Stormy Days

The allotment is starting to really come to life now, the strawberry patch needed weeded and some strawberries were hiding underneath. It is quite surprising to see fruit so early on in the year.

England has been battered by both storm Ciara and storm Dennis in the past week, so we knew we had to try and prepare the allotment. The bird feeder and lose pots were moved inside the shed and the pallets were laid on top of the carpet to keep it in place.

Storm Ciara didn’t cause too much damage to our shed, it just knocked off the fascia board on the front but that was an easy fix. The garden behind us on the other hand didn’t fare so well. The allotment had just about dried out before the storm hit. I was hoping we could finish turning the soil over, but alas it will have to wait once more.

The sweet peas will be ready to plant out by March, the risk of frost should have passed by then. It is important to plant them out before the warmer weather sets in, as sweet peas prefer cooler temperatures. I’ll probably be planting some more seeds up in the next week or two, they’re one of my favourite flowers – they always remind me of my Grandma. I’d like them all around the allotment, it just depends on how many germinate.

Out of the two varieties I have planted so far, the type that have done the best are Mr Fothergills “Twilight, 9 out of the 16 have germinated. The other type I had planted were Unwin’s “Berry Kiss”, but only three out of 16 have germinated. I planted these back in November, so unfortunately I have only had a 33.33% success rate with germination overall. Two seeds were planted per tube.

Perhaps it was due to them being left in the shed rather than a greenhouse, they were left by the window and were wrapped with some insulation but obviously it is no match in comparison to the temperatures you can get in a greenhouse.

We have been forcing the rhubarb and there has been some growth by doing so. The root was only purchased in the summer so is not mature enough to harvest this year, although we will probably take it out of the pot and plant it once the ground has dried out. Hopefully, we will be able to harvest it next year.

Here’s to the warmer, drier days.

Starting Over

This is our first January on the plot. There isn’t much growing activity this time of year, so we have used this time to try and prepare the plot for the upcoming growing season. This has been a lot harder than it should have been, due to the excessive rainfall over the last few months. It has turned parts of the allotment into a bog. Some of the plots may as well be a pond. Naturally, more rain followed after we started turning the ground over so we will now leave that task until some time in February.

There have been no hard frosts this winter, in fact, it has been quite a mild winter. Meaning that none of the little critters have been killed off. White fly have been our main nemesis; they have decimated our over wintering cabbage and ate the pumpkin seeds that I had left in the shed. Luckily, I still have three pumpkins left so I’ll have plenty more seeds for next year.

With it being so mild, spring bulbs are starting to sprout much earlier than usual. I’ve even seen rhubarb poking out of the ground without the need to be forced! You can force your rhubarb crowns over winter to get an early spring crop.

With all of the items we would like to make over the coming years, a vice has made a nice addition to the workbench.

A cold frame is one of the first items on the list, we are being given some old greenhouse panels which will be perfect for it. We don’t have room on our plot for a full size greenhouse unfortunately.

There are signs of life everywhere, spring is knocking at our door.

Pallet Wood Bug Hotels

It dawned on me that I forgot to post about the little bug hotels we made over summer, so here is a little flashback to August in these colder times.

Thomas cut and measured up a few planks of pallet wood that we had at the allotment and made the bases, whilst I walked around the park with his nieces [and their mother]; we foraged for twigs, leaves and any other sort of foliage that may come in handy.

They were learning about bugs at school and so we thought this would be a great way to help them learn about their habitats. We assisted them when they needed to use anything sharp, but we let them get on and discover what foliage would be good for what section of the bug hotels and discussed what bugs may pay them a visit.

Decent bug hotels start from around £20, but it is much better to sit and make your own from what you can find in nature.

Wire was placed over the bottom parts, although it may have been a good idea to put it over all of the parts to stop any of the looser items falling out.

There are examples of bug hotels that are made of several pallets stacked on top of one another; with bricks, stones, twigs and such-forth inside. We don’t have the space for something so large unfortunately, but thinking back to making these is making me want to get down to the allotment and crack on with making one! The allotment is quite dormant now, so this would be a great project for us to do in the mean time.

What Have We Learnt?

What have we learnt in the last six months of having an allotment?

The first one is an obvious one. It is hard work.

Don’t be fooled by the pictures and the accounts that make it seem like it is a breeze, it really isn’t. Some days it is six hours of digging in the blistering heat, or 2 hours of trudging around in the mud on a chilly Winter morning.

Expect failures.

Sometimes the easiest thing to grow will fail, you can give it all the care and attention in the world and it will not survive. We experienced this with our tomatoes. They were doing so well, lovely green tomatoes starting to ripen and suddenly over a weekend they died. They had contracted blight, so there was no hope. Our rhubarb root was eaten when it was moved and our lettuce bolted. Be prepared for some disappointments.

There are no real rules.

Plants that shouldn’t thrive do, plants that should grow with little help need a lot. Colours that shouldn’t work together look wonderful. Sometimes, you really just have to wing it. Nature will do its own thing.

The pumpkins absolutely thrived in terrible soil, so we had to move the herb patch as they were being overshadowed. Your allotment is always changing.

You will get a glut of something.

No matter how little of something you think you have planted, there will always be a glut and preserving will become your best friend. But, if you aren’t a fan of chutneys and jams, expect to have a freezer full of runner beans and eat potatoes everyday for a week (and still have left overs!)

People are generous.

We have been given a shed, paving slabs, seeds, plants, tools… and the list goes on. We are so grateful for this and we try to give back when we can. We have been blown away by peoples generosity. People want to see you succeed and will help you along the way.

You become quite thrifty with your money and materials.

For anyone who knows me, I have always been someone to hunt for a bargain. Having an allotment has increased this sense tenfold! Half dead plant for 50p? I’ll take it! All it needs is a bit of TLC and it will come back to life, but don’t buy things just because they are cheap. You have to find a balance.

There are plenty of things that we have given a second life to down at the allotment. Scrap wood became our work bench, old clothes became our allotment clothing, a tire we found became a herb planter and a bunch of pallets became a compost bin. Almost anything can be given a second life with a little imagination.

Time management.

Time is precious. You have to make the most of the time at the allotment, especially in Winter when a lot of the time the weather isn’t on your side. If you haven’t planted your seeds or prepared the ground in time then you simply won’t have a crop. I’ve found by just putting my seeds in month order and digging a little bit at a time keeps you on top of things, but don’t be lured into a false sense of security.

I could sit here for hours and talk about all the little things we have learnt, but I would say these are the factors that have seeped into our everyday lives. I am grateful for the journey this little patch of land has taken us on, here’s to the next six months and beyond.

Our happy place.

Rain, rain, go away…

With all of the rain recently, it feels like the allotment has turned into a bog! We had to wait two weeks to be able to plant the trees. There was either never a long enough break in the rain to plant them or the ground was too sodden. Luckily, we were able to plant them this week.

The runner beans have finally been taken down. I removed all of the swollen bean pods and saved the seeds. I can’t believe just how big they’ve swelled. Several people have said they have never seen beans so large, so I must be doing something right! We have left the roots in the ground, as we have heard they are nitrogen rich – but sources vary. They will rot down either way, although it is advised not to plant beans in the same area as the year before.

We have finally harvested our last crop, which was celeriac. It was a win-fail crop. We were given three (or so we thought) plugs and planted them as was, but it turned out that months later the three plugs contained several plants! Our celeriac grew, but no where near to the size it should have. It varied in size, from golf ball to small orange sized. They should be around the size of swede. I don’t think we will try growing these next year.

The first seeds for next season have finally been sown. I adore sweet peas and sowing them now will ensure an earlier bloom. They are now sat in the windowsill of the shed to ensure that they germinate. Naturally, I chose a purple colour palette.

I’ll leave you with the last of the lavender blooms. I had already picked the butterfly lavender (deep purple) a month or so ago, so I was surprised that it grew back so quickly. The English lavender only produced two stems this year, but that’s two stems more than expected! I can only hope the plants are bursting with lavender next year.