It’s Not All About Appearances

On a cold, wet, gloomy weekend morning, when most people are cosying up in front of the fire with a cuppa, admiring their Christmas tree and enjoying the comforts of home, where am I? On a desolate plot of land, soaked to the bone, trekking barrows of well rotted horse manure to and fro. But you won’t hear me complaining, a week on the London treadmill and I’m screaming for this, it’s my therapy. 2In recent weeks, our local stables have been delivering free manure to the allotment, and like bees around a honeypot, the allotment old boys have been there on cue, whisking it away before anyone else can get a look-in. It’s like some secret society, they’re in on it and they’re not sharing delivery times with anyone. But that’s OK, because I’ve noticed something. It seems everyone wants the freshly-delivered manure and are ignoring the blackening heap at the back. It’s like black gold waiting to be discovered. So, I’ve been biding my time for a good few months as this heap has been rotting down, untouched, unwanted.. until now.

I don’t know why people are taken with the sparkle and glamour of fresh manure, but to me, it’s asking for trouble. It’s only when it has been well rotted down do we get the results. Fresh manure can bring a host of problems from burning tender shoots to hosting parasites and other unwanted pests. The one thing I’ve learnt as a gardener is, take your time – gardening can’t be rushed, and the best results are always worth a wait.

And so, planting my flag firmly in this mountain of blackened sludge, I claimed it as the property of Agents of Field. Then quickly I set about whisking it onto my beds before the allotment freemasons got a whiff of it. 1

This year I’ve opted for green manure on a lot of my beds, but I’ve left a couple purposely for horse manure. Why? Call it an experiment; I want to see if there’s any difference in my crops next year when using these two manure types. I’m a gardener, I always want to learn more, so why not? beet Collage

Other jobs this weekend included lifting the last of my beetroot. We’ve had great success with our three varieties this year, Boltardy, Golden Globe and Chioggia. From roasting to pickling to Agent Soph’s delicious home-made borscht, beetroot in our household is a must, so I decided this remaining crop would spend their final days swimming in pickle until a cold meat buffet calls upon their services.

Finally, and I know I keep going on about it, but my Christmas Day goal this year is to have all the veg on the big day grown from our allotment. So imagine my excitement when I got to the plot this weekend to find tiny purple-headed ‘Rudolph’ broccoli blowing in the breeze, proudly displaying their vibrant colour!5

.. Just gotta get them to the big day. AdeSignature

Planning Ahead

Lounging in the sunshine, sipping homemade elderflower cordial and lazily watching the bees tirelessly going about their daily chores, it’s hard to believe autumn is just around the corner. The telltale signs are there; wasps have upped the ante with their continuous ‘kamikaze’ attacks on all things sweet, the allotment is producing more vegetables than we know what to do with, but the biggest giveaway is that the garden has shifted its colour palette from the coolness of the whites and pastels, into the heat of the oranges and yellows as varieties of Rudbeckia, Sunflowers and Gladioli take up the baton. 1 Collage

My email inbox is under constant bombardment from garden and nursery companies  telling me I should buy their autumn bulbs and plug plants for immediate planting. But what if I don’t? Will I be barred from all things horticultural? Will they send the heavies round late one night to ensure I shift a kilo of their top quality Cyclamen Coum? (At this point I have an image of Alan Titchmarsh and Monty Don arriving on my doorstep, in black shades and matching suits, looking menacingly at me.) Or will I be placed in stocks up on the allotment for all to see as a reminder that now’s the time to plant your winter leeks?

But they can email spam me all they want, I’m not afraid. As my horticulture knowledge grows from season to season so does my awareness of the seasonal clock. I’ve always wondered how those ‘old timers’ seem to know when to carry out certain tasks on the allotment, and finally, I’ve been allowed into the ‘circle of trust’. It’s no big secret, it simply comes down to experience.

I shan’t be bullied into panic-buying anything; I know what needs doing. In fact, I’d already got a headstart when I sowed my parsnip seeds and planted out  my leeks, swede and sprouts earlier in the spring. Being slow burners, we won’t start enjoying these until the leaves on the trees begin their rich autumnal displays, and a frost or two will help to improve their taste. 2 Collage

But there’s still hard work to be done and this weekend I’ve dug over my hardened, summer beds (my back is now paying for it), freeing them from weeds and replenishing them with organic matter. Finishing with a little consolidation and levelling, I then planted my stash of brassicas and watered them in thoroughly. Rudolph Broccoli, Clemen Cauliflower and Savoy and Marabel Cabbage. Already Agent Soph has broken into a cold sweat with this amount of veg to cook and store, but I assure her with the winter weather the crops will grow more slowly and can be kept in the ground and lifted when needed. Hmm, she’s still not convinced. Looks like people will be getting veg in their stockings this Christmas then.

At this time of year, I’m all too aware of the potential pests and diseases thriving in the summer heat. With the devastation of my onion loss earlier this year (even now it brings a tear to my eye), I have learnt netting and brassica collars are vital on this allotment. Recent banter on Instagram about growing Butternut Squash proves that no two allotment sites are the same. Where runner beans might thrive on a plot in Somerset, the same variety may come to nothing in a Yorkshire garden. So again, experience and understanding the soil, site and weather conditions are the right tools. 3 Collage

But for now, the blog is typed, the wasps have suspended their invasion and I’m left to daydream and doze the afternoon away. Best thing for an aching back wouldn’t you say? AdeSignature