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Spud Grubber's Blog

Guy Barter

  • Date Joined: 15 Jan 2007

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Frozen at last

Posted by Guy Barter on 03 Feb 2008 at 11:42 PM

A good freeze at last. With the ground solid, the black polythene sheets keeping rain off the manure heap, were pulled off the manure heap and used to cover the 120 most weed infested square metres of the plot. The weeds should now begin to rot beneath the polythene and rain will be excluded so that rotovating can soon begin. Conditions could not have been better; all the water and manure-derived slime on the sheets had frozen solid and either fell off or added enough weight to stop the sheets flapping in the slight breeze. Logs and blocks were used to anchor the sheets in case of any more gales.

Manure was then barrowed out to the plot intended for the new asparagus bed. There is light at the end of the 'manure tunnel' – twenty more barrow loads should see the heap spread and rotovating can begin.

The 2006 compost pit was also partially emptied to see how much compost was available. After tossing unrotted material onto the current pit I confirmed that there is a large amount of very well rotted compost. I can spare some manure for my roses at home.

Then I remembered the horseradish. When I moved house I put my best horse radish clump in a spare spot at the end of a row of sunflowers and forgot it. I found it again the following spring, a few seconds after passing over the dormant clump with a rotovator at full throttle. After this catastrophe I left it for dead, but up it came in summer in the middle of the cucumbers. Now it has died down and I again forgot it and covering it with carefully laid black polythene. Now if I can only avoid rotovating it again…

As a respite from gardening I took my machete and cleared more brambles from overgrown plots ready for the spring rush of new allotmenteers. Some kind fellow allotment holders had also hacked away during the week and the mighty thicket, originally nearly a quarter of an acre in extent, is shrinking fast. I find general gardening much harder work than clearing brambles. All the bending, lifting, walking and barrowing stretches every muscle, time flies and you suddenly find that you are exhausted. Clearing brambles however is a lot of fun, although your arms ache, with a sense of satisfaction as another clump is hacked to pieces. And some lucky new allotment holder will have a partially cleared plot.

My new long-handled rechargeable electric chainsaw, bought for pruning standard apple trees, came in handy for reaching into the middle of bramble thickets and severing the clump of thick stems at the centre. The clump can then be dismembered relatively easily. The area is strewn with fragments of brambles ready for a good burn.

Just two Brussels sprout plants remain to harvest, although there are odds and ends on plants stripped previously. Those remaining are 'Revenge' (I don't know how names are chosen) and are excellent quality even this late in winter – more 'Revenge' seed has been bought. Plenty of savoy cabbages remain and should stay wholesome until March. These form the basis of a favourite winter meal - smoked haddock and savoy cabbage with lemon butter, a Rick Stein's Taste of the Sea recipe.

Hungry pigeons have been pecking through the mesh protecting the brassicas. The 'pagoda' of netting and posts protecting the crop was reinforced with the netting from the fruit cage, many extra stakes and the wire netting used to support peas to make a 'cabbage fortress' – that should stop them.

One of the many good things about having an allotment is that you can learn by experience. Other people's mistakes are the best experience of all, learning from which is cheaper and less irritating than learning from your own. Sowing too early is a grave error and one that inexperienced gardeners tumble into every spring. I await with interest the results of various January sowings of peas and broad beans and watched in horror as innocent seed potatoes were brutally thrust into freezing mud today - I tried to warn them, but some peole cannot be helped. However, lest unseemly gloating be suspected, I admit that potatoes planted by new gardeners in early March last year which I confidently expected to succumb to late frosts, cropped magnificently after a warm frost-free April, far ahead of and more abundantly than my own cautious early April plantings. Taking a risk is part of the fun, but there is also foolhardiness.

Rather than chancing improbable sowings, better to get the soil in peak condition and the garden organised for the frantic spring days ahead. I have made a new ‘yard’ area at the back of the plot with a sheet of landscape fabric spread and stacks of netting, posts and canes neatly laid out so that there will be no delay in laying my hands on what I need.

However, if the weather turns mild it would be well to be ready to sow. I lightly forked the old pepper bed from last year and raked in a light dressing of fertiliser, and replaced the hoops and fleece that sheltered the peppers, this time ready for sowing salads as soon as the soil warms up.

Most of my seed requirements have been bought from suppliers of professional seed, but one of these has not sent me a catalogue this year (they are often sniffy about supplying gardeners) so a few last minute purchases had to be made on the internet. As ever I run through the new introductions and order as much new stuff as I can afford/have room for/sounds appealing/has been well-received by professional growers. However many so called new cultivars have actually long been sold by other suppliers.


Anna said:

But we can't forget that the most important is to learn - even if this is from other mistakes (yes, it is certainly cheaper) and as I see you've manage with quite big problem

on 26 Feb 2008 at 12:52 PM

Guy Barter said:

Anna, learning is indeed the thing and you will note how I covered my tracks by pointing out that sometimes my judgement has been undone by the weather...and so it is in 2008 - those peas and beans that I had reservations over are growing brilliantly thanks to the exceptionally mild winter.  It is almost enough to make you doubt yourself.


on 26 Feb 2008 at 08:53 PM