Thursday 7 August 2008

Staving off the blog-guilt

I know, I know - it's been ages, I'm sorry.
The plot overwhelms me in the summer, and life's so busy even without it. And just as the blog and the allotment are supposed to motivate each other, so allotment-guilt perpetuates blog-guilt, and vice versa, in a paralysing vicious circle.

But two things have happened so exciting I had to write at least a quick post to tell you.

I harvested my shallots!

18 planted, 64 harvested. Doesn't seem like a bad turnover. Now I'm going to have to find somewhere to store them. The house is too warm, my onions told me last year, but if I put them in the shed I'm worried the rodents will get them. We have a pretty bad rodent problem.

Do rodents even eat onions?

And look at THIS!

Ok, so the plants don't look too healthy. Not sure why - it's not nearly destructive enough to be blight and I'm pretty sure they're getting enough food and water. But anyway I've eaten a good handful of the very first Nomegrown tomatoes now and they're delicious. A little thick-skinned (is that just down to variety?) but delicious!

The toms on the allotment are doing pretty well too, and despite my complete inability to prune them they're carrying a pretty decent amount of fruit.

The beans are doing incredibly well, and so is the sweetcorn and most of the squashy things. Two of my obelisks are covered in spaghetti squashes, the pumpkins had made a break for plot-domination and started over the top of the cabbage-patch netting when we returned from another holiday recently, and I swear we carried home nearly my body-weight in courgettes the other day. The cucumbers aren't doing so well, unfortunately, though this small-but-perfectly-formed specimen was delicious (the difference between shop-bought cucumbers and homegrown ones is astounding).

First year I grew them it was in grow bags, and I've just never had such good results since. I think next year I will have to try growbags again!

Wednesday 9 July 2008

I Can Grow Carrots!

And they're SO delicious!

As you can see by the variety of sizes, I can't thin carrots, but one step at a time eh?

I was disappointed to find a couple had carrot-fly holes in them, and several more had little white eggs round the tops. This is from a row planted amongst nine rows of onions, leeks and shallots! This companion-planting lark seems a bit hit and miss to me. Ah well. Won't stop me trying...

Thank you for all your kind words, encouragement and advice after the last post - I knew I could count on you guys : )

You'll be pleased to know we did get the sweetcorn, pumpkins (above) and summer brassicas (below) planted out before Glastonbury (and we had a great time too!), and the brassicas have all been safely netted (although it was a bit of a rush job - don't laugh!).

This is our lettuce patch.

Oops. If I had time, I'd pull it all up and start again, but I just don't. I wonder if I can save seed from all the mustard, mizuna and cress which has bolted... In fact a lot of what you see here is bolted crops, presumably from the stress of weed-crowding (and lack of thinning, of course).

But who wants to talk about weeds? What's important is that the eating part of this whole enterprise has really got going now.

Tonight I cooked this amazing summer chicken stew, from a recipe I saw on Market Kitchen yesterday (which you can find here, if you like, and I highly recommend it) with Nome-grown potatoes, carrots, broad beans, onion, peas (the mangetout and sugar snaps have been getting huge under all those weeds) and lovage and mint! I have yet to master the art of food photography - the picture below looks rather anaemic - but WOW, it was well worth trudging to the plot in the rain after work for!

Wednesday 18 June 2008

'The Wall'

I think I've hit 'the wall'. Just like last June too. It's weeks since I've done any decent amount of work at the plot, weeds are swamping everything, there are still two beds to dig over before I can plant out my summer cabbages, pumpkins and corn, and I just can't face it.

But this blog and the allotment have always motivated each other - that's why I started it in the first place - so here's a quick update on not very much to try to get me going again.

GOOD NEWS: The strawberries are fruiting away; no great amount but a decent handful every few days.
BAD NEWS: Actually considering they're mostly under two feet of grass they're doing pretty well, but the slugs and millipedes are eating quite a lot too.
GOOD NEWS: The asparagus is looking SO healthy compared to last year, with no beetle trouble at all, and my pride-and-joy seed-grown red petunias are flowering beautifully underneath it.
BAD NEWS: Still haven't planted out the replacement pea plants I started at home, and they're getting all tangled up.
GOOD NEWS: The beans are doing really well, with hardly any slug trouble. I've started a tubful at home too, and they're great.
BAD NEWS: The lettuce patch is so completely overgrown I don't think I'll get anything else out of it this year, unless maybe the beetroots are still ok under all that grass, or unless I clear it and start new sowings.
GOOD NEWS: My water lily is spreading its leaves on the surface at last and the pond and herb patch are looking lovely.
BAD NEWS: I've been persuaded that a lot of the slug-damage on my brassicas is actually pigeon damage. I thought pigeons only went for the flowering parts, but apparently I'm wrong and they need netting from the outset, so I'm kicking myself for leaving them unprotected.
GOOD NEWS: The broad beans are looking good. I don't really know when I'm supposed to pick them, but I think they're about ready...
BAD NEWS: Loads of the red onions are flowering already. Does that mean I won't be able to eat them? How can I stop them flowering??
GOOD NEWS: Some of the white onions are ready to eat already, so we've started harvesting them as needed, just as last year's supply ran out. This means we haven't bought onions in a year!
And REALLY GOOD NEWS: The tomatoes I thought were disease-stricken are all growing away healthily and happily now! Woo!


Now I've got Thursday, Saturday and Sunday off and maybe some free time tomorrow afternoon, and the weather's looking pretty good, so there's really no excuse for not going down there and kicking some serious couchgrass butt before next week. Those pumpkins and sweetcorn WILL be planted before I go to Glastonbury...
Right, Eddie?

Friday 30 May 2008

Planting out

What a lot of rain we had last weekend! I know bank holidays have a bit of a reputation, but that was just silly!

I was really worried for my newly-planted tomatoes, but on returning to the plot mid-week it looked like they enjoyed all the rain - they're looking much healthier already.

The rain did a nice job of settling in the petunias round the asparagus bed too. I planted them out a week ago but they didn't like the experience much - when I left them they were all limp and flopped over, and I thought they'd all die. They're growing strong now, apart from a little slug damage.
They're there essentially because I read somewhere that they repel asparagus beetles. I planted some there mid-season last year and saw a small decrease in my terrible infestation. This year I haven't seen a single beetle yet, so I'm wondering if just having had them in the soil previously has made a difference. The only other thing I did that could possibly have helped was to thoroughly weed and till the ground midwinter, to wake up any overwintering bugs early, but that wouldn't have stopped new ones arriving.
These petunias are a bright red variety (I hate those mixed-colour trays you get full of pinks and purples!) and grown from seed. Twenty four plants! I'm very proud of myself because my attempts last year failed completely!
I planted a row of parsley between the asparagus rows too, for the same reason. It'll all look rather pretty I think, when everything gets going!

The pond really enjoyed its rainwater top-up too. The level was getting worryingly low - I was starting to wonder how I could top it up myself without upsetting the balance of things, but there's no need now - it was actually overflowing after the rain!

Sadly the rain wasn't all good - it brought the slugs out in their droves and it has become painfully clear the tinfoil brassica collars make no difference to them whatsoever. Another bad year ahead for brassicas, I suspect...

I shall have to try nematodes again. I had a go last year but found the stuff really difficult to use and didn't notice much effect, but my Mum swears by them so perhaps I'll give them another go.

The wind snapped the stem of one of my courgette plants too. I heaped some earth up round the damage to give it a chance to put some more roots out and it seems to be doing all right so far. Time will tell...
And the wind and rain made a right mess of the broad beans - they'd flopped over all over the place. So I ran a couple of strings round them to hold the plants up together in a bunch. They're starting to grow little beanlets now - better late than never. Blackfly are making a meal of the tips, and dozens of ladybirds are making a meal of the blackfly!

I've been quite surprised at the beauty of the broad bean flowers, and the curious way the beans grow upright out of them! I don't think I've seen a broad bean plant before - I don't know what I was expecting.

I've been busy planting some other things out too; first the leeks in two rows alongside the parsnips, carrots and onions. I had trouble raising the seedlings last year (damn cats) so this year I bought a pack of 60 plants from Mr Fothergills; 20 'Lancia', for eating young in summer and autumn, 20 'Pandora' which mature in late summer and autumn, and 20 'Bandit' which should stand through winter and well into spring. I didn't have room for all of them (and I really don't think Eddie and I eat 60 leeks in a year!) so I just squished in as many as I could, alternating the 'Lancia' with the 'Pandora' in one row and with the 'Bandit' in the other. When I've pulled all the early 'Lancia', the later varieties will have more space to mature. Magic!

Next the cucumbers and butternut squash, which are to be trained up obelisks (fingers crossed). I've lost a couple of cucumber seedlings lately to damping-off and started some more which I'll plant out as soon as they're big enough. Looking on the bright side I guess it will spread my harvest a bit later. There are some spaghetti squash to go in the empty part of this bed too as soon as I have time to build the last two obelisks!

And finally, at long last, the beans. I started these at home ages ago and they've been getting so big they were trying to climb each other! Now all I have to do is pray the slugs don't kill them all off...

There are at least six plants each of six varieties. Not enough in my opinion; I LOVE french beans. I might start some in a pot at home too I think, since it doesn't look like I'll get round to doing everything I want to do on the plot this year, again. I'm starting to fear the 'spare' bed, which I was going to use for some extra squashes and beans, won't even get dug. And it's getting rather late in the season for my flower and herb borders.
It'll be different next year...

I wonder if I'll say that every year...

Sunday 25 May 2008


Thanks for all your comments about the tomatoes! They were sown mid-March in brand new shop-bought multi-purpose compost, kept indoors on a sunny windowsill until daytime temperatures were decent, then put in the plastic greenhouse (open during the day) and brought in at night for a while, and then kept in the greenhouse permanently for the last month or so.
I have discarded the worst of the plants (I started far too many anyway!), pinched the spotted leaves off the rest, and planted them out (gulp). Some of them look perfectly healthy still, the others just had one or two spots. Hopefully the improved growing conditions wil sort them out. I'm going to try a homemade bicarbonate-of-soda-fungicide when I have time, too, and keep a close eye on them. And I've started a few more seeds in the garden, just in case!

I've planted them in three rows of six, with a row of garlic and a row of basil and parsley each side. And I've sunk a plastic bottle into the soil between each pair of plants for deep watering when they get bigger. I wasn't really sure what to do about support, but the 'Florida Weave' method sounds sensible so I've put up a cane either side of each pair to facilitate this. I put some canes at the top to stabilise things, both along and across the rows, and now the whole thing feels like a big cage! I realise I should probably be using something a bit sturdier than canes but for now it's all I've got, so I'll have to keep an eye on things and maybe bring some guy-ropes into play at a later stage...

Assuming the plants actually grow that is!

Yesterday I made a start on some 'comfrey tea' as well, which will be great for feeding the tomatoes in a few weeks. The comfrey plants are next to our bench, and so big right now they were starting to encroach on our sitting-space, so after cutting the plants down (not completely - the flowers are so pretty!) I had a big pile for the compost heap too!

For those that don't know, comfrey leaves are incredibly rich in nutrients because the roots go so deep and draw up nutrients deep in the soil that few other plants can reach (nettles are similar in this way, and make great fertiliser too). They're great for the compost heap, or can be made into a high-potash liquid feed, or 'comfrey tea', by soaking the leaves in a bucket of water for a few weeks. (Beware though; I'm told it stinks to high heaven...) I actually bought my plants for this purpose a year ago when I first got my plot, only to find out later there's a whole plot at the far end of my allotment site given over to the stuff !

Thursday 22 May 2008

Tomato Trouble

I've been further assessing the health of the tomatoes this morning and it doesn't look good.

Early blight? Septoria leaf spot? I've looked at pictures and descriptions of both and it doesn't quite fit the bill for either, plus they usually strike when the plant is setting fruit, and these are way off! You can't really see it in the picture, but some of the leaf tips are tinged very blue as well. If I'm lucky it's just a deficiency of some kind and they'll recover when I plant them out in the big wide soil, but I won't get my hopes up. Around half the plants are affected, with a few not-sures, so I've separated them out so that it doesn't spread any further.

So now I'm wondering if I should make a late sowing to replace these plants if they don't make it. By my calculations we've got 131 days until the end of September, so I reckon there's time. And if I've infected the soil by then I could plant them in growbags instead.

I've got another gripe with my tomato seedlings too; they're still tiny! I suspected it was because I hadn't potted them up to bigger containers and they needed more rootspace, but when I received my tumbling tomato plants in the post from Suttons they were big healthy plants but with rootballs a fraction of the size of mine!

So where did I go wrong?!

Wednesday 21 May 2008


Well I hope so anyway... I recently read a letter in a gardening magazine from a woman who swore that putting tin-foil round her plants kept the slugs off them. So I have made brassica collars out of foil for my newly-transplanted winter cabbages, brussels and broccolis, as well as the swedes I sowed direct here back in April. We'll see what happens...

In this bed I have also sowed kale seeds, and left some room for spring cabbage which will be sown later on in the summer.

There's so much to transplant now, I don't know when I'm going to get it all done. I held off planting out the tomatoes last weekend when I heard we were due a few cold nights, but I think I'll take the plunge on Friday when I have a day off. I'm really fearing for their health now; some have developed tiny black spots on the leaves, which is surely a sign that I'm doomed to fail yet again. Perhaps next year I'll skip the toilet rolls and go for good old-fashioned flower pots, where there's less risk of fungus developing.
Then there's the cucumbers and squashes. We're going to grow the cukes, butternut and spaghetti squashes up obelisks, so we've been busy building them and seiving bucketloads of compost to mulch the bed.
And I got home this evening to find my 60 young leeks and 16 free sweetcorn plants had arrived from Mr Fothergills! I've bunged them all in a trough in the garden temporarily, but I'll have to plant them out on Friday too.

And then there's the beans! I've had mixed germination success - I think I let one half of the tray dry out at a critical moment during the hot weather - so some will have to be resown, and I don't have any more space at home but I know the slugs will get them if I sow them direct, and anyway the bean patch is covered in self-seeded borage and last year's leftover potatoes sprouting, which I'll have to sort out before I do anything else there! Aaargh!

I thought it was high time I took the final step with mushrooms (a month after leaving the grains to spawn), and when I checked under the damp newspaper I found the manure was covered in these mould-like strands, as it should be.

It's covered now with a good layer of sterile soil, well firmed down, and with a few criss-crossing sticks over the top to try to keep the cats off! Can't wait to start picking my very own mushrooms...

And on a windy day over the weekend I noticed how much the asparagus is beginning to suffer (we're only picking a little this year - its second year - so some has grown into quite tall ferns already, and the wind damaged it quite badly last year) so I set up canes at the ends of each row with string running between the two to try to give it some support.

As you can see we're still fighting the weeds in the asparagus patch, but it's doing pretty well otherwise, with still no sign of any asparagus beetles yet (sssshh)!

Sunday 18 May 2008

Pests, pests and more pests...

I noticed the other day that where I had pushed a second squash seed into the modules that hadn't germinated first time, the mice had dug them all up! Grrrr!

I've restarted these in pots indoors instead, but last night the mice had a go at my newly-sown peas (the third attempt!) as well! GRRR!

The roots you can see are garlic roots - this is the soil I started my garlic in, and now it smells really strongly of the stuff. I sowed the peas in it to try to put the slugs off, but obviously the mice aren't so bothered...
I've put new peas in the holes and covered them with propogator lids to try to keep the rascals out, but if this carries on I will have to take measures - we had them in our house last summer and they were a nightmare to get rid of. I never thought they'd become a pest in the garden too!

On the plot, I've been doing a lot of hand weeding among the salads and the onions and carrots. The shallots are amazing me, dividing before my very eyes:

The salad patch is not looking so happy; it's rife with flea beetle which I've been putting off dealing with and still needs a lot of thinning. I always sow salad seed too thickly. I never learn...

I noticed some rather large holes in the apple tree leaves, and on investigation found several caterpillars.

They were hiding in pockets made by leaves folded in half and held with web, and have done quite a bit of damage. Luckily, the trees are so small it's easy to check every leaf and squish the blighters, and I'll be keeping a close eye out for more from now on.

The pond continues to distract us constantly from all the hard work. Frogs pop their noses up to enjoy the sun...

And there are damselflies hatching all over the place, as well as dragonfly and great diving beetle larvae still roaming the pond. I think I saw a slinky newt-tail disappearing into the weeds the other day too.

And the water crowfoot is opening pretty little flowers all over the surface.

Friday 16 May 2008

So little time...

There's so much to do on the plot and in the garden at the moment I just can't keep up. Today I finished getting the tomato bed ready, put in some supports and planted out the garlic from the trough in the garden. I don't know how it will cope with this treatment, but I've got another row in with the strawberries and another with the salads, so all is not lost if it doesn't bulb up. Hopefully I'll get the tomatoes planted out on Sunday - they're really beginning to suffer from their lack of rootspace, I think.

My 'Hundreds and Thousands' tomato plants from Suttons arrived yesterday, and I potted them up right away and put them in the greenhouse. These will stay in the garden at home, trailing from my shed roofs! I may have to give a couple away too; I'm not sure there's room for six. At least they seem to have travelled better than my Million Bells that came in the same kind of plastic packaging; two of them died straight away, but the toms seem healthy and strong:

I was pleased this week to see the comfrey finally flowering. I shall have to start putting it to good use by making some liquid feed. And so a question: how do you cut it? Just pick the leaves? Or cut the whole plant at the base and let it start again? Just cut the top off maybe?

I've finally planted the two leftover maincrop potatoes I've had hanging around at home for ages, in the garden in this bin they were chucking out at work (I've drilled holes for drainage of course!).

And I weeded the peas, which are still making a surprisingly valiant effort despite the slug damage. Snails in the home garden got my second sowing too (grrrr) so I'm now preparing to make a third, and I won't be beaten this time dammit!

Lastly, today I began the task of thinning the salad plants, which meant bringing a huge bag of thinnings home... So tonight for dinner we had a huge bowl of salad (mostly little gem, iceberg 'Balmoral', red cos 'Marshall' and a few mustard leaves that the flea beetles hadn't found yet) with a pile of buttery new potatoes (sadly not Nomegrown, but it won't be long now...) and some chicken marinated in tomato puree, garlic, oil and lemon juice and then chargrilled. Lovely!

Monday 12 May 2008

Planting out!

We've had a week and a half now of glorious sunshine and stupidly high temperatures (I'm not complaining - yet!) and watering the young plants in the garden seems to be a neverending task.

I have managed to plant some out this week at least; the herb garden is now home to rosemary, thyme, mint, lemon balm, lovage, sorrel, chamomile, feverfew, yarrow, echinacea, marjoram, and some creeping thyme and wild pansies. (I've put low-growers like chamomile and creeping thyme between the paving stones, so we can still walk across it even when everything's grown.)
Still to come are sage, oregano, chives and tarragon, plus tansy, hyssop, and some calendula, poppies and poached egg plants to fill in the gaps (and hopefully one day some saffron crocuses, bluebells, and a few other bits and pieces...) Dry weather like this is obviously not a good time to do so much planting out of young plants, but with a lot of careful watering they seem to be settling in ok. I can't wait until everything has grown and filled up all that bare soil!

I've mulched part of the courgette/cucmber bed with compost from the heap and planted out the first lot of courgette plants too, with a little moat round each one to retain water.

A couple of weeks ago I was worrying over the big decision about when it's safe to plant tender crops out. The last frost date for this area is supposed to be around the 5th May, although all the magazines seem to suggest you wait 'til late May to be sure, but this mini-heatwave we're experiencing has convinced me!

The tomato bed is very nearly ready to plant, so hopefully I'll get that done this week, and some more flowers planted among the herbs. And everything needs weeding, so I'd better start on that too.

Thursday 8 May 2008


We ate our first Nome-grown asparagus on the 2nd of this month and another delicious helping yesterday - it's absolutely delightful and well worth the wait! I know it's not very purist of me but my favourite asparagus dish is this tagliatelle with a creamy mustardy sauce - the flavour of mustard complements the asparagus so well.

Saute chopped spring onions in butter, sprinkle over a little white wine (or lemon juice yesterday since we had no wine!) and stir in some double cream. Let it thicken a little, then add a spoonful of wholegrain mustard, season to taste, and stir in the steamed asparagus spears and some chopped chives. Serve with tagliatelle and, if you fancy, some grilled chicken. Mmmmmmmm.

On the plot, I can't believe we're a week into May and there's still so much to do. There are still two beds to dig, but I think the compost bin is pretty much full to capacity...

We're going to have to work harder to empty this one!

This week I must get the herb garden planted and the tomato and courgette beds fully prepared.

And if you read about my peas getting mown down by slugs last week, you'll be glad to know I've got two seed trays full of replacements popping up happily at home : )

Tuesday 6 May 2008

A Beautiful Bank Holiday

What a beautiful bank holiday!
We had a great day on the plot in the sun and got loads done. The herb garden is now clear and ready to plant. Already growing you can see three tiny minarette fruit trees (two apples, one pear), a horseradish plant and two lavender plants.

And we've planted the first of our yarrow paths. It's hard to believe these tiny spidery plants will spread enough to fill the path, but I'll watch and wait...

While digging round the horseradish I cut a few pieces of root to plant among the potatoes - it's supposed to repel eelworms and improve their health generally. I've noticed a gap where one potato hasn't come up yet (bottom middle of the picture, although you probably can't see the gap for the weeds) - I hope it's doing all right down there!

Tiny weeds like this are coming up everywhere now. I seem to spend ages picking them out of the salad rows but it's an endless task.
The salad bed is starting to look pretty good though:

Although the mustard is being attacked flea-beetles, and they're starting on the mizuna and rocket too.

I've never had to deal with flea-beetles before - what do you do? I hear they're making derris unavailable as of this year so I won't have to make that is-it-harmless-enough? decision. My first reaction when I go out later will be to put my mint pots next to the rows - apparently flea-beetles don't like the smell. I might plant a couple of the sage seedlings I grew for the brassica beds there too.

The broad beans are suffering from something as well:

Is this vine weevil? I think so. There are a few blackfly too. The broad beans have had so many problems now I almost feel like giving up on them!

It's not all bad news though. Look at the carrots!

It may not like like much, but they've never got this far for me before. I'm so proud!

And the swedes are coming up too:

And to top the day off, we watched this damselfly emerging from its larval skin. Magic!

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