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, May 31, 2009

Gardening Delights!

What a lovely surprise I had this evening!

After a couple of days away from the plot – which have been incredibly hot & sunny – I went to water the tomatoes this evening, & found the PEAS (stevens, gladstone & newick) are all flowering.

The gladstone & newick have crisp white flowers – & even a couple of tiny pods on the gladstone – but the stevens have mauve & purple flowers which are just the prettiest things!

Cheery Brian & Pauline walked down after picking their first cos lettuce & a few radish, so I showed the peas off to them, & then they told me that they’d opened the bottle of raspberry & blackberry wine today which I’d given them from the fruit picked last year.

Contrary to my thoughts that the red wine was fruity, but rather sharp, they enthused about the both the taste & clarity, so I was extremely pleased – & to tell the truth, rather flattered.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Showing Off!

Well I’ve had fun tonight!

Cousin Wendy came up for the day from to visit mum today with the twins, so I won out by being invited along for tea, including mum’s delicious mandarin cheesecake (secret recipe). Hurrah!

We then all piled into the car & went to the Hill. Wendy’s a keen grower – her dad had an allotment some years ago – & is growing French beans & tomatoes in her garden this year, & would grow more if she had the space.

We had a good mooch round the plot, discussing growing methods, raised beds & compost bins then I picked them a lettuce, an armful of rhubarb & also sent them away with a bottle of rhubarb wine.

I must be doing something right as the girls pronounced the allotment ‘cool’. High praise indeed!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pea Frame Problems

I was going to call this post 'Things That I'll do Differently Next Year', however if I was to do that, every second post would have the same title!

I only nipped to the Hill this evening to pick a lettuce, but saw that the peas needed some attention – not only did some of them need encouraging up the strings properly, but some of the strings were going slack and wafting around.

A closer inspection revealed that some of the strings have snapped at the soil – & although I initially thought that it was the pigeons to blame pecking the string, I now think that it's the dampness of the soil rotting through the sisal.

I've thought of two things that I might try next year – I could use netting from the top of the frame fixed with either pegs or a cane trapping the bottom edge by the soil; or I could peg down string in the same fashion as this year, but use non-rot twine instead of sisal.

Plenty of time to mull this one over.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Counting the Cost!

Realising that I have room for three further varieties of dwarf beans, I posted a request on the GYO grapevine, offering some of my left-over climbing beans in exchange.

Within half an hour I had the three varieties promised to me to be in the post in the next few days, & even after I’d said ‘thank you’, there were more offers from other kind people who were more than happy to send me seeds, & waving away my offers of postage or swaps. How good is that!

This got me thinking about the money that I’ve saved by taking advantage of ‘free seeds for postage only’ offers, & by swapping these – & home saved seed – with others both on-line & at the Hill to extend the range of seeds that I have to sow.

Of course the seed companies do help here – when they put 1600 carrot seeds in a packet, or 450 cabbage seeds, even allowing for poor germination, that’s an awful lot of seed – enough to save for subsequent years, and to swap for others.

So this year I have a plot full of veg, & seedlings bursting from every windowsill – & all for the grand sum of a £20 subscription to the Heritage Seed Library & a couple of ‘10 packets of seeds for £1.99 p&p’ offers – fabulous!

Monday, May 25, 2009

'Sorry', Squash & Seed Tapes...

Of course, first on the cards for today was a trip to the garden centre in order to buy a replacement watering can rose for Lionel by the gate’s watering can, following yesterday's unfortunate incident. It being a bank holiday, I made the most of it, taking mum & we enjoyed a good mooch & (of course) a toasted tea cake & a cup of coffee. Mum came away with bedding plants, bird food & a rosemary plant; I bought a rose for Lionel (& one for me) & indulged in a packet of mixed seed tapes – parsnip, carrot, swede & celeriac.

We called at the Hill on the way back. Lionel was there, & was very gracious about the broken rose, & said I shouldn’t have worried about it & that I was ‘a good ‘un’, so that’s me forgiven, I think.

Plenty of plot holders were enjoying the sunshine & said hello as I showed mum round – teacher Barry came down to offer me a courgette plant, which I agonised over, but reluctantly turned down as I really have filled up the miscellaneous beds.

Ian from the bottom came past with a friend – they were both very interested in the raised beds, & Ian’s friend asked me a lot of perceptive questions with regard to the timber, bed maintenance & construction. “I’m holding you up as an example!” beamed Ian.

The bean frame caught his friend’s eye “I think that this is super – I’ll do this next year!” he enthused, although I cautioned waiting until we see if the frame actually works as it is supposed to & doesn’t collapse in a catastrophic heap later in the year.

Before we left, mum & I picked the last of the first row of RADISH (French breakfast 3), which are lovely – a long red radish with a white tip, untroubled by both flea beetle & slugs, & crisp without being too hot in taste. Looking at the next row, it won’t be ready for another week or so – bad planning!

After sowing some FRENCH BEANS (talisman) in pots at home, along with some PEAS (salmon flowered) for mum’s little veg patch, I went back to the Hill this evening to pull a few more wallflowers out at the front of the plot & plant out a few more flower plugs. In my enthusiasm, I have sown too far many varieties (about 10), not all of which I can recognise, so I hope that I don’t dig these straight out again when it comes to weeding.

Turning to the squash plants, I buried an upturned milk container with the bottom cut off next to each plant, then put a cane into each one (which will make their location rather more obvious once the plants have grown) – I can then water directly into the milk container which will get the water straight to the plant roots. It looks rather daft now, but I’ll be glad that I’ve done this in a couple of months time!

And then I also sowed two of the seed tapes – PARSNIP (hollow crown) & CARROT (autumn king 2). This is an easy peasy way of seed sowing, I must say – although it’ll be a rather expensive batch of vegetables….

Sunday Confessional...

A hot summery day today – so I left going to the Hill until later on when it was both cooler, & I knew that the plants would be glad of a good watering.

Before I went, I had a sowing session of FRENCH BEANS (barlotti & hsl purple giant), RUNNER BEANS (reg next plot) & BROAD BEANS (witkiem manita). Then I sorted out which of the tomato plants I wanted to keep at home i.e. any duplicate plants – which turned out to be six of them, with sixteen to be planted out at the Hill.

Once at the Hill I played a logistics game with the number of tomato plants & the ground available for them & eventually settled on the best positioning for them & set too with the trowel.

This is where the trouble started – I wanted to water them in, but without a rose on my watering can the tomatoes would be overwhelmed by the torrent of water. Of course all I needed to do borrow a rose for the watering can, use it, and return it – but who had one?

First point of call was having a scrimmage round novice neighbour Jody’s store area – with no luck, then to cheery Bri & Pauline’s where they had a couple of watering cans but no rose, & then I went to Lionel by the gate’s, & I saw a watering can in the greenhouse complete with rose – brilliant!

I fitted the rose to my watering can, did all the watering – tomatoes and everything else – & then went to put the pull the rose off the can to put it back – when it cracked & sheered off in my hand. Oops. Definitely broken.

So a ‘sorry’ note left for Lionel in his greenhouse, & a trip to the garden centre in the morning, I think…

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Picky Pigeons!

What a lovely sunshiny day at the Hill today! Novice neighbour Jody was planting our peas – taking instruction from Reg-next-plot, & I started with some weeding whilst keeping half an eye out for Eva (from my evening class), & her friend Sue. They both have plots at the White Farm Lane site, about a mile away.

I saw them arrive & showed them round the plot & we chatted about crops & pests & techniques, & we met Julie (2nd best plot) & teacher Barry, besides Jody, & then walked down to see John Badger at the bottom, then I bid them farewell with a lettuce a-piece having had a lovely time, & I am very much looking forward to my return visit in a couple of weeks or so.

Back to the weeding, & trying to knock the first couple of beds into shape (this year’s roots where the overwintering onions & garlic have stopped me completing the raised beds). It’s all a bit of a mess at that end, but it looks better now – especially under the strawberry cage, where there are not only masses of flowers, but also some small green fruit – brilliant!

After a break at the clubhouse, I planted out two CUCUMBER (burpless tasty green f1) besides a stiff mesh fence for them to climb up. Not having grown cucumbers before, I’m not sure about how big the plants grow, but have taken Julie’s advice on the mesh – the theory is that they scramble up it & the cucumbers are both easy to spot & safe from slugs.

I also planted out the SQUASH (olive & red kuri), making sure that I’ve given them plenty of room each – although I’ve no doubt that they’ll still have spread everywhere come August.

The last job was to tie a few of the peas in to the strings where they need a bit of a hand. With the bed weeded, it is now easier to see the extent of the pigeon damage – which is pretty catastrophic with regard to the brassicas right across the board.

But there is something most peculiar about the pea damage. Out of those sown, there are a couple of varieties which have been absolutely devastated, (on the left in the photo - planted out the same time as the ones on the right) yet other varieties have not been touched at all – don’t they taste very good? I had no idea that pigeons were so discerning!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wine Good News & Bad News

The first batch of rhubarb wine has been super speedy this year - started off in a bucket with sugar on 13 April & into a demijohn a few days later (even looking orange through the process), & I've racked it of, left it to clear & bottled it 6 weeks later - hurrah!

Having taken a taste, it's a bit dry, but nice enough, so away it is to the garage for a few months to mature. Given that last year's second batch of rhuarb was sharper than the first, & that this year's first batch is quite dry anyway, I thought that I should add some exta sugar to the ditch-water brown wine which is on the go at the mo, and is just settling down - I took a guess at adding 4oz more sugar.

The demijohn - being fairly full anyway - reacted pretty strongly to the extra sugar causing a geat deal of fizzing (in the fasion of a 1950's lab. stereotype, complete with frothing test tubes) which I had not accounted for & so did a great deal running round trying not to waste too much...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who (very nearly) Killed Cock Robin?

I wanted to finish a couple of jobs off tonight that I ran out of time for yesterday – so off I went to the Hill which was bathed in evening sunshine – wonderful.

I was not alone – cheery Brian & Pauline where weeding their impressive salad crop & putting up some war memorabilia in & on their shed – “Dig for Victory” & all that. “We went to the most wonderful shop today, & I could not resist these postcards & signs!” beamed Plum, before offering me a cup of tea & a wagon wheel.

Their small shed is an Aladdin’s cave – everywhere you look there’s a homely touch – curtains at the window, a cork board for clippings & interesting bits, a couple of scarecrow dolls sit on a shelf, an emamel string tin, pots stacked neatly with notebooks & seed packets. They have some lovely herbs on the go too by the bench – lemon thyme, mint & sage with birdfeeders everywhere & a buddleia tree to attract the butterflies.

Julie (2nd best plot) was around too, & collared me for my 50p entry fee for both the sunflower & pumpkin competitions – I selected the potential prize winning plants from a tray & hurried back to the plot to plant them out.

I had a dozen LEEKS (mrs d) to plant out – as the leeks were disappointing last year (maybe because they were late in after the early potatoes came up), I’ve kept some space aside for them in the potato bed, & hope they will do better.

As I hoed, I was joined by a robin – he was completely fearless darting right down by me for the odd worm – at one point (& for one heart stopping moment), I thought that I’d hoed his head off. He even posed for a (disappointingly poor) photo – on the side of the bed, & then on the hoe handle as I fumbled for the camera.

I watered the leeks in then planted out a few flower seedlings at the front of the plot – I’m gradually taking out the wall flowers as they fade & popping seedlings in their place. Hopefully, I won’t have too much of a gap before the front has flowers again.

I discovered four self seeding sunflowers form last year – a lovely surprise – so I relocated them to the front edge of the plot by neighbour Ted, & I’m looking forward to their happy faces nodding away come the summer!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Late Night Lettuce!

It was a beautiful evening, & despite an early evening commitment elsewhere, I just had time to nip to the Hill & plant out three LETTUCE (mini green) & the two COURGETTES (yellow golden & all green bush). I picked one of the LETTUCE (hsl stoke) for lunch tomorrow.

Jason was busy further down planting out lettuce too – I could hear the distinctive sound of slug pellets being shaken. I spotted a couple of small grey slugs as I whipped the hoe over the two front beds, & helped them into the manure skip – call me a silly, but dispatching slugs is not something I enjoy.

When Jason walked up I asked him about the pile of wood chippings that appeared the other day – apparently, a truck rolled up, the driver asked the first person he saw whether we’d like the chippings, & when the allotment holder said yes, the driver dropped the whole lot there & then.

Now you see, if I knew this the other day, I would have happily joined in with broom & shovel in order to move the pile to a more convenient location – especially as I may wish to use some of the rapidly diminishing pile.

I should have been rather nosier at the time – & it’s not often that you can say that!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Well, I must say that I am still reeling with smugness over the bean frame, today – which is just as well as there have been blustery showers all day as predicted, so the weather has been far too inclement for a visit to the Hill.

So tonight I got all my seeds out and sowed some more beans in pots – FRENCH CLIMBING BEANS (barlotti jody, birds egg & essex bb).

It’s funny how you meet people – a fellow student at my (totally unrelated to gardening) night class turns out to have an allotment on a site about a mile from the Hill – and tonight Eva asked if she can and visit our plot at the Hill along with her allotment neighbour Sue.

Well, they are more than welcome – and if either of them can solve the gooseberry mildew problem, so much the better…

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ready for Beans!

Yippee! The bean frame is completed & the first of the beans planted out!

The rain actually kept away today, despite the forecast being for blustery showers for the entire week so I hurried down to the Hill this evening.

The obstacle to completing the frame was the fact that I soon ran out of 8’ canes, but I tied in the ones that I did have into the cross wires & started to plant the DWARF FRENCH BEANS (emperor of Russia, hsl early warwick & triomphe de farcy) & CLIMBING FRENCH BEANS (pea bean & polish) at the completed end, by the path.

Jason walked past & we commiserated about the terrible rain at the weekend. “I was on shed duty yesterday,” he said “I sat on the compost sacks for an hour in the shed all on my own & listened to the rain on the roof. It’s a good job that I’m not on commission!”

Of course, I need some 8’ canes & he said that he had the shed key on him if I would like to buy some, & 10 minutes later I was striding back to the plot with a big bundle of 20 canes ready to push into place & tie securely – fantastic!

The final job was to stand on an upturned bucket & stretch up to pop a coloured ball on the top of each cane. Although, I know that there is not that much danger of the canes poking anyone in the eye, but it just seem to finish the job off somehow.

I cast a critical eye over the beds – all sprouting lavish weeds – & reflected that there is plenty to keep me busy this week if the rain does hold off…

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Honestly, today was a complete washout AGAIN with heavy showers all day – it did clear to a beautiful evening, but rather too late to go to the Hill to finish the damn bean frame.

On the positive side, the neglected housework has been attacked with gusto, & I played the hokey cokey with a load of washing on & off the line in between showers.

On another positive note, whilst I was contemplated the bean frame, I realised that I have a 20’ length on each side to play with, that’s room to plant out five lots of beans on each side, & not the four lots that I thought that I’d have space for. Hurrah!

As I haven’t been able to plant out any of the dwarf beans – or anything else, in fact – I am rather short of gravel trays to hold the seed pots, but I did find a couple & sowed some FRENCH BEANS (blauhilde & cherokee trails of tears).

Better weather next week, perhaps…

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Radish & Rhubarb in the Rain!

Given that the heavy showers continued overnight & intermittently throughout the day, it was perhaps just as well that I was otherwise engaged until later on this afternoon.

However, a late break in the clouds this when the evening sun came out gave me an excuse to go & see how the plot was getting on.

It was far to wet to do anything except pick a LETTUCE (hsl stoke), a handful of RADISH (French breakfast), some sprouting spears of KALE (Sutherland), & to pull a few sticks of rhubarb.

Of course I noticed how well the peas are growing (but forgot to look closely at the broad beans flowers to see if I have any beans forming yet), & how the onions are just starting to swell; the garlic starting to yellow just at the tips; & the profusion weeds popping up all over…

And then it started raining again.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Well the main feature of today has been the rain.

And when we all got bored of looking out the window at the rain, it rained some more. In fact there was so much rain that I went outside three times today and emptied all of the seed trays of water.

And it is warm - in fact perfect growing weather.

I think that if the sun shines tomorrow then we'll all get knocked sideways by a great whump of rising sap.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Every Day's a School Day

Well, I've learned today why we don't use demerara and/or soft brown sugar when we are making rhubarb wine.

It is because it turns the wine a rather unpleasant brown colour.

This looks just as if I have scooped up a bucket of ditch water.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Perfect Paper Pots!

Well I cannot tell you how much fun I’ve had this evening!

Following advice from the good people of the GYO Grapevine, I wanted to pot on the tomatoes from their 3” pots into something slightly bigger, before planting them out either in big pots here, or at the Hill in a few weeks.

Having already potted the peppers on into square 4” pots, I had these in mind for the tomatoes too, however a lunchtime trip to Wilko revealed a complete lack of pots – which scuppered the plans somewhat – they’d sold out & ‘might have some more at the end of the week’. Boo!

After some quick thinking (actually some furious frowning & glaring at the empty shelving), I remembered JB being most enthusiastic about his newspaper pots that he’d made, so I did a search on-line & found instructions to make newspaper pots & from there it was just a case of using the right size paper to make the size of pots I want.

This worked so beautifully – although I concede that the paper pots may not stand up to watering too well – but they only have to survive for about three weeks before they go on to their final positions, so I think that this one is marked up as a success - hurrah!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just a Quick Ten Minutes...

This blustery weather continues, but with the sun shining through the window & all the spring leaves on the trees out it was far too difficult to resist just nipping up to the Hill at lunchtime when I was out & about.

I popped a packet of RADISH (French breakfast 3) in my pocket & sowed a row of those, along a couple of rows of the seed tape CARROT (early nantes 5) – examination under castle carrot shows precisely two carrots growing away there from the first row that I sowed. We’ll see how these do, & if germination of these is poor too, I’ll have to consider that slugs might be to blame.

The potatoes are all doing well – so I whipped along the rows to earth them up with the natty little fork/rake/hoe thing that Jody stores in the tool shed – I’m not sure what the right name is for it, it looks like a back scratcher, & it is very useful indeed.

I did have some company from a bit further down – a plot holder from further down was working away with a shovel & broom to redistribute part of the most enormous load of wood chippings which had been delivered such that the pile didn’t block the roadway down to the bottom. I don’t know whose they are, & as he was intent on getting on with the job in hand, we didn’t chat.

I picked the first four RADISH (French breakfast 3) to have with lunch, then headed off to buy a bag of compost from the garden centre on the way back & I also redeemed a coupon from the Telegraph for a free tray of vegetable seedlings – hurrah! I chose leek seedlings – we were woefully short of these this year & I don’t intend to make that mistake again!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Now THAT'S more like it!

What a satisfying evening’s work!

When I arrived at the Hill, I saw David-other-half weeding his parsnips – I noticed how good his onion are looking & swelling nicely at the base. “I’ve always done well with onions on this plot,” he nodded, “so I plant a lot of them!” Fair enough.

I’d decided to re-fix the bean support, putting it further into the ground. Once I realised that the support at the other end of the bed would not be in the ground as far as this one (because the land falls away to that side, & the bed is pretty much on the level), it was a foregone conclusion – if I was concerned about this end being stable, the other would be that much worse.

It was the work of a minute to unscrew the bean support, although it took rather longer to dig down the extra 6” – going well into sandy subsoil & then a layer of decent sized stones. I got there in the end, though & re-screwed the support into the side of the bed, & then the bracing sticks.

The other end was easier – for the most part because it was previously dug land, & of course I didn’t have to dig down quite so far. Even so, Jason & his father walked past on the way to their plot & cheerfully asked if I was digging for gold.

I asked them about treatment for my mildewy gooseberries, & said I’d been advised to spray with soapy water. Jason pulled a face & said “Weeell, you need a fungicide really – how organic do you want to be?”
“I suppose the answer to that depends on how much you want to eat gooseberries!” grinned his dad. I’ll look into this further, I think.

Once the second support was in, I ran two wires between them from each end of the ‘T’ piece, & started to set up the 8’ canes – the bottom of each cane in a central line between the two supports, & they alternately splay out to each side, and are secured to the wires with a wire twist. Every so often I will need to put a cross piece to hold the wires parallel, but in essence, that’s it.

I like it – I like it very much.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Reflection....

It seems to have been a cold, flat day today – although this morning was brighter, so I found half an hour to sit out in the sun & scrutinise the tomato plants in their 3” pots.

Quite a few of them have started to develop side shoots, which I pinched but – although I’m not actually sure if that’s the right thing to do. It’s all about whether they are cordon or bush types, I think, & even if I knew what to do with each type, I don’t actually know which ones that my varieties are – can you tell which are which by looking at them?. Never mind, I’m sure that they’ll sort themselves out.

I potted up a couple into 4” pots for a friend, & squished some aphids that I found on one of the plants, & gave them all a good feed.

I washed & sliced the rhubarb that I picked yesterday (nearer 3lb than 4lb, when prepared) & popped it in a bucket with a couple of pounds of sugar to start off the next batch of rhubarb wine. I used some Demerara & soft brown sugar – I don’t know if that will make any difference.

I’ve been thinking about the bean support that I put in yesterday – I’m not 100% sure about it. For some reason that I can’t fathom, instead of putting it 2’ down into the bed, I only put in 18” before screwing into the side of the bed & bracing it, and I’m a bit concerned that it won’t be robust enough. I might undo it & dig down further & refix – I think that I’d be happier, really…

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Slow Progress...

Although today didn’t go quite according to plan, & I didn’t get as much done at the Hill today as I would have liked, the good news is that I think that the bean frame – when finished – will work just fine.

Of course a sunny day brings out the allotment holders, which meant that when I got to the Hill – & bearing in mind that our plot is pretty much by the gate – before I’d even unfinished unloading the car, I’d chatted with novice neighbour Jody who’d brought his smashing little lad with him to come & ‘help’ daddy, & walked down to talk to John Badger at the bottom with Julie (2nd best plot).

JB gave me a fabulous spring cabbage which he had growing in his greenhouse border (‘secret feed formula!’ he winked). Walking back up with Julie, I told her my tale of woe about the pigeons dining on my brassicas – & was knocked out when later on she brought me down four well grown CABBAGE (kilaton) seedlings ready to plant out, how wonderful! I popped them in the ground & protected with some stiff plastic netting that I pinched from the store pile on Jody’s plot.

I then turned to the job in hand – putting up the two uprights for the bean frame. I marked out when the first was to go, & got bracing sticks cut, & experimented with the layout with the 8’ canes that I’d brought from home. The cordless ran out of juice as I was screwing in the bracing sticks, & recharging it made for a perfect excuse to go to the clubhouse for a little light refreshment.

I wanted to go up to see the Saturday lunchtime regulars anyway, as I had a query on the treatment of the mildewy gooseberries (spray with dilute washing up liquid & hose off), & also learnt that they should be pruned to form an ‘open goblet shape’ which will increase airflow to prevent mildew, & hopefully stop me getting ravaged when I pick the gooseberries – although I don’t believe the latter.

I finished fixing the one bean support post with the pepped-up cordless, & called it a day. I picked about 4lb of rhubarb stalks & a LETTUCE (stoke) & headed off to the garden centre for a bag of compost, but they were out of stock of the brand I like, so I had to content myself with a packet of carrot-seed-on-a-tape which I’m going to try in the never ending quest for growing a decent carrot…

Friday, May 08, 2009

Wine Oddity....

Funny thing this. The rhubarb wine is looking orange.

I wonder why that is -I distinctly remember last time it was a fetching delicate rose colour, but this time it is definitely orange.

So this is the same rhubarb picked at the same time of year made into wine by the same method.

Mother nature playing tricks on me, I think!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wine Tasting!

Now that we are into May, I can get the next batch of seeds sown, but when I looked at the rapidly diminishing bag of compost, rather than going for bean sowing which I really should be getting on with, I fished out a heap of brassicas seeds from the box instead.

I'm experimenting by sowing in modules – previously I have sown half a dozen or so seeds in 3” square pots & then pricked them out into individual pots which is a bit of a fiddle, but does make for really easy planting out; but maybe by sowing a couple of seeds in each module (note to self to be stern & hoik out the weaker seedling!) I will be able to skip the pricking out & still find planting out a doodle. We shall see.

So I have a 40 module tray with five modules of each of CABBAGE (negra & greyhound), BRUSSELS SPROUTS (Falstaff & Bedford filbasket), KALE (Sutherland), BROCCOLI (late purple sprouting), CAULIFLOWER (romanesco) & CALABRESE (Waltham). I also sowed a couple of the 3” pots with LETTUCE (little gem & mini green) before putting away a very meagre bag of compost – must buy another at the weekend.

I finally got round to bottling the parsnip wine today, then racked the rhubarb wine which is astonishingly clear given that it was only three weeks ago that I started it off. Whilst putting the parsnip wine away in the garage (not to be drunk until Christmas), I took stock of what I had in store, then chose a bottle of the ‘most mature’ to bring in for chilling & opening this evening.

It happened to be the first bottle of the pea pod wine, & I have a glass besides me as I type. I can report that it has a somewhat distinctive ‘nose’ – quite earthy, but not unpleasant, & with a definite hint of pea. That’s P-E-A before anyone starts making up their own jokes. I think that another 3 or 4 months in the garage will benefit it – it is rather robust – but it’s not bad though, & rather better than I’ve made it sound!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Roll Up for yer Rhubarb!

Despite the evening being blustery & decidedly unspring-like, I was keen to go to the Hill to get those weeds beaten, so I wrapped up in my wax jacket & headed off. I took with me a tray of PEAS (Lancashire lad) to plant out too – these look fabulous & have really come on whilst I’ve been away.

I weeded the front of the plot & then hoed & weeded the beds. On close scrutiny of the brassicas, I am slightly more optimistic that at least some of them may recover from their pigeon mauling. Maybe. The BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19) in this bed look super – the plants are about 2’ high, & the flowers are starting to form. Knowing how unruly these got last year, I put some bamboo sticks & strings as supports to try to stop them spilling out & overwhelming their neighbours.

As I finished, a gent walked up from the bottom of the plot who I didn’t recognise, carrying a Sainsbury wire basket half filled with rhubarb sticks. Turns out that he’s the new chap from 4a – “hullo”, he says, “you’re getting on well. I’ve copied you & have four beds made – where do you get your bark for paths from?”

I pointed him in the direction of the park where there might be some chippings left for collection, & he said “cheers, that’ll save me £35-a-tonne of bought chippings – I could chat all night, but it’s rhubarb & custard for tea” & off he walked, swinging his wire basket as he went.

Once I’d earthed up the potatoes a little, & pulled a dozen or so rhubarb sticks for Dave-&-Patti-next-door, I had a walk down to the bottom to see how things are progressing. JB’s Dunluce potatoes are well ahead of mine, which is a swizz as I got him the spuds; returning allotmenteer Chrissie’s plot is so pretty – like Julie’s (2nd best plot) & cheery Bri & Pauline’s. Mine is ‘functional’, but I guess that some people just do ‘flair’ better than others.

Got home & dropped the rhubarb off next door – once it was gratefully accepting & snaffled away – thank you very much – Dave showed me a pack of just three sticks of rhubarb that he’d bought from Asda. £1.50! Crumbs – perhaps I should set up a stall!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


I collected a recorded post item up from the sorting office at lunchtime, & found to my delight that it was the Seed Swap jiffy which I put my name down for some months ago.

The idea is that you receive a big & miscellaneous jiffy bag of seed packets, take what you would like to grow, put in your own spare seeds & then send it on to the next person on the list. This is an idea that has taken off through the GYO grapevine when a member put together a pack of various seeds & sent them to a fellow member, who then sent it on to someone else, & it went on from there.

This was so successful, that there are now a number of jiffy bags of seeds criss-crossing the country, with one of the more organised ladies taking charge of the logistics of keeping it all rolling, & it all works remarkable well. It’s a great system – there as so many seeds in most seed packets you could never grow them all. Who would want 700 spring cabbages, for example – there’s plenty for half a dozen gardeners in each packet.

There were some real gems in the package – I’ve fished out quite a few flower seeds, & one or two novelties which I wouldn’t go to the trouble of buying a whole packet of, but which might be interesting. Of course, the packets which most caught my eye were the home saved seeds –

‘Brazilian Organic Squash – saved from supermarket. Prolific growth – an experiment that worked well’
‘Sunflower – 5’-6’ branching. Brilliant’
‘Exploding Cucumber. Starts weedy then really takes off – completely covered my shed’

How can you resist those?

My contribution was hollyhocks & honesty seeds, saved by brother-in-law David from their fabulous bijou cottage garden; some herb seeds which I am never going to sow when I only ever need one plant at any one time & that comes from the garden centre; & half a dozen packs of assorted French beans & pea seed saved from last year – & the jiffy is all sealed up & ready to delight the next gardener on the list…

Monday, May 04, 2009

Change of Plan...

I had what I thought was a particularly smart idea – by planting the brassicas in between the rows of peas in the legume bed, the strings from the pea frames would form protection for them, & when the peas were all finished & the frames taken down, the slower growing brassicas would have space to mature. Brilliant!

Not a hope.

Having returned from a week away (in which time, incidentally, someone would appear to have swapped the full-length mirror at home for a fairground version which returns a far larger reflection than can remotely be the case in reality), I couldn’t wait to go to the Hill in the drizzle today to see what’s what.

Well, I am clearly not the only one to have had a dined lavishly in the last week or so – the pigeons have taken the opportunity to decimate virtually all the brassicas – only the CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) & the BRUSSELLS SPROUTS (falstaff) have a hope of recovery, I think. Boo.

So next time round I either plant all the brassicas together so that I can net them, or maybe I can get away with not planting them out until a month or so later, when they would be larger plants, & maybe better able to withstand pigeon assault.

Whilst away I read the excellent Digger's Diary by Victor Osbourne – the author’s ups & downs of allotment life led me to variously nod in sympathy, shake my head ruefully & take note of a couple of really excellent ideas that may work for me. It amazes me how much I have learnt from other growers just having a go, as opposed to the ‘how to’ text books. The number of times you hear an on-line gardener saying ‘well, I planted like this, & have never had such a good crop’, or speak to an allotment holder at the Hill who says ‘I’ve always done that, & it works really well’.

Perhaps the moral is that no text book can offer a fully comprehensive instruction on growing for your aspect or location, & that the rules aren’t really hard & fast anyway, with the weather or other factors changing year on year. I’m sure that I’ve heard someone describe vegetable growing as an art, rather than a science, which is both the frustrating challenge & the ongoing delight.

Apart from the pigeon damage, the rainfall in the week following 2 or 3 weeks of dry weather has bought everything on a treat – including, inevitably, a fresh batch of chickweed & poppies. The STRAWBERRIES have responded to their vigourous weeding recently & are in flower, & BROAD BEANS (barry plot19) almost so, the POTATOES are nearly all up. Close scrutiny of the row of CARROTS (manchester table) reveals just a bare handful of seedlings – well, as least they won’t need thinning out.

I picked a large handful of sprouting spears for steaming from what I think will be the last of the KALE (Sutherland), & I just couldn’t resist picked the very first of the new season’s crop, a little LETTUCE (stoke) – just a single portion for a sandwich tomorrow, but my excuse is that it thins the row out a little which will let the others grow on.

And tomorrow I’m going to have to do some serious record updating - going round all the seeds on the windowsills, outside & in the mini greenhouse to get to grips with the next lot of planting out which in turn means making a final decision on the bean frame layout…
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