Monthly Archives: March 2012

Herbs Within Easy Reach

Things are certainly ‘hotting up’ at the allotment, still plenty of planting to do and seeds to be started. Slightly ironic to say that as the recent hot weather seems to have abandoned us, it’s now cool and cloudy again. Maybe this the respite we need to finally be able to water things without it all evaporating as soon as it hits the soil…

It’s Saturday, so we headed to the Wimbledon Farmers’ Market as they had their Spring Plant Fair on. Along with our usual free range eggs and seasonal veg, we also picked up some lovely herbs for our window boxes. We bought most of our plants from Herbal Haven, who also do online orders. They had a great selection of herbs and friendly, chatty stall attendants.

Lovely herby things.

Although I am planning to have a herb bed on the allotment, it’ll will mainly be used for larger things such as dill, sage and rosemary. I’m also hoping to get larger crops of favorites, like basil, that the window boxes are just a bit too small to provide. For the last couple of years the only growing space I had available to me was the three window boxes I put up on our Juliet balcony. I am slightly rubbish at remembering to water the window boxes regularily, thus lining them with cut up bin liners and water retaining gel powder have been my absolute saviours. However, it’s all worth while as I find it very handy to have stuff close at hand when I’m cooking. A few snips of chives or parsley in many dishes does absolute wonders.

Lots of lovely herby things.



This weekend I enjoyed an “allotmentcation.” I had a couple days of vacation that I needed to use up before April, so I gave myself a four day weekend. I have to admit, part of me would have liked to have spent those four days lying in front of the t.v. eating crisps and watching endless episodes of True Blood. Instead I ended up going to the allotment three out of those four days. Far more productive than filling my mouth and brain with junk. Enjoyable junk, but junk nonetheless.

I spent most of Friday there, just me and all the retirees. I was the youngest person there by a good forty years and boy, do they enjoy a good natter. I can carry on a good pointless conversation, but these people could chit chat for their country. It was a scorching day, so I didn’t mind any excuse to pause for a bit. The main topics of choice were the imminent hosepipe ban, which I can imagine will be a nightmare for those less able to carry water to their plots, and just how much money Plot 15 may have spent putting in those new raised beds.

Our plot neighbour, Simon proudly showed me his bumper asparagus bed and offered up suggestions for reviving my flagging sweet peas. Our newest neighbour, Tom, sweetly starts every conversation with, “now I don’t know what I’m doing, but…[insert question here]” We had a good tour of his freshly cleared plot and played the Name That Weed Game. When he asked me about what to do about Mare’s Tail, I replied, “try not to cry?”

A nice splash of colour on the plot.

I did manage to complete a rather major task. After a productive Friday afternoon of weeding, watering and digging, I felt it was time to wrap up and head home. I trundled up to the allotment site’s green waste bins, only to see that the council had brought another rubbish trailer. Now the last trailer showed up shortly after Christmas and was literally overflowing within days. Any time I had asked if another would be arriving, I was always told, “just keep and eye out for it, that’s all.” I saw that this one was already three-quarters full, just enough space for all the rubbish we had piled up. I was desperate to be rid of it, as it was occupying the space our new compost bins will go.I had arms of jelly, but I knew if I waited until Sunday, there would be no space left. With a big sigh, I headed back to our plot and spent the next two hours shifting rotten pallets, manky carpet and broken things up to the trailer. The trailer was ridiculously high sided, the lowest bit was about eye-level for me. Please note, I’m six foot tall. I managed okay, except for one rather massive chunk of rotting carpet, which managed to slither out of the trailer and onto my head.

On Sunday, Scott and Simon came and joined me. Poor Scott, he was suffering from the time change and got dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of nine a.m. due to me bouncing about, eager to head back to the allotment. More digging, watering and weeding done, along with the main crop potatoes finally in the ground and of course, more chatting. We were given the heads up that tomato blight is a significant problem on the allotment site, which is a bit worrying given how many tomatoes I’m planning to grow. We also got lots of kind praise for our clearing and organisation of the plot. I’m hoping this is the sole nature of the chat about us, hopefully nothing about how much we spent on the shed or something…

Rhubarb looking good.

Today was a quick visit to drop off some bits I picked up at B&Q, which included a much needed watering can and a big bucket of pelleted chicken manure. I saw Tom carefully mulching and watering his newly planted broad beans, I commented that they were looking really good. He smiled, “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing, but…”

Seed Anxiety…

…we all get it. What to start, when to start, where to start and how long until we plant it out. No matter how much reading you do, it seems, rather annoyingly, that the only way to really learn is through trial and error. Lots and lots of error.

I’ve seen a slew of posts recently from other bloggers reporting their success and even failures when it comes to starting seeds. I envy those that are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or a polytunnnel in which to start their seeds. At the moment all I have at my disposal is the spare room and a bit of space on the kitchen table. The spare room is unheated, I’m planning to start most things there, with the chillies, tomatoes and peppers started in the kitchen.

I made the mistake of getting impatient and turned the heat on in the spare room for two days. Whoops! The sunflower seedlings shot right up to the moon and are looking dangerously leggy. Everything else, to the best of my knowledge, looks okay but may soon follow suit.

The chillies are doing nothing so far. I’m thinking it’s not warm enough for them, but now I’m worried that they’ve rotted sitting in moist compost for the last week. So for now I hover over the trays, wringing my hands, hoping they’ll make an appearance soon.

Hello? Anyone growing?

I also keep wondering what is going on with the weather. Last year in Southern England it was 30°C in April. On Thursday I was working in a t-shirt and driving with the windows rolled down. Friday, I was wearing a lined jacket and a scarf… In desperation, I even tried to find a Farmers’ Almanac online to consult. The best I found for March 2012 was, “a  mix of weather types.” Very helpful, not.

This morning I looked at my floppy sunflowers and decided to take a chance and plant them out. I did the same with my sweet pea seedlings, which went out with some sweet pea plants I had to plant anyway. I figure if worst comes to worst, I can always sow some seeds outdoors later if needed. So I’ve set them loose to manage without my constant, erm, pampering.

Sweet pea Tee-pee.

This morning we met our new plot neighbour Tom, who confessed to being a complete amateur. I confessed to being a professional gardener, to which he immediately started requesting advice. I offered up suggestions for transplanting shrubs and tips on watering. He then asked me if it was okay to plant out his broad bean seedlings…I laughed and told him he was suffering classic seed anxiety, he just looked confused.

Edit 23/03/2012:  YAY!


What to Grow?

When it comes to deciding what to grow, it’s very tempting to go for unusual things. I want varieties that I can’t get in the supermarket, or at least things  that will amaze and astound people, especially when I’m holding a fabulous dinner party. However, reality must be acknowledged and I’m well aware that I’m a bit of a ‘newbie’ at this. The unusual things are often more expensive and more challenging to grow. That, and my dinner parties are more frantic than fabulous really.

Generally, I’ve gone with modern varieties, but thrown in a few unusual things.  For example, I’m planning on growing ‘Resista-fly’ carrots, along side some ‘Purple Haze’ carrots. I figure we could use some challenge, after all, what’s life without challenge?

Our fruit area is mainly made up of things that were already on the allotment.  So we have raspberries, gooseberries, red & black currants, rhubarb and now strawberries. We planted the strawberries a few of weeks ago, there was a bit of snow on the ground, but the soil wasn’t frozen. I did manage to nab a couple of fleece tunnels out of the clearence bin at the Wandsworth B&Q. When the weather warmed up I left them uncovered, but have been on Red Alert for frost warnings since.

Baby strawberries, all cosy and warm in their fleece tunnel.

We’ve been fairly strict in making sure we grow things that we will actually eat, try to avoid gluts of things if possible. That being said, once I had a run through the seed catalogue, it had lots and lots of post it notes. We have 240 m², I now realise we need about 240 acres. So there was a quick discussion and some heavy editing occurred. So we’re growing two varieties of potatoes, not four. Two types of carrots, but only one onion. I have kept all four tomatoes varieties. Amazingly, all four of us want to grow sprouts.

We’re using a three year crop rotation on 18 beds, so 6 beds per ‘year’. In trying to balance out root veg, fruiting veg and brassicas, I’ve found we need to really embrace the brassicas. No colon cancer in this house, but we may need to spend next winter with the windows open…

Just a few Post-Its