Views in and around Reading Train Station. The new station is nearly finished but there is still some fairly significant building work going on and some heavy demolition to be completed of the older station areas.
I think the last time I spent two consecutive days at the plot was the middle of last year. Well, that has just been put right, with two sessions, of maybe two hours each. My eldest son Jamie also actually volunteered to come with me on the first day and my youngest, Jac, volunteered on the second day : )
So, the mission over the two days was digging and potato planting, so if nothing else, we’ll have a load of spuds to eat over the coming autumn and winter. This year we’re focussing our less than considerable efforts (less is more and all that), into only two varieties: Red Scarlett (1st earlies) and Victoria (main). Roughly 50 of the reds and 100 of the Victoria will be going in.
First day was finishing digging over the previously undug middle section, which took about 1.5 hours with the awesome Canterbury fork. 45 Red Scarlett went in (5 rows with 9 in each) – 18 cms apart.
Second day was digging over last years onion area and 42 Victoria were put in (6 rows with 7 in each) – 20 cms apart. The soil is looking pretty good there and getting a finer texture.
If I assume 6 spuds per plant, this would result in 522! There are still another 45 Victoria to put in, bringing the total to roughly 800 : ) That should be plenty. Once that’s done, it’s easy to handle, with only a bit of banking up needed. Then it’s onto the peas, tomatoes, squash, corn, onions and shallots, carrots and parsnips. Roughly 10 varieties only, rather than the crazy 60+ we had last year from Rocket Gardens.
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 : )
Ok, it’s the most exciting time of the year – all the expectation and hope for the coming growing season, without any of the disasters, pest attacks or unknown disappearances in the night! : )
The growing (pun intended) sense of new life about to emerge.
So, the sight of chitting potatoes on the window sill is something to cherish. I opened the bag up and the majority of the Red Scarlett’s had already well advanced on their own, so minimal chitting needed. Can’t wait to get planting – just need to select and dig over their new home (a bit behind!).
The Chillington heavy duty Canterbury Fork.
Given the lack of opportunities to get to the plot, I have enlisted the help of a serious tool, which will hopefully make digging the plot over a breeze (and does according to one of my fellow plot holders).
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.
Some signs of success against all the odds! We weren’t too confident of getting a huge range of products from the plot but so far, during our first full season, it’s looking like some definite progress, with the first few things being harvested.
The obvious main crop are the potatoes, and the first test plant has been dug up, producing 0.7 KG of Maris Peers. We’ve planted around 100 seed potatoes and a total of 6 varieties.
The leeks and onions are also doing well and so far some amazing growth of chard and spinach. It’s looking good for a good first year there and we’ve learned lots and managed to dig over 70% of the plot, with all the raised beds (except one) being set out and planted.
All we need now is a magic spell to stop the slimy snails and slugs plus a decent grass strimmer to make lighter work of the grass surrounding the plot.
I’ve had no sight of the allotment for the past two rainy weeks and was itching to get over there.
Managed to get the final section of the potato and onion patch dug over and carried on with the area between the potato patch and the raised beds. A new path has also been set out to the right side which gives a bit of definition.
Lots of healthy potato leaves popping up and the onions are well established. Also doing well are the various weeds! Lots of rain and mild weather has kicked them into life, so a weeding session is needed me thinks.
T-minus 1 week till the next delivery of Rocket Garden seedlings! Need more growing space!
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.
Some more progress in the world of allotmenteering…
I managed to get out of the house of illness for an hour and a half (wife and both boys have been coughing non-stop for 4 days!) and got a couple of things done. The first job was to rake or shift off the top layer of manure from the previously dug section nearest the shed, which had been just lying there while other parts were being dug. Hopefully some of the goodness has washed into the soil. There was a good 45 minutes of forking, spading and raking done, with a lot of levelling done.
This then allowed me to carry on with placing the raised beds from side to side and I managed to get another 4 put in. The row nearest the shed are all square and the second row are rectangular. There is roughly 30 cms between each bed, for good access without loosing too much growing space.
I also put in a string line down the edge nearest the shed as a guide and edged that whole side as a definition. The side along the grass path between the plots was also edged..
Overall, some noticeable progress and now the line and spacing for the raised beds is there, the next ones will go in pretty quick. Now have to actually plant something in the ground!
Another 1.5 hours at the plot and i’ve reached the far side! There’s only a small corner section still to do and now roughly 3/4 of the area has been single dug over.
The other job was starting to shift the manure which had been spread on top of the first area to be dug nearest the shed. This had been dumped on there as a sort of storage until it could be used for the other parts. As we’re going to be setting out the raised beds and planting the main potato area soon, this top 30 cms of manure needs to be shifted into the central (undug) area, ready to be used on either side, or left there till the central section is dug over.
The other job which i’ve kicked off today is to get the Allotments Officer at the City Council to set out exactly where the plot boundaries are running up the side of the plot, as each sub-plot seems to have followed a slightly different line!
After spending months transporting manure to the plot, planning what we’ll be growing and digging 2/3 of the area, we’ve finally started setting out and planting for this season. My target of finishing the digging by Christmas wasn’t exactly met but 2/3 isn’t bad and this will give us enough space to grow a lot of vegetables.
The day before this session at the plot, we went over to Dundry Nursery and bought seeds, potatoes and onions to put in over the next few weeks. It’s a really nice nursery and very near to the little airport, with propeller planes flying over every few minutes! The boys loved that + the large blue and green parrot which they have there.
I’d made a list of the most disease-resistant potato varieties from their website (very useful btw), but two of the second earlies had already sold out (Fabula and Milva) but we did get the Victoria main crop variety. We also picked up Maris Peer (2nd early) and Nadine (2nd early), which we’re chitting on various window sills, ready for planting in a few weeks.
We’ve also been reading up on the whole potato process but every author seems to have a different version of the timings. Monty Don seemed to have the best approach, which is just adapt the planting to the weather. He does set out some fairly precise planting tips, which also seem sensible.
Anyway, that was a good trip out in the new car and that late afternoon I went up to the plot and was digging for a straight hour until it got dark. I got some nice sunset, bird and moon images and it was a brilliant time in the peace and quiet.
The next sunny and warm day (and it’s late February!!) was spent for a couple of hours at the plot, digging, trans-planting raspberry plants, setting out spaces, aligning raised beds, shifting logs, scattering pot ash. The boys were amazing and very patient and helpful. Jamie was raking the ground which now looks brilliant and Jac was digging around and collecting water!
Both boys were also painting the shed and Claire managed to finally get our plot number painted on there, which is one of the requirements of the allotment (having the plot number displayed).
Defining the areas has really helped us get an idea of what we have to do and it makes it all more doable. There is now only a couple of hours digging left to complete the main potato/onion/leek growing area and enough space to the side to experiment with the three sisters approach, where beans are grown up corn, with pumpkins grown between. Lots of wild and other flowers will be going in to help pollination and more edging and plot defining to be done!
Can’t wait to get up there again. Just hope my back stays strong! : )
Well, my arms are now officially tired, after an hour of bouldering last night and 2 hours of allotment digging today.
Joe and I made some serious progress and dug over half of the area beyond the raspberry bushes (area of roughly 8 x 5 metres = 40m2). This has made the plot actually look like someone is looking after it and we’re nearly catching up with the other very energetic other plot holders!
We also finished digging the section by the shed where the well-made sand pit was! Unfortunately all the sand had gone really manky and filled with all sorts of bugs and other worms etc. Lots of plants were also growing out of it so we’ll have to turn one of the raised beds into a sand pit when we place all of those early next year.
Some of the mounds of manure which had just been collected from the equestrian centre (3 separate trips back and forth!) were forked over and into the freshly dug ground, along with a tub of our own compost. We separated out all the obvious roots and clumps of grass and also now have a good sized pile of hay which has been cleared from the surface after being killed off under the black sheet.
So, we’ve now managed to dig over about half the total growing area and seem to be on course to get the whole area dug by Christmas.
Some more digging done at the plot and the last of the produce, in the form of the experimental potatoes which I planted in one of the raised beds.
These were from my Mum, and had grown inside the bag which she had received from Riverford. Instead of putting them in the compost, I put them in to grow – the results were roughly 3 times the weight which I put in.
I also dug over the area around the potato patch and an area in the corner where the raspberry bushes will be going. The black plastic sheet which we laid over that area did the job and after taking the sheet off and leaving it for a few weeks, it was fairly easy to dig over.
Finally, due mainly to one of the mildest autumns on record, weeds are already starting to grow out of the recently dug over area!
I’ve been vaguely gathering information on anything to do with the allotment and always quiz people who are in the know when I meet them. I’m determined to make the most of our first full growing season and get as much out as possible.
Potatoes are the main crop and there’s plenty of time to get more ideas on varieties but Claire’s Dad has recommended Nadine as a good and productive variety. He grew them this year and from 13 KG of seed potatoes, he got about 75 KG out, which is about 5.75 times increase. This was about what we’ve got so far from our growing in the garden.
In terms of planting, it’s rows of roughly 60cms between each row, with 30cms between each plant in the row.
What we’ve found so far during the digging work is the areas which have been previously cultivated are much softer and easier to dig over. In particular, where potatoes have been used, the soil is much softer and less lumpy, going down to a deeper level like this. we’ve found lots of little potatoes i these areas as proof. Once the potatoes have been grown in the whle plot, this should help improve the consistency of the soil, also helping to get the manure spread into the soil.