Sunday, 27 April 2014

More construction

Whilst I had fully intended to build another raised bed, but as I also had to pot up the Nicotiana for the Plant Sale and it was rather overcast with the odd occasional spots of rain I elected not to pursue heavy construction work today. I managed to make space in my greenhouse for the plants by the simple expedient of re-arranging the "stuff" that was in there.

Instead the only construction work I did was to make a bean frame ready for the, well, beans of course.

The soil was easily cleared and most of the work had already been done for me, by the foxes. As they had excavated their den in the mound, they dug out all the soil into a loose pile right outside their door. This was then raked and positioned nicely for the bed. Then it was a matter of getting the canes positioned.

Somehow I wish I could have trained the foxes to erect this. I rather fancy an army of vulpine workers to help around the plot. Instead I'll have to settle for their help in digging out the composted weeds from the old courgette mound.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Have bits. Will build.

As I have mentioned many times on this blog, the ground here is infested with couch grass and bind weed. Doesn't make for nice planting. So to counteract that I decided on raised beds. Turns out there is an additional need for these.

We currently have a load of plants delivered for our forthcoming plant sale. These are delivered is small plug trays and need planting up into pots t be grown on ready to be sold. But I also have my own seedlings which need planting out. Either way I'm running out of space. So if these raised beds get built then they will immediately get put to use as a temporary storage area. Either for my own plants or the ones for the plant sale.
Bits of wood.

The Petunias I potted up last week. This week I have some Busy Lizzies and Nicotiana. But first I need to get some place to put them. Fortunately Wickes has the necessary materials. I actually bought these back on Tuesday, but didn't manage to get them finished until today. But no matter they can act as temporary storage.
Danger! Construction Zone.

I also planted out my sprouts, red onion sets (a gift from my father) and the beetroot. Although they're shown here just planted, they are in fact now covered over with horticultural fleece (again a gift from my father). The same fleece which is doing time as a temporary cover for the plants in the raised beds. Though at the moment they're acting more like a cold frame.
Instant cold frame.

Sprouts, onions and beetroot, planted out.

A temporary loan of a small mini cloche is also acting as a temporary home for the plant sale plants.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the spuds and carrots are doing well.

Oh, and there was also the issue of getting a car out of a hole. Yeah, somebody onsite decided that they needed to plant their car into a hole and got it stuck. With the help of other allotmenteers we did finally manage to rescue it. But all in all it was a pretty hectic day.

Same again tomorrow? Let me sleep on it.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Lets talk compost

So I've been having a few seedlings off and running this year. I guess most of us are in the same boat. Now as far as I am concerned, the best way to start off seeds is in a pot of compost. Why compost as opposed to plain soil? Food for one thing. Water retention for a second.

Compost is comprised of dead organic matter. Soil, at least most soils, also contain a goodly amount of rock dust, clay particles, sand, grit etc. Whilst these help to act as a surface area for bacteria and other micro-organisms, they don't do much in the way of actually providing nutrients for growing plants. Nor do they retain much in the way of water as plant matter does. So hence the reason I prefer compost to start my seeds in a compost mix rather than sowing direct into the ground. Some seeds do not like their roots being disturbed (peas are a good example). So they do need to be sown in place, unless you have other tricks like toilet roll cores, newspaper pots or my personal favourite, cardboard coffee cup holders.

But compost doesn't normally arrive when you want it, unless you buy bags of it.
This photo was taken yesterday when I was potting up the petunais. Hence it looks a little damp, because it was raining. But you can see the compost that I used. But I also have my own compost bins. Or should I say tower.
But there is an art to making compost. And I haven't quite got it right. I have too much browns in my mix and not enough greens. So lets explain what I mean. Browns (or carbon) are things like wood stems, twigs, straw, and the like, where as greens (or nitrogen) are leaves, grasses etc. Both are needed to decent compost. But you have to get the mix right. Too much browns and you don't get a compost. The twigs stay there are take an age to break down. Too much greens and you end up with a slimy anaerobic mix which will stink up the place. The best mix, according to wiser sages, is about 10-1 to 30-1 of greens to brown matter. Unfortunately I don't have that much greens available.

The above tower has been around for a year, and although I do have some compost in there, it needs sieving out properly. The brown twigs, which seem to be bits from the grape vine from last years leaves, are still in stick form, so the sieve separates them out, and I simply pour them back in the top along with other large pieces to go through again. However the drive way into the site is lined with large amounts of stinging nettles and grasses which do need a good trim. So guess what tomorrows job is going to be. And I'll take those greens as payment for doing that, and it'll all go into the top of the tower.

Mean while the sieved compost is going in with my commercial compost as I still have a lot of seeds to do. Last years courgette seeds taken from "George" are still around. The way the last lot I planted up has shot up means that if I plant some now, they should be ready in time for the plant sale in May. Hopefully they will sell otherwise there are going to be a large number of courgettes around again.
(Courgette seeds planted and two hyacinths)

But it's getting rather crowded in the greenhouse now.

I really have to get those raised beds built soonest. I guess tomorrow it's time for a trip to B&Q for the wood. Oh, and also some meths, as I've run out and I can't have a cup of coffee without something to heat it.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A soggy day down the allotment

I've been up in Lincolnshire for the past 3 days enjoying some excellent sunshine. On my way home last night, I stopped in at the allotment to give the plants in the greenhouse a quick watering. They were quite dry as the sunshine had been busy.

Not so today. The rain was pretty miserable. Just as well I had a lot to do inside. We have our plant sale coming up in May (May 17th if you wish to visit us!) and we have ordered a "few" plants. Yeah, "few". Make that a few thousand. These are plug plants. Plants grown in small plugs that need to be potted up into something bigger. So I raided the back store shed for some pots.

One little tray contains 72 Petunias. One of which obviously had failed, but the rest all need to be potted up. Simply fill a pot with compost, poke a hole in it and drop in the plug. Press firmly to seat it and you're done.

Kind of back breaking work leaning over the bench. But it needs to be done. Perhaps I need a proper potting bench to help. Still it kept me busy for a while whilst the rain came down.

All potted up.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a little dryer. I really ought to get started on those raised beds. Oh, and the strawberry box. And the hanging baskets. And the... good job I have the next couple of days off work. Got a lot of stuff to catch up on. Just hope the rain holds off.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

And now the hard work begins

Today was the MAGA AGM. MAGA being the Martin Way Allotment Gardens Association Ltd., the organisation which now has the full management of the site on behalf of London Borough of Merton. Once a year we call all the tenants together to vote on various things. Chiefly the Committee that runs things. I have been on that committee for the last two years. So once again the tenants get

And now I am the Chairman of said committee.

Caroline has been chairing the committee for the past three years and has now stood down as Chair and has done a fantastic job in getting the association set up as an Industrial and Provident Society. As such we now control the allotment site on behalf of our Landlords, Merton Council.

There was a pretty good turn out today. Probably helped by the excellent weather we had and the fact that we have our marquee up as our social and meeting place. Either way it was a good meeting.

The outgoing chair was thanked for her hard work that she has done in organising the transition.

One of the thing we do every year is an award to the most improved plot. This is the Margie Mulder award. This year it went to new tenants (well, it normally does). But it went to somebody who certainly puts my allotment to shame.

We also introduced a new award which is the Chairman's Award for the best plot. This went to a long standing plot owner who has 15 rods which I challenge any self respecting bird to get into. (Taking the photo from the parking area may not have done it justice, but it is a damn good plot.)

I suppose now I have my work cut out for me. There is much to do and organise. First thing is getting the new committee together for a meeting. That is going to have to happen pretty sharpish.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Bags of stuff

Carrot bags. Potato bags. Bags of rubbish. Bags of room.

If you read this blog regularly you will remember that this plot is infested with couch grass and bind weed. It's all over the place. But last year the courgettes were in a big mound covered by weed proof membrane which has caused the grasses and weeds to rot. So now I'm sieving soil which is duly being placed into plating bags. Well out of reach of the couch grass and bindweed.

So whilst I'm doing the hard work digging and sifting, the wife is doing the hard work planting carrots. No stones. Good loose soil with a relatively high organic content means that we should have some decent straight carrots out of these bags. We now have 4 bags of them. Two are of a mixed variety whilst the other two are your more traditional Dutch orange sort.

Whilst I'm digging in the mound, I am uncovering a variety of "things" which have been left, lost, or otherwise buried in the soil over the years. Bits of rope, old seed labels, rotten plastic, old nails, old horse shoe, bits of I don't know what but they shouldn't be there. These all get fished out and put into rubbish bags.

Meanwhile we had mashed potato earlier in the week. Unfortunately I left the remaining spuds in their bag on the kitchen counter and they have sprouted eyes and seem to want to grow. So I though "why not?" So there are now two more bags added to the Maris Piper and Charlotte spud bags. These contain Red Russets. Don't know how viable they are, but it's better than just binning them.

In the greenhouse, there are plants which have grown too big for their seed trays and need potting into separate pots. These are the Pumpkins.

It seems there are more in the greenhouse which will need a little attention soon.

But not today. Tomorrow is a big day (Shop Duty and AGM). Will have to see what becomes of it all.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Coming to life

Popped down the allotment this evening for a quick watering. And it seems things are starting to come to life outside.
Firstly is the apple trees starting to blossom. This is the only bit which is nearly ready to go into full bloom, but there are plenty of buds forming all over the trees.

Then there are the carrots starting to spout in the carrot bags.

Finally, there is actual life in the potato bags. I was worried about these as they didn't seem to be chitting properly. But the buds are finally starting to show through, much to my relief.
Give them a few more weeks and I'll have to start throwing more sieved soil into the potato bags so I might gain a few more spuds.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Time for the Annual Barn Raisin'

Every time we need to put up the MAGA Marquee I am always reminded of the Barn Raising shown in movies like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Witness, and much lampooned in Pinky and the Brain (Season 3, ep 34). But the one thing which it does show is a community coming together to put up a structure. In this case we come together to put up the marquee.

It's always a bit of a struggle. It's like playing with giant meccano. But if you look carefully at the pieces it all soon fits together. Even if I did make a couple of mistakes and had to re-do some bits. But it all started to go up.

And eventually the marquee was set for another season as being the centre point of our social space.

Meanwhile over on the plot, we had a friend visit for tea.

The girls gossiped, and I pottered about digging out weeds and hoeing as well as sieving soil getting the carrot bags ready. Might have to go back tomorrow to get any serious work done.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A spot of deflowering

Time to get rid of the Rhubarb flower.

It kind of looks a bit like Quinoa. But no, all the books, websites and people (thanks Peter) say it should go. So go it does. Though I suspect there might be another one forming down by the base. Have to keep an eye on it to make sure.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Dealing with George

Of course one of the benefits of Daylight Saving is that I can now pop down to the allotment after work. I work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the other days I face a 2 hour, each way commute. That's 4 hours out of my day eaten away sitting on trains and underground. So now there is an extra hour after I finish work, I can pop down the allotment to water (if needed) and do a few odd jobs.

Today's odd-job was Giant George. George was the big courgette from last year's excellent crop. It was deliberately left as a seed courgette so that I could try and re-produce last year's bounty. During the depths of winter it spent the while in my kitchen. For the past two months it's been sitting in my shed. Now is the time to actually deal with it as it seems that a bit of rot has set in at one end.

I sliced the marrow up into thirds. Inside the rot seemed to have spread but the far end was in perfect condition. There were loads of seeds in there. Now I am not a great expert in these matters, but the seeds looked large, and unblemished. Just like the seeds I planted in April last year. So I scooped a whole load out and spread them on the table in the greenhouse.

I'll let these dry out for a week and then I'll plant them the week after and see what happens to them.

Now I know that cucurbits can get pretty mixed up. But the courgette (marrow) I chose was specifically handled for doing this. So hopefully I'll get something similar this year. Failing that, I always have loads of other alternatives to try. Meanwhile the seedlings for the rest of the plants are coming on in leaps and bounds.

Going to have to do some potting on soon. Flowers are showing all over the place on the allotment site and it seems that my Rhubarb wants to join in. I noticed this flower stem growing from my big rhubarb.

I didn't really know what to do with it, but a quick web search suggests that I need to remove it. Guess it'll have to wait until Thursday now.