May To-Do List

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Cabbages enjoying the spring sunshine

At long last May is here! Days are longer, temperatures are higher (hopefully) and if we all keep our fingers crossed it might just start to feel like summer in the next few weeks. This is the month when I’ll begin sowing and planting outdoors in earnest, but still keeping an eye on the weather as the risk of frost hasn’t completely passed yet.

My top five tasks for May will be:

  • To start sowing outdoors if the weather turns mild (we had snow less than a week ago), and to continue sowing indoors if the weather stays too cold.
  • To begin hardening off all the seedlings that have had a coddled start to life to make sure that they are tough enough when the time comes for them to be let out in the big wide allotment world.
  • To plant the last of the seed potatoes. This will be my main-crop variety Golden Wonder, which is meant to be especially good for roasting (yum!)
  • To keep a close eye on the weather and to protect tender young plants from any late frosts.
  • To weed, weed and weed some more. The couch grass, which seemed to be under control at the end of last year, is reappearing with a vengeance. Mainly at the edge of paths. There is anti-weed matting under the paths but I think it might have bio-degraded sufficiently as to let the grass roots take hold. I really don’t want to have to lift all the paths but it looks like it might be necessary in order to get the upper hand on the situation.

Other tasks on the list this month:

  • Harvest and clear the last of the Swiss Chard ready for the potatoes going in that bed.
  • Create new supports in order to tie the raspberries in. The old supports are too short and slack so we’ve got canes going everywhere at the moment.
  • Pot on growing plants as they outgrow their current pots.
  • Thin out seedlings, especially the salad crops outside the back door.
  • Earth up my potatoes. If exposed to the sun tubers will turn green and poisonous.

Seeds to be sown indoors:

  • Brussels Sprouts and Flower Sprouts – This month might be the last chance to get them sown if I want them ready for Christmas dinner (which I do).
  • French Beans (Borlotti Beans-Lingua De Fuoco) – I’ll be sowing these in root trainers and transplanting out in June/July.
  • Kale (Nero di Toscana) – I love kale and I’ve heard that our slimy friends the slugs also share my passion. I’ll be bringing my kale on indoors and hopefully they’ll be big enough not to be too troubled by the time they get planted out.
  • Runner Beans (Scarlet Empire) – I’ll be sowing these in root trainers and transplanting out in June/July.
  • Sprouting Broccoli (Purple Sprouting -Redhead) – I’m getting these planted now due to their long growing season. Nothing teaches you about delayed gratification quite like putting something in the ground in May and knowing you won’t be able to eat it for nearly a year.

Vegetable to be sown directly outside

  • Carrots – I’m planting one row of Chanterey Red Cored 2 at the beginning of the month and then another row either in last week of May or the First week of June to try and create some succession. Then Autumn King 2 variety will be going in later in the year.
  • Peas – I did want to sow these indoors but the year has run away from me so we’re just going to have to see how they do in the ground.
  • Radishes – I already have a little row of radishes outside the back door but they’re not coming on very well, I just don’t think our yard gets enough sunlight, so more will be going in up at the allotment for good measure.
  • Spinach – Spinach is one of my all time favourite veg and I quite often go through phases where I eat it everyday in some form or other. As such quite a large area has been given over to growing spinach and I’m going to try and keep a harvestable amount available for most of the year.
  • Swede – So ugly yet so tasty. A row of swede will be going in this month. I’ve read that they store quite well so I’m not going to worry too much about having a glut later in the year.
  • Turnips – If possible I want to try and get at least two harvests of turnip this year. So some will be going in now for harvest in mid to late summer and another batch will replace them for harvest in the autumn.

Vegetables to plant out in May

  • Aubergines, Cucumbers, Cucamelons & Tomatoes – “Plant out” for these three really means to go into grow bags in the greenhouse, which doesn’t actually exist yet but I’m working on it.
  • Cabbages – So I have a summer variety called Elisa F1 and a summer/autumn red variety called Red Jewel F1 which are pretty much ready to go out. I’m just waiting for some brassica collars to be delivered and we’re good to go.
  • Brussels Sprouts – I only sowed these this weekend and there’s no sign of germination yet. Fingers crossed they once they’re up they’ll grow fast and I’ll be able to get them out in the last week of the month, if not you’ll be seeing this task on the June to-do list.
  • Potatoes – Maincrop Golden Wonder is still to go out, hopefully as soon as I finish writing this.

 

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.

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.

Planning the Plot: 2016 Varieties

The months since I got the keys to plot 23b have been spent steadily collecting packets of seeds from various sources, some of these were bought because they were reduced, some came free from magazines and some from friends and family. A few have been researched more thoroughly than is probably necessary, whilst others were bought on a whim. There are a few that ended up in the stash simply because I was just plain curious about them (I’m looking at you Cucamelon!)

It now occurs to me, looking at the list below, that I am perhaps being a tad over ambitious for my first full year on the plot, but I feel that there is undoubtedly just as much to be learnt from throwing yourself in head-first than there is from taking a more cautious approach. I just hope my windowsills can bear the weight of the multitudes of seed trays that are coming their way.

Without further ado, here is what I’m hoping to grow in 2016 and the varieties that I will be growing:

 Vegetable  Variety
Aubergines: Moneymaker
Beetroot: Perfect 3
Boltardy
Borlotti Beans: Lingua De Fuoco
Broccoli: Redhead (Purple Sprouting)
Brussels Sprouts: Revenge
Petit Posy Mix (Flower Sprouts)
Cabbage (Early Summer): Elisa’ F1
Cabbage (Summer/Autumn): Surprise
Red Jewel F1 (Red)
Cabbage (Winter): January King 3 (Savoy)
Siberia (Savoy)
Carrot: Chanterey Red Cored 2
Early Nantes 2
Autumn King 2
Cauliflower: Autumn Giant
Courgette: Sunstripe
Cucamelon: Melothria
Cucumber: Masterpiece
Jogger F1
Kale: Nero Di Toscana
Leaf Beet: Perpetual Spinach
Leek: Musselburgh
Lettuce/Salad: Rocket, Mustard Mix, Watercress, Mixed Lettuce
Pak Choi: White F1
Parsnip: Pinnacle
Peas: Keveldon Wonder (First Early)
Twinkle (First Early)
Alderman (Main)
Kennedy (Mangetout)
Pepper: Cayenne
Potatoes: Pentland Javelin (First Early)
Charlotte (Second Early)
Vivaldi (Second Early)
Golden Wonder (Maincrop)
Pumpkin: Jack Of All Trades
Radish: Rougette
Helox F1
Runner Beans: Scarlet Empire
Spinach: Bordeaux
Swede: Virtue
Sweetcorn: Butterscotch
Swiss Chard: White Silver
Squash: Autumn Crown
Tomato: Green Grape
Super Sweet 100
Turnip: Milan Purple Top

March To-Do List

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Happy March and happy spring! Days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and it’s finally starting to feel like we’re leaving the deep dark of winter behind us. This is the month that my patiently chitted potatoes will be planted out and I can finally reclaim my windowsills, though I doubt they’ll stay empty for long as I want to get a head start sowing all those seeds that will need the extra protection of being indoors. I also want to get the first sowings of some of the tougher seeds in the ground, particularly peas, spinach and carrots. This month will also be my last chance to plant out any dormant bare root fruit bushes that I’ve been coveting.  But before we get ahead of ourselves there are still a lot of weeding, raking and digging to be done.

 

Top Tasks for the Month

  • Finish the raised strawberry bed
  • Begin to move the rubbish pile that currently covers the wildlife garden area
  • Pot up the dahlia tubers
  • Buy and plant bare root fruit bushes
  • Get a compost bin
  • Paint the new shed and add guttering
  • Look into the possibility of getting a greenhouse


Seeds I’ll be sowing inside:

  • Aubergines
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Borlotti Beans
  • Cabbage (red and early summer varieties)
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Sprouting Broccoli
  • Swiss Chard
  • Tomatoes


Seeds I’ll be sowing under cloches:

  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Rocket
  • Peas
  • Swiss Chard


Things to plant outdoors (as long as the ground isn’t too cold or wet):

  • Onion (pickling)
  • Early Potatoes

 

*Varieties of everything I’ll be growing in 2016 can be found here

The Desolation of Sprouts

One of the things that I was most excited about when getting an allotment was growing my own sprouts for Christmas (sorry sprout haters). I absolutely hated sprouts up until around two years but now I can’t get enough of them. Being a bit far on in the year to bring them on from seed I ordered some plugs from Suttons and I cannot recommend them highly enough. 22 perfectly healthy plug plants arrived exactly when they said they would. I went for an F1 Brigitte variety, they crop between October and mid-December and, being a hybrid, are disease resistant and generally produce a higher yield (although with 22 plants on the go I doubt yield will be a major concern) As they went in a bit late we were definitely looking at a December harvest… or so we thought.

When we first got the plants I knew that it was going to be at least a week until we were ready to plant out so I popped the plugs into a temporary holding tray so that they wouldn’t dry out. Here you can see them just before they went into their permanent allotment home…

Sprouts 1

…and here they are a few days later. The entire 22 plants were reduced to stalks in about 72 hours, RIP sprouts, naturally we blamed the slugs as they had already had a good go at the cabbages. I admit that I did have a sulk regarding this first major knockback for a good few hours days. I was so grumpy that I couldn’t even be bothered pulling the dead little things up.Sprouts 2

For once being stubborn and grumpy paid off! This was the glorious sight that greeted us only a week later. THEY’RE ALIVE! As we thought the culprit was slugs we put a ring of gravel around each little plant to try and offer it some protection. It seemed ineffective though as on each subsequent visit they still seemed to be sustaining nibble damage. The answer came from our ever helpful neighbour – pigeons! Our plot here is right next to a small area of woodland and it seems the pesky pigeons treat the allotments like popping down the shops every day.

Sprouts 3

This answer seemed to be further proven when we threw some netting over the sprouts and, having been given a break from pecking, they started to come on leaps and bounds.

Sprouts 4

We invested in some netting to cover the whole bed and, even though the sprouts still haven’t reached the size they were when originally planted out a few weeks ago, as long as there is hope I will continue to fuss over these teeny plants. Even if I only end up with a sole Christmas sprout I’ll be happy. Everyone at dinner can have a leaf each.

Sprouts 5

Plot 23b – Veggie Update!

What a busy few weeks! We’ve been kept away from the allotment over the last two weekends due to plans with friends and as a result the heavy duty clearance work has taken a back seat in favor of a post-work watering schedule in order to save the baby plants from the July heat. Hopefully (I use the word loosely), we’ll be back up to our elbows in grass and weeds this weekend before it all starts to creep back too much.

Without further ado, onto the plants!

Cabbage Baby

Our little cabbages are coming on leaps and bounds with new leaves unfurling every time we visit. We’ve had some slight slug damage to one or two. Organic deterrents have been researched to try and ensure that we don’t lose any to the slime army before they’re big enough to survive a slight nibble. Hopefully some sunken jars of beer should prove more attractive than our plants.

Swiss Chard

We planted some swiss chard seeds just over a week ago and they’re already poking through!! This is the first thing we’ve grown from seed and it was so exciting coming up the path and seeing something poking out of the earth that a) wasn’t a weed and b) something that we’d put in the earth ourselves! Hopefully it will continue to stretch up towards the sun and we’ll have lots of leafy chard by the end of summer.

Broad Bean

The broad beans are doing well apart from the fact that they have a touch of blackfly, particularly the tall one on the middle left. I’ve read that a solution is to mix up some washing up liquid and water and I’m planning on giving it a go before the flies stunt growth too badly.

Runner Bean

The runner beans are slowly being trained up their supports. The leaves are still a little bit yellow and I’ve read this can be from the shock of being transplanted. Hopefully they’ll get stronger over the next few weeks and we’ll have a nice wigwam covered in those lovely volcanic red flowers.

Clay

Lastly, I think it’s fairly safe to say we have clay soil. We were starting to dig over a compacted bed in order to get it ready for some carrot seeds. It turned out to be a lot more compacted than we first thought and this was found about half a spade length down. If we can’t get through it will a spade then goodness knows how carrots are going to force their way down! Suffice to say we have a lot of back breaking work before any roots vegetables can go in. This also slightly complicates my dream of having a lavender hedge at the bottom end of the plot, a lot of rubble will need sourcing and digging into a trench in order to give any lavender the drainage that they need.

Hopefully the weather will continue to improve throughout August and life will continue to keep springing from the earth ready for my pot and my plate.