The ridiculous but practical hat

In my last post I said I’d never expected to use the Factor 50 again this year, and I was surprised once again today by the need to bring out what I’d call my ‘ridiculous but practical Cuba hat’:

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Humble author may look foolish but is protected from the sun

It’s been an absolutely roasting weekend, so I made a deal with myself whereby I’d get as much done as possible before late afternoon, to justify an evening in my pyjamas, eating sorbet. Life goals.

Headed along to the Roots and Shoots garden in the morning to buy extra onions (space having been created on the allotment by the fact that something ate half my cauliflowers) and saw some nice flowers on the way:

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An idea for Allotment 2018 maybe. On to the current allotment, and as always it’s a bit of a mixed bag, or not so much bag as ‘weedy field’. Artichokes and strawberry patch are both doing really well:

It’ll be the last year of the strawberry patch being there, as it’s about time I moved it to improve the yield. On the advice of Wise Allotment Friend Chris, I’ve started growing strawberries from the runners in a container, ready for the next patch (I haven’t worked out where it’ll be because allotment planning is an activity for the winter when there’s nothing else to do).

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I’m not really sure what’s going on with the asparagus – I mean, it seems to still be alive, which is a good start, but I’m still not optimistic because it’s the wrong soil type, see ‘the constant failure of my carrots’ for more details). Meanwhile the rocket patch has really taken off (hahahaha I might have mild heatstroke), and is home to the odd bit of stray borage that I’m leaving because borage is basically my favourite thing to grow and I forgot to plant any extra this year.

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Also on the advice of Wise Allotment Friend Chris, I pruned the fruit trees recently and am HOPING that I’ve done it properly because I’d somehow feel more guilty for being responsible for the death of a tree than I would for accidentally pulling up a pea seedling. So far so good though – might have the first cherries this year.

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I’m also fairly optimistic about the tummelberries, which might also produce fruit for the first time this year. Not sure if I’ve actually eaten a tummelberry before but I have an extremely geekish fascination with hybrid berries, what do you mean, all my interests are extremely niche. I’ve also happy enough with the sprouts and cauliflowers that HAVEN’T been eaten (their survival being down to polytunnels) and of course, the peas haven’t let me down once over the three years of this allotment being mine.

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Not pictured: the author, in a small and muddy heap

So as always it’s been busy, with the feeling that I’m kind of keeping on top of it but ‘only just’. I’m planning a couple of other slightly mad but not totally mad allotment projects, on which more later.

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And finally, I know I’d said before I was trying to cut down on the amount of plants on the terrace because, y’know, I need to have hobbies other than growing plants in order to be a well-rounded and adjusted individual, but I’ve got a few things on the terrace I’m happy with at the moment (and it gets so warm that it’d almost be a pity to not use it). I’ve got tomatoes, some happy grow-bag strawberries, various types of mint (I thought the ginger mint had had it, but it’s come back to life. Obviously I’m keeping the different types quite far apart so I don’t end up with mint that doesn’t just taste of mint). And the rescue aubergine, I couldn’t just leave it in Wilkos. I guess if I’m going to have psychological quirks, they might as well centre around having a need to rescue sad-looking plants.

Row by row

I was thinking that after Cuba, I’d be putting the Factor 50 into the Cupboard of Useless Things until…well, my NEXT trip to Cuba, maybe? It’s not like I go warm places all that often. But lo, this weekend the sun made an almost inaugural visit to Northumberland, so the sunscreen was put both on me and into the Allotment Kit, and off I went.

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Like all those of my kind (gingers), I have to be obsessive when it comes to avoiding sunburn

As always, I don’t mind cheerfully admitting that there’s a lot of work to do; as one of the passers-by said to me today, “It’ll be lovely once it’s sorted”. I didn’t have to heart to tell her it’s been THREE YEARS. But my attitude towards the allotment has always been to do as much as I can in the time I have. There’s only one of me and there’s a lot of allotment, so it’s probably never going to be sorted in the sense of being ‘weed-free’, but if it’s providing me with food, and most importantly, if I’m enjoying it, then I’m happy enough.

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Allotment + weeds

I’ve been making great use of the watering spikes at this time of year, and noticed that nearly all the bottles I’ve used are tonic bottles of some kind or another. Could not speculate as to why this is.

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I really like the watering spikes though (and I really like gin, as it goes), I think they were a reasonably wise investment and although they obviously don’t fully replace watering the allotment, it’s good to have them as a kind of back-up option if I’m away.

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The peas and the artichokes seem to be getting more established, at least, four out of the five artichokes are fine (there’s a little runty one I’m concerned about, but having just four isn’t the end of the world). Two of the three potato patches are doing fine but the last one – the biggest – is just overgrown with weeds because the place I chose to plant them has been a wildflower patch for two years running. Which isn’t ridiculous in itself, because I’m a firm believer in rotating potato patches to avoid taking all the nutrients out of the soil, but of course it’s my fault that I let it get so overgrown anyway, so during my next allotment visit, I’ll mostly be tackling that.

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Rare Northumbrian pigeon baskets

So I’ve not ended up growing everything on the plan this year (the carrots failed, of course they did, the carrots always fail and I never learn), but I’ve made a few changes (I’m growing sprouts and broccoli instead) and feel like I’ve made more progress this weekend, so it’s time to sit back and get on with some translation.

Cuba

Happy to report that not only did I survive Cuba, I really enjoyed it. I was over there with Unite and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and it was one of those experiences that was so good that you don’t quite believe it’s happened in the first place. It’s a bit weird being back to everyday life, but I’m now thinking of decorating my allotment so it looks a bit like a Cuban farm:

We got to help out a bit with the agricultural work; no planting in my case but some excellent rock piling. I struggled with the heat (people with my complexion just aren’t really built for the weather outside Northern Europe. E.g. I once got sunburn IN DONEGAL) but got some sense of achievement after helping to pile the stones. From what I understood with my terrible Spanish, the farmers are planning to plant an orchard once the field’s been ploughed.

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Overall just a really nice experience, and I’d really like to come back some day. The whole thing was some way out of my comfort zone and I thought I’d be really relieved to come back to normality, but other than taking a few days to actively appreciate having good hair (Cuba made my hair go WILD), I’ve been missing it.

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BUT today it was time to return to my allotment, which had become considerably more rich in weeds during my absence. Victoriana Nursery had delivered my young onion, artichoke and asparagus plants, so I had to make a start on planting – quite late in the year but then again, I’m usually far too early and over-eager, so it’s a nice change.

I’m glad to have got the artichokes planted as they’re taking up a nice big area of the allotment, and as we know, one of the issues I’m NOT facing with this allotment is lack of space.

The asparagus is going to be interesting to grow, and it’s another ‘established’ plant that I won’t be able to do anything with for a couple of years. Feels like quite a commitment. I’ve been reading up on how to make sure they don’t all die and I’m hoping it works out.

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For today that’s all I’m doing on the allotment (I’m technically meant to be working this weekend, by which I mean working at my actual job rather than on the lovely allotment) but I’m hoping to get the weedburner out tomorrow and tackle two week’s worth of growth.

Ticking over

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Today’s the PERFECT day for going on the allotment. The kale’s flowered which isn’t ideal but not the end of the world as it’s proving popular with the bees.

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I’ve had a LOT going on generally so I’m trying to take any opportunity I can to sort the allotment out and grow at least the basics, even if the weeds are taking over as always. Today was especially important in terms of getting stuff sorted because, excitingly, my trade union is sending me to CUBA soon. It’s been a dream of mine to go since I was about 13, and even though there’s a lot to prepare and I’m a BIT apprehensive, I’m really looking forward to it. On a more relevant note for this blog, I’ll be helping out with agricultural work, which I’m also really looking forward to because I’ll get to see crops that I’ve never even seen before, let alone tried to grow. I hope to update next month with plenty of photos.

Here we have the tummelberry on the left – I’m hoping it’ll produce fruit this year, it’s been hanging around, sponging off me, for two years now. I have a vague plan that it’ll help to form a hedge at the open end of the allotment. To the right, we have our old friends the Lord Leicester peas from the Real Seed catalogue. Or to put it more accurately, from peas I stored and dried last year. Normally I quite like changing varieties of whatever I grow (approx. 20 different types of potatoes over the last three years and I regret NOTHING), but I’m sticking with these peas. They suit the soil, they’ve never let me down yet, and the only thing I have to worry about is making sure I build adequate support for them.

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The fruit trees are also looking quite lovely at this time of year, although possibly need pruning (if anyone is an expert pruner, would they mind advising me? There’s a branch I’m thinking of chopping but I’d rather know what I’m doing isn’t going to harm the tree. More pictures can of course be provided next month).

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So that’s it from the allotment for April – here’s to a productive May!

An allotment for 2017

Getting back into allotmenting again this year after a bit of a winter hiatus. The allotment just doesn’t look great at this time of year, even though things are underway, I promise:

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I suppose no allotment really looks fantastic in January, it’s one of the least interesting allotmenteering months. With September maybe being my favourite. The main focus over the winter was on mapping out the allotment so it looks like a plan, avoiding the spring panic where I just plant things more or less at random. I also need to use up some of the seeds I actually have rather than buying more without needing too.

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And of course, tending to whatever other hobbies I have outside of the allotment. I still haven’t given up on growing carrots after three years of failure. This time I’m going to try one of two methods: I’ll either grow them in rows, underneath fleece, or in raised, large containers like I saw at the allotments around Friend Chris’s allotment. I might do both, actually, and if there’s an abundance of carrots it’ll make up for the three years of disappointment.

So I’ll keep working on it even if there’s not much to show for it at the moment, and hopefully produce more interesting-looking photos as the year goes on.

 

 

 

 

Off gallivanting

I chose a reasonably good time of year to be busy, at least from an allotment point of view. The only useful-looking thing there right now is kale, and it’s looking a bit like it might not survive the frosts, although I think I’m worrying unnecessarily. I’ve never grown it before, but it’s meant to be strong, isn’t it?

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You can do it, kale!

My visits to the allotment throughout the week are quite short over the winter, partly because of my laziness and reduced tolerance to the cold At My Age, and partly due to a general lack of things to do other than pace around. I do like the fact that it’s so quiet on the allotments now, though:

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This has been my first free weekend in a long time (I’ve been to Donegal, Derry, Edinburgh and Glasgow in the past three weeks and while it was all fantastic, I’m deeply grateful to finally have a day with no obligations at all), and I’ve been using this time to get an idea of what I want to grow next year. It’s always subject to change, but my first rough draft looks like this (prepare yourself for some great artistic skill):

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I had to have quite a stern word with myself about potatoes – I grew five different varieties in Year 1, four in Year 2, and this year it’s going to have to be three as an absolute maximum. I’m thinking of one first early (Kerr’s Pink, for storageability) and two maincrops (Maris Piper, which I’ve never actually grown before, and Desiree), and all in smallish quantities.

Two ‘challenges’ I’m setting myself are the asparagus and the globe artichokes. I’ve never tried growing either and I’ve been hesitant because both require some long-term commitment, but I feel that they’re reasonably sensible challenges. More sensible than sweet potatoes were in Year 2, at any rate.

I’m also not giving up on growing carrots – surely I’m due for some luck there. If they fail this year, I might just give up, but I was heartened by the unexpected success of my parsnips this year, and my thinking is that if parsnips are possible, so are carrots.

If anyone has any particular growing tips for anything I’ve mentioned above, that’d be very welcome. I’m most uncertain about the asparagus and carrots, I think. But as I said, this plan is subject to change until February or maybe even beyond. Until then, I’ll keep planning out this little corner of Northumberland I’ve claimed!

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A Northumbrian Sweet Potato

Yes, it is autumn, time to race and harvest everything before the frost comes in, which happens around this time up here (the internet tells me. As does the weather, come to think of it). This is fairly stressful, but the general prettiness of autumn makes up for it.

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I’m still digging up parsnips.I think if I grow them again next year, I might grow fewer of them. I just never thought they’d actually survive, with the seeds being out of date and with my total failure to grow carrots. Which surely must be more or less the same. Anyway, I have consumed more parsnip soup than I expected to this year. Some of them aren’t weirdly-shape, look, this one looks normal:

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I’m trying not to get too emotionally invested in the survival of my pumpkins, because sometimes, this is what happens:

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But there’s one that might make it, and I’m trying not to surround it with barbed wire and security cameras and whatever else it might need to survive unrotted until Halloween:

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I’ve never successfully grown pumpkins but from what I’ve read of harvesting them, you have to wait as long as possible before cutting them from the plant. This is extremely stressful. Maybe I should set up one of those baby monitor cameras and stare at it obsessively in the early hours of the morning.

The main part of today’s allotment frolics, though, was to see what’s going on with the sweet potatoes. As we know, I was not at all optimistic about whether it’s even possible to grow sweet potatoes in Northumberland when most of the growing guides you’ll find online assume that you’re living in quite a warm part of the USA. Which I am not. And there’s no way of telling for sure when it’s time to harvest – the vine’s not supposed to die away like with normal potatoes, although my vine does indeed seem to be dying off. Anyway, it was not what I’d call a big harvest – the largest sweet potato so far is pictured – but I’ve still got 2/3 of the vine to go and honestly, I’m happy that something grew.

Soon time to finish off harvesting whatever’s left and go into winter hibernation, planning next year’s allotment!