Sunday, 5 June 2011

Fear of frosts over - a busy week on the allotment and in the greenhouse

Thanks to my carpenter Dad I now have a shed.  Most of the materials were recycled leaving me to buy just the boards and felt for the roof.  Having been made by what we could lay our hands on it's proportions are a bit unusual (6'X3' and very tall) but it has a heavy frame and is anchored down well.  It'll serve my purposes; holding a few second hand tools of little intrinsic value and keeping other odds and ends dry and in one place. It's appearance has stimulated some good natured jibes from my plot neighbours including it being likened to an outside loo or ticket office!  Overall I'm very pleased with it and think it's quirky design lends it a certain charm.  I'm now on the lookout for some hard standing to complete the seating area next to the shed but have covered the ground with some horticultural membrane in the meantime to suppress any weeds.

Over the last few weeks I've been planting out dwarf broad beans (Sutton Dwarf), peas (Sugar Snap & Kelvedon Wonder) and since the risk of frost has passed, runner beans (Scarlett Emperor), french beans and climbing french beans (Blue Lake).  Also, assorted brassica seedlings - cabbages, brussel sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflowers. 
 However, during the last week the brassicas have come under attack from 'cabbage flea beetle' which has resulted in leaf damage to differing degrees on each plant.  I initially tried spraying with soapy water to no avail but have since been advised to use Milton sterilising fluid which I will try - if successful I will replace any plants which are no longer viable. 

As June arrived I was able to plant out my pumpkins (2) and Butternut Squash (3) plants.  Having watched my neighbours dig large holes, fill with compost and then plant their squashes over the top, I did the same. I have been surprised at the amount of wind our plots are subjected to and this seems most often from the West or South Westerly direction following the course of the valley.  To give the pumpkins and squashes with their broad leaves some initial shelter I raised a semi-circular bank around each planting hole and also mulched with some of the dead grass I cleared from my plot earlier.
At around six/seven weeks after planting my potatoes and onions are beginning to catch up after their late start.  I'll soon add some fertiliser (Blood, Fish & Bone) around these plants to give them a boost - I'll try to do this prior to a confident rain forecast so it'll wash in.  There is no water on our allotments other than what we can bring or collect from our shed roofs so it is a scarce commodity reserved for watering in and establishing seeds and seedlings. Another reason I'm pleased to have my shed up and running.

Planting out seedlings has left me room in the greenhouse at home to pot up my chilli plants - 4 Habanero, 6 Razzmatazz (all raised from seed) and one Dorset Naga bought as a plug plant from the 'Edible Garden' show at Stoneleigh earlier in the year.  Three tomato plants (Gardener's Delight) have taken their place in the border joining the various salad leaves we've been harvesting during the past month or so. The other border houses a courgette plant, some beetroot, radishes and salad leaves which will soon make way for three more assorted tomato plants which are 'self sets' so the variety will be a surprise.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Before & After

A month after starting work on my new allotment I'm pleased to say that 'operation clearance' is complete.  It's taken a quite a few hours during evenings, weekends and bank holidays (I've done little else other than go to work over the last month) but the dry weather recently has certainly helped.  Not only did it mean I could get on the plot more often it also made the ground lighter. 
In the meantime, between weeding, I've been sowing in the greenhouse at home and have a multitude of plants ready to install in my cleared ground, mostly after the risk of frosts in the next couple of weeks - I need to resist the temptation to put things out now although I can gain some satisfaction that the first few of my potatoes planted four weeks ago are now showing through. 

Apart from planting my next project is to obtain a shed and organise water collection and storage - more on this later.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Pause for thought

It has been just over a week since I began on my allotment and after the initial flurry of activity I've reached a waiting stage.  Whilst a small area has been cleared of weeds and planted (potatoes, onions, a few leeks, garlic, broad beans and two small rows each of beetroot and parsnips), the rest has been sprayed with weedkiller; this will need a couple of weeks to take effect before more ground clearing, digging and weeding can take place.  After around a week there are already some early signs that the weeds are beginning to suffer as they appear somewhat paler than their surroundings.

This pause has created an opportunity for me to think and to make plans but also prepare.  Both preparation in terms of planting seeds at home to then transplant when the ground is ready but also in obtaining some of the items I'll need to get things underway.  Luckily there were a few slabs and pallets piled at one end of my allotment which along with others will form the base for a shed and my compost heaps.  I'd like to use recycled items and materials where possible.  So far my local Freecycle sites have provided me with a water butt and wheelbarrow, both well used but perfectly functional.  I shall continue to look for either a shed or materials to build one, along with other things which can be used to store water.  A family member had a large roll of left over weed suppressing membrane which they were only too glad to see the back of; this will be useful to me as it can cover sections of ground keeping the weeds at bay allowing me to tackle one section at a time.  The use of old carpets for this job is discouraged on our site following previous tenants using these then leaving them behind for others to remove.

As well as being on the look-out for 'stuff', I've had my thoughts on plans and strategy.  First of all I began by reminding myself why I had applied for an allotment - not only to obtain fresh food but to expand my growing experience whilst at the same time getting fresh air and exercise.  Next was to decide what I wanted to grow (we wrote a list of the vegetables and fruit we used regularly).  Then my task was to research the best strategy for using my land to grow it and put down some ideas on paper. 

In addition to other allotment blogs, I found John Harrison's book 'The Essential Allotment Guide' a very useful source of information and in accord with the advice provided by my allotment neighbours, most especially site champion John.  My plan involves beds for permanent crops (herbs, rhubarb, possibly asparagus later), four crop rotation areas (potatoes, onions & roots, brassicas and legumes) some spare ground (to try different things each year perhaps) and space for storage, seed beds and sitting/work areas.  As well as giving me an idea of what I'm working to achieve this plan also helps me to structure doing things in stages and identifying the priorities.  Having got two of the rotation areas planted already, my next task is to clear and plant the other two rotation beds whilst preparing the permanent and spare beds for full use next season perhaps.  I understand that these plans may need to be adapted and changed in light of my experiences but I feel more confident to deal with things by having my initial ideas on paper.

Thanks for reading. 

Monday, 18 April 2011

Spray day...and my first plantings

Sunday 17th April - Second day on the allotment and it was another fine, dry day with little or no wind.  Perfect conditions for spraying the bulk of my plot with Roundup (as per the advice given by my champion grower neighbour,  John).  This area is roughly 30 x 6 yards and although I would have liked to tackle things completely organically it seemed to me a massive and time consuming task. 

Although, not a reason for my decision to compromise my organic principles, this decision had the benefit that I could demonstrate my willingness to take advice from my more experienced neighbours.

 Not only did I receive the advice but the loan of a spray bottle, and once I'd arrived with the bottle of  Roundup John was so pleased to see his derelict neighbouring plot being dealt with that he undertook the spraying on my behalf, for which I was very grateful.  I have to leave things on the sprayed land now for 2-3 weeks so my attention was directed to planting my cleared section and planning for the future.

I have a basic skeleton of a plan for a four area rotation system which I think will occupy between one half to two-thirds of my total area; the cleared and dug area represents about two of these four areas.  So, following John's advice, it was time to plant potatoes in one and onions & roots in the other.

One half of my cleared area seemed to have been tended more recently than the other so I chose the less tended area to plant the potatoes - thinking the task of digging trenches to plant would help loosen the ground and allow me to remove the 'twitch' which seemed more populous in this section.  Seven rows of potatoes went in and half a bucket of the white, brittle twitch roots came out!  I planted one row (14) of 'Anya'; three rows (48) of Arran Pilot, first early; and three of Maris Piper, main crop.

Other than that I put in a row of Dutch Shallots (14), a block of onion sets (approx 100) and 10 Leek plants kindly donated by my other neighbour, Brush.  The space is not completely full as I've left room to plant some roots soon (most probably carrots, beetroot, radishes..but definitely Parsnips).

Tips learnt today included to cut the papery 'tail' from the top of my onion sets before planting (to avoid birds investigating these protruding from the ground and in doing so pulling them out one by one) and how to plant Leeks.  Make a hole with a crowbar, drop seedling into the hole, fill hole with water - job done.

Time to take a rest from digging (for the moment) and to put my mind to planning and preparation for the future.  Things to think about include: organising and dividing the plot; planting indoors (squash, pumpkins, runner beans, french beans etc.) for planting out once the ground is prepared; and thinking about more permanent fixtures - compost facilities, water collection and building(s)?  

I was asked the question yesterday in the local Slade Valley dialect "eya gunna ev an utt?" My answer was yes!  Need to do some investigation though - new shed, second hand or home made?  More on this later...

Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

John, Barry and a man called Brush

Saturday 16th April - my first day on my new plot.  In my eagerness to get things underway I arrived far earlier than anyone else and enthusiastically set about clearing the weeds.  A small patch at one end appeared to have been tended more recently so I went through this quite rapidly but things got harder as I progressed further up the plot. 

Among the weeds to be cleared are brambles, dandelions (some with unfeasibly long tap roots), lots of grass and underground the brittle, spindly white roots of what is locally referred to as 'twitch' (this latter intruder will take some time to eradicate and will need some perseverance).  I haven't found any 'mares tail' yet although I noticed this is present on other nearby untended plots. 

By the end of the day I'd cleared a patch about 6 x 9 yards wide and found the soil to be much deeper, crumblier and lighter than any of the gardens I'd experienced in the local area.

On my first day I had the opportunity to meet my plot neighbours: John (who is revered by all concerned and has the title 'champion grower' due to local vegetable show results); Barry, a committee member (who it seems has his hand on the tiller following a fairly recent round of committee resignations); and Brush (who explained to me that despite not being fond of eating most vegetables, he enjoys the fun of growing them all the same). 

I must say that I could not have had a warmer welcome.  All three offered themselves as a source of advice, whilst doing so both Barry and Brush indicated that John was the Master adding that they took their lead from him.  Among the advice given to me on the first day included: warnings about digging too fast and the value of doing things a little at a time (my aching back confirms the validity of this advice); to clear and plant as I go along in order to achieve some sense of satisfaction and progress (John said that onions are my priority at the moment, followed by potatoes then the rest can take their turn later); and finally John advised that, having cleared about a quarter of the plot to plant, I should spray the rest with weedkiller.  This rather surprised me and seemed to be against my instincts and good intentions.  However, it was explained to me that the advised product (Roundup) would be effective at killing the weeds down to the roots and would have no lasting side effects for subsequent planting or wildlife once dried.  Along with the advice, came the very kind offer of the loan of a spray bottle (considered much more effective than a watering can) and instruction as to carrying out the job.  I've arranged to meet John on Day two to carry out this task as the fine dry weather I'm told is perfect.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

In the beginning...

This is essentially a blog detailing, step-by-step, my first venture into allotment gardening.  I’ve been growing things on a small scale ‘back garden’ basis since I left my childhood home.  I fell into things by accident.  I spent my childhood in a small terraced house with a concrete yard, without paying much attention to my mothers’ efforts to decorate it with pots of summer bedding plants.  I left for a small terraced house of my own – in doing so I took possession of a strip of lawn 100 feet long at the far end of which was a pile of rubble and assorted rubbish.   I removed the pile and was left with a patch of bare soil, some spare time and a spark of interest to see if I could get anything to grow.  The spark turned into a flame which has been burning now for about 20 years and gardening has been a hobby ever since.   After the long strip of lawn I moved to a house with better proportioned back garden complete with mature fruit trees (not much else) and an additional front garden.  Over the past ten or twelve years I’ve gradually filled this space with the customary shrubs, perennials, bedding and even hens. 

Whilst I’ve grown the odd few vegetables in pots, growbags, a couple of small raised beds and an 8’X6’ greenhouse – my growing ambitions now have the opportunity to be fulfilled: after a couple of  years on waiting lists I found out this week that I have been allocated an allotment. 

My current job takes me all over the country and during my adult life I’ve worked in London and  
large towns and cities close by.  However, I have never felt the need to pull up my roots and move myself and family away from where I’ve always lived, in the 'Slade Valley' - a small strip of rural Northamptonshire.

The River Slade (more accurately described as a brook) and also the house I was born into are yards from my allotment and the site of my new endeavours, hence the title of my blog. 

I'm new to blogging too. My idea is to keep a record of my allotment experiences: successes & failures and changes to both my plot and my gardening abilities (hopefully progress!).  Also, I'm hoping I can benefit from advice and feedback along the way

Initially I expect posts to be quite frequent, followed by less frequent but nevertheless regular additions.  I hope these will be of interest to you and I'd love to hear what you think. 
Thanks for reading.