Squirrel's Garden

Blogging the highs and lows of my attempts at allotment gardening

Location: Sherwood Forest, United Kingdom

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Emergence of a Wildlife Pond

The increasing conversion to organic methods of working has seen increasing numbers of native wild life on my Allotment. As a result I have wanted a wildlife pond for some time now, but as my working plan of the plot kept changing so did my thoughts about where to site this proposed addition.

This year the decision was made and by March 31st the pond was dug, lined and filled with water (unfortunately tap water) and standing ready to de-chlorinate and be ready to take some native water plants. I did add a large bucket of water after the first week from a friend’s well established wildlife pond.

Weeding on the plot took a new turn as I identified some plants that I thought would thrive around the pond edges. These were carefully lifted and transplanted where most of them now survive. I am hoping that they will seed themselves for next year. The allotment committee members cut down and dug out the roots of a large elder tree which had not survived the winter. I begged the waste, including the root. The smaller clippings were bundled up and laid in a difficult to access shady corner I had created. The large root was positioned in front of these with one of the longer roots curving over to create a perch for any bird brave enough to want a drink of water.

Because of the harsh winter and unusual weather this year I found lots of native plant suppliers were waiting for stock to move into growth but eventually I got my supply of emergent and submersible plants. The only floater I could get at the time was ivy leafed duckweed, not to be confused with the nuisance duckweed floating on many pond surfaces. Ramshorn and the great pond snails were a gift from my friend’s wildlife pond and they do seem to be re-producing.

Frogspawn was introduced as a result of a silly frog laying its eggs in a shallow tray of water in my home garde, (a result of thawed snow and ice) which was carefully transported to my new pond long before I would have liked to have done so. Because of the lack of much life in the water I did buy daphnia and bloodworms for the emerging tadpoles to feed on.

The water went through several colour changes from pea soup green to a rusty looking brown- green colour and the emerged tadpoles seemed to congregate in their hundred to suck at the green algae now coating the liner. On more than one occasion they almost had me for company as I tiptoed along the narrow planting edges to install yet another eagerly gleaned ‘weed’ carefully excavated from my vegetable beds.

I am happy to report that these tadpoles have survived and many small froglets now stalk the surrounding area, sometimes taking up refuge in the tomato house adjacent to the pond. Also every few days, when the sun is shining there is a pink bloom of activity as the daphnia colony produces yet another few thousand young. The feeding frenzy of the remaining tadpoles makes fascinating watching.

It is now 3 months since the pond was first filled, and what a difference 3 months makes. It is now a thriving area simply buzzing with life. Countless bees are in constant attention to the flowers such as comfrey, feverfew, marigold, sweet-peas, poppies and the many creeping ground cover plants that have taken up residence.

From March 31st to June 30th 2011 My pond has gone from this

To this

I was thrilled to find a dragonfly/damselfly skimming the water on the 30th June. It was there again July 1st. Now all I have to do is find a really good field guide to wildlife in and around water so that I can start pond dipping and recording just what is taking up residence or visiting this little wildlife haven. OH yes! And also move my rhubarb this autumn/winter so that I can have a little more native plant area.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Start of Another New Planting Season

This year i am intending on doing a fair bit of experimenting on the allotment. I have been reading lots, and after much internet searching I am intrigued and excited about the prospect of trying to work much more with my soil health rather than concentrate on plant health.
I have just finished reading
The Secrets of Fertile Soils by Erhard Hennig.
This book has blown me away by its ability to explain the construction and workings of soil in a way that links with how my own body is contructed and works.

  • I am now the proud owner of a new tool kit for my soil.
  • Bottles of Effective Microorganisms (EMs) ready for activation and use.
  • Mychorizal fungi.
  • An amount of Basalt rock dust
  • an amount of clay minerals (my soil is very sandy)
  • Bokashi buckets for composting kitchen waste I would not normally compost
  • Two compost bins on the allotment full of garden waste enriched with crushed charcoal and bokashi composted solids. (I use the liquid and a plant feed)
  • A plan of how to try my usual way of working with this new one and compare the results.
  • And of course a new found sense of direction and purpose as I attempt to restore the humus health to my soil.

The first beneficiary/victim of my enthusiasm will be my bean row. half the trench will be filed with normal composted material and normal feeding, whilst the other half will have the enriched compost and be treated from my new toolkit.

Its then a case of sit back and wait.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

About Turn

I have to laugh at my optimism in my October post. The weather this last week certainly brought me to my senses. The snow was so deep and the freezing temperatures so uninviting that any visit to the allotment was out of the question, as too was any chance of digging out my car and getting to the shops.

I am just hoping that all my autumn planted veg are snug and safe under their white,fluffy blanket that decended down from the sky, along with all my winter havest too when i can finally get to them.

All this and winter has only just reared its head over the horizon. Boy OH Boy! What an entrance he has made.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Is October the Start of New Year?

No matter what hurdles and obstacles have got in my way I always find a re-newed enthusiasm at this time of the year.

First of all there is the onset of Autumn. The colour of the local landscape changes on a daily basis and puts me in mind a a young woman getting ready to go on a very important date. She rumbles through her wardrobe trying on every gown, of every colour, to try to find the one she feels is just right. Sometimes she becomes frustrated and furious as she races around in a desperated frenzy whilst at others she stands before the mirror in a calm reverie of how she wants it to be. This short unpredictable season always fills me with a sense of wonder as so many of our fauna and flora put on a grand finale before ending this years show.

Down on the allotment I also become filled with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm as I relieve my hardworking vegetable beds of there current burden of harvest and ready them for the next one.
The squash have produced prolifically and I have a bench in the polytunnel full of butternut and spaghetti squash, the pumpkins are ripening well and the last few courgettes were allowed to grow into small marrows.
The last half dozen sweetcorn are waiting to be plucked from the tall stems. They have been superb this year with the fullest fattest cobs I have ever grown. Sweet succulant and delicious.

The last of the climbing beans (Borlotti, Canneloni, Flat French and runner) have been allowed to plump up so that I can pop out the bean and use them in winter bean casseroles etc.

Potatoes are slowly being lifted for drying sorting and storing. A glut of tomatoes was dealth with by making lots of salads, patas and moroccan tagines as they came off the vine and any excess were dried or frozen for use in the winter.

I even had my very first bunch of grow my own grapes. Just one word .... Sensational!

The real cause for excitement at this time of the year is however this. I have now started to plant for next year.

Overwintering onion, Red Electric and Radar are now in the ground, as too are most of my autumn planted garlic. Picardy Wight, Wight Christo, Early Purple Wight are in, with just the Messendor to go. I am prepping the ground for the Broad beans and over wintering beans.

Yes! I love this time of the year as much as I love spring. The main difference is that I find this sowing and planting season os not quite as frenzied for me as it is in springtime. Therefore I get a little more time to watch Autumn put on her fabulous display.
For me October is the start of next years harvest.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Nearly Lost the Plot

It has been a long time since my last post and a lot has happened on the plot as well as in my life. Some health problems left me struggling to keep on top of the plot and I was beginning to think I would have to give it up. Thankfully things seem to be so much better now and I am finally getting on top of it all again.

I am on a site with a committee that is resistant to organic growing so there is a constant pressure to cultivate every square inch of the plot leaving "nowhere for pests to hide," but this also leaves nowhere for any friendly or harmless wildlife to exist so I resist as much as I can.

Chemical sprays are the norm here and the general attitude towards spraying is that if it is good to spray two weekly then it must be even better to spray twice a week, so it is a constant battle to try to allow natural pest predators to build up. However, I am happy to see hundreds of our native 7spot ladybirds and their larvae, and even saw a 24spot and a few harlequins, which all seem to be living in harmony. Grasshoppers, common lizards basking in the sunshine, frogs hiding in the long grass, fleets of hoverflies and many bees tell me I must be getting something right.

This little spider was carrying it's eggs on its back.

After several months of wrangling, I finally got permission from the committee to erect a poly-tunnel.
It was not a very popular decision with some as they saw it as a building rather than a form of crop protection, but I am now well on the way to completing my self-build project.

Here are a few photos of my progress.

The site is plagued with potato blight, carrot and cabbage root fly, pigeons with a liking to brassicas, onion white rot and club root.
The soil was fairly lifeless and dependant on fertilizers and manure to keep it productive.
I am working hard to condition the soil and give it back some of its life. I think this is paying off as I am now finding that some of the local birds wait to pounce in their search for worms and insects when I disturb the soil. This brings back memories of my Grandfather's allotment in the late 1940's when he would turn over a row of soil and then encourage me to sit quietly with him whilst and wait for the birds to come. As a child this was a magical moment and a lasting memory.

I am also using netting rather than sprays to protect the crops and often find that a blast from a sprayer filled with water will knock off any aphids that are out numbering the ladybirds etc.

Off now to gather a little more of my harvest in readiness for a few more preserves.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Rat Update

Well it seems that several plots are now finding gnawed tubers as they dig up their potato crop. A couple of rats have actually been disturbed by the strenous harvest activity and have taken flight into the neighbouring field.
My dog disturbed one at the top of my plot and went in swift persuit of it as sought refuge in said field. The rat however was able to dive through the gaps in my pallet fence which left my dog thwarted and agitated as the rat made its escape.
Even the old timers, some of whom have had their plots for over 50yrs have never encoutered a problem like this.
I think it is time to call in the rat busters and have them evicted.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rat Invaders?

These potatoes were dug out of the ground with these teeth marks on them. The potatoes showed no signs of being under attack, or disturbed in any way.

About half the yeild of 4 3metre rows were damaged with thses tooth marks. A rat was disturbed by the digging. Could rats have been the culprits?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

End of Season

The fruit garden, to the left of the fence, is looking promising.

So did the tomatoes until blight struck them down .

What a year this has been ... I did manage to get some crops in but I left a fair bit of land fallow. Blight struck the potatoes and tomatoes, club root hit the brassicas and virtually the whole site seemed to suffer with various fungal diseases due to the wet weather.

However there were some successes and I now have a great store of Pickles, preserves, jams and chutneys to see us throughout the winter months. There is also a good supply of soft fruit liqueures which should help add cheer if the winter is wet and cold.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Marking Time

This year has been a very difficult one for me at the allotment. Just as the new season of activity was about to start it was discovered that I needed urgent major surgery. This took place mid March and I was told it would be around 5 months, if all went well, before I could begin to do any real work on the plot.
All did go well, and I have managed to get some crops in the ground even though the first flush of annual weeds managed to set seed before I got to them. The perennials also managed to dig their roots in wide and deep. As a result I seem to have spent most of my time chasing new weed growth.
Good job we get to start afresh each year so I am marking time, and making plans, ready for next years session.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A New Season Upon Us

Like everyone else I have been busy trying to catch up with winter jobs. It's not been easy as the weather has been rather inclement and the only really nice days were the days I was otherwise engaged so progress has been slow.

I have been marking the plot out into narrow beds this year and intend to work the no dig method. Shallots, Broad beans and overwintering onions are already planted and looking well. I have some early potatoes in the poly-tunnel in old tyres.
However that is probably where it will stop this year until mid summer. A rather unpleasant something was discovered 6 weeks ago during a routine scan for something else. I now face the sort of surgery that does not allow for any strenuous activity for several weeks and I have been ordered to do no allotmenting for approx 5 months if all goes well.

I have been working like crazy to get the beds mulched and covered to suppress weeds and will if required resort to Glyphosate on the paths between the beds until I am able to run up and down with the hoe again.
It looks like all my veg this year will be pot grown or late sown.

Monday, December 31, 2007

a Little Artistic License

Monday, December 10, 2007

What to do with Surplus Fruit Harvest

I was still picking Raspberries in November and found I had loads of fruit in the freezer too.
Elderberries, Sloes, strawberries and various currants. I decided to make some fruit liqueurs with some of them.
I half filled a kilner jar with fruit added approx 4tbsp of sugar then filled the jar to the top with spirit. Vodka, bacardi, dry martini, gin, brandy and coffee liqueur are all good for this.
In fact blackcurrants and elderberries mixed in coffee liqueur produced a very nice Port tasting result.

Let it stand up-turning each day until the sugar is dissolved. After a couple of weeks we began tasting each one adding more sugar if needed. Once the taste is to your liking strain the fruit and bottle the liqueur.
The fruit can be frozen for use in deserts or chocolate coated if you prefer.
I found the sloes too bitter for this so it is a matter of taste.

Be careful how much you drink though as it is so fruity it's easy to forget how alcoholic it is. One of my guests had problems getting back home as you will see in the link

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Tribute to My Dad

Last year I saw my Dad for the first time in over 20 years. He was 86yrs old but made the long journey from Australia and spent 3 months with us. He loved the allotment and spent time with us almost every day advising and helping out.
He was due to come for Christmas and stay until the summer but alas he is tending a more astral plot and is probably advising St Peter on the best way to grow vegetables for the heavenly kitchen.
I will miss him terribly but I am glad he slipped away peacefully in his sleep after only a short illness.
I hope you will accept this drift from my usual allotment stuff but I was moved to put pen to paper, and as the allotment is always a reminder of his time with us, for me this is not such a deviation at all.
Saturday October 26th 2007

The Call

I got the call today
The one I knew someday would come
I got the call today
The one to tell me this era was done

I got the call today
The one that I knew would come someday
The call to politely inform me that He had ‘passed away’.

Passed away! ............
Passed away?
This is the phrase we use when we don’t want to use the word ‘died’
Passed ......... away!
A phrase used like a shield, hiding the fact that we’ve cried.

A life snuffed out like a candle, just before dawn
Leaving me orphaned, bereft, confused and forlorn
Rejected, dejected, emotionally torn
Abandoned again, weary and worn

I got the call today
The one I knew someday would come
I got the call today
The one to tell me this era was done.

For eighty six years he trampled this earth living his life to the full
A stranger to me for forty or more
I was nought but a bride when he walked from my door
Taking all that I loved to some far distant shore
Was I to see my siblings no more?
Rejected, dejected, emotionally torn
Abandoned and weary, battered and torn,
Leaving me orphaned, caught like a seal, bereft by the cull

Today I got the call to tell me my father had died
Today is the day I sat down and cried
Cried for the loss of my Dad the second time around
Forty years ago I lost him to that far distant land
Found for a moment but like shifting sand
He slipped through my fingers
He fell from my hands
When I got the call to tell me...................................
My father had ‘passed away’

October 31st 2007

Did you know our Dad?
He was a man who was larger than life
Did you know our Dad?
He was no stranger to trouble and strife
Born in the valleys in a land they call Wales,
A fair land of music, of mountains and Vales

He worked in the mines at fourteen years old
Digging for coal, that Welsh black gold
Helping his parents feed a family of ten
Life was hard for folk, way back then
But that hard black dust that created such wealth
Clogged in his lungs and ruined his health

Did you know our Dad?

If you ever met him, you could not forget him
He was full of wit and Celtic charm
His voice from the valleys, could make the air ring
With such sweetness you would be disarmed

He liked a smoke and a pint, or better still, a whiskey or two
And he loved people. People like me and you
The Casino was his favourite haunt
To argue was his favourite sport
The pointing finger of authority he’d show
Ah –Ah. Ah-Ah
He would bellow if you tried to argue your point
We knew he had signalled the stopping point

We could love him.
We could hate him
But know one thing for sure
We could never ignore him
And we always came back for more

But now he has gone and the end of an era has come
But don’t shed those tears for this man of great fun
This man of charm and wit who lived his life to the full
Was also a man ----- who could be so full of Bull.
So when you leave this sombre place
Raise your glass with a smile on your face
Treasure his faults as much as his virtues
And be glad you knew this man
This man who was our Dad.

Your endless journey has begun, your soul is now free, find your peace and know that we loved you and we will never forget you.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Very Nice

Thursday, October 25, 2007

a little beauty

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Potatoes Under Straw

This year I grew several varieties of potato in order to decide what performed well in my sandy soil and which suited our palate best. (I only had 5 tubers of some varieties just to try them)

I decided to grow my potatoes under straw which was very daring of me as I was very cynical about placing them on top of the soil instead of planting them in the ground. These needed to be planted later than usual as the soil needed to be somewhat warmer than for planting. I was even more cynical when everyone around me were regularly earthing up their spuds and mine had failed to even show. By April all my 1st and 2nd earlies were lying in their straw beds fast asleep as all my neighbours tutted and shook their heads feeling sorry for me whilst theirs basked in the April sunshine showing a promise of being ready for the table in another month or two.

I chickened out and planted most of my maincrops in the traditional manner, only risking a couple of rows under straw.

Once they did spring into life it was hard work getting enough straw to keep covering them, rather like earthing them up with straw. The floods made straw hard to get hold of and later made getting enough grass cuttings difficult. However I found many neighbours were only to glad to drop their bags of mowings on my drive rather than take a run to the tip.
One row was eventually capped either side with black weed suppressant membrane with the grass only being put on the top ridge.

There were to be some surprises for me in this venture. Firstly my straw crop were less affected by the torrential rains of this summer, they did not succumb to blight so easily, they were less bothered by slugs, or other pests that mine/ and my neighbours, ground planted potatoes suffered with. Also because the straw gives a much more even night/day temperature and moisture control there were no growth cracks such as that suffered by many traditionally planted spuds.

This was a real joy. I peeled back the straw to find a wonderful nest of clean potatoes waiting to be picked off the top of the ground. No digging, no backache, clean potatoes, very few weeds, loose friable soil and lots of stuff for the compost afterwards.
The pictures at the end of this post shows the potatoes in their various stages of growth. I will certainly plant this way again.

Here is our personal decision about flavour.
Potato Tasting

International Kidney Nice but nothing special
Did not perform well under straw
British Queen Performed very well under straw, many tubers to each plant. However many tubers mis-shapen
OK boiled but nothing special perhaps still too young as they are an early main crop
I lifted more of this variety at the end of June. This time they were much more mature, nice white potato, which made very nice mash.

Swift Very nice boiled and tossed in butter.
Also lovely cold or cold sliced and butter fried
Fair performance under straw

Mayan Gold Very golden with a buttery taste,
First picking picked as new potatoes
Roasted in skins – Delicious
Grown in buckets, lots of small tubers

Rocket Extremely nice flavour, Kept shape boiled
Like a nostalgia trip.
Performed very well under straw

Maris Peer Performed very well under straw lots of large well formed tubers.
Very nice flavour. Lovely tasting chips but would not crisp.

Kestrel Excellent jacket potatoes, nice flavoured creamy white flesh.
Lovely chips, crisp outside and fluffy inside
Lovely mash, kept shape in boiling giving white creamy mash.
Seems to be a good all purpose
Performed very well under straw lots of large tubers to each plant.

Charlotte Performed very well under straw lots of large tubers to each plant.
Waxy, pleasant tasting potato when boiled. Nothing outstanding.
Winstone Performed well under straw, but seemed more susceptible to slugs. Tubers varied in size from salad sized to very large baking size. Splitting occurred on some of the larger potatoes
Excellent mashed potato also lovely jacket potato

Orla Performed well under straw. Good sized potatoes. Some slug damage but slugs are prevalent due to wet weather.

An excellent blight resistant potato with a superb flavour. Nostalgic
It boils well and holds its shape lovely new potato hot or cold.

Nicola Fantastic performance under straw. Approx 20 tubers per plant of good sized well formed, ovoid tubers. The yield is at least 56Lbs from just 5Lbs of seeds.
Excellent as a boiled potato.

Markies Low yield under straw but they did go in late.. Little sign of the damage suffered by others in the bed that I have lifted so far.
Nice new boiled potato taste despite it being mid September

Cara. Grown in the ground but the 1st row was small and full of wireworm. 2nd two rows much better. Some large tubers but there are many very small ones too.
Not too impressed with flavour but have been told by a potato grower that this variety needs to mature in storage for the flavour to develop

Sarpo Axona. Grown in traditional way, very strong growth with no blight problems despite those surrounding the row succumbing and still flowing mid-October. Large tubers with some sand scab and slug damage.
Firm dry flesh that proved to be an excellent potato for chipping also boiled well and made nice creamy mashed potatoes.

Sarpo Mira. Produced very well under straw with good sized tubers that were smooth skinned. Grew well into October by which time there was a little slug damage but not as much as for those grown in the ground.
Excellent baking potato, nice dry potato for roasting too.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

flora and fauna

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Clouds and Silver Linings

Yesterday, in one of those rare moments this month when the sun shone through the raindrops, I noticed an accidental piece of artwork in my garden.

I was sitting bemoaning the fact that the weather was keeping me out of both my garden and my allotment. Half finished jobs lay abandoned to the inclement weather and it felt they were leering at me for not giving them the attention they demanded. Staring through french doors leading out to the back garden I watched the raindrops bouncing on the patio. Many of my plants looked bedraggled and hung their foliage and flowers as if sulking whilst the weeds seemed to spread their open arms and lift their heads in joy. I glared accusingly at them all.

Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun shone brightly.

Then I saw it. It had been there all along but now it came into its own in the rays of the sun.

Grabbing my camera I tried to capture on film what I saw with my heart. I hope you like this too.
The wagon wheel was just leaned against a low wall whilst I decided where I wanted to put it once I have been able to extend the patio area. If this rain ever stops long enough to let me do it. Still they say every cloud has a silver lining and today this was the one I found.
I think it looks lovely with the lillies and ferns.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Flaming June!

This season has been appalling. It has rained almost continuously now for weeks and the temperatures have been below normal for the time of the year.
Widespread flooding had occurred both locally, and in neighbouring counties, with many homes still under water 3 weeks after the event and have little hope of being back in their homes for at least a year.

This is reported to be Sherwood Forest which our allotments overlook. This person seems to be making the most of the unexpected, temporary lake.

This is Bilsthorpe, a neaby village that I lived in before coming to live here.

The access road to the houses and playing field is under water.

Down on the allotment it is a sad picture even though we have been much luckier than many others due to our raised position and sandy soil.

Onions have been pelted by the driving rain which has battered and bruised the leaves. This has left them open to disease. Also their waterlogged roots have left them open to mildew and rot at the base.

Everything is sitting in water saturated soil which is very cold to touch. It is the soft leafy crops and strawberries that seem to have suffered most. In the end I took my nets off the strawberries and let the birds have whatever they could get to before the slugs and rain got to them. My turnips have also rotted in the ground.

On a more positive note I had decided to try my hand at growing celery for the first time.
I dug a pit approximately 4ft by 6ft into which I tipped well rotted farmyard manure. I topped this with shredded paper mixed with chicken manure before replacing the topsoil. This formed a raised bed into which I planted my celery and a few celeriac plants. I created a netting cage around this bed and watered daily with a weak comfrey mixture. As you can guess this was before the rains came and I was watering twice a day to keep the ground well moistened.
Then down came the rain but the celery seems to be loving both the cool and the wet as does the celeriac.

The other positive feature is the new poly-tunnel which has given shelter to many young plants, and myself during recent weeks.

The potatoes under straw are now being slowly harvested and I am very pleased with the results of most of the varieties we have tried so far. The biggest casualty was the International Kidney (Jersey Royals). For some reason a resident mole had decided to play underneath this row and undermined the seed potatoes so much that they hung suspended above the soil. There were many very small potatoes, about the size of a peanut, and only a few of edible size. These were relished with some freshly picked salad vegetables and a locally produced pork steak.

First Early Potatoes Under Straw

I am conducting my own experiment and here are the results so far
Potato Tasting

International Kidney Nice but nothing special
Did not perform well under straw

British Queen Performed very well under straw, but little scabby.
OK boiled but nothing special perhaps still too young as they are an early main crop
I lifted more of this variety at the end of June. Much more mature, nice white potato, which made very nice mash.

Swift Very nice boiled and tossed in butter.
Also lovely cold or cold sliced and butter fried
Fair performance under straw

Mayan Gold Very golden with a buttery taste,
First picking picked as new potatoes but they are early main crop.
Roasted in skins – Delicious
Grown in buckets, lots of small tubers

Rocket Extremely nice flavour, Kept shape boiled
Like a nostalgia trip.
Performed very well under straw

Maris Peer Performed very well under straw.
Yet to be tasted as so far they have been given to friends.

Only another dozen varieties to sample.

The golden beetroot has also been wonderful but I am eagerly awaiting the Bulls Blood variety as this is a vintage variety that I recall from my childhood.

The Duke of Edinburgh students have harvested many of their first crops which included
Beetroot, carrots, various types of lettuce, radish, spinach, spring onions and broccoli. They are in the process of clearing the ground for late sowings if the ground ever dries out enough to sow or plant.

Student's Beds

Their potatoes, cabbage, leeks, celeriac, chard, broad beans, outdoor tomatoes and cucumbers are holding up very well at the moment so I am hoping that their wet experience will not deter them from growing their own veg in the future.

My most successful crop this year is my wonderful crop of weeds. They are many and varied and seem to go from strength to strength. In fact the more my cultivated crops sulk about the weather the more my weeds seem to thrive.

Anyone know if any village is holding an annual weed competition this year?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

2007 Progress so Far

Well it’s been all go down at the allotment this last two months. The weather has been very strange this year. April was so hot and dry it was like an old fashioned ‘flaming June’ and May began its journey so cold and wet I could swear it had an identity crisis and thought it was to behave like ‘February fill dyke’ Even some of the crops seem confused by the weather

I had to jiggle my plans a little as 3 teenagers asked me it would be possible for them to do the skill part of their Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award on the site as they would like to learn how to grow fruit and vegetables. After clearing it with the committee I gave them 2 8ft x 4ft beds each to prepare, plant and care for.
Here is a picture of their results so far. This is one of the beds with beetroot, garlic, onions, turnip, radish, parsnip, lettuce and peas. They will grow their tomatoes ad outdoor cucumber in grow bags.

I also acquired some old car tyres for them to grow some potatoes in.

I am growing my own potatoes on top of the ground, under straw. It has been a bit of a headache getting enough straw for my needs as the small bales seemed to sell out very fast this year and I had underestimated just how much I would need. This is the second earlies bed
In the end I had the good fortune of being able to buy half of a large bale that had split open on a local farm. It weighed in at over 180 Kg (just over 3.5 hundredweight to those of my generation) Now I am rounding up as many grass cuttings as I can to cover the straw as the potatoes come through and exclude the light. If this works I will only have to roll back the blanket of straw and grass to gather my crop.

It will save me digging but at the moment it does seem very labour intensive and it is stressful trying to get enough grass cuttings at the right time, which is when the tops push through their second layer of straw. I am going to try to alleviate the problem by laying black membrane along the sides of the straw heaps so the grass will go further. So far they seem to be growing more slowly than those on the site that are in the ground. I hope I won’t be deprived of my lovely new season potatoes this year.

Just in case it doesn’t work I have planted most of my main crop in the traditional manner.
The orchard seems to be developing nicely too but there won’t be much fruit this year as they are all young trees. However the redcurrants seem to be trying to put on a good show. There are loads of bunches forming nicely. I must get them netted as the birds enjoyed what little they produced last year.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Just a little Humour but Too True for Comfort

Today I received an email which I hope you don't mind me sharing. It made me laugh, but it also made me think.

Imagine the conversation between "God" and St. Francis on the subject of lawns

GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the Towns and Cities? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it -- sometimes twice a week.

God: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. Francis: No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

God: Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. Francis: Yes, Sir.

God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. Francis: You aren't going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

St. Francis: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

God: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

God: And where do they get this mulch? St. Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

God: Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have they scheduled for us tonight?

St. Catherine: "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a really stupid movie about.....

God: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

I wonder what the reaction is to all our hard landscaping with stone, concrete or decking?

The New Season is Now Underway

The weather has finally decided to co-0perate with those of us who like to garden. It has been very warm here in Sherwood Forest for several days now and it is a real pleasure to be able to work with the soil again. There are still lots of organisational jobs that did not get finished, the slabbed patio area needs the edging slabs cut and laid, the storage bay needs a roof and a door.
On the plus side I did get my poly tunnel up and it is great to be able to raise some of my own seedlings.

This the view through one of the doorways which shows the new plot I recently acquired as an extention to my old one. The lines of straw are my experimental potatoes. I am growing several varieties using the no dig method. We will then see which we like the taste of best and which yield best using this method.

The fruit cage I built over the winter months has had a weed suppressant membrane laid between the fruit rows, and I have just started laying wood chip over this. The plan is that I will only have to care for the trees and not worry about keeping the weeds down in that area. The poly tunnel is just visible between the right hand posts, the greenhouse on the left belongs to my neighbour.

So far I have 3 desert apples, 2 cooking apple, 1 desert pear, 1 culinary pear, 2 cherries (1 desert 1 cooking) 2 damsons, 2 plums, redcurrants, gooseberries, (both to be cordon trained) and a row of blackcurrants alongside the trolley. I am standing among the Jostaberries to take this shot. On the right hand fence (out of view) I also have posts and wires in place to train Blackberries, Tayberries, and Boysenberries. Blueberries and Cranberries are in pots and the strawberries are in the vegetable plot. I have also inherited several mature red and green gooseberry bushes that were in great need of some serious pruning work done on them. These are now responding with a very healthy looking show of new growth and some of them are begining to set fruit already.
I guess you can imagine that I like my fruit.

My partner decided to snap a few shots too and caught me filling the watering can from one of my water butts. I must admit the plot looks a serious size from this shot, especially taking into account that there is a 10 ft long poly tunnel behind this shot and a wildlife area with a shed on it behind that.
Molly, my dog is on patrol. She likes to wander around the plot to keep an eye on my progress. It's nice she can do this now I have barriers between me and the neighbours, it gives her more freedom. So far she seems to follow my paths and I hope she continues to do this.

I also have broad beans, carrots, parsnips, peas, onions, radish, shallots, garlic, lillies, sunflowers and lettuce in the ground. Some of it is under fleece though as I still don't trust the weather yet.

Under the protection of the tunnel I have cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, leeks, runner/french/broad beans, cucumber (crystal lemon) and some mayan gold potatoes in pots. These are the first really new variety of potato to be grown in Britain for about 200 years and they say the top Chefs are raving over them, but they are not good as boiled potatoes. I can't wait to try them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Little Visitors

I have been so busy at my allotment that my garden at home has been rather neglected. I have only caught fleeting glances of my winter flowering plants. However the large, evergreen, Clematis that climbs my fence can be viewed from the French doors of my living room so this has been one of my few garden delights at home. It has now finished flowering and could do with being pruned to keep its unruly nature under control.

However I doubt that it will be pruned at the 'after flowering' period that is recomended in my gardening books. This is because it is currently home to my visitors. I have had a Blackbird visiting my garden to feed throughout the winter. He has obviously found himself a wife.

I took a rare morning meander around my garden yeasterday as I waited for the kettle to boil. As the garden is so small I can only meander as there is no room to stroll. I was on my way back to the kitchen, ready for my morning coffee, when a bunch of woven twigs caught my eye. As I turned to look I was presented with a wonderful gift. There before me was the Blackbird's nest, complete with chicks. I hurried to get my camera and had to wait until father finished feeding before I could capture the site.

I did not have to move any of the Clematis to capture this shot.

I took two shots when mother Blackbird landed on the fence with a fat, juicy, worm in her beak clearly ready to feed her young. She tilted her head from side to side watching me. I slowly stepped back and she entered the nest area.

I feel so privileged to have been given the opportunity for such a wonderful photograph. Not wanting to disturb her any more I left her to tend her young and went indoors.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The March Winds Do Blow

Gales have swept the country this year and the January gales wreaked havoc on our local forests and woodlands. Sherwood Forest had every footpath closed by fallen trees. Seventy five mature trees had to be removed before access was again available to the public. One path has had to be re-routed completely. There is reported to be in excess of another 150 trees, including 4 huge oaks that are being left on the ground to provide new habitat for the woodland flora and fauna.

It’s not been easy to get the jobs done that I had planned as a result of taking over the plot next to me. There has been several times when it was not possible to do anything without causing damage to the soil by walking on it. Now just when it is getting a little drier and workable I have been confined to barracks for a week with a chest infection. Life isn’t fair sometimes is it? ........emoticom ..... I did however manage to get all my fruit trees transplanted into their new permanent positions before the gales hit and I am in the process of erecting a cage over them which can be netted or fleeced according to need. I have kept the path on its original place which was down the edge of my old plot. This serves two purposes. Firstly it will help reduce any disease going from my old plot onto the new and visa versa, secondly it nicely separates my fruit and flower beds from my vegetables.
My purple sprouting broccoli seems to have enjoyed the weather and it is looking very healthy. I do think it helped when I tied them into support stakes. I think they would have met the same fate as the trees if I hadn’t done this. This veg is new to my kitchen but I will certainly be growing it again.

This is the most important piece of equipment down on the farm ... whoops I mean allotment. There is not a single job it doesn’t help with, and it is especially useful when planning or problem solving, or if you want to cultivate good will with other allotment holders on a wet and windy day.

As you can see from this picture, taken a couple of weeks ago, I am slowly getting to grips with preparing the ground. The heap at the front is the remains of my second load of beast manure. The first, 3 ton load, was spread last November and rotavated into the soil. This load, which was a much larger load, is being stockpiled ready for use later in the year. Neither of the plots had received any manure or compost for several years according to the guys on nearby plots. I lost all my brassicas last year, but I was given some replacement plants and several barrow loads of well rotted manure and told to plant again. The purple sprouting is the result of this. There is a vast difference.

I was recently approached by 3 teenagers, 16/17yrs, who are about to embark on their Silver Duke of Edinburgh award. They want to learn the skill of growing fruit and vegetables and we have decided between us what they want to do. They will be loaned an area of my plot for 6 to 12 months during which they will learn how to grow vegetables organically. They will learn about soil management, composting, crop rotation and pest control. The site Chairman and Secretary will subject them to the monthly inspections and sign off their reports. I am looking forward to working with them as I am sure the learning will be a two way process.

Now all I need to do is decide if the soil is warm enough for me to plant this nut seed or not. Perhaps I will just nibble the edge of it whilst I make up my mind.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Taming of the Beast

Today I decided to overcome my fear of the machine that sat lurking in my shed. It had sat leering at me for several weeks like a beast waiting to pounce at the first opportunity. I recalled taking possession of it with pride but then it growled its deep throated growl when its 5hp engine was kicked into life and fear gripped my heart. Questions of doubt swiftly entered my mind; would I be able to control it, would it be to wild a beast for me to tame, how did I start and stop it and would it turn and attack me for daring to try?
It was reluctant to spark into life as if sulking for being left in the cold dark shed. Eventually if coughed and sputtered before gaining it steady pulsating growl. Left hand forward, right hand reverse, I fixed the instructions in my head. Gently squeezing the left hand trigger the tines began to spin and it bounced wildly across the ground causing my heart to pound. I swiftly let go of the handle and it sat motionlessly groaning at me. Slowly but surely we learned to work together. Both hands down and it bit deeply into the soil, both hands slowly raised and it inched forwards ready to till the next few inches of the row. Growing in confidence I tamed the length of my allotment. It was only a narrow strip, but it was tamed. Now I had to work out how to turn it. I squeezed the right trigger, damn that was the throttle, the growl died and the machine sat lifeless with its tines embedded deeply into the earth. This time it started on the first pull as if eager to get on with the job. There was a lot of forward and reverse before I mastered the art of turning the beast but we were at last making our way back down the plot. Up and down we went for several minutes until I eventually turned and looked at our efforts. A sense of pride and achievement filled me with joy. It didn’t seem to matter that the lines looked like they had been drawn by someone in a drunken stupor; I was slowly gaining the art of using a rotavator. When I had finished one half of my plot my arms ached and my hands tingled. I was so weary that it was an effort to wheel the darned thing back to its resting place.
This for me was a real achievement. Not only had I turned more than half of my 750 square yard but I had faced my fear and overcome it. Mind you I still have a great respect for that beast in much the same way as a lion tamer has to maintain respect for the power of the lion.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Church of Nature in the World of an Allotment

The Church of Nature in the World of an Allotment

He sat on top of the post, his head turned with his eye to the ground as he watched and waited. He looked like a bird with a mission. I had rested my spade in the soil with the handle standing boldly erect as I wandered to my bench to watch him. He watched as I sat down and seeing that I was well out of reach he took his chance and flew to perch on the handle of my spade before hopping to the ground and grabbing a mouth full of insects. A blackbird dared to try his luck but was swiftly seen off. This was the robin’s territory and he was not going to share it with anything if he had any choice in the matter. Behind me I could hear the familiar ‘chk’ ‘chk’ of a thrush tapping a snail’s shell on a nearby rock.

It was that time of the year again when even the timid gained courage in a desperate bid to secure food for their offspring. Ladybirds were crawling out of their winter hiding places and spreading their black spotted cloaks in some sort of feline stretch.

I could see the cars speeding along the road in the distance where they disappeared behind the trees on the edge of Sherwood Forest. Their polluting noise was wrapped up tightly and taken with them. The voices of children in the local school drifted on the wind carrying the sound of that innocent joy of long ago childhood days.

In my reverie I fleetingly touched the power of something far greater than I, but also an integral part of what I was and why I was here. In a trice, before I could hold it in my grasp, it was gone and I was left with a sense of awe and wonder. I sat beneath this great cathedral sky in my old jeans and sweater. Dirt smudged my face and soil pressed intimately into the spaces between the tips of my fingers and my nails. Boots caked in mud, mingled with what the polite society of today, would prefer to call ‘organic fertiliser’. My choir sat in the trees and hedgerows and my hymns were the songs of the birds. My Eucharist was a communion with the earth and its creator and I felt blessed beyond belief.

Sheila Norton 21 February 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

Still Allotmenteering and Raring to Go in 2007

Another sowing and planting season is about to be upon us. I have more than doubled the size of my allotment this year as the man next to me gave up. The winter has been spent clearing and re-arranging things. My old allotment part is now to be the otchard and I have constructed a frame over my fruit trees ready to take a bird protective netting.

One load (approc 2 tons of manure has been spread and another load of the same size is being stacked ready for the end of the year. All unrotted compost has gone underneath the manure heap where I hope it will rot down by the time I get to it. I have built a manure bay out of stuff that has been lying in wait from the last owners aquisitions.

All my compost bins have been emptied and the useable material has been scattered over the carboard surrounding my gooseberry bushes, which have been hard pruned to try to give them some light and air as well as get them into some sort of shape. Last year I noticed that most of the fruit was lying on the ground from an accumulation of low branches, and that the bushes suffered mildew as it was hard to tell where one bush ended and another started.

I am in the process of building a bay in which to keep all those 'might come in useful' items we seem to accumulate on allotments.
The frequent muddy quagmire that accumulates around my sheds, due to the slight slope down towards them , has been tackled by laying a paved area around. I love this as it gives me somewhere dry to put my table and chairs when I am lazing around, whoops I mean when I am working hard on my planning of the site.

I still have pear, cherry, damson and plum trees heeled in waiting to be planted but as soon as the site is a little drier I will get that job done. At the moment it is so muddy it is hard to even walk on it without slipping or sliding.

Seeds ordered, awaiting delivery of potatoes and onions and sitting on my hands to stop them from itching to get to work before the time is right

I have found a place that does an alternative to bamboo poles. It is made from recycled plastic and is reportedly rot proof so I might give this a go for my planned tunnel cloches. I have attached the link.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Been Absent but Still Active

Well! I'm back. My father was visiting from Australia for the last 13 weeks, so I spent little time on the computer. We were however very busy at the allotment in between all the family re-unions (which were many as not only does he have a large family, but it is 20 years since his last visit)
It was great to be able to come home each day with most of the ingredients for the evening meal. All the hard work has paid off with some very tasty fruit and veg. My big disappointment was the brassicas. firstly they were attacked by cabbage rootfly, which I think I successfully treated as they began to grow again, but then they all succumbed to clubroot.
It seems the previous owner did not practice rotation and regularly left his crops in the ground unharvested. Also he never fed the soil in any way. Fortunately I will be extending my plot next year as my neighbour has declared his intention to leave, and his brassicas look very healthy.
I am taking not of where he has grown his crops so I do not plant the same things in the same place.
Off to the site now to carry on harvesting and getting the ground ready for a delivery of manure next month.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Long Overdue Update

Saturday, 27 May 2006

The cold wet spring has seemingly affected everyone’s crops. Germination has been slow and unpredictable. However I am rather pleased with most things but I have rapidly run out of space.

The new potatoes are just about in flower, whilst the second early are giving a good leafy show. Main-crop’s are only just showing but I did move them from under the polythene after 4 weeks and planted them in the ground.

Summer brassicas are in situ, and seem to have established well.
Root vegetables, with the exception of parsnips, have not done well so I have sown more carrots and need to get more beetroot.

Onions, shallots, garlic are looking strong and my leeks are looking healthy too.

Beans and peas were a bit hit and miss so I have planted more beans with the hope they will do better than the last ones. I think I planted these far too early.

The sweet peas looked pathetic for quiet a while but they are now standing tall and strong. However they seem to be at a standstill as if waiting for some warm sunshine to boost them into climbing the nets they are clinging to.

The asparagus is a great disappointment. It was allegedly ready to plant upon receipt but only 4 of the 10 crowns are showing any sign of growth, but it is very weak and spindly. I am seriously thinking of digging it up as it is taking precious space that could be used for something else.

Several tomato plants are planted with some fleece protection until established.

All fruit bushes are showing good signs of growth except for the damson bush. It has not put out any growth at all but the slender branches are supple and green inside if snipped with the pruning shears.

The area behind the sheds, which was a real eyesore, (full of roots and rubbish) has now been cleared and planted with flowers. There is a small sunken water hole made from the top of a plastic water butt. I have yet to install the solar powered fountain.

Ivy is planted at the back of my dead hedge, Virginia creeper at the front left and Honeysuckle at the right hand side.

This wet weather has really stirred the weeds into action and it is a full time job keeping them under control. Hoeing has been pretty useless as all it was doing was transplanting them. All the weeds hoed down stood proud and defiantly greeted me upon my arrival the next day. I therefore decided to work through the beds weeding by hand. At least it is only a new bunch of weeds that greet me now rather than an ever increasing army of them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Time to go home

I am absolutely exhausted. I am making a last pitch to get ready for the new potting shed. At the same time I am trying to keep on top of all the weed seedlings, that are springing up far faster than my sown plants, and continuing with the planting.
One more fire before we left meant it was 8pm before we could leave.
I had forgotten what it feels like to hurt in so many places at the same time.
Think its time to shuffle back home to a hot bath, a warm toddy and sit by the fireside.

Mind you I will be back again tomorrow for another shot at the goal.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

could not resist this one

Saturday, April 15, 2006

It's All Taking Shape

These last two days seem to have made such a difference.
First I decided that the buried problem of last month had to be unearthed and cleared properly.
(There is a pile of builders rubble lurking underneath this heap)

Then I got tired of waiting for my neighbour to cut down the elderberry trees that were killing the hawthorn hedge, so I did it myself.

(I do have a mixed hedge planted up waiting to be transplanted in the autumn to make a new hedge for my wildlife.)

I also grew impatient about burning the rest of the rubbish you can see here. The wind was blowing away from the dwelling houses (which means fires permitted) so that too is now gone. Reduced to the pile of ashes you see in the front of the picture above this one ..

(There is something really primitively satifying about sitting round a fire in the open air)

Sweet peas, Victorian climbing peas, French climbing beans and Runner beans are now planted, with the help of my young friend, under the close inspection of my dog Molly, and all the beds marked out in readiness for the rest of the veg.

All in all it was a satisfying, even if exhausting, two days. The gentleness of the sun as it began its descent washed over us, as we left, like a soothing balm filling us with a sense of peace and tranquility.