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.

   
   

Signs of Spring

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Yesterday marked the first day of Spring. Now, I can’t speak for anyone else but it actually feels more Spring like to me! The sun has been shining, the wind has dropped and it’s not rained for at least 3 days. Spring is officially here.

This week I’ve taken a few days off work and I plan to spend most of my time along at the allotment getting the vegetable beds dug over and ready for planting. Compared to last year, I’m a few weeks behind on the allotment prep, but I’m hoping to catch up within a week or so.

With flask in hand I headed long to the plot to make a start. The first bed I’m tackling is going to be for the peas and beans. Last year I had planted potatoes in the bed and I have to say they’ve done wonders for improving the heavy clay soil and keeping the weeds down. I had a real bindweed battle last year and the same section took just over 5 hours to turn over compared to this years lightning fast 2.5 hour session.

 

The plan was to plant out the broad beans I’m growing in cardboard tubes in about 2 weeks time which is why I decided to dig over this bed first, but the beans have had a bit of a set back.

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Devoured broad beans

The cat ate them. That’s right, the cat ate them. Now all that’s left are broad bean stalks. I’m not really hopeful that they’re going to make a miraculous recovery so while I’m at the allotment this week I’m going to sow a double row directly into the ground and hope that no emerging allotment wild life eat them.

Tomorrow I’ll be back at the allotment for more digging and weeding and some unscheduled bean sowing!

I love wandering around the plot at this time of year. On first glance you can’t really see any difference to how it was a few weeks ago, but when you look closely, new shoots and bud are emerging and you can really get a sense of things to come.

 

Happy springtime.

 

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

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!   

Blooming marvellous

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It’s official, I love this time of year! Is it spring? Could it possibly be the start of summer? Sometimes it feels like winter, but, what ever the season it is, I think it’s fantastic.

Over the last week I’ve been weeding like crazy, trying to keep the vegetable plots in tip-top condition ready for the seedlings to be planted out. Even though I’ve been, what I consider, to be very thorough in my weeding, I can’t believe the amount of bindweed still coming out. It’s fortunate that it’s been raining over the last few days, the ground is really soft making weeding all that much easier, still, the bindweed root was much chunkier than before, fingers crossed I’ve got most of it out now.

Revenge of the bindweed 2.0

Revenge of the bindweed 2.0

This month I’ve got my onion seedlings to plant out. Well they’re not really seedlings any more, they’re more like an onion jungle in their seed trays, but I’ve been gradually hardening them off along with my first batch of summer cauliflowers ready for planting either this weekend or at some point next week. The Brassica collars arrived this morning so they’ll go straight on to the cauliflowers when I plant them out. I’ve saved an old hose to try to construct a sort of arched tunnel covered in netting to protect the veg from bird attacks, haven’t quite figured out how to make it yet but that’s a challenge for another day!

Summer cauliflowers ready for planting

Summer cauliflowers ready for planting

Onion jungle

Onion jungle

While on the plot this morning I was absolutely delighted to see that the broad beans have started to produce flowers. I’m growing a crimson flowered variety and the lovely deep pink colour is just gorgeous. I’m hoping that the bean plants themselves will continue to grow taller as they still seem quite small, but as I’ve never grown broad beans before I’ll look forward to seeing how they come on.

Crimson flowered broad beans

Crimson flower buds on the broad beans

Elsewhere on the plot the first leaves on the potatoes have started to poke through the soil. In first place we have the Lady Crystl variety which seems about right as they are the earliest cropping of the potatoes I’ve planted. In about a week I’ll start earthing them up, and I’ll need to keep an eye on the weather forecast just in case we get a sneaky frost.

First leaves on the potato plants

First leaves on the potato plants

The flowers in nature corner are coming along a treat and more tulips are starting to bloom. I think it’s really important for the allotment to have a little section which is slightly wild to encourage bees and other pollinators to the plot. There are still a few more tulips to come through and in a month or so I should have some alliums for the bees to feast on too.

Nature corner

Nature corner

Hover fly on a dandelion

Hover fly on a dandelion

Big bee

Big bee

Both apple trees are blossoming now which is just lovely to see. I was a bit worried when the male tree started to flower a week or so ago and the fruit bearing trees only had buds on them, but just yesterday the blossom on the female trees opened up, hooray! Apples will be had in the autumn!

Pink Apple blossom opening up on the fruit bearing trees

Pink Apple blossom opening up on the fruit bearing trees

Getting a move on with seed sowing, I’ve planted my sweetcorn today. I’m growing a super sweet variety called Swift and following the success of sowing my broad beans in cardboard tubes I’m doing the same with the sweetcorn. I’m planting about 20 seeds in total so I when they go into the ground they’ll make a decent sized block. I’m told that the corn tastes best if it’s cooked within 20 minutes of it being picked, before the sugars turn to starch, now that’s something I can’t wait to try!

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The last job on the plot today was to tend to the greenhouse crops. The rocket and spinach I’ve been growing for micro salads are ready to be picked. I’ll pick them tomorrow so they can be enjoyed fresh for tea. I’ve got some radish seeds I was going to plant outside but I might try a few in the guttering once the rocket and spinach have been picked. The purple basil seedlings are taking ages to grow, they’ve been at the 2 leaf stage for weeks now, I’m hoping once the greenhouse warms up more they’ll have a growth spurt.

Rocket

Rocket

Finally the tomatoes. While I was watering them earlier this week I noticed that suckers had started to grow from the main stem. As I had a little time before I needed to leave the allotment, I got to work pinching them off. It’s important to remove these extra leafy growths because the plant can put more energy into producing fruit rather than into growing more leaves.

Suckers starting to grow in the V between the main stem and the leaves

Suckers starting to grow in the V between the main stem and the leaves

Tomorrow, the plan is to harvest more rhubarb, plant up the strawberries, check the onions and cauliflowers have survived their first all nighter outside,ย and to dig over the last 2 vegetable beds (again). I’m so happy to see the allotment really coming into bloom after months of waiting for signs of life. It’s definitely been worth the wait.

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Brambles? What brambles?

Over the course of clearing the allotment, I’ve had the opportunity to learn lots about brambles. I didn’t have much choice really, they were everywhere!

Dad drafted in again to help beat back the brambles

Dad drafted in again to help beat back the brambles

They were growing through the fence from the park, coming up beside the apple trees, growing in with the pampas grass, they were all the way along right section of the plot. I had to get them out otherwise there’d be no allotment left, just a bramble jungle. I decided the best course of action would be to cut them down, section by section, so I could find the roots and then dig the whole thing out. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? Well it would be if there was only a couple of brambles to remove, but remember, I was only a few blackberries short of the worlds biggest bramble jungle.

Brambles ahoy!

Brambles ahoy!

It took weeks of hacking back the sharp canes, and cutting them down to ground level. Then came the root removal. They were enormous! I was able to burn about half of the dug out brambles before the wet weather started, since then, the rest of the brambles have been bagged up and stored on the plot. We’ve had a run of good weather recently so I decided that I’d get the rest of the brambles burned this week while I’m off work.

Bags of brambles

Bags of brambles

More bags of brambles

More bags of brambles

I thought that the cuttings would’ve stayed reasonably dry in their rubbish bags but it seems as if I was wrong. They were really damp which meant that I’d have a hard time burning them. There were some larger brambles that had dried out, so I started with those and tried adding a little of the bagged cuttings once a good flame had taken hold.

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The flames went out and were replaced by massive plumes of smoke. Not wanting to annoy the neighbours, I decided the only thing I could to was to have a quick cup of tea, load up the car and take all the bags to the recycling centre instead.

Quick tea break for the worker

Quick tea break for the worker

Two and a half hours, 5 trips and 36 bags later, it was done.

Bye bye brambles

Bye bye brambles

Order has been restored

Order has been restored

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Brambles? What brambles? No brambles here.

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 andย 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!

Sunshine Friday

What a difference a day makes. In contrast to the wet weather we had yesterday, it’s been a lovely day today. Perfect for digging. Not wanting to waste a moment, and keen to make up for the lack of progress yesterday, I headed along to the allotment, armed with my garden fork and my flask of tea.

Two smaller brassica beds ready to be weeded

Two smaller brassica beds ready to be weeded

The plot to dig today is going to be the first of my Brassica beds. Ultimately, I’ll have 3 brassica beds, two next to each other and the third opposite. I had originally planned on only having two beds, but with the amount of room the cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli and sprouts need, I’ve had to rethink the layout a bit and add another bed.

They say every cloud has a silver lining, and rather than having the outlook that I would be losing space on the plot for growing other vegetables, I’m going to give intercropping a try. This is where you plant fast growing crops, such as lettuce and radishes, in between slower growing vegetables, such as brussel sprouts and broccoli. Problem solved.

Almost there

Almost there

I’m finding giving the plots a thorough weeding quite therapeutic, and if I’m being totally honest…a little bit back breaking! It’s a great way to get to know the plots, to find out where, and what types of weeds are growing, as well as getting hands on with the soil you’re going to be growing your vegetables in. I’m also finding it’s a good opportunity to switch off, plug-in my earphones and get some good hard work done. (Music of choice at the moment has to be rock, great to dig to but it’s really hard not to sing out loud!)

All dug

All dug

Once the plot was dug over and weeded I unplugged my earphones, poured a cup of tea and had a moment in Nature Corner. All my hard work was rewarded with the lovely sound of birds singing in the sunshine. They really do seem to be enjoying the food left out in the feeders for them, so much so that I’m going to have to refill them all this weekend! I’m really pleased that the birds are coming to the allotment, hopefully they’ll be able to help with the control of any caterpillars which may have their eyes set on my cabbages!

Chilling with the birds

Chilling with the birds

Little visitor

Little visitor

A bucket full of Bindweed.

It’s been a quiet few weeks on the allotment recently, so I’ve decided to step things up a bit and get the ground prepared for planting. I’m starting most of the vegetables off in doors to try to give them the best chance of survival so there isn’t any real urgency to have the beds prepared yet, but as I’ve got quite a few to do, I thought it best to take advantage of the good weather and get cracking.

Plot left in clods for the winter

Plot left in clods for the winter

Last summer I decided to use a process called soil solarisation to kill off and control the weeds that had grown in the vegetable beds. I covered the plots with black polythene so that when the sun shone, the heat generated would warm the ground and kill the weeds. This worked really well, and by Autumn I was able to remove the dead weeds and dig up any brambles that had taken root. I left the plots uncovered for the winter so that the frosts would break up the clods of soil which in turn would make cultivation in the spring a whole lot easier. So, armed with my garden fork, hand fork, a bucket and a couple of planks of wood to stand on I started to weed.

The beginning of the bindweed hunt

The beginning of the bindweed hunt

The winter frosts have really helped break the soil up which made digging much easier. I started with the hand fork and before I knew it I was digging up loads of white fleshed roots. I’d seen them when I was turning over the ground in the Autumn. I’d hoped that the coldness of the winter would have killed them off but then I realised what they were. Bindweed roots. Over the winter while planning my future plots I’d looked at weed and pest control, and I remembered reading about the dreaded bindweed and how it will creep and crawl and strangle plants and how it will regrow from the tiniest bit of root left in the ground. The root systems can spread out under the surface up to 6 feet in a single season. The plot I was digging is to be my potato patch so there would be no chance of removing root systems once the potatoes were in. Slowly I started to dig for bindweed.

Bucket of bindweed root

Bucket of bindweed root

It was everywhere! It took about 2 hours to dig over half the bed. I spent most of the time on my hands and knees, balanced on the wooden planks conducting a finger tip search of the ground.

Half way and 2 hours in

Half way and 2 hours in

Although it was a VERY slow process, by the time I assessed my weeding, I was really encouraged. At last, the plot was looking relatively good and I could actually envision potatoes growing there. Spurred on with this thought I gave my knees a rub down and soldiered on. Another 2 hours later, the job was done.

Bindweed evicted

Bindweed evicted

Here in the North East of England, the last frosts are forecast to be the end of April/early May so I won’t be able to start chitting the potatoes for a few weeks yet but I’m pleased that the bed is dug over and that the bothersome bindweed has pretty much been evicted.

Nature corner is starting to produce some lovely yellow crocus flowers now. In a few weeks I’ll be looking to introduce some aquatic marginal plants to the pond to help attract the pollinators and with a bit of luck some dragon flies too.

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