January – The time to think.

Shropshire Allotment

Hello there!

Well still very little in the way of growing taking place on my allotment as I’m very cautious of sowing anything to early. Yes we are all eager to get things growing and for many its probably been 4 months since you last popped a seed into compost, but there is nothing that desperately needs to be planted ion January that wont catch up if planted in February. In fact many seeds sown in January and kept on windowsills and in cool greenhouses will only end up being weaker, poor quality plants. so if you don’t have a heated greenhouse or similar, sit on your green fingers and resist the urge to sow, or if you just cant stick to leeks and onion seeds.

In the last of the down time before the growing season really kicks into life its given me plenty of opportunity to think more about my New Years plans and aspirations for the plot. the chickens have moved into there new run and I plan on expanding this for a series of pods and external runs so they can roam and explore. Think chicken adventure playground. That has lead me to think that if the chickens have a nice home on the Allotment then I need one two, so as soon as the weather warms up I plan on sprucing up the shed, painting it and adding a nice area to sit, and maybe even lie down, to give my back some much needed rest when needed.

From this I then decided that I want my allotment to represent my own personality more and as a bit of an “arty farty” id like so have some reproduction Dig for Victory signage around. and give many of my raised beds a bright lick of paint, reds, lime greens and yellows. This isn’t creating more work, I hear you cry, because I will give the paint to my children and they can do it for me! Nothing quite like slave labour, isn’t that what having children is for?

Then, I thought some more… see I told you January was for thinking!
wouldn’t it be nice not to always be down the allotment in my “scruffs” (old clothes)
looking back on the Dig for Victory movement and WW1/WW2 made me realise just how smart our great grandparents were. gardening in a shirt and tie, lovely tweed and wool and a real pride in ones personal appearance. Now I use to love fashion and being dressed well, then at some point I lost my way. Jeans and a hoodie became an easy (and cheap) alternative and jogging bottoms and a T-Shirt became my “scruffs” Fishing, gardening and any mess job, clothes.

“British people have never dressed as badly” – Dame Vivienne Westwood. 2012.

So once we have some better weather and less rain I intend on ditching the over trousers and hoodies, even the wooly hat! brylcreem my hair and smarten up a bit, I’m not suggesting I will be suited and booted but I do intend to get my fashion sense back.
I was an “Indie Kid” at college and University, I rocked the twisted dirty denim, lambretta shirts and retro Goala Trainers. the hair maybe a bit thiner, and the beard developing a few grey hairs but theres no reason I can’y be smarter on my allotment.
Why not have ago your self? We Can Do It!

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Saving Money – Thrifty Compost!

karenbates
DIY Compost, how to get a bit more for your money.

As your probably well aware I am not one for spending much money on my allotment, mainly because I don’t have it to spend and in my own mind it would be fruitless (pun intended) to spend more on the plot that it would actually cost me to go and buy veg from the shop, yes I know my allotment is also a hobby but I do get some satisfaction from the frugality and thriftiness growing there.

One of the things you cant really get away from buying is compost, yes you can have a heap and make your own, but this takes time, it’s also very time-consuming. gathering the weeds, leaves, bark, straw and other carbon and nitrogen sources needed. Because trust me, the bucket full of kitchen scraps and the few bags of lawn clippings the average house produces each week soon roots down to nothing more than a few liters.

Now I recycle all my spent compost, as you should all do, by this I mean the compost I use to grow my greenhouse crops, like tomatoes, is the following year used to mulch and top up the raised beds and sometimes even mixed with fresh compost to bulk out containers and plant pots.

Sometimes though it’s not always essential to use “good” compost if you have a 50 litre pot, putting a full 50Lt of brand new top brand compost can be wasteful, especially if like me you will be feeding your plants regularly with comfrey/nettle tea, blood, fish and bone or Chicken manure pellets. (all my favorites)

Obviously, you can mix your old compost with new but if you haven’t got any old compost and you have a few large pots, containers and beds to fill there are a few things you can do.

Firstly, if the beds are deep (2ft or more) at least half of this volume can be taken up with general green waste, lawn, and hedge clippings mixed with some hay or straw then the rest filled up with standard compost. grow shallow rooting veg in the first year and as the level sinks top it up and you will have a large raised bed filled and ready to grow for at least half the cost of filling one with straight compost.

If the pots/beds you have to fill are smaller or if you just want to top up existing containers then you can try mixing your own compost using cheaper items and free sources. one of the easiest things to get hold of is horse manure, (ideally well rotted, you’ll find this at the bottom of the muck heap) In the UK go to any stables or horse owners with a few bags and a shovel and I will almost guarantee they will let you take as much as you like. (OK maybe ring first!) but many have vast heaps they are struggling to get rid of. Now if you’re lucky the next one can also be FREE and from the same source. Woodshavings, you can buy these from a farm store, they are cheaper the more you buy. DONT buy them from the supermarket, they are 5 times the price! but again any stables maybe glad of a had mucking out in which case you can probably again get bags full for free.

Next, you need a trip to your local builder’s merchant for a bag of sand, if you have to buy all the ingredients then this will be one of the cheapest, then to finish good quality compost. my favorite is actually Wyvale as they often do a deal of 4 x 75lt bags for £20 and you get reward points. Woohoo!

Now my recipe is simple (it’s not exact, so please trial and make one your happy with) and I use it for growing just about anything. but obviously not starting seeds, as you will want a much finer seed compost.

Just a guide
100Lt Compost
50Lt Manure
50Lt Sand
50Lt Wood shavings
Then add a good feed of blood, fish and bone and/or chicken manure pellets.

So, get out there, get your fingers dirty and try and make some for yourself.
Its all about trial and error until you find a mix you are happy with after all gardening is all about confidence and you need to have confidence in your compost.
Start buy using your mix you grow a few potatoes in, maybe in barrels or pots and I guarantee next year you will be making more.

New year, new growing season.

Shropshire Allotment
Looking back on 2017…

2017 was a really successful year for me on the plot, noting of huge importance to the gardening world happened, but for the first time in a long time i felt i used the site to its potential.  We had a bumble bee nest, hopefully thanks to all the wild flowers, the plot looked lovely and colourful for most of the year with everything from poppies to sunflowers and a wealth of cosmos illuminating the beds.

I had good success with veg too, Greens and beans did very well as did cucumber, tomatoes and chilli. my butternut squash were huge and had a good number of pumkins as well as the always reliable courgette, radish, salad leaves and beet root.

i faired ok with root crops, grew some really good sized parsnips and beetroot but although my carrots tasted good there wasn’t more than a few meals.  Potatoes were poor, but they always seem to be poor on my site as the sheer number of small slugs just love to make them their edible home. So in 2018 I will be moving all my potato growing into pots with fresh sterilised compost from the garden centre plus i think i will use a nematode on the soil late spring to help reduce slug numbers. the site is on a natural wet spot and so its perfect slug habitat.

One crop that was wonderful was my onions I didn’t use the winter (Japanese) variety this year as i find they tend to bolt to often and always lose half or more. but using centurion set planted in spring i had a great crop of cricket ball sized tasty onion. so this year I will be planting more sets and also growing a few more english onions as seeds.

Plans for 2018…

As well as trying to achieve similar if not better results as last year, well to be honest i want a lot better results. now my site is “set up” in a way in which I like it id like to be more self sufficient if possible. i don’t intend to be full  self sufficient as to be honest it its practical on the size of land i have and with my condition. some things are just to easy and to cheap to buy from others.
Example, I live in Shropshire its a big potato growing county, farms around me supply all the major crisp and chip firms in the UK. so all the grade A spuds get sent to Walkers and all the others too big and too small are bagged up and sold by farmers, farm shops etc
I can buy a 25kg (55lb) bag of potatoes for £5. ($7) and there is nothing wrong with them other than they don’t fit the processing machines for the big factories.
So why bother with main crop id have to put aside a quater of my plot all my time and effort and buy the seed potatoes for less than £5 ($7)?

I grow a few new and mid season potatoes as these taste fantastic and are a real treat fresh from the earth but for now i’ll leave main crop to my local farmers.

As for YouTube…

Well, obviously you have probably seen I YouTube more than I blog. (see previous posts)
The plan is to continue with this and progress over the coming season, but maybe expand on what is just my weekly ramblings to be a bit more informative.
I have said all along that there are better gardeners, youtubers and “how to” experts than me, but what I have noticed is there isn’t many, or even any that show how to garden with a disability.  Maybe i have a bot of a niche? I’m sure we will see!

I also plan on looking into the cost of running and keeping an allotment on a budget.
I’m a huge recycle/freecycle and upcycle nerd, we (humans in the west) waste far to much through lazyness (me included, i’m not being preachy, we can all do more) and i was thinking about just how much I have spent. over the last few years.

My Shed was £40 ($55) Greenhouse was free £0 (from ebay) search under “free to collect” many people buy houses with them already in the garden and just want to get rid, it cost £80 for a skip so its better for them to give it away. granted it takes a few hours, its a two person job, and you will break the odd bit of glass but its free.
I have some good tools but they come home with me so not to be pinched if we get a break in on site, so i wanted a spare set to keep on site, i got a rake, spade, digging fork, hay fork and a mattock from ebay for £25 ($33) total the mattock alone is £30 new, so there are bargin’s to be had. then i picked up some smaller items trowel, fork and hoe for £5 ($7) from facebook.

Everything else was free. Compost bins x 4 freecycle. 2 huge raised beds in decking free from freecycle. scrap wood to make more raised beds also from freecycle and ive even an old chicken house i’ve turned into a cold frame plus hundereds of plant pots all from facebook, freecycle and ebay for free.

Now I know this isn’t everything you need for an allotment but the rest are what id consider “disposables” and all hobbies will have these things, the trick is to keep the cost low and try alternatives until you fine one that works. £1 for 100 plastic plant lables or make your own from sticks just shave a flat space and a pointy end with a knife and bobs your uncle.

Compost, to start with you may need a few bags from the garden centre, but if you mix this with well rotted manure, which you will find most horse owners are only too happy for you to take, a little goes a long way and you can suddenly turn a 50lt bag into 100lts

Bird netting is expensive, but go to a building site and they will give you offcuts of scaffold netting for free and in my opinion, although its green its better, its a finer weave and you wont find a butterfly that can get through it!

So I wont give to much away now, other wise you wont watch the videos, but hopefull over the next year i’m hoping the channel will develop into a nice little recourse for people to drop in and out of on their own journey in gardening.

Until next time, Speak soon.