Saturday, 7 September 2019

Autumn 2019, preparation for the winter.

 So, now that we are starting to get shorter cooler days, as the beds are cleared of the tender crops, I am filling them with the winter veg.

This bed was a potato bed, which was cleared mid August. It was technically cleared much earlier, but I wanted to sieve the potato beds after harvesting to both mix in fresh compost, and to sieve out any remaining potatoes to avoid volunteers, and to remove any bits of non-organic matter that was brought in with the topsoil we bought.

So on the 19th of August I sowed Spinach, two types, Butterflay and Early Prickly. I also sowed coriander which i will transplant to the greenhouse once the tomatoes are all out. And I did a cheeky sowing of one variety of Dwarf French Beans and one of Runner Beans. I mainly did the beans because I like to take a chance on warm weather in the late autumn, I don't routinely sow beans this late. I got the seeds from Seed Co-operative.

These took no time at all to start kicking into action, and I am already cropping the spinach [second picking on the 7th September].

 Bed on 7th September.

I've also sown the three other sieved potato beds with a mixed bag of seeds; mainly consisting of whatever half used packets of anything from carrots to dill, to Chinese cabbages, to kales, lettuces, radishes etc.
These get started and seem to grow better in the beds than in seed trays, so it makes sense to start them off there and then transplant them to their final positions as other beds are emptied. So I've put the more tender stuff into the greenhouse beds [Pak Choi and Chinese Cabbages], and moved the more hardy stuff to the beds that the huge carrots were in.

I'm also doing a winter tomato trial. I've sown some Maskotka tomatoes, around mid July, and transplanted into deep pots. I've put the first two into the greenhouse beds; where I took other tomatoes out. They already have their first flowers on, and the idea is to keep them low to the ground, bending them over if necessary so that the stems root and get as much nutrition as possible, and then see how late I can get them to crop. I did these last night and by the time I got to the allotment today they had already lifted their heads up to the sun. 

I used Maskotka as they are a bush tomato, and they seem much happier in colder temperatures and they also taste lovely.

Summer 2019 - The Allotment

Just as a refresher:

We got the allotment 10 years ago. It looked like this.

We spent years, and years, trying different things. The council had rotavated it before we got it, which chopped up all the weeds, and we struggled to overcome the clay, which sucked up any and all organic matter that we added to it.

After about 8 years, we tried woodchip. Thick woodchip mulches, but this didn't work.  It probably would have had we just left it to rot down but we wanted to get some growing out of it and it was allowing weeds and pests to overwinter and nothing really grew properly.

So just over a year ago we were going to give it up. And put a little polytunnel in at home for tomatoes. When I had a thought - what would I do if I inherited this plot at a school...and I would cover it with weed fabric, and bring in raised beds.

And then I discovered Pallet Collars.

We took a week off work.

Flattened the whole allotment, by raking out all the woodchip.

Then laid weed fabric [30m x 8m plot, £99 for the fabric].

I bought pallet collars. 27 at first. 

I grew over the winter of 2018; I had overwintering onions, spinach, lettuce, coriander and to be honest, we were eating very well through the whole of last winter.

This spring and summer has been bountiful. We've had the best potatoes ever, no slug damage. We've had salads, radishes, tomatoes, more carrots, squashes, garlic, broad beans, french beans - dwarf and climbing, onions, Kohl Rabi, kale [so much kale that I was bunching loads each week like a bunch of flowers, and leaving it at the end of the plot for the chickens down the road], I've got Yard Long Beans to grow, I've got parsnips growing now for winter, we've had strawberries, black, red and white currants, i've put tomatos from armpits into a one collar deep bed and they have gone mad, I've got amazing beetroot and even the later beetroot that was sown is bulking up, so much so that the last batch I sowed, Dobbie's Purple has grown so fast that i can use the best specimens for seed saving for next year.

We've had more crops out of these beds, since last September, then we have probably had out of the ground in the last 5 years.

So, I bought some more, and more and now i am probably at capacity for what we can eat.

So now I feel I am back on an even keel, I am going to try and go back to blogging about growing in these raised beds. They are awesome.

Late summer 2019. Carrots.

I have no regrets about changing the way we grow on the plot. 

I sowed Oxheart Carrots using Baker Creek seeds [from Missouri], which in the greater scheme of things was yes, quite expensive but has already washed its face as they say. 

I sowed them in March, in between the Garlics that I had put in during last October, which I had left over from a teaching session. They germinated quite quickly, and steamed ahead. I was thrilled when they started getting some girth but I never expected this.

Now, I've been saving seeds of plants for years, and I know I shouldn't save from plants that flower early. But, I'm going to let the 3 that are flowering, flower and save the seeds and see if I get decent carrots next year. If so, I'll save from the slowest to flower. It's worth the risk. 

These carrots are sweet, don't go woody and have had absolutely no issues whatsoever.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

It's been 2 whole years, really.


How time flies.

I always said I'd blog if and only if there was something to say.

The last 2 years on the plot have been trying to say the least.

We tried and tried with the allotment. Our neighbours seem to have a random approach to weeds; they let them all grow up to 3ft tall, and set seed, and then they blow onto our plot and
of course they germinate like crazy.

The soil is clay. such thick clay. We have done loads to improve it. Green manures that hardly germinated. Composted for England. Bought local manure that turned out to be contaminated with Aminopyralid. In 2016 we decided that we would cover all the beds with thick layers of woodchip, and let that rot down. We got two huge deliveries, and put the woodchip down over thick cardboard and newspaper layers, but the bindweed and couch grass grew through and when trying to dig that out, you had to shift the woodchip over, dig and then shift it back over again.

And still the clay battled on. It sucks any and all organic material in, consumes it and you wouldn't know to look at it, that any organic material had ever been added.

So we decided we had to do things another way. Or give it up.

First we moved the greenhouse from the space in our courtyard to the allotment. We did this in the spring. Loving this, even though it took a few months for the council to 'approve' us moving our greenhouse when there are loads of other, mostly bigger, greenhouses there. But anyway.

This was good, but this summer was not the best summer to move it. We hadn't collected nearly enough water and i had to go every day without fail to keep the tomatoes watered. Also, they suffered because it was just too hot to absorb nutrients from the clay, even though I added organic material in the soil, and mulched over the soil and there was weed fabric down around the plants. I ended up having to put cut down plant pots in a ring culture style, and fill with compost, to get some extra nutrients to them. And yes, comfrey and nettle was in the water.

I also had to keep moving water in containers in the boot, to refil the waterbutts. I did this twice a week all summer. It really didn't work well.

I have since then, put two raised beds in, filled with bought top soil, and will put another bed in along the back and then install three removeable shelves and will grow in these now.

They seem to be working well so far, filled with  greenery and we are harvesting weekly from them.

I have bought two of the 1000l containers to store next year's water in, and am slowly filling them over the winter. The first one is nearly half full already. I've put a solar pump to pump the water that is collected from the roof, to the storage but having to do it by hand as it isn't charging enough to get going at the moment.

During September, we decided to cover the whole lot with proper weed fabric, and put in raised beds made from pallet collars. I got a fantastic deal on ebay, and went and picked them up in 2 loads, 27 of them for £2 each.

We levelled the ground, and then put the fabric down.Then put the pallet collars up and filled with locally bought topsoil.

i then set to, sowing seeds for the winter.

This is it during December 2018.

We are cropping regularly and I have my next year's plan already sketched out.

The difference is that the varieties might be different, and you sow mainly in the beds, transplanting very little; and you think out rather than try and grow every seed.

A mix of winter spinach, just bog standard spinach with some Kyoto Market bunching onions in there for good measure. I had sowed the Coriander in between but I transplanted the whole lot into the greenhouse beds in October and they are growing well still.

These are Long Red Florence onions, that were doing very little in the courtyard beds so I transplanted them. They seem to be doing ok though. 

Leeks, can't remember that variety, but under Enviromesh due to Leek Moth. Growing well. 

Cabbages from seedlings bought at Meynell Lanyley nursery. Just bought to fill the bed really. 

Ditto, these are actually bulking up so that's good.

Ditto; the kales have a bit of white fly but the new leaves are ok. 

Lettuces, Red Chinese Cabbage and Fennel with some random Salsola.

I am thinning the fennel out and using in the kitchen, and lo and behold, the others are thickening up. 

Peas. Sown for the pea shoots, these got frosted in November so are now all out. 

Overwintering onion sets, all looking good. 

These are the sorts of pickings I am getting every few days. More veg out of these beds since September that i've had in a few seasons.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Spring 2017

So it is spring again. At long last.

My peas that were hidden by critters at the allotment, have turned out to be sweet peas. I picked the first two last night after planting them in the garden last week. They smell divine. 

I've started picking all the smelly herbs and using for cooking, so I pick and pop them in a vase until I lunch or dinner time. Meanwhile they are there on the windowsill looking and smelling lovely. Currently we have Tashkent Mint which I am pulling by the roots as it is spreading [I did want it to spread so am pulling it out where I don't want it], Fennel and Lovage. I find using lovage in cooking replaces celery for the taste and is such a breeze to grow it needs no looking after at all.

 Out for a wander the other evening so took a few photos of the garden - I am in the middle of digging out all the self seeded Oregano [hundreds of plants] and so we are replacing the spaces with new purchases. Our smoke bush is finally recovering after moving it a few feet 2 years happy that it will smoke this year

I put Walking Onions in the front garden last year, the first batch did indeed walk a few inches and both are now starting to form the top sets. 

We've been and harvested these from the allotment, which were in a bed that needed a good weeding. A nice little bonus. 

We have a new wall, previously it was an old knackered block work wall, 3 ft high and we had to have a trellis for privacy but new neighbours moved in and suggested a new wall and we agreed that would be fab if they wanted to build it. SO am hoping to put a nice smelly climber, espalier something I have grown from seed [possibly my Asian Pear from the seeds from windfalls at Ryton], and a wisteria in. More plants to buy - yay!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

A new way of doing things.

Well, it's been ages since I posted on here. I suppose that's the flow - the days become weeks and before you know it, blogging doesn't become part of the routine as other routines take over. 


I have recently changed careers. I am no longer doing the thing that the blogging originally led me to do. Which means I can enjoy gardening and particularly food growing for the pleasure again. Rather than it and the associated complications being a burden. 

Whilst we were sorting out the first community garden that we took over, in year 1 all we did was garden - clearing, digging, shredding, knocking stuff down, making the ground safe and removing unsafe structures. The next year however, once we started to have students on site, we ended up doing just 5 days of actual gardening. 

So onwards and upwards. 

 I like many of my organic gardening friends, take it as read that the year's gardening starts with this. 

The Heritage Seed Library catalogue dropping through the door. 

Last year, one of my images was used for the cover which was a great honour. 

If you are not a member, then you unfortunately do not have access to these wonderful seeds, which have been grown and saved by the staff at the Heritage Seed Library, and by Seed Guardians for many years. The difference with HSL seeds, is that they are not grown and saved in a seedbank, but they are grown across the UK and the best examples - ones which survive our weather patterns, pests, diseases - are the ones that are saved and so the seed is evolving each year and thus more likely to give you a fantastic harvest on your plot. 

If you want to join in with this you can join Garden Organic with an option to add the Heritage Seed Library. 

So this year I'm growing for me, and have picked the following: 

Avon Early Beetroot

Bossingham Long Pod Broad Bean
London Market Carrot
Armenian cucumber
Guernsey Parsnip
White Serpent Squash

I've chosen crops that I know grow well on my plot, apart from the carrots which I am determined to get a harvest from this year by growing in a sandy raised bed with lots of coriander to disguise the smell. This variety has some Carrot Fly resistance so am trying to hedge my bets with it. 

The last lot of White Serpent Squash germinated blind, that is with only the two seed leaves and never grew a centre stem. It was very disappointing but I am hoping that a new batch of seeds may be from a difference source. 

I have been an Seed Guardian for HSL for a while, but have found in the very recent past that the harvests have been poor so am going to just save from one crop as a Seed Guardian at the most for a while. I have some Sim Segur leek seeds that have come good this year, but whilst they were drying out a mouse has eaten most of them. which is a little annoying as it took me about 4 years to get a good harvest off them. 

To be a Seed Guardian you need patience. 

I have some fantastic yellow beetroots at my allotment. 

These are Burpees Golden - I love yellow beetroots for roasting, and also because they do not incriminate you should a visitor knock on the door whilst preparing them. 

So I will leave 3 over winter. Then in the spring when they start growing again, I'll dig them up and move them the back of a bed in the corner, and replant them in a triangle with three large canes around them and leave them to flower. 

The flower stems can grow up to 8 feet high so they need quite good staking. I'll also tie twine around them at intervals to try and contain their long dreadlock-type stems which droop as the seeds ripen. 

They are biennials which flower in their second year. I find that because I do not clear my plot during the winter, I am quite good at biennial seed saving. 

This year, because of the clay soil at our allotment, we have decided to really go for it in attempting to improve the soil quality. I managed to get a huge load of woodchip delivered for free [thank you Dave at Eco Tree Company] and spent many a happy evening moving woodchip around the plot as a mulch and getting bitten to shreds which I will talk about in a minute]. 

This has now been put onto as many beds as it will fill, to do the rest I am looking for another load so will contact the local tree surgeons again after Christmas. I have tried to give a good 12 inch mulch on top of the soil. As it breaks down over the next 18 months or so, the worms take down some of the woodchip into the soil, it transforms clay into loam and creates a network of mycelium in the soil which plants use to extract more nutrients from the soil. Basically, how forests work.

Which for a plot that is so clayey is a wonderful prospect. 

However, 2 months later I found two of these...

These are pea seeds that have been hidden by some critter and because of the warm weather have germinated. Bearing in mind this woodchip only went down at the end of August and during September, they have been hidden in September and October in order to be germinating by the end of October. 

Where some critter got the seeds from, is anyone's guess as I thought i had collected all mine!

So I have taken one batch of these and replanted in a mushroom container in my greenhouse for early peas [thank you critter] and this one above I am leaving to see what happens. 

Before I sign off for 2016, ready for a fresh new 2017 growing year, I just want to put a note about my new shed. 

We had a shed when we moved here, 10 years ago. It was pretty rum back then so I decided that this year I wanted a new one. I also wanted it to be bigger so that I could do woodwork in it. This was met with a wry smile, as Mark suspected I'd never use it for woodwork at all. 

So I bought a shed and we got the delivery and installation date. And then we both promptly went down with the flu. And we had to go out, in the bitter cold, and dismantle the old one, and help a couple from Freecycle to load it into their van, dig and level the extra footprint with no feelings in our fingers and completely fogged up heads, and lay two new strips of slabs after a very late cold trip to buy the slabs. We were very ill. 

But the new shed is fab. I spent a while fitting it out and painting it [once I was recovered], and it is now our tool shed but my woodwork shed. And as we redid our garden last year I have the most amazing view from it. I do woodwork, with my Solar DAB radio playing 6 music, and looking at this. 

At the end of the garden is the canal, and boats pootle up and down all summer long. The garden is full of lovely wildlife, and the trees we planted are growing strong. It is glorious. 

And in my little woodwork shed I make things like this:

Seed flats for my greenhouse made out of old pallets. 

What is not to like? This first one is already being used for cut and come again salad.

Just need those seeds now, to get sowing in 2017. 

Happy Christmas everyone, and hope you have a cool yule and a marvellous new year. 

And remember, drink responsibly.