Archive | May, 2013

A mindful gardener

29 May

I have mentioned before that I used to be someone who takes far too much on. Anyone who knows me will be able to testify that I have, over the years, been a bit of a compulsive course-takerer. Life long learning has always been my thing, it’s not just an empty phrase on my CV, it’s actually true.

But that all changed when my youngest was born. I handed in my dissertation for my Masters when he was two weeks old and then put the lid on my course taking days. Give or take the odd course in medieval outcasts and one very enjoyable recent-ish creative writing class I have not done any courses for a couple of years. Maybe I was suffering course withdrawal symptoms which saw me flicking through the Guardian one day a few months ago, wondering what new challenge might come my way, when I spotted an article about the Mindfulness in Schools programme.

It really grabbed me in a way that nothing, bar the allotment, has for a very long while. I started investigating and tentatively signed up to do the teach.b course based on the fact I have been meditating for many years, though this has sometimes been patchy I am more committed since having kids. The exciting news is I have now been accepted onto the course that will allow me to teach mindfulness in schools and other institutions. It feels the right time to think about retraining, having another string to my bow to go alongside my community education work.

Today I had two hours on my showery plot. I had planned longer but I slept till 11am and then had a mindful breakfast followed by a mindful cup of tea which basically consists of not doing anything else while consuming and noticing that you are actually drinking tea. Multi tasking is the enemy of mindfulness, which is a shame because without multi tasking I am not quite sure how the kids will ever get to school on time again. I did my mindfulness practice and squeezed in some yoga so when I picked up a fork at 1 o’clock today I was seriously the most chilled out gardener who has ever dug that plot. Admittedly in this weather I was also the only gardener on the plot.

Planting rasied bed 1

Raised bed 1, weed free and being planted

I bark chipped my new path. I weeded raised bed 1 before finally planting the courgettes, tomatoes and cucumbers that my uncle gave me, alongside the few seedlings I have grown myself that have survived. It’s starting to look a little bit like some of the other plots nearby, less wild and untamed and more orderly and calm. A lot like my mind although how I fit in my practice, work and lesson planning tomorrow, around the grocery shop and entertaining the kids for a full-on half-term day is yet another of life’s interesting philosophical conundrums.

bark chip path raised beds n herb gdn

Starting to take shape and look less weedy!


Birds, bugs and slugs

23 May

At the allotment things keep changing, growing, rotting, thriving or going bad. It’s impossible – for me at least – to predict what might still be there each time I visit.

I thought when you planted something it either grew or it didn’t and if it grew that was it you would have some food at some distant later stage. But nature isn’t as simple or as nurturing as we might like to think. Weeds are not my only foes, there is the wind. Man it gets biting up there. It has blown away every single flower from our apple tree, which means no apples this year. I was warned, my more knowledgeable plot neighbours said cover it in net curtains but on an ever expanding list of things to do and buy it got overlooked and now we’ll have no apples till next year.

I have also been told that apparently birds like to eat brassicas and that slugs will strip a potato plant overnight, so I decided I needed to take action. My previously healthy looking seedlings were starting to look very tired and pot bound. I expected to plant them ages ago but with frosts still ever present I have postponed. Then today I realised they are dying anyway, all that work, that nurturing and then they go and die on you. So I planted them thinking better to take a chance than watch them shrivel and die. As I planted them out at last in raised bed 2 my face was hit by hail stones, the second hail deluge of the morning so it doesn’t bode well for them.

slug proofed pots

Slug proofed potatoes

Once I planted my home grown Brussels and lettuce plants I decided to barricade them and any other plants against slugs using some sprinkly stuff I bought from the pound shop. The box did not last long so I had plenty of time to reinforce my scarecrows by adding another bamboo stick with an upside down bottle on it. No idea why but every one of my neighbours seem to use such contraptions so I thought I would give it a go too.

raised bed with brussels

Raised bed planted and possibly slug & bird proof

Now if my plants are stripped to the root by slugs or pecked into oblivion by birds I can say I tried, half heartedly at least, to protect them.

Membrane city

19 May

I missed my time at the plot on Friday even though I knew it would have been yet another tedious slow session of pulling up weeds. The kids had succumbed to a sickness bug and we were all rather stir crazy by the end of the day. So on Saturday I was raring to get back to the plot and escape the house. I went twice yesterday, coming back for lunch cooked by the hubby and setting off in earnest in the afternoon. My philosophy at the moment is if you can go then go because so often something gets in the way. Like today when I realised I could not clean the bathroom, cook a roast, do some bits for work and look after the kids while the hubby mows the lawn and also cram in a trip to the plot. Every now and then it dawns on me that we have a regular garden to tend and a drippy cistern and various other bits of DIY that still need doing and then I remember why the plot lay dormant all of last year – there just wasn’t the time.

It felt like my time had been well spent in my double visit yesterday but when I looked at the photos it looks like all I ever do is just cover more bits of the plot in membrane.

Being dyslexic doesn’t help when I am trying to describe what I am doing on the plot. Invariably I will call the membrane tarpaulin and then tarpaulin morphs into tarmac. As most dyslexics can testify, being dyslexic often involves other people rolling their eyes when you mispronounce a word or use the wrong word in a well known phrase. They think it means you are thick or ill educated. I have had this my whole life so when I finally had confirmation in black and white that I am dyslexic five years ago (they didn’t really test for such things in 1980s comprehensives in Essex) it felt more a relief than a shock.

It’s all to do with the way brain processes and recalls information. Membrane becomes tarpaulin because the actual product looks fairly similar and membrane is not a word my brain often uses and from there it is an easy leap to tarmac which sounds similar. I now understand why my brain makes these slips but that doesn’t make it any easier for the listener, who might now be shocked or confused to hear I am planning on tarmacking  a big wodge of my plot.

To clarify then I now have an almost finished path with membrane – not tarmac – and a flower border.

pathway nearly complete

More membrane!

My youngest has the beginnings of his plot – a rather wonky affair that almost forced Ken to dust off his spirit level when he saw it and redo my efforts. I don’t get gardeners and this straight line malarkey, what’s wrong with the ramshackle rickety look?

start of dyalns plot

A wonky future vegetable patch!

Oh and while digging this new little bed I found the mother of all weed roots. It probably literally is the mother of all the thistles on our plot. It was a huge woody thing that looked like it was part of a tree trunk and had off shoots going hither and thither, one measured about five foot long which I chased underground to find this woody mother ship. No idea how to remove it I sprayed it with weed killer and hoped for the best.

massive thistle root

An unmovable thistle root.

On an exciting note (there needs to be one really) as I sat contemplating how best to deal with this huge root I smelt smoke and looked up and realised the plot over the path that has lain empty for over a year has finally got it’s beehive as promised by all the surrounding plot keepers. The bee man had come to smoke out some honey. I can’t wait to see if he sells some jars!

bee keeper

Bee keeping !

So really it was five hours well spent. Fruit corner has clearly not been weeded for years and even though my little effort was a mere drop in the ocean it was a start. Oh and I left with more membrane covering the plot than ever before.

Making pathways

16 May

I have been digging a path during my last few visits to the allotment.  As mentioned before, a lot of the work on the allotment is tedious and repetitive – I often have weeds imprinted on my mind’s eye akin to when I went on student forays into fruit picking, at night all I could see was strawberries. A mental image of strawberries is definitely preferable to the gnarly roots of decade old perennial weeds for that much I can vouch.

path halfway through

What the path looked like this morning – halfway there.

As one project takes over everything else gets shoved to the edges. I have been wanting to plant the seedlings I have grown myself but haven’t yet got around to it. Ditto the healthy robust looking ones my uncle gave me. The weather has been so erratic it may not be such a bad thing, delaying their debut into the actual earth by a few more weeks may save them from frost but still, I haven’t planted anything for at least a week and that makes me impatient and slightly bored with the whole hand weeding malarkey.

seedling trays

Brussels sprouts and lettuce plants I have grown from seed!

Often after a visit to the plot I am lost for what to write about. There was that lost opportunity last week when I came face to face with a majestic fox but didn’t get a photo of her. I have seen a few urban foxes in my time and compared to her mangy town cousins this was a proper fox, healthy fur, bushy tail, dazzlingly red. I didn’t want to startle her by taking pictures so I just watched and lamented what a great post it might have made.

Today I finished digging and weeding the pathway that will divide the raised beds from the potato bed. The path is so wide I may even plant some flowers as an artistic and rather unnecessary flourish. I wouldn’t write anything daft like all I need to do now is level it off but I am almost ready to cover it over and move onto another untamed part of the plot, good old fruit corner which has been much neglected for weeks. Neglect on the allotment is foolish, any area left for too long will fall under yet another assault from those ever tenacious weeds.

path almost done

Spot the difference? Two hours later the path is almost ready.

This afternoon as I juggled giving my youngest his lunch and coordinating a grocery delivery the phone rang. It was my eldest’s teacher saying she had been sick and needed picking up. The teacher cheerfully told me my eldest was number 14 from the foundation stage to be sent home with this contagious bug. As I walked the all too familiar path to the school it hit me with a jolt that 48 hours off school for my daughter equals no allotment time for me tomorrow. When this thought made me sigh rather than feel mild relief as it would’ve done a few months ago, I knew I had succumbed to a contagion myself, perhaps I’ll call it an allotment bug.

If at first you don’t succeed..

12 May

…send in the hubby to finish off the job. As a radical feminist it gives me no pleasure in writing that believe me but this blog is nothing if not honest. I admitted defeat on levelling herb garden. I told Ken it was just going to have to stay lumpy and he gallantly stepped in, offering his help. He uncovered the earth, pulled out my bits of scrunched up newspaper, probably whilst shaking his head at the absurdity of the idea. And then he set to work.

Herb garden with fork

Ken sorts out my botching!

After two hours of still more clod breaking it passed the walking-over-it challenge. We had a regrouping lunch and then I set to off to finally set up and plant the beginnings of herb garden. If I had known how long it would take to get a tiny corner of our plot simply flat enough to balance an upside down palate on without being a health and safety issue I probably wouldn’t have bothered. To be honest I don’t even like  herbs that much.

But on the allotment I have found a new dogged side to myself, once I get set on an idea I find it hard to let go. We have dubbed that tiny corner ‘herb garden’ so herb garden it must become. The actual setting up took all of half an hour once the ground was finally levelled and covered. There’s plenty of room around the palate so container growing will probably be another thing to do on that space or maybe it’s a good patch for some rhubarb.

herb garden has been started

Herb garden has begun at last!

Whilst there today I met plot neighbours I haven’t met before, people with children who listen to radio 4 and a grandfather and grandson duo who reminded me of us a year ago. They looked at the untamed mass of their recently acquired plot with fear and said ‘not quite sure what we do.’ Laying no claim to being an expert I shared what nuggets I could. I said ‘We have chipped away at our own untamed beast by hand for a year and look, it’s still only half done. If I were you mate, I would hire a rotavator, that will probably sort it in three hours.’

All it needs is leveling…

10 May

If ever there was a careless throw away phrase not to use about an allotment perhaps ‘all it needs is leveling’ would be it. I thought yesterday was the day of hard graft, the day when I broke the back of getting our herb garden, as it might one day be, ready for covering and planting but no. It didn’t quite work like that.

I spent last night flicking through a book Ken’s work mates had got him for his birthday present – ‘The practical allotment’. You couldn’t buy a better book because it’s basically outdoors DIY with ambitious projects such as fixing a solar panel to your shed. As I tried to reign him in with muttered platitudes of maybe next year I did notice a few handy tips hidden in a book of big projects. Tips like using old newspaper for mulch.

I of course then adapted this tip thinking I could perhaps fill all the gaps in herb garden with scrunched up bits of newspaper to level it off. Ken looked dubious, he knows one of my botchy plans when he sees it. Undeterred this morning I went with a bag of old newspapers prepared to do battle and get leveling because this is, after all, the ‘by any means possible’ school of gardening.

There was the usual stuff to do when I arrived – watering, looking for propagator lids that have blown away in the strong winds. My bird scarers had also vanished in the wind, I realised whenever I leave the place I don’t know what I will come back to. As a plot neighbour told me brassicas (gardeners speak for broccoli et al) attract birds I set about replacing them straight away.

bird scarer

Tin foil dishes on canes to (hopefully) scare off birds.

Once I started tackling herb garden I soon realised short of having about three tons of newspapers this was not the magic solution I hoped for. There was no avoiding the dutch hoe, the big digging fork, the small hand fork and my stinking rubber gloves today.

I watered the ground again, chiseled and forked and hoe’d and basically spent two hours trying to break up the huge clay like clods from yesterday and make the ground  look vaguely flat. I don’t get it, the people next door on all sides have earth that looks like it has been ironed, sitting perfectly flat under membrane waiting to be used. How do they do it?

herb garden covered

Herb garden covered but still bumpy!

I got it as flat as I could in the allotted time and then tried my filling-the-gaps- with-newspaper experiment before covering the whole thing with membrane.  I walked across it to test out it’s flatness and nearly tumbled over, it was still potted with holes and lumps. All that effort and this tiny corner of our plot is still uneven.

I headed back home slightly dejected and passed an elderly man serenely pushing a petrol rotavator, sorting out and leveling a huge strip of land in what looked like an effortless flourish. He’d probably finished the whole strip before I even got home. So that’s how they all do it then – rotavators. Slightly torn between hiring one immediately or indignantly shouting ‘light weights’ at the entire allotment community!



Herb garden update

9 May

I don’t really have time to do a post justice, my youngest is yapping at my heels and I have promised him a trip to the local stay and play but anyway I felt compelled to do a small blog boast. Today when I went to the allotment I thought you know what I have had it with going through the weeds with a small fork and doing a square foot in three hours. Today, I thought, I am going to move things along a bit.

herb garden befroe weedkiller

Herb garden about a month ago.

Part of the reason I have been using a hand fork to sort out herb garden is because the earth is so dry I cannot penetrate the caked earth with the big fork. So I soaked the whole patch with a watering can and was soon able to turn it over, in two hours I got so much done. It just needs leveling off before being covered in membrane and then sorting out containers to grow herbs in – a short cut to weed free patches on the plot, we have decided, is the only way to go.

herb garden coming along

What it looks like now!