Allotment Yoga

I love autumn on the plot. Most of the plants are finishing off and I get to start clearing the beds and tidying the plot ready for a long winter. 

This weekend we ripped out the corn and intertwined squash plants, leaving us two beds waiting for overwintering prep. There followed a flurry of back breaking but hugely satisfying activity. 

The double compost heap was turned with the most processed compost transferred back to the plot, leaving us with one full heap ready to be tucked up for the long process of decay, and a brand new empty bin for the seasons ahead. 

In the cleared beds we spread compost and manure and started topping with newspaper and grass mowings in order to recreate the forest gardening technique that worked so well with my beans. Unfortunately I can’t produce anywhere near enough grass for a quarter acre of mulch so this topping off process will take an absolute age and realistically won’t be complete by the start of the growing season. 

I’ve planted some field beans in there as well, which should all add to the organic matter when I chop them down in their prime.

I need to do everything I can to break up the clay in the far bed. This year we had beetroot growing in there. They did well till the sun came out and the bed cracked like crazed paving. Beetroot globes, once stood proud but now slumped half in, half out of a gaping chasm. 

I suspect they would do better with a deeply nourished fine tilth and that is now my main allotment focus. 

Hopefully by May we will have a completely renewed growing medium. 

Allotment YogaIf that wasn’t enough back breaking work for one day, we then dragged the tiller over one bed and planted onion sets and a couple of rows of Aquadulce broad beans. 

After that we collapsed on the grass path and squealed our way through an allotment yoga session. 

I still haven’t recovered the ability to touch my toes though. 

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Return to Eden

I’ve long been attracted to all things faddy and ever since I read about the Back to Eden project in last month’s permaculture magazine, I’ve been itching to turn the plot into a forest garden, layered with inches of paper, woodchip  and manure.

Although I’m eager to dabble with the latest fad, I’m not overly keen on being outed as a crackpot so I decided to start yesterday by very gradually transforming the plot.

Just as well really, the tiny corner that I did start to cover, took one newspaper, a bag of manure, the grass clippings from both the front and back garden and the best part of a sack of bark.

wood chip from backtoedenIf I don’t call in a dumper truck of municipal wood chip this little project will take me at least a decade to complete but at least no one will notice that I’m slightly deranged.

I’ve started over the bean trench but my next patch will be over the squash bed. A little too much to drink at a recent party resulted in the opening of the seed cabinet and ended in a”squash off” challenge being set. My squash bed now needs to be lush and moisture retentive to encourage the best curcubits I’ve grown for years.

I’m holding out particular hopes for the Spaghetti Squash. After many failed and bloody attempts with the spiraliser, I’ll be grateful for a squash that comes pre-noodled.

I’ll no doubt be cutting the lawn on a weekly basis now, and may even extend to the neighbours, in an effort to gather enough mulch to turn my patch into an oasis of biblical proportions.

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Marital Harmony Returns

I have written often of the frustration of the Rotovator.  Our particular torment comes in the form of a very old and cranky Mountfield M1 Gardener:

I am beginning to hate the rotovator. It offers so much in the way of pain free cultivation but its always such an arse to use. It weighs a tonne, requires repeated muscle wrenching yanks to even hint at a splutter and then when you finally get it started it roars for a matter of seconds before choking its way to a pathetic end. Then the process repeats.  
Oct 2011

I went back to the old fashioned method of forking over the soil while Lynn continued off and on, to wrench her arm out of its socket trying to get the thing to spark.
Mar 2012

This year we treated ourselves to a secondhand Honda tiller which we were told would actually start, first time. Of course I didn’t believe it. What petrol motor with a pull cord actually starts first time? We’ve tried the M1 Gardener umpteen times, and don’t get me started on the Stihl petrol strimmer, both have resulted in near dislocations and marriage-threatening arguments.

This weekend was a revelation. I tipped petrol into the Honda tank, flicked an assortment of switches and then grabbed the cord for a tentative pull. I wanted to start gently so I could gauge the tension before beginning the heavy duty yanking. To my complete surprise the engine spluttered and more importantly remained on. No shoulder wrenching yank-athons required.

What joy! Marital harmony may have returned to the plot. I can choose to use the tiller on a whim without risking the next 2-3 hours spent arguing over the position of the choke cable and who’s turn it is to pull the blasted starter cord.

Yes, my new Honda tiller is a dream come true, if a little bouncy.

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Hot and Bothered

I haven’t been down to the plot since the great leek disaster but this morning my electronic to-do list beeped to inform that it would soon be time to plant broad beans so we gathered our sun screen and headed off into the heatwave to prepare a bed.

Here’s the M1 Gardener basking in the sun, mocking me. Lynn and I are collapsed under the shade of the shed having spent 20 fruitless minutes trying to start the frustrating machine in the hottest day since the last unseasonably hot day, probably back in April.

I am beginning to hate the rotovator. It offers so much in the way of pain free cultivation but its always such an arse to use. It weighs a tonne, requires repeated muscle wrenching yanks to even hint at a splutter and then when you finally get it started it roars for a matter of seconds before choking its way to a pathetic end. Then the process repeats.

I ended up reverting to the good old fashioned way of soil cultivation.

 

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Putting Down Roots

I must feel settled here.

I spent the afternoon preparing a permanent bed, with manure, trenches and finely sieved soil, all for a crop that won’t be harvested for about 4 years.

It’s an incredibly high maintenance crop, at least at the outset, and it only produces edible shoots for a couple of weeks. Hardly seems worth it but Lidl lured me with it’s offering of heavily discounted asparagus crowns.

I managed to lay out this bed with £8 worth of spidery aliens – bargain.

I was ready to wipe off the idea of Christmas potatoes when we arrived. The spuds we planted back in summer had all collapsed with the blight and with only a couple months worth of growth I didn’t think we stood a chance of harvesting anything bigger than a smartie.

Lynn managed to uncover a remarkably impressive array of delicate skinned tubers from the two diseased rows and we headed home to run a taste test on the three varieties – Bambino, Vivaldi and Maris Peer.

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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 found at http://toolsaroundthehouse.com/reviews/best-self-propelled-lawn-mower-guide/.

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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Transferring the Peach in Severe Adverse Weather

Gripple Trellis Designs

While Lynn snuck out of bed to source cups of tea and toast, I churned out image after image of Gripple circuitry. I’d woken with a plan in my head and as an ever ready kind of a Scout, I just happen to keep a pad of grid paper by the bed for this sort of occurrence.

Having failed to find wire tensioners in Homebase last week I was pleased when my internet search uncovered a swanky new gadget for creating trellis constructions. It’s called the Gripple and I promptly ordered myself the starter pack of 4 Gripples, 4 Eye Hooks and a 30m reel of plastic wire.

This is where my puzzling started. Using only the above items, how do I (read: how does Lynn) create a fanned peach supporting wire combo with 4 lengths? We went for the 3rd aesthetically pleasing option and headed down to the plot.

I should perhaps have mentioned that we had chosen the weekend of the Severe Adverse Weather Warnings to partake in the peach transplantation event. It was a struggle removing the tree from the old plot with the famed light soil, a layer of ice had to be cracked away before the fork would gain entry and we ought to have thought about the difficulty of digging in our frozen heavy London clay plot.
But we didn’t.

Kaput Gripple

I was keen to play with the new toys but my hands were freezing and I had to run up and down the plot doing high knee raises and clapping my hands before I could contend with the fiddly bits.

The design of the “tensulator” was very smart and when it work I was very impressed. When it didn’t work, I let myself down rather a lot and had one of those, throw yourself on the floor wailing, kinds of a strop. A bit embarassing.

Here I am, pre-wailing, trying to force the wire to go through the Gripple and out the other end so that I could loop it back. No amount of forcing was going to tease the wire through and the thing is designed not to let me pull the wire back out again and it wouldn’t.

Cue strop.

Gripple in Action

We had to cut it off in the end and Lynn took it away to the shed to perform some kind of surgery on it (or perhaps she thought if she left me alone I’d stop flouncing).

We managed to get this one on successfully in the end but another Gripple got stuck after looping it around and without wasting loads of wire we couldn’t cut this one off. It was in a locked position but couldn’t be tensioned and so the finished job looked a bit naff but worked in a fashion.

I don’t know why we had trouble with two of the Gripples, if I’d had a pack of spares I wouldn’t have got myself too worried but I needed all 4.

The working ones were very neat and it proved easy to build up the tension. Our posts now look decidedly wonky as the incremental tensioning pulled them into an apex.

Cracking the Ice

I would like to have a handful of these in the shed for odd jobs but I’ll still remain concerned about their reliability.

My Dad left me his half tonne mattock after his last visit and a few swings of that saw my back in traction but also cracked the clay.

A robin swooped in to feast on some of the worms I’d just uncovered and reminded me how lovely it is to spend time down on the plot. With the feathering of snow also comes a peaceful calm that I rarely notice anywhere else. It’s a beautiful site.

The recent wet weather has made a huge difference to the clay, it’s incredibly heavy but you can at least force your tools through the surface. We got the peach in and it looked relatively cosy against its snowy backdrop.

450_peach

Back at home we got to play with the connectable outdoor Christmas lights that Dobbies sent me to try out. We’ve never had outdoor lights before and the new acquisition left me rather popular.

My first attempt at laying them out was snubbed by all though.

Xmas Lights

I’d trailed them through the letterbox, creating quite a draft and a trip hazard combined, and the lights ran out before they reached the tree base but in my defense it was cold out there and I thought the twinkling effect set the recycling bin off very nicely.

We headed back to Homebase to research outdoor electric options and came back with an enclosed extension lead that we could position at the base of the tree and feed through a specially drilled hole in the window frame.

Our neighbours have kindly planted a leylandii which forms the perfect support for our lights. The kids were able to scrabble up and position the cabling while we stayed at the bottom prepared to catch them.

These Christmas Tree lights were very good quality piece of kit, the cabling is very solid and formed of 3 twined cables with generously spaced bulbs. There is a waterproof connector so that you can join multiple sets without leaving gaps in the lighting. We are quite tempted to go nuts and light up the whole house.

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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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