The end of 2021 Report

For a first year, I think this wasn’t too bad, I planted stuff and I harvested stuff. I lost a fair bit to weather critters and absence but that was to be expected. Notably, my absences didn’t seem as terminal as I’d feared. a lot of stuff got on with it without me – cucumbers, squash, I’m looking at you.

I returned from our Autumn adventure in the middle of October. I fully expected to see and mass of dead plants awaiting me. A combination of my plot partners, suitable weather and Nature’s ability to nature, meant that I still had produce to harvest on my return.

I was over the moon to see that the squash had developed into proper-sized fruit and in fact still needed a week or so to mature. Google and various plant books told me that the squash isn’t ready to harvest until the stem is dry and cracked. Mine were still green at this point so I had to wait a little longer, which was fine by me – my biggest dread was that everything would ripen and rot while I was away.

So what was harvested in 2021

Tomatoes – I claim a couple of tomatoes which grew in the pot that I placed near the fruit border. I didn’t actually get to eat any but the fact that it grew is still amazing to me.

Carrots – despite them being far from attractive, I did grow some edible carrots. I found a YouTube video on growing them in containers so I decided this is how I would try it the following year.

Kale – on one of my plot visits I met one of my allotment neighbours, Rose. She very kindly gave me a few kale plants which I planted under my mesh umbrella. These yielded a few tasty leaves which I was taking on a cut-and-come-again basis into the winter.

Cucumbers – as I said I had forgotten these all together when I planted them so they were one of the heroes of this year. I got about 10 big juicy cucumbers and although these did mature while I was away, my friend was able to enjoy them and make us some cucumber relish which we enjoyed for the next few months. Considering these were planted as an afterthought when a lot of my sowing had perished, I was really happy with them.

Butternut squash – the other great result of this year. I had a yield of 9 really good-sized squash. These cooked well and were delicious as well as lasting well into the winter. I resolved to try more of these next year.

Right at the end of the year, there were still some slim pickings, if you learn not to be fussy about appearances. I managed to get a few little cabbage hearts out of the purple cabbage that had been struggling against the snails all season, there were a few more carrots some decent sized this time and some more kale and indeterminate leafy greens, plus one little spear of broccoli. With that, it was the end of the year and time to start planning for 2022.

I think for a first growing season it didn’t turn out too bad, good enough for me to be excited for the next year.

August/September 2021: Conflict of interests

I have learned over time to manage my expectations in certain scenarios and this allotment game was one of them. I said yes to my friend’s offer of a share of this plot primarily for a legitimate reason to get out of the house during the pandemic lockdown. I was not thinking I was going to become self-sufficient in food, I was not sure I would grow anything much in fact. So, whenever I started to see signs of real results on my little square of earth, it was a really pleasant surprise.

I’d planted pak choi, purple sprouting broccoli, red and green cabbages and sprouts but had lost all of them. After the pak choi bolted and the cabbages, and broccoli had all been massacred by snails, I added some butternut squash plants to my area. Only because that’s about all that was left in the garden centre at the end of May. I planted them under the mini polytunnel that I had purchased and once again crossed my fingers and pretended not to expect anything.

By the end of July, I was starting to see a lot of action under there. There were lots and lots of flowers and the excitement began to bubble up. Then it was time for the month’s lesson. At first, my flowers never developed into anything so I did a bit of reading. There are male and female flowers on a squash vine. Often the male flowers appear much sooner than the female ones, so there is nothing to fertilise. The male flower is a beautiful yellow bloom and the female flower has a fruit which needs to be pollinated. It’s often necessary to do this manually if they don’t do it themselves.

My very first fruit must have been disturbed by something because I arrived at the plot to see it lying on the ground. Eventually, I started to see little squash-shaped fruit gaining size.

On no, Oh no …

I planted three plants and by the end of August had nine squash on the go. Around the same time, I had a nice surprise. Earlier on I had thrown some netting over my remaining plants as I had become aware of the attention of the birds. I’d been under the false impression that it was just the slimy duo of slugs and snails that were causing the demise of my crops. However, now to my dismay, I realised what havoc pigeons were causing as well. I love birds and I had so enjoyed the company of robins and blackbirds who hung around waiting for me to unearth worms while weeding, but I had not realised what the pigeons were up to.

Anyway, under my netting, I suddenly came across some cucumbers. I have to confess that I had forgotten all about them. I’d committed the cardinal sin of not labelling what I’d planted. When the leaves were coming up. I’d thought they were more squash but I was getting quite a lit of bumpy dark green cucumbers.

I harvested three huge ones and had about seven or eight little ones left on the vine.

I finally pulled up my carrots and oh boy, this was a mixed experience. On the one hand, I grew carrots! On the other, they were so flipping fugly that I couldn’t help but feel a certain way about them. The lesson – I read that carrots like fine, free-draining soil. I discovered that you shouldn’t plant carrots on stony ground. Our allotment is on some pretty naff land. It’s very chalky here near the cliffs and we seem to be perched on top of an old builders’ yard. Sifting through this gives you a harvest of old bricks, clay drainage pipes, rusty old nails and broken glass. My poor carrots didn’t stand a chance. I did a bit of riddling and might throw some lettuce in here before the summer ends. Well, you live and you learn. Next year…

As August rolled on I was in parts excited and in parts a little worried. Travel restrictions were now being relaxed considerably and vaccinated folk were allowed to travel abroad with some precautions. We decided to take our first trip out of the UK since the you-know-what. This was always going to be a problem from the point of view of the allotment. As we had been restricted for so long we wanted a good long trip and the plan was to be away for a month. Right at this crucial time. I take a pragmatic approach though – I harvested what was ready and asked my allotment partner to water when they could and to take anything that was ripe and wouldn’t last until we came back.

In the middle of September when we set off I was waiting (and hoping on) the following.

  • About half a dozen butternut squash
  • About six cucumbers
  • Some spindly cabbages that were hanging on under the netting
  • 4 leeks
  • A couple of kale plants that one of my allotment neighbours gave to me
  • Some broccoli

It just remained to see what was left when we returned from Spain.

June/July 2021: My first allotment harvests

In the middle of June, I had my first triumphs. Between the garden at home and the plot, we were actually getting some produce. My allotment partners got the first yield as their potatoes started to give up some bounty. I can’t claim any credit for them as I did none of the Herculean digging that my friend seems to enjoy. However, they did share their bounty with me and I could take home a bucket full of spuds that lasted us a long time.

At home, I had planted a couple of strawberry plants in a pot and that started to fruit. It’s a small plant and it turned out to be the first of only a handful of fruit in total but this was my first strawberry so I wasn’t disappointed.

This encouraged me no end and I decided I needed more things to grow. I had idly thrown and few pepper and tomato seeds into trays on the kitchen windowsill and to my surprise and delight they sprouted. OK, I know it was ridiculously late but I still marvel that anything I touch grows at all, so I wanted to see what would happen.

The pepper got me excited by producing a single blossom, before the flower fell off, so that was that. I did know now that I could grow a thing from seed so I decided that was something I could try again next year.

I ended up taking the tomato plants to the allotment and planting them there to see if they liked it. It did seem to like its position as it developed into a nice-sized plant. Producing a few decent tomatoes.

The lesson of the month was carrots. I had planted a bunch of carrot seeds in my initial phase and was pleased to see the carrot tops always looking green and healthy. I had however sowed them all together and so I thought it might be a good idea to separate them. I pulled up the bunch revealing some cute little carrot-lets and spread them out.

We would see what the results would be.

May/June 2021: reality dawns

When we came back from our trip, my seedlings finally arrived. They had been languishing in a delivery depot somewhere for weeks. They were packed in a plastic coffin and it was obvious they had spent too long in it because they were rootbound and trying to burst out of the packaging. Some of the plants actually had broken stems.

To add insult to injury, I’d decided to prepare them at home by giving them a soak before taking them to the allotment. I potted them on for the roots, gave them a good watering and woke the next day to find they had been devoured by snails and slugs. B******s.

I had been expecting some setbacks, but this really got to me and made me question what I was doing (again) trying to run an allotment.

The good news though was that I had some successful growth, I had a pak choi, the carrot tops looked healthy and the leeks were still going strong.

I was also happy to see the Twigs had not shrivelled up and were still alive. No evidence of growth, but still upright, green and alive.

My weeding companion

There was a bit of weeding and watering to be done and the plot looked really nice and tidy. I was amazed at how much I enjoyed weeding and watering. I think it’s because there is an end product for all of your exertion. I was often joined by a pair of blackbirds who turned up to grab worms disturbed by my activity, this was another bonus. It is definitely therapeutic and allows you to empty your mind.

Nevertheless, the itchy feet set in again and we were off for a few days. A second mini heatwave ensued while we were in East Anglia and the pak choi bolted. This was another rookie mistake. These setbacks make me wonder again whether I am on a hiding to nothing. Year 2 of the Pandemic meant that most things seemed less dire than this time last year. The lockdowns were lifted and we were able to do UK trips, so we did while fully observing restrictions that were still in place.

We returned to welcome June with more sunny days, although it didn’t seem as great a summer as 2020, we still enjoyed some fine weather and the plot was looking good. I was and still am always amazed when things are still thriving despite my neglect.

I’m going to carry on while managing my expectations, however, it’s still proving to be a satisfying hobby.

See you next time.

It’s an allotment-let

As of March, I’m an allotmenteer. My very good friends acquired a plot last year at the beginning of lockdown and they have offered me a share of it. I said yes instantly. It was a bit late in the year to get started last year so I didn’t get off the ground straight away but my mates offered again this winter and I decided to go for it.

I have a small patch (hence Allotment-let) I must measure it – which is fine as I want to take it slow and easy. I have to admit that my ulterior motive for doing this was:

a) to get me out of the house, I haven’t needed to ‘shield’ so to speak but not having a reason to go out and not always enjoying it when I did go out meant I needed a strategy to get my Vitamin D.

b) to give me a chance to see my friends occasionally, albeit at a distance.

I’m being very coddled here, my friends have done a lot of the initial preparation – they have dug over the soil and laid manure on the plot so I just have to decide what to plant.

Starting at the beginning of the year seemed logical to me. So I started researching and trying to make a plan for what to do with this ‘Land’!

It’s still a little bit ad hoc though. I did the youtube/blog/social media deep dive and got a bit overwhelmed so rolled back and thought about what I want to grow. I ordered some fruit bushes and some brassica. The fruit arrived first so I planted three blueberries, a blackberry, a cranberry and a goji berry out of curiosity.

So here is my first planting, fingers crossed I am now an allotmenteer.

Let’s see how it grows.

April 2021: spring refused to be sprung

I started then neglected this blog last year now I want to try again with the new season. I thought I would still give you what insights I recorded from last year. Last spring was predictably (it is the UK after all), unpredictable. We had a mini-heatwave, and then the weather persistently refused to emulate the epic levels of the previous year (2020). It seemed to be cold and windy a lot of the time and I expected to find my twigs and seedlings frozen each time I went to the plot.

How the plot looked in April

It was with trepidation that I climbed the hill to the allotment each time but then joy when I found that most of what I had planted was still intact and the view was great as ever.

The fruit bushes or Twigs, as this is what they look like at the time, were still there and looked like they had even grown a little. I hadn’t yet done much reading on their care regime but I didn’t expect fruit the first year. This is my investment in the future of the allotment.

Cold, dark and moody

The plants that I ordered online still hadn’t arrived so I popped over to the conveniently situated garden centre – it’s just across the road from the allotment entrance, handy eh? I bought a few brassicas to plant – one of my treasured memories of my mum was the first time she grew cabbages in our garden. I remember the day when we harvested the first one. Sitting in our garden, she chopped off a huge cabbage and cut into it, slicing it up and giving us pieces of the raw vegetable. We sat there chomping on these bits of cabbage and it was the best thing I had ever tasted – even better than the strawberries we had grown before. This memory is why I’m so determined to grow brassicas.

I also took a leap and selected an aubergine as well. I saw some of these mini growing tunnels and thought I’d try some plants with protection.

My growing map

My planting was still a little random and ad hoc but it’s a learning process. I have tried to approach this in a way that I describe as “positively pessimistic”. I know that this may all come to nothing, I’m prepared for disappointment but also ready to be pleasantly surprised.

Here’s how I left it, still neat and tidy.

Now of course the waiting begins and we will see what I’m rewarded with.

How do you feel when planting, full of hope or cautiously optimistic?

Anticipating everything and anything.

It gets worse before it gets better

Spring Twenty twenty one was slow to get going but eventually, we saw some good weather. I did a bit of pottering about and tidying, still not sure what I was doing and without a plan of action.

The twigs seemed to be in good nick, they were upright and I’m sure getting ever so slightly bigger every time I went there. It was still quite cold and nothing had arrived in the post so I hadn’t planted much still.

My cranberries receiving a visitor

The pandemic had disrupted the supply chain as there were limited staff to prepare and deliver the items in the prompt fashion we had grown accustomed to. As I hadn’t planted any seeds, I was dependent on these plants arriving or I had to keep going to the expensive garden centre; at least they were always open.

I toddled across the road and found some pak choi, carrots and sprouting broccoli seedlings and planted them into the ground. Once again hope set in and I dreamed about eating my veg.

Now came a dilemma and one which is always going to be an issue. We like travelling and by April, Lockdown II restrictions were being eased and although we still couldn’t go abroad, we decided to have a little UK trip, packing my masks along with our regular holiday stuff. We went away for 10 days and there was a mini heatwave while we were away and a few things got a bit shrivelled.

Most of my plants are still there so I remain optimistic. Hopefully, I can nurse everything along.

Let’s see what summer brings.