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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Earliest Tomato

I am growing 'Sub Arctic Plenty' tomato for the first time this year. It was a freebie packet last year with one of my gardening magazines. I became interested in this area last year when I found out about a tomato breeding project in Quebec, Canada where they have a series of cold tolerant beefsteak tomatoes! A little research has shown me that this variety was developed in the 1940s to enable the US Servicemen posted in Greenland to grow their own vegetables in such a Northern climate in order to stay healthy. Sub Arctic Plenty sets fruit even in cold conditions and is claimed to be the very first tomato to ripen outdoors.
Obviously not frost tolerant, but let's give it a go! I've not grown this one before, has anyone else? Any bloggers out there in Greenland? Canada?

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Zealand Spinach

I have been itching to try growing New Zealand Spinach for a number of years now and finally I bought a packet last week whilst in the USA. Not related to ordinary spinach this type (Tetragonia tetragonoides) is supposed to have been brought back from the Pacific by Captain Cook. It survives hot Summer conditions well, and you just pinch off the tops of the rambling plant and it lasts until the first frosts knock it back. I have seen it growing and I have eaten it and it tastes wonderful. But what a surprise when I opened the packet to see what the seeds looked like!! From the appearance of these seeds I guess that this is not related to the spinach / beet family that we are familiar with here in the UK. Normally a spinach or beet seed is actually 3 or 4 seeds fused in a corky layer. Some monogerm varieties have only one seed per seed. Does anyone know what happens here with New Zealand spinach? Are these strange winged pods actually containing multiple numbers of seeds? or will I get one plant out of each? Answers please.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seattle's Best Coffee!

Americans have laws against driving your car whilst speaking on a handheld mobile phone (quite right!) but they have no law against drinking a boiling hot coffee! All over the state you have drive-thru coffee huts. Actually, in Seattle you cannot just order 'May I have a cup of coffee please?'.. No!... that will be a 'Latte Grande, two shots, Columbian beans, 2% milk, with vanilla syrup and a biscotti to go please' Whilst in Washington State I had the pleasure of furthering my studies by visiting Wolf Haven - a rescue and study center for Grey Wolves and a breeding programme for the rare Mexican Wolves and Red Wolves. The staff informed us that they might be a little sad when we visited last Saturday as one of their oldest wolves had just that night passed away at the old age of fifteen. We had only been in the grounds for 5 minutes when all 50 of these wolves began to HOWL! I was treated to a full 5 minutes of the most musical and heart-wrenching experience!
Meanwhile back at home my purple podded peas have made good progress growing in their loo rolls (I know how the SAGBUTTS love it when I call them that!) they will be ready to plant out soon.
The shallots Pikant which I saved from last year are doing really well in their modules. They have been hardening off outside for a couple of weeks and are ready to plant out now.
Today I uncovered my blanched rhubarb. Part of this patch have been covered with a black dustbin to exclude light, and the resulting stalks are sweet and tasty. The stems now are becoming a lighter colour and much thinner so I will leave them to grow on naturally now. Compare them to the crown on the right of the picture which has grown uncovered.
Here, just picked, washed and then chopped and cooked in the microwave with a spoon of sugar. Garden to tummy in 10 minutes!
Sweet, tender and delicious!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gardeners at Play!

Well, I've arrived back from Seattle with a whole lot of fun stuff to tell you about. Most importantly I was able to meet with a group of garden bloggers in the area SAGBUTT - Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United to Talk. What a wonderful group of people! we spent more than 3 hours chatting and swapping. Special thanks go to Paula from Petunias-Garden for organizing and baking muffins! Assembled together were:
Melanthia from Garden Muse
Karen from Greenwalks
Paula from Petunias-Garden
Bob from Bobs Garden
Catherine from A Gardener in Progress
Molly from Life on Tiger Mountain
Curmudgeon from Weed Whackin Wenches
I was able to chat gardens and seeds with a whole lot of other enthusiasts. Thanks to Karen for the red yard-long beans to go with my green ones!
On my travels round the beautiful Washington state I came across several garden centers. Thrilled to come across some wonderful heritage seed varieties which I couldn't resist. Notably some 'Cream Sausage' tomatoes and 'Lazy Housewife' climbing beans which I have been meaning to try for years since seeing them grown in the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Thank you Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United to Talk - SAGBUTT's for inviting me to your meeting yesterday. Just so great to meet and talk gardening and swap seeds and plants. I'm flying home this afternoon but will post further when I have arrived and given my dog Buddy a great big hug!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Greetings from Seattle

Well, I'm here in Seattle! just shop till I drop. Looking forward to meeting the Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United to Talk - SAGBUTT members on Sunday!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Matron is Going Away!

I'm leaving on a jet plane.... this time to Seattle USA for a week. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Seattle blogger Paula at Petunias Gardener last time I was over in the USA, this time I am honoured to have been invited to a special meeting of 'SAGBUTT' - Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United to Talk. Always a thrill to meet and swap seeds with fellow bloggers.
Buddy is staying with Mum - back on the 24th!

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I am really pleased with this ultra early purple sprouting broccoli 'Rudolph'. It first started cropping in late December and has continued right the way through till now. In a couple of weeks my regular March / April crop of PSB will start cropping and will continue through to May or June. A brilliant success of succession! This beautiful flower was picked and steamed and eaten all within the space of 15 minutes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Potting up Tomatoes

Just in the last week the days have been a little warmer and a little sunnier and the days are getting a little longer. My first batch of tomato seedlings have responded and are now developing their first set of true leaves. Next week I am going away to the USA for a short trip and at this rate I don't think they will fare well in these small modules in which I planted the seeds. The root systems are well developed and I don't want to check their growth which is rampant at the moment.
Armed with my supply of 'liberated' chip forks - for the benefit of my American readers these are disposable wooden forks which are found in the good old English fish and chip shops! - these make fantastic plant labels.
Now comes the clever bit... this time of year I collect all my eggshells and keep them in a dry, warm place (the drawer under the cooker) and use them to crumble a small amount into the bottom of each of the pots. I will use eggshells again when I eventually plant them out into their final plot - along with a bizarre selection of other items. When you finally plant out your tomatoes, dig a big hole into which you put some fish heads (for calcium), a couple of aspirin tablets (helps the plant's immune system), more egg shells (calcium helps prevent blossom end rot) and a handful of bonemeal. This is also the advice that you will find on Cynthias blog Loveapple farm. I can highly recommend a visit.
Also happening in the greenhouse this week, are my purple podded peas. They are springing up nicely. I have a few extra seeds if anyone wants to do a swap?
I am trying a new way of growing spring onions 'White Lisbon' this year. I think in the USA they are known as scallions?? I am growing a bunch of onions, about 6 seeds in a module and I will plant out the bunch together at spaces. This means that I will be able to pick them a bunch at a time. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The season is underway!

Well, it is March already and many seed packets do state that you can plant in March! A bit too early to plant these potatoes outside, but I will plant a couple of them in a container in the greenhouse to force an earlier crop. These seed potatoes are 'International Kidney' or Jersey Royals if I lived on Jersey! They are seed potatoes which I saved myself last year. I put aside any new potatoes which had grown near the surface and were slightly green. They are perfectly alright for seed, and because they are an early new potato I had lifted them earlier in the season before any late Summer blight had hit. You can see that they are happily chitting away in an eggbox near a window in the shed. I thought I would give something a try this year. So much hype about Goji berries in the press at the moment - supposed to be one of these wonderfoods filled with vitamins and antioxidants. Whatever the truth is, I thought I'd try planting some of the seeds. These little berries are filled with small seeds. I bought these dried berries in a Chinese shop, they were labelled as 'dried red medlar' but the latin name Lycium Barbarum confirmed that these are goji berries. Has anyone tried to grow these from seed?
Many many thanks goes to gintoino from jardim com gatos who replied to my request for dog beans - well here they are! I am currently studying to be a dog behaviourist - and I am thrilled to be able to grow these in my garden!
I am always having failures growing carrots in my garden. I think my London clay soil is too rich and too wet for carrots which either do not germinate at all, or which fork very badly. That said, I thought I would try these round carrots and see what happens. These are labelled 'Paris Market 5' - Sown in a sandy compost in a pot in the greenhouse for starters.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Spring is Springing!

We had a lovely warm Spring day today in London. Warm enough to go out without a coat! Just take a look at this rhubarb I have forced under a black plastic dustbin. Compare it to the picture below of the rhubarb which is just starting to grow naturally!
The tomato seedlings in the greenhouse have two seed leaves and are looking good. Germination on the Sungold and the Sub Arctic plenty has not been good, only 5 out of 7 germinated so far, but the others, Ildi, Great Wall of China and Noir du Crimee have been 100%.
I have started my shallots Pikant in modules in the unheated greenhouse just to get them off to a start. These are from bulbs I saved last year. Looking good.
A first batch of Purple Podded Peas has been sown in loo rolls in the greenhouse, I'll sow another batch in about a month's time.
I'm off to the Crufts 2009 dog show at the NEC in Birmingham at the end of the week. For those who don't know, this is the largest and most famous dog show in Britain. I'm not showing (they are a bit snooty about crossbreeds!) but a brilliant place to shop and do some networking. PS. Does anybody have any 'dog beans'? I've heard of this variety and would love to grow some. Willing to do a swap.