Monday, 20 January 2014

Harvesting winter vegetables

brussel sprouts
I know I've been neglecting this blog for a while and for that I am sorry. My time has been very much taken up in travelling and writing elsewhere. But the allotment has not been neglected, far from it. I go up there from time to time when I can just to check that all is in order, that the pigeon defenses are still in place, not destroyed by winter winds, and to harvest those winter vegetables.
super leeks!
This year has been the best yet for me in this respect. In addition to the squashes in storage which roast beautifully, I am also harvesting brussel sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, red cabbages, green cabbages, parsnips, spinach and leeks.

So with the potatoes in storage as well, I havn't had to buy any vegetables at all this winter, except onions - my own crop was very poor this year.
Rhubarb sprouting! 
But the plot is a total bog after all the rain we've had, and I try to avoid walking on it as far as possible as that will damage the soil structure. The time I spent in the autumn covering all the bare soil with manure was time well spent. Not only have weeds been totally suppressed, but I hope that come the spring, and hopefully with some warm days and drying winds, the plot will only need a light fork over before sowing and planting begins.

The amazing thing is that the rhubarb already thinks it is spring and is beginning to sprout!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Preparing the allotment for a short absence

in the snow March 2013
For all sorts of reasons I have been away from this blog for a while - although my other blogs have been even busier for much the same reasons. Before I came away, I did what I could to "put my plot to bed" as best I could in the hope it would survive the few weeks of lacking my love and attention.
To start with I gave it all a jolly good weed - not that it needed much - followers will know I have those dreaded weeds pretty much under control anyway. I took down the bean canes and put them away in dry storage ready for another year, cut the surrounding grass, did all the edging to make it all look neat, made sure the netting protection seemed secure against winter gales, and harvested what I could from the red cabbage and broccoli.
Now I know the latter will have gone hopelessly to seed in my absence - but I will cut all the flowers and seed heads off and this should reward me with another flush of edible tops.
I then covered every square inch of bare earth with a coating of thick manure. If you are not so lucky as to have unlimited quantities of this stuff then pieces of old carpet or black plastic will do to suppress everything beneath. Or even generously sow some "green manure"- things like alfafa or clover which will obligingly germinate in most weathers and will smother everything else. Then it can be dug in before it flowers and seeds.
It all looked really good before I bade it a fond farewell for a while. But I forgot my camera to put it on record.
This weekend I shall see how my strategy has worked, and report back!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Seven easy ways to let weeds get on top of you

This is for vegetable plotters and allotment holders everywhere!

Is this your plot?
Are your weeds getting on top of you?

Here are 7 sure fire ways to make sure they do!!

1. Make sure you let the weeds flower and set seed. 

2. Leave piles of weeds exposed to sun and wind so that the seeds can blow all over the place. 

3. Put the seeds on a compost heap and don’t let the heap rot properly i.e. don’t let it heat up to kill seeds and bugs before spreading back on the plot.

4. Don’t bother to dig out perennial weeds – e.g. dandelion taproots
5. Pick the leaves but leave the taproots of dandelions in the ground – they will multiply alarmingly

6. Don’t bother to hoe or preferably hand weed regularly between rows of stuff. Too much hoeing or digging can make seed infestation worse.

7. Just neglect it all!

So here are some easy ways to stay on top of the the weeds:

1. Every visit, even if you don’t have time for thorough weeding, remove flowers from any weeds before they can set seed. People think I’m mad when the first thing I do is go around the surrounding grass paths picking off the dandelion heads! Not so! I know what I'm doing!

2. Do have a properly constructed compost bin and keep it covered so that it gets hot enough.

3. Don’t ever dig compost back into the plot until you’re sure it’s fully rotted

4. Do always dig out the roots of perennial weeds such as dandelions.

5. Don’t dig too much if you have a weed infestation – you are just bringing more seeds to the top and they will spring into life!

6. Do cover bare parts of the plot that will not be used for a while with mulch, manure, old carpets, black lining, anything to discourage growth.

Carpet and manure are being used here. Black plastic is another good idea.

7. Do hand weeding little and often 

Finally, just love your plot - and good luck!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

It's summer at last at the allotment!!

The allotment is looking wonderful at the moment, albeit everything is probably four weeks behind in development due to the cold summer we’ve had so far.
Looking at the healthy crops, the half decent soil, the lovely flowers covered in bees, it’s hard to believe that just 4 years ago this whole area was a stony field, covered in weeds and grass. What is more, it was a quagmire!! One very wet day when it seemed, at last, that we may be allowed to move over from our existing allotments, I climbed the gate and started walking into the field to get a closer look at what we may have to work with. Soon I was sinking into what felt like sinking sands!! Only it was really sticky boggy clay, with a consistency I can only describe as “gloopy”! How different it is now!
As we started digging our plots over that first winter of occupation, we were soon rewarded by the song of a skylark high above us, come to see what was going on. Of course it didn’t take long for the pigeons to visit as well, in their droves. Locust like, they can be guaranteed to appear as soon as some unsuspecting “plotter” plants out any kind of brassica, without protection, when these pesky birds come down to strip the plants bare to the midribs of the leaves. But we have netting and scarecrows and glistening CDs and other ideas to help keep the pigeons away, some methods more effective than others.
Now a friendly robin sometimes comes to see me while I’m working. She probably nests in one of the sheds dotted around the site. And we have pheasants galore! Beautiful birds, I don’t think they do much harm to crops, although I’m convinced that they eat my organic slug pellets that I put down!

So work is now going on in earnest up at the site and soon I’ll be harvesting strawberries, new potatoes, spinach, beetroot, chives, swiss chard, and hopefully some courgettes…

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Is Spring here at last?

Unbelievably this is the allotment only 4 days ago!!

Today it is sunny - the first sun we've seen for ages - albeit still very cold - little more than 3 degrees centigrade still. But at least I have been motivated to venture outside and sow a few seeds - the first of the year I confess! I've found it so difficult to get going this year in the garden - it has been so wet, then so cold!

What have I sown? Well to start with I've sown two different varieties of Broad Bean into 3" pots of seed compost, watered them and covered them with panes of glass on the staging in the cold greenhouse. I hope the ever present mice out there will not be able to climb up to the staging - and anyway the glass covering will defeat them at the moment. Mice love digging up broad beans - all through the process of germination! Last year I sowed the seeds directly into the soil at the allotment - and lost the lot to mice!! The heater in the greenhouse is set to prevent the temperature going below freezing - that is all. I have given beetroot seed and asparagus peas the same treatment except that I have put individual seeds into 2" square modules in seed trays - and will transplant them out on the allotment in due course when it is warmer up there and they are well hardened off. I also thought it was time I sowed the tomatoes. These I have treated like the beetroot, sowing them into modules in seed trays. But I have brought them indoors and they are on a warm window ledge above a radiator, covered with cling film to keep them moist until they germinate.

Monday, 14 January 2013

USA and Canada won't let you grow your own vegetables?

Just found this amazing story! Across the USA and Canada there are apparently authorities who restrict the amount of space given up to growing vegetables in your yard or garden. Sounds crazy? It is! Follow the link for full story.
How can a pristine striped lawn with hefty use of chemicals and copious watering to keep it that way be at all sensible in a world where growing our own organic food has to be the best thing we can possibly do to help us in developing healthy eating habits for our families?
I thought it was a wind up to start with but the article seems genuine enough.
What do you think?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Grow your own Drugs and a Homegrown Revolution

I braved the weather today and went up to the allotment to see what is going on up there. The sun was shining and the sky blue but it was very cold! And the ground is totally waterlogged - so absolutely impossible to dig the ground at all - it would really damage the soil to even attempt to walk over the plot.
But I did manage to pick some lovely sprouts, some purple sprouting broccoli, and dig a few leeks and parsnips. I shall roast the parsnips with a grating of parmesan cheese - delicious!
And quite unbelievably the rhubarb has started sprouting. It clearly thinks it's spring already!
Had a super book as a Christmas present. It's Homegrown Revolution by James Wong, the author of Grow Your Own Drugs. And in it he shows us how to widen our horizons, to grow the exotic and unusual - and he trials all these in his own small suburban garden in South London. How about callaloo, watercress, cucamelons, chop suey greens, tomatillos, inca berries, shark's fin melon, dahlia yam, electric daisies .... The list seems endless; he calls them "incredible edibles." So I'm really looking forward to following his advice and pushing the boat out this year on the allotment. I can see I shall soon run out of space up there.
And through the blog I shall let you know how I get on!