Slow painting

Tuesday 28 September 2010

My weeds - glass

There's enough of it in the soil to count as a weed in my book. We've dug enough up over the years to make a patchwork greenhouse. Which is probably where it came from in the first place. Plotholders with long Edinburgh memories say that the site used to be a market garden with greenhouses, pre polytunnel era. I always work in the soil in gloves, because the shards can be invisible until they're embedded in a finger. This is the biggest one to date, tho.

Monday 20 September 2010

Drowning in onions - and comfrey

While the potatoes may be a write-off, we have almost more onions than we can store. A couple of weekends ago I set up an onion processing station in the sunny corner of the plot, shucking off the loosest outside skins and the excess stalk, and dividing the crop into immediate use and storage. I haven't got as far as the shallots yet, which are also plentiful. Thank goodness some things have just got on with it this year while we've been busy elsewhere. Some crops seem to know when they don't have your full attention, but not onions.

Garlic, however, is obviously one of the prima donnas of the allotment world. Or perhaps I didn't plant it deeply enough? Or the French variety I chose didn't like our coldest winter for however many years it was.

The bulbs hardly formed, or rotted away into nothing. It can't be that they didn't have a long enough period of cold weather for bulb formation. Since garlic adapts quickly to local conditions, I'm going to plant a Scottish-bred variety this year, plant 'em deep, and see what happens.

And the green leaves to the left of the onions below?

It's the return of the dreaded comfrey, which I thought we'd got rid of but has suddenly popped up all over the place. This little lot is in its way to the compost, and shortly, just as soon as we have a moment, it's going to be Operation Seek and Destroy. The biggest mistake I've made on the plot was to believe the description of Bocking 14 comfrey in the Organic Gardening Catalogue as 'non-invasive'. Hah! It had designs on my strawberry bed from the start, and has marched straight across the width of a neighbouring bed and now into the grass path. If humanity disappeared tomorrow (I've just finished reading 'The World Without Us', a recent birthday present which satisfied my post-apocalyptic leanings) the Earth wouldn't be taken over by some tree with waxy pods imported to the US from China and currently blotting out native species, but by my comfrey.

Sunday 12 September 2010


is the correct horticultural term, I believe, to describe the state of my potato crop this year. Nearly every tattie dug up is like this. Wormy, rotting, weevily, cracking leathery skins. The yield per plant is small, thankfully, because I have to dispose of this lot. This is the total from three plants:

The variety is Red Duke of York. I also planted Charlotte as a waxy salad potato, which has been nothing of the sort. The potatoes boil into soup before they're fully cooked.

Right now I'm in the huff with potatoes. Last year we planted Pink Fir Apple, which turned out to be a 'never again' variety. Fine if you have the endless time of the gourmet cook to negotiate the bumps and carbuncles when peeling. Not so fine that very many were rotten at one end, but subtly, below the skin, so that when you took hold of a potato it turned to liquid between your fingers.

So I'm giving myself a potato holiday next year. There's no law of allotment life that says you have to grow potatoes. When we took on the plot we decided at once that we would liberate ourselves from what seems to be an allotment law in these parts: thou shalt grow whopping cabbages that no-one is going to want to eat. Now we're going to enjoy potato freedom for a bit.

On a less curmudgeonly note: good luck to Michelle today in the Federation of Edinburgh and District Allotments and Gardens Associations annual produce show.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Phacelia - the flowering

It is beautiful, isn't it? I would love to let it all flower, and have a carpet of starry blue flowers above the grey-green frond-like leaves. But we strimmed it. Or rather, I let my husband do the dirty deed while I turned my back and dug another part of the plot, unable to watch the carnage.

I know, I need to get a grip. It's only green manure. And it may flower again. I asked for only partial carnage, just taking off most of the flowers so that we don't end up with rampant Phacelia, and leaving a few for the bees to be going on with.

A before and after shot of the whole area would have been good, but there are times when you're working so hard that you forget about anything other than the task in hand. That's what I like about having an allotment - total concentration, even to the extent of forgetting to feed the blog habit.

Sunday 5 September 2010

12 photos - September 2010

Last year on my Occasional Scotland blog I took part in the 12 kuvaa/photos meme, posting a photo each month from the same spot on my walk to work. The Finnish site that hosted the meme doesn't seem to be doing it again this year, but I've been bitten by the bug of seeing the year unfold in this way. (I also extended my meagre knowledge of Finnish, adding 'kuvaa' to the existing 'kiitos' - thank you; 'pankki' - bank; 'ravintola' - restaurant.)

So here's the plot after a morning and afternoon session today. Grass strimmed, green manure strimmed, six broccoli plants set out, cage and netting transferred from the blackcurrants to the broccoli.

And from the other end of the plot, the surviving lettuce plants in the foreground (more about that shortly), the remaining potato shaws next (and more about those too), and then the brassica cage. I still have kale plants at home waiting to go in there, but they'll have to wait until next weekend. At the other side of the plot is a very untidy strawberry bed, the shorn green manure, and the blackcurrant bushes.

The main impression I have looking at these photos is that we have some growing space set in the middle of a lawn. Despite our intentions, the grass has been winning this year. That broad central path irks me more every time I look at it, but our free time has been minimal and it's been one of the things we've had to postpone.

The weather today: blowy, warm, and hazy with smoke from bonfires.

The site today: much coming and going of other plotholders, with gluts of tomatoes and plums being shown off. A sense of the last fine days slipping away and everyone enjoying being outside.

If you want to see the original 12 kuvaa/photos site, it's here:

12 kuvaa/photos

Friday 3 September 2010


Apart from the over-abundance of blackcurrants, our most successful crop this year has been the Phacelia green manure. This is how it looked two weeks ago.

When I go along to the plot today I'm expecting to find it in flower. Bad news. It's meant to be cut down and dug in before flowering, otherwise it sets seed liberally.

The solution, I think, will be to ask man-with-strimmer to strim the tops off. I'll then rake them up and put them into the compost. It might still be warm enough to wait and see if it will come again, but if it doesn't I'll dig it in.

I have another area that will soon be read for green manure, and I'm wondering what to try there. Perhaps one of the ryes, which can be September sown, or a vetch. The field beans I sowed last year weren't a great success. Tall, thin plants which didn't suppress weeds, seeded very freely, and had such tough stems that they were almost impossible to dig in. They were popular with the bees tho, so I suppose that's something in their favour.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Location, location, location

If there is an upside to the fallow summer we've had at the allotment it's been the time to stand and stare. With less plant activity I've often been looking up and around while at the plot, instead of looking down at the area I'm digging/weeding/sowing.

So it's been striking me on every visit how this corner of the plot is just wrong. Not from the aesthetic point of view - what could be lovlier than sprawling rhubarb, a plank, and two black plastic compost bins? It's the location of these that's wrong. I took this shot around 4.30 a couple of weekends ago. The rest of the plot was in shade by this time from the big sycamore trees that border the access road. In high summer this sunny patch lasts into the early evening - ideal for relaxing in a comfortable chair, cool drink in hand, surveying the afternoon's work.

While we may not go down the patio route - I can't quite reconcile hard landscaping and allotment, but I'm open to persuasion - a grassy corner, level enough for chairs and perhaps a folding table, would bring the plot that bit closer to the Swedish colony garden idea of a green living space in the middle of the city.

I also want to make use of the edges of the plot for growing. A sturdy frame running along these two sides could support espalier plum and apple trees. At this time of year that may mean a few wasps sharing the cool drink bit, but it could be worth it for the sake of blossom in spring and fruit in autumn, plus a bit of shelter from the east wind. Comments from experienced fruit tree growers welcome!