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! 

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 ☀️

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! 

 

Speedy Seeds

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It’s been 11 days since my super seed sowing assistant got in on the growing action and I’ve got to say, I think he’s got the gardening touch! Over the weekend, pretty much all of the seeds we planted germinated and they’re all doing really well. I’ve never grown sweet peas from seed before and I only realised after we had planted them that (according to the packet) for best results we should soak them in water overnight prior to planting.

Whoops

Thankfully all the sweet peas have germinated and I’ve avoided a seed sowing disaster. Now all I’ve got to do is find out when to pinch out the tops. I’m sure there’s plenty of time yet, I think it’s when they’ve got a few leaves on so that it encourages a more bushy plant. I’m really looking forward to using them for cut flowers, there’s even a category for sweet peas in the country show I go to in August, if I play my cards right I could have a couple of entries in the flower section…ok, I probably won’t but a girl can dream!

All is going well with the potatoes too. The little sprouts are really starting to put on some growth at the moment, hopefully they should be ready to plant out in about a fortnight. I’ve still got their patch to dig over at the allotment, so that will keep me motivated to get some more digging done. It will also give me time to get some manure. I’ve come up with a plan to dig the trench, line it with manure, pop the potatoes straight in and cover them up. I think I’m supposed to mix the manure into the ground a bit first but I’m sure (ish) that the potatoes will be fine going straight in.

The broadbeans that were eaten by the cat a few weeks ago have been brought back from the brink (my dad has been a fabulous bean keeper) and I’m pleased to say they have made a miraculous come back! I’ve started hardening them off and they’ll make it onto the plot at the end of the week. As a safety precaution I’m also going to plant some more broadbeans seeds directly into the ground at the same time. This should ensure I get a good steady crop of broadbeans throughout the summer.

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Miracle broadbeans

Next on the to do list will be to plant the sunflower seeds and to get some more digging done (this digging lark never ends does it?!)

 

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…

  
  

Let’s get sowing

  

Room to sit and enjoy a cup of tea in my lovely tidy shed

  
After my shed sorting success yesterday I was keen to keep up the good work and had planned to make a start on clearing the vegetable plots today. However, I woke to a very windy and very rainy Friday, not the best for digging and clearing. Without much persuasion to leave digging for the day, I felt I should really get a move on and get some seeds planted. 

The end of February/beginning of March marks the start of my seed sowing season. Onions and leeks first, followed by potato chitting and the sowing of broad beans. 

 

Potatoes ready for chitting

  
  

Broad beans sown in cardboard tubes for easy planting out

 
It was great to get a few seeds sown today. I feel like I’m back on track, even though I’ve still got all my vegetable beds to prepare, at least I’ll have something to plant out in a few weeks time! 

Happy sowing everyone! 

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.

 

 

Potting up and planting out

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Over the last week or so, I’ve been hardening off the broad beans and as its my last day off work today, I thought I’d get them along to the allotment and plant them out. I’ve grown them in cardboard tubes to make this job a bit easier for me and less traumatic to the plants and their roots.

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Rather than planting a long single row, I’ve planted a short double row. The theory is that the plants will grow to support each other and to help them along, I’ve put a twine support grid in between them.

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I’m feeling quite nervous about leaving the beans at the allotment, what if the birds eat them? What if the snails and slugs eat them? I’ve been saving egg shells at home to crush and sprinkle around the base of the plants to deter the slugs and snails, but in typical “me” fashion, I left them at home. So, if the beans make it through the night, I’ll pop along tomorrow afternoon and sprinkle some crushed shells around them then.

The last 2 jobs on my list today were to plant up the herbs and to start off the micro salad now I have my greenhouse back in working order. The original plan for the herbs was to create a scented border at the bottom of the allotment beside the nature corner. The herbs I’ve chosen are Lavender, Thyme, Oregano and Sage. When I actually placed the herbs where I wanted them, I found that the border would run right under the apple tree, where all the roots for the apple tree are. After a quick re-think, I decided to put the herbs into plant pots. For the moment I’ve put them beside the shed, which works just fine. The gate into the plot is there too so you get a lovely waft of thyme and oregano as you enter the allotment.

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Last but not least…the micro salad. A few years ago, my sister and I were watching River Cottage on TV and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall used a length of guttering to grow the most delicious micro salad leaves. Well, if growing salad in guttering is good enough for The River Cottage, it’s good enough for me! Right now I’m growing Rocket, Purple Basil and Spinach. Once these have grown and been harvested, I’ll plant another lot of leaves and will continue this process for as long as I can with as many different varieties of leaves as I can find! The micro salad leaves should be ready to harvest in as little as 3-4 weeks, and the flavour from the baby leaves will be delicious. I for one can’t wait to begin the harvest.

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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!