Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... (part 4)

I'm almost afraid to write up another post on how well things are growing back at the house, but I feel obligated to share my delight with the world. 


Shoots have developed into bona fide plants. It's got to the stage that I need to finish off the allotment, because some of the veg will be ready to plant out soon. Depending on the type of veg, the strategy will be be to place them into larger flowerpots and "harden" them for a while before transferring them to the plot. Hardening them involves them being placed in our back garden during the day to acclimatise the veg and then bringing them back inside at night time. The theory is that if we planted the veg straight form the window to the allotment, the change in temperature would kill the plants faster than the slugs. Hardening will prevent that. 

Why we need to harden veg - outside it'd rarely reach a lofty 33 degrees!

Having the allotment affords us the opportunity to grow veg that we've never had a chance to before. Courgettes and celery (left) are two examples of this. 
The "old reliable" peas and sugar snaps will require special attention before long - as these veg send out creepers, we'll have to provide string or wire to climb up. With any luck the plot will be ready at that stage. 
Our leeks have finally shown their heads. Lots of them. The more the merrier, as we'll use plenty of them come the winter. 

As I've mentioned previously, we're growing lots of tomatoes this year - in several different varieties. We're hedging or bets this year by growing lots of them - last year a slug decimated our crops overnight, so hopefully this will be insurance against this. (But just look at how well they're growing!).
The cabbages (sigh) are also going from strength to strength. Okay, so they're not my favourite veg, but they are capable of surviving during the "hungry gap" and nutritious to boot, so I'm determined to make an effort to improve my relationship with them.  

We've invested in some veg that are already in some way established. These are in the process of being hardened, and will most likely be the first candidates for being transplanted to the allotment. They include swedes, lettuce ("butterhead" and "gem"), brussels sprouts and onions.

Finally, we're growing marigold flowers. These deter white fly and other pests, such as the dreaded aphid (greenfly) and (strangely enough), rabbits! Oddly enough, these flowers are also edible, so their place in the allotment is assured.

So that's where we stand at the moment - so far so good. Hopefully we can continue as we've started!

Our daily bread.

Time to take a break from posts about vegetable growing and getting our allotment prepared. Not much of one though, both "All from nothing" and "Meanwhile, back at the ranch", will be the primary focus of this blog for some time to come. 

Bread. Its many forms have become such a staple of the human diet that it could almost be considered as essential as water in the needs of human consumption. In a way it represents the most basic level of agriculture, hearkening to a time when our ancestors took the first steps from their hunter-gatherer lifestyle to working the land around them. 

For this reason I feel that the subject of bread fits in snugly with my blog. 

I grew up in a household where bread was baked freshly on an almost daily basis. My grandmother baked bread on a daily basis. Clare's maternal grandmother baked bread on a daily basis, and her paternal grandfather was a baker who made a living out of baking bread. I imagine that this scenario is the same across much of Ireland. 
The point (which I'm subtlety hammering in) is that a loaf of home baked soda bread is as much part of our cultural identity as a pint of Guinness. 
Or at least it used to be. 

Our generation seems to have abandoned the practice of making their own bread. It's easy to understand why. With the advent of easily available, relatively cheap sliced bread, some would question the point of baking their own.

The answer is twofold: first - it's cheaper, and second, home baked bread is infinitely more delicious than what is mass-produce for the shops (I'll point out here that I don't include bread baked in real bakeries in my generalisation). 

I'm lucky enough that my wife bakes our bread on an almost daily basis (well, she bakes as much as we need, having learned some tricks of the trade off my mother). Sliced pan is a thing of the past in our house. Not that I miss it.
I make bread too, but the bread I make is yeast bread, and between kneading it, leaving it to rise, proving it and then baking it, I find (lovely as it tastes) that it takes too much time for me to do every day.  

A loaf of my own bread

So, to the alchemy. Flour, bread soda, salt and buttermilk are added together (simple, eh?!)

When all these ingredients have been thrown into the bowl, Clare will mix them all up, forming a dough.

She then shapes the dough into a loaf, scoring across across the loaf - this aids its expansion in the oven. 
The loaf is then bunged into the oven until baked to perfection, with a golden brown crust. 
Now, if you can manage , leave the loaf to cool. Then tuck in! Every crumb is delicious.

And that's that! Good no matter what way you eat it (I have a have a preference for it fried (heart-stoppingly good) or toasted). As a "by the way", Clare guesstimates that each loaf costs about forty cent to make. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

All from nothing... (part 8)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden.  

*** Please note that this entry is a re-edit of one I posted yesterday. For some reason, the contents of the entry got deleted, so here's the second attempt. ***

Yesterday, as I slumbered after a hard nights work, Clare and Peter were making themselves busy on the plot.

Clare raked all the manure we had unloaded on Wednesday over the soil. The amount we had transported over actually covered a fair bit of ground, far more than I would have anticipated. While she was busy doing that, Isabelle was sound asleep in her buggy. Thomas was engaged in a sort of toddler potholing experience, having discovered the hole we had dug yesterday.

Peter did Trojan work, finishing off the gate and then hanging it. To hang it, he had to cut through the wooden fence and then put another post in place to stabilise it. After positioning the post in the hole, he wedged it firmly in place with an old cavity block we had found discarded, and then filled the hole with earth and stone. Finally the soil was compacted, and the post was nailed into the fence.

After a while, Clare had to take the kids home for their lunch.
Peter stayed on at the allotment. Last time Peter had come to visit us, I had taken him to the same farm to collect apples at a large brambly apple tree that grows at the bottom of the farm. On the way there, I had pointed out a large pile of manure close by to the apple tree that had been dumped there many moons ago. Peter was curious to see the quality of this manure, so he borrowed a wheel barrow, and headed down to it (I'll point out here that it's a ten minute walk unencumbered). When he shoveled into it, what he discovered was the best, well rotted compost you could find - even surpassing the stuff that comes out of my own bin. He filled the barrow, and when he got back to the allotment, spread it over the soil.
I intend to get more of this compost for the allotment, I'll just need to figure out a more practical method of transporting it than barrowful by barrowful.

I'm by no means ignorant that when I cleared the area the plot sits on, I disturbed a delicate ecosystem that was used by thousands of insects. My only justification is that the soil will now be used productively, and that in time a new equally complex (if different) ecosystem will evolve. In any case it's gratifying to see that insects such as the friendly "ladybird" (Coccinellidae)  are still skulking about the allotment.

About this time, I arose from my sleep, and headed over to give Peter a hand. To begin with, I transported some of the sod from the second pile over to the "dump" site where we had left the sod on Wednesday. I then assisted Peter as we screwed a latch to the gate. Having done this, I feel that another milestone has been reached - a functional gate will make access to the site easier than having to duck under the fence. It's also aesthetically pleasing, lending the allotment a more polished look. I'll paint it next week so that it will blend in with the fence, and protect its wood.

Our gateway to homegrown vegetables.

Next, we began work on the compost bin. Again, I assisted Peter, but he did the lion's share of the work. While he was finishing it off, I set my sights on moving some of the grass I had piled up after strimming it. I filled a barrowful, and found that it had already begun to compost down, generating a fair amount of heat in the process. After removing this, I came back to find the compost bin finished.

I'll paint the compost bin along with the gate. My only reason for doing this is to make it as innocuous as possible. While at present, it's merely three pallets nailed together, it will suit our needs perfectly. In time, I intend to construct a really decent one (though I'll need to have Peter over visiting at the time, of course!). For the moment, it's grand. When I've gotten rid of the second pile of sod, it'll sit in the top corner of the allotment.

And that was that for the day. A lot of good work had been done - most of it not by me! On a serious note, I'll take this opportunity to thank Peter - you really did help us out.

The allotment as it looked on Friday evening.

Friday, March 23, 2012

All from nothing... (part 7)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden.   

Yesterday (Wednesday), Clare's brother Peter came over from England to visit us. Peter is a strong believer in the "grow your own" philosophy, so I knew he'd been keen to see my progress on the allotment. He's also very handy when it comes to DIY, certainly far more so than myself, so his visit was a blessing. 

After I got up in the afternoon (still on my night shift), we drove out to show Peter the allotment, which he seemed duly impressed with. We then span out to a local farm suppliers, run by two old brothers. There we bought fifty yards of chicken wire for a little under fifty euro, which was a bargain by all accounts. 

I'd arranged to meet a gent who helps out on the farm to assist me in removing the piles of sod from the allotment. He was due to meet me that evening, so after a really decent dinner, myself and Peter headed over to meet him. We loaded his trailer up with well rotted manure (a rather noxious job), procured from the farm, and then transported it over to the allotment. 

This manure will be spread over the soil in the  plot and hopefully enrich the soil. Apparently there's an old saying "pound on the soil, penny on the plant", basically telling us that if you look after your soil, then your soil should look after you. 
I'll still need to collect far more manure to spread over the allotment, but that's another job for another day. I'm lucky to have as much of it as I could possibly want, right at hand.

After unloading the manure, we set about loading the pile of sod (closest to the "entrance" of the allotment) into the trailer. By this stage of the evening it was getting dark, and despite our best efforts, we weren't able to load the entire amount onto the trailer before it got too dark. 

Our new friend then attempted to drive his vehicle (trailer attached) to the place where we'd be disposing of the sod. However, the ground was a little soft, and as a result, the vehicle wouldn't move. We then unhitched the trailer, and move the vehicle, but still no joy. Eventually, with the assistance of a plank of wood under the front wheels, and myself and Peter pushing from the back, we got it unstuck, and off it drove. We decided to leave the trailer there till today, and then get a tractor or 4x4 to move it. 

Not much more we could do at that stage, so we went home for the night. 

After I arose this afternoon, we headed back to the farm, just in time to see a 4x4 effortlessly pull the trailer behind it to its destination. We headed over and helped unload the trailer of sod and earth, and thanked our friend for his help. 

I got the lend of a large wheelbarrow belonging to the farm, and transported what was left of the first pile of sod to the site we were dumping it. Peter got to work on building us a gate, first by digging a hold about two foot deep in which to place the stake that the gate would be attached to. 

Diggin' "houles"!

He then began modifying the side of a pallet, fashioning it into a usable gate. It's not finished yet, but he's made a great start. At this stage, we called "time" on the evening. I wanted to spend some time with the kids before going into work. In any case, it was time for dinner!

The beginnings of what will become the gate into the allotment. 

 At the moment, the allotment looks rather like a construction site. That said, it'll look a lot more organised when I've spread the manure, and made use of the pallets. Looking forward to putting the fencing up too!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... (part 3)

Seeds grow into plants. It's what they do, it's what they were designed for. But that doesn't change the fact that when they grow, it's a little bit magical. 

In the last few days, the level of growth we've seen under (under Clare's care) has been astounding. Shoots have appeared on all manner of veg, and the speed at which they're reaching for the sky is gratifying - the sooner they grow, the sooner they'll produce veg! 


As is clear from the picture, the shoots will eventually have to be thinned out. For the moment, it's just nice to go over and spend a moment gazing at them. The kitchen window is now full of little seed pots. The tomatoes were the first to send forth shoots, but there have been others since, for example cabbage, peas and sugar snaps, as below:


Peas and Sugar Snaps

Clare's also after sowing seed for leeks, and got a tip from an online allotment guide to plant them in an easily transportable (and disposable) tray:

Leeks (yet to germinate)

All the veg planted are used widely in our personal diet - the leeks, for example, are a mainstay of Clare's (delicious) vegetable soup. Thomas loves peas, and loved being able to pop open the pods eat them raw last year. 

There are still more seeds from other veg that have yet to germinate, but I suppose patience is required skill in this business. Eventually (hopefully) it will be rewarded with a great harvest.   

All from nothing... (part 6)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden.   

St. Patricks day came and went under a blanket of rain, which was a bit of a drag as it was my weekend off, and I really wanted to get stuck into work on the allotment. 

The weekend wasn't a complete wash out, however, as Sunday dawned without a cloud in the sky. So with my garden fork in hand, off I trotted. One benefit of yesterdays rain was that the fruit trees I planted on the allotment got some much needed water. Another was that I discovered that the allotment seems to be very well drained soil, as there was little evidence of the previous day's deluge. 

Work on a sunny day was a pleasure, and as I wasn't under any pressure to get anything else done that day (for example, collecting birch sap), I was able to take my time. This was probably just as well, as I was removing roots and "scutch" grass as I worked. When I removed these, I'd throw them on top of one of the piles of sod, which eventually resembled something like a wig. As a consequence of this laid back approach to the work, it didn't seem like long until I had the entire plot completely "forked". 

The plot, fully "forked"

The following day (yesterday) was a bank holiday, and because of this our local hardware shop was closed - hence I was unable to hire out a rotovator. I instead spent the day away from the allotment. A little time away is no bad thing, to rest one's body and enjoy time with one's family. 

Today  (Tuesday), I woke up in the late afternoon (I'm currently working a night shift, so late afternoon was actually quite early for me!). I called the local hardware shop, but the cost of the rotavator for the few hours I wanted it was far to prohibitive, so I decided to get some other work done instead. There were two things I wanted to do in particular. The first of these was to clear the allotment of any big stones. The second was to cut back the hedge.

As matters stood, the allotment has a large hedge that had overgrown the fence that borders the allotment, and took up a lot of space within it. 

The hedge and the sod pile!

I asked the "landlord" permission to cut it back and reclaim the land it had spread over. (It's a funny thing about land - when you have it, it seems to mean little, and when you don't, every millimeter is precious). Permission was duly given, so with a clippers and pruning scissors, I began the process of trimming the hedge back. I quickly realised how naive I had been with my choice of tools - they were wholly inadequate for the job. I fell back to relying on my penknife (as I have so many times before). The saw on it, while not ideal for the job, still managed to slice through the thicker branches of the hedge without too much bother. 

By the time I had finished, I had reclaimed around four or five square yards of land. One more job ticked off the list! 

The hedge's new look haircut...

Things are really starting to come together now - once we remove the sod piles we'll have wrung all the space we can from the piece of land we've been allowed to use. There are still a good many jobs to do to have the allotment set up to the standard we'd like, but I know now that we'll get there. 

The next jobs are:
  • Fertilise and rotovate the soil,
  • Build and paint the compost bin,
  • Build a small gate into the allotment,
  • and fence off the allotment using chicken wire.
Once the above jobs are complete, it'll just be a matter of making drills and planting out our vegetables. The day can't come to soon!

The allotment as it looked this evening.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... (part 2)

Things are progressing quickly with the seeds Clare planted a couple of days ago. As far back as last Wednesday, the first shoots began to appear. Incidently, in the battle of our compost versus commercial compost, our compost won, it being this first to produce shoots. This re-asserts my belief that home created compost is of far better quality than what is available in garden centres.

Our first shoot of the year.

After that, shoots began to appear apace. More are poking their heads up daily, and growing rapidly. I think that the conditions Clare has created are playing a large part in this success. The seed pots are in our kitchen window, which is south facing and the best place in the house to take advantage of sunlight. Clare is also keeping the compost in the seed pots damp, watering them once a day.

The shoots are tiny, true, but it's a heartening sign of thing to come. I love the thought that each of these tiny shoots will grow into a fruit or vegetable bearing plant. (And eventually become material for composting themselves). Eventually, of course, most of these will end up transplanted into the allotment.

I'll post further on how all this growing goes.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

All from nothing... (part 5)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden.   

Being back at work has kept us away from the allotment for the last couple of days. That doesn't mean we haven't been busy with it though - for example, Clare sourced some pallets that we'll use to make a compost bin, which I dropped up yesterday. The pallets will be great, but I'll give them a lick of paint to make them more... (ahem)... palatable to the eye.

I can't ignore the place for long though, as we really want to rotovate it on Saturday, and get it producing fruit and veg as soon as is possible. So after work today, I headed over and began to (in the words of Withnail) "Fork it!" 

Clare had already made a good  start to this last weekend, so I took up from where she left off. It was a fairly handy job while compared to turning the sod. The hardest part came in negotiating the fork past rocks embedded in the soil. 

After an hour or two, I had completed the "strip" that I had given myself as a goal. And that was me for the evening.

There's still about half the plot to "fork", hopefully I'll get it done tomorrow. Below is a small picture of how the site looks currently:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

"Meanwhile, back at the ranch" entries will tell the other side of our efforts to grow fruit and veg. As such, they'll tie into the "All from nothing" blog posts.

While I was busy on-site at the allotment, Clare was busy making important and necessary preparations for our growing veg. She's drawn up plans for a rotation of crops, and researched on how best to manage the plot - for example, there are flowers that act as a deterrent to harmful insects, etc. 

She's been reading lots of material - both online (always a good resource) and in books we already own. 

To get a head start on our crops (as we're starting a little late in the year), she's bought a few plants (instead of growing from seed). These include tomato and chilli. She's also sown a variety of seeds, from butternut squash to beetroot. 

Clare's also "chitting" potatoes, making them ready for sowing. Obviously, potatoes are something of a mainstay in the Irish diet. As a family, we perhaps don't eat quite as much as an average clan, so hopefully the allotment will be able to provide for all our "spud" needs. 

Already, we're seeing progress the work Clare has put in. Hopefully the allotment will be ready to transplant these crops soon - the sooner the better!

All from nothing... (part 4)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden. 

Day 5:

Well today it was back to normal life. With all the excitement of getting the allotment, I've not had a chance to take advantage of the short season to harvest and collect birch sap (see blog from last year), which was something I really wanted to do. So my first port of call after work was a local birch forest, which will hopefully yield a couple litres of birch sap for brewing into wine.

After this, I headed straight to the allotment, and stared to turn the last of the sod. Perhaps it was that I was coming to the work fresh, or maybe it was that I had very little left of this task to do, but I threw myself at it with vigor, and pretty soon I was turning the last piece of sod. 

Having completed such a large and necessary task felt great, and I spent a minute leaning on the fence, contemplating my work with pride. 

Next task, forking all the soil... 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

All from nothing... (part 3)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden. 

Day 4:

Day four has dawned, and to be honest, I wasn't exactly looking forward to another day turning sod. Still, it's not like I'd actually turn my back on this project now, so after breakfast, along to the allotment I went. 

I seem to be at my most productive in the morning, and I made good progress. Not long after I started, Clare and the kids came to help out. Clare begin forking the cleared soil, breaking it up and making it ready for growing veg.  Thomas collected rocks and put them in a pile - which would have been great (as we'll need to clear the worst of the stones and rocks) but soon decided he'd have more fun throwing the collected rocks into the sod mound. Isabelle slept, oblivious to the hard work going on about her.

Isabelle on the allotment

I kept turning sod. By the time Clare was going home to get the kids their lunch, I had a decent amount more sod turned. I kept going for another hour, before heading home for lunch - reasonably satisfied with my morning's work.

Much as I'm keen to see this job finished, it took serious resolve to drag myself back down to the plot. Sod, sod and more sod. By this stage my second mound of sod was reaching Babel-like proportions. However, I had nowhere else to put it. While they're taking up good space, and something of an eyesore, I understand that this allotment is currently a work in progress (and probably always will be). I'll get rid of the sod mounds soon, but there are more pressing tasks to complete first. 

By six I had the majority of the sod turned (thank God!) and decided to call it quits. When I look at the allotment as it is now, I feel a small amount of pride, given that this day last week it was merely an overgrown piece of land.

There's a body of work to be done yet, but I think the back of it is broken. It's been an interesting few days, both grueling and yet satisfying simultaneously. Now it's back to the day job, and we'll only be able to focus on the allotment when I'm home. We'll get there. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

All from nothing... (part 2)

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden. 

Day 3:

After Clare provided me with a hearty breakfast, I headed back to the plot. Today was all about turning sod - an unpleasant but necessary job. Well, perhaps "unpleasant" is misleading - it's more tough, hard graft than unpleasant. 

Work started quickly, and then slowed as I got tired. After about an hour, I was granted a reprieve, when Clare showed up with the kids. She headed off to the garden centre to buy some veg, and left Thomas with me. I eased up, and spent some time playing with him. He had his tools with him, and loved playing about in the dirt - "helping" Daddy. 

Clare arrived back a short time later, and brought me a cup of coffee, providing me with a shot of some much needed energy. Then it was time for her to bring the kids home for lunch - in Thomas's case, kicking and screaming. 

I carried on, and had another dent in the job by the time I went home for food myself:

When I came back after lunch, I carried on. The biggest challenge I found was actually finding somewhere to leave the sod I had dug up - I had created quite a mound on one end of the plot, and I eventually needed to begin a second one. The wisdom handed down to me is that these mounds will in time rot into good topsoil. I'll most likely leave one, and remove the other. 

I kept at it. It was hard going, and I found myself going through cycles of working well and just wanting to give up (in these times, a quick break and swig of water helped me get back on track).

The other challenge, if it can be so called, was cutting through little hillocks of soil. These seemed to consist of mostly root and stone, and took longer for me to clear away. 

At half six, the evening darkening into twilight, I called it a day. I hadn't done as much as I'd like, but what I've done I can now put behind me:

Friday, March 09, 2012

All from nothing...

Our efforts to transform an unused piece of land into a productive vegetable garden. 

Several weeks ago, I bought a couple of fruit bushes - the likes of gooseberry, blackcurrant, raspberry, etc., with the intention of planting them in hedgerows close to my home. We have little space to spare in our back garden, and I also nurtured the idea that the bushes growing semi-wild could be enjoyed by more than just my family.

With this reasoning in mind, I approached a farm owner whose land I shoot on, and asked permission to plant the fruit bushes on the farm. To my surprise, I not only received permission to plant out the fruit bushes - I was also offered the use of some disused piece of land on which to grow vegetables.

My wife (Clare) and I have long wanted a small parcel of land to grow veg - often we would pass by an unused piece of ground and lament the fact that we couldn't put it to better use. However, our county council don't provide local allotments at a subsidised price, and we felt that  the allotments that are available locally left a lot to be desired. Until now, we had to make do the best we could, growing veg in pots in our back garden.

With this generous offer, however, we had a golden opportunity to kick things up a gear, and really produce good veg on a scale large enough to provide for our family. Obviously the farmer was also more than welcome to what we grew!

First though, there was a fair amount of work to be done before the land would be capable of producing veg. I've read about "permaculture" allotments, where veg are grown in a seemingly random manner, but manage to form symbiotic relationships and thrive. Much as I admire this way of growing, it's not something that we have the skill set to do. No, this would be an an allotment in a more tradition sense.

Before I began, the land was overgrown and had been used as something of a dumping ground, acting as a cemetery to old Christmas trees, and more...

Day 1:

Here's a picture of it before I started clearing it up:

I began clearing all the rubbish off the site. This included old Christmas trees, piping, flower pots, and something I found overgrown with grass and moss:

At first I figured that I'd be able to save the glass in the windows to make some sort of glass box for germinating seeds. The idea lasted as long as it took to lift the window frame - whereupon the glass just disintegrated into pieces. It's most likely been there years. On the plus side, the ground underneath it was already cleared of grass and weeds, making my work a small bit easier!

Clearing the site (from here on in, I'll refer to it as the "allotment" or "plot") took a few hours. After all rubbish had been removed, the allotment looked a tiny bit better. (A tiny bit!):

At this point, Clare came to visit, bringing along our kids. Our daughter is only a few months old, so stayed in the buggy, but our son enjoyed himself exploring the allotment:

Spending time with my family provided me with a much needed break, and was great craic. The little fella seemed to enjoy himself, and I'm looking forward to the day he can potter about the allotment as we work on it.

By this stage, the evening was drawing to a close, and I decided to turn a little of the sod before calling it a night. By the end of the evening, I feel that I had made definite progress:

Day 2:

The following morning, I hired out a strimmer, and started cutting through all that overgrown grass. This proved harder than I thought - some of the grass was so old as to have grown wood like consistancy! Nevertheless, I kept at it. Most of the grass was easier to cut through. When I was finished, the allotment looked far more manageable:

That phase complete, I began raking up all the cuttings. There was quite a bit of it, more than I had anticipated. I piled it at the bottom of the allotment. At this point, I'm not sure whether I'll leave it there to compost down, or remove it from the area.

Raking the allotment allowed me to see bits of grass that I had missed the first time strimming. At this point, the allotment looked thus:

I bit the bullet, and strimmed the entire allotment a second time. After all, I reasoned, I had hired the strimmer for the entire day, I may as well make good use of it! After the second strimming, the site was looking somewhat cleaner:

(Fair enough, I realise that most won't see the difference between the two above photos, but I sure as hell did!). My next big task was the main event, so to speak - "turning the sod" on the entire allotment. This basically entails cutting off the top layer of ground, taking the last of the grass and most of the roots with it.

Before that, the was a young ash tree to remove from the site. I really wanted to save the tree if possible, but when I dug around it, I realised that its roots system was just to extensive for me to dig out. So I cut it down, and after some back-straining work, managed to pull the worst of the tree roots from the ground. Here's a photo of the allotment, minus the offending tree:

I couldn't procrastinate any longer - the sod needed to be turned. Gritting my teeth, I began. Surprisingly, while it was laborious work, it wasn't as difficult as I had imagined it would be. I took several watering breaks to keep myself hydrated and kept at it. Eventually, even though I wanted to continue, I had to drop the strimmer back to the shop. And so I called it a night, having turned a decent amount of sod.

I'm only two days in, but I'm aching from the work I'm doing. Still, I'm focused on the overall goal of having the allotment up and running, and it's good to see visible results of a days work.

Will post with my progress tomorrow.