Mowing grass by hand

I’ve got a grass problem on my plot, the grass grows better than anything else. It’s a constant battle trying to keep the grass short and has so far caused the end of a petrol mower. I took my battery mower from home one weekend, but the batteries need charging half way through and I get the feeling the mower isn’t really designed for mowing such a large area. The batteries get quite hot.

I also tried using a strimmer, it’s awkward and takes ages. So while randomly watching TV one night I saw a YouTube video of someone explaining how to service their push mower. Turns out these things aren’t just a prop you see on old cartoons, but really do exist. And they’re super cheap.

Mine came from Amazon and actually cut the grass really well. It seems to eat through long grass pretty easily and doesn’t really get stuck. You do need to push it with some force to make the blades spin, and it locks up if something thicker than grass gets in the blades but otherwise works really well.

There is a little grass catcher on the back, but I found the grass comes out so fast it often misses, and it’s awkward to remove to empty it. The thing fills pretty quickly too and after detaching it twice in two minutes I gave up and took it off.

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What a load of farmyard manure this gardening thing is.

It’s only taken half a year, but my greenhouse is now finally ready for things to be planted in it! It has all its windows, won’t blow away and after a trip to Wickes the ground is now suitable for growing plants again.

Can confirm the manure is real manure, from real cows, it might take a bit to get the smell out the car. The compost is some sort of weird fluffy nonsense full of sticks and a random nail. It’s not very good. I’ve used it to plant some beans and peas so they can germinate out the reaches of hungry pigeons. It’s not even pretending to be shredded wood or the other poorly composted garden waste they normally sell in bags.

The greenhouse now stinks a bit, so I will leave the manure to rot down a bit more. I’ve dug it into the soil so hopefully the worms and things will get at it too. This is a before photo, I didn’t think to take an after one.

Here’s the green manure I sowed the other week. It’s rained a lot recently so everything is starting to grow really well.

There’s a small weed problem over on the bit where I am trying to grow carrots and parsnips. I can’t tell what anything is, and without picking out individual weeds this mess is just going to have to fight it out until nothing is at risk from an unexpected hoe slicing its leaves off.

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Planting more than food

After getting sent a letter about the state of my plot, I went and read the rules for what I can and cannot do on the land. It turns out I can grow more than food. Flowers are acceptable too.

Poundland were selling packets of wild flower seeds bound into a layer of paper. I’ve got a raised bed that used to be at home and I literally plopped it onto a bit of weedy ground with some weed fabric under it to keep the bindweed and dock plants at bay. Inside I filled it with some half decomposed compost made from food waste.

It’s all been covered with some old compost I found in a bag in the back of the shed. I tried growing wild flowers last year but could never tell them apart from weeds. Hopefully now that they’re contained in a box I’ll know what’s growing.

I also bought another box of seeds, these ones are mixed with sawdust and some fertiliser. The area next to the pond is a bit weed strewn so after a quick go over with the rotavator just to remove the surface weeds I’ve sprinkled the seeds all over that.

The last thing to go down was a liberal sprinkling of mustard seed green manure in the front plot where the car goes. I’m going to put down more green manure to smother out the weeds on the unused parts of the plot.

I’ve got some fodder radish that supposedly grows over winter which might save me a lot of effort next year.

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General Plot Tidying

Now the shed is in a better place I’ve been going around the plot unearthing all sorts of rubbish, items I’d forgotten about and random pieces of broken glass. I’m now piling things up in different parts of the plot ready for a run to the tip at some point.

Something I’ve discovered while tidying and organising is that there’s often a “correct” place to put things. The plot works so much better with the shed behind the greenhouse, and the bin store thing next to the side of the greenhouse. There’s enough space to get into the shed and I’m trampling all over a big patch of brambles which might help get rid of them.

It’s quite important doing this now, before things start properly growing. I always make the mistake of leaving things too late and end up visiting the plot one day with the intention of doing something useful, and instead spend all morning clearing weeds, only for them to grow back the next week.

I have no idea what to do about the old shed or the bathtub full of crap. I have even less idea what to do with the pile of carpet behind the shed. I think I’ll ignore it and pretend it’s not there.

While digging around to get rid of the greenhouse I remembered there’s a section of weed fabric I laid with gravel. Since there’s no greenhouse there any more the weed fabric needed to come up.

I think weed fabric should be banned on allotments just like carpet is. Sure, it smothers weeds, but after a while a new layer of soil builds up on top of it and the grass just grows on top instead. And then its roots get into the fibres.

While moving some plastic sheeting around I found a rather large toad, and under the weed fabric (that’s been down for about 7 years) I found one of our spoons from the kitchen. I have no idea how it got there.

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Creating a covered planting area

After moving the shed I was left with a patch of ground that is relatively low in weeds and planned on using it as just another area for growing things. However, after getting rid of the other greenhouse I was also left with a greenhouse base that either needed giving away to the local metal fairies or reusing somehow. So I had an idea…

If I removed all the grass, flattened a lump of grass that I built up after last year’s wasp incident and dug in the remains of a compost pile, I’d have a nice area for growing more delicate plants.

Also it’d thoroughly dig up the ground where the wasps were, so future ones didn’t get any ideas.

My trusty battery powered rotavator chewed the ground up fairly well, and after some mildly dangerous antics with the greenhouse base, I had an area that was enclosed which should help keep the weeds out.

The next step was to actually plant things in there. The Range were selling strawberry plants, and after the demise of Wilko they also seem to have bought all their stock and are selling it off cheap. So Wilko’s 99p seed packets were 50p.

The second photo is for my reference too. There’s two rows of beetroot, two rows of carrots and then several rows of parsnip. The ground had a really good chewing with the rotavator and now actually resembles something you could grow plants in, rather than a field that’s had the grass ripped out.

The final stage was to set up a small plant cover I’d bought off Amazon. It’s one of those kits made from the tubular metal and plastic connectors that tends to last a season at best before something fails or the wind takes it away. I’ve tried to buy a more robust one so maybe it’ll last all year if I’m careful?

It was a bit bigger than I expected too…

The only irritating thing is the plastic cover doesn’t have many straps for tieing it to the frame. I hope it doesn’t explode in the wind the next time we have a storm.

To prevent this I got creative. I was tempted to attach it to the greenhouse base, but once the parsnips and carrots have grown a bit I’m intending on moving the cover to another part of the plot to cover something else.

Here’s the finished thing

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Moving the Shed

The shed’s moved finally. The stupid thing is now behind the greenhouse out the way from prying eyes, sticky fingers and the vicious strong winds that try to blow everything away. Making things wind proof is the aim of the game really.

It’s one of those horrific thin metal sheds with the razor sharp panels and a million screws. The only good points are that it’s metal so it won’t rot away and it’s quite light so moving it was only mildly annoying.

We spent some time patching the glass in the greenhouse too, it’s reasonably covered now, although the door seems to have vanished. The metal shed is acting as a wall and might reflect some sunlight back in and make it even warmer.

The greenhouse has bits of an old rat cage on it after I visited one day and found some of the roof panes mysteriously broken and suspicious stones in the place. There were some really stupid people living in the house behind. They seem to have gone away now so I think the risk has passed.

One good thing about having a plot in a crappy bit of town is that if you leave old bits of greenhouse lying around in a pile they magically disappear, just like the old lawnmower. This is also why I keep nothing of value on the plot. I just wish people would steal bathtubs and rubbish.

The next job on the list is to dig over the plot and give it a good turning over ready to plant things. The weather has warmed up and the last frost has gone, so it’s time to get some seeds in the ground and hope nothing eats them. I’ve bought a cover this year, let’s see if I can stake it down well enough that it doesn’t escape.

Oh and the rhubarb plants aren’t dead, which is pretty surprising really. I think they grew one leaf last year then got smothered by brambles. The brambles are getting ready to grow, I might have to get the spray out and kill them off.

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Trying to repair my lawn

Grass at home doesn’t do well, I don’t know whether it’s my inconsistent mowing, the shaded parts of the garden where the grass is, or that the soil is thick and full of heavy clay on a layer of building rubble. Possibly it’s also the slightly too agressive mowing I did last year in an attempt at making the grass more bushy and the lawn less patchy when mown.

Either way, it looks a right mess, there’s barely any grass. So I’m on a mission to fix it.

First I gave the remnants a mow, then pronged the ground to aerate it a bit and to break up the soil.

Then I sprinkled on some fertiliser, grass seed and in one area where nobody goes, a few boxes of cheap wild flower mix. There’s one corner of the garden where grass doesn’t do very well, so I’m going to try growing some wild flowers instead. There’s usually a lot of grass amongst those mixes so it should fill out.

The last step was to cover the whole thing in three bags of sand. This should keep the birds off, protect the seed while it germinates, and over time work its way into the soil helping to break it up.

Now I just need to leave it alone and hope the cats don’t want to investigate a new giant litter tray!

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Start of year tidying

We’re almost at the last frost of the year, which to me is the actual start of the year when it comes to growing things. Here’s a bit of an update since the last post…

  • November – it rained a lot and got cold
  • December – it rained a lot, got colder, I was ill
  • January – it rained a lot, was insanely windy and even colder
  • February – maximum coldness, even windier. The final week it didn’t rain, I managed to go and survey the mess.
  • March – now.

So we’re in March, people down South have mentioned snow. Last year it snowed around this time and was -4c. I’ve at least bought all the seeds I want to grow and have been trying to clear and better organise the plots.

During the insane wind one of the greenhouses tried to fold itself flat so one of the jobs I’ve been doing is removing the glass from it to put into the other greenhouse. I’m going to just have one, the space can be used for something else.

I did try to see if the greenhouse would just stand back up, it is made from bolted together aluminium after all. However some of it snapped and other bits twisted out of shape, which just shows how windy it was – a greenhouse with no windows managed to get blown so hard it snaped in places.

Intent on turning something kind of annoying into a positive situation I realised there was enough glass in both greenhouses to make one greenhouse be complete. This would save me quite a lot of money. I just needed to take the broken frame down. It’s been up quite a long time and came to me part assembled, and the aluminium bolts pushed into aluminium frames seem to have welded and corroded themselves together. It was not going to come apart easily.

So I bought a new toy…

And 20 minutes later it turned a wonky frame of a greenhouse into a flat packed stack of scrap metal. I was expecting some effort but once the blade bit into the metal it ate through it like it was nothing.

I decided since it’s so windy moving the shed would be a good idea. It can go behind the greenhouse. This will shelter the shed from being blown over, and help prop the greenhouse up. It also means I need less glass to fill in the missing gaps.

The first job was to clear the back of the plot. A place I’ve rarely gone and it’s mostly full of rubbish thrown over the fence from the houses behind and junk that I’ve abandoned and forgotten about.

I put some weed matting down to try and keep the brambles at bay, and then moved eight pretty heavy paving slabs from elsewhere on the plot to make a base for the shed.

When moving the slabs I managed to find all the frogs, and moved them to the pond out the way.

The next jobs on the plot are to dig over the beds so they’re ready for planting, and to get the shed moved and the greenhouse ready. I’m going to use it for starting off plants until they’re big enough to go outside. Anything that needs more warmth can start on my kitchen window or something. Or I’ll put them in my shed at home with the grow lights if they still work.

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Whoops! we upset the council

When you own an allotment there’s rules. The rules are varied, depending on where your plot is, the council owning the site and seemingly the phase of the moon. If you have a plot of your own, some of you might know about the various committees that can exist to help the council manage the plots.

Our council is quite keen on our plots not looking like weed infested abandoned bits of wasteland, and if they decide your plot is, you get a nice letter.

Which is fair, mine did look a bit like a jungle but had they waited a few weeks more, I would have cleared it without them needing to send me a letter “requesting” that I clear it.

So I set about the place with my strimmer and rotavator, turning it into this. The main bed is wider and some annoying lumps have been removed. It’ll need digging over properly before I plant anything though.

While moving some plastic sheeting around I discovered some frogs. Hopefully they’ll help produce more frogs now that we have a pond.

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Reap what you sow?

Long grass is a problem, it smothers everything and is hard to cut down as it doesn’t fit in the mower and binds up my strimmer. So I decided to go old school and buy a scythe.

It’s as mean as it looks and there’s a definite skill to using it. Get it right and the grass gets sliced down in a pretty satisfying way – you can feel the scythe working. Get it wrong and the grass just leans over then waits until you’ve gone home before springing back up.

It’s let me get rid of some quite long grass that was around some fruit trees, and is good at dealing with nettles as providing you keep away from their long stems, nothing stinging gets thrown around like with a strimmer.

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