Watch those beans grow

So in November we planted 20 aquadulce broad bean seedlings that we’d started growing inside for a week before transferring outside:

Baby Broad Bean

Baby Broad Bean

December came and things were, literally, rocking with the bean stalks starting to get big enough to be blown around by the wind. In the spirit of recycling, I chopped up an old lanyard I found in the bottom of a drawer and used that to tie the stalks to some bamboo stake offcuts:

Broad Beans staked and tied

Broad Beans staked and tied

Now in January the beans are still growing great, about three times the size of my neighbour’s [ahem] beans, and they now have a donation from a police horse spread around them to nourish them through the upcoming cold spell forecast for London:

Broad beans a-growing, manure a-rotting

Broad beans a-growing, manure a-rotting

Making free raised beds from a palette-it’s easy (ish!)

Out of my shed

Here’s one I made earlier! In the raised bed are orange tulips, ‘Ballerina’, the pink tulips are ‘Curly Sue’, plus some orange Ranunculus and giant red Mustard leaf (as per my header above!). As the ground beneath the beds is fairly solid clay, the raised beds, filled with much lighter, but nutrient rich soil, provide ideal growing conditions for my flowers and veg. And eventually, the worms will work the compost into the clay, improving the soil below.

And here’s the same bed before it was planted up. One palette makes a complete raised bed measuring approx 3m long by 1m wide. Perfect size for my front garden.

These were the most useful tools I found to break up the palette. A sledge-hammer and a crowbar. I was struggling away with a normal hammer and a chisel, when Manuel, my neighbour, came to my rescue and produced these great tools…

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Recycling a Venetian blind (the allotment grower’s new best friend)

Having an allotment has developed my scavenger instincts to a level that would make a thrifty tinker blush.

I was walking to the allotment a couple of weeks ago, and noticed (not too difficult) that someone had kindly dumped a wooden Venetian blind in the middle of the pavement.

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Not really knowing what immediate use I’d have for it, but realising its potential, I took it with me to the allotment as a new addition to my collection of unwanted crap waiting to be utilised.

After a ponder, I decided to strip the nylon-based cords used to hold together and angle the wooden slats, using the cords to repair the old compost bin that has been lying in pieces amongst the weeds by my plot.

Then on Monday, I finally found a use (beyond whacking myself on the head) for the now-loose wooden slats:

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Just bury the ends in the ground to make DIY cloche frames to protect newly-planted aquadulce broad beans and winter onions.

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The baby beans seem to be growing well, with extra protection from some chopped water bottles:

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Tales From The Allotment – Harvest

After planting seeds in mid-July we reached early September, and after some slow but steady growth, we were able to begin harvesting our first vegetables.

Probably the most successful crop in terms of taste was the spinach, closely followed by the small but sweet beetroot; the radishes had a high rate of success in terms of seeds sown to crops produced; the rocket grew well in small clumps but was very bitter to the taste, possibly due to leaving it too late to harvest.

Beetroot & Spinach

With the exception of the radishes, each of the plants/crops was smaller than expected. I think that’s partly due to the intensive commercial growing methods used by the supermarkets giving me unrealistic expectations, as well as a miscalculation on our part of how much space each plant needs to grow to it’s full potential, although I’d love to hear any alternative opinions on this.

Even so, we had managed to grow enough crops to contribute as ingredients in our meals over the next two weeks, as well as learned some interesting lessons for the future.

We also started to harvest the roots of horseradish plants growing wild in the allotment. Our ‘neighbours’ warned us of the eye-watering side effects of chopping up the root, which releases an extremely strong cloud of mustard-like gas (the neighbours recommend wearing swimming goggles during grating). Vaguely remembering how certain chemicals can be frozen to stop them from releasing vapour, I cleaned the earth from the horseradish root and put it in the freezer, which means that whenever I grate horseradish now (particularly good grated over meat and veg during roasting) the airborne burning sensation is gone, while the root stays rigid even under the most vigorous grating.

And nothing beats a rigid root.

Cleaned horseradish ready to be frozen

Once we’d harvested everything that was edible (and composted whatever wasn’t) we turned over the soil and covered half the patch with mustard seeds (ordered from http://www.sowseeds.co.uk) to be grown, chopped and dug back into the soil as green manure, while the other half was left bare ready to receive a new set of crops to grow over the winter.

Meanwhile, I had ideas about what to do with the patch of wasteground at the top of our allotment…

Tales From The Allotment – Growth

The story so far:

We’d been given a small abandoned allotment patch in the Hither Green area of Lewisham, cleared it of weeds and rubbish, planted seeds of spring onions, radishes, beetroot, spinach, rocket, coriander, sunflowers and poppies.

And then…

We left it.

For two weeks.

Big mistake.

What we didn’t consider is that even though we’d cleared the ground of weeds, the grasses around the patch were still broadcasting their seeds in the wind, searching for some nice fresh exposed soil to plant themselves in. So when we returned to the allotment, we found a small field of green shoots that we had the devil’s own job of trying to identify as to whether they were our seeds or wild grass and clover seeds.

All that effort to create what looked like a patch full of weeds

All that effort to create what looked like a patch full of weeds

Although we’d planted our seeds in shallow furrows, the two weeks’ worth of rain and animal movement (hello Mrs Fox and Mr Cat!) had meant that lots of these lines had become obscured, and stones had become uncovered from beneath the soil by rain. Because of this, we had a tough day of individually picking out strands of grass and clover from between our baby plants and occasionally realising that what we’d just picked out was one of our precious seedlings rather than an infant weed.

Because of the long thin shape of the stalk, we picked lots of suspiciously onion-smelling ‘grass’ from where the spring onions had been planted, and over time came to realise that most of the spring onions had either been picked by us or smothered by the weeds.

So two important lessons came from this. Firstly, plants are the same as any other creature and require the most care and attention in their infancy. Second: clearing your own earth is useless unless you also clear the areas that border it.

At this point I’ll slightly digress. Hither Green is a great place to live, and I say that as someone who’s lived in some of the most ‘desirable’ areas of London like Hampstead, Highgate and Belsize Park. However, the nearest DIY or gardening shop is around 5 miles away in the opposite direction to where I commute etc, so I’ve been reliant on lunchtime trips to Central London hardware stores like Robert Dyas for small hand-tools like shears to trim back the weeds surrounding the patch (I got these for £4.99 and they’ve been great so far).

And although I try to avoid using them as much possible due to their unethical business practices, Amazon is a great resource for buying cheap, decent quality tools and seeds, especially ordering tools with free delivery (please let me know of any similar cheap, reliable online retailers).

But back to the allotment.

After a few more weeks, and this time with a bit more emphasis on tender loving care (basically regular weeding, de-stoning and watering), our crops had really begun to thrive:

The idea behind the poles with Coke cans, bags and streamers attached was to scare away birds and animals. It worked 'pretty well' although we learned that insects are probably your worst enemy. And possibly going blind from eating cat shit.

The idea behind the poles with Coke cans, bags and streamers attached was to scare away birds and animals. It worked ‘pretty well’ although we learned that insects are probably your worst enemy. And possibly going blind from eating cat shit.

As you can probably see, there’s a lot of good, healthy-looking plants in the centre, but around the edges the slugs and snails had feasted like molluscan kings and queens on our sunflowers and poppies around the edges, as well as added some spice to their diet with the coriander at the foot of the patch.

While planning what to grow and how, I’d read that slugs and snails don’t like strong flavours such as coriander, as well as course surfaces such as concrete and jagged slate, so this experience had proved that there were no hard and fast rules as far as mollusc prevention goes (I suppose the lesson I’ve learned from the whole growing experience is that everything is achieved through trial and error, and is entirely subjective).

With our reluctance to use pesticides, it would be interesting to see how much would be left for us when (and if) the crops reached maturity.

 

Tales From The Allotment – Beginning

In July this year, we were able to take on a small allotment plot in Lewisham.

The patch was badly overgrown with weeds and wild grasses, was in a run-down area that can be very intimidating (especially in the evenings), as well as being a long walking distance from our home.

So far so unpromising.

Because of all these negative points, the allotment was to be something for my partner and I to try to make work, but there would be no shame or harm done if we were to hand it back to the council after a few months.

Armed with some rusting garden tools and some seeds from the local pound-shops and bargain-basement supermarkets, we began our little experiment in urban farming.

The first job was to try to clear the weeds and wild grasses that had established themselves after the previous owners abandoned the plot:

To clear the ground I enlisted the help of an actor friend of mine, whose occupation perfectly qualifies him for rooting around in filth for little or no reward.

To clear the ground I enlisted the help of an actor friend of mine, whose occupation ideally qualifies him for rooting around in filth for little or no reward.

The earth was so tightly enmeshed with weeds, we had to hack the ground with the edge of the spade like a hatchet before we stood any chance of actually turning the earth.

The earth was so tightly enmeshed with weeds, we had to hack the ground with the edge of the spade like a hatchet before we stood any chance of actually turning the earth.

After 3 hours of working together, we’d managed to clear half the patch:

50% of our allotment cleared of established weeds... leaving just the ones under the surface around the border, and a defiant patch of rhubarb.

50% of our allotment cleared of established weeds… leaving just the ones under the surface around the border, and a defiant patch of rhubarb.

Despite working so hard for so little reward, I’d enjoyed the afternoon and was starting to think that maybe this could be an enjoyable past-time after all.

The following week, my partner and I took some time off work and returned to the allotment, this time stocked up with water and some goodies to make our time more pleasant. As the work was going to be hard and, as both of us had never grown crops before, potentially futile, we’d decided to make the best of the days and the warm weather.

I think you can tell who was doing all the work that day

I think you can tell who was doing all the work that day

At the end of the 2 days, we’d managed to clear the rest of the weeds, condition the soil and also lay some broken floor tiles (dumped by a litter lout) as an edging to hold back the weeds and repel slugs.

Our new allotment neighbour

Our new allotment neighbour

As well as the rhubarb, we’d also discovered some gladioli bulbs hidden among the weeds, which we kept to divide the patch in two. We also began sewing our first seeds: spring onions, radishes, beetroot, spinach, rocket and coriander (all of which we researched online using the Seeds To Sow Now pages on www.sarahraven.com) all bordered by sunflower and poppy seeds:

Note our new resident sitting under the rhubarb leaves and also the massive piles of dug-up weeds on the waste ground at the head of the patch.

Note our new resident sitting under the rhubarb leaves and also the massive piles of dug-up weeds on the waste ground at the head of the patch.

We’d now wait and see whether our work would be rewarded.