Categories
Ask Adam

Ask Adam #13: Filling a raised bed

Kav from Scotland has written in with the following question regarding some new raised beds:

I’m filling our raised beds and wondered what you suggest we fill them with? (They will be used for vegetables). I’ve read conflicting information about rocks, branches and gravel! Our raised beds are on top of soil – we dug out all the grass.

Kav, Scotland
Categories
Allotment Diary

Frost damage

We’ve had a bit of a cold spell so I thought I’d check out the damage incurred

It’s so lovely to look at the plot when it’s covered in snow, however, in my experience, it’s the frost and the ice which can prove to be much more damaging.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed shoots in January, only for them to be decimated by a thick frost a few weeks later. That trend, along with the the colder temperatures in general, is one of the reasons why I tend to not do much growing, outside of hardy plants and fruits that can withstand the frost like conditions.

Blackcurrants and
alpine strawberries

I recently transplanted black currants and red currants from the back of the plot to a bed nearby.

With that I also planted some alphine strawberries, to act as ground cover. Alpine strawberries tend to grow pretty rampantly, so I’m hoping they’ll keep the weeds down.

The currents themselves, at this time of year, don’t tend to show much life, and they’re kind of twiggy anyway. The alpine strawberries however, have taken a bit of a pounding. The leaves were a little bit frost bitten and burned.

I’m hoping that they can recover, it’s only because I’ve transplanted them from elsewhere which makes me slightly uneasy about their survival.

Plum tree

The plum tree is always a delight to look at, and it’s pretty hardy too.

Because this is currently dormant, like the blackcurrants, this does look very twiggy – but if you look more closely, you’ll see very tiny shoots that are holding off from sprouting.

In the spring, I’ll give this the annual prune, and now it’s a mature tree, I’ll need to think hard about which direction I want the tree to grow in, and how high I want the tree to grow.

I’ll need to do some research on how to do this, much more properly.

Garlic

A couple of weeks ago, the boredom of lockdown and the need to garden led me to plant brown and red onions, along with casablanca garlic bulbs.

I know I was way too early and probably a bit too keen, but just thought… why not. With that in mind, I planted everything just that little bit deeper to withstand the cold that little bit longer.

That said, it didn’t seem to deter the garlic, which has poked through unhindered.

Rhubarb

Now, in the past – the rhubarb has seen a lot of damage due to frost. What I’ve noticed happen previously is, new shoots will sprout, only to be struck down, and those damages shoots rot into the crown, damaging the plant as a whole.

This results in stunted growth of the plant, and ultimately not as much rhubarb.

These shoots have indeed only just sprouted – but I’m hoping that they’re small and innocuous enough to not get damaged.

I’ll keep you posted on how well they grow as the year trundles on.

Strawberries

Overall I think they faired fairly well – the older, outside leaves were frost bitten and scorched, but the strawberry plants themselves looked pretty good and strong.

In my experience, strawberry plants are quite resilient and I’m hoping the cold temperatures we’ve won’t cause too much damage. I’m not too sure what varieties these are, but they are terrific croppers and crop both in the early summer and in the autumn.

I’ll be cultivating these and filling in any gaps of where these plants reside.

Generally speaking, I think I’m fairing quite well during these cold spells – how’s everything on your plot thus far? I’d love to know in the comments below.

Categories
Allotment Diary

2020…The good bits

We awoke in 2020 in the Lake District, and we couldn’t help but visit and climb The Old Man of Coniston while we were there. The weather was great and it was a great start to the year.

I was nearing the end of my plot makeover and really looking forward to growing some real produce, for what felt like the first time in ages.

Storm Dennis was doing a number on parts of the country, especially around where we’re based, so I was prepping by creating toilet roll seed starters.

They’re really easy and therapeutic to make if you’re looking to pass the time, during these rainy and cold winter months at the beginning of the year.

Shortly after storm Dennis happened… March is when covid-19 started to take hold, and gardening, the outdoors and open spaces (in my eyes) became much more important.

After creating the toilet roll seed starters, I felt I needed a place to store them, and this led me to create Homemade propagators out of mushroom and fruit punnets.

They’re not sending anyone to the moon, but they did work, they’re fun to make, cheap and there’s some recycling involved there too.

To complete the make-it-yourself trilogy, I came up with a way to make your own garden labels out of pots and plastics that are around.

Needless to say, I’ve already started stock piling toilet rolls, mushroom and fruit punnets and plastic pots for the year ahead.

Then… A complete national lockdown was announced and that changed everything.

Can I visit my allotment during a lockdown?

How gardening will help get us through covid-19

The nation was paralysed with the imposition of travel restrictions and a stoppage on social gatherings.

Panic buying then started and this without a doubt rejuvenated the Dig for Victory spirit, to help with food supplies and anxiety about food shortages. Prince Charles even commended this can-do attitude during a BBC Radio 4 attitude.

This ethos seemed to spread across the globe, as I remember seeing this article by the New York Times.

Armed with homemade toilet roll seed starters, propagators and seed labels, I thought it might be useful to do a little how to (ish) series on how to start growing your own produce from seed – which I’m hoping people find useful.

Growing preparation

Seed
sowing

Separating seedlings

Planting
out

Leading into the summer everything became incredibly busy and this definitely did affect blogging activities.

I did a recap here on how fruitful the season was, and how all of the preparation paid off.

A lockdown can really spur on dipping toes into new interests – and so it was only a matter of time before I decided to experiment with new ways to make alcohol more interesting.

There were elderflowers growing nearby and I had seen that you can make your own elderflower infused gin – which was amazing and something I’ll do again. I feel I need to grow an elderflower for this purpose only.

Naturally, I had to compare an ordinary gin and tonic, along with an elderflower gin and tonic – just to make sure it was worth the effort.

That was a really difficult experiment…

The Vincent Hazel Project is something I embarked upon – which took up a great deal of time, energy and brain space from between the end of May and October.

The project involved cleaning up an alleyway between Vincent Avenue and Hazel Bank in Tolworth, which had been subject to years (possible even decades) worth of fly tipping, which had resulted in unsightly mounds and overgrown areas.

This project really came together with nothing less than phenomenal results, thanks to dedicated residents, Idverde and local landscaper Greenwood Paving. A big shout out to everyone who got involved 🙂 .

I’d encourage anyone, looking to get involved with a community project to do so, it can make you think differently about the area you live in and it’s a great way to make new friends and contacts, whilst making a difference at the same time.

These before and after photos of the project really do speak for themselves.

The clear up phase of that project is behind us, and so now I can turn my attention to a new allotment project, which I’ve started just toward the tail end of this year.

There’s a patch at the allotment that needs some overdue TLC and this is the year where I’m going to make a start with turning this little corner into a wildlife garden.

The Vincent Hazel Project, really did make me think more about nature, the outdoors and encouraging a more beneficial wildlife on the plot.

So far, I’ve managed to clear the area for the wildlife garden and I’ve even managed to make my first bug hotel.

So that brings us to now. Goodbye 2020 – Hello 2021. Let’s all hope for a better year and good tidings all round.

I’d love to hear how your year went, in the comments below 🙂 .

Categories
Allotment Diary

How I built a bug hotel

You may have seen on Instagram lately that I built a bug hotel, so I thought I’d go into a bit more detail as to how I did it.

This all part of the wildlife space I hope to create and was one of the first things I was looking to build – mainly because I’ve never built one before.

What and why have a bug hotel?

An insect hotel, also known as a bug hotel or insect house, is a manmade structure created to provide shelter for insects. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insect_hotel

After I cleared the space, I was left with some scrap wood which is slowly rotting and I was confident that I can make something rustic and useful.

I’m hoping to attract pollinators and insects that will do me a turn, with keeping the ecosystem of the plot in check. Ladybirds and solitary bees in particular, are a desired visitor.

The base

I’ve started with two 3ft(ish) logs, which have each rotted on one side, as the base of the bug hotel. Woodlice have already gone to town here, and they will no doubt continue to do their work, of which there is plenty to do.

I dug a hole to sit the logs in and steady them together. I then buried the rotted sides into each other, to help create a gap for insects to stay in.

Bug hotels come in all shapes and sizes, but I really wanted mine to be a feature of sorts, meaning the logs on their own wasn’t really enough for what I wanted to achieve.

I decided to build a top section, and one of the main obstacles here was getting a level(ish) base to build upon, something easier said than done, when the top ends of the logs aren’t the same in any way possible.

I nailed in some sections of pallet wood, to create a new level to to the bug hotel.

The house

Once I had a level base, I could really let my creative juices flow and decided to build a triangular structure to layer smaller logs, twigs and other bits of wood within.

I used old pallet wood, to build two triangles and used some nails to tack everything together. It being a bug hotel means, that it doesn’t have to be perfect by a million miles – if anything, my poor DIY skills adds to the feature.

Filling the house

I had some old perspex laying around, which just so happened to be the correct size for a roof, so I tacked this on to help keep everything dry.

I then filled the triangle with smaller, inch thick logs and I packed them in as much as I could into the triangle.

There was a sizeable gap between the triangle and the logs, and I had some half rotted railway sleeper that fit perfectly into that space. I cut them to length and knocked them in with a hammer. It was pretty tight and with the last tap, I was convinced the triangle would pop off.

I drilled some holes into the sleepers using the biggest drill bit I had to help with creating more habitats. I then stuffed the remaining gaps with older bits of wood and pieces of scrap.

There was still a decent gap between the two logs, so I stuffed this with more wood consisting of twigs, off cuts and other small bits of log. Woodlice have already inhabited this section, so hopefully they’ll appreciate a bit extra.

And with that – the bug hotel is complete!

Keeping in mind that this was built with no real plan in mind and a hotchpotch of materials – I’m more than impressed with myself with how this has turned out.

Not only does this look like a great feature, but it will also hopefully make for a productive bug hotel.

Building this was a great mental exercise, and so I would encourage anyone who has some old wood laying around to give building a bug hotel a try.

Categories
Allotment Diary

New Allotment Project – a wildlife garden it is!

During the first lockdown, I’ve taken part in The Vincent Hazel Project and this without a doubt has sparked a little interest in the nature side of things when it comes to the outdoors.

The timing couldn’t be better as I’m starting a little new project on the plot. I’ve been wondering what to do, and how I can make the most of a space on that plot that doesn’t tend to get much attention.

After much deliberation and unnecessary agonising – I hereby declare that I’m going to be putting my efforts into making a wildlife orientated garden.

This year I found I had a problem with pockets of black fly, slugs and other pests – so I’d like to try and explore natural ways of creating a first line of defence against such things. I also want to find ways to make my own fertilisers out of what’s growing nearby. This has led me to establishing the following desired features.

A bug hotel

Bug hotels are a haven for insects and pollinators that are beneficial to your garden and are solitary in nature – solitary bees and wasps for example. Ladybirds also use these for a habitat and these are of course great for combatting black fly. Earwigs are also attracted to bug hotels, and these are great for fruit trees and keeping pests that are attracted to fruits down.

Lavender

Whenever I see lavender, I always see it teaming with bees – which is great. They’re also quite hardy and don’t need a lot of maintenance, which is another plus for an area that resides under some oak trees, and is left to elements. They’re also very vibrant and hopefully will give off a lovely scent in the spring, heading into the summer.

A bird table/feeder

Birds are quite important to an ecosystem, as they’re predators that keep pests under control. I do know that I have healthy number of pigeons to the plot, but these tend to focus on the berries I have growing. I think I’d like to focus on getting other types of birds to visit, and try and deter them away from my main crop.

Comfrey

Comfrey grows all around this space and they are, like the lavender low maintenance and do have a nice enticing flower to help attract pollinators. I’ve also singled out comfrey as you can make a feed with with the leaves – which is also very handy. I tend to not feed my plants, mainly due to time, but next year, armed with the comfrey, I think I might adopt a new habit.

A bird bath

Where you have birds visiting, it’s also a good idea to have a bird bath there as well. Like the table, it’s a great source of food, and also doubles up as a place to bathe in. Birds need to wash themselves to help keep their feathers in check. Water will dampen and loosen dirt which makes it easier for feather tending.

Wildflowers

I’ve got two worn out old wheelbarrows and I’m itching to make use of them, by growing something in them. Wildflowers seem like a good idea here. It would attract some more pollinators, and also look nice and rustic – a good example of up-cycling. We grew wildflowers before and were very happy with the results. The benefit of wildflowers can be untold if done right.

A hedgehog house

Hedgehogs are a good thing to have in the garden – they eat slugs! So I’m going to build a hedgehog house, in a bid to call in the cavalry, to help with that eternal battle between gardener and slug. In July of 2020, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society announced that the hedgehog was officially “vulnerable to extinction” – so I’m going to do my bit and try and help them out.

Nettles

I hear that nettles are great for attracting blackfly – so much so that blackfly will move off of your plants and into the the nettles. Similar to comfrey, nettles can be used to make a fertiliser. I’ll be watching closely as to which fertiliser works best if I get around to making some. I’ll also be growing these in the other old wheelbarrow – to help make sure they don’t spread.

Making it low maintenance

Of course wildlife spaces are low maintenance in nature, so I can’t see too much attention is going to be needed overall.

I’ve cleared the space, and I’ve laid out a path using some pallet wood I’ve collected over the last few years. I used the mower as a guide to help me make sure the space is wide enough and that I can turn easily, when maintaining a path.

The beds are quite wide and are a (admittedly) strange, but logical shape. Something I’m conscious of, is being able to reach in to tend and weed where I need to, so most of the immovable features, like the bug hotel, nettle and wildflower barrows will be in the middle, so that I just need to reach in about a foot or so.

Now that the space is cleared and the beds are laid out, I feel that I can move on with filling it 🙂

What do you think? Do you have a space dedicated to nature at the allotment? I’d love to know in the comments below.

Categories
Allotment Diary

New Allotment Project (Unknown)?

There’s a patch at the allotment that needs some overdue TLC and this is the year where I’m going to make a start with this particular patch.

The space is at the end of the plot and it resides underneath some very old oak trees, which means, that not much tends to grow there, because of the fallen acorns, leaves and the level of light in this space.

Mainly, this space has been used to house nailed together cold frame, which succumb to the elements not so long ago.

If I’m totally honest, I currently don’t know what to do with this space. All I know is that it needs to be easy to maintain and useful. If you have any ideas, please do let me know in the comments below.

The first job on the agenda is clearance, whilst figuring out what to keep and what not to keep.

Pruning Red Gooseberry bushes

At the front of the plot are two well established red gooseberry bushes, which I’m reluctant to remove or move, for fear of doing more harm than good to the plants themselves.

The plants haven’t seem much pruning in recent years, and so as a result have become quite leggy. I’ve left around of the third of the plant left, and I’ve made sure that I’ve made cuts where there’s buds and new growth ready to sprout.

Moving the wood store

Keeping the gooseberry bushes in tact were two wired up logs, which have been there for quite a while.

Removing these wasn’t too much of a struggle as they have rotted at the base and just needed a quick push over. I’ve moved all of the wood in this space to a new area on the plot, behind the shed.

The wood store consists mostly of these logs and off cuts of decking used to create the raised beds.

I’m thinking that these could be quite good for a bug hotel perhaps?

Pulling back membrane

Covering the ground is a plastic membrane which has done a good job of keeping weeds at bay, but over the years, weeds have come grown through the membrane and on top of it, making it unworkable.

I used to be able to pull up the weeds fairly quickly clearing it of weeds, but that’s no longer the case. Going forward, it would be easier to run a mower over the ground.

Pruning fir tree

The space is home to a very well established fir tree, which has grown leaps and bounds over the years, without much encouragement and I’ve kind of left it to it’s own thing.

Needless to say, it’s become a little bit leggy in places and some branches have grown in the way – so a trim was well overdue.

Amazingly, as I was pruning the tree, I was greeted with a strong, delightful lemon scent – something I’d not experienced before with a fir tree. A Google search has revealed this tree could be none other than the Monterey Cypress Goldcrest.

I will most likely keep this tree in place.

What to do next…

Clearance is still underway, and I’m sure inspiration will come to me as I go as to what to do with this space.

Maybe just focusing on clearing the space should be my goal over the next few weeks, rather than getting caught up in figuring out what to do with it… What do you think?

I’d love to know your thoughts, suggestions and ideas in the comments below 🙂