Allotments in ice

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the snow freezes!

This is really unusual in the south of England, almost unheard of, in fact, and it’s left many allotment-holders with nothing to do (and nothing to harvest) but on plot #103 there’s been no shortage of tasks, although very few of them are growing related.

We didn’t have any choice about when we took down the old (asbestos) roof, because it had to be done before the contractors came in to take the asbestos away. We didn’t have a chance to put up a new corrugated plastic roof because we hadn’t had time to buy one, so we laid a substantial blue tarpaulin over the top and weighted it down. Then it snowed. Then it froze. Then it snowed some more.

So when we could actually get back to #103, on Boxing Day, we were worried about what we would find – but in all our worries we never expected to have created the perfect conditions for a roof glacier! So our first task was to deal with the iceberg that will become a puddle. For now I’ve put a water tank underneath and we’re hoping the weather will be kind enough to let us install our plastic roof over new year.

Second task was a humungous bonfire which got rid of all the remaining trees/brambles/old pallets/random bits of wooden junk that we could spare from #103. There’s still plenty of random wooden junk, but as it’s currently acting as paths or weed suppressant, it may not get burnt until just before the open fire curfew which comes into effect at the end of March.

Third task was to wander up to #201 while the fire was gently charcoaling itself to death, and harvest some crops: not a bad haul for the season and the Brussels sprout tops were very tasty in a post-Xmas hash with the roasted vegetables left over from Xmas lunch. We couldn’t dig parsnips as the ground was still frozen, but OH did manage to get to the plot yesterday and dig up two huge (and straight) roots, but as the snow and ice have been replaced by rain, I haven’t taken any photos of them yet, just shoved the muddy monsters in the shed until I can get to them, probably tomorrow – then, spicy parsnip soup!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, December 29, 2010 2 Comments

Top allotment tips

I’ve been thinking about allotment tips, as you do at this time of year, and in part because I’ve been working through the copy edits of the book and realising how many things I do because I’ve found, over years of allotment life, that they work better for me than what everybody else does. Which might make me seem a bit cross-grained I suppose, but I prefer to think of it as being experimental about what we do and why we do it. Outward leaning bean poles, for example. They don’t produce a better crop than wigwams, but they do cut the picking time by anything up to 90% - is that important? Not really, but having conducted the experiment, I rather relish the extra time I have to weed and water after I’ve filled my trug while my allotment neighbours are still harvesting their runner bean gluts.

So in the spirit of Christmas giving, my top tip to you for a cheap but effective allotment investment is … tights!

Oh yes. Ladies hosiery is the allotment-holder’s friend and here are just 5 reasons why

1. You can cut up laddered tights and use them to tie up beans and peas. Not only are old tights cheaper than anything else (being essentially recycled rubbish) but if you do drop any scraps, instead of ripping your hands to bits later in the year, or fouling your strimmer or mower, they tend to get picked up by birds and woven into nests so the next generation of insect predator will benefit. Also, because they are stretchy, they don’t damage plants that are swaying in strong winds or outgrow their ties without you noticing.

2. Store small plastic pots in an old pair of tights with the toes cut off. This makes them easy to stack and avoids the bother of knocking them over as you take other equipment out of the shed.

3. Use the gusset part of old tights to cover water butts and other water storage devices. Keeps insects and leaves out, lets air circulate so it doesn’t smell rank so quickly.

4. Old clean tight legs can be used to strain small amounts of fruit for making wines or jellies.

5. Thick tights, cut off around mid calf, make excellent ‘thermal underwear’ and are invisible under allotment trousers, so even chaps can benefit from an extra layer!

Any more ideas?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, December 24, 2010 6 Comments

Broad bean disasters

Another trip to both plots, with nothing to report but more snow and more crops that it’s impossible to harvest. On the other hand, at least we’re not in the same situation as some of fellow allotment-holders who were ahead of us in November with their broad beans in the ground, and who are now confronted with this kind of snow blight. Broad beans can come back from frost, and they survive well under a blanket of snow, but the combination of a skirt of snow and a frost from the skirt up for several days in a row, will almost certainly mean the end of this poor chap’s broad beans! The only chance for them is to wait until the weather has definitely improved to the thaw point, pinch out the tops and then cover them with fleece to try and give them a couple of weeks where they are cold (so they remain hardened off) but not frozen (because the cellular damage caused by frost can spread down a plant's main stem, causing the plant to rot as soon as it thaws) but seriously, I don't think there's a come-back in sight for this particular crop: the damage is too widespread.

Ours, which went in a fortnight before the snow, in other words, a good month after we usually plant them, hadn’t even begun to show when the weather hit. We’re hoping that they might still come through, although that might mean they suffer more from blackfly, as they won’t have gone through the winter above ground, which is what makes them tough and unpalatable to pests.

Plot #103 manages to look awful even in snow, which normally hides most sins, but we’re hoping that we’ll manage to knock her into shape by spring. On the plus side, she probably can’t look any worse than she does now!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, December 20, 2010 2 Comments

What a great crop!

This week’s top crop is … asbestos! Oh yes, we’ve harvested nearly a whole shed’s worth of asbestos this week and feel very pleased with ourselves.

After last week’s snow and frozen ground, we had hoped to do some digging this weekend, but the ground wasn’t cooperating and anyway, there was a more urgent task. Our allotment site has an asbestos amnesty running until 20th December when the site will be closed to the public all day for the contractors to go round and collect all the asbestos that people have put at the bottom of their plots.

#201, which we are leaving soon, had no asbestos, but #103 had a shed roof and a fence entirely constructed from white asbestos. Okay, the white stuff is not the worst, but I didn’t want to run a gutter from that roof into a water butt to water my plants, so the chance to strip the whole lot out and start again with a corrugated plastic roof was too good to miss.

It didn’t take as long as we thought, mainly because OH was willing to clamber around on a rickety shed to take out the screws that held the asbestos in place.

I even found time to plant a cotoneaster in the hedge, to replace the huge bramble that we dug out in summer.

As for crops … nothing from #103 but kale and purple sprouting broccoli from #201 and there would have been a parsnip if I hadn’t left it too late to dig it up so I couldn’t see what I was doing in the dark!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, December 13, 2010 1 Comments

Snow, Allotments, Seed-Saving

And now we do have snow – oodles of it! On the one hand I’m thrilled as it makes some of our nastier local infestations (blight, whitefly) considerably less likely next summer. On the other hand, I’m quite annoyed, as we haven’t dug nearly enough of plot 103 to have a viable spring planting and we’ll be handing over plot 201 to its new owners round about March or April, depending on how long our purple sprouting broccoli lasts, so we can’t plant spring crops in the soil we’ve spent the last 24 months digging into fruitfulness!

But there’s always something to do, even if it’s not at the allotment, so this week I’ve been: making lists of seeds I’d like to get at Seedy Sunday; roughing out a planting plan for the edible landscape side of the allotment; picking over and packing up my own saved seed for swaps and give-aways; trying to work out if I can find a permaculture training day or weekend to attend.

So far the lists are many pages long, the planting plan is peculiar, the saved seed are fantastic and the training day is impossible to locate.

As you can see, the Royal Black chillies finally came good, turning from purple-black to pepper-red almost overnight, and they are medium-hot in flavour, which is just what I wanted. I dry and chop half the flesh, open freeze the other half and save the seed for swapping. The plants are indoors now, and look very pretty, I know that some people manage to take them through the winter and get a second harvest by giving them a good liquid feed in spring and they make such an attractive winter houseplant, that I think that’s what I shall aim for.

What do other people do allotment-wise, when it snows?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, December 3, 2010 2 Comments

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