Posts Tagged ‘Chipping Norton’

As the allotment season draws to an end

October 10, 2011

As the 2011 season draws to an end, our workload reduces on the allotment.  Apart from harvesting some of our winter veggies, we will be able to take some time off from weeding, strimming and maintenance in general.

Flower arch on allotment

The arch renewed!

Mostly, the beds are either occupied or weeded after the earlier weed explosion when we were on holiday.  I’m pleased to say the clematis arch has been repaired and is gracing the path once more.  It does now have a certain allotment charm … instead of a smart metal arch, we have a make-do-and-mend construction with the original metal and some salvaged wood.  But isn’t that the delight of an allotment?  Smart, modern, new constructions seem so out of place in a world where reuse, reduce and recycle should come first.

The onion experiment – results!  

Onion grown from a set

Onion sets win the day

If you remember, I decided to try growing onions from seed this year instead of sets.  Our onion experiment was fairly well controlled, with both lots of onions being treated equally.

I’m afraid I have to say the onion sets have won hands down.  The onions grown from seed were smaller, but more importantly, many of them bolted and several more have already gone soft, so they won’t store.

It did seem to be a lot of effort and, as we’re trying to make our plot less labour-intensive instead of more, I’m giving up my onion seed ambitions.

Successes vs failures?

Although our beans and courgettes didn’t do as well this year – presumably due to lack of rain – we’ve had no real failures.

Mayor of Chipping Norton presenting allotment awards

Me and His Mayor-ness - photo by kind permission of Kaye Freeman (Chippy News Team)

But successes?  Yes!  For the first time we had proper calabrese heads and those wonderful plants are still giving us a good picking of broccoli sprouts every week.  Another first this year is the Brussels sprouts.  To date, all we’ve achieved have been pea-sized – a pimple on the stem!  But this year, we have sprouts to be proud of (and enjoy).

Of course, I must brag again about our Commended Award in the Chipping Norton allotment competition.  That was another first … and will be spurring us on to bigger and better things next year (so I can have my photo taken with the Mayor again, you understand).

Still to come?

While the summer season might be over, of course we’ve still got plenty of goodies left on the allotment.  We’ve taken the first Savoy cabbage now, and a few swede and leeks.  The purple sprouting looks stunningly good and I’m looking forward to some frost for the kale.

Marian swede grown on allotment

The first swede of the year

Winter veggies are my favourites, I have to say.  I get bored quickly with runner beans and courgettes, but never tire of buttery golden swede, crisp roasted parsnips and the really rich dark greens.

Once we’ve taken down the beanpoles, I’ll be back with an end of season video and post it on YouTube.  The onion plaiting video has attracted almost 300 hits and I’m keen to polish my technique.  Be sure to watch it on a PC near you!

Our prize-winning allotment and holidays

September 20, 2011

The lack of our allotment blog activity is a result of a family visit and a long-awaited summer holiday.  So now I’m going to make up for lost time and update you on our allotment activity.

Allotment competition 'Commended' certificate

Our prize-winning allotment certificate

The hottest piece of news is … Plot 66a on the William Fowler Allotments in Chipping Norton is a prize winner and that’s official!  We came home from holiday to find a letter telling us of our ‘Commended’ award in the annual allotment competition.  Last night we proudly went to the Chipping Norton Town Council meeting to be awarded with our prize.

Needless to say, we were thrilled to have all our hard work recognised.  But also a little amused as winning competitions isn’t what our allotment is about.  Our motivation is getting away from the house and our desks, (being a home-based copywriting company, this is very important), enjoying the fresh air and, having a plentiful supply of home-grown vegetables throughout the year.

Wind damage on the allotment

Our poor clematis and honeysuckle arch!

We knew you’d ‘enjoyed’ a spell of bad weather during our absence, so we wondered how the allotment had fared while we were away.  The high winds had done some minor damage to our bean poles, the sweet corn is now listing a bit, but tragedy!  Our glorious clematis and honeysuckle arch is now a sorry heap.  A damp weekend meant we have not yet been able to repair the damage, so I just hope the allotment judges don’t pop back for another look!  Our prize-winning allotment is looking a bit the worse for wear.

We must give a mention to our chum and local business networking buddy, Ken Norman.  Ken kindly agreed to ‘allotment’ sit while we were away and pick some of the surplus produce to ensure it continued to crop.  In our absence, he was allocated his own plot,  so in future years, we’ll be able to return the favour!

I mentioned our family visit earlier in the post.  Our little town-dwelling granddaughter (2½ yrs), with her Mummy and Daddy naturally, came up for a long weekend.  ‘Baby Bear’ was on a promise … she was to help dig up the potatoes she helped to plant earlier in the year.  Needless to say she was very excited at the prospect and eagerly set to work.  ‘Daddy Bear’ was in charge of the digging, supervised by yours truly, of course.

Helping dig up potatoes

Baby Bear helping Daddy dig up potatoes

Miss Baby Bear diligently carried the potatoes, one by one, from ground to trug.  This was a scene worthy of the Good Life episode where Margo helps pick the runner beans!  But she enjoyed every minute and went home chattering about her potatoes and playing at planting more.

So with the 2011 summer season coming to a close, supplies are dwindling on the allotment.  The beans are at an end, earlier than usual this year, and the courgettes’ days are numbered.  But if the weather is kind, the late peas might give us a bonus crop and we still have all the winter harvest to look forward to … not to mention some overdue weeding!

A bit of a stink at the allotments this weekend!

July 6, 2011

Hands up who thought I meant trouble was brewing at the William Fowler Allotments in Chipping Norton?  Sorry to disappoint, but the ‘stink’ was of our own making.  With the cabbage white butterflies starting to appear and look longingly at our brassicas, it was time to spray with the noxious rhubarb jollop.  

We’ve made ‘comfrey cordial’ this year for the first time and we were warned it ponged at bit.  Well it is positively aromatic by comparison to the rhubarb leaf solution.  Needless to say it’s a job we do just before leaving, but it is gratifying to see the butterflies circling and quickly changing their minds!

Our allotment experience this weekend was low-key.  The weeds were under control, there was nothing to plant, so we enjoyed some leisurely R & R while pottering in the sunshine.

Onward peas

An abundance of peas

It was a red-letter day on the picking front when we harvested the first of our peas.  I love peas! It’s a family thing as my daughters and granddaughters share my passion.  But this year our peas look good enough and plentiful enough to grace the front of a seed packet.  I’m not sure what we can attribute the results to. Could it be they were planted straight in the ground?  Are the Onward variety more suited to our soil, or are they benefiting from the lashings of organic chicken poo pellets?  I don’t know, but whatever the reason, we have the best crop of peas ever.

When we used to grow a few veggies in our back garden, we never realised what a constant battle growing your own really is.  I don’t know how commercial growers, particularly the organic ones, make a living.  Each time we foil one pest or problem, another comes along to take its place.

This week was the turn of the broccoli (calabrese to be precise).  We have never been successful with broccoli, normally getting one tiny flower which opens and goes to seed before getting any bigger.  In accordance with my zero tolerance policy this year (if it doesn’t work we don’t grow it), it was the broccoli’s last chance.

mouse damage to broccoli

Best broccoli and nibbled broccoli!

Perhaps like the peas, it has enjoyed the poo pellets, but this year we have proper broccoli!  At least we did until something started eating it.  We ruled out birds – even using the netting as a trampoline wouldn’t give them access.  The only answer we can come with is mice and / or voles.  We know they are there in abundance, but for the past three years we’ve rubbed along together.  But perhaps we will need to think about some measure of control … or pick all the broccoli when it’s still too small to matter! On the plus side, we did manage to get at least one decent head which escaped the rodent attack.

To end this week’s log – another success story.  Our Autumn Gold raspberries, which don’t know one season from another, are going mad.  Having picked a good couple of pounds of them, it was time for the first jam making of the season.  Now we don’t actually eat jam, but the family are always willing to help us out.

Golden raspberry jam really is delicious, but it’s a bit of a culture shock.  Raspberry jam is of course traditionally red – so having raspberry flavour from something which resembles apricot really doesn’t add up!  I’ve added our seedless raspberry jam recipe to our blog here, so you can try it for yourself.  Enjoy!

Mr Neat & Mr Tidy’s Allotment

June 28, 2011

With hot weather forecast, we were up at our Chipping Norton allotment at 8am on Saturday.  Our uncertain weather conditions meant we were hoping the fog and drizzle would pass, and it certainly did.  By 10am it was sweltering!

David was on strimming duty this week.  The edges of the plot were in dire need of a hair cut.  My mission, as usual for this time of the year, involved the ongoing battle of the weeds.  By the time we went home, our allotment was pristine and did indeed look like an example from a Mr Men storybook.

mange tout

First mange tout of the season

I love this time of year on the allotment.  On the other hand, I don’t enjoy this time of year in the kitchen.  When we’re almost ready to start reaping the benefits, I begrudge having to buy vegetables.  However, soon we will soon be in full production, and this week saw the first of the mange tout arrive on the table.

We are more measured with mange tout sowings than we were before.  Having discovered they are pretty horrible frozen and getting heartily sick of them for breakfast, dinner and tea, we now have successive sowings throughout the season.  Reuzensuiker mange tout are prolific croppers!

Young calabrese

Baby calabrese

Our biggest highlight this weekend was the discovery of baby calabrese heads.  We are not good at calabrese!  They generally get to the size of ping-pong balls and start to go to seed.  Of course we’ve experienced this excitement before (several times), but never fail to be filled with optimism at this time of year.  If you are a calabrese guru, please leave a comment if you have any idea what we might be doing wrong!

The first Bunyard Exhibition broad beans and Onward peas are expected to deliver next weekend, and our Greyhound cabbage are forming hearts.  The perpetual spinach is growing like mad, and we have more lettuce than two people and dog can manage.  And of course, the dog of course isn’t big on salad anyway!  So in a couple of weeks I’m expecting to be allotment and kitchen happy.

Don’t forget the calabrese advice – we badly need it.

A belt and braces sort of day

May 23, 2011

We were the first up on the allotments on Saturday.  This deliberate move meant we could be first in line for the water tap before the hoards arrived.  Strangely, they didn’t … arrive that is, and we had the tap to ourselves for the 5 hours it took to fill our 1,000ltr tank.  Needless to say the water pressure isn’t great on the William Fowler allotments in Chipping Norton!

Parsnip seedlings

Few & far betwen parsnips

We learned a lot from last year’s drought.  Having spent weeks gazing at empty beds hoping seedlings would magically appear, we decided to hedge our bets this year.  Once the weedlings were separated from the seedlings, we found very little evidence of our parsnip crop.  While I can live with a lack of carrots, a parsnip famine is a major catastrophe.

So … belt and braces it was!  I set to and planted new rows of parsnip seeds between the existing rows.  Of course, if they all germinate it will be the root vegetable equivalent of the Black Hole of Calcutta, but you can never have  too many parsnips.

And the Chantenay carrots’ time was up!  After weeks of waiting there was not a carrot to be seen.  So in line with our new ruthless attitude … it was off with their heads!  The carrot pen has gone, the bed hoed, and the carrot seeds replaced with beetroot.  Well … they can’t say they weren’t warned!  Of course having gone to such an extreme, I fully expect to find a tangle of carrot and beets as they pop up merrily in tandem.

You might recall our 2011 onion experiment.  Back in April we planted onion seedlings, which resembled little more than blades of grass.  Two months on only half have survived, and they still look like little blades of grass!  Meanwhile back at the ranch, the remaining onions are still in the modules.  Even though they have reached a reasonable size and are soon destined for the ground, I can’t believe they will ever reach onion-proportions!  The onion sets, on the other hand, are the best we’ve ever grown.

Growing onions

Left to right: onion sets, onion seedlings planted early April, growing onions in modules

This weekend was a rare treat … two whole days spent either on the allotment or in the garden.  The allotment is looking good, the garden is looking splendid … just a shame we never got round to doing any housework!

Of planting, peas, and pests

April 19, 2011

This weekend’s weather meant an enjoyable few hours up on our allotment here in Chipping Norton.  It’s hard to reconcile this summer-like weather with daffodils and blossom on the hedgerows.  The balmy days have made me feel we are very behind, yet in fact we are probably ahead of the game.

Savaged peas

Spot the savaged pea - near centre at bottom

A couple of weeks ago we planted peas. Previously we’ve grown them at home in half pop bottles, which works, but is more labour-intensive.  To save time this year, we decided to tempt fate and our little rodent friends, and put them straight in the ground.  We think we have mice on our plot –  and we know we have bank voles.

In our first season back in 2007, we heeded my daughter’s advice and soaked the peas in paraffin.  I’m not sure if it did any good … it cost a few quid in paraffin (having had to buy lots) and ruined my gardening gloves in the process!  So in 2011, peas ‘au nature’ it was.  Some 10 days later, we had ‘pea-lets’.  But 14 days later – disaster!

Young broad beans

Baby broad beans

While it seems unjust to blame everything on pigeons, they do have previous for devouring our young peas.  We arrived on Saturday morning to find quite a few tender young pea shoots on the ground – very dead.  Was it pigeons or was it mice? Just another allotment dilemma, I’m afraid.  We decided the pigeons must the culprits … they are such useful scapegoats!  So now our pea bed resembles Fort Knox, and is completely impenetrable by anything of the feathered variety.  Of course if it was the mice …

I won’t bore you with tales of our carrots, having decided I will not obsess and stress about them this year. But suffice to say … this is their last chance! On that note, our c-things are planted, as are the parsnips, swede, the first beetroot and perpetual spinach.

The onion experiment (having taken over from last year’s carrot one) continues.  Half of the little onion plants are in the ground, while the other 50% are growing on here in the plant house.  The sets are going great guns … but perhaps they realise they have competition from the seed grown onions.  All I can say is they are all being treated equally and being fed and well watered.  We don’t discriminate on Plot 66A.

The broad beans, still grown in pots back here at Allotment Central, are in the ground and all in all … it’s looking good.

All we need is some rain.  The ground is dry and watering, watering, watering … is the order of the day.

A new season – a new resolution

April 3, 2011

After a year of tardiness in updating our allotment blog, I have resolved to do better this year!  No more putting it off and conveniently forgetting about our allotment diary – instead I will be making regular updates about this year’s progress.

Cloches on the allotment

Warming the soil

This is our 4th season up on plot 66A on Chipping Norton’s William Fowler Allotments.  It still seems like yesterday  we were facing the mammoth task of clearing the wilderness.

We still approach the new season with some trepidation, wondering how much work it will take to prepare the ground.  In reality, it is quite an easy task now.  All the hand weeding pays dividends and having individual beds reduces the workload considerably.

So what have we planned for 2011?  Well … we’re hoping to actually produce some carrots and parsnips after last year’s dismal failure.  On the plus side, none of our 12 carrots suffered from carrot fly, so at least we seem to have perfected our anti-fly screening technique.  Now if we can just get the blessed things to grow …

Carrot fly screen

The carrot 'play pen'

We’re going to have more French beans and less runners and lots more delicious sweetcorn.  We’re also attempting to grow our own onions from seeds this year, although we’ve hedged our bets and planted some sets too … just in case.

We had a visit from the family this weekend and took full advantage of our son-in-law’s energy and enthusiasm!  He happily got on with digging the last bed while I supervised our (almost) 2 year old Baby Bear.  She was fascinated by the allotment, thrilled to plant some seeds (potatoes) and very knowledgeable about the ‘compo’ (compost) – courtesy of Mr Bloom’s Nursery programme on children’s TV!

Potatoes planted by Baby Bear

Potatoes planted by Baby Bear

I must share this little boast with you … Jon, our son-in-law, is a bit of a ‘twitcher’ and has a bird song identification app on his iPhone.  He and Baby Bear have been learning to identify their birds over the past few weeks.  Imagine our amazement when our tiny tot stopped digging with her new baby-sized trowel, cocked her head, listened intently and announced … “It’s a chaffinch”.  We looked up and chirping away in the hedgerow was indeed a chaffinch … do we have a child prodigy on our hands?

So more news next week from the Copywriter’s Allotment.  We’re ahead of the game with everything ready to go.  Back at allotment central, the plant-house is full of seedlings and it won’t be long until we’re planting like crazy.

2010 – not the best year!

August 10, 2010

Last week my daughter and followers arrived here in Chipping Norton en route to their annual pilgrimage to the Big Chill music festival.  As ever, their visit included a trip to the allotment to harvest some veggies for dinner.  Her comment … “I’ve never seen it look so bare at this time of year.”

Red Flame runner beans

Beans hanging from upside down bean frames

Plot 66a on the William Fowler allotments is indeed a sad and sorry sight!  Instead of it bursting with life and goodness, we have empty beds and open spaces.  It’s not all doom and gloom of course!   The ‘Red Flame’ runner beans are prolific and we’re swamping the neighbourhood with their harvest.  The upside down pole construction makes them so much easier to pick.  Rather than having to conduct a bean body search through a tangle at the top of the frame, the beans hang down and present themselves beautifully!

Cosse Violette French Beans

The first purple French beans

The mange tout are plentiful and going from strength to strength … the courgettes (although not as bountiful as previous years) are doing quite well … and the French beans are almost into top gear.  After a very slow start, the perpetual spinach is finally starting to crop and the sweetcorn looks promising.

But the bad news …

  • 7 carrots from 3 packets of seeds
  • The parsnips have fared a little better with a yield of at least 10!
  • The beetroot are producing foliage, but little underneath
  • Onions?  Least said about them the better!
  • The brassicas are struggling for survival as we battle with a whitefly infestation
  • The peas are a non-event (Sunday’s harvest yielded 7 pods only)
  • The swede are a fraction of their normal size
  • And back at allotment central, the tomatoes are showing little promise
Sweetcorn plants

Sweetcorn looking promising

I’m not informed enough to know how much of this year’s failures are down to UIE (user intervention error … i.e. we got it wrong) or if it has simply been a bad season.  We are hearing reports from people far and wide who have suffered major carrot failure, but not the consistently poor performance we’ve experienced this year.

I can only stress once more how glad I am that we don’t have to earn our living from the land and my thoughts are with everyone that does.

Broad Beans and Hose Pipes

July 8, 2010

The drought in Chipping Norton continues with yet another week of hot dry weather.  While it’s enjoyable for the people population, the plants are not so enthusiastic.  Finally the decision was made … to throw caution to the wind, go out an invest in a 50m hosepipe, and fill up our tank from the allotment water tap.

Bunyard Exhibition Broad Beans

Oh what a lot we got!

But first on the agenda was the broad bean harvest!  We had decided to grow as many broad beans as possible, get them out early and refill the beds with some late peas, to make the most of the space.  After a spot of maintenance, we were ready to begin.

250 plants later, we had filled 5 buckets with beans and the compost bin was brimming.  Having tried 3 different varieties of broad beans last year, we came down in favour of Bunyard Exhibition. The final yield was 16.75kg, from 1½ packets of seeds (compared to 14kg last year from 3 packs!).  This of course, meant a major podding and blanching exercise back at the ranch.

Broad beans aside, our next mission was a shopping trip to invest in the new hosepipe.  Even that wasn’t straight forward!  This involved a 30 mile round trip to Banbury, as only shorter hoses were available locally.

The best laid plans however … armed with our new  hose, our existing 50m one and a handful of connectors, we headed to the allotments that evening.  The plan was to run hose 1 from the tap and connect it to our neighbour’s hose.  Our 2nd hose would then cover the distance from the neighbour’s plot to our water tank.  Wrong!  The distance to the tap to the neighbours hose (firmly clipped to the fencing) was more than 50m and it was a different gauge!

Another kindly allotment keeper, who was the only other person onsite at the time, lent us his and we did manage to replenish the tank somewhat.  But as fast as the water was going in the top, we were emptying it from the bottom to give the plants a good watering.  After about 90 minutes, we had to abandon the refilling project as dusk was falling – the result?  Only about 75ltrs left in the tank … oh … and a rather nasty mosquito bite!

If you’re wondering why we didn’t simply water the plants with the hose, I’m afraid that is a hanging offence on our allotments.  Hoses may only be used to fill up tanks and anyone breaching the agreement could be reported to the powers that be!  So being good, decent and honourable allotmenteers, we carried bravely on with the watering cans.

So as I write this, I’m awaiting the delivery of yet another hose, bought online this time.  The cost of carriage is considerably less than the time and petrol involved in another trip to the DIY sheds.  Tonight, we’ll be back up to the plot to refill the tank, assuming of course there isn’t a queue for the one and only water pipe on our section of the plots.  Note to self … don’t forget the insect repellent!

Let the harvest commence!

June 26, 2010
Cosse Violette French Beans

Cosse Violette French Beans underway

With a busy weekend planned, we had a very quick trip up to the allotment.  At least the dry spell has kept most of the weeds at bay, except the bindweed, of course.  If our scientists could find a way of making edible plants grow that easily, there would be no such thing as world hunger.

The lack of water is continuing to be a problem.  It hasn’t rained in Chipping Norton for weeks now and we are down to about 100 ltrs in the tank.

But we have a cunning plan … it is too far to run hoses to the nearest tap and it is a long way to lug it by the bucket full.  Writing this, I’m consumed with guilt … having written about fresh water supplies in 3rd world countries, we ought to be jolly grateful we don’t have to carry ALL our water miles each day!  And of course it would probably be good for us if we did.  However, the plan is this … as we have a fair few buckets with tight fitting lids, we will drive down to the tap, fill ‘em up’ and drive back up again.  Of course … that’s going to add to the food miles we’re meant to be avoiding by having an allotment.  Oh God! More guilt!

Alderman Peas

Alderman peas - not enjoying the drought!

Apart from having picked the first of the broad beans and the peas, there is little to report.  We’ve no experience of growing in what is effectively a drought situation.  We’ve given up on the carrots … 3 packets of seeds, planted conventionally and our Good Life experiment, and we have about 6 to show for it.  The parsnips, which have always been one of our champion crops, are not much better and the Alderman peas are dying off before our very eyes.  My thoughts are with all the farmers and growers experiencing the same problems and I’m very thankful we don’t do it for a living.

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