Evil, or Simply Misunderstood?

From the moment I wake up, to the moment I close my eyes at the end of the day, my mind is awash with gardening and all its growing temptations. A plump marrow, a firm carrot and a sack of the sweetest sprouts. Hmmmm… sprouts.

But while I continue to daydream, there are things on the plot I need to turn my attention to from time to time; whitefly on the brassicas, ant hills amongst the courgettes; and occasionally, I must face fear itself. brassicas

In the polytunnel yesterday, I was overcome with excitement to see how quickly the aubergines were growing. But then something threw itself at me, blocking my path. ‘None shall pass!’ I heard it growl. Gather closer, fair reader, as what I say next requires but the gentlest of whispers. Anything louder will draw unwanted attention from the dark one.. it was evil itself!

poly spider

I’m not going to lie, I screamed like a girl as I wet myself a little. This wasn’t a spider, it was a face-hugger! Ridley Scott never mentioned using the common garden spider as part of his Alien franchise. OK, I’m acting the drama queen, but I guess you had to be there.

You see, we live in a country where dangerous critters lurking in the shadows, preying on innocent gardeners doesn’t often happen. If something does pounce, it’s normally by accident and it’s quickly followed by an awkward exchange of apologies, ‘sorry, thought you were someone else’, and the animal tipping its hat and quickly retreating back into the shadows apologising for his outlandish behaviour. Stinging or biting just isn’t… British.

But the media loves spreading apocalyptic tales of spiders scourging the land, removing limbs, as they drag their victims into the woods. And at the eye of this storm is the UK’s False Widow Spider. Of course spiders bite, even in England. Occasionally, they can puncture skin and people can react to their poison. No doubt global warming has played its part in encouraging foreign bugs to pack their holiday suitcases, hop on the nearest warm current and come to these shores for a carefree summer. Although just how much they are running amok across the English countryside, I’m not sure.

But everything has its place, its purpose. And so long as we respect each other, we can actually help each other. Thanks to Conan the Destroyer, my polytunnel is enjoying a pest-free environment and my aubergines are thriving!
aubergine Collage

Which now brings me into my next question. What’s that living under my shed enjoying its solitude? false widow

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A Little Hug Can Go a Long Way

You remember when I shared with you the sound advice of my dear old Pa about sowing peppers?  Well he was right! I got home from work tonight, and before greeting Soph with a warm hug, I made a beeline for those propagators warming my precious seedlings (sorry, Soph!).  Every night I’ve been pampering them, singing them lullabies, rocking them gently, even flirting with them in hope of prompting some germination action.  However, this evening my (slightly bonkers) antics seem to have been rewarded, and my peppers (F1 Gypsy Hybrid) have shot their delicate shoots out into the world! Can you see?Seedling

Of course it’s early days, but seeing these little seedlings warms my heart and fills me with daydreams of spring.

But there’s more!  Last weekend I cracked open another propagator so I could get a head start with my  aubergine seeds. We haven’t grown aubergines before, but  I recently bought a packet of Bonica F1 Hybrid and a few weeks ago I was sent a free packet of Morro Rodondo.  Having done a little homework and talked to a few gardeners, both up on the allotment and over at my gardening college, I convinced myself that now was the time to do it.  As part of the potato and tomato family, aubergines don’t like frost but I have read conflicting advice about the best times to plant them. I’ve heard that you should sow them under cover six weeks before the last frost, but I’ve also heard you can sow them as early as January, as long as they’re kept under cover, to enable them to mature earlier so that they will eventually produce more fruit.  With our changing climate, our last frosts are no longer easy to predict, which made me more inclined to follow the January planting suggestion.Propagators

Gardeners are always full of differing (often contradictory) advice and what works for one veg grower, may not work for another. I’ve planted them now so we’ll see if it works!

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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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