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, March 29, 2007

Billy lives again!

I’ve just nipped up to the Hill to reinstall Billy Scarecrow! He’s lot more sturdy now, & does not require attaching to a stake by the neck in order to remain upright!

I think that the weekend jobs must include re-sowing the PEAS (early onward) that were sown in January – germination is patchy (at best!) so although I may relent & keep the few that have come up, I’ll re-sow with the kelvedon wonder which are looking so good further along the row.

There are a few gaps in the row of BROAD BEANS – which is presumably why they say to sow a few at the end of the rows to fill in – I was going to poke a few seed in the gaps, but although I do have some more, it would be a change of variety as I used the aguadulce all up, so perhaps I’ll live with the gaps.

I also need to sort out the final lot of seed potatoes at the weekend in order to put them upstairs to chit – if I leave it much longer they will have about thirty seconds to prepare themselves before being hoofed in the ground!

I’ve a heap of rhubarb in the oven at the moment (have taken David-other-half at his word) – YUM – & on Sunday it will be 1st April which, besides being All Fool’s Day (there’s a joke in there somewhere!) it’s the start of a whole new Spring month of seed sowing – can’t wait!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Light Nights!

It really is lovely now that the nights are lighter – and the weather has been gorgeous – there’s time to do a bit in the evenings!

Spurred on by my good-looking trough of herbs planted on Saturday, I gave the trough of ancient strawberries a real treat too – they’ve had their hardships by being ignored for about 4 years and the other day I saw one of next doors cats ‘making use of the facilities’!

So I dug ‘em up, brushed ‘em down and replanting in fresh compost and gave them a straw blanket (to dissuade the cats!). Even if the five little plants just throw a few runners, that’ll do me and I’ll start again with new plants from them next year. I aspire, of course, to a magnificent table level strawberry planter (see Wellie and Trousers blog!) but let’s not run before we can walk!

I went to the Hill tonight on the pretext of getting a newspaper, and just happened to go to the newsagent over that way…

I was delighted to see the turnip sown just ten days ago are peeping up, then I hoed the between the beans and peas (which highlights AGAIN why I should sow with a string line!) and thinned out the radish sown on the 10th – the first lot of radish sown at the beginning of February under the cloche are ok, but look a bit wan, really.

I brought Billy Scarecrow home and spent a merry half hour giving him a substantial makeover, and now he looks a bit less like a freak show. Or my mother. (thank you to all contributors on that one!)

I sowed some ‘third time lucky’ CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) and CABBAGE (primo II) in jiffys in the hope that THIS TIME they don’t germinate in 12 hours, grow to 6” tall in 2 days then collapse with the effort of it all after a week.

No sign of the toms, courgette or leeks, but I suspect I’m being a bit impatient – no surprise there!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring has arrived!

With the clocks going forward this weekend, it’s officially Spring! Not very good weather though, this week as the nights have been frosty & there has been a really cold northerly wind.

It wasn’t too bad yesterday, though, & so with a thought to fitness & saving the planet, I got the bicycle out the garage (checking the brakes still worked & the tyres hadn’t disintegrated in the six months since I last rode it!) & wobbled off to the Hill.

I was absolutely knackered when I got there & had to have a little sit down before I could do anything! I was surprised not to see Jane there as she’d phoned from the Hill earlier & we discussed where the asparagus was to go.

No matter, when my legs had stopped being all shaky I looked around to see that Jane has planted the ASPARAGUS, & had a look at what had come up (or not!) then got on with putting in the second early POTATOES (nadine).

We have a lovely row of radish from a sowing two weeks ago – so I guess that they will be our first crop from the plot! How exciting!

After a while, Jane arrives from the direction of the Club – turns out she’d been looking out for my car whilst enjoying a sandwich in the warm. Bit of a communication breakdown there – but she sowed a short row of SPINACH (hector f1) & SPRING ONION (white lisbon) whilst I finished the potato planting.

There’s been an interesting discussion on the Grapevine with regard to lunar planting (i.e. seeds do better if they are sown at their best time according to the lunar calendar) – which may or may not come into the ‘hippy old nonsense’ category. I’ll give it a whirl with regard to planting the next lot of potatoes – half on the full moon and half two weeks later, and see if there is a difference or not.

We met our other neighbour, John, who was making a magnificent job of a brassica netting enclosure – I’d like to see the pigeon who can get through that! No sign of Reg-next-plot, David-other-half or neighbour Ted, but we did have a chat with retired Maureen who has a half plot about three down from us.

We had a wander round some of the other plots to see what everyone else is doing (this is educational – NOT nosey!) & we discussed sheds – we’ve already got the slabs for the base, after all (for a small one). I think that a shed is a better idea than a greenhouse which would be better at home – perhaps we can find a cheap one at the end of the season, & by that time we’ll have a better idea of what we want out of a shed.

Billy Scarecrow continues to look rather sad & in need of a makeover, but he could hardly ride pillion home with me yesterday, so I might pick him up later – or in the week being as it will be light in the evenings now – hurrah!

No sign of the carrots in the trough at home STILL – it could be the ancient & second hand compost that I sowed them in, so I went to Homebase later & bought a new bag – I used it to pot up some herb plants that I bought on Friday into a trough, & to sow a tray of leeks which a kindly member of the Grapevine sent me (Thank you, Mrs D). I’ll start again with the carrots, I think, if there’s still no sign of them by next weekend.

Also at home I sowed a few TOMATOES (balcony yellow) in the week for the hanging baskets, & COURGETTE (black beauty) which I think will be much better off in a tub at home where I can keep my beady eye on it – checking that we actually grow courgettes & not whacking big marrows!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Blue Peter instruction required!

Although it has been lovely and Spring-like this week, the forecast for the next few days is back to winter with a vengeance, & true to form, it has been snowy/sleety here today & VERY blowy with a wickedly cold wind.

Sunny yesterday, though, but before I went to the Hill I had a job to do at home – to make a scarecrow! Not that I know whether that is useful to have at the Hill or not, but it’s the only thing that I could think of to do with the long handled feather duster that I’ve just replaced.

After attaching a heavy pole as arms (not well enough, and too heavy, as it turns out) & dressing him in an old polo shirt stuffed with bubble wrap & lengthening his leg with another heavy pole, he was ready to go.

He’s overseeing the broad beans at the moment, but because the feather duster handle doesn’t really give him enough backbone, I’ve had to tie his neck scarf to a stout stake so that he doesn’t keel over. This gives the unfortunate appearance of him hanging from a gibbet which may alarm the local youth, but – I suspect – not any pigeons.

I’ll have a go at Billy Scarecrow mkII next weekend – but on the plus side, when I took mum down to the Hill today & she saw him, I’ve never her laugh so much.

The weather forecast being as it was, I didn’t feel like putting much in the ground – just a short row of TURNIP (snowball) in Plot A (legumes). I had the Hill to myself – maybe because I was later than usual – so managed to stride about without looking too daft measuring by eye (do I not learn?) the number of rows of seed potatoes that we still need.

I had to rescue a black plastic path from the gooseberry where it had blown across to & snagged on the thorns – good to see that they do have a use after all! Replaced the path and put a brick at each end - on balance, the paths do seem to have a benefit, I think.

It’s lovely to see both batches of broad beans now in evidence, & the second sowing of peas are all popping their heads though – much more so than the first lot, which I suppose could be that the second lot are a different variety, new seed & went in a few weeks later.

No sign of any of the other seeds coming up, but with the cold snap forecast, that may be just as well! I’ll give up on the carrot seeds when the ones in the trough here have come up – no sign of them either yet.

Oh – I have changed my mind on the asparagus bed – it will now be up by the rhubarb & seedbed where I can construct a proper raised bed, & still leave room for a compost heap.

So assuming that the weather cheers up for the weekend, I’ll be putting in the second earlies (nadine) and – if I’ve managed to take custody of some pallets that I’ve been promised – I can make two compost bins – and then it really will look like an allotment!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Shaping up with beds!

We’ve had some lovely days again this week & yesterday was no exception with the sun shining & a brisk breeze.

It must be the time of year that is bringing the plot holders out with a vengeance – Reg-next-plot, David-other-half, Barry working his plot this week along with dispensing advice, & I’ve now met the chap with the enviable plot on our right. He’s called Ted & he’s on the Committee so he opened the store shed for me to have a look around.

The seed potatoes are only 60p a kilo, & they have Stemster, Romano & Desiree, so all I’ve got to do is work out which of these will complement the Cara main crops which I have chitting upstairs. I’ll also have to do some maths with spacings to see how many I should buy in order to fill (but not overwhelm!) the rest of the potato plot.

I was very pleased to see that the paths had withstood the week’s weather, so I put down two more (with the aid of the string & tape!) – I’ve found that it is making access to the ‘beds’ (i.e. those areas in which I have put seed) a lot easier.

Also the 3’ length of 9” plank is proving invaluable – not only does is hold the sheet of polycarb down during the week, but it is also useful to walk on so I don’t squash the soil, & the length can be pushed in the soil to form a seed drill. Fantastic!

It’s lovely to see the broad beans making progress – I can actually see a row of them now, but only a few isolated peas as yet. The radish under the polycarb is a proper row too, so I’ve take the cover off so they can get into their stride! No sign yet of the two short rows of lettuce that were under there, or of anything in Plot C (roots). I wonder at what point you give up waiting for seeds to sprout?

There are promising buds on the gooseberry/redcurrant/blackcurrant bushes – so I’ve not killed them off yet! Over the boundary, neighbour Ted has put a dressing of black flaky stuff around his fruit bushes – it looks like charcoal – but I forgot to ask him what it was and what it’s for. The Grapevine recommends netting currants unless you want all the birds to eat them first, which sounds like a right faff, but I’ll take my cue from neighbour Ted - & if the birds do take a fancy to the currants, then it’ll be blackbird pie & no mistake.

I’ve put the ONION SETS (sturon) in – there are zillions in the bag, & so they’ve taken up more room than I thought. I’m now getting worried that we won’t have enough space, although, clearly that’s a daft thought.

I also put a short row of CARROTS (early nantes) in Plot C (roots) with the spring onions & spinach, & a short row of both LETTUCE (little gem) & RADISH (Mirabeau) in Plot B (everything else).

Following David-other-half’s invite to the rhubarb, I found 3 sticks about 10” which I took for mum – later she said that it was lovely, but only barely made a portion. Maybe that whole row of plants isn’t so excessive after all?

I’ve had a thought about where the asparagus can go – along the border at the end of the run of fruit bushes, I think, although I didn’t get as far as digging the trench for them – just as well as I’ll probably change my mind...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Brilliant Broad Beans!

A really spring like morning up at the Hill yesterday – sunshine & showers! Today is a really contrast with rain all day.

Acting on my thoughts last week, I took the black plastic path sheets down to the Hill, along with the chitted Rocket potatoes, a couple of seed packets & a ball of string to measure the paths out with along with a box of chicken manure (£1.75, Wilko) to feed.

I thought that I’d try to put the paths in straight, so took the tape & had a measure up – an exercise which confirmed that laying the plots out by eye does not make for accuracy! The four ‘even size’ plots are in fact 10’, 10’, 10’ & 16’ which means that our potato plot is particulary generously proportioned.

I’m not altogether happy with the plastic paths – I suspect that when the soil that I’ve tucked the edges into dries out, they will have a tendency to fly off & it was only after I bought two packs of pegs with the intention of anchoring them down that I realised that the plastic will probably just move & rip.

I suppose that I could put a load of bark chippings on, or something? The advantage of these paths is that they are not a permanent feature of the plot, so that when we – inevitably – change our minds, it’s all moveable!

Before I dealt with that, however, I put in the second two rows of rocket potatoes, & scattered some of the chicken manure pellets over the two middle plots. I also sowed a short row of SPINACH (hector F1) & SPRING ONIONS (white lisbon).

The big news is that the broad beans are finally showing themselves – 6 loooong weeks after sowing! I was so excited about this, & the evidence of a few peas coming through that I did a little dance!

I met our neighbour at the back of the plot – David – who seems like a thoroughly nice chap, & we cleared up a bit of a demarcation issue with regard to who the big row of rhubarb belongs to between our two half plots. Just as well we hadn’t dug any of it up, as it’s his – however he’s said that we must help ourselves to as much as we want of it.

Jane & S spent a therapeutic afternoon sowing a whole heap of tomato seeds, along with sunflowers & she says that we’ll have far too many if they all grow! She’s sown 4 different varieties, but we don’t seem to have one which is suitable for hanging baskets which I’d like to try, so I’ll see if we can do a swap on the Grapevine.

Being geared up on the ‘pots’ front, I there’s a whole heap of brassica seeds that can be started off in pots (outside). Jane has also bought 4 asparagus crowns – yummy – we’ll have to prepare a bed for them up by the rhubarb/Jerusalem artichokes, I think.

I came home & sowed a trough of CARROT (paris market) which are little round ones & covered it over with some netting to keep the nosy mogs off.

It feels like it’s all systems go, now it’s March – so next weekend is shaping up nicely:

  • Sow a row of carrot, turnip & leeks
  • Put in next paths
  • Prepare asparagus ground

Should be enough be getting on with.

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