Looking Back – Part 1

With the year rapidly drawing to a close, here at Agents of Field HQ we thought we would pause a while to reflect on our achievements during our first year as allotment holders.walk

When we began this adventure back in January, we never thought, in such a short period of time, just how happy allotment-keeping would make us.  We’ve met some fantastic people, created some amazing recipes with our home-grown veg and out-seeded ourselves on the growing front!  But whist we’ve enjoyed the dizzying heights of success, there’s also been the inevitable failures of pest attacks and losing a few veggies on the way. winter coll

But it’s all part of the learning curve and next year we’re hoping for bigger things as we plan ahead.  But before we reveal our blueprint for 2015 global domination, we’ve withdrawn to the study to ask ourselves a few questions to help understand our journey to date.

In this first part, I’ll be pondering on all things ‘growing’, and in part two, Agent Sophie will be mulling over her culinary journey of the past year.

1. What have you learnt over the past year?

I knew I loved growing, but I never knew what a passion it would become.  Not only do I have a garden and now two allotments, I am currently studying with the RHS.  Where this will take me I’m not quite sure yet, however, it has changed my life and it’s re-shaping my future in a positive way.

2. What will you do differently next year?

I realise that vegetables need proper spacing to grow and succeed, so already I’m thinking about next year’s crops in spacing and rotation terms.  We’ve taken on a second plot so this will help things and ease the congestion.

3. What was your biggest success?

The allotment itself.  We took a piece of neglected land, landscaped it, mulched it, made beds and created an environment that would encourage wildlife to stop by and help our crops.

4. What was your biggest failure?

I would say that has to be the Brussels sprouts I’m currently growing.  As they were a last minute decision, and with only a little space on the plot available, I crammed them into an already condensed plot.  Although they have grown and there are sprouts emerging (just!), they have clearly been in the wars with other crops in a fight for nutrients and water.  So although they should make an appearance at our Christmas dinner, blink and you’ll miss them!

5. What new thing will you try next year?

Again, as we have taken on a second plot adjacent to our first, this will again give me an opportunity to landscape and try the crop rotation method.  Also, I shall be trying some new crops I’ve never grown before such as aubergines, celery and the dreaded cauliflower. (A sore point I will discuss at a later date!)

Finally, I’m in the process of creating an ‘experimental’ bed, not sure what for yet, but here I shall adopt the organic Dr Frankenstein persona as I go about bringing hope to newfound crops…. ‘IT’S ALIVE!’

So as we enjoy the festive season, and I warm myself by the fire with mulled wine and mince pies, I’m itching to action my plans, and with one eye on 2015 and more growing possibilities, the passion has never been stronger. Fire 2

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Low Winter Sun

As I’ve mentioned before, Agents of Field have expanded by taking on a second plot. So in the last week I’ve hatched plans, drawn up blueprints and am now putting spade to soil as I create new beds.

Time is short and Jack Frost is on my back so I’ve been getting up with the lark to visit the plot first thing and create my vision.  It’s backbreaking work, but I’ve been rewarding myself with cups of tea made on the shed stove, and sneaky visits to the village bakery for a sticky bun.. or two (don’t tell Soph).

But this morning, walking up to the plot, I was greeted by the morning sun shining down on our corner of the world.

It’s not a bad old life, is it? sunrise

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Where to Hang my Baubles?

It’s a an issue that comes up annually in our house at this time of year: the Christmas Tree.  Real or artificial?

The organic grower inside me always lays the guilt trip of ‘how could you take a thriving tree, hack off its root system, stick it in a holder for a few weeks and when the party’s over, disregard it without a sense of responsibility?’  It’s something I do think about, but right or wrong,  I’ve always opted for the real thing.  It’s not just about having this piece of natural beauty decorated and part of the home for those precious few weeks, but it’s also about the experience of actually getting the tree.TreeEvery year, it’s like a free ticket to behave like an eight year old again.  The excitement of going to the garden centre, of telling Soph that this year’s tree will be the biggest yet.  To which she rolls her eyes and reminds me our house is only so big.

We get there, chuckle at the sales assistants dressed in oversized festive costumes, take in the moment and then let the games commence.  There’s the smell of pine, the tacky Christmas songs playing over the speakers and the rising excitement I always get when choosing my tree.  ‘Start big’ I say to myself, ‘If I start big then there will be room to negotiate with Soph and we may still end up with a Titan at the end of it all!’.  Meanwhile, and as reluctant as I am to admit it, Soph has pretty well decided on the tree.  But to her credit, she always chooses the perfect one.

With the tree chosen, we gently coax it into the car, whisk it home and go about decorating it.  I don’t know what traditions you have, but we always have to name our tree.  Over the years we’ve had Boswell, Mabel and even Odin.

But although this beautiful tree can bring people together, there is  a more serious note to consider: the environmental damage this tradition causes.  Yes, there are specialist farms that know how to produce and plant these trees, and it creates business and jobs, but from an environmental point of view, should we do it?

What if we took the artificial route?  This too comes with environmental concerns. The energy and chemicals that go into making a tree and getting these things shipped into the country all adds to the carbon footprint.

Just this weekend there was an interesting article in The Telegraph that addressed this question and explored the idea of buying potted trees, but these too have issues. If you’re going to do it, go for a pot-grown tree, not a ‘potted tree’.  With the latter, it’s been forced into a tight space, shocking it and potentially damaging its root system.

For now, I hold my hand up to being a hypocrite as I continue to purchase my annual fir, but Soph and I have agreed that when we move to our next home which will hopefully have more land, we will buy only pot-grown trees and when their time is done, we’ll plant them in our garden.  And over the years, the trees will grow, each with a name and each holding the memories we’ve built until we have our own little pine forest!

But for now, when grey January finally comes around, instead of getting rid of mine without a second thought, I’ll use the needles as a mulch for my blueberries and use the main timber for plant supports in the Spring.

Whatever type of tree you go for and whatever your conscience tells you, let’s just keep one thing in mind: Christmas is a season of goodwill for every man, woman and evergreen.

Here endeth the sermon. snowAdeSignature