The Christmas holidays provide time for reflection, rest – and finally doing those jobs that didn’t get done in the autumn. Top amongst them is the important matter of manuring the allotment, which requires a trip to Chappers’ field in Castlemorton (where the horse poo lives), a strong man to shovel and carry said manure, an empty van to transport it all in, and plenty of time for unloading at the other end. My Dad’s old coal bags came in useful this year, much better than potato sacks (last year these soaked up water from the soggy poo and promptly split, leaving their smelly contents across the pavement. In Harborne! Whatever next!).
Dad’s old coal bags come in useful…
…for a good morning’s muck collecting
A morning’s manure shovelling gave enough sacks to fill Matt’s van, but that’s only sufficient for half of our vast vegetable beds. So either we’ll have to make a return visit, or come up with a Plan B come spring-time.
In the meantime, on this, the last day of 2015, I’ll indulge in a brief review of the year’s horticultural (and culinary) highs and lows.
The plan for 2015 was simple: more greens, more flowers. I started a few things in February, indoors for protection, with spinach, lettuce, chard, kale, sweetpeas and sunflowers at the top of the wishlist.
I gave sweet peas a try for the first time. These seeds were planted 26 January
15 February, the year’s planning begins
25 February: the tomatoes and other plug veg began life
A memorable chocolate-hazelnut couronne
February saw the first rhubarb bellini of the year
By the end of March, the soft fruit had been mulched and grass tidied
Spring was cool, giving way to a cold summer, so whilst some things thrived, others took a little bit longer to get going. Chief amongst the disappointments were the climbing beans, desecrated by the slugs.
April marked my tenth year in business. To celebrate, a chocolate dacquoise (and fizz) with friends
April 5 and the hops began to shoot: the promise of things to come
The Malvern bluebells, glorious by the start of May
A trip to Cornwall had to include mussels, straight off the boat at Newlyn
19 May and the greens were coming along. Some were planted from plugs (lettuce, sorrel) and others direct (chard, spinach, beets)
25 May and it’s the great allotment plant out! Tomatoes went into grow bags, and everything else took its final spot on the allotment
By the start of June, the hops were exploding up the hopolisk
But the slugs and newly cold weather conspired against my borlotti and climbing beans
We had to wait until June of the first real trugfuls of loot
It was a long wait, but finally the work came good. The greens, oh the greens! So much green! And so many flowers, enough for weekly posies right through the summer and autumn.
5 July and the redcurrants were ready to pick a bumper crop
We had posies from the end of June right through to the start of November
The ammi and calendula bordered the veg patch with lacy colour
End of July and the gourds had taken over, though it was too cold a summer for most squash
I succeeded in my goal of growing more greens, in production from July and still going strong in December
However the goal of kale and chard for winter failed: these, planted out in July, did not survive the slug onslaught
Sunflowers were the stars of 2015, bold and brash and amazingly long-lasting
The tomato harvest began at the end of August, alas they were all poor in flavour – too cold for them to ripen properly
September finally brought heat and then, almost imperceptibly, summer changed to autumn, autumn drifted to winter. The slug issue continued and I started a love story, an unexpected one, with the humble crysanthemum.
Finally, we succeeded in growing a carrot!
The onions were pulled in September, to last through the winter
The unexpected love story: jewel crysanthemums, which lasted into December
Oops: 4 October and once again we missed the hop harvest
September was a humdinger but by the end of October, summer was undeniably over
The October clear out: artichoke had outlived its welcome so out it came
In the kitchen, sloes made their way into a beautiful jelly
Happily some of the winter greens did make it through: mizuna and mustard spinach (just) survived the slugs, cropping from November
My favourite variegated chicory, at its best in December but pickable all through the year
The mild start to winter was manna to the sorrel, chard and spinach
The year ends with Grampy’s crysanths, wrapped and ready for spring
Thoughts for 2016
The flowers made the allotment this year, the act of gathering a fist-full of blooms a joy. There must be more of this next year and more colour too, away from the white cosmos to brasher shades.
The slug issue needs to be addressed if we are ever to eat spring lettuce again.
The brassicas should be wearing a fat sign of Could Do Better. We really could, and should, do better.
Oh, and I now have a cold-frame (thanks Mum and Dad), which should make the plug plants that little bit sturdier. Could it lead to the promised land of an earlier harvest? We’ll see.
Happy new year!