Taking root

I always seem to pick planting and harvest time as my two busiest times of year in terms of the world outside the allotment, but I THINK I’m getting on top of it. Even if I wasn’t, I’ve never been the type of gardener to worry about the odd weed, or even the odd field of weeds. Or even the odd bit of debris left by the neighbours.

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It’s quite good that they left a pram really, because it means instant wheelbarrow! There’s so much I don’t bother buying – a shed, a wheelbarrow, a proper greenhouse, etc., because I know it’d only get damaged or broken by people with nothing better to do, but I think it’s good they’re at least dumping useful stuff on the allotment. I’m worried one day it’ll be a lost-looking abandoned goat.

Yes, I’m getting there according to the allotment map.I’ve got all the potatoes in and planted the peas today. I’ve gone with Lord Leicester peas again – partly just because they grow really well in the allotment compared with other varieties I’ve tried, and partly just because I have hundreds of the things left over from last year. Lettuce, garlic and cauliflower are all in too.

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Built quite a strong bamboo structure for the peas because this variety grows REALLY tall and every single year, I’ve regretted not sorting it so that the weight of the peas doesn’t cause everything else to collapse. I also managed to get the carrots planted under the fleece. I spent yesterday trying to locate bags of sand to mix in with the soil in an effort to make it more suitable for carrots, but the best option would’ve been a builders merchant outside of town, and I’ve got no car and am extremely weak and besides it was raining heavily and I just needed to get stuff done, so the carrot seeds are in my highly unsuitable, damp, clay soil. I’ve put garlic chives and spring onions in between the rows so at least they might grow.

Overall I’ve been trying to avoid growing anything using the greenhouse this year, partly due to the fact that if you refer for the first picture, you’ll see the crumpled remains of my greenhouse. It didn’t survive the storms over Christmas. I think if I ever rebuilt it, I’d do it in the position it’s currently in, because it wouldn’t be on a hill and it gets more sunlight, but this year I’m concentrating on just managing what I can, so no greenhouse for the time being. Also I’m going to CUBA next month so can’t be worrying about watering seedlings while I’m there. I’ll hopefully be helping to grow crops over in Cuba – I’ve been asked to bring gardening gloves – so it’ll be interesting to see how it all works in an environment that’s completely different to what I’m used to. I’ve arranged for the asparagus, onions and artichokes to be delivered either before I leave or after I get back, to avoid that miserable experience of returning to your house to discover a parcel of dead plants (not an experience that’s new to me).

So it’s all go on the allotment at the moment, but it’s an exciting time – not least because it’s weedburner season. TIME TO BURN THOSE WEEDS AWAY.

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Revenge on the nettles

Yesterday was the PERFECT day for the allotment. Since I got back from Brilliant Holiday, I feel like I haven’t taken much time out, away from the steady stream of obligations associated with being a Strong Independent Woman (for that is what I am) and the high amount of work I must do in order to ensure my continued survival, so with the weather being so fantastic, I bid my responsibilities farewell once again and headed to my little rented patch of land.

I’d come across a recipe for nettle rarebit online. Now, one thing the allotment is not short of is nettles. I’d say if somebody came along and harvested everything edible from my allotment, it’d be around 40% nettles. It’s a sign of fertile soil, but had hitherto been an occupational hazard as I worked on the more cultivable parts.

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Nettles exist only to cause misery. Like the Tory party. OOPS.

It was time for revenge. I harvested the nettles in a way I could only describe as ‘gingerly’.

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It’s funny because I’m ginger. Albeit dyed-ginger.

After washing them, equally gingerly, I fried them until they wilted – it’s at this point that the internet assures me they lose their sting. I also read that if you stroke the leaves the right way, they don’t sting, but I wasn’t willing to try this. I’ve had nettle soup before, but never eaten the leaves more or less as they are. All my instincts were saying “NO, do not eat stinging rarebit. It will hurt”.

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Turns out it was absolutely delicious. I still have some leftover nettles and am assured they’ll keep for a few days, so I will try this again without a doubt.

A few other promising things are happening – I’m continuing the potato digging, and anyone who knows me well will know that this is my absolute favourite thing to do on the allotment. Fork goes into ground, fork comes up and these beautiful golden potential chips are looking at you, waiting to be picked up. A few things that look like they’ll be pumpkins are also starting to appear.

I cleared out the greenhouse (how I’ve managed to get it cluttered when it’s only existed for a couple of month is another question entirely) and repotted a few aubergines. Some of them (those on the sunnier side) are doing far better, so to make room on that side, I took some of the weaker-looking aubergines and moved them to the ‘terrace greenhouse’, where I can keep a close eye on them. I’d love it if I successfully managed to grow an aubergine that’s bigger than my ear, which was the rough size of my record-holder so far. Excited to see how these ones do!

A window of no rain

It’s been so rainy here over the last couple of weeks. I tried allotmenteering in the rain mid-week but it was a terrible plan because I came back covered in mud, so I was glad to see that today was a window of opportunity for me to come and tackle the weeds, which had been gaining a tactical advantage. If there is a sudden downpour, I’ve now got a shelter in the form of the greenhouse, which is still standing thanks to the additional tent pegs I bought to secure it.

I casually bought a pumpkin, he’s called Peadar (I’m learning Irish at the moment so everything has to have an Irish name so I remember pronunciation). Decided the pumpkin needed friends, so they’ve been growing quite happily too. I’ll think about where to actually put them once they’re a bit bigger. Lack of space has never been an issue on the allotment, and I suspect that when I start taking the potatoes up, I’ll be glad to have something to keep the weeds at bay. I hadn’t planned on pumpkins, but all the cucumbers met their maker after the greenhouse fell one night, (prompting me to invest in the aforementioned tent pegs) and I needed something to take the pain away.

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The Mayan Gold potatoes have grown some quite attractive purple flowers, even though it’s too early to even think about taking them up yet. I’m concerned about the sweet potatoes. The leaves of the original plants are turning black, which can never be a good sign, and while some of them are growing additional leaves to form the vine they’re supposed to, something’s been nibbling on them, quite possibly slugs. Not much I can do other than monitor then and try and keep the ground warm.

There are a couple of successes, although I think the beans are growing quite slowly. Not as slowly as the climbing beans, which I might just give up on, but I keep seeing pictures from other blogs with bean plants ready to harvest! And strawberries already harvestable! The ones on my allotment and on the terrace haven’t even formed properly yet, they’re just flowers at the moment. I suppose this far north in England, things work differently. I’m happy with the progress of the peas, to the right, as well. I’d wanted all eight obelisks to look like that, but the Homebase peas got eaten (main suspect is a rabbit) and the sweet peas look healthy, but just haven’t grown very much.

Finally, are you ready for some artwork? Are you sure?

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It’s a wonder my artistic talents have laid undiscovered for so long, but there we go. I had a quiet day work-wise a couple of weeks ago, in the dim and distant past before I took on a lot of work and grumpily worked into the night for several days in a row, and used my spare time to update the plan to reflect more or less what’s in the allotment at the moment. I’m not sure why I’ve labelled one bit as ‘weeds’, when that could apply to a lot of bits. It helps me figure out how on earth I’m going to plan things for next year – issues include:

  • Where am I going to grow potatoes, having giving over a lot of the allotment to potatoes previously? Will I just have to grow fewer potatoes? But I love potatoes.
  • I want to grow asparagus, but it takes three years to get established and I can’t make that kind of commitment. What should I do, other than ‘not grow asparagus’?

And so on. But there’s plenty of time to figure this out, and at the moment, the real battle’s against the weeds.

A challenge on the allotment

I’ve often believed there are many different kinds of intelligence, and it follows that there are also many different kinds of stupidity. One kind of stupidity that I exhibit is a complete inability to build things. For example, the obelisk I got for Christmas is still in a half-built state because after an evening of shouting at the poor inanimate object, I gave up and drank wine instead. And I’ve been doing so ever since.

I said in my last post I’d be getting a greenhouse ‘far into the future’. I’m a great big liar. I decided to get a modest greenhouse on the allotment on Thursday and had many challenges to overcome in addition to this personal impairment of being terrible at building things. I had to carry the box to the allotment for one thing, because I’m afraid of modern technology (including weedkillers and electric tools, but that’s a story for another day) and don’t own a car. I’d read the box weighed 8kg, which is about as much as a 4 month-old baby. No problem, I thought. I’ve carried plenty of babies before, I’m the eldest of six children. I didn’t really factor in the principle that babies don’t tend to be shaped like huge boxes, so I was tired after reaching the allotment.

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The idea was to use part of the ‘ignored’ section of the allotment that I’m allowing to do more or less what it wants. When you’ve got an allotment of this size and you’re only one small person, I think this is wise. So my first job was flattening out all the nettles and grass, which I did using quite a sophisticated ‘put an old cardboard box on it and jump up and down’ method.

I felt intimidated by the instructions, obviously. Yet another challenge was that my allotment’s on a hill, so I was always going to have a bit of a Leaning Tower of Greenhouse situation going on. But the base is secured to the ground with pegs at least.

Things were going well until I came up against my final challenge: my height. The greenhouse is a lot taller than me, and I don’t own a ladder because I’m too stubborn to admit how short I am. I managed by jumping around a bit. I was glad my new allotment neighbours weren’t around today to see this. I think I scared them off with my enthusiasm for burning weeds.

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And in a relatively short space of time – under an hour, anyway, I had a greenhouse! It hasn’t fallen over yet. If that proves to be a problem, I’ll secure it to the fence or maybe to the ground. This particular greenhouse is quite good value for money at £25. I ordered it from Argos on Thursday afternoon, it arrived the next day, and delivery was FREE. I’m fairly pleased with that.

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Testing out the heat inside the greenhouse

So yes, although the greenhouse might not be mega-useful this growing season, my aim is cut down on transporting young plants from the greenhouse outside my flat all the way to the allotment by starting things off on the allotment itself. I’m nervous that the greenhouse will be attacked and destroyed after previous incidents on the allotment, but the neighbours have a polytunnel and chickens that have remained undisturbed, and it’s fairly obvious that I’ve not got anything valuable in there.

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The rest of today’s allotmenteering was just the usual weekend and watering. Might get the weedburner out again tomorrow. I felt very content on the allotment today, with only the Best of Bowie and the occasional visiting free range chicken for company. If anyone made a ‘best bits’ of my life so far, I think a good 60% of it would just be me working away on this maddeningly difficult but very rewarding patch of land in Northumberland.

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