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 27, 2011

First Outdoor Sowing of the Year

I had a lovely hour or two at the Hill yesterday!

On my List was:
- Sow onion sets which Julie’s has kindly offered me - no tempting trip to Wilko for me!
- Dig parsnip
- Fork over this year’s roots bed & sow parsnip (& radish seeds as ‘markers’ for the rows)

I arrived at the Hill to the sound of hammering coming from the bottom end, & I saw Rhubarb Brian in the distance erecting some sort of sentry box on the front of his plot.

As I went to get the fork out the shed, I spotted the tops of some rhubarb stalks from the very early crown over the top of the compost bins, & could not resist going across & pulling half a dozen of the longest (still only 6-8” long) which I later cooked in lemon juice & a little honey for tea.

I busied myself digging out a parsnip, & forking over one of the roots beds, & sowed a couple of rows of PARSNIP (saved white gem) & RADISH (French breakfast). The parsnip seed is a year past it’s best, so I’ve sowed quite thickly & hope that even if – say – only one in 15 or so come up, I’ll still have enough in each of the two rows.

I went up to collect the RED ONION SETS from Julie’s greenhouse – a couple of good sized handfuls was enough to fill in the rest of the bed between the overwintered white onions & the rather good-looking garlic.

Sowing done, I starting to fill the big trug bucket with manure from the skip, Brian headed past, & so I asked him what he was building.

“It’s a tool shed!” he beamed, “like Carl & Wendy’s by the gate. It looks a bit like an outside privy at the moment, but it’ll look better when it’s tiled – I’m just going to get the tiles now, back in a bit.”

I emptied half a dozen big trug buckets onto this year’s potato beds where possible – some re-sprouting parsnips are still in situ (I feel a batch of parsnip wine coming on!), & forked it level to the top of the boards, & felt that I’d more than finished what I’d set out to do.

I did do a little extra job, though – as I was putting the fork & trug bucket back into the shed, I spotted the bag of lime, so after the mental gymnastics that thinking about crop rotation always necessitates, I figured where it should be spread, & gave this year’s legumes beds a good dusting.

And because I had also given me a good dusting, I went home zombie-like, heading straight for the bath.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


It was a lovely sunny, spring-like today - a fact reflected in the blog entries of gardeners all over the UK, no doubt - so what a shame I was stuck indoors.

But if the wolf is to be kept from the door, a living has to be made, so no playing at the Hill for me today.

A little bright spark in my day, though, was to see these tiny tete-a-tete narcissi just coming into flower by the front door when I went to buy a paper at lunchtime.

They are so tiny, I had to practically stand on my head to take the photo, much to the amusement of a number of passers-by.

But spread a little happiness, eh?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rotten Veg & Seed Sowing

I replaced the cover on the mini greenhouse in the autumn - it had split, but had lasted three years, so no complaints here.

Generally, I leave the 'door' unzipped & up - I figure it still keeps the worse of the cold off whatever is in there, it soon gets full of condensation in the morning, & I really can't be bothered with whipping the top up & down each day.

However, the weather this winter has been so exceptionally cold, that I've left the new cover zipped down to give extra protection to the one or two bits in there.

It turns out that I should have kept a rather better eye on it though - as a revolting sight greeted me last weekend when I finally opened it up in order to move a tray of onion & leek seedlings in there.

The pumpkin has not survived the harsh winter, & deflated - sort of composted itself. The stuff in the tray on the bottom shelf was like primordial soup, & left much long would have spawned new life forms, I am sure.

After cleaning that lot up (noticing that the rudbekia seedlings kindly sent by Vegetable Heaven are looking perky too - despite pumpkin goo everywhere), I got the compost out & sowed pots of LETTUCE (hsl bath cos), LEEK (saved), SPRING ONION (apache), BROAD BEANS (violetta) & a root trainer tray of sweetpeas.

Gearing up for the new season!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blackcurrant Wine - Step 4, Month 3

Step 4: ..... Let it stand until fermentation ceases & the wine clears, usually in about three months, then siphon off into fresh, sterilised bottles

And duly, three months later, here we are. Mind you, because the wine is so richly purple, frankly, I have no idea if it has cleared or not – even with a strong light behind the demijohn, it just looks well, purple.

But racking the wine off the little layer of sediment will be a good idea (don’t want the wine sitting in its own yuk for too long in case the yuk taints the taste of the wine), so after sterilising the tube & a bucket it’s time to take off the airlock & see what’s what.

With the bucket on the floor (on newspaper – we don’t want blackcurrant wine spilling on the carpet at all!) & the demijohn on a table, the one end of the tube is put in the wine half way, & the other end gets a good suck to pull some wine up the tube.

Stick your finger over the end then lower the tube into the bucket – take off finger & watch the wine transfer from the demijohn up the tube & down into the bucket.

A clip on the tube is handy here so you can secure the tube to the bucket whilst you keep a beady eye on the wine in the demijohn. Keep the tube end under the falling wine level, but away from the sides/bottom, & when it gets to within about an inch of the bottom, pull the tube up & out of what’s left.

Now you have a bucketful of wine which CJJ says can be siphon off into fresh, sterilised bottles. Good practise says that he’s a little previous – before bottling, wine should be stabilised to stop the possibility of any further fermentation at all – the last thing you want is fermentation happening in the bottles – they’ll explode!

So the final step before bottling is to pour the wine from the bucket back into the rinsed-out the demijohn (not forgetting to take a sample to measure the SG & have a quick taster) & to add a crushed Camden tablet, & a teaspoon of potassium sorbate in order to stabilise the wine.

This is where the reserved portion of wine comes in - the level in the demijohn will be lower than it was, as we’ve left some wine/sediment behind when we siphoned, so carefully top the demijohn up back to its previous level.

Leave it alone for a couple of weeks – any final sediment will settle out, then it’s time to bottle & mature.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ryton Potato Day & Seed Swap

Predictably, although the potato day & seed swap were great - & I wouldn't miss it for the world - the last weekend in January at Ryton Organic Gardens was very cold indeed.

It was laid out a little differently to last year, with the seed swap first up - so I gave in my shoe box of bean seeds, & girded the loins of my self control & only chose the equivalent number of varieties to take home with me. Well, just one extra one, but only because the chap running the seed swap wouldn't let me leave without - honest!

So on to the main event - I'd done my homework choosing which varieties of potatoes that I wanted to grow this year from the dozens of types to chose from, so I could go straight in & get picking. In fact, I was startling efficient, & took six big brown envelopes with me already labelled up with the name & number that I wanted of each, so all I had to do was find the right crate (potatoes alphabetically laid out in the marquee), & fill the envelopes.

I've gone for six of each of the first earlies 'red duke of york', 'pentland javelin', six of each of the second earlies 'kestrel', 'charlotte', & eight of each of the main crop 'king edwards' & 'maris piper'.

This exercise took me about 3 minutes from entering the marquee to leaving the pay area, but given that I'd paid a not insubstantial entrance fee, I felt obliged to get my money's worth & have a good look round the gardens.

Although it is very interesting to see how gardens are laid out and the bones' of the structure, there is no getting away from the fact that it was - er - bare.

I persevered round the whole site, reading labels (the composting area of most note - the difference in yields of potatoes when planted in ground which has been fed differently with nothing/leaf mould/compost was astonishing), but on the whole I was very glad to get back in the car & get it toasty warm on the drive home.
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