For years allotments were out of favour. No-one wanted them, and patches of mud with a shed at one end and weeds everywhere else went to waste. Then suddenly gardening became the new rock and roll, and everyone who didn't want to dig up their lawn wanted their own council-run patch of mud. The waiting lists grew faster than the cabbages. Now, after more than three years on a waiting list, Neil Shaw has been given his own patch of green and pleasant land.

Monday, 29 June 2009

A fool and his gooseberries are soon parted

Hour on the plot on Sunday morning ripping out vegetation - and this time it didn't go straight to the tip.

Thanks to the netting and a contraption made from canes and bottles the fruit is safe, and I managed to harvest a kilo of gooseberries and half a kilo of raspberries.

Some of the raspberries made it to the freezer, while our one-year-old ate the majority.

The gooseberries had a quick wash, topped and tailed, simmered for half an hour in water with a little sugar then mashed and mixed with custard and cream to make a gooseberry fool.

Awesome end to our Sunday lunch with friends.

Now to start planning what to do with all those apples.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Burn while you learn

The anti-weed matting is down, the canes are in place and the saved plastic milk bottles are perched on top - we now have the skeleton of a fruitcage surrounding our raspberries and gooseberries.

Once the netting is sown together we can throw that across the top, and then spend the next few weeks wondering just how the birds got inside to eat our crop.

It was a busy Saturday on the plot, resulting in not just a skeletal fruitcage but also a couple of insect bites, several scratches and a sunburn (lower back, right arm).

Our neighbour also took pity on our weed patch and donated eight infant kohlrabi to the cause. After weeding the potatos (again!) I dug the end of the final row and dropped the turnip/cabbage hybrids in there.

Previously my only experience with kohlrabi has been transfering them straight from veg-box to fridge drawer to bin, but if they grow, we'll eat em!

Taking a break from getting sunburn, lunch on the plot was spent in the shade of our tree, looking down to the seafront, eating a steak pasty and a cake.

This has to be the real goal of the allotment, to get it into such a state where we can go up there and do nothing! Isn't that what it's all about?

Perhaps the most productive part of the weekend was finally discovering what the holes in a fork are for - apparently they are designed to let weeds through.

No matter how I use it, the only thing a fork seems capable of lifting is good quality topsoil, while the weeds stay firmly in the ground.

I finally gave in and resorted to ripping the evil plants out by hand - very satisfying and you get the whole root.

I thought we may have secured a victory several weeks ago when we liberated the potatos from the tyranny of weed rule, but every time we go back there are increasing attacks from enemy insurgents.

Grass is bad, bindweed is worse but what I really fear is IED (Improvised Explosive Dandelions). I'm fairly convinced if we don't get them all before they turn to seed we'll be picking dandelions from the plot till the end of time.

Not that it's driving me insane or anything but while earthing up the potatos I was moulding the mounds into Close Encounter mountain shapes.

Ah well, back to work for a bit of a rest.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Get by with a little help...

We finally found the only tool that works on an allotment as overgrown as ours - help.
Last weekend the mother-in-law gave us a whole day of her expertise and labour and really turned things around.
Not only does she have university-level gardening knowledge, she also has a lifteime of experience and an abundance of enthusiasm.
The potatos are fully weeded and earthed up, and a whole load of new plants are now in place, while a whole bunch of weeds have breathed their last.
This weekend a couple of friends gave up half their Sunday to help us out.
Chris is a professional gardener who usually charges £12 an hour. I think we may get off with a Sunday lunch and a bottle of wine.
Chris and Bev cleared out what was once the flower and herb bed but had rapidly become one of many of our weed beds.
Having a couple of experts on the scene is great news. Not only do they get the job done, they show us how to do it and dole out plenty of advice that will prove useful for years to come.
MIL helped us identify a lot of plants - including those with irriant sap, and those which may produce nice flowers but would only last for a day or two.
She also showed us a whole host of gardening techniques.
Chris let us borrow his petrol strimmer to take down another patch of weeds, while he put in the hard labour turing out that patch at the top of the allotment.
Inspired by the surge forward, I built the compost bin on Sunday and filled it with the assorted vegetation we've pulled up over the last couple of weeks.
We've also managed to clear out all the weeds (mostly grass) from among the well-established raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries.
I've ripped out all the carpet that was laid between the rows. No doubt at first it kept the weeds away but in recent years it seems to have become nothing short of the perfect growing medium.
Now we need to get weed-proof membrane and a fruit cage over the lot asap.
It was also a good weekend on the plot for the young ones, with a lot of wildlife on hand to keep them entertained. Crickets, grasshoppers, ladybirds, butterflies, frogs - they loved the lot.
The fruit harvest is starting to look very impressive, so the priority now is protecting it all from the birds - I'll let you know how that goes (just like The Apprentice you can guess the outcome, the birds will win).