May 2017!

Wow! We have had some dry weather this last month. There has been the occasional shower but this has certainly been a very dry May. Suffice to say a good chunk of my time is taken up with watering the plot constantly!

I have been quite concerned this month about a number of things:'Well, when I've tried everything and it still hasn't rained, I wash the car.'

a) the lack of water. I know that we had a particularly wet week in the middle of May but the general trend appears to be on the dry side. Whilst most people will enjoy this I feel that it can’t be a good sign!?

b) the lack of bees. I try my best to have spaces in the allotment with bee frinedly plants, the wildlife pond, the herb garden etc. Every year I start to see bees buzzing around the broad beans, strawberries and chives now that they are out and flowering but this year there has been just a handful. As we make our way towards June there numbers are starting to increase but it still leaves me rather concerned! Has anyone else noticed this?

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A rare bumblebee in amongst the chives!

c) the lack of ladybirds. Aphids are slowly taking over my plot and normally I will see quite a few ladybirds enjoying a feast but this year I have only seen one – so much so that I have bought in ladybird larvae to tackle the growing aphid problem.

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All this lovely blossom  was hit by frost!

d) the lack of fruit set. We had a incredibly warm april which bought out all the flowers on my fruit trees. Out of nowhere in the first week of May we had a particularly hard frost which killed all the blossom on my apple, pear, plum and cherry tree. My strawberries were also hit but have bounced back with more flowers. Generally this means that the fruit I will harvest this year is limited to strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb.

Despite all this we have been working hard down the allotment trying to keep on top of things. I perpetually feel like I am behind but every year it gets a little easier!

Working away down the plot on the first bank holiday weekend, the ground was hard and dusty so when it rained (for 3 seconds) I was quite relieved! Mostly, we weeded the plots. The following weekend we ordered a load of manure which arrived promptly and was put to use covering the lazy bed. The bed was then promptly covered with weed control fabric which the wind took great delight in lifting it all off and depositing it against the fence. Cue two hours of trying to battle the wind and peg it back down with the help of some heavy compost bags, the garden table and a garden bench. Excitingly that weekend I ordered the polytunnel!

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Lazy bed has been covered with weed control fabric ready for squash plants to go in!

The following weekend was a planting weekend. I planted out cabbages, sprouted lentils and dwarf beans. The dwarf beans were torn apart by the wind over the following two days which was slightly heart breaking so have sown some more direct into the soil. I think I need to buy some wind breaks for the plots! My aubergines and celeriac plug plants arrived and they were promptly potted on (aubergines) or planted out (celeriac).

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Aubergines have arrived and been potted on!

I did a small amount of weeding in the herb garden specifically in thyme square and planted out some borage and bergamot. I also bought and planted a peony and two hostas around the pond.

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The pond is starting to come to life again with self-seeded california poppies flowering!

Thursday 18th saw my polytunnel being delivered and Sam got promptly to work putting it up with the help of our friend David, to whom I owe a bottle of whisky! I helped a little but generally big construction projects go better if Sam and I don’t work together (we argue!). It has taken a long time to put up the structure and even now the cover is not yet on. We have, however, built some raised beds for inside the polytunnel. Hopefully the first weekend in June will be calm enough for us to put the cover on and hang the doors. Whilst Sam and David were working hard to put up the polytunnel, I planted courgettes and sweetcorn on plot 2 and broccoli, red cabbages and swede on plot 1. The lovely deluge of rain during the week before saw my plots turn into mini jungles, the weeds went rampant among the sea of grass. It took me a total of 2 hours to strim and mow all the grass on plot 2 and 3.

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Polytunnel frame has gone up – just need to put on the cover and the doors!

The last weekend in May saw a second manure delivery after using up the last one. Sam and I got to work filling the raised beds in the polytunnel and earthing up potatoes.

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Potatoes have been earthed up with the new delivery of well-rotted manure!

I have jetted off to Lyon for a work conference (yawn!), where I am currently sat typing this in my hotel room, and Sam went to the allotment to strim the jungle that is the second half of plot 1. Very kindly, Sam’s mum is coming over tomorrow (bank holiday Monday) and I have left a list of things to be done. Hopefully, most of the items on the list will be crossed off. I have also left Sam in charge of the war against slugs and he will be applying the second batch of nematodes whilst I am away!sunshine

So May has been rather busy and now that the polytunnel is almost up and finished, I feel like we are starting to get plot 3 up together!

I hope your May has been a good one!

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Development of a wild life pond!

Over the last three years of allotmenting I have noticed a decrease in certain insects such as ladybirds and bees and an increase in pests especially slugs and aphids.

I freely admit that I am as much to blame as anyone else in their decreasing numbers. I never thought about the affects of blindly spraying insecticide would have on the environment. All I cared about was saving my veg for me! This time last year, I got a good look at what this attitude cost me! My broad beans became absolutely infested with blackfly. Every part of the stem, tip and the beans themselves were covered in black fly and I was lucky to spot even a single ladybird! When I took on my first plot three years ago, there was a bumblebee nest under our shed – they are not there now. This could be that they moved or it could be they died. I hate to think that I was the cause of this but unfortunately that is probably the truth!

I have been reading about the sharp decrease in the number of hedgehogs! Am I contributing to this because I liberally apply slug pellets to nearly every bare patch of soil on my allotment? What harm am I doing from the bioaccumulation of metaldehyde in hedgehogs and even birds?

Well no more! For those of you who have been following my journey on this blog you will know that I  have been developing a wildlife pond over the last year. I have learnt the error of my ways and am seeking to fix the harm that I have done!

At the same time as the realisation of what I was doing came to me, Monty Don on Gardener’s World luckily decided to put a wildlife pond into his garden, which is where I got the idea for mine from. This would be my first step in trying to right my wrongs.

Last June, just before I started this blog, I also started to plan my wild life pond. Sam and I marked out an area for our new wildlife pond. We decided it would sit within our mini orchrad where the trees would benefit from the increased bee activity and to also provide us with a lovely shady place to sit. At the time, there was a very large compost bin where we now have our pond that was left there by the previous tenant. My friends, Jenny and Adam, came up one day and helped us moved this large compost bin and the compost that was in it. A month later, they came up again to dig the wildlife pond (they really like digging!).

I had decided on a figure of 8 shape with a sloping ‘beach’ into the pond and a shelf around the deeper edge to sit pond plants on.

It sat like this for a few weeks until Sam and I then got round to buying some pond liner, shingle and a few large rocks. We spent a day putting down the pond liner and weighing it down with rocks. We filled it with water from the water trough and left the water to ‘de-chlorinate’ itself.

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The pond then sat like this all through the winter! The grass grew up around the pond, parts of the pond liner fell into the water and it generally looked a mess! No wildlife is going to want to live here!

Then we finally decided to move forward with this project and spent a day in March digging over the pond borders ready for planting, putting down more stones to hide the edges of the pond liner and putting some plants both in the pond and on the ground!

In the pond we planted a water lily, reeds, marsh marigolds, water mint and iris.

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And in the pond borders we planted lavender, bleeding heart and pansies to begin with!

My friend Stacey gave us some frog spawn out of her pond, and it wasn’t long before we had hundreds of tiny tadpoles wriggling their way around our pond!

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Since March, we have gradually added plants to the pond borders, both perennials and annuals. Bluebells have come up from bulbs planted in the autumn and more stones/shingle has been added to hide the pond liner. A bench was added and then last month, an archway where we are training a plant to grow over it (can’t remember the name of the plant -I just remember that it has white flowers).

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In the last month, what with the warmer temperatures and constant flow of rain, the plants have come on leaps and bounds, both in and out of the pond!

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The water lily is growing by the day, bees are flocking to the borage (which got so big it toppled over – although still provides plenty of food for the bees) and I have even spotted a few tiny frogs over the last week. I am not sure if these are our tadpoles maturing or if these are other frogs which are exploring our pond but suffice to say they are welcome. I can’t quite believe the change!

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I have also seen a slight increase in the number of ladybirds this year which is also welcome! There has even been a rabbit visiting although he has been eating my Brussels sprouts!

I have been so pleased with the progress of the pond but that is not the end of the story. There is still so much I can do for wildlife in my little piece of land! Firstly, I want to encourage more birds. Not necessarily pigeons but our native wild birds such as robins, thrushes and tits.

I am developing a herb garden on plot 3 which I also plan to have as a wildlife area, here I plan to put up bird feeder and bird baths to encourage birds, especially those that like to eat slugs! I would also like to put a hedgehog home in somewhere before the autumn when they start looking for somewhere to hibernate! I also want to encourage more shrews and bats into the allotment!

These are exciting times and what with my first wildlife project having gone so well, I am really looking forward to continuing on with this work and atoning for my sins!