In your face, capitalism

Northumberland is extremely hectic at this time of year.

Luckily I’m coping well. I was absolutely delighted to find grow tunnels reduced from £12 to £3 at Wilkos. A VICTORY FOR SOCIALISM.

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I’ve got three of them now (I even took on extra work over the week to afford them, assuming they’d be full price, and now the exact things I wanted are reduced. I know this simple fact shouldn’t make me so happy but it does) and I’ve found they’re pretty good – you just take them out of the packaging, lay them flat and then pull on the ropes inside to made them tunnel-shaped, and secure them with pins. They haven’t blown away yet. And if you’re lucky enough to be a fairly small human…

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They’re big enough to crawl all the way in! If you’re careful and don’t casually kneel on your seedlings. They’re much better quality than the plastic-covered ones I got a few years back which tore easily and just stored condensation. I’m using them for an ‘experimental’ patch. I took the garlic I’d overwintered out a bit early:

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And added in seedlings I’d been growing thanks to various gifts from family members, including tomatillos, tomatoes, cumin, jalapeños and (outside the tunnels), the odd sunflower. So it’ll be fun to see how it all does, I hadn’t been planning on growing any of these things but I have a bit of space, given that most of the parsnips aren’t growing from the very elderly seeds I planted back in March. Which is OK as well, because I didn’t want hundreds of parsnips, not after the Incident*.

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The peas, sweetpeas, artichokes and radishes seem to be doing well, and the potatoes got off to a slow start but seem alright now. I’m growing some kind of blue squash in one of the tunnels and so far, it’s not even germinated but we live in hope. Until then, I’m spending a lot of time walking back from the allotment covered in mud, thinking about my upcoming reunion with the family hound:

Normally gardening (and computer games) are the hobbies I use to get away from people and collect and store introvert energy, ready to be converted for my hobbies that require some extrovert energy (namely minority languages, politics and climbing, I have no hobbies beyond these five). However, it’s sometimes nice to give other stuff a go too and I headed down to the Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle last month to do a bit of community gardening. It was lots of fun and if I can justify abandoning the allotment (which I usually can), I’m totally going to come back again. Most of what I’ve ever learnt about gardening hasn’t been through books, but from having conversations with people more knowledgeable than me.

*The first time I tried to grow parsnips, I didn’t thin them out and ended up with hundreds of monster parsnips and lived almost entirely on parsnip soup for several weeks. At least they’ve thinned themselves out this time, that was polite of them.

 

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All work and no play

I’m finding that basically all I’m doing on the allotment at the moment is weeding, which is a lot better than not doing weeding on the allotment, because as we know, that’s not something I have a shortage of.

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Observe my torment

I don’t hate weeding as much as I say I do, to be fair. I normally just listen to music and get on with it, but at the same time, I feel that taking periodic breaks from weeding by hand to use my weedburner is more for my own emotional wellbeing rather than to get rid of any weeds. And today I nearly set my foot on fire because I got distracted, that’s very much how my life currently is.

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I guess the issue is that weeding: a) just needs to be done and b) is quite boring, especially when you have a huge allotment. Normally I try and switch between the multitude of tasks I’ve got ahead of me just for the sake of variety, but today it was hours and hours plus the feeling that I hadn’t really achieved much. I’m thinking of bribing people to come and do weeding for me, maybe using a trail of biscuits or something.

I picked this up at Lidl and had a moment of thinking ‘How have they combined cucumber and dill to make a hybrid’, before realising I’m an idiot and it’s just cucumber and dill seeds in the same packet. I’ve never used seed tape before, though, so it was interesting to give it a go. One thing I’m useless at (along with ‘not setting my feet on fire’) is planting anything in a straight line, so I’m keen to see whether this’ll help with that issue of mine. I’ve also never planted cucumbers straight into the ground and I’m hoping it’s late enough in the year to get away with it. I put the lettuce in last month when it was sunny, then we had snow two weeks later which killed most of it off, it’s weird, it’s almost like there’s a climate emergency and urgent action needs to be taken or something.

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The peas and garlic are surviving, anyway, even if our planet won’t and we’re all doomed. I’m still using the watering spikes I’ve been using for the last couple of years. If I’m honest, I don’t know if they make a huge difference – because it’s so far under the surface of the soil, you can’t immediately see what’s been watered and how far one bottle can go – but I think it’s a simple back-up solution for drier periods.

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I’m also hoping that the cherry tree will produce fruit this year. Last year it produced exactly one cherry. Well, it might’ve been more and it might be that the birds got there before I did, come to think of it. I’m just pleased that my attempts to prune it haven’t yet killed the tree, although I’m not 100% pleased with the shape.

So that’s it really, I now have everything planted except the squash, which I might leave out completely this year, although it leaves one bed unplanted. April’s quite boring from a ‘taking pictures of produce’ point for view because there is no produce except weeds and my resulting declining grip on reality, neither of which is photogenic, but I’m hoping that by June, I’ll have more interesting stuff to report.

Spring, enttäusch mich nicht

I’m starting this year on the allotment with exactly the same problem as I had last year – I’m kind of in between countries at the minute because I don’t know about the extent to which our self-serving, morally bankrupt failure of a government is going to further mess up the country I started off in, come March 29th. So once again I’m going for a kind of compromise – I’m growing the basics, but avoiding time-consuming experiments like the asparagus and sweet potatoes of years gone by.

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Smashing the patriarchy while gardening because I can MULTI-TASK

I was going to report on the abject failure of my no-dig latecrop potatoes after I’d had the idea and then didn’t sleep for about a week because I was so excited to try it out. The experiment resulted in 0 potatoes, but like all my failures, it wasn’t absolute. It kept the weeds down beautifully, and once I’d moved the layers of straw away, there was some of the most lovely-looking soil I’d ever seen:

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I’m pleased with this because I’ve never managed to grow anything on this part of the allotment before. I’d had potatoes there a few years back but I’d struggled to get it dug over because of millions of roots (including dock leaves). I really want to try no-dig again, it still required roughly the same amount of effort at the start, but I’m happy with the way it turned out after winter, and moving the mulch and everything away was a nice break from digging in the green manure.

At the risk of coming out with the least cool thing I’ve ever said, I discovered a REALLY GOOD potato website. I’m only growing three types this year, and I knew I wanted first earlies, a maincrop and a salad type but wasn’t sure where to start. This website lets you search for what you want AND compare varieties:

I’m going with Pink Fir Apple (which I’ve grown before), plus Vales Sovereign and Accord (both new to me). I really wanted to grow Ratte again, as it’s still my all-time favourite, but I’ve had a word with myself and I know I’d run out of time, space or both.

allotThis display of artistic might is my rough plan for the year, and it’s more or less based on the seeds and plants I already have. I think the globe artichokes have been the main success on the allotment over the last 2-3 years (now I’ve said it, I’ve jinxed it). They’re really easy to maintain, take up a lot of space, and I actually use them, and they’re not something I’d normally eat if I didn’t have an allotment. I’m also trying to minimise the amount of seedlings I have to transplant because I don’t really have anywhere to start them off, and besides, constantly walking from my flat to the allotment bearing seedlings, cultivators and forks is giving me a reputation around town.

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Basically the only thing I’ve bought this year in terms of equipment are these half-length boots, and they are a total game-changer in my book. One thing I struggled with when wearing full, adult-sized boots is my failure to remember that I’m in fact a three-quarter length human, and trying to waddle about in them was not helping at all. Now I don’t have to struggle with boots going over my knees and I’m able to actually walk around.

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So that’s it, really, for the time being. Plenty of work still to do, and I’m really not sure how much I’ll get done this year, but it feels good to have a plan of some kind. I feel a lot more ‘grounded’ (hahaha, pun very much intended if unlikely to be appreciated, like all my puns) when I’m gardening and I’m glad spring’s on the way.

Winter prep

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There’s nothing the allotment’s much good for round about now other than using it as a handy and subtle political billboard and doing the odd bit of weeding, especially as the only things growing at the minute are garlic and green manure.

It would have been good to grow some onions over the winter but my house is full of shallots and I think there’s an upper limit to the amount it’s acceptable to store. In an ideal world, I’d have a shed for drying onions, garlic and shallots, but I feel at the moment that having a shed would be creating problems for myself as I’m 90% certain somebody would break in and take everything, rendering all my efforts in buying, constructing and securing the shed useless. I know I live in rural Northumberland as opposed to the Bronx, right, but I’ve not forgotten when I was young and innocent, when I first got the allotment, and somebody took my rake and SET IT ON FIRE.

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A calming picture of a bee and some borage

BURNT TO ASHES I mean stealing is one thing, if you want a rake, then take my £5 from Wilkos after you’ve scaled the 6ft fence, maybe you’ve earned it, but WHY GO TO THE TROUBLE OF SETTING IT ON FIRE.

I know it was around three years ago but time passes more quickly when you get to my age and allotment-based rage only increases. Anyway the marigolds are doing annoyingly well. Annoying because the whole point of planting them was so they’d be eaten by insects, distracting them from eating all my vegetables, but no, they’ve decided to ignore the marigolds. It’s my first time growing them successfully from seed and I don’t really know why they did so well this time, or why peas, sweet peas and beans did so badly this year, but maybe that’s another of life’s mysteries, friends.

I’d moved the strawberry patch a few months back but forgot that strawberries, y’know, go everywhere and that I’d forgotten to contain them in some way, so I got a handy pre-made border from Wilkos. I’ve got lots of spare wooden fencing on the allotment and if some of it’s usable, it’d be good to use it to improve the raised beds. I might see if hiring an axe is a socially appropriate thing to do over the winter.

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For now though, it’s time to start planning what I’m doing (or what it’s worth doing) on the allotment next year, given my slightly chaotic and semi-nomadic lifestyle right now, which isn’t showing many signs of changing. I think I’d like to try butternut squashes again, and maybe be a bit more restrained in terms of the sheer quantity of potatoes, but besides that, the future’s a blank slate.

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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