Archive for the ‘A Site for Sore Eyes?’ Category

Nature Red …

 

While I was busy playing Tarzan-with-a-camera last week our neighbour, Mr Plumber, popped over. He has managed to snag a whole garden full of pallets … and I do mean monster pallets, so long they only just fit into the rear of his white van!

We arrange a day to get some of them up to the allotment, the remainder he’ll use on his wood burner or for “projects”. We discuss the benefits of skip diving, but he’s one ahead; he has an arrangement with a local company and gets the choice of all manner of stuff they would otherwise skip: wooden boards, plaster board, soil pipe, timber …

His take away service helps him and saves the company the money they would have to pay to have it skipped. A win-win situation. And he is generous enough to include us now in the distribution of the swaggage.

We spend a long day taking a couple of loads up to the site, which he has never visited before. Duly impressed by the size of the whole site he is also – as people usually are – taken by the size of the plots. Some of the pallets we leave whole and some we disassemble: the eventual plan will be to use at least some of them to edge to middle of the three plots.

Work, if it can be called such, is steady, and accompanied by cups of tea, a tomato soup and Cheddar cheese lunch and a lot of chatter. Given that it is January the weather is comfortably warm (being busy helps, needless to say). Researchers are telling us that 2016 was the warmest on record; a little surprising as summer actually didn’t feel so hot, but I guess the average temperature during the other seasons was higher.

Residents and neighbours, compost techniques, the universality of pallets (real life Lego bricks in that they are easy to work with, physically manageable and truly versatile), tales of ski-ing holidays, the fact that a farm nearby is home to lions and tigers from Chipperfield’s Circus). And, apparently have been there for some time! This raises a whole range of moral questions about the role of performing animals, animal rights and animal welfare of course, but also about such animals living in such close (and secret) proximity to … well, to me!

 

 

Needless to say the hardest, heaviest part of our task is carrying the huge pallets and assorted timbers from the van all the way to our plot. Naturally they seem to get heavier and more awkward to shift as we move them. No pain, no gain eh?

But when we are done for the day I am satisfied that we have enough to get the job done – and it is all, now, exactly where it needs to be.

I spend the latter part of the warm afternoon on the plot taking the nails from the timbers with a “gorilla bar*” and claw hammer. I lay out the pieces and, it seems there are enough to edge the plot without actually dismantling any other pallets (which’ll leave some available for compost bins repairs and the construction, I hope, of a separate bin for storing useful items: wood, hoops, the hose, the wheelbarrow), maybe even some for the shed itself. The sun is heading quickly for the horizon and, at this time of year it gets chilly very quickly when the sun goes down, so I head for home.

Unfortunately, as I leave I realise the pile looks something like a bonfire heap and it is my fervent hope that nobody nips across the open space where the fence is still missing and sets fire to it.

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Things have been going on back at home: the disputed nest in the top of the silver birch, claimed and counter claimed by two pairs of magpies and a crow couple has been occupied by the larger birds, much to the frustration of the magpies who, even as I sit down to type are harassing the crows and kicking up a helluva fuss in the way that only magpies can manage. For a moment I feel for the magpies – it’ll be a whole lot harder to find a new site and build a nest to the same spec as this one – but then remember the way they terrorise smaller nesting birds. This is a taste of their own medicine then! Nature red in tooth and claw in front of my very eyes.

 

 *Is that the genuine name for this thing or did I imagine it?

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Heap-Turning; Worm-Wrangling

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Every year on our allotment we have, inevitably, some successes, some surprises and a few failures. The way I figure it: it’s just important to keep going and grin if you have more of the first two than the last.

In that vein our brassicas are not so productive this year, the caulis being used as mash have rushed out of shape. The cabbages, meanwhile are bulking up. But the experimental Brokali (sic.) failed.

Runner beans, deliberately planted late so that we can harvest after our summer holidays (the Scillies and Dumfries and Galloway) are now being picked, eaten, freezered and/or given away.

Thornless blackberries are packed but still unripe. Apples (Bramley Seedling, James Grieve, Orange Pippins and a supermarket give-away tree) are loaded and ripening, as are the dessert pears. Still looking for a Bartlett.

Courgettes are big leaved and providing green and yellow loofahs daily and in the beds next to them, the pumpkins are now changing colour.

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We have planted rows of late lettuce, beetroot where we lifted the onion crop (now strung up in the garage).

Today we dug over the remainder of the ground that the onions had taken up, removing the pernicious weeds and dumping the rest on the compost heap. This heap is now as full as it needs to be. So we have to empty the bay next door, turn this pile over and begin again.

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Once that little piece of ground is dug over I begin; uncover the “finished” compost, it has been covered with black plastic, a couple of pallets and various other odds ‘n’ sods, then start to lift out the “brown gold” with a fork. I have to move a damson branch from the Pepper Grower’s plot first, but it bends back without any damage.

The material on this heap, having been, essentially neglected for six months or so looks really good – and is filled with brandling worms. I pick out about fifty of these and put them aside in what was an ice cream tub: they will go into the wormery we have outside the back door at home.

As successive wheelbarrows are emptied on the plot a robin approaches, mindful of the small black and white kitten that has been hanging around since June. We sit on the Overseer’s Throne, sip tea and watch enormous bumble bees hanging from diminutive speedwell flowers: the contrast in size is alarming but it must be worth the insect’s while as they are ignoring teasels and hedgerow buddleia elsewhere.

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Eventually this compost will be turned into the ground, hopefully during autumn digging, replacing some of the elements that this season’s growth has “eaten up”, but also – and equally importantly – keeping the minibeasts and micro-critter levels high so that plant roots can access the nutrients as the ystart to grow – way ahead in the futures of next spring.

 

Thief! Thief!

“Our” plots lie at the corner of the allotment site. Down-slope. An advantage we smilingly say, because when those on the slope above us water their land the water runs downhill – and we get the benefit. We need that bonus though, because we are as far away from the stand pipe as it is possible to get. Our part of the world is bounded by two hedges; the one along the Wolverhampton Road and the second between us and a detached house. There is a lap board fence beyond this hedge, the installation of which severely damaged the hedge. However, over the years e have either repaired the hedge or replaced it.

As you walk along the path to our plots, usually carrying a bag of horse muck, baskets or the kitchen waste in buckets the view is obscured in summer. By the branches of a Bramley cooking apple tree and a mixture of drooping, fruit heavy damsons (or are they plums?) from the opposite plot. And the mighty Tarzan-sized leaves of rhubarb (which a new plot holder recently mistook for gunnera!) which project out of massed roots on our own plot. So you don’t see the strawberry plants packed into the raised bed until you have ducked under (difficult with a wheelbarrow) the trees and heaved aside the rhubarb.

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Yesterday as I did this I disturbed a pair of thieves. Sitting, hidden, on the sides of the raised bed they were carried away. Helping themselves to the strawberries we have spent time, organic chemicals and energy on … so that we can stuff ourselves with that juicy taste of warm sun (as if …) and summer. We didn’t go to all that trouble for …

All of this rage is passing through me …

I haven’t broken pace, but I have started to lower the box I am carrying that has the means in it of making fire. For today is Friday: burning day. And we have come to get rid of the brash from trimming the insides of the hedge, which have been left to dry for a week or so.

At about the same time as I see them, the robbers notice me. They are fast. With that characteristic noise they leap up, startled but moving already.

… and are gone. Because, goddammit wood pigeons can fly!

Leaving me shaking my fist (still holding a box of matches) in frustration.

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Our fault. Of course. We have been lax. Should have put that netting over the crops a lot sooner.

Wood pigeons are a big problem on the allotments here: taking the tops out of pea plants, pecking at cabbage plants, breaking the soft branches of currant bushes that can’t – quite – support their weight and attacking the strawberries. Often, after they have departed the evidence damns them: part-pecked fruit on the paths.

But we seem to have human thieves here too; other plot holders are talking of losing vast quantities of fruit or having protective netting removed and produce disappearing.

This is nothing less than disgraceful, shameful behaviour … and may, perhaps, even worse, be an “inside job”.

The committee are making big, off-the-record noises about the security cameras they have had since autumn, apparently. But nobody is actually sure, because accounts vary, whether they have actually set these up yet.

Meanwhile we get our heads down, install the anti-marauder netting, burn the clippings, water the squashes and retire to sit, sipping wine by the fire pit.

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Picking the strawbs can wait until tomorrow.

 

Potato Planting

Sometimes, it has to be said,

Potato planting

Can be a work of art :

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Please forgive me; couldn’t help it!

Breathing Apparatus ?

And it’s only when I’m getting out of the car to unlock the site gates that I realise I’ve forgotten my boots. That I’m wearing trainers.

But I am on a mission and – just maybe – they won’t get too muddy. If I’m careful.

Then I, typically, forget about being careful and get on with it.

The plot has been tidied. Slowly but surely. Between rain and days at work we have amassed piles that need to be gone. And today (Friday) is the one day in the week when we can burn. So, load up the big oil drum we use as an incinerator and light it up. The fuel is too wet. Needs lighting three times. Then smokes like a sulky Cornish tin miner. Fitfully.

I’m not just watching the fire. Footwear forgotten I am taking the chance to catch up on some long overdue digging. Good exercise, great therapy and makes the plot look so much tidier. Cared for, dare I suggest?

And I’m wearing my Christmas present gardening gloves for the first time. They are really posh and I haven’t dared to wear them until now. Didn’t want to get them dirty sounds a poor reason, but it is the correct one. They are comfortable, warm, waterproof and make it difficult to pick up the brandling worms that I habitually collect and return to the compost heap.DSC03235

Across the Wolverhampton Road; where the building had been demolished the Hi-Viz vested chaps are putting up a fence. To begin with I was thinking it’s be a post and rail fence, but they are going for the full vertically boarded type. Using a nail gun. The explosions are off-putting to begin with, but soon settle into a rhythm. And the fence goes up remarkably quickly. I can see it without looking through the gappy, winter hedge.

The soil I am digging is water-logged heavy. On one plot – the middle one of three – it will become more friable as it dries out (this is the plot we plan to put the potatoes in this year as part of a regular rotation) but the one nearest the hedge is claggy and sucks the blade of the spade relentlessly. This actual ground has only been in proper season by season cultivation for three years and lacks the improvement that regular addition of organic matter produces. Oh and digging. For years it was in the shade of a too-tall –as in twenty-plus feet tall hawthorn and elder hedge. Only tamed when the householder moved on and I laid he beast.

Today the hedge still casts something of a shadow and the soil remains frozen to some degree because the sun hasn’t hit it yet.

ON TV last night was the news that Asda are going to start stocking “wonky veg boxes” with less than uniform shaped produce. It’ll be cheaper. But, of course the vegetables will still be vegetables and it should cut down on waste. How sensible. Or, actually how not sensible is it to have a system which treats vegetables to some kind of un necessary apartheid.

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None of our allotment grown veg would make it past the first censors; but it is tasty and we know how it has been grown.

Allan and his missus have been and had a general chat and Supermarket Dave too. He has some encouraging words: rents are due next couple of weekends, the potato order is in and – oh dear, that fire’s not going to well is it?

It isn’t! he offers some wood to get it going, but I shrug, not really caring and thinking about heading for home. The skies are getting cloudier, there’s snow forecast (actually it has been forecast every day this week, but, like some side plot from 1984 it’ll always be due “tomorrow, just as we predicted”) and I’m a bit fed up.

Then a new resolve kicks in: I said I’d get the stuff burned didn’t I?

I reload the bin, put some extra dry timber in and try again. This time, perhaps the initial attempts had been enough to dry it out sufficiently, it begins to flame healthily. Enough to keep me there. And adding a few extra bits and pieces. Including some shattered remnants of corrugated clear plastic we used last year as cloches. They have degraded, been blown about and smashed … and I don’t know whether they will burn or not.

So I give it a try.

Actually they just ripple, fold and collapse in a very Dr Who kind of fashion. I add some more, just to see.

When I add the third section the whole thing bursts into life.

Flame, yes

And some of the thickest smoke I have ever seen. Something almost volcanic. It seethes over the rim and falls to the floor, obviously heavier than air and squirms across the soil like a Ray Bradbury monster. I am, momentarily enveloped. It stinks! It catches in the throat and makes me choke.  Casting my eyes down I walk to the path, get out of the smoke and breathe. My eyes are bone-dry and hot. I blink. So this is why fire-fighters need breathing apparatus I realize, watching for a good ten minutes as the wall of dark, grey smoke creeps across the site.

Back later, kicking off my inevitably-mud caked shoes and abandoning the extremely smelly clothes by the washing machine I take five to read the local newspaper.

A house in Bloxwich has burned down. The fire was possibly caused by sub-standard equipment used to grow an illegal crop of marijuana/cannabis inside. There is more than one reason fire-fighters need B.A. after all.

Raising Beds – Little By Little

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January – and unseasonably warm. Where’s my re-chargeable drill when I need it? The one I treated myself to just after we took on the allotment and scrounged a shed from my moving-house sister. Bought the drill to help put the shed back together. We actually dismantled the shed and moved it while we were white-vanning the rest of the contents of the house; going back for the slabs later.
I could do with that drill now to help me put the planned raised bed together … and while I was thinking about exactly how to jig-saw the umpteen pieces of differently sized pieces of timber together ( pictured above) another thought dropped in. Why not use the pallets that were left over from the compost delivery. That had been taken down to my mother’s for her fire –as local dealers would not buy them from us. My mother won’t burn the wood because she says it spits! The pieces would be of a more uniform size, which would make getting the levels easier (though I always struggle with levels!)
Out came the trusty saw, the GT 85 spray and the hand axe – because you never know do you? Then, cutting the pieces into what-I-hope will be shapes and sizes that work – I am no fool I had paced out the measurements of the existing raised bed – twelve boots by five … if you must know, I laid out the pieces on the lawn. At times it looked like some maybe-wing assembly phase from The Flight of the Phoenix. But when all pieces were there it looked as if it would work. Looked untidy of course; partly I will admit because of my poor saw skills and partly because this is not a bespoke off-the shelf Knightsbridge solution. Partly because it will look so much better/different when it is filled with soil and plants; hiding all the untidy innards.

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The pieces that broke off, the extras not needed in the plan will be enough to keep the fire going – weather willing – for people to eat their bacon sandwiches round in a couple of weeks when fees are due to be paid… and now they are cut up into roughly the right sizes. If the fire spits, well it’ll be something to talk about and keep people on their toes. 

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I am what Americans might call a sucker for what Americans call re-purposing and began to consider using the lethal looking nails that punctuated the timbers: taking them out, straightening them and re-using them, but soon realised that new screws would be a better prospect. But, remembering that our daughter has borrowed it … and being impatient I decided to go for it. It can always be tweaked with screws at a later date.
Not finished: but so far, so good:

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Watch this space: it’ll be a raised bed soon!

Gaffer and the Tomberries

This became a day of forage and incidental harvesting. And all the more fun for it.

Initially I was intending to get to burning the dried out (I hoped!) potato haulms. Friday is the one day each week that we are allowed to have bonfires on site – and, haven’t you guessed it already, it nearly always seems to rain on Fridays!

But this Friday was clear.  So the fire was duly lit. In a newly commandeered oil drum, freshly holed for the purpose.

Then a few rows of digging: the start of the long preparation for over-wintering and the clearing of space for blackcurrant cuttings, over-wintering onions and broad bean sowings.

And a general inspection. The hedgerow looks spectacular: Laid four years ago from a twenty plus feet tall hawthorn and elder mix I took it down to five feet. It has now fully filled out the spaces and grows lustily. Hazel whips planted to plug gaps are established, showing big soft blousy leaves. The hollies, a single oak, a mock orange, dogwoods and a laburnum are also maturing well. But this week the rose hips and blackberries are the real stars. They are crowded with fruit, looking gorgeous and dark.

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