Archive | February, 2013

The pond is back

16 Feb

I had no yen to go to the allotment on Tuesday, so maybe my ardour is cooling already. This morning I had an alarm clock malfunction which meant I inadvertently got the entire house up at 6am. It was only when my oldest sat grumpily down at the table to eat breakfast that I realised it was still only 6.30, far too early! So by the time 9am came around it felt like it had already been a long day. That coupled with the fact we drank a bit of wine the night before meant I did not feel all clippity cloppity heading down the allotment. Whilst drinking the wine I found myself thinking oh God, I have to go back there, to that place and dig. That place where the only sweet thing going for it is the sound of bird song . But dig I did.

The first half hour crept by, not helped by obsessive watch-peeking and the promise of a ten o’clock tea break. I tried not to be put off by the fact the pond had reappeared despite emptying two sacks of sand and one sack of compost into it to aid drainage (pea shingle is the next thing to try apparently). After a slow start in which I mumbled many quiet expletives I did get back into it, the enthusiasm returned fuelled by the idea of growing your own. I finished our first row. Then I busied myself with hand pulling up weeds that have taken over the side of our plot as it dawned on me we are responsible for the upkeep of the edges as well as the muddy beds. Even though I swore to investigate how much petrol strimmers cost when returning home this simple untaxing task felt like a small reward after the digging of clay riddled heavy soil.

return of pond

It isn’t putting the fork in that’s hard, it’s the flipping it over I struggle with. I always have, on every single forkful of earth that I turn over, one resounding thought: thank God there are no witnesses to see my pathetic attempts at digging,  wobbling around in my stupid pink boots, I would surely be hastily disowned by the sisterhood. Pulling up weeds by hand is a doddle compared to that and every few minutes I get to amble to the makeshift bonfire area nearby that Tony and his mate use, which breaks the monotony. Anything you don’t want gets piled high and about once a week he sets light to it with gusto. He has accidentally torched the odd tree in his time during these impromptu bonfire sessions so if I could just wish for anything regarding the plot, along with the disappearance (for good this time)  of the pond, it would be that our shed were not quite so close to Tony’s bonfire pile.

Then I bumped into the man himself who told me I shouldn’t bother pulling up weeds by hand because when he rotovates the land he will chop all that down. It’s difficult because how do you say to someone kindly offering help, well come on then, hurry up. Either do it or don’t but stop tantalising me with the promise of your rotovator like some get-out-of-digging-for-free card every time we meet. Our conversation gave me the added bonus of making me feel almost guilty for continuing to pull up my weeds, as though this act alone showed a deep mistrust of his offers of help and why not? The offer was first made ten months before. I furtively continued to pull up my weeds for a few more minutes but I could already feel that short lived burst of enthusiasm eluding me once more. So I finally sat down to my reward flask of tea and listened to the bird song.

finished row

Our first finished bed (with pond!)

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Lost the hubby, gained a pear tree

10 Feb

Another morning cooped up with the kids, trying to cook a roast while they squabble and Ken gallantly digs a hole to plant a tree which may well, knowing us, die due to a planting error. But right now at least on our allotment we have our first planted living thing other than a weed – a pear tree. Oh the crumble making potential it might yield next year (or in five years?). Maybe one day I will eat a pear we have grown ourselves. There is another tree to plant – a morello cherry – but for now it is living in the shed, it’s roots wrapped in plastic. I need my co-parent back, we need to eat this roast and have a glass of well earned vino, so it can wait for another day. But if anyone tries to say our land is uncultivated we can now point to a living tree and say no look you are mistaken. At least until it dies!

apple tree

Our first planted thing!

Allotment widow

9 Feb

It’s all coming back to me now, why we never managed to get this baby up and running last year. Two words: the kids. My life is the usual haze of a busy family. Having a three and a four year old is often a barrel of laughs. It’s also gruelling, thankless, hard work. My brief respite has always come from escaping to work two days a week and from the weekends. My precious weekends where I have a co-parent on board to keep me company and sane. I sometimes escape to London and meet up with a friend,  visit a gallery or go for drinks. Escaping has offered some respite from the drag/drudge/nag that is walking to and from the kids’ school six times a day rain or shine, good mood or foul. To give up an escape from that drudgery is no small sacrifice.

I get a bit over zealous, about things, people and projects – always have burnt hot and cold and my current zeal for all things allotment based may well be short lived especially after a day like today. Saturdays are Ken’s day to take up the fork and dig, supposedly a nice escape for him from the cloying winter landscape that is two small kids cooped up for too long.

Such a great idea, cheaper than the gym! Fresh air a plenty, meet your local community, do your bit for the environment,  maybe even get some vegetables out of it too. The list of pros for having an allotment seem endless and yet there was always that one obvious big reason not to: where the hell do you find the time? How do you balance wanting to be with your partner and wanting to escape and knowing sometimes there are jobs that only he can do.

Like taking the oldest to her first (and probably last) ballet class this morning. I was left with the youngest, cooking, sticking the washing on, hanging it up, the usual crap chores that can drive you mental. We regroup for lunch and then I magnanimously say off you go then, go dig and bring back some fruit trees from Aldi. How hard can it be? How long can it take?

Within thirty minutes I was close to pleading with him to return. The youngest is playing up like only he can, the oldest is sulking because the youngest and his loud screams get all the attention. My great parenting solution is stick them in front of the telly, the weather is so bitter as to make even a trip to the park impossible. The trip to Aldi takes two hours and Ken digs for Scotland on the plot. The first bed is nearly finished and I tell myself it’s worth it, it will all be worth it in the end.

We now have a pear tree and a cherry tree – hurrah we have trees. It only took two hours and several moments of getting lost on anonymous roundabouts to find the nearest Aldi. One small fly in the ointment is they need to be planted soon, they are too big to carry, I don’t drive so it’s looking like I may well be an allotment widow again tomorrow.

Kens dig allotment

The reappearance of Tony

8 Feb

I’m not referring to Tony Blair’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show earlier this week, wearing his saintly guise as middle east envoy, offering advice to any political leader who might listen. No. This week another Tony reappeared – my erstwhile, hard working plot-neighbour. I met Tony last summer and he gave me advice on how best to sort out the plot and made kind offers about taking his rotovator to my land. I have been waiting ever since – perhaps I could even partly blame Tony for my lack of graft over the last ten months – I always hoped deep down Tony would sort it.

Ten months on, the land is far from rotovated and I imagined our plot-neighbours may soon be filing complaints about our unruly patch. My brother-in-law joked that the offer of the rotovator only came about because I wore pink wellies and then, on spotting Ken working the same plot, it evaporated into the cabbage patches.

But this week up he popped again or more accurately, from his perspective, up we popped after being AWOL for ten months. He came over and asked how it was going, he reissued the offer of taking his rotovator to my land. He even remembered part of my plan is to plant fruit trees and advised me where best to buy them (Aldi apparently sell fruit trees for four quid – good tip if you have an Aldi nearby).

Tony has eighteen rods (no idea what that is in normal measurements – it just means he has four times as much land to dig than I do) and he’s been tending his plot for twenty years. He now refuses to dig, having gone halves on a rotovator with his next plot neighbour, another affable bloke who simply chuckles every time he sees me. Tony calls everyone mate and tells me I just need to stick at it and soon he will rotovate my land for me.

I hope it happens but this time it didn’t make me throw my fork down and passively wait for assistance. I said that would be great, if you get the time and carried on digging.

Allotment fever

5 Feb

Firstly I have to confess, strange things have been happening to me since I last wrote. I have been busy online looking for solutions to my water logged corner (sand/horticultural grit applied liberally) and thinking what next to buy (another fork so we can both dig at the same time and lots of compost). On Sunday I was poring over my new bible – ‘Allotment, month by month’ which a friend at work, who does book people, had near press ganged me into buying last year when I only had seven quid left before pay day. It cost seven quid and so she made her sale. Now I see it as £7 well spent. I used it to plan my imagined future  plots, my crop rotation system, what I will plant this month and next. I went online to read Tim Dowling’s column in The Guardian only to find myself drawn to an article about whether to sow now or wait till March. Last night when I dreamt about cloches I knew I had the bug, I have been bitten and so the only place to go on this frosty, windy morning was back there to see what was happening.

Over the weekend Ken had got some sand and dug it into the soggy corner. He also bumped into the site manager and made himself known (hello, we hapless fools are back, digging, being ludicrously optimistic, please don’t evict us) and site manager said the best thing to do was simply turn the earth over. Don’t waste time pulling out cloddy clumps of weed, just turn it over.

sand added plot

 

Today I tried that method and it sped things up no end. The sand has worked wonders – my mini duck pond has morphed into what looks like wet concrete – not 100% sure if that is an improvement but it feels like progress. I dug and also did displacement tasks to break up the monotony of digging – never underestimate the pleasure of marking out lines with string (handily left in the shed we inherited from the last plot holders, spools of the stuff) as though by plotting out the beds they will almost dig themselves. And I covered a third of the plot with tarpaulin so it now looks a bit like everyone else’s , though not quite as flat. By the end of my two hour session I had almost dug a third of the first bed – which equals about a tenth of the digging to be done. I’ll try not to let that last sentence impinge on my naive enthusiasm.

tarpaulin plot

the whole plot

                                                                  The whole plot!

An idiot’s guide to mud

1 Feb

My life sometimes feels like a battle against mud. At this time of year even a quick visit to our local park takes ten minutes’ preparation as the wriggly kids are suited and booted. Then on arrival back home they have to be stripped of suits and boots before one of them comes charging into the living room spraying mud on my white sofa (in my defence it was the cheapest option although I do wonder how much I was in denial about parenthood when I bought it). When it comes to being house proud V hating cleaning it is always the latter that inspires me to guard against mud. So it could be questioned why someone so mud averse is coaxing more of the brown stuff into her life.

I guess the reason so many people sign up to an allotment and then have said allotment taken promptly away from them is the result of the imagined V reality. I imagine my allotment in a year or two’s time, all the hard work done, some fruit trees growing, providing shade for the kids as they sit working on their little plots, learning about the cycle of life. We have looked at what benches we might buy or perhaps a fetching metal bistro set, where we can sit after a hard days graft and sup a tea or a well deserved beer. I didn’t, rather unsurprisingly, sit around fantasising about all the hours I would spend digging in the rain getting muddy, getting backache, missing my quality me-time at home. I dug for an hour, a mere hour and my hands, jacket and trousers, two pairs of gloves and ancient festival-purchased pink wellies were all lathered in the stuff. The mud, so soggy and water logged is the land right now, swiftly soaked through whatever hand protection I put up against it and I now sport (perhaps evenly vaguely proudly) a workman’s thumb!

015

Over the hour’s dig I learnt how best to separate the clods of much needed earth from the tentacle like roots of grass and weeds that I am trying to clear – by hand, pulling lumps off, chucking them back into what now looks like a small pond with a big muddy splash. I learnt I am going to have get very muddy if this is to ever work – obvious I know but I thought you were given a perfect, level plot and then got on with the fun planting bit. I learnt that even though it’s splashy grotty gruelling work it is easier than our aborted attempts last summer when the clods were impenetrable and sun baked –  soggy mud has become my new best friend. And I did get a moment from my imagined allotment: after digging for an hour I cracked open my flask and had a biscuit and stood in complete knackered serenity. My mind the calmest it has been all week. We don’t have the money right now for that bistro table but I will furnish it with an old plastic chair from the garden, so that next time I can at least sit down and have my cuppa. When I think about that brief part of the morning I almost look forward to next Friday’s dig.

012

Return to the plot

1 Feb

So obviously setting up an optimistic blog four months ago did nothing to spur us on. We are still hapless allotment keepers, miraculously we have not yet (touch wood) been evicted. A couple of things have spurred me into action – the council contacted me to renew the plot. It reminded me of its existence. The last time I had been aware of its existence was way back in September 2012 when we made a drunken pledge to tend it every weekend. Not sure quite what got in the way – life, kids, work, the fact our house is a massive project in itself, one that seems to continually suck time, money and energy from us. So fast forward four months and I get a contract renewal email from the council with the stark message in bold uncultivated plots will be due for eviction. That was the first catalysis. It made me write allotment on every Friday and Saturday in my new 2013 diary to give me a visual reminder each week, as though to say: This thing exists, this thing needs your time. Then it snowed. So my first two weeks of optimistically allocated allotment time went out the window straight away. Then last week we watched a mind numbingly awful TV programme called ‘Allotment Wars’ about a load of competition obsessed nutters who poisoned each others water butts. This didn’t really speak to me but there was one normal bloke on it who had done two months of back breaking work (so far we have clocked up five hours max!) and then he took off two weeks (we have been absent for months at a time) and he got evicted. It was like a clarion call to me to sort my shit out: use this plot or lose it. So on Sunday Ken headed down there to inspect. He pulled up weeds until it turned dark. Then today in the rain, it was my turn. My three hours without my youngest child are so precious. I get home, switch on my laptop, write, drink tea, pretend I have a bit of sanity in my life. To leave that and trudge down to a rainy overgrown untended allotment plot was an arduous test of will power. And will power has never been one of my strengths. But today I went. It is the first time I have gone there and actually done some work. The first twenty minutes I just looked and looked and said shit, a lot. No idea where to even start. Then I picked up a fork and started in a corner, an hour later, it is but a drop in the ocean to all the digging we need to do but I can at least say, today I made a start.

2013-02-01 09.44.222013-02-01 10.54.07

              Before!                                                        One hour later!