Until now it's been a case of keeping moving to keep warm, but yesterday at the plot it was warm enough to take a break from digging and soak up the sun. All of 10 degrees, but it felt blissful after a winter that has seemed never-ending.
Not much blogging has been done, but a fair amount of digging. The blessing of this cold Spring has been that the weeds haven't got going, so digging the ground over hasn't been as hard as it might have been. Hard enough, tho, and the ground has been hard through lack of rain.
Below, the strawberry bed in mid-clean. It's finished now, and plants dressed with sulphate of potash. Couch grass seems to love strawberry plants, twining itself around their roots and popping up in mid plant. I don't doubt that it will return to the fray.
The bare ground below holds the newly-planted potatoes. Two rows of Red Duke of York, two of Mayan Gold (hoping that they will live up to Monty Don's praise of them), and one of Ratte, a salad potato. The tubers had been chitting for so long that I'm concerned that they will be over-chitted - they had started to wrinkle up - so I hope they will get going and grow.
We have had a paltry harvest of brassicas. The purple and white sprouting broccoli has still to sprout, and frost has killed most of the calabrese. However some new shoots of calabrese have survived, as has the purple kale and savoy cabbages. I'm in two minds about the purple kale. It does look lovely as a plant, and steamed with a plateful of green lentils, but it made a bizarre addition to my traditional Scotch broth, turning the whole thing a pale lilac.
As for the leeks, they have sulked all winter. I'm making the best of it by thinking of them as gourmet baby leeks.
There has been curiously little sign of life at the allotment site over the past few weeks. The weather has been fair, if bitterly cold, and it seems as if people are reluctant to emerge from hibernation. Everything feels suspended, and it's been difficult to think ahead to a time when winter will end. When the temperature rose during the night yesterday, with rain and wind, I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder in 'The Long Winter', when the chinook started to blow.
A number of song and book titles/lines sprang to mind for this post, among them 'All the leaves are brown', and '50 shades of grey brown'. The problem with the second was that I anticipated a spike in spam traffic directing me to sites I really wasn't interested in. In the end Simon and Garfunkel won over The Mammas and The Pappas, perhaps inspired by Dancing Beastie's 'The dangling conversation' post.
So here's a stocktake of a predominantly brown allotment, with a few tinges of green.
First, the bed that was reclaimed from under years of corrugated iron. Mostly fallen leaves, but with worrying signs of creeping buttercup infestation. Beside it is the previous plot-holder's weed dump, now mostly earth but given to springing to life with a lively array of weeds. The year before last it was couch grass; this past season, out of nowhere, it was a fine crop of foxgloves. We left these as bee-attractants, but it will need to be cleared soon and the earth sieved over existing beds.
Interestingly almost weed-free is the bed that had an application of home-produced compost in the autumn. Spot the rogue garlic shoot. The light grey substance is the indestructible remains of teabags. We go through a whopping amount of teabags in our family. The mesh bags which tear if you so much as look at them in the wrong way when making a cup of tea seem as if they'llhave a half life of several hundred thousand years once composted.
Well, this is pretty dull, isn't it? You know you're a nerdy allotment person when you can write about a bit of bare earth with some grassy tufts here and there. This is where our failed potato crop 'grew' last summer. I have a suspicion that there are still some potatoes down there somewhere, and that this bed will benefit from a serious digging over in the spring.
Strawberry plants looking rather sorry for themselves, and with the ever-present couch grass making a come-back.
This weed-stopper cover has been on since early autumn. Who knows what's underneath?
Miniature leeks, anyone? Probably put in too late, these have failed to thrive over the winter. They may have a 'late surge', to quote Bill Nighy in 'Love Actually'.
Here's a surprise - something growing! Purple sprouting broccoli and kale are holding out well under the anti-pigeon netting. No sign of anything purple sprouting yet, and our life has not been in the mood for kale, but we may yet get something edible.
Not so with my eagerly anticipated calabrese, now blasted by frost. A reminder that we are in Scotland, and thata covering of fleece might have been wise.
This blog certainly is, and I am too about what is happening to my brassicas at the plot. November, December - busy, busy months, also quagmires of mud months. Followed by being away for Christmas and New Year. Then work starting up again - aargh. These are the latest shots I have from a visit to the plot on the 25th of November. Actual broccoli, like the kind you buy in the supermarket. Savoy cabbage, hearting up but also being munched. And purple sprouting growing steadily.
My husband was at the plot last weekend to repair the shed roof, which is covered with tar paper. It's been leaking, and with the heavy rains we've had there's been quite a bit of water coming through. He had to wait until the temperature reached 10 degrees to apply the tar sealant, and luckily last weekend was warm enough.
Today it's snowing - not nice fluffy flakes, but wet snow falling heavily in raw, damp air, so although I have a free day when I could pop along and see what's happening, I feel in full Scottish hibernation mode. For the moment I'm not really thinking too much about the plot - my concentration is all at home, on my gorgeous Christmas cacti and on spring bulbs both inside and in the garden. January and February are long winter months in Scotland. There will be time for planning once some signs of spring appear. With no greenhouse and very little suitable windowsill space I can't do early indoor sowings, but I'm quite content to wait.
For years, it seems, we've been tipping kitchen waste into our two compost bins, but very little compost has emerged. This has mostly been because of lack of time to empty them out. I have wondered if the bins have Tardis-like properties.
At last on Sunday we got round to emptying one of the bins and relocating it round to the shady side of the shed. The spot where we plonked the bins when we took on the plot turns out to be the corner which gets the last of the afternoon sun once the rest of the plot is in shade. Far too valuable to waste on compost!
The contents have composted down nicely, except for the supposedly compostable bin liners. These resembled nothing more than supermarket carrier bags, even after several years. I've resolved not to waste any more money on them, but to line the kitchen waste bin with newspaper instead.
When it came to spreading the compost over freshly dug beds, I discovered that a lot of compost goes a little way. Still, it feels good to have fed the soil more than we've been able to do so far.
How can it have been more difficult to get to the allotment in a summer where one 'child' has spent 2 months in Nepal, and the other has divided her time between France, Greece and working? And now that they're both away at university (although only very recently), we still don't seem to have found the time. Work, visitors, time spent as a family and time spent preparing for departures - all have taken priority over working at the plot.
We've made some small gains, despite our hectic summer. Onions and shallots have been harvested, such as they were. The hay (our pseudo straw) has been cleared from the strawberry bed and the old growth cut off. Leeks have been planted, and are coming along oh so slowly. The blackcurrant crop has been appreciated by the birds, and the fallen berries are creating a rich mulch beneath the bushes.
For the moment, the kale, broccoli and spring cabbage are holding their own beneath the bird netting. Some signs of snail attack, and a healthy underplanting of grass which I'm gradually and painstakingly clearing by hand. The soil has been too wet to use the hoe, so hand-weeding is the only option.
The old strawberry bed has become completely overgrown with grass, so to give ourselves an easier time we've covered some of it in light-stop membrane which I unearthed from the shed - ordered in 2004 and never used.
At our last visit a couple of weeks ago we came to a decision: we're going to give the plot two more years, during which time we'll aim to have it productive and in order. If at the end of that time we're still struggling for time, we'll give it up. Longer term plans are beginning to take shape now that the children have finished school, and we want to have time to work towards these.
I heard on a TV weather forecast this week that Edinburgh has only had 1.5 hours of sunshine so far this July. It certainly feels like it. We have almost given up expecting anything of this summer. Getting any work done at the allotment has been a struggle: June is always a busy month for us, and this year with the end of our daughter's schooldays it's been especially hectic. But constant rain, particularly at weekends, has held us back even more.
The arrival of an order of brassica plants this week from Delfland Nurseries meant that rain or not we had to get to the plot at the weekend. I expected that the soil would be waterlogged, but wasn't prepared for the depth to which my foot sank into the soil when I stepped on to the strawberry bed. Actually it wasn't so much soil as liquid mud.
Still, a few strawberries had ripened despite the lack of sun.
A very kind work colleague who keeps horses supplied me with several leaves of hay to spread around my strawberries. It was fun getting the hay home on the bus. Of course I now realise after reading Monty Don's 'Ivington Diaries' that it would have been smart to put organic slug pellets down before I spread the hay. So I may have created a snug home for slugs and snails, but at least the berries are raised off the soilmud.
Ideally we would have moved the netting cage that is over the broad beans, peas and French beans, but the chances of being able to fix the poles in the liquid mud made us abandon that idea. A floating fleece protection against pigeon attach was the best we could do, but we'll have to loosen it as soon as we can. We're away from Edinburgh at the moment, so the plants will have to survive until next weekend. Two types of sprouting broccoli, calabrese, two types of kale, spring cabbage and winter cauliflower. Planting into liquid mud was a horrendous experience. I'm not sure what the plants will make of it. All instructions to 'firm the plants well into the soil, drawing it up round the stem' had to go by the board as I inserted them into the mud as best I could.
Otherwise, not a lot is happening. One of the garlic varieties has rust. The shallots, seen behind it, are rather thin and weedy and I can only hope for some sun to plump them up.
The broad beans, alas, are what we call 'couped' (pronounced 'cow'pd') in Scots, i.e. fallen over. They were supported by twine, but since I only had metal poles to hand (ex-children's climbing frame) the twine has slid down the metal with the pressure of the bean stalks. We had no time on Sunday to put things to rights, so this may be another casualty of weather and lack of time. The beans on the lower part of the stalks are forming well, but higher up the pods have all shrivelled away into little black remnants. Advice please, from any experienced broad bean growers!
For the moment we are up on Speyside, where conditions are pretty much the same as in Edinburgh. Perhaps slightly drier, as there hasn't been the absolutely constant rain we've had, but everything in the garden is very backward and shrunk in on itself. I have the left overs from my brassica order up with me to plant out in my Dad's garden. The soil here is lighter, since it's on a river plain and was once good arable land rather than inner city goodness-knows-what. It will be interesting to compare the fortunes of the two brassica plantings.
And a very soggy Bloom Day it was too. It has rained steadily here since Friday morning - the rain is still coming down as I write on Sunday morning. Yesterday I squelched out into the garden to take these photos. The camera makes it look brighter than it was. It really has been a case of Darkness at Noon.
Above and below, a sadly nameless foxglove. I only bought it a few weeks ago at Decora in Elgin, but such is the pace of life at the moment that my good intentions to write the variety in my garden book came to nothing.
Below, everything that is green is lush and vibrant. A bit too lush for Scottish tastes. The growth is sappy, and that's a problem in high winds. The fern on the left is self-seeded from a now defunct fern I had in a pot. It's relishing its freedom, but is getting a bit out of hand. The alchemilla in the foreground loves the wet weather and is putting on a show of rain-drop diamonds. At the right, the spears of crocosmia are the forerunners of its red flowers in late July.
My oriental poppies are monstrous this year. They have responded to my attempts to dig them out in the autumn by putting out huge growth and massive flowers. And I thought I'd cleared every last scrap of root...
Below, a Swedish flag-themed pairing of geranium Johnson's Blue and a yellow potentilla.
Beaten down by the rain:
This was meant to be a homage to my Albertine rose, which is rambling far and wide this year. The blooms are not getting a chance to flourish in the wet conditions. In trying to capture this bloom sheltering under my dwarf plum tree I seem to have concentrated more on the wonderful fact of a decent-sized plum. We have had a total of 2 plums from the tree, but this year it has put on a spurt.
Last year we took out a scruffy conifer hedge, put up a windbreak fence, and widened the suburban strip of a border slightly. (The garden is city-centre tiny, so there's not much room to play with.)I ordered plants from Crocus - they're happily establishing in the rain, but there are very few blooms yet. A delicate exception is this Aquilegia stellata 'Ruby Port'. I know the name because I can look up my Crocus order online...
To finish, the frothy exuberance of my Hydrangea petiolaris. The bees love this, but it's been so wet that they haven't been flying. The powerful upward shoot to the left is a Clematis Jackmanii, which I leave to its own devices apart from a chop back in February each year.