Bright Lights

Ruby Chard

It didn’t look like a great day for spending on the allotment. However, I had a number of tasks that needed to be ticked off the list so I headed off early to beat the inevitable rain.

I took the plot on rather too late in the year to sow any winter crops, so early in the month I ordered a selection of plug plants from Delfland Nurseries. Royal Mail scuppered my horticultural hopes when they vaporised my plants somewhere in the midst of their industrial action. Thankfully the nursery had a few more plants left and kindly sent me out a replacement. I may be about 3 weeks too late but my lovely little organic plants had arrived and they needed to go in the ground pronto.

My organic plug plants comprised: 6 spring cabbages, 6 calabrese and 12 “Bright lights” Ruby Chard. In addition to these little head-starters I had 157 bulbs to plant around the pond. Bulbs always look so easy when they are packaged up and I get carried away with the bulk purchase value but planting 157 bulbs is no mean feet. My pond is not so big either and the planting may now be a little over dense. I suppose spring will tell.

Neighbourhood Salad

My lunch for the day was almost entirely local, a very suitable dish for the plot. It was a potato salad, made with the pink fir apples donated by neighbours to the right, a cucumber from the neighbour to the left, tomatoes from Devon and a handful of my own 7 year old rocket.

As usual all the beds needed weeding and as most of the broad beans have popped above ground I could finally see well enough to have a dabble with the hoe. The garlic isn’t up yet though so I decided to leave the flush of green seedlings to another weeks colonisation.

Finished off by covering my brassicas in a new enviromesh contraption and wrapped up the plot as the rain started.

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Veg Box Scheme

Local Food?

How pretty is this little delivery?

Following my thwarted search for local food last weekend, I thought I’d try out a veg box scheme. This little box came from the organic delivery company, who apparently source local organic produce from the Covent Garden fruit and veg market. They have an evening delivery in my neck of the woods every friday evening which is jolly convenient.

I completely messed up with my order online but they gave me a call to sort it all out and still managed to fit me in for this evenings delivery – so no complaints there. The delivery went a little awry though, the box was left outside no 22 while my flat is no 23. The two numbers are at diagonal opposites in the block so I imagine the delivery guy just got fed up searching for me. Anyway, alls well that ends well, I got to meet another neighbour – a lovely lady from no 16 who spotted the produce and took it upon herself to re-unite it with its home.

I got a box of eggs at the same time and discovered that I can supposedly identify the farm or origin from the label. My farm is 0-402 but I can’t for the life of me find a website that will convert codes to farm addresses, so I have to just trust that it was local – not ideal.

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Real Seeds

There was a lovely treat awaiting me when I got home today, which just about made up for the terrifying night-time cycle commute. Two seed packages had been delivered, one with 3 packets of organic freebies from Thompson & Morgan and the other containing my purchases from the Real Seed Catalogue.

Real Seeds

I love these seeds, it’s like receiving tiny hand made packages of sweets. The dwarf french beans look like yoghurt coated delights and the cultivation tips are fantastic – far better than anything I’ve seen in the “standard” seed catalogues. You should be able to read the instructions on the back of the gherkin packet to get an idea of what I mean.

The Real Seed Catalogue specialise in rare and heirloom specimens and provide all the information you need to collect and store your own seeds – its a wonder they don’t put themselves out of business really. I’ve reproduced these photos specifically for my dad, we’ve decided to go in for a bit of a seed share this year, so this is a heads up on what he’s going to get from me.

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Local Food – How Hard Can It Be?

I’m feeling inspired by “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and am considering an attempt at my own local eating experiment. I wouldn’t start it yet of course, the allotment hasn’t really had a chance to start supporting a healthy appetite, but it’s never too late to start researching my options. On Sunday I thought I would head off to the lotty by way of the local farmers market to source some locally laid eggs, only it seems the local farmers market has been transplanted – so thats the end of the easy option.

I looked in on the neighborhood butcher who seemed to have a good supply of eggs. I read all his labels for evidence of origin but they didn’t go beyond “from a farm” and “free range”, which didn’t pinpoint them to any place close. I suppose I could have gone in and grilled him on his sources but this is supposed to be a local food project and not a learn-how-to-speak-to-complete-strangers sort of project. I’m beginning to think that communication may be the only way forward though, even the internet is being uncharacteristically unhelpful.

Today I opted to explore the newly opened organic/herbal type health food shop for local food options. Not much luck in there either. They sold supplements of one form an another, which I would hope to be surplus to requirements in any healthy eating plan, some New Zealand honey, which doesn’t sound so local and then a load of soya produce, which I’m now led to believe is an evil industry responsible for wholesale habitat destruction. Not that I know what I’m talking about, it’s all way too political for my tiny mind but I’m sure soya isn’t a local produce anyway.

I was looking out for ingredients for soda bread as inspired by Beansprouts, so needed milk, yoghurt and wholemeal flour. I picked up the flour from the herbal shop but they didn’t do milk or yoghurt of the dairy variety. I could easily have given in to the lure of Waitrose but that is surely to easy. Instead I opted for ye olde corner shoppe, no idea where he gets his products from but he did have all the items I required. My butter choices were either Holland or New Zealand again, the New Zealand butter claimed it came from happy cows but having travelled half way to NZ I know it aint even nearly local, Holland on the other hand isn’t too far away.

On my way home (via the pub) I had a little think about my butter purchase. I have it good authority that you even get cows in London, admittedly East London, but London nontheless, so shouldn’t that mean I can get hold of East London butter? More searching required.

Finally, its time to turn my attention towards beer. I’m fortunate enough to live opposite a brewery. Unfortunately it ships out Budweiser, but, hypothetically speaking, if I were to drink Bud from the pub opposite the brewery, could I feel confident that it hadn’t actually been shipped from Mortlake to the US of A and then back to Mortlake again?

Local eating and drinking is going to be tough and I need to build up a bit of knowledge before I tackle this – I wouldn’t want to starve.

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Infinity Pool

Infinity Pond

I acquired a few off cuts of pond liner from the amazing freecycle group and after using them to suppress weeds for about 2 days, I decided I may as well get on and build a pond. I took a fairly haphazard approach to the design and was lucky that my sheet of rubber just about fit the hole I dug. I didn’t spend enough time contemplating levels though, the water is tipping over the sides and I’m either going to have to do a little repair job or plant up an impromptu bog garden in the resulting swamp.

I’m chuffed to bits with the plot progress over the last month, thanks are due to the good digging help from my mum and dad and Shakti.

Overview 20th Oct

I spent 6 hours there today, pottering around, reading my latest book and waiting for the pond to fill. It wasn’t all laid back of course, I did have to clear the space for the pond and then dig it out, and I dug up the strawberries and transplanted them for a second time in a month, this time under a mulch of excess pond liner, and I finished off my raspberry hedge. Phew, I feel the need to sit down again.

What am I going to do when its all clear?

My current allotment read is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating by Barbara Kingsolver of The Poisonwood Bible fame. Its about her families year long experiment to eat only locally sourced produce, which in the most part means food they grew themselves. It’s very interesting so far and poetically written. I was a bit ashamed to be reading it on my barren plot eating a packet of crisps and a bottle of ginger ale sourced from Sainsburys. I’ll make amends soon enough and with any luck I’ll be drinking my own ginger brew next weekend – although thats dependent on me finding a source of muslin so that I can filter the yeast out of my gloop.

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Compost Alley

I had a late night trip to the lotty this week to deliver a load of compost bins that I’d managed to scavenge from my block of flats. It was interesting seeing the site in the middle of the night. I had to use my high power halogen torch to find my plot but once I got there I was able to turn it off and do a bit of weeding by the light of the overlooking train platform. I wonder if my plants will benefit by the extended light hours?

Compost Alley

Not quite enough light to bother taking photos though – that had to wait til Saturday when we were back to do some more tidying. Shakti was my able assistant this weekend and we spent most of the day trying to remove a patch of nettles and clear the remaining bindweed root from the edges. Nettle roots are amazing – such wiry yellow critters – a complete pain to remove but I bet they’d make a great clothes dye.

I am really excited by the compost heap windfall, I love compost and will have a production line going in no time.

After de-weeding (fingers crossed) the edge, I transplanted the raspberry canes that my dad donated, to make a fruity fence alongside the railway track. I also shifted the plum tree even though I should probably have waited til next month.

My new neighbours are jolly friendly and offered me spuds if I could be bothered to dig them. As this is just about my favourite harvesting task of all (after pea podding) I was delighted and we had a little bag of what I think were Pink Fir Apples to see us through the rest of the week.

Back home the ginger beer plant seems to be slacking a bit. I think its just too darn cold in my flat and the yeast has gone to sleep. It created a few more bubbles after adding sugar today and yesterday as its a lot warmer and I’m wondering if I should just carry on feeding it for another week or just get on and bottle it. Decisions, decisions.

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Melancholy Averted

In the end I had a very successful weekend down the allotment, thanks to the weather and a distinct lack of a social life.

I turned up around Saturday lunchtime and became almost irreversibly melancholic as it seemed the previous weeks’ hard work had been wiped out by the irrepressible couch grass invasion. Damn weeds, shouldn’t they be hibernating by now? I contemplated digging up all my crops and resorting to allover roundup application but half an hour with my swoe cheered me up no end. I must remember to leave more space between my crops, I have a tendency to cram them together but that means I can’t safely hoe between plants.

pink lady

By Sunday evening I had dug over the whole of one side of the lotty, planted a double row of broad beans (aquadulce), two types of garlic and two types of onion (red and white if you want their technical names). I also invested in a cheapo garden incinerator and made an amazing impact on the pile of dryish bindweed roots – I had to use a good deal of zippo lighter fuel to get it going but once it took I felt like armaggedon had arrived on the plot.

It was a jolly pleasant day with the digging interspersed with a spot of reading – I took down Clarissa Dickson Wright’s autobiography and read it while I was munching on a french stick with cheese. I was happy using my penknife to hack off chunks off cheese until I used to open the bag of manure left over from the previous occupant. After smelling the contents of that bag, I can’t imagine my knife will ever be sterile enough for food again.

Ginger Beer Plant

I ended the weekend back at home trying to germinate my very own ginger beer plant in the kitchen. This is going to take up valuable space on the limited work surface for the next 2 weeks so I’m going to have to work at being tidier than normal.

Imagine life in my flat when the rhubarb goes into overdrive and I begin to contemplate the joys of homebrew wine, jam and chutney making as well as gingerbeer bottling?

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Industrial Espionage

Dads plot

The Great North Run travel arrangements put paid to all plans for allotment labouring this weekend but I was able to do a reccy of some East Yorkshire plots and pick up more veg growing tips.

I think my dad was having payback thoughts after all the hard work he did on my allotment but “unfortunately” it was raining and we all know its not a good thing to dig on wet soil! Shame. Doesn’t stop you from admiring the handiwork of others though. They have some pretty productive plots in Bridlington but they seem excessively keen on brassicas, who needs 50 spring cabbages and 20 plants of purple sprouting? I am only jealous of course, I love purple sprouting and was just a bit too late with the plot to source any plants.

Bridlington Allotments

I met a couple of allotment holders who were happy to demonstrate the art of seed collection and monster onion growing. I am now going to scrub all the dahlia seeds from my order form and go out on the scrounge for dead heads. I hope to have a patch of prize specimens this time next year. As for onions, I’ve been alerted to the labour required to grow a monster, no wonder I only end up with pickling onions. The trick seems to be to grow them from seed, then keep em watered, manured and fertilised. Can’t go wrong.

Rocket

I acquired a little pack of spicy salad leaves this weekend so on my return to London I made a quick trip to the lotty to sow them. I was going to sow over my row of rocket as I’d given up hope of the 6 year old packet producing anything but when I arrived I was greeted by a flush of green seedlings. How satisfying! Now I have two rows of salad stuff for the autumn.

The weeds are up in my newly dug bed as well. I must have missed some of the couch grass roots and its too late to dig it over again now. I’ll have to hope I can exhaust them with repeated hoeing.

I’ve been trying out a new website called myfolia, I think it is still in the beta testing stage but it is worth keeping an eye on. You can set up unlimited gardens such as home and allotment and then record all your planting details and journal entries. I think its going to be a really useful tool for monitoring successes and failures. If you use flickr for your photos it will automatically link into these as well, very pretty.

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