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 28, 2010

Spring is Here!

With nearly a full day spent at the Hill in the Spring sunshine yesterday, I got plenty done - & even allowing for chatting with my fellow plotholders, also lured out by the lovely weather, I'm still pleased with how much I achieved.

I even remembered to pop a bottle of redcurrant wine in the car for retired Maureen, made from her redcurrants last year & put it by her shed before starting off with some planting & sowing.

In no time at all I sowed a row of RADISH (french breakfast) & planted out three LETTUCE (dazzle), then the second early POTATOES (charlotte & osprey).

Reassessing the potato beds (always easier to work things out when they are in front of you!) I realised that I have room for three & not six each of Julie's (2nd best plot) kind offer of accent & anya potatoes. I nipped up to fetch them from where they are chitting in her greenhouse & came back to pop them into holes 18" apart dibbed into the beds with a big stick.

I then applied myself to the pea frame - by adding additional bracing, the whole caboodle is much stronger than it was - there are just four extra bamboo canes still to be tied in - which I thought of after a lightbulb moment earlier on today - to really finish the job off well.

Even putting the netting up on the second side wasn't overly problematic, & all in all, I am finally pleased with it.

I retired for refreshment to the Clubhouse, spending a pleasant half hour with the Saturday Old Boys discussing potato varieties & cursing pea & bean netting, then back to the plot to move the strawberry plants to their new quarters in the small square fruit bed.

The strawberries produced lots of new plants from runners last year, but not much in the way of fruit, so dug up & moved 25 of the youngest plants which should produce more fruit than the older plants. The netting cage fitted over the bed pleasingly well & will protect the fruit from the birds in due course.

I saw retired Maureen's car arriving and she parked up at the top & stopped on the way past to say hello. "My, these beds are the business, aren't they?" she enthused.

"Thank you," I beamed, "I am pleased with them. I'm very glad to see you, actually - I've left you a bottle of redcurrant wine, made from your redcurrants - it's by your shed. Oh, and do you want any strawberry plants, I have about a dozen spare, if you'd like them?"

She didn't need asking twice & soon produced an old washing up bowl for taking the strawberry plants to her plot.

I turned to the compost heaps - they are wildly out of control & the front one far too full. Investigating the back bin, it was pretty much rotted down, so I took the side off & moved most of the contents onto the potato bed. The spuds will love it, & they are robust enough not to worry that the compost is a bit on the coarse side.

With the bin mostly emptied, I was left with a whole load of sticks & prunings, & the three gooseberry bushes dug up over winter, which are both too big for the bins & too robust for my secatuars to tackle - not to mention the thorns which yet again laughed in the face of my gardening gloves.

I decided to burn the sticks (bonfires permitted until the end of the month) & I'll take the rogue gooseberry bushes in green bags to the council tip. Reg-next-plot arrived just as I was trying to light a bonfire in the metal fire barrel that we have for the purpose.

"I can see that you were never a girl guide," he said, casting a critical eye over my feeble fire lighting attempts, & in between letting me have the latest news about new people on the site he re-built my fire & had it burning nicely in no time.

Once everything dry enough to burn had gone up in smoke, I put the fire out, roughly dug the ashes into the ground & went home smelling like Smokey Joe. Yet another day for stripping at the back door and heading straight up to the bath...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

An Achievement of Sorts

Although the weather this year to day has been very cold & miserable, it has been generally quite dry - but earlier in the week we had a shower or two, then on Friday into Saturday it was really quite persistent, & I wondered if I would get the pea frame up as planned this weekend, so I could get the sweet peas planted out.

I was alone at the Hill yesterday, & admired the garlic coming up - it takes about 3 months to sprout, but then zooms along - then I started to set out the 8' canes for the frame. I was just arranging them into two rows, splayed outwards slightly, on which to attach green pea netting to, when Julie (second best plot) arrived.

This was excellent news as Julie is a key holder for the store shed & I wanted to buy the netting.

"I'm glad to see you, too," said Julie, "I think that you said that you'd like some of my spare seed potatoes - how many would you like? I've ended up with a few extras - partly as I ordered a little bag of one variety & they sent me 4 bags. They only charged for the one that I ordered, so I'm not complaining!"

Of course my mind went blank at this point & I couldn't remember how many I'd like, but as the potatoes are all chitting in her greenhouse, Julie said to help myself to a few of the 'accord' & 'anya' when I'd worked it out.

(note to self: a sketch & some maths reveals the answer to that to be 6 of each, for future ref)

I finished putting the bamboo sticks in - the whole affair seems unsatisfactorily flimsy, despite horizontal bamboo sticks top and middle, & shorter lengths between the two sides to brace. Further supporting sticks are required, I think - but I'd run out of wire twists by then, & it had started to rain quite hard, so I dug up three LEEKS (mrs d) & came home.

Going back today, the frame is no more pleasing to me than it was yesterday, but I figured that I can beef it up when I am in possession of more garden wire twists from Wilko, but in the meantime I can get the netting up, attaching it to the structure with those bag-ties that you get with a packet of plastic bags.

Maneuvering pea netting would test the patience of a saint - it's like wrestling fog. After stopping & unsnagging the bloody stuff about a million times from anything & everything, I eventually moved the 10m length (enough for each side) up the plot to the frame.

It's 2m wide, which is the height of the frame, so it was a case of tying the long edge to the highest horizontal pole all the way along, then down each side, & then to the middle and bottom horizontal poles.

Again, it's sort of ok, but I was running out of time (& patience, frankly), so I planted out the sweet peas by the first 4' stretch of netting, & in front I planted out a row of BROAD BEANS (self saved) & went home.

The joys of putting the netting up the other side are still to come.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pea Decisions

The pea frames last year were not a terrific success - the strings which the peas were supposed to climb up were not robust enough, rotting & snapping where they were in contact with the soil. In addition, with the strings converging at the top of each frame the peas grew closer together the taller they grow, mixing the varieties together.

I've not quite settled on an alternative plan, but I do have some ideas involving netting on two rows of vertical bamboo sticks, which I'm pretty sure will be sturdy enough.

This should mean that there will be room to grow eight varieties of pea - or rather seven types of pea & some sweet peas. In order to prolong the picking period, I've sown three lots of PEA (latvian, alderman & red flowered mangetout) in pots now (along with some BROAD BEAN (crimson flowered), & I'll sow four more types in either April or May.

So the lucky varieties to get into compost so far are:
Latvian - a heritage variety described as 'grey peas grown across Latvia & traditionally eaten with fried fatty port & onions. Soak overnight as use the dried peas as an alternative to chickpeas. The large flowers are as attractive as ornamental sweet peas'
Alderman - 'gives a high yield of sweet tender peas'
Red flowered mangetout - which was sent by a fellow seed swapper in Pembrokeshire. I have no further information about at all - but I'm sure that they will be a very tasty surprise!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Peas a-plenty!

Not in my MARCH seed envelope (as it is nowhere near big enough), but still in mind for sowing in pots this month, are a second batch of broad beans, along with the first sowing of peas.

Although I know which pea varieties did well last year, I also know that I've gathered a few extras along the way since then, so today I sat down with the seed box to see which ones I'm going to grow this year.

I wasn't quite prepared (& blame Flummery's infectious passion for all things leguminous over at Vegetable Heaven) for the fact that I have manage to gather FIFTEEN different varieties of pea, & there isn't the space to grow anything like this number. (Well, there is, but only providing that I don't want to grow anything else. I toyed with this idea for a while.)

I've made a provisional list, but that took so long that I ran out of time to actually sow anything...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sowing Seeds & Liming Beds

At last the weather has cheered up - there has been a bitter wind all week, but this dropped today so a trip to the Hill was definitely in order.

Looking at the remaining packets of seed left in the MARCH envelope, they are all suited only for direct sowing, so I gathered these up to take with me (with appropriate labels), along with the egg boxes of first early POTATOES (international kidney & mona lisa).

Cheery Brian & Pauline were the only ones working when I got there, so after a wave hello I got down to a spot of weeding at the front of the plot - it's good to see the bulbs that I lifted, split & replanted last year starting to come up in a row by the bed edge.

Then I helped the worms out by forking over the manured fruit beds, then the potato beds (plot A this year) ready for planting - & rather than dig a trench for planting the potatoes, I made a hole for each one with an old fork handle & dropped them in.

Turning to my seed packets, in the roots bed (plot D this year) I sowed a row of BEETROOT (boltardy) & a couple of rows each of CARROTS (early nantes 5) & PARSNIP (self saved white gem) & to finish off, a short row of RADISH (scarlet globe).

Up at the Club, the lorry with the growbag delivery for the store shed arrived, so I did the decent thing & helped some of the others to unload & whilst there, took the opportunity to buy some lime to put on the legume bed (plot B this year), which I have been meaning to do for ages.

"We don't sell it loose, I'm afraid," said Treasurer Mike, indicating the stock of modest sized bags of lime.

"That's OK," I said, "even if I don't use it all, it'll come in for next year. How much do you put on per square yard?"

"Oh, that well known measure of 'about a handful', I suppose."

So I paid my £3.40 & nearly gave myself a hernia carrying the bag back to the plot - it weighed a bloody ton.

Of course even applying a generous handful per yard to the appropriate beds (and surrounding paths, & me), I don't seem to have made much of a dent in the bag, although I did reflect as I man-handled it into the toolshed that at least it will stop the shed ever blowing away in even the fiercest of storms.

And although the strawberries are still not moved into their new home in the small square fruit bed, I did feel happy with what I'd achieved & came home for a bath to rid myself of lime dust.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Bunking off!

Without liking to sound too much like a stuck record, it has been bloody cold here again all week with clear frosty skies every night BUT at least now there is sunshine - hurrah!

With not much to be done at the Hill - & the off putting thought of the energy needed to cycle there - I turned to seed sowing & transplanting at home instead.

I got out my MARCH seed envelope, potting compost & pots & sowed two seeds each of six varieties of PEPPER (dedo de mocha, yolo wonder, rainbow mix purple, tasty grill yellow, tasty grill red & sweet mini red), then 24 modules of SHALLOT (banana), a small pot of four LETTUCE (hsl stoke) & a small pot of four BRUSSELS SPROUTS (peer gynt), and finished off by potting on last month's lettuce seedlings.

That leaves the peas still to sow (I'll start them off in loo roll inners when I've made my mind up about which varieties) & some seeds to put in directly at the plot, including carrots, beetroot & radish, but there is no rush with outside sowing.

Mind you, I've nearly run out of fresh veg, so if I actually wish to eat this week, I'm going to have to get my lardy bum into the saddle & get peddling!
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