Friday, 30 April 2010

Manna from Heaven.

At last, a decent amount of rain. Last night it bucketed down but today when I went down to the allotment to plant the new pear tree the top 3" or so of soil were still dry as dust. The rain has started again now and more is forecast over the weekend so fingers crossed we get a good soaking. Then I only have to worry about getting stuck in the mud again ......

Our little plot is shaping up nicely. As you can see in the photo, we've now put up shade/shelter netting to protect us from the biting winds bowling over the open countryside we're surrounded by. I'd be interested in opinions anyone may have re carrot fly, will the shelter netting give us any protection or should I still put fleece around the carrot bed?

The fruit section is now well populated with strawberries, raspberries, red currants, 1 plum tree, 2 pear trees and 2 dwarf apple trees are due to arrive immanently. Carrot and broccoli seeds are just beginning to join the broad beans above the soil and runner beans, borlotti beans, sweetcorn and pumpkin are sprouting co-operatively at home.

We've had our first crop from the allotment already - but I have to confess it's not something we grew. I picked some nettles from the trackway around the plot and have brewed some nettle beer. Not tasted it yet but will blog the recipe if it's any good.

The salad potatoes at home are proving to be more expensive than I thought. As mentioned previously, I'm not growing main crop potatoes as I can get them really cheaply at a local farm shop. I thought that growing the higher value salad potatoes made more sense. I looked at the price of salad potatoes in the shops versus the cost of seed potatoes and bags to grow them in and decided they were cheaper to grow than buy. What I failed to factor in though, is the cost of the compost. I'm going through sacks and sacks of the stuff in the earthing up process so next year they'll be definite candidates for the allotment instead.

I've never grown potatoes before so I'm really, really hoping the taste of freshly dug spuds makes up for the cost!

Monday, 26 April 2010

More eccentric gardening .....

I've just spent a happy hour outside in the garden, planting Borlotti bean and sweetcorn seeds for the allotment as well as putting the tumbling toms into their hanging baskets in the garden.

I've used Craftygeek's suggestion from my previous post 'Water Problem' of planting bean seeds in toilet roll tubes. Once the seeds have sprouted, I'll plant them complete with the tube in the hope it will encourage nice deep roots and also help the rather dry, clay soil absorb moisture a bit more effectively.

Here at the Kitchen we are very fond of our tumbling toms. Xanthe has always loved toddling around outside plucking fresh, sun warmed tomatoes off the vine and will scoff them til her chin gets sore from the dribbly juice. The main problem I've found is the amount of watering needed, tomatoes are a thirsty crop at the best of times, let alone when planted in minimal soil and subjected to drying wind from all sides.

Last year I had a problem in that the frequent watering led to the top of the soil in the hanging baskets developing a hard, dry 'crust', I presume it's a kind of lime scale from the minerals etc in our hard water. This meant that when I watered the baskets the water had a tendency to run off over the edges rather than sink into the soil.

This year I've attempted to solve the problem by sinking bottles with the bottoms cut off into the soil so that the water can get down under the surface, plus I'm going to make a mulch of some sort to try and prevent the crust building up. I got the idea from our immaculately groomed neighbour who made a 'mulch' of carefully arranged miniature slate pieces over the top of her tumbling tom hanging baskets which look quite beautiful.

However, I'm not sure that I want the expense of buying a sack full of slate chippings only to use a handful. Plus, the idea of growing your own is to save money isn't it? I was thinking of the rather cheaper option of spreading grass clippings over the top of the baskets. I mean, that won't look eccentric will it? Old Diet Coke bottles poking out through the mouldering clippings? No, thought not. Not that I particularly care, you know my mantra by now, I'm not a keen gardener, I'm a keen eater. Now I just need to persuade Adam to mow the lawn. I fear this mulch may take some time .....

Friday, 23 April 2010

2010 season rolls on apace ....

The first shoots have appeared at the allotment, pictured are our broad beans, finally coming up. I was beginning to think I'd never see them again....

Rainbow Chard, carrot and broccoli seeds have gone in but it's early days so no seedlings yet. Our fruit trees and red currants are doing well, raspberries showing tentative signs of life but the courgettes are ailing. I think it's a combination of sunny days, no rain and a strong, cold wind as the leaves haven't wilted in the conventional way but gone all crispy. I've ordered some shelter netting as protection against the wind which I hope will also slow down water loss from the ground but until it arrives I've put cloches over the courgettes and am hoping they pull through. After last year's mosaic virus debacle, my confidence in my courgette growing abilities has taken a knock, I thought they were supposed to be easy?!

Things are mostly looking good at home. The salad potatoes are doing well, they're shooting up and seem to need earthing up every 5 minutes. I'm still waiting for signs of life from the Runner beans, peas, pumpkins and rainbow chard seeds. The radishes are like the curate's egg - good in parts. The lower row look fine but the top row are small and some are wilting, no idea why. I'm wondering if a cat has somehow managed to perch on the fence and pee on them (which, if true, is a trick that would do well on Britain's Got Talent) The courgettes in pots at home, in contrast to their allotment brethren, are doing well when not subjected to the attentions of neighbourhood cats trying to sit in the pot (despite it being festooned in netting and whirling windmills (the pot, not the cat))

Now that there isn't so much pressure on the space at home I'm finding myself considering (gasp) ornamental plants. The bean frame I grew borlotti beans on last year is home to sweet peas, at Willow's request, this year. The Jerusalem artichoke patch is being turned into a herb garden to allow me to indulge my interest in collecting obscurish herbs. The other day I raided an honesty table and brought home Sorrel, Winter Savoury, Loveage (to go with the Lettuce) and Salad Burnet which together with my pea shoots, mizuna and lollo rosso should make interesting salads this year.

I'm surprisingly nervous about the success of the allotment crops, I feel all exposed and wonder if my fellow allotmenteers are judging my efforts, so I'm anxiously waiting for further signs of green amongst the huge expanse of bare soil as a badge of success. Come on seeds, don't let me down!

NB* Apologies for the internal links not working properly, I've no idea why, Blogger seems to have repeated problems with them.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Photo Meme

Well, this is a new experience! I've never heard of a Meme before but was sent one by the charming @violetposy on Twitter.

The rules are:
  1. Open up the oldest photo folder on your pc
  2. Scroll to the 10th photo
  3. Post the photo and the story behind it
  4. Tag 5 or more people to continue the thread

My laptop's reasonably newish so I was never going to uncover anything ancient but this photo is from our family holiday last year (the 'interesting' angle is a bit too interesting though, makes me feel slightly queasy).

As Willow is only in Year One at school we're still reeling from the shock of the cost of taking family holidays at peak times and are in the process of formulating strategies to cope. Last year we decided to take advantage of having family in far flung locations so we spent almost 2 weeks up in Warrington with my parents. Mid-week while Mum and Dad were working we took the girls off to Llandudno to a B&B for a couple of nights.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and as soon as we landed we headed for the beach, where this photo was taken. Later, we took our tired, sandy off spring back to the B&B and tucked them up in bed. Adam and I got a bottle of red from the bar, took it up to the first floor residents lounge with it's panoramic views and watched the sun set over Llandudno Bay.

Maybe I'm easily pleased but it was easily one of the best holidays we've had. That and the Peak District, oh and London at Easter and ....

By the way, the photo below is the one I would have chosen to represent this holiday if I'd been given more of a choice!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Water Problem ....

The fences going up at the allotment has had an unexpected psychological impact in that I'm feeling a greater sense of ownership and confidence about the plot. We've started planting in earnest, raspberry canes, red currant bushes and a couple of courgette plants have gone in and next week's project is to plant our billions of seeds.

Planting continues apace at home too with lollo rosso seedlings, courgette plants, rainbow chard seeds and runner bean seeds going in.

Watering in the newly planted fruit bushes graphically underlined what a problem we're going to have with water. We have no mains supply at all, our shed has guttering and a water butt but it's mostly empty as we have only had one night of rain since it went up. We have begun to take 25 litre containers full of water with us every time we go to fill up the water butt but they are very heavy and difficult for me to handle alone. I was quite disappointed by how little the water level went up after our one rainy night.

So I have spent the last day or so pestering the people on Twitter and combing Google for advice growing veg with the minimum of water (thanks to @abbipanks and @ukallotmenteer) and this what I have come up with so far:

  • Dig newspaper into the soil to help retain moisture and improve the structure of our heavy clay soil.
  • Hang a big plastic sheet strung between poles over your water butt, feeding water to the top.
  • Invest in an IBC 1,000l water container
  • Use mulches such as bark chippings or grass clippings to slow water loss
  • Cut the bottom off a plastic water bottle, sink it into the ground next to water loving plant, water into the bottle so that water goes straight to the roots and doesn't evaporate from the surface.
  • Plant seedlings in a slight depression in the soil to allow water to puddle around them rather than run off
  • Plant seeds in small pots initially rather than directly into the ground, you'll need to water a much smaller area while they germinate.

Plus, I came across this really useful document (link is working now!) from the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners which explains the differing water requirements of various crops (I had no idea carrots didn't need watering at all)

I'm hoping to put all of the above into practice over the coming season, obviously I will report back on how successful they are. If anyone has any further tips to add, I'd love to hear them. I'm beginning to realise that there are advantages to growing veg in a small garden, protected by high walls with a mains water supply!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Rabbit Proof Fence

What a day, today has been really, really hard work but worth it as our fence is now complete. The shed went up on Easter Monday following Shed Wars with the neighbours which culminated in our shed window being smashed while we were off site having lunch. I'm drawing a discrete veil over that incident in the hope that it will eventually be put behind us (but Grrrr, Allotments are supposed to relieve stress, not create it)

Now we feel like proper allotmenteers, the car is covered in mud, our hands are covered in segs and every time I stand up I hold my back. The children have been little troopers considering there hasn't been much for them to do up until now. Today they tied some bits of wire they found around some old sticks and spent hours running around with them, first they were snakes, then dogs ("It's a dog Mummy- but mostly it's a stick") then fishing rods. They've fallen in puddles, stood in ditches, dug for worms and collected ants. There's nothing like a bit of boredom to bring out the best in kids I think.

Now that the fence is finished though we can all start planting. The children have some wild flower seeds but I'll probably get them a few bedding plants too for instant gratification. The grown ups have their work cut out too, we've got some raspberry canes which desperately need planting, strawberry plants on order and a cupboard full of seeds who are eager to be set free.

We've still got a way to go but at least the most back breaking of the work is over. It's all fun from here on in (isn't it???....)

Thursday, 1 April 2010

"Sob, sob, sob, sob" (pause) "sob ....."

I should have known yesterday would be a bad day when I woke up with a hacking cough and pain behind my ears. I should have stayed in bed. I should not have set foot outside the door and I most certainly should not have gone down that sodding dirt track to the allotment in the rain.

I was expecting the shed to be delivered. Got a phone call from the delivery driver quite early, "Fab" I thought, "delivery out of the way, leaves the rest of the day free". Trundled down to the allotment, met the driver, signed for the shed, off they go - done and dusted at 10am.

But you already know it's not going to be that simple don't you?

Getting into the allotment site wasn't a problem but driving out the car suddenly stopped moving, Xanthe laughed and said "Look at all that mud on my window!". Yes, the wheels were spinning in the slipware the road surface had turned into, spraying liquid mud all over the car. My worst allotment nightmare come true - we were stuck.

I suddenly realised how vulnerable we were. Rural location, about 2 miles from home with a 3 year old who can walk half a mile max, no pushchair, no food, no water, no shops, no facilities.

I made a valiant attempt to free myself. Hauled the tiles we'd used as a path on the allotment over to the car and wedged them under the tyres. Nothing. Found an old door in the hedgerow which I laid on the mud. Nothing. Tried to push the bugger. Nothing.

So now, I have the cough, the ear pain, I'm cold, covered in mud and exhausted. Xanthe is bored, cold and thirsty and is screaming her little lungs out. Thank goodness I had my mobile and the number of my breakdown recovery service (yes I did knock on the doors of neighbouring houses to ask for help, shame on you the cottage who pretended not to be in, the others were empty) I can't begin to imagine what I'd have done if I'd left my phone at home as I am wont to do.

2 hours,1 tearful phone call to a hard hearted call centre who tried to claim I wasn't covered and 1 tow truck later I was home. That just leaves the car to clean inside and out, all our clothes to wash, the cakes to make for the Easter Fair and red wine to buy (and, boy, does that red wine need buying) the school run, tea to make and school disco to taxi for. And Adam's train's delayed so it's still many hours til I can crack open that red wine (weep) ((again))