Plot 51: Dahlia Discovery

You often get gifts left behind from the previous allotment holder. Most of these gifts at the moment, tend to be rogue potato plants that spring up all over the place; presumably odd potatoes missed during last year’s harvest. Another gift I’ve received is an unwanted one: Masses of mint roots buried in my brassica patch where there was a feral mint plant previously. But I did discover a very welcome, and unexpected gift while clearing the plot for my hollyhock nursery.

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Underneath the mass of weeds and rubble I found a huge dahlia tuber, and when I say huge, it was 17 inches long and 10 inches wide (43 x 25 cm). Part of the tuber was eaten by slugs but there was plenty of evidence of growth meaning it could be divided up into five new potential plants and the woody middle discarded.

I’ve only ever grown annual dahlias before, so these ‘proper grown-up’ ones are new to me. I’ve now got two tubers that have been found on the allotment, one that’s doing very well in the ground, and this new find, that I’ve now got 4 tubers from, (I gave one to my neighbour). I haven’t a clue what colour or type of flower they’ll be so it’ll be a surprise.

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I like surprises and these will also come in the guise of several other dahlias, as I’ve been given 4 cuttings by other allotment holders and I’m hoping these will fill out and get going once they’re in the ground and produce some lovely cut flowers for the home.

I’ve already got 3 plants planted out, one being the first discovery (as mentioned above) and the other two are shop bought tubers that had a generic picture on the front but no recommendation of colour or type.

I have also purchased two named varieties and these are now potted up and once large enough will be outside with the others. There was no image on the tubers when I bought them so I’ve had to copy these from the net. But I’m looking forward to these two subtle blooms.

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Plot 51: Project Hollyhock

So with just one small patch of the main growing beds to finish raking and preparing for planting, I decided to move onto a new project, the border. The border is mainly raspberries and as they fruit on new canes there’s little I can do until the harvest and they’ve been pruned back, so I’ll tackle another weed filled patch.

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There’s several compost bins along the side and one has been tipped over, so I’ll move this and clear the space nearby of weeds to make a nursery bed for my hollyhocks for next year.

The square of earth is host to burdock and bindweed and it’s no surprise to find buried lots of broken glass and plastic; there’s lots of dried putty leading me to think that a broken window has been buried here.

 

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The patch is cleared quite quickly and I find something that makes me very happy, but that’s another blog post. After adding some blood, fish and bone and removing some house bricks it’s ready to look after the hollyhocks for next year. I’ll also put some flowering plants into the space to add interest for this summer.

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Musical Advertising

Over the past few days I’ve come across two street signs advertising products using lyrics from popular songs. The first was a clever play on words for a housing/rental company.

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And just in case you didn’t quite get the reference there’s a nod to the band at the end.

The other one is another play on words, however not as subtle, but extra points for the image added to the advert.

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No points for guessing what number 2 is selling. (Not sure how legal this is but it’s funny nonetheless)

Plot 51: Grown Up Jelly

I have discovered a liking for rhubarb. As a child I remember being given a stick and a paper bag with some sugar to dip it into and I hated the stuff, even school crumble failed to get me to like it. But now after inheriting two crowns on the allotment I’ve found it’s a taste I now love.

So I’ve been picking it, stewing it, freezing it and making pies and cruIMG_0333mbles from the green and red sticks.

One thing I also like is jelly, so I decided to have a bash one day at making it from the juice left over from the rhubarb, and ever since I’ve been making it every time that I’ve been preparing some for the freezer.

What I do to make this grown up jelly is once the sticks have been cooked down for the freezer I strain the pulp and save the liquid. I then add to it another half a stick and little more water and boil it for a few minutes and when it’s cool I strain and discard the boiled pulp saving the liquid.

Let the liquid stand in the fridge for a couple of days and the sediment will settle leaving a clear pink liquid above.

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Gently pour off the clear liquid and discard the sediment as you soak three leaves of gelatine in cold water (3 leaves to each pint of liquid).

Pop it all into a saucepan and warm through until the gelatine is completely dissolved.

DO NOT let it boil as it will taste bitter once set.

Pour it into the mould/bowl of your choice and pop it into the fridge to set.

Once set, enjoy it with cream or ice cream, it’s lush.

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Oasis (not the band)

I’ve only been living in the new place for 76 days and so I’m still not very savvy about the local area and amenities: The corona virus and lockdown hasn’t helped exploration either, but today while on dog-walking duty I found a real gem, an oasis of calm just a few minutes from my back door, and so after the dog decided he wanted to go home I returned to explore.

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It’s a patch of woodland with a path that meanders through clouds of cow parsley and the sound of the nearby houses is diffused by the trees until as you walk further it becomes almost like white noise.

Today the sun is prising its way through the canopy, sending shadows and shapes racing across the ground as I stroll off the path and into a small clearing, where it’s obvious, that while the world is locked in a battle with a microscopic enemy, nature continues unabated.

Like most cities, ours has a proud industrial heritage. Before the 1980’s, when cheap imports of dinnerware from Asia began to flood the market, chance was the plate you’d be having your lunch on or your teacup would have come from Stoke on Trent – there’s a reason we’re called, The Potteries. (Don’t get me started on how greedy management/owners destroyed the industry in their quest for fast profits.)

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An internet search will bring up archival photos of bottle ovens belching smoke and dust into the air, but things change and those historical clouds of smog are gone; along with the skills of the city’s people. But enough of that, let’s get back to today.

Despite our industrial past our city has lots of green spaces, in fact as Misha Herwin said in her blog, we have a green city.

Stepping back onto the path I find some bluebells standing proud among the grasses and the sky coloured flowers remind of my childhood before the plants were protected, when, with my sister we’d pick armfuls of them, breathing in their delicate perfume.

Just a few feet away from the bluebells is a patch of buttercups, their happy yellow heads held high in the stillness of the morning. IMG_0272

There’s no breeze but there’s a definite aroma of garlic in the air, I take a few more paces and the smell is stronger, and there nestling in a shady spot I find a strip of wild garlic growing, it’s white flowers standing out in bright defiance against the broad dark green leaves.

Further down the path is a patch of forget-me-nots, forgotten among the undergrowth, their leggy stems holding the pale blue flowers aloft. I look at these tiny flowers and not for the first time, I wonder why they’re also known as scorpion grass.

It’s amazing how just a few minutes disconnected from modern living can top you up with a feeling of well-being. Simple things can often be the antidote to stress and anxiety, and nothing is more soothing than the tranquillity of a woodland walk.

My favourite discovery of the walk is four dandelion clocks standing proud, waiting for a breeze to tell the time. I like them so much I that I can’t decide which of my photographs I like best, so I’ll post both of them.

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Plot 51: Bricks And Bulbs

At the side of the outbuilding is an old water container; one of the1,000 litre white cubes in a cage that I saw so many times in the Italian olive groves in Abruzzo. I was going to get rid of it, but a quick Google search showed that a refurbished one can sell for around £80 to £90, so I decided to keep it. The only problem is it’s precariously lying on top of more rubbish, old bricks and yet more rotten wood. Next to it is two old barrels and another mini rubbish dump of glass, plastic and pieces of electrical cable. So the first thing to do is to move it and get rid of the wood.

April (25)

We cleared the bricks putting to one side those we think we can use, then set about removing the rotten pallet that it’s fixed to.

The barrels at the side are moved with my neighbour already having earmarked one for her plot.

We built a brick support and lifted the cube into position. It’s not high enough to get a watering can under the tap, so it’s lifted off and more bricks are piled up. Why didn’t we measure it?

The five brick towers look less than able to do their job as we lift it up again and luckily with a bit of pushing and readjusting it’s relatively secure. The real test will come when we fill it with water.

May (11)

I start to clear the mini rubbish dump which proves to be a tedious job to remove the glass and wire, so as the soil is very good quality, out comes a sieve and I’m sat in the sun like a miner panning for gold.

The iPod is switched on and The Humans play their cover of These Boots are Made for Walking and an hour or so later the small plot is ready to take the gladioli bulbs I’ve been starting off in peat pots at home. The spot is in semi-shade so the blooms shouldn’t fade in the sun and as it’s beside the paving that will become our seating area they should look nice.

The bags of rubbish are loaded into the treasure trays I rescued on skip day and placed in the car to be disposed of when the council tips reopen next week. I could leave them here, but I want to break the cycle of rubbish staying on the plot.

May (13)

Plot 51: The C Word

So much for the controversial heading, C is for calamity and chillies.

Earlier in the year I had a chilli calamity, I had sown and tended four of them with love and in a moment of madness I popped them outside on a sunny February day to enjoy the sunshine. The problem was, as we all know, life takes over and I forgot about them and the following morning when I remembered them, they were beyond salvation.

A friend very kindly gave me a tray of mixed chillies and they’re now all re-potted, labelled and languishing in my greenhouse under an old net curtain to protect their tender leaves from the scorching sun. I keep looking at them knowing they hold the promise of a spicy harvest later in the year. I’m already planning on making sweet chilli jam and Oilo Santo (Recipe here)

April (20)

Now we’re into April and the tomatoes are a good size so they’ve been potted into bottomless pots (ring growing) and planted out in the greenhouse.

There’s also a cucumber and two pepper plants and in the hope of flowers an old dahlia tuber I found while digging has been potted up and I’m, fingers crossed, looking forward to seeing it burst into life again.

C also stands for cabbage and yet again calamity.

I had a tray of around 40 cabbages I had sown that were ready for planting out, but just waiting for me to get the plot ready for them. In my wisdom I popped them onto the bottom shelf in my greenhouse, along with the basil, lettuce and sprouting broccoli. As I was so taken with my chillies and tomato plants I completely forgot to water them and 3 days later I remembered and found a tray full of shrivelled brassicas and the other plants hadn’t fared well either. The lettuce and basil were consigned to the compost and the broccoli and cabbages went into intensive care, or rather a sink full of water. Only time will tell if they rejuvenate or they too will be thrown into the compost bin.

Plot 51: Beans

13.05.20. The weather forecast has been a bit up and down the past week, with sunshine one day and the threat of frost the next. I checked my weather app this morning and saw that the predicted –2 for tonight was changed to a forecasted 3 degrees. (BTW at my house in Italy the daily temperatures are currently 26 degrees). It’s sunny on the plot today and the two peony plants are in flower, giving the impression that all is good with the weather.

May (14)

Other plot holders have got their beans in the ground already and so paying no heed to the old adage of, casting nowt and clouts until may is out I get out the trowel.

I’m feeling semi-brave,so erring on the side of caution, I only plant out 6 of my 14 runner bean plants. They’ve been doing really well in the greenhouse and have started to twine around each other, so I’m guessing it’s time they had something to grow up and should mother nature betray me I’ll still have others to put out at a later date.

May (16)

I’ve been given some French bean plants and I’ve already earmarked a spot for them, so it’s more raking and hoeing to get the area ready for them and using an old piece of metal rebar; the kind used in foundations, I make a trellis to assist them on their climbing journey.

May (17)

Another couple of jobs done and I cut some peonies to take home and hope that the forecast won’t change.

14.05.20 – Woke up to a frost on the front lawn, I hope my beans are okay, but I’ll wait until tomorrow when I go to water the pots in the greenhouse. Fingers crossed all will be well.

Plot 51: Treasure or Tat

As I’ve already documented, skip day was a success as I managed to rid my plot of all the rubbish that had accumulated over the years by the previous owner. But another upside of skip day was the sharing of what I classed as rubbish with fellow allotmenteers.

An old hose-pipe reel of mine was taken by someone, another asked me if they could have the old guttering and pipes and an old circular sink I had was snapped up too: No one was willing to come forward and ask for the old bath though.

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On my last trip to the skip I saw someone throwing away some old trays, the kind that manufacturers use to deliver bread and other produce to shops and supermarkets. As soon as I spotted these I begged them and smiling carried them back to my plot. knowing I shall find many uses for them.

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I’m not going to pontificate and say I’ve saved some more plastic from landfill by recycling as that wasn’t my intention, all I was thinking at the time was, I want those and of course, one man’s tat is another man’s treasure.

Plot 51: Skip and Strawberries

Monday: Word has got around the top plots of a pending committee announcement. Exchanges in hushed tones are telling of the possibility of another skip being delivered. We had one a week ago sited at the bottom of the site and it was filled so quickly that those at the top of the site were upset to have missed it. I’m looking at the bags of rubbish on my plot and the bath tub that is now filled with even more waste and make a conscious decision not to miss this skip. Apparently scheduled for Thursday.

Wednesday: My bare root strawberry plants via Amazon arrived yesterday and although they look dead and better consigned to the compost I know a few hours with the roots soaking in water they’ll be rejuvenated. So today I’m planting them in the raised beds. I’ve put down a layer of black plastic to help keep in moisture and also keep the fruit clean and so it’s time to pop them through the slits and set them off on their way to producing some tasty red berries.

May (6)

Thursday: The skip has arrived and the first job is getting rid of the infernal bath tub, so it’s promptly placed on a wheelbarrow and unsteadily it’s wheeled to the waiting skip. Oh that feeling of joy as it falls into the rubbish receptacle.

There’s a few people on site and a couple tell me to take advantage of the chance to get rid of all the clutter on my plot. So several trips back and forth and the allotment detritus is removed, it’s possible to now see behind the greenhouse and I can now think about re-siting the water container.

Looking over the plot it’s a good feeling knowing that there’s not years of old wood and plastic and electrical wire and broken guttering lying around anymore.

The simple pleasure of a skip and some strawberries.