Plot Notes

A personal journal, open for the world to read, recording the progress of a novice allotmenteer on his allotment.

Weed it and reap.

Monday, 27 December 2010


I have spent most of the last two days eating and boozing. Between feasts I have been nodding-off in an armchair catching up with the sleep I have lost in late night sessions following The Ashes cricket downunder. Today I managed to break the cycle of behaviour which had consisted of an afternoon nap with a glass in one hand and a tin of toffees in the other while the kids played on the wii or a film played to itself on the telly. It took considerable effort but I managed to get off my backside and make the short journey to the allotment site.

The ground is still frozen hard and a thin layer of snow lingers on. More snow is forecast for tonight. The ground has been frozen solid since the end of November. There is no possibility of doing any digging unless you have a pneumatic drill. The ground was well and truly frozen when I paid a short visit to the plot on Christmas Eve to pick sprouts for Christmas dinner, which were delicious by the way. There were some other plot-holders struggling with pick-axes and metal spikes to break up the ground so that they could extract their parsnips from the tundra. I hope they were worth the effort.

In theory, I still have some potatoes in the ground. In reality, I don't know if there will be anything still there. I should have harvested them weeks ago but didn't get round to it and when I have had chance to get onto the plot the ground has been so hard that my garden-fork has rung like a tuning-fork when I have tried to prise the ground open with it. I must wait for the thaw before I will find what has become of the remaining spuds. I suspect they will be mush.

The purpose of my visit today was to prune the vines. By the end of the Summer most of the vines had reached the top support wire, about 6 feet high. I have now cut them all back to about 2 feet to where the stems are about as thick as a pencil. All the advice I have received is to do this task when the vines are dormant. In view of some of the temperatures we have suffered over the past few weeks I have no doubt that that the vines are dormant; my concern is that they may be permanently dormant. After pruning I spread a mulch layer of well rotted horse-manure around the vines. I still don't expect much of a crop of grapes next year but hopefully by this time in 2012 I'll have a few demi-johns of home-grown home-brew bubbling away in the spare bedroom.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Life in the freezer

Brrrr! It's cold. In fact it's bloody freezing. After spending two days shovelling snow off the road outside my house and excavating my car from the glacier that had formed on my drive I attempted to drive to work on Friday morning. I managed to move just four inches (sideways). The rear brakes on the car had frozen fast and I was going nowhere fast. According to the car's thermometer the outside temperature was minus 12 degrees centigrade. I have never known it ever get so cold previously. The temperature hardly got above freezing point over the weekend but I did eventually manage to get the car moving again. This morning, when I set off to work, at 7.27am, the temperature was, as you may be able to see from the photograph below, minus 17.5 degrees centigrade and it was only 4 degrees warmer when I arrived home tonight.

I am seriously worried that this prolonged exceptionally cold spell will be fatal to my grapevines. I did carefully select the Rondo variety of vine for its proven winter hardiness but I never thought that in their first year these young vines would be exposed to such cold temperatures. In fact, I never thought that I would experience such cold without making a trip to the Arctic.

I can only hope that the deep layer of snow which covers the vines has provided them with some insulation against the harsh cold. Only time will tell and it will be an anxious wait until next April to discover whether or not any of the vines have survived the Winter.


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

This time it's knee deep!

Sorry to go on about the snow. I know everybody seems to have a snow story to share but I am absolutely amazed at the amount of snow that has been dumped on us in the last 24 hours. I've never seen anything like it. There was no way that I could dig the car out and make the 120 mile round trip to work and back today, so I've had a "snow day". That's the first time ever that the weather has prevented me from getting to work.

I had a walk up to the plot today. The main purpose of my visit was to retrieve my spade from the greenhouse so that I could join my neighbours who were having a few beers and clearing snow from our cul-de-sac. I was also worried that the weight of the snow would be too much for the greenhouse roof so I was anxious to check that it was ok. Fortunately the greenhouse was still standing so I cleared the snow off the roof, took a few photos and returned home with my spade ready to enlist with the community snow shifters.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

It's snowtime

I was planning a bit of double digging on the potato patch this weekend but we have had the first snow of the winter overnight. I think I'll give myself the weekend off!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pumpkin Harvest

We brought in our pumpkin harvest this week. The girls have had fun designing their Jack O' Lanterns and I have enjoyed helping them carve out the pumpkins. I am not a big fan of the way that Hallowe'en has become commercialised over the last decade or so but with pumpkin seeds costing only a few pence and with the pumpkins not needing much care and attention on the allotment I can have no complaints at our home-grown efforts. In fact I quite like them.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Chillin' Out

I have been really pleased with my chilli crop. I'll certainly grow chillies again next year. I have had a bumper crop. I have got a bag of chillies in the freezer, a box full in the fridge and two air-tight jars of chillies on the kitchen shelf. There are others drying out on the window cill and still quite a few yet to be harvested.

I have been having fresh chillies from the greenhouse with virtually every meal since early Summer. I love them in a cheese sandwich or chopped into a bit of salad. They don't half spice up a Sunday roast when you have a couple of them sliced up and sprinkled into the gravy.

Best of all I like chilli dumplings. Make a chilli con carne in the usual way with minced beef, onions, tomatoes,  kidney beans and anything else you feel like throwing in to it. But, instead of serving it in the usual way with a portion of rice try my patented chilli dumpling serving suggestion.

While the chilli is simmering away in a big saucepan make up some dumplings with suet, plain flour and a dash of water or milk. Add a few freshly chopped chillies into the dumpling mix and then roll up as many golf ball size dumplings as you think you can eat (they are quite filling). Drop the dumplings into the chilli con carne and let them simmer for about 20 minutes before serving. They make a refreshing change from bland old rice and a dumpling is much too boring without a bit of chilli heat.

Monday, 30 August 2010

It's Showtime

Today I entered some of my allotment produce into the local agricultural society show. I wasn't going to bother. I have been away on holiday and have also been very busy at work. On top of that, on a trip to Hampton Court Palace, a rampaging Saga-lout lost control of her car, smashed into my parked car and caused £4012.24 worth of damage to my car (not to mention the damage to the 2 year old Audi parked next to me and the 400 year old wall in front, which she shunted my car into). Consequently, apart from essential watering and a bit of weeding the plot has been largely neglected for the last two or three weeks (it's a while since I updated the blog too. Sorry!).

Until last year I had never displayed anything at a show. Since we moved to this area about eight years ago we have always gone, as a family, to have a look at the August Bank Holiday Show and we have always had a good day out.  The kids and grandparents alike all enjoy it. There is something there for everyone and I usually manage to slip away for a couple of pints in the beer tent with my father-in-law which is a fine way to spend a bank-holiday afternoon.

These shows only happen if there are people willing to participate and it would be a shame to see this kind of event disappear from the local calendar for the lack of willing participants. The Epworth and District Agricultural Show seems to be flourishing. Today there were over 800 entries to the various show competition categories. Last year I entered a bottle of home-made wine, made from home-grown grapes, into the competition and won a second prize. Encouraged by this I decided to enter produce into a few more categories if I had anything half decent on the allotment this year.

I dug up a row of potatoes yesterday. I love digging up potatoes. I never quite know what to expect and can't quite believe that there will be anything there. When you raise the earth with a fork they seem to tumble out of the ground looking like gold nuggets against the dark soil. From that moment onwards they never seem to look quite so good to me.

I have got hundreds of potatoes stored in sacks in the garage. I dipped into the sacks and pulled a few out but couldn't find any that I thought would be worth taking to the show. I can't quite see the beauty in a spud and I didn't know what the show judges would be looking for so I decided not to "show" any potatoes. Maybe next year I'll have a go now that I've seen the entries from this year and I have a bit more confidence in my own efforts.

The show rules for onions stipulated that they be "dressed". I didn't know what that meant. I considered borrowing one of Barbie's outfits from my daughter but then thought better of it and decided not to show my onions. Anyway, now I've seen a dressed onion I know what is required for next year.

I have been taking some absolutely magnificent cucumbers from my greenhouse for several weeks now (even if I say so myself). There have been loads of them. My wife has been giving them away to friends, family and neighbours. Very few visitors leave our house without a complimentary cucumber tucked under their arm. I have had my eye on three large ones hanging perfectly straight in the greenhouse. I had left them growing on the vine to keep them fresh for the show but last week noticed that they were turning yellow. I thought this must either be because they were getting too much sunlight or, perhaps, not enough, or maybe they had not had enough water what with the disruptions of recent weeks. I did a bit of research and found that cucumbers turn yellow when they are over-ripe. They also start to taste bitter when they reach the yellow stage. So, three large yellow cucumbers found themselves on the compost heap this morning and a slightly bent slightly scarred but nicely green specimen found itself called off the 2nd reserves subs-bench to make an appearance at the Epworth Show.

I have also neglected my french beans and runner beans over recent weeks. The runners are now quite large, probably too large, and long straight ones are few and far between. The French beans are beyond their best and many of them now seem to be podding.

My pumpkins are doing well. One needed cutting off so that growth can be concentrated on the others. That meant that I would have at least one decent item to take to the show.

In the end I managed to scrape together show entries for the following catagories:-

1. Three carrots (leaves cut to 3 inches)
2. Three peppers (any variety)
3. One Cucumber
4. Six runner beans
5. Three tomatoes (cherry type)
6. Selection of up to six varieties of veg or fruit - judged on quality. My six varieties were Pumpkin, Courgette, French Beans, Chillies, Spring Onions and Carrots.

I also entered the wine competition with a bottle of rose wine made from home-grown grapes and a bottle of white wine made from plums taken from my father-in-law's garden.

The results? I got second prize for my home-grown grape wine (again) and third prize for the selection of six veg varieties.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Progress Update

The amount of produce I am taking from the plot has exceeded all my expectations. It is hard to believe that only three or four months ago the whole allotment site was a bare brown field with not even a blade of grass growing on it. Now, it is bursting with greenery and almost every meal I eat contains something grown on the allotment.

Here are a few photographs taken on the plot today.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Great Yorkshire Show

I'm helping a client out on their stand at The Great Yorkshire Show for three days this week. In true Yorkshire style I had a grand day out today in which I saw all, ate all, drank all and paid nowt.  During a lull on the stand I managed to get away and have a look around the garden show section. I was very impressed with the veg displays on the National Farmers' Union and National Vegetable Society stands.
That all looks perfectly nice, probably too perfect. I'd like to think my own imperfect veg will taste all the better for being grown for flavour rather than for looks (but I'm not convinced). That said, if I have got anything half decent on the plot at the end of August I might think about entering it into our local agricultural show along with some wine (one bottle of plum and one of red grape) which is currently fermenting in the spare bedroom.

Taking photographs of vegetables at a show only serves to reinforce my eldest daughter's opinion that I have allotments on the brain all the time. I didn't help myself when during the 24 hour news coverage of the recent Rothbury armed stand-off, at the height of the drama with police vehicles screeching around and journalists running from one eye-witness to another, I mentioned that I thought I could see an allotment in the background of one of the shots and I expressed outrage when I heard that the fugitive was suspected of the most heinous crime of having stolen a tomato from a greenhouse. Anyway, whenever she mentions this, a quick reminder that she is the one with the pink watering-can handbag soon shuts her up.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Harvested This Morning

This is what makes it all worthwhile, not to mention the tomatoes, strawberries, onions, red chilli peppers and purple sprouting broccoli already harvested and the expectation of radishes, carrots, sprouts, pumpkins, french beans and runner beans still to come this year and the asparagus in year two and the grapes/wine in year three.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


Talk on the allotments tonight was of white-fly pests sucking the life out of cabbages and sprouts. So far my brassicas do not appear to have been attacked but several of my neighbours have suffered something of a brassica massacre. I have taken the precaution of consulting Oracle Titchmarsh. Helpfully, he suggests controlling whitefly biologically with the use of a chalcid wasp.

I quite like the idea of having a pet killer wasp which I can perhaps keep in a little box in the greenhouse and let it out a couple of times each day to dine on whitefly. I don't know how I would get it back in the box. Maybe I could train it with sheepdog trial style commands such as "come by" and "get down Shep".

I have searched for Chalcid wasps on ebay. The only ones I can find appear to be pre-historic specimens which have been entombed in amber for thousands of years. A few of these placed at strategic points around the plot may be sufficient to deter the white-fly, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

He's not the Messiah...he's a very horti boy.

As a first year allotmenteer with very little previous gardening experience I am still on a very steep learning curve.  In my quest for allotment knowledge I seem to have acquired a wide selection of gardening books which I tend to dip in and out of on a regular basis. In fact, if it wasn't for the porcelain chair with the wooden seat and the sink in the corner of the room, my downstairs "reading room" could very easily be mistaken for the reference library at Kew.

I have found "The Kitchen Gardener" by gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh (BBC Books) to be particularly helpful. It is well set out and crammed with useful information and it includes a working calendar and an extensive directory of vegetables and fruit. Through this book I have been guided by the wisdom of the mighty omnipotent Titchmarsh at every step I have taken so far on the long leafy green path towards allotment enlightenment. This book has been my allotment bible. When unsure as to what to do for the best I find that, like some born-again evangelical gardener, my mantra is "What would A.T. do?".

But now, at the risk of being struck by a bolt of lightning, I find myself questioning the sacred text of Saint Alan. When describing routine care for potatoes His lesson is, "Except in a long dry Summer, you shouldn't need to water potatoes". Amen.

I planted my first early potatoes at the end of March and later varieties over the subsequent few weeks and, there being no drought, I blindly followed Alan's teachings and did not water them. By the beginning of June I noticed that my potatoes were quite puny compared to those on neighbouring plots. Some plot-holders were even harvesting some pretty impressive crops of potatoes by that stage and mine were no where near being ready. I had followed the Word of Alan to the letter; where was I going wrong?

At about that time I received an email newsletter from an allotment forum website to which I subscribe. The jobs for June listed in the newsletter included the task of giving "copious amounts" of water to potatoes. I sneered at such idiotic advice. Was the author of the newsletter some heathen soil druid who had not heard of the teachings of Alan? I mentioned this to one of the experienced gardeners who has a plot opposite mine. To my surprise he agreed with the newsletter and said "You can never give enough water to potatoes; they are greedy for it".

On my next visit to my "reading room" I did some research and found that every book, apart from The Gospel According to Titchmarsh, advised that potatoes be given plenty of water. The word "copious" was used over and over again.

Since then I have been watering my spuds. The first earlies still look quite pathetic but the others seem to be catching up. Last week I was curious to see if my first earlies had produced anything. If not, I would dig them up to make space for some leeks which need planting out. I found a couple of handfuls of small potatoes which I am pleased to report were delicious.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone else agrees with Alan's advice on watering potatoes.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Officially Open

We have had a busy couple of days on the allotments this weekend. The official opening ceremony for the site took place on Saturday morning with local civic dignitaries in attendance. Proceedings included the ceremonial cutting of a green ribbon followed by a reception with cakes and tea. And then on Saturday and Sunday afternoons we took part in the village Open Gardens Festival and opened the allotment gates to anyone who was interested enough to come and have a nosey around.

As you can see from the photos below, I recruited some junior gardeners to help make plot 25 ready for inspection. They added a few marigolds to the flower border at the plot entrance and then they made a new veg bed and planted a few broccoli plants which I had left over from the main bed before taking a well earned rest. 

There has been a steady stream of visitors to the site all weekend with nothing but positive comments to make about the way that the site has been transformed from the muddy brown field of bare soil it was just a couple of months ago into a garden bursting with crops. I have heard that some have been inspired to add their names to the waiting list for plots and one local councillor mentioned to me that they were so pleased with the progress of our new allotment site and the enthusiasm of the allotment association members that they were looking into the feasibility of extending the allotment site into an adjacent field.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Proceeds of Crime

There are quite a few remote barns and isolated farm buildings in the countryside around our village. Last year the police raided a few of these places and found large scale cannabis production was taking place in hidden rooms above false ceilings.

Some arrests were made and the police seized the horticultural equipment which was being used in the cultivation of cannabis plants. The Court ordered that the equipment must be either destroyed or donated to local good causes.

Our allotment association falls into the category of local good cause and so arrangements were made for the drug barons' gardening equipment to be distributed to allotmenteers this morning. I gratefully received a very large Stewart propagator with lid, a hefty container of liquid organic plant and vegetable bio-feed, and a sachet of fertilizer which, by all accounts, is plant rocket fuel which retails at about £10 a packet.

Now, what to grow? Probably best not to start with cannabis plants!

I heard this week that we have had the first theft from our allotment site. A wheelbarrow left outside on a plot overnight had gone the next day. I'd like to think that the distribution of seized gear this morning has gone some way towards balancing the scales of justice.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Has Beans

Note to self: Just remember next year that as of 13th May 2010 we have had three consecutive frosty nights and yesterday was the coldest May night for 15 years. So, even if in late April next year you have a cold frame full of big strong healthy runner beans and french beans which are pushing up the lid of the cold frame in a bid to escape into the big wide allotment you must be resolute and patient. Tough love is called for. If you love them don't set them free. Keep them tucked up in the cold frame or greenhouse. Pamper them with a warm candle lantern on cold nights. Don't cave in to their pleas to be let out no matter how big, strong and hardy they may pretend to be. They are really just nesh wimps who are not ready for the outside world and they will shiver and die on the first starry night with a chill in the air.

This year's beans are no more. They are ex-beans. They have had it. They are not merely stunned or dormant. They are not pining for the cold frame. They have been and gone. The runners have run out. The french have stopped working. They are now climbing the great bean frame in the sky. Their shoots have shot up and shot off. They will push up the daisies but for them there will be no flowers. They have popped off without podding. The closest to toast they will ever get is brown bread. They have gone from beanage to carnage,  bean bed to deathbed. They are has-beans. It has Bean nice knowing them.

Now all my hopes rest upon the back-up beans I have sown just in case of this eventuality.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Aow wouldn't it be loverly?

 As Eliza Doolittle once said,
"All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Aow, wouldn't it be loverly?"

Well Eliza, now I've got it, the room, the chair, the plot!. The greenhouse is up and running. Big thanks go to Blogger Zeb from Zeb's Plot for kindly donating the 10 panes of glass I needed to finish the glazing and also to fellow allotmenteer Rick for giving me a handful of spare "W" glazing clips which saved me another trip to the garden centre.

I have placed the greenhouse on an 8 inch high wooden base-frame into which I have incorporated a couple of 6ft by 2ft beds. One of the beds now has a couple of growbags with tomatoes and chillis in them. The other bed has a few trays of various seedlings in it at the moment but eventually will be used for cucumbers.

 Best of all, I have installed an armchair in the greenhouse. Not quite the enormous one from Eliza's dreams but it really is a comfortable one and it beats the perching on the edge of a compost box or squatting on the floor which I've been doing for the last couple of months when I have needed somewhere to sit while I have a cup of tea from my flask.

I went up to the plot on Sunday afternoon with the intention of hoeing a few weeds but accidentally left the hoe at home. There was nothing I could do other than pour myself a cup of tea, put the football commentary on the radio and sit back in the armchair and watch the weeds grow. Now that's what I call leisure gardening; I could get used to this.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Brown Stuff

My 8 year old daughter loves painting. Not painting pictures in an artistic way but just painting, painting anything, slapping it on in the style of a decorator. If there is nothing for her to paint she is happy to take a paint-brush and a bucket of water and spread a thin coat of water across the garden wall, the garage or the patio slabs and once it has dried she will start all over again.

It was no surprise last weekend when she volunteered to paint my compost boxes. I provided her with a tub of paint, a nice wide brush and a flask of orange juice and left her to it.

Unhappy with the colour of the paint she complained, "It looks like poo!". I did not really have much choice. Site rules stipulate that structures on the allotments must be painted only in natural colours by which they mean various shades of brown and maybe a delicate shade of green for the daringly flamboyant types.

My daughter argued that as flowers can be such colours as pink, red, purple and orange and as the sky is blue these must all be natural colours. I have to agree with her. I think the site would look great if all the sheds and boxes were painted like multi-coloured beach huts but I could not allow her to paint my compost boxes in pink and sky-blue stripes.

For a while she could not bring herself to touch the brown paint. She lounged around in the sun for a  few minutes and sat with an allotment book over her face absorbing gardening knowledge by osmosis. She watered her strawberries and did a bit of hoeing around the vines. Eventually she was overcome by the compulsion to paint and despite constant complaints about the colour she did a really good job.

Whilst my daughter painted I was able to prepare a bean bed and frame for the French Beans and Runner Beans and plant another row of potatoes.