Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Of mice and men (and yet more bloody couch grass)

Plan: Spend three half days over glorious bank holiday weekend on allotment, healthy fresh air yada yada, get loads done, feel virtuous if sunburnt.

Outcome: Spent vast amounts of money killing off liver, spent every morning in bed waiting to feel better, spent all of three hours on plot doing useful virtuous things. Am crap.

Did however get round to buying tarpaulin (still in plastic, sitting inside shed without a roof). Weeded amazing shady bed which I may as well call my couch grass bed as that's all that's growing in it. Thought about weeding leeks. Couldn't be arsed. Pinched hoe from next door's shed - it had actual cobwebs on it, so I reckoned I was safe, though I'll return it when I eventually get tools of my own - which are waiting for me in a friend's shed (his sister gardened, went off to New Zealand, left tools) only of course I haven't got round to going to fetch them let alone hoik them up to the plot. (hoik is an excellent word and my new favourite word of the week).

Also trapped a 16-year-old assistant in Homebase to measure out weed suppressant fabric, that was great fun ("Twelve metres? Are you sure?" "Actually I want at least 18 but I'm not sure if it'll fit in a rucksack. How much fits in a rucksack?"). Got to plot. Raked over a third of it (basically I'm combing the couch grass) and scattered green manure seeds, phacelia, rye grass and red clover, and raked part of it over again. I don't know if it'll grow, and I don't know if it'll beat the couch grass or just lie down defeated as I am tempted to do.

Made interesting L shape with weed suppressant fabric (twelve metres is not a lot on an allotment, and has the added bonus of making all the land that you haven't covered look twice as huge and unmanageable). Weighted down with bricks and a pallet I'd fished out of next door's compost bin. Tried manfully (womanfully?) not to squeal like a girl every time I found a slug. Where has this squeamishness come from? Will I start liking pink and take hours to get ready? That's what eejit is for.

Avoided digging beds. Avoided clearing brambles (did I mention I found an entire apple tree in there?). I must have done something else. No sign of spinach, I think I weeded it, or spuds. Spinach seedlings on windowsill going great guns, perhaps I'll dig over the theoretically spinachy bit of the amazing shady weedy bed and start again? I'll have lost three weeks, but I've got the windowsill ones. I could even do a whole bed and sow both varieties I've got and try that successional sowing stuff. Leeks are leeking. They don't appear to be dead, but neither do they appear to be particularly alive. There aren't any tests that I know of, so I'll just ignore them and let them grow when I'm not looking, if that's the way they want to play it.

Still no sign of brassicas, which is probably a good thing, as apparently they like firm ground, and I haven't got any. I've got couch grass, and rotavated soil, and that's pretty much it.

Came into work today and checked on A4A. First post I read moaned about weed suppressant fabrics from garden centres being crap. Arse.

Should go up to plot tonight in glorious sunshine and fix shed. Want to sit at home nursing hangover and eating pie.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I know less than the potatoes

So how do seeds know which way to sprout when they're in the soil? Is it gravity? They can't see the light, surely. What is it that a potato knows that I don't?

Answers on thirteen sides of A4 paper please, single spaced.

Made stock and apple pie. Have tasted neither, so I can pretend they're both a success. Achieved absolutely nothing else. Incidentally there is nowhere in this city where one can purchase a pair of regal wellies after 6pm. Disgraceful. I wish to make a complaint.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Couch Grass. Just Couch Grass.

Couch grass is all I can see. My amazing shady bed is finally sprouting spinach seedlings (the ones I didn't pull out as weeds) but unfortunately is also sprouting vast quantities of couch grass, and something else that is suspiciously similar to the rocket and the cress so I can't pull it out until the others have got bigger and distinguishable. But mostly grass. Lesson number 1: prepare, prepare, prepare. Must stop being so damned lazy. I've spent twice as much time weeding the damned bed already than it would have taken me to roughly dig it over. I am a pillock. What am I?

So approaching the bed I had vaguely set aside for spring onions, I decided to give it bollocks and actually dig it over. Turns out digging is really really hard work when you come across a patch that hasn't been rotavated twice in the previous month. Full, and I mean full, of couch grass roots; there were spadefuls that seemed to be more couch than soil. Am going to have to go through it all if I'm going to try to grow spring onions, although the overwintering onion sets might tough it out. Listen to me, like I have a clue what I'm talking about. Three weeks ago you could have told me onions grew on a bush.

And I keep buying damned seeds and making myself more work! I think the only way forward may be to get organized. Bloody miserable weather here today (again); perhaps I should try to buy myself a daft exercise book and plan out the plot. I could draw pretty coloured lines to mark out where various seeds are and where they're supposed to go. Drawback to cunning plan is of course that lots of seeds, ie the ones for sowing shortly, are in half a shed wrapped in a binbag, and I'm damned if I'm going up to the plot in the rain to wallow around in the mud just to write down a list of seeds. Must stop overusing 'damned', as well.

Aha! Cunning plan #2: print out receipts from email - or better still, cut and paste the seeds into a new document!

Which would have worked if I'd kept the receipts, I'm sure. However, I never throw a piece of paper away if it can lurk in the flat and annoy eejit features, so I may well have kept the slips that come with the seeds and tell you what you've wasted money on. So this may yet work... At any rate, it'll kill an hour or so and satisfy my inner chartered accountant (the dark part of my soul that leads me to list even my close family, ie dad and siblings, under their surname in my address book).

I also may make an apple pie. I have no idea how to make an apple pie, but how hard can it be? I own scrumped apples (I am such a girl about creepy crawlies these days. Gone are the halcyon times when I could chase people round playgrounds with earthworms. Luckily, as that would be a bit weird at my age. Ew. Anyway, apples: Kept shuddering at apples with holes, bearing spiders etc. What's that all about? I am choosing, of my own accord, to spend hours every week in a mudhole - squeamishness is really picking a stupid time to make its introductions). Back on topic. I own flour, and two types of sugar, and butter, and some odd cinnamon that's been sitting in a Past Times Tudor Spice Box for about forty years since my mother bought it and ignored it. If there are other things that go in apple pies, I don't want to know about them. I also have half-made chicken stock to finish, and chicken to stuff in pitta bread with spinach and tomato, and a steak I bought last night and didn't eat because I went to the pub to read the paper instead. No reason whatsoever to leave nice warm flat for cold damp allotment. (If I had nothing to do at home I would feel guilty for abandoning cold damp allotment as soon as it got cold and damp). Buying weed suppressant fabric and wellies can wait until tomorrow, when the sun is shining, and I feel ridiculous doing so.

Of course Robert Sayles is open late tonight, and I do have a brand new credit card, so I could see if they sell wellies. I bet they do. I bet they sell green ones like the Queen wears. Will sneak in on the way home and have a look. Welly update tomorrow. I'm sure you're all bating your breath like nobody's business.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Water, water everywhere...

Spent large parts of the weekend wandering Suffolk like a bewildered turnip on a bicycle; knees no longer work. Nobody told me Suffolk had hills. Ate lots and lots of food, and got back just in time to put in a couple of hours on the lottie.

Chucked in rest of spuds, although increasingly convinced I'm doing it all wrong. Keep on reading things where they say plant 4" deep - even standing on my dibber I can't get a hole more than 3" and half the bloody seed spuds are that big anyway. So have just thrown a bit of earth over them. Best get up there tonight and throw a bit more.

Weeded salad bed - more grass than salad, really should have prepared that one properly. However, despite amazing shadyness, have rocketlings and what I hope is cress. No sign of spinach whatsoever. Took home a seed tray and a plastic bag of potting compost to try to germinate it on the windowsill but no sign of spinach there either. Don't know if I'm being too impatient, sowed seeds all wrong, or accidentally weeded it all up. Arse. Only thing I really, really, really want to grow as I can happily get through a fiver's worth of spinach in a week and it would be nice to cut that bill a bit (also have visions of grazing spinach bed in cattlish manner, which would make me laugh, if nobody else).

Leeks don't seem to be dead yet, but how do you tell? They just sit there and leek at you. Haven't the first idea about the celeriac, including what it is (big root.. er that's it). Finally, wondering where the hell brassica plants are, and do they really need firm soil? Because if they do, I'm stuffed, as I haven't got any. It's all been rotavated, and I've dug one of the beds I was going to put them in. Isn't it amazing how strange and obsessed you can get over something in a relatively short time, yet still have this boundless ignorance? I really don't have a clue. Not a one. Nor a shed roof, which is another worry as cannier wildlife who watch the BBC weather reports seem to be pairing off.

Ordered more stupid seeds. Got to find a gardening corner type arrangement to put everything in before it takes over whole flat and I can never find anything ever again. Maybe tonight when I get back from plot. (ha!)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Daft shape for a bed

Planted Mr Fothergill's spuds out in daft shaped triangular bed, or at least half of them, as I didn't know if they needed chitting. General consensus on A4A board seems to be no, so I'll try the other half tonight, assuming the rain ever stops. Read somewhere that they should be planted north to south to prevent too much shade, so I'll have a go at that too. If anyone new to gardening is reading this board, triangular beds are bloody ridiculous. Though that doesn't mean I'm not marking out a load more. They do say you don't learn unless you make mistakes, so I figure you may as well make big huuuge mistakes.

Met the chap across from me last night. For the last couple of weeks he's been up every night spending a good two hours watering and never saying a word or meeting my eye; I thought he was going to be one of those people who just prefer their own world and have enough friends, thank you. Nooooo. Made brief eye contact with Trevor last night. Was given yet more leeklings and a fifteen minute tour of his plot plus found out about history of mine - used to be a double plot looked after by a couple in their eighties, until she got too short-sighted to drive. That explains all the mature fruit, anyway.

Discovered that there is a shed on the other bordering plot with functioning tools inside. However this makes me think it's still being cultivated and I should probably stop scrumping. Or scrump diplomatically at any rate. If the rain ever stops (there's a whole Noah's ark thing going on today) I'll go check the diagram of lottie plots in the store tonight. Might have to go via homebase for some wellies.

Lastly, and pathetically, completely failed to get polythene on roof of half a shed. Ended up with artistically draped bit of sheeting over shelf, which should nicely channel the rain in. I just don't know how I'm going to do this without a stepladder, another person and a car to collect bloody great bits of wood. Eejit is off to pastures new for the weekend, so I might see if I can fit his mini stepladder in my rucksack along with his hammer (top tip - you can't hammer in felt nails with half a brick) and have another go. Bit down as I really wanted to get the shed semi-waterproof before today's biblical downpour, and instead I'm liable to open the door and watch my rather pathetic collection of tools float gently down Histon Road to the Cam. I'm off tomorrow as well, to try to get to a friend's house in rural Suffolk without resorting to a car, so that just leaves Sunday. Do I invest in a heavy duty bit of polythene that I'm going to wreck by hammering great holes through? Or do I continue farting about with scraps of crap plastic? And how in God's name am I ever going to get the wood up to the allotment to build a roof in time for winter?

Perhaps several large golf umbrellas?

On a happier note exchanged Trevor's leeklings for some celeriac this morning. Haven't a clue what celeriac tastes like or how to grow it. Happy days.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Argh. Too many gin and tonics. Bored friends to tears by wittering on about allotment but they were too scared to stop me as waving scythe about. Hee.

Got seed pots through post today! Yay! Going to plant them tonight, am skipping off work early as it's going to piss down tomorrow according to the BBC. A few hours hard work tonight followed by a hot bath and a crap film sounds spot on.

Until I get my own photos developed and scanned in, here's a couple of pictures from our local allotment site, http://www.allotments.net/ . Cool store building, isn't it? My plot's just out of the shot above on the right - you can see the store again in the distance.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

So it turns out that digging is hard work...

Panicky digging over of bed ahead of guilt-inspired brassica order. Gosh, that's hard work. Got bits that hadn't been fully rotavated, with big lumps of couch grass roots and rocks, and several earthworms that must have been driven deeper in the bed that had been gone over properly. Still, it looks great now, even if I end up with a lovely couch crop.

Also marked out a potato bed, attractively and possibly stupidly triangular. Also faffed about for a bit. Didn't feel like I'd achieved a lot, but was in a good mood anyway - worked out how to use hand pump for water (yes, I lack common sense), and also heard that some money I'm owed is due in the bank on Friday. Woo hoo! Went home and drank beer after watering leeklings and my amazing shady bed where, strangely enough, still nothing has germinated.

Celebrated money I don't have yet today by joining HDRA, including the heritage seed library (like I'm ever going to use it) and ordering some green manure from the Organic Gardening Catalogue plus some peculiar asparagus lettuce. Oh, and some onion sets that won't be delivered till September by which time I'll have forgotten about them. And found peculiar hardware store thanks to a post on A4A - am now proud owner of a hand fork, a grass hook and a cast iron chicken door stop. Don't have door. Must buy door. Tonight I'm being forced to abandon the plot in order to see best friend and baby plus drink lots of gin at a friend's house which, knowing him, will be ridiculously old and luxurious. The house, not the gin or the friend. Can't believe I'm resenting the time away! Definitely need the gin....

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Plums and Right Angles

Last night was a warm summer evening and I managed to weasel out of work a little early, so went up to the plot to potter. Marked out two new beds; realised that I'm crap at right angles; worked out that if I continue marking out as I'm doing so far, I'm going to end up cultivating someone else's backyard. So might have to rethink that one. Very satisfying while not actually involving any work.

Watered Keith's leeklings, and my amazing shady bed, where funnily enough nothing has germinated. Strange. Stopped to have a chat to Keith, who came over later with two more huge cucumbers and a bag of tomatoes; it's amazing how much produce I'm coming home with given that I've only had the plot ten days! Ate all the plums off my tree. Shouldn't have left them so long as they were gloriously sweet but most of them had fallen off. Will have to learn how to prune in time for next year. However, Keith spotted a plum tree in next door's (uncultivated) allotment, and suddenly I had the urge to clear brambles. Got a path to the plum tree - loads of fruit, though not quite ripe - then realised I'd nearly cleared the lot. I reckon just a couple more days with the secateurs and I'll have a plot, albeit one with foot high bramble stalks lurking over a third of it.

This morning I rang Dobies about my seed potatoes which they claimed no knowledge of. Getting a bit narky after I put the phone down until I had one of those cold moments... rang Fothergills. They're sending them out today. Oop. Ordered brassicas from Dobies as a sort of penance. Don't I feel a twerp.

So now I've got 50 brassica plants coming as well as the seed potatoes, and I had planned to get some onion and garlic sets in as well as the spring onions and some peas. Suddenly I'm having to think about crop rotation and stuff, and I haven't even got any beds dug. This could be a fun weekend. I'll go up tonight and make myself dig at least one bed for the brassicas and mark out one for the spuds (thought I might get all artistic and triangular, á la my tiny plot). Then if I have any time left (and energy) I'll have a go at some more of the brambles.

I'm getting there. At least I would be if I could stop ordering bloody seeds. Have asked about on allotments4all if anyone knows the best place to get bulbs, for planting under the apple tree (and probably in the amazing shady bed when I eventually give that up as a bad job). So that's something else to occupy the long autumn days when I'm trying to look after what I've already done as well as digging over 250 sq m of plot. Still, as long as I'm not bored...

Still don't know what redcurrant jelly is.

Allotment Virgin

So it's been exactly one week since I got my first allotment. The very nice site secretary (Mike) has rotavated it twice this week, so even if I now have twelve million teeny tiny evil bits of couch grass root, at least it looks like a plot, not a wilderness. Well, the two thirds of it that he's rotavated, anyway.

When I first went to look at plots I was going to take one that had been totally cleared (though I hadn't expected that any would have been cleared at all). However, when Mike showed me round a few more of them, I sort of fell for this one. As well as Cambridge's annual crop of crouch grass, it had an overgrown row of redcurrants, a plum tree, and nearly a shed, with brambles growing through the broken windows and out through the half a roof. So Mike has cleared the two-thirds up to the redcurrants, and the rest is down to me.

Over the course of the week I've managed to get up to the plot most evenings for an hour or two. I've cleared about half the brambles, but it turns out it was the easy half; I've still got about 6 sq m to go and I swear to God some of the tendrils lurking near the (now visible) motherlode are as thick as my wrist. On the upside I can see my nearly shed and have discovered some waterbutts, though I still can't reach them.

One of the strange things about the site I'm on is that there's never anyone there. At least not while I'm there. It's huge - 202 plots - yet I've never seen more than maybe ten people there at once. Maybe they're all crack of dawn people and are wondering whether I exist as I tend to turn up at 6.30 pm and make lots of mess. I have met a very nice chap called Keith who has given me a cucumber and 70 (70!) baby leek plants which I have done my best to plant out using what I think is a dibber (found in nearlyshed) having dug a bed (second hand spade for £8 from lottie store) and raked it over (rake found in nearlyshed). I raked over another bed, also 6 foot by 4 foot, and planted cress and rocket and stuff; I figure they're idiot proof, which they're going to need to be, as this particular idiot planned the bed under the shade of next door's apple tree. Neither of the plots either side of me are being cultivated, so I've scrumped some apples and taken them home with some of my endless harvest of blackberries and made a crumble.

This is an embarrassingly crude plan of my plot so far:

In my defence I did it in two minutes (oh, all right, ten minutes) while I was supposed to be writing about obscure Lebanese politicians.

Tonight's plan: If it stays sunny, I'll dig over another bed and get good and muddy. If it clouds over, I'll attack the evil brambles (moo ha haa!). Either way I probably ought to find out what to do with my spring onion seeds (I shouldn't be allowed near seed catalogues; spent £20 before I even knew I'd got an allotment) and if there's anything else I ought to be planting. Oh, and harvest the redcurrants to make redcurrant jelly. And find out how to make redcurrant jelly. And what redcurrant jelly is.


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