Tag Archives: raised beds

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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Slug fest

13 May

I seem to have some kind of hybrid bionic slugs on my plot, feasting on whatever I plant. In my last entry I listed carrot seedlings, beetroot seedlings, lettuce seedlings and now my pea plants as having succumbed to their insatiable appetite but now there are more casualties.

The pea plants are just about hanging on in there, but for how long I cannot say. I went there on a mercy mission this morning to dig yet another slug beer trap as they seem impervious to even the finest poison garden shops sell. There I was on the plot having one of those moments you’d rather not share – clutching a can of basics lager at 9.30am, topping up the beer traps having scooped out a large stack of dead molluscs.

But the latest casualty, gone for good are my pumpkins, at least two have gone completely, only one seedling remains despite putting eggs shells, gravel and poison near to them, the robo-slugs have remained undeterred.

dead pumpkin

Now you see me…

With all this slug carnage and frost I can only assume that last year, my inaugural year of being a gardener, I just got very very lucky. I actually had a moment today when I thought (whisper it) is this really worth the effort? I mean how much is a sack of spuds anyway? I could buy organic veg for a year on the amount I have spent on equipment and compost. And let’s not get started on the time it continually sucks from me….

But despite the rant, it isn’t all doom and gloom. I finally planted my blueberry bushes, as I have decided perennials and fruit bushes are where it’s at for a gardener of my limited talents. And I planted out a container of carrot seeds. A friend did really well with her container grown carrots last year so this has inspired me to use a now decommissioned recycling bin for the very same purpose.

And I have broad beans! OK so half my plants have been blown over by the wind and I can’t say I am overly fond of broad beans but surely there will be a nice homous-y type recipe I can use them up on and it beats having the slugs eat them.

broad beans

 

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!

New Year’s Resolutions

9 Jan

When most news outlets have photos of green gloop with headlines shouting detox this new year, you know the whole detox phenomenon has become well and truly mainstream. I can remember when I was a lone eccentric detoxing every January,  now Andrew Marr proclaims he has gone ‘dry’ this month. I realise that last sentence sounds a bit like someone reminiscing that ‘all this used to be fields’, but who cares, I am old enough to get away with it now.

One of my first resolutions this year was to never do a fruit detox again. Man it was horrible! I have done it for twenty years but this year my body was clearly saying no way, not three days just living off fruit, you will cave in. And I did, on day two. At least that’s one resolution I won’t have any trouble keeping.

The other resolutions (I’m a dyslexic ex-perfectionist – of course there is more than one resolution to fail at every year) are much simpler than usual. Someone asked me at a New years day soiree what my resolutions are and I said instead of ‘start doing x’ happily my resolutions this year are ‘keep doing x’. Psychologically that helps with the staying power. Keep up the plot, keep up the writing, keep up the running, keep meditating, keep drinking moderately, keep happy.

I can already guess which one I might not keep up. I deliberately started running last year so I wouldn’t have to start it in January. And I thought I was looking forward to taking it up again but on Tuesday morning a strange impulse came over me. I became incredibly chatty with fellow mums, we chatted and chatted until I could do displacement activities no longer. I finally started running only for it to rain and for me to get very wet feet.

The field where I run is seriously water logged and so it was with some trepidation I considered going back there. After considering it this morning for several minutes I felt the plot calling as it hasn’t for a long time.

I have not been down the plot this year. My last visit was mid December to hastily pick sprouts for Christmas. With all the winds that have been lashing I was again concerned about our shed.

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Still standing!

Happily it was still there, the only casualty was my poor tangled wind chime. I untangled it and let it continue doing it’s job of scaring off birds and annoying plot neighbours. A quick scan around showed the pond is back (again) but other than that things have been going nicely in my absence.

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The pond is back!

There were more brussel sprouts to pick and the purple sprouting broccoli looks like it has finally sprouted something that looks edible.

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The last time I put up a picture of sprouts, I promise. Let’s just call winter a slow news season!

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Blurry broccoli!

The best thing I spotted on my fleeting and chilly trip back to the plot was my latest raised bed, which I fashioned out of a £1.99 roll of lawn bordering, seems fairly abundant in onions, garlic and broad beans. And the tiniest scarecrow in the world still stands.

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Raised bed three – looking productive

It was good to be back. On a day like today you are guaranteed a quiet and uninterrupted visit. It was not nice enough to actually drink the flask I had made myself but when I walked home, which takes me past the water logged field which I attempt to jog round, I felt a shiver of appreciation that I had been to the plot and hadn’t panted my way round a sports field.

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!