Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Shed - Part 1

There is only so many times you can get yelled at by the wife for storing the tools in the hallway and/or the car. So I need to have a good place where they can be locked up. Not only that, but putting a shed on the allotment means I can then start rain-water harvesting off the roof and perhaps install a solar dryer in it. All in all a welcome addition to the plot.
So I've decided that the shed should go next to the grape vine. It needs a good clear out of the surrounding weeds and grasses so that I have a nice level base to put it in. Not only that, but I intend the shed to be the future home of the foxes. So it will have to be installed properly.
First I need to clear a bit of space. The vine was previously staked but during the years of neglect it has fallen over and grown any old which way it pleases. It's going to take a ruthless bit of pruning to get it into a somewhat manageable state. Thats not too much of a problem though. it is well established, and should be able to handle a little rough and tumble.
So now I have an area cleared. The cheapest shed that I can find at B&Q is a 4ft x 6ft shed. So that is the space I have cleared. I will nip down there tomorrow to buy the base, and probably fit the rest of it next week. Though if I manage to get the base fitted early enough in the day, I may have time to re-visit to buy the rest. Either way, having a shed should be the first steps to really feeling that I really own the plot.
The first harvest. No, it's not my Rhubarb. This was donated by my neighbour who is over grown with the stuff. So tonight's dinner is veggie sausages, mash potato, beans, and stewed rhubarb for dessert. Looking forward to it. That is if the other half gets back from the tennis at a decent time.

Blog Roll: Onestraw Rob

Every now and again, I will be introducing you to Green, Eco, or Sustainable style Blogs around the Internet that I read. Today it's time for:

One Straw.

Why I read it:
I first came across Rob and his Straw when he started building his "midden". Now I love a good tinkering around, especially if it involves something out of the ordinary. Building something like that, which can heat water and turn into useful compost at the same time is pretty unusual. But Rob went away and just did it. Yes there were hiccups and issues, but the whole thing was an experiment.
But on top of that Rob does some damn good farming, albeit on a small scale. This is exactly the sort of thing which people should really learn about if they want to have a productive food garden. I have taken a lot of his ideas and will be incorporating them into my own small allotment.

Regularity of updates: Irregular.
When Rob is on a roll he can post on an almost daily basis. But there are times when he goes a couple of weeks without posting anything.

What's Good:
Everything. Not only does he deal with his own small plot, but he also deals with the local community. Especially when doing his community good, means he gets something for free. Such as when he collects their tree fellings, and then uses it to make his garden better.

What's Bad:
Rob at times seems to be a Jack of all Trades. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But there are times when I wish he would assume that everybody lives in the US and can live by his rules.

Be the change.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Blog Roll: Fast grow the weeds

Every now and again, I will be introducing you to Green, Eco, or Sustainable style Blogs around the Internet that I read. Today it's time for:

Fast Grow the Weeds.

Why I read it:
Goats, Bees, Chickens and Veggies. Basically all the things we want for a smallholding.But mostly real down to earth issues. They run a Community Supported Agriculture system providing food for local people.

Regularity of updates: As and when
Updates can be sporadic. But then thats the charm of the site.

What's Good:
The feeling of family and the passion for what they do. You can certainly feel it in the blog entries. They may be in another Country (heck another continent) but what they have are the exact same problews and issues that are found all over.

What's Bad:
The entries are a little rambling at times with no clear indication as to exactly why they are writing such things. But then again most blogs tend to be like that.

Yes the weeds do grow fast.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A State of Stupidity

I do not have a garden. I live in a ground floor flat right next to a busy road. No garden at all, although I do have a car parking space...where I park my car. Hence I applied for an allotment.
But had I a garden, I would want to grow food. It is the right of anybody who wants to know exactly where their food comes from to do this. People have done it for thousands of years. But when some people try it all they get is harassment and abuse.
Take the story of Karl Tricamo. Karl lives in Ferguson, Missouri in the USA. He decided to grow food and medicinal plants instead of a lawn. Yet the local council seem to think that this is against all reason and seem to be trying to throw all sorts of problems his way.

Yes edible front gardens are unusual. Before people switched to un-leaded petrol it would have been unthinkable to eat food grown next to a road due to toxins, lead poisoning and other nasties. But these days it's not too much of a worry. It Karl's case it's even less of a worry. He lives in a cul-de-sac.
I think the main part here is that most people are too far removed from reality to realise exactly what is occurring these days. We have been fed a constant diet of "Economic Growth must continue" so much that it is now ingrained. Ask a child where does bacon come from, and you'll probably get an answer of "the supermarket". The food system is in crisis and people just want to buy more and more cheaper stuff which has a powerful knock on effect. Look at all the steps "celebrity" chef's do to make people wake up. Hugh's Fish Fight and Chicken Run, Jimmy's battle with the Supermarkets and Jamie's attempts for School Dinners. Being a veggie myself, my food costs are already lower. But everybody can choose healthier options just by applying a modicum of common sense. Of course, the only issue is that Common Sense does not appear to be very common.

And the sad part is that Karl is not alone. There are other people in other areas who have similar issues. Such as Ron Finley of Los Angeles, California, and  Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan. Having an allotment is seen as a common activity here in the UK. Same in Japan. But in the US, such concepts are almost unheard of. So to grow your own food for yourself and your family on your own land is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact I would encourage everybody to do it.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Shop Duty

Martin Way Allotments have a shop on site where members can buy discounted goodies such as seeds, fertiliser, garden canes and compost. The shop is normally open for two hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings. However, at the request of some members, we are currently experimenting with afternoon opening hours on a Sunday.

Yesterday I did a two hour stint in the morning and again in the afternoon. Whilst we took approximately the same amount of monies each time, the number of people we had in the afternoon was a lot lower. In fact most of the afternoon's takings actually came from people who are involved in the running of the shop. Despite a vocal few wanting an afternoon opening, I do not really see the need for it. The amount of time needed does not really justify the usage.
The shop is affectionately known as "Ken's Shop". Inside there is a plaque with the story of Ken Entwistle who is responsible for the shop in it's current form.

Back on the plot, after a week away the bins that were stuffed with grass cuttings had all shrunk and compacted down. Good room for more.
But I am still finding more and more rubbish under all the weeds.
I think I will have to hire a mini digger to level the site. If I rip up one half of the site and dump the soil and what not onto the other half, I can lay out the plot as I want it (Shed, Greenhouse etc.) then sieve he soil back into the beds where I want it. This will allow me to remove all the bindweed roots out which should make life easier in the long run.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Blog Roll: Farm in my Pocket

Every now and again, I will be introducing you to Green, Eco, or Sustainable style Blogs around the Internet that I read. Today it's time for:

Farm in my Pocket.

Why I read it:
Well apart from the style of writing, the main point is that they give very well written informational articles. This is not so much a blog site per sé, but more of a guide to small scale farming. It may not all be applicable to farming an allotment (ie. raising animals), but a lot of their articles certainly are. For example they have a good list of articles surround topics such as compost and various vegetables. There is a distinct lack of comments on many of their articles, which suggests that they may not be reaching the audience level that they should. But so long as they put out a decent list articles, then I will certainly be reading.

Regularity of updates: Weekly
On the whole they tend to do weekly updates. Their articles are long and well rounded with lots of photos so the length of them make up for their lack of a daily read.

What's Good:
The quality of information for one. This is somebody who is dealing with these matters on an almost daily basis and takes the time to write up their findings.

What's Bad:
Lack of response. As I said, there are few comments. However when there have been comments, especially with questions, there have been no follow ups or replies. This has a tendency to drive people away or at least leave people wondering if their comments have actually been seen in the first place.

Oh yes, they have an article all about growing on an allotment. Now perhaps they could do one about clearing said allotment? Oh wait. They did.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Whats left behind

The plot used to be owned by a chap by the name of "Tom".
I never met him, but he certainly managed the old plot with exceptional care and attention. The quality of the soil is excellent. It seems that Tom used to have some compost bays where he used to make leaf mould. However I do have one objection. He used to make the leaf mould in plastic bags. And the bags are still there. Buried.
In amongst this are plastic netting, metal supports, rotted wooden stakes and more plastic bags. The bags are the tricky bits. They are old and broken, yet they contain soil which is usable and not something you would want to waste. So I am pulling them out in dribs and drabs as I find them.
But there is something else down there which is even worse to get out. Bind Weed, and the more pervasive Couch Grass.
Given that there is a lot of good soil, topped with overgrown grass and weeds, I am contemplating hiring a small digger to lift off the top soil and move it to one side. This would give me a blank slate to start with. Not only that but the digger would help me get the big slabs of wood out that were previously used for the beds. These are mostly rotted now, but some are huge and well bedded in. A digger would certainly help lift them.
Once the site is cleared I can get the beds laid out, and the basics of the structure sorted. I can then sieve the removed soil back into the beds, which will remove the stones and couch grass rhizomes. (Actually, I'm not finding many stones).
One other benefit the digger will do, it to level out the plot and "remove" the fox den. But before I start that section of the plot, I'll have to get their replacement den in place. Guess I have to get that shed in place, not only to support the grape vine, but to give the foxes a nice warm place to live under.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The other residents

As I said in an earlier entry, there are some existing plants on the plot. Most of which I will try and keep.
Firstly there is the grape vine. I don't know what kind of vine it is, but it has certainly been there a long while. It probably was staked out at some point but the supports have long since vanished and the poor thing is overgrown with bindweed and couch grass. Kind of difficult to rescue it. I have had to cut some of the long vine tentacles off to free it.
It is my hope to install a shed next to the vine, and train it up the side and across the roof. Hopefully this will get it into better shape and provide a fruitful harvest in the years to come.

The Rhubarb is still in place. It looks to be growing in an old compost bin in between the vine and the water tank. It does seem to be in reasonable condition despite being under attack from a multitude of slugs and snails.

At the very back corner of the plot is an Apple tree. Not sure what variety it is at the moment. I have yet to even make a start on that small corner. It is still surrounded by metre high grasses.
(Yes that is an Apple tree... somewhere)

On my way to the back of the plot I discovered an additional resident in the form of an artichoke. Definitely want to try and keep that. Seems to be well established and should probably reveal a choke or two as the year progresses despite being buried under a sea of grass and weeds.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Clearing the Plot - Part 1

So the Plot needs clearing. Not having the necessary equipment, I troop off down to B&Q. They don't sell sickles. They do sell expensive strimmers though but I don't want to spend that much money. So in the end I go for a pair of long handled angled shears and a rake.
The shears make short work of the long grass and I can now begin to find what was left there before. Unlike the previous plot which had been abandoned for years, this one was worked on until it was left a couple of years back. But buried down in the grass are old timbers which may have been part of previous beds. Bit difficult to say really until I can clear more.
I am also finding old compost bags and carpet. I suspect this was used as a weed suppressor. All well and good really, until the weeds take hold and start growing through the carpet. I now have a single large weed bound mess which all comes up as a single (heavy) mass. Fortunately secateurs (last used on the old plot to get rid of brambles) break it up into manageable chunks.

So after the first day I end up with...
Those compost bins are a couple I dug out of the grasses. You can just about see the tops of them in the previous post. The one on the left is full of grass cuttings. I suspect I have far too much greens in that bin and it won't make for a good compost. But at this stage I don't really care. I just want to get it cleared so I can start turning it over.
And from another angle we have...
There is still much to do. But I'm all hot and sweaty and in definite need of a shower and something cool to drink.

Monday, 4 June 2012

In the beginning...

Strictly speaking, this isn't the beginning.
I was first given a plot back in March. However the plot could only be accessed by crossing another holder's plot. Not only that but the plot itself was extremely overgrown with brambles and, being right next to the boundary fence, had received a fair amount of "over the wall" deliveries.
During my attempt to clear things up I found many things. A TV, and old VCR, stereo system, car radio, cans of car spray paint, car windscreen wipers, car... bits. I guess somebody was disposing of their car piece by piece by lobbing it over the fence.
After a while spent clearing, I received an irate email from the neighbour who forbid me access. So I went back to the Allotment Committee, and to the Council and they basically said: "Forget it. We'll stick you back on the waiting list." Having spent the past two years on the list, I was resigned to my fate.

But then I got elected onto the Allotment Committee.
I'm not new to Committees. I ran the UK's largest Anime society for 15 years, and spent about 8 of those years running various Anime conventions around the UK. Getting things organised gives me a sense of satisfaction. So one of the things we had to sort out was a list of non-cultivated plots. I was one of about 4 other members who, for one reason or another, were waiting for plots. I had the choice of two plots. One was scraped clear of all vegetation by the Council and was ready to go. Just get planting and you're away. I didn't choose that plot.
Instead I chose Plot 30. Over grown with grass and weeds. A few vestiges of the previous owner in the form of a Vine, Rhubarb plant, and a small Apple tree, and some sitting residents. It was these residents that I was most interested in.
Foxes. Now most people would call them pests and nuisances. But I (and the Wife) like them. They may seem a nuisance, but they are "trainable". That is to say, if you accept how they live, you can design your way around their lifestyle so that they become a useful part of the Allotment. Quite frankly, they are going to be very useful indeed.
So over the Bank Holiday weekend I visited the home of my future food factory to take a look. Yes, loads of grass and weeds.
Guess I have my work cut out for me.