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!).
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