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, November 11, 2012

A Series of Understatements

  • It has been a little bit quiet on the blogging front.  That is, I have not updated for three months.  Three months!  I have been at the Hill, just not saying much anything about it.
  • It wasn't very Summery, even in Summer.  That is, unless you were in the south east where someone was looking down on the Olympics; the wonderful weather adding to a phenomenal event. everywhere else it was wet, and cool.  Very.
  • It hasn't been the best year for potatoes.  That is, this half bucket is all that I have of the maris piper main crop.
  • We didn't do too badly in the Show.  That is, between mum, big sister Helen and me, we made a good dent in the prize money for the classes involving potatoes, beans, peas, rhubarb, fruit cake, chutney and sponge cake
  • Allotment holders are quite nice people.  That is, in recent weeks I've had Reg-next-plot offer to dig the potatoes for me (thank goodness I turned him down, I would never have lived down the tiny crop); woodchippings Paul offer to put some bags of manure to one side on the plot for me when the it is next delivered as I'm not often there when it arrives, and it is soon snapped up; Nick and Pat from down the bottom giving me a huge bag of winter squash after I said that my squash plant had been done for by the slugs, and the replacement seeds didn't germinate.
  • I managed to pick a few courgettes.  That is, the two plants I put in this year cropped heavily and continuously from mid August to last weekend, when a frost knocked the last few on the head
  • The plot could do with a bit of a tidy up.  That is, the Winter digging and clearing still awaits.
  • Change happens. That is, the annual round of musical chairs has just happened with allotment holders either upsizing, downsizing or moving plots.  The most notable in terms of my near neighbours is that Jody has handed over to his mate Shaun (who has been helping out for the last couple of years), so that he can concentrate on his fundraising activities for Birmingham Children's Hospital.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Show Prep

It's the Hill Show this weekend.  I have been pretty gloomy about this due to the fact that don't have much in the way of things to enter, with it having been such a difficult growing year to date.

Normally at this point I would have a good choice of what to enter, but not, I didn't think, for this year.  Thank goodness there are domestic classes so at least I can enter a cake or two.

However, things may not be that bleak for two reasons.

Firstly - and this is something to hold onto extremely firmly - everyone else is in the same boat.  If my beans have all been eaten by slugs and have taken three sowings to get anything going at all, then so will everyone else's.

Secondly, when I was at the Hill last night, I saw that the courgettes might just make it - the first little courgettes are on the plants, three inches or so long.

I dug up the first and second early potatoes.  A small crop, but enough to enter in the show, perhaps.  And I also dug up the shallots.  They are a right faff to prepare, but if I have ten the same size, why not?

And if I can't find enough sweet peas to make a vase of nine, that would be poor form.  Then there is the garlic crop strung up in the garage - the bulbs aren't huge this year, but they might be ok.

The fruit cake I made at the weekend looks fine, and smells even better.  I have a couple of jars of green tomato chutney that I made last autumn and I'm baking a lemon drizzle cake tomorrow night.

The peas are magnificent.

And I did pick the first runner beans the other day - they aren't exactly show-bench straight, but maybe I can find enough that look about the same.

The rhubarb is a good standby.


Might be ok, after all...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Falling In Love Again

Anyone from Mars who happened across a whole bunch of gardeners' blogs this Spring will have wondered why on earth any of us in the UK continue with a so-called pleasure giving hobby, due to the fact that there is not one amongst us, I don't think, who hasn't found the weather this Spring extremely trying.

Even the hardy hobbit who pretty much lives outside in the elements has sounded less than enthusiastic - and who can blame her with well over a foot of rain falling on her Cumbrian idyll this year so far?

Any trips that I have had to the Hill over the past three months have been either in the rain; or not in the rain until I've been there for two minutes when it has started.  The enthusiasm is dented because the days have not been warm, the nights less so.  Anything that I have planted out has been eaten by slugs or snails (I'm on my fifth try at carrots, the third of french beans); the only things to thrive have been the weeds (and teh peas, oddly).

And yet.

It has been dry since Friday, sunny over the weekend - and glorious today.  The tomatoes in the courtyard have put on three inches in as many days; and at the Hill, the courgettes are finally big enough to withstand slug attack, the re-sown french beans are up, and the peas are going wild.

Last week I'd heard that there was a lovely pile of chippings up by the store shed.  I'd love to thank the unknown donor as these are exactly what I want to refresh the paths (although I might argue that I would have been saved a great deal of effort and a number of hours yesterday pushing the damn wheelbarrow up and down the Hill if they had been dropped off somewhat nearer the plot).

So the paths look fabulous, the beds are weeded, a start has been made on the 'messy corner', and I ate a punnet full of raspberries tonight (after some rudimentary carpentry to mend the collapsing frame); and came home the first of the peas; some wonderful broad beans and new potatoes, warm from the soil.

That's why I do it.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

With the weather continuing to be very wet - heavy showers several times a day - but warm, there is no getting away from the fact that this is not shaping up to be a great veg growing year, but I'm trying to look on the sunny side, and there are a number of plus points to bring home with me from the Hill today

Broad beans - although the plants are still sorely tried by blackfly, they are also swarming with ladybirds, and  these tiny first pickings have come home with me to be steamed to go with dinner.

Raspberries- wild growth of the summer raspberries has broken the support, so I've had to perform a temporary fix, meanwhile the fruit is ripening, and tasting delicious.   Must take a box to collect them in next visit, or I will just scoff the lot there and then, like I did today.

Courgettes & Cucumbers - both doubled in size since last weekend, and surrounded by snail graveyard.  Yuk.  At least the pellets are doing their job.

Peas -  these are astonishingly good.  A great jungle of foliage and more tiny pods than you can shake a stick at.  I've deliberately grown more tried and tested 'eating' peas (as opposed to mange tout or marrowfat) so that I will have plenty to freeze.  Just as well given that the poor old beans are not going to be great this year, I fear.

Mind you, it is tricky to see what on earth I'm going to be able to enter for the Show this year - just five weeks away, with the Schedule & entry form was published this week....

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Losing The Battle But Not The War

Yes, I know that all gardeners grumble about the weather and we always qualify each success or failure with 'well, it really has been a bit of a funny year, hasn't it?' - well this year I do think that we might have a point.  It's been a warm and dry March followed but a cold and very, very wet second quarter, and there is a distinct lack of 'Summer' going on, even though it is July.

I was very gloomy after arriving at the Hill today as I went round counting up the casualties - looking at the beans losing the battle against the damn slugs, and seeing that the carrots have still not done anything at all, and - worst of all, and despite the slug pellets - seeing the SNAIL GRAVEYARD where my planted out uchiki kuri (red onion) squash plant was.

Past tense.


The broad beans have got blackfly, the calabrese seedlings under their netting are looking skeletal (no idea what's causing that particular one).

However, the courgettes have made it through, as have two out of three of the cucumbers; the peas are looking terrific; and I did bring home rhubarb, the first of the new potatoes and dug up a row of garlic - smaller than I would have hoped, but ok nonetheless.

I weeded like fury and left a sea of blue slug pellets in my wake.  I know, I don't like it either - but I do want to eat beans.  And squash.  And cucumbers.  And calabrese. And carrots - although I am not entirely sure that the slugs are the culprits in this instance.

On the plus side too, underneath the incredible mass of growth on the red and black currant bushes there are jewel like strings of currants very nearly ready to pick.

I was just about to come away when the muck delivery arrived, so I pitched in to help unload, and then did my community bit by emptying about a third of the bags in to the manure skip.  I took half a dozen bags to put on the squash bed - it's far too fresh and hot, really, but I'll clear a space to plant out a new squash and it should have calmed down a bit by the time the squash grows over it.

Then home to sow a couple of replacement squash, a second batch of leek seeds, and some kale for some winter fresh veg.

And then a much needed bath.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weather for Ducks/Slugs/Weeds

For the last couple of weeks the weather has stopped being 'changeable' and settled on 'constant rain'.  Of course, the one day that it has not rained recently was last Sunday, when I was busy doing other stuff.

But the two batches of dwarf beans and the squash/courgette/cucumbers can't live in pots in the courtyard garden forever, getting waterlogged, eaten by snails and going yellow with lack of feed in their compost, so I dodged today's heavy showers and set off to the Hill.

I was extremely pleased to see the peas zooming up their wigwams, and I had to spend a few minutes with ties making sure they stayed where they were supposed to be.

Not so good (in fact terrible) were the French beans that I planted out a couple of weeks ago - the slugs/snails have had an absolute field day with one batch of beans totally disappeared, and only the runners just about holding their own.

It started raining, and I was very gloomy about the slug damage to the beans, carrots and - now I came to have a look - the row of decimated lettuce, so once I had planted out the last couple of batches of beans, I resorted to a sprinkling of slug pellets.  Not loads - in fact a slaloming slug could pick its way through, if sufficiently determined, but if I want any beans at all, I can see no way round it.

I still don't know if it is the slugs eating the carrot seedlings as they emerge, or if I have a dicey packet of carrot seed - I sowed a row of a different variety to see if it makes any difference.  I am half hearted about carrots - by the time the slugs have had a go along with the inevitable carrot fly, there is very rarely anything looking like a carrot left for me to eat in any case.

I got my head down and weeded the onions, the beds for this years miscellaneous crops and the nursery bed whilst weathering another shower, then planted out the concurbits, and a dozen calabrese plants that I bought at the garden centre a couple of weeks ago.

As always, I could have spend days just weeding, but it all looks better - and despite the best endeavours of weeds/slugs/weather, I will very shortly be eating broad beans and new potatoes, something I wouldn't swap for the world.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Changeable Weather

We have had an extraordinary contrast in the weather over the last couple of weeks - we had a week towards the end of May when it was so hot you couldn't move, and this week the temperatures have dipped and - boy - has it rained.

The first chance I had this long bank holiday weekend to get out and not get thoroughly soaked was yesterday, when I packed the car high with bean seedlings and headed to the Hill.  Because the bean frame was prepped already, I just needed to tickle the soil with a fork and get planting.  Instant allotment - I love it!

One of the climbing bean varieties has not done well - I've sown further seed - so I have a gap there, and I still need to put two lots of dwarf beans out, but otherwise, that bed can look after itself.

I was distracted by some weeding - a never ending job - then sowed a couple of rows of parsnip and carrot.  I  sowed the carrot thickly as I have become suspicious of this seed packet's viability.  Despite squinting closely at the two previous rows I have put in, I cannot see any seedlings at all.  The parsnips are all coming up which were sown at the same time, but not a sniff of carrot.  It's either the slugs hoovering up the seedlings as they come up, or seed which is past its best - something I am quite prepared to believe.

The weather seems to have suited the peas and broad beans - flowers now on the first broadies I planted out, and the peas all clinging to their wigwams.  The potatoes are all looking quite chipper, too, so I earthed them up, and now they can get on with it as well.

I nodded in satisfaction of a job well done then walked up the plot to put the spade and fork away.  I passed the asparagus bed and admired the plants - all twelve crowns looking good - when I spotted an IMPOSTER in the midst. Yes, the first of the asparagus beetles - AAAGH! I had a quick beetle-squashing session - if I can't eat the asparagus till next year, I'm damned if I'm going to let them scoff it!

Then home to plant out the peppers into their final pots in the mini green house (late, I know) and to plant out the tomatoes into their buckets.

And now it is raining again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Plenty of Peas!

Goodness me it has been HOT the past few days!  Still, with peas and beans bulging at the seams in their pots more than ready to be planting out there was no putting off the sweaty exertions of stringing the final two wigwams.

So I have avoided the heat of the day and spend a relaxed and productive couple of evenings at the Hill with the company of blackbirds and a fearless robin.

I took a deep breath and strung the wigwams and planted one with a tray of sweet peas, and the other with tall peas (ne plus ultra).  If that does not give me enough peas to eat fresh and to freeze and last all year, I do not know what will.

I planted out the rest of the broad beans too, and was thinking how well they were doing when I spotted Carl and Wendy's by-the-gate which are already in flower - early broadies for them!

The next 'big' job was to put the bean canes in a 'V' shape in between the end T pieces that structure I already have fixed in place.  With the supporting wires taut between the T's, all I had to do was push the canes into the ground in the middle, alternating to each side and attaching to the horizontal wire.  So now they are ready to be planted up with climbing beans in the middle, and dwarf beans at the bed edges.

Now I could have spent every waking hour weeding - especially the 'messy' plot edges, and I have taken all the dandelion heads off - but with the compost bin full to overflowing there is no room until I move on the the next strenuous job.  Emptying the other compost bin and revealing all that lovely compost.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Muck, Glorious Muck!

When I arrived at the Hill tonight, I espied bags of horse muck, and did a happy dance.  You see, the muck skip (conveniently right by my plot) has been empty for ages - the stables aren't delivering as many sacks of manure, and the old boys are getting to the deliveries first, leaving not much left for me.

It means that I haven't mucked the two potato beds this year (they will just have to put up with it) and I haven't been addling any muck to my compost bins.

Well, it's too late to muck the potato beds, but the compost bin is now positively overflowing.

Whilst I was sizing up the muck sacks, Richard from three plots down arrived, clearly on his way home from work.  "It's a shame that you are not dressed for muck moving," I said, pointing at the bags.

"We'll see about that!" he said, and not to be defeated by a suit and tie, fetched a pair of gardening gloves and loaded his wheelbarrow with bags to take to his plot in just about the daintiest way possible.  Good for him!

I'd just about filled the compost bin when he came over with a handful of freshly cut asparagus.  "Would you like these?" he asked. "I picked a carrier bagful yesterday, and by the time I come back at the weekend, these will be far to  well grown to eat."  How kind! Clearly I didn't need asking twice.

Off he went and I managed not to get overly sidetracked by the weeds - although I am cringing at the dandelion clocks everywhere I look in the edges and corner - and knuckled down to what I went to do.

So now I have two of the four wigwams stringed (strung?) up and two lots of peas planted out and before I came home, I put in a couple of rows of carrots, parsnip and lettuce.

Then home for a much needed bath.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rain Doesn't Quite Stop Play

It has rained pretty much all day long here, so allotment activities today have taken place indoors and have included repotting the tomatoes...

...and racking the quince, rhubarb and parsnip wines.

Tomorrow's planned trip to the Hill (that's if it ever stops bloody raining) will involve wrapping string round the pea wigwams - the world's most tedious task.

Oh, deep joy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spring Break!

The plot at the Hill wakes up sometime in the middle of March, but it takes this gardening blogger rather longer to come out of winter hibernation.  In fact, it has take an email from total stranger saying, 'are there any more updates, or have you finished now?' to give me the required boot up the backside.

So, at the end of January I'd frozen my toes off at Ryton at the potato day and had all the spuds out chitting in egg boxes.  And February being February I was not inclined to do very much at all, apart from venture out occasionally to pick delicious sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli.

March was very pleasant - the news full of drought warnings with it being such a dry winter - and I put in a couple of rows of carrots and parsnips, along with planting out the potatoes, and a bag of shallots and a bag of onions.

April, it rained.  And rained.  And just when you thought it could not rain any more - it rained.  In a rare break in the rain, I got busy sowing - four trays of pots of various peas; four trays of pots of various dwarf beans; four trays of various climbing beans; cucumber, courgette and squash; peppers (late, I know) and tomatoes.

I figured that they could get on with sprouting whilst I got away from the rain for a week or so, leaving my neighbour with watering instructions (i.e. don't unless the seedling are keeling over with their tongues hanging out), and ending up frantically texting to ask him to EMPTY THE WATER OUT THE TRAYS as the weather reports were full of the woes of yet more rain into May.  On the plus side, we aren't in a drought situation any more.

Where my plot is at the Hill, I am quite happy with plenty of rain - as long as I am not actually standing out in it - as the soil is quite free draining and the ground will welcome 'a good soak'.  I would mind the rain very much if I was at the bottom of the Hill where John Badger is, as that is where all the rain drains down to, and there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing.

Now, the spuds and garlic are all up, the weeds (reasonably) taming along with about a million errant raspberry suckers (which have made a determined bid to escape from the first fruit bed and have plans to rule the world), the brassicas finished and pulled up, the wigwams for the peas put up, and the compost bin is heaped unmanageably high.

The rhubarb being pulled, with sufficient in the freezer for a batch of wine, with plenty more to come.

And the world is still full of good-hearted gardeners, with the kindly Richard from three plots down foisting a great bag of his asparagus on me as I sighed and looked longingly at my young asparagus spears, not to be touched for another twelve months.

The world is a good place!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Brilliant Brassicas!

It's been pretty mild for the past two or three weeks, considering we are 'in the deep midwinter' - but it has been frosty this week, and too cold for this wimp to go to the Hill today.

I've been working away at my paths though, the last two or three weekends, and I am almost ready for a new batch of chippings - which I will only be able to collect from the park when the Christmas trees have been chipped.

So the only thing to do is to take pickings of purple sprouting broccoli, which is UTTERLY DELICIOUS - can't think why I haven't grown it before - and sprouts.

The sprouts are a bit of a revelation too - this is the first year that the plants have been great. I have been organised enough to get (admittedly, purchased) seedlings planted out (into a nursery bed) then transplanted to their final homes once I took the pea wigwams down, and it's worked really well.

The sprouts are firm and small to medium sized - which suits me. I can't be doing with the cabbage-sized sprouts which the supermarkets sell which when you cook them go soggy on the outside before the middles are tender.

I must also have a go at winter cabbage next year - at the beginning of the month, while I was turning the paths into the beds, Richard from three plots down wandered up to see how I was getting on and asked if I'd like a red cabbage. "I've got quite a few good sized ones, but when I took one home last week, the wife said she didn't like it as it tasted 'funny'".

Well, I didn't need asking twice. Good value is cabbage - this one is the size of my head, weighs about the same as a medicine ball and is still in the fridge having lasted quite happily with me carving great chunks off for shredding for meal after meal. Brilliant!

And tomorrow it is the annual potato day and seed swap at Ryton Organic Gardens. I've spent a merry afternoon poring over the potato varieties to choose what I'd like to grow this year, and then popping spare bean seeds into envelopes to take to swap for whatever takes my fancy.

I've been going for the past four years and it has always been either exceptionally wet, or exceptionally cold - and tomorrow's forecast suggests the latter. I'm looking forward to it - but I'll be wrapping up well!
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