Weekend work

My trip to the allotment yesterday morning, an inspection rather than working trip, yielded a small harvest of three courgettes (which we later ate for lunch in a kind of minimalist ratatouille with pasta) and a general sense of relief that everything was still growing away vigorously (so vigorously indeed that when I last visited, on Tuesday, the courgettes were little more than a thickening of the stalk – we’ve had a lot of rain since Tuesday, clearly). The dwarf bean plants, which had barely begun to heave aside the soil on Tuesday, had sprouts a couple of inches high by yesterday. The beetroot is also starting to sprout, but no sign as yet of the Florence fennel.

Today’s trip was rather more intense in terms of work if less productive in terms of harvesting. I weeded the Top and Middle Thirds while P turned the compost heap and incorporated a bag of plant rubbish I cleared from the front garden yesterday, watered everything and put the covers back over. The compost heap is doing quite nicely. It has a slug population, is heating up nicely, and gives off a pleasant aroma of hay.

P also laid the first of the concrete slabs that will form a pathway in front of the compost bins. These are slabs left over from an ill-advised construction made by the former owners of our house, who built a brick-and-paving slab barbecue under the kitchen window. We never used it as a barbecue because, well, under the window is not the best place to set up a charcoal fire, and when we came to demolish it, the mortar turned out to be so poor it could be taken apart by hand. I stashed the three paving slabs involved in its construction behind the compost bin, because I had a feeling they might be useful at some point. Twenty years later, ‘some point’ has been reached.

I’d forgotten how heavy they were. P rolled them through the house, one by one (the only way from our front garden to our back garden, and vice versa) and this morning we lifted the first into the back of the car (which sagged visibly) and drove it to the allotment. We unloaded it and P commenced to roll it to our plot, at which point the Man By The Gate suddenly appeared pushing a wheelbarrow. ‘I hate to see someone struggle,’ he said. He and P loaded up the slab and P pushed it to our plot. Fifteen minutes later, after a bit of scratching around with the mattock, he lowered it into place. Its weight is now holding it very firmly in place. Once the other two slabs are in place, this end of the allotment will look quite lovely and tidy. I think I may put up a small wicker fence to divide the composting area from the planned fruit (and asparagus) area.

And yes, I did begin clearing the front garden yesterday. It has been a forest of poppy and sidalcea plants all spring, but now they have flowered and gone to seed, it’s time to shift them, so I started pulling them up (along with the fine crop of oats and wheat which germinated from spilled bird seed) and stuffing them into bags, ready for the compost heap. The snails were wandering around disconsolately afterwards, scores of them. I regret to say I then spattered the area with slug pellets to clear out some of them. We shall see what happens.

Once I’ve cleaned up the garden, weeded it again, weeded it yet again, and weeded it some more, I’ll be putting in bulbs and then thinking about perennials and hardy annuals. Specifically, I will be growing drought-tolerant flowers. Conditions in the front garden are soggy in the winter but brutal in the summer (if the back garden and the allotment are USDA zone 8, the front garden is zone 10); full sun most of the day, and anything growing out there needs to be able to fend for itself as I don’t want to water regularly. I’m researching drought-tolerant plants at present, drawing inspiration from things like South African fynbos and plants that survive well in the drier parts of California and the Kansas City Metro area. There will be a separate post about this later.

Other than that, this week’s biggest triumph has been to germinate seed in the back garden again. I thwarted Rosa the cat’s efforts to dig up my salad beds by laying sheets of roof plastic over the beds where I’d planted seed. This worked really well and less than a week after I sowed seeds, the rocket, pak choi and radishes are sprouting. I now have to figure out how to raise the sheets to let them grow without allowing Rosa to scrat them up but I think I will be successful. Once they’re well grown, la Rosa tends to leave them alone.

Also, my top tip for the year: everything works better with fresh veg seed. I cleared out my seedbox and disposed of everything dated earlier than this year. The results have been quite startling. Everything is growing!

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