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!

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What to do this February!

I find February to be a month full of anticipation! Anticipation for all the things to come and an impatience to get started. It is very much an in-between time where it is not quite warm or light enough to sow yet we are starting to prepare none the less. As I am writing this, it is snowing outside my window which shows that winter still holds us firmly in its grip! I have not yet had much opportunity to visit the allotment as the biting cold keeps me at home! However, as the month moves on it will start to warm up and there will be plenty to do!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

Now is a time when we should be preparing for the sowing season which will hit hard and fast in March and April. Some things can be sown in February especially those greenhouse crops that need a longer season.

  • Chilli peppers, sweet peppers and greenhouse tomatoes can be started this month but do check the instructions on your seed packet as some tomatoes are best left until March. For best results, I start mine off in a heated propagator placed in a room that gets the most light.
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Sweet pepper seeds have been sown in a heated propagator.
  • Early peas and broad beans can be sown now to get a early crop in May. Remember to check your soil conditions before planting outside as peas and beans can rot in waterlogged soil and hungry mice will be on the look out. If in doubt, sow indoors and transplant when the soil conditions are better.
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots can be sown this month for early crops
  • Hardy salads and lettuces can be sown now to help fill the hungry gap in April/May!
  • Some brassicas can be started in February too including early season Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli and some cabbages.
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Some seeds can be sown in February.

You still have time to replenishing, replacing or extending your fruit garden.

  • Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes now whilst it is still cold before the leaf and flower buds open in the spring.
  • Bare rooted strawberry runners and raspberry canes can be planted now.

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  • You still have this (extremely cold) month to plant garlic cloves if conditions are dry. Don’t plant cloves when it is wet otherwise they will rot in the ground.
  • February also offers the chance to get shallots in the ground if you didn’t have a chance in Autumn.
  • You still have time to start forcing rhubarb. Simply cover the clump with a large bucket, pot or bin. Excluding the light, forces them into growth.
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Cover rhubarb with a bucket, barrel or pot to force the stems into growth.

Although we are marching steadily towards the hungry gap, February still offers a good harvest from the allotment or garden.

  • Brussels sprouts may still be cropping if you planted late seaon varieties and may continue to crop into March.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Kale, winter savoy cabbages and Sprouting broccoli can be harvested
  • Leeks are still in abundance in my allotment and are a perfect vegetable for warming soups and stews at this time of year.
  • Parsnips that are still in the ground can be harvested. Once the weather starts to warm up, the root will start to put all that sweet goodness into producing flowers and seed so don’t forget to eat them!
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Parsnips and leeks can be harvested this month!
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can harvest these for a delicious winter salad.

Jobs on the plot

February can be a busy months in terms of preparation for the sowing season so there are a good few things that you can do around the plot to get ready.

  • Gather all your sowing materials together. Make sure you have plenty of labels, pots, seed trays etc. Also make sure your pots have been cleaned out to prevent the transmission of pests and diseases.
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Gather sowing materials together ready for the sowing season.
  • Buy in seed and potting composts, vermiculite, perlite, fertilisers etc for sowing both in and outdoors.
  • Prepare your soil ready for planting by raking over beds that had organic matter added in over the winter. You can add a general fertiliser by scattering it evenly over the surface and raking in. In beds where you are growing brassicas you can apply lime to raise the pH of the soil and keep it neutral or slightly alkaline. You can cover soil back up if you wish to help warm the soil and prevent winter rains from leaching the nutrients from the soil.
  • It is also worthwhile to sort and tidy your shed and sharpen your tools ready for the new season!
  • In the fruit garden, it is not to late to do winter pruning. Make sure apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, autumn raspberries and blueberries are given a good prune to encourage new shoots and keep their shape.
  • Give any perennial herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables a good mulch and top dressing of fertiliser to help them for the coming season.
  • Check over polytunnels and greenhouse to make sure they are in tip top condition and haven’t suffered from the winter conditions. Repair any glass and make sure the glass is clean to let maximum light in.
  • If you have a polytunnel, then you can try planting a few early potatoes to help extend the season. You may have to cover with fleece if night time temperatures are forecast to be low.
  • Some early flowering fruits such as apricots, peaches and nectarines may need their blooms to be protected from the cold and frost. Where possible move trees to a protected location and cover with fleece overnight. Remember to remove the fleece during the day to allow pollinating insects to do their job.
  • If you start any early outdoor sowings of carrots, peas or other crops they may benefit from the protection of cloches or winter fleece to keep the cold off.
  • If you grow chives, established clumps can be dug up, split and replanted to increase your stock.
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Any chive clumps that are emerging can be split now to increase your stock!

Indoor jobs

There is also plenty of jobs to do indoors to prepare for the coming season.

  • There is still time to sort through seed tins and discard any old and out of date packets of seed. Out of date packets of seed will have unreliable germination. Best to get in new, fresh seed.
  • If you have bought your seed potatoes then now is the time to start chitting. Pop the potatoes in the egg cartons with the eyes facing up and place in a cool, light location such as a windowsill. You will soon see little shoots sprouting from the tuber. If you haven’t bought your potatoes then now is a good time to do so.
  • Plenty of seeds can be sown indoors at this time of year (see list above). I have a tray tidy where I do all my sowing and potting indoors as I am not lucky enough to have a greenhouse.
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I use a tray tidy to do all my indoor sowing

February Recipe

Saffron and Leek Risotto (Serves 4)

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Ingredients

  • 40g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 280g risotto rice
  • 1 tsp crumbled saffron threads
  • 1.2 litres simmering vegetable stock
  • 115g freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Melt 1 tbsp of butter with the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft. Add the rice and mix to coat in the oil and butter. Cook until the grains are translucent. Dissolve the saffron in 4 tbsps of hot stock and add to the rice. Add the remaining stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is creamy. Season with salt and pepper

Meanwhile, stir fry the sliced leeks in a tsp of butter in a frying pan until softened and starting to crisp slightly. Be careful not to burn the leeks.

Remove the risotto from the heat and add the remaining butter. Mix well, then stir in the parmesan until it melts. Add the leeks and then season with lemon juice, adding a small squeeze and tasting as you go. Serve immediately.

I hope keep warm in February and that your just as excited as I am about the coming season!

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!

 

April 2016

April has been as I expect April to be – full of rain, frosts and the occasional bout of brilliant sunshine that lets you know Summer is on the way. I have enjoyed the lengthening days which has meant I can pop down the allotment in the evening after tea to do a couple of quick jobs and generally check on my newly planted brassicas.

On plot 1, I have been busy preparing the ground for planting. I have added a bag of compost to each bed and the plots that will be getting the squash plants this year have had a bag of well-rotted farmyard manure too. Cabbages and calabrese have been planted in their beds with home-made cloches sitting over most of them until they are a little stronger. Slug pellets have been liberally applied, having lost half of my red cabbages to one greedy snail already!

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Cabbages planted and under bird netting.

Parsnip seeds have been sown along with small carrots (Paris Market 5 and Royal Chantenay) in the seed bed.

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Parsnips seedlings coming through!

Lettuces were sown in their designated bed along with spinach but soon after we had a heavy ran which let a hard pan on the soil and the seedlings have yet to emerge. I am not sure if the seeds were washed away or the hard pan prevented the seedlings from breaking through. A few spinach seedlings made it through but the germination rate has been poor. To remedy this I have sown more seeds in my seed bed and will plant out the seedlings when they are ready to be transplanted, however, so far I haven’t seen these seedlings raise there head either so might have to buy some new seeds! Plot 1 also had a bit of a tidy up with the large growhouse, mini growhouses and fruit cage all being put up/out.

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Fruit cage is back up!

The rhubarb is situated on the plot 1 and we are in full swing having already harvested 6 kilos of rhubarb. I have shared this out with some ladies at Slimming World as well as making some Rhubarb and Orange jam, the recipe which I have posted previously.

On plot 2, our focus has been trying to get the bean bed dug over and the potatoes planted. The second earlies went in on the 10th April and the maincrop potatoes went in on the 23 rd April thanks to some help from my friends; Adam and Jenny!

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All the potatoes have been planted!

The last of my onions have also been planted out which has filled the last gap in the onion bed. I have noticed, however, some large gaps between the rows which are quickly filling with weeds. I have been regularly hoeing off but have decided to combat this with some companion planting; I will be planting lettuces, mini cabbages and broccoli ‘raab’ between the rows of garlic and onions. The bean bed has been dug over, a walkway put through it to separate it into two plots and nearly all the support structures have been erected.

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The asparagus bed that was there last year is no more as it was covered in nettles and we had to dig down deep to remove them, possibly removing and/or damaging the crowns at the same time. So far, no asparagus has reared its head which is disappointing but I shall probably attempting to establish another asparagus bed next year.

The pond has also come on leaps and bounds since March. The frog spawn hatched and the pond was filled with hundreds of tadpoles, more plants have been added to the borders and the water has really started to clear up since adding all the oxygenating plants. We have also added a bench and an archway so we can sit by the pond and enjoy our lunch!

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Pond is coming along!

One thing that has been on my to-do list for a while is to tidy up the compost area as it was always a mess and surrounded by weeds so we covered the area in front of the bins with carpet and laid bark chip on top, as well as round the small polytunnel. It is a much neater area now and hopefully, the carpet will kill off the the many weeds and couch grass underneath. We may re-seed the area in a few years time with grass but for now it is a tidy space with enough room for us to also set up a BBQ when the weather is nice enough like last weekend!

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My Mum came down to give a helping hand this last weekend so we managed to make a start on plot 3. The shed is nice and tidy and the first bean bed has been weeded!

A new cover has been put on the polytunnel and peppers, aubergines and cucumbers were been planted inside. Unfortunately, I arrived at the plot on Sunday to find that all the tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers and some peppers had succumbed to the frost. The courgettes which had been stored in there died too! I have re-sown the courgettes but will need to buy aubergines and maybe some tomatoes at the garden centre. I have spare Alicante and Moneymaker plants but have lost some of my more specialty ones!

But on to happier things, the most important news of all is that we have now bought a little camping gas stove and kettle! Now I can enjoy a nice steaming hot cup of tea whilst looking out on the hard work I/we have done! Now my allotment life is (almost) complete!

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Sam’s Challenge! – Part 1

 

Sam, my partner, got a book for Christmas titled ‘ Grow as much as you can eat in 3 square feet’. I think he has seen this as a challenge rather than the advice it is meant to be so he has decided to try and see how much he can produce from a 3ft square raised bed.

So that I can keep my symmetry on plot 3 (I need to have my symmetry!), a second raised bed will be put in as well which Sam will also use.

The wood has been bought and cut for the raised beds and now just needs to be constructed, positioned and filled. This would have been done last week but we had the wrong size screws!

Last week, we used Dobies Garden Planner to plan what and where Sam will be planting. He is mainly going to grow veg he likes that I don’t, or try heritage varieties of some veg.

Here is a look at Sam’s raised bed plan:

sam's plan

It looks quite packed but some of the plants will be vertically growing. In the bed on the left, Sam plans to construct a bamboo ‘cage’ over the bed for the runner beans to climb up. and I offered some advice, about moving the brassicas next to beans to benefit from the nitrogen that the beans produce. He will have summer squash growing under sweetcorn and will use the sweetcorn as a support for some climbing beans.

He will trying salsify which we have never grown or eaten before, a yellow pattypan squash, fennel and will have a go at trying to successfully grow pak choi (I am yet to be successful!). He will also be growing small carrots such as ‘Chantenay’ and ‘Paris Market 5’ as the raised bed won’t be deep enough for the longer carrots.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next year and to see what the yields are like!

March 2016

Oh how March has flown by!

The first week of March was just as hectic in work as February was, however, the second week of March found me unemployed and fancy free so I had plenty of time to do a little catch up! First thing I did was to get my sow on!

I planted up the remaining onion sets into little cardboard tubes to give them a head start before planting out in April. I also sown my two varieties of Broad bean (1 red, 1 green), potted on my peppers, aubergines, cabbages and broccoli/calabrese and sown some herb seeds, mainly chives, basil, oregano and lemon balm. I also had a chance to start my big pea experiment with my first sowing of peas (only a month later than I had planned!)

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Onions are nicely growing away. They will be planted in the allotment soon.

It also left me time to visit the allotment, I finally moved all my herbs down to plot three to start my herb garden, and finished digging over the leek bed and as I have written in a previous post, we finished building all the raised beds in plot 1 – finally completing the planned structure!

The third week of March saw us planting out onions and the plum and cherry trees as well as the free Honeoye and Florence strawberry runners I received in the post. And finally, we have dug the pond beds and gotten rid of all the grass! Cross that off my to do list!!

I also have to commend Sam for the brilliant bonfire he got going! That weekend was a particularly cold one and it was nice the eat our lunch next to the warmth of the fire (even though we reeked of smoke afterwards)!!

First early potatoes were planted into potato growbags (International kidney and Annabelle) so wont be long until we will be tucking into some delicious new potatoes! We also planted ginger into a large pot which will be kept indoors as I am a little unsure of what I am supposed to do with this!

The fourth week of March saw us sowing grass seed in the little orchard we have now established, and planting up the pond beds with some lovely fragrant perennials including Lavender, Borage, Aquilegia, Foxgloves and Hollyhock. We have also managed to get some plants into the pond! Some rushes around the edge and some marginal plants such as Marsh Marigold and Water Mint. We also spent out on a beautiful yellow waterlily which I am looking forward to watching it bloom! The pond still needs a bit more improvement but once all the plants get established. it should stop looking so bare and the pond liner shouldn’t be so visible. Frog spawn is in (thanks Stacey!) so hopefully in a few months time little frogs will be hopping around!

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Pond has been planted up and frog spawn has gone in!

Other than that we got a start on digging over what will become the bean and pea bed. The asparagus bed is at the bottom of this bed and it was covered in nettles. I started trying to gently remove the nettles so I wouldn’t disturb any growing asparagus but quickly came to the conclusion that this was impossible so Sam and I started digging up and hacking away at it! If the asparagus survives and hasn’t been chopped up or dug out then that’s wonderful, if not then I guess I am going to have to have another go at planting up an asparagus bed (because the last one worked so well)!

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Some sowing has finally been down out in the allotment, I have sown leeks, radishes, lettuce and spinach as well as planting out some lettuce plants I procured from Wyevale garden centre. (My new job is next to a Wyevale Garden Centre!!!) At home, I  re-potted my two banana trees and removed the extra suckers. The suckers have been potted up and will be given new homes.

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Banana suckers.

And whilst we had a four day weekend this last weekend what with it being Easter and all,  only one and a bit of those days were actually spent at the allotment!  Instead, I attended the rather fabulous wedding of my two occasional allotment helpers – Jenny and Adam! I watched my beautiful friend get married to the love of her life! And don’t they make a beautiful couple!

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I wish them all the best on their journey through life and may they grow many vegetables together!

March Recipes!

I am not very good at planning for a year round supply of veg although every year I get a little better. So whilst I am out of veg from the allotment, I still try to eat seasonally when shopping at my local Tesco and where possible I make sure it is British produce! I also try and make vegetables the main focus of my meal and the recipes often revolve around them but sometimes I am partial to a bit of meat and there is nothing better to complement this than some well cooked vegetable side dishes.

So here are a selection of seasonal vegetable ‘side dishes’ that will give your dinner a bit of a lift!

If you are pulling up the last of your roots before they start sending up flower heads then this recipe is a good one to try!

Skinny Carrot Fries

skinny carrot fries

It is quite easy to swap out the carrot for parsnips, celeriac or even beetroot or a mixture of root veg chips! What a lovely healthy alternative to potatoes especially if, like me, you have come to the end of your store. This BBC Good Food recipe can be found here.

celeriac gratin

Celeriac, Potato and Rosemary Gratin

If you are a celeriac fan then try this delicious creamy recipe. It is a lovely rich warming dish. I have swapped some of the potato out for swede before and it still tasted lovely! This is also a BBC Good Food recipe which can be found here.

cabbage hash

 

Cabbage and Ham Hock Hash

Brassicas can be found at any time of the year but they are of particular importance during the hungry gap! Swap out the potato mash for this cabbage and ham hock hash! A perfect accompaniment to some sizzling bangers and caramelised onion gravy! Use cabbage, spring greens or kale! It’s all delicious! The recipe can be found here

If you are looking for a easy one stop recipe for your sunday roast (and to cut down on the washing up), I found this roast chicken tray bake type recipe from a Slimming World recipe book. It was absolutely delicious, uses some lovely seasonal veg as well as being healthy and low fat!

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Garlic Chicken Roast

Ingredients:

  • 750g new or baby potatoes scrubbed and halved if large
  • 300g Chantenay carrots, scrubbed and halved length-ways if large
  • 3 red onions, quartered
  • 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated
  • 200ml boiling chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into chunks
  • low calorie cooking spray
  • small handful of fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 4 chicken legs, skinned
  • 300g butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into pieces.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6. Cook the potatoes and carrots in a saucepan of lightly salted boiling water over a high heat for 6 minutes then drain well.

Put the potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic in a large roasting dish, pour over the stock and season to taste. Squeeze over the juice from the lemon and add the squeezed lemon chunks to the dish. Lightly spray with low calorie cooking spray and toss everything together, then cover with foil and roast for 15 minutes.

Remove the foil and stir through most of the rosemary. Season the chicken legs and make a few slashes in each one with a sharp knife, then arrange them on top of the vegetables along with the squash. Respray with low calorie cooking spray, return the dish to the oven and roast for 30 minutes or until the potatoes and vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through.

Scatter over the remaining rosemary sprigs and serve hot!

Vegetable of the Month

MARCH – SPRING GREENS!

No matter what time of year it is there is nearly always cabbage available! For those who plan ahead, they will be starting to tuck into their first helpings of spring greens (I am not yet one of these people!). This is one of the veg that will see us through the hungry gap of April and May, full of nutritious vitamins and minerals, it can be eaten as a side to your main meal or can be the main  focus of your dish.

springgreens

Spring greens are part of the Brassica family and are like cabbage leaves. Technically, spring greens come from plants that don’t form a head or form a loose one unlike most other cabbages which forms a tightly packed head. They can also refer to young cabbages that haven’t had time to form a head as well as thinnings and leaves from other Brassicas such as kale, turnips and swedes. In the US, collard greens are similar to the UK’s spring greens. Like any Brassica, they are subject to the same viruses, diseases and pests; cabbage white fly, club root and pigeons being the main culprits for losing these tasty leaves.

A very short history!!

Cabbages are believed to have been a part of our diet for over 4000 years although not much is known about it as a food source before Greek and Roman times. (As I live a stone’s throw away from Stonehenge, it’s nice to think that the people who built it were possibly growing and eating a similar thing as me!) The greens that we eat now are believed to originate from two or three common ancestors that resulted in the wide variety of Brassicas we eat now!

Why we should eat Spring Greens?

spring greens

Spring greens are a lovely nutritious vegetable that are chocked full of vitamins and minerals! Their open-hearted form means that the leaves are able to produce more chlorophyll (more photosynthesis) hence the dark green of the leaves and like all dark green leafy veg this means more vitamin K! Vitamin K is very important within the body and is involved in synthesis of blood clotting proteins and help build strong bones. In fact, spring greens can provide you with nearly 600% of your RDA per 100g! Amazeballs!!! They are also high in vitamin A and C as well as calcium

Since they are part of the Brassica family they also have cancer fighting and anti-inflammatory compounds such as sulforaphane and indoles (As I am a scientist by trade, I used to be part of a project that investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane and so I can seriously vouch for the goodness of brassicas!)

The table opposite shows you how deliciously good this vegetable is for us!

How to grow Spring Greens.

Seeds can be started off in a propagator, in a seed bed or where they are to crop depending on your preference. To start getting a lovely harvest of loose headed, dark green cabbage leaves in spring, you need to think about sowing seeds mid-late summer so you won’t have to worry about frosts killing your seedlings!

Prepare the ground or a good seed compost and sow seeds to a depth of 1cm. Sow the seeds thinly and cover lightly. If you are planting outdoors in multiple rows then make sure you leave at least 15cm between each row. Seeds should germinate in 7-14 days.

Transplant young plants when they are approximately 10cm tall and have 5 or 6 leaves on them. Try and avoid doing this on a really hot day to avoid water loss! Plants should be spaced at 25-30cm intervals when transplanting. Being careful not to damage the stem, firm down around the pant to anchor the plants in.

Mature loose or open-hearted heads can be harvested from March onwards and should be used quite quickly after harvesting. They do not keep for long. The best quality greens can be blanched and frozen if you have a glut.

Cooking with spring greens

Springs greens are fantastic as a delicious side dish lightly steamed or stir-fried. They can also be added into soups and stews.

Here are a few recipes for your Spring greens!

Wilted spring greens with wild garlic

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Spring greens and Gammon soup

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Zesty Spring Fish

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