Big Decisions 

  
I think it was Ferris Beuller who said “Time moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” 

It seems that life has been moving fast, perhaps too fast as I’ve sadly neglected my allotment (and the blog) for much longer than I’d thought! It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about the plot and yearning to get my wellies muddy, but with work and family I seem to have let the year fly by without getting my green fingers in gear. 

Now it’s autumn and I’m left with a dilemma… should I accept that I’m probably not going to be able to carve out the time the allotment really needs and give it up…. or can I get my wellies back in action and turn the plot into a really productive little patch. 

In my heart of hearts I don’t want to give it up, I really don’t. I’m filled with thoughts of planting garlic, renovating the pond and nature area, getting some spring bulbs in and just pulling out everything old and having a blank canvas to start up again in the spring. 

The alternative would be to grow in pots at home as I only have a back yard so wouldn’t be able to grow tonnes…

But then the wild gardener part of me says “do both”! 

As I’m writing, I can feel my excitement building up with thoughts about how much I could accomplish at the allotment in the next 12 months, what seeds catalogs I’ll be pouring over in the winter months and waiting for the first signs of the seedlings popping through the compost. 

 
Actually, I think I’ve made my decision. 

Wellies at the ready

Absence makes the weeds grow longer

image

Its been a busy time for the green wellie brigade recently. We’ve had a camping trip, a country show, a new school, a woodland themed baby shower cake, and an impending house move, all of which is leaving very little time for the allotment. Let’s start at the beginning…

The Camping Trip

image

This year for our annual summer holiday we decided to go camping. We hardly get the opportunity to travel very far so we chose a campsite near Stonehenge with a stop off on the way at another campsite in Northamptonshire. Now, what could possibly go wrong with a camping holiday in the UK in August? Oh yeah, the weather! It was the soggiest camping holiday ever! Putting the possibility of trench foot to one side, we did some pretty cool things:

Campfire cooking and melting marshmallows

image

Making friends with the ducks at breakfast

image

Seeing Stonehenge

image

Getting into the Banksy exhibition, Dismaland

image

image

Traveling on a hovercraft to the Isle of Wight

image

Visiting the Garlic farm

image

image

Going caving

image

Making friends

image

In typical holiday fashion it was glorious sunshine on the day we traveled home.

The Country Show

Once back, I had 2 days to get ready for our local country show. Now, when I say local country show it’s just over an hours drive away! For the last few years I’ve only entered the industrial sections (baking and handicrafts). I was tempted to enter a few veggies this year, but when it came to the crunch I lost my nerve and decided to use this year as my assessment year and I’ll try and enter some next year. I’m so thankful I did this as the standard was really high, some of the onions were HUGE! As I had quite a few things on, I narrowed my selection of entries down to 10, including 2 knitting, a jam and a curd. On the whole the baking went well, I only needed to remake one item, but the knitting had me up until 3am. It was all worth it in the end, I came away with 3 firsts, a second place and 2 third places.

image

First place in cupcake section

First place for handmade bread rolls

First place for handmade bread rolls

First place for hand knitted cardigan (3am knitting at its finest)

First place for hand knitted cardigan (3am knitting at its finest)

Second place for my hand knitted sheep

Second place for my hand knitted sheep

Third for my white loaf

Third for my white loaf

Third for my strawberry jam

Third for my strawberry jam

But wait, that’s not all, there were 2 cups up for grabs, one in the cupcake section, and one for a hand knitted sheep. Now, I’m not going to lie, I was going for the double cup win, I can’t help having a slightly competitive nature. I came second in the knitted sheep section but first in the cupcakes so I walked away with this beauty!

Bling bling

Bling bling

Out of all the sections I entered I was most thrilled with my third place strawberry jam. The jam section is probably one of the toughest categories with all the judges from all the sections having an input, so for my first year entering the jams I was delighted to place at all.

New school

My son went back to school last week and it’s his first year in middle school. This brings a new uniform including a blazer. He’s growing up far too fast for my liking. It all went well and I’m pleased he’s enjoyed it so far (I’m sure it’ll change once the homework starts flooding in)

First day of middle school

First day of middle school

The cake

I’ve always enjoyed baking, and for a few years I made cakes on request for friends and family. But with the rise in price of baking ingredients it just wasn’t economical for me to continue so about a year ago I hung up my whisk and I’ve not baked cake for anyone other than my son and I. My sister was arranging her best friends baby shower on a budget, and had the goal of making the gifts rather than buying them. My sister is very creative but doesn’t bake, so with a bit of bribery persuaded me to help her out or witness a cake massacre. I can’t stand to see good cake go to waste so I put on my apron and set to work. Here’s my contribution to the handmade baby shower with a woodland theme.

Woodland cake

Woodland cake

Side shots of the cake

Side shots of the cake

image

The Allotment

Today was the first day I’ve been able to get to the allotment in about 3 weeks. I can’t believe how much the weeds have grown. That’ll teach me to pile so many activities into a short space of time! Thankfully I had a few helpers with me. My best pal came along with her two little diggers and we set to work unearthing the last of the Charlotte potatoes. We had quite a few onions to lift so they came up too.

My feeble attempt at carrots was revealed today.

One of the 4 carrots that grew

One of the 4 carrots that grew

I’m blaming it on the heavy clay soil.

We picked beans, kale, apples and blackberries and it was fantastic to be able to share the bounty.

Sharing the crops

Sharing the crops

Trug-tastic

Trug-tastic

After laying my own onions out to dry off I checked on the garlic that’s been curing for about a month. While I was at the garlic farm on the Isle of Wight I vowed I’d plait my garlic when the time was right.

That time is now.

Garlic plait that nobody is allowed to touch...Ever.

Garlic plait that nobody is allowed to touch…Ever.

Harvest-a-rama

image

It’s happened. It’s official. We’re harvesting vegetables!

It’s sometimes hard to believe that only a few months ago, the vegetables on my plate for tea tonight were just little seedlings starting out in the big wide world.

Garlic ready to be lifted

Garlic ready to be lifted

About a fortnight ago I kick started the harvest by lifting the garlic bulbs. I’ve been waiting for about half the foliage on the plants to die back before lifting them from the pots they’ve been growing in since November last year. The reason I grew them in pots was because at the time they needed to be planted, I was still cultivating the plot, and I wasn’t quite sure where would be best to put them! Because I was limited by the size of the plant pots, I only planted 8 cloves; 6 Lautrec wight and 2 elephant garlic. Now, I’d had high hopes for the elephant garlic as it was by far the biggest of all the cloves planted, but unfortunately, one of the cloves didn’t really come to anything and the other clove that did grow, didn’t really get to the enormous size I’ve seen elsewhere. It looked like some additional cloves had tried to grow around the outside but thought better of it and gave up! The Lautrec Wight however has been much more successful. I’ve now hung the lifted bulbs in the garage to cure and dry naturally so that they store well over the winter, and we can use delicious home-grown garlic for the next few months.

Garlic, fresh from the ground

Garlic, fresh from the ground

Drying the garlic

Drying the garlic

The purple tinged bulbs of the Lautrec Wight garlic

The purple tinged bulbs of the Lautrec Wight garlic

Each time I’ve dropped by the allotment, I’ve been taking a handful of the peas, ever mindful that if I don’t harvest the peas at the right time (when the peas are still tender) the pods will start to get a bit starchy and the lovely fresh taste of the garden pea will be lost. I was delighted yesterday to notice that the plants have started to produce more pea flowers. I had no idea that peas did that. I had thought that once you harvest the peas, that was it, but it seems I might be in store for more pea harvests over the next few weeks.

Pea jungle

Pea jungle

The last of the Spring/early Summer crops are being harvested now. I’ve been really happy with the strawberries so far, considering that I only bought the plants this year. This leaves me wondering how they’ll fair next year. I’m hoping to clear an area at the allotment to make a dedicated strawberry patch. My goal is to have enough strawberries ready to harvest all at the same time, so that I can make my own home grown strawberry jam, without having to buy additional fruit from the shops. I don’t think I’m asking too much there!

The final few pods of broad beans have been picked this week too. Again, I’ve been happy with the yield from just a short double row of plants. The variety I grew is the Crimson flowered type and I’ve got to say I’ve not had a single black fly touch the crop. I didn’t pinch out the growing tip and they’ve still produced lovely tasting beans. The only down side (if you can really call it a down side) is that they’re a really short podded variety with only 3-4 beans per pod. They taste lovely though, the flowers look and smell amazing in the spring and the pest resistance is way beyond what I had hoped for.

The final few of my Lady Crystl potatoes were dug up this week. They’ve been a lovely early potato and have been enjoyed by everyone who’s tasted one (or two). They’ve grown to a really good size and I’ve only lost a couple to slug damage. The disease resistance has been really good too. Apart from one solitary potato that seemed to take all the potato scab the ground had to offer, the rest have been untouched.

Strawberries, potatoes and broad beans

Strawberries, potatoes and broad beans

Scabby potato

Scabby potato

In the next few weeks I’m hoping that the courgettes will be ready to pick and that I might even get to cut a head of broccoli too! The apples are looking good on the tree and the pumpkins and squashes have been thriving from the recent rainy weather. The blackberries are also just starting to plump up ready for picking in the autumn, you know they’re destined for jam right?

Baby courgette

Baby courgette

Broccoli head

Broccoli head

Apples

Apples

Ukuchi Kuri winter squash

Uchiki Kuri winter squash

Buffy Ball squash climbing the frame

Buffy Ball squash climbing the frame

Blackberries

Blackberries

It’s been great to see the harvests in the trug gradually get bigger as the weeks go by, although, if the pumpkins keep growing at the rate they are, I might need a trailer to get them home (Fingers crossed)

Girlinthegreenwellies

Girlinthegreenwellies

Rainy Thursday

Today is my first day off work this week, and all I’ve been dreaming about is packing up my digging gear along with a hot flask of tea and heading to the allotment. Every day, I’ve been checking the weather forecast (as I suspect most allotment holders do) making sure it would be dry and fine so I would be able to continue digging and weeding the vegetable plots. Overnight, the weather changed. I woke up to the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops, bouncing off the windows, blighting my big digging plans for the day. But then I started wondering, would it be so bad to dig in the wet weather? Apart from the obvious soggy gardener, what would be so bad about digging in the rain?

Looking for a bit of advice I started searching the Internet to see what the general rule of thumb was in relation to wet weather digging. Most of the sites I came across were very much against digging while the ground is wet for fear of compacting the soil. Some, however, were a little more lenient and suggested standing on wooden boards to help distribute weight and avoiding standing on the wet ground. The soil I have at the allotment is mostly clay so the rain makes it really heavy to dig.

The question remained: Should I dig? One one hand, I don’t mind a bit of hard work and as long as it’s not really windy I can manage gardening in rubbish weather. On the other hand, I’ve worked really hard to get the allotment back into shape ready for growing this year and the ground is almost prepared for the spring. I really don’t want to chance wasting all the hours of effort put into the allotment. Reluctantly I decided not to dig. (The weather forecast shows its supposed to be bright tomorrow so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that). Still not wanting to pass up a chance to get to the allotment, I thought I’d pop along anyway. Just to take a peak at it.

Dug over vegetable beds

Dug over vegetable beds

Vegetable beds awaiting their spring makeover

Vegetable beds awaiting their spring makeover

The beds I dug over last week are still looking good, but there’s still a long way to go to get all the planting areas prepared. The garlic is going strong. I’m pleased to see that the Elephant garlic is now starting to sprout with a little more vigour, and I’m delighted to see more spring bulbs starting to pop up in nature corner.

Elephant garlic starting to sprout up new shoots

Elephant garlic starting to sprout up new shoots

Crocus flowers

Crocus flowers in Nature Corner

My son and I also hung up some bird feeders last weekend. It seems that some birds got a little greedy and pulled one of the feeders off! At least it appears they enjoyed their sunflower seed and mealworm feast.

Coconut bird feeder

Coconut bird feeder

Greedy birds!

Greedy birds!

So, what do we do when it’s too wet to dig? We plant more seeds!

I’d planned on sowing my tomato seeds next week but I decided it wouldn’t make that much difference to their overall productivity if I planted them a week early. So, feeling like a rebel I grabbed my hand trowel and got sowing. I’m not quite sure how it happened but in my seed ordering frenzy at Christmas I forgot to include tomato seeds. It’s as if someone somewhere knew I’d forgotten them because somehow I’ve now got 3 types of tomato seeds to grow!

Tomato heaven

Tomato heaven

The first ones are Tigerella which I received as part of a Christmas gift from my sister. These should have a distinctive stripe to them when they’re ripe. The second type I’ve got are called Nimbus. I received these as a free trial with my seed order from http://www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk, and the last type of tomato seeds I have are the popular Gardeners Delight. Again, these were free seeds but this time they were with a gardening magazine. I have no idea how I managed to forget to order tomato seeds as I love fresh tomatoes picked straight from the plant. Luckily I’ve now got 3 varieties so the only problem now is deciding where I’m going to plant them!

Lieutenant….status report

A quiet time on the allotment this week. I have the feeling though that this “quiet time” is going to be short-lived. The spring flowers are steadily making their way through the woodland floor in Nature Corner and starting to add a splash of colour to the plot. The garlic is making steady progress and is growing well. The Lautrec Wight is really sprouting up, with one of the cloves being really keen to get growing, producing two shoots!

Lautrec Wight

Lautrec Wight

Two shoot garlic explosion

Two shoot garlic explosion

The elephant garlic seems much slower to grow, although I’m sure it is to be expected as it is going to be the size of a small mammal (seriously, it’s going to be about the size of a hamster).

Elephant Garlic

Elephant Garlic

This week has been fantastic as far as my seedlings go. The cauliflower seeds I planted about a fortnight ago are doing well and are now just starting to grow their true leaves. I’ve been really impressed with their germination rate, with all but 2 of the seeds planted growing. The leeks seeds I planted at the same time as the cauliflowers started growing this week, along with the onion seeds and more French marigolds sown last week too. It’s all hands on deck now captain!

Lovely leeks

Lovely leeks

Newly emerging onion seedlings

Newly emerging onion seedlings

The rosemary cuttings are still looking good, I’m too scared to see if they’ve started growing roots yet so I’m going with that as long as the leaves aren’t shedding like an old Christmas tree, they must still be ok!

Week old rosemary cuttings

Week old rosemary cuttings

I’m sure I mentioned in a previous post that I’d put my son Jacob in charge of growing the flowers for the allotment. I’m also sure I mentioned that he planted all of my verbena seeds in with most of my snap dragon flower seeds at the same time he planted 2 of his French marigold seeds. The mixture of seeds he planted he decided to call “mixie pixie” This week I found out exactly how many verbena seeds he planted.  Hopefully we’ll be able to prick them out at some point, otherwise I’ll be transplanting the whole lot into a planter the size of a tractor wheel! I’m sure the bees it’s intended to bring into the allotment will be overjoyed with the verbena bounty on offer!

Mixie pixie flowers

Mixie pixie flowers

Nothing to report on the Lavender seeds yet but they do have a long germination period. I really am looking forward to growing my own lavender. I love the idea of using them as a natural border, and I’m hoping to use them to mark the end of the vegetable plot just before our nature corner starts. With the right wind direction, we can sit on the tree stumps in among the flowers and smell the lavender wafting in. What a lovely thing that would be.