January 2005

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January 2nd, 2005

Sad start to the year as we all discovered that vandals had got into the site over the past week and have broken every shedīs windows (including the lovely stained glass piece one of the newbies had built in), taken spades, broken canes, frames (including mine) and doors, and trodden on a lot of plots and winter veg.

I hope they get their comeuppance.

Chris and I had left our shed unlocked for this very eventuality, figuring that at least if anything went, we wouldnīt lose the door or hinges. They even got in Tonyīs amazing galvanised metal shed by hitting it repeatedly with the plot number signpost. I found our chair in the middle of my leeks (luckily not too squashed) and the bucket of bindweed roots, which had been drying nicely, stuck in the old potato plot. Had to collect them up pretty fast! Leeīs shed door had been ripped open and some stuff removed, and I think they broke one of his newly-replaced pieces of glass. They finished off Maggieīs poor shed completely.

As coincidence would have it, I was intending to break up the carrot frame today anyway as it was mostly collapsed. I donīt think they touched it, since it was already in bits. Spent a fair bit of time removing tacks and the enviromesh, so I can reuse the majority of it. The side panels were perfect - itīs the crosspieces that have been the weak point - so I left it all as it was. I must shorten the sides though, preferably by about a foot. The leek frame, which had been mostly ok to use again, is now flattened and all my netting torn. Again took all the net off and left it as two side pieces and the crosspieces. Repaired the giant frameīs wood but the netting needs repairing badly or the flying vandals will finish off the tiddly cabbages.

Shored up another couple of downhill bed sides, so now, looking from the side, the terraces are starting to look rather nice. Then went to sort out the summer raspberries, cutting out the old canes, re-tautening the wires and then attaching the new canes. Nearly have a couple reaching the top wire this time, and a couple of canes have populated the side of the row. Need a spade to sort them out! Used the hacksaw to remove nearly all the old wood from the middle of one of the dessert gooseberries, which makes it look a lot neater and less likely to poke me, but also provided a lot of very prickly prunings which have gone on the dug beds. If the vandals return and try walking across, then theyīll have inch-long thorns in their ankles. It works with stopping cats, after all!

Picked some more leeks and carrots, and split them with Chris who gave me some of her parsnips and scorzonera. Still canīt quite believe how many carrots grew. Left it all a bit tidier than Iīd found it, and still didnīt manage to start digging plot two! Well, thereīs always tomorrow...

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My poor frames - the small one had been in good condition (see Decemberīs pics; the background of the plot 2 photo shows it quite well).

Monday January 3rd

And up again, armed with sandwiches and flask of hot chocolate :) Not quite as cold as yesterday, thank goodness, but not as clear or bright. Chris was already there, and we had a chat then got round to digging. Realised quite fast that I needed to edge out the first of the sections, so recycled one of the frames, putting three of the long pieces of wood next to each other and nailing them into the verticals. That got hammered into the ground and I could then start to dig. Eventually had to make some more sides, a couple to keep the stone path in place and another one for the lower bed border. Dug as far over as the end of the long border (3.5m) through the old potato plot, and discovered why I couldnīt remember much about the Pink Fir Apples - I think I accidentally left most of them in! There are now significantly fewer volunteers than before...  also dug up some Rattes. The carpets cover most of the rest of the plot, so itīs beginning to look cared for again. Back didnīt whinge, and I stopped before it had a chance to. Rained a bit, which was annoying as it wasnīt supposed to until tomorrow, and I was going down with a migraine so decided to call it a day after lunch. Met Elaine on the way out, and discussed ways of keeping out the yobs. I still think tall gooseberries around the borders will do it nicely!

Saturday January 8th

Managed to grab an hour and a halfīs digging on a lovely but very windy day. The wind has toppled the jury-rigged cabbage frame again, so I shall have to go up with the brackets and screws to do it properly. At least itīs just flattened and not twisted. But everything else seems to be roughly in the right place (even if the water butt has somehow escaped through the loganberries).

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Gradually getting the first plot 2 terrace beds sorted.

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Much better! Colour weird due to failing light.

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Flattened frame again... but the terracing is looking nice.

Worked backwards across the rest of the old spud plot, and discovered the end was bindweedy. Now have a pile of roots. Gradually removing stones out of the ground, so the path is starting to fill up, and at the end of the usable light I had done one width. I need some more wood now - both for the bottom edge of the next bed and the side of the one I just finished, or the middle path will get covered in no time.

Maggie appeared as Chris and I were leaving, looking at her poor shed. She thinks it was going to collapse anyway, and we left her looking at where she was going to start this yearīs digging.

Sunday January 9th

Acquired 4 pieces of wood for Ģ11 and somehow managed to carry it to the lottie (though was rescued by John at the halfway point). They are 2.1m long, quite thick and quite wide, so should be ideal for bed edging. Bit short, but I figured Iīd rather have some I could carry. In any case, the price per m was the same for those and the longer ones. Found the first bit useful in that it replaced the piece pictured above, allowing me to use that for the bedīs side. Then replaced one of the plot 1 edges (the one with the really quite rotten bits of timber Iīd salvaged) and then tried to decide what to do next. Settled for digging a bit of soil out of the bit above the bed, so I could level it up a bit, then added a barrowful of manure - itīs going to be the leek bed. The other, wider one will be onions. At least this means I know how wide the plot is now - 2.1m + 3.5m + 0.4m = 6m, a metre narrower than plot 1, so the plan in Novemberīs page is a bit out. Mind you, soīs the position of the shed. Corrected this in the main plans!  

Gave up dithering and set to work in starting another row of beds. Hauled the carpet out of the way and measured a width using one of the crosspieces from the old frames. Dug out a trench for the board so that the higher bit was buried and the lower bit built up, and edged the whole bed with one of the not terribly good boards off plot 1, if only because that stopped the soil wandering onto the path. Started digging, and got divebombed slightly by the robin coming into land. He got good pickings off me today! Though had to suffer being photographed as payment. The downhill side of plot 2 was previously raked so that there was a steepish slope down to the path - possibly to stop the soil ending up on the grass. This means quite a bit of soil shifting to get it back to being level and deep all the way to the edge. It wasnīt helped by the incredible amount of flint in this plot. A lot of it was shifted to the edge area, so I had to pick a lot out before starting to dig it over. But at least the path from the shed is getting filled up quickly! I think I now realise just how good condition plot 1 was in when I got it - the previous chap must have spent a lot of time removing stones. Managed to dig across about 2m before the drizzle started to get annoying and the soil was noticeably heavier to dig. Still, 2m less to do next time... and itīs this yearīs spud plot so hopefully it will be ready on time!

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Hello

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rejigged beds

From this view you can see how the bed edge has previously been pushed up into a bump, possibly to try and level it a bit and stop the couch from the path getting in.

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Are there worms?

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Friday January 14th

An afternoon off (I like flexitime!) with the aim of getting spud bed 1 finished. Not too cold, and I found some more bits of wood which got pressed into service as path edgers. Sawed up one of the new edgers to complete the main edging, then got digging. Very sticky today - hasnīt dried off as much as Iīd hoped, but at least not raining. An hour later Iīd got the main digging done, then added the extra wood bits as uphill path edgers, and added carpet. Took the second photo, then realised I could scrounge another bit of wood and complete the uphill edge, so did that and added a bit more carpet too. Now have a quite decent path which hopefully wonīt wander off downhill and will suppress any weeds. Am cutting up one of the larger bits of carpet which seems to be disintegrating fairly fast, so itīs not much use for plot cover any more.

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The start...

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The finish (well almost)

Featherball finally appeared as I was finishing the bed, so I told him to help himself and went to see if there was anything I could do with the carnations. To my surprise they are just overwhelmed by grass and poppies, both dead old ones and new seedlings which will no doubt be a riot if I leave them in. Was mean and weeded them out, but thereīs still a lot of seedling poppies. I spent pounds on trying to get them to grow in the home plot, and here I have to pull them up! Have left a few round the edge. Measured the below-shed part of the plot properly at last, and it turns out to be 6.3m by 6m, which isnīt terribly big. I can get another bed in by the side of the shed, where the bindweed and spinach is currently, but after that itīs the solid bit by the fruit area. I shall deal with that later!

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Looking from plot one to the plot two shed. The flint path to the right is filling rapidly. Loganberries are along the wires and posts to the left (one a vicious thorny one) and the rest is full of spinach and bindweed. But thereīs enough room to dig another bed out, if decently edged. Weeding out the grass clumps is going to be the hard bit, as itīs not been touched for years and the grass is really entrenched.

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Finally I think Iīve got the scale right in the plan (the grid is square metres). Three beds for whatever I feel like putting in them (one will get French beans for sure), the three Iīve finished and the one for permanent flowers. I think that one will get bulbs in as well, to cheer up the boundary with Chris. There is easily room for another four beds where the wilderness is - but as I said, thatīs for much later! I shall be happy this year if I get this plan done without doing myself any injury!

Saturday January 15th

Dawned somewhat wetter than expected from the forecast, which was initially a blow to my digging intentions. Decided instead to go and spend money and get some proper wood cut to size so I could do the remaining beds properly. Made it to the local wood yard before they shut and managed to get enough wood to do all bar one of the main beds (cos I forgot a piece!) and the flower bed. They are very good - cut all of it to size and even sharpened me posts to hammer into the ground! Spent the first hour putting one of the small bed edges in (the one closest to the central path below - which is going to get the French beans) and then went for the large bed by Tonyīs shed. This one was the one with the huge bump in the soil a foot in as shown on the 13th Jan last photo, and proved to be easy to dig (thanks to the carpet stopping it being too wet) but full of bindweed and stones. Several hours later (despite having decided I wasnīt going to a) do any digging and b) dig a whole bed at once to protect my back) Iīd dug the whole thing. Iīd been doing lots of stretches, sitting down picking out bindweed and listening to my muscles, so I wasnīt about to overdo it!

bothplots

Somewhen along the line, the sun struggled out and it turned into a quite nice afternoon. People started to appear and do stuff. I dragged the old carpet bits over the already-dug beds, to stop them getting too many weeds in the next month or so and weighted them down with the remains of the net frames. By the time I left, it was way past sunset again, the last big bed was dug over (and a bucketful of bindweed roots was in the shed) and the wood for the flower bed was awaiting my attention. I must get some more bits for the last of the smaller beds, then I can dig over the last ones.

Sunday January 16th

All sorts of fun and games today, ending in a bit of a nightmare but with a happy ending. First a trip to get some more wood to do the last bed, then came back via the carpet shopīs skip, where I got some more bits. This was a curse and a blessing, as it turned out. Because I now had a lot of stuff, I backed up to the plot and unloaded there. Another bit of a misty start, but again as yesterday it got warm and sunny later. Got cracking on the larger bits of wood Iīd got for the flower bed and which were really too tall. Fine for raised veg beds but only really needed a few inches for the flowers. So I hacksawed the larger pieces up, giving me the sides for the final small bed. Iīd just bought the top edge. Also bought a narrow piece of wood to top up one of the big bed sides, which wasnīt quite tall enough. Put that in place to start with as it was easy, then took the rake to the large bed Iīd dug yesterday, as Iīd left all the soil piled up in the middle! Once flat, I raked the path flat, cut one of the smaller bits of new carpet into a strip and then laid over the soil. Nailed it to the side posts to stop it blowing away!  I then took a photo and pulled some carpet over the top.

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Last big bed, with carpet waiting.

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Then did some more carpentry and laid out the final small bed. Took a bit of excavating into the bank, but not too much. I really need more large bits of wood to stop the grass path from subsiding into the plot. Itīs been falling in gradually for a couple of years after the ants moved in. One of the cutting remnants worked nicely here, substituting a piece of old wood off plot 1 so that piece could become a prop. Then took the fork and dug over the middle small plot. Very grassy, quite difficult to dig over as it was grass which had been covered for some time. But I got there in the end. Now have five out of the six main beds completed and the sixth is a small one and just needs digging. Then went to help Chris with de-netting the fruit bushes - one more than Iīd thought as there are two blackcurrants not one. Eventually it got too dark and murky so we thought weīd go, with Chris going ahead to open the gate as yesterday and me following.

Except this time I got stuck.

There is quite a gradient leading up to the gate, and there was just enough mist about earlier to dampen the grass which was in the shade so didnīt burn off in the sun, so traction was impossible. In trying to get off the slipped tracks, I nearly went off the path completely so couldnīt even go backwards to get a better run-up. Panic. So we decided to use some of the bits of carpet which had been the reason for taking the car up there in the first place, ironically. But it still took three people pushing (thankfully there were chaps still up there too) and I got out. Phew. I now owe Chris, Dave and Jim a bottle of their choice, and next time I drive all the way up,  itīs going to be very dry!

Probably wonīt get up again this month as the next two weekends are spoken for, unless the last weekend is dry and I can get up on the Sunday. Chris and I are off to the HDRA membersī potato day on the Saturday, which is repeated on the Sunday if youīre not a member.

Sunday January 23rd

Unexpectedly got back early from trip so grabbed a fork and trug and headed off to finish the last raised bed. Was in time to meet up with Chris who was on her way out, but not before we managed to finish de-netting the fruit bushes ready for pruning.

 Started the bed and realised it's quite a bit smaller than the others – only 2m by 1.5m thanks to the narrowing of the plot. Put another piece of board by the path edge, filling in behind it with stones like previously, to reinforce the bank. Took a while to dig this one as it was the most solid ground of the whole plot; it didn't help to have got some particularly large grass clumps as well as bindweed. Another barrowful appeared. Hopefully I'll have got enough out to dent its vigour for a while. Emptied the bag of year-old (ie not too decomposed) leaves onto it, and forked in, as it desperately needs bulky organic matter. This should encourage a few worms. I think this bed will get sweetcorn or French beans: probably the latter, so I can manure the other small bed for the corn. The rotation is changing constantly! Two large beds of spuds, one small of shallots and one large of summer onions. And that's the lot! Made another carpet path. I now have the flowerbed to do, a couple more carpet paths and then it's done. But the main part is sorted, as I have plantable beds, mostly carpeted to stop weeds in the meantime and warm things up a bit.

Coincidentally, Julian was visiting at church and asked how it was going! They are about to sow parsnips over in France, as they aren't a veg usually grown there. But he recommended sowing 2-3 seeds in a loo roll tube, sticking in a cold frame and planting the whole lot when 2-3" high. Good job I've been saving the things!!!

Saturday January 29th

Very early start and nice trip up the M1 to Ryton. We arrived an hour ahead of opening time and sat for half of that in the car, only venturing out to join the queue when it started to look rather long. In the half an hour we were outside the queue ended up halfway down the car park - way longer than last year. Got in fairly fast and this time went straight to the marquee - what a scrum! Fought our way through to the potato boxes, discovering along the way that there were no International Kidney this year. Wail. They had Royal Kidney instead, which Alan Romans says is better, so we shall see. Bought 15 of them. Also bought, as planned, 8 Sárpo Mira, 5 Ratte, 5 Pink Fir (organic), 8 Kestrel, 8 Estima and 8 Red Duke of York (organic). Also bought as definitely NOT planned 2 Salad Blue and 2 Highland Burgundy Red, which really were pretty coloured inside. I have the consolation that Chris cracked first. Those are maincrop, so I might just have to put them in the edge of the earlies bed to get room, else squash up the real maincrops. Got as sort-of planned 3 more Mimi, this time to grow in a bucket with slugproofing. And another woops - 3 of the early early (!) Rocket which I'm half thinking to put in the earlies bed and half thinking in buckets. Depends where the coloured ones end up. Either way, at 9 weeks from planting to maturity I don't think that they'll hang about long.  Should be ready first week of June assuming I get them in on time at the end of March. Went to several good talks, not the least being the follow-up to the Sárpo trials of last year. With having bought mine from the potato day, I didn't get the report forms to fill out, but agreed with about half of the comments. Some folk found them slug-prone, which I most definitely didn't. Most others also didn't have foxes biting off the labels, so could test the different tastes of each of them! All of mine went in the one bucket for Christmas dinner given I'd no clue which was which. The overwhelming result was a preference for Tominia - the one that has been discontinued thanks to some obscure governmental rule because Mira just happened to be registered first. Typical! Learned a few things in the Q&A session (some very pertinent to my planned growing Mimi in pots!) and sat in on a recipe session. Had a very good lunch in the restaurant of potato-themed food (potato and crab rissoles, potato pancakes and ratatouille with cheese). Bought a load of bits and bobs in the shop and had a good journey back home. Had fun finding enough labels for the (ahem) 67 tubers to chit, but they are now all sitting in module trays, hopefully properly identified.

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