Tag Archives: The Plot

And We’re Away!

I’m here, I’m alive and doing a happy dance in the sunshine. Even the odd downpour hasn’t, ahem, dampened my excitement. Here’s hoping it lasts!

Work has been incredibly busy for me these last couple of weeks. My client’s gardens are finally taking off and I’ve been doing lots of big planting projects. Truthfully, it’s left me quite exhausted, resulting in short visits to the allotment and minimal blogging. It really feels like we’ve hardly done anything yet, but a few things are already going. The potatoes and onions are in, as are lots of summer bulbs have been planting. Seeds for direct sowing are all sorted and ready to go, but other than that, it’s been quiet.

Last weekend, with the warmer weather, we made a proper jump forward though. We have a small bed set aside for herbs, but last year our herb crops were a bust. Other than a small sage shrub and a few terragon plants, that was pretty much it. Anything started from seed never managed to get started. My theory is that, unlike our mounded veg beds, this bed was ground-level and got too water logged to allow herbs to flourish. I saved a fair amount of scrap lumber from work projects and we constructed a raised herb bed.

Making a start

Making a start

We did look into making all our beds into raised beds, but we worked out that even with the cheapest lumber, it was going to set us back at least £400. We decided that we’d rather spend that kind of money on a second shed. Mounding the beds was a compromise, but has worked just as well. I’ll admit, having neat, tidy, perfectly sized and spaced beds appeals deeply to my sense of aesthetics, but such is life. I’ll just have to derive satisfaction from the tidiness of our herb garden instead.

End result.

End result.

This weekend is not so nearly ambitious, but I’m hoping to finish weeding out the last few beds and to get the plot looking it’s best. I might even give our recently donated BBQ a clean. If the weather continues as it does, we’ll be needing that soon.

Planting Plans: Beans & Fruiting Things

For most of the country, it would seem that winter has found its second wind (so to speak), but here in London it remains mild and rainy. I really should head out there and get some final jobs done, but am struggling to get the gumption to do so.

I haven’t been totally idle, seed potatoes are chitting away in the spare room, winter pruning of the fruit shrubs is already done and the seed packets are already organised by planting month. The sun is setting later and later in the day, before I know it, I’ll be back to visiting to the allotment after work again.

I can’t wait for those longer days and the crops that can only be had with some hot summer sun. We had some great success with dwarf and climbing beans last, even if the summer wasn’t the best. This year we’ll be growing Golddukat, a yellow dwarf French and a purple climbing French, Purple Cascade. Peas were less successful last year, reaching a mere three inches in height, but I’m determined to try again. We’re trying a English heritage variety, Champion of England. Originally developed in the 1840’s and nearly went extinct, but was in part saved by a family farm in Lincolnshire in the 1940’s. I’m hoping I can do the provenance of these seeds justice and grow them successfully.

I really do have my fingers crossed for some hotter weather this year, there are a few crops that I want to attempt again this year. Their lack of success, even utter failure was not just down to the weather. The fault in part to me not being diligent enough in keeping the crops safe from weather changes or pests. We’re determined to grow sweetcorn again and put up fortifications around it to stop the foxes from getting it again. This year we’re growing a bi-coloured variety, Double Standard. With it’s yellow and white kernels, it’s what I could call a Peaches and Cream variety, which is a very popular type back home. We had some success with cucumbers last year, just a few rather wonky looking ones, but they tasted fantastic. Even the chilli plants managed to cough out a couple of Jalapeños. I’ve ordered plants for this year though, I’m hoping they’ll be more robust than the ones I started from seed last year. Also being started from plants are the tomatoes; Sungold, Chocolate Cherry & Tropical Ruby. Last year, I started everything from seeds, but the plants were knocked flat by a sudden cold spell. Thought some recovered, blight struck just as the fruits were about to ripen up. I’m hoping by ordering plants, they’ll get off to a quicker start and fruit out before the inevitable blight gets them.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

The fruit cage remains more or less the same this year. The strawberries, which were planted last year, are filling out nicely and we’re hoping for more fruitful crops this year. I’ve pruned the gooseberry and current shrubs harder this year as they were getting very congested. I may have lost some fruit due to cutting back much of last year’s growth, but mildew was an issue last year. Really, I’m hoping the fruit cage will make the most difference  protecting what fruit we do get from the marauding wood pigeons. As someone said to me last year, “you don’t really realise how much you’re feeding to the birds until you put up a fruit cage.” My only addition to the fruit cage is a container grown blueberry. The container was left over from a planting job, which means I can plant it in lovely acidic ericaeous soil. It’s a novelty variety of blueberry, bright pink Pinkberry bought from Thompson & Morgan.

Novelty fruit or otherwise, I hope hot summer don’t become a novelty. The rain splattered windows today make it a little hard to imagine, but perhaps through our combined power of hopeful thinking, we can make it so!

Planting Plans: Root Veg

As the snow drifts past the window, it’s yet another weekend where I can’t do much with the allotment, other than dream of warmer days. I don’t need it to be tee shirt weather, just warm enough so I don’t have to Penguin Walk for twenty minutes on slippery pavement to get to the plot.

My weekends haven’t been completely idle, I’ve nearly finished watching the second season of Downton Abbey and have done rather a lot of seed and plant ordering online.

As things begin to arrive, I find myself sorting though and contemplating this year’s planned endeavours. The root vegetables are very possibly my favourites,  not just because they do so well for us, but because there’s such variety to be grown. Last year was really about finding out if we could grow anything at all. As we’ve managed to do that, I now find myself wanting to grow more things we couldn’t otherwise get or afford to buy on a regular basis. The next few posts will be all about our great Planting Plans.

Last year, due to the necessity of having to clear the plot first, we planted our garlic rather late in February. While we got a nice crop midsummer, the size of the bulbs left something to be desired. This year we planted in late October and already we have green shoots poking through. We bought a collection of bulbs from The Garlic Farm which included Elephant Garlic, Lautrec Wight, Iberian Wight and Tuscany Wight. I’m not sure if I’ll be 100% sold on the Elephant Garlic, as I like my garlic strong enough to blow your face off. We shall see.

Planting Garlic.

Planting Garlic.

We grew some rather boring, run-of-the-mill white onions last year. While their impressive size gained us some nods of approval at the allotment association’s annual show, they do take up a lot of space on the plot and are so easy to buy. This year, we’re going for flavour over size and are trying Red Gourmet shallots. Scott makes the best sausage and mash I have ever encountered, so some fried shallots would be a great addition to that.

This year our allotment will be orange carrot-free. Along with the very successful Purple Haze carrots we grew, we’ll be trying out Dragon Purple. I bought the Dragon Purple seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue. Hopefully, carrot fly will be less of an issue this year due to the purple colour throwing them into a state of confusion. Also, I’ll be better about netting the carrot seedlings.

Beetroot is another repeat crop, this year I’m trying Solo. A good friend has supplied me with a beetroot hummus recipe, which I really want to try out. The first crop last year did quite well, but the second crop never really got a chance to grow before the colder autumn weather set in. I’m determined to get a second crop this year, just have to make sure not to leave it so late.

New this year, it’s leeks and  parsnips. I’ll be growing Musselburgh leeks from young plants as I’ve had to accept starting masses of things in our tiny flat is just not feasible. Baby leek plants are one crop that will be ordered in this year.  I will be doing the parsnips from seed however, growing the traditional Tender & True variety.

Finally, the potatoes. Three different varieties this year which are Charlotte, Salad Blue and Highland Burgundy Red. Charlotte is a repeat for last year, as we grow masses of tarragon in the herb plot and we absolutely love French potato salad. Salad Blue and Highland Burgundy Red are coloured varieties, which will be a great cooking experiment. I’m hoping they will retain some colour, as the idea of blue and red chips makes me smile. It’ll also be an interesting experiment to see how these varieties deal with the ravages of blight, which are endemic on our allotment site.

Salad potatoes.

Salad potatoes.

So that’s just the root veg so far, there’s still the rest of the plot to go through. The brassicas are the next big contender, as many of them are still providing for us even now and we should really grow more of them. Then there’s the squashes and fruiting vegatables to consider, which is harder to think about at the moment. They’re such quintessential summer plants, but I still see the vision of them, even as I watch the snow fall.

Allotment-versary!

Well, Happy Allotment Anniversary to us!

If truth be told, this is a bit late as we actually broke ground one year and one month ago. However, I tend to think that we didn’t really get cracking until late November. It’s been an amazing transformation over the last year, I often found myself stepping back and admiring the view. Hard to believe what we started with a rather humble patch of land.

Weed clearing

Freshly cleared plot

I won’t lie, it was a lot of work. That’s also knowing that the plot had been decently worked over the previous few years, so it could have been much harder. I know most people would be daunted by this, but I know from my gardening job, you have to start somewhere. For me, I just try and tackle it in single chunks. This make the over all job far less daunting. The most important thing is to start somewhere. As the (slightly mistranslated) quote by Lao-tzu says;

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

By no means is this journey done, there’s so much more that we want to achieve. There’s even talk of a second shed and cold frame to go in. First, the rest of the winter tidy up needs doing, especially cleaning up the first shed. Still, it’s a nice feeling that the plot is more or less ready to go for next spring already.

In it’s summer glory

Looking good

I really do hope a few people see this post and feel inspired to tackle clearing out their own allotment. You will curse it, hate it, even think of giving up at times. Do persist, tackle one bit at a time. Con friends to help you, bribe them with wine if you have to. Just do it, the rewards will be all worth it. Then you can sit back and enjoy.

I have.

Ahhhh

Running Between the Rain

Oh goodness, this weather has just been, well, depressing. Along with numerous setbacks recently, either seedlings dying on me, weeds getting the better of me, everything has been just poo. It has been the first time I’ve really had doubts about this allotment lark. Thank goodness for other blogs and Twitter, I’m relieved to read I’m far from alone. At least I know it’s not entirely due to me being utterly useless…

Sadly the cucumbers, chillies, most of the squash seedlings and virtually all the tomatoes are gone. Yes, the wet weather didn’t help, but I mostly blame myself for these losses. My vague attempt at hardening off by leaving the kitchen window open day/night was clearly not enough. Also, my lack of protection when the weather turned for the worse didn’t help. I clearly need to invest in making cloches and mini-polytunnels. I also found myself browsing cold frame kits on eBay, though I’m a bit unsure where we’d put it…

Dead cucumber.

Our War on Weeds has finally been making progress. Armed with shears, forks and a grim determination, things are looking much tidier. Paths, ornamental beds and fruit cage are looking much better. We’re slowly getting the mounded beds cleared out and sown with seeds. Carrots, kale, cabbage, sprouting broccoli and pak choi are finally in the ground. I also finally remembered to mark the seed rows with string so I can find them later when the weeds make their inevitable come back!

Clearing beds

Sowing seed

Another setback, mainly due to a lack of weeding, has been the demise of our herb seedlings. Germination has been pretty disappointing anyway and the disappearance of the few seedlings I had, I just decided to clear out the bed and start again. If the seeds fail again, I think I may just resort to ordering plant plugs and going that route instead.

Round 2 of the Herb Bed

I bought a few more seeds and have more ordered, but today while the sun was shining, we headed down to do yet more weeding. My cousin Robert is visiting from Toronto and expressed great enthusiasm to go and visit the allotment. I took him for a quick tour and I wanted to do a quick weed through while we were there. Before I knew it, he’d nabbed some gloves from the shed and was helping weed the potatoes! Being a gardener himself, he was compelled to help with the weeding. Too bad he lives 3500 miles away…

Robert helping out

Robert’s encouragement and enthusiasm has given me a great push forward, which I dearly needed. So while the weather is better for now, I’m hoping to get back on track. Even when it turns back to rain, Wednesday apparently, I’ll continue to run out there and weed between the rain drops.

An Explosion of Activity

The recent rain has been keeping us off the plot for the most part, but as the rain has let up a bit recently we’ve managed to get a few things done. Simon was toiling away last weekend setting up the frame work for our fruit cage. We’ll be needing it soon as the currant bushes are already starting to set fruit! So far no bird damage, but I feel we’re operating on borrowed time here. In typical fashion, the netting I ordered off of eBay arrived as I was at the plot this morning. I’ll have to find so time in the upcoming week to collect it from the local Royal Mail depot and put it up next weekend.

Fruit cage.

It’s a thing of beauty.

Currants

Baby currants.

There’s also been an explosion of growth thanks to all the rain, mainly in the form of weeds. Scott and I are going away for the long weekend, so I took the day off work to get ready. In between doing the laundry and running errands, I naturally spent a couple of hours down at the plot. A full wheelbarrow load of weeds later, things were looking much tidier. The soil was still very moist, so I kept my efforts to removing the “biggies” like nettles, thistles and %#&^%&! bits of artichoke that insist on springing up everywhere.

Beds

Before: super tidy!

Beds 2

After: not so much.

Even through the curtain of weeds I can see lots of seedlings fighting their way though. Radishes are going strong, I just kind of wish I hadn’t packed so many in, as they’re getting really over crowded already. The beetroot and most of the herbs are coming along as well. I did have to lean right over the beds and peer at the soil surface from about two inches away. I kept thinking I was just looking at more weeds, but I could often just make out the long, deliberate line of seedlings. I even managed to keep my dignity by not falling face first into the wet soil. Leaning over the mounded beds with my backside in the air was undignified enough…

I’ve even managed to add a few decorative touches to the plot. The bee house got an added lick of paint and was made to match our shed, which was suggested by our flatmate, Lindsay. I think it was a stroke of genius and I love the little matching buildings.

Bee house

Looking rather spiffy.

I was doing a rather wet and muddy garden clearance on Thursday and we spent all day pulling masses of ivy off an old brick wall which was due to be torn down. Lots of rotten rubbish was uncovered, but I did find a lovely terracotta bust. Covered with ivy for years, I loved her rather rough looks and slipped her into an old compost bag and then into the back of my van. I just hated the idea of her being dumped into a skip, so she now resides by our herb patch. I’ll get some reclaimed bricks and give her a proper pedestal. Just need to come up with a name for her. I was thinking Matilda, but am open to suggestions. Any ideas?

Bust

Who could resist that cheeky smile?

Setbacks

So far I’ve been feeling rather pleased with how much progress we’ve made with the plot. From a mass of weeds, we’ve cleared and organised the plot amazingly. However, just to make sure I don’t start feeling too smug, there have been a few setbacks. Swings and roundabouts as they say.

I posted in mid-March about my Seed Anxiety, a worry that hasn’t really gone away and I imagine never really will. The sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seedlings I planted out have all succumbed to recent late frosts and hail storms. They had struggled on for a while but the torrential rain/hail in the last week may  have been the final blow. It was nearly the final blow for me as I got caught in it on Friday, which resulted in a rather soggy drive home.

The rain has also given the weeds and snails a lovely kickstart, which I think will need to be tackled today. I do have to admit though, when I made a quick visit yesterday to pick some more rhubarb, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Still, plenty to do nonetheless.

I also planted up my window box with lots of lovely herbs, but a naughty starling has discovered them recently. The little fecker has nearly annihilated my mint, one thyme and a sizeable chunk of my chives.  I caught the blighter early one morning as I was drinking some motivation (aka tea). I banged the window thinking that would be the end of it, but he’s been sighted more recently by my flatmate. Dawn raids seem to be the main tactic. I find it particularly irritating as we had a bird feeder out there for two years with no takers. Now that it’s gone, why suddenly start on my herbs!?

Thyme, Chives & Mint. @%$&%$!?!!

Mint. @^%#@^&^$!!

I’ve also noticed that my chilli and tomato seedlings, which started out really well, but seem to have “stalled” over the last couple of weeks. I’m assuming their growth naturally slows down as they get bigger, but any advice, input or reassurance from anyone would be very welcome.

Lovingly watched over by Sparkly!Jesus.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things these things aren’t all that bad, I’m fully aware there will be more to come. I pride myself in being a good problem solver, so I will directly plant out some more sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seeds. Hunt snails, weed and rake beds until my back hurts. Most of all, I’ll get up extra early and sit by the kitchen window boxes, armed with a sturdy broom.

Allotmentcation

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…”

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

The Finest Shed You Ever Did See

One benefit of working for a gardening company is that I have a steady supply of knackered tools. Bent forks, mangled spades and semi-toothless rakes are always available. Instead of throwing them out, I collect them knowing they can be put to good use on the allotment. Even that broom that’s shed all its bristles, I’ll save it for when we build our fire pit. I have a bit of a premonition this hoarding tendency may be my undoing…

Of course we needed to put up a shed to store all these “treasures.” I ordered a 3’x 6′ shed from Sheds World, which arrived in Ikea-like flat pack form, with a shockingly large bag of hardware. Scott, Simon and myself gathered together on a foggy Saturday morning in November to commence the Great Shed Build. There was some initial trouble, as we kept breaking drill bits trying to make pilot holes for the screws. Eventually brute force won out and we stopped bothering with pilot holes altogether. I know it’s a carpentry no-no if you want to avoid splitting the wood, but we were snapping bits at an alarming rate. We eventually managed to put it together without killing each other or smashing the shed into kindling.

The next morning, Scott and I started painting it. We splurged on the paint, going for The Cuprinol Garden Shades range. We could have gone for the ultra cheap house brand shed paint, but we wanted more colour choice than light brown, dark brown and green. In typical style, I went for the brightest colour they had, bright blue (Barleywood)…with a little pot of Country Cream for the trim.

I have to say, the final result is rather natty, it certainly makes the plot easy to find. In a sea of brown and green sheds, the bright blue clearly stands out. We got several nice compliments from neighbouring plot holders, although I did sense a bit of bemusement behind some of them. Maybe that was just me. I showed a photo of the shed to a co-worker and she declared it made the plot look “like it’s on Santorini or something.”

Maybe in the summer I’ll paint a design on it or something, or would that be too much?

Nah.

Video made by my wonderfully talented partner, Scott.