Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Learning knots and The Rocket Experiment

The morning was spent down at the allotment as the weather seemed to have finally become more amenable to gardening. The kids were under strict instructions to be helpful (i.e. don't groan or make any rolling eye motions when I ask you to help me do something) and we pottered off with the car boot full of plants that are well-overdue for planting out.

I'd promised the kids that I would finally get one of their raised beds on their allotment plot into action after months of delay. We've been in the process of building 3 - one for each of them - but with winter and then deteriorating mother-in-law's health and then my bad back, it just hasn't happened. So we uncovered one of the beds, did a bit of weeding, added some organic potting compost that had been too rubbish to use in seed trays and then set about planting.

I showed the boys how to tie a clove hitch which they quickly mastered and we then used it to bind bamboo poles together to make a wigwam for runner beans. ds2 was interested to know where the bamboo poles came from and if that was the reason that bamboo was grown. I'm sure bamboo has lots of other uses, but I couldn't think of any apart from feeding pandas, which didn't seem terribly relevant at that moment. [Mental reminder: think more about bamboo]. I then showed the boys how to use a reef knot to tie off the ends of the string and explained how it was a handy knot to know because it wasn't one that would easily slip and come undone. What I should have said is that this is the knot you guys always seem to inadvertently tie on your shoe laces and that I have to try and unpick when we're in a rush to go out and you can't get your shoes on again!

For those who are interested - and didn't get their knot education from the girl guides like I did - this webpage shows a clove hitch being tied
(We tie ours in a different way. The animation makes this method look weird, but I guess the end result is the same)

And this one shows a reef knot .
(Again, the animation makes it look a bit strange)

The runner bean plants grown in the greenhouse were well advanced, much more so than the ones I planted directly into the ground, so it looks like the kids will be picking beans on their plot before we do on ours. But as ds1 pointed out - 'well we don't like them anyway' (to which I replied with gritted teeth 'Tough!'). We had a few spare tomato plants so I let the kids plant these and also a few extra French Marigold plants. The strawberry plants that I'd potted up for them months ago to keep safe on their plot had been buried under dens, mud and excavations so were looking rather dead when I finally found them and rescued them. If I get a chance I'll transplant a few extras from our plot into their raised bed. (then the birds and the slugs can have a choice about which plot to go to steal their daily fruit quota). Planting up kept the kids reasonably entertained, until they got sidetracked by catching millipedes. We found an unusual grey flat one which they caught and put in the box with the others. Unfortunately by the time it got home it was even more flatter, and slightly less alive, due to some accidental squashing. It's a shame cos I was interested to find out if it was one of the ones that glowed at night. Did you know that some millipedes fluoresce at night if they are disturbed?

As you can see from the photos the raised bed looks pretty good - especially considering it was made from some huge old roofing joists that I hauled from a skip outside a nightclub renovation project. There are still a few gouges visible in the upholstery of the car where I tried to cram the roofing joists in with the kids still sat in there (and then tied the boot down with a skipping rope!)

Surprisingly the compost-filled tyres that we created at the end of last year (or was it the beginning of this year?) have a bumper crop of strawberries coming. It looks like the birds have already had a go at the few just ripening, so I need to remember to get some netting over them soon. Thank You Kwik Fit! [Yes, it's me, the mad mother who tried to stuff 16 of your old dirty tyres into a small people carrier and was then shameless enough to come back and get a second load!]

Not much to report from the allotment. Everything is a bit behind this year, except for the weeds of course, but the sweetcorn is doing fine (the second planting seems to have almost caught up with the first), the cabbage is nearly finished (hooray! say my kids), the broad beans are 'beaning' and my mange tout have disappeared under a forest of weeds (must remember to string them up soon or the slugs will have all the produce). Predictably the spinach is about to run to seed, but I have managed to get some baby leaves off it before it finally decided to go into reproductive overdrive. And the lettuce 'salad leaves' are being very productive and pretty (see picture on right). We tried some tonight, but boy were they bitter, so perhaps it's best for decorative use only!

The Siberian Welsh Onions are flowering and attracting some lovely huge bumblebees (that's the big fat fuzzy stripey thing in the front of the picture on top of the big fat fuzzy white thing).

Apparently the 'Welsh' bit of their title is nothing to do with Wales, but is just an old fashioned term for 'foreign'. They are perennial plants; the clusters of bulbs can be dug up at the end of the season and split, leaving some to eat and some to replant. Fortunately they don't seem to be vulnerable to the dreaded Onion White Rot that wiped out much of my usual onion crop in last year's wet summer. I might even consider converting my usual onion plot to growing this variety as once an area of soil has been contaminated with white rot it's there for at least 7 or more years and there's nothing you can do about it.

The afternoon was spent at home with a friend who had come round to play. Ds2 found an old film canister and we set about doing the rocket thing with bicarb and vinegar*. It took a few attempts before everything went right.

Ds2 decided he would do some experimenting and tried out some different combinations, first substituting water and then milk for the vinegar. Water worked well, but it took a while, unlike the vinegar which was an almost instant effect. Milk, he found, didn't work at all. We decided that some time we'd like to try bicarb and cola/lemonade and bicarb and lemon juice. The video below is the usual bicarb + vinegar combination.

[*If you haven't done this before, it's just a case of getting hold of a plastic film canister with a lid that fastens 'inside' the tube (not outside), half-filling it with vinegar, bunging in a large pinch of bicarb, quickly putting the lid on (firmly!), flipping the container over so it is sitting on it's lid and then running away really quickly! Alka Seltzer - or a sterilizing tablet works well if I remember correctly - can be substituted for the bicarb and it needs to be blue tacked to the inside of the lid before sealing and flipping the container over. You can just drop the tablet into the vinegar, but the reaction is usually too quick to manage to get the lid back on before the whole mixture overflows. If you use something like Alka Seltzer you'll probably need to dry out the container before trying it again as a) the blue-tack wont stick and b) any moisture will set off a premature reaction with the tablet. Watch out for your eyes - these rocket reactions are quick and you're likely to get brained if you don't move fast! ]

And now for the educational bit:

"When the vinegar and baking soda come in contact, a chemical reaction occurs. A gas called carbon dioxide is released. When this happens, bubbles form, and pressure builds, because the density of carbon dioxide is much less than the density of the baking soda or vinegar. Eventually this pressure cannot be contained within the container...This experiment demonstrates an acid-base reaction. Acids and bases are measured on something called the “pH” scale, where anything below a 7 is an acid, anything above a 7 is a base. When the acid and base mix, they create a reaction, which breaks bonds between the molecules of the acids and bases. In some cases, this reaction can produce heat (which is why many cartoons show acids as being able to burn through steel and other materials) or and it always releases some molecule, in this case carbon dioxide. "
Retrieved from ""
Here's another experiment with carbon dioxide which I think my kids might have fun playing with


Julie said...

Am jealous about the vegetables. We have so many wild rabbits that eat EVERYTHING!!
Am actually commenting about Bamboo. Am just trying to spin bamboo fibre (its horrible to spin!) but bamboo yarn is supposed to be really good - naturally antibacterial and biodegradable as well as being from a renewable sources. AND is has ultra-violet protective properties (just to tie in with the millipedes!). So not just for pandas!
Great post - enjoyed reading it.

Big mamma frog said...

Yes, so relieved we don't have to contend with rabbits. We've got the worst weed problem ever though - horsetail - I can see why it's survived since the dinosaur age! Apparently its roots can go down around 7 metres! Wow really impressed that you are spinning bamboo. I've seen adverts for wool made from bamboo in my knitting magazine, but have never tried it. I still have a sheep's fleece in the garage that I was going to spin with the kids sometime. Have to keep it in the garage cos it made the whole house smell of sheep! Have never really got the hang of spinning, but I like the idea of it.