Sunday, February 24, 2008

Re-Glazing the Greenhouse

I have used up my entire arsenal of swear words this afternoon. Those little "w" clips that are used to hold greenhouse glass in place are horrid things. They ping off in all directions when one is trying to get a pane of glass in place AND I've run out of them.

Despite it all, I got the worst of the work done. The worst of the job being the door to the little greenhouse. I had to get it bolted back together and the glass put in. It turns out that one pane of glass has to be about an inch and a half taller than the one that's in place. So, back to the glass place for the correct sized pane plus other glass and more of those hateful clips. I still have the little window vent in the roof left to replace as well as two newly discovered cracked panes.
Julio was funny. He's such a dopey cat. He ran headlong into one of the new panes with a loud clunk. When I looked up he was shaking his head and trying to look like he meant to do that. To be fair to the cat, the glass was very clean and clear. If I hadn't installed the glass there myself, I wouldn't have known it was there.See? The left side of the green bar has glass (notice the "w" clips) and the right side has no glass. No wonder Julio ran into it.

Running out of "w" clips marked the end of the greenhouse job so I decided to finally get those little flowering shrubs planted up. I have a bad habit of buying things that I'd like to have in the garden and then never actually get around to planting the things in the ground. The little plants then waste away and die in the pots, never fulfilling their potential. Not this year! No more of that sort of nonsense.

So the little flowering currant and mock orange that I bought at a discount store for £.99 and the lilac that I bought in the autumn are now in!
This is the Philadelphus or Mock Orange. It's right next to the chickens. It is so very small. I hope you can see it in the picture. The chickens were very helpful. I poked a few worms that I had dug up through the wires for them. If this shrub lives, it will have a wonderful perfume in the summer.

This is the Ribes or Flowering Currant. It is one of the first scented flowering shrubs of the spring. I'm afraid the plant got warm before planting and leaves started coming out. I hope that when we get a frost, the frost doesn't kill the little shrub. They're pretty hardy, so I'm quite hopeful.This is the lilac. I've put on the east side of the house, near our bedroom window. I just love the scent of lilac. Now that I look at the photo, I think it is way too close to the hedge. I'm going to move it further away from the hedge the next chance I get.

So, now the next thing to do on the list is to wash the greenhouses so that the old panes are no longer dirty and green. I'd like them to match the lovely the new glass. I'm going to wait for a nice warm dry day. Washing the greenhouse glass on any day other than a sunny day is a misery.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What a Blip Looks Like

Look at that spike in the graph will ya! In the normal day to day running of this blog, the average number of daily hits seems to stick at around 60. Sometimes more hits, up to 80 and sometimes as few as 40. They're small numbers and I won't set the world alight with my little blog.

Imagine my surprise on Wednesday when I got home from work to discover that the "hit count" was already at 94. Who were all these people visiting my blog? Did I say something controversial? Post a nudie picture? Did somebody put a link to me somewhere? It turns out that all these extra people were coming to me via a Google search on photos of a lunar eclipse.

We had a beautiful cloud free lunar eclipse last year. My own photos of the event were a bit pathetic so I used the pictures taken by Dean of Mostlymacro. He has a site filled with his own beautiful photos of wildlife. In the end the hit count for that day was 144, my biggest day ever. It shot way past the morning in May when the cooling towers at the local nuclear power station came down. The count on that day was a tantalizing 98, so close to three figures!

So it seems that news drives hits. News and possibly pornography, but you're not going to get too much of either of those here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Scotland's First No Take Zone

I was really looking forward to going to Arran today. I was planning to be home late, but here I'm home at a reasonable time and the sun is still in the sky. I take it on faith that the sun is in the sky, clouds obscure it again. After boasting about all those consecutive non-rain days (10 in total), we've been walloped upside the head with a nice big windy rainstorm.

That is a bit of video taken on my old camera at about 8:30 this morning. Sorry if I was shouting, but it was very windy!

One of the reasons I was looking forward to going over to my favourite tiny island was that I wanted to find somebody to congratulate having just read the news that Lamlash Bay on the Island of Arran is to home to the first No Take Zone (NTZ) in Scotland. The steam driving this project has been generated by COAST Community of Arran Seabed Trust. Please visit their web site. It's chock full of interesting information about the new NTZ and why it is so important. I was going to phone up and see if I could get an interview with one of the members of COAST, but alas, the ferries aren't moving today.The proposed NTZ is to be on the north side of Lamlash Bay (the pretty side) while the rest of the bay will be a marine conservation area where fishing will be allowed. Diving and dredging for scallops will also be controlled. I was kind of hoping that the entire bay would be a NTZ, but then I think that about most pretty sites along the coast.

For those who don't know a NTZ is an area of the sea and seabed where nothing can be removed by commercial or recreational methods. Even DIVERS can't take anything while we're down there. I don't remove things from the sea as a personal rule, I just take photos, but I can't speak for other divers.

The first NTZ was established at Cape Rodney in New Zealand. Cape Rodney on New Zealand's North Island had become a virtual marine desert due to overfishing when the area was declared a No Take Zone. Residents and scientists watched with delight as the barren rock with only a few spikey sea urchins to populate it slowly transform into an area rich in sea life. Great kelp forests along with smaller sea weeds were able to grow as predators who were now safe themselves came and ate the urchins. Biodiversity has exploded in this and all other NTZs world wide.

Though fishermen are deprived of the harvest available in these protected areas, they are more than compensated with bigger and better catches in the areas that surround the NTZ.

Here in Scotland, years of dredging for scallops severely damages and removes living maerl from the sea bed. It is in this slow growing red algae that many sea beasties lay their eggs or where young things hide until they are big enough to fend for themselves a bit better. If maerl is not disturbed, a grand fine rich maerl bed develops with the pink living stuff on the top most layer.
This is a photo of the stuff (not my picture). It looks a bit dull, but believe me, fish and crustaceans love it. A nice big patch of maerl was discovered just off Arran. It is hoped that in years to come, this wont be just an isolated patch, it will be part of a huge healthy bed of the stuff.

For further reading on the startling results of the benefits of a NTZ read THIS article on the UK's first NTZ.

I had to phone my customers on the island to tell them I wasn't coming today(they kind of knew) and rescheduled appointments for another day in mid-May. It should be great in the spring. Maybe I'll be able to lure one of my family members along for the day.

Monday, February 18, 2008

No Rain!

You know that it rains a lot here in SW Scotland. I mean it rains all the time, especially in the non- summer seasons.

Last weekend I was so joyful about a Saturday AND Sunday without rain. It was the mild, non-rainy weekend I can remember in a long time.

Now it is over a week later, 9 days to be exact and it still hasn't rained!

It is a lovely place to live, but the constant rain really gets me down sometimes. I am very glad to be having this nice long break from the rain.

Think about where you live. Imagine that the weather was so wet that 9 days of no rain is worthy of putting out on a blog.

It would be so wonderful if we had another 9 days of no rain, but I don't think I'm that lucky.

Over the weekend I sprayed the fruit trees with Bordeaux mixture to get rid of the apple scab and other assorted infections that occurred last year.

I also got everything together to re-glaze the small greenhouse again, glass, clips and cleaning supplies. I've also decided which pair of gloves I'll wear so that I don't slice my fingers to ribbons. I don't know what it about the little greenhouse, but I've had a hard time keeping glass intact with this one.

I'll take lots of pictures when I go to fix the greenhouse.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Journey Continues

A friend of mine and her charming husband have purchased a new house. In the spring they are going to be hosting a nice big house warming party and have invited me! So, at the end of April, I am going to Budapest, Hungary for four days! Woo hoo! I can't wait to see my friend and I am very excited about going to Hungary for the first time.Castle Buda, overlooking the Danube.

When looking into flights to Budapest, I was delighted to discover that Ryanair have a flight from Prestwick (near Glasgow) straight into Budapest airport! Lucky me! Ryanair is a budget airline out of Ireland and have settled into small used airports near big European cities and offering very low prices. To keep the prices low in the face of all the costs of fuel going way up, they've started charging £18 per piece of luggage. I seriously considered going carry on only for this trip, but then thought that four days was "luggage worthy". As I am taking a small case, I'll be able to bring my trusty binoculars in the hope of spotting some birds I don't normally see.
I hope that we'll be able to do a bit of sight seeing while I'm there. I'd love to visit a spa in Budapest. Budapest is famous for its Turkish styled spas. I can think of no nicer way to get rid of a hangover than to float around in warm eggy smelling water with my friends.

Sadly The Man of the Place will not be joining me. He has some other functions later on in the year and wants to save his travel time for those. I am comforted by the fact that I won't be traveling all by myself. Friend and fellow blogger Gordon and his lovely wife Louise have been invited and they're going as well! We have made plans to check in at the same time so that we have seats together.

I am not familiar with the wines of Hungary. Looking on line, I have discovered that there are no less than 17 different wine regions in Hungary! I'm hoping to become better acquainted with the local produce. In fact, other than the spas, wine and some vague notions of goulash, I don't know much about this country.

I'm not going until the end of April, so I have time to learn how to say yes, no and count to ten in Hungarian.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Any Way You Look at It

-40 is dangerously cold. It is no longer safe to have ANY skin exposed for any period of time. -40 is getting to the point where mercury will freeze. All moisture in the air freezes. It is too cold for it to snow. -40 is a dry and deadly cold.

When I was little and living in Bismarck, I got used to the fact that winters were bitterly cold. I mean cold of Biblical frostiness. I remember being glad when it snowed because the temperatures had to get UP to a point in order for it to snow. If however the snow was accompanied by wind it could so easily become a blizzard. The cold snap following a blizzard is always a dry, still, coldest sort of cold.
There is a reason that I remember that it is at -40 that the Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales converge. The reason I always remember this little fact is due to it actually dipping down to that temperature once when I was a kid.

I just got an e-mail from my mother telling me that the mercury has gone down to -40 at Embarrass, Minnesota, not too terribly far from International Falls (aka Frostbite Falls), Minnesota once again.

I don't live in North Dakota, Minnesota or even dear old Iowa anymore. I live in Scotland. Scotland is much further north than any of those states. I'm actually at the same latitude as Hudson Bay but due to the fact that I'm merely 10 miles from the Irish Sea, and our water is warmed by the North Atlantic Current of The Gulf Stream, it is always much warmer here than it is further inland.

So today, while I've been enjoying the 4th day in a row of lovely dry sunshine, my friends and family in the US are freezing their backsides off. Stay warm and stay inside you northern folks!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mouse Problem

The last few days here have been mild, dry and sunny! It would be so great if that were to continue for just a few more days. I feel so much better after even a few short hours of thin winter sun. The constant rain and drizzle can really do my head in.

I took advantage of the nice weather over the weekend to see to some bits in the garden and on Saturday, I cleaned out the big greenhouse.

Almost immediately, I discovered that there was a major mouse problem in the greenhouse. Any seed or bird food that has been stored in there, has been nibbled on by the mice. They've made nests in odd corners and boxes and chewed up things to make nests. In short, they've been having a rare old time in this greenhouse.

I started by hauling everything out of the greenhouse and sweeping it up. The mice had made a nice little nest under an old wood cupboard. I fear that it is ruined now. They chewed access holes in the bottom and the bottom shelf was full of mouse droppings and mouse wee. I really hated carrying out things that might have contained mice. I was so afraid that a mouse was going to run up my arm. I'm not afraid of mice, but I sure didn't want to be surprised by one.

When everything was emptied and swept, I saw that there were two holes in the concrete that had mysteriously grown larger. The mice are living underneath the concrete! Safe from preditors and with a limitless supply of bird seed, these mice had it made!

I started making the greenhouse mouse resistant by putting all the bird food into my big 5 gallon plastic bucket that I used for root beer making. The rim of the bucket is very cracked and I'll get a new one for root beer making and this one will do just fine for holding bird food.

Today, I purchased a very small amount of concrete mix, brought the concrete mix home and got to work plugging up the mousy access to the greenhouse. It was a job that took mere minutes to mix and plop into place. The concrete will have set by now and the open access to the greenhouse is now finished.

While I was cleaning up yesterday, Julio our cat was making himself very busy catching fat mice. The thing is, there were lots of mice and Julio only deals with mice one at a time. Julio spent hours tormenting his little rodent victims and by sundown, our cat was wiped out!

Now everything in this greenhouse is ready for a good scrub. The glass needs to be clean and then we're about ready for seed trays and spring.

The other little greenhouse, the one I used for growing tomatoes needs a whole bunch of new glass. I hope to get it re-glazed very soon. I can put the glass in the sides and the roof window myself, but I will need help with the greenhouse door. I think I'll just take the glass free greenhouse door to the place where greenhouse glass is sold and have them show me how to do it.

I think that in addition to the tomatoes in the small greenhouse, I am going to try growing some cucumbers.

I don't want anybody to tell me that the mice are now going to migrate back into the house. If they do, I've got the mouse trap all set.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Back to the Garden

We are having a mild, dry day today. The sun looks like it is going to stay out all day!

I may have mentioned this earlier, but I have decided that I am going to plant my vegetable garden this year. It was so wet last year, that I gave up hope very early on and didn't even plant the sweet peas that I have grown every single year since moving to Whitelees.

In preparation for the planting that will take place in May, I decided that I'd rake and cover the vegetable plot with my trusty old black ground cover. This stuff wears like iron and I have been using the same plastic ground cover for over ten years now.
I usually have enough home made ground cover pegs to hold the stuff down, but I could only find six! I have improvised with cement blocks and old bricks. Thankfully we have lots of those still lurking around. I know it doesn't look great at the moment, but think off all the weeds that are being suppressed by the ground cover. Think of all the digging I won't have to do!

While I was out, I did a little check around the rest of the garden. I picked up after the dog (bleh!) filled the bird feeders and took some pictures as evidence that life will return once winter is over.While I was taking photos, I discovered a potential problem with my corkscrew hazel Corylus avellana 'Contorta'.
While I was taking a photo of the catkins that are taking shape on the corkscrew hazel, I noticed some branches that grew last year were straight! I cut those out right away. The straight variety of hazel is much more vigorous than the picturesque twisting variety. Left to its own devices, the straight hazel will win over and I won't have those decorative twisting branches anymore. There - problem averted! The rhubarb is coming up! There were some old rhubarb clumps here when we moved in 14 years ago. They weren't very productive and had big woody roots. I grubbed them up. After that we had no rhubarb here for years. Two years ago, I bought and planted a new clump, variety Timperley Early. I dutifully didn't harvest a single stalk of it last year and let the plant be a plant. This year however, if the weather is good, I will be harvesting a few stalks. I thought I'd take a photo of a very hard working hand.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


As of yesterday, we are now in the season of Lent.

For the first part of the week, I was stuck in a big hotel in Stratford-on-Avon. Yes, THAT Stratford-on-Avon. In fact, our hotel was directly across the road from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I don't mind being away from home for work, but it would be so much nicer if the conference rooms had natural daylight. After three days, I felt like I had been stuck in a cave (a well appointed cave with nice food). The sunlight made me blink on my way to the car on Wednesday afternoon.

I always think I should consider this carefully and deprive myself of something that will help me to reflect more deeply and prepare better for Easter. Failing that, I have decided that this year I'm turning down all junk for the entire 40 days. That means no crisps (potato chips), no cookies or biscuits and no candy. Perhaps the fact that God Will Know if I stray from this self-imposed diet.

Anybody else observing Lent this year? What are you giving up?

Monday, February 04, 2008

No Longer the Champions

There was a quiz night in the village hall again. I'm sad to report that we lost our standing and did not come in first place. I suppose the fact that we were not successful in keeping our title of village smart asses is the reason that this post is delayed. The quiz night was on Burn's Night.

I will say that I lucked up in the raffle though. My numbers kept getting drawn to the point where I had to say that I wouldn't accept another raffle prize and they should draw a different number. Table with the raffle prizes (mostly booze and chocolate!). The Brut Aftershave gift set was the last thing to be selected from the prize table. I wouldn't be surprised if it showed up again on the next raffle prize table. Things like Brut, Old Spice and very very bad wine have a habit of returning to the raffle prize table in the village hall with alarming regularity. My prizes - bottle of wine and some Avon hand soap.

I thought I'd put in a few photos of the quiz night.

Though we didn't win, we had such a good night out. When there is a function on at our village hall, the hall conveniently becomes a place within walking distance of our house where we can buy a drink. They always pour really good drinks too.Before the quiz started The Man of the Place (checked shirt) was being sociable with people from the village. One can see that the Christmas lights are still up above the bar. To the left and right are the raised platforms on which the village primary school's Christmas shows are staged. The wooden bar above everybody's heads is the curtain rail for the "stage curtain". Our team! Fiona, Henry, Isabella and me (taking the photo)The team in the table behind us - who came in LAST place. The shame of coming in last is something I hope I never have to face.

Rose and Myra. Myra and her husband Chris(not shown) are our nearest neighbours and are very dear people. Myra lead the winning team to victory that night. Incidentally, Myra and Chris are the grandparents of George's best friend Gordon.

Another table that beat us. They were very good and congratulations to them- but these people actually live in the next village over. Is this fair?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

I'll Just Pretend it is Summer

The good news is that the root beer that I made earlier in the week has worked! The root beer now has carbonation. George, Henry and I have been "testing" it. Now that it has reached the desired level of fizz, I am going to refrigerate this batch of root beer to stop the yeast. I don't have a refrigerator that will hold 17 litres (remember I made just over 20 litres). I am going to go and lay them down on the floor of the tool shed. It will be plenty cold out there without the risk of freezing and will be out of the way.

I took a photo of my second root beer float of the day. I couldn't stop to take photos the first time. I was no where near the place where I could be objective. I wish it had been hot outside so that this could have consumed this the correct atmosphere, but it's Scotland in February so I'll just pretend. The first taste of a root beer float after possibly decades of not having one has brought back a flood of memories. I could almost feel a hot summer afternoon. Pouring the root beer over the ice cream and watching it settle was like watching a pint of Guinness settle. Pure poetry.
It turns out that although my family likes root beer, they do not like root beer floats. How can this be? I just don't understand. I must say that I find it disheartening that none of my UK friends share my love of root beer and now this business with my own family not liking root beer floats. Root beer floats are wonderful! Let me tell you, I haven't had one in YEARS and I'm making up for lost time now. I have taken a photo of the foam on top. It is cold, sweet and light and caused me to close my eyes with pleasure when I had the first spoonful of it. See the layer of frozen root beer on the ice cream? That's my favourite part.
Root Beer Float
For this you need:

Vanilla ice cream
Root beer
a tall glass
a long spoon
an enthusiastic eater

Put a scoop or two of ice cream in the tall glass

Pour the root beer over the ice cream. The ice cream will bob to the surface of the root beer and float.

Don't plop the ice cream into an already poured glass of root beer, it's wrong and much messier.

Now go and sit somewhere comfortable and eat/drink your root beer float with your long spoon. ----------------------------------

The recipe for root beer is now up!