Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Leaving for a Few Days

Well I'm offski!

I mentioned this a while ago. I'm going to Hungary for a couple of days. It's a place I've never been. I'm really looking forward to seeing my friend and her husband. I'll be traveling there with fellow blogger Gordon and his delightful wife Louise.

I will see what I can do about blogging while I'm there. If it's not possible to access a computer, you'll just have to wait until I get back. Be assured that I am bringing my old bashed up digital camera and will be taking LOADS of pictures.

We had hail today. It wasn't winter pinhead sized hail, it was bigger. This hail came along with a thunderstorm (our first of the year) and was the size of mothballs.
Out the office window

I was fearful that the glass in the greenhouses would break, but it stayed whole.
Hail piled up by the back door.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

End of April

Last week, I saw the first swallow! I was on the A75 between Annan and Dumfries (closer to Dumfries than Annan) and one flew across the road. I don't remember which day last week it was but it was the middle of the week sometime. I wonder if we'll get any returning here. There were no successful nests last year, so I'm worried that we won't have any.

The strike is on at the Grangemouth refinery and I say good luck to the workers. I hope they get what they're striking about.

Today, I sprayed a few weeds. I had to take the opportunity to get the weeds sprayed during this non-rainy and not very windy day. Actually, the day is quite beautiful. The Man of the Place spent some time fixing the clothesline pole that had started to lean at a Piza like angle. He dug out the pole, took a sledge hammer to the old concrete block to break it off, dug the hole deeper and reset the pole in new concrete. I am not to use the pole for at least four days to let the concrete set completely. In four days, I will already be in Budapest, so the pole is safe for at least a week.

There are some lovely flowers in bloom around the place at the moment. I took some time this afternoon to take some photos of them so that I could share them with you.

There are some wild native primroses in their full glory underneath the trees across the road from the house.

Polly peaking through the gate. Note the net that has been tacked onto the bottom of the gate. This prevents her from squeezing under the gate and onto the road.
These are my favourite daffodils that bloom right next to the mailbox.
Close up shot. These daffodils have the same pale yellow as the wild primroses and I just love them.

Close up of another daffodil.
Some little critter has made a hole.

Close up shot of the mysterious hole.



This is a bit of honesty as seen through our office window.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fuel Crisis in Scotland

Now, I know the radio and television have been banging on about how we shouldn't panic buy fuel for our cars but have you seen the queues at the petrol station? My car still has 3/4 of a tank, so I'm resisiting the urge to just go "top up" because that would be the panic buying they told us we shouldn't do.

There is a 48 hour industrial action that started last night at the Grangemouth Refinery. The strike was called by the union and workers over changes to the company's pension schemes.

The Grangemouth Refinery in the Scottish central belt is the processing plant for most of the North Sea oil. It is Scotland's only major refinery. Most fuel suppliers and Scottish airports rely on this refinery. One of the knock on effects of this two day closure is that the pipeline feeding the refinery has been closed as have up to 70 of the oilfields.

Earlier in the week when it was certain that the industrial action was going to go ahead, the panic started. I was in Lanarkshire and passed two separate Shell garages that were out of diesel fuel. Later on in the day when I found some fuel at one of my regular filling stations, the price of diesel fuel had lept to £1.23 per litre. For those who wish me to do the math for you and convert the price in to dollars per gallon, it works out at £4.65 per US gallon and with today's rate of exchange (1.98 US dollars per 1.00 UK pound) that comes in at a whopping $9.22 per gallon. Gouging bastards! This was at a Shell garage! I was told by my colleague who lives in Pentcaitland near Edinburgh that she had seen prices as high as £1.55 per liter for diesel at an independent station.

It's always the customer that ends up paying. The second quarter profits better have shown that these companies (big oil) took a hit and not a rise in profits or I shall be very annoyed.

As we live in the country and there is NO usable public transport system, we rely on our cars. I have a company car. As a result of this "benefit" I pay a huge amount of tax every month. To top it all off the war in the middle east has seen fuel prices skyrocket. The cost of fuel makes my job as a territory sales person much less attractive to the company that employs me. I have seen many many sales people in my industry lose their jobs in the past year and a half. It makes my stomach hurt.

If I really want to make myself feel bad, I can think about food riots and the global food crisis. The wheat crop in the UK was terrible last year. The result of this is that the price of things made with wheat like bread and chicken feed have risen sharply. I used to pay just over £6 a bag for chicken feed and now it is closer to £8. That's a big jump. If I was selling my eggs commercially, I'd have to raise the prices accordingly. The price of everything is going up.

I would like some words of comfort from somebody. Tell me it's going to get better.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thwarting the Jackdaws Even More!

We have three chimneys. One for the range, one for the new fireplace and one for the old fireplace. As you know, two of the chimneys got metal caps on them yesterday. This will prevent the jackdaws from building their nests in the chimneys and blocking them. The old fireplace chimney has a wire basket over the top of it, so we figured that we didn't need to put a cap or jackdaw thwarter on that one.

This evening there were FOUR jackdaws squabbling around this third chimney. Two mated pairs fighting over who gets to live in this chimney. Sheesh! These are some tenacious birds! More action was needed. We really should have purchased three metal caps, but we're cheap. We thought the the existing wire basket that covers this last chimney would be fine.

Henry lit some newspaper in the old fireplace to get them to go away then it was up to the roof again. This time he had some leftover chicken wire with him to patch any large holes in the wire basket. There were a few places where the jackdaws had worked larger holes the wire mesh. He put a bit of chicken wire over the basket and secured it with a long piece of wire around the neck of the chimney. The Man of the Place in action! Pointing out cracked ridge tiles that will have to be replaced A view of The Man of the Place coming back down the ladder. (I'm supposed to be holding the ladder but I was taking a photo instead.)As ever Julio helped out.My favourite view of Whitelees - Can you make it out? Count four fields and there we are.The wind turbines on a hill very near us.

Today is the feast day of St George. The Patron Saint of England and of people who suffer from skin diseases. Happy Feast Day George!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

Today in honour of Earth Day, I was able to get some long overdue outside jobs done when I returned home from work. Thank GOD for longer northern spring days. Its a quarter past seven and there is still a good hour of daylight left.I built a bonfire with the prunings and lit it. Some of the branches are still quite sappy and they're not burning as well as I had hoped. I am running a bath while I get this blog entry finished. I am completely kippered! My hair and clothes smell very smoky.

I also gave the lawn its first cut of the year.

I wanted to get these two big jobs done as the forecast for the rest of the week is for (surprise surprise) rain.

I must say that I did have some very good help.
Julio helping with the mowing.
Julio helping me to haul things to the bonfire.When The Man of the Place returned home, he installed Jackdaw thwarters on the tops of the two chimneys. Now there will be no further nest-in-the-chimney problems. I managed to get a photo of one of the jackdaw looking with disgust at the new top to the chimney.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Simple Solution

You can't see it, but there is smoke coming from the nest-free chimney.

I didn't even think it could be done! I thought that the jackdaw nest would have blocked the chimney completely. It turns out that it is only older more established nest that clog chimneys and not the nests that are just starting out. On Sunday, The Man of the Place lit a slow fire in the stove that he made steadily hotter and the jackdaw nest was burnt out of the chimney. There was none of this having to get up on the roof on a windy day to haul it all out of there.

Be assured that the jackdaws were not harmed. I saw them just an hour ago near the top of the chimney with bits of wool in their beaks, looking for the nest that is no longer there. We've kept the fire going in the stove to prevent the nest builders from coming in and starting all over. They can just go somewhere else.

I am at home today when I should be up in Edinburgh at a regional meeting. Sadly, George is down with a gastric bug that is making its rounds. He's awfully pale and didn't kept much down over the weekend. I'm here to keep him supplied with flat 7up and soda crackers which he is keeping down, until he feels he can upgrade to other foods.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


(this photo is by Dean of Mostlymacro)

One of the delights of spring is the nest building behaviour of birds. This year is no exception. The bird boxes have all been cleaned out and are ready for new inhabitants. One bird box has yet to be nailed or tied back up in its spot, but I'll do that later on today if the wind dies down. It is howling a gale out there today. The laundry on the clothesline is drying so quickly today!This year we've got a small problem as a result of our new central heating system. The old chimney is no longer belching out smoke because we are not using our old multi-fuel stove to run our radiators. (see non-smoking chimney in photo above) Because this chimney is not being used any longer and is not covered by any wire mesh, a pair of jackdaws have decided that this dormant chimney will make a perfect spot to raise their family.
We'd really prefer them not to be in our chimney. They make noise (which doesn't bother me) and dislodge a lot of soot and drop sticks (which does bother me). A few of the sticks have found their way into the house. If we wanted to use the stove again the chimney wouldn't draw because it's clogged with a great big jackdaw nest! On top of that jackdaws are notorious raiders of nests. None of the songbirds that come into our garden would have safe nests. Our old stove The mess on the top of the stove. The mess underneath the stove.

Somebody is going to have to get up there and clear them out! I hope that somebody doesn't have to be me. I'm not a big fan of heights.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Winter is Very Over!

Signs of spring:
Lambs in the fields. Yup, got those. Daffodils in bloom. Check
First swallow sighted in Devon. Check
Bumble bees. Saw two of those yesterday.

The definitive sign that winter is over and spring has arrived . . . Wood tick on the dog!

(omitted disgusting photo of wood tick here)

I pulled a tick off Polly last night. I guess it's time to start the first round flea and tick treatments.

The weather was okay after work, dry and not too windy. After I clucked over the little plants and seedlings in the greenhouse, I started pruning. I have made a couple of very large piles of branches around our garden. These branches will need to be stacked and burned or hauled away.

I was very brutal with the pruning because I have not been very diligent with cutting things back over the past few years. Some things like the buddleia were just so out of hand that I knew I'd be killing it if I cut it back to a normal or near normal size so I only got a medium pruning. The two forsythia bushes have been looking quite pathetic in the last couple of years so I've hacked those right out. I'm going to start afresh with a new forsythia. I'll see if I can find a really pretty new hybrid.

I've got an overgrown weigela with very pretty dark red flowers. I think I'll wait until after that blooms before I whack it back.

There was a willow that self-set near the pond. I've taken out the largest of the branches. It was all I could handle with the loppers. The rest of the stump will require a saw.

I've got enough material for a small bonfire at the moment. If I've got time on my hands this weekend and the weather allows . . .

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Guess What! It's raining

It didn't rain all day, just part of the day.

The good thing about this particular rainy day is that the newly cleaned gutters and repositioned spouts got tested. They are all in perfect working order.

It does seem the tiniest bit sad, but I was really thrilled to see the water butts fill up with rain water.

I was so excited by the improved working order of the drains that I went out and got a bit of video footage of it all.

I also did a bit of a video tour of the inside of the large (not clean yet) greenhouse.

That's my world! Its a shame you can't get a good sniff inside the greenhouse. It smells so fertile! I believe that I could grow just about anything in that greenhouse.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Good (non-rainy) Day

We had a lovely day here. There was no rain. It was a bit cloudy and not overly warm, but the lack of rain meant that after church I could: 1. Get some laundry pegged out on the line and 2. Start washing the greenhouses.

I got the small green house washed today. Had I skipped Mass then I could have had most of the glass in the large greenhouse a good way to being clean but George was on the rota to be alter boy today.

During my lunch break I also had a nice nap on the sofa. All in all the perfect Sunday. Here is the now clean little greenhouse. This small greenhouse doesn't have any staging or shelves in it. The reason for no shelves in here is that this is the greenhouse I use for growing tomatoes and tender herbs like basil and coriander (cilantro). Shelves would get in the way. I'm also going to try growing a cucumber and some peppers in here this year and see how we get on. When the weather allows I'll move all those pots outside. The bags of compost will be gone (used up) and the garden canes leaning on the back wall will be turned into bean frames with the gift of garden twine. This leaves the little greenhouse empty and ready for the summer crops.

Cleaning the large greenhouse needs a full day of no wind and rain so that I can get a good running start at the job. You can see why I need a full day by looking at the state of the glass. This is a photo of one of the bottom panes on the north side of the large greenhouse (delphinium seedlings in the foreground). Glass should be see through and this glass is plainly not transparent.

I did manage to clean the gutters of the large greenhouse and reposition the spouts. Now the rain barrels will fill up more quickly. Some of the plants I have growing in the greenhouse are acid loving plants and will not thank me for watering them with tap water. Our water here at the house is pretty soft, but rainwater is even softer.Here is the rain barrel or water butt with the repositioned spout above it. Note the coating of green on the barrel. This green stuff is everywhere and will even start showing up on the car if it isn't washed for any lengthy period of time. The green coating is what I have to wash off the glass on the greenhouses. We have it on the house as well. Over the summer at some point we will have to pressure wash the house. I scrub the back step from time to time to prevent the build up of this green stuff and its evil cousin, slime mold. When I scrub the back step, I occasionally add in a bit of bleach to keep it from coming back quite so quickly.

Here is documentation of some of the seedlings inside the large greenhouse:
The Sprouting Broccoli - Sown last Sunday -
A fuzzy photo of the tomato plants. The purple tinge on the leaves of these little plants is the tomato plant's way of telling me that they got too cold. I may invest in a little greenhouse heater for next year.The Sweet Peas which can go out any time now.The Sweet Corn - I have most of it in deep single cells that can go straight into the ground once the threat of frost has passed.One corn plant in a little cell.

It is now Sunday evening. I'm tired and have very dirty fingernails. I'm off for a well deserved soak in the tub.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Death of the Moles

When I look upon my lawn and see the bare patches where grass used to be, I am reminded of last year when the lawn was in its prime. It was cropped short in neat lines and there were no mole hills to be found at all. With few weeds and a good level surface, it was a beautiful spot for the boys to play football and for me to play fetch with the dog. Then came the autumn.

During the last few weeks of pitiful sunshine the mole hills arrived. I managed to clog the blades of the lawn mower on the last cut of the year buzzing over the tops of the four substantial mole hills. I wasn't to know that those first hills were merely the front line. An entire battalion of moles hills followed on in a slow and steady progression until the first of the year and they could no longer be ignored. Something had to be done!

Mike the Gamekeeper arrived back today and checked the traps. Two moles had been trapped and killed and he showed them to me. One was an old male mole. Please do not start thinking of Mr Mole, the mild mannered home loving character from Wind in the Willows or you will cause me to suffer even more upset. The other mole was also a male, but much younger. He was one of last year's brood.Their squinty almost useless little eyes were closed. Both their coats were a beautiful powdery dark gray that is so soft to stroke. Please do not misunderstand me. I hate killing. I am heartbroken that these two beautiful creatures have died in order that there be tidiness in my garden but there really is no other way.

The traps were reset and tomorrow afternoon will be checked and then removed. Perhaps I can consider these little moles as a pagan sacrifice to The Green Man. I am going to put a few mole deterrents on the place in the hope that this helps to keep them from an untimely death.

I will endeavor to be a good and diligent gardener this year so that the demise of these two animals will not have been in vain.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mike the Gamekeeper

Today this man came into our garden and set some mole traps. I took photos through the window so as not to disturb him at his work. He initially said that we probably only had one mole but I noticed that he set about four traps. It turns out that moles do not like other moles unless it is mating season but we might have two young moles sharing the garden. You learn something new every day. I know it is mean to kill the moles that have only come into the garden to eat our worms, but they're making a mess and I don't want mess. I also think it is cruel to use poisons. In addition, how can gamekeepers earn a living if they don't have customers?

Wednesday this week I was up in Largs. As young George was still enjoying his spring break, he was able to come with me. After I had completed my sales calls for the day, we went for a bite to eat while watching the ferry go to and from Cumbrae for a bit and then walked over to the arcades for some serious time spent at the penny fall! We broke into our piggy banks before we left and removed all the .02 pence pieces. With the almost £10 worth of two pence pieces in a plastic container we were set!

I won most of the prizes this time around.
There is this little plastic football player. He doesn't look demented at all! He was a keyring, but somebody snapped the chain off.
Then there were two dolphin key rings. Dig the googly stick on eyes!
I think they would make very nice dolphin earrings, don't you?
The top prize of the day was this wonderful monkey watch! You want one, don't you?
The digital watch pops up when you press the little red button. It is my favourite thing of all time!