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, 9 May 2011

String Theory

The bargain water-butt which I bought last year turned out not to be such a good deal. At some stage during the Winter, when it was full of ice, a couple of hairline cracks appeared in the base of the butt with the result that all the water escaped from it as soon as the thaw arrived. I mentioned this to Penny who is my next-door-but-one neighbour on the allotment site. A couple of days later a replacement butt appeared behind my greenhouse courtesy of Penny.

Since taking on her allotment plot Penny has become something of an amateur hydraulic engineer.  Behind her shed she has an array of water-butts, some of which have water pumps inside them which are powered by a car battery which she keeps in her shed. The butts catch rain from the shed roof and they are connected to each other like a series of reservoirs descending down a valley. From the butts she has plumbed in a network of pierced hosing which criss-crosses her entire plot. The system is very sophisticated and with a flick of a switch she can water all her crops from the comfort of her shed. I wouldn't be surprised if, by the time she has completed her water engineering project, she has a remote control handset which will turn on fountains, coloured lights and fireworks to perform a spectacular water and light display to a backing track of the 1812 Overture.

I am very grateful to Penny for letting me have one of her surplus water-butts.

My greenhouse has gutters running along its length but I have not got any downpipes for delivering water from the gutters into the collection tank. I have overcome this problem with the application of "String Theory". I have run three pieces of string along the gutter. I have tied the string to a lump of broken brick which I have then placed in the bottom of the water-butt. The idea is that the rain water will run along the gutter and then follow the lines of string into the water-butt rather than gushing out onto the ground at the back of the greenhouse. In the video below you can see me testing the theory.

Last night we had a heavy downpour. Today my water-butt is half full and so I am happy to report that String Theory seems to work in more than just theory.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Queen of Mean

I received a newsletter from a seed company this week which described May as "The Queen of Months". I disagree. She might sometimes be warm and pleasant during daylight hours but don't be fooled by her false friendliness because she is fickle and after the sun has gone down she can quickly turn into a vicious and spiteful old witch. Last year she cold-heartedly murdered my beans. This year she has blown her icy deathly breath over my beloved vines. Just look at the mess she has made of them.

I was so proud of the progress of my plucky little vines last weekend. Did you see the photos I posted? Their perky shiny green leaves were soaking up the Spring sunshine and they looked bright, alert and full of promise for a fruitful Summer. Now, after the frost of Tuesday night, they are nothing more than grey, listless shadows of their former selves.

I had heard the forecast which warned of a chance of frost in rural areas on Tuesday night but I made the mistake of thinking that after surviving the harshest of Winters these vines were indestructible. I have now learned the lesson that there is a great deal of difference in cold tolerance between a vine which is in a dormant Winter state and one which is bursting with new Spring shoots which are full of fresh rising sap.

I don't think the May Witch has killed the vines. She has certainly nipped in the bud all the early season growth but I am optimistic that there will be more growth to come from new buds which are yet to burst. Although I am disappointed by this frost damage I must remind myself that these vines are still only just over one year old and I never expected to take much of a crop off them until year three and so, hopefully, in the long run this frost attack will be of no consequence.

In any event, next year I will be sure to be prepared for the capricious and vengeful May Queen and I will have fleece blankets on standby ready to wrap up the vines and tuck them in for the night if there is ever a hint of frost in the air.

On a brighter note, whilst staring out of the kitchen window, lamenting the damage to the vines, I noticed that the first chilli pepper of the year has formed. The first of many I hope.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Super Panther Strikes Again

The vines all seem to have been enjoying the recent sunshine and they are thriving. There are even some very small grapes forming.

The weeds on the paths between the rows of vines have also been doing well...

and so today, seeing that the weeds were ankle deep, I decided to do something about them.

Last year I had kept the paths reasonably clear with use of the hoe every now and then. I left just enough vegetation in place to hold the paths together. I had considered laying chippings on the paths between the vines when I laid out the rest of the paths on the plot last Summer but I decided against it. I had some worries about drainage and so I thought that by leaving some growth on the paths there would be something there to help soak up any excess rainfall which would reduce the risk of the vines drowning in standing water. 

This year the weeds have grown so quickly and densely that it would have been a back-breaking and futile task trying to clear them away with the hoe alone. There is no power supply at the allotment site and I don't have a petrol mower but I knew that buried away somewhere in my garage there was just the right machine for the job.

In 1990 my Father-in-Law gave me his old manual lawnmower, an ancient Qualcast Super Panther. A year or so later I bought an electric mower and my wife suggested that the old Panther should be taken to the tip. I didn't dump it but managed to keep it tucked away in a corner of the garden shed. It was old and battered but it was still in perfect working order and so I couldn't see the point of throwing it away.

We moved house a couple of years later and the Panther was again threatened with a one way trip to the tip but again I managed to hang on to it and stow it away in the shed sure that one day it would come in useful for something. We moved again eight years ago and the mower came with us. I kept it in the back corner of the garage where, over time, it became buried under a stack of old paint tins, bricks, golf equipment, camping gear, garden furniture, tools, bicycles, scooters, plant-pots and assorted bits of wood which one day might come in useful. This morning, like a suburban archaeologist, I excavated the back of the garage and extracted the mower, a 1960s artefact, from the c2003 strata.

I cut a practice stripe across the back lawn just to check that the trusty old Super Panther still worked. It worked really well and so I took it up to the allotment plot where it made easy work of paths. The result is not exactly centre court at Wimbledon but considering I used a 40-50 year old mower which hasn't seen a blade of grass for twenty years I am very pleased with the way the paths look now. I knew the Super Panther would come in useful one day.