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:

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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.

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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).

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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partly home-grown veg, it’s incredibly ‘hipster’ (I gather that’s the term the young people use) but luckily, I’m so out-of-date that it doesn’t even matter if I’m a hipster because it’d only ever be accidental.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.

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Homegrown meal

I failed to do a July allotment update, partly because not a lot happened but mostly because I wasn’t here, I was on Inis Meáin learning Irish, as is my custom.

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Can’t think of many nicer holiday destinations tbf

That only took up 95% of my mental capacity, so I used the remaining 5% not for normal things like ‘remembering to sleep and to feed myself’, but instead for ‘noticing the plant life on the island’. I was quite taken with how the potatoes are grown, for example, with seaweed being used as compost (and I can attest to the fact that this makes them taste especially good). My own potatoes aren’t doing fantastically well this year, but they were fairly low down the priority list.

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I had a great time despite the neglect of my own allotment, and I’ll be going back to the Aran Islands later in the year. Not sure if there’ll be anything notable in terms of plant life but I will, as ever, remain vigilant.

Back to my own allotment, then, and the best thing that’s happened is this:

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I had no idea artichokes grew that quickly – compared to just a couple of months ago, or even back in May, they’re huge, and I’ve now got to look up interesting artichoke recipes because I think I’ll have a few to eat before long.

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The asparagus is still doing OK – it’s less obviously successful than the artichokes but it’s survived (I thought a lack of water had killed it off totally while I was away).

Of course, the most important bit of harvesting all this food is eating it. This is the first year I’ve successfully grown garlic, and I even had ‘kind-of’ carrot success (full disclosure: I bought a Rainbow Carrot set designed for children from Homebase) after growing them in containers.

I managed to make a stew that was maybe 90% home-grown (I bought the dill because mine all perished while I wasn’t paying attention, and I also added fennel because I had some to use up):

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(I’ve made more colourful meals, it’s true, but it’s the taste that counts). So despite my ongoing occasional neglect of the allotment, it’s still worth having since it gets me the odd free meal. Tune in next time when I’ll exclusively be eating home-grown potato wedges.

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.