Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Plot's Flooded

Yesterday we had a spot of rain. OK, I lie, we had a major storm. Loads of rain, wind and all sorts of unhealthy stuff going on. So today I thought I'd go take a look to see if everything survived. Last time this sort of thing happened, one of the windows in the shed blew in. Well guess what... one of the windows of the shed blew in. Not the one supported by the rake. It was the other one. So now I have the spade and fork doing double duty as window supports as well. Guess one of my jobs for the new year is to get those windows sorted.

But that wasn't the major shock. No, the biggest shock is the fact that the plot is under water. Anything from about an inch to three or four. The greenhouse is blocked off (and only wearing trainers it's a bit hard to get to) and the rest of the plot looks like high tide.

And people wonder why I built my shed on stilts.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Shelves for the Shed

I don't have to go back to work until the 6th. So I have plenty of time to turf out the 16 years of accumulated "stuff" from the house. The 2nd bedroom (we call the "Otaku Room" is my office and storage room. But it's kind of turned into the throw-it-all-in-and-slam-the-door-before-it-falls-out room. So it definitely needs a clean out. Yet there are somethings which really should be re-purposed for another life.

I have a set of metal shelves which have been with me for the better part of 25 years and are still in almost new condition. But they're not suited to the house. So where else could they live? Simple enough. In the shed. Mind you, the shed also needs a bit of a clean out.

There is stuff in the shed left over from when I built the greenhouse back in the "spring". I had intended to keep the paper and cardboard for using as fire starters for the rocket stove for cooking. But I never got round to building that. Nor do I think I will ever build it. So it all has to go.

I will however keep the cable ties that were used to keep the glass together as they are useful for tying up the grape vine and apple tree. They can stay on the floor as they don't fold, stack or stay put in a small container. But at least it's a little cleaner in there now.

But I'm still using the rake to hold my window in place.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Committee before Plot

I still have loads to dig on the plot. The whole back section between myself and neighbour (30a) needs to be cleared of brambles and the pernicious couch grass, ready for a whole load of lavender to go in.

Well I didn't get very far. For starters the brambles had put runners all over the place. That and the pulling up of the couch grass rhizomes meant I didn't get a lot of it done by 1pm. And from then on it was Committee work.

We had a number of plots from this years intake of "noobs" to check. We need to check to ensure that they are actually being worked and that they are coping ok with the plot itself. Lets just say it was a disappointing number who were actually busy on the plot or who had done anything over the previous few months. It looks like we'll be taking back some of the plots.

Now we have also had some residents complain about an oak tree on the site. It has grown too big. But since it is over the size limit, it is automatically given a tree preservation order. So cutting it down is not an option. Not that we would ever do such a thing anyway. But it can be pollarded. So I had to take a number of photos of the tree to send to the arborists to discuss access and methods to deal with it. Fortunately the plot holder on whose plot it is, is happy with the need to give it a short back and sides. Even better they're happy for the trimmed branches to be left on the plot for them to use. So we don't need to allocate space for dealing with the remains.

Finally there was some measuring to do. Our plots are all 10 rods. But due to the sheer number of people wanting an allotment for the past few years only 5 rod plots have been given out. 5 rods is about 125m2. But due to a mix up with one of our plot holders who has a large plot we only billed him for a half plot. When we sent the invoices out in October for next years rent, we took the opportunity to correct his bill and ask him to pay the full 10 rods. Of course he wasn't happy about the increase. But we are not billing him for past years when he had the full number of rods, but only was paying for 5. It's our loss. But of course he is now kicking up a fuss about the actual cost of the extra 5 rods of billing. So, to prove everything is above board, we had to dig out the tape measure and get things measured. He has a shade over 260m2 on his plot all told. So he definitely falls into the 10 rod size. So that is what we are billing him. If he doesn't like it, well tough. He now pays the same as everybody else.

But after all that, I really didn't get the back section fully dug over. Ah well. There is always next week... if the weather holds.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Really diggin' it

Well there's a play on words for you. A really lovely sunny day to be down the allotment. But to start the day off you can't beat a cup of coffee and a breakfast.

Now in all my perusing around teh intarwebs, I haven't really come across many articles or videos that deal with cooking at the allotments. It may be that this is a little too complicated for most people, given the lack of facilities. Well I come from a Scouts and Venture Scouts background and have an active interest in camping, hiking and stuff like that. So I am keen to see what my little alcohol stove can do apart from brewing the kettle for a cuppa. So this morning I decided to have a go and cooking Bannock for breakfast.

Bannock is a Scottish bread traditionally cooked by pan frying it. So maybe it would be ideal to cook over an alcohol stove? There are many different recipes but they all come down to the basic same two ingredients. Flour and a rising agent. My mix is plain flour, milk powder, baking powder and a sprinkle of salt. So I took the dry mix in a bag ready to be used, mixed it with a little water and put it in one of my cooking tins.

Now this is where it all starts to go wrong. The alcohol stove puts out a very intense heat, albeit for a short duration, so it's ideal for heating water. But for cooking like this it doesn't seem to do well. The first thing that happened was that the base burned. The heat was kept in the billie due to the lid so it warmed up very fast. This cooked the outside well, but unfortunately it didn't heat the middle which was still a bit gooey. I think I'll have to find a way to make a small oven system to cook Bannock with this method. But breakfast wasn't all that bad. Have to figure out alternative recipes to cook.
The remains of breakfast.

The coke can alcohol stove in full burn.

Meanwhile outside...
It's been raining and my water barrels are full. I'm pretty sure it's going to rain some more at some point so any more rainfall would just be lost unless something is done about it. Well in the opposite corner of my little plot, actually on plot 30a, there is a water tank. It has no tap of means to fill it. It is simply dumped there. So I decided to siphon off my barrels into this tank. The next time it rains then these will fill up again. So we end up saving even more water.
That grey thing with "30" painted on it is a spare water tank.

As I mentioned in my round up, the Raspberries are not doing very well. So it's time for them to come to an end. But no sooner do I get down to their roots, do I find endless rhizomes of couch grass throughout. So the digging just keeps on getting bigger and bigger. After about my fourth wheelbarrow of rubbish I decided that I'd had enough digging for today and made a start on getting rid of the blackberry runners that were infesting the boundary between myself and my neighbour to the south. Spiky little buggers but I did manage to cut a lot back. Guess I'll have to do more digging to get the roots out. But as the light is beginning to fade in these short autumnal days, it's time to head out.
What started as this...
ended as this...

But as I was leaving I bumped into Paulina who was just arriving. We had a short chat about the Walnut Tree problem. More specifically about the Allelopathy problem it creates. My only source of info about walnuts comes from the RHS and Wikipedia. Neither of these say about the best way to remove the insidious chemicals which inhibit the growth of plants.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

End of life...

... well life for this year anyway.
The rhubarb and grape vine are showing the end of their growth for this year. 

It was a nice sunny day today. Compared to yesterday's rain it was a huge change. Unfortunately I really wasn't up to much today. I was fighting a massive headache in the morning (no, it wasn't a hangover) so other than check over the chillies and mint growing in the greenhouse, there was not really a lot to do. Especially as all the work necessary on the plot involves some serious digging.

Hopefully I'll be a little fitter next week.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Other Stuff

So this is the first full year of growing stuff. What worked out well and what didn't?

The Plot:
The Greenhouse. This was an excellent improvement. It allowed me to get things up and running in terms of seedlings. Protected me from the rain at times.
What wasn't so good was keeping plants in there longer than was strictly necessary. Must try and get them outside earlier next year. Also need to create a better doorway to allow bees in fertilise the plants, especially Tomatoes.

The Shed. Well it was a place to throw things to keep them out of the way. Nothing especially important about it, other than it's use as a support to the grape vine. The addition of the vine supports and wires held the shed together even better than it was normally supposed to do so. Although improvements will have to be made to the inside... such as clearing out the rubbish and installing some shelves.

The Beds. Well they kind of worked, but there are serious issues. Firstly the bed I placed next to the green house is just plain wrong. It is way too close to be used properly as I cannot get round it properly.

The Mound. The mound was really an accident due to the scraping of the topsoil last year. I needed to deal with the overgrown plot and scraping it all off seemed like a good solution. Well it worked, but only after a re-working later in the year. The mound then became the home of the Courgettes and didn't it do well. Well next year the mound will be reduced as I dig it out and sieve it into the new beds.

The Plants:
  • Apple Trees - The crop from the main apple tree was superb. But most of the apples suffered from a severe infestation of critters. I'm loath to spray but that may be the only solution. The main apple tree needs a damn good pruning this winter. The third one needs to be staked upright. And all three need to be super mulched (not just the cardboard and wood chippings) to prevent brambles and bindweed.
  • Artichoke - Produced a superb set of flowers. But the huge infestation of black fly prevented consumption. But the bees really loved those flowers. Not sure if the plant will regrow as it put up two huge flower stalks and promptly fell over. Will have to read up on the vagaries of Artichokes so see how it fares. 
  • Basil - Started off well. But the excessive heat in the green house during July caused it to bolt to seed. Said seed has been duly harvested and we'll try again next year. Will have to consider splitting it. Some inside, some outside. Seems to grow well but attracts aphids like nobodies business.
  • Blackberries - Well the brambles kept trying to take over. And I kept cutting them back. Needless to say they did not produce anything close to edible.
  • Chillies - Grown well. A few small chillies. The plants should improve as time goes by.
  • Courgettes - Slow start but once the got outside took off like a shot. Must consider getting them put outside earlier next year. Although they definitely need to be in a weed proof environment. The amount of courgettes produced meant that we were eating (and giving them away) for the better part of a couple of months. Maybe less plants next year. 
  • Garlic - Started out well enough with green shoots. But then gave up and died. Perhaps it's better to start with seed rather than garlic corms that were left too long to home.
  • Ginger - Failed dismally. You are supposed to be able to grow ginger from a spare root corm. Tried 5 separate pieces all of which simply rotted away.
  • Grape Vine - Considering that previous years it has simply been growing on the ground, this year giving it something to grow up and support it seems to have helped immensely. Also the extra carpet mulching seems to have helped in keeping down the weeds around it. Gradually being trained to grow up and over the shed. 
  • Lettuce - Planted in the wrong place. But still grew true and tasty. Kept us in salads during the summer months.
  • Nasturtiums - Did well - for the black fly. Not much use with anything else.
  • Onions - Grown from seed they seemed to do OK, though they never reached the size stated on the packet. Still I did get a nice pot of pickled onions to go with my fish & chips. 
  • Oregano - Sadly it did not do so well. A combination of too small a container and the July weather meant it really didn't do as well as expected.
  • Peas - Well the peas did get off to a reasonable start. The only problem was that I expected the sweetcorn to do better and provide them with better support. Unfortunately it also provided support for the bindweed as well and having the two together (peas and bindweed) made for a bad combination. As pulling out the bindweed inevitably meant that the peas were also unearthed. 
  • Raspberries - Dismal. Bound in bindweed. Small straggly things. They are just taking up space and will be ripped out.
  • Rhubarb - Superb. Even the new little plant at the back of the plot seems to have recovered due to me removing the surrounding weeds. Kept us in Rhubarb and ginger jam and the odd extra batch all summer. Have to chuck a load of compost on it over the winter to ensure it does the same again next year.
  • Rocket - Did not go well. Bolted to seed just like the Basil. 
  • Spinach - Planted mixed in with the lettuce. Not a good move. Also planted in the bed right next to the greenhouse which meant that getting at them was nigh on next to impossible. 
  • Sunflowers - Seemed to be ok, but could have done with being put outside a little earlier. The rogue sunflower outside the greenhouse did much better. Will try and get the seeds from these to germinate next year.
  • Sweetcorn - Went well(ish). Though they could have done with being turfed out of the green house a lot earlier. Got a few good cobs off the plants but they didn't seem to thrive and grow as tall as you would expect.
  • Tomatoes - Varied success. Whilst we had a few, the keeping of the toms in the greenhouse meant that, although we had loads of flowers, they didn't get the necessary visits from the bees to allow them to set. I'll still keep some of them in the greenhouse, but I'll make sure that a good lot are outside.
  • The unknown plant. Yeah that oddity. Not edible. No flowers. Made a one way visit to the compost bins.
  • Weeds - That damn bindweed gets everywhere. Planting directly in the ground just encourages it and you constantly have to keep pulling it out. Very time consuming. The brambles kept getting in the way as well. Will take serious work to keep under control. 

Things to do:
  • Build better beds. The beds at the moments are open to weeds. Need new beds with enclosed borders and base to stop errant weeds from getting in.
  • Clearly defined border. On the north side of the plot is an access pathway. But the south side borders my neighbour. It is overgrown with brambles and bindweed further hampered by the apple trees. A clear border and mulched base needs to be installed to prevent weed encroachment.
  • Paths. Get the place laid out a little better and have some clearly defined paths.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Surviving the storm

Now the clocks have changed, I can only get down the allotments on the weekends. Last week we had a bit of a bluster. Despite the odd tree coming down near the allotments, we did manage to survive, but not without some small problems.
The grape vine had broken free of it's supports and collapsed and one of the shed windows had blown in. Nothing major but annoying. Fortunately I had put in additional eye hooks and wire. So using some of the nylon ties that last saw usage holding the glass packages from the greenhouse construction (I'm a pack-rat and never throw away anything useful), I carefully lifted the grape vine back into position. The past growing season saw the vine put out some decent growth so I now have long vines in all the necessary places for how I want it to be in the future.

The window is also not a problem but I am having some issues with trying to make it stay in now. However by the simple expedient of wedging the rake against it, it now stays. But I really do need to sort out the shed at some point. It would seriously benefit from a tidy-up.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The morning after the night before.

There's a storm coming.
BBC News headlines.

That means that there is a lot to do to get things sorted on the plot ready for the storm. First things first, we have to protect our major asset, namely the marquee. After last night's party, everything was thrown into the shop or the marquee ready to be dealt with in the harsh light of day.





As to the actual plot itself, well that is pretty much ready anyway. I threw some extra logs onto the mound to hold down the weed fabric now that the courgette plants have been removed. But other than that there is not a lot else to do. Of course if the shed or greenhouse blow away during the storm... well there is not a lot I can do to prevent that. But as I built them pretty sturdily, then if that happens I dread to think what will happen to the rest of Wimbledon.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Pumpkinfest 2013

Last year we held the pumpkin festival in conjunction with a MAGA meeting. This year, we had none of that. Simply a big festival, bonfire and barbecue.

The day started with the usual suspects doing prep work and getting everything laid out and sorted ready. In the days leading up to the event itself we had our handymen (Dom and Geoff) hard at work producing an excellent food prep area to surround our two BBQs. One being the "meat" and the other the "veggie" option.

There are two sets of fairy lights to distinguish which is which.

We also had a small mini BBQ to the side for the pork based products as there are some people who object to those being on the meat BBQ. We guessed we would get about 50 people, and at one point I counted 56, a dog and about 6 ankle biters. So we were spot on with the catering and stuff.

All in all, much fun was had by all and the evening went very well indeed. Since I was appointed the official photographer of the event, I have a whole load of photos. But here are some of the highlights.
Lesley and friend

Drinks table. Lot of home brew.

We had to keep the bonfire covered until the day itself.

Ugly at the gate to welcome people in.

Fairy hanging lights. Sorry, hanging fairy lights.

The Allotment breeds some scary creatures.

Random "man in the crowd" is invited to light the bonfire.

Rain doesn't stop play.

Fire's lit.

And the queue for food begins.

Phil has been at the home made cider.

Conan the Samoyed doesn't seem impressed.

The pumpkin carving entries. Children (front), adults (back).

Winners (walking pumpkins)

Runner-up (a truly demonic witch)

Adult winner. Prize was a hand made scarf from our judge, Madeleine Jude (left).

The Veggie Cook (Alison, left) and Meat Cook (Chris, right) have creative differences.

Somebody give them a hand.

But the food goes down really well.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The end of the Courgettes

I go away for two weeks and everything goes to rack and ruin.

The courgettes are now well and truly over. The leaves seem to have a mould growing on them and they look very worn and eaten. What courgettes that were left have grown into some pretty decent marrows a lot more seem to have rotted on the plant, yet there are still a few newish courgettes which appear to have survived. But on the whole it's time for the plants to be cut back and cleared.

The chilli plants in the greenhouse have also survived with a decent crop which will now be dried and used in dishes over the winter. Did expect a few more, but then again these were planted from seeds in the spring and it's their first year. Hopefully the plants will grow bigger and better yet year and provide a bumper harvest.

The apple tree has suddenly made a whole load of delicious red fruit (unfortunately many with maggot/worm holes) but they will all be picked and checked and stored away. Some will be made into apple sauce and frozen.

And after that the only growing things left on the plot will be the rhubarb (just a few leaves left now), the grapes (don't think they are going to ripen) and the mint, in it's pot. Time to dig out the fork and shovel and get the plot laid out how I want it for next year.

And on Sunday there was a very strange delivery at the allotment shop. Two Guinea Pigs were dumped (for want of a better word) at the shop. Complete with cage and food. They seem to have been well looked after. But who simply dumps animals at an allotment?
They have now been found a home so don't worry.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Off with his head

Things are winding down on the allotment. Well OK, the courgettes aren't. They're still producing like anybodies business.

But most of the other things are dying back. I've already lopped off the heads of the 8 small sun flowers planted outside the shed. Now it's the time for the rogue one just outside the greenhouse. And boy is that a big one.
Loads of seeds in that one. Maybe the offspring of this will come back next year. But in the mantime, I'ce hung it up somewhere dry to allow it to dry out a bit. And to allow the ants which seem to have indfested it, time to move out or just dry out themselves.

I've the meantime, I've started chopping down the old sweetcorn and stuff and generally putting the allotment to bed for the winter. A winter during which I shall be making extensive modifications to the plot after having my first year growing there. There are a lot of things which I need to do better and a lot of lessons learned.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The end of the Tomatoes

Well it seems the Tomatoes have come to the end of their run. Not that there have been many mind you. I think the problem is the lack of pollination. Keeping them in the greenhouse has meant that the poor old bees haven't managed to get in and pollinate them. So, although there have been plenty of flowers, few of them have set.

Well I stripped out the remaining plants. Leaving just a few of my bigger ones to see if any further ones ripen.

All the ripe, and larger unripe ones were duly collected.

The remains of the tomato plants ended up cut into pieces and now decorate the inside of my compost bins.

Now the weather has turned, the rain is coming down in buckets. Good job I put the water butts on the greenhouse when I built it. Little Butt (further from the camera) is full to overflowing. Big Butt (closer) has a few more inches to go.

But at least the rain seems to have perked up the apple tree. I guess it'll be next week when I harvest them.
But they are going to need a lot of work. Most of them have been munched by worms and such. Guess I could juice them and turn them into apple juice (or cider).

The courgettes seem to have slowed down production. But they still turn out enough for dinner and a few spare for my work colleagues.

And there is even a BIG one for seeds.