Plant bondage, ignorance and first harvest

When I took on the allotment, I had fond dreams of creating a plot that was both productive and beautiful. I planned to include flowers for cutting – and to attract pollinators – from the beginning. I had visions of strips of blooms separating crops, of using colourful chard, beetroot and lettuce as a kind of edible tapestry. I planned to use rustic plant supports that would blend in with the surroundings. The reality is proving rather different. I have a bondage plot.

Bondage Plot

This is NOT what I had in mind. Instead of lovely rustic beanpoles supporting my Sweet Peas, the plot is guarded by a netting barrier supported by bamboo canes and cable ties. I still harbour hopes that, slugs permitting, this will eventually be a colourful and fragrant hedge, but I hate netting. I just happen to have some, from a previous project, and so, given my philosophy of using what I already have, netting support it is.

Enviromesh Tunnel

The enviromesh tunnel has been rather admired since I put it up, and it should protect my brassicas from the ravages of the Cabbage White etc., but attractive it ‘aint. It currently covers half a dozen each of Hispi and Savoy cabbages with catch crops of mibuna, rocket and radishes. I’m not a fan of having it all as one piece, pegged down. Admittedly, given the nature of the crops I will be growing here, I won’t be needing to get under it very often, but the pegs make quite large holes in it and make access a pain. I’m thinking about creating a couple of wooden frames with enviromesh stapled to it, so that each can be lifted away and/or moved easily. No peg holes, possibly more flexible, and perhaps in the future I could use them on raised beds – an idea stolen from The Garden Smallholder. Of course this would mean “re-purposing” the timber purchased to build an attractive screen for the bins, and still won’t look pretty, thus increasing the net level of ugliness in the world…

Carrot Rootfly Barrier

This flimsy looking construction is my attempt at a compromise when it comes to combating carrot rootfly. I already have a small hose hoop cloche covering my first carrot and parsnip sowings – of which more later – but I had always envisaged another enviromesh tunnel over the roots bed. But it occurred to me that I could have some of the prettiness I craved if I managed to re-create a Heath Robinson-like barrier around the bed, high enough to put the carrot root fly off. You can buy kits for these, but they are pricey, and seem to just consist of a frame and fleece. I have fleece, I have those nifty connector thingys, and I have bamboo – this is the result. No idea if it will work, and to be honest, no real idea as to whether it is even necessary! So in the spirit of experimentation, the centre of the bed is going to be left unprotected, to see what happens if I sow carrots with just companion planting in the shape of Marigolds. And at least I will be able to see over the fleece barrier to any flowers I sow in amongst the carrot, parsnip, beetroot etc..

Pea Bondage

I had been doing rather better in the pea and bean bed, using twiggy bitch prunings to support and protect broad beans and dwarf peas. But I’ve run out of birch prunings, and needed to support the Oregon Sugar Pod Mangetout I have direct sown. More netting and bamboo. Yuck. And I’d rather not direct sow anyway, but I have run out of loo roll inners to sow them in!

So the plot is looking rather less attractive than I had hoped. And I am beginning to really plumb the depths of my considerable ignorance.

Its the weeds, you see. I’ve sort of adjusted to the fact that life up at the allotments is about 4 parts weeding to around 1 part sowing and planting. (This ignores the time spent in construction, but that is – thankfully – coming to an end. I think.)

Anyway, the weeding. I delved under the fleece cloche to see if there were any signs of parsnip seedlings to find this:

Weedy Carrot And Parsnip Patch

I panicked. How would I know if I was weeding out precious parsnip seedlings instead of weeds? I’d sown radishes along the same row as my parsnips – though I fear rather too densly – so at least I knew where I was looking. I’d also seen Damo’s pictures of his parsnip seedlings, but had forgotten how lousy my memory is (!). I’d sown a broad drill of carrots, and I can recognise carrot seedlings, so weeding the annuals weeds out from in amongst them was fairly straightforward. This also gave me a clue about what I could safely weed out from the radish row – I won’t tempt fate and suggest there might be parsnips too. So I pulled out anything that looked like stuff I’d seen choking the carrot seedlings. And then stopped, knowing more needed to come out, but unable to remember what a parsnip seedling might look like! I left it like this:

Part Weeded Carrot and Parsnip Bed

When I went up there this morning to weed the raspberry bed, cut the flowers off my rhubarb and plant out some beetroot seedlings, I took a quick peek. I was horrified at how many annual weed seedlings had sprung up in the few days since I last attacked it. Which brings me to one of those Good News/Bad News type of stories that I fear will become commonplace. The good news was that, after asking two other plot owners if they could help me identify what might be a parsnip seedling (“no, sorry, don’t grow them, they seem to be really hard”) I hit the jackpot with the third. He very kindly showed me his (!) and gave me a thinning to compare my seedlings to. The bad news? He popped over to my plot to take a look and said, very gently, that he couldn’t see any signs of parsnip seedlings at all… At least it made the weeding easier, but I am going to try chitting them as suggested by VP – and as done by my new best friend. And it might well be that the parsnips I’ve already sown will still germinate. At least I know what I am looking for now.

First Harvest

The good thing about today? I had to thin the radishes, so I got to pick – and eat – my first harvest from the plot. I know they don’t look like much, but they tasted lovely, even TNG said so.

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50 Comments


  1. Actually, I think your plot looks lovely! and you’ll definitely have the last laugh when harvesting all your healthy and well-tended veg in the summer. Your pea and bean bed is fab: strong plants and rustic poles — Sarah Raven has similar in her Perch Hill Farm garden. (But I have to admire you for yanking out the weeds – I fear I would have left them, just to make sure! Good luck with future parsnips!) Caro xx P.S. Great radishes, yum!


    1. Hi Caro, the radishes were scrumptious – and hey, if a corner of my veg patch looks like Sarah Raven’s guess I am not a total failure! Seriously, thanks for the encouraging comments. I was feeling pretty fed up about all the “structures” but you are right, I would rather put up with that than have all the crops fail due to pests I could have protected them from…


  2. I love the first harvest and as yet have very little activity under my row cover due to the cold weather still…enjoy the fruits of your labor…the thing I love about all the work in the veggie garden is all that I learn and share…I can start over if I have to and I find the second time around I get better at it…your determination keeps me fired up to keep going as well..love the natural supports by the way…
    Donna recently posted Walk About My Garden


    1. Hi Donna, you are so right, there is something wonderful about a veg garden in that you know you can start again the following year and put all your hard won lessons in to play and go learn new ones! That’s a great way to look at it – and I am so conscious that this year is all about learning and experimenting. Hope your soil soon warms up and you start harvesting your own tasty crops. Will look forward to swapping triumphs and tragedies.


  3. Good for you…keep going! Believe me, with my experience with the Death Garden last year, I can sympathize when things don’t go according to your plan. Better netting and a harvest than a pretty, bug-eaten garden with nothing to show for it. I do like your natural supports, too…very nice.

    And how glad that you found someone to help you out with the parsnips! Hopefully you will see them soon. And you have radishes! That’s a happy thing!


    1. Hi Hanni, I’d forgotten about your Death Garden experience… I was very happy with the radishes – and you are right, better functional plot and successful crops than pretty but barren…


    1. Hi Sue, look forward to seeing how you do it – that’s one of the things I want to learn this year, the ways that work both in terms of crop protection and practicality.


  4. Looks like you’ve got your work cut out for you. You’ve done great so far though. I had a vegetable patch for a while and it was never pretty and always hard work. The radishs look great!


    1. Hi DD. I must admit the ferocious intensity of the annual weeds has taken me a little by surprise – I am hoping that a little and often approach helps me feel I am keeping on top of it all without burning out before summer arrives!


  5. I can definitely recommend chitting – I managed to dig all my seedlings up in my first year because they just got completely overwhelmed by the weeds on my plot. At least they get a head start nowadays :)
    VP recently posted OOTS- Planting for the Senses


    1. I’m certainly going to give it a go – thanks for posting about it, I’d never have known!


  6. I don’t know how some people have those beautiful vegetable gardens. Mine have weeds, too. Who cares? You’re getting radishes – as long as it makes vegetables it doesn’t matter what the garden looks like!
    Holley recently posted Earth Day Reading Project


    1. Hi Holly, guess I am greedy, I want both – productivity plus beauty! Not so worried about the weeds, some of them are lovely, but all that construction was not what I had in mind when I started… Mind you, better that than no veges!


  7. My gosh, what we don’t do for the critters. i think your allotment looks wonderful. Better to be productive, but I think it is nice looking too.
    Donna recently posted It Sure Isn’t Pretty


    1. Thank you Donna, I need encouragement right now!


  8. Congratulations on the first radishes! The tension between a productive edible garden and one that looks amazing can be a fairly wide divide. So many useful garden devices are just plain ugly, and some of the specially designed attractive versions can be ridiculous expense and more ornamental than functional. We gardeners should ask for better!
    lostlandscape–James recently posted almost useless weeding advice


    1. I agree James, you should see the price of woven willow tripods etc.! I want to be able to grow my own willow and hazel to make supports. One day…


  9. Hi Janet, I think your plot looks great, not ugly but functional, the flowers will come later. Thanks for the mention and I hope your parsnips will come through soon. I have some later sowings that are just poking through, I do sow them in a line of compost so this can be differentiated from the soil and anything off-line gets taken out but it’s a tricky business and they can take over a month to germinate. You’re ahead of me on the carrot fly protection, note this will feature in GW on Friday. I was going to try some sort of garlic powder or spray but didn’t get round to buying any so the more netting will have to go up! Congratulations on your first harvest.


    1. Thanks Damo, the radishes were very tasty. I haven’t given up on the parsnips I’ve already sown, but I think I will try some chitting, and possibly even starting some off in half loo roll centres, at least then I know exactly what I’ve got! And thank you for the encouragement on how the plot looks. I think I was a little overly romantic when I started out…


  10. Your plot is looking pretty good to me. I tend to chit my parsnip seeds rather than direct sow because I’d lose them too, at least you sowed raddish next to them so you have an idea where they are… ;)


    1. Thanks Paul – the radishes have grown really well, so I won’t give up on the parsnips just yet.


  11. I think protection of your crops is way more important than looks – and I agree with others that your nets don’t look bad, just like a veg patch to me! After so many of our brassicas were decimated by cabbage whites last year (we had netted them, but the gaps were big enough for a butterfly to fold its wings back and slip in sideways – crafty b*ggers) we’ll be building enviromesh tunnels very soon! I have already seen the flutter of white wings…
    Parsnips are notoriously slow to germinate – even with fresh seed. Last year, we had a very poor year. We’re about to sow ours, but perhaps chitting is the way forward this year…
    hillwards recently posted Beans- Brambles and Barbecues


    1. Hi Sara, I know you are right, protection is better than losing everything, and I’ve seen quite a lot of small white fluttery critters already… I think I need to get hold of some bricks, at least they won’t put holes in the mesh like the pegs do! I’ll keep you posted on how the chitting goes.


  12. Janet, the allotment is looking so neat and tidy, well done! In a few weeks time the bondage will be less of a feature as the plants take centre stage, they will thank you for the ‘bondage’ :)
    Mark and Gaz recently posted And speaking of Beeches


    1. Thank you! I am trying to remember how early on in the season it is, and that soon the cornflowers and sunflowers and Dahlias will be up there doing their bit for the attractiveness. Besides, there is nothing attractive about cabbages turned into stalks by the ravages of those wretched butterflies and their progeny!


  13. Don’t dispair, I think you’ve done brilliantly! Your protection will pay off, I’m sure. I don’t have much success with root crops. I grew, well I say grewbut actually usually they didn’t, parsnips in England. I did what is recommended and what you have done of growing radishes with them – sometimes I could see them, sometimes not. In the end I decided to risk the roots forking and growing from seed in modules and planting as soon as they germinated – this worked better but wasn’t perfect. My carrots aren’t germminating yet; so all in all you are being very successful. Sadly weeds are normal when you begin an allotment and of course weeds vegetables need clean ground even more than flower borders.
    Christina recently posted April Garden Bloggers Bloomday


    1. Hello Christina, hearing other people’s experiences, and being told it is worth protecting the crops, really helps. I rather like the idea of starting parsnips off in loo roll middles, a little like chitting but without having to fiddle with tiny seeds and their tiny roots, or having to be quite as vigilant about planting them out before they root through the paper. I’m sure your carrots will be up soon – mine are coming through from 3.5 year old seed!


    1. Thanks DD, I have been invited already, but hey, the more the merrier! I’ll let you know when I have posted.


  14. Hi Janet,

    Lovely photos and so glad to see so much is happening at the Allotment… If even it is lots of weeds and netting! :D

    I cannot believe so many weeds are coming up on that wonderfully fresh soil, wow amazing. I think I’d scream, cry and stamp my feet if that happened here!

    Nothing to harvest here yet, well unless you count Chive… I really need to get the Tomatoes and Peas in the raised planter, but I’m too scared to do so yet in case we suddenly get some cold weather. They are now spending the nights outside though, so they should be pretty much hardened off soon.
    Liz recently posted Macro Monday – Spiders in the garden


    1. Hi Liz, there was some bottom lip tremble when I saw how vigorously the weeds had recovered from my first attempt to get rid of them. The foot stomping happens every time I see yet another bit of couch grass or dandelion appearing in the beds we worked so hard to clear, but I comfort myself with the sight of the same happening on all the other plots too, apart from a few that use roundup.

      I have some tiny pots of garlic chives, but no “ordinary” chives. I really must get sowing so that I can have nice fat clumps. In about 2 years… I might even buy a pot from the Garden Centre…

      I’ve planted peas outside, but only because the packet said I could, my tomatoes are in a race, will they outgrow their current accommodation before I can clear enough space to put them in growbags, pots etc?! Certainly time to start hardening off the ones that are going to grow outside, you are ahead of me there.


  15. Hi Janet, I love thinning veg plants as these are the tastiest, freshest and most succulent of crops that you will have. Nothing to thin just yet but my cut and come again salad should be ready for Easter.
    As far as supports go are you near a willow grower? I made a support of bean poles last year and then weaved willow through them. It not only looked good but added extra strength and support for the beans. Will do the same this year.
    Good luck.
    Trevor Hunt recently posted A Spring in my Step


    1. Hi Trevor, sadly not! I’ve used willow to create a lovely bean tunnel, but that was when I lived on Anglesey, and there was plenty of willow growing on the site. One day I will grow my own willow and hazel to create beautiful plant supports! Until then, I’ll just have to use what is to hand.

      I agree about veg thinnings, utterly delicious. I particularly love really young carrots. One of the beauties about growing your own is that you can harvest the veg at the size you want to, without paying a premium. I’m already eyeing up the broad bean tops, but that will be a while yet…


  16. The radishes look delicious! I’m always doing a constant battle with weeds, especially in the vegetable garden. I usually plant many of the same vegetables, so I don’t have trouble identifying their seedlings, but it’s another story in my butterfly garden. Last year I allowed some mystery plants to grow, only to discover they were weeds, and I pulled out other “weeds,” realizing too late they were probably asters:) How nice to have your parsnip growing friend share a sample seedling with you!
    Rose recently posted GBBD- Blooms at Last!


    1. Hi Rose, I suspect we have all “weeded” out something lovely by mistake, it is so much about experience, isn’t it – once you know what a particular seedling looks like you are OK! Which is why being given a parsnip seedling to compare with was so good.

      I confess I have left a lot of poppy seedlings in the beds because I love them…


  17. Janet, this reminds me of our first summer in PEI. We were renting a house and the owners planted a vegetable garden and told us to help ourselves. I tried to help with weeding but was terrified to find that now living on the opposite coast of Canada I couldn’t identify the weeds. I waited until the plants were fully recognizable to try weeding but by then the garden was overrun and boy was it a chore. Glad you found a friend to identify the parsnips for you.
    Marguerite recently posted Reviving the Hedgerow


    1. That sounds familiar! My first real experience of vege gardening was when we live on Anglesey. Weeding was very stressful if Jacqui wasn’t around to say what was friend or foe… I suppose I should be celebrating the “opportunity” to learn more about weed identification, faced with so many new ones…


  18. Hi Janet – at first, I thought the bondage of the title referred to being tied to the allotment! So much work has gone into it to protect your precious veg from all the ravagers that lurk and the weeds that elbow them out. May not be very scenic but as long as it works, the end produce will be picuresque, if your radishes are anything to go by. Think of the netting as bridal veils, hiding beauty beneath! And keep up the good work – I’m impressed.
    Laura @ PatioPatch recently posted Apis Aquarius- Watery &amp Wordless


    1. “Bridal veils” – I love it Laura, thank you! I also laughed at the bondage referring to feeling tied to the plot – it could so easily get like that, but so far being up there is so lovely that it calms me down. Mostly. Little and often, I mutter to myself, constantly, little and often…


  19. Congrats on the radishes! I’m not even a fan, but yours look tasty! I’m all for practicality, and once the plants get truly established your garden will look lush and inviting!
    PlantPostings recently posted Plant of the month- Lupine


    1. I never used to be bothered by radishes either, I only really started growing them because they are such a good catch crop and TNG and FIL love them, but am now a total convert. Definitely a case where you can taste the difference when you grow your own, even the different varieties taste different!


  20. The first harvest is always exciting, and radishes are very tasty, I haven’t sown any yet this year. I always had the same vision for my allotment as you, productive but beautiful, but then reality kicks in and you realise that every type of veg has an enemy and needs some form of protection. My hubby loves putting the wigwams up for the beans and the netted cage over the brassicas each year, he doesn’t think it looks like an allotment without structures and netting.
    Jo recently posted Worth Every Penny


    1. Hi Jo, there is something very “this is an allotment” about all those structures, and I do rather love the eclectic mix of approaches you get. I guess I am just a hoepless romantic, but I’d definitely rather have bondage and a harvest than free veg and a pest restaurant!


  21. I think your plot looks fab actually (bondage or no bondage), and at least it’s not in your face and in outside your back door, unlike my tasteful assemblage of windproof netting and cut rhododendron trunks. I’m very envious of your radishes as I can’t grow them, which annoys me hugely as any five-year-old newbie gardener is supposed to be able to produce a decent crop….
    Kate recently posted Wild Wednesday – oops…


    1. Thank you Kate! I’ve been dreaming about having a veg garden right outside my kitchen door, but you’ve just made me revisit that one ;-) I don’t believe you can’t grow radishes! Not even in a deep seed tray? There again, you do grow fritillaries rather well, and if forced to choose I might go for those instead, they feed the soul after all.


  22. I love your stalwart and humorous attitude towards your plot. My beet seedlings have germinated but seem to be stuck in a holding pattern with our weird weather. They seem healthy but aren’t getting any bigger. They’re in pots. I’m planning on sowing the carrots in about 2 weeks when it warms up a bit.
    Casa Mariposa recently posted Almost Wordless Wednesday- Getting to the Heart of the Matter


    1. I think humour is an essential survival skill! My beetroot are doing something similar, but its not that they don’t have enough warmth – its as hot as it is most summers here at the moment. Maybe they don’t like it? Hope yours get in to gear soon – and that the weather warms up. Me, I am planning a rain dance…


  23. Congrats on your first harvest. Your boundage of plants is funny. I think your poles and covers are great. You have been so resourceful on all the needs of your bedding plants. I am impressed with your very tall bean poles…I would never be able to get up there. Glad you were able to figure out the parsnip seedlings. Seedlings of new plants (ornamental or vegetable) are hard to know right off the bat. Enjoy your harvests!
    Janet, The Queen of recently posted Up A River and Through the Woods


    1. Thanks Janet – we ate more radishes today, and I spotted proper parsnip seedlings appearing in one of my rows, so there is hope!

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