Saturday, 31 March 2012

My final post on this blog

It was coming.  Slowly, over the years, it was becoming more of a burden than something to look forward to.  I was finding myself making excuses to avoid it rather than planning my day so that more time could be spent on it. And now, of course, the time that I would be spending down there I'm choosing to use to go running instead.

So today I decided to grasp the nettle, as it were, and finally make the decision to give up my allotment.

It's sad but also sensible, I think.  I worked it for five years but slowly the amount of work it needed became more than my willingness to do it.  And as the committee is quite strict about the upkeep of your plot - and quite rightly, if truth be told - I just couldn't let it go for a month or so until I felt like I could be arsed to go down there again because, by that time, the weeds would be knee-high.

A mini-inspection by the site's stewards took place last week (this is a new introduction - the main committee inspection is in the summer) and this afternoon I got a call from one of them asking if I was having problems looking after the plot and wondering if I would be happier to reduce the size to half.  She was very lovely about it and not at all finger-waggy.  But during the conversation I knew the time had come - in fact, I'd only been saying to TLH earlier this morning that I thought this would be the last year I would do the allotment - so decided to just get it over with.  Apparently there isn't a waiting list at the moment so I've got a little time to clear the shed and dig up any plants I want to take; I'm going to keep the 3 blueberry bushes and the gooseberry bushes I planted.  And now I'll have to clear out our big shed at home to make room for the tools, etc., that I'll have to bring back from the allotment.

Sadly, I've got about 25 or so Broad Bean seedlings and about the same of peas that I'd started off for this year's season and it would be a shame to see them go to waste, so I'll see about trying to plant them in my garden at home.  Bearing in mind my garden is really very small and I have no space whatsoever, this is going to be a bit of a challenge.

In an ideal world, I would dearly like to have my own decent-sized vegetable patch in my garden but that will have to be in The House That Is To Come, and it will be a vegetable patch that won't be subject to inspection and judgment by anyone other than me.

So, farewell then, Plot 19B - I enjoyed you for a good four years but now it's time to pass you on to your next caretaker.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

2011 season kicks off

After one of the coldest winters in living memory, this year's growing season is finally kicking off and I've started work down the allotment, but it seems all I am currently growing there is cats:


Thursday, 28 October 2010

"Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We think About Nature" by Richard Mabey

As I mentioned in my last post, on 6 October, I was approached by a publishing company PR and asked if I would be interested in reviewing a book entitled "Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way we Think about Nature" written by Richard Mabey.  I was, to tell you the truth, flattered almost beyond belief but couldn't help thinking that the PR lady was, perhaps, labouring under the misapprehension that my opinion counts for anything at all when, in reality, I can't even get the cats to listen to me.  But, as gifts are generally a bit thin on the ground at the best of times, I nearly bit her hand off to say "YES!  Absolutely! How lovely! etc., etc." the subtext, of course, being that validation from complete strangers is the best kind - they're not doing it just to be nice, unlike your relatives (who have to do it), therefore it has more value (go on - I challenge you to disagree.....)

At the very least, I get a free book out of it.

A few days later, the lovely hardback arrived.  Now, first of all, when she mentioned the name 'Richard Mabey', I had no idea who he was - someone left a comment saying he was a rather well-known author so I felt a bit dim that I'd never heard of him.  Googling his image (that's him, up at the top there), though, produced a reaction of  "Oh, it's him!" as I recognised his face.  God knows from where, although I've seen enough gardening shows on the telly over the years and I suspect he must crop up on them regularly.  Therefore, from the fact that he's a telly-bod and has written [checks Wikipedia] or co-authored at least 66 books, I think it's fairly safe to assume he knows what he's talking about.  Let's have a look at this one, then, shall we?

I immediately liked the drawing on the front cover (see above); in shades of grey and taupe it shows a plant (presumably a weed) growing in front of St Paul's Cathedral and instantly tells you that this is not going to be a scientific book but something more aesthetic.

I should own up here to the fact that I don't tend to read natural history books, I'm much more of a non-fiction and novel sort of reader so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  In my past life I was an academic and the first thing I did on opening this book was to check at the back, and I was most pleased to see that there were eight pages of references and 10 pages of index.  I like a book that purports to be imparting factual information to have a comprehensive reference section - to me it shows a decent amount of checkable research has been undertaken.  So far, then, without having read a single word, I'm liking this book already.

The subject of weeds is so vast that it must have been quite tricky to decide how to structure the book and Mabey decided to go for an historical approach, starting with the Garden of Eden (he points out, for example, how often weeds/gardens appear in the creation myths of various religions) and finishing in the modern era, threading his narrative through with interesting bits of information.

Poppies appear throughout the text and, indeed, the historical timeline, and I, for one, didn't know that the ancient Sumerian word for the flower was 'pa pa',  a name basically unaltered for 6000 years.  Mabey's writing is very easy to read and he does have a lovely turn of phrase, for example, "Europe's earth is full of poppies and bleeds with them when it's cut" and when he describes poppies in full bloom as "...a grounded sunrise".  Lovely.

Moving on into the medieval period, Mabey discusses the rise of herbalism and the fact that the medieval world viewed weeds as both a curse and a benediction - they were trouble in the soil but a cure in the sickroom.  It was during this period that at least 20 different species of weed were renamed as belonging to the Devil, such as Devil's rhubarb (Deadly Nightshade), Devil's fingers (Bird's-foot trefoil), Devil's leaf (Nettle), Devil's eye (Henbane), and so on.  The 'Doctrine of Signatures' was also invented, being a form of intelligent design made manifest by God making plants to look like parts of the body.  In other words, humans can 'read' the plants to see which illnesses they would cure.

Moving onto the late medieval/Tudor period, Mabey writes quite a lot about the extraordinary Nicholas Culpeper, the renowned herbalist, which I found very interesting as I knew nothing about him other than he has a small shop in Guildford town centre that sells herb plants and soaps made of lavender but it turns out he was a radical thinker who upset the Establishment by writing a best-seller on how to self-medicate using plants and thereby giving away trade secrets.

As you might expect, Mabey picks up on Shakespeare's extensive use of floral imagery, much of it weeds but here I noticed one of the few mistakes that could have been picked up with more thorough proofreading - 'luscious woodbine' on p112 becomes 'luscious eglantine' on p113 - which is it? (While I'm at it, the other mistakes I found were a few repetitions of 'the the' and 'that that'.  On p215 there's an incorrect "it's" and on p46 you find 'Bablylonia'.  Also on that page, Mabey claims that monotheism was invented by the Jews when I would argue that the Pharaoh Akhenaten did that in about 1355BC, but then I do freelance proofreading and have a couple of degrees in Archaeology so stuff like that would bother me, wouldn't it?)

Moving on in time, the chapter 'Gallant Soldier' discusses how plant seeds escape from botanical gardens and colonise their way across the country, often utilising rail networks and shipping to do so, and I learnt another interesting snippet here - Thanet Cress is reputed to have reached Britain in the hay mattresses of Dutch POWs captured during the Napoleonic wars.  The hay was then given to farmers who spread it on fields, hastening germination.  Plant seeds are, indeed, bold opportunists.

In covering Victorian attitudes to plants and weeds, Mabey discusses John Ruskin a lot.  Undoubtedly extraordinarily talented, his aesthetical snobbery must have made him a real pain in the arse to be around (after all, this is the man who, it is said, on his wedding night fainted at the sight of his wife's pubes since, naturally, all those nude Greek and Roman statutes were hairless there).  However, Ruskin possibly provides the most accurate criterion by which to identify a weed - its 'impertinence', i.e., its ambition.  Note - this is a book that by the very nature of its discussion cannot avoid anthropomorphism and that takes the text from 'scientific' into the realms of 'philosophical'.

Mabey agrees Ruskin was a nutter by the late Victorian period but what Ruskin writes encapsulates human attitudes to weeds, that they are judged by our, human, standards and not their own (Ruskin was outraged and offended by what he saw as the moral decrepitude displayed by weeds).  Although, again, this is anthropomorphism raising its head - plants have different needs (rather than 'standards' per se) to human requirements.  'Standards' implies some kind of emotional involvement - a human characteristic.

Mabey writes of William Robinson, a Victorian gardener who felt stifled by formal garden design and tried to introduce a more casual style.  He developed gardens based on the way plants grew together in the wild, a very modern approach but, unfortunately he also popularised Japanese Knotweed!

Onto the twentieth century and Mabey covers plants during both wartimes.  Until this book I was unaware of the heartbreakingly poignant 'trench gardening' undertaken during the First World War where soldiers would try to beautify the horrors of the trenches by transplanting weeds such as celandine and cuckoo-pint from the surrounding fields and ditches into little plots alongside the trenches.  Apparently, one particular 47 yard long trench had been fitted with "basketwork and trellis ... bottlenecks and junctions had a homely atmosphere with nasturtiums climbing the trellises". And, of course, there are the poppies.

The weed that most typified the Second World War - at least in London - according to Mabey was Rosebay Willowherb, also known as bombweed or fireweed, whose pink spires and fluffy seeds soared above the bombsites, where they took advantage of the disturbed ground.

I very much enjoyed the section about the Cold War and science fiction.  It seems that plants that appeared after the Second World War that were not common to a particular area - such as the Rosebay Willowherb - were often viewed as "alien" plants by the local inhabitants, with some people even going so far as to consider them to be invading enemy agents seeded by the Germans or the Japanese!  This is an apocalyptic view of weeds and it wasn't until Mabey pointed it out that you realise, during the Cold War, just how much of popular culture conflates communist infiltration with plants - see, for example, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (plant pods grow clones of humans), The Quatermass Experiment (astronaut returns to Earth and basically turns into a cactus) and the most well-known of all, The Day of The Triffids.  He spends a long time telling the plot of the novel which is informative especially if, like me, you've only seen the film, and he decides that John Wyndham has, in fact, created the first Superweed.  And in the real world, the nearest thing we have to a Triffid is the Giant Hogweed which is tall, vigorous and has photodermatitic effects (its sap will cause skin to blister) - we should be grateful, I suppose, that it doesn't actually get up and walk around.

It seems we do, actually, have alien plant invasions for real; Mabey talks of the kudzu vine in the States (which grows so fast that people suggest shutting their bedroom windows at night to stop the vine getting in) and of the 2,500+ alien species in Australia (plants such as St John's Wort, mimosa, olive trees, blackberries, capeweed and buffel grass, all introduced by man and all going beserk).  I am in agreement with Mabey here when he says we have to "find ways of incorporating these alien invaders into our lives and ecosystems" and not try to wipe them off the face of the earth in "a fit of pique or burst of herbicide".

I have no argument at all with Mabey's claim that the purpose of weeds is to "fill the empty spaces of the earth - they stabilise the soil, conserve water loss, provide shelter and begin the process of succession to more complex and stable plant systems" and I love the fact that this is beautifully illustrated by the greening of Detroit.  Once the motoring industry left the city, 66,000 vacant lots (and 40 of the 139 square miles of the inner city) became overgrown as weeds took control and started to grow through brick and tarmac, rotted down and started returning everything to soil.  Enterprising human inhabitants that have remained have now begun farming these lots - there's been no horrified backlash against the invasion "instead the weeds are being read as a parable, a lesson that a monolithic, oil-based urban culture is unsustainable in the 21st century, and that there might be other, more ecologically gentle ways of living in cities - families too poor to buy fresh food are starting neighbourhood organic farms on the sites of demolished local blocks".  There genuinely could be hope for our future, and it's right there in Detroit.

My one real criticism is the complete lack of pictures.  Apart from the gorgeous pen and ink drawings at the beginning of each chapter, there is not one illustration of any of the hundreds of plants mentioned in the book.  I found I had to keep Googling the names to see if I recognised the plants under discussion.  I understand the inclusion of photos can increase production costs enormously but it is deeply frustrating unless you already know what Danish Scurvy Grass or Celandine looks like, however that's my only real, genuine complaint.

The purpose of this book is to look at immensely varied motives for the control of weeds and the impact this has had on our relationships with the plant world and nature in general. This is an enormous subject area and I really think that Richard Mabey has had a good go at doing this in 292 pages.  I enjoyed reading it much more than I thought I would, and I learnt some very interesting stuff on the way.  If you know someone who enjoys natural history and is a keen gardener, you could do worse than get them a copy of this for Christmas.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Oh dear....

Yes, I know it's been 4 months since I last posted but I have to admit I kinda fell out of love with the allotment this year.  Not sure why, really.  I think I just got a bit fed up with the sheer graft and unending hard work involved, so a big part of me just thought 'bugger it' and I left it alone over the summer.  Of course now the grass is knee-high and the weeds are rampant and I've got no-one to blame but myself *sigh*.

I didn't entirely abandon it over the summer, I worked like a demon to get it in shape for the mid-June inspection but after that just did the minimum, really.  Produce was still grown and harvested - this year, for example, my pattypan squash (white scalloped bush squash, or whatever it's called - looks like flying saucers) were far more prolific than last year and I was giving them away.  But sadly no-one else seemed to like them as much as me and The Lovely Husband did - sliced and fried in butter and olive oil with garlic and chilli - yum!

My carrots this year - the handful of them I got - were a roaring success.  I sowed one of the anti-carrot fly variety - either Resistafly or Flyaway, can't remember which (sorry, that's a bit rubbish, isn't it?) - and the carrots were magnificent; big, straight with practically no tunnels to speak of.  Just a shame that germination was appalling.  Oh well, I'll try again next year.

This year's Sweetcorn was a massive disappointment - out of 12 plants I think we only got 4 decent cobs and half the plants never grew taller than my knees.

Beetroot did pretty well, though, and I'm still harvesting them and pickling them.

I grew less Cobra French Climbing Beans this year and consequently didn't have enough to put in the freezer (last year I got 40 lbs of the buggers which was waaaay too much - people got fed up with me begging them to take some, hence the decision to grow less this year).

My Butternut Squash has been good this year - I've got 9 squashes so far, of a decent size, waiting to be harvested and the Courgettes have been good as well.

Onions were disappointing - as it was a remarkably dry summer I made the effort to do a lot of watering in the hope that (a) they'd survive and (b) get big.  They accomplished (a) but not (b).  I've left them in the ground to overwinter and see what happens next year, just as an experiment.

Likewise with my potatoes.  I grew one row of red Desiree and one row of white International Kidney.  I've dug up a few of the plants but the spuds themselves are not that big yet, so I'll leave them.

I'm a little concerned about my brassicas as well.  My brussels sprouts (which we love in this house and which have been very successful in previous years) are alarmingly short - I'm hoping they'll grow a bit more yet.  Ditto my Dwarf Curly Green Kale - I don't think they're meant to be quite as dwarf as they currently are...

I'm not even going to tell you about the soft fruit this year - hardly any strawberries from about 65 plants, barely a handful of blueberries and just the one punnet from my many raspberries.  Very sad indeed.  No loganberries to speak of this year (compared to loads last year) but at least one of my three gooseberry bushes was fairly prolific.

As for the 'orchard' end of the allotment, as this was the first year for the apples, pear and plum trees, I was advised to remove all the blossoms so that subsequent fruit harvests would be prolific, so I've got that to be disappointed with next year.

So, as you can see, it's not really been terribly good this year and I'm not sure why.  Ho hum.  There's always next year, I suppose.

The one interesting thing that has happened, though, is that, based on this particular blog of mine, I've been asked to review a book called "Weeds" by Richard Mabey.  I'm not one of those people who will umm and ahh about the 'integrity' of their website and whether or not they should allow themselves to be used as free publicity - hell, no-one ever offers me free stuff so I say 'bring it on'!  I'll post an honest review of it when I've read it.  How exciting!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Mid-June Catchup

Yesterday I went down to the allotment and finally remembered to take my camera.  What I didn't do was take any photographs.  I've absolutely no idea why.  I did, though, go to a nearby field which was full of poppies and looked absolutely stunning and took these pictures:

Gorgeous, non?

And, of course, I managed to forget to take my camera again when I went to the plot this morning! Good Grief!  However, I did have my iPhone with me which has, I think, a pretty good camera (I've used pictures on here before that I've taken with it) so I'm afraid you'll have to make do with those for now.

So, I have finally, I think, finished planting out everything that I'm going to hopefully grow at the plot this year.  As I'm sure you're all aware, we seem to be having a bit of drought in the UK this summer - well, down in the south we are, I can't comment for those further afield, but we're having weeks going by without a drop of rain falling.  Then we might get a few hours - barely enough to dampen the earth - and it goes away again for a few more weeks.  The earth at my site is very fine and free-draining and, in these conditions, is effectively barely anything more than dust.   The one good thing about it being so dry is that it makes weeding and hoeing very easy indeed.  Watering is an absolute must, obviously.  Sadly, even with daily watering, this year some of my plants have just given up the ghost.  I've lost 3 out of the 4 cucumbers I planted, 2 out of the 5 butternut squashes and one of my precious pattypan squashes.  It's too late to sow more butternut squash but I managed to find a supply of plants on sale at Secretts Garden Centre in Milford so I bought 3 to replace the lost ones.  Fortunately I have some spare cucumber plants that were going to go to a friend but will have to go to the allotment now.  Sadly, I'll have to hope the 3 surviving pattypan squashes continue to do so.

When I was at Secretts I had a look at the other vegetable plants they had on sale and I picked up a couple of bargains.  They had trays of Mange Tout reduced from £3.49 to £2.49 so I picked up a couple of those as I'd not sown any Mange Tout this year, and even though I don't usually grow runner beans, they had trays of White Lady runner beans (which I believe are stringless and, hence, more appealing to me) that had grown big and sprawling for some stupidly cheap price, so I took a tray of those as well.

All the allotments in Waverley (or at least in Godalming and Farncombe) are being judged by the council over the next 2 days.  There is more weeding and grass cutting that I could do but I really think I've done as much as I can so I'm just going to hope that they're kind to me - they have been the last 2 years so I'm hoping I'll be okay this year.

So, then, onto the pictures.  Bear in mind what I've said about it being dry and things dying on me, and perhaps you won't notice that it's not nearly as lush as I'd like:

Beetroot - I'm adding to this as the seedlings get bigger.  Hopefully there'll be about 60 of them all told.

Butternut Squash - planted 5 in a circle with one in the middle.  The three greenest are the shop-bought replacement ones.  Remains to see if the two original ones survive.

Climbing French Beans 'Cobra' variety - there are 3 plants around each bamboo pole.  They're all doing fine so far and have established themselves.

The 4 plants at the bottom of this picture are Courgettes 'Defender'.  They're all putting out little courgettes.  I may well have planted too many for just the 2 of us at home, but hey ho....!

Courgette flower

Dwarf Yellow French Beans - a small patch of about 11 of them.  The little sticks with silver discs are flattened mince pie cases saved over from Christmas.  Pigeons are a big problem on the site but they hate shiny things that rattle in the wind.  You might notice I've also tied them to the bamboo poles supporting the climbing french beans.

Leeks 'Musselburgh' - doing their thing.  They seem happy enough.

Various lettuces - the red is Lollo Rossa, the pale green is Salad Bowl, the darker green is Little Gem.  There's also some Wild Rocket in there too.  I'm adding more as I'm sowing successionally.

Mange Tout - I threaded bamboo poles through green netting and then planted a couple of mange tout plants at the base of each pole.  Our site can be very windy so I decided to add poles at an angle for support.

Pattypan Squash - I've lost one of them (you can see it's withered carcass just at the bottom left) but hopefully the other 3 will survive.  Their fruits look like white UFOs and you cook them like courgettes.

Two rows of potatoes - International Kidney and Desiree - and one row of onions.  There are carrots tucked in here too but they're too small to see just yet.

Cherries 'Maynard' developing on our little tree.  I'm not sure if I'll get any more than these two off it this year, but it's two more than we had last year!

Red Hinnomaki Gooseberries - no fruit at all last year as it was newly planted, but look at it this year!

Inside the brassica cage - there's two kinds of kale - the dwarf green curled (pictured) and Cavallo Nero (not pictured), Brussels Sprouts 'Brigitte' in the middle of the picture and at the far end there's Calabrese Broccoli.  

See the calabrese broccoli that's flowering?  After taking this shot I cut that off with a view to forcing the remainder of the plant to put out more heads.  As I was looking at the flowers, I remembered how tasty last year's Rocket flowers had been, so I ate one.  What a revelation!  It was sweet and tasty.  I decided I wouldn't chuck the cut off bit into the compost bin, I would take it home, steam it with some new potatoes, season it with lemon juice and black pepper and slather butter over it to melt. And I did, and it was bloody fantastic!

There's other stuff I'm growing there that I didn't picture because there's not that much to see - raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, blackberries - but if they do well this year, I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Blatant laziness - I admit it....

*I originally posted this over on my other blog - Mrs Jones' Home Thoughts From Home - on 30 May 2010 but decided that, as it is actually about something that happened on my allotment (and my postings here have been a bit thin on the ground lately), I would post it here as well.  Some of you lovely readers peruse both blogs, but others won't have seen this.  And yes, I know.  I'm very lazy about posting.  I promise I'll do a proper post soon.  In the meantime, you can read below about My Message From God*

I'm not a believer.  In fact I'm what you would call more of a militant atheist.  I do not believe in any form of religion whatsoever and, in fact, the thought of organised religion enrages me disproportionately.  The fact that a mere superstition can hold such power in an otherwise sensible country like the USA, for example (although there are other countries to choose from, including most of Africa), just beggars belief.  To me, such blind devotion to something that doesn't exist is nothing short of mental illness.

To be honest, I really don't care if this offends any of my readers because - frankly? You can do better than this.  The Enlightenment freed our minds from the straitjacket trappings of the Church and showed us all the wonders of the Universe through the eyes of science. So why voluntarily choose to live in the Middle Ages?

But, today, something happened.  Something weird.

As you probably know, I have an allotment, about which I blog separately (read it here).  The Lovely Husband is away this weekend so I decided that I would spend a decent amount of time there trying to catch up with the weeding and stuff that I couldn't do when I had a god-awful cold earlier in the month. It's a weird thing, this gardening/allotment lark - you can spend every daylight hour breaking your back digging, bending, weeding, hoeing, watering and it always looks like you've done bugger all.  To say it's frequently disheartening is an understatement. But I have faith that it will all come together, as it usually does.

One of the jobs I had to do today was to earth up my spuds -  it involves heaping up extra soil to cover the leaves of the plants as they break through the ground surface.  While I was doing this, my trowel caught on something.  I scraped the earth away and saw something shiny and, sort of, layered.  It was a similar size and shape to those cloth books they make for kids, which is what I first of all thought it was.

Finding a kid's cloth book buried in my potato patch would be weird enough.

But this was way weirder.....

It was a whole bunch of religious photographs.  What the ......?

Yep, a load of photos, in a pile, buried in the middle of my potato patch.

I KNEW it - I knew I was different to all the other kids at school and this was it, this was my message from God.  I'm obviously a modern-day Joan of Arc.  Obviously.  Why did I ever doubt?

The message would be in the photographs (click on them to make them bigger).

There was a crucifix:

I'm not about to nail myself to a cross for anyone, so we'll just ignore that one....

There was the Blessed Virgin Mary balancing atop a big vase of flowers:

A neat trick, to be sure, but one I'm not going to be able to master.  That or Immaculate Conception, which I have tried.  True story.

There was Jesus who was also doing an impressive flower-balancing act:

And then I found The One:

Stands to reason I'm being told that I need to go out and burn some priests. Father Asbestos you ain't.  Right, that's it.  Enough of this banter, I've got God's Work to do - anyone got any matches?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Cage Fighting

I've finally started putting some time in down the allotment but I really need to do more.  I've had a spate of illness lately (bad cold, followed by a dodgy back) which has made the grime and toil of endless weeding somewhat less than enticing, so I'm really behind.

However, this has actually played to my advantage (for once!).  Because I've been late getting my potatoes into the ground and haven't yet planted out my climbing French Bean seedlings, it means they've not been hit by the late frosts that have occurred lately.  So score one for Team Jones!!

There is, sadly, no getting away from the fact that the weeds won't stop growing merely because I'm not there to rip them from the ground (and who can blame them?) so last week The Lovely Husband came along to do the strimming of the knee-high grass for me.  I can't get him to come along and do ordinary hoeing, or hand weeding, or watering, but the moment there's a whiff of petrol and a bit of manly machinery, you can't see him for dust!!  I am, though, very grateful.

So, the strimming has been done, in time for the annual inspection by the committee sometime in June.  This is where your plot is judged and if it's found wanting, you'll be escorted off the premises (sort of).  The arrival of the email reminding plotholders of the inspection usually triggers off a mass, slightly panicky, tidy up by everyone, and I'm just grateful I covered about a third of my plot with black material last winter so minimum weeding will be required.

I managed a few hours this week (but will have to put in more next week) during which time I, rather sadly, had to remove all the gorgeous blossom from the fruit trees that I planted last autumn.  This is, apparently, necessary so that that the trees can concentrate on putting all their energy into growing a decent root structure rather than into fruit in their first year.  Doing this means you get better, stronger trees and an improved crop in subsequent years.

Last autumn I planted a Victoria Plum, a Concorde Pear, an Egremont Russet eating apple and a Cooking apple (the variety of which I've forgotten).  The plum and pear didn't have any blossoms, but the two apples were covered in them and it seemed such a pity to remove them.

Blossoms in the bottom of the bucket

In autumn 2008 I planted an Apricot (which was a birthday gift from friends), which didn't produce any fruit last year and has no blossoms at present, so it remains to be seen if I get anything off it this year.  I also planted a Maynard Cherry which has been encrusted with flowers.  I left them all on and it looks like there'll be at least a few cherries this year - hooray!

Cherries forming, hopefully!

The rest of the fruit patch looks like it might be quite good this year:

Gooseberries forming - I think this is a Red variety

Raspberries - hard to make out, but all the pale grey blobs amongst the leaves are flower buds that, hopefully, will turn into fruit.

Blackcurrants just starting to form.

The strawberries are flowering like billy-o but I've not taken a picture of them because, frankly, I'm quite embarrassed about the VAST quantity of weeds growing there.  Ditto the blueberries.  The Loganberries, which were a monumental success last year, have been putting out runners like they want to take over the world, so I'm hoping for a bumper crop this year.

As for the veg side of things, I've taken the risk of planting out a handful of lettuce plants, covering them with a cloche as the nights are still cold.  They do look a bit sad but I have other seedlings coming along in the plastic-houses at home so if these don't make it, there will be others:

Some sad lettuce - Little Gem, Salad Bowl and Lollo Rossa

I've also put up my brassica cage. At the end of last year, the very lovely Grace (who lives in my street, grows magnificent cottage garden plants for sale in her back garden and has 5 cats) was given a Build-A-Ball cage system by a friend.  She tried it out, decided it wasn't for her and very kindly offered it to me.

Last year I was using bamboo canes with plastic bottles on top, with very fine mesh netting draped over the top to keep the blasted Cabbage White butterflies out.  This worked reasonably well but the canes tend to rot quickly or break easily in high winds or when the resident foxes jump on them(!), so this wasn't ideal.  I was aware of the Build-A-Ball system and thought it looked interesting but a bit pricey, so to be offered one for free.......

Not only did Grace give me the dark green balls with the holes in, but there was also the requisite aluminium poles to go with it that you normally have to buy separately.  I wanted to use last year's very fine mesh again and knew that it was a long thin shape, so had to build the cage to match (I could have made it squarer), and I was thrilled to discover that the finished cage size matched the mesh size exactly!!  Brilliant!  It went together fairly easily, some of the posts had to be cajoled into going into the holes and I had to fight to get them into the ground (it's dry as a bone at the moment so rock hard not far below the surface) but it's a fight I won, although not without bruises on my chin (don't ask....). 

Brassica cage without mesh...

...and with!

I then weeded it and planted into it the Calabrese seedlings you can see in the polystyrene tray in front of it.  (My germination rate with Calabrese seeds has been lamentable, but a local Garden Centre were selling trays of good sized seedlings half-price, so I bought one.)  But I'm thrilled with the cage.  I shall have to let Grace have some of my produce from it as she didn't want anything for the cage itself.

That's all for now.  So, until next time, I'll be continuing to sow seeds in my plastic-houses, pampering my cucumber seeds in the hope they'll germinate (picky blighters, they are) and weeding the plot.

Happy gardening!!