Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘The Allotment’ Category

Allotment at Home Phase One

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

allotment lawn all done 2

The first phase of Bring the Allotment back home is almost complete.  The turf was all lifted some weeks ago and then sourcing and building the raised beds started.  I have a mix of home made wooden beds, beds made of pallet-cuffs, and some metal hexagonal shaped beds.

This is what the area looked like before we started. Allotment lawn before

I then had three trees felled – two in this area and one in the next area across the drive.

As the beds went into place, the turfs were moved from storage and placed in the bottom of several planters.  Then I was able to put down heavy duty weed suppressing lining.  I have had mixed results with this on other gravel paths.  For one thing they are not weed suppressing. For another the frayed edges can quickly make their way through the gravel and be unsightly and a nuisance.  But I think I needed some lining, mainly to stop the gravel being mashed into the earth.  So I laid a path way of lining in each area – a long and painstaking process as this is a series of odd shapes.  And each piece was turned under at all the raw edges, by hand, and then the whole of each piece was secured, including the folded edges, with home-made metal ‘staples’ which I hammered in all around.

Allotment weed membrane 1

The lining does not always reach right to the edge of the beds, but it is down in every area where I will have to walk.

I then ordered 2 tones of gravel.  Which I then delayed three times as it was first too cold, then too wet and then too snowy to work outside.  When I finally got the first 2 tons schlepped, I was still 2 tons short, so I ordered some more – and it snowed again.  Eventually, this Monday and with snow still lying about, I got the last of it down.  All that remains here is for me to fill each bed with soil and compost.  Most of the soil is being dug and barrowed from the other side of the drive.  This is also part of the work to complete the last phase of the project.  At the moment I have the two biggest beds full, and two more almost there. full

I will also need to rig netting on each raised bed to deter cats and birds.

I am very pleased with it so far.  I know it is not beautiful, but it is a highly practical space now, with twelve raised beds.  I have four more on the allotment, and three more here, so the next phase is well in hand.

Allotment lawn area part gravelled

It has been a much bigger, longer and harder task that I thought.  But this is always the way, or it is for me.

I have not even been to the allotment other than to look at the snow for about three weeks, but I will be down soon to plant out broad bean seedlings and have a tidy up.  Then, the cage will be dismantled and brought home.  I will also dig up and pot on some raspberry root-shoots and bring them home.  Finally, the raised beds there and the tyres will be emptied and brought home.

The space you see here is about 1/2 of a full allotment plot, I think but longer and thinner; and of course I have sacrificed space by having only raised beds.  But I think these are far more productive than open ground growing for everything except fruit canes, and beans.  When I have completed phase two and re-configured the old original veg plot, I will have c 1.5 of a full allotment. Perfect.

The light is good in this area, even for March.  This plot will not have the almost uninterrupted full sun that much of my allotment has; but in very hot spells that has been a mixed blessing really.  Here, the beds at the far end will get early and mid-late morning sun; and the rest will have sunlight or at least good light later in the day.  I think it will be fine.  It will also be much more sheltered and far more peaceful.  I am looking forward to planting it all up and having it literally on my doorstep.

 

Allotment at Home

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

As I get into year 3 on my allotment, I have made a decision.  I think.  You must be relieved.  Maybe (I am not promising) I will now stop mythering.

The allotment is going to move to home. The main reason I wanted an allotment was because my own little veggie garden here is in 50% deep shade from c May – October from a very large neighbouring ash tree.  This is now called Area 1. The parts that are not so affected are sometimes in shade from the house next door – the charming Whitlow – and the lightest, best parts are full of soft fruits.

Also, Florence and Will wanted a share in the allotment, but of course they instantly bought a house with a gigantic garden.  So why do I want it now?  As you know, loyal reader, I have mused long over this.  I have now almost decided that I don’t like the allotment as much as I did.  There are a number of reasons for this, most of which I cannot influence.  But my original veg garden is too small and dark.  So if I want to carry on vegetable growing on a largish scale, which I do, I must either grit my teeth and stick with the allotment, or find an alternative at home.

In other parts of this garden, the bits you never see if you come to a workshop, I have the veggie garden mentioned above, and two other potential areas for veg growing.  One of these is a long and quite narrow stretch of fairly poor quality lawn and borders right outside the back door.  This was, until a few years ago, in deep shade from two huge trees which I had to have removed due to their dangerous proximity to the house.  In the intervening years this area has recovered and with some further tree removal, I think this could be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 2.

There is also a further bit of land, bigger than the lawn, with a large open wood store at the end.  It is partly paved, partly border – empty border, as I had a big hedge grubbed out 18 months ago.  This, with the removal of the slabs and the rocks, and some levelling work could be the area where the frankly pathetically useless brassica cage would go.  This area would be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 3.

If I add all this up, it is at least as big as an allotment.  But of course, some of it is less favoured than my allotment mainly due to the shade.  If I then change the way I grow vegetables I think I can be at least as productive but with less effort.  I have learned a lot about allotmenting these past 3 years.  Such as how to grow new vegetables, how to work with barrier and other organic deterrents to have 100% organic veg (with sometimes limited success but anyway…).  And I have learned that growing veg in raised beds is an utter joy.  I only have 4 plus some tyre beds – new for this year – but this is my most successful and most enjoyable growing, really.  Yes, the squash and the courgettes and beans have thrived in open ground.  But all root crops, salad, peas, edible flowers and garlic do very much better in raised beds.  The crops that do well in the open will also do even better, I imagine, in raised beds.

So, the allotment project will continue but in 2018, it will gradually move here and 80% of it will be devoted to raised beds, with gravel paths round each one.  Even in the cage, it will be a raised bed garden.  Raised beds do not need digging, ever.  They are easy to clear, provide protection against some flying and most soil-dwelling pests. They are easy to net, and are a bit warmer than open ground all year round.  The downsides are:  you get a bit of lost space and they need watering in dry spells.  This latter is not a problem if it is at home, but it was, a bit, at the allotment.

The preparation work started at home this weekend.  We cleared Area 3 of a ton of rocks, some old path lining, the gravel and a bit of other stuff.  This was back-breaking but not as bad as digging was 3 years ago.  Next, I will take down the cage at the allotment and reconstruct it here. It will need to be smaller but it is modular.  Then we will build the prototype beds – 2 to start with and perfect this skill for as little outlay of money and effort as possible.  Then we will make the maximum number we can fit into the cage and lay slabs (recovered from the ground of Area 3) and gravel as paths.  This has to be first as I plant into the cage from May onward and still harvest into February – but after October it won’t be my allotment any more.

Step 2:  lift the turf on Area 2.  Level and populate with more beds, and gravel paths.  Step 3:  as the raised beds and tyre beds at the allotment become empty from mid-summer, deconstruct, bag the earth and bring it all back to plant seeds for late summer and autumn crops here.  Step 4:  take raspberry root cuttings at the allotment and plant them here – they are great.  Step 5:  prepare the original Area 1 for crops that really need an open position such as broad beans.  Step 6:  transplant all herbs from Area 1 to Area 2, in raised beds.  This will liberate more space in Area 1, too. I love planning, don’t you?

Here are some pics.  These show Areas 1 – 3, and also the work in progress and to date on Area 3, which began this weekend.

If I don’t like it or am too sad about the allotment, I can still keep it!  But you know, it’s just not the same there.  It is no longer a haven.  So I do not think that will happen.  It’s not as much fun, or as calming and enjoyable. I don’t enjoy going as I did before – and that is partly influenced by factors that I cannot see changing.

Onward.  I can put all my energy into Project Allotment At Home.  I don’t think I would ever have had the confidence or the planning ability – or even the very idea – to do this (if it works) if I had not had my allotment.  So as with most things in life, they lead you to things that you didn’t foresee – but they too, are good. Veg on!

Allotmenting Continues

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

I have renewed the allotment for another year.  It seems silly to be hasty, especially as I have really got it under control now (except for the twatting white fly in the brassica cage – it is no longer a draw; they win).

No progress has been made on the ‘allotment at home’ project, though I look at the space a lot and think about it.  However, several other allotment holders have chucked it up this year, including my immediate neighbour and his immediate neighbour. One chap (or family) has now taken on both of these and jolly lucky they are too, to get two such good-condition plots side-by-side with almost no need to weed-control from the get-go.  One of these plots did in fact change hands last year but they only lasted one season.  I think often people just do not realise what a lot of work it will be, and the level of commitment needed, especially if like me, the first few months have to be spent entirely on weed removal and hand-digging. If I had known, I definitely would not have taken it on – which is not to say I am sorry because I do love my plot now.  But it’s a slave driver; and somehow, it feels ‘different’ this year, less peaceful, less calm and friendly.  So I sense that I am edging slowly closer to being able to part from it with no regrets, maybe even with relief – if and when that time comes.

Meanwhile, I am growing prosaic brassica (though see note above ref twatting white fly), spinach, beans, garlic and shallots.  The plot is still producing food.  Mainly perpetual spinach and kale.  The kale is on its last hurrah but as we’ve been harvesting this for about 6 months now, I think that is pretty good going.

The spinach – not the same at all as the small-leaved spinach that you can buy in bags at the supermarket – is a muscular plant, more closely aligned I am sure to chard than the bought-spinach.  It has stems like chard, which I cook first in a small lake of butter, garlic, mustard seeds, salt and pepper.  Once this is tender, I add the shredded leaves.  These do not wilt into a tiny ball of green sludge as small spinach is liable to do; it stays reasonably in shape.  I love it.  Mark really dislikes it and furtively pushes it about and usually leaves half of his portion.  We have arrived at a compromise:  once he takes over the growing/cooking duties, he gets to choose the vegetables. Thus, I anticipate that we will be eating spinach for a while yet.

My favourites are the red cabbage and this perpetual spinach;

I sowed this spinach in March, direct where it is to grow and although I only got c50% success, this is more than ample for one household for months.  I think it will slowly succumb to the cold now so in March I will sow more.  We were cropping it by May this year.

2017 was the best year ever for runner and French beans.  We ate them until we were unable to look one in the face, and then we froze them.  So I can vary the spinach/kale based diet with runners and Frenchies every week.

The raspberries were also fantastic.  They are all autumn varieties.  I rescued three plants from the weed jungle two years ago, and they thrive; plus I was given a lot of bare-rooted pull-ups in the hot summer of 2016.  I assumed they would be summer raspberries, but they also are autumn.  This is ideal as all summer, from early July to early September, we have loganberries, gooseberries and blackberries in the garden here.  So by September, when they are all over, in come the raspberries.  These are my favourite soft fruit.

The strawberries, also rescued from the weed-cluster years, and then lovingly grown on as runners by me, have been rotivated into the earth.  I never met such a sulky, ungrateful and lazy bunch of plants. But then, that’s strawberries for you, isn’t it?  I reckon I got a mean half-dozen unappetising little sods off them.  Pointless.  They are no more.

2017 was not so good as 2016 for courgettes, but it was still very good.  However, it was great for squashes of all sorts, some of which we are still eating as they store very well just in the open fresh air on a bench by the door.  They are delicious and so pretty.

I have now got four raised beds.  These will be supplemented in 2018 by the tyres I scrounged to grow potatoes.  Remember the great potato sadness of 2016/17?  I give up, Asda has lovely ones and that’s fine.  But the tyres, stacked in twos or threes, make ideal small raised beds. So I am going to allocate a courgette or squash to each of my tyre-beds – there are four, directly by the big raised beds.

So I am now beginning my third year as an allotmenter.  Who’d have thought it?  I feel much more confident, and also I know what I like to grow, what succeeds, and what I like to  eat.  I no longer care what other people like.

I continue to grow 100% organically.  It does really get on my nerves, when twatting white fly gets my brussels but if the alternative is spraying with chemicals, it’s not worth it.  What does work is barrier control, resignation to the fact that you will probably have to ‘share’ some of the crops with the birds and the twats, and avoiding things that you can’t protect without resorting to the nuclear option.  I really do think harsh chemicals including the old blue slug pellets should be banned from sale and use.  I have not used chemicals for years and after a couple of tough years (this is at home really, at first), the eco-system of the garden has adjusted, I have stopped growing slug salad-bars and I get very little trouble.  In fact (and I am really not, except once, a tree-hugger) I gently remove snails from my way and relocate them to the hedge row.  I don’t kill them, for they are a blackbird’s breakfast!  And if I poison them, the birds may also suffer and die.

In 2018 I will grow two or three new things, as I have each year, and so far the list is:

  • garlic
  • broad beans
  • shallots (new)
  • spinach
  • chard
  • kale
  • red cabbage
  • courgettes (three types)
  • squash (four types)
  • French beads – dwarf and climbers
  • runner beans
  • carrots
  • pea-shoots
  • mixed salad leaves (new)
  • raspberries
  • rhubarb

In the spring, I may also begin work on the ‘allotment at home’ project.  If that goes well, I could stop the allotment in late 2018 – or run them side-by-side for a year.  Then the lease on the field where we have our allotments will be up again, and maybe it will be renewed but there is no guarantee and that is partly why I feel I need to have a Plan B.

 

Allotment Up-Date: should I stay or should I go now?

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

I am well into year two of Project Allotment. This year has been much better than last in many ways.  First, almost no digging. Second, I have learned a lot and it shows in terms of how I plan things and how well they turn out.  Third, I have just about managed to keep the brassica cage free of cabbage white fly with the use of diatomaceous earth.  This is an organic dusting powder.  It is a faff to apply it and it isn’t 100% successful but it has made a big difference.  Last year, by now, the cage was infested, but this year they are just beginning to be obvious – so I have re-applied the DE.

I have maintained an organic approach – no pellets, no poison.  I do lose a bit of stuff here and there but I think it is worth it.

There have been failures.  The potatoes were poor.  Not worth the effort.  The carrots were also poor in terms of germination.  And I planted the squash way too close together so it is very crowded.

On the other hand, the kale and cabbage are 90% better, and I have had (and am continuing to have) amazing bean crops, good courgettes and interesting and delicious new squash types.

So, it seems a bit counter-intuitive to tell you, dear reader, that I am thinking of giving the plot up.  Not in October 2017, probably, which is renewal time.  But maybe at some point in the following year.  I have not decided for definite but I have it in my mind.  There are pros and cons.  As I am powered by lists, here is my pros/cons for giving up the allotment list:

Pros:

  • I find it incredibly time hungry, as it is very labour intensive and in spring and summer I do go to the plot at least 3 times a week, often more.
  • It is not inconvenient as it is only 1/2 mile away but that is an issue when pushing a loaded wheel barrow, or riding an over-loaded bike.
  • It is basically still trying to be a pasture field and so despite the efforts of the previous plot holder before he gave up a year or so before I got it, and mine, if you turn your back for more than 3 days, the bind-weed and other invasive, pernicious weeds just move back in and bring all their mates.
  • Someone has taken some of my Japanese squash – which are big and heavy, and some of the black French beans. These are not things birds could or would take.  That was upsetting. It won’t be anyone on the allotments or our local badgers who do steal fruit and sweetcorn.  But the field is not secure at all so I guess it is inevitable, sometimes. Jo has also had fruit taken and last year someone had his brassica cage vandalised.
  • It has really set off my always lurking OCD nerve. I can’t just cut the grass, for example.  I have to cut the grass and then edge the whole plot and then pick up all the clippings and then hoe it neat – this is just the edges.  I wish I could be more relaxed but I can’t.  So, it’s a bit obsessive. Obsessions are, basically, my one weakness.
  • I am very allergic to a lot and an increasing number of things and many of these are down the allotment.  I am bitten by all the insects despite my spraying myself with jungle strength insect repellent, and I react very badly to these bites, both at the site of the sting or bite and also all over. I am allergic to soil on my bare skin, so I have to garden in gloves – but I am also allergic to most gloves so I have to line the gloves with cotton gloves, soaked in E45.  Despite this, my hands are in an awful state.  (I think I am also becoming allergic to some animal fibres but anyway…). My new allergy is to the plants themselves especially courgettes and squash leaves, raspberry leaves and runner bean leaves.  Spiders bite me whenever I go into the cage even if I wear long sleeves and trousers, and then I get blisters.  To be honest, it is just miserable to be so allergic to my allotment.  The garden can, of course, set off reactions but rarely so extreme.
  • The garden is suffering neglect.
  • I worry about it if I have to miss a few days and kind of dread the return to what I know will be a lot of hard effort.
  • I am often very tired.
  • I have learned a lot and some of this could be translated into my garden here.

Cons:

  • I actually love my allotment and I am very proud of it. I know I would miss it terribly. It is often a place of great happiness and peace for me.
  • After all that work (and this is not a response I am proud of) I can’t bear someone else to just walk onto the plot and take it on.  Is the answer to let it go to pot for a few months and then quit, I hear you murmur?  Frankly that thought is unworthy of you and I am disappointed, I shall pretend you didn’t suggest it.
  • I have invested in some equipment but mainly the cage which I think I can bring home.
  • Related, I have a plan (very provisional) to turn part of my garden here into a mini-allotment. It is at the thinking stage only but I do believe it may have merit.  There will be a lot of work associated with this initially and some cost, but still, it would be a realistic alternative.
  • We love the food I grow.  I have not thrown money at my allotment and not really bought much at all, so it really is a thrift project for me which has given us so much produce that you just can’t buy anyway.
  • I might be able to go down to a half-plot. But you see, the OCD nerve would kick in then, if the partner plot-holder left his/her plot (joined onto my MY plot) in a state.
  • I am not a sociable person in any way but I have slowly and quietly made some very nice ‘acquaintances’ down there. But on the whole it is just me there and I like that.
  • Whilst it is very hard work, it is really away from it all as there is no internet coverage and very poor phone signal. So, audio books are marvellous for allotmenting.

What do you think I ought to do? Give it up, or keep it?  You are wise, advise me.

 

Finally, Produce From The Allotment (that is not rhubarb)

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

In month seven of Project Allotment, it’s all going rather well.  We have been able to harvest our first non-rhubarb crops:  broad beans and pea shoots:

We did not grow the wine.

The broad beans are really delicious, and as we are picking them small and young all they need is a quick saute with seasoning, butter and garlic.  We also had some with crispy bacon cubes sizzled first.  I will definitely grow these again, but I will do some things differently.  First, I will sow them a bit later in the winter – December, not November.  Then I will plant them much closer together, as most folks on the allotment do.  And I will add a sort of rope and stake support framework as they really suffered in the big storms we had from January to March.  And I might add a second sowing of a later variety that goes in in February, and crops in the mid-summer.  If I make the sowing closer, I reckon I can double the output over a longer period.

The pea shoots were an experiment in a raised bed. I just found an old packet of dried peas in the cupboard and popped a lot of them in – 98% germination and they LOVE it!

Beans in the background.  These are now over half way up the poles.  The pea-shoots are so tasty; the idea is to pick the tips continuously so they do not make pea-pods.  This salad crop is eleventy pounds a bag in that London or Waitrose.  This is free!  I am very chuffed.

In other news, the brassica cage and I have been spending a lot of time together and I really wish I had a door rather than a complex system of veils and hooks plus bricks.  But, the bastard cabbage whites are thronging elsewhere so my little plants are safe, at least.

Here are the little plants in situ (note: still had to put in 2 rows of orange chard, this shot was about 3 weeks ago):

And this is now:

A lady in our village was giving away raspberry plants the other week – she had loads that were taking over her garden so she was just pulling up canes with roots and she kindly gave me about 20 canes.  I have put them in, and they do look a bit sorry for themselves but in the winter I rescued 3 canes/plants from the weed infested top border at the allotment and re-planted them; even though they looked as if they had died at first, they are thriving now. So I am hopeful that these will ‘take’.

The courgettes are all in and they are just beginning to show tiny courgettes, some of which are yellow!

It said on the packet they would be yellow!

Also, did you know that the roots of ruby chard, are PINK:

It’s hard to see, but they are very softly pink, really pretty.

The potato towers are now 4 tyres high and now it is time to let the potatoes grow above the soil level.  The pink ones will be ready in about 4 – 6 weeks I think.

The carrots in the seed beds have gone very well and should be ready to start eating the ‘thinnings’ in a week or so; the ones in the ground went less well but I am still hopeful that we will get some decent ones.

And the nuclear rhubarb is STILL growing.  Here it is after being picked again, with the fork in shot for scale:

Rhubarb is now included to take home, free of charge, after all my workshops and I will be making rhubarb fool pots every time, sorry. I have also got a new recipe for rhubarb cream cookies and a rhubarb cinnamon cake recipe to try.  If you don’t like rhubarb…well, I guess you could have an apple?

When I got the plot, officially that was 1 November 2015, the man who had it before kindly gave me the shed and water butt.  I said then that I’d bring some produce up for him and I wrote down his address.  Well last night I was able to deliver the first batch:  rhubarb (which I am going to assume he absolutely adores, as the patch he grew is the most productive of all on the field); and a large bundle of broad beans.  I left them on the step.  I hope they are not on holiday…

It’s not all gone brilliantly.  The garlic is frankly poor and way behind where it ought to be.  I think it may not like the heavy and now bone-dry rock-hard earth. But anyway, it’s not good.  And the strawberries which were all rescued from the choking weeds are also very poor, probably they are just old.  I am not a big fan of them anyway, so I might plant some youngsters from runners or I might not bother at all and use this ground for something else.

I also have a few flowers that I either took myself from here or rescued:

Here is a shot of most of the plot:

What a difference this last few months have made.  I feel very at home there.  To be honest, about a month ago, I did get very overwhelmed by it all – this allotment plus a garden here plus 2 jobs etc – and I thought I’d let it go come the autumn.  But Mark has helped a lot and last weekend they kids went down for a half-day on their own and I had a long break from it.  But usually I am happy to wander down and on average I guess I spend 2 hours at a time – so sometimes it’s more like 4 or 5, but others it’s just a quick watering session.  There is no shade, and I think I will need to have some sort of shelter, even if it’s just an old sun-shade umbrella as it has been very hot and very dry.  No real rain for a lot of weeks now.  There are cracks in the earth that I can fit my hand into, and I can’t dig it!

The whole field looks amazing at the moment.  Some of the plots are like show-gardens and I love looking at them all.  Everyone does things slightly differently and I have learned a lot.  For example, the lady next door gave me two little squash plants she had grown, Patty Pan Squash.  She also lent me two tubes of plastic to ‘shelter’ them in – cut from a squash bottle or similar.  You just nestle it round the small plant and this not only lends some shelter, and protection from slugs, it also make it easy to water direct into the space.  So we have saved all ours (Will and I drink litres of cheap fizzy water every week) and I chopped them up to snuggle young brassica plants into.  After a few weeks you can just lift them off.  Clever.

The pond at the bottom is just lovely with so many wild and marginal plants now many feet tall.  And the frog population is vast – the grass round the pond and the water butts is alive with tiny frog-lettes.  Mark caught one long enough for me to take this:

The Allotment Project (AKA Oh My God! It’s Rhubarb Madness)

Monday, April 18th, 2016

When I first got the allotment, one lady told me that she had to take over-supply of produce (beans, I think) home in a wheelbarrow.  Yesterday, I had to take some rhubarb home in my wheelbarrow.

This patch of rhubarb is just incredible.  It has never died off totally over winter, which my rhubarb at home does.  I had to cull a lot of it in November as it had completely overgrown the shared pathway nearby.  And about three weeks ago, I thinned it by 1/3rd, composting all the old, woody stems, and still having about 14 lbs of fresh, tender pink stems left, most of which I gave away at the Knitting Club Afternoon Tea that week.

So we thinned it again yesterday, removing about 1/3rd again, as it had easily replaced all that I picked before, plus a lot more growth.  It stands at almost hip-height to me and is thickly dense with the finest, slim and pink stems, topped with lush, exotically huge shading leaves.  It is, effectively, forcing itself in this thicket.  I note that it is eleventy-pounds sterling for a half kilo in the hallowed halls of M&S, so this patch of mine is basically a huge money-heap, except that I will be giving it away, at Knitting Club Tea events, so do come!

I walked round the allotments before I left, to stagger back home with my cwt of rhubarb.  Almost everyone has some growing, but none is the size of mine.  I can, of course, take no credit for this as I inherited this nuclear-fruit.  Still, I do have a sense of reflected pride.  I haven’t killed it.  In fact, Mark and the others voted to dig it up and compost it when we first took the plot over, but I vetoed that.

In other news, the first lot of potatoes had once again peeped through so a fresh pile of loam was heaped on their little purple leaves.  Florence murmured that it must be the most dispiriting of all vegetable-lives, that of the potato, since any progress you make into the light and the air is instantly smothered with another bucket-full of earth.  No sign of the white potatoes yet, but these were planted three weeks after the purple ones.  More tyres have been acquired but we will need, I estimate, two more.

The broad beans are doing quite well.  These are a very early variety, that can be sown from November, which is what I did.  November was very mild, as warm at times, as September can be, and they instantly grew.  And then they grew some more.  Then we had a lot of storms and some were broken, others bent.  I began to worry that I had made a mistake, especially as no other plot-holders had any broad beans in at all.  Then, about a month or six weeks ago, other plots began to sport broad beans, but they were obviously not sown from seed in situ, as they just arrived as little plants.  I assume the idea was to sow a little later, and at home perhaps and then bring them down to the allotment after the worst of the storms had passed.

Anyway, mine are bigger (at the moment) than everyone else’s and a lot less straight!  But they are smothered in flowers and bees.  Broad bean flowers have a nice, sweet scent but you do have to lie on the grass or the earth, really, to get your nose close enough.  I am hopeful of a good if not a bumper crop, that will be mighty early as planned, so I can pop in the French beans once the broad beans have gone.

In the greenhouse, I have sown brussel sprouts and chard.  Plus courgettes (three varieties:  Black Beauty – in fact, dark green, it assures me – £1 for a lot of seeds, Wilkos; plus a pale green one and a yellow one.  So far, 100% germination from the £1 Wilkos, but some hopeful signs from their exotic sisters).  The chard will be red, and also an orange variety.  What is enchanting, is that the tiny, waif-like seedlings are already red and pale orange, right from the get-go.  So clever.

and orange:

Outside, kale is germinating.  I have also sown squash seeds – two types, both of which are sulking; and chillies, again a £1 Wilkos special.  Nada at the moment.

We earthed up the celery, apparently this is necessary:

And the beans and garlic look lush:

But I think the best news is that we have a breakthrough on the Vast Digging Project.  Aside from clearing a fresh mountain of weeds and roots, it is basically all now dug, from top to bottom.

My hip and knee injuries have probably not been worth it, but there we are.  When I think back to the bright and warm day in the autumn when we took it on, and my heart really did sink, to this weekend when it looks, if bare, under control and full of potential, I can’t really believe we did all that work.  I vow never to have to dig it again in this way.  I hoe it every week, all over, as the weed seeds which had such a field day last year are very determined to regain control.  I hate this job but it beats digging hands down.

In my wander about last evening, I had a look at the lot we almost got.  I do not know the man who has this, but it looks like civil engineering to me, and I certainly could not have managed this.  I am just so glad we got the plot we did, and that we have taken it from this:

And this:

To this:

Newts! On The Allotment!

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Great excitement last week here when, during a solo-dig in the Burial Mound at the top of the allotment, I unearthed a pair of newts:

They must have been sleeping in the earth itself, or the matting of long grass at that end – the last bit of digging to do up there.  They were very sleepy but I checked them over for signs of injury, and they were fine, so I then popped them into a depression in the dug earth and mounded it over with a covering of grass and weed-roots.  I do hope they will be alright.  It was a hard frost that night.  I have been so tempted to have another look but have left them alone.  What do you think?  Please don’t say I am a newt-killer.

I once dug up a pair of newts (do they always hibernate in pairs?) in the earth at my parents’ grave, when I was weeding and planting some new flowers.  That was nice.  Dad would of loved it.  And we found several, wide-awake newts, in the bottom of our little pond once when we emptied it to clean the lining. They were fine.  So, I think it is even more important that no-one uses slug pellets on the allotments but I expect that is a sentiment I should keep to myself. The allotments have a large pond dug out at the bottom of the field, so I guess it is likely that there will be all sorts of lovely wild-life, but we are about as far from the pond as you can get.  I did consider taking them down there, but short of hurling them over the fence into the enclosure, I couldn’t think where to leave them.  So, for now, they are re-buried where I found them and I will leave this area alone for a few weeks.  Other than this little bit, the Burial Mound is now all dug and kind of edged too. It was far easier than the rest of the plot and the loam is fabulous.  Here is sunset at Burial Mound:

The grass has continued to grow as if it was summer, and as I can’t get the heavy petrol mower down there, and if I could, I can only start the bloody thing about one time in ten, and you can’t use it on Sundays, we have bought a cheap and cheerful push-mower which now lives in the shed:

I can lift it and push it fairly easily.  It did  a great job too, look:

The second log-seat is coming on (too heavy to move more than one at a time) and the second lot of first early potatoes is chitting:

I am going to plant them with three weeks between them, as all the potatoes in a tower will have to be harvested in one go – this way we will stagger the gluts of deliciousness.

Then I did a bit more digging in the main bed.  There is literally a tiny strip of weeds left now about 3 or 4 feet at most.

I have also started to re-dig the very bottom where we first began.  I reckon I will complete the whole dig next week if it doesn’t rain or snow.  Digging the heavy earth has definitely impacted on my leg joints and energy levels.  So I only do about an hour if it is in heavy soil.  It is all heavy down here. Most of our seeds are now purchased too, and sowing will be kicking off in the greenhouse next month.

The other day I was down there as the sun was going down.  The sun was still on a good bit of the plot even at 5 pm in March.  There is no building to cast shade, so really the shade is just from the curve of the earth.  The plot is south-facing, if you are at the top, it is sloping down to the south if you like.  The sun will therefore be on the bit near the bottom last – where my log seats are.  That’s handy for summer evenings with a cold drink after a hard day’s work:

The Allotment in February

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

It’s been fairly quiet down on the allotment.  Well, actually it’s been stormy here and the allotment has been a bit bashed, but I have not been down much recently due to being the UK’s research hub for the most colds and coughs one person can have and not be a solo-global-epidemic.  Four plague attacks since October.  Just greedy.

So I have only had a few wanders down there since January and usually just to have a look, but the last week I got some actual work done.  First, I noticed that the torrential rain storms had clearly surged their way right over our plot on the way to flooding the plots at the bottom of the field.  In several places, top soil was just washed off the land onto the grass, as here on the bottom corner (the animal footprints must be fox I think):

But aside from the water pipe being blown off the side of the shed, the main problem is the broad beans.  They got off to such an amazing start with the mild and wet December, they are tall – and vulnerable.  I have re-firmed them all but I think I will be staking them next week.  Do you think they will be OK?  Some of them did die, kind of rotted off near the base, probably due to nibbling rabbits but I planted the gaps with my spares.  I do hope they will make it.

I have made no progress with the small strip of land in the middle – the last bit of the main plot to be dug – as this is where we think our arch for courgettes and squash will go, so I want that decided.  Or, we may have a large brassica cage there.  Here is another query: do you think I can grow courgettes up, as climbers, if I tie in and support them?  They have spiral tendrils, like they want to climb, but I have never seen it done and the interweaves tell me nothing useful, so I am asking you, gentle reader, because if you can’t, I don’t want to try it and look like a right prat in front of my allotment neighbours who all seem startlingly Good at Everything.

But up at the top of the plot, by the goats, I have re-dug The Burial Mound which yielded a very satisfying haul of weed roots, and begun digging the rest of it near to the where the potato towers will go.  This is not the easy work that the rest of this area was but it’s not too bad.  I need this clear so I can a) use the excess soil, of which there is a lot, to gradually fill the potato towers, and b) this is where I want the runner beans to go as I think they will love this rich, fertile soil being the greediest of crops really.

I have about 5 feet left to clear, which doesn’t sound much but it is hard work, as the grass here is thatched and compacted.

Meanwhile, we have now got some old tyres and this is where they will live; we need about 4 more.  I think a tower of 5 is about right and probably not fatal if one toppled onto me, or anyone.  Here they are:

I have bought 2 sorts of first early potatoes, a red one and a white one, whose names escape me now and anyway, it was a random choice based entirely on the images of melting butter all over the cooked potatoes which accompanied the display in Wilkos. I am a marketeer’s dream.  Also, do not ever buy your seeds in expensive garden centres, which anyway largely only seem to stock candles, cakes and slate-art.  Go to Wilkos.  I adore it there and I think you will, too. These Wilkos finest seed spuds are now chitting, in the shed:

And you know I had the trees felled here in the garden?  Well, we are transporting some of the chunky bits down to the allotment to serve as seats and nature reserves. Here are the first ones.  I sat on them today but briefly as it was rather damp:

There are signs that some of the other, more established plot holders who therefore have no need to dig in winter, are back in harness, though I never or rarely seem to coincide with them, perhaps because I rarely go over weekends.  But, I must tell you that the very overgrown plot I feared we would get has been taken! Do you remember? Yes that one – and so much work has been done there. I have seen him digging in it a few times but he must attend almost every day, he has got so much done.  But my, it is an utter mud bath my dear, an absolute swamp!  So hats off to him.  Or them.

It has been just over 4 months since we got the plot.  I still love it and the best is yet to come.

Allotment Up-Date

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Much progress is being made in Project Allotment.

We have now been clearing and even planting here for about five weeks.  It is very hard work as those of you with an allotment or even a garden will appreciate. I can manage about two hours of work if it’s digging, which it almost always is.  The earth here is medium-heavy, with some clay but also a fairly fine structure once you have worked it over twice.  It will be good for brassica.  My soil here, just half a mile away, is much finer, less ‘strong’ and in my past twenty five years of gardening, the soil was sand-based, so it is a long time since brassica growing has been possible.

But we have now also reached the sowing stage and the first crop went in about two weeks ago.  Broad beans that can withstand the winter and crop early in the following summer.  They are already through.  I also sowed a few in pots to fill any gaps and these, growing in the shelter of the shed wall, are thriving.

About half the main plot is now dug over.  A pincer movement is underway with most digging coming from the top end of the sloping plot, which is west, and some activity at the bottom end, to clear space for rescued plants – mainly oriental poppies.  I want the plot to have a good mix of vegetables but also some flowers. It will be interesting to see what colour these poppies will be. If they are orange they can stay at the allotment; if they are lovely mauves and soft pinky greys as some can be, they can come and live here.

When we went to the allotment yesterday, on a cold but sunny, dry and still day, there was a huge pile of wood by the gate with a notice saying it had been left by one of the plot holders and it was free, to make compost bins or raised beds.  We snaffled enough for three raised beds.  There is masses of it, and I think many of the plot holders will not need any as several have raised beds already and everyone, including us, has about eleventy-nine compost contraptions.

The first one is up, and filled with the loamy soil from one of our many compost deposits.

These will go at the top of the plot, which is a bit illogical as raised beds need more watering than earth in dry weather and this is the furthest point from our water tank.  However, the logic is that they are sited on a bed that was very overgrown, far worse than the rest of the plot, so it saves digging, we can just level it.  And, behind here is a long and high earth/loam mound, on which is growing a verdant crop of long rank pasture grass; this I can remove and then shovel the soil underneath directly into the raised beds.

And then we have a picnic after our work.  Win-win.

Did I tell you that when we took it on, the lease had only one year of a five year agreement to run?  Well, it looks as if the farmer whose land it is, is likely to be willing to give us a further five years.  This is such a relief, mainly for the plot holders who have been there for four years.  It also means we are more likely to dig it all over and really make an effort, and it determines what we ‘invest’ in terms of structures such as brassica cages etc.

Last night I see we had the first frost of the winter.  I am going down there today for a few hours as it is sunny if very cold, and I have no actual deadlines for the first time in well over a year.  This combination feels so good.  I am about to plant two more lines of broad beans and then the garlic – 60 plants.  I use shop-bought garlic and you just break up the bulbs into cloves and pop these in.  They need a winter, ideally, and some frost.  But first I need to clear a bit more land.  And on Saturday, weather permitting, Colin (who is the lovely chap who donated the timber for raised beds, and who has the most adorable golden retriever) has said we can rotivate some of the plot.  But first I must clear it of weeds.  Very motivating!

The Allotment Project

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

If I look at this objectively, I have no time to take on an allotment.  So I am not going to look at it objectively.  I think objectivity is over-rated and may be the cause of much under-achievement.  My own garden is often a work in progress and I work on knitting related things and other writing work an awful lot.  Not a complaint. I am lucky but you know – busy.  And I have a bazillion hobbies!  But I have always wanted an allotment because then you can grow a very serious amount of veg and fruit.  And I have often looked at allotment plots and thought how pretty and productive they seem.

There is an allotment society in Puriton and recently I asked if there was a spare plot.  There wasn’t but nor was there a waiting list so I was first in line.  In September the Chairman showed me round the field and showed me a plot he thought might come free when the renewals went out, late that month.  I agreed that it might. Clearly no-one was ever gardening this neglected ground.  It was about 3 feet high with rank weeds, all seeding onto the immaculate plot of the lady next door.  The skeletons of crops from at least 18 months earlier were being used by climbing weeds.  I must admit, I quailed because I just do not know if I could have coped with it.  But as it turned out, when the Chairman emailed me again, it was with great news! The plot I was getting, whilst pretty neglected, was a prime location, and though overgrown, it seemed less bad than the other one. The plot-holder was reluctantly giving it up, because of work commitments.  He’d kind of let the place go a bit but basically kept on top of it until probably mid-summer. That was long enough for a lot of weeds to move in, and crops that season to go over.  But so much better than the other plot!

Day One:

So in October, I rocked up to the Puriton Allotment Society AGM.  Florence and Will are partners in this venture so they came too.  I met the man whose plot I was taking over and he gave me his shed, key, water tank and all the stuff in the shed!  How sweet is that?  I have in turn promised him a box of veg now and then, in a rash flush of optimism.  I do hope I get some.

Week One:

 

Very weedy:

It has now been four weekends since we took ownership.  I am so glad we did not get the very overgrown one.  This is such hard work, I do not think I could have coped with the other one.  My allotment is at the top of a sloping field.  The plots at the bottom can flood in wet spells, even though they have dug drainage and a large pond.  My plot is right in the middle of the plots, with a field above it, in which I have the company of ponies and two pygmy goats.  The pond, which is right at the bottom of the field, is thick with bull-rushes and irises, wild birds and dragon flies.  Just up from here, the association has placed two picnic benches and planted some fruit trees around them.  It is pretty and I like it.

The Pond:

Picnic Area:

So far, we have dug a wide strip at the bottom end, near the shed, and re-claimed a load of strawberry plants that were choked with weeds; we dug them up and re-planted them after we dug this section over.  I think they may be old and unproductive, but I have a dozen young plants here that I will be moving there.  Will has been working on the compost heaps and we have tidied up all round the shed.  This is where I want a bench to go.

Then we started digging near the top of our plot so we could clear the ground and plant winter things.  This makes sense as it is higher ground so seeds and plants in there over winter will be less likely to be sitting in water-logged earth for weeks on end.  We have now planted three long rows of early, over-wintering broad beans and will plant three more rows in about a month.  And I am now preparing the next section to plant garlic which needs a winter in the  ground.  This needs to be in during December ideally. If I can keep going, I will also plant winter onions, which is a new crop to me.  The rest of the ground I will just turn over for now.  There is a very overgrown patch right at the top which I might put under black plastic for a few months.

Real Progress:

 

And more progress:

Then, in the spring, we will plant seeds for kale, brussel sprouts and broccoli, turnips, maybe carrots and lots of French and runner beans.  There is a rhubarb patch already.  I also fancy rainbow chard and Will wants to grow squash and corn.  The broad beans will be over in early summer in time for us to plant the French and runners there.  We also need to build cages for the greens as the ones I grew here this year were attacked by white cabbage butterfly – the caterpillars literally shredded the crop of kale in a weekend.  We grow organically so protection with the cage is the only way.

The neigh-bours (see what I did there?):

 

I have met a few of my fellow allotment-holders.  One lady gave me a bunch of beetroot; one man offered to rotivate the plot for me once I had the basic weeds out; one man showed me his simply enormous carrot and gave me lots of encouraging advice on how not to have to work so hard. Everyone is friendly.

Improbably Huge Carrot (man’s hand for scale purposes):

 

My shed, wheelbarrow, water tank and compost heap at the top of this picture by the way.  Also, it was nice that he didn’t think I was a complete weirdo when I said I needed a picture of the Giant Carrot; in fact, he suggested having his hand in the shot for scale.  Well, fair enough, he had just bounded over to me with it hidden behind his back, announcing that he had something amazing to show me.  I think I have found my people.  My people other than the knitters.  And the cavers.

One of the things I like best is the walk to and fro.  It is half a mile from our house, level and to the end of the village, down the old parts, Purewell and Waterloo are the roads I walk down.  Aren’t these lovely names?  I usually take the barrow so I can ferry the bags of rank weeds back for transporting to the tip, but once this is done I won’t need it.  The other thing I like is how isolated it feels, only half a mile from home.  There is often no-one there except me.  I tend to go twice or three times a week, for bursts of two to four hour work – and it is very hard work indeed.  When I am on the allotment, I don’t think about anything except the allotment.

I will keep you posted on my new adventure.