snowdrops and a new leaf mould path

Transplanted from my parents’ garden a couple of years ago, these clumps of snowdrops are a lovely welcome to the allotment site, planted underneath my damson tree.

A productive day, and a delightfully warm one, sufficiently so to have lunch in the garden of the roundabout pub – a lazy trundle up the path away. And I managed also to:

  • plant a standard rose ‘Boscobel’ in the flower bed – I have high hopes for her!
  • plant a little pear tree grafted with five different varieties – in the absence of any available space on my plot I daringly planted it in a wild area of the site and hope nobody will mind. I had to dig out lots of nettles and brambles to make space.
  • finish weeding out all the tiny strawberry plants from one fruit bed
  • prune the gooseberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes
  • mulch the fruit beds
  • consolidated two raised beds and a path into one large bed – and moved one of the inner planks to replace a rotting one in the fruit cage
  • then I lifted and turned the turf (heavy work, that) and laid out a pathway with all the cardboard I had been storing for the purpose and topped the lot with three bags of compost and finally a bag of beautiful leaf mould to top the pathway down the middle of the new bed.
  • cleared the debris from the strawberries in grow-bags on their shelf in the fruit cage
  • … and picked a bag of wonderful flower sprouts for supper!

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feed the soil, not the plant

Still committed to the no-dig principle, I increased my order of composted manure to 30 sacks and managed myself to trundle them from the gate where they were delivered all the way down to plot number 10. Whew.

I’ve now spread most of it on the beds to a depth of about 2″, which is pretty good especially as my own home-made compost had provided a good layer below that on at least 5 beds in the autumn.

The final job before I can mulch the fruit cage has been to cut down the autumn fruiting yellow raspberries, thin the summer ones and weed the thick matting of weeds and wild strawberry plants that have spread relentlessly over the past year. Four pairs of soggy gloves and gooseberry-spike lacertated wrists and arms later, I’ve done most of it:

It’s been raining ever since, but will get back and finish this as soon as I can. Meantime, the quince tree has also had a major pruning as it was becoming way too big. Last year’s crop was tiny – in contrast to the bounty of 2015. I hope this, plus mulching, will help to restore a better balance. You can see below it’s jostling with my neighbour John’s plum tree on the right….. Oh dear, I’m running out of allotment space!

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what I learned this year

As I shovelled this year’s precious harvest of compost from the bin to mulch the raised beds, I pondered the allotment year that’s ending and what I have learned:

>> The no-dig method has completely won me over, supported by what I learned way back in March at Charles Dowding’s veg growing course at his inspiring garden ‘Homeacres’ near Shepton Mallet. My experience of that day and Charles’s various books as well as his website and that of his partner Stephanie Hafferty have all provided a wealth of practical guidance and good sense that have convinced me to follow the no-dig method which I started this year. It’s less work, there are already considerably fewer weeds and the ground is much less claggy when wet. Productivity seemed about the same so I look forward to next year and seeing the quality of what is grown in this way when the soil structure has had longer to establish.

>>Romantic notions of ‘heritage’ and ‘open source’ seeds led me to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money chasing down seeds and tubers from various arcane sources. Despite almost obsessive nurturing (or perhaps that’s the problem??), the results have been generally disappointing – specifically with red sweetcorn, oca, crosnes and mashua.¬† I don’t really¬† have enough space for such fancies and will instead grow (though I’m sure I will be seduced occasionally) what I know will work. AGM status is not given for no reason.

>>The morello cherry tree established well but the entire crop disappeared overnight and I don’t feel like making little net sleeves for the branches to protect future bounty so I have decided to cut my losses and ordered a pear tree to replace it. The cherry tree will go into the wild part of the site for the birds to enjoy.

>>I must net seedling pea plants immediately or the pigeons will get them!

>>Magpies can evidently find their way into spaces that even a micro carrot root fly cannot, so I must bring a darning needle & thread to sew up the micromesh rather than relying on string ties. (Why magpies would want to go into a cloched carrot patch is beyond speculation.)

>>Strawberries, wild and cultivated, spread everywhere given half a chance, and slugs just love them, so I must be much more ruthless in weeding them out and abandon all idyllic notions of sweetly jewelled & orderly clumps bordering my beds. Though I do intend to keep the high-rise shelf in the fruit cage with Mara des Bois strawberries in Moorland Gold ‘grow bigs’ which were really successful.

>>Golden beetroot are delicious and don’t get woody when big. Grow more of them!

>>Salvia ‘Amistad’ becomes thuggishly large towards the end of summer. I will leave them in situ in the flower bed for now in the hope that the roses can do their thing in early summer before the salvias get too big, but may have to transplant them back to the garden.

>>Flower sprouts are easy to grow and delicious – as well as looking great.

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cornucopia

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autumn update

A gorgeous day. The salvia ‘Amistad’ I planted among the roses has taken over! I hadn’t realised quite how big it would grow… it clearly likes the situation. Along with jerusalem artichoke flowers, tulbaghia violacea and verbena bonariensis it makes a striking bouquet – much more brash and showy than my usual dainty posies.

The red sweetcorn, so excitingly promising along the way, has sadly not been a success, however hard I kid myself…. though it did look exotic and wonderful as it grew. And the kernels did develop into a beautiful jewel colour. But not plentiful, unpleasantly fibrous and certainly not delicious. Awww….

But I think I can at last say that I have a ‘proper’ asparagus bed! The oca seems to be establishing quite well, though I have no idea yet what the harvest will be like. And the leeks, chard and self-seeded coriander are all rubbing along together quite happily.

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Cosmos

Cosmos is the universe perceived as a complex yet orderly system; the opposite of chaos. Which is the aspiration at the start of each season for my own little piece of it. However, by this time of year, it tends more towards Chaos… as you can see below!

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In the foreground: Cosmos Purity, Cosmos Psyche White and Cosmos Dazzler

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seaweed, cosmos, asparagus et al

At last it seems the asparagus bed may be taking off. Another large top dressing of seaweed from West Wittering seems to have really helped and new shoots are arriving almost every day now. Perhaps next year there may be enough to safely harvest…

The cosmos has been wonderful, even a bit over-exuberant. Sweet peas & zinnias too.

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amazing what a bit of warmth can do

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ah, now I remember what it’s all for!

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poppy

How poignant that on the 100 year anniversary of the calamitous inception of the Battle of the Somme, this reprieved self-seeded poppy should finally reveal its sanguineous colour.

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