Archive | April, 2013

The art of weeding

28 Apr

The biggest challenge of this blog is how to keep coming up with readable angles to what we are doing. Essentially I go to the  plot, spend two and half hours doubled over pulling out weeds and then I walk home again. It is slow and gruelling work and it really isn’t that comment worthy!

Spraying a couple of parts of the plot with weed killer provided a nice change of angle but it also induced the first repetitive strain injury I have endured since starting the plot. I also got a bit zealous with my overstretch on Friday as I weeded by hand and so by Friday night I felt a bit tired and a bit sore. Couple with that a massive temper tantrum from both of my kids at school pick up over the fact some other child nearby had a lolly and I (heartless cruel mother that I am) didn’t have a pocketful of lollies meant that come 7pm Friday night it was most definitely wine o’clock.

I was still aching yesterday and so a day off from the plot seemed long overdue. I escaped to London as I do every few weeks to meet up with one friend or another. Yesterday it was my old friend who is currently slogging through an Open University degree and had been writing about Benin art – let’s go and see it at the British Museum, she said. So we did and much catching up took place between the beautiful brass sculptures.

benin art

The Brits pilfered these from Benin in the 18th century

Today back at the plot there was more spraying of weed killer as it’s a dry day and – I am learning – it’s good to do these things on dry days. My wrists groaned as I gave them more strain. I don’t think I would have been quite so zealous but I had my favourite in-law staying and so suddenly, even though he is lovely, the house felt small and I needed to escape. Perhaps that is another plus point of having an allotment – there will always be a good excuse to get out of the house, like having a dog to walk but without the messy business of a pooper scoop.

Could I notice the difference from Thursday to now on the weed killer soaked patch? It’s definitely looking more yellow  and I am guessing yellow is a good stage on the path to no weeds.

half way there

Signs of yellowing weeds.

The battle of the weed field

25 Apr

The highs of the weekend have been swiftly replaced with a  heavy dose of reality. My friend’s tomato seedlings I diligently planted withered and died on day two. The bark chip path is sprouting more weeds than I thought possible and my garlic patch that I weeded so carefully only a week or so ago is now covered in more weeds.

weeds V bark chip

They just won’t go away!

One surprising thing I learnt recently in all the Thatcher furore was that it’s almost 28 years since the battle of the bean field.  While I cannot claim my own battle against weeds is anywhere near as epic or news worthy I do feel that calling it a battle is not an exaggeration. I have mentioned before – they come back. When I mentioned this to plot neighbours several explained to me how some of the weeds I am battling against actually work.

This is useful because in war it’s always good to know your enemy. What I didn’t know is that some of the bushy grassy like weeds send out underground shooters that then pop up in your freshly cleared vegetable plot. No wonder it’s felt like such an uphill struggle. No sooner have we cleared an area, turn our backs for three days and they are back. They have underground pathways we knew nothing about. When I lamented this to another plot neighbour he said ‘If I were you’ and to be fair an awful lot of sentences start like that down on the allotment, ‘I’d just spray the whole lot with round up and have done with it.’

If there’s anyone out there who has been with this blog from the start they will know that ‘to round up or not round up’ was our first allotment ethical dilemma when we had weeds four foot high. We’ve opted not to again and again because I wanted an organic plot more than anything else back then.

So it’s with a fairly weighty heart that I report today I spent my time buying and spraying weed killer. I got one that bio degrades and is safe to plant on in forty days. We are using it only on the bit that will become a herb garden and on the third still un-dug bed which currently is pushing up the membrane with untameable weeds and sending out underground shooters to all our semi weed free beds. We have no plans to plant anything on that bed for a year so I figured it has to be done as there just is not enough time to do it all by hand and those weeds just keep coming back.

herb garden befroe weedkiller

The area  that will one day become a herb garden, before being sprayed with the dreaded weed killer!

The bark chip didn’t work as a weed suppressant, ditto membrane on the un-dug section – it’s still so uneven the light can get in, nurturing the weeds and keeping them alive. According to plot neighbours there is an annual plot inspection in six weeks time in which letters of warnings maybe issued at the merest hint of a weed on your patch. So for time impoverished people like us this felt like the only realistic solution.

Of course as I sprayed part of me thought this is so typical us, doing it once things have been planted, hoping the wind doesn’t carry it onto my veg patch so it kills stuff I actually want to grow. Had I known we would end up doing this I would have just done it last year but then this is a voyage of discovery and I knew nothing last year, I know only a little bit more now. And will it actually work after all this dilemma-ing? As always with the allotment: time will tell.

Best day at the plot ever!

20 Apr

The plot did not work it’s magical hangover cure thang for me today, I had to rely on a bacon butty to do that. But being there certainly blew away the cobwebs. At the risk of sounding like a total Tory (believe me I am not!) we had friends round for a kitchen supper last night. I prefer this label to ‘dinner’ because it lowers the expectations, like having a gathering rather than a party. The evening is a tad hazy but I do remember going on about pulling up weeds with roots the size of turnips a few too many times for comfort!

weed root

Roots the size of a turnip!

I was determined that going to bed at 3am would not stop us doing the mother of all digs. First we had to go to the pound shop, on a Saturday, with two children under five in tow and a throbbing head. You can imagine it was a thoroughly wonderful shopping experience. The kids took some pocket money and chose things to play with whilst on the plot (trowels, watering cans, a bug collecting kit, an ornate windmill) while we focused on getting bamboo edging (a metre for a quid, what’s not to love about that?).

Once at the plot it was not the most productive day ever. Ken weeded and prepared raised bed number two for planting, I stopped the kids from squashing the garlic. I taught them how to water plants and we sowed two rows of carrots. It was slow going and sometimes it hurt my head as I continually had to yell ‘walk on the bark chip, the bark chip is the path,’ but the kids loved it. They played around with mud and watered lots of things, they collected two worms without killing them. They collected stones as well – an easy and quite useful task they can actually do very efficiently I discovered. And working with B when the boys went to get sandwiches was much easier than trying to do anything constructive with both of them. By the time we had planted two rows of carrots B was using the word dibber as though a gardener herself.

watering

I don’t really know what I’m doing but  I try to convincingly teach my daughter, B, the basics!

We even had our first visitors with kids – so at one point there were four kids nearly squashing my garlic! But it was lovely, to feel that we can now start showing people what we have done rather than feel guilty about not doing anything with the plot. Our friends who visited brought with them some baby tomato plants and we did a swap for some of my left over seed potatoes – see I  even barter these days. As the raised bed was all ready to plant I planted the tomato plants in raised bed number two and covered them with my pound shop cloche for added protection.

raised bed planted

Raised bed number two – starting to look a bit proper!

We ended up staying there the whole day – the kids had lunch and dinner there and I felt happy even though a tad jaded from the night before. It felt a little like it’s all coming together after months of bad weather and hard graft but I wouldn’t want to jinx it.

No hablo gardener’s-speak!

17 Apr

Now that I have entered the allotment world I often feel I should be enrolling in an Entry level course in gardener’s-speak. I have checked the websites of several local adult community colleges and so far none seem to offer the course I require. So in the meantime I’ll just have to muddle by until I become fluent. My lack of linguistic prowess was highlighted today when I met another of my plot neighbours, a lovely woman who was refreshingly not a retiree. Don’t get me wrong retirees are great but they often forget what it’s like to have things called jobs which means I cannot tinker on a daily basis.

garlic patch before weeding

Before I attacked the weeds.

I had taken it upon myself to weed my garlic patch. Now that I know those babies are actually growing I figured they need some attention. I decided I would pretend to be my perfectionist hubby for the morning. None of this racing around, setting myself six impossible tasks. Today I would do one task and merely not botch it for a change.  The patch is about six foot by three foot and incorporates some dormant shallots as well as garlic. It was a boring, laborious task that really made me realise why so many people shudder when I mention that I have an allotment. People get pleasure from weeding apparently. It was mindless and yet strangely mindful, there was nothing but me and the weeds for more than two hours.

garlic patch after weeding

Yes it took me nearly three hours to achieve this!

My newly acquainted plot neighbour was a welcome distraction from the boring task. We moaned about the clay like soil and the crap drainage that our plots both share. She also has a pond which she has turned into an actual pond. When she saw me weeding she switched into gardener’s-speak. ‘Just make sure you take out all the perennial weeds’, she said. Perennial in non-gardener’s speak means year round. ‘And those ones there, take out their tubers and they won’t come back’. Tubers I discover when asking for a bit more clarification, as anyone should when learning a new language, in non-gardener’s speak equals roots. Once I knew this the task became easier, I realised just pulling up the green bits wasn’t enough. I went burying around in the dirt looking for tubers, feeling a wave of satisfaction when I found them. There! I just used the word tubers without even thinking, maybe I don’t need that course in gardener’s-speak after all!

I have a lodger

15 Apr

mouse nest

It seems I have a lodger in the shed we inherited from whoever had the plot before us. I walked in to see a moving body scurry away from my pink wellies and I let out a girly squeal, thank God no one was around to witness it. It looked like a fat mouse or a baby rat, I’m sticking with the fat mouse version as it makes me feel less scared. I cautiously took my wellies out to put them on, pulled out my allotment socks and lo – the little varmint had started turning them into its nest. Four new holes had been nibbled into the old socks and it had even started lining them with straw from an outside source as though my socks were not quite soft enough for its tastes.

garlic sprouting

Once I got over the shock I discovered there was both good and bad news on the allotment. First the bad news – bark chip does not fully suppress weeds. I tipped a load more onto fruit corner during my last visit and the weeds seem to have doubled. I may now have to demote bark chips from being my new best friend. Can I sue the garden centre where we bought them I wonder for trade misrepresentation? Or did I not read the small print which says first remove all weeds. Probably the latter. But the good news is my garlic is sprouting. I planted it when I thought spring had sprung in March, they have been snowed on three times since that fateful seasonal miscalculation. Garlic is nothing if not hardy I discover which is a pleasant surprise. There is something even my cack-handed gardening and the brutal British weather cannot kill off.

My potatoe patch

I had a lovely two hour visit today. after removing the straw from my socks and checking for further mice in the toes of my wellies I planted out my potatoes and then watered all plants I optimistically think might grow and then, really exciting, I planted some tomatoes and cucumber seeds and left them in my mini, pound shop propagator. This was all topped off by the most chilled out cup of tea I will have this week. I do however wonder how much of my socks will be left for the next time I visit.

Raised beds, the final chapter (for now)!

10 Apr

My husband has taken to the world of DIY as though he has always secretly dreamed of being a man about the house who tinkers and improves. All those years of being a slacker renter like me who appeared to not even know how to change a washer and who knew? Under his mellow urban surface was he secretly wishing he could buy many power tools and take on a project.

The house we bought last year is quite a project in itself. At first sorting the house out to make it liveable and mowing the lawn was all we could collectively manage (alongside holding down jobs, looking after toddlers and having the occasional moment that felt like a life). But now I can sense he is keen for new projects as though on moving out of London he has caught the bug that all the men in both our families seem to share, the you-can-never-have-enough-projects bug. I have to say I am also partial to this bug myself but I have been trying to wean myself off having too much on my plate since the kids came along.

The first half of his time off over Easter and the weather was conspiring against all things plot related but this week he has been playing catch up. I have been looking after the kids while he slips off to the plot. I think the fact being with two young kids twenty four seven with no exit labelled ‘work’ may have as much to do with his enthusiasm but he also really wanted to sort these raised beds out. And he has, he even took our son down there while he finished the job off after lunch. A few worms paid with their lives but by all accounts it was a pleasant outing and we now have two raised beds awaiting filling and planting and vegetable action!

2 raised beds

It’s a small, humble start towards allotment glory and it is most definitely all we can afford this year but I cannot wait to go there next week and get planting at last!

Raised beds, chapter two

8 Apr

This was the day we were meant to have last Thursday. Glorious sunshine, warm temperatures, a real feel of spring having finally sprung. My mum had offered a second chance to go to the allotment without the kids and so this morning we tried to cram as much as we could into a near three hour visit. It is the best trip to the allotment I have ever had mainly because I did not shiver once and could feel my toes for the entirety of the trip. But also having the hubby there to chat to broke up the gardening monotony. I love the peace and the solitude of my Friday morning term time digs but this is the first time we have actually gone there together for any length of time and so it made a nice change to chat and drink tea with my partner in crime.

I pictured us as OAPs, retired, still tending our plots when the kids have hopefully grown up. It made me smile and think I am living in a cheerier Mike Leigh film.

In between tea and chat I planted my first two fruit bushes – a blueberry and a gooseberry. Once they were planted I continued Dutch hoeing the bed where I plan to plant potatoes. I got down on my hands and knees and pulled out any pesky remaining weeds, well some of them. Those buggers seem endless. I fill a whole plastic bag of weeds and try to spot the difference but it still looks as abundant with weeds as ever.

blueberry plant

gooseberry plant

Fruit bushes!

Ken meanwhile drilled and built the first of our raised beds. He meticulously weeded the little area within it, the temptation to cover it in compost and hope for the best was strong but luckily he is in charge of raised beds so maybe they will fair better than my botched attempts at growing shallots and garlic – currently surrounded by weeds. The end result was impressive and after a hasty lunch with my mum we headed back down there with the kids.

raised bed 1

Our first raised bed!

This was a historic day as we have sworn we wouldn’t risk taking the kids down there until the work has calmed down, less heavy digging more pleasant planting and watering to keep them (at 3 and 4 years old) entertained. But with the forecast for rain for the next three days it seemed a bit of a now or never (this holiday at least) situation. They sat on their blanket for a few minutes, enjoyed making mud pies, enjoyed bugging me before I sent them to bug Ken instead and then he sent them back to me and so it went for two hours. It was lovely and a real light at the end of the tunnel moment, soon they will come down regularly and soon things on the allotment will be ticking over. Perhaps I am deluding myself, in a way hopefully so because if that is the case I am not sure what I will have to write about!