Monday 28 December 2020

Radiant Dawn

I'm beginning this piece on the day after Boxing Day, aware that more than a couple of weeks have elapsed since the previous instalment. I say 'beginning' since I know I won't finish writing today - Christmas means that there are other other equally welcome tasks to occupy old Codger

It has been a soggy December - seemingly even soggier as we approached the equinox but this morning has seen a radiant dawn - as shown here. The sun rises late here. Urban housing deceives the eye and often we miss the lay of the land. We sit the wrong side of Ocker Hill (our part of Tipton) so the first peep of the sun is half-an-hour later than GMT at this dark time of the year

There are not many reasons to tempt the normal person into the garden but I am rather conscious of the job left undone in the pre-Christmas scramble. Some progress has been made - I have salvaged a good number of dahlia tubers. These are now safely stored away but it looks as though I have lost my begonias - they were sitting there waiting for attention. Sadly for them the writing of Christmas cards took precedence. Should you live in these parts - and have clay soil like mine - I advise digging up dahlias so the tubers don not rot off. Some say that warmer winters render this unnecessary but Codger has not found it so

As you can see I have, for once, remembered to label the tubers which are now snuggled into a protective layer of old potting compost safely stored in a box in the garage

I am fortunate enough to have three working areas - the greenhouse, the garden shed and the garage. In the run-up to Christmas the shed had become a temporary workshop housing a spray booth as you can see from the photo (left). I wanted to give the Christmassy treatment to a dozen plant pots. This was a bit of a last-minute job but it worked out well. In case it is helpful, here's how ...

Wash the plastic pots in soapy water and dry thoroughly. There's no need to roughen the surface - most spray paint will adhere well to plastic. You can minimise the nuisance of over-spray by placing the pot in a cardboard box with a side removed. Think about the drying process before you start - you can see my washing-line solution below

Good idea, you say - but, surely, a bit late to be of use. Well, it has occurred to me that some readers might wish to colour their pots for other reasons and at other times of the year. After all, black can become very boring! 

If you decide to have a shot at this, here's another tip: get your cans of paints from Wilko. Very much cheaper then elsewhere and the paint is good quality, too. Perhaps 2021 will be the year of colourful pots!

Codger's Christmas dinner

Yes, I was cook this year (Mrs Codger not being too well). So far there have been no repercussions but I am ashamed to say that only one ingredient was homegrown. Which? Well, it was not the chicken - much as I'd love to keep a few fowl. Nor was it the potatoes - I don't have the space to grow many potatoes. It might have been carrots - but ours were consumed long ago. Incidentally, I am constantly amazed at how little we have to pay for fresh veg - a kilo cost me only 20p - how do they do it? Parsnips were also to be had cheaply

As you can see in the photo above, it was the butternut squash that was from our own plot - and very nice, too. With the rind removed, I just cut it into chunks and roast in the oven. The parsnips got the same treatment - the veg was placed on a baking tray and drizzled with oil. Worked a treat

Boxing Day Bank Holiday Monday

We woke up to snow this morning as you can see. What a change! Before I show you - a quick tip. You can still buy bulbs - and cheaply. There is still time to plant tulips - and it not difficult to do if you use planters

Just read back over the last few issues and you will see how to do it. You may be able to find a plastic planter at a  local hardware store. You know the sort - they have piles of plastic goods staked on the pavement outside the shop. Poke around and you may well find suitable pots and planters

Planting in the garden is not a good option just at the moment. Just look at the change in a couple of days. The first picture shows how well my broad beans were doing on Christmas Day. The second shot (below) was taken this morning. Spot the difference!

Incidentally, the broad beans were sown on 20th October. They are a good over winter crop. They cope well with snow but I must check if we get a really sharp frost - too cold and they will be knocked back. They can be protected with garden fleece 

A big Thank You!

Regular readers may remember that I increased the target for donations as we entered Lockdown 2.0 - for the express purpose of boosting giving to BCM's fantastic Toylink initiative

I have just checked, and see that we have now exceeded that target figure. (You can check yourself here). As we go to press the figure stands at £2553.46 and, if Gift Aid is added, that provides £2762.71 to BCM. Of this, about £500 has gone specifically to Toylink

So, a big Thank You to everyone who has helped. Please take a look at this Toylink video, it is well worth a couple of minutes of your time:

[Technical note: if you cannot see the video please try clicking HERE]

Worthy winner
Just before Christmas we pointed you to the BBC Radio 3 Carol Competition. The winner was James Walton. I remember his interview; he was asked why he had entered the competition. He gave, what I thought was, a really pertinent answer. He said that, unlike some previous years, the words centred on Christ - so it was worth putting his mind to. You can hear the result here ...

Secret listener!

So, you have discovered Codger's secret. He listens to Radio 3! Not that the old guy is trying to prove anything - other than he is not a sufficiently intelligent music lover to manage without what might be called curation. That is, I need someone with greater knowledge than myself to guide me along the musical pathway. Not that the R3 diet suits me all the time - there's some squawking I cannot abide, particularly in the afternoons

Mornings tend to be best for me. Essential Classics has a great and diverse range with excellent presenters - I appreciate Ian Skelly most. I also enjoy the regular Saturday afternoon slot: Inside Music. The current programme is presented by Pekka Kuusisto - a Finnish violinist and conductor. What fascinating pronunciation - Finnish sounds so different to other European languages. At one point he advised his listeners to listen again on a system with decent reproduction. I took his advice and listened again via my computer. I knew the melody but this rendition was stunning - a lovely Swedish carol: From heaven came the angel Gabriel. You can hear the programme here 

It is also available via YouTube:

O Radiant Dawn

Another wonderful piece that I have recently discovered is O Radiant Dawn - available on YouTube here:

[Technical note: if you cannot see the video please try clicking HERE]

My encounter with this piece was prompted by my daily readings during Advent from the Gospel of Luke. His account was immaculately researched and is telling in its direct simplicity. Many in my local church read along individually during Advent using a slim volume of readings with the same title as the song: Radiant Dawn (by Tom Parsons, 10 Publishing slight difference the song is O Radiant Dawn). I found the experience very strengthening in these dark days

The words of the title come from ancient lines which I shall reproduce below. The composer of the music, James MacMillan, places a moving emphasis on the word, come. It is central in the piece and, as I often think, the best word in the whole Bible: Come!

Well, there is just time to give you my very best wishes for the New Year. I plan to put together another instalment during January - look out in a couple of weeks

... from your old friend, the Garden Codger

O Radiant Dawn,
Splendour of Eternal Light,
Sun of Justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in 
darkness and the shadow of death.

(Antiphon for 21st December - the shortest day)

Friday 11 December 2020

Two Christmas Tweets

Well, not literal tweets - 180 characters would be a real lockdown restriction. But, like many readers, Codger has difficulty fitting everything in during the run-up to Christmas. We have grabbed the odd bit of drier weather to do a spot of gardening, particularly in the greenhouse but lack the time to report on it

But just take a look at these cyclamen. This pot has now been in flower for over a month, bringing cheer every time I look at them - usually when washing-up is in progress. The pot sits in an ideal location - the kitchen window ledge

So please excuse a shorter blog post today - but with the promise of more to come, once old Codger has caught his breathe. So, here are two tweets - a local and a national ...

Tweet One: One genuine Christmas invitation

Here is your Christmas invitation, where ever you are:

Tweet Two: Six Christmas carols

Every year the BBC Radio 3 runs a carol competition. Listeners are invited to write a new tune that fits the words of a carol. This year the challenge is to compose a melody to accompany four verses written by the American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). You will see the poem below

Over a thousand entries have been sifted by a panel of judges and listeners are now invited vote for the best of the bunch. You can have a go! Just click here

The web page is full of interesting information. There are even tips on writing your own tune - from Gospel to classical

That's all for today, folks. I plan to publish another blog before Christmas - it may even be headed Two Christmas Treats - as a change from tweets! It will give me chance to tell you what the two tweets today have to do with gardening - so, please check now and then over the next week or so

... best wishes from the old Garden Codger

Christmas Carol by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Ring out, ye bells!
All Nature swells
With gladness at the wondrous story,—
The world was lorn,
But Christ is born
To change our sadness into glory.

Sing, earthlings, sing!
To-night a King
Hath come from heaven's high throne to bless us.
The outstretched hand
O'er all the land
Is raised in pity to caress us.

Come at his call;
Be joyful all;
Away with mourning and with sadness!
The heavenly choir
With holy fire
Their voices raise in songs of gladness.

No, be not still,
But with a will
Strike all your harps and set them ringing;
On hill and heath
Let every breath
Throw all its power into singing!

Friday 4 December 2020

Farmer's Glory

Not quite agriculture but our grapes did well
Can you remember the days when 24/7 was only known as a division sum? (24 divided by 7 = 3.428571 recurring. Or, if you are old enough, 24 shillings and 7 pence) 
Strangely, I can recall the very first time I heard the expression, 24/7. It was used by one of those knowing colleagues who could be relied upon to have the latest jargon. This was in the 1990s when I was still working in education and can recollect one staffroom where the teachers had covered a whole wall with acronyms current in education at the time

This is a rather long-winded way of saying that the constant barrage of daily news means that often if you blink you'll miss it

Part of the famed Butter Mountain - 50kg barrels
there was no an actual wine lake!
Think back over the week; what were the headlines? Understandably, our awareness has been seized by the good news of the Covid-19 vaccine approval and proposed roll-out. Then there was the end of lockdown 2.0 - not that it feels any different hereabouts in that we, along with the rest of the Black Country are in Tier 3. And we get get the odd bit of news from the States (do they have two Presidents at the moment?). And then, today, dire warnings about the Brexit precipice

Amid all this, the news on Monday was about the Government's plans for farming. Now also forgotten outside the farming fraternity. Well, you might say, farming is not exactly gardening - so, why mention it here? Two reasons: (1) Your old Garden Codger is, in the words of the lady who knows him best, 'a mine of useless information which on a occasion might be useful' and (2) both gardeners and farmers grow on the same soil, breathe the same air and live in the same natural environment - even when we seem miles apart

George Eustice, the Minister heading up
Agriculture. His family have farmed in
Cornwall for no less than six generations

A new acronym: ATP

Apart from many other good reasons, the UK needs an Agriculture Farming Plan because of our departure from the European Union. CAP is dead (the EU's Common Agricultural policy). Perhaps you remember the endless stories of wine lakes and butter mountains

That is now a thing of the past as we enter the brave new world of the ATP and adopt whole new vocabulary. For example, there's the Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI). This promises worthwhile improvements like funding for soil improvement and hedgerow reinstatement and many other things

Don't worry we are not about to delve into the detail (but you can check out the footnotes below if you are interested). However, I do want to note that there seems to be a genuine determination, on the part of Government, to repair the damage of previous policies

Although I am not competent to judge the various aspects of the plan, it is great to see the emphasis on sustainability and care for the natural world. Who would not rejoice to see 
a reversal in the decline of bee populations, for example?

This attractive new edition of Farmer's Glory is
published by Little Toller Books

Farming nostalgia

These things are in old Codger's mind as he is currently rereading a book he first encountered 60 years ago - Farmer's Glory by AG Street. The author witnessed, first hand, the damage done to the soil through over-cropping during the war (WW1, that is!) and the disastrous decline in farming during the 1930s. It may surprise you to learn that the book was a huge best-seller at the time. Street has a lovely warm-hearted style. He paints word pictures of rural life and introduces us to a forgotten generation of farm labourers. Later, AGS became a familiar voice on the BBC Home Service

His book was newly reprinted in 2017. It is beautifully produced and includes the original woodcut drawings. Anyone wanting a feel for rural living as it used to be would enjoy this book - and might learn some lessons for the future, too

Bring back the hedgerows!

A couple of months ago, Codger's attention was grabbed by a deafening clatter from the bottom of the garden. It was the annual flail! We have a hawthorn hedge marking our boundary with the school behind our property. The hedge belongs to the school and conceals a chain-link fence

That's the way to do it!
Once or twice a year the ground's maintenance people give the hedge a haircut by means of a mechanised hedge-hacker - a brutal act. Such treatment results in a hedge that is full of gaps and looks ugly. Why? Well, a hawthorn hedge is basically a line of bushes aspiring to be trees - the lower growth naturally dies off unless the right action is taken. And the right action? Hedge laying, done will. At all costs don't flail the poor thing!

Properly cutting back a hedge in this way is, in essence, a form of coppicing. New growth is encouraged both from the ground and along the length of the laid stem. The whole thing becomes rejuvenated - just as you can see in the hedge on the left, here. You get a great hedge and loads of wildlife

Now, why not make a cup of tea? And then, sit back and enjoy this 10-minute video - you'll see how it's done

Should this topic grab your interest, you can find many more similar clips on YouTube - see this week's footnotes. Many of videos are recent indicating that there is plenty of interest around - and, it seems, a growing number of practitioners keen that the craft should not die out but indeed, to flourish! One of the videos tells us that there are 40 different styles around the country!

Deceptive appearances - the hedge looks great!
But only because I planted ivy to green it up.
Otherwise it would be more gap than hedge

Codger's contribution

This will sound a little pretentious, no doubt. But should the Minister seek my advice about the new schemes for agriculture, a idea would be ready at hand. Train more hedge layers! This would fit well with the Government's plans for apprenticeships, be good for the environment and match many of the good intentions of the ATP such the intention to improve training both in agriculture and horticulture

A properly laid hedge is as effective as any fence. It looks better and is a haven for wildlife. Incidentally, since I first started thinking about this I have noticed no end of neglected hedges in even in our local built-up environment. The favourite dodge of councils is to make good a neglected hedge by erecting a fence along side. Waste of money! Lay the hedge, instead. Now you have read this, have a look as you travel around - I can guarantee you will see hedges that you never knew existed 

[If you inspect the photo you will see that our neighbour has a leylandii hedge to hide the school's hawthorn hedge. This is common practice in our street - nicely proving Codger's point: hedges should be properly laid!]

This what you need - flint chick grit
The manufacturers also make what they
call Growers Grit - but I can't source it

A bit about grit

Enough of bees in Codger's bonnet. Well, not quite. I return to the bit that celebrity gardeners never tell you about. Viewers are frequently told to 'add plenty of grit'. They fail to mention that grit is hard to come by in the needed quantities and is expensive, very expensive

At the moment, I am getting through lots of the stuff in order to make up a really good mix suitable for bulbs. As you know, I recommend buying chick grit as it is far cheaper than horticultural grit - but, I will confess to having slipped up twice. So, a bit of grit advice

Don't buy ordinary poultry grit. It contains calcium in the form of crushed seashells. This will change the acid/alkaline balance of the compost (known as pH). Also, and after my most recent mistake, don't get hen grit - the grains are two big. What you need is flint chick grit - perfect for the job! (Mine comes via Amazon at £13.44 for 25kg)

Plant corner: cyclamen

The cyclamen at the back is persicum
The two at the front are coum. Note the rounded leaves
I guess you will be disappointed if we do not find some space for plants in today's edition. So, may I  return to the subject of cyclamens? Partly, because it is a popular time of year to buy them and partly because I like them so much. And, I suppose, because they are often misunderstood (not their fault, of course!)

It was pleasing to see in B&Q this week that some of their cyclamens are now being labelled 'cool room'. Hopefully, this will mean that these specimens will be reprieved - and not put next to a radiator after purchase. A windowsill is fine - but best not in full sun. These cyclamen are the persicum type, as I have mentioned before. The other main type is hederifolium. These will take frost and are best outdoors. You should find that they naturalise provided they get some shade - they like to be under trees. They can look great at the feet of a camellia - they like similar conditions

You can support BCM Toylink by ordering a pot of bulbs
The larger size has three layers, the small two
(Please excuse the makeshift photo studio -
rather wet outside today!)
I have not previously mentioned another type: cyclamen coum. These also flower at this time of year and have lovely delicate blooms. You can identify this type by looking at the leaves. See the photo here. I have included a persicum for contrast - you can immediately spot the difference. Coum are distinguished by their leaf-shape - they are distinctly rounded 

Credit: pinclipart

Toylink: final call

Suddenly, I've got extra pots. So you can still order a bulb lasagna as mentioned last week. Some lovely tulips will grow from the bottom, preceded by various Spring bulbs in February and March. Remember, all donations go to BCM Toylink at the moment but, for obvious reasons, time is short

 Thanks to those who have made donations recently - both online and cash. We have almost hit the target - see here

Salutary tale

I hope you have not minded the agricultural twist this week. In fact, I owe a debt to at least one farmer (actually, two, but that will do for another week). I do not know his name but Mr Brown will do

Although my father was a village lad, I was brought up a townie. Except that my dad often too me wooding - fields were only five minutes away by bike - fifteen minutes walking. Growing up after the war on a diet of war films and Hopalong Cassidy, boys were on the lookout for adventure. Out with a group of lads from our street we discovered a newly built haystack, or so we called it. The bales of straw (not hay, of course) were great for barricades and we had a fine old time ...

That was until a Land Rover pulled up and we were ordered in by Mr Brown. It had an open back and were almost bounced out as he drove, at speed, across the field, 'Where we going, Mister?' the braver ones asked. I felt distinctly uneasy, especially as we left the lanes and entered the town. I knew where the police station was, but had never previously entered the premises

Remember PC 49? Even before Dixon of Dock Green

Looks, and then words, passed between the farmer and the sergeant. Our names (and school!) were studiously noted down - spelling checked: S-M-I-T-H

Then: "Now listen 'ere you lads. I 'ope you are cognizant that a crime 'as been committed 'ere. Hand, may hi add, it his han hextremely Serious Ho-fence." This went on, culminating in, "Hov course, you realise than hi will 'ave to contact your parents ..."

This was a terrifying prospect. There was a pause whilst glances were again exchanged. Mr Brown spoke, sensing our trepidation. "Having listened to the boys, officer, I am impressed by their contrition. 
Perhaps in this case, I will prefer not to press charges. On one condition, mind. They must swear never to cause damage on my farm again." 

It was like a scene from Just William. With trembling lips we all solemnly swore an oath of non-trespass - and then listened whilst the Station Sergeant impressed upon us what a narrow escape we had had. So, we were released - never, ever to transgress again

Thank you, Farmer Brown. You helped turn a contrite schoolboy into a wiser man

That's all for now ...

... from the Garden Codger


We have wandered far and wide today. In case you wish to follow up on any of the topics, here are some links (simply click on the emboldened word in each case)

DEFRA - the Agricultural Transition Plan - there are two downloadable documents

Bee conservation - and there are plenty more - lots, in fact

Farmer's_Glory is obtainable from Blackwells - free P&P

Laying a hedgerow - a quick video but there are loads and loads - can become addictive! But it is certainly worth researching the benefits

You can find out more about cyclamen from the Cyclamen Society - makes sense!

BCM Toylink - if you haven't so far - watch this now!

PC_49 - also on Wiki but this link gives you the signature tune, as well. It goes like this: domp-de-diddley- dom-de-dom (rpt) / domp-de-dee-dah domp-de-dee-dah / and so forth

And, just in case you have not had enough flower photographs here are a few primulas - photos not taken in ideal conditions