Monthly Archives: October 2010

An Initial Weekend

This weekend saw a visit from my sister; she is, if truth be told, the one who has done (or at least driven) all the hard work of getting the garden cleared and usable because she enjoys that whole ground clearing, digging stuff – and because she wont let me stop after half an hour of work.

Happily, the allotment has plenty of work to be done; although the plot has been fairly well worked in recent times it has got overgrown over the last season and it can be hard to see just exactly what you’ve got when it’s covered with grass and weeds. I spent most of my time continuing my program of uncovering the paths, while my sister set to work clearing the first (and probably best kept) bed.

I say “uncovering the paths” because although it’s technically just mowing them with shears, it really is a much, much harder job than that sounds. The good news is that the paths are very clearly raised from the beds, and have good solid edges to them. The bad news is that they’re uneven and covered with wet, astoundingly tough and foot-long grass which makes it very heavy going. Not to mention the occasional stinging nettle mixed in there to catch you unawares.

The end result is that the path running all the way around the first bed is now clear and visible, and the bed itself is maybe 2/3rd of the way to being clear. Even with nothing but rubbish clearing happening on the rest of the plot, it manages to make the whole place more “kempt” and gives a sense of real progress.

The other task I got to was measuring out the plot, and marking up what’s where – the permanent fixtures like trees and fruit bushes, and the various paths I’ve uncovered. We also managed to name each “field” (ok, it’s not that big) and when I get the time (and the artistic flair) I shall draw up a proper map showing what I’ve got where. I can then use that as a basis for all my careful planning this winter!

Harvest Roundup

Well, it’s been a strange year for crops – a lot of badly timed dry periods, strong winds and general climatic confusion played havoc with things like our outdoor tomatoes, confused our raspberries (which, despite being autumn varieties, managed to produce a small crop in the summer as well!) and generally stopped me being sure from one moment to the next whether it was a good year or a bad one.

Our courgettes went well, as they always do, with a steady supply of delicious yellow balls. Our sweetcorn, on the other hand, was a total disaster – as soon as the corns had formed up, some creature discovered them and proceeded to eat pretty much every single one before I had a chance to put up some protection. The damage didn’t get any worse once I’d put some fencing around it, so next year with any luck I’ll be able to keep the rotten sods off my crop!

This weekend saw the final harvest of all our potatoes; we had varied success this year, with the differences in varieties more pronounced than I’ve ever known. The Home Guards (the first batch of earlies) were nice, if fairly low yielding – however they suffered from some sort of disease that resulted in half of them having brown lesions well inside the flesh. I’ve struggled to find a definite cause for this, but Google suggests it may have been a nutrient deficiency of some sort. The upshot is that on cooking you end up throwing half the tubers away, which is hardly ideal.

The other early variety, Red Duke of York, got left in the ground much longer and as a result are big, full size potatoes – however, they (along with the maincrops) appear to have escaped the lesions that afflicted the Home Guard. The yield has been a reasonable 6kg or so – not remarkable, but better than it could have been.

Both the main crops – Rooster and Pentland Dell – yielded better (around 10kg each) and are delicious.  Interestingly, the yields varied significantly from plant to plant – they were in rows of four, and the outer two plants were consistently better yielding. This suggests that I’ve been planting them too close, so next year I’ll be giving them some more room to breath (more on that later!)

Leeks and broccoli are our remaining crops now, and should see us into the new year.

Getting Started

First View (North)Well, it’s only been a week so unsurprisingly, the plot isn’t completely cleared and filled up with crops just yet! I have made a bit of a start though; as will all allotments there’s rubbish to be gathered up into something of a pile under the oak tree.

I say rubbish, but that’s not really fair. It’s just non-organic stuff in the form of plastic bottles, bags, stakes, chicken wire – stuff which is probably useful (which is why I’m not just throwing it away). I’ve already transformed some old chicken wire, bits of an old clothes airer and some bamboo poles into what looks to be a pretty large compost heap, although looking around at the volume of vegetation, it may prove to be on the small side by the time I’m done!

Aside from this tidying up, I’ve also made a start in hacking back the grass over the central path. This is heavy going, because the grass is long, wet and pretty tough, but even with just a few yards cleared it starts to clearly define some of the edges, and make the whole plot look less chaotic and overgrown.

This job would be a lot quicker if I just brought my strimmer down but it’s electric and, of course, there’s no power down here. Besides, there’s something rather satisfying about doing it “properly” by hand – just as I’d rather use a fork than a rotovator. One of the joys of all this gardening (and now allotmenting – or should that be plotting!) is the act of doing, rather than just the end result. So I’ll live without power – and with aching shoulders!

Next week sees a visit from my slave-driving sister, so great progress will no doubt be made.

New Ground!

First View (South)Ever since we started ‘allotmentifying’ our back garden, there’s been a small part of me that yearned for a proper allotment. To be honest, I never really took that yearning too seriously – somehow I imagined it would be impossible to get, that somehow those in charge would be able to tell that I don’t really know what I’m doing and give any available land to someone, well, competent.

However, a combination of good luck and a wife who is very good at Getting Things Done have resulted in us handing over our year’s rent this weekend, and taking possession of Plot 3; a plot which (despite the grassiness of the picture) is in remarkably good condition – it’s been actively worked up until the last season so although weedy, isn’t drowned in brambles and bindweed.

We’re blessed with a fairly solid shed at the end (you can see it in the back of this picture) – the roof leaks a little, but aside from that it’s great. At the other end is a large oak tree; while this does overshadow that end of the plot a little it is, at least, at the north end so it doesn’t project too much shade. Time will tell how badly it affects the water side of things, however.

Down half the length of one side are a variety of fruit trees – one eating and one cooking apple, something which I’m declaring to be a plum of some sort, and a total mystery. On the other side, there’s also a chunk of space taken by some rather delicious golden raspberries, and an assortment of other berry-like bushes that I probably wont manage to identify until some fruit appears on them. This is great news; partly because I’d want some permanent fixtures on the plot anyway, and partly because they all take up space.

An allotment, you see, is huge. I mean really, properly big. I mean, our back garden is a reasonable size but the plot must be 4 times the area, easily. The standard size of an allotment in the UK is a rather unhelpful 10 poles – I’m a big fan of imperial measures over metric but that’s a little too imperial, even for me. In modern English, that comes out to somewhere around 300 square yards. At a rough guess, the garden is more like 75, so actually my original guess of 4 times the space looks to be spot on.

The good side of all this is that we’ve suddenly expanded our crop-growing capacity. Even this year with the garden mostly cleared, it’s been a case of drawing up a list of things that would be nice to grow, and then cross things off it until it all fit in the garden. For 2011, I’m looking forward to having the room to avoid that crossing off part – as long as I can get the beds dug in time, of course!