Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Beginning

New garden, new blog!  I'm retiring this one, now that the plot is no more, so please travel over to https://gardeneight.wordpress.com/ to read my new posts.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The End.

Last Sunday, I drove out to the plot, squelched up the path and loaded the last two chairs and a fishbox into the car.

And that's it - the end of six years of growing and planning and looking.  I've surrendered the plot back to the owner, said my farewells and taken my last pictures.  Everything looked drab and unkempt and very 'mid-winter' - withered stems and dried seedheads and bare branches.

The polytunnel is empty for the first time since it went up in 2009.

Still though, marigolds have continued to bloom defiantly through the winter, the wallflowers were starting to bloom and the heather was imitating snowflakes despite the damp mild day.

I was the only one visiting the plot on the last windy, murky Sunday in January.  I walked through the allotments and had a look at them all, saluted the beehives at the top of the hill, and then turned and drove away home.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Over the Hump

I have a light calendar in an excel sheet, that lies ignored for most of the year.  We are spoiled in Ireland for most of the year with endless evenings and seemingly infinite time.  It scarcely seems to matter if it gets dark at ten or eleven at night, and the mornings are bright no matter what time I crawl out of bed.

Come September, however, I root the calendar out again, to study the minutes lost every passing day and mourn the loss of evening light to creeping darkness.  This last semester of work and evening classes has been a blur of dark bus-stops and unsatisfactory takeaways too late at night, brightened towards the end by fairy-lit streets.  But now the year has turned - my world is a couple of minutes brighter today than Monday; a whole extra 120 seconds of light to revel in.

So what of the plot?  A summer of no weeding and intermittent visits culminated in a Jumanji-style reclamation of beds and paths and fences.  I planted little and got quite a lot back in return considering - lots of spuds and courgettes and beans, a few pumpkins, some salad, peas, loads of strawberries.  Weeds took over any uncultivated space, set seed and will probably be a massive headache for the next tenant - apologies for that.  Marigolds occupied the paths and the gate collapsed entirely, fence posts rotted - and the polytunnel, battered as she is, withstood it all.

I've nearly finished the organised retreat - an apple tree has come home to my back garden, three blueberries, a stool of rhubarb and some dahlias, tulip bulbs and asparagus crowns.  I've emptied one compost bin and lugged the contents home to be spread and still have one bin yet to tackle.  All of my pots and tools are installed in my new potting shed with the stove for tea and one of the wheelbarrows.  My time at the red shed will be over after Christmas.

2016 will be a new start in a new garden.  I did some initial exploratory work this summer, starting from a blank canvas of only scrubby lawn and giant apple tree.  I've dug out flat flower beds and installed a couple of raised beds.  I put up a summer tunnel and had good success with cucumbers and tomatoes.  Encouragingly, all flowers planted took off like rockets; the garden has fertile soil and is entirely walled, so it all looks promising for next year.  Last weekend I planted a couple of hundred bulbs, so with a little luck late Spring should bring a riot of daffodils and tulips and hyacinths. 


First bed dug in June 2015, and in late September.

Over the Christmas, I'll draw up a proper design for the garden - I want paths through the quagmire, a raised pond for the allotment goldfish, a few more raised beds, a composting area.  The huge apple tree needs an expert pruning and I have two water-butts to set up once I get some gutters in place.  With brighter days ahead of us, suddenly anything is possible for the coming year.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


I think this has been the busiest year of my life.  Work, college, new house - where does the plot fit in?  The answer is that it really hasn't.  I have been very remiss in putting in the hours, and I feel like the allotment has retaliated in the form of wave after wave of obstacles.  Firstly, the weather has been extremely harsh - a very cold wet spring, followed by hot searing winds and an absolute drought for weeks.  Then there's the resident rabbit/hare that persists in digging tunnels right through the baby carrots and the voracious pigeons that shredded the cabbage and pulled up half the celery.  In April, a mouse broke into the poly and scoffed every cucumber, courgette, sunflower and melon seed sown.  Not to mention the plague of aphids that utterly destroyed the lupins, the cutworms that severed the french beans at the base and the blackfly currently having a go at the broad beans.
April 29th 2015
It's been a very hard year.

Also, I now have the benefit/distraction of a back garden.  I'm coming to the end of three weeks off work and I've spent most of it digging flowerbeds and painting walls in the garden - not at the plot, which is a 25 minute drive away (in no traffic).

To be honest, I may not keep the plot next year (it's paid up until February) - maybe we've come to the end of the road together.  Maybe I'll find a plot closer to home, or just satisfy myself with the garden I have.  Maybe the red shed blog will become the red gate blog.

Anyway, for now I may as well keep juggling until the lease is up!  Not all is bad this year, although the weather has put the whole harvest back significantly compared to other years.  I still have a couple of beds unweeded, but the spuds are doing well, the peas are starting to crop and I had a decent amount of asparagus this last 6 weeks.  The two apple trees are laden with fruit - while the currant bushes and blueberry bush have next to no fruit apparent.  I had to split the rhubarb as it was flowering, but it is doing well.  I finally have the courgettes planted out, and will soon have the pumpkins in the ground too.
Potatoes with a comfrey mulch.
I hope to be more reliable in keeping this blog updated - I've missed it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


And so two months have zapped by in an interminable haze of work, college, snow flurries and dark dark evenings.  The plot has kept itself ticking over, with a little input from me, and is just about ready to embark on a new season.  My rent is paid for another year; the daffodils hover on the verge of yellow eruption; the fish are bigger than ever; giant bumblebees weave from wallflower to heather sprig to crocus, and the garlic is galloping up by the week.

Every time I visit, something has moved on - back in late January it was the first snowdrop emerging from the thicket, last weekend it was tulips my parents brought home from Amsterdam last autumn finally showing their faces above ground.

Sunday was a blustery day laden with whinneys and thundering hooves courtesy of the hunter trials taking place in the field next door.  I have most of the beds cleared by now and the polytunnel is semi-respectable.  I'm thinking of sowing some green manure in a couple of the beds, as they won't be needed for pumpkins and courgettes until June.  A lot of weeds could take advantage of the space in the meantime, so I think it's best to fill it up.  I potted on some windowsill-started tomatoes into the polytunnel - and I've been worrying about them ever since as the temperatures drop back at night.  Hopefully they'll muddle through.

In the midst of all this new growth - some death to balance it out.

I moved the wheelbarrow on Sunday to discover the remains of something's dinner - judging by the calling card next to the remains, the culprit was a fox.  The victim looks to have been a hare rather than a rabbit (a flatter tail) and I have seen a couple of scrapes around the plot in the last couple of months.  The allotment manager later told me that he has seen a fox around the place too.

Food-wise the plot isn't producing much - just a few leeks, the end of last year's turnips, some kale and spring cabbage.  I've also been eating my way through the pumpkins in store; they provide a welcome dash of sunshine in mid-winter.

Next week is St Patrick's Day - time to truly announce the start of the new season with the ceremonial planting of my early spuds.

Friday, January 2, 2015


Time to take stock.

In 2014 I kept a record of everything I spent on my allotment, and tried to estimate the value of the produce I harvested.  I weighed everything I brought home and then looked up the corresponding prices in online supermarkets to gauge the value of the crop.  This was sometimes difficult – I found it hard to find the going rate for harvests such as broad beans, blackcurrants and french sorrel in major supermarkets, and in some cases had to resort to smaller foodie websites or just make a best guess.

So, the overall figures:

I spent €451.49 and harvested €632.62’s worth of produce, giving a profit of €181.13.  Considering that it was a challenging year in many ways – a very hot dry June, a wet dull August, and a lack of time on my side – I’m delighted with this!

The expenses were as follows: €200 on the annual rent, €101.13 on potting compost and a load of manure, €48.47 on seeds, €32.84 on plants (this includes €29.85 on five fruit trees), €6.47 on tools, €12.66 on chemicals such as fertiliser and weedkiller for the paths, €33.97 on pots and seed trays (around €25 of this on pots for the fruit trees) and €15.95 on construction materials such as netting and stakes and string.

As regards successes, my top five most valuable crops were:
  1. Tomatoes – despite blight wiping out the outdoor plants in August, surprisingly this was the most valuable crop.  I harvested 9.2kg of fruit, which worked out at €89.
  2. Pumpkins – I grew 8kg of Hallowe’en pumpkins, 13.2kg of ‘eating’ pumpkins and 20 or so ornamental gourds.  This was the heaviest crop in weight, and I estimated it to be worth €69 overall at an average of €2.85 a kilo.
  3. Broad Beans – a truly bumper year for broad beans; they just didn’t stop coming and to be honest we all got sick of them!  I harvested approximately 11kg of beans which equated to €63 of produce.  This is an example of a crop that’s not readily available in the shops in Ireland – you really have to grow your own.
  4. Early Potatoes – the maincrop got blight, so the earlies were the stars this year, even though they also got a touch of it and were cut back quite early.  I dug up 22kg of spuds from a 4m x 1.2m bed.  This worked out at €43, and very tasty they were too.
  5. French Beans – the dwarf beans were really great this year.  From two sowings I harvested beans from July to October – a total of 22kg of beans and €31.50 in value.

On the other end of the scale, it was not a good year for pak choi (bolted, repeatedly), whitecurrants (just a handful, tasty though they are), runner beans (possibly too shady a spot), basil (too dull and damp in August), beetroot (sowed too late, some in the ground now but will probably go woody over the winter), sweetcorn (one cob only!  fertilisation problems again), cucumbers (got a couple, but not their year), celery (always too dry in my plot) and melons (the plants got choked by chillies and other plants).  You win some, you lose some!

So that’s 2014 out of the way, and time to look towards 2015.  I undertook the great annual seed inventory yesterday and made note of what I have – in short, I have a lot already.  Most packets are already open, but should do fine for one more year.  I think I can get away with just buying a few essentials this year to fill gaps, and maybe invest in a large re-stock in 2016.

I have too many of some seeds – some I’ve saved myself and others came with magazines but are surplus or something I won’t bother growing again.  So – this is a giveaway!  I have one packet each of Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’, Broccoli ‘Green Calabrese’ and French Sorrel ‘Sorrel de Belleville’.  I also have an amount of Turkish runner beans, and a pile of saved seeds – Broad Beans, Pot Marigold, French Marigold and Poppy.  If anyone would like some freebies, just leave me a comment with your email address and I will get in touch.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


It's warm today, on new year's day, but we had a short spell of severe frost earlier in the week - ice on the inside of the windscreen, one slippy shady side in every street.  After the second day the temperature rose a bit and the frost retreated, and I called out to the plot.  Usually, the allotment is Costa del Donabate.  It is always hotter than the rest of Dublin, and dryer.  But on Tuesday the plot was still in the grip of frost, where the suburbs had cleared.  The pond was frozen, with goldfish swimming perplexedly beneath the rippled sheet.  The paths were crunchy and the shadier beds were frozen.  A wren erupted out the door of the poly as I opened the door, interrupted from basking in the ten degrees of heat inside.  The gap under the door is big enough for it to hop in and out without my help.

I did get some work done; the three smallest beds weeded and cleared, old rhubarb leaves and asparagus fronds chucked on the compost mountain and the blueberry bushes pruned of crossing and leggy branches.

More to do but there is no real rush - a good few weeks of winter lie ahead before the manic spring rush begins again.