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!

Advertisements

March 2017!

March has been a very pleasant month for me! The weather has generally been nicer and a lot of work has been done on the plot.

This month started with Sam surprising me and doing four hours of hard work and graft on an afternoon off, clearing the back of plot 3 where the polytunnel will go and also strimming all the grass and clearing the area on the second half of plot 1!

The following week Sam was off work trying to use up his annual leave before the next ‘holiday’ year started so spent some more time down the allotment. He completely dug over the raspberry bed on plot 3, removing all the old spent canes ready for new supports and new canes to go in. During the last weekend of March, we set up the support system for the raspberries and planted the new canes! We planted ‘Fall Gold’ ( a yellow raspberry), ‘Joan J’, ‘Autumn Bliss’ and ‘Cascade Delight’.

20170326_143350[1]
Brand new raspberry bed on plot 3!

The weekend of the 11th and we spent most of the day down the allotment, finishing off section E (where the onions and garlic are). We made two new raised beds and bark chipped the paths. We also bought the dog down for the day. Her first day at the allotment with us. She was as good as gold, sitting and watching us work!

20170326_143413[1]
New beds on Section E (for spring planted onions and leeks)
20170326_143446[1]
China, sitting watching us work!

I have also been busy sowing away this month. The first batch of spring sown broad beans have been sown earlier in the month with a second sowing following three weeks after, and I have also sown radishes, spinach, lettuce, chard and leeks in the new seed bed that Sam and I  built. The first batches of carrots, beetroot and spring onions have been sown at the allotment and are starting to poke their heads up.

At home I have sown tomatoes, and further sowing of red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and lettuces. I am trying to be good and not sow all the seeds at once. I have been sowing the brassicas in batches, 2-4 weeks apart so that I will have a longer season of produce rather than all the brassicas ready in one go.

I have also sown a few flower seeds. Forget me not, poppy ‘Black Peony’ and Salvia ‘Claryssa mixed’ have been sown in the herb garden to get some more colour. At home, Erigeron ‘ Profusion’, Echinacea ‘Pink Parasol’ and Borage ‘White flowering’ have all been sown but the Erigeron didn’t seem to germinate at all whilst the others have germinated nicely.

We had a good going over of plot 1 too, cleared all the weeds from paths and laid new bark chip down as well as making a rather handsome fire to burn all the old rotten wood and garden waste.

The last weekend in March saw us putting in a training support system for our grape (although I think it might be dead!). I planted out some lettuces (bought from Wyevale) and also managed to plant some peas (homegrown) out too.

Further work has been done on plot 3, instead of the back breaking digging of one of the beds we have been using as a rubbish pile, I decided to make a ‘lazy bed’. This was something i saw in one of my garden magazines, where instead of digging over we have simply laid down any Tufts of grass upside down on the area we want as a bed. The large pile of weeds was spread over the bed to even it out.

20170326_143358[1].jpg
The ‘lazy’ bed on plot 3!

We will then finish off the bed by adding a layer of manure and covering with plastic or weed control membrane. This should allow the weeds, grass and any other organics  to compost down. Squash plants will be planted through the membrane so that the space isn’t wasted. I did a similar thing with section E two years ago (before I started the blog) and this seemed to work quite well (I had the biggest squash i had ever seen!) Hopefully we will get similar results this time!

20150809_110624[1]
The enormous butternut squash I had two years ago from my first ‘lazy bed’!

Breaking news…I actually spent some more time clearing the strawberry bed! I manage to get another section of the strawberry bed cleared, weeded and dug up the stray strawberry plants!

20170326_143844[1]
Getting there with the strawberry bed!

I just need to finish off the right hand side (which will hopefully happen next weekend) and then we can line the bed with wood which should hopefully keep the grass from encroaching into the bed!

I feel that it has been a productive March and I hope April will be even more productive! We will be ordering a shed to put up in April and at the bottom of plot 3 will be digging over the ground in preparation for the polytunnel! Exciting times!

But in amongst all this work, I always take some time to stop and look at the beautiful plants that are coming in to bloom all around us!

Have a great April and a Happy Easter!

20170326_143632[1]

What to do this March!

March is my second favourite time of year! To me, the new season is finally here and the likelihood of me being able to get outside on the allotment is higher! Birds are flying around making their nests and the tadpoles are hatching! It is also time to start sowing (mainly indoors) and planting!

But as exciting as all that is, it also marks the start of the hungry gap! Harvests are dwindling (I myself am down to leeks and rhubarb) and we have a couple of months to wait until we get the new season peas, broad beans and the first of the strawberries! Now is the time to plan for the hungry gap next year by making sure that those essential crops are included in your allotment/garden plan!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

Sowing is really starting to get underway now especially under cover. Frosts  are still likely so tender plants will still have to wait and even the semi-hardy varieties may suffer if there is a particularly cold snap!

  • Tomatoes can be sown this month. Sow them indoors so that they get a head start for the season. Tomatoes that will be planted outdoors won’t be planted outside possibly until mid-May but sowing now means you will have big strong plants ready for planting.
  • Peas and broad beans can be sown now outside. 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 so cover them with netting or chicken wire to stop those pesky rodents! If in doubt, sow indoors and transplant when seedlings are strong!
Untitled
Sow peas but watch out for those pesky mice!
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots can be sown this month.
  • Salads and lettuces can be sown now to help fill the hungry gap in April/May. If you are sowing outside seeds may take longer to germinate in cold weather. Spinach and chard can also be sown outside now.
  • Brassicas such as summer cabbage and cauliflowers can be sown now and if you are thinking about the winter and hungry gap harvests you can sow Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli and kale.
  • Next winters leeks can be sown now in a seed bed and in a few months they can be lifted and transplanted to their final positions.
20160325_145027
Leeks can be sown in a seed bed!

 

In March we can start thinking about planting tuberous plants and some fruits.

  • Plant strawberry plants now and there is still time to plant bare-rooted  raspberry canes.
  • Onion sets can be planted out towards the end of the month or they can be started off in trays of compost now and planted out later in April. Watch out for birds who will pull the sets up!
  • You can plant new rhubarb crowns now but you won’t be able to harvest the fruity stalks for the first year and only sparingly in the second year to allow the plant to build up energy! The same goes for asparagus crowns if you are thinking about starting an asparagus bed. Asparagus is an excellent hungry gap crop!
_asparagusplantingsm
Asparagus crowns can be planted now if you want to start an asparagus bed!
  • First early potatoes that have been chitting can certainly be planted now and second earlies towards the end of the month. Watch out for frosts and make sure any foliage is covered up to avoid frost damage.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can also be planted towards the end of the month for those lovely sweet tubers in the winter.

Although we are heading into the hungry gap, March still offers a few delectables which can be harvested from the garden.

  • Brussels sprouts may still be cropping if you planted late seaon varieties but will be finishing this month
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Spring cabbages, cauliflowers and Sprouting broccoli can be harvested now.
  • Leeks are still in abundance in my allotment but you will want to get your leeks lifted soon as they will start to flower soon.
  • 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!
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can still harvest these for a delicious salad.
  • If you force rhubarb then you will be harvesting these delicious pink stems now!
20170304_1439381
Leeks and forced rhubarb can be harvested now!

Jobs on the plot

March is a busy month with Spring getting into full swing. When you are not admiring the daffodils and crocuses there are plenty of jobs to get done around the plot!

  • As I have already mentioned, harvest your winter veg. Many winter veg are biennials and will start to put their energy into flowering as Spring advances. You will also find you need the room for spring-cleaning crops!
  • If you can sow crops now then weeds can grow now! Start as you mentioned to go on by keeping your beds weed free! Getting weeds out when they are young will stop problems getting too big later in the year! Also get the ‘volunteer’ potatoes out now, those small tubers that have been accidentally left in the bed. If left, they will could disturb rows of newly sown seedlings. They also carry the risk of spreading blight if left.
  • If you have established strawberry beds then they are likely to need some attention now. Give them a good haircut getting rid of any dead and browning leaves. Clear any weeds from the bed and to protect the plants from slugs and further weeds, you can invest in strawberry mats which you can place around the crown.
  • Give perennial herbs a good tidy up as well, sage and rosemary can be given a trim and mint and chive clumps can be divided and re-planted. Now is also a good time to plant out any new hardy perennial herbs.
  • If you can, empty a compost bin ready for the season ahead. The season is likely to generate a large amount of garden waste which will fit down into a nutritious hummus for your plants. Spread the compost made from last year’s waste over your beds either as a mulch or in preparation for new plants.
compost-bin3
Empty a compost bin for the year ahead!
  • Give any perennial herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables a good mulch and top dressing of fertiliser to help them for the coming season.
  • If you have a peach tree that is currently in flower, you can aid fruit set by hand pollinating the flowers. The cold weather can lead to lack of pollinating insects so for a good harvest you can use a soft paint brush to gently brush the flowers when they are fully open.

Indoor jobs

Although we are moving back outside for a the new season there is still plenty of indoor sowing that can be done, whether that is in your house or your greenhouse so on those rainy days you can still be getting something done!

March Recipe

Rhubarb and Apple crumble 

Ingredients:

  • 750g forced rhubarb, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices.
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 85g butter, cut into cubes
  • 140g plain flour
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g Demerara sugar

Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan and heat on a low heat. Stir the rhubarb occasionally and cook for 15-20mins. Pre-heat the oven at 200°c

Whilst the rhubarb is cooking, make the crumble topping. Combine the butter and flour in a bowl and rub the butter and flour together to form fine bread crumbs. Once all the butter and flour is combined mix in the rolled oats, flaked almonds and half the sugar and put to one side.

 

rhubarb crumble.jpg

Once the rhubarb has cooked but is still holding its shape, take off the heat. Layer half the apple slices along the bottom of a oven proof dish. Lay half the rhubarb mixture over the apple and then repeat with the rest of the apple and rhubarb. Spread the crumble topping over the rhubarb and apple layers. Finally, sprinkle the last half of the sugar evenly over the top of the crumble.

Bake the crumble in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the rhubarb mixture is bubbling. Serve hot with custard of ice cream.

I hope March brings good weather for you all and we all get the opportunity to get outside and into that fresh spring air!

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.
20170212_105807
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.
20170212_110503
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.

20170108_1123501

  • 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.
20170212_1454461
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!
20170204_1755361
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.
20170212_110151
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.
chive-clump
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.
20170212_110329
I use a tray tidy to do all my indoor sowing

February Recipe

Saffron and Leek Risotto (Serves 4)

20160301_181015

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!

January 2017!

It’s a miracle – I have finally started on sorting out the strawberry bed on plot 2! For those of you who have read my previous posts you will know that I have been meaning to get this job done for the last 4 months! Well I finally started! To be far the work you can see in the picture below was started at the beginning of January and I haven’t done anything since but that is because the ground has been either too wet or too frozen to work (at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!)

20170103_144327[1].jpg
Started the strawberry bed!

The large pear tree has been pruned this month. The tree had gotten out of shape and I cut off about a third of the main branches to try and restore the tree to the right shape. The centre of the tree is still a bit congested but I am conscientious of the fact that I have already taken away a good number of branches  and don’t want to take away too much in one go!

pruning-2-jan-2017

The shed on plot 1 was given a good clearing out. All the dust and debris has been swept up and everything arranged neatly in the shed! All our tools were given a thorough cleaning and all our shears, loppers and secateurs were sent away for sharpening. The guy who did it did a wonderful job removing nearly all of the rust! Apologies for the fuzzy photo – it was raining and my regular cameraman had to ‘work’!

20170129_0903381
Shed is nice and tidy and all the tools have been cleaned and sharpened!

I also managed to plant up two new strawberry beds which will eventually replace the big strawberry bed on plot 2. The new beds have been planted up with ‘Cambridge favourite’ and ‘Lucy’.  A large barrel has been put over one of the rhubarb clumps so that we will have some delicious forced rhubarb in the next few weeks!

Other than that, as I said before it has been rather cold and wet and the ground has either been frozen or sodden so I have only ventured to the allotment to feed the birds. Mr Robin has become quite reliant on our supply of food so I make sure that we get down there once a week to feed him. I even treated him to some mealworms this weeks!

20170122_1038411
Feeding Mr Robin!

We had to do some checking on the autumn sown broad beans though as we were quite worried about them after the cold weather we had.

Luckily, they have mostly managed to survive! Some have  frost damage like the plant in the picture above but I am hoping they will recover whilst approximately 20% have completely died. I did cover with fleece to begin with but the plants started pushing against the fleece and this made the frost damage worse so decided to do away with the fleece. Hopefully this is the end to the seriously cold weather and we can look forward to slightly warmer temperatures!

I did, however, manage to do some sneaking sowing of some red cabbage seeds yesterday. Probably a bit early but I just can’t help myself! I can’t wait for the sowing season to begin (I am getting a bit fed up of leeks, parsnips and squash!)

Hope you had a good January and you all stayed nice and warm!

 

What to do this January!

January is a time when we all look at our gardens, allotments or veg plots with fresh new eyes! It is likely to be very chilly outside but there we still be some of us outside finishing our winter jobs and if we are lucky enough to have finished all our winter jobs then we will be tucked up inside reading through the seed catalogues and planning for the year ahead!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

If you are already thinking about sowing seeds this month then there are a few things you can start to get underway:

  • Chilli peppers, aubergines and greenhouse tomatoes can be started towards the end of this month to give a long growing season.
  • Microgreens and sprouting seeds can be started anytime to add that lovely crunch and zing to winter salads
  • Onions can be started from seed this month, whether they are exhibition onions or not.
  • Salad leaves can be started for growing on the windowsill or under cover if you are looking for that salad hit after a heavy festive period!
20151214_060424[1]
You can start sprouting seeds at this time of year to add that extra crunch to salads.

Now is the time to think about your fruit garden and replenishing, replacing or extending your stock.

  • 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 ordered and planted now.
20170108_112350[1].jpg
Plant your bare rooted strawberries!
  • Dormant rhubarb crowns can be planted now or old ones can be lifted and divided to keep them productive.
  • If you didn’t get a chance to do it in the autumn, you can still plant garlic cloves if conditions are dry. Garlic needs the cold conditions of winter to form cloves. Don’t plant cloves when it is wet otherwise they will rot in the ground.
garlic plants 3 jan 2017.JPG
Garlic still has time to be planted if it is dry

There can also be plenty to harvest this time of year if you have planned accordingly:

  • Brussels sprouts will still be cropping depending on variety. These delicious little buttons aren’t just for Christmas!
  • Winter cabbages and cauliflowers can be harvested now.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can be lifted now although remember to get all the tubers out of the ground otherwise they will come back next year.
  • Kale, winter cabbages and winter cauliflowers are all ready to be harvested in these winter months
  • Leeks are a staple in January, with plenty of Potato and Leek soup (recipe below) being made during these cold days.
  • Parsnips are ready to be harvested with the cold frosts making these root vegetables even sweeter. They can be stored in the ground until needed but beware of frozen soil!
  • If you have success with swede then they can also be harvested this month (mine were decimated by pigeons)
DSCF9100
There are still things to harvest!

Jobs on the plot

It is good to make sure that the plot is ready for the spring when sowing and weeding will start in earnest. These next couple of months are the best time to try and get a head of the game by performing some routine tasks:

  • In the fruit garden, consider applying oil-based winter washes to trees and bushes to kill off over-wintering aphid eggs and make sure apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, autumn raspberries and blueberries are given a good prune to encourage new shoots and keep their shape.

pruning-2-jan-2017

  • Try not to let compost heaps become to cold. Turn the compost pile to encourage further decomposition and clad the pile with layers of cardboard or cover with carpet or polythene.
  • Make sure you move any vegetables, fruits and herbs in clay pots to a frost free place in the garden or cover with bubble wrap to stop the pots getting frost damage and breaking!
  • Practice good hygiene and rinse out any pots and trays you plan to use prior to the sowing season. It is also worthwhile to sort and tidy your shed and sharpen your tools ready for the new season!
20170103_121004[1].jpg
Tools should be cleaned, sharpened and oiled to prevent rust!
  • Whilst having a tidy up, cleaning down any greenhouse glass and polythene sheeting on polytunnels to ensure maximum light levels can reach your plants. Insulate your greenhouse and polytunnel if very cold conditions are forecast.
  • Make sure that all guttering is clear of leaves and debris so you can efficiently save water. Install more water butts if possibly to make the most of the winter rains.
waterbutt jan 2017.JPG
Install water butts and make sure guttering is clear!
  • Protect plants from pesky pigeons who will be on the look out for a brassica feast. Make sure that cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts, broccoli and kale are covered with netting stretched tight to prevent them from being eaten.
20170108_1001201
If you don’t protect your brassicas from pigeons, they can strip the leaves off the plant like my brussels sprouts!
  • Don’t forget to do any winter digging on dry warmer days. Don’t work the soil when it is wet as you will ruin the structure of the soil. Turn over the soil with a fork and leave the big clumps on the soil for the frost and the worms to break down. Or you can work some well-rotted manure into the soil ready for planting later in the year.

Indoor jobs

It is often so cold in January that even the best intentions get put aside in favour of a nice hot cup of tea and some biscuits (I like a chocolate hobnob or two)!

  • Now is the time to sort through seed tins and discard any old and out of date packets of seed. Make a list of what plants you want to grow this year and search through the seed catalogues to find the best varieties for you. Remember that you can make use of any extra, in date seed packets you no longer want at any of the seed swaps that happen around the country. Who knows what you may find in return.
  • As well as seed swaps, potato days are also being held around the country this month and into February. This is a brilliant opportunity to go any look at a wide variety of potatoes, more varieties than you can find in a seed catalogue! There will also be opportunities to meet other like minded people and join your local National Vegetable Society or allotment association at these events.
  • If you buy any potatoes remember to save your egg cartons so you can start chitting potatoes. 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. Also remember to save your empty toilet roll tubes for sowing seeds in. These are great, free biodegradable pots which are perfect for starting off peas, sweetcorn and beans in.
20160305_150412
Use egg cartons to chit your potatoes!
  • Make a detailed plan of your plot and plan where plants are going to grow making sure you consider crop rotation where possible to stop the build up of pests and diseases.
plot-2-and-3-mini-plan
Plan where your crops are going to go next year!

 

January Recipe

Potato and Leek Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 large leeks, sliced
  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 200ml milk
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. Add the butter to a large pan and heat until melted. Add the sliced leeks to the pan and cook for 3 minutes in the butter until slightly softened.
  2. Add the flour to the pan and mix together so the flour combines with the butter to form a type of roux. Stirring continuously, cook the roux for 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly start adding the milk to the pan, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. Add the vegetable stock and potatoes and bring to the boil.
  4. Once the soup is starting to boil, remove any scum that has formed and then turn the heat down to a simmer and partially cover. Stir occasionally until the potatoes are cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly. Serve hot with warm crusty bread.

Hope you have a happy and productive January! I know I’ll be working away down the allotment. At least I have got my little kettle and gas hob to keep me warm with cups of tea!

kettle jan 2017.JPG

Oh and the biscuit tin!

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
carrot bed
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
20160207_122640
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

 

20160130_145449[1]
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'.'

 

Jobs for April

Ready, Steady….Sow, Sow, Sow!!!!

It’s that time of year where the soil temperatures are rising, the frosts are diminishing and its time for the allotment to come to life! I think this is the most exciting time of the year!

I was impressed with the scale of work we achieved in March so my to-do list is not as long as I thought it would be so I can get only with the most important job which is sowing!

20160331_204537

To sow at the allotment:

  • Carrots
  • lettuce (for successional sowing)
  • beetroot

To plant at the allotment

  • potatoes
  • broad beans
  • peas

To sow at home in pots

  • courgettes
  • cucumber
  • brussels sprouts
  • sprouting broccoli
  • squash
  • sweetcorn
  • runner beans
  • green beans
  • shelling beans
  • peas
  • more broad beans

Despite all this sowing there are still jobs to be getting on with at the allotment – mainly weeding and tidying to keep the plots in order.

Last year I focused so much on the structure of the plots that I kept finding the weeds were get on top of me as I neglected to hoe them off regularly. So this year I have developed a new ordered plan to ensure that I use my time correctly when down the allotment with focus being on the care of my plants and getting even better harvests this year!

  1. Weed – hoe off any annual weeds, dig up perennials. I neglected to do this last year and the weeds crowded out some of my plants,
  2. Harvest – often we ran out of time and I would forget to harvest certain veg, like courgettes, and next time I returned they had gone over,
  3. Sow/plant/care – Then it is time to sow new seeds, transplant seedlings and plants and care for existing plants such as tying in, staking, removing diseased or dead plants, pest control etc.
  4. Water – water all the plants and feed where necessary. Last year we were always in a rush to get the watering finished before we went home – this year we will dedicate the proper time to it to ensure our plants flourish,
  5. Tidy plot – tidy away any rubbish, burn perennial weeds, wood etc
  6. A.O.B – any other business can now continue i.e. digging over beds, putting in raised beds, turning compost, building projects etc
20150809_110425[1]
Last years the weeds took over! 😦

I’ll let you know how the new plan works out!

During this month, I hope to get a start on putting together my herb garden.  I am also going to try and mulch our fruit trees and get the ‘orchard’ into good shape!

However, the main focus this month is to get sowing and planting. I feel a trip to the garden centre coming on…

Jobs for March

March is upon us and the next six months will be full throttle at the allotment. I know it will be back to working full weekends at the allotment…and I can’t wait!

I never thought I would enjoy all the digging, weeding and general hard work on the allotment so much…maybe I should have been a gardener or farmer?

Having not got as much done in February as I would have liked due to work commitments, the list is even longer for March! Plus, it’s almost that time of the year where I can start sowing most of my seeds so basically, I better get a move on!

I had a little sort through my seeds this weekend to decide what should and shouldn’t be sown. In previous years I have been a little impatient and started sowing ealier than I should so I am trying to learn from my mistakes and will wait until April to do most of the sowing.

Plot 1

  • Build carrot bed – there will be no carrots without one so must get a wiggle on!
  • Build seed bed – a large bookcase of ours has broken so we are going to use the structure to make a temporary seed bed
  • Remove old compost pile from the side of the shed
  • Put up growhouse where old compost pile used to be
  • Mow the grass

Plot 2

  • Weed the fruit cage
  • Weed onions and garlic
  • Clear and prepare bean/pea bed
  • Get new cover for polytunnel
  • Weed asparagus bed
  • Clear grass from around the pond
  • Finish pond ‘wall’
  • Plant remaining fruit trees
  • Mow grass

Plot 3

  • Clear unwanted shrubs and weeds from herb garden
  • Plant new herbs
  • Clear away old bean plants and prepare bean/pea beds
  • Clear away old raspberry canes
  • Clear area where polytunnel will go
  • Sort out shed
  • Mow grass

At home

  • Pot on pepper, chilli and aubergine seedlings
  • Start off rest of onions
  • Plant first early potatoes in grow bags (end of March)

Although I am sowing most of my seeds in April, there are a few things I want to get started this month.

Sowing

  • Broad beans
  • Peas
  • Lettuce
  • Leeks
  • Spring onions
  • Parsnips
  • Spinach
  • Brussels sprouts

I wanted to start the broad beans and peas in February and then a second sowing in March but I will just have to move that forward.

I was reading an article about Peas and it suggested that I stop sowing peas from early April to avoid the dreaded pea moth, which I get every year, but it didn’t say when I could start sowing again after this to get some late season peas? Does anyone have any ideas?

Or do I feel another experiment coming on?