spring growth

16 Mar

The year marches on at an alarming rate, as does my life. In a week’s time it will be another birthday that edges me further away from the last significant birthday (the big four oh), bringing me ever closer to the next significant one (half a century, gulp!). But I guess I have a few years yet before I need worry myself with that one. Young or old I have never been a huge celebrator of birthdays. The passing of time doesn’t thrill me that much and yet it should do, given the alternative.

I do love the beginning of spring though, which is of itself a passing of time. And celebrating the arrival of spring has been so much more marked since taking on an allotment.

I managed a brief visit there today, prompted in part by meeting a friend last night who asked how the plot was to which I shrugged and said I rarely have the time these days. Interestingly she asked about my plot before asking about the kids or the hubby.

Bored of rarely having the time I have been there twice this week. I plan to continue doing that for as long as I can. For the next few weeks at least. Even if I only do forty minutes weeding like I did on Monday or forty minutes strimming like I did today, little and often is the way forward.

Yes I run the gauntlet of the old boys down there who make sly comments such as ‘going home already’ and ‘that was quick’ to which I learn to hold my tongue rather than saying grumpily ‘yes some of us have a life and a job to go to,’ because grumpiness doesn’t get you very far at the end of the day. Instead I smile sweetly and bid them goodbye, pleased i have managed to squeeze in even an hour there. An hour can be such a treat on a sunny spring like day, with the trees covered in buds and new growth in abundance.

On Monday I was greeted by the sight of the shed, battered and bruised by Doris – its plastic window had finally broken free of its frame. By some miracle all of my stuff was still exactly where I had left it. A plot neighbour passed by and said he was planning on fixing it for me. I popped it back in its frame and used gaffa tape to hold it place.

Arrival today saw the window just about hanging by a thread so this time I used some stakes to secure it into its frame. Its a short term solution, at the weekend the hubby has promised to sort it out, secure our shed and return it back to its former glory.

When I first took on the plot losing that shed was the thing that worried me most but now I don’t find myself thinking worst case scenarios anymore and adopting an attitude of acceptance for whatever may be.So perhaps there are plenty of good reasons to celebrate the passing of time after all.

Advertisements

it’s feeling a lot like springtime

20 Feb

I may be getting ahead of myself here but over the last weekend the heating has hardly come on, I have uncovered the washing line from it’s winter covering and I have been to a local snowdrop Sunday – which to me always symbolizes that spring is on its merry way.

So today as we walked to the plot on the last day of half day (an extra day tagged on in fact courtesy of an inset day) I felt a spring in my step.

At the weekend I had seen my brother who has also taken on a plot and he asked me how the plot was and I felt slightly shamed and sad – the truth is I haven’t been there for months. I don’t have much time these days and I worried as we talked that I could end up losing the plot if I continue to ignore it.

So returning today was much needed. The kids are now that bit older so they can actually play nicely on a nearby rope swing without a major fall out and I don’t have to keep worrying that they might stagger onto someone’s prize geraniums by mistake. (Disclaimer moment – that has never actually happened but it has been a distinct possibility!)

And I needn’t have worried about the plot – it is ticking over nicely. No sign of the broad beans or garlic I put in months ago but the rest of the plot is under cover, weed resistant and hence very low maintenance. Come spring proper I will only need to peel back the membrane, do a light dig/weed and get planting.

A far cry from all that back breaking toil I did four years ago, but for now the plot is on maintenance mode so I don’t think my fears of losing it will come to pass just yet.

The kids played so nicely I was able to strim all the paths, mow fruit corner and feed and water all the fruit bushes and trees. There isn’t much else to do apart from sort out some rubbish and de-clutter the shed so after an hour or two and a cheeky flask of tea we headed back, happy in the knowledge that spring is just round the corner and with a bit of luck it shouldn’t be two months before our next visit.

a frosty trip to the plot

30 Dec

Often described as a dead-week, the week between Christmas and New Year is actually perhaps the closest many of us get to an extended period of real genuine non-doing. A time to disconnect from work and just be with your nearest and dearest. This of course can come with its own challenges but as the week is nearly over it’s also worth reflecting how precious a week of non-doing is these days.

If my kids read this they would perhaps laugh at the idea of me ever having a non-doing week as there have been chilly picnics at nearby Audley End and several frosty walks through a nearby forest. Yesterday they were promised a lazy day and both declared they would not leave the house, even to venture into the garden.

They kept their word but by today my youngest, a spirited seven year old boy, was asking when that promised trip to the allotment would be. For want of better plan I said how about now and left the hubby in charge of lunch. We walked down to the plot in the fog and enjoyed getting some fresh air whilst aware we were the only people out and about bar a couple of dog walkers. I often make the comparison that having young kids is akin to having a dog, they really do need to get out at least once a day which makes non-doing a challenge to navigate.

Once at the allotment we planted out garlic, dug up some frozen onions and weeded a frosty patch of earth where we then planted out broad beans. No idea if this is the right time to do it, we found the broad bean seeds and went for it. My son enjoyed moving worms out of harms way and breaking a frozen pond in an abandoned plot next door. His hands got soaked and frozen and he shivered all they way home but we both enjoyed a brief bit of purpose amidst the non-doing along with a well-earned flask.

imag0806

Now I have been out of the house I feel settled enough to enjoy non-doing for the rest of the day! I predict by tomorrow my feet will start itching for action and adventure once more though and I might think of another excuse to escape to the plot.

Never Ending Harvest

26 Sep

Since taking on our scrubby corner of paradise 4 years ago the constant questions from friends, family and anyone vaguely interested has always been ‘Have you noticed your food bills have gone down since taking on an allotment.’ The answer has always been a resolute no, not in the slightest. The cost of buying equipment, seeds, manure, compost and other allotment kit has always far outweighed the occasional £2 shaved off a shop because I don’t need to buy any spuds that week.

However this year had anyone asked me (no one did this year, perhaps they me too brash in previous years) my answer would have been do you know what, yes I think I have probably saved about a tenner each shop since July, so plentiful has the harvest been this year.

This in itself led to more spending – so often the way – my slightly lower food bills fooled me into thinking I could now afford an organic veg box to supplement my harvest and now I am signed up to the veg box scheme I’m confident that will go on long after any savings can be felt.

I made some raised beds at home this year and from them I have had a constant supply of courgettes, cherry toms and lettuce, loads of lettuce. I haven’t bought any bagged lettuce all summer. This has become so ingrained that even my husband remembers to go out to the garden with scissors rather than buy more lettuce when there’s none in the fridge.

At the plot itself I have had a constant supply of cucumbers, potatoes, more tomatoes and now our apple tree is finally giving us our first harvest, three years after we planted it.

The cherry tree, blueberry bush and gooseberry bush were all rather disappointing but still I am pleasantly surprised that it’s been such a good year given that I have hardly been there – something else always crops up. Something else I enjoy a lot less, like reading work emails, or keeping up with governor related stuff or having a driving lesson.

The crops are all done now, alas there is no such thing as a never ending harvest but it’s been a good summer on the plot and growing veg at home was good for ensuring things got harvested regularly while I am so busy. I spent 2 hours at my plot this morning and, just as the weather gets cold and winter draws in, I realised I really should go there more often. Perhaps next year.

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:

IMAG0462

Two courgette plants

IMAG0464

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

IMAG0463

All of my purple haze carrots

IMAG0461

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.

IMAG0427

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!

IMAG0401 (1)

Spuds planted out and the ground dug over.

IMAG0407

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

IMAG0398

Many hands and all that…..