Sunday, 3 October 2010

Denuded Parsnips

It's just a little bit early perhaps (as we haven't had any frost yet, and I know frost improves the sweetness) but I've been eyeing up the parsnip bed for a number of weeks now, so I thought it was time to give one a go. Gently scraping away the earth around the tip of the roots, I spied one that looked enormous. So thought I'd lift it. It's been very wet lately, so in my minds eye, I pictured myself gently tugging, and up it'd come.

Oh bugger.

Just like a lizard will lose it's tail to escape predators, my parsnips have an inbuilt defence to greedy people like me, I discovered that it will shed it's greenery.

Scratch my head a bit, and out comes the fork.
Gently as I can, I fork all around the parsnip, loosening it's grip on the soil. Then I start to apply upward pressure, slowly does it....

Oh bugger.

Hear an onimous wet crunchy cracking sound, and know I've broken the root.

So finally I resort to digging it out by hand.

I manage to get out the top half.  What's left behind looks split and damaged by my efforts to fork it out, and is left behind, as if I try to dig it out I'll disturb it's neighbours.

It's huuuuuuge! If I'd got the whole thing out I reckon it would've been a 2-footer. Can't help thinking it looks a bit like a coy denuded squid. It looks nothing like the parsnips our allotment neighbour produces - he spends days rotivating and sifting his root beds, till the soil is a fine tilth. We just chucked the seeds in to our stoney flinty soil and hoped for the best.

Right now, I just wish computers had smellovision so you could get a whiff of the strong sweet perfumed smell of freshly dug-up parsnip.

And I know I need to do some research & come up with a better method for lifting the rest over the next few months...

Sunday, 26 September 2010


Our Marina di Chioggia pumpkins, which've been spreading their tendrils all over the back half of the plot are finally about ready to pick.  All these might be better left on the plants for a few more weeks, but gangs of teens have been seen climbing the fence and roaming the site, last week smashing a load of pumpkins, so thought best to harvest ours this weekend.

We had 2 plants on the go, one planted in the soil and one in the manure pile. The manurey plant has been much more productive, giving us 4 pumpkins that are between 5 and 12 lb each so will use that trick again next year if I can get hold of another truck load of manure. The one planted in soil gave us 3 fruits between 4 and 5 lbs each. We tried the first one last night - sliced and gently fried in butter this one tasted amazing - like a cross between pumpkin, chestnuts and chicken flavoured crisps.

Butternut squashes plant gave us about 7 fruits, so looking forward to trying those.

And we left the last 2 trombonchino squashes on the plant till the skin yellowed and hardened (the rest we ate as green courgette fresh fruits), so should be able to store those for a while. Yum.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Birds versus Cats

For the past seven years, thanks to the threatening presence of the cat next door, birds visiting our back garden have been a very rare treat indeed. But quite frankly, our next-door neighbour owned the ugliest tom-cat in the world.

He (the cat, not the neighbour) used to squat on our back garden wall and stare at us in a beefy threatening way until we dropped eye contact and sidled off furtively back into our kitchen in a diminuitive manner. He was the kind of cat that just looked like he smelt funny (I say this as a cat-lover). Sometimes, if I felt a bit cavalier and derring-do I'd pet him till he purred and rolled over to invite a belly-tickle, which oddly enough, I always declined with a "Ummm, uh, yeah, errr, thanks, but no thanks, ewwww". And I always felt the need to immediately wash my hands afterwards.

So, birds were a rare treat. Oh, except of course for the herring gulls squawking from nearby roof-tops who thankfully never visited the garden, though would always seem to make a special flyover visit just to crap on any bed-linen I might have dared hang outside to dry. Sheets to a seagull are obviously like red rags to a bull.

Last year, sadly, the bruiser (still talking about the ugly cat) moved on to the cattery in the sky. I think in the end my neighbour was somewhat relieved to see him go - he only ever came indoors to poo on his carpets (the cat that is, not my neighbour).

Since then I've spent a fair amount of time, money and effort over the past year making my garden bird-friendly. A carefully selected bird table, bird treats, nuts, fatballs, you name it, I had it. Nothing happened for weeks. Then months passed. But finally, they flocked. Blue tits, sparrows, wrens, robins, the impressive looking red-legged partridge. I can't say I relished the daily visits by the idiotic wood-pigeon - bird of fat body and tiny brain that would perch on the roof of the bird-table and seemed unable to figure out how to get to the seeds on the table below. But when it finally did figure it out it'd stay and scoff the lot.

I specially welcomed the gardeners friends, blackbirds and thrushes, who came and hung out daily hopping in and out and round all the containers and pots, dining on all the spiders and snails. My heros. Specially on the spider-munching front.

But it's all over now. Another set of neighbours have bought two kittens. Like I said, I love cats, so I'm quite  pleased to have them visiting our house and garden. Though now it's strictly supervised house-access only, after the recent muddy-paws-all-over-the-bathroom incident.

But I'm very sorry to find that the birds no longer feel safe to visit. Can't think why.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Mooning Sunflower

All of our tomato plants are keeling over from blight. I got away with it last year, but not this time. Perhaps we were too greedy with a dozen different varieties growing, so we had a total of 24 plants on the go. There are sprays you can use, but although not overly fussy about the food I buy from shops, I do try not to spray the food I'm growing myself with chemicals. Ignorance is bliss, in other words.

Some tomatoes ripened before the blight struck or are ones that we've caught early when plants were only just beginning to keel over. These have been placed in a fruit bowl packed with bananas, the ethylene gas from the bananas helping our toms to ripen. Though we do need to keep a close eye on these, as some do rot thanks to the dastardly blight.

But we've too many to save, so the remainder are being made into green tomato chutney. We've cooked up about 6 kilos so far, using 3 different recipes. I reckon I need to cut down the remainder of the plants tomorrow, and think we'll salvage another 4 or so kilos for yet more chutney.

Tomatoes. Looked forward to them all summer. Got very excited about the first pickings, and enjoyed the first few plates made up of lots of varieties. But now I'm bored of them already (oops - did I say that out loud?). I really wanted to eat them back in the height of summer, with leafy salads. Now the weather is starting to cool, I'm eyeing up all the comfort foods. Hey ho. Guess I need a greenhouse so I can start them off earlier in the year.

I've also been roasting the last of the sumer squashes & marrows, and cooking them up with some minced lamb & bechamel sauce & making them up into lasagnes stored in the freezer, to take to work for lunch. And we're still picking runner & borlotti beans a couple of times a week - most of these are bagged up in the freezer to eat later this winter.

I've just got to share with you a picture of the most amazing sunflower that's on the route into the allotment site, so it cheerfully greets all arrivees. It's a mutant double-headed sunflower. Now, just what does that remind you of?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

Up until now, we have been cropping in dribs & drabs - just enough each time for a meal or two. Because we wanted to try growing lots of things and space was limited we only sowed & planted small quantities of lots of different things to see how they tasted. But now the big boys are ready - the potatoes, garlic & onions. We knew these'd be great, so planted these in bigger quantities.

We are harvesting in earnest now. By about a week ago all our autumn planted onions and spring planted garlic leaves had started to dry out & had collapsed, so we lifted them all, and lay them out on shelves in the shed to dry out a little. Today I collected them and bought them home to plait.
Started off feeling a bit like Barbara from The Good Life, but as I worked my way down the plaits, couldn't help myself slipping into dreadful French stereotype behavior making hauh-hee-hauh-hee-hauh noises, before slipping into a gargling warbling imitation of the only Edith Piaf song I know, Je ne Regrette Rien. I defy anyone plaiting shallots & garlic not to do the same. It's the law.

Obviously I'm not going to tell you that I then balanced a saucepan lid on my head at a jaunty angle & slipped the plaits round my neck & mimed cycling around the kitchen - that'd be silly.

Best discovery so far this year have been turnips. I've never been drawn to these when I've seen them in supermarkets - thought of them as little more than cattle fodder, maybe at best a background note flavour to a decent cornish pasty.

But on a whim 6 months ago, I bought a packet of Snowball turnip seeds.

Picked them when they were still quite small, about golf-ball sized. You can eat the leaves, but ours got heavily eaten by leaf miners. I watched the leaves being decimated and hoped the nips would be ok - and they were - when I pulled them, I thought that they were by far the most beautiful vegetable I've grown so far. I turned to the Larousse Gastronomique Dictionary (Francophile? Moi??) for instruction on how best to cook.

And when blanched then fried then baked in a Gruyere Cheese Mornay sauce.... they are the most delicately flavoured delicious thing grown so far this year - they're right up there with the new potatoes.

Which perhaps goes some way to explaining why I now have 200 turnip seedlings coming up (surely shome mishtake).

The future is definitely turnip-shaped.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Where'd my garden go?

Combination of a week away in the Lake District, a very very busy time at work, and other not particularly joyful stuff going on lately, means that amongst other things, I've been neglecting doing any writing & drawing. But things moving back to an even keel again, so will get back to doing weekly updates from now on. The practical hands-on lovely stuff of gardening & growing however, has not been ignored.

A conversation with my plot neighbour a couple of months ago about rampant blight on the allotment site (apparently tomatoes & main-crop potatoes are a complete no-no), resulted in me spending some time tidying up the back garden over the past couple of weekends to make space for potting on the 25 tomato plants which I had sown back in March, intending to grow on up at the plot. We've squeezed up to 8 friends into our backyard for for a BBQ in past years. This year, would be lucky to get anyone in - specially when the plants really get going. But I'll happily forgo garden space for amazing tomatoes.

We are at the stage now where most of our meals are based around things that we've grown ourselves- new potatoes, turnips, broad beans, peas, courgette, purple sprouting broccoli, lettuce, onions, spring onions, garlic, chard, spinach, beetroot.

Besides the fact that it all tastes incredible and not like the tasteless pap masquerading as vegetables from your average supermarket, is it my imagination or is it so brimming with freshness & vitamins, that I feel better & healthier than I have done in ages?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

For the love of espaliers

Had a day out last weekend to revisit the very lovely West Dean Gardens over near Chichester, which is one of the places that first inspired me to try my hand at growing fruit & veg, particularly the walled kitchen gardens.

Admired lots of beautiful shaped espaliered trees & soft fruits, something I've always fancied having a go at doing.

Will do some reading & research this year, and think about planting something up next winter. I have a 20 ft tall wall in my back garden that gets full sunshine from mid-morning through to sun-down. Not sure I could ever bring myself to tear down & destroy the Campanula which flowers about 9 months of the year, but is at it's most glorious right now:I could train an apricot or fig around the bushy flowers, though I think it's the symmetry of espaliered trees that I find so appealing. I'm not sure why I'm so reluctant to tackle the wall - Campanula pops up in pretty much all my garden pots and in all the cracks between the paving slabs constantly and I'm forever tearing up and composting clumps of the stuff before it takes over everywhere. I think it's just that I always really look forward to the month of May when the full-on purpleness is overwhelming.

Probably my favourite thing at West Dean, is the pear tree arched walkway. Think I'll need a bigger plot or garden to make something like this though.
Oh yes, and some cash, bucketloads of patience, and a lifetime of pruning.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Ways to Weed

I'm a diligent weeder. To give my vegetables the best possible chance I do my best to remove all competition from competing weeds. At the moment, I reckon my average visit to the plot is split into time segments of 80% weeding, 10% planting, 10% sipping tea & admiring the views and watching the weather rolling in across the sea views.

But boy-oh-boy, do my calves ache.

A booming red ant population (multiple nests in most of my beds, probably due to lack of any rain in April) and ongoing general arachnophobia, mean I take a squatting pose rather than a kneeling one. I can manage about 10 minutes at a time before needing to stand and stretch. Sometimes wish I could semi-metamorphose into a squatting frog-like creature. Could squat for hours and deal with the greenfly all in one hit.

When weeding, my mind usually floats off into the oddest thoughts. Listening to the magpies crawing, wish I could lasso them to help me out a little.

Or best of all, I dream of channelling Maya from Space 1999.

Then I'd change myself into a weed-loving snail and solve all my problems.

Could do without the weird eyebrows though.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Punishment to fit the crime.

Have allotments always been targeted by vandals, or is this a relatively recent development? And how have we got to the sad state of affairs where it is just a matter of time before it happens? We were advised last Autumn when we first took the plot that it was best not to lock the sheds otherwise they'd be damaged by forced entry (did we listen? - no).

Arrived at the plot yesterday to find lots of sheds - including ours - had been broken in to. Not too bad for us, just the padlock ripped off so some damage to the doorframe & just one smashed pane of glass, nothing taken. But I do feel really sorry for one or two people who had more solid metal sheds - their doors have been thoroughly kicked in and are damaged beyond repair. And not nice to have your shed spray-painted & tagged - no matter what repairs you do to the damage, you're left with a more permanent reminder that's tougher to get rid of.

If I could only get my hands on the vandals, I'd get all medieval on their asses, and invent a punishment to fit the crime. Bury them up to their knees and stake them to the ground using a variety of garden tools, spread them with treacle, scatter them in birdseed, and shout out "RELEASE THE CROWS!"

And, of course, invite my fellow allotmenteers to pelt them with rotten vegetables and douse them in stinky fermented nettle tea.

Or maybe I'd force them to eat my radishes.

Ahhh, yes, about my radishes..... I grew some beauties as you can see (they were ultra-organic, something feasted on the leaves before I could pull them, as you'll see from the holey leaves).

Not sure why I grew them - can't stand them. Never buy them. Don't eat them. But I knew that they're quick easy growers, and I hoped that maybe they'd taste amazingly different.

But no, still distinctly and identifiably radishy. Bleugh.

And there was me, laughing at the couple on the plot opposite who had an emormous bed of spinach on the go last autumn, who when I commented that given the amount growing they must love the stuff, they replied "No, can't stand spinach, but there's not much else will grow this time of year and we like to have something on the go".

I'm not laughing now.

But we did pull our first few leeks today. They've been in since last October, courtesy of our kind allotment neighbour who gave us some of his extras to plant. I've no idea what variety they are, but they were the first thing we planted so we're enormously proud & protective of them. And we've been drooling and salivating at the prospect of eating them for 7 months now.

I think we have to get on with harvesting & eating them now, beacause as soon as it warms up a little they will flower and become inedible. Though leek flowers are stunning - will look like an Agapanthus - so I will leave some to go over.

The ones we had for tea were really tasty - I knew they would be, as the minute we pulled them the oniony leeky perfume that filled the air was very intense.

They tasted like nothing I've ever been able to buy from a supermarket. And I like the imperfect shape of one of them - it just reminded me how all the supermarket food we buy now is all about appearance and not at all about taste.

But the food I am growing is all about the taste. Not that I will be above posting photographs of any rude or lewd vegetable shapes that I might accidently grow.

And please don't say anything about the oniony leeky perfume attracting every onion fly for miles around. I'm hoping that if plants are several weeks behind thanks to the cold winter, then so are the pests...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Technical Problems

Just found out that half my post missing when I open it up with Explorer even though it looks fine in Firefox. That'll teach me for thinking I could draft a post in Microsoft Word rather than straight into e-blogger and copy & paste it later so I could write & draw & cook & do my ironing all at the same time.

Goodness only knows how it looks in other browsers. Probably appears sideways & has Englebert Humperdink crooning in the background.

Not that that'd be a bad thing.

Will fix it later.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

I'm sorry for the stabbing pain in your eyes

It's non-stop rain all day, and a long weekend to boot. Household chores are all done to my satisfaction (read into that what you will), next batch of seeds are already potted up, only myself to please this weekend, so I will indulge myself with a long posting.

First of all, many thanks to Jo at The Good Life for awarding me one of the Lovely Blog Awards that she was dishing out last week. The rules of accepting the award are to link back to the blog that gave you the award (thanks again Jo!), to tell you 7 random things about myself, and to offer to forward the award on to other blogs that I feel deserve them.

So. Here goes, seven (very) random things...

My job involves looking after a number of old listed buildings, It's an interesting, rewarding and satisfying career, and at least half the time I genuinely look forward to going to work - I suspect not everyone can say that. However on a day-to-day basis, my general view and aspect is not as pleasant as you might imagine. I oversee a lot of maintenance contractors, so spend a lot of time looking at this kind of thing:

(shudder). Honestly. Put it away, please, I beg you. That's what belt-loops were invented for. No-one needs to spend their working life looking everywhere but at the mooning arse right in front of them. Quite literally your bum is the elephant in the room. No wonder I need to rest my eyes at the weekend in the great outdoors, looking at flowers, fruits & vegetables growing up at the plot.

Now that I've bought up the delicate issue of contractors & inappropriate work-wear, my other bug-bear is contractors who wear boiler suits that are too small. I surely cannot possibly give you a picture for this one, it's not a pleasant sight, and not at all funny.

Really. It isn't.

No, really, I can’t.

I couldn't.

I shouldn't.

Oh alright, go on then:

And then, imagine if you will (because this is where it becomes a bit of an x-rated posting) said contractor having to reach over head-height to carry out a task.

Are you having trouble picturing it?

Allow me to help you out there:

I'm truly sorry - now we all need to go and rest our eyes in the garden. Take 5 minutes - go and look at some other blogs for a while and absorb the beauty of the magnificent tulip flower and magnolia blossom close-up shots and come back to me when you are ready.

Feeling better?

Then I shall go on.

Last night I had the strange dream that I was an Olympic Gold medal swimmer. The reason for my talent was my enormous webbed feet, which gave me the edge over all other competitors. Weird & very vivid. Had to check my feet when I woke up.

They're not webbed, nor are they unusually large. And neither do I smell of chlorine. Or anything else ending in -rine, before you start with the funnies.

Kevin Costner’s Waterworld was on telly last night, I did briefly contemplate watching it, but decided to have an early night instead. That'll explain it.

My all time ever favourite plant colour combination just now* is dark burgundy next to a very bright fresh green:

*see what I did there?

These are on my kitchen windowsill at the moment, and are much adored by me every time I do the washing up. It's a succulent called a Tree Aeonium, next to a ferny plant (which is technically a weed, as I didn't buy or cultivate it - just a seed that blew indoors on a breeze a few years ago and planted itself in the compost of my Money Plant). I like it, so it's stayed.

I'm not exactly known for my sartorial elegance - if it's clean, has no holes and roughly fits, I'll wear it. I can think of lots of things I'd rather be doing than thinking about my appearance.

But if I could grow facial hair, I think I would spend many an hour in front of the mirror sculpting it into weird & wonderful shapes, just because I could:

But as middle age & menopause is probably not that far off (yay! bring it on!!). I could yet become the bearded lady with the wondrous leafy chin.

I like things. My partner calls it clutter. Stuff. Junk. In my way.


I think of it as surrounding myself with objects imbued with meaning - whether it's things bought on holiday, decorative things that I’ve made or bought, or things that I’ve found. They all mean something to me. For example, here are a couple of the things that live on my shed windowsill - a zebra and a 3-legged cat:

Plastic tat to you perhaps. For me, they're things that tell the story of the plot I tend, as I found them while digging it over. After all, what better way of spending 20 minutes in the shed sheltering from a heavy downpour, than to sit there, scratch my chin, tilt my head to one side & ponder "what the hell kind of devil-child chewed the leg off that plastic cat?"

Finally, which is less something revealed about myself, than a question I've been pondering all week. How hard it is to write 7 random things about yourself without revealing too much. Will I ever reveal details about who I am or what I do or where my plot is?

And now on to the list of blogs that I would like to pass these lovely awards on to.

Nina's Gardening Notebook
Hazel Tree
Urban Dirt
Intemperate Edibles
The Inelegant Gardener
Shandy's Dig
Tiny Art Director
The Idiot Gardener

You can accept or ignore the awards as you please, just wanted you to know that I very much enjoy reading your blogs.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Butterscotch Sauce and Barbed Wire

Harvested my first batch of rhubarb yesterday. Not from the traumatised plants cowering behind the shed after they were brutally propagated over the winter months - I'm leaving those to recover and develop a good strong root system this year before I start amputating their stalks. These ones are from a patch at the other end of the plot that I will probably dig up and relocate next winter.

I followed a recipe by Denis Cotter from The Cafe Paradiso Cookbook for Rhubarb Shortbread with Butterscotch Sauce, which I've wanted to make since January, but rather than buying forced rhubarb from a supermarket, I've waited patiently till my own was ready to harvest.

Here's what I was trying to make (just take a moment to look at & admire that beautiful clear smooth & glossy butterscotch sauce):

And here is my effort:
Obviously you don't get to see the first batch of slightly burnt bitter tasting shortbread biscuits - I was totally engrossed in the new episode of Dr Who on TV so they were in the oven just a little too long. Those biscuits have been edited out of history and into the bin - but a 2nd tray that were on a lower shelf in the oven were fine.

Have to say it would've been perfect if it wasn't for the iffy butterscotch sauce. Followed the recipe very carefully, but as everyone knows, if you boil cream in a sauce (as I was instructed by Denis to do) it separates and goes all weird & splodgey.

Other than that, it was very delicious, so I might get the tippex & black biro out and modify Mr Cotter's book with a recipe for a butterscotch sauce I can work with, and try that one again.

Not a great deal of lottie action this week. I took a few days off work mid-week, & it's been warm & sunny for several weeks so the earth is hard as concrete - it's taking on that cracked crazed look that I remember really clearly from the long hot summer of 1976. Too hard to dig, so have just been watering stuff. But we've had a bit of rain in the night & this morning, so heading up there later on today.

But did get out and about on the Sussex Downs. Came across this near Wolstonbury Hill:
Do trees feel pain? My head tells me no, but my instinct & my heart very firmly say yes, they do. It wasn't just this one tree being slowly garrotted by barbed wire, there were a number along the side of the path. Poor things - if I'd had a set of pliers and some spare lengths of wire on me, I would've cut the wire & re-fixed the fence with a bit of give in it. Even if some landowner had come barrelling over the hill with a furious look and a 2-bore shot-gun pointed in my general direction.

But on a lighter note, the woodlands & hedgerows were looking utterly glorious & bursting into life after this long cold winter.

Just heavenly.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

It's not a pleasant pheasant

Arrived at the allotment site a few days ago (on a rare mid-week day off work) to be greeted by the sight of a pheasant casually, methodically, destructively and horridly working it's way along someones planting row, pulling whatever it was up one by one and tossing aside. I reckon it's the site dominatrix. Some fool had planted their runner beans way too early, and the pheasant is here to teach us all a lesson. "Haven't. I. Told. You. These. Beans. Will. Not. Survive. Planting. Out. In. April. See? Told you so".

I ran towards it flapping my arms like an ungainly emu to chase it away, off it flew with an indignant gutteral squawk. I think my card is marked - it'll trash my crops in revenge sooner or later. Word is out amongst the pheasant mafiosi. But revenge is a dish best served cold, so I'm probably in for it much later on, just as I'm about to start cropping. Pheasant season doesn't start till 1st October, so it has a full 5 months to wreak havoc. Not that I'll be shooting it. I've only had pheasant once - too gamey for me, and it almost took my back teeth out when I bit down on a piece peppered with lead-shot.

Still, good to see that whoever it was had replanted by yesterday morning, but this time their row is protected with what looks like yards of streaming video tape and lots of shiny CDs dangling from strings. I need to make something similar for my plot - so far it hasn't found my 4 short rows of peas, but both you & I know that it will.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Masochistic Psychotic Rhubarb

Rhubarb likes to be treated badly. Really badly. Here you see my rhubarb bed - the small plant bottom left, is one that was already in situ. The other bigger plants, are all from one that I dug up back in November as it was in a prime sunny location which I needed for sun-hungry plants. I thought the rhubarb would do well in the shady spot behind the shed. Ahem. Well, ok, truth is, I thought it'd do alright there and couldn't think of anything else that'd be happy in a spot that only gets about 10 minutes of sunshine each day.

I carefully & studiously read up on what to do, and found out that it was good to dig up the crown, split it, and let the frost get to it before replanting.

And then I did something completely different.

Nowhere did I read the advice dig up the crown some time in late November as best you can (leaving some of the root behind probably) hack into a dozen pieces with a spade, leave out in an exposed place for 2 months of the coldest winter in 30 years, allowing it to be buried in snow twice. Then in early-Feb think "Oh heck - rhubarb pieces are still sitting out by the side of the shed - better try & plant it to see if it survives". Which is what I did - and just look at how jolly & perky it is! The one on the right gets a bit battered by the wind as it whips round the corner of the shed but I'll keep an eye on it & see how it gets on - may move that one again eventually. I bet it'll love it even better if I wait till the wind has snapped off ALL the stalks.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Think I'm going potty

I'm living in conditions where I can't do anything without first considering the health, safety & wellbeing of hundreds of plants scattered throughout the house, hogging all the light coming in through the windows. Cannot open windows without moving trays of tomatoes & chillies. Cannot boil the kettle for tea without shifting aubergines. Cannot wash up without relocating the cucumber seedlings. And as for watching TV... well, let's just say that gymnastics are involved.

And that's just indoors. Out in the back garden there are the 2 mini 4-tier greenhouses to consider. Temperatures are warming up nicely now, so I noticed at the beginning of the week that everything was starting to look a bit wilty - so fresh air being the order of the day, each morning before heading out to work I unzip these, and I zip them back up of an evening when I get home.

I also have to remember to top up the food on the bird table. Two enormous big-bellied wood pigeons (is it me, or do they have teeny weeny heads?) have started visiting daily and gorging themselves on the seed that I put out for their smaller cousins. They're a bit of a pest and I don't like to encourage them - but now I'm on a chain-gang of endless seed provision, or my brassicas will get it in the neck.

Time to take some of this hardier stuff down to the plot this weekend - the 10-day forecast looking good, so worth taking a punt at planting some of it out now.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Those pesky curvy straight lines

Now, I've been gardening for about 20 years. I thought I knew what I was doing, but the plot..... oh, the plot.... Different kettle of fish entirely. Allotment gardening is all about straight lines. I had visions of vegetables marching smartly up and down the beds. All my plans were drawn with pen and ruler, vegetables stretching away to infinity & beyond. But now my onions & garlic are coming up, it's clear that everything I've put in so far has a distinct... how shall I put this?.... wobble. Mr SNAH says "why don't you just use 2 pegs and a bit of string next time to mark out the straight lines before you plant/dig?" and I wail back "but I diiiiiid!".

And as for my potato trenches....oh dear. Everyone else's at the site look like this:

But mine look like this:

Actually, I'm probably being a little kind to myself there.

Nevermind. My first earlies (Maris Bard, Vales Emerald & Homeguard) & seconds (Edgecoat Purple, Wilja) are in. An iffy planting line isn't going to have any impact on the taste, and with a bit of luck maybe it'll confuse any slugs intent on burrowing into the tubers before I dig them up. As I'm sure I read somewhere (ahem.... cough cough) that slugs working their way through underground crops only work in straight lines (couldn't possibly offer a citation on that). Least that's what I'll tell everyone, until I can get up there again to rig up a set of curtains around my potato trenches. I'll invest in some flowery Cath Kidson ones and maybe no-one'll notice - they'll blend in with the general springy springiness springing up everywhere. Oh the shame.

So, busy week ahead. I plainly need to redraft my plot plans, banishing all straight lines, I'll be going for the circular wavy look, by the way. It's the way forward.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Behold the poo mountain

Arrived at the plot just after the delivery of 15 tons of beautiful dark well-rotted hot n' steamy horse manure, all to be shared between 5 plot-holders. Spent 2 hours wheelbarrowing our share across to our plot - reckon we've got enough for the next year or two. Finished just as the heavens opened. It's only late afternoon, but today's been the best & most productive Good Friday EVER.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Tidy Backyard

Spent Saturday at the plot - got another 5 square metres dug over, only another 20 or so to go. Unfortunately it's the section I was planning to plant potatoes, so may have to whittle down the number I was hoping to sow or reduce planting schemes elsewhere. Hey ho. The last bit won't be easy either, as a few tentative fork pokings & exploratory spadings have revealed that at some point in the past some kind of structure - probably a shed - has been built there, as proved by the vast amounts of stones, bricks & lumps of concrete buried just under the surface of the soil. May need a period of good weather & some prolonged hard work with a sieve to properly deal with that area. Still, the stones are proving to make fantastic path material, and being of the sharp broken flint variety make brilliant slug barriers.

Hey! I'm making myself my own personal corral! an encampment of vegetables protected by razor-sharp flints from marauding slugs and snails! Well, it will be once I've pelleted all the ones I've encircled. With slug pellets of the organic variety, of course - wouldn't want to put anything down that harmed other wildlife. Or maybe I'll just drown them in beer (bit of a waste of beer though).

Today weather forecast suggested rain (which is only just starting to fall now at 7pm in the evening! Grrrr) so spent the day tidying up the back garden instead, which has been sadly neglected since we got plot last October. Insane really, as it's the backgarden that I look out onto everyday. Still - all nice & tidy now, everything trimmed back, and ready to receive the tomatoes, aubergines & chilli plants that I think'll do better in my sheltered back garden, rather than up at the exposed plot.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Garden Envy

On Sunday, went for a walk over in West Sussex, near the village of Bramber, and fantisized about what it would be like to live somewhere rural with a beautiful view.
Whereas my reality is rather more like this:

I do grow climbing plants over the back trellis to hide at least the ground floor of the houses facing onto my backyard. But it does obscure their sunlight, so they do hack it all back once every couple of years.