Friday, 15 May 2009

just like buses...

... you spend ages waiting to get an allotment then, all of a sudden, two come along at once.

About 3 weeks ago we took My Folks up to have a look round our bit of the allotment and to have a look at the set up of the site. They seemed quite impressed; so much so that it set them thinking. A couple of days later I had a phone call from them saying that they had found that there were some vacant plots on the allotment site near them and would we be interested. So, we arranged a visit a few days later and found a half plot which needs a reasonable amount of work to get it up together ready for use but nothing that the 4 of us can't handle.

My Folks said they would make enquiries and as it was the start of a bank holiday weekend we thought we wouldn't hear anything for some time. Well, surprise, surprise a couple of days later had a phone call to say that the plot was ours!!! Wow - couldn't believe how quickly this had happened.

That next weekend we descended on the new plot (I'm calling it "Site 2") armed with tape measure, paper, pencil and camera to begin planning out what to do with it. This is what we're faced with:

#10 - Site 2 is approx. 12m x 11m and hasn't been worked for some time

#11 - the view from the rear of the plot is superb (shame about the waist-high weeds!)

#12 - existing compost bins will be moved to free up space by shed

So the plan of action is to strim down the worst of the grass and weeds before killing them off and rotovating the whole lot. Luckily one of the chaps on site has a heavy duty rotovator and is happy to go over the site for us. Once this first pass has been made, we (there it is again - the royal 'we' !) can go over it with a smaller, finer rotovator to break the soil down a bit more. At that point we should be able to begin planning where beds will go and how the plot will be divided between us.

Cloddigger also had a conversation with Deb and Dan about our original plot ("Site 1") to reassure them that we will continue up there for the foreseeable future as we would really like to see at least one success harvest from there.

We're looking forward to working Site 2 with My Folks. They have been growing veg and plants in their home garden for many years now, so I think they will have a lot of knowledge which we can tap into and learn from. I think we're all in agreement that we'll take our time fixing and preparing the site and accept that we may not get much done in the way of planting this year. It will also be interesting to experience the different challenges the two sites throw at us over the coming months.

Watch this space ...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

we have a greenhouse!

STOP PRESS! Hold the front page, and other newspaper-type phrases.

We are now the very proud owners of a greenhouse. No-one is more excited than me because this means I finally get my conservatory back!!!!!!!!

My sister phoned me the other day to say that her father-in-law wondered if we would be interested in an unused greenhouse. Cloddigger jumped up and down with glee and said that, yes please, we would love to take it off his hands. The only stipulation was that we (that's the royal 'we' - I really mean Cloddigger) dismantle it ourselves and arrange transport. Not a problem. The greenhouse was situated close to where My Folks live and they said that they could take Cloddigger down there one evening to help him dismantle it and load it into the car.

Well, said evening comes along. Cloddigger goes to the address and, hey-presto!, turns up to find that it has already been taken apart. Woo-hoo the garden fairies had done all the hard work (big, big thanks to Mum and Dad xx) and all Cloddigger had to do was load it up and bring it home. Perfect.

I now have a greenhouse in my conservatory waiting for a space to be cleared in our garden for it to be rebuilt!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

learning the hard way

Because allotmenting (is that a real word?) is so new to us, we tend to get very excited about the smallest amounts of growth in the plants and I've taken to recording this achievement on a weekly basis by taking photos of everything. I then upload these on the laptop at home and compare this week's photos with last week's (how sad am I?)

Last weekend I was a bit puzzled. Potatoes are going great guns, as are the onions, beans, peas, carrots (so much so they needed strict thinning out), even the sweetcorn and spring onion both of which were only planted a week before. However, the lettuce were looking very sad indeed. They had been in 3 weeks now and didn't appear to have grown a millimetre - very strange. We had been very careful with their treatment; well nourished bed, fleecy cloches to protect from the wind and frost, regular watering. It just didn't add up.

Anyhow, Cloddigger decided to consult our allotment guru (Deb) who was able to reveal that lettuce are "top feeders" - I thought this applied to marine life, but anyway - therefore spread their roots just under the surface of the soil rather than sending down a big tap root. The penny dropped.

When we planted them up we had kept them in their little cardboard blankets to, so we thought, give them a bit more protection. All we'd actually done was effectively bonsai them, DOH!

So BIG lesson learned there. Will make sure that the next batch of lettuce are extracted from the cardboard tubes before committing them to the soil.

Ah well, its all a learning curve.

"Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence" (Abigail Adams, 1780)

Saturday, 9 May 2009

paving the way

We had set out mud paths between the beds but hadn’t put anything down to cover the surface. We had considered getting some hard wearing membrane to put down but, by a stroke of sheer luck, the owners of a neighbouring allotment had taken delivery of a truck load of wood chippings for their chicken coop. There was laurel mixed in at the bottom of the pile which is not suitable for use with livestock, so they kindly said that we could take what they couldn’t use in order to cover the pathways.

This worked out really well as we had enough to cover the paths in our section as well as Deb and Dan’s paths so the whole allotment now has lovely wood chip paving.

#9 – newly laid wood chipping pathways really tidy up the appearance round the beds

Friday, 8 May 2009

lettuce hope something grows

At home in the greenhouse (aka the conservatory!) we have been propagating seeds and bringing on plants before planting them up. We had over-sown lettuce thinking that they wouldn’t all germinate and ended up with loads of seedling lettuce. They looked ready to plant out so we decided that we’d plant some up in vegetable bags on our decking at home and plant the rest on the allotment.

We prepared the lettuce bed by digging out trenches and filling them with well rotted garden compost before transferring the young plants into the ground. We had brought them on in cardboard tubes found in the centre of toilet paper rolls – not only does this reduce cost but is a great way to recycle the cardboard (which The Council does not accept in its recycling boxes). Each lettuce was kept in its cardboard tube when planted into the ground to protect the roots from damage and frost. The cardboard will soon rot down into the soil so there shouldn’t be any worries about the roots not spreading.

As our plot is rather windy and exposed to the elements, I decided that the lettuce needed a little extra protection so I installed some bamboo arches (cheap to buy from local hardware store: 3 for 99p) and covered them in garden fleece creating a warm cloche. The fleece will allow moisture to get through so that the plants don’t dry out while protecting the young plants from the worst of the wind and cold.

#7 – lettuce planted and bamboo arches installed

#8 – garden fleece finishes off the protective cloches

Thursday, 7 May 2009

pest control

I spoke previously about the need to fence around the whole allotment in order to keep out rabbits. This has so far proved effective against ground attacks from predators, so the next step was to pre-empt any air strikes. Looking round at neighbouring allotments, we could see that a variety of different devices are in use from traditional scarecrows, to bottles on sticks, to old CDs on string. Deb had plans for creating funky spinning windmills out of old drinks cans which she passed on to Cloddigger who duly spent a couple of evenings with a pile of cans from the recycling box, some wire and a pair of tin snips. The end results have been eye catching and very effective as well as prompting admiring comments from fellow allotment holders.

#6 – drinks can bird scarer

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

planting up

With all our area dug over, grass and weeds removed we were ready to begin planting! This was a very exciting time as it felt like we were about to do something real and creative. First off, we created a long mound in which to plant the potatoes. Beside this we planted several onion varieties and then sowed the carrots.

Bear in mind that we are complete novices at growing vegetables, especially in an allotment setting, so we invested in an extremely useful and easy to read publication: “Practical Allotment Gardening” by Caroline Foley (available on Amazon ). As newbies to allotment gardening this is an ideal read full of practical advice and great projects. No doubt our library of allotment books will grow through time, but this particular one is likely to become well-thumbed as we use it time and time again.

#3 - potato "barrow" with onion bed to the left. A sun flower is planted at the head of the barrow.

#4 - carrot bed fully prepared and ready for planting up

#5 - a view of complete area dug over and paths set out

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

dig dig dig dig dig dig dig, we dig the whole day through*

* inspired by the “Dig Dig Dig Song” from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

First task on the allotment was to do some serious digging. The ground hadn’t been turned over for nearly a year and grass and weeds were rife. We didn’t have access to a rotovator so the whole area had to be dug and turned over by hand. This took around 3 hours or so with 2 of us working on it. We then decided to roughly mark out where we thought beds might go to enable us to do a planting plan on paper. Important tip – make sure you have a tape measure, paper and pencil with you on site as guessing just isn’t accurate enough when it comes to drawing up a planting plan! Our first attempt (because we didn’t have a tape measure with us) was miles out necessitating completely re-doing the plan once we had properly measured up.

The first bed to be prepared would be for carrots, lettuce and sweetcorn. It actually wasn’t too difficult to dig over as there were no grass or weeds on it as a weed suppressing membrane had been placed over it. All that was required was for the area to be turned over, broken down and some good quality garden compost dug in. The approximate measurements of this bed are 3m x 1.5m.

Next job to be tackled was fencing off the whole patch as there is a substantial rabbit population on the site. We certainly didn’t want to be planting up young, tender plants only to provide a free meal for a bunch of bunnies. Fencing proved to be a weekend job. Cloddigger and Dan spent the best part of two days sinking in posts and attaching chicken wire and creating two gated access points to the plot. The picture below shows the results of their labours. Well done lads !!!

#2 - fencing around whole plot

Saturday, 2 May 2009

a seed of an idea

So where to begin? Well, for some considerable time Cloddigger and I had been talking about 'getting an allotment' (since before the period known as "Credit Crunch") and had put our names down with our local council to go on the waiting list.

So we waited, and waited and waited. Phoned "The Council" (can't name and shame cos I still want our bins emptied with regularity) and eventually got put through to the right department only to by told "The management of The Council's allotments is undertaken by a 3rd party". Thereafter was given contact details of said 3rd party but couldn't make contact, grrrrrr!

Fast forward 18 months and the 'getting an allotment' conversation came up again. This time, fortuitously, it was held with a colleague of Cloddigger's who said "we have an allotment which we're struggling to manage, if you help us dig it over and give us a hand to put up some fencing, you can have a section to use for yourselves". So that was it - in March 2009 we took on a small section of Deb and Dan's allotment.

#1 - our first view of our bit of the allotment (click on image for more detail)