I haven’t been up to the allotment much in the past few weeks. A combination of health issues, work and visitors have conspired – although I have sown quite a bit for planting out later. The weekend before last though, which was warm and sunny, saw FIL and I wander up there to attempt to make some progress.

Potatoes And Jerusalem Artichokes

While FIL got stuck in to the last-but-one bit of digging left to do, I planted a dozen chitted seed potatoes – ‘Swift’. After reading various blogs where people talked about planting potatoes by just digging individual holes with a trowel rather than the traditional trench approach, I decided to follow suit. Anything for an easy life! I know there is a wire worm problem on the site, and many people have given up growing potatoes altogether, but the general consensus seems to be that the bigger problem is the slugs which burrow in to the tubers via the tiny holes made by the wireworm and munch their way through leaving a hollowed out shell. People who still grow potatoes have been experimenting with putting a small number of organic slug pellets in with each tuber, although my immediate plot neighbour, who has a magnificent full sized plot, says he has no problems at all. So, in the spirit of experimentation I planted half with slug pellets and half without. I then panicked about whether I had planted them too early and shrouded them in fleece. Just in case…

At least with the fleece you can see that something has happened – I also planted half a dozen Jerusalem Artichokes on the far right of the rhubarb. Nothing to see now, but hopefully later in the year there will be a thick hedge of lovely foliage and, later still, delicious knobbly tubers to dig up and roast or mash. If we all eat them, we will all bear the consequences – not for nothing are they called Fartychokes…

I’d been doing a lot of thinking about how to protect my (hopefully lush and plentiful) crops from pigeons, Cabbage White, carrot root fly etc. I am trying to keep the allotment set-up costs to a minimum, but I do know enough to realise that I wll be totally downhearted if I skip the protection in favour of a more attractive plot (I want to interplant annuals with my veg but they won’t be seen if I cover the beds with mesh) only to lose large quantities of veg to the various pests that plague the site. Some losses are inevitable, but I’d like to minimise them. I had vague memories of seeing someone construct a cloche by creating hoops from lengths of garden hose with bamboo inserted to give some rigidity. I have lots of bamboo – can harvest as much as I want, in fact – and since I also had some lengths of old hose lying around I thought I would experiment a little. I wanted to be able to vary the covering rather than fix one – plastic or mesh – to the framework, and although my first thoughts were to build a self-contained cloche that I could move around at will I realised that perhaps a series of moveable hoops that I could then use to cover all or part of a bed could be more flexible. After playing around a little I came up with the remarkable edifice below ;-)

Heath Robinson Cloche
Hose Cloche

In a bid to make everything as re-usable as possible – for which read that I expected total failure and wanted to be able to salvage something – I used cable ties to fasten the bamboo strengthening struts to the hoops. The hose itself was very soft, so I inserted lengths of bamboo to give a rigid top and then two more lengths either side to form the sides. I then covered it with fleece, held down with stones – after doing my very first sowing on the plot. A row each of Parsnip ‘Cobham Improved’ and Parsnip ‘Countess’, both inter sown with radishes to mark the rows and give a catch crop, together with a wider drill broadcast-sown with Carrot ‘Early Nantes 5’. I used the method described by Sue@Green Lane Allotments to sow the parsnips, lining a shallow drill with multi purpose compost and sowing clusters of 3-4 seeds every 10cm/4″ (with radishes in between). My cloche then got put in place and covered in fleece – later this will get replaced with enviromesh. I subsequently found the instructions on line to building the Geoff Hamilton Cloche, so I’m not completely nuts. However, I have run out of odd pieces of hose to use, and don’t want to cut up the other useful length I have, so I am still searching for the perfect answer to crop protection, of which more later.

My last act was to plant the three broad bean plants that had survived the early winter sowing – Broad Bean ‘Express’ – and surround them with twiggy birch prunings to ward off the pigeons. I left FIL digging away…

Partially Dug Bed
Finished Potato Bed

Bless him, by last Sunday he had completed the potato bed, so yesterday I went up to the plot to plant up more potatoes and broad beans and generally check on progress. A mixed experience.

Blackthorn Flowering
Blackthorn Blossom

It started well enough – I was greeted by the clouds of white Blackthorn blossom in the hedge surrounding the allotments. I’d taken the van up so that I could transport the rest of the birch prunings that I hope to use to deter birds and support plants, along with the things to plant up. Ah yes, the potatoes. I’d forgotten them. Chalk one up to CFS Brain Fog – or just general incompetence.

Getting to the plot itself I was looking forward to seeing the rhubarb, had hopes of perhaps being able to pick some. Instead, I found a rather sad looking plant.

Unhappy Rhubarb
Sad Rhubarb Leaves

I suspect lack of water – and transplant shock. I had meant to build some sort of raised bed around it when we found we couldn’t dig a deep enough hole and ended up planting it on a mound. Lacking the energy to rustle up some wood to build something with let alone actually construct something, and not wanting to spend any money, this has been neglected. Something I need to sort out, and quickly too. Its not dead, but it certainly isn’t happy.

Feeling a little fed up by now, I was then greeted with the new batch of couch grass growing up through the carefully dug beds.

Couch Grass Crop

This was the brassica bed, which I had carefully trampled after another dig over ready for planting out cabbages. You can see the cracking too – though I am not so upset by all the poppy seedlings that are appearing. Still, with no potatoes to plant I had extra time for a spot of couch grass extraction! I also spent a happy few minutes removing the heads from the first crop of dandelions growing through the grass paths. Some of the prettier weeds will get to stay, at least for now, and FIL is waging war on the bittercress. For some reason it has become personal, for him.

Pretty Blue Weed

I had at least managed to remember the next lot of broad beans to plant out – 6 ‘Aquadulce Claudia’. The sticks have certainly kept the pigeons off, although of the first three plants I put in one is clearly the runt of the litter, and probably won’t ever catch up. I may try direct sowing to replace it if it keels over altogether.

Healthy Broad Bean 'Express'
Unhealthy Express

More Broad Beans

Orange Snapdragons

I decided to apply myself to the narrow strip that is to become my sunflower bed, because from my seat on the bench the heads should always be turned towards me. More couch grass and dandelion extraction, and the decision to leave a small patch of nettles for the insect life, and I was able to plant up the first of the hardy annuals that I hope will make the plot more attractive and provide some flowers for the house. Half a dozen orange snapdragons, to remind me of my Nan, and provide a low level foil to the yellow and red sunflowers I will be sowing soon for the space behind them. A nice theory anyway, and by this time I needed cheering up.

At this point I decide to peak into the cloche to see what – if anything – was happening. The carrot seed I sowed was old, so I am not sure any will germinate, and I certainly wasn’t expecting any parsnips to have germinated yet, but I had hopes for the radishes.

Under The Tent
Radish Seedlings

OK, so here too be weeds, but at least I have my first germination of direct sown seed, which felt quite an important milestone. And I needed some encouragement!

My final act was to wander up the plot to visit the rhubarb plants that mine had grown alongside until I uprooted the poor thing. The sight of this magnificent specimen solidified my determination to coddle ours. We’ve had a new delivery of manure, so a raised bed around it, a good soaking and a good thick mulch with the dark rich stuff should help it hang on to life, and I will need to be kind to it and not expect a vast crop.

Healthy Rhubarb

While chatting to the curious plot holder working next to the maginificent rhubarb – about his struggles to fill his raised beds with a decent layer of compost, his recent nightmare with shingles, and plans to retire soon – I glimpsed a netted cage protecting a large area of onions and garlic in the plot opposite. What intrigued me was that they had used some nifty connectors to hold together lenghts of bamboo to construct the cage. As I said earlier, I have plenty of bamboo, and has seen the connectors in a gardening catalogue recently and wondered about trying them out.

Caged Onions
Nifty Connectors

I particularly like the way that they have only used the – not cheap – connectors at the corners, and have used cable ties to jury rig the rest of the frame together, so reducing the cost. These connectors take various diameters of bamboo, and come with a three year guarantee – I suspect they would last a lot longer than that. I like the idea of constructing cages for my beds from these connectors and lengths of bamboo, and might even use them for the raspberries too, to support the netting that will be needed later. I left feeling a little less discouraged, my head full of plans for more constructions, more juggling of modules full of seedlings needing hardening off, and the welcome sight of new growth on the raspberry canes.

Raspberry Growth

36 thoughts on “Back to the plot

  1. What a great update on what’s happening on your allotment. I feel I don’t spend enough time on my blog, but I never seen to have enough time to spare. I’m very interested in all the bamboo cages, as we have lots of pigeons and there are of course the LOCUSTS to consider. I also have bamboo growing in large clumps that I can use. Thanks for all the info. most helpfull. Shame about the couch – you have to dig out every last little piece to irradicate it, not easy when its in the paths! I used nematodes one year one my potato crop with very good results. Christina

    1. Hi Christina. I think we just have to resign ourselves to a constant battle with the couch grass. It is much easier to get out now that all the beds have been dug over. I’ve just ordered some of those connector thingies, so I’ll let you know how I get on with them – if they won’t deliver them to Italy you could always get them delivered here and I could post them on.

      Oh, and there is a universal rule that says there is never enough time…

  2. This gardening thing is one challenge after another, isn’t it? Coaxing your plot into producing edible crops, and protecting it from the various plagues, pests and invaders will be on a par with planning a military campaign!
    Re the Rhubarb – I reckon that your idea of making a raised bed for it is the only way forward. It won’t like being on a mound. It needs to put down some deep roots into cool earth.
    I notice your Broad Bean leaves all have notched edges – these are caused by Vine Weevils I suspect. I have a lot of trouble with these pests myself. Last year the problem was much reduced by the application of some of the relevant type of nematodes (Nemasys), and I will be using this approach again this year.

    1. Hi Mark. We’re going to order some raised bed bits made from recycled plastic for the rhubarb. It’ll give us a chance to try out the product too. Re the nibbles, I assumed it was pea and bean weevil, which I thought rendered the plants unattractive but still productive? Although young plants can get got, which I think is what happened to the runt.

      Let the campaign begin!

  3. Hi Plantilicious, this post has everything – hard working, hard thinking, hope, success, weeds, disappointment, persistence, – and finally that lovely photo of new growth. Challenging satisfying wonderful gardening! Terrific post. cheers, cm

    1. Thank you Catmint – gardening in microcosm in fact! Good to be reminded that it is just all part of the tapestry. And great that you enjoyed reading it so much!

  4. Wow Janet, you have so much going on with your plot, great to be young. I do like the simple way of planting potatoes.

    1. Younger perhaps! And all the recent hard work has been thanks to FIL – I get to concentrate on the easier bit of planting and planning. And worrying…

  5. I planted my potatoes in to a hole rather than a trench last year and they did just as good, I’ll do the same again this year and save myself some work. I use some plastic corners when I (or should I say hubby) builds my cages. They’re different to the ones you show, but they work very well.

  6. Oh my, what a lot of activity is involved, but I suppose that’s the case with any new gardening venture, as you learn the location, the soil, the critters (!) and the reactions of your plants to all of that. I like that you’re giving a realistic picture of the challenges and small victories – happy germination! – taming even a small piece of land and bending it to our will isn’t easy!

    1. Hi Cyndy. I’d feel as if I was lying if I only ever talked about the successes. Besides, this is a record for me as well as a sharing with others, so it has to be warts and all so that hopefully I can see progress over time as I learn and adapt. That’s the theory anyway… As to taming the land, I suspect the best I can hope for is a grudging acceptance of my presence and a constant re-assertion of the plants that “belong” there – the weeds…

  7. Wow Janet so much going on…I love how you so thoroughly bring us through the thoughts, decsisions and pain of your garden…I feel as if I am experiencing your triumphs and disappointments right along with you cheering for you all the way…I think we can only manange what we can and we make the decisions to fight those battles we can…I gave up on the weeds in my first raised bed because I did not prepare properly so it is a lost cause…I pull them out and they come back but it is what it is…I love the way you problem solve and use what you have to manage issues you face…the twiggy supports are fabulous and I am hoping to give them a try too…thx for another marvelous post…it is like reading the next chapter in a novel where I can’t wait to see what happens to our heroine next!!!

    1. Hello Donna, what a lovely comment, thank you. I do try to say it as it is, rather than how I want it to be, and I think I problem solve while I write too. Plus, I then get wonderful advice and encouragement from all the experts out there based on their own experience. I’m glad you enjoy reading about it all, I have grown to love sharing it.

  8. Janet, your Rhubarb is still a little early to harvest isn’t it? I kind of remember in Germany it was April before it could be harvested. I guess April is closer than I realize!! That grass is enough to drive you crazy….so hardy!
    Your different nettings and coverings are very ingenious. Hope they work well for you.

    1. Hi Janet, I suspect on the rhubarb front it all depends on the variety and specific local conditions. Certainly some people are pulling rhubarb up at the allotment, and it looks as if the brother and sister of mine are ready to give up some bounty, but it would be churlish of me to expect as much from a rudely disrupted plant. I think I need to be very nice to it and hope for better next year! After all, it was a gift!

  9. Hi Janet – only too pleased to contribute to your fine looking allotment with a packet of nasturtium seeds :)

    Just email me your address to vegplotting at gmail dot com and I’ll get it sorted

    BTW can your FIL be lured out to Chippenham with the promise of cake? ;)

  10. Don’t let the compost dry out where you planted the parsnips Janet.
    I’m afraid prettiness has to be forfeited a bit for crops vulnerable to pests we cover our berassicas with butterfly proof (well almost) net and carrots with enviromesh.

    1. Hi Sue, good reminder on the watering front – one of the problems with not getting up there much recently, hence the suffering rhubarb too.

  11. I am so impressed with how much work you’ve done at this alottment. From digging, compost, weeding and now sowing all these plants. You’ve really planned it well to get all those plants in that space and it looks right lovely.

    1. Hi Marguerite, I think the digging was the easy bit, now I find out how good – or not – I am at actually growing things…

  12. You’re making fantastic progress, that’s a lot of work there. I’m sure the rhubarb will spring back to life with a good feed. I feel fortunate not to have any couch grass and generally low levels of weeds but I’m sure your hard work will pay off. I also planted broad beans direct at my shared plot, about 100 or so seeds and my overwintered ones back at home are about 6″ high now so I hope to get a staggered harvest. And the last of the onion sets and shallots are in now. Never enough hours in the day though!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement Damo, as a newbie its hard to gauge how well – or not – we are doing! As is working out how much room to give each crop. I love broad beans so I’ve just sown 9 more pots to add to the 9 already up there, like you, hoping for a staggered harvest. But I am left hoping I will still have room for all the beans and peas we want too! I haven’t room for 100 + plants, I know that… I will plan for shallots next year…

  13. Janet ,
    Thanks for sharing the bamboo and hose cloche idea. I’ve got an old reel of hose and I didn’t realise its potential until today. I certainly need protection in my garden too. The only outdoor sown seeds which have been successful so far are sweetpea which birds don’t seem to like and marigolds which self-seeded and are now growing like weeds.
    I also like your idea of using twigs for protection it looks natural and effective.

    1. Hi b-a-g, I think marigolds as weeds are an improvement on dandelions, bittercress and couch grass – swap?! Will look forward to seeing how you get on with the improvised cloche front. On the twiggy supports, I just hope I have enough for the whole bed!

  14. Great to see you back at the plot. Looks like you’ve been really busy. Love the home made cloche. Fingers crossed your rhubarb perks up with a bit of water and tlc.

    I love the sound of your sunflower strip and how you’ll see their faces from your bench. I’m hoping that the thought might just get you through all the weeding and couch grass patrol.

    I think your small blue weed is ‘speedwell’, we have them here – I think they’re really dainty and pretty.

    Good luck with juggling your modules (I don’t have a cold frame and am already getting fed up with moving some plants and seedlings outside during the day and into the glass barn again at night – and moving others from the house to the glass barn during the day for extra light!!). Soon they’ll be ok to stay out at night – thank goodness)

    You’ve made great progress. Hope your potatoes do as well as your plot neighbours have done.

    1. Hi Ferris, it felt really good to get back up there, even if I didn’t remember the potatoes… I’m hoping to perhaps get them in today, weather permitting. Module juggling does get to be a bit of a pain, doesn’t it! I think you’re right about speedwell, and it gets to stay a little longer.

  15. Very resourceful. We’ll need to cobble together some kind of frame too to net our brassicas more securely so that they aren’t eaten this year. You’ve made so much progress at the allotment. It’s great to see life springing up – where you want it! It’s always a bit alarming how fast weeds reappear. We have dandelions springing up everywhere, I’m trying to keep picking the flowers off until I can dig more out, after a mass digging session the other weekend…

    1. I think the battle with the weeds is just never ending – little and often is, I hope, the root to maintaining a semblance of sanity. That and having FIL on hand!

  16. You’ve worked so hard and it really shows, the plot looks great and I’m sure it will reward your efforts and be productive. I’m sure your Rhuby is just having a sulk, hopefully it will perk up.

    1. Thanks Karen. Am hoping to get up there today and plant the potatoes I forgot and surround the rhubarb with manure to coddle it a little.

  17. Funny how a trip to the allotment always has its highs and lows :) You are making great progress though Janet and seem remarkably well organised. Be careful that your fleece is not in direct contact with the potato foliage when it emerges – mine was last year and with disastrous consequences when we had freezing rain and frost last May :( Keeping my fingers crossed that your rhubarb responds to some tlc and that you get a crumble out of it yet in the near future.

    1. Hi Anna, thanks for the fleece warning – would never have thought of that. I think one of the reasons I have been blogging about the allotment in such detail is in the hope that people with more experience will leap in and say “ooh, be careful when you…” etc. thus limiting my newbie errors!

    1. Thank you, balancing the two is proving “interesting”, and in an ideal world I would have the two intertwined in my own back garden, but at least this way I get to make regular visits to somewhere lovely and meet other people.

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