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! 

Autumn jewels

Autumn. It’s such a lovely time of year. You can see the leaves on trees gradually changing from the fresh vibrant green of summer to the rich earthy tones of red and gold. This is my first successful year of Autumn crops at the allotment and I’m delighted with the harvest so far.

I managed a quick harvesting trip this afternoon (I’ve got a week off work soon so I’ll do all the gardening essentials like weeding then!) and came back with another trug full of autumnal delights!

I’m really surprised to see the runner beans still producing massive pods, and there are more flowers coming.

I’ve decided to harvest a few of the Buffy ball pumpkins. Not sure if they’re quite ready yet but I don’t want to get caught out with a surprise frost so I’ve picked most of them today and left a few of the smaller ones on the vine. The picked pumpkins will store in the garage until I can research how to cure them and hopefully I’ll have mini roasted pumpkins for tea on Halloween

The apples this year are fantastic. There’s just so many on the tree I can’t pick them quick enough! I love the colour of the apples, such a lovely rich red, it’s great to be able to pick your own food just at the right time and to taste it, freshly picked is amazing. (The apples are currently being baked in a crumble as I type…the smell is awesome!)

And last but not least the tomatoes. I’d left them on the plants hoping they’d ripen but I think they’re determined to remain green. I’ve picked them all, still on the vine and I’ll make them into chutney using more of the apples and the already harvested onions to enjoy closer to Christmas.

That’s it for now, I can hear the crumble calling out my name… Here’s a quick look at the haul from today, happy harvests everyone!

Digging for gold

image

Potatoes. I reckon they’re one of the most rewarding crops to grow on the allotment.

Just think about it. Hours are spent during the bleakness of winter, sifting through seed catalogues, carefully choosing the potatoes you’re going to grow. Earlies, second earlies, main crop, heritage, the usual and the more unusual varieties are studied. All the while, all you can think about is the taste of the first home-grown potato, lightly boiled to perfection, tossed in salt and pepper, perhaps a smidge of butter, still hot, straight from the pan.

But you’ve got to wait.

Be patient.

Your seed potatoes arrive early in spring, you get your egg cartons out from storage (you’ve been eating way more eggs than usual just so you can sit your seed potatoes snuggly in the box, rose end up without them rolling about) and the chitting begins.

image

For the next 4-6 weeks there’s not a windowsill in the house that doesn’t have an egg box of potatoes soaking up the spring sunshine.

image

You see the first greenish purplish shoot. It’s started. Gradually the new shoots will get bigger, more sturdy and when they’re screaming out to be planted, you take them to the plot.

image

You’ve tended the bed. It’s been restored with nutrients and you know your sprouty potato seeds are going to love it there. Trenches are made, and you carefully lay the potatoes into the ground. After a brief final look, you cover them completely, and they’re in.

image

image

The moment you see the green leafy shoots emerge, you’re on weather watch. Frost will stop the leafy shoots in their tracks and can really set the crop back. The shoots are covered with soil and the earthing up begins.

image

image

The shoots become bigger and more leafy. You know that just under the surface are golden nuggets, just waiting to be dug up. The hunt for the potatoes begins, for early varieties, when the plants begin to flower. This is it. That moment you were thinking about while looking through the seed catalogues in winter is only an hour away….

image

image

The fork goes in slowly, angled to the side as to scoop the potatoes rather than to spear.

Gently, the fork is lifted, and you spot it.

It’s golden, rounded and just glints at you from the ground. It’s lifted, carefully, and held up for all to see….behold the potato!

image

image

image

image

Salt and pepper new potato

Salt and pepper new potato, still hot from the pan

I’ll have a “P” please Bob

Its bank holiday Monday, and up until 2 o’clock I watched the lovely sunshine though the windows at work. But when 2pm came, I was off on a mission to the allotment to get the peas sown.

IMG_5560

According to my planner, I was supposed to get the peas planted mid March, but with the awful weather we’ve had, I thought it best to err on the side of caution and hold off until we have some finer warmer weather.

IMG_5567

Armed with more bamboo canes than you could shake a stick at, I headed along to the allotment. I’m growing two varieties of peas, one dwarf and one climbing. The dwarf variety is called Hurst Greenshaft and will grow to about 50cm high. It’s a second early variety and if the birds don’t eat them first, they should start cropping in about 14 weeks. The climbing variety is called Alderman and is an old-fashioned Victorian type. It has the ability to grow up to about 7 feet tall but as I’m only 5 foot 3 inches tall, I’ll be growing it to about 6 feet! This will be my main crop pea and should be ready to harvest in about 15-16 weeks.

IMG_5554

I absolutely adore eating peas fresh from their pods and I’ve already decided to make the Spring Pea Risotto Raymond Blanc made on the BBC series Kew on a Plate once they’re cropping. I know I’m taking a bit of a risk planting the peas direct, but for the number of plants I’d actually need, it seemed the best choice, and if no seedlings have grown in about 2 weeks I’ll assume the mice have eaten them heartily and I’ll sow some more.

Lovely water Iris ready to be potted up

Lovely water Iris ready to be potted up

As I was working away, another allotment holder came along to the plot and very generously shared one of her water Irises with me to plant in Nature corner. They’ve been making their own wildlife pond so she had one spare, she even gave me some aquatic compost to use to get it planted up straight away. How nice is that? I’m delighted with my unexpected gift, it’s the first shared plant I’ve received at the allotment so it’ll hold a very special memory for me. I really like the idea of allotment holders being able to share their plants and produce, it gives a real community spirit to the adventure of allotmenteering.

Ready to hit the water

Ready to hit the water

Full steam ahead

It’s been almost 3 weeks since the Great Sunflower race began and the seeds are off to a cracking start. I was going to start measuring when the seeds got to about 10cm but they grew so fast I missed it! Ive been meaning to pot them up for a few days now, so before they were transplanted, Jacob and I measured each of the plants and noted their height as we went.

Sunflower jungle

Sunflower jungle

Roots ahoy

Roots ahoy

Now I’m not saying he cheated, but I think there might’ve been a little creative measuring as both of Jacobs sunflowers took first and second place. I think I’ll have to have an adjudicator next time!

While the potting compost was out I thought I’d keep up the momentum and pot up my tomatoes. I’ve selected the strongest of my tomato plants and transplanted them into their own individual pots. Ive been really lucky with the tomato seeds considering one variety was a gift (Tigerella) another was a free trial pack (Nimbus) and the last variety was free with a magazine (Gardeners Delight). Practically all of the seeds I planted germinated which has given me about 25 tomato plants.

Tonnes of tomatoes

Tonnes of tomatoes

I might’ve got a bit carried away planting them up because I’ve ran out of windowsill room, so I’ve had to move the tomatoes and cauliflowers to the greenhouse at the allotment.

Now this poses a new challenge; will the seedlings survive in their new home? I’m feeling pretty confident about the tomatoes adjusting to their new climate and surroundings but I’m worried about the cauliflowers, they’ve had a pretty traumatic time of it so far (Noodles had been at them again yesterday) so I’m hoping they make it through the night.

All cozy in their new home

All cozy in their new home

Yesterday we spent the day on an Easter egg trail at Alnwick Gardens. I love visiting here. There’s so much to see and do and so many flowers to smell. We usually visit a few times in the summer and over the autumn season, but yesterday was the first time we visited in the spring. It was lovely to see all the new shoots emerging and the spring flowers in bloom. It was also lovely to complete the trail and get a little treat as a reward, we love Lindt chocolate, although the bunny we got was a little smaller than the bunny we saw in the gardens!

Hellebores

Hellebores

In the ornamental garden

In the ornamental garden

Big bunny

Big bunny

Next week I’m hoping to give the plots all another digging over and get the peas sown. Ive decided to sow the peas directly into the ground where they are to grow so I’ll be stocking up on bamboo canes and working out how I’m going to structure their support. I’d love to hear how other vegetable growers protect their peas from birds and mice, and if covering the whole structure with netting works or not.

Im so excited for April. There’s lots more seeds to be sown and in a couple of weeks I’ll be able to plant out my potatoes (freeing up more windowsil space for more seeds) I can’t wait to get more seeds sown and planted out at the allotment, after months of waiting, it really feels like I’m making progress at last.

image

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.

image

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!

image

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.

image

Holy sprouting vegetables Batman

Over the last week or so it’s really felt like the growing season has well and truly started. The list of seeds to grow each month is getting longer and longer, and soon I’ll be able to get the first lot of home-grown seedlings planted out. Yesterday I spent the day at the allotment digging and weeding the bean, pea and corn patch. I really should’ve started with this plot, as the broad beans are due to be planted out first but I’m sure they won’t mind a freshly dug plot to be transferred into. The broad beans have really surprised me with the rate at which they’ve grown. Last week, they were only just starting to get their leaves above the soil, this week they’d give Jacks beanstalk a run for its money! I’ve started hardening them off now, so they should be ready to take up residence on the plot in about a fortnight.

Broad beans last week

Broad beans last week

Broad beans this week

Broad beans this week

March on my planner is filled with lots of little jobs, cleaning out the shed and greenhouse, getting fleece/netting/bamboo canes/brassica collars, along with lots of digging and weeding. I’ve also decided to get some marginal pond plants for nature corner. The plant I’m going to grow in the pond is the water Forget-me-not. It’s not a tall plant, more bushy but it’ll have lots of green leaves and loads of tiny blue flowers which are perfect for pollinators. I’ve never grown plants in water before, so I think it’s best to start off small and with a bit of luck I’ll not kill them (the plants, not the bees).

The one thing on my planner for March that I’ve been looking forward to the most is chitting my potatoes. I’m growing 4 types; Lady Christl and Charlotte as my earlies and King Edwards and Maris Pipers as my main crop. I’ve had the seed potatoes since the middle of January but I’ve held off chitting them until now because the soil I have is clay and it’ll take slightly longer to warm up. Also, the last frosts here will be closer to the end of April, early May so hopefully by the time the shoots start to show above the ground, the last frosts will have passed.

Letting the potatoes out of the box

Letting the potatoes out of the box

I’ve been keeping the seed potatoes in a cardboard box in the garage to keep them cool to try and delay their natural urge to sprout. Well, this has worked for the main croppers, but it seems that the earlies have had other ideas.

King Edward seed potato with only a small amount of early sprouting

King Edward seed potato with only a small amount of early sprouting

Mega sprouts on the Lady Crystl potatoes

Mega sprouts on the Lady Christl potatoes

The Lady Christl variety had sprouted really long white shoots, not the lovely green ones I’m hoping to see growing on the potatoes in the next few weeks, so I rubbed all the shoots off and loaded up the egg boxes I’ve been collecting.

You can never have too many potatoes, right?

You can never have too many potatoes, right?

Now, I knew I had a lot of seed potatoes but I didn’t realise just how many I had until I started filling up the egg boxes. I’m not sure you can ever have too many potatoes but just in case, I’ve organised a Plan B. I’ll be giving some to my parents to grow in containers, and any left over I’ll donate to my sons school gardening club.

For now the potatoes are now on a nice bright windowsill ready to get some sunshine onto their skins, and I can’t wait to see the lovely stubby shoots starting to grow.

Posing potato

Posing potato