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Half-Baked Blog - The Allotment

Getting to grips, or losing my grip, on a Midlands allotment.
2019 || 2020 || 2021 || Website's Guts

15th July 2020 - Walnuts


Well, I've just paid the domain renewal for another 12 months, so I'd better make a proper effort to get some content on the go. I've been slack as hell this year, and there's no excuse; we've had lockdown, and I've had time on my hands. We've spent a huge amount of that time working on the house, and the allotment has come along more slowly.

There's two significant trees in the allotment. One's a hazelnut, or a cob nut tree, and the other has always been kind of a mystery to me, until recently. I thought perhaps it was a birch or something.

However, this week, it's started to drop round, green fruit-like things. Turns out that it's a walnut tree, and a well-cropping one at that. Every evening, we're now having a race against the squirrels, dashing around the allotment to find the day's dropped nuts and collecting them up. I haven't really worked out what I'm supposed to do with them yet, but fresh walnuts can only be a good thing.

I'll report back soon :)

14th March 2020 - Clearing Sid's Shed

Hello! It's been a while. My bad.

Having thought about it, what I'm not going to try and do is tell you what's gone on over the last few months. As any allotmenteer knows about this time of year, it's all quite busy but quite rewarding as things start to take off a bit. I have seedlings going in three rooms upstairs, and have started the fight against bindweed that I always knew was on the cards.

Anyway, let's talk about the boiler house. I posted about it last year, in 2019. When we got the allotment, it was a ruin and full of rubbish; bricks, old roofing felt and organic matter. I started to look at it last Autumn, but found that there were hedgehogs hibernating in there. With that knowledge, we left it until it warmed up significantly to start poking around in there properly.

With the coronavirus lockdown in full swing, we've had plenty of time on our hands. So it came to pass that, one Friday, M began to empty it out in conjunction with the world's most bendy wheelbarrow, with it's eternally punctured tyre. In case it hasn't become clear, my hatred for this wheelbarrow escalates from day to day. On a pleasant March afternoon, however, it wasn't bad work, and M spent the afternoon trundling back and forth between the boiler house and the allotment driveway, where a builder's bag of junk slowly but surely grew. After that, a second builder's bag of junk began to fill up as the afternoon wore on.

We now know more about the boiler house than we ever did. The people who live on the boundary of the allotment tell us that, when then moved there, an old gentleman named Sid spent pretty much every waking hour there, growing spectacular amounts of veg in the neatly-ordered beds and large greenhouse that still stood on the site at that point. He'd take this veg, head up the dirt lane to the main road and sit there by the main road selling it to passing traffic, and this was how he passed his days. Then, around 1979, he must have died. We know this, because as M cleared the boiler house, she began to clear the remnants of a meticulously ordered shed, in a process that felt weirdly like archeaology, which I can't spell. As the collapsed roof was stripped away, she found the boiler house carefully ordered and organised. There was a stool at a desk, a comb in a glass, a mug for tea, a paraffin stove and soup spoons. Where handles had largely rotted away, the metal remains of tools were still organised carefully along a side wall where they had been propped, and the remains of a hurricane lantern that had hung from the roof was in the middle of the floor. A couple of newspapers were dotted around, advertising TV rentals and the new Fiat 127.

It is as if the door were closed in 1979 and never opened again. The neighbours reckon the shed collapsed in the early 80s, and buried this perfect time capsule under a protective coating of felt and rubble, to be dug up nearly 30 years later.

So, from now on, it's Sid's Shed rather than the boiler house. Having cleared it out, there's a brick paved floor and we've put a bench in there, where you can sit in the sun, shut off from the world, and sit in your own little courtyard without being bothered. In time, I hope to bring some life back to Sid's Shed.

I don't often do this, but I think this one is worth a picture, so here you go.

7th March 2020 - Frantic Pruning

Morning everyone!

It's Saturday morning, and I'm sat downstairs in my chilly house, keen to bash out a few lines before cracking on with the day. So far this year, I've been quite poor at keeping this blog updated. To be fair, it's been busy and I've struggled to get much done at all this year. However, the last few days have marked a considerable success for me and the allotment; the first crops are in. With the last frost for a little while hopefully passed (it's been a warm winter) I've got three of my four broad beans planted out after they grew like fiends on my windowsill. They are in the big bed, by the various fruits, and currently not inhibited by the fruit bushes that grow on the other side of them, as they have no leaves. I'm going to get the fourth one out today, and set a second batch off indoors this week so we can get a somewhat staggered crop.

The radishes I sowed straight into the bed have not done so well, despite the liberal application of good compost. I think, in hindsight, I planted them poorly; too deap and generally not well at all. The broad beans are trouncing them for sure. We have some aubergines going on the upstairs windowsill. Of perhaps 10 attempts, I have four plants that have germinated, and my focus is now on nurturing them to a point at which I can get those planted out too, though I don't think that will be for quite a while yet.

In other news, I've been pruning like a fiend. I have hit the main raspberry bed with gusto, and unceremoniously cut out all the dead vines and plants that have meant it's somewhat congested in there, and has been since we got the allotment. It took an hour, but now I have a raspberry bed that looks healthy, if sparse; with rows of budding plants ready for action without their dead comrades. Hopefully, we will get a better fruiting crop this year.

In a similar way, I've started attacking the fruit bushes with my snippers of doom. First up the ramp have been the blackcurrant bushes. I've tried to be more careful with these, removing obviously dead wood and clipping back to the point of budding on live branches. They've been thinned out a lot, but I think this is for the best and I can't wait to see how they perform this year. In the old bramble bed, the fruit bushes I uncovered when ripping out brambles have been a bit more of a challenge to work out. Where they were seeking light before, some branches have grown along the floor, rooted themselves and come up at strange angles. Working out where the bushes actually are, pruning back dead growth and staking out good branches has taken some time, and clipping runners has meant I've been able to plant three or so "new" bushes that are now seperate to the main ecosystem. It's going to take a couple of years to get these bushes into any kind of "form", as at the moment they're just staked, straggly messes that are going to need some TLC. I am excited to see what they can become, though.

Finally, gooseberries. Last year we had no fruit from these at all, and their location in the allotment is probably not quite ideal. I've planted a new (Poundland) gooseberry bush in a better location with the blackcurrants, but the old ones have been left wild and I'm fairly sure a couple of them are just dead. Pruning them back has been challenging, as the spikes are horrendous and the builder's gloves I use for gardening (I'm a cheapskate) struggled to cope with the barbs. Over the next week, however, I'm hoping to get them into a more compact shape, with dead wood cut away and the dead bushes removed.

The emerging problem on the horizon at the moment is the rapidly growing New Year's bonfire pile. Originally meant to be a bonfire, it's turned into a waste heap for organic material in the middle of the allotment that now stands two metres high and two metres long. It hasn't been dry enough for me to get the chipper out recently, but the time is definitely approaching when I'm going to have to chip as much of it as possible before burning the rest. It's going to be a hell of a chipping marathon, though!

Anyway, I've got breakfasts to make and I'm itching to get outside. Time to get upstairs, get dressed and get out there... perhaps with the chipper. Thanks for reading!

25th February 2020 - Quietly Busy, and Weathering the Storms

To think I nearly bought a small polytunnel for this month. With the weather we've had, that would have been a massive error. It would be in orbit by now, or flying somewhere in the Peak District.

Hi! I am sorry I've been quiet since the New Year. Despite winter being "quiet" in my head, it's actually a hellishly busy time, and I've spent a lot more of it in the allotment than you would have thought, as the evenings have crept out a little in February, enough for me to get out for an hour after work each day and make progress without a head torch.

Well, I've had a pretty eventful start to the year. In my previous post, I alluded to the fact that I'd never known what a hoe was for until relatively recently, and I'm ashamed to admit that this is indeed true. I had no idea. It took an Adtube video from Titli to open my eyes to the potential of this awesome tool, and I've finally found something that rivals sweeping in the satisfaction stakes. How sad is that? When I want to relax, I now just grab one of my two hoes that we inherited with the house, head out to the allotment and dislodge some evil weeds. I've not exactly been regular with it, but I've no doubt that it's been making a difference, especially in the giant bean bed.

Talking of the bean bed, I've made a lot of progress in the big bean bed. You'll recall (or maybe you won't) that I decimated the cultivated brambles at the end of last year, and I've been slowly working on bringing that bed up to a useable state. It's not been turned over for years, and has been chock-full of weeds until fairly recently; or at least until I discovered how to hoe. Now, it's looking much better. I'm still working on clearing the weeds, but they're definitely losing the war. Huzzah! Upstairs, at the back of the house, I've got broad beans and aubergines in pots germinating. I'm hoping to get the broad beans planted out in early March. At the moment, they're doing well and are about the size of my thumb, growing at a rate of knots. In parallel, there's a second set of broad beans out in the bean bed, currently protected by the cold frame until they appear, and to keep them a little safer from the cold weather that M assures me is on the way this week. I've sowed my first load of radishes, which will help to flesh out the salads that will keep M fed and happy for the spring whilst she's at work. She says she doesn't like radish, but I'm not sure if she's tried home-grown ones before; perhaps it will be different.

It's not all been fun and games. Storm Dennis knocked down part of the perimeter wall, so I've got the unenviable task of learning to bricklay so I can sort it out. Here's hoping it goes smoothly. There's not a lot you can't learn with a Youtube video and a healthy dose of optomism, that's for sure. Sorting the wall out will also allow us to finally repair the gate, which is currently only a rotten garage door that is somewhat wedged in place.

There's so much going on. I really am sorry I've been so quiet. I'll be back soon; there's so much to share in my catalogue of horticulture fails. Thanks for taking the time to listen.

21st January 2020 - New Year, New... oh wait, still the same.

Happy New Year, one and all. I've actually been fairly busy in the allotment over the last couple of weeks, but I've been keeping it quiet and am going to make a few seperate posts about, rather than lumping it all in as one. If you want a teaser, I can tell you this much; I got some grit stuck in my eye, decimated some weeds, realised my rhubarb isn't dead, worked on my compost heaps and finally learned how to use a hoe at the grand old age of 29.

Anyway, here's to an exciting year