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...........

Monday, July 30, 2007

Struck down in our Prime!

Oh-oh – I thought that things were going well…

Well it turns out that warm & moist conditions are perfect for BLIGHT on the potatoes, & – sure enough – the tops of the spuds have started to get brown patches on which indicates the onset.

We’re certainly not alone – talking in the Club on Saturday, the blight started at the top of the Hill & like the Grand Old Duke of York is marching its way back down…

It does strike quickly – those on Neat Neighbour John’s plot look really terrible, like brown sticks, & on Neighbour Ted’s – so I’ve spent the last two days on fork duty digging up 40kg (so far!) of potatoes. And that’s only half.

The worst of it is that the spuds all look absolutely FAB – but the big deal is that they will not keep (had a rather graphic & revolting description of this on the GYO Grapevine last night – yuk!) so as there is a limit to how many we can palm off to family, friends & neighbours before they start to avoid us, I’m busy thinking of ways to cook/store all of the potatoes. Cooked, mashed & frozen seems favourite, but I’ve not ruled out parboiling & freezing…but I might need more freezer room…

I can’t even tell which are which as the rows as too close together & I didn’t mark them out properly so I’ve got a number of brown paper bags with 'Nadine?’ & ‘Rocket?’ marked on.

You can’t say that they haven’t been a success, though – I reckon that we’ve had about 20kg rocket first earlies, & 25kg dug up blighty ones, with about the same again to dig – & my back-of-a-fag-packet calculation says that that is about right to keep us all going till March (when you would ‘normally’ expect them to keep).

The good news is that the weekend was lovely & sunny – & the forecast is for the weather to remain fine all week. Just as well with all these spuds to dig up – just call me Mrs Potato Head.

More cheery news is that I have the SHOW SCHEDULE so that I can see what I might venture as an entry to the Annual Hill Allotment Show! It’s in about 3 weeks & I should think that we can find one out of our hundreds of lettuces to enter, & maybe beetroot & maybe radish…& if nothing else, there’s a cakes section. I am really looking forward to this!

And just to show that there is far more good news in the world than bad, I had the most marvellous box of delights in the post this morning from kind & thoughtful Wellie in the Forest of Dean – which certainly deserves a post to itself, so I’ll post some pictures up…after I’ve dug some more spuds up….potato pickle, anyone…?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's raining, it's pouring...

Boy, has it rained over the past week!

There has been so much flooding around the country – we have been lucky both here & at the Hill that we’ve not been waterlogged as so many others have been. It’s been ANOTHER cool & wet day today – drizzle & rain all day, & just so gloomy! You’d never think that it is July!

I did manage to get to the Hill last night though for a picking of LETTUCE (mixed), RADISH (white icicle) & a few CARROT (early nantes). I sowed a short row of RADISH (saxa3) & a very short row of CARROT (Adelaide), what with running out of seed half way down the row & all.

I also stopped long enough to admire the Prize Pumpkin, & to note that the celery has rather surprisingly not keeled over & even looks to have perked up a bit.

I also popped 4 sunflower seedlings in at the front of the plot, & transplanted 10 red onion seedlings. I tried to put them level with the ground to match up with how they were in the tray – resisting the impulse to drop them in a hole like leeks – but they look a bit forlorn, so I’m not sure that they’ll come to anything.

The lettuce is still totally out of control – the plants are just getting bigger & bigger! I still have one red frilly one left to pick from the first row up by the Prize Pumpkin, & there are another four rows not started yet. That recipe for lettuce soup is looking more attractive by the day!

I think that the cool, wet weather has suited the lettuce & stopped the plants from bolting. Unlike the spinach which seems to whiz skywards at the drop of a hat – but that doesn’t stop me picking the flower stems & eating those.

I actually have a couple of flowers on the COURGETTE here at home, despite the plant looking worse now than it did when I planted it out, but the cucumber seedling has bitten the dust again – it’s just been far too wet, I think, so no cucumber for me this year – a challenge for 2008, perhaps?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Welcome to Novice Neighbour Jody!

I have news on the fate of neat neighbour John’s plot! Our new neighbour will be Barry’s young charge, Jody – I saw him with a clipboard yesterday evening measuring up the plot when I was weeding legume plot A.

Whilst the current crop will continue to be harvested for the benefit of neat neighbour John’s widow, Jody will keep it in order, & take it on ‘properly’ from October.

I'm delighted with this second-best outcome (the best one being if it had been offered to us, obviously) as not only do we know & get on with Jody, but he also met neat neighbour John a few times & so there is a sense of continuity, somehow.

It turns out that Jody wanted to take a plot at the beginning of the year, & on being told that there’s a two year waiting list, he asked if there was anywhere that he could help out (we didn’t think of that!). So Barry – a retired teacher – wanting a bit of a hand with the leg work, has taken him on in return for imparting some of his vast knowledge, & sharing the crop.

Of course this leaves Barry without his spare pair of hands, so I’m not sure what will happen there, unless the next person on the waiting list wants to help out? Barry’s Allotment Training School – has a nice ring to it!

Jody is also taking advice from the BBC gardening pages – and has a blog set up on google pages – so I’ve suggested that he signs up on the Grapevine too, for the ‘real life’ advice that is given there, & we’ll make an allotmenteer of him yet!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hill - 1, Pigeons - 0

I went to the Hill yesterday evening in the sunshine with hammer, staples, proper netting & 18 cauliflower plants – too big to be called seedlings, so I hope that they will be ok – to construct a low level brassica cage. I saw retired Maureen digging up her spuds, but other than that it was me & a blackbird.

It didn’t take at all long to nail some netting onto the coldframe that I’d made earlier in the year – especially as the one of the two pieces of netting that I had left over from the rabbit run brassica cage turned out to be EXACTLY the right size – spooky!

I’m pleased with both of the brassica cages, actually, as they are both light enough to move single handed, they are both a good size (the coldframe one can be stood on bricks for extra height) & in winter they can be used to cover tender crops if I pop some fleece over the top. Hurrah!

Despite forgetting to bring the trowel with me (had to use a plastic fork which is another utterly useless piece of kit – it has trouble loosening spring onions, let along tackling digging a pot-size hole in compacted soil) & therefore having to use a spade, the cauliflowers were planted in legume plot A more or less where the peas have come up, & they look a treat.

I picked a LETTUCE (mixed) & half a dozen RADISH (white icicle) for my next door neighbours, pulled a BEETROOT (woden f1) for juicing in the morning & came away content that I’ve foiled the pigeons!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Salad days!

I’ve spent a couple of really enjoyable evenings at the Hill this week – how wonderful is this growing your own lark!

It’s just as well that I’m having such a marvellous time, as weeds stop for no man - & with just a couple of sunny spells, the plants – & weeds – have shot up! The runners all have flowers, & there are some green tomatoes formed!

At long last the peas have come down, after a final picking. Here’s a good example of learning as you go – the three metal posts & green netting & string have been utterly inadequate for the weight of the peas. In fact that green netting is appalling stuff – it has a mind of it’s own – springy & tying itself in knots & is the most annoying item. I can think of no redeeming features at all – & frugal as I am, it will be binned this weekend if I can’t think of another use for it!

The ground looks quite open now, & if only I’d put the dwarf runners in a more sensible place, there would be a good stretch for the brassica plants to go! I’ve got in mind a plan to net over the ‘cold frame’ to make a brassica cage - it won’t be tall enough for the Brussels sprouts, but I’m hoping that it will be OK for the cauliflower & the cabbage – on bricks if necessary. Hopefully that will be enough to deter the pigeons, unless they learn to limbo.

I've planted out some modules of SPRING ONION (white lisbon) in roots bed C. The ones sown & growing by the onion sets look really weedy – especially compared to the ones sown in the misc bed B a week later. Eelworm again, perhaps?

I pulled up a couple of BEETROOT (woden f1) which I juiced for breakfast this morning, & a couple of RADISH (white icicle), SPRING ONION (white lisbon) & a LETTUCE (mixed) which I have for lunch.

Apparently we are due more rain at the weekend, so I shall be making the most of the blue skies to keep the weeds at bay later…

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Summer at last...?

And what did I wake to up on Saturday? Sunshine! Hurrah! Given the lovely weather, I was surprised not to see more people at the Hill – just Barry & young Jody near to me.

Although the misc. plot B is sorely in need of a damn good weeding, I know that there are nettles starting to grow there (along with the chickweed, & another prevalent weed that I don’t know the name of) so I prevaricated & started with plot D where I dug the potatoes up last week. As the ground was ready prepared, all I had to do was give it a light hoe & it was ready to sow a short row of TURNIP (snowball), KOHL RABI (delikatess white) & CELERIAC (alabaster 3).

I left a couple of foot border at the front of the plot so I can plant out some red sunflowers that I have on the go at home. I did rather misread the packet & they are not dwarf, as I thought, but never mind. I’ve also left room for putting a path straight down the middle of the bed in due course.

With that done, I gave the roots bed C a good going over – both sides – & that now looks really good, if I say so myself.

Whilst I was weeding, Barry & Jody came down to neat neighbour John’s plot, & Barry explained to Jody how to fork up one of the haulms of potatoes which they will take to his widow. The variety was Kestral (a second early) & they had loads off the one plant (more per plant than the rocket that we’ve grown). Barry gave me one which I had for my tea last night – it tasted better than the rocket too, so I must put it on the ‘hit list’ for next year. Barry also gave me a clump of about a dozen plants of ‘red pickling cabbage’ (whatever that is!) which I’ve temporarily put in the brassica cage pending planting out properly.

By this time it was time for a sandwich, so I went up to the Club, & once suitably refreshed, I went back to sow a row of CARROTS (mixed) & SPINACH (samish f1) in root bed C, & planted out some sorry looking clumps of SPRING ONION (white lisbon) which have been growing in jiffies at home. I also planted out a dozen tiny celery plants which have been waiting their turn for a couple of weeks. They look very tiny – & worryingly yellow – so we’ll see how they get on.

The swede that I planted out last week seems to have settled in well & the butternut squash are growing along with the tomatoes which have about doubled in size since they were planted out. The Prize Pumpkin seems to be romping on – I’ll have to work out soon what to do next with it!

The final job in root bed C was to thin out a couple of rows of carrots – & I was delighted to be pulling up baby white, purple & yellow carrots from the mixed colour seed that we bought at Malvern. Fabulous!

Retired Maureen came up – I was pleased to see her as it was only the other day that I wandered over to her plot & saw that she appears to be growing an extensive crop of nasturtiums & not much else besides weeds, & I hoped she was ok. We commiserated about neat neighbour John, admired David-other-half’s plot & did our good deed for the day by chasing a cabbage white butterfly out of his brassica netting cage. I increased my good deed total by asking her if she’d like to pick herself some gooseberries, so she went off happy with a bowlful.

There was no putting off tackling misc. bed B, so I got stuck in & an hour later it looked much better. Not perfect, but at least you can see the rows of crops & most of the weeds have gone. I could have spent another half hour thinning out the lettuce & landcress, but it was way past home time by then, so I picked a few SPRING ONIONS (white lisbon) & RADISH (saxa 3 & white icicle) for today’s salad, & went home well pleased with the day.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Plenty for the pot!

I have spent many happy hours this week at the Hill, because it has been dry all week! Not a lot of sunshine, but – hey – let’s not jump the gun here!

When I went down on Saturday, I had a lot of company including Barry (on his own this week) & Reg-next-plot. I was quite surprised to see Reg sporting a pair of ipod earphones – although he doesn’t seem to have grasped the volume control. He spent a good couple of hours shouting at everyone without realising.

If I heard him tell various allotment holders about his recent coach holiday in France once, I must have heard it 4 times – starting with Chrissy about 5 plots up, & working his way back down.

Indomitable Fran arrived with Alan – Fran on a stick after her recent knee replacement op, but she still managed to sit on a bucket & prune & strip their redcurrant bushes whilst dispensing her nuggets of advice. It was soon apparent that David-other-half – having been on holiday himself – had not heard about neat neighbour John, so there were further commiserations all round on that score.

Barry & Reg-next-plot dug some of neat neighbour John’s potatoes for his wife, & there was protracted discussion about which ones were the earlies – I still think that he would have planted the rows in order of when he wanted to dig them up…

I planted out the swede seedlings in plot A where I’d lifted some turnips a while ago, & picked & picked & picked the peas! Also the gooseberries, & I did a great deal of weeding (but not enough in the misc. plot B!)

In the week I got to tackling making a ‘tent’ for a late sowing of peas – & very pleased with it I am too – I used some of the heavy duty plastic square netting that Barry’s young charge, Jody gave me – & the 6’ canes I bought half price from Wilko, & string & topped it off with coloured ball cane protectors.

I sowed some PEAS (kelvedon wonder), & on the rhubarb side a couple of rows of BEANS (black turtle) & on the other a row of BEANS (sungold).

I must say that the cabbages are looking good in the cage, & although the courgette here at home is sloooooow, the Prize Pumpkin is looking fab – the first pumpkin is now the size of a grapefruit!

With the foliage dying down on the POTATOES (rocket) it’s been high time that they came up, so I over a the course of a couple of evenings I had all of them up, dried overnight on the bench at home, then squirreled away in a hessian sack in the garage where it is dark. Weighing the sack, there are about 20kg of spuds there – & acres of second earlies & main crop still to come – a reassessment of sowing quantities needed for next year, perhaps?

With salad picked tonight – & peas, of course – there’s plenty of home veg for the dinner table at the moment, the next challenge is successful storing – pea pickle, anyone?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Why didn't anyone tell me...?

I so want to get to the Hill & plant out the celery seedlings, not to say the swede & ropey looking spring onions that I have growing at home – and kohl rabi, turnip & celeriac seeds – and yet the rain continues day after day…

However, having run out of potatoes & other vegetables last night I donned a cagoule & squelched up with a trug to gather some tea. Having dug up some POTATOES (rocket) – how fabulous the soil looks – & picked some PEAS (kelvedon wonder) & a load of SPINACH (hector f1), I then turned my attention to the gooseberry bushes.

I’ve noticed that the gooseberries are getting to be, well, rather bigger than I would have expected & are turning from bright green to a purplish colour, & when I give them the ‘soft centre test’ they do give a bit, so I picked just three & put them in the trug.

I didn’t trip over myself with enthusiasm as I don’t think I like gooseberries – tart little monkeys, as I recall from the bowlful that next door gave me from their bush a couple of years ago – but I thought that they’ll cook into chutney, or something.

So when I got home and dried off, I gave them a wash, topped & tailed and gingerly had a nibble expecting a real sharp kick. Well – I could not have been more wrong! The gooseberry was sweet & juicy & tasty & very, very more-ish! I would have posted a photo, but I ate them – yum, yum, yum, yum, yum!

Curious as to why I had been so badly misled for all these years, I asked the clever folks at the GYO grapevine who tell me that apart from the traditional sharp green gooseberries, there are ‘dessert’ varieties – normally brown or purple when ripe – which are, indeed, very sweet (rather like grapes). Well you live & learn! I can’t wait to get back there to pick a load more – they are so delicious!

So to keep me busy back at home, I’ve sown some jiffies with SPRING ONION (white Lisbon), a couple of CUCUMBER (marketmore), a COURGETTE (black beauty) – as the plant in the pot here at home is looking a bit under the weather – & a dozen sunflower (velvet queen) which I thought would jolly up the front of the plot once the potatoes are out of the way.

Perhaps it will perk up for the weekend? Surely it can’t rain all summer long….?

Monday, July 02, 2007

A tomato called .............?

With the rain being virtually non-stop on Saturday, I didn’t get down to business at the Hill until Sunday morning – & that only after a trip to Wilko for some canes, chicken pellets & some 75% off flower seeds.

The comprehensive weeding of the roots in plot C in the week has paid off as I didn’t have to do anything there, so straight on to plot B to dig up the remaining twenty garlic bulbs – which are a perfectly respectable size – a thorough weeding & feeding with the chicken pellets & then I could plant out a mish-mash of ten various tomato plants which have languished at home in the rain in pots for quite long enough.

Sadly, one of the butternut squash has not made the grade, but the other two look great & if we (ever!) get a bit of sun, I’m sure they’ll romp away. I thought that I’d had a brainwave by using the labelled tomato pots as cane protectors, and it wasn't until later in the day when I came back to pick some peas that I realised that they would be blown off in the wind.

After I collected the pots from way over in the gooseberry bush, I played a not entirely successful game of ‘name the tomato’. A little lesson learned there, then.

So that just left the legumes in plot A – the first job was to collect the last of the BROAD BEANS (aguadulce) & chop the plants off (left the roots as they something something something to the soil, which is apparently a good thing).

They’ve cropped for 7 weeks, have tasted delicious & I even have a small amount in the freezer. The two lots of twenty seeds (comprising a 20' double row in total) were sown a month apart, but the second lot caught up, so I’d not bother staggering them next year.

A satisfying job – working down the row with the secateurs, I bade David-other-half’s relatives a cheery good morning as they came to collect vegetables (presumably) for lunch having come (presumably) directly from church. They weren’t hugely chatty, but that may have been due to the all pervading niff of garlic which threatening to overwhelm all within 50 yards.

Cutting down the beans has left the peas flopping about (very aggravating, but – my – the peas do taste good!) & the dwarf runner beans with elbow room to spread out. They look rather spindly to me, but we’ll see how then get on now they have some light.

I fed the rest of the bed, & was contemplating planting out the celery, & sowing a couple of short rows of turnip & kohl rabi when the heavens opened. By the time I walked up to the car & the club I was utterly drenched, so went in for some shelter. I felt that a cup of tea was in order, so I decided to call it a day. Of course by the time I drove home the sun was blazing down … summer, eh?
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