Potatoes, Willow and Pear Tree

Celebrating the first day of the Easter holidays today! It’s been horrendously busy at work the last six weeks and I plan to enjoy two weeks of freedom! I got up late and decided to have breakfast in the sunshine down the allotment.

When I arrived, all the usual suspects were sitting having a tea break in the clubhouse. I joined them for a bit, enjoying sitting in the spring sunshine. Cliff and Phil are planning to use Mick the Greek’s chicken coop so they can expand their flock. Rent to be paid weekly in eggs! It’s a great idea as it means the coop will be used and looked after whilst Mick gets lovely eggs with no hassle. It’s a rare win-win situation. Both Cliff and Phil are going to go to Beeston in about ten days to pick up some new birds from the market. I am going to go with them! I love the idea hatching our own chicks again but it’s always so difficult to get them to hatch or to have enough females (males aren’t allowed on site due to the allotments being in a residential area). We have room for three more birds and I can’t wait to see what breeds are for sale. I am planning to buy hybrids which will secure our egg supply over the winter.

Upon arrival at the coop, I was greeted with the usual chorus of disapprobation. I topped up the new feeder, gave out their treats and sorted their fresh water. Next to check the eggs. This was more difficult than usual. Polly was in residence. I removed the eggs she wasn’t sitting on easily enough, never disturb a laying chicken! However, when I tried to get an egg half buried under feathers, I got a sharp peck for my trouble. Distinctly unimpressed, I left her to it whilst I cleared out the nest box. I went back five minutes later and turfed her out. I cleared all the eggs bar one, incase she went back in and wanted to sit on one. She didn’t go back in all day but it may mean she is about to go broody. Watch this space!

After that, I went off determined to plant the remaining potatoes. I added several handfuls of compost to the big pot in the greenhouse before planting three Arran seed potatoes in the pot. Then I got stuck. I remembered that the straw went on top, but when? After the plant came through the soil? Immediately after planting? I walked off in search of Michael who used this method successfully last year. He has just planted his potatoes with the straw method. He told me to water the pot well before adding a layer of straw on top. He managed to have three potatoes in his small pots. Looking at my enormous one, I decided to go all out and put all ten seed potatoes in. Next I gave the pot a thorough watering and piled on the straw as a finishing touch.

My arms felt extremely itchy after this and I realised I had rolled up my sleeves and had a rash developing on each arm. Stupid allergies! I pulled down my sleeves, deciding boiling in a fleece would be better than scratching my skin off. Going back into other shed, I got the remaining seed potatoes (Kingsman) and planted them, three per pot, into smaller plant pots. I used compost from the compost heap, watered them in well and piled on the straw. I hope this works! We have had no potatoes in the last two years. If this method works, I have no intention of ever digging a trench for potatoes ever again!

I stopped for breakfast, sitting on the bench the Cliff made, enjoying watching others busy about their work. By now it was getting quite warm so I hung up my fleece in the shed and moved on to planting some forgotten onions. These were actually the ones I grew last year, forgot about and have now sprouted. I put them in a line across the full width of the plot before changing direction and running them along the length when I ran out of room. If these all grow then we will be drowning in them.

Now on a roll, I walked across say hello to Rachel who was busy digging over the bottom of her second plot. I asked about her row of willow she has been growing the last couple of years. When it’s growing, it is a beautiful green wall that rustles in the breeze. She offered me some offcuts which had sprouted, that I quickly accepted.

These willow plants are not the tree variety but are long tall cane-like plants. Being willow, they thrive in damp soil and I had pondered about getting a willow for the soggier parts the plot. I took the offcuts to the shed, filled a bucket with water and put them in to soak. There were different types of willow and I chose one type to go along the edge of the plot near the path. This is the side of plot I’d where the worst of the flooding usually is. I planted six willow offcuts on each side of the bench. I made sure they were the right distance apart by using a stick exactly width they needed to be apart – Rachel made it and it worked perfectly!

I then went back to the clubhouse for a drink and a chat with Cliff and Keith. Drinks and biscuits all round before I headed back off to water the plants. The hydrangea in the shed seems a bit droopy so I gave it a good watering. The other flowers seem OK so far too.

I sat on the bench by the shed for a bit when an interesting idea hit me. The willow would hopefully dry out the flooded sections of the plot by the path but there is another section by the shed that always is flooded. Was there room to plant some willow there? I measured it out using sticks and I worked out I could plant 4 willow offcuts. Despite putting in the circular raised flower bed, it still floods between the bed and the path. If the willow takes, there will be a beautiful green screen of willow which will cover up the compost piles behind.

Cliff swung by shortly after I finished planting the willow to ask for some sandpaper to finish off his bench. I was able to help out with some coarse sandpaper. It’s the best thing about the allotment, there is always someone to help you or let you borrow tools or equipment or share plants. I had spotted earlier in the day that the middle pear tree in the boxed fruit tree section had red marks on several leaves and the blossom was tinged with red too. I took my time checking over the tree before deciding it had clearly got some sort of disease.

I dashed across to Rachel and borrowed her tree loppers and cut off the offending branches. It looks very severe but the remaining branches seem to be clear of it. Cliff recommended a concoction which protects the tree but it needs to be sprayed on during the winter before the blossom arrives. Geoff apparently mixes a batch up each year so I will remember to ask him for some. For this year, it is unlikely we will get any fruit from the tree but the main thing is that it survives.

The fruit bushes are doing well and hopefully we will get a good fruit crop this summer. The red gooseberry has lots of new leaves and the little one is still alive next to it. The replanted blackcurrant bush hasn’t died and looks like it might even survive to produce some berries. The other blackcurrant bush is doing well with blossom on it already. It should be out soon if the weather continues to be good.

Even better, the new fruit trees are now all showing signs of life. Even the dodgy looking one seems to have hints of green on it! Two of them have a good coverage of leaves on them already.

I went back to the shed to grab Phil’s amazing contraption to hoe the plot. It’s so easy to use, I finished the plot in ten minutes. The push-pull hoe is just as effective as the mini-rotavator, even better for more compacted soil which the rotavator struggles with. It’s particularly useful for breaking up the large clumps of soil from the dug over areas. Despite the huge amount of rain the last few days, the plot isn’t flooded and according to the guys that have been around while I have been a work, it didn’t have its usual puddles. Hopefully the mix of crazy paving, bench and trees is beginning to make a difference.

Lastly, I went back go the shed where I spent a pleasant half hour half dozing and listening to the sounds of the allotment before heading home for a well deserved rest.

Tomorrow I plan to dig over the bottom section of the plot and use Phil’s amazing contraption to break up the clumps of soil. It will also be interesting to see if Polly is actually broody.

PS – I spotted these gorgeous wellie planters on Rachel’s plot. I had to share them – they are amazing!

4 thoughts on “Potatoes, Willow and Pear Tree

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    1. We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful community.

      The straw method involves putting some compost in a pot, adding a couple of seed potatoes (exact number depends on the size of your pot), watering it thoroughly before adding straw over the top. The idea is that as the potato plant grows, it pushes upwards through the straw. The potatoes grow in the straw and come out clean and ready for eating. Or at least that’s the theory!

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