Did The Earth Move For Me? Not Blooming Likely. More A Case Of DIY

All right I confess. I’m a fraud. I call myself a writer, but in reality I move soil.  Year in and year out I move soil. It has become my lot in life – not only on the home front with The Man In My House  Who Keeps Having Ground Moving Notions, but also on my own time up at the allotment. How did this happen? Was this the plan I had for myself?

This time last year we were busy shifting ten tons of gunky green Silurian clay and the junk of builders past, removing a huge and hideous waist-high flower bed outside our back door. We had lived with it for ten years, but finally it had to go. Ground Moving Man, then became Wall and Steps Building Man – using traditional mortar and the old bricks and limestone lying around to place to build a much neater, narrower raised border, and safer steps to the top of the garden. (Our cottage is built into a  bank).  The effort was as momentous, as it was cunning. The Wall and Step Builder had devised a way of dismantling the old steps in tandem with building the new ones so that we always had access to the upper quarters of our small domain, and thence my path to the allotment. Hats off to you, sir!

Here are views of the work as it proceeded.

A wintery before:

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During the synchronised step demolition and rebuilding (pretty good work for a retired plant pathologist):

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After – a bit heavy on the limestone perhaps, but we had it on site, which is always a bonus when you live on a road where deliveries can be tricky:

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Most of the clay spoil and erstwhile builders’ rubble that had been hidden behind the steps and in the bed was barrowed round the front of the house and tipped into a Hippo Bag. This natty item is sent through the post in return for some loot. You fill it with 1.5 tonnes of stuff, and then a truck comes and cranes it away. Ideal for people who live on a busy main road, and have no room for a big skip. We had several of these handy mega bags.

Meanwhile up at the allotment I was dismantling a forty-year old allotmenteers’ spoil heap the size of Everest, and using the substance, which only vaguely resembled compost, to make new raised beds and terraces on my polytunnel plot.  I shifted probably sixty barrow loads, and all with the aim of creating (ultimately) a NO DIG gardening system. I know this may sound mad.

The year before I had started clearing the plot by slicing off the neglected, weed-choked surface and piling the turves into pallet bins in the hopes that one day they would decompose into something usable. This was in no way compatible with the principles of NO DIG, but was my quick and dirty method of checking the buttercup, couch grass, and dandelion infestation. After learning the error of my ways early last spring, I gave it up for covering the remaining uncleared ground in layers of cardboard, and tipping a good six inches of spoil heap soil on the top. He Who Builds Walls and Steps then knocked up a few raised beds. (Those of you who come here often will know all this.)

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This year I find that ants have been busy in the horrid heap of weedy turves, and the ensuing soil is usable, so am now repatriating it to the areas whence I cleared it two years earlier. So good on the ants, but more earth moving required.

Meanwhile, the notions of NO DIG, also require the seasonal application of deep layers of compost to the surface of all beds. The only problem with this is making enough compost. You need tons and tons. However, last autumn I made an effort and amassed material in bins and heaps all over my two plots – wherever there was space in fact. And now these need digging out, or at least turning.

NO DIG, it seems, does not mean the end of wielding forks and spades – not by a long chalk. So there we have it – ‘my days’ career’ as a young Kenyan farm wife once described to me her life of endlessly hauling things about.

And back on the home front  this year we have already dug up the front lawn and replanted the bank beside the road. And we have dug up the back lawn and moved more soil so He Who Builds can now branch out into shed construction, though we did at least have two strong young men come and lay the paved concrete slab from which said edifice will arise. I am told it will have a curved roof.

The arrival of the shed will next dictate the remodelling of the back garden flower beds. All of which makes  me feel as if my  life is founded on shifting ground; the strata beneath my feet in perpetual motion and always needing to be somewhere else, and in some other shape. Perhaps one day all the earth in my vicinity will be in the places where we actually want it – no more moving required. Then perhaps I can give up the fraudulent writer posture and finish off a book or two; return to mental heaving and lugging, re-shaping and visualising, create the content and structure exactly as I want it – and all this without heft of spade or putting on my wellies. Perhaps…

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Last Year At The Allotment ~ Seasonal Highlights

Now is the time of year when gardeners head for their seed catalogues and start making plans for the growing season ahead. Seed potatoes must be ordered, and preparations made (i.e. brain put in gear so as not to miss appropriate time slots) for crops that must be sown early. It is also a good moment to review which of the last year’s crops grew best, and most importantly, which we most enjoyed eating.

Actually all the produce was delicious. We had loads of Early Onward peas, courgettes and salad greens. Beans thrived – French, borlotti, fava, runners, and Cherokee, as did the globe artichokes, raspberries and Swift sweet corn. In the polytunnel the Black Russian tomatoes, and yellow cherry variety were the most prolific. I also grew some very good pink onions in there, and thus saved them from alium beetle attack which did a lot of damage in the outdoor crop.

There’s still stuff to eat on the plot too – Brussels sprouts, Italian broccoli, Tuscan kale, parsnips, and early purple sprouting to come.

And now as I look at these photos, I sense the horticultural sap rising. Soon it will be time to go out and get growing – all over again. For the gardener’s work is never done. Yippeeeeee!

 copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Thursday’s Special: 2016 Retrospective   Please visit Paula for her own fine retrospective, and be inspired.

Yesterday, Coming Home From The Allotment

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Hard to know which of us was on mind altering substances – me, my camera, or the Wenlock Edge Sky-painter. Perhaps all three of us. Anyway, I was tramping along the margins of Townsend Meadow, having been to the allotment for a trawl of Tuscan kale and cabbage tree greens. It was around 4 p.m. but already going dark, and I had paused briefly to watch three little girls bouncing so joyously on their garden trampoline in a hectic communion of after-school-steam-lettingoffness – when it suddenly occurred to me to turn around. And this is what I saw. It took my breath away. So of course I had to snap it and pass it on.

Be-eautiful Borlotti

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Well I simply couldn’t miss taking part in Yvette’s inaugural Friday food challenge over at Powerhouse Blog. So here you have them, my favourite beans, caught at the allotment in a sunset glow. Not that they need external aids to enhance their beanificent beauty. Not for nothing do the Italians call them: Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco –  Fire Tongue.

I love everything about them. I love growing them. I love the way their pods change colour through the summer – from green to deep claret. Then, as picking time draws near, the leaves turn yellow, and start to fall, revealing hanging rows of glowing pods.

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But the best bit is shelling them. You never know what colour they will turn out – pea green, cream with pink speckles or claret with creamy streaks. Every bean is different.

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I usually freeze them freshly podded, or you can dry them. Freezing means they are quick to cook, and you don’t need to do the overnight soaking necessary for dried beans. They are highly nutritious, mineral and fibre-rich, and can be used in soups, or to make baked beans. I use them mostly in re-fried bean dishes. This simply involves mashing up a batch of cooked beans with fried onion, garlic, and a few chopped tomatoes, then adding seasoning, chopped parsley or coriander, plus spices of choice (I use chilli and cumin), turning all into a shallow, heatproof dish, topping with cheese, and putting under the grill for 10 or 15 minutes. We eat this by itself with a salad, or as a side dish with just about anything savoury. A poached egg on top would also be good.

You can find out how to grow borlotti beans HERE. Then pop over to Yvette’s for more vegetable offerings:

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copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

August’s Changing Seasons: Fruitful

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Who wouldn’t be tempted by such a perfect apple? I came upon it yesterday  as I was leaving the allotment. It’s growing on an very old and lovely tree that every year puts on its own magnificent Garden of Eden of show. We allotmenteers share the apples. They are crisp, juicy, sharp and sweet all at once. I don’t know the variety.

It’s important to  keep tabs on the crop though. The window of opportunity for gobbling is brief since the apples don’t keep very well. I’m already thinking that they might be good in Tarte Tatin that most delicious of French classic deserts.  I usually use Coxes Pippins later in the year, but since this August feels so autumnal, it’s an excellent excuse to make it sooner. I have a deep cast iron frying pan, which works a treat, both for the initial caramelizing of the apples on top of the cooker, and the final cooking with added the pastry lid inside the oven.

I should also say these apples have the most delicious fragrance too – lemon crisp. They anyway sum up August for me: the garden’s rich harvest.

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Changing Seasons: August  Every month around the 20th Cardinal Guzman posts a Changing Seasons challenge. There are two variations to choose from, so follow the link for further instructions. They are easy-peasy.

Does My Beehind Look Big in this?

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Up at the allotment the globe artichokes we did not eat earlier in the summer are flowering, and the Red-tailed Bumblebees think all their breakfasts have come at once. In fact they’re trying to scoff them all at once too. The flower, after all, is a VERY BIG thistle. This makes me wonder if the huge expanse of ultra-violet attractant doesn’t over-stimulate the foraging impulse, thus explaining the manic bee rootling  that has them scrabbling, bottoms up, through the petal forest to reach the sweet stuff beneath.

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Those with longer legs seem to cope best, but I’ve already had to rescue two. They seem to become mired in the petals. Either that or they’re simply spaced out on the sugar rush.

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Macro Monday over at Jude’s

Never Mind Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: How About A Courgette? Or Maybe Even a Blooming Potato?

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During the recent heat wave I managed to get myself across the field and to the allotment by 7.30 a.m. It was wonderful up there – full of birdsong and humming bugs and bees. (Note to self: must do this more often). All the vegetables were flowering full blast, and so instead of watering and weeding, I started taking photos.

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The courgette (zucchini) plants had broken out into multiple suns – each one big as a dinner plate.

And then I spotted the potato flowers – I think they’re the French salad variety called ratte. (I couldn’t locate my plant label for spud leaves). Anyway aren’t they rather lovely?

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Then behind the potatoes the runner bean flowers were busy making the first beans of the season (thank you bees):

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And behind my polytunnel the Lark sweet corn was tasseling:

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So much excitement up at the allotment, and all before breakfast. Who’d’ve thought it.

 

P.S. This post was inspired not only by my vegetables, but also by Jithin at Mundane Monday #69, and Jude’s edible Garden Challenge. Please visit them for more inspiration and some very excellent photography.

Eminently Edible Or Too Much Like Hard Work: Plexit or Brexit Up At The Allotment?

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Some people – otherwise known as Graham – think I have secret ambitions to take over the whole of Wenlock’s Southfield Road allotment. He couldn’t be more wrong, although whenever I protest my intention to contract operations and reduce my current domain of one and half plots to a single half plot with polytunnel attached, he gives me that look. Oh yeah? The problem is, just like Britain leaving Europe, my exit strategy is complicated. But unlike Brexit, at least I do have a strategy for reducing my plot occupation. Indeed in this era of foolish contraction we could even call it Plexit.

The story of my initial expansionist tendency begins nine years ago, not long after we moved to Wenlock. I had known the town for much of my life, and lived for a long time in a neighbouring parish, but I had not known that the town had an allotment. It is well hidden behind a row of houses, a relic of much earlier times when a railway ran by our neck of the Edge, and railway workers had the right to demand that their company provide, along with their houses, some sizable garden plots on which to grow their own food.

It was a chance remark at a neighbour’s Christmas party that made me realize that the shed roofs that I could just see across the field from our new home were not in a row of private gardens as I had first thought. The hunt for a plot was on. When I finally tracked down the chairman of the Wenlock Allotment Society it was March, and I was champing at the get-gardening bit since our cottage garden was not big enough for vegetable growing. Though charming, the chairman told me all the plots were taken, and he would add me to the waiting list that already had several people on it. He did not sound hopeful, and disappointment descended. Yet by April he was on the phone saying that I clearly had a fairy godmother: my pumpkin dreams had come home to roost. Several plots had been unexpectedly surrendered, and there was a half plot left if I still wanted it. The rent was £20 per annum. So I said yes, site unseen, and we arranged for a convenient moment a few days later when he might introduce me to my new land holding and collect the rent.

Thus began allotment my life – with an inherited leaning shed, an ancient greengage tree just then in bloom, and a plot full of couch grass, sow thistle, docks, dandelions and buttercups that the previous incumbent had clearly been nurturing for some considerable time.

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And that’s the problem with allotments. Too many would-be cultivators take them on only to find themselves overtaken by the amount of labour involved. Yet the idea of allotment growing remains beguiling, and so time passes as they decide whether or not to abandon the plot. The upshot of this is that everyone gets the fall-out from the weeds on neglected plots. Also the general tendency to disorder that breaks out in such communal enterprises provides havens and harbourage for pests and diseases that then become endemic. It takes much gritting of teeth not to resort to a host of chemical applications.

The upside of allotments is of course the camaraderie – the like-minded people who will be there to commiserate over one’s sorrow at slug and allium weevil devastation, or to swap ideas for pest control, share the joy of success and in the ensuing excesses in crops, or generally to keep an eye on neighbours’ plots while they are away. All good stuff.

Also when I first started, there was one old gardener still hard at work. Crook-backed, and slightly crippled, he travelled by bus from another village. This also involved him in quite an uphill hike from the bus stop which he could only accomplish very slowly, and with a few stops for a cigarette. But once on the allotment he tended three full 20 by 5 metre plots on behalf of other elderly tenants or their widows who lived on Southfield Road. He was there most days too, and I think he had probably been there for centuries. He gardened in the way my grandfather would have done.

Often in the winter, when we still had a few really cold ones, we would be the only people there, and I would take the opportunity to quiz him over his tried and tested methodologies. I especially took note of when he sowed particular crops. His repertoire was limited, but he grew in bulk: broad beans, runner beans, beetroot, onions and potatoes. I don’t remember his growing much else. He knew what worked best, and he knew those crops that were within his capacities to manage on such a scale.

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And that’s another big lesson to be learned at the allotment. When you have your first plot – which can seem so large and roomy – and you have finally cleared all the weeds, it’s too easy to assume that anything will grow there. It won’t . Not unless you have been lucky to take on a well worked, and hugely well composted and sheltered site. It took me a while to learn that it’s best to start by taking a good look at what the seasoned growers are growing; see what thrives in the face of endemic pests, the plot’s micro-climate, the general environmental conditions, and soil structure limitations. That way you can be sure to get one or two decent crops of something, and these successes will keep you going while you get to grips with your plot’s potential and/or deficiencies.

For instance another experienced allotmenteer showed us newbies that the only way to grow decent carrots and parsnips on our heavy soil was to dib individual root shaped holes at sowing time, fill them with good compost and then sow the seeds on top. It’s a rather time-consuming process but worth it if you don’t want to waste packets of seed. For carrots it also reduces the need for a lot of thinning, and the plants can be left to grow throughout the season covered by horticultural fleece, so avoiding attacks by carrot root fly. I have now adapted this idea by using moveable raised bed, which Graham originally made for me as a cold frame. I place it on top of the existing soil level. Fill it with a good six inches of fine compost mixed with coir fibre and sow into that, and then cover the lot with enviromesh.

In those first years it was tough going. I thought I was a moderately experienced gardener, but there was  much unforeseen trial and error. The plot took monumental amounts of clearing, digging, and composting. Crop successes were patchy, apart from colossal amounts of black currants and broad beans. The heavy soil proved almost impossible for sowing anything other large seeded vegetables, and even then there was a tendency for them to rot if we had a spell of cold, wet weather. Or if they germinated, the roots became compacted and the plants effectively bonsai-ed themselves, and then got eaten by slugs or infested with aphids.

All the time I was casting covetous eyes on the other half of the plot. It had clearly been well cultivated over the years, and the soil looked lighter and much more promising. I saw it produce masses of strawberries and fine looking French and runner beans. It was also nearer the water point, a serious consideration given our erratic weather patterns which often involve a spring or summer drought. I watched two other gardeners come and go there before finally making my bid for it. At last. Now I could grow decent potatoes, strawberries, runners beans, leeks, carrots, and leave the old plot to produce what it did best – raspberries, blackcurrants, rhubarb, artichokes, and swathes of very useful comfrey for feeding the rest of the plot.

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The half plot I began with nine years ago, this year growing cover crops of field beans. I should perhaps have dug some of them in before they flowered – this as a green manure. But I didn’t, and the blossom kept the bees very happy. And now I have tons of mini broad beans – to eat, and to dry for autumn sowing.

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So now I had 70 feet of plot, and I had only just begun to get the measure of it when I rather recklessly found myself with a further half plot. This was two years ago. I was so fixated on taking over the polytunnel that Bob and Sally had erected there the previous season that I neglected to notice that it stood on an especially wide piece of ground that had once been the domain of the aforesaid aged gardener, and thus long neglected. And so quite apart from learning the new art of polytunnel cultivation, it was back to tackling another dense carpet of dandelions, buttercups and couch grass.

Even I could see the daft side. He who disbelieves in Plexit (that would be Graham), simply raised his eyebrows and saw (as with Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow) only evidence of wilful territorial overreach. ‘You’ve taken on too much,’ the look said.

‘But I have a plan,’ I said. ‘I mean to contract. It’s my ultimate objective.’

More raised brows.

‘It’s raised beds that I really need,’ I said. ‘Then I can start the retreat from the old plot.’

Being the kind soul he is, Graham agreed to making me some beds, though leaving me with the distinct impression that he was humouring a mad woman.

Last year then, and before I’d discovered ‘no dig gardening’ approach (see earlier post HERE), I started clearing the new plot, basically by skimming several inches of weedy compacted ground off the top and dumping it in compost bins where it might just rot down by the end of the century. I covered the bare ground with  the limited amount of compost I had available, sowed some trefoil for a green manure and inter-planted it with sweet corn, which to my surprise grew a magnificent crop of large cobs. I also planted out brassicas next to the corn and produced some rather fine purple cauliflowers, which also surprised me. Meanwhile Graham set about on the first consignment of raised beds, made from recycled pallets which he picked up for free from work.

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The new plot in early spring this year. Beds provided by Plexit sceptic, and planted with over-wintering onions, lamb’s lettuce and winter purslane. Behind the polytunnel the open bed has not been dug apart from some spot-weeding of dandelions, but covered with six inches of recycled soil from the allotment’s communal heap of ages (see next photo). It has been planted with Early Onward peas (just being harvested this week. See second photo above). These were pre-grown in 4 inch pots, five or so seeds to a pot, to avoid mouse devastation. I find that transplanted peas do really well, although it’s a bit of a faff having loads of pots. They also need to be well defended from pigeons as soon as they are planted out.

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This heap was apparently some 40 years in the making. At the end of the winter, before some of us began to recycle it,  it extended beyond the weeds on the right, and was 6 or 7 feet high. I suspect I have moved around 100 barrow loads. Unavoidably, given that the allotment is a weed haven, the soil is filled with weed seeds, but at least it is lighter and more free draining, and gives crops a chance to get going. So far the crops in the new raised beds, or on areas where I’ve not dug, but covered the soil with several inches of stuff from my own compost heaps, are far superior to anything grown on existing dug-over soil. And while no-dig proponents claim that this method means fewer weeds, I don’t think this holds for a very weedy allotment, but at least perennials like dandelion and nettle are easier to remove from lighter soil.

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This year’s Lark sweet corn, growing next to the peas on a no-dig plot.

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Nautica French beans in a raised bed on recycled compost heap soil. So far so good, though a few nettle seedlings popping up.

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And now for Plexit, and my plan for plot downsizing.

Ideally in terms of work load it would have been better if I had already relinquished the half plot I first started with nine years ago – along with the leaning shed and the greengage tree that only fruits every nine years. Despite all my compost input, pony poo additions and green manure growing, the ground is still the least promising. The only remedy would be to cover it with the rest of the communal soil heap, but then I reckon that (along with effort needed to move it) it would be far better deployed on the new plot where I’ve just started making a no-dig experimental bed by covering the weedy, long uncultivated ground with cardboard and six inch layer of soil, and then sowing it with cover crops – fenugreek and phaecelia. I’ve no idea how this will turn out. It’s also adjacent to my other experimental section of cardboard covered by 6 inches of tree shreddings – another unknown quantity with regard to next year’s cultivation potential.

But the main block to immediate downsizing is the fact that the much loved raspberry patch is at the top of the old plot, and I can’t give it up until I’ve got a new bed going. The present one keeps us in fruit the year round, so can’t be surrendered lightly. I started a new bed behind the polytunnel last winter, but the canes are being very slow to get going, and I may need to replace some of them – all of which will put Prexit on hold.

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Nor am I keen to give up the bottom half of the old plot just yet because it’s doing rather well, and I also have my three massive compost heaps there, and several leaf mould silos. And anyway it provides plenty of room for potatoes and winter veg. And then well…

In the end I suppose it’s more than obvious. The Prexit sceptic has a point: I won’t be yielding territory any time soon.  But then that’s my point. I’m busy negotiating, doing essential groundwork, ensuring that what I give up will be in reasonable shape when I do so. Only when conditions are the best they can be, or I’ve run out of steam, will I start the retreat. Makes you wonder about Brexit, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, if don’t have a garden…

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Lots of vegetables grow well in containers – leeks, garlic, carrots, spinach, salad stuff, tomatoes. A bucket with a few holes in the bottom makes an easily portable garden.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Related: Trying not to dig the plot and 30 minutes of weird weather

 

This month Jude at The Earth Laughs In Flowers wants to see photos of the edible garden. Visit her to find out more and see her splendid allotment gallery.

The Power Of Green And Dappled Sunlight This Morning On The Linden Walk

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You can almost see the sap rising – gushing forth in fact to catch up after a slow-start spring. Anyway, walking amongst it this morning made the pursuit of allotment chores a complete and utter pleasure.

The chore in question is part of my on-going experiments with no-dig cultivation. So armed with my big green polypropylene bag I was out gathering up some of the piles of tree shreddings left around the Linden Field by the chap who comes to trim the lime trees’ overgrowth. I then haul them up to the allotment where I am covering a 6 feet wide x 20 feet section of uncleared plot with cardboard plus several inches of chippings on top. It’s rather a slow process, but I’m over half way there.

I’m hoping that by the time I get round to cultivating this section next year,  most of the worst weeds will have turned up their roots, and the mulch rotted down enough to produce a reasonable planting medium. Oh yes, and that in order to achieve all this both the cardboard and the mulch will have attracted a lot of very happy worms.

The thing is, though, once I’m out on the Linden Walk it is so easy to forget about heavy labouring, and slip into a complete green daze. And as you can see, I also had my camera with me. I was particularly taken by this fence post:

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And then at the end of the avenue near one of my target chippings piles, I noticed a nice flat area between the limes and the old railway line. I had not spotted it before, but it looked just the place for some qi gong. Secluded enough, I thought, not to frighten any of the Wenlock dog walkers who might otherwise come upon me in the midst of repulsing the monkey or being a wild goose flying.  So this is where I stood – beneath a canopy of limes and sycamores, accompanied by bird call and the soft flutter of pigeon wings. Aaaaah. Wishing you a similarly blissful, green-filled, sap-rising, sun-dappled day.

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Now please pop over to Jo’s Monday Walk for a truly inspiring excursion in beautiful rural Poland. And to add your own walks to Jo’s go HERE.

Bee In My Bean Blossom

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In April at The Earth Laughs In Flowers, Jude wants to see our garden macros. This is also the Day 5 of the 7-day nature photo challenge. So here we have a bumble bee heading for my field bean flowers. I don’t blame it. They smell divine on a still, spring day.

This photo was taken up on my allotment, probably last year. At the moment the current crop of field beans, sown in September-October and overwintered, is only a hand’s width tall, but they’re looking quite healthy. Once they get going, they will grow as tall as I am, and need some support. The photo also shows bean weevil damage on the leaves. This is one of the drawbacks of allotment gardening. Pests like this become endemic. On the whole, though, the beans seem to carry on regardless.

Field beans are related to the broad bean (aka fava or faba) and they look much the same, but are less than half the size. Mostly they are grown in the UK as a green manure, the plants dug in before flowering. I grow them to eat. They make great re-fried beans, soup and a bean version of guacamole, which is astonishingly good.

My crop was so productive last year, I was able to eat and freeze them, and save masses of seed to dry and sow for this year’s crop. It’s the first time I’ve done this, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.  In consequence, I probably have grown too many. But once I see how the plants are faring, I shall sacrifice some of them. I mean to chop them down and leave them to rot on the soil surface, rather than digging them in. This will let the worms do the work, and keep the soil covered until I want to cultivate it.

I am beginning to see that digging is a very bad thing to do the earth. It wrecks the surface soil structure every time you do it, and so compromises fertility. Instead, the No Dig method relies on covering the soil surface with organic matter/compost every year, and then planting through it. The only problem is you need masses of compost. It also helps if you do your planting in raised beds. This way you do not walk on the soil, and can keep building up the fertility. Raised beds are easier to manage, and mulching the plants should massively cut down on the weeding, and the need to feed, or to water during dry spells.

Since last autumn I have been doing heavy labour on the new allotment plot that came with my polytunnel. (I hadn’t taken this into account when I got all excited about inheriting the tunnel from allotmenteers who were off to new territory.) The ground all round was heaving with dandelions and buttercups. And since this was before I discovered the no dig approach, I admit to using the quick and dirty method (though NOT weed killer) and slicing off the top layer of weeds, and dumping it in compost bins to rot down for a few years. The ground zero method of gardening.

I then commissioned He Who Does Not  Garden But Lives In My House to construct and install on my plot several raised beds made out of recycled builders’ yard pallets. A couple went into action straight away, and were planted up in October with over-wintering onion sets. The others I have been filling up over the past few weeks. So far the onions are looking healthy and a few weeks ago I sprinkled organic hen manure pellets over their beds, an alternative to sulphate of ammonia, which I didn’t have to hand.

By now you will be beginning to grasp the lengths that this writer will go to in order not to sit in front of her computer and cultivate the master work. So far I have shifted around 30 barrow-loads of an old garden rubbish heap that has apparently been in the corner of the allotment for the last forty years, and until recently was covered in brambles and nettles. Strangely too, it was my idea to recycle it.

Off course when I say heap, I really mean small mountain. It’s full of bonfires past, rodent nests, and decomposed leaves from the nearby ash tree, as well as nearly half a century of weeds and waste. There’s also broken glass, bits of plastic fertilizer bags, and all sorts of unidentifiable metal items that gardeners of yore thought could be disposed of in such a manner. As I sift through the heap, I think how good it is that I’m putting the field practice of my long ago archaeology degree course to some sort of use.

In fact I have been keeping an eye out for old coins, remembering that a few years ago I uncovered a 1725 halfpenny right outside my shed door. It helps to keep me amused during the boring process of extracting unwanted detritus and plant roots.

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I’ve also filled myself with a big enthusiasm infusion by deciding to dedicate one of the raised beds to growing flowering annuals to attract more bees. I shall also use it to grow on perennials (verbascum, heleniums, echinops) and biennial foxgloves that I’ve just germinated on the kitchen window sill. The thought of a raised bed bursting with summer flowers is so heartening. Doubtless you will see the results as time goes on.

But for now that’s enough talk about gardening. The sun is shining, and the weather forecast tells us we have a brief window of opportunity before the rain returns, so I’m off to the allotment with my pea and beetroot seedlings. I  may even sow some parsnips. Happy Sunday one and all.

 

#7-daynaturephotochallenge