Sunday, 20 November 2016

Putting things to bed

I'm just back from the allotment, where, as a dusty blue dusk was gathering, things are now pretty much as they will be for the next few months. I like this point of the year, allotment wise. Weeds are not immune from the natural laws which dictate that everything should slow down; it's satisfying to know that if you clear a patch it'll stay that way, until around March time at least.

I spent a chunk of the afternoon lugging bin bags of horse manure from the communal area where they are left, to our plot, whereupon they were spread over the patches that I had properly cleared of nettles and docks. This may sound like unglamorous work and indeed it is, but I can assure you it is preferable to the poo situation at our prior allotment site, which I was reminded of by one of those Timehop-style pics in my Facebook feed the other day. There were no neatly bagged deliveries there, no sir. You just had to get in touch with a farmer who would bring a trailer full of the stuff and dump it outside your plot. We were unexperienced in such matters and had no idea how much "a load" was. It turned out to be four tonnes. It took us all of a gruelling afternoon to shift it. Great times, great times.

The manure that I spread about the place today was a bit heavy on the straw, although there was plenty of the good stuff in there too. Ideally I would have dug it in a bit, but the ground was quite sodden, and, frankly, I couldn't be arsed. Three patches got a healthy top dressing of the stuff. I'll leave the frosts and the rains to break it down a bit before deciding when to incorporate it into the soil.

Cavolo nero
Even as some of the patches were put to sleep for the winter others are, albeit in slow motion, still bearing fruit. Or, to be more precise, still bearing vegetables. I left the plot with a good-sized bag of cavolo nero and chard. The former is one of the very finest things you can grow on a British allotment, in my view. It's completely delicious, easy to grow (especially for a brassica, at least in our experience), crops well into winter, and is expensive to buy in the shops, if you even find it. All the boxes ticked, then.

I also pulled up the first of our 6 or so celeriac, which was a modest but very usable size. The smell of earth and celery as I hoiked it up was perfectly and appropriately autumnal.

They're certainly one of your weirder veg, with a zillion little roots that make them look like some sort of face-hugging alien.

Alien or not, this will go into either a mustardy remoulade, a milky purée or something else if anyone fancies giving me a better idea.

Growing against the season
Even as most things shut down, there are just a few outbreaks of new life. We've given one patch over to over-wintering veg. In it, a few weeks back, I sowed Aquadulce Claudia (absolutely my favourite named variety of any vegetable) broad beans, some Japanese onions and some garlic. Today, just a few of the onions appeared to have sprouted, although who knows what the broad beans and garlic are up to underground? We've written patches of over-wintered stuff off before, only for them to snap to life once spring comes, so we'll be patient with all of this lot.

This is the end of out first full season on this plot, and it has been great. It's never going to be especially beautiful, what with its history as a pigeon loft and then a prime fly-tipping spot, but I like that it looks so un-pastoral, and yet things grow just fine. We've got a place to grow stuff that seems to be productive, has a lovely light tilth, is just a minute from our house and is small enough to remain manageable even when we succumb to one of our regular bouts of laziness and procrastination. As I sauntered home, taking in the half-hearted but rather lovely sunset, breath starting to show in the crispening air, I was thankful for all of that.


  1. You have transformed your plot. We gave up on cavolo nero due to persistent greenfly infestation. We have manure and wood chippings delivered to a couple of bays we set up on site. People just help themselves as they need to.

    1. Shame re cavolo nero, it's lovely stuff.

      Little and often is a fine policy re manure, as with so many other things.

  2. well it was certainly a satisfying afternoon for you. I have much to do that probably won't get done now but I am not philosophy is, 'it'll all work its way right in the end!!'


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