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.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Enormous beetroot spotted on allotment

Today has been a glorious sunny day with temperatures well above 25 degrees centigrade. I have spent the afternoon lugging barrow loads of topsoil, manure and compost to go into some raised beds which I have made as part of my plan to avoid a repeat of the flooding which I suffered earlier this year. The theory is that the growing area will be raised a few inches above the likely water level and the paths between the beds will channel excess rain water away. It has been hot and strenuous work under the scorching sun. I even took my shirt off. I now look like an enormous bright red beetroot.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


You may have seen here and also here that for the last two or three weeks I have had my vines wrapped in fleece in an attempt to protect them from the risk of damage from the cruel frost which has visited the plot a few times in early May.

To the casual observer the vines may have appeared lifeless as they have hung there draped in white fleece death shrouds and I must admit that in the dark, when I have gone to light the greenhouse heater, they have looked like nine frozen contorted ghosts. However, I think they have had an appearance which is more like huge white pupae hanging from the vine wires. Inside each chrysalis metamorphosis has been taking place as buds have burst, leaves have formed and new growth has started to reach up towards the sun.

Last weekend I felt it safe to declare that there will be no more frost this season and so on Sunday afternoon I carefully opened and removed the fleece chrysalis from each vine and, to continue the metaphor, the new green leaves unfurled and started to soak up the bright and warming sunshine like newly emerged butterflies. And so, the vines have entered the next stage of their life cycle.

Make a Wish

Make a wish and blow...

...I wish there weren't so many dandelions on my allotment plot. Doh!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Precautions Pay Off

This time last year my early vine growth was stopped in its tracks by a cruel May frost. This year I have taken precautions and wrapped the vines in fleece. I had a peep behind the fleece this morning and I'm pleased to report that the vines are thriving. I'll leave the fleece in place until next weekend when, hopefully, all risk of frost will have passed and I will then look forward to a long hot Summer and a bumper harvest of grapes ready for pressing and fermenting.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Home Grown Allotment Pest

I seem to be personally responsible for breeding the most destructive allotment pest that I have yet encountered. When I was out working yesterday my daughter went to the allotment with her friend. Before coming home she forgot to close the greenhouse door (What she was doing in the greenhouse in the first place  is yet to be satisfactorily explained). I was not aware that she had been in the greenhouse until I popped round there on my way out this morning. I found the greenhouse door wide open and I was devastated to see my seedlings hanging limp and tinged with grey and all suffering obvious damage from the overnight frost.

The leeks and peas will probably survive but the courgettes have certainly had it. At least half of the tomatoes are gone, the runners are goners, the corn is hanging limp and the beetroot, sprouts and broccoli all look very poorly. I have got a few back-up seedlings on the window sills at home but I will still now need to start sowing again. It feels like I'm back to square one. I feel very deflated.

I was so angry at her carelessness that I've told my daughter that our bank-holiday kayaking trip planned for tomorrow is cancelled and the time will be spent on the allotment making up for wasted time. The trouble is that I was looking forward to our day out with the kayaks more than anything and so I may relent and still have the day out. Whether I take my daughter with me or just leave her in the greenhouse, with the door wide open, is yet to be decided.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Avant Garden

If the artist Christo had an allotment I think it might look something like this...
...but he's probably not so cutting edge as to attempt to do anything so radical (or daft) as to cultivate grapevines in a North Lincolnshire swamp where, even in May, the so-called Queen of Months, there is a serious threat of damage from vicious sub-zero temperatures.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Coping in drought conditions

Between work appointments today I managed to nip up to the plot to water my greenhouse seedlings. When I got there I found that my vines were having a paddle in a newly formed pond.
So far this year my vines have been doing really well. All nine of them survived the winter. Masses of pink buds had formed in late March and early April and a couple of weeks ago small pale green leaves started to break out and unfurl into the spring sunshine. We are officially in drought conditions and we live only a couple of post-codes away from a hosepipe ban. I hope that my vines can now survive these "drought conditions" without drowning.

I didn't want to leave them in standing water and so after watering the greenhouse seedlings I took my fork and pierced a few drainage holes into the ground around the perimeter of the water-logged area and then I dug a couple of sump holes in the paths between the rows of vines. Being between work appointments I was still wearing my office suit and shiny shoes.

When I returned to my car to set off for my next appointment I realised that I had been watched by a couple of bricklayers who are putting the foundations in for the toilet block which is being constructed in the top corner of the site. Some comment was made about this being the most gentrified allotment they had ever seen. I shall now expect them to fit gold taps and an ermine-lined seat to our on-site throne room.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


This metal box materialised in our allotment car park today. Doctor Who stepped out of it and asked me if I liked his new Tardis. I went to have a look but the Doctor closed the door and said "I'd leave it for 5 minutes if I was you". He then strode off with a copy of Gardeners' World Magazine tucked under his arm.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Annual Review (part 2).

Picking up where I left off yesterday, the next crop for the annual appraisal treatment is the strawberries-

Strawberries: 9 out of 10.
I had a lovely harvest of fat, sweet, delicious strawberries last Summer. They went down very well at home and also with a pedestrian blackbird which is often seen walking around the allotment site. Presumably it is too full of allotment produce to take off or perhaps it has a strawberry tucked under each wing. The strawberries also surprised me with a small late crop in the Autumn long after I thought they had finished for the year. I hope that the Autumn crop hasn't upset their biological clocks for production this year. The Strawberry plants have sent out a few off-shoots which have grown in my pathways. I will dig these up and re-plant them when I get round to the long overdue job of weeding the strawberry bed.

Rhubarb: 7 out of 10
The rhubarb bed, like the asparagus bed, is still in the early years of a long term project and so last year I took care to harvest conservatively so as to give the plants the best chance to get themselves well established ready to produce masses of crumble fodder for years to come.

My main criticism of the rhubarb last year was that some of the stalks were a little on the thin side. I put this down to a failure on my part to adequately feed the soil. I have sought to remedy this over the Winter by spreading a layer of compost over them along with a good barrow load and a half of manure. I feared the worst at the end of March. Where other plot-holders had good early growth of thick red stems and luscious green leaves I had nothing more than a pile of dung and a huge thistle.

My neighbour Rick took pity on me. His rampant rhubarb was on the march and was threatening to occupy a vast area of his plot. He fought it back with the flashing blade of his spade and presented me with a huge chunk of root which was sprouting some healthy looking stalks. Within a week of planting Rick's rhubarb, in a spot next to the greenhouse, my own rhubarb bed dragged itself out of hibernation and it is now shooting proudly and relentlessly skywards as if to mock me for ever doubting it.

Carrots: 6 out of 10
I had mixed results with carrots last year. I found that the above ground appearance of the carrot gives no reliable indication as to what you can expect to find growing underground. It was often the case that I would take a firm hold of a large bushy green carrot top expecting to tug and tease a long length of orange root out of the ground only to find that the masses of verdant bush were attached to nothing more than a two inch tiddler which resembled a well worn Ikea pencil. On other occasions I would take hold of a weak looking carrot top with the intention of thinning it out from the row only to find a fully grown, perfectly shaped carrot attached.

Late on in the season some of the carrots were attacked by carrot fly grubs but the carrots had grown so large as to still leave a decent edible portion for me even after the blackened carrot fly tainted area had been excised.

I will persevere with carrots this year, not least because they are a vital ingredient in my beetroot chutney. I have already sown three rows of carrots in a manure free raised bed and I will sow more over the coming weeks. At the moment the carrot-fly protection consists of a fleece tunnel over the carrots and a row of onions surrounding the bed but when I get some time I intend to construct a raised screen to protect the bed from carrot-fly attack.

Onions: 8 out of 10
Red onions and yellow onions grown from sets did reasonably well last year. This year I have already planted a couple of hundred sets in one of the raised beds. This is in addition to those which I have planted in the carrot bed. I still have some others to squeeze in somewhere. Learning from mistakes made in previous years I have planted the rows of onions a little further apart than is suggested on the packet. By doing this I will, hopefully, have left enough room between the rows to allow me to reach weeds with my narrow headed hoe without disturbing the onions, even when the onions have grown nice and fat.

To be continued...

Annual Review

I suppose that I should take the word "novice" out of this blog's sub-title now that year three on the plot is well under way but I still feel that I have got so much to learn that I will have to leave it in there for the time being.

I started this year with the intention of keeping things simple on the plot. I resolved that I would not attempt to grow so many different types of vegetable as I have done in the past and that I would concentrate mainly on the handful of crops which I have had the most success with in the previous two years. Having now reviewed the contents of numerous seed trays which I have, at various stages of propagation, positioned on windows sills at home and out in the cold-frame and greenhouse, it seems to me that I am failing in my resolution to keep things simple.

I will set out below the first part of my assessment of the crops which I grew last year. I will review the items in the order of a walk-through from the front of the plot to the back but first here's a photo, taken at the end of June 2011 when most things were thriving, which should help me to remember what I was growing and where.
Flower Bed:  8 out of 10
My 9 year old daughter planted a flower bed in front of the compost boxes with some good results from lupins, dianthus, nasturtiums, rudbeckia and a few others. She eventually lost enthusiasm and the weeds moved in. She will get the flower bed blooming again this year.

Potatoes: 4 out of 10
I had some very tasty new potatoes early on and the volunteers which grew unexpectedly from kitchen waste peelings were also very good but after that my spuds were a disappointment. They were all generally on the small side and if you boiled them for a fraction of a second too long they would disintegrate into mush in the saucepan. Potatoes harvested later on tended to be a bit scabby.

This year I have planted just one variety (Romano). I have planted them at the far end of the plot where the soil seems to retain more moisture. I have planted them in a bed into which I have dug in a few back-breaking barrow loads of well rotted cow manure. I lined the trenches with a mixture of manure, powdered fish blood and bone and home made compost and I sat each seed potato in a trench in a little nest of compost before raking a high mound of soil over them.

I have spread some horse manure with a high straw content into the furrows between each mound. I don't know if anyone has tried this before but my theory is that the layer of strawy manure will suppress weeds and help retain moisture in the soil below whilst at the same time enriching the soil with its pooey goodness.

Leeks: 8 out of 10
I planted leeks in the potato bed once all the potatoes had been harvested. Most of them have done well over the Winter requiring very little care or attention from me. The ones which we had with our Easter Sunday dinner were delicious.

Broccoli (calabrese): 0 out of 10
My broccoli seeds failed to germinate but a local farmer donated some of his surplus seedlings to me and other allotment holders. Unfortunately his seedlings turned out to be cabbages not broccoli. This year I have a few broccoli seedlings already growing and so I hope for better things this year.

Cabbage: 6 out of 10
The cabbages (which should have been broccoli) were perfectly formed with tightly packed hearts but they were very small. In fact my neighbour's cabbages, which came from the same source, were more than twice the size of mine. Unfortunately my children,who would happily devour broccoli by the bucket load, seem to have an aversion to cabbage. I can take it or leave it. The result was that we only ate about half of the cabbages and the rest were added to the compost bin.

Sprouts: 6 out of 10
This is another green crop which the girls avoid. I don't mind that because I mainly grow them with the intention of having some home-grown sprouts to eat with my Christmas dinner. To that extent the sprouts were a success but like the cabbages, which were grown in the same raised bed, they were small but perfectly formed. The raised bed which I will use for sprouts this year has been well manured and the soil is much improved and I hope that this will lead to something more substantial than the little green pellets which accompanied last year's Christmas dinner.

Lettuce/salad: 7 out of 10
The cut and come again salad leaves did well whilst we kept on cutting and coming again but soon went to seed when we didn't cut or come again. Mrs PlotNotes would prefer the convenience of having the salad leaves grown in the garden at home so that is what she will get this year.

Radishes: 7 out of 10
I had intended to plant successive rows of radishes at seven day intervals to guarantee a regular supply for the entire Summer. I found that I didn't have time to do this and so the sowing was a bit sporadic, as was the harvesting. The ones which I picked in time were tasty with a hot kick to them. Others, which I neglected to pick in time, became large and woody and were gnawed at by some unidentified insect or rodent.

Asparagus: 8 out of 10
A few early spindly shoots were followed by some decent spears which were delicious and which were probably as good as I could have expected for second year plants. The asparagus bed is still in the early years of a long term project and so, with some strong-willed self-restraint I was careful not to over harvest the plants. Over the Winter I have dressed the bed with a mix of bonemeal and compost. I now have a couple of small spears pushing up through the layer of compost but they seem to be a good few weeks behind the spears which are shooting up on other plots. I hope I have not damaged my asparagus bed by burying it under a fresh layer of compost. I am a little bit concerned that only two out of fourteen plants are showing any sign of life.

All being well, my next blog update will pick up this review at the strawberry bed.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

No Weeds Today

Due to work commitments I have been struggling to find time to do much on the plot over the Winter months but bit by bit, by nipping up there for an hour or so whenever I have been able to do so, over the last few weeks I have managed to pull up a mountain of weeds and dig over most of next season's beds.

I have also cleared out the greenhouse and repaired the storm damage from the high winds which we had a couple of weeks ago. I got off lightly; a few greenhouses on our site suffered severe damage and my neighbours on Plot 26 lost their greenhouse altogether. Fortunately I only had to replace one pane of glass. Other panes had slipped and moved position and some were hanging precariously but only one had shattered.

I have still got a fair bit of digging and weeding to do before I'll be ready to start planting but compared to last year I think I am slightly ahead of my allotment work schedule. The problem last Winter was that the ground was frozen solid from about November until to the end of January and then when the thaw came a large section of the plot resembled an unworkable paddy-field until March or early April. The comparatively mild winter we have had this year has meant that at least the ground has been workable when I have found a few minutes here and there for digging and weeding.

As you can see from the photo above, when I called round at the allotment this afternoon all the weeds had miraculously disappeared.