Saturday, December 13, 2008


It's reached that point in the year when the weather has beaten me into submission, temporarily, and I have time to sit down and write my end of season report.
If I look back to my August post then things were very positive but it rapidly went down hill form there. Two weeks after I wrote that entry we had the spate of gales which demolished my beans and peas, resulting in me losing 80% of my heritage peas and 50% of the runner beans.
We then went away for our usual working holiday and returned to find that the slugs had completely demolished my onion crop - healthy bulbs but no leaves left. I then made the mistake of leaving them too long in the greenhouse to dry which meant they all got damp and started sprouting.
I had a minor successes with my late crop mangetout, French beans, and mouli (it didn't bolt as it did earlier in the year) but a complete disaster with the late sowing of kohlrabi, shimoto (leek like japanese onions), and senshu (globing japanese onion).
Other major success this year have been the Bracknell sown Pink Fir Apple, Red Cabbage, French Beans, and Runner Beans (despite the August gales). Reasonable success was also achieved with my calabrese, onions, garlic, shallots, summer cabbage, parsnips, salsify, butternut squash, potatoes (all except the Bracknell sowing of Pink Fir Apple),and the early sowing of kohlrabi. Set against this is the abysmal showing of my cauliflower, sweetcorn, carrots, lettuce, early peas, late sown turnips, and the impending disappointment of my sprouts.
The sprout went in on time in June and have been netted to keep both pigeons and cabbage whites off, yet there are few if any sprouts on any of the plants and they're small compared to what they should be like. This applies equally to the early variety which should have been ready at the beginning of November or the late variety which should just be starting to produce for a January harvest. Whether this is down to the weather this year, or my belief that the soil is exhausted (new plot for me this year) I don't know.
As to next year, I'm ahead in some areas and behind in others. The potato growing area of my Sunningdale plot has been covered, for the last 4 weeks in a 5" layer of manure, and I have a large pile ready to go on the asparagus bed, when I can get it dug and built - this is now getting towards being a major fire state, as I really needed this done about 6 weeks ago. I did managed to obtain enough timber to complete virtually all the raised beds on the Bracknell plot and the asparagus bed but so far only part of the Bracknell plot has benefited, bed 3, which is the far right hand one of the 3, which whilst I've now dug it's entire length has still to be filled. This will then allow me to dig the other half of bed 2, which is next years potato bed; so I suspect I'll be fighting yet another fire in March.
Another chore which I'm going to have to do over Christmas is to dig out the beds in the greenhouse and line with concrete - the silver birch roots are just doing too much damage and having too great an influence - I may take the opportunity to refill with a large amount of manure. I need a whole load more anyway for the garden veg plot and the bean plot, and a couple of bags from last years pile for use in the potato bins next year. I lost my second crop to blight again, although we have managed to get enough for a few meals. I'm saving the rest for Christmas.
I've more or less got all my seeds sorted for next year. With the prices and methods the big six are charging for seed potatoes I've gone to Edwin Tuckers for my seed potatoes again. They sell by the kilo (typically 3kg bags) and charge postage separately, so you can get 6 bags of seed potatoes for £28 + £7 P&P as opposed to £42 for 6 bags of 20 tubers (approx 2Kg) from the big six. The only ones they didn't stock were the Mayan Gold, which really impressed me this year, so I've had to go to Alan Roman's for these.
I'm actually looking forward to getting started again, counting the days till I can so my first leeks and onions, even if I'm not looking forward to the amount of digging that needs doing. Perhaps I aught to try and find time to strip and rebuild the carburettor on the rotavator.
Till January then..

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Early Harvests

This is another of those posts I was going to make 2 weeks ago and never go around to - despite having for several years a round tuit. The pictures are of the Sunningdale plot as it was then; 2 weeks can be a very long time at this time of year.
Since then The onion and garlic bed, back left 1st picture has been completely cleared, except for the few parsnips, and resown with a variety of seed. If I can remember correctly there is 1 row turnips, 3 rows of carrots (different varieties), and sown this weekend 1 row Japanese radish - hope these don't bolt like then did in the spring, and 1 row aliens - sorry Kohl Rabi.
To the left of this you can see where I had made a start on the next raised bed, which when completed will given me six to long beds to rotate crops around. I have now completed the first 4' section and need some more timber before I can continue. I've also started the Asparagus bed, which again is now waiting on timber before I can continue.
The second picture shows the bean and pea line, a bit sparse when the picture was taken but is now more heavily populated by both. In the first section I have scarlet emperor and a mix of Hurst Greenshaft and my heritage Duke of Albany. The second section did have some Kelvadon Wonder, but to my mind I only wonder why they didn't do anything other than fatten a few slugs. Behind them are my Painted Lady, now reaching the point where I'm prepared to pick them to eat; I wanted to ensure I have enough seed for next year without having to buy any. I pursuing the same course with my heritage Daniels Defiance in our front garden, except they're not growing as well an they may end up as just a seed supply this year.
The Bracknell plot has yielded the last of its purple tee-pee, and these have now been replaced with a fresh batch of plants - about 18 days from sowing to planting out. I've also got enough seed off the few remaining beans for about 20 plants next year. I've left the barlotti variety in to finish fattening the remaining pods.
It has also completed the yield of both this years onions, a poor result from the Red Baron, and nearly as bad from the Sturon, but no sign of white rot in the areas I treated with Armatillox. I'm reserving judgment until next year, after this year's over-wintering crop are harvested, before ratifying (or not) their claims that its an effective treatment for white rot - other than not growing any member of the allium family in the ground for 20 years.
The ground vacated by the onions has been used to absorb some of the second batch of French beans and to provide homes for a few straggly cauliflowers that I didn't have space for earlier, and a batch of swede and Chinese cabbage.
In the garden I've been harvesting both container grown and soil grown potatoes. The container grown Vales Emerald seem to be a match for the other container grown varieties in terms of yield but aren't anything special as far as taste goes and are really only useful as a mashed potato - the slightest fraction of over-cooking and they split all over the shop. I've also harvested one line of the Estima from teh Sunningdale plot. They yielded about 1/3 of what I expected and showed signs of drought, despite the ground being sufficiently wet to have sustained them for another month or so until their proper harvesting time. The rate at which they went over suggested a blight attack, but the lack of rot in the halums below ground doesn't bear this out. The fact that all four rows (Estima, Estima, Charlottes, International Kidney) all went over at the same time leaves me a little puzzled. I've also harvested about 8ft of both the latter and again the yields are way down on what I would expect.
Where I've taken the potatoes out in the garden I've used part of the space to so a 6ft row of mangetout. It was old seed and I wasn't expecting much - I'd had germination problems earlier in the year in root trainers, so was very much surprised to see a massed row of pea shoot heads on Saturday morning - even more surprising since they were only sown last Sunday evening.
Things in the greenhouse have been mixed. Our cucumbers are now getting into the swing of things and we're about to become buried under massed cucumbers; despite almost having lost one plant which I've had to cut back to half its previous size. The only thing I can think of is that it got too hot and dehydrated at the beginning of the week, as after its trim and a feed it seems to have perked up again.
The other strange thing is that it appears to be the only plant affected. The tomatoes continue to set small green tomatoes which point blankly refuse to ripen, and the melons are setting fruit, well some at least and more than last year - we have 3 baby melons now, yes 3!
Both the outdoor cucumbers and tomatoes appear to be mimicing the melons - loads of flowers and no set fruit. Perhaps it's the lack of bees. Its been strangely quite this year and even the massed bank of budlia around us have been strangely quiet.
Anyway the last picture is the onion crop on the Sunningdale plot - all I have to do is try and remember which variety I planted where.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Mixed Bag

Well its been a busy few weeks, what with Wychurst work weekends, shows for the Henley Rowing Museum and Royal Gunpowder Mills, and film work for Hardy pictures current production - apart from the rain, spent a great couple of days messing with the longships and killing Saxons.
In the garden and on the plots its been a bit of a mixed bag. The french beans in the garden have been a little disappointing, whilst those on the Bracknell plot have so far yielded about 9 lbs, about 1.5lbs the weekend before last, and the remainder last weekend. With a fair wind I should be able to gather another 5 lbs or so before they're spent. I'm going to experiment with a second crop and see what I get.
The runner beans in the garden are starting to produce a few tentative beans but the one's on the Sunningdale plot are still being rather reluctant - although I've put a ban on picking the Painted Lady until I have enough seed pods for next year.
I've also got tow other problems on this plot - all my garlic went down with rust, so I've had to pull these. I recon they were only a couple of weeks from harvesting away so its no great loss. On the up side I've a good harvest of shallots and winter onions, and my main onion crop are coming along nicely. Weighed against this though is the fact that I've lost about 50% of my first and second earlies to blight, although it's not got into the tubers. It's just I'm only getting 3-4 golf ball sized tubers per plant plus a handful of marbles. The Maris bard in the garden are more than making up for it though.

My first picture this time is the harvest from 4 of the potato bins. I should have photographed the Mayan Gold when I pulled them two weeks ago but just didn't think of it. Anyway from top to bottom we have, Vales Emerald, Maris Bard, Anya, Estima - although the Estima were actually some leftovers from Sainsbury's planted last November in the greenhouse but which didn't actually start growing till March. Whilst the yield of the Vales Emerald is comparable to that of the Maris Bard, they don't cook well, being prone to splitting, and are a little bland. The Mayan Gold were much better, and I'm considering these for next year - we'll see what happens to prices.

My second picture is a promised update on the milk carton front. Normally I'd be well into the lettuce crop by now but after the mice ate the first two batches of sowings I'm late this year - having said that I picked the first of the Little Gem (upper rear row) and Buttercrunch (lower rear row) on Sunday. You can also see the parsnips are progressing, sown 4 per 4 litre container, and the carrots are now starting to come along - although the ones in the cartons are about the only ones that have survived the slugs - they're had all three sowing I've made in the waste bins, and both sowings made in open ground.

Things are also progressing in the greenhouse as you can see from the next two pictures. We've picked 4 cucumbers so far, 3 in the last week, but with the eratic weather we've been having I don't think we'll be getting anymore for a week or two. Perhaps we'll have a tomato or two at that time as well as there are several set and growing.

The asparagus is also coming along nicely, although when the sun's actually out I'm going through my water supply quite rapidly keeping them fed and watered - weeding the pots is also somewhat tedious. Still £4 for two packets of seeds to produce 70 year old crowns is better than £16 for 5 crowns, and I still have half a packet of each seed left - I might just think about sowing that next year and selling the crowns off at £1 each.

I'll end this update with more pictures of my lilies. The picture of the pink ones was taken about 10 days ago as they are now past their best, whilst the yellow ones are just coming into flower now, so I'll have these to enjoy for another 10 days or so before they go over. Having been ruthless earlier in the year I also seem to be completely free of Lily Beetle.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Sometimes things go right. With frost forecast last Monday I had two choices, do nothing and hope, or attempt to run round and try and cover everything up. I chose the later and thankfully fate smiled on me. Whilst various other plots on both the Bracknell and Sunningdale site suffered minor damage to potatoes to devastation of an entire row of runnerbeans I escaped with no damage to anything.

I had hoped to get more done this weekend but the weather had other ideas, especially today. On Saturday I did manage to get all bar one tray of onions in; I would have planted them as weel but found them lurking in the coldframe when I got home. I also managed to get all of my maincrop potatoes earthed up on both the Sunningdale and Bracknell plots. The one thing preventing me from having space available on the Sunningdale plot is not being able to earth up the International Kidney. Whilst the maincrop are all 12" out of the ground, the Internation Kidney are barely above it and they went in two weeks earlier.
I also managed to get various bits of digging done. On the Sunningdale plot I put in an hour and got another 6 feet of what will be the next raised bed done, then I went down the Bracknell plot and put in another couple of hours. I managed to get the top end of the 3rd raised bed in place, broke up the pile of sods I'd created at that end a month ago, then started in on the pile of couch, bind weed, and globe artichoke's I'd created last year when clearing the first bed. Having sprayed it last summer 90% of it's dead and composted nicely, its just the remaining 10% that is growing like crazy that's giving all the problems.

I hope I now have a solution, having taken my original square compost bin down to the plot, and installed a heavy duty wire mesh half way down, to turn it into a dryer. Everything coming off the moon pile is getting loaded in the top in the hope it gets cooked in the hot summer sunshine, assuming we get any.
So that was pretty much everything up until last night. I went out early this morning in the rain, picked up a few supplies, then returned to the workshop to cut timber for a pair of new protection fences for the Bracknell allotment. I can then shuffle the existing ones about and get another 20 of the sweetcorn in.
The rest of the day, up until about 4:30 was then spent twiddleing my thumbs and watching the rain run down the windows. By about that point it had eased off to a drizzle and I opted to get on with the big job of repotting the asparagus. It's all pretty much done noe having taken just over 140 litres of compost mix, 75 litres of fresh multipurpose, 5 litres of old compost as a bulker, 30 litres of topsoil, and 30 litres of my home compost - although this is more like topsoil than multipurpose.
Now I just need to get that digging finished and that raised bed done so I've got homes for my brussel sprouts and the rest of the sweetcorn. I must also get around to sowing some more lettuce and remember to get it out of the greenhouse before its gets too leggy to be usuable.
Last on the list is a quick run down on this weeks photos. From top to bottom, the Sunningdale plot from the bottom left - potatoes in foreground, bean frame behind, then the bean and pea framework - there are still a couple of nets missing, the plot from the bottom right - calabrese in the foreground, early cabbage and calabrese behind, and lastly a low shot of the shallot and garlic bed. I did have one of the asparagus and the liles but I took these tonight and in the low light the digital couldn't cope, so I'll have to wait until the weather improves.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Racing Against it - Again.

Yes I know its a bit of a recurring theme, but that just seems to be the way its is.
No matter how much of my weekends I spend, and for the past two its been about 11 am till 5pm on the plot then until about 9pm in the greenhouse both Saturday and Sunday, I don't seem to be able to keep up. It probably wouldn't be as bad if I already had frames and covers and raised beds already built or available but getting to that point seems to take forever.
Anyway I have managed to get some things done as you can see from the photos. I'll try and take some on the plots at the weekend so you can see how things are progressing there, rather than relying on my descriptions. I now have the runner beans in, the first batches at least both at home and on the Sunningdale plot, which means I've also got the frames up and the bean trench done. As things stand I've 30 of my home grown beans in alongside the greenhouse, planted 2 per pole. These are an Enorma derivative I think, saved year on year for the past 3 years. I've another 32 in the greenhouse if they all germinate that I sowed about 10 days ago. In the front garden I've a wigwam of the 10 Daniels Defiant that germinated. With the house between the two types they shouldn't cross pollinate. In an attempt to stop this on the allotment I'm putting peas in between the two varieties, Scarlet Emperor and Painted Lady, although I've only got the modern peas (Kelvadon Wonder) in at the moment. Can't remember what the heritage variety are but I must get around to sowing them. So far I've only got 9 Painted Lady in (I only had 10 seeds) and 12 Scarlet Emperor, although I've supposedly got another 32 in the greenhouse, although having sown them 3 weeks ago they're being very reluctant at the moment.
I've also earthed up my first earlies at home, filled most of the tubs to try and keep up, and done half of the second earlies on the Sunningdale plot. The main crop could have used it but I was just too shattered on Sunday to do it. I just hope the frost hasn't got at them too badly.
On the Bracknell plot I've put all of the French beans in, 50 in total a mix of Purple Teepee and an unnamed variety from B&Q (I think). I was supposed to put the Mangetout in as well but I don't have enough deer fences made so they've had to go in at home. I've also filled up the space quota available for onions, which means 90% of the sets are in. Now all I've got to do is find space for the 120 seed sown ones and the 160 leeks although once I've earthed up the potatoes on the Sunningdale plot I think I'll get a chunk of them in there.
Also on the Sunningdale plot I've got 18 of the Calabrese given to me by a friend in Wokingham in and 9 Kohl Rabi. I've also got 9 of the Brocoli(Olympia) grown from seed in, with the remaining space in that bed reserved for Cauliflower, when it arrives from Marshals. I'm actually disappointed with their early Calabrese and Cabbage, as mine are doing much better, especially the greyhound I sowed in early February.
Now if you think thats not enough, I've just completed planting up the greenhouse, with this years tomato, cucumber, and melon crops. From left to right, and back to front we have Tasty King and Telegraph, Black Russian, 2 Alicante, Sweetheart, 2 Telegraph, 2 Early Sweet, 2 Supa Roma, and 1 Black Russian. I've still to sort out the Marketmore and Moneymaker for outside, and the peppers desperately need potting on - along with a whole gamut of other stuff.
I've also put the first of the sweetcorn in for this years 3 sisters bed. This uses up 20 of my 100 seedlings. These were in the greenhouse and getting too big. The others have been outside and are slightly smaller. The race is now on not only to sort out space for these but also for the rest of the cabbage and brussel sprouts.

Anyway to end I'll just round up the remaining photos. At the very top we have the raspberry patch. As you can see I don't do anything to train them other than provide a wire to stop them falling over in the autumn when they're heavy with fruit. What you can't see from the photo is exactly how far they've escaped into what we laughingly call the lawn.
At the bottom is an update on the potatoes/lilies. The shot of the single bucket didn't come out as well as I'd hoped. I had wanted to show what a healthy bucket of, in this case Estima, looked like when a standard potatoe bucket is planted with 3 seed potatoes.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Late Again

I've got lots of photo's this time. I actually took them about 10 days ago and was going to post them last week, but last week turned into a disaster and I didn't have time. It all went wrong on Tuesday, when the mainshaft on the gearbox on the Landrover decided that it'd like to view the world. Only the self sacrifice of the clutch meant it didn't get a good view of the engine as well.
Having waited for the recovery truck, I nearly got a complete rear-end repair as hiw which cable snapped with the car 3/4 the way up the tilted back. Only my long arms and quick reactions averted that calamity - thank the designers for having thought of lside steps.
Anyway my enforced day off meant I got a chance to spend time sorting the veg patch in the garden out, planting the onions that were getting too big for their modules, the French beans which were crying out to go out, and the Mange Tout; which subsequently have been got at by something.
Anyway back to the pictures. From top to bottom we have my lilies - they've been out of the greenhouse 2 weeks now, my tubs of spuds, with in the background the Blanche a Collet Vert Hors Terre that I overwintered in the greenhouse. Next are the Asparagus I planted in February and pricked out at the beginning of the month. Then there are various seedlings from the brassicas, through the assorted squashes, and finally the onion seedlings and French beans and Mange Tout as they were in the cold frame.

The next picture is my propagating setup in the greenhouse, with the electric propagator in the middle of the lower shelf. Last but one are the Fushia's I saved from my mother-in-laws clear out. I took a load of cuttings, none of which survived, cut the stems right back, shoved them in pots and left them in the greenhouse over winter. The last one is another mystery plant. I can't even remember where it came from but I think its quite attractive. Any body care to enlighten me as to what it is?.

On the allotment front things are progressing. On the Bracknell plot, I've got
my left over Pink Fir Apple in, but something has had all my strawberies and some of the raspberries, which have died as a result. It could be rabbits, but I've seen no droppings so it most likely the deer back. I've moved on of the cages. If it's rabbits then it won't help as they can get underneath, but if it's deer then it'll keep them off.

On the Sunningdale plot, and at home the potatoes I planted 3 weeks ago are starting to stick their heads through. I've now finished digging all the existing raised beds, have installed part of the level divider, and put a 5m bean trench in 18" wide and 9" deep, filled 6" with manure then covered with 3" of soil. I've another 4m section to go in when I can get around to digging the last 6ft of the bed. This does rely on it drying out sufficiently for me to do so. I've also started on the digging for the next row of raised beds. Having dug a strip 6ft wide and 4 spits deep, and given the level of infestation of couch grass along the edge I decided to complete the strip all they way across to the center of the plot, about another 3 feet, although by the time I got there it was only 2 spits deep due to the way the edge of the plot is angled.

The next job is to get the bean supports up, both on the plot at home so I can get the beans, which are straining to get out of the rootrainers into the ground. I may even manage a few more photos at that point. Till then...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Rest!

It's been a long weekend. At the close of play last weekend this one was going to be busy, but it got worse on Monday. I'd ordered the early brassica collection from Marshals, with a supposed delivery of late March, but late March came and went and no brassicas. They had to turn up sometime but why Monday, since they were supposed to go in immediately it was about the worst possible day for them to arrive. All I could manage was to stuff them into a pot, give them some water, and leave them in the greenhouse all week.
There was, I suppose an upside, I put in some extra time at work early in the week and was able to leave early on Friday, making it to the Bracknell plot just before six. I raked out enough of bed 1, the potato bed from last year, to sow the bulk of the onions. I think I managed 3 rows of 13, a mixture of Red Baron and Sturon. In between these I put in two rows of carrots, one Early Nantes and the other Autumn King.
I then raked out the two beds supposedly for my kids use, but they're only taking a superficial interest, and re-established the wire grids that divide them up. I then put in the onions according to plan, and broadcast Early Nantes in the appropriate grid square before watering it in. By the time I made it home it was nearly quarter to eight.
Saturday started with me doing a few things I'd neglected the previous week, like watering all my house plants, which were definitely in need of a drink. It was then off to load the trailer with manure, whilst playing dodge the hail shower, a game that lasted most of the weekend.
After lunch it was down the Sunningdale plot, and after unhitching the trailer, the first order of the day was to get the brassicas in. I'm pushing the spacing a little putting 4 rows in a 4ft x 10ft bed,but won't have room for everything otherwise. The Excel (cabbage) went in 6" from the edge with 12" between plants, with the calabrese (Marathon) at 12" from the cabbage, giving 12" between the two rows, again with 12" between plants. I've actually got enough space for another row of 4 on the end - may put the greyhound in there when it's a little bigger.
The whole bed is covered with a cloche made from water pipe, and a 2m wide 10mm square net, under which I've put the fleece. Unfortunately the fleece is only 1.5m wide so doesn't cover the last row of cabbage. I have arranged it so that the windward side is protected and hope we don't get any severe frosts.
All I'm now waiting for is the cauliflower, although I've changed my mind as to which bed it's going in to. Marshals are also out of stock of the original variety offered, Baldo, but should be sending Aviron as a replacement in a couple of weeks - probably arrive on a Monday again though.
Brassicas planted I changed location to my father-in-laws plot to unload the trailer. When he arrived and offered to help me unload, I found it difficult to refuse the offer, and the two of us made short work of it, although we did have to stop twice whilst rain stopped play. I then set about finishing digging the potato bed, a task which was hampered by another rain interlude. By half five I'd had enough and packed up with 4 rows left to dig.
Refreshed with coffee and bakewell tart, I made my way home, to spend another hour and a half in the greenhouse, discovering that the ****** mouse had taken the tops off all the salsify seedlings, and eaten yet another batch of lettuce seedlings.
Faced with having to resow the lettuce I took the opportunity to clear what hadn't germinated from the propagator and resow. So in went what was left of the Defender and Tosca seed, the remainder of the Turks Turban and Buttercup, and the remainder of the Telegraph and Marketmore. In another tray I sowed Worldbeater (pepper) and De Cayenne (Chille). I was going to sow my Gartenperle along with the Moneymaker in the last tray, until I opened the sealed foil packet to discover no seed. I await Thompson & Morgans response to my email with interest - especially as I've had two packets of White Gem parsnip seed bought from them last May chitting in the boiler cupboard for 18 days now with not one sign of anything wanting to germinate. I wasn't a happy bunny as you can imagine.
Things looked up this morning though, even if though the weather didn't look that promising. I opened the greenhouse to find Mr Mouse caught under the pint glass we'd left invitingly for him - he's now residing either in a tree somewhere a long way from my greenhouse or more hopefully an OWL.
Inspired by the turn of events, I decide to fit the net to the mini-greenhouse frame I picked up last weekend, in order to put the Greyhound I'd potted on last night outside - its been in the cold frame for the last couple of weeks so there shouldn't be any problems. I also took the decision to move everything out of the greenhouse, lillies, carrots (the Blanche a Collet Vert Hors Terre), and all of the potatoes ,except the Mayan Gold which aren't through yet. I suspect I'm going to have to cover these with fleece during the week as there are a few cold nights forecast.
It was then off to the plot to finish the digging and get the maincrop spuds in. I'd got as far as raking 3/4 of the bed level and finishing the digging before the prolonged shower, hail included, arrived. By the time it stopped and hour later I was the only one left on site, although I had been the first to retreat to my car. I'd watched that storm roll up and wasn't going to sit sopping wet whilst it finished deluging.
Rain over, I finished the raking, the soil somewhat heavier now, and then set to planting. I'd discussed the options yesterday evening, and had decided to push the spacing, putting them in at 12" apart rather than 15", and 24" between rows (to get 4 in), rather than 30". As it was the presence of the fruit bushes meant the 4th row was short by 3 spuds, I'll have to find somewhere else for these. I suspect I'll have to build the wrong half of the last raised bed at Bracknell first, so I can get the Pink Fir Apple left from last years crop in, and these will probably go in with those.
I finished my time at the plot by starting on the last of the existing raised beds on the plot. It's been covered with carpet since November, and had previously been used to grow parsnips and carrots, all of which had been left in the ground. Whilst the parsnips were intact, if not usable, the carrots were serving as a reservoir for millipedes. With this in mind I'll put the cauliflower in here, as putting any sort of root crop in this bed for a couple of years is asking for trouble. All I've got to do now is finish digging it.
The final job of the day, other than writing this, was to get the remainder of my Vales Emerald and a chunk of the remaining Charlottes into the dustbins, now that the weather is, hopefully, warming up. I normally only put 5 potatoes per bin, but I had 6 Vales Emerald left so put the lot in and 6 Charlottes to match. It'll be a useful comparison.
Perhaps I'll have a chance to take some pictures in a couple of weeks, assuming I have time, by which time there may be something to see. Until then...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Late Snow

I was up early this morning for a change, a side effect of the persistent cough I seem to be suffering with at the moment. In between coffee and a few forum posts I watch the white stuff cascade down. By 9.00 we had about 2", and by midday the sun was trying to break through, and by 15:00 it had virtually all gone and I was digging on the lotte for a change :-);
I got about two hours in before I ran out of manure, and about 2/3 the way down what will be the bed for my main crop potatoes. I'm hoping the weather is going to be ok for next weekend so I can fit getting another load in, in between planting out my onions, sowing the first carrots, finishing the bed for the main crop spuds, and planting them out.
I did manage to pick up a few things on freecycle whilst the snow was preventing me doing anything else, an old 4 shelf plastic mini-greenhouse minus cover, which I'll put a net over and use for bringing on my cabbages after potting on, 4 more pallets including one of the 8' long ones, and some terracota plant pots. The three standard pallets will go to make the second compost bay at the Sunningdale plot, and the long one I've already dismantled for use in making raised beds.
Yesterday, was almost a busy but I did manage a lie-in, even though I've had to sleep sitting up most nights to stop coughing. Not the most practical or comfortable way to sleep and it does my back no good.
Having set to I dug out the escaping raspberry runners, some of which had made it 3 feet into what we call the lawn. Loading these and the strawberry runners I'd potted up back in February I escaped to the Bracknell plot. Given the sunshine I'd have expected to see a hive of activity but yet again I was the only one present, although it does look like the council have decided to reclaim the two jungle plots that according to them, at least the last time I asked about them, didn't exist.
Strawberries and Raspberries planted in what was the Jerusalem artichoke bed last year, I then set about breaking up the clods of couch I'd dug out last time I was there. Most were workable but one or two were still saturated and a few were baked rock hard - at least on the surface. The plot, other than the raised beds is still to saturated to work, but I did dig out another two rows of sods. If we get a reasonably dry week then may be I'll be able to deal with them next weekend, after the onion and carrot planting is done.
I must also get to and sow the first batch or runner beans and the sweetcorn. I've still not had any success with chitting parsnips, but the scorzonera is growing away quite happily in its tubes. I've even got sprouts from some of the sets, I sowed in modules last weekend, although the mouse tried to carry one off, and has snapped off one of the Convers Colossal. It also ate all my lettuce seedlings, forcing me to resow. In addition I've sown the second batch of greyhound, a batch of primo, a second batch of the late brussel bedford fillbasket, and another brassica although which currently escapes me.
I must sort out the tomatoes, the Black Russian haven't germinated, so these need to be resown. I also need to sow Moneymaker, Brandywine, and the tumbler. I've had the same problem with the marketmore so I'll need to resow these as well.
Now if I had some cloches I could get the first batch of greyhound out. They've come on well in the cold frame, but I don't think they're quite up to the open ground of the plot. If the weather is better tomorrow I may pot them on and put them on my new shelves. I think I'll move the onions onto them as well, then I can move the sweet peas and mangetout to the mini-greenhouse, and the onion seedling from the greenhouse to cold frame. If I've got room I'll move the calabrese in there too.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Taking the plunge.

It's certainly been a strange 4 days. Thursday was loverly but after the heavy rain of Wednesday night I decided to leave the plot to dry out and do a few other jobs that needed doing, like pruning the apple tree and the shrubby bush thing next to it.
I also pricked out another load of germinated salsify and ditched the parsnips which point blankly refused to show any signs of doing anything. Having put another load of seed in their place and a second batch on Friday afternoon so far 1 have show any sign of germinating. Given that both packets I got from T&M last September and they have an expiry of Aug 2008 this is pretty appalling. I can only wait and hope.
Friday was better but not brilliant and I managed about 3 hours of digging. The soil was much drier than I expected so I made the decision to plant my spuds. Saturday dawned sunny but by the time I made it to the plot around half eleven it was beginning to cloud up. Any way I managed to get three rows planted by the time the rain forced me home for lunch at 1:30. The Estima went much further than I expected and I had enough for 2 30' rows. Having measured up the plot on Friday and laid it out on visio , not a right angled corner in sight, I knew I would only be able to get 4 rows in if I wanted to plant anything else. This meant that I could only put one row of Charlotte's in although I still have enough left for 3/4 of a row.
Lunch over and with no sign of the rain abating I sat down in front of the computer, made a few posts on various fora, and then checked our freecycle mail. Low and behold, a nice lady who I've corresponded with a couple of times, and who is local to me was offering Calabrise seedlings, she'd sown the whole packet, which were a little out of date, expecting a few to germinate but the whole lot had. Any way a quick exchange of emails, and I was off to fetch some, in exchange for a few of my excess Musselburgh leeks. In the way of things I came away with a few more seeds, had an interesting tour of her setup - envious of her polytunnel, and promised to return later with some Globe artichoke roots. I've also promised her some seed from my Blanche a Collet Vert Hors Terre (long name for White Carrot), assuming I get some.
Then it was into the greenhouse to prick them out - I've done 32 not sure what I'm going to do with the other 50 odd.
Today was a much better day again, digging in tee-shirt weather this afternoon. I turned over the section of the veg patch in the garden where the Maris Bard were going and planted them, stopped for lunch, then set off down the plot to get the row of International Kidney in that the rain scuppered me over yesterday. Why is it you always have 1 potato left over?
I then pushed on with digging the rest of the plot, until the squelch of the sod as I extracted it determined I should stop. Another 5 feet and that strip'll be completed and I'll have dug 8/19ths of the plot - considerably more if you take into account the area where the compost bins sit, 5 of the six raised beds and their surrounding paths. Tomorrow weather permitting I shall move onto the strip of my father-in-laws plot where I had the cabbages last year, and where my maincrop potatoes are going this year. Until I get a weeks fine weather my original plot is going to remain too wet to work and I don't really want to wait until the middle of May to get the maincrop spuds in.
The other job which is also now looming is to pot on all the onion seedlings, and also all the brassicas which I sowed two weeks ago. Anyone fancy pricking out 100 assorted brassicas?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

Well here we are at the end of the most dismal Easter I can remember. Unlike those further East and North we escaped the snow, although we did manage a few horizontal hail storms.
The bulk of my plot has been to wet to dig so I've resorted to doing other jobs. I've moved 3 trailer loads, approx 400kg and 1.5 cubic meters per load from my manure source to the Sunningdale plot. This stuff is virtually fresh having been laid out in the last 3 weeks. The stuff I had earlier was well rotten but she'd spread this out across the paddock so collecting it would have been a real pain. I've got a couple of weeks before I need to use it so I've put it in two piles to compost down a bit more.
I've also managed to get another of the raised beds on the Sunningdale plot dug through. That just leaves 1 more bed and three sections of path. If we don't get a dry spell through the week, this'll be next weekends job, along with the garden veg patch. I can then get the Maris bard in.
Having discovered the first shoots of the December tub sown Estima poking through at last on Saturday morning I also took the decision to plant up the five easily movable tubs. The five tubs sown are Anya(4), Maris Bard(4), Vales Emerald(4), Anya(2)+stray, Mayan Gold(3), the number in brackets indicating the number of tubers sown. I also remembered to label them this year so I know which is which. I'll wait for the weather to warm a little before sowing the outside dustbins. One will take the bulk of the remaining Vales Emerald, and the other either Maris Bard or International Kidney or Charlottes - I suspect this decision will wait until I what's left after sowing the Maris Bard in the veg patch.
I've also taken the plunge and tried chitting the scorzonera and parsnip seed. So far after 48 hours in the boiler cupboard I've got shoots from a few of the scorzonera but nothing from any of the parsnips. If the parsnips are still a no show by tomorrow evening then I'll try a fresh packet. One they've sprouted they're going into newspaper tubes. I think I've made about a hundred so far but I suspect I'll need about another 50 or so. We'll see if this give me a decent crop this year - it'll certainly be the first time I've managed to get any of the scorzonera to germinate.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

And sow it begins...

Well almost. As I sat here a week ago contemplating the up coming season, I realized that in 3 weeks, 2 weeks as I write this, it would be the middle of April and time to plant out my onions.
The problem was that I wanted to treat the bed against white rot with Armatillox, and needed to leave 3 weeks between treatment and planting. The additional problems were that heavy rain was forecast for the weekend and I needed to complete a whole bunch of repairs on the car before I could put it in for its MOT.
Anyway, it didn't rain anywhere nearly as bad a forecast and the repair works, replacing the exhaust, both rear slave cylinders, and the rear brake shoes all magically went without a hitch, leaving me free to toddle down the plot Sunday afternoon and turn and treat the relevant beds. This now means in two weeks I shall be able to plant the onions which are now in a varying state between just sprouted and 8" tall. I can also think about sowing the remaining sets to get a second later crop.
Having got the car through its MOT this morning, and with the duly forecast rain arriving I decided to investigate the state of play of things in the greenhouse and cold frame.
The onions are doing nicely, even the seedlings which I think I'm probably going to have to prick out over the weekend if I can find space. The leeks on the other hand had defiantly reached the point where they needed pricking out. This meant moving the trays of onions to the mini-greenhouse to clear space in the cold-frame. Now I've sowed 3 tubs of leeks, 2 Musselburgh and 1 Atlanta. Taking the larger of the two tubs I started pricking out. After 126 the cold frame was full, and I still had another 30 left in the tub. Not sure what I'm going to do about the other tub yet as I suspect there's another 150 in there, at least there's only about 40 of the Atlanta to worry about.
The asparagus had also reached the point where it to needed pricking out. I'd mentally reserved the space for this in the greenhouse, so it wasn't going to compete for space with the leeks. After another hour, I'd duly pricked out 45 Martha Washington and 36 Convers Colossal. If I get all of these to maturity, this time next year, I may end up with a dozen of so of each available for sale.
Things had also started germinating in the propagator, so I pricked out as necessary to stop them going leggy. So far this amounts to 1 Telegraph, 1 Cobnut squash, 1 Tosca bush courgette, 1 Turks Turban, 3 Super Roma tomatoes, and half a dozen Alicante.
I'm still debating whether to plant any of my spuds this weekend. The soil's still cold, even in my light loamy garden, and the forecast is none to good. I can't even make up my mine whether to plant any in bins in the greenhouse.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Keeping Records

Some people religiously record what they plant and when, what the temperature was, and how long it takes to germinate, and what the germination rates were. I'm not one of those people and the only records I keep are here, assuming that I've got the time to write something and that I remember to do so.
Having been kept off the plot by a combination of weather and an attempt to get my car ready for its forthcoming MOT, all I have managed to do is get some sowing done.
Having kept an eye on the weather forecast all week, and expecting the weekend to be rained off I snuck in half a days leave on Wednesday and finished digging the strip I started last weekend. I also removed the asparagus from the propagator, freeing it up, and put 6 trays of compost to warm for a couple of days.
This meant that this afternoon I was able to sow into warmed compost. Where I've been planting large and easily handleable seeds I've been sowing 6 seeds per half tray, whilst with the tomatoes I just sowed a pinch. As always I ran out of room so haven't been able to plant several of the tomato varieties I wanted, most notably the outdoor ones - Money Maker & Gartenperle.
So for the record by tray
1) Squash - Turks Turban(loly) and Buttercup(loly)
2) Squash - Cob Nut(loly) and Cucumber Marketmore
3) Cucumber - Telegraph and Tasty King(loly)
4) Melon - Sweetheart (loly) and Early Sweet (loly)
5)Courgette - Defender and Tosca
6) Tomato - Black Russian and Suer Roma
7) Tomato - Alicante and Pepper - Worldbeater (loly)
loly = left over from last year- Basically the seeds left after I planted what I needed last year.
I also sowed half a rootrainer with each of Purple Tepee and another french bean I brought last year, and another margarine tub of leeks - Pandora this time.
The carrots I sowed a few weeks ago, haven't done very well at all, despite being in the greenhouse and under glass. I guess only about 30% germinated and their very slow. For this reason I've held off sowing any more and also planting any tub potatoes. If things start to warm up a little during the week I'll consider planting next weekend.
Last Wednesday I also moved both the onions, those grown from seed and the sets in cell trays, and the leek seedlings into the cold frame generating a little more space in the greenhouse. They don't seem to have suffered at all as a result of the move, but the cold frame is now full. Until I've got the plots for the potatoes done I'm not even thinking about moving any of them to the plot. I also want the leeks to put on a little more growth before I attempt to prick them out. If all goes to plan I'll be planting them out in mid May.
The problem is that as time creeps forward so the volume of seeds that need sowing increases. My wife is already muttering about sowing flower seeds and I haven't even got the bulk of the veg sown yet.
I'm now off to consult my sowing plan so until next time, happy sowing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Whot No Title?

It's been a busy three weeks, and after another 3 hours on the plot today I can't think of a clever title for the post.
Things have been progressing. On the Sunningdale plot, photos right and below, I changed tack and rather than dig the remaining two raised beds, the two in the foreground covered in carpet, I decided to move onto the main section of the plot, starting at the far left hand side. It took me 3 two hour digging sessions to dig through an level a 4 foot wide bed the length of the plot, which I guess is about 25ft. Depending on what the weather does I may get back there next Sunday, after I've pruned my mother-in-law's bay tree. Apparently somebody has complained to the council and it's now going to have to be pruned back hard, which is probably going to kill it. I've got a few small ones taken as root cuttings, but they only grow slowly, and my mother-in-law's is about 40 years old so is a nice size now.
Anyway with the dry weather we've had during the past three weeks I decided to take a look at the Bracknell plot this weekend. Unlike the Sunningdale plot which is on a nice rich loam, the Bracknell one is on heavy clay, and doesn't really become workable until late March, but if I left it till then I'd have no chance of getting this years potato bed ready. So I spent two and a half hours digging yesterday, and another 2 today. I managed about 3 feet yesterday, I'm digging a 6' wide strip as the raised bed will be 4' wide with a 2' path, but today was spent weeding and breaking up the clods I dug out last thing last night, which had dried out enough in the overnight wind and morning sunshine, and then turning out another load of clods, adjacent to the section I'd done yesterday and at the top end of the bed near the couch root pile I created last year. I had hoped to be able to clear this last summer but as the weather didn't co-operate, ie it wasn't blazing hot like the year before, I never got around to it. I'm now going to have to sift through it as I go, but that'll be in a few weeks yet, weather permitting of course.
Things are also progressing in the greenhouse, although the continues mouse presence is making like difficult. I've had about 30% germination of the sugar snap peas, and about the same again for the second batch of sweet peas. No sign of any of the Early Onwards though.
The second batch of onions, sown three weeks ago are now up have have more or less caught up with the earlier batches. Shame I forgot to label them. The rest are progressing, and are in the colder environs of the main section of the greenhouse, on top of the raised bed. Once I get around to repairing the cold frame I'll move them to it along with the rest of the onions which are now all sprouting nicely. I should note that my overwintering onions on the Bracknell plot are doing Ok. I've lost one or two, and there are about half a dozen which appear to be "slow". There is no sign yet of whiterot though so the bulb planter/top soil plug seems to be working.
I've now sown my asparagus, which is cluttering up the propagator, so it's going to be 3 or 4 weeks before I can start the cucumbers/tomatoes/courgettes/squashes unless I use the top of the boiler. I must check last years planting schedule and see what else should be going in as we advance into March.
On a non vegetable note, most of the lilies have started sprouting so I planted the ones I rescued from the vine weevil/lily beetle larva in the autumn. I've had them under saw dust all winter which seems to have prevented them drying out too much. Provided I can work out which ones are which I'll have a dozen or so crowns I can sell in 2 or 3 years time.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Best Crop of the Year?

Like a lot of allotmenteers I'm always experimenting with new crops either to see if they'll grow, find new varieties we like better, or to try something new. This year it was Jerusalem artichokes, supplied by another allotmenteer and orchid grower in Marlow. Having grown them, and harvested a few at Christmas we decided we didn't like them, so today I managed to get down to the plot and clear the 1.5m x 1m raised bed I'd planted them in - I knew they'd spread if not contained so I took the precaution. So having taken about a pound off at Christmas and knowing they were quite densely packed I was expecting quite a bit, but not the 56lb sack I ended up with. Since we're not going to eat them I've done the decent thing and offered them on freecycle. All I have to hope now is that I've got them all out otherwise their going to have an interesting time competing with the Autumn Raspberries I shall transplant in about a month.
On other fronts, the ******* mouse is back, although I'm better prepared this year. He got what was left of the sweetpea seeds, and about 10 of the Early Onwards, I'd left to soak overnight - they'd absorbed more water than I expected and hence were accessible - the mangetout survived intact. These have now been sown in rootrainers which are covered so he can't get at them. I've also used two of the old windows I'd acquired to turn my staging into a greenhouse inside a greenhouse, and sealed the ends with some 10mm square wire I acquired by chance from a skip this morning. We'll see if this stops him from eating the onion and leek seedlings.
I also managed to get two other jobs done last weekend, although one is only partially completed. Sunday I spent at my Sunningdale plot, cleared the couch grass reservoir that had doubled as the compost area, constructed two new compost bins from reclaimed pallets, the heavy blue ones are the best, and finished digging the bed I'd failed to complete the week before. Hopefully the weather will be ok and I can get down there next weekend and dig the two remaining raised beds. This will mean I've got 30% of the plot done and therefore be just under halfway to the required target of 65% cultivated. Although the inspection isn't until the end of April, I suspect I'm not going to be able to spend much time there in March as I shall be frantically trying to get the Bracknell plot sorted so I can plant my main crop potatoes.
The other job I'd almost completed was the manuring of the garden veg plot on the Saturday. I'd collected a standard builders bag worth in the morning, but it didn't go as far as I'd hoped. Another job for next weekend, which sort of fits since I want to manure the bed that had the Jerusalem artichokes in as well as the two 1m square beds I'd prepared for the kids last year. Perhaps they'll show more interest this year and grow something.
Following discussions on various fora I also took the plunge an sowed this years peppers in the propagator, and another batch of onions to keep the mouse fed ....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A New Season - A New Half Plot

Its always the same. When you want to take a picture of something you never have a camera with you - or in my case keep forgot to take it with you. I had wanted to start this update with a picture of the new half plot but may be next time.
Anyway its a lot cleaner than my existing half plot and its not on clay, but on a nice medium loam at the top of the plots, so despite the rain of the last month was nicely workable last Sunday.
My intention was to clear a couple of the "raised beds", although raised is the wrong word - surrounded by 5" boards would be closer to the truth. I'd actually cleared on of the 4ft square one last November when I put the last of my over-wintering onions in, but hadn't had the chance to return since - decorating and Landrover problems kept getting in the way.
Anyway the onions hadn't faired that well - something had either dug or pulled over half of them out. Still it was better than them going to waste.
My main problem with this half plot is that the former owners had covered large portions of it with carpet many year ago, and that the carpet has now become the problem not the solution, being the receptical and conduit for the couch grass roots.
During my visit in November I'd removed the worst of the carpet and repositioned what was left to actually suppress weed growth. My first task was therefore to reposition it yet again so I could get at the two beds I wanted to work. This also involved removing the strips that formed the paths so that soil spilling over the beds didn't coat the carpet - and yes I forgot to take a broom with me.
Having done this I realised that not only was I going to have to dig the beds but also the paths as they were nearly as badly infested. Anyway having dug one bed and its surrounding paths I stopped for a bite to eat, before planting my garlic and shallots, all last years crop that hadn't reached a suitable size for use in the kitchen or hadn't been used yet. Strange isn't it when you grow things, harvest them and leave them in the veg rack they don't get used, but when you break them up, put them in a tin in the cupboard they do.
Planting complete I moved to the second bed. Having started in one corner I quickly discovered I had a major bind weed problem as well. The problem was most of it was under the path and the 4ft square bed on the other side of it. Leaving this bed I cleared this section of path and the square bed, before returning. Failing light and my back put paid to me completing it however, although I managed to complete 3/4 of it. I'm also refilling the beds making the plot look less like the Somme in the process.
In the greenhouse this are also progressing. The Musselburgh sown two weeks ago are now about 18mm tall and doing well away from the propogator. The Atlanta sown at the same time are doing nearly as well although the germination rate has been a little less. Also sown at the same time were Bedforshire Champion and Mammoth onions, but the germination of these has been very poor compared to the leeks and both trays are still on the propagator. The Greyhound are also doing ok, but have gone a little leggy. These were sown as an experiment so we'll have to see how they do.
With space in the propogator, I've now sown another batch of Musselburgh, half the Up-To-Date heritage onions, and a batch of Alisa Craig.
My seed potatoes, ordered from Edwin Tuckers, in November have also arrived and are now sitting in seed trays in the workshop chitting. I'm trying three new varieties this year, Estima, Cara, and International Kidney. The latter are supposed to be the equivalent of Jersey Royals, which are salad/new potatoes. It was interesting to note that most of the seed potatoes were bigger than those for the main crop Maris Piper.
With this order came the bulk of my onion sets, Red baron and Sturon. Following on from last year I'm planting these into cell trays, and now have approximately 50 of each in the greenhouse. From a message on the BBC Allotments forum it seems I'm not the only one to have discovered this method for getting ahead with your onion crop.
All I have to do now is ensure the plots are all dug in time, although I shall be racing the weather again with the Bracknell plot to get it cleared in time for planting potatoes - this is the bed I didn't get done last year and only started digging in October.