Herb wheel begins

Rain spoiled my allotmenteering yesterday, so I briefly migrated south to Morpeth in the hope of finding better weather, where I chanced upon a stall run by Northern Ark Nursery. This was exciting, because they sell the exact herbs that I was hoping to use on the allotment. I know I bought a load of herb seeds just recently, but I can’t do anything with most of them yet, so I seized the chance and bought some rue, lovage and burnet. The burnet’s hanging out on the wildflower patch with the borage, while the rue’s protecting the raspberries from harm. Wasn’t sure exactly where to plant the lovage, so it’s by the Leek Bed.

These were all outside the herb wheel, but chives and hyssop are established now:

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I’ve still got a few to plant, but it’s nice to have made a start. I did lots of miscellaneous digging so I could get the green manure (winter tares, to be exact) planted. There was a bit of a rush because I really should have planted it last month, whereas with the other kinds of green manure I’ve got (field beans, forage peas), I think I can wait a while and they’ll overwinter quite nicely. Here, here’s a view of the whole allotment as of today:

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The path along the centre is slowly making its way forwards, and the green manure’s been mostly planted where I’ve dug, at the far end. I’m thinking in the new year, the area by the path to the right hand side would be a good place to have a potato patch. No point in using the raised beds for potatoes, as I want way more potatoes than that. The space to the right of the potential potato patch is reserved for the Secret Project. I think I’m going to plant heritage potatoes – there’s a place fairly near me that grows them and I have to say I’m tempted to grow stuff you can’t get at the supermarket – Shetland Blacks and Pink Fir Apples, etc.

I also planted peas. IN OCTOBER, LIKE A MADWOMAN.

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But I’m not mad, or at least, this alone won’t prove I am. It’s the Douce Provence variety, which, if I protect them under cloches or suchlike, should cope with being planted in October. I also planted some in troughs in the balcony garden. I didn’t really have plans for the raised beds this year – I thought if I could get them dug over so you could actually see them, that’d be a start. But once I’d started digging, it went a lot quicker than I’d thought as the soil quality, beneath all the weeds, is very good. So I thought I may as well plant stuff this year, and if it doesn’t work, no harm done. So I have garlic, peas (in a double bed), leeks and spinach, with the creation of a new and final raised bed still underway.

All in all, it’s got underway a bit faster than I was expecting. I guess it’s about a month since I started work. Come to think of it, a month to the day almost. It has been a lot of work, and I’ve been neglecting more of the balcony garden than I should (the sea kale has almost all died, which makes me very sad. I’ll have to try again, maybe from seed next time). I’ve also been neglecting stuff like ‘getting regular meals after work’ and ‘seeing friends’ and ‘tidying my house’, but that’s all by the by. But I’ve accomplished a bit more that I’d predicted – which all comes of having your expectations set nice and low.

Your humble blogger, in a wheelbarrow, with Bernard the bear and a parent of some description.

Your humble blogger, in a wheelbarrow, with Bernard the bear and a parent of some description.

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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.