March 2005


Tuesday March 1st

I take back what I said yesterday. There are now 4 parsnips up. (And 9 sweet peas.) Must get the new cold frame finished and put up ASAP so I can put them outside to carry on growing or they'll get leggy in the relative warmth of the conservatory. Not that you can see them well in their loo rolls yet!

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Wednesday March 2nd

Dropped into Focus on the way home and acquired some outdoor silicone sealant for the new vertical cold frame, and also some more blades for the Stanley knife so I don't have to fight while cutting up the next carpet. Also bought 75 Turbo onions for 99p: if Marshall's don't get a move on, then at least I'll have some to grow!

Thursday March 3rd

Got the HDRA member experiment kits for onions and soybeans. Looks like a challenge, given I've never grown seed onions before. Sealed the gaps in the cold frameīs polycarbonate glazing.

Friday March 4th

Put the cold frame up. Quite fun, though it would have been easier if they had actually got the holes for the back screws drilled right. Hand drill to the rescue, and it took both of us. Finished painting the shelves and the bits of a door I'd missed and left it overnight.

Saturday March 5th

Busy day. Finished off the cold frame and put it outside by the dustbin. Fits nicely on the pavers. Added the shelves then systematically evicted all the hardy stuff out of the conservatory. There are now some 16-odd parsnips up, not including the rolls where two have germinated. There's the same number of sweet peas, which I'm beginning to wish I'd chipped so they germinated better. Still, 16 is a fair few. Of what colours I have no idea! The germinated parsnips are now in the frame, though have kept the others inside still. Not many left, so planted six more rollsful. Planted the 60 decent Turbo onions (echoes of year 1, when I got a decent crop from a May sowing!). Put them in the frame with the now-rooting shallots. They are rather frozen but are still pushing themselves out of the modules! Prepared a 40-tray for cabbages and then discovered I didn't actually have enough seeds. Ended up going to Berkhamsted, where I had a peek at the garden centre where Chris gets her plastic sheets, and acquired the needed seeds, then went to Hemel Wickes and bought a bolt for the frame (as the doors didn't quite fit flush, leading to a big gap), two ridge plastic sheets for cloches (when I find the wire and suitable end pieces) and a 25m roll of blue plastic water pipe for Geoff Hamilton cloches etc. and covering my raised beds with netting. Not much light to do much apart from freeze fingers while putting the bolt on the frame door, and sow the cabbages! Conservatory now looks somewhat tidier… For my next trick, I need to get the cloches up to the allot to warm up a bed. Or use the translucent plastic out the shed. Or both.

Sunday March 6th

A much brighter day, with no snow or rain, so took advantage of it and took all the new acquisitions up to the allotment together with some of the plastic that's been in the house shed since we moved in. The new onion raised bed now has a plastic covering (the carpet's flitted to the last small bed) so that should warm up nicely by the time I get the sets. There's two cloches on the carrot bed to warm that up for the first sowings, with end pieces of the old broken cloche. This time they're pegged down well… Took a breather while distributing a box of sulphate of potash around the fruit area, and then decorated the Bramley apple tree with mistletoe berries. They are incredibly sticky - the seeds like little green paddles and the surrounding goo - well… I stuck 40-odd on the tree at head height so it remains to be seen if I have any success. The websites say at least 20, so here's hoping. I won't see anything for at least 2 years even if it does work. And I need to have a male and a female too as itīs dioecious. Then fetched the chair out of the shed and, using a brick, managed to thump the second runner bean support pole into the hole Iīd been gradually digging: itīs now sunk in as far as I hoped to do it (though now have two pieces of brick instead of one!). I can now dig a trench and start filling it with stuff eg the cleared cabbage bed and leek leaves.

Then, because of the HDRA arrivals, had to go and dig over the old carrot bed. And I now have yet another half trug of usable carrots - not including all the deformed ones I sowed directly in the soil rather than in compost, and some that were too nibbled. I've hand forked over the entire bed, weeded it and mixed in the compost as best as I can, and it looks rather nice for the next crop (the shallots and the onion experiment, which I'm keeping clear from the normal sets). Loads of worms (and sadly a few chopped ones). Finished that off and went to chat to Maggie and donated some carrots. While we were chatting, there was one of those moments you wish you had David Attenborough and a TV crew handy. My little robin (easy to identify because of his gammy eye) was doing his utter best to display to another robin (we assume female as they weren't trying to kill each other) and it was absolutely hypnotic to watch. Now we are wondering if we'll come up one day and find a nestful of baby robins in one of the sheds. Hope so.


Sunday March 13th

Allotment digging day. We were due to meet at 10am but various comedy routines at home (including losing the screw for the oven glass down the sink!) delayed me a bit. Joined everyone at 10.30am instead, and dug for nearly an hour with everyone else until I noticed a telltale twinge in my back. Made my apologies and went to  plant out the shallots instead. Bending not easy, even then, but got them in. They hadnīt taken over the modules as in previous years, but had nevertheless started to push themselves out as the roots grew. Planting had to be careful so as not to snap off any, but at least I know theyīre all viable. Planted the Sturon sets for the HDRA experiment, but the conditions are still way too cold to sow the seeds. Asked advice of the diggers and they said leave it. So I went to sort out the cabbage bed instead. After finally managing to disentangle the netting (mostly torn) and the wood, the side pieces went to stop carpet from blowing away and the crosspieces to one side. Hand forked out all the chickweed and not a small amount of couch. Finally removed a whole barrowload of annual weeds and cabbage haulms to the compost heap and raked it flat. And, apart from the leek bed (still occupied), thatīs it! I now have a bed to plant my parsnips in. Had a peek in the orchard and decided I was far too cold to do any more weeding, but did notice the newly growing autumn raspberries. And Featherball, who decided he was going to sit in the Bramley and sing very loudly, before swooping down to the cleared bed and finding a few hapless worms.


Cloches, now weighted down with the crosspieces from the cabbage frame. The newly cleared bed is behind them.

Home for lunch and then back to the sowing. Sowed 20 onions in individual modules (instructions said 5 per large module but this was more convenient) and the other half of the tray got more leek verina. I hope they come up this time - I have all of 7 from the first lot. But it was so very cold. Didn't use vermiculite this time, either. Also sowed a large module trayful of Romaine lettuces (normal ones, not the slow to bolts. This early in the season, they're not so likely to get overheated.). Wasn't subtle - lots of seed per module. I've got loads, and in any case, they're old seed so less viable.



Garlic going a bit yellow round the edges


Signs of life: Joan J raspberries coming up.

Thursday March 17th

Parsnips going quietly mad in frame, now. Moved them up to get a bit more light, now the shallots have gone to the lottie. I hope the mouldy loorolls donīt cause damping off. Itīs one reason Iīve not yet nipped out the weaker seedlings, and wonīt until I plant them out.


Friday March 18th

An absolutely gorgeous day. I canīt believe that only last Sunday I was so cold while digging that I couldnīt feel my fingers, and also that I booked the day off weeks ago! Now itīs 19oC and T shirt weather. Probably not ideal for digging potato trenches but I did. Phew. It was hot and tiring work but eventually I found myself with 39 earlies planted. Did it the hard way - digging a trench a spade depth anm width, adding a lot of manure, forking it in a bit then pushing the spuds into the manure before covering with the excavated soil plus an extra ridge. It wouldnīt be nearly as bad if I werenīt having to sieve bindweed out of the manure, but I was so...


Photo panorama of the lower half of the allotments. Itīs days like this which make it all the more worthwhile. Carried on after the potatoes were all safely buried, and planted my first row of carrots under the cloche. In compost, of course. If the weather stays like this, Iīll have to go up to water them! But at least they are safe from pests etc at the moment. Put wire between the runner bean poles (visible at far right of the photo) and dug the first part of my bean trench, burying all the leek haulms that Iīd just stuck on the ground, and covering them with the remaining manure from the last barrowload. Must carry on with it tomorrow. In the meantime, did a bit of hand weeding in the orchard, discovering as I did so that the raspberries are trying to take over the world in there. Thereīs one new cane popping up in the tulips and another right in the branches of a currant. Methinks I shall have to have a word with them... But thereīs fewer weeds in there, and I shall have a proper go tomorrow if the weather permits. I think itīs going to be cloudy but still warm. We shall see. I hope that overnight the foxes come out as I have a huge and very dead rat in the middle of a path on plot 1!!!

Saturday March 19th

Went to the lottie at 11am and  stayed there for 7 hours. Chris already there, as were lots of others. That wasnīt really a surprise.  I started by strimming the paths. The strimmer started without a fight, thank goodness, and Iīd reloaded line and petrol so managed to do it all without stopping. Then went to start the orchard clearance properly. Started by pruning the thug of a Himalaya Giant blackberry. Ow. Itīs now much tidier and the stems are all on the bonfire from the bramble plot, appropriately. Then went onto do the plot 2 yellow gooseberry so it has a proper shape. Cut out lots of stems from the centre. Then cleared out some of the larger blackcurrant and we stopped for lunch.
 After lunch, tackled the runner bean trench again, finishing it off. There is now a silly amount of buried manure in the bed, and the bedīs grown about 6" in height. Afterwards, moved back to the orchard. I weeded halfway across then went back to pruning gooseberries (wretched thugs). Ages later Iīd managed to get the 8ī tall red dessert goosegog in the centre to a much more controllable 5ī and again a much more open shape. Didnīt touch the redcurrants - though the Jonkheer van Tets has burst already and is looking like there will be a lot of fruit on it. Must create a minicage for it, like I did for the Red Start. Went back to weeding, then diverted again into pruning, this time the buddleia (anyone need peasticks?) and one of the blackcurrants. Tomorrow itīs the great tidy-up and dump run.
And I'm slightly sunburnt. In March. Yikes.
Back home, found that four of the HDRA onions have germinated already. Wow.

Sunday March 20th

HDRA onions now up to 13 germinated. I only need 15 to get my rows full. No sign of any leeks so I am going to have to get some more seed. Or buy them in like I had to last year! Finally out to the lottie about 1.30pm, armed with all the little pots of crocus that I planted very late. Arrived at exactly the same time as Chris, which was funny. Planted the crocus pots, most in the end of the flower raised bed but some in the orchard with all the other bulbs. Daffs now out - lovely. Spent an hour or so chopping up prickly prunings and buddleia prunings and managed to get most of them into two binliners. Had a go at the rampant raspberries and removed the two new shoots which are growing in the redcurrant and the tulips, diverting several roots back into the official rows. I have three rows of Joan J now instead of the initial two. Flipped over the second cloche and after a bit of raking, sowed a row of beetroot. Replaced cloche and then decided to see if I could tidy up the carnations. Started tying them to pieces of bamboo cane, then realised it was daft when I had a bag of buddleia branches, so they got used too. Hope they don't root! Moved a couple of the plants to gaps where the previous ones had died overwinter, and made quite a bit more space at the end of the bed. I think I shall have room for another wigwam of sweet peas if needed (and there are 21 up so perhaps I will need them!). Mulched the bed with the manure remaining in the wheelbarrow and upturned it. Will get more when I need to do the maincrop spuds in a week or two.

To-do List
  plant maincrop potatoes ü
  plant out parsnip seedlingsü
  sow tomatoesü
  finish weeding orchardü
  sow HDRA onion seed outdoorsü
  sow early squashes under cover
  Get apple
ü and plum minarette trees to allotment and plant before bud burst
  Start digging out the last plot 2 bed by the shed area.
  Put guttering on the shed and redirect to water butt.
  Prune the cooking gooseberries if I can reach them!

Thursday March 24th

First day off and after yesterday's arrival of my poor onion sets, bunged them in modules as fast as I could. I'll keep them inside until they grow shoots to give them a boost. They certainly need it! Took the opportunity to bung a tray of tomatoes in as well, though not as yet the Tumblers. Went for my freebies - cream sausage and gartenperle (which are hanging basket toms too, supposedly.)

Good Friday March 25th

Started off by doing the maincrop spuds. It seemed silly to delay really, since the weatherīs about to get cooler and damper (though not frosty). Glad thereīs only two rows. Planted the parsnips rolls out. To my amazement, the earlier ones, now growing main leaves, have already got tap roots poking out the bottom, so I shall have some distorted roots. Bums. But the later ones aren't out the bottom yet so should be fine. And I can always sow more. Put them on the end of the carrot bed so the adjoining one is still free for the soybeans (and any other parsnip sowings I make!). Then went to weed the old compost area, and I extracted all the corrugated iron and at last I can get at the gooseberries to prune them. Removed a lot of roots including something huge that was probably the comfrey, and started to shift the heap from plot 2 over to plot 1 so I can get at the loam it seems to consist of. That will go on the raised beds. Dug out the blackberry under the middle gooseberries and several other large weeds, so it's not going to be too long before that's all quite neat. While I was doing so, Featherball arrived and gave me one of his best serenades yet, perching about 4' away from me in the apple tree. Then he hopped down to within a yard and just sang. I didn't do much other than listen for about 15 minutes.

Crocuses out already. So far just the yellow ones but they are a nice cheerful splash. Hopefully I'll have purples by next week. And the daffs and tulips are growing like mad. The Narcissus Geranium will be out soon, and the tulips by I'd say the second week of April.

Saturday March 26th

Was woken up by sunlight streaming through the curtains - which wasn't what I'd expected after the forecast. Decided to make the best of it and so went up to lottie at 8.30am. Took up hosepipe extension but still wouldn't quite reach the lowest butt (Chris's water tank) so used bucket and legwork to fill it. Ended up exhausted and wet! Then finished weeding orchard at last, and cleared up prunings into yet another bin liner. Tony appeared and I borrowed his hosepipe so could do rest of butts properly (and a few other folk's as well).  Then sowed the HDRA onions, two per station at correct spacing, then opened the freebie packets of HA flower seeds and found that the seeds were all luminous green! Put them into the flower bed - limnanthes on uphill side of the carnations, godetia by the crocuses, and the calendula downhill of the carnations. Then upended the cloches and watered the carrot bed, sowed a line of swiss chard and found to my amazement that the beetroot is germinating! Couldn't do much else and was getting hungry, so wheelbarrowed 4 bags of prunings to the gate, loaded them into the car and drove to the dump.

After going home for lunch, extracted the apple minarette out of its pot, put in a bin liner and loaded it onto the suitcase wheels. Trolleyed it to the allotments and decided to put it by the greengage. Fairly close spacing, but it doesn't seem to have hurt the trees in the other plot. Typically, when I pulled back the black plastic to dig the hole, there was a flipping ant nest underneath. Was careful while digging, both for the ants and in case I found any greengage roots (which I didnīt). Added plenty of manure and teased out the roots, then packed it all back into the hole and watered it well. Should be fine, if it survives the obvious canker it's picked up in the wound caused by rubbing on the fence at the house. A few bits are dead (pruned out) but overall itīs not nearly as bad as the poor plum. Sowed freebie radishes in between the upper line of parsnips (leaving the other rows for succession) and then spent a couple of hours starting to dig out the grass in the bed by the shed. One side's really crumbly, the other side clayey and stuffed with couch, so it's going to take a while! Had to incorporate the last piece of 8" board as the slope's rather bad there, but I can always get more on Tuesday. Dug out the prickly loganberry, leaving all the smooth ones. I can do without more thorns! Stopped at 6pm and went home. The to-do list is shrinking nicely.

Bank holiday Monday March 28th

Forecast not brilliant again (dull, overcast, maybe some sunny spells, showers) and of course they got it wrong. No rain (yippee), lots of sun and only the occasional bit where it hid behind a cloud for 5 minutes. Iīd gone up to the lottie at 10am to make the best of the morning and didnīt get home till gone 6. Oops. I took up lunch and a flask and some lemonade, and got cracking on the shed bed.


Before pics (showing where Iīd got to on Saturday) see also January


A couple of hours later I was wondering how Iīd managed so much in the same time on Saturday, though I suspect that it was because of the corrugated iron cover that a chunk of it had (easy to dig, dry, no weeds) and because I hadnīt hit the clay seam. But today... oh I hit it. Horrible, claggy soil. With bindweed, couch and docks, as well as the loganberries. So it was about 3.30 by the time I managed to get across the width, and another hour or so before Iīd flattened the path (and shifted several buckets of soil to the lower raised beds to top them up a bit.

Still, it looks a lot better. Even if I couldnīt resist leaving a couple of the perennial spinach plants in place.



Not as many folk up as on Saturday, but nevertheless the parking spaces were filled quite early on.


My terraces now.

Inside the cloche - carrots!

I stole a plank from one of the other raised beds of plot 1 to finish the line off (the other plot didnīt really have a very bad slope so it didnīt hurt) and then collected all the stones Iīd had on the carpeting. Now all I need is a few more tons of stone and it will look like quite a neat wide path/seating area/place to park the wheelbarrow.




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