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.

 

 

Planning the Plot

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It’s that time of year again and the plan for the upcoming seasons vegetable crop is well underway. I’ve been saving margarine tubs and various containers along with cardboard tubes for starting off seedlings and it’ll not be long before the first seeds of the year will be sown.

I’ve updated the pages on the menu bar at the top of the blog with a plan for 2016. Here you’ll find the types and varieties of vegetables I’ll be growing in 2016. There’s also a picture gallery of the allotment through 2015. Its been lovely to go back through the photos and to see how the allotment changes throughout the year.

All that’s left to do now is to whittle down the types of potatoes to grow and to get digging!

 

Confessions of an allotment holder

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Ok. There’s no sugar coating this folks…I’ve been a very bad allotment holder. I’ve been busy and I’ve not spent the time I should’ve at the plot. There…I’ve said it…I’ve failed in my duty to keep on top of the weeds, and I’ve not looked after the veggies as well as I could’ve. In my defence, most of the vegetables have been harvested already, and the ones I’ve left at the allotment should’ve been OK for a while.

Did you see the “should’ve” there?

The vegetables I’m referring to are the leeks and main crop potatoes. I’d thought that by keeping the main crop potatoes in the ground until I needed them (at least until the weather got colder) it would be the best way to store them and keep them fresh.  Today, the allotment told me different. At first I thought the potatoes were OK, then I brushed the mud off them and spotted loads of holes where little white grubs had burrowed their way inside. I hoped that only a few of the potatoes would have been feasted upon, I’m ok with sharing a some of the crops with the little critters that live at the allotment, but no, every single potato I dug up had been eaten. The best I can do is to learn from this and next year I’ll either lift the potatoes earlier or I’ll just stick with earlies and second earlies.

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Grub infested potatoes

Moving along the plot I spotted the leeks. Now, I was under the impression that leeks are a low maintenance vegetable and would be totally fine to do their thing with hardly any supervision. After all, leeks can stay in the ground for months over winter, easy peasey. Well, I’m sure they can but no one told me that there was a chance of the leeks bolting before winter arrives. Checking my little leek patch,  about half of them have bolted.

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Flower head on the leeks

I’m not sure how or why it’s happened, but it’s happened. Determined to find the silver lining, I’ve decided to leave the bolted leeks to flower and the birds can enjoy the seeds. I’ll dig up the remaining leeks over the next few weeks and enjoy them before any more get the urge to produce flower heads.

After a quick rake up of the leaves it was time to go. I’ve not left the plot empty handed for ages and it didn’t feel right to do so today. So I dug up my first non-bolted leek, and it’s a beaut!

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Ready for pulling

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My first leek

Autumn jewels

Autumn. It’s such a lovely time of year. You can see the leaves on trees gradually changing from the fresh vibrant green of summer to the rich earthy tones of red and gold. This is my first successful year of Autumn crops at the allotment and I’m delighted with the harvest so far.

I managed a quick harvesting trip this afternoon (I’ve got a week off work soon so I’ll do all the gardening essentials like weeding then!) and came back with another trug full of autumnal delights!

I’m really surprised to see the runner beans still producing massive pods, and there are more flowers coming.

I’ve decided to harvest a few of the Buffy ball pumpkins. Not sure if they’re quite ready yet but I don’t want to get caught out with a surprise frost so I’ve picked most of them today and left a few of the smaller ones on the vine. The picked pumpkins will store in the garage until I can research how to cure them and hopefully I’ll have mini roasted pumpkins for tea on Halloween

The apples this year are fantastic. There’s just so many on the tree I can’t pick them quick enough! I love the colour of the apples, such a lovely rich red, it’s great to be able to pick your own food just at the right time and to taste it, freshly picked is amazing. (The apples are currently being baked in a crumble as I type…the smell is awesome!)

And last but not least the tomatoes. I’d left them on the plants hoping they’d ripen but I think they’re determined to remain green. I’ve picked them all, still on the vine and I’ll make them into chutney using more of the apples and the already harvested onions to enjoy closer to Christmas.

That’s it for now, I can hear the crumble calling out my name… Here’s a quick look at the haul from today, happy harvests everyone!

Back in the game

  
What a whirlwind the past 6 weeks have been.  There’s been a camping trip, a new school, a country show, a black belt and a house move, which unfortunately has left very little time for the allotment. At times, it’s really stressed me out when I’ve known there’s loads to do at the plot but there’s simply been no time to do it. 

For the first time in weeks I had a couple of hours free last weekend so I hightailed it along to the allotment. 

It was great to be back, just stepping through the gate I could feel weeks of stress slipping away…until I saw the weeds! I didn’t want to spend my first visit in ages simply weeding so I decided to lift the rest of the onions instead. 

  
I’ve had a bit of a mixed result with the onions, I’ve had some tiny ones, some huge ones and a few had bolted but on the whole they’ve all grown and they’ve been pest and disease free so I’m calling them a success! They’re now laid out on a table in the garden at my parents house to dry out so that they’ll store for use over the winter. 

  
The apples were looking good too but I’m never sure when to harvest them, so I gave a gentle twisty-pull to a few and just took the ones that came away in my hand. 

  
Plans for the apples are crumbles and pies, and perhaps an apple cake. I really would like to make some kind of jam/jelly with them but I’m not sure if that would be weird or not? Might try apple and blackberry jam with a few elderberries thrown in for good measure, in essence autumn jam, you never know, it might be delightful, or it might be the most awful thing ever, anyway, I’ll give it a go!

With preserving things in mind I come to my tomatoes. At the start of the summer I’d had big salad-like plans for the tomatoes, as well as slow roasting them to intensify the flavour, similar to sun dried tomatoes. However I’ve only got one single red tomato. Not really enough for slow roasting really is it?

  
I do however have loads of green tomatoes so chutney making will be on the cards next week. 

  
With time pushing on I quickly dug up a few potatoes to take home for tea. The yield from the potatoes has been really good but they have been a touch on the small side. (Must manure next year) Only a few had been nibbled so discarding those I collected my haul and headed home. 
  
My head is now full of plans for the allotment over the autumn. I need to clear the old crops (peas/summer brassicas) and collect the squash before the first frosts. The winter vegetables are coming along nicely with the kale looking healthy and Brussel sprouts just starting to form at the leaf bases so I’ll need to make sure I harvest those regularly.

  
 I’m going to revamp nature corner by re-digging the pond and using a preformed liner to help maintain water levels and encourage more wildlife to the plot. My biggest challenge however is going to be the pampas grass. I think it’s days on the plot are numbered and although it’s going to be a nightmare to dig out, I could use the space more effectively.

So, with the house move out of the way, I’m back on track. I’ve got a plan, and over the next month I’ve really got to get to work. Once the pampas grass is out, I’ll be able to get more spring bulbs planted and I’ll have to re-stake the cordon apple trees as they’re practically horizontal with all the fruit on them (poor things!) 

Oh, by the way, I think I might just hold the record for the slowest latest early sweet corn crop…it’s just started to grow cobs now! 

Happy Autumn folks!   

It could happen to anyone…

We’ve all been there. That moment you realise you’ve just done the most ridiculous thing, and you’ve no idea why. It’s never happened before, you’ve taken steps in the past to avoid it ever happening in the future but some how, against all your best efforts, it’s happened.

Over the past week I’ve been making steady progress at the allotment. I’ve been re-digging and re-weeding the larger plots while waiting for the tender crops to be planted out. I also managed to plant out the cauliflowers and get some brassica collars to put around the base of each plant. I found  a net tunnel protector lurking in the shed which I managed to stretch over the whole row to protect them from the birds.

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Next on the list was the onions. I’d been hardening them off for about a week and a half so they needed to be planted out, all 120 of them. I’ve got 3 varieties (2 rows of 40 for each) – Bedfordshire Champion, Red Barron and  Ailsa Craig. I hadn’t appreciated how many onions I’ve been growing and had thought I’d have room in the onion bed to plant out my leeks along with my carrots and parsnips. That’s a plan I’m going to have to revise! I’ll be lucky to get just my carrots in the space that’s left. No matter, I’m sure I’ll find space somewhere.

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In the short time I’ve had at the plot this week I’ve potted up all my squash and pumpkin seedlings. I’d planted them in cell trays next to some sprouts and cabbages to save on space and pots but they’ve grown so fast they’ve started to over crowd the other seedlings. I reused the pots from the cauliflower plants to re home the squash so it was a win-win all round.

Every day, before and after work, I’ve managed to pop along to the allotment, just for 10 – 20 minutes or so to check on the plants, make sure the slugs are keeping their mitts off my cauliflowers and to check the birds haven’t pulled up any of the onions. All the plants have been watered, the new seedlings are popping up and everything that’s been planted out has survived the elements.

Climbing peas

Climbing peas

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Potatoes

Blooming broad beans

Blooming broad beans

Today before work, I was a little pushed for time so I only managed to water the plants in the greenhouse. I made a mental note to swing by on my way home to give all the plants a check over and to nab a few stalks of rhubarb to make a crumble tonight. When I arrived at the allotment I opened the shed, checked on the plants in the greenhouse and assessed the crops already planted out. Nothing unusual to report, no pests or green-fly on the broad beans, the peas are making their way nicely up the twine supports, the onions are still there and are starting to perk up a bit and the potatoes are sufficiently leafy enough to warrant their first earthing up tomorrow. Feeling pretty good, I grabbed a few stalks of rhubarb, lopped their leaves off and returned the cutters to the shed. I shut up the shed, padlocked the door and headed out.

It was then that it happened.

Looking back at the shed door I realised I’d left all my keys hanging up on a peg inside. My car keys and the keys to lock up the whole allotment site. I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen? I can’t even remember hanging them up, I never hang them up, I always put them in my bag and keep my bag with me wherever I am on the plot to avoid ever leaving the keys hanging up and inadvertently locking them inside the shed. To say I was annoyed with myself was an understatement. In times of trouble there’s only one thing to do. Reinforcements were called and my Dad headed along with a hammer. I had left a window open on the greenhouse which is attached to the shed, so the first plan was to try and climb in. Cat burglary is clearly not my strong suit and after realising there was no way to get through the window, even after using the upturned burning bin to give me a bit of extra height, we finally decided to get the hammer out and jemmy one side of the padlock off.

Locking my keys in the shed is a lesson I’m not likely to forget in a hurry and before I can start to get busy earthing up the potatoes tomorrow, I’ll have to get the drill out and fix the padlock back onto the shed door.

Now I love taking pictures of all the ups and downs I encounter at the allotment, and I feel it’s important to share both the successes and failures along the way. Having said that, I am not going to share pictures of me in my work/office clothes balanced precariously on a metal bin trying to get my leg through a small greenhouse window! I will however share the picture of the apple and rhubarb crumble I made to compensate for my epic fail!

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The week the lurgy struck

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Its been an illness infested week for the green wellie brigade. On Monday morning (my son’s first day back at school after the Easter break) I was called at work to be told he was poorly and I’d need to come and collect him. Poor thing had a sickness bug. It’s been doing the rounds by all accounts, so off I went to collect him from the school office. The worst thing was, he told me he’d had tummy pains while we were getting ready for school that morning, but I’d thought he was suffering from the well-known back to school illness “Monday-itis” and with a stern, matron-like voice told him he’d feel better when he got to school. Well, I was guilt ridden for the rest of the day. Luckily it was a 24 hour bug, by Wednesday he was back on top form and back to school.

Thursday was a lovely sunny day and the first of my 2 days off this week so off to the plot I went. Digging and sorting out the canes for the peas were the jobs on the list along with day one of hardening off the onions and summer cauliflowers, and sowing the first round of my spring onions. Armed with my sun cream (got sun burned last week, not making the same mistake again) I spent a most enjoyable day pottering at the allotment.

My plan for Friday, the second of my 2 days off, was to continue digging over the Brassica beds for the second time (that bindweed never stops growing) and to prepare the ground for the beans and corn. This however was never to happen. Lurgy strike. On Friday morning I woke to stomach cramps and the dreaded sickness bug. How could this happen? I never get sick! I’m so grateful for my family. My sister sprung into action and got my son off to school. My parents picked him up from school, called in for an over night bag and have let him have a weekend break at Grandma and Granda’s house while I stay quarantined at home.

I did manage to hand over my allotment keys to my dad with the instructions to water the plants in the greenhouse. What a gem. Not only has he watered them, he sent pictures of the plants back to me so I could see how they were doing! My main worry was the cauliflowers. The last time I tried to harden them off they almost died, so it really helped so see the pictures of them looking fine and dandy.

Cauliflowers after their first day in the open

Cauliflowers after their first day in the open

It’s taken me almost 3 days to get over the horrible bug but tonight I managed a quick pit stop past the allotment on my way back from collecting my son from his weekend retreat. I’m pleased to see the allotment hasn’t become over run with weeds in the few days I’ve not made it along, and I’m pleased the peas are looking particularly good. (You know my next post will be how the slugs ate the peas)

Lovely peas

Lovely peas

The tomato plants are getting taller and stronger and the spinach is really starting to get going. The chilli peppers have even started to sprout up too. The blossom is now in full show on the apple tree and the tulips are just about ready to open. Things are looking good.

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Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings

Spinach micro salad

Spinach micro salad

I’m pleased the week is ending on a high note, and without the help of my family I’m sure it would be a different story. Thanks a million.