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, February 28, 2010

End of Winter?

The snow has finally melted, but has given way to what seems like interminable days of cold drizzle & a sharp wind - not the weather to inspire outdoor work of any sort. I would like to move the strawberrys into their new home in the square fruit bed, but this weekend I had no enthusiasm for the job.

At home I've been watching seeds sprouting - all 15 of the BROAD BEANS (self saved) are up, & these along with the LEEKS (self saved & hsl early market) & SPRING ONIONS (apache) have been moved into the mini greenhouse to join the January sown ONIONS (hi keeper f1) (which look weedy in the extreme) & sweet peas in their root trainers.

Some of the PARSNIPS (self saved) are up in their kitchen rolls too, & the February sowing of LETTUCE (mini green & arctic king) - I must pot these on into indivual pots when I next have a sowing session.

I did go to the Hill briefly this afternoon, however, as I wanted to make a short sowing of RADISH (scarlet globe) in February, & also to collect some veg to eat this week.

In fact I cycled there, which was rather beyond the call of duty (it nearly killed me - but I do feel remarkable virtuous now) - I dug up a couple of LEEKS, a small portion of CURLY KALE, & today's prize of beautifully coloured purple & green BRUSSELS SPROUTS (falstaff).

Maybe March will finally bring some Spring weather - I've had enough of the wintery stuff now...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Amateur Seville Orange Marmalade

I spotted some Seville oranges in the supermarket a week or two ago, so I bought a bag & popped them in the freezer until I could find the time to have a go at making marmalade.

And I had time earlier this week, so out with the maslin pan & the recipe book & away we went. Of course I have only made marmalade once before, a couple of years ago & it was okay, but not exactly what you might call expertly set. No matter, it tasted nice.

One sticky kitchen later I have eight-and-bit jars of marmalade & happily, this batch tastes just good as last time - & the good news is that the set is rather better.

However those with sharp eyes will spot that the peel is not distributed what you might call terribly evenly, & is all nestling near the tops of the jars, despite leaving the marmalade for twenty minutes to 'rest' in order to avoid precisely this phenomenon.

Next go in a couple of years, I guess!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

You've Got Mail

With a smattering of snow on three days this week, February is not giving up on Winter too easily.

So I didn't think that I'd be going to the Hill this weekend, but then I had an email through midweek from John Badger (from the bottom) titled 'Vandals' - not something likely to gladden the heart, I must say.

Reading on, it seems that JB & rhubarb Brian were come from the Club after a committee meeting, & saw a couple of ne'er-do-wells in the headlights who were after my leeks.

They soon scarpered, & when I went to the Hill yesterday to have a look at what's been going on, I can't actually see any damage under the snow - apart from a stray leek on the path - so no real harm done.

Leek rustlers - what next?

Sunday, February 14, 2010


It's been cold again this week, & so with no pressing business at the Hill yesterday, I watched the potatoes chitting & seed pots for signs of germination, & supervised the installation of a new bathroom basin, replacing that which was broken by a wayward demijohn the other week.

Today, though, I'd arranged to take collection of a truck full of wood chippings offered by Roy, one of the Saturday regulars in the Club.

Reg-next-plot was transferring bags of manure when I arrived into a new pallet compost bin that he's made.

Looking at my own rather overfull compost bin, I said, "I need to make another one, too". Reg, cast a critical eye over it, stacked as it is with more than twice it's height with prickly gooseberry bushes & thick sweetcorn stems, & grinned, "That's more like a bonfire that a compost heap!"

In preparation for the wood chippings, I opened a new roll of weed suppressant & with Reg's help cut it to size & laid it on all the paths, weighing it down with bricks.

Reg went off for his lunch & I'd just got the final piece of weed suppressant positioned to my satisfaction, Roy arrived in his truck, reversed & tipped the load of chippings in an enormous pile on the roadway.

He cast a doubtful eye over the pile & asked, "Are you sure that will that be enough?"

"Good grief, I should think so," I said weakly.

"Well, just let me know if you want some more - it's no trouble."

Having turned down the offer of a pint, I pressed a bag of curly kale onto him instead in thanks, & off he went, leaving me busy with a shovel & Reg's wheelbarrow.

A hardworking hour of industry later, I'd redistributed the pile of chippings to all of the paths, & I cannot say how delighted I am with the result. The plot looks bloody marvelous, if I say so myself.

Having turned a slightly odd shade with this exertion, I tottered up to the club for well earned refreshment, then home for a well earned rest.

Monday, February 08, 2010

A System For Successional Seed Sowing

Now we are well into the month, I can get my FEBRUARY seed envelope out.

I spent a very happy hour or so over Christmas making a Chart to show in which month (or months) each of the vegetable types can be sown - for example, radish are sown each month from February to September inclusive; onion seeds just in January; broad beans in February & again in April, & so on.

Then I marked an envelope for each month & put the seed packets into the envelope corresponding to the first of the sowing months.

At sowing time, I can take the month's envelope & sow those seeds, then consult the Chart & re-file the packets into the next relevant month's envelope.

Or I could, had I not (a) deleted the chart from the computer by mistake & (b) not thrown away the printed off copy.

My February sowing has consisted of:

  • PARSNIPS (saved white gem) in tall kitchen roll inners
  • a few LETTUCE (arctic king & mini green)
  • a pot of LEEKS (hsl early market)
  • four small pots of SPRING ONION (apache) for planting out in a clump
  • one-per-square pot of BROAD BEANS (witkiem manita)
Last but not least, I will be taking a packet of RADISH (french breakfast) seed to the Hill at the weekend to sow a short row.

Now all I have to do is reconstruct the Chart to see which envelope to put each of the seed packets in for the next sowing - it's a job to look forward to, to while away a winter's evening, & we still have plenty of those.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

It's Good To Talk...

The week has been damp & grey & chilly - the temperature is still dropping down to a degree or so below freezing at night, with the days at about 5 degrees. The good news, however, is that the evenings are now appreciably lighter - hurrah!

Dreary weather or not, I went off to the Hill yesterday to lay weed suppressant on the paths & get a whole heap of bark chippings down - which are available free to collect from the park.

Predictably there were very few people about - only potager Chrissie a little further up, & secretary Haydn calling by on his way home.

"I don't know if you can help, I'm looking for some french beans - a particular variety, begins with a G, but I can't remember the name," he said. "We aren't very keen on French beans generally, but I was given some last year & they were lovely, & I'd like to grow just a few this year myself."

"Well, I'm not sure what they are either, I'll have a look at what I have later & let you know if I have any 'G's'."

I gave this some thought without success as I rejigged the remains of the weed suppressant onto the paths, then popped some empty manure bags into the car & went over to the park to collect bark chippings.

An hour of hard shovelling later, I had loaded eight bags as full with chippings as I could (whilst still being able to lift them), jammed them in the back of the car & headed back to the Hill where I unloaded them & emptied them along the paths, then tried to work out how many more bags I would need.

I was going a bit of a funny colour by this time, so retired to the club house for a breather where I chatted to the regulars, saying what I'd been up to & that I'd be going off to the park for another load of chippings to finish the job.

At that point, one of the chaps piped up to say that he works for a landscaping company & a lot of his work involves tree lopping and chipping. "I'll get the grab wagon & pop a couple of scoops of chippings on the back of the truck for next weekend, if you like," he said casually.

Wow - blimey! Brilliant!

So instead of further bark shifting duties, I picked KALE, a couple of LEEKS & had the top off a BRUSSELS SPROUT (falstaff) & went home to try to see if I had anything matching Haydn's 'G' french bean. I found that he'd sent me an email. "Climbing beans beginning with letter 'G' is Cobra. Well it does look very similar!!'

I haven't got any, as it happens, but a quick SOS on the GYO Grapevine has turned up trumps & I hope to have a small handful in time to give to Haydn next weekend.

Pass a good turn on, eh?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"Basins and demijohns...

...which I suspect must have been the cause of the problem!", wrote big sister Helen in an email to me yesterday - which is, in fact, exactly right.

On Sunday when I got back from Ryton, the bright light in the attic room meant it was a good afternoon for wine racking - i.e. I could can see what the devil I was doing.

There are about four batches ready for racking - in fact some ready for bottling, which I haven't done yet as I still haven't put up the shelf in the garage to put the big wine rack on. Jobs, jobs!

All started well enough with a new & simple system for racking - syphoning the cleared wine straight into a fresh sterilised demijohn. No mess, no fuss, then the old demijohn can have the sediment washed out & be used to syphon the next wine in the queue into. Brilliant!

I started with the redcurrant & apple wine (quick check on SG & taste (sharp, fruity)), then onto the apple mk I (quick check on the SG & taste (sweet, lovely)) & then disaster struck.

Whilst rinsing out the demijohn in the bathroom, giving it a really good shake & a final emptying of water into the basin, the demijohn slipped out my hand straight in the basin with a HUGE crash, thus rendering both demijohn & basin less than fit-for-purpose.

This did stop play, somewhat, whilst I cleared up a zillion shards of shattered glass, & patched up the basin with duck-tape.

The system is basically sound, though - it just means rinsing demijohns out in the stainless steel sink in the kitchen in future, thus reducing the number of breakable components by one.

Monday, February 01, 2010

One Potato, Two Potato...

It was the annual trip yesterday to Ryton for the Potato Day, where over a hundred different varieties of potato are all on sale loose for 20p a tuber, pick & mix stylee.

I've pondered on the varieties that I want to grow this year - weighing up taste, blight resistance, waxy & floury textures, & what will grow well on our soil - & I have been very much helped in coming to my decision by Nic at Nip it in the Bud.

She'd gone through the same decision process a week previously at her local potato day, enlisting the assistance of a potato expert, which helped her considerably. I didn't have a potato expert handy, but was quick to jump on her shirt tails & after some discussions back & forth formulated my wish list.

I chose the following:

International Kidney (6 first early) - these were really tasty last year
Mona Lisa (6 first early) - I wanted Dunluce but there weren't any, so I went with this variety which was recommended instead, partly as it has a nice name.
Osprey (6 second early) - I grew these last year, & very lovely they are too.
Charlotte (6 second early) - really good potato, can't fault these.
Robinta (8 main crop) - red skinned, recommended by Nic as her number one spud - good enough for me
Setanta (8 main crop) - these have been recommended as blight resistant and very tasty, so worth a go.

The bad news with the Dunluce having run out is that John Badger (from the Bottom) had asked if I'd get him some, so that's kippered that. Good news, however, is that I've found a supplier online so we can order them instead.

My good organisation faltered when I realised that I'd failed to work out how many spuds I wanted to buy - I know that it is less than last year, but I couldn't quite recall how many of each I should have had.

Checking back now, I have about half the quantity that I bought last year (i.e. not quite enough), so maybe it's a good job that I will be ordering those Dunluce for JB after all - I can see a few extra sneaking into the 'trolley', just to make the p&p worthwhile.

And confessions of a seed-hoarder: I took with me a shoebox full of packets of saved pea & bean seeds for the seed swap - I had planned to donate these as I have FAR TOO MANY SEEDS, but am ashamed to report that I somehow managed to come home with 4 new varieties of pea, 3 of climbing beans, a packet of red mustard & a pinch of pepper seed.

Oh! I've quite forgotten about the shattered basin, which is currently being held together by duck tape, pending new installation - but that belongs with the next post about wine, I think.
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