Allotment Plot Adventures with Richard Enriquez

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Allotment Plot Adventures

Richard EnriquezRichard Enriquez is a passionate allotment gardener from the eastern Midlands in England.  After 5 years of working the soil he shares his lessons learned the hard way and some of his best gardening tips with us.  Richard is an active participant in this years #GardenConnect experiment and has some victories and some crushing setbacks with his vegetables.

You’ll never believe where Richard starting growing fresh peas after a craving struck him!

 

In This Episode You Will Discover:

  • slugs vs. lemon cucumbers – who wins?
  • spinach – vile weed or superfood?
  • how to grow MAGNIFICENT parsnips
  • what’s working and what’s frustrating this season!
  • the diary of an organic allotment gardener in England

 

Resources

Matt Hiemstra Garden Connect: http://www.hiemstragardens.com/

Real Men Sow: http://www.realmensow.co.uk/

This is the book Richard mentioned on the show!

Interview Links

Follow Richard on Twitter: @losttheplot235

Richard Enriquez’s Blog: http://losttheplot235.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Watch the Podcast Interview Here:

Interview Transcript:

Dave:  Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, depending on where you are in the world when you listen to this.  I’m Dave Ledoux and welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden.  Today we go back across the pond to the United Kingdom to England, we have a fascinating guest.  He’s a passionate allotment gardener, and he’s been working his allotment for five years.  I’ll explain what an allotment is for our North American listeners.  He has a fascinating Instagram, I’m going to make sure you get all his social media because he’s got a visual treat of what he’s gardening.  He’s in Leicester, that’s in the East Midlands, Google Map it if you don’t know where it is.  And he has some fascinating stories to share about what’s going on this year.  He’s a participant in Garden Connect this year and he’s going to talk about #GardenConnect so without any further ado, please welcome to the show, Richard Enriquez.

Richard:  Hello!

Dave:  Welcome to the show Richard!

Richard:  Thank you, thank you!

Dave:  I know it’s late at night over in England and I want to get to know you and a little bit about your garden, and so do our listeners.  Why don’t you take a minute and share with everybody a little bit about yourself, about your background and tell us a little bit about your gardening adventures?

Richard:  Ever since I left school I’ve worked in print finishing.  It’s not all its cut out to be, so approaching my forties I fancied getting into gardening.  And not just growing flowers, but grow to eat basically.  So five years ago I put my name down for an allotment plot, and within a couple of months I got one.  On the plot that we chose it already had some grape vines, which unfortunately we haven’t done anything with so far.  A lot of grass, brambles and plum trees.  And basically we’ve been trying to work it since then, I say we, myself, now the girls are grown up, it’s really myself that’s doing it all but trying to reap the rewards of what we do.

Dave:  Excellent.  Now Richard you’ll have to explain for our North American listeners because most gardeners over here are either gardening on their patios or balconies or their windowsills or their backyards if they’re in suburbia, the UK has this unique concept called “allotment gardening”, tell us a little bit about what’s an allotment and what does yours look like?

Richard:  Ok. It’s not just the UK.  I do know that they have them in most of northern and central Europe as well.  It’s a site which is divided up into plots of varying shapes and sizes depending on the site.  And you pay depending on where you are as well, either a monthly or yearly rent.  And that’s basically it.  You look after it, you don’t let it get too overgrown, and you grow what you want and that’s it.

Dave:  Fantastic.  How big is yours?

Richard:  Mine is 300 square yards.  I know we’re trying to change to Imperial over here in the UK, but the people who run the site they like to stick to the square yard.  It’s not the biggest on the site, but it’s not the smallest either.

Dave:  And is it laid out, I’m trying to do the math … so is that 30 by 10?

Richard:  It’s long and narrow. I’ve never actually measured it myself yet, but now you got me curious, I might do that at the weekend.  So if I can work out how wide it is, I’ll know how long it is.

Dave:  You know we had a guest on the show recently Richard, Cheli Cuevas, she lives in urban Los Angeles right in the city.  And she went down to get on their version of an allotment, like a city garden, and she was number 700 and something on the waiting list.

Richard:  I think I was quite lucky when I got mine because it was just before the boom of wanting to get back into growing your own, and I literally got mine within a couple of months, and I know somebody a few weeks later he had to wait a few more months than I had to wait so it’s building again.  Everybody wants to grow their own somehow or other.

Dave:  Can you describe what it was like when you went out to the plot for the first time?  Is it beautifully manicured and pristine condition or is it a little wild?

Richard:  No, it was wild.  We had grass taller than 4 foot tall.  When we started digging it, we found so much glass, rusty metal, there was a tire as well.  It had not been looked after at all so we had a lot of work to do.

thistle

Dave:  Wow, that’s ambitious.  For those of you listening I want you to understand … do you have running water or any kind of water facility on your property?

Richard:  There is a communal hose which you share, a communal tap as well, which you share with other plot holders.  It’s basically if you get there and it’s free then you can plug in your hose and go.  There is a tank there as well that’s full of water, so if not you have to lumber off the watering cans.

Dave:  Wow good stuff.  It’s not for the weak of purpose that’s for sure by the sounds of it.

Richard:  No you get a lot of fresh air!  The site where I am as well it’s near to the football ground or as you would say the soccer ground so on match days say on Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock you can hear the crowd.  I can have my radio on in one ear, and have the actual sounds coming from the grounds itself.  So if you like your sports you got that as well.

Dave:  Brilliant.  Richard can you describe, you have this 2700 square foot plot, how did you decide what you were going to start with?  It must have been just an overwhelming feeling?

Richard:  It did have plums already.  Brambles, and it came with an old rickety shed as well.  But there was half of it pretty clear once we got the grass down, and not really knowing about what should go where, I heard about crop rotating.  So I dug out six beds and started to try and crop rotate.  There was grass paths in between each bed, and we started from there just like that.  It was the year 2012, the Olympic year, when we had the worst wet weather for the summer we ever had.  And any chance I had to get down to the allotment was spent cutting the grass that had grown so now instead of having the grass paths I now have paving slabs which I’ve managed to acquire by knocking on doors or asking friends if they have any to get rid of.  And literally been wheeling them around with a sack barrow, where I live which is normally a ten minute walk, wheeling them around which normally would take me about twenty minutes if it’s a full load.  And that’s what I got at the minute.  I’ve got six large beds and I’m working on trying to get some smaller raised beds as well nearby.

Dave:  Fantastic! I can just picture you with the wheelbarrow.  That’s a lot of work.

Richard:  On a hot day which it was a couple of weeks ago, I don’t mind telling you, I was sweating buckets!

Dave:  Good on you. We have people listening who have like 3 containers of tomatoes and that’s their beginning garden, and then they don’t envy you I’m sure.

Richard:  Not on that score, no.  I don’t envy myself.

Dave:  So you got the brand new virgin beds.  What did you take a crack at growing that first season?

Richard:  First season? I tried potatoes, because also as well, when we got it, it was in May, middle of May, unbeknownst to me, that is when the frost, when you’re guranteed no frosts, so I had sweet corn, pumpkins, marrows, all various things.  Everything for the first year was great!  The second year I planted, I had in a greenhouse about 40 sweet corn plants, when I put them out it was mid-April.  Then next time that I went to look at them they had all gone, they had all died because of the frost, so that was a lesson learned there.  The following year what I did was, I’m sure you have them over there in Canada and America, 2 litre plastic Coke bottles, I cut the bottoms off them and when I planted the sweet corn early I covered them with the Coke bottles, and that protected them from the frost. And that year we had a bumper sweet corn crop!

sweet corn

Dave:  Hey very good, people are taking notes on that one!  That’s great, good wisdom.  Battle-tested in the field, it’s hard to argue with results.

Richard:  Well yeah. I’ve yet to replicate those results, because I’ve had issues with the greenhouse at home.  As I’ve written on my blog, that is another story, but that’s one of the early posts on my blog.

Dave:  For those of you driving please keep both hands on the wheel, and I’m going to put a link to Richard’s blog on the show notes, head over it’s www.LostThePlot235.blogspot.co.uk  You can also follow Richard he has a fantastic Instagram, really visual, you can see what his garden looks like. http://Instragram.com/losttheplot235  You can also follow Richard on Twitter @losttheplot235

Richard I want to make sure you get a chance to share with our listeners you’re a participant this year in something called #GardenConnect.  And it sounds incredible.  Can you share a little bit about that story?

Richard:  Yes, a young chap in Canada by the name of Matt Hiemstra, his idea was that gardeners around the world, probably mainly in the northern hemisphere, all grow the same plants, same flowers, same vegetables in a six by two area plot raised bed, and compare and contrast results either good or bad, see what works in one place and see what works in another.  It’s really a learning curve.  The planting scheme for this year was kale, lemon cucumber, bush beans, I believe you call it, we call them French beans, nasturtiums, plum tomatoes, sweet pepper, and then in the next row, we have parsnips, spinach, Koz lettuce, purple carrots, onions and you call them red beets we call them beetroots.  That’s it.  I’ve had success with things I didn’t expect to, and failures with things I again did not expect to either.  Spinach is terrible.  I’ve never grown spinach, never eaten spinach, I wouldn’t know what to expect.  I think it just went to seed.  Lemon cucumbers were the hardest to find, I think a friend of mine got them from Singapore, the seeds.  And he got me forty seeds and thank you to the slugs!  Of forty seeds I was given I have now just 2 plants!  One is in a pot at the back door at the kitchen and the other plant is on the #GardenConnect plot.  As yet they have flowered, but no fruits yet.  It’s interesting I’ve never been able to grow carrots before and somebody said to me, “so you’ve prepared your soil, sow your seeds cover them lightly and put slug pellets down!”  It has been a godsend.  I have not only just the #GardenConnect purple carrots but I also have on another bed a row of carrots that have look full of foliage so it will be interesting to see what’s happening underground.

Dave:  Brilliant. That slug problem is a recurring story.  Some people swear by beer in a little saucer.

Richard:  Yes, I’ve heard also use coffee grounds as well.  It does turn the soil acidic I’ve been told, but if you can combat that , or if you know about soil then that would be great.  It’s something else to do.  I know that some people use egg shells and crushed up snail shells as well.  That’s something that they don’t like.  All sorts of stuff.

Dave:  So #GardenConnect is this global experiment that Max organized.  Are you taking photographs?

Richard:  Yeah, on my blog I normally put it at the very bottom of each post that has anything to do with #gardenconnect.  Updates, photographs of how things are growing. Because there’s so much going on it’s hard to know where to start with it.

Dave:  What are you looking forward to most in eating out of it? It sounds like so much of it is delicious.

Richard:  I’ve never had kale before, I’ve lost it with the spinach, I want to try lemon cucumbers.  I’m not a big fan of regular cucumbers because they do repeat on me.  The lemon cucumbers taste citrusy and they’re sweeter and easier on your stomach as well apparently.  So I’m looking forward to tasting those.

Dave:  You made me smile.  My mother is Welsh, and she used to grow them in our garden, the British cucumbers that make you burp.

Richard:  I think that’s the ones that don’t agree with my stomach either.

Dave:  You’ve come to gardening at a relatively unique time as an adult.  So far, what has been the most challenging or rewarding aspect of your garden adventure?

Richard:  I think this year it’s various things to be honest.  One year I find that one thing worked really well.  Courgettes, one year we couldn’t pick them quick enough.  And then this year again due to slugs, I have a small courgette plant that looks like it going to give me tiny courgettes the size of match sticks!  I’ve never grown decent looking parsnips I grow “octo-parsnips” and I found out what I was doing wrong.  You’re supposed to put a rod into the soil, rotate it and then fill that with compost and then put your seed in.  And it will grow to the shape that you’ve drilled out and then carry on in rows like that.  It’s lots of things…

Dave: Let me interrupt you.  That was a brilliant bit of wisdom with the parsnips.  Share that….

Richard:  There’s a gardening magazine over here called “Kitchen Garden” and basically all you have to do is with a diver or a rod make, at the beginning of your row, you ram it into the soil and just rotate it so you make a cone shape, fill that cone shape with compost, and then put your seeds at least 2 or 3 onto the compost and then carry on with your row, doing the same all the way down.  And that should give you a nice V-shaped parsnip.

Dave:  That is brilliant!  You’re encouraging it, you’re giving it some help.

Richard:  But that’s not my wisdom, that’s something I’ve read from someone else doing it.  I haven’t tried it yet so I’ll be having my “octo-parsnips” this Christmas instead of your regular parsnips.  They don’t taste any less tasty, the parsnips I’ve grown in the past have all been misshapen and all sorts, but they taste delicious.  Especially after the first frost.  You have to wait for the first frost, makes them sweeter.  Another tip I got regarding parsnips as well is to start them off, parsnips seeds don’t last I’ve been told. So if you get a new packet of seeds, get some wet kitchen paper and a Tupperware lid, and you put the seeds on top of the kitchen paper.  Then you put the base of the Tupperware on top of that, and you put it on your window sill.  Give it a week or two and you’ll see little sprouts coming out of the seeds.  The ones that are starting to sprout are obviously the ones that are ready to sow.  That’s what I’ve done this year.  One of my pictures on Instagram is my parsnip jungle.  It’s amazing.

Dave:  Fantastic. I wanted to ask you, Richard, because you’ve fought back the slugs and you’ve cleared the bramble by hand, gardeners are adventurous.  Is there anything you’re thinking of trying as an experiment next season?

garden peas

Richard:  Trying to think … there is something I did try because I didn’t have the room and that’s trying to put in peas, I wanted to grow peas, I wanted to grow peas and I was desperate.  I put them in a dustbin.  Hasn’t succeeded, but I’m not deterred I’m going to try again next year trying to grow peas in a dust bin.  Fill the dust bin with soil, make sure you have holes at the bottom so the water can drain out as well.  I didn’t do that at first. I found the peas swimming!

Dave:  Welcome to the club!

Richard:  Yeah, the area which I cleared the brambles I do want to have fruit bushes there whether it’s red currants, black currants, gooseberries, some raspberries, all sorts. Bushes I can control rather than brambles.  I will still have brambles there, I don’t think I’ll ever be shut out of the brambles, but with blackberries and cooking apples they make lovely jam or jelly.  Do you call it jelly over there?

Dave:  Both.

Richard:  I call it jam.

Dave:  Are you new to canning?  How long have you been doing the preserves?

Richard:  We’ve done it for a while.  Longer than we’ve done gardening because there’s lot of places here in the UK where you can pick your own fruits and when I met my wife I had never gone strawberry picking.  She took me once and every year since then we have gone strawberry picking at least once a year.  And from that we have made our own jams various, mixed with every single fruit that we have, apple and strawberry, strawberry on its own, we have a cupboard full of jam.  I can’t remember the last time we bought jam.

Dave:  Fantastic! I remember as a child the rule was “pick 1 eat 1” and then pick one eat two.

Richard:  In fact when our children were a lot younger, and we were going strawberry picking, we made sure that they had red t-shirts on.

Dave:  Haha!  That’s brilliant.

Richard:  But you could tell by the faces that they had eaten a few.

Dave:  I know, it ends up in your hair and on your forehead.

Richard:  On a warm summer’s day when you’re picking strawberries there’s nothing better, I know you’re supposed to have strawberries in the fridge, but warm strawberries in a field, you can’t beat it.

strawberries

Dave:  I’ve been looking at the clock and our half-hour is rapidly vanishing and we’re now at the part of the show, my favorite part called 5 Quick Questions.  You get to share your experience and wisdom.  Are you ready to play?

Richard:  I’ll play but I don’t know if I have much wisdom.

Dave:  Alright here we go, Number 1: Richard, what do you think stops most people in the United Kingdom from even getting into gardening?

Richard:  Knowledge. Not knowing what to do with what.

Dave: Very good. Number 2: What is the best gardening advice that you’ve ever received?

Richard:  Best gardening advice I’ve ever received was when I got my plot was don’t try to clear it all, don’t try to do everything at once, just work on a section at a time because you will get disheartened, and you will want to give up.
Dave:  Wow, that’s really good.  Thank you.  You know, we always kid around here.  In the internet era, we have access to this wonderful internet. 20 or 30 years ago, for gardening wisdom you had to take a book out at the library and hope that the knowledge was in the book. Number 3: If you had just two websites to share with a beginner gardener, what would those two websites be?

Richard:  There’s TenMinuteGardener, he’s on Twitter.  There’s another one called RealMenSow, sow as in sowing seeds.

Dave:  Alright.  If you’re driving don’t try to write that down while you’re driving, I’ll put those links in the show notes.  TenMinuteGardener, and RealMenSow.
Now Richard, I’m in my third season gardening, so I’m at the enthusiastic amateur stage, and my wife’s at year 15, but for me, can you recommend a good gardening book that you think I need to read this year.

Richard:  Well we have, over here, Carol Klein, she is a seasoned gardener, and what she doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing.  I think I would go for her books.

Dave:  Fantastic. Carol Klein’s books. Number 5: Look into your crystal ball and think like a beginning gardener, what’s the number one thing that every gardener should at least try to grow next year?

Richard:  Potatoes or onions, definitely.

Dave:  No one has said that in our show history.  Tell me a little bit about why you said potatoes and onions?

Richard:  Onions, the summer variety at least, you put them in the ground, you water them, you let them get settled in and you just leave them to do their own thing. Potatoes, if you’ve got hard soil that needs breaking up, put potatoes in.  Potatoes will break up your soil.

potato harvest

Dave: Fantastic.

Richard:  That is something that people have told me down the line.

Dave:  I want everyone listening to the podcast to make sure you follow Richard on Twitter @LostThePlot235 Make sure you check out his photographic library on his Instagram account at LostThePlot235  And then, of course, follow his gardening adventures, at www.losttheplot235.blogspot.co.uk  You know Richard, our half hour together has flown by.  I want to give you the last word.  We have a lot of listeners who can really relate and they’re only a few years behind you in experience.  They admire your tenacity and ambition on your plot.  Can you leave us with either a word of wisdom or a note of encouragement?

Richard:  If you don’t succeed, try try again.  That’s all there is.  Each year is different.  You could have a really wet, cold year when some things won’t grow and other things will.  It’s just a case of trial and error and keep trying.  Don’t give up.

Dave:  Fantastic.  Make sure you follow Richard on the GardenConnect experiment on his blog.

Richard:  And Matt as well.  It literally is his baby, he’s the man with the plan.

Dave:  Matt Heimstra set up this global experiment where everybody’s growing the same thing.  I hope he does it next year, I’d like to participate.

Richard:  You’ll see on my blog on Twitter #GardenConnect, I’m sure you’ll get through to Matt.

Dave:  #GardenConnect.  Make sure everybody checks that out on Twitter.  Richard, thank you so much for being on the call today.

Richard: It’s been great, thank you.

 

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