Monday, September 26, 2016

Berries and Currants in the Hedgrow

The whole middle and northern part of the eastern boundary was all fruit bushes - berries and currants. I did a lot of work there when I got started last summer, first getting rid of the tall, mature nettles which infested the bushes, then pruning the bushes, then coppicing them, and eventually digging them up to relocated them elsewhere.

I did think of incorporating them into the hedgerow where they were, but they'd gone absolutely crazy, after what seemed like years of not being pruned, nor even having the dead leaves cleared out from beneath them in autumn, which meant a build up of leaf mold and led to plants having several sets of root systems along their trunks. Which made dealing with them bloody hard work last Winter.

There were brambles in that area too, whether by chance or design I can't say, and several gooseberries. But mostly it was blackcurrants. Not that I saw much fruit, but I've grown blackcurrants before and know their leaves. I also know how easy they are to propagate from cuttings, and thought that the uprooted plants would take easily on the other side of the plot.

Not a bit of it. Most of them were planted, and seemed healthy enough, but didn't quicken come the Spring. This morning for the first time I did a check of how many did pull through and... 2 of them have, that's from dozens of plants. The gooseberries, on the other hand, everyone of them is growing vigorously this year, and with their thorns are a welcome additon to the hedgerow.

And the two currants that have survived, I can propagate them from cuttings and distribute around the hedgerow as it grows, filling any gaps.

American takes a check for cricket circumstances. (4,5,4)

Heavy rain Saturday, and heavy showers yesterday, meant no allotment all weekend. And when I got there today, the area of the old greenhouse was too wet to riddle it. So I moved part of the skinny brick path from part of the Western boundary, to it's new home as you can see here, from the central path to the cherry trees, delineating where the Middle East bed, (to the right) ends and the pond margin begins. The wee shoots you can see in the ME Bed are winter field beans, which have germinated well and made a good start.

I've moved the bricks because it still seems the Mid and North West Beds aren't draining properly, so I'm going to dig a trench, fill it with rubble and call it a path and see if that helps, next year. And put in raised beds - I mean proper raised beds, about 3ft high - on the soggiest part.

It's a case of watching where the water goes this Winter, which is liable to be another wet one, apparently. By the time I get all the drainage works completed last winter, the worst of the storms was over, so none of it has been properly tested, yet, and I might need to do more. Perversely, I'm quite looking forward to getting some heavy storms, now that I've got a handle on the drainage situation.

Also today, weeded the NE boundary, my 'hedgerow'-hedgerow, consisting of donated bare root actual hedgerow trees. And not much more, due to the rain.

Fruit initially gives syrup. (4)

Remember, I pricked out 80+ fig seedlings a few weeks ago into modules. These were sown with seeds from a dried Turkish fig back in May. So it's a slow process. Most are still showing only cotyledons, a few have grown secondary leaves, and a small number of those are just showing the next leaves beginning to bud at the apex. 16 of the 80 have died, but I still had approx 40 seedling growing in the original vermiculite seed-tray, so I was able to replace those. There are still about 25 left in that seed tray, and even if I lose a few more, we will have the 80 eventually for the hedgerow. 75, say, as there are still no doubt hazards for them along the way.

The plan is to leave these 80 on the windowsill at home until the potting shed is built and heated, some time in the early Spring. At some point next year they'll be big enough to pot on, and then spend the next winter in the shed or polytunnel. They should be big enough to join the hedgerow some time in 2018. One thing I've learned about an allotment hedgerow: unless you're willing and able to spend several £100s on bare root plants, you need to be patient and prepared for the long haul. It's more fun this way, more opportunities to tweak it, and for fate to intervene with unexpected plants as time goes by.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

...E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

Here's what was once the path up the middle of a long-gone greenhouse. I gave it a wash and brush up, just for the photo. I'm looking forward to the day when all the heavy digging and excavating is done, and I can get all of my paths brushed down and kept clean.

As you can see, it's under about 8ins of earth. You can't really tell from the photo, but it's surrounded by a low wall to the back and right, just what would have been used as the foundation for an old-fashioned greenhouse. The left hand wall I took out during my leveling activities, which I'm regretting a bit now, but, spilt milk and all that.

The path looks very similar to the one which runs parallel to it, a few yards north, so perhaps they were laid by the same hand. That other path was under nearly a foot of earth. I'm trying to use them to piece together some of the plot's history.

I know that The Predecessor held the plot for more than 30 years, so that would be since the early 80s. I suspect that when he took it over it had been abandoned for years, and he's just cleared the weeds and avoided, literally, digging too deeply. Not that he's been lazy.

He dug a ditch along North West boundary, and piled up the earth in mounds at the bottom, clearly trying to relieve the waterlogging, and maybe it worked somewhat. I reversed his work, filling in the ditch with earth from the mounds, and putting the drain under the path and into the new pond. But I don't think he did much with the 'old greenhouse foundations', treating them as a kind of raised bed.

A lady who I sometimes chat with when she's walking her gigantic dog in the park to the North of the plot told me that the allotments were mostly abandoned for years. When I asked how long exactly, she told me she's 67 and recalled them being like that all her life. So that takes us back to the 50s or 60s.

So piecing these things together, here's the narrative I'm putting forward. The allotments were first occupied in 1917. Mine was well gardened for several decades, maybe up until the Second War. That would explain the mostly good soil. Paths were laid, a good greenhouse and shed built. I like to think it was used during the Dig For Victory era, and rationing, but fell out of fashion during Rock 'n' Roll.

The Greenhouse and Shed got smashed up and burnt. Weeds took over. It was like that for decades. The Predecessor did what he needed to make it garden-able, using the remains of the old Shed to make one of his own, though that wasn't really his forte. But it kept ticking over, not fully worked but not neglected. And now it's up to me. I like to think the person who laid the paths and built the greenhouse would approve.

Monday, September 19, 2016

All Allotmenteers, Please Take Note...

When you encounter a load of... rubbish in your plot, usually a mixture of rubble, broken glass, bits of wood and fragments of old plastic bags, mixed with good garden soil, when you do that, SORT IT OUT STRAIGHTAWAY! Don't, please, as I did, pile it all up together on a vacant bit of ground thinking vaguely, I'll deal with that later...

Because this afternoon was 'later', and a tedious job it was: the aforesaid rubbish had become weed infested, which added a whole new layer of difficulty: roots and aerial parts clogging up the riddle and the danger of grass and other seeds finding their way into my nice riddled earth.

I'd thrown up the load of crap onto this area (early in Spring I think it was), and today raked it off the top, put the bigger bits of rubble in the spare wheelbarrow, threw the weeds and bits of wood onto the for-bonfire pile, and then riddled the earth out of what was left - and there was still plenty of gravel and smaller bits of rubble for the shed hard-core. 

Anyway, that's the 'old greenhouse foundations' in the photo, (better call this area now, the old greenhouse floor, because I'm pretty sure now that's what it was).

I'm about a yard into it (where the spade is), so maybe 7ft to go (the SE corner of the area is marked by that black 10 gallon drum). But it will be much easier now that I've gotten all the heavy weed-entangled rubbish off of the top of it.

Tell you what else I'm looking forward to: the day when all of this earth movement is over, and I can give all the paths a bloody good scrub with a yard broom. The area in the foreground of this photo could actually be a rather quaintly pleasing patchwork of bricks and other materials, but it's all mud-covered now.

Another thought occurred today: where in the name of all that's holy did all this rubble come from? I mean, whole bricks are there for structures and paths; pebbles will find their way up from the subsoil. But bits of broken brick and concrete fragments in these quantities? 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dot toils crazily on agenda. (2-2, 4)

Day off allotment today. Regarding the plot as my gym, all of this riddling is working the arms and shoulders. Spin-off benefit for piano playing there. I'm slowly processing through the old greenhouse area for the poly-tunnel. I haven't measured it, but estimate it's about 10x8ft. I've gone about 3ft into it, and so far moved 6 or 7 barrow-fulls of earth, and working on the assumption that for every 3 barrows of riddled earth, there's one of gravel and rubble, that's a couple of barrows onto the new shed's foundation. I have a feeling that getting to the end of the old greenhouse will supply enough hardcore for a nice thick and level foundation for the shed.

And I'll have a cleared area all ready for the poly-tunnel. It seems to have a brick paved section down the middle, about 4ft wide, with a couple of feet of earth or clay each side of that. Which is perfect. I like the fact that the poly-tunnel and the shed will divide the plot up, 1/3 to the South, 2/3 to the North, so that when you enter it you see a nice small plot, but then walk down the path between the structures and see a whole 'other' plot. There's still a great deal to do, but as I stand there riddle the rubble out of the earth, I look up and begin to see how it's going to look in a year or 2.

The new shed is the lynch-pin. When I've got it, I can empty the old one, demolish and recycle or burn its constituents. There's a growing pile of rubbish, most of which will get burned one cold evening this coming Winter. And then, at last, I can dig over the bloody eyesore of the SE Bed.

I've spent some time looking at information online about building a shed from pallets. There are a lot of YouTube videos, but none of them are very helpful, so I'm going to have to resort to 1st principles. I spent probably 10,000 hours building lego structures as a kid, which should help. The big complication is that I want a potting shed, so lots of light. I've got a couple of windows in the old shed with heavy frames, and they're about the size of a palette, so should fit in. And the roof... Lego has left me with no particular ideas for that, I'll just have to puzzle it out.  I need to build a couple of saw benches first, that'll help get my eye in.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Coriander, More Riddling, Cherry Trees and I-don't-know-anything-about-this-but

 Harvested almost all (one row is still in flower) of the coriander today. Here it is in a colossal bunch, hanging up in the old shed. I'm hoping it'll shrink back a bit so that I can fit it into a hessian sack and catch the seeds before they start to fall.

One of my few succesful crops this year, and I'm for growing it again. The scent of it when it rains is gorgeous. And I noticed that it attracted unrecognisable (to me) insects, quite unlike the honey, bumble and other bees, hoverflies etc which went for the phacelia.

Flops over terribly, interfering with my neeps this year. Next year I'm going to grow it in 4ft squares with some kind of support around them.

Below, 2 photos of the riddling process, before and after. Before show a spadeful of earth in the riddle. After shows how much is left by way of stones and gravel once I've got the earth out.



As you can see, maybe 1/3 of the spadeful's volume was stones. It makes me wonder, in this plot's 99 year history, has anyone ever riddled the earth for stones? Looks like it's up to me.

Finally today, I gave the cherry trees a haircut. I pollarded them over the winter, and they've been putting on a lot of new growth, semi-soft wood twigs up to a yard long. Left to their own devices, it would have gone back to the state it was last year, with cherries growing 20ft in the air. So I cut them all back to 1ft in length or so, which should encourage lateral growth. Probably a couple of years from getting any cherries. One thing I'm learning about fruit: it takes a lot of management. Left alone, it'll go barmy.

So I had 30 or so cuttings. Acting on 1st principles, I got a couple of bucket sized pots, filled them with compost, and pushed in the cuttings round the edges after trimming of the bottom few leaves and cutting off the apex to end its dominance. And then watered them.

This seemed to me the right thing to do. I'm doing something similar with brambles, though I used garden soil for them rather than compost. When I've done this in the past with currant bushes, I've had 100% success, and I'm sure Monty Don did something similar the other night, though I can't remember with what plant, now.

But when I got home I had a google to see if there was any worthwhile craic on how to get cherry trees from cuttings. A couple of the results illustrate why googling for garden information can be a pain in the arse. US sites like this one err on the side of caution, and make a simple job into a surgical operation. But that's fair enough, I suppose, if you can be bothered and want to maximise your chances of getting your cuttings to strike roots.

The google hit that now makes me laugh bitterly is the one you get from aggregated message boards. Someone asks, 'How do I do X?' And the 1st, sometimes the only, response is 'I don't know anything about X, but...' And then they go on to tell the OP all about Y, or that they are sure OP will fail at X. This is typical example. I've seen this so many times, I think I'll start to collect I-don't-know-anything-about-this-but message board responses as a hobby.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Digging & Riddling

The region of what I used to call 'the old greenhouse foundations' was unnaturally high, a kind of island in the middle of the plot. Or more like a fortification, with a series of ramparts of brick and corrugated iron. I levelled the West side last spring, getting down to a concrete and brick base, which was actually by then lower than the rest of the plot. Since then I've been filling it with rubble as the foundation for the shed. You can see it on the left middle ground of the photo, with a scaffold board over it because I've been checking to see if it's level enough for the shed to be built on it.

It should be a formidable foundation: a course of bricks and concrete on top of the original heavy clay subsoil, topped off with 6ins or so of rubble. Before I actually start building the shed, I'm curious to see whether or not any water's going to puddle there. So meanwhile, I've started on the right hand, Eastern side of the 'old greenhouse'. This looked like a peculiar kind of walled, raised bed when I got started last summer, and I planted it with phacelia and borage because digging down it was clearly full of bricks and unsuitable for veg. I remember wondering whether or not to excavate it back then, and also remember quite clearly thinking, 'not yet'.

It's difficult to imagine how it looked back then. There was almost a spit of earth and rubble above the level of the path which I uncovered earlier this year. And in uncovering the path, and excavating the West side, some earth and rubble got thrown over onto that Eastern side. Now the time has come to begin excavating it at last. So the last 3 'allotment days' (about 2 hours per day)  have been spent gradually hacking into it with, first, the shovel, and latterly with the spade. I changed because a spadeful is just the right amount to get a riddle-full of earth, a shovel is too much. Then I riddle it into the barrow. It's a bit damp, so I have to rub the soil into the wire of the riddle to brake the last lumps up.

Then I'm left with a few larger bits of rubble, and a lot of very small pebbles or maybe gravel. These are thrown onto the shed foundation. 2 hours of this yields one barrow-full of lovely riddled soil, which is getting put into a heap ready for the raised beds. I took the photo above yesterday, and have gotten a little further into it today, but even at that I've probably gone at most 1.5x6ft into an area 8x6ft. So it's slow work, but it's satisfying to see a growing heap of good earth, free from rubble and pebbles and bits of bloody glass.

And there's the understanding that's dawning on me this week: the earth of the entire plot needs this treatment over the next few years. Ah well. Good exercise, riddling, better than you'd get in any gym. I notice I paid £8.40 for the 9mm sieve/riddle back in February, but it's only really going to work now; let's see how long it lasts.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the allotment...

Managed to get down for a bit of work this afternoon. After a quick survey and a think, I got back to work on clearing the area opposite the shed, which will be the site of the polytunnel. I'm going at it with a shovel, getting it down to the level of the path for now. Every shovelful is riddled, the rubble and gravel piled onto the new shed area for its foundation. That's nearly done, actually, only a few inches to make that side on a level with the path.

When that's done, I suspect there's still going to be a lot of rubble and gravel. So the next thing with that will be rubble/French drain and path across the bottom of the Middle East bed, marking it off from the pond margin, (which has gone wild on me, but will have to wait), and helping with drainage. That path will continue along the edge of that bed, between it and the course of the hedgerow on the Eastern boundary.

I think I'm going to run out of bricks for the skinny perimeter path, and will use rubble and gravel, of which I suspect there'll be a ton or 2 under the SE bed. I might need another rubble/French drain to demarcate the Mid & NW beds, too. I don't like the way the phacelia there has died back to so quickly this year, and suspect it's still not draining properly.

The riddled soil is joining a heap in the NE corner of the Midwest Bed, by the path, which I started last Spring, and from which I cleared the weeds today. The new shed is vital to my plans now, so I've got to get its foundation high enough to keep it out of any Winter waterlogging, and of course it needs be level. So if rain stops play this week, which seems likely, I'll get to the scrapyards and see what they can provide: palettes, scaffold boards, corrugated iron... A stove will be essential too, if I'm to start sowing seeds in February ready for planting out in May.