Allotment Tours and Site Inspections
My allotment site has several new site representatives – they are each responsible for visiting and reporting back on a block of allotments. Because I’m also pretty new, I grabbed the chance to go round with them, as our Site Supervisor showed them allotments that met the various categories we use for inspections:
*100% = an allotment in full cultivation
*75% = the standard every allotment should meet after it’s been in cultivation by a tenant for 6-9 months (depending on the season) where three-quarters of the allotment should be in cultivation
*Weed notice = a plot that hasn’t been adequately cultivated
*Termination notice = this happens after three weed notices have been issued or when some other circumstance means that the tenant has broken their tenancy agreement.
Of course we, like most allotment volunteers, don’t actually get to issue any notices – that’s done by the council who own the land on which we grow our crops. So sometimes a site rep will ask for a weed notice, or a termination, and the council will issue that notice but then the tenant will write to the Council and manage to get the decision reversed. This can cause grief on the site, where neighbours may have been complaining for months about weeds or trees or rubbish, and expecting their site rep to ‘sort it out’, only to find the rep has been overruled by the Council. On the other hand, sometimes the Council gets information we’re not privy to, for example when an allotment tenant has a long term illness to contend with but still hopes to return to full health and to their plot – and obviously, nobody wants to remove one of their incentives to recovery by taking away their allotment!
So it’s a bit of a balancing act. As an example, one gent has been asked to cut down trees that are preventing other allotments getting their fair share of sun. On our site, the rule is no trees over 2 metres in height. He’s cut the trees on one plot, but he has another plot on which the trees are still full height … so we start the process all over again.
It’s been fascinating to take the site rep tour, and it’s given me a new insight into how difficult it can be to solve the problem of an ever-increasing waiting list alongside the current tenant’s rights to deal with their plot as they choose. And I’m glad that I’m only the Secretary …
(And in case you're wondering, this plot would be given a weed notice!)
Allotment greenhouse in early spring
Or, to put it another way, why you can’t turn round without knocking over a tray of seeds. We’ve never had a greenhouse before, nor an allotment at this time of year, so we may be overdoing things a bit. Here’s the list:
Celeriac – in the dining room, because they look so fragile and the dining room isn’t very warm anyway.
Peas – 50 seedlings currently evenly divided between the (unheated) greenhouse at home and the cold frame at the plot. They are meteor and living up to their name, if they don’t get in the ground soon they will be an impenetrable jungle of pea tendrils
Nasturtiums – don’t ask why Himself planted two trays of nasturtium seedlings and put them in the greenhouse. He got carried away …
Broad beans – two lines were overwintered on 235, but the mice have got to quite a few of them, so we’ve started off another packet of seeds in pots in the greenhouse, and this time (assuming they germinate) we’ll nip off the seed embryos before we plant them out
Leeks – one tray in the greenhouse
Tree seedlings – one tray in the greenhouse
Alpine white strawberries – one tray of seedlings doing well, in the greenhouse
Sweet peas – a tray and a half, two seeds per pot, in the greenhouse
Rhubarb – sixteen transplants in the cold frame at 201
Currants – eighteen cuttings in the cold frame at 201: I took this picture of our own transplants on 29 January - on Monday they had grown so much I couldn't get all three into the picture - rhubarb is very strange stuff!
Globe artichoke – one, in a pot, doing badly, in the cold frame at 201
And that’s before we plant out the four varieties of potatoes or the onion sets …
The words bitten off and more than we can chew rather come to mind!
Allotment Potato Beds, Raised Beds and February Tasks
Well, I’ve discovered a problem I never expected – when you have two days of good weather in a row, in a February that has followed one of the worst winters you can remember, you go a bit daft.
We spent ALL Friday and ALL today at the allotment, and I have to go back tomorrow too – although only for plot inspections with Site Representatives, not for actual allotment work.
The thing is, I’m cream-crackered! On Friday, before we went to the allotment, I planted out the Babbington’s Leeks in the greenhouse. Once we got to the plot we dug the potato bed over again, Himself raked the bean and pea bed, and I dug compost and some sand into the two raised beds which seem to be pure clay. We planted potatoes in tyres on 235 and 201, on the basis that while it may not be organic, it’s at least environmentally friendly to use up some old tyres in this fashion – and it’s supposed to get you your earliest new potatoes up to three weeks earlier than other methods because as long as you keep one empty tyre above the height of the haulm, there won’t be any frost damage to the plant.
Today, while Himself planted carrots in one raised bed, having built a nifty fleece-covered lid for it too, I planted the Jerusalem artichokes that Janet very kindly gave us yesterday. We hadn’t planned anywhere for them, so it was a swift decision to stick them along the fence by the thornless blackberry. Then we marked out the herb and simples garden (sounds posh, but actually it’s the size of two broom cupboards!) because Ray had given the Association some lovely wallflower plants for any plotholder who wanted them, and I’d taken a nice big clump, before remembering that they needed to go in yet another area of completely untouched plot.
Janet took two of our rhubarb transplants and June had a couple too. Ray also say he’d like some so we agreed to drop four pots off to him on our way home as his plot is on our way to the gate. I found myself potting up loads more rhubarb as a result, and Himself got busy putting up the frame for the climbing French beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears, that Fran gave us as a seed swap. The frame is actually a bit of shop fitting that was being thrown out, and as we're 'waste not, want not' we said we'd take it. We've used another one horizontally to make a frame for our blackberry to climb up/along and there's a third version, which is actually two much skinnier sections, with rungs rather than a grid, that we're planning to turn into an ornamental archway at one entrance to the plot - note that word 'planning' because it's one of those things that sounds great but as it actually requires two fences to be re-built so that the arch actually has some purpose. I suppose we could just stick it up anyway, but it would look pretty silly. So instead it lurks in the shed and I fall over it and curse all the time. Anyway, you can just see the carrot bed, with its fleece lid, in the foreground of the blue bed with the frame in it.
And Himself had already dug up a huge clump of snowdrops from home that needed transplanting into the plot, so I did those, then dug over the first of the herb beds, the equilateral bed we’re calling it, and then Anita and John from next door asked if we wanted some old-fashioned purple iris that they had going spare, and of course we did, and they had to be planted out while himself hoed around the raspberries and …
I came home and fell asleep on the sofa! If this good weather carries on, I shan't be able to cope. Mind you, I can't afford any more time off work either, so perhaps that will stop us working ourselves to shadows. Although we've still got to plant sweet peas, marigolds, tomatoes, leeks ...
Alpine Strawberries, Raised Beds and Ruminations
I was expecting to admit defeat on the strawberry germination front. Despite excellent advice and carefully packaged seeds from Patrick and Steph there had been a long period of absolutely nothing happening. But today there are four absolutely tiny seedlings in the white alpine strawberry seed tray! They are minute in a completely different way to the celeriac, which is tall and spindly, the strawberries are tiny but soil-hugging, looking like tiny green pinpricks on the surface of the John Innes #2. I’m very excited, especially as I have more seeds yet to plant, and hope that there will be enough seedlings to be able to raise some for other allotment holders. And we potted up about nine rhubarb at the weekend, so we’re definitely stockpiling goodies to be sold/donated/given away, which is part of our brief in working this plot for the Allotment Society.
Anyway, because the strawberries are just too intsy to photograph, here’s a picture of our first raised beds being installed. The wood was sourced by me from Freecycle, the beds were designed and constructed by Himself from old decking, and I painted them. He hammered them into the ground. I dug the soil over. In other words, it’s been a real collaborative effort. The idea is to have nine of them, all in different colours, but we haven’t agreed on which nine crops they will house yet: definitely celeriac, climbing French beans, summer salads and chicory but the rest are up for grabs, as it were.
What I’ve been ruminating about is the excitement of germination. I’ve been out to the greenhouse three times to look at the strawberries, and I know Himself will go and have a look as soon as he gets home. But having mentioned this to an otherwise good friend today, I was disturbed to find her reaction to be lukewarm. She’s not ‘into’ planting things, she told me. I can’t understand that at all. I’ve tried, but it’s like saying you’re not into breathing, isn’t it?
Apart from potting up loads of rhubarb, to be either sold or given away to other allotment holders (I want to give it away, the committee may overrule me and either sell it or ask for donations) I’ve been thinking a lot about allotment perennials these past few days. There’s raspberries of course, needing to be pruned now to get going for the autumn harvest (if you have autumn fruiting ones, the summer fruiting ones should be pruned after harvesting). And black, red and whitecurrants, all of which are lovely to make jam and jelly with, and give you years of service. Our thornless blackberry is a joy – and even thorny brambles produce gorgeous fruit.
So what else?
How about perennial leeks? Oh yes! They are properly called Babbington’s Leek, and I’ve just been given half a dozen bulbils by the lovely Fran who helps organise Seedy Sunday. Plants for a Future says: Division in late summer or early autumn. Dig up the bulbs when the plants are dormant and divide the small bulblets at the base of the larger bulb. Replant immediately, either in the open ground or in pots in a cold frame. Bulbils - plant out as soon as they are ripe in late summer. The bulbils can be planted direct into their permanent positions, though you get better results if you pot them up and plant them out the following spring.
Doesn’t that sound great? They are like a mild leek or Welsh onion, as far as I can tell.
And how about perennial rocket, also from the lovely Fran. This is apparently a totally different plant to cultivated rocket with more finely cut leaves and a much stronger flavour, which is more complex but doesn’t get silly-hot like rocket does just before it bolts. It seems that it hates root disturbance and tends to sprawl, so needs a bit of room to allow it to self seed, at which point you lift the seedlings in a big dollop of soil so as not to derange the roots and give the plantlets a new home.
Also, somewhat scarily, I’ve agreed to take some tomato seedlings from Fran to raise up so that we can have a tomato tasting day on the allotments and then people can say which seed they’d like me to save for them so that they can then have seed to raise their own tomatoes in perpetuity – gulp!
Seeds, Awards, Ice, Parquet
We have 22 celeriac seedlings! Can you see them? Don’t worry if you can’t, it’s not your eyes, they are incredibly tiny, spindly things (can that be right?)
Anyway, going from the miniscule to the hefty, here’s a picture of the ‘parquet’ going down in front of the shed – it’s old bits of fence post (some of them have hefty nails hammered flat on the side that’s sunk in the sand) painted with whatever dribs and drabs of woodstain happened to be lying around. It looks wonderful, if I say so myself, and turned out to be a great way to use up bits of wood that would otherwise be burnt or go to landfill.
And from the hefty to the strange … there was a defunct wormery on the plot when we arrived, and this weekend we found this strange ice had formed on top of it water in it – now these shapes aren’t in any way part of the wormery so we don’t know why they happened. Ghost worm art, maybe?
Now then, how’s your plot? Because it’s that time of year when nominations are made … The Observer has a new Ethical Garden category which you can enter, online, until March 9th and somebody gets to win a £500 voucher for Hen and Hammock, which I assume isn’t a pub, nice though that idea is. Anyway, it’s a chance for those of us who care about sustainability and the environment to get our gardens and/or recreational gardens (that’s what allotments can be classed as if they are not primarily used for crops) into the public eye.
If it appeals to you, then you can enter or nominate somebody else here. And I wish everybody the very best of luck!
Chitting potatoes and rescuing frozen crops
Our potatoes are chitting beautifully, which is good, as there is precious little else going on. Actually that’s not true. I just went to the cold bedroom where we are storing the potatoes that are chitting and just paused on the way to look at the propagator that holds the celeriac seeds and we have two seedlings! Whoop whoop! Okay they are actually too small to photograph – which means they are miniscule indeed – and their filament thin shape suggests to me, as a novice celeriac grower, that they are going to be prone to damping off, but we have them! And five minutes ago, when I started writing this blog, it was going to be about impatience and how, despite knowing that I couldn’t expect to see any celeriac seedlings, I’ve been checking them three times a day since I planted them a week ago.
Anyway, back to the spuds. What you want to see in terms of chitting is dark sprouts. Dark sprouts are lovely healthy growth elements, drawing on the stored reserves of the tuber from which they appear. Pale sprouts are weaker, created by a lack of something (usually light) or a surfeit of something (usually warmth). On that basis I am thrilled by the lovely purple and green hues of these sprouts, as they bode well for good cropping in the ground.
We keep our potatoes in a cold bedroom near but not under a north facing window so they get good indirect light but no heat. Sadly, many of our allotment neighbours have got used to keeping their chitting potatoes in their allotment sheds and the fierce frosts of the past couple of weeks has meant that their spuds have frozen – and if an exposed potato gets frost blight, that’s pretty well the end of it. If this has happened to you, turn your potatoes and see if you can find any areas that haven’t been frost damage (which shows as black wet slime, very nasty). If you have undamaged areas, cut the damage away, put the good bit on kitchen towel and allow it to keep growing, spritzing it with cold water from a sprayer every third or fourth day, because it will need extra moisture to replace that lost through the cut surfaces. It won’t be as good as a whole spud, but as you can cut good potatoes up to make more when it comes to planting, it’s worth salvaging what you can now.
Seedy Sunday - allotment bargains!
Well, Seedy Sunday was a surprise – I don’t know how many people turned up, several hundred for sure, and a big increase on the previous year that we went, when there were perhaps fifty or so people in the hall – is this a sign of the recession in action, I wonder?
Anyway, we did extremely well, managing to swap for a lot of seeds and only actually buying a packet of Scarlet Emperor runner beans. We swapped to get:
• Ukranian beetroot (used to be available through Suttons Seeds, but now a heritage seed only – produces very good big roots, excellent for grating)
• Waverex peas – very sweet and very productive, as long as we don’t get too hot a spring
• Ragged Jack (also called Russian Red) kale – which is an oak leaf type kale where the leaves have a red tinge and the stems are quite purple – said to be very mild in taste
• Dwarf Green Curled kale – which is the one with the furled dark green leaves which loves difficult or windswept gardens and poor wet soils
• Palla Rossa chicory – that’s the deep red to purple, cricket ball shaped one that you see in shops – apparently it’s very winter hardy and we love it baked with parma ham and strong cheese!
So in other words, we got five packets of seeds for £1.50 which was the cost of entry, and I think that’s a bargain! We also went mad though, and bought slices of cake and cups of tea, which we enjoyed while listening to a female choir, so it wasn’t such a frugal trip as it might have been. But next year I shall take dozens of swaps; I noted what people were looking for this year and reckon I can save lots of popular seed, so I shall really splurge in 2010!
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