February 2006


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Friday February 3rd
And weīre off! Planted a tray (not modules) of leek verina (in the hope that theyīll grow better like that), 105 bolt-resistant Sturon in the small modules (not sure what they mean by bolt-resistant as itīs too early for heat-treated ones and the normal ones were being sold too), 15 garlic Cristo (so far), and 5 each of various chilli peppers (with Pīs help). The seed tray stand is up in the conservatory, the potatoes are starting to grow and thereīs compost everywhere :-).

Need to get the mini-greenhouse indoors so I can reglue and pin the poor thing after itīs dried out a bit.

Saturday February 4th
Busy busy busy.
Started off by going to Slough and getting a digital thermostat for the conservatory so I donīt have to keep worrying that the silly convection heaterīs gone cuckoo again. This one simply turns off the power at a pre-determined temperature, being basically a thermostat coupled to a circuit breaker. That should sort out the seedlings.  Got the grow house indoors, dismantled the lid hinges (rest had dismantled itself) and then reglued it. Hopefully despite all the warped wood, it will not come apart again. At present itīs on newspaper on the lounge floor, drying whilst tied in position with green twine.
Then off to the wood yard, and got some 2" sharpened fence posts, looking for all the world like a pile of giant pencils! Then South Heath GC for some small-hole chicken wire (and a accidental pot of snowdrops and some seeds), and finally back home for tools before hauling the lot up to the lottie.
Disaster struck when I was throwing the posts out of the car, rather like javelins. One hit the ground and instantly snapped. In a way Iīm glad it went then, as if itīd gone when I hit it I could have impaled my arm on what was left. Turned out to be a weak knot. Loraine helped me take them to the plot, and after chatting to her and Yvonne, got cracking with the tree saw. Now have a cleanly sawn duff branch on the apple, though itīs a bit brown under the remaining bark so I donīt think thereīs anything I can do apart from what Iīve done. Forgot to take the Arbrex over, so will have to dig it out of the house shed tomorrow. Lopped off a large number of other, irritating branches, then made the decision to put the leaf bin under the Bramley where the water butt was, way back in 2001 when I first got plot 1. At least it means the biggest leaf shedder can drop a fair few straight into the bin! Having decided that, started by repairing the bramble supports. These new poles are rather larger than the old ones, so hopefully will last longer. Re-used one of the old ones, which was still intact, then used various bits of wood to lever the railway sleeper edging back upright. Used old and new poles to make sure it wasnīt going to fall over again for a while. Bramble sorted. Tied the plot number onto one of them, so at last itīs easily visible. Then back to the leaf bin, and despite the tree getting in the way of the lump hammerīs swing, managed to make it and put chicken wire round. Looks huge! But itīll need to be. Thereīs 7 bags of shredded leaves in the front garden which I can now lug over there to rot down.

I now have a plot that seems to be covered with branches, prunings and the like. Need a whopping bonfire!

Sunday February 5th
Exhausting day. Started off by finally taking the bramble prunings to the dump (hooray) and then home to pick up the 7 heavy bags of shredded leaves from the front garden. Hauled them up to the plot (3 to a wheelbarrow load, which was rather unstable!) and then tipped them out into the leaf bin. Filled about 2/3 of it, so I could have made it a bit smaller, but hey ho. A lot of them are still quite damp and quite obviously starting to rot already. Then it was the raspberries. The great mass of canes, both old and new just had to be dealt with, especially since most of them seemed to be growing at right angles to the official row. I was rather ruthless. Any cane more than 6" away from the wire line was dug out, and despite this, I still ended up with 34 canes! They got tied in properly, and though most were quite short, two actually made it up to the top wire. Manured them, too, as I suspect a few will have been disturbed slightly by my removing the spreaders. Gave away two bundles of canes to newbies, and still had another bagful left. And yet more prunings, this time of the dead fruited canes. Kate turned up and found a giant horseradish root which we had to dig down more than 2 feet to extract.  Pruning the buddleia was fun - halfway through, there was a flutter in the apple tree and Featherball appeared! It must have been the same robin - the same odd feathers under the eyes. And I got sung to, before he shot off out of the tree. Left me grinning. Finished off the pruning, and then, after a small trip to the newsagent for matches, decided to be a pyromaniac and get a bonfire going. I had an enormous pile of prunings by then - the dry stuff (like the old sweetcorn haulms), the mostly dry stuff (older prunings) and the forget it stuff (buddleia). Kate volunteered some of the undug area on her plot (hopefully so it would kill off some of her weeds and give it a bit of ash) and we quite quickly ended up with a decent conflagration. And just as quickly accidentally fed it too much green stuff and nearly put it out! But managed to get it to smoulder back into life, with some of the large bits of wood (the dead apple tree branch) starting to burn properly and keep the whole lot going. Heaped on the gooseberry prunings, and then even some of the blackcurrant wood thatīs been waiting for me to take it away for months! Most of it went, and so apart from the buddleia (which isnīt spiky so can be taken to the dump quite easily) my plotīs looking a lot clearer. Kate got rid of a fair bit of her old, dead bramble too.

I can finally start to look at sorting out the new raised beds and clearing the last bit of Plot 2.

Friday February 10th
Didnīt actually get to the lottie as I was too busy defrosting two rather badly iced freezers, both of which were storing last yearīs produce. There is still tons left to eat. Ooops.

Saturday February 11th
Out of the house at about 11am and off to the lotties. Dashed up to the plot, quickly measured the last gap on Plot 2, dashed back again and off to Crownform, and thence back to the allotments with enough cut wood and pegs for the last raised bed and to edge the bit by the loganberries. And a spare bit to use over in Plot 1. I really like this timber yard - though I suspect they think, "Oh no, itīs her again!" every time I appear with yet another complex order for various bits of wood. There was a superb 22o ice crystal halo around the sun - one of the more common haloes, it is still beautiful. But its presence indicated more might follow, so I kept looking up occasionally all day.


22o halo from ice crystals in the cloud

Started off by doing a bit of weeding of the spring cabbages; they were rather full of speedwell. If I get them now, they wonīt seed (I hope!) and those beds will stay mostly clear of the wretched stuff. Having warmed up a bit, started to lay out the new raised bed.
Had to peel back multiple layers of carpet. There were a couple that Iīd put down (it was a good place to park carpet during the summer!) over the top of black plastic. The ancient stuff, laid round the edge of the plastic was disintegrating, and I could pick it up easily as it ripped into light-ish pieces. That will be taken to the tip. But apart from a couple of strands of bindweed, it was pretty clear, having been covered for at least 5 years.

Hammered posts in at the proposed corner positions, trying to get them as square as I could (given the whole plot tapers, this is not easy!). Then put the main boards in position to see how it looked.

110206_1 110206_2

Then started to dig out the soil so I could sink in the planks. They look ok in the raised position (above right) but this doesnīt show the gradient between the upper and lower beds. Fitted two sides, during which the sun came out, and I looked first across (noticed a partial halo and a bright sundog) and then looked up - hooray, a circumzenithal arc! It lasted for about an hour, then faded just as Chris appeared, so she missed it. Showed Vince, though. Took the opportunity to have lunch to refuel (it was very very cold!) and have a cuppa.

Finished off the two other sides (one by the bank, as it will be needed to stop the forsythia from getting in), sorted out the path between the two beds and then stepped back.


Enhanced circumzenithal arc - they donīt tend to photograph well. Les Cowley has a fantastic site on these and a huge number of other sky phenomena, from rainbows up to really rare haloes. Gorgeous piccies too.

Now the digging. Of course I would need to double dig this one, and manure it, wouldnīt I? Managed to get halfway through it before my back said enough, so I listened to it and did some more weeding of the cabbages. Then decided the loganberry was a pain, so extended the metal support at the path boundary by attaching the mid-post (both visible above to the left of the path edgers) and then tying in the one large loganberry plant to it. The wire between the struts came out, and so did the other two plants. Now I can put the edgers in more neatly and I will have another narrow bed to put things in (though need a bit more wood in that case!). Will have to have a think what to put there! Sunset overtook us at 5pm, and the temperature plummeted. Off home, with freezing fingers! Shall be back tomorrow.

Sunday February 12th
... but only just! The BBC weather was horribly wrong - woke up to heavy rain. If Iīd have known, Iīd have covered the half-dug bed with the black polythene Iīd taken off it! Spent the day collecting seeds from various garden centres, then ordered the rest off the wishlist from South Heath. On the way back, decided to go to the lottie to see if Iīd left the tape measure there (yes) and decided that it would be a terrible shame to waste all the water that was dripping into the full butt. Hauled the black one over from under the forsythia (was a daft location) and after scraping out a roughly horizontal base, connected it up to the full butt. Hopefully that should fill up nicely. Despite the grumbles at the timing (Iīd have dug Friday and Saturday and done the freezers today if Iīd known) itīs lovely to see rain, especially the kind that comes down slowly but heavily enough to soak in. Hopefully it wonīt stop very soon!

Friday February 17th
Ordered two dalek compost bins for the lottie. 330l ones, so that should help. I will be able to rehash the compost pile at long last, putting the rough stuff back into a bin (with grass strimmings etc) and finally digging out the usable stuff. Hopefully without bindweed. I expect to fill one of them immediately and then use the second for filling over the season. I have the option of getting a third one if I need it. Sadly the subsidised water butts are a lot more expensive so I shall have to lump what I've already got!

Saturday February 18th
Very cold and foggy start. Queued for an hour to get shallots and onions from the Shed, and ditched them as soon as I got home as most of the onions were mouldy and I didnīt want to risk white rot. Very disappointed, but had a nice chat in the queue with some chaps from further up the site. Went up to South Heath and bought identical shallots and slightly different onion sets (Golden Gourmet and Stuttgarter Giant - hopefully these will give me a better crop than the New Fen Globes). Also got more seeds (ordered through the GC) and am one packet away from this yearīs list being complete. And a water butt lid. Straight to the lottie as the sun had come out, making things a lot warmer. Still wet though! Fitted the lid, then cut a hole in it for the down pipe. Used the offcut to block one of the side holes, so that butt is pretty mosquito-proof now. Moved on to the raised bed and put brackets at two corners. Then finished the digging, adding more manure as I went. Much to my surprise, found a large intact EGG in the heap. Buried by foxes, Iīll bet! Ground was not fun to dig. Managed somehow to flatten the top roughly despite leaving the rake at home, and then dug out the other two corners enough to put the brackets on. They shouldnīt warp too much now. Took pictures and then finished weeding the cabbage bed.
Put a load of 6X on the winter onions - they really are pathetic-looking. Donīt think Iīll try overwintering reds again in a hurry! But the rain has got the daffodils growing - theyīve shot up this week! The bed looks halfway respectable now. Wonder if theyīll flower before the end of March though!

Dragged the larger piece of black plastic that was now spare over to the manure heap and pinned it down with various bits of wood, with the last, smaller bit going over the path by the new bed.  Then decided I wanted to move the cold frame over to the shed area, where I could actually use it as a cold frame. That bit was easy, but Iīd forgotten about the solid stone patch underneath. Decided to start excavating it, with the aim of eventually getting shot of the rusty water tank and putting the water tank from by the shed in its place (in exchange for the cold frame). Got lots of stone for pathmaking while I was at it! Two buckets later decided to call it a day with the digging-out about a quarter done. An exercise to do slowly and surely I feel. This time I *know* Iīm not going to be able to do much outdoors tomorrow, with a Metcheck forecast of about an inch of rain, so have planned lots of sowing and allium planting to do instead, safely inside!


Finished! Now to do the paths and the edging.

Sunday February 19th
As predicted by Metcheck, rain appeared at about 2pm just in time to make GQT tricky to listen to over the hammering on the conservatory roof. Have now potted on the Sturon onion sets as theyīd totally outgrown their original modules, planted (straight into the larger modules!) the Stuttgarter Giant sets, ditto the Golden Gourmet shallots. Now have 175 onions sitting happily in the modules. Garlic still growing (though didnīt plant all of it) and leeks starting to straighten out. Thereīs a lot of those, too. Alliums everywhere. Planted a block of rootrainers of sweet peas, and 15 cabbage `Red Jewelī, not the cheapest red cabbage but the write-up was very good. Found a packet of summer sprouting broccoli, and Iīm up for a laugh. Planted 10 of those. No idea where theyīll go, but with my track record for sprouting broccoli, I donīt think thereīs much danger of them getting into the ground!! Minicoles will go in in a couple of weeks, though Iīm currently a bit short on mid-sized modules for some reason! Was going to start some lettuces too, but didnīt have enough time.

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Tuesday February 28th
1st day off at home (spent the weekend at the folkīs) and despite the forecast being rather icy, it dawned clear and sunny. Made the most of it (I expect the rest of the week will not lure me outside!) and spent a good 6 hours up at the lottie, with a break for a hot lunch. Cleared out the old leafmould from the garage, so all of it is now at the lottie apart from some I took for the garden. Took two wheelbarrowloads to get the bags up to the plot, and all the 1-year stuff was tipped onto the leafmould bin. You can see itīs better than the fresh stuff but not nearly as good as the 2-3 year old mould. So thatīs at the top, and any ready-to-use leafmould has gone over to be incorporated where itīs needed. Started by doing the annual scattering of the sulphate of potash round the fruit bushes. I know itīs not organic, but... Must hunt down an organic form of it for next time! Decided to do something about the compost heap before the daleks arrive. Scraped all the recent stuff off the top, dumping it on the old corrugated iron on plot 1, then stuck a fork in, expecting compost with bindweed in. Didnīt expect soil and bindweed! Itīs a nice justification for why you should have a compost heap for all your weeds rather than just annual, as the soil that otherwise leaves the site must be considerable! But it was absolutely full of worms, both normal and the stripy brandling ones, which shows itīs nicely full of humus. Spent most of the day sifting it into the wheelbarrow to remove all traces of bindweed, then wheeling full barrows down to the lower raised beds. Stuck a barrow of manure on what will be the leek bed, then covered it with the compost heap soil, so the soil level is now right at the top of the wood rather than 3" below it. Then started topping up the flowerbed, which was very low to begin with. The whole area that had the sweet peas and gladdies in has been topped up to the wood, and Iīve made inroads into filling between the pinks too, despite having a cloud scoot by while raining/snowing over towards the south. Missed us completely, though for a while I thought I was going to have to run for it! Not sure which pinks are still alive - I expect Iīll find out in due course when they start to grow (or not). First crocuses are out. Yellow, typically. Used the barbie bucket to burn a lot of the gladioli foliage and also calendula, as they were dry as a bone. Ended up by putting one of the path edgers in by the newest bed; I need more wood to create the other side of the bed so I can sink the blueberry pots into it and give them a permanent (but easy to water) home. Left at 6pm - still vaguely light. Next: more compost digging and more infilling. Given the size of the compost mound still remaining, I think Iīll manage to top up a lot of last yearīs beds before it runs out. Hope the bins arrive before I have to go back to work!


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