Monday, 6 June 2011

Digging for England...

It's June and I have less time for gardening than last year and twice as much allotment. What is a girl supposed to do...?

The best she can with what she's got.

So, with 270 square yards, a very old spade, two second hard garden forks, a tin full of seeds, a pile of horse muck and lots of donated and acquired netting, scaffold planks, used tyres, old railings, bamboo canes, and a free-cycled greenhouse... this is what I've done so far, this year...

January saw too much frost, snow, cold and damp to do anything at the allotment...

February saw a delivery of cow muck, some rough and wet digging with wellies caked in muck, and buying far too many seeds. I acquired a greenhouse, which Dave and Eric (fellow plot-holders) kindly erected for me and glazed. It's a rebuild of three different greenhouses all from freecycle. It has a window in the roof, and some slatted windows at the back, both open up when it reaches a certain temperature. It has a path of three small flagstones, and (also from freecycle) some bamboo blinds to protect my baby plants from too much direct sunlight. It's surprising how much is going on at the plot in February.... rhubarb shoots are coming through... onions, shallots and garlic planted in the Autumn were all growing. Tulips and bluebells pushing through the ground. All my fruit bushes had buds on. Everything else was waiting for some warmth.

March saw washing the greenhouse, more wet digging, sorting out my trays and pots, digging out failed purple sprouting brocolli and old leeks, and starting to plant things! I started off most of my seeds in the greenhouse or at home... peas, tomatoes, squash, courgettes, peppers, aubergine, brocolli, cabbage, sprouts, lettuce, sweet peas, sunflowers. Outdoors, I planted parsnips, radishes, beetroots, spring onions, Charlotte potatoes and more... I don't want to make out like planting is easy. It can take ages, so with my potatoes I had to dig over the bed, dig in some manure, leave it a while, dig it over again, dig trenches, line them with manure, bury my seed potatoes, earth them up as they are coming through... hours and hours, achy back, sore hands, a few bruises on route, bending down a lot, standing up, measuring, wheel-barrowing. I planted a LOT of potatoes on weekends in March and April... about 40 plants altogether.

April is wonderful on the allotment. The clocks have changed, the light is better, thermals come off and this April was scorching so it was shorts and vests and digging until 7.30pm. It was a month of barbeques and breakfasts at the allotment and people bringing their babies and friends down. I visited the allotment as many times as possible to water the greenhouse, and even got out the hosepipe. It was 'get as much as possible into the ground' month: the rest of my potatoes, early and maincrop, more parsnips, beans, marrows, swedes, kale, more beets, spinach, pak choi, about 100 flower bulbs (thanks to a cheap batch at Aldi), and loads of my seedlings went outdoors, the ones that could cope with late frosts.

I had a few helpers in April, which I bloody needed because I had a lot of new digging to do and the ground was hard. The woman who had the allotment before me (the bit I didn't have last year) hadn't done much work in a long time, so there were a lot of weeds and grass, the ground is solid, it had flooded like mad in the winter, and is like clay in parts. It was awful to dig and it took hours to clear even a few feet. Back-breaking digging, my lower back has ached since the end of March! Luckily I could alternate this with digging over the the part of the allotment I started with last year. With all the manure I dug in, the soil is rich and crumbles easily with a fork when I dig it. So I am learning, and the newly dug parts of the allotment are getting barrow loads of manure dug in.

I had slug and snail trouble in the greenhouse... so had to plant a whole new batch of seeds... and more new seeds... sweetcorn, nasturtium, coriander, parsley, rosemary...

Everything was starting to grow and push through in April... potatoes becoming bushy, salad leaves and radishes ready for picking, beautiful ruby beetroot leaves, onions and shallots getting fat, flowers on my blackcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries, jostaberries, huge thick rhubarb stems (which I SO wanted to pick, but left it to established for next year), gorgeous purple flowers on my chives, spearmint bushing out of its tyre.

And May was even busier... The greenhouse was bursting with seedlings in May, and I still had a load of digging to do... the digging never ever ends... to create space to plant them out.

I built two new raised beds by sawing scaffold planks and getting Eric to help me nail them together with six inch nails. I spent a whole day nearly trying to cover things with nets, and building all kinds of weird and wonderful protection for seedlings. Eric saw a pigeon lie on its side and shimmy under the netting to eat Carol's plants, so it really is like a full on war with the birds, mostly the big ugly ones like pigeons, crows and magpies. We also have rats, foxes, mice, cats and god knows what other creatures. (And sometimes intruders, Eric had his meditation hut vandalised and pissed on, although I tried to convince him it could have been a pair of amorous foxes).

More digging. One of the other plot-holders offered to help me dig a big section of my plot, and he digs like an ox, or a machine. He helped me make huge progress. I acquired some railway sleepers (via Eric, I think he was a womble in a previous life) for another raised bed and I was glad of a strong pair of hands to help me shift them because I couldn't even lift one of them on my own. They make a beautiful octagon (see the photo) and I can't wait to fill them with flowers and veg.

I caught the sun at the beginning of the month, and had to dig through a crust the soil was so dried out. But then the weather broke, which is great for the plants as they have been so thirsty, but not good for me. I got caught in thunderstorms, scatterings of rain and drizzle. I lacked the time to get out and do what I wanted to do. It's frustrating. Having an allotment is almost like a full-time job.

I got peas planted and beans in the ground, with my 8ft bamboo wigwams already trussed up with green string ready for them. I planted out brocolli, celery, sweet peas, the first lot of sweetcorn (I've gone crazy for it this year as it was SO good last year - 32 plants I think!). My courgettes and squash are flowering, big beautiful yellow flowers, which I would never have expected. My tomatoes are in the greenhouse flowering beautifully, and they smell divine when I water them, I think it might be my favourite smell in the world. My fruit bushes all have berries slowly ripening. I have lovely fuzzy carrot tops in a tyre, pea flowers, ragged swedes where the birds chomped at them, but still surviving, the most beautiful foxgloves which I planted from seed last year. I picked half a kilo of the juiciest strawberries yesterday, and there are lots more ripening.

My battles have been with the weeds, slugs (ongoing) and birds (ongoing). The birds stripped my redcurrant bush before I got the chance to cover it with netting. I have decided to share my strawberries with the slugs. There are so many, it seems only fair, and without miracles I can't keep them away.

The time just flies when I am down there. I get immersed and before I know it two, three, four hours have passed. I start on a job, like watering the greenhouse, and before I know it I have pulled out the flags to put hardcore underneath them, re-potted all my tomatoes, planted some in the ground, tied them to canes, dug a few weeds out and bang bang, there goes another two hours. I have a list of things to do as long as my arm, and I make slow progress all the time, but the list never ends. I would actually love to just sit in a deckchair with a book and enjoy it, but there is always another job to do, weeds to pull out, plants to put in the ground.

It's felt much more hard labour, than labour of love this year. It's been tough, and I haven't been at all sure a lot of the time whether I'm managing it. I'm a little behind getting things in the ground. Some of my seedlings are ankle height when other peoples are knee or hip height. My muscles ache. I don't have enough time.

Yet, I still keep turning up. I'm prodding myself to keep at it, thinking that the first couple of years is the hardest, everyone says it takes a good few years to get established. And it is worth it, I took these photos this weekend to show myself how far I've come...


sonia said...

wow - well done!!

christine said...

I'm very impressed! How did you learn how to do all of this gardening?