Sunday, 25 February 2007

More Planting

Having spent the entire week feeling decidedly under the weather (swollen glands in neck, terribly sore throat, body aching from head to toe, and feeling constantly exhausted, no idea what that was but at least it's gone now), it was with some trepidation that I ventured onto the allotment today.

I'd started coming over all ill and icky whilst pottering about on my allotment last weekend, then spent the week feeling somewhat dazed and confused. Most people take large quantities of illicit narcotics to achieve that effect, though I've no idea why, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Without this blog I'd not actually have remembered what it was I'd done last weekend. Even so I was rather concerned that I might have left tools and seeds scattered around the site, I couldn't remember putting them away you see.

Mind you, I'm sure that the Wise Old Bird in Residence would have telephoned me and given me a piece of his mind had I left the tools he's loaned me scattered to the winds.

Fortunately I'd done nothing of the sort. And to my utter delight I discovered that the garlic bulbs I'd planted last weekend have started to sprout.

Cor... growing things... amazing.

Herself took the piss, by reminding me of Neil from The Young Ones with his "we plant the seed, nature grows the seed, we eat the seed, we plant the seed..." witterings. Pah!

So far so good. Time for some more planting.

In went 70+ pea seeds. Apparently I've overplanted them, you don't need to plant anything like that many all at once. Do I care? Nope. I don't like peas anyway, they're nothing but green poo-bits from the arse of a leprous cabbage. Yuck. Herself likes peas, and that's why I am growing some. No doubt the forces of modern technology will win the day when we end up blanching and freezing boxfuls of the horrid things. Cap'n Birdseye, eat your heart out!

Oh, somebody asked me which variety of peas I'd planted. Er? Green ones? Bloody stupid question, who cares what variety they are? They're all of the variety 'Horribilus Anus' if you ask me.

I put a bit of white fluffy stuff called garden fleece over the soil where the peas went in, to stop the birds from digging in and eating the seeds. Hopefully that'll protect them whilst they germinate and sprout. If not then maybe I'll catch and kill the birds, and we can eat them instead.

Next in were the onion seeds, all very easy. I think we'll get 40 or 50 onions out of that.

And that was that. No more seeds left to plant until I buy some more. Which was a bit of an anticlimax.

Meanwhile in other news:
The horseradish that I found and transplanted doesn't seem to have died, but it's hardly on the rampage either, it's just sitting there where I planted it. Maybe it'll take, I hope so anyway because there's nothing quite so yummy as a good bit of horseradish and if push comes to shove you can always boil it down and make an antipersonnel spray out of it.

The rosemary bush that I transplanted seems to have survived. Which is a good thing.

My friend and fellow allotment holder the Wing Commander had wanted some of my Jerusalem artichokes, and I'd told him that he was welcome to them. Today we met and chatted, he'd taken a spade to the patch and apparently they were not Jerusalem artichokes at all but were infact dead sunflower stems. I do hope his target acquisition skills were better than his plant identification skills when he was flinging bombers around the sky. Not that I knew any better, but it was funny.

I mentioned to the Wise Old Bird in Residence that the haggis had let me down and I wasn't going to get any tools next week after all. At this point the WOBR promptly announced that he had some old spare tools that were just gathering dust and I could have them whenever I wanted them. Excellent news! As soon as my shed's up I'll take him up on that offer.

I've been speaking with the Head of Beans (Counting Division) at the allotment site, and it seems as though we've found a way to get our paws on a few tonnes of well rotted wood chip, for free. Apparently we can spread this on the ground over our fruit bushes and trees and it will help to retain moisture during the hot weather. Which is good news.

Finally, I've now committed my planting plan to electrons and put it somewhere where I won't lose it. Which is probably a good idea.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Nuclear Weapons, The Only Answer

Today my allotmenting has taken a blow for the worse.

Yes we'll still be having the wild, drunken orgies. The beer volcanoes and erotic dancers will still perform on cue. Money will continue to grow from our trees, and the oil well is coming along right on schedule.

But there will be no gardening tools, as promised, on my allotment on 1st March.



Our new chappy at work, whom I was due to collect from Heathrow airport next Wednesday has cried off. At the last minute he has decided that he would prefer to stay in Scotland rather than to move to civilisation and enjoy the benefits of hot and cold running electricity.

What a haggis!

Oh, and it's a bit of a blow at work, much gnashing of teeth, the occassional rude word, and a few suicides amongst the senior management have ensued.

But bugger all that, the swine had promised me some gardening tools!

I am now officially miffed. I have miff. Miff is with me. And miff needs feeding, if you ask me.

Does anybody have the ICBM targetting codes for Scotland?

If I get any more miffed it'll be time to break out the Cold Sick Grenades and the Snot Launchers. That'll show 'em!

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Planting and other Oddities

Today on the allotment was a bit strange.

It's February, it should be cold, but there I was nattering with another plot holder and we were both wearing t-shirts, all nice and warm enough thank you very much.

I suppose that is a symptom of this Global Warming that has been so fashionable in the news over the last few years.

Well, to be honest I was a bit bored. I've done all the big digging and found myself wondering what on earth to do next. Staring at well tilled beds with nothing growing in them is rather disheartening.

It was time to bite the bullet and do the job I'd been dreading. That was to clear the grass from between the raspberry canes. I knew it was going to be a bitch of a job, and it certainly was. I'm a reasonably big chap, I like digging and doing the heavy work (much to my surprise I can tell you), but I am not well designed for bending down and scrabbling between raspberry canes yanking out tufts of grass. Nor does it suit my temperament very well, and probably wasn't helped by the mild hangover I had from last night's beers.

Well I did it, after a fashion. It's not the greatest job ever done, but it'll do. Herself had the digisnapper today so no photographs of my work, not that it was worthy of a snap if I am honest about it.

Herself and baby had gone to meet the Mother-in-Law at Pensford Fields, where there was a 'work day' going on. I'm not terribly sure what a 'work day' means but having glanced in on them it seemed to mean a few people generally hanging around not doing very much. Mind you, the MiL had just popped home for something or other at that time and I have no doubt whatsoever that upon her return it would have been all hands to the pumps and chop-chop, work-work, busy-busy, bang-bang (you would have to meet her, she doesn't exactly sit idle and doesn't expect anyone else to sit idle either).

For what it's worth I have no idea what this 'Sunrise Senior Living' lark in the link above is all about. The Pensford Fields crew are all middle aged as far as I can tell, they have Wassail each January organised by the MiL, an art exhibition / sale each summer (to raise money for the upkeep of the field they charge a commission on all works sold) previously organised by the MiL who actually slept on site in a tent to guard the artworks over the weekend, and they have occassional disagreements with the tennis club next door or so I am told (I've never seen any evidence for this).

There seems to be something of a theme developing here, being Things I Don't Know About. Ho hum, well I am trying to learn about gardening which is a start.

After I'd cleared the grass, or more to the point once I had sort of cleared it enough to say bollox to it and get on with something else, I decided that it was high time that I did some planting. After all, that is the point of an allotment isn't it?

First off was the spuds. I took the advice of the Wise Old Bird in Residence and read the instructions on the packet. OK so the instructions said not to plant the spuds until March, but everone seems to agree that the weather is a month early so with little or nothing to lose I dug three trenches, about 4"/10cm deep and 2'/60cm apart. The instructions also said to plant the spuds 10"/25cm apart but I think I erred on the side of caution and planted them a bit further apart from that. In the end I planted 27 spuds, with the shoots pointing upwards also per the instructions.

That was easy enough, and I still have plenty of seed potatoes left. They're a variety called Arran Pilot and should be ready for lifting and munching by about June I think.

With 27 plants, each expecting to deliver maybe 1kg of spuds I am wondering just how we're going to eat them all, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Next the garlic went in. That was incredibly easy. I planted the whole pack, maybe 40 or so garlic cloves. I have no worries about how we will eat that much garlic, oh no, for garlic is yummy and well used in my kitchen.

I met the lady from the plot nextdoor, the one that shared the buried watertank with my plot. She was absolutely fine about me having dug the tank out, she agreed that it was dangerous and said that it was actually a real pain being where it had been because it interfered with some of her planting. She was also thoroughly disinterested in having anything more to do with it, so Herself gets to keep it and use it as a planter. All good stuff. Oh, and she gave me a cabbage to have with our dinner, always a bonus!

Anyway, the lady nextdoor gave me some advice about raspberry canes, and suggested that I mark the rows of garlic I had planted, which I promptly did. Now I understand why allotments require such a vast number of bamboo canes, it took ten little ones and a ball of string just to mark the five rows of garlic that I had planted. Once I get going, building net cage things for the peas and beans and brassicas I can see me running out of canes and having to buy some more. Fortunately the site shop seems particularly well stocked with them.

The Wise Old Bird in Residence spied my gardening gloves, which are leather and cloth and not terribly waterproof, and he gave me a pair of waterproof, very heavy duty ones. He does seem to be an extremely decent chap, and he keeps an eye on everyone or so it seems (he is the lettings officer for the site).

One of my friends and fellow plot holder tells me that he's got almost all the materials for my shed now. That's brilliant, I didn't ask him for it, he just offered because he gets loads of such material which would otherwise be thrown away in the course of his job (he's a builder).

We've got a new bloke starting at work on 1st March, he's moving down from Scotland and selling his house. He's promised me his old gardening tools when he arrives, because he doesn't expect to be able to afford a place with a garden here in SW London. So that's that, by the start of March I should hopefully have a shed and my own tools on site. Yay!

I'm going to ask the Wise Old Bird in Residence if he would mind me using a bit of space in a greenhouse that is going spare on a certain plot that he's currently tending. I don't know if he'll have plans for it, but if not then maybe I can get some greenhouse space too, which will please Herself no end.

I'm hoping to get back to the allotment tomorrow, and maybe plant some peas. Unfortunately though I seem to have been struck down with a nasty 'make you feel decidedly unwell' bug this afternoon. Herself had it a couple of weeks ago and it put her off work for a week. I bloody well hope that doesn't happen to me, I've just had the best part of a week off looking after my daughter (she had chickenpox). My boss is very decent about such things, but er, well I do have a pretty responsible job and my absence is noticed. Sod it, they can and do get me on the phone when I'm not there. But I'd rather not be ill thank you.

I think since my daughter started nursery school myself and Herself have had more colds and ailments per year than we'd had in the previous decade. The trials of parenthood eh?

Ho hum.

Lastly, I picked up a leaflet from the site shop today. Apparently they're taking orders for plants, veggies and flowers, to be delivered in May. Now I'm not terribly well versed in the prices of plants in gardening shops, but the prices from the site shop do sound amazingly cheap to me. Cauliflowers for £0.70 per dozen, and trays of flowers for £4.50 per 40. Is that cheap? I think it is. Perhaps this is a bit of an eye-opener for the prices charged by garden centres etc?


Sunday, 11 February 2007

Warned Off

The weather broke this morning and I dashed hot foot to the allotments, hoping to plant some green things.

There I received more words of wisdom. Do not plant anything yet, rather wait another week at least and preferably two weeks.


Well, these chaps run successful allotments and frankly I haven't a clue so I'm following their advice.

Of course I was on site by then, so I had to do something.

I bought a couple of big bags of manure which I dug into the potato bed and the pea bed. Then I removed the black plastic sheeting that had been covering the last bed and dug that over.

The wise old bird in residence seems to be reasonably impressed with my enthusiasm for the job, little does he know how utterly clueless I actually am about the whole process. Take digging for example, I've read that there are various approaches, from trenching to no-dig. So what did I do? Just cleared the old plants and weeds then dug the soil over. The effect looks good, but I've no idea if it will yield up a plentiful bounty of fruit and veg.

Anyway, my enthusiasm was rewarded today when he spied me digging a bramble out by the roots. He gave me a brand new pair of secateurs that he had going spare. So now it's official, I actually own gardening tools. Well, a single gardening tool at least.

The funny thing is, I'm still going dig any brambles out by the roots to prevent them from growing back, but the secateurs will come in very handy for pruning the raspberry canes growing in the fruit bush bed.

After digging on the allotment I had to pop into work, where wonder of wonders I found myself listening to Gardener's Question Time on Radio 4. So it's official, I am now an old fart!

In one part of the show one of the guests said something about this being the time of year to prune raspberry canes, but that against conventional wisdom you shouldn't prune them right the way back to the ground. He was just getting into the swing of what you should actually do with them when a pesky piece of work distracted me and I totally missed what he said. If anyone reading this knows what's to do in this case (e.g. if you too listened to GQT but paid more attention than I did) would you please let me know? Thanks.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Rain Stopped Play

Having put the hard work in last weekend preparing about 70 square metres of beds I was rather hoping to start planting a few green things today.

This morning was a washout, the rain was too heavy for me. To date I am a fair weather allotment man.

This afternoon was dry for a while, but on the way to the allotments I bumped into one of the committee members (the same chap who is currently loaning me tools and a shed). He sagely advised me not to do any digging today, that I should wait until tomorrow.

With the storm clouds gathering and a trip to the supermarket calling I took his advice.

We did however buy some seeds. Hopefully I can get the Arran Pilot potatoes into the ground tomorrow. It's what they call a First Early, meaning that you plant it from February onwards and start munching the spuds about three months later.

Various reading suggests that you shouldn't just shove spuds you bought from the supermarket into the ground and expect them to grow. Though to be honest I think that's what my dad used to do when I was a kid, and none of the words of wisdom in books or websites I've read so far suggest any good reasons why you shouldn't just plant regular shop bought potatoes. I have a pack of Maris Piper potatoes in the kitchen at the moment and can buy Maris Piper seed potatoes, so what's the difference? I don't know.

I think I shall give over a small section of my potato bed to experimenting with planting shop bought potatoes just to see what happens.

Another thing I read that you are supposed to do with seed potatoes is to "chit" them. This means leaving them to sprout green bits before burying them in the ground. All the allotment holders I've spoken to about this so far have told me not to bother, they say that you can just plonk the seed spuds complete with their fledging shoots into the ground and they'll grow fine. So that's what I'm going to do. Perhaps those shoots are the "chits"? I don't know.

I've been asking here and there for advice, and probably the best piece I've received so far was "buy seeds, read the instructions on the packet, and follow them". That sounds easy enough.

Hopefully tomorrow will be drier (though the weather forecast does not bode well) and I can sling a load of manure into some trenches that I'll dig and make my first planting of potatoes.

I estimate that I can plant 40 to 50 properly spaced potato plants in the bed that I've prepared for them, though I have no idea if that's too many. It sounds like a lot, but it's also about the number of seed potatoes in the 3kg bag that I bought (I didn't count them, I'm just guessing).

Perhaps I'll end up feeding half my street with the excess of spuds, only time will tell.

On the plus side today, at least my nicely prepared beds hadn't suddenly bloomed into weed-life during the week. I must admit that I sort of expected them to do exactly that. I'd read that turning the soil exposes old weed seeds and that they start growing immediately, but I couldn't think of anything to do other than to dig the beds over, so I did, and to hell with it.

So far, no pesky weeds (it won't last).

Friday, 9 February 2007

The Baby Killer

I would very much like to be polite and sweet and kind about everyone on the allotment site. But... there had to be a but didn't there? A previous tenant had taken it upon themselves to dig a big water tank directly into the ground along the path separating my allotment from the one next door. You can see it in the attached photograph. Surely this must rate as one of the most dangerous and stupid things you could do to an allotment?

I have a toddler, she's a beautiful little girl and in keeping with toddlerdom she rushes around playing and hasn't yet learned to keep herself safe from harm, relying instead on mummy and daddy for the common sense ration (the mad fool!).

Several members of the allotment committee commented on how amazingly dangerous the tank was, even to adults let alone toddlers.

Before signing the paperwork to formally take tenancy of the allotment I decided that the tank had to go, as a matter of first priority.

Fortunately the committee agreed with me and told me to just go for it. Apparently the chap who had put it in had also put another one in somewhere else on the plot and they'd made him remove it.

One week later, my first time on site with a spade in my hand, digging commenced.

If you've never tried to dig a tank out of the ground before then my advice is to avoid doing so if at all possible. If you have dug a tank out of the ground before then you will know what I am talking about.

Those things seem to go on down forever. I had visions of Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth as I dug ever further down.

OK. So I am indulging in a tiny bit of hyperbole, but as I dug ever further down and the rotten thing still refused to budge I did begin to wonder if I might have bitten off more than I could chew.

With a bit of superb foresight (for me) I had at least thought to bail the water out of it before trying to actually remove it. With genius-like foresight (again, for me) I even dug down far enough to stand in a trench whilst bailing out. How much water came out of that tank? Certainly enough to top up the pond on the plot and still flood a couple of the beds to buggery.

All sorts of creepy nasties crept out of the weed in that tank too. I was grateful for the gloves I was wearing. Visions of evil, flesh munching parasites boring their way into my skin flitted before my eyes as each of the abyssal critters leapt viciously from the weed and brutally attacked the leather of my gloves with much gnashing of mandibles (OK, so I'm no great fan of creepy crawlies).

Eventually the tank was dug around on four sides, and the bailing out had left a mere 50 or so litres of water in the bottom (top tip: use a square sided bucket when bailing water out of a flat bottomed tank, you suffer far less of the diminishing returns of a round bucket as you get towards the bottom of the tank - hindsight is a wonderful thing). After a bit of wiggling with a spade, and knocking out a couple of retaining bricks the tank was free.

Of course it was still pretty heavy and 60cm or so in the ground.

It was time for an Arnie moment. Back straight, feet well planted either side of the tank, deep breaths, good grip, and heave!

Fortunately the bugger came out in one go and I bellowed like an apeman, proud of my achievement.

No doubt the governor of California would have flipped it topside with the flick of a single finger and then returned to his hi-carb breakfast, but for me it was something of a triumph.

Naturally enough I now had a dirty great big hole in the path. My previous foresight hadn't extended as far as how to fill the resultant hole. Oh well, I slung a load of detritus from the site in and covered it up with the soil I'd removed when digging it out. There's still a depression there, which no doubt will get worse before it gets better, but do I really give a toss? Nope. My baby is now safe from one of the many hazards on my allotment and I'm happy.

The Allotment Man Cometh

On 27th January 2007 I became the proud tenant of 120 square metres of London Borough of Richmond goodness.

All I had to do next was to:

  • Acquire a shed

  • Get some gardening tools

  • Learn something about growing fruit and vegetables

  • Do a lot of digging

  • Plant some green things

  • Wait

  • Eat

  • Er...

  • That's it, isn't it?

So far I have:

  • Been loaned the use of a shed or three whilst I get my own sorted out

  • Been loaned some gardening tools

  • Been promised some gardening tools of my own at the end of February

  • Been told by a friend, builder and fellow allotment holder that he is getting bits and pieces together to build my shed from

  • Learned very little about growing fruit and vegetables (though I can now say "Crop Rotation" with ease and confidence)

  • Done a lot of digging

Whilst totally unable to get The Who's "Now I'm a Farmer" out of my mind I am a proud, if somewhat daunted, man I can tell you!