Down on the Allotment

Matron grows vegetables and fruit in a Hampshire garden. I've been growing veggies since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Some traditional varieties and old favourites as well as new ideas. I share my garden with my allotment assistant Daisy the Labrador. On Twitter as @MatronsVeggies

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Trying to get you some pictures

I have tried several times to put photos onto this blog. Even when pressing the small size button it has made me wait nearly 20 minutes to download. I gave up. Will get some tech advice and you will be able to see my tomato hedge!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

First Pickings

I decided to harvest my first new potatoes today. Grown in a black bag in the greenhouse were two "Epicure" first earlies. I had about a dozen conker sized new potatoes which were cooked with fresh garden mint while they were still squealing. A veritable taste of heaven.

Bit the bullet today and thinned out my parsnip seedlings. A variety called "Hollow Crown" the discarded plants looked strong and healthy. Also thinned out a few of my "Early Nantes" carrots which were sown in a large pot in the greenhouse back in January. So incredibly sweet and crisp. You could never buy such gourmet treats, anywhere!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Using re-cycled Beer and Cider.....

We gardeners are not scared of getting mucky down on the allotment.

To be blunt, if it comes out of the rear end of most animals it is good for the garden. Has anyone smelled chicken poo? How about cows? horses?... you get my drift. One has to keep up with tetanus injections of course. This is so important to improve the texture of the soil, preserving moisture, and providing nitrogen.

Now to the basics. A good compost heap requires Nitrogen and Carbon. Nitrogen is found in green waste such as grass and leaves, and waste such as re-cycled tea, beer, cider etc. Carbon is found in dry brown matter such as straw, twigs, newspaper and cardboard. A good compost heap should be turned and kept moist. The most apt analogy is that you should aim for a "Bolognaise" sauce instead of a "Lasagne". I have previously mentioned my nettle stew bucket, but next to that is another, half filled with water, then topped up every now and then with re-cycled tea (in my case). Now this is extremely practical, and saves having to tread muddy footprints all over the carpet indoors. Do you get my drift?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Thinning out!

I hate thinning out seedlings! You are supposed to sow thinly, but it is never thin enough. I hate to pick out strong healthy little plants and toss them aside. On more than one occasion I have planted them up elsewhere - though they seldom thrive. I planted my parsnips 4 to a hole , as instructed on the packet, parsnips are notoriously hard to germinate, this usually takes up to 6 weeks. ALL my parsnip seeds have germinated this year and I am going to have to terminate the short lives of 75% of my poor little seedlings. It is better to do it with a small pair of nail scissors as this prevents disturbing the root of the one you have chosen to live a long and healthy life.

I am just pulling up the last of my Swiss chard "Bright Lights". I grew it for the first time last year, and it is superb. An excellent substitute for spinach and completely frost tolerant. The plants I sowed last spring lasted all through the Winter and the last 6 weeks they have been completely wonderful, providing me with fresh green veggies. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Stolen from the Lost Gardens of Heligan

I have a confession to make!

2 years ago I made a trip down to Cornwall to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The most amazing walled kitchen garden, a veggie growers paradise! Every variety was historically accurate to the Victorian period. A quick peek at their compost heap is, of course, a mecca for any serious gardener. Right on top of the compost heap, were a stack of discarded French bean plants, it was early October and the garden was being cleared. Still attached to these plants were a few dried up seed pods.... too much temptation. A quick glance to the left and to the right, then I took my chance. One bean pod containing 6 beans of the variety "Royalty". This is a stunning dark red or purple variety. I grew them last year, sadly only one survived - it was nursed to rude health, and this year, I have a good dozen from my own seed.

Broad beans are very late this year, a variety "Aquadulce" . A problem this year, as I had planned to use the ground afterwards for my squashes. This brings me on to the subject of companion planting (I'm getting the hang of this blog thing....)

Companion planting. Three different plants which can be grown in close proximity, and not compete with each other because they have separate needs and or growing habits, or they compliment each other. For example. Squashes, Sweet Corn , and Runner Beans can be planted in the same hole. The native Americans used to call them "The Three Sisters". The squash runs along the ground and provides ground cover. The Sweet corn grows straight up into the air on a stout stick, and the runner bean climbs up the sweet corn. Everybody happy!

Another venture of companion planting I am trying this year, is to plant sweet peppers (capsicum) in between rows of potato. The peppers need a bit of extra protection from the wind, provided by the potato rows.

I always grow a first early potato called "Epicure" - I always have. They are hard to come by these days, probably a heritage variety. They have the best flavour you could imagine. I have one early plant which I forced in the greenhouse in a black sack... in a couple of days I will have my first new potatoes cooked with fresh garden mint. Surely one of the highlights of any gardeners' year.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Why I love my veggies!

I have been growing vegetables ever since I can remember! My parents both lived through the Second World War in London, where everybody was encouraged to "Dig for Victory". This habit continued in our family during the 1960s and 1970s, and both my older Sisters have the veggie bug!

My earliest memories are down on the Allotment with my Dad, I was given a little plot to grow my own radishes... I remember we kept bees down there too - I helped with cleaning the beehives every so often. On my eighth birthday I was given my first bee hat and gloves.

We performed scientific genetic experiments with our veggies year after year. The biggest "Marmande" tomato would be set aside and the seeds gathered. The biggest Shallots were kept aside for next years seed. Eventually, as I remember, we grew giant vegetables most years. The most fun to do was to get a pin, and find a small marrow, and write silly things on the marrows which would grow and callous over.

Anyway, back to the present day allotment. You should smell the stink of my lovely nettle "soup". To the un-enlightened , take a big bag full of stinging nettles, squash them down into the bottom of a bucket, put a brick or heavy rock on top to weigh them down, fill up the bucket with tap water, leave to stew in the garden for about two weeks. This is the most wonderful liquid foliar feed that you can get. Use about a cupfull of this to one gallon of water. To describe the smell.... well.... just think of cow manure!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Prezzie from the Postman!

Thrill of thrills! This January found me eagerly thumbing through seed catalogues with as much enjoyment and anticipation as any other person might get from a bestseller. I fancied the idea of trying something new this year and ordered some sweet potato slips from the T&M catalogue. They arrived today!

Have prepared the ground a few weeks ago, lots of horse manure and compost, then 2 layers of black plastic over the soil to warm it up. The slips arrived with instructions to pot them up for about 3 weeks prior to planting out. They are about 8 inches of green stalk, with a couple of leaves on the top and a few hairy roots at the end. They are apparently related to bindweed (convullaria) and have similar leaves and flowers. That being the case then they should thrive in my garden as does their pesky cousin!!

I have seen them growing in Madeira and in Mississippi, they look like they ramble all over the place like pumpkins. Does anyone have experience?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Much needed rain

It's been raining on and off for about 6 days now. The weeds are loving it! So too are all my lovely veggies. I did have some reservations when I planted out my tomatoes and cucumbers last week, thinking it would be too early, but they seem to be loving it.

This year I am growing a "tomato hedge". An idea I adapted from something I saw at the model vegetable garden at Wisley last year. Basically it is a wire framework similar to that you would grow raspberries along. I am trying lots of different tomato varieties this year. I bought a packet of the new variety "Harlequin" - as per the front of the T&M catalogue. Those 6 tiny seeds cost me £2.99. Hope they are worth it.

I planted out my pumpkin "Atlantic Giant" yesterday, dug a big hole and tipped in 2 bags of compost. Going for size this year rather than flavour - for a change.

Trying some new beetroot this year, a free packet from Kitchen Garden magazine called "Choggia" - apparently they are pink and white striped... wait and see.

Aubergines are large plants now. Sowed the seed in a heated propagator in January - well worth the extra effort to plant early , they have done well.

Also trying the Gardeners World chilli trial this year. I have "Joes Long" and "Numex Twilight". Germination was variable, and they are terribly small, and reluctant to flourish. I think because we had to plant them with Monty at the beginning of the new series, they were sown later than I would like. Awaits update.

I've found a new source of well rotted horse manure - what a thrill!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Welcome to my first blog!... The purpose of this blog is to share the day to day happenings down on the allotment. If you are interested in an intimate account of the progress of my compost heap, or my wormery, then you are at the right place.

How tall are my broad beans today? Have my French beans germinated yet? How long will it take to harden off my pumpkins?

Whenever I meet a fellow gardener it is such a joy to compare experiences of growing veggies!. If you are wanting flowers... then you are in the wrong blog!.. for as I say "YOU CAN'T EAT FLOWERS!". (well technically I know all the guff about chive flowers and nasturtiums..blah blah)

There may also be various updates on my latest holiday, probably in terms of how worried I am that the garden will be OK when I get back..

This is all very new to me.