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! 

  

Hello mojo

 

 
  

I’ve been feeling nervous. I’ve only had a couple of visits to the allotment over the winter season and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing myself for the worst. Winter alone can wreak havoc with the allotment so I was quite anxious to actually see the allotment especially with all the storms we’ve had here recently.I couldnt put it off any longer.

Today I took my first serious trip up to the allotment, and to my surprise, the allotment had faired pretty well over the winter. The shed was still standing, all the glass was accounted for in the greenhouse and the hanging baskets were still…well…hanging! 

  
I had a quick look over the vegetable beds and although they will need a good digging over, I was delighted to see that they hadn’t become totally over run with weeds. 

  
My leeks were still standing even though most of them bolted last year, I spotted some of my purple sprouting broccoli was still sprouting and I even still had a solitary kale plant still going. 

  
In last years onion bed I spotted what I thought was a very straight line of weeds. On closer inspection I realised these were actually the spring onions I planted last year…better late than never I suppose!  

  

  
While the sun was shining I took the opportunity to clear out the shed. I hate cleaning out the shed. Spiders live there. But no one else is going to do it for me so I grabbed my wellies, gloves and a large broom and got to work. 

It’s amazing what a difference a clear out can make. Just spending an hour or so sorting out plant pots, getting rid of all the old junk that had piled up last year, picturing the greenhouse full of seedlings rather than full of rubbish really boosted my enthusiasm for this years growing season. 

The reassuring signs of Spring have started to appear at the plot. Crocuses have started popping up, the rhubarb has burst through the mulch and the Rosemary cuttings I took last year are really coming on. 

   
   

  

Hello gardening mojo, I’ve missed you

Bringing the outside in

  
I love the idea of having beautiful flowers and plants all around the house. Nothing brightens up a room more than a lovely vase of freshly cut flowers, arranged just as you’d see on the cover of a magazine. Unfortunately I lack (quite severely) the skill of flower arranging and each time I’ve tried to make an arrangement it looks as if I’ve just dumped the flowers directly into the vase without any thought or care. Due to the ugliness of the arrangement it’s more often than not that the flowers are put to one side of the room in shame and forgotten about until all the petals have fallen off and they make their inevitable journey to the bin. I have also failed miserably at keeping a bonsai tree. The poor thing lasted about 3 months before it shrivelled up, the leaves turned brown, then made its inevitable journey to the bin. 

To say I’ve not had much success as an indoor gardener would be a fair statement to make. 

But I still yearn for house plants. 

While browsing Pinterest recently I came across something that might just be the solution to all my houseplanty problems..

A Terrarium. A lovely little plant world inside a glass. 

Today I’m giving indoor gardening one final whirl and if I can’t keep a Terrarium I’ll resolve myself to only out door gardening. 

To start making the terrarium I picked up a couple of glass bowls, some stones, a selection of alpine plants and cactus potting soil. 

  
Alpine plants like free draining soil, so to help with the drainage I placed a selection of stones in the bottom of each bowl. I then filled the bowls about 2/3 full with the soil then arranged the alpine plants into the bowls. Once in their positions I added more soil around the plants and topped off with some decorative stones and pebbles. 

  
   
 How easy was that?! 

I’m really pleased with the end result, the only thing left to do is to find a sunny spot for them. 

  

Under construction 

  
The warm weather this week has worked wonders for the allotment. Everything seems to be thriving in the sunshine and I’m delighted with the progress that the plants are making. Earlier on this week I planted out my tomato plants, I’ve picked the  2 strongest of each variety and planted them in grow bags against the side of the shed. It’s a lovely sunny but sheltered spot currently being enjoyed by the strawberries, but after a quick re-organisation there was room for everything. 
 

On Wednesday morning, on my pre-work visit, I noticed the first of my strawberries starting to ripen and turn red.
  
Not wanting to leave them in the car to sweat it out while I was at work, I decided to pop back along after work to pick them. Unfortunately the birds must’ve spotted them too because they’d completely disappeared by the time I got back! I’ll have to work out some form of protection for them because I’m not losing any more! 

Today I’ve spent a lovely morning at the plot building some more of my squash hide-out. With a bit of training, the squash plants will climb up the bamboo framework and I’ll have a really cool little hide away covered with little mini squashes. I attached the first rung when I initially planted out the squash plants a couple of weeks ago and now the plants are growing well, it’s time to give the plants more rungs to scramble up. 
   
   

I’m making the framework from bamboo canes, cutting each rung to fit. It’s amazing what you can make with canes and garden twine! 

   
   

While I was making the squash hide-out, my dad popped along to check on the progress of the vegetables. While he was there I showed him my random red flowering peas. I noticed them a day or two ago and I’ve not been able to work out how they’re red! The only thing I can think of is that a random red flowering pea variety snuck into the seed packet. I’m not complaining, I can’t wait to see what the peas are like.

 

While I was checking out the pea flowers I noticed something curly sticking out from one of them…

  
A POD! 
I can’t believe it! An actual pea pod. Once I saw that one I spotted another, and another!
   
   

I can’t believe it was only last Thursday I saw the first pea flowers and just one week later we have pods! 

I must’ve got swept up in “pod fever” and I picked my first broad bean pod today too. I think I picked it a bit too early but it just seemed too good to pass up. 

  
I was really pleased with the jam I made last week (the jar I kept for me has been used up already) and I really fancied making some elderflower cordial, so I managed to pick a few umbrellas of elderflowers before I left the allotment. 

  
I’m going to make the cordial tomorrow and add some fresh ginger to the mix too. The plan is to use the cordial in drinks and to add extra flavour to any more jams I make. 

Tomorrows day at the allotment will be spent weeding mostly I think. The weather has worked wonders for the weeds too! I might even treat the pumpkins to a mulching of manure while I’m at it. Happy days. 

Eyes down for a full house

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At last, the beds are full at the allotment. Over the last 2 weeks I’ve been a busy bee planting out the last of my home-grown seedlings to finally fill the vegetable plots.

Last week I gave myself the task of getting the Brassica beds finished. If I’m being totally honest, I’ve been putting this off a bit as it would mean I’d have to build some kind of netted structure to protect the crops but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do this. I’d had an idea about using an old garden hose to make an arched tunnel  across the bed. This plan went quickly down hill after I cut the first length of hose, secured each end into the ground across the vegetable bed then watched the hose arch promptly collapse to the ground.

Under construction

Under construction

Plan B was to use bamboo canes along the outside of the vegetable beds and to attach the net to those. I’ve been saving squash bottles to use as snail and slug protectors and I’d kept the tops of the bottles to put on top of the canes to secure the netting. This plan was much more successful and after an hour or so I’d made 2 Brassica cages. In went the Calabrese, the Kale and the Purple sprouting broccoli, along with the green and red Brussel sprouts. I’ve still got a little room left in one of the beds for the cabbage. I’ve not been so successful with the summer cabbage this year, but I’ve still got my winter cabbage and my turnips to sow so I’ll probably use the space for those.

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The beginning of a much more successful plan

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Ready for planting

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Bird Proof Brassica beds

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Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts

Calabrese, Kale and Purple sprouting broccoli

Calabrese, Kale and Purple sprouting broccoli

Now, building the cages was primarily to keep the birds and butterflies off the Brassicas, but I was still quite concerned about the slugs and snails. I’ve been reading about organic ways to keep these types of pests off the vegetables by using beer traps, wool pellets, crushed egg shells, sharp sand or nematodes, but the method that appealed to me the most was to sprinkle used coffee grounds around the newly planted vegetables, the main reason being that I could get a huge box full of them for free from work – it’s a no brainer really! So far I’ve been really pleased with this method, I’ve used it around all the Brassicas, the beans, sweetcorn as well as all the squash and pumpkins I planted out the week before and there’s only been a very slight nibble to one or two of the leaves, nothing more…brilliant.

The only things I had left to plant out were the leeks and the courgette plants. I’ve had to make a bit of a “space sacrifice” in order to plant out the leeks. I’ve decided not to plant parsnips this year and only plant 3 short rows of carrots so that I can fit the leeks into their allocated bed. The reason for  this is that I’ve got really heavy clay soil and I don’t think the carrots or parsnips will be particularly successful, but if they are, I’ll reduce the number of onions next year to give me more room.

3 short rows of carrots

3 short rows of carrots

So, on with the leeks. I’ve been intrigued about planting leeks, all because of how this is done. Puddling in. Doesn’t it sound great! Armed with the handle of my garden hoe, I started making deep holes in the ground for the mini leeks to be dropped into. Once they were all cosy in the holes I topped them up with water to allow the earth to settle around the base of the plants. Hopefully I’ve made the holes deep enough to blanch the base of the leeks, giving them a lovely white stem. I’ll earth them up later on in the year to help with this too.

Leeks ready for planting out

Leeks ready for planting out

Leeks ready for puddling in

Leeks ready for puddling in

30 leeks, puddles

30 leeks, puddled

Last but not least were the courgettes. I cleared a bed for them last week, thinking I was digging up a couple of errant brambles but to my surprise this is what I found…

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Surprise potato

Surprise potato

More potatoes

More potatoes

I must’ve left a couple of little potatoes in the ground when I cleared the patch!

Once I removed the last of the potatoes, I planted my 6 courgette plants. I’m growing 3 types, an Italian striped variety, Defender which is a deep green variety and Atena, a yellow variety. They’re all suppose to be good croppers too so I’ll be sharing them with friends and family.

Courgettes planted

Courgettes planted

After they were planted I gave the area a good sprinkling with the coffee grounds and stood back to survey the plot.

The sunflowers are starting to flower now, mine was the first to bloom (much to my son’s disappointment) closely followed by my Mam’s and my sons in third place.

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The Alliums are starting to flower in Nature Corner now which is great for attracting bees and hoverflies to the plot

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The apple trees seem to be doing well with the new fruit starting to swell. There seems to be loads of new fruit on the trees at the moment, I’m in two minds about whether to leave them or to remove some of the fruits now to allow the remaining ones to get larger. Any thoughts on this would be fantastic.

Apples

Apples

Lots of apples forming on the tree

Lots of apples forming on the tree

Last but not least the Nasturtiums have started to flower. I had planted these to attract the green-fly away from the crops but they’re too pretty to be sacrificed! Don’t they just look lovely.

 

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I spy with my little eye

Its official…we have vegetables. Ok, so when I say vegetables, I mean very small vegetables. Seriously, what I actually mean, is I found teeny tiny broad bean pods. Two of them. Hurrah!

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The first broad bean pod

I’ve really enjoyed seeing the broad beans growing and flowering at the allotment. Having never grown broad beans before, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. From experimenting with planting the seeds into cardboard tubes and then fretting about them being left unattended at the allotment, worrying about what will happen if the snails/slugs/birds take a fancy to them, to seeing their lovely deep pink flowers burst open and smelling their lovely sweet scent on the breeze. The bees have really taken a fancy to the flowers recently and I’d hoped this would result in lots of bean pods emerging, so it was lovely to spot the tiny pods peeking out from the flowers on the plants this morning.

The next thing I need to do with the broad beans is to pinch out the growing tip so that the plant can put all of its energy into producing lots more lovely bean pods, but I’m not sure when I need to do this. Do I pinch it out now? Do I leave it until there are a few more pods growing? Do I leave it until the first lot of pods are nearly full size? Clearly I think more research is needed. I will be slightly sad to remove the growing tip of the plants as this will mean no more lovely flowers, but I’m sure the end result will be worth it.

Feeling rather excited with my bean discovery I went off in search for signs of other vegetables growing. Most of the vegetables I’ve got planted out at the allotment at the moment have quite long growing seasons, such as the garlic, onions and potatoes, so to counter that, I’ve sown some quick growing crops too.  A few weeks ago I planted some rocket, radish and spring onion seeds into an up cycled roasting tin. Feeling artistic at the time of sowing the seeds, I put the rocket around the outside, the spring onions in the centre and the radish in between. Looking at the salad tin today I think I’m going to have a salad explosion! In a week or so, I’ll thin out the radish to let the remainder grow on but I’m hopeful that some of the thinnings will be big enough to use in salads.

Salad planter 2 weeks ago

Salad planter 2 weeks ago

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Salad planter today

I was thrilled when I also checked on my Atlantic giant pumpkins; I saw a cluster of flower buds forming on the stem. I’ve been having a final weed of the pumpkin patch today so hopefully I’ll be able to get all the squash and pumpkins planted out in the next day or two and we’ll see the flowers open up soon.

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The strawberries are coming along great guns too. They’ve been flowering like mad and today I spotted a whole cluster of berries just starting to form.

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It’s so exciting to be at the allotment at this time of year. I love that each day there’s something different to see, whether it’s new vegetables growing or new flowers blooming, every visit is still an adventure.

Sowing frenzy

I can’t believe its April already. It doesn’t seem 5 minutes ago since I was waiting for spring to arrive so I could get growing. This week, I’ve been unleashing my inner seed sower and I’ve been planting like mad! Spurred on by planting my peas on Monday, I thought it best to keep up the momentum and plant my next batch of seeds.

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Adding drainage holes to the recycled plant pots

Adding drainage holes to the recycled plant pots

Thursday was the seed frenzy day. First up were the pumpkins.

When I was choosing which pumpkins to grow I was governed by 2 things, size and taste. Firstly I wanted to grow a massive pumpkin, you know, the kind of pumpkin you only hear about:

“its so big they needed a crane to lift it”

“I heard its bigger than a whale”

That’s the kind of pumpkin I want to grow! So I chose the Atlantic Giant. According to the description, it holds the world record for size, so it’s got to be worth a go. On the opposite end of scale I’m also growing miniature squash. I chose the Buffy Ball winter squash which will grow to tennis ball size and also tastes quite sweet too. I’m planning to grow them off the ground, up and over a teepee made from bamboo canes to provide an interesting focal point to the allotment (plus it’ll be a great place for me to hide out). The last of my squashes are a Japanese variety I got free with a magazine called Uchiki Kuri also known as Onion squash. The flavour is smooth and nutty which will be great roasted, perfect for the autumn and winter months.

Atlantic giant pumpkin seeds

Atlantic giant pumpkin seeds

The next lot of seeds to be sown were some of the brassicas consisting of Purple Sprouting Broccoli, regular green broccoli, another round of summer cabbage, red brussel sprouts and last but not least, kale. I’d had to take my onions and my flower seedlings to the allotment earlier in the week to make room for all the new trays of seeds. Hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll be able to move all the seedlings to the allotment and my parents can get their windowsills back!

Next batch of seeds planted

Next batch of seeds planted

Today saw the first actual intentional harvest of the year. I’ve been forcing a section of my rhubarb plant and I promised myself I’d not look until it had been covered for about a month. Well, 3 weeks is pretty close, so I took a little peek.

Unforced and forced rhubarb plant

Unforced and forced rhubarb plant

Lovely long sticks of rhubarb

Lovely long sticks of rhubarb

We have rhubarb! I couldn’t resist taking a stick.

Ta-da

Ta-da

It’s much taller than I thought it would be considering the bucket covering the section is orange and the black plastic bag that I’ve wrapped the bucket in is quite thin, but who cares? It’s fantastic!

The other part of the rhubarb is growing nicely with the stems looking big and chunky, perfect for making crumble. Hopefully it’ll not be long before I can get some more sticks picked off.

Unforced section of the rhubarb growing sturdy stems

Unforced section of the rhubarb growing sturdy stems

The rest of the plants at the allotment are doing well. The barriers I put around the broad beans to stop creatures nibbling the leaves seem to have done the trick with no more chunks being taken. The ground where I planted the peas seems un-disturbed, fingers crossed I’ve fooled the birds and mice.

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Nature corner has really stared to come into bloom over the last week. The little blue grape hyacinths are growing well and the tulips and more daffodils are starting to come through. Birds have started to take some of the fillings from the bug hut to use to make their nests, their favourite seems to be the wool fleece. I’m imagining them all snuggled up cozy somewhere.

Nature corner

Nature corner

I’m over the moon with my little harvest today. I also picked some herbs (sage, thyme and oregano) and a bunch of daffodils to take home. I gave the flowers to my mam as she loves spring flowers.

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Spring in a jug

Spring in a jug

Finally, I know you’re wondering about the the fate of the single stick of rhubarb. There’s only one thing you can do with a single stick of rhubarb.

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Dipped in sugar

Dipped in sugar

Going in for the kill

Going in for the kill

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Perfection

Perfection

I’ll have a “P” please Bob

Its bank holiday Monday, and up until 2 o’clock I watched the lovely sunshine though the windows at work. But when 2pm came, I was off on a mission to the allotment to get the peas sown.

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According to my planner, I was supposed to get the peas planted mid March, but with the awful weather we’ve had, I thought it best to err on the side of caution and hold off until we have some finer warmer weather.

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Armed with more bamboo canes than you could shake a stick at, I headed along to the allotment. I’m growing two varieties of peas, one dwarf and one climbing. The dwarf variety is called Hurst Greenshaft and will grow to about 50cm high. It’s a second early variety and if the birds don’t eat them first, they should start cropping in about 14 weeks. The climbing variety is called Alderman and is an old-fashioned Victorian type. It has the ability to grow up to about 7 feet tall but as I’m only 5 foot 3 inches tall, I’ll be growing it to about 6 feet! This will be my main crop pea and should be ready to harvest in about 15-16 weeks.

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I absolutely adore eating peas fresh from their pods and I’ve already decided to make the Spring Pea Risotto Raymond Blanc made on the BBC series Kew on a Plate once they’re cropping. I know I’m taking a bit of a risk planting the peas direct, but for the number of plants I’d actually need, it seemed the best choice, and if no seedlings have grown in about 2 weeks I’ll assume the mice have eaten them heartily and I’ll sow some more.

Lovely water Iris ready to be potted up

Lovely water Iris ready to be potted up

As I was working away, another allotment holder came along to the plot and very generously shared one of her water Irises with me to plant in Nature corner. They’ve been making their own wildlife pond so she had one spare, she even gave me some aquatic compost to use to get it planted up straight away. How nice is that? I’m delighted with my unexpected gift, it’s the first shared plant I’ve received at the allotment so it’ll hold a very special memory for me. I really like the idea of allotment holders being able to share their plants and produce, it gives a real community spirit to the adventure of allotmenteering.

Ready to hit the water

Ready to hit the water

Man Down

This week I’ve had a bit of a disaster. I’ve been getting rather excited about the prospect of planting out my seedlings so I’ve started to harden off my broad beans and my cauliflowers. The broad beans have loved being outside and thrived in the great out doors, soaking up the sunshine and breathing in the fresh air. The cauliflower seedlings on the other hand have not fared so well.

Poor Cauliflowers

Poor Cauliflowers

I’m not sure whats happened to them. The first day of hardening off, the weather was slightly breezy and quite mild so they were only out for an hour or so. The second day they looked fine, so they went out for slightly longer. I wasn’t too concerned about this as it was probably the most lovely sunny day we’ve had so far this year. The following day however, the seedlings looked extremely poor. Quickly, they were watered and they have improved slightly, but they are still in need of a serious rescue plan. Needless to say they’ve not been outside since. I’m hoping that they have just been dehydrated and that over the next few days their next set of leaves will continue to grow. Worst case scenario…its cold shock, and I fear they’ve had it.

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I’m going to plant up a few (lots of) extra seeds over the weekend to try and make up for any that don’t pull through. Failing that I can plant them directly into the ground and we’ll do battle with the slugs and snails.

Other than that, its been quite a successful time this week. I’ve almost finished digging the whole of the allotment and there are just 2 small sections left to do. After what seems like hours upon hours of digging and weeding the end is in sight.

I spent Thursday and Friday at the allotment and was delighted on Thursday to be joined by a squirrel. The allotment backs onto a park and I love how the animals pop over the fence to say “Hi”. I’m sure I’ll change my tune though, when the squirrels are tucking into a 3 course meal at the expense of my vegetables, but for now I’m enjoying seeing the wildlife in action.

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I’m really pleased that I’ve managed to keep on track with the digging and weeding over the winter months. After spending most of last year clearing the plot, it’s a really great feeling to look at the allotment now its ready for planting, and vision the vegetables growing.

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The potatoes I started chitting last week are getting some lovely purple sprouts on them. With a bit of luck they’ll be ready to plant out in about 4 weeks time. The tomato seedlings are also up and running and are smelling absolutely marvellous. There’s something about the smell of their leaves that is just summer in a sniff! The Nasturtium flowers I’m growing for companion planting have germinated and now look like mini lily pads. I’ve grown enough to plant along side most of the crops, but I’m hoping they’ll be most effective in the brassica beds as well as with the pumpkins and squash.

Sprouting potatoes

Sprouting potatoes

Tomato seedlings

Tomato seedlings

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums

After watching Gardeners World last week, I’ve gone a bit Monty Don and started to force a section of my rhubarb. I didn’t have a black bin to use, but located an old bucket and covered that with a black plastic bag. I know it’s not pretty but it’ll do for now.

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Now you see it…

 

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Now you don’t

Next week is going to be full steam ahead down at the plot. I’ve taken the week off work to get all the little jobs at the allotment done including getting the broad beans supported and planted out. Now, when I say little jobs, I mean the jobs I’ve been putting off, like cleaning out the shed, burning all brambles I dug out last year (the plot was over run with them), making the path section between the beds wider using the bits of bricks I have dug up, finding a glass door to fit and replace the one that was smashed by vandals on my home-made green house a year ago and to plant out the herbs and lavender. Hopefully by the end of the week, I’ll have a beautifully clean and tidy plot with some actual vegetables growing in it. Wish me luck!