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, February 26, 2009

Seeds Sprouting!

With all my February sowing completed, all that remains is for the seeds to do their stuff & sprout!

It’s a thrill to see seeds sprouting – makes you realised that the growing season is nearly upon us! The LEEKS (mrs d), PEAS (Gladstone & newick), sweet peas & BROAD BEANS (h barry plot 19) all on their way, & virtually all the TOMATOES. Even the PEPPERS which I really had grave doubts about have started to come up.


It’s not all jolly news, though - the seeds that I saved last year from the SHALLOTS (pw banana) just don’t seem to be viable, & the self saved PARSNIP (h white gem) seed have just sat & done nothing for over three weeks.

And as an experiment – suggested on the GYO grapevine – I have sown a big pot with four DWARF FRENCH BEAN seeds (two each of tendergreen & early warwick) & these should grow & flower & set beans all from the comfort of the spare room windowsill for a really early crop.

Can’t wait!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beds & Buds

Plenty more in the way of sowing this week – my sowing plan goes something like:

  • Things which all come ready at once & don’t stand for very long (e.g. lettuce, cauliflower, radish etc) – sow once a month
  • Things which all come ready at once but will keep going for a bit/stand for a while without spoiling (e.g. beans, peas, carrots, spring onions, leek etc) – sow 2 or 3 times
  • Things which are harvested all at the same time, or stand till you want them (e.g. parsnip, onion, garlic, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beetroot – sow once in Feb/March, or April

So the February sowings are all completed – LEEK (mrs d), BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19), PEA (hsl gladstone & hsl newick), SPRING ONION (white lisbon) in the second category, & PARSNIPS (hsl Guernsey), TOMATO (various), PEPPER (various), SHALLOTS (hative de niort), CELERY (lathom sef blanching galaxy) & CELERIAC (monarch f1) in the third.

My, such organisation!

I’ve also had a bumper sowing session of annual flowers into modules. Buying bedding plants was an expense last year, & an avoidable one at that – the module trays have cost me a grand total of £1.49, & all the seeds having come from seed swaps over the past couple of months.

Other ‘home’ activities have been getting a batch of grapefruit wine underway & obsessively frequent scrutiny of all the seed trays (most of the tomatoes are up & running). No sign of the SHALLOT (pw banana) or PARSNIP (h white gem) seeds coming to anything as yet – I would have expected to see some signs of life by now in these.

At the Hill, I’ve decided that I don’t have the heart to whack the last two raised beds (a1 & a2) through the onions & the garlic, so their construction will come about later in the year, once the bed is clear.

I used the decidedly Spring-like day on Saturday to level & rake all the paths, ready for the weed suppressant. I added a dozen bags of manure to beds b1 & b2 where the potatoes will be (& a bag to each of the compost bins, which I didn’t think would do them any harm) & then dug all of the beds over ready for planting.

Whilst I had the spade handy, I dug up some JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES for tea along with a PARSNIP (white gem) & a couple of BRUSSELS SPROUTS (Falstaff) plants (which where a casualty of the construction of bed d1).

Once the beds are completed, of course, I can turn my attention to the area of the plot up by the compost bins & the shed – which will lend itself very well to fruit growing. Speaking of which, it’s heartening to see the current bushes breaking into leaf, & the rhubarb only a week or two away from the plate…

Monday, February 16, 2009

When Pain Stops Play...

Although I am having considerable difficulty today in moving my head without the rest of my body following suit – what with my incredibly stiff neck, brought on by over exertion in the construction department – that does not mean I have just been idly feeling sorry for myself, no sirree!

It might be only the middle of February, but there are seeds to be sown, so I’ve put the first two varieties of PEAS into loo-roll-inners (hsl newick & hsl Gladstone). Now I don’t quite know how this has happened, but I do appear to have eight varieties of peas to sow this year, but I’m sure that they’ll all fit in somewhere!

I also sowed four pots of SPRING ONION (white lisbon) – the Plan is to put a good pinch of seed into each pot, then the whole lot can be planted out as they are for a ready-to-dig bunch in due course. It worked really well last year, & I do find pricking out a bit fiddly – although mildly therapeutic.

Apart from sowing (& I am running short of windowsills), I have been busy bottling the pea pod & the Jerusalem artichoke wines. A taster of each means that I’m hoping that the pea pod will improve with maturity, however I have very high hopes of the Jerusalem artichoke – which is wonderful. Thankfully, it tastes nothing like Jerusalem artichokes!

With plenty of parsnips dug up at the weekend (their plot having been bisected by a raised bed), I’ve started this year’s parsnip wine. I’ve just finished the last bottle from last year, & I’m disappointed that I didn’t do more - hopefully this year’s batch will be as good a ‘vintage’!

I took mum to the Hill at lunchtime in order for her to have a look at the raised beds – & I showed her how Julie (2nd best plot) & family are doing with theirs – which is very well indeed, thank you.

Actually, they have done a brilliant job with weed suppressant fabric which she’s using for paths, & has the fabric tucked underneath the board of each raised bed & stapled to the inside of each bed leaving no room for stray weeds to sneak round the edge of the paths. Damn - I wish I’d thought of that!

Not to worry – I was enormously cheered by seeing John Badger at the bottom who had brought me along a couple of pork pies he had made – how fabulous is that? Mum even more pleased – she’d only come along for a look at an empty plot, & went home with one for her supper…

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Raised Bed Wrangles

After a mild weekend filled with the sounds of hammer & saw, I’m tantalisingly just two raised beds (a1 & a2) away from a fully raised-bedded plot – although this weekend has not been without its hitches…

· The plot slopes away from the path, so the beds – which are level – are higher relative to the ground on the right hand side of the plot, to the extent that there’s a gap under each end board. I’ve concluded that I’ll have to put a second end board underneath the first one to stop the soil leaking out towards neighbour Ted's plot.

· The more accurate measured beds at 4’ wide with an 18” path don’t quite match with the slightly wider beds that have been in place for the last couple of years. Not a problem where the beds are empty, but I’d prefer not to trammel straight through the onion sets & garlic cloves merrily growing in plot a.

· Success of the raised beds has encouraged Julie (2nd best plot) & family to construct some raised beds of their own, which has resulted in a stock shortage at Wickes of timber!

· Unaccustomed prolonged enthusiastic physical activity has done something to the muscles in my upper back – I feel about 190 years old.

I’m toying with the idea of leaving the building of the last two beds until they are empty – although I would like to finish the job.

I’ll sleep on it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sowing lessons...

I have been very well organised with the BROAD BEANS & sown 30 (h barry plot 19) in pots, which are now in the mini greenhouse. I will sow 30 more next month, & 30 more the month after that. Brilliant – broad beans all through the summer.

And I have potted up all 15 SHALLOTS (hative de niort) which had started to sprout. Again, full marks.

However, I have not got successional seed sowing right yet.

What did I say a week or two ago?

I said, ‘… I must remember that not everything benefits from the ‘little & often’ principal. It’s ok to sow half a dozen lettuces or cauliflower….. however, things like leek, onion & parsnip can be sown with just an ‘early’ & a ‘late’ sowing…’

So what do I have proudly growing in little pots on all available windowsills?

A grand total of six ONION (long red florence) seedlings, which will last me about two meals when they are mature in a number of months, & twenty newly pricked out LETTUCE (hsl stoke) seedlings which will all be ready in spectacular & overwhelming unison in 10 weeks or so…

I do listen to myself sometimes, though – I’ve got it just right with the half a dozen CAULIFLOWERS (all the year round) that I’ve also pricked out this evening...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Snowing & Sowing

As predicted, we did have more snow this week – not a great deal, but enough for the wheels of industry grind to a halt for a couple of days, & for anyone under the age of about 10 to discover first hand how to make a snowman!

The roads are all but clear now, & with Saturday bright & sunny, I was keen to get more raised beds building under my belt. Well the roads might be clear, but the Hill was far from. Undeterred by not being able to see what was underfoot – & noting that you always see these projects being undertaken in fine weather in the magazines – I started to peg out the next raised bed.

I thought that I’d have the Hill to myself, but saw returning allomenteer Chris (taking advantage of the clear morning to blow the cobwebs away & take some photos in the snow); Julie (2nd best plot) spending some time in her greenhouse (she had encouraging words for the raised beds, & joint commiserations on lack of success with the leeks) then neighbour Ted to dig up a few leeks & Brussels sprouts.

I finished the layout of the bed – although not the levelling & fixing – & decided that snow stopped play & retired home to get the feeling back in my feet.

Once unfrozen, & encouraged by Kath (her blog is here: http://vegheaven.blogspot.com/) & one or two others on the GYO Grapevine I got the seedbox out & sowed TOMATOES & PEPPERS for the summer – which feels an awfully long way away at the moment!

Although the weather has not been as good today, I wanted to finish the forth bed (c1), which I managed to level & start to fix before the cordless ran out of juice. I went to the club house for a coffee whilst it recharged, then finished that & started to peg out the fifth bed (b2).

John Badger from the bottom waved as he passed by, & Jason (behind-retired-Maureen) stopped by to see how I’m getting on – he said that he’s bought a 1metre square link-a-board raised bed in which he wants to grow carrots. When he told me the price, I felt significantly better about my repeated trips to Wickes!

Lack of wood & sleet starting to come down stopped further outdoor activity, but I am delighted with progress so far – another couple of weekends should do it – whatever the weather!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Parsnips & Pots

Winter is most certainly still with us – a couple of inches of snow at the beginning of the week, which has been slow to clear, & apparently we are in for another couple of inches tomorrow.

It might be cold outside, but that doesn’t stop a little seed planting indoors, so I’ve sown a pot of LEEK (mrs d) seeds.

It’s also about the right time to put PARSNIP (h white gem) seeds in – I collected them from a plant that I left to go to seed last year. As they are a bit tricksy to germinate at the best of times, rather than sow them straight into loo roll inners & hope that they come up, I’ve put some to germinate on damp kitchen roll first.

Beans & peas are easy seeds to save (i.e. those that you haven’t eaten over winter you can plant the next Spring), but this is my first attempt at saving any other. Although I know that there’s technically no reason why the seed shouldn’t sprout, I’ll do a little jig if they actually do!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Beds Again...

Yesterday was a day of great industry at the Hill – which is just as well as we have snow flurries today, & I don’t think the temperature has risen very much above zero.

First off, I went to Wickes for more wood, then straight down to finish off the second bed (d1). The brassicas suffered somewhat – although the beds are nominally in the same place, my more accurate measuring of widths & paths mean that it all doesn’t quite match up.

Reg-next-plot arrived to cut down his Brussels sprouts plants to take home for stripping & freezing – he said that he was getting some vegetables whilst he can as the raw wind is straight from Siberia, just as it was in 1947 & we had 14’ of snow in the Midlands then.

When returning-allotmenteer-Chris came by a little later she told me her tales of snowy winters past in Gloucestershire when the village was cut off, with a wistful ‘ah, happy days!’

She went back & forth with wheelbarrows of manure, & I started on the third bed (c2). I ran out of wood again, but wanted to get this one out of the way, so had a second trip to collect another pack of wood & back to finish the bed.

Three down, five to go.

By this time I had had enough of saws, lump hammers, spirit levels & screwdrivers, so I picked some KALE (sutherland) & headed off home to defrost.
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