Tag Archives: allotment

Christmas veg from the allotment? Snow chance.

Yes, yes, laugh at me if you will. I went to the allotment for the first time in, well, a long while today.
Somehow, stupidly, I’d retained that elusive dream of the gardener that I could have vegetables I’d grown for Christmas dinner.

The spuds ran out a while ago (the ones I’d got around to digging up) and there are about six garlic bulbs left and a string of onions.
However, still in the ground, having had the alleged flavour-enhancing frost on them, sit several rows of fat leeks and a special row of parsnips, just for me (because no-one else will eat them).

Of course, trying to dig them up was impossible. I couldn’t even find the parsnips beneath the foot of snow. A fork got stuck. The spade just hot the surface with a dull thud, sending painful shock waves into my frozen hands (even in gloves).

Meanwhile, two-year-old Bonnie, the only one of my four children to ever volunteer to come to allotment, decided she’d had enough and started moaning. Well, whingeing.
I’m trying to dig frozen leeks from ten inches of rock-solid soil while she’s making that not-quite crying noise. Then she hits me with the killer punch – “I need a wee” – while wearing an all-in-one show suit.

I gave up on the veg. Took her back to the car where the emergency potty lives and went home. With just one frozen leek with a heavy, solid cube of frozen mud stuck to the bottom. Bloke laughed.

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I’m allergic to cheap roofing felt

Bloke and I actually did something together last weekend. We re-felted the roof of the garden shed.
The shed was inherited with the house, and while I’d love to say I use it solely for gardening, it’s inevitably become a dumping ground for anything we don’t want in the house. Lawnmower, kids bikes, portable loo bucket for camping, several paddling pools and various sports equipment. In short, it’s a tip. It’s also warped at the back, but as we can’t see it, we don’t worry about it.

Yes, this is the 'After' shot

It’s also, most inconveniently, in the sunniest spot in our north-facing spot. Really, we need to replace it, but sheds are expensive and Bloke and I are not really shed-putting-together-types. He scoffed when I said we could sell the old one on Ebay and the buyer would come and dismantle it and take it away. “People don’t do that, do they? What a pain.”
So when the roofing felt finally came adrift and was flapping around, letting water in, I bought the cheapest roofing felt (still £17) and we made time to put it on. It was ridiculous. The felt ripped like paper every time you tried to move it, the nails ran out, and I hadn’t had the intelligence to buy the can of £10 roofing felt adhesive that I had seen but had ignored.
Still, it’s better than before, for now anyway. I’m pretty sure the first heavy rain and windy conditions will have the whole lot off again.

Oh, and if you end up having to do the same yourself, wear gloves. Bloke and I both had swollen sore hands afterwards, which we think was something to do with the toxic coating. Yuk.

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Devious ways to distract your children

I have discovered a marvellous way of keeping two-year-old Bonnie occupied while I attempt to catch up with some gardening chores.

One of the tasks for the autumn gardener is to collect up and wash out all the pots and seed trays that have been used throughout the year. It’s a mucky job, and far too much like housework for my liking.

Bonnie makes brother wash-up pots. Wise girl

Bonnie doesn’t like to be indoors when I’m outdoors. Even when it’s cold and rainy. But that doesn’t stop her moaning and whining while she follows you around, putting bulbs in upside-down and tipping soil everywhere.

To stop her stomping about on my freshly-re-seeded, patchy lawn, I set up a washing station with a trug of soapy water and an old dishcloth. She happily scrubbed two dozen pots and then wiped-down the watering cans. It took her a good hour, and she even had the sense to enlist one of her brothers to come and help. I think those pots may need a wash again next weekend. . .

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Time to tuck up toms?

HOME-GROWN outdoor tomatoes have been fab this year, and just as we’re getting a last blast of sunshine, it’s probably time to think about bring them indoors.
A couple of beginner gardener mates have been stressing about their toms, having read that they won’t ripen further.
Actually, they might, given the sunny day, and you should remove any faded leaves or those that are shading the fruit.But it’s the night temperatures which could get them. Clear cloudless nights mean cold, and it dipped to just 3 degrees at the end of last week.

green tomatoes may still ripen

To save them from the compost heap, you can cut a whole truss of green tomatoes off the plant and bring them indoors. Put them in your fruit bowl, or in a bag with a ripening banana, and they will, eventually, turn red.

Don’t put them in the fridge as that’s just the same as leaving them outside in the cold – it just stops them in their tracks.

You can still use green tomatoes for chutney (cooking and adding sugar and some riper red ‘uns is the trick) or just chop them up as part of a tray of roasted vegetables with a sprinkle of chilli. Yum.

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“Rip it up and start again, I said. . .”

I love my allotment, I really do. It’s a proper sanctuary, where I can sit and hear nothing but birdsong and the wail of police sirens bombing up the Welli Road.
However, it’s also stressful. More often than not, I arrive to find whatever good work I did on my previous visit has been eradicated by weeds and pests. One step forward, two steps back.
An example: The Italian kale I planted out and covered with a cloche a few weeks back is now a row of devoured stumps. I can feel the disapproval of the army of Old Boys whose plots look immaculate, all year round.
At this time of year, even though lots of things are still cropping – beans, pumpkins, toms, raspberries, sweetcorn, peppers, chillies, carrots, beetroot and peas – I feel like ripping it all up and starting again. I must resist the urge for a month or so more.

Having four kids in tow, and a Bloke who doesn’t set foot inside the padlocked gates, means time at the allotment is short and erratic. The children have phases where they love going and hate going in equal measure. The filth factor must be taken into consideration. Is it an appropriate time to let them go feral when they are due somewhere later looking clean and tidy?

Despite the drawbacks, the pleasure gained from seeing piles of produce which would have cost stupid money at the supermarket makes it all worthwhile.

Maybe I just need to stop giving a toss what others think and enjoy it for what it gives us.

Peace and vegetables. I might make that my mantra. All together now: Peace and vegetables.

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Snot-face and the two-year health check

BONNIE’S two-year health check went OK. It’s the appointment where the nurse makes sure a child is reaching developmental steps by playing with picture books, building brick towers and drawing circles.

Since then, she’s decided she doesn’t need a daytime nap anymore, and just stands shouting at her gate.

Raspberries and tomatoes don't last long when Bonnie's at the allotment

This means she’s grumpy at tea-time and bonkers before bed.

It’s also left her a little run-down, and the cold has hit her quite hard. We had two quite tiring, miserable days where she didn’t want to do much except be left alone to watch repeats of Peppa or Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom.

She’s recovered a little this week and perked up at the allotment, where she stripped the bushes of raspeberries and squished tomato pips all over herself.

Now it’s just the streaming, sore, snotty nose. “Bogies Mummy!” she shouts, smearing it across her face and into her hair, just before you can lunge at her with a tissue. Delightful.

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The not so Virginal Gardener

Many, many weeds

ALMOST ten years ago, as the Northampton Chronicle & Echo’s ‘Virgin Gardener’, I started writing about my new-found passion for horticulture, admitting my gross ignorance and frequent failures.

I was a mother-of-two and had just started to take an interest in the very small, but sunny garden at the back of our first terraced house, in Kingsley.

Forward to today, and I’m a mother-of-four with a slightly larger, shady garden at a terraced house in Semilong and an allotment.

The name-tag may have gone, but the mistakes remain frequent: how long does it really take to become a gardener?

When I started, the first issue that I didn’t recognise anything. I didn’t know the difference between annuals and perennials, what were weeds and what were seedlings, and I’d never eaten anything I’d grown myself.

So in that respect, I can tick the ‘done’ box.

Just being around plants, at nurseries, open gardens, in books and my own plots, broadened my knowledge more than I could ever have imagined back when I couldn’t tell a pea from a passion-flower.

These days I rather like going to the homes of beginner gardeners, being able to help them identify their existing plants and weeds. I might not know the variety, but the basics are there. And I can always check in books later.

I used to be embarrassed to ask what a certain plant was. Now I’m beyond caring about looking stupid. (It’s been proved). I can sow seeds that actually produce plants and take cuttings from ones I already have. It’s all progress.

It may take up a lot more time than I ever anticipated, but gardening is still thrilling for me. Really.

From the excitement of the first bulbs popping up in spring, to the crops in summer and even the cold, damp, digging-chores of winter, it’s an addiction.

The children have all grown up with gardening. The older two have wavered: some years they’ve dug and planted and weeded and waited and scoffed. Often they’ve just not been interested. The younger two have helped and hindered, but I hope they all grow up with that little dormant seed of garden experience waiting to germinate. They already understand where their food comes from, the life cycle of a plant, and that you should never touch foxgloves. Or aconitum. Or stinging nettles.

As the summer swings to a close (and we did have a good one this year) my gardens are looking a little tatty and neglected, but they’re still giving. A second flush of roses have started to bloom, the sweet-peas are still producing, and an unusual, non-climbing clematis, given to me some years ago by plantsman Jim Leatherland, is covered in tiny blue, highly-scented flowers.

Up at the allotment, the weeds are coming through in earnest now there’s been rain, but we’re still cropping lots of vegetables and raspberries. For a change, lots of other plots look as scruffy as mine as the plants yellow and fade. I’ve thrown about a lot of green manure seeds, phacelia tanacetifolia, on bare ground before the weeds take hold. They are quite feathery already and should look pretty, although their job is to be dug into the soil after winter.

This week I’m thinking about which bulbs to start planting, all ready for that first flush of excitement next spring when the whole exhausting, demoralising, time-consuming, intoxicating, joyful, wonderful cycle of gardening starts all over again. . .

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A beginner gardener’s guide to failure

Jed hopes the Great Pumpkin will come

I’d like to give you a reassuring back-slap if this has been your first year as a gardener. It’s not you, it’s been, er, unusual.

Did you spend your bank holiday reviewing your successes and failures objectively? Or wringing your hands and feeling like it was a complete waste of time? Cut yourself some slack – you’re new at this, it’s been a bone-dry season, and hey, there’s always next year.

I’m pretty sure if this beginner is you, you’ll have mixed emotions about your first foray into green-fingeredness.

I expect you will have grown a few things that really, really make you proud of yourself: a few spuds? Some peas or beans? Tomatoes?

Or maybe you spent rather too much money at the garden centre back in spring and have watched as some of your floral purchases have responded to your tender-loving-care by tripling in size, and providing blooms for months. While others, perhaps, lasted as long as a footballer’s fidelity.

If you took the vegetable route when you decided all those months ago that you’d quite like to grow stuff, then 2010 might have had mixed results.

On the one hand, you won’t have had half as many weeds and slugs to deal with as in previous, wet summers. Lettuces and potatoes have cropped well, without being scoffed by the usual slimy things. On the other, the things you’ve grown will have needed daily watering and probably bolted into seed as soon as your back was turned (refilling those watering cans, no doubt).

Hopefully enough things will have gone right to fuel your enthusiasm to start all over again next year.

My firm favourites are, naturally, the things that I manage to get to work each year without too much effort on my part. In the flower garden, that’s the roses (not too much aphid damage or blackspot this year), many hardy geraniums and ferns (which like my shady plot). Well-established delphiniums, two year old echinacea, deeply-planted bulbs which have avoided spade slicing and clematis which just go on giving.

At the allotment, it’s a more hands-on approach. Strawberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries have been abundant. The raspberries and recently-transplanted apple tree have been disappointing. But they can be left in over winter to try again next year.

The vegetables that don’t work are more tricky. There’s more wasted man-hours involved. You have to sow it at the right time, pot them on properly, plant them out early enough for them to be productive without killing them with frost. If you don’t eat a lot of something, don’t grow it.

Winners in my personal allotment show have been onions, garlic and shallots sown last autumn, one variety of potato (Sarpo Mira good – Blue Danube poor), and for the first time, tomatoes grown without blight and with enough sunshine. I’ve got more sweetcorn this year than before, which is satisfying. Every new gardener should grow curcubits: courgettes, squashes, pumpkins, marrows and cucumbers. They are the plant that keeps on giving. Hell, you might even start to like eating them.

And those pumpkins can hide the weedy ground and give you something to attempt to carve into a face in two-months-time.

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Kale is keeling over

rather droopy kale

In between showers this week, the allotment has had the attention while the home garden dwindles into late summer.

There’s cropping to do every time we visit: beans, courgettes, marrow, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, beetroot, spring onions and raspberries. Even the children don’t mind going when there’s things to eat.

But it seemed a good time, as the ground is getting cleared, to try and put at least a few brassicas in for winter leaves. Hail to the Kale.

The kids, very surprisingly, love a bit of curly kale. Despite its reputation as bitter animal fodder, when steamed for just a few minutes, or pan-fried with garlic and bacon, it’s just delicious. But I’ve not actually successfully grown any yet.

I’ve tried direct sowing various varieties of kale this year already, and only around three have survived, looking very peaky under single cloches to keep the pigeons off.

Back home, earlier this month, I sowed a tray of Italian Black Tuscan/Nero di Toscana kale, which comes up with strappy dark leaves which are delicious picked young.

Kale just keeps coming with new leaves despite cold weather, so is a good crop over winter. The Italian leaves are crinkled like a savoy but without any of the layers and crannies for bugs and slugs to hide in, so easier to prepare.

My seedlings have outgrown their spot in the cold frame, so some have been planted out at the allotment where the spuds have come out, watered-in well, and then covered with a net cloche. They look a little pathetic, but hopefully they will mature for winter without fuss. I’m going to try a few in the flower border gaps at home just to see if they grow. They are attractive enough on the packet, lets see how they shape up in the flesh. . .

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Buffalo-burs go around the outside

HERE you go then Mr Tapp. It looks like your mystery plant, photographed here last week, is an American invader, Buffalo-bur, or solanum rostratum.

It’s a member of the nightshade family, solanaceae, which includes potato, aubergine and nettle, but is very, potentially fatally poisonous. It’s not uncommon but gets brought in on animal fur and in birdseed and enjoys a very dry summer, which may explain its sudden arrival.

Many thanks to the readers who sent in suggestions, and to one who spent a long time searching Google images. I’ve learned a great deal about yellow-flowered, prickly plants this week! Feel free to email any other plant queries you may have.

solanum rostratum. Poisonous weed. Remove

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