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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Going batty

I was lucky enough to be able to enlist the help of another kind colleague on the allotment this week. She was most helpful, because there’s a corner I’ve been ignoring because it contains the remains of a pigeon, and when it comes to ex-animals, I’m useless in every way, so went firmly into denial (I guess that’s what a lifetime of vegetarianism does to you). She kindly removed this problem AND did some toiling, and as it grew dark, we saw BATS! I’m thinking of putting up a bat box or two, if I can find some cheap enough. I’m not sure what kind of effect bats will have on the allotment (possibly a good one, as they’ll devour a lot of the pests?), but I absolutely love bats, so that’s something to look out for.

I did a bit of toiling myself today. I concentrated mainly on the raised beds.

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It seems sensible, as at least once they’re sorted, I can plant things straightaway. I’ve got one with garlic, one with leeks, and the other three are unoccupied for the moment. I’ve planned a vague rotational system, but I’m already straying from the original plan as it is. Which is fine, I suppose, as long as I don’t just plant things at random. I’ve planted a provisional melon by the strawberry patch, for example, which doesn’t make much logical sense, but it’s one of very few ‘plantable’ areas of the allotment, currently, and I have no more strawberry plants, but I do have a melon plant that has no hope of thriving on my balcony.

I dug to music today, which was slightly controversial as I’m always about concerned about having music on in case it disturbs other gardeners. I suppose if you come to the allotments to get a bit of piece and quiet, having somebody constantly playing music that might not be to your taste (although I can’t see why not everyone loves sea shanties) might be an irritation. There was nobody else around today, though, so I made the most of it.

I’ve had a couple of allotment ideas. The first one I saw online, and it’s basically this:

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A herb wagon wheel planter! It seems like a pretty good idea – all I’d need to do would be to dig over the area, put down the wheel, and plant herbs. It’d prevent, hopefully, the problem of certain herbs taking over (not mentioning any MINT), and would allow me to go reasonably small quantities of a reasonably large number of herbs, which is what I’d like to do. And I wouldn’t have to use one of the raised beds for herbs either, and could use it for sea kale*, for example. All I’d need is a wheel, of course, which is harder than you might think to find. I can find some, it’s just that they’re not cheap, so the search continues.

Of course, I’d also need herbs, but this is where the nice people at vegetableseeds.net come in. I’d ordered quite a few seeds from them last month and saw that they offer a £10 voucher to people who link their gardening blogs to them. Well, I shall do just that, and spend the voucher on herb seeds, lots of them. I think things like this are nice. I think the combination of gardening and internet is a pretty good one, because if it wasn’t for all the information on how to grow stuff online, I wouldn’t have a clue.

My second idea is one so good, and so mad, that it’s actually kept me awake at night. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to pull it off, because it’ll require a lot of work (as if the allotment wasn’t enough as it was!). I’m not going to say what it is, either, partly for dramatic effect, partly because it’s so mad that I think people might try to discourage me, and partly because I’ll need to source a few things that might not be easy to get. All I’ll say is, it’s nothing to do with animals/getting livestock/anything along those lines (I think taking on ducks or chickens would just be too much at this point). More might be revealed, if my plotting progresses.

*baby sea kale plants are currently languishing a bit in the balcony greenhouse

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.

What lies beneath

I’ve still not had any allotment news, which is a bit of shame. I’m sure things will start to happen soon, I’m just impatiently waiting to DIG every evening. I’m becoming a believer in the principle of making the best of things, though, and I’m hopefully going to have a talk with some people at a youth centre tomorrow about getting involved with their allotment too. I live close by the centre, and the people working there noticed the balcony garden (it’s becoming increasingly hard to miss, what with all the foliage), and we got chatting about it the other week. I just hope they don’t think I actually know stuff about plants. I mean, I’m learning more and more each day, but I’m still a fairly new gardener. A sapling, if you will. I can still clumsily wield a spade, though, so I’m not entirely useless, and I’m certainly willing to help out.

Here’s what’s been happening in the balcony garden:

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(mini cucumbers, soon-to-be aubergines, and raspberry canes on the top row, loganberry and strawberries on the second, radish and butterbushes on the third)

Loganberries are a bit of a novelty to me. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten one before, so I’m hoping this plant survives and I get to try one. I have an interest in obscure plants that kind of runs parallel to my love of obscure languages (if I start talking about Low German, for example, I sometimes have to be gently reminded, after a while, that not everyone finds it as interesting as I do). If/when I do get this allotment, I’ve been thinking of planting a strawberry tree. They don’t grow actual strawberries, but they do grow an interesting kind of fruit you can use in jams. I’ve also considered growing sea kale. I’m roughly three miles from the coast, so I think it should do fine either on my balcony or in my allotment. Finally, I’m really tempted to one day try and grow the TomTato. I have no idea what it’d be like, or how the resulting tomatoes and potatoes would taste, but it’d be a lot of fun to try.

The strawberries I have in hanging growbags have been looking much happier since I changed my watering method:

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No, I’m not feeding the plants that delightful Danish drink, Faxe Kondi. It’s the spikes that are the important ‘point’ here*. I got them from Oxfam, and they fit lots of different bottles, so it’s just a case of filling the bottle with water, screwing on the spike, and sticking it into the soil. It’s been working especially well for the hanging plants, as it used to be difficult to get the water to drain the whole way down the growbag.

Last Sunday evening I decided to do nothing in the garden. I’ve hardly ever just sat there and appreciated it before – I’m always pacing around, wondering which plants I should move where, and whether I could fit in just a couple more. But on Sunday, I made a conscious effort to actually relax for an hour or so.

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There’s no space for furniture on the balcony because of my habit of putting plants everywhere, but I sat on an old jumper of mine, curled up with a book, and ate crisps. It was glorious. Overall, I’d say summer’s my least favourite season, but a happy upshot of the fact that the sun sets so late at the moment is that I can spend multiple evenings on the balcony.

*this marks my very first gardening pun on this blog, for which I can only apologise.