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 28, 2008

We're all doing it!

I can see that I’m going to have to mind my p’s and q’s round here from now on! Hot on the heels of cheery Brian & Pauline’s blog from plot 20b, John (the-plot-down-the-bottom) is at it too! I’ve added a link to his blog on the right hand side – I love to see the views of the different plotholders & it’ll provide a rather more rounded view of our allotment community than just my two-penn’th!

I would have said some nice words about John & what an allround good egg he is – & how he’s always got a friendly word, & his enthusiasm for whipping up the community spirit at the Hill (including organising the seed swap & cataloguing the library of gardening books & magazines available to all), but I won’t as he’ll only be embarrassed by it all, I’m sure. Ha!

Today has been hot & muggy, & sure enough we’ve had a thunderstorm this evening. Only enough to tickle the surface, but extremely welcome, nonetheless.

I went to the Hill in the fresh aftermath of the storm to pick a few FRENCH BEANS (early warwick) to have with my salad for tea, and decided to dig a few of the POTATOES (edzul blue). These are second earlies, & the haulms have died down showing that they are ready to dig. I have high hopes of these for the show – talking of which, big sister Helen confirms that she will be here for that weekend (hurrah!) and 'should she bring a cake?'


Honestly, it's bad enough facing stiff competition from the others on the site without my own sister beating me hands down! Actually, she can bring along some of her homegrown raspberry jam if she wants to win something – although I may enter my concrete consistancy blackcurrant & raspberry that I made the other week (on the 'if you have it you must show it' principle), it is rather unlikely to earn a winner's certificate anyway...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Aren't some people nice?

Another boiling hot summer’s day (yes, I know, about time too, & all that!) so I went to the Hill in cotton sundress in the warm glow of the evening, & sang ‘la-la-la’ with the heavy scent of lavender & lilies in the air & the sonorous buzz of the lazy bees whilst I collected vibrant jewel-like red currants into a bowl.


I wasn’t actually on my plot, mind, I was taking Julie (2nd-best-plot-in-Birmingham) up on her extremely kind offer of using her redcurrants & cutting sweetpeas whilst she is on holiday.

Cheery Brian & Pauline were doing a little light harvesting of their own next to Julie’s plot, so I chatted to them as I collected redcurrants. Following Clare in France’s excellent suggestion of making wine with the redcurrants (which, let’s face it, I’m more likely to have success with than with trying to make redcurrant jelly, given my track record to date), I needed to collect 3lb of redcurrants.

I hadn’t much of a clue as to how much of my tub I needed to fill to achieve this, but Pauline showed an uncanny ability to judge weights & suggested a little further filling of the tub which proved to be absolutely spot on when I got home & weighed them.

The wine should be ready in about 3 months, and I’ll be sure to give Julie a bottle to say thank you. I did notice that her sunflower for the tallest sunflower is HUGE - but looking at ours (on the right in the photo) perhaps we may give her a run for her money after all?

I was packing up & having a chat with David-other-half who was watering everything in sight (‘it’ll rain now, you just wait!’ he said) when I saw John (the-front-plot-down-the-bottom). I went to the club house where he kindly bought me a drink & we had a quick chat. More next time – suffice to say that blog-mania at the Hill is spreading…

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thinking ahead...

Novice Neighbour Jody (I can’t keep calling him that, you know!) very kindly watered all the TOMATOES in the week, & when I went to the Hill on Thursday evening they looked all the better for it. It’s so much easier to weed when the plot is dry, but it’s clearly not that good for the plants!

I got round to planting out the pot of LEEKS (mrs d) that I sowed in February – there are only a dozen which is nowhere near enough, so it’s a good job that sowed another pot in May with another couple of dozen. That’s still nowhere near enough – I really don’t know what I was thinking, & it’s too late to sow more now for this year. Hey ho, live & learn.

I showed Jason (behind-retired-Maureen) around the plot when he came to do some watering – he said he’d never heard of half of the varieties that we have growing! I did some weeding & watering & had a ponder as to how we’re going to net the brassica bed.

Today has been an absolute scorcher, & the first job this morning was to re-armpit the tomatoes, & tie them to their stakes. I’ve taken my eye off the ball here – the side-shoots (particularly at the bottoms of the plants) have got waaaaay out of control but I did my best anyway.

Julie (2nd-best-plot-in-Birmingham) who is next to cheery Brian & Pauline came down to offer me a cucumber – she says that she’s overwhelmed with them & is off for two weeks to her caravan in Wales tomorrow so she also very kindly asked me to help myself to her redcurrants – the bushes are laden – & also to please keep picking the sweet peas. Obviously I don’t need asking twice there!

Jane came along & forked up all the 1st early POTATOES (orla & lady cristl) whilst I applied a kilo or so of growmore to each of plot a (misc), plot b (roots) & plot d (legumes) along with some Epsom salts which I’ve been advised will perk up the peas which are looking rather yellow.

I found a pack of the black plastic that we used for paths last year in the garage, so I took that along & we laid the two remaining paths – it is a bit of a two man job to manipulate the 10m long plastic sheet. The sheet is not ideal (i.e. very slippery when wet/muddy) however I’m spending as much time weeding the paths as I am the plots at the moment, so until some 1’ by 2’ slabs become available, that will have to do.

We retired to the club house for lunch then I dropped Jane & her two carrier bags of spuds, & some FRENCH BEANS (early Warwick) off home, totally forgetting that I’d taken the BROAD BEANS (violetta) to plant out. I went back this evening to do that, & also to direct sow the empty row of bean poles right at the end with runner beans – which should give a late crop to take us into autumn….

Monday, July 21, 2008

Let them eat cake...again!

Well a quick trip to the Hill tonight to do a little watering yielding this SPRING CABBAGE – what a cracker! Not quite sure how it is supposed to fit in the fridge, though!

I did a very good job of weeding the unsatisfactorily messy pea plot, & by taking out the giant spring cabbage & planting five KALE (Sutherland) & a BROCOLLI (beaumont) – covering them with the cage – the whole plot looks much better.

I saw cheery Brian & Pauline – Brian tells me that looking at my blog has nudged them into getting their own site up & running. They’ve published before, so the transition to an online newsletter should be straightforward – I look forward to contributing, if they’ll have me! I’ve added their site to the list on the right – it’ll give another viewpoint to life at the Hill!

I was just packing up when I saw Jason (behind retired Maureen) who had come to spray his runner beans. I invited myself down for a guided tour – he has at least one eye on the Hill Show in three weeks, & I’m sure that he’ll have some wonderful crops to show. I’ve decided to show everything that I have ready, regardless of if I think they are any good or not – you never know after all!

Oh – & the cake section has a category for Marble Cake again, so let’s see if I can improve on last year’s third place. Out of three…..

Sunday, July 20, 2008

So a shallot is not an onion, then?

My lack of self discipline means that any ‘quick nip’ to the Hill means an hour or more communing with nature, but when it’s such a gorgeous sunny evening as it was tonight, I really enjoy it.

The plan was to pick some of the PEAS which are more than ready – then I could spend the evening podding & freezing – but in the event, there weren’t enough to bother putting in the freezer (yum yum!). There were plenty of BROAD BEANS though, so I’ve frozen them instead.

Of course I am always sidetracked by the weeding – where do they all come from?

I dug up a POTATO (orla) for tea - & enough for the rest of the week, I think - & also the SHALLOTS (hative de niorte). I almost didn’t bother with shallots as I didn’t really see the difference between them & onions – in fact I wouldn’t have grown them but for the ever generous David & Kaz in Evington who kindly gave us some when we met up with them at the Malvern Show in autumn.

Well, I’m very glad that we did – I stuck a few in with the chicken for tea, & they are beautifully sweet & juicy - totally different to onions! Live & learn, eh – & well worth saving a dozen for planting next year!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sunshine on a rainy day...

It’s been a classic Spring day today – white fluffy clouds, blue skies & heavy showers every half hour or so. This being the case, it’s a shame that it’s the middle of July! It’s cracking growing weather though – the sunflower is looking particularly good and on track to challenge for the Tallest Sunflower prize.

Of course, it takes more than a drop of rain to stop me, so off I went to the Hill with the intention of growing some carrots.

This was an area of such disappointment last year, with a battle against the carrot fly (which I comprehensively lost) that today I sowed eight rows of a resistant variety CARROT seeds (flyaway f1), & I’ll see if that’s cracked it.

When I brought mum to visit the Hill last night, besides saying ‘yum, yum these peas are delicious’ & ‘yes please, I would like some of those fabulous potatoes’, she also said ‘doesn’t Lionel-by-the-gate’s plot look gorgeous with the swathe of flowers across the front – why don’t you do that?’.

She’s quite right – the five marigolds from Ian-at-the-bottom do look a bit lost, so off I went off the garden centre in the hope of picking up some cheap bedding plants. Well, that didn’t work, so I bought some expensive bedding plants instead – a six pack each of cosmos, verbena & osterpernum which set me back sixteen quid.

I managed to walk past the half price seeds – I’m very keen to support the Heritage Seed Library & keep some of the older heritage varieties going, and the more I grow, the less interested I am in the run of the mill seeds at the garden centre. Although to be fair, I couldn’t resist an offer in the Sun this week for 10 Thomson & Morgan seed packs for £1.99 p&p, but that was a bargain!

I went back to the Hill to plant the bedding – which I have high hopes for – before heading home via Jane’s to drop off one of the garlic plaits. She promptly hung it up in the garage, declared the house a vampire-free zone, and wondered aloud whether it would also work on Paul – ooh!

Friday, July 18, 2008

So THAT'S how you do it...

I went to the Hill & cut a couple of LETTUCE (iceberg) for friends yesterday – they are going over a bit really, & they do have some nibbles in the leaves. Nothing that I would worry about, but not everyone is as robust as I am with regard to finding small slugs in their food…

I also had another crack at tidying up the BROAD BEANS – in fact, I picked a couple of kilos of the crimson flowered ones which has just about finished those now.

Whilst admiring the beans, I realised that there were plenty of the FRENCH BEANS (early warwick) ready for a couple of portions, & the wonderful sweet peas continue to give me half a dozen stems every couple of days.

I was glad to see cheery Brian and Pauline – I looked round their lovely cottagy plot, & then picked Pauline’s expert brain with regard to the rather solid jam that I made the other day, & had a masterclass in jam making – fantastically helpful, I must say.

Back home I sowed 4 little pots of SPRING ONIONS (white Lisbon) and LETTUCE (little gem), & also some TOMATO seeds (red choice) – I’d had such tasty tomatoes from Waitrose last week that I thought that I’d take a leaf out of Kath at Vegetable Heaven’s book (her blog is listed on the right) & save some seeds to see what will grow, so I’m just checking that they are viable.

Of course they may not come true if they are an F1 variety, but that’s all part of the fun!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


What a beautiful evening to go to the Hill – I wanted to dig some POTATOES (mum having snaffled the ones I had ready to eat this evening) & it doesn’t take much of an excuse for me to nip over to spend time there.

The plot is looking good – even the row of CARROTS (gonsonheimer) seems to be doing ok. Whilst admiring the BEANS, though, I did have a bit of a thought. Given that we had a runner bean overload last year, I’ve sensibly only got only one row of a dozen or so plants in this year.

However, there are four 4’ rows of dwarf French beans, & a further four rows of climbing beans, which is now starting to look like rather a lot, even though some of them are for drying.

Whilst contemplating this, I tidied up the BROAD BEANS, picking a couple of pounds or so, & chopping back some of the stems, then turned to the potatoes. I forked up just one of the orla haulms, & was delighted with the yield – weighing a grand total of 3¼lb! Not perhaps as tasty as the lady cristl, but certainly more prolific.

I had a look at the PEAS – there should be a good portion for Jane if she comes to the Hill at the weekend – & I picked the most beautiful bunch of sweetpeas.

You’ll recall that it was my big sister Helen who suggested growing flowers for cutting – I was not altogether convinced but I have to say that as ever she’s spot on – look at these beauties from just 3 seeds which germinated out of a pack of 35, & they smell fantastic too!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wasps and Wine...and garlic plaits

Quite an eventful few days, really – I nipped down to Hill on Thursday in order to dig up the rest of the ONIONS, & whilst I had my head in the toolshed reaching in for the fork, I was mindful of rather a lot of wasps.

The main reason for this I discovered in pretty short order was the presence of a wasps' nest in the shed.

Beating a hasty retreat, I took the ONIONS home and pondered my next move.

So on Saturday morning I went back to deal with the wasps, armed with a puffer pack of proprietary Wasp Nest Killer. I read the instructions – use at dusk. So I put the pack away & got on with building a second compost bin instead.

Reg-next-plot was on hand to advise – he suggested a layer of manure at the bottom of the bin to get it off to a good start. He also kindly let me have one of his cauliflowers, which makes two in my fridge at the mo – I felt that I had to buy something from the veg man at the farmer’s market on Friday, as I’d just asked him for a couple of brown sacks to store the potatoes in when they are dug up in due course.

I went over the whole plot weeding – I feel I’m on top of this at the moment, a feeling which is likely to last about 3 days till the next lot germinate!

I dug up the GARLIC – the bulbs look fabulous but BOY did they niff the car out driving home!

However, before packing up for the day I turned my attention to the wayward raspberry canes which have popped up over the last few months by the compost bins & within the row of rhubarb at the back of the plot. There are so many there now that I could strip out the ones that I didn’t want to leave a row which will be ready to fruit next summer. Brilliant!

Whilst I was on fruit patrol I picked all the blackcurrants (total of about a pound & a half, I weighed later). I noticed that all the blackcurrants are on last years’ growth, so half-remembering Indomitable Fran’s advice from last year, I cut out all of these branches wholesale then stripped the berries off into a bucket & the branches into the new compost bin. Was that the right thing to do? It has left the bushes looking good – ready for a bumper crop next year, I hope!

Interestingly, there were only about three redcurrants – as everyone else has netted their fruit bushes, I wonder if the birds scoffed all the redcurrants? And if so, don't they like blackcurrants? The gooseberries are rubbish this year too – despite my pruning, they are just dense balls of thorns with hardly any fruit & this mostly mildewed. The four bushes live on borrowed time.

Once home, I took the blackcurrants & some raspberries that I had in the fridge & made some jam. I really will have to have further practise making preserves – this setting point business is probably easy peasy when you know what you’re doing, however until that happy day, I would imagine that I will continue to make concrete-grade jam. However, more successful is the current batch of rhubarb wine which I bottled - very tasty indeed.

I went back to the Hill at dusk & dispatched the wasps nest with a few puffs of the wasp nest powder - not something I feel hugely proud of, actually – & this morning I sat out in the sunshine & tidied the garlic into plaits which look & smell utterly fabulous, unlike the maslin pan full of a gallon of murky water & boiled up pea pods which is now cooling ready for the pea pod wine…

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Not quite peas a-plenty!

So it was off to the Hill yesterday evening with a mission – the next batch of wine will be pea pod, for which I need 2.25kg of pea pods. How many would that be then? I tried to find the answer to this on the internet, but with no luck, so there was nothing else for it - I took the scales with me to the Hill.

I picked 10 pods, podded the peas & ate them.

I weighed the pods.

10 empty pea pods weigh 50g, so I will be needing 450 pea pods. (For further reference, full pea pods weigh half as much again, so you'd need 3.4kg of peas from the greengrocer to get 2.25kg of pods.)

I picked 300 ready pods from the messy, badly staked kelvedon wonder, & also from the elegant heritage variety pilot, which totalled about 2/3 of a carrier bag.

Not enough! But never fear, the pods can be frozen, so podding, blanching & freezing peas, & their pods is a job for this evening, & hopefully I can pick enough to make up the balance at the weekend.

The tomatoes are looking good – I re-armpitted them & re-tied them to their stakes. Most have flowers, & even a baby tomato or two in evidence, & the warm & showery weather has really brought the squash on.

I bought a perfect LETTUCE (iceberg) home, & a couple of portions of BROAD BEANS – which really are delicious. How can Jane say that she doesn’t like these?

Good news at home with the BROAD BEANS (violetta) just beginning to show their heads in their pots. They have taken their time, I must say – but I am very pleased that I will have more broadies to come after the current lot are finished.

And for some reason it has taken my pea brain from Saturday until today to realise that the perfect place to dry the onions is in the mini greenhouse – the ol’ cogs are turning a bit slowly, there!

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Despite rain being forecast for the whole weekend, yesterday was ‘sunshine & showers’ so I went to the Hill with weeding in mind. It’s a good job I did, as the rain looks like it’s set in for the day today.

First visitors past the plot were Secretary Haydn & Treasurer Mike – Haydn wanted a word with Jane (who came along later) with regard to school visits, & to let her know that he wants to go & see the headmistress in order to get future visits on a more official footing, given that the teacher who has organised the two trip so far is leaving at the end of term.

Whilst I was weeding the plotD (legumes) neighbour Ted arrived & I picked his brains with regard to when to pull up the onions which are now all flopping over. He said that we have the option of leaving them in situ & pulling them as we need them – mind you, I think that I’d prefer to have them out of the ground & drying off.

He left me to think that one over, & Jane arrived for an hour’s weeding & chatting & she went off with a LETTUCE (cos) & some freshly dug POTATOES (lady cristl). The lettuce are completely fabulous, but despite my best intentions are still all ready together – with the little gem starting to bolt before they can all be eaten, I can’t keep up despite giving them away to family & friends.

I even palmed one off to new allotment holder Ian-from-the-bottom who has taken jungly plot 1B – I went down and had a good nose round & suggested that borrowed the strimmer to beat it into some sort of order. He might be new, but his squash are well ahead of ours.

Back at our plot, I spent some time with the secateurs chopping off anything on the tatty BROAD BEANS which looked to be without beans or overwhelmed with blackfly, & then I picked a bagful to take home. There were plenty enough for a portion to give to Ian-from-the-bottom, as well as for my neighbour & for mum too. The broad bean plants are so tatty & all over the place – I need to find a better way of keeping them tidy next year!

I was picking a portion of PEAS (pilot) as Jason (behind retired Maureen) came past & he had a chat & a look round. He said that he doesn’t put his peas in until May in order to avoid the pea & bean moth which strikes in May & June. I don’t think that I’ve had a problem with this, but at least I know what to do about it if I do.

I dug up a potato & a row of ONIONS to add to the peas & beans (along with a GARLIC bulb which had somehow sneaked into the onion row) & was just packing up when Ian-from-the-bottom came back with five marigold plants he had left over – so I planted them at the front of the plot and finished just as the heavens opened…

Thursday, July 03, 2008

It's all in the Planning!

Such that I can continue to spend the balmy summer evenings trilling ‘la la la’ in a straw hat whilst picking produce into a trug with the lazy drone of the bees & the scent of lavender in the air, I did a little potting on of the next crops at home tonight.

With the disappointment of not having any Brussels sprouts for Christmas last year, this year I am determined to make John Seymour’s rotation plan work properly - squeezing the brassicas in after the legumes. He says that the brassicas, having been grown in a seedbed then transplanted to a nursery bed, will be well grown when transplanted to their final positions but will be none the worse for it.

So here are the CAULIFLOWER (all the year round), BRUSSELS SPROUTS (Bedford filbasket & Falstaff), KALE (Sutherland), CALABRESE (early Waltham) & CABBAGE (sprouting red) which will all start to go in to plot D (legumes) once I start to rip the spent beans & peas out.

I did notice that the cauli & cabbage in particular had a nasty attack of greenfly, but I had a bit of a brainwave & have been transferring the ladybird larvae (of which there are hundreds on the cherry tree – as it has been a bad year for blackfly, it’s been a good year for ladybirds…) to the affected plants & they’ve made a terrific difference.

By the way, since I went & watered the tomatoes on Tuesday, it’s not stopped raining…

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Watering Cans or Can'ts?

I was reading online today about the importance of giving potatoes enough water to swell the tubers, & as it’s been so dry recently I thought that I should go to the Hill & give the spuds a good old drink – mind you, it’s been a muggy evening & it was even threatening to rain by the time I got there.

It was good to see Novice Neighbour Jody who’d sneaked away from his other commitments to cram in some weeding – his plot is looking good with his winter brassicas planted out, & he’s eating courgettes already.

I set up the hosepipe to trickle water to plot A (misc) whilst I did some weeding – honestly, you could spend your whole life doing this. It’s like painting the Forth Bridge.

It’s a bit of a grey area, watering with a hosepipe – we really are not supposed to use them, however as the standpipes are at the front of the plots, this does disadvantage those half-plot holders who are at the back.

And before anyone points out that I am at the front half, it’s still a complete fag using watering cans to the back end of the plot, so the compromise which is acceptable to my conscience at least, is to trickle the water to the areas needed which should reduce the run off of wasted water too.

Cheery Brian & Pauline from further up the Hill arrived to pick strawberries for jam – they have had their half plot the same length of time as we have, & have had huge success with their crops & Pauline is a dab hand with preserves & jellies of all sorts.

They kindly let me have some cos lettuce seedlings a few weeks ago, & after we compared notes on this year’s progress Pauline brought me down a punnet of strawberries – yum!

Although I hadn’t planned to bring any produce home, I was tempted by some of the PEAS (kelvedon wonder) looking ready to eat, & I picked a portion of the BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered). They are short pods – the size of pea pods (peas on the left in the pic, beans on the right) – & contain three bright green beans each which keep their colour when cooked.

…and I promised Flum some photos of the FRENCH BEANS (purple giant) so here’s what they are looking like at the moment – what beautiful purple stems they have!
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