brings a few copies of the Post to my front door, as and when, instead of having to drag out a wheelie bin full of paper once a fortnight. And I can slip them into the Green Johanna, as I feel the need. So, another win-win situation!

Posted in Gardening, Good for the environment, Social, soil management | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments