Saturday, 14 July 2012

What is eating my potato flowers?

Anyone have any ideas? I have never ever seen potato flowers disappear like this before?

What a challenging year this is proving to be on the allotment! The rain continues - unrelenting. In the past week we have had thunder and lightning, hail stones and rain the like of which I have never seen before.
And the plants struggle with so much wet and the attacks from slugs and snails which are delighting in the conditions.
Some things have been good - strawberries were amazing albeit two weeks late in coming - but they are now over. The new potatoes are tasty and abundant and the perpetual spinach and swiss chard are keeping me in healthy greens!
The broad beans need another week probably to swell up but the crop doesn't look too bad, as long as the pigeons stay away. And the various brassicas, totally protected by netting from the unwelcome attention of birds and butterflies, are growing well.

As soon as the ground dries a little (if it ever does?) I shall tidy up the strawberry bed, digging out the oldest row and planting a new row from healthy looking runners, on a three year rotation plan. Then I shall put plenty of manure down between the rows, to feed them and also to keep weeds at bay  - then I can forget about them for another year.
I also intend this year to sow some broad beans where the potatoes are being cleared, hoping for an early spring harvest next year. I've never done this before but others do with seemingly good results. And I shall sow some more spinach and swiss chard to keep the supply to the kitchen going.
My main hope now is for a late summer burst of warmth and sunshine to give the poor courgettes, pumpkins, squash, etc a chance to grow and mature - otherwise I shall be missing out on beautiful squashes to store over winter for lovely roast vegetables.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Flaming June. What a month it was! Everyone is saying the same thing; plants on the allotment are just sitting there, doing nothing, especially the runner and french beans, and the courgettes, pumpkins etc, that need sunshine and warmth to really get going. And they hate the wind. It has battered all the young plants relentlessly for weeks and they simply hate it.
Nonetheless, not all things have been bad. I am still picking and enjoying spinach and swiss chard, carried over from the winter and last year's sowings. They are tending to bolt, but even the flower heads can be chopped up and steamed with the rest of the leaves. I must sow some more soon to carry over to next year, as surely the existing plants will give up soon and end up on the compost heap.
And talking of compost, I have just emptied one bin and used the contents to top dress the asparagus bed.
And the strawberries have been amazing. They loved all the rain to swell the fruit, and then a week or two of warmth came just at the right moment to ripen them. Yes they have been very late, but for the last ten days I have been picking up to 6 pounds every day!! And that is after the birds and mice have had their share and in spite of the many that have gone moldy on the plant.

And in case any of my readers wonder why I have been silent for a while, it is because I have had my head down getting my next book through the copy editing and proof stages. The cover is now designed and it is all very exciting! But with the allotment and garden to look after as well, there are simply not enough hours in the day to keep blogging as well. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Rain and Weeds

Oh dear! It continues to be cold and wet and miserable - just 2 reasonably pleasant days and we were all up at the allotment beavering away with seed sowing and planting out and generally tidying up some pretty neglected plots. But everything is now so late, and we need warmth to bring things on. I only hope that autumn comes late and mild or many vegetables will not have a long enough growing season to reach maturity.
I continue to hear plotters crying that they cannot keep on top of their weeds. Do you know why? Take a look at this!
The plot looks well tended - but a moment or two getting rid of those dandelions before they seed would pay dividends in less weeds next year!! It's all a question of priorities!

Below is the photo from another plot. Again the other half of that plot is well tended, dug and raked and sowed - but why not pull out those big weeds at the same time? Why allow them to flower?

It all gets very frustrating for those of us who keep a weed free plot!!!!

Here is my plot. It's a busy plot - I like to think of it as a cottage garden allotment - there's always something on the go ready for the kitchen, and things get put where there's space, whilst still trying to avoid the same crop in the same place within a 3 year cycle. But weeds I do not have!

I've just sown rows of radish, lettuce and spring onion directly into the soil. All the seeds I sowed in modules in the cold greenhouse before I went way for a few days last week are all now well and truly up, and growing. Soon I shall be able to transplant beetroot, parsnips, onions, celeriac and many different types of brassica onto the allotment. I've also just sown all my cucurbits - courgettes, butternut squash, cucumbers etc, along with the beans - runner and french - so I don't intend to go hungry this year to come. If only we could have some more warm sunshine.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

After the rain

Well it at last stopped raining for a while yesterday and I snatched an hour to go up to the allotment. The first potatoes I planted have come through, and I have earthed them up well - at the same time dealing with the abundance of tiny weed seedlings that covered the potato plot. This is one reason why potatoes are such a good crop to clean any weedy land. All the earthing up doesn't give  weeds a chance - and any that do survive are soon finished off by the shade of the maturing potato foliage.
The dandelions have had a field day - hundreds of flowers all across the allotments. I take the flowers off as I walk around, to make sure they are not given any chance to seed - one year's seeding = ten years of weeding. Oh how true.
The ground is really boggy on the plot after all this rain. I planted out some lettuce seedlings and sowed some spring onions, but had to give up because walking on such wet ground is not doing it any good.
  Not to do with the allotment at all - but just look at the progress on the banana plant indoors- wonder how many months before they'll be edible!?!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

My robin in the flowerpot

Tidying up all my flower pots the other week in preparation for big time planting sessions ahead, I disturbed a robin sitting on a beautiful moss lined nest inside one of the big black plastic pots. I don't know who was more startled - her or me.
I was so afraid that with the fright I gave her, she would abandon the nest, and I have been giving it a very wide clearance ever since.

So what happened?

I am delighted to report that the eggs have hatched and two robins are now busily flying backwards and forwards with beaks full of grubs and flies to feed the young! 

Friday, 13 April 2012

What a week!

What a week it's been.After the false summer we had in March, enjoying temperatures up to 25 degrees, this week has seen sunshine and showers, wind and rain, hail and thunder, and temperatures little above 8 degrees during the day with slight ground frosts at night.
But I just had to plant my potatoes today. Legend says we should plant them on Good Friday, which seems a bit daft given that Easter dates vary significantly year on year.
So up to the plot I went, and whilst there picked some vegetables for the weekend; spinach, swiss chard, leeks and sprouts - plenty to eat for several days. And I looked across at other plots which are just bare soil, (below right - just a few leeks planted recently) compared with my "cottage garden" plot still full of produce. I still have parsnips to dig, and cabbages hearting up nicely, especially now I've covered them to keep the butterflies and pigeons off them!
And I did get the potatoes in! I first dug a trench and lined it all along the bottom with compost from one of my bins at home which I have just emptied. Last time I did this, I had a bumper crop of spuds. Let's hope history repeats. And I also wanted to use this strip of land which has been a strawberry row since the allotments opened, so the soil is not well worked, still full of stones and very heavy with clay. The potato row should do the trick in improving the soil here with all the earthing up that will be required - and the thick potato foliage will keep any weeds at bay.
All we need now is some warmer weather - no sign of the broad bean seedlings yet - I hope the field mouse hasn't dug them all up!

Monday, 9 April 2012

My Banana Tree is flowering!!

Huge excitement in this household over the last week - the banana we have grown indoors from a tiny plant is flowering - after 8 years!!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

6 ways to keep weeds at bay

Have just spent a few happy hours at allotment and will pay for it tomorrow - back already twinging!
The sun was fierce - a sun hat was essential kit today.
Folks often ask me: How do you keep on top of your weeds so successfully?
The answer is really simple - just remember:

One year's seeding means seven years' weeding. 

It really is that simple!

Every time I visit the plot I walk around it and pick off any stray dandelion flowers etc. both on the plot and in the surrounding grass edging before they get any chance to seed. And I also, whenever I have a few moments, take a hand fork or trowel around the plot and dig out any perennial weeds such as dandelion, dock, etc. making sure the deep tap root is removed as far as possible. Leave any root in and the weed will spring up again.

I also never ever rotavate the soil with any kind of mechanical digger. Apart from being cruel to all those worms, that we should be encouraging, the digger shreds up any perennial weed roots so that the weed problem is multiplied many times over! Not a good idea!
The digger also produces a fine tilth that is as as good as any seed bed - perfect for encouraging germination. The problem is it encourages all the weed seeds to germinate as well - they've been lying dormant beneath the soil waiting for just this moment!

Then again - if I know I am going to leave a patch of soil bare for any length of time, I cover it with a thick layer of manure. If you don't have this readily available, then old carpeting or black plastic will do the trick - or why not sow some green manure seeds - such as annual sweet clover - and dig the resulting growth into the soil before it seeds.

So - just a few ideas. And I certainly seem to keep on top of those weeds without too much effort - valuable time and energy is best spent growing the vegetables, not fighting weeds!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

4 jobs at the plot today

It's tempting to be lulled into a false sense of spring during this extraordinarily mild, indeed warm, week at least down in the South East of England. 17 degrees C it might be during the day, but there are still frosts at night sometimes, albeit not the really deep hoar frosts of mid winter. But they can still damage tender plants.
I spent nearly three hours at the allotment this morning. First thing, there was a thick fog and it was quite spooky down there. Later as the sun burnt through the fog it became quite warm by 11 ish.
What was I doing?
First I wanted to dig out all the strawberry plants that had spread far and wide across the plot during the autumn and early winter. They had to come out - I need the space.
So out they all came - and onto the compost heap.
Then I raked out all the dead leaves and runners - all brown and crackly now - from the two rows of strawberries I want to retain for fruiting this summer. These dead remains contain toxins that inhibit fruiting if they are left to rot around the strawberry plants. Mixed with all the other compost material, and plentiful farm manure, and left to rot over the summer, the resulting compost will benefit the rest of the plot no end.
Then I looked at the other compost bins and forked through them to turn the material a little in each one, to promote faster rotting down. In a couple of them I noticed the tell tale little runs of field mice - no harm there - they like the warmth and no doubt the vegetable peelings etc brought from home. Now rats I would be more worried about - but no trouble with those so far. The biggest problem with vermin at the allotments comes from wood pigeons. They will strip bare any sprouting broccoli, cabbage, and other brassicas unless the crop is completely covered with netting to keep them off. Some plotters have covered their whole plot with a fruit cage to tackle this problem.
So - to carry on - I then lugged umpteen barrow loads of manure from the communal pile and spread this all around the plots - except for that part where I plan to sow root vegetables this year. Fresh manure and root vegetables don't go well together, unless you want to see how grotesque you can grow your carrots!
All in all a good morning's work. The other day I bought some Broad Bean seeds and must sow them soon! Also the seed potatoes need chitting and planting - more about that later. Traditionally potatoes are planted on Good Friday - I don't off hand know why - but this year that will be 6th April so I have a few weeks in hand yet.
Good gardening!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

First signs of spring?

Sorry for the absence from this site. It has just been too cold and frozen to even contemplate going to the allotment. But today I did, and picked a good number of lovely Brussels Sprouts. The freezing cold has taken its toll, and the Swiss Chard looks decidedly sick, but now that the ground is thawing I shall go back to dig some Parsnips and Jerusalem Artichokes, and pull a few leeks, ready for the weekend. Soon I shall have to think about what what I want to grow again this year and decide what seeds to order. I hope it's not too late to put some garlic cloves in. They really benefit from cold weather, which they need to stimulate division into smaller cloves. Since a cold snap is forecast again in the next few days, I should be OK if I don't waste any more time!
I just really hope it warms up soon though!
Listening to the news today it seems that we are in for a serious drought this year, so I must cart as much manure as I can over to my plot from the communal heap so I have a good supply of mulch to spread around plants in due course to keep any moisture around their roots.
Spring must be just around the corner - the daffodils are breaking into bloom on the church bank, blue tits seem to be preparing to nest in the box, the green woodpecker is enjoying digging for ants in the lawn and I have heard the drilling of the greater spotted woodpecker somewhere in a nearby tree.
At home I must make sure all the water butts are properly connected up to drainpipes so I save every drop I possibly can of any rainfall we have.