Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Growing food you don't like

The gardeners among us may have noticed that the food you don't like very much seems to perform the best.

Take runner beans. Please take all the runner beans you want. They're over there with the French beans which you can also keep. Our runner beans are in full flower and growing fast enough to give Dwain Chambers a run for his win bonus.

Are these beans getting special treatment? No.
Are these beans taking vitamin supplements and cold and flu remedies? No.
Do these beans have Linford Christie as a trainer? No.

My Borlotti beans are in the same trench and on the same frame and they are a shadow of the French and runner varieties.

It's the same with my Italian black cabbage. Nothing. Stoically refusing to grow.
On Sunday I saw a round head cabbage slap a pigeon that tried to peck at it. The cabbage is in rude health.

So has the bubble burst on my quest to grow more "fancy" vegetables? Will I have to make a trip to Borough Market every time I want to make home-made minestrone soup? Am I doomed to grow spuds and strawberries and runner beans?


Say yes to wafty Italian cabbages;
embrace the shiny pink Borlotti bean;
pour over the Asparagus; and
play Mariarchi band music to Tomatillos. (What?) Never mind.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Perhaps a watched pot really does not boil.

Good things come to those who wait, but you can have runner beans now.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Fancy pants

In many of my pictures of the allotment the keen eyed among you may have spotted the occasional flash of blue dotted throughout all the greens and browns.

La. This plot belongs to Vic.
I recently discovered that no food is blue. This is why kitchen staff wear blue sticking plasters for treating cuts. This is a troubling thought. I wonder how many band aids made it into our collective mushroom soups before someone worked this out. Blue plasters fall off into our food just as easily as flesh coloured ones, they are just easier to spot. Let us not dwell on this.

The blue flashes are improvised water butts. We have a rather neat arrangement with a local factory. They give the allotment association their spent 40 gallon barrels (which previously contained water-based glue) and save themselves a bundle on waste management fees. We save a bundle on 40 gallon water butts. Happy people everywhere.

To convert the barrels you take a hand saw and cut off the tops and let them fill with rain water for summer crop watering. Some people cut them in half and grow spuds in them.

Of course you can be fancy and with a little application you can have a counter top for growing crops. We've got four of these.

I take credit only for the idea. It will surprise none of you to know that the natty framework was built by Harry and painted by Coryn. After experimenting with an "X" frame which proved a little unsteady Harry decided that, whilst certainly elegant, the "X" frame needed too much safety engineering. These things are surprisingly heavy when full of wet dirt. The cradle design is far more suitable.

This year we have grown carrots and spring onions with surprising success. Once the carrots come out we will being planting salad crops in all the buckets.
From my point of view I am very happy to toil in the soil for broad beans and potatoes and the like, but I draw the line at scrabbling around in the dirt for the cousin of a dandelion no matter how tasty. So our salad crops will be easy to pick and comparatively clean. As organic as I am everything still needs a really good wash.
Here's one I made earlier. Left to right Rocket-Lettuce-Spinach. Bagged and washed and bought in a supermarket a bag of this stuff is about £1.50. There's enough for about 10 bags there and it grows back every week. Sorry Tesco, I now eschew your "lazy-boy" bags of salad leaves.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Nearly there

We have finally bought this dog of an allotment kicking and (barking?) into line. It's been hard work and there is still plenty to do which will easily fill every one of my weekends between now and Christmas. Well it's nice to be busy.

Harry's digging frenzy has finally finished and Coryn's nursing of the fruit bushes means we might get some fruit this year after all.

Let me give you the tour:

Tomato, Tomatillos and Sweetcorn top left plot

Rhubarb and Squash top right boxes

Cabbages and cauliflowers top right

Peas beans and mange-tout Carrots Beetroot and Parsnips Bottom Left Plot

Nothing here yet. Bottom right plot. Will probably be potatoes and leeks and a few exotics that I have my eye on.


Herb patch. It looks a bit tatty at present. It's had some heavy traffic over the last few days and it's about to get tattier. More later.

fruit bushes, future plot for Bulb fennel and Water butts

Spider zoo.

Compost heaps. We'll get to the bottom of these bad boys in a few weeks.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The long dark tea-time of the fox

Some time ago I blocked up the holes that a fox dug under the shed. Surpriingly, he did not decide to dig new holes to his under-shed hideaway. Instead my actions have forced the problem somewhere else and there have been some innocent casualties. The fox's new home is under the wire "compost" heap.
Sadly during his excavations he destroyed my rocket crop. This leaves me with a moral and maybe even legal dilema.

Here is my problem.

My considered reaction is to shrug my shoulders and say: We're all god's creatures. The fox was here first. What right do I have to destroy his home? Blah blah, delicate balance of nature, Blah Blah hug a tree, blah blah save a whale, blah blah. Does more good than harm. Blah Blah How would I like it...

What if this fox is keeping other more daminging pests at bay? What if he is keeping more foxes from coming into the site? I might look back on these first few relatively fox free weeks as a golden age. "Do you remember when all this wasn't foxes?" I might ask.

The darker part of me says: What kills foxes? Where can I buy some?

If a fox can casually destroy my rocket crop, what could he do if he really put his mind to it? The fox took exception to me blocking his entrance to his old home. The following morning I was treated to some decidedly pungent "calling cards" that, in my opinion, were suspicious in the accuracy of their placement. OK, they were not in a paper bag that was on fire, but they might as well have been. I'm not sure I want to be on the recieving end of a more hostile response.
OK killing is generally considered to be wrong. I take that on board. I can grow more rocket. I can be accomodating and live with my fox, embarce our diffences and learn to live with him.

It's not like I can call the local fox hounds to hunt him down. They are ex-directory.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Sunshine Home for fruit bushes.

Coryn set up the Sunshine Home for delinquent fruit bushes. We have lots of self sown and out of control fruit bushes growing among the three feet high grasses, poppy fields and award winning thistles. Many of the bushes have been identified, assessed, weeded, pruned tied, staked and smartened up.

Good Gooseberry

Raspberry rehabilitation centre

I later explained to the bushes that this is a stay of execution only and they can either fruit up or ship out. I assured them that I can always build more compost heaps.

The Loganberry and Teyberry bushes are the other side of the greenhouse and we have not reached those yet. However, they have seen what has happened to the others and know they are next on the list. I shouldn't be surprised if they prune themselves this week.

Bad Teyberry.

This Loganberry need a jolly good talking to.

It's a very wet heat

The wet, sticky weather midweek hampered digging efforts although Harry was able to get down one night and dig out the string of rhubarb that had taken a beating from wheel barrows and general foot traffic.

Some was transplanted, and he kindly donated the remainder to our neighbours. Good thing too. I suspect we would have been overrun with the stuff next year as there were a good deal more (roots/tubas/bulbs*) under ground than (sticks/stems/fronds*) above ground.

*delete as applicable.

I fear that some over enthusiastic hacking at what I genuinely believed to be Doc Leaves may have contributed to Harry's surprise at finding so many rhubarb roots. Whoops!

Despite the humidity and no noticeable breeze Harry continued his digging frenzy. His sterling efforts have meant that we have passed the magical three quarters of the digging finished mark.

I continued to clear out the area between shed and green house and built frames for the Sweet peas. Sweet peas are not peas and are not sweet. Huh!