Monday, 31 March 2008


We didn't visit the plot today, as predicted, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce you to Hastings, who is rapidly becoming our 'allotment cat'. (Hastings is the name on his collar, though of course it could just be who insures him - who knows?!)

I've no idea who he really belongs to, of course, but he loves to play on the allotment site and we see him there more and more lately. He has lost his tail in an accident in the not-too-distant past, but it doesn't make him any less fearless, curious or affectionate. He runs over for a cuddle when he sees us and spends hours at a time just hanging around nearby watching us, nosing around in whatever we're trying to dig, plant or build, rubbing against our legs whether we're watering, raking or hoeing (actually, I'm beginning to see why he lost his tail!) and generally getting underfoot!

He's so cute and lovely! We're both softies for cats, so not a lot else gets done when he wants attention, but even when he doesn't it's really nice just to see him lying around, enjoying the place as much as we do!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Pond Life and Parsnips

Finally made it back to the allotment today after over a week, and what a glorious day it was! We didn't spend as much time there as I would've liked, but we did manage to dig and manure the bean and pea patch (we'll plant the peas later on in the week), start clearing some other areas, and do a few other bits and pieces.

I painstakingly planted out a row of tiny parsnip seedlings - unorthodox I know (aren't I always?) but after last year's disastrous results I decided to take drastic measures. This goes against all the instructions on the seed packet but I wanted to try it as an experiment anyway, so I sowed the seeds in the greenhouse back in Feb (where I got tremendous germination success!) and they've been out in the garden for a few weeks getting used to the cold. Don't worry; I'll sow another row in boring old April like a good girl...

I also planted another two bulbs of garlic in some spare space along the edge of the strawberry patch. My plan has always been to dot the garlic around, since it has such beneficial effects on the soil and insect-repellent properties too, so I've just been sticking it in wherever there's room. I wanted to plant the majority in among the tomatoes but at this rate it'll be ages before the ground over there is ready, so they're in a trough at home at the moment, just beginning to sprout. What an exciting sight that was this morning!

Most exciting today, however, were the goings-on in the pond!

Our tadpoles are hatched, and there are all kinds of other new signs of life too!

I'm thinking these are just snail eggs, but does anyone know? There are some very tiny fishy-looking-things as well - though I don't think fish could have got into our pond by themselves (and I don't really want them either!) - some mayfly and damselfly nymphs, and something that looked a bit like beansprouts; little blobby bodies suspended motionless a few inches below the surface with their tails dangling beneath them...

I made the most of the weather and got busy in the garden this morning too while I was waiting for Eddie to get up (I told him he could sleep in today because I'm going to work him so hard for the rest of our week off, muhahahaa!) The place is still a mess, but I managed to pot up my other two roses, start some sunflower seeds, rearrange the greenhouse a bit, and finally plant some of the lily and dwarf gladiolus bulbs that have been sitting in bags in my kitchen for weeks now. And weren't they raring to go! The pure white shoots of this lily were beautiful!

As I said, we've both got a week off this week, so expect a lot of posts. It's due to rain tomorrow and we have indoor-stuff to do, but next sunny day we plan to sow some peas and get started on the rest of the beds.
For now I'll leave you with this photograph, which confused me no end! Do click for a closer look:

Have they introduced new tadpole-sized bottles of coke? No! It took me ages to figure out, but it's a reflection of a coke bottle upturned on a garden cane nearby!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Snowed in

Well not literally. But the weather, as predicted, has been miserable all weekend and I've stayed safe indoors.

This is the home garden I've been working so hard on - ha! What a mess! There's still loads of rubbish to get rid of, and the high winds have kindly rearranged eveything for me too! As you can see, it really is tiny...
I was worried about the stuff in the greenhouse in this cold weather but it all seems to be doing fine, although the brassica seedlings on the very bottom shelf are straining for more light. I'll have to move them outside as soon as this cold snap finishes I think, even if only during the daytime.

The tomatoes and courgettes are sprouting in earnest now, though there's no sign at all of the melons which is a bit of a shame.

I've decided I don't really have room for all those tomatoes - perhaps just two of each variety. (Don't know if the problem was my maths or my overenthusiasm, but the previous plan meant they'd be planted just 9 inches apart! Now I'm a believer in spacing things closer together than they say you should, but that's just silly!) I didn't really expect every courgette seed to germinate, since they're quite old, so I've got more of them than I was bargaining for too - I think I'll be giving away a lot of plants in a few weeks' time! Ah well, I have a work friend who is thinking of taking on an allotment, and a sister-in-law who has just got her first garden, so it shouldn't be too difficult...

I've just realised that you can only see my Google Docs (under Growing Information on the right) if you're signed up to the site yourself, which is not what I wanted, so today I'm planning to have a go with Google Page Creator and/or and see if I can do something better. Watch that space...

Friday, 21 March 2008

Spuds In

We got the potatoes planted on Wednesday, as planned, which is good since they're now forecasting heavy snow for the weekend! (Good job I planted the spuds nice and deep.)

My eight foot square beds sometimes mean cramming things in closer than I should, and it was difficult to know how best to squeeze the maximum number of plants into the space.
Last year I had success with three double rows of tubers one foot apart, with two feet between double rows, allowing me to grow 42 plants like this:

But this year I'm growing four varieties, which obviously I'd like to keep separate! There's no way I could squeeze four double rows in, and cutting them down to single rows would mean only 28 plants. So I finally settled on this:

Earthing the rows up might get interesting, but this allows me to plant all ten of each variety, except two Cara which I'll grow in tubs at home.

I sowed a few rows of seeds in the salad patch as well. I'm a little more worried how they might fare in the snow for a couple of days but these are the risks we take... Last year I told myself I'd start the leaf veg at home like most other things and plant them out, as I had such mixed success direct sowing like this, but the fact is I just don't have room for so many plants! So fingers crossed... I planted two more bulbs of garlic too, in a seam down the middle of the bed to divide up the short rows. The plan is this:

Yellow indicates varieties not sown yet, and the green down the middle is the garlic and perhaps some coriander to keep the aphids away. It seemed to work last year, although I was surprised yesterday to find some greenfly on my coriander plants at home...

10 potatoes 'Arran Pilot' (first earlies)
10 potatoes 'Charlotte' (second earlies)
10 potatoes 'Kestrel' (second earlies)
8 potatoes 'Cara' (maincrop)

2 more bulbs garlic 'Thermidrome'

1/2 row Lettuce 'Marshall' (red cos type)
1/2 row Lettuce 'Balmoral' (crsiphead type)
1/2 row Letuce 'Lollo Rossa'
1/2 row Spinach 'Mediana'
3 x 1/2 row Beetroot 'Boltardy'
1/2 row Mizuna
1/2 row Mustard 'Oriental Pizzo'
1/2 row Land Cress
1/2 row Garden Cress 'Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled'
1/2 row Spring Onion 'Ramrod'
1/2 row Spring Onion 'North Holland Bloodred Redmate'
1/2 row Corn Salad 'Large Leaved'
1/2 row Lettuce 'Little Gem'

Another thing we did on Wednesday, on a whim, was to build ourselves this little table out of a couple of pallets:

Ugly it may be, but it's much needed; there's an obvious drawback to having all our tools stored underneath the only place to put bags, coats, and drinks! And it'll come in useful for picnic lunches and summertime drinks too.
My sister, Jess, spent the afternoon with us as well and it all felt very industrious; Eddie planting spuds, me sowing seeds, and Jess painting our new table! The best times on the plot are always when friends and family muck in and you can natter away while you work (and they lighten the load too of course!), and when you get to spend a good few hours there and get lots of diferent things done it feels so rewarding.

One thing though; for all this exercise in the fresh air, working towards more healthy, organic and nutritious food, when I get home after a hard day's work on the plot why is it I just can't resist the urge for a greasy takeaway?

Monday, 17 March 2008

Some Serious Chitting Action!

You may recall my seed potatoes arrived recently; frighteningly late. Turns out there was nothing to worry about; in just ten days, they have produced such beautiful chits that I can now join in with pictures like this:

I'm hoping to plant them on Wednesday, my day off, since the long-term forecast for the Easter weekend is dreadful.

I've been busy in the home garden in the rain: here is my new climbing rosebush, settling in nicely...

And my newly planted blackcurrant, putting on some incredibly fast growth.

The container herb garden has begun too.

I bought rosemary and thyme plants from Wilkinsons, since they grow so slowly and I can't even get any rosemary seeds to germinate. In the plastic rings (for early protection) I've sown curly parsley, sage, oregano, french parsley, garlic chives, tarragon and chives, and I've left some space down the front for basil and coriander later in the season. I've also sown a trayful of sage for the allotment (40 plugs!) as a companion plant for the brassicas. Ooh, and I bought some tiny mint plants (can't seem to germinate mint seeds either) which I'll keep in containers to, well, contain them!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Plan...

Last year I lovingly marked out all my beds with stakes and string only to have the boundaries completely lost beneath weeds when the growing season kicked off. It's almost impossible to tell now where the beds start and finish, the couch grass I dug out last spring is creeping in from the paths, and I don't want to have to mark everything out afresh each year.

So here's the plan:

I never really intended to have raised beds - their purpose is purely for marking out (and hopefully providing a bit of a barrier for pests and weeds). The wood was going free, though we don't have enough for the whole lot and will end up prying pallets apart to finish the job I think. And it's only plywood so we're painting it all with a friendly outdoor paint (the colour looked a lot more subtle in the shop!), though I expect it still won't last a hugely long time. It's also turning out to be a lot more time consuming than I thought - it'll be many weeks before the whole plot looks like this! Still, well worth it I hope.

This done, I finally got round to planting my onions and shallots. They'll go in a bed with carrots (onions keep the carrot fly away), parsnips and leeks too, and I sowed a row of early carrots for good measure.

I haven't had any luck with carrots so far so I took extra care this time, making the soil nice and wet, making a nice little drill, sprinkling the seeds in carefully and covering them with vermiculite for moisture and insulation, and to mark the row so I know exactly where to weed later (last year everything just got lost - I didn't know where to start!). Then I watered them, and at one end all the vermiculite washed into a slightly deeper bit of drill, probably taking most of the seeds with it. Doh!

I have sown a few more things indoors this weekend too, and my garlic into a trough in the garden so it can get started even though I don't have space on the plot yet. I don't hold out much hope for the peppers or (especially) the aubergines - last year they didn't even flower - but this year at least I have some greenhouse space which might keep a couple going long enough to fruit. The celery is not so much for eating, but as a companion plant for the brassicas (apparently it keeps cabbage butterflies off - I have yet to test this theory!).

4 x Pepper 'Yolo Wonder'
4 x Pepper 'California Wonder'
4 x Pepper 'Golden Bell F1'
4 x Aubergine 'Black Beauty'
8 x Celery 'Loretta'

3 bulbs garlic 'Thermidrome'
96 onions 'Sturon'
48 red onions 'Piroska'
18 shallots 'Red Sun'

21" row carrot 'Autumn King Improved'
21" row carrot 'Chantenay Red Cored'
21" row carrot 'Early Nantes 2'
21" row carrot 'Sirena F1'

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Too Many Toms!

I've never had much luck with tomatoes. In three years of trying, I have managed to grow and ripen just one tomato. (I don't mean just one variety; I don't mean just one plant; I mean one single tomato.) Yet somehow, I've collected 11 varieties of seed!
I've got currant, cherry, pear, plum and beefsteak ones! I've got red, yellow, green and stripey ones!
And I've only got 8ft square to plant them in!
I'd rather try them all than be left wondering if the one I missed was the one that would have succeeded, so I reckon I'll plant three each of the ten indeterminate varities in three rows; spaced a bit closer than they should be but held up using the 'Florida Weave' method that should encourage growth upward rather than outward, and improve air circulation and sun exposure... Time will tell...
The one determinate variety will be grown in pots (I'll decide where later...) along with some 'Hundreds and Thousands' tumbling toms I couldn't resist from Suttons (their photo). Two thousand tomatoes from a single ready-started plant? Surely I can't fail!

SO, last night I sowed my tomato seeds in toilet rolls (we've been collecting for months!) which can be planted whole to avoid root disturbance. Three of each variety, plus a few spares of the popular ones.

5 x Moneymaker (medium size)
5 x Gardener's Delight (cherry size)
4 x Alicante (medium size; an Italian favourite, apparently)
4 x San Marzano 2 (plum tom, good for cooking or preserving)
3 x Red Pear (small pear-shape)
3 x Red Cherry (cherry size, duh!)
3 x Tigerella (medium size, red and yellow striped skin)
3 x Golden Sunrise (medium size, yellow)
3 x Green Zebra (medium size, green striped skin)
2 x Costoluto Fiorentino (beefsteak, only 2 because I seriously doubt they'll have time to ripen outdoors)
3 x Sub Arctic Plenty (determinate variety, small/medium fruits, does well in cold weather and can reach harvest in as little as 45 days!)

Actually, I got so excited about the Sub Arctic Plenty that I sowed some a couple of weeks back too, to flirt with the late frosts and try for an extra-extra-early harvest. There they are in the corner of the picture, getting a liiiittle leggy indoors but growing away nicely...

I've got a few days off starting tomorrow and I was planning to spend them on the plot, but the weather is disastrous at the moment. I'll play it by ear - maybe I can still get something done down there. If not, there are still sowings to make at home, and the garden to work on (bushes to plant). So far, I've been making the most of time stuck indoors with lots of planning.

Here is the plan for this year:

OK, it turned out a lot smaller on the screen than it did in my head, so let me explain and please click to enlarge the picture! The compost/storage area is over on the right (north), with the asparagus bed at the top. The rest of the plot is roughly divided into 8ft squares, like last year. (Actually, this year the squares are 8'6" by 7'6" to allow for more sensible paths.) The pond area should be obvious, with tree positions marked too, and that light green colour indicates a thickly planted bed of herbs and beneficial flowering plants, which extends down the centre of the plot, between the beds, and in a narrow border round the edges too. The yellow strips are paths which I hope to plant with yarrow (which I read somewhere would smother weeds, put some pests off, make some ladybirds happy and be hardy enough to walk on - sounds like a miracle plant to me but here's hoping!)
The five beds in the top row (west) will contain (in order) melons, potatoes, sweetcorn and pumpkins, summer brassicas, and beans and peas. The six beds in the bottom row (east) will contain tomatoes (plus peppers and aubergines if I'm lucky), salads and spinach, carrots and onions, courgettes and cucumbers, strawberries (already in situ), and winter brassicas.

For the record, here is a plan of my crop rotation too:

I've recently discovered Google Docs, which allows you to store Word and Excel documents (and others) online, so I will be making some of my growing information available on the right hand side of this page for anyone that's interested. (Terribly vain, this blogging lark!) I'll include this plan, a record of my crop rotation, a record of important (to me!) gardening dates to compare year-by-year, a catalogue of my seed collection, and sowing records. And even if no-one's interested, at least I'll know where to find them from now on!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Home Garden

Turns out it wasn't the weather that thwarted all my allotment plans this weekend, but various other matters including Eddie recovering from a week of nightshifts, church band rehearsals, plain boring old housework, and Eddie slicing his hand open (not at the plot, I might add, but performing that most dangerous of household tasks - washing up). A morning in A&E and three stitches later, he is unable to dig, paint, plant, or do much at all really. And only a few hours of weekend remained anyway. And then it hailed. *sigh*

All was not lost, however, and I did manage to spend a bit of time in the home garden. It's a bare concrete yard about 3 metres by 7, with two nasty little concrete sheds jutting out into the middle, some extraordinarily unruly shrubs, and very little sunlight, but this year I'm determined to make something of it.
I got permission from the landlady this week to remove the shrubs and put in something less voracious, so I've now chopped them to pieces and pulled up the stumps. There's a tiny strip of flowerbed along the bottom of the garden - only about 40 cm wide - and I've put in some edging and built the soil level up using some old growbags. This bed is a blank canvas except for a few tulips which were there when we moved in. One end doesn't get any sun at all, but I think I'll try some foxgloves there, and bluebells. The other end gets a few hours in the morning, and I'm going to try a climbing rose across the wall. In between will be more bulbs and... a blackcurrant bush! I know; I'll have to keep it cut well back in such a small space, but I really wanted to give it a try.
Since this is all rather experimental I didn't spend much, though I had to make a tricky decision in Wilkinsons between the £1 range and the £2 range! (Do you think a £1 fruit bush is only half as good as a £2 fruit bush??) I got my rose from there too, along with two others to go in pots (3 for a fiver!) and hopefully I'll get them planted one evening this week, hurricanes allowing...
We're going for a sweet pea arch between the two sheds, so I sowed my sweet peas along with some wild pansies and cornflowers to fill out the pots. And I'm planning a herb garden in a big container (far more useful to have herbs outside the kitchen door than fifteen minutes down the road I think), which I need to start planting soon. So much to do!

Friday, 7 March 2008

Happy Birthday Us!

This blog is one year old today! Which means our allotment is one year old today too!!

It's too cold to go out and I'm too ill, and Eddie's working nightshifts this week anyway, so I celebrated by sowing some seeds in front of the TV with a hot chocolate. What a way to spend a Friday night!

3 courgette 'Zuboda'
3 courgette 'Soleil F1'
2 melon 'Blenheim Orange'
5 surprise melons! ('Melon Sweet Medley' from Plants of Distinction)
2 watermelon 'Blacktail Mountain'
8 winter cabbage 'Quintal de Alsace'
8 autumn cabbage 'Kilaton F1'
8 calabrese 'Fiesta'
5 broccoli 'White Sprouting'
5 summer cabbage 'Vertus 2'
5 cauliflower 'All Year Round'
5 broccoli 'Iron Man'
5 brussels sprouts 'Bedford Winter Harvest'
5 brussels sprouts 'Evesham Special'

Maybe that doesn't seem like much - only five cauliflowers and five winter cabbages for example - but I've never grown brassicas before so this is a pretty big experiment! I thought I'd try just a few of lots of varieties, then when some fail there will be others to fall back on hopefully, and if they all work (fingers crossed) there should be a decent variety from summer right through to next February.

Our potatoes finally arrived yesterday, a horrifying 41 days after ordering! I won't be doing that again. Good job I don't believe too much in chitting. I've stuck the earlies on a tray by the window but I'm not sure they'll do anything before I plant them - I was hoping to get them in nice and early this year!

I have terrible trouble trying to choose potato varieties, so I let Kitchen Garden Magazine choose for me and ordered their 'continuity potato collection' from the February issue. It's ten tubers each of Arran Pilot (first early), Charlotte and Kestrel (second earlies) and Cara (maincrop).

Here they are, with my onions, garlic and shallots which arrived last week but I haven't had opportunity to plant yet. I was hoping to get it done this weekend, but I've hatched a plan for permanently marking out the beds and I want to get it done before I plant, and since the weather's looking so grim for tomorrow I'm not sure I'll get to the plot at all... We'll see...

Monday, 3 March 2008


I know I end a lot of my titles with exclamation marks, but I do find all this awfully exciting!

We found the first frogspawn in our pond yesterday! (I'd like to think it was really laid the day before - the first of March - but perhaps that's just me being romantic.) Isn't this a bit early? There's no way I can trek out there every night to cover it up in case it freezes. Ah well, nature is as nature does.

We planted our trees too, though it's all we had time for in between seeing mothers!
I thought about planting them in submerged pots or planting bags, as lilymarlene suggested, because I might want to move them in future, but they're fairly cheap trees and the cost of three planting bags didn't seem worth it.
So in the end I decided to plant them in the ground, and if I do need to move them I'll just have to take the risk. I dug out a bucketful of soil, mixed it with rotted manure - so the roots won't need to go searching for nutrition and the rootball should remain fairly small - and vermiculite to retain water, since the planting instructions really stressed the importance of moisture while the tree develops, then I refilled the hole with the mix and planted into it. I also put a plastic tube cut from a drinks bottle round each one to offer a little protection in the early days. I hope they're all right out there in the cold and wind!

I've also potted up my TEN free bareroot echinacea plants. TEN! What am I going to do with TEN?! I think some people are going to be getting plants for Easter...

Jobs for this week are to dig over the onion patch and plant the onions, shallots and garlic (ASAP!), and to get down to some serious seed sowing. Can't wait!
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