Monday, 21 October 2013

Smashing Squashes and Cheeky Chillies

This is a selection of this year's squash harvest. We have already eaten a couple, and there are several more still out on the plot: an elongated pumpkin, and a few interesting hybrids, the result of cross-pollination from last year. The seeds must have been in the compost I planted my potatoes in, and when the first potatoes were dug, the seeds germinated. I left them to see what would happen, and the long warm summer has enabled them to produce some nice fruit. There are a couple with obvious Crown Prince parentage, and one which is round and bright yellow.

These Orange Habanero chillies got off to a very late start, and although they have spent the entire summer in a very warm conservatory I was concerned that they would never ripen, but eventually they have. They look so innocent don't they - the jolly bright orange colour - in fact they are seriously hot, a little will go a long way. I have also grown some Caribbean mix (not very hot at all), some Bulgarian Carrot (very hot) and Memorial Day (very/quite hot).

The pepper on top is the only one to have started to change colour. The peppers also got very delayed by the cold spring, so most didn't even produce fruit, and the few fruit I did get are all still green, apart from this one, encouraged by the banana.

I now have two weeks off work, and the forecast seems to be for rain/heavy rain for the foreseeable future. However, I have planted all my tulip bulbs, some garlic and some broad beans, I'm up to date with the most urgent allotment tasks,  and I have got a couple of indoorsy projects to work on - a patchwork quilt, and some paintings of the flowers I have been growing over the summer, so I can relax and enjoy.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

August Produce

Yes I know it's actually September, but only just! This mini aubergine is half the size of a standard aubergine. I have three fruits on two of my three plants - the other two are quite a lot smaller, so not exactly good value in terms of yield, but it's satisfying to have produced some actual fruit.

A Marmande tomato - with growths on its bottom. The flavour isn't much to write home about, but they're a good size.

I ate these for lunch today - not quite as sweet as I had been hoping for, but perhaps I have picked them a few days too early, we'll see with the next ones...

I have found a way of using the mouse melons, which everyone seems to like - pickling. I have made about three jars full, and there are lots more coming.

Meanwhile, we are getting plenty of raspberries, and the blackberries - well to be honest I'm considering putting them on my local Freegle site, I can't possibly use them all! Also still lots of courgettes, beans, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. I have been watering my celeriacs liberally, and pulling off the outer leaves regularly, and the signs above ground are promising, quite a bit of visible root, but I'm not pinning my hopes too highly for what's underneath.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Ryton Gardens and Bee Gardens

Yesterday we visited Ryton Gardens for their Chilli Day and Exotic Crops Fair. While my son and husband took the chilli challenge and stocked up on hot sauces, I had a wander in the allotment garden, and was greatly inspired by the squash frame, above. You can actually walk underneath this squash tunnel, and there are beans growing up the other side. I am now trying to think up simple ways to replicate this on my allotment!

The lady who runs the allotment garden (and the bee garden) at Ryton came to our Annual Allotment BBQ last weekend to give us a talk on 'organic methods of pest control'. When she saw our bee garden (which is in its first year and looking a bit sparse) she promised us a box of divisions and seedlings from the bee garden at Ryton, and these I picked up and brought back yesterday. We will be extending the range of plants to include butterfly-friendly flowers, buddlieas, scabious etc. The numbers of peacocks on the buddlieas around our garden this year have been staggering. Now we are left with hundreds of pieces of wing all over the ground underneath!

The Bee Garden in its first summer

I have been busy making jam: blackcurrant, loganberry & blackberry, and plum. Also lots of blackberry sauce but I can't make any more jam until I get my hands on some more jam jars. Like most veg-growers we are having a glut of courgettes, and I have just attempted to make a courgette and chocolate cake, but unfortunately it's disgusting. Burnt on the outside and raw and soggy in the middle. I've never seen so many blackberries as I have this year: great big juicy ones too, even the wild ones.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Garlic Plaits

 I have followed the instructions in Gardener's World August edition, on how to make a garlic plait. I think I need more practice, but that's all the garlic I've got this year! I will have forgotten what to do by this time next year.

Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, the first of the Sungolds are just about ready to pick. We have had our first cucumber and there are LOTS more to come. I have flowers on my aubergines and chillis and even a couple of green fruit.

Things were getting rather parched down at the allotment, until Tuesday morning, when we had some very impressive thunderstorms and heavy rain. It's done the plot the power of good, and with the weather remaining warm the squashes are putting on several inches of rambling growth daily, as well as producing plenty of flowers and the first few fruit. Courgettes are coming thick and fast. On reflection I'm quite glad I didn't plant outdoor tomatoes, as the warm damp conditions are ideal for the spread of blight on tomatoes and potatoes, but for everything else it's great growing weather. 

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Blooming Flowers


I have been picking flowers regularly for the last couple of weeks now and they are starting to come thick and fast. These are anemones and chrysanthemums. I have been really impressed with both of these, especially the chrysanths, they are so easy to grow and last for ages in a vase. I also have some extraordinary sweet peas which start off purple then gradually turn electric blue. I will post a picture soon.

Other flowers I have been picking are elderflowers, here being brewed up into cordial. These lemons are also home grown, there are still a couple left on the tree.

All the crops are starting to get going now that we have some fine warm weather, and I am hopeful that I might even get a harvest from the peppers and chillies which I had just about given up on not long ago. I have been up at the plot early in the mornings this weekend, trying to get everything done before a) it gets too hot and b) the tennis came on. What a result for Andy Murray! Finally!

My plot is looking really tidy at the moment, and apart from everything being a couple of weeks behind, it's all doing well now. I might even go and take some pictures later.... and pick some more flowers!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Blue Poppies and Mustard

I came home from a week away to find this beauty had produced its first flower. I've been waiting ages for this. Here's another one just coming out:

Below is a patch of mustard green manure, which was just about to start flowering, so the first job I had to tackle was to cut it down. I've left it on the surface to mulch down until my leeks are ready to go in. Believe it or not I did it all with a pair of secateurs, which may sound bonkers but you see I didn't have a strimmer with me and the shears were just too much like hard work. (I'd been up since 3.30am to catch the plane home)

There has been some progress at the plot, a few beans have come up but I've planted some more in pots as back up. Back home in the greenhouse however, everything looked more or less how it did before we went away, a bit disappointing. Chillies are still only an inch high, some of them. Still, there are always a few failures aren't there?

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Hungry gap harvesting

This time of year is known as 'the hungry gap' - when your winter/spring crops have all been eaten and your summer ones are not yet ready. If you are very organised AND have plenty of space there are things which are ready at this time of year, such as spring cabbages, cauliflowers and early salads. This year things have been a bit different. I have waited so long for my spring veggies to be ready, it's now almost summer (in theory). Anyway, my caulis are now finally ready, and of course they're all going to be ready at the same time. I've sown lots more for next year but now I'm wondering whether there is a way to stagger them so I don't have this problem again. They are definitely worth growing as they are currently about £1.80 EACH in the shops!

Today I have also harvested some rhubarb for a crumble, and a good sized bag of purple sprouting brocolli - another 'hungry-gap' stalwart.  

I am beginning to get a harvest from my cutting patch now too. These are Camassia, Ranunculus and Tulip 'Spring Green'. On Friday I visited the Malvern Spring Gardening Show, where I spent a very pleasant couple of hours wandering around the floral marquee, getting floral inspiration.

In less than two weeks we are off to Barcelona for half term week, so as well as the usual last minute laundry, shopping and packing I will also be stressing out over seedlings not yet big enough to be planted out, last minute weeding, watering and greenhouse organisation. Usually at this time of year my tomatoes and peppers are all in their final pots, in their final positions in the greenhouse, and all my seedlings would have been planted out for the summer. But this year nothing is ready, and it's still very cold to be planting out tender crops, so I am having to ask my friend/neighbour to look after them all, which I feel is a lot to ask of someone, especially as she will be feeding the cat as well. I hope it won't prove too much trouble.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Slow Progress

This year I have decorated my cherry tree (above left) with a windmill and some sparkly wrapping paper ribbons, to try and keep the birds off. It seems to be working, all the blossom still looks pristine.

I have put up some trellis against the rain shelter, and planted some sweet peas at the bottom, so hopefully that will look pretty later in the summer.

I now have a phone which takes reasonable photos, and is also easy to upload the photos to the computer, so I have no excuses not to take regular pictures of progress at the allotment. Not that there has been very much progress, despite the sunny weather we are now enjoying, things are still going frustratingly slowly. Seedlings seem to be taking for ever to do anything. I sowed squash and sweetcorn seeds two weeks ago, and they are only just starting to appear. In fact I have had to re-sow the sweetcorn because it did nothing. This time I have pre-chitted, so hopefully it won't take too long. There are some tiny lettuce seedlings coming up at the plot, and some tiny carrots. I have had to re-sow beetroot because they didn't appear. 

However, at least my potatoes are starting to show, which is reassuring. The broad beans are starting to form flowers and the later row I sowed has also started to come up. Below is mustard green manure, which is growing where the leeks, squashes and sweetcorn will go next month. I'm a bit worried that the cauliflowers will still not be ready by the time these need to be planted out, they're so late. My spring cabbages are still very small but if the worst comes to the worst I'll just have to plant round them.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

What a difference a couple of weeks makes


Colour in the garden at long last, and they are not the only signs of spring:

This batch of spawn has been laid quite recently, the first batch we had was laid several weeks ago, and then got badly frozen and will probably not have survived. I think I saw a newt in the pond the other day but now I'm beginning to doubt myself because I haven't seen it again since.

These are my hardy annuals, some of them will soon be ready for planting out at the allotment. This morning I moved all my half-hardy annual seedlings out to the greenhouse (from the conservatory) because although it's probably a bit colder in there at night time, it gets warmer earlier in the day and is warmer generally in the daytime so I hope they will make good progress now. This morning I have sown courgettes, squashes and sweetcorn.

At the allotment all my potatoes are now planted, and so are the onion sets which had rooted well in their modules. I have sown carrots, parsnips, beetroot, lettuce, spinach and more broad beans, and also planted a few flowering plants in my cutting patch (SO excited about this!)

It's just occurred to me that I don't have a space allocated to celeriac, which I have decided to give another try this year. I have never had much luck with purple sprouting broccoli, so I'm just wondering now whether to give them a miss this year and use the space for celeriac instead. Decisions, decisions. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Still too cold for planting.... I've found some other jobs to do. In the fruit patch, I sprayed the couch grass a few weeks ago - I know, I'm not really keen on using weedkiller if I don't have to, but you can't really get couch grass out from among raspberries without digging up the whole lot - and now that it has died back I am planning to cover the area with bark chips. There is a big pile in the car park for anyone to use. I started this job this morning, firstly by covering the rows of raspberries.

I took the temperature of the soil as well, with my new soil thermometer - result - less than 1 degree c. Closer to zero actually. So I have taken the drastic step of covering up the potato patch with clear polythene to try and warm it up a bit. I have anchored it down well with bricks, tyres and water barrels, and buried the edges with soil, so I hope it doesn't blow away or rip. I've sown what I can in pots and modules in the greenhouse, and will be doing some more this afternoon, but everything else such as carrots, parsnips, spinach etc that I would normally be sowing around now, will just have to wait.

On a brighter note, here is my first harvest of the year - a lemon - from my lemon tree! It's quite small, and not very juicy, but it definitely looks and tastes like a lemon. Naturally, I used it in a G & T - cheers!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Seed Progress

Well, it's still VERY cold for the time of year (just in case you hadn't noticed...) so progress is rather slow, and much of the normal activity for this time of year has just had to be put on hold. It's two weeks since I made my first sowings, and this is how the seeds have progressed so far:


Tomatoes have done well and have been pricked out. Orange peppers and aubergines likewise, and they are inside my new heated propagator, which I picked up on Friday, 25% off and I had some vouchers to spend. I have left the vents open so they don't get too sweaty. To be honest it doesn't feel that warm inside it, but there is some condensation on the lid so it must be working. These seedlings are being kept inside in the conservatory, which is still very cold, but that's what heated propagators are for, and at least it's bright. Celeriac is doing well, and the chillies are just coming through.

In the greenhouse, the broad beans are doing ok, most of them came up in the end, just 4 no-shows  altogether. These will probably be used to replace the October-sown outdoor ones that have not survivedI the cold winter. I'm still hoping to sow some more direct, when it's warm/dry enough. The hardy annual flowers are mostly coming up, still waiting for the larkspur, sweet peas, sunflowers and scabious. It's quite encouraging, given how cold it's been.

I still haven't put any onions in, I haven't really had a chance to go to the allotment, what with the weather and work etc. I'm thinking of getting a soil thermometer, as I think we have had so few warm days that the soil will be much slower to warm this year. I don't want to sow too early and waste seed. Apparently potatoes need a soil temperature of 6 - 8 degrees to grow, and looking at the chits on my spuds their little sprouts are looking a bit reluctant, and not ready to be planted anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't end up going in until mid-April at this rate.

I'm struggling to stay philosophical about the weather, I know there's nothing we can do about it, but it will be unbearable if after all this cold and wet, we have another summer like last year. Please please PLEASE Mother Nature, don't let that happen....

Sunday, 3 March 2013

First of this season's sowing

The trusty windowsill propagator has been taken out, wiped down and plugged in, and into that has gone Sungold and Marmande tomatoes, aubergine 'Ophelia' (mini ones), red and orange peppers, celeriac, Caribbean, Orange Habanero and Memorial Day chillies. (After last year's disaster, I've decided to give celeriac one more chance...)

In addition to these, I have done a variety of hardy annuals: scabious, sweet peas, sunflowers, calendulas, larkspur, godetia, cornflower, chrysanthemum, borage, and echium. These I have sown in pots in the greenhouse. Some are just for the bees, and some are for my cutting patch.  The plan is to sow the half hardy annuals in the propagator once the tomatoes etc have been potted on.

The allotment has been almost all dug over and will soon be ready for planting. I suppose I can begin putting in onions etc quite soon. I've been delaying most of my sowing this year as it's been so cold, but I don't think onions mind a bit of cold soil. I've also got a couple of lily bulbs that have started to shoot in their packaging, so I suppose they will have to go in as well - it does say plant Feb - June so they should be ok.

After such a long, cold and wet winter I'm really champing at the bit now to get going, I think there is milder spring weather just around the corner now....

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Long Winter Break

No, I haven't given up blogging, there has just been very little allotment-related activity going on, and my mind hasn't really been on vegetable growing since the bad weather set in all those weeks ago. The only thing I have done is to re-roof the shelter with felt shingles left over from our garden office. The flimsy corrugated plastic blew off in the gales a couple of days after fixing it on. Lesson learned. I still need to fix some braces to the back and sides (it's a bit wobbly) and I might fix some of those willow hurdles onto the back and sides to keep out the worst of the weather. But the water butt is now full and will probably soon be overflowing.

These are the broad beans I put in last October/November, and they have come through the cold, snowy spell pretty well I think. I am going to sow some more in March, and I will probably do a few in pots during February as well. I want loads of broad beans, they are very popular in our family and they freeze very well too.

The garlic hasn't minded the cold either, and the onions (left side of picture) have grown noticeably during the last few mild days.

Now that the veg-related parts of my brain are coming out of dormancy, and the sap is rising (so to speak) I am starting to feel impatient to get going again. I haven't ordered any seeds yet, I'm going to wait and see whether Thompson and Morgan start sending me vouchers and offers like they did last year. In a couple of week's time I will be going off to choose my seed potatoes, and I have asked the kitchens at work for some of their empty egg trays, as I suddenly realise I have failed to save any egg boxes for chitting in.

While I haven't been giving much thought to veg, I have been getting quite excited about my new flower-growing project, and have spent quite a bit of time over the winter poring over flower seed catalogues, and learning about the technicalities of caring for cut flowers, from some books I got for Christmas. So - now  I'm raring to go, just need the rain and wind and snow to go away so I can get down there and start digging!