Tag Archives: winter

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.

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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!

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

The unrelenting march of nature

21 Feb

Life gets so busy at times that it’s easy to neglect a wee plot. I have also been feeling ever so slightly smug. When I think back to this time last year and how much digging there was to be done I feel relieved that there isn’t as much to do this year. But this has led to a bit of plot lethargy and as I discovered today I can feel as smug as I want, it won’t keep nature and all her weeds at bay.

I had a rare thing during half term – a day without the kids. My one day of ‘holiday’ was spent mainly in front of my computer lesson planning, catching up with paperwork and also covering my hair with green gloop which smells not dissimilar to some natural matter I might use on the plot. Henna is a real bind to apply, it shows a certain dogged level of commitment to all things organic, when even your hair dye is soil association approved.

At one point during the day I looked at the blue sky and the bright winter sun and reflected on how often I have had to be outside in the rain this week. The one day I have without the kids and it is sunny. Then I realised that doesn’t have to mean I am housebound too. So I indulged myself to a fresh air stroll to the plot.

shed still there

Happily the shed is still standing (again, I know but I have lost count of the windy nights we’ve had since my last visit).

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And the purple sprouting broccoli is coming into it’s own. I picked a small bag’s worth today. The plot has been ticking along on it’s own this last month but I realised as I surveyed my little corner I need to shake off my complacency and do the following tasks very soon:

  1. Get weeding before they take over everything. Oh yes the battle of the weeds commences here!
  2. Buy some cheap fruit tress before it’s too late to plant them. I fancy a plum and an apple tree this year.
  3. Plant out more broad beans, garlic and onions before winter finishes so I have two rounds of crops.
  4. Shake off my winter induced plot denial, it’s nearly March for goodness sake!
  5. Plant some more grass paths in the never ending bid to introduce some order to our unruly plot!

Not a huge to-do-list, I don’t want to overload myself before I have even re-started but one that will keep me busy for now and help me take back control of our plot!

Compost corner

31 Jan

I realise that I now feel the same way about running  as I felt about the allotment this time last year. I try to go running once a week. That is me being kind to myself, letting go of perfection and all that. I don’t want to run a marathon, just run 20 metres without gasping for oxygen. A small enough target you might think but it is certainly taking a while to achieve.

This week I put my run off until today and last night when I thought about running I was filled with a sense of dread. The wet, the cold, the imagined public humiliation. The field I run round has been water logged for weeks now so on Tuesday I treated myself to a trip to the allotment.

The very idea that a trip to a rainy cold allotment is a treat sums up my relationship with running. I am not sure I will ever enjoy it but I would still like to run 20 metres without gasping and so doggedly I persist!

My trip to the plot on Tuesday was a delight unlike today’s short, gasping run. It was cold and I vowed I wouldn’t stay long. I would just pick a few of the last sprouts, check the shed was still there and then go.

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I know I said no more pics of sprouts but I couldn’t resist!

But once there I kept finding more tasks. I netted up my now sprouting broccoli and also picked some for dinner. The kids have already vowed they will never eat it (purple broccoli – urrrgh!) but hey, all the more for me!

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Broccoli netted!

Once this was done I found myself searching for other small tasks as I simply didn’t want to leave my little oasis. The next job was a decidedly unpleasant one – spreading compost over the area known as the pond. It stank to high heaven, I can now understand why some gardeners don’t bother making their own compost as it’s an awful lot of faff with not a huge amount to show for it.

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The picture above for example is the area known as the pond covered in what must be four months worth of home made household compost and it didn’t go very far.

compost corner

We still haven’t got around to buying a whizzy, whirling plastic compost container. Our plot came with a pallet compost box at the back of the shed but for storage at home this system doesn’t really work during the winter months when you are only visiting once a month if that. So we have been using old recycling boxes that the council recently decommissioned.

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The finishing touch was to cover the stinking mass of rotting veg and fruit peelings (gosh we eat a lot of kiwis, bananas, avocados and potatoes in our house as that is what it all seemed to be) with cardboard. A huge box saved from when my daughter got her new bunk beds.

I realised later I had broken a compost golden rule: have nothing with seeds in your compost as there was a whole mouldy pumpkin in the mix but I am sure it will do the job, preparing the pond for better drainage and replacing it’s depleted nutrients – I grew two or three crops of beetroot there last year. This year I will grow only spinach which apparently thrives in damp shady spots. Perfect!

It’s chilly out there

19 Nov

I ventured to the plot this morning, encouraged by the sight of a whole day of sunshine. I forgot to look at the temperature part of the BBC weather page. It was sunny but chilly, almost freezing.  There were frozen puddles on my latest bits of membrane and the frost covered everything. I lasted ten minutes. Consoling myself with the fact that I needed a leg stretch.

Currently all over the world people are trying to write novels in a month.  I first heard about Nanowrimo years ago when a fellow would be writer told me of the great events it held in London. I finally signed up to their face book page this year and keep being bombarded by people’s word counts, one bloke said he had got to 45,000 words already. The aim is to reach 50,000 words in a month and thus have the first draft of a novel completed by December. The idea behind this is that with support and a bit of competition writers will stop procrastinating and just write.

One of the best writing teachers I have ever come across had this as her mantra: just write, whatever needs to come out, will come out. Even if you have to get the self indulgent crap out the way before the actual crafted writing commences, just write.

When I signed up to the face book page I didn’t think for a minute I would try to write so much in a month which is good as I have clocked up about 2,500 words so far this month in between writing lesson plans and blog posts. But it has reminded me that the main obstacle to writing is always the writer them self. The allotment is not going to be taking up much time for the next few months so I may as well stop procrastinating and hunker round the old lap top and see what comes forth.

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What the plot looks like at the moment

I surveyed my plot during my chilly ten minutes and had a clear your-work-here-is-done (for now) moment.

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Must not forget to pick these in time for Christmas dinner!

Currently the only things really growing that may need harvesting soon are the sprouts and other brasicas so it’s time to step back from all things allotment related. I will miss it but I never have been that good with the cold.

chilly pumpkin patch dug

Pumpkin patch, dug over and covered.

And last time I was there I did end up digging the pumpkin patch, ready for next year’s veggies which was the last thing on my usually never-ending to do list this year. It’s always hard letting go and it took so long to make the plot part of my routine. I am probably worried once I stop going regularly I will forget it exists all over again and come back to an overgrown weedy mess. But for now I don’t know what else there is to do and with this cold weather I’m quite pleased I won’t be trudging down there quite so often. Instead I will be in the warm listening to my laptop purr, plugging away at those 50,000 words long after Nanowrimo ends.

Birds, bugs and slugs

23 May

At the allotment things keep changing, growing, rotting, thriving or going bad. It’s impossible – for me at least – to predict what might still be there each time I visit.

I thought when you planted something it either grew or it didn’t and if it grew that was it you would have some food at some distant later stage. But nature isn’t as simple or as nurturing as we might like to think. Weeds are not my only foes, there is the wind. Man it gets biting up there. It has blown away every single flower from our apple tree, which means no apples this year. I was warned, my more knowledgeable plot neighbours said cover it in net curtains but on an ever expanding list of things to do and buy it got overlooked and now we’ll have no apples till next year.

I have also been told that apparently birds like to eat brassicas and that slugs will strip a potato plant overnight, so I decided I needed to take action. My previously healthy looking seedlings were starting to look very tired and pot bound. I expected to plant them ages ago but with frosts still ever present I have postponed. Then today I realised they are dying anyway, all that work, that nurturing and then they go and die on you. So I planted them thinking better to take a chance than watch them shrivel and die. As I planted them out at last in raised bed 2 my face was hit by hail stones, the second hail deluge of the morning so it doesn’t bode well for them.

slug proofed pots

Slug proofed potatoes

Once I planted my home grown Brussels and lettuce plants I decided to barricade them and any other plants against slugs using some sprinkly stuff I bought from the pound shop. The box did not last long so I had plenty of time to reinforce my scarecrows by adding another bamboo stick with an upside down bottle on it. No idea why but every one of my neighbours seem to use such contraptions so I thought I would give it a go too.

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Raised bed planted and possibly slug & bird proof

Now if my plants are stripped to the root by slugs or pecked into oblivion by birds I can say I tried, half heartedly at least, to protect them.