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...........

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Final prep & sneaky sowings!

We’ve finally had some cold weather & frosts this week, & there has been some snow in the south, but this morning was sunny & warmer (about 6 degrees) & off I went to the Hill with a spring in my step.

Before I went, I checked on the CAULIFLOWER sown in peat pots & was thrilled to see 2 or 3 little seedlings just poking their heads up.

To further our seed bed aspirations, I wanted to rig up a cold frame of sorts. I selected a patch of land near the line of RHUBARB plants (which was going to be our ‘fruit garden’, but that’ll have to wait it’s turn), & whizzed over it with the fork ‘to form a fine tilth’ as all the books say.

Using a dozen bricks & a 6’ by 3’ polycarb sheet – which had started life with the intention of becoming part of a conservatory roof – I settled the bricks down in a row, laid the polycarb on to form a slope, secured the other end with a couple of bricks & a heavy plank & voilĂ ! Cold frame!

It did strike me that there is only the height of one brick (i.e. about 4 inches) so seedlings will soon hit their heads – & that’s at the tall end – but for the time being the row of LETTUCE (little gem) seeds that I couldn't wait to sow can appreciate the luxury of modern conservatory living.

There’s no sign of the BROAD BEANS that I put in last weekend (‘didn’t you soak them overnight before you sowed them?’ said Reg with surprise) but undeterred, I’ve sown half a row of CARROTS (adelaide) & covered them with fleece in plot C, this year’s Root Bed.

I asked Reg when to put the onion sets in (‘when the ground’s at the right temperature’ – not helpful!), & about potato spacings (‘15 per row, rows are 2’3” apart for earlies & 2’6” for main crop’) & realise that with 60 earlies alone, I’ve more or less used up all the potato plot just with these.

Reg suggested that you can buy potatoes pick-and-mix at Hirons so you get exactly what you want. So I went over there this afternoon & have bought a row (i.e. 15) second earlies ‘Nadine’ with seem to be resistant to just about everything nasty & are supposed to taste lovely & waxy.

The Plan was to have 2 rows of earlies (Rocket), 1 row of second earlies (Nadine) & 3 rows of maincrop (as yet unspecified), but with 60 of Rocket upstairs, I may have to palm half of them off somewhere (I seem to recall that cousin Wendy has an allotment & I’m seeing her in a couple of weeks – a slightly odd present for my hostess, but it’s a thought). Serves me right for buying potatoes by the bag from Wilko - as Reg's expression clearly said.

That just about wraps up January – it’s been very mild in the main, & not as wet as December. The plot is looking ready, & so am I – raring to go for February!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Planning mk III

I’m having yet another crack at PLANNING (painful, isn't it?) - you'd think it would be easy to just look at the back of each seed packet & note the first date that the seeds can go in, then sow a few each two weeks until the last date that the seeds can go in.

But NO – it’s far more complicated than that – it’s this sowing in greenhouse/under cover/seed bed business which chucks a spanner in the works.

So, armed with both the John Seymour calendar, & also the more detailed one in one of the seed catalogues (Dobies, in point of fact), I’m determined to make a note of anything else that needs doing in January, and look forward to February.

With regard to ‘greenhouse’ sowings, that’s Jane’s department, but I did buy some peat pellets to make a sowing of CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) because they are supposed to be tricky blighters and they’ll have no excuse now.

With regards to the ‘under cover/seed bed’ bit, I need to sort an area out for this out next weekend, & work out a way to cover it for the next couple of months. I did think that I’d use some bricks that I can wrap some bubble wrap over. I realise that this is a bad move as the rain will dip it down – or I could put a prop in the middle...?

Then I thought that I could magic an old window frame out of thin air & use that – then I thought that there must be a possibility with polycarb…?

Perhaps I can just use some fleece...?

When I’ve done that, I can sow CABBAGE, LETTUCE & SPINACH under cover, which will conclude our January tasks!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

So that's the tough bit done...?

After a warm but very windy week it was a beautiful sunny morning today (er….again…) for going to the Hill. It has been so windy that I half thought that I’d arrive to see all the sheds scooped up & lined up in so many piles of matchwood at the one end of the site, but there was no real obvious damage on any of the plots except one or two bean wigwams lurching.

I took a deep breath and got stuck straight in with digging the runner bean bear pit, & have a newly acquired respect for builders’ labourers.

After an hour I had a trench a couple of foot wide & 18” deep - about a spade and a half. It seemed right to do 2 spades deep, but I started to hit a sandy, harder layer made mostly of ..er..hard stuff, so this seemed like a good place to stop.

Just as I finished, the lady & a girl from the stables rolled up in a Land Rover & trailer full of bags of horse manure for unloading by the skip. I gave them a hand to unload & picked out a few choice bags of straw for the trench & started to empty the others into the skip.

Mike the treasurer arrived (so I got a heap of brownie points with the committee for this community work!), & it was short work between the two of us to finish the job.

Jane & E arrived with shiny new spade, hoe & secateurs & with the three of us it was an easy job to empty the straw, massive dug-up beetroot, surplus dug-up leaf beet and a huge black bag of paper shreddings into the trench & fill it back in with the soil.

It looked spookily like a freshly dug grave (albeit a rather long & narrow one), a view which was not helped when we marked the trench with a few token bean stick crosses so we know where to find it again at runner bean sowing time.

E did a marvellous job preparing the soil for a half row of BROAD BEANS (aguadulce) – our first sowing! – & we covered this & the other half row with some fleece which I found in the garage which I hope will give them a winning start in life.

The other half pack of bean seeds will be sown in a couple of weeks time & it’ll be interesting to see if this stab at successional sowing works, or if the later ones catch up anyway.

Jane let E trim our few straggly raspberry canes with new ultra sharp secateurs whilst we cleared up & she managed to complete the job with a full compliment of fingers – which quite surprised me.

Although this huge dig has left me – predictably – knackered (& smelling of horse sh*t), the job was actually easier than I thought that it would be, & now we have a virtually bare plot ready to go.

It’ll be great, of course, when this is a virtually full plot, but I think that the majority of the hard work is done now, & with the garlic planted out & the first of the seeds in, this marks a significant step forwards!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mucking About...

It really feels like we’re getting into the swing of things now – with Saturday dry & bright (again!) we both spend a busy morning at the Hill.

It’s actually the first time that Jane & I have been there together, & I must say that we got a great deal done – even though we also yakked our way through the morning.

When I arrived, knowing that the rest of the potato plot D needed manuring, I was delighted to find that there were about 30 bags of manure waiting to be emptied into the manure skip.

This was excellent because I could choose which bags I wanted (i.e. good straw manure) & just empty the bad wood chippingy ones into the skip – this was a vast improvement on last week’s filling buckets from the skip & emptying them on to the plot.

I finished the manuring at top speed & then lightly forked it in (mainly so that if I see Reg he won’t say how rubbish the wood chipping manure is which I put on last week).

Meanwhile Jane dug out the rogue rhubarb plant which is on the front of the site which was no easy task as the woody roots took up an area about 3 ft square & nearly as deep. It is not needed because we have a whole row of these at the other end of the plot.

Content that plot D is ready now ready for the potatoes in due course, we applied & forked in the lime into plot A. We’ve now (finally!) finished the list of jobs that we drew up right at the start.

This leaves us free to look at the next tasks which are:

  • Dig runner bean bear pit in plot A & fill with paper shreddings (& surplus-to-requirements, slug-eaten inherited leaf beet leaves) to retain moisture
  • Sow broad beans – purchased today along with parsnip seed (buy one, get one free at Wilko). I also bought a bag of 150 onion sets – variety ‘Sturon’ on the advice of a fellow customer (thus spending a grand total of £1.98)
  • Tackle ‘fruit garden’ – 3 blueberry bushes for £15 from Fosters look to be the best bet & raspberry canes at £7 for 10
  • Put an area aside as a seed bed

Should be enough to keep us busy!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Planning mkII

I had another crack at PLANNING after seeing Jane at the weekend & even with two of us it still seemed a bit on the complicated side for the following reasons:
  • We have acquired various seed packets – including some flower seeds – & it would be churlish not to use these whether we want to grow them or not
  • We would like to grow other items as well – which will involve some outlay!
  • Neither of us knows what we are doing with regard to fruit bushes – & it would be easy to make expensive mistakes

General decisions are to try & keep it fairly simple & cheap(!), & Jane says she’s happy to do all that fiddly messing about with seed trays & compost for stuff which needs starting off indoors (good-o!).

We’ve not come to any decisions about fruit bushes – although I’m sure I’ll snap into decision mode when I’m next in the garden centre.

With regard to purchases – Wilko now have their gardening range back in, so I invested in a box for our seeds, some lime (cheaper than at the Hill) & a bag of seed potatoes which are now laid out to chit in the top room (that’s £5.67, statisticophiles!)

The latter selected not on the basis of taste or suitability to the land, or any of that nonsense, but purely on the basis that they are super duper early and can be planted mid Feb for a May crop.

Impatient, me? Certainly!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Mucky work!

There was a very interesting programme on TV last night called ‘Grow Your Own Veg’. No prizes for guessing what it was all about. All good stuff to get the enthusiasm up, and there were a couple of particularly interesting things.

One was that Jerusalem artichokes might be good to try (tasty, apparently, a bit like potatoes, but a bugger to peel), and that there is no getting away from this runner bean bear pit that Jane suggested some weeks ago, and I’d quietly shelved it in the hope that the idea might fizzle out. No chance of that now, especially as Jane saw the programme too.

I went to the Hill this morning with one aim – muck spreading! For once, the weather was less than perfect – a bit drizzly – but I had a hat, and it soon stopped anyway.

I dropped my club membership application form in at the club house (‘consider yourself as a member already as you are an allotment holder’ – so that was a waste of £5 membership fee, I think.), then onto horse muck skip.

Unfortunately, the horse muck skip was full of ‘bad muck’ i.e. there was a lot of wood shavings in it, but after a bit of a dither, I thought that I might come to the plot ten times in a row and not find the magic straw-filled ‘good muck’, and deciding that any muck was better than no muck, I opened the skip end (NOT as easy as it sounds, actually) and wielding a shovel and my rubble bucket was on my way.

Although a particularly satisfying job, I was only moving the muck across the roadway and I’ll take advantage of the offer of mum’s wheelbarrow for next year - it’s harder work than I expected.

In fact, I’d gone a bit of a funny colour after an hour of shovelling – I’ve done about half – and my clothes would have been able to walk home on their own, so I called it a day and limped off for a hot bath!

Friday, January 05, 2007

And now the Plan...

I sat down last night with a wallchart calendar (thank you, printing.com), Kitchen Garden magazine's 'when to sow' guide, 'guide to successional growing to avoid gluts and shortages' & a glass of wine in order to do some PLANNING.

I didn't get very far, though - talk about confusing! Who'd have thought that there would be so much choice of things to grow? Actually, the confusion is not is WHAT to grow (that's easy - a bit of everything!) but what varieties to grow. In the Dobies catalogue alone there are fifteen varieties of carrots!!

What didn't help was the fact that the Kitchen Garden magazine had a huge blooping great typo on the 'Jobs for the month of...' page - it was labelled up 'January', when it should have read 'February'. This dawned on me eventually when I kept reading 'this job might have to wait until March....'. A cock up of this magnitude can't really get past the proof readers, surely - but I checked the article on the web site, and it wasn't just me! This sort of thing does not do the amateur gardener much good - what if I'd put all my seeds in a month early?

I nearly got disheartened by this point, but filled the wine glass up instead and got sidetracked by entering into all the 'reader's giveaways', & spotted a bargain of 5 packs of prizewinning veg seeds for just £1.69 p&p - which looked too good to miss. I also went through all the seed packs I seem to have accumulated, & this means that our investment will be very small indeed - hurrah! This cheered me up no end.

Mind you, I was thinking of tomatoes/cucumbers/peppers as plants from the garden centre rather than messing about with seeds and seedtrays, but as I have seed packets of all three of these, and I am excessively tight about spending money, I might review this part of the Plan.

I considered this over a wine refill & thought further on the financial aspect of the allotment - I decided to make a note of all the money I spend on veg at the moment, in the hope this figure will reduce to zero by this time next year and we'll be self sufficient by then! I can also make a note of the amount SPENT on allotment items as it would be good to see the allotment pay for itself, as well as the veg being 'better' for having been home grown.

Reflecting this morning on the proposed analysis above, I suspect I've just won the prize for Allotment Nerd 2007, but part of me would find this very interesting, so I might do it anyway and not tell anyone!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

And do it properly this time!

Again, Saturday dawns fair – spooky – surely this cannot last. It’s not just that the weather is nice, it’s that the weather all week is APALLING and then Saturday morning is nice. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just that it is a bit odd, that’s all.

The aim is to dig up and dispose of the rest of the unplanted (and unneeded garlic) then to start to manure the front portion, however Reg is around as I arrive and I tell him the tale of how I planted up the clump of tiny garlic last weekend and how I do not have high hopes for the yield.

He jollies me a long with a ‘it won’t take a minute to fish a few big cloves from this lot and replace any tiny ones….’. This is not true at all, because it takes AGES to fork up the whole row and then replant the decent sized ones, but I do feel a lot more satisfied that I’ve done a proper job this time.

Alison the teacher’s sister is attracted by the garlic aroma in the air and comes along to see what I’m up to and we take a walk down to the other end of the site to have a nose and what everyone else is up to, which I feel a bit self conscious about doing on my own.

I also meet Hayden the Club Secretary (although I didn’t realise who he was until after he’d wandered off – I could have got the lime from him. Drat!)

Now that the garlic is all out of the way, I can start spreading manure over this area but I can see that the finding the ‘right’ manure in the manure skip is going to be a bit hit and miss – apparently it comes in more desirable straw based variety and a less desirable wood-shaving based variety (the wood shavings taking longer to rot down that the straw).

Who’d have thought that spreading horse sh*t was so technical?
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