Planning the Plot: Legume Bed 2016

The legumes for this year are to  be situated in what has come to be known as bed number 1. This is the bed closest to ‘front’ of the allotment and which runs the full width of the allotment. It is the longest bed on the plot, beating the other three by a good six foot. It’s situated in between, and divides, what I like to think of as the two industrial areas of the plot, these being the shed area and the future greenhouse area. As a result I have decided to create a path joining these two areas, I can already feel the temptation to take a short cut across the bed so it makes sense to create a short cut rather than find myself frustrated in a few months at having to take the long way round. To make sure the path isn’t dead space I plan to put an arch over the path to grow french beans up. My only concern being that this might cast too much shade, however, from watching the path of the sun last year I think it will be high enough for this not to be a problem during the summer months.

Legume Plot

Here is a list of veggies that will be going into the legume bed:

French Climbing Beans – Variety: Borlotto Lingua De Fuoco – This heritage verity heralds from Italy and the name translates to ‘Tongue of Fire’ which most likely refers to their pinkish outer shell. The majority of the harvest will be dried ready for use in stews and casseroles later in the year, although a few might find their way into a summer salad or two. My current ambition is to grow them up and over an archway which will line a path through the bed, however, I am concerned that this will cast too much shade on to it’s neighbours. They won’t need planting out till June so I’ll be watching the sun over the next few months to see if it’s arch is high enough for this not to be too much of a factor.

Courgette – Variety: Sunstripe – As their name hints at this British bred variety produces  bright yellow fruit with white stripes and, if I’m being honest, this is the only reason that I picked this variety up. I have since learnt that they are also spineless plants (always a bonus!). I think that the colour will be a lovely addition to most salad and pasta dishes come the end of summer.

Peas (early) – Variety: Twinkle – Again, another British bred variety that was picked primarily because of it’s name (you’ll see a recurring theme throughout these posts). I did do quite a bit of research on varieties because I’m quite excited about growing my own peas, having only ever eaten frozen ones, but that went straight out of the window when I was browsing in the garden centre and saw the name Twinkle, how could I resist?! I will be growing them up peasticks because I quite like the ramshackle rustic look of them.

Peas (Main) – Variety: Alderman – This well known heritage variety was well researched and chosen based on it’s reputation for being a reliable heavy cropper.

Peas (Sugar) – Variety: Kennedy – A British bred super sweet mangetout variety. We eat quite a lot of mangetout in salads, particularly sautéed and tossed in a little bit of decent olive oil so I was looking for an attractive high yielder that would last us through the growing season.

Pumpkin – Variety: Jack Of All TradesWhen looking at pumpkins the temptation to go for one of the giant varieties was very strong but, in the end, I was one over by the phrase “Perfectly proportioned for carving!”. The idea of carving a handsome pumpkin that I’d grown from seed was just too much of a draw.

Runner Beans – Variety: Scarlet Empire – Another variety that I saw mentioned time and time again when looking for a reliable heavy cropper. These will be grown up a frame at the end of the bed so as not to cast too much shade on any crops. They should be far enough in from the boundary that they won’t cause too much bother for the neighbours either.

Squash (Autumn) – Variety: Autumn Crown – This variety is the result of crossing a “Crown Prince” squash with a butternut squash and the fruit bears the shape of one parent and the colour of the other. More importantly for me it has inherited the Crown Prince’s early ripening habit, setting fruits at least a month before other butternuts, thus making it suitable for growing further north.

Coughs, Colds and Clematis

Well, what a horrible week I’ve had! While the rest of the UK was revelling in the first flushes of Spring and sowing madly, I spent four days last week curled in bed full of the most horrid cold/flu type bug. Suffice to say that very little was achieved in terms of planting, potting or pricking out.

One thing I did manage to get done however was to pot up some clematis plug plants that I got through the post. I was already looking decidedly worse for wear and I didn’t want my young plants joining me in that regard should they be left in their packaging for too long.

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I got these clematis free from Gardeners World magazine offer. The four varieties are:

Clematis cirrhosa Jingle Bells: A vigorous evergreen climber with dark green leaves and pale yellow to creamy white flowers. Flowers in winter and early spring. I’m not quite sure where the best spot for this one would be, thankfully it’s only tiny so I probably have a while to decide. Pruning Group 1.

Clematis alpina Constance: A very pretty, tough variety with bell shaped, deep pink flowers and pretty rich green leaves.  Flowers in April and May. As this is a variety that does well in a container I’m thinking of growing it up the south facing side of the shed where it’s roots would be shaded by the laurel hedge. Pruning Group 1.

Clematis Sunset: A compact, deciduous climber. Produces large, single, deep reddish purple flowers . Also does well in containers. Flowers early to late summer. Pruning Group 2.

Clematis montana var. rubens: A pinkish form of the usual white Clematis montana and a vigorous climber. I’m considering pairing this with the Constance in order to cover the shed from April through to June. Flowers in May and June. May also produce a second smaller flush of blooms in late summer. Pruning Group 1.

Planning the Plot: The Fruit Cage

Following on from Monday’s post about the newly built strawberry cage I thought I would share the other plans for fruit on the allotment. I would quite like to have a variety of soft fruit available on the allotment as it’s not something I buy from shops very often due to the price. I object to paying two, three or even four pounds for 100 grams of watery, tasteless fruit that’s often been frozen and shipped in from abroad.

Aside from trying to get better value for money I can’t deny that there is something quite nostalgic about picking your own fruit. I remember numerous summers spent with my Granddad in strawberry fields and between rows of raspberries picking our own fruit, taking the punnet to pay at the end and being adamant you hadn’t eaten any extra despite having lips so red they would have made Marilyn jealous.

So alongside strawberries I will be growing:

fruit cage

Gooseberries: I’m going to get off to a good start by saying that I don’t really like gooseberries, but these came with the plot and it seems a shame to waste such productive bushes. Most harvests will be going to my mother, who does like them.

Redcurrants: These have been specially requested by my other half, seeing as he is my chauffeur to the garden centre I suppose he should be allowed to pick one fruit.

Blackcurrants: I can’t really remember ever having a blackcurrant that wasn’t in Ribena but I read an article recently about how blackcurrants trump blueberries when it comes to their “superfood” powers, plus I live with a man who loves a pudding in any shape or form so I can’t see any going to waste.

Raspberries: Our plot came with some raspberries that I think might be summer fruiting, they’re being treated that way at least. I want to supplement these with some autumn fruiting canes as well.

Blackberries: I love blackberries and although I’ve read that their bushes can be a bit of a bully I’m willing to try training one or two just for the reward of the fruit.

Grapes: The position of the fruit cage means that the longest side is south-facing and in my mind this is just begging to be the home of a grape vine. I love grapes but need to do some research about which varieties won’t be troubled by being outdoors in northern Britain.

Building Project: Raised and Caged Strawberry Bed

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Strawberries have been my favourite fruit since I was little and I cannot envisage this changing any time soon. This is more than likely because their arrival heralds in turn the arrival of my birthday, a day that I am fond of purely for narcissistic reasons (it is for this same reason that I love Wimbledon and become fanatical about tennis for two weeks each year). Being the highest fruit on my list of favourites it was only natural that one of the first building projects on the allotment was to build a shrine of safety for them.

When we got the plot last June there was already a good crop of strawberries ripening in amongst the weeds and we managed to harvest a decent amount before the pigeons realised they were there. One of the drawbacks of tackling the weeds was exposing the fruit to all the beady eyed birds that frequent our allotments. The allotment site in general is bordered by trees along two sides and there is a small strip of more robust woodland just to the north of us. This makes for lovely scenery but does mean that pigeons congregate in the trees eyeing up our produce in a way that is reminiscent of vultures following a parched beast through the desert. Our neighbour even warned us that they have been known to purposefully sit on, and weigh down, netting over fruit and veg in order to try and reach their prize.

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Our allotments at 7am, woodland in the distance

In order to protect this year’s strawberry crop I constructed a raised bed with attached cage to keep the birds away. The cage is 6” x 6” and I can comfortably reach all but the very middle for weeding and other maintenance tasks, fortunately I have an assistant who is a whole foot taller than me and who can be easily bribed with ale to help out, should the need arise. The cage lids are hinged on a central support and lay flush on the surface of the other side so that I don’t risk bashing my head every single time I need to weed, mulch or harvest. The whole thing is secured with chicken wire. The holes in the chicken wire are probably not small enough to keep rodents out, which I only considered once the thing was built, but we’ll have to cross the bridge if we come to it.

One half of the bed is currently filled with 9 strawberry plants which were a gift from a friend. They were labelled as Cambridge Favourite which is a mid-season variety. I want to get some late season plants to fill out the other side of the bed so we can keep munching on them for as long as possible.

All in all I am quite pleased with my first foray into DIY. Hopefully the multiple times I hammered my own thumb will all seem worth it once June 29th comes around I can enjoy a home grown bowl of my favourite fruit on my favourite day. It will most certainly be a happy birthday to me.

Planting First Early Potatoes

It’s been a working week since Easter Monday which means that’s been five days since my first early potatoes went into the bags that will be their home until Summer. At the minute they are in our garden at home as I am a bit worried that the weather is still a bit inhospitable for tiny spuds. Our garden at home is a yard that is almost entirely enclosed by walls, shrubbery and fences therefore making it a lot less exposed than our hillside allotment. Once the risk of frost passes they will most likely be transferred to the allotment as it is a lot sunnier than the yard, thankfully the bags seems pretty tough and have handles so this shouldn’t be too difficult.

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Potato bags in the yard at home, being kept company by the salad bed

I chose to do the first early potatoes in bags rather than in the ground. I have dreams bigger than my square footage so, above anything else, space is being carefully doled out depending on my favourite things to eat  and although I do love potatoes in all their cooked forms I wasn’t originally intending on growing them because the space that would be lost to them ultimately just didn’t seem quite worth it. Well, somewhere between then and now I “accidentally” bought some seed potatoes and figured I either needed to sacrifice something else to fit them in OR look for an alternative. When I started reading about potatoes in containers I was sold, getting delicious spuds AND keeping my soil space – what more could a girl want?!

The variety that I chose and planted is Pentland Javelin. I started chitting them way back in the second week of February and they had a good 1 1/2 inches of growth by the time they were planted out. When looking at first potato varieties I primarily wanted one that works well as a salad potato, that you don’t normally find in the shops and that is well rated when it came to tasting. I did a bit of digging around and Pentland Javelin consistently kept coming up as exactly what I was looking  for, I was still unsure whether I even wanted to grow potatoes but fate (and a garden centre sale) intervened and now there are six bags containing 2-3 seed potatoes each huddled in the corner of the yard and one nervous spud-mother just praying that they grow.