Getting ready for winter

I hadn’t really been planning on working on the allotment today, my plan was more to do the actual work that I get paid to do (‘my job’, as people insist on calling it), but not much work came in and society has something against me sitting around playing computer games all day, so off I went. Getting the garlic planted as soon as I could was one of the main things on my mind, along with the ascendency of the patriarchy and the tribulations of late-stage capitalism.

IMG_20180908_130903

I’ve been trying to not put the garlic in the potato patches – I think it’d take too many nutrients out of the soil. This is veering dangerously close to science for me, a subject I repeatedly failed in school, but that’s the general idea I’ve got, so I’m putting green manure in the potato patches over the winter and growing the garlic elsewhere. I wanted to grow more this year as I got through this year’s batch at an alarming rate.

There were also a couple of loose ends to tie up:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dug up the rest of the Golden Wonder potatoes. They’re not as big as I’d expected and maybe that was just lack of care on my part – I definitely had more success with the Carolus a year or two back. The spring onions (Apache, I think, and I think the seeds were a present from my sister Niamh, so if you’re reading this Niamh, THANKS!) did fairly well but again, they’re a bit small. I’m having them in a salad tonight with the last of the rainbow chard, so it’s not going to waste.

IMG_20180908_140252

It’s hard to summarise what worked well this year and what didn’t, because I’ve not been keeping track very well, like in previous years. I’ve had a slightly more ad hoc approach to the allotment. Overall, I think onions and their general ilk did the best. I have enough shallots to get me through the inevitable uprising against our right-wing government.

IMG_20180908_150007

I wove that basket, with some assistance, and I’m delighted that it’s actually come in handy for drying onions – it’s perfect for the job, actually. And to think I was just going to donate the basket to some unfortunate relative like my mother, who’d hoped she’d passed the age where she was being presented with badly-made gifts from her offspring.

IMG_20180908_140316

Finally, I was indulgent and got myself some cut-price Crocosmia Lucifer. I’m not sure exactly where I’m putting it yet though. I don’t know much about flowers, as a rule – I tend to just think of them in terms of the effect they’ll have on vegetables. Like I planted marigolds but not because they’re pretty, it was to tempt pests away from the runner beans (which were eaten. Marigolds are thriving though). But I’ve got a soft spot for crocosmias, they remind me of exploring Inis Meáin. I hope they grow well here too.

Advertisements

No-dig potatoes with a twist

I think anyone who’s interested in gardening goes through a phase where they’re absolutely obsessed with the no-dig method. That’s fine, that’s normal. Less normal that for me, my obsession was triggered a week ago when I drank my gin a bit too fast and could not stop thinking about an idea that I’d had.

I’d been to Beamish museum, which I’d been wanting to visit for ages, mostly for vegetable-based reasons. And I wasn’t disappointed, look how pretty they are:

So after the gincident and after Beamish imprinting these ideas on me, I did a lot of reading on growing potatoes, aka my favourite thing to grow, using the no-dig method. Being a deeply lazy person, putting less effort in was something that really appealed to me, and there seemed to be lots of other advantages too. “Well, something to keep in mind for next year”, I thought.

But no. My idea was even crazier, and if I’m honest I think there’s a 70% chance it’ll fail completely. What if I put potatoes in now, as late crop potatoes, using the no-dig method?

The reason I think there’s a good chance it’ll fail is because frost is very much a thing, especially in Northumberland, especially in…y’know, winter. But hear me out, because even if it does fail, there are still advantages to at least giving it a go.

IMG_20180824_162950

This is one of the lesser-photographed areas of the allotment because it’s not very visually appealing. It was going to be a herb garden, and then wildflowers, which we all know is my code for ‘ugh, don’t have time to cultivate this area properly’. So for the last few months, it’s been under black plastic. So this is where the potatoes are going, while the black plastic gets moved to another lesser-photographed bit of the allotment:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I feel like dramatic music should be playing here. I’ve never done anything with these bits and in an ideal world, I would – I’d have a shed and a greenhouse there or anything that’s not quite a large quantity of nettles, basically. But for various reasons (including perhaps not spending my entire life in Northumberland), I can’t do any of that at the minute, so black plastic would at least help. Meanwhile, here’s the future potato patch:

IMG_20180824_163909

I struggled to locate seed potatoes at this time of year. I asked at one shop whether they had any suitable for late crop and the guy kindly explained to me that potatoes normally come into stock around February/March, which I sort of didn’t need explained to me, but when does that stop the patriarchy. Luckily, my local supermarket had some very cheap ones that are tiny and shrivelled, and I’m not optimistic about their survival, but lads they were 50p. So I grabbed the bulb planter, made holes, and put them in.

“Oh but Katie you have to cover it in six inches of straw, which is expensive, you’re an idiot”, is maybe what you’re thinking now. Well, I am an idiot generally, but in this case I already had straw donated last year by the council, who just decided to dump a load in front of the allotment, blocking the gate for weeks until I just claimed it as my own and brought it inside the fence.

IMG_20180824_171650

The plan is to keep topping up the initial layer with grass cuttings etc and to keep it well-watered, so that has the benefit of being a handy place to put the grass cuttings with the benefit of having a slim chance of growing actual potatoes. And if it doesn’t work – because of the frost, or because the seed potatoes are terrible and past their best, then I’ll only be down 50p, I’ve kept the weeds suppressed in two parts of the allotment rather than one, and I’ll have learned a bit about the no-dig method ready for next year.

Like I said, I have no idea whether it’ll work, because I found plenty online about growing potatoes using the no-dig method, but never late crop ones, and the only thing I know about them is that it’s best to grow them in containers because of the frost. But later on, I might get some fleece which I’ll cut holes in, once the frost comes and if potato plants are actually emerging (it’d also help hold all the straw in place).

So that was what happened to me after I’d had gin, anyway. I’m quite excited because I didn’t really try anything new on the allotment this year. I’m trying to be a bit better at preparing for the winter with plenty of green manure:

I’m trying out different types on the former potato patches from this season to see which works best. I’m also planning on growing more garlic, as I’ve somehow managed to get through three-quarters of the garlic I grew this season, I guess because I like eating. FINALLY, beetroot and courgettes have been doing surprisingly well! I’ve let some of the remaining artichokes flower (which was fine, really, as I must have had about 20 edible ones this summer) and the bees are delighted.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Lady of Shallot

Predictably I didn’t spend the whole of the rest of the summer on my allotment, like I probably should’ve done, I went to Belfast instead and stared happily at bilingual signs.

That’s not to say nothing’s happening on the allotment. To my surprise, both the courgettes and the beetroots have survived my rampant neglect, and the borage is taking over but in a good way.

Growing both the courgette and the beetroot broke my rule of ‘if you don’t tend to eat it, don’t grow it’, but I’ve got a plan for the beetroot (my nan likes them so I was thinking of just posting them to her, one by one, anonymously). I also had a visit from my brother, so like a good host, I gave him a party bag.

Capture

I’m managing to incorporate stuff from the allotment into most meals at the moment and have been trying to avoid gluts/having everything harvested at once. I’m heading down to the allotment whenever I can, after work. After work, when I get sick of my work, same difference.

IMG_20180808_162509

Nobody knows how somebody with such a childlike face can be so old, but that’s just one of life’s mysteries

But of course, that’s not always possible, and I’m probably spending half my time NOT in Northumberland these days for various reasons, and technology hasn’t advanced to the point where allotments are portable, so that’s why things like this happen:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I hadn’t been planning on growing shallots this year, although I guess to be honest, I hadn’t planned on growing anything specific at all, I just did what I could, when I could. But I’ve now got more shallots than I’d ever dreamed possible, along with plenty of onions too.

I was reading about quite a good idea for people in a similar position, i.e. with allotments producing more food than they can always deal with. A lot of food banks can’t take fresh food – the one I occasionally volunteer for can’t at any rate, but I saw a fellow allotmenteer advertising on Facebook for people to come and pick their own raspberries in exchange for a donation to a local charity. That’s a neat solution, I think. Like a lot of allotment-holders, I’m not allowed to make a profit from anything I grow, but I really liked this lady’s idea and I might give it a go next year. Of course, ensuring that residents of this country are able to do basic things like feed themselves and have a roof over their heads should be the job of the government, but they’re not doing it, and I’d better stop there because there’s plenty of other media on which I criticise the Conservative Party.

IMG_20180808_174227

How many shallots is it socially acceptable to have on your washing line?

Prosecco and potatoes

I was away from the allotment at a fairly crucial time again, this time during a heatwave that’s been plaguing the country for seemingly years now. Weirdly, things didn’t seem to be too badly affected by the lack of water. My only theory is that the soil’s less dry than it looks on the surface because the allotment’s at the bottom of a slope, but I’m a long way off being a soil expert so it could be witchcraft for all I know.

I was in a jubilant mood this weekend because I found out I’d passed an Irish exam I took a couple of months back, and not only that, but when I told people about it they seemed really happy for me, even though I didn’t take the exam for a particular reason other than wanting to see where I was at. It was still really important to me, and it was nice that people saw that and shared in the general jubilation. I’d find that quite touching if I still had emotions.

I was also happy because there’s a lot going on at the allotment, lots of it with familiar veg.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Artichokes and radishes have always done pretty well. I’m still amazed at how quickly the artichokes grew last year, when I planted these tiny plantlings right after coming back from Cuba and was surprised by an overabundance of artichokes just a couple of months later. The mixed radishes are doing well, and I’m experimenting with the Chinese Rose variety too, although it seems to be taking quite a bit longer. Peas and beans have done really badly this year, but I think it’s a result of my neglect. Kalelettes never even germinated. On the other hand, shallots are looking promising and might be the subject of my next post, if things go as planned. I’ve never tried to grow shallots before.

Here’s a couple more things I’ve never properly tried growing before, tummelberries and chard. The tummelberry’s been around for years (since January 2015, this very blog tells me) but never actually produced anything until now. The berries are delicious although not hugely abundant right now. Possibly because I keep eating them. The chard’s not in a great position – very close to the artichoke and so in quite a bit of shade – but it seems to be doing OK.

IMG_20180708_180251IMG_20180708_183606

Took up some potatoes today, specifically Golden Wonders (too early but I was hungry) and my all-time fave, Ratte. It meant that I was able to enjoy my first mostly allotment-based meal of the year. The only thing I didn’t grow was the garlic mayonnaise (although I did grow the garlic). I’m not intending to start keeping chickens for the mayonnaise any time soon, that’d be too stressful. Before last year I had no idea how to even eat an artichoke, and I like to see that as a skill I’ve developed because of the allotment. That, and an ability to worry a lot about the weather forecast and when it’ll next rain.

2c91f958-6ec0-459e-9d14-6d63ffff809e

Borage is one of my Top Ten favourite things

Plagued by rabbits

IMG_20180611_153340

I’m being bullied by rabbits, which out of all the creatures to have bullied me, is probably the cutest. Except for the time when a baby ganged up on me. I don’t know why they’re eating my onions when the traditional rabbit snack, lettuce, remains basically untouched:

IMG_20180611_154451

 

I think it’s going into the category of ‘problems I’m choosing not to deal with’ (along with my generalised uncertainty on what I’m doing for the whole of the rest of my life), because I can’t do much with the fencing and I’m not going to trap them. If the family dog comes to visit me this summer, his mere presence might scare them off, I suppose.

35050827_2041679112760777_5283334558954029056_n

Note: he’s scared of squirrels and large insects

Apart from that, things are ticking over despite a late start.

I’ve been trying to get better at using the seeds I’ve got rather than buying stuff I never use, so I’ve ended up growing beetroot for the first time this year (Natoora Golden, for beetroot fans). This breaks my rule of never growing things I personally don’t eat, because I never wanted to turn into That Person who’s always offering her long-suffering friends vegetables they don’t really want, but I think that ship has sailed anyway, and I can maybe trade the beetroot for veg I like more. Although I might be thinking of popular computer game Banished rather than real life there. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about some of the Spanish onions, and I’m wondering whether they’ll grow as huge as they did in 2015.

The town council installed a new tap at the near end of the allotment – yay! It’s handy having two taps, one at each end, when your allotment’s the size of Essex.

IMG_20180611_154759

Except it doesn’t work. And to make this improvement, they turned off the water supply to ALL taps for a couple of weeks without giving us any notice, which would’ve been OK in February but less ideal now when everything needs watering. I know I should probably save griping about the local council’s allotment policy until I’m literally a pensioner but friends, I’m probably not going to get much of a pension at this rate, so allow me to sound much more elderly than I actually am.

I am at least starting to get food from the allotment and I’m already predicting a lot of globe artichokes in my near future. I’m not sure why globe artichokes do so well in the allotment but I’m really glad they do – they take up a nice bit of space, I like eating them, they’re fairly low-maintenance and they’re expensive to buy in shops, so I’m winning there as far as I’m concerned.

IMG_20180611_183918

Finally, I found a better place to dry my garlic than the washing line – from a basket I wove on Inis Oírr, next to a placard I made for a protest months ago that I now don’t really know what to do with, and I think if any of these photos sums up my life at the moment, it’s this one.

Back to it

It’s fair to say I’ve NOT been giving allotmenting much of a priority for the last six months or so. Unlike my actual proper job, whatever that is, gardening isn’t really something you can do remotely and my priorities lately have involved travelling lots. And I kind of think that’s OK, if you’re doing this as a hobby and your local council has an incredibly laid-back approach towards overgrown allotments. I never wanted to make this into a job or a chore, because I think that’s when you start to lose your enjoyment of it. My approach has always been ‘I’ll do what I can, when I can’.

But I’ve not been lazy, friends. As I mentioned in my last post, I was in Connemara, volunteering and learning a lot about gardening (I’ve been doing around 50% of the basics totally wrong, by my estimation). I absolutely loved it, met some great people, and in some ways feel I’ve come back to the UK a bit too soon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But in terms of what awaited me on the allotment, I couldn’t have come back soon enough. I always knew that leaving it for 5 weeks wasn’t going to be popular with my vegetables, and I don’t really have any regrets there, but there was a lot of work to be done, as I reflected when I had to cut a path through the weeds to even access the allotment. Luckily, my enthusiasm’s been reignited a bit, plus I like to believe I’ve become physically stronger recently, so I took the opportunity to get started.

I usually spend December planning out next year’s allotment, but life kind of caught up with me this year, so I’m basically planning as I go and taking a look at the various seeds I have (I’m terrible for buying in bulk when they’re on sale in September and then never using them). As you’ll be able to see immediately because of my artistic skills, there are two fairly big changes: one is that I moved the ‘wildflower patch‘. It had become a bit too wild, to be honest, and was instead an awful mess of roots.

I’m less than optimistic about the survival chances of the lettuce (in my head I’m calling it ‘goth lettuce’ because it’s a cool colour but it probably has a proper name) but the important thing is that it’s now a usable bed, and I’ve moved the wildflower patch up a bit, closer to the peas and potatoes (where it’ll hopefully be more useful), and fingers crossed, there’ll be actual flowers in it rather than weeds I was pretending were wildflowers because I was too lazy to do anything about them.

According to my grandmother’s wisdom, you should move a strawberry patch every four years, and this is the fourth year I’ve been attempting to grow stuff, so off it went. Also, it had to move because it looked awful and was more weeds than strawberries. They’re in a much sunnier part of the allotment now and I’m thinking of planting herbs that can tolerate shade where they were, near the fence.

And that’s basically it really – watering, weeding, and explaining to guests why I’ve got garlic on the washing line (I keep meaning to bring it in a dry it in a more normal location, I think my brain just goes ‘This line is meant for drying stuff, whether it’s clothes or garlic’). The only experimental thing I’m growing this year is kalettes, which I’ve only eaten once before. Both kale and sprouts have grown well in previous years so I’m cautiously optimistic about their weird offspring.

That time of year…

…when I carefully photograph individual vegetables I’ve successfully grown and blithely neglect to take photos showing all the weeds on the allotment. And I regret with some force any accusations that this is what I normally do.

My best achievement (in this context, probably not ever, although come to think of it I’m struggling to remember what my overall best achievement is) was this little aubergine:

aub

The plant was another of the Wilkos rescue plants, priced at around 50p, and it had looked like it was dying for a while, but I was away for a week and suddenly it’s done the thing it’s meant to. I’m not sure how much bigger it’ll grow or when it’d be wise to harvest it – probably in the next week, since you can’t really rely on Northumberland staying warm for any extended period of time.

carr

Luckily my carrots aren’t subject to EU regulations (actually I can’t joke about Brexit because it’s too serious and we shouldn’t be leaving the EU, but I’ll try and once again steer this away from politics and BACK to the calming gardening that I engage in as a way of distracting myself from all the stupid stuff my government do), but this is the most success I’ve ever had with carrots. I managed maybe 10 in total, all very small, all very misshapen, but all very edible, so I’m counting that as a success.

My kitchen has slightly over-dramatic lighting and it sometimes looks like the artichokes are having a secret meeting. I’ve had lots of guests recently and I keep happily presenting them with artichokes, regardless of whether this is something they want or not. I also managed a couple of cauliflowers this year (which I greedily hoarded and kept to myself).

chomp

And here’s an example of one thing I managed to produce with partly home-grown veg, it’s incredibly ‘hipster’ (I gather that’s the term the young people use) but luckily, I’m so out-of-date that it doesn’t even matter if I’m a hipster because it’d only ever be accidental. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that emos evolved from goths and I was too old even to be an emo and maybe it means I can never go back to being a goth because they’re all evolved now. But enough of my neuroses. Almost time for the weeds to start dying back (one day, one glorious day) and I can start my planning for next year, wherever I’ll be. I’ve become obsessed with a programme called Garraí Glas on TG4 (I’m so short of time these days that I like to combine my hobbies so if anyone knows of any way of combining climbing, paintballing, speaking Irish, going on political demos, AND gardening, please get in touch) and it’s giving me LOADS of ideas for new things to try.