The Air was Blue

There were some ripe utterances on the plot this morning and for a change it wasn’t me doing the cursing.

One of my latest crazes is woodworking but beyond whittling a wooden spoon and purchasing assorted hand tools I haven’t really progressed the hobby much further. I’ve sharpened one of many vintage chisels and have hacked at a sticking door frame with a blunt Stanley plane but it has hardly been an intense or successful apprenticeship.

So when we arrived on the plot and it became clear that true joinery skills would be required, I skulked off to deal with the tricky weeding and left Lynn to handle the construction tasks.

Cue much swearing….

I’d requested a second compost bin for the plot so that we can turn the contents of the bins from time to time and speed up the decomposition. Having spent a week scouring the neighbourhood for discarded pallets we had acquired enough to start the build.

The pallets were pretty much indestructible and Lynn wielded that hammer for a good hour before the blocks would loosen sufficiently to be able to fashion a sliding door for the front of the bin. I busied myself with the camera and tried to stay out of reach of the swing.

Looking back at the photos now its hard to see quite what my contribution to the day was, it even appears that Lynn completed the transfer of the compost between bins despite the very real threat of vermin attack. I can confirm that I did dig one bean trench and made a cup of tea. I would have made a bacon butty for the worker too but I’d managed to bring slightly past its best bacon and thought it best not to poison her.

We left the plot satisfied but a little hungry.

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Garlic, Bugs and Curses Galore

What’s happening with the weather gods? The rain has come too late for a bounteous crop of spuds but is perfectly timed to ruin my garlic bulbs that are desperately in need of a good sun basking.

I had a tricky decision to make this weekend. The ground was sodden and with no respite promised, the bulbs of garlic that had appeared to be drying a fortnight ago were now disintegrating into a white fluff. I decided to pull the lot up and deal with the drying task at home.

We’ve now got close to 100 bulbs of wet fresh garlic, lined up under every radiator in the house, acting as a dubious pomander. I’d put them in the airing cupboard but I don’t think the clothes would maintain their just washed, lenor freshness.

While I was despairing over the bulbs, Lynn was constructing the insect hi-rise. This has been a monster in the making – cutting hundreds of nettle and bracken stems to size has tried our patience but Lynn had the worst of it while trying to bring the whole she-bang together.

As ever with construction tasks, we start off appearing prepared, drill charged, screwdriver to hand, multiple assorted screws and so on but then the facade begins to crumble. Drill bits aplenty but they are all masonry bits, screwdriver does the job until the screw head flies out and disappears in the neighbour’s strawberry patch.

This is when the job really starts and the cursing and sweating begins.

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Bride of Frankenstein

I did my best to get in the sartorial spirit of the weekend but my enviromesh veil was hardly an Alexander McQueen.

I’m all for Royal Weddings, I get to weep with a good proportion of the nation and then as a bonus I get an extra day to play around on the plot.

After two long and sunny weekends we can sit back contentedly and consider ourselves back on track as far as planting and weeding is concerned. We even had time to start on the insect houses we’ve been plotting for at least a year.

 

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M1 Gardener

We were on the plot by 10:30 ready for a full days labour. I collected one of the communal petrol lawn mowers on the way in and then wasted 30 mins wrenching every muscle in my shoulder trying to get it started. I managed to get it going long enough to shave a wonky line down our path then it started smoking and conked out. I returned it to the allotment hut, sheepishly.

From one petrol machine to another.

We hadn’t tried the hand-me-down rotovator since we picked it up last month and weren’t all that eager to pull it out of the shed now. It threatened to be a right arse and the lawn mower had put me into a mood. As it happened, the M1 Gardener started perfectly and by the time we’d dismantled half of it and discarded the air filter, it actually stayed started.

There is only have a tiny patch left to work and it was damn hard to control the machine within the confines. I’m pictured battling with the machine that was intent on ploughing through the neighbours fruit cage and then dragging me six feet under.

I finally got into a rhythm of ever decreasing circles and the effects on the ground were amazing. I was left with a tilth almost fit for sowing. I can’t wait til the end of the season when I get to churn up the whole plot.

Meanwhile, Lynn spent hours weeding the peas. Either the worms had worked the seeds to the surface or I had planted them too shallow because every weed pulled seemed to dislodge a tiny pea plant. Lynn must have transplanted at least half the row as she went along.

We’ve been researching pea support for last few weeks but in the end Lynn managed to forage enough dead wood from behind our plot to create an impressive architectural structure across both rows.

They look amazing and I hope those peas climb because it was a monumental effort.

There had been quite a hard frost at the beginning of the week and every last spud lay wilted and scorched over the earthed up mounds. I earthed them up again but we are at the limit now so I hope it doesn’t freeze again. I think the peach blossom was probably knocked back as well.

I’ve started to reclaim some of the fancy fruit area by sinking Grow Pots into the weed suppressant fabric and bark covering.

I’ve planted a few squash plants and if I can find a supplier of more grow pots I’ll have melons in there as well.

I had a slight hiccup with my squash seeds. I’d run out of plant labels so wrote the name on the polystyrene potting cups with marker pen. All the details floated away with the watering and now I’m left with umpteen unidentified forms of pumpkin and squash. It’s like last year all over again.

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Out With The Old

We’ve dabbled a little bit on the old plot at North Sheen, pulling parsnips and leeks but have finally decided the time has come to hand it over to the next budding gardener on the list.

I went over to see Sam to hand in my notice and nearly came away blubbing. It felt very hard handing over my lovely little corner plot that turned from a bindweed monstrosity into a moderately productive little haven in the space of a season. We emptied the shed and carted the trammel and another blackberry bush over to the new plot and rapidly felt at ease again.

We are lucky to be able to start over again, making plans and building stuff, and this new plot is sooo tidy!

It’s rapidly approaching the end of February and yet this was our first visit of the year to the Norbury plot. It’s been so wet and claggy and the snow still hasn’t declared for the season so we haven’t been able to dig or sow. My allotment task list is covered in red overdue stars though so we decided time had come to brave inclement conditions, ignore gardening sense and plant the cabbages anyway.

We knocked up this cold frame top for the seed bed in a downpour and I planted greyhound cabbage, cauliflower, onions and lettuce while Lynn started on the compost bin construction. I don’t hold out much hope for the seeds but that compost heap is a thing of beauty.

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Parental Visitation

The weekend was scheduled for the installation of the guttering and water butt, a task I’d handed over to Lynn but not before I had passed on the benefit of my huge and heroically unsuccessful experiences. I’ve been spouting tales of woe for the last week, predicting DIY disasters of monumental proportions and just to add to the pressure I thought I’d invite my parents down to witness the whole event.

Of course my parents are renowned troopers in the allotment world so I might also have hoped to benefit a little from their digging prowess and work ethic as well.

Kinky Boots

This shot nicely captures Lynn’s fear as she spots the kinky boots I bought my mum a couple of Christmases ago, I like to think she’s wondering desperately how she can backtrack and remove wellington boots from the xmas wishlist she left me with.

Too late though I’m afraid.

I’ve been revisiting an old book “Companion Planting” by Gertrud Franck and it triggered a little obsession with the mass planting of spinach seeds. I sourced a bulk supplier, Seeds By Size, awaited delivery of my 25,000 spinach seeds and then waited for the general mocking and guffawing from the children to die down, before sitting down myself and wondering if I’d gone ever so slightly nuts.

I am reasonably content that the mocking will die down when they find plate-fulls of slimey green stuff turning up day after to day but between then and now there is a lot of planting to do.

Spinach Sowing

Luckily my Dad was quite prepared to get stuck in there and start me off with the first row.

I think the general idea with the spinach planting is to cut and leave in-situ as a mulch or green manure but I’ll worry about the specifics later.

water butt

Heading back to the water butt, I’m afraid there is very little left to say.

It was disappointingly uneventful.

The guttering was erected in moments, Lynn and my mum sorted the trajectory without recourse to swearing and the whole thing was dressed up like a work of art before I had chance to get my hands dirty.

Sync Dig

My hands may have remained relatively clean but I didn’t let my folks get away with anything easy.

All in all they transplanted two fruit trees, dug the grotty front patch, planted a rhubarb crown, transplanted a row of spring cabbage, commenced the sowing of the 25,000 and demonstrated a bit of synchronised digging.

I did give them a cup of tea though.

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A Stormy Kind of Calm

A post storm reccy revealed that the wind had completely denuded the shed of its patchy roofing felt. With only 15 mins allocated for the plot visit there was never going to be time enough for a full repair job.

Shed Roof Repair

A shed related edginess cast it’s shadow over our corner of the site as a slight “tension” emerged between the lazy starter-leaver (me) and the task focused completer-finisher (Lynn). I was of the view that without a hammer, a ladder, the time, the inclination or the right clothes, we should put the soon to be rotten shed roof to the back of our minds and continue with Plan A, returning to the shed problem next week.

Lynn isn’t built out of the same “sit down and ponder over a cup of tea” mould as me and it was clear that we were going to have to get this job done pronto or suffer the consequences.

Plans were hastily rearranged and after a quick retreat for tools (and a flask of tea) we were back and ready for action.

I tucked myself well away from the stressy end of the plot and dealt with the rubbish pile while Lynn got up close and personal with the shed.

The rubbish pile was the main reason for our planned quick visit, most of it had already gone – thanks to the committee ladies who had been helping us to dispose of all the crud. All that remained was for me to bag up the few remaining bits of polythene and carpet and evict a few squatters. Seven mice and a toad ran clear of the carpet (at least the mice ran, the toad just looked aghast and covered up his private parts).

We’ll have to add “Build Wildlife Haven” to our construction to do list now.

We left the plot with a new air of satisfied calm – the shed roof was repaired before the rains returned and the shed interior began to take shape as the “Room of One’s Own Mug” returns to it’s rightful centre stage spot in the prized construction.

400_mug

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Shed to Sedan Chair Makeover

Lynn’s words rang clear in my ears as she dropped me and her Dad off at the plot to get a head start with the shed: “Don’t let him turn it into a ridiculous Sedan Chair!”

When we first signed up for the plot, the good ladies of the committee informed us that we wouldn’t be able to install a shed until we had proved ourselves for a full year. That and the absence of running water almost amounted to a deal breaker but I was keen to start the plot transfer before the growing season kicked in and hoped we might be able to broker a shed deal in the New Year.

Last week we were rather overjoyed when a steady stream of committee members paid a visit and then offered us first dibs on an abandoned shed. It proved to be a rather smashing shed, probably a 7′ x 5′, half painted and yet completely draft proofed with expanding foam.

Roll on this weekend and the perfectly planned visit from Reg, shed builder extraordinaire, aka Lynn’s Dad.

Sedan Chair

I’ve done shed transplanting before and found it to be extremely stressful, so to be fair, if Reg were to come up with a suggestion that even hinted at making life easier, regardless of the comedy factor, I was going to jump at it.

And so it was when Lynn arrived back. Reg had constructed a sedan chair par excellence. Having unscrewed the floor all we had to do was enter the shed, close the doors, take the strain and walk it straight off it’s foundations along the road and onto our plot.

Weekend 4

There were a good few people on the site that Friday morning but I have to give them credit, not one single digger looked up to gaze at the apparition of a walking shed. Maybe these things are commonplace in Norbury.

It was a heavy job and my forearms are still screaming but it was the most satisfactory construction project I’ve been involved with to date. In 3 hours only we had shifted the shed, mounted it on a level surface of bricks and pavers and completed the painting job.

Herb Path

Three cheers for Reg who came up with the bright idea and managed to sell it to a pair of doubting Thomases who ended up being extremely grateful for a job well done.

There was enough time left over for the more usual allotment chores such as digging, paving, planting and muck spreading. I’ve just set out a few herb plants between these paving slabs to provide an aromatic division between the beds and Lynn has prepared the holes ready for the fruit trees that we can shift across next week.

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