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, May 28, 2007

First New Potatoes

This is one of the most keenly anticipated events of the allotment gardener's year! Back in February when my seed potatoes arrived I planted 3 tubers of the 'ultra early' 'Rocket' in a compost bag turned blackside out. These had been nurtured in the greenhouse since then, and earthed up a couple of times. You can usually tell when potato tubers have started growing because this is when the tops of the potatoes have small flowers on them. It is best practice to pinch out the flowers when you see them as this diverts energy away from the tubers.

1130am these potatoes were happily growing in my greenhouse
1200midday they were dug up
1215pm they were washed
1245pm they were eaten

Food miles ????...FOOD YARDS!!

Absolutely brilliant!!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cucumber arch

I had an idea inspired by last month's copy of Gardeners' World magazine. I don't buy the magazine you understand, just the usual 100 pages of flowers and (if you are lucky) 2 pages of veggies. Last month there was a photo of an ornamental gourd arch. Lots of different shapes, colours and sizes of ornamental gourds hanging inside an arch. Hmmm.. I had planted 5 different varieties of cucumbers this year as I was going to experiment with the 'ridge' type, outdoor cucumbers this year instead of the greenhouse varieties. The varieties planted are; 'StraightEight' (from USA), 'Marketmore', 'Crystal Lemon', 'Long Green Ridge', and 'Odys' (from Poland)

I am always looking for different ways of using what little space I have on the allotment, I am trying companion planting, dwarf varieties, successional planting and now I am growing things up poles and wigwams. Here I have used 8 x 8ft bamboo canes and somehow attached the white plastic arches from my cloches. I have lashed a few cross canes to the bottom for stability and will add more as the cucumbers grow. Can't wait to see the finished product!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tomato growth habits

There are 2 different types of growth habits in tomato plants. Indeterminate or cordon tomatoes, and then determinate or bush tomatoes. There is even a half way tomato which is semi-determinate.. basically it can't make up its mind what it is!

Cordon tomatoes, also known as vine tomatoes are the plants which are trained up a single stem and secured to a cane or string. Occasionally you will find a lateral shoot coming out from the main stem at a leaf joint, (I call these armpits) you must pinch these out so that there is only one growing point at the tip of the plant. This type of tomato will just keep going up and up and the top lead shoot (the terminal shoot) should be cut off when you have 4 or 5 trusses of fruit. This will make sure your plant puts its energy into swelling the fruit rather than growing green stuff upwards! If you don't do this you will end up at the end of the season with 8 foot tomato plants with loads of little green marbles which will not ripen!

The Bush tomatoes (determinate) you just leave them to turn into a bush! (it does exactly what it says on the tin!) You can tie them loosely to a short cane. These are usually the smaller varieties - but check on the packet.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


These strawberries have been in a growbag up on a table outside. In the last few weeks they have been swelling and slowly ripening one by one. This picture was taken the day before yesterday. I thought that one more days' sunshine would ripen it perfectly and would make a gourmet snack. I arrived yesterday and it had gone!!! I was suspecting all sorts of people, and apart from having taken a photograph of it the day before, there was no real evidence that it existed at all... apart from some evidence on the ground.... yes, my black , furry trousered, four-legged, veggie-eating, enterprising DOG had stood upright and got to it before I did !!!

But I still love him!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Birthday Blog!

My Blog is one year old today! What an interesting time I've had. About a year ago this bloke at work called Stan kept on at me about how much fun blogging was... I didn't quite get it. I mean why would someone want to read my daily diary. What could I possibly write down about my daily life that anyone else would want to read? Stan suggested that as I read nothing but seed catalogues at work, and how I kept going on and on about my garden, that I could start a blog about my veggies. How ridiculous! who on earth would want to read about the daily goings-on down on the allotment? Who would want to hear about turning your compost heap when you are wearing sandals? Who would want to hear about my re-cycled tea and coffee? And I am most definitely NOT going to tell anyone about my straw bale urinal!

Well here I am a year on. Thanks Stan. xxx

One final piece of garden blog. For the past few weeks I have been tracking down some pest in the garden and greenhouse that has been eating my precious seedlings. Each day I would find that great big chunks had been bitten off my cucumber plants, aubergines, carrots. I couldn't work it out, the bite marks were too big for slugs or snails, but why would squirrells or pigeons want to snack this time of year. I caught the black, furry-trousered, four legged pest red-handed yesterday! See photo above.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Elderflower cordial

One of my greatest pleasures from gardening is being able to eat what I grow. This is the time of year when you will see elderflowers in the hedgerows for a short period of time. Surely one of the quintessential English flavours is that of elderflower cordial. Every year I make a couple of bottles which last me into the Summer. Here is how you make it:

Pick a carrier bag full of elderflower heads, just cutting about 1/2 inch of stalk. It might be advisable when you get them home to lay them out on a sheet of newspaper outdoors to let any creepy crawlies escape. After this snip as much of the green stalk away as you can. It does not matter if you leave some behind.

Take 6 lemons and grate the rind off and squeeze the juice out. Put the juice and rind aside for later. Place the used lemon halves in a large saucepan with 3 pints of water and 3 pounds of sugar. Boil this mixture up until the sugar has melted completely. Place the elderflowers in a large heatproof bowl and pour over the hot sugar syrup and lemon pieces. Stir to mix then immediately cover the bowl with cling film and allow to cool completely.

When the syrup is cold, add the lemon juice and rind. Add 3 teaspoons of citric acid stir in well and cover with cling film again. Leave this mixture in a cool place for at least 2 days - yes 2 days. Stirring occasionally and then covering. This will allow the essential oils in the elderflowers to release into the syrup.

When ready, filter out the syrup from the other stuff by using a muslin in a kitchen sieve. Pour the syrup into sterilized bottles. This should keep in the fridge for a month or so.

Dilute to taste - it's absolutely fantastic! guaranteed!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Joys of Spring!

Well, it's all just shooting up at the moment down on the allotment! Whilst it is still very warm we have had a well needed and sustained period of rain - and I mean proper rain, not just 'wet air'. The potatoes are doubled in size and sitting bolt upright on the soil. The runner beans are sending up shoots and have just started finding their way up the bean poles. The tomatoes have grown about another 8" and I have had to tie them up twice in a week. This tomato pictured is one I have not tried before called 'Ildi' . It is supposed to be a small yellow, grape sized tomato but I have never seen anything like it! The trusses of flowers are collossal ! I would say about every 3rd leaf joint there is a truss of about a hundred flowers. I should think they are pretty small. My 'Harlequin' tomatoes have set their first fruit. They were the earliest last year, and have done the same this year.

I ate my first strawberry today. It was incredible. Such flavour you would never get anywhere else. I also did a fair bit of weeding today in between showers and dog walking (don't you just love the smell of wet dog?) anyway, weeds come up easily in this damp soil. Cleared a hundred weight of bindweed from my potatoes, and dug some very small dock plants. Weeding must be done diligently and persistently - you might just get the upper hand when it matters.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bee alert !

An incredibly worrying news story from the USA this week. Most of their honey bees have just vanished this year. Queens and drones are left in the hive but it seems that the worker bees have just flown off and apparently forgotten where home is! 90 percent of the world's almonds are grown in California, and they cannot fruit without being pollinated by bees. Commercial companies (who have bees left) are raking it in by driving their hives round to orchards all over the USA.

Where have they all gone, not even the top scientists have an idea. My theory is that the GM pollen has addled their little bee brains somehow and they have lost their sense of direction. This story has epic, even global ramifications!

The UK is not without its problems either. As a youngster I used to help my Dad keep bees on the allotment where we lived in Boston Manor. For my eighth birthday my present was my very own bee hat and gloves! I was the only girl guide in the county of Middlesex who had her beekeepers badge!!! Every couple of years the Council would send round a "bee inspector" to make sure the hive was healthy and free of disease. DEFRA in its wisdom has severely cut the National budget for bee inspection and there are now only a couple of bee inspectors left for the whole country. British honey bees are falling prey to diseases too!

No more honey fruit... no animals..get the message?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thinning out

One of my least favourite tasks in the garden is "thinning out". As much as you try to sow seed thinly, they are usually too close together to be viable. Beetroot have a particular difficulty in this respect. When you have one beetroot seed, you actually have about 3 or 4 stuck together in a corky cluster. So when a beetroot seed germinates you will usually have a little group of seedlings all coming up together. There is however, a very new variety called "solo" which is a monogerm variety, there being only one seed per seed.

Looking back on my blog dates, I sowed these beetroot on April 15th, so they are about a month old. The weather yesterday was perfect for thinning out, so in the afternoon when it was wet and dismal, I thinned out my beetroot. When I say that thinning out is one of my least favourite tasks, this is because it seems such a waste to pick out perfectly healthy seedlings and toss them on to the compost heap - because each little seedling is a potential beetroot! What I did yesterday was to transplant some of the plants further up the row where germination had been poor. I usually space them between 3" and 5" apart depending on how big you want them to grow. Apparently you can also eat the leaves like spinach. I have never tried this - usually because I grow loads anyway. Has anyone eaten beetroot leaves and survived??

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sowing parsnips

I sowed some parsnips today. I used the space from my 'magic broccoli' which had finally past its peak several weeks ago. We had some overnight rain again so the soil was easy to work, and I weeded and dug over the patch. There is a knack to sowing parsnips. I have inherited a very useful 6ft long, solid iron bar with a point on the end, which is perfect for making holes in the soil. Make a hole about 8 or 12" deep and fill it up with loose sandy compost. It is important that parsnip seed is fresh each year as it deteriorates quickly and you might have germination problems using old seed.

The prepared holes can be between 6" and 12" apart, depending on how big you want your parsnips. I usually sow 3 or 4 seeds in each hole to be sure that I can choose the best one to live. Some people over plant radishes between rows so that you can see where the row is until the parsnips germinate. Last year my germination was brilliant and I had the invidious task of choosing who will live and who will die. I prefer to use small nail scissors to despatch the unlucky seedlings as pulling up may disturb the roots. I have sowed a variety called "Hollow Crown" I find it to do very well in the London clay soil, it never goes hard or woody.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

It's raining..Yippeee!

At last, after weeks of dry hot weather, it's raining. My potatoes are looking a foot taller than they did a couple of days ago. Trouble is.... Buddy can't go W.A.L.K.I.E.S.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sheeps bottoms

On the subject of making liquid feeds, another way of producing liquid feed is making manure tea. Take a shovel full of manure and tie it up in a hessian sack, or a pair of stockings will do fine. Lower the sack into a bucket of water and let it stew for a couple of weeks.

Any blog readers who know any kinky sheep with a shaving fetish must look away now! Alternatively there is an ancient method involving shaving the dirty wool off a sheeps bottom and soaking this in water to make a plant feed.

Now how many comments do you think this post will get?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Stinging nettle soup

Now that the stinging nettles are growing well in the hedgerows, it is the time to put them to good use. Yesterday I started to make a fantastic plant feed using stinging nettles. Gather up a good carrier bag full of stinging nettles, leaves and stalks. All you have to do is scrunch them up at the bottom of a bucket and weight them down with a brick and fill the bucket with water. Just leave the nettles in a corner of the garden for about 2 weeks - you will certainly be able to smell when it is ready.

This is quite natural and a wonderful, nitrogen rich organic feed for all the garden. The smell comes from the breakdown of the plant matter, resembles cow manure.... and you may get a few flies showing interest. This green / brown liquid is highly concentrated and you dilute it one cupful to a gallon of water. Use it as a feed for plants. This can also be used as a foliar feed. It really works!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Runner Bean Wigwams

Having bit the bullet last week and planted out my tomatoes, I constructed and planted out my runner beanz. I had intended to grow a runner bean 'hedge' this year.. but decided that access to the far side of the hedge would be problematic because it is up against a fence. So now I have 4 wigwams. HOW!...

Well, it's quite simple really - six 8ft bamboo canes tied together with string. I have sown 8 different varieties of climbing beans with many different coloured flowers and beans. Runner beans are greedy feeders, and demand lots and lots of organic matter in the soil. Gardening lore has it that you cannot overwater runner beans.

Today I also planted my pumpkin and squash seeds in pots in the greenhouse. I have a wide variety of squashes from the USA - I am thinking of growing some on top of my new compost heap. They should be happy there!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Globe Artichoke

My globe artichokes are getting bigger by the day. The largest one here is the size of an orange already. As previously stated, they get horribly infested by blackfly and are quite inedible. This one is still fairly tight and quite clean. Today I tied it up in a loose bag made from a piece of fleece.

I pulled up and composted my 'magic broccoli' today. There were hundreds of purple sprouting flowers and quite a few tall heads of yellow flowers. A fantastic crop this year, I spaced them a little wider apart than I did last year's crop. About 2 feet between plants really worked this year.

I also sowed some spinach and some chard today. The overwintered crop is huge at the moment and bolting madly. Only have a week or so left of this wonderful veggie. I also sowed some dwarf beans 'Royalty' (stolen from Heligan...shhh) and some dwarf beans 'Poinciana' (stolen from George Washington's garden at Mount Vernon...shhhh). What a great way to remember a wonderful holiday?...officer