Frost-ageddon

16 May

Years ago there was a comedy character whose punchline was ‘you don’t want to do it like that, you want to do it like this.’ I have always had an issue with old men telling me how to do things and recently with driving lessons and the plot, I have had more opportunity than usual to explore this aversion.

I have to say as a learning journey it has been steep. Nine times out of ten I just ignore the advice thrown my way and tread my dogged path of lasagna gardening, no dig plot keeping and pesticide free veggie production.

On this occasion I have to bow to superior knowledge and say that my elder plot neighbour who declared I was brave to put my tomatoes out so early was right. After his words had rung true on Thursday I had drunk my way through 2 litres of fizzy water (and managed to self sabotage my first ever gong bath sound meditation into the process. How was it? Well nothing is ever relaxing with a full bladder, that much I can testify).

Despite having a home made cloche from said fizzy water bottle I didn’t manage to get to the plot till today – 4 whole days after receiving such sage advice as cover them up. Cover them all up.

If I was hoping my trip to the plot would raise my spirits this was soon to be dashed when I witnessed the frost-ageddon that had taken place in those four days.

Let us do a roll call of the fallen:

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Two courgette plants

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One tomato plant (my home made cloche came in too late)

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All of my purple haze carrots

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Several potato plants.

All these have succumbed to frost-ageddon so maybe next time an elder on the plot starts out with the line ‘you don’t want to do it like that…’ I will pay a bit more attention.

Going Slow

18 Apr

If you want a hobby that teaches you how to go slow then surely there can be no better teacher than having an allotment alongside a job and small kids.

My life, like many people’s these days, is one constant rush. Rushing during the week to get kids dropped off and jump on a train. Rushing home from work to squeeze the last hour of the children’s evening into my own. Then we have the weekends which could be gloriously empty lazy affairs but of course invariably end up being about rushing from one event to the next. I like having a balance with weekends – it’s always good to have a completely clear weekend now and then but April is not panning out that way, each weekend is taken which means still more busyness.

I had to practice some level of acceptance as my seed potatoes remained unplanted. I managed a strip here and a strip there but it has taken me about 4 weeks to get that sense of satisfaction that comes when a job is finished, done, ticked off the list.

Each time I have visited the plot in the last month I have rued the fact I couldn’t finish planting out the seed potatoes. I’ve had to leave the job unfinished and known that it will be another week or more before I can return.

I do have gardening friends who (whisper it) question the wisdom of planting potatoes in an allotment. They logically debate the pros and cons and given that you can get a bag of potatoes for a quid decide the benefits don’t outweigh the time and effort.

As the job went unfinished for so I long I started wondering if perhaps I should adopt that logic, why bother anyway? And when I saw the final strip that needed digging over today and felt the cold numbing my fingers I also wondered can I be bothered to do this plot business anymore.

Short of setting off yet another existential crisis (come on,once we start thinking what’s the point, we could apply that to pretty much anything in our lives) the last strip set me a challenge. A challenge to be done with, so I could at least blog about something else, anything other, than seed potatoes.

After an hour the strip was weeded, dug over and planted out and I wondered why exactly it has taken me a month to do this even though I am very aware there about ten other things in my life that come before planting out seed potatoes.

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Top six spring time cheats

4 Apr

Forgive the over-proliferation of posts and be reassured it won’t last long. I am back at work tomorrow and this is followed by an intensive training course all next weekend which means I will not be heading to the plot for at least a week.

Once the driving lessons resume in mid-April I will kiss goodbye to my occasional plot slots, very narrow windows that they already are, by mid April they may close up altogether. So my mission at the moment is get what I can done while I can.

I dragged the kids down to the plot for the second day in a row. There was no promise of barbecues just the realistic pledge that once we’d got our fresh air hit and legs stretched for the day they would then be at liberty to play at home, watch TV and eat some leftover Easter chocolate. For the record that bribe worked well and was much less hassle than yesterday’s aborted barbecue debacle!

I managed to get 8 more spuds planted out, another strip of clay like soil dug over and then was able to leave after only an hour and a half feeling like it was time well spent. As the prospect of busyness looms large from tomorrow onward I thought about various short cuts that have helped me so far keep my plot ticking over now I am on maintenance only mode.

My top six shortcuts this year:

  1. Cover every patch of ground you can when not using it. Today I peeled back a section that had been covered in a big cardboard box the oldest’s bike had come in. The earth underneath was soft and mostly weed free, an (almost) delight to prepare for planting.
  2. When planting out potatoes don’t bother with a trench just dig individual holes and pop each spud in with some compost or manure to help things germinate. *Disclaimer: Be prepared that you will meet a barrage of ‘you-don’t-want-to-do-it-like-that’ from the more traditional plot neighbours you may have. Be strong – smile and nod with confidence – it does work!
  3. If the window for planting things from seed has passed you by, worry not and get thee to a cheapish shop that sells all manner of plug plants. I have now got 6 very nice tomato plants for the princely sum of £3. This year I am allowing myself this luxury as I figure it’s either this or losing momentum with the plot.
  4. Chuck whatever you can on top of your seed beds, cheap compost, poultry manure, blood, fish and bones, home made compost – anything that will help break down the clay like finish and make digging easier. I subscribe to the no dig manifesto – chuck it on top and let the earth worms do the rest.
  5. On the topic of home made compost don’t waste time digging and stirring your compost. I have 3 old plastic recycling boxes in permanent rotation that I fill, leave and use. This method is low maintenance and takes about 6 months to produce really lovely organic compost that will fill raised beds and pots with ease.
  6. Don’t be shy about enlisting the help of friends and family, even the youngest or oldest relative has something to offer the time stretched allotmenteer!

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Spuds planted out and the ground dug over.

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Shop bought tomato plug plants – re-potted and thriving.

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Many hands and all that…..

 

Getting your spuds in the ground

3 Apr

I have now entered a race against time to get my potatoes planted before it’s too late.

On Friday I picked up the most sprouty bag of desiree spuds that Wilko had to offer and once home I realised there was an ominous fishy smell about them.

Not wanting that smell hanging round the house for too long I invited the whole family to accompany me to the plot, stating it would be good wholesome family time.

The youngest and I went first. I rummaged around the shed to see if there was any charcoal and once this had been established, the hubby and the eldest came to join us with the promise that we would have the first barbecue of the year.

Don’t ask me why or how but the hubby (who sat in a chair fanning the flames for more than an hour whilst I battled with weeds) couldn’t get the barbecue started so come four o ‘clock we were all rather hungry and had conceded defeat. Disappointment (and hunger) hung palpably in the air, the oldest was particularly affected by this no-barbecue news. She doesn’t like anything coming between her and the possibility of sausages.

All were appeased once the hubby said he’d just cook them in the oven, it would be fun, an indoor barbecue. I stayed battling the clods, weeds and clay like soil where I hope to grow potatoes this year and was disappointed to only get one row planted out before getting a text to say that late lunch was finally ready.

Despite spending about four hours there today, it felt like it just didn’t happen or at least not in it’s entirety. But I did strim, sort out the blueberry bush and start weeding one of the strawberry patches as well as tame one strip of the future potato patch.

 

 

That time of year again

2 Apr

It’s a happy fact that spring has now sprung. I can report that until yesterday I nodded in agreement when several fellow gardeners have said as many gardeners do at this time of year: ‘ I haven’t even bought my seed potatoes yet.’ Neither had I. But the 1st April came and this seemed to jolt me into action so the last 24 hours have been a hive of activity, I rushed out and bought seed potatoes. I visited my neglected plot and also made a start on getting my funky veg kit (an imaginative xmas present) up and running.

At the plot I have been strimming, planting onions and garlic (probably far too late but hey ho) and of course catching up with some long overdue weeding.

As I am a useless orange carrot grower  I don’t hold much hope for the purple haze carrots in the funky veg set but it made the kids giggle and may even entice them to eat some if they do come to fruition, so it has to be worth a shot.

 

Driving me crazy……

17 Mar

There is nothing original in lamenting on what a pain it is learning to drive. It’s expensive, particularly hard work if you are dyslexic and just all round unpleasant. For the last six months I have not once had a spring in my step as I walk towards the awaiting car, more a trudging, grudging resignation that this is what is happening for next two hours. But add into this mix limited availability, busy job in London, two young children and the fact I haven’t had a car to practice in in between classes and you can begin to understand it has not been easy to make room for driving lessons in my life. Each time I feel I am getting somewhere the school holidays roll round and it all goes on hold, once more.

Perhaps the hardest part of this is I never have, and partly still don’t, want to learn to drive. I know if I lived in North London still I would happily wield my oyster card till the day I died. But rural living (and the lack of decent public transport) often forces even the most reluctant driver to take up lessons.

After several rounds of text ping pong with my instructor this week it became obvious that another driving lesson sabbatical is now looming. It will be a whole calendar month before I have a driving lesson thanks to school holidays and the need to prioritise booking childcare to cover the days I work, leaving little time for pootling around in a car.

After my initial disappointment (there’s a real sense in all of this that if I stop I might reconsider – so I have just kept my head down and trudged rather joylessly towards each lesson) I realised of course there are always reasons to celebrate.

The first is obviously I am going to be about £200 better of this month. The second is I get to spend time at my allotment. When I realised there was so little room in my life for driving something had to give and with much regret I report it was of course my dear old retreat, the plot.

When I walked down there today I had a spring in my step for the first Thursday since December. Yes there were weeds and I literally had no idea where to start but it all soon came back to me. I weeded, I strimmed, I had a catch up with a plot neighbour, it was good to be back so this unintended sabbatical from driving might not be such a bad thing after all.

 

Home Spun Christmas Presents

30 Dec

Two years ago I got it into my head that it would be a cute and quirky idea to make my nearest and dearest some home made plot pickle for their Christmas presents. A whole day of boiling vinegar ensued not to mention sterilizing jars, filling them, making labels and tops and I was left with several respectable looking jars of home made plot pickle that was much complemented by those who tried.

plot pickle

However once I had made my pickle I realised there was a real flaw in my plan – yes it was home made with love but really when someone is getting you an expensive lamp from John Lewis, is it acceptable to give them a jar of home made pickle in return?

So last year I didn’t bother and did the whole ‘I’ll click on your link if you click on mine’ style of Xmas pressie giving. This year I’d been on a week long retreat in which we contemplated simpler, frugal living, I witnessed a near death accident, my father-in-law sadly died and I took voluntary redundancy. This all happened in the run up to Christmas, the result being in November I sent out a fool hardy email to my nearest and dearest saying life is too short for lists. I’m going off list.

At the back of my mind I knew off-list would mean my second attempt at home spun presents. But I knew I needed something with a bigger wow factor than plot pickle, enter the idea of sloe gin.

It’s a laborious task but once the sloes are gathered it’s fairly low maintenance and it smells a lot nicer than eau de boiled vinegar. You just need to decide that you’re making it two months in advance. Come December I still found myself in a similar situation – wondering if a thimbleful of sloe gin really equated to a present and so I then went and panic bought a load of accompaniments to go with the sloe gin.

The result of all this is that my main reflection on home spun presents is that it actually it costs more money and takes up a lot more time and energy than buying from a designated list of options. Maybe the only way to do home spun presents is to be totally home spun with a knitted hamper of pickle, sloe gin and jam – unlikely that I will have the time do that anytime soon. However this did feel like quite a fun thing to do and was a nod to my granddad who used to make a similar concoction many years ago.

A pictorial guide to making Sloe Gin

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Pick a load of sloes, enlist the children’s help, make a day of it in the countryside somewhere.

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Wash and freeze the sloes – apparently this simulates a mock first frost, which in December we are still waiting for.

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Combine sloes, sugar and London Gin.

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Watch how the sugar slowly dissolves.

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Shake daily for the first week or two, then shake weekly or whenever you remember.

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Voila! Two months later you have a delightful liqueur.

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Buy some overpriced bottles at a local shop, then worry that the tops don’t quite work and so then buy another batch of overpriced bottles online.

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On the day you are bottling the sloe gin make the realisation you haven’t made any labels, and time has now completely run out. Cut up an old piece of card and enlist a trusty Bic biro and a hole punch for that genuine home spun look.

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Behold! A battalion of Sloe Gin.

TIP: Don’t quality test the contents before doing a mock hazard perception test online, it will really sloe you down! The verdict so far has been it’s strong stuff and smells a bit like alcoholic vimto but I now have a new favourite Christmas drink. I gave my first bottle to a friend. It felt very grown up giving home made sloe gin, it’s fair to say I had a bit of a swagger. Let’s hope the family like my home spun efforts this year too but next year they may be happy to hear I think I’ll be going back on list!

Happy New Year and thanks for following in 2015. Here’s to a healthy, fruitful and plot-active 2016!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/sloegin_7722