Sunday, 10 May 2015

Spring Has Sprung

I haven't blogged about our allotment for a couple of weeks which is shocking I know. It doesn't mean we've been idle though. Running an allotment and now both working full time has been a strain but we're still going strong.

After being away from the rat race for nine months, I must admit that after a long day in the office and the inevitable commute to and fro, the thought of spending an evening up at the allotment digging and sowing really does not appeal. Thankfully all the hard work we put in beforehand has meant the worst is now hopefully behind us.

We still have a lot of work to do. We have lots still to get in the ground and the very nature of our patch means that every visit involves much weeding, hoeing and tutting. Despite our best efforts we just can't keep those weeds and dandelions at bay. They are quickly becoming the bane of our lives. 

The onset of early Summer has brought the allotments completely to life. They are a hive of activity and everything is suddenly lush and verdant. It is a wonderful thing to witness the change from those dark, cold early days in February/March. The transformation is quite staggering. Despite our continuing battle against the weeds, other things are actually growing too.

We now have two different crops of potatoes in the ground, Red Duke of Yorks and Pink Fir Salad potatoes. The Duke of Yorks are already flowering, their purple leaves clear to see in lovely rows. The Pink Firs went in on the Bank Holiday thanks to some additional help from a very willing friend who was paid in fancy Belgian beer afterwards! 

Our artichokes and asparagus are coming on well and the strawberry plants are flowering and taking over more and more space! The rhubarb is sprouting up all over the place - I've already made plans for strawberry rhubarb jam.

The peas and French beans we planted are beginning to show signs of life as is the borlotti bean we found on the floor of the ramshackle shed. We have also planted some radishes which so far look very healthy. Next to go in are our two types of beetroot, normal purple and golden beetroot.

Thankfully, we've already had our first taste of homegrown veg, if not strictly our own. Asparagus has been shooting up from under the rhubarb we planted and it tastes sensational. We also found some potatoes emerging from last year so those have been snaffled up for dinner. 

Despite all the work and the competing pressures, we both agree that no matter what mood you are in when you arrive at the allotment you almost certainly leave in a better frame of mind. 

Now that can't be a bad thing.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Allotment Anxiety

There's a slight optimism up at the allotment that the worst of the hard work might be over. After weeks of digging, weeding and hoeing, things are finally calming down and starting to take shape.

The strawberry plants are starting to flower, the artichokes are thriving, the rhubarb is poking through and we're seeing signs of radishes too. Yesterday we also planted nasturtium flowers to add a bit of colour to our patch. Apparently, so I'm told, you can also eat the flowers - they make a peppery addition to salads. We'll see if they actually grow and flower first! We have also constructed our pea wigwams which felt like an exercise combining elements of both Blue Peter and The Generation Game.

I admit I have developed a slight allotment anxiety. We have spent so many weeks now clearing, preparing, sowing and tending that I'm now becoming quite impatient. I want things to happen! Despite the rampant strawberries and the beginnings of rhubarb, everything else seems to be a bit shy and retiring. As we are complete novices, all we have to go on are gardening books, the internet and Monty Don. Monty has gone down in my estimation quite a bit since he made planting asparagus look so easy and quick on the telly. He didn't even break into a sweat or swear.

Our seedlings are being well tended to but only the radishes are making an appearance so far. Or are they just weedlings? Time will tell. We think we did the right thing by the potatoes but again, we don't have an expert gardener on hand to prove us right (or wrong). It's all just a waiting game now and it makes me uneasy! The rest of the allotments are now a hive of spring time activity, full of people going about their business with the confidence experience brings.

One unexpected turn of events this week: The rhubarb we planted appears to have asparagus growing underneath it...the asparagus we planted is in the other half of the same bed. If you are a glass half empty person, this news means we wasted a lot of energy planting our own asparagus when there was some already there. If your glass is half full, we have ready made asparagus to pick and enjoy this year while ours does its thing...

That's the trouble with taking on someone else's patch. You're never quite sure what is lurking under the surface, if anything at all...

You can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Taking Stock

It's been an eventful few days up at the allotment so I've not had a lot of time to write about it! After the freezing cold winds of the past few weeks, this week has seen us bathed in glorious sunlight and basking in balmy temperatures.

It really does feel like the allotment is starting to take shape. It's exhausting, hard work and really does take over your life but the rewards are many and it is deeply satisfying. It is also providing us with a better work out than we would ever get at a flashy, expensive gym.

In addition to the artichokes and strawberry plants which were already there (and have now been brought back from the brink) we now have three different types of asparagus, three different types of rhubarb and our first crop of potatoes all planted in the beds. It was hard going at times but these crops will hopefully pay dividends in the months and years ahead.

The Red Duke of York potatoes we have planted should have lovely red skins and be perfect for roasting. We have a batch of Pink Fir salad potatoes to go in next. I am particularly keen on the rhubarb which has long been a favourite of mine and something I grew up with. My grandmother had a thriving rhubarb patch at the bottom of her garden and her rhubarb pies and crumbles were legendary! As we now have rhubarb and strawberries next to each other, pots of rhubarb and strawberry jam also seem likely.

The asparagus, another luxury crop, will take some time to come to fruition but we are already salivating about all the things we can do with it. So far asparagus with a poached egg and hollandaise seems to be the front runner for our first meal with our own home grown produce!

We have also installed a "Hedgehog Hotel" and an insect box in the hope of attracting and also helping to preserve and nurture some of the local wildlife. As there is historic woodland just over the fence, we hope we can help do our bit.

Next up are the peas, beans and assorted seedlings which are slowly starting to make their presence felt. Hopefully we'll be able to plant them soon. As we're both going back to work soon, free time will be limited so we must crack on!

You can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 

Friday, 10 April 2015

All about the Asparagus

Asparagus has taken over our lives. Sad but true. Yesterday we spent five hours up at the allotment preparing and planting our asparagus. Trust us to start our allotment career with the most difficult thing to put in the ground!

Having read a variety of books and watched Monty Don do it on Gardener's World, we thought we were prepared for what lay ahead. How wrong we were. Monty was very helpful but didn't truly show how much work was involved, particularly for novice gardeners! Still, we did persevere and by the end of it all we do now have something growing our North London soil!

To begin with, a huge trench about ten inches deep had to be dug out of our chosen bed. After that, both compost and gravel was liberally scattered over the trench. Then our asparagus plants were evenly spread out over the three trails we had dug out for them. We have chosen three different types of asparagus, eighteen plants in all. We have "Asparagus Millennium", "Asparagus Pacific 2000" and "Asparagus Ariane". Fancy. Let's hope we actually get to taste some!

Once in place, the fronds of the asparagus roots were spread out in the soil and then the earth that had been dug out had to be put back. By this time we were both exhausted on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. Still, on we went until the job was completed.

Unfortunately we will not be able to enjoy the fruits of our labour until next year as asparagus takes a long time to bed in. Even then, we will only be able to harvest a very little amount. On the plus side it will produce a sizeable crop for the next twenty years, so hopefully we'll be quids in! Time will tell.

Following a few days off to recover, we'll be back at the allotment on Sunday to plant our next crop - Rhubarb!

You can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Bloomin' Brilliant

It was an absolutely glorious day out on the allotment yesterday. Probably the first day I've been down there since we took ownership that my teeth didn't chatter or the cold, cold wind did not blow.

The sun shone, it was positively balmy. Being a public holiday, the allotments were bustling with life too. It was great to see so many people out enjoying the weather and working away on their allotments. I think seeing other people hard at work gave me a burst of enthusiasm as well. One particularly lively Italian family were out in force nearby and their laughter and joie de vivre certainly was infectious.

Of all days for that transformation to take place it was good timing it happened yesterday. I came home after a long afternoon sore in all sorts of places, with wet knees, socks full of muck and a muddy backside. Oh yes it'll all be worth it when we're cooking up our own vegetables at home, freshly plucked from the land. I hope.

Even in my downtime last night I found myself glued to Gardener's World watching Monty Don teach us the best way to plant asparagus. For this week we shall be planting out ours. Trust us to pick the most complicated place to begin. It will be hours of hard work to get these little bleeders planted and even then we won't reap the rewards for several years. The one good thing is that once in, we will have the benefit of fresh asparagus for (hopefully) more than twenty years. Let's wait and see!

We have also discovered fresh life in the strawberry plants left behind by the previous owner.  These have now been freed from the weeds strangling them, the poor things. It would seem we now own fourteen strawberry plants showing signs of new life! I am already preparing for lots of jam making.

Fingers crossed we'll be making asparagus soup in a few years too...

You can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Planting time!

We spent a long and at times frustrating day up at our allotment yesterday working away in the mud. It was pretty cold, pretty wet and pretty darn unpleasant but as is testament to our aching limbs this morning, we achieved a lot!

Four of our six beds are now (almost) completely free of horrible old weeds. It does feel like painting the Forth Bridge as every time I go up there it feels like we are starting again. Anyway, they are workable and that's the main thing. We also now have massive big composting bins so yesterday we spent some time setting them up and getting them going. We have been collecting food waste at home (delightful) to help with this so hopefully we will have our own compost soon enough.

The most exciting thing we achieved yesterday was to actually start planting some of our seeds. While the beds are now mostly ready, the seeds need to get started in little pots first of all before we transfer them in to the big beds. I was happy to act as allotment assistant as we prepped the soil, planted the seeds, watered and nurtured our little beauties. 

So, we now have the beginnings of radishes, spring onions, peas, french beans, cos lettuce, beetroot, golden beetroot and some borlotti beans we found on a shelf in the shed. If those beans grow we have old Mr Butts to thank! 

Hopefully we have planted a wide enough range of things to have some successes. Time will tell. Next to go in is the asparagus and then the spuds. We have a drawer full of other seeds to go in later in the year.

Fingers are well and truly crossed!

You can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 

Move over Margo!

Yesterday was a long, exhausting and muddy day up at our allotment. There was so much to do and the weather was against us. 

At the time I went through every emotion going, mainly negative ones it has to be said and there were a few words uttered that probably aren't commonly heard in that vicinity. 

We did get everything done we needed to and I felt a sneaking sense of achievement as we trudged home to double gin and tonics. The whole thing did resemble a scene from The Good Life and the thought of it was one of the few things that raised a smile:

This morning we are sore, exhausted and tight-eyed. It may take a few gallons of coffee and a bag of Easter chocolate before we are ready for another full day up the allotment!

You can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Art at the Allotment

When we first arrived at our new allotment site we immediately spotted a rather lovely mosaic at the entrance. We were told that this had been created by a local resident and allotment owner.

I have now looked it up on the web and discovered that it was a community project, bringing in ideas and support from many of the allotment members. The idea was to represent what the allotment area meant to those from the local community who use it. I think it's lovely and highlights how important places like the East Finchley allotments are in urban areas.

Here is a short video explaining more about it. 

You can find out more about our local allotments here:

And you can follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82

The East Finchley Mistral

The wind was rising yesterday in North London, as it were. Initially we thought it was great to be based on top of a hill in the middle of the allotments but I regretted our choice after several hours of being buffeted about like a tiny boat lost at sea.

I didn't realise we would be quite so open to the elements on a suburban allotment patch but we very much are. As I pulled up yesterday lunchtime I watched several seasoned allotment veterans getting into their cars and high tailing it home. Undeterred I went about my business, hoeing over two more beds, mowing the lawn and trying to give each of our beds some clearly defined edges.

Despite the fact that most of what I dug up, picked or cut down ended up three plots down, I still felt a bursting sense of pride and achievement. The allotment game is bringing out a whole new side to me I never knew existed. While my better half is off drinking beer in Belgium for a week, I've been knee deep in North London mud and actually, I haven't minded it one little bit. No resentment here.

I've been studiously taping both Gardener's World and Kew On A Plate for hints and tips about planting and harvesting veg and finding that I'm actually happiest when wearing old clothes, sprinkled with earth and reeking a little of hard toil. It makes the gin and tonic at the end of the day all the more delicious.

My one low point this week came when asked to bring a big plastic container up the allotment from home. It was only when I picked it up that I realised it was a vat of manure. Organic manure, but manure all the same. i never thought the day would come when I could be witnessed dragging a massive tub of manure through the gentrified avenues of East Finchley.

Working with compost and manure does however seem fairly appropriate with a General Election looming...

Follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Spring is in the air?

Urgh. Spring may have sprung and the daffodils may be out and raising our spirits but today on the allotment was pretty grim. It was cold, it was wet and it was windy.

I dealt with this by pottering about in the shed, reorganising the shelves and "making a plan" for the week. Then I came home for a coffee. I hope my resolve isn't slipping after only one week. 

Today was definitely more Margo, less Barbara.

Fair enough when the weather conspires against us there are certain things we can't be doing. And furthermore, the allotments weren't exactly pulsating with life. I spotted one other brave soul, sheltering away with his thermos. So I don't feel too bad. 

I'm also worrying about the amount of stuff other people have planted. Time marches on and we have endless things to get into the ground within the next few weeks. We have potatoes, chard, kale, sprouts, rocket, peas, beans, leeks and beetroot to deal with and tricky asparagus to plant. We're also waiting on a delivery of rhubarb. Before we can do that we have two more beds to dig and some dead strawberry plants to dig up and dispose of. Then there's the manure.

Ah yes, it's not often in life I've imagined myself traipsing through the streets of North London humping a great big vat of organic manure. Needs must. I hope friends and potential volunteers don't see this as we may not see them again until it's time to treat the allotment as a haven mid-summer entertaining...

So really, gardeners and allotmenteers out there: how do you cope with foul weather? What sees you through and what tips do you have for carrying on regardless?

Follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82 

Friday, 27 March 2015

Dig For Victory!

The end of the first week of our new allotment project and the only word I can use to describe it is KNACKERED. The combination of the hard work, the team work and the (relatively) fresh North London air will single handedly keep Radox* in business for the foreseeable future.

The very nice ladies at the allotment advised us early on to do lots of stretching before coming up for a stint. There isn't enough stretching in the world to prepare me for several hours on all fours in the mud. It's not quite how I imagined spending my leisure time but inching slowly forward towards a fully operational allotment does give me an incredible and surprising sense of achievement.

We've now cleared four of our six beds of a year's worth of nasty weeds and various dead things. All our seeds have arrived together with a selection of very exciting asparagus plants. Learning as I go, unfortunately we won't reap the benefits of either the asparagus or rhubarb for at least a year which is a pity but they'll be well worth the wait. 

We've also been clearing out vast piles of old man detritus from the allotment shed. Bags and bags of old mugs, brown flowery deck chairs, broken glass and assorted rusty crud. I did find an old horseshoe on the floor which will be kept for good luck. I think we need it. I must admit that trudging through the streets of East FInchley in old jeans, mac, gardening gloves and knee pads carrying Waitrose bags full of rubbish is not my idea of a good time. Needs must though. 

Doing some basic research on our allotments has been very interesting. The site itself was once part of Finchley Common and has operated as allotments since the end of the Great War. The local council's lease began officially in 1930 so there is a lot of local history tied up in the site. I love the idea that our patch could have been used as part of the Dig For Victory campaign on The Home Front during the Second World War. 

One cautionary word of advice. Be careful what you buy on the internet! So far I've broken a hoe after only three days of delicate hoeing, while two boxes of new terracotta pots arrived completely smashed. Nevermind, onwards and upwards. Hopefully next week we can start planting!

*other bath products are available 

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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Good Life?

So after four years on the local council's waiting list we have finally made it. We are in possession of an allotment in North London. Joy to the world. What I hope to do with this blog is document the various trials and tribulations faced by two pretty green, green fingered allotmenteers.

The idea of becoming more self sufficient certainly appeals to many of us these days, particularly if like us, you live in the midst of the urban sprawl. Growing, picking, cooking and eating our own fresh vegetables is an exciting prospect and something me and my partner have long dreamed about. However now it's suddenly become a reality, the scale of the responsibility is beginning to hit home.

My partner is the big ideas man. As soon as Janet from the allotments called to say we had rather miraculously scaled the top of the waiting list, he was out scouring the locale for every piece of literature on growing your own and doing it yourself. I admit I haven't read up much on this so far, preferring to be second in command. One week into our new hobby, our flat is fit to burst with all manner of cardboard boxes, testament to the fact that the internet really does sell you everything these days.

We have a brand new set of tools, some of which I am yet to identify. We have a push lawnmower. We have matching wellington boots. We have matching gardening gloves. We have a plethora of seeds to plant and are soon to have delivered asparagus and rhubarb plants. We'll be rivalling Kew Gardens by the summer.

I have a fond, misty ideal of dabbling in self sufficiency. Already I've got the theme tune from The Good Life on a loop inside my head. It has been pointed out several times already that I'm much more Margo than Felicity Kendal's Barbara, but we'll ignore that for now. 

The reality is not looking impossibly cute in some rag bag clothes whilst sipping a glass of Peapod '75. It's actually flipping hard work. I ache in places I didn't know I had. What makes it worse is that we seem to be the only people on the allotments working hard. I can't wait to get to the point so many of our neighbours have reached where they can treat their patch as a social space for nattering, pottering and emptying the contents of their thermos flasks. I fear though that by the time we get there, I won't be fit for mulch.

Follow me on Twitter @GraemeN82