Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mud, mud, glorious mud

I think everyone's allotment has some tricky aspect, and in my case it's that I'm kind of sliding over the top of a hill. That means there's a definite slope from side to side, and also from one corner to the other - and that's creating all sorts of problems now I'm getting into the corner that's lowest of all.

The trouble with slopes is that you get such a massive variation in the quality of the soil, sometimes within a few feet.

On my allotment, the top area of the slope - on the relatively flat top of the hill - retains soil, so has plenty of topsoil and is easy to dig over, and also drains well, so it's nice to cultivate right from the start.

As you get lower down the slope, though, all the topsoil gets gradually worn away by the rain and groundwater flowing down underneath it. So you end up with a gloopy mess of stones and subsoil which is no good for anything. It's horrible to dig over, it's boggy and muddy this time of the year, and it takes a good couple of years of adding muck to get it in good heart.

My universal solution to all this is to put in raised beds - and so far they've paid dividends for the extra work involved. I've stripped off the turf from a really horrible bit of the allotment today, and it was actually sucking as it came up. There was also more bog-plant and weed than grass, a sure sign that the soil is really cruddy there. I'll put a 9" high raised bed of scaffolding boards over it, shovel in as much manure as I cram in, and by next summer I should have some halfway-decent crops out of it!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Expanding rapidly

I made my first foray into the second half of the allotment today, taking the turf off the first set of what will be raised beds in time. It's quite a big moment for me - I'd got used to having half an allotment, and though I took on the second half last winter (partly to stop my neighbours snaffling it!) I've kept it as grass all this year.

Now, however, it's time to put it to work. I've stripped turf off two beds either side of the greenhouse - one for blackberries, the other for currant bushes - and then continued into the second half by marking out my first block of four 4ft x 11ft beds. There will eventually be two of these blocks plus another fruit bed for raspberries and some spare room - at the moment I have an idea I might be able to fit some fruit trees in, but we'll see - that's a long time off!

I've been taking it this slowly quite deliberately. I was given the excellent advice that more people are put off allotmenting by trying to get it all ready to cultivate in their first season - ending up broken-backed, disillusioned and generally fed up.

Instead, I've just gone at the pace that fits my restricted amount of time and energy, without getting too stressed out about having big bits of the plot out of action. I had just a quarter of the allotment dug over in my first season; last season the whole of the first half was productive, and next season, which will be my third, I'll have three-quarters of it up and running. I'm not in the slightest bit bothered that it will have taken me pretty much five years to get it going at full steam: this is what I can cope with right now, so that's all I'll do!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Veg vs flowers

It's the start of Year 3 in my allotment so I thought to celebrate I'd start a separate blog. I really do about as much on the allotment as I do in my flower garden, and seeing as part of my allotment (i.e. a greenhouse and coldframe) is actually in my garden, the two are very much linked - but the allotment is kind of special in its own right and growing veggies is becoming such a passion of mine I thought I'd give myself another forum to go on about it in.

Today, since it's the start of next season, I spent sowing seeds. I already sowed my broad beans last month (Aquadulce Claudia) in the coldframe at home - they're four inches high and doing very well, but I'm now a bit paranoid that I've sown them too early and they'll cop it between now and February.

But today I sowed the early peas (Feltham First), three to a 3 1/2 inch pot and now on a bench in the greenhouse. Mice nick them at the allotment, and if any escape the mice the slugs get them, so I sow them at home where I can protect them - the bench is to stop the mice getting them here, too!

I also planted my garlic - this year I bought some in from the Organic Gardening Catalogue rather than saving my own from last year's crop. I'd been finding the bulbs were getting smaller and smaller - not sure if it was to do with cultivation or to do with the dwindling viability of the garlic cloves. They certainly tasted good, and were slow to green, so for eating they've been very good - just not for growing on.

Anyway, I'm starting again with new, organically-grown Thermidor cloves this year. They're certainly a lot fatter than my own poor specimens, so I'm quite hopeful. I'm planting them in pots and keeping them at home, as I do each year - I find it's easier to keep an eye on them this way, and the multipurpose gives them a good start. They do still need a hoop of chicken wire over them to stop the squirrels giving them an experimental tug, but that's not difficult.

I'm sowing two rows this year, 15 plants to an 11-foot row, but I have to say it's all very well having fat cloves but the pack of three bulbs I bought from the Organic Gardening Catalogue left me short by four cloves (and that was with planting all the little ones, too). So I took a few cloves off some shop-bought garlic we had in the kitchen, variety unknown! Not what you're meant to do, since shop-bought garlic can have viruses, but I'll take the risk and see if I can spot the four rogues when they come up next year...!