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!

The Great Sunflower Race

Giant sunflower

Giant sunflower

Back in January, while on a trip to the garden centre, I came across a sunflower growing kit for children. My son Jacob loves sunflowers, so I bought him the kit. It came with individual pots to grow the flowers in, along with little compost discs and of course lots of lovely sunflower seeds.

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According the the growing instructions, we couldnt start planting them until March, so he’s been waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Yesterday, we decided we could wait no more, and he declared a sunflower growing race. We’ve all selected our own individual pots and marked them with stickers. We also were able to choose up to 3 seeds each for maximum growing potential!

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The variety of sunflower in the pack is the Helianthus Annuus Giganteus or the Giant Sunflower. This apparently can grow up to 3 meters tall so there’s everything to grow for. I’m not usually that competitive, ok I might be a teeny bit competitive, but I really want my sunflower to grow as tall as possible, and if it happens to tower above all the other growers then that’ll be a bonus too!

Once the seeds have grown over 10 cm we’ll do a weekly measure in, and record the flowers progress. We were going to set a final measure date but to be honest, I’ve never grown giant sunflowers before so I’ve got no idea when they’ll be at their tallest and in full bloom so once their height stays the same over a couple of weeks we’ll just take that measurement and wait to see who’ll be crowned king or queen of the sunflowers.

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I’ve started so I’ll finish…

Over the last few weeks I’ve been steadily working my way along the plots at the allotment, carefully digging and weeding, (don’t mention the bindweed) getting the ground ready for planting. I had planned on spending both my days off work this week at the allotment, but yesterday I just didn’t have the time I needed to get a whole section dug. Don’t get me wrong, I could’ve weeded a section of the Brassica bed, possibly even half of it, but the thought of starting a section and not having the time to finish it completely didn’t quite feel right to me. This would just have to wait until I had the time to get the whole section done.

The next batch of seeds to be sown

The next batch of seeds to be sown

As I wasn’t going to be digging at the allotment, I took the opportunity to sow some more seeds. The next batch of seeds due for planting were my summer cabbages and the first variety of Brussel sprouts. I fear I got a bit carried away when I started sowing seeds last month, and planted all of my cauliflower seeds at once, not thinking about the fact that they’ll probably all be ready for harvesting at the same time…all 12 of them! I didn’t want to fall into the same situation with my cabbages, so I’ve only planted 3 seeds now. I’ll plant another 3 seeds in 3 weeks time, and I’ll repeat this until I’ve got about 12 well-developed seedlings. This should give me a good few weeks of succession cropping later on in the year, and then my winter cabbages will be ready to take over. In the allotment I’m trying 2 types of Brussel sprouts, one green and one red. The green variety is slightly earlier cropping, so these are the seeds I’m sowing now, I’ll plant the red variety at the beginning of May. With a bit of luck, we could have red and green sprouts for Christmas lunch. How festive will that be?!

Weeded and ready for action

Weeded and ready for action

Today I had much more free time, so I spent a very cold day at the allotment. It’s been blowing a gale, all the leaves have been swirling round my freshly dug plots, my toes were numb, but I’m pleased I completed the weeding of my second Brassica bed. The next plot to dig will be for my peas, beans and sweet corn. The broad beans I planted a few weeks ago are growing well and should be ready to be hardened off and be planted out in April so I’ll have to keep on track with the weeding and the digging if I’m to get them out on schedule.

The peas, beans and sweetcorn area waiting to be dug

The peas, beans and sweetcorn area waiting to be dug

Broad beans

Broad beans

The daffodils at the allotment are really shooting up now, and their flower heads are starting to develop. Let’s hope they bring some warmer, sunnier weather with their cheery arrival.

Daffodils

Daffodils

Rainy Thursday

Today is my first day off work this week, and all I’ve been dreaming about is packing up my digging gear along with a hot flask of tea and heading to the allotment. Every day, I’ve been checking the weather forecast (as I suspect most allotment holders do) making sure it would be dry and fine so I would be able to continue digging and weeding the vegetable plots. Overnight, the weather changed. I woke up to the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops, bouncing off the windows, blighting my big digging plans for the day. But then I started wondering, would it be so bad to dig in the wet weather? Apart from the obvious soggy gardener, what would be so bad about digging in the rain?

Looking for a bit of advice I started searching the Internet to see what the general rule of thumb was in relation to wet weather digging. Most of the sites I came across were very much against digging while the ground is wet for fear of compacting the soil. Some, however, were a little more lenient and suggested standing on wooden boards to help distribute weight and avoiding standing on the wet ground. The soil I have at the allotment is mostly clay so the rain makes it really heavy to dig.

The question remained: Should I dig? One one hand, I don’t mind a bit of hard work and as long as it’s not really windy I can manage gardening in rubbish weather. On the other hand, I’ve worked really hard to get the allotment back into shape ready for growing this year and the ground is almost prepared for the spring. I really don’t want to chance wasting all the hours of effort put into the allotment. Reluctantly I decided not to dig. (The weather forecast shows its supposed to be bright tomorrow so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that). Still not wanting to pass up a chance to get to the allotment, I thought I’d pop along anyway. Just to take a peak at it.

Dug over vegetable beds

Dug over vegetable beds

Vegetable beds awaiting their spring makeover

Vegetable beds awaiting their spring makeover

The beds I dug over last week are still looking good, but there’s still a long way to go to get all the planting areas prepared. The garlic is going strong. I’m pleased to see that the Elephant garlic is now starting to sprout with a little more vigour, and I’m delighted to see more spring bulbs starting to pop up in nature corner.

Elephant garlic starting to sprout up new shoots

Elephant garlic starting to sprout up new shoots

Crocus flowers

Crocus flowers in Nature Corner

My son and I also hung up some bird feeders last weekend. It seems that some birds got a little greedy and pulled one of the feeders off! At least it appears they enjoyed their sunflower seed and mealworm feast.

Coconut bird feeder

Coconut bird feeder

Greedy birds!

Greedy birds!

So, what do we do when it’s too wet to dig? We plant more seeds!

I’d planned on sowing my tomato seeds next week but I decided it wouldn’t make that much difference to their overall productivity if I planted them a week early. So, feeling like a rebel I grabbed my hand trowel and got sowing. I’m not quite sure how it happened but in my seed ordering frenzy at Christmas I forgot to include tomato seeds. It’s as if someone somewhere knew I’d forgotten them because somehow I’ve now got 3 types of tomato seeds to grow!

Tomato heaven

Tomato heaven

The first ones are Tigerella which I received as part of a Christmas gift from my sister. These should have a distinctive stripe to them when they’re ripe. The second type I’ve got are called Nimbus. I received these as a free trial with my seed order from http://www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk, and the last type of tomato seeds I have are the popular Gardeners Delight. Again, these were free seeds but this time they were with a gardening magazine. I have no idea how I managed to forget to order tomato seeds as I love fresh tomatoes picked straight from the plant. Luckily I’ve now got 3 varieties so the only problem now is deciding where I’m going to plant them!

Broad beans a plenty

I love beans. I know it’s not cool to admit this when you’re young, (I’m sure we all remember the beans rhyme from our school days, my son is certainly well up on that particular school yard chant) but I’m now at a stage in my life where I can lift my head up high and say I LOVE BEANS. I’m growing a few varieties of beans in the allotment this year, Runner Beans, Climbing Beans, Dwarf French Bush Bean (purple podded) and of course Broad Beans. Theres something about opening up the pod of a Broad Bean and seeing all the lovely beans, cosy in their feathery beds that makes me just want to pick them all! I know the most traditional way to grow Broad Beans is to plant them directly into the ground, but I’ve decided to start mine off in doors. The reasoning behind this is that practically everything I’ve ever planted in the allotment has been eaten by slugs and snails before they’ve had a chance to really get growing. Once the plants are outside, I’ll use a barrier, such as half an empty plastic bottle to keep the slugs off. The variety I’ve chosen to grow is Broad Bean Crimson Flowered. The pods will be quite short and will sit upwards to make picking easier, and as the name states, they’ll have lovely deep crimson flowers.

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Crimson Flowered Broad Beans

As I’m starting my beans in doors I wanted to sow them in a way that would minimise root disturbance when I come to plant them outside. Toilet roll inner tubes seemed to fit the job description perfectly. They are long, so the roots can grow down as they would naturally do if planted outside, and the tube will rot down over the season so I can plant the beans, still in their tubes, so I won’t disturb the roots at all. Its win win for both me and the beans. Happy days.

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Theres no time like the present so I gathered up the tubes and seeds and started planting. I’m going to have one double row of 12 plants ( 6 in each row) so I’ve planted 14 seeds to be on the safe side. If they all germinate I’m sure I’ll squeeze in the extra two plants somewhere!

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The seeds have now been covered up with potting compost and watered well. I’ll leave them in the garage where its cooler for them to germinate and then move them closer to the window to get as much natural light as possible while keeping them cool. It really feels like the sowing season is well on the way now. The onions are all up (that’s over 80 in total, not including the red onions which will arrive in March…Yikes) the leeks are also growing like mad and the Cauliflowers are all growing their first set of true leaves. The next few weeks are set to be full of planning and sowing and not forgetting digging and weeding (got to have somewhere to put all these seedlings) so a busy time ahead. I had thought that at this point I might be quite apprehensive about growing so many different crops, but actually, I’m full of excitement. The thrill of growing your own veg is truly addictive, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Lieutenant….status report

A quiet time on the allotment this week. I have the feeling though that this “quiet time” is going to be short-lived. The spring flowers are steadily making their way through the woodland floor in Nature Corner and starting to add a splash of colour to the plot. The garlic is making steady progress and is growing well. The Lautrec Wight is really sprouting up, with one of the cloves being really keen to get growing, producing two shoots!

Lautrec Wight

Lautrec Wight

Two shoot garlic explosion

Two shoot garlic explosion

The elephant garlic seems much slower to grow, although I’m sure it is to be expected as it is going to be the size of a small mammal (seriously, it’s going to be about the size of a hamster).

Elephant Garlic

Elephant Garlic

This week has been fantastic as far as my seedlings go. The cauliflower seeds I planted about a fortnight ago are doing well and are now just starting to grow their true leaves. I’ve been really impressed with their germination rate, with all but 2 of the seeds planted growing. The leeks seeds I planted at the same time as the cauliflowers started growing this week, along with the onion seeds and more French marigolds sown last week too. It’s all hands on deck now captain!

Lovely leeks

Lovely leeks

Newly emerging onion seedlings

Newly emerging onion seedlings

The rosemary cuttings are still looking good, I’m too scared to see if they’ve started growing roots yet so I’m going with that as long as the leaves aren’t shedding like an old Christmas tree, they must still be ok!

Week old rosemary cuttings

Week old rosemary cuttings

I’m sure I mentioned in a previous post that I’d put my son Jacob in charge of growing the flowers for the allotment. I’m also sure I mentioned that he planted all of my verbena seeds in with most of my snap dragon flower seeds at the same time he planted 2 of his French marigold seeds. The mixture of seeds he planted he decided to call “mixie pixie” This week I found out exactly how many verbena seeds he planted.  Hopefully we’ll be able to prick them out at some point, otherwise I’ll be transplanting the whole lot into a planter the size of a tractor wheel! I’m sure the bees it’s intended to bring into the allotment will be overjoyed with the verbena bounty on offer!

Mixie pixie flowers

Mixie pixie flowers

Nothing to report on the Lavender seeds yet but they do have a long germination period. I really am looking forward to growing my own lavender. I love the idea of using them as a natural border, and I’m hoping to use them to mark the end of the vegetable plot just before our nature corner starts. With the right wind direction, we can sit on the tree stumps in among the flowers and smell the lavender wafting in. What a lovely thing that would be.