Monday, 28 April 2008

They're watching me

"Are you sure you want to keep the allotment? Because I've been told plots ten and eleven haven't had much done to them."

I flinch. This is a nasty surprise: my first skirmish with the allotment police. I muster a reply.

"Yes we do. We've been working the plot gradually. Last year we had five beds up and running. This year we'll have seven."

The clerk looks unimpressed. I decide new evidence is needed.

"My wife's eight months pregnant, so progress has slowed recently."

No reaction. I panic, and forget the primary hindrance to my plans - all the bloody rain. Perhaps this is the end of my allotment adventure, thrown out of the community in disgrace.

I wonder who blew the whistle. Was it the retired couple across the way? Or perhaps my shabby neighbour made a tactical nomination? Unfortunately my plot is adjacent to the car park, a location which invites judgement.

Finally, the clerk breaks her impassive demeanour.

"That's ok. Some people get a bit funny about these things, that's all."

Phew, a reprieve. I hastily pay the renewal fee and exit, before an appeal can commence.

My allotment

My finest bed

So ended my first year in the secret world of allotments. It's been an amazing journey (as they say on X Factor). Here's some memorable moments:

A sequel beckons. Will part-deux be bigger box office? It's certainly got a bigger cast.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Beyond compost: 4 other ways to save money at the allotment

I don't know about you, but money's getting tight around here. So I've been thinking, how can I save money at the allotment? Let's qualify that. I'm looking to spend no more than £5 per month on allotment-related stuff.

Luckily, I'm not the first person to ask this sort of question. I've done a bit of research, and I've found some actions that should keep me under my limit. Maybe they'll help you if you're looking to trim your gardening budget.

1. Cook a pot of nettle soup

Why buy fertilizer when you can make your own from stinging nettles? Yep, those stinging nettles. The ones you used to fall in as a kid. They're redeemed. Here's how:

  1. Fill a bucket half full of nettles
  2. Top it up with water
  3. Leave your the nettle soup to mature
  4. When it starts to smell (believe me, you'll know) drain off the liquid into a watering can
  5. Water your vegetables when you would have added liquid fertilizer

Each batch should take a few weeks. Soup-er.

2. Deploy eggshell defences

Slug pellets aren't cheap. Last I heard they weren't very organic either. So why not try egg shells instead?

Rinse them out, crush them and store them in an old margerine tub. Once you've got enough, sprinkle yourself a perimeter around your courgettes. Apparently the slugs head home with new insecurities. Plus, the minerals in the egg shells improve your soil. I'd like to see a slug pellet that does that.

3. Cover your embarassment with cardboard

You know that corner? The one that you haven't managed to put to good use? If you're not careful, it'll be invaded by weeds. You want to mulch. Trust me. But why spend money on some evil-looking black plastic, when you can mulch for free? Here's how:

  1. Acquire a corrugated cardboard box (the bigger, the better)
  2. Peel off any sellotape and any labels you can
  3. Remove any staples
  4. Break the box down and lay it on the offending patch of land
  5. Be sure to overlap the sheets of cardboard so that weeds can't squeeze through the gap
  6. Weigh down the cardboard with stones/bricks/small children

Mulching with cardboardCardboard won't wreck your organic soil, and will rot down eventually. I learnt this money-saving tip from Jane Perrone's excellent book.

4. Pot-up in The Sun

Apparently, plant pots are the new plastic bags. They cost money as well. Not very much, but money nevertheless. But guess what? You can make your own, out of newspaper. Here's one I prepared earlier.

  1. Grab a straight-sided glass and a couple of sheets of newspaper
  2. Lay the newspaper sheets flat, on top of each other
  3. Fold the newspaper over so it forms a long strip, which is 4-5cm wider than the height of the glass (trim the newspaper if necessary)
  4. Roll the glass up in the newspaper, leaving about 1cm of newspaper poking over the top
  5. Fold the top of the strip over the rim of the glass
  6. Wiggle the glass downwards, out from within the ring of paper
  7. Now hold the glass above the ring of paper and push in into the centre, until the top is level with the folded rim
  8. Fold the bottom of the paper ring onto the bottom of the glass to form the base of the pot
  9. Pull the glass upwards, out of the paper ring
  10. Fill the pot with compost, and you're away

If you had problems following that, try watching this instead:

There you go: a quartet of ideas to reduce your expenditure and recycle things you'd otherwise throw away. And not a mention of greens or browns. Any other ideas for saving money at the allotment?

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

On the grid

The sky is blue, the temperature a balmly 18 degrees, as you join us on the kitchen window sill. We're here to watch the first race of what promises to be a captivating second season.

Ten contenders are on the grid, each hoping for a strong start. The hum of idling engines fills the air. The tension is palpable. At this level, under this pressure, there are certain to be mistakes.

Who will reach the first corner in the lead? Who will be forced into retirement before the lap is out? We'll be here watching the contest with you, bringing you the news as it happens. Don't go away.