Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hedgerow - Yet Another Update

Maybe it's something primeval, the need to secure a growing space with a hedge. The Secretary Formerly Known As Bee Lady has not gotten back to me about more bare root hedging plants. I don't know what the story is there, but must proceed under my own steam for now.

This winter I'll plant the gorse right around the boundary, in a staggered row with gaps to be filled subsequently. Assuming the seedlings don't get waterlogged or dried out over the summer, there are 200, enough for a staggered row 1ft apart around most of the boundary. For the rest, I'm going to buy (yes, I know) blackthorn seeds, and stratify them this winter to plant next winter. Also silver birch, (the first tree I learned to recognise when I was a small child).

Thinking further ahead, maybe several thousand years further ahead, I'm going to stratify yew, (the price of rootballed yew is outrageous - so there's a big profit margin if you have a bit of ground and patience). Holly has a similar stratification schedule to yew, so I may as well start some of them, too. By the time they're ready to plant out, any gaps or weak spots in the hedge will be apparent.

And any other appropriate trees that come my way. I've not given up on figs, for example. But no success with supermarket figs for seeds, yet. Mind, seeds from dried Turkish figs appeared viable, but turned out not to be. And I got maybe 10 seeds from Brazilian figs grown in Israel, which passed the sinking-test, but have not germinated. The latest fig fiasco has been var. "Colar" from Spain, purchased in Sainsbury's, which didn't taste great and yielded not one single seed from the sinking-test.


It's mostly weeding, this time of year. Sowing direct has not been a great success, but it's not a complete wash out, either. Hoed between the rows, and then got down into the rows of coriander, sage, neeps and beetroot to thin and weed. It's extremely satisfying to stand back from that and see a row of well spaced, weed-free plants. And getting down and doing real fingertip weeding means you're getting to know your crop, and all the bloody weeds that invest them.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Getting the Most out of an Intrusion

I rigged up a gate months ago, with wire hinges, "secured" by more wire tying the gate to a post. It would take a burglar of modest intelligence a few seconds to spot the weakness in this, and so it proved. Sometime between Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning, somebody disconnected the hinges. He or she then rifled through the shed. Nothing taken, no real vandalism.

So I got around, at last, to fixing up the gate with proper hinges, and even bought a cheap padlock.

Topped off with barbed wire. It's not exactly Fort Knox, but it deters the casual/creepy visitor. I told one of the neighbours what had happened, and he told me that others had had similar visits, nothing stolen or vandalised, it was just made obvious that someone had been there and been through the plot holder's stuff. I strongly suspect a fellow plot-holder, someone with some serious personality flaws.

But, whatever, I'm very pleased now to have a proper gate.

Slugs, Snails & Copper Wire

Many gardeners clearly believe that copper acts as a barrier to slugs and snails. The theory is that an electrolysis effect occurs between the slug or snail, its body, and the copper. I can find no academic research to back this up.

So I decided to try to find out.

Here's the equipment. Cheap cider, two empty plastic containers and 0.5mm copper wire.

And here they are in situ.

The idea being, slugs and snails would be attracted to the cider. If the copper barrier theory has any validity, the right hand pot would fill with dead specimens, the right hand with its copper wire, though attractive, would be snail free, or at least have less than the right hand one.

Unfortunately, some other allotment fauna, likely a fox, likes cider so much it pulled up the pots apparently to get the last dregs of it out of them.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Persicaria maculosa

Growing in the margin of the pond, (well, growing at the edge of the muddy holes in the ground at the bottom of the plot), quite a lot of examples of this plant. I had no idea what it was, and whether it's been attracted to the pond, or was there hitherto. Thanks to Twitter in the person of Enviro Bytes, it's suggested that it's Persicaria maculosa, which also rejoices in the name of spotted lady's finger. Leaves might work on a salad.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Typha Latifolia update II

Above, the bulrush that's growing near the bottom of the middle pond. On the left, 2 weeks ago, on the right as it was this morning. I was as bit further away with the camera at the beginning of the month, but nonetheless you can see that it's grown quite a bit. Below, the one on the pond margin, also doing well.

I can't explain why I'm watching the progress of this particular plant so keenly. It apparently has many uses, according to the sort of blokes who like to go back to nature. I'm not growing it as a crop, though I will try the roots, just to see what they're like, if and when I've got lots growing.

Maybe I can explain it. If these two plants grow, and seed the whole pond, and grow to their full height, they'll be a standout allotment feature. Just now, after a rather dry month, the pond is just a muddy hole in the ground, and that's probably how it's going to be for several months of every year. But it's doing its job, the Middle East, Midwest and North West beds are all well drained now. I don't know, but it's likely they'll be draining well over the winter, too.

So that's the utility of it. But allotments can have features which are useful, first, but can also have aesthetic value, maybe you can even say they can be beautiful. And a few dozen 8ft high bulrushes in a small pond will be beautiful.

Comfrey Volunteers... Fall in!

From a dozen or so comfrey plants last year, I've already got 100+ volunteers popping up all over the place, now edging the paths. On the left, newly transferred to the skinny brick path. On the right, these were planted alongside this year's potato bed by the main path over the last month or so. Sometimes, they die right back on transplantation, but come back within a couple of weeks. I hope to have all of the paths edged with comfrey by the end of this growing season, and next year it should be magnificent, 3-4ft high.

The point is, path edges attract weeds, so it's best to get in first with something useful. And there's nothing more useful than comfrey. It can be cut back 3-4 times a year and the leaves used for turbo-charged compost or to go into a water barrel. It's on the paths, so will in the nature of things get trodden on or trundled over by the wheelbarrow: but that's fine, because it just grows back. Good bee plant, too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The theory and practice of growing potatoes

The 2nd earlies are maris peer, a couple of bags from Lidl, sold as 'new potatoes' for, as far as I can recall, 59p a kilo. They were small, like regular seed potatoes. I put 5 rows of them, I think that was from 2 bags.

This is how they were looking a couple of weeks ago. This morning I banked them up even higher, the word 'vertiginous' was running through my mind. They're in flower now, I expect they'll be ready to harvest in a few weeks. 

They were planted on Good Friday, which was late March and seemed rather early - they took ages to show through the earth. But they've been successful, so maybe that was the right thing to do.

This bed was adjoining the old currants and berries area. The bushes were going feral, falling over and rooting, and encroaching on the bed itself by several feet. The fruits were competing with a jungle of nettles. Now, apart from on the very fence, there's not a weed in sight. I'd planted comfrey near here last year, (over what turned out to be the rediscovered path. So when the path was excavated, a lot of bits of comfrey root were, apparently, thrown into this bed.

To earth up the spuds I first hoe between the rows. and then rake up the earth that I've hoed. To do the adjacent row, I hoe it again. I walk up and down the rows to do this, both before but preferably after hoeing, in what becomes a complicated set of maneuvers with hoe and rake. The weeds are on the run now, any new ones few and far between. Comfrey keeps showing up in the banks, presumably it's been hoed up. That's fine, I just gently remove them with the trowel, and relocate to the next vacant slot on a path edge.

It's quite a lot of work. 5 rows takes me nearly 2 hours. And that's once a fortnight or so from the time the plants are 6-9ins out of the ground, until the tops die. But it's well worth it. Ground elder, mare's tails and nettles all had a prescence here. They'll come back, doubtless, but much diminished. And I get lots of stones out.

The point is, even in a no-dig system, I'm going to do this with potatoes, so that in the crop rotation, every bed will get the tattie treatment every 4 or 5 years.

Next year, I'll plant them a little further apart, at least 2ft, and do more to ensure they're in straighter lines, in shorter rows.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reframing Brambles

I had a big ugly "bramble" in the old midden, near the SE corner. There were a number of "berries" amongst the original fruit bush area. I'd come across plants around the boundaries which I partially recognised from their leaves, and wondered, "Are these brambles or blackberries or raspberries or what are they?" 

You know, sometimes my own numptiness astonishes me. I've at last, this morning, as drizzle keeps me and the dogs indoors, woken up to the wonderful possibilities of the genus Rubus. First of all, "bramble" according to Wikipedia is a generic term, usually referring to Rubus fruticosus, aka the blackberry.

A year ago, I was in too much of a hurry to get everything cleared, taking a Year Zero mentality which I abandoned after a few months when the plot itself, kind of, pointed out its absurdity.

But I do recall that, amongst the feral blackcurrants, nettles and thistles, there were both blackberries and raspberries. They have been replanted around the North/West boundary corner, and have taken. I moved a couple of them just last week from the Eastern to the Northern boundary, and they seemed to greatly resent the move, but perhaps will come back to life soon.

All told, I've probably got a dozen or so Rubus plants about the place, species unknown at the moment. They are very easy to propagate. And the trailing varieties, by Jingo you can almost watch the stem make its way, they grow so fast.

At the Southern boundary, there's a high fence of pallets, maybe 10ft high, but easy to climb over, and I'm pretty sure the thief who got my "...EXTRACT" enamel sign came that way. I've topped it off with barbed wire, but Rubus right along there, with gorse, would be impenetrable by thieves and neds, as I could thread the stems through the pallets.

Gorse and brambles grow naturally together. Gorse and brambles!  Lots of fruit for us and for the birds in due course. And the long tailed tits nest in brambles too. Here's a photo I've just stumbled on, their nest in the allotment in Jarrow, in a bramble bush...