Friday 29 February 2008

A closer look at chitting...

I popped up to the allotment on the way home from work last night to check how our plastic sheeting was holding up and found that it had been blown around a bit by the wind since the weekend. It didn't take long to put it all back in place along with a few extra weights to try and keep it in place this time. Something tells me that come next winter we'll have to come up with a better way of keeping those sheets in place...

I was reading Soliman's excellent blog this morning and saw the fantastic close up pictures of his chitting potatoes and thought I'd have a go at something similar. When you have a proper look at those strange coloured shoots they're really quite beautiful. Well worth a closer look anyway.

Almost all the red cabbage seeds I planted at the weekend have come through now, 8 out of 12 to be precise. I've taken them out of the propagator now to try and stop them growing too fast, their place in the warmth will be taken by something else in the next day or to no doubt.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

The fastest seedling in the west and some cloche questions...

Wow, I'm impressed, it's only been three days and already we have a little seedling poking its head through the soil. One of the red cabbage's we planted on Sunday afternoon seems to have decided to get a head start as it was stood there waiting to say hello when we got home from work today. The only thing I can think that may have caused this unexpectedly fast germination is the fact that the seed tray full of soil had been sat in the propagator for a week before we planted in it, so I guess the soil would have been nice and warm to get things started. Still, whatever the reason I'm impressed. Well done Mr Cabbage!

Changing the subject somewhat, can anyone out there answer a couple of questions for me? It's about those mini cloche tunnels that are appearing in all the gardening shops at the moment, you see I'm a little confused. They seem come in two main types, there's open ended ones and ones with a draw string to close the ends off. Now, I don't see how the ones with open ends can be much use at all, surely they can't retain much warmth and any critters wanting to munch on your crops can simple walk on in with ease. So that would point towards the ones with draw string ends being the better ones surely? The only problem is that I'd imagine the crops in either of those kinds need regular watering since the poly material doesn't allow water through it. The solution to that would surely be the fleece covered tunnels as that lets moisture through (doesn’t it?) but I'd imagine also doesn't do as good a job of keeping the temperature up... So, there seems to me to be no ideal mini cloche tunnel thing, or am I missing something? What do you all use and why?

On the same subject, I've seen various poly and fleece mini tunnels for sale that all have metal hoops that you feed through slots in the fabric to create the tunnel effect. Now, we've got a load of metal hoops that were left on the plot by a previous owner and we bought a load of fleece at the weekend. My question is would my plan of simply laying the fleece over the hoops and securing to the ground with something (bricks? pegs? ummmmm... ideas?) work ok or do the more experienced amongst you see a fatal flaw in that plan?

Next bed to be dug is the root veg one as we want to get some early carrots in it under some form of cover hence the sudden interest in all things cloche related.

Monday 25 February 2008

All systems go!

We've had our plot five weeks now and although we've been working up there at least once a week since then we've still not seen many of our fellow plot holders. This weekend however the site seemed a bit livelier with a good five or six plots being worked when we turned up on Saturday. Amongst them was the owner of our neighbouring plot, a lovely guy called Mike (I think, I have a horrible habit of forgetting names three seconds after being told them) who came over and had a chat. We also met a nice lady (who's name completely escapes me, see, told you I was bad at this) who has a plot half way down the site, she told us that in the summer it's normally packed and seems like a little village all on it's own which sounds like just what we were hoping for. The one thing everyone we've spoken to has in common is they all say what a great plot we've been given, how well looked after it had been by the previous owner (who we now know is 82, no wonder he had to give it up!) and what a large amount of produce he used to get out of it. So, no pressures there then, let’s hope we can live up to his standards.

In terms of jobs jobbed we got another bed weeded and dug over before covering two of the beds in manure from the large pile that had appeared at the top of the site.
We've covered one of the freshly manured beds over with plastic again which may or may not be the things to do. Most people on the site seem to leave the ground uncovered once they've put the manure on but we thought we'd try covering one back up to see if that keeps it all moist and helps it do its job better. We'll see what happens... The manure is actually less strawy than it looks in this pic, we'll try and pick the worst of it out when we come to plant/dig it in though.
It doesn't feel like we actually got a huge amount done really but it's all progress and with most of the beds still covered in plastic the plot doesn't actually look much different to how it did before the day before. Out of the nine beds currently marked out four have been dug and three of those manured (I think that's all we'll manure this year as I know some things aren't that keen on freshly manured ground) so there's still a lot of work to be done. Thankfully, with us planning to start most of our crops at home in pots, there's no immediate rush for ground space so we can continue to do one bed a weekend and not kill ourselves all being well.

Talking of starting things off at home, Sunday marked the official start of our sowing season. I've got a sowing diary all set out and I'm going to try to stick to that as best I can which should mean sowing little and often rather than starting a million things off at once. First up were some red cabbage (Fuego) and bell peppers (California Wonder) for the allotment as well as some chilli (Capsicum Twilight) and three different types of basil (normal, lemon and dark opal) to grow at home.

As you can see, not everything we grow will be done at the allotment, as well as things like herbs and chillies we've also got some over wintering garlic (Solent Wright) in the back garden as well as some very sad looking onions which I think have suffered from a late start (thanks to Dobies delivering them horribly late) coupled with a certain amount of attention from our two very curious kittens, I'll give them a bit longer just in case they perk up but at the moment I'm tempted just to pull them up and pretend they never happened. Here's the garlic though, never grown it before so we're quite pleased with them so far.

We also did a bit of a trawl through the cheapy shops in Gloucester on Saturday to see what we could find for the garden/allotment. Best find was some garden fleece in Poundland, 1m x 6m for a quid isn't to be sniffed at so we nabbed three packs and may go back for more. Also in Poundland Melanie (who is determined that we'll be growing some flowers this year at home now we won't be filling all the space with veg) picked up a load of different flower bulbs, I could tell you the varieties but obviously being a man their names went in one ear and out the other while I concentrated on how much fleece we'd need. However, some flowery things did grab my attention when I spied a box of rake in flower seed. It seems to be about twenty different types of flower seed in a box that you can just scatter on the prepared soil, rake in and leave it to grow a quick and easy display of colour. It seemed like the perfect way to bring a splash of colour to the allotment so I bought a pack and with any luck we'll run a long thin flower bed along the edge of the plot next to the path which should look nice as well as attract the bug eating insects.

So there we go, a busy weekend all in all. The plot is slowly taking shape, a few things have been sown, we've topped up our gardening supplies and I even bought some flower seed. Wonders will never cease.

Monday 18 February 2008

All you need

Picture the scene, it's a beautifully clear and sunny Sunday afternoon in February, the sun is warm but can't hide the nip left in the air from the frost the night before. You've just spent an hour digging the rich dark soil and you can feel that pleasant ache in your muscles that signifies a job well done. You wipe the sweat from your brow with the back of a hand caked in mud and make for the corner of your plot where a deckchair sits invitingly. You relax into it reaching to the bag lent against it and pulling out a bottle of ice cold water and your lunch. You sit back, taking a long well deserved swig from the bottle, feeling the refreshing liquid quenching your thirst and look out over your small part of England.

Ahhh, life is good.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Black plastic, garlic and a day off.

We both had Wednesday off work this week for non plot related reasons, but that didn't stop us nipping up there for an hour to do a couple of jobs. At the weekend I'd gone to a few places in search of black plastic to cover the beds in but found the prices astronomical (£1.50 per meter at Wyvale for example!) however, a chance trip to ASDA yesterday revealed they were selling it in 10m packs (1.5m x 10m) for only £2.99! We only bought one pack as a test and took it up to the plot with us where we found it covered two and a half beds perfectly. Another trip to ASDA is now defiantly in order before the weekend to buy three more packs to cover the rest.

The eagle eyed among you may have spotted the chicken wire covered ground in the bed nearest the camera. This display of organisation can mean only one thing; we are now officially growing veg on our allotment. Despite being told by a fellow plot holder that it was too late to sow garlic (if the warm weather continues he's probably right) we figured that the couple of bulbs we'd bought may as well go in the ground as in the bin so we prepared a quarter of one of the dug beds ready for planting and popped them in the ground so we'll see what happens.

That was about all we had time for, it was nice to get a chance to have some time up there midweek even if it wasn't long. Roll on lighter evenings when midweek sessions will become far easier.

Monday 11 February 2008

A February picnic

Well that was a good weekend. As ever two days was nowhere near enough time to get all the jobs jobbed but hey, there's always the next one.

Saturday was ‘Allotment Day’ so first we took my parents up to see the plot under the guise of asking them for help identifying the fruit bushes in the netted tunnel but also because we wanted to show it off. After the Ooooh’s, Ahhhh’s and looks of envy we all crammed into the fruit tunnel to have a mooch. The slightly inconclusive verdict was a number of confirmed gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes as well as some as yet unidentified specimens that could be anything at this stage. We’re thinking the plan should be to leave everything as it for now to see what ends up growing, then we'll know what we're dealing with for next year and can prune etc as required come the autumn.

Since it was turning into a lovely warm day once my parents had gone we popped home to make up a little picnic and brought it back up to the plot to eat. I think we probably looked a little strange picnicking on the allotment in the middle of February but at least it shows we're keen and it was far nicer than eating sat inside at home.

Then it was time to graft, Melanie set to work clearing all the old brasicas that had been left in the ground. There were two long rows of old purple sprouting and a few manky looking cabbages as well all to be pulled up. These were then cut up and put into the compost bin leaving the ground nice and clear apart from one lonely looking purple sprouting plant as there was a decent looking final crop almost ready on it.

While she was doing that I set to work marking out the rest of the beds to join the two we'd done last weekend. Using my trusty measuring stick (a bit of bamboo with marks on it at one foot intervals) I soon had them all marked out neatly with string allowing us to get a good idea of how it would all look when finished. The final plot design has given us a total of seven 4' by 13' beds, a slightly larger 5' by 13' one for some early potatoes and a big double sized one, 11' by 13', for our main crop.

Talking of spuds, here's all the ones we've got chitting at home, some are for tubs in the back garden but even so I think we’ve gone a little overboard. We can't wait to get them in the ground as all that window space will be needed for seeds soon.

Next it was time to move the bit of manure we collected last week to somewhere a tad more useful. We gave the rhubarb crown a good covering and covered one of the dug beds in a layer which left us just enough to fill a couple of polystyrene tubs we'd brought from home which we're going to use to try and grow mushrooms in the garage.

The light was beginning to go by now so we cleared up all the rubbish we'd generated (mainly dead runner bean plants which had long since lost any goodness) and took it down to the communal dumping area, again wishing we had a wheelbarrow.

Then it was home time, and the end of a really enjoyable afternoon on the plot. Looking back it seems like we didn't really 'do' much in the four hours we were there other than clearing stuff and marking out beds, we didn't even dig anything for a start. But, we've now got the plot completely clear (bar weeds) and our plan for the year, in terms of beds etc, all marked out and ready to go so it means we're ready to hit the ground running next time with the digging. Here's how things look now anyway...

And, just cos I can't be the only one in the pics here's Melanie in her lovely pink wellies as she tells me not to take a photo of her.


Wednesday 6 February 2008

67 hours to go... Roughly.

Ok, so it's Wednesday. That's exactly half way to the next allotment time (didn't they used to be called 'weekends'?) and I'm already up to my virtual eyes in ideas for those two days. The weather forecast is looking good, well good for February anyway, so there's no reason why I shouldn't be reporting back on Monday on lots of jobs jobbed. All being well my parents should be coming to visit the plot on Saturday, primarily so we can show it off but also because my Dad is more likely to be able to walk down the fruit tunnel and tell us what’s a dormant fruit bush and what’s a nasty weed than I am and such info would be massively useful before everything starts growing.

I'm also getting a little concerned that my plan of ten identical 4' by 13' beds may cause problems for things like potatoes as that may not leave enough room for two rows in each, esp. with all the earthing up they need. Has anyone worked out an 'ideal' size for a potato bed?

I'm also coming round to the idea that I need to take a day off work in the next few weeks to either burn through some of the digging or do all those little jobs I keep putting off back at home because I want to be on the allotment. Taking a day off to garden? I suddenly feel like a grown up! ;)

Before I go, a quick question for anyone reading this, I'm assuming other people get the black plastic they cover their plots in from garden centres. Am I right and if not where's the best place to look?


Monday 4 February 2008

Started afterall...

I take back what I said on Friday, we did manage to get on the plot this weekend after all. We came home after our shopping trip on Saturday to find a message from the man who used to have out plot saying he'd cleared everything he needed from it now so it was now completely ours. Yay, yay and thrice yay!

So, when Sunday morning dawned, cold and windy but thankfully rain free, we pulled on our gardening clothes and made out way up to the plot to see what was what. Everything was much as we'd left it; all that seemed to have gone were the rickety netted frame from over the brasicas and the wheelbarrow. More importantly the netted fruit tunnel remained intact and now had a key hanging from the padlock and the intriguing locked box was still there, although it was now simply an intriguing box.

First job was obviously to see what was to be found in the storage box, the previous owner had said he’d given away most of his tools so we weren't expecting much. However, inside were three different hoe's, a sturdy looking fork a, bag of twine and numerous sticks and poles which could be used for, well 'something' I'm sure. Not bad really, especially since a hoe was the one thing we didn’t have.

Next we had a quick tidy around the plot, picking up any odds and ends we wanted to keep and stowing them in the storage box. Then it was down to the real work. We were aiming to mark out and dig the first two beds so the first thing to do was to clear out the long rows of carrots and beetroots that had seemingly been left in the ground to rot over winter. There were loads of the things; most of them tiny and all packed close together where they hadn’t ever been thinned out. Once they were all removed we marked up the beds, both 4' by 13', with some string then set to work weeding and digging them.

Here they are. They don't look it in the pic but honestly, they're the same size. Two down, eight more to go!

Not many other plot holders had braved the freezing winds but we did have a chat with a friendly woman who introduced herself and said congratulations on being given such a lovely plot. She also mentioned that the local stables dropped manure off at the top of the site and it was first come first served when they did. It looked like there’d been a delivery recently because there was still some left, so, cursing the lack of wheelbarrow, we used a big metal tub thing we'd been left to drag a bit onto our plot. We'll probably take half of it home to grow mushrooms in (Melanie's little project) but the rest will go on the plot somewhere.

A combination of increasing hunger and our muscles complaining we'd tortured them enough told us it was probably time to call it a day. So, after a quick trip to Homebase and back to buy, then fit, a padlock for the storage box we packed up and went home. Cold, aching and knackered but satisfied that we'd at least made a start on things. Roll on next weekend!

Friday 1 February 2008

Nope, not this weekend either.

After months of finger twiddling now we’ve finally got an allotment the fates are conspiring to keep us off it for as long as they can.

When we took on the plot we did so on the understanding that any plants etc still growing weren’t to be disturbed since they were technically the property of the former owner since his lease didn’t officially run out till April. Not a problem, in fact it seemed like a nice gesture because although he’d indicated he wouldn’t be renewing his plot he perhaps hadn’t realised it would be re-let so soon and may want to collect/pick something.

After our initial look around and the realisation that there were three padlocks still on the site locking the gate, the wooden box and the netted tunnel it seemed like a sensible idea to try and contact the old owner and ask if we could have the keys and at the same time check if he actually wanted anything kept that was still in the ground. So, we wrote him a letter, passing it on through the parish council clerk who looks after the allotments.

I’d not heard anything for a week or so till I got an email last night from the council clerk saying that the former owner had promised some of his tools etc to other plot holders so would be having a final clear out of the plot and its contents this Saturday, weather permitting, so could we hold off doing anything major till at least next weekend to give him a weeks grace in case his plans change etc.

So, that’s another week of waiting before we can really get to work. I don’t mean to sound grumpy about it, I think it’s nice that he’s getting a chance to have a final clear up etc and pass on his stuff to his friends, it’s just another week of frustrating inactivity after all the excitement of getting the plot and all plans we’ve made. But hey, we’ve still got some plot related shopping to do and there are jobs to do at home as well so no doubt the weekend will be more than full enough.

I just hope we don’t get so much rain he puts it off till next weekend, or we find that he’s taken not just his tools but the netted tunnel and the handy lockable box with him at the same time… I'm thinking of taking a walk up there tomorrow morning and seeing if he's around so we can say hello and sort out whats what face to face, sound like a good plan?

Oh, and still no mention of the bloomin keys…. Anyone got any bolt cutters?