Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sowing some seeds...........

The heavy rain here on Saturday has really helped the topsoil, and despite a very fine, misty drizzle this afternoon it was light and moist, and perfect for sowing seed. I put in a row of Isikuro spring onions, some Cherry Belle radishes, Little Gem lettuces , and Chantenay carrots.

I also prepared a small seed bed, where I intend to grow my brassicas this year, and sowed some red cabbage called Kalibos, as well as a pointed head variety I had great success with last year called Hispi. I’ve found that cabbage seedlings sown in the soil they are eventually going to grow in, seem to do a lot better when transplanted out than ones sown in trays of compost. I suppose it’s just less of shock, and they are also probably hardier from having been outside all the time.

The onions are starting to show through now, although the shallots are lagging behind. Also sprouting encouraging, if very tiny shoots, which I noticed for the first time today are the raspberry canes I planted in early November. I have ten canes each of two autumn fruiting varieties, Galante, and Allgold. Both come from Ken Muir, who is a highly recommend supplier of all things fruitful. I’ve recently seen that Matt of Matt’s Allotment is also growing Galante for the first time this year, so I guess there is a bit of competition to keep up with!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

You just can't get the staff..........

A very busy couple of days at Ridgeway Crescent. Some overdue good weather yesterday brought out all the usual suspects, some of whom I haven’t seen for months; and on a Thursday as well.

I arrived at the site intending to plant out the broad beans and do some general tidying, but found “Peter the Plot Boss” already there, and got the unexpected offer of the swanky red rotavator there and then. Thus I spent an hour or so chugging up and down, breaking it up to a medium sort of tilth, and working in some Growmore at the same time. Very satisfying in the sunshine, but it leaves your arm muscles in a shaking spasm for hours afterwards.

I then planted the beans, and went very liberal with the slug pellets just in case, and did some edging and trimming. Along with a spot of hoeing, and a good shed clear out, this felt like the first real gardening day of the year.

Despite this progress however, I can’t help feeling that I’m not getting the full effort from the new Under Gardener. He seems to just want to stand around all day in his Raybans looking cool…… He might think it doesn’t take much to impress the birds, but I on the other hand, know that it’s not that easy!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Done with Digging.......

Finally.... a good workman-like 1½ hours at the plot this morning has seen off the last of the hand digging! It's the job I like least all year, which probably explains why I never finish it 'til March.
Now at last I'm ready for the rotavator; this weekend weather permitting. There are two communal machines to choose from in the site shed, but with a bit of diplomatic negotiation I think I have secured first grabs on the best one. It's bigger, more powerful than the other, and has a reverse gear with a hydraulic lift that makes manoeuvring it much easier.
It's also red, shiny, and much louder, which are the most important factors of course....Big boys toys eh!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Whether to weather the weather or not..........

Quite what motivated me to get off the sofa this morning at 11:00am with England on 211 for 1, and beer & pizza in the fridge, to go down to the plot in the teeth of a Siberian gale I know not!...Such are the sacrifices expected of the dedicated Allotmenteer I guess!

But go I did, and regretted it before I was halfway there. The wind chill factor was so ridiculous I had no trouble convincing myself that I didn’t really need to do any digging, and could pretend I was only going down to open the coldframe and harden off my broad beans anyway.

Luckily, as soon as I arrived, Peter the site administrator (from the sensible shelter of his car) gave me the OK to help myself to some beech tree trimmings that will make excellent pea sticks. I have had my eye on this most useful resource since the hedge round the car park was cut last month. So have several other people it seems, and as I was last on the unofficial list, there were not quite enough sticks left to make a whole row. In the end I settled for three "wigwams" instead, (as vaguely visible below) and think this will be more aesthetically pleasing anyway. Plus, it gives the oppurtunity to have three seperate sowings and spread the cropping period out a bit .

Sequential sowing is something that I’ve never really got to grips with previously, and in my twisted mind it's something that needs to mastered in order to be a “proper” gardener; so I’m intending to give it a good go this year.

Once I had set out my wigwams and at least done something constructive, I was about to go home, when a couple of old boys turned up and started digging. Stupidly this shamed me into have a go myself. After about half an hour however, it became apparent that it was too hot and cumbersome to dig with my coat on, but that without it, every time I bent down to pick out the wretched convolvulus, my shirt came out, and the wind whistled round my kidneys.

Being no stranger to risk assessment, I immediately identified this as a potential health hazard, which I quickly mitigated by packing up and going to the pub…..from whence I have just returned ‘ere posting this update, so sorry about the spulling.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Free stuff.........

Having finally acquired (from the excellent Organic Gardening Catalogue, via my equally excellent Dad) some Red Flame runner beans, which I couldn't get last year, I have no interest in the free packet of Enorma seeds T & M have kindly sent me… nor the complimentary Autumn Giant 2-Argenta leek seed either... So I’ll happily send them to anyone who can use them. Just drop me an e-mail.

The Eyes have it............

Revealed! ...... The latest “must have” interior design feature that no stylish home should be without!

A challenging installation of chitting potatoes, tastefully arranged in front of the lounge window. Next season all the Kensington and Chelsea glitterati will be doing it….though doubtless they will be using Jimmy Choo boxes instead of Reebok Classics.

Thompson & Morgan finally came through and delivered, albeit with a couple of substitutes for the varieties I originally ordered. Instead of the Sarpo Mira main crop I grew last year - and which yielded a truly huge crop of large baking sized potatoes, whilst completely living up to their billing for being blight, eelworm and slug resistant - I now have a new sister-strain called Sarpo Axona. These apparently have all the same growing properties, but are slightly creamier in flavour, and a more normal shape than the Miras, which were in truth, very long and flat looking. Should be a good alternative.

Of my preferred earlies, Adorra had also sold out, so I now have Accent, and Vale’s Emerald. The plan is to plant one variety about 2-3 weeks later than the other, and try to stretch the new potato season out a bit. Last year I followed the old maxim of putting my spuds in on St. Patrick’s day…only to have to rush down to the site one evening in May to protect the emerging plants with fleece against a late frost. This year I’ll wait until the middle of April, and see how that works out..... Given the lateness of my delivery, and the stubborn reluctance of the seed tubers to do any sprouting yet, I think this is no bad thing.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Convulsed by Convolvulus...

I took advantage of the bright sunshine yesterday to put in a couple of hours of digging on the new lower half of my plot. The soil is wonderfully light, turns over easily, and is still rich in organic matter the previous owner put in last year. However, as it was ultimately left to go wild, it is chock full of bindweed roots.
Convolvulus Arvensis, also known as "bearbine" is a stubborn enemy whose roots can sometimes extend down for several metres. In my case I have chased it down to about 3 feet in some spots, but only out of curiosity. I think the trouble isn't helped by a story that when the site was turned over to allotments about 40 years ago, the council levelled the land by dragging topsoil down the slope, covering what I'm told was orchard like grass land...and burying the already existing bindweed several feet down, giving it an even better chance to be a pain. It's imperative to hand dig it, and try to take out every last bit of root fragment to a good spade's depth.
This makes for painfully slow going but there's no real option if you want to get rid off it. The second front in the offensive starts in the growing season when I meticulously hoe off any new shoots as they appear. No matter how deep rooted it may be, without leaves in the light to photosythesize it can't go on for ever I reckon. Following this digging and hoeing regime for 2 years, I have pretty much eradicated it on the ground I have previously had myself, and can look forward to easy digging in the future. It may be nice to have the extra space of the new plot this year, but going back into the trenches with convolvulus is proving to be a real bind!