Apocalypse Allotment No. 4: Today I was the Apocalypse

A garden gate, choked with nettles.

Hi, nettles, hi!

As you can see, I have a problem. A nettle problem. See, the nettles believe that it is time for nature to reclaim a land abandoned by humanity, but, uh, it’s not abandoned yet. This bit of land is mine. I already claimed it. And they are preventing me entering my allotment with ease.

What’s more, they are not my only problem. I have mentioned before my greatest foe, cooch grass, and its lieutenant in evil, dandelions, but here be also thistles and dock leaves and all manner of things I don’t even have names for that want to crowd out my plants and make my allotment, well, less pretty.

Usually I fight these battles with brute strength and a garden fork, but as I have continued to be ill (I don’t have Captain Trips, I swear!) and the year is marching on, I decided to use a tool of darkness in my fight for the light and my right to paaaaarty. I caved. I applied weed killer.

I know.

The weed killer I used was a cheap Sainsbury’s own brand glyphosate. If the apocalypse has already happened where you are, you can loot the expensive big name brand Roundup, but you can get the same thing for several quid cheaper by going off-brand, if human laws are still in effect where you are. If you’re going to do this, here’s what to do:

Using Glyphosate

Firstly, wear gloves. We’re going to be spraying poison on plants and it’s not great for humans either. If you get any on you, wash off with water, but not any water you are planning to put on plants. (Do I need to say don’t swallow it? DON’T SWALLOW IT, IT IS POISON. And, in general, follow the directions on the side.)

Secondly, wait until your weeds have proper-sized leaves. Glyphosate works by entering through the leaves and poisoning down the plant into the roots. It is inert when it hits the soil; so, don’t worry, you’re not salting the Earth – other things will grow there again once the plant demon you are fighting is dead.

Wait, also, for a calm day. You want the weed killer to go only on the plants you want dead, not your precious seedlings or carefully nurtured rhubarb. Wind can carry glyphosate to places other than your intended enemy.

Then spray directly onto the leaves of the plant you want dead.

I… used a lot of the stuff today. I did the nettles that are trying to block off my gate, and all the nettles along my fence – I dug those bastards out the old-fashioned way a few years ago, but nettles are like weaponised cooch grass – they have longer, tougher roots, and these went all the way under the central path that runs between the allotments where I couldn’t reach them. So they came back. The only way to destroy them completely is either to leave nothing behind or poison the roots.

I also sprayed many dandelions, much cooch grass (especially that growing between my paving slabs where I can’t dig it up) and the weeds that had started to grow again on my painstakingly de-weeded paths.

Part of the reason I’m doing this is to make my life easier. It’s all very well to be 100% organic, but it’s not possible for everyone, especially if the apocalypse comes on you at the wrong time of year and you need to clear ground fast. In a survival situation you do what you gotta do.

The other reason is that I want a nice looking allotment, damn it. I’m tired of people looking down their noses at me over the fence *mutters something about ‘come the apocalypse!’* and I want a nice looking plot to cheer me in harsh times. Killing the weeds in my paths is so much easier that trying to dig them out again and again and again.

As a result of using weed killer, today I finally got to put my bark chips down on my paths.

My cleared paths, covered with red bark.

My cleared paths, covered with red bark chips.

I’m quite pleased with how it turned out, although I this used the whole bag I had, so I will clearly need more if I ever manage to clear the other paths.

These paths have been partially lined with weed control fabric – ideally I would fully line them, but in the apocalypse allotment, we make do with what we’ve got – then covered with bark chip.

Interesting aside: if you leave your bag full of bark chips on the ground for a couple of months after you get it, ants may nest in it! I discovered quite a few ants, and their eggs, inside the bag. Sorry buddies, this stuff was bought with a purpose – I used the bark chips anyway. I expect the ants will relocate their eggs. I’m always disturbing ants down my allotment. There’s not a lot you can do about it; they don’t generally harm the plants, and I’m not going to let them stop me from growing in the space I have to grow. I’ve heard you can pour boiling water on them, but a) that’s easier when you have electricity (something we will lack in the post-apocalypse future), and b) wtf with the boiling water? They aren’t hurting me!

Anyway, weed killer is tackling my nettles and helping prevent my paths becoming overgrown again.

Why does that make me the Apocalypse?

Well, what we regard as weeds are part of complex ecosystems. Insects and spiders and all sorts of tiny little animals, many of them beneficial, like to hide in weeds. These animals can be important for the soil, or for birds. Weeds can provide shelter for butterflies and solitary bees and all kinds of good things. Not to mention that variation in plant life is itself beneficial. At the very least, it would be better to pull these plants up and compost them, rather than making them shrivel into useless poisoned dead things, like the zombies that stalk the land.

I killed a valuable habitat today in the name of expediency – not to mention all those ants I displaced!

It’s… not my proudest allotmenteering moment, but I have been ill, and I really wanted to make a go of it this year, both for me and my dreams of a bountiful harvest and an allotment I can be proud of, and for you, and this blog series.

So… I am become death, destroyer of nettles.

On a more positive note…

How the Allotment is Doing

The allotment is doing pretty well. In addition to planting the onions and garlic I told you all about in No. 2, I also planted some carrots and spring onions a couple of weeks ago, which I didn’t have time to write up.

Carrots and spring onions are super easy to grow.

Carrots

For carrots, what I do is to mark a line with my trowel, no more than a couple of centimeters deep, and then place one seed every inch where I want the plants to grow. Now, the standard advice is just to ‘sow thinly’ (which just kind of means roughly sprinkle in a line) and then ‘thin’ the seedlings out later, but with carrots the major issue is carrot fly. Carrot fly are attracted by the smell of carrots, which is emitted when you bruise the leaves. I don’t like to take my chances with carrot fly, so I prefer not to have to thin, which would disturb the plants and potentially attract the insects.

Carrot fly damage

Carrot fly damage

What is carrot fly? PESTILENCE, that’s what. More accurately, what we’re worried about are the grubs, which burrow through your carrots leaving a network of tiny holes that you will have to cut out, greatly reducing the productivity of your crop. I would rather risk slightly fewer carrots than getting more carrots, most of which I can’t eat.

A few weeks after planting my carrots well-spaced, and they are beginning to sprout!

Three carrotd and a thistle.

Three carrots and a thistle.

The first thing you notice, once you start growing things from seed, is that nearly everything starts off with two little leaves and is nigh on indistinguishable from anything else. However, within a short period of time, the seedlings grow so that you can notice differences. Carrot seedlings (as shown above) are marked by the two initial leaves being particularly slender. When they start to grow their next leaves, these are more like tiny little hands. By contrast, the thistle that is invading my nice line of carrots above has round little leaves with points on the edges. That is going to have to go before it gets any bigger, but THIS I will weed by hand. I cannot risk weed killer so close to my baby carrots!

You might also notice that the stems of my carrot seedlings are purple – this is because I am growing purple carrots! Although orange carrots are the norm in our supermarkets as they have been bred to be large and sweet, carrots actually come in all kind of colours. I’m growing purple because it will make me smile, but you may prefer to grow traditional orange for its larger tubers.

I am also companion planting my carrots with spring onions and chives; this is, again, to keep away the carrot fly. As the flies are attracted by the smell, the strong, oniony smells of alliums are thought to mask the smell of the carrots.

Spring Onions and Chives

Unlike onion onions, spring onions and chives are always grown from seed, rather than from sets. The seeds are small and black – spring onion and chive seeds look identical, so if you intend to harvest seed later in the year, be sure to label your packets carefully!

Like carrots, I cut a shallow line in the soil with my trowel. Unlike with carrots, I then sprinkle the seeds roughly – ‘sow thinly’. I don’t mind if I need to thin these later. You can either eat the waste plants or move them elsewhere without attracting anything nasty. In this case, I have planted spring onions down the middle of the bed between the carrot rows, and chives at the edge of the bed.

Here are my spring onion seedlings:

Spring onion seedlings

Spring onion seedlings

Like carrots, the first spring onion leaves are long and slender. Unlike carrots, they are tubular in shape, tapering to a point, as the leaves will continue to be as they grow.

The chives I have only just planted today, so I look forward to seeing how they turn out!

Onions and Garlic

Meanwhile, my onions and garlic are getting on apace!

Onions and garlic.

Left: garlic. Right: onions.

They look to be doing well in terms of numbers of leaves, which is important for the eventual size of the bulb. Around about now (May) the bulb will stop adding leaves and will focus on fattening up – this is why it’s important to get onions and garlic in early to maximise the number of leaves they can put out. You can tell the onion from the garlic as onion leaves are tubular, like spring onions, whilst garlic leaves are flat, more like grass, but centred around a single stalk.

Considering how unwell I have been, things are going well, and I have every hope we are heading for a good harvest, despite my miniature apocalypse of weeds.

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One Response to Apocalypse Allotment No. 4: Today I was the Apocalypse

  1. Heath Graham says:

    Hurrah, sprouts!

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