Sunday, 29 November 2015

My Allotment

I did something for the first time this week, I went to a meeting of my allotment association. It wasn't just any old meeting though. It was an EGM to discuss accepting the terms of new leases for both allotment sites in the town where I live and to also vote on the association changing its constitution so we could self manage the sites.
Important stuff.
It's been a long process to get this far; over four years in fact. The other site in the town is relatively straightforward, although it still took numerous draft leases before the association committee received one that they felt was good enough to accept the terms of.
My site however is a different kettle of fish.
Apparently my site has been an allotment site for over 100 years yet despite this it hasn't been designated what is known as 'statutory allotment land'. When a site is designated as such, it has additional protection under the Allotments Act of 1925. Section 8 of the act states that local authorities cannot dispose of allotment land without the Secretary of State's consent.
And why hasn't my site been designated as statutory allotment land? Because the actual land is owned by the county council. County councils cannot be allotment authorities so they can't lease it directly to us. Only district or local authorities can be allotment authorities. And so the county council lease the land to the district council who then rent the plots to the tenants of each plot.
A simple solution would be for the county council to sell the land to the district council so we could then become a statutory site. But they refuse to do this.
Currently, when our tenancy agreements are up for renewal on 1 April each year, the district council could just say they won't be renewing them i.e. we have no protection at all. The new 25 year lease will give us 12 months notice that they wish to evict us and while this is far from ideal, it is more protection from what we have now. So that is why I voted to accept the new leases.
The extra complication and perhaps why it was better to accept a slightly more protected position, is the councils are currently still in discussion about the local plan for the town. Supposedly they need to build nearly 3,500 homes in my little market town which has a current population of around 10,000 people. And guess what? My site, which is bordered by farmland on two sides and roads on the others (one an A road) is one of the areas that will possibly be allocated for everything may all change in 18 months time.
Self management will hopefully put us in a stronger position should we have a fight on our hands, as well as bring our extortionate rents down in a few years time.
I guess only time will tell.


Friday, 6 November 2015

Job Perks

When you're self employed and also work freelance, there aren't too many perks that get offered to you, apart from the perk of working when you want to of course. 

Although saying that, quite a few invitations and offers do arrive in my inbox at the magazine.  But I think, being the type of person that I am, I don't usually take them up. 

I have, however, taken up two invitations/offers this year and I'm glad that I did. The first was an invitation to attend a little get together for a designer called Kaffe Fassett as he celebrated 50 years of working in the textile industry; first as a knitwear and tapestry designer and latterly as a fabric designer. The event was being held at the Gardens of the Rose not far from me so this was my main reason for finally saying yes to an invitation. 

The gardens are wonderful. Sadly the event was being held just before the roses were out in all their glory, but there was plenty of colour and inspiration to behold still. 

And the colours of Kaffe's quilts...

And then there are the offers. An press release email popped into my inbox a couple of weeks ago. I read it briefly as I usually do and then moved on to the next one. I returned to the email a couple of days later and reread it. It was from a PR company asking if they could send me a new iron from Phillips. The iron was so great, they said, I'd love ironing!

I ummed and ahhed and finally decided to accept their offer. It was only then I looked at the spec of's RRP is more than £300! I'm currently using a basic iron I bought from Tesco for a fiver...!

The iron arrived this week. It's huge. I've had a little play and I have to say I think I might learn to like ironing after all....

Cat for scale 


Monday, 26 October 2015

Sweet Potato Harvest 2015

Earlier in the year I wrote a post about growing sweet potato slips yourself from tubers. It was a successful experiment and I managed to grow over a dozen slips for myself from tubers I grew last year as well as send some to a friend on twitter. She sent me four slips of different sweet potato varieties in exchange.

I planted out my first Beauregard slips in the first week of May, having assumed the risk of frost had passed. They were planted in open ground on my allotment. 

I was wrong. 

We had a patchy air frost the first week of June which obviously set the plants back a bit. I did think I was going to lose the plants for a time, but thankfully they survived.

At the end of June I planted out my remaining Beauregard slips together with an evangeline plant. The Murasaki, Bonita and burgundy slips were planted out in the first week of July. All were planted in open ground on my allotment. 

It's been a difficult growing year this year, with that late frost setting things back plus it was never particularly warm apart from one short period. So I had a feeling this year's sweet potato harvest wasn't going to be the best. As late summer turned to early autumn, it was clear the plants were still behind schedule so I covered them with plastic to make a polytunnel of sorts to give them a bit of warmth for longer

Today, I dug the plants up. It wasn't good, but also not a complete disaster as I think I have tubers of each variety that I can use to grow next year's slips, hopefully! 

So here goes....

Beauregard. The first plants yielded a few decent sized tubers but only about a kilo in total. 

The ones I planted a bit later were all skinny

The remaining plants from my twitter friend had come from Suttons Seeds but as they were delivered late, I think they had little chance of success




And finally Burgundy which was a failure 

But look what I also dug up, a tuber that was already regrowing!

So what did I learn this year?

For starters they need their long growing season and they need warmth if the summer isn't a scorcher like last year. So I think next year I'll cover them early on. Covering them will also protect them from a rogue late frost!

But as I said earlier, all is not lost as I'll try and grow slips from each variety. Even that tiny Burgurndy one, assuming it survives the winter!

Here's to the 2016 growing season!


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Accidental Blog Silence

Oh dear! Somehow it's been a few months since I've written a blog post again! I'm not sure how it keeps happening. I keep meaning to write about the allotment or my quilting but just don't seem to get around to it. Sometimes, when I think I'll write something, but then what I want to write seems too long and so the post gets put on the back burner again, supposedly because I don't have the time. 

So a New Years resolution of sorts (after all it's only mid October) but I'll try (again) to post more often....little and often; just a little update of what I've created both on the plot and in my sewing room possibly each week, although deciding to do this just before a busy couple of weeks might not be the best timing.....

The weather is definitely autumnal now so work on the allotment is mainly digging and clearing ground for the winter. Last weekend I went to an Apple Day at Tewin Orchard near Welwyn Garden City. Here's my purchases from the day

Conference pears for poaching, Monarch and Catshead cooking apples for some crumbles and Adam's Pearmain dessert apples. 

My sewing this week has been some square in a square blocks using some Nature Trail fabrics from Dashwood Studio. It's supposed to be a quick little quilt to help sell the fabrics. 

I'm foundation piecing the blocks but they are being really frustrating to piece as the fabrics keep moving as I'm stitching. I like to use freezer paper for my foundation piecing these days so I can iron the pieces once I've stitched them. Hey ho. I'll keep on with it

My baking week included this creamy apple tart made using apples from Tom's new apple tree. It was quite tasty and a bit like a patisserie 

Until next week....hopefully!


Sunday, 5 July 2015

A Baby Quilt for a Baby Bee

About halfway through our Little Blogs Quilt Bee (LBQB) our queen bee, Lou, who brought us all together announced that she was having a baby. This was all very exciting as it meant we could launch a bit of secret sewing!

A look through Lou's Instagram feed found that her favourite colours were pink, teal and grey which worked for not knowing whether she was having a boy or girl. A few secret discussions later and we agreed on a star type block 54-40 or Flight

We each made a block before I joined them together and sent it off to Gina to work her quilting magic. 

We were so pleased with the result, but nearly got caught out as her little bundle of joy arrived five weeks early!

Congratulations Lou! It was a fun project to make and a fitting end to the bee


Monday, 1 June 2015

The UK Low Volume Plus Swap!

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my callout for interest in doing a block swap.

It seems there is a bit of interest so let's do it!
The original #lowvolumeplusswap was run by Lindsay Conner in the States. It was open to US citizens only and she is currently sorting the blocks for all the recipients. She has quite a few to sort!
The block is quite simple and quick to make. You can find a tutorial on Lindsay's website here. Please ignore other information on Lindsay's page such as the sign up link and the number of blocks to make. All the information you need for the UK swap is here.
The Plus block
The block is 11 3/4" square unfinished and uses charm squares for the corners, although this isn't a necessity. The background should be made of scrappy low volume prints, although a few white, cream or grey solids are fine. Make sure that the background and the plus fabrics have a different value when you lay them out.
The plus should be ONE bright, single-colour print. You can use colours of the rainbow, including dark neutrals like blacks, dark greys and browns for each block. Make your blocks all different colours or all the same; the choice is yours!
All fabrics should be quilt-shop quality fabrics  e.g. Robert Kaufman, Moda, FreeSpirit, AGF, Benartex. The main thing in a swap is to remember to give as you would receive!
I'm going to suggest we each make a maximum of 12 blocks to start with. Lindsay has over a 1000 blocks to share out which seems a bit of a logistical nightmare to me! She has suggested on her page how many blocks you need to make various size quilts and has also posted some finished quilts as inspiration.
How the swap works
1. However many blocks you make and send to me is the number of blocks you will receive in exchange.
2. Blocks must come from a smoke-free home.
3. I will email you my address once you have signed up. Signing up to the swap is not a commitment to providing the number of blocks you have indicated. It just gives me an idea of who is taking part and the number of blocks I'm likely to need to sort.
4. When you have made your blocks, send them to me. Remember to enclose a stamped addressed envelope with your blocks so that I can send you your swap blocks in return.
5. When sending your blocks, please include a note with your name, address and email address so I know who they have come from AND the number of blocks you have sent.
6. I'll share blocks at random after the closing date.
7. The swap is restricted to quilters with UK addresses only.
8. The closing date for sending your blocks is 31 August 2015. This means you can make one block a week which makes it a bit less daunting.
Here's a BIG tip!
Use the same size envelope and same postage you use to send your blocks to me for your return parcel as guess what.....I'll need to use the same size envelope and postage to send you your swap blocks! If you don't put enough stamps on or a large enough envelope, it will be you that has to pay the excess postage charge or have blocks squeezed into a small envelope!
Ok, nagging bit over......
Still interested?
Don't forget to hashtag your blocks #UKlowvolumeplusswap on Instagram and share the swap with your friends. The more people involved......the more variety of blocks to swap!
Let's have some fun!



Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Sweet Potato Queen

This is a bit of a tongue in cheek title I have acquired on twitter as a few friends have followed my attempts to grow my own slips from sweet potatoes. 

Whilst they are called potatoes, sweet potatoes are from a different plant family than your regular spud; the ipomoea family. They have a vine like quality that spreads over the ground while the roots form long tubers below the surface. And as they are from a different family, you don't grow them from a seed potato but rather from slips. Slips are new plants that are grown from a tuber

However, experiments with friends have shown you can't use just any old tuber as many commercial tubers have been treated with a chemical called budnip which prevents any growth from sprouting on them. 

I grew sweet potatoes last year from some slips I bought from Marshalls Seeds and had a reasonable harvest from five plants; and they were delicious! Mellow, smooth and sweet to the taste. 

Having watched some videos on YouTube, at the end of January I placed a couple of my homegrown tubers into two jars of water 

A couple of weeks later the first few signs of growth sprouting 

And gradually more and more growth, mainly shots but also a few roots 

When the growth is ideally about 6" long you simply break off the slip 

Placing the slip in water again encourages root growth 

The slips then need to be potted up before being planted out after the risk of frost has passed

It will be interesting to see what kind of harvest I get from these homegrown slips. It's certainly been satisfying growing my own as they are expensive to buy online at approx £10 for five slips. I probably grew about 18 slips from those two tubers but what was noticeable was the slips were gradually smaller and less strong, so maybe a note to myself in the future to take a maximum of four or five slips per tuber. 

I'll hopefully be planting my slips out on the allotment in the next couple of weeks and will post an update later in the year. 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

My Musings on The Big Allotment Challenge

So the second series of The Big Allotment Challenge has just ended on bbc2 and I enjoyed watching very much. 

I enjoyed watching the first series too. 

It's a TV programme. It's a competition. Yet people are still moaning about the grow challenge being about growing perfect veg. Yet if you belong to any horticultural society or exhibit vegetables at a village show, that's the sort of thing you are expected to enter and the veg has to satisfy all the entry requirements to be in with a chance of winning. 

Yes all of us who grow vegetables are growing them for the taste and so we know exactly what has gone into producing that parsnip or whatever. We don't care what they look like. Nothing beats homegrown. 

But are you telling me you don't get excited or a certain amount of pride when you dig up a perfectly straight carrot or grow a massive cabbage?

I like that the TV company listened to comments after the first series. There was more factual information about growing each vegetable or flower and I think I preferred the one gardener per plot format. 
I'm gradually getting converted to growing more flowers and already know I want to make a Christmas wreath for my front door this year. 
The eat challenges were a bit more inventive in the latest series too, which is great as was using the veg or fruit that they had grown. 

I've heard on the grapevine (twitter) that a third series hasn't been commissioned which is a real shame when you think how much crap there is on television these days. Surely a programme that promotes growing your own and preserving and healthier living and exercising as a result, is something that should be welcomed with open arms? People say it's a poor imitation of the Great British Bake Off, but how many series did that take before it became the massive success it is today?

I really hope the beeb reconsider. 

And finally I'm delighted to see that my fave Rob won, and feeling smug that we followed each other on twitter before he became famous! Well done that man!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Year in Review - the Year of the Bee!

I've been so busy this month I've just remembered I didn't do a review of my quilting year! To be honest, there isn't a huge amount to report on and I mentioned a lot of what I have been up to quilting-wise in my Around the World Blog Hop post a couple of months ago.
2014 was definitely the Year of the Bee for me where I dipped my toes into the online world of the virtual quilt bee. The first bee I joined was the Little Blogs Quilt Bee. I blogged about it here last year. We are almost at the end of this bee now with just one more queen bee in February but we hope to keep some joint quilting efforts going in some shape or form.
The second bee I joined was the Modern Instabee on Instagram. This has been a fun bee too making blocks for each other from the book Modern Bee by Lindsey Conner. I am queen bee in March so looking forward to receiving my blocks then!
My recent quilting has been to make a quick Plus Quilt for the designer of my magazine who left to have a baby
And I finally found a bit of time to join my #LBQB blocks together. Looking forward to quilting this soon!
So I think that's probably about it quilting-wise for 2014. I've already got lots of ideas bubbling around my head for quilts I want to make this year, including getting back to my City Sampler quilt.
Let's see how I get on!