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, December 31, 2009

When a Plan Doesn't Quite Come Together!

The day finally being dry & with some weak winter sunshine, I packed the car with wood, tools & a flask (a most welcome Christmas present from Jane) of piping hot coffee & headed off to the Hill with the aim of completing two more fruit beds.

I had the sensible idea of setting out the middle fruit bed centrally first, then to put the second bed between that & the front bed already built.

It's a jolly good job that I did, as something has gone very awry with regard to the measuring & my spreadsheet plan of the plot - five beds of 8' by 4' with a 20" walkway between each one fit nicely on the plan, but there is no way that they will fit on the plot. How odd.

I'm still not entirely sure why, but no matter - a bit of rethinking on the hoof means that I will have four beds of 8' by 4' & a central 4' square bed, all with nice even 20" wide paths. Brilliant.

I pegged, levelled & fixed the second bed, & then roughly laid out the other three beds - all I need to finish these is some more wood for fixing stakes & I'm one length of 8' short too. To see it laid out is great though - very satisfying.

I drank coffee & walked round the plot admiring my handiwork, then packed the tools away & did a bit of community duty by emptying the delivery of manure bags from the stables into the manure skip.

It was an enormous pile of bags & I was only going to do about half, but once you get into the swing of it you might as well carry on - it was dusk once I'd finished sweeping up & neatly packing the fifty-one empty bags away ready to be collected & refilled.

Reeking from wallowing in a skip full of manure, I headed home feeling virtuous - had to strip at the back door & head straight up to the bath!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snow Melt & Seeds

It has stopped being so perishing cold - hurrah - however, now it is raining & raining, & the '6" heavy snow' forecast by the Met Office for Monday night did not materialise bar a bit of sleet.

This 'crying wolf' by the forecasters is extremely annoying - I know people will complain if they are caught out by bad weather, BUT when weather warnings of 'only travel if absolutely necessary' turn out to be red herrings, it does devalue the entire system.

Of course, I still can't do anything useful at the Hill - it's too wet - today I ventured outo Wickes to buy a pack of wood for the fruit beds. I also started to sort out a sowing plan, sorting the seed packets into months in which to sow.

I thought that I'd sorted excess seed packets out quite recently, & put any spares into the GYO Grapevine seed swap parcel, but I still found twenty-six packets of flower seeds and six of vegetables & herbs to offer out to anyone who wants them - & I haven't started on the peas and beans yet...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas!

We've had a little snow in the last few days - but mostly very heavy frosts giving a white coating on the trees and garage roof each morning with temperatures not getting above freezing for many days.

Christmas lunch waits for no man though - whatever the weather - so there were parsnips & leeks to be dug out of the frozen earth, so a trip to the Hill couldn't be delayed indefinitely.

Once I'd found the parsnips under the snow, they weren't actually that difficult to dig out despite the first couple inches of soil frozen, & the leeks were easy, as they were the ones that I'd relocated a couple of weeks ago.

They both tasted wonderful along with homegrown roasties with the Christmas dinner - shop carrots & Brussels sprouts this year, though.

Aim for next year - full Christmas fare from the plot.

Aside from the turkey & pigs in blankets, perhaps...

Sunday, December 20, 2009


It has been very cold indeed this week.

The weather has gone from 'quite bracing, but then it is December' straight to the Siberian ice fields in a blink, & has stopped there for the duration.

Clearly this has been no weather to be outside messing about constructing wooden fruit beds at the Hill - in fact it was all I could do to venture out to choose a Christmas tree from the garden centre.

I chose a 'Norway spruce' as being a pleasing shape, a nice height, within the budget & - as a bonus - it was the same sort of the tree that I remember having when I was little.

When it was delivered the next day in its net & left a tiny trail of needles through the hall, I also remembered that it is these trees that we had in my childhood which are all bare branches by Boxing day.

What we know now, though, is that Christmas trees are thirsty & as long as you put them in a natty tree stand - such as the one I have - which incorporates a reservoir of water, they will keep their needles that much longer.

Until I was ready to put it up this weekend, it's been sitting in a bucket of water in the courtyard garden. I didn't account for the severity of the cold weather, however, and when I lifted it out the bucket to bring in the house, I ended up holding a very, very big ice lolly with the tree as the stick.

If I had left it to thaw by itself, I'd not have had a Christmas tree up until about March, so I gave it a big series of whacks on the flags which cracked the ice & released the trunk - & apart from having to vacuum up the trail of needles from the courtyard through the kitchen & hall into the lounge after I'd finished decorating the tree I am very pleased with the result.

It's Christmas day on Friday - I'd rather planned to have leeks, parsnips & maybe a few Brussels sprouts from the Hill as part of lunch, so I'm hoping that they are not frozen solid...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Turning Green...?

I went to the Hill yesterday once it had warmed up a bit (i.e. the frost had melted) in the hope of at least finishing the first fruit bed.

Only Reg-next-plot was there braving the cold, doing some digging. He came over as I started screwing the bed sides to the batons & asked “what’s going in there?”

“Fruit bushes,” I replied, “I might move that blueberry bush across, or dig up the red & blackcurrant bushes for this bed.”

He nodded encouragingly, “that’ll give you a good run in the main beds for your vegetables then.” It’s always good to get the approval of an experienced hand – I don’t always agree with his growing methods, but he does grow cracking veg.

Talk turned to whitefly, caterpillars, other pests & netting, & Reg said “I’ve been reading an old book from the 1800’s when they didn’t have all these insecticides & sprays, & I’m going to give some of them a go this year – like boiling up rhubarb leaves & the like.”

Well, knock me down with a feather! I’ve always had Reg down as the allotment equivalent of Chemical Ali in terms of his robust approach to crop husbandry – typical advice from Reg starts with ‘first sterilise your soil to get rid of all the bugs’.

I pondered on this new green leaf being turned as I finished fixing the batons & levelled & firmed the path by the new bed to my satisfaction. I can't start on the next fruit bed until I get another pack of 8' lengths of wood, so that's the first job for next weedend.

Then I dug a couple of SWEDE (virtue) & came home to warm up.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wine Matters...

The Grape wine seems to be going well - the fermentation stopped after about two weeks so I put in some stabiliser & a couple of campden tablets as directed, & now it is upstairs starting to clear in the cool attic room.

Meanwhile, I've started a batch of wine with the last of the apples from the garage. I had to chuck out about half of them as they were distinctly brown looking, but still had enough to make up a batch of Apple & Redcurrant wine with a couple of pounds of redcurrants from the freezer, & it's now bubbling away like mad, which you can see if you look closely at this rather shaky video clip.

Although the second & third batches of Apple wine are gradually clearing after their pectin haze troubles, the first batch of Apple wine has not done anything besides look murky despite sitting upstairs supposedly clearing for the past couple of months - something had to be done.

So I siphoned off a little sediment from the bottom, returned it to the cleaned demijohn & degassed it by shaking the demijohn vigorously. Then I added wine finings, gave it a stir, and we'll see what happens now.

I also tasted it (very sweet indeed), & measured the SG - I think my notes must be up the creek, as I've surely not made 21% strength wine...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Guided Tour

With the ground being so soft, it is exactly the wrong time to be tramping all over the soil to make the fruit beds, but if I am to get them built and the red & blackcurrants/ strawberries/ blueberry bush/ globe artichoke/ comfrey transplanted before Spring, I'm going to have to get on with it anyway.

The weather was nice enough today, so I moved the remaining leeks from the end of bed b2 along a bit, then shortened this final bed now leaving a 6' wide strip all the way up the side of the plot ready for digging & fruit bed construction.

I'm reluctant to try to dig & level the total area with the ground so soft, so I settled for roughly pegging out the first of the beds to see how the layout will be. Then I wrestled with the first of the final two spikey gooseberry bushes, dragged it out & shoved it up on to the top of the compost bin.

Mum & big sister Helen arrived - it's been lovely to have Helen visiting this weekend - at this time of year, the traditional Grand Tour of the plot doesn't take very long! At least the weather today was kind - & the paths between the beds saves it from being too wet underfoot.

I pointed out the frost-ravaged remnants of the the physalis at the front of the plot, the shoots on the autumn onions (& lack of shoots on the garlic) & swiss chard.

I showed her the blueberry bush from rhubarb Brian, & the brassicas under the netting, including the tiny pea-size sprouts forming (I'm not sure that these will be gracing the Christmas table!) & she pointed out two cauliflowers that I hadn't seen, ready for picking.

We looked at the leeks, the bean trench for next year & the swedes & parsnips, & Helen couldn't help but see the overflowing compost bins, saying, "shouldn't that heap be turned, or something?"

Well, this sounds exactly like something that you should do, and if you were a better and more organised person, you certainly would do, but for the rest of us, it is a hateful job which is to be put off as long as possible.
Bit like deciding what can be turned out of your wardrobe, or cleaning the garage out or doing little sewing repair jobs or defrosting the freezer or something.

She was duly impressed later with some mock lemon curd, though, & a jar of spiced pickled runner beans (I don't think that she is allowed back home without bearing a jar - an absolute hit in their household).

In return I have a jar of their home grown preserved pears (I have already forgotten what they are preserved in - must pay more attention!), & a jar of grape jelly, made from the vine in their garden - brill!

We had a walk round some of the other plots, & went up to the club house for a cup of tea. Reg-next-plot joined us, & eventually cottoned on that my flattery with regard to his wonderful Brussels Sprouts had an ulterior motive...
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