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