Sunday, 24 October 2010

Rain, weeds and the first frost

I spent Saturday battling the cold and the rain to try and get some of the weeds cleared. Luckily at this time of year most things are dying down and weeding becomes more of a simple digging task, the wet soil helping the long tap roots to slide out satisfyingly. I managed to dodge the first few rain showers and enjoyed a cup of tea huddled inside my shed but after a while I decided to face up to the fact that real gardeners just get on with things (well I have seen it raining during Gardener's world and during River cottage...). A few hours later I had made some progress and had also succeeded in completely coating myself, and all my clothes in a thick layer of mud. In fact I think I might have caused some alarm for my neighbours as I trudged back!

We had out first frost last week and more are expected in the coming days so it was time to pull up all the remaining carrots, mostly small but hopefully still tasty. I also pulled the first of many celeriac and we enjoyed eating it alongside some stored potatoes. Annoyingly I haven't managed to get all the potatoes up yet but a wet weekend isn't the right time to try and do this so I'll have to wait for drier conditions.

Most of the allotments on my site are already being put to sleep for the winter, everyone seems to live at the allotments for 6 months of the year and then vanish completely during the winter months. I think this is a missed opportunity and will still be there nurturing my cabbages, perpetual spinach, parsnips, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, leeks and of course the sprouting broccoli. Hopefully I'll have plenty to keep me going until spring.

Finally don't forget to buy your garlic, I have ordered Lautrec Wight and Sicilian Red, both are Autumn planting and should store well. I love knowing that even on the coldest and darkest days there is something slowly growing beneath the soil.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A long overdue plot visit

In the weeks where I have been enjoying events such as Duxford airshow, yes the parking was awful; London Open House, queues were pretty bad; and several visits from family members, the weeds have been playing havoc with my allotment. Finally this weekend was free so I managed to get down to the plot twice, although to be fair I could have done a lot more work whilst I was there...

The brassicas are growing incredibly well despite the weed competition. The white fly were so bad earlier in the year that I though all my brassicas would be sucked dry but it did have the unexpected effect of giving me my first cabbage white free year and that was without covering them. On Saturday I picked a few of the larger kale leaves and we enjoyed them baked and salted.

The leeks are looking very good (again there are a few weeds...), I am growing my usual 'Musselburgh' which are a very late variety along with 'Monstrueux de Charentan' which are almost ready. I used the dib a hole, drop leek in and fill with water and it has been very successful.

Quite a few of my early, and mid, sowings failed to germinate but the rain and sun we have been having for the last 6 weeks has done wonders for my late sowings. Hopefully the fennel will have time to bulb up before the cold weather really hits, but if not I'll use the leaves as seasoning.

Finally, the very odd fungi that appears on my allotment, it is about the size of a football and seems to grow and grow. Anyone got any ideas what sort it might be?

Thursday, 16 September 2010


Last night I arrived home to this:

So thanks to Lands' End for the seeds and thanks to Damo for hosting the giveaway. I think next year is looking like a colourful one!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The end of summer

Now that we are mid way through September you really notice the dark mornings and the dark evenings not to mention the cool breeze and regular rain but when I see the sweetcorn ripening and the pumpkings swelling I remember that I love this time of year. Soon will be the time for hearty soups and stews and soon the whole plot will be dug over so I can ignore the weeds for a while yet.

A Potimorron squash

The giant pumpkin plant has decided to fruit

One of the many small aubergines ripening on a tiny plant

The warm weather and rain has made late sowings possible, but here come the weeds

Friday, 27 August 2010

Tomato tart

Hopefully you're all wallowing in delicious home-grown tomatoes and are in need of a quick and easy recipe to put them centre stage. Or if, like me, that hasn't exactly gone to plan then I would recommend buying some ripe tomaotoes just so you can enjoy one of the tastiest tomato dishes I ever tried.

I followed the recipe to the tee using pre-rolled puff pastry to save time and effort. Do make sure you use good quality goats cheese to complement your lovely tomatoes and don't worry if you don't have a food processor, mushing the paste ingredients together worked for me.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The beginning and the end

Today I picked my first tomato, it was a 'Latah' which is an early ripening variety from Real Seeds, warmed from the sun it was delicious. Sadly today was also the end of my tomato bed because all the plants are showing the dreaded signs of blight, I had hoped that evening waterings and the blistering hot heat would delay the inevitable but sadly not. The are plenty of also ripe and unripe fruits which will be turned into sauces and chutneys; the bed will be used for some over-wintering kale and next year I will be growing blight resistant varieties.

The hot and wet weather should hopefully provide perfect seed germination conditions so I have sown Pak Choi, Mizuna, Fennel, Swede, Endive and Mispoona to hopefully provide crops in the coming months and over winter.

The new potatoes are continuing to delight, 'Charlotte' has proved to be an excellent masher so we are enjoying plenty of potatoes in all forms. The courgettes have started to go mad, I returned home today with 1 marrow, 1 very borderline marrow and a baby courgette as well as 6 cucumbers and another pot of raspberries. Now I'm off to dig out my stash of courgette recipes to turn these beauties into something truly delicious.

Enjoy your plots.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The first cucumbers

The hot weather has made germination very difficult so despite the plot being much clearer than in previous years I have far fewer crops growing. It looks like I'm going to have to try again and then keep my fingers crossed if I'm going to see any swede, pak choi or endive this year.

I have lots of healthy plants sitting in pots at home but it seems to shock them when they get planted out at the allotment; I think it must be the increased heat and strong wind which causes the problems. The courgettes have finally found their feet, hopefully I'll be picking my first 'Black Beauty' next weekend and the squash are starting to stretch out and produce flowers, maybe they'll decide to take on the weedy patch which is growing next to them and save me a job. 8 of the aubergine plants are planted out and I have another 6 waiting at home, this is my first year of growing aubergines so I'm not sure how this is going to turn out but it feels like I'm running very late!

On the plus side the cucumbers are making up for everything! This is a new one for me but my four 'Wautoma' plants are all growing very happily and today I picked my first two cucumbers, I think they'll join the 'Reine des Glaces' lettuce to make a homegrown salad; I just wish there were some tomatoes to join it! Interestingly the plant I kept in the cold frame the longest and which got planted out last has produced the first fruits so it just goes to show that you should wait until the plants are ready and the conditions are good before planting out.

Now that we are almost at August it's time to start thinking about winter crops, I'm going to sow some more cabbages and lots more kale ready to plant out in a couple of months, if you're very lucky late sowings will miss the cabbage whites whilst still having enough warm weather to establish before winter really sets in.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Journeys, fruit and the first potatoes

The last few weeks have been very hectic; we have spent 2 weekends away visiting friends and family, I have been training for and then running in several races and then the rest of the time I have been flopped from the heat! Luckily I have managed to fit in a few morning visits to the allotment to keep things ticking along.

This year there has been a bumper crop of berries, first with the strawberries and now with the raspberries. Today I picked the first of the gooseberries, hopefully the rest will be ready soon, and also a glut of blackcurrants from just from 1 shrub. Strangely I have some raspberries growing under the apple tree and about 4 metres away from the actual raspberry bed, I have no idea how they got there but they seem happy enough and are fruiting already; I just wish I had cut the nettles back before I started picking the fruits!

The potatoes are flowering which is a relief after the poor chitting and then the late frosts, we enjoyed a few of the Charlottes last night but they were a little small. The peas were delicious but a little sparse and are already nearing their end; I grew Karina with were very early and then 2nd Early which did lengthen the picking season a little but from reading your blogs it seems this just wasn't the year of the pea.

I have followed Toby Buckland's advice regarding sweetcorn and them into modules a month apart, sadly the 2nd batch were planted out just as the weather started to get really hot but also when there was a very cold wind so they decided to give up the ghost. The first batch are now about a foot tall and look very sturdy, and I actually have quite a few plants anyway because Toby also said that sweetcorn is quite happy growing close together so you can sow 2 seeds to a module, I hope he's right.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The end of the asparagus season

Summer solstice marks the end of the asparagus cropping. Now you should let the spears grow into lovely wispy leaf stems to feed the crowns ready for next year's crop. The leaves are really pretty but I am sad that there will be no more asparagus for at least 9 months.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Rhubarb Relish

Around this time I year I start to get bored of eating stewed rhubarb which is a shame because the plants are still producing loads of juicy stems. This year's solution is Rhubarb Relish from the River Cottage Handbook No2:

500g granulated sugar
100ml cider vinegar
1kg rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
125g raisins
50g fresh root ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
6 cloves

First bruise the ginger with a blunt object, I used a rolling pin, and tie into a spice bag with the cloves and the snapped cinnamon sticks.

Put the sugar, vinegar, 100ml water and the spice bag into a preserving pan. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the rhubarb and chop into 2-2.5cm chunks.

Add the rhubarb and raisins to the sugar syrup and cook gently for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is thick, but the rhubarb still discernible as soft chunks. Remove from the heat and pour into sterilised jars and seal with vinegar proof lids. Use within 12 months.

This was my first recipe from the River Cottage Handbook and I was very impressed, it has been complementing my mackerel pate all week. Somehow I don't think I'll have any trouble using it within 12 months.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Weeding, Seeding and trying to keep up

Wow things have been rather hectic over the last few weeks; work has turned manic and the hot and wet weather is making everything, including the weeds, grow like mad. I had a week off work and we spent a few days down in Dorset which was lovely but what with all the eating, drinking and of course walking also quite tiring.

Still, this is the wrong time of year to rest so I finally got round to shearing down the long grass and nettles around the front, sides and back of the plot. I also discovered where the bumble bees were nesting this year, this time it is right next to the shed but being more docile than the honey bee I don't usually have any trouble with them. Apparently the colony splits up every winter and then they re-nest the next year which explains why they keep moving around.

I also re-located my raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants from within the weeds. All are fruiting up very nicely and with a bit of luck (and sun) the gooseberries will be ready in just a few weeks. At home the strawberries have lots of fruit but none is yet ripe, sadly my attempts to stagger the crop by planting some early plants seem to have failed so I think there will be a short glut and then nothing. Well there will be a glut if I get around to putting out the nets and beer traps...

In amongst all this I managed to sow some swede, carrots, fennel and more radish as well as planting out the remaining cucumbers and several rows of cabbages. There is still lots of potting on and planting out that needs to happen over the next few weeks but finally it seems like things are going. Don't you just love this time of year?

Friday, 4 June 2010

Celeriac is planted out

Yesterday I swapped my daily commute for several hours on the allotment, strangely the allotment visit was much more enjoyable than my commute ever is!

I had a pressing task to get the celeriac planted out as they had started to yellow in the modules. After an hour of digging bindweed roots out of what looked like clear ground I was able to start planting. It quickly became clear that my seed sowing might have been a little enthusiastic and after putting in 3 rows I decided to call it a day. The remaining plants will be passed on to friends and family this weekend.

Next week I'm on holiday which means a long weekend in Dorset followed by a long weekend on the allotment. Just as well really as I urgently need to do some weeding, the shed is almost lost to weeds and I haven't seen my raspberry plants for weeks. Have a great weekend.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Rabbit proofing and Parsnips

The rabbits are increasingly becoming a problem on the allotment; after munching their way through most of my winter veg they have seriously stunted the growth of the onions and the shallots. Since neither of my allotment neighbours seem to be putting in much work this year, both have far more weeds than veg and it turns out that rabbits like veg far more than weeds. So before the planting really kicked off I decided to invest in some chicken wire and build a protective fence around some of my allotment. Version 1 is now complete and features 40 meters of wire fencing with a slight ground cover to stop them digging under. Over the next few months I'll try to increase the supports and cut some gates into the sides but hopefully it'll be enough to protect the young plants that need to start moving outside.

The coldframe has become a logistical nightmare because although the days have been hot, the nights are still dropping down just low enough to make me nervous. Today I planted out the first of the cucumber plants, 2 more are spending the night outside in the garden and 1 gets to spend all day outside before returning to the coldframe overnight. Hopefully all 4 will survive the next few weeks but if not then at least 1 should pull through. Now I need to start moving the aubergines outside too.

A trip to London with friends as well as the fence building has put me behind with seed sowing. I have managed to get some beans into the ground as well as some more peas to fill the gaps on the row that germinated a few weeks ago. I sowed a tray of sweetcorn at the beginning of May and have followed it up with another tray today, hopefully this will extend the cropping season for me. The second sowing of brassicas unfortunately had to replace the first lot which cooked inside the propagator on a particularly hot day. I'm hoping this batch has a longer an happier life.

Finally the parsnips, 1 seed out of the 4 rows has germinated on the allotment, 1 more than last year anyway. Today I also planted out a full row of seedlings which were chitted seeds sown into compost filled rolls of newspaper. If they survive the next week they should have an excellent chance of turning into tasty parsnips. I think I'll chit some more just in case.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Potting on

Not much plot action this weekend because I've just run 10k for Cancer Research, a worthy cause but unfortunately one that highlights how incompatible my love of running is with my love of veg growing! I'll explain how I ended up pursuing both another day.

So with the need to rest prevalent I have spent the weekend sowing seeds and potting things on. The seed sowing guide is still in use and it does seem to be working; now when I have 10 minutes spare I can quickly consult my spreadsheet and get some seeds sown rather than wasting all the time sifting through my mess of seeds. 2 trays of leeks have joined the 2 sown a few weeks ago, this year I am attempting to have a decent crop of leeks, something which didn't seem important in previous years because we hardly ever ate them. The discovery of Sarah Raven's creamy leek recipe has completely changed that and we are now buying leeks on a regular basis.

The courgettes and squash have all been sown, I might follow them up with some later sown courgettes to make sure I have a supply right through the summer. Alys Fowler has been giving some tips on how to store courgettes for the winter in her "The Edible Garden" programme on BBC (still available on the iPlayer if you've missed it) so I'm not feeling quite so worried about the courgette glut as I normally would. Normally I grow 'Crown Prince' as my Squash variety but the F1 seeds are very expensive so this year I'm experimenting with a variety called 'Potimarron' which is meant to be excellent for roasting as well as being a French heirloom variety so I'll have a chance of saving the seeds.

The aubergines were in desperate need of potting on, as were the chillis but annoyingly the weather is still far too cold for either to move outside so I have completely filled my coldframe. The aubergines are from Real Seeds and should fruit outside provided we have a decent summer, they have certainly been excellent in germination and growth so far so I'm starting to worry about an aubergine glut - well I can dream can't I?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Getting organised

A few weeks ago I met Sandra, one of the allotment newcommers, she is doing simply stunning things with her allotment, mostly involving lots of digging and sifting to remove the weed roots. In amongst our conversation she mentioned that she has all her seeds organised in an index card box so that she knows exactly what to sow and when. So despite her lack of experience Sandra is more likely that me to have successional crops and a year round supply of veg.

You see, I love buying seeds and I love raising as many of my plants from seed as possible but one thing I am terrible at is the organisation of it all. It isn't uncommon for me to rummage through my seed box in Septermber and find several packets of seed which should have been sown in Spring or early Summer, just sitting there un-opened. Last year I completly forgot to sow my winter brassicas, the seeds were there but they just slipped my mind until it was too late and I was forced to buy some plants from the garden centre.

I have a lot of seeds so I know an Index Card box won't work, and anyway I tend to leave packets of seed in my pockets and scattered around the shed so I needed another way. The recent cold and rainy weather drove me to my computer and I am now the proud owner of a seed sowing guide. Each packet of seeds is listed on my spreadsheet and then placed into sowing groups for each weekend. As they are sown I mark them off so that I know what I did and didn't manage to sow each weekend. The idea is that any missed sowings can easily be moved to the next sowing weekend and successional sowings are scheduled in throughout the year. So far things are going well and despite running out of seed compost (schoolboy error at this time of year) the sowings are mostly on target.

So my geeky solution seems to be working for me, but how to you manage your seeds?

Monday, 3 May 2010

Seed sowing is in full swing

It seems like we have skipped early spring and gone straight into the mad rush of late spring. Suddenly the weather is hot but wet and things are growing like crazy, the weeds in particular. This weekend I had a mammoth bindweed clearing session, there is still plenty to do but I cleared enough space to start with the direct sowing. 2 rows of carrots and 2 rows of parsnips are now in and badly covered with a piece of fleece that has seen better days, hopefully it will shelter the seeds from the heavy rains we've been having recently.

I have started some peas in pots but I know they don't like root distrubance so I have also sown the first of several successional pea sowings direct on the allotment. Now I need to construct some serious rabbit proof protection to shelter the seedlings as they grow. Next week more peas will go in along with the first of the beans, I have runner beans as usual as well as several varieties of french beans and Borlotti beans, which I will allow to dry before picking.

The cold frame is full and I am busy moving things in and out each day, hopefully some of the seedlings will be ready to stay outside soon because I still have plenty of seeds to sow. This weekend I have put my propergator to good use protecting lots of kale, cabbage and Brussels Sprout seeds as well as some borage. Some of the Kales are more unusual varieties from Real Seeds, I'm looking forward to tasting the "Red Ursa" and "Komatsuna" which is a Japanese Kale.

There is still no sign of the potatoes, hopefully they're busy doing something down there. On a positive side I managed to plant out the last of the strawberry runners on the allotment, these are an early variety and are already flowering. The salad leaves are looking very healthy and the radishes have come through after only 7 days. I have planted out the first lot of white beetroot and sown some more radish, now I'm counting down the time to the first salad!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Finally, a break

Work has rather taken over my life for the last couple of weeks so there hasn't been much time to blog, garden or even cook which is a shame. Luckily I have tomorrow off and with the bank holiday that means a 4 day weekend!

I will be sowing like mad, so far I have the tomatoes and salad things going, as well as the peas, hopefully beans, herbs and courgettes will soon follow. I managed to plant half the strawberry runners my Mum kindly potted up for me, I'll get the rest in tomorrow. The leeks are hardened off and I hve made a second sowing of beetroots and lettuce.

The asparagus is going like mad so I popped to the plot on Wednesday night to check for spears and also to water the onions and garlic. I'm still recovering from the shock of the weed growth so I think some serious weeding is also on the cards!

What have you got planned for the weekend?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Potatoes are in

This week has turned out to be rather hectic and it is already Wednesday! The weekend was just incredile, two days of sunshine and as it looks set to stay. I finally got around to planting the potatoes, which turned out to be a bit more stenuous than I had anticipated. Somehow the potato area always seems to need to be twice as big as I planned but after 3 hours of digging and lining and measuring I had the four rows planted up. No doubt we'll see just ho9w wobbly my lines are when they start growing!

This year I bought my potatoes from the local garden centre, mainly because of the cost of postage, this limited choice a little but I have Charlotte as usual and Desiree for Maincrop. I don't think the quality of the potatoes is as good as the ones I have had in previous years, the chitting was certainly slow but hopefully now they're in the ground they'll get to work.

At the same time as buying the potatoes I treated myself to a bag of Shallots, it was quite late to be buying shallots so I started them off in modules and planted them out this weekend. They have put on great growth and had excellent roots so hopefully they'll cope with the transplanting and I'll be on course for a bumper shallot harvest (well you gotta hope).

The coldframe is almost full so I have started to harden off the salad leaves, white beetroot, leeks and celeriac which should mean that I can sow some more seeds this weekend. Finally it seems the growing season is on the go.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cooking horizons are broadening

I tend to get stuck in a meal rut where week after week I’ll cook the same recipes, obviously I’ll vary the day a little but still it gets a bit predictable after a while, so I have decided to make Saturday night my experimental meal night. Maybe I won’t always manage it, sometimes only pizza will do but I’m hoping it will encourage me delve into my many recipe books and actually try to cook something new.

Last Saturday I kicked off with a fantastic recipe from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook for Spinach ??? which is a basically an easy and slightly cheaty (in my opinion) way to make spinach ravioli. Spinach was featuring on my mind because despite the odds my spinach patch survived the winter and has begun to re-grow; suddenly have an abundance of baby spinach leaves. Sarah Raven’s book is perfect for these situations because the recipes are divided by ingredient; gluts are instantly turned into opportunities!

Spinach Malfatta

for 4:
500g spinach
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 egg white
50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
100g breadcrumbs
plenty of fresh grated nutmeg, to taste
1 tablespoon spring herbs (parsley, chives or fennel)
Salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon flour
Tomato sauce to serve

Remove the stems from the spinach and finely chop the leaves. Cook in a little salted water until tender and then drain and squeeze out the water. Combine the spinach with the garlic, egg white, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, herbs, salt and pepper.

Shape the mixture into small balls about the size of walnuts. To cook, lay them in a steamer lined with lightly oiled greaseproof paper, you can do 2 layers at once if you need to. Steam for about 10 minutes.

I served them with the last batch of tomato sauce from the freezer.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sun, Spring and Sheds

This weekend has been all about the letter S!

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for an allotment visit. Spring seems to have finally arrived so I was keen to finish digging the plot before the ground dries out any more. Several hours later and I could no longer stand up straight but at least the last of the plot was dug and ready for the potatoes. Obviously you are now wondering how there can be so many weeds in the photo of an apparently dug over allotmnet so let me explain; by dug over I mean that the soil has actually seen a spade in the last 5 years. The area I have been clearing this weekend had some impressively big weeds but now that the soil has at least been turned I should be able to focus on preparing the ground for some planting.

By some rare force of nature I was joined by OH (this is a very unusual event) and he put himself to good use pianting the shed. Yes it is blue and Yes I did choose the colour. One of the books which encouraged me to take on an allotment was "The Allotment Book" by Andi Clevely and the picture at the start of The Perfect Allotment chapter is my idea of a dream shed so the blue paint is just the beginning. Hopefully I'll have some pot of flowers growing around and even up it this summer.

Back in reality the garlic is growing well, including the bulbs in storage so I used a few of the sprouting cloves to plug the gaps in the garlic rows and I also put in another row to bring the total number of garlic rows up to 4. I'm really trying not to grow as much garlic this year but it does seem a shame to waste them. The forced rhubarb is ready and has just been baked in orange juice with star anise, I'll be eating it for breakfast this week.

In the cold frame the leeks and beetroot have germinated and the aubergines and celeriac are growing well. I have sown some more sweet peas and also 3 pots of tomaotoes; Minibel, Red Cherry and Latah. I still think I'll need to buy some Sungold or Gardener's Delight seed before I feel the tomato side is done. Next week I really need to get the potatoes planted but with the sun set to shine all week I don't think that'll be too much of a chore. Enjoy it.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

A helping hand

It was my birthday on Tuesday and along with lots of lovely cards, biscuits, several books, a meal out and of course cake I recieved a very useful present; a cold frame.

Having a birthday at this time of year really focusses the mind on the great seed sowing challenge that it about to start. Well I suppose the sowing part isn't too hard, unless you're lazy like me, but it's that part after they germinate but before they get planted out, where on earth do you put them? For the last few years I have had the crappy greenhouse which was really more trouble than it was worth, each year it waited until it was packed full of tender seedlings and then it would collapse into a mass of soil, pots and dispair.

Last weekend I removed the smallest of the raised beds from the back of the garden and OH kindly carried it down to the allotment where it will be used as an extra strawberry bed. Then we assembled the coldframe which was super easy, positioned it and filled it with gravel before finisheing the whole thing off which some bark chippings. I think even OH was surprised at how good it looks (he's a bit sceptical about this whole veg growing thing).

So far I have the remainder of the potatoes chitting, the sweetpeas and salads hopefully germinating and the very late shallots sprouting in modules. Tomorrow some leeks and tomatoes will join them. So as well as having a frost free place to harden off my seedlings I also have somewhere to grow my chillies throughout the summer and something to supply me with salad throughout the winter. I am very happy.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The start of Spring?

The last 2 weekends have been warm, and sunny, and the days in between mild if overcast so does that mean Spring is finally here? I have seen snowdrops and crocuses but not yet a daffodil so things are certainly running late this year.

On the plus side the long harsh winter has really helped me to clear the allotment, as you can see in the picture I have been working my way down the right hand side of the plot. Previously there was a horrific nettle patch which had become so well established it was impossible to even get a fork into the ground but by covering it for about 6 months and then leaving it to suffer the snow and the frost the roots were finally weakened enough to be cleared. I had the left hand side of the allotment fully cleared and planted last year so it just needs a going over before the planting begins but I am feeling very satisfied to finally, for the first time, have a full allotment available for growing.

The rhubarb has started to show so I have selected the strongest crown for forcing under my as yet un-occupied water butt, so far the longest stem is about 3 inches so I think I am free to start dreaming of rhubarb crumble, rhubarb creme brulee, rhubarb flapjacks...ahem.

The overwintered onions and garlic are growing well, this is my own garlic saved from last year so I am hoping everything goes smoothly. So far I have almost 100% germination rate and relatively little damage from birds and rabbits, I think I'll have a couple more rows of garlic to plant out due to some of my stored garlic shooting but I'm going to try not to end up with quite as much as I did last year!

The sight of the first leaves on the blackcurrant bush have allowed me to think that things might finally be warming up so I have sowed my Celeriac (which is actually several weeks late this year) and also my aubergine and chilli seeds. I think there might be something slightly ironic about Celeriac needing a cool wet summer and Aubergine and Chilli needing a long hot summer. Maybe I'll just say I'm hedging my bets or something.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Seeds of hope

The weather has been so awful, and the days so short that very little has been happening at the allotment so it was with great excitement that I opened the packet containing these lovely seeds of hope. This year I have decided to buy almost all of my seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue, this gave me a wonderful choice of seeds designed to be grown on a small scale and selected for their excellent taste.

The final choice included:

'Diamond' Aubergine - Ukrainian so it should be used to short cold summers
'White' Beetroot - looks like beetroot, tastes like beetroot but it is white so you don't have to stain skin and kitchen red
'Cherokee Trail of Tears' Climbing French bean - well can you resist that name?
'Tender & True' Parsnip - a great, reliable variety
'Green Boy' Pak Choi - Ready just 5 weeks after sowing
'Early Purple' Sprouting Broccoli
'Red Ursa' Russian Kale - A pretty kale (well taste isn't everything
'Double Standard' bi colour sweetcorn - with white and yellow kernels
'Monstrueux de Charentan' Leek - Short fat leeks for an autumn harvest
'Colossale' Fennel - A large fennel that is bolt resistant
'Latah' Very early tomato - Good for cold, short summers
'Green Heading' Calabrese
'Reine de Glaces' Toothed crisphead Lettuce - A variety from the 1800s with a crisp heart
'Komatsuna' Japanese Kale - Related to Turnips and Pak Choi but with leaves like Kale. Grows year round
'Wautoma' Cucumber - Productive and early with good disease resistance
'Collet Vert' Green topped Swede - A long keeping variety
'Long Lisse de Meaux' Carrot - An old french variety chosen for its keeping qualities
'Giant Red' Carrot - very vigorous which can't be a bad thing

I've been quite organised this year and checked my left-over seeds before ordering the new so I also have runner beans, salads, more Kale and other goodies to grow. Of course the second I placed my order I realised that I had forgotten Peas so no doubt there will be more purchases over the next few months.

As well as supplying a wonderful range of seeds, most of which I had never heard of before, the Real Seed Catalogue only supplies 'Real' seeds so you won't find any hybrids here. This means you have access to varieties which aren't widely available or in some cases varieties which are almost extinct but more importantly you can save your own seeds for future years and they even supply detailed instructions. I'll certainly be having a go but I think the cross-breading risk could make things difficult for some vegetables.

So how are you getting on with your seed buying?

Friday, 1 January 2010

A new year

Happy new year! I can't believe it is actually 2010. Where has all the time gone? Luckily today was a beautifully sunny day if maybe a little cold, so I continued my tradition of spending new year's day at the allotment. After a couple of good visits I am making progress with the seemingly never ending digging and even found time to cut the asparagus back. The pics above show the allotment in December 2008 on the left and today on the right, it is certainly looking less grassy!

2009 was another cold and wet year looking back I am amazed to see how much more time I spent at the allotment in 2008 compared to 2009 but on the plus side I am finally getting on top of the persistent weeds so I had a good harvest despite my absences. 2009 brought my first plums although sadly I am still to get an apple off my tree but it did prove to be another great raspberry year. I have added a Pear tree and 5 more raspberry canes to my collection so hopefully they are all spending the winter months putting down some sturdy roots.

On the veg side the losers were clearly the parsnips which failed to germinate and the Celeriac which hung up its boots in September but there were some impressive successes; the garlic is still going strong and who would have imagined that this would be the year of a tomato glut? 2010 should be the first harvest of the asparagus crowns which were planted in 2007 right at the beginning of the allotment story.

So how did you find 2009? Any lessons learnt? I am going to be trying much harder with my winter roots and hopefully I'll remember to sow some winter crops this time around. The garlic might have been overly successful so I have toned down the number of cloves somewhat and I might not plant quite some many cabbages next time around. Still a pretty good year, heres to the next one!