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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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.

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!

 

Jobs for May

I absolutely love May – it is my second favourite month (after September which is my Birthday!) not only because we get two bank holiday weekends but because I can finally move my plants from the greenhouse and into the allotment where I can be reasonably assured that they won’t succumb to the frost! Unlike the plants in the polytunnel!

I have been quite surprised at how much I have achieved this year and for once I have had the time to really focus on the plants rather than having to play catch up because the plot is not in order.

So my ‘TO-DO’ list this month is reasonably short (short for me at least!):

Plot 1

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

 

Plot 2

  • 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
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Strawberry bed needs covering to keep the birds off!

Plot 3

  • 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

 

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Ground needs digging over ready for the sweet potatoes!

I feel like I am missing something ….Oh yes! Weeding!

With the weather warming up my key job this month will be to keep on top of the weeding. I don’t want the weeds to get to epic proportions like last year!

'Welcome, dear, to the Garden of Weedin'.'