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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Globe artichoke cuttings

I took two cuttings from my 3 year old globe artichoke plant this week. Small plantlets emerge from the soil around the base of the parent plant. These should be cut off as close to the main stem as possible, ideally taking some root with it. These two were a bit sorry for themselves for a couple of days. I cut off most of the large leaves as the small plant would be under some distress for a while. They perked up and are looking fairly happy now.

The main globe artichoke plant is about 5 foot high now. There are some artichokes showing that are the size of a tennis ball. I have terrible problems with blackfly on globe artichokes. Most years they are quite inedible as the black critters just infest right the way through each heart. I am thinking of wrapping each of the heads in a package of fleece right now. Does anyone have any suggestions? I love eating them, but they really get infested.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Straw berries

Apparently this April has been the warmest on record. Over 3 degrees higher than usual, and the warmest Spring since records began. Certainly the last few weeks have ususally been up in the 70's. I do have some strawberries in a growbag in the greenhouse that I was forcing for an earlier crop. The outdoor strawberries however, have been just as advanced and there seems to have been no difference indoor or out.

In order to stop the trusses of fruit from laying on the soil, I have laid straw round each plant so that the swelling fruit can rest on a dry surface. Hence they are called straw berries. It is only when the fruit is starting to swell that you can water and feed the plants with a high potash feed for a few weeks to help them on their way.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tomato - ring culture

It is at this time of year that any space in greenhouses or pots is at a premium. Many veggies have been carefully raised from seed and potted on. The trouble with tender plants is that you have to make a judgement as to whether you think there is going to be a late frost or not. Hmmm! I have taken a gamble, although I still have others in the greenhouse.

I started my aubergines, chilli and tomato in the greenhouse in a propagator in January. These veggies are the ones that can really benefit from a longer growing season. Consequently most of my tomato plants in flowerpots are over a foot tall and already setting several trusses of fruit. I took the plunge yesterday and planted some of them outdoors as they were getting pot bound and lanky. You will notice in the above piccy that I have used what appears to be a flowerpot inside a growbag. This is called a 'ring culture'. Plants have two separate root systems, the long tap roots which go straight down deep are responsible for fetching and seeking water. It does not really matter if they go down into sand, or anything as long as they find water. The second set of roots are near the surface and they are responsible for finding nutrients. So these flowerpots have their bottoms cut out, I water the bottom part and feed the top part.

Varieties I am growing this year are: Tigerella, Marmande, Marglobe, Gardener's Delight, Ildi and Jubilee.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Magic Broccoli

It is truly magic! About 3 weeks ago I decided that I had had the very best from my wonderful broccoli, and I completely stripped the plants of every single purple floret. I badly needed the space to plant my Spring veggies.

3 days later it was like I had never been there. All the plants were completely loaded with fresh new florets, and with help, we stripped the plant bare of what would surely be the last of this wonderful, wonderful gourmet treat.

2 days later, it's groundhog day.... and so on. I must pick about a pound of purple sprouting broccoli about every 2nd or 3rd day. Steamed broccoli, broccoli quiche, chilled stilton and broccoli soup, more steamed broccoli. Ladies and Gentlemen I am as regular as clockwork thank you very much. I really do need the space to plant my parsnips but it keeps coming. What a wonderful dilemma. Note to self.. all the months of hard work last year batting off caterpillars, butterflies, slugs, snails and puppydogs tails... it was all worth it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Golden Jubilee tomato

Here is a packet of tomato seeds sent to me last week for my Birthday. I looked them up on google, they appear to be an American variety and claim to have higher levels of Vitamin C and A than other varieties. Although it is a bit late to be planting seeds, I put a few in a heated propagator in the greenhouse in the hope that they will catch up with the others and I will find out for myself.
Today I sowed 10 varieties of climbing beans for my 'Bean hedge'. I have tried to choose beans of different colours, shapes, and cropping times. The ones I have chosen are:
Lima bean - from the USA
Purple hyacinth bean - from the USA (extremely poisonous but pretty!)
Blauhilde - purple French bean
Eden - Italian green flat bean
Goldfield - yellow flat bean
Desiree - white flowered runner bean
Sunset - salmon flowered runner bean
Lady Di - red flowered runner bean
Enorma - my old favourite runner bean
Blue Lake - reliable green French bean

New improved compost heap!

Now you can see before and after pictures! These are wooden pallets on which German motorcycles were imported into the UK. I am going to fix some chicken wire round the sides so there is not too much spillage - so light the blue touchpaper and go. Incidentally, a few years' ago we came across a 'compost thermometer' in a garden centre in the USA. This is a fantastic gadget, as you can see how hot your compost is getting in the centre! I have never seen one since. Has anyone ever heard of one, or better still where I can get one from?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Gooseberry saw fly

I am on the look-out once more for pesky pests in the garden. I notice that the slugs are once more raising their ugly heads. The ones that do the most damage are the little brown stripey slugs rather than the big black ones. A couple of years ago I bought a packet of 'nemaslug' - these are a natural control measure, nematode worms. You mix the packet of beige powder into a bucket of water and distribute all over your soil. Nematode worms are microscopic orgasms.. which live on the surface slime of slugs and kill them. Hooray!

Another pest which is sure to haunt me this year is gooseberry saw fly. Apparently they overwinter in the soil and then in the spring hatch their little larvae - caterpillars - who munch their way through your entire plant in the blink of an eye. Apparently I am supposed to keep an eye out for little holes in the leaves, then spend all my spare time searching for them by hand and squishing them! I am not against squishing per se.... but there must be more interesting ways to spend my spare time. Ho hum.... let the games begin!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Make your own hormone rooting gel

Did you know you can save money and do your bit for the environment by making your own hormone rooting gel? All you have to do is pick a bunch of willow stems, put them in a glass or vase of water for about 24 hours.... that's it ! The active ingredient found in willow stems is rhizocaline, a substance which is the active ingredient in many proprietary ready-made hormone rooting powders and solutions. All you have to do is to dip your cuttings into this solution. I'm not sure how long you can keep it once made, but it is not difficult to make some more - and it's free!

Anyway, it's the start of the Easter bank holiday weekend. It is a long held garden tradition that potatoes are planted on Good Friday. I went out today in glorious sunshine and planted a row of Red Duke of York. Others already in the ground are Rocket and Epicure, and I have some early Rocket potatoes in a sack in the greenhouse which, just today are poking their first shoots above the surface. Today it was up to 70 degrees outside and looks set for the whole of the weekend. Yippeeee!