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 29, 2009

Unintended Consequences

There have been a number of knock on effects from building the raised beds

  • having muddy boots from a visit to the Hill is a distant memory – the bark paths are better than I could have hoped
  • you don’t have to plant out things in rows with a gap in between in order to put your clodding great hoof, but can just plant things out equidistant in blocks as each part of the beds can be reached from the paths – saving loads of space. Haven't quite grasped this point as yet!
  • there is an end to digging over & bed preparation. Once it’s done, it’s done.

This last point will turn out to be pretty revolutionary, I think – take yesterday as an example. I had a list of what I wanted to do – plant out the LETTUCE (hsl stoke), half a dozen CAULIFLOWER (all the year round), both types of main crop POTATOES (pentland dell & rooster) & the PARSNIPS (hsl guernsey). I got the whole lot done in the space of a couple of hours, & that included having Julie (2nd best plot) coming down for a natter.

Mum & big sister Helen arrived as I was finishing weeding the flower border at the front, so I showed them round the site (we dropped off a bottle of raspberry & blackberry wine into cheery Brian & Pauline’s mini greenhouse) before picking the first lot of RHUBARB.

And that was it – all jobs done, & off to the garden centre for tea & toasted teacakes!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Knee Bone's Connected to the...Thigh Bone...

So the seed sowing goes like this:

  • Seeds are sown in modules/pots in trays & put on the warm kitchen or office windowsill
  • Seeds sprout then the trays are put on the cold spare room windowsill
  • Then they go on the warmest part (top shelf) of the mini greenhouse
  • They move down a shelf or two as they grow bigger
  • When nearly ready for planting out they go onto the bench or the garden wall
  • They are planted out

In practice, of course it only works more or less as the above – logjams notwithstanding as things sprout/grow at different rates – & of course when I sow some more seeds and run out of room on the warm windowsills, then everything has to shuffle up a notch, whether they like it or not.

And as the end of the week approaches the bench & garden wall are choc-a-block ready for planting out at the weekend.

And then as the end of the month approaches, the warm windowsills are clear, ready for next months sowing.

I love it when a Plan comes together!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Busy, busy!

It’s been the most wonderful sunny weekend! We have just passed the Vernal Equinox, which is the day that there is equal daylight & darkness & next weekend the clocks go forward & then it really will feel like we’re getting somewhere!

The construction of the remaining two pea frames was first on the list. This took longer than I thought – especially as I decided that an extra brace would be sensible to stop wobbling later in the year. Belt & braces as it were, ha ha!

The other reason that it took longer than estimated was that I chatted at various points to retired Maureen (getting stuck in with plans for this season); Reg-next-plot (who advised me to feed the plot with blood fish & bone – which I did); briefly to Julie (2nd best plot) & to John Badger from the bottom, who really is still not that well – hope they sort you out soon, JB.

After a quick break in the club house (where one of the Old Boys gave me the most delicious sounding recipe for lemon roasted chicken) it was back for the fun bit of planting out, however time was ticking on so I just planted out the PEAS (hsl ne plus ultra) & the sweet peas on to the second pea frame, & called it a day.

I made a lightning trip to the Hill this morning before other commitments overtook me – partly to take a PARSNIP (white gem) & KALE (Sutherland) home, but also to plant the 2nd early POTATOES (osprey & wilja). Having got a bit carried away with spuds last year, I’m planting slightly fewer, & at more sensible spacings, so I will hopefully not spear quite as many when forking them up at harvest time!

Returning-allotmenteer-Christine came by – she was down for a mooch, & to see JB who was manning the shed this morning. I said for her to help herself to any of the heritage beans that are in the seed swap tin. I saw Lionel by the gate too – he’d got all his saved runner beans spread out on the greenhouse bench, & asked if I’d like some. I turned him down – have far too many beans as it is – & then he looked at me as if I was a bit odd when I said I how lovely bean seeds are to play with!

Cheery Brian & Pauline were planting out onion sets – their plot is looking fabulous – considering they have (by their own admission) hibernated all winter, they are still all ready for spring planting.

I planted out the broad beans – they don’t look quite as I wanted them to, in two double offset rows, more like two single rows planted rather too close together, but I was in a rush, so they will just have to get on with it. I still ran out of time before I could plant out the parsnips – something to start off next weekend with...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

About the Hill

The allotments are laid out in a row from plot 1 at the bottom of the Hill (to the right of the entrance, which emerges at plot 18) up to plot 29 at the car park & club house to the left. Further to the left up the Hill, the allotments are off to the right & left of the roadway up to number 46.

The plots are a standard 250 sq yds in size – that’s about 22’ by 110’, & some of the plots are split into half plots (like ours), so there are over 70 allotment holders.

Edit to add: All of our plots are well tended (well, a couple a little 'scruffy', but nothing really unloved), a situation which the comittee keeps a very strict eye on. Allotment gardening is currently very popular for all sorts of reasons, and in common with all of our local authority allotment sites, we have a waiting list - ours contains about 15 names at present.

And that isn't a large redcurrant bush or bonfire just to the right of the entrance, it's our plot.

The club house is a ‘members only’ social club, with (cheap!) beer supplied by the excellent Banks brewery – there’s live entertainment every Saturday night, along with a free ‘n easy night & a monthly midweek entertainer.

There’s a communal polytunnel, basic gardening supplies from the shed (cheaper than the garden centre), tools to borrow, a library of gardening books & a seed swap tin.

This all promotes a sense of community at the Hill, for me the most surprising benefit of having an allotment– & of course it doesn’t happen by accident, but due to both the allotment holders & those people who are members of the social club on site.

The Committee pull it all together, but there are also people like Reg-next-plot who has organised a grow-spuds-in-a-growbag competition for club members & allotment holders this year, & John Badger from the bottom who has organised the library.

And of course the social event of the year is the Annual Show which is held in the club house & is open for allotment holders & club members alike – with flower, cakes & preserve categories along with the vegetable categories, a diary highlight!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stop Press!

What a wonderful chap my postman is! Not only did he bring me some seeds today from a seed swap, but he also bought me an envelope containing a DVD.

When my celery wine hit the giddy heights in January by being included in a feature on UKTV Living's Market Kitchen (I blogged about it here), the lady at the production company promised to send a copy of the program through to me.

It's taken a while to materialise, but I have it now, & I spent half an hour at lunchtime with the DVD player in front of the TV pointing & shrieking. It doesn't take a lot to amuse me, I have to say - the clip is only about 3 minutes long, & when I've worked out how the devil to edit & post it up here, then I will surely do so, & then you can all point & shriek too!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Construction again!

With all my seedlings looking so fine at home crammed onto their various perches, it’ll soon be time to start planting them out – & not a moment to soon as far at the bulging mini greenhouse & windowsills are concerned.

I’ve been hardening off the BROAD BEANS (h barry plot 19) & PARSNIPS (hsl Guernsey) – I’ve given up on the parsnip seed that I saved from last year (they had about 5 weeks in which to do something, & didn’t) – & yet it is the PEAS (hsl gladstone & hsl newick) that are ready for planting out first.

This made making pea supports quite pressing, so I’ve been giving the layout of beds c1 & c2 some thought. The 4’ long bamboo stick ‘tent’ structures were ok last year, but they did get increasing rickety as the season progressed & the autumn winds increased, so if I can do something a little more sturdy, that would be a lot better.

Much pondering later, I set off to the Hill yesterday with my carpenter’s hat on to turn my plans into reality, & here’s what I came up with. The wooden uprights & cross piece are made of the same 2” by 1” battens that I’ve been using as stakes for the raised beds, & these are screwed into the sides of the beds & braced, then the strings pass through holes drilled in the cross piece & are held taut by green fleece pegs. They look pretty tidy if I say so myself – how sturdy they prove to be, we shall see in due course.

I put the second one up today, with encouragement from Julie (2nd best plot) & Pottager Chrissie. That’s if you count shouting across ‘give us a tune’ encouragement – although I do concede that the pea frames have a passing harp-like resemblance...

I think that this week must be ‘good deed’ week – Reg-next-plot’s barrowed his excess strawberry bed soil to beef up my potato beds, novice-neighbour-Jody asked if I’d like their old bench seat which they are replacing, Jason (behind retired Maureen) let me raid his string when I’d run out & Julie dropped in some details from her planting-by-the-moon book. These I examined closely whilst having a sandwich at the club house, & can only say that it requires further study.

And before I came home I planted out another few POTATOES (international kidney, & four that I bought back from holiday in Tenerife) to remind myself that I’m a gardener.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Well, damn me!

I had bright idea when I was out & about earlier – I’d call in at the Hill & collect some kale for tea. I made sure that I had the key to the gate on me – after all it was during the day & surely it was quite likely that I’d have to unlock it to let myself in.

How wrong can you be – honestly, it was like Piccadilly Circus down there! Lots of activity – it was lovely to see indomitable Fran & Alan cracking on, & John Badger from the bottom buzzing about – he’s been under the weather, so it was really good to see him too.

And then, Julie (2nd best plot) came down from her plot to say hello, & she had a box of cakes with her!! It’s her birthday, so had baked cakes to celebrate – yum – & I would have dearly loved to have stayed all afternoon to enjoy the fresh air & the sunshine!

Sadly, it was not to be - however when I got home, I found that the postman had delivered a parcel from David ('Evington Hilltop Adventures' on the blog list on the right) which contained a huge packet of climbing peas which I’ll be popping into Lionel's (by the gate at the back) – maybe I can sneak down to the Hill again tomorrow...?

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Disaster Waiting to Happen...?

Had a bit of a hitch tonight.

All started well enough – I had a merry sowing session of PEAS (hsl stephens & hsl ne plus ultra) & some flowers, & potting some of the annual flowers into larger modules & all was fine & dandy with the world.

Then I juggled the seedtrays between the kitchen windowsill, upstairs windowsill, office windowsill, mini greenhouse & even brought the attic room into play as a I’d run out of all other light places, until all was just about squashed in, so I gave a self satisfied nod, & cleared up & started to cook dinner.

Then there was a clunk.

I turned round to see the celery & celariac seedlings crashed off the kitchen windowsill & onto the draining board. Oh no!

I scooped back what I could into each pot & sowed a few more of each with a great deal of bad tempered muttering.

There’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s just I’m not entirely sure what it is.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

New Planting Season Begins ....NOW!

I’m running out of windowsills. I’ve started on March’s seed sowing & it will be a little while before the earlier sowings can be taken to the Hill for planting out. As soon as anything vaguely hardy pops up, it’s hoofed out to the mini greenhouse. Of course, that’s now full too, so I’m not sure where we go from here.

I sowed BRUSSELS SPROUTS (bedford filbasket & falstaff), CABBAGE (kilaxy f1 & red sprouting), CALABRESE (waltham), CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) , LEEK (mrs d) & SWISS CHARD (bright lights) at the beginning of the week, along with a second sowing of BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered) & various TOMATOES. I also potted on the first batch of TOMATOES sown last month.

The brassicas are already peeping through, along with the CELERY (lathom self blanching galaxy) & CELERIAC (monarch f1) – these are tiny, tiny seedlings – I suspect much patience will be needed when pricking out!

Although it has been cold again all week, yesterday was a little warmer with some sunshine, so I headed off the to the Hill with enough wood to peg out the side of bed a2 furthest from the onions growing there. At least I will be able to get the path down between a2 & b1, even if the rest has to wait for a while to be complete.

But the best laid plans (& all that) meant that when I got the cordless screwdriver out to fix the wood to the stakes, I found that the screwdriver bit had lost it’s edge so I couldn’t compete the job. No matter, I’m further on than I was.

I did manage to beef up bed b1, though – at the far end the ground falls away leaving a gap underneath the level beds from where the soil can escape so I sneaked an extra panel in each side underneath the existing one which has done the job & then emptied a few manure bags into that end of the bed to bring the soil level up.

At the path end of bed b1 & b2 – this year’s potato plot – I planted out the first early POTATOES (dunluce & lady cristl), just six of each, so that is officially the start of the season!

I had a chat with Reg-next-plot, then up to the clubhouse where I gave one of the chaps a garlic bulb in return for some of his tomato seeds – I love seed swaps! Then on my way back to the car I saw Lionel (by the gate at the back) – he really would like to grow a row of a particular variety of climbing peas which he can’t get hold of in the catalogues, but I know a very nice man who will send me some, so that’ll be my good deed for next week!

Sunday, March 01, 2009


I arrived at the Hill yesterday to some excellent news – Julie (2nd best plot) came down as I arrived to tell me that besides the bark chippings, there is an enormous heap of compost in the park free for the taking! Brilliant!

Even better, when her husband Phil arrived a short while later with a trailer full of it for her raised beds, he offered to fetch me a trailer full too on Sunday morning – how lovely is that!

In order to complete the paths, I laid down weed suppressant (£12.99 for a 25m roll from Wilko, which will be enough for all the paths as it’s wide enough to be cut in half) & then made a couple of journeys to the park to collect chippings. These are conifer chippings, from shredded Christmas trees – & of course they smell wonderful.

I managed to collect not quite enough chippings, so went back today for some more, & some for Potager Chrissie who has been busy with her raised beds too – we will be the most orderly allotment site in Birmingham if this carries on!

It was lovely to see indomitable Fran & Alan – a family crisis has meant it’s their first trip down of the year. The weather has bought more allotment holders out – besides Julie & family & Chrissie, novice neighbour Jody (digging his plot), Reg-next-plot (busy organising the potato-in-a-bag growing competition), Lionel-by-the-gate & new allotment holders Paul & Gill who have just taken over the front half of Lionel’s plot. It’s the most prominent plot on the site being opposite the gate – so no pressure there for the new ‘uns, then!

Whilst I waited for Phil & his trailer, I planted out the SHALLOTS (hative de niort) into bed a2, limed beds c1 & c2 (where the legumes will be this year) & pruned the gooseberry bushes – taking out about every other shoot in an attempt to make harvesting a rather less painful experience later in the year. I now look as though I have been in a fight with a roomful of kittens – it’s a job that leaves me scratched & bad-tempered.

No matter, because as I was clearing the cuttings up, Phil backed the trailed of compost up, & he & extremely helpful son K made short work of barrowing it on to beds b1 & b2. It looks pretty rich compost, & these beds are where the potatoes will be going – & incidentally are also the beds in most need of filling. Mind you, they are like a black hole & just ate up the full trailer load!

Then we all retired to the club house for sandwiches & drinks, & I called it a day, going home with a couple of parsnip (from Richard 3 plots down) & – appropriately on this St David’s day – a couple of LEEKS (mrs d) for tea.
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