Tag Archives: outdoors

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.

Return to the plot 2015

22 Feb

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The patch formerly known as ‘the brassica spot’, now just a mass of weeds.

My guilty pleasure of late has been following ‘The Big Allotment Challenge’. This is a double guilty pleasure because it is pretty trashy TV plus every episode served to remind me that I do actually have a plot languishing unloved and un-visited since December 2014.

Inspired by watching the final last night and being left in charge of a five year old who badly needed a walk, today we ventured down to the plot. Admittedly there hasn’t been an awful lot I could have done in the last two months except plant some garlic and feed the few things growing there. The boat has been well and truly missed on the garlic front and my brassicas were sad to say the least. A weedy mass replaces the patch I last saw sporting purple sprouting brocoli, now all gone, eaten by slugs or rotten.

We also dug up the pitiful sprouts that didn’t make the Christmas dinner table. My youngest enjoyed having a dig and collecting sprouts for the compost.

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A paradise for hardy five year olds!

But as always with the plot there were signs of optimistic life too. The leeks are coming along slowly but surely and my broad beans are now little seedlings, looking OK, if in need of a feed. I sprinkled manure round both, dug up the manky sprouts and then headed home to the promise of hot chocolate.

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A hint of new life!

It was a brief but useful trip as it reassured me I do still have a shed (always a worry over the winter, that it might just take off in high winds) and reminded me how much I do love to go down there. Last term I was too busy to do anything, getting sucked up into the busy-ness of work and kids. But today was good, it reminded me that everyone of us needs a pastime in which we can totally lose ourselves and which takes our mind of work. For me the plot ticks those boxes. Luckily it has never been 100% about the produce I grow!

In a bit of a pickle

7 Nov

Pity the poor gardener at this time of year. Some people may feel delight as the shops fill with Christmas paraphernalia but for a gardener it means only one thing – most of the garden stuff in mainstream shops like Wilko and the pound shop (my two fav places to stock up on gardening related clobber) have cleared the shelves of all gardening stuff and replaced it with tinsel and plastic tat till April.

My mission to get some onion sets, garlic and some pots to re-pot my indoor chilli  plants failed miserably this morning and now only a trip to the out of town garden centre will get the goods. I still managed to spend a lot of money during this retail therapy spree but not on anything gardening related.

It’s been a  month since my last post and that’s because not much has happened plot wise. My newly planted grass path was indeed a grass path too far – it is still a bare brown patch, all the seed has washed away or been eaten by birds.

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We did manage to harvest the second pumpkin in time for Halloween. It was one of the last evenings before the clocks went back, you remember those heady days, when it was still daylight at 5.30pm? The pumpkin was swiftly whittled into a classic pumpkin lantern by the hubby. Being a waste-not-want-not environmentally friendly type the left over flesh was of course used later that week in a pumpkin curry.

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The last fresh plot grown cucumber turned to mush in the fridge, they are not the type of vegetables that sustained peasants through harsh winters that’s for sure. Luckily I did pickle some earlier this month so the glut still keeps on giving. I did two varieties of pickles – sliced cucumber and gherkin-esque ones, from all the half grown baby cucs I harvested when I dug the plant up.

I am now left with three large jars of pickled cucumber in a household of non pickle eaters, there is no way I will work my way through that lot so I plan to at least off load one jar onto my mum. As I have nothing else to blog about there now follows some random pickle pictures.

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My most recent trip to the plot was only a week ago. It didn’t warrant a blog post as it was with the kids in aid of half term entertainment which means I got very little done. It was however a glorious sunny day that saw us shedding our coats and having a picnic. A week ago today in fact. Seems hard to believe on a day like today when I found myself, instead of buying onion sets, stocking up on thermal socks and tinsel in readiness for winterval

One man went to mow….

29 May

Pity the person married to an avid allotment gardener. On one of their rare and precious mid term, mid week days off, when they have a wee break from the grind that is driving down the the M11 to work they will, quite possibly, be asked, very politely of course, to please please assist with the cutting back of fruit corner.

It’s a fact that we had let it grow so high, too high for our little cylinder mower to be able to quell. I had attempted some valiant efforts in cutting it, trimming it and generally trying to tackle the beast. Grass areas had seemed such a good idea last year when we weighed up (literally) the pros and cons of bark chips V grass. Low maintenance bark chip may well have been but how the hell do you shift all the massive sacks of the stuff in the first place. Carrying a small pack of grass seed seemed a better bet last year and you know, it does look good. We have our grassy fruit corner, a place for the kids to play and once the fruit trees grow a bit more there will be shade too.

But first it had to be hacked back. So that is where we headed this morning. The kids safely despatched in some local trampoline day session, we had our one day of freedom and laughed about the fact we were spending some of it at the plot. Arrival was actually closer to midday as we both had late nights last night thanks to a monumental delay on my train service out of London that saw me having to get the tube to Epping and then sharing a cab with three lovely strangers. One of those experiences that make you realise how great trains are when they actually run on time.

So we lingered over tea (me) and coffeee (him) before finally saying, Octonauts style,  OK let’s do this. The arrival of my hubby drew various gardeners towards our plot to say hello as he rarely makes an appearance during the week. Lovely friendly sociable times but also adding to his humiliation of mowing a jungle with a cylinder mower picked up cheap in front of a small crowd. All this aside though, the hubby did a grand job.

fruit corner mowed

I had a less physically gruelling task but not a pleasant one – I was snail and slug destroyer extraordinaire. I scooped up dead ones from beer traps, placed any others I found in said beer traps and, whilst weeding and because I couldn’t be bothered to continually  keep walking over to the beer trap to put more in, I started to impale the ones I found. This might sound grim and rather heartless but the little blighters have started to devour my potato plants. Is nothing sacred? I thought they hated potato plants and that is why they are such a reliable and easy crop to grow.  But I was wrong, hence this is now war!

Finally at around two we realised the kids would soon need picking up and we had promised ourselves a pub lunch so we chucked in the towel for the day. It was hard work but the grass is much shorter, there are a lot less slugs and I picked some of my slug proofed lettuce and had it for supper.

lettuce

I grew that and the slugs didn’t eat it – result!

Rue the day….

16 Apr

So yeah, I was saying I am the world’s biggest slacker-gardener and an expert in shonky doings when it comes to all plot-related things. This thought has niggled me for the last few days, I woke up wondering if my wobbly green house thing might still be standing.

Today I had to find out. After a day plodding through work for my diploma I promised myself a fleeting trip to the plot to check on my construction and my poor carrot seedlings, still languishing on the shelf, well guess what? As I walked towards my plot I could see something was missing, the mini greenhouse was gone.

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Luckily it hadn’t travelled far and was miraculously undamaged. Whether a kindly plot neighbour placed it in its final resting place or if the wind did, I will never know but it’s undamaged and intact. I looked around hoping there were no witnesses as I hastily collapsed the whole thing and packed it away, slightly shamed, in the shed.

Why not reassemble it? Well my three runner bean seedlings that it was purchased in order to protect are dead. Five weeks on my window sill, two days on the plot. Se la vie! It’s a steep learning curve this gardening malarkey.

The carrot seedlings were also wilting so I hastened myself to shonkily plant them. Aware of the irony, that here I was again doing things in a less than perfect fashion, but what could I do? I had a grocery delivery at 4pm, the clock was ticking and the seedlings looked like they wouldn’t survive another night on the shelf. So plant them I did.

First I had to prepare the seed bed. This involved a bit of membrane peeling back and collecting a plant pot full of slugs and weeds, followed by some digging and hoeing. It was only when I was sprinkling grass seed and watering it in that I realised a trip to the plot is much like a microcosm of my life, what ever it is that actually needs to be done often gets left till the very last moment.

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I spotted the carrot seedlings with only ten minutes left to go. Oh yes, them, I found myself thinking. I hastily planted them out, added manure and compost and covered them with a friend’s old shower door as a makeshift cloche. I will probably return to find the shower door flat, with the seedlings squashed because in haste perhaps I didn’t do it very well but I figured that is better than going back tomorrow to find all my carrot seedlings dead on the shelf, planting no longer a viable option.

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And when I left the plot today at ten to four, I did at least get a small buzz of knowing I had, in my unique half-baked way, got the job done, finally. For now at least.

Easter shenanigans

13 Apr

The plot has been much neglected. I managed to fit in a quick visit before the holidays, before having my youngest at home for three long days prior to the holidays, with an ear infection that left him howling for most of the time.

Luckily I went down the day before that kicked off and planted my trees that had been languishing in the shed for several weeks. Things were looking most spring like and I realised on each fleeting visit I needed to spend a good few hours there if those trees were to get planted.

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Soaking the roots

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The spot where it was to be planted had been covered for a year and hey presto, a wobbly apple tree!

I knew the end result was not the spirit level perfection my partner would’ve gone for but I did it in a third of the time, so really who is to say my shonky ways are not more efficient, unless of course the tree dies then I will rue the day anyone let me loose on tree planting.

Since then what with the ear infection and the Easter holidays, for which we were away last week, I have not ventured there since until today. Basking in glorious sunshine and with the promise of a roast when I returned. First the whole family came along and I had a rare moment of enjoying all our work, the kids were sitting on the lawn I planted last year, it looked all lush and green. Picture perfect, I enjoyed the moment so much I forgot to take a picture.

Once they went back to cook a roast I got down to some real work, still hard if the kids are ever around. We had brought with us stuff grown on the kitchen window sill, my carrots, looking a bit pot bound and weather beaten, didn’t actually get planted, I ran out of time.

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Carrot seedlings

I had time to admire the broad beans, planted way back in October last year, which along with the onions and garlic, have shot up since I was last there.

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Broad beans

And then I was preoccupied with getting my runner beans planted. They had grown so tall that my plan to buy a cute cloche to protect them went out the window as they now stretched to at least 30 cms. I planted them and then tried to erect a small green house frame thing around them, a silly error as one of them ended up getting beheaded as I faffed and struggled in the wind. I was on the verge of giving up and calling the hubby for assistance when a stubborn part of me thought no, I can’t be one of those women who get their hubby to do all the ‘man’s’ work. My son had already horrified me earlier in the day by saying ‘daddy’s stronger than you and you can’t drive’ (both true enough if we mean a brute physical definition of the word strong but I still pointed out there are many different types of strength).

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Frame up

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Cover on!

So I was on a mission! The end result is not a complete disaster and it’s weighed down with six bricks though I don’t fancy it’s chances if the wind picks up to the same degree it did earlier in the year. I felt I had won for today, but maybe I will send the hubby down there at some point with his spirit level and amazing tendency to straighten up my shonky work.

Crop Rotation

16 Mar

One thing that any gardener with even the smallest of plots can attempt to do, to keep pests at bay and to encourage nutrients to be replenished, is a basic crop rotation system. These can vary in the length of time they span, the most common being a five year crop rotation system. I don’t have the space or quite possibly the brain capacity to do a five year plan, so I have plumped for a simple three year crop rotation system. I’m sure I will overlap at times and mix up my root veg with my fruiting veg, like I did last year but essentially I will stick to it as best I can.

I made it down to the plot not once but twice this week. I am slowly waking up to the fact it’s there, it exists and I need to get on with things. Top tasks have been sorting out patches with weeds and old Brussels sprout plants. So I dug up those huge beasts and slung them in the compost.

I did a little light weeding, nothing too taxing. I realised I need more compost and pots to get things planted. I bought seeds yesterday and the hubby bought a huge box of blood fish and bone – a truly scary sounding fertiliser recommended by seasoned gardeners. I then read all about veganics (vegan organic gardening) and almost immediately regretted the purchase. Next year perhaps!

I need to weed everything that is uncovered. The purple sprouting broccoli, which I picked a bumper crop from this week, looks like it is growing from a garden lawn. My fruit bushes (or sticks that might one day grow into fruit bushes) are now surrounded by weeds as is my garlic, onions and broad beans.

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Abundant crops!

I know I need to stop procrastinating and just get weeding but something always seems to get in the way. This week I blamed the fruit trees taking up most of the space in our tiny shed. I couldn’t access my weeding bucket to collect all the culprits, so really what was the point?

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Leeks!

I also need to harvest my leeks and rotate that bit of land for my spinach seeds that I am hoping will grow, as they like damp shady spots which the pond area certainly is.

There are other good things growing too. Mainly on my kitchen window sill. The seedlings I planted in a sudden spurt of energy a few weeks ago are now surfacing. Seeing these seedlings come forth has partly knocked me out of my plot denial.

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Seedlings, a real sign of spring!

And our now one year old pear tree has started sprouting buds a plenty, as it did last year. This year I must get around to getting the fleece that so many old allotment hands told me I needed to protect the delicate flowers from the wind and ensure a bumper crop is possible. So the list of things to do keeps growing!

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Spring time buds!