Tuesday, 24 June 2008

R.I.P. Cynthia

Cynthia's gone! Oh Noes! Went to the plopment yesterday afternoon and she was missing in the line of duty. I should have listened to Ali who suggested sticking a piece of wire or something through her head (Cynthia's, not Ali's...) in order to secure her to the ground. I didn't do this as, on the one hand, it seemed really cruel (not that I think inanimate objects can feel pain - I'm not that mad, you know) and, on the other, it would just provide more of a challenge to the foxes who, I believe, have kidnapped her.

I've produced a couple of posters to put up at the site in case anyone finds a rogue orange snake on their plot and wonder how it got there but I suspect I've seen the last of her. Oh well, it'll be unwanted CDs on bits of string from now on, then.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Trusssssst in meeeeee..........

Hey, everyone - say 'hello' to the latest addition to the plopment, 'Cynthia'! In my interminable meanderings through the backroads and bywaters of the Information Superhighway (does anyone still call it that anymore?), I have found myself drifting inexorably towards gardening and allotment websites - can't imagine why - and somewhere or other I read that, apart from the infuriating netting, another good pigeon deterrent is a toy rubber snake! Now, I've just put in quite a few lettuces which I now understand pigeons are also partial to. Constructing, and, indeed extending, net cages is akin to trying to stuff a live octopus into a string bag and my heart was heavy at the prospect of having to do this in order to protect the lettuces so I figured, what the hell, let's have a go at the snake option.

So off I went to eBay and found something suitable at abctoysandgames1 and for a very reasonable price too (and, no, I don't work for them). I was tempted by a black one but it wasn't clear on the advert if it was all black or had orange stripes. Now, bearing in mind that black and orange is a recognised danger sign in the animal kingdom (think tigers or wasps), it should stand to reason that any self-respecting pigeon would give a black and orange snake an extremely wide berth. I asked them and, sadly, the snake was all black. The other options were green (which I thought would get lost among the lettuces) or the colour I did choose, orange. And so Cynthia came to live with me, well, at the plopment actually.

According to The Wise Ones at an allotment forum I frequent (www.allotments-uk.com), a toy snake should work but it needs to be at least two feet long. Cynthia is made to curl at one end but you can straighten out her tail a bit and she's pretty lengthy. She went into the lettuces on Monday 16 June (see picture above). It then dawned on me as I was walking home that we have a multitude of 'playful' foxes at the allotment site who love nothing better than mucking about and playing with anything that isn't staked down or too heavy for them to move. I feared the worst for Cynthia so decided to pop down the next day to see if she was still there. Well, as you can see from the second picture, she was but it was obvious she'd been 'interfered with'. The earth was a bit scratched up around her middle and she was a bit dirty but she was still in one piece. I've not been down today but may go tomorrow and we'll see if she's stayed put.

Of course, all this may be a little academic because the site steward Jan popped down for a quick chat yesterday morning and when I proudly pointed out Cynthia to her, she remarked that the lettuces were actually quite large and probably wouldn't have been mugged by the pigeons anyway! Oh well.....

Finally, I was wandering around Homebase earlier this week and they had some really very nice sweet red pepper plants for sale at £1.99 each, so I bought 4 to put in the plopment and hope I have better luck with them than the ones I tried to grow at home on the patio three years ago. Jan, the steward, suggested that I plant them right up against the side of my shed because, (a) it gets sunlight all day there and (b) they would get additional heat that had been reflected/stored by the shed. I thought this was a damn fine idea so cleared the ground to make a small bed and plant them up. I think the next thing to do is to rig up some kind of protection for them as it's quite windy so perhaps some kind of tall cold frame arrangement with an open top would do, or even leaning some largish pieces of clear plastic against the shed. This is obviously going to be my next mission, along with the planting up of the 30-odd Leeks that are waiting to go in.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

June is bustin' out all over......

Things are looking good at the plopment! I'm managing to get down there most days, especially during this current spell of very hot weather, and "I'll be gone just an hour" turns into "Whoops - where did the last three hours go to?"

I recently invested in a stainless steel hoe and I have to say it's worth its weight in gold; because the ground's so dusty-dry at the moment, it really doesn't take long at all just to push it through the top inch or so of ground to cut through the stems and roots of the opportunistic weeds! You then leave it all on the top to dry to a crisp in the sun - brilliant! Of course, the Mare's Tail is more than a little recalcitrant and I'm fully aware you can never really get rid of it properly so I just pull up what I can when I find it. Now if there were only recipes for Mare's Tail.....

As I've mentioned previously, I make and sell jewellery at craft fairs and the most recent one I exhibited at was last Sunday (8 June 2008) at Chiddingfold in Surrey. We had a fabulous day - it was unbelievably hot and attendance was really high. It's a typical English fete with lots of stalls, tug-of-war, maypole and country dancing, beer tents (hooray!), etc., and I managed to pick up two gorgeous-looking and extremely healthy Cucumber plants that I thought I'd have a go at growing outside. They are both Telegraph which I believe is traditionally grown in a greenhouse but with global warming is apparently starting to be grown outdoors as well these days. So I thought I'd give them a go. I built them a little wigwam and planted both of them at the base (shame there wasn't a third available but guess you can't have everything!). I believe I'm meant to leave the main growing stem to produce 6 or 7 leaves and then pinch it out. It then produces side shoots/stems which need to be tied to the poles. The fruit will then hang down and grow straight. Alternatively, you can leave it to sprawl on the ground but then I understand the fruit tends not to grown straight (not sure what shape it does grow into though - corkscrew? square?) This is all new territory for me so I'll keep you posted. I also planted my first 10 decent sized Parsnip plantlets (bigger than seedlings but not quite plants) just beside the Cucumbers, as you can see from the picture - they're the plants at the bottom of the picture, the ones on the left are my Sweetcorn. The black plastic at the top is covering the weeded ground that's going to be home to the Leeks when they get big enough to transplant.

I've also extended the brassica net cage yet again, sideways this time, in order to slot in the last of my Red Cabbage plants. And, yes, I can't either dig or plant in a straight line, it really is all as curved as it looks but as long as stuff gets put in the ground and grows successfully, who really cares? I've left enough space now for the Savoy Cabbage which should be going in fairly soon.

This picture shows a better view of the first six Red Cabbage and six Sprout plants that went in. I'm so pleased (and desperately smug!) that they're looking so healthy AND I grew them from seed - yay me!!

Yes, I know this is a picture of lettuce under a small polytunnel but I'd already put the tunnel back over them before I decided I wanted to take a picture and it's so fiddly to do that I decided you'll be able to see the size of the lettuce anyway! I'm very pleased with them, they're all totally untouched by both slug and pigeon so hopefully we'll be able to start harvesting some leaves from them soon.

Finally, because they've not made an appearance on the blog for a long time - check out my onions! This is a variety called 'Turbo' grown from sets and look pretty fantastic, although the round bit at the base that you eat has yet to get round. I cleared some soil from around the neck of one of the onions and it just looks like a massive spring onion, so I'm hoping they'll fill out before long.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Plop for the Plopment!

Blimey! Can't quite believe it's June already - the year's half gone!!! In three weeks it'll be the solstice then it's all downhill to winter. It's only 205 days to Christmas, dagnabit.

Anyway, apologies for the delay in updating the blog - I've no excuses really, just haven't had that much to pontificate about although I've been working like a Trojan at the site.

As you can see, the makeshift brassica cage has now been properly constructed with net that fits and everyfink, plus I've also extended it and planted it up a bit more. It's now got the original Red Cabbage and Early Sprouts - which are looking very healthy indeed - and I've just added Late Sprouts, Broccoli and half the Kale (the rest aren't quite big enough to plant out yet). Within the next few weeks I'll extend it further and pop in the rest of the Kale and the Savoy Cabbage and that'll be it! I'm hoping that the holes in the netting will be small enough to at least put off any Cabbage White butterflies that decide to have a go at this tasty buffet. I've also found what are purported to be organic slug pellets so I've scattered those liberally around the plants. I'm sort of semi-organic-ish - I don't use fertiliser and pest control is limited to the plants that really get attacked, such as blackfly on the broad beans and slugs pretty much everywhere. However if nothing gets attacked, such as my onions, raspberries or climbing french beans, then I leave them well alone.

I've also finally got round to putting some lettuces in the ground. This year I'm growing Salad Bowl which is a loose-leaf, 'cut and come again' type of lettuce - you just take leaves as and when you need them. Seven have gone in so far and I've put a small polytunnel thing over the top of them until they get established. Hopefully this will keep the pigeons off 'em too. I've also just sown some Lollo Rossa (the red crinkly leaved lettuce) which will go out eventually too.

What is new at the site is that The Husband and I this past weekend built a Plop Corral! I found a company selling through Amazon who make wooden slatted compost/manure bins for the surprisingly reasonable price of £27 and, being a lazy sort and unwilling to trawl skips for unwanted pallets, I coughed up and it was delivered last Friday. It's pretty good - slots are pre-cut in some (fairly rough) planks which you just slot together and, voila, job's a good 'un. I now just have to start filling it up with horse manure from the stables where I go riding (small plug here - www.sariaharabians.com), leave it to rot down for the best part of a year and then start digging it into the ground next Spring. One downside is that it looks like I'll have to dismantle it in order to get the manure out but I don't mind. I also took delivery last week of a 330 litre compost converter. If you go to www.recyclenow.com/home_composting/ and enter your postcode, it'll tell you whether you're eligible for a half-price converter! It's a good deal - I paid £15 for the one in the picture and they're easily twice that, if not more, at garden centres. Unfortunately the little square door that covers the hole was missing when delivered but I'm following it up. So there we have it- Plop Corral and Companion Dalek!

Finally, then, this is how the plopment is looking at the moment - all is well and doing pretty much what it should. I've only lost one Sweetcorn and one Climbing French Bean plant so far, which is an acceptable level of collateral damage. I think the next thing I'll be doing is starting to dig the long side bed where the Leeks are eventually going to go - I may start this afternoon...watch this space!