Welcome to our plot!

I'm Hazel, and in Nov 2006 my friend Jane and I took on a half plot at Hill Allotments, Sutton Coldfield - we want the satisfaction of growing and eating our own fruit and veg, and to improve our diet (and fitness!).

This is the story of what happened next...........

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Dalek Emptying and Filling

Another fine week, but with increasing chilly winds, so I wrapped up warm when I went to the Hill today.

I had the place to myself until Fuchsia Allen came by with his unfeasibly large dog, and stopped to say hello. We chatted about the talk on dahlias that is taking place in the club house next month, and I suggested a seed swap at the same time.  We'll see if the committee think it's a good idea.

I jigged about with the second of the four dalek composters until I could release the contents in a controlled fashion on the bed.  Only about half the contents were ready to use, and it was quite dry in the bin - perhaps I should empty a watering can into the bins each visit in future.  It's a shame that the lids aren't porous.

I put the uncomposted stuff back in the bin once it was newly positioned in the next bed up, and also half a dozen bags of manure that a kind soul had put on one side for me on the plot when the muck was last delivered.  It tends to arrive in the week, and there is often none left by the time I get to it - I think my fairy godmother was Woodchippings Paul - I must thank him when I next see him.

I forked over this bed and the adjacent one before digging some parsnips to take home - and spent the journey back pondering how to use the rest of these along with half a dozen or so fat celeriac which will all need lifting soon in time for the new season's planting.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dancing with Daleks

Spring weather continues to be as it should, with warm sunshine and a brisk chilly breeze. The spring bulbs are all flowering, and that means that the weeds will not be far behind.

It'll soon be time to get the potatoes in, but first I must do some bed preparation which means emptying and moving the compost daleks.  I made a start this weekend by digging most of the last of the leeks up in the bed nearest the front, then undertook a vigourous and ungainly jig with the first dalek to get all the lovely compost out of the bottom.

There's a small amount un-composted which I put back in the bin once it was in it's new position of other-end-of-the-next-bed-up (mostly paper shreddings and the stalks from the sweetcorn) , but in the main I spread about some quite reasonable stuff.  Not quite what you might call seed compost - a bit 'robust' - but I'm sure it'll be fine in due course.

I made sure that I left enough room by the new dalek position to plant a couple of dozen shallots - these were such a success last year having kept far better that any onions I have ever grown.  I'm still using them in the kitchen now.

I picked kale to go along with the leeks I'd dug - all of a sudden under the cage I have some fabulous new leaves - and also dug a couple of parsnip and celeriac.

And by that time it was so dark I couldn't take any pictures, so it was time to come home.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Missing: Winter Weather

I've got bored of waiting for Winter to arrive.   Wet is most certainly has been - the floods have been devastating for many in Somerset and along the Thames - but cold, no.

Of course we may well have a cold snap ahead, and frosts and maybe even snow; but the nights are lighter, the birds are singing the snowdrops have been fabulous and the crocus' and daffodills are now bursting out all over.  I even heard a woodpecker in one of our local parks the other day.

What does that mean for the plot?  It means that until it dries out a bit, there's not much happening, bar digging up parsnips, leek and celariac to use in the kitchen.

But it is the first week of March, and I've had enough of looking at chitting potatoes, so last week I spent a merry evening with all the seed packets out to see what I can get underway.  I rescued last year's compost from the mini greenhouse and some pots and trays from the garage, and off we go.

I've chosen six varieties of tomatoes to grow in buckets again at home in the courtyard garden, sown a trough of miscellaneous salad leaves to cut and come again and some sweet peas, saved from last year.

I've also finally podded out all the broad beans from their dry and blackened pods.  Broad beans don't come true year on year, which is a shame as the crimson flowered variety is the absolute best in the world in appearance and taste.

I can't stop them cross pollinating, but I can take a good guess which out of all these saved beans are likely to be the most similar to the crimson flowered/green beaned parents.

The season starts here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Seeds, Potatoes and a Nice Day Out

This winter has not been particularly cold this year (as yet) - just very wet - and now that the evenings are perceptibly lighter, it means that the gardener's thoughts turn to Spring.

Not enough to actually get down to the Hill - the ground is far too wet, and it would be far too miserable, but to think about what I want to sow this year.

It's pretty easy on the seed front - I have so many seed packets that I would never use them all in my entire lifetime (despite never seemingly actually buying any) so it's just a case of what to leave out.

I've made a start by shelling out last year's bean seeds which have been drying on newspaper in the attic room.

Choosing potatoes are slightly different, and in years gone by I have spent many happy hours poring over lists of varieties with their various merits, then trotting off to Ryton to the potato day and seed swap at the end of January.

But this year, Ryton have not held a potato day because, according to a chap who was on one of their courses, they recently got rid of their commercial interests to focus on the education side.  And there's me thinking that the potato day is not only a money-spinner for them in it's own right, but a perfect membership recruitment opportunity and showcase for the entire operation, educational facilitates and all, but I guess I'm wrong.

The nearest alternative potato day was hosted by Nottingham Organic Gardening Society, and so this Saturday I headed off there with mum, who found the idea of a little trip out with the offer of tea and cake and possibly a garden centre outweighed the potential boredom of watching me spending ages discussing the merits of about a hundred trays of seemingly identical seed potatoes.

In the event, I had a rough idea of what I wanted, so spun round the well-organised event (entry: £1) in double quick time, and we splashed out £1.50 each for coffee and delicious homemade cakes afterwards in the church hall.

And we even found a garden centre on the way home where mum bought me a jasmine houseplant because - and I quote - 'that wasn't nearly as boring as I thought it would be'. Marvellous.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Happy New Year

Somewhat belated, perhaps, but it coincides with my first trip to the Hill of the New Year.

Much to the disapproval of Reg-next-plot, I don't visit the plot much in the middle of winter when the weather is bad.  This is because I can see little point in getting cold and/or wet for the sake of it just in order to do some jobs which can just as easily be undertaken in another couple of months when the world is a more cheerful place.

However, it being relatively dry and bright this morning, I thought that it was high time that I dug up the remainder of the year's potatoes, and to make sure that all was in one piece after the recent stormy weather.

Unsurprisingly, I had the place to myself, and spent a good hour or so forking up the potatoes and turning over the bed.  The day became increasingly gloomy, however, and by the time the Richard three plots down arrived, it started with a cold drizzle too.

I was just bagging up the potatoes and digging a couple of leeks at that point, and after we'd had a quick mull over of varieties of potato to be considered for growing this season, was glad to go home an defrost and leave him to it.

I had one of the potatoes as a jacket for tea with stew and veg - good warming fare - and can report that picasso potatoes are the best bakers ever, so that's a definite to grow again this year.

If there is a downside, it is that they weigh best part of a pound a piece and are the size of my head, so are rather substantial - but I think we can live with that!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Garlic, Garbage and Uninvited Guests

The weather has been so gloriously Autumnal for the past few weeks that I'm finding it difficult to believe that it's the shortest day in just three weeks - midwinter!  Mind you, after ending up at the Hill in the dark this afternoon, perhaps it's no so surprising after all.

I wanted to get the garlic in today.  I usually manage to get it planted in late Autumn, then it can get a good head of steam ready for Spring; although this year it didn't go in until January, and if I'm honest there seemed little difference in the end result.

So that formed basis of today's plan, along with clearing and digging another bed - also on the list is to chop down the raspberry canes (here they are on the right of the pic), and dig the last of the potatoes, but both the latter jobs will wait if needs be.

I got to the Hill and found Richard (three plots down) busy digging over his potato patch.  We had a chat before I busied myself with the fork, and got the garlic split into cloves and planted out.

Then I cleared some debris and rubbish and went to open the nearest dalek composter - it was full, so I moved on to the next.  This was full too, when I took the lid off, but this one was topped off by a mouse, blinking in the light.

We looked at one another for a quite a while until he eventually dipped down underneath the mound of courgette leaves, out of sight. "Excuse me." I said to him, and put the lid back on.

I turned round and called out, "Er, Richard - what do we think about mice in the compost heap? Good thing or bad thing?"

"Well, it depends on your opinion of mice, I suppose," he said - most unhelpfully - after a moment's consideration.

I imagine that the mouse was having a similar conversation deep in the dalek. "What do we think about humans taking the lid off the composter? Good thing or bad thing?"

I would think that the mouse consensus of opinion was that humans are a good thing, as the lid taken off the heap means adding more grub to the top.  As for me, I'm undecided, but I guess that they can stay as long as they remain good tenants.

I found a less obviously inhabited dalek to deposit the weeds into, and moved on to cutting down the raspberry canes.  However, I soon got in a tangle trying to differentiate between the Summer and Autumn varieties, and it was rapidly going dark; so I called it a day and I'll finish tackling them next time round.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tempus Fugit!

Now you must be thinking that SOMETHING happened between the Hill Show and the AGM last week, and you would be right - but clearly, blogging was not that something.

So things grew, things were picked, and eaten, and given away, and frozen.  Mostly beans, which did very well this year, and courgettes, of course (guess how many there were in total from my two plants and a runty one - tell you later).

And all of a sudden it is time to go off on holiday, and then back to start the winter clear up on the plot, and dig winter root vegetables, and - oh - and if it isn't the AGM upon us!

This year's AGM was excellent fun, for a number of reasons

  • I picked up Chris from the bottom on the way, who had brought with her the tiger's eye earrings that she had made for me.  She had a sale of the jewelry that she makes back in August, and when I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, she kindly made something bespoke.
  • The meeting was well attended - better that I can remember previously.  Lots of new and friendly faces, including Colin and Jane who spotted me and came across to say hello.  'It's Hazel, isn't it?' beamed Colin. 'We recognise you!  It's you! We read your blog - it's so entertaining!'.  I've never had a 'rock star' moment before - it was very flattering! 
    'Oh, yes, we love it!' enthused Jane, 'Colin reads it in bed!'.  I apologised for the last couple of months radio silence, but the last few years' posts seem to be giving them enough bedtime reading to keep them going for a while yet. I will have to pull my socks up - oh yes!
  • The meeting clipped along to the agenda at a reasonable pace - striking an excellent balance between information fait accompli and interminable discussion, which resulted in us all being concisely aware of what's going on at all levels with the site, and why; and with room for suggestions and discussion from the floor too. Marvellous.
  • There was a display of photographs which had been taken by a photographer friend of one of the committee members for a project, and were there for us to collect our photo as a memento.  The A4 photo display captured the allotments and plotters from one sunny weekend in August, and were of incredible quality.  When I took the one of me picking beans and showed it to mum at the weekend she pronounced the it best photo of me ever - it certainly was of my hitherto unregarded crow's feet, but I'm sure they give me character.
  • The buffet afterwards was excellent - all contributed by the committee members.  Star of the show, man-sized sandwiches from woodchippings Paul who had made the bread that very afternoon.

So that was that for another year - and plans are already afoot for 2014.  The thanksgiving/harvest festival (which I missed) was a great success and will be repeated - maybe with a recipe book compiled; it's the centenary of the start of the Great War which we are thinking about commemorating; the scarecrow competition is set to be repeated - Grumpy George came second - and who knows what else we will get up to!

Oh - and the total number of courgettes for 2013 from two plants and a runty one? 132.  That's one heck of a lot of ratatouille!
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