Plot number 3!

Last week I took on a third plot at our allotment site! Am I greedy? A little bit! But, our allotment site is one of the few that doesn’t have a waiting list and there are nearly always spare plots available. This third plot is actually one of a few that I have been offered recently by our allotment officer as she would rather someone was using a plot than letting it go to weed! So I have taken on a third plot and promised to mow the grass on a fourth plot regularly until new tenants can be found!

We are unsure whether we can cope with the third plot as well as the other two but we will see how this next year goes and if we find we can’t cope then we will give it back and if we cope fine then I will have extra space for crop rotation and for trying all the unusual veg that I want to grow!

The plot we have acquired is a ten rod plot next to our current ten rod plot. It was well looked after by a gentleman who decided he no longer had the time to devote to it’s upkeep. Whilst some of the beds have gone to grass, the plot is mostly in a well kept condition with only minor digging and weeding need to get it ready for this season.

I am already planning what to do with this plot and thought I would introduce you to the new addition!

We have inherited a shed which gives us a lovely storage space for the lawnmower and half our tools instead of carrying them around from the other plot every time.

A good sturdy shed and a nice set up for beans!

There is a nice set up for bean poles followed by a bed which the guy before had shrubs on. I have decided to keep most of these shrubs and make this area into a herb garden with a nice place to sit which will hopefully require minimal work.

The herbaceous bed currently full of a few perennials and mint!

This is followed by three more beds and a bed for peas, although one bed has many rogue raspberry canes in it. We may leave these and get a nice harvest off them this year and then move them next year.

There is also a small area that is supposed to hold the raspberry canes but this has become overgrown. And finally, there is an area which has gone over to grass. If we decide to carry on with the plot in 2017 we will invest in a large proper polytunnel (not like the flimsy one we have now!) so that I can grow more veg in the winter!

Where the polytunnel will go!

Now, onto the digging…



January recipes

Two (of many) of my New Year’s resolutions this year were to 1) try at least two new recipes a month that contain at least one veg which we grow, and 2) try a new food each month. So, as January is coming to an end, I thought I would share with you the best recipes that I have tried this month.

Butternut Squash Soup

butternut squash soup

This is a James Martin recipe which I have thoroughly enjoyed eating. It has been a great way of using up our many butternut squash (only 14 left to eat!). It is really easy to make and even easier with the wonderful soup-maker we got for Christmas! The recipe can be found her on BBC Good Food.

Wintry vegetable crumbles

wintry crumbles

This was surprisingly nice recipe and a great way to use up the winter veg. However, I feel that it can be made even more delicious with a little bit of cheese melted into the ‘sauce’! Although the recipe doesn’t call for it, I added in some butternut squash (any excuse to use them up)! This recipe can also be found on BBC Good Food

Butternut squash casserole 

butternut casserole

Another BBC Good Food recipe, this butternut squash casserole is absolutely delicious. I have served it with some lovely sausages from our butcher but it can be a dish all on it’s own. I don’t think the picture quite does it justice, the dish is far more appetizing than it looks!

Warm Root Vegetable Orzo Pilaff

orzo pilaf

I found this recipe in Delicious Magazine but did change the recipe slightly. I added roasted carrots with the parsnips and butternut squash and left out the mint. I also didn’t have an orange so instead a drizzled over a small amount of lemon juice. This is the first time I have tried Orzo pasta and I love it!

You can probably see that there is a theme here – recipes to use up the butternut squash! I am pretty sure next month will focus on how to use all my excess leeks!

Please feel free to share any recipes you have (especially if they have butternut squash in)!



The importance of being sustainable!

When I started this blog, one of the things I was aiming to do was lead a more sustainable way of life. Not really knowing exactly what this meant, I felt it was important to do more research to understand exactly how I can achieve this!

The first hit on google was a website called YouSustain. This is a website that can help you to  calculate  CO2 emissions by taking on simple challenges such as bringing your own coffee to work for a week or using reusable bags etc. and there is a carbon footprint calculator.

Having just assessed my carbon footprint via YouSustain, I am ashamed to say this was my results:
carbon footprint
My carbon footprint for 2015 !
In my defense, I do have drive to work 70 miles away but I am working hard to find a job closer to home so that I can reduce my car usage (although this is not the only reason I want a new job!). I certainly don’t like driving that much!
They also provide a list of suggestions for reducing my carbon footprint (some of which I already do):
  • Turn it off when not in use (lights, television, DVD player, Hi Fi, computer etc. etc
  • Turn down the central heating slightly (try just 1 to 2 degrees C).
  • Turn down the water heating setting
  • Check the central heating timer setting – remember there is no point heating the house after you have left for work
  • Fill your dish washer and washing machine with a full load – this will save you water, electricity, and washing powder
  • Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need
  • Do your weekly shopping in a single trip
  • Hang out the washing to dry rather than tumble drying it
  • Don’t buy bottled water if your tap water is safe to drink
  • Buy local fruit and vegetables, or even try growing your own
  • Buy foods that are in season locally
  • Don’t buy fresh fruit and vegetables which are out of season, they may have been flown in
  • Reduce your consumption of meat
  • Try to only buy products made close to home (look out and avoid items that are made in the distant lands)
  • Buy organic produce
  • Don’t buy over packaged products
  • Think carefully about the type of activities you do in your spare time. Do any of these cause an increase in carbon emissions? e.g. Saunas, Health clubs, restaurants and pubs, go-karting etc. etc.)

I will calculate my carbon footprint at the end of 2016 and hopefully we will see a big difference!

One thing that I am very conscientious of doing at the moment, as part of being sustainable, is to support my local businesses and economy. I am making a special effort to buy seasonal fruit and veg (when I haven’t grown it myself) and I have also recently discovered my local butcher (it’s amazing what you can find when you stop going to Tesco!)
I make a special effort to go shopping in the town centre in the local shops before I head on to the supermarket for everything else that I couldn’t find. I really like the idea that my money is going into the pockets of local people rather than large global companies!
However, in terms of increasing my sustainability, I think that trying to reduce my carbon footprint is definitely a good way to start especially since my carbon footprint is so big! But I’ll keep researching and look to find more ways of increasing my sustainability.

Challenge accepted!

P.S. If anyone has any other suggestions for reducing my carbon footprint or if you do anything in particular to be as sustainable as possible please let me know!

Jobs this January

January is here (well we are in the middle of it…I am a little late posting this!) and with it comes the thrill of a new season.

I am quite happy with the progress Sam and I have made at clearing up over the last month. The shed has been tidied and sorted out. We removed the mouse cemetery found at the back of the shed (I don’t know why I say ‘we’…that was definitely Sam’s job!) and  plot 1 (the small plot) is almost tidied up ready for the new season.

However, there is and always will be a job list as long as my arm!

So here is a list of jobs that I plan/hope to get done before the month is out:

Plot 1

  • Expand the fruit bed and plant gooseberries and blueberries 
  • Prune gooseberries
  • Get the last of the beds dug over
  • Remove the rest of the stray tufts of grass from the paths
  • Clean up around the Parsnip bed and remove nettles.
  • Tidy up around the shed
  • Put down more bark chip!
  • Mark out the space where the new carrot and seedling bed will go
  • Clear weeds at the side of the rhubarb patch
  • Move old compost pile
  • Plant tree

(As I am late posting this I have already managed to get three of my jobs done! Yay!)

Plot 1 needs a bit of a tidy up!

Plot 2

  • Dig in green manure towards end of the month
  • Weed asparagus beds
  • Prune currants
  • Plant grape and plum and cherry trees
  • Clear grass around the pond
  • Weed the onions and garlic
Grass needs to be removed from around the pond – ready for planting up in the Spring!
Green manure needs to be dug in

At home, I am going to give my new heated propagator a go and will be sowing my pepper, tomato and aubergine seeds this month! How very exciting!!!


A cunning plan!

I have spent these last few cold(ish) weeks planning out where my crops are going and what varieties I will be trying. After sorting through my seed collections, I filled in the blanks with a selection of seed bought from Mr Fothergills and D.T. Brown.

Using Dobies vegetable garden planner,  I have devised a cunning plan for the two plots as to where everything is going and I thought I would share this with you.

garden plan 1
The half size plot

On the small half plot, I shall be putting most of my brassicas this year (where I had my beans last year). Hopefully they will benefit for the nitrogen that has been fixed in the soil. I shall be planting a number of different brassicas:

  • Red Cabbage – Red rodeo from Mr Fothergills. I have used this variety for the last two years and although I have had quite a few losses (all my own fault for not paying enough attention) it has a good flavour and I find it keep well.
  • Spring/Autumn Greens – Cabbage Offenham 2 – Flower of Spring. A new variety I will be trying.
  • Summer Cabbages – Golden acre/Primo II also from Mr Fothergills. I tried these last year and they hearted really well but the caterpillars got to them before me!
  • Winter Cabbages – January King 3 I’ve had this packet of seed for the last two years and I am finally going to use it. Hopefully it will still germinate well. Also Caserta F1, a mini savoy cabbage which I hope will require less space and is ready in as little as 70 days. I though I might use this for inter-cropping. I might inter-crop this under the beans!
  • Calabrese – I have a couple of varieties which I have gotten free from Garden Magazines. One in particular I received was Beaumont which I will try this year.
  • Cauliflower – I don’t eat cauliflower myself, this is for Sam so we will buy a few plants rather than starting from seed.
  • Sprouting Broccoli – Last year I bought a season long collection which contained Early Purple and Tenderstem but didn’t get a chance to give them a go (I will be more organised this year!).
  • Kale – Again, not a massive fan, this is more for Sam but of all the varieties I prefer Cavalo Nero.
  • Orientals – This will include Pak Choi, Choi Sum, Broccoli Raab, Komatsuma, Chinese Cabbage and any other random oriental vegetables I may have in my seed boxes (I seem to get a lot of these free from Gardening Magazines)

Where the brassicas have been, will be squash and other cucurbits. I am going to be trying 3/4 varieties of winter squashes and two varieties of courgette. I am also going to give melons another go but will cover them with cloches to ensure they get the temperatures they need. I will dot sweetcorn amongst the squashes to save on space.

  • Squash – Sweetmax , A butternut variety that I did last year. I am so pleased with the results that I am doing them again this year. Trying Honey Bear, Uchiki kuri and Turks Turban this year.
  • Pumpkin – I am giving pumpkin a go again this year. The first and only time I tried growing pumpkin, they were the most tasteless things I had ever had. But I am going to try a new variety which supposedly is quite sweet – Small Sugar
  • Courgettes – All my courgette seeds come free from Garden magazines so I never need to buy them, however Sam picked up a couple of unusual types for 50p at Wyevale in the winter so we are giving them a go.
  • Melon – Melba
  • Sweetcorn – The best sweetcorn I had was a couple of years ago and they were plants bought from the garden centre but I am going to try a couple of varieties from scratch.

I am also going to be using one bed to try the many varieties of lettuce I have accrued from Garden Magazines – maybe I can do a trial of lettuce seeds!

The parsnip bed and carrot bed are also located on my plot so they will remain where they normally are. As the parsnip bed was used last year for parsnips, I remove half the compost and spread it over the other raised beds and then re-fill the parsnip bed with new compost to ensure there isn’t a large build up of pest and disease.

  • Parsnips – Last year we found that Countess was a good producer so we are sticking with this.
  • Carrots – This year I am trying Favour and Nantes and I may even try a purple variety!

The tomatoes will be going into the new growhouse that we will be putting up next to the shed. I don’t want to put them into the polytunnel as last year they got blight and I don’t want any lingering spores to contaminate this crop.

The carrot planter that we used last year (where I unfortunately got an infestation of carrot root fly) will be used for spring onions and our mini grow houses will be used for some chilli peppers (Sam looks after the chilli peppers).

allotment 2
The full size plot

I like to use the larger plot to grow the crops that I am likely to store such as potatoes, onions and garlic. There is a large plot for the potatoes and other roots such as beetroot and celeriac. I have two spots for maincrop potatoes as I am carry out a trial on green manure vs well-rotted manure.

  • Earlies – The first earlies will probably be planted up in potato bags rather than in the ground. The second earlies, I haven’t decided on variety yet. I shall be heading off to a potato day in Whitchurch at the end of this month!
  • Maincrop – Sarpo Mira, this variety did really well last year and resisted the blight whilst my tomatoes suffered so I am going to keep on with these!
  • Novelty – Sam wants to have a go at growing a blue potato – not sure why?!
  • Celeriac – I struggle to grow celeriac from seed so I will probably buy some plants from the garden centre. However, I do have some Monarch seeds which, if I find time, I may try again.
  • Swede – This is another plant I don’t seem to have much luck with but I have some left over Best of All that I will have a go at or failing that – back to the garden centre.
  • Beetroot – Again this is a vegetable I get a lot of free seed for. Mainly Chioggia and Boltardy.
  • Sweet potato – I wanted to give this a go this year. I am not sure about varieties yet but will probably buy some plants from the garden centre to get me started and see what they grow like.

The 2nd large plot is reserved for onions, garlic, shallots and leeks. One side is being used for autumn planting and the other side for spring-planting.

  • Garlic – I have used bulbs from what I grew last year, but I can’t remember what the varieties are. However, I know that they have a good flavour so I am sticking with it. (Lets hope this mild weather doesn’t prevent them from forming cloves!)
  • Onions – For the autumn planting I used Shakespeare and for summer I shall use Stuttergart Giant. I used these last year and they formed lovely bulbs that stored well. I shall also plant a red onion, Red Baron.
  • Shallots – For autumn planting I used Jermor and for Spring, Sam wants to try a ‘Banana’ shallot like the chefs use so I shall be keeping my eye out for something similar.
  • Leeks – I have a variety of varieties at home including Musselburgh, Lyon 2 prizetaker and Malabar which I shall continue to use this year.

The final large bed will for all my beans and a small section reserved for the brussels sprout. I have learnt the hard way of the space that brussels sprouts need so I am building a special enclosure for them.

  • Brussels Sprouts – Camelot and Evesham Special give me a good long grwoing season.
  • Broad beans – After trying a few varieties we have decided we prefer a dwarf variety so we are trying Robin Hood and we also have some Red Epicure from last season to use up
  • Peas – We have some Amabassador left over from last year but this year we would also like to try Meteor and Onward
  • Runner beans – We have decided to try scarlet empire this year.
  • Dwarf Beans – Every year I get safari. The beans are excellent and very fine.
  • Borlotti Beans – I always have two varieties, this year Supremo and Lamon
  • Climbing beans (for drying) – Blue Lake for haricots. Very productive last year. This year I am trying the variety Coco blanc a rames
  • Chickpeas and Lentils – Both from the Eden Project. I saw them and thought they would be interesting to try.

The polytunnel will be reserved for other greenhouse crops such as cucumbers, aubergines and peppers.

  • Aubergines – Black Beauty
  • Peppers – I always try a variety of peppers to see what turns out the best. Last year, Romano was a good producer and King of the North. I am also giving California wonder a go.
  • Cucumbers – I have an indoor cucumber Louisa and an outdoor Marketmore. I tried the marketmore last year and was very happy with it so am doing it again.

There are two asparagus beds – one that I started which is surrounded by Strawberries. However, the asparagus didn’t come up last year and I don’t know what I did wrong so if nothing comes up this year then I shall write it off and plant more strawberries!

The second asparagus bed was planted by the previous owner of the plot but as that part of the plot had been uncultivated for a couple of years, I only just discovered it in May! So I need to get it cleared of weeds before the spears starting showing!

It doesn’t leave much room for anything else – I really want to try jerusalem artichoke aand some other tubers like Oca and Yacon but until I start getting everything planted I wont know if I have the room for them!


2015 – A review!

As 2015 has come to an end, I have been looking back at the last year and what I have and have not achieved. It’s been a long and hard year with quite a few successes and, unfortunately, some abject failures!

Mostly, this year has been a struggle to keep on top of the weeds. Every time I turned my back on the plot I was inundated with fat hen and bindweed.

However, the larger plot has been quite productive. We have had an extraordinary amount of potatoes this year. Not only have we given quite a few away but we have not had to buy any since June and still have two large sacks of Sarpo Mira in store.

I think my pride and joy of the year is the garlic and the butternut squash! We had 36 beautiful bulbs of garlic and apart from a small bit of rust on the leaves they were pretty trouble free. They dried well and I haven’t had to buy any garlic since July and I don’t anticipate having to buy any at all until the next lot are ready. The butternut squash were very productive resulting in 32 very large fruits. We have given a far few away but still have 20 to get through at home!

The fruit cage had a major overhaul, with all the netting being replaced and all the old raspberries being dug out. A pathway has been put in and a number of currant bushes have been added. At one point the weeds crept up on us but we beat them back. Unfortunately the raspberries were not massively productive but they were new canes, some didn’t transplant well and some were suffocated by bindweed. I am hoping they will be more productive this year.

We got some lovely onions this year, some were real whoppers!  About 15% of them have rotted in storage (neck rot) and I am not sure if this is from not drying them properly or harvesting at the wrong time? If anyone has any suggestions I would grateful to know what you think!

The polytunnel went up this year, lasted 4 months and then the cover was destroyed. It did house some tomatoes which were a bit of a mixed bag this year. They all, unfortunately, got blight but we still managed to get a few ripe tomatoes and some green ones for chutney. Maybe I’ll have better luck next year.

On the small plot we had great success with peas. We got them in early to avoid the pea moth and were reward with a bumper early harvest. We still have some frozen in the freezer. Our later harvest was infested with pea moth and only 40% of that was usable. I was hoping we would hit the end of the pea moth season but my timing was wrong. If anyone has any ideas for protecting against pea moth I would be grateful for the advice!

Generally, beans have done well but so far, touch wood, they have always been a hassle-free crop. Brassicas, on the other hand, have not been good. This is completely my fault because I didn’t pay attention! I planted the all my brassicas and then didn’t get a protective cover on them soon enough! Between the birds and the caterpillars, there was barely anything left for us to eat except brussels sprouts and red cabbage. And even these, due to the wet and warm weather we have had this December, have been rotting before I could eat them. The cabbages we have enjoyed for the last three months but half the brussels sprouts rotted on the stem. 😦

We have ended the year on a good note though as we finally got round to clearing out the shed and cleaning/sharpening all our tools! We have also been having a real good tidy up!

Overall, the plots have been productive more than not this last year and every year we learn from our mistakes and improve (put covers on the brassicas straight away!).

Lastly, I would like to thank my friends Adam and Jenny who have come over several times to help with the heavy work! They have been absolute stars! Not only have they worked hard at weeding but they also dug our new pond!

And I want to thank Susan and Chris and Stacey and Rob for their contribution of fruit bushes to the allotment. I will be looking forward to a bumper crop of gooseberries and blackcurrants next year!

Have a happy and healthy 2016 everyone!