Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Normal for Norfolk is ....

.... being held up on the nursery run by a tractor convoy (pictured)

.... going to the pub and coming home with a courgette in your pocket

.... attempting to drive around a man in a bee keeping outfit on a tricycle towing a trailer loaded with 3 bee hives

.... popping to the shop and there's a tractor with two wheels on the pavement outside

.... waking up to find a gypsy horse on the front lawn

..... carefully avoiding driving over a turkey strolling across the road

This is the point where someone normally comments along the lines of "That's nothing, in Devon the chickens actually run the Post Office" or somesuch (if that's not the sound of a gauntlet hitting the ground I don't know what is!)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

On the Value of Neighbours.

Life with 5 chickens agrees with us. Currently we're getting 5 eggs per day which is a nice amount, enough for all our egg eating/cake baking needs with some left over for random gifts for friends and neighbours - which is just as well given the latest developments.

The hens live in 2 coops in the back garden and they free range in the front garden. We do have a persistent escape problem though. Our Omlet chicken proof fence is anything but, not only can the chooks stroll through the squares in the fence at will but they can hop over it in one leap. Next door's large shrubs are a magnetic draw for them providing the ideal foraging/perching/dust bathing environment. Once they get bored in our garden, they vault the fence into next door's chicken paradise.

To date, we've been able to bring them back with a shake of the sunflower seed jar, as soon as they hear that they come thundering back down the path in anticipation of a tasty snack.

Until yesterday that is ......

One ex-batt stubbornly fixed me with a beady stare and hunkered down into the dust in a defiant fashion. Have you ever tried to out-wit a chicken inside a thick hedge? It's depressingly difficult but after some scratches and swearing I managed to bring her home.

We have lovely, lovely neighbours who claim to be charmed by the persistent dust bath holes under the shrubs and scratched up flower beds ("They do a good job of raking the weeds out!"). They say they appreciate the softly clucking company as they weed and mow their garden. Personally I think they're taking 'polite' to a whole new level but nonetheless, I'm very grateful for their relaxed attitude. I'm giving them our excess eggs as a thank you, if they're having the disadvantages of chicken ownership they may as well share in the benefits too.

Now listen up chooks - if you want to keep your free ranging rights you really are going to have to consider the neighbours and come back when you're called, I think you've pushed them far enough!

Monday, 27 June 2011

What's this I've found?

My word but it's sweltery today. I gave myself the day off from mowing at Bressingham as it's a tough job with an old push lawn mower at the best of times, let alone when it's 30 degrees. While I was inspecting the raspberries I found this plant hidden among the canes. I'd love to identify it so if anyone could help, that would be fantastic.

A bit of back ground about the plot which may help with identification; the land began to be used as an allotment site about 100 years ago but had fallen out of use since the 1990's and been left uncultivated since then. Last year was the first year it has been re-used as allotments although we were delayed in getting on the land as some possibly rare wild flowers were discovered, although I don't know what type. They were inspected and declared not rare and we were subsequently allowed on site.

Personally, I think it looks a bit orchid like but I know next to nothing about flowers so am unlikely to be right I think! Failing that, I'd like it to be some sort of historic meadow plant with an exotic name. Toadflax (suggested by Cheeky Spouse on Twitter) is heading in the right direction. I'm rather disappointed that I don't have 'Creeping Ladies Tresses' which I found on an orchid site. Not sure if it's the ladies or their tresses that do the creeping though.

*Update* I've been Googling and I now don't think it is an orchid, the leaves are wrong. Am bitterly disappointed that it's not sneezwort either.

On a massively un-related note, I discovered cooked radishes at the weekend and they're unexpectedly delicious. I used this Riverford recipe, amazing, it gives radishes a whole new lease of life away from the salad bowl. It's inspired me to go and plant not only more radishes but some small turnips too.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

First harvest from Diss

Just call me Gypsy Rose Lee. My prophecy on 24th May in my 'bizarre weather' post came true, the rains well and truly came down on Proms in the Park on 18th June as it does every single year. Bad news for the party goers but fabulous news for allotmenteers.

The newly damp weather is a mixed blessing, it lessens the workload in that I don't have to diligently visit the allotments for watering duty every day but, on the other hand, THE WEEDS!! I hadn't visited the Diss allotment for about 4 days so when I went today I was stunned at how many had sprung up in my absence - better watch my back for the committee!

Fortunately the crops have sprung up too and today I brought home my first harvest from the new plot, lettuce, radishes, rainbow chard and stripy courgettes. Cavolo Nero is also ready but I didn't pick any. Seeing as I finished the last portion of frozen 2010 courgette soup today, it seems fitting that the 2011 supply have kicked off too.

Sometimes prophetic ability spills over into tempting fate. After yesterday's post in praise of weeds at Bressingham my fellow Allotment committee member (there's only 2 of us!) phoned to tell me she thinks we need to clamp down on the weeds - why can't I keep my big mouth shut .....

Monday, 20 June 2011

A Tale of Two Allotments

One unexpected benefit of having allotments on 2 different sites is that it's given me an insight into how disparate allotment culture can be from site to site.

My old allotment site at Bressingham certainly has it's fair share of disadvantages. The heavy, clay soil, the complete lack of water, the well established weeds which have had a decade to run rampant, not to mention the local residents and their anti-allotment campaign plus the fact that it's a 5 minute drive away from home. It was enough to make me run into the arms of my newly acquired Diss based allotment.

The advantages of the new plot are legion, running water - yes - actual taps for goodness sake, a mere 10 paces away! The soil has been tended for years and has a lovely fine texture, diligent previous tenants have kept on top of the nasty weeds, I don't have so much as a single dandelion to contend with and, the major advantage, it is a 3 minute walk from home.

But I've recently come to realise that the Bressingham site has hidden talents. Yes, it's a bit weedy and we've still got vacant plots aplenty but that gives the whole place a fairly relaxed, shambolic air which I'm worryingly at home in. I love the riot of poppies and cammomile which spring up around the sheds and carpet the vacant plots, they're beautiful against the backdrop of the open countryside that surrounds the site. No-one here is going to purse their lips if I leave a clump of poppies on the footpath just because I think they're pretty, or let the clover grow to help the bees.

Almost every plot holder has children of varying ages which means that if a few of us are down there, the children can roam as a pack enjoying an approximation of a 1950's childhood. They go to the see horses in the next field, roam the vacant plots digging up worms, search the ditches for frogs or chase the pheasants (not peasants) in the hedges. Tractors trundle the lanes and geese from the smallholding over the road honk overhead. (Keep this bucolic rural idyll in your mind and ignore the stinking, monsterous crop spraying tractor in the field next door which made me flee for home the other week.) Anti-rabbit fences around each plot not only keep the rabbits out but make sure the kids don't trample indiscriminately over neighbouring plots, what do they say about strong fences making good neighbours?

By contrast, Diss may have significant practical advantages but, goodness me, the pressure of being next to the old boys and their straight rows, fecund plots and zero tolerance policy on weeds! There aren't any lovely, safe fences so I have to be ever vigilant about trampling and nag the girls to stay on our plot continually. To be fair, the old boys seem to be quite taken with small girls and we've had the odd gift of newly picked carrots for them to munch on but I can't imagine they'd be quite so indulgent if small feet destroyed their rows of hard work.

And dear Lord, the weeding, if the slightest stalk of shepherd's purse shows it's face I get palpitations. Most evenings see me shouldering my hoe to go and toil once more at the weedface, I may not be digging up dandelion roots but the annuals are hard work too.

So what about you? What the allotment culture on your site? Do families and the old guard peacefully co-exist? Or has civil war broken out?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The disadvantage of being a Blogger's daughter ....

.... is pausing with your strawberry in the air, tantilisingly close to plunging your teeth into it, for a photo opportunity without even being asked. Xanthe saw me approach with strawberries and camera in hand, she silently took the strawberry and posed obligingly with it. Even photophobic Willow, while snipping elderflowers for the 'bizarre weather' post, shot me a look mid-snip and asked the lens "have you finished? Can I put the scissors down?". I thought she was behaving in a marvelously natural and unselfconscious manner, turns out every move was carefully calculated.

The allotment strawberries have been fabulous this year, I'm coming away with tubs full every few days. I guess those news reports about jubilant strawberry farmers were true after all. It's a good job really as there's not much else ready to pick. We've got lettuce but last year's chard has finally run to seed and nothing else is ready, the radishes have only just gone in, tomatoes only just flowering, courgettes only just forming.

I assume everyone else is having an awful year for fruit trees and it's not just me? We had lots of flowers on the plum, apple and pear trees and lots of tiny fruit formed but the lack of rain seems to be stunting their growth. They've remained tiny, have withered and are dropping off the tree. Other wild trees (cherry and yellow bullace) seem to be doing the same thing too although sloes in the hedgerows seem to be OK so far.

I'm now at a stage where I should be able to see if my '2 plot' strategy pays off. Bressingham (the further away plot) is now more or less established, all the plants are watered in and shouldn't need much attention from hereon in. The high maintenance crops are all watered in at Louie's Lane (3 mins walk away) so survival watering and caterpillar patrol is all that's required - hopefully. So this is the moment of truth, will I be able to maintain 2 plots split between 2 sites? I certainly hope so as I'd hate to have to decide which plot to give up.