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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June 2016

This month we have really focused on getting some of plot 3 up together and productive (kind of)!

We started the month by having a generally tidy up of the pea and bean frames, removed torn netting and spent bamboo canes. We also have mowed and strimmed the grass which, unfortunately, left brown swathes of grass instead of a lush green carpet. The constant raining since the beginning of June has helped to ‘green up’ the paths though!

We got underway with digging over bed 2 and planting out the brussels sprouts plants. We found a tomato cage in Wilko which we used to cover the brussels sprouts, mainly to keep the pigeons out – however, there has been damage to the plants which, for a while, I couldn’t figure out what was responsible but have since discovered that we having a visiting rabbit! The cage has now been further fortified! I doubt it will keep the cabbage whites out, or the cabbage mealy aphids (of which we also have a problem with), but I shall deal with these problems as and when they arrive

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We finished digging over bed 1 a month after I first started digging it over. The sweet potatoes were already in but weeds were in abundance so they needed a good hoeing! The Oca has now been planted. The tubers I bought originally shriveled up and didn’t look like they would survive so instead I bought some reduced Oca plants from Wyevale for £1 each! Bargain!

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The herb bed has gotten under way. We have picked through the bed, removing as many weeds and grass tufts as we can. We didn’t want to completely dig over the whole bed as there are a lot of usable plants in the ground and we enjoy the ground coverage that the wild strawberries give! The path went in, but instead of separating the whole bed into four separate beds we have three as you can see in the photo. The crab apple tree has been planted in the middle, surrounded by thyme and chamomile plants. The mint has been severely cut back and the bay tree planted. Maisie’s rose was also planted along with the pots of herbs I had started collecting. It will be a while before the bed starts to fill out but it is certainly coming along nicely!

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Bed3 has quite a lot of escaping raspberry canes in it which will soon have a bountiful harvest of raspberries. I have decided to leave these raspberries and will instead cut everything back in the existing raspberry bed. Most of the canes are dead and spent anyway and come the winter I shall replace them with new varieties!

Plot 2 has mainly been a battle of the weeds! We spend a few hours every weekend weeding, trying to keep the bindweed and other perennial weeds at bay. My new favourite thing is barley straw. I have been putting it down everywhere to kill off the weeds. Works to a certain extent but not on the knotweed-type weed I am having a problem with – will need another solution for this!

As per my previous posts, we have been harvesting large quantity of strawberries (~4.5kg so far), some of the Japanese onions have been harvested for cooking with immediately, broad beans are starting to come along and the first lot of garlic has been pulled up and in the process of drying out!

Climbing beans have grown quite steadily and the spring sown onions are getting big so all is coming along nicely on this plot! I have also been enjoying a good quantity of lettuce; little gem and lollo rosso varieties

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On plot 1 we had to replace a number of the squash plants as we found that the plants had some sort of foot rot. The base of the stem and the roots had rotted away which explains why they had sat there and done nothing for the last month! Not sure how we got that but will be investigating to find out how to avoid it in the future!

Radishes have been mostly harvested (and slightly woody – left them for too long) and new ones sown and the first spears of ‘tenderstem’ broccoli have been harvested! We still haven’t filled our carrot bed but there is always next month (again)!

At home, the slugs and snails have been attacking everything in the greenhouse – has anyone else noticed a significant slug and snail boom this year? Slug damage is at an all time high this month!

Chillies are finally planted into their final pots. Sam has chopped the tops of the plants to encourage more bushy growth and therefore more flowers, so watch this space. We have been harvesting our first early potatoes. Disappointing yields but just means there is room for improvement next year!

And finally, the wildlife pond is doing fantastically well. Flowers are in abundance and there are quite a number of bees buzzing around. Tadpoles are still happily swimming away and I have even spotted a few frogs around! I am really happy with the way this has turned out!

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May 2016

May has definitely been a busy month, and for me, a rather sad month after losing my dog to cancer! However, May has pushed forward and so have the weeds!

On plot 1, my To-Do list looked something like this:

  • Plant out courgette, squash and sweetcorn plants
  • Plant/Sow more brassicas
  • Plant cucumbers in growhouse
  • Finishing filling new carrot bed and sow carrot seeds

I planted out the sweetcorn and squashes and managed to only sustain a few losses. My ‘Honey bear’ squash were eaten by slugs and one ‘Hawk’ butternut squash died (probably from frost). As I mentioned back in April, I lost most of my courgettes that were being stored in the polytunnel, so I had sown some more seeds which germinated quickly and were planted out along with the sweetcorn last weekend. I have sown a few more squash seed to replace the ones I lost so hopefully they will grow as quickly.

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Sweetcorn and squash have been planted

I had forgotten that, in March, I had ordered some plants from Dobies that were on offer in conjunction with ‘Grow Your Own’ magazine. They arrived toward the end of this month which has led to a scramble to find a place for them. I received 15 cabbages; 5 Hispi, 5 Traviata and 5 ‘Kilaton’ and a free collection including 5 ‘Romanesco’ cauliflowers, 3 ‘Sunshine’ summer squash and 10 ‘Tenderstem’ broccoli plants.

As the Kale and Sprouting Broccoli plants aren’t ready yet, I decided to place the cabbages in their designated bed and will find an alternative site for the Kale when they are ready. The other plants are still sat at home waiting for a site to be put in!

Other than that, plot 1 has been a battle of grass and bindweed which has been a nightmare to keep on top of, not least because our lawnmower decided to stop working! Luckily, Sam managed to get it fixed and spent the last weekend mowing all three plots.

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Grass has been mown and rhubarb is growing well

Whilst the aforementioned bindweed has been causing a problem around the fence on the right hand side of the plot, I have been impressed by the lack of weeds that have actually come up in the bed. This weekend is the first weekend we have had to do any weeding in the brassica bed since the first brassicas went in! And the squash and sweetcorn beds haven’t grown any weeds at all! Is this the silence before the storm?

Yesterday, I found that my plastic greenhouse on plot 1 had died! A slight breeze managed to lift the greenhouse (despite it being weighed down with paving slabs) and deposit it onto someone else plot is a jumble of mangled limbs! After much apologising, I managed to wrestle it off their plot and dismantle it! I really don’t have much luck with greenhouses! 😦

On plot 2, my To-Do list looked like this:

  • Raise the Strawberry bed and cover with bird netting
  • Keep earthing up potatoes
  • Mulch the fruit cage
  • Sow lettuces and salad leaves amongst onions and garlic
  • Sow beans – runner/dwarf/french/shelling

The potatoes have nearly all popped their heads up and we have continued to keep burying them. Rather than ‘hilling up’ using soil from the ground, we have been adding the contents of our compost bin along with grass clippings on top of the potatoes. I am hoping that this will help to improve the soil whilst actively using the bed!

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Potatoes have been covered with compost and grass clippings!

I weeded and mulched the fruit cage as well as transplanting some of my wild strawberries from plot 3 into the fruit cage. My thinking is that the strawberries will quickly cover the bare soil in the fruit cage which should act as a natural weed suppressant whilst also increasing my fruit harvest! All the bushes and canes have flowers and/or fruit forming and I am looking forward to the harvest!

I have planted out lettuce plants among the garlic as well as some spare cabbages to reduce the amount of bare ground and therefore the amount of hoeing and weeding I need to do. This seems to have been relatively successful where I have managed to do this. I could probably plant the garlic and onions closer together but rust is a problem on our site and keeping reasonable spacing between the rows seems to stop it from ravaging our plants completely! The over-wintering onions have ‘bulbed’ and will soon be ready for using. I will harvest these onions as and when I require them as that are not as suitable for storing as the spring planted onions!

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The beans were all sown this month but they are having a tough time competing with the weeds specifically the bind weed. The beds that the beans are on were used last year for squash plants but the entire area was covered with weed control fabric. Whilst this killed off the grass and annuals, the bind weed and a few other hardy weeds, including the unknown weed in my previous post, are now rampaging through the bed. It has been a struggle to keep on top off as it seems the bind weed grows a foot a minute! The beans have also been nibbled by slugs so about a third have had to be removed and new beans sown. Hopefully, they will grow quickly, if I can keep the weeds at bay!

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Unfortunately, my plum tree seems to have something very wrong with it – I am pretty sure its an aphid so have given the tree a good spray with bugkiller. It has not produce any plums and all the leaves are curled and dying. Two of my blackcurrants also have an infestation of aphids so they have been given a spray too! I don’t like to use sprays unless the damage/infestation is exceedingly bad as I hate to hurt beneficial insects such as ladybirds but in this case the infestations is alarmingly bad!

I also managed to put up a makeshift fruit cage over the strawberries to keep the birds away and to deter any would-be thieves from nicking the plentiful strawberries!

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On plot 3, my To-Do list looked like this:

  • Turn over soil and plant brussels sprouts on bed 3
  • Start planting up herb garden
  • Plant sweet potatoes (when the are delivered)
  • Plant oca
  • Plant pumpkins

Not much has been done on this plot except to dig over an area for the sweet potatoes which have now been planted. The jerusalem artichokes do not have seem to come up although there is one plant of unknown origin which could be an artichoke or it could be a weed!

Hope the month of May has been fruitful or vegful for you all!