One Year On

One year on there is a real sense of the growing season ebbing away, quite a different feel to last September when everything was just starting. The weather was quite different too, scorching last year vs sodden this year. 

New Strawberry Bed

There are a few similarities, I’m back to digging and I’m planting strawberries again, I’ve even got another pile of weeds forming but this summer it doesn’t look like the heap will ever dry out sufficiently to set it aflame.

The strawberry bed was a mass of tangles, strawberry runners twirled around bindweed stems and I felt it was time to have a clean up. I’m probably a little late actually but I’m sure they’ll be happier with some breathing room now. It also gave me chance to clear out the last remaining patch of bindweed hiding underneath the pond liner.

Here’s the yearly progress shot from the water butt – anticlockwise: Sept 07, Mar 08, Aug 08, Sept 08.

A Year at the Water Butt

Post to Twitter

Wot no Grandkids?

My parents arrived today, searching for grandkids as predicted.

Finding the flat childless, they were persuaded to walk along to the allotment in search of productivity. There I handed them a fork each and set them off at either end of the row of manky cabbages in a horticultural dig out. Mum won of course, by virtue of both reaching the middle first and rooting out the biggest pile of couch grass and bindweed.

By means of a reward I brewed them a cuppa char each, after all they had just driven all the way from Yorkshire and ought to be able to multi-task while watering the spuds.

Multi-tasking

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

Paths and Peaches

Great weekend, the sort that requires another weekend to recover from though.

Avalon Pride 4

The widely forecast snow didn’t rear its head in London, in fact Saturday was a gloriously sunny day. I was free in the afternoon so headed off to the plot with my newly delivered peach tree. I bought this from Blackmoor Nurseries and the variety, Avalon Pride, is apparently resistant to leaf curl. If I can plant it against a SW-erly wall I should be rewarded with juicy fruit some years hence.

My shed is approximately SW facing, if you are a glass half full person, so I’ve decided to train it as a fan underneath the bird box. This required some brave and ruthless pruning. The stump you see in the photo is the result of two days of nervous nibbling with the secateurs. It seems such a tragic waste to hack off hard grown branches, especially when the tree cost £25, I’ve already relegated about £10 quids worth to the incinerator.

Today wasn’t such a great day, cold and flippin windy but I managed to get quite a lot done. You’ve got to love sheds, regardless of how bitter the day is, you’ve always got a little retreat. A perfect home from home. Everyone should have a strategically placed shed with a supply of tea bags and digestive biscuits, it’s practically a human rights issue.

So I started with a bit of digging – I still haven’t cleared that peculiar ridge of bindweed and couch grass roots that I mentioned a few weeks back, and then I chose to start building a path.

Allotment path.

At the moment I seem to be wandering haphazardly across the plot, compacting the area I’ve already dug, so I need to add some order. I nicked the bricks from another pre-existing but almost buried path and will need to go on a hunt for suitable hardcore material before I can organise the whole plot properly.

Sweet pea rolls

After a couple of hours hard labour, it was back into the shed to start the sweet pea seeds off in the toilet rolls I’ve been collecting for months.

I don’t get a huge amount of light through the glazed windows, so I hope they don’t get too straggly before it is safe enough to send them outside to face the big bad world.

I’m using one of my old coke bottles as toilet roll specific watering device. It was a heck of a lot harder to construct than you’d imagine – I knocked a nail through the lid after a couple of severe bashes with the hammer but I had one hell of a job removing it again. The plastic on those lids must be about an inch thick!

Post to Twitter

Bleak Mid-Winter

Misty

We may have just hit the point of mid winter but it wasn’t all that bleak down the allotment today, jolly misty, a bit chilly, but not bleak at all. In fact it was quite a joy to be down on the site, the old apple trees are looking particularly sculptural and most plot holders have been involved in a flurry of tidying, the plots look great. Even mine seems to have adopted a sense of the seasonal spirit, I should have taken some mulled wine and chestnuts to roast over a little blaze of bindweed roots.

When I first took on the plot, one of my more experienced neighbours told me that most of the site remains free of frost year round but that they occasionaly get a freak frost that passes through a handful of plots in a diagonal band. My plot is definitely within Jack Frost’s dropzone, he scatters the ice through my plot like rivulets. In some areas I had to jump on the fork to crack through the frozen tilth but then a foot to the side I found myself squelching in a soggy patch. Probably not ideal digging weather but Good Friday falls early this year and I need to crack on if I want enough clear space for my spuds to be in for March.

Swift

I laid out my seed potatoes for chitting in the shed. I was a bit concerned that it may be a bit cold for them in there as I always used to do them on my window ledges but I think they should be ok in these polystyrene seed trays.

They look pretty toasty to me but they aren’t the only cosy veg on the plot. Check out the new pea seedlings, doesn’t it look appealing in there?

Cosy pea

Shakti planted those peas for me on the 14th November alongside a double row of aquadulce. The broad beans are only just showing signs of awakening and have been pretty tardy in comparison to the peas. It would be cruel to compare them to their older brothers which were planted two weeks earlier and are now almost pushing through the top of the fleece enclosure. It will be interesting to see if the head start makes much difference to the bean cropping.

Post to Twitter

All Quiet on the Allotment Front

Well it hasn’t been all that quiet it’s just been so stressful recently that I’ve kind of gone into blogging hibernation.

I mentioned in my last post that I had been offered a super shed for use on the plot and I’d roped in the help of my mum, dad and brother to help erect it, after I’d dismantled it and delivered it to the plot.

So, full of excitement and enthusiasm I set too on the shed, whipping out screws and nails, or at least I would have done if I hadn’t shredded every screw I touched. The flippin things wouldn’t budge and faced with the enormity of my task I sat down in a little sulky heap and tried to remove all shed dreams from my memory banks.

Shed Foundations

Following a call to the family, I discovered that there are many people way more talented than me on the DIY front. It seems my brother knows special tricks for the removal of stubborn screws and the shed dream was back on. With excitement creeping back, I booked the van (after checking it would take an 8x6ft shed) and then headed to the plot to prepare the site.

Seems a little strange to prepare the soil for planting a shed but I was worried about it becoming a safe haven for bindweed if I left any roots. Now I risk the shed sinking instead but the ricketier it looks, the safer it will be.

Early last Saturday morning the 4 of us headed to my friends to start ripping the shed apart. What a job that was. After getting all the screws undone but before pushing the shed apart like a pack of cards, the question was asked – “should we not just put it back together and leave it well alone?” Clearly there was an inkling of the trouble ahead.

We continued and after about 4 hours had the shed piled up in a heap ready for me to go and fetch the van, parked about 8 miles away in central London. I was a little concerned when I saw the van, VW Transporters aren’t that big really, but I had asked the question and was told it would fit so I drove it back.

So much for asking questions and really I suppose you shouldn’t trust anyone to do trigonometric calculations when you are quite capable of doing them yourself and discovering that the doors are more than a foot too short! Curses! Where do you get a whopping great van without notice at 4pm on a Saturday. No where is the answer.

We carried the shed back into my friends garden. I went back to drop the useless van off and spent the rest of the evening trying to get my dad and brother drunk on vintage port so that they weren’t too concerned about all the wasted effort.

Next morning I managed to hire a massive hi-top transit van and we were back on the job by 9am. Vintage port gives the sort of headache that doesn’t welcome early mornings and hard labour. Still, the shed fitted like a dream and we were off to cause havoc at the allotment site.

Sunday morning is no time for trying to squeeze the biggest damn vehicle ever down the middle of the site. I must have disturbed just about every plot holder there and anxiety levels were sky high. We unloaded it pretty quickly though and I skulked off to dispose of the van. By the time I was back it seemed the shed was almost up! And I promise I didn’t take my time, I was only gone for about 15 mins. My brother is clearly an ace at construction.

Shed Erectors 1

I didn’t really do a lot, I just looked on with gradually declining anxiety and fetched screws. When I finally got to look inside I discovered that my dad and brother had knocked up some fantastic staging and laid a laminate floor! This is definitely going to be a home from home.

With the shed up my brother had to shoot off home (and I didn’t even give him any lunch). My mum and I set too with the organising, finding special spots to hang the tools and finishing off the shelving. As if they hadn’t all done enough by this point they started digging over some of the areas I’ve missed, planting bulbs around the pond and constructing a permanent bench. I had to drag them away eventually so we could get some dinner.
25112007380

It’s almost a wonderful end to the weekend except for the fact that I seem to have broken some allomenting by-law. The shed is apparently too big for the site. Quite a bit too big. Now I’m living in fear of being issued an eviction notice and having to go through the whole sorry process again. If push comes to shove I may take a chain saw to either end and make it smaller that way, but it would be a terrible shame.

So at the moment I am keeping a low profile, I need to go up to the plot to plant an apple tree and empty my overflowing compost bucket so I think now would be a fine time – tis absolutely belting it down. I bet I won’t see a single soul there. I’ll be able to plant my tree and sit in my dry shed admiring the view and waiting for the bulbs to poke through.

Post to Twitter

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.

Post to Twitter

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?

Post to Twitter