A Spring of Isolation

With everything that is going on in the world, I am very grateful to have my little allotment plot. Somewhere to relax, get some exercise and fresh air and most importantly, to stay away from people. Although really, not much in my life as changed as I am pretty anti social anyway; but I hope you’re all staying safe out there.

Spring has finally sprung. The ground has finally dried out [perhaps a little too dry!] so we can now crack on with turning the ground over and getting some seeds sown. Red and white onion sets have been planted, along with some red spring onion and some Chioggia beeetroot seeds.

Once Tom had dug the ground, I had to break down the clumps of clay between my hands and add in compost so that the soil would be good enough to sow the seeds directly into. The sets were easy enough to plant in the soil as it was, we just covered them with compost. Seeds wouldn’t have thrived in the soil as it was so we did our best to improve the quality. With all of the rain the last few months, the clay in the soil seems to have become even denser making the ground much harder to work; I think we will need to invest in some clay breaker.

The sweet peas have been planted outside, although part of me wishes I had left it another week or two as there have been a couple of frosts since planting them. They were beginning to outgrow their pots, so I thought planting them was for the best. Unfortunately they don’t look as green as they did, but they have fared better than expected. I have wrapped them in some bubble wrap in hope that it protects them from any further damage in the meantime.

The strawberry patch has now been boxed off. Because of the size of the pallet wood we had, we decided to shorten the plot but make it a little wider. Luckily only a handful of plants needed to be moved. I’m still unsure what to do with the plot behind the strawberries, originally it was going to be a wild flower plot but now I’m not so sure. The plot is quite awkward as the elder tree and brambles grow over it, any suggestions would be appreciated.

Now really is the time to get seeds planted. Tom had ran out of space on his windowsill, so he whipped up two shelves out of pallet wood to double the space. Another level might be needed at this rate!

Spring is always a good time to clean; the shed had become somewhat unruly after winter. We emptied out the shed, swept up the dirt and dust [a somewhat repetitive and fruitless task] and reorganised the drawers underneath the workbench. The back of the shed had also become somewhat askew with all of the empty plant pots and scraps of wood from the summer before. The pots were put in size order and the wood that had rotted is now in a pile to be disposed of. I freshened up the window box and some of the pallet bin with a lick of paint as well, as they were looking a little drab after winter.

Amongst all the uncertainly of current times and most places being closed, I celebrated my birthday down at the allotment. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. We managed to achieve a lot, but left some time for tea and cake.

One can only hope that allotments continue to be accessible for everyone in the coming months so people are able to enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise. I know it will be a vital place for me.

Stay safe, friends.

Frames, Canes & Weather Ordeals

Hard to believe it has been a month since my last allotment update, but alas life (and the weather) has got in the way. Annoyingly, the ground is still too wet to plant anything directly; the potatoes and onion sets should be okay to plant a little later on. It is still frustrating when you want to get on with things but are unable to because of reasons that are out of your control.

We have since erected an archway (well, two that we joined with canes) so that we are able to grow various climbers over the path. Last year we had two bean tepees that grew over the path, but we thought the archways would be more structurally sound.

Whilst we aren’t able to plant anything into the ground, we have started to plant some seeds. We have only planted Jalapenos and Lemon Peppers so far; in regards to edible things at least. We wanted to see how successful the germination would be with our DIY propagator. It seems so have done the trick; 6 Jalapenos and 5 Lemon Peppers have germinated thus far, so we well set up more little propagators on any windowsill we can.

The rhubarb is starting to outgrow its pot. The crown below is one I purchased last year, the other three are currently resting in the compost heap at home. They seem to have recovered quite well and have grown back without any pest damage. Last year, the crowns appeared to have been eaten away by something. We’re planning to make a raised bed for the crowns we have in hope that we can avoid pest damage in the future.

The strawberry patch will also be boxed off soon, the runners have made the plot wider than we originally intended and they will continue to do so once the warmer weather arrives. Even the neighbours have gained some strawberries!

Some more sweet peas were planted about two weeks ago and some have germinated, hopefully more will germinate. The herbs have burst back into life and add some much needed colour to the allotment.

Here’s hoping that April doesn’t bring its showers.

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.

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.