Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Incredible Edible

I've just come across a fantastic idea - one that started in the UK but is gathering interest from other parts of the world. I was listening to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme today and pricked up my ears when I heard mention of food sustainability. Vegetables are being grown in a graveyard, I heard, and then came another snippet; that our food production accounts for 23% of our carbon footprint. So I stopped my noisy food processor and started to listen properly.
Todmorden is a an old Victorian mill town on the Lancashire/West Yorkshire border. 3 years ago it set out to be the first town to become self sufficient in food, with a target set for 2018. They call it the Incredible Edible campaign. And whilst the founders do not feel that the target date is totally achievable, nevertheless they are doing well - and they have a wonderful website to prove it, full of amazing resources to support those already in the loop, and to encourage others to start in their own localities.
The idea is that veggies and edibles are grown in public and unused spaces for the common plate, and it is now being put into practice in Wilmslow for example, and in Totnes, the original Transition Town.
And it's not just about growing fruit and vegetables - at least in Todmorden. It's also about educating residents on what to look for in sustainable meat supplies, and in how to pickle and bottle summer surpluses for winter consumption.
Now here's something I could start rolling in our own town! Just give me a little time! We've already started encouraging our local school to grow vegetables, for example, and we have a community orchard, but this is one huge step further. If there are any hints and tips out there as to how to start (in addition to the online resources mentioned), I'd love to hear.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A very unusual parsnip

Was up at the allotment this morning - very grey and bleak up there and extremely boggy underfoot. Needless to say I was the only one there, but I had a shopping list from my family for Christmas grub. And that included leeks and parsley and sprouts - so there I was digging and picking! Whilst there I also dug up some jerusalem artichokes. They are very knobbly and hard to clean, even more impossible to peel, but they are wonderful in a mixture of various roast vegetables. You don't want too many of them on their own though! They are rather like baked beans and worse than sprouts!!
I have also been nurturing a rogue parsnip that decided to grow in the middle of the gravel and stone path across the plot - it was never going to be a prizewinner, given the "soil" it was growing in - but how about this!! Roasted, it will feed quite a few mouths!
I really look forward to a new growing season just around the corner now we have passed the shortest day here in the Northern Hemisphere.
I wish all my readers and supporters a peaceful and joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Sparrowhawk on the allotment

Went up to the allotment to dig some carrots, pick some spinach and take some household waste to the compost heap there (an enclosed plastic bin to keep rats at bay).

As I drove in I disturbed a beautiful sparrowhawk - at least I think that's what it was -  that took flight and soared down the track ahead of me. I hope he's earning his keep and keeping the pigeon numbers down!!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

In Remembrance

A lone poppy captured in full bloom on the allotment yesterday!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Autumn fruitfulness - and flowers!

Out in the garden yesterday clearing up mountains of fallen leaves - all very soggy, but so mild!!
Never before can I remember the fuschias being still out in their full glory in November at the same time as the fungi in the lawn! And even the fungi seem to be twice as big this year as usual. We have plenty of the beautiful Fly Agaric toadstool - often called the Mabel Lucie Atwell fungus, because it featured in many of her illustrations. But be careful - it's very poisonous. 
So I took a camera around to record all of this yesterday. Just look at the Azalea just come out - even that is twice its usual size! And the Iris seed heads with their gorgeous red seeds are in abnormally super abundance. If old wives' tales have anything in them, this is going to be a very hard winter again. Poor birds!

Friday, 4 November 2011

How "green" is your garden?

I've just been clearing out some old papers, trying to get rid of a few "piles" of them that threaten to take over my writing desk. And I found an article by Lia Leendertz in TheGarden, the monthly glossy magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society (June 2011 p. 410, The Moral Garden Maze"). 
I had obviously kept this for a reason. I had scrawled a pencil line down the margin against this: "We aren't children," she writes, "we in the Western world have taken and taken - isn't it now time to face up to our responsibilities? Gardening more sustainably, especially by growing some of our own food, is what we should all be doing, if we care at all about those beyond our imaginary drawbridge outside the garden gate."
Now I guess any one who finds this blog is already interested in growing their own - most probably already does. So this may be preaching to the converted. But it is so easy to grow many vegetables in window boxes, containers of all sorts, if a garden or allotment isn't available. 
But I think what I liked most about Lia's article was her bluntness! "Should" and "must", she says, are words that rankle and are often avoided by many environmentalists as being too off-putting. And I have often been told that I am too direct sometimes in my thoughts and writings - that cajoling is better than ranting. But hey, Lia is right. We are not children. We should be able to take the rants to heart and change our ways, accept our responsibilities like the mature adults that we are.
The serious point behind Lia's article is that as gardeners we should be not only growing our own veg., but also reducing our consumption of materials by innovation e.g growing our own plant supports, using hand mowers and hand tools where possible, reducing our peat use, making our own compost, etc.) Because our consumption affects our carbon footprint and can contribute to pain and misery elsewhere in the world.
The article is tough on gardeners. Lia does not mince words. She does have a very good case. But here is a thought to ponder: To what extent is it morally wrong to cultivate ornamental plants only on land that could be productive? Should all gardeners grow at least some food?
 What are your views?

Monday, 31 October 2011

More scarecrows and frost!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post and then couldn't work out how to upload the photos - using a different camera from normal. So here it is but not illustrated I'm afraid.
"One rogue early frost has suddenly changed the entire face of the allotment. Courgettes that were still growing last week are now useless, even where they were protected in the lee of the warm compost. So today I was up there pulling up all the frost-bitten plants and piling them high on the compost heap. How much more can it take? So it was time to empty the other heap onto the now cleared ground. And it’s lovely stuff too!And amazingly, in the midst of that sorry scene, I picked a punnet of luscious alpine strawberries and autumn raspberries!"
And having tidied everything up I then walked around (with my usual camera!!) and took pictures of some fabulous scarecrows on other plots!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness

I’ve been so very busy over the last few weeks on the allotment – it seems I’ve totally neglected the blog!
As John Keats wrote in his ode To Autumn in 1820:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;”

My plot has certainly been blessed with a super abundance of crops – although the grape vine back at home has sulked this year after removing the dilapidated greenhouse that was falling down around it and leaving it to the elements of the English “summer!” So no grapes and no delicious grape jelly this year to grace our roast chicken and lamb at the dinner table.

But down at the plot I have been harvesting potatoes, courgettes, butternut squash, runner beans, spinach, swiss chard, summer cabbage, spring onions, strawberries (yes really!), autumn raspberries, beetroots, and some really pathetic tiny carrots. I just cannot seem to grow carrots – they don’t grow beyond the miniature stage – but with our predilection for miniature vegetables in our supermarkets, I can at least pretend I grew them that way on purpose!!

So the plot cannot be dug over and put to bed for the winter as other plotters are doing around me. My winter cabbages are growing well now, as are the brussel sprouts, hopefully ready for Christmas, along with the spinach and swiss chard, that only deep frosts will finish off. Not to mention the parsnips which are now swelling up. Unlike the spinach they will benefit from the first frosts – it improves the flavor!

But I have given all the grass borders a good mow and edged all around to make the plot look neat and tidy, and I have carted loads of horse and cow manure over to the plot. The latest delivery of horse manure is very fresh, so I have put it onto the overflowing compost heap. There it will rot down well over the winter, hastening the rotting of all the other material there at the same time.

All I need do now is keep an eye on the plot, ensuring pigeons cannot get at the brassicas, harvest as necessary, turn over the earth as it becomes bare and keep the weeds at bay.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Winston Churchill's Vegetable garden

I visited Chartwell the other day, in Kent, England, where the gardeners are striving to recreate the vegetable garden as it would have been when Winston Churchill lived there. Although some of the areas are clearly very much in the 21st century, designed very much with young gardeners in mind!!

And I have never seen Fennel like this - I have never been able to grow these successfully myself!

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Big Society - In Bloom awards - allotment gets a mention!!

We've just come back from the South and South East In Bloom Awards 2011 at Fontwell Racecourse and our village has won a Gold award - that's great on its own - but best of all our allotments had a mention - particularly impressed the judges!! That's really great!
And in the summing up we were all congratulated for the tremendous amount of work we all put into making our villages and cities and parks and allotments look lovely and colourful, tidy and clean, and for involving as we do the local schools, churches, communities etc. They calculate that over 7 million people are affected in some good way by these initiatives in the South East. Now that's David Cameron's BIG SOCIETY writ large.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Autumn on the allotment part 2

Spent a couple of hours up at the allotment before breakfast today in lovely sunshine. I was anxious to get on with all the work still to do up there, because the forecast is not good for the rest of the week and already it has blown up breezy and it feels like rain is on the way.

So I picked the gorgeous yellow cylindrical courgettes, runner beans, french beans, spinach, raspberries, the small alpine strawberries (delicious but fiddly), and a small squash. There are still two rows of main crop potatoes to harvest, but with rain threatened now is not the right time. And the foliage still looks very healthy and not blighted (I buy blight resistant strains).

I pulled up the remaining radishes and put them on the compost heap. They have gone woody now - shame because the early ones I pulled were lovely, but they go woody and unpalatable very quickly. I sowed a winter cabbage in the soil thus vacated. Will have to remember to protect these from pigeons when they come through. The brussels sprouts I transplanted last week are doing well, although one had been badly eaten by slugs - so I scattered a few organic slug pellets around. It will hopefully recover - I think the growing point is still intact.

Then I carted 4 barrow loads of manure to the plot and spread it all around the perennials in the flower patch, between the rows of strawberries, and generally wherever there was any bare earth!

One year's seeding is seven year's weeding. I must do a big poster to put on the notice board up there. Looking around the other plots, I notice that people are making so much work for themselves, not pulling up the thistles, dandelions, chickweed, groundsel, etc etc that are now all flowering and seeding freely. It only takes a half hour or so to hand pull them all up and put them on the compost. That time well spent would save so much work and frustration later.
And of course the compost heap must heat up properly to kill those seeds, otherwise they are best burnt or taken to the local recycling centre instead. My closed wooden compost bins and plastic bins seem to make the best compost. People have made heaps out of wooden pallets, but they allow the stuff to dry out and not heat up properly so the compost is not so good and takes much longer to make!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Autumn on the allotment part 1

It has been an incredibly busy month on the allotment - harvesting the results of my labour, keeping the weeds in check, carting loads of farmyard manure from the communal heap by the gate (hard work that!!) to spread on any soil as it becomes free of crops. That's the secret of weed control - keep the blighters smothered - don't give them a chance to grow when the soil is bared!
We had to get a new motor mower - each of us thought the other was keeping the oil topped up in the old one - whoops!! Don't try that yourself! So the shiny new one arrived - trouble is I cannot start it! Never had any trouble at all with the old one, even in its dying moments - in fact I can still tickle a little life out of it. But the new one? No way! What is so frustating is that hubby starts it first time every time.

Took it up to the allotment the other day anyway - but after 30 attempts and me totally exhausted, I gave up. A fellow plotter arrives - starts it first time for me!!  So I did get the grass cut.
Yesterday I thinned out the brussel sprouts plants and replanted the thinnings. I did the same with the Swiss chard, "Bright Lights" so hope to get some good crops off both through the winter, although the latter won't oblige if it snows.

Anyway, these are some photos of what it all looks like now.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

what is eating my onion tops?

I arrived at the allotment to see that the tops of my onions, healthy last time I looked at them, have all been eaten at the tops - cropped no less! What caused it? I googled the question to find that everything from rabbits to deer, pigeons to slugs, caterpillars to unidentified bugs, have all been blamed. We have certainly had deer on the allotment before, but they do leave rather obvious footprints, especially when the ground is as soft as it is now after the recent heavy rain. And rabbits cannot fail but leave rather obvious droppings everywhere - and there were none. And pigeons to my knowledge have never attacked my garlic or onions before.
So I split a few of what remains of my own onion leaves down towards the base - guess what - SLUGS!!!!  Plus the odd startled earwigs, who on being exposed scuttled further down into the sheaths away from harm.
One thing occurs to me - by eating the tops in this way, water has ingressed into the leaves and must be finding its way down towards the bulbs - and will surely cause them to rot - so I think I shall harvest these as soon as I can - we are expecting a few dry and warm days now so that will be ideal for drying off the bulbs on the soil surface before taking them home and storing them somewhere dry and airy - our garden shed is ideal!

Now how's that for red cabbages!? My husband has a super recipe for cooking them and they are then frozen down for winter use when not much else is available.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Strawberries and virus disease

Since my last post I made it back to the allotment and dug up the old row of strawberry plants. These all went straight onto the compost heap, except for 4 plants that have shown signs of growth distortion this summer, and bore no ripe fruit (the fruit failed to swell). I feel sure they have suffered from a viral infection, but goodness alone knows which one. I have found a list of 21 such infections online, on a site which offers lots of other good information about strawberry cultivation. 
To be on the safe side I put the affected plants complete with their root balls into an old plastic compost sack which I have sealed and I will dispose of them at the local recycling and rubbish disposal centre next time I go there. 

If anyone recognizes this infection please let me know.

It was too hot to do any more work up there. Next visit I must tidy up the other strawberry rows and plant up a new row with runners to replace the removed plants.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

compost and weeds

I've been up at the allotment again for a long session - still so much to do!
I wrote about weeds and seeds last time. As I walked around the other plots today I couldn't help noticing just how many are overtaken by weeds - and all in seed, causing no end of further problems - remember - one year's seeding, seven years weeding. It is so important to stay on top of them, using the hints and tips I gave last time. At the very least remove all those that are shedding their seeds to the wind and blowing across all your neighbours' plots! Golden rule - Never let weeds flower!
Today I cleared the cabbage patch - we have been eating wonderful cabbages over the last few weeks - and then covered the area with a liberal quantity of horse manure. It is not well rotted - quite a way to go in fact - but over the winter the worms and slugs and other bugs will do their work on it ready for a light forking over next year before planting potatoes there - as part of my crop rotation.
And then I emptied one of the compost bins and spread the wonderful crumbly rich compost (picture left) over any spare soil I could find around the plot - mulching the beans, in between the beetroots and radishes and courgettes, top dressing the asparagus bed etc. There were altogether about 5 wheelbarrow loads. And it won't take me long to fill the bin again - it has already received all those poppy plants from the other day and as I continue to harvest potatoes, there will be all the tops from those to add - and any weeds I pull up from day to day - and by this time next year I will have another quantity of compost to spread again!

My next job will be to remove the oldest strawberry row. It has cropped for 4 years and the fruit is getting smaller - so I will dig them all up and start a new row with runners from the other plants, and spread manure liberally around them before the winter sets in. Strawberries should be rotated in the same way as other crops. 

Photo right is of one of the poppies I missed the other day - but the seed head (fruit) hasn't ripened yet so it is not doing any harm. I must cut it off before it matures and starts scattering the seeds everywhere!
I do love them on the plot - and they encourage many bees and hoverflies - essential for pollinating and setting the peas and beans.

By the way, my wooden compost bins have slatted sides that can lift out to make removal of compost easier, and a thick "duvet" to cover the rotting plant material to keep the temperature up in the bin - essential for killing any weed seeds etc.and for optimum rotting potential.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Reaping rewards on the allotment - One year's seeding - seven years weeding

Autumn seems to have come early this year - but then we had our summer in the South of England in April and May and the weather has been wet and dull for much of the time since, until this week. 
And just when there is so much to do on the allotment, the temperature has soared to 28 or 30 degrees, especially up there where there is no shade at all.
My first and urgent job today was to carefully remove all the poppy heads, especially those that have ripened and are full of seeds, carefully collecting those into a bucket for storage and disposal elsewhere - not sure where yet. Anyone want a field full of oriental poppies that will appear year after year into perpetuity?!
One year's seeding is seven years weeding, and that is a wise old adage true not only of the poppy, but of many other weeds - chickweed, dandelion, teasels, groundsel, ragwort, scarlet pimpernel and many others. And once weeds like dandelions take a hold in numbers and get their deep perennial taproots down into the ground that spells double the problem. So keep on top of those weeds before they seed!!
Other plotters often ask me how I keep on top of the weeds, and that is one vital ploy. But there are other useful tricks:
1. Rotate a potato crop around the plot. The cultivation of these cleans up even the trickiest soil - by smothering everything else in sight as the plants grow, but also by means of the cultivation necessary - the digging, pulling out perennial weeds along the way, the planting, drawing up the ridges, digging up the plants for harvest, etc.
2. Do not rotavate the plot with a mechanical digger!! Yes I mean that! If you cannot manage digging by hand each year, then have raised plots of such a width that you don't have to walk over the soil at any time. Then a light forking over as necessary suffices. My observation of other plots that have been well and truly rotavated mechanically is that millions of weeds come up in no time at all and unless these are quickly removed, the plot is out of control in no time at all!
3. Plants crops a little closer than the recommended spacing - smaller crops result but more weeds are smothered.
4. If you have some bare ground between crops,either sow some "green manure" seeds like alfafa that are dug in before they seed, or cover with some old carpet or black polythene or, even better, lots of manure if you can get hold of it (unless you intend to grow root crops such as carrots on the plot afterwards - they won't like that.
That's enough for today - next time up there I need to do some harvesting, sowing, and emptying the bin that's full of ready- to- spread compost - so that I can start filling it up again!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

How I turned my friend's lawn into a vegetable garden Part Three

The plot is nearly complete!!
Along the back edge we decided to make a marrow/courgette heap. These Cucurbits love plenty of organic matter such as manure. Here I am copying what I used to do as a child on the farm, when I was able to grow massive marrows thanks to the unlimited supply of cow manure on site.
So here I first of all forked the soil over, removing any perennial weeds and turning other weeds back into the soil. I then made a big pile of the horse manure and covered this with plenty of soil.
This can be seen at the far end behind the rhubarb plant.
In due course, when all risk of frost is past, we will make pockets of soil in the top of the heap and sow the marrow and courgette seeds. It will be necessary to protect these from slugs as the seedlings show through. It may be easier to sow the seeds in pots indoors first, and plant them out when the plants have a few leaves and have been "hardened off" outside for a few days (this is the process of acclimatizing them to the outdoor temperature before planting).
The vegetable plot is nearly complete!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

How I turned my friend's lawn into a vegetable garden Part Two

 The next stage in this project was to put up the cane "wigwams" for the runner beans when they are eventually sown. (It is too early to sow these yet - in this part of the country we are far from clear of possible frosty nights, that would be fatal to young bean plants).

In the far right hand corner of the plot can be seen a rhubarb plant. This was kindly donated by a neighbor, and has been planted along with some of the fairly well rotted manure we gathered the day before - that is what is in the various sacks dotted around the lawn!

So the plot is really shaping up now. We have left the lavender plant in the bottom right hand corner. This will attract the bees, that will be good for ensuring pollination of the runner bean flowers. Without plenty of bees, the bean crop will fail - so I have also suggested that a sweet pea is planted at each wigwam. Not only will this be pretty and fragrant; again, it will encourage bees to the site. 

The next stage will be to decide what else will be planted and sown this year. 

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Turning a lawn into a vegetable garden!

"I'd really love to be able to grow my own vegetables," she said. "OK", said I, and with hindsight somewhat rashly. "I'll come over next March and dig a vegetable patch in your lawn - you just show me where you want it, keep me fed and watered, and I'll do the rest."
(I would add that said friend cannot do much digging and bending - hence needing me for this heavy work). So last week there I was, looking at this large patch of grass and wondering where to start!!

First we brought out a compass and decided where the sun was going to rise and set in relation to our new plot. It is a good idea if possible to have the rows running North to South so that both sides get maximum benefit from the sun.
Having thus decided upon the best site for our vegetables, we marked out a rectangular plot running roughly West/East with canes laid upon the ground. Then I set to work.
My first joyful discovery was that the ground was beautifully light and sandy, making work very much easier. So I set to with a fork and spade and skimmed off the top layer of grass and moss and weeds. I stacked these turves upside down in an out of the way corner at the bottom of the garden, making a heap. Over the next few months this should rot down well and can be dug back into the plot perhaps as early as next year.
The downside of such sandy soil is that it will dry out very easily in summer, and is readily leached of nutrients. So before we did any more, we went out in search of horse manure. Fortunately my friend lives in a very "horsey" area, with plenty of riding stables, and it did not take us long to find one such establishment only too willing to let us take away as many sack loads as we could manage. And so we came back triumphantly with about sixteen sacks, some well rotted, some quite fresh.
And here you see the trench I then dug where we will sow the runner beans this year. This I filled with some of the fresh horse manure, and covered it with soil. The beans will love this - they are hungry for nutrients and the manure will also help hold moisture if we have a hot dry summer (wish!).

That was all an afternoon's work, and we felt well pleased with progress - but tomorrow will be another day.....