For as long as I’ve had my allotment, it has has a thicket in the middle. The main offender was an out-of-control thornless (technically prickleless) blackberry, whose arching stems reached for the skies but then fell back down to earth. It was aided and abetted by currant bushes in need of a good prune, and lots of grassy weeds. it looked impenetrable, and the blackberry was not only beginning to take over the plot but was sending out shoots across the path as well.
On Saturday morning I spent an hour cutting all of its stems to the ground. It won’t stop them growing up again next year, of course, unless I go back and dig out the roots. But for the moment the allotment is considerably more low profile. Some of the stems were too thick to cut with secateurs:
As I didn’t have a machete handy I took the simple approach of standing on them until they snapped in half, and cutting through them then.
Theoretically it is now possible to walk down from the top of the plot to the bottom. In practice it isn’t, since the way is blocked with plant refugees from the garden, sitting in their pots. It wouldn’t be an easy route, however, since the blackberry clumps are there to trip over, and the plot is oddly uneven. It would be easy to twist your ankle, particularly around the edges, which are sunken. Obscured by grassy weeds you take a risk every time you step off the path. It’s one of the things on the list to fix :)
I don’t remember the first frost ever having been this late before – we’re still waiting for one here. The oca are still growing and the purple sprouting broccoli are still safely under their net tunnel to protect them from marauding butterflies. They’re not coming out until it’s too cold for caterpillars. And then they’re getting staked, because it’s windy!
There’s no photographic evidence of my last trip to the allotment, during which I dug up the Sárpo Mira potatoes (which were still going strong, despite blight on other plots) and planted my overwintering onions, shallots, and saffron in their place. The rhubarb has been tidied up, and that corner of the plot is covered in bark chips to help keep the weeds under control. The garlic, and elephant garlic, are still waiting in the wings – I’ll plant those soon.
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Posted in Blog on Nov 4, 2013 · ∞
One of the plants that I was keen to transplant from the garden to the allotment was comfrey (Symphytum officinalis). I had several plants, which I grew from root cuttings several years ago. Some were growing in the concrete blocks in the raised beds – which turned out to be a mistake, as they’d grown very impressive roots and wedged themselves in firmly. These ones were extracted with a sledgehammer. I took them to the allotment and planted them around my new green cone composter, and despite the terrible abuse they are still alive and growing new leaves. It’s a tough old plant.
Comfrey is a popular plant with people who practice permaculture, because it has so many uses. With deep roots that are able to bring nutrients up from the subsoil, comfrey is known as a ‘dynamic accumulator’ plant. These nutrients are stored in the leaves, which can then be used to feed other plants.
Comfrey is a very vigorous perennial, which can be cut several times each season. The composition of the leaves means that they break down rapidly and be used fresh to feed plants – either placed in planting holes or left on the soil surface as a nutritious mulch. Comfrey leaves also act as a compost activator – so adding them to the compost heap speeds up the composting process as well as adding nutrients.
You can also turn your comfrey leaves into a very good liquid fertilizer. If you drown the leaves in a bucket of water for several weeks, you’ll get a smelly liquid feed that is great for fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and peppers because it is high in potash. You can try adding scented herbs like thyme or rosemary to the mix to improve the aroma, but comfrey is different from most plants in that its leaves will happily rot down without the addition of water. Seal the leaves into a bucket for a few weeks, weighed down, and they will produce a brown liquor that can be diluted into a much less stinky liquid feed. Whichever method you choose, the remains of the rotted leaves can be added to the compost heap at the end.
And if that’s not enough – bees really love comfrey flowers, and plant has medicinal uses, although it is no longer recommended as an edible.
If you want to add a comfrey plant or two to your garden then buy root cuttings (or beg them from someone with mature plants) of Bocking 14. This variety is sterile, so it won’t self-seed all over the garden. Root cuttings are usually available from May to August. Keep new plantings well watered until they are established. If the ground is not ready for planting then your comfrey will be happy in a container for quite a while.
And if you want to do things the permaculture way, consider planting your comfrey around the compost heap. Not only will it be handy, but it will soak up any nutrients that leach out of the compost!
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(B)eat your weeds: liquid feeds
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Autumn green manures
Posted in Blog on Oct 19, 2013 · ∞
Tags: allotment & permaculture.
There were some really good guesses about yesterday’s mystery object, and a couple of you were spot on – it’s the basket at the bottom of my Green Cone composter. It arrived in several pieces, and needed to be assembled before it could be taken to the allotment.
In a slightly What Not to Wear moment, this is the Green Cone in its underwear. The basket at the bottom is designed the buried in the soil and not seen. The black undercone helps the whole thing heat up nicely in the sunshine.
Properly dressed, it looks like this. The green outer cone is screwed on to the basket and undercone; the lid is screwed on. The next step is to dig a big hole:
I cannot recommend doing this in a heatwave, even if someone else is doing most of the digging.
And this is the finished article, all ready and waiting to be fed. I have put it at the top of the allotment, near the rest of the compost bins, but also close to the existing fruit bushes. The Green Cone will feed the surrounding soil, rather than producing compost that needs to be dug out. The nutrients should be sucked up by the fruit bushes; any that get leached a bit further will feed the plants further down. That’s the theory, anyway.
The Green Cone has been in place for about a month now, and I have been feeding it our food waste. We don’t produce that much, and everything that is compostable in a normal bin goes in a normal bin, but so far there is no evidence of rodent attacks and there’s no horrible rotting stench or swarms of flies when you open the lid, so it’s so far so good. I will keep you posted on its progress.
Posted in Blog on Sep 13, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Sep 13, 2013
Tags: allotment & compost.
This isn’t the current art installation at the Turbine Hall, it’s the latest addition to my allotment.
Can you guess what it is?
Posted in Blog on Sep 12, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Sep 12, 2013
At some point in the future, I would like a garden with a water feature. A natural swimming pool would be my first choice, but seems unlikely. A fish pond would be lovely – as long as I was also blessed with hours to while away next to it, watching the fishes do their thing.
Of course, the kind of pond in which fish are happy takes some work. I’d need some gadgets to keep the water clear (Joe’s Aquatic World has a good selection of pond filters and pumps to do that job). I’d also need to make sure the fish were protected from these:
My allotment could be home to a small pond or two, although they wouldn’t be the sort in which fish would be happy. But that’s an advantage, in some ways, as it gives me the opportunity to grow some edible pond and bog plants – things that the fishes would be only too happy to nibble on, were the two combined. For a while now I have been pondering which aquatic edibles I would like to grow. For simplicity, and since it won’t be a ‘proper’ pond, I have lumped ‘marginal’ plants that like growing around the edges of ponds in with the bog plants, which like sitting in soggy soil….
The advice given for watercress, Nasturtium officinale, used to be that it should be grown in running water, and that’s certainly how it was grown in the traditional watercress beds. You do need to be careful that the water in which its grown is not contaminated with liver flukes, which have a complicated lifecycle that involves a stage in water and a stage in a nice, warm, mammalian host. It’s an issue where the water abuts a pasture, but not really in a back garden. Still, running water is a little tricky (although I have seen one enterprising set-up with watercress grown in a pot under a leaky hosepipe…). Nowadays we know that watercress can be grown anywhere, as long as you keep it nice and damp, so it’s a bog plant (B) option.
My wasabi, Wasabia japonica, may also prefer being upgraded from being in a dryish container to a bog garden, although no doubt then it would be even more of a slug magnet.
I have always wanted to try growing water chestnuts. The proper Chinese ones are Eleocharis dulcis; it looks as though they can be grown as a pond plant (P) or bog plant. The Water caltrop, Trapa natans, can be grown as a water chestnut substitute, and is a pond plant happy in water up to 2 feet (60 cm) deep.
Radix, with his joy of spreading unusual edibles far and wide, is keen for me to try:
- Sagittaria latifolia (P), Wapato or duck potato
- Aponogeton distachyos (P), Water Hawthorn or Waterblommetjie, which I think I’ve already killed off once, in a bucket
- Lycopus asper (B), Rough bugleweed, a US native
- Houttuynia cordata (B), Chameleon plant, an ornamental and very pungent herb with a revved-up coriander flavour
- Cyperus longus (B,P), Galingale
- Butomus umbellatus (B,P), Flowering rush
- Wolffia arrhiza (P), Duckweed, although you hardly need a pond as it’s tiny and will grow in a beaker of water
- And Zizania aquatica or Z. latifolia (P), two types of wild rice that might be a bit more successful than my mobile rice paddies a few years ago.
- Ipomoea aquatica (P,B), Morning glory (!) is a tender (and tasty) aquatic plant I could try during the summer months
- As is Persicaria odorata (B), Vietnamese coriander, which would be happy in nice warm, damp soil.
Garden Organic list Sweet Flag, Acorus calamus
(B), Water mint, Mentha aquatica
(B), Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria
(B), Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata
(B,P), Yellow water lily, Nuphar lutea
(P), Reedmace, Typha
spp. (B) and Common reed, Phragmites australis
(B,P) in their factsheet on Edible Aquatic Plants
, which is only available to members. Some of those would be far too large for a container pond.
PFAF include gunnera (Gunnera tinctoria) in The Edible Pond and Bog Garden, although I suspect eating it would be a step too far or most people! There’s some other plants on the list that I haven’t heard of, but I think it will be best to start relatively simply and see what works before branching out into anything too unusual.
Which aquatic edible plants have you tried growing?
Posted in Blog on Jul 5, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Jul 5, 2013
Tags: unusual & allotment.
At the allotment this week I have been strimming the weeds (with a borrowed, cordless strimmer – AKA a weed whacker), assembling a tool store so that I don’t have to drive around with a spade in the boot of the car, cutting back errant raspberries and rhubarb that were engulfing the paths, and digging over a patch to plant half of my Sarpo seed potatoes.
In the garden I have been removing more of the concrete blocks that once made up the raised beds.
A freshly-built garden bed, back in 2010
The garden was almost entirely based around raised beds. When I started gardening there, it had been a lawn for most of its life. Dug up by dogs, and infested with bindweed, it wasn’t the place to start growing in the soil. As a No Dig gardener at heart, I took the slow route to weed-free soil (which worked very well, the garden is almost free of bindweed now, it just lurks in a couple of places where its roots are hidden under concrete).
I’m removing the concrete blocks now, because they’re not what potential house buyers expect (or want) to see in the garden. I’ve written before about the problems I had with trying to use the holes in the top of the blocks as planters; I wouldn’t choose them again now, simply because they are so heavy to move around (each one weighs about 12 kg).
Raised beds are great, though. They allow you to build up and improve the soil only where you’ll be growing plants. Any work you do (like weeding and watering) is focused on the raised beds, and so you get better results from less work. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that Square Foot Gardening works so well for some people – it’s based around raised beds and their benefits.
My plants all loved the deeper soil in the raised beds, and I loved the way it held more water in summer and meant less watering for me. When I next have a garden, raised beds are definitely something I will consider, if they suit the site. You can get some lovely raised beds now (check out the selection of wooden planters from Internet Gardener, for starters), that make the most of whatever space you have.
For now, they’re not an option on the allotment. For one thing, its weed problems are too severe, and there’s no choice but to get those under control first. Also, it’s not flat. As well as a distinct slope towards the north, it’s pitted and ridged and a careless stroll across it could easily result in a twisted ankle. Installing raised beds in those conditions would involve some serious ground work to make them level, and I don’t have the time (or the money) to invest in raised beds at the moment.
I’m still leaning towards a little forest garden on the top end of the plot, interplanting the existing fruit bushes (and the ones I want to bring from the garden) with herbs and ground cover plants so they become a (largely) self-maintaining space. Lower down I need to make a space for asparagus plants, but perhaps I’ll be able to turn my thoughts to raised beds again next year.
Posted in Blog on Jun 25, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Jul 10, 2013
I estimate that two thirds of my allotment is currently covered in fruit bushes – there’s two or three massive rhubarb plants, a Hinnomaki Green gooseberry bush, several blackcurrants, a hybrid berry of some description (which is thornless, but rampant) and raspberry bushes cropping up in odd places.
Some of those may have to go, if only to make room for some of the things I want to bring from the garden. I have a frightening number of fruit trees and plants. My three kiwis are already in my parents’ Malvern garden (and in fact they’ve planted out the two ‘Jenny’ – too close together, sigh – at the end of the garden), as is my baby yellow plum I grew from seed. They’re happy to have the medlar (which is in a container) when it has to relocate.
But they don’t have space for everything, and I’m left with a fair few things. In terms of soft fruit there are autumn-fruiting raspberries and strawberries (wild, alpine, beach and some regular ones as well). I have a blackthorn (sloe), and two aronia bushes. The Japanese wineberry is an easy one to take with me, as it has created several offspring and I have just potted one up. (It’s an easy plant to propagate, as it layers, but it has also self-seeded in the garden.) The blueberries are in pots, and can travel; I have taken cuttings from the honeyberries. And there are two little Chilean guavas that are in small pots and are no problem.
The fruit trees are more problematic. I can have them on my allotment if they don’t shade someone else’s plot, but some are mature and can’t be moved; I will be sad to say goodbye to the Saturn apple, but it falls into that category. It has lived up to its disease-resistant marketing, and has been easy to grow organically. The apples are big, red and tasty, so it’s definitely a variety I would consider growing again in the future. Its pear tree companion is less of a loss, as it rarely grows pears and I don’t like them anyway.
The patio nectarine’s only redeeming feature is that is has lovely blossom in spring. It has never ripened an edible fruit, and succumbs to peach leaf curl. I don’t think it will be making the trip. I don’t think anyone would thank me for planting either of the figs on the allotment, but dad might like one. I might send the crab apple ‘John Downie’ his way, too. It’s in a container, and happy enough for the time being, and it can help to pollinate his apple trees until I get another of my own.
(Suttons Seeds are one of the places with a nice selection of fruit trees if you’re now thinking of adding a few more fruit trees to your collection ;)
And that just leaves me with a pair of cobnuts, although they hardly qualify as fruit. They might be fun to have on the allotment, if it’s not overrun with squirrels, and they can be kept at a reasonable size. The only problem is where it’s all going to fit. I really need to crack on with that design!
Posted in Blog on Jun 18, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Jul 10, 2013
Tags: allotment & fruit.
This is a quick sketch I did of the layout of my allotment as it was a few days ago. It’s just about 10 m by 10 m square, although some of the edges are hard to find at the moment! Having borrowed a cordless strimmer, I started making some inroads into the weeds yesterday, but there’s a way to go on that phase of the project.
You can click through to a larger version of the image. In the top lefthand corner, where is says there are volunteer spuds, there aren’t – they’re a bit lower down. That spot right in the top corner is now where two plastic compost bins have been set up, and I am filling them with fresh horse manure to rot down.
Over on the right hand side, where it says ‘Tool Store’, that was just my initial guess about where it might sit. That spot seems unlikely now, as there are flatter, barer spots that will be easier to put the tool store on initially.
For this season, work on the allotment will be short-term stuff, clearing it and planting annual crops and giving a home to anything that is being rescued from the garden. But I’d like to have a long-term plan in mind, so that there’s a design, or at least some sense, in where the plants go. Currently more than half the plot is planted with mature fruit bushes – a bit of a treasure trove to inherit, but it does mean that I have to plan to avoid running out of space for everything else. The raspberries on the right hand edge may have to move; there may well be others in the middle, it’s a bit hard to tell at the moment. The hybrid berry has gone rampant and needs a good chop.
I want to find space for an asparagus ‘bed’, as I have 10 plants on the way from Victoriana Nursery Gardens. Yes, plants – not crowns – that can be planted out now.
It may not endear me to my neighbours, but I don’t want a conventional allotment, all serried rows of plants and endless hoeing. I want something a bit more holistic and resilient, with mulches and groundcovers and interesting plants all over the place. A forest garden in miniature, perhaps, although it will have to borrow the canopy layer from the trees to the south of the allotment site.
That arrow pointing to the bottom right corner is the direction of north, by the way.
Any ideas? Nothing is set in stone, although it would be nice to keep the fruit bushes as they look productive (although how many blackcurrants I can use remains to be seen). I am a bit short of inspiration at the moment, it has been smothered by the weeds.
Posted in Blog on Jun 17, 2013 · ∞
I am leaving all of the windowboxes in place for the next inhabitants of my house, and so yesterday I moved the surviving plants from there into pots that I can take away with me.
The windowbox wall has been through several incarnations, but these two troughs struck me as embodying the garden in microcosm. They encapsulate the whole spirit of what I was trying to do here. They were planted last year (iirc), and have been fending for themselves ever since. What has thrived is the blood-veined sorrel (aka bloody dock) and the wild strawberries. There’s some honesty in there, and a self-seeded lemon balm. There’s also the odd weed, but that’s hardly surprising and they’re nothing pernicious. These edible plants are co-existing, and they look fantastic with absolutely no input from me.
When I take these plants (and the others now in pots) to the new allotment, they will be bringing the spirit of my garden with them, and that’s a lovely thought. They will also be bringing some of the life from the soil I have been nurturing over the last decade or so, and hopefully some seeds from the plants I have been allowing to self-seed. I am not going to end up with a conventional allotment, weed-free and planted up in neat rows!
I am coming to terms with what will have to be left behind, and am excited about the potential of the new plot. And there are some benefits to moving on, beyond the new challenge. I am gradually meeting my fellow allotmenteers, and so far they have all been lovely. I met the former owner of my plot today (he had three, and still has two), and we had a good chat. He’s happy that someone has taken it on, and was explaining a little bit about the fruit plants he’s left behind. It’s also a relief to know that I won’t be responsible for repainting the fence panels, which are starting to look a bit ratty. Painting the fence the first time was a real chore, and not a job I was looking forward to re-doing.
I have dug up the Jerusalem artichoke patch, which had not been harvested for a couple of years and so was congested, with some truly humungous tubers that took some digging out. Most of them have been sent off for municipal composting, but I have saved some of the more regular-sized ones and potted them up. If they survive that kind of treatment then they can be planted out on the allotment for next year.
Today I have sown some chard seeds, which will hopefully give me some nice leafy harvests later in the year. And I have resolved, once again, to get better at labelling everything – there are some alliums in the garden that I can’t identify, and I can’t remember what I planted in that spot.
My next priority is to set up a compost bin, so I can start composting again – there’s really nothing better for the soil. There’s one compost bin left at the house, which I can empty and take with me, and my dad has given me another of his which is spare (having taken both of my really good ones last year). I have found a local source of free (and very fresh!) horse manure, so every time I go past I collect a couple of bags and put them on the allotment. Once the compost bin is set up I can get them rotting down, and that will be a great source of organic matter for the future.
My first attempt at collecting manure was a little smelly. The bags were very fresh, and a little juicy, and had been sitting out in the sun for a while. They dribbled a bit in the boot of the car, and I found I just couldn’t wash the smell off my hands. Now I take a plastic trug and my gardening gloves, and life stays a lot fresher!
I don’t know yet whether the allotment site gets deliveries of leaves in the autumn, or wood chips, or anything like that. There are some piles around, so it’s a possibility, but they may also have been delivered for specific plots. I have joined the mailing list, so I should find out about these things in due course.
I also have a new plastic tool store to set up, so I can stop ferrying things backwards and forwards in the car. I need to clear a spot for it first, though, so I guess its about time I put my gardening boots back on :)
Posted in Blog on Jun 6, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Jul 10, 2013
I was told I could have an allotment last week, but it took until this morning to discover which would be mine – it’s plot 35. It has lots of goodies in the way of fruit bushes (currants, gooseberries, rhubarb and others), but also a lot of weeds. It’s going to take me a while to clear some space – an hour today has filled three bin bags with weeds but not made much of a dent – but that gives me some time to work out what I’m going to plant, and where.
It’s been a long, cold spring and it’s a bit late in the season to start planning crops for an allotment. Luckily for me, I have a lot of plants to relocate from the garden, which means more digging and less planning! I need to make a list, though, of the plants I want to move. Some are quite large, like the crab apple, others are much smaller and more easily placed.
I have already mentioned my Sarpo Mira seed potatoes, and I want to move some of the comfrey plants to the allotment. I have achocha seedlings, and oca, and the pepinos from Spalding bulbs. I need to find the edges of the plot, measure it, and draw a plan.
There are Jerusalem artichokes just starting to shoot up in the garden, and I think they’re robust enough to cope with being transplanted. I can always cut them back to limit the amount of leaf they have to support whilst they’re growing new roots. That should make them bush out, too, which is preferable as the allotment is a bit windy and tall stems would no doubt collapse later in the year. They say Jerusalem artichokes make a good wind break, but you’d need a good big block of them I think – mine have always just fallen over in the face of a good blow.
I have Chinese artichokes as well, which are in a crate and can stay there, as they’re related to mint and will go a bit bonkers if they’re given a whole allotment to play with. It would be interesting to see them fight it out with the wild strawberries… I don’t know which would win.
I sowed a handful of seeds last week – some chilacayote (or Shark’s Fin Melons), a pair of summer squash and a pair of Rugosa fruilana, the ugliest and tastiest courgette going. My dad now says he has some spare squash plants, so there may be a bit of a squash glut to deal with over the summer….
I spent an hour on the plot this afternoon, working on one corner at random. It seems to be growing mainly grass and dandelions with the odd thread of bindweed. And feeding snails. But there are what I think are raspberries trying to grow in there, and I have uncovered several of those. It was too warm to stay much longer – who would have thought it, after the weather of the last few days? I wilt in the sun, so if it is going to be a hot summer (ha ha) I might need an easy up gazebo to keep the sun off my head!
There’s a lovage plant in the garden I would like to move, especially now I have a recipe for lovage soup which sounds delicious. And I’d like to rescue my sea kale, as well, since I grew it from seed, although it will no doubt take a while to recover from the affront.
And I’d like to make room for the tarragaon. I thought it had died over the winter, but it finally came back to life a couple of weeks ago, and so I would rather not abandon it. There’s a certain amount of sentimentality going on here, I’m sure, as a lot of these plants would be quite easy to replace. But I have had some of them for years, some were gifts and some are quite unusual. Besides, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on new plants at the moment.
If you had to leave your garden behind and start again somewhere else, which of your plants would you try and take with you on your ark?
Posted in Blog on May 31, 2013 · ∞
Last modified on Jul 10, 2013