Monday, 1 September 2008

Sunday work slot

Yesterday we spent a bit of time up on the allotment doing odds and sods.

I put a cabin hook on the shed door and the side of the shed so it can be held open without banging in the breeze. Previous attempts to do this with hooks and pieces of string had been spectacularly ineffective. This was my first trial with my new cordless drill, and it proved its worth.

Meanwhile Amanda did some weeding and harvesting. We're producing more beans than we can eat from six plants, so I've no idea what the gurus are doing with their solid walls of beans.

We've got a lot more radishes ready for picking, but left them for now as we're not entirely sure what to do with them. They're fast and easy to grow, but not so easy to use.

All of the work we did turning over the topsoil over the last couple of weeks seems to have gone to waste, as the grass is merrily growing back up through it. One guru suggests we started too early - we should do this at the end of October, when everything starts slowing down on the growing front, and when the frost gets a chance to get at the exposed roots. This doesn't really suit Amanda, who's gung ho to get on and do stuff, but I'm well up for taking it easy for a bit.

I think we need to pause and consider - plan what we want to grow next year, where it's going to go, when it should be planted, etc. Sometimes more haste means less speed.

Monday, 18 August 2008


This one was a bit of a puzzle. We planted some "pumpkin" seeds that a friend and Allotment Guru kindly gave us, small plants grew and we planted them into the allotment. We were a bit surprised then to find what looks like a giant zuccini, or small marrow, it doesn't look like a pumpkin at all.....It does look very nice's just that we don't know when to pick it!

Beans means.....success!

We've been able to pick and eat green and french beans over the past couple of weeks! We've got loads of radishes too!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Other approaches to building compost bins

Such is the egalitarian nature of the web, and the downright obsessiveness of some of its users, that I'm sure there are whole sites devoted to the art of the compost bin. If I could be bothered to do any research at all before throwing my thoughts up here, I could find out in an instant. However, on Friday one of my RSS feeds lit up with the following article on how to build a compost bin, and I found the synchronicity compelling enough to post it here:

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Netley Bin Raising #3

Step 3: You're done. Irritatingly, Amanda seems to have been completely correct - the bin is so large and heavy that it's pretty solid.

Perhaps I'll sneak up some evening and bang in some spikes while she's not looking.

Netley Bin Raising #2

Step 2: one of us holds some of the pallets upright, the other bangs in some nails.

Netley Bin Raising #1

Having built the shed last Saturday, on the Sunday we carried on the construction theme and built a compost bin. A really big one. We'd managed to scrounge a couple of pallets from some people down the road who were having some work done, and I got some more from my mate Dave the builder. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Dave, have you got any spare pallets?
Dave: Sure, how many dozen would you like?

We got four (actually four, not four dozen) in the end. I reckoned we should be driving big metal stakes into the ground to hold the pallets upright, as most of the onsite gurus seem to do. Amanda reckoned we should just bang some nails in and it would be alright. I decided to humour her on this one, and so we took a hammer and a healthy supply of nails up to the allotment.

Step 1: taking the ends off some of the braces so that the pallets will fit flat against each other.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Netley Shed Raising #7

Step 7: lessons learned (yes, I'm an engineer, and firmly believe there's a lot of wisdom in holding project post-mortems).

1: Cordless drills are fab. I borrowed one for this job because there's no power at the allotment, but they are just a lot easier to use because you're not continually getting tangled in a 20 foot extension cord.

2. There's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Actually, Billy Connelly said that, not me, but he's absolutely correct. Today started off dark and dreary, soon descended into a constant drizzle, and got really quite damp later in the afternoon. However, we just cracked on and did it, on a day when it would have been very easy to sit inside and do nothing, and had a very productive day as a result.

3. Total construction time was about 5 hours, including clearing and levelling the land. It could have been quite a bit less if we'd avoided the faffing about with the felt, and a couple of trips back to the house to get things we'd forgotten, but I reckon this wasn't bad.

4. Making stuff is fun.

5. The bottle of wine at the end of the day tastes much better when you've actually achieved something :)

Netley Shed Raising #6

Step 6: Fit barge boards and edging strips. Fit the rubbish supplied hasp (soon to be removed and replaced with a decent one).

Last but not least: admire your lovely new shed, and look extremely smug.

Netley Shed Raising #5

Step 5: Add the two halves of the roof. Add the roofing felt.

This is where we had our only real problem. Being me, I meticulously followed the supplied instructions, not realising that I'd missed an extra instruction sheet supplied with the shed, that said NOT to follow the instructions for this step, but instead to do something different. If I'd realised this, there would have been no problem.

Instead, we ended up essentially trashing the supplied felt. Fortunately, when we moved into our house we'd inherited some leftover roofing felt. This is much thicker than the felt supplied with the shed, and is a bit old and knackered, but will do the job.

It greatly amuses Amanda that this problem arose because I was following the instructions.

Netley Shed Raising #4

Step 4: Screw the walls together on the floor, and then screw them to the floor.

Netley Shed Raising #3

Step 3: lay the plastic foundation stuff, add bracers to the supplied floor, and put the floor on the foundation.

Netley Shed Raising #2

Step 2: attempt to make the area approximately level.

Netley Shed Raising #1

So, today we finally got round to it and converted our shed from flat-pack 2D anonymity to 3D grandeur, thereby manifesting the splendour which was always inherent.

NB: my preferred title for this series of posts has been censored, despite the fact that it really really made me laugh. I had another word for 'raising'.

Step 1: pick the least-rough area of ground in the allotment, and remove the 3-4 feet of overgrowth.

Friday, 8 August 2008


The morning after leaving a punnet of blackcurrants for an allotment neighbour we were delighted to find a bag of freshly dug potatoes in our front porch (complete with instructions about which variety was best for what)!

Black currant harevest 2008

In total, we harvested 23lbs of black currants from the bushes on our allotment this year. Many of these are in our freezer, I made one batch of jam (will probably make one or two more), a friend is making a couple of batches of wine with more, some made some very nice black currant cordial, we won't be attempting anymore black currant pies (just too sharp) and will only use them sparingly in apple pies etc., some went into some Summer Puddings and some went to friends.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Ravishing Radishes

Yesterday, while test driving my splendid new hoe, I accidentally dug up one of our radishes-in-progress (see picture). It looks like a little radish! We grew something recognisable completely from scratch!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

It's here! It's here! It's here!

Yesterday morning, the shed arrived :)

The bloke who delivered it had quite a bit to say on the subject, having apparently just put together exactly the same shed after buying it at B&Q.

In particular:

1. Apparently you should follow the instructions and fit the extra two bracers under the floor, because he didn't, and now his is sagging in the middle.

2. It took him six hours to put together.

3. You should make sure that the base is really very very level, or it ends up with the roof being a right b****er to fit.

4. It's difficult to do if you can't get at it from all four sides - e.g., if you're putting it in a corner of your garden, as he was.

5. Buying stuff at B&Q during your lunch hour can take a lot longer than you might expect (a long and detailed exposition followed at this point).

6. Women don't get it. 'nuff said :)

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Shed Nirvana Approacheth

Realising the futility of my plans to actually plan and build a shed, and facing up to my innate incompetence at all things practical, this morning I ordered a shed online.

For some reason this makes me very happy.

Thinning the Radishes

Yesterday we went up to the allotment to do some maintenance work - refilling the beer traps, weeding, watering, that kind of thing. The radishes that Amanda and Abi planted are going great guns, creating real little verdant valleys in the otherwise desolate expense of our seedling bed.

SWMBO decided that we should thin them out, as lots of them are growing very close to one another, and presumably they would compete with each other and stunt the growth of their neighbours. Or something horticultural like that. This made sense but seemed a crying shame to me, pulling out perfectly good little plants. We did however hang on to these losers in life's lottery, as apparently they can be used in stir fries.

This morning Amanda was chatting to Guru Geoff, our neighbour on the allotment, and apparently we could have just left them as they were. They muscle each other out of the way in a survival-of-the-fittest sort of way, and sort themselves out.

That's the great think about allotment gurus, if you ask enough of them, you'll find one you can agree with.

Friday, 4 July 2008

When to pick blackcurrants

I have no idea what the answer to this is beyond waiting until they have turned from green, through pink and purple to black. The allotment Gurus say: "You know when it is time to pick the blackcurrants because you come down one day and the birds have eaten them all". Hmmmmmm.


Abi and I picked three and a half pounds of blackcurrants and brought them home to turn into jam. Conveniently, three pounds of currants is just the right amount for our largest saucepan. It was a very simple recipe but I am confused about things like what the disk of wax paper is for (do you really need it?!) and when you should put it on (when jam hot or cold?) which way up? and then the disk of cellophane, what's that all about? Hmmm, maybe not ready for the W.I. yet! Anyway, 3 pounds of currants made 12 pots of jam!

Have just had some on toast (for research purposes only you understand). It looks like jam, smells like jam, even tastes like jam. I think I've made jam!

Harvest time!

We have collected our first harvest! Strictly speaking we can take absolutely no credit for this as we inherited the blackcurrant bushes when we took over the plot. Our only intervention has been to put some netting over the bushes to stop the birds from scoffing the lot. Will have to look further into the netting option as our allotment neighbours have already had to rescue a robin that had got caught under the net and yesterday there were bird feathers everywhere showing signs of another caught bird (no sign of bird though).

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Existential angst

There are certain rites of passage we must all pass through on the route from spotty-faced oik to grumpy old git (I'm doing well on the grumpy and git components of that particular equation, at least). These include, but are in no way limited, to:

* waking up, realising that it's sunny, and saying to yourself "Cool, I can get the clothes up on the line today"
* waking up, realising that it's raining, and saying to yourself "Cool, I don't have to water the garden today"
* realising that you now listen to Radio 4 more than anything else
* realising that you are not, in fact, going to score the winning goal for Northern Ireland in the World Cup Final
* and so on, ad infinitum, a well-worn list of crushed dreams, financial responsibilities, and epiphanies that up to now you have, in fact, been a complete idiot.

Well, I have recently passed another milestone: I want a shed.

Oh sure, I could rationalise it with lots of sensible "It will be good to store the tools on the allotment" guff, but I think it speaks of a far deeper and more meaningful step on the path to manhood. I see myself sitting on a garden chair, the rain pattering lightly on the window, as I pop the tab on another beer and settle down with a good book.

I'm even toying with the idea of trying to BUILD a shed. I am hopelessly, irredeemably, undeniably, and irretrievably useless at DIY, but this noble goal stirs something in my breast (I am, of course, speaking figuratively here - my man boobs aren't that well developed yet).

I have also searched the interweb for plans, got a couple of woodworking books from the library, been to B&Q to look at their sheds, and SWMBO has been checking Freecycle and EBay for anything suitable.

Only time will tell how this pans out, but I have a religious fervour burning in me, the stars of my destiny have been realigned, and whole new vistas are opening up before me.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Wise words (on slugs) from Hard

Our good friend (and avid Blog reader) who we shall call 'Hard' has been conducting some extensive and thorough research on our behalf. We thought it too selfish to keep to ourselves and decided to set his wise words free, here on the blog:

"There was a special on slugs on bbc1 breakfast this morning. Apparently this year they're going to be worse than ever because of all the rain, so you're doomed. ;-)

They mentioned spreading oyster shells around the base of plants (they don't like the scratchy texture). Don't know if it works, but you should have a good night working through all those oysters (actually you can buy the shells pre-crushed, but probably not as much fun). Also, they apparently don't like copper, so you can put copper rings around plants (maybe connected to any nearby overhead HV power lines?) They also mentioned hedgehogs, and thrushes, and you can buy an active biological ingredient in the form of nematode worms that you water into the soil! Sounds vile.

Sorry if you already know all that. I've become quite interested in slugs on your behalf."

Thank you Hard!

If you would like to hear more wise words from Hard, please post a comment.....

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Things we have learned #1: addendum

Amanda tells me I've also had trouble differentiating between 6 inches and 8 inches. I don't know what she's talking about.

Things we have learned #1

1. You need 6' of cane for beans to grow up.
2. If you buy 6' canes, by the time you push them into the ground, they become 4' canes.
3. You need 8' canes to have 6' above the ground.
4. I'm not entirely clear on the differences between the ' and " designators for feet and inches. That probably explains my issue with 4 inch canes.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Evolution of the slug beer trap: Part I

To us ruffty-tuffty gardening types, slugs are the spawn of Satan. They appear silently in the dead of night, devour everything, and retreat into some hinterland of the ninth circle to plot their next onslaught. You can practically hear their nasty, slurpy little laughs as they discuss the devestation wrought on their previous sortie.

So you lay traps for them. And as it turns out, they have one thing in common with yours truly - they're really quite partial to a beer.

Our first effort at a slug trap was a jam jar with a little of the cheapest crappy lager we could find in it. We buried this in the ground so that the top was level with the soil. The onrushing hordes of slithery swine would get distracted by the delicious fermented hops, dive in head first, and drown. Result.

The problem: when it rains, the jam jars fill up, diluting the beer and eventually spreading it out over the area they're meant to be protecting.

Curses, back to the drawing board...

Thursday, 12 June 2008


Is this thing on? Can anyone hear me?

This is my first bog post on the interweb - She Who Must Be Obeyed has decreed that henceforth I, too, shall burn my musings into the electronic ether to confuse and confound the lost and weary travellers who stumble into this little corner of the metaverse.

I don't know much about gardening. Or allotments. Or blogging. This should be fun :)

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Identity crisis!

Oh yes, and apparently they're not red currant bushes, they're black currant.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

My bean poles are too short

Last night I popped up to the allotment to put a few bean poles into our newly prepared bean trench. I had purchased these poles, specially for the job, at the weekend. They looked very long when I bought them (and put them in the car) but it turns out they are not long enough. I pushed one end of the first pole down into the ground and realised that the top of the pole would not reach up to my higher support. I looked at everyone else's and realised that mine were about two foot too short. This was confirmed by our allotment neighbour (who has managed the plot for 30 years!) who called across: "you want 8 footers in there you know". He also explained that the two pumpkin plants that we have planted in Abi's Patch (in fact the only two non-flower things we've planted to date) are too close together, much too close apparently. Never mind, he's drawn a mark in the dirt so I know where to move the second plant to in order to correct my mistake (I couldn't actually move it there and then because I hadn't taken a trowel with me). I didn't feel at all stupid as I headed home with my too-short bean poles, leaving behind two inappropriately spaced pumpkin plants.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Stealth progress

Of course, from the main path of the allotments, it looks as if we have made absolutely NO progress at all - the couch grass is hiding all our activity!

End of day 2

Another couple of hours on Sunday resulted in our two trenches being extended.

We are quite chuffed with our progress and determined to get both beds planted up as soon as we can.


No, we're not that quick, they're not ours but an allotment neighbour very kindly brought a box of strawberries he'd just picked along for Abi today, they were absolutely lovely (I was allowed one!).

We met a few allotment neighbours today, they all seemed very nice and were very encouraging, with stories of progress they had made in a few years. Fingers crossed!

Abi's Patch

Abi's patch currently comprises about 6 bright coloured flowers/plants and two pumpkin plants (grown from seeds given to us by a friend and expert allotmenteer). We have attempted to defend against slugs with:
  1. An organic anti-slug gel which is kind to anything (I remain cynical about whether it can therefore deter slugs!)
  2. Good, old-fashioned beer-traps (fashioned out of plastic milk bottles)
Abi has painted her own sign (as can be seen below) onto a white ceramic tile.

Day 2 - extending trenches

The second day involved planting things to create Abi's Patch and extending the two trenches we began yesterday.

Here's Abi in a red-current bush!

In the trenches

So, after one and a half hours of digging and edging (with our edging hoe - we know it is an edging hoe because it still has a label on it....fortunately!), we produced two small trenches that looked like this:

Sod heap

Right, I've read the book (it's brilliant - despite a generous smattering of typos) so this weekend we decided to start on the allotment. We're going to spend a few weekends putting in a couple of hours a day (contrary to The Book's advice) until we're up and running, then we plan on following the half and hour a day principle (perhaps with the odd weekend splurge).

So on Saturday, Alan and I headed to the allotment for some good, hard digging. Alan was very keen to do some digging, he wasn't too bothered where, he just couldn't wait to get into some decent digging.

We spend an hour and a half digging and edging two small areas. One is to be Abi's Plot - we need to get this sorted pretty quickly to trying and keep her interested. The other area was formerly a bean trench and we intend to grow beans in some of it again.

Following advice from our allotment neighbor, we decided not to cut/strim the couch grass first, we just dug up manageable sized sods. The Book suggests that we pile the sods up, grass-side down and cover the resulting heap in dark plastic to reduce light and increase heat, we are assured that: "The couch grass will eventually die and rot down, and you will be left with a beautiful pile of topsoil and well rotted organic matter to use on your plot" - we'll let you know when that happens.

Here is our sod heap, which we decided to position in a gap between the red current bushes which we thought might be hard to utilise in any other way (need to get hold of some thick black plastic now):

Always read the instructions

Anybody who knows me will smile at the heading of this post, knowing only too well that things have to be going pretty disastrously for me to resort to anything as desperate as reading the instructions. However, on this occasion, I have felt the need to buy a book.......Actually, this is not unusual, what is unusual, however, is that I have actually read it, prior to embarking on any allotment activity. The book is called 'The Half Hour Allotment', written by Lia Leendertz and published by the Royal Horticultural Society. The inside cover talks of: "...for busy people...half an hour's work a day, with weekends off....make life easier for yourself..cut down on the graft..enable you to enjoy the satisfactions of tending a glorious bountiful allotment without becoming a slave to it, and to eat the very best." - sounds good, we plan on putting it to the test.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Five rods is plenty

Being "older and wiser", we have therefore been very fortunate to find a local family to take on half the plot. They will work the 'front-half' of the plot (nearest in picture) and we will work the 'back-half'. We will do this entirely independently but I suspect (and hope) that it will be a bit of moral support for us all and witnessing progress on one half of the plot is bound to inspire effort on the other half (or it will become very depressing - time will tell). Both halves currently comprise: half a dozen red-current bushes, one bean trench with supports and nearly 5 rods of couch grass (had to look that up too, I think the RHS will prove to be essential!). It has probably been about 2 years since the plot has been worked.

Starting point

So this is what the plot currently looks like. It's 10 rods. I had to look this up. The Royal Horticultural Society are very helpful on such matters and provided the following information:

"Plot sizes are measured in rods, an old Anglo-Saxon unit so-called because it was the length of the rod used to control a team of eight oxen.

A rod is 5.5 yards (5.03 metres).

A chain = 4 rods = 22yd (20.12m) and is the length of a cricket wicket.

A furlong = 10 chains.

A mile = 8 furlongs.

An acre is the area of land that could be ploughed in a day, being a furrow long (furlong)and a chain wide, or 160 square rods.

Allotment plot sizes are usually five or 10 rods. A 10 rod allotment is 10 square rods in area, 10 x 5.5 x 5.5 = 302.5 sq yd (253 sq m).

In metric units, a 10 rod allotment is one fortieth of a hectare: in imperial units it is one sixteenth of an acre."

Right, that's cleared that up then. For anyone who didn't follow, our allotment is big. Too big for our needs and as you can see from the picture, it is currently in a rather wild state.

Second time around...

So, why are we doing it again? We are hoping that we are in a better position to succeed this time because:
  • We are older and wiser (!)
  • We're more determined this time and know more about what we're taking on
  • We have Abi to help us (!)
  • This allotment is at the end of our street - no car required
  • Surely we can't fail twice?!

So, we've got this allotment.....

First we must come clean. This is not our first allotment. We had one about seven years ago, maybe a bit more than that, certainly before we were married and before Abi (now nearly 6). Anyway, it wasn't an entirely successful escapade. We bought a wheel barrow and a few tools, drove to our plot (about a 15 minute drive), became quite overwhelmed at the overgrown jungle.......I can't actually remember getting around to doing any digging and several months later, admitted defeat and handed it back to the council. This is not, I believe, an uncommon experience.