Sunday, April 02, 2006

Allotment news for Sunday 2nd April - 7 hours today between us.

After breakfast, it still wasn’t raining – so you can guess where I headed after all. Yes I know I ached, but if I ache anyway, I might as well do something I really enjoy
doing whilst I ache, rather than sitting down , thinking oh dear me, I do ache - if you see what I mean.

Pat crammed everything I had to take into my little car and he came with me to barrow some muck for me to spread.

Before we set off, I popped a pheasant into the oven to cook. Well I did do a few fiddly bits first like chop it is half lengthways, brown it in a pan, with some garlic, put it in my big Le Crueset oval pan, which is donkeys years old but they were such a good investment as they are all I seem to use! I added some red wine, a chopped up orange (I only used the peels yesterday in the soap making), and got some thyme, rosemary, sage and a bay leaf from the garden, and left it to cook ‘til we got home.

We got so much done, it was wonderful. I know I keep saying it, but I find it just wonderful being out in the middle of the field, messing about with the soil, and my plants etc. It really makes me feel happy and alive. The wind was blowing quite fiercely and we soon warmed up.

The clouds were racing by over head and a couple of fighter jets flew over in formation. Pat was impressed with the amount of work I have done already, and says that he is amazed at what I achieve on my own – and he never even saw the transplanted chrysanthemums or the extra fence I put the other one.

He noticed the amount of muck that I had already shifted, and saw the filled trenches of it where I had been putting all the kitchen waste all winter in my bean trenches, which had rotted down, and it is now covered in lovely black composted muck. It looks really neat.

This is the big area that the potatoes will be going in. I weeded and spread 10 barrow loads of muck. It was hard work but you would never think it to look at it all down. I could not stop to take before and after photos as the weather looked ominous. You can see a couple of the bean trenches in front of the compost bins where the posts are.

So down from the last photo, I dug up the row of parsnips that ran alongside the white fleece tunnel. In there are the last of my January King cabbages that I am leaving until the last minute to dig up.

Then there are the covered areas that I weeded and rotorvated late autumn and covered over for the winter to keep it clean. There is the argument that it encourages slugs, but it was a risk that I was prepared to take. My allotment is so huge that I have to manage it an a way that I can physically cope with. At least if I do not have the strength to do an area, if it is covered at least I know that it is weed free. If left them the deadly docks and thistles would soon take hold and I would be back to square one.

Next in line is the temporary brassica netted 'tent' that I live in hope that the purple sprouting broccoli does eventually sprout. If it doesn't, then I will not be spending this summer picking caterpillars off brassicas on my hands and knees for hours on end. I will grow sprouts (yes I know they are brassicas, but at least I know that I will get a crop).

Today I wanted to concentrate on one of my fruit areas, next to the patch that I had rotorvated the other day.

I planted some onions and shallots, and dug and raked a pathway which I will sow with grass seed, when I buy some.

Pat brought down the wheel barrow with the muck and I shifted it and spread it around the summer fruiting raspberry canes, which should produce their first proper crop this year. In the autumn I cut them back to leave just 5 stems as it said in the book, and today I dug up all the runners, and also the weeds and dug it all over before laying a mulch of about 10 wheel barrows full down this one strip - I hope that it makes it easier to weed in the summer months, as well as absorbing the rain, as we get very little here usually, and providing wonderful nutrients.

I know that the 'tractor boys' think that I am mad. Each year they plough theirs up, more than once often. Rotorvate it with big beastie machines, plant it with broad beans, potatoes, and sometimes cabbages. And mainly leave it to do its own thing.
Often bemoaning the fact that the rabbits have eaten most of their crops or they have blight etc or their beans aren't much good.

And there I am spending hours digging, adding muck and compost, weeding and weeding and weeding, growing fruit and flowers and all sorts of things, and creating lawn and grass paths which I have to mow each week! But then they come up and wonder why my beans are lasting such a long time, or my potatoes are a good crop. I do believe that you have to be kind to the soil, so that you get lots of worms and nutrients, and that you can't grow two good crops all together - like weeds and lettuces - something has to be weaker and usually it is not the weeds.

There I am toiling hour after hour, and they are up there a few hours a week if that with their machines. They even have ones the make drills for the potatoes and they just literally drop them in, whereas I am on my hands and knees with a stick or trowel as a measure to space them correctly. They must know what they are doing as they have been doing it for more years than me!

I weeded most of the area around the autumn fruiting raspberry canes, which are cut right down to the ground, and dug up the runners. These too should be brilliant this year, as they only went in last year but I did get a nice crop albeit in dribs and drabs which I froze, rather than a tub full at a time.

The wooden bottomless tub is protecting a thornless blackberry that I bought last year. It is only wee, but you never know, I might get a few berries this year. In the future it will save me the long walks down the lanes looking for them and getting my arms ripped to shreds by the thorns and my legs stung by the stinging nettles - won't be half so much fun though. But I am getting too old for all this foraging lark!

My currant bushes I grew, I hope will bear fruit this year, and the jostaberries are looking just fantastic. It gives me such a nice glow inside to see all the things I have ‘created’ from little bits of dead looking stick. Mind you, you have to be patient, this is my third year up the allotment. I did not have the finances to do everything like they do on television gardening programmes. Buy proper fencing and erect it. Make proper raised beds from new wood. Buy fruit trees and bushes and plants etc. But it is much more rewarding doing it my way.

Jostaberries are the big ones, and currants are the smaller thinner ones. The piles of muck are where the autumn fruiting raspberry canes are now cut to the ground.

I did buy a red currant, white currant and blackcurrant and took cuttings from all of those. I got some gooseberry bushes that were destined for a compost bin, and were half dead, and I never really thought that they would live, but they did and are, and this year I am expecting great things of them too after all the nurturing I have done.

So three and a half hours of hard labour was spent digging up the dastardly dock weeds with roots that head down to Australia. Digging up and removing grass that has managed to appear and grow a healthy thatch through out winter right where it should not be growing!

I still have a bit more weeding to do as you can see. But it is back breaking work and we were shattered.

So from these photos, it won’t look much to you, but it does represent many many hours of work for me over the past couple of years and now this one. And you will see the difference in a few weeks time and in the summer!

And we shifted 30 wheel barrows full of muck and these were piled so high that I could not lift the weight of them myself. But my body can testify to the exercise!

We were so glad that we spent the morning and early afternoon up there. It was three thirty by the time we sat down to lunch. The pheasant was melt in your mouth wonderful and we couldn’t eat it all between us so have some for another day. We had home grown mange tout, carrots, peas, runner beans and parsnip that had been in the ground a few hours earlier. It is so satisfying – hard work for sure – but you just can’t beat the feeling of growing your own.


  1. Hi - first may I say how much we enjoy your account of life in rural Norfolk. We always look forward to reading what you're doing.
    I see that you keep a record of the weights of the eggs your chickens lay and am curious to know whether they consistently produce eggs around the "record" weights ? The reason I ask is that we have four chickens (hybrids mixture of RIR cross, speckled sussex & marans). Their average egg weight is around the 60gm mark (previous highest 68gm). Today all records were broken with an egg that came in at 94gms - this is larger than a friends duck eggs and off the scale for "commercial" grades.

    and .... just a thought on your purple sprouting.... I have always found that this will only start to produce "sprouts" once the air temperature has started to rise. We have had such a miserable winter and spring that it still has bit of growing to do. Ours in the south-east is in a similar state. So don't give up yet....definitely well worth waiting for.

    Keep it up

  2. Thanks for your lovely comments.

    I do weigh the eggs every day out of curiosity but only record on my blog any new record weights.

    Generally my eggs weigh in the mid 70grms mark for the hybrids. And often hovering around the 80grms. I find it depends of the weather too, I find, and definitely fresh greens from up my allotment really do seem to make a difference.

    I am hanging on with the broccoli, mainly because it was such a trial last year growing it and all the effort I put into it.

    Worse case scenario is that it will be kept under netting and fed stalk by stalk to the chooks. I don't need the room and I have a huge allotment.

    Now and again, chickens will weigh a one off large egg like yours did.

    It does put strain on them and can cause a prolapse, so whilst they are a novelty, it is nicer if they don't do it too often.

    They often contain a double yolk but not always....Enjoy

  3. denise t -usa4:02 pm

    ok what is mange tout?
    you are smart to feed the soil and not the weeds...the other farmers up there must not have researched gardening as much, and just do as their predecesors did...oh well.
    have you thought of ligonberries(sp?) or boysenberries? i love them both! when those berries really start producing for you , u will be rich in preserves and jellies for sure! YUM!
    have u thought about raising a herd of guinea hens to keep up there? they will eat all the insects and roam to help others as well...then roost up in trees overnight...dh suggested i get some for the tick issues here, and i will order some chicks today i think.

  4. Wonderful blog as ever,such a joy to read. Just one question how do you know which chicken has laid which egg when you come to weigh them and record each ones progress?


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