Tag Archives: Weeds

Picking Peas by Moonlight

August has been a busy month, clearly not due to extensive blogging, but gardening in general has been chugging along.Highly unusual for August but this has been quite the summer. I’ve been doing quite well keeping up with the plot, squeezing in time where and when I can. It’s work that’s eating up my time, my regular clients included but also a week was spent in Oxford installing thousands of plants in a new build project.

My usual routine in the week is to stop by the plot after work, do a bit of weeding and a lot of watering. Occasionally, harvesting as well. I always stop by there with the intent of being there for only an hour or so, but I often end up coming home as the sun is setting and find Scott has had dinner already. That’s always the way, isn’t it? I’ve actually resorted to setting a timer on my phone to keep track of time… I also use the limitation that I’m only allowed to weed three buckets worth/two beds/one wheelbarrow load of weeds maximum. I always cheat.

Early morning watering

Early morning watering

During the hottest weather, I went to the plot quite late in the evening. I found that watering at 6pm wasn’t doing much, as the beds would be nearly dry by the time I put the hose away. I figured the site would be very quiet, but it was surprisingly busy! I ended up coming home past 10pm at one point. Scott asked, “what took you so long?”

“Well, I watered everything, had a long chat with several people, then I started picking peas by the moonlight. It was great.”

Yummy peas.

Yummy peas.

Glory of the Fruit Cage

Another long overdue post, but we’ve been busy and summer has finally arrived. Working as a professional gardener has kept me extremely busy and I’ve been heading to the plot as much as I can to keep things ticking along there.

While there have been a few spits and spats of rain, my main job has been keeping everything watered. With the late start this spring, we have lots of seedlings and young plants coming along right now. We’re very much a month behind compared to last year, but I’m hopeful this warm weather will continue on.

One area of the allotment that’s blowing our socks off right now is the fruit cage. Despite the late start, all the plants are fruiting beautifully. Both the gooseberry and currant shrubs are laden with fruit. The raspberries are forming up nicely. Just having to keep up with trimming the grass in and around it really. For no other reason than keeping the b*****d slug and snail population in check.

Red currants colouring up nicely.

Red currants colouring up nicely.

By far the best has been the strawberries. We planted them very early spring last year and they have truly hit their stride this year. In the last week we’ve harvested about 4lb of strawberries and there’s plenty more coming along. Frantic weeding and a few pinches of slug pellets* has resulted in beautiful, lush berries, some of which never seem to make it back home…

Strawbs!

Strawbs!

We built the fruit cage last summer and it has truly paid dividends. Simon did a fantastic job building the frame work, it’s sturdy and has plenty of space to move around in. Which is especially important as I am rather freakishly tall. Getting the netting, bought cheaply on eBay, was a bit off a faff to get on. When I say faff, it means I ended up using language that would have made a sailor blush. I was chatting to someone late last year and she commented on the lovely new fruit cage, “it’s always worth putting in the effort to build one of those. You really have no idea how much of your crop is lost to the birds until you build one.” Wise, wise words.

Looking good.

Newly built fruit cage

 

*Apologies to those that oppose the use of slug pellets, but they do bloody work and I can’t bear to let all that hard work go into feeding and already exploding mollusc population.

Taking Our Chances

It’s been the coldest spring in thirty years, at least that’s what the gang on Springwatch say and, hey, they know best. So why do I feel like I’m running behind this spring?

I really didn’t do much during the early May long weekend, I pretty much worked the entire weekend. We spent a lovely weekend away the following weekend, then I worked the weekend after that… However, I was determined to get stuck in this long weekend. I would have spent the whole weekend on the allotment, but the bathroom mildew needed bleaching.

Still, enough moaning, Scott and I headed down today to plant out our tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The forecast is less than stellar for the next couple days, but the plants were starting to take over the flat. A few were started as plugs I had ordered and others as potted plants. I did do everything from seed last year, but these plants have gotten a far better start and are much more robust looking.However, I did lose several plants last year to the cold, so we’ve protected these as best we can. I really should build some sort of mobile polytunnel thing, but chopped up plastic pots and bottles will have to do for now. I will be making after-work visits to check on them!

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Good luck little plants.

We still need to continue our battle against the weeds. Despite the seemingly cold weather, the grass has been growing at an astounding rate. Simon whacked down a massive amount recently with a strimmer, which is great. I’ve already done the fruit cage once, but you wouldn’t know it looking at it today. We’re slowly working our way through clearing the beds and getting things into the ground. Plug plants are all in now, but there’s plenty of seeds that still need direct sowing. A few seedlings are making their way fine so far, but time is ticking on.

Before...

Before…

...and after.

…and after.

I really hope this slow start spring means we’ll be having a hot summer and autumn. If I can get the rest into the ground soon, warmer weather would mean catching up. Too much to ask of the British weather? I suspect so, but we continue on anyway and will just have to take our chances.

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:Ornamental Plants

I feel like I’m being quite lazy this spring, as it seem we haven’t spent much time on the plot this month. Of course, my decision to buy in many of my plants has meant our flat isn’t awash in tiny seedlings this year. Also, given the recent weather, I’m quite happy that there isn’t anything that urgently needs doing. It’s given me far more time to make plans and work on other parts of the plot. The most neglected section was probably the ornamental beds at the top of the plot and this year I’m determined to make something of them.

Last year we cleared the top area and moved the raspberry canes down into the fruit cage. These beds are right next to the access road that cuts through the allotment site and is quite close to the main gates. We get lots of passers-by,  and lots of hellos as well, but in years past Simon noticed that these raspberry plants never produced fruit. We had a slight hunch that fruit theft wasn’t entirely down to birds, so we decided to move the more tempting fruit to the far end of our plot.

The first stages of clearing the ornamental beds.

The first stages of clearing the ornamental beds last winter.

 

In the late autumn, we planted spring bulbs galore and have done so again last autumn. The daffodils from the first year have returned in abundance, as daffodils often do. The tulips last spring were a bit stunted, so this year I’ve mulched the beds with our lovely compost we produced. The trial beds of tulips are coming on well too, I do love having fresh cut flowers in the house when ever possible, especially in the early spring.

Fresh Daffodils in the house.

Fresh Daffodils in the house.

Last year by the summer however, the beds had become a fairly weedy mess. Other than the sunflowers and sweet peas, the beds we’re really not looking like much. I had attempted to sow some wild flower seeds, but they never really took. So in the autumn, I cleared most things out in an attempt to start over and added a few perennials such as Japanese anemones and coreopsis. I’ll likely add more and include some annuals such as cosmos and corn flowers later in the early summer.

While I’m mainly after cut flowers, I can’t possibly use everything and the excess flowers will left to attract bees and other pollinators. We did have an enormous comfrey plant in one bed, which did an amazing job attracting bees. Sadly, it also did a stupendous job at protecting and feeding hundreds of slugs. So I’ve dug it out and will replace it with something else. As  I’ve also ordered some summer bulbs of dahlias and species lilies, which will need to be planted soon, they likely take up that space happily.

I’m not really planting with any real design, which is a bit of a departure from what I do all the time in my job. With this little patch of ground I can plant what I like and where I like, no client imposing any limitations on me. I find it quite liberating to plant like that and I imagine some interesting combinations will come out of it. I’m hoping I’ll finally make something of it, even without a absolute “plan.”

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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

Autumn Tidy

The days are getting shorter, the mornings nippy-er and I’m feeling sleepy-er. Must be the oncoming winter, that or I just need to get to bed earlier.

However, the recent cold nights have put an end to many things at the allotment. We’ve harvested the last of the squashes, courgettes, onion and summer carrots. The faded plants are cleared out and the beds weeded one last time. It’s a happy time weeding, knowing that when we come back in a week, the beds are still weed free!

Happy Pumpkin.

Happy harvester.

With the fridge and freezer packed with of lots of lovely veg, there’s still more to come off the plot. Our late sowing of carrots is looking fine and I’m hoping they’ll supply us for the next couple of months. Especially the purple ones, my favourite by far.

Final carrot crop of the year.

The winter crop of kale, sprouting broccoli and winter cabbage is looking good and safely netted to keep the marauding pigeons off. They got slightly hit  by white fly, but nothing to cause real concern. I have to confess, every time I look at that patch, I’m still stunned we started all that from just four little seed packets. Old hat to some people I’m sure, but I’m still basking in the allotment newbie glow of Actually Achieving Something From Seed.

Winter crops galore

I don’t really thing of this time of year as anything but harvesting, but there are things that we can get a head start on. For us, it was getting our garlic crop into the ground. This time last year, the plot was choked with weeds and all our efforts were just put to clearing it out. We planted garlic in late January and got a decent, albeit small crop. I’m hoping an early start will pay off by giving us larger bulbs to harvest next summer. Already looking forward to covering all our meals with lashings of stinky, tasty garlic.

Garlic in!

Normally, I tend to dread winter, but this year it’s such a different feeling. There’s still the slight sadness in seeing the lushness of the summer fade, but the anticipation for next year is already building. I’m looking forward to the cold winter days planning for next spring. Bring on the short days and nippy weather, I’ve got planning to do. In between all those wintertime naps of course.

Tempus Fugit

Time management is usually one of my better skills. The greatest exception seems to be when I set foot on the allotment. I often pop in on my way home from work to do some “quick” weeding. Three hours later, Scott is phoning me, wanting to know when I might be coming home.

I’ve taken to limiting my time by only allowing myself only one or two tasks at a time. If I am weeding I keep my time there in check by allowing myself one bucket load of weeds. If I have more time available, then one wheelbarrow load. Sticking to this proves difficult occasionally, as I often start the “just one more bed” technique.

Early morning start

I did recently allow myself a day without any time restriction. I packed a lunch and headed over to the plot at 7am. I’m quite used to early starts, as I often have to head to the New Covent Garden Flower Market in the wee hours before work. It was glorious, just me, some playful fox cubs and the mist. By the time people started to arrive, the temperature really began to rise, so I just took it easy and dead headed the sweet peas instead.

The TO DO list

I do have a touch of the OCD when it comes to organisation, as can be seen by the To Do whiteboard we have hanging up in the shed. A bit hard to see in the above photo, but the paper tacked on the cork board is our Veg Map to remind us of what variety is planted where. Sowing and planting dates also included…

It may seem a bit much, but it is interesting to see just how quick and slow some things are coming along. Timing really is everything when it comes to veg growing. My parents are flying over from Canada in early September and I really want the plot to be in peak production when they get here. I find myself urging the sweetcorn to hurry up and attempting to cajole the French beans to slow down a bit!

Grand harvest!

I’m amazed at how much we’ve done in less than a year and I’m looking forward to showing it to my parents in person. It’s been a mere nine months, we’re still very much on the steep learning curve and I’m already think of how to better use the plot next year. Getting things started earlier definitely has got to be part of that. Also, get myself a much bigger weeding bucket.

Feeling Fruity

Dare I write it down? Dare I even say it out loud?

I think we’re finally winning the War on Weeds. Now we haven’t won, but the plot is looking pretty tidy. I think this is primarily due to the super tidy I did in the fruit cage and it’s surrounds.

Having emerged from the sea of grass and waves of bind weed, I’m very proud of our fruit cage. My only regret is wishing that we had built it sooner. Recently I was stopped by a woman standing outside the allotment site, it turned out she once had a plot there a few years ago. She politely asked if she could be allowed in to have a look around. We had a great chat and she spent most of her time having a look over our plot. She gave a strong nod of approval to the bright blue shed, but most of her admiration was given to our fruit cage. “It’ll be the best investment you make. You don’t really get how much fruit you lose to the pigeons until you have a fruit cage. It’s so easy to just blame the weather, plants or yourself for poor crops.”

I think I understand what she was getting at. The netting went up pronto after I caught two wood pigeons sitting in our currant bushes in the midst of gluttonous abandon. Their one afternoon of snacking has meant we’ve gotten virtually no currants this summer.

This year’s currant crop: underwhelming

We planted two rows of strawberries this winter and they have been doing well. Lots of runners, which I’m trying to keep managed. We don’t have a huge amount of space for them, but I’d like to get a few offshoots to fill in a couple of gaps. As they are in their first year, we should really be picking off the flowers to stop them fruiting. This is to allow them to put their energy in growing, not fruiting. As much as we try to do things “right,” this is one aspect we’ve been a bit naughty with. The odd strawberry is such a treat, assuming the slugs don’t beat you to it first. There’s nothing more disappointing than spotting a glorious red strawberry, only to turn it over, only find it hollowed out and a happy fat slug smiling back at you. Okay, so they don’t actually smile back, but the way those beady little eyes look at you, they must be smiling in their own way.

Ripening strawberry, so far untouched!

The raspberries have been wonderfully abundant, I even got enough at one point to make home made raspberry ice cream. Mostly, at the end of a tough work session, I just pop into the fruit cage and announce loudly, “treat time!”

 

Raspberries galore

Next to the fruit cage is our patch for our rhubarb/asparagus bed. Initially, it was only rhubarb, but we were gifted with several asparagus crowns in the spring. Asparagus is one of my absolute favourite veggies, so I faced the dilemma of having to clear out some of the rhubarb to make room for it. I managed to gift two largish plants to our neighbour Tom, who has been enjoying them all summer. There’s still one big rhubarb crown that needs moving, but it’s also one of our best producers, so I’ve put off shifting it. I’ve decided that this winter, I’ll figure it out and re-jig things. We have too much rhubarb anyway, not enough asparagus!

Rhubarb & ‘Gus patch

 

So that’s that bit sorted, tomorrow I’ll get the ornamental area at the front weeded and done, then I can claim the victory over the weeds. I let you know how it goes.

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.