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, November 05, 2015

Autumn Produce

Having offloaded a couple of butternut squash and a couple of the smaller pumpkins (one to an ex-offender who came to the door selling household wares, although I am not sure if he actually wanted it), I am left with one large pumpkin to 'do something' with, and a big mixing bowl full of green tomatoes.

The pumpkin is still to be thought about, but the green tomatoes are now chutney.

I kept the cherry tomatoes to one side - they have been gradually ripening and afforded me a little taste of Summer each time I pop one in my mouth. Lovely.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

....and then it was Autumn!

Y'see, that's the trouble with Summer on the plot.

There's so much going on that the blogging doesn't keep up with the action, and before you know it, those burgeoning seedlings are fully grown plants, cropping away like billy-o; and by the time everything is picked and in the freezer, and weeded, and planted out and tended .... well let's just say that something has to give.

So let's get back on the blogging bike with a picture of Autumn harvest - only the cherry tomatoes in the courtyard ripened this year - so the mixing bowl full of green tomatoes are waiting for me to turn them into green tomato chutney.

I've had mixed results with the Marshalls trial seeds which I was kindly sent earlier in the year - the courgette 'griller mix' was superb - my two plants grew a sensible number of sensible size courgettes on sensible sized well behaved plants.  Brill.

Although I haven't eaten any of the squash yet, the 'sweetmax' butternut squash have been good growers too - with four whopping fruit off the plant in this a cool Summer; and the pumpkin 'knucklehead' has produced well too, with two medium and one large fruit.

I had trouble with germinating the two beef tomato varieties - hence the chutney - but they look big and meaty nonetheless.

Overall, the varieties did well in the cool summer (particularly the butternut squash which I always thought needed a long hot summer) - with the courgettes definitely on the list for next year, if nothing else.

And for the foreseeable future, I will be mostly eating pumpkin...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Marshall's Trial Seeds and Potting On

I now have too many tomato plants - or I will have in a couple of weeks when all these seedlings have grown up a bit.

I have room for six buckets in the courtyard garden - i.e. six tomato plants - and I already have the baker's half dozen plants that my friend kindly gave me the other day when I thought that my germination was zero.  Now my germination is rate is 17 out of 18.

Two of these varieties are from the Marshall's seed trial, and I will pay particular attention to how these do.

I've had good germination from their courgette, and two varieties of squash too; and the cabbage - however, I've only had two of the 'brokali' come up out of six modules with a couple of seeds in each module.

I had a grand potting on session last night - the courgettes need a bit more room each for a couple of weeks before planting out, and I won't have room for the brassicas for a while yet, so they all moved up a pot size for the time being.

Back to the plot at the weekend* for more bean planting out, and bed prep for the tender crops - and then Domino cat can have his bench back!

*But not on Sunday, when the streets of our town are closed off and I join 6,999 others belting round the borough and the adjoining largest urban park in Europe.  'We're fundraisers - everyone gets a finishers medal - it's not a race!' goes the official line. Not a race? Yeah, right.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bean Planting and Slow Coach Germination

When I went to the Hill on Saturday, it was good to see that all the peas and broad beans that I planted out last weekend are all looking hale and hearty - planting the peas out when a good 6" tall seems to be the way to go.

The day's task was to erect the bean 'V' with cross wires and canes and to plant out the french beans and runners.   The only hitch here is that the runner beans that I sowed for me have comprehensively failed - those I've sown for mum, all up and raring to go, so I don't know what has gone on there.

Talking of failed seeds, I complained about the complete no-show of my tomato seeds a couple of  weeks ago, and a friend kindly gave me half a dozen of his spare plants,  As I am sure that you can guess, the very day after I picked the tomato plants up last week, every single tomato seed popped up in the compost - 4 weeks after sowing.

Back to the beans, once the frame was up and the canes in place and tied to the cross wires, I got planting.

I've left planting out the dwarf french beans on the one side of the bed so I can access the canes with the runner beans later on.

A quick drink in the clubhouse rounded off a very satisfying session - instant allotment!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Plant Sale, Poor Service and Planting Out

The weekend was very busy with activity at the Hill - we had our Spring plant sale on Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes (the clubhouse open for beer and sandwiches both days too - hurrah!).  The idea was that if you sow a few more that you usually do, the extras could be sold with the proceeds going to allotment funds.

With this in mind, when I did my big sow-fest in April, I also went through all of the outrageously out-of-date seed packets from the seed swap, and sowed 12 types of brassicas thickly in strips of modules (8 of these germinated, 4 types were duds), and half a dozen trays of 'everything else' including herb seeds to make up mixed 'living salad' tubs.

I took those along the the sale which was well attended on both days, and couldn't resist a cherry tomato, cucumber (I must have overlooked these and haven't sown any this year) and a tray of dianthus which I plan to plant out at the front of the plot.

With so many people around I didn't get as much done as I had hoped to on the plot on Saturday just pulling this armful of rhubarb, and a meal of asparagus - not least because on a return visit to the Hill at tea time the car broke down.

Vantage Toyota World had the car in for a recall in the week and managed to release it back to me with the alternator unplugged.  The car was jump-started easily enough (thank you, nice man in Sainsbury's car park), but of course the battery was not recharging as I drove and indeed became more and more flat until an excitement-filled few minutes when the battery was so out of juice that the power steering failed as I was driving.

Ten points to the RAC who had the world's easiest car fix by plugging the alternator back in; minus several hundred points to Vantage Toyota whose slapdash actions could easily have been far more catastrophic than the cross customer with a wasted evening.

I went back on Sunday to put up the pea wigwams, plant out peas, sweetpeas and broad beans, which look fantastic - instant allotment!  However, I couldn't take photos as my phone ran out of juice.

Not a good weekend for batteries, all in all!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Normal Service Has Resumed

Yes, I was so organised.  Yes, I was so on top of everything.  Yes, I went away on holiday.  And yes, I now harbour the National Collection of dandelions on my plot at the Hill. Boo.

However, apart from the weeds, the rhubarb is also flourishing; the strawberries have flowers and I have cut half a dozen asparagus spears. Hurrah!

I set about whacking it all back into shape on Saturday late afternoon, and made some headway with weeding dandelions and the willowherb out of the paths, and trying to end up with all the cleavers in the compost bin and not wearing it home.  Not for nothing is is called the Velcro plant.

I saw Reg-next-plot at the clubhouse when I nipped in for a beer afterwards, and he offered me some onion seedlings, if I would like to go round and pick them up.

Once I'd collected the 30 seedlings in little pots on Sunday morning, I went straight to the Hill to plant them out.  They look robust and fizzing with life whilst standing proud in the pots; and like weedy slips of grass when planted out.  I do hope that they survive!

The good news is that all the seeds that I put in during my sow-fest before I went away are all up and raring to go - apart from a complete absence of tomatoes. Not sure why that is, and given that two of the varieties are from my trail of Marshall's seeds, I am a bit concerned as I have no spare seed.

I'll get the broad beans and peas of the bench at home and planted out at the weekend, something that will please Domino cat no end.

He says that it's a bit of a squash at the far right of the bench - look closely - and he would prefer not to have to share!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Marshalls Trial Seeds and Other Seed Sowing

To tell the truth, I'm a little unnerved about being organised this year.  I went to the Hill last weekend and had a wander around, spotting what might be parsnips germinating, and weeded out a few dandelions in the asparagus bed, but that was all.

Perhaps it has all kicked off now though - I had an email through from Marshalls asking me if I would like to trial some of their new seed varieties and blog about my experiences, and last week the seeds came through the post.

I only sow carrots and parsnips direct at the Hill - if the seeds do germinate down there, they have to contend with weeds as slugs, so it always seems to be a better bet to get everything sown here at home in the courtyard garden.

So I have a giant mid-April seed sowing-fest, and at the weekend I turned the kitchen into a potting shed.

The Marshalls seed varieties are interesting - a couple of squash, a pumpkin, a courgette; a couple of tomato varieties, and a couple of brassicas.

The packets are colour co-ordinated by family, with a description and sowing instructions on the front.............

........... and no. of seeds (not many!) and best before date on the back.

I'll see how I get on with them.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

A Job Well Done

For once, this year I don't feel like I am on the back foot - the beds are all prepared, the first seeds are sown, the potatoes are in; and today, I have turned my attention to the strawberry bed.

The strawberry plants are ancient - I've not got the knack of replacing the plants with new, grown from runners every three or four years and consequently, the yield is practically non existent.  What strawberries do grow are promptly scoffed by slugs and the whole bed is full of weeds.

So time for a revamp with some new plants.  I bought a tray of six Elsanta plants for £2.99 from Aldi a couple of weeks ago, and if I find this is too few, I can grow on some of the inevitable runners for new plants.

I dug over the bed, ditching all plants and weeds, then gave it a good layer of horse muck, and another good layer of compost from the old pallet composters; covered with weed suppressant and planted through holes cut in the suppressant. Fab!  I'm rather sorry that I forgot to take a 'before' pic - because this is a real improvement.

I turned my attention to getting the maincrop spuds planted.  The kale is in the way, really, but they are still throwing extremely tasty side shoots, so I'm reluctant to pull them up just yet - and even when I'm done with them, brassica flowers are very popular with bees, so I'm inclined to leave them as long as possible.

I compromised by pulling up two and leaving two, and making holes for the potatoes with a stick - the potatoes will just have to grow around them.

Once I'd finished that and tidied up, I just had time to nip up to the clubhouse for a swift half.  I do love these lighter evenings when my trips to the Hill coincide with opening hours!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Transformation of a Compost Heap

Today's forecast was for heavy rain for most of the day, so I went to the Hill yesterday with the aim of planting the potatoes.

I parked at the top of the site, and walking down past the plots with seed potatoes clutched to me in their egg boxes where they have been chitting on the windowsill for the past few weeks; and saw that I was not alone in this plan, with a number of plots sporting the tell tale ridge-and-grove of earth with (presumably) spuds tucked up underneath.

Although I see the theory of planting the spuds in the groves; filling in as the plants grow, then earthing up the growing plants, it strikes me like a lot of hard work, so my spuds get dropped into planting holes made with a handy broom handle about 8" deep, with earthing up later in the season if I can be bothered. 

First, I had to move the netting tunnel to a different bed where I will sow carrots in a week or two - and now that
I have the knack of it, the cage didn't take long to put up in a sturdy fashion in it's new situation.

The three cabbages that it had been protecting though, did make me scratch my head - they are too small to harvest, but in the way of the spuds, and now open to pigeon attack.  I managed to work around them and rig up a temporary netting and hope to be eating them before they inconvenience the potato plants. 

Then I spent some more time digging over and weeding the plot front - the lavender plants that have been there for some years are now leggy (baaaaaaaad pruning!) and since Gardener Zoe showed me last week how easy peasy it is to take cuttings, I will be growing more on and replacing the existing. 

Talking of Gardener Zoe, I offered her all the dry woody contents of my horrible out-of-control pallet composters for kindling if she wanted to have a bonfire in the week, and rather than the compost bins looking like this:

They now look like this.  

Magic!  Now all I have to do is decide what to do with the extra space this gives me. Maybe a pumpkin to ramble over, then dig and create a fruit bed at the end of the growing season, perhaps?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A New Neighbour and Final Bed Prep

The Spring equinox at the weekend means that at last the days are now longer than the nights, and with warmer weather (and the pigeons at home making eyes at each other), it definitely feels Spring is Springing.

The seeds that I sowed last month agree, with the sweet peas and leeks both putting in an appearance - just - the microscopic dot here is a leek seedling.  They have been sown in pots and in the shelter of the mini greenhouse for almost four weeks before sprouting, which just goes to show that that Mother Nature will get on with things in her own sweet time.

I dithered whether to get the spuds in the ground or not this weekend; however, they are due to go into the two beds at the front of the plot which are currently clogged up with two daleks, one cage over the kale and one newly robust netting tunnel protecting three cabbage plants - so there is a bit of a backlog of stuff in the way before the spuds can go in.

So when I arrived at the Hill on Sunday, I moving the cage, and the netting to one site, and got to work with the fork and three-pronged cultivator.  I chatted to my enthusiastic new neighbour Zoe who gardens for a living, but is not so experienced with fruit and veg.

Neat Neighbour John, Novice Neighbour Jody and then Jody's Mate Shaun have all left plot 17a in good shape, and now Gardener Zoe has custody of the front of that half plot to make of what she will.

Once I'd finished going over the beds, I hoed in some blood, fish and bone which should give the cabbages a boost, and made a start on tidying up the flower border at the front of the plot, which is prone to weeds.

Time running out - although not daylight this time - I tidied up and went to pick some kale.  It's just starting to bolt now, so snapped off the flower heads off to take home for tea - and hope that it will throw some side shoots in time for my next visit too.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Shopping, Prepping and Mending

The Hill storeshed is kept stocked with all sorts of gardening essentials all at very reasonable prices, and purchases can be made through any committee member who you can happen to catch on the plot. But from the middle of March, the storeshed is open for business on a more formal basis, on Saturday and Sunday mornings for a couple of hours.

So instead of wandering up and down the site in the hope of catching someone with a key, yesterday I could march up to the shed and talk to Cheery Brian who was playing storekeeper for the morning and buy the fertiliser that I've been after for the past few weeks.

Despite the weather being markedly colder than the past couple of weekends, the Hill was full of plotters out of hibernation and all busy with preparations for the growing year, and the site was quite a hive of activity. 

And so to the business of final bed preparation in readiness for sowing and planting out - and after a couple of solid hours with a fork and the three-pronged cultivator, sprinkling the fertiliser as I finished each bed, six of the eight beds look pretty darn good, if I say so myself.

I cleared away the bamboo canes - the long ones to bring home, shorter ones to put in the toolshed in a bucket.  Any plastic balls which I use as cane toppers which have perished I put in a rubbish bag, and other pieces of wood gathered together at the back of the toolshed. 

Of the last two beds at the front of the plot, the one has the kale plants still growing strongly, and the other has the ramshackle netting tunnel protecting - let me see - ah, yes, three cabbage plants.  

I am curious as to how it can be improved upon, though, so took it back to basics and put the hoops closer together and used bamboo canes instead of heavier wooden spars as horizontal braces and it now looks a million dollars.

Content with progress, I tidied away my tools and headed home for a nice hot cup of tea.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Seeds, Shallots and the Storeshed

I spent a very happy evening this week in the kitchen surrounded by pots, seed packets, trays and a bag of compost starting off the first seeds to put in the mini greenhouse.  I now have a large flowerpot sown with leeks, twelve pots of sweetpeas, and three trays of fifteen pots of crimson flowered broad beans.

Before I started, rather than my default setting of sowing a tray of fifteen pots (or multiples thereof) of each seed regardless of what the seed are and how many I would like , I actually spent some time thinking ahead and working out how many plants that I actually want to have to plant out.in a couple of months, and sowed accordingly. Gosh - how organised am I! 

Today at the Hill - in the drizzle - I raked and raked one of the beds which has had one of the compost daleks emptied on it and cleared some rough twiggy leftovers until it looked a bit more respectable, then planted out half a bed of shallot sets.

I picked some kale, and then set about trying to find a committee member to sell me a couple of scoops of fertiliser from the store shed, but with no luck - because of the drizzle, I guess, I had the whole site to myself.  

The club house was open, however, so I had a look in there too, but there were no plotters in evidence.  Mind you, it was a good excuse to have a swift half pint before coming home to change out of my damp clothes.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sowing of 2015

The weather was all Spring sunshine and showers yesterday - much nicer than today's incessant rain - so I wrapped up and headed to the Hill.  I had the place to myself - a surprise on a Saturday lunchtime - which was a pity as I'd wanted to buy some fertiliser from the store shed.  My own compost is all well and good, but I rarely feed the ground with anything else, and that's probably not such a good thing.

After another running repair to the netting tunnel (btw, you're right, Jayne - the tunnel needs the top batten screwing to the tubing rather than string ties), I got the fork out and gave three of the beds a bit of a turn to help incorporate the compost emptied from the daleks a few weeks ago.

I prepared one half bed in particular very well indeed, raking and smoothing; then marking out sowing stations, ten rows of six.  I carefully popped three parsnip seeds at each, and carefully covered over with some multi purpose compost left over from last year.  I am determined that I WILL have parsnips this year!

Careful scrutiny of the other half of that bed shows that the garlic is FINALLY sprouting.  It's like a magic eye picture - a bed of bare earth, then spot one shoot, then another, then you realise that the whole lot is full of 1-2" green blades of new growth. Brilliant!

Then I put up the ladybird house the my big sis gave me for Christmas - I've noticed that in Autumn there are always sleepy ladybirds in the nooks and crannies of the bean canes and drying pods and plants, so I've sited it on the bean T frame upright where I hope they will find it a happy home to hibernate in.

I picked some kale for tea, and tidied up, heading off home satisfied with a successful couple of hours work.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


With the weather very gradually warming up, and the afternoons staying noticeably lighter - hurrah! - my thoughts are turning to what to grow for this season.

It kicks off with a potato day - I went to the Shropshire Potato Day (about 40 miles away) last Sunday and having done my homework beforehand came away with two varieties of first earlies (lady christl and arran pilot), two varieties of second earlies (wilja and charlotte) and two varieties of maincrop (picasso and carolus).

The carlolus are a new variety to me - they are supposed to be blight resistant and tasty, so I'm looking forward to seeing how they perform.

Also on sale were shallots, so I had a couple of bags of those, and - joy of joys - my beloved crimson flowered broad beans, for £2 per half pint mug. Magic!

The first seeds for sowing will be parsnip now things are warming up a little - as fresh seed is recommend each year, I nipped into Wilko and whilst I was looking at the seed display found this value-for-money multipack, which looks good to me.

So I'm all set!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More Winter Work

It's still quite wintery here - as it should be in January - with cold winds, temperatures in the low single figures, and the odd flurry of snow and sleet showers.  So when I made my trip to the Hill at the weekend, I made sure that I had a definite plan in mind to busy myself with.

My first job was to work out how to take a photo of the plot from a good vantage point.  I'm a member of a gardening forum, and am taking part in an interesting topic where members take a photo of their plot or garden from the same point each month so we can all see the changes that occur through the seasons.

The obvious vantage point for my plot is the top of the manure skip, however the handy set of steps that used to be lashed to one side are no longer in situ, so I had to clamber up the other end and make my way over the manure and leaf mould mountain to my chosen spot.

Great - although I'm not sure what I'll do later in the year when the skip gets less full as the manure is used up.   I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

The photo is as I arrived at the plot, so the first job was to mend the brassica tunnel (not for the last time, I fear) - I need to have a look at why other people's seem more robust than mine.  More canes lashed to the hoops, perhaps.

I took the canes down from the bean frames, collected the black turtle bean pods for drying and shelling, then forked over the bed.  I moved the big T-shaped frame ends to their new bed for this year, securing them as usual by digging them in deeply, thumping them home and screwing them to the bed ends.

My last job was to empty the third dalek composter, spread around the good compost and put back the uncomposted stuff with a couple of sacks of leaves to get it going for the next round.

Irritatingly, I've planted garlic where the fourth composter should be moved to, so that will have to wait till midsummer before that one gets moved.  No matter.

Chris from down the bottom stopped for a chat as she was on her way home - it was getting dusk by then and so I headed off before I chilled down.  Not before forgetting to pick kale and leaving my lumphammer out, though - both of which I remembered as I wallowed in a very welcome, very hot bath.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Winter Work

I went to the plot over Christmas to pick some kale, but that's about it.  The older I get, the less keen I am to get cold and wet for the sake of a jobs which can just as easily be done when it is not freezing or raining.

I went to the Hill yesterday, though - despite cold and sleet - because I was making an Irish Stew for tea and that called for a parsnip.

It's a good job that the recipe only called for one parsnip, because - disappointingly - that was the entire extent of the parsnip harvest this year.  Boo.  I picked some kale too - the nero cavelo has been good this winter, and robust enough to stand a light scrub with a brush in the sink to dislodge the whitefly.

Unsurprisingly, given the weather, I had the Hill to myself.  I made some running repairs to the netting tunnel which the weather has blown about a bit before considering one of the winter jobs - and not a fun one - which will need doing before the new growing season begins.  To empty and move the dalek composters up a bed.

I was already on site, cold and miserable, so thought that I might as well get one with it; so I did the dalek dance and jiggled two of the composters to empty them; spread the useable stuff over the beds, moved them up a bed apiece and refilled them with the uncomposted portion aong with a couple of bags each of horse manure. Because if you are going to be cold and tired and rained on, you might as well be dirty and smelly too.

My fingers were numb by this time, so I went home with my single ood-like parsnip in a cloud of whitefly for a warming cup of tea and a bath.

The stew was really good. 
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