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 22, 2011

Shortest Day

Today it is the shortest day of the year, a second shorter than yesterday, and five seconds shorter than it will be tomorrow.

I know that it will still be damp/dark/cold/miserable/wintery for a while to come, and you won't notice any difference in the day length for ages, but even so - it's all good from here on in.

Roll on Spring.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Winter Gardening

What does the fair-weather gardener do on a grey and chilly December weekend when she really, really doesn't want to go and dig up paths at the Hill?

She sits in front of the fire and shells beans.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bean Picking, Path Revamp and Wine

Despite the forecast of increasingly windy weather, it wasn't a bad afternoon to be at the Hill. I had it all to myself so had no excuse not to get on with my short List picking the last of the drying beans and taking down the frame.

I also wanted to ruminate on the winter job of looking at the paths with a view to replacing the old wood chippings which have been in situ for nearly three years.

I had a spade handy and had an experimental go at taking the layer of chippings off the top of the membrane and depositing on the nearest bed.

Not as easy as you might think - the chippings either resemble mighty fine compost but I don't want to damage the membrane with the spade, or the weeds have caused the chippings to become one giant mat.

My back soon told me that it was a job for little and often until the New Year, when the chippings will be available to collect from the local park - the Council has an area for people to dump their Christmas trees and then they put the whole lot through a chipper, the pile of chippings a mile high is available for anyone to bag up and take away.

I finished taking down the runner beans, jody's barlotti beans, hunter french beans and I was left with a miscellaneous group of various bean pods - some which climbed when they shouldn't or strayed up a different pole, or I left behind last time, or I can't readily recognise, and these have all gone in a big bucket marked 'beans for eating' so I don't end up next year sowing seeds with look and might be variety X but turn out to be something completely different.

The purple sprouting gave me another good picking, and I dug a couple of parsnips for roasting with pumpkin, onions, garlic and potatoes tomorrow.

So with the poles down, the dried vines cleared away, the coloured ball cane toppers sorted for broken ones with the others stored back in the shed, and a start on the path revamp I was happy to call it a day.

Oh - and I've just opened a bottle of grape wine that I made last year from John Badger's (at the bottom) grapes, and some of mine too. It's horrible. You can't win 'em all, I suppose!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blackcurrant Wine - The Outcome

Remember the blackcurrant wine that I started back in November 2010 and did a step-by-step guide? Well it has been in the bottles since February, and I've started the first bottle.


It really is rather good.

A very passable, fruity, full bodied red.

In the cold light of morning I am going to go and squirrel one or two bottles away for further maturing and very special occasions.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hill Allotment AGM 2011

Before putting a post together about the Hill Allotments AGM, I've needed to do a little technical jiggery pokery with the blog.

My blog background - of which I am rather fond - has stopped displaying, and investigations reveal that this is because the nice lady at delightfuldots where I had it from has decided that she now has better things to do than provide all and sundry with lovely blog backgrounds for free.

Then I spent an interminable amount of time going round and round in bloody circles trying to work out why my side bar had disappeared from the right hand side, appearing at the bottom of the blog page instead. Eventually I figured out the correct combination of words to use in the Blogger help site search box to reveal the way to fix this.

I will tackle the decision on what to use as a background another time, otherwise we'll have been here all evening with nothing to show for it.

So on to the AGM - it is always an excellent evening held in the clubhouse, and only the second occasion in the calender when the plotholders get together (the other being the Annual Show).

The business end romps along with reports on the Accounts, Health and Safety, Show Report and Secretary's report - and then we get to the nitty gritty issues like Site Access and Water Usage.

No one wants to see the increase in incidences of vandalism continue, or for the Council to take action against us on overuse of water, so breaches in the rules on gate-locking and water-profligacy have now become hanging offences, and don't say you weren't warned. Quite right too.

A final point before the fun bit of the cup presentations, photo competition and bun fight afterwards, was raised by Dr Bob, as 'green' a gardener as you will find on any site.

We've all had trouble with allium leaf miner (a bug which affects onions, leeks & shallots, causing the leaves to twist. The plants do sort of recover, but it ain't great - photo below courtesy of Lichfield Allotments).

There's no remedy, but Dr Bob suggests that all seventy-odd plotholders abstain from growing alliums for a period of - say - three years to see if we can eradicate the pest.

Reg-next-plot, a more traditional plotholder, can be heard spluttering into his beer at this point, and counters with the suggestion of using Armillatox to sterilise the soil, 'kills the lot, that does', at which point Dr Bob splutters into his beer, the Secretary points out that Armillatox is not licenced as a pesticide any more (cue Reg scowling) and - unsurprisingly - we don't come to any consensus on this issue.

The big picture of a secure site and sensible water use to keep our plots safe and our crops thriving is where we all agree - it's just some of the methodology of how to get there that we might differ on...

Takes all sorts though, eh?

Monday, November 07, 2011

*Ahem* - Where Were We?

Obviously, apologies to any purple-faced readers who have held their breath for exciting news of the Hill Show.

My silence is due neither to being swept away on a wave of euphoria through sweeping the board and winning all 72 categories available, nor being cast into the pit of dispair due to dismal failure, but the intervention of real life, primarily WORK. Times is tough, belts have be tightened, hours have to be extended, output has to go up.

Oh, and I went away on holiday for ages too.

Of course the longer the gap between blog posts, the more there is to say, and the more daunting the task, so let us skim over the last few weeks thus:
  • I had 14 entries for the Show - first place for the dwarf beans, fruit cake & chutney; second place for carrots, lemon drizzle cake & the collection; and third place for rhubarb - hurrah!

  • I have discovered (and MUST REMEMBER) that four courgette plants are TOO MANY - I picked the first of the courgette in mid July, the last ones yesterday. Over three months, I would guess that I picked nearly a hundred courgette.

  • Beans continue to be terrific value - I'm picking them for drying now, and there are bags and bags in the freezer.

  • Mum's friend Chris is more than generous with her spare plums - 'a few pounds for making a batch of wine' translated at her end to 'please innundate me with enough plums for making three batches of wine, eat until I'm almost ill, and to make jars and jars of plum chutney'.

  • Mum's friend Chris is also generous with her quince - although I only got twice as many as I said I could sensibly use for a batch of wine. I've given half to Julie - I'm hoping that she makes some quince jelly and we can do a swap.

  • Half a dozen red kuri squash are all cured and in the mini green house, along with a foot-diameter pumpkin - NOT a prizewinner this year. Although the idea of planting the pumpkin plant where the compost heap had been was a good idea in terms of richness of the soil, the fact that it was behind the shed & therefore somewhat shaded meant the plant did not thrive.

  • The second early and maincrop potatoes are all dug up & stored (the earlies all eaten); garlic and onions dried and strung; three or four dozen sweetcorn cobs all picked, distributed to people I like and eaten.

  • The pea wigwams have all been replaced with brussels sprouts and purple sprouting seedlings bought in the Focus closing down sale. The enormous apoplexy-inducing fight that I had with laying out the netting to cover these brassicas has paid off - I was surprised to discover shoots on the purple sprouting just last weekend. Mentally, I'd had them down as being ready after Christmas, but then again I don't know the variety, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised

  • I've started the Autumn tidy up, forking over spare beds ready for either manuring, liming or sowing with green manure. The raspberry canes have be cut down either to the ground (autumn variety) or tidied up with last years growth cut out (summer variety)

And what's to do next?
  • cut down the asparagus when it starts to go yellowy

  • turn all the more-or-less rotted down chippings from the paths into the beds and organise fresh chippings.

  • finish getting the beans in & taking down the frame

  • Paint the toolshed - a job made all the more pressing by the erection of a smart brand new shed straight across the path by neighbour Jody
And that's where we are.

Hopefully fine weather at the weekend - and the AGM next week...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Show Time!

I have not been idle at the Hill this last couple of weeks - the lack of blog updates is simply that there are only a finite ways to say 'I have been to the plot and picked a bag of french beans and an overwhelming number of courgette'.

Today, however, it is the Annual Hill Show so there will be plenty of photos to take and tales to tell when I get back.

I do have one tale of woe already, though - I've been to pick my entries this morning, and the lettuces which had been just nice and plump on Friday, are now 2' tall with a flower spike.

I'm sure that this isn't an omen!

Sunday, July 24, 2011


... and the picking is eaaaaaaaasy.

What is really good about Summer is not just that there are zillions of yummy things growing and ready for picking, but that aren't many horrible jobs that you should be doing.

Apart from some weeding (easy peasy in the raised beds), it's courgettes, lettuce, dwarf beans, broad beans, and carrots all the way. Hurrah!

And when I'm taking a breather from that lot I can stuff my face with raspberries - the summer ones have come to an end now, just as the Autumn ones are kicking in.

Mind you, what will be a horrible job (as it involves netting) to be done soon will be to clear the pea wigwams and broad beans so that I can get the brassicas planted out from where they are in the nursery bed.

I'm having a bit of a dither about that as I'm not sure how soon I can take the pods from the (dead) pea plants that I am saving for seed for next year. Advice welcomed on that one.

The french beans win the prize for the most generous croppers at the moment - even above the courgettes - I picked half a carrier bag full again this evening. And where they win over the courgettes is that they freeze wonderfully too - with a quick snip to top & tail and then they are lined up like soldiers in small bags to freeze.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Courgette Season Starts ... NOW!

It is, of course, a very busy time of the year at the Hill - although a lot of the busyness comprises the same ol' job. Namely, weeding. And then some.

Squashing asparagus beetles is the other ongoing job - but there are fewer each time I go to the Hill, so perhaps I am winning the battle there.

We're enjoying a spell of mostly warm, mostly dry weather (I think that it is called 'Summer') which is bringing the crops on a treat (and the weeds) and everything is looking very good.

In between weeding is the best bit - picking gorgeous fruit and vegetables to eat.

Tonight alone I have dug up or picked:

- the garlic crop (and planted an extremely late bag of shallots in a spirit of optimism)
- the last of the first early potatoes (red duke of york*)
- the first of the dwarf french beans (emp of russia)
- carrots
- the first of the courgettes. Delicious! The real first sign of summer!
- broad beans
- raspberries, eaten on the spot

Yum, yum, yum!

*red duke of york potatoes. Not a good one for me, as it turns out - a total of just 17 potatoes dug up from six plants; then when gently simmered for 12 minutes, they turn into potato soup. One which I will NOT be growing again. Live and learn.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Just When It Was Going So Well...

Going to the Hill at this time of year consists of a great deal of picking peas, broad beans, sweet peas, mange tout, strawberries, raspberries, garlic, onion & potatoes.

Of course there are also great swathes of annual weed seeds germinating which need whipping out at the first opportunity, & although the raised beds make this a much easier job, it does have to be said that warm weather & showers bring the weeds on like mad.

But otherwise, all is very well with the world, thank you very much.

Except it is not, as I discovered on Wednesday lunchtime when I nipped over to the Hill to pick lunch.

"Tra la la", I sang in the sunshine, with a trug filling with plump, ripe produce, and the bees humming in the flowers, "tra la la".

Then Julie came down to see how I was getting on and to offer me gooseberries.

"Would you like to help yourself?" she asked, "we have done everything that we possibly can with gooseberries and there is still a full bush that we haven't touched yet! I have gooseberries in the freezer, as gooseberry fool, gooseberry chutney, jam - here, have a pot - we've given them to the neighbours & Phil is even making gooseberry wine." Well I don't need asking twice - brilliant!

We were having a look round my plot & comparing notes, when we came to the asparagus bed. Rather than looking suitably impressed with the bed, Julie said, "er, you do know that you have asparagus beetle, don't you...?"


And sure enough, closer inspection revealed plenty of the little beggars - beetles & grubs.

"At least I offered you the gooseberries first," comiserated Julie, "I didn't just come down here as a merchant of doom!".

Well, I guess that I'm grateful that she spotted them for me, & I am now on frequent bug-squashing raids. If I have to wait three years to eat the damn stuff, I'm damned if someone else is going to beat me to it.

I went back to the Hill later in the evening with long sleeves & gloves & picked a carrier bag of Julie's gooseberries - about half the bush - and I've topped and tailed them and frozen enough for a batch of wine (Phil has the best idea there) and a couple of pounds are left over which have just gone next door to my neighbours.

Elizabeth asked a good question in a previous comment when she said, "I planted my leek plants out about 4-5 weeks ago, and thought that was late. I may be wrong, but may be that's the reason your leeks weren't great last year?"

I checked in my copy of J Seymour, who says, "The trick of planting leeks after the spuds have been lifted can only be done if the spuds are early ones. Earlies are being eaten by June so leeks can be transplanted into the ground when it is clear."

So, the theory is ok, but I think that in previous years the pot-sown leeks that I have transplanted have been too small - this year I have planted pots of leeks out (right to left in the pic sown in January, April and May) into the nursery bed, and the earlier sown ones in particular look to be nicely 'pencil thickness' which all the books say is the right size to transplant.

I love leeks in the winter, so I do hope that I've got this one right.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weeding, Planting, Harvesting

I had quite a long List to take with me to the Hill today - and I marked off all but one of the items. Mind you, I was there for the best part of five hours, so I should hope that I did make good progress.

When I arrived, I was alone apart from Woodchippings Paul a few plots down who was mending his new polytunnel - yes, that's right we had vandals on the site on Wednesday evening. I'm not sure that there was anything else damaged (it can be a bit tricky on your average allotment site to ascertain what is damage and what is normal), but there's no getting away from a slashed polytunnel cover, or a path trampled through the foliage on a potato bed.

With the warm but showery weather that we have had this week, everything is growing like mad - including the weeds - so before I could do anything else, the beds needed bringing into order.

Carl & Wendy by the gate arrived. 'Would you like some sweetcorn plants?' asked Carl, 'we've run out of room'.

Well of course, they would be most welcome - was I only saying last week that I had just half of one of the miscellaneous beds to plant? I did smile to myself - when Lionel gave up the back half of the plot and Carl & Wendy upgraded their half at the front to the whole plot, they were a bit worried about the size, and what on earth they were going to fill it all with.

With the weeding out of the way, it was time to do what I'd set out to do - I ticked each job off the List as I went:

- I tickled over the area which used to house a pallet compost bin behind the shed with a fork, made a dip in the soil and planted out the prize pumpkin plant - it's tiny now, but just wait!

- I found the stiff green mesh which I used last year to support the cucumbers, supported it with canes and planted out three cucumber plants

- I planted out the brassicas bought at Focus into the nursery bed - their final resting place will be where the peas & beans are at the moment

- I wrestled with some netting to cover the brassicas - I may have rescued a pigeon from where it had got itself trapped under some netting on teacher Barry's son's plot last week, but I don't think that my act of kindness will cut any ice with the rest of the pigeon population

- I planted a pot of leeks out into the nursery bed - they will be put in after the first early potatoes are dug out. By growing them on from the pot into the nursery bed, I'm hoping that they will be a better size when I plant them out - they were far too small last year, and not a success

- I planted out a pot of red lettuce, and one of green lettuce - I've oversown in each pot and have about 30 of each. My patience was running out by then so I split the seedlings up into 8 smaller bunches and plonked them in, four or so to a station.

- I planted out a pot of swede - no idea why I sowed these in a pot rather than direct, and I don't know how well they will transplant - especially as I was getting really fed up by this point, so did the lettuce trick and split the pot into four and planted each bunch out as one.

- I planted out the final batch of broad bean seedlings

- I gave everything that I'd planted out a good water.

And then for the fun bit of collecting the booty - forking up a pentland javelin first early plant which yielded a dozen egg size potatoes; a bowl of strawberries; a couple of small lettuce; a great bunch of sweet peas; and half a carrier bag full of broad beans, mangetout and peas.

Dinner this evening really was excellent!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Eight Reasons to Love June

I think that June is my favourite month of the whole year - here's why:

Sweet peas - first picking of these this evening at the Hill. The scent is divine, & I hope to be picking these over the next couple of months.

They are from saved seed from last year's packet - which incidently cost 35p in the Wilko sale at the end of the previous season.

Light nights - these are fab, fab, fab. I love them.

Peas - probably my favourite veg. And (fingers crossed) I seem to have got the supports right for the first time this year - previous attempts at pea growing include a two foot high netting (the peas grew to twice that, despite what it said on the packet); harps with a different variety on each side (the strings rotted where they touched the soil & snapped); and netting on a V of bamboo canes (too flimsy, peas intertwined, pigeons sat on bamboo supports & ate peas). Wigwams seem to be the way to go here.

Broad beans - heros of the veg plot being first out the traps in terms of harvest, & freeze brilliantly without any faffing about.

Potatoes - although even the most ardent potato fan will concede that a jacket spud is pretty much a jacket spud, those first potatoes of the year out of the warm soil, with the skin wiped off and cooked with a spring of mint, salt and butter really cannot be beaten.

Strawberries - what is there not to love here? Must try strawbs with balsamic vinegar as Nic suggests - a bit counter-intuitive, but something chimes with me enough to have a go.

Weather - despite moaning about the variable weather (and yesterday was no exception - it rained ALL DAY LONG), June is a fantastic month to sit outside in the courtyard in the evening with a glass of something tasty, being shouted at by the blackbird - sorry Mr Blackbird, but it is my garden.

Cherries - I think that this must be a good year for them. The little tree in the courtyard is weighed down with ripening cherries, with no blackfly at all (or on the broad beans at the Hill, come to think of it). If the birds come near them, I will be eating pigeon pie - have taken to posting a cat-sentry on the bench.

Come to think of it, that's probably why I get a bollocking from the Mr B when I sit out in the evening.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Weather - And Lots Of It!

Between bouts of moaning about the weather being too dry (most of May); too wet (all of Spring Bank Holiday weekend); too hot (two days last week); too windy (as shown by the angle of the stems here of the poor ol' garlic) or too cold (virtually every other sodding day for the last month), I have been getting things done at the Hill.

My progress is aided by drawing up Lists which are concise & manageable, & by going to the Hill in the evenings when I am less likely to end up chatting for far too long & bumbling around doing half-jobs which just fill the time available - thus managing to avoid thinking 'I've been there five hours, I'm knackered, & what have I actually done?' on the way home.

An exception to the do-and-go was yesterday evening, which was sunny & tranquil & an utter delight, & when I'd finished the List - which read...

- Plant out petunias (bargain! 2 trays of 6 well grown plants for £3 from Morrisons Supermarket on Friday last)
- Pick broadies for tea (picked two dozen perfect pods with fingernail sized beans)
- Furtle under early potatoes (grubbed about to find two sizeable 'charlotte' potatoes)
- Pick any ripe strawberries (ate half a dozen on the spot)

...I hung around to watch the blackbird digging around the beds, watched by the robin; listened to the woodpecker thumping away, & strolled down to the bottom to see what everyone else was up to. Lovely.

The first batch of peas are overwhelming the wigwam & I've had to run an outer string around the plants to keep them in check (the pods are long, but still thin); & there are buds on the sweetpeas.

The running Plan that I keep of what's-planted-where shows that having planted out the climbing & the rest of the dwarf beans, the squash, cougettes & sweetcorn, there's only two thirds of a Miscellaneous bed unplanted on the whole plot - which gives me a headache as to where to plant out a bargain bag of shallots bought from the Focus DIY closing down sale.

I bought a tray of brussels sprouts & one of purple sprouting at the same time - they should be planted out after the peans & beans, but according to my guru John Seymour, they will come to no harm being grown on in a nursery bed until the ground is clear. We'll see - I've not had the knack of winter brassicas to date.

Weeding is ongoing, of course, but let's hear it for raised beds which make the job (almost!) a pleasure.

And absolutely nothing can compare to the first of the new potatoes!
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