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, April 05, 2015

A Job Well Done

For once, this year I don't feel like I am on the back foot - the beds are all prepared, the first seeds are sown, the potatoes are in; and today, I have turned my attention to the strawberry bed.

The strawberry plants are ancient - I've not got the knack of replacing the plants with new, grown from runners every three or four years and consequently, the yield is practically non existent.  What strawberries do grow are promptly scoffed by slugs and the whole bed is full of weeds.

So time for a revamp with some new plants.  I bought a tray of six Elsanta plants for £2.99 from Aldi a couple of weeks ago, and if I find this is too few, I can grow on some of the inevitable runners for new plants.

I dug over the bed, ditching all plants and weeds, then gave it a good layer of horse muck, and another good layer of compost from the old pallet composters; covered with weed suppressant and planted through holes cut in the suppressant. Fab!  I'm rather sorry that I forgot to take a 'before' pic - because this is a real improvement.

I turned my attention to getting the maincrop spuds planted.  The kale is in the way, really, but they are still throwing extremely tasty side shoots, so I'm reluctant to pull them up just yet - and even when I'm done with them, brassica flowers are very popular with bees, so I'm inclined to leave them as long as possible.

I compromised by pulling up two and leaving two, and making holes for the potatoes with a stick - the potatoes will just have to grow around them.

Once I'd finished that and tidied up, I just had time to nip up to the clubhouse for a swift half.  I do love these lighter evenings when my trips to the Hill coincide with opening hours!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Transformation of a Compost Heap

Today's forecast was for heavy rain for most of the day, so I went to the Hill yesterday with the aim of planting the potatoes.

I parked at the top of the site, and walking down past the plots with seed potatoes clutched to me in their egg boxes where they have been chitting on the windowsill for the past few weeks; and saw that I was not alone in this plan, with a number of plots sporting the tell tale ridge-and-grove of earth with (presumably) spuds tucked up underneath.

Although I see the theory of planting the spuds in the groves; filling in as the plants grow, then earthing up the growing plants, it strikes me like a lot of hard work, so my spuds get dropped into planting holes made with a handy broom handle about 8" deep, with earthing up later in the season if I can be bothered. 

First, I had to move the netting tunnel to a different bed where I will sow carrots in a week or two - and now that
I have the knack of it, the cage didn't take long to put up in a sturdy fashion in it's new situation.

The three cabbages that it had been protecting though, did make me scratch my head - they are too small to harvest, but in the way of the spuds, and now open to pigeon attack.  I managed to work around them and rig up a temporary netting and hope to be eating them before they inconvenience the potato plants. 

Then I spent some more time digging over and weeding the plot front - the lavender plants that have been there for some years are now leggy (baaaaaaaad pruning!) and since Gardener Zoe showed me last week how easy peasy it is to take cuttings, I will be growing more on and replacing the existing. 

Talking of Gardener Zoe, I offered her all the dry woody contents of my horrible out-of-control pallet composters for kindling if she wanted to have a bonfire in the week, and rather than the compost bins looking like this:





They now look like this.  

Magic!  Now all I have to do is decide what to do with the extra space this gives me. Maybe a pumpkin to ramble over, then dig and create a fruit bed at the end of the growing season, perhaps?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A New Neighbour and Final Bed Prep

The Spring equinox at the weekend means that at last the days are now longer than the nights, and with warmer weather (and the pigeons at home making eyes at each other), it definitely feels Spring is Springing.

The seeds that I sowed last month agree, with the sweet peas and leeks both putting in an appearance - just - the microscopic dot here is a leek seedling.  They have been sown in pots and in the shelter of the mini greenhouse for almost four weeks before sprouting, which just goes to show that that Mother Nature will get on with things in her own sweet time.

I dithered whether to get the spuds in the ground or not this weekend; however, they are due to go into the two beds at the front of the plot which are currently clogged up with two daleks, one cage over the kale and one newly robust netting tunnel protecting three cabbage plants - so there is a bit of a backlog of stuff in the way before the spuds can go in.

So when I arrived at the Hill on Sunday, I moving the cage, and the netting to one site, and got to work with the fork and three-pronged cultivator.  I chatted to my enthusiastic new neighbour Zoe who gardens for a living, but is not so experienced with fruit and veg.

Neat Neighbour John, Novice Neighbour Jody and then Jody's Mate Shaun have all left plot 17a in good shape, and now Gardener Zoe has custody of the front of that half plot to make of what she will.

Once I'd finished going over the beds, I hoed in some blood, fish and bone which should give the cabbages a boost, and made a start on tidying up the flower border at the front of the plot, which is prone to weeds.

Time running out - although not daylight this time - I tidied up and went to pick some kale.  It's just starting to bolt now, so snapped off the flower heads off to take home for tea - and hope that it will throw some side shoots in time for my next visit too.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Shopping, Prepping and Mending

The Hill storeshed is kept stocked with all sorts of gardening essentials all at very reasonable prices, and purchases can be made through any committee member who you can happen to catch on the plot. But from the middle of March, the storeshed is open for business on a more formal basis, on Saturday and Sunday mornings for a couple of hours.

So instead of wandering up and down the site in the hope of catching someone with a key, yesterday I could march up to the shed and talk to Cheery Brian who was playing storekeeper for the morning and buy the fertiliser that I've been after for the past few weeks.

Despite the weather being markedly colder than the past couple of weekends, the Hill was full of plotters out of hibernation and all busy with preparations for the growing year, and the site was quite a hive of activity. 

And so to the business of final bed preparation in readiness for sowing and planting out - and after a couple of solid hours with a fork and the three-pronged cultivator, sprinkling the fertiliser as I finished each bed, six of the eight beds look pretty darn good, if I say so myself.

I cleared away the bamboo canes - the long ones to bring home, shorter ones to put in the toolshed in a bucket.  Any plastic balls which I use as cane toppers which have perished I put in a rubbish bag, and other pieces of wood gathered together at the back of the toolshed. 

Of the last two beds at the front of the plot, the one has the kale plants still growing strongly, and the other has the ramshackle netting tunnel protecting - let me see - ah, yes, three cabbage plants.  

I am curious as to how it can be improved upon, though, so took it back to basics and put the hoops closer together and used bamboo canes instead of heavier wooden spars as horizontal braces and it now looks a million dollars.

Content with progress, I tidied away my tools and headed home for a nice hot cup of tea.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Seeds, Shallots and the Storeshed

I spent a very happy evening this week in the kitchen surrounded by pots, seed packets, trays and a bag of compost starting off the first seeds to put in the mini greenhouse.  I now have a large flowerpot sown with leeks, twelve pots of sweetpeas, and three trays of fifteen pots of crimson flowered broad beans.

Before I started, rather than my default setting of sowing a tray of fifteen pots (or multiples thereof) of each seed regardless of what the seed are and how many I would like , I actually spent some time thinking ahead and working out how many plants that I actually want to have to plant out.in a couple of months, and sowed accordingly. Gosh - how organised am I! 

Today at the Hill - in the drizzle - I raked and raked one of the beds which has had one of the compost daleks emptied on it and cleared some rough twiggy leftovers until it looked a bit more respectable, then planted out half a bed of shallot sets.

I picked some kale, and then set about trying to find a committee member to sell me a couple of scoops of fertiliser from the store shed, but with no luck - because of the drizzle, I guess, I had the whole site to myself.  

The club house was open, however, so I had a look in there too, but there were no plotters in evidence.  Mind you, it was a good excuse to have a swift half pint before coming home to change out of my damp clothes.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sowing of 2015

The weather was all Spring sunshine and showers yesterday - much nicer than today's incessant rain - so I wrapped up and headed to the Hill.  I had the place to myself - a surprise on a Saturday lunchtime - which was a pity as I'd wanted to buy some fertiliser from the store shed.  My own compost is all well and good, but I rarely feed the ground with anything else, and that's probably not such a good thing.

After another running repair to the netting tunnel (btw, you're right, Jayne - the tunnel needs the top batten screwing to the tubing rather than string ties), I got the fork out and gave three of the beds a bit of a turn to help incorporate the compost emptied from the daleks a few weeks ago.

I prepared one half bed in particular very well indeed, raking and smoothing; then marking out sowing stations, ten rows of six.  I carefully popped three parsnip seeds at each, and carefully covered over with some multi purpose compost left over from last year.  I am determined that I WILL have parsnips this year!

Careful scrutiny of the other half of that bed shows that the garlic is FINALLY sprouting.  It's like a magic eye picture - a bed of bare earth, then spot one shoot, then another, then you realise that the whole lot is full of 1-2" green blades of new growth. Brilliant!

Then I put up the ladybird house the my big sis gave me for Christmas - I've noticed that in Autumn there are always sleepy ladybirds in the nooks and crannies of the bean canes and drying pods and plants, so I've sited it on the bean T frame upright where I hope they will find it a happy home to hibernate in.

I picked some kale for tea, and tidied up, heading off home satisfied with a successful couple of hours work.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Shopping

With the weather very gradually warming up, and the afternoons staying noticeably lighter - hurrah! - my thoughts are turning to what to grow for this season.

It kicks off with a potato day - I went to the Shropshire Potato Day (about 40 miles away) last Sunday and having done my homework beforehand came away with two varieties of first earlies (lady christl and arran pilot), two varieties of second earlies (wilja and charlotte) and two varieties of maincrop (picasso and carolus).

The carlolus are a new variety to me - they are supposed to be blight resistant and tasty, so I'm looking forward to seeing how they perform.

Also on sale were shallots, so I had a couple of bags of those, and - joy of joys - my beloved crimson flowered broad beans, for £2 per half pint mug. Magic!

The first seeds for sowing will be parsnip now things are warming up a little - as fresh seed is recommend each year, I nipped into Wilko and whilst I was looking at the seed display found this value-for-money multipack, which looks good to me.

So I'm all set!
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