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, January 27, 2013

Ryton Potato Day & Seed Swap

It's been pretty seriously snowy for a week now (for us notoriously lily-livered urban Brits, 8" IS seriously snowy!) which means that the car has stayed in the garage, and I have invested nine quid in a pair of wellington boots.  They have been brilliant, and I have intrepidly stomped my way round the borough with total confidence.

The snow means that there was no trip to the Hill last Sunday - my outdoor activities confined to wrestling the composting daleks down the drive to tuck them out the way by the garage.

Yesterday, most of the snow thawed, then overnight the temperatures rose and I woke this morning to a snow-free world with the sun shining.  Fab!  That meant that the 30 mile trip to Ryton Organic Gardens for the potato day and seed swap was most definitely ON!

There are three great things about Ryton - the seed swap, the gardens themselves and the potato marquee.

I love the seed swap, and filled a shoebox to take with seeds collated into labeled envelopes.  I've been quite restrained in my swaps, and have just bought home a heritage variety of each of leeks, lettuce, peas, beans and tomatoes.  They hadn't any parsnip seed (the one thing that I really am short of), but bought a pack in the shop before I left.

The gardens are fabulous - signs tell you about each section/garden and what it contains and why.  January is not the best time to visit, of course, if you want to see much in way of growing action, but the structure and layout is superb.

There was a display of different types of composters, and a bevy of composting experts to explain the difference and get you on the right composting track.  One garden demonstrates the staggering difference in yield of a potato crop depending on whether the ground has been treated with compost, manure or leaf mould.  If ever I think, 'I can't be bothered dressing this bed, the soil's pretty good anyway', I shall think of the Ryton garden and do it anyway!

And of course, the main reason for going was for the potato marquee to buy my seed potatoes for this year. I'd done my homework and had a bag ready for each of my choices (and how many I wanted of each) which made going round the alphabetically ordered potato bins then paying for what I'd got very efficient indeed (if I say so myself).

All I have to do now is scavenge some more egg boxes and they can all merrily chit away for a month or so - before you know it, Spring will be upon us and it'll be time to get them in the ground! Hurrah!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Exterminate! Exterminate!

Last Sunday it was bitterly cold, but I wrapped up warm and went to the Hill with the aim of digging over another bed, and to dig some parsnips in order to make soup.  It's good soup weather.

I finished what I wanted to do, and once I'd warmed up at home set the pan on to make butternut squash (Aldi, 49p), carrot and parsnip soup.  Yum.

Towards the end of the end of the week, the cold weather turned to snow, which is beautiful to look at, but  it doesn't get you down to the Hill come Sunday to get your beds dug over.  No matter, I thought that it would be a good day for sorting out seeds for the potato day at Ryton in a couple of weeks, so that was today's job, after I wrapped up to go and get the Sunday paper this morning.

This is what greeted me when I opened the front door:

In my quest to 'do something' with the out of control compost area (can't call it a compost bin as it has overflowed the allotted area many times over and can only be approached with a big stick to whack any particularly unruly bits) I have taken the advice of Rhubarb Brian, who suggested daleks rather than a bin.

'The compost can't get out of hand, and it rots down much quicker than just in a heap; then when you want to empty it, if you had the dalek actually on the bed, you can just pull it over to empty it and spread the compost from there.'

Clearly this was a cracking idea which I squirreled away for further thought.  Over the New Year, Richard from three plots down said 'Did you know that the Council have composters on offer?  I've had a couple delivered, I just have to work out how to get them here, as they won't fit in the car!'

My ears pricked up at the 'on offer' bit of that sentence, so I ordered a couple too which arrived on a Sunday morning, in the snow.  I wish that I'd given it more thought, because if I had, I would have ordered four, one for each pair of beds which would have a pleasing symmetry.

Meanwhile, I should take that bit about fitting in the car seriously - it'll  be quite a walk to the Hill with them otherwise...

Sunday, January 06, 2013

New Year Garlic

For my first trip to the Hill of the new year, I had the modest aim of digging over one of the un-dug-over beds, and planting out the garlic.  Yes, I know that in other years I have popped the cloves in the ground somewhere at the end of October, but in other years it hasn't rained so comprehensively, has it?

It was a mild, overcast afternoon - Richard from three plots down was busy digging over his plot when I arrived, but apart from him I had the site to myself.

The soil is very wet and claggy still and digging is a bit heavy going, but with my beds and paths at least I can get to the soil to dig easily.  Mind you, the soil was a good enough consistency for pulling up dandelions, and by the time I'd spent an hour with the fork, I had a nicely turned over bed along with a good half-bucket full of foot-long dandelion roots.  Most satisfying.

I need to beef up the chippings on the paths again - I took the Christmas tree to the park to add to the heap for recycling, and must check when they plan to turn the trees into chippings so I can load up and restock the paths.

It's soon dusk at this time of the year, and so once the three garlic bulbs had been split and planted out, it was time to call it a day and come home for a hot bath.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

John Badger - A Life Celebrated

And although the Winter is a quiet time for your average gardener, I have done a few things since mid November.

But the most monumental news - and by far the saddest - is that John Badger from the bottom has passed away.  His health has not been great for some time, but when I saw him at the AGM he was still in fine form, if less robust than previously.

What a institution he has been at the Hill!

His ability to get on with absolutely anyone has benefited the Allotment Society enormously - from being the star of the show when we had a class of children from one of our junior schools visiting the site to talking any funding body he could find to winkle funds out for our various maintenance jobs, with huge success.

He was a fiendish Aston Villa fan, and if I was on the plot on Saturday lunchtime I would often be stuck head first into some weeding to be hailed with a cheery 'hello, gorgeous!' as he drove off to go to the match.

Famed for his barbecues at the bottom end of the plot, he was passionate about bringing the plotholders together - he loved the Annual Show, and of course, served on the committee.

And my best memory?  Before my first show in 2007 when I told him I was going to enter the 'home made marble cake - recipe supplied' category, he surprised me when he said, 'do you want a tip?'.  I couldn't think what tip he might offer me on baking a cake, but he said, 'I was in the catering corps for years - if you dip your knuckle in milk then smooth the top surface with the back of your hand, you'll get a cake to bake without cracking.'  Absolutely right!

Quite a chap, all in all - I think Chris (who has the plot next to his) has it right when she says that JB was a 'rare individual'.  Indeed, indeed.
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