Thursday, 22 May 2008

Rassin', frassin', pigeons.....

Last Thursday, gentle reader if you recall, I wrote that I had forgotten to put down slug pellets around my newly planted Climbing French Beans. And so I returned on the Friday to do so, only intending to stay for the amount of time it would take to shake said pellets onto the ground, allowing me to skip away while merrily flicking the Vs at the soon to be annihilated slimers.

So imagine my surprise, nay horror, to discover that my lovingly nurtured Red Cabbage and Brussel Sprout seedlings had been CHEWED BY PIGEONS OVERNIGHT111!!!111!!!1 Now, normally, these lumbering, comical birds don't bother me, in fact I rather enjoy watching them peck each other on the head while waiting in line to eat the nuts from my wall-hung peanut feeder but this just takes the biscuit (or brassica).

The only option, of course, is to create a net cage and, of course, I didn't have any net with me and so, of course, I had to scoot back home and return with the only net I had which I'd just got for my newly planted Strawberries and which, of course, wasn't big enough to go over the brassicas and so, of course, I had to stitch the edges together with hairy garden string, like some really incomptent sutures [*takes breath*]. This is a real pain in the bum as I've not finished planting brassicas yet (I've still got Broccoli, late Sprouts, Savoy Cabbage and Curly Kale to go in yet) so I'm going to have to ask The Husband if he'll design (and build, pretty please...) something a bit more robust and easily manageable to go over all the plants when they eventually go in. Still, I'm pleased to report that my ham-fisted efforts do seem to have worked, a week later the cage is still in one place/piece and no pigeons have gained entry.

So let me guide you gently by the hand into this week's efforts. Well, I've extended the bean poles, I now have 16 poles (8 on each side) with two plants for each pole (i.e., 32 plants). Good job, then, that we like French Beans in our house. I've also finally got my 23 Sweetcorn plants in the ground as well although I can't help feeling that I may be being a little premature here, but others on site have planted theirs so I suppose if we get hit by a late frost, we'll all lose them together!

I have monumental colonies of Blackfly nestling very happily thank-you in the tips of my Broad Beans so I started spraying today until I read the bottle halfway round and it said something like, "Extremely dangerous to bees - do not use on open flowers" and what was I doing? Naturally I was spraying onto the open flowers of the Broad Beans, so stopped immediately. I've kind of decided to use this as a controlled experiment though, to see which of the plants do best, those that were sprayed and those that weren't.

I noticed that Henry opposite had planted Marigolds underneath his Blackfly-free Broad Beans (try saying that really quickly three times) so went and bought half a dozen to plant amongst mine before researching why. Apparently, the Blackfly don't like the smell of Marigolds so will avoid them and find somewhere else. I'm going to buy some more tomorrow (they also look good).

Anyway, enjoy a picture of the current state of the allotment and I'll see you next time.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Feels like home...

The weather report stated that the fabulous weather we've been having recently would break overnight and today in the south we'd wake up to heavy rain, hail and thunderstorms. Well, they got it partly right, we've had more in the way of light showers than a downpour but it does mean that I was right to take the opportunity to spend about 8 hours over the last two days at the plopment getting stuff into the ground before the rains came.

Tuesday I dug out the rows of invisible Rocket seedlings as I couldn't find them and replaced them with Spring Onion and Carrot seedlings. I don't hold out much hope for the Carrots as they've already been attacked by a snail in the plastic-house but I'm fed up of looking at them in there so into the ground they go. I also started to weed around the row of Second Early potatoes because the chickweed, couch grass, bindweed and mare's tail were coming back. I had hoped that walking on them would kill them off but all it did was flatten and harden the earth.

Yesterday (Wednesday) I decided I was going to put up the poles for the Climbing French Beans. For the past 6 or 7 years I've been growing French Beans in two huge round pots at home so I've never done the traditional, all in a line, pole arrangement before. Last week I'd bought a batch of 8 foot tall canes and was worried they were going to be too tall but the ground at the plopment is so soft they easily sank in about 1.5 feet or so. I tied them together and then added smaller ones through the top to stabilise it. There are ten canes in the ground but I currently have 12 plants so two had to double up. I've more coming on in the plastic-house so they can go in later. (I woke up this morning though and realised that I'd completely forgotten to put slug pellets around the bean plants! I'll have to pop out later on when it's dried up a bit and just hope they're still there and not in some snail's belly...)

But I've come to realise that two really quite major things have happened since Sunday - I think it's probably more of a matter of perception within me than what's been happening at the allotment but, even so. Let me try to explain: putting the shed up and being able to use it properly since Sunday has made a big difference - I now feel that I actually own the land, it's a space that properly belongs to me now. I have somewhere to store my things, where I can sit in the shade. It all feels more permanent somehow - before it was just a plot of land that didn't really mean anything even though I've been working it for the last 3 months. I almost felt like a bit of a fraud and I shouldn't really be there - the shed has made a statement, it claims ownership. It denotes that I'm going to be here for a long time and I'm serious about it. I built the shed (well, not me, but you know what I mean), I cultivate the land - I have a place now and it feels like home. When I was doing my various archaeology degrees I was always interested in the Archaeology of Landscape and how the ancient mind related to ownership of space/land, what they did with it and how it was demarcated. Perhaps I should put up a (fake) burial mound on my boundaries.....

Secondly, bizarrely, putting up the bean canes has turned the site into A Proper Allotment. It looks like a real, grown-up one now, not just the results of me fannying around in the dirt hoping to get things right and praying that I wasn't making an idiot of myself and that people weren't laughing at me for getting it wrong. I mean, check out the pictures - the top one here shows, from the bottom of the picture, my little Raspberry bed, then on the right are two rows of Broad Beans, the dark square above them are the newly-watered rows of Spring Onion and Carrot seedlings and above them are my four rows of Onion sets. The light green 'row' next to them all running the width of the plot is actually my row of First Early Potatoes (the plants are actually in the row between the two boards) - yes, I know I need to weed it. Then there's the (weeded) row of Second Early Potatoes running the width. Next to that you can see the bean canes and, lastly, from the canes to the pathway is where the Red Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts are. It looks good, it looks right and I did it all. Yes, you may call me Mrs Smug.

This picture, taking from a slightly different angle, shows the shed in use! It also, unfortunately, shows how much is still left of the plot to be dug, weeded and cultivated. I'm going to try and get it all done this year - I still have Broccoli, Kale, Savoy Cabbage, Parsnip, Lettuce and Sweetcorn to go in yet! - but I also realise it might just be too big a job and it'll have to wait until next year. The remaining seedlings will just have to find a spot in and around what's already been done! The picture actually gives a distorted image - there's quite a lot of ground left to do, probably as much as I've already dug. But, hey, it's stopped raining so I may be there later...

Sunday, 11 May 2008

It's Shedtastic!!

It's only taken 9 days since it was delivered but my shed's finally up at the plopment! Yay! The difficulty has been that although I live really close to the site, vehicular access is via an extremely narrow track and if I was unsure that our car would get down there, I was darn certain that a flatbed truck wouldn't make it, so the shed had to be delivered to the house and then we'd work out how to get it on-site. This was eventually achieved through use of stepdad Da's estate car and Shanks' Pony.

Before the shed could be built, however, I had to move the carefully constructed pile of couch grass weeds because I had (of course) put it in the best location for the shed. This was no easy task, especially in the current unseasonably warm weather, and took a couple of hours of sweaty shovelling and forking to move the pile from one side of the plopment to the other on Thursday.

I decided that it would be too warm to do anything in the middle of the day, so resolved to get up early on Friday to start digging out the ground where the shed was going to be placed in order to level the surface. I actually managed to get there at 8.30am (and wasn't the first person on site either) and put in a good couple of hours of digging and levelling before deciding that a headache, sweat rolling down your bum cleavage and feeling sick was not worth it for a bit of flat ground so stopped at about 11, but I don't think I did too badly, as you can see in the pic.

Saturday (yesterday) we discovered that the car does actually fit down the track (this opens up possibilities of being able to fill black bin bags with horse manure from the stables I ride at and get it on-site with the minimum of fuss) so The Husband and I brought up what we could - the paving stones mainly and sundry bits of smallish timber that could fit in the car with a view to Putting Up The Shed on Sunday.

Step-Dad Da agreed to come along early on Sunday so that Putting Up The Shed could start in the earlier part of the day and hopefully wouldn't take too long. At 9am then we started loading the car but soon found that the two large side panels wouldn't fit at all, so The Husband and I carried them! We were not the only people on site this morning, in fact I've never seen it so busy, and everyone said hello and waved, and even a very nice lady who I've not met before offered us cups of tea! It's such a friendly site.

Anyway, below is a montage of pics of Putting Up The Shed for your edification:

Don't they look pleased with themselves?!? And quite rightly too, it was hard work in such hot weather, but isn't my shed absolutely fab? I so want to stain it an outrageous colour, but Cuprinol doesn't seem to do woodstain in Hot Pink or Neon Purple so I'm not sure yet. Perhaps I'll just live with it for a bit, after all it's a fairly vivid shade of golden yellow as it is. Might be nice with some really garish purple flowers growing around it, Morning Glory anyone? [ponders]

While the boys were Putting Up The Shed, I took the opportunity to continue weeding the space that's going to be for the birthday Raspberry canes so I think I'll put them in tomorrow, and the six Red Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts seedlings I put in last week are still there and in one piece so stuff is hanging on in there. When I put in my onion sets I decided to have a go at companion planting and sowed a row of carrot seeds between a couple of rows of onions (the idea is that the smell of the onions disguises that of the carrots and so the dreaded Carrot Fly can't find them). Trouble is I have no idea if any of the carrot seeds germinated because I couldn't spot them among the weeds that also grew so decided just to dig that row out again. I've also had the same problem with my 3 small rows of Rocket - put in the seeds, can't see the seedlings now for the weeds - so I think that's got to go as well. All a tad unfortunate but I have also been raising Rocket and Carrot seedlings in the plastic-house as well for just this eventuality, so all is not lost.

Anyway, enough rambling from me for today - I hear the siren call of a Gin and Tonic on the terrace while dangling my feet in the swimming pool and admiring the peacocks on the lawn, so one last pic and that's the view from inside the shed looking out:

Friday, 2 May 2008

First Swifts of 2008!

I know I've only just posted today but as I'm stuck indoors until the shed arrives, I've nothing better to do and I really can't stomach watching Sky News which will have nothing but election news (albeit piddling local elections) and whether Ken is still Mayor of London so I decided I might as well do some washing (I know, such an exciting life) and hang it outside while the big round yellow thing is visible.

For the last few days I've been keeping an eye out for the annual return of the Swifts and this morning, at about 9.00am, I saw them! The first three have successfully made the monumental journey of 14,000 miles from southern Africa to spend a measly 12 weeks here to breed and raise young before the trek back again. Others will soon join them and eventually they'll be dashing around and squealing with delight at being all together again. Every year I look out for them in the hope that they'll return, bringing the summer with them. Of course, the sad thing is that they're gone by the end of July, save for a few stragglers, and the skies are so much quieter then, and we're heading on the downward slope to winter. But let's not depress ourselves just yet.

I decided a little while back that if I were to come back as an animal, I'd choose a Swift. They're the UK's (if not the world's) fastest flying bird, are very sociable, live for around 22 years and always look as if they're having the best time, chasing each other about, flying REALLY high and then plummeting to skim the tops of the hedges. It must be brilliant.

So excited!

Today's the day my shed's delivered! This is good. The bad thing is that Wickes did that enraging thing of saying, "You can expect delivery any time between 8.00am and 5.00pm" - grrrrrr AND IT'S A SUNNY DAY [shakes fist at sky in cartoony fashion]. Still, I did manage to spend 4.5 hours at the plopment yesterday, dodging the storms, and have decided where to put my raspberry canes (ooer). By expanding the plot sideways, I can get quite a few extra feet of growing space and I'll put them in there. As for the strawberries, I've decided to get a patio planter for them, not one of the fancy terracotta ones but one that looks a bit like a green woven plastic buckety-baskety thing that can be folded flat and stored when not being used. I can keep this at home in the garden.

After being at the site now for about 3 months I finally got round to discovering a fellow allomenteer's name (I can be a bit shy like that sometimes - an admission which will, frankly, amuse the hell out of those that know me, but there it is). Anyway he's a lovely older gentleman called Henry who told me that only about 3 years ago hardly anyone was digging on the entire site and it was being threatened by the council who wanted to build on it, so he and a few others started marking out plots and working them like fury to show they were occupied. Consequently he still has 2.5 plots that he's working. I'm quite fond of reading the website with its many busy forums (fora?) and the fact that some people dig several sites while there is a waiting list is pretty controversial but I say let's give three cheers for old boys like Henry who've saved sites like this for amateurs like me to potter around in.

Apologies for the lack of pictures but I'm stuck indoors today. When the shed arrives I'll take its pic and stick it here. Me and Hubby are at my mum's 70th birthday barbecue tomorrow (pray for good weather) so I think the earliest we'll be able to start work on this will be Sunday.