Bringing the Outside In

  
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and as part of the fun and festivities I really wanted to try making my own festive wreath. I’ve got a couple of lovely wreaths already, including this fabulous Pom Pom one gifted to me by a very good friend last year, but there’s just something about using the plants and foliage in the garden to make your own that really appeals to me. 

  
After some careful research on YouTube and Pinterest I was ready to start. The only equipment I needed was a natural wreath base, a pair of scissors and some wire cutters. 

Before it got dark, I headed out to the garden to get a good selection of leaves and berries. Now, at this point I should be telling you all the names of the plants and leaves I selected…. erm… confession time… I don’t know them all!! I do know I picked conifer, holly, ivy, there’s some pussy willow branches tucked in, it’s possible I picked rhododendrons but that may be totally wrong and there was a lovely plant fruiting bright red berries so I took a good bunch of that too! 
The main reason I took a wide selection of foliage was that I wanted to create depth and contrast to the wreath. I wanted to create a bit of interest and have a variety of leaf shapes, with different tones of greens. 

Once I’d selected the foliage I arranged them into groups to make it easier to create little posies to fix into place. Once everything was laid out, I was ready to begin!    

   
I took a few bunches of leaves and cuttings and arranged them into a nicely sized posie, sticking with the rule “big at the back, small at the front”. Once I had a fairly balanced grouping I laid it onto the wreath and fastened securely with florist wire. For the next posie I varied the foliage but kept to the same approximate size, placed it just overlapping the base of the first posie, and again, secured in place by wrapping the wire round the base and the posie. It was that simple, assemble posie and secure! The finishing touches were made by joining some pine cones together and filling in the gaps with berries and holly leaves. 

  
  
  
  
I had a great time making the wreath, it was much easier to make than I thought! I’d definitely recommend giving making your own a go! 

    
I’m so pleased with the end result, even if I don’t know all the names of the plants I’ve used! My resolution for next year is to be able to make the wreath only from plants I can name! 

Waste not, want not

  
For the last 5 years or so, I’ve taken great delight in pumpkin carving at Halloween. The whole process really gets my jets all fired up! You know…picking out the perfect pumpkin, deciding what to carve, being thankful it’s not a turnip like our parents had to hollow out when we were children! Then, the moment of magic arrives, you set about scooping and carving your spooky creation. 

Epic. 

  
  
  
  
Up until last year, I’d been quite happily scooping and binning the insides of the pumpkins… that was until I saw a post on Instagram about saving the seeds and roasting them at home. 

It was like a lightbulb moment! I immediately decided that I’d never waste pumpkin seeds again. Quick as a flash I had them in the oven, and delicious snacks of pumpkin goodness were born. 

  
Making your own delicious pumpkin seed snacks is super easy.

1. Separate the seeds from the fleshy pulp you scoop out from inside the pumpkin. 

2. Place the seeds into a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Pat the seeds dry with kitchen paper, or leave spread out on a baking tray lined with a clean tea towel over night. 

3. Pre heat your oven to 160 degrees C

4. Drizzle a little olive oil over the seeds and add whatever you want as extra flavour. I’ve done half salted, and the other half smoked paprika. 

5. Pop in the oven for 20 min or so, stirring occasionally to make sure they’re all roasted evenly. When they’re looking golden and toasted, remove from the oven. (Try and them cool before diving in!)

  
  
  

  
Delicious! 

Strawberry Fields Forever

  
Well, not quite a field and possibly not forever but I have made a little strawberry patch at the allotment this week! 

For the last 2 years I’ve grown my strawberries at the allotment in pots. The main reason for this was space; I just didn’t have a bed I could dedicate solely to one crop. Last year I did think about creating a little strawberry patch but with my lack of organisational skills I simply ran out of time and space to do it before they started to crop. 

So, when I saw the flowers starting to appear on the strawberry plants last week, I was determined to get them into the ground sooner rather than later. 

I spent a few hours last week digging and conditioning the soil in an area I felt would get a reasonable amount of sunshine and would allow me to plant  quick growing crops either side of the strawberries. 

  
Once the sun came out on Sunday I headed along to the allotment to rehome the strawberries. I’ve not really pampered the plants while they’ve been in the plant pots, I’d not even removed the old runners from last year, poor things! 

  
  
Once I had separated the plants, removed the old runners, discarded the surface moss and pulled out the weeds, I started the transfer the plants. I’d dug in some well rotted manure the week before so hopefully this will have settled into the ground and will give the plants a good nutrition boost. As a precautionary measure this week, I’m going to mulch around the base of the plants with straw to help maintain a good moisture balance in the soil and to prevent the fruits from spoiling if they come into contact with the soil. 

  
  
Now all that remains to be seen is if I can get to the berries before the birds! 

Status Report Captain…

  
How the weeks have flown by! One minute you’re pawing over the seed catalogues and the next it’s May and you’ve not even planted out the potatoes….well, rather, I’ve not planted out the potatoes! 

I know, I know, it should’ve been done weeks ago but, the delay in planting then has made sure they haven’t succumbed to the sharp frost we had, and I’m sure once they do make it into the ground, which is going to be tomorrow, I’ve every confidence they’ll still be delicious when harvested, even if it’s a few weeks later than anticipated! 

  
So that’s the potatoes. 

I’ve been equally late in getting the beans and peas going but I’m pleased to report that the broad beans have made an appearance over the last 7 days. Last year I veered away from the Crimson Flowered variety and tried Bunyards Exhibition. The pods themselves grew really long but I did prefer the sweeter taste of the crimson flowered type, so I’m back to those this year. 

  
Last week I sowed the peas direct and constructed a support frame from bamboo canes for them to scramble up when they get going. I’m sticking with the tried and tested Hurst Greenshaft peas, but I’m also dabbling in the world of Mangetout. The variety I chose is Shiraz, and the pods are a lovely deep purple colour. I can’t wait to try them later in the year. 

  
The shallot sets have fared the frost well and the onion sets have started to sprout. I also spotted the first of the familiar lily pad shaped leaves of the self seeding nasturtiums today. I love how they come back again and again adding colour to the plot. 

  
  
The Gooseberry bushes I planted last year have put on loads of growth (I think I should be pruned them in winter) and I had an abundance of flowers in March and April. I’m delighted to see that there are now loads of mini gooseberries gently swelling up. 

  
Indoors, the tomato plants are coming on great guns. I’ve been tickling them every day to encourage them to grow strong and sturdy for when I plant them out at the allotment. There’s something about the smell from the leaves of tomato plants that just reminds me of the summer! I’ve tried not to get too carried away with the tomatoes this year and have restricted myself to only 2 types: Gardeners Delight and Sungold. 

  
The Cayenne chilli plants are now flowering away quite happily on the window sill. I’m not sure if they are self pollinating or not so once a day I’m playing the part of a bee and gently using a small brush I’m transferring pollen between the flowers. I’ve got huge respect for the bees, pollination is tricky! 

  
I’ve also got sunflowers growing along with a second batch of cabbage and cauliflower. I’m not sure what happened to the first batch of brassicas, they just shrivelled up. I’m hoping the second sowing is more successful. 

  
The next few weeks are going to be hectic with all the squash, courgettes, beetroot, strawberries and the rest of the quick crops. I’d better get the last of the leeks dug up quickly otherwise I’ll have nowhere to put them all! 

  
Happy Gardening! 

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! 

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! 

The Great Potato Fake-out

  

This week at the allotment I’ve noticed a few crops are starting to show signs that the time for harvesting is getting closer.
The quick crop radishes have suddenly bulked up and I was delighted to see the different coloured radish tops poking up out of the ground. 

I’ve been patiently waiting for what seems like forever for the strawberries to ripen and within the last week they’ve finally decided to put me out of my misery and turn a gorgeous deep red. 

   
   
The broad beans have continued to flower and the first pod has been picked, just as a tester to see how they’re doing! I’m more than happy with the sight of more and more beans developing and that there’s no black fly in them yet…happy days! 

   
   
The peas have started to flower, which I’m really pleased about, especially after I was so late in sowing this year. The peas are a double podded variety (Hurst green shaft) and there are loads of double flowers dotting about the crop. 

   
 Bolstered by the happy sights at the allotment I thought I’d chance my luck and check on the potato progress. For the first year ever, I’ve got flowers on the potatoes. I never realised how pretty they are. 

  
The first potential potatoes for me this year will be the international kidney. Earlier in the week I had a little dig around the bottom of the potato mound and lo and behold I discovered a lovely perfectly formed potato. 

  
Brilliant. 

This must be a good sign I thought. 

They must be ready I thought. 

They’ll make a lovely potato salad for lunch on Sunday I thought. 

   
   
Not quite the haul I was expecting! 

Not to worry, at least I know they’re growing, I’ll leave then another 3-4 weeks and I think they’ll be perfect. 

Slugfest

  
It’s so totally on. 

For he last few weeks, things have been ticking along nicely at the allotment. The weather has been a bit hit and miss, but other than that it’s been relatively uneventful. 

Until now 

Last weekend I had a trip away to visit my university pals so had a few days away from the allotment. 

Little did I know that my trip away would coincide with the biggest allotment event of the year…

SLUGFEST

It must’ve been a sell out event judging by the total decimation they left in their wake. 

  
There’s only one pumpkin plant left in the whole of the pumpkin patch, that’s right only one, out of 11 plants including all the courgettes. They must’ve thought it best to leave one as, you know, eating them all would be greedy! 

Now, for the slugs that couldn’t make the main event, they attended the fringe festival

SUNDOWN

They’ve eaten the sunflowers down to stalk stumps. All but 3 as, you know, it’s greedy to eat them all. 

(I was too sad to take a photo of the stumps)

All the time I’ve been growing vegetables I’ve prided myself on being an organic gardener, and I’ve not minded the odd leaf being nibbled here and there but today I’ve declared war. 

To all slugs and snails-

Be afraid…be very afraid

Wool pellets are coming

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 ☀️