Welcome to our allotment blog. We've got a plot, now we're trying to figure out what we're doing! So please join us - put the kettle on, sit back, and dream about Living The Good Life...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

"Oh, to be young and in shorts"

After hearing the above said on Scrubs on TV, Adam seems to have adopted it as his motto - to be quoted when the sun is shining and he wishes his legs were on show. Today was a gorgeous day - felt more like April than January - and so the shorts were most definitely on.

It hasn't rained for a couple of days so the ground was dry enough to plant our onion and shallot sets. We've created a big bed specifically for oniony things, except leeks, which'll go somewhere else where they can stay put over the winter. We've now got a few rows of garlic, the earliest of which were planted about a month ago, and are already growing, plus about 45 shallots, which will multiply, and at least a million onions. (More like a hundred, actually, but still - I think we may have overestimated our onion consumption.) Here's me (or at least my legs) watering the onion bed.

Also made a start on The Biggest Strawberry Patch In The World, which may have
developed its own currency and capital city, it has got that huge. Seriously, the little blighters have sent runners off everywhere. The patch came as part and parcel of the plot, and last summer produced tonnes and tonnes of strawberries. I'd made a feeble effort to weed the patch when we first got the plot in late April 07, but the ground was baking hard and I only got about a third of the way through before deciding that in fact it would probably be ok, seeing as how it'd survived at least one year of total neglect. But, this is the season of Getting The Allotment Organised, so the dreaded task could be put off no longer. It had to be tackled head-on. After attempting to weed between each individual strawberry plant, I decided that was a silly idea and would take the best part of a year. The thing to do was to dig the whole patch, pull out weeds and strawberry plants alike, and then re-plant the best strawberries in sensible rows - all the easier to put straw down between them and to pick the tasty fruit in the summer.

Didn't get very far. There are so many weeds - including bindweed roots - that I only dug about a quarter of the total amount in 2 hours! But we do now have one nice strawberry patch - one of an intended four - looking all neat and tidy.

We also met some new allotmenteers, Peter and Jenny, who have taken on a plot near to ours
. They're friends of Phil, who's got a plot next-door-but-one from us, the other side of the giant blackberry bush. It's nice to see some more people in the area around us, not only for the purposes of having a chat, sharing tips and getting to know everyone, but also because the more plots near us that are tended, the fewer the number of weeds that'll set seed and blow onto our freshly turned earth, where they'll decide it's nice and put down endless roots.

And it's nearly February already! Time to plant broad beans methinks...


Today we had some visitors to the plot. After a lovely lunch at Mum and Dad'
s with my cousin Chris, my sister Jen and her fella, Elliott, they all came to see how much work we'd done. Adam had been working like a trooper, doing some more digging while I went off to lunch (lasagne, if you're interested).

They were very impressed, of course. We had a trip to look at the communal well (oooh!) and had a peer inside which revealed a high water level and and a floating dead rat... nice. Then Dad poked at a strange metal thing we'd found on the allotment last year, while I kept my distance as, frankly, it looks a bit like a bomb. (If anyone can zoom in on that thing my dad's holding and knows what it is, please let me know. It's got a kind of valve on the top... ta).

Then dad showed us how to force the rhubarb. We'd been dithering, trying to find a big black bucket, but apparently an old flowerpot stuffed with dry long grass from the plot next door will do just as well. The canes are to stop it all blowing away. If this rhubarb is actually nice, I'll eat my hat. And the rhubarb, obviously.

And please note the fancy iron bedstead headboard thing in the background. Found in the bushes, and now being used as a bit of fence. Ah, the random uses for things found at allotments. Next time you're on a train, look out for allotments as you whizz past. They're often near train lines, and look a bit ramshackle from a distance but I find them fasinating - always have. On the commute to work I go past one
on the outskirts of Leagrave, and usually end up peering out of the window, nose pressed to the glass like a madwoman, trying to see what people are growing.

The weather actually wasn't as grey as it looks in the photo at the top, and the sunset was gorgeous. (I wonder if the electricity people would consider taking the pylons down - they're ruining my sunset views....)

Oh, by the way, Louise, the site secretary went round yesterday Sorting Things Out, so we are officially on plot number 145A. (Yes, 'tis true, we didn't even know our plot number until ten months down the line.) Now I can make a number to go on the shed(s), and then the plan is to paint them in beautiful colours. Sky blue with daisies? Mr Men themed? Only time will tell....

Back home, and ooh, excitement! Our potatoes are chitting! Or is it called sprouting? Last week I'd laid out the Home Guard
earlies to chit, and left them in a corner of the room, in light, but not direct sunlight, as the books said to do. Then when I went to put the tray of Picasso maincrop taters next to them, discovered that the Home Guards have little sprouts! This isn't the most exciting picture in the world, I appreciate, but - look! Little sprouty bits! Usually the only time I see potatoes do anything is when they've been left in the cupboard for too long in the dark and are trying to come out and play. These shoots/sprouts/chits look like they'll be big and strong and give us lots of tasty tubers.

I will now take a moment to wonder at the marvels of nature....
The potatoes are Growing. By. Themselves.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Lists, lists, lists

We sat down and made a wish list last night of all the things that we would like to grow. It seems we each have a slightly different approach. I get excited about things I know I like, things that we’ll enjoy eating, and the interesting varieties of said items - like quirky shaped squashes, yellow courgettes and multi-coloured carrots. Adam, on the other hand, likes to add really random things to the wish list – stuff we’ve never eaten before, let alone know how to grow and what to do with. Things like kohl rabi and asparagus peas. I think we might have an interesting crop this year!

The list came to about £30. That initially seems a LOT to spend on seeds, but then you consider how much fresh food you'll actually get for your money and how much you spend in a week at Tesco (or on a night out), and it doesn't seem so bad. Especially when some of the seeds will be kept for next year too.

While he may pick out some strange veggies, Adam is good at thinking forward to next winter, and is keen to add stuff to the list like kale, parsnips, swedes and spinach, so we’ll hopefully get more winter greens and veg than this year. Our sprouts this year were nice and easy - thanks to Sian providing us with three seedlings - but, to be honest, three plants do not a hearty crop make. At the weekend we picked our first sprouts that've been ready since Christmas, so I think it’ll have to be the more the merrier next time on the sprout front. Also our spinach is a wee bit pathetic, having vastly underestimated the amount we needed to sow; our spring cabbage won’t be ready until (surprise surprise) spring, and although we’ve had a few beautiful baby turnips, about the size of golf balls, the rest aren’t yet ready to be plucked from the ground.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Getting organised-ish

Ok, today it didn't rain. Yeay! But we missed most of the morning after having a lie-in. Oops! So we decided to work extra-hard and get the plot sorted out... creating a plan for the coming year. Or attempting to, anyway!

You can just about see in the picture above that we marked out where the beds are going to go with nice blue string. We've decided to have big beds as permanent features, and sub-divide them if we need to with planks for walking on. (This will help to not compress the soil.) We've marked out 4 beds on each side of the main path so far, with some narrower beds along the far left boundary line for the permanent features - the gooseberry bush, raspberry canes and 2 small globe artichoke plants.

It's getting confusing trying to work out what needs to go where. Crop rotation sounds easy, but it's somehow very complicated... brassicas, legumes, root crops... waah! The only thing we're certain about is that the onions and shallots are going to go either side of the already-planted row of garlic, in a big bed down towards the compost heap... but do we put the leeks in there too?... or shall they go somewhere else? Decisions, decisions.

The spring cabbage is coming along. I say cabbage like we've only got one! I got carried away, and I think we have about 40 cabbages growing! I hate throwing away seedling thinnings, and when too many cabbages germinated last autumn I ended up just transplanting them instead! Ah well, at least the slugs haven't nibbled them too badly. And I guess the netting is actually keeping the pigeons off. Hoorah!

And check out the rhubarb! It's started growing, and is kind of slowly erupting through the ground like something out of the Alien films. Looks really wierd! I was quite intrigued, hence the photos. I think Adam was little confused for a moment, when he turned around and saw me nose-to-earth trying to get up close with the camera.

We're going to get an old dustbin and force it to see if it can taste as nice as Dad says it can do. Otherwise when we eat it it makes our teeth feel funny, which is a bit offputting! If all else fails, I'll take a leaf out of Sian's book and make rhubarb rum (sounds odd, I know, but it's surprisingly tasty, oh yes!)

Also moved 4 little fennel plants (the herb, not the bulb variety) which had self-seeded and were being smothered by long grass. I've also moved a little herby bush (in the background) which is yet to be identified - think it might be oregano... smells lovely anyway! So we'll now have a small herb section. There's loads of mint growing too, just off the left hand side of the pic. I'm planning on making Mojitos this summer.

Summer seems a long way away, but I'm sure it'll fly by! So much to do before then. We've got to chit our early potatoes before planting them in a few weeks time. Need to plant out a row of onions and a row of shallots once the soil has dried out a little bit (or they'll rot) and still need to buy a whole load of seeds and work out what needs to be sown when.

And I want to build a cold frame.

Ever feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew? : )

Rainy Saturday - but bargains galore!

It rained a lot on Saturday, so we decided to go to the Allotment Society shop which is based at some allotments to the other side of Bedford. We ended up with seed potatoes - Home Guard which is an early cropper, and Picasso, which is a main crop and should get nice and big, big enough to use as baking potatoes, anyway. I'm looking forward to our first home-grown jacket potatoes, crispy skins with lots of butter.

We also got Centurion onions, which are the little yellowish ones on the right - each little bulb should just get bigger and bigger - and also shallots. Can't remember the name exactly, it's Red something... The shallots'll create clumps of up to 10 or 12 bulbs, which got me thinking - why do shallots do that when onions don't? How do they know? It's like garlic bulbs which also create a whole bulb from a single clove. Ain't nature clever!

Oh, and we also got some sugar snap peas, in the bag on top there, which we're going to try this year as well as mange tout, which were really tasty last summer. That whole bag was 50p! In fact, everything in the picture came to a grand total of £7.50! Bargain! Just think how many packs of mange tout you could buy from any well-known supermarket for that amount... about 4, if you're lucky.

We also wandered down to the plot to have a quick check up on stuff. Waaaay too wet to do anything really, but I got to wear my wellies and splash in some puddles (big kid). These bricks in the pic are just outside my shed - we uncovered them when we were tidying up last spring... need a bit of weeding now, but nice eh?

Adam also fixed a bit of fence next to the compost heap that had come loose in the wind, using his double-edged billhook. Here he is, whittling away and looking very pleased with himself. A very handy item, that billhook, especially if you're wanting to make things pointy and stick 'em in the ground, or hack at brambles which are trying to take over the world. (Grrr. It's lucky that blackberries are so tasty, 'cos the goddamn plants haven't got anything else going for them.)

Using the billhook is good fun, too - makes you feel like Ray Mears. I think Adam was Mearing very well in this instance.

After a bit of pottering, I mainly sat in the door of my shed, out of the wind and rain
, hoping for a rain-free Sunday.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Eeeeeeeeee! Seeeeeds!

That was the noise I (unfortunately) made yesterday evening when Adam told me I had an Exciting Package. Very excited to receive our first ever seeds from our first ever seed catalogue order. Thank you Mr Thompson and Mr Morgan, whoever you are. And now we just have to work out where (and when) we’re going to plant the leeks, green beans, butternut squash, swiss chard, multicoloured radishes and Brussels sprouts, whose seeds we are shaking in their packets, full of the promise of vegetabley goodness. And we’ve still got so much more to sort out before spring arrives… good ol' courgettes – yellow ones too – tomatoes, peas, and mange tout, broad beans, runner beans, different varieties of squashes (squashes? or just squash... why are they called squash?...). I want multicoloured carrots, parsnips and swedes as well, and possibly lettuce as a sort of catch-crop. Not forgetting the wonderful sweet sweet sweet sweetcorn which was amazing last year, even with all the rain and not much sun.

So much to do!

Monday, 14 January 2008

2008... oooh, it's cold

Greetings, people! Welcome to our ten-pole-sized blog, featuring all the fun and frolics from an allotment in Bedford! Not much experience, but bags of enthusiasm, lots of dirt just a-waitin' to be cultivated... and his-and-her's sheds!!! What more do you need?!

So, new year, new resolutions. Mine is to no longer be a lazy layabout and actually Spend Time At The Allotment Even If It’s Cold And Windy. It’s a bit like going to the gym – once you get there it’s good fun and you get loads done and feel all self satisfied afterwards, with a warm glow. It’s even better because we know that in a few months (or maybe even weeks!) the plot’ll be just bursting with produce all fresh and shiny and just waiting to be plucked of the branch or plant or whatever, and rushed home and eaten. Or better yet, eaten right then and there. Yum yum yum.

Anyway, I'm sure some of you will be thinking 'what on earth is she doing writing a blog about the allotment? She can’t even get on Facebook more than once a month!' But that’s the plan… an at-least-once-a-monthly update which may not interest anyone particularly, but gives me a chance to get all rambley and excitable about The Things That Are Growing. As I tend to do. (Especially when you have put that self same thing in the ground as a tiny weeny seed and (poof!) as if by magic a few weeks later it’s an actual carrot, crunchy and peppery and a proper carrotty colour, not that slightly luminous orange you get at the supermarket.)

Last weekend was a busy one, as Saturday was probably the first really lovely weekend day of 2008. So, we set off for the allotment with bags, tools, camera and soup in thermos flasks... more like an expedition really. I’d also got my fancy new gardening gloves - two pairs, for all seasons and weather conditions (I am struggling to actually get them anywhere near some mud, however) as well as my fancy hand-fork and trowel (thanks Mum!). A note here, my blog-reading friends. Don’t bother buying cheapo £1.99 tools. They look all nice and shiny in the bargain shops, but as soon as they go anywhere near an obstinate root or a bit of clayey soil they just bend at the neck, a la Mr Soft from those Softmint adverts. And then eventually they snap in half and are Good For Nothing. I now have nice tools, nice gloves. And hot ribena for its warming properties. And all is right with the world.

We spent most of Saturday setting out where the paths are going to go in the plot (see the before and after pics above), so it looks all tidy and organised and like we know exactly what we’re doing (hah!). We’re attempting not so much the ‘No Dig’ method as a ‘Dig Less’ method, so by having lots of paths we can walk on the soil less and it won’t get so compressed. This, apparently, is what plant roots like. And worms, which come under my list of Good Beasts, along with ladybirds.

Spent a good four hours pottering about. And I also managed to aquire some raspberry canes (above) from the deserted, overgrown and sadly abandoned plot next door. I have convinced myself it was a mercy mission as they were about to be throttled by the evil blackberry bushes (Grr, get ye hence). I think we now have 5 wee raspberry canes planted, which I am just willing to survive in their new spot.

Then came Sunday, blustery and blowy with a freezing wind, but we went to the allotment anyway! But heard some bad news from one of our allotment chums. Apparently some time over the past two weeks his shed has been burnt down. I guess some people don't have anything better to do. He was gutted (ooh, bad choice of words), and it made us think a bit more about what we leave in the sheds.

Adam did lots more digging and fence-post-sticking-in (check out his crookedy fence which he built in the Autumn!) while I planted some more garlic (next to the row which is coming up below) and some baby globe artichoke plants. So all in all we're feeling pleased with ourselves.. but roll on spring eh? It's bloody cold...