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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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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Hammett’s Tights

I have been known to swear in the presence of the M1 Garden Rotovator but after Reg gave it the overhaul last year and passed on his top tips I knew that the trick was to filter the petrol through a pair of Tracey Hammett’s tights.

It seems that our habit of churning the soil without the air filter in place has resulted in flecks of soil clogging the fuel in-let pipe. With two whole beds to turn over before we could plant the spuds I was fairly determined to get the motor running and happily strained the fuel through the hand me down tights.

Of course it didn’t work.

You can’t pull that flipping machine out of the shed without a full scale meltdown.

We got Reg on the phone who had Lynn set to with a hammer and screwdriver trying to extract the spark plug in order to scrape a pencil over its points???

Of course that didn’t work.

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.

I was within seconds of listing the rotovator on eBay mobile when Lynn managed to coax a satisfying splutter and roar. She delivered it to my potato bed with an almighty smug smile and happily announced that the petrol tank was empty.

It was not flipping empty! I’ve got photographic evidence of it going through Tracey’s tights. Unless they acted like a wick and absorbed all the fuel before it hit the tank.

Still, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Digging is hard work and I could have the beds ploughed in minutes if I could keep it ticking over.

Lynn cracked on with the potato planting while I retired to play with a new gadget prepare a well earned cup of tea on the Valor 64C Petroleum Cooker!

My previous tea making gadget, the Kelly Kettle, was not that popular with her in doors. It usually caused a little friction on the plot as it took me an age to build up sufficient tinder to heat up a couple of mugs of tea and I think it was seen as an excuse for a sit down.

The Valor 64C didn’t fair much better though. I had a long mothers day chat with my mum, prepared labels for all my planned seed sowings and still the kettle was still only gently steaming. It wasn’t the only one steaming!

I blame the titchy kettle. When I tried the equipment out again to fry up a gammon steak and boil some freshly picked purple sprouting it worked a treat. It helped that I’d read the instructions as well I suppose, I hadn’t realised there was a high and low setting.

After such a good start to the day it was shame that we had to cut it short but with seeds un-sown and spuds yet to be planted we received a call from the cops to inform me that my beautiful Triumph Bonneville had been found on the common – trashed. Here starts a long wrangle with the insurers.

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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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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

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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