Monday, 28 May 2012

Costa Del Allotment

Wish you were here...

Wow, wow, wow! What a week of amazing weather.

The reason we've been quiet of late is the annual exam season, I'm spending more time reading about neoliberalism and globalization than onions and potatoes which is not right at all. But in this glorious weather it would have been rude not to get out the table and chairs, sit back and drink ginger beer on our patio.

As you can tell by the picture plot 114 is starting to look like a proper allotment now! Potatoes are being earthed up weekly and we've already got brassicas in the ground. The courgettes and pumpkins are getting bushier and bushier every day.

The only problem with this weather is the arm ache every evening. Not having a hosepipe means we have to walk to the site water hole and fill up cans and cans of water.

IWeve been revising all day today but we've been up to the allotment to water the veg and there were so many people up there. It is such a nice place and there is a real community spirit. Everybody is so kind and happy to talk.

Well that's a quick little snippet of what we've been up to. After tomorrow (Tuesday) we are exam free for 10 days, so I pinky promise to make  a proper update.

Almost June so get growing!!

Martin and Amy

P.S: You know are mooing neigheighbours on the field behind the allotment? Well they have calves! It's a little difficult to get pictures of the calves on my iphone because they are so shy and keep away from the fence, but the big girls like to come and say hello all the time...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Asparagus, Rhubarb and Perpetual Onions

All of these 3 things will still be here in their same growing positions in 10 years time. But what else will be here in the same place in 10 years time. Will we? Who knows? But we must plan to be.

I planted the Asparagus only yesterday. I had never thought about or even wanted to grow it, mainly due to the long wait for the first harvest. However, when I saw a pile of crowns reduced to only 19p each in a supermarket, I really couldn't refuse. I bought 7 crowns, and for just over £1 I can't complain if they don't come out too well. We'll wait and see!

In order to keep the cost of growing down we need to be as sustainable and even as thrifty as possible. You just can not justify spending money on needless things when you are growing your own in the long term. The first year is going to be expensive but after that I don't really want to spend another penny. That's why buying quality equipment and planning provisions are essential to long term allotment gardening sustainability.

Composting is the most essential fundamental of sustainability on the allotment. We brought 1 bin up from home, but have since ordered 2 more from the council and these are now doted quite handily around the allotment for easy access when we need it next year..

It is amazing what the compost bins will eat up. Everything from chicken poop to teabags and even the fluff that comes out of the tumble dryer. Just chuck it all in and then next year we will have the best compost going and the cheapest too.

Not forgetting we also have that old, rusty metal bin in the wild area which will be covered by a clematis in summer but will hold leaf mould in bags in the winter..

Water is also such a necessity. What are we going to do if the drought (hard to say when it is chucking it down outside) continues throughout summer and we have a hosepipe ban. The water we are collecting now is going to be invaluable...

If it's a long dry summer then where else are we going to get the water to quench our runner beans thirst.

The slabs and raised beds should also be there in 10 years time, so the foundations of our potting/play area will always give us a starting point in future years.

There aren't many excuses to not compost or collect water these days. They are so easy to do and the equipment you need is often subsidised by the local council authority.

It's always cool to recycle and upcycle on the allotment. Broken and unwanted objects can quickly become quirky or useful parts of the plot. Even seemingly rubbish like old rasberry canes can be used as pea sticks and ultimately spared from the bonfire..

Other rubbish such as plastic bottles can be used as perfectly good cloches, they're giving our lettuces some really important protection right now. Just cut the bottles in half and the remove the tops for a ventilation hole, the bottom half can be used too. Just turn them upside down and use a pair of scissors to cut a couple of small windows in each side. They are really useful for keeping slugs at bay and also keeping them warm whilst the threat of late frost or even SNOW still looms..

You can also use them as great bird scarers. Take the top off and place them on top of a bamboo cane in the ground above your vulnerable peas and beans. The bottles rattle around making both movement and sound hich will scare the birds off...

Have a good day. I've had a few enquiries about the number of courgette plants I've sown so I'll be doing a little feature on how and why I grow them in the next few days!


Thursday, 3 May 2012

The birds and the bees..

Quite a sad post this one.

Our colony of bees didn't make it through the winter. I can't give you a thorough diagnosis, it could be Colony Collapse Disorder, it could have been due to extreme cold or it could just be one of those things. When we regained the colony last spring they looked a bit weak, but by high summer they had really picked up, maybe they still weren't strong enough.

If anybody knows of a swarm of bees causing a nuisance is south Warwickshire then please give me a call, leave a comment or send an email!

We also lost two hens in March in the space of a couple of weeks. We lost a big girl and a bantam. The big girl appeared to go broody which is not too surprising at this time of year but then next day she was stone cold dead in the eglu. A real shock, and completly unexpected. At least she had had a good couple of years, as an ex free range farm laying hen she's done well.

The biggest shock was poor Margot, our favourite hen (don't tell the others). She was absolutely beautiful and was found dead one morning in their eglu nest box...

Here she is last summer when she was 20 weeks old....

So we're down to 3 hens at the moment. 1 big girl and 2 bantams. Not a good start to the year for our livestock, but we'll be building up numbers again come summer. If Amy lets me...

It's a waste of 2 eglus not to!


Bricks, bark and bloody brambles!

Welcome to the latest installment of our allotment update. It really is strange writing about things that I did at the end of March, but seeing as we were offline during that time, it's the best I can do I am affraid.

When we took over plot 114, the soft fruit area we had inherited really was the problem area. The raspberries had been completly untended and had spread across the whole area. The strawberry patch had ran amock too and I have disposed of no end of runners and plants. The whole area really put Amy off taking on this allotment but I managed to prod her in the direction of all of the positives and remind her that 'in the summer' it would all look fantastic. The patch was also covered in prickly brambles and blackberry bushes, and seeing as there is a bush behind our garden already, we know we have a good supply and therefore could eliminate them from the allotment completly.

I really can't believe this is what it used to look like, and for novice vegetable gardener Amy, I can see why she was slightly put off..

After completing Amy's paved area, I set about completing the fruit patch. In order to get Amy engaged I needed to make the place as nice as possible for her, and make a real effort to show that progress can be made on what was a barron wasteland.

It took hours, days, maybe just over a week to clear the endless amounts of nasty stuff. Not knowing whether the raspberries were a summer or autumn cropping variety. I took good advice from Monty Don and just simply removed any dead wood and lef the rest of the canes well alone, and just wait and see what happens this year.

It wasn't just what was on top of the soil it was what was underneath it aswell. You might remember we found tons of carpet under the vegetable area, and udner this there was bin bags, black plastic, rotted weed supressing membranes aswell as rotted tools and cigarette packets. What a concoction!

When I eventually got the patch looking like a patch of earth and not a wasteland. It was time to get planting. I said earlier that I binned a whole load of strawberry plants that were covering large proportions of the allotment and this might seem wasteful, but I wanted to start with new virus free stock in order to manage our fruit properly. We may as well start as we wish to go on..

So I ordered 30 plants from fothergills online, and we watered the strawberry bed right at the very end of the allotment very heavily before covering it with multi purpose compost and then a membrane to prevent weed growth. I then made a slit in the membrane for each plant and then added a top layer of bark which will keep the slugs off the strawberry fruit crop come early summer..

We had plenty of bark left so we made a bark path inbetween the raspeberry frames which makes access a lot better for us. I say two raspberry frames, but it is now actually just one raspberry frame and a frame for a grapevine too! To edge the path and strawberry bed we have just used bricks that we have found on our plot since taking it over, and it certainly looks very posh..

Here is the whole area..

We also have some fruit bushes too. There is one big blackcurrant bush, I've never grown blackcurrants before so that is quite exciting, the only problem being that big bud is present on the bush.

 Just a tip.. NEVER google 'big bud', you won't find anything to do with blackcurrant bushes at all.

Here's a picture of one of the diagnosed buds...

I've also added three gooseberry bushes opposite the blackcurrant bushes at the other end of the strawberry bed. They are young stock, so I'm not expecting much of a harvest this year.

All of the raspberry canes and established fruit bushes have been mulched with well rotted manure and it definately seems to have given them a boost.

I hope you like the area, the photos might not do it justice because of the rain. But we are definately the envy of the allotment site, there are already whispers from old hands about the allotment of the year destination, but I won't hold my breath! It definately looked superb in that scorching week in late July, I mean MARCH!

Come back soon for the next two installements which should be up by the end of the week!

I STILL can't believe it is May already!


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Meet the neighbours...

Welcome to May!

I can't believe it's here already, but I'm glad it is. Things are really going to take off on the allotment this month. But for today, I'll just continue with another catch up post...

We still haven't met our human neighbours on our left hand side, but we have met our neighbour on the right hand side. A rather pleasant fellow with 31 years of allotment experience, he has 2 plots and has very traditional growing methods. He is full of advice and is also kean to encourage people to try something new. He grows grapes for wine and has given almost every single tenant on the site a grape vine he has cultivated himself. I have one on my plot that was given to the last holder of plot 114.

The neighbours at the top of our plot are also newbies and have just took over the allotment and they also seem really keen.

Our plot back on to the road to the site car park, but there also some unusual neighbours beyond this boundary. They don't say much but they are rather pleasant to watch...

There are about 8 of them and I have plenty more pictures to share over the coming weeks....