Canterbury Fork, carpet and potatoes…

A very satisfying trip to the plot, on my birthday! A very cold day but fairly clear.

The good thing about the very cold and unseasonal weather has been the suppression of the grass and weeds so it has looked virtually the same for the last 4 months, including the state of the undug ground!

So, I managed to move the plot on a bit and have now dug over another part of the central area, between the raised beds and last years potato patch. This will be this years potato patch, leaving last years potato area for peas and beans. The area had been covered by a tarpaulin over the winter which possibly helped keep the weeds down, but there was still a lot of tough grass and accompanying roots to remove.

It was also a good chance to test out the new Canterbury Fork. Overall it was a bit easier using this, compared to the traditional fork, but I wouldn’t say there was a lot in it. The downside was getting the soil and clay off the fork, which was slightly more tricky than a normal fork. I even managed to bend my spade! I may have to use the solid metal one i’ve got at home next time : )


Allotment mission starts here…

Ok, for me the start of the allotment season is buying the seed potatoes. This may be because we haven’t yet managed to gather the required where with all to actually sustain a growing campaign through the winter months, therefore the ‘start’ of the season is really the start of Spring. : )

So, Spring is nearly here and now is the time for getting the seedlings going, putting the finishing touches to soil preparation and buying and starting to chit potatoes.

We have made our pilgrimage to Dundry Nurseries for the seed potatoes – this year instead of the 6/7 varieties, we’re going for just two: for new potatoes / first earlies it’s Red Scarlett and for the Main Crop it’s Victoria. Both were selected from the Dundry website for the highest level of disease and pest resistance. The website is great for general info and a good tool for helping to choose varieties.

So, onion setts, potatoes etc will soon be put to work but in the meantime, there were jobs to be done at Plot 18B. I dug over 6 of the raised beds, spread out 5 tubs of home-produced compost onto last years potato area (peas and beans this year) and cleared a whole load of rubbish from the shed, which had been left from the previous plot holder.

I was there maybe two hours, during which time is started snowing (!!) and I was visited by my mate the ever-hungry worm eater. we’re trying out a weed-suppressant method which involves spreading newspaper over most of the soil and covering with more soil. we’ll have to wait and see if this works but could save some weeding. The great thing about digging is the heat it produces – just what I needed on a very cold day (see ice in water trough!). The rainbow chard and spinach had survived the winter with only minimal die back.


I’d forgotten what you looked like…!

So, the allotment is still there…

I had slightly tweaked my back shifting some furniture so hadn’t managed to get to the allotment for a month or so – I drove over there today with a boot full of compost and some very good intentions.

A clear, bright and mild December day lifted the spirits and connected me back into the Earth. It all looked very much the same but actually less work to do, given the recent cold and frosty weather, meaning fewer weeds and very limited grass growth.

Allotment 16.12.12 - 09

Still a few pests hanging around though – fair play, it can have the last bit of the cabbage!

The compost was duly dumped and spread out, with a good helping of ash from our wood-burner. Ash from wood is a great source of potassium, which regulates plants’ water balance (so tissue is firm and juicy), and has a part in transporting food within the plant and creating sugars and starches. Without enough, vegetables are more vulnerable to drought, frost, pests and diseases.

Allotment 16.12.12 - 15

The ash will create a more alkaline soil, but peas, beans, fruit and most root vegetables will do well with some extra ash. The area where i’ve just spread the ash was just used for growing all the potatoes and this season will be the main pea and bean growing area, to rotate the crops and improve the soil.

The other thing was the very healthy looking rainbow chard and spinach – the toughest boys on the plot! A good clump of that was harvested and eaten an hour later for lunch – very nice and full of iron.

I also spread out a blue tarpaulin over the central part of the plot, which will be another useful growing space for the coming season.


Allotment (bit of) progress…

Some good, bad and really bad happenings in allotment world.

We received our 4th Constant Garden delivery from Rocket Gardens, which was full of awesome seedlings. All those were planted out in the hope of at least a few of them growing enough to be eaten. The lettuces are doing well in our garden as well as the cabbages.

I also put in the penultimate raised bed at the plot and did a load of weeding and borber grass cutting. I was dreading what it would all look like after 2 weeks away, but it didn’t look that bad – the ‘main crops’ of potatoes and leeks were doing well and a few of the other things were also strong, such as the chard, spinach and pumpkins. Wildflowers doing well and celery still alive!

There are slugs and snails everywhere! My god. I must have picked out 20+ while I was there.

Here’s to continued success, if only partial, and a massive slug and snail predator outbreak!


Allotment Times…

In this latest edition of The Allotment Times, we’ll see potato banking up, weeding, wood chip laying, plant protection strategies and Rocket Gardens appreciation…

Lots of banking up of the potatoes needed – they looked really abundant before but a little sparse after! Some success stories and some not so good stories. The potatoes all look very healthy, the leeks, onions, and shallots look good. The strawberries are doing well and the cabbages are just about hanging in there.

Most of the carrots got munched by the slimy creatures but we’ve now got another 20 in to compensate! I also covered a whole section of the plot with whatever I could find just to try and stop the tough little weeds growing while we were away for a week or so.


Potato plan…!

Very exciting final potato plan for the allotment, with 6 varieties and 1st and 2nd earlies + mains. I also put the maris peer (2nds) in first and basically planted from left to right in the plan. I also left lots of space between the first three rows and less between the next four rows. We’ll see if this makes any difference in about 2 months time. : )


Allotment + time = weeds…!

The latest allotment adventure consisted of only maintenance – the first time we’ve needed to do this since last year. Mostly (very long) grass cutting around the borders of the plot, weeding and a bit of clearing. well worth it though and it now almost resembles a proper plot!


We did roughly 5 hours of work between Claire and I and there is still another section around the middle to dig over. The latest Rocket Garden delivery is within the next 7 days (!!) so more planning needed. This will include more carrots, courgettes, celery, lettuce, beans, peas, tomatoes, artichoke, mint,  and parsley.


Organic v Non-organic food…

We’ve had a inclination to buy organic food for years now and all the work we’re doing on the allotment is going towards our ‘good life’, but there have been times when the price of organic food compared with non-organic has meant we’ve gone back to the other side.

After all our experiences with organic food and our knowledge of nutrition, I still didn’t know what the actual nutritional difference was between the two types of foods – was it really worth paying more for? Is organic not just better for the environment but more nutritionally rich?

Well, an interesting table below…

Another very useful article here.

There are various studies out there but this is a good way of getting the info across. From a personal point of view, i’m particularly interested in the iron content of foods. Iron maintains energy levels, prevents anaemia, is vital in enzyme reactions and is a major component of the blood. Just looking at the frankly massive differences in iron levels between the organic and non-organic vegetables is shocking. All these minerals are essential for the body and mind and it seems standard food just doesn’t provide what’s needed.*

*It’s weird that only in the last 50 years has ‘standard’ come to mean non-organic, while organic is the non-standard approach, even though since way before the last ice age, all our food would have been ‘organic’, i.e. no pesticides etc.

This just makes the whole issue a non-issue. The one and only factor limiting our complete conversion to organic (for fruit, vegetables and dairy) is the extra cost. For example, we can just go to our market or greengrocer and buy a large bag of non-organic apples for a Pound (£). Still good value and the boys love apples. But 6 of the same organic apples from the supermarket will cost maybe £2 (half the apples for double the price). Over the month or year, this can really add up – particularly as Jamie is addicted to them!

The same goes for cheese. A 240g medium organic cheddar would roughly £2.50, but the standard version would be roughly £1.90 (20% less). The thing is, if you feel the environmental, nutritional and taste benefits don’t outweigh the extra cost, that’s fair enough but we’re all about finding ways of getting everything we eat and grow into the organic section.


Protected: Allotment weekend…

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Allotment potatoes & onions in…

More potatoes are now in. The first 3 rows were filled with Maris Peer and the next 1.5 rows were Nadine, all second earlies. I’ve just finished the 5th row with 10 more maris peers, this time from Rocket Gardens.

I’ve somehow got to find space for another 10 x orla (1st), 10 x charlottes (2nds), 10 x charlotte (2nds) and remarka (main). Added to this, are the ready to plant Victoria (main) x 24! We’ll be over-run with them all but most will store well.

Claire has also put in an area of shallots which have been fenced off! Again, we’ll need some more of the plot dug before all our leeks and onions can go in but we have a 3 week window before the next delivery, so the pressure is on!


Allotment planting plan…

Here’s my latest attempt to plan out the first phase of the allotment…

I’ve been motivated into this because my Mum has very generously bought us a Constant Garden, from Rocket Gardens, which means lots of deliveries of little plants every month or so. The list on the plan is just what is included in the second delivery! The first delivery has just arrived and is a selection of potatoes, but after that, it all really kicks off!

I may have to dig over the last section to get it all in but have nearly finished setting out raised beds and the main planting area is pretty much ready also – we’ll at least have a load of spuds to keep us going. : )


Protected: Family at the allotment…

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Sunday at the allotment…

We finished off the weekend with a very warm and sunny day, almost a summer afternoon, but with us not yet in spring. Loads done at the allotment and all of us were up there pitching in during the day.

We all went over there in the morning for 2 hours and got the first lot of 2nd early potatoes in (Maris Peer), in three tenches. These are spaced 1 metre apart with each potato spaced about 25 cms apart. The next rows we’ll probably dig closer together, just to be able to get enough rows in for the three batches of potatoes we’ve been chitting + the leeks and onions! Also marked the rows with laths from various Victorian renovations in a nearby street.

I got another raised bed in during the morning and some more digging about the place. We also had a good chat with the plot holder adjacent to ours, which is nice and there were a fair few people up there enjoying the sun.

I went back again after lunch for another two hours, half an hour of which I spent chatting with John the Chairman of the allotment association. He;s got loads of stories from over the years and he let me borrow his sledge hammer to knock the raised beds down.

I got another 5 beds in with a fair bit of levelling needed for the last one (last two images) and the whole thing worked out well – as a complete stroke of luck i’d been placing the beds about 30 cms (1 foot) apart), without thinking about how many I could get in along the whole width. The last 3 beds went in with only an extra 5 cms needed between each to get right into the corner. I could have claimed I planned it but anyone who knows me would have spotted it!

So, finally something in the ground and most of the raised beds are in, with just two more to go, each side of a central open space, which could be seating, or logs, or wild flowers (for pollination). The soil is starting to look good and it’s getting a finer look to it, with a good amount of manure in it now.