Inside/outside, dealing with weatherhouse cats

Cats, as you know, are always on the wrong side of the door.

DSCN5359Here is our lovely Bella on her first ever trip outside in 2015. She has got a little bigger since then but has had to face new challenges in the battle of the doors with the arrival of Chelsea:

my mother’s cat who has had to leave her old home and her handy cat flap to come and stay with us, at least for the moment, while my mother works out whether she can manage to have a cat in her new tiny flat.

Unfortunately, these two delightful animals are not the best of friends, so we have had to devise ways of keeping them apart. To begin with we kept Chelsea inside, but now we have let her out to explore the garden:

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She seems reasonably impressed and completely at home but they still hiss and yowl whenever they see each other. So for the moment we are operating a one cat in, one cat out system, like the little couple in an old fashioned weatherhouse.  This is more or less working except at night when, generally speaking, they both want to be in.  This requires a simple system requiring a shut door and a big warning to passing residents to think before opening it:

wp_20181115_21_56_36_pro1.jpgIt has worked quite well except that cats can’t read and these two are quite clever. One or other of them worked out how to open the door, as we discovered when we were awoken in the middle of the night to yowling and hissing.  An ingenious son, left on his own to cat wrangle while I was out at work, came up with a system involving chairs and bits of rope, which worked to stop the cats from opening the door.  But it really seemed a little too uncivilised for anyone who might want to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.  So this evening I had a look through the ‘that might be useful one day’ box and found a snib for the top of the door. There were a few of these in the box because the previous owners of the house had them attached to every door to  keep dogs in or out :

wp_20181115_21_56_27_pro1.jpgFor once something from that box has been used. Let’s see if it works at least until the cats can learn not to kill each other in the middle of the night.

Slightly off schedule

Dear blog, I’ve been away from you too long but I’ve had other things to do, including  some gardening and allotment plotting, but also working, seeing family, and listening to music: everything from solo cello to Don McLean. But, I digress. One thing that fell behind last weekend was potting up my tomato plants. I had taken them out for some sun at the weekend:

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but then didn’t have time to repot them. I snatched a moment on Monday night to do the repotting and then, of course, ran out of space inside for the happier plants in their bigger pots. Time to move them outside to the growhouse. But the big growhouse lost its plastic cover and was looking a little sad – here it is with the now-gone conifers in the backgroundwp_20180410_08_53_29_pro.jpgI had looked online for replacement covers but it seems that this model is no longer made. Time for some recycling or upcycling or whatever the term is – reusing, I suppose. I patched together a cover, using a part of the old cover and a large piece of plastic from some delivery which had been sitting in the shed, on the grounds of coming in useful one day. This was the day:

WP_20180513_14_18_56_Pro.jpgBut how to fix it in place?

WP_20180513_14_19_05_Pro.jpgWooden clothes pegs seemed to do the trick.  So the bigger tomatoes have moved outside and are hanging on, even with night time temperatures dropping to 4 degrees this week. To compensate, they are getting lots of sunshine during the day.  I’ve kept the cucumbers in the house as they are little less robust.

Meanwhile, one of our visitors brought me a book:

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I’m a little excited – this is from 1971, updated from 1929. It has a stern warning inside:

‘the contents of this Bulletin are intended for use by persons wishing to undertake preservation of fruit and vegetables at home for their own consumption…. Any person contemplating the sale of food should seek the advice of their local food and drugs and/or weights and measures inspector, whose address can be obtained from the local Town Hall’

There’s something very 20th century about that but I’m pretty sure the actual business of home preservation is just as valuable today.

Finally, wordpress reminded me that it is my blog anniversary. This is a little earlier than the first post because it took me several weeks to work up the courage to press  ‘publish’ but it’s time to celebrate four years of blogging. I read somewhere that the average blogger lasts a year, so four years feels pretty good. Now that that particular flurry of family and other activities is over, I hope to get back up-to-date with my usual gardening, cooking and blogging schedule.

 

Peas and lettuce

I’ve had a lovely day pottering in the garden. I  dug out one of last year’s raised beds and moved all the self-seeded campion in it to the new bit beside the hedge where the conifers used to be (sorry no photos). Then I added bucket loads of garden compost, sowed four different varieties of peas – Carouby de Mausanne, Norli, Heritage Salmon Pink and a new, red flowered one called ‘Grijs’. For more on the multi-coloured peas, see here. I covered the whole thing with home-made cat protection devices and covered one half with a cloche.

WP_20180428_18_18_08_Pro.jpgI’ve had this trusty cloche for about twenty years and it’s served me well, with a couple of replacement plastic covers over the years. This year I used the plastic cover from one of the seed houses which had ripped in the winter winds and it seems to fit quite well.  The cloche had been covering some overwintering lettuces for the last few months.  They can probably manage on their own now, though we had one for tea tonight, here photographed with some rhubarb

WP_20180428_18_56_46_Pro.jpgThe lettuce went in a salad and the rhubarb went in another batch of rhubarb flapjacks. Once I start eating my own lettuce from the garden, the growing season has well and truly started.

Onions, daffodils and some garden DIY

So spring has finally arrived. I’ve spent the whole weekend in either the garden or the allotment and done lots of springly things.

I took my onions, which have been sprouting happily in their paper pots since January,

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to their new home at the allotment

WP_20180415_13_31_46_Pro (1)I know, it looks a little forbidding. The wire fence is to keep the bunnies out.  We’ll see whether it works.

Back to my own garden and I made a new raised bed:

WP_20180415_19_05_59_ProMade from some floorboards which had been lurking under a plastic sheet in the garden for some years.  When I unearthed them I found a frog, two vine weevils and two hundred snails.  Some hours later, after the wielding of saws, a hand drill, a screwdriver and much swearing, the boards are now screwed together and will provide a new surround for a raised bed whose old boards had finally collapsed.

I also did some more tidying up of the area where the conifers were. I made a rustic bench out of two conifer stumps and an old shed door. I’ll admit that this is rather a temporary arrangement (there was much mocking from the other residents) but I’m thinking a seat might be quite nice here

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I discovered that the conifers produced not only footballs and tennis balls, but also bike parts and swingball bats:

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Who knows what I’ll find next, perhaps a hockey stick, a croquet set or an entire table tennis table.

Meanwhile I harvested some rhubarb, made rhubarb flapjack (recipe here) and the second wave of daffodils has appeared in the front garden. Spring is certainly here

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Spring connections

Today I spent the day unable to focus on very much so was advised to get down to the allotment and do something practical.  So I put up all the guttering and stuff for the water butt.  I’ve been collecting up all the bits of guttering over the last few weeks, some new and some bits of ‘useful’ piping that I’ve had lying about for years.

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It took ages and it snowed a bit.  When I tried pouring water on the shed roof, it came out in the right places

WP_20180226_14_07_31_Pro.jpgThen I connected everything up using one of those drainpipe diverter things. I have several of these, provided free with every water butt I’ve bought but completely useless on my house drainpipes which are ancient cast iron.  It isn’t really the right thing for the allotment either but it should connect all the piping together and provide an escape for any overflow water.

WP_20180226_14_58_42_ProI checked that the water was coming through the pipe into the water butt:

WP_20180226_14_57_33_Pro.jpgNow I need to wait for rain to see if it really works.

It was a very practical sort of day but the birds were singing and the sun was shining and there were daffodils

WP_20180226_12_18_44_Pro.jpgIt was a day of mundane but important practicality.  It’s supposed to snow tonight but the allotment provided signs of spring and hope.

 

Drip

WP_20170606_08_17_56_ProI’ve had a day working at home, waiting for a plumber to attend to a dripping tap.  It seems like a very minor thing but it’s taken us months to get round to sorting it.  Finally, the plumber has worked his magic and we no longer have the drip.  In the mean time, I have been suffering endless guilt at all the water that has been wasted while we failed to get round to this apparently simple household maintenance task.

To assuage some of that guilt and to get out of the house, I made a little trip to our local DIY store this evening.  I came home with a length of guttering and some fiddly bits to fix the guttering to the shed on the allotment so that we can install a water butt.   I’ve already fixed similar guttering for water butts to the two sheds in the garden, following the very helpful advice in one of my handy garden books (Practical Allotments, by Paul Wagland Guild of Master Craftsmen, 2009):

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I’ve had this book for a good few years.  It differs from most of my gardening manuals because it is really a DIY book, giving lots of useful tips for making raised beds, things to grow plants up, and how to fix guttering to a shed. Paul Wagland’s advice is helpful, the main tip being to check that the whole thing works by pouring water into it.  Must remember to take some water with me to the allotment to check that bit when I get round to it.

Despite my skills at gutter fixing, my experience with water butts in the garden has been a little mixed, with the first two freezing solid one very hard winter, cracking round the edges and becoming quite useless. Photo here of the effects of excessive ice – and you can see the beautifully installed guttering at the top of the picture.

frozen water barrel

For more on that saga see here  and more here. But since then, fingers crossed, the replacements have done really well at collecting rain water and basically doing what they are meant to do.

water barrel

Despite the terrible waste from the dripping tap, water will be saved.

 

 

Onions in the snow

Everyone else in the garden blogging and tweeting world seems to have started sowing their seeds.  Well not here. It’s far too soon, too cold, too dark but I thought I should at least have a look at my seed tin and start to think about this year’s vegetables.

Seed boxIn it I found the usual packets of last year’s seed which is probably still viable, a few empty packets, a few that are so old that they haven’t got a hope and half a packet of autumn onion sets.  Oops, these should have been planted about three months ago.  Well some of them were, they went under the cardboard in the raised bed:

WP_20171029_15_42_38_Proand some of them are peeking through the snow.  I don’t know if they’ll survive:

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Time to do something about the neglected onions in the seed box.  It was far too cold to plant them outside, so I put them in paper pots to transplant at a later date.  I made these using one of those pot maker things which were fashionable a few years ago.  It really is the most simple device and makes compostable pots quickly and easily out of old newspapers:

WP_20180120_15_57_37_ProI made thirty pots and planted an onion set in each.  I hope that will work and that the paper will decompose in time to let the onions fatten up – otherwise we’ll get very long thin onions:

WP_20180120_15_57_48_ProI’ve kept them inside tonight as it’s still pretty bitter out there.  It’s supposed to warm up next week – to 5 degrees or something tropical like that so I’ll move them out to the seed house then to grow slowly before planting out.

Meanwhile there are some tiny signs of spring in the sunny front garden:

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Gone fishing

I’ve used an old children’s fishing net to remove debris from my pond for years.  We bought this net many many years ago at a seaside shop and it has served me well but recently it has succumbed to what can only be described as net rot.

WP_20180105_20_38_09_Pro[1]So, in a fit of New Year enthusiasm, I decided to refurbish it. First remove the yucky old net:
WP_20180105_20_40_55_Pro[1]Then take an onion net out of the vegetable rack, sow it on to the wire loop, using a bit of old plastic string (note I never buy string, we have a box of useful bits for moments like this) and voila – a new fishing net for the pond:

WP_20180106_11_59_53_Pro[1]We have no fish, only frogs and they are hibernating somewhere safe in the long grass beside the pond but this is just the thing for collecting up all the fallen leaves – I did a test run to check that it worked:

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Bella joined in

WP_20180106_12_01_14_Pro[1]The temperature is going to drop below freezing again tonight so I won’t be doing much gardening or fishing for a day or two, but I’m quite pleased with my little bit of New Year’s recycling.

Late December

In case any of my readers thinks that we didn’t do Christmas here at Reclaiming Paradise, we did get a tree up eventually – in fact two trees. This was thanks to my helpful sons, who took my suggestion (“let’s just cut some bits off the conifers in the garden, I’m going to get rid of them soon anyway”) a little too enthusiastically:

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When I said my ideal Christmas present would be for the conifers to be removed, I didn’t mean that I would wake up on Christmas morning to find them in the house. So I persuaded them to stop at two indoor trees. Meanwhile the conifers in the garden are looking rather bedraggled and even more in need of removal. I’ll get round to it one day soon.  Bella was impressed and used her cat tree to pretend to be a decoration:

WP_20171225_11_50_25_ProThe few days around Christmas passed with much family gathering and cooking. This year has not been the best for garden produce on the Christmas dinner table but I did manage to include some fresh rosemary with the roast potatoes, an apple in the Christmas pudding and the ritual burning of a tiny bit of holly from the garden on top of the pudding.

Meanwhile, I forgot to ice the Christmas cake. My mother rose to the challenge on Boxing Day, making enthusiastic use of my decorative leaf cutter to cut some marzipan, and  ensuring pride of place for the ancestral robins and reindeer. I’m all for not creating more plastic pollution, but these tasteful creatures have been in my kitchen drawer for decades.WP_20171226_14_09_32_ProWe decided not to bother with actual icing.  This brings the whole Christmas image up-to-date for our warmed up world, with slush and autumn leaves on the cake instead of snow.

Planning a 2017 Advent calendar

 

Despite my concerted attempts at delaying thinking about Christmas, this weekend is my best hope of making an advent calendar on time for 1 December. I’ve been making my own advent calendars since my children were small, and last year I made a garden one for the blog.   Instructions here  and final results here (warning contains some – but only some – festive images)

But what should I do this year? I sought the advice of my co-residents, using a carefully designed and statistically representative survey on the possible options: :

  1. make one for all of us
  2. make one for the blog again
  3. forget that hippy nonsense and go and buy one from a proper shop, complete with chocolate, lego, ‘beauty products’, chocolate sprouts, socks, cheese, crisps or rare whiskies, *
  4. don’t bother

The results were conclusive: ‘do whatever you want’.   I confess that I didn’t include Bella in the survey and she might well have had strong views on the value of buying some expensive cat food thing or even helping to create a wildlife calendar, with a different delicacy behind the window each day.

Time to get out the (non garden) tools I think

*According to the BBC (and a quick glance at other internet sites) the contents of advent calendars have moved on from chocolate to these increasingly bizarre consumerist nonsense products.  I wouldn’t know.

More usefully, and less cynically, charities have developed the idea of the ‘reverse advent calendar’, where you donate something (often to a food bank or similar) every day in December.  They seem to have taken off this year so you can find one locally if you look.