Welcome to our plot!

I'm Hazel, and in Nov 2006 my friend Jane and I took on a half plot at Hill Allotments, Sutton Coldfield - we want the satisfaction of growing and eating our own fruit and veg, and to improve our diet (and fitness!).

This is the story of what happened next...........

Thursday, December 28, 2006

First pickings! Hurrah!

Yes! We had home grown Brussels sprouts for Christmas dinner! And they would have been utterly perfect had I not given them just a teeny touch too long in the pan, but no one’s perfect.

I picked from the bottom of each plant (big sprouts) up to the top (little sprouts) and the best ones are definitely the little ones because they are tighter (and therefore don’t all fall apart when you try to put that little cross in the bottom, like the larger ones do).

Most satisfying, I must say.

With regard to flower growing, big sister Helen says that growing flowers is not a wet idea because every time you cut a big bunch of flowers, you save £2.99 on the Tesco shopping bill which makes the idea a great deal more attractive.

For Christmas I have had some wonderful allotment related presents – including some packets of veg seeds – all well received with the exception of the beetroot seeds. I think we’ve decided that beetroot are not exactly top priority for the spring planting.

I’m looking forward to Saturday when it will be time to manure the front of the plot – and to work off some of the Christmas chocolates!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Will they or won't they...?

I’m full of anticipation today as although I’ve not been over to the Hill today – Christmas mince pies and sherry to good to miss – I plan to wander over tomorrow morning with one aim – to pick BRUSSELS SPROUTS for the Christmas dinner!

It will, of course, be a bit of a swizz, because we’ve inherited the plants, but I’m claiming them as Our Produce, nonetheless.

The last time I had a good look at the sprouts, the leaves had been nibbled, they probably could have done with staking, had a dose of whitefly and the sprouts themselves looked more like Birds Eye petit pois, but I do have high hopes of them making it to the Christmas table.

And if – despite my enthusiasm – they are a disappointment, there’s still time to nip to Tesco…

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Achievement...and a setback?

The good weather fairy has waved her magic want again, & considering how much rain there was on Friday night it was wonderful to see the sun shining on Saturday morning & I went with a spring in my step to the allotment. Again – oddly – I had the whole of the allotments to myself, with the exception of the teacher’s sister who seems to be fighting for every inch on her half plot.

The Big News is that I finished the initial dig of the plot by forking over the last metre by the roadway at the front of the plot – hurrah! I do wonder exactly how we are going to grow things here as it is SO built up that I think that we will have to terrace it so that all the rain doesn’t run right off.

Big sister Helen suggests that we have flowers across the front which sounds completely wet & a waste of good growing area, but on reflection, we are hardly short of space, & looking at all the other plots it does seem to be the thing to do. Aren’t marigolds supposed to be good companion plants? They are foolproof to grow, & do look pretty too.

The incentive to finish the Big Dig was to actually get planting! We have the row of garlic sprouting at the front of the plot, & the plan was to dig up & replant further up (in plot B).

I prepared this area first carefully & with a sense of satisfaction took a clump of garlic, split it & planted it into three rows. As I separated tiny sprouting clove from tiny sprouting clove, & carefully popped them into the little trenches 9” apart & covered them over my spirit faltered – surely the garlic cloves that you plant should be bigger than these? My little cloves are going to have to have a great deal of ambition to get to the size that you can actually eat!

I faltered further when I looked at how many I’d planted compared to how many are left. I bet there are 1000 of these little cloves & I wish that I’d planted my three rows with the biggest of those available rather than just going for first come first served.

In fact, I am so concerned of impending disaster that I’m going to get a proper garlic bulb to split into cloves & plant in a forth row to supplement what I’ve done. We’ll at least have some garlic plants that way.

Mind you, if the teeny garlic does come up trumps, we’ll have to invent new uses for it – as eating it all won’t be an option.

Garlic shampoo, anyone?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A fruitful morning (or possibly not...)

It must be some sort of record that the weather for the last few weeks on Saturday mornings has been utterly glorious – and yesterday was no exception. It was a bit nippy – but then it is December, after all.

Given this most equitable state of things, it surprised me that I had the site almost to myself for a couple of hours – with the exception of Roger who came and chatted as I forked.

Jane also dropped by on her way home with E and I left the last of the forking over in case they wanted to come down to do a bit which just leaves the last metre from the row of garlic to the front edge of the plot untouched, but that’s it.

The composter has disappeared from the slabs at the top end of the plot but given that the weather has been somewhat blowy, I suppose that it should not have been a surprise - Jane will have to identify the right one to retrieve (I think that it's ended up on it's side next door but about three) as lots of people seem to have these and I don't want to be had up for composter rustling!

I then had a BIG FIGHT with the gooseberry bushes – and I learn that gooseberries have huge thorns and propagate by rooting from any branches that touch the ground, meaning that they were getting completely out of hand and turning into a bit of a thicket.

With the aid of the secateurs and a fork, however, we now have a proper row of bushes lined up along the edge of the plot each with a neat short back and sides.

It did occur to me – after I had finished - that if gooseberry bushes only fruit on the recent growth, we will have no gooseberries this year.

No loss to me – I’m not keen on gooseberries as I find them sour, and I’m even less keen now I know how damn prickly the bushes are, but it would be a shame if my rash action buggers our first crop.

I’ve used some of the canes to roughly mark the plot into the four areas, and now next weeks jobs are to get the lime bought from the hut and put onto the first of the four areas, to dig up and replant the garlic, and fork over the last bit.

I wonder if Fosters will be having a January sale on their fruit bushes…….?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

And it was all going so well....

Our Plan for world domination (and everyone eating lots of nice home grown fruit and veg) has hit the tiniest of hurdles, with Jane down with a nasty chest infection. This has meant that our man power has been severely curtailed this weekend - i.e. it's just me.

On a brighter note, when I got to the allotment on Saturday morning, it was another beautiful sunny day (in spite of the wet and windy forecast) and I soon set about forking over another portion of the plot.

In fact it is going so well that we nearly have 1200 sq ft of dirt, as opposed to 1200 sq ft of chickweed.

I learn more interesting things about our new world – I meet Mike who is the allotments treasurer and another plotholder called Roger who has his plot a thankfully decent distance away down the hill away from Reg’s dark muttering.

Two hours later, I’d had enough, and realising I’d left my camera at home, whizzed back an hour later with camera and mum in tow (she’s incredibly impressed – has possibly not realised that I haven’t actually done all the digging myself....?).

We met a very chatty lady who is the sister of another newbie – she’s called Jackie and has taken early retirement from Coppice school – don’t think that Jane knows her, though.

This afternoon I tootled down to Fosters garden centre to look at the various fruit bushes. There are lots of varieties of blueberry and raspberries much in evidence.

So next weekend, assuming that we are back up to strength it's:
  • the last of the digging
  • liming
  • moving the garlic
  • pruning the vast number of gooseberry bushes down the side of the plot - perhaps some of these can be replaced with blueberries or currant bushes?

I can see that we're going to have to make some decisions soon and planning will be the order of the days ahead!

PS: Brian our predecessor is not, in fact, dead - he has had to give up the allotment because his aged parent now needs help in his garden and he couldn't do both garden and allotment. I wonder what the aged parent will now do for beetroot, garlic, rhubarb and gooseberries?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Shift Change!

So, it was Jane’s crew's turn on the fork and weed bucket yesterday – and many hands do, indeed, make light work! Although - as I have truly discovered - much forking does make you immobile the following day.

An hour and a half later they have done a sterling job of clearing all the nettles and gone roughly over another third of the plot and make the following observations

  • It is really easy to get really, really muddy
  • Beetroots (half a row in evidence growing among the chickweed) have a great novelty factor. S & E desperate to know how to eat these despite a dark ‘I wouldn’t bother’ from Jane
  • They discover the row of sprouting garlic by accident, and S & E learn a valuable botony lesson in how things grow. After an hour and a half of pulling up chickweed and nettles, this lesson has been learnt to the point of exhaustion
  • Everyone’s really friendly including Reg, and a chap called Lionel. Someone called Brian was our predecessor, but despite both of us being massively curious about him, neither of us can ask anyone about him in case he is dead

Jane's brought her composter down to the plot (perhaps I should bring the wormery?) and has declared her intention to dig a huge bear trap to fill with kitchen waste between now and runner bean planting time. Sounds like hard work to me, but the books do say that this is a Good Thing to Do.

Horrifyingly, she also tells me that she has brought two plastic spinning flowers down from the garden which 'look really pretty'. They sound utterly ghastly, but Jane adds that as they spin, they will act as bird scarers. This does justify their presence. Barely.

The Plan progresses now to:

  • finishing the digging over (by the end of the weekend? ha ha!)
  • marking out out the four areas (with sand?)
  • moving the garlic and replanting in plot B
  • lime plot A
  • manure plot D

...with the logical progression to world domination.

Roll on the weekene!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hi ho!

It's the weekend and I started DIGGING!

I've forked over about a third of the plot in 2 and a half hours, and came home absolutely knackered!

It was a very informative morning, and amongst other things, I have learnt:
  • Reg the adjacent plotholder says that basics are far cheaper at the allotment 'hut' than at the garden centre - glad I didn't buy the lime at Fosters now
  • I've met Fran who is a friend of someone Jane knows at school who apparently wins all the prizes at the annual allotment show. We'll see about that.
  • It's a bit of a rugby scrum for the manure from the skip - although I think that this is replenished regularly
  • Chickweed is easy to pull up. Nettles sting. Gooseberry bushes have thorns.
  • Using a fork for two hours gives you blisters on your hands

With regard to our little plot of land I have found that:

  • We have a run of fruit bushes down the right hand side - at least one of which is a gooseberry bush
  • There are a number of leaf beet plants (about 8) which I now need to look up in a book which bits you eat. The slugs would appear to like the leaves, but the stems look juicy to me
  • We will die of rhubarb overload if we take advantage of all that is on the plot.
  • There are some scrobby whitefly infested brussel sprouts which may come to something
  • There is a row of garlic that has resprouted which Fran says that we should lift, split & replant. We will not be troubled by vampires.

Jane & the tribe on digging duty tomorrow morning - I may creak along to give moral support!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I thought you said GARDEN centre......

Just to keep the enthusiasm up, I went over to Foster’s garden centre this evening – late night opening – where I thought I might buy some garlic bulbs, look at the fruit plant selection and maybe buy some lime (although I thought that I may have some in the garage, so decided not to, in the end)

Not a resounding success – gardening having been seriously demoted in favour of Christmas – no garlic bulbs, plant section closed as it is outside and it is dark, decided against the lime, and they didn’t have any dustbins one of which is on the hit list.

Popped into Homebase – cheapest dustbin £8.99, and no garlic either. Will look at gardening magazine and do mail order and sod the lot of them.

Did have a brainwave on the way home – I have a big rubble bucket in the shed (perfect for weed collection), but didn’t have any lime in there when I checked.

I want to mark the beds too – and thought of using sand, but am not sure, so I’ll think further on this.

Also in the garage I have any number of gardening gloves, a fork, two spades, a hoe and a rake – more that enough to be getting on with.

Roll on the weekend!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Our version of 'The Good Life' starts here!

Welcome to our Allotment!

This blog may be renamed in the coming months as 'A Triumph of Optimism Over Digging', or 'How Mother Earth Provides Despite the Interference of Those Who Think That They Know Best'.

So with a great fanfare & positive frame of mind thinking about all the lovely fresh fruit and veg we will grow, Jane and I are now the proud tenants of a half plot at the Hill Allotments!

Jane checked what the site was like last summer with Paul & the children and gave it the OK and we put our names down in the hope that there would be something become available in October.

We've been lucky with a half plot becoming free, & I've been down today with Jane & co & we've signed up. The half plot is conveniently sited by the green waste skip, & the manure heap and consists of rich dark soil with a jaunty covering of chick weed.

We're full of enthusiasm - we both have a mental image of long summer evenings picking baskets of beans & tomatoes, in clouds of butterflies with the scent of sweet peas and lavender perfuming the warm air.

We are not even put off by the fact that we don't appear to be able to do anything at all except clear chickweed & chit some potatoes between now and next February.....

We are also bouyed up by the fact that the allotments boast a Social Club on site - hurrah! - where we'll be signing up as members (all that cheap beer!)

So we'll be wielding our forks from next weekend, & in the meantime, I'm poring over John Seymour's Self-Sufficiency look at crop rotation plans and working our which bits to lime and why and trying to work out my pentlands from my pink rose firs.................
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