Monthly Archives: January 2014

Boxes done, Manure Inbound

WP_20140126_006 WP_20140126_009I finished the last box a couple of weeks ago, along with laying the last bark along the paths.

The spring manure arrived this last week, and I have been busy wheeling it up to the plot. Unfortunately the manure is dropped outside the garden walls some distance from me. I am wearing a nice path with my wheelbarrow to my plot, it is pretty obvious where the manure is all going! I won’t need nearly as much this year as last year when I was establishing the soil for the first time.

 

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A friend from North Idaho asked me how I could be working in the garden this time of year. I had forgotten what it was like to live in a cold winter climate – in Idaho you couldn’t get into the garden until April or May because the ground was cold and frozen. Though I would gladly trade winter digging for a hot summer! Ireland doesn’t get cold but it doesn’t get warm either, which is a real challenge when trying hot weather crops that I’d be used to. Polytunnels are definitely in my future.

I spent about three hours at the plot today and the weather cycled through calm and sunny / gale and hailing a couple of times. One of the side effects was a spectacular rainbow which appeared to touch down right over the wall.

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Path & Flowerbed Upgrade

 

Allotment with new flowerbeds and path upgrade work in progress, early Jan 2014.

Allotment with new flowerbeds and path upgrade work in progress, early Jan 2014.

The last two weekends I made significant progress at the allotment. On the east plot, I have dug the top 4 inches of topsoil away from the paths and laid down an equivalent volume of bark which is provided free by the allotment owner. I’m hoping this makes it easier to weed. Last summer I simply ran my rototiller over the paths to clear away weeds. We’ll see if bark is easier to manage. Also, during rainy periods the paths become a morass, so bark is much more comfortable to walk and kneel on than this:

The paths were a quagmire when it rained.

The paths were a quagmire when it rained.

 

The path before digging and laying bark.The path after taking off the top 4 inches of topsoil and laying bark.

I have also been cleaning up my junk pile at the entrance to the plot, and replacing it with rock-lined perennial beds which I hope to use for flowers. The various materials previously in the junk pile are now in a packing crate that I salvaged from the field behind.

Salvaged packing crate used to organise my materials pile which formerly was a complete mess.

Salvaged packing crate used to organise my materials pile which formerly was a complete mess.

The weather on Sunday was miserable with rain and wind all day, so I’m itching to get some more work done this weekend.

 

Greenhouses

I have been thinking about getting a greenhouse. Last year we used the conservatory at our house to start seeds and grow tomatoes. It was perfect, but we moved house and don’t have that sort of place anymore.

If I had plenty of room I would do a polytunnel, as that would be the most cost-effective way to cover a large space and would allow both propagation and all-season growing. However, a polytunnel would cover the entire width of my allotment and would waste some space around the edges, as you need a margin between the wall and your neighbour’s plot for maintaining the tunnel. Plus I’m not sure how nice a polytunnel would look in a walled garden.

My neighbour has a greenhouse which was just blown to pieces in a storm. It is the aluminium variety you get at garden centres, with glass panes. I’m not sure I want to go that route having seen what a mess was caused when it blew down.

There are two suppliers of steel-framed greenhouses in Ireland. One makes a greenhouse which is basically a steel shed with a clear corrugate polycarbonate cover. Kayla and I saw one at a garden centre in Carlow last weekend. It looks indestructible and has the right dimensions. It would seem to suffer from two defects: not very airtight (lots of gaps at the door), and the polycarbonate is single sheet and clear: good for propagation but not as good for growing, which favours diffused light. I could definitely make it work with some weatherproofing.

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Manual vent - definitely a downside as an automatic vent would be key with an allotment.

Manual vent – definitely a downside as an automatic vent would be key with an allotment.

Steel framing is far superior to any others I have seen in Ireland.

Steel framing is far superior to any others I have seen in Ireland.

 

Greenhouse is 10' x 7'

Greenhouse is 10′ x 7′

The other supplier makes a similar frame but with double-walled polycarbonate sheeting. It looks more airtight and would likely be better insulated. It also comes with an automatic air vent which I think would be indispensable. I haven’t seen a model yet but would like to visit a display centre in the coming month.

I think either one would do, now I need to get permission from the allotment owners to put one up. I’m very much looking forward to a place to get out of the weather and start some seeds.

2013 Allotment Year in Review

Now that we have just turned over into 2014, I wanted to write a review of our first eventful year on the allotment.

The weather this summer was unusually cold to start, then quite mild and dry for much of July and August. It was reputed to be one of the nicest summers in recent history for Ireland.

Overall observations from the growing season:

  • I had healthy crops of sugar peas, green beans, white onions, lettuce, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, sunflowers and potatoes (Sarpo Mira and Rooster).
  • Crops which failed to meet expectations: cabbage, carrots, sweetcorn, red onions, cucumbers, pumpkin, squash, courgettes. Cabbage was severely insect eaten (even with very good mesh netting), carrots failed to sprout, red onions were anemic, and the rest are hot weather plants that didn’t get enough love apparently either due to late planting or not enough heat.
  • Flowers did OK but most suffered from poor watering, as I was out of the country for 6 weeks during July and August. Marigolds were a small French variety, next year I will do something larger. Nasturtium grew well amidst the strawberries and blueberries. Sweet pea vines failed to do much.
  • Some of the crops need spacing out more, e.g. my lettuce and peas all cropped at the same time and would benefit from multiple plantings spaced out over the summer.
  • Having a conservatory (greenhouse) at home was hugely helpful. This allowed me to start many seeds and even grow some crops at home (tomatoes). We moved house over the summer so I am looking for a new space to replace this function.
  • I love sunflowers but I’m not sure what to do with the seeds (we did not harvest any).

Thoughts on my allotment design:

  • The raised box beds worked perfectly. They focused my attention, kept the weeds of the path out of the beds, and hopefully kept the soil warmer and drier than it would have been otherwise. They also facilitated using netting covers which were very beneficial. The areas without boxes did not do as well mostly due to weed incursion and impaction from walking in the bed.
  • Keeping the paths weed-free was difficult. My original plan was to rototill the paths regularly, but I only did this perhaps 3 times.
  • I badly missed not having a shed or dry storage area.

I did enjoy socialising with the other gardeners throughout the year. Paul and Grace the allotment owners have been great, hosting several parties through the summer and winter and creating a good environment where I’m comfortable bringing the kids.

Some photos from the year since I last wrote in March:

Potato harvest

Potato harvest

Sunflowers enjoying the fine summer.

Sunflowers enjoying the fine summer.

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Raspberries on the right, strawberries and blueberries on the left.

Raspberries on the right, strawberries and blueberries on the left.

The garden in full bloom

The garden in full bloom

Strawberries flowering

Strawberries flowering

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Broccoli and cabbage netting in place (against insects).

Broccoli and cabbage netting in place (against insects).

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Cold frames provided by the allotment owners.

Cold frames provided by the allotment owners.

Boxes now being filled with topsoil and compost.

Boxes now being filled with topsoil and compost.

The paths were a quagmire when it rained.

The paths were a quagmire when it rained.

A cheap row cover for the lettuce, not sure how much this actually helped!

A cheap row cover for the lettuce, not sure how much this actually helped!

Bird netting over the sugar peas

Bird netting over the sugar peas

The rototiller and an early version of my compost bin. These pallets were taken away to underlay a wood pile later in the season.

The rototiller and an early version of my compost bin. These pallets were taken away to underlay a wood pile later in the season.

Completed brick box

Completed brick box

Salvaged brick becoming a planting box for the boys

Salvaged brick becoming a planting box for the boys