February 2009


Raspberries

Look! I paid £10 for a bunch of sticks! Aren’t they pretty?

Hard to believe loooking at them now I know, but I have high hopes for these little lovelies. They may be nothing more than grubby little twigs at the moment, but come the autumn I shall be picking juicy raspberries off these canes.

They arrived in the post this morning, and they’ll be going into the ground in the allotment as soon as I can dig a bed for them. 10 Autumn Bliss raspberries for the princely sum of £10.50 from Keeper’s Nursery: what a bargain!

They’re cheaper in part because they come – and you might just have noticed this – bare-rooted, possible because they’re in the middle of their winter hibernation. But whatever way you look at it, £10 is a bargain.

Because I got the allotment only a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t spoiled for choice when it came to buying some canes (and even these have now sold out) but this variety comes with all the usual positive descriptors: “heavy cropper”, “outstanding sweet flavour” blah blah blah.

(Before we get too excited by this mouth-watering image let’s consider: have you ever seen a fruit or vegetable variety described as “fairly bland tasting” or “pretty temperamental and only a few fruits”?)

I’ve also managed to get autumn fruiting raspberries and that’s what I wanted.  Raspberries are either autumn or summer fruiting, and if you go for the latter then it’s simple to look after them. The fruit grows on this year’s growth, with means that at the end of the year just cut all the canes down to a few inches off the ground and that’s it. Job done.

Summer raspberries, on the other hand, fruit on two-year-old canes. That sounds far more complicated to me; remembering which canes are two years old, cutting them down after fruiting and then letting them grow another year before they do anything useful? I only have a small brain and that’s far too difficult to get my head round.

Nope, autumn raspberries every time. They grow, they give you lots of fruit and then you cut them down. And then you do it all over again the next year. And the next. And the…

So, plants here. I just need to pull my finger out and dig a bed to put them in…

On the ipod while drooling over the twigs: Common People. The William Shatner version, of course. What do you mean, “there’s another one”?

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A couple of packets of seeds

So what shall I grow? And where?

For the last few years I’ve had a little vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden and I’ve grown various fruit and veg.  But now I’ve got an allotment all sorts of other things need to be considered.

On the one hand, space is no longer such an issue and I can grow my beloved squashes without worrying about their taking over the garden (as they have done in the past). But on the other hand, we eat salad most days and am I really going to go down to the allotment to pick a few salad leaves? Or a bunch of herbs?

Clearly I’m going to have to give this some thought…

Here, in no particular order, is today’s long list of things to grow (with the caveat that I will have changed my mind tomorrow…):

Salad leaves

Tomatoes

Onions

Carrots

Broad beans

Beetroot

Peppers

Raspberries

Blackberries

Strawberries

French beans

Borlotti beans

Potatoes

Herbs (basil, parsley, tarragon, chervil, coriander, probably some others)

Courgettes

Rhubarb

Garlic

Broccoli

Aubergines

Cucumbers

Leeks

An enormous pumpkin

Sweetcorn

Globe artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes

I think that’s about it. But as I say, it’ll change tomorrow. So, the next job is to figure out where to put it all.

Some of the decisions are fairly easy; the aubergines and peppers won’t be very happy outside the greenhouse, and I’m far too lazy to walk to the end of the road for a sprig of parsley. I’m not digging up the rhubarb, so that’s staying in the garden.

But then it starts to get a bit more complicated. We use loads of onions, so maybe I should keep them in the garden. But they’re very low maintenance, so they’d be quite happy being ignored down the allotment for days on end. Hmmm.

And what about the courgettes? They’ll take over the garden if I let them, so they should definitely go to the allotment, where they’ll be free to roam far and wide. But then if I turn my back for five minutes those crunchy little baby courgettes will grow into two foot long marrows and that’s no good. Into the back garden, then?

This is going to require some serious thought. Time to sharpen the pencil and draw up some plans.

On the ipod while thinking: The Fratellis / Chelsea Dagger

Chorus sounds like a pub singalong, but none the worse for that

Isn't it beautiful?

Here it is! After years of working my way up the waiting list, here is the first sight of MY NEW ALLOTMENT!

I know.

A little underwhelming, isn’t it? If you were an estate agent you might call it a “fixer-upper”. Still, before we go on let’s rewind a little bit and relive the magic moment when my eyes first fell upon the promised land.

Clive the allotment secretary rang a couple of weeks ago (“‘Ello dear boy, ‘ow are yer?”) with the happy news that I had made it to the top of the waiting list and he had a “lovely little plot” to offer me. He described it in honeyed tones – a half plot so not too demanding for a first timer, worked last year so in good condition and not overgrown, plenty of scope to do what I want with it.

We agreed a date to meet up and look it over and so, one overcast Sunday morning, I found myself at the gates to the allotments awaiting a rendez vous with Clive.  After pleasantries we set off across the allotments, walking past manicured and lovingly-tended plots. We did not stop near any of these plots.

The plots got a little scruffier. A few overgrown patches began to appear here and there. The brambles began to assert themselves. We kept walking.

The light began to fade. Eventually Clive paused. “Almost there, dear boy, almost there.” An owl hooted. We reached the boundary fence and hung a left to see….my plot!

It’s fair to say it wasn’t quite how I’d pictured it. Those silky words “Worked last year” had led me to imagine a manicured plot, carefully marked beds, perhaps a few fruit bushes and perennials still going strong.

Clive kicked a thigh-high tuft of grass: “Think you might have some raspberries in there” he nodded approvingly.

I’m not sure who worked it last year, but I don’t think I would be doing them a disservice if I said it doesn’t appear to have been intensively worked in the recent past.

But never mind the quibbles, it’s mine! I have an allotment to grow fruit and vegetables! So what’s it like?

As you can see from the pic it’s cornered on two sides by the boundary fence; a stream runs along one side, and some neighours’ gardens back on to another edge.

It’s five rods in size. That’s 13m x 10m to you and me.The sun rises behind the stream and sets just behind…..the forty foot trees on the edge of the plot.

Hmm. Probably not a sun-kissed paradise, but if you had to put a couple of ginormous evergreens on your vegetable patch where they blocked out the least amount of light then that’s where they’d be. What with those trees and the shade from the fences and shrubs in the back gardens, it’s probably about 8m wide in reality, with not much likely to grow along that boundary.

There are a few random-looking beds dotted around the plot, various shapes and sizes. One of them has a large mound of earth in the middle, looking alarmingly like a recently-dug grave, and there are also a couple of pieces of carpet that are presumably covering other beds.

I have my own shed! Sitting in the far corner, it looks more like an outhouse, but it’s somewhere to keep tools and bits and bobs without getting wet. And just behind that is a water tank that is hooked up to the mains, which for £5 a year gives me unlimited water right on my doorstep.

The next-door plot is being worked for the first time this year, and just across from mine is a plot dedicated to bees; three bee hives with another three on the way.

It’s all very exciting. I think it’s probably just big enough to grow a lot, but not dauntingly so. There’s a fair bit of shade, but you don’t need 24 hour sun to grow veg, so as long as we don’t plan along mediterranean lines that shouldn’t be a problem, and there are thousands of people on waiting lists so to have any plot is a bonus.

So now on to the planning. I’ll be drawing up a wish list of things to grow, blowing the dust off those garden design books and figuring out what to do with my new empire. Watch this space…..

Use the force. But not too much or you'll get manky-looking black leaves on your rhubarb.

It’s bloody freezing in the garden and not a lot is happening.

I’m starting to think that February might not be the best time of the year to begin a gardening blog: nothing is going to go into the soil for a while yet and there are few signs that anything interesting is going on out there.

Luckily there is some action at the bottom of the garden. Underneath a large terracotta forcer my rhubarb is heroically pushing itself upwards towards the sky.

Acutally, “heroic” might be a little generous. I slapped the forcer over the rhubarb a month ago and in that time the shoots have grown a couple of inches at best.  Not particularly inspiring.I read somewhere that forced rhubarb can grow so fast you can hear it crack and pop.

I have not heard these noises coming from inside the forcer.

Still, the rhubarb is much pinker-looking than last year’s (unforced) crop, so it’s a promising start.

The rhubarb crown has been hyper-productive for three years now, generously supplying me and several neighbours (the rest of the family can’t stand the stuff) with regular croppings. This is the first year that I’ve tried forcing it, and clearly we have something of a stand-off, me and the rhubarb.

A previous attempt to force its rhubarb neighbour ended badly: it pushed up a pair of flaccid stalks before giving up the fight for light and slowly dying. Apparently I should have waited a couple of years until the plant was stronger.

This time round things will be different. To say that the remaining rhubarb has been vigorous over the last few years is a bit like saying my children have a working knowledge of the Nintendo Wii.

Having said that the leaves look pretty sorry for themselves, and they have some unhealthy-looking black edges to them. I shall investigate further; to lose one rhubarb through cack-handed forcing would be unfortunate. To lose two would be a touch careless.

Still, I have faith that my plant will pull through. The force is strong in this one.

On the ipod while forcing: The Ting Tings / Great DJ

The drums, the drums, the drums, the….oh never mind.

The view from the bathroom window

Ok, so it’s a little early to be thinking about planting anything in the vegetable patch. There is, after all, a six foot snowman gently melting on the lawn.

But it’s good to have something to look forward to, and all this crappy weather is making me impatient for the growing season. Normally I’d wait until the middle of this month but a bunch of seeds arrived in the post and that, combined with the extravagence of a brand new heated propagator (of which more later), has led inexorably to the arrival of 10 small pots looking for a home.

I’ve started with some tomatoes (harbinger left over from last year and new-for-2009 buissonante), mini aubergines “orlando F1” and the rather more exotic mexican tomatillo (Physalis Ixocarpa) – in case I ever feel the need to make an authentic salsa.

They’re currently sitting on the bathroom window upstairs, relatively warm and reasonably safe from the prying hands of three small boys. They’ll be fine with a little water and some regular turning to stop them tilting towards the light too much. And in a couple of months they’ll make the short trip to the bottom of the garden where they will take up residence in the greenhouse.

In the meantime Ive got about a week to find a home for the 16 pots that went into the propagator yesterday…

On the i-pod while planting: The Jesus and Mary Chain / Sowing Seeds.

It had to be really, didn’t it?