Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Mad Dogs and Englishmen....go out

I didn't go up the Lottie yesterday; I was suffering physically and mentally from my caterpillar experience. (Joke) I was aching too much to do the digging that I had planned and the temperatures were topping 80f and as I am an ageing English Rose, even wearing Factor 50 sun block, and covered from head to toe I would not have been able to last long. Pat went off to golf for the day, so I did some gardening
(yes I do have a garden, and being a corner plot there is quite a bit of it to keep neat.)

I also did a lot of blanching and freezing - the runner beans I picked the day before. I know that John and his wife (see my link to Brilliant Allotment) pick theirs, walk the 100 yards home and blanch and freeze them straight away. But I have a 100 yard walk from one end of my allotment to the other, and then it is a further mile home. Usually I do them straight away, but I felt a bit deflated and worn out after the epic caterpillar safari.

This morning Pat offered to give me a hand - a storm is forecast for overnight and torrential rain tomorrow. Hardly seems possible with the bluest of skies and not a cloud in sight and the temperature over 82f today.

Now as you have gathered I am not a heat lover, so like to get things done as early as I can on a hot day, so that I can spend the afternoon in the shade. Pat is a sun lover, goes brown as a berry, and he likes to have a leisurely morning reading his paper, listening to the quiz on the radio, before doing anything. Marriage is all about compromise. So after dropping several hints, donning my Worzel Gummidge outfit, and depositing plants in pots, a tray of beetroot (bet it is too late to plant them) Swiss Chard (ditto those as well) all around, and throwing in a plaintive look and a couple of sighs, Pat got the hint, and at 10.20am we loaded up the car with lawnmower and all the other paraphernalia and set off listening to the quiz in the car.

He got his own back by taking these Candid Camera shots of me when he was supposed to be unlocking the shed. There are always a few long runner beans that you miss first time around – I just happened to spot some and pick them and hey ho, enough for lunch again. I am beginning to get a bit of a complex now, as I tried 14 times to download my picture here. All the other photos download but not mine. Scary huh?

My next door allotment neighbour has got a new toy, and I was so excited that I thought all my Christmases had come at once. I had asked him sweetly a few times if he could rotorvate all his tall weeds down alongside my fence, then I would sow some grass seed and keep it mowed. I even offered to pay him to do it, such was my desperation to get him to clear some of his weeds, as it is back breaking work for me doing it with a spade, secateurs, jumping on them or pushing them over with my foot – and getting stung through two layers of trousers in the process! So you can imagine my utmost glee when I saw that he has got a tractor and cultivator and a huge trailer all parked down the end amongst the weeds. He has been playing with it and cultivated an area in the middle and wider across the bottom, but not along the edge. But taking an optimistic view, maybe next year he will play ‘ploughing’ every week, and will go up and down so that all the weeds keep ploughed under.

Pat got mowing and I planted out some more perennial flowers, and did a lot of weeding. I know I might sound obsessed, but you would not believe the amount that we get no sooner have you dug out a thistle, or dock, or bindweed, than you find another. The weed seeds flying over look like snow in summer at times, and as the whole area was covered in them to start with anyway, you just have to keep digging up the roots, and digging out the small ones as soon as you can. Relentless work, but I am on top of it at the moment.

We spent three hours up there today, and I can’t believe how quickly time flew by. I was very glad to pack up though as it was so hot. On top of my Worzel outfit in the photo I put on a long sleeved shirt, and a floppy hat to keep the sun off.

Since March 13th when I started an allotment diary, I have also tried to keep a log of the hours we have spent up there. I have missed a number of days where I have forgotten, but so far I have done 292.75 hours, Patrick has clocked up 77.75 hours and relatives 4 hours.

-I have had a couple of comments about me being naughty jesting about my husband, I would like to reassure you that is just British humour and a bit of fun - and of course he does get to see the blogs and finds any remarks that I have made funny. He has the best sense of humour that I have ever come across.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bank Holiday Weekend Musings

Over the last 10 days, I have been up the allotment all but two days. In that time apart from the usual maintenance jobs, I have sown three grass paths between the flower borders; I think that it would be easier to mow than weed. I have spread 15 wheelbarrow loads of pig manure. Every other day I have been harvesting runner beans, courgettes, salads, cucumbers and tomatoes.

I planted another bed of asparagus and sowed perpetual spinach along the border in front of it.

A week ago I went to the allotment planning to hoe around the broccoli in the cage – but I was soon to learn that it is no use going there with a definite plan or time scale. Once inside I noticed that they were infested with caterpillars. Green ones, yellow ones with black spots and tiny black ones. Yuk. I went and made a cocktail of water and washing up liquid and filled up a hand atomiser spray. It took me four hours to spray each side of each leaf and I had to refill the bottle 6 times, I was absolutely exhausted when I had finished and my back ached like crazy – it was a really hot day. I never did get to hoe - but I'll have arms like Popeye's.

I spent the next few days doing my usual harvesting, sowing lettuce and weeding.

Today, Bank Holiday Monday, Pat was off to golf, I whizzed over to my friend Sheila’s who lives in Rocklands a village about 20 minutes from my village. She invited me to pick some autumn fruiting raspberries. She has a glut and is sick of them and has invited different friends and relatives to harvest them. On the journey there through country lanes, the only other traffic on the road was a horse and trap, and they waved me by. Heavenly huh?

I was back and up my allotment by 11am and there was not a soul up there. I decided to finish the job that I had started a week ago. Loaded up the wheel barrow with everything I needed including this. Do you know what it is? It is made primarily of wood,with a metal wheel and Geoff says that it is about 100 years old but I am not sure about that. It certainly looks ancient. It had been in his family for years. He has a metal one, which has also been passed down through the family. I have photographed it in front of my shed. This was used for years for housing pigs, with a concrete pen in front. It was quite normal to have pigs, chickens, and rabbits for eating,almost, if not all of them had livestock as well as vegetables. But I won’t digress into the history yet, that is for another time.

The machine is a hoe. The wheel wobbles like crazy and the cutters need fixing a bit, but I decided to give it a go.

When I got inside the cage and started using it, I happened to notice caterpillars on the broccoli. Deja vu. So I spent another three and a half hours doing exactly what I did last week – but this time I picked off all the caterpillars that were big enough to handle – yuk – and put them in a trug with some cabbage leaves that I picked off and dumped the lot in the bin right at the end of the lottie. I should have burnt them or squashed them,so that they don't turn into butterflies, but I am a bit of a softie.

Lessons I have learnt today

1. Wear a hat when kneeling and picking caterpillars off tall broccoli plants – if you knock a leaf the caterpillars fall off onto your head. – Cringe
2. Don’t assume that once you have removed the caterpillars and put them in the trug that they will stay there – watch where you are putting your knees, and don’t ever wear shorts again when undertaking the above job. – Squelch
3. Hoe and weed around plants before you spray the leaves – soaked or drowned caterpillars raining down on your head and neck is not nice! -Yuk
4. Check to see if spraying with soapy water (a) just gives the caterpillars a wash and blow dry. (b) Washes their food so they can eat more of it (c) makes the slightest difference.
5. Read something completely different before you go to bed so that you do not have Hitchcock type nightmares!

I still never got to finish the hoeing, and I still have to hand weed on my hands and knees because the weeds are perrennials worse luck and I need to get the roots out. And there were still caterpillars marching along the soil. Urgh!

Pat phoned to say that he was back from golf, and I was so pleased to be summoned home for a change. I cheered myself up by quickly picking lunch – vegetarian only, not caterpillars.

August - Click on any photos in any blog to enlarge

The first day of August it rained - heavily, it had started raining in the night. I opened the back door and it hit me. That wonderful smell of rain on dry ground. There is nothing quite like it. I just had to pop up the lottie to have a look around in between cloud bursts. It smelt wonderful up there too. There was a lovely warm smell coming from the horse manure bin - not a nasty smell at all. Steam was rising off the decomposing pig muck bin. The soil was as dark as chocolate and everything looked fresh and green from the showers. I walked right down to the end of the allotment where the flowers are and saw something sparkling in the sunlight - really bright - and when I got closer, I saw that the asparagus ferns were flattened - yes those tiny feathers not three inches high that I planted a couple of months ago,have turned into what you see in the photo. Unfortunately you can't see the spectacular scene before me. It really looked like they were covered in diamonds. I was spellbound and took some pictures, but they do not recreate what I saw and experienced. But if you look closely you can just see what look like little glass balls on Christmas trees!
The clusters of tomatoes seemed to have swelled overnight too, and were the size of shiny snooker balls.

I was up the allotment every day for the next 18 days. I made another bin for the horse manure, but had to protect the rose cutting - it is in the wrong place but can't be moved until Autumn. I like to do flower arranging and two winters ago I used bits of rose stems that I had cut off when making an arrangement, to peg down black membrane up the allotment. Some of these cuttings took, and this year I have this beautiful velvet red rose, two equally gorgeous lemon roses, and another that has yet to flower. So my 'waste not want not' philosophy has paid dividends.
There was quite a bit of tidying up over the first two weeks of August. The broad beans had finished, the onions needed pulling, and the peas were on their last legs. So I cleared these sites, and rotorvated, and covered where the beans and onions were with black plastic - the old fish pond liner. I just needed a bit of a break from the weeding. So now it sits weed free (hopefully), until Autumn when I will put muck down. I took the netting down from the peas, cleared that site and covered it with pig muck. I don't know if it was the right thing to do, or at the correct time, but again, I hope to suppress or at least cut down some of the weeding as there are so many weeds seeds blowing around from the other allotments.

I took all the milk bottles off the winter purple sprouting broccoli and moved the pea netting to cover them.

I planted January King cabbage seedlings under a homemade fleece cloche to try and keep every pest known to man from getting at them. I also popped in 30 leeks which I topped and tailed before puddling in, and they have outgrown the original 25 that I planted a month ago without cutting. When I look at my diary, it shows a daily round of weeding, hoeing, staking, clearing, harvesting and grass seed sowing. I have been picking rhubarb since July,(in my ignorance), then a neighbour told me that you should not pick it after June. Is that an old wives tale? Why can't I pick it? I just take a few stems from each plant and they are tender and pink. Answers please! It has been lovely to start picking runner beans - late because of three failed earlier sowings, and I have learnt yet another lesson. I sowed some where I planted them last year, and added a well rotted manure mulch. This I think was a breeding ground for slugs. I lost two sowing of climbing french beans and one of runners. After the last sowing, some of them survived and are just cropping, but they are not very impressive. I made another site where the fish pond had been. In early July I dug a deep trench and filled it with layers of torn up newspaper and pig muck. These runner beans are now fantastic. Long beans, not stringy and lots of them. So the moral of this story is........ Well you don't need telling. Over winter, now that I am more organised I shall be digging trenches and filling them with kitchen waste etc in preparation for next year. And I won't use the manure as a mulch, but in the holes!

Look at this view over the hedge at the bottom of my allotment taken Friday lunch time, just as I was about to come home. I had rushed up there to dig up potatoes, harvest cucumbers, tomatoes, runner beans, courgettes, for goodie bags for my friends to take home for themselves and family. I know that I am 'growing for England' in my beginner's enthusiasm. But I am sure that you agree, the pleasure in giving home grown food to friends and relatives and seeing their faces, far outweighs the hours and hours spent sowing, weeding and nurturing. And besides, you do have to sow a bit more than you need to take into account the losses from pests and climate. It is a difficult thing to gauge I think. But I might be better at it next year.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

July Photos

These tiny little cucumber plants that I got by swopping a tray of my Romanescue seedlings, are now, in August, really big, and I have had so many cucumbers off them. The cucumbers are nothing special to look at, they are knobby and a bit spikey, and curve like horseshoes, but they taste so good. The excess crop I am using as I would a courgette and making lots of ratatouille for winter. How can they grow without hardly any water? It's amazing how nature works. All I do is weed them. Brilliant isn't it. What a good barter!
We only had the odd day of rain in July, but enough to finally to get the onions growing. But I made a bit of a blunder with the broad beans. They looked really good, and old Geoff said that they were ready to harvest. So I picked the biggest ones off the whole crop and proudly went home with a carrier bag full. I was really proud,my first proper crop of the season. I spent the afternoon shelling them, and was all set to freeze enough to see us through the winter. BUT 'learning curve' struck a cruel blow. Each pod was big and shiny and fat, inside was a white and velvety lining - and little broad beans. I had picked them too early. In hindsight I should have popped open one or two pods to check first shouldn't I? But I ate all the little ones, and there were more pods developing, so I still got a good crop. I also learnt that you do not pick the whole lot at one go, but pick a few a day. - But that lesson I did not learn until after I have picked all the gooseberries, and realised that if I had left them they would have grown twice as large. Still there is always next year...
L-R Kelvedon Peas, Asparagas Peas, Mange Tout. Drought conditions so not very successful. But I am a beginner, and was pleased that I did get a few bags of Mange Tout. I think that if I had piped water up the allotment the peas would have been fine. It was still wonderful to pick and eat and freeze what crops of these I did have though.
Salvia Turkistanica cuttings. I am quite proud of these. Despite not being watered they have thrived. The allotment is in a 4 and a half acre field, it is all open and very windy, even in summer it is windy, but things get full sun all day long so seem happy enough.
Romanescue and Parsnips Tender and True. Is is just me, tell me that it is not. I can't explain how proud and happy I feel when those tiny seeds that I planted a couple of months ago, thrive and look healthy. They take a lot of nurturing and despite not being watered they look good don't they? I spend hours on my hands and knees weeding out the thistles and all sorts of weeds that I do not know the names of. Tell me that you get the same buzz year after year.
Orla. Colleen and Robinta Drought resistant potatoes. They escaped the severe frost, so earthing them up like the book said was worth the effort. I bought organically grown seed potatoes, and although you don't get many, they certainly thrive. They should be even better next year as they will get planted on a plot that I have manured with pig muck. I am so looking forward to next year already - although not wishing my life away! It is great to try new varieties of things and plan what to grow and how many.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A bit of a disappointment

I was going to put on a page of photos of the changes over the month of July on my lottie, but the little row of icon things that used to appear at the top of the blog have gone - vanished - and like my car incident - I really did not do anything - apart from.....A message popped up and I had to key in the randon letters etc which had something to do with adding photos... so I did as I was told. Do you think that could have been the cause. Any suggestions let me know.

So you can't see the views from the end of my lottie, lovely country views, over a field of corn, or barley, or - well it is golden and has ears, and I suspect that it is barley as they use barley straw for the pigs on the farm next to me. Do you know why? I do. Answer at the the end of this page.

How high can a munt jack deer jump? Can anyone tell me? I assume is it that species of deer as the footprints in the wet soil were cloven. Something is eating the potatoes, just pawing out one or two at the top - the big ones of course, and whatever it is has big teeth,you can see the marks, and they eat half of it. Old Geoff reckons it is deer too as he has seen them now and again. I wondered if it was worth the effort of putting up something on top of the 3 ft fence, but I see the rabbits have scratched several entry points underneath it so it probably is not worth the bother now.

I dug up a row of Wilja yesterday, 15 seed potatoes produced a huge harvest. So much so that I hurt my back lifting the plastic container onto the wheelbarrow. I keep forgetting that I am 55 with a dodgy back and not 18 with the strength of... hmm I can't think of anything lady like and if I say Ox you will conjure a weird picture of what you may think I look like. I was going to post my picture on the site last night, truly, I had bucked up courage and the thing prevented me from doing so - didn't think I looked too bad either!

Have you looked at the link I have added. I just can't stop reading it, and there is so much info on there and more links, although Plot 37 link it seems to have finished in February. I hate it when that happens don't you? I have such an active imagination, I was lying in bed trying to work what was the reason. He did so much work on it and was even installing a green house. Did he move? Is he still working out how to finish putting together the greenhouse? Perhaps he is just too busy, or maybe he had trouble with the page like me. I would love to know how he is getting on so that I can compare notes. He started about the same time as me, but was so organised and neat.

It is Bank Holiday weekend, and I am expecting the doorbell to ring any moment so had better go and squirt a bit of Coco Chanel on, and put the final touches to my Maroccan Chicken Stew with Cous Cous (recipe from the Organic Cook Book) which will be followed by Banoffee Steamed Pudding with butterscotch sauce and double cream or vanilla icecream (recipe curtesy of the Daily Mail Leith recipe of the day). I should have given it a dummy run to check it works out all right but I feel in a reckless mood. Fingers crossed. It was so easy to prepare and you cook it in a microwave for 8 minutes - how easy can that be!

They are here. Have a good weekend and hope the sun shines on your sweetcorn - and especially the big beef tomatoes.

Please leave any comments you think fit.

Oh nearly forgot.

They use barley straw because it is the most absorbant and soaks up all the wee and stuff. I can vouch for its absorbancy as I have used it as a mulch around things and it stays wet for ages, so I don't have to water - which is just as well as I don't have water on tap up my lottie.

Don't forget - if you have any ideas why the icons went I will be relieved to hear about it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

July 2005 – Happy Harvesting

Four tractor scoops of pig muck for £10 - what a bargain huh? Pat gets out of the car, holds his nose and runs into the shed - You can take the man out of the town, but you can't take the town out of the man! Bless him.

I had a trip to Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire with a local gardening club, so bought a few plants. Different varieties of mints, and a cardoon. The former will grow rampantly so I have work out how to grow them up there so that they really clump up so that I can use them, but I don’t want them invading everywhere and being a nuisance. The cardoon is a statuesque plant and can get as big as it likes, and once mature I can use the seed heads for flower arrangements.

I didn’t have any success with sunflowers this year, the little plants got eaten, so maybe next year I will plant the seeds directly into the soil and keep them well protected.

The month was spent in soaring temperatures mowing the lawns, weeding and harvesting. The green manure I sowed a couple of months ago, at the end of the lottie, has formed a lovely thick lawn and it is so nice to have a clear area. I have put our old set of tables and chairs and a bench down there. The only bit of shade on the whole site is in one tiny corner. It is my ambition to one day have time to sit and relax and have a picnic lunch there. It is such a great feeling when you are out in the sunshine, without a soul around, and you walk around harvesting fruit and vegetables, then taking them home and cooking and or freezing them.

They joy of taking home a bag of mixed lettuce and salad leaves, varieties of which you don’t get in a supermarket. Chives, Penny Royal, Oregano, Tarragon, Sage, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme. Eating white beetroot, both leaves and root, new red and white potatoes, onions, peas. You can’t beat the pleasure of eating things that you have grown yourself – all the aches and pains and hard work pall into insignificance!

I was on holiday for a week in Yorkshire, so my neighbour had the pleasure of picking the crops. The weather was so hot and dry, it was a shame to waste them, especially the raspberries.

The allotment site is tucked away and can’t be seen from the road and is not signposted so lots of people are not even aware of it being there. Which is one of the best things I adore. I read other web sites of allotments and sometimes I think it would be really nice to have the camaraderie of a big organised site with running water, properly laid out, allotment societies, etc. But it is so peaceful there and hidden that, touch wood, we don’t have the worry of thefts or vandalism, and long may it be so.

Oh dear, looks like I have to go now, but I will be back again another day - keep looking.

Sweltering June 2005

Photo shows purple sprouting broccoli just planted, broad beans, onions, romanescue under the fleece to keep the butterflies off.

The main memories of June were the lack of rain. There were just a couple of downpours, so I spent a lot of time trundling up and down with watering cans which I filled from the tanks behind my shed.

Last year my pig muck was just put in a pile, so Monday 13th June I was up the allotment for 5 hours and made a new compost bin for the pig muck I had ordered and one for the horse manure that a friend is delivering on a weekly basis this year. Apparently a mixture of the two are about the best you can get. That remains to be seen. The horse manure bin - poor Pat is still mowing that same stretch of lawn, he has grown out of his trousers he has been doing it for so long, bless him. (It's ok, he is not computer literate so he'll never see this) This comment is a joke - British humour - Pat is a treasure and I couldn't manage without his encouragement and support. So please don't think otherwise.

I did a lot of weeding and strimming – mainly the weeds of my neighbours plots to try and keep them away from my boundaries as their weeds were in flower and starting to shed their seeds too.

It was extremely hot the last week of the month and I was picking my first year of soft fruit crops, blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and rhubarb. Not a tremendous amount of each – but just wait until next year. I had 7 currant bushes that did not fruit, white and red currants, so if anyone has any ideas why that might be, please do let me know.

The peppers and pumpkins which I grew from seed were planted. Whether I will get a crop of peppers remains to be seen, but it is worth the experiment for a small outlay.

I needed lots of CD bird scarers, to keep bids off all my crops, so I spent ages tying them on to bamboo canes.

The second lot of runner beans that I planted were successfully growing and at the end of the month I was picking mange tout, broad beans, and young peas. But the weather was so hot and dry everything was struggling to survive the drought. But the salad seemed to do well though.

Topsy Turvey May – and the hard work continues

There are a few gaps in my diary – so I must have had a few hectic or exhausting days when I did not fill it in – or maybe it was another of those senior moments that seem to be creeping up on me.

The allotment was beginning to look good – and getting established. I now had a nice lawn on which to park car/s on my allotment and somewhere to turn around – there is only a mud track alongside it so the latter I considered important, and came in especially useful on the couple of occasions when my car conked out and I needed assistance to get it going again!

Not a good idea when you have been up the allotment for over 4 hours, hubbie is back from golf and expecting lunch on the table, and when he phones he is told,'Just another half hour I am just in the middle of.......' then he phones later and tells you it is 3pm and he is out bowling at 6pm. You rush to pack up, lock up, get out of your Worzel Gummidge outfit, dash to the car and.... ooops! Helpless woman mode! "Hi darling, it's me, my car won't start, can you bring the jump leads?" 'WHERE ARE THEY?' (Why do men expect things to jump out of cupboards right in front of them without looking!) Anyway it wasn't a flat battery, I was not guilty of leaving the boot open (again) - which was just as well as we couldn't work out where to 'Connect the black lead to a metal part of the car engine block' Have you tried finding anything that looks metal on car engine these days - that the leads will reach to! Anyway, I used my female gift of the gab, found Kenny working on his lottie, explained that I needed a knight on a white horse, as both hubby and myself were useless with modern car engines, and he diagnosed a stuck starter motor. There you go, a bit of humpy bumpy and it started! So I know what to do next time. Ooops digressed as usual. Back to what you want to read about!

The first entry on 5th May, the weather was dry and I spent three and a half hours weeding, planting out a bed of salads, cucumbers and tomatoes. I was up there every day for the next 10 days most of the time weeding (still digging out the dreaded dock and thistle and bindweed thugs). The lawn got mowed, lots of veggie seeds got planted and the potatoes got earthed up on three occasions when the rain washed some of the soil off the tops. Frost was forecast, so I spent a lot of time covering each little sprout as it popped it’s head above the soil – on my hands and knees sandcastle style – using my hands to pile the soil up and getting it to stay put. I also used grass cutting to do the job and this was done over a few days. What the others on the site made of that exercise I can only imagine and their comments were probably not complimentary! (Being hard of hearing saves a lot of tears at times) But my efforts were rewarded in the potato department as we had heavy frosts and their potatoes got caught, the leaves burnt, whereas mine………Perfick!

On the down side, the birds and rabbits kept pulling up the onions sets and throwing them around, so I spent hours putting them back in. The Swedes, carrots, Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, French beans, and various varieties of peas did not germinate or if they did the snails, mice or birds got them. But I think that it was probably the dramatic change in temperatures. The parsnips were a success though, and I had bought 4 packets as I was told they were difficult to grow. I used the other couple of packets a month or so ago as they would not be any use next year anyway, so who knows we might have a mild winter and I might get another crop.

We had a sunny Bank Holiday weekend, and my eldest son Gary decided to have a go with the rotorvator for me, and Haruko planted out some more tomatoes plants.

Pat did some lawn mowing.
Look at that concentration - tongue out, go faster F1 gloves. There was a bit of a problem firing up the engine and I was called to the pits, but once I got him revved up,you can see that his debut circuit was a success.

I am not in the photos because I was working hard too – and I took a few photos too. Gary was amazed at how hard work it was and said that I shouldn’t use it myself but to get someone in to help me. Kind of defeats the object of growing your own vegetables if you have a gardener to do all the work for you, and the cost of course is prohibitive in my case. Maybe if I win the lottery????

May was the month when I also did a lot of plant propagation of perennial flowers which are all down the bottom section where the rabbits mainly get in – and now the deer! It has looked really pretty during the summer – and still does. I grew asparagus from seeds and when planted they were tiny whiskers and now that are thick and bushy plants. 8 tiny lavender bushes that I got from the market have now grown and flowered and smell divine. It is really is nice to take a walk down that end each time I am up there and just smell the aromas, watch the bees, and just take a moment to enjoy the beauty of all the different plants – next year they will big bigger and bushier and should really be an eye catcher. It will also mean that I can cut flowers from the allotment without cutting those in the garden. I have lots of plans for that area.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

2005 New Year - New Start

Keeping an allotment Diary 2005

I started this blog in August 2005; so that my friends abroad could see how things were progressing as allotments as such are quite British things.

For Christmas last year my ‘Wish’ list contained items for the allotment – mainly a list of seeds – unusual ones from different organic websites. It was great because Haruko my daughter in law, and family and friends could pick which seeds they wanted so it was still a surprise and helped my budget!

People do think me odd requesting things like secateurs, seeds, knee pads etc instead of perfume, slippers, or clothes. I derive far more pleasure from the practical things than from the latter – (but I do still have a supply of my favourite Chanel in the cupboard!)

With my Christmas seeds from family and friends I was raring to get started.

January and February were a wash out with heavy rains then 16 days of snow. There is no point going on the land as you just compact the soil.

I decided to keep a diary in the form of a spreadsheet really to keep a record of the hours I spent, and I see that 13th March was the first day I was able to start.

I had arranged for a friend with a big rotorvator to prepare the soil for me this year. There were deep ridges on the bottom 150 feet of allotment where it had been ploughed in the past, and the tractor had got bogged down, then the soil had dried hard and the dock weeds etc grew so digging was out of the question.

The conditions were just right, so for three days I raked and cleared all the dead stems, and dug up the last of the carrots and leeks.

Richard arrived on the 16th with his big machine that went through the bottom 150 feet like butter. When I cast my mind back to the hours I had spent digging last year, I realised the futility of all my hard work which hardly made an impact after the weeds won the battle betwixt me and them. Richard went over it several times and just walked along behind his machine which did all the work – easy peasy. It was a huge old Howard Rotorvator, many years old and with a massive engine. He had made other ‘add on’ gadgets one of which he used to make furrows for my potatoes – heaven!

That same afternoon I planted my first rows of Orla, Colleen and Robinta early potatoes. What a difference a rotorvator makes. So much so that I decided to invest in one myself. But one that I could start, control and that was reliable – an evening’s search on the internet and a few phone calls the following morning, and I was sorted.

The next week I was able to plant out 50 broad bean seeds, 2 rows of Red Baron, 2 rows of Turbo and 136 Jetset onion sets. I sowed a row of Keratine carrot seeds, 6 blackcurrant cuttings, 6 rose cuttings and some Delphiniums I was propagating.

Monday 28th February and my rotorvator arrived – which necessitated in my reading the instruction book to see how to put it all together – (I know, it’s a girl thing, but it is quicker in the long run). Tuesday 29th I was using it. Took a bit of getting used too, mainly because I did not have the strength to get the wheel down out of its locked position, wiggle it enough to release it and flick it up, and do the reverse when I had finished – it took a man (my husband Pat) to do that for me for a few weeks, until I improvised. I now tilt it up on a lump of wood hold on to it with one hand and stamp down hard on the wheel a few times then flick it up. The reverse technique is the same, but after putting the wheel down I have to run up against a kerb of concrete to wedge it back in place! Sorry for the digression.

Richard came on the 1st April and did the rest of the allotment for me, and I went over it with mine to get a fine tilth. At that point I knew that I would be able to manage the whole 330ft by 33ft after all – what joy!

Looking at my diary I see that April whizzed by in a frantic burst of activity.

Installing chicken wire fencing (odd lengths and poles) in an attempt to deter the rabbits, transplanting my flower arranging plants – Delphiniums, Achilleas, Rudbeckia, Sweet Williams, rose cuttings, hostas, etc. There was a lot of seed sowing of veggies, manure spreading, and preparation for peas, beans, squashes brassicas and more onions and potatoes, sowings of grass seed areas and green manure areas.
The results of which are interesting as you will see in later entries – which I will share with you.

I definitely was over enthusiastic with my timingss for planting seeds - or was it just the weather conditions this year?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In the beginning - the wilderness

Two years ago at 7am in the morning, whilst walking around the village, I passed the entrance to the pig farm which I knew led to the allotments.
It was a dismal damp day in August, and the plot I hoped to take over, was sadly neglected. The weeds were as high as my shoulder, the site littered with dozens of carpets through which more weeds were sprouting, and it looked a hopeless project. My husband said that I was mad to even consider taking it on – a challenge that I could hardly resist after such a comment!

It was with excitement and trepidation that on the evening of the 6th August 2003, I set to tame this plot which is 33 feet wide and 330 feet long. I spent ten minutes reading the instruction book that came with the petrol strimmer that I had bought for the purpose an hour earlier, and there started my journey that was to become a passion.

Guess what I discovered behind these elder trees – an old pig hut no less!

Over the next few weeks, I managed to clear a couple of raised beds and sow my first crops. Not much to look at, but it was a start! The plastic milk containers were to keep the rabbits and pigeons from eating the seedling, and the carrier bags were additional bird scarers - both of which worked.

Six weeks later my first attempts had turned into this! Having no water up the allotments and suffering a drought at the time, I used to visit every night with plastic bottles full of water - crazy or what?

Growing just a small crop at the end of the growing season filled me with enormous pride. Like most things, when you look back at your first efforts you tend to cringe with embarrssment, but we all have to start somewhere. I guess that is why I am sharing these beginnings, triumphs and failures with you. Just so that you can see not all allotments are council owned with lovely settings, concrete paths, water, compost, wood bark etc. You can still get by with a lump of land in a scruffy field and derive a lot of pleasure from it!

2004 Crops

2004 was to prove a year of improvisation, disappointment, realisation, ending up in jubilation. What a roller coaster of emotions – who would think that a piece of land and a few plants could cause such a combination. Boy did I have fun though, learnt a lot, ached a lot, but achieved a lot.

It seemed to me that I spent the entire year digging out dock weeds and thistles and fighting a losing battle, but like giving birth, you soon forget the agonies and reminisce about the wonderful times.

30 bare rooted summer fruiting raspberry canes – 12” pieces of unpromising dead looking sticks with straggly roots, tied up in bundles of 10. Good job I read up on how to space them. It seemed ridiculous at the time that these tiny bits of twigs should have 3ft or so of space between them – all the more room for the weeds to grow! I spent each week mulching the gaps with barrow loads of grass cuttings from four neighbours gardens – not very eco friendly taking the car up there loaded up with grass 5 times a week was it? But it helped to keep the weeds down, and the canes sprouted and grew a new stick or two each. No fruit the first year.

6 autumn fruiting raspberry canes, cuttings given to me by Sheila – who has become a dear friend with a wealth of knowledge. These grew one stem each but looked healthy.

Broad Beans – old Lenny – God rest his soul – gave me a handful of broad bean seeds that he had saved from the previous year, and which I planted to over winter Despite planting them too close together so that some of them fell over, I did get a good crop, early in the year. So I decided to do the same at the end of 2004 season, but not one took! But I was heartened by the fact that I was not alone in that failure.

Runner Beans, Climbing French Beans, Dwarf French Beans. At this stage I have to own up to getting a bit carried away at times. Having bought a packet of seed and having lots of space to grow things, I just stuck each whole packet of seeds in thinking that at least a few of them would grow – but the lot did! It was a good year for them, hence my giving carrier bags full away to everyone I came across. Boy did they taste good. I had a rainbow of colours almost, with different shades and lengths of green, yellow and purple and spotted, with all different coloured flowers before they fruited. Whoever reckons vegetable plots are dull should take a closer look.

Mange Tout and Peas – the former was a roaring success and the latter a dismal disappointment. We had good rainfall earlier when they were planted then a dry summer overall, so I guess that was why. I tried different varieties so it was not a failure of one sort.

Sweet corn – Mini and Maxi
– the weather conditions must have been just right for these crops and they were a resounding success. Again we had a huge surplus and others benefited, but they looked beautiful and lush and filled up lots of room and kept the weeds down!

Onions and Shallots – a bit of a failure due to my incompetence and learning curve! By the time I was able to get on the land and dig up areas for planting – the potatoes being the top priority, it was getting a bit late to plant the onions and the sets I bought were obviously the last dregs in the shops, and were (as I know now) not good quality. After I planted them we hit the dry period so they never really got going at all, but I used the little bulbs in cooking anyway – waste not want not.

Early, Mid, and Main Crop Potatoes – after doing everything that was wrong in growing them, (apart from them being planted on soil that had not been used for years) to our total amazement they grew – and did not get blight like others on the site – did not get eaten by slugs – in fact everyone remarked how good they were. Must have been the varieties, it certainly was not my expertise at the time. But in my defence I was on my hands and knees weeding them all through the summer whereas the men just left theirs and they grew weeds taller than the potato plants too. They stored well and lasted right through the year to the start of the first new potatoes.

Salads – I grew all sorts of lettuce and salad leaves in a raised bed, and these did get nurtured – watered with rather green looking water from a tank which catches the rainfall from my little pig hut – but they seemed to like it and thrived.

Chards, Mizuna, Rocket, Red Beetroot, Sorrel, Spring Onions, Japanese Onions. These too were grown in a raised bed and all did well. As the instructions for the Japanese onions were in Japanese (a gift from my Japanese daughter in law, so too the mizuna) it was a bit hit and miss, but I put them in and they thrived. All the above were a success, and the Swiss Chards not only looked beautiful, they tasted divine in salads and cooked and lasted us to the summer of this year. They would have lasted longer but I needed to move them. The beetroot I left too long and it got as big as tennis balls and cricket balls, but I tried roasting it, and it was brilliant.

Leeks – I grew these from seed. I do not have a greenhouse so it is a bit hard growing all my seeds in pots and trays in a shed. They took a long time to grow once planted out – but maybe they do any way – and the rabbits chewed some of the green tops off them – did you know that rabbits like onions tops too? Those living around these parts eat anything! But again, waste not want not, I salvaged the crop and ate all the white bits that were underground and made leek and onions soup that I froze.

Courgettes and Pumpkins – another galloping success. It could be that I grew a lot of the courgettes, white, green, and yellow, or maybe it was the pig muck, but the ratatouille I made lasted us through the winter and was so colourful and tasty that I am doing it again this year. I only got three pumpkins plants to grow, a green one, a butternut one, and a Hokkaido (yes Japanese). Now these I did nurture despite them being 150 feet or more from the water tanks. Most of my precious water went on these, and also the grass cutting mulch. The butternut squash was a total disaster and disappointment producing two small fruit neither of which was edible. The green one produced fruit but they were hard and although yellow inside tasted dry when cooked. And yes – you can guess, the Japanese one totally exceeded everything it said it would on the packet. It said the plant would grow 10 feet, and it grew 20+ feet in all directions and climbed over three feet fences and ran along everywhere. I had to chop bits off it and put canes in to make it grow around and around. The pumpkins were delicious, and we had pumpkin soups, and I roasted and froze them as an experiment and they were thawed and warmed in the oven and used with roast potatoes, curries, stews, and mashed too. A great success.

Carrots, Parsnips, and Brassicas
– I think that I left planting the carrots and parsnips a bit too late, due to the pressure of digging up weeds and clearing areas to plant everything. But we did get some small ones, and they over wintered, and despite the rabbit chewing through the netting and nibbling off the green tops and a little bit of the top of the actual carrot – yes you guessed it – waste not want not – we feasted on quite a few soups and stews from them. The spring greens and cabbage seedlings got eaten by caterpillars or slugs or maybe both – and one wise sage told me after the event that I should grow all my seedlings at home a greenhouse (which I do not have) and not in my seedbed. I just smiled sweetly and thanked them for their tips.

The Brussels sprouts were a real task of love and devotion, or sheer lunacy. After my failure with the others I was determined that these should live! A friend gave me some seedlings that he was going to throw away, and indeed told me to throw them if I didn’t want them – but oh how I did want them. They were sad looking little things, but I potted them from the seed tray into modules and watered them and when I thought they were big enough I planted them out. (Having read the book!) in rows three feet apart, and spaced three feet apart. I dug a hole a foot deep, and piled the soil all around the edge, I then dug a small hole in the bottom and planted the seedling and poured lots of water into the hole and covered it with a plastic milk container that was cut so that it was open both ends to make a sleeve. This I did thirty five times more – I saved all those little seedlings. I then put up canes and attached old CD’s to them to keep the birds away. So that sorted out the pests – or so I thought. I watered and weeded these plants religiously – I was on a mission to grow some brassicas. Once they were poking about six inches out of their sleeves I pulled the containers off them. And the pest attack began.

First came the pheasants – (have I mentioned before that we get lots of pheasants too?) They pecked at the leaves but didn’t kill them off. Then came the cabbage white butterflies so I had to do an inspection and rub off the eggs. I thought that the war was won, but from out of nowhere, they were all attacked by an army of caterpillars – in the space of a weekend when it was raining and I didn’t inspect them. The following week in a heat wave with temperatures in the high 70’s I was sitting on hard lumpy ground with a spray bottle of soapy water, spraying each single leaf of each single plant to deter or kill the caterpillars. It took me three hours each day over two days. It worked though! In December when the crop was due to be harvested, a quarter of the plants had ‘blown’ sprouts on them, due to the drought conditions I think or maybe something I did wrong. Half of the remaining crop had been attacked by pheasants eating all the lower sprouts, but I did get about a dozen plants with a good crop and froze enough to see us through right to late spring when there were other things to eat.

Tomatoes I grew a few tomato plants which produced some lovely little fruits.

I was thrilled at my first year’s crops, but I had to decide whether to tame the other half of the plot or to get someone else to work it.

2004 Crops – if you want to know the varieties get in touch.

Monday, August 22, 2005

2004 - The start of an ongoing learning curve!

Over the winter months of 2004 the allotment looked bare but manageable. The rubbish cleared, and the foliage dead, I set too trying to create some order in readiness for the spring.

I collected some old wooden pallets from the village builders yard - for the cost of donations to the charity box. I used these to create a compost bin covered with strong plastic to protect it from the elements. It took me hours and when finished I remember that glow of pride at my first achievement. (Isn’t naivety bliss?) If only I had known that by the time spring had arrived, rats would have eaten most of the plastic and mice would have set up home in the cosy cavity I had created – the perfect homestead, and complete with it’s own food source of kitchen waste!

I found a weed-filled pond, no water in it thankfully as I had stumbled over the weeds, but a pond liner – yippee – was it worth the hours I spent hauling and digging out all the weeds and junk that had accumulated in it? Yes, because I managed to drag the liner out in its entirety, fill the hole with lots of dead foliage, and use the liner to cover it all up, together with a large amount of dock weeds and thistles, and left them to rot until this year, when I uncovered it to reveal a large area of soil, with the consistency of topsoil, without a weed in sight.

But I digress; my next project was to clear this object in the photo. Now I could have just set fire to it or cut it all down, as thistles were growing out of the top which was at least six feet high, but no, I took three weekends to unravel the bind weed, extricate the netting from the myriad of weeds anchoring it on all sides to the ground, and at the end of it I had the start of what is now my fruit cage. All it needed was a bit of imagination and lots of hard work. More trips and donations for wooden pallets, salvaged old pipes hammered into the ground to keep them upright, plastic milk cartons on top to stop them tearing the netting, and green wind barrier material, again found on the allotment stapled all around to keep the rabbits and wind out. Now that has been a success.

Spring 2004 arrived with a vengeance of appalling weather so no work could get done on the lottie until the rain finally stopped leaving a cloggy mess. I managed to get myself an old rotorvator and got it serviced and repaired ready to turn the plot into my veggie paradise. Reality has a cruel habit of shattering my day dreams. The old rotorvator, when it finally started, coughed and spluttered a few feet, then died each time I used it. This involved many trips taking it back to be fixed after the 6th time, I was totally demoralised and defeated. So any of you thinking about getting an old machine, think twice if you are not a ‘tinkerer’. I now know why all the men up the allotments are forever tinkering and fiddling with the things – the old ones are prone to be very temperamental.

April was fast disappearing and everyone had planted their potatoes in neat rotorvated rows, that had then been drilled out into a long trench ready for them to just drop theirs in. The only way I was able to get my potatoes in was to use my spade almost like a pick axe to make a hole and put seed potato in. By which time they looked like aliens with white shoots six inches tall. Yes I had read the books,and had torn up bags full of newspaper to line the trenches, but again, the books I read were written for Gardeners World type allotments, where the soil is all topsoil or crumbly light stuff full of compost etc etc. Light years away from the soil I had to deal with! And how was I to know that 5 x 3kg bags of a variety of potatoes would be enough to get a contract with McCains? It was May before they were all planted. And June this year before we finished eating those that we had not given away.

The allotment had by then been transformed from a neat barren site into one bursting with evil looking weeds with roots on them so long and thick, that I despaired of ever removing them all. I know that if you leave a bit in they will grow again, but what can you do if they are set like concrete deep into the ground? I was beginning to realise that 330 feet was awful lot of area to dig by spade.

I nearly gave up, as day by day I toiled and slaved and ached and injured my muscles. But I am a stubborn ‘old bird’ and pride would not let me. So I gradually I created, bit by bit, a manageable sized plot of veggies with my husband helping me with the heavy digging when he was not playing golf or bowling. (Which wasn't often, but often enough to lift my morale.

I got some old salvaged chicken wire and fenced off a manageable area and concentrated on that. Then I extended it another 20 feet to include some fruit bush cuttings and some flowers.
I was so proud of my achievements, and produce last year, but ended up giving most of it all away, as we did not have a big freezer so couldn’t freeze many veggies (that has now been rectified), but I did have many happy neighbours and family and friends who opened their doors to carrier bags filled with potatoes, runner beans, climbing beans, courgettes, sweet corn etc on their doorsteps.

The work had been hard, but I was on a learning curve and the lessons I learnt the hard way put me in good stead for this year.

But the most soul destroying part, is that on either side of me, are plots where the weeds are left to grow wild – and the leasees’ have all ‘the gear’ to sort them out in a jiffy. (Tractors, rotorvators. But from reading other allotment write-ups, that seems often the norm. People take on allotments, and because they are cheap to lease, they would rather just keep them and pay the small fee, than give them up. Sometimes I think that is because it is easier to let them grow wild than to tidy them up and get them ‘clean’ to hand over to a new tenant.

Last summer I was chatting to a couple of the ‘old boys’ who had had allotments for many years, and was hoping for a bit of encouragement being the newcomer. But they were full of doom and gloom saying that it was a waste of time and that what was left after the rabbits, pigeons, flocks of birds, caterpillars, and other pests, and the occasional deer, had been at them was hardly worth all the effort. But when I asked their age one was in his seventies and the other his 80’s (albeit the older of the two had a half plot), I laughed and said that if I am still able to be doing it at their age, then I’ll not begrudge all the animal life from tucking in, obviously the continual battle with them and the elements is what keeps us gardeners going!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Allotment Lady

This blog is about the daily life of an ordinary English lady living in the country. It will describe her work on her allotment which she has be transforming from a wilderness of weeds into an organic vegetable plot. Articles about her trips around the UK and surrounding areas, and a weekly diary of life in general