Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Here's to a good Christmas for you and yours and may the sentiment expressed on the pictured Christmas decoration come true.

Veg Plotting will return in the New Year.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Announcing The 52 Week Salad Challenge

This post proves procrastination can pay because it was borne out of idle pondering instead of writing my Christmas cards on Sunday. My thinking went thus:

I really should grow more of what we like to eat.

What do we eat all the time?

Salads. At least 4 days a week, that's what...

...and they're really expensive at this time of the year...

Why don't I grow more of them then?

a) Because I'm pants at successional sowing - I get to our summer holiday and never get going again

b) I'm not really making the best use of the resources I have - cold frames, cloches, windowsill growing kit, sprouting kit - what a waste!

c) I'm not making the best use of the techniques I know about either - forcing/blanching, microgreens, cut and come again, sprouting - why's that?

I wonder if I can grow salad leaves year round?

I'm bound to fail going by my past record :(

So I then tweeted the fateful tweet:

@Malvernmeet we eat salad at least 4x a week. I'm contemplating a 52 week salad growing challenge for the blog next year. Is it a goer?

An excited flurry of tweets ensued, which confirmed it is indeed a goer. So consider this my formal announcement, throwing down the gauntlet, girding up my loins for the travails ahead etc etc. Forget the Olympics, we gardeners need a challenge requiring much more stamina and staying power. Will you join me in the New Year for The 52 Week Salad Challenge?

I'll outline the details in my first post on the first Friday of the month i.e. January 6th.

See you there?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Worrying Times on the Plot

My allotment shed - in warmer and sunnier times

This week my plot's shed was one of 13 broken into, which now means there's 13 unsolved crimes added to our local police's statistics.

The first I heard about it was on Wednesday when I was telephoned by the local police. It was snowing at the time, so I wasn't able to get up there until yesterday to see what had happened.

As I suspected, I was lucky. I don't keep anything up there I would miss if it was taken, so all I had to do was close the door. Sadly my new allotment neighbours' spanking new shed had a neat hole where the padlock had been torn off. They weren't there at the time (no-one else was either) so I don't know if they or anyone else had anything taken.

We've not had a break-in for a few years and the colder, darker days means our site like so many others was less attended than usual. It must have been far too tempting a site for anyone looking for valuables to enhance their Christmas season. I wonder if the hard financial times means we'll see much more of this in future?

The topic of allotment vandalism was on Gardeners' Question Time recently (it's around 29 minutes and 45 seconds in on the link) and much was made about keeping sheds well padlocked. I don't do that because I believe it advertises there might be something inside worth taking. I won't be taking Bob Flowerdew's advice re growing something thorny round the door either, as I'd probably come to more harm than any thief!

What do you do to keep things safe on your plot?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

GBBD: Hangers on and a Few Surprises

November and early December have continued in their unseasonably warm spell of strangeness, so there's still the remains of summer blooms amongst the usual death and decay. Last week our first proper frost finally took away last month's Fine Fuchsias, but I couldn't resist showing off September's Echinops flower heads again. The morning sunlight was highlighting them so beautifully a couple of days ago.

The ever reliable Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' still has the odd flower head* to show for its troubles and the perennial Nemesia 'Vanilla Lady' I bought at Malvern is taking advantage of the extra warmth by my patio doors. The big surprise is the giant potted summer pelargonium in my north facing front garden. It's still flowering away when its companion New Guinea Impatiens have turned to mush.

The garden feels very in-betweenish because many of the reliable winter flowers are still in bud. The Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' is being very shy as is the Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'. They and both my Clematis balearica are only hinting at what's to come, but then the latter were flowering completely out of season in July, so perhaps deserve a rest.

But then I find my rosemary and Pulmonaria are in flower well ahead of their usual late winter/early spring appearances and my perennial candytuft is flowering too, thus adding to the topsy turvy nature of my garden this month.

I usually confine my winter Cyclamen to various outdoor winter pots and this was so for this pictured bargain** until a couple of days ago. It was a welcome shot of red by the front door, but I've decided I want to keep its cheer much closer to me and so have brought it indoors. Here it's drying its wings in our utility room before it graces our Christmas table.

Moving back outdoors for a brief moment, the garden held one final surprise. Nestled under the blackened stems of my Helianthus 'Lemon Queen', I found my fig tree has finally borne fruit. The sunflowers must have nurtured them through our indifferent summer weather, to provide me with one final luscious taste of that season. There were just enough to brighten my breakfast this morning.

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. I have summer, autumn, winter and spring blooms in my garden this month. How many seasons can you see in yours?

* = always reliable in my garden where it often flowers all year

** = £3.50 for 3 in a terracotta bowl - not bad :)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Here's Some I Made Earlier

Following yesterday's review of the Brother garden labeller, here's some examples of the different kinds of labels I produced. Click to enlarge if necessary.

I've added some text in red, so you can easily see some of the examples I want to point out as follows:

A = Largest size text, normal label width
B = Repeated text set up as for A but with the printing set to 2 lines at the start of the text entry and the margin set to smallest (note the : at the start of the label is to denote where to cut so the label has even margins)

Numbers 1-4 are examples of me messing around with the settings to save tape as follows:

1 = 2 line entry, repeat label option set to 9 (with text settings as for A)
2 = 2 line entry set at the start of text entry, text size = small and repeated text entered twice. The chain entry print option was used 3 times, and also shows how the last label is cut in two if the print feed option isn't taken for the last label
3= 2 line entry where the space between the last word on line 1 and the first word on the second line isn't omitted, so the 2nd line is indented by 1 character
4 = Examples where the text = small and half width

5 = One of the examples using the special characters available which are dotted around the sheet. This one illustrates the italic + outline text option.

Note: some of the more fun characters when printed look nothing like they appear on the entry screen, e.g. the car at top right looked more like a pram. It's best to look at the leaflet to see what you're getting sometimes, though to be fair most of the symbols are self-explanatory.

Disclosure: I was given the labeller to trial by the manufacturer.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Brother Garden Labeller: Product Review

I was recently sent the pictured Brother garden labeller to review and my inner geek has thoroughly enjoyed making all kinds of labels for both my garden and office supplies.

Using the labeller

It's very portable and easy to use. Labels can be produced quickly without really needing to read the enclosed instruction leaflet as it's very much like using a calculator. However, if you want to make full use of the functionality available, then the leaflet is most useful. For example, gardeners may want to use italics and quote marks so their labels follow plant naming conventions.

Text entered and any setting adjustments are saved when the machine is switched off, so it's worth getting into the habit of resetting everything at the start of the next session. This is very easy to do, as is using the function keys to select fresh settings or using the special characters available. The back of the unit has a handy quick function key and shortcut reference label, so it's easy to quickly get to and adjust the particular settings you want.

Up to 9 labels can be stored in memory, which is particularly useful for producing name tapes without having to type them in time after time. I've been given a reel of the special iron-on tape available and I'm anticipating using this over the Christmas period to label some of my niece and nephew's new schoolwear. Note: there's lots of different types of tapes, plus a range of sizes and colours available.

How to ensure the tape lasts as long as possible

It's very easy to quickly use up the reel of tape provided with the machine and as replacements are relatively expensive to buy, I found several ways to conserve tape via a combination of:
  • adjusting text size and width
  • adjusting margin width (though unfortunately this only adjusts the margin on one side)
  • printing on 2 lines (only works with the larger 9mm and 12mm tapes; mine was 12mm)
  • using the repeat label (up to 9 at a time) or chain label (for different names) options
  • using the smallest label size setting (mini DVD) which restricts the maximum label width to 42mm (NB an error message appears if the text won't fit)
  • simply keying names one after the other with minimal spacing between them
If several of these options are used together, then the readability of the text on the label needs to be weighed up against the amount of tape saved. And if the last option is used, then I recommend using the preview function to make sure everything is spelled correctly!

Note: to see how much tape you have left, you need to take the back off the labeller and look in the little window in the tape cassette.

Things to watch out for when using
  • Batteries aren't included as standard and you'll need 6xAAA ones
  • when using the 2 line option, the space between the word at the end of line 1 and the beginning of line 2 can be omitted, otherwise the start of line 2 is indented
  • when using the chain print option, say yes to the tape feed option presented after the last label, otherwise it'll be cut in half. Say no to the tape feed option for your first label through to the penultimate one to minimise tape wastage
  • the error message explanatory text in the leaflet doesn't really explain how to correct the problem encountered. I found resetting the machine is usually the answer
Ideas for improvement
  • I'd like the option to adjust both margins down to minimum size so less tape is wasted
  • The Preview function just shows the text entered and label length. It would be good if there was the option to preview all print settings as not all of these are obvious or shown on the visual cues shown on the printer's screen
  • Make the difference between error message and settings displays clearer. It took me a while to realise the Line lmt message I was getting was an error message rather than part of setting up a multiple line. Use something like Error-Line lmt perhaps?
  • Make the explanatory leaflet available online in A4 format, so it can be printed off and laminated. Whilst the machine's easy to use, it would be good to have the option to have a more durable, waterproof and wipeable set of instructions as I can see the current version becoming torn and mud spattered very quickly. NB there is a leaflet available online, but it's for the previous model (so I've not linked to it) and there are subtle differences between the two
Overall opinion

This is the kind of thing you might not see the need of because your usual label + pen/pencil approach usually works fine. But then when you get one, you fall in love with it. It would make the perfect Christmas present for a gadget loving gardener.

Small businesses will also find this a useful piece of kit, particularly if portability and/or label durability is important. Any community group or other society needing to label lots of items e.g. for plant sales will find a good use for it. I think mine will come in handy for next year's Corsham Food Festival and Gardeners' Question Time :)

Tomorrow's post will show you some of the labels I produced whilst testing this gadget out.

A Bonus Item

I admitted I used to be in IT, so I was also sent a P-Touch 2430PC Label Printer to try with my laptop. This came with its own power unit (aka AC adapter), so didn't use batteries, though it can do if needed. NB We found the same power unit can be used with the garden labeller, though I can't find it as a separate item for sale. NAH's eyes lit up when the labeller arrived, so over to him for this part of the review (via email):

Arrived complete with white labelling cartridge, USB lead, Wall-Wart power supply [AC Adapter - Ed] and manual.
Battery operation is an option using 6 AA cells (not supplied and not tried).
Simple to load cartridge once side opened. Cartridge only fits in one position so cannot be mis-loaded.
No software to load but a CDROM is supplied for 'advanced' features.
Simple software auto-loads like a driver when USB lead is plugged in.*

Explorer opens; there is only one .exe file to open, then it works like a simple editor.
Text fonts and styles are there as usual. Sizes text automatically for multiple lines.
Pictures can be inserted but resolution is very low and monochrome only.

Neat and simple to use (and I didn't even read the manual!).


* = this means the software isn't downloaded onto the computer, so it doesn't clutter things up or potentially interfere with other applications on there

As NAH's an engineer you can see he's not as wordy as I am! I'll only add that this option is really for organisations needing to do a lot of labelling or needing to use the additional functionality it provides. Bearing this in mind, we're going to have a go at using the picture functionality to see if QR code images are readable when used. More on this to follow...

Disclosure: My thanks to Brother for arranging to send both items of kit, plus lots of tape so promptly and for giving both NAH and me a lot of fun testing things out ;)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Story Behind the Name

I'm often asked how Veg Plotting and VP came about and Garden Faerie's recent meme, the Story Behind the Name is the perfect excuse to blog about it :)

We need to go back to just over four years ago... to a dark, rainy early November day with the wind wailing around the house like a banshee...

NAH was away and I was bored. Crucially I'd decided my then career break from work was going to have to be a permanent move (it was the deadline day for letting them know if I was going to return) and had just written my formal resignation letter.

I'd also decided I wanted to do something new to celebrate my now unemployed status, and so I was trawling the internet to find a nice weekend away. Instead I found The Bath Crafting Cranny. I liked her style and humour, the fact she was local to me and I loved the blogs she linked to, especially My Tiny Plot.

I wonder what it takes to start a blog? I pondered. A quick Google and 5 minutes later Veg Plotting was born. Bits and Bobs and Veg Plot were already taken as blog names, and thinking I'd be solely writing about my allotment, I plumped for Veg Plotting instead.

However, within days of starting it quickly became clear I couldn't stay on topic for toffee. Seeing most of my ideas for posts are born whilst I'm up at the plot, luckily the play on the word Plotting means the blog's title still fits. And judging by the number of keyword searches I see for it in my stats, it's a memorable title too :)

So why VP? Well, when I was faced with the fill-in box for who I was going to be on the interweb, I panicked about internet security and identity theft and so decided an alter ego would be the best way forward. I also thought people would get fed up of typing Veg Plotting the whole time and so wanted something a bit snappier. I remembered a wonderful cartoon Bill Tidy used to do for CAMRA called Keg Buster. The Keg Buster character was always called KB in the pictures, so VP is an affectionate homage to one of our finest cartoonists.

Since then it's all gone rather muddy and complicated. It started with a change to Blotanical a few years ago where I wasn't allowed to be VP any more. EmmaT sometimes calls me Veep, so that's who I became on there.

Then I started getting some guest blog posts and the possibility of freelance work beckoned, so I 'came out' as the real me at the Garden Media Guild Awards 2 years ago. I had an awful lot of explaining to do that day!

My presence on Twitter has complicated things further: @Malvernmeet was created specifically for publicising our bloggers' get together at Malvern last year, but has stuck around as my personal tweet handle even though I vowed my Twitter presence would be temporary!

@VegPlotting is on there too, but I hardly ever use that at all. At the moment I'm toying with the idea of letting @Malvernmeet go and using @VegPlotting more because I know people who've got to know me over the past year or so are most confused by @Malvernmeet. However, I'm rather daunted by more or less having to start to build up a Twitter following all over again.

If I'd known how things were going to turn out I'd be here as the real me and with a really clever blog title which reflects what it's all about instead of feeling sometimes like I'm suffering from a multiple personality disorder :o

But then I wouldn't have written this blog post as there wouldn't be a Story Behind the Name ;)

Thanks to Garden Faerie's friend Bren for providing the logo at the top of this post.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Trendwatch 2012: Honey I...

Pretty much everything's been said already about the Garden Media Guild Awards last Wednesday, so instead I've trawled through the new products catalogue in my goody bag for what might be hitting the shops next year. The main trend I spotted was everything's getting smaller, so with a nod to a certain film, here's several ideas to look out for...

Honey I Shrunk the Compost - several companies are taking pity on us (and their lorry loads) and drastically reducing the weight of their compost. I hope they work better than the similar peat based equivalent did a few years ago. I wonder how well this version will rewet and swell up to the proper size.

Honey I Shrunk the Gardening Space - in recognition that over 70% of us have much smaller gardens nowadays and use various pots and windowboxes instead, there's a special rebranded seed range designed to fill them.

Honey I Shrunk the Gardening - everything's happening at the root zone level and with mycorrhizal funghi. From just one commonly available product (since 2000), the choice is due to er, mushroom next year. Just make sure the pictured jar* isn't mistaken for coffee...

Honey I Shrunk the Gardener - there's the usual mini tools, bright seed packets et al. aimed at kiddiwinks (as well as Dawn's lovely new book which I've sneakily peeked at). Personally I'm going to swipe the Grow Your Own Ladybirds kit for myself because it was a business idea I had [sadly unconsumated - Ed] when I left uni decades ago.

Have you spotted any gardening trends this year - miniaturised or otherwise?

* = Disclosure - Toby Buckland sent me a free sample of his planting powder (also note the pictured QR code usage) after putting a shout out on Twitter recently. He was also very cheerful company on the Tube on the way home last Wednesday :)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

How to Receive Your Wiggly Wigglers Bouquet

What could be better to receive on a gloomy, rainy November day than a lovely big seasonal bouquet of fresh British flowers courtesy of Wiggly Wigglers via Fuelmyblog? Here are my top tips to get them from box to vase and ensure the resultant smile stays there as long as possible...

Find a big space to open the box and process the flowers. Keep the box upright just like the delivery man did.

Open the lid and look at what's packed inside. Smile. A lot :D

I was curious to see how the packaging was holding the bouquet in place, so placed the box on its side and opened the bottom of the box. There's a reason for that big This Way Up arrow I showed you earlier: it stops the water from the bouquet's pouch spilling all over the place.

Here you can see how well wrapped and tied the bouquet is, plus the pouch of water to ensure it stays fresh. And yes, those dots on the tissue paper are there to tell you it was raining when I took these photos...

Remove all the protective wrapping carefully. NB there's 3 lots of garden string in strategic places to keep the bouquet together as well as the raffia, plus a staple holding the tissue and paper in place.

Find a wide necked vase to hold everything and add a small glass of lemonade to the water to keep the flowers looking at their best for longer (florist and Wiggly Wigglers top care tip).

Plonk the bouquet in the vase (because I liked the way it's been arranged, though there's enough for several vases if you prefer) and admire for many days - 6 days later and the irises and lilies are yet to open :)

Reuse and recycle the packaging - the raffia will come in handy for hanging up my outdoor Christmas decorations and extra garden string is always useful. I even have a use in mind for the plastic film. There were a few Pittosporum leaves to compost. Just the water retaining pouch went into the rubbish bin, though I have tweeted @Wiggled and asked if this can be recycled in any way (see update below - it can be composted - yay!).

I've also asked about the seasonality of the bouquet: I'm intrigued about the availability of British grown irises and lilies (though they're lovely) in November. From past experience @Wiggled is very good at replying, so I'll update this post as soon as I have the answers. I'm expecting to hear they're grown under glass as the blurb I have says their flowers can be sourced in this way, so the bouquet stays British and those air miles are kept down.

Update 9.44am: Just found @Wiggled's reply to my questions:
nappy compostable, iris from cambridge and lilies from cornwal (under glass) - plastic recyclable - thanks lots x

The number of times NAH has bought me flowers is minimal, so receiving these was a treat :)

Have you had a nice surprise recently?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

GBMD: Miriam Rothschild

Sunlight through Clematis seedhead - late November 2011

I must say, I find everything interesting

Miriam Rothschild (1908-2005)

A quotation found via Transatlantic Gardener which could be a strapline for me and this blog :)
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