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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.

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Allotmenteering update…

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!

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Allotment planning…

This is my first attempt at thinking about which plants could go into the allotment (in a systematic way anyway) and I drew out a few plans with some ideas. Part of the idea of the allotment is to get as much from it as possible, including lots of staple foods, such as potatoes, onions and beans. These are all cheap to buy but come with lots of transport miles + it’s far more rewarding to grow things yourself.

There also has to be some variety in there and different people from the two families will have different things they want to grow. This is another reason why raised beds are good, as each one can be given over to a single plant and treated differently, according to what each plant needs. It also makes it easier to set things out and plan what to do. The beds are about 50 cms apart right now but this should probably go down to around 30 cms, to use the space better.

So, the main open area can be for the bulky crops, while also introducing the idea of the three sisters method, which uses a combination of corn, beans and squashes. This comes from native american culture and provided them with carbohydrates, proteins and lots of nutrients.

Mounds are built up, every metre or so, with the corn planted right in the middle. The beans are then planted next to the corn, with the squashes growing in the hollows around each mound. Water will run off into the hollows (and moisture collect there) and provide the more water-thirsty squashes with the water they need. The corn provides a stable frame for the beans to grow up (apparently), with the squashes providing ground cover to stop weeds growing, as well as giving them the roaming space they need.

But, also importantly, the beans fix nitrogen via their root nodules and replace the used nitrogen from the soil, therefore improving the overall health of the soil. The other idea is to use this combination as part of a 3 year rotation, by moving this area along the plot every year, so that the beans improve the soil following the growing of potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks. We’ll still have to use manure etc but this will help the process. The rotation system also reduces soil diseases and lowers the incidence of pests, which cannot get established given the changing plants.

In the open ground area, it could be mainly potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks, combined with the 3 sisters grouping of corn, beans and squashes. If the plot is split into thirds, this would relate to the 3 year rotation idea. The potatoes could be in a block on their own, with the next section being onions, with a split between carrots and leeks. The leeks would relate better to the roaming squashes and because they grow up, as opposed to onions which collapse over the ground, this could lead to less problems with squash leaves blocking light. There could also be a wooden partition between the 3 sisters area and the others, to keep the squashes in their area. Claire’s Dad has built a box type area for his pumpkins which he says works well.

This approach would allow 7 types of plant to be grown in the open ground, with various varieties possible. I’m keen to grow both red and white onions, as well as a couple of types of potatoes. The same goes for the beans and there could be both pumpkins and butternut squash. There could easily be 11 different varieties in there.

In the raised beds, the ideas so far are cherry tomatoes, broccoli & purple sprouting, peas, baby carrots, cucumbers, spring onions, strawberries and courgettes, or others depending on what people want. Each can have it’s own raised bed.

The other part of the planting should be insect-attracting flowers, which will boost the pollination of the other plants in the allotment. These could include English lavender, poppies and English marigolds. On the plan, these are placed next to the open ground, in the middle of the plot, therefore hopefully attracting insects right into the growing space. I also love the look of sunflowers, which can be grown around the shed, as well as the poppies which could be scattered a bit more randomly around the plot.

There is also an area on the right side, by the shed, which could be given over to fruit bushes, such as raspberries.

We’ve also just been given a really good wooden window from my Dad, which will be fitted into the frame of the shed. This will let loads of light into the space and make it useable for a variety of things, such as a kids play house. This will probably go within the space of the old doorway (as there is already a space for it), which is on the sunny growing side of the plot. This will mean more space to grow things by the shed. A new doorway will be made which opens onto the seating area.

I’ll remove all the corrugated rusty metal panels and replace with the KP’s old shed wood panels, which will make the whole thing look great and will be safer, with no sharp rusty edges.

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Allotment progress…

There’s been some progress at the allotment. I went up there for about an hour and watered all the plants and dug another two raised beds out.

The KP’s – our collaborators in this effort also got rid of the dirt mound in front of the compost area and also dug another raised bed!

I’ve also started the allotment model, which we can use for planting plans. It only took 10 minutes to do but also gives a good idea of the space we’ve got to work with. The open area which won’t have the raised beds will be roughly 50% of the plot, which is roughly 55 M2 of space.

I’ll have to cut out the base of the last rectangular raised bed before that can be placed. Given there is no power and my jigsaw is broken, i’ll need to drill out some large corner holes then saw along each edge.

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Allotment progress…

Twice at the allotment in the space of 2 days!

I went over there for an hour yesterday and managed to water the various plants that we’d already planted (which miraculously hadn’t died), laid out the last two raised beds ready for digging over, pulled back the black sheet from the side path edge and started cutting the edge of the path along the top. I also gave the large raised bed a good digging over and got all the weeds out.

Today we all went over there as the day was dragging slightly and it was really good. The boys were helping with some digging and were being very grown up and getting water from the trough to water in the new plants.

We put in rainbow chard, peas, mustard greens and courgette. Claire also put in some canes and branches for the peas to grow up. I started to dig over the end raised bed but the ground was so hard. It’s going to need some serious digging or rotavating in the autumn!

Anyway, it’s starting to look like we’re making some progress and 4 of the beds are now planted!

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Allotment raised beds…

Spent about 45 minutes up at the allotment and managed to get a fair bit done in the time.

The freight boxes which we’d driven up and dumped there the week before were cut up into single panel height raised beds and two of the square ones were placed onto the site and dug over. It’s starting to look how I think we’re intending it to look and the final layout will not just look good buit should function well.

There are now 6 raised beds in place, 3 of which have been planted up. There are also two tyres there which define the edge by the shed. There will probably be enough width for another two raised beds in front of the shed. If we’re doing a total of 2 or 3 rows, this could be another 6 beds. This could mean 17 raised beds in all. This could be 10 beds for all the individual families members with 7 left over.

I also took down measurements for the plot, including the various features, such as compost and shed. This will be put into SketchUp, which is a great 3D package, which will give us an easily altered and updated plan, which we can use for planting ideas and crop rotations. I find it’s easy doing this than drawing it out and it can then be sent to everyone and altered.

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Allotment plan…?

A couple of initial idea plans for the allotment…

There’s a combination of car tyres, raised beds and open ground, with an area at the back for non-planting, such as seats, compost and shed + water butt.

The great thing about the raised beds is that the kids can each have their own and we can still have loads of area and raised beds for planting.

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Allotment clearing and planning…

So far  both families have chipped in a fair bit to the allotment and have got loads done is a small amount of time.

We’re focussing on raised beds for at least part of the area as this forms an interesting division of space and means we can plant closer together and increase productivity. The kids can also have their own raised beds if there are enough of them, but the downside is the huge amount of soil needed to fill them and the cost of the raised beds themselves (so far they’ve been given as a present! – thanks Dad).

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Lots of clearing has already been done, both around the new compost bin area and around the shed. There was lots of evidence of drug taking behind the shed (but no needles), but the whole area has now been cleared out and I also had a go at cutting back the tree which was overhanging the plot and shed.

I had a bit of a ‘discussion’ with the ‘neighbour’ whose garden backs onto the allotment area, while I was stood on the shed roof. This woman came out and started having a go at me saying it was illegal to cut people’s trees if they aren’t overhanging on your own property. Well, the allotment is ours for the term of the lease and it is well within my rights to cut branches over hanging my plot – having sat next to a very well informed person at work I know this inside and out! I told her exactly who to contact about it at the Council and what they would say! Still surprised at how aggressive people can be.

So, once CKP’s Dad had cleared the space, I constructed a compost out of palettes on 3 sides with an open front. Once it fills up, the front wil be fitted with a palette door and the other side will also be made, so we can turn the one sides contents into the other to get access to the good compost at the bottom of the pile. There’s also space for a table and chairs between the shed and compost area.

The other  part of the space is the shed, which seems very strong but looks like a mess! My design training is pushing me to regenerate it and re-clad it. The mono-pitch roof will also be useful to catch water for the butt and it can also be secured so we can store random tools and pots etc. Getting the door locked is essential, as is clearing the insides out. I also want to install some windows on the SE and South-facing sides to let loads of light in. There could also be an open pergola theme for it but we’ll contemplate this for a bit and concentrate on getting things growing!

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1st H.A.M. complete…!

So, we had our first Hawthorn Allotment Meeting (HAM) yesterday, combined with a very nice BBQ.

The half plot at the allotment is apparently 110 m2 and we’ve already talked about the types of plants we’re going to grow (basically anything!) and how we’re going to do it. So the two families will basically chip in whenever time allows and we’re also keen on using raised beds for at least part of the area.

I found a pretty good website about this the other day called ‘5 A Day Garden’, which talks about being able to grow all of your 5 a day fruits and veggies from roughly 10 m2, by using raised beds. The loose filled soil in the bed allows the roots of the pants to grow far more effectively (as compared with the harder and more compacted sub-soil), meaning more plants can be grown closer together, therefore making better use of a smaller space – it suggests 400% more productivity.

Another good idea was to use tyres as raised planters. SKP has access to some through his work, so this could create a more interesting look! Will have to check if we can take tyres onto the allotment though.

So, we’re not going to get too worked up about being there too often and just do what we can. We’re going to try and get some plants in for this growing season and just get most of it ready for winter growing and next season.

Just need the keys to the allotment now!

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Garden autumn clear out…

It’s all change in the garden, getting ready for the winter.

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We’ve now managed to clear away all of the dead plants and have finally sorted out the old compost bin and moved it to the other side, next to the one we’re using right now. I’d been meaning to do this for a while and we’ve got some really good compost out of it, after I sifted all the large pieces of baby wipes and wood!

Anyway, about half of that has been dug into the raised beds and potato patch as well as all of the pot ash which i’d stored from last winter. They’re all ready to plant up in the spring, or sooner if there are any amazing ideas for winter plants. The Rainbow Chard is still going strong + Claire discovered a rogue ‘baby’ cucumber stuck down behind the wooden container – it’s massive! Claire features in one of the pictures ‘proud fisherman’ style!

Grass has been cut today and the patio area has been swept. The new rotary clothes dryer is also up and it had 4 loads of washing on it today + 1 on the clothes horse! The rain cover for that is arriving soon, so we’ll be able to hang out washing in any weather.

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Raised beds…

Bit of progress in the garden today. I had both the boys running around outside and it turned out to be a nice day.

I dug the ground for the two new raised beds and found some spare wood in the shed which turned out to work well. I screwed it all together and we now have some extra space which Claire hadn’t planned for (i’ll try and get her plan for the garden on the blog as it’s really good)!

Lots of potential as well with the final plot on the south side of the garden and we’re scouring the Monty Don and Carol Klein books for ideas.

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Garden work…

Things seem to be picking up in the house and the garden. It’s good to be able to do a bit each week which keeps things moving. I’d already pruned the trees but to be able to start using our second compost bin again, I had to get all the compost out of bin and into a bucket to use in the raised beds etc.

The plan was also to move the compost bins to the north side of the garden, giving more space along the south-facing side for raised beds and growing food. So, managed to do it and move the bin and now have a pretty big tub full of rich compost, some of which i’ve spread over the raised beds.

Also finally got all the branches cut up into kindling sized bits and also sawed up most of the thicker branches for proper wood – there was a wheelbarrow full of thicker branches and 3 barrows of the smaller bits! Just have to wait 2 years (!!) and the thick bits will be ready. It’s a lot less for the smaller bits though : )

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