The Fruits of Our (and Mother Nature’s) Labour

Allotment wilflowers
As the season of summer finally starts to show what she can really do (yes, summer would definitely be a lady), we begin to watch in wonder as the flowers and fruits begin to bloom. The previous owners of our allotment took pride in creating a small patch that they dedicated to growing wildflowers on. We have opted to keep this.

I think that some folk see allotments as those bastions of old men, surrounded by soggy crops, homing pigeons, the loud crowing of cockerels and hours of sweat and toil in return for mammoth-sized onions and cabbage. Don’t get me wrong – those types of allotments exist; I have seen them, but the freedom of a large (or small) plot can be so much more.
Allotment wildflower patch
We kept the flower patch. Amidst all the crops at the top of the allotment is the small country cottage style garden resplendent with wild and naturally occurring plants. My Nan would call them “angel comers” as they were planted by seemingly God’s own hand – in truth usually naturally propagated or seeds dropped from the mouth of a passing bird. I love the poetic idea that we are at the whim of something greater and despite our best intentions things will just grow where they wish. In fairness anyone who has tangled with returning weeds will certainly share that feeling!

Take a look – see what you think. In amongst the flowers grows two or three varieties of mint, every hue and shade resplendent in colour. Some of the purists would argue that they serve no purpose – but equally the same critics would care little for making their own garden burst with blooms.
Craig's strawberry harvest
We did get the ultimate taste of summer this year – a bumper crop of wild strawberries. Our boy spent hours picking (and eating!) the best of them. Despite being told he had to save some for the rest of us he was un-thwarted and did his best to consume as many of them as he could! And whilst I would disapprove of such gluttony on French fries or burgers, the produce of our allotment is a very different matter.
Courgette blossomsPink flower
As you can also see, we are looking forward to a bumper harvest of tomatoes and courgettes – we seem to have been over-run in both of our greenhouses. We have already had several of the young vegetables, simply skewered, drizzled with olive oil and grilled – they were amazing! It is fair to say we will be looking for plenty of recipes that use tomatoes and courgettes. Have you got any ideas? I would love to hear them, cook them and then let you know just how we get on.

Cheers!
Craig

SleepOut on the Allotment

Like many others across the country, we are getting ready for the National Garden SleepOut event that is taking place tonight kindly sponsored by Primrose. I love the idea of this and as a family we will be keen to take part in this every year.

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Creative Watering on the Allotment

Watering through a pipe trellis

As I mentioned before, we share our allotment with some good friends who also happen to be our neighbours. Our plot is no more than 150 yards from where we all live and this allows us to visit daily without any great inconvenience. We find that we are able to each do our bit and there are no cross words as to who does the most. If nothing else we work as a team and are all looking forward to seeing a good crop this year having started most things from seed way back in the depths of a cold March.

Those puny looking threads of green we saw poking their heads tentatively out of the dark earth are now starting to stand tall. We are inundated with tomato plants, many varieties from Cherry to Beefsteak and I am looking forward to a good summer harvest. We should be taking our first ones off within the next four weeks — exciting times ahead.

One of the many challenges we, like many gardeners face, is getting the balance right when watering our crops. During the recent hot spell, we had to water the greenhouse plants twice daily; they were crying out for as much refreshment as we could give them – not unlike ourselves, having spent any time under the hot glass panes! However, where our thirst could be quenched with one or two well earned cold beers – our little friends need more than that.
Craig's Water Butts
So, as they say – desperate times call for ingenious solutions. Or something like that. As I often say, the keen allotment keeper is akin to a scrap man – always on the lookout for items that would be of some use. Our greenhouse is home to a selection of water butts and piping that has been gathered over the last few months. During the months of rain they filled nicely and we are now seeing the advantage of harvesting rainwater – we are able to freely fill our watering cans and keep of plants replenished.
Recycled pipe trellis to grow beans
One of the best uses we found for some old hollow pipework was to create triangular frames for our selection of broad, dwarf and runner beans. It is an age-old trick to create frames for climbing plants, so I am not professing any new revolutionary gardening technique. However, and here comes the clever part, we did find that the hollow pipe served a secondary purpose. We found that they held a good amount of water and by filling them up to the top they would slowly seep the water under the ground and directly into the bundles of roots that are beginning to take hold under the soil.

This in itself gave us another solution to the problem of how to avoid damage to plants when watering in full sun. Directly watering into the roots prevents any sun damage or burns occurring on the leaves and stems.
Watering through a pipe trellis
The next step could well be a remotely controlled or timed watering system and there are many of these available. We have certainly got the space to warrant that investment and we have the water storage solution so maybe…
Until we have decided, however, we will keep on using our initiative and turning one man’s rubbish into another man’s watering solution.

Craig

Allotment Parties

Craig's Allotment garden

Craig's Allotment gardenWhen we took over the adjacent allotment to our own, not only did we inherit some wonderfully rustic home made out-buildings and greenhouses, but also a modest decking and fire pit area. Now the previous tenants clearly had some grand designs, but due to relocating have left these largely unfulfilled. One of the things that struck us was that we could have plenty of space for planting, growing and keeping poultry but also a perfect (almost) ready-made entertaining area.

With some elbow grease to clean down the tired looking wood and some more ingenious construction (that probably wouldn’t pass building regulations!) we steadied the deck and dug out the cooking area. So what makes an allotment perfect for those long late nights that summer holds?
Craig's plants
Your allotment can be the perfect space for a few friends to share some food, drinks and chill out under the stars. Certainly for us with only a modest sized garden, it is a perfect place when we want to invite a few more than usual as our allotment affords us the extra space. It also gives us food, cooking facilities and the chance to show off our second home – in a busy season it certainly feels that way.Craig's plants
Firstly, be sure to check the terms and conditions of your tenancy. I would not advocate doing anything that is likely to cause you trouble. I think that most local councils would be reasonably relaxed about it, depending on the proximity to neighbouring houses and the potential for noise pollution or damage.

Some useful pointers to ensure that you make the most of your allotment party –

· Check you are allowed to have a social gathering in your agreement
· Ensure your guests respect yours and others property
· Don’t annoy the neighbours – music, noise, and littering, wilful or accidental damage
· Keep the guest list select – don’t invite hundreds
· Be careful with any fires lit
· Keep the party area well lit, don’t want clumsy feet walking on those plants!
· Clearly fence off areas that are no-go’s
· Make sure all fires, candles and naked flames are extinguished before leaving

On a cold but clear April night we stoked up a fire and got a feel for what those long awaited summer nights would hold for us. It was blazing success. A perfectly clear night allowed us for some unrivalled sky views of the stars and planets, the fire pit roared to life and somehow the food tasted all that better. We are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to partake in our next one now that the temperatures have risen and the nights are just that bit longer. Whilst allotments may not be chic, and some may be a little shabby – they hold great promise for not only the raising of seeds but of glasses too.

Craig

Planting Out

Craig's salad

The dreary rain-filled days of April seem to be a lifetime ago after the recent mini-heatwave and certainly in terms of growing there have been some big changes. Our small seeds have taken every ray of sunshine and seem to have gone from sorry-looking water washed items to sprouting shoots of growth.

Craig's allotment beds

Plants in the Allotment
We share the allotment with another family – the dream for this year being that we will have sufficient fruit and vegetables from June onwards. Last year’s expansion meant that we started seeding late – but with the procurement of a large homemade greenhouse we have been able to sow directly from seeds. In simple terms it means we can expect more for less. Or at least, that is the plan.

We are actively trying to involve our son in the experience. He is three and already enjoys playing alongside us; he has his own spade and gloves and like most young boys he enjoys filling buckets with dirt. But equally he is learning. He is keen to know what things are called and loves to help pick (and eat) the fruits of our labour. So when he is maybe too heavy handed with the delicate seedlings, we explain he needs to be careful and put it down to experience. He has even got his own small pots full of all kinds of interesting things growing.

Our local council refuge site has been selling soil enhancer for a very reasonable £2.50 per 50 litre bag – so we took full advantage of this and still have three bags left from the original ten we bought. If you couple that with a load of bargain seeds then our total investment for this year has been a paltry £40 – which has been split between the 2 families. So what are we expecting for our hard-earned money?Craig's salad

Last week we took the step of planting out our dear young growers, hoping that we have seen the last of any frost until at least October. We got stung last year by planting too early and even the “hardy” potatoes fell foul of a particularly firm frost. A team effort took place and we managed to get the following transplanted – courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions (spring, red and white), garlic, peas, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, runner beans and dwarf beans.

The swathes of fresh turned soil which had look like we would never fill them, quickly took to life with the odd splashes of green fresh growth. Our runner beans and peas are being trained to grow around lengths of recycled pipe and we have used a collection of old pieces of wood to create planting beds. The ever ingenious gardener’s motto seems to be, “don’t throw that away – I can use that on my allotment!” I constantly marvel at how mundane items become used in ways never dreamt of.

Craig's Plants
So after the months of preparing we now enter the growing stage. Judging by what I have seen so far we could well be in for a good one. The tomato plants stand no more than 4 inches tall but already have many trusses on and as we have failed in the last two summers are taking that to be a very good omen. Only time will tell…

Craig