Tuesday 31 May 2011

Ta dah! A fruit cage!

There we go, one fruit cage fully erected and installed! We got it all built on Sunday afternoon with a little help from my Dad who popped over to help. 

Once we'd lugged all the poles and netting up to the plot (note to self, need a bigger car!) It was surprisingly simple to put up. First we laid out the top of the frame on the ground to allow us to mark where the uprights needed to go. 

Then we had to get the supports for the uprights in, this was by far the worst part of the whole thing as the ground was painfully hard and didn't seem to want the supports whacked in with a mallet however hard we tried. In the end we half dug holes with a spade and just bashed the supports in the last few inches.

Once they were finally in it though was a simple case of putting in the uprights and the door frame then, with Dad holding the roof bars in place, going round the top of each upright and screwing the mushroom caps in place securing the whole structure together.

Once it was all tightened up and looking 'right' it was time to put the side netting on. I honestly expected this to be a bit of a nightmare but it was actually really simple. Dad went round holding the netting while M and I put four cable ties round each upright to hold the netting in place. All that was needed when we got round the whole thing to where we started was to trim the excess netting off and bingo, sides done.

Last but not least was the roof. This again looked like it might be fiddly but once we'd worked out the corners (helpfully marked with white and green ties) it was just a case of stretching it over the cage and using the S hooks to attach it to the side netting pulling it taught.

Finally we attached the door latch and there we were, finished. Well, I say 'finished', we aren't quite, tonight we're going to rake over the ground and cover the floor of it with black weed suppressing fabric which we'll leave there for at least the rest of this year just to guarantee all the weeds are gone. Next year we'll probably plant things through it, make raised beds, or both, we'll see. For now though we've put the fruit bushes we've already got in tubs on the plot in there so it's officially in use right away and they'll be joined this week by a few more from home. 

It only took just over three hours to build which wasn't bad and the instructions provided by William Jams and Co were simple and easy to understand. I think I'll probably go round and tidy up a few of the ties and S hooks now it's up just to make it perfect but we're really really happy with it already. Can't wait till fruit bushes come back back in season and we can start filling it up now.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Preparing for the fruit cage

First time we've put a video on the blog, so this is a bit of a test really, hope it works OK... 

We've spent most of the day so far clearing the space for the fruit cage. It was a massive pain to remove the posts and wires etc that made up the old netted tunnel that had been there before but, armed with some wire cutters and a hammer, it eventually all came down. 

Then I dug up the worst of the weeds and dead bits of old fruit bushes etc out and raked it over. Tomorrow we'll  rotovate it all and, time permitting, get the cage itself erected. It's all starting to take shape, just want it up and finished now!
Hope you're all enjoying your bank holiday weekend too.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Fruit cage and other packages

Arrived home tonight to a lovely double surprise from Mr Postman. Most exciting was the arrival of the fruit cage from the nice people at William James & Co. It's just a big pile of metal tubes and a bag of netting at the moment, but come the weekend (weather permitting) it'll be transformed into the fruit cage of our dreams. I know, I'm far too excited about this...

There was also a second package, this was a bit unexpected as I'd kind of forgotten I'd ordered anything else in the excitement surrounding the fruit cage. It ended up being a selection of brasica plants and a Bilberry bush I'd ordered a few weeks ago. 

Perfect timing on the bush front, a bit less so for the brasicas as I don't quite have room for them at the moment and other jobs planned for the weekend. So, I quickly potted them up into something they'll be happy in till next week when I can get them in the ground. 

Now the fruit cage is here there's even more motivation to spend the next couple of evenings clearing the ground where it's going to live. Fingers crossed for the weather...

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Surprise fruit and other things

I spent some time up at the allotment tonight after work, the plan was to work on clearing the space for the fruit cage but managed to get a few other jobs done too. The best bit was the surprise discovery of a damson tree on the plot. You may think that in our fourth year on the allotment we'd have long since discovered everything that was already on it when we started out, you'd be wrong.

In the 'messy' corner, where things get dumped, there's been a bush/tree thing steadily growing over the years. At first we didn't notice it, then it was left doing what it wanted because it was in the bit of the plot we used as a dumping ground. This year however it's suddenly borne fruit and it appears, to my un-trained eye, to be a damson tree. How cool is that, damson jam and other goodies await later in the year!

Other than that surprise the other fruit on the allotment is doing well too. The gooseberry plant we bought earlier this year has amazingly got fruit on it already.

While the red currant we put in a pot last year has started to get its first fruit on it too.

All this is perfect timing for the arrival of the fruit cage which, fingers crossed, should be here ready for building over the bank holiday weekend. With that in mind it really was time to start clearing the space. So, hoe in hand, I got to work and managed to get the back half of the area pretty much clear of surface growth. I still need to get the poles that made up one side of the old netted tunnel out of the ground and clear in there but it's at least started now.

The rest of the plot is looking quite under control at the moment too, I even managed to get the courgettes and marrows planted out tonight. Once the fruit cage is built it'll almost be how we imagined it when we first took it on, just a seating area with some flowers etc to go...

Monday 23 May 2011

Plot time

Back to allotment business today. We managed to spend some time on the plot this weekend getting as many of the small jobs done as possible to keep the next week free for fruit cage business.

First off we finally planted out the Oca that had been getting a little pot-bound in the greenhouse. Here it is next to the sweetcorn we planted out last week.

We also got the leeks in the ground. I'm never quite sure how people make the holes required for these, every year soil crumbles back into mine as soon as I remove the dibber thing I use to make them. Anyway, we managed, kinda, and they seem happy enough. Will have to remember to earth them up a bit this year to try and make them a bit longer.

Next we gave the whole of the plot a good hoe and dug over most of the gaps in the brasica bed. Here's the parsnips which seem to have settled in nicely after looking a bit weak and wobbly for a while after they went in the ground.

Now it's time to knuckle down and get the fruit cage area sorted. There's a lot of ground to clear, the posts from the old netted tunnel removed and then the soil needs rotovating in preperation. As you can see it's a bit of a mess at the moment (and has been since we inherited the plot) so there's lots to do this week.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Cake, because we're worth it.

Sometimes getting the baking stuff out and filling the house with the smell of cooking cakes is just what the doctor ordered. So when M suggested an afternoon baking it seemed like the perfect thing to do after a morning of productivity on the allotment.

Look good don't they.

Got more allotment work to do tomorrow so I'll blog about things plot related next time. Hope you're all enjoying your weekend!

Friday 20 May 2011

Work. A Moan.

It's Friday afternoon at last, another week in the office is almost over and two whole days of freedom ripe with possibilities await. It's not very gardening related I admit, so I hope you can excuse the change of topic and tone for today, but I have to ask, am I alone in feeling that way?

I know most people would obviously prefer to not have to go to work (footballers, actors and rock stars aside), but I imagine most people also get some kind of enjoyment or satisfaction out of their work at the same time? I don't. I work as a computer programmer and I genuinely hate it. It's not that the company I work for, or the people who work there, are horrible, they're not. In fact I'd go so far as to say if I liked computer programming then it would be a lovely place to work. No, the problem is that the longer I do it the more I realise I hate being a programmer. I get no job satisfaction from it at all, I'm not particularly great at it so there's a continual sense that I'm never far away from making a huge job costing mistake and I'm surrounded by people clearly enjoying themselves and being good at doing the exact same thing, making me feel even more out of place.

‘So change job' you may cry. I'd love to. The problem is, change to what? The skills I have are so specific to what I currently do there's very little that's transferable in any way. I'd also want to get out of the IT industry as a whole; I no longer have any real interest in the world of computers and have long since tired of keeping up with the continual forward march of technology. The problem, obviously, is that with no training or skills suitable to doing anything else I'd be starting at the bottom rung of whatever ladder I chose meaning a massive drop in earnings that we as a household simply couldn't support.

Yes, we could downsize our (small) 2.5 bed house to something even smaller, cut back on the few luxuries we buy and perhaps find a way of scraping by. But is that really the kind of life I want to live and subject M to? We don't by any stretch of the imagination live an opulent life; we drive old cars, holiday in this country and think about money before we go for a rare meal out. I earn a wage that's at the bottom end of the scale for the job I do (as I said, I'm no programming guru) so there's not exactly much room for belt tightening as it is, a substantial drop in wages would mean a substantial drop in everything else too. Basically I'm stuck.

Of course with all the economic problems in the world at the moment I'm grateful to have any job at all. Don't get me wrong, I know I'm lucky in many many ways and I appreciate more than ever how blessed I am that this is pretty much my only gripe with life as a whole. But still, with thirty five odd years of my working life still to go I do wonder if I can really do this for that long.

I keep my eye out for horticulture jobs from time to time (an unlikely dream), I've thought about re-training as a plumber (if I could magically afford the training course and somehow come up with some savings to tide me over while I started up a business), I've wondered if I could earn a living from writing in some way (unlikely even if I was good enough) and I've speculated about somehow growing something like chilli's, brewing or producing 'something' on a more commercial scale (again, would need start-up capital), but it's really just to keep me from going spare rather than because they seem like plausible escape routes.

Perhaps in the future something will present itself, perhaps I'll magically win enough money to buy a smallholding somewhere and forget about work entirely. Until then I'll keep counting down the minutes till 5pm on Fridays each week and dreaming of ways to avoid having to return to the office on Monday mornings.

Apologies for the wildly off topic self-indulgent venting, normal service will be resumed tomorrow...

Wednesday 18 May 2011

A new look, some greenhouse stuff and a theft

First up, I hope you all like the new look. I've been thinking the 'black' look we had before was a little depressing so I've been playing around with Blogger templates to see if I can improve matters. It's a bit work in progress at the moment but I think it's an improvement already.

Back in the real world, despite the dry weather this week there's not been a lot of time for alotment'y things, although fingers crossed for getting up there tomorrow evening. Everything in the greenhouse has been growing merrily though including, almost without me noticing, our first cucumbers of the year.

The chillies are doing well in their new pots too, one looks on the verge of flowering already infact.

I potted up all the squash, courgettes and marrows over the weekend and they seem to be settling in well. I've managed to do far grow many squash again this year. We grew about eight plants last year which, with the benefit of hindsight, was just about the right number in terms of lasting us through the winter. This year I seem to have fourteen plants, so I think I'll be looking to re-home five or six of them in the next couple of weeks.

On a less pleasant note I woke up this morning to find my car had been broken into and the stereo pinched. It's more annoying than upsetting or anything, I could do without shelling out for a new one at the moment and it's not worth getting the insurance involved as the excess on my policy would pretty much cover the cost of everything. Ho hum, some people...

Rather than end this post on that slightly sour note I'll finish with a picture of a rose from the bush in our garden that suddenly seems to have burst into flower this week.

Hope you're all having a fun filled week...

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Bit of a washout...

I really wish I'd gone up to the allotment on Saturday now as Sunday proved to be a bit of a washout. Not heavy rain, just a lot of showers and there was only so long I wanted to be working in continual drizzle so only really did an hour or so of work up there in the end.

I did manage to get the sweetcorn planted out though, I'm half worried it may a be a little too early but they were getting pretty pot bound in the greenhouse so it was plant them or ruin them. fingers crossed they do ok.

I also picked the first spring cabbage of the year for Sunday dinner and it was a monster, the heart alone weighed in at five and half pounds! Despite this one success I'm generally painful bad at growing brasica, I either forget to plan them at all or plant them and then never tend to them very well. Last autumn I did manage get some spring plants in the ground but then kind of left them hiding under netting till recently and most stuff had been ruined. There are however four cabbages that seem to have survived despite my lack of care, so I'm claiming that as progress of sorts and I promise (honest) to be better at it this winter.

To go with the roast dinner I picked a few stalks of rhubarb to make a cheat'y rhubarb fool for pudding (basically just stewed rhubarb mixed with a pint of custard half milk and half single cream). Quick, easy and very yummy!

We've also got the first cherry tomatoes appearing in the greenhouse, thankfully way earlier than they did the last few years so the mega-early sowing seems to have worked. All being well we'll have salad crops all being ready to eat at a similar time this year. Yay!

Fingers crossed for some good weather this week so I can get the brasica bed cleared (bar the remaining cabbages of course) and dug over meaning I can then focus on clearing the space for the fruit cage. That's going to be a BIG job so need to get it started asap.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Apple Pie

Short post today, just really checking blogger is 'back' properly. Sorry to everyone who's comments on the previous post were lost, I assumed they'd re-appear when blogger sorted itself out but it seems not. :(

Off to spend a few hours up at the allotment today but just thought I'd share a quick pic of the apple pie we made last night. We've still got a load of apple in the freezer left over from last years harvest so we thought we'd make a pie.

We tend to add some cinnamon and a few raisins to the apples when we're making apple pie as it gives it a lovely bit of spice. then it just needs a nice thick custard poured over and it's a perfect end to the day. Unless you're M who seems to think my custard obsession weird so covers hers in cream instead. Weird lady... ;)

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Hello weeds

I spent some time at the allotment last night and, as expected, the rain showers of recent days have woken up all the weeds. It's amazing how quickly they grow, the plot seemed to have gone from looking lovely and tidy to full of little green shoots in a couple of days.

Thankfully the now soft workable soil lent itself nicely to weeding and after an hour or so working with the hoe and on my hands and knees the areas with plants in were all back looking fairly tidy as you can see.

It was also good to see the 2nd early spuds and some beetroot seedlings poking their heads through the ground. I also finally took the netting off the brasicas I'd over wintered. A lot of them had died, or gone to seed (I have to admit to really not giving them a single iota of care so it's my own fault) and there was a lot of weeds under there too which I doubt helped. On the plus side there were a few lovely looking spring cabbages amidst the mess which kind of made it all worth while.I'm not very good at brasicas so I'll take my victories where I can.

At the weekend I'm going to tidy up the bed, pull out the failed crops, weed and dig the rest then put the Oca, leeks and a couple of winter brasicas that have been growing in the greenhouse in there and see how they do.

The exciting news of the day however is that we've finally bought our fruit cage. In the end we went for one from William James & Co as they looked good and my Dad bought one from them last year and he's been really pleased with it. It's a 3m by 6.5 meter one so should take up most of the far side of the plot that's been awaiting its arrival for so long it's currently a more than a tad overgrown. There's still two weeks before it arrives though so that should give us time to clear it all... Fingers crossed!

Monday 9 May 2011

A rainy(ish) weekend

I'd been planning on spending a good few hours up at the plot during the weekend but the continual promise of on-off rain showers left me constantly thinking 'I'll pop up in an hour or so when the cloud breaks' and in the end I only made it up there for half an hour, got very muddy shoes and came home having achieved little. What I'd like is something to allow me to shelter from any short rain showers but since we're not allowed sheds on our plots I'll have to just accept the vagaries of the British weather may get the better of my plans now and again.

So, having got the grape vine in the ground first thing Saturday I was left with needing to potter around in the greenhouse to get my gardening fix for the rest of the weekend. Not that there was a lot to do in there really, I had a bit of a tidy, politely re-homed a few snails, transplanted a few lettuce and sowed the first few beans (from last years saved seed, a first for us) to make me feel I'd been productive but that was about it.

I'm a bit concerned about one of our tomato plants though, it seems to have no growing tip anymore. It's got two trusses of flowers on, but nowhere does new growth seem to be sprouting. Perhaps I accidentally nipped it out last week when I was removing side shoots? Doesn't look promising though.

The rest of the weekend was spent watching TV and playing video games. Not massively productive but actually really enjoyable after the non-stop activity of the last few weeks. Fingers crossed though for a week of nice weather so I get get back up the allotment in the evenings.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Planting the grape vine

Despite waking up to the sound of pounding rain this morning it cleared up by mid morning to allow me to get into the back garden and plant the grape vine we bought last weekend. Yesterday the book I'd ordered dropped through the door so, book in hand, I headed outside.

The first thing I discovered was the in the first year I'm really only aiming to grow a single shoot up a six foot cane, in fact I don't have to worry about training it along wires using the Guyot method till year three. However, this means that the two healthy looking shoots growing from our vine would need to be halved.

It felt a bit naughty taking off half the growth, but I guess it's needed to help the vine in the long run so I got the secateurs and chopped off the shorter of the two branches leaving it looking like this.

All that was left now was to plant it out so I found a nice free space next to the wall that runs around two sides of our garden where it gets a lot of sun for most of the day and dug a hole. I pushed a long cane into the hole and placed the vine next to it back filling the hole afterwards and firming down. Then I tied it up with a couple of sandwich bag ties and stood back to admire...

In the first year its just a case of keeping the side shoots pinched out and growing it up the cane. In the second year I think it gets cut back and then essentially the same happens again. In the third year it gets tied back and trained along horizontal wires before in the fourth year it kind of grows properly at last. It all sounds a bit complicated and long winded but fingers crossed we'll work it out as we go...

Friday 6 May 2011

Beer Tasting

Last night we went to a beer tasing at our local beer shop 'Favorite Beers' in Cheltenham. The guy doing the tastings was Jeff Evans, he's written a number of beery books such as  'Good Bottled Beer Guide' and 'A Beer a Day' so certainly knows his stuff although he perhaps waffled a bit much at times when his audience seemed keen to move onto the next bottle.

There were eight beers to try through the evening, all British, although a few were styled after international beers. My personal faves were O-Garden from Otley Breweries, a Hoegarden'esq beer (see what they did with the name...) that had a lovely citrusy spicy flavour and an IPA from Ridgeway that seemed pleasently closer to the hop'tastic American IPA's than you normaly get from British brewers. M on the other hand prefers darker beer and fell in love with Dorothy Goodbody's Stout from Wye Valley

We enjoy nights like this, neither of us are real beer geeks but it's nice to hear an expert talk you through a few beers as you learn to appreciate and distinguish the multitude of flavours good beer can provide.

The same shop has a Belgian beer tasting night coming up in June which sounds good so I think we'll be picking up tickets for that soon.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Woo Hoo!

I got home this evening to find a card telling me there was a pracel waiting next to the back gate, so I wandered round and found a huge tub of 75 fat balls sat there.
They were a prize from the Bird Care competition run by the lovely Michelle over at Veg Plotting. How cool is that, the birds that visit our garden are going to love them!

No other garden or allotment news to report today unfortunatly. We're off to a beer tasting tonight at a local beer shop (not an off-licence, a beer shop. they're different, trust me) which should be fun.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Greenhouse update

Everything in the greenhouse is going great guns in this warm weather and for the first year it seems like we might have got the balance right between number of plants and space in the growing beds. We've got three tomato plants and two cucumbers taking up the bulk of the ground along with some spring onions, radish and little gem lettuce. There's even space for some extra sowings of those smaller salad crops which is good to see after the overcrowding of the last two years.

We made sure we got some tomato's started nice and early this year as last year they didn't ripen till the end of the season which was a bit disappointing. It seems to be going better this year with the first flowers now appearing on our two cherry tomato plants.

We've also just transplanted up this years chilli's into their final pots, only four plants this year after last years slightly excessive fourteen  (you should see how many we still have in the freezer...). Two of them are the 'children' of our first ever chili plant I blogged about a few weeks ago, the other two are Cherry Bomb and Hungarian Hot Wax.

The container carrots seem to be growing well too. I keep pulling out the odd one or two to thin them down and see how they're growing and they're just starting to at least look like carrots as you can see. We've just sown a second container of these too, more successional sowing, how worryingly efficient is that!

The most recent batch of seedlings are all hurrying along too now. We've got a load of sweetcorn, some courgettes, marrows and this years winter squash (Butternut, Hooligan and Sunshine) in the top tray. Below them is a couple of pots of basil, a peanut plant and some nasturtium seedlings (from seeds won over at Veg Plotting ).

As you can see it's all looking scarily organised in there at the moment and with the allotment looking none too shabby either you have to wonder how long till something goes wrong...

Monday 2 May 2011

The Royal Wedding, a new grape vine and a fruit cage question

I don't know about you but I could quite get used to these four day weekends. Taking advantage of the holiday we went down to Horsham to my brother and sister in-laws for a Royal Wedding street party. They're lucky enough to live on a lovely street where they're always doing 'community' events like BBQ's and parties so it really was the perfect place to be for an event like this.

We even had a visit from the local police and fire brigade who seemed to just pop round to enjoy the atmosphere and let the 'kids' clamber all over the fire engine.

Back at home the allotment is progressing along nicely, I'll do a proper plot update later this week, but the most exciting gardening related event of the weekend happened when we found a bargain in the Horsham branch of Wilkinsons. Sat amongst the end of season bargains was a Chardonnay grape vine, priced at just under a fiver. We'd been contemplating getting a vine earlier in the year but for whatever reason it didn't happen but this seemed too good a deal to turn down. So we pounced!

It was looking a bit sorry for itself but it's perked up no end now it's sat in the greenhouse at home. It'll stay there till next weekend when I get chance to prepare some space for it and plant it out. I know it takes years to establish a vine but at least now we're on the way.

The other thing we're thinking of getting is a fruit cage for the allotment. There are loads of companies online offering them for sale and the price seems to vary quite considerably, so we were wondering if any of you lovely people out there had any recommendations for companies you've purchased cages from or tips on what to look out for when buying...