Here's something that might give me some enthusiasm for the plot this year. Rhubarb compote, at 2 quid a pack! One of our favourite puddings is stewed rhubarb over Mackie's butterscotch ice cream. Try it - divine! With rhubarb for the taking at the allotment we've come to take it for granted. The prospect of having to buy it is rather horrifying.
The decision had been made and I was comfortable with it - happy even. We had rationalised that with parental illness on both sides and the need to travel more frequently to help out in house and garden (and both parental houses have large gardens) our time for allotmenteering was going to be even more squeezed. Add to that my husband starting a new job, and our wish to get out of Edinburgh more, and everything seemed to add up to a sensible decision not to renew our allotment lease.
Having made the decision, I tested it out on my emotions when I visited the plot in early December. What pangs of regret would I feel? I tried not to dwell on the 'glad to see the back of', such as the endless battle with couch grass, the heavy soil, the feeling of obligation at spending sunny Sundays at the plot instead of out on the Scottish hills. Perhaps because they were the only things growing, I did feel a pang about leaving the blackcurrant bushes and strawberry plants. But once home again I returned to my calm, settled conviction that giving up the plot was the right thing to do, and began to plan for weekends away.
And then the gales came. We dutifully visited the plot afterwards to check the state of the shed roof. Although we were giving up very shortly, we didn't feel we could hand over a shed that we had let deteriorate through the worst of the winter months. A section of tar paper had blown off, and it was decided that husband and son would return the following weekend to repair it.
They were out all afternoon, returning after dark. A good, solid repair had been carried out, and another decision made. We were keeping the plot for a further year, on the basis that so much investment had been made in infrastructure that we should try to maximise our return.
I sat and thought about the infrastructure. Blackcurrant bushes? Strawberry plants? Two compost bins? Posts for wires up against which to train non-existent raspberries? There is nothing else - no paving, no fencing, no greenhouse, no fancy border edging or raised beds. So I concluded that the only possible 'infrastructure' was the shed, and set about doing a mental U-turn towards planning and sowing. And perhaps hopefully still some weekends out of Edinburgh.
For the past month, because of my dad's illness, I haven't seen my own garden in daylight, far less the allotment. Instead we have spent the past five weekends here on Speyside. So I'm more familiar with the progress of autumn in my dad's garden than in my own.
These photos are from mid-October. The warm colours and late blooms are fading now, battered by rain and wind, and by the first frost of the year last night.
We'll see if the holly berries make it through to Christmas. The resident flock of sparrows is very partial to them. Some people net their holly bushes to preserve the berries, but I wouldn't go to those lengths, and certainly not when we're not here all the time to free any birds that might get caught up in the netting.
Dad is now out of hospital, so we may be visiting the allotment this weekend to see how the weeds are faring.
Despite lack of blogging activity, things have been happening at the allotment. It's not in a fantastic state, but it's not critical either.
Rather than try to update all at once, I'm embarking on a mini-series of updates. First up, our bountiful blackcurrants. Or they would have been if we hadn't gone away for two weeks just at the peak of the crop. We picked frantically the night before, and I froze 9lbs of berries. Our little camping chairs provided the perfect way to avoid back strain while picking.
When we returned, the crop was on the ground and the wasps were having a merry time. I did take another 1.5lbs from the bushes and made a few pots of jam straight away because the fruit was so ripe that it began to spoil once picked.
Difficult to know when to go on holiday as a gardener! If we'd gone the two weeks before we would have missed the strawberries. Are just-picked strawberriesin smaller quantity worth more than probably unmanageable loads of blackcurrants? There is complex exchange rate of gardening which I haven't fully worked out yet.
What crops did you miss by going on holiday this year?
All Spring we've been swaying one way and then the other as we discuss whether to keep on with the allotment. First of all I was absolutely convinced that we should give it up. We would have so much more time for all sorts of things we keep meaning to do but never get round to. Escaping Edinburgh and going walking at weekends. Staying in Edinburgh and discovering parts we have never visited in 28 years here. Tidying the loft. Painting the house.
My conviction was absolute. Then we went to the plot one glorious May evening, and I wavered. The next day I swung back to my original gut feel. The following weekend I sowed lettuce, Swiss chard, beetroot, carrots, spinach, rocket, and veered sharply in the opposite direction.
And so it has continued, and at the moment we are being swayed by a bountiful harvest of strawberries and blackcurrants.
We have more lettuce than we can handle. Our neighbours are resorting to making soup with what we inflict on them.
The onions are filling out, and it looks as if we will have a crop worth lifting this year.
And even the neglected and weedy pile of earth (a former compost heap/weed dump of the previous plot-holders) has put forth a stunning display of self-seeded foxgloves.
For the moment it seems as if we are staying put for another year. But we still have to find time to squeeze in our list of 'must-do' and 'nice to do'. A few more hours each day, and a few more days each weekend would be good.
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.