Making a start for 2018

I haven’t updated in a really long time, basically just because not much has been happening on the allotment and lots has been happening outside the allotment. But today I sort of made a start on everything. This year I’ve got a bit of a challenge because there’s always a lot to do but even less time in which to do it. Under normal circumstances I’d take snow as a sign that I’m supposed to be inside and very much not gardening, but friends, we’ve had a LOT of snow.

I was sharing these pictures as much as possible earlier in the month in an effort to gain sympathy because the snow really ruined my week. Anyway, Northumberland’s been hit slightly less badly by snow this particular weekend, but that’s not to say it’s not there:

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The reason it’s getting to the point where I’ve got to either plant things or just say ‘Right, I’m not allotmenting this year’ is because in just a couple of weeks, I’m off to Connemara for the spring to a) Improve my Irish and b) Do some gardening. This is really exciting because I’m a big believer in combining hobbies. I’m yet to work in paintballing and climbing, but maybe I’ll have thought of a way by 2019. Anyway, I’m very nervous/excited about it and hope that I actually manage to use my Irish instead of wimping out and speaking English the whole time.

What this means for my allotment here in Northumberland is that I have to prioritise. The artichokes did really well last year so they’re staying where they were, and then today I put in potatoes, peas, and wildflowers. All while wondering vaguely about the symptoms of frostbite.

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Me, questioning the wisdom of spending a Sunday outside

Potato-wise I’ve gone for four types this year: Anya, Ratte, Golden Wonder and Kestrel. I’ve grown all but Golden Wonder before, and I kind of see them as a good, solid choice. Ratte’s the best-tasting variety I’ve ever grown so I was keen to try that again.

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And then the peas are our good friends the Lord Leicesters, which I’ve grown for the last three years and which always seem to do pretty well. The weird support structure I created for the peas last year actually survived the winter, so I’m growing them in the same place, which I’m hoping is fine for peas even though it very much is not fine for potatoes (working on the idea that you’ve got to rotate where you plant potatoes every 4 years, I’ll possibly have run out of places entirely by next year, although that could be a good excuse to make use of the non-cultivated bits of the allotment that I’ve been ignoring the whole time).

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So that’s it for the time being, really. I’m hoping I’ll have time to plant some things by the time I return in May. It’s tricky because I’m very much an ‘all or nothing’ type of person and there’s a real temptation to try and grow EVERYTHING, but I’m just not going to have the time, so it’s about working out a way of still enjoying the process of growing my own food but at the same time, not overstretching myself so that it becomes a chore.

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Time to learn some useful vocab

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Happiness is a warm allotment

On a day as warm as this, how could I not go to the allotment?

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I’m using a combination of FIRE and my new edging tool to keep the weeds at bay, it’s more or less working so far. There’s a promising crop of radishes growing too, and most of the sweet peas, climbing beans and peas by the obelisks seem to be fine still. I’m visiting several times a week now to make sure everything’s reasonably watered, and I have my beloved watering spikes too.

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I’m happy this weekend because a) I survived my first tax return without my brain exploding and b) my holiday to the north of Ireland is finally taking shape, so after spending most of yesterday shouting at my computer and calculator, I was happy to get outside today.

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The happy face of your humble author

My carrots seem to have mostly died, as I’d thought. I think it’s just the wrong soil for them, or I’m cursed, or I did something else wrong I’ve not worked out yet. The parsnips, touch wood, still look more or less fine:

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And yes, I do need to repair the raised beds at some stage. Having an allotment has more than doubled by ‘to do’ list, but the priority at the moment is Fight the Weeds, followed by Water the Plants, then Remember to Work and Eat.

The balcony garden is also doing reasonably well, and is also providing pretty fantastic lunch breaks as I stumble out of the house after a hard morning at the translation mill. I bought a drainpipe plant holder thing from Wilkos. I can be a bit sceptical about some of the things you can buy – I mean, surely many of these things you can just make out of bits of wire – but it was on special offer and I couldn’t quite resist:

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The ‘greenhouse’ was also a Wilkos purchase and is currently steaming up the whole time when closed, which isn’t ideal. I’m planning, one day, far into the future, on buying one or two similar ones that’d live on the allotment – I’ve certainly got the space for them and it would mean I wouldn’t have to cart baby plants all the way there the whole time. I think I’d invest in one of their slightly more expensive greenhouses with better ventilation, though:

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Swedish flag present because of my general fondness for Sweden rather than any nationalist sentiments

I’m now resting after my labours and booking a Game of thrones tour, possibly the geekiest thing I’ve done to date, but I bet it’ll be fantastic.

Burn them all

I derive arguably unhealthy levels of enjoyment from using my weed burner. Mine’s only a little one from Wilkos, but it more or less does the job. I returned to the allotment last week after two weeks away and as I’d predicted, there were weeds everywhere, but I strode up and down in the style of Aerys Targaryen, muttering ‘Burn them all’. It’s good being able to simply burn away your problems. Insert legal disclaimer here.

Sadly it’s mostly been too wet to burn things properly, but there’s plenty of time. Surely it can’t rain all summer, even here in Northumberland. I’ve been using the time to compensate for all the seeds which failed to germinate (most of the tomatoes, around half the sweet peas, some of the cucumbers):

Also got a couple of butternut squashes, which failed last year after a promising start. Annoyingly it’s a really beautiful evening, perfect for weed burning, but work’s really busy at the moment and I won’t have the time today.

Also pictured: the olive bush that I adopted from the Wilkos reduced section when it was just a couple of sticks, and the owl planter given to me by beloved former colleagues as a leaving present, back in the days when I had a proper job. The owl is sporting quite a stylish sorrel hairstyle, which suits it. I was also toying with the idea of dill, but the sorrel’s good too.

On a note only linked loosely to gardening, tomorrow I’ll have been freelancing for a year! Time flies! I’ve really been enjoying it, truth be told. It’s the happiest I’ve been. I’m not sure it’s allowed me to spend significantly more time on the allotment, because it turns out I still have to actually do translations in order to get paid, but I’m enjoying the flexibility of being able to extend lunch breaks and have a bit of a dig on the allotment. Plus, I managed to get all the potatoes in the ground, so if all else fails, I’ll have them to eat.

First sun of the year

From snow on the allotment just a couple of weeks ago to something that almost looked a bit like spring today. Although if you say that, spring disappears for another month, that’s how weather works in Northumberland.

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I’ve made some progress overall and am at the point where I’m not actively ashamed of pictures of the entire allotment and the collection of weeds to which it is home. There are still weeds, obviously, they are everywhere, but I’m starting to win.

I keep freaking out a bit about not getting everything done in time. I’ve once again chosen to be away from the allotment during probably the most important allotment time of the year, in late March/early April (I’m going to various poncey translator conferences because apparently that’s what real people do, and I’m self-employed now and I have insurance and a pension and everything, which I suppose means I’m a real person), but I don’t think it’ll be as stressful as last year when I had to plant five types of potatoes, move house and change career in the space of about a week.

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I’ve even started work on the balcony garden after neglecting it slightly for six months. I’m surprised by the progress of the olive bush, which I bought a couple of years ago as a £1.50 rescue from Wilkos. I’d assumed it’d get homesick (and maybe die of jealousy when I went to Sicily), but who knows, another year and I might get an actual olive.

I’ve started off the sweet peas in the greenhouse and I’m still debating what to put in the rather excellent owl planter my friend Camille got me to celebrate me passing my driving test (a skill I’ve expertly utilised to never drive again). I have plenty of flower seeds to choose from, I’ve just been unable to decide so far to decide what kind of flower looks best emerging from an owl.

Snowday

I was just getting into spending my weekends cheerily digging up varying amounts of my allotment (and unearthing all manner of weird things, from chicken bones to old t-shirts and a small collection of toy soldiers). I could feel muscles in my arms and everything. And it all looked so ready and pretty:

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Then today, as I woke up late and rolled almost automatically towards the allotment, I was confronted with this:

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I still headed off to my little allotment just to say hello and drop off some compost, but there wasn’t a huge amount to do given the amount of snow.

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Still, though, the makeshift obelisks (or spiders from Mars, as I’ve named them in my head) are holding up reasonably well. I was worried the wind would blow them away, but they’ve been standing for a week now. They look a bit fragile and spindly at the moment, but once I get round to putting netting etc. on them, it’ll be better. I’ve still got four to put up because apparently the previous version of me thought that it would be wise to have EIGHT of the things. Well, I’ve got the space, and they’re useful for peas, beans and sweetpeas. Hoping to grow lettuce and radish between them, and maybe onions, as last year’s onions proved surprisingly successful and massive. I was given one metal obelisk for Christmas but I have to confess, I spent much of yesterday afternoon trying to put the thing together, and it’s now sitting half-constructed outside my house, because I got angry with it after realising I couldn’t do DIY, even the most basic kind. I’ve since worked out how to put it together, but I’m going to have to wait for a day when it’s not snowing heavily.

I’ve still managed to use my snowday wisely. Starting to think about putting mini propagators all around my house, and I actually made some kind of progress with the neglected balcony garden yesterday. I’m excited about digging potato trenches next month already. I think out of all the things I’ve grown, potatoes are still my favourite.

 

A wintry allotment

And a happy New Year to BOTH my readers! Not too convinced by 2016 so far,  but it’s early days yet. I spent about three weeks over Christmas away from Northumberland and my allotment. I think this enforced separation was good for us both, really. I never wanted allotmenteering to feel like a chore – that would defeat the whole point – but in autumn, things started to get a bit overwhelming, even though I was visiting every weekend plus the occasional lunchtime. It feels good to be able to start everything again. Even if I am struggling to reaccustom myself to the weather up here.

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I took my family the rest of the oka, and sent my grandparents the sprouts I was too afraid to eat. I was afraid because they’d had a caterpillar infestation (sprouts not grandparents), and had no idea what this would do to the sprouts, but they looked fine. I am probably a bad granddaughter for offloading dubious sprouts on my grandparents, but they said they enjoyed them.

I got a few nice gardening-related presents for Christmas:

I get through gardening gloves ridiculously quickly, so these ones are especially welcome as they look a little more durable than most, but still flexible enough to do weeding etc. Grow your own sloe gin is more of a kit containing blackthorn plant seeds, and I’m not under the delusion that I’ll be tucking into sloe gin from them any time within the next decade, but it’ll be nice to extend the small hedge I’ve been planning.

I’m enjoying this ‘plan everything’ time. I’m trying to be less ambitious because I have so many seeds left over from last year that I just didn’t have time (or space, unbelievably) to plant. My resolutions for 2016 include making jam for the first time (I’m trying to become even more of a middle class stereotype, after this all I have to do is work out how quinoa is pronounced and join the WI). That’s the only one strictly gardening-related. I went to Liverpool for the first time since I was very small over Christmas and have resolved to return, for example, but it’s the jam-making I’ll concentrate on for the purposes of this blog. I’ve bought most of the stuff I need for this next growing season and will now wait patiently until the ground is less frozen before planting everything.

Sinterklaas on the allotment

I’m not Dutch – this is something I’ve come to accept over the years. But I do have a degree (partly) in Dutch, and a good part of that involved celebrating Sinterklaas, and that happy day is today. Imagine my delight, then, when this morning I got this parcel:

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Although I’ve never been a small Dutch child, more of a small wannabe-Dutch adult, my heart started racing. Partly due to thyroid problems, partly due to excitement. HAD THE SINT REMEMBERED ME?

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No, no he hadn’t. A while ago I was doing a translation that involved basil cress. What is basil cress, you ask? No idea, I would have answered, until I looked it up. Turns out you can get LOADS of different kinds of cress. And because you can plant cress at this generally unplantworthy time of year, I had to go shopping:

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So we have (and my skills as a translator are being put to the test here): rocket cress, broccoli cress, leek cress, peashoot cress (I think) and underneath that, the aforementioned basil cress. Not sure what any of them will taste like – cress, I imagine, but hopefully interesting cress. I think I’ll grow them in the flat or maybe just outside it if it ever stops raining.

I had to work today as I was busy being a young trade union activist yesterday (I’m now on a committee and everything!), but I toddled down to the allotment for a bit anyway. It was kind of like manning a ship in a storm, so I couldn’t stay for very long as I would literally have been blown away, literally and actually and genuinely. Neighbouring allotments can look a BIT forbidding, but maybe that’s why they’re less plagued by thieves:

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Not a huge amount on the allotment right now, as you might except. Celery and leeks are doing well, I’ve got the last of the oka to take up (I’m not sure for how long you can keep taking them up before they’re affected by frost, but if you start in November I’m sure December must also be fine. Mind you, this is Northumberland). My strawberry tree has finally started to do something:

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So pretty! I wasn’t sure if it would ever do anything, but if it produces fruit, I can make alcohol from it. I’ve been really bad at homemade alcohol this year. I say this like I’ve achieved nothing this year, which isn’t true at all – I became self-employed AND passed my driving test for a start, so I’ve been a bit busy, but one of my aspirations is certainly to made a wider variety of alcoholic beverages once I get the time.