Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas Dinner Preparations

I've been to the allotment today (first time in ages) to dig up the parsnips and sprouts for Christmas Day. I would have left it until nearer the time but the forecast is for wet and horrible tomorrow, and today was just beautiful. The sun was so warm I could have sat and sunbathed. However it was a little muddy for that, so I got on with the job in hand. The scale in the picture above is a little misleading, as both sprouts and parsnips look average-sized. In reality the sprouts are not much bigger than peas and the parsnips are monster bully-boys!

I have been busy at home as well, making crackers. They are one of those things which, once you have made them yourself, you never want to go back to shop-bought ones. A bit like growing veg I suppose. Not only can you make them look exactly how you want, you can also fill them with what you want. Party poppers, indoor fireworks (one of which turned out to be an outdoor firework, but that's another story), rocket balloons and chocolates, are just some of the things I have included over the years. I haven't yet done lottery tickets.....

We have also got plenty of lights and greenery festooned about the place of course, and the food shopping is done except for the birds which we will collect tomorrow. We are having a chicken, a duck and some pheasants for a change from turkey this year. 

Well now it just remains for me to wish you all a very HAPPY Christmas (or in some cases, just a bearable one!) and a very PRODUCTIVE new year! xxxx

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Liebster Award

Thank you very much Jo at The Good Life for choosing me to receive this award. It's very gratifying to know 1) that people actually read your blog and 2) that they enjoy reading it! I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to carry out the instructions for passing the award on,  as I'm not sure how to tell how many followers someone has..... if someone can enlighten me then I will try to identify 5 more blogs to pass it on to.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Another new plot progress update

This is the area where we dug out that big old bramble a couple of weeks ago. We have put in some new supports for the grapevines and loganberry that we plan to put in.

And this is the remains of the bonfire we had last night, on which said bramble was ceremoniously burnt.

I have made quite a bit of progress with the digging, gradually removing all those chrysanths, which is a shame as they are still flowering away...  the green bit at the back is the first bit I dug, which is now covered in weeds again!

And this is my 'shed' ... until such time as I can put up something a bit more substantial, with guttering for rainwater etc.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

In a Tangle with a Bramble

I've been thinking about clearing the greenhouse out for some time now. Normally I would have done it weeks ago, but there were still so many things apparently still growing. I picked the last of the peppers, almost ripe, but not quite. The tomatoes were still growing and producing flowers, although obviously they won't come to anything now. So yesterday I decided to clear everything except the chillies, because they are still busy ripening. I've made some wonderful, spicy chilli jam, which is going down well so I think another batch might be a good idea.

 Even these outdoor grown tomatoes are still ripening!

Since my last post I have been on a trip to RHS Wisley. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain most of the day so it was a bit gloomy and soggy, but still very beautiful. The orchid above was one of many in their wonderful glasshouse, and the autumn colour (below) was amazing, even in the rain.

So back at the allotment, our task for this weekend is to get rid of this monster, to make room for some grapes, and my little cherry tree which is currently in a container and not doing terribly well.

By lunchtime today we had got to a point where you could actually get from one side of the plot to the other.

By close of play today it looked like this:

Tomorrow we will be digging out the rest of the roots and stumps and preparing the ground for planting. You will notice I say 'we' rather than 'I', and yes! there really were two of us today, my husband came to help for the first time in my whole allotment career! That's because he's the one that wants to plant grapes (for winemaking!) We'll see how long it lasts...

So with the lure of a big bonfire (in a couple of weeks, after it's dried out a bit) I might even be able to get one of my children up there for the first time!

I can't remember if I've mentioned, I have been elected Committee Secretary for the Allotment Association. This kind of happened by accident when I was put on the spot and was unable to say no when I was asked. I thought it would just be a case of taking minutes at committee meetings a few times a year, but it turns out it's quite a lot more than that.... liaising with local councilors, sending out the warning letters.... things I wasn't really prepared for. However, it does have its advantages, such as being first in the know when someone is selling off a very large roll of enviromesh at a bargain price! And after less than a year on this site, I already know a lot more people on the site than I ever did after three years on the old one. Many of them live very close by too so it is quite 'community', which is nice.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Annual Allotment Review

I'm a bit later than usual this year with my review, that's because it's only just starting to feel like the end of summer. It's been so lovely and warm during October, and this year, for the first time ever, it looks as if I will be left with virtually no green tomatoes, just about every single one has ripened. Yesterday I took out the  tomato plants at the allotment, and, guess what? put them in the COMPOST BIN!! Yes! - no blight! This must be the first year that has happened since about 2005 or 2006. I may have mentioned this before but apparently this is the driest year in the Midlands since 1976.

Of course this has had its down side as well, the lack of moisture has really affected some crops quite badly. We have had a few showers, and one or two downpours, but the rain that many other areas have had has just passed us by, the allotments are dustbowls at the moment, and have been all year.

Well, as usual, I'll start with the greenhouse crops:
Tomatoes - a really good year, as I've already said, both indoors and out. The sideshoot cuttings, grown outdoors, were a success too.
Chillies - I've grown a couple of new varieties this year, Numex Twilight, and Black Pearl (above) as well as the Heatwave I grew last year, and we have had masses. There are still plenty ripening in the greenhouse, and I'm not sure what I will do when the frosts hit - maybe put a heater in there? It would be a shame to lose them all.
Aubergines - well, success with aubergines for the first time, in as much as I've never managed to grow any fruit before, three produced all together, off two plants although the last one was the size of an egg.
Peppers - quite a few fruit, some very small and funny shaped, again, plenty still ripening in the greenhouse. Unfortunately all the red ones have had nasty little blackish patches on the insides, which I have had to cut out.
Cucumbers - not a great year for cucumbers, the first batch didn't do very well at all, but I started a second batch halfway through the summer, and these did slightly better. All were quite badly affected by mildew, which I have kept under control by spraying with milk solution.

On the allotment:
Fruit - not a great year for my fruit,  mainly because I have had to start with all new, or moved, plants, which haven't got properly established yet.

Runner beans - my worst year ever, and it wasn't just mine, so I can only put that down to the weather.
Broad beans - not bad, next year I want to try and stagger them a bit more so they don't all come at once.
French beans - pretty successful this year, again, next year I want to do a lot more of them, preferably staggered throughout the year, this should be easier with the extra space I will have next year.
Peas - I did mange touts, which I thought would be easier in terms of avoiding the maggots, but instead I had to contend with pigeons, so had the usual problems with them getting tangled up in the netting (the peas, not the pigeons). They were nice but I didn't have enough space to make the yield worth the effort. The jury is still out on whether to bother next year.

Cabbages - so-so, we don't eat that many, but space again was a bit of an issue here, I had no spaces between my netting tunnels, so it was very difficult to get in amongst them and look after/harvest them. The last few summer ones are still sitting there, some have resprouted, mainly because I can't be bothered to take the netting off!
The same applies to the psb and brussels sprouts, which I finally got around to having a good look at yesterday. The psb is ok, although one plant had already stopped sprouting and started flowering, so I have pulled it up. Unfortunately the brussels sprouts are covered in aphids, and sooty mould. They really don't look too good at all. And the whole lot is swathed in clouds of the inevitable whitefly.

Carrots -a good year for carrots, there are still plenty left, although they are getting a bit woody now.
Parsnips - looking good, but I haven't dug any up yet.

Onions - didn't do too badly, but we have already almost run out, there wasn't enough space to grow very many.
Shallots - ditto, and they weren't very impressive either.
Leeks - are really struggling with the dryness, the first planting is doing ok, the second lot are desperate for a good downpour.
I didn't get any garlic this year, the new occupants of my old plot would have had it.

Potatoes - could have done with more rain. They were ok, but nothing special. They ran out several weeks ago now, as there was not enough space to grow enough for storing over winter.

Sweetcorn - pathetic, again I put this down to the weather.
Squashes - underwhelming. Again, must have been the weather.

I say 'it must have been the weather', but of course I could have done a lot more watering! However, it wasn't just the dryness, it was also quite cold, so I think I wasn't really aware of how little it had rained, otherwise it might have occurred to me to do a bit more watering. I don't normally reckon to water things once they're established, and normally we have enough rain so that it's not necessary. It really has been an extraordinary year for weather, and they say it's going to continue in this vein for several years, if not decades.

I estimate I will have an extra 30% or so of space for vegetables next year. Although I now have a full size plot, nearly half is already full of fruit, but it is a wide plot, and I have paced it out and it is very roomy! I have already planted four types of garlic - Thermidrome, Germidour, Music and a couple of cloves of Elephant garlic.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Summery Autumn

Isn't it great finally to get some warm weather, just when we thought winter was on the way? Only a week or so ago there was talk of frost and snow in October, but now it looks as if we are going to have a couple of weeks of mild and settled weather. Good news for the remaining tomatoes, peppers, squashes etc, an opportunity to ripen up properly before harvesting.

I was sitting outside the back door the other day, enjoying the last tiny patch of afternoon sun, when my attention was caught by a glistening spider's web festooning the backlit leaves of this blueberry bush.

And I love the colours of the new foliage on this lemon plant. Unfortunately it hasn't produced a single lemon, the biggest one got to was about an inch long, then it just shrivelled up. Mostly they don't develop at all. Please tell me if you can suggest what I might be doing wrong. I have tried hand pollinating, but to no avail.

Monday, 26 September 2011

New Plot Progress

So I have finished the strawberry bed, and the patch in front of that is designated next year's onion bed. I'm going to put some garlic in, just as soon as I've been and got some. I'm not sure what is supposed to be happening with the chrysanthemums, I think the old chap wanted to keep some propagation material from each variety, but I've no idea how to go about that, so I daren't touch them for now. I will have to speak to the site chairman about it. So the onion bed is only half done. No matter, I don't need much space for garlic, and won't be putting anything else in until next spring.

Next job was to tackle this end bit, which was covered in nettles and other weeds. They were growing on a mound, held up by the piece of metal 'retaining fence', which suggested there might be a pile of manure or some such underneath, and indeed there was. Once that manure has been spread around a bit I can take that fence out. It's not much to look at is it? I have pulled out a number of rusty old iron poles, and piled them up ready for the 'any old iron' truck to come round. I couldn't quite finish the job today - too exhausted - but once the area is clear I will be able to move my comfrey and rhubarb into it.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Work begins on the new plot

So now I am on plot number 3. I hope I stay put this time! This is the view from near the top end, showing how overgrown it has become since the current tenant, Baden Locke, (all round chrysanth expert and international chrysanthemum judge) became too frail to look after it. You can probably just make out the flowers he has grown this year.

I am keeping on the old plot until I have harvested and moved everything I still want, which will probably be early next spring if I am not to sacrifice all my psb like I had to last year.

This is the very top end, where I am planning to put comfrey and rhubarb.

From here right up to the fence you can just about see at the back, is fruit. There is a rickety shelter at the back, built out of wooden pallets and corrugated iron, and covered in brambles. There is also a compost bay made of corrugated sheet asbestos...... but as long as I leave it where it is it shouldn't present a problem.

This is the strawberry patch, soon after I started clearing it last week....

... and here it is after I'd finished clearing it, and before I started replanting all the plants in orderly rows! This is still a work in progress so hopefully next week I will be able to post pictures of the finished strawberry patch, and maybe a cleared area ready to put garlic in.

Monday, 12 September 2011


As instructed by Monty Don on Friday evening I have denuded all the tomato plants of their foliage, to encourage ripening. I also removed the tatty old sweet peas from around the outside and cleaned off all the shading paint. I'm hoping I won't be left with lots and lots of green tomatoes at the end of the season. I'm not that keen on green tomato chutney, to be honest.

These are the plants that were grown from sideshoot cuttings. I didn't think they were going to come to much, but in the end they have done really well. They don't look very pretty with all their leaves stripped off but you can see how much fruit they have produced. Being F1 hybrids, Sungold toms are not the best value for money, but with this technique you can make them go twice as far.

These are the first two peppers to start ripening, plenty more of these, although mostly quite small. No more aubergines to report, but lots of chillies ripening too.

I still haven't managed to get to the new plot, but I hope to make a start this week or next week, and will be carrying out the annual review shortly. It hasn't been the best year, with quite a few failures, but more on that next time....

Monday, 29 August 2011

Hill Close Gardens

I've been on a little excursion today, to Hill Close Gardens in Warwick. I have been meaning to go for ages now, and am really glad I have finally got around to it. It is a restored Victorian 'allotment' site, where local business owners (who lived above their premises and didn't have gardens) could go and garden. Each plot is a small private space, all similar in shape and size but all different in the way they are laid out and designed. Below is one with a stumpery, and above, a view across the garden to the 'shed' - I say shed but they are actually solid, and very attractive brick structures.

They are not just vegetable patches either, although most of them had a pretty impressive veg patch. The ornamental borders were gorgeous and most of them had at least one very mature apple tree.

How about this for a garden shed (cold frame in front) - covered in brushwood, and through the french windows at the front you could see the internal walls had been decorated with hundreds of oyster shells.

Or, how about the interior of this octaganal 'summer house', with open fire, leaded light windows and carpet on the floor?

Well worth a visit, but check opening times first, they are quite restricted, and only open between April and October. There is an 'apple day' in October apparently.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Squash and French Beans

Things at the allotment have slowed right down lately. The only thing that is really happening is that the french beans have gone beserk, and the pumpkin is starting to turn orange. That's it really. I may get one or two sweetcorn cobs, if I'm lucky, but they're not looking too promising. I wonder if it's a bit late to start watering them regularly?

The early carrots are all gone and the late ones aren't ready yet. The runners have started to produce a few beans but they're not doing very well. There's not much I can harvest, apart from french beans, french beans or french beans. I'm getting a bit tired of french beans.

Despite the recent rain showers, it is still very very dry, so there are very few weeds, and everything else just seems to have stopped growing (apart from the french beans).

I may have some time to spend up there this week, and I'm thinking about making a start on my new allotment. Apparently the old chap is pretty much incapacitated now, and has said that I can start on it any time. He is still having produce collected for him, so I can't make any major changes, but I could start clearing weeds.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Extraordinary Aubergines

The big one weighs 1lb 4oz. Hopefully some of the many remaining flowers will now also produce fruit.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

At the Allotment

I picked the first of the french beans today, looks like there will be a bumper crop.

I'm getting a steady stream of courgettes now, but so far only from two of the plants. The one you can see at the back there has yet to produce anything but male flowers.

Here's the first pumpkin swelling nicely...

...and I think this is a Potimarron squash.

I planted out these leeks (foreground) a few days ago, the ones behind had a few weeks' head start.

And finally the first runner beans are beginning to show.

I had a good weed and tidy up this morning. I'm going to have to lift the red onions and shallots soon, I don't think they are going to grow much more, the foliage is all dying back now.

The outdoor tomatoes are not doing so great, the first trusses formed fruit, but the next few just shrivelled and dropped off. There are lots more coming though, so I've given them a feed and a comfrey mulch and will just have to keep a close eye on them.

I've got masses of aubergine flowers forming now, but I don't know how many fruits each plant can realistically support - I've never successfully grown them before, so I don't know whether to remove some of them. If anyone knows, do please let me know!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

More on tomatoes

I can't get over how long these tomato trusses are. I wonder if the actual tomatoes will be quite small as a result. They look like it at this stage, but the truss still has some developing to do yet.

On the down side, there are greenfly and whitefly all over my chillies, and the cucumbers are covered with mildew. I am trying to keep this under control by spraying regularly with a solution of bicarbonate of soda, but it doesn't seem to be working that well. At first I used a solution of milk and water, which seemed to work well, but left a pretty awful smell. I have been growing some new cucumber plants, but they have already been affected by the mildew as well.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Tomatoes on the turn

Almost read to pick now! I have been buying a few tomatoes from the supermarket, but very reluctantly. None this week though, we should soon be eating our own.

I think this is a flower on the aubergine - there are two plants, with one flower each! Not the most productive plants, but it will be an achievement if they produce fruit, I've never had success with aubergines before.

There are lots of flower buds on my pepper plants, and this one is the first to start developing into a fruit.

Not sure what to do with my chillies, they are now touching the greenhouse ceiling, but there are lots of flower buds on the very tops so I don't want to cut them off...