Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Checking out the birds over the fence

We got a proper glimpse for the first time into the intriguing world of pigeon keeping at the weekend. The owner of the loft which backs onto our plot has been painting his sheds, necessitating the removal of part of our fence. This is fine, and I strongly suspect that they'll return to a better state of health than that in which they found it. It was an excellent excuse to invite ourselves for a look round their lofts and to find out a bit about how the whole murkily intriguing pigeon game operates.

The weird looking bugger at the top of this post was, if I remember right, 3 weeks old, and being kept in a part of the shed with its parents, who'll feed it by regurgitating their feed. You can put eggs from a number of pigeons under a broody female, the trick being to get them under at the same time. This is done by collecting eggs from various females then getting them all under the broody bird together. Takes me back to our days keeping hens at home when we were kids.

This bird is 7-8 weeks old and still showing some of its downy feathers around the head, but will be ready to take to the wing in another week or two. It will then be slowly allowed longer out of the sheds, and eventually taken on training flights, and then put into competitions.

The guys talked about three levels of competition, those being across our site, then across the local Federation, and then between Federations, which is basically the Champions League of pigeon racing. Just imagine winning one of them! Races go from as short as about 70 miles to far enough away to require a hop across the channel.

Two worlds collide, from across a knackered fence
Birds which have been multiple champions can, apparently, change hands for thousands of pounds as breeders look to create the next generation of legendary pigeons, about which tall tales will be exchanged in hushed reverence in years to come. There was talk of what a fickle undertaking it can be. "Ye can dee everything reet, but the bord can still torn oot a turtle knacka, y'kna?" Having been in the allotment game a few years now, and having had numerous crops fail inexplicably, I felt I was justified in nodding sagely at this last piece of transferable wisdom.

Apart from being super interesting, it was lovely to talk to more of our neighbours and to have reaffirmed once again what a fantastically friendly site this continues to seem to be. If you're reading this and thinking about getting an allotment anywhere in Newcastle, then seriously, Benwell comes highly recommended.

We didn't spend the whole afternoon eyeing up the birds next door, as there was some weeding to do and planting out of leeks and beetroot seedlings to attend to.

Garlic and onions on the left; freshly turned section awaiting the leeks on the right
Planting out leeks is a comparatively quick, and therefore satisfying job to do, especially when the soil is as light and clay-free as ours. We had grown on some F1 "Oarsman" seedlings that we picked up at Harrogate Flower Show in pots on the window sill at home. After a few weeks these were about half the thickness of a pencil which is good to go out. All we do is trim the roots, put a spade fully into the ground and put the leekling (technical term) down the back of it. 6" apart is plenty I think. We didn't do leeks last year, so it'll be interesting to see if they get rust, as this was always an issue on the old Nunsmoor plot.

The pride of lady with leeks

Neatly trimmed roots, ready to go in
(L-R) Broad beans, chard, climbing beans
Elsewhere, the denizens of themixed bed of beans and chard have recovered from the shock of being planted out and are starting to put on some growth. Hurrah!

The onions are beginning to tumesce very nicely, and mercifully few of them have tried to go to seed so far. A few more weeks and these might even be food.

Finally, some excellent news from the world of shrubs and trees...

A plum!
Despite taking a bit of a hammering from the greenfly, our plum tree looks like it might be fruiting for the first time in its life. We dug it up when we moved allotments and it may be on the verge of rewarding us. Exciting!

It's looking like being a bumper year for our one gooseberry bush, as the green-veined beaties that it pushes out into the world take on a bit of mass.

Thanks in large part of Kasia's mum, and also the fact that it is such a manageable size, the plot is looking spick and span. If you're thinking of doing any growing then heed these words; do less than you think you need, but do it better than you think you can. Personally I find the sense of satisfaction that comes from keeping a small plot productive and tidy a whole lot better for ones mental state than fretting about whether you've got enough time to attack even the worst of the weeds on a huge site. Such is the lesson we have learned. Oh, and if you can get onto a plot near pigeon lofts, do it. You'll never be short of an interesting chat with the neighbors.

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