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, March 31, 2008

The fruits of Spring!

Here are the first few sticks of rhubarb from my patch. January 2007 a good friend dug up one of his large crowns and generously gave me about 5 or 6 crowns. I held back all last year throughout Summer and I did not pick a single stick in order to let it build up its strength. rhubarb is a greedy feeder! it will take any amount of compost or manure you can give it. Keep it well watered and well fed and mulched and it will pay you back.
Here it is, still squealing. I just added some brown sugar, juice of an orange and some orange zest. It also goes well with ginger. Does anyone know of any other simple way of serving stewed rhubarb? Any flavours that go particularly well? I heard that you can just dip raw rhubarb in sugar and eat it that way... don't even try it! That advice must have been an April fool.. the roof of your mouth will never forgive you.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring is Here!

Well Spring must be here because the blossom is out! A wonderful show this year, the perfume is heady and I have even seen a few early bees doing their duty!
My purple podded peas are settling in well to their new home. A few weeks before I planted them out, I pinched out the tips of the seedlings. This encourages side shoots to form, on which there will be a large number of pods.

At last my spinach and Swiss Chard are showing signs of recovery. Throughout Winter they just sit there and appear to do nothing, then, as if by magic.. they start to grow and grow and grow. From now until about June or July there will be an endless supply of fresh green leaves!
They say a watched pot never boils, but I can't help going out and looking at my little tomato plants each day! They are still in a heated propagator to keep them warm at night, but during the day they can get a little warm inside the greenhouse as the sun is getting brighter. If they get too much heat and not enough light they go spindly and tall. Now is the time to strike a difficult balance between not getting them get chilled, and starting to get them very slightly hardened off. Lids off and greenhouse door open on warm sunny days from now on.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Carpet Mulch

I managed to find some old carpet in a skip outside a house in my road. I have been looking for some old carpet to use as paths on my patch. I set about cutting up these pieces into strips.
I found a serrated knife in the garden shed which was just up to the job of cutting (sawing) through this thick wool carpet. I remember years ago I used this knife which was a 'honey knife' it is used to gently saw off the wax cappings at the top of a comb of honey before putting them into the spinner to extract the honey. One day I would love to keep bees again, but it is not always a terribly social thing to do when you live in London!
Here is the knife in full. An excellent tool for the job.
And the finished job. The colour should tone down in a while - hopefully!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Good Friday

Easter has come early this year! The date of Easter is supposed to be something like the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring equinox.. or something like that.... Gardening tradition has it that you must plant your new potatoes on Good Friday. So I did. Three rows of International Kidney. If I grew this same variety on the island of Jersey I would be allowed to call them Jersey Royal. Anyway, my broccoli has been just about ready for the past couple of days so Ipicked my first bunch today and ate them 'still squealing' just steamed for 5 minutes and served with a hint of melted butter. mmmmm
I am looking forward to my first feed of rhubarb this year. A good friend gave me some crowns last January, so I planted them and did not pick any stalks last year even though there was quite a good show. This is to allow them to build up reserves. It looks as if it is going to be a bumper crop this year. You can also just see at the bottom of the picture above that I use old carpets as pathways round the allotment. Today I spotted that a neighbour was throwing out some old carpets into a skip outside her house. As it happens, they are a perfect size for cutting up for pathways. More re-cycling !! grrrreat!
Several weeks ago in the greenhouse I planted some ultra first early Rocket potato in a bag in the greenhouse. I have been protecting them with fleece on cold nights, but you can see they are already doing well. Isn't it so special to get your first new potatoes just a few weeks earlier?
The shallots are doing well in their new bed. A couple of them sadly, have suffered from the effects of a large, black, canine walking across them to get to his favourite corner of the patch. hmmmm.
I'm trying something new this year. I have read that you can force an early crop of dwarf, French beans in the greenhouse. So I will give it a try.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Re-cycling for gardeners

A few years ago we were clearing out all my Father's clothes and taking them to the charity shops. A brilliant idea struck me as I was laughing my head off at the sight of his old fashioned string vest. You know the kind that you see English tourists wearing when they have a knotted handkerchief on their heads by the seaside? Anyway, I sowed the bottom together with some string and produced this great onion sack! Just the job for storing onions and shallots!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Potatoes

Yesterday I prepared some beds for planting my new potatoes. The picture above is a French variety 'Vitelotte' also known as Black Truffle. It is a French variety and has a fantastic dark purple colour which stays when cooked. Although it is traditional to plant potatoes on Good Friday (ancient garden lore) I nipped ahead and put in a row of Red Duke of York. Next Friday I will plant my International Kidney (aka Jersey Royal).

I managed to get out yesterday in some bright sunshine and get lots of stuff done! I scattered some nasturtium seeds round the area where I have planted my broad beans. My thinking is that nasturtium act as a 'sacrifice plant' - that means that the blackfly love nasturtium leaves just as much as they like sitting on my broad beans. When the nasturtium leaves are covered in blackfly, then pick them and throw them away! I also scattered areas with the special seed mix for dogs (see previous post). Hopefully Buddy will enjoy nibbling on them from time to time and will get some essential vitamins and minerals. I also planted a thin row of chives in between the rows of carrots. This will help deter pests, in particular the carrot root fly. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Potting up

I spent a couple of happy hours in the greenhouse yesterday, 'potting up'. With my Radio4 playing in the background, along with the howling gale outside, I managed to pot up all my little tomato seedlings. Alicante, Moneymaker, Sungold, Country Taste, Golden Jubilee and Garden Pearl. Please note the re-use of plastic cutlery and white plastic washing up liquid bottles as plant labels.
I was lucky enough to do a seed swap recently and obtained a heritage variety Purple Podded Peas. I sowed them into toilet rolls and allowed the roots to develop before hardening them off outside over the past few weeks. I understand that like many old varieties, these grow very tall, so I have erected some 8ft bamboo poles into a wigwam.
Finally, a sight I have been waiting for.. my first signs of purple sprouting broccoli have appeared. Much more to come over the following weeks. Spring is almost here! Hooray!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Planting out

I decided to plant out my shallots today. I started them off in the greenhouse in modules just a few weeks ago.
They have put on a lot of new growth just in the last week as the days are getting longer now. You can see here what a lovely root system they have developed.
I prepared the bed a few weeks ago with quite a bit of garden compost and some hoof and horn meal (from Lidl) and I raked and weeded the patch. I have been fending off the neighbourhood cats who have been using it as a toilet!! Today I spaced the shallots about 7" apart and a foot between rows. Lots of rain and wind about at the moment so they should get a good watering in tonight.

Friday, March 07, 2008

One week in Spring

What a difference just one week can make this time of year. I planted my shallots 'pikant' in modules in the greenhouse just a few weeks ago. The picture above was taken today, the picture below was taken on 1st March just one week ago.

Quite incredible. Onions are fascinating plants I invite you to do a little experiment if you have some planted. Onions are extremely sensitive to day length. At the moment, they are sensitive to the fact that the days are getting longer, and while this is happening they put on lots of green top growth. The sooner you can get them started, the bigger your top green growth will be. Now here comes the good part.. On the very day that the days start to get shorter the hormones in the plant start to sense that it is time to store up food for the Winter, so immediately after this day the tops stop growing and the bulbs start swelling! You watch them! This can be so with many plants but it is more easily visible when you can watch the bulb swelling. Amazing!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mine all Mine!

I don't know why, but I get a real feeling of gluttony when I sort through my packets of seeds. I sometimes feel like Fagin in the film 'Oliver' ..when he gets out all his money and is constantly touching and counting them.

I went to the dog show Crufts today. Here is an amazing display of obedience. All these dogs (apart from one) sat obediently for 5 minutes while their owners left the ring out of sight. What clever doggies!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Living Pet Foods

Another much awaited arrival in the post today was from Seeds of Italy. They have started a range of Living Pet Foods, a selection of plants which are specially formulated to supplement the diet of a whole variety of pets. This mixture of seeds, (Lolium Perenne, Cicoria Spadona, Ordeum Vulgaris, Lattuga Batavia Parigi), is chosen to suit the natural and nutritional needs of dogs. The lolium and ordeum in particular aid normal digestion and intestinal function of the animal. I will now have to go and look up the common names of these varieties...

Lolium Perenne = Perennial Ryegrass
Cicoria Spadona = Sword Chicory
Ordeum Vulgaris = Barley
Lattuga Batavia = Lettuce

I have also read that dogs find Parsley and Aniseed beneficial to their digestion. I will plant up a little area and see if Buddy goes for it! Awaits the doggy taste test.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Happy Saint David's Day!

Today is St David's Day. St David is the patron Saint of Wales. It is traditional to wear either a daffodil or a leek in your lapel today! I was thrilled to see that HRH Prince Charles had a mini leek pinned to his lapel today when he went to RAF Brize Norton to pick up his youngest Son.
To celebrate, I went down to the allotment and picked two of my last leeks. Those toilet rolls had really helped blanch the stems. I am particularly proud of these two.
Otherwise I spent this lovely sunny day pottering about in the greenhouse, inspecting and watering my little seedlings. My chilli 'Scotch Bonnet' has germinated well, I saved the seed from some peppers I bought in a West Indian grocers. They are lethally hot!
You might spot that I have saved plastic cutlery from the canteen at work and re-use them as plant labels.
The shallots are starting to sprout leaves. I am a bit worried about some patches of sooty mould appearing between the layers of dry skin. I hope that when they get planted outside and start putting roots down into the soil, this will clear up.