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.

Flowers and berries

I’m always surprised by how quickly things start growing once summer’s finally underway, even if I do complain about how late flowers bloom up here. This is how quickly things have grown in the last eight weeks:

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ZOOM. I did away with the remaining leeks and planted pumpkins there instead. This picture doesn’t show the happy state of the eight obelisks, just visible in the left-hand picture, because the raspberry patch has gone crazy as usual. Thankfully, I have photographed certain elements thereof:

My original plan was to grow one particular type of sweet pea per obelisk, resulting in a kind of monocolour scheme. That’s not going to happen because I didn’t grow enough surviving seedlings and had to supplement the ones that did survive with seedlings from Homebase. I bought some successful seeds of the Mollie Rilstone variety from Matthewman’s Sweetpeas, and I’m hoping they’ll bloom soon too. All in all it’ll probably be nicer to have a variety of colours, nice to have a bit of diversity on the old allotment.

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This week also saw the reappearance of an old friend, the borage! It’s not growing entirely where I predicted, but I don’t mind because it’s great and useful. I’d never even heard of it before getting an allotment and I think it’s a bit of a typical flower among allotmenteers, but honestly it’s one of my favourite things to grow. Not just because bees love it, but also because I like casually nibbling on flowers.

The tayberries have started to appear too. There have never been enough to do more than eat then individually, but one day I’ve decided I’m having tayberry pie.

Defeating my laziness

I’ve been getting a bit lazy with allotmenteering lately, having chosen easily the worst time of year to do so. IN MY DEFENCE, I’ve been ill, on and off, and busy with work and a few other things. Plus, another dispiriting thing happened, worse even than the Great Rake Theft. I keep tools and other various bits and bobs in a padlocked plastic storage box, and discovered a couple of weeks ago that the lid had been smashed to allow access to said box. They hadn’t taken anything, which paradoxically only increased my rage. Anyway, as a counter-measure, I had a look at my stuff and determined what I really wouldn’t want to lose, and moved it to my flat. It’s such a pain, because I don’t really know what to do now. In some ways I could do with a shed, but that could easily be broken into by a determined thief. If I replace the lid of this box, I could simply be wasting my money if it’s broken again. My best idea so far is to put barbed wire all round the fence, as my neighbours have done. We shall see.

I had a bit of a word with myself, though, and decided I wasn’t going to let that ruin my allotmenteering experience. I was thinking what a pain it was to schlep tools from my flat to the allotment whenever I go there now, but then the other week, something good happened (and I’ve rattled on about this on all other forms of social media, so might as well say it here too): I passed my driving test! After a year and a half of learning to drive (probably felt like quite a bit longer to my long-suffering instructor). So if I ever actually get some kind of vehicle, I can simply drive to the allotment in style.

I also bought something to cheer myself up:

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I decided I needed to get over the psychological block of the weeds that are taller than I am. I mean, the weeds are generally where they’re meant to be – I deliberately haven’t cultivated the whole allotment, because there’s only so much I can do, and I’ve been hoeing away on the raised beds. But it’s sometimes a bit daunting when unlocking the gate and seeing the various huge plants, even the ones that are supposed to be there:

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So I’ve had a few hours of chopping today, which has been extremely therapeutic, even though I’ve kept in mind that it’s not really a long-term solution against the weeds. And despite the fact that my cauliflower, cabbage and sprouts have all been eaten by rabbits (main suspects), some things are growing as they should be:

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I’d bought the tayberry to celebrate the Scottish referendum (I didn’t have hugely strong feelings either way, but it seemed fitting) and hadn’t really expected actual berries to appear for a while. The borage is thriving – it’s been attracting so many bees that you can hear them humming from the other end of the allotment. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to pick the flowers, but I survived. The Lord Leicester peas have, as predicted, out-grown me (as have all my siblings and most adult humans), and the potatoes seem to be fine.

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I picked a random assortment of things today – a few flowers to have in the flat, lots of borage flowers to eat, and the delicious garlic chives. It’s not like I’m dragging back massive sacks of vegetables, but I didn’t really expect to be at this stage. One thing that’s surprised me, after the failure of my carrots and parsnips and other, more conventional things I’ve tried to grow, is that the oka seems to be doing very well. It took a while to emerge, and I’m still not sure if it’s even worth eating – I don’t know what it will taste like, but it’s encouraging to see that some things are working out well.

Finally – allotmenteer level up!

An allotmenteer without an allotment is like a tomato plant with no leaves – a bit sad and useless (inspiration for this simile was taken directly from a couple of plants on my own balcony, as it happens). I’d resigned myself to watching all episodes of the Icelandic sitcoms Dagvaktin and Fangavakin (sequels to the excellent Næturvaktin) instead of ever going outside again, but then, to my joy, I finally got the keys to my very own allotment yesterday!

It’ll be hard work. Really, really hard work. It’s currently very much overgrown with nettles and dock leaves, which I’m assured will be cut back a bit on Friday, meaning I’ll be able to start digging on Saturday, I hope. I’ve done some research online, and some people seem to think that nettles are an indicator of decent soil quality. The small amount of soil I can see beneath the nettles does seem good, although I’m not sure how much of a comfort this will be as I dig throughout the weekend, and then throughout all of next month before the frosts creep in. There are some raised beds already, although they are currently underneath a million nettles. It won’t be as hard as it would be to build an entirely new allotment, but it’s nowhere near ready for planting. It’s fantastic. To celebrate, I bought my first spade:

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Well, it was really my trade union, of whom I’m a passionate member, who paid for the spade. I got vouchers for referrals. My allotment’s going to be a good, socialist allotment.

Vouchers run out eventually, though, so I’ve join various local message boards and groups to see if I can get any second-hand equipment for free (items like wooden pallets and paving slabs and guttering, and who knows, maybe the odd plant), or at least cheaper. I think it’s the best way to do it – I don’t want to dive in head first and spend all my savings at once on stuff that might get nicked anyway (there have been a few thefts in the area).

It’s all exciting, anyway, and my plan at the moment is to spend all of Saturday and Sunday digging. My housework, online courses and obsessive Icelandic sitcom-watching will have to take a back seat until the frost comes, I think. And then I’ll use winter to plan (and maybe accumulate more gardening stuff). Maybe the timing of me getting the allotment isn’t so bad, thinking about it. OK, I’m not going to grow anything on it for a while, but I have work to do right away, which is good, also for my expanding waistline, but it won’t be as though I have AN ENTIRE GROWING SEASON before me right from the start. Just a lot of digging.

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Here’s what’s been going on in the meantime. I had to buy some plants from the Victoriana Nursery down in Kent – they have a lovely range of slightly rarer varieties. I ordered borage, hyssop and sea kale. The borage isn’t ready yet, but the rest all arrived today (I’d also bought a couple of snapdragons from Homebase on my lunch break, because I have limited willpower). The hyssop will hopefully act as a companion plant to brassicas once it’s grown, and is supposed to be good for the bee population. The borage, once I have it, is supposed to be a good companion plant to basically everything, and I think you can use the flowers for exciting salads and so on. The sea kale is just adorable. Look at it, sitting there. I think it’s going to be awkward to get to grow, and I haven’t decided when exactly to transport it to the allotment or what to do with it before then, but I’ll figure it out.

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I’ve got a couple more little cucumbers growing, although how big they get this late on remains to be seen. I’m getting increasingly frustrated with my multitude of tomatoes, which don’t seem to be ripening. I consulted a range of gardening blogs, and to be honest, I have so much faith in them that if they said ‘Sing lullabies to your tomatoes to make them blush’, I’d have done it. Luckily, I surmised that I’ve still got time before they begin to ripen, so all is not lost. Failing that, there’s the ‘apple in a paper bag’ method of ripening, but more on that if I end up actually having to do it.

Next step is to figure out what can go on the allotment, and what can stay on the balcony. So far the only things that I think can definitely go, although not necessarily in the very near future, are the blueberry, blackberry, loganberry and raspberry plants. I’ll have to muse on this further.