Allotment diversity and evictions and rock gardens
We’re all in favour of allotment diversity on our site, and in a week were an allotment holder was removed from a Cheltenham site for ‘not growing enough vegetables’ on his ‘rural retreat’ (quotes courtesy of the Daily Mail, a paper I wouldn’t usually even let near my runner bean trench!) we are applauding the diverse ways that people use their green spaces.
I’m going to tell you about the building of our brassica cage in a few days, because it was exciting in a rather sheddish way, but in our wanders this week we came across this. Isn’t it gorgeous?
And not only gorgeous but practical. This lovely mini rock garden, complete with exotic proteas, is actually the top of a hold-all building that one allotmenteer uses to hold watering cans and to make compost. Isn’t that amazing – full marks for versatility and originality.
Allotment Sweetcorn: a new growing experience
We’re growing sweetcorn for the first time this year. I’d have to describe it, thus far, as a mixed experience. To begin with the germination was good, about 80% of the first batch of corn we put in. But the second lot (as previously discussed) was planted by himself and only 2 of the 14 kernels germinated because he planted them too deeply. The third lot didn’t come up at all, so we had around dozen seedlings, which grew beautifully in the greenhouse.
Second disaster – when we brought them outside to harden them off, things went well for a couple of days and then our idiot dog (as opposed to our intelligent dog) managed to knock the tray of seedlings to the ground, breaking four of them. Two have recovered, but are a bit stunted, two just gave up the will to live.
Then we planted the corn out at the allotment and although we knew that there was something we were supposed to do, we couldn’t quite remember what it was. The answer? Net the corn for a few weeks to keep the pigeons from pecking it out of the ground. So the next day we went back and found some of our biggest seedlings had been pecked at, and replanted them and rather belatedly, netted them.
So I’m not wholly impressed by our somewhat feeble block of corn, although I can fully recognise that the problem is with us, not with the corn itself, and I’m wondering if we’ve just been jinxed or if the reason we’ve never grown corn before is that it’s a bit of a faff and a fiddle?
New allotment tasks: finding room for beans and herbs
What you’re looking at was supposed to be my permanent herb and botanicals garden. On the right hand side, as you look at the picture, is what will one day be a ‘hedge’ of globe artichokes and on the left are the raised beds. In between is an area marked out with stones and with chipping paths in which I was going to grow herbs and plants for making toiletries etc.
Note the word ‘was’. As you can see, the most notable feature of the three beds, at present, is a bean wigwam. They are borlotti beans and while I love them dearly, they are definitely neither a herb nor a plant used for making toiletries. What they are, is extra. Extra beans, because we got a 100% germination from the seeds. And you can’t throw them away can you?
I thought we could give them away, but Himself sniffed at this, pointing out that we’ve already given away kale, tomatoes, rhubarb, alpine strawberries and chicory. Himself has a bit of a thing for beans, I think. A Jack and the Beanstalk complex perhaps? Anyway, he saw that the central herb bed, which is meant to become a home to lavender and borage and possibly lovage (very good for both the digestion and the complexion apparently, as well as making a lovely liqueur) and into it went the beans! There are more beans (Cherokee Trail of Tears) next to the sweetcorn too, but more of them anon.
So, for this summer at least, I’ve lost my central herb bed. The triangle nearest the path at least has some nasturtiums, marigolds and wallflowers in it, while the one closes to the fence has Love-Lies-Bleeding, dill and sage, so he can’t plonk vegetables into either of those (or at least I don’t think he can) but I can see that we’re going to spend the next few weekends arguing about finding places to put all our overstocks: I want more space for leeks, he wants more space for cabbages, and so on … It could get nasty in the allotment blogger household!
New Allotment: Old Weeds and Exhausted Strawberries
Yet another lovely experience shared by many an allotment holder who takes over a plot that’s been neglected for a while is the sad realisation that to preserve what you’ve got might be a harder task than starting from scratch.
Last autumn we built a strawberry bed on 235 from salvaged wood and planted it with strawberry runners offered by lovely neighbours. We lost two of those runners over the winter (one was dug up by the fox, no idea why) and replaced them in April with plants that are flowering beautifully. What the crop will be like in year 1 is anybody’s guess, but it’s very easy to hoe between the plants and maintain the raised bed.
Then we move to 201, where the strawberry bed is said to be productive and to have very tasty fruit (at least neighbour-but-one Tracey tells us she had a good crop off them last summer, which is good to know, it would be horrible if they’d been wasted!) but which was so overgrown that I despaired. Today, after two intensive weeding sessions, I still despair, but more of ever being able to stand straight again than of the strawberries.
Essentially, to try and rescue the bed, I’m having to hand-weed this enormous bed, pulling out clumps of grass from between the plants, cutting tangles of runners that have obviously run riot for five years or more, taking out all the diseased leaves (and a few plants) and trying to get a bit of nourishment into the soil for this year.
I shall then take this year’s runners and stick them in pots over the winter, so that they can establish a root system before cutting them from the parent plant next spring, and then create a whole new bed somewhere else on the allotment where the soil is less exhausted.
And of course, the dear strawberries haven’t stayed in their bed – runners have travelled several yards away from their original home and even crossed the path and rooted on the other side of the plot!
Still, strawberries are worth it, aren’t they?
I do love celeriac. And as it’s being sold for very silly money in our local supermarket I’m very glad to have got my 24 little seedlings into their bed this weekend.
Thanks to Soilman’s good advice, I started my seeds off early and got about a 70% germination rate, and then cosseted them in a very counter-intuitive way by keeping them cool and not particularly brightly lit because they tend to bolt, he says, and I am taking his word for it.
Last year we were given half a dozen celery/celeriac seedlings which grow rather well plonked into the end of a row in a bit of membrane. This year we’ve dedicated an entire raised bed to them, but I’m going for the same system of growing through membrane for three reasons:
1. it serves as a great weed suppressant
2. celeriac like moist conditions and membrane helps guarantee that
3. it’s easy to mulch them over the top as they start to bulb up, which softens the skin and sweetens the bulb somewhat.
So, on an insanely busy allotment day I got on with planting the celeriac out, while Himself put in all the beans (I’ll describe the lovely bean homes next time) and once I’d raked the bed, laid out the plastic, cut the cross holes with my trusty Swiss Army knife, transplanted the celeriac seedlings, watered them, and put out the slug pellets (yes I know, I know, but if you inherit an allotment that hasn’t been worked for nearly two years, you find you have a slug Armageddon to deal with) I was feeling as if I’d done a day’s work.
But I hadn’t. While Himself was single-handedly responsible for planting out the runner beans, the Cherokee Trail of Tears Climbing French beans and the Borlotti beans, between use we also planted out 68 petits pois, the marigolds, the sunflowers, the love-lies-bleeding and the dill.
And we dug over the leek bed – I did the rough dig while Himself went home to collect all the things we’d forgotten and Himself did the second dig while I sat and drank a cup of tea. And I got sunburnt, which surprised me, until I worked out that I’d been on the plot from 11 am until 7 pm … and no sunscreen would last that long!
Allotments can be difficult
It’s all been bad news this week. First, our baby gooseberry (purchased for 99 pence from one of those quid shops and nursed tenderly by me for two years until it was a thriving plant) went into the ground at the allotment in December. Yesterday Himself came home from a watering session to tell me that all its leaves had disappeared. Given that sawfly has appeared on gardening blogs from Durham to Dorset and back again, my worse fears are playing hell with my natural optimism, and I’m going to have to shoot up to the plot to night to find out.
Second, our neighbours tell us their raspberries have a caterpillar infestation – now that can’t be sawfly, I don’t think, because they like gooseberries and currants but not (as far as I am aware) raspberries, which means that we may be about to have another fruit based invasion to deal with.
Third, I accidentally dug up a tuber from one of our first earlies and it was warty. Warty is not right and fear that we may now find that we have some ghastly soil-based potato-deforming disease to contend with.
I knew I shouldn’t have boasted about my peas – this is what happens if you dare to say anything good about your plot! So instead of showing you anything growing or even a bit green, in case it is the next thing to get blighted, look at how very elegant one of our allotment neighbours is ... I can assure you that nice soap, scrubbing brush and hand-cream by the water tank is not us!
Allotment problems: nursery beds, weedkiller and wind
We’ve discovered a problem and it’s self-inflicted. As regular readers will know, there’s a bit if a ‘debate’ between me and Himself. I’m an organic gardener and so is he, until he sees a weed, at which point the strongest possible weedkiller gets bought and sprayed liberally around the place. Of course I don’t know anything about this until he comes home and tells me …
So a few weeks ago, Himself got fed up with me pouring boiling water on the dandelions and thistles, which, to be fair, were popping out of the ground almost faster than I could boil the kettle, and indulged in some herbicidal mania.
And then, about two weeks ago, he planted some red Brussels Sprouts seeds in our nursery bed. Up they came, and two or three days later, they disappeared. At first I thought slugs, but no, there were no tiny stumps left, the seedlings had gone without a trace.
I went to find the herbicide he’d used, but the packet had been thrown away. I’m absolutely sure that the weedkiller stayed on the surface of the soil and, as the tiny plants appeared, coated their leaves and killed them. At first he didn’t agree, but having watched a row of radishes (the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the vegetable world: almost indestructible and a sometimes a little tough to digest) appear and disappear in similar fashion, he’s convinced. It’s a minor tragedy, especially as we used up all the seed …
And the wind on 235 is so much stronger than on 201, which is close to a line of fenced gardens, that the broad beans on the first plot are all growing at an angle and the ones on 201 are still bolt upright. We’d managed to forget this simple fact over the winter, but it’s being forcibly brought home to us by the simple effect of weather on crops. Although, not to boast or anything, we have had our first peas of the season already ...
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