Tag Archives: plants

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.

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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!

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!

Cosy feet

29 Oct

A storm similar to that of the famous 1987 hurricane was meant to be coming our way this week. Happily it wasn’t as bad as feared and the power cut we endured only lasted 12 hours. Yesterday was spent figuring out where I had left candles and matches and going slightly stir crazy without the magic power of TV and DVDs to help quell the kids’ boredom. So today felt the perfect day for a trip to the plot to stretch legs, get some air and assess any wind related damage.

In some ways I am quite a negative person – I often expect the worst and am frequently pleasantly surprised. I expected to find no shed so when I saw my shed still in tact I was so delighted that my storm damaged bed of brassicas barely registered.

To be fair I am not sure they were ever going to produce anything. I planted them way back in March I think and still not a hint of broccoli could be seen. Is that normal for sprouting broccoli? They looked a bit like mini palm trees by the end – four feet tall, lots of foliage, no broccoli or anything edible, after seven months. Maybe the seeds were duff.

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Windswept brassicas

I uprooted the worst hit plants and propped another one up with a cane – I will give it another month to see if anything might come to fruition. As always I was surprised at the lack of sentiment I felt as I tossed the much nurtured plants into the plot dump. I was already planning what to plant next once they have all finally been cleared. They just feel like they have overstayed their welcome somewhat and have given me nothing in return.

Luckily the edible border, which I have finished for now, is so stumpy it was unaffected by the bluster of the week. I surveyed the rest of the plot and gathered what had been scattered – a plastic chair had gone next door, my wind chime was tangled up in the beetroot patch and my seedling trays were scattered far and wide.

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Edible border undamaged

There was also the painstaking task of untangling the netting that had protected the brassicas from hungry birds for the umpteenth time. Once that was done we planted raised bed three – a new edition to the plot, made out of plastic lawn edging that cost two quid, with garlic, onions and broad beans. Apparently the more frost garlic endures the bigger the bulbs.

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Raised bed 3 – a budget bed made of plastic bordering

Once that was done we stopped for hot chocolate and biscuits – the highlight of any trip to the plot  as far as my kids are concerned. I realised as we sat there in the afternoon sun I had not thought of my cold damp feet because for once they were neither cold nor damp. My new boots have finally arrived from a well known outdoor shop and this was their first outing to the plot. I had vowed I would get sensible, sober green wellies that befit my age and status as a keen forty-something allotmenteer. Gone are the days of faddy fashion wellies. But then an email from a well known outdoor shop popped up in my inbox and they had such cute, silly wellies for 15 quid (in the sale, reduced from 25), I could not resist getting more of the same – pink but – for a bit of a twist – with geese on them. I am a such a sucker, but at the moment they are doing the  job.

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Behold: my new boots!

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.