Tuesday, October 11, 2005

St Michaelmas Day - A New Allotment Year. When is a stoat not a stoat? And lots of surprises on the estate!

I was awake early this morning, and just had to get up and peek through the curtains to see if the weather forecasted yesterday would really come true. It was soon after dawn, so it was difficult to tell, but it was promising as there had been no rain. I slipped back into bed for half and hour, but just could not stay there, my mind was whizzing trying to picture the changes up the lottie. (How sad does that make me sound huh? But do I sound like I care???)

It was still really nippy in the conservatory when we had breakfast, but that was fine with me, even snow would not have stopped me today – but phone calls delayed me instead. I don’t usually get a lot of phone calls, but today there was one after another! -All good!

I got a lovely one from the lady that is on the Trustees committee responsible for the allotments. None of those that run the charity have an allotment – but more of that another time.

On or before St Michaelmas Day our allotment rent is due – in arrears would you believe! I had popped around to her house several times to pay it but hadn’t managed to catch her in, so typed up a letter and put it through her letterbox with my cheque. Guess how much I pay for my 1/4 acre piece of heaven. (I will let you know after I have received your guesses at the end of the week.)

She very kindly phoned me and left a message whilst we were away this weekend, and then phoned me back first thing, In my letter I had mentioned what a wonderful time I had had this year, and inserted ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of my plot – the after photos being those taken on the day of the letter. I also asked permission to plant a little orchard in my garden at the bottom next to the field hedge, and also for information about the history of the Charity. (Instead of keep calling her ‘she’ I will call her Mrs M from now on) who told me that being so impressed with my letter and photos felt compelled to take a look for herself, and that she could not believe the transformation – and her husband so was impressed he said that it put his garden to shame! Mrs M had also got a copy of the Charity Commission detailing those relating to the allotments, and offered to loan it to me to copy. I am going to get it copied tomorrow – they are A3 sheets so too big for my scanner, and I intend to write up about them some time in the near future – when there is not a lot to write about work wise. Mrs M arrived just as I was finishing loading up the car, and I offered her some produce, having confessed to never tasting butternut squash, I was happy to be able to let her have one to try and some parsnips – so we were both happy bunnies. Talking of which, back to the lottie news.

At 10.45am I was finally up the allotment. The sun was shining and the temperature was heading for 70 degrees F. JOY O JOY. What is the saying……. The sun always shines………

I saw Geoff pottering about on his plot, and after unloading my car, and getting organised he came up to see me – good timing! It was nice to have the time for a leisurely chat – Pat was going off to golf so I needn’t be home until 3pm to prepare a meal! We talked about the usual stuff, then Geoff told me that he wished I had been up there on Sunday. Geoff has an area at the bottom of his allotment that is two allotments wide (66ft) and about 100ft deep and has been left for many years to just go wild. It is like something out of a story book and reminded me of the story of the Gingerbread House, or going into a creepy forest. – I have mentioned before about my imagination haven’t I? He has two allotments side by side, and they had been in his family for years. When you go into this wild area there are tall apple trees just left to do their own thing, and each year Geoff puts down straw that he gets from the pig farm to catch any windfall apples (the trees being too tall to harvest the normal way). There is a plum tree too, and other self sown trees. It is a tangle of weeds, and old sheds, truly just out of a story book. Piles of wood, and other stuff squirreled away that will ‘come in handy one day’ but that day often never comes. The rabbits love living in there and there are lots of birds and other wild life. Ooops I have digressed as usual.

On Sunday Geoff was standing near the edge of the area talking to someone when out of the ‘wilderness’ appeared a stoat. Geoff said that he was rather nervous of it, so he just stood stock still. They both stopped talking and it came towards them and it stood on it’s hind legs and ‘eyed them up’. Geoff said that he was glad the other chap was there as he feared that it might think he was a tree and scramble up him. (He said this with all seriousness, bless him). He also said that luckily the other chap started talking and the stoat ran off. Dear Geoff, he is not tall and willowy like a tree, and unless the stoat had distorted vision, I doubt that he would either have climbed up him or attacked him. I should have loved to have got a picture of him (the stoat) though. Maybe the stoat committed the mole murder on my allotment? After writing this I am going to search the web for information on both stoats and ferrets. It could have been a ferret of course and not a stoat, I should have thought a ferret is far more likely considering the rabbit population in his wilderness. I shall keep you updated on any further developments.

I will not go into detail on the rest of our chat or it will take as long as it did in reality and I want to get on with what I did today in case you are interested.

Well, you will now know I am notorious for making plans beforehand as to what I want to do on a particular day, and today was not different. I try not too, but it is so difficult isn’t it. It is not until you get up allotment that you get sidetracked, and today turned out to be no different to those other days when plans get changed.

Next came the moment I had been waiting for – the walk around my little estate!!!

Firstly K the young lad who has the allotment adjoining mine, had gone over his plot again with his tractor and cultivator and pulled more weeds down to the bottom third of his allotment. The tractor has now gone, so I presume that it is back in storage somewhere for the winter. I made the right decision fencing in the bottom end with the corrugated iron sheets as at the bottom all his weeds have gone mad and all the rubbish is down there; the rubbish and his big trailer prevented him from clearing that end. The fencing at least makes a boundary and helps to keep it all out, and now that I have created ‘gates’ all the way through the inner part of my lottie I no longer have to fight my way through the weeds with my wheel barrow – which would now be impossible anyway.
The grass had grown long in just a week and needed mowing, so that was a surprise addition to my previous plan. I seriously thought the haircut I gave it a week ago would be the last of the year as the weather had turned cold and we had had an overnight frost!

So, walking down from the top end from my pig hut. On the right hand side, the huge pile of pig muck in the equally huge compost bin made out of corrugated iron sheets, had sunk quite a bit, ditto the horse manure in the next two ‘bins’.

The foliage on the big pumpkin patch had been hit by frost and started to die back, so that needs composting, but the remaining pumpkins sunbathing on the metal sheets looked good, but need to be brought home before another frost. Behind the pumpkin patch the runner bean and climbing French bean foliage has suffered the same fate, but there were still beans to pick, and I had left a number of the large ones to get fatter to keep for next year.

The rabbits had left me some ‘currants’ just to warn be that they were still hatching a cunning plan, but hadn’t managed to get through any of the netting on the three raised beds, so the leeks, lettuces and salads, remain intact, and they are not particularly interested in the skeletal tomato plants now bereft of all but one or two fruits. [Aide Memoir – check the 30lb of green tomatoes in the drawers in the shed!]

A peek in the fruit cage and all looks well. I still have to finish a little bit of weeding where docks have craftily crept out of holes where the currant bushes were planted. And the raspberry canes need tying up too. The leaves are turning brown, but have not fallen yet thank goodness, so I hopefully have a week or so before I have the leaf collection expedition – another compost bin to create – now where can I get a scrap of chicken wire?

Next through the ‘gate’ to Fort Rabbit Knox. I empty the kitchen waste into bin 3, as the others are full to the brim and haven’t dropped down as much. I see that Adrian has paid a couple of visits and my long horse manure bin that runs alongside the fruit cage is heaped up high again. The bean sticks on my left have suffered the same fate as those up the top end, but the pods I left look lovely and fat, so I should really pick them soon to dry out and store for seed saving. There is one cucumber left under the frost-bitten leaves, so I ought to pick that too.

Turning the corner and walking right down the grass path with my rows going widthways along to the left of me, I squint in the sunshine to see that the romanesco has sprouted some more for me to pick – but not today, I won’t have time to do the meal Pat is expecting – roast chicken with all the trimmings!

The next two rows of parsnips are still weed free and have huge serrated leaves so the roots must be big too. Next the row of Keratin carrots that I thinned out, are looking good, but they can be dug up all winter like the parsnips, and they don’t need weeding again just yet. The late sown parsnip row, where a row of onions were between the carrot rows, are growing surprisingly fast, and the chives are still looking good, but I need to move them to a permanent site really as they will get in the way of rotovating next year. A couple more rows of carrots that do need a bit of hand weeding, just annual weeds that I had hoped the frost would have killed, but no such luck, so I will be on my hands and knees later in the week, weather permitting, doing that chore. The next area that I covered in black plastic and weighted down with plastic containers of water, is doing its job and together with wood and an old wheelbarrow, are winning the battle against the wind, but it is early days yet.

The Caterpillar CafĂ© – or sprouting broccoli cage – shows signs of caterpillar damage, so I enter for a further inspection. There are a few very large, but cold looking blighters that I pick off, and the leaves are well chewed to a rather attractive holey pattern, but the plants are a beautiful dark green with lovely purple stalks and leaf veins, and I smile to myself as it reminds of the famous poem…..When I grow old I will wear purple….. I am at that age and stage now! The cage needs a bit of a weed, not too bad though, and the yellowing and fallen leaves need collecting to prevent disease.

Some crafty dock plants have grown up through the area where the pea cage was and which I had rotorvated and then covered in pig muck ready for the potato crop next year. I might have to sweet talk Pat to come and dig them up for me, as my shoulder is not up to the big digging jobs.

The jostaberry cuttings that I have grown in the next area, I am debating whether I should prune them a little. The main stems are not thick and the branches have grown long which is making them top heavy. To prune or not to prune? If I prune them back a third, then perhaps they will not suffer wind damage in the winter, but if I do will it affect a crop. I was hoping for some berries next year – can anyone help me on this?
I walk alongside them to the end of the row to inspect the Autumn fruiting raspberries, and pick and eat those few that are ripe as the crop is virtually finished. I do feel a nano-second of guilt as I should really share them with Pat, but hey, who does 90% of the work up here? A few more raspberry canes to tie up and I could do with another couple of tall posts, but I do not have them, so might just chop the tops down a bit….Again advice needed please. I have been covering this area with grass cuttings mulch to keep the weeds down, but plan to add some manure overwinter.

Through the next ‘gate’ and on my left the little baby asparagus plants seem to be settled in nicely. The perpetual spinach is coming into leaf and has not been nibbled yet by rabbits, so things are looking good. The little blackcurrant cuttings are getting bushy and if not next year, then the year after I should get a good crop. The rhubarb is looking a bit frost bitten so I will have to read up on what I do with the leaves. Compost them or use them as mulch around the plants?

Oh goodie, even more horse manure in the big bin at the end of the row.

The strawberry runners have settled in and the wind has dried the soil here so that it is really hard, now that is a surprise. And yet another surprise, a lovely big ripe strawberry has appeared on one of those plants I moved from the fruit cage – and not even a nano-second of guilt as I pluck it from the plant, dust it down on my (clean) white shirt and pop it into my mouth – hmmm heaven.
By now the sun is really hot and I have a sun hat on and sunglasses, Pat’s old white long sleeved shirt to prevent me from burning, but I still feel my face glowing, I never thought to put on sunscreen this time of year!

Despite my bird scarers – albeit sparse as most were commandeered for grass seed sentry duty, the birds have had a real game with the Japanese onions and thrown them about. Those that escaped have anchored themselves in and started to sprout green at the top. Was it the birds or a cheeky leprechaun – there are a few ‘planted’ upside down! There are no rabbit currants around this end either, so perhaps they have given up tunnelling, or maybe they have found an easier target.

The surprise of the day was the germinated grass seed, as you can see in the photos. Amazing huh? I can’t believe it has grown so much in a week, the rain and sunshine must have been perfect.

It is getting late and I am rather tired, so I will have to type up what I actually did tomorrow and add the photos.

It is physio at 9.30am and that usually puts the kybosh on any work the rest of the day, and heavy rain is forecast, so I can catch up on this tomorrow afternoon – there I go again, making plans. So best to just wait and see.


The temperature reached almost 80f by the time I left the lottie at 2.45pm today!

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget to let us know what you pay for your allotment.Ours went up from £8 to £10 this year-it's still a bargain for a little piece of heaven!!!


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