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.

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Making progress

One of the many passers-by commented, as I toiled on the allotment today, that I was a ‘brave lass’. I said I thought I was either brave or stupid, at which point he conceded it was probably stupidity. There’s a lot to do, and it shows. That said, I only got the allotment two weeks ago, and already you can see some stuff happening:

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OK, it’s not the best before and after shot because a) The ‘after’ part is not yet ready and b) The way I angled the last photo misses out the nice bit I spend a lot of the weekend creating, which is the fruit corner:

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It also misses out the strawberry patch, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: it’s looking awesome. Or at least acceptable. The fruit patch looks quite nice and civilised, anyway. I planted the loganberry plant (third from left, towards the middle) today, and I hope it’ll be happier there than in a container on my balcony.

The upside of having so much to do is that it makes things a bit more interesting, in a way. I suppose if all I had to do was dig, I’d get bored of it after about an hour, but with so many tasks ahead of me, I can dig for an hour, then sort out a raised bed, rack over the strawberry patch, venture into the Forbidden Half of the allotment and speculate on what’s lying beneath all the weeds (I strongly suspect there’s an entire shed there), etc. Or, in this case, make friends with yet another allotment neighbour. This one was kind enough to give me potatoes and radishes, and says he may have leeks for me at some point. It’s so nice how friendly people are. Nobody thinks that I can’t do it, which is good. People acknowledge that it’s a lot of work ahead, but I seem to get a lot of points just for trying.

This allotment neighbour told me that many years ago, the entire allotment site used to be a pig farm, and that when they abandoned it, they set fire to it, meaning that while all the wood burned, the glass, of which there was a lot, simply smashed. This would explain why there’s so very much glass all over everybody’s allotment. I was thinking it seemed like far too much, even if the previous owner of my allotment had smashed up his entire greenhouse.

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My meals are becoming a BIT more home-grown. I made a pie with some of the potatoes I unearthed on the allotment, added home-grown mustard and cress to the salad, and made a mojito with a cucumber from the balcony garden. OK, it’s not quite self-sufficiency, but as I reflected as I was digging today, that’s never really been my goal. Obviously I love eating stuff I’ve grown, but the main driving force behind these weekends getting covered in dirt, along with my complete insanity, is just the process of doing some hard work, then looking back on what you’ve done and feeling happy about it.

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I’ve been neglecting the balcony garden SLIGHTLY – it’s times like this when I do wonder if I’ve taken too much on, especially as I’ve been fortunate for the last couple of weekends in that I’ve had nothing to do but garden, but in the future, I might have to, y’know, do stuff other than garden. But I did a couple of hours in it today. A main task is deciding what should stay on the balcony, and what should be moved over. I’m thinking of moving the melon over, because it’s got no hope of growing on the balcony. I’m not sure there’s much point in moving the tomatoes or aubergines over at this stage.

One thing I’ve got to make a start on is composting. I’ve marked out an area on the Forbidden Half of the allotment that I think would be a decent place to put said heap (there’s nothing else there, it’s a fairly shaded area, it’s far from where I envisage the seating area will be, etc). I now just don’t know how to prepare said heap. Do compost heaps even need preparing? Do I just start dumping my coffee grounds and other assorted kitchen waste there? I feel that I should do something to the base of where the heap will be before adding to it – dig it over and put down wooden planks, maybe? I can find plenty of composting advice online, but nothing that actually matches up with what I want to know.

Another of my priorities is to sort out a shed, or at least some kind of storage system for the tools. I’m not sure whether to cave in and buy a large plastic storage chest, or hold out on the off-chance that an allotment neighbour has a shed going spare, which could happen. I did briefly consider buying and building a Nissen hut, but I think that was an idle fantasy. Either way, I think I’ll have to wait till next month before actually paying money to do anything. It’s easy to fall into the trap of buying ALL the allotment things at once when you’re starting out, but I don’t think my bank account would be happy about it. Mind you, if I run out of money entirely, I’ve got enough potatoes to last the rest of the month.

A journey of 1000 miles

CaptureI think that’s my allotment more or less done, now. Probably don’t need to do any more work on it, now my blueberry plant’s sitting on it.

I JEST. There is a LOT of work ahead. I’d anticipated this, of course, but going and doing it is another matter. I joined Freecycle a couple of days ago, and there was a lady in the area wanting to give away strawberry plants. I took her up on this, of course, and they arrived on my doorstep this morning (it was really nice, she even delivered them for free! AND threw in some extra garlic chives! Gardeners seem to help each other out, which I find a bit heartwarming). This was why I decided to tackle the strawberry patch first.

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It’s only a fraction of my mad plan, but I think that’s the only way to do it, really. Even with help, I’m not going to be able to dig EVERYTHING. I’ve made a list of my plans for the next few months:

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I’ll confess to getting a little carried away at roughly point 8. Shedwise, though, I might be in luck – I got chatting to another allotmenteer today. He’s retired and therefore knows everything. He thinks I’m insane for taking on the allotment, an opinion I’m starting to sympathise with, but he said he’d ask around to see if anyone has a spare shed for me, which would be fantastic. I really want to win the approval of the elderly allotmenteering community in my area. I think I’d gain their respect by working really hard and proving that despite being ‘just a young lass’, I can do a BIT of allotmenteering. As I’ve said before, my expectations of what I can achieve even in a year’s time are pretty low.

Which is just as well, because much elbow grease is required at this stage. When I started digging today, I immediately thought ‘oh no, what hell have I wrought’. I’ve only got a spade and a fork, and I’m becoming increasingly convinced by the argument that I should just get a rotavator and be done with it. I was very lucky today because Wise Colleague Ian ‘volunteered’ to help me dig, meaning we got FAR more done than I could have foreseen.

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It looked like this until today:

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The soil’s still not ideal – this is where a rake would come in handy, and I’m slightly nervous about how the strawberry plants will react, but we’re getting there. One thing that’s hampering our efforts is the amount of broken glass hidden in the allotment. It was previously used as an allotment 15-20 years ago, and it seems as though an entire greenhouse has been broken up. Just from today, the broken glass filled an entire plastic bag, and picking the individual bits out of the soil is a job in itself. I did find some interesting things beneath all the weeds, though: a couple of cassettes. I don’t think they’d play anymore – far too much weathering – but it’d be interesting to see what on earth was on them.

Here’s the view from the strawberry patch:

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My allotment goes all the way up to that post, where the left-hand fence ends. You see the issue. I’m happy with how much we’ve managed to do today – if I keep managing to recruit people to help me out (bribing them with biscuits), I think things could be well underway even in the next month. My plan for tomorrow is to tidy up the strawberry patch and make a start on a wildflower patch, and then throughout the week, maybe dig further towards those old raised beds. If I could get even one of them going again, it’d be a good way of creating growing space fairly early on, and a way of making things look more allotment-like. The left half of the allotment – I don’t think I’m even going to touch it this year. The weeds are more stubborn and there’s more general debris – wooden pallets, mostly, but also quite a bit more glass. If I concentrate on the right-hand side for the moment, I think things will be a bit easier.

I’m pretty tired now. I gulped down a pizza in record time. I tended to the balcony garden so it didn’t feel left out. I’m feeling pretty content with the world, though. I just hope I’m still able to walk tomorrow.