Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pumpkins, leeks, beans and rabbits

Totally given up trying to load photos - it just does not want to know!

I got a bit fed up with being indoors yesterday, so decided whatever the weather threw at me I was going to walk up to my allotment after lunch. The chickens were on their last cage-full of sorrel and spinach, so it was a good incentive to get me up there.

Right after lunching on home made chicken and vegetable curry was probably not the best time to go for a brisk walk – so I was a bit sluggish at first – but I was glad I made the effort.

The sun came out, and although it was cold, so long as you kept moving you were fine. Being out in the open air is just about the best tonic that I can think of for lifting the spirits. I hadn’t got 300yards before I met a couple whom I recognised from the other end of the village and I often used to see in the summer as they waited for a bus. (No bus stops here, you just know where to wait by the side of the road). They stopped for a chat and asked where I was going (dressed up as Worzel Gummidge it had to be either a fancy dress afternoon party or the allotment). They then asked what I was going up there for, and were surprised that (a) chickens ate spinach, and (b) that I even had chickens. They asked for how long, and laughed when I said 66 days today! So after a few minutes into my walk myself and the other couple walked off with grins on our faces.

Sods law, that both the 5 bar gates were open at the farm. When I am in the car I usually have to get out and open them, then drive through and close them again! The farmyard was caked in mud – well it wasn’t so much mud as you know what. They were moving the mountain of pig muck to the fields, and I think they were moving the slurry at the same time. Phew, it really clears the lungs! I was glad that I had my big walking boots on as I slithered to the big metal gate to the allotments.

As I closed it behind me I just stood there to take it all in. The sun shining, the wide expanse of allotments, some ploughed, some dug, some left, it made a lovely visual tapestry. When I saw the track, I was quite pleased that I had walked. You really need to be one of the tractor boys to go up the churned up track. I walk along the grassy bit in the middle and it was also sodden and slippery.

In the distance I saw movement and knew that it could only be Geoff, and sure enough I was. He had felt fed up indoors that morning too, so as soon as the sun came out he had gone up the allotment to potter. He showed me his shallots that he had set in 3” pots which were buried in horse manure in his cold frame. He pulled them up and out of the pots to show me the roots they had made. His sweet peas had been sown straight into horse manure mixed with some soil and they looked healthy too.

I just had to take some photos of his collapsed and rotting pumpkins and squash which he is going to use the seed from for this year. The texture and contrast I found fascinating, and I have been watching them collapse over the months.

He came up to look at my plot after I had mentioned something eating my broad beans – I still think that is pheasants but he does not agree. Still he came to inspect them and as we walked I felt a tinge of pride at to how neat and tidy my plot looks. His son has all the chickens at the end, and I was talking about them, and remarked that I was surprised to see all the cockerels still there and not in the freezer – but they are headed that way shortly apparently. He was surprised that I feed mine all the green stuff as he had told me not too as it upsets their stomach. I do not contradict his advice – of which I get a lot – I just go along with it and do my own thing if I happen to disagree – if you get my drift. That is not to say that any of his advice is not good – I just pick out the good bits that work for me.

We walked along down past the fruit cage – all neat and weeded, which the chooks would love to have a scratch around in – I am aching to take them up there as the cage is netted and enclosed and they could have great fun. Walking past the row of leeks, he remarked on their quality but said that I should have them up or they would get tough if they were not already. These were ones I put in in October and are not great big thick ones, so I thought they would be fine to leave for a while. As we passed the remaining rows of parsnips I mentioned the large size of the ones I had dug up and the fact that they were as creamy and soft as butter after cooking. Tender and True by name and by nature – no hard stringy cores in the middle of those.

When we passed Caterpillar CafĂ© he said that he had never seen a finer crop of purple sprouting broccoli and remarked that I would have so much I would have to give some away (which I do of everything I grow). I assured him he would be well catered for, but I want to freeze some too. With in the region of forty plants I will have loads I know, but the village shop might have some off me. If not I know some chickens who will! They are not yet sprouting, so maybe the end of January will be the time for those. You certainly have to be patient as a vegetable grower – some things take 9 months or so before you can crop them. The winds have been so fierce as always up there, that the cage has collapsed in the middle and only the two outer frames that I anchored with string to the fences are vertical. But I was not about to go and rectify it on my own in those winds! It is a two person job.

When we came to the broad beans, those plants that were not covered with cloches had been got at as you can see. I still feel that if a rabbit, rat, mouse, or deer had been at them there would be little remaining and they would look chewed rather than torn.

You can see how stony the ground is that I have to work with. I have picked up and cleared hundreds of flints but more just keep coming - I think they breed deep down in the soil!

There had been damage done by rabbits though – I recognise that easily. Some of my plants in the flower beds had had new shoots nibbled, whilst others had had their roots exposed, and some had been dug up and eaten leaving no trace. This used to be a flower! I shall have to try and remember next year what is missing! I was a bit surprised that they got in, as I took great care to bury the chicken wire below the ground and it had worked last year when I fenced off the other end. You can usually spot where they get in as they burrow under the fence, but I could see no evidence of that.

But Geoff spotted it. Opposite from us you could see tracks in Mike’s ploughed plot. A smooth beaten path – resembling a junction on the M25. One pathway heading towards the fields and another off to the next allotment disappearing at the unploughed plot.

It was difficult to see how they got in - with the grass behind the chicken wire. On closer inspection I saw the hole! As big as a foot ball. It looks like they had taken a pair of wire cutters to it! I actually do not know how the hole got there, and rabbits can’t chew through wire – at least not wire that is not rusty. However it happened I had to repair it. Geoff went off, and I cursed that I had not brought the keys to the pig hut. The reason being that last time I had to hammer it to get the door closed. I did not fancy carrying a hammer up to the allotment and back!

Luckily I had some bits of old chicken wire rolled up and tied outside by my builders pallets, so put a couple of those in the wheel barrow and some bits of tubing and other ‘straight’ things to use to stake the wire. Here is the result. I would love to see those bunnies faces when they all trot along their motorway for their evening meal only to stop and say. ‘Where did that hole go?’

It is amazing how quickly the time flies when you are working. When I packed up the wheel barrow and headed back, sliding across the corrugated iron sheets that I use for gates, and wedging them up tight to make sure the wind doesn’t blow them down, I got side tracked again. Walking past the row of leeks, I remembered Geoff’s advice and decided to heed it. So I pulled up some leeks. Some wouldn’t come out of the ground and I had no tools. It was as I got halfway along the row, it suddenly dawned on me that I would have to carry them all home! I then took ages shaking all the clods of soil off the roots! What with a black sack full of about 20 leeks and another crammed full with greens for the chickens, it was quite a bit to carry. I walked home like Father Christmas with a sack over each shoulder! I certainly noticed the hilly bits on the way home.

I forgot to mention – some of the weeds have started to grow and one of them was chick weed. Before I used to mutter under my breath as I yanked this spreading weed out. Yesterday was different and the old saying popped into my head – a weed is just a flower in the wrong place! Guess who just go crazy for chick weed – yes you got it – the girls. I gave them just a bit to see if they liked it and they were ecstatic. You would have thought it had some hidden properties in it the fuss they made! Hmmm I think it was chick weed!


  1. Anonymous7:25 pm

    Just read your blog, having just got up from my sleep from last nights' hellish shift,only to feel refreshed as if I'd been for a walk and down to the allotment!

    When I took over my allotment last March, someone had obviously had lots of 'leeklings' left over from their plot and planted them in this plot, I didn't ask whose they were, pulled them up and made the best ever leek and potato soup ever.
    Some months later the neighbour said they where his... an experiment to see if they thrived on neglect! Later, when he was digging his bean trench, I let him have a barro load of my well rotted calf shed dung...wonder if he'll let me taste his beans...?
    Sandie :-)

  2. Sounds like a fair swop - bit cheeky putting them on vacant plot - he might have known that someone would take the plot!

  3. Re the chickweed - if you're ever short of greens (which I'm sure you wouldn't be) you can always eat it yourself. It's rich in Vit A, iron, zinc, potassium etc., and good in salads, sandwiches and omelettes.


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