Archive | August, 2013

Going on a bug hunt

24 Aug

Another week and more time spent away from the plot. The last time I was there was Monday night. I had gone on a mercy mission to save my tomatoes from up ending, saying to the hubby I would be forty minutes at most. He gave me a wry smile and I realised that my forty minutes down the plot are always nearer an hour and a half at least. Once there I find it difficult to leave. Even if it’s raining it seems so calming and welcome after a busy week with the kids.

The hubby was right to wear that wry smile. My plot forty minutes are a reverse version of the counsellor’s hour. In my defence it takes ten minutes to walk there and back so maybe I do only do forty minutes’ work I just forget about the journey time. An hour and a half later and I am trapped in plot, it has got so dark I cannot see the numbers on the combination lock. Thank goodness for the illuminating mobile phone in my pocket.

The tomatoes were now, I felt, securely tethered. I had used 3 bits of bamboo, creating a tripod like structure and watered the poles in so they would set and not wobble. I then got sucked into the whole pruning all the useless bits on the tomato plants and that took me up to dusk. Finally I remembered I needed to add ericaceous compost to my ailing blueberry bush which was why I ended up leaving the plot in darkness. It was calm there at night but also a little spooky.

Today, five days, a trip to Brighton and a fourth birthday party later, what would I find? Firstly as the name of this post suggests, I found a  whole lot of bugs. The plot was wet and muddy and entirely different from when I had left it. It smelt different and seemed a little gloomy, giving me a feel that autumn is only round the corner. And the bugs! Oh my they were out in force today.

My first job was to remove the caterpillars from the brassicas. This, it has to be said, was not my finest hour spent on the plot. Wet, grubby, up close and personal with a whole lot of caterpillar juice – I can think of better ways of spending a Saturday afternoon.

Going on bug hunt caterpillars

One of the many caterpillar colonies I found today.

I peeled them off each leaf, sometimes three or four at a time. Being as gentle as I could. Reminding myself that today’s caterpillar is tomorrow’s butterfly but to my horror I witnessed the smaller ones literally bursting on impact, green ooze coming out of their wee heads. I tried removing whole leaves rather than killing them but the small ones did not fair well. I found puddles of caterpillar wee or droppings, I don’t know what it was but wherever they were found, nearby was a pool of slimy green liquid with lumps. I had to get right in amongst the brassicas, searching for more caterpillars and then the stench of wet cabbage reminded me I do not even like cabbage, sprouts or cauliflower that much.

Going on bug hunt slug in brassicas

My brassicas have turned into the best bug hotel going.

During my accidental slaughter of the caterpillars I also chanced upon countless fat slugs. Much more robust creatures they also got thrown in the weed bucket alongside their more delicate cousins, ready for delivery to the allotment dump. I found one that looked almost the size of a small vole as it nestled in my gloved hand.

Going on bug hunt mega slug

No wonder my sprouting broccoli is looking a bit lame!

In the interests of being fair to that slug I have to say I do have quite small hands but still, I picked off half a dozen over fed beasts of a similar size. My gloves were now soaked with caterpillar juice and slug slime so I was grateful the next thing on the to do list was weed the pumpkin patch. My bug hunt wasn’t over though as I soon discovered whilst pulling up the weeds that two small pumpkins have now also fallen to the voracious appetite of these slimy blighters.

Going on bug hunt slug pumpkin

It didn’t just eat my pumpkin, it fell asleep there too!

But my return after almost a week was not all bugs and ravaged plants. The grass seed in fruit corner is growing at last, if very patchily.

Going on bug hunt fruit corenr

Looking less like a grave!

I scattered more grass seed on the bare patches and went to check out the tomatoes. The home made bamboo tripods have held them in place over the windy week. I cut off more excess leaves, being as brutal as I could muster. And then I noticed the best thing of all. After weeks I finally have two reddish tomatoes. I left them on the vine, having heard the red ones give off chemicals that help the others turn red. I just hope none of the countless remaining bugs I may have missed on my bug hunt get to eat them before I do.

Going on bug hunt red toms

Hurrah – I have two red tomatoes!

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Green tomatoes

18 Aug

I have survived a short break in a bell tent with children and hubby only to come back to the plot and find not much has changed. The weather has cooled and so the growing of all but the weeds seems to be stunted by this abrupt end-of-summer feel.

The grass seed I sprinkled on fruit corner is still just that a week and a half later, still seed. Slowly being eaten by birds.

green toms fruit corner

A week ago I picked some green tomatoes and left them on my window sill hoping when I got home they would have turned red only to be greeted by now shrivelled, withered green tomatoes.

green tomatoes

Never mind, I thought as I remembered my uncle’s words about it only being a matter of days before the tomatoes still on the plant turn red. I optimistically walked to the plot and was greeted by the sight of an unruly, precarious looking jungle of still green tomatoes.

green toms 2

Oh well at least the thistles are thriving. I only uprooted about twenty last weekend and already there were twenty more in their place. And the pumpkins are still growing at an alarming rate.

green toms pumpkin

But even this has a downside – it appears to be choking off my blueberry bush. I did a little internet research and realised it probably never stood a chance. Blueberry bushes love acidic soil apparently and our soil is many things – cloddy, clay like, water sodden in wet weather – but it certainly isn’t acidic. Not quite sure why I didn’t research this before buying and planting it.

green toms blueberry

My ailing blueberry bush being inched out by a pumpkin plant.

But all this is mere details. I was back at the plot, the sun was shining and I really didn’t care what was flourishing and what was was dying and how many chuffing thistles I had to dig up. Again. For this space is my precious escape. Spending four nights in a bell tent with a three and five year old determined to get high by drinking honey  tends to have that affect on me.

A mid summer sort out

10 Aug

My list of things to do goes beyond the plot. I have been toying with the idea of colouring my hair with henna for a while and today I had the necessary components to actually do this – the hubby was around to take the kids out for an adventure, I had bought some organic henna on line which was delivered this week and most importantly I have had so much family time it did not seem an extravagance to devote two and half hours to hair.

Girly stuff does not often happen in my house it has to be said and my daughter’s reaction on seeing my admittedly now rather orange hair was to burst into tears despite being excited about a mummy with different hair. ‘Why isn’t it more orange?’ she finally managed to ask, so at least she wasn’t being gingerist. The packet says allow a few days before disliking as it takes a while to settle and oxidise apparently. So for now I reserve judgement but let’s just say my first thoughts on seeing my new red hair, coupled with an old student t-shirt I was wearing to protect against splatters, was that I looked as though I should be working in a pub in Camden. Absolutely nothing wrong with that look I’m just not sure I can pull it off aged 42 and living in small town suburbia.

Bored of my youngest asking when my orange hair would go away, I decided to take myself and my new fiery mane to the plot, where hair and glamour are the last things on anyone’s mind.

I pottered and covered more weedy areas in membrane – my philosophy being why wait till the weeds are three foot tall?

More membrane to choke off the weeds

Covering up more weeds before they choke off my tomatoes

I tidied the tomato plants and added more cane to support what now feels like a small jungle. I planted the remains of the plants from Uncle Arthur: leeks and cabbages. I also re-potted my pepper seedlings, struggling to separate the twin plants I planted two together for fear of killing them with clumsiness.

Container grown stuff

Cabbages planted into a container

Peppers and Bs sunflower

Re potted peppers and a sunflower plant

The last few things to do was give the plants a bit of plant food, peruse to see what else might need doing tomorrow, pull up some pesky vine weed, wash some now empty seedling trays ready for next time, add my left over seed potatoes to the compost, re-sprinkle grass seed and get a shot of the biggest pumpkin so far. It looks like each plant can produce up to ten pumpkins and currently I have six thriving plants, so I guess I better get some pumpkin recipes at the ready.

pumpkin growing

Growing at an alarming rate!

Finally I had my flask of tea and tried to meditate for three minutes only to be interrupted by a plot neighbour. When I heard what he had to say I didn’t mind the interruption. He came over and said he admired what I had done with my plot, an accolade I had not expected. I happily carried some green tomatoes and two dinky cucumbers home and had forgotten all about my morning spent henna-ing my hair. That was until my youngest shouted by way of greeting, ‘Mummy why is your hair still orange?’ as I walked into the kitchen.

Fruit corner – the end for now!

8 Aug

I have been slowly working my way through an allotment to do list. This frequently gets added to as things crop up and the original plan gets forgotten. Fruit corner was meant to have been finished before the summer holidays. The plan was to have the whole area laid to lawn before the kids finished school so they had somewhere nice to play.

Fast forward three weeks into the summer holidays and when I arrived there this morning I realised everything else had to wait. I needed to un-peel some membrane and see what state the last little patch left untouched was like. For once I got a pleasant surprise, under the membrane lay some fairly flat and weed free soil. It took me about an hour to get it looking OK.

Fruit corner final phase

This of course had me lamenting that this really was a job I could have tackled weeks ago. Instead it has been sitting in my metaphorical in-tray for far too long, weighing down on my conscious, making me feel slightly guilty whenever I passed over sorting out fruit corner once and for all and instead opting for light weeding as I frequently have.

I saw my sister on Tuesday and she told me the latest thing in educational outdoor play is a mud kitchen. Once I got started on the final bit of fruit corner I realised a mud pit was exactly what I needed. The kids have pretty much outgrown the sandpit at home, what’s the point of having another one at the plot?

I hastily made a small circle out of the remaining bamboo bordering things I bought ages ago from the pound shop and made more of a mud pit than a kitchen. I then laid the rest to lawn and voila, the most pressing current thing to do at the allotment has finally been sorted meaning I can, for a few weeks at least, relax and stick to light weeding and harvesting.

fruit corner final bit laid to lawn

Admittedly it looks a bit like a grave but  fruit corner is done!

Harvest

4 Aug

Nothing stays the same on the allotment for long, even my attitude to harvesting is radically different from a couple of weeks ago. At first I felt the need to have a near ceremonial attachment to any piece of edible stuff picked and taken home yet now, a few weeks on, I am hastily picking what I can and chucking it in an old carrier bag to carry home.

Today’s crop included potatoes, beetroot, cucumber and a huge courgette. I have recently learnt how to make courgette cake and I suspect it might become a regular this summer. It feels strange writing about success instead of the never ending drudgery of weeding.

harvest

Today’s pickings!

The summer holidays have really been getting in the way of all the work I need to do, the digging, the weeding, the sorting. But I don’t feel too guilty or resentful, there is relief almost as I shrug my shoulders and think, the kids are around all day everyday, how much can I really do?

Today I managed a few hours, the first proper visit for a week. I was dazzled by the lawn I had planted and amazed to see a small pumpkin forming.

baby pumpkin

A baby pumpkin!

Also this harvesting takes time. The potatoes need to be pulled up, the patch they are growing on then requires weeding and levelling before the sun bakes it into non compliance. I tackled a bit of that this morning, making way for the next lot of stuff to go in – a second load of plants and seedlings from my uncle Arthur. May they bring me as much luck as the last lot.

potato patch b4

Potato patch before

pot patch after

After

As the forecast was dry I sprayed the remaining stubborn weeds that dwell nowhere near anything currently growing with a bit of weed killer. I have done this once before and always with a heavy heart. But when even membrane won’t hold the onslaught back I feel I need a quick cut to manageability.

The whole plot with membrane

The whole plot, hopefully some of those weedy borders may lessen after my toxic squirt fest

And finally a friend told me this week that tomato plants need a bit of trimming every now and then. Any branches that have no buds or flowers on them have to go in a cull that will help sustain what tomatoes there already are ripen and continue growing. So I snipped and trimmed. Timidly at first as it seems almost wrong to butcher what I have nurtured so carefully for months but after a while I got into the monotony of searching out duff branches and soon became ruthless, even though I have always shied away from the idea of survival of the fittest and all that. The tomato plants were a jungle and they needed taming, someone had to do it. It still didn’t quite feel right and induced reminiscent memories of a tales of the unexpected episode in which a bloke invented a machine which allowed plants to be heard screaming when their owners cut them down. Maybe at times I am just a bit too soft to be a gardener.

tomatoe plants after trimming

My tamed tomato plants.