17 January 2011

At least it wasn't cold!

Having packed Mrs D and the kids off round to friends to knit and play respectively, I wasn't about to let a bit of rain put me off a couple of hours on the plot.

The plan was to plant up six of the rhubarb crowns to a bed at the front of the plot and then move the raspberries to the same bed. It wasn't too bad on this bed at the front as it had been covered over since last Autumn but digging out the raspberries was very muddy. The mountain of bind weed and couch grass roots that came with them didn't really help with this, but it is very satisfying to get them out. I'll need to dig this bed over again as I'm sure there will still be plenty more in there. Not to mention sort of the paths around it.

I also straightened up one of the long suffering apple trees (possibly Discovery?). The problem is, it too is congested with bindweed round there and I'm not sure if it might be easier to dig up the tree to weed around it and then plant it again, with a stake this time. It's still quite small so is a possibility.

The rhubarb and raspberries were then all planted up in the near dark, by which time I was thoroughly soaked too and headed off home for some dry clothes. OK, I admit it's not easy to see in the picture!

Earlier that day...
I'd dropped off a few of the rhubarb crowns to their new homes this morning and placed my first order of the year via the allotment shop at the nearby site. I've ordered 2.5kg of Charlotte, Pink Fir Apple, King Edward and Desiree, all very traditional and for the princely sum of £9.70. I'll probably share some of these with my Dad and then get some others to go with them. Possibly some Salad Blue and some other maincrop variety.

15 January 2011

A trip to the Garden Centre

It was a thoroughly miserable day and we needed to get out of the house to let the kids run off some energy, and give the cats some peace from them. So what better place than a garden centre!

We got a little side-tracked round the back of the garden centre and ended up here:

Well, this was just the appetiser: the old stable block. Yes this was a stable block!

Still when you see the house (although I'm not sure 'house' does the place justice?) round the corner, you can see why it's just the stables:


This is Wentworth Woodhouse, reportedly the largest privately owned house in the world? It has the longest facade in Europe, with 365 rooms inside there. And given the size of it, very few people have ever heard of it. I have to confess it's become a bit of an obsession since reading Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of a Great English Dynasty a few years back, but this is the first time we've actually made it to see the house.

Unfortunately, being privately owned, it's not opened to the public in any way, as the many notices pointed out. But there is a nice public footpath that runs next to it! It's no longer in the hands of the landed gentry as you might expect, their Earldom having died out a few years back - although most of the land around here is still owned by the remaining family. Having been neglected for a while it is currently being renovated by the current owner and featured in Country Life last year. Yes I do have this copy, my only copy of Country Life I'd like to add. Did I mention it's a bit of an obsession?!

So what's this all got to do with the Garden Centre trip? Well the Garden Centre is in the old walled garden (another obsession, but let's not go there this time!) round the back. I can't remember the last time I actually bought anything garden related there, but they've got a great cafe (now actually a huge restaurant), a selection of shops to keep us all happy, a park for the kids and various bits of restored gardens from the original estate - including the newly restored maze we spent an amusing half an hour getting the children lost in!

So, after first refuelling with a coffee and a huge piece of cake, we then bought new toys for the cats in the pet and aquatic centre (aka free aquarium), a new walking stick for Mrs D, a bag of sweets each for the kids and a book for me. About the old walled garden there. Did I mention obsessed...

Alien Invasion?

Expecting conditions to be somewhat reminiscent of the Somme, it was with some trepidation I approached the task of lifting and dividing the rhubarb on (the long neglected) plot no. 2. It's a bit of a mess up there and needs some serious tidying but winter isn't being too obliging with first snow, then frost and now endless rain.

Fortunately it's always quite dry up there and it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Well the weather wasn't. Digging up and splitting rhubarb crowns that have obviously been there a while is no easy task. Last year they weren't so productive and started flowering so I decided lifting, dividing and moving was the answer. Once they were out the ground I divided them up into 12 large crowns! Yes 12.

Alien crash landing?
I reckon I'll keep six of the crowns so I can force two each year, rest two and then have 'normal' rhubarb from the other two. I offered the others to a few people, not expecting such a positive response but now I think I'll have to ration them!

As I said the rest of the plot is a mess so I set about trying to tidy up some of the other areas.

In front of the pond
Firstly, I cut down a small willow by the pond. You can't eat willow and it makes it harder to get at the ground elder to dig it out. I'm gradually working my way around three sides of the pond taking out shrubs and trees, and attempting to dig out the ground elder - which I'm fully expecting to be doing for some time to come. Unfortunately I think the pond liner has a leak somewhere, any ideas on how to find a leak?

Apple tree at slight angle
The poor apple tree, the larger of the two Belle de Boskoop, was always growing at an angle - presumably as a result of it not being staked when planted - but the weight of fruit and winds last year have further pushed/pulled it further over. It's going to need a serious prune to try to get it growing upwards again, and the blackcurrants where planted far too close. All the apple trees have some 'issues' with leaning and after leaving the plot I went home via the garden centre to buy a tree stake to hopefully save the youngest tree before it ends up like the other two.

I'm toying with the idea of buying some rootstock in an attempt to try grafting the trees. Not because I want more of these apples, just something I'd like to be able to do.

A work in progress
In front of the youngest tree is a load of comfrey - sadly not the sterile type, given how much of it I seem to have - lots of couch grass and some raspberries in there somewhere - Tulameen apparently. Which is a bit of a blow as I thought these were autumn fruiting and chopped them down to the ground with a view to moving them. Apparently they're summer fruiting. I guess that'll be next year we get fruit from them then! I dug over some of this bed, whilst dodging the apple tree branches, but let's be honest there is still much to do here...

Also on the list of things to do is to get the seed order in before the Allotment Association deadline next week.

10 January 2011

Wot no snow and ice?

Well OK I was lying about the ice, but it had defrosted enough to do some work down on the plot to do some work. Strictly speaking it was too wet to be doing much, but you know, time, opportunity, etc.

Just after arriving I spotted an interesting looking bird in the tree. It then helpfully flew down to the plot not long after. Sadly I was too slow with the camera and my knowledge of birds isn't so good, but chatting to the neighbours later they seemed to think it could have been a sparrowhawk. Sadly it didn't seem to be scaring any pigeons away. I finally find a use for the tree and the council are going to get rid of it...

Having chopped down the rose bush came the task of digging out the root. I've never like roses! Some time later, most of it is out. The rest is going to rot in situ. Hopefully. I tidied up along the wall where the rose was, weeding as best as possible in the conditions. I discovered a couple of blackcurrant bushes I'd put in a couple of years ago as rooted cuttings from the old blackcurrant  bushes. Seem to be doing OK, although couple probably do with being moved.

Wot no rose bush?

Further down is the 'triffid' aka the loganberry (the sprawling mass to the left of the picture above). It's doing its best to take over that side of the plot, so much so I'm going to have to consider putting in some wires to hold it back. Or train it, if you want to get technical. It's also started to root in various places where has touched the ground. I have cut these away from the main plant and planted them a bit further away to get it to spread along the wall further - which I can't imagine will be too difficult. I also game one away to Tim on the plot below, along with a few Jerusalem artichokes - along with suitable warnings of their 'effects'.

In amongst the attempted weeding - mainly of the creeping buttercup - I cut down the raspberry canes. I was in two minds about whether to dig them up due to their poor performance last year, but they've had a reprieve for now - and I can't remember why! I pruned the redcurrant and gooseberry, putting some of the cuttings in the ground to see if they take for new plants. They could both do with moving, but I'm not really sure where to!

So more weeding, moved the decaying dead rat (fortunately no pics!) and off home. Quite a few people around and stopped for a chat at the end, which was a mistake as the sun was going down by this stage and easy to get cold!

3 January 2011

Now that's all over...

I always find Christmas and New Year pass too quickly for my liking. There not usually a lot to look forward to in January either. OK there's the seed orders and some planting, if I can find room in the house for them, but it seems ages before it starts getting light again and I can get out and do some real work. Granted there a fair bit of tidying up I could be doing but that's not easy in the frosty weather and virtually impossible in the snow.

There was enough of a thaw the other day to allow me to get my blackcurrant (Titania) planted. Fortunately the spot I'd prepared was sheltered by the bath so wasn't frozen. After planting I pruned it as per the instructions, and pushed these prunings into the ground in the hope some of them take as there's room for at least one more blackcurrant bush in that space.

Working my way down the plot, I finally finished tidying the strawberry bed and planted out half a dozen runners, chopped down the Jerusalem Artichokes, the rose bush (the only problem I have with it is that it's in the wrong place) and some brambles.

Better late than never!

Finally I arrived at the brassica bed to sort out the netting that had collapsed under the weight of snow.

Typical rustic style on the plot

Sadly this proved easier said than done. The ground was still frozen down at this end of the plot so it proved impossible to get the sticks back into the ground to hold the netting up. Note to self do a better job with the netting before the snow this year.

And now to the seed catalogues...