May 2017!

Wow! We have had some dry weather this last month. There has been the occasional shower but this has certainly been a very dry May. Suffice to say a good chunk of my time is taken up with watering the plot constantly!

I have been quite concerned this month about a number of things:'Well, when I've tried everything and it still hasn't rained, I wash the car.'

a) the lack of water. I know that we had a particularly wet week in the middle of May but the general trend appears to be on the dry side. Whilst most people will enjoy this I feel that it can’t be a good sign!?

b) the lack of bees. I try my best to have spaces in the allotment with bee frinedly plants, the wildlife pond, the herb garden etc. Every year I start to see bees buzzing around the broad beans, strawberries and chives now that they are out and flowering but this year there has been just a handful. As we make our way towards June there numbers are starting to increase but it still leaves me rather concerned! Has anyone else noticed this?

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A rare bumblebee in amongst the chives!

c) the lack of ladybirds. Aphids are slowly taking over my plot and normally I will see quite a few ladybirds enjoying a feast but this year I have only seen one – so much so that I have bought in ladybird larvae to tackle the growing aphid problem.

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All this lovely blossom  was hit by frost!

d) the lack of fruit set. We had a incredibly warm april which bought out all the flowers on my fruit trees. Out of nowhere in the first week of May we had a particularly hard frost which killed all the blossom on my apple, pear, plum and cherry tree. My strawberries were also hit but have bounced back with more flowers. Generally this means that the fruit I will harvest this year is limited to strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb.

Despite all this we have been working hard down the allotment trying to keep on top of things. I perpetually feel like I am behind but every year it gets a little easier!

Working away down the plot on the first bank holiday weekend, the ground was hard and dusty so when it rained (for 3 seconds) I was quite relieved! Mostly, we weeded the plots. The following weekend we ordered a load of manure which arrived promptly and was put to use covering the lazy bed. The bed was then promptly covered with weed control fabric which the wind took great delight in lifting it all off and depositing it against the fence. Cue two hours of trying to battle the wind and peg it back down with the help of some heavy compost bags, the garden table and a garden bench. Excitingly that weekend I ordered the polytunnel!

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Lazy bed has been covered with weed control fabric ready for squash plants to go in!

The following weekend was a planting weekend. I planted out cabbages, sprouted lentils and dwarf beans. The dwarf beans were torn apart by the wind over the following two days which was slightly heart breaking so have sown some more direct into the soil. I think I need to buy some wind breaks for the plots! My aubergines and celeriac plug plants arrived and they were promptly potted on (aubergines) or planted out (celeriac).

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Aubergines have arrived and been potted on!

I did a small amount of weeding in the herb garden specifically in thyme square and planted out some borage and bergamot. I also bought and planted a peony and two hostas around the pond.

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The pond is starting to come to life again with self-seeded california poppies flowering!

Thursday 18th saw my polytunnel being delivered and Sam got promptly to work putting it up with the help of our friend David, to whom I owe a bottle of whisky! I helped a little but generally big construction projects go better if Sam and I don’t work together (we argue!). It has taken a long time to put up the structure and even now the cover is not yet on. We have, however, built some raised beds for inside the polytunnel. Hopefully the first weekend in June will be calm enough for us to put the cover on and hang the doors. Whilst Sam and David were working hard to put up the polytunnel, I planted courgettes and sweetcorn on plot 2 and broccoli, red cabbages and swede on plot 1. The lovely deluge of rain during the week before saw my plots turn into mini jungles, the weeds went rampant among the sea of grass. It took me a total of 2 hours to strim and mow all the grass on plot 2 and 3.

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Polytunnel frame has gone up – just need to put on the cover and the doors!

The last weekend in May saw a second manure delivery after using up the last one. Sam and I got to work filling the raised beds in the polytunnel and earthing up potatoes.

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Potatoes have been earthed up with the new delivery of well-rotted manure!

I have jetted off to Lyon for a work conference (yawn!), where I am currently sat typing this in my hotel room, and Sam went to the allotment to strim the jungle that is the second half of plot 1. Very kindly, Sam’s mum is coming over tomorrow (bank holiday Monday) and I have left a list of things to be done. Hopefully, most of the items on the list will be crossed off. I have also left Sam in charge of the war against slugs and he will be applying the second batch of nematodes whilst I am away!sunshine

So May has been rather busy and now that the polytunnel is almost up and finished, I feel like we are starting to get plot 3 up together!

I hope your May has been a good one!

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This Week’s Harvest – Week 21, 2017

At last the hungry gap is passing and I have more to harvest from the allotment than rhubarb!

This week we have harvested two heads of lettuce, one green butterhead and one red little gem, a handful of radishes and 250g of broad beans.

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This went towards a lovely meal of hickory smoked beef brisket with a homegrown garden salad and broad bean and bacon potato salad!

I feel like summer is really here!

What to do this May!

Like April, May can be a busy time for gardeners and allotmenteers! Frosts are becoming less frequent and by the middle of the month we can  be reasonably confident that our more tender veg can be planted out and beans and squash can be sown direct in to the ever-warming soil!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

It is particularly busy time for planting and sowing now that summer is nearly here!

Sowing

  • All your beans can be sown now; runner beans, climbing beans and dwarf beans and peas.  Watch out for the dreaded pea moth laying her eggs in June and July on peas which are sown now.
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Peas and beans can be sown direct now!
  • Squashes and other cucurbits such as courgettes, melons and cucumbers can be sown direct outdoors in May or started off in pots indoors if there is still a chance of frost.
  • At the same time, sweetcorn can be sown now both outdoors and indoors. They will be an excellent companion crop to squashes and climbing beans
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Sweetcorn can be sown now, either indoors or direct in the soil once frosts have passed.
  • Continue to successionally sow root crops for continual harvests including beetroot, carrots and this moth is really the last chance to sow parsnips!
  • Brassicas such as winter cabbage, broccoli, late season Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers and kale can be sown now for harvesting in Autumn/winter.
  • Don’t forget to sow other brassicas such as radishes, turnips and swede. These root brassicas still require protection from pigeons who loves to strip the leaves!
  • Salad leaves and other crops that add pep to your salad including spring onions, swiss chard, spinach and lambs lettuce can be sown now. Where necessary remember to keep sowing successionally so you can enjoy salads all summer long.
  • For your herb garden, tender herbs such as basil, parsley and coriander can be sown now too!

Planting

  • Chilli peppers, sweet peppers, aubergines and greenhouse tomatoes  that were started back at the beginning of the year can now be planted out into greenhouse and polytunnel borders.
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Tomato plants are ready to be planted into greenhouse/polytunnel borders.
  • If you have ordered sweet potatoes then they will be delivered this month ready for you to plant out. Make sure you plant out after all chances of frost have passed.
  • Any courgettes, cucumber and sweetcorn you started in April will be ready for planting out from the middle of the month onwards.
  • If you haven’t been able to start brassicas off from seeds then you can plant out brassica plants bought from your local garden centre or any of the online retailers.

Harvesting

  • Salad leaves and other salad crops such as radishes, swiss chard and lettuces will be ready to harvest now.
  • Early peas and broad beans may be ready to harvest this month
  • Rhubarb will continue to crop this month as will asparagus if you are lucky enough to have this delicious crop.
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Rhubarb will be cropping well at this month.
  • Towards the end of the month, early strawberries will be starting to ripen. Make sure you get them before the birds or slugs!
  • If you planned ahead, last year you may also be harvesting spring cabbages and cauliflowers!

Jobs on the plot

As the weather warms and we start to make the transition into Summer, your crops will be growing strong – as will the weeds. Watch out for any late frosts in the first half of this month depending on where you live.

  • Protect young and tender plants from any late frosts. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, if the temperatures are set to plummet over night protect with cloches and fleece and earth up potatoes to protect the shoots.
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Potatoes have been earthed up with straw to protect them from frosts.
  • New sowings and young plants will be vulnerable to pests especially slugs and snails who are looking for an easy meal. Put down barriers and traps to stop these critters in their tracks! Apply predatory nematodes and predators such as ladybird larvae to keep the pest population under control and fit brassica collars round newly planted brassicas to stop cabbage root fly.
  • Sow catch crops such as fast growing radishes and lettuces between slower-growing crops like brassicas to make good use of the space and keep weeds at bay.
  • Hoe off annual weeds as they appear but when you see perennial weeds in your patch it might be better to dig these out by hand and remove as much root as possible otherwise they will just come back. Also make sure you get up any volunteer potatoes as they could be a reservoir for blight!
  • Harden off your tender plants before planting them out to acclimatize them to outside conditions.
  • In the fruit garden, thin out raspberries where necessary so they don’t become overcrowded and prune almond, peach and nectarine trees. Remove strawberry flowers from very young plants or any that appear to be struggling and as the fruit starts to ripen on older healthier plants, protect them from pests.
  • In the polytunnel or greenhouse, any tomatoes you have already planted may need staking or tying in as they grow and any side-shoots removed. The temperatures can get quite high under cover so make sure you open vents and doors on particularly hot days remembering to close them again at night when temperatures drop.
  • Keep your plot well watered especially if there isn’t much rain or you grow your plants in pots. Rising temperatures can cause the ground to dry out fast. Where possible apply mulches that keep the moisture locked into the ground.
  • If you have ordered plug plants, then they will be arriving on your doorstep. Get them potted on or planted out as soon as possible. Suppliers send out these plants at the best time for planting.
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Plug plants will be arriving – pot on or plant out immediately!

May Recipe

Pea and broad bean risotto (from BBC Good food)

broad bean risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g cold butter , diced
  • 1 small onion or 2 shallots, chopped
  • 175g risotto rice
  • 100ml white wine
  • 600ml hot vegetable stock
  • 50g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 200g fresh peas, podded (about 1kg/2lb 4oz unpodded weight)
  • 200g broad beans, podded (about 1kg/2lb 4oz unpodded weight)
  1. Heat oil and 25g of the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 4-5 mins. Stir in the rice and cook for a further 2 mins. Turn up the heat and add the wine, let it bubble to evaporate the alcohol.
  2. Once the wine has reduced, begin adding the hot stock a ladle at a time over a medium heat, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next and stirring continuously. The rice should always be moist, but not swimming in liquid. The process of adding and stirring should take about 16-20 mins, depending on what kind of risotto rice you use.
  3. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the peas and beans for 2-3 mins. Drain and set aside. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the remaining butter, Parmesan, peas and beans with some seasoning before serving.

This Week’s Harvest – 2017, Week 17

There has been a couple of weeks with no harvests but this week I harvested another large amount of rhubarb. The plants were getting out of control so I need to give them a good tidy up. Quite a few stalks went in the bin as they were quite spongy  but I took home a massive 5.6kg of rhubarb. About 3kg will be given out to the Slimming World group (if they want it) and the other 2.6 kg have been stewed and some frozen away for making a variety of desserts.

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Rhubarb for the SW group!

More excitingly, I harvested my first batch of radishes. I think they look absolutely delicious and I can’t wait to put them into a salad. 85g of scarlet globe radishes!

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Homegrown radishes for my salad!

April 2017!

April was really off to a sunny start with temperatures of 18 degrees in the south west!

I did quite a lot of work in my own garden the first weekend in April so that Sam and I could actually sit outside and start enjoying the lighter evenings but as always at least one day a week is reserved for the allotment.

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Overview of plot 1

We took the ‘mother-in-law’ around the allotments (not really the mother-in-law but for want of a better word) and she really liked the plots although thinks we are completely bonkers for taking on so much! Fast forward to the actual work we did, I dug up the newly planted strawberry plants on plot 1, laid weed control membrane over the bed and then re-planted the strawberry plants through it. This will save me the headache of constant weeding and stops the strawberries from being able to root runners! I then bought some straw and have placed that round the strawberries. This acts as a mulch, keeps strawberries clean as they develop and has the added benefit (or so I am told) of reducing slug damage.

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Strawberries have been planted through membrane and mulched with straw!

Sam and I also got to work digging over Section D where the potatoes will be this year. We removed the very last of the leeks and dug  over the ground ready for new raised beds on that section. This is the last part of plot 2 that needed raised beds in and then the structure of plot 2 would be complete! The weekend of the 8th saw us actually build those raised beds and set them in the ground (slightly wonky but hey, it doesn’t have to be perfect – just functional). Weed control membrane was laid down for the paths and then covered with bark chip. Fast forward to Easter weekend and Sam had the lovely (hard) job of planting all the second early and maincrop potatoes.

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New raised beds in section D!

Over the last three weeks, spring-planted onions have slowly been planted out in Section E and a variety of lettuces have been planted in the same beds. I have also sown a number of sowings of spring onions and beetroot but the seedlings don’t seem to get very far. I think this is more to do with the soil than with the seeds. Unfortunately, no matter how much compost or manure I add to the soil, it is always hard and dry! Yesterday I decided to sown my next lot of spring onion and beetroot sowings in the old wicker carrot planter where the soil is much nicer!

Section A on plot 1 (where the beans and peas are going) is starting to come to life. Pea and bean supports have been put up ready for plants. Two lots of pea plants have been planted out, one at the beginning of April and one at the end, and I have sown a further rows of peas direct which I hope will give me successional harvests of peas. All the broad beans have now been sown and the broad beans I planted back in November are flowering! Unfortunately, the frost we had last week has caused some of the tiny pods that were developing to go black! I guess that means I will be waiting a little longer for my first harvest of broad beans!

The Thursday after Easter, my dad came up and built me a new shed! We have treated it, painted the inside and can now store some of our tools on plot 3 instead of having to traipse all the way over to plot 1 every time we need something (or have forgotten to get something)! It is not as big as the one we originally inherited but hopefully with a lot of love and care it will last us for quite a few years (I am hoping for at least a decade!).

And shock! I finished tidying up the strawberries! I can’t believe it! I had to remove quite a lot of runners that had rooted and then moved some plants so there wasn’t such a big gap in the middle like before. We will be putting raised beds around the strawberries which should make it easier to weed, harvest and generally keep tidy – a job for May! I am so glad to finally get this off the to-do list! The strawberries are already showing lots of flowers so with a bit of luck I am in for a good harvest again this year. It is probably the last really good harvest I will get off some of these plants as they are 3 years old (some are new runners which have been moved). They will probably be left for another season and then the bed will be cleared for something new. By that time, the strawberry plants on my other plot will be nice and big and producing lots of strawberries!

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Strawberry bed has finally been cleared!

We have also lined the beds around the pond with wood.  The Californian poppies from last year have self-seeded and I decided to leave them there as they are such pretty flowers. I have also sown a white-flowered borage at home, and hope to plant them into the ponds beds and herb garden in the next fortnight!

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Pond beds have been lined with wood! This will stop the grass from creeping in!

For those of you who follow this blog you will know I have two friends who love to come up and help out on the allotment (often helping me get the hardest tasks done)! This last Saturday they came up and helped Sam and I to finally move the pile at the end of plot 3. The pile was dug up and moved to the lazy bed where it should hopefully compost down, and then we cleared the back of the plot of brambles, nettles and bindweed. Here we laid a thick mulch of dead leaves and then laid weed control membrane to hopefully stop all the weeds from coming back. We will cover this area with bark chip and next winter we will plant currant bushes here. We also marked out where the polytunnel will be going with bamboo canes and string and now that we have a nice (relatively) flat surface, I can order the polytunnel!

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Large pile has been removed and (mostly) leveled out. The polytunnel was marked out but unfortunately the bamboo canes snapped. Membrane at the back for currants next year!

There have been a few disappointments this last though, the frosts did some damage in our plots, the first early potatoes were hit quite hard. They are grown in bags and I didn’t get the bags filled up with compost in time! There is still some green foliage growing so have placed straw in the bags to keep them warm and protect from any further frosts and we will see if they recover!

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Straw put in potato bags to cover potato shoots and protect from any further frost.

Some of our plants around the pond were hit hard! The ‘Bleeding Heart’ and the flowers on the Heuchera have really been affected. The buds on the grape had just started to open up but I think the leaves have now died! It seemed to withstand the frosts really well last year but not so much this year! And also there seems to be a cat digging up my allotment! It dug a hole in the soil in my seed bed, destroying my brassica seedlings and it dug a hole in my parsnip bed!

Despite this, April has been a rather productive month! There is still a lot to get done in May. The polytunnel needs to be bought and erected and there will be a lot to plant out but I am looking forward to the month ahead!

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I hope you have  been able to enjoy your gardens and allotment this month as much as I have! Although I hope your muscles don’t ache as much as mine!