Sole Survivor 

  
I know, I know…it’s been a while. Despite my best intentions during the latter half of 2016, I have neglected both the plot and the blog. Today I am determined to rectify both of those counts! 

The last half of 2016 was brilliant. I had a fabulous holiday, went to River Cottage, walked the entire length of Hadrians Wall and celebrated my 40th birthday, all before Christmas and New Year. 

  
  
   
 
  
Turning 40 has had a surprising effect on me. I had thought that I’d hide myself away with a bottle of wine and a take away and simply deny the milestone. The surprise was that I didn’t hide…I embraced it! I’m pleased to say it’s made me more focused, not only on what I want to achieve in the future but all of the things I’ve put off doing. 

No more! I’m a list maker, and in this, my 40th year, I’m making a list of all the things I’m going to do and allotmentry and regular blogging is definitely high on that list! 

Today I thought I’d make a start and face the allotment after the spell of abandonment. I was fearful of what might greet me…

“Have the brambles reclaimed the entire plot?”

“Has the allotment turned into a jungle?”

“Will I be able to tell where the vegetable beds are under all the fallen leaves?”

“Will feral cats be living in the shed?”

The good news is that no, the brambles haven’t reclaimed the entire plot however there are some huge canes to be dealt with, I can now see where my paths are after sweeping up tonnes of fallen leaves, no, it’s not a jungle, it’s just a bit messy and thankfully no feral cats were found in the shed! 

  
Last year was admittedly a poor growing year for me. I had clearly underestimated the destructive force of the slug and snail population and a large quantity of my vegetables were destroyed. I had pretty much given up on the growing season and totally forgot that when the slugs had eaten all my squash plants, I’d planted out my leeks…  

 
Lo and behold…I give you the sole survivors at the allotment! 

  
I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see my leeks still standing! They’re not particularly big, ok, a lot of them are rather skinny but they are all still there, they’ve not bolted and there’s not a hint of leek rust either! 

I’m going to leave them standing in the ground for a few more weeks to see if they grow any more but if not, I’ll dig them up in the spring when I’m turning the beds over and enjoy a whole host of leek inspired dishes! 

Now that I’m back into the growing groove, the only thing left to do is to start planning this years vegetables! 

Bring it on! 

Soft as Clarts

  
It’s been raining steadily here since Monday and the thought of digging in the rain has been hanging over my head all week. As luck would have it, the drizzle we had this morning had stopped by 9.30 so off I popped to the allotment. I’m way behind on my digging plan, I’ve still got 4 more beds to dig over, but today I wanted to get the bed for the potatoes dug so it’s primed for their planting tomorrow. 

I’ve been debating whether I should plant the potatoes while the ground is so wet but if I leave it until the weather improves they might never make it into the ground! So, with my fork and bucket I made a start on the very wet plot. 

  
With all the rain this week I’d thought that the plot would be really difficult to dig, but to my delight the ground was so soft the weeds just came straight out. The Bindweed came out intact, Dock roots slid out whole, even the long tap roots of the dandelions came out in one piece (which for me is virtually unheard of).

  
The down side of this is that the little weeds, you know the type, the small weeds with the capacity to spread for miles in the blink of an eye, they stuck to my gloves for all their worth. Not a big thing, you’d think, but every weed, covered in clarty sticky mud, stuck to my clarty sticky gloves. Nine times out of ten I’d be flicking the weed back into the freshly dug plot! But I’m persistent, so picking, flicking and scraping the weeds into the bucket was the order of the day and before I knew it the bed was dug!

  
The surprise spring onions are still going strong. I’m going to let them grow in the potato bed for the next month, until I start earthing up, then they’ll have to come out. The rhubarb is starting to come up nicely and in a few weeks I’ll be making (and enjoying) the first batch of allotment rhubarb crumble, yum yum.

   
   

Out with the old

  
Today I made a start on clearing the vegetable beds at the allotment. Most of the vegetables were harvested last year but I still had a few leeks left to pull, so out they came! 

 

Lovely leeks

 
These are the ones which haven’t bolted. Unfortunately they all got a slight smattering of rust so I’ve lopped off their leaves and just brought the stems back home to make into soup. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if they’d be OK to eat but after a quick google search I’m assured that as long as the stems are ok, they’re good to use. I’ve not put the infected leeks and leaves into the compost though, they’re destined for the burning bin next week, along with all the other debris that’s been gathering at the allotment over the winter. 

 

Rust spots on the leeks


Once the leeks were out I spent an hour removing old canes and netting along with the remnants of last years crops. I’d left the Purple sprouting broccoli over winter as the planting guide said it’ll be ready to harvest in February/March…I must’ve been too slow as its already in flower (doh!) 

Yellow flowering purple sprouting broccoli

Ah, well, out it came, so the beds are now empty, save for the usual weedy suspects! My plan over the next 4 weeks is to cultivate each bed so that the seedlings I’ve got growing now can be transplanted as soon as they’re ready. 

 

Empty beds

  
Last, but not least I spotted some nasturtium seeds as I was sweeping the path. I loved having these flowering along side the vegetables, although I’ve heard they’re notorious self seeders…I wonder where I’ll find them growing this year! 

  

Hello mojo

 

 
  

I’ve been feeling nervous. I’ve only had a couple of visits to the allotment over the winter season and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing myself for the worst. Winter alone can wreak havoc with the allotment so I was quite anxious to actually see the allotment especially with all the storms we’ve had here recently.I couldnt put it off any longer.

Today I took my first serious trip up to the allotment, and to my surprise, the allotment had faired pretty well over the winter. The shed was still standing, all the glass was accounted for in the greenhouse and the hanging baskets were still…well…hanging! 

  
I had a quick look over the vegetable beds and although they will need a good digging over, I was delighted to see that they hadn’t become totally over run with weeds. 

  
My leeks were still standing even though most of them bolted last year, I spotted some of my purple sprouting broccoli was still sprouting and I even still had a solitary kale plant still going. 

  
In last years onion bed I spotted what I thought was a very straight line of weeds. On closer inspection I realised these were actually the spring onions I planted last year…better late than never I suppose!  

  

  
While the sun was shining I took the opportunity to clear out the shed. I hate cleaning out the shed. Spiders live there. But no one else is going to do it for me so I grabbed my wellies, gloves and a large broom and got to work. 

It’s amazing what a difference a clear out can make. Just spending an hour or so sorting out plant pots, getting rid of all the old junk that had piled up last year, picturing the greenhouse full of seedlings rather than full of rubbish really boosted my enthusiasm for this years growing season. 

The reassuring signs of Spring have started to appear at the plot. Crocuses have started popping up, the rhubarb has burst through the mulch and the Rosemary cuttings I took last year are really coming on. 

   
   

  

Hello gardening mojo, I’ve missed you

Confessions of an allotment holder

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Ok. There’s no sugar coating this folks…I’ve been a very bad allotment holder. I’ve been busy and I’ve not spent the time I should’ve at the plot. There…I’ve said it…I’ve failed in my duty to keep on top of the weeds, and I’ve not looked after the veggies as well as I could’ve. In my defence, most of the vegetables have been harvested already, and the ones I’ve left at the allotment should’ve been OK for a while.

Did you see the “should’ve” there?

The vegetables I’m referring to are the leeks and main crop potatoes. I’d thought that by keeping the main crop potatoes in the ground until I needed them (at least until the weather got colder) it would be the best way to store them and keep them fresh.  Today, the allotment told me different. At first I thought the potatoes were OK, then I brushed the mud off them and spotted loads of holes where little white grubs had burrowed their way inside. I hoped that only a few of the potatoes would have been feasted upon, I’m ok with sharing a some of the crops with the little critters that live at the allotment, but no, every single potato I dug up had been eaten. The best I can do is to learn from this and next year I’ll either lift the potatoes earlier or I’ll just stick with earlies and second earlies.

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Grub infested potatoes

Moving along the plot I spotted the leeks. Now, I was under the impression that leeks are a low maintenance vegetable and would be totally fine to do their thing with hardly any supervision. After all, leeks can stay in the ground for months over winter, easy peasey. Well, I’m sure they can but no one told me that there was a chance of the leeks bolting before winter arrives. Checking my little leek patch,  about half of them have bolted.

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Flower head on the leeks

I’m not sure how or why it’s happened, but it’s happened. Determined to find the silver lining, I’ve decided to leave the bolted leeks to flower and the birds can enjoy the seeds. I’ll dig up the remaining leeks over the next few weeks and enjoy them before any more get the urge to produce flower heads.

After a quick rake up of the leaves it was time to go. I’ve not left the plot empty handed for ages and it didn’t feel right to do so today. So I dug up my first non-bolted leek, and it’s a beaut!

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Ready for pulling

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My first leek

Brambles? What brambles?

Over the course of clearing the allotment, I’ve had the opportunity to learn lots about brambles. I didn’t have much choice really, they were everywhere!

Dad drafted in again to help beat back the brambles

Dad drafted in again to help beat back the brambles

They were growing through the fence from the park, coming up beside the apple trees, growing in with the pampas grass, they were all the way along right section of the plot. I had to get them out otherwise there’d be no allotment left, just a bramble jungle. I decided the best course of action would be to cut them down, section by section, so I could find the roots and then dig the whole thing out. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Well it would be if there was only a couple of brambles to remove, but remember, I was only a few blackberries short of the worlds biggest bramble jungle.

Brambles ahoy!

Brambles ahoy!

It took weeks of hacking back the sharp canes, and cutting them down to ground level. Then came the root removal. They were enormous! I was able to burn about half of the dug out brambles before the wet weather started, since then, the rest of the brambles have been bagged up and stored on the plot. We’ve had a run of good weather recently so I decided that I’d get the rest of the brambles burned this week while I’m off work.

Bags of brambles

Bags of brambles

More bags of brambles

More bags of brambles

I thought that the cuttings would’ve stayed reasonably dry in their rubbish bags but it seems as if I was wrong. They were really damp which meant that I’d have a hard time burning them. There were some larger brambles that had dried out, so I started with those and tried adding a little of the bagged cuttings once a good flame had taken hold.

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The flames went out and were replaced by massive plumes of smoke. Not wanting to annoy the neighbours, I decided the only thing I could to was to have a quick cup of tea, load up the car and take all the bags to the recycling centre instead.

Quick tea break for the worker

Quick tea break for the worker

Two and a half hours, 5 trips and 36 bags later, it was done.

Bye bye brambles

Bye bye brambles

Order has been restored

Order has been restored

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Brambles? What brambles? No brambles here.