Month in Pictures – March

Month in Pictures - March

Progress report for March.

March has been a wash out weather wise and we even managed a bit of snow. A little creative jiggery pokery with my annual leave arrangements has enabled me to make the most of the very occasional dry spell to get on the plot and the results have been satisfying:

  • All spuds are now planted. Heaven nows how I am going to eat them all but that’s a problem for June, not March.
  • Copious quantities of broken paving slabs were collected from a freecyclist, a job that took the best part of a day due to me nursing the worlds worst hangover.
  • Paths were laid a few days later when I finally recovered.
  • Broad beans seem to be surviving despite doubtful glances from the old timers.
  • Shakti seems to be doing wonders with the seedlings in her care and has happily turned her front room into my nursery.
  • On the second to last day of March I completed digging the entire plot. Not one inch remains untouched. I am shattered but content and perhaps wondering what on earth I am to do with myself now.

March marks the end of my first 6 months with the plot so here’s the before and after shot:

Six Months Hard Labour

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Murder Most Horrid

Today it was time to face facts. The local frog population have obviously snubbed my pond and the slugs that I have been saving as amphibian delicacies have been having a whale of a time in my compost bin, procreating merrily and sniggering behind my back. Something clearly needs to be done if I ever hope to grow intact lettuces.

So, today marked the first assault on the slug flotilla.

There appear to be a number of options for dispatching slugs. You can squish them, a simple option but slug slime is stickier than melted chewing gum and its not the sort of thing you want lingering on the bottom of your shoe. Slug pellets are another obvious choice but are pretty damaging to the rest of the wildlife and would probably ensure I never see a frog or hedgehog on my plot again, plus I wouldn’t want them near my food. You can also purchase special slug hating nematodes which are apparently approved of by the soil association and other organic gardening watchdogs but although I can accept that nematodes already exist in my soil I am just not going to enjoy eating my cabbage when I know I’ve just watered it with a solution of parasitic worms. That leaves me with a painless option that I read about in my magazine yesterday – death by drowning.

I wiped about 30 beasties from the side of my compost bin into an inch of water in bucket. Almost immediately the slime factories puffed up a little and seemed to turn pale. Happy with a job well done, I turned away and carried on with my mammoth digging task.

10 minutes later I happened to be passing the bucket and saw at least 28 slugs fighting for pole position at the rim of the bucket. I sloshed more water in from a height and knocked them back into the drink. 10 mins later the process had to be repeated, this time I added a dash of my beer dregs that I have been saving for months, thinking this would encourage them to linger for a bit longer.

I must have been a bit tight with the beer because, you guessed it, 10 mins later they are back at the rim. Now I’m scraping them off with my spade and stirring vigorously. Its turning into quite a frenzied killing session and I’m not feeling too good about it. Who said drowning was painless? The darn creatures just won’t play dead. Perhaps I have cultivated a specific variety of deep sea diving slugs.

After 6 hrs on the plot it was time to go but the slugs were still not finished, I sliced a couple of particularly feisty specimens with my secateurs and left the others to their own devices.

I would say the slugs won the first battle. I need to go back armed with a more humane and effective form of execution. If only the frogs would turn up, then I wouldn’t have deal with all this unpleasantness.

Pictures omitted for obvious reasons.

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Stolen Time

Allotment Shambles

The weekend forecast is pretty dismal again so when I woke this morning to glorious sunshine I thought it was too good to waste and quickly swapped my annual leave arrangements. By 9am I was out on the riverbank, squeezing in another neglected pastime by running to the plot.

Typically, when I arrived the sunshine had disappeared behind a grey cloud but although it was pelting it down about 10 yards to the left of me, I seemed to be able to get on with my digging untouched. Commuters were huddled under brollies on the station platform and probably thought I was nuts not to take shelter but even as the rain cloud moved over and started its symphony on the pond surface, I was left in a little dry patch. Then the sun came out again and I had to strip down to a t-shirt it was so glorious.

New Path and Spuds

I’ve been trying to get onto the plot for days now and in fact the whole month of March has been pretty much a wash out. As a result I was like a wound up spring suddenly released to cause productive mayhem.

All the spuds are in now and I finished off by laying the paving slabs I acquired from freecycle.

Early Spring Progress

The site skip is almost always overflowing with junk but just to make this day extra perfect it was empty – at least it was when I arrived. Skip space is a highly valued commodity and keen not to miss out I finished my morning jog with an interval session. For non-runners this effectively means sprints followed by slow recovery runs. I ran too and fro my plot grabbing the filled sacks of bindweed roots, it was like a rather muddy supermarket sweep. So now the sacks have gone and the huge mountain of perennial weeds sitting slap bang in the middle of my courgette spot have been disposed of.

In the end I didn’t go and kidnap any frogs from the local ponds. I read on an amphibian wildlife site that frogs are currently under threat from a virus that is spreading across the country – red leg virus, and the sharing of spawn is only exacerbating the spread. I just have to sit tight and hope that news of the delightful residence spreads fast. I did however, transfer some wildlife from the water butt adjacent to the pond. It was absolutely teeming with tiny water boatman and I thought they’d be much safer in the pond – less risk of them being tipped onto my tomatoes to dry out slowly in the sun.

I’m happy again now and can go back to work replenished if a little shattered.

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Fireside Gardening

With the recent spate of inclement weather the green fingered addict has to look elsewhere for a horticultural fix. Here are a few of the ideas I came up with:

Plant Lables

While I was forced out of the garden this Easter, thoughts naturally turned to DIY and the flat ended up with a spring clean, a new lick of paint and an assortment of new shelves. With paint brushes and offcuts of wood littering the worktops it was an easy step to start rustling up a few homemade plant labels.

These are made from edging strips coated in white paint, the writing is done with a permanent marker and then coated with a layer of clear varnish. I reckon these will last a good few years and hopefully I won’t lose the next row of parsnips I sow – I can’t find the one I planted a few weeks ago.

Allotment Plan

Even with plant tags it can be quite easy to lose track of the layout of your plot. I’ve heard recently of a few websites that are offering plot design and garden layout tools so I tried out Plangarden which has two week free trial before asking your for a $20 per year subscription.

This enables you to draw up a visual image of your plot. I’m using it here to remember which variety of spud belongs to which row and to determine how much space I have left for everything I have left to sow.

It is its pretty useful but I’ve done it now and can’t quite see why I would carry on and pay for the subscription. There are a few other features such as a planting guide which aims to tell you according to location when it is appropriate to start planting. For my location it tells me that the last predicted spring frost will be the 25th April, so just one more month of anxiety to go.

There are two other gardening websites that I am much more convinced by and would like to recommend to you, these are myfolia and blotanical and both are free.

Myfolia is a beautifully designed website, it enables you to keep track of multiple different gardens eg veg patch, herb garden, flower bed and then monitor individual plantings in each. From there you can write blog posts and progress reports related to your plantings. It is linked to the online photo albums, flickr and picassa, so is very easy to create visually impactful posts.

I think this site is going to be invaluable when it comes to looking back and deciding when was the most successful time for planting broad beans for example. I have two rows planted a month apart and I will keep the progress reports going until they both crop.

The only thing about the site that I don’t like, is the enclosed nature of the website, I think you have to sign up in order to view the content so any blog post you write will only be seen by other members. This isn’t really a problem for me as I have an external blog anyway but I’d like to see an rss feed (or somesuch) that sucks in my existing posts rather requiring me to recreate them inside myfolia.

I’m sure things will change though, the developers are really keen to receive feedback and have made some great enhancements recently. For example the site also provides a few widgets to transfer myfolia content to your blog, on the lefthand toolbar I have a widget from myfolia detailing my latest plantings.

Apologies for the length of this post, we are now approaching the “and finally” bit.

And finally, there is blotanical. This is a great site, essentially a community of garden bloggers. Blogging communities are fairly common but this site has been designed so well you end up wanting to go back daily and as a result you are introduced to so many great blog posts and bloggers. I’ve never actually come across a site that manages to be quite so “sticky”.

All member blog posts are displayed on the site via an rss feed and can be viewed in all their visual glory, from within the blotanical site. You are encouraged through a membership point system to comment on and vote for outstanding blog posts. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, I believe the voting system is sometimes used as a means to gain points rather than to highlight worthy reads but you aren’t obliged to join in.

Anenome

If you have a garden blog, I would really recommend signing up for blotanical, my readership numbers have trebled since I joined last month and a lot of new and welcome commenters have come my way. I’ve also been introduced to a number of local and more exotic fellow bloggers, so I am never short of something interesting to read.

Phew! All done, have a flower for lasting this far.

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Frost Fear Sparks Insanity

The trouble with early Easter breaks is the tendency of the British weather to thwart any and all gardening plans. You wouldn’t believe how much work I had scheduled for this extended weekend, I was going to turn my plot into a prize winning specimen based on this weekends labour alone. Instead I’ve been forced back to flat to do constructive yet boring work like painting the walls. Not good at all, fortunately, Bean Sprouts informs me that it will be 150 years before we get another Easter quite this early again.

The past few weekends have been washouts but I’ve managed to catch the odd hour or so between showers to do a little pottering. I got a few more rows of spuds in yesterday and I now have 6 rows planted and enough left chitting for another 6. Trouble is I don’t have the land for another 6, at least not if I intend to harvest anything other than spuds. I think I may put the rest of my Kerrs Pink up for adoption, I don’t even like floury spuds so it seems a shame to let them take up all my courgette space.

Water Lily

Spring was welcomed in by the first flowering of my water lily. Quite an odd flower but attractive to a forgiving eye.

I was bemoaning the sparsity of frogs in my pond to a yocal, only to be informed that she had never seen a frog in all her years on the site and in fact hadn’t seen one within a 5 mile radius. This does not bode well for an accidental squatter turning up and making himself at home while gorging on the slugs that I’ve been nurturing. I was directed to Richmond Park with the suggestion to go and kidnap spawn – this is probably a productive job for a wet weekend.

More local chin rubbing advice was received regarding my broad beans. It seems the site secretary is very concerned about my plants and is keeping a close eye on their progress. He tells me that they are flowering and I would like to agree and grin back at him full of pride but I’m warned off by his sharp intake of breath and the look that makes me think a kettle of vultures are circling above my plot. He’s now put it in my head that they will be wiped out by the next frost so I can barely sleep at night, I’m concentrating on sending warm vibes to my patch. It’s too late now to cover them back up with the fleece as they are too big and I have staked them up, so all I can do now is send positive vibes. I’m almost talking to them. If they do manage to fruit I think I will talk to them!

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Beauty with Decay

Anenomes

I love these anenomes.

They are such gaudy, brash, little prima madonnas but they hold their tacky beauty to the bitter end. Even when the petals drop, I feel tempted to leave the dried out remains on the table top.

Unfortunately the pictured flowers came from M&S and not my plot. I’ve scattered the anenome de caen bulbs all around my allotment but the growth so far looks a bit limp. I’ve never had success with these bulbs, the growth has always been half-hearted and any flowers that develop are devoured by black fly.

Has anyone out there had success with the flowers? What is the secret to nurturing a fine and dandy anemone plant? I’m suspecting growth hormone.

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Sunglasses Required

SAD Seeds

I went to Shakti’s house yesterday to see how the seedlings were, I thought they’d be drying out and need a little freshening up, but how wrong could I be?

She has taken this nurturing responsibility very seriously. I found her sitting in the brightest house in the neighbourhood, trying to watch the telly in her sunglasses because the seed trays were on the floor soaking up the rays in front of her industrial sized anti-SAD daylight bulb.

She is doing a wonderful job. The sweet peas now have multiple leaves and don’t even look too straggly, every other seed has germinated as well except for the two pepper varieties which I imagine will pop up in a few days.

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Broad Bees

A virus of some sort is doing the rounds of my body at the moment so I’m not fit for much, but it’s hard to let the weekend go by without a trip to the lotty. It’s been so windy recently that I needed to see how the uncovered broad beans were doing and water the sweet pea seedlings.

Broad Bean Bee

I dragged my aching limbs down to the plot and on arrival promptly collapsed on my shed stool. Some time later I went to check on the beans. Assorted buckets from goodness knows where were wind strewn across my plot but thankfully the beans seemed to be holding themselves together.

I was pleased to see a huge bee moving hurriedly from flower to flower as well, good job I removed the fleece or those flowers may never have set.

First Spring Sowing

The only other thing I managed to do was to fill a few rows of modules with potting compost and assorted exotic seed: sweet peppers, chilli peppers, mixed lettuce, basil and a couple of dahlia types scrounged from a Bridlington allotment.

These have been packed off to live in Shakti’s flat as well, I’m doing my best to convert her place into a nursery.

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