Sunday, 23 October 2016

End of year allotment update...

So another year almost over, things seem to be going by so quickly now, it feels like yesterday that we were getting the plot ready for this year, and now I've already started getting it ready for next year.

Here's where the plot was at towards the end of July -

Things are coming along.
As usual some weeding was needed, but not too much, the squash plants we put in late were growing well, along with other stuff, so in July we harvested what we could, spuds, beans (french and broad beans) strawberries, rhubarb and other things and also by this time we were starting to get some courgettes as well.

The spoils of war (with the weeds) - 

All very tasty.

And that was July, on wards to August.

As the plot was pretty much okay we decided to make a few changes to things, firstly the area we call the compost bin needed sorting out, I had patched it up a few years ago but the wood was starting to fail.

So using the old metal panels I had left over from the shed we put on the plot a couple of years ago and some old steel poles form the kids old climbing frame (which had been in the loft for the best part of ten years) I set about making a new compost area.

Not much to it really, I've made it so one part can be removed so we can get at the compost with out having to climb all over it, but other than that it was just a case of replacing wood with metal, which should last a bit longer.

Compost bin done, what next ? - 

Much neater.

Ah yes, now as our plot is a half plot and due to the way it was divided it has caused some confusion as to where our plot ends and the other half begins, so to that end we started making the divide a lot clearer, in the hope that this will make things easier to tell what plot belongs to who when it comes to inspections, for reason I won't go into here.

All we did was use some bamboo canes to make the divide that was already there a lot more obvious, this we hope will make life easier.

Not much of a fence, but it is clearer now where each plot is - 

That should do it (famous last words)

All done, our plot is the plot to the left of this fence if you will, the bit without the large pile of wood on it, so what else needs doing ?

Well we did have some plants (kale etc) in the greenhouse at home that needed planting out, so we did that, and we put a wire mesh frame over them to stop the butterflies getting in, we have two of these frames now with various things growing in them and fingers crossed I can use the to stop next years Pak choi from being eaten by the pigeons.

All protected - 

Will work for butterflies, now just need to stop the slugs.

More things were harvested - 

It was a good year for courgettes.

Towards the end of August we were beginning to wonder about pumpkins, we had a couple of the Jacko lantern type, which looked like they might be a good size but apart from those none of the other pumpkins were showing any signs of fruiting.

Jacko lantern pumpkins (bought the seeds from Wilkinsons) - 

Nearly ready for picking.

Now this may sound a bit odd, given how fast these plants can grow perhaps not, you see even though I had been watering the plot every few days because of the hot weather I hadn't noticed two small pumpkins growing, maybe I thought that given the lateness of the year they wouldn't amount to much, I was wrong, but more about them later.

Here they are, still quite small - 

Two separate pumpkins on separate plants.

Anyway on to September, not much going on really, picking a few things on the days when I went to water, courgettes mainly, it's a good job my wife makes a great relish out of them (opens in new window) and despite it being September I was already planning for next year.

More pumpkins and squashes - 

Some of these were quite large.

I put in some onions, some were shop bought ones and some were the very smallest ones left over from this years crop and I've put in some garlic and shallots, the shallots were, like the onions the smaller ones we had left over, the garlic is just from shop bought garlic.

I've also decided to experiment with green manure this year as well, the soil at the top end of the plot needs improving and I figured this might be a good way to do it, so I sowed a patch of green manure with the view to growing next years pumpkins and squashes there.

Onions (snowball is the variety) for next year - 

Not much to look at yet.
Shallots and garlic in - 

Not much here either.
Green manure (Mr Fothergill's Autumn/Winter mix) patch sown - 

Again not much to look at.

Two weeks later and the green manure was showing signs of life - 

Won't be long before I cut it back.

The idea with green manure is you sow it and then either dig it in and then after a couple of weeks you can grow what you want in the space, the plants in green manure are picked because they add nutrients to the soil, some types you sow and then dig in after a few weeks, the type I'm using is one that you can sow and cut back and then nearer to when you want to use the soil you would then dig it in.

And as long as you don't let the plants set seed you can in theory keep allowing it to grow and cut it back throughout the winter months and then in spring dig it all over and after a couple of weeks you should then have nice improved soil, at least that's the theory, whether it works like that in practise, well we'll see.

It does grow fast (this was a month later at the start October) - 

Where did I put those shears?
And so we get to October, so far this month I have harvested the last pumpkins and squashes, the carrots and started sorting things out for next year, I've sown another patch of green manure and also sown two lots of broadbeans to over winter, and around March time I will sow another lot of broadbeans along with what ever we decide to grow next year, more of the same I think.

Here was the plot at the start of this visit - 

Some tidying is needed.

The first job for this visit was to cut back the green manure - 

It took about five minutes with some shears.

And after a few hours this is what the plot looked like, ready for winter almost - 

Unlike like cutting back the green manure this took four hours.

Some now we have things sorted, I will pay a few visits to the plot over winter as there are still things growing and things to be harvested and no doubt weeds to be pulled, but all in all it's been a good year for us anyway.

Just before I go you may remember the two pumpkins I mentioned earlier in this post, well as it turns out they grew quickly and they grew quickly enough to be the largest pumpkins I've ever managed to grow, between them they weigh about 25.5kg one weighs in at 13.3kg and the other 12.2kg so even though they were late I was wrong to think they wouldn't amount to much and as is usually the case mother nature has proved me wrong once again.

I have since decided that because I am quite proud of them they should be entered into the competition our council has for squashes grown on allotment plots, they may not win anything, but you never know.

Pumpkins !!! - 

Pumpkins !!!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Dementor hands how to part 1.

This is something I meant to get round to writing about last year, but time (as is usually the case) got the better of me.

We decided that for Halloween (last year) we'd have a Harry Potter themed party and so we set about making various things, one of which was a dementor, nothing too elaborate but enough to give the feeling of creepiness they have in the films.

After looking at various pictures (and watching the films) we came to the conclusion that there's not much too them in terms of detail, which is probably what makes them creepy as your imagination kind of fills in the blanks.

One thing you do seem to see quite clearly is their hands, whether reaching out or fingers moving round door ways, so I got hands and my wife did the head, you can read how she did it here (opens in new window)

I've broken this how to into two parts as it did take some time, there are probably much quicker and easier ways of doing this.

Here are the hands on the dementor -

In black and white because, creepy.
We hung the whole thing once it was done in the stair way so that when we opened the door to trick or treaters it would scare the crap out of them give them a jolly good scare.

Here's one of the hands close up -

Looks like dead skin, well a bit.

Okay, so to make these hands is easy enough, you'll need the following - 

Wooden dowel (I used 12mm thick dowel)
Strong garden wire.
A drill bit the same diameter as the garden wire (around 2.5 to 3mm should be fine)
Loads of white and black tissue paper (or you can use paint instead of black tissue paper)
Pva glue (lots of)
A small section of a plastic milk bottle, or similar.
Some string.
And super glue (or just use the pva, why didn't I think of that?)
Masking tape.

Basically what I did was to cut the dowel into what are roughly the bones of a human hand, I've added extra onto each piece of dowel to elongate the hands.

If you look at a picture of the bones in a hand you can see that they start quite long and get smaller towards the finger tips.

My dowel cut into enough pieces to make two hands - 

Now to arrange into something that might become a hand.

Dowel arranged into rough hand shapes - 

Stay with me, they do start to look better in a minute. 

To join each bone I marked the centre of each end of the various bits and then drilled a hole into each one, this was so I could fit a smaller length of wire into each hole.

Centres marked - 

I wasn't too accurate with this.

Holes drilled, a vice makes things easier - 

Again I wasn't too accurate.
Once I'd got that done I then set about shaping each bit of dowel into something that sort of looked like a bone, I did this using a drum sander in my post drill and my little bench top sander, but you could use a sharp knife or files, or even just wrap lengths of string round each end of the dowel to create a knuckle shape.

Sanding begins (and takes a while) - 

It's quite repetitive.

What I was trying to do was create a knuckle by sanding the wood away in certain places, the idea being that once all the bits were joined together and the tissue paper was applied they would look like long fingered hands.

After what seemed like an age I'd got all the bits shaped how I wanted, next I had to join the bits together to create four fingers and a thumb, this is what the garden wire is for.

I cut small lengths of garden wire and stuck them into one end of the dowel, then I stuck the next bit of dowel on to build up the finger shapes.

All fingers and a thumb - 

Almost there.

The good thing about using the garden wire is that it gives you a small amount of flexibility in the hands and as such means you can pose them in different ways.

To join the fingers together I drilled through the ends of the longest bits of dowel and fed a piece of garden wire through, to stop things sliding off I bent the wire over at each end and cut off any extra, then I bent the wire until I had a more hand like shape.

To stop the fingers moving about I used string with a bit of glue on it wrapped around the garden wire to keep them separate.

String fixed and glued - 

Simple but effective.
And after a bit of fiddling about I had what look like two hands, that I can pose into creepy positions, all they need now is some decoration.

Main structure finished - 

Very handy.

And that was part one, part two is on how I decorated them and made them look a little more sinister so keep an eye out for that.

Part 2 -

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Dementor hands how to part 2.

Okay so this is part two of how we made our dementor hands, this is basically the decoration of the models I'd made, it's really easy to do and has worked quite well.

Here's where we left the hands -

On to decoration.

The first thing I did was to build up the back and the palm of each hand, I used masking tape for this as it's easy to tear into pieces and it can be painted over and such like.

Masking tape applied - 

Now for some tissue paper.
We decided that tissue paper would be a good substitute for skin because you can make it look wrinkly and it's easy to apply.

Holding the hands in a craft vice (not essential) we began gluing torn up strips of tissue paper to them, making sure to not smooth things out.

Hand ready - 

These vices are 'handy' as they can be moved about.
Tissue paper ready - 

The strips don't have to be neat, in fact the rougher the better.

To stick the tissue paper to the hands we used pva glue and applied it using a brush, we also found that a fairly stiff paint brush allows you to sort of pucker the tissue paper and gives a more wrinkled effect.

Applying the tissue paper - 

It is a bit time consuming.
It did take a while to cover each hand and we also had to let the glue dry, in the end we covered the hands a couple of times in tissue paper to add to the effect and because one layer was a little too thin.

Starting to look a bit like skin - 

Ready for another layer.
To make the nails I cut out a piece of a plastic milk bottle and drew some rough nail shapes onto it, a blunt pencil or knitting needle works well to mark the plastic, then I cut them out using scissors.

Nails drawn out - 


To fix the nails to the end of each finger I used one of my small carving chisels to make a curved cut on the end of each finger, this could be done with a sharp knife, or you could glue the nails onto the wood.

Finger ends ready for nails - 

Now to fix the nails.

Here's the chisel I used (you can buy sets of these for under £10) - 

Useful for a variety of jobs, not just carving.

Nails glued in place - 

They look like nails so I'm happy.

Both hands almost done - 

We used some black tissue paper to colour them, but you could just as easily use some black paint, I'd suggest using a mat emulsion or poster paint if you do paint them mainly because it doesn't have a shine to it, which is the one thing that bothers me about the ones we've made, they are perhaps a bit too shiny (it's the glue) 

So this year I plan to modify them a little, and we also have some gauze we might use on them for added effect, and that's the good thing about them really, they can be modified easily and even with the tissue paper and glue they can still be posed differently, there's not a great deal of movement, but enough to change the finger positions and such like, and best of all they cost about £4 to make and will last a while.

Not the greatest picture, but here's a close up - 

They do look like they might grab you.

Thanks for reading, and happy Halloween.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

I've been making tealight holders again...

It's well known that I will attempt to turn any old bit of wood I can mount on my lathe, recently I turned a couple of bits of pallet (there's a surprise) into tealight holders.

Here they are (all fourteen of them) -

As you can see they have cracks and nail holes and various other faults, some people like this kind of 'character' others don't but each to there own and I guess that's my point when it comes to turning.

I've been turning for a while and I've come across a certain shall we say snobbery when it comes to wood and turning, there are a lot of people who'll only turn stuff bought in as blanks, and then only certain types of wood, usually the more decorative stuff, like Zebra wood or Bubinga.

But I say all wood (no matter how depressed) deserves a chance, and I think that even the roughest piece of wood can look great if treated with a bit of care.

So here is what the tealights looked like before I started - 

Not the best pieces of wood in the world.

This a good starter project if you've just started turning, all I did was measure the width of the wood, and then measure out lengths the same size as the width, which gave me cubes of wood to work with, and I then marked the centre of each cube.

Wood marked, ready for cutting - 

You can just about make out the marks.

Once I'd cut all my blocks (I had fourteen to play with in the end) it was on to drilling out a hole so I could mount them onto my chuck.

Blocks cut and marked - 

More of the faults are visible after cutting.
Now on to mounting the blocks for turning, if you have an expanding chuck this is easy, using a 35mm forstner bit I cut out a small hole in each block, and then it's just a matter of sticking the block onto the jaws and tightening the chuck, you could also use a small screw chuck.

Mounting hole - 

Time to turn.

Block on the lathe ready for turning - 

Nice large crack bit of character in this one.

Now before I start turning I should point out that I've left the hole in the bottom of each tealight and turned out another hole for the actual candle, you could however just use a forstner bit or a spade bit and make a hole large enough for a tealight (around 40mm) and use that to mount the block, but sometimes I like to leave the mounting holes and such like on a piece, again this is something some people frown upon. 

And rather than leave just a hole in the bottom of each tealight holder I've turned a small three ringed detail into each one, I started adding three concentric rings to things I'd turned years ago for no other reason than it seemed like a good idea and now it's kind of stuck, and so I try to incorporate three concentric rings into every thing I turn where possible.

Here's a before and after type picture of a block and a finished tealight holder - 

I think they look good.

And here's another picture of the finished tealights again, the reason (in case you are wondering) why two are different from the rest is because one piece of wood split and a chunk came out and there wasn't enough wood left to turn a ball shape, so I made two straight ones, the perils of using gnarly bits of wood.

All done - 

And before I go here's a picture of a pen pot I made for my wife, from the top part of an old newel post, all I need to do now is figure out what to do with the rest of it.

Pen pot - 

It works well as a pen pot.

Any ideas ? - 

I have a few ideas.
Lastly here a short video of me making a tealight holder, some parts are sped up - 

Thanks for reading.