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...........

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jack Frost is here again...

Gosh it has been cold! I bet we’ve had 10 straight nights of frost, & good heavy frosts at that – a couple of nights down to -5 or -6 degrees, but with really bright sunny days.

This means that I’m rather glad that I only have robust seedlings in the mini greenhouse – the broad beans, onions, shallot sets & brassicas are all pretty hardy, & don’t seem to have come to any harm, & the forecast is for warmer weather after tonight (down to -3).

I’m glad that I covered the broad beans at the Hill with fleece – they looked well snug yesterday – mind you, the 4 or 5 left over plants left to their own devices in pots by the compost heap look pretty good too.

With the weather so cold, I thought that I’d better leave planting out the crimson flowered broad beans for another week – they are not particularly billed as a hardy variety, & I’d hate to lose them to frost – so my visit to the Hill on Saturday was confined to finishing the shed, & some digging.

The soil is finally drying out – it’s much less claggy on the spade, & a few weed seedlings are about, so it won’t be long until sowing time is upon us! I marked out plot A with a centre path – I’d rough dug it after taking down the beans in November (leaving in the nitrogen fixing roots) – & now have two dug over narrow beds. Then I picked PAK CHOI, KALE (alice), a SWEDE (best of all) & a TURNIP (snowball) for dinner & turned my attention to the toolshed.

Once the roof & doors were fixed to my liking, it just needed a coat of preservative. Fortunately I had about a third of a can left over from painting the fence at home which has been sitting out by the bench at home for the last few months, but I soon realised that I had no means at the Hill of opening the can. I saw Dahlia David & his wife down at the bottom of the Hill at their plot, so I took the can down to see if he could help.

After a great deal of huffing & puffing (not to mention a nasty gash on his hand) David had the lid off – hurrah! – & revealed the can to be three quarters full. I carefully walked back to the toolshed, gave the can a stir, then got painting. Eventually it dawned on me that the reason that the can was so full – & the preservative so ‘thin’ – was that the rainwater must have leaked into the can. At this rate, it will take about 8 coats to give the toolshed even a nominal coating of preservative!

Back home on the sowing front, I put 4 peas in each of 30 pots which are just starting to germinate – & sowed a few seeds each of SPINACH (Samish f1), SPRING ONION (Ishikura), TURNIP (snowball), ONION (Brunswick) & SWISS CHARD (bright lights) all in pots upstairs. The CABBAGE (red sprouting) are all up & the pots moved to the mini greenhouse.

And the wine making? Well, the celery wine has now virtually stopped ‘working’ in the demijohn, but is still rather emulsion-like in appearance – which I guess that will clear in due course.

With regard to the parsnip wine, I racked it off into another demijohn (making sure I kept a little aside for SG testing & tasting, of course!) – the upshot of which is that I have some very personable chardonnay style vanillary wine which has an alcohol content of nearly 16%! Wow! It will now mature in the demijohn for another 3 or 4 months before being bottled & put aside until about Christmas when I hope it will have mellowed into something really rather good!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Aren't Some People Lovely...?

Some fine weather! We do have cool nights, of course, with it being quite clear – but it does feel like it’s time to ‘do something’.

But first, a Social. Last Saturday I was kindly invited down by Shelley & Paul to their home in the Forest of Dean, along with some others from the GYO Grapevine forum, so 10 of us had the most wonderful lunch in the delightful surroundings of Holly Cottage. I took some jars of beetroot chutney with me, biscuits & chocolate for our hosts, & some cheese to help the buffet along & came away with a bottle of home brewed wine, & clutching a handful of delicious new recipes. We were made most welcome – even by BC the cat – & a fabulous time was had by all.

On Sunday it was the potato day at Garden Organic at Ryton – the home of the Heritage Seed Library. Not that my membership let me off the £6 entrance fee, but there were about 100 varieties of seed potato to choose from, & I could have a good look round & there were various lectures & presentations going on too – including potatoes being cooked…

However, it was too cold & blowy to stop long, but I came away with two varieties of first earlies (12 each of lady crystl & orla), two varieties of second earlies (8 each of charlotte & edzell blue), & two varieties of maincrop (20 each of pentland dell & picasso). Having planned the spacings & varieties better this year I am hoping to avoid last year’s difficulties when digging up the potatoes, what with not being able to see the rows/varieties through bad planting.

In the week I started a batch of wine with the celery dug up from the Hill, supplemented by some extra from Aldi. It was more straightforward to make than the parsnip wine (which I am delighted to report is clearing nicely), & tonight I have put it in a demijohn to continue fermenting.

It was a lovely day at the Hill yesterday – the better weather had bought quite a few out to get their plots ready for spring. I saw Novice Neighbour Jody for the first time since his little one was born at Christmas, Haydn & Teacher Barry. I also met a new plot holder, a little further down the Hill – Andy – who was used to having more land, having spent some time in France, & a few others dotted up & down.

I finished the re-digging of plot D (legumes) & planted out 30 BROAD BEANS (barry plot19) which have been merrily growing in pots in the mini greenhouse. Barry asked if they’d been properly hardened off before planting out, & I said yes, but sloped off to cover them with fleece as soon as he’d gone – frost was forecast.

I dug the green manure in on half of plot B (roots) with a view to getting the bed ready for parsnips – I plan to sow them in loo roll inners then plant them out which may mean that I avoid parsnip overload this year…

To take home for tea, I picked PAK CHOI, KALE (alice), a TURNIP (snowball) & a RED CABBAGE. The red cabbage is small, but I think that these will start come into their own over the next few weeks

Now I have the mini greenhouse up & running, I have somewhere for seedlings to start hardening off after they’ve sprouted indoors, so I’ve started to sow a few more seeds – SPRING ONION (ishikura), CAULIFLOWER (all the year round), CABBAGE (red sprouting), LETTUCE (chartwell) & a couple of seeds each of PEPPER (purple jalapeno, big banana, jalapeno & cayenne chilli).

Runner up in the ‘most generous person’ stakes this week – after Shelley & Paul – has to be Pam, who took a full plot on towards the clubhouse at the same time as we did. She remembered a conversation that we’d had last year about sheds, & came down & asked me a couple of weeks ago if I’d like their old toolshed as they were getting another.

And when I arrived at the Hill on Saturday, there it was, all ready to reassemble – how wonderful is that? I couldn’t wait to get to the Hill this morning ‘tooled up’ & put it together – & bar some new felt, hinges for the doors & a lick of paint it is absolutely perfect!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The start of a Vintage year...?

We’re getting just a tiny glimpse of the evenings being slightly lighter now even if it’s generally remained wet and cold, but I made good use of a dry spell over at the Hill last weekend.

I noticed that the green manure that I supposedly dug in at the end of December really wasn’t dug in very well – i.e. lots of green manure pointing upwards & growing, as opposed to buried & breaking down – so I had another go at that, & I’m MUCH happier with the result. Of course, this makes the second lot that I dug in look pretty rubbish by comparison, but that’s a job for another day.

Whilst in the mood for digging, I turned my attention to half of plot C (old roots bed). I finally gave up on & got shot of the rest of the carrot-fly-eaten CARROTS, dug up the SALSIFY, CELERY & BEETROOT all of which I bought home, thus clearing the whole area – just leaving (guess!) parsnips in the other half of plot C. By emptying half a dozen bags of strawy manure & roughly spreading it with the fork, I now have the bed ready for the potatoes.

I also dug up the last three leeks – leaving just one magnificent one to go to seed & flower so I should hopefully be able to save the seed from that.

With all that satisfying digging out of the way, there was no putting off the job of pruning the fruit bushes any longer. The currant bushes were easy – they’ve all grown wonderfully from the little sticks that they were this time last year, & I do hope that they will give lots of lovely fruit this summer! All they needed was the odd ‘crossed over’ branch snipped out in order to maintain what the books call ‘an open goblet shape’.

The gooseberry bushes were a different story – thorns on thorns which my gloves were just not up to keeping off. The plan was to thin out the bushes, snip off anything weedy looking or just in the wrong place & reduce them slightly. Half an hour & a good deal of bad language later, the job was done & the prunings snipped up & put in the compost bin.

I came home & made the beetroot into chutney, & set about making some of the parsnips into wine. It was a complete palaver scraping & chopping up the parsnips, then boiling them till tender, draining THEN boiling up again with sugar, & once it had all cooled down, I put in the yeast, nutrient, anti-starch enzyme & let it sit in a bucket for ten days stirring each day. The wine is now up in a demijohn in a cool room (16ÂșC) & will be for 6 months.

Of course, this left me with a whacking great pan of cooked parsnip, so I added some milk & liquidised it, & I now have some rather thick & concentrated soup in the freezer. Now I’ve got the knack of knocking up a batch of wine, I think I’ll make another lot, but this time with the celery.

The broad beans sown at the start of January are all up & looking sturdy so I’ve put them in the new mini greenhouse with a view to planting them out next weekend, & having given up on the ONION (ailsa craig) as a bad lot, I’ve sown ONION (Brunswick) instead – & after 10 days, they are putting in an appearance too.

I opened the packet of BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered) & was delighted to find not only more seeds in the packet than expected, but also the seeds are all a lovely green rather than brown as I thought they would be & I’ve sown all those too.

And I haven’t been to the Hill this weekend as I have been ‘otherwise engaged’ – suffice to say I’ve had a couple of excellent days – & I’ll tell all next time…

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