Monday, 22 December 2008

Home grown food for Christmas

Today we are heading off up north to spend Christmas with OH's family. Yesterday I made a quick visit to the allotment to dig up some more potatoes, there is now just 1 and a half rows left (probably about 100 spuds), and more importantly the first harvest of this year's parsnips.

The potatoes are doing really well, I reasoned that since the soil is peat I could effectively store them through winter by not digging them up, a few were slug damaged but I still have more than enough for Christmas dinner. Mind you, I think I'll do the digging up and storage thing properly next year because washing wet mud off potatoes in December is really no fun at all.

The parsnips have somehow morphed into monster veg, sadly the photo I took before eating the really big gnarly ones was rubbish so I'll spare you the pain. I expect that some of the ones still waiting to be dug will give a better photo so be patient. Last week I dug some parsnips from the beds in the garden and they were very small, about the size of a large carrot so I was unprepared for the allotment versions, planted at around the same time. One of them was more like a swede with a long root! Luckily a few look like real parsnips rather than the more common multi rooted thing so they have been selected, and washed, ready for the Christmas dinner. I'm not sure OH's family are keen on muddy veg, or small holes in their potatoes so there has been more washing and selecting than usual.

I love being able to share home grown veg with friends and family, this year as well as the potatoes and parsnips I'll be taking a few Crown Prince squash as gifts. I think I am more generous with the root veg too, maybe it is to do with the fact it grows underground so I don't impatiently watch it ripening whilst salivating. All requests for soft fruit are ignored.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


I sowed a pack of onions a few weeks back, can't remember the variety but maybe Rador? Anyway they have just started sprouting, something of a surprise for me since I thought they just stayed in the ground during winter and then put on all their growth in spring. Luckily dad was on hand to set me straight!

Next year I am intending to be self-sufficient in onions, or as close to this as possible, so from late February through to April I will sowing a couple more varieties as sets and hopefully at least one other from seed.

If you are new to onions then you need to know that some varieties are planted in Autumn and overwintered to give you an earlier crop next year, it works well but they don't store as well as spring planted ones which is why it is good to have a mix. Onions come in seeds or as sets, which are like baby onions that you plant where you want them.

This year we had just one overwintered variety, they were quite easy to grow and even if they weren't the best for flavour, nothing could beat the freshness of a home pulled onion.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The plot

I managed a brief visit to the plot last weekend and I suspect this is was led to the onslaught of flu. Now recovered enough to get the pictures off the camera. Not going to write much today so I will just share the picture of the plot as it is now:

Still have quite a way to go.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Snow and garlic

Waking up to snow on the ground and a lovely combo of sleet, rain and more snow coming from the sky I though that a positive post might be in order to cheer me, and hopefully some of you, up.

Yesterday I finally succeeded in planting the 5 rows (8 bulbs) of garlic, I hadn't anticipated needing to dig quite so much earth but I really do love planting garlic, I love the fact that the bulbs look exactly the same as the ones you eat, and in fact last year they were the same bulbs. I love cracking them open and removing the cloves from the papery wrapping, and the fact that each clove will hopefully turn itself into a whole new bulb, but most of all it just feels great to be planting something at this time of year when everything else is dying back for winter.

We have had a couple of frosts already which are finally killing the nettles, yesterday's digging removed some major nettle roots, this is the only time of year you can make such progress, the nettles are weakened and for once not growing, and the ground it still dry enough to dig. Roughly dig over the area and the frosts will break the clods down into lovely crumbly soil for you.

At this time of year, with the months before spring stretching ahead of you, I am always hopeful that I will manage to get on top of the weeds and next spring will be all about planting new seedlings into clear fertile soil.

Friday, 21 November 2008

To Do

Tomorrow is forecast to be sunny but cold, after weeks of rain and the rapid approach of Christmas I am determined to make the most of the sun and actually plant my garlic. I ordered the bulbs way back in September and they have been sitting in the shed ever since, somehow there has always been something else at the top of the to do list.

Tonight was also the night of the first celeriac and it was fantastic! Despite having been sat in the fridge for a few days it was wonderfully tender and with a little homegrown garlic and some herbs turned into a perfect accompaniment to the fish. Just as well since there are about 30 more waiting to be pulled and eaten.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Warning: Contaminated Manure

I have been asked to pass on the warning about contaminated manure, hopefully you all heard about this terrible situation earlier this year, but please be aware that it is still an issue.

If you, or anyone you know are thinking of getting some manure for your garden or plot please read this first:

If you have already bought manure then please do read the warnings before spreading it.

Sunday, 26 October 2008


A worn pair of jeans is my latest recycling experiment; the bin is cooling down a little due to the cold weather but I am still expecting them to be reduced to hearty compost before to long. Amazing that you can nourish your vegetables with old clothes.

Pumpkins Galore

This year turned into a great year for pumpkins and squash, fairly surprising given the lack of sunshine, I had planted 1 Ghost Rider pumpkin plant to get that perfect Halloween pumpkin and it surprised me by managing to produce 3 huge fruits. As you can see in the picture only 1 is properly ripe, hopefully the warmth of the shed will sort the other 2 out.

I also grew 4 Crown Prince plants, this is meant to be the tastiest squash variety, it certainly proved to be one of the most expensive at £2 for 4 seeds! Luckily all 4 seeds germinated and went on to be rampant plants, you can see 2 of the squash in the picture and there are another 4 still at the allotment, they have proved to be rather heavy so getting them home is a bit of a challenge.

Finally I planted 4 Baby Bear pumpkin plants which have proved to be fantastic, in total I had 15 pumpkins (4 have already been eaten). The small size is perfect for 2 so we have been enjoying lots of pumpkin roasted with cinnamon and mixed spice, don't bother peeling just wash, chop into smallish pieces and stick em in the oven for half an hour. Yummy.

Next year I am planning to grow even more squash and pumpkins, they are just so easy to grow, actually after planting them out I did absolutely nothing to them, they do need a lot of space and the seeds are very expensive so this lot of top of my seed saving list, but once you have them they taste great and should store for a few months. Failing that just turn them into soup.

Not a great picture, but I wanted to finish this post with some evidence that despite the weather, the darkness and now the clocks changing it isn't winter yet:

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Allotment politics; part 2

Back in May I blogged about my antisocial nettles, now it seems I am in trouble again. Yesterday I received a letter from the council informing me that since my plot clearly hasn't been tended in some time I have been evicted!

After plenty of anger and shock I have managed to get hold of the Councilor and arrange a meeting for Tuesday so that she can convince me that it really is my plot she is talking about; I mean it is a bit messy but surely not so bad I should be evicted? Needless to say that this weekend has seen some frantic nettle clearing. I will let you know how it turns out.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Not a vegetable

But my current favourite sight in the garden; this is my Yucca in flower, I think it looks pretty impressive and certainly adds some much needed colour to the garden.

Strawberry confusion

I seem to have a very confused strawberry plant, either the changeable weather has caused it to think it is July (well it is hotter now than it was in July) or the label that says Cambridge Favourite is sadly mistaken. I'm not aware of an variety, apart from the Alpine ones, that should be fruiting at this time of year

But either way I have strawberry flowers so I am keeping my fingers crossed for a few weeks of sun, who knows, I might have fresh strawberries in October!

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Life suddenly turned busy and a weekend trip to Edinburgh last weekend (yes very nice thank you) contributed to the lapse in posts but the allotment never sleeps so plenty has been going on.

The tomatoes have succumbed to blight, disappointing but fairly expected given the amount of rain we have had. I was lucky and did have some fairly hefty harvests before the blight arrived. About 50 semi-ripe tomatoes are now covering the windowsills and actually seem to be ripening up quite nicely. The Sungold variety were the outright winners this year, the small size meant they ripened up very quickly and tasted great.

I was concerned that my potatoes would also be affected by blight so I have pulled all the plants up but left the potatoes in the ground. I am hoping that they will store in the soil over winter without problems, but just in case I have a large supply stored in the shed. The Pixie potatoes are a bit bland but the Arran Victory are stunning, they are a purple skinned variety so look lovely and they taste divine. Hopefully they have also succeeded in suppressing the weeds too.

Courgettes are still going mad, I harvested 14 this week from just 2 plants! I am running out of recipes for them now, especially the marrow sized ones which are a bit too sqidgy for my liking. Luckily I have uncovered some courgette lovers at work so I am going to palm them off.

The globe artichokes are fantastic, the plants are huge and look lovely, even when rising out of a nettle patch. I have decided to let the remaining buds flower because they look so nice. Isn't it a shame that courgettes don't spoil into something so pretty?

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Carrot disaster

Many months ago (well maybe 3) I sowed a row of carrots under a fleece tunnel in an attempt to avoid the dreaded carrot root fly, well today with huge anticipation I pulled up the crop and got this...

5 pitiful little carrots full of holes! It seems that the fleece provided all the other pests with a nice place to live and from the irregular growth it seems water doesn't seem to go through fleece as well as I expected.

So far this year the carrots have been the most troublesome crop, first refusing the germinate and then growing very weakly. Still at least with this lot I avoided the carrot root fly...

On the plus side there was more sweetcorn, tomatoes, courgettes (phew!) and raspberries to pick and also the first of many globe artichokes

Later...All 3 artichokes have now been eaten, simply trimmed, boiled, and accompanied by a lemon and herb butter. Yum.

Monday, 11 August 2008

National Allotment week

Today marks the beginning of National Allotment week which is great news. Sadly there are no events taking place on my plots but it is good to see that interest is high, last year there were 4 empty plots (until I grabbed mine) and now there is a waiting list as long as me arm (well maybe).

According to the BBC we can all expect our allotments to be highly productive where a "Typical annual yield is £300 of produce", or maybe not...

Still enjoy the week everyone, I think I will make a special effort to make a mid-week visit just to celebrate.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Tomatoes, sweetcorn and more

This weekend saw the first harvest of tomatoes, 16 sungold, and 3 cobs of sweetcorn, there were also a few raspberries, runner beans and plenty more courgettes. This is the first real harvest where more than 1 thing has been ready at the same time so I am very excited. The tomatoes are my first experience of a home grown tomatoes and they taste fantastic, hopefully the rest will ripen soon.

One rather normal pumpkin fruit has somehow morphed into this monster, see the pic below for some scale, I think it must be the Ghost Rider which I planted for a real Halloween pumpkin, the alternative it that is one of my baby bear pumpkins but that seems just a little unlikely. Just behind the pumpkin you can see one of the Crown Prince squash which is also growing pretty quickly. I am repeatedly being told that the soil on my allotment isn't that good, I think these two prove something rather different.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Souper allotment (abridged)

Thanks to Rach@The big sofa I now have a Wordle:

Try it yourself here

Sunday, 27 July 2008

A perfect summer's weekend

This weekend was fantastically hot with some really heavy rain on Sunday morning which removed the need to do any watering. Actually the hot, wet conditions are making everything grow at an incredible rate, as you can see in the picture the squash plants, which are planted between the sweetcorn, have started there mission to cover the plot. Last year I grew 5 squash and pumpkin plants in the garden and spent most of the summer trying to keep them to the confines of the raised bed so this year I am going to leave them to their own devices as much as possible. So far there are about 4 visible fruits but it is fairly hard to identify the plant from the stem so I'm not sure if they are the Baby bear pumpkins or the Crown Prince squash.

After a few close encounters with a pair of pheasants it occurred to me that I would have to net the raspberries if I actually wanted to eat any of them. Thanks to Wilko and a few garden canes I now have a temporary fruit cage, visible in the pic behind the sweetpeas, this should keep the birds out until fruiting finishes and then I have great plans for a real fruit cage... Also of note this week I ate the first 2 raspberries! I am now anxiously awaiting a real crop.

It has been a while since there was a full plot pic so I thought I would finish this post off with one. As you can see it is still fairly weedy but not as bad as in previous months. On the bottom left you can see the asparagus which is growing well, behind that is the netted raspberries followed by the sweatpeas and runner beans. Just beyond the oil drum there are the potatoes and also my new tarp (hopefully that will stop the nettles), and right at the back is the sweetcorn (visible only to those of you with good eyesight).

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Modest? Moi?

The weeds are taking over the allotment and I am spending hours cutting them down to keep the grumpy neighbour happy but it has occurred to me that my planting plan for this year was far too modest. Last year I had just 4 raised beds in the garden and they were rammed full for most of the year, this year I have the same beds plus the allotment and I only growing slightly more. In fact I am struggling to keep the raised beds full, let along get the allotment planted up.

More poor planning on my behalf means there is very little to harvest at the moment, most the salad has bolted and successional sowings have failed to produce anything worthwhile, the potatoes are doing fantastically well but the peas have yet to pod and I was very late with my runner beans so they are still playing catch-up. Next year I intend to fill up the allotment and my stomach with lots more fruit, early raspberries are high on the list, along with a few more varieties of peas and beans, loads more carrots and more winter veg.

In the meantime I have just sowed some more cabbage, beetroot, lettuce and some very late carrots to hopefully fill things out a bit.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Sweetcorn update

The sweetcorn I planted out in May is doing amazingly well, due to the plot being flat and exposed I was worried they might be damaged by the wind so staked them but after just a few weeks they were strong enough to support themselves. Yesterday I went down and saw that several of the bigger plants are already forming cobs! I have 16 plants growing so if the sun continues it looks like I could be in for a bit of a glut, not bad considering these are from my 10p seeds!

Elsewhere the tomatoes are forming at amazing speed, I am having to nip out the side-shoots every couple of days. I think I was looking in the wrong direction and have missed a few which are now whole new branches, so I have left them, hopefully they won't shade the tomatoes too much.

Potatoes are cropping well, we got another bag of Charlottes and there is still a row and a half of plants left to dig. I'm not sure how the maincrops are getting on, they are in flower but I had a gentle feel under them and couldn't find any potatoes, I guess it is a wait and see situation. No sign of any blight yet which is very good news.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Contaminated manure

I have just read this article and though I had better share it...

For once I am actually very glad that I didn't manage to manure anything last year.

Planting out and digging up

The hot weather has finally prompted me into action and the pot bound peppers, chillies and sunflowers were planted out in the garden. I think I might have left the chilli's for a bit long as they seem to be very small for this time of year.

Carrots have been resown into the gaps in the garden, the gaps actually make up 3 entire rows bar from 2 seedlings. I have totally given up any hope of successional growing with the carrots this year, just hoping for a full row before winter! Anyone have any theories as to why carrots have been so tough this year? Too hot? Too wet or maybe dry?

All onions have been pulled up and are now hopefully drying in the sun, it was going well until about half an hour ago but I am hoping the rain is a brief interruption to the amazing weather we have had this weekend.

Today I went down to the allotment and planted the remaining 9 celeriac plants, this brings the total up to 29! No idea what I was thinking when I sowed this many, if they all survive I have more celeriac than I have eaten in my entire life...soup anyone?

Finally I dug up my first ever potatoes! I had 2 Charlotte plants that had died although it isn't clear why, doesn't look like blight, so they were first and provided a reasonable crop of new potatoes, I thought I would have a rummage under a couple of other plants to top it up a little and found some whoppers. Fingers crossed I will be enjoying potatoes for many months yet.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The first real harvest

Despite the stupid amounts of wind I went down to the plot today, mainly because I promised the work people some rhubarb, and it turned into the first real harvest of the year! Obviously we have been eating the salad for a few weeks now but that isn't really exciting whereas today I picked the first lot of blackcurrents - now that is exciting! Sadly there are no photos because I ate them all too quickly but be reassured that they were very tasty.

Whilst I was down there I thought I would do some useful things so the asparagus bed is fully weeded and so are the measly 9 carrots under the fleece tunnel, with conditions like that I was hoping for a carrot glut.

The strawberry sweetcorn is now planted out and growing well. This is an ornamental variety which produces red husks shaped like giant strawberries, you dry them on the plant and then use them for popcorn which sounds fun. I have planted them well away from the real sweetcorn to prevent any cross pollination. Hopefully they will be ok in this wind, they looked a little bent but so far nothing has snapped so hopefully they will straighten up when it dies down.

The courgettes are growing well, no flowers yet but they are turning into sturdy little things and thankfully there is no further slug damage. I am not a huge courgette fan but I though I might try eating the flowers stuffed with cheese which is a very tasty combination, and they are also useful for padding out the lasagna so you don't need so much mince - cheapskate? me?

Yesterday's worry over squash turned out to be unnecessary and all are growing very nicely indeed. They haven't started sprawling everywhere yet but I expect that overnight they will transform from nice neat little plants into great messy things trying to take over the earth. I just hope that they don't get mildew with all this warm wet weather.

My trip to the garden centre failed to procure any cabbage plugs so instead I returned with 3 packets of cabbage seed, it seems you can sow some cabbage at this time of year, some more lettuce seed, tomato food and an extensive collection of herbs. The warning about the long-term harm to aquatic creatures put me off the copper fungicide so I am going to the tried and trusted blight prevention method - cross your fingers and jump up and down on the spot 4 times whilst whistling.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


So no plot visit for me. Still I am going to the garden centre later to buy my copper fungicide - I have been recommended by an old boy to start spraying my potatoes at the end of June - and I am hoping to get some cabbage plugs since I have missed the seed sowing opportunity.

Hopefully it will dry off later so I can check my squash plants haven't died after my failing to give them well rotted manure (see for full details on this particular concern)

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Post holiday tidy up

I arrived home yesterday from a very relaxing holiday and was thrilled to see that everything was still alive and doing well. The blueberries and black currents look like they are very nearly ready, both are the right size and colour but feel a little hard so I will give them a bit more time before the taste test.

The sweetcorn, peas and squash are all doing well in the 3 sister bed, raspberries are flowering and the grape vines have finally found the trellis to climb up.

Before I left i was worried about the courgette plants which had been nibbled by a naughty slug (or snail) but both are growing away and there is no further damage which is a relief. In fact the only disappointment is that the seeds I sowed before I left haven't come through, hopefully it is just a delay rather than a failure but I seem to be struggling with the carrots this year.

Today I just about managed a general clear-up of the whole plot so everything is looking very controlled. I uncovered loads of snails when I cleared the nettles so hopefully the birds are now doing a great job of eating them all. Tomorrow I will hopefully plant out the runner beans, remaining squash, sunflowers and maybe even have another go with the spinach.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Pea germination

I have discovered a completely fool proof approach to pea germination:

1) Buy a large packet of pea seeds, make sure the packet is made of paper and unlined

2) Wait for torrential rain, take seed packet into the rain whilst wearing waterproof coat

3) Open seeds and spend some time poking muddy fingers into the packet in a vague attempt to extract single seeds to sow

4) Roll up remaining seeds in packet and place into pocket of now very wet coat

5) Hang coat in a nice warm place to dry

6) Leave coat in nice warm place for up to 1 week

7) Plunge hand into pocket to discover hundreds of germinated seeds


Sunday, 1 June 2008

Busy busy

I am going on holiday on Friday so this weekend was a last ditch attempt to get the plot into some sort of order before I go. Hopefully the weeds won't manage to recover too much whilst I am away. I managed to get all the weeds cut down to the ground with my new shears, it was quite amazing how much of a difference this made, you can actually see that some areas are planted!

After all the rain and the sun it is now perfect seed sowing conditions so I over-exerted myself to get the whole root bed dug over and sowed with 3 rows of carrots, 1 row of beetroot and 1 row of fennel. I also planted out the nasturtiums that OH's gran had kindly given me and the celeriac which was sowed way back at the beginning of March. Hopefully when I return all these seeds, and the parsnips which I sowed 2 weeks ago, should have germinated.

The first pumpkin plant and 2 of the squash plants were planted between the sweetcorn and finally I wanted to get the globe artichokes, which have been looking a little sad in their mini pots, planted out. I cleared an area by the sweetcorn to plant them in and hopefully they will create a barrier between the compost area and the plants to deter the slugs, I can't imagine they like prickly plants.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today...

Especially if today is sunny and tomorrow is forecast torrential rain; after abandoning the sweetcorn planting yesterday due to a lack of canes to support them with I was forced to return this morning, in the absolute pouring rain, to plant the remaining 8 plants. After plenty of slipping around they are all now planted into a grid of 4 x 4, apparently this will give the best pollination results, and every plant has either a pea seedling or a couple of seeds sowed next to it. Most importantly they are all carefully staked against the prevailing wind.

Due to the extensive mud and water I decided against any photography attempts so i will have to owe you a picture post of the results at a later date (preferably a sunny date so it all looks nice).

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Planting, planting, planting and a little bit of accosting

Today is supposed to be the bank holiday's only day of sun so I have been fairly busy trying to make the most of it. This morning I planted out the masses of plants we were given by OH's very lovely grandparents, re-potted the strawberry sweetcorn and planted the tomato plants in the final garden veg bed; they are slightly overcrowded and I have 3 more which were never going to fit, so they will be going into a growbag at the bottom of the crappy greenhouse.

This afternoon I ventured down to the allotment to plant out my sweetcorn, unfortunately due to the extreme wind I ended up having to stake them and since I only had 5 canes with me I couldn't finish planting them out. I did manage to plant both courgette plants though. Each of the sweetcorns will have a pea plant next to them, today's lot get the pre-germinated ones and the rest will have to make do with a seed after a few pea disasters along the way.

I also bumped into one of the potential council complainers but after accosting them with my fork it turns out to not be them, this means it was definitely Mr he who got the council to clear him plot and then just sprayed chemicals all over it before planting it up with lots of nice seedlings from the garden centre. Nothing against anyone who chooses not to clear their own plot, or grow their own plants but I really don't think you can then go complaining about people who do!

Things are progressing well on the allotment, all the asparagus crowns now have a spear each so hopefully will gain strength over the summer to produce plenty more next year. The peas which I sowed but the wonky twigs are germinating. The sweat peas are growing well and I even have some carrot seedlings in the fleece tunnel! Not all the carrots have germinated but in the spaces where they have, there are a couple of seedlings so I should have enough to replant into the gaps.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Anti-social neetles

I arrived home last night to a mini crisis; one of the councilors had been around to report a complaint about my weeds. Apparently one of my plot neighbours, not quite established which side yet, has made a complaint to the council about the amount of weeds on my plot and then affecting him etc etc. So much for that community aspect of having an allotment.

Very worryingly the council was suggesting I move to another plot further down, no idea what this would achieve apart from moving me away from Mr Complainer but it certainly doesn't fit into my planting plan! So OH nobly joined me last night for a frantic weeding session, the ground was like iron but we managed to clear a large part of the boundary weeds and I also relented and spread some weedkiller around; The prospect of losing my plot after almost a year or digging up nettles suddenly squashed my organic principles.

After a very sleepless night I finally got up again at 5 to return to the weeding and franticly hoed over the root bed which is actually completely dug but slightly weedy due to the delay in sowing things. luckily when I did finally catch up with the councilor again she was very apologetic and couldn't understand why he was complaining, I think she had originally though I never went down there but OH was very convincing when he said he never saw me because I was always down there, shouldn't be hard to make that convincing though because it is totally true!

Anyway after a lot of worry and weeding the matter seems settled but I am feeling the pressure to clear the weeds now. The original plan for the bank holiday was to get lots planted and sowed but now I will be making the plot look pretty, hopefully there will still be time to plant the sweetcorn and courgettes....

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Another successful weekend

This weekend was another scorcher so I hot-footed it down to the allotment where I was greeted by the first potato sprouts, not bad considering they only went into the ground at the end of April, unfortunately the ground was baked solid after all the wonderful weather so it took some time to scrape together enough clods to create mounds. I think the finished result is quite impressive, all things considering...

The Sweat Peas are still alive, and despite the heat, and lack of watering, all are still green and climbing. I took confidence from this and sowed a row of peas, not sure anything will come of them due to mice but there were loads in the pack so worth a try. The real pea area will be with the sweetcorn so they can climb the stems rather than my wonky tree cuttings. Behind the wonky twigs you can see the Sweat Peas and their canes, the raspberries and finally the asparagus. Ignore the wilderness behind that :)

All the raspberry canes are now growing, which is a relief, only half of them were sprouting last week and I was starting to get concerned but all this sun has got them going. If I can get the fruit cage (or maybe just netting) sorted then there should be plenty of raspberries to look forward to. The dandelion was removed shortly after this picture was taken...

The asparagus is growing like no tomorrow, here is one of the spears which was just emerging a week ago. So far I have got 1 spear from all but 3 of the 11 crowns, so things are going ok. I have sowed parsley in the bed to try and prevent asparagus beetles so hopefully they will get through the year unscathed.

After all the rain and then the sun I was thrilled to see the blackcurrant bush has loads of currants forming. They are already a fair size so if the weather stays nice they should be very successful. I haven't ever eaten a blackcurrant before due to the fact that they are almost impossible to buy so I am very excited about the first harvest.

Finally, for those of you who have made it this far I was thrilled to see the first 2 tubes in the Red Mason bee nest are filled. I even managed to see the bee flying into one of the tubes which was pretty good timing. Bees are fantastic pollinators and the Red Mason bee is completely docile, interestingly this is because they have nothing to defend unlike the Bumblebee which will defend the nest, therefore they are very welcome in my garden.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Rainy bank holiday?

The weather forecast for the bank holiday was rain, rain and then some more rain but, not wanting to tempt fate or anything, the weather so far has been lovely. Yesterday was sunny and then a little cloudy but still hot, and today has been very cloudy but very warm and both days have been almost completely dry.

So of course I have been busy at the plot and also in the garden, my veg beds at the back of the garden have finally become too much of any eyesore, I think it was the fleece which finally broke the camel's back as it were, anyway we have now erected a rather fetching reed screen to hide said eyesore. Actually I am rather pleased by the result because what was previously some veg beds at the back of the garden is now a fully fledged veg garden :)

The allotment has had some attention too, the sweet peas are planted around my new rustic (homemade) pea support and the first row of carrots has been sow under fleece. I have spent about 4 hours fighting the nettles and ever spreading grass so things look generally tidier but the most exciting part of teh whole weekend was discovering the first asparagus spears...

Of course I can't crop them for several years yet but at least I know they are alive and kicking!

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Hardening off

Normally I give hardening off a skip and just leave the poor plants to suffer the shock of the great outdoors, but with the weather being so changeable (read shit) and with my entire collection of globe artichokes having come courtesy of mum (read cannot be re-sow), this year I have been attentively hardening off the sweet peas and globes.

Every morning I trudge between the crappy greenhouse and the patio moving the 15 or so pots of sweet peas and similar number of globes to a sunny position, later than night, usually after they have experienced some torrential rain, I trudge back and forth again to move them under cover. It would, of course, be easier if I had bought some more gravel trays to put all the pots into so that I could move them in one go but there you go. Live and learn and all that.

According to books this should go on for 2 weeks, the sweet peas have been moving for a week and the globes for 5 days but I have decided that enough is enough, everything is still alive so if the weather is reasonable at the weekend they are all going out for good!

Saturday, 26 April 2008


The sun has finally managed to coincide with the weekend. I spent most of the day at the allotment and have finally managed to get all the potatoes planted out, no small task when you include the actual digging of the bed first!

Elsewhere spring seems to be here, the plum tree is in blossom, as are the 2 apple trees in my garden, and the raspberries are starting to sprout. I have starting hardening off the sweet peas and globe artichokes so with a bit of luck they will be ready to be planted out over the bank holiday. I just need to get the rest of the seeds sown and I will be ready for the growing to begin.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Gardeners World Seed Trial 2008

I am very excited to have been chosen to join in the Gardeners World Seed Trial 2008! I have now been sent a packet of sunflower Mezzulah F1 to try and grow, it is a poll free semi-dwarf variety so it should complement my normal sunflowers which I am planning to sow this weekend.

I decided to apply for the sunflowers rather than the tomatoes because I am already planning on growing quite a few tomato plants this year whereas sunflowers will be good in the garden and on the allotment to attract bees. Fingers crossed all goes well!

Saturday, 12 April 2008


Over the last couple of weeks I have come to the conclusion that I have not killed the raspberry canes or the plum tree that I planted out last year, in fact all seem to be slowly coming to life as the weather improves. Buoyant by the arrival of the first baby raspberry leaves I have turned slightly fruit mad, it started with the new strawberry plants, 6 'Hapil' and 6 'Cambridge Favourite'. Last year I grew some strawberries in a pot but after the nightmare of trying to keep them watered, even last year, has convinced me to make some space in the raised beds. Foolishly I choose 2 last summer varieties so I think I am heading straight into a Strawberry glut and I don't think strawberry soup is going to be the solution...

Last year I claimed a free blueberry plant from Gardener's World but sadly the twiggy little thing died over winter so I have finally replaced it with a slightly more robust looking sample, due to blueberry plants loving acid conditions I have it in a pot on the patio. The variety is 'Bluecrop' which is a apparently a vigorous upright grower and hopefully also a prolific fruiter. It already has some buds on it so hopefully there will be blossom soon.

Finally I surrendered to a Blackcurrent bush to go on the allotment, after reading that 90% of all blackcurrents are turned into juice I was overcome by a desire to actually eat the little things. The variety 'Ben Sarek' is a compact bush but heavy yielding and according to Ken Muir the berries are unusually large, which sounds alright to me.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Free seeds

The Guardian newspaper is giving away free seeds with today's newspaper, well you get the coupon to use to send off for the seeds in the paper. They are giving away cabbage seeds 'Guardian' which I think is a summer cabbage but as there doesn't seem to be much info on the web I will have the wait for the seeds to arrive before I know the full details. Still I have completely omitted to buy any cabbage seeds this year so I think that for the price of a newspaper this is a pretty nice offer.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Almost spring

Today was almost a spring day, if it just hadn't been raining and snowing then it would have been lovely. All week has been dry and yesterday, whilst I was at work of course, was a beautiful day so I had high hopes for today.

As it is now spring (in my mind I mean) I was determined to get some seeds into the ground, everything which has been grown in pots inside is doing amazingly well, even the peppers have germinated, but it simply isn't the same as actually putting seed into the ground. So today I set off to the allotment to enjoy some surprisingly warm sunshine, as I forked over the bed, marked lines and hoed the drills all was good, as I started to sow the seeds the snow arrived. As I determinedly continued the rain arrived, and wouldn't stop.

Anyway Seeds are in and covered with some bubble wrap on account of all my fleece having been commandeered by OH for germinating grass seed, apparently grass is more important than carrots, heres hoping that the seeds germinate.

Luckily I am not too upset about the poor weather because I have received a rather great book: 'The Allotment Book: Seasonal Planner and Cookbook', for those of you who have read 'The Allotment Book' then this is the follow up, if you haven't read either then they are highly recommended. I am now salivating over all the tasty recipes that I will be able to cook using my own crops!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Asparagus has arrived

This morning I got up super early (well 7am but that is pretty early for a Saturday) and headed down to the allotment to tackle nettles before the rain arrived. It was actually very pleasant and in between the frequent coffee breaks I managed to make good progress with the clearing, it I can keep it up then I will actually have somewhere to plant my leeks.

I returned home completely spent at around 10:00, 1 hour later and the postman kindly delivered 10 asparagus crowns, after reading Ken Muir's instructions that they must be planted immediately on receipt and seeing that the weather forecast was predicting rain for the next 10 years I trotted back to the allotment to quickly chuck the crowns in my carefully prepared asparagus bed.

Unfortunately I had overlooked that although I had dug over the bed and covered it in manure several months ago, I would still need to actually dig the bed. 1 hour later and rather a lot more tired I had a rudimentary asparagus bed, as you can see from the photo the crowns sort of fit, although to be very fair it isn't all my fault because I have ended up with 11 crowns instead of 10 so my careful (ahem) measuring was never going to add up.

After the pain of digging the trench I actually had a pretty good time placing the crowns and spreading the roots around. Re-filling the trench wasn't so much fun but I am hopefully looking forward to many years of home grown asparagus, and at least I have learnt in advance that there is no way I am digging a trench for the potatoes.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

A plot visit at last

After a sickeningly long time I finally managed to get some visits in at the allotment, I spent a couple of hours up there yesterday complete with snow and then actually had a sunny morning there today. Not all that much progress to report, raspberries might be starting to grow and the plum tree has a couple of hopeful looking buds, the apple tree is just about to burst into flower which made me feel very spring like, despite the wintery weather. In fact I am feeling so hopeful that I have sowed my tomatoes and sweetcorn (inside of course), with a bit of luck the weather will sort itself out before I need to plant them outside.

I was lucky to be away over Easter so missed the real snow which was evidently here. I also received some sweet peas and some Globe Artichoke seedlings from Mum which is very exciting. I am planning to plant the sweet peas in the garden along with 1 of the Artichokes, the other 8 will go to the allotment where I am thinking of planting them as a sort of boundary fence. I have never eaten artichokes but at least they make spectacular flowers if nothing else.

Yesterday I dragged OH off to the Garden centre and bought a cheepy plastic greenhouse to put seedlings in, hopefully this will reduce the fatality rate after I manage to germinate them. I also got a very nice blueberry plant 'Bluecrop', which is going to live in a pot since they only like acid soil and I hacve very strong alkaline. I am now setting my sights on some strawberry plants for the garden (last year's look rather dead) and also some blackberries and red currants for the allotment.

Finally one last piece of excitement; I now have neighbors on both sides of my allotment! I met one side yesterday and they seem very nice, also very novice which is good, hopefully I will see the other side soon. This means that finally I can be certain about my boundaries and also that I have some other hands to help with the battle against the nettles.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

One potato, two potato, three...

Last week my potato seeds finally arrived from Mr Fothergills, a staggering 5 weeks after ordering, it seems the delay was because the free Yukon gold tubers were out of stock, I mean who cares? If they are free then I am not really bothered about the variety so just give me something else right?

Anyway grumble over, they have finally arrived much to my joy, a parcel for me and the long awaiting potatoes, OH immediately declared me crazy on the grounds that these potatoes were exactly the same as the ones Tesco sells (for a fraction of the price of course). I patiently explained about certified growers, reliable stock and disease resistance etc to which he concluded that they were exactly the same as the ones at Tesco. I guess there is no getting through to some people!

So I now have 2 shelves on the bookcase filled with egg boxes of potatoes quietly chitting away. I have 20 Charlotte, 10 Pixie (the replacement of the free Yukon gold) and 12 Arran Victory, heres hoping for a long season of potatoes, but before than I am holding my breath for the first shoots.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Growing veg without the plot

I was very interested to read, in the Guardian weekend magazine, an article about growing veg in small spaces (sadly it isn't available online). By following their plan you could have home grown veg all year round, obviously there might be times when you only have a little bit but they did manage to squeeze in peas, carrots, lots of salad crops, kale, leeks and even squash amongst others. The entire things was based around a 3m x 3m bed divided up into squares into which you sowed the goods.

Now obviously I have an entire allotment but it was a really refreshing view to read that maybe 1 squash plant would be enough, and carrots could be fitted in around the onions. Last year I stuffed all my veg into the raised beds in the garden and after under-estimating the size of a pumpkin plant the chard ended up a little crowded, the onion (there was just 1) was lost under the courgettes and the lettuce had to battle to stay alive but in the end it just sort of worked.

Now that I am about to start planting up my allotment I am trying to work out planting positions and spacing but after reading this artlicle I think I will just relax and see how it all works out. Maybe some stuff won't thrive (or survive) but hopefully plenty more will and if this article is anything to go by then I don't really need all 6 of my squash plants to produce. So if you only have 1 flower bed, or even a few pots don't be put off there is still plenty of veg that you can grow.

Today I sowed the first of my salad crops in one of the raised beds in the garden, I was planning to go with rows but have been converted to the use of squares so the bed has been divided up into sections and each one will have one of the following sown in it: Rocket, Land cress, Lambs lettuce, Mizuna, Mustard and a mixed lettuce seed, as they germinate and grown I will start to sow some of the other squares until I hopefully have a patchwork of salad crops for continual harvesting.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Stormy waters

Over breakfast I was thinking of all the things I hoped to get done this weekend, more digging maybe, sowing the lettuce seeds that arrived yesterday, maybe even buying my banana plant a bigger pot. As I left the house it started to rain, there goes any hope of having a fire with all those nettle roots I thought (for some reason nettle roots are natural fire retardant) and just now I have read that storms are set to batter Britain. Great.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Introducing the plot

I thought it would be nice to write a sort of monthly roundup style of post to record the developments throughout the year, then I realised that I have never really introduced the plot, so here it is:

The plot, number 19, is one of about 20 on a fenland site, a 5 minute walk away from my house, it is owned by the council, who sadly run a very loose ship so the size of the plot is unknown but I have marked out an area which is roughly 10ft wide and 100ft long, a pretty large space me thinks. There are 3 apple trees on the plot, none of which did all that much last year but provide some shelter at least.
At the top of the plot you can see where I am starting to clear the ground, luckily this area was covered in a huge wild cabbage patch which was easily cleared and is now destined to become my pumpkin, pea and sweetcorn bed, I plan to plant them using the "Three sisters" planting method.

The middle of the plot has now been cleared, except for the rather evil looking nettle patch which I have been avoiding. I am going to be using this area, my largest cleared patch for the root veg which is by far the most popular type of veg in my house.

Finally you get to the interesting part of the plot, the bottom. When I took on the plot last July this part was mostly covered in carpet so the nettles were slightly less prolific and I tackled it first. When the raspberries and plum tree arrived this was the only part of the plot which was ready so they were planted here, not exactly a great planting plan but it seems to be working out ok. The area for the asparagus bed has been dug behind the raspberries and I will also be building the shed and compost bins down here.

The soil is actually peat which is interesting, it easy to dig, hopefully full of nutrients and also recommended for use when storing veg through winter, I have translated this to mean that I can leave my winter crops in the ground until I need them. On the downside the plot is very exposed so there is a stupid amount of wind and plenty of frost, not sure how this is going to work out but I guess that is what this project is all about. So there you have it, Souper allotment in all its glory.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Seed planning

The other day I was reading Soilman's blog (well worth a read if you haven't been there before), and saw that he has already sowed, and germinated, his celeraic seeds. Having purchased celeraic seeds, along with many others, and they carefully stored them in the shed with no plan as to when, or where, things would be planted I was suddenly overcome with that missed sowing moment panic.

After hot footing it to the shed and rummaging through the seed box I realised that thankfully I didn't seem to be running too late, most packets said to sow in March. Instead I had an entirely different problem; most of my seeds are purchased from Alan Romans who cuts the cost by not printing pretty pictures or instructions on the seed packets, instead all the information is on his website. So I realised I am actually the proud owner of 13 packets of seed which I have no idea when to sow, when to plant out, or even when to harvest! luckily it is still February - just, so really I am not running late, I have over a day until March...

Some time later I now have a planting plan of sorts, I basically just matched the months with seeds that need sowing, planting out and harvesting. Hopefully in time I will turn this into a lovely to do list on here but until then you will just have to make do with me telling you that in March I will be sowing Kale 'Starbur', Tomato 'Sungold', Tomato 'Gardener's delight', Celeriac 'Monach' and Pepper 'Canape' inside and Pea 'Ambassador', Spinach 'Tornado', Spinach 'Spinnaker', Carrots 'Early Nantes 2', Cos lettuce and Radish 'Cherry belle' outside. If I was really organised I would even know where these things were going to be planted but I think that might have to be another planning session...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The kindness of strangers

I was off work today, and thought I would pop down to the allotment to take a few pictures since it was actually sunny for once. As I wandered around my plot someone came over from his plot, this is very rare, so preparing myself for the usual questions about what you're growing etc etc I was staggered to be told there was a rotavator in the abandoned shed on one of the empty plots.

I of course had noticed this but assumed that of course it must belong to someone because it was stored in a locked shed but apparently not, it turns out that the rotavator had been left on my plot some time ago and this kind man had locked it in the shed so it didn't get stolen. He then gave me the key to the shed, so now I have some more tools including a rake and fork, lots of canes and useful bits of wood and a rotavator!

He doesn't know if it works or not, and I am assuming it needs petrol to run? I also have no idea how you actually work a rotavator, anyone got any tips? I didn't want to start jumping up and down or anything so next time I go I will get it out and see if there is a make or model and then hopefully find out if it works. It probably won't be that helpful this year because of the scary number of nettles all over the place and I am really trying to be organic which of course means pulling roots out by hand but I guess I could give the rough dug beds a once over and then next year it will be a doddle to clear the plot woohoo!

Oh and I now need a shed, one that is actually on my plot...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Kale - winter's favourite vegetable

Kale. Quite simply kale must be one of the most amazing vegetables, obviously no one really says they like kale, in fact I had never even heard of it until this time last year when it arrived in my organic veg box, but much to my amazement OH who is no great vegetable fan announced it his favourite vegetable and so we started eating it, and buying it. And then because I needed to make OH see what a great idea it would be to turn part of our garden into a vegetable patch, growing it.

Like all winter brassicas, kale is planted in April and then forgotten about until January when it suddenly looks like you might have something to eat through the cold months. This being my first year of vegetable growing I was ignorant to the joys of cabbage white butterflies, oh look a pretty butterfly thought me until suddenly the kale was more lace curtain than lush green and OH was mighty upset. So some frantic net arranging later the butterflies were reduced (the barrier wasn't exactly perfect) and I suddenly found a regular pastime in caterpillar picking to save the remaining few uneaten leaves.

December and January saw the kale mostly ignored and then last weekend it occurred to me that after all the effort we should actually eat some of this kale, in some ways a very scary prospect after nurturing it through most of last year. Today I made the first chop and now have a wonderful looking kale head for tonights stir fry. In a bid to convince OH that my seed purchasing obsession is healthy I have purchased some more kale seeds so this year I will be finishing off the packet of Curly Kale from last year as well as trying out Starbur F1. Hopefully next year will see fewer caterpillars.


Last year I grew some Thai basil, somehow the small pot of seeds turned into a fully fledged basil plant which is still alive today...just...the stems are more wooden sticks and most of the leaves are brown and crispy. So about 3 weeks ago I decided to sow a new fresh pot of Thai basil with the intention of actually eating all of it and replacing it will fresh sowings throughout the year - we will see. For those of you who don't know Thai basil it is like basil but with pointed leaves instead of round ones, purple flowers and stems and a wonderful anise flavour which is used in loads of Thai dishes. I add it to Thai green curry but it is also great with fish and other meats.

However, although Thai basil is fantastic for Thai cooking it doesn't quite work in Spanish dishes so this year I have been super organised and bought some Mediterranean basil as well, this is the more common round leaved basil which has a sweet taste perfect for pasta, pesto and of course Spanish omelettes.

The photo at the top shows the seeds as they are today, I sowed them about 3 weeks ago in those pots and placed them on a windowsill over a radiator with a clear plastic bag over the top until the germinated. Once they were growing well the bag was removed and the pots turned to stop them going wonky, today both pots have graduated to the unheated kitchen windowsill where they will now stay until they are big enough to eat. If all goes to plan I will be making a repeat sowing in a couple of weeks to hopefully give a continuous crop throughout the year.

Saturday, 16 February 2008


All the recent sun has caused my remaining parsnips to start to re-sprout so I decided that today was the day to dig them all up and finally clear the carrot and parsnip bed ready for the year. Half an hour later and I had unearthed a wopping 26 parsnips!

I had no idea there were so many remaining, almost half of them were well over a foot long so I was suddenly in possession of a serious amount of parsnip. The variety that I grew was 'Gladiator' and considering that all I did was drop the seeds into the soil, thin after a few months and then wait it is quite brilliant to have such a good harvest, parsnips are certainly top of the growing list for this year.

40 minutes of washing and drying later and I was ready to start the cooking, 3 of the particularly large ones went into a fantastic spicy parsnip soup, 5 more are destined for roasting and all the others have been par-boiled, cooled and then frozen for later.

The soup was quite amazingly good, thick, creamy and just the right amount of spice, of course I couldn't say all this without sharing the recipe so here it is:

Spicy Parsnip soup

Serves 3-4

50g unsalted butter
600g parsnips (or turnips, swede, potatoes, or a mixture of all), washed, peeled and cubed
1.5 litres of vegetable stock
1 large onion, peeled and sliced finely
3 tablespoons runny honey
2 teaspoons garam masala
Optional - 150 ml live bio-yoghurt

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat, then add the onion and heat gently for 5 minutes.

Add the vegetables and stir to coat with the butter, then remove from the heat and drizzle in the honey, stir well to coat evenly.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil

Simmer until the vegetables are tender, should be about 20 minutes, then cool slightly before liquidizing in the food processor or blender.

Return to the heat and stir through the garam masala and the yoghurt, if using.

Monday, 4 February 2008

More digging...

Back in October I ordered 10 asparagus crowns from Ken Muir which are due for delivery in March. Now that we are in February it has been more and more obvious that I needed to sort out the asparagus bed before their arrival. Apparently asparagus can be productive for 20 years and it is very important that the crowns don't dry out before planting, so after OH's amazing efforts shifting soil this weekend I headed off to the plot to dig a trench.

For 10 crowns I needed a well dug area about 3 foot by 10 foot, or thereabouts, I selected the area last year based on the sole criteria that this is probably the least windy area on my plot. Yesterday I dug over the area, nicely weed free thanks to the covering of carpet and then spread some bags of manure over the top for the worms to deal with. Hopefully by March the manure will be mixed and the soil broken down.

Friday, 1 February 2008

More seeds

This week we finally got around to ordering the huge bags of soil to complete the flower beds in the garden. I arrived home yesterday to find them sitting outside the front of the house, which means no allotment activity this weekend as I need to shift all of the soil around to the back of the house...

To make up for this denial I spent this morning ordering the last of my seeds, over the past few weeks I have been reading all my seed catalogues and finally chose to grow 'Starbor' kale, 'Monach' celeriac, 'Ambassador' peas, 'baby bear' pumpkins and 'Detroit 2' beetroot, all of which were available from Fothergills.

The bigger challenge was choosing my potatoes, I have never grown potatoes before but have come to understand that there are many considerations, variety which is dependent on what you plan to use it for, how long you want to wait for the potato to grow and finally how disease resistant it needs to be. I have no idea what pests and diseases my potatoes will need to withstand so decided not to worry about this too much (maybe next year I will be more concerned!) but am very clear that I want Charlotte potatoes because they taste fantastic, and something else which will be good for baking and mashing.

Sadly all the seed websites I visited had grouped their potatoes only into type which didn't help but I did manage to find a fantastic website which listed varieties based on their uses. Eventually I settled on 'Arran Victory', a late maincrop, which has a purple skin, white flesh and is meant to be good at weed suppressing; with all those nettles it had better be very good!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Seeds of hope

With the end of January in sight I was finally motivated to start purchasing my vegetable seeds. After last year's success of the vegetable beds in the garden my first stop was Alan Romans, where almost all the seeds cost just 50p, easy choices were the 'Gladiator' parsnips and 'Early Nantes 2', and 'Flyaway' F1 carrots all of which performed spectacularly well last year despite the poor weather.

Alan Romans only supplies limited varieties of most seeds so I picked 'Florence' fennel and 'Mussellburgh Improved' Leeks based on nothing more than they were available, having grown neither before there didn't seem to be much to compare them too! Finally I followed popular opinion for the tomatoes and chose 'Gardeners Delight' and 'Sungold' both of which will be worth trying outside.

So there is just the potatoes, beans, peas, brassicas, salad leaves, beetroot and spinach left to choose before the growing season begins...

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Spring is coming

Last November I found that one of my garlic bulbs had sprouted in the cupboard so I quickly stuck the cloves into one of the empty veg patches in the garden. The birds helpfully pulled them up again but I stuck them back in the holes and kept my fingers crossed, today after a particularly heavy frost I was thrilled to see the little shoots poking out of the ground, if you look carefully you can almost see them in the photo. I have never grown garlic before but by all reports the shoots turn to leaves and then around July the leaves turn yellow and you pull up lovely garlic bulbs for drying. After months of nothing but dead leaves in the garden and nettles on the allotment it is great to have some veg growing again; Spring feels so close you can almost smell it...