Saturday, 6 December 2008

So what have I learned?

I expect this will probably be my last post for 2008 as I really don't intend visiting the plopment much more this winter, once every 1-2 weeks is likely, so there won't be anything truly scintillating to tell you until next year, so I'll use this post as a roundup of what I've achieved this year and what I intend to do differently next year.

So, to start, the weather today is absolutely gorgeous - crystal clear heartbreakingly blue skies overhead, the slight smell of woodsmoke, cold enough to see your breath but not freezingly so - and what did we decide to do? That's right, along with most of the population of southern England, we went christmas shopping in Guildford. We were expecting it to be hell-on-wheels but, you know what, it wasn't. Can't really put my finger on why exactly. We decided to get into town early, as close to 9am as possible, even then expecting to see queues of cars trying to get into Sainsbury's car park but we more or less swooped in AND managed to park in The Husband's favourite area of the car park easily. We then gaily threw the diet to the wind and started off with coffee and warm chocolate croissants, enabling me to leave The Husband with a newspaper while I pottered around some nearby shops. 'This is all going far too easily' I thought, 'something's bound to go awry' but, today, Our Shopping Game Was Strong. Ninja warriors had nothing on us this morning - we were in and out of Marks & Spencer, TopShop, House of Fraser, Game and (less excitingly) Sainsburys as fast as a fat kid going for the last sandwich at a birthday party. We were done and home in under 2.5 hours. The rest can all be done online. Hooray!!!

Rather excitingly, I picked up my christmas present that my parents-in-law are going to give me yesterday. You might think that it would be pink, possibly fluffy, most definitely sparkly and you would be wrong. Girl's done got herself a Stihl FS38 Brushcutter! And, look, I even just found a picture of a girly using one (although that's not to say it isn't a desperately manly piece of kit - in case you've got one and you're a bloke and you feel I've just slurred your inherent butchness and manliness...) I think the picture's just to show that it's light and so simple to use that even (*snort*) a woman could do it! Still it made a VERY exciting sound when we fired it up at the store and I suspect I'll have to wrench it out of The Husband's hands if I want to use it myself - he had that definite gleam of "ooh, toy!" in his eye. It's a petrol-driven 2-stroke strimmer that I need to keep the edges and paths of the plopment under control. A cordless electric one just doesn't have enough oomph to be able to deal with allotment strimming so even though it's an expensive item, I had to have one. Thanks in advance, Desmond and Minnie.

So I went down to the plopment today, then, just to check that everything was still where I left it and to take some final pictures for the 2008 blog.

About 2 weeks ago (and I forgot to take pictures), my fruit tree and bushes arrived so The Husband and I spent a couple of hours planting them while the ground was still warm. There was:

1 x Raspberry Autumn Bliss - 5 Canes
1 x Cherry Maynard - 2 Year Bush BARE ROOT
1 x Blueberry Patriot - 1 Litre Container
1 x Raspberry Glen Prosen - 5 Canes
1 x Strawberry Aromel Runners (10 plants)
3 x Blackcurrants Wellington XXX
2 x Gooseberry Langley Grange

I also moved the Raspberries that I'd planted out back in May this year as they were now in the wrong place, so I put them with the others.

First, then, I put all the Raspberries and Blackcurrants in two rows. They may be too close together but I'll have to deal with that next year. The Husband has said he'd construct some posts and wire next spring to tie the new growth to.

The cherry tree is a new self fertile dwarf dessert sweet cherry which should not reach any taller than 2 metres in height and requires no pruning. Strictly speaking it's a patio plant and is probably intended to be kept in a pot, but I'm not allowed to grow 'proper' trees at the site so dwarf varieties are the way to go. Picking is in early July so we'll see (a) if it works and (b) if I can get to the cherries before the birds.

The strawberries have now all gone in and don't really look like much in the ground so I've not bothered taking a picture of them. The three different varieties of blueberry are now planted in a row so fingers crossed they'll also work. The gooseberry bushes arrived a little late to plant in the allotment due to the recent very cold weather so I've put them in a large pot in a sunny sheltered place on my patio and they can stay there until next March.

As for everything else, my overwintering onions are doing fabulously - looks like there should be a good crop to come up before I put in the next lot in spring.

All the brassicas are thriving still, the sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli are still producing and the Savoy Cabbages are doing their thang - hopefully we'll have one (plus sprouts) for Christmas Dinner.

I'm also still harvesting Chard and I just love the effect of the sunlight shining through the Ruby Red Chard leaves.

Oh, and I've forgotten to tell you that the allotment site will be having communal chickens for the first time! The site secretary announced in the summer that the site was going to become part of the Community Chicken Project depending on how many people were willing to get involved. The Husband and I seriously thought about it for a very long time - I would so love to keep chickens - but doing anything by committee, with rotas for this and that, never works out. I mean, whose responsibility is it to take the chucks to the vet if/when they become ill? What happens if someone forgets to put them to bed at night and the foxes (and we have a lot of foxes) get them? What happens when they come to the end of their laying life? Does anyone get to eat them? There are just far too many potential problems with far too many people involved so, rather sadly, we decided joining in wasn't an option for us. I'd much rather have my own chickens with no-one else being involved. However this hasn't stopped me being rather excited by their eventual arrival and, to this end, a rather magnificent Chicken Palace is currently being constructed on site! I don't know how many hens are going to be installed but their run and henhouse is taking up the whole of a vacant half plot - you can see how big it's going to be in the picture - the framing will obviously eventually be covered with fox-proof wire/netting/whatever.

So - what have I learned?

Growing vegetables is not that difficult but there are different levels of work needed at different times of the year. Obviously I started the plot this year in February and it was just totally grassed over. Clearing the ground of the ordinary grass, the couch grass, the mare's tail and all the other weeds took a huge amount of hard, dirty, heavy work but I always knew that I would really only have to do this once; after that it's just maintenance, weeding and adding/digging in compost/manure as and when necessary. The first year is hard and more expensive than you can imagine unless you have the time to shop around and get second hand stuff like sheds and greenhouses and manure corrals, etc. I just wanted to get on with it but, as with the clearance, I knew I was only going to fork out ('fork out'! Geddit? Oh, please yourself....) once for all this stuff. The shed has been absolutely vital, not just for somewhere to put tools, etc., but also somewhere to shelter from the rain and to dry out onions too.

What vegetables worked this year?

All the brassicas were a revelation and so easy to grow - they'll definitely be coming back. The lettuce was very successful but I must do more successional sowing. 20 or so Cobra French Bean plants gave me a yield of over 40lbs that I ended up giving away. The Rainbow Chard has been an eye-opener. Potatoes have been very successful as have the onions and the sweetcorn. Broad beans, despite getting blackfly, grew well and The Husband loves them anyway. Basil and Coriander grew like weeds and I'll try drying them next time. Telegraph variety of cucumbers loved the outdoors weather this summer (although they're mostly a greenhouse type) and were juicy and crunchy. These I will all grow again next year.

What was less successful?

Tomatoes were hopeless - all succumbed to blight. Carrots, although extremely flavourful, grew so many extra limbs that preparation took forever. They also got hit by Carrot Fly. However I will try again next year with them as the flavour was so good, but they only get ONE MORE CHANCE. Parsnips had woody centres and, again, resembled octopuses. Sweet red peppers didn't do as well as I had hoped and probably need a greenhouse to be successful. These I will probably (bar the carrots) not grow again next year.

What would I do differently?

Not that much, in hindsight. Obviously there'll be some crop rotation next year and I think I'll grow the climbing French Beans up 3 or 4 teepees of canes dotted around the place rather than in a long line - the winds wreaked havoc with them this year. I'd very much like to save up my pennies next year and get a 6'x8' greenhouse and perhaps try again with the tomatoes in there, plus chillis and red peppers, but we'll have to see. That can always wait again for another time.
Whether I do potatoes again is a question I've not decided yet. Yes, they were very tasty and easy to grow but they do take up quite a lot of room. However, since S gave up the top half of the plopment and I took it over, space isn't quite so much of an issue. Dunno, I'll have to decide later. Also quite how the new fruit area will turn out is another unknown factor. But you'll have to come back next year to read what happens there!

Well, then, many thanks to those who've vicariously travelled with me along this path of discovery - here's to next year!

Happy Winter Solstice and New Year to you all!!!

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