Down on the Allotment

What's happening down on the allotment? An intimate account of a passionate veggie grower.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Matron Doesn't Do Flowers!

I picked my first sticks of rhubarb this afternoon.  This time of year the sticks are sweet and tender and take much less sugar than later on in the year.  Just a few minutes in the microwave and it was heavenly!
Now Matron's mantra has always been "I don't do flowers because you can't eat flowers..." (no witty remarks about nasturtium leaves in salads please..) but needs must when bees and other pollinating insects must be encouraged into my allotment in order to pollinate my vegetables!  So just a couple this year.  These are a sunflower variety called Giraffe... very tall I hope!
 I re-potted my chilli seedlings today as well.  I am growing Joe's Long cayenne, and a variety called Spaghetti.   I am taking part in a Guinness World Record attempt at growing the world's longest chilli.  This is being organized by Sea Spring Seeds - apparently no current record exists so whoever wins this year will hold the record.
 Tomato seedlings are looking good in the greenhouse as well.  Lovely warm days recently have meant that I take them outside during the day to start hardening off... then back in the greenhouse at night when it can get below freezing at the moment.  Still much too early to put anything outside.
 Apple blossom has been sensational this year.  Trees are just loaded with blossom, and the perfume from this apple tree today was heavenly!
 Another flower that I am growing to encourage pollinating insects is Borage.  I grew this for the first time last year, and these flowers bloom from April right the way through to the first frosts of Autumn.  Apparently these flowers are edible and they are supposed to taste of cucumber - I tried some last year.. and could taste nothing at all.  Quite decorative in a cool drink on a hot day!
 And finally...
MY POTATOES ARE UP!  hooray!  Will be sure to earth them up soon because frost is still a real danger at night. This little shoot is from my Red Duke of York seed potato.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

A Week in the Life of a Tomato

When you look at your tomato seedlings it sometimes feels like a case of 'a watched pot never boils'. So what happens if you take just one photo at the same time every day for a week?
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
 Day 5
 Day 6
 Day 7

and the sun comes out!

Monday, March 30, 2015

New Shoots

 There's no doubt about it, Spring is here.  The clocks went forward yesterday and the days are getting longer.  Plants on the allotment are feeling the change and the sap is rising.
 I always start broad beans in modules to protect them from pests at the beginning. They are quite hardy so once they have germinated under cover they are happy to sit outside for a few weeks.
 Chillis and tomatoes are a bit more tender so they are started in a heated propagator in the greenhouse.  I am growing two very long chillis, Joe's Long and Spaghetti chilli .
 I've been busy pricking out tomato seedlings into individual pots.  Still under cover but gradually hardening off inside the greenhouse and outside on warm days only.
 The Webbs Wonderful lettuce are enjoying life too.  They do well when the days are cool.  I have them protected in this black dustbin.
I always leave a few broccoli plants to go over into flower.  The bees just adore vegetable flowers so it is worth leaving some space for last years' veggies to go to seed.  It is worth leaving some for the bees, have a look at the RHS Perfect for Pollinators project. Bees love leek flowers too.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hard work

It is hard, hard work digging an allotment.  I am over run with bind weed.  Every year I dig the soil and I am careful to remove every little bit of bindweed I see.  And yet each year it just grows back.
 That's just why there is no short cut to having an allotment and growing vegetables.
 People starting an allotment for the first time might underestimate the amount of work it takes to keep the soil weed free.
 This stuff is just everywhere!
 The dandelions are a bit easier, but the roots go down so deep that if you leave just a bit it grows back.

Meanwhile elsewhere on the plot I will be digging up my disastrous crop of leeks.  I was really looking forward to these Musselburgh leeks again, they stand well over Winter but the dreaded Leek Moth has all but destroyed these.  The moth lays eggs on the leaves and the larvae eat their way along the leaf and down inside the stalk down to the base.  It is the nibbling of the base of the leek that makes one healthy leek develop multiple leeks from the base.
 There are a few which do not appear to be badly damaged, but on the whole the crop is not good.  The leek moths are active from May right through to October and there is no chemical spray available at the moment.  The only sure way to protect is to entirely cover the leeks with a fine mesh.
 I'm not much of a builder, and it is awkward to keep removing the mesh to weed and to water.  I might try some French Marigolds (Tagetes) which are known to repel insects.  Does anyone have a remedy?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Paris Markets

 I went to Paris for the day yesterday.  Took advantage of an amazing special offer on the Eurostar train from London and found myself at the Gare du Nord about 2 hours later.  Regular readers will know how much I love visiting markets when I travel.  I made a special trip to the Marche d'Aligre just near the Bastille area.
 Why can't the English do fresh produce markets like other countries do?  Why are we so far removed from real, fresh fruit and veg?  Is it because of the big supermarkets that we just get them sanitized and packaged in a little plastic pack?  Just look at all these lovely veggies.
 Just an amazing selection of varieties of everything.  You can choose what colour you want your tomatoes or your carrots. This was a feast for the eyes.
 I was sorely tempted by these amazing globe artichokes, but I would have had to carry them around Paris all day while I was sightseeing.  Those ripe beefsteak tomatoes would have gone down a treat.  I am fed up with aenemic, tasteless, crunchy supermarket tomatoes.
 The market traders just make such an effort to display their produce so beautifully, they take a pride in what they do.  Do you suppose if I opened up a market stall like this in my own town I would sell anything?  Am I the exception to the rule? Would the majority of English folk not know what to do with it?  
This genuinely seems to be a part of our heritage which has gone missing somehow. Is it just down to those of us who grow our own veggies to keep this all alive?  It wasn't that expensive either.
Is it just me?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

They're Up!

 The first seedlings of this new growing season are up!  I like to get chilli seeds off to an early start in a heated propagator because they need such a long growing season.  I might get some others started in the next few days.
 These are 'Spaghetti' chilli and 'Joe's Long' chilli which I am growing for a Guinness World Record - Longest Chilli competition this year.
Meanwhile elsewhere on the patch - the pigeons are having a really good feast on my lovely calabrase! grrrrrr. Not funny.

Monday, February 23, 2015

London Potato Day

 Last Friday and Saturday at the RHS Lindley Hall in London I was like a kid in a sweet shop at the RHS London Potato Day.  Yes there were some flowers and flowery things going on there too.. but...
 I was there for this fantastic pic n mix seed potato shop from Pennard Plants.  These seed people really know their stuff.  Oh the joy of having a nerdy conversation with another veggie fan is just so exciting.  Take a paper bag and pick your seed potato varieties for just 22p each.  This is just so great because elsewhere you have to buy a huge sack full when you just want to try a short row of each.
Pennard Plants put on this stunning display of seed potatoes which was inspired by a display on this very spot in 1910 at the wonderfully named 'Colonial Fruit Show'
 You could buy shallots or onion sets by the cupful.
 And you could buy Aquadulce broad bean seeds by the scoop full.
So what did I go for?  Some Ratte salad potatoes,  Red Duke of York, and my all time favourite first early new potato Epicure.  Beg, steal or borrow and find yourself some Epicure potatoes my friends. I remember growing this variety when I was a small child.  The taste is the best you will ever find.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The World's Longest Chilli

 Would you like to try to get in the Guinnes Book of Records?   If you plant your chilli seeds now you can see if you could grow the longest chilli!
 The lovely people at Sea Spring Seeds are holding a competition to see who can grow the longest chilli.  Apparently there is currently no record, so whoever wins this competition will be holding the new record!  You can have a look on the Sea Spring website for how to enter.
This sounds like a great thing to do this year!  I have bought two varieties of chilli which might do. Joes Long Cayenne Chilli, and a really interesting variety called Spaghetti.

I did grow some Joe's Long chilli back in 2006, the plants were about 4 feet high and the chillis were at least a foot long. They ripen to a glorious red colour.   Anyone fancy a go?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ash Wednesday

 There was a pile of old wooden fence panels at the end of the garden, so this week I took advantage of the dry weather to have a bonfire.
 So yesterday on Ash Wednesday I had a lovely pile of wood ash to collect.

 Wood ash is a great source of Potash for the soil.  Wood ash is a good tonic for the soil, especially around fruit trees and bushes.  So out I went around apple trees, loganberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and rhubarb.
 There are signs of the rhubarb crowns breaking the surface of the soil.
 Yesterday was a bright, sunny day and I managed to get some weeding and digging done out on the allotment.
 But I was being watched!  This fox was laying on the shed roof taking advantage of the warm sunshine.
The growing season is just about to start, so I bought a few bags of seed compost to get going with a few early sowings in the heated propagator in the greenhouse.  Here we go!