Monday, 29 December 2008

A Fresh Leek

An ambition fulfilled. The children and I went to the allotment on Christmas Eve and we dug up six lovely leeks which I made into a mushroom, stilton and leek vegetable plait for the vegetarian alternative to turkey for Christmas dinner. We chose the fattest six and carefully dug them up. They smelt gorgeous, so oniony and earthy.

They only took a few minutes to saute in the frying pan and were beautifully tender - not like your shop-bought ones which are a bit tough and take much longer to cook.

Slightly on the downside - when digging for potatoes there were none! I think they must have disintegrated or been eaten by slugs.

The sprouts are still a bit small to pick yet, so there was no point in picking them for Christmas dinner, but we have them to look forward to next year.

However, eating the leeks far outweighed the fact that the potatoes are no more and the sprouts are yet to come.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Current Trend

While passing through Lidl the other day I spied some redcurrant bushes that seemed to be a good bargain. We already have a blackcurrant bush and I want to add some more fruit to the ever filling up plot, and redcurrants would be very useful.

I bought 3 bushes which looked very healthy and because I didn't have time to plant them on the plot straightaway because I haven't dug where I want them to go yet, I have planted them in quite big pots for the time being. When the space has been thoroughly dug over I shall put them in their permenant home and they will be a nice compliment to the blackcurrant, loganberry, strawberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes that are there, and not forgetting of course the newly planted Bramley apple tree.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

An apple a day

Now that the produce has been harvested (except for the leeks, sprouts and late maincrop potatoes) it's time to think about adding more structure to the allotment.

I have always wanted to grow a Bramley apple tree so as to have a continuous supply of apples to use in cooking and baking. Now that we have the extra plot there is plenty of room to realise that dream. In October I saw an advert in the "Daily Telegraph" for a Bramley apple tree and 2 blackberry bushes all for £19.99. Always one for a good bargain I decided to order the fruit straightaway.

When it all arrived, I was very excited. The tree is a mature 2 year old 5 ft tall specimen and the blackberry bushes were also over a year old. They all looked very healthy and I knew that the months of October and November were good for planting fruit as the ground is still relatively warm.

So in the October half term the children and I spent a few hours digging a rather large hole of about 3 ft in diameter and about 18" deep. We marked out the size with handfalls of sand and started digging. After we had dug down about 6" we hit pure clay so digging was a bit hard-going after that. When the hole was big enough we put 4 sacks of local Council manure at the bottom and plenty of blood, fish & bone fertiliser so as to give the tree a good start. The tree was duly planted with great ceremony and all the earth put back with more compost on the surface for good measure. We also placed an old piece of guttering down into the earth so that we can pour water down it so it reaches the roots easily.

The tree was then staked (temporarily) as the stake will not arrive until February next year and then given a thorough watering.

All in all a very satisfactory day's work. Let's hope that in a few years time we shall be reaping the harvest of all that hard work.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Sprouting a Leek

The leeks are growing steadily and are thickening up nicely. The sprouts are also growing up and filling out nicely, and I am hopeful that by Christmas time they will be ready to harvest and we can have them for Christmas dinner - that's the plan anyway.

The vegetables on the additional plot that we gained in April this year have been harvested (except the potatoes which should be ready at the beginning of December), and I am now methodically digging it over. Towards the bottom of the plot just before you get to the newly dug potato bed, mentioned above, the earth strongly resembles a field. The earth is very hard and is covered by very thick couch grass. The only thing to do is to dig up each clod and put them into the recycling. The digging has been relatively easy as the earth is quite moist, the difficult thing is wheeling the wheelbarrow with a whole bag full of the heavy clods, however, it is a good exercise for the arm muscles.

No need to go to the gym this week!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Walk on By

It's great when going to the supermarket at the moment because I can bypass most of the vegetables, because I don't need what they're selling - I've got my own supply.

Walking down the aisle with my trolley I went past onions (don't need them as I've got about 250 of my own), courgettes (still have two in the greenhouse waiting to be eaten and two on the plant waiting to get a little bigger), runner beans (gave up weighing them after reaching 20lb), red onions (OK they haven't been greatly successful, but we still have about a dozen left), cucumbers (still picking them), tomatoes (have eaten all the ones that we saved from the allotment, but still have at least 20 at home that are ready to eat), and potatoes (still eating the Charlotte variety that were dug up last week). Not bad eh?

This afternoon I picked the first green pepper that I have ever grown (there is another on the plant that needs to get a bit bigger), and I shall take great pleasure tomorrow in making a salad from pepper, tomato and cucumber that is completely "home grown".

Eat your heart out Tesco.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Gathering In

Good news and bad news! Good news first. The white onions have been superb this year. I am still harvesting and drying large amounts of onions. Some I have placed into net bags and some I have plaited French-style and hung in bunches from the greenhouse roof.

The runner beans have also been very successful and ideally need to be picked every other day as they are so prolific. I counted at least 20 beans hanging from one stem, and their weight was so heavy that the bean stem they were hanging from was bent right over. I am told that if I keep picking them on a regular basis they will be cropping into November. Will have to wait and see.

I think we have come to the end of the courgettes. They have been very successful and I still have some in the greenhouse that I have managed to successfully store for a few weeks, but probably will not store for much longer.

I am still harvesting potatoes, but this year they have been a bit disappointing in size and number compared to last year, but nevertheless are very tasty and as one allotmenteer said to me "you've harvested more than you put in", so that is a comforting thought.

Now for the bad news. The cauliflower and broccoli - they were doing so well up until about 2 weeks ago, and then with the space of a few days have been eaten - probably by slugs - and I think they will have to be consigned to the compost heap.

There has been a similar case with the sweetcorn, except this time I suspect it's squirrels. 2 sweetcorn cobs have been stripped and eaten, but as they weren't ripe maybe the squirrels got tummyache and won't come back for the rest!

The tomatoes all but succumbed to blight which has ravaged most people's plots this year due to such a wet summer. The ones that I grew at home (same variety) have been delicious, so next year will probably grow most of the tomato plants at home and not at the allotment.

The cucumbers although small in number are there, so hopefully will be ready to harvest next week.

The other thing that is growing really well are the weeds, but as the earth has been so wet recently it's fairly easy to pull them out.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Waiting in the Wings

Having been harvesting like mad for the past few weeks, I am very encouraged that there is more to come!

Each time I visit there are masses of runner beans, peas, courgettes and onions to harvest, but there are other crops that are maturing nicely.

The sweetcorn cobs are swelling, but are not quite ready. I peeled back some of the skin and tested the top of one, but they are not ripe enough yet. The shallots are nearly ready and the tomato crop is huge, but none are red just yet. It is tempting to pick a few of them and ripen them at home (especially as I was told today that there are a few cases of blight around).

The perpetual spinach is doing well and we have already had 2 meals from what we have picked, but there are more leaves coming. The broccoli and cauliflower are getting nicely packed heads on them but are probably a month or two away from being ready.

Everything is growing like mad (including the weeds), but we did manage today to weed the entire strawberry bed and there are lots of runners which will provide extra plants next year.

But for now, most of the time is spent harvesting and there is nothing more satisfying that pulling produce from plants that you have grown from seed.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Piling on the Pounds

I have been given a whole trayload (4lbs) of blackcurrants and redcurrants by one of my friends from further down the allotment. He had a huge harvest and asked if I could use them. Could I?!

When I got home I looked up receipes and within a day or so I had made some redcurrant jelly, some blackcurrant ice cream and some redcurrant & blackcurrant jam. Delicious. The jam and the jelly will see us through the winter and the ice cream will be a treat on hot days.

The cupboard where I keep such preserves is now completely full, so I will have to find another storage space for the pickles and other jams that are "waiting in the wings" to be made.

I have also been given some Bramley cooking apples and they have been lightly stewed in a little water and frozen in convenient portions.

The runner beans, onions, courgettes and beetroot are all doing very well. We have loads of courgettes (so many that I have given away more than I can count)and I regularly look on the BBC Good Food website for inspiration on how to cook them in new ways and trying out different receipes.

The runner beans are prolific and we have already harvested 7lbs. I have prepared and frozen about 10 portions already and we have either eaten the rest or've guessed it - given them away.

The white onions are huge and some have been harvested already and are drying out in the greenhouse. I managed to plait some of them and hang them up from the ceiling of the greenhouse, and it looks quite "French".

The beetroots that are ready have been harvested and cooked and preserved in vinegar. There are many more to come as I did some successional sowing throughout the spring and early summer.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Spuds Out, Leeks In

The first batch of potatoes (Ulstre Sceptre) have now been dug up and we have eaten most of them. They tasted delicious, but I was a bit disappointed in the yield from each plant. There were only 7-8 spuds per plant and they were not as big as I had hoped, but still I harvested more than I actually put in, so I guess that's the way to look at it. Even though the yield was relatively small they were not attacked by blight and there was no evidence of any eelworm or slug damage, so on that count they were excellent.

No sooner were they dug up and the ground well forked over, some leeks (Musselburgh) were planted in their space. Leeks need to be planted in a special way. Make a deep narrow hole with a dibber (I borrowed one) about 6" deep and plop the leek to be transplanted into the hole and fill with water. Most of them are thriving, despite the exceptionally hot and dry weather we've been having, and the stems are now about as thick as a pencil. They won't be ready to harvest for some months yet, but come the winter hopefully there will be plenty.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Berry Good Fruit

The strawberries I planted in the spring have been excellent - although we haven't had very many they have been big, sweet and juicy. The children have picked them and put them straight into their mouths, so some of them haven't even made it home!

I did rescue a few and made some shortbread biscuits for dessert and put a large juicy strawberry on top of each biscuit (see picture). They were delicious.

It was Peter's birthday earlier this month and as he likes desserts I made a plain cheesecake and topped it with fruits (blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries). It was a good combination for a topping as the blackcurrants were quite sharp and went well with the sweet raspberries and strawberries.

Both receipes have been very successful and will have to be repeated when more fruit arrives next year - hopefully in greater quantities!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

That's Shallot

Thought you might like to see a photo to see how my shallots are growing. I planted them in April in ground that is fairly heavy clay and didn't really expect them to do too much as they were beginning to sprout because I was a bit late planting them. But as they were a freebie that I got with all my onions and garlic I thought I would stick them in and see what would happen.

As you can see they have not only thrived but they have positively bloomed. What I now need to do is to see when they can be harvested and then what to do with them. The only thing that comes to mind is making some pickle. Now that's not such a bad idea.....

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Plants for Winter

Last week I had an email from Thompson & Morgan (seed specialists) from whom I normally order all my seeds etc. They were having a half price sale for one week only and I took the opportunity of snapping up some packets of seeds so that I can keep the crops going throughout the winter.

Here's what I ordered:-

Lettuce Arctic King - sow August-October & harvest April-May

Cabbage Kalibos - sow March-May & harvest August-October

Broccoli Sprouting Redhead - sow May-June & harvest March-April

Cabbage Minicole - sow April-June & harvest August-October

Radicchio Treviso Precoce Mesola- sow April-September & harvest August-December

This is just the start of my winter crops that I want to get going, and hopefully there will be plenty more to follow, but as the saying goes "you've got to start somewhere"

Over the next few weeks and months (as time permits) I want to create a big wall chart with what to plant when, how, harvest time etc and see where the gaps are and then try and "plug" those gaps so that I will be further on with my long term plan of being almost self-sufficient in vegetables all year round. It's a big task so will take some time, but will be worth it in the long run.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Planting Time

The past two weeks have been extremely busy at the allotment digging, planning and planting. The new plot is so overgrown and infested with weeds that each time I go I fill up 4 old compost bags full and take them to the local re-cycling centre. These places are great and you can pick up some bargains that would otherwise be sent to landfill. One lady was going to bin a beautiful rosemary bush that was too big for her garden, so that has made its way to the plot and is planted next door to the thriving blackcurrant bush.

The other "find" at the centre was a butler sink (which weighed a ton, or so it seemed) which is now sitting proudly in our front garden at home waiting for some love and attention.

Back to the allotment - the runner beans and French beans have been planted and are climbing nicely up their sticks, and although they have gone slightly pale in colour I am assured that they do this sometimes, but production is not affected. Today I noticed that there are some flowers that have just blossomed on one of the French beans. On the bed above them I have planted 6 courgettes, 6 cauliflowers, 2 broccoli (for the time being) and 5 sweetcorn (for the time being).

The bed to the right of the brassicas is full from top to bottom with white and red onions and shallots. The garlic is next to the compost heap (which is full to bursting). I have planted some spinach, but it looks very weedy and seems to be struggling to grow so will have to see how it turns out.

The fruit is growing well - I picked the first strawberry yesterday and the blackcurrant bush has produced lots of currants which are bright green at the moment.

On the new plot I have planted 13 plum tomatoes and 21 beef tomatoes. Peter is frantically digging at the bottom of the plot where the ground is very heavy and we will put in the last of the potatoes there to break up the earth a bit, besides we ran out of space on the main potato bed so am glad that they will have the right amount of space to grow in and not be squashed somewhere too small.

I am now digging below the tomatoes to prepare the ground for the cucumbers as they are nearly ready to be planted outside. They have been hardening off for about 10 days now so will hopefully be planted next week.

One man at the allotment gave me the two broccoli and 2 chilli plants and another man gave me 2 sweet pepper plants. I haven't offered them any of my seedlings as their plots are full to bursting and always look professionally grown. They are my inspiration and example, so instead I spend time talking to them. Maybe one day I can return the favours.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Free Bounty

The more times I go to the allotment, the more people I meet and talk to, and two people in particular have been very generous to us and our plot. One lovely lady, Eileen, has given us a big clump of chives to start off our herb bed. I placed them in a bucket of water for half an hour or so as they were quite dry and then planted them quite deep with plenty of compost and drainage. I gave them a good water and they are sitting there quite happily and look very much at home.

Another chap, Rupert, is also very kind and is always helping out people. He found a couple of rhubarb plants tossed onto the bonfire patch and he rescued them and brought them up to me. I don't particularly like rhubarb, and I don't think my family do either, but a free gift is not to be sniffed at, and I have a very good neighbour who loves it on her cereal, and there is also the challenge of making some rhubarb & ginger jam for example.

The next time I saw Rupert he brought up a loganberry bush that had been discarded on the bonfire. The bush looked very healthy and after soaking it for an hour or so while I found a spot to plant it and then prepared the ground, it looks like it has settled in nicely. It is between the blackcurrant bush and the strawberries for the time being, but I may move it next year if it needs more room.

We have also been given some piping to make a framework for netting over the fruit to protect it from birds, it is temporary water piping so I am told and it is ideal for making cloches etc. as it is very flexible.

I always feel I want to repay these kind people for what they do and give, but their plants and plots are far superior to ours and they seem to be very content to hand out their advice on a regular basis, and I think for them that is payment enough. Hopefully the time will come when I can do the same for others who are just starting out.

The Plot Thickens

Having now paid my rent for the extra ¼ plot and after waiting for the markers to be moved we are now in business.

Last Saturday we arrived at the allotment early and I managed to strim the whole of the new plot. It was really hard work and as the sun was extremely hot that day, I guess I must have burnt off quite a few calories! The children helped by raking up some of the grass and consigning it to the ever-growing compost heap, and while I was strimming I found one of our tools, a "masher" which we had lost the previous week. That just shows you how tall the grass was because the masher was completely hidden and I almost strimmed that too.

Two days later in the searing heat Peter dug across the whole length of the new plot to a width of about 1 ft, so we are on our way. The plan is to try and dig about the same amount each time we go and plant as we dig with no particular plan other than to use the space as an "overflow" plot this year. We have already used up all the space in bed no. 3 with the potatoes and we still have the late maincrop to plant, so they will go in the new plot and help break up the ground nicely. I shall also plant some of the tomatoes and peppers there and possibly some garlic.

Next year the ¼ will be organised into a series of beds, but there is no time for those niceties this year, the main thing is to get it dug and planted even if it is a bit haphazard - after all so long as the crops grow, what's the problem?

For now I am thinking of what I can plant permanently there next year. I fancy some fruit trees and maybe some more berries and fruit bushes, but I mustn't get ahead of myself, but it's OK to dream!

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Extra Measure

A few weeks ago I spoke to the Allotment Secretary about the possibility of having an extra ¼ of a plot which adjoins our existing ½ plot. The man who has the adjoining ½ plot next to ours has only ever cultivated the far end of his plot and the ¼ next to ours is in a very sorry state. When I mentioned it to her she said that she would raise it with the Committee, who were shortly having a meeting, but as there were about a dozen people already on the waiting list, it maybe that I would have to stay with my existing ½ and the adjoining plot split in two.

However, she did say that as we had done so well with our existing plot in our first year and were very keen, that would go in our favour, so she said "wait and see".

When we came back from a weeks holiday there was a message on the answer phone from the Allotment Secretary saying that if we wanted to have the extra ¼ it was ours for the price of £13 per year! would we? You bet!

So a few days later I duly paid my £13 and as soon as the markers are moved, we can start digging this new patch. When we went down to the allotment on Monday of this week, both Peter and I dug one spade's worth and although the earth is very nice it is full of...guess what? masses of bindweed and covered in grass. It is much worse than our existing plot was when we took it over, but I am sure that will the same hard work and planning it will be up and running in 6 months or so. I will let you know the progress that takes place.
Just for the record, here's what it looks like at the moment. Later on I will take some more photos so you can see the difference.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Growing Pains

One week ago I started the growing cycle again. Here's what has been planted so far.

20 potatoes "Ulstre Sceptre" - I planted these really deep, at least 12" or more, 3 rows of 7

10 rows of onions "Sturon" which had already been rooted, 19 onions in each row. I planted these 5" apart with 12" between each row.

Today I did some more planting:-

18 potatoes "Charlotte" - also planted really deep, 6 potatoes in each row

1 row of onions "Sturon" which had been rooted, 19 onions in the row.

I still have another 200 or so onions to plant (some red and some white), so I am going to have to plant rows of onions in the gaps between the rows or else I am going to run out of space in that bed. It will be a bit more difficult to weed in between the rows and I shall have to do it by hand instead of hoeing, but so long as the onions have space to grow, that's the main thing.

While I was planting the onions the man on the plot above me started to cultivate his plot this year. His method of growing veg and managing his plot is the complete opposite to me as he leaves his plot for the winter months and then rotivates the whole lot. There I was digging with my fork and planting carefully by hand, and when I looked up (having planted 10 rows) his earth was all but turned over and looked lovely and crumbly. I thought to myself that maybe I should explore this rotivator method, but after watching Joe Swift on Gardeners World and seeing how all the weeds (especially bindweed) were broken into many parts and all having the potential to grow and further multiply, I will be sticking to the old-fashioned method of digging and laboriously removing all the weeds that I can see.

Either way, both he and I have good crops, we just go about it in different ways. Each to his own I say.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Spreading it Around

Over the past 3 weeks, progress on the allotment has been steady. It's been a case of digging over what has been previously dug - and I have to say that each time the earth is dug it does get easier, and I have visions in a few years time that my earth will be like a fine tilth such as seen on Gardeners's World. By adding plenty of manure and home-made compost, home-made leaf mould and digging, the earth can only get better. Talking of manure....

Two weeks ago just before going away for a week's holiday I thought I would nip down for an hour or so to do a few jobs, and as I arrived the gates were already open (always very handy) and there was a delivery of a huge pile of manure being unloaded. One of the chaps from the allotment is friendly with the local stables and every so often there is a delivery. This is the first time that I have been at the allotment when this has happened, and I had heard stories from other allotmenteers about manure disappearing before your very eyes. Well, I witnessed it for myself. In the space of about an hour, it was all gone! People were coming out of the woodwork and literally running up and down the hill with barrowloads of manure piled high and then a sack full of manure on top of that. During this time I was able to get 3 wheelbarrows full which was enough for what I needed. I then lent my barrow to a friend just across the path and she only managed one barrowload. The thing was that the chap who organised the manure to be delivered hardly got any for himself!

It was hot and hard work shovelling all this muck, but was all worth it. I covered it up and will leave it to rot down a bit before I spread it around.

I can't wait to get planting, but that is a week or so away as the plants aren't quite ready to put in just yet.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Child's Play

This year I have moved the beds that I have given to the children a bit further along the bottom of the plot. My daughter is next to the newly created spinach bed and my son is between her bed and the raspberries that I planted late last year.

Their beds are approximately 3ft deep and 4 ft wide

When they first took the space over it was overgrown with buttercups and bindweed. We pulled as much out as we could with our hands and then set about giving it a good dig. As this part of the allotment hadn't been dug last year it was quite difficult but we persevered and it has now all been dug over at least once. The next step is to "mash" it and then dig it thoroughly a few more times before giving it a top dressing of manure and probably a little polytunnel to warm the earth up a bit.

The children have done most of the work themselves and once they get going they really love it and are looking forward to planting their vegetables.

3 weeks later.....

The childrens beds are now completely dug and "mashed" and they have a very thick top dressing of manure and on top of that there is a thick layer of nicely decomposing leaf mould.

In a few weeks time we will plant their seeds, which are:-

red & white onions
spring onions

Needless to say they are very excited, and I can't wait for us to plant their seeds and watch them grow.

Monday, 24 March 2008


Great news! The seeds have now arrived and the packets have been "filed" in my biscuit tin under the various months that they need to be started off. I have sown a tray of tomato "Tamina", but as my greenhouse is unheated and the weather has been very cold just recently (the temperature doesn't get much above 50F), I am wondering if they will germinate or whether I shall have to sow another tray.

The onions arrived (all 450 of them) the day after the seeds and I have planted, at weekly intervals, 6 trays with 48 "Sturon" onions in each. This is a tip I have picked up from one chap at the allotment and the onions will root in the trays in 4-5 days or so and then will start to grow little green shoots from the top. Once they have reached 1-2" of green growth I will plant them out into their bed (no. 3).

I have given 40 onion sets to the children's school, 8 to my mum, and the children will grow 5 each. The remaining onion sets will be planted at further weekly intervals so that they can be harvested (hopefully) a week or so apart from each other and I don't get a massive glut that I can't keep on top of.

The potatoes arrived a few days after the onions and within one hour of receiving them they had all been set out in individual egg carton boxes to "chit", which will probably take about 2-3 weeks. My plan is to plant them at the beginning of April, starting with "Ulstre Sceptre" which is a first early.

The red onions "Red Baron" which I grew so successfully last year arrived on Thursday last week and I have planted 1 tray with 45 in it, and I will do the same with these onions as I have done with the white ones, and stagger the planting so that they can be harvested at intervals. The children will grow 5 each of these onions as well.

Because I ordered so many onions I received a free pack of 500g of shallots "Springfield" so I will plant them directly into the soil as they don't need to root first.

The 13 garlic "Thermidrome" bulbs are also ready to be planted direct into the soil once it has warmed up and it will go in a bed that I have prepared just under the herb bed. I read in Carol Klein's excellent book "Grow your own Veg" that garlic likes sand mixed with its earth, so I will try this and have dug in some sand to help them on their way.

The digging is going well and now most of the earth has now been dug, apart from the patch that I have earmarked as a salad bed. I have covered this with black plastic sheeting to suppress the weeds, and will dig it over later in the year.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Herb Patch

Next to my newly constructed leaf mould bin I marked out a bed which I want to devote to herbs. I love cooking with fresh herbs, so what better than to grow my own. It is quite a big bed at the bottom of the site, and wasn't cultivated last year so the earth was fairly hard and compacted. It was also covered with buttercups and the ever present bindweed.

My first attempt was to loosen the earth and turn it over to expose it to the weather - we have had quite a few mornings recently with a sharp frost - and that always helps to break down the ground a bit.

After leaving this patch for a week I then used the "masher" to break down the bigger clods of earth and then gave it a fairly thorough dig. Two trips to the bonfire site followed where the wheelbarrow was piled fairly high with all the weeds. I left it again for another week and dug it yet again and then gave it a very thick top coat of manure. I will leave this for a few weeks (probably until the end of March), let the worms get to work on it and then dig in the manure in readiness for planting some herbs. Some herbs I will plant direct into the soil and some I will start off in the greenhouse and transplant at a later date.

The herbs I want to grow in my bed are coriander, parsley, oregano, chives, garlic chives, basil and thyme. If there is any space left in the bed, I will fill it with radishes and spring onions.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Bin There

A very good friend of mine came to the allotment a couple of weeks ago (she made a "guest appearance" last year) and loves it so much there that every time she is in the country we try and spend a day there doing a few jobs.

Our plan was to construct a leaf mould bin, which we did as follows:-

We used 8 garden canes approx 3' high
chicken wire mesh with small holes

We threaded the canes through the mesh at intervals and hammered these canes into the ground at four corners to the desired size. A further cane was put into the fourth corner to make a sturdy edge and then the edges "sewed" together to strengthen the corner. The other canes were put half way along the outer edge of the bin to keep the edges straight. All in all it looks pretty good. As I had a couple of sacks of rotting leaf mould already at the top of the site, it was an easy job to empty the sacks into the newly made bin, give it a bit of a fork over and leave them to continue rotting. Job completed. Now I just need to collect the umpteen sacks of slowly rotting leaves raked up from my mum's lawn and transport them to the newly made bin.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Green Spaces

I ordered my seeds with great excitement at the end of January and was rather disappointed that after 3 weeks they had still not arrived. In previous years they would be with me within a week of posting them off, so I was rather surprised that they were taking so long. I decided to phone the supplier (I won't tell you who I use!) and after a little bit of questioning I discovered that my order had been sent to the wrong address - so someone has had a rather nice present of a few thousand seeds!

I was told that it would be another week before they would arrive as they had to do a repeat order, but that not to worry they would be with me soon.

Whilst waiting for the seeds to arrive I took the opportunity of clearing out the greenhouse and trying to maximise the space on the shelves as much as possible so that I can use every inch of space that I can.

I have one long shelf which is completely clear and is waiting (for the seeds to arrive!) and another shelf above which is a half shelf. This is at the top of the greenhouse just under the roof so it is quite a sun trap.

We also have a patio greenhouse which has 4 shelves in it and I use this for beginning to harden off plants once they have reached a certain size. I have also purchased a small cold frame (which I need to construct) and I will take this to the allotment for hardening off the plants completely before planting them out in their final positions. So they will go from greenhouse to patio greenhouse to cold frame to soil. Sounds a bit like a slow conveyor belt.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Marked Out

On Monday last week Peter came with me to the allotment for the first time in ages. Our mission was to mark out exactly where all the different beds would be and with the aid of string and sticks/skewers we marked out 4 main beds with paths of approx 18" between each one. We marked out a bed for strawberries at the top of the plot, a herb bed next to where the leaf mould bin will be, a spinach bed which is in between my daughter's bed and the second compost bin site (these are at the bottom of the plot).

It doesn't sound like much but it took us the best part of 1½ hours to decide, measure and mark out all these different beds with paths in between. It was a job that needed two pairs of hands.

We also moved the compost bin from the top of the site (which in future years I hope to make into a small flower bed) to the bottom of the site and have now started a second compost pile.

I have also acquired a wheelbarrow now that I have loads of manure to transport to the different beds, and I have to say that I wish I had bought one earlier as it's much easier to take rubbish to the bonfire pile in a wheelbarrow rather than drag sacks down the hill and empty them there. You live and learn.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

What a Load of Rubbish

I was talking to one of the regular allotment chaps last week and he mentioned that he was able to get hold of horse manure in quite large quantities from a local stable and deliver it to the site. I asked if I could have some if there was any available and he said that he could get it delivered the next day (Friday). He would put it up the top of the site by the gate and I could help myself. He warned me to come and take some on Friday afternoon, or at the latest on Saturday morning, because other people from the allotment help themselves from the pile that is left there and if I didn't come fairly quickly it would all be gone.

On Friday I had to work in the morning and wasn't able to get there in the afternoon, nor was I able to go to the allotment on the Saturday morning due to something already being booked in the diary. I must confess I was a bit crestfallen and mourned the lost opportunity of this "gold dust" as other allotmenteers call it.

Two days later on the Monday I went to my patch and started the usual routine - you know, open the storage box, get the fork out, put my gloves on and survey the site. Imagine my delight when looking up and seeing a pile about 2ft high of rich, brown ready to use horse manure that had been shovelled and wheelbarrowed down to my plot. I almost fell over as I rushed up to it to make sure that my eyes weren't playing tricks. They weren't, and it was really there. I was so grateful to the two men who had worked hard on my behalf, and wanted to give them something for their work, but they insisted that "we all help each other out when we can".

Saturday, 26 January 2008

All in Order

Two days ago I finally made my orders for seeds, potatoes, onions and garlic that I want to grow this year. It has taken me a few weeks to decide on what to actually grow, the variety and quantity (I don't want to run out of earth space).

My final list was as follows:-

Runner bean White Lady
Sprouts Maximus
Courgette Defender
Cucumber Burpless Tasty Green
Leeks Bandit
Corn salad Cavalio
Land Cress
Peas Greensage
Pepper Gypsy
Perpetual spinach
Swede Magres
Salad leaves
Tomato Moneymaker
Tomato Super Marmande
Tomato Tamina

Ulster Sceptre - First Early
Charlotte - Second Early
Lady Balfour - Early Main
Cara - Late Main

Red Baron


I have some seeds left over from last year that I want to see if they germinate. They are:-

parsnip, beetroot, carrot, chilli, broccoli, cauliflower and garlic chives

Looking down my lists I wonder if I will have enough space to grow everything and now that the allotment is taking shape and the beds are now defined, part of me would like to have a bigger plot so that we can grow even more. However, I have been reading up on how to extend the growing seasons so I am going to give it a go and see if I can utilise the ground even more and have crops in all 4 seasons.

In the meantime I need to clear the greenhouse shelf so that I can get planting the seeds into trays early-mid February.

Meanwhile I wait for the postman.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Made to Measure

On Monday this week I took my first trip to the allotment of the year. I was wondering what would greet me as I've not been there since new year's eve and we have had lots of rainfall since then. Although the ground was waterlogged in places, it was fairly easy to dig.

I started by getting the edging straight between the small amount of grass that will surround a little flower bed and the bed that will house the potatoes this year (bed no. 3). The fork glided into the earth and it was very easy to get a straight line. The grass was coming out in clumps and as it was full of bindweed and dandelions I must confess that I put it all into a sack and transported it down lock, stock and barrel to the bonfire site. I made 7 trips to the bonfire and on the way encountered a fox at the other end of the plot.

With the edging straight I turned my attention to digging where the potatoes will go this spring. I dug about one-sixth of the plot before it was time to leave and go home.

On Wednesday I was able to go to the allotment again and as there had been torrential rain on Tuesday, the potato plot was rather slippery in places. I made an edging line out of string and 2 skewers and have now got a nice straight line to divide off the potato bed from the 2 beds next door, one of which will house beans, peas, beetroot and chilli (bed no. 2) and the other will house broccoli, cauliflower, swede and courgette (bed no. 4). In between the beds will be a path made of bark chippings etc. of approx 18" width.

Each bed will be the width of 6 paving slabs so it is quite easy to mark out at the top, the thing is that the paving slabs at the bottom of the plot where it adoins next door's path are a totally different size, so you have to have a fairly "straight eye" and not be confused by the different slab sizes!

After all this measuring out I then started to dig the top of bed no. 1 which will house onions, garlic, leeks, carrots and parsnips. I managed to dig about one-tenth of this bed as it is much longer than the potatoes bed. I came across many worms and millipedes and some curious white round things which I guess must be eggs of some sort. They were quickly added to the bonfire plot as I didn't know what might hatch out in the future.

Now that the four main beds are basically marked out, it is a question of digging them over. Only bed no. 3 has not been dug since we took over the allotment and although it is quite compacted with us walking all over it last year, with all the rain that we have had it is not as difficult to dig as I thought.

However, there is still a lot of digging to do......................

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Last Produce

Yesterday (New Year's Eve) I went to the allotment with my daughter to see if there were any potatoes left - there were still 1½ rows that had been "earthed up" and not dug. We wondered if the slugs and snails had had a really good Christmas dinner and whether they had left any potatoes for us to eat in the new year.

They have had quite a good dinner, but gladly have left us with at least 10lbs of the most delicious potatoes, which we had great delight in digging up. As the fork turned over yet another plant we were squealing with delight as we picked out potato after potato to add to the sack. We have enough potatoes for the next month or so, and then the cycle begins again as in a few days time I shall be doing my potato order for tubers to plant in the spring. Hopefully this year we will only have a few months of "non-home grown" spuds.

We also had a bonus when we were there - we found an onion (one white and one red) on each of the childrens plots, so we harvested those too and they are now drying in the greenhouse. On the subject of onions in the greenhouse we still have quite a few lbs left (especially of the red variety), which reminds me that I have discovered a marvellous receipe for using red onions. Here it is:-

Caramelised Red Onion Tart with Cheddar Cheese

2 red onions peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic peeled and finely chopped
1 handful of fresh (if possible) thyme
1 tbsp sugar
balsamic vinegar
shortcrust pastry
Cheddar cheese (grated)

Heat a small amount of olive oil and butter in a saucepan and add onions, garlic and thyme and cook for about 15 mins. Add the sugar to caramelise the onions and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Allow to cool a little. Make (or buy) pastry and place in fridge for 30 mins.

Roll out pastry after it has "rested" in the fridge and cut out discs. Place each disc of pastry into a bun tin and put in heaps of the onion mixture and flatten down a little. Sprinkle each tart with grated cheese and bake in oven gas mark 4 for 10 mins. Delicious!

We had these tarts as starters on Christmas Day and everyone enjoyed them immensely.

2007 was a great year for us as it was the year that my dream of an allotment was realised. We have had some trials (bindweed, rock solid earth, no rain, too much rain, potato blight, tomato blight), but it has been more than compensated for with the satisfaction of growing delicious crops to eat, being out in the fresh air and meeting new people. Am I glad that we started on this venture? You bet! See you in 2008 for more allotment stories - meanwhile I have a few fruit and vegetable catalogues to go through.......