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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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Borage is one of my Top Ten favourite things

Plagued by rabbits

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The wonders of social media

Being a modern young* woman of class** and distinction***, I occasionally indulge in the odd Tweet, and imagine my happiness when I saw that Thomas Etty Seeds had some spare to give away to the first fast-fingered twitterers to respond. I wasted no time and was overcome with delight when this came through my door:

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SO MANY! There are some very hot chillis there (which I might have to donate to people of less delicate constitutions than my own) and also the odd turnip and heirloom tomato. If I didn’t have so much to do between now and spring, I’d be wishing it was here already so I could start planting all this. It’s sometimes overwhelming selecting seeds and planning everything out before the year begins so in many ways it’s nice to just have enough there.

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These are the things I’m most excited about now though, Icelandic poppies! I hadn’t even heard of them but I’m hoping they’ll do really well, at least they’ll probably not find the Northumbrian climate too chilly.

Got to spend plenty of time on the old allotment this weekend for a change. I’m still really proud of the artichokes, I know I keep talking about them like they’re my own children, but look how beautiful they are:

My last post linked to a comparison of how quickly these creatures have grown and I was just about to apologise for concentrating solely on the artichokes again before realising I unashamedly love them and before the season’s out, plan to take a selfie next to them so it’s clear how big they are. I don’t know if they’re just easy to grow or if I somehow have the right soil, but either way, I’m hereby crowning them the main success of 2017 (failures including the usual carrots, and even potatoes this year for some reason).

Some other things did grow, though – I did a bit of blackberry picking before realising that the ones on my allotment were even better. I have a thornless variety and I’d expected there to be some kind of catch involving compromising the quality or yield but actually, they’re delicious and plentiful. This is the first year I’ve had blackberries from it and I’m pleasantly surprised. In the interest of regional diversity I should also point out that up here, they’re called brambles rather than blackberries and while I don’t have strong personal feelings either way, I wanted to point this out for the sake of regional dialect preservation.

Pictured are also my fearsome carrot crop, which succeeds only in looking weird although these are the biggest I’ve ever actually grown.

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So finally coming to the end of the summer, I’m a bit relieved because soon I won’t be having to do battle with weeds and feeling guilty that I never win this battle. Time to watch them die back naturally and have a bit of a rest myself.

*-ish

**petty bourgeoisie

***very little