February at Plot 4

The year has well and truly started now, and for me it has meant a lot of aborted trips to the allotment. My new role as project lead for Stoneham Bakehouse community bakery has meant that I have had less time to spend at the allotment. What time I have had, has often been thwarted by the rain and generally inclement weather. At least, at this time of year, a few weeks of little inactivity is manageable; although with the mild start to the year Jack Frost hasn’t been able to help me keep the perennial weeds under control, or break up the soil I’ve managed to clear. Still, a new month, brings fresh hope for drier, colder weather.

Although the plot is very much in a dormant phase, there are still vegetables to harvest. The brassicas which are overwintering under the protection of netting, are providing us with iron rich green leaves to accompany stews, go in soups or top pizzas. Yesterday’s evening meal was a delicious pizza bianca topped with an unctuous  combination of onions, garlic and kale. Jerusalem artichokes are at their best at the moment, especially pureed and accompanying fish. The onion supply from this year is dwindling, but I have plans for the production of a version of French Onion soup, using the shallots, red onions, and our last garlic (an English Allium soup if you will).

Last year I completely forgot about sowing any sweet peas, relying on a few bought plants later in the year to provide the allotment with these fragrant and colourful legumes. So this year I’m determined to get sowing soon, doing so in the protected cool of the greenhouse. Given the relative mild winter so far, I suspect the dahlias I neglected to protect and dig up in the autumn are probably fine. That said, I’m looking to pot up a few dahlia tubers in some compost, ensuring they are kept somewhere warm (well 10 degrees or above). As for vegetables (we haven’t eaten dahlia tubers in this country since they arrived in this country in the 1700s), I hope to start the early sowings under glass of cauliflower, celeriac and leeks.

The main jobs on the plot this month are ones of maintenance. The various beds need edging, weeding in some cases, manuring, and generally tidied up. Before the new sowings in the greenhouse I need to give that a good clean and sort out; the stormy winds of a week or so ago have loosened a few panels of the polycarbonate, so they need securing and sealing.  The raspberries also could use a bit of work; the autumn ones need to be chopped down to ground level, and the summer-fruiting varieties need last year’s canes removed too. The blueberries in pots will also benefit from a top-dressing of pine needles to improve the pH of the soil. The other main job is to secure the tool shed. As in every winter so far, the local rodent population have managed to nibble their way in and have been sheltering from the colder weather, whilst nibbing away at various pieces of kit. It’s time to reclaim the shed!

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

December at Plot 4

What a wet month! It’s been weeks of random downpours and wind fuelled rain. The allotment has a real windswept and weather beaten look to it, and our visits to the plot have often been cut short by inclement weather.

November , despite the weather, has given us some crops to harvest. In this period of the year a few plants come to the fore, with chard and beetroot being highlights. The chard has gone into a number of dishes including a warming chard pilaf. I love the way this beet brightens up the allotment with its rainbow coloured stems punctuating the slightly drab look of the plot in November. The last of the beetroot has been eaten too (I must plant more next year), going into a roasted vegetable salad with goats cheese. I’ve still got some squash stored in the greenhouse and they’ve gone into soups, pasta dishes and a great version of Leon’s Dalston Sweet Potato Curry (replacing the sweet tubers with roasted squash). Cabbage and Jerusalem Artichokes are also making their way onto our dinner plates, allowing us to enjoy their earthy flavours.

At this time of year there is not much to be sowing until the spring. The last few bulbs will go in (tulips) in the next day or so, but even then its possibly a bit too late and we’ll have to see what comes up in the new year. Instead of sowing, its time to sit down with a cup of tea and the seed catalogues; allowing myself time to dream about next year.

With the promise from the forecasters of more rain and wind this month, the chance to get on the soil has gone. Instead, the jobs are more about tidying up from the year past. Tools will need a clean and the shed could do with a tidy too. I’ll continue to put food out for the birds, and make sure that crops that need it are protected from the frost and wet. It’s also time to spruce up the shed, finishing the job of lining it with insulation and internal cladding and giving it lick of paint. All of which can be done with copious cups of tea made on the wood burner.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

Feed the Birds Tuppence a Bag

The last few days have seen a return of the wet weather, but before that the autumnal cold showed itself and reminded me that the birds at the allotment, and garden, needed a bit of extra help with food. Our allotment, squeezed in between houses, shops and schools like an urban oases, has a pretty varied bird life. In recent months I’ve seen everything from blue-tits and sparrows, to goldfinches and spotted woodpeckers. We usually put out some food at this point, to supplement the natural sources and the drying seedheads of the sunflowers and other flowers.

Last year I made seed cakes which, hung from the apple tree, were very popular with the feathered visitors to the plot. As was the peanut wreath which we hung on the shed door. Our own homemade food sources were always supplemented by bought bird feeders filled with seeds and nuts. However, the winds of early autumn have destroyed or completely removed these feeders, sending them across the allotment and into mangled heaps or oblivion. Despite the fact that I can buy a new one from a supermarket for a few quid I decided to make my own replacement. I may not be able to buy seed for tuppence a bag, but its pretty cheap from discount stores, so a homemade feeder cost me very little really.

You will need

A juice bottle or similar
Stick or twig of suitable size
Drill with drill bit matching diameter of stick
Needle
Seeds
String or thin wire
Craft knife

Wash and dry the bottle, as its important to ensure that its as free of moisture to start with (too much moisture will promote seed growth which birds aren’t keen). Use the needle to pierce a few holes in the base; this allows any water to drain out too. About 1/3 of the way up from the base, drill 2 holes the diameter of your chosen stick, and then thread the stick across so it forms a perch on both sides. On either side of the bottle, use a craft knife to cut out an opening just above the perch. Tie the wire or string around the neck of the bottle to form a hanger, before using the opening by the perch to fill the feeder with seeds. The seeds should reach the level of the perch, so that initially the birds don’t need to reach too far into the feeder. Hang on a branch with easy access for yourself (to refill) and the birds (easy to land etc.).

bird feeder

Time Together and Time Alone

I’ve blogged previously about the fact that one of the things I learnt over the last year or so, is that I need to have some time to myself; a chance to unwind and have time for mindfulness. One thing I’ve come to realise recently though is that I also need time with my family, with my friends, even just chatting to neighbours. Being able to share experiences and thoughts is really important.

Last weekend we had a real family weekend. Not an exciting one particularly, but one where we were able to have time together, and also time alone. We went shopping, we went to the pub, we baked together, we also spent Sunday morning at the allotment. Perhaps the key thing was the fact that the times we spent together were interspersed with time doing our own thing. At the allotment the kids entertained themselves with chatting on the shed roof, climbing apple trees and throwing dried peas around the place. Meanwhile my wife and I could get on with a few of the plethora of tasks that are needed at the moment. That said, the children did help us, they collected nasturtium seeds with us, helped clear some of the weeds; we had fun together.

This pattern of time together, time alone, seems to be the route to success. The periods of time when we’re all doing our own thing, make the times as a family all the better. To paraphrase the Scottish independence No campaign; Better Together, but a bit of time to yourself makes it even better.

October at Plot 4

September, with the start of the school year and my work to develop a local bakery in the heart of my community, has sped by. If I’m honest, I’ve neglected the plot a bit. I’ve been there a fair bit, but have been harvesting crops and just enjoying the space, rather than getting on with the jobs I should have been doing. Consequently, the start of October is necessarily going to be a busy one.

 

There is still a lot to harvest, the autumn fruiting raspberries are still going, as are the blackberries. The beetroot have been a great success and have been used in a range of dishes recently, including this delicious slaw. The squashes are also ripening nicely and I look forward to harvesting the first of the fruits in the next day or so. Squashes to me, are the archetypal autumn vegetable and also one of the most versatile one. They can be used roasted for gnocchi or pasta dishes, in soups, even in cupcakes. The last of tomatoes are ripening too, so I’ll be using these in various dishes, as well as preserving a few too.

At this time of year there is little to sow. I’ve sown a few rows of late lettuce, now that the days are a little shorter and the heat has diminished a little. I’ve got a number of brassica plants and leeks to plant out in the next day or so, although not sown myself they should bring a harvest later in the year.

The autumn tidy up is the main job this month. There’s paths to tidy, greenhouse to clean out, fences to fix, beds to be dug; the list goes on. With the cold weather coming towards the end of the month ahead, I’m also going to make sure I have enough firewood for the log burner. The allotment is a great place to spend time, and having a warm shed to pop into for a hot cup of tea, or just to warm up, makes being there and getting jobs done all the easier.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

How to Make Recycled Metal Spoon Hooks

how to make recycled metal spoon hooksI like to not spend much money on the allotment. It’s not that I’m not committed to the plot; if we were ever to lose our little bit of land over the other side of the railway lines, I’d be devastated. I just feel that allotments are all about getting the best from very little. Allotmenteering should be about reusing, repurposing, recycling. So, when in need of hooks in the shed recently I was reluctant to nip down to Homebase and buy a hook or two. On a trip to the allotment I noticed some cutlery was being thrown out by a neighbour and procured a spoon or two, setting about making them into a couple of bespoke hooks. Indeed, on closer inspection (they were very dirty, so needed a clean) they revealed themselves as silver spoons!

The process of turning these unwanted spoons into hooks was very simple. After cleaning the cutlery, I drilled a couple of holes through the spoon part. They need two holes to ensure the spoon doesn’t spin round when heavy items are hooked on. Next step was to form the spoon into a hook shape. These spoons bent easily, so I just used my hands to form the correct shape; I suppose stronger metal might need the use of a vice or something similar. The final step was to screw the spoons into the shed wall and hang stuff up.