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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Solar Treat

Another glorious weekend and I managed to sneak two full days on the plot. I was supposed to be out on my long run on Sunday afternoon but I’m finding it increasingly hard to drag myself away from the shed. With weather like this I can stretch out on my bench with my feet on a sack of manure, my back leaning gently against my peach and my face basking in the sun.

No sun bathing for these coy little beauties, they spend their entire lives looking at the ground, I wonder what made them so shy.

Coy

It wasn’t a completely lazy weekend, I spent most of the time digging and now there’s only a small strip left to go before the entire plot will have been given the once over.

Stale Seed Bed

I also prepared a seed bed. I really don’t know why I keep being attracted towards construction jobs, I must be the worlds worst DIY’er. I gathered my scrap planks, chopped to them to size and then nailed them together into a frame of sorts before knocking it and the stakes into the freshly dug ground. As soon as I took the hammer to the stakes the whole frame decided to blow apart. 30 bent nails later I managed to get it to stay together for long enough to step away from the disaster area.

I intend to use it as a stale seed bed for starting off my cabbage and leek plants. I’m not sure how well it well it will do as the shed casts quite a shadow and it only really catches the sun from about 1pm onwards but we’ll see.

My neighbour gave me a good bag of jerusalem artichokes to take home with me. I don’t think I will bother growing any, what a flipping faff they are to peel! I made a carrot and JA soup which was ok but not special enough to repeat, I’ll try roasting the few I have left and see if this leads to any sort of culinary epiphany.

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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!

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Early Sowing

I didn’t think I’d get to the allotment this weekend but while I was in the park, trying to squeeze in a long run for my half marathon training, it struck me what a great gardening day it was. Didn’t take much for me to cut the run short and head off to the plot.

Beauty and the Beast

What a lovely day, plenty of signs of spring, vibrant colours bursting out of the soil.

My legs were aching a bit too much for digging (I’m full of excuses) but I did do something productive – seed sowing has commenced! I know I am way too early but I’m working on a tip off from my Dad who has suggested I might get away with an early batch of spring onions, radish and greyhound cabbage.

My early broad beans and peas have quite a spacious row between them so I’m trying to utilise the cosy spot under the cloche for bringing on the seedlings. Hopefully the existing crops will provide some protection for my seeds and not grow so quickly that they turn in to the neighborhood bullies.

January Sowing

I left with another sack of rocket. It’s starting to taste very strong though and I’m not such a fan of bitter salad leaves so I may check out some cooked arugula recipes, I’m bound to be able to do something pasta related.

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Cuppa Char Anyone?

Room of Ones Own

I woke this morning with plans of allotment pottering on a slightly more sophisticated level than I managed yesterday. I still wasn’t feeling on top form so my plans centred mostly around my new chair and dreams of a hot steaming mug of tea.

My mug of choice was A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf, so apt for the shed I think, and my stirrer is a little family heirloom from my Gran.

However, these were just dreams. I actually woke to an email from a freecyclist offering me a gift of a 9ft extendable ladder. Now as I’m in need of a ladder to apply some roofing felt to the shed I was very happy to take him up on his offer, but herein started a 2.5 hour challenge to claim the goodies.

The ladders lay 6 miles to the west of me, an easy enough cycle but it was quite an ordeal to lug them back. My trusty revolution cargo trailer proved its worth again though and really took the weight off me. Most of the route was along the thankfully straight dual carriageway – it is understandably tricky to steer a rigid 9ft bike around tight bends.

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I was knackered by the time I arrived on the plot, so stopped for the first in a long line of cuppas. After this essential revival, I started on the roofing task.

Applying roofing felt is quite tricky, I made a fair old mess of it all and am choosing not to illustrate the point as its too embarrassing. I even had a barracking from someone waiting on the train platform opposite, who informed me I had put it on upside down. He’s probably right. I daubed the edges with bitumen paint so it should do the trick anyway.

Talking of bitumen, I met my closest plot neighbour today, seems we keep missing each other. Anyway she was just passing by with her kids to pick up something from her shed and popped over to introduce herself. We shook hands and I’m afraid she left covered in the black tar that had somehow spread itself across my palm. I know how to win friends and influence people!

Bird Box

Just before the day ended I started on another task. I have a stack of wood offcuts lying around that either littered the plot when I took it on, or came with the freebie shed. I’ve had my eye on one of the planks for a bird box.

Rather like the roofing task, I rather botched this one as well, cutting the base too short. Still, I was able to wing it by substituting the roof. I then fashioned a new roof with some extra thin ply, covered it in an offcut of roofing felt and bashed nails in liberally.

I was at the bashing stage, feeling rather hopeless about the future of the box when a little Robin came and settled on the doorstep of my shed and watched my progress for a while.

I hope he comes and lives there.

*UPDATE*

I’ve just found what appears to be the definitive guide to designing bird boxes for specific species and it informs me that Robins like open fronted boxes, not tiny squeeze threw hole boxes. Maybe I’ll make another one just for my digging pal. It also looks like I might need to enlarge the hole a touch, at the moment it is 22mm but it seems that even tits like a minimum of 25mm.

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New Year, New Structure

There’s been stacks of progress over the New Year break and I’m sitting here at the end of the day with a labor intensive back ache. Good job I’m going back to work tomorrow, I need a rest!

I popped into a garden centre on my way back to London yesterday and I was tempted by yet another variety of potato – Kerrs Pink. This cultivar is now 100 years old and much favoured by the Scots and the Irish who ought to know a thing or two about spuds.

Climbing Bean Support

The potting bench in the shed is now laden with chitting potatoes, I’m digging like crazy to clear enough space to house them and I’m left wondering where the heck I am going to put the rest of my planned crops. Which brings me to the rather impressive structure in the photo. It’s my space saving, climbing bean/sweet pea support structure.

It seems that most plot holders here grow their beans as a fencing crop and it strikes me as a great way to squeeze in a whole family without having to set aside a specific bed. I don’t think they will cast much shade (at least not on my plot) and may even benefit the remaining crops by providing some wind protection and by discouraging the fox from running through.

Digging has proved to be painfully slow. I’m dealing with the patch in front of the shed, which the previous occupant had formed into a long ridge. There have been a couple of similar ridges across the plot, one of these comprised numerous mango pips buried in the ridge and covered with layers of newspaper. This one appears to contain nothing but couch grass roots, it’s so dense in there that not even soil has managed to find its way in. It is so tough to dig, I can get my fork in but can’t get it back out. I’m having to loosen the whole ridge and then go back over and peel it back like a decaying, detritus covered roll of axminster. No wonder my back hurts.

I had cleared quite a bit of the weed pile yesterday by bagging it up and tipping it but its mountainous again today. I had to shift it to a new location so that I can dig under it, maybe with all this turning it will rot down in to a perfect pile of compost. Not that I’d ever dare use it.

New Year Scene

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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.

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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.
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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.

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