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?

20170526_102251.jpg
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.

20170326_143632[1]
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!

20170526_102330
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).

20170512_131944[1]
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.

20170526_102336
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.

20170526_102400
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.

20170526_102321.jpg
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!

Advertisements

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!

20170422_180856[1]
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!
Untitled
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!
_asparagusplantingsm
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:

20170304_1500411

  • 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.
20170422_143917[1]
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.
20170422_150706[1]
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!

You say potayto, I say potahto…

A potato is a potato is a potato right? Well not in my world! Each variety has differing diseases resistance, eating properties, skin colours, flesh colours, maturity stages…the list goes on!

iStock_000010739913Medium.jpg
Image credit: Charlton Park

I recently went to the Hampshire potato day where I picked up my seed spuds for this coming year courtesy of Charlton Park. They had an astonishing 120 varieties up for grabs (and 17p for individual tubers and between £2.50-£3.50 for a 2.5kg bag)!

It is quite a busy place and I don’t like crowds so decided to do some research on what spuds to get so I could be in and out as quick as possible. After three years of growing my own potatoes I have started to understand the problems that we suffer with when it comes to growing this food staple!

potato blight.jpg
Potato Blight (Image credit: RHS)

Firstly, we get blight! Every year without fail! No maincrop potato is safe unless you happen to be a Sarpo potato!

Secondly, we get scab! The longer the potato is in the ground, the more likely it will come up scabby! Second earlies tend to get minor scab but the maincrop are so scabby that I wouldn’t be happy eating them as baked spuds (because I like to eat the skin too!) and they are just not pretty!

potato_scab.jpg
Potato scab (Image credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Thirdly, we have wireworm and slugs. The wireworm is still a problem but it has reduced over the last two years. I hope that as cultivation continues the wireworm problem will disappear. The slugs however are just a nuisance. I am formulating my own plans against the slugs that I plan to share with you soon!

I also know that when I cook potatoes, I like chips, roasties and jacket potatoes. I love the taste of fresh boiled new potatoes but I don’t like mash!

So armed with all the above information, I did a bit of research in a few databases to make sure the potatoes I chose this year would be able to survive the problems I have. I wasn’t too fussed about the wireworm and the slugs as I have other plans for them but I did want to avoid blight and scab where possible!

I first turned to the ADHB database on potato varieties. This is an excellent database where you can search for potato varieties according to a particular characteristic that you require. For example, I wanted to find potatoes that had resistance to scab so you can select that characteristic and then select how resistant you want on a scale of 1-9.

adhb-database-1

This then selects the varieties that have scab resistance  6 or higher (according to my search terms). You can also add a second characteristic, such as maturity, and then you can select based on first early, second early or main crop.

adhb-database-3

Clicking on the variety will take you to a page which has more details such as resistance to other diseases and other useful information on the potato variety.

adhb-database-4

From these potential lists I then cross checked them with a potato selector on Thompson and Morgan to make sure the varieties I am choosing are good for chipping, roasting etc. Not all the varieties are available on Thompson and Morgan but a quick google search of those that weren’t and I was able to find the information I needed.

tm-potato-selector

From this process I was able to select a few potato varieties to try this year which will hopefully be more suited to my growing conditions as well as going back to some old favourites:

First Early:

  • Annabelle – we tried this variety last year and it was very lovely! It also scores a 6 on the resistance to scab scale so we thought we would stick with it this year too! (Bought 8 tubers)
  • Casablanca – We have not tried this variety before and it also scores a 6 against common scab. It apparently is good for chips as well as new potatoes although I am unlikely to use them for this. (Bought 6 tubers)
  • Rocket – This wasn’t one i would normally have gone for but it was recommended  as it cropped quite early. It still measures 5  against common scab. (Bought 6 tubers)
  • Winston – This one will be grown in a potato bag so I am less worried about scab but the database describes it as a very early variety which hopefully will help extend the season a little bit. (Bought 6 tubers)

Second Early:

  • Charlotte – This is a a favourite of mine and Sam’s as it has always produced well and often produces big baking tubers. This was the only variety that we have stuck with over the last four years as it has always done well – so don’t fix what ain’t broke! (Bought 2.5kg bag ~ 36 tubers)
  • Nicola – We tried this one last year and also found it to produce lovely tubers. A quick check on the database showed me that it scored a 6 against scab so decided to do it again this year. (This was out of stock at the potato day but found out that the suppliers for the potato day are a garden nursery down the road from where I worked so took a trip especially to pick some up – bought 10 tubers)
  • Nadine – This variety scores a 7 against scab and is generally good against many diseases. It is also a good general purpose spud! (This was also out of stock so haven’t managed to buy any yet but will take another trip this week to find them. I can get them at Wyevale but they are expensive there!)
  • Saxon – Again this only scores 5 against scab but it is apparently a very good chipper! I do like my chips! (Bought 5 tubers)

Maincrop:

  • Sarpo Axona – This has good blight resistance and I grew it last year as a second early and we got a good crop that didn’t suffer too much from scab. The database says it is only a 4 against scab but it was a nicer potato for us than the Sarpo Mira which we grew last year so decided to try it as an early maincrop this year. I like having a maincrop as these store the best over winter. (Bought a 2.5kg bag ~36 tubers)

All our potatoes (except Nadine which I still need to buy) are chitting away nicely on our windowsill and I am looking forward to the seasons first new potatoes!

Also, an update on storing potatoes:

In a previous post about freezing produce I had said that I had difficulty freezing potatoes as chips using the blanching method because they went black upon cooking. I have since tried again freezing both chips and roasties and have had much better success! I am not sure what went wrong last time  – maybe a bad potato?

I had so many potatoes last year that I have been unable to get through them. They have sat in hessian sacks throughout the winter and now many of the earlier harvested potatoes have sprouted very long shoots. When it came to using them they were all wrinkly and dried out and just not suitable for cooking so had to throw them away. The remaining later harvested potatoes are still OK for cooking and are routinely being chopped up, blanched and frozen as chips and roasties so I don’t have to throw anymore away and I still get to enjoy home grown potatoes until the next harvest!

I hope you are having fun choosing and chitting your potatoes for this growing season!

September 2016

We managed to get some work done in the first weekend in September and the last weekend but both Sam and I have been travelling a lot this month so the allotment has unfortunately had to take a back seat. This has led to much anxiety! I have been imagining coming back to a frost damaged plot with all my veg rotting away. Melodramatic I know but it seems that the temperature is holding for now even if it has turned grey and miserable!

img-20160924-wa00021

So this month we have dug over the broad bean bed and divided it into two smaller more manageable beds. All we need now is to dig in some organic matter ready for the garlic, onions and shallots. Main crop potatoes were harvested! We lost about a third to mice, slugs and sunshine but the remaining two thirds (7 buckets and a compost bag full) will be plenty to last until next year (maybe a little too many – might have to reduce the number of plants next year!) Excitingly, I dug up one of the sweet potato plants to see if anything was developing and if they were ready to be harvested. I was rewarded with two sweet potatoes, a large one and a small one, which will duly be roasted and enjoyed with some pan-fried sea bream! I have decided to wait for another two weeks (weather dependent) before harvesting the rest. This is my first time with sweet potatoes so don’t really know when they right time for harvesting is?

We started tidying up plot 3 by digging over the smaller bean bed near the shed and sowing some green manure which will be cut down just before adding well-rotted manure reading for our drying beans next year. We also tidied up the herb garden. The left hand bed was weeded and spring bulbs were planted. We then dug over the right hand bed, planted some hydrangeas and heather and the spring bulbs. In November time, we will move the globe artichoke to this bed as well.

I have cleared the flower beds around the pond, removing all the weeds and spent annuals. I planted daffodils, tulips and fritillaria bulbs for the spring. I think I may have accidentally killed the ‘Bleeding Heart’ plant. If it doesn’t come back next spring then I shall by a new one!

We have been slowly picking our drying beans as they have been drying on the plant. I have just about managed to get them all picked except for the borlotti beans which are still  not mature enough yet. Hopefully they will get picked before the weather turns too cold and wet! In other news, the butternut squash have really come along! I was worried I wouldn’t get any this year or that the few developing would get hit by the frost before they could ripen but they seem to be ripening well so at least we will have a few squash this year! I have already harvested 4 pumpkins and 2 uchiki kuri which are curing on window sills as we speak!

20160930_0946131

We have also tidied up the compost area by  put some pallets on the front of each bin – thanks Susan for giving us the pallets – this stops the compost from spilling out and stops the seating area from looking unkempt!

It was my birthday this month (21 again!) and I got some wonderful presents for the allotment. My favourite was the hedgehog hogitat from Sam. We will be putting this in the allotment, putting a bit of hay in it and collecting up some dried leaves for any hedgehog that wants to come and stay. All the advice I have seen so far suggests putting out some food like cat food but there are a few cats that roam the allotment and I am concerned that a) the cats will eat it and b) the cats will scare the hedgehogs away! I am also slightly concerned about the rats eating the food too!

Other birthday presents include a wheelbarrow, digging fork, rake, root trainers, gardening gloves…. everything an allotmenteer needs!

Now that we are moving in to October, the amount of time we spend at the allotment will start to reduce, most likely because the weather will keep us away although we still have plenty of jobs to get on with!

Hope your September has been fruitful/vegful!

 

 

August recipes

The month of August has been a bit of a lazy month when it comes to cooking! I haven’t put much effort in and to be honest it has mainly been baked potatoes!

Jacket Potatoes!

We have had some absolute stonkers when it comes to potatoes this year. We haven’t had a high yield of second early potatoes but the ones we did get (that weren’t speared with a fork) were very large. As we have been enjoying jacket potato quite a a lot for the last month I thought I’d share with you our top five baked potato fillings. They are quite simple but classically delicious!

1. Tuna, sweetcorn and mayo

tuna-potato_hero-b705a4ce-a36f-4265-b534-393b3dca9249-0-472x310
Image credit: Tesco.com

This is Sam’s favourite – he has this every time! He simply combines a tin of tuna with two tbsps of extra light mayo and two tbsps of sweetcorn. Simple!

2. Beans and Cheese

This is my favourite filling and you can use any beans you want whether its baked beans or a five bean chilli. Just add the beans, sprinkle some cheese on top and serve your JP with a crispy salad!

If I am using baked beans, sometimes I like to spice it up a little and will add some paprika or Worcestershire sauce. If I am making a five bean chilli, quite simply drain one or two cans of five bean salad (can easily get these from Tesco and most supermarkets) and tip into a saucepan with some passata with garlic and herbs. The add one or half a sachet of fajita seasoning depending on how many tins of beans you have opened. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes making sure all the beans are tender and then serve over your JP!

3. Sausage and roast veg

cq5dam-thumbnail-400-400
Image credit: waitrose.com

This is essentially a quick ratatouille-esque meal. Simply chop up the veg you want to use and put it into an oven tray that has been sprayed with a low calorie cooking spray. I use a combination of white and red onions, pepper, courgette, tomatoes, sweetcorn, green beans and aubergine but you can add anything to this. Season the veg well and cook in the oven for 15 minutes at 200C. Take out the tray and check the veg which should have softened, then add 2 tbsps of passata to the tray and thoroughly mix the veg. If your passata doesn’t have herbs in, you can sprinkle some dried herbs overs the veg. Cook for another 15-20 minutes and add to your JP. Add some lovely juicy sausages from your local butcher or if you are vegetarian or looking for a low calorie alternative try Quorn sausages! You can cook them separately or add them to the roast veg pan!

4. Lentil Ragu/Beef ragu/Bolognese

I use this filling if I have made spaghetti bolognese and have some bolognese left over. It’s a great way to use up that last little bit rather than throwing it away. Sometimes I replace the beef in my bolognese with lentils for a healthier vegetarian version.

You can find a good bolognese recipe here.

5. Prawn Marie Rose

I love prawn marie rose as a filling and it is very simple to make. The Marie Rose sauce is made by combining equal amounts ketchup and extra light mayonnaise (2tbsp of each is sufficient for 1 pack of fresh prawns but you can add more if you prefer it to be a bit more saucy!) Mix together well and then add a sprinkling of paprika (or cayenne pepper if you prefer a bit of heat). Mix with the prawns and serve atop your JP!

Houmous!

I also have had a large number of runner beans from my few plants and have been trying to find ways to use them so decided to have a go at making runner bean houmous – which turned out quite nicely! This is a low fat healthy version if, like me, you are trying to eat healthy!

20160826_101752

Runner bean houmous:

Ingredients:

  • 400g can chickpeas, drained
  • 200g (or more if you like) runner beans, cut into chunks
  • 2 tbsp 0% fat natural yoghurt (you can use normal or low fat if you prefer)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt

Firstly, put the runner beans in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat the runner beans on high until boiling, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are nice and tender. Remove from the heat, drain and then pat dry the runners beans with kitchen towel. (Boiling the runner beans first allows the beans to take on some water which, when added to the blender, gives the houmous a good consistency). Add the chickpeas, runner beans, garlic and natural yogurt to a food processor or blender and blend until it is smooth. Tip the contents into a bowl and mix in the lemon juice. Add salt to taste.

 

 

Jobs for September

I love September, I think it’s my favourite month – not only because it is my birthday this month – but because there is a real beauty in it. The days are getting noticeably shorter and slightly colder yet we still get some lovely sun! The leaves on the trees are staring to colour and turn golden and you can really feel the change happening all around you. I get quite excited because it reminds me that it won’t be long until Christmas and then after that our new growing season starts yet the days have not got cold enough to be grumpy about it! I really enjoy taking stock of everything I have achieved over the summer, my successes and failures and also getting down and dirty by digging everything over ready to start anew in the spring!

However, I don’t have time to be idly sitting by watching the seasons! Due to not much getting done in August, my September job list is quite long. What with my birthday , mini break to Cornwall and a work trip away for a week I don’t imagine that I will be getting many of these jobs done. But I can always try!

1. Strawberry bed

img_1811
Strawberry bed needs some serious TLC!

The strawberry bed needs clearing again! Although I started it, the weeds have run rampant through the patch. After ‘Gardener’s World’ two weeks ago and Monty advising us to tidy up the strawberries this is top of my to-do list. I may get one more good harvest out of these plants before I rotate to new plants so it will be a good idea to get them tidy and looking good before the winter sets in!

2. Clear the right side bed of the herb garden

This was supposed to be done in August but we didn’t get round to it. Also, the ground is exceptionally hard and I am hoping for a good bit of rain to soften the ground before I attempt to dig it over. I have a few plants I want/need to get into the bed soonish so it will be a job I need to get on with!

img_1813
Right side of the herb garden needs digging over!

3. Finish digging over unused beds.

Both the summer onion bed and the broad bean bed are finished with and need digging over. The broad bean bed will also need some well rotted manure incorporated into it as soon as possible as we will be planting garlic, winter onions and winter shallots (all of which need to be bought this month) in it end of October/beginning of November. The summer onion bed and the raised potato bed will have green manure sown in them to get some well needed nutrients into the ground!

As I am a little late posting this, Sam and I have already dug over the broad bean bed and divided it into two smaller beds ready for the alliums.

4. Polytunnel

We still need to finish clearing the area for the polytunnel, buy the polytunnel and put up the polytunnel and I don’t fancy doing this in the throes of winter so if we don’t manage to get this done by the end of September, it will be shelved until next year.

img_1819
Polytunnel space needs clearing! It actually looks tidier than it did!

5. Fruit cages

Both fruit cages need weeding. Whilst I tidied up and weeded the raspberries, the currants, blueberries and gooseberries all need seeing to. I will also put down a good mulch to suppress any remaining weeds this season.

Sam very kindly took a day off work and did some work on Plot 1 and has already cleared the gooseberry and blueberry cage! Just the currants to go!

6. Potato beds

The maincrop potatoes will need harvesting this month and the beds will need digging over. We will also line another one of these beds with wood this month (if we have the time and money)

img_1812
Maincrop potatoes need harvesting and the ground dug over.

7. Tidy up the pond beds

img_1817
All the annuals need removing and some more perennials put in for next year.

The annual flowers are coming to an end and are starting to look scruffy. Whilst I started weeding and planting up one side of the pond beds last month, the rest will need to come up this month. I will also take that opportunity to put in some spring and summer bulbs for next years flower display and move the Echinacea and Hostas I have at home to these beds.

I’ll still be harvesting away, the drying beans are mostly ready so will be picking all of these, runner beans are still cropping and I have cabbages a plenty! The squash and pumpkins are ripening and I look forward to the first frosts so that my parsnips get that lovely sweetness!

img_1816
Drying beans are nearly ready for all those delicious soups and stews!

Have a good September everyone!

 

August 2016!

I have spent less time down the allotment than I would have liked this month but other responsibilities have come first.

The worst thing to happen this month is that my tomatoes all got blight!…Again! The plants were a lot less crowded than last year and I tried to make sure there was good air circulation but still the blight came! I had lots of lovely green tomatoes and managed to get about 5 ripe ones. Wasn’t sure what to do about the green ones as I still have a mass of green tomato chutney from last year which is yet to be eaten so put them in bowls in a sunny spot at home and placed some bananas next to them in the hope that they would ripen. Thankfully, so far, it’s working! I think I will be left with some green tomatoes but not as many as first thought and surprisingly, none of them started to rot from the blight which goes to show that things can be saved! I started with three bowls of green tomatoes and now have just one bowl left to ripen. The fruits are not as sweet as if ripened on the vine but still nice enough for using in passata.

20160824_073728
Very ripe bananas next to my ripening tomatoes and my first Uchiki kuri squash!

The second worst thing this month was that the rats got to the sweetcorn again! What annoys me the most is that they tore half of it down and didn’t even eat the cobs!!! I thought I still had time to erect barriers to stop them getting at the corn but my timing was off again! I did manage to harvest a few cobs that looked ready but on removing the husks, could see they were perhaps a week off. Some were not to bad though! Mostly the corn kernals had not developed as well as I would have liked and I assume this is down to bad pollination.

IMG_1797
Rat damage to the sweetcorn!

The tower of runner beans became the ‘leaning tower of beansa’ over the month until a strong wind finally knocked it flat – my fault for not making sure the supports were sturdy enough! The plants still appear to be alive  so will leave them as is and continue to pick the runners which are cropping aplenty.

Moving on from this, the old broad bean and pea plants were cleared away and the bed has been partially dug over ready for the garlic and winter onions to be planted in October/November (Some dog or cat has left a nice little smelly present for me on the soil – not impressed!). The weeds have already started poking up again so will need to have another go over! The second early potato bed had the rest of the potatoes dug up and then was dug over.

IMG_1802
The fallen tower of runner beans
IMG_1803
Broad bean bed has started to be dug over for garlic in the autumn

The inside of the fruit cage has, once again, been half cleared of bindweed, the raspberries have been thinned and tied in to their supports. The currant side of the fruit cage has not been treated with as much tender loving care but will be one of my first jobs of September!  The grape has grown very well this year and I am hoping that it will survive the winter and give me a few bunches of grapes next year!

We also got a move on with starting to clear the new polytunnel area. We completely cut back all the raspberries and removed all the long dead grass, gave the grass paths a serious mowing and start to dig through the mound that had piled up. Weeds went into the incinerator and the soil has gone into the compost bin for use next year. There is still a lot more to clear but it is looking a lot better than it did. I have priced up some polytunnels and have decided what we need. I am all ready to click the buy button but we want to make sure the area is cleared first and we don’t want a dismantled expensive polytunnel lying around the allotment for anyone to pinch!

IMG_1800
Raspberry bed on plot 3 has been cleared

We have had some visitors in the form of cabbage white caterpillars! They were promptly removed from the brussel srpouts and left on the bird feeder! Luckily no lasting damage has been done! And on the subject of pests, my aubergines are finally starting to crop, forming the loveliest little aubergines but the damn slugs keep nibbling them! The three resident frogs in the polytunnel are not doing their jobs! Although I’ll let them off as the slugs that are around are bigger than the frogs (I think they are mutant slugs!).

I didn’t manage to line the strawberry bed with wood as I didn’t have time to finish weeding the strawberries (I’m terrible for starting a job and not finishing!). We did line the potato bed instead! It’s now ready and waiting for some organic matter to be dug in!

IMG_1804.JPG
Potato bed has been raised!

I didn’t have the time to clear the herb garden so will move that onto the to-do list for September! I also didn’t get time to prune the apple and pear so will now have to leave it until the winter.

We have switched into clearing mode now, clearing away the old plants and get ready for the new. Whilst there is still plenty to  harvest, we are only four months away from a new season and we need to get ready! I have had a good old sort out of my seed tins, throwing away anything that didn’t work last year or is too out of date! I get a lot of seeds from gardening magazines that I don’t end up using so have sorted through these and will be giving them away to friends/family/strangers in the street for them to use instead!

And not to be beaten in the gardening game, my Dad decided that he was going to cultivate some plastic in his garden! Here where the results!

14053932_10153596751921991_6128757275039715467_o
My Dad’s back garden!

Yes those are gorillas and yes everything is fake!

Have a good September everyone!

 

First Earlies!

We harvested some of our first earlies (variety: annabelle) yesterday!

spuds

Not quite the yield I was hoping for but certainly our best attempt at first earlies so far!

I’ve got a few ideas as to why they didn’t perform as well as hoped so hopefully I can improve on this next year!

Now on to the cooking and eating….

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.

20160531_131112[1]
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.

20160531_131216[1].jpg
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!

20160531_112841[1]
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!

20160531_112821[1]

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!

20160531_112756[1]

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!

20160531_112847[1]

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!

20160503_192235
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.

20160503_192249
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.

20160503_192301
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!

20160423_171544[1]
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.

20160503_194607[1]

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!

20160503_194629[1]
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!

20160503_194556[1]

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!

cup-of-tea-n