Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tuesday 31st January 2006 - Weather: dull and nippy!

Visited one my gardens today. It is looking lovely as there are snowdrops up in little clumps all over the place. I really must get some for my garden! Really just a matter of a little weeding and picking up leaves still, although it is amazing how much new growth there is, and they are keen bird feeders (have I mentioned this before?) so there are alsorts of weird and wonderful seedlings popping up around the birdtable. I won't be back there now for 3 weeks as half term is fast approaching, but when I do go back they would like me to start cutting back the laurels that are dotted around as hedges. They are as wide as they are tall, but the growth is plenty thick enough that I think I could take them back a good few feet without loosing any of the privacy they provide. There is also a huge holly that I will try to take back a little, but the biggest problem is a huge monster Norwegian Spruce like tree. There are needles spread thickly all around the base, and the soil around is dry and dust like. I don't think I can do anything about that as the tree is as tall as the house! I will suggest they get themselves, or I get for them, a load of well rotted manure or compost and heavily mulch the area under the tree to try and improve matters.

I was planning to come home and finish my own front garden, but by the time I had done chores, it was school run time. Oh well, tis another day tomorrow.

On the seed plantation front, peas and broad beans are just begining to root, so as soon as real live green shoots appear, so will photos!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday 27th January 2006 - Weather: Everything! Rain, sleet, snow, wind, sun, clouds!

Well today I had to wait in for the new dishwasher to be delivered. I couldn't get hold of the driver to find out what time they were coming, so instead of going down to the greenhouse, I sowed some seeds in the conservatory. Finished off the tomatos and chillis and sowed a packet of dark peach coloured poppies. Also sowed some spring onions in paper pots for planting out in a few weeks time.

The dishwasher arrived at exactly 12noon, so I took advantage of a clear couple of hours and went to the local nursery. They have their seeds spuds in and I was pleasantly suprised. There must have been over 20 varieties like Pink Fur Apple, Nadine, Maxine, King Edward, Maris Peer, Duke of York, Maris Piper and so on. Decided to pick up some Nadine and Desiree. One pound twenty per kilo and you can choose as many as you want. I also picked up another packet of labels , two packets of spring onions and at the check-out, they were selling Hyacinth bulbs for 5pence each! Well how could I resist.

Tonight whilst watching 'Christine's Garden' and 'The Gardening Year' I shall make a stack more paper pots as I have lots of flower seeds to get going.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wednesday 25th January - Weather: FFFRRREEEZZZIIINNNGGG!!!

I fear I am loosing the plot! Minus 3 on the car thermometer, and yet I still trundled off to one of my gardens. Couldn't do a lot, trimmed the grass edges around all the beds and borders, and pottered and tidied. No chance of digging as the ground was like a brick! So, came home early and will make the time up next week. Made some gorgeous lemon jam/jelly/marmalade, followed by sausage casserole for tomorrows supper, finally followed by banana, chocolate and pecan loaf. Then did a spot of seed sowing. Started 10 different peppers and chillis. (I will write down the names and get them listed tomorrow) These are sown in tiny plastic pots, 2 per pot. And because I am the worlds most impatient person, I pulled out a pea seed to see if there were any signs of growth...and there wasn't! PAH! Only to be expected of course. They haven't been in the compost for a week yet. Wonder if the broad beans are growing? Camera is on standby for the first birth of the year!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tuesday 24th January 2006 - Weather: Blooming freezing! -3 on the thermometer!

I was kinda hoping to get out in the front garden this morning and start cutting back and clearing up, I have noticed the crocuses all poking their noses through, so thought I should get to work, but the frost is still thick at 10am so it seems a little daft, plus, I don't want to start hacking back dead top growth, exposing new lovely soft growth to the elements!

So, plan of attack for today, tidy the house, do a spot of hoovering, then make a batch of paper pots and sow some more tomato seeds. I nipped out into the conservatory to jot down the spud varieties I have and spotted this glorious flower starting to open, and there are 5 more spikes to follow!

Potato varieties for 2006:
Pink Fur Apple
Lady Christl

We are going to a potato day in Suffolk in February and I plan to pick up a selection of more unusual spuddies.

Tomatoes sown to date:
Costi. Fior. (Beefsteak)
Sweet Million (cherry)
Great White (large white)
Fuzzy Wuzzy
Galina (cherry)
Mississippi Pink Love Apple
Palla di Fuoco (plum)
Orange berry (orange cherry)
Golden Queen (yellow)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monday 23rd January 2006 - Weather: grey, damp and misty (3')

Once the kids were safely tucked away at school, I headed off to the garden of Eden! Sorry, I meant my allotment. Bbbbrrrrrr, it was soooo cold! Damp to. My boots are great, but even though they are chunky walking boots, and waterproof, and I wear a pair of thick tights and a pair of ski socks, my toes still go numb after about 20 minutes, and the feeling doesn't properly come back until I have a bath once I get home! Bad circulation see. I blame my dad! Well, he can't argue back.

Anyhows, busy busy busy. Started by raking over the area that used to be the runner bean bed. Last year was a runner bean failure thanks to Mr & Mrs Vole who have moved in to the plum tree hedge that seperates my plot from Mr & Mrs Miserable beyond, so this year I have decided to grow some flowers along that edge. I think a row of sunflowers first along the edge of the path, then after that alsorts of pretty things - I have sooooooo many seeds it won't be hard to fill, but it will be hard to decide. I hope to grow things that I can cut and bring home as I don't like to cut flowers from the garden, but it will be different on the plot. I have a little patch of flat leaf and curly leaf parsley still in the ground up there. I am in two minds whether to dig it up and bung it on the compost heap. Think I will leave it for now, it isn't in the way yet, and see. It might produce some fresh young leaves before it flowers.
I then moved down the plot, raking areas that I had previously forked over now the weather has started to break any clods down. In some areas the ground is so wonderfully soft. My home made compost has really made a difference to the heavy soil.

Next big job was to decide where I am going to plant the peas that I have started off in paper pots. I need to get the ground warm and decided the glass cloche/greenhouse roof would be ideal. Plus I could keep it in situ to start with to keep the pea plants cosy, and hopefully prevent any pests (like the Vole family) coming in and making a meal of those tender shoots! I had to carry the glass pieces from plot number 2, and was certain I would have an accident, but someone was looking over me as I got them there in one piece and using the angle iron rods I have, I made a cosy glass house to get things warm. I used some old corregated plastic for the ends. Job done!

There are still a few leeks hanging on in there, but I did dig a bunch as I fancy leek and potato soup tonight for tea. Means I can use up some of the soft spuds from last year, and I have a ciappata bread mix in the cupboard I think I will make to have with it. YUM! Now there are only 8 little leeks left in the ground. I will leave them until I really need them or need that bed clear. They may bulk up a little now the days are warmer and very very slightly longer. Of course, they may bolt, but nothing ventured..... In the leek bed last autumn I sowed a few spring onion seeds, and they are growing very quickly now. Perfect timing as the Italian mixed salad leaves are still growing strong, so should be able to stop buying salad from the supermarket in a couple of weeks time.

I cleared the swede patch. They aren't going to do anything now other than get woody and hollow, and although they are only slightly bigger than a golf ball, they can go in tonights soup for some extra flavour. I have a new are for those this year, and fresh seed, so am hoping for a better success rate. I also pulled up a couple of celery plants. Although the outer stems are pretty split and rough - I guess from being frozen, the inner stems and leaves are wonderful and lime green in colour. I munched some whilst I was pondering whether to dig the lot and bin them, and the stem was so sweet and crunchy and full of flavour that I decided to keep them there but use them over the next few weeks. Minestrone soup overload I fear!

Next my workout! I edged plot number two. Phew, hard work. I went around the entire plot with my spade and cut a nice clean sharp edge. I think my neighbours have given up, so their plot is covered in weeds - not ideal for me as the weeds spread. Shame. Wonder who my new neighbour will be? After doing that I was puffing and panting and very warm (although not my toes!), so I sat down on my pallet stack for a cuppa. I thought I would have a good look around at the birds, but it was such a grey day I could see them, but it was hard to tell what they were. The woodpecker that was tap tap tapping was obvious, and the pigeons that were coo coo cooing the same. Also, as usual, a little robin followed me around as I worked. I saw magpies and crows and stacks of small birds all roosting in the very top of a tree. I guess they were starlings, but as they didn't come close, I can't be sure. They would all take flight together and swoop around like little arrows, flapping their wings like mad, then gliding for a few seconds, then flapping away again! I could hear birds everywhere, constantly, but as there are so many trees and hedges, it is hard to see them. One thing that got them all airbourne was the arrival of two fabulous flying machines! Two chinook helicopters slowely roared over. I could hear them coming for several minutes, and long after they had gone out of view I could hear the engines.

By now it was lunch time, and I took the opportunity to walk around the plots and make a planting plan for this year. I never stick rigidly to a plan, but I like an idea of what is what. Now to try and put it onto the computer. If I succeed, I will then try to get it on here! This could take a while!!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Saturday 21st January 2006 - Weather: Blue sky but a nippy wind!

Mark bought me a new tool today. As we drove to Braintree to collect young stepdaughter we passed a garden with a big For Sale board outside and lots of bric-a-brac laid out. As we whizzed passed I spotted an old fork, so, on the way back, Mark pulled over and jumped out to have a look. He couldn't resist and the chap wanted five pounds, but all Mark had on him was 4.10, so after a little bit of haggling and jovial chatting, money changed hands, and he loaded it into the boot. I believe it is a mucking out/straw fork with rounded ends to prevent spearing baby livestock. ***(see note at end!) It will be ideal when we go to the stables to collect some more manure for my compost heap in a few weeks time ready for pumpkin planting. Most of my tools now are second hand and years old, and the irony is, these old tools go on and on....the lovely new shiney Wilkinson Sword fork Mark brought me snapped in two whilst carrying out some light digging in the garden!

At Christmas Nanny Lucas and Uncle Bill gave the kids Paperwhite bulbs to grow. These highly scented little daff like flowers, I have been told, are not hardy and really should be binned once they have flowered. Of course, I shall try and get them to come back again next year. However, after potting up and leaving in the conservatory, they put on lots of growth and all have lovely fat buds. Today I could smell them, and sure enough, the flowers have started to open. The scent is a mix between your great grandmas wardrobe and cat pee! However, they are very pretty and I have 2 inthe dining room and 1 is left in the conservatory as that will hold off the buds opening so as one fades, I can replace with fresh.

A little by-the-by, here are our baby hamsters! Had to give in and give them a really good clean out today as boy were they STINKING!! Phewee!! Eight babies, all with eyes and ears clear and open and all eating solids and drinking from the water bottle. We estimate they are 20 days old now. Around St Valentines day they will have to be seperated from mum as they will become sexually active, so a little trip to the pet shop I fear....just have to convince the kids!

*** Just wanted to add we found a website about the old fork that Mark brought for me and it is an old potato digging fork - the balled ends are to stop the digger from piercing holes in the lovely fresh spuds! Looks like it was a bargain to as this website sells that at around the fifty pound mark! I will put it to good use at spud digging time and will be very upset if I spike any!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday 20th January 2006 - Weather: Gorgeous! Not a cloud in the sky.

However, when I took the kids to school this morning, it was misty, damp and started to rain! I decided therefore to come home, make marmalade (currently bubbling away on the stove) and sow some seeds. We have been making paper pots in bulk for days now, but still we don't have enough. I need at least 100 for the sweetcorn, then probably 40 for squashes, and probably 100 for beans. Oh well, keeps us off the streets!

My first sowings in the paper pots proved that they are a great success. Because of all the folds, the newspaper is quite thick, so I think they will last until potting on or planting out. So far a tray of 'Red Epicure' broad beans, peas 'Early Onwards', and broadbeans 'Bunyards Exhibition' have been sown in the paper pots. I am going to sow some celeriac in these paper pots, swedes and florence fennel to plant out on the allotment in March/April. I find these three things I struggle with. Celeriac, although grows great and provides us with useable knobbly roots, they are only ever fist size and I wouldn't mind some biggies so I can just use one in a soup rather than 3. Fennel always without fail, bolts. It is a veggie I have never even tried, but it looks so wonderful and I have so many recipes for it that I am determined! I hope that by growing in the paper they will suffer no root disturbance, the paper should retain the moisture for a while and I can get them out when they are at optimum planting size. And swedes. Wow are they ugly suckers! Again, they struggle on my plot and seem to be all kneck and no bum! I would love these for winter use so again, starting them off in pots to mollycoddle them a little longer.
I used to sow these sorts of seeds in loo roll inners, but I have found that they become covered in white mould very quickly, and some varieties do not rot down, they seem to have a rather nasty slimey glue used in their manufacture. Now I know some people will worry about the chemicals used in newspapers and their inks, but I feel that it is such a small amount in the great scheme of things, I am not worried, and this is a trial, if the pots don't work, well, back to loo roll inners next year!

The spuds are all out in their honeycomb holders. I need to make another batch as the pink fur apple spuds are all rather crammed in and I would prefer to give them some more space. I will try to remember later to write down the different spuds I have this year. I bought them from Thompson & Morgan, and just tried to find the collection on their website, but can't find spuds anywhere. I guess as they have now sent them all out, they no longer need to waste website room advertising them. I have saved half of my compost heap on the allotment to use when I come to planting out my spuds. I plan to dig a trench and line the bottom with some lovely compost, then back fill with some more compost and finish with soil. Hopefully, this will help water retention as I have no access to water on the allotment other than that I can plunder from Mother Nature. I am yet to harvest big baking spuds....mine are all a good size, great for chips or roasties, but I do love a big jacket tatty with a large knob of butter and plenty of black pepper!

I have started to sow my tomatos, and chillis and aubergines will be next over the weekend. This year, rather than go mad and have 6 or 7 of each different plant, I am starting just sowing 2 seeds per variety, for example, I have sown 2 or Galina, 2 of Sweet Millions, 2 of Missippi Pink Love Apple, 2 Gardeners Delight, etc. I will do the same with the peppers. I would rather have loads of different than a few of the same. I love to see all the different fruits and different tastes, and they all get used up so there is never a waste!

As I sat in the conservatory sowing my seeds and enjoying getting compost under my nails (and all over the floor!) I looked at my orchids. Do you think these buds will ever burst? They started budding up in November and I hoped they were going to look amazing for Christmas, but the way things are going, I will be enjoying them on Valentines Day!

An update......Oxford marmalade all made. I was worried that it would be sweet and sickly because to 3Ib of fruit there was 6 Ib's of sugar, however, it is dark amber and wonderfully bitter and orangey. Fabulous. Roll on breakfast!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wednesday 18th January 2006 - Weather: Overcast with sunny spells

Visited another of my gardens today. This one is vast, more like a park as they do not have traditional flower beds but lots and lots of trees. Finally cleared the edge along the side fence all the way to the back end of the garden behind the pond. This is to help with grass cutting as at the moment the ride on mower leaves the edges and they grow up full of weeds. I also did some planting today - my favourite job! Four digitalis, 2 alba and 2 greater spotted. They went behind the pond to try and add some height. Then in went two campanulas, one blue and one white. I planted them together as I think the mix of the two colours will look very pretty. Finally two daisy, who's name escapes me. Again white, and these went to the side of the pond, the other side of the baby curly hazel I planted in the Autumn. A lot of white.... I am going to sprinkle some forget-me-not seeds around the pond in a couple of weeks time which will lift the area nicely. There is still a weeping willow and two climbing Jasmins to plant, but I am awaiting instructions. Now I feel exhausted, and my face feels firey - I guess that was the wind.

Tonight I am going to sow some pea seeds into my paper pots. I shall take photos and post later!
Tuesday 17th January 2006 - Weather: Overcast and showers

Visited one of my other gardens today. Had a feeling rain was going to stop play, but the showers were light and the rain was fine. Got loads done in the back garden. Finally cleared all of the fallen leaves and couldn't believe it when I spotted ground elder shooting up everywhere. Just goes to show the ground temperatures are going up! This garden has a real ground elder problem and they are avid bird feeders with tables covered in seeds, fatballs and peanut holders.....so picture the weeds that are springing up! Not back there for 2 weeks and I am hoping to get out into the front garden, but I have a sneaky feeling the weeds out the back are going to be rampant!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday 13th January 2006 - Weather: bright morning, overcast afternoon

Didn't get in the garden at all, mum is over for a long weekends visit, but did manage to make a stack of paper flower pots! The plan is to sow my out of date pea seeds in them, 6 per pot, then nothing is lost if they don't germinate. Now, if only I could find the photo of my first attempt, I would post it! GGRR.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wednesday 11th January 2006 - Weather: Squally start, breezy blue sky by lunchtime

Bbbrrr, what a miserable start to the day! The kids and I were freezing on the school run and I was in two minds about going to work today. However, once they were safe in the hands of their teachers, I headed off, and was jolly glad I did as once the wind blew the rain clouds away, the sun came out and it was quite pleasant. I am renovating a hedge border at the moment which has been left to become incredibly overgrown. Thanks to the years of leaves falling, the soil around the hedge is rich and black and digs incredibly easily. But the garden slopes this way and that, and can be quite a hazard if you aren't looking where you are going when you step back. Twice I nearly fell onto my backside!

Made a honeycomb last night of newspaper - must take a photo - to hold my seed potatos whilst they chit. Also had a look at my stored spuds, only a mixed bag of odds and sods, but some have huge sprouts! Am thinking of doing a mixed row on the plot with these.....I know all the reasons you shouldn't, but they are passed using and it seems such a waste. The pink fur apples are still in great condition, and we will be having PFA chips for tea tonight!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tuesday 10th January - Weather: wet and wild

Welcome home Nanny and Taxi Bob!!

No gardening for me today, had shopping and chores to do, mind you, the way the weather is looking, I am quite happy in the warm. Been thinking about starting some seeds, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, and maybe a few hardy annuals. Mark bought home a carrier bag of bean and pea seeds yesterday from a fella at work. They are dated 2001, wonder if they will grow? I will try them in trays rather than sow direct as I don't want to use a whole row and only have plants pop up here and there.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Monday 9th January 2006 - Weather: misty but bright

After a wet
and wild weekend, today was lovely. I arrived at the allotment just before 9am and there was a heavy mist settled over the site. It could have been quite spooky if it weren't for the 30 builders underpinning the cottage next door!! I could just make out the ducks quacking on the lake inbetween the drills, generator, cement mixer and general builder chitchat.
After I surveyed both plots, my work began. First job of the day was to dig the last of the parsnips and carrots. If they are left in the ground for to long and start to resprout, they can become incredibly woody and not much good in the kitchen. T
hanks to the rain, the ground was lovely and soft and I dug the lot, only spearing one! The 'snips are 'Gladiator', a canker resistant variety, sown a little late as my first two sowings in March didn't germinate, so these were from a late April sowing. The carrots were an August sowing of 'Autumn King' and considering they didn't have long in the ground before the weather cooled, I think they have done very well. I did completely fleece the carrots against carrotfly as we do seem to have a huge problem with that on site. There was also a couple of black salsify plants and a couple of kohl rabis to pull.
Once that area was cleared I had a look over the celery. It is a self bl
ancher which I think was called 'Pascal'. I have never had any luck, and as I am the only person in the house who eats it, I have managed to grow far more than I could use, hence it is still in the ground. However, it is looking good, just a little tatty, but I am planning to make minestrone soup, so this head should do nicely! Next to that is a row of celeriac, which has roots about the size of tennis balls. This season I will give them a sunnier position and start them a lot earlier.
Remember the 'huckleberries' I grew last summer, and we all doubted if they were edible, and nobody was prepared to take the risk with their strong resemblance to deadly nightshade....well, today I finally pulled the plants up and chucked them on the compost heap, still laden with black berries full of purple juice. Not even the birds were prepared to risk eating them! Shame as they grew so very easily. Mind you, so does the mares tail and
I am not about to eat that!
I had one of those days today where all the jobs I needed to do happened very easily. I had to renet some of my brassicas, and usually this is a nightmare job, finding bamboos, untangling the net and running out of string, but today, the job was done in minutes. And whilst I leant on my compost bin and ate my lunch and had a cuppa, I watched 3 squirrels in the oak tree all chasing each other around. I am assuming one was a girlie and the other two were lads tring to gain her attention. The squirrels seem to think spring is in the air!
Another netting job was to try and keep the globe artichokes under control. They truely are triffids and spread as wide as they grow high! I used some very strong nylon netting and surrounded the plants, hopefully keeping them caged in a little better.
By 2pm I was getting chilly, my flask was empty, and I needed to pop to the post office, so I packed up and came home. A very good days work!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Friday 6th January 2006 - Weather: bright and breezy!

I should be in making James' bed, it is clean sheets day, but I thought I would just squeeze in a few words. Worked in one of my gardens today. They have a dog, a biggish dog, and one result of this is their garden has a few soft suprises for the unwary! Glad I wear big gloves and wear big boots. Anyway, that aside, the garden is shaping up nicely. Everything is in bud and should all look great come spring. I know the owners appreciate the amount of work that is going in to get this patch back into shape after 12 months of neglect and 12 months of a cowboy gardener.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Thursday 5th January 2006 - Weather :sunny, sleety, cold!

Happy new year! And happy kids back to school day!! At last, a whole day, well, from 9 til 3, where I could get out into the garden and start to drag it back into some sort of tidiness! Got the greenhouse sorted first, all empty pots into the shed and all old compost into my new green tubtrug (fabulous Chrimble pressie from Mark). Mananged to pick a plate full of chillis, and my very last ripe tomato! 'Golden Queen'. Well I was impressed. Most importantly, with windchills of below -4 predicted in this part of the world over the weekend, I finally got the electric heater into the greenhouse.

Lunchtime, grabbed a wrap, (how trendy), and a cuppa, then back out and started raking the leaves from the borders. Because the willow kept it's leaves until the start of December, then dropped the lot in one go, they are piled high! By the time I came back into the warm, I was on sack 5. Hey ho, plenty of leaf mould for next year. So cold, my toes were numb and aching.

Lots of life in the garden, a few flowers still poking through, and the daff bulbs are all up and it looks like the clumps are thicker, so they should put on a good show. The odd flash of colour is very welcome.
Welcome to Allotment News!
I have decided to start a blog of my growing adventures both on my allotment and in my garden here in Essex. This is for you, my friends and other animals, to see what I have been up to in my little bit of paradise! Be gentle with me....this is my first foray into this website blogging lark, I normally leave this sort of techno stuff to Mark!