Friday 31 October 2008

It snowed this week

I did not go to the allotment last weekend (same reason as ever, the weekend has become essential to my weekly rest and housework needs since I changed jobs) and, because of British summer time coming to an end there is no chance for me to go after work...

... so when it snowed copiously on Tuesday I was worried for the herbs - which I have not covered yet - and of all the other crops, in particular my Borlotti beans. It seems on our side of London it had not snowed in October since 1974.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

If I did housework...

... all the time I spend at the allotment, I would be Anthea Turner's Perfect Housewife, and my husband would shower me with gratitude.

However, we cannot all be perfect, so I must content myself with being the allotment's "whirlwind" and take pleasure in the extremely limited domestic glory that the title provides...

Quick visit to the allotment, community feeling.

It was such a good day today that I could not resist going out of the office dot on the hour and pop in to the allotment, where I met my new neighbour: Keith, who is a newbie but will have his green-fingered wife's contribution. Actually, I discovered that I have two new neighbours: Keith in the bottom half and another guy (the angel out of my dreams who felled the tree) at the top.

And I realised that my nickname of "whirlwind" has stuck, and fellow holders are still talking about me in those terms. I must say it is flattering, I pride myself in being "a doer", although I would not know about actually being a "whirlwind". The nickname originated when in a matter of a month or so I built both the greenhouse and the shed. Well, I needed them, I hoped to set everything up before the planting season (but I ended up running late anyway).

It is nice that people bother to stick nicknames onto you, it creates a community feeling. I bet it's Nikki and Tom that spread the word, they are so nice and friendly and have spent a lot of time chatting with me, advising, helping me identify plants, sharing cuttings etc. They themselves are nicknamed something like "the farmers" as they are very organised, very meticolous and have a very professionally-looking greenhouse.

Other characters are Geoff (who has three plots, considerable experience and I dare say a very respectable age besides a generous attitude) and the lawyer (I do not know his name, but he is there most evenings and has even gone some lenghts to greet me in Italian!).

Those are the people that I meet more often, then there are some that I meet occasionally, as my other neighbour Tony, Jean the allotment manager, the guy who looks a bit like Robert Redford and whose accent I do not understand, Claire (who got the allotment this summer, after some hankering), the Scottish lady whose orderly plot I really admire...

A lot of us are newbies, and it seems that there are more and more people in their late thirties to early forties. Sometimes there are kids playing on the path, or helping out and some dogs as well (very controversial topic, that of the dogs, as it can be argued that they are not overly hygienic besides devastating seed beds and seedlings, albeit occasionally and unwittingly).

Monday 20 October 2008

We ate it!

Corn odyssey: the end.

Tired to wait for the tassels to turn brown I picked some cobs and we finally tried it!

It was good, the grains are biggers than commercial varieties and a bit stickier when chewed, with thicker skin and softer centre, but I liked it, it was tasty! And there are plenty more on the plants... I have kept a couple of smaller cobs and will try to dry them for popcorn.

Today the garlic has arrived, so next weekend it will be autumn planting: I have to figure out where they belong according to my rotation plan. I will do it some time this week, when I find a little bit of time. Or if I can keep my eyes open I might do it now, while I wait for the last torta pasqualina with my spinach beet to cook.

Sunday 19 October 2008

So pleased!

Wish come true unexpectedly, mice and potatoes

I popped into the allotment to take home some garlic and noticed that my new neighbour has felled an elder tree that was at the bottom of his/her plot and that was making an awful lot of shade in a place that is already shady and wet: I am so pleased, it is one of those small things that make a difference!

I had been thinking of asking the allotment manager if she could get the tree pruned shorter, but it is much easier now that the problem has solved of its own accord, and better than expected.

Although with a tiny pang of guilt for being so happy for a felled tree - pang which I am trying to silence thinking that the birds should not suffer too much as there are plenty of trees around anyway - I am rejoycing at the opportunity to grow a bit further up the plot, now that it is lighter and airy.

This piece of good news compensated the discovery that mice had got to the potatoes I was storing temporarily in the greenhouse...

Saturday 18 October 2008

Autumn tidying up

Autumn tidy-up, crop updates, what I will be planting next.

This afternoon I have been to the allotment after more than 10 days. Everybody is tidying up and digging in manure. It is really nice to see everything neat and tidy after the summer wilderness. The plot to my right - which had been overgrowing for a while - is also looking much better: there are obvious signs of activity, so I guess I've got a new neighbour.

I myself have sorted the polythene sheets and pallets that were lying around, pruned another little bit of the plants behind the shed (it feels much airier now!) and mowed the lawn. Also, I moved one of the waterbutts behind the greenhouse where it is shadier, and therefore less suitable for growing anything. Later on, I will have to arrange for my fig - which is planted in the sunny spot in front of the greenhouse - to grow around it somehow.

Another task that I started was clearing up a spent crop bed: while doing that i was thinking that the battle against weeds is really endless and extenuating, made me wonder whether we got it all wrong and instead of working against nature we should work with it. A while ago I read "Threading Lightly" by E. Sveiby about the Australian aboriginals' way of living and learning, and I must say that their farming and fishing methods as described in the book - although sounding too good and effortless to be true - I find really appealing.

Anyway, back to my allotment, I picked another handful of French beans, the last tomatoes and courgettes and some corn cobs (not sure yet they are ready, but will try them anyway). Borlotti beans and pumpkins are doing fine, and so are leeks and green manure.

In a couple of weeks I will be planting broad beans for next spring. Because of the good results I had this year, I have chosen again Aquadulce Claudia (I changed supplier though). I could have done with a longer season, though, so I will be trying a spring planting type as well, which is called Express.

I am still waiting for my garlic and onion sets to arrive: I have gone for garlic Albigesian Wight (I was not very pleased with last year's Lautrec Wight), and onions Shakespeare and Corrado. Plus I have some left from last year, I will try and plant those as well.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Summing up the season

Crop updates, summing up the season and crop yields

This weekend - despite the very pleasant weather - I did not manage to go to the allotment. Again. However, I went there quickly on Thursday evening and everything looked allright. Spinach is coming out, corn seems fine although a bit battered, pumpkins not developing much but healthy, borlotti beans on their way. And some of the leeks are seemingly ready already!

Suddenly I find myself in a very quiet period for the allotment, after six months firefighting to plant everything in time, keep weeds at bay and pick crops. It feels a bit weird, but I have plenty of other things to do that I put on hold before, so this provides a balance for my overall life!

Background work goes on all the time, though. This week I have received my top-up green manure seeds (Green Chronicle has a good choice, and it is organic), I keep collecting seeds from my vegbox where possible and I have done a bit of calculations on my first year yield.

Although I am surely not even, having invested a fair amount in the startup (shed, greenhouse, waterbutts, pond, mower, tools, plants and seeds), I must say that I could have done worse.

I had three bumper crops:

- potatoes (various) 43kg which seems a lot, but I have weighted and noted every weighting, so it should be correct
- onions (red and yellow) some 12 kg
- broad beans 8.45 kg

I also had an unexpected crop of spinach beet of 4.4 kg and some 2kg of courgettes, 1.7kg of shallots and 1.3 kg of French beans.

With regards to soft fruit, I got 64 strawberries of 12 plants and 50 rasperries of 8 plants.

On the negative side, worst crops were brassicas (only tiny turnips survived, 7 of them) followed by tomatoes (out of the tens of seeds that germinated, only some 5 plants survived and I got a mere 15 fruits).

Next year is bound to be much better with the experience I have accumulated, though.
For a start I will be using more pots and plant in the ground bigger plants, which have a bigger chance to survive slugs.

Then I should get some additional vegs from those plants that do not crop in the first year: asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb. And more from the raspberries and strawberries (particularly if all the runners' plantelets survive).
And, now that I can figure out how plants grow and develop a bit more, I will be able to plan my sowing and planting more carefully.

More about this in the next few weeks!

Monday 6 October 2008

A quick visit to the allotment

Crop updates, corn odyssey

It turns out that the corn is not gone bad: it is actually not ripe yet.

I re-opened the cob leaves and the tiny pale yellow grains I noticed last time seem to be turning greyish. From that I derive there is a problem with the method of checking the tassels: it does not seem to be very reliable as the said tassels are probably very tasteful to all sorts of creatures from slugs to woodlice (I find one at the top of the cob) so they might go brown for other reasons than ripeness. I am feeling a bit better about it: I have obviously planted the corn too late... hopefully if we get warm weather this month it will still ripen.

Tonight I did not have much time and the drizzle was really sad and discouraging, but I managed to quickly gather vegetables for the whole of the week. You should smell it, it is as fantastic as it looks!

By the way, spinach seems to be coming out, but I am afraid that slugs might have been too much for both corn salad and lettuce...

Now back to the kitchen to cook dinner: tonight I am on a very a tight schedule!

Sunday 5 October 2008

Thoughts triggered by reading...

Reading instead of practising because of other commitments and the weather, corn odyssey

The tomatoes were quite tasty, look forward to pick the others - this weekend I did not manage to go to the allotment: too much to do at home and miserable weather. Not a day goes by - however - that I do not at least think of the allotment: yesterday while I was out shopping I got some ericaceous compost for the blueberry bush I planted before going back to work.

I am quite happy that we had some proper rain, this week: I will be on the lookout for seedlings of spinach and corn salad when I drop in after work one of these coming evenings, time and weather permitting.

Too much to do, time permitting... this year I have spent most of the time "fire-fighting" as they say, trying to catch up on things I had to do. Even taking some time off work, I did not manage to do everything I planned!

So I am still catching up, on pretty much everything, including reading my favourite "Magazine" (The Time's). Yesterday I was browsing last week's issue, and - unlike the usual - I read the gardening article. "Vegging out" by Alice Miles, it was.

On the one hand, it was good to read that I am not the only newbie with problems labelling in a decent way. I mentioned my labels at the foot of the French beans that have been lost in the intricacy of the growth on wobbly sticks. Also, my potatoes are officially unnamed. I did label them. However, I used the labels that came on the net bag: with sun, rain and slimy creatures sliding over them, the writing got wiped out completely, so I was left with white tags!

On the other hand, it was not that good to read that corn might go bad: that possibility had not really occurred to me - the plants being so beautiful and the cobs seemingly not ready. A couple of weeks ago I had unfolded the layers of skin on a cob whose tassel had gone brown, as per instructions I found somewhere. I should have tried and squeezed a grain with my nail to see if any whitish juice came out of it. But my corn is supposed to be black (Black Aztec corn, Zea Mais), and what I saw were very tiny, light yellow grains, so I folded it back. I will be feeling a bit restless now until I manage to pick a couple of cobs and try them.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Acting on sudden impulse...

Crop updates

I was sitting half-asleep on the train tonight when my stop came: I almost jumped up and looked out, it was still relatively light. My watch said it was ten to seven so I suddenly decided I would just drop in at the allotment. With my laptop on my shoulders, the city suit and all, I almost run there. And it was fifteen great minutes before it got too dark.

It rained quite a lot today in central London, so I was sure the ground would be wet, but I was disappointed: not a lot of rain seems to have reached here, certainly not the allotment.

The wind (that does not make a good companion to the dry weather) has damaged the corn; on the positive side, though, it seems that the cobs are swelling a bit, which I take as a good sign.

Five tomatoes have ripened and I picked them: they look really appealing and smell delicious, even though the photo (with the light of this time of the day) does them but limited justice.

The yellow fruit that is with them is the pumpkin I photographed a while ago: she did not make it, so I picked her to avoid any more waste of energy by the plant. Several leaves on the runners have also wilted, which might seem a bit depressing if you do not consider that - underneath - I found the biggest pumpkin so far: some 30 cm in diameter. I had not realised it was there, it grew bottom up! Looks healthy, so the count has gone up to four.

The courgette plants are producing several little flowers but no real courgette: it looks like they are wearing out.

Florence fennel is also growing, for the rest, no news. But what a nice wind-down I had tonight!