Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Allotmenty updates

Well, March and it's mad-oh-god-there's-s-much-to-sow season is half way through. We've got way too many tomato seedlings jostling for space on the windowsills, and also have leeks, cabbages, turks turban, chillies, peppers, marigolds, rudbeckia, nicotiana, and assorted other flowers I can't quite remember. In the garden, the crocuses are finishing, the daffs are opening, the buttercups are taking over, the hop is coming back (yay!), the bleeding heart is shooting up so fast you can practically see it growing. The angelica and the foxgloves are both doing their big thing this year, and one of the japanese quinces is still flowering, after getting very confused in December and peaking too early.

In the allotment we still have a few leeks in the fground and the perpetual spinach is still going pretty strong. The overwintered onions, shallots and garlic are all doing fine, and the new season red onions are finally being left alone by the birds, who love pulling them up as soon as we put them in. What's that? Netting. you say? Well, where's the challenge in that?

The broad beans are starting to emerge, and *some* of the peas have made it over winter, but we'll shove a few more in for good measure next weekend. I don't think it's possible to have too many pea plants, after all...We've been manuring the 'other beans' bed in preparation too, and have our seeds ready to go.

We've sown half a beds worth of assorted lettuces and salad leaves, and I think this year we'll be transplanting some of the lollo rosso and little gems into their final position as that worked really well last year. We're growing some saltwort this year (land seaweed!) as our 'unusual' salad, although I'd like to get some perilla out there as well. The rest is mostly mixed salad leaves for the cut-and-come-again goodness. Oh, and radishes as well of course - we've got some french breakfast as usual but some lovely looking ones called amythyst that look really good from the packet.

The gooseberry is going great guns and we're hopeful that this will be it's first year of fruiting, as it's looking really healthy. Both the blackcurrants we took as cuttings from our bush in the old house are doing good things too, so we're hoping that this year they *might* fruit. (We've lived here just over 2 years now, huzzah!). The new raspberries are showing a couple of leaves so we'll see if they do anything this year, dunno. The redcurrant isn't doing much but it's not dead either, so maybe it'll cheer up as the weather warms up. The plum trees are budding - including some activity on the dead side (previous owners were even more clueless about pruning than I am) and this year I've decided to leave the apple tree alone, as I gave it it's first pruning in 20 years for last year and it didn't fruit so well, so I'll give it a rest this year and see how it gets on, and prune it again next year. My vine looks pretty dead, but I'd rather get a new one anyway - a named variety rather than a random cheap vine.

The flower beds in the allotment are slowly being cleared, I've got plenty of seeds for them but I want to sow indoors and transplant into it, rather than not knowing what's weed and and what's wildflower when they emerge. The globe thistle is still in there somewhere, but it's a pretty late flowering thing so I'm still okay with it being quiet. The borage looks like it's done some self-seeding, which is brilliant, and I want borage in every single area I've got - allotment flower beds, tea garden, actual garden, and maybe even the front garden - as it's a really nice looking plant and constantly had bees on it last year. Haven't unearthed the passionflower yet, but our jasmine is doing very well and is desperate to be planted somewhere with sun and trellis.

We are diggin out the tea garden, which is our first real foray into the second allotment. It's basically made up of bindweed roots with a covering of soil, so is slow work - but very satisfying. We've *nearly* dug out the whole bottom third of the second allotment, and once we've done, we can level it out and make a circular bed, with a circular path around it, and curved beds around the outside. The middle bed will be split into eight and planted up with the most invasive sort of tea plants - mints, lemon balm, etc - with others around the edges, and access to our hedge at the side as well (sloes, blackberries, rosehips, etc). The path will be covered in gravel to differentiate it from the rest of the allotment (which is / will be barked) and also to help drainage for the non-frost-hardy tea plants (lemon verbena, for example) which will stay in pots so we can move them inside in the winter. Any seeds that are coming up already for it will go into pots until we've finished prepping the ground for them, and I'm *really* excited about this area. Justin is looking forward to making beers from most of my tea plants too...

The woodland area is basically being ignored at the moment, I've got a few things I want to put into it, but at the moment the nettles, bindweed and brambles are a bit too invasive. A lot of the seeds I've bought for the woodland might well be better to overwinter them anyway - they like a bit of cold to help germinate - so it might have to wait till autumn, or at least until the made new season rush dies down a bit. Come May, June time things are mostly looking after themselves as wlong as we harvest regularly and do successional sowing where we've got the space, so maybe we'll look at it again then.

The pond and bog garden seem okay. The bog was new last year, so we're keeping an eye on it, and this year we're going to give up on hoping to afford a pond liner, and we're going to move the rigid pond into the hoel. We'll build up the sides with cobbles and so on, but it's been sitting there over a year waiting for us to afford the right thing. To move it, well decant into buckets and refill it once it;s in place, so the plan is that at a later date we'll do the same in reverse to get it out and put a soft liner in place instead. It's not a bad shape after all - your typical kidney shaped pond, with one shelf, and a *bit* of a slope up that we can build on - and I'd rather have something in the ground than a big rigid liner full of water, plants and snails, but so high up in the air that nothing else can get in or out. We'll keep an eye on it that things can get in an out - we want to make sure it's safe for our slowworms, in particular, and I know that rigid ponds sren't, usually, hence the need for plenty of sloping sides that aren't as steep as the ones the thing comes with. It was free!

Costs for the allotment are still balancing okay. The raised beds were free - wine bottles collected over the year, top soil from freecycle, manure from a local organically-fed stables. The pond liner was free - found in the back garden of my ex-boyfriends mums house, and kept for me all these years in my mums garden. Considering I've been married for 7 years this year, that's not bad! We're moslty using coppiced branches from our unwanted trees to stake beans, raspberries, and other things as they need it. The bog garden is using the punctured water-feature base we unearthed from the old water feature at the bottom of our garden, and with the fence panels our nieghbour gave us, we've got enough wood there to edge all the planned beds in the second allotment, and still have enough complete panels to build a shed. (Which is coming along slowly). I'm starting to suspect we might have enough plastic bottles to start making a greenhouse now, so when we've cleared more of the second allotment, we'll find a space for it.

Things that we *have* spent money on - compost, bark, and seeds, mostly. Compost to improve the soil in a few beds, or to them up, as neccessary. We've got one compost bin but it takes a while, we've got soem turf loaming itself too. It just takes a while to get that going, and we plan to build a compost bin with the spare pallets as soon as we've got time and space for it. We've been using the bags to line the access paths with, and then putting bark down on top of that, but we might buy some weed supressing fabric instead, as couch grass finds it's way between the bags. We have a shredder which we were hoping to make bark with but it's a bit dusty, so we'll probably still buy bark. And seeds? Well, this year I spent £50 on seeds (so far!) but I've bought a lot of weird and wonderful plants for the tea garden and the wildflower area so the costs should be much lower next year what with perennials, self-seeding, seed-collecting and sp on. We're starting to grow our own collected veg seeds from last year as well, so it's an exciting start. Our re-planted garlic from last year is so far doing better than the newly bought stuff, which is interesting...

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