The 2009 story so far

Seasoned Allotmenteers … it’s year 2!

January and winter hardy Douce Provence peas

January and winter hardy Douce Provence peas

I will admit to always having been a ‘fair weather gardener’ in the past.  However, one of our ambitions was to have a year-round supply of fresh vegetables.  While we weren’t completely self-sufficient last year, we estimate about 60 – 70% of our veg was home grown.  This might not seem a lot, but vegetables are pretty much our staple diet.  I might add we’re not vegetarian … but we have friends who go home saying … at the rate of ‘5 a day’ … they’ve had a week’s supply in an overnight stay!

More allotments for Chipping Norton

A frosty start to 2009 in Chipping Norton

A frosty start to 2009 in Chipping Norton

Early in 2009, the Town Council and William Fowler Allotment Trust Committee started reclaiming more unworked plots.  Some previously unused land was also cleared to make way for new allotments, bringing a bevy of new blood onto the allotments.  Included in this was a plot adjoining ours, I’m pleased to say.  We were glad to see the back of the waist-high weeds.

Asking us for advice!

Our bed system was much admired, and some of the new allotmenteers opted for a similar method.  It was good to be able to reassure them that the donkey work wouldn’t last forever and they were heartened to hear our plot was less than a year old!  Considering our lack of knowledge and experience, we have been asked for advice on any number of subjects … little did they know we probably knew less than them!

‘Snow’ fun competing with the pigeons!

Megan McCarthy says 'Snow is fun!' February 09

Megan McCarthy says 'Snow is fun!' February 09

February 2009 brought about 2 weeks of snow to Chipping Norton.  Chippy has a reputation for its micro-climate.  When, just a couple of miles up the road the snow had thawed, we were still about a foot deep in the infernal stuff.  With a small, rugged 4 x 4, getting out and about wasn’t a problem.  After a few days at home, we were suffering from withdrawal symptoms and just had to visit the ‘plotment’ … and if we were lucky … pick our first purple sprouting.  But shock … horror … our purple sprouting was bare!  The pigeons had helped themselves during the cold weather … and this was our first experience of their handiwork!

We obviously got off lightly last year … we did wonder why all the other allotment holders found it necessary to envelop all their plants in netting, dangling CDs and other such devices.   Birds?  What birds?  We didn’t have a bird problem (cocky novices that we were) so what was all the fuss about?  I can only assume the local pigeons were lulling us into a false sense of security … perhaps as an act of charity in our first year, but guess what?  Now we’ve got netting, CDs and a few more devices … just like everyone else!

All Year Round Supplies

As rookie growers, we were quite surprised to discover things like kale and perpetual spinach would crop well into the new year.  The kale was a huge success and kept us in fresh greens for months.

Perpetual spinach - at the end of the road!

Perpetual spinach - at the end of the road!

My 1st prize though must go to the perpetual spinach (root beet).  The flavour is stunning and despite all the cold weather of 2009, it cropped for a full year!  In fact, after a lull between December and the end of February, it started to go mad in early March.  The yield was twice that of the previous summer and it was with great sadness that I finally dug up the old plants in June of 2009 … 15 months after the seeds had been sown.

But our plan had worked and our objective was achieved … our supply of spinach was seamless.  No sooner had the old plants finally gone to seed, the new ones were ready to start harvesting.  A success!

Spring sowing 2009

Hours had been spent over the winter poring over the seed catalogues, so we were looking forward to starting our spring sowing.  Like last year, most of our seeds were planted in modules in the garden before being transplanted on the allotment.  It worked last year and meant I could take shelter in the garage in the more inclement weather and plant away to my heart’s content.

This year we didn’t use the paper tubes, having gone mad in last year’s summer sale.  A fellow freecycler and keen gardener told us Wilkinson in Banbury were selling all their plastic module trays at half price or less.  Always the true Aberdonian, this was music to my ears and we headed off to stock up.  The module trays were certainly considerably faster to fill and plant, but in some ways, the paper tubes were better.  Plants which didn’t have a big or strong root system were more vulnerable, so next year I think it will be a combination of both methods!

The mystery of the vanishing seeds!

Not all our seeds were sown in modules.  Root vegetables simply don’t work unless you plant them straight into the ground.  You end up with cork-screw carrots (we tried!) and oval beetroot.  So in March we got to work and planted our beetroot, the first of the early carrots, and the swede.  The Swede fared well with a high germination rate (how I hate thinning out – it seems such a waste) but our beetroot and carrot seeds were a different matter.

The first beetroot were planted in 4 x 4ft rows across the beds.  Despite lots of TLC, most of the beetroot seeds did nothing.  Similarly the carrots and the parsnips.  Having been so thrilled with our carrots in 2008, I planned to dedicate a whole bed to them.  There is something wonderful about the smell of a freshly dug-up carrot!  There is also a real air of mystery about carrots and parsnips.  Like potatoes, you just don’t know what you’ve got in advance.  The excitement of digging up large and perfectly formed vegetables really fires my rockets, but then perhaps I just need to get out more!  I digress … in total I have planted 3½ packets of carrot seeds and 2 packets of beetroot.  The later beetroot all obligingly did their stuff, the parsnips had a low germination rate (and yes – it was new seed), but the majority of our carrot seeds have simply performed a vanishing act!

If anyone has any suggestions about the vanishing seeds, we’d be pleased to hear it.  We can only conclude it has been too cold, too wet (did they rot?), or they’ve fed our little feathered friends.  We also discovered another small problem – voles!  Would they have been responsible?  Three of our beds at the far end of the allotment appear to be housing what we think is a large colony of Bank Voles.  We’ve found dozens of little burrow holes and it only takes the insertion of a bamboo cane to realise the ground is like Swiss cheese underneath.  So one of life’s little mysteries.  Have our seeds fallen through the burrows and rotted deep underground … or indeed … do Bank Voles eat seeds?  Who knows?  We don’t!

Perhaps by next year we’ll have all the answers.

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