Saturday, 25 July 2009

Normal Service Has Been Restored

Enough of my trials with the red ants (the bites are much better, thanks for asking....), let's get back to matters vegetabular (have I just coined a new word?)

It's been chucking it down here since I last went (and got all bitten) so as there were some bits of blue in the sky today I thought I'd best grab the opportunity to get down the road to do some weeding and harvest some stuff. The last pictures of the plopment proper were on 8 July which is some time ago now. So, behold the jungle that has appeared since last you looked:

All the new potatoes have been dug up now and, delicious though they were, the yield was quite staggeringly poor. In the vast majority of cases, I only got 2, maybe 3, spuds per plant! Barely worth it. I'm hoping for much better things from my Desiree main crops.

I'm growing quite a few new things this year that I've not tried before - Butternut Squash is one. You grow them like cucumbers, up poles, but I believe pollination is a bit tricky - it says on the packet that you can aid pollination by using a paintbrush or just sticking your finger into one flower and then into another to act as a surrogate bee or bug or whatever. I've found, though, that I've only so far had one flower open at a time! This is just an experiment, though. We'll see what happens.

Another veg I'm growing this year for the first time is the Pattypan Squash or, to give it its more formal title, "Early White Bush Scallop Summer Squash". Originally grown by native Americans for hundreds of years, it's now very popular in modern American vegetable patches but little grown over here. You grow them just like courgettes and I started by sowing just three seeds but all three germinated so I didn't bother sowing any more (I only need to grow enough to feed the 2 of us and if it's anything like courgettes....need I say more?)

But, look, I harvested my first squash today! Well, okay, so it was the only one on the 3 plants but I'm hopeful there'll be more! In the picture the squash is next to (some of) today's harvest of Cobra Climbing French Beans and another new arrival, Yellow French Beans.

My courgettes are coming along:

As are the cucumbers:

The Calabrese/broccoli:

And the Sweetcorn is starting to develop its flowers (or what passes for flowers in sweetcorn-world):

The two rows of Resistafly Carrots seem happy enough, but it's hard to tell until you dig some up, so we'll see later if they stand up to their billing:

The lettuce hedge is as succulent as ever. One thing I can say for my plopment is that it grows terrific lettuces. Just after I took this picture I tasted a few of the leaves from the salad bowls (frilly bright green plants in the picture) and, sadly, they were starting to bolt (I'd suspected as much) and the leaves were so bitter I had to spit them out, so I removed them. Fortunately I'd brought with me half a dozen new lettuce seedlings so they got popped into the vacant space.

The fox trampoline was starting to look a bit full and as I'd not weeded underneath the mesh since planting the brassicas in there, I figured it was time to do it.

And this is showing just how big the brassicas have got (I think we're looking at mainly Savoy Cabbage here and possibly some Brussels Sprouts):

The Cosmos that Sylvia planted when she had the top of my plot has flowered beautifully this year. I decided to leave them as the colours are so vivid.

And, finally, this year's competition on the site is for the best scarecrow (last year was tallest sunflower and the year before that was something to do with sweetpeas, I think). Anyway, I have enough to be getting on with without having to think about designing and constructing a scarecrow so won't be entering, but other people on site are and scarecrows are gradually appearing. The competition is going to be judged sometime during the week of 10-16 August (which is, apparently, National Allotment Week) but this one went up this afternoon (all 10ft of it!) and I think it's fabulous - such an easy design and so effective! Bit early for Hallowe'en but what the heck, I wish I'd thought of it now!!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Evolution of the Lumps - Day 3

And so we come to Day 3. It transpires there are actually 7 bites, the cluster nearest the ankle is formed of 3 separate bites, not 2, as I originally thought. This little group is also going beetroot red and feels hot but is not particularly inflamed. Today's picture's been taken outside in the sunshine (we had some, for a bit of a change). The itching hasn't been nearly so bad today but I did, finally, remember to get some Anthisan cream from the chemists in readiness for the next occasion because, oh yes, it will happen again although, hopefully, not quite on this scale.

The pustule is still there, as you can see but, for some reason, it's the only one. The temptation to pop it has been quite strong but I managed to restrain myself.

I think this will be the last posting about the Evolution of the Lumps as they'll start to go down and become less red from now on and I really should return this blog to its original intention, which is pictures of the allotment and, anyway, I think that's quite enough of my afflictions for the time being.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Evolution of the Lumps - Day 2

And so here we have Day 2 of the Red Ant Bites. You will observe that there is more pronounced redness and you can see where I've been scratching between the bites when it's all got too much. They were a bit troublesome last night but I slathered them with Lanacane cream which is a local anaesthetic albeit a pathetically mild one - I really needed the stuff they put on little kids in hospitals before sticking a needle in them, that'd do it...

This next picture is not really for the faint of heart, so if you're feeling even slightly fragile, please look away now and just imagine it's a picture of kittens and puppies.

There - don't say I didn't warn you. Yes, I know my legs need a shave but I'm not going to do them now, am I, not with the bites now GROWING PUSTULES!!!

More tomorrow....

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Beware the Red Ants - vicious little buggers....

What you are looking at here is the untoned, in-need-of-a-shave, lower right leg of a slightly overweight woman who had a bit of a tan from when we got the heatwave a little while ago (remember that? When it got too warm to sleep? That was our summer this year, right there - I hope you made the most of it!) but which has now faded. I genuinely apologise for inflicting the sight upon your innocent retinas. And, yes, those are floorboards you can see, bare floorboards with just the ghostly herringbone imprint of ancient perished underlay upon them. We're redecorating and the carpet's come up. Just in case you thought we were too poor to afford decent floor covering. Which we're not.

What I want you to concentrate on instead is the constellation of angry looking red lumps scattered liberally about it. I may as well own up to the fact that, yes, the leg belongs to me (I have another just like it but without the lumps) but I think you'd probably guessed that anyway. After all, why would I be talking about someone else's pale, hairy, lumpy leg unless I was being especially bitchy that day, so, yes, it's mine. Just thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that it's not attached to your body because THE ITCHING IS DRIVING ME NUTSO!!!

Yesterday, because it wasn't raining (hence the lack of posts lately - nothing much to report if I don't go to the allotment due to the weather), I decided several hours of stuff needed doing, involving harvesting produce (or, as we pronounce it in our house, in that very annoying American way, 'pro-dooce'. Because it amuses us, alright? Look, we've been married for 13 years so we have to make our entertainment in whatever way we can...) and transplanting 50 beetroot seedlings into where the onions are now being harvested from. Ooh, bad sentence but '...transplanting 50 beetroot seedlings into from where the onions are now being harvested' is worse. So just suck it up, grammar nazis.

Now, like many of you good people, I have an iPod. It has my entire music collection on it, numbering close to 9000 tracks now and, for the first time ever, I took it to the allotment with me. Strapped on the headphones, chose my 'St Vitus Dance' playlist (all tunes I can't keep still to) and, singing away at the top of my voice, danced up and down the potato rows, boogied around the beans and shimmied amongst the sweetcorn. Our site where my allotment is is large, 4 acres, and I was the only person there so my dignity (and their eardrums) remained intact.

But, my goodness, what a difference it made to my work rate! I suppose much like people listen to music when they're at the gym or going for a run, you get into the rhythm, and shaking your booty and singing along to some bangin' beats tends to take your mind off the tedium of weeding (or jogging or stairclimbing or whatever) and by the time I'd finished listening to my list of tunes written by the genius Cathy Dennis (Kylie's 'Can't get you out of my head', Britney's 'Toxic', Rachel Stevens' 'L.A. Ex', Katy Perry's 'I kissed a girl', Sugababes 'About you now') and was most of the way through my Funky Prince playlist (not the sloppy stuff, just pure purple funktasticness, like 'My Name is Prince'), I found that I'd dug up at least 100 onions (it's okay, I meant to) and laid them out in the shed to dry, weeded where they'd been and popped in all 50 beetroot seedlings.

I also found that my brain was so busy dealing with the additional stimulus of the music that I was not paying attention to the fact that, all that time, I'd been kneeling in a red ant nest. A nest now full of very angry red ants. Because I was busily demolishing their home. Which is understandable. The stings, when they happen, feel like you've lent against the end of a bit of sharp dry grass. Obviously I felt them but they felt like I'd lent against the end of a bit of sharp dry grass. It wasn't until I bothered to look down that I saw my kneeling pad had a handful of very smug looking red ants scuttling across it and back into the grass that I realised it wasn't dry grass. Bugger.

Ant 'bites' aren't actually bites at all. Black ants wee a little bit of formic acid onto your skin which stings a bit but that's all. Red ants have a modified ovipositor (a tube through which eggs are laid) which presumably resembles a hypodermic syringe which they jab you with and inject you with formic acid. At first you don't see anything so I didn't know how many times I'd been bitten but, having been bitten several times over the months I've had the allotment, I knew they would take 12 hours or so to emerge.

And so it came to pass - I could feel the itching starting in bed this morning and when I went to put on some insect bite cream, I could definitely see the six red lumps. The itching will become worse when I get hot, so nighttime is always tricky - it's not that easy to sleep with one leg on top of the covers. The lumps will get smaller and go down but will become dark red and eventually leave a sort of darker skin-coloured stain will can take months to finally vanish.

I may entertain you with further pictures of the Evolution of the Lumps but take this posting as a warning - be careful around red ants and brush them off you as soon as you see one!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Monsoon - just like last year!

So yesterday in the south of England we had the most enormous downpour of rain, with a real, proper, old-fashioned thunderstorm (the kind that frightens the pets and small children). It even flooded London underground stations. An absolutely enormous amount of water fell, very quickly, out of the sky - it was something to behold. Dead Biblical, it was.

This morning I wondered what had been happening this time last year down at the allotment (by way of comparing how things are going this year) and, interestingly, we'd also had a massive downpour of rain, on 9 July 2008, so almost exactly a year to the day.

Anyway, yesterday I'd managed to find a gap in the clouds to shoot off down to the plopment to pick some lettuce and see what's what. I was dismayed to discover that my white netted brassica cage had collapsed in the middle but extremely annoyed, upon closer inspection, to discover unmistakable muddy fox footprints right on the top of the mesh, smack bang in the middle of the broken bamboo poles and crushed plants! Little Sods. And that's the thanks I get for treating the foxes suffering from sarcoptic mange - they've just taken a running jump and landed in the middle of the netting!!

Took me a while to reconstruct the thing and replace the broken bamboo poles by which time the heavens had opened again and I had to retreat to the shed for about 15 minutes while the deluge passed. Hopefully I may only have lost a handful of plants - most of the others have been flattened but the stems are still viable. I might get the plants growing along the ground rather than up, but at least they're still going.

We are now actively eating the lettuce, mange tout and I've just picked my first harvest of climbing french beans. I've also started digging up the new potatoes and it won't be terribly long before the onions have to be dealt with. My strawberries have now finished and I think I've had all the blueberries I'm going to get this year but it was all a good start.

Time for pictures then:
General view down the length of the plot, from the shed. Things are starting to grow, thanks to the recent sultry heat followed by lots of rain.

The repaired Fox Trampoline. Buggers.

The Lettuce Hedge. The Little Gems are bulking up quite nicely although I don't know (not having grown them before) how long they take to develop a heart, but I'm quite happy to let them take as long as they need. We're already eating the lime green Salad Bowl and the red Lollo Rossa, plus there's more elsewhere in the plot and some still in the plastic-house at home so it's not like we'll go without while waiting for the Little Gems to do their thang...

This is the (3 x) squash and (5 x) courgette (zucchini) patch. We've already had two small courgettes which, I suspect, is just the start. I'm aware that you probably only need 2 courgette plants to feed a family of four for the summer - there's only two of us and I've got 5 plants! Uh-oh....

Behold, the Butternut Squash, Crystal Lemon Cucumber and, er, Ordinary Cucumber wigwams. The two plants nearest the camera (one of which has a yellow flower on it) are my Butternut Squash plants. I bought these as large seedlings for £1.25 each from the Chiddingfold Horticultural Society's stall at Chiddingfold Festival on 14 June this year (I also had a stall) as the free seeds I'd got from the BBC's Dig In campaign had spectacularly failed to germinate, and they've settled in nicely. I've not grown these before so am going to have to find out what to do with them later on (assuming they develop fruits, that is!). Behind them is a single Crystal Lemon Cucumber plant (although there's another in the plastic-house at home which is just waiting to be planted out - keep forgetting to take it with me though...) then the wigwam behind that has four cucumber plants of either Telegraph or Marketmore (I planted both varieties). These are now growing strongly and need to be tied to the poles on a regular basis or else they sprawl across the ground.

The Sweetcorn are coming along although the one in the bottom right of the picture is having a tremendous sulk and doesn't want to play with the others. There's quite a large variation in the size of the Sweetcorn plants so far - I have absolutely no idea why this should be as they were all treated the same, as was the soil they've been planted into. Oh well, as long as I get some cobs this year I'll be happy.

Last year I was both astonished and thrilled at the sheer quantity of Climbing French Beans that were produced from about 20 plants that I'm wondering if it's too much to hope for a repeat performance this year. This is how they look at present - two wigwams of four poles each, with at least three plants around the base of each pole, so that's somewhere in the region of 24 plants (although there may be a few more) in total. We've already eaten a decent sized portion of beans so fingers crossed!

The onions and garlic are starting to yellow which means they're nearly done. Some of them have got pretty large too. Hopefully this last spell of wet weather will cause them to swell up even more before they topple over. And then I've got to decide how I'm going to dry and store 400 bulbs.

The two rows of Resistafly Carrot I sowed in the spring seem to be surviving as well. I'm persevering with growing carrots because homegrown ones taste incredible. Last year's ones were multi-limbed and tunnelled so I had to throw most of them away but what I did manage to salvage and eat was a complete revelation.

I think that's enough for now - just a quick catch up really.