This Week’s Harvest – 2017, week 23

The hungry gap is over and it is filled with broad beans! I have had a good harvest this week of broad beans, some lettuce and a few peas.

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I harvested 1.4kg of broad beans and 150g of peas. I also pulled up a couple of carrots to see if they are ready yet. They are still small and have forked but at least there are no sign of carrot root fly!

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I also pulled up the spinach which had started to flower. This tends to happen quickly in dry weather – I think I need to find a cooler place to grow spinach!

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I hope your harvests are coming along nicely!

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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!

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!

 

Slug Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Nematodes!

I have been formulating my battle plans against the slug army and as a first wave of defense I will be deploying my infantry into battle – the nematodes!

So what are the nematodes?

The nematodes that I will be using are phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita, the nematode that you can buy as part of the ‘Nemasys’ range.

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Microscopic image of nematodes.

It is described as a facultative parasitic nematode. This basically means that the nematode itself does not absolutely rely on a host to complete it’s life cycle. It can also live on rotting vegetation and dead invertebrates which coincidentally is probably where you will find a lot of slugs! It’s life cycle is quite simple; it finds a slug host to infect and once inside, it release bacteria which kills the slug. The nematodes then feed off the decomposing corpse whilst reproducing and producing the next generation to go off in search of more slugs.

The nematodes are already present in my soil but their numbers are generally insufficient to control the estimated slug population in my allotment. Adding more nematodes to the soil bolsters their numbers and helps to reduce the slug population. The nematodes will die back to their natural levels again when there are less slugs to feed off.

The benefits of using these minuscule worms is that they are biological control, so no nasty chemicals are used which could adversely affect other organisms and they are slug specific. This means that slugs (and snails) are the only organisms that will die! They also don’t accumulate up the food chain and have nasty effects on slug predators such as frogs and hedgehogs!

So my first batch of Nemasys slug killer has arrived and it has been sat in the fridge for the last couple of weeks (you should store it in the fridge upon receipt). This weekend , I went down to the allotment, mixed up the nematodes into the correct amount of water and applied this to the beds I think are most likely going to see slug damage.

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Making up a stock solution!

The first bed was around the pond. I have lost many a plant there due to slugs and my hosta is having a hard time sprouting leaves as the slugs eat them before they can fully open! I also have two more hostas I want to plant out but am unwilling until I see a reduction in the number of slugs!

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Hosta damage!
The second bed I targeted is the main strawberry bed on plot 2. With flowers starting to show on my strawberries it won’t be long before the fruit start developing and if I act now that should give the nematodes time to do their job! I also have watered the nematodes into the Jerusalem artichoke bed as I lost all but one of the shoots that grew last year to slugs!

I have another packet of nematodes arriving from my supplier slightly later on in the season. This packet will mainly be used on the potato beds and if I have enough left, the brassica beds. Slug damage is a big issue for my potatoes as last year I threw away a third of my maincrops away due to these slimy pests! Hopefully these nematodes will reduce the amount of damage I see this year.

So I have released my foot soldiers out to do battle with the gastropodic enemy! Only time will tell who the victor will be!

nematode burns

What to do this April!

April is a busy time for most gardeners and allotmenteers! The sowing season is upon us and with Easter happening this month, there is also the tradition of planting out your chitted potatoes over the Easter Weekend!

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Chitted potatoes ready to be planted!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

The sowing season is upon us and if your ground is not ready and prepared for your new sowings and plants then it really is time to get a move on!

Sowing:

  • Peas and Broad beans can be sown now. These will crop a little later than those that were sown in the Autumn or back in February. French beans (dwarf or climbing) can be started this month too but better off indoors as if sown outdoors you will have to watch out for those sneaky frosts!
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Peas can be sown now!
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot, parsnips, salsify, scorzonera, turnips and carrots can be sown this month. For successional crops of carrots and beetroot sow every three-four weeks.
  • Salads leaves such as land cress, chard, spinach and lettuces can be sown now ready for those delicious summer salads
  • Brassicas can be sown outdoors into a well-prepared seed bed or where they are to crop including early season calabrese, late cropping sprouts, kale, cauliflowers, and summer/winter cabbage. Sprouting broccoli should be started now too. It needs to be sown approximately a year before it is due to be harvested.
  • Leeks should be sown by the end of this month and spring onions can be sown successionally every two to three weeks to give you a continuous supply.

Planting:

  • If you have always wanted to have an asparagus bed, then now is the time to start one. Remember not to harvest in the first couple of years and only take a few in the third, after that you will have asparagus to enjoy year after year!
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Start an asparagus bed now!
  • Spring-planting onions and shallots can be planted out now.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can be planted out in April. They produce beautiful sunflower type flowers throughout the summer and earthy sweet tubers in the winter
  • Second early and maincrop potatoes can be planted out now. Traditionally, they are planted out on the Easter Saturday (which has now passed) but if you are a little behind, not to worry, they will soon catch up if you are a few weeks late.

April firmly sits in the hungry gap but that doesn’t mean you can’t have offerings in the garden.

Harvesting:

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  • If you already have an asparagus bed you can start harvesting from around St George’s day up until the Summer solstice.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Any remaining winter savoy cabbages, cauliflowers and leeks should be harvested this month to make way for new crops and Sprouting broccoli and spring cabbage is in full swing during the month of April
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can harvest these for a delicious salad along with any new sowings or radishes, leef beet/chard, spinach and other salad leaves that may be ready now.
  • Rhubarb should be cropping well throughout April.

 

Jobs on the plot

April is busy, busy, busy what with all the sowing and planting but be sure to remember the other jobs that might need doing:

  • Hoe off any weeds that appear in your vegetable beds. The days are longer and the temperatures are warmer which means weeds will be growing quickly. Control weeds whilst they are still small and before they flower and set seed.
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Hoe off young weeds now before they have a chance to set seed!
  • Pests can often start to appear this month especially aphids. These pests should be controlled and removed in whatever way you see fit (chemical, biological or mechanical) before their numbers get too great.
  • Support your legumes! Build bean and pea frames to support your pea and bean sowings that you will make this month. Bean frames can be bought from many retailers or you can make your own from hazel sticks or bamboo canes.
  • Watch out for those frosts! Keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and if it looks like the temperature is going to plummet over night then bring tender plants in or protect them with fleece.
  • In the fruit garden, feed blueberries with a liquid feed or mulch with ericaceous compost to help get them off to a great start. Grape vines and kiwi fruit should also be fed and mulched with general garden compost or well-rotted manure. Keep an eye out for any fruit tree pests and deal with them quickly remembering not spray chemical controls on trees in blossom.
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Mulch blueberries with ericaceous compost!
  • Train and tie in blackberries against a fence or using a wire support system. Mulch thickly around blackberries and raspberries.
  • Clear out polytunnels and greenhouse to make sure there is room for new sow plants. Also make sure you are removing any dead or diseased foliage so that rots can’t spread.
  • If you have planted first early potatoes in a polytunnel or grow bags then make sure to earth up the foliage as it grows..
  • Thin out young seedlings to make sure that plants have room to grow and aren’t competing with one another for food and light.
  • You still have time to trim and tidy up any perennial herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage.

Indoor jobs

  • If you have tomatoes growing indoors or in a greenhouse, don’t let them get pot bound. Make sure you transplant the tomatoes into a bigger pot ready for planting out in May.
  • If some of your seeds have been unsuccessful then take a trip to your local garden centre and buy some replacement plug plants.

 

April Recipe

Creamy Chicken with Asparagus and Tarragon (from BBC GoodFood)

chicken and asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 500g baby new potato, halved
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • small bunch tarragon
  • 175g asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 tbsp reduced-fat crème fraîche

 

Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 8-10 mins until tender, then drain and keep warm in the pan. Season the chicken with ground black pepper. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Gently fry the chicken with the onion and garlic for 5 mins until both are lightly browned. Turn over the chicken once and stir the onion regularly.

Pour over the stock, add 2 sprigs of tarragon and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 mins, then turn the chicken, add the asparagus and cook for 3 mins more. Chop the remaining tarragon.

 

Stir the crème fraîche and tarragon into the pan with the chicken and heat through, stirring, for a few secs. Serve with the new potatoes

I hope you all have a good April and for those of you who will be celebrating the religious holidays, Happy Easter, Happy Passover or just Happy Holidays!

Vegetable of the Month!

April – Rhubarb

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Rhubarb is technically a vegetable as we eat the lovely pink stalks but we use it in cooking like a fruit. It is a great fruit (or vegetable) and is ready to harvest at a time when there is no other fruit available.

A short history of rhubarb

Rhubarb is thought to date back to as early as 2700 BC in China where it was originally used as for its medicinal properties. From China, rhubarb was taken to Europe most likely for trade and was even written about by Marco Polo.

rhubarb crumble
Rhubarb wasn’t eaten as food until the 18th century. Image credit: BBC Good Food

It was until the late 18th century that rhubarb was written about as a food source, where it appeared in recipes for pies and tarts much like how we use rhubarb today. From Europe, rhubarb also made it across the Atlantic ocean to the Americas and was in popular use by the early 19th century.

In the UK, forced rhubarb production dates back to the 1800s by many small farmers and growers. Forced rhubarb production became much more extensive towards the late 19th and early 20th century especially in a 30 square mile area in Yorkshire (between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield) which became known as the Rhubarb triangle. After the second world war, rhubarb popularity declined due to the availability of more exotic fruits.

Why should we eat Rhubarb?

rhubarb nutrition

When we talk about eating rhubarb we are talking about the stalks of the plant. You can’t eat the leaves of Rhubarb as they are toxic. This is due to the high levels of oxalic acid which is nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidneys). Oxalic acid is still present in the stalks but in much lower quantities so is not harmful but does contribute to the sour acidic taste of raw rhubarb stalks.

However, there are health benefits to eating rhubarb. The vegetable contains a lot of water so is only 21 calories per 100g. They are a good source of fibre and an excellent source of vitamin K which is vital for proper clotting of the blood and has been shown in studies to have a neuro-protective effect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It also contains a good source of Vitamin C as well as being a source of calcium and manganese.

How to grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is relatively easy plant to grow and care for. In my own experience, it is not massively demanding.

Plants are normally bought from suppliers as crowns. Dormant or bare-root crowns can be planted in Autumn and early spring whilst pot grown crowns can be planted at any time.

The ground should be prepared before planting by thoroughly weeding and working in organic matter such as compost and/or well-rotted manure. Dig a hole where the rhubarb will be positioned, and if bare root, spread the roots out in the hole with the crown just poking above the top. Back fill the hole with compost and soil and firmly press the soil around the base. If the plant is pot-grown then dig a hole slightly bigger but not deeper than the pot and transplant the crown into the hole. Back-fill and press the soil firmly down around the base. Water the plant well and continue to water it to help it get established.

The rhubarb should be left to grow and you shouldn’t take any stalks from the plant in the first year. If you do this will weaken the crown and it won’t establish well. If left alone, the plant will grow and produce food and energy which will be stored in the crown. In the second year, it is best to also leave the plant alone but if you just can’t wait then taking a few sticks shouldn’t hurt it too much. In the third year you can start to harvest more and by the fourth you can crop it continuously form March until the end of June taking up to half of the stems. Never pick all the stems from the plant, always leave some behind. From July onwards, you should leave the plant alone to recover and build up energy stores once again in its crown.

Every year, the crown should be mulched well with organic matter before the buds begin to open. The plant is susceptible to hard frosts and will lose it’s foliage over the winter. Remove dead leaves so they don’t rot on the crown.

You can force rhubarb to give you an earlier crop but this will sap the crown of its energy so once you have harvested the forced stalks you should leave it alone for the rest of the year and you shouldn’t force it again for another three years.

Forcing is relatively simple. You cover the crown with a large bucket or forcing jar in January to ensure that no light is reaching the plant. Any hole is pots should be covered with brisks or stones. The stalks and leaves will grow long searching for the light and you will be rewarded with tender pink stems which are typically ready three weeks before the normal harvesting season.

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Rhubarb has been forced by covering with a large container and a rock to cover the drainage hole.

Harvesting rhubarb is very simple. Pull the stems from the base of the plant by pulling and twisting. Don’t cut the stalks off as this can leave a wound were disease and infection can set in. Cut of the leaves and put them in your compost bin. Then take home your lovely rhubarb stalks!

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Some lovely forced rhubarb which has been harvested!

Rhubarb problems

Rhubarb doesn’t have many problems but do watch out for pests such as slugs, snails and aphids. Slugs and snails don’t tend to go for mature rhubarb plants but may attack young seedlings (if you grow from seed). The other problem to watch out for is crown rot. You can avoid this by maintaining good hygiene practices such as clearing up dead leaves and stalks promptly, harvesting stalks properly and when mulching don’t cover the crown as this can aid the onset of rot, mulch around the crown and avoid letting the mulch touch the crown.

How to cook rhubarb

Rhubarb is definately much better cooked with sugar. The sugar mellows the acid taste of the rhubarb. Rhubarb can be baked, poached or stewed and can be made into a variety of sauces, compotes, pies, tarts and crumbles. It can also be used in jams and chutneys.

  • To bake rhubarb cut it into chunks, scatter with sugar, cover with foil and bake in a medium oven for about 15 minutes until soft.
  • To poach rhubarb cut into sticks, scatter with sugar, add a splash of water and simmer gently for 8 minutes until soft and longer to cook it to a puree or compote.
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Poaching rhubarb with sugar.

Rhubarb recipes

Rhubarb and Custard cake

rhubarb and custard cake

Rhubarb Tatin

rhubarb-tatin

Rhubarb and Date chutney

rhubarb and date chutney

Rhubarb Fool Trifle

rhubarb fool trifle

References

This Week’s Harvest – 2017, week 13

The last of the leeks were harvested this week and the beds dug over in time for the potatoes to go in on the Easter weekend. The harvest weighed 1.25kg.

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For those of you who follow this blog you may remember that when I planted these leeks, a third of them were planted with black drain pipe around them to ‘blanche’ the stems and produce longer whiter shanks. Well this was definitely a success!

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Back in the summer when I transplanted the leeks – a third were grown with black drain pipe around them to ‘blanche’ the shanks

The leeks with pipe around them grew taller but generally were thinner than their non-pipe counterparts as you can see in the picture below. Although the leeks were thinner, more of the leek was usuable so it is something that we will definitely do again!

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Without pipe on the left, with pipe on the right!

I hope your allotments/gardens are still bearing fruit and you not in the hungry gap like me!