Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Allotment update - May to July...

And so how time flies, it's now almost the end of July and things are moving along at a fair rate although it did take while for things to get going, so here's what's been going on since April.

Here's the plot as of the 7th of May -

Not too bad.
Things are starting to happen, including the usual weed growth, but this year we haven't been quite so ruthless with removing them, instead we've been letting them grow up a bit and then cutting them back and allowing the cuttings to rot down.

We noticed the soil isn't a good as as it could be so this year as well as cutting the weeds back and then digging it all in we are going to have a go with some green manure to help improve the soil, it's always good to try new things.

The relocated Rhubarb is doing okay in it's new spot - 

Well it hasn't died so that's good.

The strawberries are growing some flowers - 

You can't beat freshly picked strawberries.

The Asparagus is starting to grow as well, although it did bolt (as you will see) - 

It's taken a while to grow from seed.

Broad beans showing signs of life - 

A few haven't germinated.
Spuds are sprouting as well - 

Here's to hoping for some nice spuds.

So apart from general weeding and tidying up not much else happened in May, we did more digging over and we also added another water butt to the shed for extra water storage.

More water storage - 

It's a bit of a squeeze.

And that was May done with, here's how we left the plot - 

Ready for next time.

A few weeks later it was June and here's what greeted us - 

More weeds to deal with.

The main jobs this time were to contain the weeds (as usual) and then prepare the ground for some corn and squash plants, so out with the fork and rake and off to work we go.

Corn plants in - 

Looking a bit better now.

Squash plants in - 

Almost all the plot is planted up now.

And that's how we left the plot, we've planted two lots of corn, the main crop being Wilkinsons sweetcorn (Incredible F1) the second lot of corn is from seed we saved and then sowed directly into the ground as an experiment.

We've planted a mix of squashes, courgette (Black beauty), patty pan (Unwins patty pan mix), pumpkin (Johnsons Rocket f1), Wilkinsons pumpkin (Jack o lantern), Wilkinsons butternut squash (hawk f1), Johnsons world kitchen round courgette and various squashes from saved seeds.

So onto July, and as you can see things have taken off some what - 


So the main job is weeding, to be honest it wasn't actually that bad and didn't take us long to do and once that was done we had a look at what the plants were doing.

The spuds I threw into the compost were growing quite well, so we left them and will dig them out when they're ready.

Spuds in the compost - 

Extra veg is always good.

Raspberries growing - 

Summer raspberries.
It's good the raspberry plants on the plot are fruiting as this means we'll get raspberries for longer than usual, we have a load of autumn fruiting plants in the garden at home.

Rhubarb seems to like it's new spot - 

Ready for picking.

As I mentioned we had sown some saved sweetcorn seeds directly into the ground and they have grown well, just as well as the ones we started off in the green house in fact.

Small sweetcorn patch - 

Could do with weeding.

Here's the other patch of sweet corn (started off in the greenhouse) - 

It's about the same height as the corn sown directly.

Nice fresh strawberries for picking - 

Mice have left them alone this year.

Remember the Asparagus ? - 

It bolted.

As you can see the asparagus bolted, but we're okay with this as next year the crowns will be bigger and we'll get more of a crop, and plus we'll now have more seed with which to start growing more.

Onions doing well, for a change - 

There be onions here !
We have already been harvesting various things from the plot, we've had strawberries, rhubarb, raspberries, turnips, and both round and normal courgettes and there's still a lot of things to be harvested including the spuds, onions, garlic, shallots, chard, more turnips, more rhubarb and there are a load more squashes growing and various other things.

So despite the slow start to the year things are going well, some things failed to germinate, but we've been able to sow more, we did also lose a few squash plants, but again we started more off and those are now in the ground playing catch up so it's not too bad, and we've started off some more veg for over wintering in the greenhouse at home.

The plot as of 25th of July, less weeds and more veg - 

A productive plot.

So until next time intrepid growers, thanks for reading.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Homemade pantograph...

Recently I found myself in need of a way of enlarging a smallish item for a project (which I haven't actually got round to yet) my son has a number of those 3D wooden models, all of which are dinosaurs and I decided that I'd use some of the odd plywood off cuts I have lying about to make a large skull in the same style as the models.

The problem was getting the template to the right size, the template in this case is just a section of skull from one of his models.

Template -

He has loads.

It's a pretty simple shape, but I wanted it to be bigger, around a4 size the problem was how to get it to the size I wanted ?

So I made a pantograph (well I actually I made two, I'll get to why later) which is basically an old way of enlarging or shrinking images, artists and planners have been using them for years (since about 1600) yes I could have scanned the template and printed it out to the sizes I wanted, but to be honest this was quicker and printer ink isn't as cheap as wood.

Here's the second one I made - 

This one worked much better than the first.

Why did I make two ? simple really the first one wasn't as good as it could have been, it did work but due to some mistakes I made every enlarged image was slanted (think italic writing) and not what I was after, simply put I didn't take enough time on it and as a result it wasn't good enough, so I did more research and took my time with the second one and got a much better result, patience is a virtue.

The first one - 

Close but no cigar.

As you can see there is a difference between the two, but both are made in a similar way from strips of pine about 25mm wide and 7mm thick (left over from a project) the main difference being where they are connected and pivot.

So ignoring the first effort here's how I made the second one, I cut five strips of wood four to make up the pantograph frame and one so that I could clamp it to the table.

Here's a cut list, allow an extra 50mm on each piece for fixing -

Click to make bigger.

Here's what it should look like when done (red dots are where fixings go) - 

Click to make bigger.

Once you've cut your wood you should have five pieces, two at around 55cm long one at 35cm long, one at 25cm long and a short piece for clamping (around 15cm is fine) next you need to drill holes for fixings, on one of the longest pieces put a mark at 2.5cm and then measure 20cm along from that and put another mark then from that mark measure 30cm and make another mark, this is where you'll need to drill holes.

You can just tape the two longest pieces together to save putting marks on each bit, for the shorter pieces again measure down 2.5cm and mark, then measure another 30cm and mark and do the same for the shorter piece, measure down 2.5cm and mark then another 20cm and mark.

When you have your marks sorted then drill holes, I used a smallish drill bit (5mm) in my post drill to keep the holes nice and straight although you can do it with any drill, just keep the holes as straight as possible, once that's done fix the pieces together so it looks like the diagram above, I used small nuts and bolts, it's also a good idea to use some washers between the pieces of wood for smoother movement.

Nuts and bolts from a pound shop - 

Useful for all kinds of things.

I made some small plastic washers from a section of milk container using a homemade cutter, which is just a bit of steel tube with one end sharpened, a good tip is to drill holes in the plastic to the size you want and then cut them out, it's a nightmare trying to make small holes in small bits of plastic.

Homemade washers - 

Recycling is always good.

For the pencil holder I used one of my wood threading kits to make an adjustable holder from a bit of old dowel and plywood.

Making the pencil holder - 

You don't need a lathe for this, just a wood threading kit.
I turned a bit of dowel down to the right size and then put a thread on it, so it was like a wooden bolt, next I cut a section from the dowel so I had a flat edge for fixing to the pantograph frame, I also drilled a hole roughly the size of a pencil through the bit I cut a thread into.

Notch cut - 

I just used a coping saw.

For the part that will clamp the pencil I took a bit of old plywood which is good for this kind of thing and drilled a hole and using the wood thread kit made what is basically a wooden nut.

Making the nut, thread cutting - 

A bit of linseed oil makes for a smoother cut.

Marked and ready to cut out - 

I cut it out roughly.

Once I had the nut part cut out roughly I screwed it onto the bolt part and turned it until it was smooth(ish) and round, all this could be done without a lathe, but you would need a thread cutting kit.

The finished pencil holder - 

It works well.

The tracer is a piece of threaded bar with one end sharpened to a point and held in place with a couple of nuts, I made it slightly longer than it needed to be to allow for adjustments.

The tracer - 

Simple but effective.

I also made some small wooden feet to raise the frame up a bit this makes the movement of the whole thing much smoother when tracing, they're just bits of dowel stuck to the frame work and not essential.

Wooden feet - 

The feet are made from a scrap piece of dowel.

To stop it moving about a simple clamp is all that's needed to hold it down, this is where the short piece of wood comes in, it allows the pantograph to pivot but doesn't allow it to slide about all over the place.

The clamp - 

You could make a more permanent clamp.

And that's it, it works well and does exactly what I want it to, you can also use it for shrinking images as well if you use it in reverse (switch the pencil and tracer around) I did have to trace the image a couple of times to get it to the size I want, but this isn't a problem, obviously if I made it bigger the scaling factor would be bigger.

Success, no slanted images and the size I want and all from scrap bits of wood - 

Near perfect replication and to the size I want.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Growing twisted willow...

Willow is probably one of the easiest trees to take cuttings from, the cuttings will grow quickly and as such it's any easy way of increasing your trees, or making fencing / hedging with, or if you're feeling adventurous why not try growing it into a sculpture of some kind, you may be surprised at how versatile it is for making garden structures.

To take cuttings all you need is some sticks from a willow and a jar or bucket, depending on how big the cuttings are, in my case I'm using cuttings from our two twisted (corkscrew) willow trees (Salix Tortuosa)

Left over from a light prune -

Some good cutting material in this lot.

What I usually do is to cut up what ever I have into pieces about six to eight inches long, and I usually select pieces that are about half an inch thick for cuttings, you can how ever get pieces that are over an inch thick to root just as easily.

Cuttings prepared - 

Straighter pieces will fit into a jar better.

Next all I do is tie the prepared twigs together and put them into a jar of water and leave them some where warmish, a green house would do, or if it's summer they should be okay outside, if you use a glass jar keep it out of direct sunlight.

I do at the moment have some cuttings in a bucket in the garden that are about two feet long and over an inch thick and they have rooted well, so you can use a bucket and longer cuttings if you want larger plants quicker.

Cuttings in a jar of water - 

Just wait for a week or so.

After a week or so you may start to notice white bumps forming on the part of the cutting that's under the water, this is where the roots will sprout from.

White bumps, they soon turn into roots - 

Not the best picture, but you can see where roots are forming.

And in no time roots sprout - 

We have roots.

The temptation might be to plant once the roots start to grow, but I prefer to wait until the lateral roots appear, mainly because it's the lateral roots that help to anchor the plant, and because the more roots the merrier, in my experience they will grow better if planted once there are lateral roots on each cutting.

Lateral roots forming - 

You can just make them out on left.

You should also have some new growth from the other end of the cutting in the form of new shoots and leaves, this is good sign that the plant will continue to grow once potted up.

New growth - 

We have success.

Once I am sure that the cuttings have a good amount of roots and new growth I pot them up into plastic pots, I tend to use smallish ones because I have limited space, but medium pots would be okay, as for compost I mostly use a general purpose compost mixed with either some horticultural grit or a hand full of horticultural sand to help with drainage.

All potted up - 

Add caption

And then I leave them to see if they survive, generally speaking you can't really go wrong with willow, I have seen people just stick the cuttings straight into the ground and as long as they are kept watered they should grow, this is handy for making natural fences as you can place your cuttings in a line and let them grow into a fence.

Here are some I did last year - 

They are growing nicely.

These ones I'm attempting to turn into bonsai trees - 

I'll have to see if they work.

What could be easier ? you can use this method for other types of tree, I've read a lot of gardening related things and seen people do it with fruit wood cuttings (apples, plums etc) I have also managed to use this method to get holly cuttings to grow.

The only difference is that with willows you don't really need to change the water, maybe if it starts to smell change it but I've found you can leave it quite a while between changing, this is not the case for other trees, which seem to need a water change at the very least once a week, at least in my experience, this maybe down to the fact willows contain salicylic acid (think aspirin) and this may help to keep the water cleaner for longer.

Thanks for reading.