Archive | September, 2013

Fruit bushes

19 Sep

Part of my long term plan for the plot is to have an edible hedge. This really is a very long term plan as the cheap fruit bushes I buy are nothing more than a stick with roots at the start of their journey. It is hard to imagine them ever bushing out let alone producing any fruit. It’s true I could buy more developed bushes that cost in the region of 20 quid a bush plus post and packing or I could go to the 99p shop and get a stick with roots!

I spent yesterday morning digging the strip that borders with our neighbour. It has always been very weedy and it has taken at least two lots of membrane to keep these tenacious weeds at bay. According to plot neighbours it might be OK to buy fruit bushes from the 99p shop but I cannot vouch for their membrane – every roll I bought disintegrated within weeks, doubling the work and making me lament my miserliness.

fruit bush section dug

What I dug yesterday

I came across more weeds, broken glass and lots of pegs – this time they were my own, I had used them to hold down the useless membrane, so I washed and kept them for future use.

fruit bush pegs

So many pegs!

I then set about getting my stick with roots ready for planting. I forgot to soak its roots as advised on the packet, for one hour so made do with ten minutes. I added bonemeal – also from the pound shop – to the earth as apparently that helps create healthy roots. As the stick with roots was brown in a sea of brown mud I then marked it out with some little white border things. I got 16 for a quid and I wasn’t really sure what I would use them for. I am not on commission from our local pound shop but compared to our lovely local garden centre’s prices I know I would be unable to do much planting if I always had to pay their prices.

fruit bush soaking

10 minutes should hopefully be enough!

fruit bush planted

My first blackcurrant bush planted

Today I returned, dug, got a bit wet from the rain and remembered to soak my gooseberry bush’s roots for the required hour. Apparently autumn is the perfect time to plant fruit bushes because as nothing much is happening in the top half of the plant the roots can really get established.

fruit bush gooseberry

My second gooseberry bush planted and hopefully protected

It’s been hard work this week, I have been digging like mad as I don’t know how long this free time and enthusiasm might last. My attitude is dig while you can. Yesterday I regretted not bringing a flask so today I came prepared. My plastic seat was all soggy from dew, so how glad was I that I had bought a cheapo garden seat cushion from my fav shop to be utilised at just such a moment as this!

fruit bush cushion

Guess where I bought my cushion from?

Strip 3 – done!

17 Sep

I’ve got so much to sort out at the moment. Training at work, schemes of work for my new classes and I am trying to launch my new career as a mindfulness teacher on top of the usual mayhem of kids, chores and social stuff. So going to the allotment now feels a bit of a guilty pleasure and as for writing this blog – I really don’t have time but I am slightly addicted!

I arrived bright and early at the plot this morning, straight after drop off and peeled back the last bit of strip 3 to be dug.

Strip 3

The last uncultivated bit of strip 3!

It was weedy and undulating but very easy to dig. More weed roots needed clearing than the other half and I lost count of the broken shards of glass I had to pull out along with metal bolts and tent pegs. With the exception of a conversation with a plot neighbour about tomato blight, I worked solidly on it for more than two hours feeling pleasantly surprised when I realised I was going to finish the job today.

Strip 3 done

Strip 3 done!

It was with a huge sense of achievement that, after hoeing it down and sprinkling more organic poultry manure on it, I covered it back over knowing it is as good as ready for next season.

Sadly during the dig I discovered that having a big sheet of membrane in situ for months means lots of creatures had made their homes beneath it and my digging disrupted their lives. I feel no great shame at the snails and slugs that I threw onto the dump but on Thursday I saw a terrified twitching field mouse fleeing for it’s life. Today I discovered it’s straw filled little nest and hoped it had found a nice new home. When I’d told the kids about this mouse sighting they both looked worried and one asked if I’d put it in the slug trap. Today I also spotted a slow worm and possibly its eggs. Sadly the fork (and me wielding it) had chopped it’s tail off, it slid off bleeding. I hope it survives but I was filled with the feeling that gardening can be a harsh business for wild creatures.

Once the heavy digging was done I picked some tomatoes and then in the interests of science I decided I would try the latest tip I’ve heard for making them go from green to red – putting them in a paper bag with some already ripe tomatoes and leaving them for a week. The key here is not to put them in the fridge but leave them at room temperature.

strip 3 green toms in bag

Let’s see how they look next week!

Back at home I checked out the winter stores – I have a lot of very small potatoes left (I have used all the big ones already) and I have a whole drawer of shallots. OK it will probably only shave off a couple of quid from the weekly shop but I feel more confident I will doggedly get back all the money – £300 at the last approximation – we have so far sunk into this growing your own veg lark. It just might take me into my retirement to do it. I am hoping there will be a lot less heavy digging to do by that stage!

strip 3 winter store

Shallots and small spuds a plenty.

The arrival of autumn

11 Sep

Let’s face it: we were all in denial last week, there was sunshine, the kids didn’t need coats as they walked into school. I really thought (and this is admittedly rather greedy given the beautiful summer we have had) we were due for an Indian summer. I thought we’d get another 3 weeks at least of glorious sunshine.

Fast forward to this week and the slippers have been dug out along with chunky knit jumpers. I wore my wellies (yes still sporting the crap pink festi wellies with holes) for the first time in months today. A nearby neighbour asked me what I was planning to do today and I ummed and then said digging I suppose.

There hasn’t really been that much to do of late. A bit of light weeding, a bit of harvesting, a bit of giving the plants their feed. Re-potting or planting seedlings. But in terms of great allotment projects, like building beds, making paths and sorting out fruit corner, I haven’t had to face anything for ages. Hence my visits down to the plot have been sunny and enjoyable all summer.

But there is still a lot to do. A third of the plot has been covered in membrane since February. We agreed to leave it, let the weeds die and then tackle it in autumn. Today as I walked the kids to school wearing woolly hats, I knew autumn had well and truly arrived. It was time to peel back the membrane and face some digging.

digging b4

This is what strip 3 looked like at 9.30am

I did my usual wobbling about, lamenting the fact there were quite a few people around to witness my crap digging. I watered the earth and pulled out the last remaining ghost weeds. I only unpeeled a small section at first but once I got going I remembered what hard but slightly pleasant work it is – working on something completely new and fresh.

digging

Strip 3 at 11.30am, about 30% is now dug

I pulled up more weeds as I went along and then tried to level it off with a hoe before sprinkling poultry manure on it and re-covering it. I am not taking any chances – it will stay under wraps till April, I am just getting it ready for then.

After all that hard work I rewarded myself by picking some more tomatoes and tidying up herb garden.

Digging harvest

At last I don’t have to buy any tomatoes this week!

digging herbs

Herb garden – the safest place to grow lettuce away from all the slugs!

Finally as I was administering feed to Dylan’s ailing pumpkin plant I noticed we may even get some home grown fruit this year. The tree I have been calling an apple tree is most definitely a pear tree and it looks like we may get one pear each!

digging pears

So autumn is definitely here. It’s time to clear away the old plants, harvest what you can and most of all dig! Before the ground starts freezing and your fingers go numb.

Birthday Blog

8 Sep

It is one year since I set this little blog up and since I did my first entry. OK so it then sat dormant for another four months, so don’t be surprised if I do another birthdayish blog in February when the real work started. But anyway for now this is the one year anniversary of getting this thing started.

What I have learnt over a year:

  • Setting up a blog about the escapades of a pair of hapless allotment keepers did not guarantee any digging would actually get done. It stayed an overgrown mess for a long time after my drunken decision to tackle the plot.

012

What our plot looked like this time last year

  • Writing the word ‘allotment’ every Friday in my diary was the visual reminder I needed to get me down there regularly.
  • This led to my great revelation that (a lot like meditation or doing yoga) while I viewed going to the plot as yet another chore it was always going to be a battle. Once I loved being there it was much easier, the word ‘allotment’ is no longer required in my diary. I go there any time I can.

Birthday blog

What the plot looks like now

  • Planting seeds is not enough, you have to protect your crops as best you can. This has meant some unpalatable battles with slugs and much purchasing of netting and copper tape. We’ve even made the world’s smallest scarecrow!

birthday blog 2

My peppers slug proofed with copper tape and egg shells sprinkled around them.

  • Pumpkins are a great plant to grow with kids.  Yes they have pretty much taken over the entire plot but we are going to have so much fun come Halloween!

birthday blog 4

Pumpkins going ever so slightly orange

  • You are not stuck with the crap soil you start with. It is cloddy and clay like round us but having added much organic poultry manure, compost and plant food I can already see it changing. It is crumbly and easier to dig.  And my blueberry bush which was very sickly a few weeks ago has perked up with a bit of ericaceous compost and feed being introduced to it’s little corner of the plot. Once our home made compost gets going this will be even cheaper and easier to do.

birthday blog 3

Blueberry bush looking better

  • Having an allotment is even better than having a pet dog. It gives you an excuse to get out of the house whatever the weather but repays you with crops. I can’t say this year’s harvest has been that bountiful. But we’ve grown stuff that we’ve eaten, we have made the plot our own and so far we have not received the much feared threat-of-eviction letter. That was far more than we hoped for a year ago, when I decided to finally tackle the plot.

I’ve created a monster!

4 Sep

So the slug traps work! I have so far scooped out about forty dead slugs. Luckily I had the foresight to wear rubber gloves and bring a plant pot when I first did this horrible task. The dead bodies go on the compost, apparently they add much needed nutrients.

It was with a heavy heart I scooped out my first batch and yet today, the third time, I hardly gave it a thought. Proof the human mind really can get used to anything.

dead slugs

Poor dead slugs

A similar change has come over my youngest. I felt embarrassed to do said slug scooping in front of them on Monday when we went for a last summer holiday visit to the plot. They were intrigued and of course loved the goriness. But at the end my youngest lamented ‘ Mummy, I wish you wouldn’t kill slugs.’

I felt awful and also it didn’t sit with my zen outlook and style of mothering. I frequently tell them not to tread on snails on the way to school for example. That is going to sound pretty lame now they know the truth: that I am a slug murderer. My youngest D has been saying he wants to go veggie for some time and I say he can, any time he starts eating vegetables we will make that change. He will then tuck into his sausages or whatever is on the menu that day whilst ignoring all foliage on his plate.

The other day he managed two green beans (from a plot neighbour) so we are making baby steps but I don’t think we will be going veggie just yet.

lettuce pots

My newly planted lettuce was harbouring a few unfortunate slugs

His outlook had changed drastically today though. We went for a trip to the plot while the eldest was at school and while he waits to start tomorrow. He hunted down any slug he could find, finding plenty amongst the lettuces, and then proceeded to drop them by hand into the beer traps. Even for an experienced slug slayer like myself, the actual act of placing them in the trap made me feel uncomfortable. ‘ We could just put them over there,’ I suggested, pointing to the weedy end of the plot no one uses.

His reply? ‘No mummy, all slugs must die.’ When he started singing ‘walk the plank, walk the plank’ (a little chant from one of his favourite CBeeBies programmes) as he committed each one to their beery end, I knew his transformation from  compassionate soul to alpha male was almost complete. Surprisingly he hasn’t mentioned becoming veggie all day.

Foraging and ethics

1 Sep

As the harvest slows down I have been reduced to freegan foraging. As I was weeding away last week I noticed some beautiful flowers growing in the communal dump area. So I picked them and gave them to my mum.

Foraging flowers

Free flowers!

The flowers set me off on a mission. I am not one hundred percent sure about the dos and don’ts of allotments. I know, obviously, that you don’t go on your neighbour’s plot scrumping. However what about unwanted wind fall? On the way to my plot I stepped over apples that were rotting and being nibbled by bees so I decided to pick up some that were still in good shape and that had fallen onto the communal path.

Foraging fruit bowl

Foraged bowl of delights!

As if to show me this was the way forward I then spotted rotting plums (which later had to be discarded as they were housing maggots!) and a bush resplendent with blackberries. The bush was outside the allotment, overhanging the entrance so it clearly belongs to the people. I picked enough for a small crumble, guilt free.

Foraging crumble

Foraged crumble.

A week later and the sunshine had sped things up again. I picked the biggest courgette yet – it was of epic marrow proportions. And I finally picked my first red tomatoes – three in total.

foraging toms

Red tomatoes at last!

The last time I went to the plot it was clear slugs were becoming a huge problem. After the bug hunt post I found another forty or so slugs only a day after doing the big clear out. I have been reliably advised that you have to (whisper it) kill them if you ever want to get rid of them. I have been wrestling with this all week. Can I really be happy killing slugs? I eat meat so it makes no sense to be  guilt ridden over a mere mollusc. But to kill (even a mollusc) is an ethical dilemma.

I searched the internet for humane solutions. There are chemicals and barriers. I have tried the granules and bought more last week but was rather disheartened when I saw a slug merrily sliding over my newly shaken pile of slug granules, making a beeline to devour more beetroot leaves. The copper tape stuff seems to work but that is only good for container grown plants.

In the end I decided the least invasive and most environmentally friendly way to deal with them is to continue removing them by (gloved) hand and also adding a few beer slug traps. As someone on the internet put it they do drown but what a way to go.

So yesterday I dug some holes and strategically placed two pots in readiness for the beer. It felt sad and also a waste of nice beer but it must be better than sprinkling some horrible chemical based poison everywhere that will take years to neutralise.

Beer

Hope they like bitter!

Slug beer traps

Beer traps in place.

By the time I had left four wasps had all ready fallen prey to the bitter-filled yoghurt pot traps. I haven’t been back since to check if some slugs have also fallen but I guess the wasps boded well to it working and not so well for the bugs on my plot. Ethically it still feels wrong but then I remind myself how more savage, chemically laden methods are used to deliver all the bug free shop bought veg I consume every week.