Sadly Barren

April Steamings

The title applies to me and not the plot which continues to be satisfyingly productive as todays steamer contents will confirm.

I had a phone call today from my parents who were happy yet a little puzzled to find my blog mentioned in the Saturday edition of the Telegraph under the section: Best Allotment Blogs. The puzzlement was not so much due to the broadsheet recognition but rather the manner in which I was described – “Earthwoman is a working mother who posts beautiful pics and regular updates on her plot.”

Now I would like to reassure my folks that I have not been hiding any grandkids from them and as a note to any new readers I have to say I am resolutely childless, but I do post quite nice pics.

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Angel of the North

I’ve just been taking a look at the google earth image of my plot. I was wondering if my attempts to improve the surface of my tiny portion of the Earth were visible to the man in the moon yet.

Angel of the North

It seems like google haven’t updated their satellite images since around November 07 as the shed wasn’t included but a fair amount of weed clearance is noticeable.

The other point of interest is that someone or something saw fit to relocate the Angel of the North slap bang in the middle of the plot just while the satellite flew over and said cheese. How strange.

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Greenhouse or Kite?

Well the “greenhouse” is still in one piece but is arousing amused glances on the plot. Quite a number of people have let me know that they won’t be at all surprised to see it floating above their patch like a tomato laden hot air balloon.

I got a few really helpful comments to my last post, it seems both Easygardener and Kethry have learnt hard lessons with similar contraptions. Just to confirm, the frame is slightly submerged under the soil as is the excess polythene and I have now weighted this down further with a grow bag on each side. There are also 4 guy ropes attempting to hold the whole thing together and a number of clips holding the polythene to the frame.

Tomato House

Although it sounds super secure, I spent a bit of time in there today rearranging all the young plants from the front room nursery and gave myself one hell of a fright everytime one of the high speed trains whizzed past. The whole contraption feels as though it rises a couple of inches from the ground and then slams back down again. All the clips seem to pop off the frame as this happens and I’ve already retrieved 6 from the pond. If I had a bit more space I’d be tempted to go around the outside and bank the sides with growbags as well.

I’ve made the mental note to dismantle it before winter and if its still usable come next year I’ll locate it away from the railway line.

It is going to be much more of a hassle to deal with the opening and closing of the door. I’ve left it closed for now as I want to ease the plants gently into life outside, I’m thinking to nip to the plot tomorrow though and open it. From then on in I’m hoping it will be ok to leave the door permanently open. I’ve clearly got a lot to learn about undercover gardening.

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What a Scorcher

I reckon this is going to end up being a picture post, I’m far too shattered to string words together. The day was glorious but after about 6 hours on the plot my skin is tightly shriveling with the sunburn and I need to spend the next month in a vat of E45 cream.

Jungle

My seedlings have been going crazy in Shakti’s front room nursery, the beans are threatening to smother everything in sight and the tomatoes need staking. None of these things go well with toddler sized birthday parties so they need to go. Not wanting to shock them into submission with an immediate relocation to the outside world, I’ve been hunting down one of those mini greenhouse affairs to act as a coldframe. I spotted something even better from Wilkinsons though, a full on walk-in greenhouse complete with staging for £40.

Experimental Peas

Considerable rearranging was required to squeeze it onto the plot. The compost bins were pushed to the corner shaded by the hideous ivy which seems like the best spot for them considering nothing else will grow there except for slugs. More problematic was the wigwam I planted up last weekend with some 7 year old experimental peas. It’s quite a palaver trying to retrieve ungerminated green orbs from a patch of soggy soil.

Given my unchallenged bodging tendencies, I’m quite surprised but pleased to say, the greenhouse went up relatively well. It only has one little tear in the polythene and I’m sure that existed before I took it out of the box. I’ve piled the edges up with soil, staked, pegged, clipped and tied down anything threatening to flap and if it’s still there tomorrow morning I may well do a little jig.

New Greenhouse

I’m going to plant the tomatoes in grow bags around the base – anything to try and keep the structure anchored, and I think the chilli peppers and aubergines will be overjoyed.

Summer Cabbage

Before the construction started we (I had Shakti’s help today) transplanted the greyhound cabbages from the seed bed and sowed a row of yellow french beans. We also managed to acquire a load of broken paving slabs from the site skip and have a veritable highway laid out between beds. Unfortunately the new compost bin and greenhouse layout, blocks all access to the bottom of the plot. I haven’t a cat in hells chance of accessing the peas if they decide to crop.

We left with a sack of multi-coloured delights for tea – Ruby Chard, Broad Bean tips and some of the overwintered onions.

Hungry Gap?

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Purple Throbbing Digitalis

There was a bit of a water crisis on the site last weekend, a huge leak had been discovered in one of the pipes and a rumour spread suggesting we were going to be without running water forever. Even though it seemed to have been sorted out on my half of the site by the next morning, it acted as a trigger for me to start a water conservation project. I acquired a water butt from freecycle and the weekend was scheduled to create a shed, butt and guttering ensemble.

How long could it take to install a single span of guttering? To give the game away right from the start, it took me 3 hours and as I left the guttering was propped up on the inside of the shed, thereby serving absolutely no use whatsoever. Perhaps a few more hours tomorrow will see the task complete.

I started by siting the butt at the back of the shed, leveling the ground and preparing a raised support, then I had to repeat the whole process at the other side of the shed as someone had seen fit to install a flippin birdbox slap in the middle of my guttering route. I intended to put the gutter with a slight downward slope so that the water just trickles into the butt without the need for fancy attachments and downpipes but my first attempt failed at the first hurdle – the roof overhang went beyond my guttering and the rain just slipped over the edge.

Batons were sourced and cut to force the guttering out beyond the overhang but then I had a problem with my screws – too short – too long – the usual. I got a bit knarked and started hammering the screws and a few nails until walloped my finger with a direct blow. I wanted to hop, scream and swear like a lunatic but an audience had assembled on the overlooking platform. I had to smile and take cover in the shed until I could cope with the throbbing finger. It also gave me the opportunity to retrieve all the items scattered on the floor after my banging frenzy.

I regained my composure and finished the job off, slid the guttering into the brackets and went in search of some water to test the trajectory. Still with an audience I poured a bottle of water into the middle of the guttering only to be welcomed with a splattering sound at the wrong end – someone installed the shed on a flipping slope. You just can’t get the workmen these days!

Off to Homebase again to buy an end piece for the guttering so that the water gets directed back in the right direction. Guttering apparently works with some impossible connection that took 3 beefy guys from the customer service section to be able to break into. I was sent off with the suggestion that I loosen up the rubber with some hot water and washing up liquid. I needed a cuppa tea anyway so just chucked the end piece into some boiling water on the trangia. When I remembered to fish it out again it looked a little on the overcooked side and rather twisted out of shape. No hope that it would fit on the end in the designed fashion. Not to be outdone I opened up my tub of bitumen and smeared great dollops around both ends of the pipe. So now its propped inside the shed, hopefully drying into super sturdy water proof seal. We’ll see tomorrow.

Whopping Cabbage

Although I am clearly the worlds worst DIY’er I can console myself with being probably the worlds best cabbage grower. I dug up one of my monsters today and had to utilise the bike trailer to get it home.

I’m sure Norris McWhirter would be interested in this photo.

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Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

Nasturtium rain drops

A long time ago I read somewhere that nasturtium seeds can be pickled and used as a replacement caper. I love capers but don’t feel so upbeat about the price of the tiny little jars so I’ve been wanting to try out this cheapskate trick for ages.

I’ve got a few plants started in the front room nursery and have just scattered a few more seeds around the plot today. Nasturtiums are a really useful plant, they are beautifully gaudy, attract blackfly like you wouldn’t believe – thereby saving the broad beans from suffocation by the black beasties and the leaves add a peppery pungent taste to salads. If the pickling trick works, nasturtiums could easily make it into my top 5 desirable plant list.

Here’s the recipe I’m going to try:

Collect as many green nasturtium seeds as you can muster – you pick these after the flowers have dropped but before they dry out, soak them overnight in a salty brine and then drop them into the boiled and cooled pickling concoction. I’ll keep these in jars and shove them in the fridge but may update the recipe and storage instructions once I learn some pickling techniques.

1 mug white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 small onion, thinly sliced
A few slices of lemon
1 bay leaf
Pinch of mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic
6 peppercorns

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Slugs Bite Back

Parsley Anyone?

I knew those darn slugs would mount some kind of retaliatory assault. This little clump of useless stalks is all that remains of a healthy French Parsley specimen I planted last weekend.

They’ve also been along the line of brassica seedlings under the environmesh and eaten every last one of them. All that is left standing is a row of weak stalks, looking like frail white flags of submission.

Snow Capped Spuds

I wasn’t able to do much on the plot this weekend as the snow fell and left the ground too wet for tramping around. I turned up to check on my broad beans though. They were weighed down by the snow so I shook them clear and stood guard for a while willing the snow to stop falling. I think they will survive the cold but I have not staked them up well enough and they are more or else crawling across the floor instead of standing proud and tall. I’ll do a better job next year but its too late now as I can’t straighten the limbs without snapping them off. The site secretary was round to check on the beans before I left and to point out that he hadn’t planted his out yet – they were still sitting cosy in his greenhouse.

Table Top Potting

As I couldn’t sow anything on the plot I retreated to Shakti’s front room nursery to pot on some chillis and dahlias and to start with the tender beans. Shakti is hosting a toddlers birthday party in her house at the beginning of May, so my seedlings have been served an eviction notice, hopefully everything will be timed to perfection and the weather will be kind enough to allow hardening off to commence very soon.

It’s going to be a very busy start to May, there are a lot of plants to get rid of now.

Front Room

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