Friday, 27 July 2012

Are allotments cost effective?

Just so that no one can say that they did not realise; allotments are very hard work.

Think of something that you have done that is hard physical work.  Now double it and that is what kind of work you will have to put in to produce a good allotment.  It is a long term regular commitment.  Allotments do not respond to dibble dabbling about poking a fork into a square metre every other week.

Allotments develop slowly over many years if good organic matter is added regularly.  Only after many years do they produce a big enough harvest to make all the effort worthwhile.

Vegetables that you get might not be as 'high quality' as you might expect. They can be small, misshapen and mealy.  Obtaining pesticide free vegetables means that the plants are regularly infested by a variety of unwanted wildlife.

Very often your hard work and effort only achieves mediocre or poor harvests. Even after years of improving the soil there are always some vegetables that do not produce very good results.

However, the measurement of what is worthwhile cannot be assessed purely on the savings that could be achieved by growing your own vegetables.

To begin with there is a lot of physical exercise that can take place over long periods of time.  Digging the allotment will have to be done in some form or other every year.

I have been digging up the potatoes this week.  Several hours of digging, bending, lifting and squatting certainly makes muscles you didn't know you had ache like nobodies business.

Just using the onion hoe around the onions and leeks involves quite a bit of exercise and bending.  Wheelbarrowing the pigeon muck onto the allotment also involved a lot of physical effort.

This must improve fitness.

Getting outside into the fresh air, particularly when scented by sweet peas, together with the calm and quiet  atmosphere of an allotment must be worthwhile.

Listening to the hum of nature and the songs of birds while drinking a cup of chamomile flower tea is much more valuable than producing cost effective food.

Eating food that you have the skills to produce yourself, knowing  the soil it comes from, knowing what has gone into it and knowing what kind of effort is needed to produce it is more than worthwhile.  Getting your hands into the soil connects you to the earth and the living things that live there.

I can eat unusual vegetables such as celeriac, Florence fennel, Hamburg parsley, salsify, scorzonera and oca for a month without missing a day.  I can eat the varieties of potato, pea and tomato that I like.
What is that worth?

So you can take your money and your cost effectiveness and go eat it.  Nothing is worth more than your skill and knowledge particularly when growing your own food.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Third Place in the Allotment Competition

I know that it sounds like Monopoly but I have won third place in an allotment competition.  As this was my first attempt, I don't think that it was too bad.  I was one and a half points behind second place.  There are 1100 allotments in Wolverhampton on 31 sites all of which are automatically entered into the town competition.  So third out of one thousand one hundred is not too bad.  Most people are just growing for their families and do not bother with the competition but there are a dedicated group of allotmenteers that play the game and grow for the competition.  I am a bit of both and have grown things this year that I wouldn't necessarily grow in a normal year.

This is a working allotment not an exhibition allotment and must provide family and friends with a good contribution to their diet.  I do not grow to save money, although I undoubtedly do, but to provide a good, wholesome range of vegetables some of which would be hard to find in the shops.  For example how often do you buy Florence fennel in the shops?  I have two rows of twenty plants that will last for a number of months.

Florence fennel
I was only five points behind the legendary Mr Kimber of Boundary Way Allotments, who has won the National Allotment Competition, so I think that I am doing reasonably well. It is good to be acknowledged as a fairly good grower and it seems to validate all the techniques that I am using. So the use of charcoal, mychorrhizal fungi, aspirin, Hugelkultur and trench digging have not harmed my chances of improving the yield I get from the allotment.
It has been a particularly foul year this year and lots of things have not grown very well. There has been a lot of water on the allotment.  New springs have bubbled up all over the allotment - thankfully all of them on paths.  The water logging held a lot of plants back and there seemed to be no growth during June at all.

Having an 'organic' allotment meant that slugs and snails have taken quite a toll of vegetables. They have ruined some of the cauliflowers, cabbages and lettuce.  Having said this,  I have grown far too many and could not have eaten them all anyway.

I am up against growers that are not particularly sympathetic to the organic ideal and use a variety of different  artificial chemicals.  However, I knew this when I entered the competition so I cannot complain.  I do think that there should be a separate competition for truly organic growers.

I don't  really mind if there is some for me and then some for wild life.

Pea tops on the compost heap.  
I have taken out all the Douce Provence and the Oskar peas now; digging over the area that they had take up  and incorporated some pigeon muck into the ground.  I was going to dig in the pea tops but they may be better composted.  I have put a layer of pigeon muck over the top of these old pea plants tops to quicken decomposition.  I am expecting the compost to reduce in size as the material in the bin rots away.  I have cropped the nettles in front of the worm bin and put them into the comfrey bins.

The worm bin needs cleaning out and resetting.  I think that the tap is clogged up and liquid is not coming out as fast as it used to.  Not just me then.

Rather untidy compost heap
As you can see, I am just piling the old allotment plants on top and most allotment holders do this.  It will rot down by the winter and then be dug into the soil.  I will probably use it on the potato bed.

Potatoes and pumpkin on compost heap
After filling the other compost bin, rather than leaving it just to rot down, I planted potatoes and pumpkins on it to use the space.  Remarkably they have thrived and are growing quite big.  I am training the pumpkin to go over the roof of the shed.
This is the quagmire alongside the allotment.
I expect that everyone had a difficult time over the past three months with all the rain we have been having.  This is the track way with running water flowing down it.  The water comes out of the ground in several places on the allotment and this is why I have raised it up so high.  Drainage pipes, soak aways and land drains were all overwhelmed by the amount of water.  

The water has stopped flowing now because of the warmer weather but, if we have any more rain, it will start again.  It is often very wet like this during the winter but I have never seen it like this in the summer.

Comfrey needs to be harvested again
The comfrey seems to like all this rain and keeps growing.  I will have to harvest it again soon.  I had brushed this path very carefully  for the competition but it has gotten very dirty due to the water on the track way.

Comfrey butts
The comfrey, nettles and sweet cicely are put into the butts to rot down and form a rich black tea like liquid.  You can see it dripping out of the right hand butt into the tub.  I store the liquid in the left hand butt because it has a tap and it is easier to put comfrey liquid into a watering can.  

Comfrey leaves rotting down in one of the butts.

Comfrey tea
I don't measure out how much I put into the watering can but I think that it should be used in the same proportions as tomato liquid fertiliser.  

Little apple tree
My little apple tree on M27 root stock will not grow very big.  It is fruiting prolifically which is good because I only planted it in March this year.  It is the only top fruit tree that has produced fruit this year.

Dad's sundial
The sundial is getting swamped by the uncropped comfrey.  It actually tells the correct time when the sun is shining and it is not getting shaded by the comfrey.  I can adjust it for British Summer Time but seeing as we have not had any summer this year I have not bothered to change it.  
Pigeon manure
We very often get freebies left on the allotment by people who want to get rid of things like manure.  The bloke with the pigeons has brought down bags and bags of manure.  It is amazing that something that some people are desperate to get rid of is so valuable to others.  There seems to be a disconnection between the sources of plant nutrients and the food that we eat.  I will be eating this pigeon muck but only after it has rotted down and been processed by vegetable plants.

Although you need to be very careful with applying this to the ground because it is very high in nitrogen, it is a very good manure.  It must be treated like chicken manure but half the amount should be applied.    Most people leave it in compost bins for a year before they use it and this is not a bad policy.  The pigeon people bring it in these paper bags but the manure is so powerful that the bags begin to rot quite quickly.  I just leave the manure in the bags and let it all decompose together.

Too much pigeon manure and more came today.

Potato bed
These are mainly the Kestrel potatoes.  I have been looking at them carefully to see if they have blight but they seemed to have avoided it until now.  Many other allotments have got blight.  Blight seems to like warm wet weather and this is just what we have been having until recently.  I will be pleased if I can get to the end of July before having to cut all the tops off - this being one of the few remedies for blight on an organic allotment.
Where the red Duke of York were
I have taken out all the early potatoes and brought them home to store in large paper bags.  I got the bags from 'The Bag and Box Man Ltd. Bambury'  and their service was exemplary.   Next year this bed will have onions on it so I might put in some winter tares as a green manure for overwintering.  I will dig the tares in next spring incorporating some of the pigeon manure as well.  I am putting the potato tops into the plastic bag because I think that they may have blight.  I will dispose of them elsewhere.  My compost heaps do not generate enough heat to kill these pathogens.

I always work with at least one tub by my side for weeds, stones or other unwanted debris.

Are the brown patches on the potato leaves blight?  

Gooseberry bush.
I only got one gooseberry on the bush this year and that was slug eaten.  One of these days I will get a decent crop.  It seemed to like the wet weather and has put on a lot of growth.  I will prune it back to the bowl shape so that I can crop it easily without getting scratched by the thorns.
Sweet corn 
The sweet corn are about 2 feet tall now.

Are they planted a little too close together?
Although everyone tells me that I have planted the sweet corn too close to each other, they are still growing exceedingly well. They are the largest on the allotment and this is not because they are drawn. Obviously the judges thought that they were too close together because they only gave me 3/8 for them.   It is amazing how quickly they grow.   They are beginning to get flowers on them now.  I am applying  comfrey liquid fertiliser every week to make sure it continues to grow well.

Latah tomatoes have really suffered
Maybe I planted these Latah tomatoes out too soon because they have not done very well at all.  They are in ring culture pots on a hot bed made from farmyard manure.  I have had quite a lot of red tomatoes off them but they are really straggly.  They are planted in garden soil .  If they don't get blight then I might get quite a few tomatoes off them.

Suffering tomatoes
As you might expect,  these gave me my lowest score in the competition.  The judges were kind enough to give me 2/8 for them

Rhubarb suffering due to water logging.
The Champagne rhubarb suffered a lot in the wet weather because it became waterlogged.  It likes to be in damp soil but the amount of water it had to contend with did not allow it to grow well.  I have been leaving the rhubarb to its own devices so that it can build up some strength for next year.  It will recover when the soil dries out a little.  
Good crop of raspberries.
The raspberries have been cropping very well.  Although I eat most of them at the allotment, there have been so many that I have taken some home.  Not really enough for jam at the moment because I am eating them at home with a little ice cream and yogurt.

Cucumber climbing up the support
I have four ridge cucumbers in the old cold frame.  I have rigged up these supports to allow them to climb up so that I can get some straight cucumbers.  If you let them crawl about on the ground the cucumbers are curved and misshapen.

July leeks
The leeks are growing on well now but they will have to have a protective barrier on them before September.  This is when the second tranche of Phytomyza gymnostoma  starts to lay eggs.  I will put the large enviromesh over them to keep them safe.  

July onions
The onions are beginning to bulb up now but they are still way behind what they should be.  They did not grow at all during the wet cold weather.  Now that there has been a little sunshine they seemed to have doubled in size.

Good but they could have been better
I am hoping that they will improve in August and give me some big bulbs.

Squashes and courgettes
Tucked in between the squashes and courgettes is a marrow.  The squashes did not grow at all during the cold wet weather but now they are romping away. It is amazing what a little warmth will do.  No flowers on them at the moment but I always live in hopes.  Several courgettes have already been harvested.  Lots of flowers but no marrows as yet.  

The courgette plants are beginning to get quite large.
I can still get past the courgettes to sit in my chair.  I have run out of gas for my stove though so I cannot make any chamomile tea.  I just make do with ordinary tea out of a flask.  
Shed is a little untidy at the moment.
I am using this shed to dry off the garlic and the shallots.  The shallots are a little small but they will do to make pickled onions.  The thyme has grown very well and taken over the pot.  I will have to give it a hair cut soon but the flowers are good to see.
The pumpkin is considering whether to take over the world
The pumpkin has lots of flowers now and a few very small pumpkins. I will look forward to my pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup.  

Sweet pea 'Gwendoline' before layering
Sweet pea 'Anniversary' before layering.
To say that the sweet peas have not had a good year would be an understatement.  They have been a disaster.  Poor old things are trying to give a good show but they are struggling.  I have layered them all now and given them some comfrey liquid fertiliser.  They should give me a few more flowers for cutting.  They do look a lot better for being layered.  

Cobra French climbing beans?
These French beans are from saved seed and are not all Cobra.  As if I am bothered.  
Various runner beans
Again saved seeds from several varieties have given me a variety of different coloured flowers.  Lots of flowers but no beans.   

I have been cropping the blackberries for about a week now.  They have been lovely and more to come.  
Brussels sprouts
I have taken the netting off the brassicas now because the pigeons will not feed on them when they get this big.  The nets were taken off so that I could get in and weed.  
Winter cauliflowers
I am hoping that the winter cauliflowers will produce cauliflowers earlier next year.  I had to wait until June this year before I could crop last years ones.  They should really be cropped in April and May.  

The calabrese needs to be harvested and I should have done it today.  It will be a priority for tomorrow.  There are some big heads to take off.  I will leave the plants in to see if they produce any side calabrese heads.

Cabbages have been eaten by the slugs and snails.  I will have to clean these very carefully to get out all the molluscs.  I had a really good crop of summer cauliflowers this year.  I have harvested them all now and frozen them.  They were growing on the Hugelkultur hot bed and this did not seem to have affected them adversely.

Cauliflowers and swedes
I have another row of cauliflowers but I am not expecting them to do very well.  The swedes on the other hand are producing some big roots.  I will probably plant grazing rye where I have taken out the cauliflowers.

Kohlrabi with swedes behind.
The kohlrabi is starting to get big now.  According to 'Real Seeds' these kohlrabi grow quite large and can be stored for a long time.  

Blackcurrants have stopped cropping now.  
I have had quite a lot of blackcurrants off these bushes.  They have finished cropping now.

July strawberries.
The strawberries have more or less finished now.  There are one or two that are still ripening but I am eating them at the allotment.  The straw that I put down in March has virtually rotted completely away now.  I will move the strawberry bed onto the next plot and put new straw down in the autumn.  

Oskar peas and broad beans
I have harvested all the Oskar peas now and taken out the pea tops. They have been added to the compost heap for the moment.  I am going to plant grazing rye in the space left.  The broad beans are beginning to produce fruit now but I will only use these for seed for next year.  The plants will be dug in as green manure.

Early Onward  row one
 The first row of Early Onward is nearly ready to harvest.  I will make a first picking next week.
Early Onward row two
The second row of Early Onward will probably fruit during the middle of August with the Hurst Green Shaft coming at the end of August or the beginning of September. 

Hurst Green Shaft
This used to crop really well thirty years or so ago.  Now it looks a little weak compared to the Early Onward.  The space that the Douce Provence has left has been dug over and a little pigeon manure dug into the soil.  I will be putting some grazing rye into this area as a green manure.

Trail of Tears Climbing Bean
The Trail of Tears climbing beans have begun to grow quite quickly now.  They just needed some warm sunshine to start them off.  They will soon all reach the top of the supports giving me some good beans because they are flowering already.                                          
Some of the carrots are pushing against the
Carrots still protected against carrot root fly


The netting will not be taken off the carrots until the autumn.  Last year I took the net off in September and the carrots were infected with carrot root fly larvae.

Parsnips are doing well.  I am feeding them with a little, weak comfrey fertiliser.  Beetroot are doing fine and the roots are swelling.  I took two home yesterday.  


The leaves and herbs keep on coming.  I cannot keep up with the chamomile.  I have planted far too much lettuce again this year but I have a cunning plan for next year...

What can I say?  It has been a lousy year weather wise but I have still got a good crop and wide variety of different vegetables and fruit.

It'll do.