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!!