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...........

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Parsnips a-plenty!

I’ve got a bone to pick with the BBC weather forecasters – we battled away at the Hill yesterday in the cold rain, & yet today has been just beautiful, despite being billed as rainy too. We weren’t the only ones fooled – when I got to the Hill yesterday, Novice Neighbour Jody, David-other-half & Indomitable Fran & Alan were all busy on their plots.

Fran was finishing off planting their potatoes – which meant I was happier putting the rest of ours in. I thought we might be a week or two early, but if Fran isn’t worried about late frosts, then nor am I.

When Jane arrived, she dug up the remaining PARSNIPS (white gem & gladiator) – which have had to come out in order for us to put the rest of the potatoes in – & the rest of the BEETROOT (red ace). We had a HUGE parsnip pile which we’ve split between us, & I’ve peeled, chopped & frozen some of them.

Once the POTATOES (picasso & pentland dell) were in, the finishing touch was to put a layer of strawy manure on the part of the bed which we hadn’t managed to do before because the parsnips were in the way.

Meanwhile, Jane planted out 8 little pots of SWISS CHARD (bright lights) that I’d brought with me which have been growing away in the mini greenhouse, & we also planted out a final row of PEAS (kelvedon wonder). There’s about 4’ at the end of the pea rows – still partly occupied by the spring cabbage – but I’ve ear-marked that for some dwarf beans.

We’ve had a re-think on the idea of wigwams at the front of the plot for the climbing beans & peas – it looks as if that would be quite wasteful on space, so I think that short rows of poles will be better.

We pulled up the last of the SUMMER CABBAGE (primo II) as they were bolting – the tops in a stir fry last night were delicious – & also the KALE (alice) is starting to bolt so we pulled the plants up & split them between us. We took a SPRING CABBAGE home each too – they don’t seem terribly ‘hearty’ – perhaps they need another week or two.

The rhubarb row between our plot & David-other-half is growing well – miles ahead of anyone else’s, actually – so I picked an armful, some of which I dropped off at mum’s, & the rest I’ve chopped up for making wine with.

At home, I pricked out the LETTUCE (little gem) & eight more CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) into individual 2” pots & I also sowed 4 pots with LETTUCE (webbs wonderful).

To use the beetroot, I made a couple of jars of chutney, & then I bottled the celery wine. Rather worryingly, although it looks great, first tastes are not hugely promising – ‘paint’ & ‘stripper’ are two words which spring to mind, but maybe it will mellow into something rather more palatable…

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Winter returns...

The good news, weather-wise is that the storms have abated. The bad news is that it has been VERY COLD INDEED – that North wind can be a real stinker.

I was determined to get the parsnips in the ground on Saturday, though, despite the snow flurries as I got the car out of the garage. Jane was of the same mind – phoning to make sure that I was on my way.

When we arrived, we saw Treasurer Mike checking the manure skip, so he was on hand for when I saw BLOODY GREAT FOOTPRINTS running straight across the front of plot. Tracking backwards over the next seven or eight plots, some scallywag has had a race all the way across & back. Fortunately for us, it was straight across an unplanted bit, so no real damage done. Fortunately for the scallywag, I didn’t catch him, & we left Treasurer Mike reporting all to Secretary Hadyn.

The great advantage of sowing the PARSNIP (white gem) seeds into loo roll inners is that the whole lot can be planted out into a row of holes made with a curtain pole in about 3 seconds flat – we’re back to instant allotmenteering, here, & Jane couldn’t get her hat on!

RADISH (French breakfast) must be direct sown, so we popped a row in before digging a few of the smaller PARSNIP (gladiator) & the PAK CHOI which has started to bolt. I couldn’t see any reason not to eat the pak choi like sprouting broccoli, so we split the booty & each went home to thaw out.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a £10 Thompson & Morgan voucher in their catalogue & the seeds arrived this week. I duly sowed a couple of seeds each of PEPPER (mini bell mixed, tasty grill red f1, tasty grill yellow f1) & TOMATO (tamina). I also sowed the PEA (pilot & robinson) which I had from the Heritage Seed Library in loo roll inners, & 4 small pots each of SPINACH (samish f1), SPRING ONION (ishikura) & SWISS CHARD (bright lights).

Whilst in the ‘potting shed’, I also pricked out the RED CABBAGE seedlings into individual 2” pots, as well as the TURNIP (snowball). Not sure if you should do that with the turnip, but they’ll soon tell me if I disturbed them too much, I dare say.

It’s such a thrill to see sown seeds sprouting – the only stubborn germination failures have been the LETTUCE (chartwell) the PEPPER (banana). Everything else is coming up nicely, with anything ‘hardy’ getting hoofed out into the mini greenhouse soon after it appears, with the more tender tomato & peppers being kept inside for a little while yet.

If it stops being winter next weekend, we might even get some of the maincrop spuds in…

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stormy Weather pt2...

Gale force winds again this week – so I was relieved to discover when I went to the Hill yesterday that the toolshed was where I left it! In fact all looked to be well with the exception of Belinda Scarecrow who appears to have lost her pillowcase head…

With the rain threatening – but holding off – there were plenty of plotholders around. Many were repairing sheds & greenhouses, the damage of which I put down to the weather but apparently we’ve had a series of shed break-ins. Just as well that I leave the toolshed unlocked, & don’t keep anything ‘desirable’ in it.

Novice neighbour Jody was harvesting his red cabbage – his didn’t look as good as ours (combination of the cabbage going mouldy in the middle, or starting to bolt) which is a bit unfair given that the ones on our plot were from his seedlings…

I started off by planting out the SHALLOTS (hative de niorte) which have been growing in pots in the mini greenhouse & planting out 4 bunches of SPRING ONION (ishikura) both into plot b (roots). The plan with the spring onions is that you sow 8 or so seeds in a 2” pot then plant the whole lot out together & they are happy to grow like that with no need to prick them out separately.

The weeds are now starting to grow (mainly chickweed & a few nettles), so I gave the onions & garlic in plot b a good old weed, & turned over the other half of the bed again as there were signs of the green manure showing up again.

Jane & E arrived & we set about planting the second early POTATOES (charlotte & edzul blue). Given that we measured both halves of plot C last week in order to arrange the rows, it puzzles me that we appear to have a larger space left for the main crop spuds on one side than the other by about a foot – how did that happen?

Indomitable Fran & husband Alan arrived with Fran looking fab with her new bionic knees – they were mending their soft fruit cage, then kindly offered mugs of coffee all round.

Treasurer Mike called by & asked if we wanted to enter the ‘heaviest yield from a potato tuber’ (no), the ‘tallest sunflower’ (yes) & the ‘biggest pumpkin’ (definitely yes!) competitions. I asked him about the slabs being offered for sale – 40p each – but found that they are 2’ square, so bigger than I was envisioning for paths, but I’ll mull that over.

We planted out another 10 pots of PEAS (kelvedon wonder) in a row on plot A (legumes), & as each of the rows look a bit skinny, E put a double row of seeds down each row to beef them up. Whilst she was doing that, I sowed a couple of short rows of CARROT (gonsonheimer) which we covered in fleece to protect against carrot fly. I’m determined to eat carrots this year!

Our RED CABBAGES look as if they are starting to bolt too, so we went away with the remaining ones, as well as a huge PARSNIP (white gem) each, & I had a tiny portion of KALE (alice).

Back at home I had a very enjoyable seed sowing session (more tomatoes, spinach, swiss chard, celery, celeriac, spring onions, red & green Brussels sprouts & lettuce) all in 2” pots, and whilst I was upstairs putting the seeds in the attic room, I happened to notice that the celery wine has cleared nicely & it’s all ready for bottling…

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Potato planting...

We’ve had some REALLY stormy weather the last few days – not wet, but very windy indeed, & I do hope that I'll find the toolshed still where it's supposed to be on Saturday!

Not that the weather stopped me at the weekend – I had potatoes to plant! The year whizzes onward – I notice that last year I had the first early potatoes planted in February, although I think we were lucky not to have the crop damaged by frost.

The first job at the Hill was to plant out a couple of rows of pea seedlings. They do look a bit sparse, so I may direct sow a few in amongst each row to beef them up a bit. The broad beans are looking good – the crimson flowered particularly so.

Jane & E joined me just as I was finishing & E made a sterling job of weeding the ‘flower border’ at the front of the plot – the tulips are all looking good as well as the slightly scruffy dianthus which seem to have made it through the winter.

We measured out the potato beds (plot C) with canes with differing row spacings depending on the potato type, then we planted the first earlies – a dozen each (to make 3 rows) of Orla & Lady Cristl.

Reg-next-plot was planting out his shallots (that’s a job for next weekend, then!) & it was good to see David-other-half for the first time this year. I didn’t realise till he left, that the big pile of leeks that he’d dug up were destined for the compost heap – & I’m afraid that I had to liberate a few for my tea!

I also dug up the last of the KOHL RABI & the TURNIPS (snowball) so that leaves the front of the plot ready for bean wigwams. I seem to have quite a few climbing peas & beans which will need accommodating somehow – I'm thinking that maybe the planned four wigwams won’t be adequate.

Of course I couldn’t let Jane go without some PARSNIPS (gladiator) – these are certainly more manageable than the monstrous white gem – which is a pity, as I’ve sown the white gem again this year…

Back home I sowed the TOMATO seeds – a couple of seeds each of 8 varieties. We had more plants last year – but I think that had the blight not struck, we would have been overwhelmed. Mind you, I’m not quite sure that 8 plants are enough, so I may sow a few more next weekend.

I’m delighted that the PEPPER (purple jalapeno) & PEPPER (Jalapeno) have both come up, at long last – it’s taken just a month for them to come up! The PARSNIP (white gem) in loo roll inners are now up too as well as the ever reliable PEA (kelevedon wonder) & the LEEK (mrs d).

Lots of planting out to do next weekend – the next lot of potatoes can go in, along with shallots, spring onions & more peas. Busy, busy!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Instant Allotment!

With the exception of one cold night recently, the frost seems to have left us for the time being – & daytime temps are up into double figures – although I realise that we are not into Spring just yet.

I bought some tool hooks in the week, so the first job last Saturday was to screw a baton to the inside of the toolshed & mount a couple so that I can hang up the fork & spade.

I dug over the last of the green manure in plot B (roots), & took two trays of BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered) with me & planted those out in plot D (legumes).

To take home for tea, I had some of the bolting PAK CHOI, a RED CABBAGE & a PARSNIP (white gem) which was massive. I’ve noticed that the ‘tender & true’ parsnip (sown a couple of months after the ‘white gem’) are a much more sensible size! Although whether that’s because of the variety, or they slightly shorter growing period, I’m not sure.

I’ve fallen headlong for this ‘instant allotment’ idea where you just plant stuff out! It all looks so neat, and there’s no thinning out and wasted seed. Of course, it’s also rather early for sowing seeds outside, so I’ve been busy ‘in the potting shed’. I sowed another 2 trays of peas in pots, a pot of LEEK (mrs D) seeds, and re-sowed 4 pots with LETTUCE (chartwell) – the last lot of which did absolutely nothing in the space of 3 weeks. I’ve also been saving loo roll inners, & sowed twenty eight PARSNIP (white gem).

The mini greenhouse has been earning its keep, & I spent an evening pricking CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) out into 8 individual pots, & another pricking out ONION (red Brunswick) into 32 individual pots.

It’s not all about the seeds, though – I bottled the parsnip wine – which looks utterly fab, if I say so myself! The celery wine is clearing nicely, but as it’s still MONTHS before I can drink any of the damn stuff, I’ve started some fruit juice wine, using a recipe from a friend on the GYO forum (thank you Shirley) – the real advantage here, is that it’ll be ready in eight weeks – hurrah!
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