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! 

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 

Timsey and the sweet peas 

  
Today I planted out the sweet peas at the allotment. They’ve been hardened off for about 2 weeks and with the weather forecast to be quite settled for the next few days I took the opportunity to let them loose in the big wide world. 

It’s the first time I’ve grown sweet peas and I’ve been really pleased with the germination rate. I pinched out the tops when the plants had 4 sets of leaves and I’m delighted that (as promised) more branches started growing out from the main stem. Brilliant!

  
At the allotment I’ve got a very special climbing support. 

Meet Timsey. 

 My sister made Timsey in high school and used her friend, Timsey, as the model. The original use was to hang clothes on but I think she will wear the sweet peas with style. 

   
   
I’ve picked a nice sunny spot for Timsey to hang out and I’ve taken a selection of the sweet peas and planted them at Timsey’s feet. The remaining plants I’ve given to my mum for her garden. 

A quick check over the allotment and more potatoes have started to pop up. I’m really excited for the salad blue ones, even their leaves have a blue hint to them! 

  
   
 The second sowing of broad beans have come through, these ones are the Crimson flowered variety I grew last year. I’d almost given up hope as they’ve been in the ground for 3 weeks! 

  
Last but not least I spotted the first 2 pea shoots to burst above ground. Everything is really starting to get growing now. 

  
Happy garden = happy gardener

BOOM!

  
It’s been a veritable growing explosion at the allotment this week. The cherry tree is in full bloom, the apple trees are just starting to blossom, the broadbeans the cat ate a few months ago have recovered brilliantly are starting to flower, I’ve even spotted flowers on the strawberries. 

   
   

  

 

 I’ve discovered a mystery currant tree too which has loads of flowers dangling off it. I must remember to check it regularly otherwise the birds will strip it before I can discover what kind of currant tree it is!   
Just when I thought it could get any better, I spotted the first few leaves of the potatoes popping up! 

  
Blooming marvellous 

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! 

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?!)

 

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.

 

 

Confessions of an allotment holder

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Ok. There’s no sugar coating this folks…I’ve been a very bad allotment holder. I’ve been busy and I’ve not spent the time I should’ve at the plot. There…I’ve said it…I’ve failed in my duty to keep on top of the weeds, and I’ve not looked after the veggies as well as I could’ve. In my defence, most of the vegetables have been harvested already, and the ones I’ve left at the allotment should’ve been OK for a while.

Did you see the “should’ve” there?

The vegetables I’m referring to are the leeks and main crop potatoes. I’d thought that by keeping the main crop potatoes in the ground until I needed them (at least until the weather got colder) it would be the best way to store them and keep them fresh.  Today, the allotment told me different. At first I thought the potatoes were OK, then I brushed the mud off them and spotted loads of holes where little white grubs had burrowed their way inside. I hoped that only a few of the potatoes would have been feasted upon, I’m ok with sharing a some of the crops with the little critters that live at the allotment, but no, every single potato I dug up had been eaten. The best I can do is to learn from this and next year I’ll either lift the potatoes earlier or I’ll just stick with earlies and second earlies.

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Grub infested potatoes

Moving along the plot I spotted the leeks. Now, I was under the impression that leeks are a low maintenance vegetable and would be totally fine to do their thing with hardly any supervision. After all, leeks can stay in the ground for months over winter, easy peasey. Well, I’m sure they can but no one told me that there was a chance of the leeks bolting before winter arrives. Checking my little leek patch,  about half of them have bolted.

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Flower head on the leeks

I’m not sure how or why it’s happened, but it’s happened. Determined to find the silver lining, I’ve decided to leave the bolted leeks to flower and the birds can enjoy the seeds. I’ll dig up the remaining leeks over the next few weeks and enjoy them before any more get the urge to produce flower heads.

After a quick rake up of the leaves it was time to go. I’ve not left the plot empty handed for ages and it didn’t feel right to do so today. So I dug up my first non-bolted leek, and it’s a beaut!

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Ready for pulling

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My first leek

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!