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...........

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


John Badger (at the bottom) has been wanting to have a bit of a get together - possibly a barbecue - with the plotholders for some while, & I had an email through on Monday saying, 'It looks like tomorrow evening 5.30 till around 7.30 and all you need is bring yourself.'

In the event, I took along a bottle of apple wine as well as myself (which might seem a bit miserly, but then it is 15%, so was served in very small glasses), & found things in full swing.

Brilliant catering abounded of a prawn-&-everything stir fry, courtesy of JB; yigandes plaki (a greek starter consisting of big butter beans slow cooked in tomato with garlic, oregano, tomato & basil), courtesy of returning allotmenteer Christine & Mike; greek yoghurt & honey - ditto - & beer, courtesy of Rhubarb Brian.

Obligatory mug shot of the assembled here - and comment of the night goes to JB who, on sampling the apple wine said, "ohh - this is lovely, really tasty - cracking that! D'you know, it smells just like - now don't take this the wrong way - just like paint thinner!"
Not sure if that says more about my wine, or about JB's taste in tipple...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mrs Potato Head

Autumn is certainly here (but I guess that it is allowed to be, at the end of September) with the nights drawing in fast & much cooler weather - in fact, a frost this morning at Bag End in Cumbria.

Nothing like that nonsense here, yet, but I was armed with a jumper when I went to the Hill yesterday. On the List was:

- dig the final eight maincrop potatoes & sow green manure in their stead
- get rid of the horrible collapsed pea frame - save some pea pods of each for next year
- clear another variety of dwarf french beans, saving pods
- pick courgette + anything else for tea

Well, that all look fairly achievable, & I got off to a great start by forking up the potatoes. The variety is Setanta - 'a floury allrounder with red skin & excellent blight resistance'.

It also yields - although this was not referred to in any of the info that I read about them - absolutely MASSIVE tubers. About 8 to each plant, all about football size. This does cut down on potato peeling, of course, as you only have to use a single potato when you are preparing a shepards pie for - say - ten people. I weighed them later when I'd put them in a sack to store - nearly 40lb of potatoes from just eight potatoes sown.

I cleared the early warwick dwarf french beans from where they were nicely dried out on the plants, then was having a half hearted go at trying to work out which peas were which from the tangle of dead plants on the collapsed frames in order to save a few pods for next year when I was happily distracted by John Badger (from the bottom) coming by.

We admired the luxuriant growth of the green manure in the front bed - photos of this bed taken mid Aug, and now, 4 wks later - and JB suggested that I don't leave it overwinter, but dig it in now whilst it is young & sappy & will rot down easily.

"It's nearly a foot high now, it'll be a devil of a job to dig in if it gets much bigger," he advised.

Well, that is where he was wrong - it was a devil of a job to dig in as it was. Much too tall to neatly turn in, & the rows I'd so carefully sown to make the digging in easier were grown over & virtually non existent. It was a hateful, heavy going job which I did badly - with sticking up bits and blades of grass scattered everywhere.

I ended up a slightly strange colour in the face, & was completely not happy with the job I'd done - if the rye grass is not turned over properly it was not rot, but regrow where it can. I scowled & muttered & stamped over to the manure skip to haul muck in tub after tub across to cover the bed over - right, rye, grow back through that if you dare.

Having learned a valuable lesson about green manure, I roughly raked the two old potato beds & sowed more rows of rye seed to leave in over winter - or until it makes a bid for world domination, whichever is sooner.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Look Over Your Shoulder...

At the Hill the Sunday before last, when I was vainly trying to whack parts of the plot into some semblance of order, I chopped down the haulms from the potato plants to stuff onto the overfull compost bins.

Along with these, I cleared one or two sunflowers - which had all but blown over - some nasturtium & calendula, all of which had self seeded from last year & sprouted up in the potato beds - great armfuls of green leaves, flowers and stems.

I stood back when I'd cleared the growth from these potato beds, ready for digging up the crop (this weekend for some of them), and gave a nod of satisfaction, then a shrug in the direction of the heap of compostable rubbish waiting for a new bin to be made & turned to come away.

I don't know what made me turn back - but I'm so glad I did. The flowers on one of the branching sunflowers discarded on the compost heap had seen better days, but I thought that they might cut & keep for a day or two in a big vase, & wielded the secateurs.

A week later, they are still adding sunshine to the kitchen - wonderful.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Good Deeds All Round!

After a brilliant day out with mum on Saturday which involved kitchen shops, garden centres & a very fine Italian coffee shop called Corleone's, I was all set with a car full of pallets to go to the Hill on Sunday with my List reading:

- make compost bin
- weed neighbour Jody's plot
- dig up potatoes
- harvest courgette/runners/beans for seed etc

I haven't gone crackers with the item 'weed neighbour Jody's plot' - he was off this weekend doing the Great North Run in aid of the Birmingham Children's Hospital Children's Heart Appeal, as they did such a spiffing job with his young daughter when she was so poorly earlier this year. Helping to straighten his plot was the least I could do whilst he was going about this madness up in the frozen (actually, rainy) North.

As I was unloading the pallets from the car, Reg-next-plot came by, & as well as having an exchange of information on various plotholders, he helped me collect a big bucket of elderberries from the tree in the hedgerow between his & David-other-half's plot (3lb it turns out - exactly a batch of wine's worth!), told me to help myself to his runner beans & beetroot, & pulled me a swede.

Providing that you pass some sort of acceptability test (criteria known only to Reg), you wouldn't actually have to grow anything yourself - maybe one of the criteria is that you do grow things yourself.

After he'd gone & I'd wired together pallets to make a new & bigger compost big adjacent to the two existing ones, I had a brainwave which consisted of turning the contents of the 'nearly ready' bin (in actuality, still full of last years sweetcorn & sunflower stems along with nice composted stuff) into the new bin, then taking out the partition between the two older bins away giving me two big sized bins.

This was heavy going (understatement - there was much going-purple-in-the-face), & the photo reveals a certain crudeness of the project, but after an hour or so, I did achieve a functioning BIG two bin system.

If you want to see how clever beggars do a proper job of constructing compost bins, go up to the Bag End blog.

I christened the bin with a great deal of green stuff which had been growing round Jody's parsnips, but decided that virtue only went so far, after some tremendously sneaky nettles had stung me once too many times.

I cut courgettes, and a few tomatoes and a handful of raspberries, then dug up the eight main crop potatoes 'robinta'.

Whilst they rested on the soil to harden off the skins, I walked down to the bottom to go & pick John Badger's grapes from the greenhouse - he's offered the lot to me for wine making again this year, which is jolly d of him considering that we haven't seen what last year's tastes like yet.

Returning allotmenteer Christine was working hard next to JB's, & we had a lovely chat about all sorts before she sent me off with a bijou lunch-sized squash from her plot.

I went home with my haul & put JB's 5lb of grapes safely in the freezer - they will be added to the grapes from my vine in the Courtyard which are a week or two away from ripeness yet, for this year's wine making.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting a Job Done - Eventually

There is not a List of Jobs in the world that means that you can starts with Task One, & move smoothly through all the other tasks until the last one is ticked off, when you can give yourself a pat on the back & have a guilt free evening in front of the tele with a cat on your lap & a glass of something lovely in your hand.


Lists of Jobs always have tasks on which have differing time sensitivities, or are dependent on one or more of the others, or someone else who isn't there, or can't be done until something else happens - something which is not even on the list.

Today was a case in point - I bought wallflowers at the Birmingham Gardeners' Show last weekend & they have been sat in a couple of buckets all week & need to be planted out, so with my list reading 'clear front of plot of summer bedding, plant wallflowers, pick a few beans, come home for tea', I nipped up to the Hill this afternoon with a trowel & weeding gloves.

Two hours later I still hadn't got the front of the plot completely clear of nasturtiums, calendulas & yet more gung-ho forget-me-not seedlings which are surely in contention for most persistent annual - the real problem is that the compost bin is completely full, & the other compost bin needs emptying onto next years potato beds, which are still full of parsnip & green manure.

A new compost bin of pallets needs putting up pretty sharpish, so that's a job for next weekend, & in the meantime today I started an overflow compost area - a complete mess, but you can't do everything all at once.

The compost bins are by this year's potato beds - which look like they are full of nasturtiums, calendulas, & a couple of stray sunflowers, so I weeded this lot out & added to my overflow compost heap & the beds now look a great deal better.

I don't think the tubers will be growing much more now, and there is still a risk of blight, so I cut off all the tops & cleared most of the weeds away. I managed to break my new ratchet secateurs that I bought last weekend whilst I was doing this - maybe I should have invested in that expensive pair of Fiskers after all.

I got the fork out and dug up the Anya potatoes whilst I was about it - not very big tubers, but loads of them - all this lot from just 3 seed potatoes which Julie (second best plot) kindly gave me in the Spring.

Neighbour Jody arrived to do some clearing of his plot too. His compost bin - conveniently sited near the front of his plot right by the path separating our plots (whereas mine is right at the back, by the toolshed) is also completely full.

I edged in front of his highly heaped bin so he couldn't see that the top layer consists entirely of squash leaves that I'd piled in the other day, & distracted him from the topic of full compost bins by asking about his plans for building more manageable beds, & where he was going to put a shed.

I can see that the French bean pods are drying out on the plants, so I'm starting to get some of them in for drying on newspaper in the attic room ready for storing (some will be eaten & some kept for growing next year) - & today I bought home some black turtle beans & broad beans.

Still with the beans, I picked some runners, then turned to the courgettes & squashes. I have a couple of Brampton Butternuts - seeds kindly sent to me from Cumbria - although I rather suspect that the seeds have not come true to the parent. One of the plants is smaller leaved that the other & bearing a few embryonic butternut squash shaped fruit, but the other is more vigorous and its fruit are big & pale green & slightly stripy & sort of squat - although I'm not saying that it is any the worst for this.

Given the lateness of the season, I chopped back about a third of these plants to stop new fruit forming & hopefully the plants will concentrate on growing the ones that they already have.

Time was getting on - Jody long gone home - so I got the trowel out and planted out the wallflowers.

So I did do what I set out to do, after all - but it took far longer than it should have done, so I have other Lists of Jobs still not done, which is why I am not spending a guilt free evening in front of the tele with a cat on my lap & a glass of something lovely in my hand...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


For one reason or another my visits to the Hill are frustratingly less frequent than I would like - I'm just snatching the odd hour to harvest things here & there at the moment.

A trip to the Birmingham Gardener's Show in Kings Heath on Sunday instead of going to the Hill is a case in point - although it was a lovely (if very rainy!) morning out with mum.

I bought a new pair of ratchet secateurs, & wallflowers for the front of the plot, then we watched a demonstration beehive & marvelled at the vegetable show entries.

Mind you, my competition pumpkin will be giving one or two of these a run for their money...

Back at the plot, the courgettes continue to crop, but at a less stupid rate than previously - I think that some rather cooler nights have checked them. Also the stalwart runner beans - another good handful tonight.

I even picked some tomatoes - the plants have been soundly ignored since planting out, and a number have been overwhelmed by the butternut squash & courgette plants.

But before I moan too much about the plot being a bit - er - bohemian because of my lack of attendance, I'm put in my place by Dave C from the top , who came by when I was formulating an overwhelmingly long mental list of Jobs To Do whilst yanking out handfuls of nasturtiums from the front of the plot in the dusk earlier.

He kindly offered me some of his leeks to go with my courgettes & beans for tea, & as we walked up to his plot, I asked him about his recent holiday to Australia & he enthused about the weather, the people & what a wonderful time they'd all had.

"Mind you," he concluded, as we arrived at his plot, "six weeks in the middle of summer is quite a long time to leave the plot to it's own devices."

Six weeks? So how come his plot didn't look wild, like mine does? He's got well ordered & well grown crops, a huge - but neat - pile of well rotted manure waiting to be dug in, & not a weed in sight. All I can say is that he must have worked bloody hard since he got back - an advert for application, I think.
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