Doing it Properly. (Sort of.)

I managed to get up to the allotment almost every day last week, but have almost entirely failed to take any more pictures because I’m always visiting during the increasingly short bit of daylight between me finishing work and sunset. I’ll try to take some this week.

SAM_1225The raised bed with the sunflowers and the golden courgettes has now been watered deeply and had a liquid feed too. I felt they sort of deserved it, having done so very well under my ‘plant and abandon’ system of care. There’s a second flower opening on one of the sunflowers but it’s a scrawny thing and not a patch on the others which have appeared in my garden. You can see a photo of that – I’ve taken more than a few.

The golden courgettes are covered in small courgettes so it’s just a case of seeing which ones grow. Giving everything more light and air will have helped. I cut 10 very large courgettes the first time, so I’m expecting a pause before they produce anything else.

Early last week, my father decided to surprise me by filling the second raised bed with compost and a pretend hedgehog, which I hid under the giant courgette leaves of the original bed, to keep it safe from the allotment garden ornament thieves.

I’ve been growing leeks from seed in tubs in my garden and have transplanted about 13 of them to the new bed, puddling them in as very ably demonstrated here. It amuses me that I’ve created a sort of pop-up allotment, with nothing there one day and properly established plants in there the next. I will try to do better next year.

1410371890801Apparently it’s been a good year for pumpkins. The neighbour with the enormous pumpkins apparently did nothing special, and had never grown them before. He’s now got a plot containing nothing but four enormous pumpkins. One threw a vine up over his fruit cage. He didn’t think to move it and now there’s a pumpkin the size of a small car, sitting up high and visible right across the allotment. Mine have languished in small pots for too long, but I’ve chucked them in some ground and hopefully they’ll at least produce some more flowers. I might get Christmas pumpkins… 😉

The Tomatoes Which Will Not Die are being watered more regularly and are still not dead.

Update: I realised another couple of sunflower heads had opened today and took some photos on my phone. I will definitely take my camera and get there earlier tomorrow. Until then…

 

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Things in my Garden, Part 2.

I have continued to pay attention to and appreciate the small things – and the sunflower, which is continuing to grow and throw up new flower heads.

Whilst not taking these pictures, I’ve been harvesting tomatoes, which I’ve then roasted and turned into a pasta sauce/soup base. I’ve also made a rather good caramelised red onion marmalade, which was worth the hours it took to make. I’ll put the recipes up for those later.

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The very next day.

Two days in a row – this is a new personal best! Yup, I’ve been back to the allotment and pulled more weeds, tied up some tomatoes and taken some photos of things I spotted.

First, having weeded the area around the raised bed completely, I have found the bed itself is 100% weed-free. Very pleased with that.

Having done that, and a load more weeding, I then attended to the tomatoes in the polytunnel. I cut back some bits that won’t do anything this year and watered them, for about the fourth time since planting them. I’ll go back tomorrow with some liquid feed – I feel they’ve earned it.

Then I took some photos of things on my plot.

Before I left, I also snapped some of the other things nearby which caught my eye. The pumpkins are absurd – and far bigger than anything else I’ve seen growing. Clearly someone who uses a ‘method’.

The plan is to go back tomorrow and carry on, feed everything and maybe get that second bed filled. Until then…

SAM_1084

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How Not to do an Allotment Part 2

If you haven’t read and ignored all my instructions from part one, then go back and read it immediately. You’re not remotely unprepared enough to fail at allotmenteering. If, however, you’ve been there and not done that, read on.

June and we did actually accomplish something. Obviously that was rectified by then immediately neglecting it again, but here are some photos of what it looked liked then.

“With any luck I can have some beds made and veg in the ground by the weekend.”

Well, it’s good to have ambitions. I actually got things in the ground about 3 weekends later in mid-July: a few golden courgettes and some sunflowers. My sister and her fiancé kindly made me a couple of raised beds, using pallets and stuff I’d gathered.

August will see a heatwave. Do not set foot on your allotment. Do not water the tomatoes in the polytunnel – it’s so hot your face is melting. They’ll definitely be dead.

September, and you finally get back up there. This is when you remember that plants are tough, which is one of the reasons you like them.

Not a metaphor.

Not a metaphor.

Start clearing again and resolve to go back in the morning.

The tomatoes in the polytunnel are still not dead.

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Things in my garden

I find that I appreciate my garden more when I notice the small things. Here are some of them.

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High Hopes

I had such high hopes...

I had such high hopes…

Back in April, I planted some sunflower seeds. They started off brilliantly, and grew quickly, so I had high hopes when I planted them. I tend to categorise my gardening years as being ‘good for –‘ and this year has been very good for slugs, which ate all the seedlings within a few days of them being planted out.

 

Sunflowers 150614

June saw me try again, and although I planted another three seedlings between the tomatoes, only one made it past the metre high stage without being eaten or broken by pigeons.

 

Sunflower 200714I wasn’t particularly bothered with having sunflowers, and was really just using some seeds my sister gave me, but as it got a bit bigger, it became much more interesting. I found myself fascinated by the structure of the leaves. You might say, it grew on me.*

I’ve kept a close watch on it, unsure if I planted it too late for it to flower.

Recently, I noticed that the main bud was beginning to open. I freely acknowledge my weaknesses as a photographer, but have still had lots of fun in the last few days, snapping away and trying to capture all the things I like about it.

Fun is a Very Good Thing. To say that this year has not been an especially enjoyable one would be an understatement. Depression had shrunk my world to the point where I didn’t often leave the confines of the house and garden, and was losing the ability to take enjoyment in anything I’d grown. There hasn’t been a lot of fun.

It would seem that my sunflower has magical properties, though, as I realised to my surprise, one day, that I was mentally plotting how I was going to grow them next year. They’ve got me out in the garden and seeing in colour again. Funny how one small seed can produce something which, to me, has become so significant.

If it didn’t mean standing on top of some steps, clearly visible to my neighbours above the hedge, as well as anyone taking the main road out of town, I’d probably still be out there trying to take some more.

Tomorrow is another day, though, and I’m looking forward to getting back out there with the camera. I intend to appreciate the crap out of every single day of my sunflower and once it’s over, I’ll be cutting the head off to try to save the seeds. There are two smaller buds which might open later, as well.

It’s horribly clichéd but the sunflower’s been used as a symbol of hope for a while. Nobody is more surprised than I am to find that it’s given me back mine.

Fin.

Fin.

 

 

*You might say that, but I reserve the right to turn the hose on you.

 

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Assorted Small Brown Birds

They are not all the same breed but they act as a group. Earlier this morning they all came in at once and started pinging round the garden, like muted but unruly tennis balls. There were about 20 birds in this little flock and they finished off what was out for them. I then refilled some of the feeders before the rain started, and this lot braved the shower.

SAM_0691

In the recent hot weather I’ve been especially diligent about keeping the bird bath topped up and clean. I’ve seen far more birds using it, including smaller ones who prefer it to next door’s pond. The birds have been drinking from rather than bathing in it, though, and today I saw something I’ve never seen before. It was raining steadily. Not the hard rain of a cloudburst but just a steady stream of fairly heavy rain. I was thinking about how that would be better for the garden than a sudden dump of water on hard ground, and wandered over to the back door to see what was going on out there.

A spherical sparrow was standing on a giant flower pot, ruffling his feathers and opening his wings. Then he flew down to the patio, which follows a slope and so had already developed a puddle. He took a bath in that, got properly wet up to his neck, and then flew back up to the container. He then shook everything out and extended his wings, so they would get washed by the rain. He looked like he was taking a shower. While this was going on, I became aware of something in my peripheral vision, and glanced up at the feeding station.

A pair of collared doves were perched on there: not hopefully looking to see if they could get at the seed feeders (and for seed on the ground) as usual, though. No, they were both awkwardly balancing while extending their wings just like the sparrow. They were deliberately taking a shower. I didn’t want to move away in case doing so ruined the moment. Just seeing that was a first for me, and I was so pleased to see different parts of my garden being useful to wildlife. I sometimes (annually) wish for a new patio which is more level, but the slightly dipped slabs clearly have a use. 🙂

I’m glad I got the feeders refilled before the heavy rain started. Between showers they were covered with the usual suspects: blue tits, great tits, greenfinches, house sparrows, hedge sparrows, and the odd starling (the flock appears to have dispersed and I’m no longer mobbed by them). Speckle, the robin, sometimes joins them because he’s young and foolish and has learned how to cling on to suet feeders and cages that aren’t meant for him. He’s hardly starving: I keep the ground feeder well supplied and he’s always got plenty of options, including the suet, at ground level, as well as a hanging table. He’s just weird, robin-wise. He’s a post in himself, Speckle…

Between showers I’m also getting to see the thing I enjoy the most: seeing the birds poking about under leaves, pulling out bits of vegetation and generally foraging in a more natural way. I’m sure the blackbirds will be coming in soon to get any worms which have surfaced from the downpour. For now, lots of small brown birds are hopping about beneath giant courgette leaves (not interested in the courgettes) and under hollyhocks, presumably after insects and bugs. Talking of which, the bees and other things are emerging with the sun and are all over pretty much everything with a flower. Between showers the sun comes out and steam visibly rises from the shed roof in clouds.

SAM_0689 I’ve only really been actively trying to encourage birds to come to my garden for just over a year. Before that, former neighbours had actively hunting cats, and brief attempts at hanging stuff from branches failed because I had no understanding of how birds behave with new food sources. I thought they would see it – I didn’t realise they would only look when a usual source was interrupted, and then have to trust it was OK.

It actually took 4 weeks for them to add my feeding station and bird bath to their maps, although starting to feed them when food was presumably plentiful may not have helped. The first lot of whatever goes out will probably go mouldy before anything eats much of it, so don’t put out a full feeder. My sister wanted birds in her garden and had a similar experience: we binned a load of mouldy seed. It was only pound shop stuff but you obviously don’t anything in your garden likely to harm the thing you’re trying to help. Better to put out a feeder with a small amount of whatever and change it as needed. She now has a load of different birds visiting her place too. Numbers for both of us, and varieties, have increased over time. Ground-feeding birds such as robins and the blackbirds appeared first, although the thrushes and wrens have always liked my garden.

I’m reducing the amount of suet that I have out, given the weather, and am increasing dried mealworms, seed and water. I mentioned next door’s pond as a water source, but, actually, the slightly quirky bird bath my Nan gave me has turned out to be an enormous draw. It is visited all the time now by all the birds who feed in my garden, as it’s safer for them than the pond, depth-wise.

Since it quickly goes horrible in this weather, I’ve been cleaning and refilling it twice a day, to try and avoid anything nasty breeding. I’ve added Citrosan to the water which is supposed to help kill off bugs but still be safe to drink. Either the birds really like it or they’re so hot they don’t care, because they are definitely drinking more. I often stand at watch them, and in the sun, evaporation does make the level drop considerably over the course of just one day. I’m using a measure of the liquid every day, but it seems less gross.

Only use tap water for bird baths and hedgehog water bowls – I checked. (Actually, having looked inside my water butt, I can quite see why: I’m sure that what ever nutrients domestic mains water lacks, are more than compensated for by the lack of bacteria. I’m feeding them seed appropriate to their breeds/the season anyway, so I’m sure it’s fine. Unlike ponds, which should be topped up only with rainwater where possible.)

Talking of water butts: today my water barrel cleaner arrived. It’s magic blue liquid designed to clean manky water butts or even soapy bath water, and it has good reviews. I’d got the odd whiff of sulphur when drawing the first can of water on hot days and thought I should probably do something about that to prevent disease in my plants.

It suggests that you empty and clean the barrel before using it. Joining a number of people on Amazon who thought life was infinitely too short for that, I prised open the lid ready to chuck it in and immediately changed my mind.

What greeted me was not some nearly empty thing that had got a bit smelly in the heat, but a full barrel of water. Black, nasty-looking water with things in it. Presumably this is stuff which has washed down off the roof. I didn’t think we’d had that much rain today, even if it is a small one – it holds 110 litres and isn’t nearly enough to keep pace with my gardening efforts.

SAM_0694

Devious courgettes are especially thirsty.

 

I drained the water into my 10 litre watering can and then realised where I might have been going wrong. The water going into the can had really slowed, and going by sound and the flow alone, I’d have thought the butt was nearly empty and turned off the tap. With the lid off, however, I could see there was at least a third more water to go, though – it’s just lack of pressure. I switched to buckets which could be left for longer, and realised it probably hasn’t ever properly run dry. I now know better.

Following the instructions, I used the hose and cleaned it out as best I could, given that I wasn’t prepared to turn it upside down and blast out any sludge. I then poured in the liquid, mixed into a watering can of water, as suggested. We got more rain and given that it seems to collect water so fast, I’m hoping it gets topped up fairly quickly. I’ll check inside before I apply any to plants, and will use carefully until I see how things react, but it’s meant to all be fine. At the moment it looks dark, sinister and toxic…

That was as far as I got yesterday. There wasn’t as much rain as was forecast and I missed the best of it, so the water level was still quite low. It did look much more blue than black, and definitely had less gunk floating on it. It does says it takes a few days to work but it’s obviously started doing something. I’ve topped the water level up with the hose, just a bit more so it’s not too concentrated in there, and the bottle says to add it weekly, so I will. (I’m not posting pictures because it’s still grim.)

The child-proof lid of the water butt is a pain in the arse to remove, obviously, but I’ve remembered the tiny catches no human fingers can release. My dibber is the perfect thing for reaching and releasing the clips, even the back two, so it’s rather less of a pain now I’ve realised that. The water still smelled a tiny bit but was infinitely better than before. I still wouldn’t want to water plants with it, but it does seem to effectively digest all the gunk, or whatever it does to get rid of it, according to reviews.

That problem handled, I’m now going to investigate the mystery of the leek thief, because apparently there is one in my garden…

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