Things are starting to grow

Now there’s been some rain, things are starting to grow on the allotment. Not all the things are wanted though. I’m getting a lot of grass and bindweed appearing, trying to choke things out…

The bindweed just sprouts out the ground at random, climbs the closest thing and snakes across the grass. Dealing with this stuff is the main job.

Some of the fruit bushes are having a go at making fruit, but it’s that dry malformed stuff you get when the weather is too hot. A few strawberries appear to have survived the mower too!

In one of the main areas various things are growing. The beans are a bit stunted, I grew them from last year’s crop so maybe they’re not a good strain or something. I have a feeling all the ground needs more nutrients in it too.

Something that is growing well is the random grape vine that appeared from nowhere. It seems to be growing out of a neighbouring house’s garden. I’ve also planted some cucumbers, I am quite certain they’ll grow a lovely crop of bitter tasting veg.

The pumpkins have so far survived the slugs and other pests that want to eat anything with leaves. All my peas have gone, I’m suspecting the pigeons.

Last year I attempted to grow some leaks, but they didn’t really do much and after accidentally mowing their tops off I decided to give up. The plants however had other ideas and managed to survive, so I’ve let them flower, the bees seem to like them anyway.

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Plumbing water butts together

My garden has three water butts in it, for some reason I keep writing about them on this blog. To make use of the water I used to own a mains powered pump but due to a minor electric shock issue that’s now on its way to my nearest e-waste pile.

Does your water butt also store electricity? Mine did. Getting a bit of a zing while trying to make the pump’s float switch activate was a bit too much excitement this morning.

Here’s my multimeter with one lead dangling in the water and the other poked in the ground. 97v AC is quite tingly.

It wasn’t bad enough to trip my house circuit breaker though, but now that pump is an ex-pump.

So I have three water butts, one contained a pump and it was pretty good being able to water the garden using rainwater. However once the water butt ran dry, it was awkward moving the pump into the next butt. So my plan was to plumb them all together and then the water can just level itself out between them.

After emptying the butts of all their suspiciously stinky water I noticed my shed was looking a bit sun beaten, and since I stained it dark brown it suffers from getting cooked in the sun. On a recent visit to my sister I obtained some white masonry paint. So now the shed is white.

My plan for linking the butts was to use 15mm PEX piping and plastic fittings. It’s the same stuff they used in my house, and after poking a hole in the hot water line in my house and seeing how easy it was to repair, I went shopping in Wickes and bought a bunch of taps and connectors. I already had some pipe from an attempt at using it on the allotment.

Plumbing it up was so easy, it just suffers from that plastic piping thing of being quite bulky so I will need to avoid banging into the pipework when mowing. Although there’s no glue used anywhere, so if I break it, it’ll be easy to repair. And being plastic it’s quite bendy.

Coming out of each butt is one of those isolation valves used on taps and toilets so I can shut off each butt if I need to do anything, without needing to drain the whole system. At the end of the run is a tap so I can fill a watering can easily. The original taps are still on to completely drain each butt if needed.

My plan is to isolate each water butt in the winter and drain the joining pipe so it doesn’t freeze. Otherwise it’ll stay open so the water levels equalise, although I will need to shut off the third one as it sits higher and will never fill up fully without making the others overflow.

Since I’d emptied the water onto my garden (which wasn’t a waste, it’s been dry and sunny for the past month, everything needed a good soaking) I leak tested the system using the hose. And it works! nothing leaks! Each butt has some water in now to stop them blowing away if it gets windy.

And that’s it. I just need some rain now. And a new water pump that won’t try to electrocute me.

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What Lurks in the Long Grass?

Now the intense mowing has got the grass under control, and the strimming has temporarily put the brambles in their place, I can get on with removing the long grass that’s growing amongst the fruit bushes.

This grass is a pest, it smothers the smaller plants and since it grows right amongst the bushes I can’t stick my strimmer in there otherwise it’ll damage the plants I want to keep.

The solution I’ve found is to use more traditional grass removal tools. I have what Amazon calls a “Japanese Weeding Hoe”. It’s sharp – well it was sharp, dragging it through the ground and stabbing at stubborn weeds has given it a less sharp edge now. I need a file. Since it’s hand held I can get right amongst the bushes and rip out the grass with it.

I’m a bit fearful of the brambles and nettles though, the grass has a habit of whipping back on itself as you try to cut it, and goes right where my hands are. This is fine with grass, but being whacked on the hand with some nettles doesn’t seem like fun.

The bit between the fruit trees is too long to strim, and since I can’t see where the trees are amongst the grass it’s not safe to just stick the strimmer in and wave it around. I might cut my own leg off or damage the trees.

This part contains three rhubarb plants, can you see them? No? Me neither, I thought they’d died.

There’s also a lot of rubbish in here. I’m sure I’ll find that in the winter.

With some careful weeding it turns out the rhubarb are still there! Next year they should produce enough that I can harvest their stems.

To get in amongst the longer grass I need a bigger tool.

Something like this will work. Not sure how you get a large sharp object through the mail, but it’ll be fun finding out!

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The Greenhouse…

Standing in the back of my plot is The Greenhouse. It’s actually two stuck together like some sort of human centipede arrangement. We gained one greenhouse free from another plot, and then an ex-colleague of mine gave me his for free too, and they just happened to be identical.

Putting it up was a bit of a mission with no instructions, half the bolts missing and it not being very square. Also it went dark…

They had the usual free greenhouse condition of requiring glass, but that was solved by a trip to a local glass merchant who sold greenhouse glass for a sensible price.

Then, over time the door fell off, wind helped remove some of the glass and then between my own clumsiness and some local thieving bastards the rest of the glass just disappeared. And then the weeds and neck high grass took over.

After much procrastination I decided I really should sort the mess out. Also I had some tomato plants that needed planting properly if I was to get anything out of them this year. Last year’s tomatoes in grow bags were a bit sad looking by the end.

This is where I’m supposed to say it wasn’t as bad as I thought, and that it just needed a bit of strimming. Nah, it was worse than I thought and needed more than a bit of a strim. If you strim long grass it either binds up the strimmer, or lays flat over grass you’ve not yet done and it’s hard to tell which grass needs cutting.

I managed to clear a path towards the back, finding lots of lost and covered rubbish (a visit to the tip is a future problem). All round the thing were pieces of wrist-slashingly sharp glass just poking out the grass waiting for an unwary hand.

Once the outside was “done” I ventured inside. Since the soil was so dry I found a rake and a lot of manual labour was the way to clear things. Except the ants, they seem to live in the corner now. Also I discovered the strimmer’s metal blade is quite sharp.

Finally though, after much sweating, a bit of a sit down out the sun to recover and three bananas later I had my tomatoes planted in what looked to be soil.

A job for the future is to get some new glass to replace the missing panels. Amazon sell plastic sheets the correct size for a reasonable price. Being plastic I should be able to glue them in to deter thieving bastards.

I don’t understand why someone stole the glass out my greenhouse, but didn’t nick my mower when the shed blew over. It’s very odd. Might write my plot number across the plastic panels when I get them.

The original shed hasn’t yet magically disappeared. I’ll get around to it one day.

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Seed Planting

Last year I farted about trying to start seeds early in pots at home. It never seemed that successful and involved more farting about hardening the plants off to the outdoor elements. So this year I just waited until the weather warmed up enough that they could go straight in the ground.

There’s more onions, leeks, broad beans, parsnip, carrots and a bunch of sunflowers that I kept standing on. Hopefully they’ll grow and not get eaten by things. Dropping tiny seeds into vast expanses of soil and hoping they grow before the weeds take over always seems quite a risky process.

Next door’s zoo watched on with interest and enjoyed the free greenery and the odd grub that I found hiding in the soil.

And in what will become a weekly chore, the grass needed mowing. Was a bit easier this time, almost as if mowers are designed to cut shorter grass.

Some things I’d forgotten about are still growing. There’s a forgotten about leek or onion and some rhubarb. I moved and split the rhubarb a few years ago and thought I’d killed it. I guess not. Keep going rhubarb, you’ll smother out that grass!

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Jungle Clearance

Due to the weather being quite rubbish I didn’t get over to the allotment much in the past month. And it seems things are now starting to grow! A lot! Before I could even start I needed to mow the space my car parks on.

The knackered petrol mower I’ve had for years did actually start up, which was surprising. It got rewarded by being made to chew through thigh high wet grass.

On the right hand side is a patch of ground that used to be clear and had beans on it. Now it also has grass. Some more vigorous mowing and then a chewing over with the rotavator soon turned it into usable ground. There’s two rows of potatoes in it now.

Since that took up most of the time I had, all I managed to actually do on the main plot was plant some onions and remove some new weeds that had sprouted up.

The trees are flowering nicely. Maybe the cherry tree will give us more than a small handful of fruit this year. I did mean to prune it, but that’ll now have to wait.

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Planting Fruit Bushes

Poundland sells cheap fruit bushes, and if you pick the ones with leaves on, they tend to grow fairly well and make a nice hedge type thing. If you pick the ones with no leaves on… they’re dead, you’re buying a dead plant… They’re also not a pound each, but never mind.

I’ve put them along the edge of the plot to make a sort of fruity hedge. I had a few spaere, so they’ve gone at the end of the plot next to a new rhubarb plant.

The other job this week was to turn a big grassy part of the plot back into land I can grow things in. It’s an area of the plot that’s always been a messy lump of grass and rubbish. And not little tufts of grass, but great big mounds of the stuff. Clearing this has always been hard work and takes weeks of effort. It’s usually summer by the time I get parts cleared.

However since I now own a rotavator, it was about half an hour’s work to get it all nicely turned over. The rotavator gets clogged easily on mounds of grass so the trick is to sneak up on them from the side. After a while the blades rip the grass clump out the ground.

It needs a bit more work, but the ground is more level and all the rubbish has been picked out.

Since the batteries in the rotavator weren’t dead yet, I went over the other half of the plot to give the weeds a gentle hint they weren’t supposed to grow there, and cleared some space to plant the rhubarb from earlier.

All the chopped up leaves and grass will rot down once the weather warms up. It’s between 2 and 7c during the day still, so not a lot’s going on. Except that onion, it’s already been mown over once by mistake, so I’m leaving it alone. You’ve survived my cack-handed gardening, you can live.

The other jobs I did was to move the bin store from home to the plot, it can be another shed thing to store junk in. And then I attacked the triffids multiplying around the greenhouse. I don’t mind brambles, except when they snake off across the ground, rooting as they go. If chopping at them with the strimmer doesn’t make them go away they’ll be getting sprayed with weed killer.

Yeah I know, it’s bad to spray nasty poisons on your garden, especially when you’re going to eat the produce, but you try removing brambles by hand using a shovel. Sure, you can cut them up but they’ll grow back a month later. There’s a reason they grow everywhere…

And all of this was supervised by next door’s chickens and other feathered creatures. I like next door’s little zoo, he’s done two very helpful things

  • Removing the weeds from his plot – chickens and ducks eat anything green looking
  • Building his chicken pens using my fencing. Last year the fence blew down. Now it’s part of a chicken coop, it can’t go anywhere.
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Making a Basic Raised Planter

Part of my garden doesn’t seem to support plants very well. The grass doesn’t grow well and other plants seem to grow really slowly. It’s also a bit too boggy. I think the neighbour’s plants on their side of the fence are crowding out the ground.

My lawn is trashed, reseeding it will happen later.

To fix this I figured a nice raised planter would do. The Internet is full of random designs but buying them is never straight forward, so I went off to B&Q to see what they had.

After disregarding the various plastic things that look like they’d fall apart, and not wanting to build my own I found what B&Q call “raised bed kits”, the rest of the world might call them “Pallet collars”. Four bits of wood with metal hinges at each corner.

The bags of compost must be full of matter harvested from a black hole, it weighs so much!

Building them has just the right amount of effort for a Sunday. First I needed to remove some bulbs that’d been forgotten about. They should come out soon if moving doesn’t mess them up.

After clipping the bits together, and manhandling some of the heaviest substance known to people into the resulting hole, it all looks nice and fresh, just waiting for some plants.

Since it’s still technically Winter and nothing is really growing, we might still get frost and there’s no point trying to plant anything – not that there’s anything available to plant yet anyway.

Bulbs are a thing though, they’re due to pop out pretty soon, so I bought some more of those and rehomed the rescued set from the clods of quite poor soil they were living in.

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Preparing for Spring

It’s been pretty windy here again, so I went to the plot to see if the shed had tried to escape again…

It hasn’t quite done a Wizard of Oz this time, but did seem to have moved a bit which is surprising given it has about 30 kilos of water sat on its roof. Also the plastic box next to it has been obliterated, and the wooden cold frame clearly needs something heavier inside it.

The actual point of today wasn’t to tidy up, but to do some tidying. Grass is an annoying thing, it grows quite happily all over the plot, especially if you don’t dig it out. At home, my lawn is all thin and patchy.

Managed to get the majority of it cleared before the batteries gave out on the rotavator. It’s certainly a lot better than doing it by hand.

This bit is next, It’s full of grass and junk that has grass growing over it. I’ll need to give it a mow and attack it with the strimmer a bit first to get it short enough the rotavator can chew it up without getting tangled.

The wind wasn’t all bad though, I somehow gained a giant sheet of plastic from somewhere, and two large builders’ sacks. The plastic will keep the weeds down on the end of the plot I dug over earlier, and the sacks will be useful for gathering up rubbish.

I’ve made an attempt at tidying, I’m sure the wind will help reorganise things soon.

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Hoarding water for the summer

I promise that this blog isn’t just a log of my attempt to cover my garden in plastic barrels of water, but it rains a lot in the winter, it doesn’t rain in the summer, I have a water meter and spraying chlorinated water on plants doesn’t seem like a good idea.

I’ve replaced the small water butt next to my garden shed with a bigger one. The small one was full of some rather horrible smelling brown water. I think this is from the roof garden, but I’d have thought all of that would filter out the fine bits of soil up there by now?

I managed to find enough bits of random drainpipe lying around to make things neatly flow into the water butt. It’s a bit awkward because there’s two pipes and only one hole in the lid.

I then half filled the water butt using one of the others. I now have something like 700L of water storage now. Should help in the summer when it stops raining and I need to water things. Also when I water the roof garden and it starts to run out, it’ll go back into the water butt and not be wasted.

In attempt at containing the mud and helping the lawn grow I’ve given it a good stabbing with a lawn aerator and then covered it in a layer of sand. The ground is full of clay and very sticky. I noticed that when it rains water runs over the surface of the ground instead of soaking in.

I also put a bag of gravel on the slope behind the shed to control the rain that hits it. I’d like to find a few large stones and put them down too.

The grass will be fine, it’ll come back. I’m planning on re-seeding it anyway with some grass that copes better in shaded locations.

Finally I was getting tired of tracking mud into my shed, so found two paving slabs and just put them down as stepping stones. At the moment they’re lying on the surface of the ground. If I like where they are I’ll put them into the ground in a more permanent way.

A typical British lawn with straggy grass, worm casts and the odd bit of moss.

A job for warmer and drier weather is to sort out a more neat looking path.

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