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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Planting out Leeks

Leeks are definitely slow growers. I bought this packet of F1 hybrid leeks 'Oarsman' after talking to a man from the National Vegetable Society last year at the RHS Wisley Autumn show. It is just so wonderful to be able to talk with someone who is an expert in a specific field, and we were having an involved conversation about the problems with leek moth, and growing leeks generally. Most people have heard of Mussleburgh leeks, and they are an old established favourite, but the man from the NVS told me that he always grew 'Oarsman' as he felt they were far superior. So here I am giving it a go.
They had some lovely root development in the bottom of the pot. I watered them well this morning to give them a good start.
Separated out the individual leek seedlings. You can if you wish, give the top green leaves a bit of a hair cut with a pair of scissors to reduce the stress on a newly planted seedling, but generally speaking, leek seedlings are 'as hard as old boots'. Easy to handle and transplant well.
I dibbed a hole in the soil and dropped the seedlings down to the bottom.
Fill the hole with water and allow the soil from the side of the hole to fall in and cover the roots at the bottom of the hole.
Leave the seedling in this hole-ette... there is no need to fill it in further. As time goes on, the leeks will get taller and the hole will fill itself in naturally. The more of the leek that is underground, the more blanch/white you will get. I am just starting to collect cardboard toilet rolls to go round them as they get a bit bigger.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Taking Tomato Cuttings

Just three of my tomato plants were safe in the greenhouse when all the rest were badly frosted a couple of weeks ago. You can see here there are some nice side shoots which I have left to take as cuttings. I don't want to leave them to get too much bigger because that will sap the strength from the parent plant.
So as gently as possible, and trying to avoid the delicate hairs on the stem I broke them off at the base.
Taking off any larger leaves which will stress the seedling, dibbed a hole in some potting compost and planted them as deep as they would go. The new roots will grow from the base and from the hairs on the stem, so I want them to get as good a start in life as I can.
They might sulk for a couple of days, but some bottom heat and a moist atmosphere out of direct sunlight will get them on their way.
Meanwhile back on the pea patch.. by pinching out the lead shoot several weeks ago, each one of these salmon flowered peas has developed 4 or 5 different stems. This is an old variety of pea which can reach 7ft in height with the flowers and pods forming at the top. I am growing them up an ornamental rose arch.
My curcurbits are realy putting on a growth spurt at the moment, following our recent hot, sunny weather. This is one of my Soleil yellow courgettes I am growing in a black dustbin.
Climbing bean Lazy Housewife here were outgrowing their nursery pot so I planted these out up a wigwam this week too.
Courgette Defender is one of my regular, stalwart varieties. Prolific cropping and resistant to the cucumber mosaic virus, it does well for me here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Welcome to Matron's Flower Show!

While the rest of Britain is absorbed in the Chelsea Flower Show here in London, Matron thought she would have her own more exclusive event. You are welcome! Chive flowers
Sage flowers
Broad bean flowers
Crimson broad bean flowers
Horseradish Flowers!
Broccoli flowers
Tomato flowers
and strawberry flowers!

Monday, May 24, 2010


London has been bathed in hot sunshine for the past few days. The plants that I planted out in the ground have come on leaps and bounds just in a couple of days. This crimson flowered broad bean has almost come into flower now, they provide a spectacular display of flowers, followed by tasty (if a bit small) broad bean pods.
The bees really love these flowers too, so that's a double whammy!
The three sweet corn 'Extra tender and sweet' in the front are some that survived the frost a couple of weeks ago, the ones at the back are new seeds that I planted the day after. I think the big ones are ready to plant out and the little ones will have caught up in a couple of weeks. The length of daylight this time of year makes plants grow much faster than at other times.
The frosted tomato plants are springing back to life with a vengeance in the greenhouse. Even the plants that I thought were completely dead and gone have started to grow side shoots again. I think it is a case now, of creative pruning on my part - deciding which shoots to keep and which ones to pinch out - and which shoots to pot up to make extra plants!
I was fortunate that a few of my prize specimen tomatoes I had chosen for greenhouse growing and were safely inside the greenhouse on the night of the frost. I have three indoor tomatoes, 'Country Taste', 'Sungold' and 'Chocolate Cherry' growing like this one. Looking good!
Now I want to make it clear, perfectly clear, that Matron does not do flowers.. however, 2010 is the year of biodiversity, and this week after all, is the Chelsea flower show, and I want to do my bit for the cause. Just a few carefully selected flowers might just have a place in between my veggies in order to encourage pollinating insects on to my vegetables - and only for that reason! These are Limanthes, or Poached Egg Plant - very pretty but inclined to be a bit of a creeping thug if you don't keep your eye on them self-seeding all over the place!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nervous Planting Out!

Last Tuesday's disaster with the sharp frost has dented my confidence a little. The temperatures in London today are almost up into the 70s and set to go higher this weekend. So I decided to be brave and start to plant out some tender veggies. A few weeks ago I emptied the well rotted kitchen compost bin into a trench and cover with soil. I have now planted my runner beans. A few have been started in modules and a few more planted from seed. I am trying a new variety this year St George.
A few lettuces have started to grow well now, these are Winter Density and Labacher Ice. Very frost hardy and beautiful flavour. Note the Poached Egg plant in the foreground. Just a little encouragement for the pollinating insects.
I planted out these climbing beans Mrs Fortune's today as well. These are an old heritage variety kindly given to me last year by Celia at Purple Podded Peas. It is great to keep these old varieties alive and pass them on to other growers.
Chicken Patty (white) and Chicken Joloff (black) have come to stay for a week while DaVikka goes up North for a while.
Buddy was just curious, but as usual took everything in his stride and went about his business after a brief inspection of these new lodgers.
I think he was interested in the food scraps in their bowl! Doesn't his coat look wonderfully shiny in the sunshine!
Anyway, after a warm afternoon's planting out we sat down for a game of shove ha'penny. A couple of years ago I attended an evening class in French Polishing, I found this shove hapenny board at a car boot sale and restored it.
This is an ancient old English pub game, and like most other 'non screen based' table games, it is quite absorbing. The aim of the game is to gently shove the hapennys across the board and have them land exactly between the lines.
Official tokens were used in the game, in the absence of the real thing!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Be Nice to Nettles!

What will they come up with next. Did you know it is 'Be Nice to Nettles Week?' 19th - 30th May 2010. Well, that's what it says on the Be Nice to Nettles website. But that's 12 days, not a week! Anyway, that aside, I agree with the sentiment and the idea behind it. Please leave a patch of nettles in your garden, many beneficial insects and beautiful butterflies need nettles to lay their eggs. Nettles make a wonderful nitrogen activator to your compost heap, and of course, you can weigh them down with a brick in a bucket and make a powerful natural liquid plant feed (if you don't mind the stench of drains and cow poo!). Go on, be nice to nettles!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


People who enjoy gardening have to learn patience. If you sow a seed, sometimes you have to wait nearly a year before you reap the rewards. If you make a mistake (like leaving your tomatoes out on a frosty night..) you will have to wait a year and remember not to do it next time, meanwhile you live with your mistakes and attempt recovery. We've had a few warm days since last Tuesday and some of my frosted tomatoes have developed clear side shoots. I have snipped off the dead foliage and now I wait to see what I have left. One suggestion on previous comments suggested planting more seed. Hmmm I think it might be a bit late, however with this length of daylight they might catch up eventually. I might plant a few and see what happens.
Meanwhile back to the plot. Strawberries...straw + berries. It looks like I have a good crop of strawberries developing this year, so I have laid straw underneath the plants for the berries to rest and stay dry.
Several sweetcorn plants have miraculously survived the frost, I think there might even be a chance that the stalk stumps are still green and despite losing all the green leaves they might produce new leaves. I have them waiting in the greenhouse to see if they are still growing, but I have planted a new tray of sweetcorn seed just in case they don't recover.
I planted this lemongrass from seed earlier this Spring, it is growing well in a pot in the greenhouse!
The PSB Purple Sprouting Broccoli is just coming to an end, here is one of the last pickings of the purple sprouts. I have left one whole plant in the corner of the patch to go to flower to attract the bees. Bees just love PSB flowers, they are all over it!
My gooseberry is also starting to come to life. Gooseberries are hidden underneath the branches. It looks as if you have nothing, then if you gently lift a branch you will see these little gems hiding underneath.
Finally, I thought I would share my garden plan with you. Nothing technical, no excel spreadsheet, no technology.... just some pencil scrawls on the back of an envelope!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh Dear! Oh Dear!

London was colder than Moscow, Prague, Copenhagen or Stockholm on Tuesday night! Silly Matron forgot to take the tomato plants back into the greenhouse for the night. They have been hardening off nicely for the past couple of weeks, then temperatures plunged below zero and they caught the frost! I don't think all is completely lost, and I always try to look on the bright side, I think some of the sideshoots have been protected by the larger leaves. I might be able to cut some of them down to a side shoot.
You can see below at the base of this chocolate cherry tomato there are two side shoots that seem to be OK. Perhaps this is natures way of protecting itself in placing new shoots in a protected place under bigger leaves? Fingers crossed I might be able to salvage one or two plants. If these grow back I will be able to take some sideshoot cuttings.
The sweetcorn was quite badly frosted too, a couple seem to be OK, but I had always planned to plant a second crop of these, they will be up and going again in a couple of days.
Potatoes caught a nip of frost as well. These are some first early Rocket new potatoes which I had earthed up a couple of days ago so there will be shoots underground to keep growing.
And I was followed round the allotment today by a very bold robin! It was diving just feet away from me, and I swear it was laughing at me! We can learn from our mistakes. This will teach me to be more careful in future!