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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.

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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 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Foxes – friend or foe?

If you walk around the the Knollmead Allotments on a sunny afternoon, you’ll be sure to spot at least one fox, maybe even two.

Genuinely, I find them a real delight to watch as they scurry around playing, hunting and generally being fox like.

I managed to capture the footage below.

Like most things wildlife, foxes produce moments that are rare and unique.

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Travels

Exploring Nuuksio National Park, Helsinki – Finland

I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get to do a decent bit of travelling and last week I was in Helsinki, Finland.

Photo by Fresatomica
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Allotment Diary Allotment newsey stuff Top 10s

Hosepipe ban: Tips on How to save water when growing your own

We’re currently in the midst of a heatwave and the lack of rain and increase in temperatures has seen river, groundwater and reservoir levels drop at an alarming rate. As a result, hosepipe bans have been springing up in various parts of the UK.

I’ve done some reading online and chatted to some of the chaps at the allotment to see what they do to help combat water shortages and hosepipe bans. I hope you find the below useful.

10 ways to save water when growing your own

Collecting as much rainwater as possible
Invest in a couple of water butts or a disused water tank to store your water. Be sure to keep a lid on it so that water doesn’t escape through evaporation. Also think about how you’re going to collect the rainwater, whether it’s via the roof of a shed or an adjacent board channelling rainfall into the the tank or water butt.

Homemade bottle feeders
This wine bottle hack is a great way to keep your plants watered during dry spells, and is dead easy to implement. Get a bottle of wine that has a screw top, simply drink all of the wine and make a small hole in the lid of wine. Fill with water and bury the bottle – lid down, to create a drip feeder. I guess it doesn’t have to be wine – any decent sized bottle with a screw top will do. Wine is more fun though 🙂 !

Mulching
You can stay ahead if you keep the soil moist between watering. Mulch is a layer of material from your compost bin, or even grass cuttings applied to the top of the bed.  The mulch will act as a sponge to store moisture and reduce the amount of water leaving the ground during the hot weather. I’ve even seen old carpet being used to keep the ground moist.

Burying newspaper into your bedding
This is similar to the mulching idea above, but I found this article, which explains that burying newspaper in with your bedding is a safe way of storing water within your beds, and closer to the roots. Burying newspaper into the ground also keeps the weeds down too.

Absorbent gels
The video below shows you how to dissect a nappy – but you can just as easily buy absorbent gels for your garden from any reputable garden center.  Absorbent gels are great for containers and raised beds. They’re also great if you’re away from your allotment for long periods of time and you’re relying on water butts and wine bottle feeders being full.

Self-watering pots
Last year I saw that Self-watering pots were all the rage and I soon learnt that these are a great way to preserve water in one space. Self watering planters store water and when the soil dries out it will automatically draw up more water until it is full – the technology is a simple one.

Establishing a watering routine
Because watering will effectively take longer using a watering can, it’s best to build up or establish a routine that involves watering little and often. An extra trip to the allotment during the week could be the difference between a plant surviving or being subject to the elements. I’d also invest in another watering can so you can carry more water in one go. Be sure to also focus your watering on the roots of the plants to avoid any wasted run off.

Keep beds weeded
Weeds will take up water that should otherwise go to the plants that need it. By keeping on top of the weeds, you’re effectively getting rid of the competition. This is another reason why weeding is so important, so much like the watering – it’s best to keep on top of the weeding little and often to avoid labour intensive bouts.

Drought resistant varieties 
Hosepipe bans seem to creep up on us and are announced at the last minute, so if you suspect like I have, that this year might involve a hosepipe ban – give extra thought to the varieties of fruit and vegetables that you would like to grow. There are varieties of plants out there that fair well in hot, dry weather – perfect for a hosepipe ban.

Capillary Matting
For indoor growing, capillary matting is a wise investment. Capillary Matting will transport water quickly and evenly over a level surface. This means that large number of plants can be watered easily and at the same time. Capillary matting will also help to create humidity in your greenhouse, which will assist with keeping the mat moist and your plants watered.

Hosepipe bans are a necessary evil unfortunately and they come around every so often – my last piece of advice is to keep calm and carry on. What are your water saving tips? I’d love to know!