Sunday, 18 November 2012

Water Collection and Shelter

This weekend's project was to construct a rainwater harvesting and dry tool storage structure. We are not allowed sheds on our site, so quite a few people have built something similar. Mine is fairly basic and probably not the most sturdy, but it should do the job. Above is what we got done yesterday afternoon, below is the (almost) finished object.

Apart from the two posts and metposts at the back, all the wood has been salvaged from the allotment site or from our shed at home. I did have to buy the corrugated plastic for the roof, and the guttering.

All it needs now is a bit of downpipe for the gutter, and a couple of pieces of trellis I thought I could attach to the sides, then I can pretty it up a bit with annual climbers in the summer, which will provide a bit of shade, should I ever need it. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

A look at my plot

It's been some time since I took my camera to the plot, so as it was a lovely sunny afternoon, (after a number of nasty wet days) and it's also been some time since I posted, I thought I would take the opportunity to update you.

I have cleared the very weedy, overgrown strawberry patch, reducing them to two rows, to make them easier to net in the summer, and to make more room for my flower patch next year.

I have put in some tulip bulbs, and this little Chinese lantern plant which was going cheap at the garden centre. Behind that, the fruit bushes which I have pruned quite drastically.

Here is where my beans were. I decided the easiest thing to do was just to spread them out over their patch, to help smother all the weeds over the winter. I have left the dwarf beans in, as ground cover, for the same reason.

We are still eating tomatoes as they ripen, and I had to bring in all the peppers to ripen on the windowsill. They do ripen, but not without going all wrinkly at the same time. I have been charring the skins under the grill and peeling them, there won't be many going to waste. I brought the chilli plants into the conservatory where they are ripening beautifully.

Other than that we are now very much onto the winter veg... a few carrots are left, and some winter cabbages. I dug up the first couple of parsnips the other day - one huge and one quite respectable, so that is promising. Sprouts are nearly ready, as are leeks. Looking ahead to next spring and summer, there will hopefully be purple sprouting brocolli, cauliflowers and spring cabbages, and I have put in some broad beans, garlic and overwintering onions

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Highs and the Lows

The small holes in these potatoes are caused by wireworm, the larvae of the click beetle apparently, and it has affected nearly all my late spuds. They are supposedly most prevalent in areas which have recently been cleared of grass, but that is not true in this case. An alternative suggestion I have read is that they are more numerous where you have had manure, and  that is certainly the case, I spread out the manure I inherited over my potato patch. The only cure is to wait for the end of the 4-5 year life cycle, which is fine because it will be 4-5 years before I put potatoes there again. I have never had a problem with wireworm before, and this year I have also had slug damage on my spuds for the first time.

This is almost my entire onion crop - pitiful isn't it! I grew them from seed, which I had not done before, and probably won't do again, except as an addition to sets.

Summer got off to a very late start, and also seemed to come to a very early end, and the peppers and chillies in the greenhouse are only just beginning to ripen, the chillies in the lead as you can see.

It was touch and go whether my second crop of sweetcorn would ever ripen, but it's just about there now. I am having to eat it all up as quickly as possible, before the frosts come. It's the best crop of sweetcorn I've had for many a year, so I would have been gutted if it had all gone to waste.

One great success was beans - climbing french and runner beans, as well as broad beans. In fact they did so well that nearly all of my dwarf beans went to waste, as I didn't have time to pick them, there were so many climbing ones (which are easier to pick after all). I won't bother with dwarf ones next year.

The most disappointing failures of the year have been the celery and celeriac, which bolted before they even got off the ground. Beetroot have been disappointing too. Many carrots failed to germinate, and many that did have split, presumably due to weather conditions. They are now being attacked by slugs where their shoulders emerge above the soil.

It hasn't been a good year for squashes, although I do have a few butternuts now, I'm not sure whether they will ripen, or whether I should take them in now before the frost, which I think there may be this weekend.

Despite the wet weather, the outdoor tomatoes didn't do too badly, but I have brought the remaining ones home to ripen. There was some blight, but I was able to keep it under control until recently, and I finally pulled all the remaining plants out today. The Ferline toms are definitely quite resistant.

It has been lovely to have so much fruit - I have made lots of jam, and we are still getting plenty of autumn raspberries. It takes ages to pick them all though.

As I have mentioned already I think, I will be dedicating a bit more space to cutting flowers next year, I have really enjoyed having a few in the house and I want to experiment with different kinds. It's a nice thing to take to people when you visit I think (especially when you can tell they're getting fed up with runner beans...)
I will also be cutting back on certain things (ie potatoes and beans!) and leaving a bit more space in between for harvesting. More sturdy supports for beans will also be required. And I probably won't bother with chard again, as it has just sat there, we haven't really eaten any. The leaves are all holey and ragged, they just don't look very appetising.

What will you be doing differently next year?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Mouse Melons

These are an experiment for this year, and they have done very well. Very easy to grow and quite prolific (although obviously very small), they taste like tangy cucumbers, but with fairly thick, crunchy skins, especially when allowed to grow longer than an inch, the small ones are much more tender.

However I would be fibbing if I said that they had gone down a storm in our house. I haven't found many ways of using them, and there are still a few languishing in the fridge. I think I will do them again next year, but I will pick them all while still quite small, and pickle them.

A whole month since my last blog, and no wonder, since going back to work three weeks ago my feet have barely touched the ground. I am doing an extra 8 hours per week at work (24 in total) which means a lot less time during the week for allotmenting, especially as the days are getting so much shorter. On top of that, these last few weeks have been the busiest of the year in terms of keeping up with the harvest. We have been up to our ears in beans, courgettes, potatoes and raspberries. I made some raspberry jam yesterday, and the beans have been distributed amongst friends, family and anyone else who comes to the house. In addition we have been doing up our kitchen, which has not only taken up quite a bit of time, but meant that the kitchen was out of action at the peak of vegetable production. It's also a busy time for the allotment committee, I have been printing, stuffing in envelopes and delivering the autumn newsletter, now I need to produce 100 or so rent letters, and the AGM is coming up at the beginning of November. 

It's all go. Will be back soon for an end of season review.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Today's Harvest

I spent about 3 hours picking all this today, and then spent the rest of the day in the kitchen, washing, peeling, chopping, sorting, blanching, freezing, and making chutney. Growing your own can be very time-consuming. The beans, purple climbing french beans, flat-podded climbing french beans, runner beans and dwarf french beans, are at peak production at the moment, and I can't keep pace with them. We are going away this weekend to my sister-in-law, so will take some with me, then our kitchen will be out of action next week while we do some work on it, so I won't have an opportunity to cook or even to blanch and freeze any beans, so the neighbours will have to have the rest.

With all the extra growing space I have this year I have inevitably overdone it with certain veg, namely potatoes and beans. It's quite fortunate that I lost a number of courgette plants in the cold weather, otherwise I would be over-run with those too. I have decided that next year I will probably reduce the amount I plant, and just spread it out more. I have found it quite difficult moving about between things this year, I have packed it all in a bit too closely!

Weirdly, the blight which was threatening to take hold a couple of weeks ago seems not to have spread, indeed it even seems to be 'cured'. I cut off all the potato foliage, except for one row, which still looks the same as it did two weeks ago. Only one tomato was affected, and no more since then, and there has definitely been no more spread. All the remaining fruit looks fine, the foliage also looked fine, although I have now cut most of it off to encourage the fruit to ripen.

The first sowing of sweetcorn has a couple of cobs on each plant, but I am still waiting for them to ripen. The second sowing looks really healthy, and hopefully the warm weather will continue long enough for it to reach maturity. The flowers are already emerging at the top.

The autumn raspberries are starting to get going, but the summer ones haven't done much at all, I think I will have to replace them this winter.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bee Bar

A few pictures of the flowers in my bee border - a narrow strip at the top end of the plot. It is in full flower at the moment and looking lovely. All the flowers are doing really well this year, and this has inspired me to devote a special patch next year specially for cutting flowers. Something to cheer me up if we get another year like this one, late July and still not much ready for harvest. Normally things are in full flow by now, so far this year all we have really had is broad beans, salad and potatoes ...

.. which brings me on to some really bad news: potato blight. I have never had it before, only tomato blight. Sadly the outdoor tomatoes are starting to show signs as well now, and they were doing so well, just starting to ripen, some of them. I have cut down most of the potato foliage and shoved it into bags, leaving some of the main crops which are not too badly affected yet. I am giving them a few more days to grow while the weather is good, but will have to cut them down before it starts to rain again. They have all had a dousing with anti-fungal treatment as well.

I have had a lot of blackcurrants and gooseberries though, and made plenty of jam. Yesterday I dug up my elephant garlic, just two bulbs to see if we liked it. Just as well I didn't plant more. It didn't agree with us and caused a very uncomfortable night! I have heard this said of artichokes, but nobody warned me about elephant garlic!

I have been getting up at the crack of dawn every day this week, to go down and make the most of the cool early mornings. While I wouldn't dream of complaining about this beautiful weather, it's really a bit too hot for working in after mid-morning.

Things are really starting to put on some growth finally, now we have a bit of warmth. Courgettes are really getting going, and beans are starting to flower. I know it's not going to last, but I am making the most of it while it does.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A Glimmer of Hope

At last there is some hope on the horizon for our crops this summer, as reports are coming in that the Jet Stream is finally on the move northwards, which means that the weather will become more 'typical' for the time of year. Nobody has actually started talking about heatwaves yet though, so I suspect what they really mean is just 'a bit less crap' than we've had for the last couple of months. I'll settle for that, it'll be a definite improvement anyway.

These are the first of my tomatoes to start ripening, Sungold, typically reliable and early to ripen. We have had a cucumber already, with plenty more to come, and the plants are so much healthier than last year, when they were covered in mildew all summer long.

I have been picking broad beans galore, enough for some excess to freeze. I must remember to pay closer attention to spacing next year, I can hardly get in between my rows, and sturdier supports will be required too.

I have lost a couple of courgette and squash plants, to stem rot, and the red onions aren't doing too well, but most other crops are starting to perform well, including outdoor tomatoes, which I have mulched with chopped up comfrey. I picked vast quantities of blackcurrants the other day, enough to make about 9 jars of jam, and there are quite a lot more to come. Raspberries are starting to come as well, but the quality is not great and the birds seem to be eating most of them.

One area I am really pleased with is my bee border, which is now in full flower. I keep forgetting to take my camera with me, but I will definitely be showing that off in a future post.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Snake in the Grass

Or rather, snake in the netting. This grass snake had got itself tangled up and I had to cut it free while the plot holder, Brian, held it still. We weren't sure whether it was a grass snake or an adder until I got home and googled it, so it was a bit scary. Fortunately I quite like snakes, if it had been a spider I would have run a mile.

Anyway, no harm done to the snake and it was set free at the top of the plot, by the hedge. Good luck to it, netting can be lethal to wildlife, from now on I'm going to make sure all mine is stowed away in my tool box or bin when not in use.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Another Try

I got my first allotment in 2007, the first year of the lousy summers we've had ever since. I think it's fair to say this summer is the lousiest of them all - so far. In 2007 it was wet, but still relatively warm. It was similar up until last year when it was cold but dry, this year it's cold, it's wet AND it's windy. Just about everything on the allotment is struggling, particularly the tender veg, tomatoes, sweetcorn and squashes. I planted out 14 sweetcorn plants at the beginning of June, two of them have keeled over and died. I have a space in front of the squashes, so I have sown another batch of sweetcorn, which should be ready for planting out at the end of June. I am holding on to the optimistic hope that we will have a warm and dry late summer and autumn. To the same end, I have sown some more Autumn Crown squashes, the ones I planted in early June look so sickly I doubt if they will make it through.

I have lost a few plants, I suspect due to red ants tunneling around the roots, I unearthed colony after colony of red ants as I was digging the plot over earlier this year. Recently I have resorted to dusting them with ant powder whenever I dig up a nest. Also I think my soil needs beefing up a bit, things just don't look as healthy as they ought to, though that could be down to the weather. My garlic was looking really good, but is now covered in rust. I can't tell when the leaves are starting to go yellow, they are so yellow already. In theory, now that the days are getting shorter (what a depressing thought, when summer hasn't even arrived yet) the onions should start to bulk up. Other people's set-grown onions look nearly ready to lift.

I'm going up later to sow some more carrots, some more pre-chitted parsnips (I know it's a bit late but it's worth a try, and I need to replace all that celery and celeriac that I had to pull out :( ) and some more french beans.

Gardeners' Refrain: THERE'S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Celeriac Strategy Scuppered

After all the time and effort I put into those celeriac and celery, and would you believe - every last plant has bolted! After that cold, miserable May and then the hot, dry spell they must have thought they had had winter and now it's spring again. I'm a bit gutted about it. Should I try again next year? After all they never got the chance to prove themselves did they? I think they can have one more chance, given that it's probably my fault for sowing them and planting them out too early.

It's not all bad news though, the strawberries are starting to ripen, and everything else is doing fine, except maybe the onions. And the beetroot.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Just doing my job!

The unfortunate tenant of the above plot (and below) has just received a letter complaining about the overgrown state of his plot. I know this because, as secretary of the allotment association, I was in the unenviable position of having to send it to him. He has been asked to have it cleared by the end of June to avoid further action being taken. It may not look as bad as some plots you have seen, (you can't really see how many hundreds of dandelion clocks there are) but I have been on my plot for almost a year now, and not once have I ever clapped eyes on this plotholder, nor seen any evidence of any work having been done. There are whole rows of parsnips, leeks and beetroot which have never been harvested - imagine!

Now I know that there are all kinds of reasons for people not maintaining their plots regularly, and I have not been completely insensitive! I did send a very friendly e-mail several weeks ago, enquiring as to whether there were any particular reasons why he had not been coming, and if he had any problems he could contact myself or the Chairman to talk things through. He replied saying he had been up on one afternoon but the weather hadn't been very nice. It's difficult because although I understand he may be struggling to keep on top of things and reluctant to give it up, there are people on the waiting list just dying to be given the chance.

The worst thing is though, if he does decide to come back and carry on, his is the plot right next to mine! Things could be a little....awkward.

Still very little growth on the onions. If you click on the picture, you can probably just about make them out - they are tiny!

On the plus side, the broad beans have got loads of flowers on them, and the climbing french beans are coming up.

Everything is planted out into the greenhouse, and growing like the clappers.

These plants are hardening off ready for planting out this coming week, in fact since taking this picture I have now planted out the tomatoes at the allotment. It's a very busy time right now.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Celeriac Strategy

I'm giving celeriac one more chance. If I don't get something bigger than a tennis ball this year, then that's it, I will never attempt to grow them again. And while I'm having this one last try, I thought I'd give celery a whirl too. You never know....

So - my strategy is that I'm just throwing everything at it. I started them off in the heated propagator in January, then the best ten seedlings of each got pricked out into their own luxury pot, and given optimum conditions until early April, when I began hardening them off. This has been done quite gradually, a couple of weeks for a few hours a day, then a couple of weeks with a few more hours each day, until about three weeks ago they were left out permanently. By yesterday they had had a couple of nights out in a slight frost, and came through unscathed, so I decided the time had come for them to go out into the great outdoors. I dug two trenches and filled them with compost, manure and water retaining crystals, and in they went. If it looks as if we are in for a drought I will mulch them deeply with straw, and they will get another feed or two later in the summer. They really have no excuse not to perform this time, but as I said, this is last chance saloon.

The broad beans are making slow progress. Yesterday I started weeding and hoeing around them, but as you can see, I didn't manage to finish the job.

I am quite concerned about these onion seedlings.... I have been looking around nervously at everybody else's set grown onions, most of which are about a foot tall now, while my seed-grown ones are positively puny. However I am keeping the faith, I have heard several reports of seed-grown onions doing nothing until midsummer, then putting on loads of growth and growing bigger than the sets. We'll see... if I don't get any onions this year then so be it, at least I can say I have tried the seed.

This is quite exciting - I have never grown gooseberries before. Technically I haven't actually grown these, they were already there, but now they are mine.

But what's this? Something has nicked the blossom off my cherry tree! I can't have this - I have hastily  draped some netting over it, but I'm worried that the birds (assuming that's who dunnit) will just get tangled up in it and all the remaining blossom will get knocked off anyway. Perhaps I need to try the dangly CD method.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Last year and this year

This is how my greenhouse was looking on 4th May last year. I'm not even going to attempt to go out and take a photo today, but as you can imagine, things look rather different this year. I can hardly believe that this time last year, I had already planted everything into their final pots, and everything looks at least 10 times as big as it does this year.

This year, most of my tomato and chilli seedlings (it would be pushing it to describe them as plants just yet) are huddled in the conservatory, trying to keep warm enough to continue growing. I did have them out in the greenhouse, but they were not doing anything. The few things I can't quite fit into the conservatory are zipped up inside the placky greenhouse or inside the coldframe, both within the greenhouse, but they are still not warm enough. According to the thermometer it went down to about 3 degrees last night.  I sowed all my squash/cucumber/courgette seeds about a week and a half ago, but as yet, no sign of germination. I should have waited. When, oh when, are we going to get some nice warm growing weather?

Down on the plot, things are just about ticking over. I sowed some spinach, chard and lettuces a few weeks ago and they are looking pretty sorry for themselves. I have also sowed some beetroot, but I can't really see anything that is definitely a beetroot seedling yet. Even the weeds are struggling slightly! On the plus side, my bee-friendly flower seedlings are doing fine, and the first early potatoes have come through. I also spotted  parsnip seedlings yesterday. I pre-chitted the seed, which I think helps a lot.

I am trying to drum up some support and enthusiasm at the Allotment Association for bee and biodiversity-friendly schemes. Another committee member is quite keen to sow some flower areas, and I have the task of organising a talk on the subject at our allotment open day during National Allotment Week. I have e-mailed the local Friends of the Earth group but no reply as yet. If anyone has any ideas about who I could contact, please let me know.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

As gardeners, you will probably be well aware of the danger that bumblebees, and other bees are currently in. Their numbers are in serious decline and this is due in large part to modern, intensive farming methods. Although there are now various schemes starting up to try and conserve and look after bee populations, they still need a lot of help. If you would like to play your part, and help to support the vital research into this problem, joining the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is one way in which you can. You can also buy gift memberships for other people. Or if you would prefer to help without joining the trust, you can do so if you shop at Amazon. Click through to Amazon via and Amazon will donate 8% of the price of whatever you purchase to the Trust.

When you join you will receive a welcome pack containing a poster of all the bumblebee species, a car sticker, enamel badge, pack of bee-friendly seed, and lots of useful information about the Trust's activities, and ways in which you can make your garden or allotment an attractive and safe haven for bees and other pollinating insects.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A Lucky Find

At the bottom of our garden, behind the shed, is an old steel cabinet. Since we moved in, we have never been able to open it and find out what was inside, as it was jammed at the top of the doors. Thinking it would be an ideal home for all my plant pots and trays, which were until then stacked up in front of the cupboard, covered in a thick layer of rotting autumn leaves, a couple of days ago I went out and bought a crowbar, and finally got the thing open. Inside I found this mini plastic growhouse: all it needed was a good clean and it's as good as new. So I have set it up inside the greenhouse, moved a few seedlings into it and there is still plenty of room, I might move some of these tomato and pepper seedlings in as well, which are currently cluttering up the conservatory and dripping water all over the floor.

I now wish I had discovered it BEFORE I had gone out and wasted £25.00 on a plastic/aluminium coldframe, which is worse than useless. One gust of wind and it would blow away if I left it outside; inside the greenhouse it takes up a lot of room and is difficult to get things in and out of without having three hands. Oh well, you live and learn. Another offering for Freecycle I suppose.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


If you are a regular reader you will have noticed that I have given this blog a bit of a makeover. Not being very technically minded it took me quite a long time to work out how to do it, particularly when it came to sizing photographs. The air was pretty blue for a while I can tell you. Anyway, I am pleased with the final result, but I do have a confession to make, which is that the picture at the top of the blog is in fact a picture of my old allotment, by that I mean two allotments ago. Perhaps that doesn't matter although I feel it might give a false impression of what my current situation is!

Anyway, having absolutely nothing to take pictures of at the moment, except for pots of compost containing seeds which have yet to germinate, I have made a little collage, a sort of advance preview, of what I HOPE to see adorning my present allotment this coming summer. I have recently sown seeds of cosmos, swan river daisy, marigold, calendula, borage, poppy, cornflower, echium, nasturtium, sunflower, cerinthe, verbena bonariensis, godetia and candytuft. Plus I have planted small plants of lavender, ox eye daisy, fox and cubs, English mace, yarrow and one or two others I can't recall just now. So not only will it look pretty and delightful to humans, but will also have the pollinating insects swarming in from far and wide. So far only the marigolds, swan river daisies and cosmos are starting to come up, but it's early days. Fingers crossed this will be the most colourful allotment year to date.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Springing into Action

It seems that spring has sprung a little early this year. Another beautiful sunny day here, my window thermometer recorded 16 degrees, although I don't know how accurate that is. It certainly felt very warm while I was working up at the plot this afternoon, I was down to my shirtsleeves. There is more warm weather forecast for this week, then we'll be into March - meteorological spring proper. My garlic (above) will hopefully now start to romp away, I weeded round it last week as it was getting a little swamped in chickweed. On the right, in the picture, the two sticks mark where I have put in one row of shallots. It doesn't seem very much, one row, but that's all there was in the packet. Might have to get another one. I have also put in three double rows of broad beans.

I have been aware for a while that my plot lacked a number sign, so I found myself an offcut of plywood, cut out a circle and turned it into this sunflower. I am going to grow a few real sunflowers and use this to support them, later in the summer.

At home, my onion seedlings are doing pretty well now, and the second batch I started have all now come up too. I  have pricked out the celery and celeriac seedlings, and they are now in the greenhouse, developing their first true leaves. A few sweet peas have come up, but I have had to re sow because most of the first sowing rotted off and didn't come up. I have also sown a tub full of salad and spinach leaves in the greenhouse, which look as if they are just starting to germinate. And last but not least I have sown chillies, peppers and a few Marmande tomatoes in the heated propagator a few days ago, but they have not come up yet. Next to go in will  be the red onion seeds, and if the weather continues mild, it won't be long before I can start doing the first sowings at the allotment: carrots, spinach, beetroot etc. Don't you just love the beginning of spring?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Seed Potatoes

I've just got back from my annual seed potato buying trip. It's one of the first landmarks in my gardening year and one I really look forward to. This year it has been even more exciting, because with more space to fill I can now choose an even bigger range of varieties than ever. I went over to Russells Garden Centre just outside Coventry, which is an independent garden centre, where you can buy most of the varieties loose. Unfortunately, one of my tried and trusted favourites, Anya, was not available loose this time, only in very large bags of about 40 tubers. I didn't want that many, so I'm giving them a miss this year.

Before I went I measured my potato patch, and carefully worked out exactly how many tubers I have room for. I decided I would plant four types of maincrops in rows of seven, and seven types of earlies/second earlies in rows of ten. This is what I have chosen:

Maris Piper
Cara (one of my regulars)

Second Earlies:
Charlotte (another regular)
Yukon Gold
Apache (pictured above)

First Earlies:
Lady Christl

The intriguing-looking Apaches were only available in pre-packed bags, so I will have two rows of those. So all except for the Cara and Charlotte are varieties I have never grown before (not that I can remember anyway!)

I shall now start setting them all out in their egg boxes to chit - hope I have enough egg boxes!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend - What did You See?

Recently we have been visited regularly by a group of Redpolls. They are a type of finch, with pinky red patches on their heads and breasts like this one above. (Sorry it's so blurred, I was in a hurry to photograph it before it flew away). Some are more brightly coloured than others, I think it is the males that have more colour. If the first one to arrive had not been so brightly coloured, I would not have been able to identify them. The females are really quite non-descript. I had  never heard of a Redpoll, let alone seen one, so I had to leaf through the bird book until I saw something that matched. They squabble with the Goldfinches who were already regular visitors, so I decided to get myself one of these extra large nyger seed dispensers, with multiple perches, so more could visit at any one time. They still squabble over it, even though there's more than enough room for all of them.

Over the course of my one hour, this is what I saw:

3 Blackbirds
2 Collared Doves
1 Greenfinch
1 Robin
1 Blue tit
2 Dunnocks
2 Crows
2 Starlings
2 Chaffinches
4 Goldfinches
1 Long-tailed tit
2 Woodpigeons
1 Coal tit
1 Great tit
3 Redpolls
1 Seagull

Did you take part? If so what did you see?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Victorian Kitchen Garden

In my quest for substitute gardening activities during winter, I often turn to gardening books and magazines, but what I really enjoy is to immerse myself completely in some full-on gardening fantasy, ideally through the medium of a screen. I had seen adverts for The Victorian Kitchen Garden DVD collection in magazines, and thought it seemed rather expensive, and it recently occurred to me that I might be able to rent it instead. So I popped over to, marked it 'high priority', and it landed on my doormat in a couple of days. I was intending to spin out the couple of hours worth of Disc One over a few days, but ended up watching it all in the same day, then watching it again the next day!

It is quite an old production, I'd guess around 30 years old, the presenters are obviously from the Percy Thrower School, jackets and ties at all times. They waffle on a bit here and there, but they know their onions.

This particular kitchen garden belongs to a country house in Berkshire. It is a huge walled garden, with great expanses of glasshouses and coldframes, espaliered fruit trees on every wall, and perfect gravel pathways with clematis-clothed arches dotted around. There are rows of outbuildings, not only potting sheds and tool sheds, but forcing sheds, and soil sheds, and a special building to house the huge boiler which heats the glasshouses. There is a fruit store which looks like a small thatched cottage, and even an ice-house. (Forgive me if I'm confusing this last bit with Chatsworth, which is also featured in the Introduction quite a lot).

The series takes you through the gardening year, month by month, describing the day to day lives of the Head Gardener and his staff: what they would be doing, and how they would be doing it, in the days prior to the invention of plastic pots, bags of ready made compost, nylon netting and horticultural fleece. They had some pretty resourceful methods of pest control! Of course, being right next door to the stable block, they were never short of manure, including the fresh stuff for creating hot beds, but imagine how much time and effort would have gone into shifting all that amount of muck. Just as well they had a staff of around 20 people.

Wealthy Victorians enjoyed showing off at their dinner parties, and liked to impress their guests with the range of exotic produce on offer. If they took a fancy to aubergines, or pineapples, the Head Gardener was expected to produce them himself, on the estate. Not only did they have to produce enough to feed His Lordship and his family and dinner guests all year round, but enough for all the servants as well. The large gardening staff and the elaborate, purpose built equipment would have been essential, as would access to his Lordship's presumably quite generous gardening budget.

This is a relaxing, old fashioned TV series, perfect winter viewing for anyone who is dying to get on with the new gardening season, but finds themselves confined to barracks due to the cold, wet or frosty weather. You will be inspired with all kinds of new ideas. Or, if you're looking for some motivation to get you going again after the winter break, this will certainly help. So far I have watched January through to May, and I can't wait for Disc Two, with the second half of the year, to pop through the door. If you don't want to buy or rent it, you can also watch it all on You Tube.

Monday, 16 January 2012

First Seeds of the Season

It's too cold and frosty to work on the allotment at the moment, and I have been getting twitchy sitting waiting for the season to get underway. So I decided it wasn't too early to start sowing a few seeds. The only one of these I have done before is celeriac. Although the packet says sow Feb - March I normally start these off in January as they are pretty slow growers, and by the time they germinate it will probably be February. I guessed that as celery is very similar I could do the same with this. I know a lot of people sow their onions at Christmas, so I'm pretty sure I'm OK with these too.

They are all in the conservatory so they are well lit, and will all be covered in bubble wrap, and the celery and celeriac are sitting on my heated propagator. Once they have germinated I can move them onto the windowsill and make room in the propagator for the next batch of seeds, toms, peppers, chillies etc.

I have made a bit more progress with the digging during the mild weather last week, so the plot is nearly ready for spring. There is not much more I can do now until next month, when I will be buying and chitting seed potatoes, starting off the greenhouse seeds, pruning the autumn fruiting raspberries and, weather permitting, sowing broad beans.