Monthly Archives: May 2010

Planting and Harvest an Experiment

Ella Montt’s experiment of planting and harvesting at the Allotment Plot at MERL is on going. The first harvest (on 20/05/2010), which was over wintered Spinach, was inedible. The Spinach should have produced leaves that would have been harvestable through out the months of winter. The Spinach suffered crop failure and was regrettably dug up on 27/05/2010 to make way for new plants. The fork used to extract the Spinach had great difficulty in root excavation, because the soil was so dry and compact. The discarded plants were placed in a wheelbarrow to be delivered later to a compost bin in order for the molecular break down into soil.

The Brassicas look like they are also doomed to crop failure, but as part of the experiment in planting and harvesting, the striped seedlings will be left for a duration of weeks in order to monitor their progression and as a Monument to crop failure. The experiment here is to test the plants will and determination for growth and survival. Replanting of these particular Brassica seeds is not really an option, because their planting window was March to April and it is now the end of May. The summer Spinach that was planted in March is also going to seed.

On 26/05/2010 it had rained during the night. The rainwater had wet the surface soil, but not penetrated further into the ground. More rain is needed. The ground is desperately dry. However, the evidence of other plant proliferation diffuses a sense of desperation regarding specific elemental conditions that have resulted in particular crops failure.

A handful of Peas (2oz or 40grams) was harvested. More will be ready soon. The Broadbeans are forming and some will probably be ready for harvesting next week, providing no hungry predators attack the young pods.


The next action on the Allotment Plot involved planting. The area that had held the over wintered Spinach between the Peas and the Garlic, was commandeered for the Squashes. Ten holes were dug with a trowel in readiness for the new plants. Various Squashes had been germinated and grown on as seedlings in the fixed up greenhouse at another location. The seeds that had had been planted weeks before in the greenhouse included Cucumber Tanja, Courgette Patriot F1, Courgette Soliel F1, Squash Black Futsu, Squash Green Hokkaido, Squash Uchiki Kuri, Squash Blue Ballet, and Squash Butternut. On moving the plants to MERL a breakdown occurred in Ella Montt’s transcribing communication structure resulting in confusion by Ella Montt as to which plant was which variety. Therefore an assortment of Squashes was planted on the Plot, ten plants initially, but depending on the success or failure of the planting, these may be followed by others. After the plants arrived in their growing destination and their roots were covered a bell was rang to announce their arrival. The plants were shocked and wilting after their travel from the greenhouse to the Plot. They were given water, poured from the watering can, to aid their recovery.

Squash 1Squash 2

Next holes were dug in the Brassica area near to Sunflowers and Garlic, six Tomato plants; one Pepper and one Aubergine were planted. a bell was rung to announce the new plant arrivals and the plants were watered. Sticks are forced into the ground to act as support for the plants as they grow. String was tied around the sticks and each plant.


Another planting action then took place, in the herb border next to the Sage and Chives. Young herb seedlings were planted including Marjoram, Camomille and Basil.

herbs & parsnipsRed Kale

A report on the other crops not previously mentioned on the Plot is as follows: Parsnips, Carrots, Onions, Red Onions, Red Kale are all growing. Leeks, Rainbow Chard and Beetroot are growing, but very small. Sunflower plant is growing and Sunflower seeds are germinating, (predators please stay away from the area).

The Garlic plants are developing central looping stalks know as Scape, these can be snipped off and eaten after they have made one or two loops. Or they can be cut before the loop progresses to try to insure a larger bulb. The Scape can be left until harvest time; the flower will produce Bulbils that is Garlic seed, which can be used to plant to grow more Garlic next year. The Garlic Scapes will be left to grow as an experimental part of the Plot. The Scapes will be cut at different times and the Garlic bulbs monitored as part of the harvesting.

Garlic Scape 1

A final planting for the day occurred almost as an after thought. Shallow drills containing a scattering of seeds Cabbage Red Drumhead, Cabeza, Brooccoli Purple Sprouting Early, Kohl Rabi Azur Star, Florence Fennel Romanesco, and five Artichoke Imperial Star completed the process. Further watering with the watering can was then required.

First Harvest, Weeding and Watering

The over wintered Spinach planted back in the Autumn has gone to seed. On 20/05/2010 the first harvest was cut, producing one bag of flowering Spinach weighing 10oz or 260 grams. The Spinach on the Plot will be left for a week or so to see if more can be harvested or if the plants need to be dug up to reclaim the area for further planting. Spinach Harvest

Weeding can be an intricate and time-consuming activity. Rows of wanted vegetable seedlings can grow surround by an assortment of unwanted weed plants. Weeds are generally unwanted plants growing in a cultivated area. In an organic vegetable growing situation hand weeding is a very important thing and the easiest way to get rid of the weeds. There is a big difference in green manures used to fertilize the soil for growing vegetables to unwanted weeds growing with the vegetables. Having too many weeds amongst the vegetables is generally not a good thing. Weeds compete for nutrients and moisture, they can also over run a plot. When it comes to harvesting, in the vegetable business world, weeds showing up amongst the crop are normally removed to appease the consumer. However there is a place for weeds in relation to the growing environment, unweeded areas that will not interfere with crops can also attract all kinds of biodiversity that can assist in the growing process. Stinging nettles are particularly useful. Many weeds may have all kinds of beneficial properties to the human diet, however some weeds can be harmful if digested or an irritant to the skin, identifying what plant properties are and knowledge is the key.

On the Allotment Plot removing the weeds from around the seedlings revealed the young and tender plants. The shield of protection that the weeds may have given to the seedlings will be observed on further visits to the Plot. The vegetable seedlings that emerged were Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroots, Chard, Leeks and Red Onions. A hesitation was apparent when it came to remove the weeds around the Brassica seedlings, which had already been damaged by hungry predators. The hesitation lasted about 22 hours and then on returning to the Plot the weeds were removed. If the Brassicas can survive is an unknown factor. The Kale Red Russian Curled seedlings and Lettuce Marvel of the Four Seasons are both naturally red pigmented and seem to be growing better perhaps for that reason, this suggests that it may not be pigeons that are feeding on the Brassicas, so perhaps slugs and snails could be the assailants.

After weeding activity, the Plot progresses to watering, in order to alleviate the drought conditions. Water was gathered into the watering can from the tap, carried to the Allotment Plot and poured onto the parched soil. At least six full watering cans were used in drought alleviation.

A triangle of bamboo canes was forced into the ground and tied with string to produce some stability. Near each bamboo cane was planted two organic French Bean (Climbing) Blauhide seeds and two French Bean (Climbing) Blue Lake seeds. A row of twelve Sweetcorn Golden Bantam seeds were planted near the over wintered Onion sets and a row of twelve French Bean (Dwarf) Royalty seeds was also planted. There is no sign as yet of the Wild Rocket seedlings, the Lettuce Lollo Rosso or the White Lisbon Spring Onions.

Carrot Beetroot & Parsnips

Watered 2

Watered 1

Planting and Weeding

Planting Performance (4) occurred on 13/05/2010. The weather conditions were warm and sunny. For several days prior to the Planting event, it had looked like it may rain, the previous evening dark storm clouds had gathered, but no rain fell. Temperatures were dipping down at night causing frost damage to some plants, but luckily not on the Allotment Plot.

The state of the Plot reports as follows; the Broadbeans had almost finished flowering, the dying flowers that have turned black, will form their bean pods over the next few weeks. The Peas, now very much recovered from the cold winter, are flowering so the first Pea pods will arrive soon. The garlic continues to grow as does the onion sets, although the Garlic has always seemed to be growing far more rapidly than the Onions. The over wintered Spinach that was supposed to provide food through out the winter, is now going to seed and the leaves are still small.

The Brassicas have been attacked and eaten by predators, possibly pigeons, leaving the skeletal frames of the seedlings. Will the Brassicas recover or are they doomed to crop failure? Is this high or low drama on the Plot? What may seem comparatively insignificant in the scheme of the Plot, could in months to come, when the greens are most needed for nutritional requirements, mean that there is a substantial deficit in food production, producing a hungry gap that should not be there at that time. Covering the Brassicas may assist in their recovery, but it may not, because the damage could be too great. The situation will be carefully monitored.


Planted at the Plot on that day in honour of Guerrilla Gardeners everywhere was a sunflower seeding and sunflower seeds. Weeding then prevailed. Using a hoe and also by hand many weeds were removed from the plot. Weeding will be an on going activity on the Plot.

Is the viewer aware that this Allotment Plot is a live Art situation? It is an on going event that can be visited in Museum opening times. The Plot is growing its own aesthetic. Ella Montt will not always be there, but the Allotment Plot is. Does this particular Plot differ from the two other vegetable plots in the garden and what makes it Art? Weeding 1

Weeding 2

Tolhurst Stockfree Organic Vegetables – March 2007 to February 2008

Kate Corder’s film Tolhurst Stockfree Organic Vegetables – March 2007 to February 2008 is currently on view at the Museum of English Rural Life until July 16th 2010. The film documents the growing seasons and biodiversity of the Tolhurst vegetable business over a twelve month period. Running time 124mins.  MERL’s opening hours are:

  • 9am to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday
  • 2pm to 4.30pm, Saturday and Sunday Tolhurst Film Flyer


Ella Montt journeyed East from London to a specific Place, (for now an undisclosed location). Fields were traversed, conversations and images recorded as part of the Ella Montt’s methodology.

Field A

The tree, the fields, what history they hold hidden in their memory. The Place contained an Event that went on as a process extended over time spanning growing seasons and years. The Event became an Influence that would reach into the Future.

Field B

Wild blossom of a Blackthorn winter surrounded the stubble fields that were left to rest fallow for a year. The other fields planted with wheat were greening over under the heat of the sun. The significance of the fields and their history may be unconsciously felt by many, as tangible but without knowledge of their origination.

Field C

The Tree, an ancient oak, reported to be 900 years or so old, has collapsed to the ground. The Tree has witnessed many happenings and is highly important as part of the Place. The Place is a Monument to labour specific human activity.

Tree 1Tree 2

Performance Planting

Planting Performance (3) 22/04/2010 took place on a bright, warm, sunny day, with not an April shower in sight. Tiny companion-planting seedlings were delicately transplanted from their pots in the fixed up greenhouse to the Allotment Plot at MERL. Pot Marigold, Cosmos and Sweetpea arrived at their outdoor growing location. Small holes were dug and each plant was placed there in, their roots covered with soil and the soil lightly pressed. A bell was rung to signify the connection of each plant to the earth-growing site, announcing the rooting.

Sticks were sought in the wooded area up the slope at the back of the garden. An attempt was made for the sticks to be stuck in to the hard ground. The ground resisted stick penetration. A watering can was brought from the shed, filled and then emptied over the Allotment Plot. The watering can again was filled and again emptied onto the Plot. The earth absorbed the water. The hard ground softened under the effect of the water absorption, allowing enough stick to enter the earth and to accommodate the sticks into an upright position that will assist in the Sweetpeas and the Peas growth. The tendrils of these plants will reach out and search for supporting objects that they can grip to as they grow.

Pea Sticks

Next the action of weeding the Plot was performed. Weeds can be the unwanted cohabiters of an Allotment Plot, but they also can be desirable depending what they are (for more information about weeds and organic growing see here). As the seeds that have been planted germinate and grow so also do the weeds. Weeding or the removal of weeds is an ongoing maintenance pursuit. When the desired germinated vegetable seeds are in their tender early stages of seedling growth, weed removal can be a delicate operation and needs to avoid the disturbance of the planted seedlings.

Pea and bean weevils (Sitonia Lineatus) have been eating curved portions from the edge of the legumes leaves scalloping their edges. Bees in the process of nectar gathering and pollination are visiting the Broadbean flowers.

Broadbean Flowers & Bee