Category Archives: Allotment

First Plantings

The weather finally dried out long enough for me to do some planting in the garden.

I am trying to restrain myself this year and not plant en masse, rather to plant a bit of each thing every weekend so that the garden crops over a longer period of time. So when I planted the broad beans I only put in 9 plants.

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I am also experimenting with willow in my allotment. This may turn out to be a complete disaster, I’m not really sure. I do know I have always wanted to have a reliable source for willow rods to use in trellises. So I bought 100 Salix viminalis and planted about half of them in my allotment, at the end of the boxes. I am hoping to both harvest rods from them, as well as create some natural trellises and arbors. My fear is that they will suck up too much moisture and nutrients from the annual beds. Time will tell.

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My office is putting out coffee grounds for people to take home to their gardens, so I got a big bin full and spread them around my strawberries and blueberries. I’m excited to try out this new compost and see its results. I hear it also has anti-slug properties which would be welcome in any garden.

My daughters have been picking dandelions wherever they find them. A true sign that spring has arrived!

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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

 

 

Frosty Spring

Thursday 14 March 2013

This week we had some really hard frosts. Perfect timing for my peas which are not sprouted yet… hoping they survived. The rhubarb took a beating.

Milder temperatures returned today with just a bit of rain. I planted some red onion sets, put some willow in that had been potted, and installed rhubarb and strawberries that had been salvaged from another plot. I also planted Gladiolus bulbs in between my raspberries, we’ll see how that works out. I’m hoping to go back tomorrow and get some more lettuce, potatoes and onions in.

I now have four beds with the flattened PVC conduit hoops. The peas are bird netted, and I have purchased insect netting for the broccoli, carrots and cabbage. The insect netting needs sewn together to be wide enough, I cut the pieces today and Kayla will sew it up length-wise. I still need to devise a net high enough for my raspberries, I think I will try to find some good metal poles, then secure the same hoops to the poles so that they make a higher net.

Friday 15 March 2013

Today Kayla sewed the net and it worked perfectly! A little long (should be about 9.6 meters) but the width of two 1.2 meter nets was just right. It is now up over my soon-to-be broccoli, carrot and cabbage bed.

I met another neighbor – John, who also works at Microsoft. He was sorting out a strawberry bed so I may be able to get some plants from him.

I planted more onions – about 80 white onion sets next to the red ones I planted earlier. I also planted four-fifth’s of a box with lettuce. I tried not to sow too thickly, letting just a few seeds fall every six inches or so. That bed has been covered by my plastic perforated cover all week, so it was relatively dry and warm. I didn’t finish the package and still have another variety of lettuce that I will have to interplant in other spots if I use it this year. I am out of white onions but have about half a bag of red left.

This weekend I plan to put in my potatoes, green onions (“salad onions” here), and carrots. I need to start thinking about slugs as well, I haven’t seen any big ones but lots of little ones and I’m sure they’re already out and about. I found a nice big green caterpillar today that was amazingly tough even trying to scrape it dead with a rock… hope not to see too many more of those!

The seed trays are all going full bore, but quite leggy. The marigolds are the only tray that failed to sprout well, probably 60%. The rest mostly came up and the lettuce are on their first true leaves now. They are spindly so I’m putting more dirt around them, not sure if they will transplant well but it’s worth the experiment.

No sign yet on the plot of either sweet peas or the mangetout peas. If they do come up I’ll need to trap for slugs as I have read they are very attractive to them.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Today I quickly put in two sections of potatoes. The south rows in each section were Rooster, the north rows were Sarpo Mira. One batch went into a mounded bed, the other is a raised bed. It will be interesting to contrast the varieties as well as the different bed designs.

The weather has been warmer in the day though still quite cool at night. We had one shower yesterday but it was dry all day today. Should be good growing weather for the cool crops and hoping to see progress with the peas soon.

I’m realizing just how little space I have, even with two allotments. I’ve already taken up twice as much space for potatoes as I’d planned, and the lettuce took a full bed instead of half. I’m beginning to think I may need to scrap the sweetcorn in order to fit other items that I prefer, like beans and squash.

Week Ending 10 March

Wednesday 6 March

Today I spent two hours at the garden right after work, planting sweet pea, sugar pea and a tiny patch of radishes. After a week of no rain it finally began yesterday, though it’s more of a mist than anything. The soil is still quite dry in spots. Weather continues quite warm.

I planted the sugar peas about 7 inches apart in all directions, filling up one 8 x 16 foot bed with exactly one large packet of seeds. The sweet peas (which I’ve never grown before) went in various corners where a fence post or tree provides an opportunity to climb. I still have loads of those seeds and will find additional spots for them as other things are planted. Each sweet pea got a milk jug cloche (also new for me). I had cut off the bottoms to use as intermediate seed pots, the tops were washed and became cloches. Since our family goes through a fantastic amount of milk each week, I should have plenty of cloches!

There was no one about at the garden, though I could see a few neighbors had been gathering more compost and putting things in. I’d say only about a third of the plots show activity yet this year, the rest are either fresh dug waiting for new owners, or waiting for their owners to come out of winter hibernation and start digging.


Friday 8 March

It has been raining for two days straight, I went out to the garden to rescue some seeds I left under an old doormat, and found 4″ of water in the wheelbarrow (I really need to get a cover for that). The garden soil wasn’t waterlogged thanks to the raised beds and plenty of light compost, but the paths were a quagmire and the spot over where the water spout leaks was soggier than ever. Nothing has disturbed the peas, one of my projects this weekend will be getting a net put over that bed to ensure the new shoots aren’t assaulted by birds.

So instead of working in the garden today, I went on a long walk in the countryside, discovering a new beautiful spot in a river valley with an old stone bridge, mill race, and no one about. I love Ireland. Every time I go on a walk I think, “How could I ever leave?” But I’ve said that about a few other places we have lived too….

All the seed trays are now sprouted, my next task is to find another under-tray and begin planting the next batch of seeds. I have a load of plastic trays repurposed from various grocery store items, plus a good stack of yogurt cups and various odds and ends to use as seed pots. It’s amazing how much plastic garbage we generate just by shopping at the supermarket.
Saturday 9 March

I took Hyrum up today for 1.5 hours to put up a bird net I bought at Lidl (EUR 3 for a 5×4 m net). The hoops are flattened PVC conduit bought at Burke’s Hardware for EUR 1.50 each, four hoops to a box. The nets fit the boxes perfectly, and the hoops are just the right length for a medium-height net (e.g. peas, small fruit bushes). I will need something higher for the raspberries.

The net is very light and we had some trouble attaching it to the sides. We tried bamboo poles threaded through the side ends, which worked OK. For connecting to the hoops I used string and bricks, I will try clothes pins as well, the main concern being the wind which is quite strong here.

 
Sunday 10 March

Today I spent an hour in the garden even though it was still wet and the mud deeper than ever. Firstly, I noticed that the site owners built more cold frames which they had promised to all new allotment holders this year, so I nabbed my two and carted them up to the garden. I don’t have anything ready to be hardened off yet but will soon enough.

Second job was to put up a row cover I bought at Lidl for EUR 6. This is a cheap PVC job with a clear perforated cover. I am using bricks to secure the sides, and will soon know how well this works in the wind as we had a good blizzard last night.

Garden Journal

I came across an allotment site that encouraged its members to keep a journal of the year, including time and money spent, and the vegetables and fruit produced.

Now would be a good time to start a more detailed accounting of inputs and outputs, since I have been at the allotment for a solid month. I have spent pretty much all of my free daylight hours there, much to my wife’s chagrin.

Saturday 2 February 2013: 3 hours. Paid for our first plot, and spent the afternoon with Hyrum clearing away garbage and gathering stray lumber, bamboo and various “bits and bobs” as they say here. The plot was surprisingly plentiful with metal poles used in a now-defunct mini greenhouse. The plastic joints are mostly UV destroyed but the metal poles are quite useful.

Sunday 3 February 2013: 5 hours. Bought 31 scaffolding planks (8 ft x 4 ft x 9 inches) for EUR 120 (EUR 4 each). Had the planks delivered to the barn, cut some in half with my jigsaw, then hauled the lot into the garden on the cart.

Between 9-24 March I probably spent about 30 hours at the plot.

Saturday 2 March 2013: This week I went to the plot three times in the morning before work, totaling about 5 hours. On Saturday, the family came and I also spent most of the day when they weren’t there, about 8 hours. We finished the entire East Plot (6 wood boxes, 2 small brick boxes for the boys). We also built 2 wood boxes on the West Plot, and hoed the soil into mounds in the part that won’t be boxed. In the evening, I planted a plum tree (“Czar”) from Kilquade’s Gardenworld.

This will be sweetcorn, a place to experiment with willow, and other such like.

This will be sweetcorn, a place to experiment with willow, and other such like.

Sunday 3 March 2013: I worked compost into the unboxed portion of the West Plot, then rototilled the compost in and re-hoed the beds. I planted 4 blueberry bushes (“Northland”, “Goldtraub”, “Rancocas”, “Duke”), and 2 blackcurrant bushes (“Titania”), all bought at GardenWorld. I also interplanted some sad-looking strawberry plants that I saved from the junk pile.

Berry row

Total purchase of berry bushes and plum tree was EUR 60.

Other purchases yesterday at Country Life in Ashford:

  • Slug pellets
  • Seed potatoes: 2.5kg of Sarpo Mira (blight resistant)
  • Seed potatoes: 2.5kg of Rooster
  • All-year Cabbage mix of seeds: “January King 3”, “Durham Early”, “Greyhound”, “Winnigstadt”
  • Broccoli seeds “Waltham 29”
  • Thyme seeds
  • Dill seeds
  • Onion sets: 100 yellow “Centurion”
  • Onion sets: 100 red “Red Baron”
  • Sweet Pea collection “Charlie’s Angel” (purple), “Daphne” (pink), “Royal Wedding” (white), “Terry Wogan” (light pink)

Total was EUR 60.

The first leaves on the seed lettuce “Salad Bowl” are getting big today, and the marigolds “Scarlet Sophie” began to sprout in their tray (note: the sprout comes from the dark end of the seed, not the dry frayed end; I planted them upside down). The third tray I planted this week with free Tomato seeds “Harbinger”.

Lettuce sprouts 1 March

Other seeds started today:

  • Cabbage “Greyhound”
  • Broccoli “Waltham 29”

We’ve had somewhat sunny days and quite warm all week. The garden has gotten much drier, in fact I watered a few things today as we’ve had no rain for about a week. My plot has water access at both ends, but one side is not working, and the other side leaks constantly. I rigged up some yarn to catch the leak and channel it into a garbage can, which filled up halfway over 24 hours. I need more water storage areas!

I have met a few of the regular allotment holders, most have not been around yet (which is obvious from the condition of some of the plots!) –

  • Keith is my neighbor to the south. His plot is super organized and he also has the most fruit trees of anyone. He lent me some bone meal when I planted my plum tree. He’s been there three years.
  • Donal and his wife have 1.5 plots in the middle of the garden, he is there frequently and I offered the use of my rototiller since I see him digging so often.
  • Eileen is next to Donal, I met her my first weekend and she gave me some parsnip. She’s been here about three years I believe.
  • A woman comes out from Dublin and meets her son here, I don’t remember their names but I have seen them twice and they are always friendly.
  • Two women manage the plot west of Donal’s, again don’t remember names….

The unrented plots have all been dug over, I believe there are 9 free. There are 32 plots total. Season Park Farm started letting allotments for the 2010 season.

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Starting Fresh

At the beginning of February we took an allotment at Season Park Farm near Newtownmountkennedy. The allotments are within a Walled Garden which was built in the 1740’s.

Allotment wall

Irish allotments are generally quite small. Ours is 5 x 12 meters (16 x 39 ft) which is about one third the size of our vegetable garden back in the States. After about two weeks of working in the allotment I realized it would be too small to accommodate all my usual crops, so we took a second allotment immediately behind the first. The second plot is a tad smaller and extends up to the wall, meaning more shelter from the wind (but also potentially less sun).

I had scaffolding planks delivered to the site to build my first 6 boxes.

I had scaffolding planks delivered to the site to build my first 6 boxes.

The second (west) plot looking from the wall toward the first plot. Freshly turned over by a digger as this was all in thick grass previously.

The second (west) plot looking from the wall toward the first plot. Freshly turned over by a digger as this was all in thick grass previously.

Five boxes nearly complete.

Five boxes nearly complete.

Building boxes

Having never grown in such a public space, there are a few positive points I noticed immediately. First, I am able to stroll around and see how twenty other gardeners keep their plots, getting ideas and seeing a huge variety of approaches. This is quite interesting as well as teaching me a bit about the pests, weather conditions and plants that are common here.

A second benefit is that certain resources can be shared. Since I don’t have a pickup truck in Ireland (an indispensable tool back in the States for a big garden), I can’t haul my own compost or other materials like raised box lumber. The farm owner provides free compost which this year is very high quality, something that would cost $30 per yard in Washington but here I am able to take as much as I need. The farm also has a large barn where I can store my rototiller (here: rotavator) and also build boxes, charge my drill, and so on. Since I don’t have a suitable space for this type of thing at home, I find this very handy.

I have also been able to salvage a lot of useful items from other allotments whose owners didn’t continue this year. With the farm owner’s permission I dug up an entire bed of raspberries from one plot which will serve to get my own patch going. I also have a goodly stack of bricks and scaffolding planks from similarly abandoned plots. This will all serve me well as I extend my current raised bed scheme from the first plot to the second.

These have probably been in the ground a couple years and were making up boxes in an abandoned neighboring plot. The boxes were too big for my plan so I disassembled them and will cut them to size for my long, narrow beds.

These have probably been in the ground a couple years and were making up boxes in an abandoned neighboring plot. The boxes were too big for my plan so I disassembled them and will cut them to size for my long, narrow beds.

Salvaged bricks Inherited compost bin