Tuesday, 14 August 2007


We're harvesting loads from the allotment now. I'm far too busy caring for the existing plants and weeding 'cultivated' areas to dig any further down the plot so this weekend I finally gave in and covered the rest in black plastic. I'm toying with the idea of planting some kale, spring cabbage and winter broccoli but I'm not sure there's time. I suppose I should just get on and do it!

We've harvested several courgettes now. They're so easy and so productive, I think every garden should have them. There are green ones...
And yellow ones...
And even some baby pumpkins! It'll be a while before we harvest those though!

The cucumbers are trying hard too. I had great success with these in a growbag last year but I think I planted them a bit late this time. But there are tiny cucumbers appearing even though the plants are barely six inches high! The radishes planted all round them are doing well too, as you can see.Even though the radishes are only planted for pest-control purposes, they look so yummy I had to pick a few. I haven't been brave enough to try them yet (my sensitive little mouth doesn't like things too hot and spicy) but I will!

We've harvested our first onions too. The foliage is dying down now (like the potatoes, a month or so earlier than I expected) so I guess they're not going to grow anymore, but some of them are still rather tiny. I suppose it's the competition from the weeds. Still, most are a respectable size, and they have a nice mild flavour and a really good texture.

Here's something else every garden should have; we dug the Swiss chard from under a forest of weeds and it's doing quite well! I'd never heard of the stuff until I started gardening but it looks so amazing I can't believe it's not more popular. You can cook it like spinach, eat young leaves raw, or wait until it gets really big and cook the stems. On the left are beetroots which are doing pretty well too, and the leaves are lovely in salads.

We dug a lot of things from under the weeds this weekend in fact; the strawberries look like they've still got fruit to give, the carrots are starting to grow well and I found salad leaves I'd forgotten I planted!
All in all, we seem to be eating quite a lot from the plot. As well as the above we're enjoying plenty of beans, salad and spinach, and of course the potatoes we dug up a couple of weeks back. In fact at a barbecue last week I served 100% Nomegrown salad (with nasturtiums, which some of my guests loved!), potato salad made with Nomegrown potatoes, and Nomegrown onions on our burgers! I even thought about making a bean salad too (I can't seem to pick them fast enough!), but my workmates just don't eat that many vegetables. All the more for me!

Monday, 30 July 2007

Digging Potatoes

We have just returned from a week away and rushed to dig up our potatoes. I'm not totally sure there's any hurry - I can't find any recommendation for how long you can safely leave them in the ground - but I'm pretty sure they stop growing when the foliage has died away and I know slugs get hungrier later in the season, so it seemed a good idea.

So here they are; 22lb of Charlotte potatoes (and we've already dug a few up remember) and 24lb of Melody.

This is from 14 plants of each type, so that's about 1.7lb per plant. Does that sound reasonable? I was kind of expecting more, but it's still quite a lot of potatoes so I won't complain! I tell you what; it's not as easy and rewarding a task as I've been led to believe. While seeing perfect white potatoes pop out of the soil as you dig is pretty cool, I seemed to spend a lot of time not finding any. Perhaps I just expect too much!
We have one more double row still to dig (we were short of time) so there will probably be another 24lb or so in a few days! They'll be sorted into different sizes and we'll see how long they can last us! We'll eat any damaged ones first, then all the bite-sized baby ones, and try to store the bigger ones into the winter for baking and roasting.

I am still confused that the Melody potatoes died back so early; the seed websites insist they are maincrop but I'd really expect them to mature later and end up bigger than these. Damn Suttons for not sending me what I ordered! Next time I will order earlier!

It's amazing how much things can grow in a week; we picked our first runner beans today. They were tiny when I last saw them and now they're the length of my forearm! And delicious, by the way!

Our favourite nasturtium has decided it's taking over the path (sorry, Terry) so I'll have to start cutting it back quite dramatically, and some of our borage plants are turning into enormous bushes! We had to cut one in half just to get at the potatoes!

Unfortunately not everything is so positive. The weeds around the strawberries are now so prolific I can't actually see the strawberry plants anymore, and our tomato plants have all succumbed to blight and will have to be destroyed. This surprised me, since the potatoes showed no signs of it, and if I truly am more organised next year (here's hoping) I'll take more precautions against it. Of course, a greenhouse would be ideal... I won't get too upset anyway; since they were planted so late I wasn't holding out much hope of a decent crop.
Would've been nice though! Ah well; you win some, you lose some.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Beauty and the beasts...

I am constantly blown away at the moment by some of the beauty I find in the allotment.

As a kid I thought gardening was stupid, and I've never really been that thrilled by flowers, but when you start with a messy wilderness, strive to make it productive, and then find so much beauty there too, it feels amazing.

I must have spent half an hour gazing at this nasturtium flower the other day. The photo doesn't do it justice; the colours are incredible. It's quite the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

And then there's the wildlife! Isn't this amazing? Have you ever ever seen a purple grasshopper before??

Anyway, back to the vegetables.

We have harvested quite a few potatoes now; here are some we pulled up last week.

Those still attached to the plant are not all it produces; there are several more left behind in the soil. It seems the brown patches on the skins are scab; an ailment caused by soil which is not acid enough (which I kind of knew but was in too much of a hurry to do anything about). The damage is purely cosmetic so it's nothing to worry about, but apparently if you dig a bucket of grass clippings into the soil before you plant it gives it a healthy acid boost, so I'll try that next year if I can.
Since I took this photo a week ago, the potato plants have gone from slightly-unhealthy-looking to completely dead, which means all the potatoes are ready to be harvested now! This is at least a month before I expected, and I'm not sure where I'm going to store them yet! I wonder if there's time to plant a second crop in their place... Or maybe I could put the cabbages, kale and broccoli there to save myself some work at the weedy end!

Having removed the forest of weeds (thanks Dad!) I finally decided there's no time to dig through every inch of soil for roots and keep sticking to the plan; at this stage I'm just desperate to get things in the ground before it's too late (which it probably already is). So I just dug a small patch for tomato seedlings, one for courgettes and pumpkins, and one for cucumbers, and these are all planted now and settling in nicely, like the pumpkin below. Whether I'll get a decent crop before the end of the summer remains to be seen, but I'll try dammit!

With the sweetcorn I didn't even bother digging a small patch, but just planted the seedlings among the grass. Below you can see the rather rickety-looking tower we built for our cucumbers to climb, with the courgettes and pumpkins next door and the sweetcorn seedlings in rows in the background. We scattered radish seeds all around the cucumbers and courgettes, to keep squash borers and other nasties away. With a bit of luck they might distract the flea beetles away from my salad leaves as well; flea beetles love radishes.

We've been eating lots of salad leaves; despite the outer leaves often being damaged by slugs or bugs, the inside ones are usually ok. However, not every type I planted (16, remember!) seems to have done anything, and despite my efforts, half the patches are too overgrown with weeds to be sure. The lamb's lettuce and rocket is past eating already before I have had any! I don't think I'll bother with these in future; I'm not organised enough to successionally plant and pick things that must be harvested so young. If they were in my garden or if I had time to visit every day it might be all right, but otherwise it's not going to work!

We have picked and eaten our first peas, though a few were infested with nasty pea moth caterpillars; the slimy little grubs already eating my precious peas inside their pods. I’m so glad I investigated those tiny brown marks on the outsides! Once you know what to check for it’s easy to tell which ones are infested and which are not without opening them up. It seems to be only the mangetout which are affected; the sugarsnaps are unharmed by any pest so far.

Today I picked the first of the beans too; the yummy Purple King french beans, though the slugs and snails are still taking their share. Although all the types I planted are starting to crop now, my bean trellis looks rather ridiculous; out of three types of beans planted there only one is actually climbing; the Purple King and Borlotto appear to be bush-beans despite the packets claiming they were not!

I’ve been dying to try eating nasturtiums, since my self-sufficency-hero John Yeoman goes on about them a lot and edible flowers seem to be quite trendy at the moment, so while I was picking salad for supper I added a big handful of nasturtium leaves and another handful of flowers. Salad never looked so good!

They’re very hot and peppery, with an unusual fruity flavour I couldn’t quite make up my mind about. While they do make a salad look pretty funky for a special occasion, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to eat them again. Some self-sufficientists (is that the right word?) grind up nasturtium seeds rather than buying black pepper, but I don’t think it’s a flavour substitute I’d like to make!

I'll keep on growing them though, to distract slugs from more important things (allegedly...) and to attract insects, and for the occasional dinner-party salad, and just because they're fantastic!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Struggling on...

It's quite an emotional rollercoaster, this allotment lark. Every time I go down there at the moment I am disheartened by the weeds swamping everything I'm trying to grow - I can't stress enough what a battle it is against them - and yet it's such a thrill to reap the benefits! For dinner on Saturday we ate homegrown baby new Charlotte potatoes and homegrown salad with some garlic and herb chicken - our first proper meal using our allotment-produce and the first of many!I'm not sure if the brown spots on the potatoes may be an early sign of trouble; I'll have to look it up... They were tasty though!
We picked some more strawberries too, although for every two we took home we had to throw a slug-munched one away (that rollercoaster again).
Slug-damaged strawberry.

Everything is flowering at the moment too; nasturtiums, marigolds, petunias peas and runner beans all looking fantastic. The borage is the most spectacular - its flowers seem to glow above the rest of the greenery, like a bright blue haze. No wonder it attracts so many insects.
And the weeds may be evil and pestilent; they may be strangling my pea plants, crowding my beans, swamping my lettuces and harbouring a veritable army of slugs, snails and other pests, but they look amazing too, covering every inch between crops in a rich green carpet.
I finally got round to planting my tomatoes out, along with a couple of pepper plants and some basil a friend gave me. The patch isn't fully dug yet but it's getting really late in the season. Things are going to have to be sacrificed this year; I'm never going to get the whole lot dug before the end of the summer, but at least it'll be done ready to start earlier next year (as long as I can keep new weeds down!).

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Our First Harvest!


This evening we picked our first harvest; thirteen beautiful big strawberries. (And just two months after getting the baby plants in the post!) I know it’s a cliché, but they really are the best strawberries I’ve ever tasted! We laid straw underneath the plants at last to keep the fruit off the soil, so hopefully there will be plenty more soon!

My lovely mum bought me a box of petunia plants which I planted around the asparagus the other day, and while there are still a few asparagus beetles around, the numbers do seem to be reduced. Hopefully as the plants get bigger they’ll do even better at keeping the beasts away. The flowers make a nice splash of colour anyway, and some of our marigolds and nasturtiums around the place have started flowering at last too.

The lavender has started flowering as well, although it’s swamped by weeds, like most other things. We’ve had a lot of rain recently and it’s really not helping in the battle against the green carpet that comes from nowhere and spreads over everything!

The beans are pretty swamped too, but they’re making a good effort and have started climbing up their canes. The pesky slugs are still doing them some damage, but the battle continues...

And the borage is about to burst into flower, which will help attract more bees and predatory insects. You can see one above between the bean rows; there are quite a few dotted around.

I had thought our first harvest would be new potatoes or lettuce leaves; our patchwork of lettuces is growing nicely (though it could do with a good weeding like everything else!) and the potatoes are flowering with enthusiasm. It’ll only be a couple of weeks before we start picking these too!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007


As promised, we got pretty busy at the weekend! While mum and I did various bits of weeding and planting, Eddie and Dad cleared more than a third of the 'jungle' half of the plot! It still needs a quick fork-through for roots (which I have made a good start on already) but that's two more squares nearly ready for planting (and thank goodness; if we don't get it done this month it'll be pretty much too late).

The strawberries are busy producing fruit, and we pinned some of the runners into the soil each side to create new rows, and put some net up over the plants to protect the developing fruit from birds.
The potatoes have started to flower, which means we'll be able to dig for our first baby new potatoes soon!
And the onions seem to be doing really well despite the weeds. A few of my red onion seeds have finally sprouted now too, though I doubt they're going to have time to develop fully before the end of the season. Next year I think I'll stick to onion sets and not bother with seeds!
The pond is doing really well, despite last week's rock-fall which I cleared up at the weekend. The plants are really flourishing, and if you look closely below you can see two little red water-lily leaves starting to show...
And the tadpoles are turning into frogs! Lots of teeny-weeny frogs!
We're going away in a couple of weeks and it really is getting to summer now, so I'm determined to plant lots more before we go. The two squares clear now will be for brassicas and tomatoes, but that still leaves sweetcorn, more brassicas and two squares for curcubits to clear. But the progress we've made has been really encouraging, and I can't wait to do more!

Friday, 8 June 2007

A Quick Update

I've got no pretty pictures today but I just thought I'd tell you how things are going.

I'm losing the battle against asparagus beetles I'm afraid; I pick them off whenever I visit but they seem to do so much damage so quickly. It's not as if they're destroying this year's crop, but they defoliate the ferns so they'll weaken the plants for the future. Petunias are supposed to keep the beetles away and I had planned on a border of them, but for some reason none of my seeds grew. If I can scrape enough pennies together I'll buy a load of plants from the market... On the plus side, the asparagus seems to be putting up lots of new shoots, which is good.

Slug and snail damage has been greatly reduced but still not enough; there must be millions of the things living in the overgrown next allotment (and of course the overgrown part of mine) and they've completely destroyed the sunflowers I planted at the border. Thanks to a suggestion from a friend, I'm now considering a wall of bristly doormats to keep them out!

The weeds keep on coming, and it's not just my lack of enthusiasm which is stopping me from digging the next part of the plot; there's always too much to do to look after the planted patches all the time!

The strawberries have started fruiting! How exciting! The fruits are still white at the moment so I need to protect them from birds soon before they ripen, and put some straw underneath to keep them off the soil, which can spread grey mould. Where does one buy straw, that's what I want to know!

Someone has kindly knocked most of the pile of rocks by the pond into the water, killing a huge frog that must have been visiting. It can't have been the wind; I spent ages building that pile and making sure it was secure. Next time I visit I'll have to fish all the rocks back out and build it again...

The potatoes are doing well, as are the onions, and I think among the forest of weeds yesterday I spotted some parsnips and red onions finally coming up too! The seedlings in my garden are starting to really suffer from being in tiny pots, and the cats keep digging up my leeks, so I really need to get things planted out or it'll be too late to bother (though I keep telling myself not to worry if not everything happens this year; next year we'll be able to get a much earlier start and we won't have such a battle on our hands!).

This weekend we're planning to spend a whole day there, do a decent amount of weeding and dig that next strip at last. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

War on pests!

After seeing the damage done to my poor bean plants last week by the slugs and snails, I rushed out and found organic slug pellets in Homebase. They're "certified for organic use", more rainproof than traditional slug pellets, and they break down into harmless iron and phosphate in the soil. I tried them on my patio first; usually I daren't leave my seedlings outside after dark, and if I do they're covered in snails when I remember them. With a scattering of the pellets all around them, I've left them out three or four nights now and none have been touched. HA! Take that, nasty little molluscs!
So I spread them all around my crops on the allotment, particularly around the beans and the grassy edges of the plot where I'm sure they must all hide, a few days ago. When I went back today there were hardly any left in most areas, but as we were weeding we kept finding dead slugs and snails hiding under leaves so it looks like they're doing the trick! I scattered more before I left - they're not getting away with it any more!
Slugs and snails are not the only pests I've been dealing with. I arrived at the plot the other day to find the asparagus ferns covered in asparagus beetles. They're funny, exotic looking things - I thought I had a good general knowledge of British insects but I guess you only ever see these on asparagus beds, and mine is the first asparagus bed I've seen! What with the wind and my camera wanting to focus on the ground beyond the tiny stems instead of the stems themselves, I completely failed to take a decent picture, but here is one I found on Wikimedia:

All those I could find met their end today in a cup of soapy water, but not before laying dozens of eggs. You can pick them off but it's a really fiddly, painstaking task so I might leave them to the ladybirds and lacewings - and there are hundreds of ladybirds around, mating everywhere!

SO, apart from the pests, my crops are doing fine. You can see the onions getting bigger, the potatoes are leafier and more vigorous than ever, and the strawberries are flowering happily. The weeds are also incredibly prolific - we dug the strawberries out today from under a forest of them and the onions will have to be done again as soon as we have time. It's been so weedy I've completely missed out on a spring crop of baby carrots, and the red onions must have been completely swamped - they should be up by now but there's no sign. I'm hoping it won't be so bad in future years; the soil must be full of seeds from last summer's weeds, it's been growing wild so long, but of course next year that won't be the case.

The strawberries are going to start to fruit soon and I'll need to cover them with net to keep the birds off and mulch them with straw so the berries don't touch the ground, which will need some thought. I don't really have the cash at the moment to build beautiful frames out of beautiful wood like everybody else does! Also how do I work it? With three rows of plants, I don't want to cover all of them at once and have to remove the whole lot to harvest, but if I enclose each one separately I'll need to leave room for runners so I've got more plants next year, so how big do I need to make them? It's complicated, this business!

The pond is still doing really well, although the water level has dropped dramatically again since the sun's come out. Look - you can see right to the bottom! Although it doesn't look like our very expensive water lily is doing much down there...

Unlike a couple of weeks back, it's bursting with life; the tadpoles are getting huge, we've got at least two different kinds of water beetle in there and our first pond skater has arrived! And our Iris flowered:

The lettuce/spinach patch that I had started in my last blog is planted now, with (are you ready?) little gem lettuce, iceberg lettuce, lollo rossa, rocket, watercress (apparently it will work if I water it enough!), land cress, swiss chard, two types of beetroot, two types of basil, coriander, spring onions, spinach, New Zealand spinach (does better in hot weather), perpetual spinach (does better in cold weather, and should keep going all winter), corn salad (lamb's lettuce) and a patch of mixed lettuce leaves. I probably should have sown just a few of each and then more at fortnightly intervals or something, but I'm afraid I didn't have the patience (and I've been rubbish at keeping up with the things I should be sowing at home), so I expect a glut in a few weeks time and then I'll try to re-sow as I harvest. Actually, the trickiest thing will probably be to stop them bolting in the hot, dry summer we're expecting; I'll have to water them all loads.

That done, I've got almost no excuses left not to dig the next strip of the plot...

Monday, 14 May 2007

It rained!

It rained! In fact it's been raining for a week now, and of course I'm starting to wish the sun would come out again... And while digging has been a miserable task in the rain, it has done the whole plot a world of good.

I took the opportunity a few days ago to water in my 'Nemaslug' - a 30 million strong army of slug-eating eelworms. It was more difficult than I anticipated; said worms come in suspended animation in a fine clay powder which you're supposed to mix with water - sounds easy enough but it was really hard to get the stuff to mix, and little lumps kept blocking the rose of my watering can. I spent half an hour sitting on my bench with my arm in a bucket of the stuff trying to squidge out all the lumps, and ended up with it all over me and a large amount spilt around the bench, on the bench, on my shoes etc... Next problem was distributing it evenly; one watering can with the correct dilution of nematodes is enough for about an eighth of my plot, but it was raining so hard at this point I think my guesswork may have been a bit off, and on the very overgrown patches I'm not even sure how much of the solution even managed to reach the soil (though if I'm lucky the rain will have washed them down off the plants fairly quickly). All in all I'm not really sure how good a job I did, and I'll think twice before spending that £20 again unless the results are incredibly good!

Unfortunately signs already point to no; the wet weather has turned the whole site into a slug and snail paradise, and though I'm delighted that all my little beans are popping their heads up at last, the slimey little beasts are delighting in them too and several are already a sorry, leafless sight:

I didn't want to, but I'm going to have to buy some slug pellets; the nematodes only deal with slugs anyway so while they will (hopefully) protect things like my potatoes underground, something else needs to be done about the snails. I've seen some kind of organic slug pellets on the web, so I'll try them as soon as I can; I'm not having all my hard work eaten before I get the chance to!

The potatoes all seem to be doing really well, and have stuck their leaves above the soil again already after I earthed them up last week. They're such vigorous, healthy-looking plants it's a pleasure just having them there next to certain less-successful or slower crops. I just hope the harvest is as good!

Elsewhere the beans are shooting up, as I said, the onions are starting to swell (and starting to get swamped by weeds again already!), the strawberries are flowering (I've decided I think I'll leave them to fruit - I've spent my money; I'm blooming well going to have at least a small harvest this year!) and the herb seedlings I planted out over the last couple of weeks are settling in nicely (well mostly; the snails have completely polished off one of my nasturtiums). The borage in particular is growing amazingly fast; I swear this one has quadrupled in size in the past week!

The rain has done the pond a lot of good too; the water is full to overflowing and has gone from foggy green to so clear I can almost see to the bottom, and yes, there is still life in there! Millions of daphnia and other tiny wriggly things, loads of water-snails, whole families of water boatmen and far more tadpoles than I thought we put in there in the first place! Mysterious, but I'm not complaining; I was feeling rather disheartened about the whole pond thing last week but now it's just lovely!
The plants are thriving too and our iris is even thinking about blooming. If you look closely you can see the purple bud:

We are nearly ready to plant our next eight-foot square as well, which will contain lettuces and other salad leaves, swiss chard, spinach, beetroots (as much for the leaves as for the roots), spring onions and some herbs; basil and coriander. The idea is to create a patchwork of small areas of different crops - all that leafy foliage in different colours will look fantastic when it's growing - so when we finished digging the patch today we began marking out the different beds with stones (until the weather drove us away again). When we've finished this patch will contain sixteen squares of sixteen different crops, dotted with coriander to try to keep aphids away and lined with marigolds. Pretty!

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