Saturday, November 10, 2007


Its one of those things you never seem to have enough of. I've been trying to locate some for months to update the blog and now I have some the seasons all but over, just those winter sprouts, overwintering leeks and onions, the spring greens - which have gone in more in hope than anything else but I may get to that later.
There have been at least two updates that got planned in my head but never managed to make it into print. The first had some corny title based upon saving my onion crop from white rot during the wet spell and the second, well I'm not actually sure what that was going to be about now - probably something to do with Christmas potatoes, but they got taken out by blight at the end of September. I must remember to spray them next year and I might actually get decent crop out of them. Still you live and learn.
Any way lets try and pick up where I left things in July with a couple of photos. The first one shows the potato bed in the fore ground with the mixed sweetcorn and leek bed behind. The potatoes yielded really well, a 6ft section yielding a large trugs worth of Maris Piper and Pink Fir apple, although my wife still hasn't worked out how to cook the latter. Whilst weight wise its a good yield, the pest quotient was high and I've only managed to get about 20% that will store. Still this is better than off my father-in-laws plot. There was something drastically wrong with the manure he had this year and it has played havoc with ever crop, except for some reason the brassica's. The 28ft row of pink fir apple I planted on his plot yielded enough to fill a standard seed try, in weight about half of what I planted in the first place. The Maris on the other hand did crop, only we're getting about 30% that are usable or edible.
The sweetcorn turned into a real success, although our annual summer working holiday and the additional shows that seem to appear in the weekends following means that a lot of the crop spoilt - although this gives me an abundance of seed for next year.
The early leeks have also been good, although with the onset of recent wet weather some have shown signs of white rot infection which nearly did for the earlier onion crop. I've planted over-wintering onions, in pockets of clean top-soil made with a bulb planter in the hope of getting an early crop next year. However, before I plant next year's main crop I'm going to treat the bed(s) with Armatillox in an effort to eradicate it.
I do have an alternative now though, having been granted a half plot on the same allotments where my parents-in-law's plot is located. Its in need of a tidy up but it gives me space for more potatoes, carrots, and onions next year, although the year after this space will be curtailed by an asparagus bed. I shall be sowing seed for Connovers Colossal and Mary Washington in late February with a view to having 40 crowns ready to plant in 2009.

On my own plot I've actually made a start on next years potato bed, this is the meadow strip in the foreground of the second photo. Rising behind my daughter are the Jerusalem artichoke canes, which if the weather is ok tomorrow I shall get a chance to check on after a busy 3 weekends away. I may even get a chance to do some more digging, but that depends on how wet the ground actually is. I've started at what in the spring was the wet end, with a view to being able to progress at the drier end once the clay becomes too claggy to separate easily from the couch and bind weed roots. My dowsing with glyphosphate seemed to have a greater effect on the root pile than on the bulk of the plot, although it did retard its growth for several weeks, following the haircut I'd given it.

I've also now distributed the bag of leaf mold that was lurking in the foreground of the picture, to provide organic sustenance to the half of the bed that had the potaotes in but doesn't have the onions and leeks in. If I do manage to get there tomorrow I shall also find out whether my measures against white rot have been successful so far.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

No Time

The title pretty much sums things up at the moment. I've wanted to do an update for a while but just haven't had the time. I've also wanted to take some photos of progress, especially the milk cartons, but again haven't had the time.
I have managed to get a few things done in between fixing cars, attending shows, doing DIY, and wrangling the kids.
I've managed to harvest 3 bins of potatoes and resow, two bins of carrots, again resown, and sort out the crops in the greenhouse - even had the first couple of cucumbers. I've managed to get 40 odd cabbages planted, harvested with my parents-in-law's help a dozen greyhound, and replant them. I've managed to redig and clear last years cabbage/brussel bed and sow with this years crop. They were supposed to go into my own plot but I just haven't had time to get to and dig the bed. Where I'm going to put the winter cabbages and Spring greens I don't know yet.
I also took the decision that I was going to hit the meadow that the undug half of the allotment had become with glyphosphate, managed to cut it down, leave for a week to recover and then spray. I'll hopefully get a chance in a couple of weeks to check on how successful its been and respray if necessary - its likely to be September before I can get back to digging again.
In the bed where my early potatoes were I've now planted this years celery crop, which had actully come on nicely in pots in the cold frame, and some of the second batch of leeks - that only leaves me about 40 to find space for.
And to cap it all I've managed to post an update, even if only a short and wordy one.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Into the Nettle Patch

Its been a busy fortnight, although not much of it has been spent gardening. We're now coming up to show season so I'm having to cram in work on the allotment, potting on, pricking out, and sowing, in between these, car maintenance, child sitting, and decorating.
Friday I managed to sneak down to the plot for an hour and earth up the potatoes. The Maris Piper could have done with being earthed up last week whilst the Pink fir apple were 4-5 days away depending upon the weather. Still they're done now so I shall pretty much forget about them until harvest time in 8 weeks or so.
Today I managed another couple of hours of digging. The soil is just right now, not soggy and clingy as in March or dry and solid as per two weeks ago. I can now dig up a thick clod of couch grass and shake the soil off - leaving me a nice knitted mat of roots. As you may guess from the title I've now made it sufficiently far down the second bed so as to hit the nettle patch - thats gives me three out of the five nasties. Thankfully there's no sign of either Mares Tails or Ground Elder. Of course nettles do have their uses, as plant feed, as an insecticide, and as a haven for beneficial insects - its just in their current position, sla bang in the middle of the plot, they're in the way. Provided the weather holds I shall get the second raised bed built next Friday. I have the day off and refuse to do decorating on my birthday.
On other fronts things are moving along. My father-in-law has done a stirling job this year and dug 70% of his plot on his own, including moving and erecting the cabbage cage - sort of a fruit cage but protects cabbages from pidgeons and some butterflies/Moths - single handed. This meant is was a quick trip down there on Saturday morning to plant the 17 Greyhound which were about to out-grow their 1.5L 6" pots. This in turn freed the pots for replanting with Ormskirk(Savoy) and Advantage(spring/summer cabbage) which were about to outgrow their vending cups, and in turn freed the vending cups for refilling with Celtic(Winter Cabbage). Thankfully I'd been saving cups again for the last couple of weeks, as had a couple of other people, which meant we just about had enough to prick out the 1 kilo(Chinese Cabbage), turnips, and swedes. I now need to find some more to prick out the next batch of Greyhound.
After a poor start and after sowing the whole of the remainder of the packet - that's about 14 seeds in total I now have enough Defender(Courgette) to plant out. The problem is that they're a good 6 weeks behind the Orelia(Yellow Courgette) which is typical since its the Defender I prefer. I still haven't managed to get my squashes to germinate. I'm considering resowing, but its really annoying especially as the Black Forest are £2.25 for 6 seeds.
Things have moved on in the greenhouse, although the space I managed to clear so I could plant the Early Sweet melons was userped by my wife for the pricked out turnips. I have managed to clear enough space to get the sweet heart in, which are now doing fine, the cucumbers - I had to resow with Tasty King as I couldn't get Bella at short notice, and two of the peppers. I'm now waiting for the early carrots so I can get the rest of the tomatoes in, which are now rapidly outgrowing their pots.
My other tubs of carrots have now all gone outside, actually they went out about 3 weeks ago, and are going from strength to strength. I'm hoping to be able to harvest some of these in a week or so. The first batch of potatoes have also come into flower which means they're nearly ready as well.
These are the two crops I seem to have got right this year, and have actully managed to have a successful successional sowing. If all goes to plan I'll have fresh carrots from now until christmas. The milk carton sown ones are now all coming up, along with a percentage of the parsnips - they've germinate in 3 of the cartons but not in the fourth. The carrot barrow looks like its also going to be successful again this year.
I'm hoping that by the time the tubs are harvested I'll be able to resow with the new Nantes type Autumn sown carrot that Thompson and Morgan are selling this year. If they live upto expectations I'll have fresh carrots on Christmas day as well.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Rain, Rain, Where art thou Rain?

I was expecting rain last week and it didn't happen. I was expecting a prolonged spell of light rain overnight and it didn't happen. It stayed dry all morning until we went out to a car boot, at which point it started drizzling, before giving us an hour of heavy rain - enough to refill my water butts to 3/4 full and give all the weeds a new lease of life next week but not really enough to give the veg a much needed soaking. Unless we get some more in the week I shall have to go back to watering by the weekend.
On the bright side the prolonged dry spell has meant I've been able to push on with digging the second bed on the allotment. Pippa, having finished her raised beds found she had timber spare and being the generous soul she is donated them to a good cause - me. The four planks will enable me to get just over a third of the remaining two beds done, provided I can get them dug.
The current plan is to get to half way on the second bed, construct it then use it to plant up my sweetcorn and leeks. Having done this, I'll clear the couch and bind weed pile I created at the top of the plot, and dig the top half of the third bed for my winter and spring cabbages.
Things are also moving on, on the home plot. With the sweetcorn and climbing beans coming on I've been forced to plant them out into what will be the 3-sisters bed - all I need now is the squashes to germinate - they're being remarkably stubborn at present.
I've also been trying to clear space in the greenhouse so I can get the tomatoes, melons, and cucumbers into their grow bags. So far I've got as far as putting the the wire supports for the melons, and a set of supporting canes to go with these for two of them. With this station ready I put two Early Sweetheart - now all I have to do is work out what to do next.
I've also managed to find space and get 3 of the Alicante in. Sowing the other three is currently blocked by the first carrot crop which is 2-3 weeks away from being ready. The fact that I've got trays of marigolds and cabbage in various states of growth isn't helping at the moment either.
I can't see the space situation improving for a while. I've had to resow my brussels, second batch of greyhound, and lettuce after a complete failure in germination - probably due to using up last years seed. Having brought a new packet of White Gem I now have parsnip seedlings both in gutting and outside.
The runner beans, planted last week, are doing ok. One succumbed to sun scorch and one appears to have been moused - having had its lower hard outer coating stripped which means it keep s falling off the pole. I've now planted out the second batch, mainly because they were about to outgrow the rootrainers, and were staring to wilt after a long day in the sun. In some instances these were bigger than the first batch despite being sown 3 weeks later.
The next task will be to sow the next succession of carrots, most likely Autumn King, when the next root day occurs on the calendar, which according to The Gardeners Calendar is Wednesday.
All I need then is the right amount of rain and sun and I'll have prize winning carrots, maybe.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Not a Bad Weekend

After three weeks I've finally managed to spend a weekend gardening, attempting to catchup on some of those necessary jobs for the growing season which is just about upon us.
First on the list was to prick out the remainder of the sweetcorn. I'd saved the seed last year and thrown a handful into 3 margarine tubs. I'd not expected much to germinate but about 95% did leaving me with 75 seedlings to pot on. I only need about 30 for my 3 sisters bed.
Next were the 90 leeks, that I'd ordered from Dobies. I don't actually recall ordering 90 but that's what they sent me. All of these went into recycled vending machine cups. They actually make good second stage flower pots. They're about 1.5" at the base and 2" at the top and about 3" deep. The sides are also ribbed like roottrainers forcing the development of a good root ball. The leeks will go out on the allotment in about 4 weeks - assuming I've managed to get the bed dug by then.
Then it was onto the tree seedlings - I lost count of the number of beech saplings then didn't bother to count the oak saplings but I used the best part of two builders barrows of soil/compost mix to pot them into 2L pots.
With it being too hot in the greenhouse I moved outside to sort the bean frame out, first burying the 4" soil pipe I'd extracted from the allotment down its center. This means I can now stick a hose in one end of the pipe and leave it to water itself without any evaporation problems, as the water disappears directly into the compost layer 3" down. By the time I'd finished the frame it was still to hot to plant the beans so I went back into the greenhouse to pot on the 15 greyhound into 1.5L pots. They should have good enough root balls to go out on my parents-in-laws allotment in about 3 weeks, when I can try the anti-club root mix the blind guy used on Carol Kleins Grow Your own Veg. Having placed these outside and covered with a net to keep the pigeons off I headed inside to start dinner before returning outside to start planting those beans. I've had mixed fortune in the past with germinating runners but this was seed I'd saved last year and had 31 out of 32 germinate - problem is the frame only has 30 poles. Like last year I'm going to double plant and the second batch, planted 3 weeks later have almost caught up - trouble is I'm not sure which are the french climbers and which are the runners as both trays were planted at the same time and I forgot to label them.
I'd intended to go to the allotment Sunday but with temperatures rising I decide to leave it till later and try and catch up on a few more jobs - which always take longer than expected. First up was to remove the flower pots from the water butt of Jeyes fluid that they've been soaking in for the last 6 weeks - just one of those things I haven't got around to. These were the last of the pots I'd acquired either from Freecycle or from Colin at work. They were also supposed to be the last that needed sterilising but typing this reminds me I have a load of seed trays that need doing.
I then decided to start fixing the milk bottle frames. Where I'd attached them to the brackets last year I'd only used a single screw, and the battens being softwood had twisted as a result. I'd therefore decide that bolting them with two bolts at each end would be better. It was at this point I discovered that the bolts I had were two short and a trip to B&Q was necessary to acquire ones of suitable length.
I'd promised to take some closeup pictures so you can see how its all put together. The first is some of last years bottles on their batten. Now I cut the base on these so they're hinged on the non-handle side, although John says to cut them with the hinge on the handle side. To be honest the bottom flaps are more trouble than they're worth so I'm dispensing with them this year - I'll let you know if this makes any difference.
When you're preparing the battens to support the bottles they need to be a tight fit through the handle - even so with 4 litre bottles you may still have to secure the bottle to the batten through the handle. I haven't done so yet but if I do I'll add a photo later. For short spans - up to about 4 feet softwood battens are ok, but longer than that they bend and twist severely under the weight of the bottles so you need to use hardwood - a lesson I've learnt from last year. The row of 4 litre bottles - I thing there are about 20 in total is 78 inches post to post. The batten is about 65mm wide and 23mm thick, with the corners chamfered off. As you can see from the photo all I have to do now is fill them with compost. I'm adding a 5" pot of 30/70 mix perlite/vermiculite to a 2 gallon bucket of fresh compost/used compost mixed 50/50 this year. I'm adding 1 scoop of fish, blood, and bone to this, and 10 5ml spoons of slow release fertiliser. This should improve on last years results - which weren't that bad; but I'm still very much on a learning curve with this growing method.

Having erected the row of 4litre bottles, which will get sown with carrots, and parsnips - this years trial veg, I headed off to the allotment - the time now approaching 17:30 and the temperature starting to wane. Some people think I'm a little insane but no so insane as to try digging a weed infested in the heat of the afternoon sun - especially as it felt more like June than the end of April.
I managed to get another couple of feet done, before giving the potatoes their second soaking in as many days. Normally I wouldn't water potatoes but they're in a raised bed and we haven't any any significant rain in 6 weeks so they need it. It's interesting to note the difference in growth rates of the different varieties. Most of my potatoes went in with in 3 days of one another, the chitted Maris Bard (first earlies) first then the main crop Maris Peer and Pink Fir Apple. Now the Maris Bard, on the plot at home - trench planted, are only just starting to show through, as are the Pink Fir Apple, but the Maris Peer are a good 4" through in most cases - there are a couple that are lagging- and I shall have to earth these up next weekend. The Charlottes and the remainder of the Fir Apple didn't go in till last weekend, the result of having to do DIY and then change the steering box on the wife's Landrover.
Hopefully next weekend I shall get some more digging done - otherwise I'm going to be looking for space for 90 leeks.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Full Steam Ahead

Ok I'll start by apologizing for not making Friday's post, but then that was down to the weather. I did manage a couple of hours digging on my parents-in-law's allotment before the rain moved in pretty much on schedule with the weather forecast for once.

Saturday, whilst not brilliant was at least dry and I managed another hour before having to dash home so my son could make it to a birthday outing for one of his friends. At this stage I'm about half way down half of this years potato bed.

After this Saturday turned into a bit of a marathon. I'd aquired three plasterers baths from freecycle and had decided that they'd make suitable instant beds for my allotment. Having drilled drainage holes in one I needed to sort out some soil for the center section so I can sow carrots in about three weeks - they'd grow better in my light soil than the clay loan of the allotment, although that would be better for the onions and for water retention. The soil was going to come from last years bean trench, but that meant sorting it out for this year, which would solve another problem, all my compost bins were full.

Using one of the baths as storage I emptied half the bed, then set about emptying the first of the compost bins. Anyway I managed to refil about 2/3 of the bed before the bin was exhausted of usable compost - not bad since the bed is 2 feet wide, 12 feet long and I'd taken out the soil to 10" deep, refilling with 5" of compost then 2" of manure, 2" of compost, then 3" of soil. Having exhausted the first bin I moved to the second, only to discover that the weeds I chucked in there last year hadn't composted completely. Having turned it all and mixed in 60 litres of fresh manure, to help the process I returned to finishing the bean trench. With no usable compost I had to improvise. Mixing manure with semi-composted saw dust I shoved this into the bottom of the trench, then covered it with the contents of one of last years growbags, before replacing the top soil.

Trench done and with excess soil moved to the veg bed, I started on the first earlies. By the time I'd finished the light was beginning to fade and the temperature was reminding me that we were still in March.

Sunday dawned a much brighter day, which meant my wife was off the the car boot. Having dropped the kids off with their grandmother, I returned home to collect the plumbers bath, soil, onions, potatoes, and necessary tools before heading down the allotment.

Whilst I could have just dropped the bath, fillled it with soil, and then planted, this would have left the underlying problem - all that couch and bindweed root. Of course having decided on the digging course of action, things didn't go as quickly as I'd hoped but after an hour or so the ground was cleared and I could fill the bath and plant the outer ring of onions.

Filling the bath also solved my other problem the excess soil from the first raised bed, enabling me to plant the whole 32 feet length with one row of each of my two main crop, Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple.

By the time I made it home it was 2:30pm and the "couple of hours" the kids were to have been at Granny's had turned into nearly four, well past my grace period.
Having retrieved the monsters and managed some lunch I set about tidying up from the weekends activities. This lead me to taking the photo of the pots I'd promised for Friday's post.

I've left out the dustbin and standard potato bin, the sort that you can get from most major suppliers such as Dobies. The rest are a representative selection of my choice for pots. You'll notice a couple of interesting items.

Firstly there is the green growpot, behind the 2 litre milk carton, and its recycled alternative, the Nescafe coffee tin. With a grow pot you plant your tomatoe/ cucumber/ melon/ courgette in the middle and water via the outer ring. The Nescafe tins works similarly. You cut out the bottom, plant in the middle and then apply the bulk of the water to the growbag. This forces the plant to put down long water roots into the growbag, whilst keeping the shorter feeding roots in the tin. If you're using growbags I highly reccomend this method.

As I've mentioned the milk cartons I deal with those next. I'll try and post a few more pictures this year, but if you want a sneak preview you'll have to look at last years blogs to see how they're used. The 4 litre ones are great for carrots and the 2 litre ones for lettuce.

The rest of the pots are nothing special other than they are all 10" or more deep. Photos taken and with the palletes "out" I decide to rebuild my leaf mold compost heap, a job I'd been meaning to do for a few weeks. Keeping it in a lidded bin was allowing the top to dry too much so I needed to replace it with an "open" bin. By the time I'd finished it was getting late again so you'll have to wait till next time for a photo.

To finish off this week I've a couple of other photo's. The first is of this years garlic. I'm really pleased with it after last years no show.

The second is a plant we have in our front garden that I've never been able to identify, not that I've tried particularly hard. If you know what it is I'd appreciate knowing. Since I'm away for Easter I'll see you the weekend after next.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ready to go

I've done it! Well I've done the first one anyway. So next weekend it'll be out with the trowel and in with the maincrop potatoes, one row of Pink Fir Apple and one row of Maris Piper.
I should say a big thankyou to Sandra in Whitchurch-on-Thames for the donation of the timber to complete the first bed and enable me to build the second.
My attention will be diverted to my parents-in-law allotment to get the bed for the second early pototoes dug and manured. With a large quantity of manure now available I can also get my first earlies in at home using the same trench method as I used last year - I may even take a couple of photos for inclusion here this year.

In addition to completing the "potato" bed I've also finished the kids beds, using wire to lay in their planting grid. I've had to usurp some space as my onions, which I'd put in cell tray when the sets stated sprouting in February, have started out growing their cells. I'm not sure where I'm going to put the rest yet as they were due for bed 3 on the allotment which I doubt will get dug now until late Summer. As it is I've had to make space for the shallots next to the garlic at home and put them in, even though it is a little late.

After a number of questions on growing veg in pots and containers on various forums I subscribe to I was going to include something in this entry but I didn't have time to take the photo's I need. I'll try and get around to it on Friday and make a post accordingly.

Lastly I should record the state of the sowings in the greenhouse. I managed to pot on all the melon seedling and most of the cucumbers. All are currently in bottle propagators because of the low overnight temperatures. I'm not sure if this is what has done for the Bella, or whether some bug thing has done for them. In both cases their stems just above the surface of the compost have gone thin and the tops have wilted. I'll have to see if I've got any more seed and resow.
I've also got germination of the Alicante, at least enough for my needs, and nearly enough of the peppers. The pot sown onions have all germinated badly where as the ones sown in the bed have germinated really well. The pot sown leeks have also done ok but not as well as I'd expected. The Greyhound have also germinated but the peas are still doing badly with no new seedlings appearing. I'm sure I sowed something else but can't remember what - perhaps I should reread my last couple of posts.

Till Friday then...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

One down - well almost

I had hoped to get the first bed finished this afternoon, well at least the digging but it was not to be. Between my son and wife going down with flu, and my mother-in-law breaking her hand my plan got somewhat disrupted.
Things started well on Friday with the car passing its MOT leaving me free to spend 3 hours digging in the afternoon. By the time I finished I had about 9 feet of the bed left to go. The two hour slot Saturday morning turned into nearly 3 and I cleared 6 feet by half the bed width. The rubber ground tiles the council donated by dumping them at the allotment, and which now adorn portions of most plots, were actually working against me preventing the ground from drying, so I moved them over to where the next bed will be and went home for lunch.
I managed another couple of hours in the afternoon, running the 3 feet section left through to its complete length. I then managed another 4 feet by 18" strip before my back, the fading light, and the cold wind got to me. Tomorrow I thought I'd finish digging.
With my wife dashing off to look after her handicapped sister whilst my father-in-law took my mother-in-law to the hospital, I decided to trundle down to the workshop and assemble a few more bed sections. The last of the fly-tipped fencing I'd reclaimed, along with the 4"x4" post provided enough material for another 4 sections and the bed end.
After my wife returned I loaded the bits into the car and headed allotment wise. I decided the first task would be to get the first two bed sections into place, a task that was rudely interrupted by a squally sleet shower. Shower over I set the sections in place and then turned my attention to the end section. I moved part of the extraneous soil from where the path at the end is going to be, then set about digging out enough of the remaining strip to allow me to clear the rest. I cleared about 4 feet, enough to allow me to get the bed end in place. And there I finished. Hopefully if the weather is not atrocious during the week and the soil doesn't get too wet I'll be able to finish the digging next weekend. Not sure what I'm going to do about timber for the sides yet though.
On other fronts there's not much to report. I've sown another 6 bins with carrots, 2 with Autumn King, 2 with Parano, and 2 with the last of my heritage 'Blanche a Collet vert Hors Terre'. If all goes to plan, I'm going to try and over winter one of these in the green house and collect the seed next year. The only other news is that one or tow of the Alicante and Peppers are showing signs of germination, along with a large number of the Musselburgh leeks.
That's it for this week. Catch you next time.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Other Events

Nothing survives contact with reality like a plan. Anyway, I did make it down to the plot to take those photos I promised. I'll start with the subject of yesterdays post and the growing pile of mixed roots and grass. If it keeps growing at its current rate I'll need to clear it before I can even start constructing the third bed.

The other photo is really a progress update. Because I didn't make it down to the plot until after 5pm I took the photos before I installed the second section of bed, which you can see in the mid-ground of the photo. Having installed the section I took the opportunity to level the bed, rather than having to try and do it at the end. By my calculations I'm now halfway through digging, and will require another two timber sections per side to complete the bed.

And now onto the subject of the title, a quick roundup of other things. The carrots sown in bins a month ago are now about and inch high, as are the ones sown in the greenhouse bed two weeks ago. The latter are from seed I saved a couple of years ago and just goes to prove that you can store carrot seed. I'll keep you updated and may take some photos once they get a little bigger.
Of the seeds sown in the propogator, virtually all of the cucumber and melon have germinated but I've yet to see anything from either the peppers or tomatoe.
Of the seed sown in pots using bottle propagators, I've a reasonable germination of the Tumbler, and signs of some germination of the onions. Of the seed sown in the guttering, there is as yet no signs of germination, neither is there from the seed sown under my home made cloche - I think the latter may be due to my soils' ability to shed water why dry rather than anything else.
On other fronts I've sown the first of my potaotes in bins, sowing one with Maris Bard, and the other with some Anya I saved from last years crop. I also took the opportunity to empty out the bins that my blight stricken Christmas crop in, only to discover lots of nice healthy potatoes. Amongst these were a sufficient number of edible size to provide us with potatoes for two meals.
I've also sown the first of this years greyhound crop, my first batch of sweet peas, and picked the last of last seasons sprouts. With a bit of luck I shall be picking a decent amount of Purple Sprouting this coming weekend.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

And the weed pile gets bigger

All things considered its been a good weekend. I had hoped to do more but the affects of this weeks flu bout sent me scurrying back to bed after an hour and a half on Saturday. I decided to take a little easier on Sunday, aiming to do two two hour stints, with a 2 hour lunch break in between. Things turned out a little differently.
The progress I'd made on Saturday meant I'd enough of the plot dug to be able to start constructing the first of the three main beds. Assembling the end, and two sides at home, I loaded the pieces into the Landy, along with the timber strip for the plot edge, and headed down the plot.
I set the edge strip in place, then set the end, driving it into place. I'd made a jig yesterday to enable me to set the spacing and height without having to keep measuring it. I placed the first side and began driving it home, only to find the center post hitting stones. Thankfully I'd brought a trowel with me and a quick poke about enabled me to set it in place. I then realised I hadn't brought a long straight edge with me so that I could set the other side level. A quick scout about and I located a metal post that would do the trick. The second side went in much easier, but then it was on the run of where the Globe Artichoke roots had been - they are a real pig to get out , some have been over 2.5ft deep and the top end of the plot is riddled with them. I'm not sure which is worse them or the couch (twitch).
After a quick chat with Pippa, who had assistance on had to construct her raised bed frames for her, I returned to a little digging managing another 2ft before returning home for lunch.
An hour and a half later I returned to the plot. I'd barely started when the first of the two Sarah's arrived, I'm not sure if one's a Sara as opposed to a Sarah, so I'll use the latter for the time being. Its amazing how much quicker digging goes when you've got someone to talk to, and before I knew it I'd got a strip 3ft wide by 6ft long dug. The first Sarah left at about this point and the other Sarah's husband turned up. I did a little more digging before wandering over for a chat, after enquiring if they wanted any rhubarb or Globe Artichokes, neither of which feature in my crop plan. They gratefully accepted the latter. By the time we'd finished talking there was a noticable chill in the air and the sun had disappeared behind the houses. Time to push on.
Anyway, my two hour afternoon slot had turned into nearly three but I've now got half of the first bed dug. As I've got the day off tomorrow, principally to get the car MOT tested, I hope to get down in the afternoon, and this time take the camera with me, so you can see some photos of my progress.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Some Progress

When the sun came out on Thursday, and it failed to rain Tursday night and Friday I had a vague hope of getting a reasonable amount of digging done on Saturday, the the waether as usual had other ideas and chucked it down Friday night. So it was with little zeal I made it doen to the plot on Saturday afternoon.
My first job was to unload the 850l of last years leaf fall I had collected that morning from the Landrover into a builders bag. The collection of this had come about as a part of the conversation I'd had with Linda when I'd collected the 4 pallets she'd offered on freecycle ( a fortnight ago. She had a large pile of leaves she wanted shot of and I had a use for them.
Anyway leaves unloaded, and two of my fellow plot holders greeted, I stuck the spade in at the bottom of the plot, to continue the bed I'd started last week. It was a little squelchy but I dediced to give diggin a shot, after all you never know how wet the grounds going to be until you turn the first sod. Well it was pretty bad, far worse than last week. I did about a foot before giving up and trying my luck at the top end of the plot.
The soil up here was much drier, aleast dry enough to make digging a reasonable option. It also seems that this bit of the plot has been better tended as the couch here was not a thick, or maybe thats down to what ever crop had been grown here. As digging progressed I began to wonder what I was dealing with. What ever it is it has deep thick roots. My first reaction was that it was horseradish but now I'm not so sure. I'd ruled out asparagus and a conversation with my father-in-law confirmed this. As I dug out a couple of smallish clumps of rhubarb from the same area it has to be capable of competing, and my current suspiscion is that its globe artichokes; from what I know of Sea Kale I don't think this is what I'm dealing with. I'm sure I shall find out as the season progresses and those roots I haven't yet dug up produce some leaves. Anyway I managed to get just under 3ft of my 6ft wide bed dug before fading light and an aching back sent me homeward.
Whislt Today dawned dry, the forecast was not good, and the exhaust on the beast needed some attention. By the time I'd finished it was raining again so I headed for the greenhouse. After beign 80 in there on Friday and 82 yesterday it was a might chilly in there today, so I retreated inside to retrieve my fleece.
Insulated against the chill I returned to sow my greenhouse crops for this year in my new propogator. After last years problems germinating the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and melons I'd made the decision to get an electric propogator this year, and had treated myself at Christmas to a Super7; effectively a heated window box tray with 7 6"x2" mini seed trays with vented lids. Each mini-tray comfortably accomodates 6-8 seeds which is more than sufficient for my needs, when I only require 2 or 4 of a given plant. So with 7 tray I set about sowing. In tray 1 went the Allicante. In tray 2 went my 2 remaining Bella ( I thought I had more), and 3 Perpinex. In tray 3 went 6 market more - why do you get a dozen or so outdoor cucumber seeds per packet but on 4 F1 greenhouse types?. In tray 4 went a dozen world beater, what was left in the packet. In tray 5 went 6 Sweetheart (cantelope melon), and in tray 6 went 6 Early sweet - another melon variety. Since I only had 2 Bella I sowed the remaining two Prima Top in tray 7, incase the Bella don't germinate. now I have to wait and see if the investment was worth while.
With the current warming trend I also decided to push some other crops along. I've sown a rootrainers worth of Early Onwards, and assuming these germinate ok I'll sow another tray in 3 weeks time. I also decided to experiment with sowing parsnips and scorzonera in guttering, after all it can't be any worse than last years diasterous first outdoor sowing. Retrieving the guttering I'd stock piled when I changed it on the house a few years ago I cut it into 3ft lengths, filled with compost, and sowed 2 with White gem and the other with scorzonera. These were then placed on the raised bed in the greenhouse.
Taking the remaining seed and a packet of Early Nantes, I made my way out to the polycloche I'd made about a month ago, which has been sitting over a section of the veg bed since its construction. Lifting it off the bed revealed nice dry soil - so its obviously been doing its job. I sowed one row of parsnips down one edge and 1 row of scorzonera down the other with two rows of Nantes between. I'm hoping I'll be able to pull the carrots before the Scorzonera and Parsnips swamp them, and then get another row of late carrots, or possibly leeks between them. Watering well I replaced the cloche and retreated back to the greenhouse.
With the light beginning to fade filled 6 6" pots and made a liberal sowing of leeks - this is the first batch I've grown from seed; usually I buy them as seedlings from Dobies. These too I transfered to the raised bed and then covered them with a sheet of glass.
I'm away next weekend so the sweet peas are going to have to wait until I return. I'm hoping the weather is going to be a little better as felling chestnuts in the rain isn't going to be fun.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rained Off

Well the weather has pretty much put paid to any work on the allotment for the last couple of weeks. I did manage a couple of hours down there last Sunday but even then the ground was pretty saturated. With the persistent rain Thursday and Friday, and the deluge Saturday night I didn't even bother today - which is just a well as it's near enough rained one hour on, one hour off since 11.00 this morning.
With no real work possible on the allotment I've turned my attention to other things. Having taken the day off a week ago Friday I cleared the green house of plants and things likely to be damaged by the sulphur candles, then fumigated it. According to the manufacturers instructions I should have used 4 candles but money's tight so I made do with 2.
Of course this meant that last Saturday I had to move everything back, in the process discovering that we had mice in my shed - the seed potatoes have thus been moved back to the greenhouse which I know is now mouse resistant.
I then decided to turn the raised bed inside over, leading to the discovery that it had been thoroughly infiltrated by new root growth from next door's silver birch. This led to a three hour digging escapade whilst I removed them and dropped some paving slabs in on their edge to divert growth around the bed. If I get a problem this year then I'm just going to have to use a concrete jacket.
Having nicely turned the bed over an leveled in out I took the opportunity to sow some of the carrot seed I'd saved. If it germinates I'll at least know its viable even if I don't get any decent carrots.
That was about it for last weekend. Yesterday I was working on the car, installing a new set of Turbo hoses and do the well overdue 6000 mile oil change. This morning I dropped down to the parents-in-law allotment and harvested a few more sprouts, the last but one brussel top, and the first of the purple sprouting. Next week will be the last of the sprouts and brussel tops. All in all a good result.
With the persistent rain I moved back into the greenhouse this afternoon. My onion sets are starting to sprout so I've planted them all into cell trays. This should enable them all to start developing roots. I'll transplant them into their growing positions when the weather warms up a little more.
With temperatures creeping up now, it hasn't been below 44f in the greenhouse for two weeks overnight, and with day temperatures picking up to the mid 60's (Fahrenheit), I've decided to try growing some onion from seed. I've got both Brunswick and Bedfordshire Champion, acquired as part of a job lot we brought last year, so I've sown about 20 seeds of each in 9cm pots with 2litre bottle propagators. I've also sown my F1 tumbler tomatoes in the same way. All I have to do now is wait and hope they germinate.
Whilst doing all this I noticed that the Lilies, I'd moved into the greenhouse last November to overwinter, had started to sprout. Their previous location, under the staging was no longer suitable, so I decide to move them out onto the back edge of the raised bed, so they can take advantage of the warming rays of the sun - when it decides to show itself.
Anyway the planter I planted three years ago with my bargain 50p for 3 bulbs end of season clearance Asiatic lillies was covered in shoots, with tiny lily bulbs pushing out of the compost. I decided to do a little thinning only to discover lots of small white grubs. Lily beetle I thought, but I was wrong, as pointed out to me by a couple of the very generous contributors on the allotment forum. No I've got vine weevil - not sure which is worse. Any way if you're interested in knowing more about either pest you can do no worse than go to the following two sites
Lily Beetle
Vine Weevil
Anyway, back to my planter and to cut a long story short, I spent a couple of hours extracting all the myriad of lily bulbs from the soil, and as many vine weevil grubs as I could find, then repotted the largest of the bulbs in fresh soil in the planter. The rest I planted in 3 new 12" diameter tubs, and 7 margarine tubs - not a bad return on £1.50. Once I've acquire some more margarine tubs I'll tackle one of the other tubs which is also looking a little crowded.
Anyway you're interested in growing lilies I found a really good web site on the subject, called Mike's Backyard Garden. Well worth a look.
Hopefully the weather will improve during the week and I'll get a chance to get back to the long dig, otherwise the potatoes will be going in late this year.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Slow Going

Well its been another hard weekend. This weeks deluge of water whether frozen or otherwise has made my life far more difficult, the plot being on clay soil.
My first phot this week show the progress I'd made by the end of Saturday, although I finish installing the second raised bed in the rain. I had thought the rain on Saturday night would make the plot unworkable on Sunday, but it didn't actually make much difference.

Just to show you what I'm up against I took some closeups, first of the couch on the plot so you can see just how dense it is, and then of the roots so that you can see how dense and matted they are.

With the ground as wet as it now is I've also had to change tactics, or risk losing too much soil from the plot, so I'm creating a couch root pile in the top corner. When the weather warms up and I've cleared the rest of the plot I'll return to the pile and sort it out - even if it means dowsing the lot with glyphosphate. I suspect I'm going to have to treat the new paths in this way to kill the couch under the bark chippings the council put down to mark the boundaries of the plot.

By the end of Sunday afternoon I'd completed the installation of the remaining raised bed that defines the lower edge of the plot. Next weekend I'll clean the excess soil out of the base of the compost heap and bring the soil level in the bed to the top; I can then plant the Jerusalem artichokes I was generously given in mid January.

Whilst on the subject of planting, I put my garlic in this afternoon. I'm just hoping it grows this year rather than just vanishing without trace like it did last year. Just as an illustration of the difference between the garden plot and the allotment it took me 15 minutes to fork through and weed the 2ft by 8ft section of bed for the garlic as opposed to 2.5 hours it took me to dig the 3ft by 6ft section for the artichoke bed.

I'm also indulging in another experiment. I acquired half a dozen steel waste paper bins 12" square and 16" deep from a skip before Christmas. Having sterilised them by soaking for 7 days in a strong solution of Jeys fluid and drilled 5 20mm drainage holes in the base, I filled two of them with compost and sowed Early Nantes. They are now in the greenhouse, with a sheet of glass over them. With a bit of luck I'll have a nice batch of carrots in about 12 weeks.

Anyway I'll leave you with another shot of the plot. I've set up a string line along the right hand edge of the plot in preporation for the big dig - getting a bed ready for my potatoes by Easter.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Welcome to Couch and Chaffer Central

Well its been a busy weekend. Yesterday I spent making preparations, cutting bits of timber I'd accumulated over the years to make edging for raised beds, acquiring a few pallets with which to put together a compost heap, and assembling some old scaffold boards into 1mx1m boxes to make the raised beds which my son and daughter want to grow things in.
With it brightening up after lunch and with my wife off to a craft day with my daughter my son and I made our way down to my new allotment. The council had dropped a load of bark chippings in place marking the boundaries between my half plot and my neighbours, and as you can see from the photo - my son is standing at the lower left corner of the plot - its been growing grass for some time. Talking to Sahra and Chris, my immediate neighbours on the right, the double plot, now divided into 4 half plots, hasn't been cultivated at all for 16 months and had been poorly maintained for a couple of years before that - they've only been on the plot for 3 years.
I had hoped to get a lot done but once I started I knew this was not going to be the case. I suppose it must have taken me a good couple of hours to laboriously dig the 1mx1m square into which I was going to place the raised bed, which in the fullness of time, will be the bed my son is going to cultivate (I hope :-)). Out of this square came 1 muck bucket of couch roots and enough chaffer grubs, leather jackets, and cut worm to keep several birds well fed for a week.
With time moving on and the continual sound of "I'm cold", "My feet are freezing", "When are we going home", ringing in my ears I decide that the second raised bed would have to wait as its frame is more transportable that the pallets for the compost heap.
Decision made I moved to the other corner of the plot and started on the space for the compost heap. I thought at first that this corner was a little better but a couple of muck buckets later in the fading light I'd managed to clear the bulk of the 1.5m by 1m space for the compost heap. Complaining as he had most of the afternoon he managed to extract himself from the car whilst I assembled the heap all for the chance to take my photo :-(.
Just to finish things off I took a photo of the whole plot again just for a record. Given the light levels I'll have to take a better photo next time I go down, probably next weeked if I'm going to stand a chance of getting the potatoe bed done in time for Easter.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Prelude to a new Season

Yet again I've been meaning to write for weeks but haven't managed to get around to it. In a way I'm rather pleased as it was going to be a bit of a spleen vent of the loss of all my second crop potatoes to blight.
On the bright side, I can report a good crop of sprouts, and a few peppers - yes the plants did produce a few eventually, even though they weren't very big.
I'm now looking forward to 2007. All my seed potatoes have been ordered and I've received two varieties, Pink Fir Apple and Charlotte, delivered with my new Super7 electric windowsill propogator. This has of course meant sorting power out for the greenhouse but then we can't have everything, can we.
Given my lack of ground space, the pink fir apple are all going in bins. I'll also plant one bin of Maris Bard, one of Charlotte, and one with the Anya I had left from last year.
Carrots will be done in much the same way as last year, although I've managed to acquire five steel waste bins approx 12" square and 16" deep which I shall convert for carrot growing.
Given my poor germination of parsnips, Scorzonera, and ground sown carrots last year, my next project is a cloche based upon a design by Geoff Hamilton of BBC gardeners world fame. I'm also hope to get some 4m wide agricultural polythene for the frames at the allotment so I can use them as cloches as I did last year.
My other experiment for the year is going to be Jerusalem Artichoke, inspired by the new BBC series "Grow Your Own Veg". Whilst not a fan of Carol Klein this looks to be an interesting vegetable to try.
Think that's about it for now. See you all later in the year.