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Who’s had a picnic on our peas and a mange on our mange tout?

Having set ourselves a whole list of jobs to do on Sunday, we were a bit disappointed to have only completed a couple of them by the end of the day. Still, the carrots are in and some nasturtium have been sown around the broad beans to help control any blackfly. If it’s anything like last year, the broad beans will have come and gone long before the nasturtiums have sprung into action, but they do add a bit of colour in the veg patch…eventually. This is what they should look like.

Nasturtium Tom Thumb

Anyway, there has been much progress on the Jubolympic sitting area. Although a couple of hours were spent scratching our heads trying to work out how on earth to reconstruct the polytunnel frame in a creative way whilst making the best use of all the pieces, we finally cracked it. It seemed that the DIYerphobe member of the team suddenly came into his own once he had attached a pencil behind his ear. He was suddenly transformed into a Tommy Walsh-like character (spare the thought!) and soon had the whole thing adapted and ship-shape. The idea is to attach canes to it so that we can grow the runners, squash, borlotti and french beans up them. They should then grow over and cover it to provide a shaded area to sit under for those well-earned coffee breaks! In theory, it’s seems a good idea although there are concerns that it will either attract so many bees that we won’t want to sit under it, or that we might end up having to wear hard hats for fear of being tonked on the head by a butternut squash! It’s not complete yet, so not willing to post any pictures until it’s finished. So instead, here’s a of picture of our lovely tulips…

and another…

Whilst being so engrossed in our masterpiece construction, we failed to notice that something had pinched our peas. Himself had planted them the week before and had made quite a display of how neatly he had done so. Since he has finally understood the ‘piece of string attached to two wooden pegs = a straight line’ concept, his planting skills have come on leaps and bounds. Sadly, some cheeky mouse has decided to take the mickey and pinch every single pea seed without leaving a trace except empty holes where the seeds had been. So, it was back off to Wilko to buy more seed today. This time we’re starting them off indoors – he’s not ‘aving ’em this time!

No mouse is going to mange through these mange tout!

It’s pouring with rain today so not sure if we’ll get much done tonight, except pea planting. Still, it’s all helping to fill up those water butts. Not good digging weather for us, but apparently ducks don’t mind it!

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Posts, paving and planting progress

Well, it’s been a highly productive Easter weekend on the plot and in the garden. We set ourselves two major tasks that had to be completed before the holiday was over: putting in all the posts for the fruit trees at the allotment; and laying some slabs in the garden to rehouse the wheelie bins. Both jobs required some DIY skills so the weekend was doomed to have a certain level of grumpiness and disagreement attached to it! However, it was only the weather that turned out gloomy, the mood around the allotment and in the garden was all quite ok and all jobs have been completed. We’re now feeling quite smug with ourselves.

The 8ft posts have all been concreted in (thank goodness for Postcrete), wires attached and the fruit trees (two apples and a pear) are now nicely tied in and starting to look like proper espaliers.

Apple tree tied to its very sturdy wires!

A windbreak has also been erected around the currant bushes to protect them. Although the posts aren’t particularly straight, hopefully the whole thing will do the job.

The new windbreak

Down in the garden, a few slabs have been laid so that the wheelie bins can be taken out of the shed. This frees up a bit more space for the more untidy members of the household to dump more crap! Although you can see floor space at the moment, in a week’s time it will again be littered with pots, recycling bottles and anything else that doesn’t have a proper home.

On the growing front, everything is coming along nicely. The spuds are all in, the onion seeds are growing well and some of the chillis are showing the first signs of flowers. Space in the greenhouse is now at a premium and is about to get worse once I’ve potted on some of the seedlings. It’s all going to be a juggling act from here on in until everything can be planted in it’s final resting place.

There is also huge excitement as we have just found out that the village are going to hold a garden and allotment Open Day on 5th July over the Jubilee weekend. That’s sent us into a complete panic about all sorts of things – will the plot be tidy enough? Will we have managed to get everything planted out in time? Whose going to provide the tea? Should we make cakes? What about bunting? You can’t have a Jubilee without bunting!

Amidst the excitement, work is now in progress on a seating area – this involves the use of the old polytunnel frame. It’s in the design stages at the moment but it won’t be long before saws and hammers are back out…watch this space!

Getting our house (well, plot) in order

Well, it’s thanks to this hot weather and the change in the clocks that we’ve been able to spend more time on the allotment catching up with all those jobs that somehow never seem to get done. So, armed with power tools and hammer I have finally finished the lovely gate – marvellous! No rabbit will dare to burrow through this. Himself has been collecting horse poo like it’s going out of fashion (a strange hobby – not sure if it comes under the same category as trainspotting or stamp collecting, but hey ho), so trenches have been dug ready for all the planting to be done.

The lovely rabbit-proof gate

I have also completed the back-breaking task of putting weed control sheeting under the two strawberry beds. This involved spending the whole of Saturday afternoon on my hands and knees, backside in the air, cutting out holes to feed the strawberries through – not a joyous sight for other allotment holders to witness but a job well done I feel.

Strawberry beds with fresh sheets

The cloches have all been put together and onions and broad beans have been rehomed whilst I’m waiting for Mr Tiller to finish getting the soil ready so that things can be planted out. The parsnips have finally found their way out of the loo rolls so they can soon be planted in their final resting place – hopefully we’ll get straight ones this time.

Parsnips peeking out of the loo rolls

The greenhouse is filling up nicely and I’m trying to keep one step ahead of everything so that we don’t run out of space. All the plants have been purchased for the hanging baskets so it will be a challenge in the next couple of weeks when they all need potting on. It’s a real Jubilee collection – well, sometimes you just have to join in with the rest of them – so everything is red, white and blue…allegedly.

The cut flower beds are coming along and some of the perennials have been repositioned. The herb section has also had a bit of a make-over so will be ready for some new additions at some point.

The good news is that with all this walking uphill everyday to check on everything, we are getting fitter by the minute. The muffin tops are slowly shrinking – we’ll be positively size zeros by the summer!!

The great seed packet debate

It’s been a week of seeds – what variety to buy, who to buy from, waiting for them to arrive, putting them in the correct planting month of the seed box…then planting the ones for January…then realising that February and March seem to be taking up the whole of the seed box…then realising that we probably haven’t got enough allotted earth to accommodate all of them! uh-oh.

Anyway, the sowing has started: Onions – they went in last week – Ailsa Craig and Red Baron; Chillis – also last week – Cayenne and some other multi-coloured little number; and Sweet peas – they went in today – Spencer and Eckford varieties.

Let's get this planting started

In the whole seed buying process, we’ve purchased from old and new suppliers this year – the decision being made mostly on price. This has led to receiving a variety of different types of seed packet. Now, I know most people wouldn’t worry about the packet, it’s what’s inside it that’s important, but I have issues with seed packets (as well as most other things in life). The type of seed packet makes all the difference to the planting in my opinion. So, here are my issues on some of the packets we have:

Sow Seeds (www.sowseeds.co.uk) – I like this company – I like their contemporary, simplistic style (and they have a huge selection of chillis – always a plus), however, I do have issues with the packet. Because the paper used isn’t coated in any way, it soaks up everything and soon turns into a muddy coloured illegible piece of paper. Also, the sticker used to seal the packet has the dates printed on it. This is issue number two: I have to open the packet carefully without tearing the sticker otherwise this information is lost – annoying if I want to keep some of the seeds for next year. All this said, they do get a few gold stars for their Red Baron onions seeds – they were bright green. Now they may have looked like the sort of stuff you put at the bottom of your goldfish bowl, but they were dead easy to plant.

Red Baron onion seeds

D.T. Brown (www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk) – we’ve only discovered this company this year (even though they’ve existed since 1908) and so far are very impressed – they get a big thumbs up as they don’t charge p&p for seeds, so more packets for your money! We love a bargain. Now, their packets I like – nice coated paper so they don’t get all muddy and I even got some nice plant labels thrown in as well. But, I still have an issue – they don’t tell me how many seeds I’ve got in the packet. I’m a details person – these things matter!

The other issue I have is that neither company puts a picture on the packet. I know I’d have to pay more to get that so I’m happy to forego this luxury in order to get affordable seeds…but I do like a picture, that way I can see what it’s supposed to look like instead of having to remember what the heck Moluccella laevis is – ring any bells?

Am I just being exceptionally fussy or do other allotters have the same issues?

Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated. J. Yahl

Out with the old, in with the new

Well, it’s that time again – the start of a new year and new beginnings. It’s out with those old gardening gloves and in with the new ones (why is it only ever the thumb and index finger on one hand that get holes in?), out with the old seeds and seed catalogues and in with the new ones.

Old gloves, new gloves

The Christmas/New Year break has been a time to reflect on the successes and the ‘things we could have done better’ of 2011. It’s given us time to draw up the plan for 2012 and ponder over all those seed catalogues whilst gently toasting our feet by the fire, large glass of red in hand. Let’s face it, we need to be conserving our energy ready for all that digging and weeding that awaits us in the spring – better than any gym workout and a darn site less expensive!

So, yesterday was spent ordering veg seeds. Admittedly there was a bit of fighting over what should and shouldn’t be grown, and then of course decisions had to be made over what variety of runners, onions, carrots, etc to go with. Decision making is not something either of us are good at so, as you can imagine, this whole process did take some time (and many cups of tea). Finally an order was placed for everything that could be agreed on. The rest will have to be sorted over the coming weeks along with the flowers…but that’s another whole afternoon and copious amounts of tea!

All in all we’re looking forward to the year ahead on our allotted piece of earth. It’s the first full year of having the greenhouse so we’re expecting good things from it (that’s if it’s still standing after the gales today). Whilst Cameron may be trying to depress us all with doom and gloom about 2012, we’re firmly in the positive Boris camp with the olympics and the Queen’s jubilee – perhaps that’s because one of us will also be celebrating their own jubilee (did somebody mention the number 60??).

Then of course there are the village shows in August. How we look forward to them – the weeks of preparation and stress over whether the onions are large enough, whether the dahlias are good enough to pick, whether we can muster up 10 straightish runners…you cannot believe the stress and tension there is in this house come August. But let’s face it, money is at stake here. Ok, so first prize is usually only a £1 but, as anybody who has ever entered a show will know, seeing that red ticket next to your pot of strawberry jam or heaviest marrow makes all that stress worthwhile. It’s amazing how competitive we’ve become – merely entering is no longer enough, we’re there to win and come away with at least one bit of silverware to show for all that hard work!

So, onward and upward – it’s time to start planting those onions…did we make a decision on the variety?!

Allotted Earth - the start of a new season