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 28, 2008

Going Bananas!

A couple of weeks ago my Birthday present arrived in the post. This is a variety of banana which is the one most suited to grow in our climate if at all possible. This is 'Musa Basjoo' a dwarf variety which should survive our Winter if protected well. I am going to plant it in a half barrel container, so it would be possible to give it some protection in Winter.
I did grow a banana plant once before in a pot. It grew enormous! Apparently they can sprout one leaf per week! The large leaf shown has grown entirely since it was delivered in the first week of April. You can see at the base of this leaf, the second leaf is now ready to grow! Has anyone grown Musa Basjoo ?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Springing Up!

Just two weeks after starting off my bucket of comfrey tea, you can see that the liquid has now started to brew. We have just had two warm-ish days here in London and as yet, it has not started to stink. No problem! just wait...

Having sown my curcurbit (squash/pumpkin) seeds on 18th April, they have made a great start. They have been inside a heated propagator in the greenhouse on several warm days. The temperature there must have given these seedlings a great start. Also starting to germinate and enjoy the heat in there are my okra seedlings and scotch bonnet chillis.

I planted my seed potatoes in time-honoured gardening tradition on Good Friday March 21st this year. I must admit that these days with my 'no dig' gardening regime I do not go to all the bother of digging out a trench to plant potatoes. The ground is well manured anyway and I just dig a little hole with a hand trowel, perhaps a bit of growmore to help it along - that's all. The last 2 days of sunshine has brought up my potatoes. These are Red Duke of York - you can see the crimson colouring in the leaves already.
I bought one of my strawberry plants into a pot in the greenhouse in early January. It looks as if it is already several weeks ahead of the others. One potential problem for strawberries in the greenhouse like this is that they sometimes do not get pollinated properly, this results in deformed strawberries (should I say physically challenged strawberries?) anyway, you can get over this problem by hand pollinating the flowers with a small paintbrush or Q-tip.
My asparagus has also made about an inch a day in the past couple of days. Everything was just sitting dormant in the garden, now it looks as if Spring has sprung!
Last, may I make a recommendation? Wickes sell 4 bags of multi-purpose compost (75l) for £10. I used it last year, and it is some of the best I've had in a long time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Matron Doesn't Do Flowers!

I don't do flowers! You can't eat flowers! Well, here is the exception - we are in full flow down on the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) patch. One day I pick a whole bag full, and then a few days later it is like I was never there, a whole load more appears. My magic broccoli! I really don't do any other brassicas because I have such a small patch I cannot afford to have something in the ground for almost a whole year. This must be the exception, I have been batting off slugs, pigeons, squirrels, dogs, caterpillars, slugs, whitefly and more caterpillars for a year. For next year I have just bought some extra early PSB called 'Rudolph' which should crop in January. In that case I will look forward to an extended season.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Flippin' Freezin!

Look what's happened this week! One of my beautiful crimson flowered broad beans has started to flower. Again many thanks go to Celia at purple podded peas who swapped some seeds in the post. I am looking forward to keeping this beautiful heritage variety alive by saving seed.

I read on a blog somewhere that the 18th April was a good day to plant seeds of the curcurbit (cucumber/squash) family. Something to do with a new moon according to bio-dynamic gardeners. Sorry chaps, I'll give it a try - but highly sceptial. Above are Black Forest climbing courgette, Defender courgette, Yellow Crookneck squash, Bush Delicata squash and Rouge vif d'Etamps (last two courtesy of Paula at Petunia's Garden). Swapping seed is such fun!

The night time temperatures here in London still go below freezing most nights at the moment. We have had a flippin' freezin April so far. Quite a change from last year when it went up into the 70's. Here are my tomato plants that have grown out of a propagator and have to sleep under a bed of fleece at night. How much longer??

Here are my early sown ultra-early Rocket new potatoes sown in a compost bag a few weeks ago. Even they have to be covered with a fleece inside the greenhouse at night due to the frosts. All they need is some warmth and they will be off... like a rocket!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Make your own hormone rooting liquid

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!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Making Comfrey Tea

One of the best natural liquid feeds you can give your plants is Comfrey tea. Just a simple matter of weighting some comfrey leaves down in a bucket and filling it with water.
After a few days the leaves will begin to break down and eventually after a few weeks they will provide you with a rich and concentrated liquid feed. Every couple of days or so you can see this process happening if you 'kick the bucket' and you will see (and smell) the methane gases escaping through the water. Please beware that this substance is smelly, and I mean really smelly. Just imagine cow manure and drains... yes! that smelly! This liquid must then be diluted down about a cupful to a watering can. This can be sprayed or sprinkled as a foliar feed on to leaves or direct on to the soil. If you cannot find comfrey leaves then stinging nettles make a good substitute. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


After all the waiting, all the netting and the protection given - my PSB is in full flood! The taste and texture of freshly picked broccoli is out of this world. This time of year there is virtually no danger of finding any critters on the leaves as it is too cold outside so they barely need rinsing under the cold tap before plunging into a steamer for about 5 minutes. When cooked these were a vivid, vivid green colour. Just dosed with a little butter - it makes all the hard work worth while.
I found some Vivaldi salad potatoes for sale in Sainsburys a couple of weeks ago. Ate some then forgot about the few remaining in the sack. A couple of days ago I discovered they had started to sprout, so I brought a couple into the light to chit for a while. These Vivaldi potatoes are a new variety advertised in the Thompson & Morgan catalogue. Thought I might plant these into a large container and see what happens.
My purple podded peas are doing well since planting out a couple of weeks ago. Since I pinched out the lead shoot there are several shoots coming from the plant now. They are just beginning to climb up the pole. Looking good.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Cold Snap!

What a difference just a couple of days can make? 2 days ago it was a lovely 62 degrees and I was sitting in the sunshine with a Tshirt on enjoying some lovely warm weather...
And look what happened just a couple of days later. I have seen blue tits flying in and out of the box in the last few days so I think they have put down a deposit and moved into their new house.
Well, one advantage of the snow is it makes a black dog easier to see!
Broad beans are perfectly hardy, and the snow didn't settle for more than half a day, so they are happy sitting in the warm afternoon sun now. Funny old weather! I guess you bloggers up there in Northern Canada are laughing at me right now!! but snow of any description is uncommon these days.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Things are hotting up!

It was 62 degrees in the shade today in London. I have noticed that since we have had sunny, warm weather over the last week, most of the veggies have at least doubled in size.. in a week! They really have responded to the change in temperature! I took the opportunity to plant some okra seeds in a pot in the greenhouse. These are Clemson Spineless and I bought them in the USA. I tried them a few years ago with no success, a bit of a long shot I know, has anyone tried growing okra in the UK? I would be interested to find out.
Meanwhile in the greenhouse, my dwarf bean experiment looks good so far. I had heard that you can force an early crop in the greenhouse, so here are 3 plants in a large pot. Awaits.
A few days ago I made one of my regular trips to the model vegetable garden at the RHS Wisley. They had grown a wide selection of Winter salad leaves inside their greenhouses, including this lovely lettuce.
I was also interested to see them growing lettuce and cabbages through a white plastic mulch in a tunnel. I wonder if this keeps the slugs away? Looks like it would be hard to water them through the plastic.
My favourite place at Wisley is their compost corner. Looks like they are doing a trial of compost bins this year. Here is one of the revolving bins. So what's wrong with putting your back into turning your heap with a spade. Stuff and nonsense, for the feeble, hmmm quite a good idea actually, but I bet it's expensive!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

No Gardening Today...

Because I went for a day-trip to Paris on the Eurostar!
Look what they've plonked in the middle of the musee de Louvre! Opinions are sharply divided, but I think it is OK.

If you ever get the trip to see the re-vamped Eurostar terminal at St Pancras.. you must. It is fabulous!
Sir John Betjeman would have loved it!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

More Fruits of Spring!

I am particularly pleased with a new variety I am growing this year. This is one of the first Japanese overwintering apples to be brought into this country. It originates high in the mountains on the island of Honshu, and it is thought to be a hybrid variety between a crab-apple and a medlar (known in France as un bout de chien). This is completely hardy, even in our mild Winters it will stand through any frost and retain its flavour as well as its shine. The flavour is superb, almost a spicy nutmeg or cinnamon flavour so there is no need to add spice when you are cooking it. Wonderful in apple pies or crumbles! Available for the first time in the UK through a specialist tree company Well worth a try!