Sunday, 29 June 2014

Beware of the triffid

Every time I walk down the path at the allotment, the triffid reaches out and tries to grab me. It has already tangled up a lot of itself into an impenetrable thicket. Now it seems it wants to take over the rest of the plot.

I'm talking about the grape vine. This year it seems to have a mind of it's own. It also has lots (and I do mean lots) of little grape bunches forming. But it seems to spend a lot of its time growing out tendrils leaf shoots rather than putting its energy into those grapes.

The shed is slowly getting subsumed by it. Is there actually a shed in there?
Definitely time for a hair cut.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Poor Charlottes

The Charlotte spuds are getting ravaged by slugs. So I thought that it might be time to upend the spud bag and see what's in there.

So here is tonight's dinner (or part of it at least).

Charlotte Potatoes and stir-fried greens. Exactly what greens they are I have no idea. Given to us by a plot neighbour. She said they were "Asparagus Cane". But I can find no reference to that and they don't look like Asparagus to me. Look more like a Chard or Kale.

Anyhow, we'll see what they're like.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The day after

I think yesterday I may have suffered from heatstroke. Certainly it's likely that I was a little dehydrated. Today I was very lethargic with a massive headache first thing this morning.

I didn't really manage to do much on the plot, other than watering the plants and putting some of the new delivery of wood chips to use in laying down the paths and general walking areas.

I think that today is best spent somewhere cool, drinking lots of cool water and doing cool stuff on the computer. Hows the new MAGA website coming along?

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Wimbledon Village Fair

Today is not an allotment day.

Today is time for the Wimbledon Village Fair. Now I didn't know about this until about three days ago. Despite living in Wimbledon since 1997, this was the first time I had heard of the village fair. But it's not something which should be turned down. Especially on a wonderfully sunny day.

The whole of the upper common area next to the Village had been converted into stalls for crafts, food and a variety of entertainments. Those that weren't outside were accommodated in large marquees.

And even buried in the middle somewhere were some old friends, such as the Wimbledon Bee Keepers.

Down at the far end, furthest from the traffic were some of our manure providers. That is to say, producers.

So after a about 4 hours and a few pounds lighter, monetarily as well as literally (due to the heat and sweat) it was finally time to leave and head for the plot to water the wilting plants.

Whilst watering them all, I accidentally knocked over a potato plant and exposed a tuber. So today's harvest consists of a single potato, some chillies and a few sprigs of mint. Oh what a feast we're going to have on that.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Scene of utter devastation.

Last year the courgettes were brilliant. I had an over abundance of them at times and ended up giving a lot away. This year I think I'll be lucky to get a handful. Despite having a similar number of plants, it seems that they are being targeted by that gardeners nemesis, slugs.

What were nice thriving plants with three of four good sized leaves are being munched down to, in some cases, a single leaf, and in a couple of cases, no leaves.

Now I am loathe to use slug pellets. After all what is the point of growing your own if you still end up with all those poisons entering your body. May as well go to the supermarket and buy commercial stuff.

So I've been trying a few things out to deter those slimy pests. Egg shells? Do not work. Copper? Nada. Beertraps? Kind of work a bit. Foxes? Sort of works.

But the problem is that there are just too many of the damn things. I've taken to stamping on the buggers to try and get their guts to fly off across the plot. Maybe it's a new sport? Slug Gut Shooting? But it only works with the big ones. The smaller ones I just chop in two.

Vicious? Yes I am. But it's war out there. And I intend to win dammit.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Giving away information

Today was another shop duty day. But this time with a twist.

We had a visit from some of the folks from Tamworth Farm Allotments who are considering going self managed. Tamworth Farm are also one of Merton's allotments so we have the same rules and regulations. Obviously we went self-managed a while back and TFA wanted our advice as to how to go about it and what pitfalls we encountered. Hopefully we managed to give them a better understanding of what is needed.

Now FTA have a few other issues with their site. Primarily their site is open to the public. That is to say that they have public paths crossing their site. As a consequence their site is more prone to theft and damage than ours, where we are only enclosed by housing.

One of the things they liked was how we manage to handle the necessary information for the Committee. We use a shared Dropbox folder. Everything we have and do is recorded in there. We even have a small Wiki which we can put any piece of information we want in there such as contact details of the many people we have to deal with, such as the Council and tradesmen. That way everybody on the Committee has access to the necessary information should the dreaded "under the Bus" issue occur.

Something else they liked was our "New Tenant Information Pack". This is a collection of information shamelessly stolen from places around the web, such as the NSALG website and other allotment based sites. It details lots of things which a new Allotmenteer would need when starting out. We include printouts of all these pages as part of the pack given to new members.

Incidentally, whilst looking up the information on Tamworth Farm Allotment, I was poking around on Google Maps. looks like they have updated their photo of the Martin Way Allotment sometime last year. Must have been before I put the courgettes out on the mound. But you can see the layout quite clearly.

Back on the plot, I didn't do much today other than weeding, watering and building a couple more of my stackable raised beds.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Odd day, but with Tomatoes

It's been a strange day. Most of this week it's been hot and sunny. Today started off overcast and within 15 minutes of arriving on the plot it decided to start throwing it down. Wife and I decided that it was better to remain in the greenhouse and last out the rain than abandon the plot altogether. Time to put the kettle on for a cuppa and stare out at the rain.

But it's not all bad here inside. There are things we can do. Such as admire the Chillies. Really need to get round to harvesting those.
Perhaps I should make some Sriracha.

The Blueberry seems to be coming along nicely. Yes, singular. Because at present there is only this one worth of that name.
There may be four (yes count them) more coming along. Woo hoo! Then again I didn't really expect much from them this year. But at least there are some nice flowers (Nasturtiums) to go with them.

So now after an hour the rain has died down and softened up the ground suitable for planting... Tomatoes.

Yes, the Wife's Tomato experiment gets it's first outside experience. 7 went outside, 3 are going to be left inside. Lets see how they fare.

As we leave, we can just see the gates on the West side. Now the letters are fixed they look pretty good. It reminds us just who we are.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Ladybirds, Blackfly and Ants

With the lighter evenings, and especially in this weather, I tend to pop to the allotment of an evening after getting home from work to water the plants.

The Artichokes are now nearly 2 meters high... and covered in Blackfly. Not a pretty sight. But dotted all over the plants are splotches of colour. Red. Now a lot of these are the Ants which act as guardians and herdmasters for the aphids. But some of those red dots are Ladybirds.

So imagine my surprise when a large black dot moved.

It looked like a Ladybird. Ate the aphids like a Ladybird. But appeared to have undergone some kind of colour inversion. But after a bit of Ladybird research I find that they are an invader.

There are plenty of other normal colour Ladybirds on the plants. Of the 2, 7, 10 and (I think) 24 spot variety. So maybe the large amount of Blackfly is preventing those Harlequins from eating the native ones. All together I counted over 30 of them on the plant. And probably a thousand times that number in food sources.

Meanwhile the plants seem to be enjoying themselves. In the greenhouse things are going very well.

We've already had about 12 strawberries off the the new plants. And though small, were very sweet. We made them go further by turning them into a smoothie. (Yoghurt, Banana, Strawberries, honey and ice all blitzed together).

The Beetroot and Red Onions seem to have rocketed away.

And the pumpkins seem to be happy on their little mound.

Courgettes on the big mound seem to have been slugified. They're not looking too good. But then again if we had as many courgettes as we did last year we'd be drowning in them.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

What a difference a day makes

Well yesterday was a complete washout. Though it did brighten up in the afternoon. Today started out as brilliant blue skies and plenty of sunshine. Just the sort of weather to be wandering all over the site inspecting the plots.

MAGA has 150 10 rod plots. But a lot of the have been subdivided into 5 rod plots due to the popularity of allotmenteering. Altogether we have about 250 plots and about 180 tenants. This popularity has partially been driven by celebrity chefs (such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame). This tends to give the impression that growing your own food is all simplicity and delightfulness. They show immaculate plots with not a weed in site and people expect the magic allotment faeries to grow all the food for them, so they can just walk out and pick it ready to eat.

Sadly it's not like that. Having an allotment is generally a lot of hard work. It takes time to build up your allotment to a working state, especially if you have inherited an overgrown plot. People take on plots without realising just how much of a time commitment is needed. So by the time they get round to actually doing stuff, their plot is overgrown and unwelcoming.

This is what we are trying to overcome. Now it's not just simply a case of "You're not growing stuff therefore you are out." Each case has to be judged on it's merits. Some people on the site have been ill and haven't been able to work their plot. Others simply chose not to turn up for ages. But each plot needs to be individually inspected for signs of stuff growing.

There are two possible options for a plot. (Well three if you count the fact that they *are* growing stuff). These are either a full blown "Non-Cultivation", or a simply "Tidy Up". A Tidy up notice is just simply the fact that we have noted that they are growing stuff but their plot could well do with a removal of weeds or debris. Nothing the hire of the strimmer or mower from the shop and an afternoon couldn't solve.

The biggest issue we have is with the non-cultivators. This can often get into a tricky and protracted argument. However we have to act in good faith on behalf of Merton Council. We are a self managed site so it falls to us to police our own.

So today four of the committee set out in pairs to inspect every plot. We had thought to make a note of every plot that did not have a plot number on it. But it turns out that it's actually better to make a note of every plot which does have a number. This made for some tricky reasoning to determine which plots were which.

By my rough calculations there were about 30 Non-Cultivations, and about 12 Tidy Ups. That's rather a high number. And given that we have about 50 people on the waiting list then we'd really like to get a few more people involved with the site. People who are willing to actually knuckle down and get things sorted.

But in the meantime, I have to consolidate these assessments and start sending out letters to those who have let the weeds grow.

So, how grow the weeds on your plot?

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Rain stops play

We (the Committee) were supposed to do plot inspections today. Looks like everybody gets a day's reprieve. Mind you, had we of waited a couple of hours then the sun came out. Never mind, plots will get inspected tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have a date with a hoe, a few hundred weeds and some slugs. Also the plot is a little bit uneven around by the shed. So it's time to dig it over, rake it level and put some weed membrane down. Meantime, the wife is putting the tomatoes into larger plots. She is doing a controlled experiment with tomato fertilisers. of the 9 plants, three are being left with just water, 3 are being doused with Tomorite, and three more with miracle grow. Lets see which produces the best crop. Any bets? Further more, 6 of the plants will be put outside, whilst the other 3 will be left in the greenhouse.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

New Gates

One of the item approved by the MAGA members at this year's AGM was a set of new gates for the West Side. We have a local smith and metalworker as one of our plot holders, so he got the job. Over the past few days (barring downpours) he has managed to get the new pillars concreted in, and finally today the gates have been fitted.

OK, semi bad photo that doesn't quite do the gates justice. Taken tonight, on the West Side, facing West into a setting sun. But you can make out a "M GA". We're just missing the middle "A" and it's complete. Height notices and board will go on once it's all finished completely. But anyway you look at it, it's far better than the old gates.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Need to initiate the Hammer Down protocol

One of my favourite Science Fiction films is Cloverfield. The whole thing is supposedly footage taken from a camera after a nuclear attack (the Hammer Down protocol) on New York. Now I'm not advocating such a drastic measure on my plot, but there are times when only overwhelming force is needed to combat weeds.

The weeds at the back of the plot are threatening to take over. Fortunately we have a strimmer available for plot holders.

So today was Strimmer Day. Oh, and not only did I do my plot, I also did all of the roads and main paths on the whole of the East Side. That's about 3 hours worth of strimming. Two fuel refills, and 4 changes of strimmer cord. Incidentally, if you do use a strimmer, then don't bother going for the cheap plastic strimmer cable. Get something tough and meaty. Costs more, but it's well worth it for the time and effort you will save.

Firstly a few views of my plot prior to initiating destruction on a massive scale.

And finally the aftermath. Complete with new compost heap covered in pumpkins. Gee I wonder where all the grass for the new compost heap came from? (OK, granted I had the beginning of it before hand, but now it is so much better.)

Phew. I sure hope those special seeds I planted yesterday have grown into a fully fledged crop, because I could really do with one.