Saturday, 31 January 2009

Potentially perfect potato patch preparation

It was flippin' cold this afternoon, but clear, so we decided we should make the best of the opportunity to dig some dirt, and headed off.

[Actually, Amanda and Abi headed up to the allotment while I went to Tescos. Nominal reason: to get some light hand weights for training. Real (secret) reason: to get the new Springsteen album. I've been most remiss about this, as it's been out for several days now. In the past I've normally got these on the day of release, but I must be slipping in my encroaching decrepitude. But, in the words of the inimitable Ronnie Corbett, I digress.]

When I eventually got to the allotment Amanda had removed the remains of the grass paths from the root-crop-area-to-be. Abi had added what looks like a miniature swimming pool to the hedgehog hotel, in the interests of encouraging wildlife on the plot. I can't help thinking that it looks remarkably like a trap-of-certain-death-for-small-mammals, but to her credit she put bricks in it so that the inmates stand some chance of escape. And she was remarkably focussed on digging out the hole, which was the most impressive part of the whole operation.

Amanda and Abi have also hung a bird feeder from the shed roof, to encourage the wildlife a bit. We've started seeing one of the local cats on our plot regularly when we go up there, and he seems to think that having more birds about would be a splendid idea.

In the end we dug over most of the root crop area. It turns out that cold days are great for this sort of thing, as you're incentivised to make some effort.

Having a chit time

This morning we had a long discussion about whether or not we should chit our seed potatoes. Sophia the disappointed Swede (not that kind) had read somewhere that this is a waste of time. Our allotment books seem to be divided on the subject. And it's completely pointless looking on the web for this sort of info, as you only seem to find the opinions of complete zealots of either persuasion (this is of course a general phenomenon, not constrained merely to potato-related dilemmas).

In the end we decided that perhaps we should find out what chitting is first. Turns out that it's just standing potatoes up in a tray of some sort to encourage them to form sprouts. It's a form of premature aging, so that you get your crops faster. Well, you learn something every day.

We eventually decided to chit our two early crops - according to one of our books, this is good for earlies, but mains are best left to their own devices. Apparently we can then expect fewer potatoes, but they'll be larger. Sounds good to me.

After all this discussion and research, it was a bit of an anti-climax when the actual operation itself took about a minute to perform. Next up: find out when we should be planting this lot.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Controversy rages over allotment plans

Our friend Sophia, allotment/gardening/cooking guru, Swede (not that kind) and sage (not that kind) was shocked, disappointed, aghast, flabbergasted, etc by our decision to go for plug plants this year.

A disappointed swede, this morning:

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Amanda suggested I title this post something like "Potato-related purchases for the 2009 growing season". In a spirit of bloody-mindedness I've decided to ignore that sensible and useful advice.

This morning we went to the shop in Newtown Allotments to stock up on supplies for this year. We got the following seed potatoes:

1 kg Sharpe's Express (first earlies)
1 kg Wilja (second earlies)
1 kg Magestic (main crop)

and some fertiliser:

6 kg fish blood and bone fertiliser
3 kg potato fertiliser

Our choice of potato varieties, given a list of the huge range available, was driven almost entirely by names we vaguely recognised. And a slight Bernard Cornwell/Sean Bean obsession.

Top tip from a shop guru: we can plant all of the potatoes at the same time, and they'll sort out themselves when it's time to grow.

Next up: we need to chit the potatoes in preparation for planting them. Actually, next up: find out what chitting is.

More Muck Spreading

Yesterday was a lovely afternoon. Abi spent the time building a hotel for any visiting hedgehogs while Amanda did some more blackcurrant pruning. I did some weeding and more manure digging-in. We now plan to dig manure into the entire top part of the plot, and dig over the area between the two rows of blackcurrant bushes to form the 'root' part of the crop rotation system for this year.

A few more gurus turned up and gave us advice/encouragement. Following the advice of a gap-toothed sage, Amanda got a bit more enthusiastic with her blackcurrant pruning. As an experiment she's severely pruning half of them, while leaving the other half as she'd originally pruned them. We'll find out in a few months which is the correct approach.

This session also gave me the opportunity to test drive my splendid new 'safety wellingtons'. These could have come straight from the pages of the Darth Vader school of couture, and give Amanda an endless source of amusement. I know that secretly she envies and covets my lovely footwear. And if I'm ever attacked by a bunch of axe-wielding leprechauns, my tootsies will be safe and comfortable behind their steel toecaps.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Year Ahead

Encouraged by our success during the day, in the evening we sat down with a stack of gardening books and a bottle of wine. The aim was to plan what we'd like to grow during the year, how much of everything we'd need, and when to plant it.

The procedure was quite straightforward. We flicked through one book calling out anything that we'd like to eat, and that doesn't look like it needs much poncing about with to get growing. We then cross-referenced another book that recommends quantities of each plant to grow. One lesson from last year is that some plants, e.g., beans, can produce much more than we can eat, so this is quite important.

Amanda has discovered that one of the books recommends buying plug plants. These are plants that a professional nursery has grown from seed, and will deliver mail order to your door, ready for planting on the allotment. This sounds like a great way to avoid messing about with hundreds of seed trays in our little lean-to outside, so in the interests of simplicity, and in recognition of our incompetence, we'll give this a go this year. If all goes well we might try growing from seed and transplanting to the allotment a little further down the line.

Given that the wine level had dropped significantly by the time we made it online to order our plug plants, we ended up getting slightly more stuff than originally intended. Oh well.

A major plus of this system is that we know when it's time to plant these items - you plant them when they're delivered. No awkward trying to remember when to plant the seeds, and then when to transplant them.

In the meantime we're going to get some seed potatoes and other bits and pieces over the next few weeks.

New Year, Same Sh*t

Right, new year, time for fresh beginnings and all that. More importantly, as we didn't get our acts together at the end of last year, time to dig some manure into the soon-to-be-heaving-with-nature's-abundance plot.

Amanda ordered a load of compost from Steve the Pooh Man, who turned up bang on time on Saturday morning. He arrived in a tractor pulling a huge trailer full of manure. "Aha", thinks I, "he's delivering to three or four allotments this morning". Oh no. This was all for us, and he promptly dumped it at the end of our allotment. A mountain of manure. A pile of pooh. A sh*t load of, well, sh*t.

Despite the weather forecast all week announcing that the weekend would basically be the Apocalypse, it was actually a lovely day in the end. In beautiful sunshine we retrieved our pathetic little wheelbarrow from the innards of the lovely shed and set about transferring the manure to the designated growing area.

Our aim for the day was to 'dig in' the manure. We don't actually know what this means, but we basically spread it over the area we want to grow stuff in, and then kind of turned some of the soil/manure mixture over. Hopefully this will work.

One of the gurus noticed us poncing about and wandered over clutching an ancient gardening book (seriously, it was ancient - it was his Mum's old book, and featured sections on growing vegetables in wartime). He read out a bit that explained about crop rotation (we'd heard of this, and so nodded sagely at this point). He then went on to read out the bit about not putting manure on the section of the plot to be used for roots (potatoes, onions, etc), as they don't like it. Ah. We stopped nodding, looked confused, and then thanked him profusely for having intervened before we'd busted our guts treating the entire allotment.

He wandered off, to be replaced shortly later by Henri, the French guru. He explained about crop rotation, and that we shouldn't spread manure over all of the plot, as the root vegetables don't like it. We nodded sagely.

We did two stints on the allotment, and covered roughly two thirds of the area around the shed. This is of course completely contrary to the advice in all of the books, which counsel taking it easy and only doing a bit at a time. In the end, though, it's starting to look like the plot's coming together.