Strawberry Fields Forever

  
Well, not quite a field and possibly not forever but I have made a little strawberry patch at the allotment this week! 

For the last 2 years I’ve grown my strawberries at the allotment in pots. The main reason for this was space; I just didn’t have a bed I could dedicate solely to one crop. Last year I did think about creating a little strawberry patch but with my lack of organisational skills I simply ran out of time and space to do it before they started to crop. 

So, when I saw the flowers starting to appear on the strawberry plants last week, I was determined to get them into the ground sooner rather than later. 

I spent a few hours last week digging and conditioning the soil in an area I felt would get a reasonable amount of sunshine and would allow me to plant  quick growing crops either side of the strawberries. 

  
Once the sun came out on Sunday I headed along to the allotment to rehome the strawberries. I’ve not really pampered the plants while they’ve been in the plant pots, I’d not even removed the old runners from last year, poor things! 

  
  
Once I had separated the plants, removed the old runners, discarded the surface moss and pulled out the weeds, I started the transfer the plants. I’d dug in some well rotted manure the week before so hopefully this will have settled into the ground and will give the plants a good nutrition boost. As a precautionary measure this week, I’m going to mulch around the base of the plants with straw to help maintain a good moisture balance in the soil and to prevent the fruits from spoiling if they come into contact with the soil. 

  
  
Now all that remains to be seen is if I can get to the berries before the birds! 

Status Report Captain…

  
How the weeks have flown by! One minute you’re pawing over the seed catalogues and the next it’s May and you’ve not even planted out the potatoes….well, rather, I’ve not planted out the potatoes! 

I know, I know, it should’ve been done weeks ago but, the delay in planting then has made sure they haven’t succumbed to the sharp frost we had, and I’m sure once they do make it into the ground, which is going to be tomorrow, I’ve every confidence they’ll still be delicious when harvested, even if it’s a few weeks later than anticipated! 

  
So that’s the potatoes. 

I’ve been equally late in getting the beans and peas going but I’m pleased to report that the broad beans have made an appearance over the last 7 days. Last year I veered away from the Crimson Flowered variety and tried Bunyards Exhibition. The pods themselves grew really long but I did prefer the sweeter taste of the crimson flowered type, so I’m back to those this year. 

  
Last week I sowed the peas direct and constructed a support frame from bamboo canes for them to scramble up when they get going. I’m sticking with the tried and tested Hurst Greenshaft peas, but I’m also dabbling in the world of Mangetout. The variety I chose is Shiraz, and the pods are a lovely deep purple colour. I can’t wait to try them later in the year. 

  
The shallot sets have fared the frost well and the onion sets have started to sprout. I also spotted the first of the familiar lily pad shaped leaves of the self seeding nasturtiums today. I love how they come back again and again adding colour to the plot. 

  
  
The Gooseberry bushes I planted last year have put on loads of growth (I think I should be pruned them in winter) and I had an abundance of flowers in March and April. I’m delighted to see that there are now loads of mini gooseberries gently swelling up. 

  
Indoors, the tomato plants are coming on great guns. I’ve been tickling them every day to encourage them to grow strong and sturdy for when I plant them out at the allotment. There’s something about the smell from the leaves of tomato plants that just reminds me of the summer! I’ve tried not to get too carried away with the tomatoes this year and have restricted myself to only 2 types: Gardeners Delight and Sungold. 

  
The Cayenne chilli plants are now flowering away quite happily on the window sill. I’m not sure if they are self pollinating or not so once a day I’m playing the part of a bee and gently using a small brush I’m transferring pollen between the flowers. I’ve got huge respect for the bees, pollination is tricky! 

  
I’ve also got sunflowers growing along with a second batch of cabbage and cauliflower. I’m not sure what happened to the first batch of brassicas, they just shrivelled up. I’m hoping the second sowing is more successful. 

  
The next few weeks are going to be hectic with all the squash, courgettes, beetroot, strawberries and the rest of the quick crops. I’d better get the last of the leeks dug up quickly otherwise I’ll have nowhere to put them all! 

  
Happy Gardening! 

That’s Shallot

  
 One of the most rewarding things about growing your own veg, is that you get to make and enjoy some pretty awesome food with the produce you grow. Onions are probably my “go to” staple vegetable of choice when I’m cooking at home, but I’ve never really paid much attention to their close relative, the shallot. 

In the past few seasons of growing, I’ve got a little stuck in a rut with regards to the types of vegetables I grow. Call me crazy but I want to like the food I’m going to be eating! But then isn’t it a gardeners duty to try to push the vegetable boundaries and try and grow new and exciting things? 

Enter the shallot

  
Here in the North East I feel it’s still a little early to get the shallot sets straight in the ground, so I’m trying a little experiment by starting them off in modules. 

It’s fair to say that the sizes of the bulbs vary but I’ve only got these modules to hand so they’ll just have to do! It’s not like they’re going to be there forever, more like a couple of weeks to get a jump start on the growing season. Once they’ve started to shoot and it’s slightly milder, I’ll transfer the sets to the open ground at the allotment. With a bit of luck, they’ll be ready to pull in July! 

The smallest things…

  
It’s funny how different things make you happy. As a child, going to the paper shop after school on a Friday for a 10p mix-up was the best thing ever!! 

As a gardener there are many things that make me happy: 

Picking the perfect pod of peas

The taste of a freshly dug new potato 

The smell of the sweet peas on the wind 

Looking back at a freshly dug plot

Winning the war on slugs (haven’t quite got that one sorted yet but I’m going to be so happy when I do!) 

But nothing can compare to the first glimpse of a teeny tiny seedling! 

It just seems to me that the sight of a newly sprouting green shoot holds so much potential…

   

The smallest things really do bring the biggest joy! 

Sole Survivor 

  
I know, I know…it’s been a while. Despite my best intentions during the latter half of 2016, I have neglected both the plot and the blog. Today I am determined to rectify both of those counts! 

The last half of 2016 was brilliant. I had a fabulous holiday, went to River Cottage, walked the entire length of Hadrians Wall and celebrated my 40th birthday, all before Christmas and New Year. 

  
  
   
 
  
Turning 40 has had a surprising effect on me. I had thought that I’d hide myself away with a bottle of wine and a take away and simply deny the milestone. The surprise was that I didn’t hide…I embraced it! I’m pleased to say it’s made me more focused, not only on what I want to achieve in the future but all of the things I’ve put off doing. 

No more! I’m a list maker, and in this, my 40th year, I’m making a list of all the things I’m going to do and allotmentry and regular blogging is definitely high on that list! 

Today I thought I’d make a start and face the allotment after the spell of abandonment. I was fearful of what might greet me…

“Have the brambles reclaimed the entire plot?”

“Has the allotment turned into a jungle?”

“Will I be able to tell where the vegetable beds are under all the fallen leaves?”

“Will feral cats be living in the shed?”

The good news is that no, the brambles haven’t reclaimed the entire plot however there are some huge canes to be dealt with, I can now see where my paths are after sweeping up tonnes of fallen leaves, no, it’s not a jungle, it’s just a bit messy and thankfully no feral cats were found in the shed! 

  
Last year was admittedly a poor growing year for me. I had clearly underestimated the destructive force of the slug and snail population and a large quantity of my vegetables were destroyed. I had pretty much given up on the growing season and totally forgot that when the slugs had eaten all my squash plants, I’d planted out my leeks…  

 
Lo and behold…I give you the sole survivors at the allotment! 

  
I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see my leeks still standing! They’re not particularly big, ok, a lot of them are rather skinny but they are all still there, they’ve not bolted and there’s not a hint of leek rust either! 

I’m going to leave them standing in the ground for a few more weeks to see if they grow any more but if not, I’ll dig them up in the spring when I’m turning the beds over and enjoy a whole host of leek inspired dishes! 

Now that I’m back into the growing groove, the only thing left to do is to start planning this years vegetables! 

Bring it on! 

Bring me Sunshine


I’ve been having a bit of a dilemma recently about what to do with a certain section of the allotment. The area beside the cherry tree is currently sitting vacant, waiting to be put to use, but the ground leading away from the tree is, naturally, full of tree roots. I don’t want to damage the tree or the roots by regular digging but equally, I don’t want the space to be wasted. Then the solution came to me.

Fruit bushes

When I was young, my Granda grew vegetables in his back garden and at the bottom of the vegetable garden were the most delicious gooseberry bushes. I remember picking the ripe fruits for my grandma to make pies and puddings and I’d always get a few to eat straight from the bush as a reward.

I spent a few days last week researching the various types of gooseberry bushes and I decided on two varieties. Invicta and hinnonmaki red.

Both varieties have a good resistance to mildew which can plague gooseberry bushes and both will give high yields of fruit. Perfect.

On Friday I was able to spend the whole day at the allotment so planting the gooseberry bushes were first on my to do list.


I gave the area a quick dig over and set to work finding the perfect spot for the bushes. I want to make sure they get enough sun but are well spaced to allow me to put little fruit cages over them later in the season to stop the birds eating the fruit.

I dug the hole deep enough so that the top of the rootball would be level with the ground, and hey-presto! We have gooseberry bushes!



I’m not expecting much of a crop this year as I believe the fruit only forms on branches over a year old but to my delight I spotted these little fellas



Next up were the sunflowers. Last year I planted the seeds in March and I think I waited too long before planting them out so they didn’t grow to their full height. This year I waited until the end of April before sowing and I’ve been hardening them off for the last week or so, ready to be planted out earlier. I loved them along the fence last year, it was like having a whole wall of sunshine to brighten up the plot. I’ve got 2 types this year, Titan and ruby sunset, I’ve planted them out without knowing which type is in each pot, we’ll get a surprise when they open in August.



To finish that side of the allotment I’ve sown some seeds directly, radish, Spring onions both red and white varieties, carrots and lettuce. I’ve left some space to transplant the beetroot and rainbow chard I’m growing in modules at home.


I can’t wait to get this side of the allotment growing, all we need now is the sunshine ☀️

BOOM!

  
It’s been a veritable growing explosion at the allotment this week. The cherry tree is in full bloom, the apple trees are just starting to blossom, the broadbeans the cat ate a few months ago have recovered brilliantly are starting to flower, I’ve even spotted flowers on the strawberries. 

   
   

  

 

 I’ve discovered a mystery currant tree too which has loads of flowers dangling off it. I must remember to check it regularly otherwise the birds will strip it before I can discover what kind of currant tree it is!   
Just when I thought it could get any better, I spotted the first few leaves of the potatoes popping up! 

  
Blooming marvellous 

Down with the Kids

  
It’s the first day of the Easter holidays and the weather was rubbish this morning. In typical school holiday fashion it was cold and drizzly, not the best for a morning of allotment fun with a 10 year old reluctant gardener in tow. The digging at the allotment is coming on well, but the rain this morning means the heavy clay soil is going to be even heavier than usual to turn over. The next best thing was going to be getting some more seeds sown and to check the progress of the seeds already going. 

The leeks and onions are doing well, and the potatoes I started chitting a couple of weeks ago are starting to get some lovely sturdy purple shoots. They’ve got another 3 weeks of sunbathing then they’ll be ready for planting. 

  
The next round of seeds I need to plant are the Summer cauliflowers, Autumn  cabbages, Brussels sprouts and my companion flowers: sweet peas and marigolds. I loved growing flowers at the allotment last year, they brought loads of pollinators to the plot and looked really pretty inbetween the vegetables. The Nasturtiums should self seed and I’m leaving sowing the sun flowers for another couple of weeks so it’s just sweet peas and marigolds today. 

My son has been taking part in a gardening club at school and he was keen to show me how to sow seeds. I think this is a great way to get children more involved with gardening and growing veg at home, it’s so easy to do. 

Here’s how we sow…

  
  

Out with the old

  
Today I made a start on clearing the vegetable beds at the allotment. Most of the vegetables were harvested last year but I still had a few leeks left to pull, so out they came! 

 

Lovely leeks

 
These are the ones which haven’t bolted. Unfortunately they all got a slight smattering of rust so I’ve lopped off their leaves and just brought the stems back home to make into soup. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if they’d be OK to eat but after a quick google search I’m assured that as long as the stems are ok, they’re good to use. I’ve not put the infected leeks and leaves into the compost though, they’re destined for the burning bin next week, along with all the other debris that’s been gathering at the allotment over the winter. 

 

Rust spots on the leeks


Once the leeks were out I spent an hour removing old canes and netting along with the remnants of last years crops. I’d left the Purple sprouting broccoli over winter as the planting guide said it’ll be ready to harvest in February/March…I must’ve been too slow as its already in flower (doh!) 

Yellow flowering purple sprouting broccoli

Ah, well, out it came, so the beds are now empty, save for the usual weedy suspects! My plan over the next 4 weeks is to cultivate each bed so that the seedlings I’ve got growing now can be transplanted as soon as they’re ready. 

 

Empty beds

  
Last, but not least I spotted some nasturtium seeds as I was sweeping the path. I loved having these flowering along side the vegetables, although I’ve heard they’re notorious self seeders…I wonder where I’ll find them growing this year! 

  

Top Potatoes

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The last part of planning this years vegetables was to pick the types of potatoes to grow. I wanted to make sure I chose different ones to last year, and to pick varieties I wouldn’t usually buy in the shops.

But potatoes are just potatoes I hear you say. I beg to differ.

They can be the cream of the crop.

When I was choosing last years varieties, I wanted to try and get a potato supply for the longest possible time. I chose an early type, which would be ready to harvest after about 10 weeks, a second early which would be ready to harvest after 12 weeks and 2 main crop varieties to harvest after about 16 weeks. I was really pleased with the early and second earlies but the yield from the main crops was disappointing. They didn’t grow to the size I’d hoped for and they were covered with potato scab. The slugs seemed to enjoy them but I don’t think they’re too fussy about what they munch through!

With all this in mind, I sat down at the weekend to pick my potatoes.

Second Early – International Kidney.

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These are better known as Jersey Royals (but you can only call them that when they’re grown in Jersey). I picked these because I just love new potatoes. The flavour is fantastic, they’ll cook well and should be out the ground before the slugs will be able to get to them.

Second Early – Anya

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I wanted to grow a variety I wouldn’t usually buy in the shops and at first I was all set to grow the Pink Fir Apple. The reviews about its lovely earthy flavour were all good, but it’s more of a main crop type and the last thing I want is for the slugs to get to the potatoes before I do. Then I found Anya potatoes. They’re bred from the Pink Fir Apple potato and Desiree potatoes and are ready for harvest much earlier. Anya potatoes retain the nutty earthy flavour along with the long, irregular shape of the pink fir but they’re less knobbly, making them easier to prepare. That did it for me. They made the selection.

Main crop –  Belle De Fontenay

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I’d never heard of this type of potato before I started writing the blog but last year this variety popped up all over. It had really good feedback and the yield as a main crop was good too so I thought it would be worth a go. It’s an old French variety which has been grown since about 1885 and is apparently delicious when simply boiled. We could be on to a winner here!

Main crop – Salad blue

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This is probably the wild card in the potato pack. It’s unusual in that it will retain its blue/purple colour on cooking so we could be having purple mash with our Sunday lunch! My son thinks this is fantastic and gave it his seal of approval so with that it made the list.

The potatoes have been despatched and are now making their way to me. Egg cartons have been saved and are eagerly waiting for their new potato pals to arrive so that the chitting process can begin.