Thursday, 25 October 2007

Deep in the underground lair, a plan takes shape

As autumn cedes to winter, my thoughts are turning to next year. I'm tired of digging. I want to grow something, that's what I signed up for. It's time to plan, a much underrated part of allotment life.

Step 1: pick the team

My allotment advisors recommend I compile a wish list of my favourite fruit and veg. I'm a realist, I know aubergine is but a pipe dream. After this year's potato disaster my sights are set decidedly lower: I'm after whatever will survive.

So, I'm relying on potatoes and kale to provide a defensive backbone. I'll supplement them with some talent that's done well on neighbouring plots: raspberries and runner beans. Courgettes will make a return - they've proved their worth. Lastly, I feel compelled to add sweetcorn to the mix. Stroke of genius, or flight of fancy?

Step 2: choose the formation

Here's where things get decidedly tricky. I need to think about sunlight. I need to think about drainage. I need to think about crop rotation. I need to lie down.

Surprisingly, height is a big worry. Some crops, beans in particular, grow rather tall, overshadowing their lesser colleagues. That sort of behaviour puts noses out of joint.

Still, despite the complications, I've managed to assemble a notion of a plan. I'd paused to bask in the glory of a cunning kale/spinach combination, when Wife remarked that I hadn't consulted her.

Ah yes, it's our allotment. Silly me. Back to the drawing board then. What do you mean you don't like potatoes?

Friday, 12 October 2007

Apples are not the only fruit

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action DayThis is going to sound stupid. Promise you won't laugh? Until recently I had no idea what time of year apples are harvested. It never crossed my mind. After all, they're always on the supermarket shelves, aren't they?

Isn't that weird, that my concept of food was so disconnected from nature's calendar? Supermarkets promote the idea that fruit and vegetables are available all year round. And they are: if you're willing to ship them across the globe.

Transporting food this way chucks vast amounts of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. That's bad – ask Al Gore. Even worse: many of these food miles are pointless.

British apples are in season from September to January. So, what's the point in shipping New Zealand apples all the way to the UK in these months? It's an expensive luxury. Expensive for the planet, that is.

So, please please please try and eat to nature's timetable. If British food's in season, choose it over the imported stuff. (But be suspicious of British bananas or pineapples. Chances are, they were grown under rows of patio heaters.)

You'll rediscover the rhythms of the food year. It's natural to only eat apples in the autumn and winter – that's how nature works. Your food will also have less dodgy chemicals applied. How else do they keep it fresh over its 20,000 mile journey?

The poor of the world will thank you.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Courgettes storm first AU Awards

Courgettes led the field at the the first annual Allotment Underground Awards last night, picking up 'best crop'. Initially touted as a favourite, the plant had been eclipsed by a late sweetcorn comeback.

Here are the full results from the night:

Best crop: courgettes

Judged declared: "A rousing debut in a lacklustre field."

Best pest defence: beer

Judges praised its stunning opening night, when 85 slugs were dispatched.

Best recycling: rabbit bedding

Widely regarded as an ingenious entry, head and shoulders above the competition.

Best blog: Soilman's Allotment Blog

A surprise win, beating off stiff competition from Horticultural.

Best book: The Allotment Keeper's Handbook by Jane Perrone

One judge remarked, "It's rare to find a book which educates and entertains in equal measure, a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any allotmenteer."

The turnout for the awards was small, but the organisers remain upbeat, convinced the ceremony will become a fixture of the allotment calendar.

Friday, 5 October 2007

A clean slate

Strawberries in new bed

As you can see, our strawberries are settled into their new home. They seem unaffected by their rescue and subsequent journey. I'm hoping they'll flourish gratefully, showing their newfound security in a bountiful crop.

For the record, here's the wilderness we plucked them from:

Strawberries in old bed

Our operation seems to have gone unnoticed. I'll keep you posted.