Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Seeds ~ Sorting & Sowing

About a month ago I decided to sort my seeds out which I had stuffed in various boxes, stacker unit drawers etc. I'd actually been meaning to do it all winter but it was only when Neil mentioned that one of his workmates had an allotment and I said ''Does she want any seeds?'' that I actually sat down and went through them all. First of all I sorted them into flowers and edibles. Then I put the edibles into A-Z piles and went through them and arranged them into piles of lettuce, tomatoes, cabbages etc etc. When this was all done I then went through each individual type of veg and sorted them into varieties....writing them all down as I went!   

The results surprised me as I'd estimated I 'only' had about 50 different types of veg...if that!  In actual fact I had 80 different types of vegetables which were comprised of 257 different varieties!!! 

I had 17 different types of tomato and lettuce...12 types of carrot...10 radish...9 beetroot...8 cucumber...7 leek...6 peas.....you get my drift!  I don't think I'll be buying much salad stuff at the shops this year, do you?  

As well as edibles I always insist on flowers on the plot too as they not only look good but also bring in the predators that keep things like aphids and caterpillars in check. 

Three varieties of half-hardy annuals were also sown this afternoon - two climbers and one 'exotic' that I know from experience is popular with the pollinators - Tithonia aka Mexican Sunflower.

 I first grew Tithonia in the summer of 2018 after hearing Monty Don extolling the virtues of it in his Jewel Garden.  Well....I say 'grew' but in reality it was the usual case of me being me (ie not very organised!) and I completely forgot to order seeds in time and so I treated myself to six seedlings from Sarah Raven. These arrived in due course as well grown sturdy young plants and after a few days hardening off planted them at the entrance to my allotment. Two sadly succumbed to being nibbled by something (slug? vole? mouse?) but the other four thrived and flowered for absolutely weeks and proved to be extremely popular with both bees and butterflies.  I therefore ordered some seed from Sarah Raven over the winter and even made a note in my diary to sow it in March.  That never happened...probably just as well because the seedlings would have no doubt been left to fry to a crisp on a hot day in the greenhouse as my head just wasn't in it last year. 

 The other two I've sown today are both climbers:  Ipomoea...also known as Morning Glory. The two I have are Grandpa Otts and Heavenly Blue.  I sowed some of the former last year but then neglected the poor seedlings so this year I'll be a lot more careful and organised!  

I'll be continuing to sow more flowers and edibles over the coming fortnight so I'd best get cracking with digging those beds so they're all ready for them all.

And Sow It Begins

Seed sowing that is!  Perhaps a couple of weeks later than normal but I'm not worried....the seedlings will make up for 'lost time' once the warmer days arrive. They certainly wouldn't have been thriving at the moment as it's gone quite nippy once more. 

Monday 30th March

I never did get up to the allotment today as I had to wait in for an important parcel which never arrived!  Instead I received an email at 4.30pm to say the courier was running late so parcel would be delivered on Tuesday.  No worries....it's not like it was my ONLY day off work was it?  Instead I caught up on a few housework jobs I'd been neglecting and also made a start on seed sowing with aubergines, sweet peppers and tomatoes my first priority.  

Of the three I've only ever grown tomatoes (and only Gardener's Delight at that!) so it's all a new learning curve. I decided to treat the peppers & aubergines like the tomatoes and start them off at home on my south-facing windowsill and they can then move up to the allotment in a few weeks' time once it begins to warm up. 

I'm sowing slightly more tomatoes than I'd originally planned as I have permission to use my plot neighbour Tony's large greenhouse this summer as he is having to give his allotment a year off due to ill health. I've told him I'll grow a few types of tomato for him so come the end of summer he'll at least have something to enjoy. I may put in a cucumber plant too. It's the least I can do for him as he's always been a really nice neighbour to have and never once complained about how messy and overgrown Plot 34 got!  

But back to seed sowing...the varieties sown were the following...


Black Beauty x 1
Long Purple x 1


California Wonder x 1
Corno di toro rosso x 1
Etiuda Orange x 1
Long Red Marconi x 1


Alicante x 1
Amateur x 1
Ailsa Craig x 1
Cuor di bue x 1 
Euromoney x 1 (Heritage Seed Library) *hope it's tastier than it's rather ugly name!*
Gardener's Delight x 4
Iraqi Heart Shaped x 1 (Heritage Seed Library) 
Marmande x 2
Supersweet 100 F1 x 2

I originally thought I'd grow 3 of each tomato and 2 each of the peppers & aubergines but then when I added that up I realised I didn't have the space for 36 plants!!!  I know Tony's greenhouse is massive and mine isn't too bad but the three blowaways I also have wouldn't really give me that much extra space by the time I add in the cucumbers, melons and cucamelon I also want to grow!  So I'm going to just do single plants of each for this year and see how things go. Eventually I'd like a huge polytunnel again and I can always grow extra plants then, can't I?   

Next job - get some half-hardy flowers started...

Sunday, 29 March 2020

First Day of 'Gardening Leave'

Well, not quite the dictionary definition of gardening leave but close enough.  

Until this virus runs it's course I am off work (thankfully still being paid to a certain extent) so I'm using this as an opportunity to knock Plot 34 back into shape and grow lots of lovely organic food. 

My first job was to get the long lengths of wood Neil has had stored in the top section and use them to temporarily mark out where I wanted my paths.  Once this was done I started at the gate and spent a bit of time digging out docks and dandelions and pulling up Hairy Bittercress before it starts ejecting it's seed off all over the place!  I did about a quarter thoroughly and will continue with the rest in the coming days. It's so nice to not have to rush the job or try to squeeze a whole bed clearance into a few precious hours inbetween work & home shifts. I already have a few perennial flowers beginning to emerge so I'll be keeping this front area for flowers.  

As I was digging I found this wee beastie....a Cockchafer grub I think. I moved it to a different part of the plot as no point in killing things just for the sake of it. Just as well (for the grub!) that I don't have my chickens yet as I'm sure they would consider this a very tasty morsel! 

Later on my plot neighbour, Mark, arrived and was pottering around in his shed for a while before calling over to ask if I wanted some onion sets. He put a few into a plant pot and put them at my gate for me to retrieve without either of us coming into too close a contact.  I soon potted these up into small pots, gave them a good watering outside and then put them back into the greenhouse where they will hopefully grow for a few weeks until I can get them into a proper bed outside once it warms up.  In total Mark gave me 22 'white' onions and 56 red ones - not sure of the varieties but they reminded me of the ones Wilko sell.

The top area is still looking a horrendous mess but I reckon I shall be able to make a start on it before next weekend and soon have it looking a lot more organised. I've decided to leave the middle section until last. I've got a few perennials and summer-flowering bulbs to get into the ground so the vast majority of these will go in the front section with the top, sunniest, area for vegetables.  Possibly my three 'blowaway' greenhouses will be put up against the back fencing. 

The cowslips I got from Morrisons for just 50p in 2017 are looking fabulous! And spreading too. 

Really looking forward to getting back on site tomorrow for a few more hours. 

Friday, 27 March 2020

Ghost Town!!!

When were these photos taken?  4am on a Sunday morning in freezing November?  Nope....5pm today!  A bit of mist had enveloped the town and brought a chill to the air but earlier on it had been a lovely day with sunshine and temperatures up in the teens. 

I only ventured out to post a couple of letters which I dropped into the post box and then went straight back home. 

Alnwick Castle 

Narrowgate...with castle walls on left

Continuing along Narrowgate with Dirty Bottles pub on left (shut since Friday closing time!). If you look closely you can JUST see an ambulance further ahead....it was just one of the drivers popping into the Co-op to get supplies...one of the few shops actually still open  

A deserted Market Place with not even the chirrup of a Pied Wagtail to break the silence! 

And the all-day car park at Roxburgh Place...normally still full at this time of day! 

I've never known the town so quiet and eerie in the 14 years we've lived here.  Perhaps this is what it was like back in the 60's/70's and earlier when it wasn't such a tourist trap! 

Isolation on the Allotment

There's a bit of talk that this may last months, not weeks and if so I can see me finally getting Plot 34 looking like a Chelsea show garden...barring any adverse weather! 

Today *Wednesday 25th* I spent a very peasant three hours just pottering about...watering greenhouse plants, watching bees and the neighbour's ornamental pigeons courting, cutting a few things back now that insects seem to be emerging from hibernation and just generally trying to work out where I want paths and beds etc. 

One job I definitely wanted done sooner rather than later was access to the area behind the polytunnel beds. This always seems to become an impenetrable jungle of nettles, willowherb and the most lethal brambles I've ever met!  What I have wanted to do for a few years now is keep that area weed-free, put some membrane down and keep all my water butts in that one place. I could probably use it for storage of pots too.  
Although it is only late-March the brambles and nettles were already bursting into life so I got stuck in with my secateurs and soon had a nice clear path sorted.  I moved my six water butts into place and made a mental note to clear the ferns and other plants that were along the edge. On my next visit I shall put some membrane down so the area will stay weed free until I can get hold of some wood chippings to create a proper storage area. 

Not the best pic as the glare from the sun was right in front of me but trust me, it's a LOT clearer than it was!  The raised bed to the left has never been used since I took over the plot so I'm determined to clear it of weeds (usually nettles & bindweed) and plant it up thickly with either something edible or lots of flowers. It's time it earned it's keep! 

Quite a few bees were around today and as well as Buff-tailed Bumbles and Hairy-footed Flower Bees (males patrolling the comfrey patch just outside the gate) I also had my first Tree Bumble Bees of the year with three on the comfrey flowers in my raised beds.  

Male Hairy-footed Flower Bee

Some flowers on the plot today include my first ever Lesser Celandines! How they have got in this spot I have no idea but I'm certainly pleased to see them. I think I may carefully lift them and move them to the flower area as they'll be a fabulous addition for any early pollinators in the coming years.  

Grape Hyacinths looking lovely as always....these poor bulbs have been in this terracotta bowl for about 4 years so I'll get them into the ground very soon...probably once they finish flowering. 

Clueless as to the species but I think these are called Pollen Beetles?  Quite a few on the daffodils anyway...

Walking back home in the still-warm sunshine at around 4pm I stopped for a few moments at the bottom of Ratten Row to have a look in the hedge bordering the small allotments behind the Canongate cottages.  Quite a few Great Tits, House Sparrows, Song Thrush in the horse paddock and a pair of Bullfinch about 50 yards from me..so pics very zoomed in! 

St Michael's Church

Back home the male Starling that is nesting in the eaves outside our living room  window continues to serenade me with his varied song of whistles, pops and, bizarrely, a few notes of Blackbird song!  

I'm looking forward to my next visit to the plot and being able to continue with the essential jobs.  

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Slight Change Of Plan

Okay, as expected the UK is now on a slight lockdown to attempt to control the spread of this horrendous virus.  I for one am relieved as I was disgusted by the scenes at the weekend and the sheer numbers of folk treating it all as a glorified early holiday as soon as they and their kids were sent home from work and school!  The government has had no option other than to bring in these rules as the British public have obviously shown they cannot be trusted to use their basic common sense!  Numpties! 

My own place of employment has been closed as from 7pm on Monday evening so I think I'm now looking at two, possibly three, weeks off...tho' when I spoke to my manageress on the phone to confirm I definitely wouldn't be required for my shifts on Tuesday & Wednesday evening she reckons it'll be more like two or three MONTHS!!!  Ho hum...no point in panicking but instead I plan to use this time productively. 

We are still allowed to visit allotments and as mine is just five minutes walk from home up Ratten Row I can easily avoid anybody walking along it by about 20ft. My actual plot is also completely enclosed by high fencing and a hawthorn hedge so I am completely safe from any plague-ridden humans!  With a good forecast on the cards for the next couple of weeks it's the ideal time to make a start on the work to create my kitchen garden.  

Ratten Row - nice and wide! *pic taken after 4pm hence low dazzling sun in west* 

Over the next week or two I want to empty those raised beds of all weeds and get a few early salad crops sown as well as my Elephant Garlic.  I would also like to get some hardy annuals sown into the ground and in pots. 

I can start off a few tender seeds at home too ~ things like peppers, tomatoes and aubergines ~ and brassicas & peas in the greenhouse.  It's lovely to finally be able to make a start and to actually have the free time to put all my focus into it...a luxury I haven't had in the past.  

Monday, 23 March 2020

Making A Start

Sunday 22nd March 

I had a day off today so was determined to spend some time on the allotment and make a start on a few jobs.

Very noticeable was the lack of noise as I walked up Ratten Row to the allotments - I thought the reality of covid-19 was starting to sink in and folk were less likely to be making unnecessary car trips. But as I approached the top half of the lane that thought soon got chucked aside as groups of people were sitting on the wall bordering the Stinky Field and merrily chatting away (and approx 6 inches apart rather than the recommended 6 feet!) and others were getting out of a dozen or so cars and heading into Hulne Park!  So much for avoiding others and keeping one's distance! Idiots!!!  

It's been the same elsewhere with folk not heeding advice to keep their distances and now because of this a lot of National Trust properties are closing completely rather than it just being the houses that were closed. Alnwick Garden WAS going to stay open (with cafe & shop shut) but today I just received an email saying that it too is closed as from today, March 23rd. 

I was carrying two large bags and one person ~ obviously thinking he was a comedian ~ called out ''Have you stocked up on your shopping? Any loo rolls for sale?''   I walked up to them and stopped a few feet away (didn't want to risk their stupidity being contagious too!) and put my bags down and, smiling sweetly, said ''Look for yourself''   He did....and instantly looked sheepish as my bags contained not bulk-buy loo rolls or paracetamol/pasta/tins of soup but far more important stuff - various plants I'd been nurturing on my living room window, some perennial rootstocks from Wilko that Neil bought me for my birthday last week and my camera!  I said I was off to the allotment as it was such a lovely day, smiled sweetly (through gritted teeth...idiots!) and told them to have a nice day.   

What WAS nice to see on the walk up was a cherry tree in flower (at least I think it's a cherry tree!)  

More signs of life on the big patch of comfrey outside the allotment - two Buff-tailed Bumble Bees and a patrolling male Hairy-footed Flower Bee.  And, as I unlocked my padlock, a Zebra Spider darted across a gap in the ivy before stopping to soak up the sun (or watch me!). 

The first thing I noticed as I opened the greenhouse door was three lovely fat buds on the magnolia I bought last spring and which I have had overwintering inside the greenhouse.  I debated whether to put it outside but decided against as there was a frost forecast that night and as the flowers weren't open yet it wouldn't be any use to pollinators. 

Two of the Vinca are flowering too....they'll be moved outside later this week. 

Gorgeous display of Anemone blanda in this pot 

As too were the daffodils in the polytunnel beds....tho' I don't remember planting these here? 

Bellis flowering too....not bad considering I bought the original plant for 50p from Morrisons in 2017!  They've started to spread. 

After giving these Pineapple Lily bulbs a soak for 30 minutes I potted them up into individual pots so they can make a start on growing before I transplant them outdoors in a few weeks once it's warmer. 

I also potted up a single Martagon Lily 'Sunny Morning' which I bought last autumn. I originally had 3 bulbs and temporarily potted them up in compost so they wouldn't dry out beyond saving....only for some rain to drip into the pot and rot two of the bulbs as they were standing in water for a few weeks.  My own silly fault for not checking them!!!  

I also potted up the following...

4 x Geranium 'St.Ola'....originally only one in the pack but as I unwrapped the roots they divided into three large and one small plant.  

1 x Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'

3 x mixed Lupin

3 x mixed Aquilegia (ugly as sin McKenna hybrid varieties but Neil bought them for me so I may as well fit them in somewhere).

I also cleared the messy area in front of the greenhouse and bagged up a lot of rubbish that had built up for the past couple of years (!). I had a lot of reusable trays and pots too.  I'll wash down and brush that area on my next visit.  I was amazed t just how much space it opened up and, best of all, I can now reach the overgrown clump of raspberries and nettles behind both greenhouse and shed so they will all be getting removed soon.   

Human-wise the allotments were silent (until just before I left at 4.30pm when some hammering started up from a distant pigeon cree plot) but I enjoyed lots of birdsong....including my resident Dunnock and Robin 

Greenhouse is looking full before I even start to sow seeds! 

Before I left I had a walk around the plot and made a note of what jobs need doing and I think clearing raspberries, nettles and brambles behind greenhouse, shed and polytunnel will be the next ones to tackle. The area behind the tunnel beds I plan to put some membrane down to stop the usual jungle developing and I'll put my water butts here.  It's been a bit of a neglected area for a couple of years and I've had a few plans for it which I'll be putting into effect this year.  

My next visit will be on Wednesday as I found out just before I headed off to bed that my workplace ~ McDonalds ~ is closing all it's UK and Irish stores as from 7pm on Monday.  With the weather forecast looking very good for the next couple of weeks I fully intend to spend every day at the plot and by the time I go back to work I want a plot which looks one heck of a lot tidier!