Down on the Allotment

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Gift from Down Under

There was a whoop of excitement in the Matron household this morning when the postman delivered a letter from Australia. Scarecrow had offered to send me some Queensland Blue pumpkin seeds! Thank you! I remember my Father growing this variety years ago on our allotment, there is nothing quite like it - I remember a lovely dry texture almost like a sweet potato. These blue pumpkins have really hard skins and they keep extremely well through the Winter. Elsewhere in the greenhouse the tomatoes are being potted up almost daily. This Sungold tomato has flowers already, as do the Noir du Crimee and Great Wall of China behind it.
A great success from last year was this climbing courgette Black Forest. Extremely productive and grew to over 8ft tall. Wonderful variety if, like me, you are a bit short of space.
There is always space to grow sweet corn in between pumpkins and squashes. They are happy bedfellows and do not compete with each other. I might even grow a few climbing beans up them too. This variety Conqueror is one which will do well even in our milder British Summers. I had a good crop last year even in our wettest dullest Summer ever!
Now hold on to your hats... Matron does not do flowers... but... couldn't resist a snap of this beautiful French lavender. I have relaxed my principles only if certain flowers attract bees into the garden to pollinate my veggies!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Upside-Down Tomato Project

I've seen this experiment tried a couple of times, I'm not sure if the results were too good, but I thought I'd try making an upside-down tomato plant this year. Take a large plastic bottle and a small tomato plant. Cut a hole in the top side of the bottle so that you can fill it with compost and make holes in the top to hang it. Wash all the soil off the roots carefully.
Roll the root ball in a small sheet of paper so that you can slide the paper tube (containing the roots) into the neck of the bottle.
You then fill up the bottle with compost, and hang it upside down.
It looks a bit sad at the moment, it might take a few days to recover from the shock. I chose one of my cherry tomato varieties Ildi for this experiment. Has anyone tried this before?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Personal Food Imports

Just thought I'd share with you the information that you can get from the DEFRA website that will show you which items of food you can bring back into the UK from holiday, and which you cannot. For the non-UK bloggers out there DEFRA is the UK Government Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. If you want to bring back guavas, passion fruit, seafood or snail meat... yes! snail meat is on the list!! this website will let you know what you can legally bring back to the UK.
If like me you enjoy travelling abroad, there must be times when you want to bring back certain fruit and vegetable items to enjoy at home. This is where it is useful to refer to the Defra website. Just indicate to which country you will be travelling (USA for example) and this easy guide will show you which food items you will be allowed to bring back into the UK. As a rule of thumb, the EEC is 'one big happy family' and there are few restrictions.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

From All Corners of the Globe

My greenhouse is full of wonderful veggie plants from all over the world at the moment. Tomatoes from the Azores and from Canada, beans and squashes from the USA, Dog beans from Portugal, Crimean black tomatoes... and just this week a prezzie from my friend Stan who has just come back from New Zealand - some Whangaparaoa Crown pumpkins! This is a very popular native variety from Whangaparaoa bay and has been bred to also be called Crown Prince. I just love these grey skinned pumpkins which are good Winter storage pumpkins and they have a high percentage of dry matter in the orange flesh which make them fantastic for baking. My New Zealand spinach is doing well in the greenhouse. I pricked them out today to give them a little more growth room before I plant them outside in a few weeks' time. The leaves are really succulent.

Back to blighty for a moment (Happy St.George's Day everyone!). A week ago I pinched off a dozen or so leaf tips from my purple sage bush. This bush is well over 20 years old and is getting woody and needs replacing. Blow me down with a feather if all dozen cuttings have taken off with gusto and will be ready for re-potting soon. I should think I could safely replace the old plant in a few weeks.

And now on to Bulgaria! Couldn't resist these Bulgarian Giant Leeks when I saw them in the Marshalls catalogue this past Winter. The blanch stem of these leeks is upwards of 3 feet tall - I just had to try them!... Currently about 3mm tall, but growing.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Gardening Calendar

I decided to plant some of my curcurbits today. These are all members of the pumpkin, squash, courgette and cucumber family. I have only just realised that the spooky thing is that it was on 18th April 2008 that I did the very same thing last year! I intend to plant them out towards the end of May when it will be certainly frost free and the ground will have warmed up some more.

Here I have planted some lovely 'Rouge Vif D'Etamps' pumpkin, Delicata squash, Yellow Straightneck squash and a 'Tiffany' all female F1 cucumber. I have left some spaces in the seed tray as I am hoping to receive some 'Queensland Blue' squash seeds from a fellow blogger in the next few days. I really love this seed-swapping lark with bloggers. If I have given seeds to someone it is such a thrill to know that they have grown them, and I really look forward to seeing pictures of them posted on other blogs.
I took a bit of a chance today in that I planted out just a few of my hardier tomato plants. It is still a bit early, but with some cloche protection I hope they will be OK. I have plenty of spares in the greenhouse still in case of disaster.
Which reminds me.... keeping free range chickens on the vegetable plot is not to be recommended. Whilst digging a big hole with a spade in which to plant my tomato, those two chickens just jumped into the hole to search for creepy crawlies and I nearly chopped one in half. Pesky critters!
Just a quick note on strawberry plant maintenance. They are growing well now, and earlier in the season I gave them a mulch and a feed of wood ash. It is important not to water strawberries at all until the fruit starts to swell. Strawberries have a very, very fine root system which hates being wet.
You can see here that the strawberry flowers are forming nicely and should be opening any day now.
And just look at these little gooseberries! Looks to be a very good year for soft fruit. I might just put those two chickens around my gooseberry plants just to scratch and peck for sawfly larvae.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chicken Poo!

I have found out the answer to my question about New Zealand Spinach. Those funny looking dragon-winged seeds were multigerm seeds, and as you can see here each of the seeds has produced a handful of seedlings. The texture of the seed leaves is quite obviously a succulent, thick leaf. I have read that they really prefer warm conditions so I won't plant them out just yet. I've also planted out my bunches of Spring Onions White Lisbon. I sowed a group of seeds in a tiny module and my intention is to grow them, and then pick them in bunches.
Several days ago I took a chance with my Sub-Arctic Plenty tomato plants. I planted two of them outdoors in the soil with a precautionary cloche nearby. If this plant was developed to feed US Troops living in Greenland then it should stand a fair chance in Hillingdon!
Meanwhile in the greenhouse among all the other hundreds of seedlings are my Mexican tomatillos. Pricked out individually these will grow into fairly large (2ft tall) bushes laden with tomatillos.
Finally, I am collecting chicken poo! This is a very strong nitrogen fertilizer and I don't want it to go to waste. I was wondering what would be best to do with it.
A. disolve it in a bucket of water and use as a dilute liquid nitrogen feed.
B. just mix it with a new load of compost, grass clippings and horse manure.
What do you think?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Chickens!

Well, Tikka and Korma arrived today to begin their Spring holidays while DaVikka is away. As soon as they arrived in their new Happy Hutch Home they were oblivious to the dangers and just started scratching around for slugs and worms. They did not see the wolves circling round licking their lips.
They just kept scratching and pecking, pecking and scratching not noticing the danger just inches away from their cage.
But the funny thing about danger is that it comes from the least expected direction...
I wonder why chickens always have such a startled expression on their faces?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Lambs!

These days more and more people want to know where their food comes from. Today I visited my friend's smallholding in Bedfordshire. These sheep are Balwyn sheep. They are bred for showing, but if the white spots aren't in the proper place, or if their socks are too short or if their nose isn't quite right....you know where they are going.
I managed to find a young friend to take with me to admire these lambs.
If you are interested in the buildings in the background to the next photo - those are the Cardington airship hangars.
And just look at the proud Father....
Handsome, isn't he?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What's in Your Hungry Gap?

This time of year is what vegetable gardeners call 'The Hungry Gap'. Most of your Winter crops have gone, your leeks, parsnips and other root crops, and the Spring sowings have not yet reached maturity. This is the one part of the growing year that I try to plan for. I went out onto the patch today to see what I could find. This spinach I planted last year as a catch crop and ground cover underneath my tomatoes. It has lasted through the Winter and has put on a fantastic growth spurt. Another wonderful thing is that Buddy loves spinach! He gets a spoonful of cooked spinach with his evening meal!
Rhubarb this year is going to be amazing! This is just running away at the moment, best to be eaten this time of year while it is fresh. A little later in the Summer I find it gets more acid and a bit tougher.
The very early broccoli 'Rudolph' has all finished now, but the maincrop broccoli is still going. Cut a spear in the morning then the next day two will have taken it's place. It reminds me of the Disney film Fantasia where Mickey Mouse is the sorcerer's apprentice and breaks his broom in half in order to do twice the work!
Just like the spinach, this 'Ruby Chard' was planted last Summer, I need to weed and feed it and it will be coming into its best in the next couple of weeks. I bought this seed in Poland last year, it is completely hardy and tastes wonderful.
So pleased to tell you that I just have 5 Bramley Apples left in storage. What a great success story. I am going to make an apple pie this weekend. Not just any old apple pie, but 'Debbie's Mom's Apple Pie'.. on my recent visit to the USA we swapped state secrets! I gave her the recipe for 'Spotted Dick'..a British National institution. A fair swap?
Finally, let me show you my Birthday prezzie. Posted to me via a great company Plants4Presents , this pineapple plant arrived at my front door. I hope to be able to keep it warm enough and this may grow into something edible. I do have a couple of small pineapple plants from the Azores, which I managed to keep through the Winter but they do not have flowers yet.
What's in your hungry gap? Tell Matron.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bees are Buzzing!

There can be no doubt now that Spring has arrived in London! Seeds are popping up in the greenhouse and green things are growing at a rate of knots. I was so pleased to see a large number of honey bees on the blossom on my Victoria plum tree. The tree is absolutely smothered in blossom this year, let's hope that it doesn't all get frosted off like it did last year. I was delighted just to watch all these bees flying from one blossom to another. There are also a number of butterflies around too. I have seen more butterflies in the last 2 weeks than I saw the whole of last Summer.
The new potato in my greenhouse is putting on a growth spurt at the moment too. This one is International Kidney (Jersey Royal) saved from last year. I haven't had to buy any seed potato this year, I am going to see if my own saved tubers work just as well. This week I managed to sow all my potatoes in the open, International Kidney and Sarpo Axona. The latter is a main crop potato which is resistant to blight. We had such an awful Summer last year and I was hit badly by blight on the allotment.
The tomato plants are just romping away too. The greenhouse gets up to a fair temperature in these warm Spring days, I have taken the plants outside for a while to start hardening them off. Some have done much better than others. Star performers have to be Ildi and Great Wall of China. Unfortunately the Chocolate Cherry and Black Cherry tomatoes have been poor to germinate and still only small plants. Let's give them time and encouragement.
I build a tall wigwam of bamboo poles today, and planted out my Purple Podded Peas. You can see here that although they were started out in loo rolls as root trainers, the roots are well developed way below them. I have put loads of compost into the soil and they will be well away now.
I dug a big hole and filled it with loads of compost. Now all I need do is keep the slugs and the pigeons away!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Summary Justice in the Veggie Garden!

What a lovely Spring day here in London yesterday. I managed to get out and about and start digging up some of the nasty weeds which have just had a new lease of life! I decided this year to dispense some 'summary justice' and use some of the broad leaved pernicious weeds to form the basis of a nutritious liquid feed for the garden. Here you can see some nasty dandelions, stinging nettles and dock leaves and roots breathing their last gasp in a bucket. Weigh down these green leaves with a brick and fill with water and leave in a sunny corner for a few weeks. The plants will start to break down and form a really stinky brown tea. This will be used (a cupful to a gallon) as a liquid fertilizer!
Just a drop in the ocean in the neverending battle against the weeds down on the allotment, but just the thought of turning the tables at least once, gives me pleasure!
Now... hold on to your hats! I must make it clear... again.. "MATRON DOES NOT DO FLOWERS - YOU CAN'T EAT FLOWERS"....but; owing to exceptional circumstances in the natural environment I feel it is my horticultural duty to encourage beneficial insects to the garden in order that they might pollinate MY VEGETABLES! Nasturtiums act as a sacrifice plant - they attract the blackfly which seem to prefer it to my broad beans. I just nip off the infested tips and they keep growing. Tagetes, Marigolds - have a chemical compound in the leaves and in the roots which deter eelworms and whitefly. Limanthes, the poached egg plant - is adored by bees and hoverflies which in turn pollinate my veggies and eat aphids. And for the very last time... yes I know some strange people do eat flowers and survive... but I prefer veggies!
Stop press news.... The chicken holiday home has arrived. Tikka and Korma will be spending some time Down on the Allotment in the next few weeks. Watch this space....
P.S. What's happened to the 'profile views' counter on the blogger profile page? It has stopped counting! I was happily heading for 7000 readers! and it stopped!

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