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A novice's guide to producing his own food


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video update no. 3 2013

This post will be accompanied by few words. I seem to have most covered of what I wanted to say in the video update.

There is one further thing I want to add, though. Since filming the footage above, events have moved on regarding the quails. As I said I would, I reunited the injured bird with her siblings. However, almost immediately she started to get picked on. I watched anxiously hoping it would settle down, but within a few minutes the corner of her eye was starting to bleed. The other quails were being vicious little toe-rags. One, in particular, was not only nipping the back of her neck, but was also getting a piggy-back ride as the injured bird ran around trying to escape. I had no choice but to put her back in the pet carrier.

But things got even worse. Soon after I notice ANOTHER quail was getting viciously picked on as well! Can’t figure out what’s up with them.

I took the two bullied quail back indoors and put them in the cage that formerly housed our rats.  Soon the greenhouse will be empty of tomatoes, and I intend to put the two cages with all the quails in there over the winter while I work out what to do next.

Don’t let the quails’ cutesy size and their Tribble-like cooing fool you. They’re mean little buggers.


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2011: The rise and fall and rise and eventual collapse of the greenhouse

The greenhouse didn't survive the December storm

Looking back over the 2011, it’s clear events have been dominated by one thing – the greenhouse. Money, and even more importantly, time have been wasted on it.

My “big project” of the year was to grow my first veg in a greenhouse, and yet here I am at the beginning of 2011 without one, despite having built one twice and moved it three times. As you’ve probably guessed my year-old greenhouse blew down in the December 8 storm, and is completely unrepairable.

This is the second time it has blown over since I bought it in January 2011. The first time was when it was on the allotment. Then I thought I had lost it for good, along with the £459 I paid for it. However, it was salvageable and so I  brought up to the garden at home.

But, come December, it blew down again. Although it was in a much more sheltered spot, the winds were the strongest in 10 years, and the greenhouse was completely wrecked. However, as it was on my own property, I was able to claim insurance, and got most of the cash back. Good news.

I am still determined to have a greenhouse, and will put the cash towards a proper wooden Victorian lookalikey. This will cost thousands, rather than hundreds, but I am confident it will last. After all, we have two wooden summerhouses and a shed which weren’t at all fazed by the storms.

The fault with my greenhouse was a common one — it used polycarbonate sheeting. This is supposed to better than glass for the plants,  but the downside is it makes greenhouses so light they can’t withstand even moderate winds. After the last storms, it was suckers like me with polycarbonate greenhouses who lost everything, while glass greenhouses stood.

The lesson here is: don’t ever buy polycarbonate. I will never touch them again

But I must’ve be too negative, there was plenty to be excited about in 2011. The harvest (although not large) was at least consistent. Just about everything produced a crop which ended up on the table.

Let’s take a look at each bed  in turn.

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Video update (no.1)

I thought I’d do a wee video update this time as it probably gives a different perspective on how the allotment’s getting on.

Unfortunately, the clip is already out of date, as it was shot on July 23. Since then I have harvested quite a bit and the weeds have gotten out of control (well, kinda).

But more of that later.


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The Plan

My plan for this year

After a dry and hot spell for several weeks, it’s quite nice to see some rain. Good for the veg, of course, but it also gives me time to do some blogging.

The last few weeks have been very full-on — the bees have taken up a lot of time (but more of that in my next blog), and there has been a constant rota of planting seeds in the greenhouse,then hardening them off in the cold frames, and finally planting them in the ground at the allotment. Last year nearly everything was sown directly into the ground, but now that I have a greenhouse, I’m starting as much as I can in there.

There are three distinct advantages to this. Firstly, a greenhouse extends the growing season, so I should get bigger and more veg. The second, nothing goes into the ground at the allotment unless I can see it is healthy and growing (last year quite a few plants — particularly peas — didn’t pop up at all). Finally, seedlings are planted later than seeds, so it gives me time to get rid of more weeds beforehand (a final fork through has done wonders).

Another major issue last year was productivity. How do I get the most out of the plot? I suspected I was too generous with spacings, and could have been more productive.

With this is mind, I signed up for Suttons Vegetable Garden Planner. For a £15 annual fee it promises to keep you right as you progress through the year, giving you planting times, feeding advice, tips etc. More importantly for me, though, is it allows me to calculate what I should be getting from my allotment.

The numbers in brackets are the number of plants I should be looking to harvest. Some are (quite frankly) astonishing. Six hundred onions! Nine hundred carrots! I planted nowhere near that last year, and it shows you how productive my plot should be. However, at the other end of the scale, the planner suggests only six courgettes.  In the same space, I had sixteen plants growing quite successfully. That, to me, suggests I should use the planner’s suggestions as a guide, not a rule.  Continue reading


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At long bloody last

Progress so far. The fruit cage is at the top left.

 

I open nearly every new post with the same(-ish) phrase: “I’ve been hellishly busy on the allotment”. Not only is it boring, but it’s true. Just now, I’m juggling three distinct elements, none of which are complete. There’s the conversion of what was a neglected site,  then there’s getting seeds in the ground and, thirdly, I’m trying to keep on top of the weeds.      

Five out of the six raised beds are built, and I’m currently finishing off the fruit cage. Just got to get the netting on, and I’m done. It’s taken a lot more work than I thought, and I had to concrete eight posts into the ground, then put beams around the outside to hold the net. It’s the only major structure on any of the allotments, and I’m sure everyone else thinks I’m crazy. Probably a lot of that has to do with the fact I’m spending far more time and money than anyone else.       

One of the reasons I’ve waited until now to write my latest post, is I wanted to see the plants springing to life. For a long time, nothing seemed to grow at all, and at one point I was getting really fed up. Winter was never coming to a proper end. Then the weather took a sudden turn – the air heated up, and finally we got some action. The change was remarkable. There was only two days between me being pished off and wondering if it was all worth it, to me getting excited again.      

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The Master Plan

  

How the plot will look eventually (we hope)

 

  Since acquiring the new allotment I’ve done little except dig. Out of the six major beds, I’ve now completed three. This is despite spending every spare weekend hour with a spade (when the weather has been kind enough).        

However, Janek and I did complete one job very quickly – planning the allotment’s new layout. On the day we took the keys (to the shed), we got out the measuring tape, and spent the evening drawing up a plan. Like I said in my last post, we will be taking as inspiration the “ideal allotment” from Caroline Foley’s Practical Allotment Gardening.        

Pictured above is what we came up with. I’ve ordered nearly all the plants and seeds from Dobies (not to be confused with the Dobbies with two ‘b’s. That’s for genteel coach parties. In Dobies with one ‘b’ , the ‘b’ stands for bitchin’).        

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