Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Tis the season.....

...... to wish you all a very Merry Xmas, and here's looking forward to a great 2010 in the allotment!

Enjoy, eat, drink, be merry. Fa la la la La, fa la la laaah.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Earth lay hard as iron......

....on Houndkirk Moor.

Houndkirk road was built in 1758 as a turnpike road and was never surfaced with modern materials. So it looks pretty much now as it did then but is being badly damaged in places by off-road vehicles and motorbikes. Selfish pursuit of narrow pleasure, I think it's called.

Looks like a bit like the Blasted Heath today, and felt like it too.

Shortest day in two days time. Got your garlic in?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where do I come from?

No, that's not the question which usually ends in "Mummy?". I worked that one out a long time ago.

Rather, it's about where do I feel I belong. If I were a sheep, which bit of hill do I feel hefted to? If I were French, where is my terroir? And the truth of the matter is that I don't really feel I know, any more.

Crikey, matey, I hear you say; what's brought on this bout of introspection (and why is it in a blog about allotments, for goodness sake; keep yer pretentious tosh for somewhere else!).

It's because today I've been to a funeral, of my friend Billy. I find funerals difficult & I was quite upset by this one, in a manly sort of way. I confess I had to pull over on the way home because I couldn't see to drive. The stiff upper lip has had a definite quiver today.

Billy was a well travelled man but unmistakably rooted in the Northeast. We are of a similar vintage and come from small towns only 20 miles apart. I was born and raised in the south-west Durham coalfield, but feel no attachment to it. I left the Northeast at age 18 and never really went back.

I've lived in Sheffield for over 40 years but ask me whether I'm a Sheffielder and I think the answer is No. I wasn't born here and don't have that inbuilt identity. And if you ask me whether I'm a Yorkshireman the answer is emphatically No. I recoil from that slightly synthetic, slightly jingoistic, assertion of [it seems to me] slightly false identity. I do feel a pull towards the Durham Dales (Weardale & Teesdale) but not sufficiently to want to live there.

So which hill am I hefted to? Well, that's partly about the pull of the allotment. If you ask me why I have an allotment it's only partly about growing things, outdoor exercise, fresh food etc, although all of those are important. A lot of it is about land; it's my land. Subject to only fairly light touch regulation I can do what I like on my small patch of land. My inner peasant isn't far from the surface.

So if you ask me about my identity, what I am, where I come from - what do I say? Quite often I say I'm a European. I do feel something of a supra-national identity, although I've never lived in any other country than the UK and am now unlikely to ever do so. I don't think of myself as English, although I am, but quite like the inherent diversity of British. Driving down the motorway today I coined the identity of a Modern Briton but aren't quite sure what it means. If that were an exam question it would be followed by "Discuss".

To get you started here is a plaque you can find close by the Rockefeller Centre, New York.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The last raspberries?

Almost certainly. I'm just pleased I'm still picking the little blighters, on November 22nd.

Today was the first 'working' visit to the plot for a month and in a packed programme Woodsworth managed to:

  • Pick the last raspberries
  • Prune the blackberries
  • Tie in the new blackberries (if you thought this year was bumper, there is nearly twice as much fruiting stem available for next year!)
  • Chopped out the old blowsy Mallow, shortly to be buried by a manure heap
  • Cut more of the hedge, and
  • Got wet
  • Said "Phew", and
  • Came home in the dark

The onions I put in a month or so ago are showing reasonably well and the garlic is beginning to show signs of life. I'm always a bit dubious about autumn onions but other people seem to do well with them so it's worth a try.

Monday, November 09, 2009


I seem to have done it myself!!

I'll have to set my own challenge now.

On the cusp

My view count stands at 7999.

Whoever the 8000th visitor is, please identify yourself and set me an allotmenting challenge.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hollywood calls

Apologies for tardiness in updating y'all on "Finding David Douglas", which premiered at Pitlochry Festival Theatre last Thursday. Thanks to Gnome for pricking my conscience.

Well, what a night we had of it; I'm sorry you couldn't make it, Gnome. I think you'd have enjoyed it.

We had 300 people in the theatre, a reception, an address from the Provost of Perth, the Scottish Environment Minister was there, and we had a rousing chorus or several of "To the Oregon Country" (last heard on an island in the Hayes River, northern Manitoba). Oh and a damn good film launch.

The film was excellent. I hadn't seen it before the premiere and am well pleased with it. I know I would say that wouldn't I but I think it is a good piece of storytelling (with lots of on-screen from yours truly!!). There are some technical faults with it yet; it's a bit too long at an hour & eight mins and needs to lose around 12 mins to make it more broadcastable; some of the maps are a bit overexposed and don't add a lot to the story, and some of the running order needs tweaking to tell the story more clearly.

But we positioned it as what it is - a work in progress. All those issues will be ironed out over the winter ready for the US launch in April. For the moment we're very proud of it.

Frustration may cause Accidents.....

.....said the big illuminated sign beside the A1 on our recent trip to Scotland.

"Aye; better have a w*nk" came the cry from the Wilburys, passing by.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Start of a tradition?

Today is Wilma Wilbury's birthday. It's a significant birthday; she is now officially a pensioneer. But how many pensioneers do you know who were once kissed by Mick Jagger? Before she met me. Obviously.

I've also planted the garlic (75 cloves; we like garlic). This, planting the garlic on Wilma's birthday, could be the start of a new family tradition.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dig for Victory

.... or Garlic & Autumn Onions in this case.



But you'll notice no garlic or onions. Huh?

Soil is too fluffy, having just been dug & mucked. Needs to settle, which is as good a reason for not planting them today as any other I could think of.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Life

At long last (12 days overdue), in the early hours of Friday morning, Tiny Wilbury checked in. It was a very long and arduous labour but mother and daughter are both doing well. And Woody is now Granddad Woody. YO!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In three words

BBC News has been running a feature where visitors to the website are asked to share their outlook for the year ahead in three words.

Let's have a go, with an allotment or gardening theme. I'll start with:

Manure is Good!

Contributions welcome; keep them coming. Let's be 'aving you (Digression - there's a road in Sheffield called Letsby Avenue, on which the police traffic headquarters is based. I kid you not.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Mattock is a splendid Tool

I have three garden tools which I'd greatly miss if I lost them, and only one of which I paid for.

The first is my Dad's "Bulldog" spade, which I inherited when he died

The second is an equally good quality fork, with nice sharp tines. This fork was left behind in a shed on an allotment I used to work long ago and it sort of adopted me.

And the third, which I did pay for, is my much-loved Mattock. Here's a picture of it.

It goes with me every time I go to the allotment, but it never spends the night there. Nor do the others.

It's a very old design, used by peasant farmers around the world. They know a thing or two, they peasant farmers. There's nothing like it for clearing ground, short of Agent Orange which I might find hard to get hold of and a tad toxic.

The Great Autumn Tidy being in full swing, the Mattock is getting lots of use.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The first visit since the last visit.....

.... has revealed a plot in dire need of TLC. That's what happens when you go gallivanting up Austrian mountains and leave yer vegetables to look after themselves. Hey Ho.

Anyway, the Great Autumn Tidy has started, with the aid of the trusty Mattock. I'd show you a picture of me looking pleased with myself but it's a shirt-off job and I don't want to frighten the 'orses.

So here's a picture of two disgracefully knobby Italian courgettes.

Their proper name is Trompetti, courtesy of the excellent Seeds of Italy, but in our house they're known as Knobby & Bobby.

Monday, September 14, 2009

High on a hill stood a lonely goat herd, yodel-ay etc

Radio silence over the last week cos I've been to Austria on Chaps Week. Five good days = five good mountains. And food; ye gods, they Austrians like their meat. It's no place for vegetarians; think I ate more meat on the first night than in the whole of the previous week. If offered a Grillteller, first loosen your belt a couple of notches.

And if contemplating beer, mine's a Zipfer.
Q - what's a Zipfer?
A - to do up your trousers!!!! Boom Boom.

These are the geraniums outside a mountain hut where we stopped for a Zipfer.

There are fabulous cascading geraniums everywhere. Climate makes a difference of course; being so much further inland they get a reliably warm dry summer. Dream on, UK.

Anyway, here's a sample of the mountains we got up (note the ladder on one of them)

Then it rained so we went down a salt mine (no pictures cos I forgot the camera). Had to slide into it; the further back you leaned the faster you went. I managed 29.6 Km/h. Poor, but did have friction burns on undercarriage.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Just look at these!

Best plums I've ever had (only plums I've ever had!!)

And plenty more raspberoonies where these came from (No, not Sainsbury's)


Remember the grand notion of a wall of Morning Glory?

Well, it worked and here it is.

It'd be even better if I could get the little beggars in focus!

Reciprocity City


I'm getting a bit fed up.

Who always cuts the grass on the communal path between the two allotments? Moi.

Who keeps the entrance tidy & stops it getting overgrown? Moi.

Who never does either of those things? Harrumph

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Harvest Home

Well, not exactly. But I did pick:

  • Runner Beans
  • French Beans (why does anyone grow dwarf French - les haricots "Toulouse-Lautrec? They dangle down on the earth and you don't know they're there until they've either gone over the top or the slugs have had 'em. Les haricots ascensant sont much better)
  • Blackberries - this is a real bumper year for blackberries. I've been picking industrial quantities for 4 weeks now and they're only slowing down slightly.
  • Raspberries - for tea with ice cream
  • Courgettes - good job we like ratatouille cos, ye gods, have we got courgettes
  • Spuds - all volunteers from poor clearing of last year's crop
  • Cornflowers and Sweet Peas
At last, the Morning Glory Wall is beginning to flower. It had three on today but, being mid-afternoon, they were already fading. Must get there earlier!

I've also managed a halfway decent onion crop despite neglecting them shamefully and have to hack through a forest of weedage to harvest them. They got away from me while I was on holiday and I never got back to them. I find onions surprisingly difficult; next year I'm going to plant them on my cleanest plot and try to feed them better and weed them better. Perennial cry of the gardener, eh?

And here's a bashful fellow - one of my bumper-ish plum crop beginning, just beginning, to blush.

In here you can just see a cucumber flower beginning to develop.

Cornflowers are doing well too.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I had a little nut tree....

..... nothing would it bear.

Well, it's changed it's mind this year. Quite the heaviest crop of hazelnuts it's ever had. Nuts, whole Hazelnuts. Cadbury's took me and they covered me in Chocolate. Come on, sing along.But who'll get there first, me or old Nutkins? My money is on Nutkins. And I'm still going to coppice it next year because it's getting too big.

What else is going on? I spent a few minutes standing in front of a brushcutter (with a blade) in B&Q before deciding that, good though it was, I couldn't justify spending almost £200 on it when I had a "reasonable" (plastic line) petrol powered strimmer. And I was slightly worried about cutting my feet off. So I went back to the strimmer and strummed merrily away to make a tidyish allotment. The trick to it is to a) do it more often so you aren't dealing with grass which is too long, and b) pre-cut the lengths of line (they just push in) so that when they need changing (frequently!) you can do it really quickly.

Well, that was fun. A good proportion of the strimmage ended up on my trousers, which now stand up by themselves. No pictures cos who wants to see pictures of cut grass stiffening my trouser legs? There are websites for that sort of thing, allegedly. But let's have a flower theme for a moment.

The blowsy old Mallow:The Cornflower (yes, I know it's the wrong way round):
The Nasturtium

Meanwhile, back at the potting bench, I've been addressing my bete noire, of failing to do successional sowing to extend the season. So this wet, miserably wet, Sunday afternoon (Memo to weather - Errm , this is summer, actually. Let's have some) I've sown Lettuce (red cos & red salad bowl) - I like red lettuce, mangetout, rocket, spicygreens, cavalo di bruxelles (or sprouts, as they're called round here), red cabbage, caulipretties (as my sister-in-law called them when she was a toddler) & savoy cabbage (a bit late but worth a try). Must try to get some cavalo nero, black Italian kale, in too.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And so, at last, an update

Back from hols, back to work tomorrow; so how's it been with the allotment while we were in Crete?

30C heat for a few days I gather but also torrential downpours. That has a predictable effect on the weeds! But overall it isn't looking too bad. I'd give it 6/10, after two weeks total neglect. In detail:

Blackberries - doing VERY well. Himalayan Giant are prolific & huge (the clue is in the name?) but v thorny. Oregon Thornless are smooth (!) and have a heavy crop but they ripen later so aren't ready yet.
Raspberries - the earlies seem to have peaked while we've been away, with signs of pigeon damage, and the lates aren't ready yet (come on lads, get on with it).

bush - well, it's still there but isn't doing much.

- beginning to bolt but will still get a few pickings then need to resow for more later.

Onions & Shallots
- disappointing - I'm doing something fundamentally wrong with my onions (he squeaked, painfully). Too much competition from weeds I think. Need to rethink them for next year.

- doing well, need weeding
Brassicas - red & ordinary cabbage doing well in Fort Brassica but it needs better access for weeding. At present it looks like Thistletown. The hurdles are good at keeping they pigeons out but I need to rethink the fixings and the roof for better access. All this for a few cabbages.

Climbing French
- OK but need to get up their poles more (Allez! Montant!!)

Dwarf French
(La petite) - OK, but need to start flowering.

- amazed that I've got any; they're all volunteers from last year.

- hanging on, altho some have clearly dropped as there aren't as many as before hols. But we may actually get some ripe ones this year.

Runner beans
- flowering nicely.
Rhubarb - seems to be having a second coming. (Hmm.... No good'll come of it; ee mark my words)

- needs coppicing in the autumn. Ee, that our Hazel, she's a right un; always needs a good coppicing

- roaring away

- fruiting well. We had fried Courgettes in Crete - actually we had lots of different versions but the ones we liked best were very thinly sliced, dipped in a light batter & then flash fried as a starter. Yummy.

- still alive (x2) but not fruiting yet. Come on lads; I'm looking forward to my Burpless Tasty Green

Sweet Peas, Cornflowers & Morning Glory
- all OK but looking a bit 'thin'. The whole plot needs a good feed. Bring on the manure in the autumn. But at least the Morning Glory 'wall' shows signs of delivering on the idea.

Flowering Mallow
(Lavatera) - totally OTT as usual, and determined to fall over like the blowsy old tart it is. It's going to have to come out in the autumn because it's where the manure is going to go. But it makes such a good show I'll have to put another in somewhere else.

- gone completely over & now only good for Mushy Mangetout.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


I've been walking the Samaria Gorge again 15 Kms of hard, hot walking and somehow the fact of it being mostly downhill doesn't make it any easier, especially in the light of this sign.

By the end my right knee was twanging. I suspected the cure to be lashings of ice-cold beer but was unsure whether to rub it on or apply internally. Dr Son and Dr Brother-in-Law quickly advised by text that I should immediately apply internally and, if no improvement, repeat quickly until feeling no pain. That did the trick.

My other Allotment......

..... is in Crete (I wish), hence the radio silence for the last fortnight. Here's a photo. Iannis keeps chickens

and rabbits there too, along with the usual civilised comforts of a pool and BBQ house.

The pool attracted lots of frogs at night (noisy little beggars they are); lizards live in the walls and come out to hunt moths, and owls come out to hunt mice etc.

And of course there's always the delights of PYO oranges.

This was all followed by a flight into Manchester last night in torrential rain (perhaps a tautology?) and a drive over the Snake Pass with roads awash. Never seen such torrents of water. I gather you had it hot in the UK while we were in Crete but there was no evidence of it last night!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yes, another one!!!

Another ohnosecond, just one day after the last one.

Repeat after me.

Before swinging away madly with the hedge clippers I will remember, I WILL remember that I carefully threaded a hosepipe deep through the hedge so I wouldn't cut it in half with the hedge clippers.

Not deep enough though!! Now I have two hosepipes, created in an ohnosecond, and both of lesser utility than the original. This was a bit of an embuggerance in the watering this morning.

On which theme I should share with you a new German verb I've invented - to offgebugger - usually deployed around going-home time with a cheery cry of "Right then, ich bin offgebuggeren".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Ohnosecond

Are you familiar with the Ohnosecond? The smallest imaginable, indeed the smallest conceivable, unit of time. And remarkably uniform too. It's always (this never varies) the time between you realising you've done something and realising you really shouldn't have done it.

In my case it was hoeing straight through one of only three outdoor cucumber plants. I console myself that it was the puniest of the three (which isn't saying much; they'd all get sand kicked in their faces by Mr Gherkin, himself not the largest of cucumbers). But it was irritating and a classic Ohnosecond.

So what else is going on? Massive weeding, that's what.

See Janet, look at the tidy beans. See John, look at the tidy onions. See you Jimmie, if you eat those raspberries before me.

And look who lives on our lawn. Two of them actually.

And finally, and this trumps all, we are to be grandparents; a little girl due in September. We are of course delighted. Genetically, my work is done. Genes passed on and then passed on again. Gregor Mendel, where are you now?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I never lets that hoe rest

'Tis the only way to keep things tidy. But even so, 'tis a constant struggle.

And this week we've had torrential rain and serious flooding again in Sheffield. Not quite as bad as 2007 but quite bad enough. Made watering the allotment a bit superfluous for a few days!

Anyway, how goes it with the plot?

Beans in (Runner & Climbing French). Kale and Sprouts in, Cucumber and knobby Italian Courgette in. Netting up for Morning Glory to scramble up (first time I've grown them). Bit of a show, what?

Blackberries look good. Potatoes look good, especially as I'm not growing any this year; these are all volunteers from where I didn't clear it out properly last year. Better a volunteer than a pressed man.

And finally, just to demonstrate that an allotment can be a thing of beauty as well as a list of vegetables (altho some of them are things of beauty too (look at this cabbage) here's a rose.

Sithee, as we say in Yorkshire.