Planning the Plot: The Fruit Cage

Following on from Monday’s post about the newly built strawberry cage I thought I would share the other plans for fruit on the allotment. I would quite like to have a variety of soft fruit available on the allotment as it’s not something I buy from shops very often due to the price. I object to paying two, three or even four pounds for 100 grams of watery, tasteless fruit that’s often been frozen and shipped in from abroad.

Aside from trying to get better value for money I can’t deny that there is something quite nostalgic about picking your own fruit. I remember numerous summers spent with my Granddad in strawberry fields and between rows of raspberries picking our own fruit, taking the punnet to pay at the end and being adamant you hadn’t eaten any extra despite having lips so red they would have made Marilyn jealous.

So alongside strawberries I will be growing:

fruit cage

Gooseberries: I’m going to get off to a good start by saying that I don’t really like gooseberries, but these came with the plot and it seems a shame to waste such productive bushes. Most harvests will be going to my mother, who does like them.

Redcurrants: These have been specially requested by my other half, seeing as he is my chauffeur to the garden centre I suppose he should be allowed to pick one fruit.

Blackcurrants: I can’t really remember ever having a blackcurrant that wasn’t in Ribena but I read an article recently about how blackcurrants trump blueberries when it comes to their “superfood” powers, plus I live with a man who loves a pudding in any shape or form so I can’t see any going to waste.

Raspberries: Our plot came with some raspberries that I think might be summer fruiting, they’re being treated that way at least. I want to supplement these with some autumn fruiting canes as well.

Blackberries: I love blackberries and although I’ve read that their bushes can be a bit of a bully I’m willing to try training one or two just for the reward of the fruit.

Grapes: The position of the fruit cage means that the longest side is south-facing and in my mind this is just begging to be the home of a grape vine. I love grapes but need to do some research about which varieties won’t be troubled by being outdoors in northern Britain.

Building Project: Raised and Caged Strawberry Bed

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Strawberries have been my favourite fruit since I was little and I cannot envisage this changing any time soon. This is more than likely because their arrival heralds in turn the arrival of my birthday, a day that I am fond of purely for narcissistic reasons (it is for this same reason that I love Wimbledon and become fanatical about tennis for two weeks each year). Being the highest fruit on my list of favourites it was only natural that one of the first building projects on the allotment was to build a shrine of safety for them.

When we got the plot last June there was already a good crop of strawberries ripening in amongst the weeds and we managed to harvest a decent amount before the pigeons realised they were there. One of the drawbacks of tackling the weeds was exposing the fruit to all the beady eyed birds that frequent our allotments. The allotment site in general is bordered by trees along two sides and there is a small strip of more robust woodland just to the north of us. This makes for lovely scenery but does mean that pigeons congregate in the trees eyeing up our produce in a way that is reminiscent of vultures following a parched beast through the desert. Our neighbour even warned us that they have been known to purposefully sit on, and weigh down, netting over fruit and veg in order to try and reach their prize.

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Our allotments at 7am, woodland in the distance

In order to protect this year’s strawberry crop I constructed a raised bed with attached cage to keep the birds away. The cage is 6” x 6” and I can comfortably reach all but the very middle for weeding and other maintenance tasks, fortunately I have an assistant who is a whole foot taller than me and who can be easily bribed with ale to help out, should the need arise. The cage lids are hinged on a central support and lay flush on the surface of the other side so that I don’t risk bashing my head every single time I need to weed, mulch or harvest. The whole thing is secured with chicken wire. The holes in the chicken wire are probably not small enough to keep rodents out, which I only considered once the thing was built, but we’ll have to cross the bridge if we come to it.

One half of the bed is currently filled with 9 strawberry plants which were a gift from a friend. They were labelled as Cambridge Favourite which is a mid-season variety. I want to get some late season plants to fill out the other side of the bed so we can keep munching on them for as long as possible.

All in all I am quite pleased with my first foray into DIY. Hopefully the multiple times I hammered my own thumb will all seem worth it once June 29th comes around I can enjoy a home grown bowl of my favourite fruit on my favourite day. It will most certainly be a happy birthday to me.

March To-Do List

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Happy March and happy spring! Days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and it’s finally starting to feel like we’re leaving the deep dark of winter behind us. This is the month that my patiently chitted potatoes will be planted out and I can finally reclaim my windowsills, though I doubt they’ll stay empty for long as I want to get a head start sowing all those seeds that will need the extra protection of being indoors. I also want to get the first sowings of some of the tougher seeds in the ground, particularly peas, spinach and carrots. This month will also be my last chance to plant out any dormant bare root fruit bushes that I’ve been coveting.  But before we get ahead of ourselves there are still a lot of weeding, raking and digging to be done.

 

Top Tasks for the Month

  • Finish the raised strawberry bed
  • Begin to move the rubbish pile that currently covers the wildlife garden area
  • Pot up the dahlia tubers
  • Buy and plant bare root fruit bushes
  • Get a compost bin
  • Paint the new shed and add guttering
  • Look into the possibility of getting a greenhouse


Seeds I’ll be sowing inside:

  • Aubergines
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Borlotti Beans
  • Cabbage (red and early summer varieties)
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Sprouting Broccoli
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes


Seeds I’ll be sowing under cloches:

  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Rocket
  • Peas
  • Swiss Chard


Things to plant outdoors (as long as the ground isn’t too cold or wet):

  • Onion (pickling)
  • Early Potatoes

 

*Varieties of everything I’ll be growing in 2016 can be found here

Diamonds in the Rough

After the initial shock of how overgrown the plot was we decided to have a poke around in amongst the grass to see if anything of value had managed to survive the onslaught. What we found was pleasantly surprising.

From the front of the plot it looked like a unkempt meadow as far as the eye could see  but, after taking a little wander to the back, it wasn’t hard to miss one crop that was not only thriving but doing so well that no competition could compete. First discovery of the day – Rhubarb!

Rhubarb

These guys are massive! I don’t yet have the heart to cut any of them as they’ve survived so well, an attitude which is probably not well suited for an allotment owner. I’ve read in my trusty RHS guide that rhubarb should be not be harvested too late in the season so that it is strong enough to survive the winter, so I can assuage my guilt for now. The yellowing leaves will need tidying up and hopefully it should be back just as strong next year. Unfortunately our plot ends where the blue string just behind the rhubarbs bed is, so that nicely tilled earth in the back of the picture is just there to taunt us.

Across the path from the rhubarb is probably my favourite find of the day. Snuggled in amongst the tall grass was a dozen or so strawberry plants.

Hello there

A lot of the fruit is still pale and I’m guessing that they haven’t had enough water to swell and ripen due to being left unattended all spring and early summer. However, one advantage of all the weeds on the site is that it’s hidden a lot of the ripened fruit from the birds. We’re right next to woodlands and there’s plenty of fat pigeons hanging around but there’s a lot less damage than I would expect to find on un-netted strawberries and I’m guessing we have the tall grass to thank. Once we’ve had the best out of these strawberries we’ll root the runners into pots and then they will probably be dug up. They look a bit ropey and I’m guessing that they might be a few years old and I’d like to build a raised bed a little further down the plot which the runners can be transplanted into ready for next year.

Whilst inspecting the strawberry plants this little fella caught my eye… a lone gooseberry…

Gooseberryand where there’s a gooseberry there must be… gooseberry bushes!Gooseberry Bush

I didn’t spot it initially because it’s hiding behind the rhubarb. We have two bushes that look fairly well established and both have a reasonable amount of fruit. I’ll be honest in saying that I probably would never of thought of growing them if they weren’t already here as I’m not a huge fan of the taste but it will be interesting to see if that view can’t be changed now there’s a fresh supply of fruit at my disposal. Also, they’re already in the location of where I’m dreaming of building a fruit cage so they might as well stay for now. I’d like to see if these can’t be trained to grow a bit more straight as I’ve already been spiked when trying to inspect them.Raspberry Bush

Down in the front corner of the plot were some posts which caught my eye as they looked like they’d been used as supports at one time. Sure enough they had been and the fruit they had been supporting was still there, raspberries. The bushes were being strangled to death by bindweed and could barely get any sun because of the tall grass but they were still there, still flowering and still fruiting. Upon further inspection it seems that at one time there were supports all along the left side of the plot with more raspberries growing just like this one. The new raspberry cane growth is running amok at the moment but at least its a sign that the plants are still thriving. The plan is to transplant some healthy plants to the bed opposite the gooseberry bushes, the area that will soon be incorporated into the fruit cage, and get them properly staked and trained.

onions

The last find of the day was these two garlic bulbs. One is a little damaged so we might have to see whether or not it’s edible but the other one seems fine. The smell that came off these was intoxicating, especially once they’d been laid out in the sun for a few hours. I definitely have the buzz for getting some crops of my own in the ground now and can’t wait to get cracking on with the weeding. Hopefully we should have at least one plot ready for some late brassicas if nothing else.