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.

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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:

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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.