the fruits of labour

Last year we had a few fruit plants growing on the allotment. We had two types of raspberry – Glen Ample and a Golden variety, we had strawberries and a young gooseberry bush. As they were all in their first years I wasn’t expecting much. We got a few raspberries and the odd strawberry.

Later in the year I also bought a blueberry plant – the pink lemonade variety. It was fleeced up for the winter and then in spring the fleece was removed and I was a bit doubtful of whether it had survived. A few weeks ago I moved it into a slightly bigger pot. It does seem to be coming on quite will with a lot of leaf growth over the past few weeks. I don’t know if it will bear any fruit this year, but it is a self fertile variety so I don’t need any other blueberry plants to help it.

I also bought a mini nectarine tree – this was kept indoors for a bit before I put it on the plot and fleeced it up. Again I wasn’t sure if it was going to be OK. This tiny twiggy thing looked a bit dead. However as the spring sun started to shine leaves began to appear. Sadly it is suffering from peach leaf curl – a fungus. I didn’t realise it for a while but then I thought, mmm no, this doesn’t look right. I looked it up and my heart sank a bit. I’ve been nipping off the curling leaves – as often it just affects the first leaves to appear and the ones that come behind it might be all right. I will see how it goes.

We cut back the raspberry canes in the early spring and they have been bouncing back rather well and bushing out a bit.

Raspberries

The gooseberry bush is also coming along well and has little fruits coming on it. Exciting. I have no idea if I even like gooseberries – or indeed if they like me – with my IBS hating so many different fruits and vegetables. However, they look lovely!

The strawberries are now coming into force in their second year as is typical. Don’t be discouraged in your first year of strawberries if the plants look a bit pitiful or seem lush but not so fertile, they always come on stronger the next year. Ours now have plenty of little green seedy fruits appearing and hopefully won’t be long before they start changing to that tempting red!

We plan on re-doing the netting around the raspberries and gooseberry – it is a bit ramshackle and needs to be easier to get in and out of to harvest the fruits. A job for the coming weekends or a nice evening soon.

How is your fruit faring on your plot? Let me know!

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how time flies

Two months seem to have flown by. A lot has been going on with us getting our house on the market, putting an offer on the house we wanted – which was accepted, eventually getting some viewings and an offer which we accepted and going through the process of organising everything, forms upon forms and stress mounting. The house has been stripped down to the bare essentials as we have been gradually packing as much as we can in preparation for the moving date. There is still an awful lot to pack (it amazes me how much crap we collect over the years!) and the move is bound to be some weeks away yet. However the weather has been improving and we have been getting down to the allotment a bit more regularly, which is great.

House
Our house – now sold!!!

It’s been incredible to see sometimes how quickly things can come on with plants, now that the sun is shining more often, things are coming on in leaps and bounds. Also though – so have the hoards of slugs which have caused a fair bit of damage and loss along the way.

This was how the plot was looking on the 20th March – we had planted some bits and bobs and finally got the mini poly tunnel out to put it to some use.

Plot March 20th 2016.jpg

We had planted some broccoli and mange tout plug plants. As I’ve mentioned before we tend to use a fair few plug plants because at our current house we haven’t got a garden so can’t do a lot of the usual sowing, propagating, potting on etc. before planting out, we have no greenhouse (and our plot isn’t big enough for one.) So we cheat a little bit.

By Good Friday the following week the weather had warmed up a fair bit and I planted our seed potatoes. Of course that night I watched Gardener’s World and had Monty Don telling the world “For goodness sake don’t plant your potatoes yet!” My heart sank a bit. However I figured we’d see how it went. I had planted some companion marigolds and a foxglove for the potatoes, sadly the marigolds all got eaten by slugs in the space of a week. The broccoli hadn’t fared much better either. We managed to save a few and planted a couple more and kept them under cloches to protect them a bit. Not long after all that we had a cold snap and a frost – and I was concerned that the potatoes which had just started to sprout forth leaves from their dark soily bed – were doomed.

As you can see from the pictures above – after that initial frost scare, they actually picked up pretty well. I planted some more marigolds (which did get a bit slug eaten but I finally got some slug pellets.) It was soon time to cover the young potato plants with some compost to get the plants to concentrate a bit more on their tubers – but within a week they were bursting out of that and flourishing. Now they have becoming more established they are providing good cover for the surviving marigolds and the foxglove is flowering.

We also replanted some shallots to replace the ones lost over the winter and they seemed to be doing fairly well.

I had stupidly not picked up enough compost to fill up a pea & bean planting bag, so had left my runner bean plug plants in their trays under the poly tunnel till I could sort them out. Of course they ended up sweated to near death so I hastily planted them out into a raised bed, but sadly they perished and became slug fodder. Some sweet peas I planted in the bed also aren’t doing great, but I’m hoping they might bounce back as I noticed a bit of new growth on them today. I did eventually sort out a pea/bean bag and planted up some replacement runner beans – but of course the slugs got to them and I lost about half of them – and the following weekend bought some replacements and covered the bag in slug pellets. They are coming on OK now with the earlier bigger ones (as the replacements I got were dwarf ones as they ran out of the others) and are starting to wrap their tendrils around the canes.

Runner Bean Bag

AntiAnt
Shallots and garlic and the anti ant attempts

I planted carrot seeds, leek seed tapes and some spring onions, but the carrot tops got slug eaten and the other seeds just did nothing. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I noticed that bed had an ants nest in one corner of it. Ants are notorious for eating seeds. That explained pretty much why nothing was really happening (that and the f*cking slugs). Turned out we’ve packed away our Thermos flask so I couldn’t bring any boiling water down there to pour on it, but tried putting some curry powder down and some cut orange halves to attract them into and then chuck onto the bird feeder – but looks like they are still causing havoc. I also tried putting some cous cous down – sounds terribly middle class, but I read about putting semolina down as the ants carry it down to their queen who can’t digest it and she dies and they all bugger off somewhere else. I didn’t have semolina but as it’s just finer ground cous cous I thought I’d try that, but perhaps it’s too big.

The mange tout has also come on really well. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with this as I’ve had no problems with pests on it at all (yet…) no aphids or slug damage. To begin with it was under the mini poly tunnel before it started to get too big, so I caned and netted them and have been plotting their progress, delighted to see the delicate white flowers on them and today found the lovely translucent beans starting to appear (with the odd one or two more advanced ones!) I did eat the biggest one I found – tasted of pure green…

We also planted some courgettes and cucumber plants – again plug plants, and some sunflowers and squashes. Of course our initial plantings got consumed rapidly by the slugs, so we went back to the garden centre and replaced them all and tried again. The courgettes have been kept under alternating between cloches and a net tunnel, swapping around each week. The squashes (well pumpkins) are currently still in pots following some advice from Gardeners World and are waiting to be planted out. The surviving broccoli in with the cucumbers is starting to produce some florets too. I also planted up a little growbag with some herbs, so have some marjoram, an oregano I moved, chamomile, Vietnamese coriander and I think a Thai basil and a couple of others I can’t remember!

Broc ShootsCloches

I also decided to give some tumbling tomatoes a go – in some hanging growbags which I have hung onto the chicken wire fence where the path is. They have been in for a couple of weeks now and are coming on. A few little yellow flowers are appearing so hopefully the sunshine this bank holiday weekend will give them a good boost. I’m going to be feeding them once a fortnight for a while.

Tomatoes

We got some cheap paving stones a few weeks ago from the garden centre – for 50p each. They aren’t great but not bad either. They have old coin designs – one is a half penny and the other is a farthing. Plus we managed to get some old slabs from my in-laws a couple of weeks ago. Should make navigating the plot a bit easier with less chance of ankle snappage (by me – the woman with the weakest ankles in the multiverse.)

And here is a view of the plot from last week – coming along quite well. Will be writing another post over the weekend to cover some of the other things that we have been growing…flowers and fruit.

Plot 22 May 2016

springing back into action…well sort of…

This weekend it was actually sunny for a change, instead of torrential rain or being stingingly cold or the danger of being blown away in severe gales. We went up to the allotment for the first time in ages – to do something other than top up the bird feeders! (Although I did do that too!)

Bird Feeder
Lots of suet goodies and seeds and peanuts

The green manure seeds that I had sown back at the start of winter had been flourishing away and were well overdue for being cut down and dug over into the soil. So my husband set to doing that while also strimming the grass around the raised beds.

Dug Over
From a tangle of vetch and rye to dug over soil

I weeded a little and removed some plants that hadn’t fared too well with the weather and also probably just being neglected somewhat. It seems we have lost our shallots we planted at the start of winter.

I pulled up baby leeks that had been in the raised beds over winter, threw any that were very tiny into the compost and took the rest home. I had some of the smaller ones on top of my half of a pizza for lunch later on. Got a margarita pizza from Tesco and added some parma ham to it and the mini leeks cut lengthways just on my half. My husband gets the cherry tomatoes on his half as I really don’t like cooked tomatoes!

I also took the fleece off the fruit trees. The mini nectarine I bought some time ago was still just a little twiggy thing, the pink lemonade blueberry was looking a little sorry with some leaf droppage going on. Hopefully the sunshine will help them perk up.

Also our little bay had suffered and had lots of brown leaves – no doubt due to the mass of rain overwatering it. I trimmed it back in the hope it might bounce back a bit!

Plenty to be getting on with over the coming weeks – lets hope the weather stays good to get back up there more regularly. We’ve been quite bad with it in recent months, a run of illness and we’ve been busy the last month or so sorting out our house to put it on the market – it’s now up for sale and hopefully we might move house soon, staying in the same area – not going to lose the allotment! But we will hopefully soon have our own garden so I can be growing some other lovely things out the back door too!

Spring Start
Ready for spring!

autumn into winter

As the year flew by and the majority of the bounteous crops were coming to an end, it was time to do some tidying up and preparing the allotment for the coming winter.

The other allotment holders did things at their own pace. Some plots were already being cleared and prepped while others seemed to have been left to let nature recycle the plants – or perhaps they weren’t quite as eager as me!

A view of the main section of the allotments
A view of the main section of the allotments
The 'Club Hut' - a place to have a cup of tea and a wee!
The ‘Club Hut’ – a place to have a cup of tea and a wee!

It seemed premature to begin with, the weather was still quite mild, but with a pink lemonade blueberry I had recently acquired, I was worried about the first frost and not getting it fleeced up in time.

So we set to with pulling up the courgettes and cucumber plants, the last of the onions and the runner beans. The third lot of carrots I planted were doing zip, so I pulled out the little leaves that had stayed at thinning out length for the past month or so. I trimmed back the chives and pulled up the basil that had gone horridly straggly. My marigolds had also not fared well so I pulled them up too – with a view to next year planting more than just a couple and keeping them close together.

Autumn to Winter

The compost bin was filled with the cuttings and pullings. The raised beds looking a little bare, but hopefully not for too long. I sowed handfuls of green manure seed into the now vacant soil. My husband planted shallots in one of the beds and I clipped back some of the lettuce to tidy it up.

The bird feeder was topped up as usual – these days we mostly only pop down there to keep it filled.

Feeder

We had also had word from the council that the allotment holders were allowed to have incinerators. I don’t know if they had previously been allowed but banned due to some people misusing them, but I got one excitedly… perhaps one day we’ll have something to burn in it…

Shiny!
Shiny!

The plot ticks away, the cold weather has descended, as has the storms – with quite biblical style rain. We haven’t been down this week – probably should to check out the state of it.

I had a mini nectarine tree delivered this week – it’s staying indoors at the moment until the weather picks up! It will be going in a pot on the plot – same as the pink lemonade blueberry. It will be fleeced to protect it, but hopefully it will work well.

It did get fleeced...
It did get fleeced…

So now we are in December, time for planning for the coming year. The green manure will need to be dug into the soil, and some seeds can be planted. Can’t wait!

Sprouting

the first summer

As the year progressed we spent more time down at our allotment. The weather was good and it was amazing how good it felt to walk down there on a sunny afternoon from home and get a sense of reward from working at the soil and taking home food we had grown. One of the things I love about going down to our allotment is looking around at the other more developed plots. There are some fantastic gardeners where we live. Large beds full of lush looking greens and almost overflowing with an abundance of flowers like sweet peas, poppies and marigolds.

Pic

Of course there were still some neglected overgrown plots, plentiful in tall weeds and rogue remnants from previous tenants, spotting the wild redness of raspberry canes amid the nettles and fluffy rosebay willowherb.

The local council had made various requests to keep the area tidy, including an amnesty on old bathtubs – a common sight, full of rainwater. They slowly disappeared (apart from the odd one that has survived the cull) and also the communal compost area was dug out and removed. There had been many requests to stop dumping all kinds of rubbish into it, which sadly had been ignored, so it was taken away. However a friendly man was given it as a project to turn into a plot of his own. He worked hard over the months and made a smart looking area, always had a smile and a hello whenever we walked by. We were pleased to see he had been awarded the best newcomer in the local 2015 allotment awards section of the Calne in Bloom competition.

We had decided to grow quite specific things, we aren’t massive vegetable fanatics. Well, I love eating a lot of different vegetables, but unfortunately they don’t like me. I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome and so sadly many things I really love, I can’t eat, or at least eat much of to make it worth growing oodles of things that would go to waste. So that means no kale, cabbage, cauliflower, sweetcorn, broad beans, artichokes, asparagus (this makes me very sad – I LOVE ASPARAGUS!!!!!), beetroot – in fact most root type veg such as swede, turnip, parsnip… The list is too long. But my husband also doesn’t like most of these things so he isn’t missing out!

So we concentrated on carrots, onions, spring onions, broccoli, potatoes, cucumber and courgette. Late on I decided to give runner beans a go too and set them up next to the courgette. I battled with black fly – spraying the absolute shiz out of them with washing up liquid and water in a spray bottle. Going more regularly just to keep an eye on them. Gradually my squeamish reactions to the feel of little flies on my fingers, or coming upon a massive slug, soon faded to bearable limits. I also managed not to scream when Daddy Long Legs’s flew out of plants into my face…

Beans

The birds enjoyed our feeder, always kept topped up with seeds and handfuls of suet mixed with mealworms and the water topped up. We planted some raspberry canes (Glen Ample and a Golden variety) and a Gooseberry. Strawberries shot tendrils out from their netted cover and our cucumbers and courgettes flourished.

FruitProduceSunflower

The neighbouring plot had some fantastic sunflowers which towered up and were a pleasure to look at. We decided that we wanted something to sit on when we needed a break. There was a old bench that seemed to belong to the patch next to us, and while I pondered at getting a second hand old bench, I then saw a resin moulded storage bench on offer through Amazon Prime and I got it. After some faff with it not being delivered the next day as expected, and then missing the re-delivery attempt the following day, we eventually got it and assembled it. It now hosts the bird feed, seeds and smaller tools as well as the super comfy Burgon & Ball kneelo kneeler pads and knee pads I got (which of course are now coated in mud – but still thoroughly squishy and nice!)

Bencheucalyptus-largekneepadeuc-large

We also came across a rather cute little visitor who was making his way across the plots…

Frog

I took snippings of salad leaves and made the most of them – keeping those I didn’t use in the fridge in ziplock bags with kitchen roll to make sure they didn’t spoil too quickly. I made a lovely salad one evening using the lettuce and rocket I had picked, radishes, runner beans and spring onions (as well as new potatoes, avocado and mozzarella balls!)

Leavessalad

We had some great hauls to take home and the second batch of carrots brought some more little lessons – like making sure the soil was a little better dug over and not so compact – but it did result in some rather fabulous looking results!

Haul 1 Haul 2Sexy Carrot

learning curve

I’m no plant expert. I don’t have a garden of my own. Everything I seem to want to grow dies on me.

Some years ago we managed to grow a couple of yellow courgette and patty pan plants out the front of the house in a wicker planter, and some spring onions in a pot along with the odd radish and alpine strawberry. It felt good.

Pre Allotment1 Preallotment 2

So to now be trying to achieve this on a grander scale in some raised beds at our allotment was a little daunting, but exciting too.

To begin with my husband and stepson had planted onions, garlic and potatoes. I don’t have any experience in growing large onions, never grown garlic before and potatoes – well I have some hazy childhood memories from when I was about 4 or 5, digging up potatoes from a patch in our back garden, but beyond that – nothing.

I decided I needed to read up on what to do. Mostly I turned to a book I already had, the River Cottage Veg Patch Handbook.

River Cottage Handbook #4 - Veg Patch (image from www.amazon.co.uk)
River Cottage Handbook #4 – Veg Patch (image from http://www.amazon.co.uk)

The River Cottage Handbooks are a great series of books – I don’t have them all, but I have most of them. Not only are they great sources of information, including recipes, but they look fab too! In the Veg Patch one I read about tying over the tops of the onions to help them ripen without putting too much energy into shooting up the stems. I did just that, despite the fact I couldn’t see anyone else doing the same thing to theirs… Although I didn’t use twine or string, I used those twist ties. Looking back I don’t think they were a good choice, the stems went a bit manky, but it didn’t seem to affect the onions.

Onions

We also piled up the soil around the potato plants. I was worried as after a while they seemed to wilt a lot. Perhaps we didn’t put enough soil over them? When we eventually dug them up, after all the plants seem to have died off, we had over 75 potatoes, but unfortunately most of them had scab. Nothing really wrong with that, just peel it off, but just disappointing really.

We cheated in some parts with buying plug plants from the garden centre, which we did with most of everything else we got, apart from the spring onions, carrots and radishes which we planted from seed. But I was really pleased at how the carrots did and the broccoli.

Broc & Carrot

The plot was looking good and it was starting to get properly absorbing! We had a nice big comfrey plant growing at the back and I was looking forward to using it to make a comfrey feed, but one day we came to our patch to find someone had been and cut it all down. I was quite downhearted. It seemed like the people with the plot that backed onto ours with the chicken wire fence between us had been sorting out things at the back of their bit and had come around to our side of the fence to make sure they got everything… including our comfrey which was growing about half a metre from the fence. Pulled right up. Disappointed doesn’t even cut it!

Plot Spring 2015

However, despite that, we got a good initial crop of produce! And plenty more things to learn as the year continued!

1st crop

the start of something new

Back in 2014 my husband received a letter from our local council to tell him that after being on a waiting list for a couple of years, that a plot had become available in the allotment a mile down the road from our house. He had forgotten about registering his interest in a plot some years ago when he moved to the area with his ex.

The offer was to have a plot at a reduced rate because of the poor state it was in. We decided to go for it!

We took it over in October 2014 – it was a plot tucked away, behind all the wonderfully tended, amazing looking, successful plots. Almost the furthest away from the entrance and in a sorry way, here was our little plot. Rent free until April – and we could see why.

Covered in weeds, grass, nettles with uneven soil that you could probably snap an ankle cleanly in two with a misplaced step. A lockable storage box at the front, backed by a fence that separated us from another plot, with two plots either side. Here it is.

Before

So what to do? Get it into some kind of workable state!

To begin with I was quite overwhelmed, the thought of it did not fill me with the urge to get digging. I have a bad back, so I knew I wouldn’t be a huge amount of use in the early stages, but my husband and stepson (who back then was six coming on seven) gave it some welly!

Workers

It took some weeks, few and far between trips, to cut back the weeds, dig soil over and prepare the ground for a series of raised beds to go in. We were going to start off small, being very new to this – we don’t even have a garden of our own at home – just a nice tarmac car park out the back and several untidy pots full of a mixture of half dead plants and crazy lavender and poppies growing out of the paving. This was how it looked by June!

Plot

We had broccoli and carrots in the front right bed, potatoes behind them and back right there were onions and herbs.

In the middle the beginnings of courgettes, squash and runner beans, some seedlings for carrots and spring onions behind them and strawberries, herbs and a cucumber plant at the back. The left hand beds were not dug over, just left with some compost bags on top to help suppress the grass for when we would be ready for more growing space.

This blog is going to be a little journey of discovery. Our adventures in allotmenting. Learning about how to grow fruit and vegetables, success and failure and feeling like a grown up!