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! 

Here today, gone tomorrow?

  
I’ve been a bit late with everything at the allotment this year. It’s not for the lack of planning or enthusiasm, I was just a big scaredy cat about planting out when we had all that rubbish weather. I was worried it would be too cold/wet/windy for the delicate seedlings and all the plants would wither/rot/blow away. As such, I held off planting out, and delayed sowing the tender crops, such as beans and summer squash, hence why I’m so behind this year. 

The vegetables I have planted out so far, seem to be doing well, the potatoes are having a real growth spurt, I earthed them up less than a fortnight ago! 

 

Potatoes 2 weeks ago

 
 

Potatoes today

 
The broad beans are coming along nicely too. The second sowing of broad beans I planted directly into the ground are the Crimson flowered variety I grew last year, so I’m hoping for a lovely display of pink flowers (and delicious beans of course) later in the season. 

  
Today I started to make the climbing support for the peas. I’ve had the bamboo canes in place since the peas were sown but I couldn’t decide what to use for them to scramble up. Netting? Twiggy branches? Twine to the rescue! Got a bit creative with the twine making patterns between the canes, but why not be a bit creative I say! 

  
I’ve always been a bit nervous about sowing seeds directly into the ground at the allotment. There’s all manner of creatures out there waiting to eat the seedlings. This year I’ve thrown caution to the wind and sown a whole host of quick cropping seeds. The radish have germinated first, and its a delight to see their lovely leafy shoots all straight beneath the string row marker. There’s no sign of any leuttce yet and no sign of any carrots. I had a disaster with carrots last year, only 3 germinated, and they turned out to be the teeniest carrots in history. How I can grow dandelions and dock, both with MASSIVE tap roots but can’t grow carrots still mystifies me but we’ll see how these go. I had almost given up hope on the rest of the seeds but I spotted the thin green grass-like shoots of the Spring onions! Hooray! 

Radish

 

Single spring onion shoot

 
 The last job for the day was planting out the beetroot. I’ve never been able to grow beetroot, (perhaps they’re in cahoots with the carrots) but not wanting to be beaten, I started some off in modules a few weeks ago and low and behold they germinated! They’ve been hardened off at the allotment for the last week and it is time to get them planted out. 

 

Beetroot seedlings

 
This is the bit I’m worried about. Planting out the new seedlings. We know that the weather has been a bit off kilter recently, which unfortunately has resulted in a boom in the slug and snail population. We also know that slugs and snails will tend to eat the tender new shoots of vegetables. I’m hoping they’ll cut me some slack and hold off the beetroots, they’ve already worked their way through almost half of the sunflowers, surely they’ll be satisfied with what they’ve had already? We’ll see if the beetroot are still there in the morning!

Fingers crossed 

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 ☀️

Timsey and the sweet peas 

  
Today I planted out the sweet peas at the allotment. They’ve been hardened off for about 2 weeks and with the weather forecast to be quite settled for the next few days I took the opportunity to let them loose in the big wide world. 

It’s the first time I’ve grown sweet peas and I’ve been really pleased with the germination rate. I pinched out the tops when the plants had 4 sets of leaves and I’m delighted that (as promised) more branches started growing out from the main stem. Brilliant!

  
At the allotment I’ve got a very special climbing support. 

Meet Timsey. 

 My sister made Timsey in high school and used her friend, Timsey, as the model. The original use was to hang clothes on but I think she will wear the sweet peas with style. 

   
   
I’ve picked a nice sunny spot for Timsey to hang out and I’ve taken a selection of the sweet peas and planted them at Timsey’s feet. The remaining plants I’ve given to my mum for her garden. 

A quick check over the allotment and more potatoes have started to pop up. I’m really excited for the salad blue ones, even their leaves have a blue hint to them! 

  
   
 The second sowing of broad beans have come through, these ones are the Crimson flowered variety I grew last year. I’d almost given up hope as they’ve been in the ground for 3 weeks! 

  
Last but not least I spotted the first 2 pea shoots to burst above ground. Everything is really starting to get growing now. 

  
Happy garden = happy gardener

Back yard beauty

  

I love my allotment. Its a little haven just for me.
It’s split into two sections, the first part is like a little garden, with a grassy area surrounded by roses and (at the moment) daffodils. The second part is where the vegetable beds are. I’ve not had a garden at home since I lived with my parents so I’m thrilled to now live in a flat which has a back yard. For months now I’ve been imagining the yard filled with flowers and pots and hanging baskets. (Perhaps the odd pot of salad leaves too) I’ve also been holding onto a wooden pallet with a view to transforming it into a beautifully rustic wall planter. (In reality I’ll probably butcher it and then throw it in a skip)

  
About 2 weeks ago my sister and I made a start on the back yard transformation. It’s quite a small space, with white painted brickwork, and the floor area is totally decked. We gave the decking a clean a week or so before, so we were good to get planting! 

  
We chose a mixture of plants both in size and colour. With the walls being white we wanted to add some additional colour and interest to the space by using a mixture of plant pots too. We’ve also repurposed an ikea waste paper basket I picked up free! 

  
Pansies, violas and little begonias went into the hanging baskets, I love how bright the colours are together. In a few weeks time they should be really be blooming. 

  
We made a lavender trough, and went wild with a planter mixture of tall red spikes and more pansies and violas. 

   
 We were a bit spoiled for choice with the climbers so we went for everything; Clematis, climbing jasmine, Passion flower and a honeysuckle! I know there’s a lot going on but if they actually climb and flower, I think it’ll look (and smell) amazing. We found some low growing flowers so we planted them in a long tub hoping they’ll fill out a bit and cascade over the sides. 

 
I’ve also planted some summer flowering bulbs, gladioli and freesia. I know they’re a bit old fashioned but I think they look lovely as cut flowers. I’ve never grown these before so we’ll see how they go. 

  
I’ve managed to get a herb bucket going with all the kitchen cooking essentials included, thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano, and this week I’ve sown some wild rocket and spinach to be planted up into outside pots when the weather settles a bit. I can’t wait to just nip outside to pick fresh leaves and herbs to cook with.

Ps. I’ve not attempted to up cycle the wooden pallet yet, I’m still working up the courage to hack it to pieces but I’m sure there’ll be an update about that soon! 

 

Touch down

   

  
After a traumatic start, the broadbeans have made it to the allotment. I’m so delighted that after being eaten by the cat to what I can only describe as stumpy stalks, they’ve bounced back and continued to grow. I’ve been hardening them off for the last week or so and waiting for a good spell of weather so today I hightailed along to the allotment to get them planted. They’re always the first vegetables to be planted out at the allotment, and for me, they mark the start of the growing season. I mixed in some compost to help improve the soil texture and aid drainage then got cracking.   
I’ve planted out all the broadbeans that recovered. These took up half the row. I still had some Crimson flowered broadbean seeds from last year so I finished off the double row with these. I’m hoping that I’ll see them in about a fortnight (I’ve never sown broad beans directly in the ground). They were lovely last year, such a pretty colour and they smelled fantastic. 

  
I’ve put homemade plant protectors straight over the beans. Slugs and snails will not be feasting on these beans! 

Next on the to-do list were the potatoes. They’ve been soaking up the sunshine for the last 6 weeks and have developed some lovely sturdy shoots. I had already dug the potato bed ready for their arrival so while the weather was still fine I thought I’d get them in. 

   
  
So that’s it, the veggies have landed. It’s  so nice to finally have some plants in the ground, I just have a few more beds to dig and weed, then it’ll be all systems go! 

Soft as Clarts

  
It’s been raining steadily here since Monday and the thought of digging in the rain has been hanging over my head all week. As luck would have it, the drizzle we had this morning had stopped by 9.30 so off I popped to the allotment. I’m way behind on my digging plan, I’ve still got 4 more beds to dig over, but today I wanted to get the bed for the potatoes dug so it’s primed for their planting tomorrow. 

I’ve been debating whether I should plant the potatoes while the ground is so wet but if I leave it until the weather improves they might never make it into the ground! So, with my fork and bucket I made a start on the very wet plot. 

  
With all the rain this week I’d thought that the plot would be really difficult to dig, but to my delight the ground was so soft the weeds just came straight out. The Bindweed came out intact, Dock roots slid out whole, even the long tap roots of the dandelions came out in one piece (which for me is virtually unheard of).

  
The down side of this is that the little weeds, you know the type, the small weeds with the capacity to spread for miles in the blink of an eye, they stuck to my gloves for all their worth. Not a big thing, you’d think, but every weed, covered in clarty sticky mud, stuck to my clarty sticky gloves. Nine times out of ten I’d be flicking the weed back into the freshly dug plot! But I’m persistent, so picking, flicking and scraping the weeds into the bucket was the order of the day and before I knew it the bed was dug!

  
The surprise spring onions are still going strong. I’m going to let them grow in the potato bed for the next month, until I start earthing up, then they’ll have to come out. The rhubarb is starting to come up nicely and in a few weeks I’ll be making (and enjoying) the first batch of allotment rhubarb crumble, yum yum.

   
   

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

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

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!