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!