Saturday, May 20, 2006

Friday 19th May 2006 - Weather: camping weather! Rain, sun and gale force gusts!

Number one son performed in his last assembly of his reception year this morning...don't know where that year I was later to the allotment today. Amazing how in just one week the weeds have grown, but then they have had perfect weather, rain and warm sunshine. Unlike today. The wind was so gusty at times I feared for the roof on my tomato house, so I did criss cross some more string over the corregated plastic just to make sure it wasn't going anywhere.

I cut a lovely spring cabbage to take to mums, and in the gap that I weeded and forked gently over, I planted 3 redbull brussel sprouts. Seems like a lot, and I know they should be at least 18 inches apart, but mine were fine last year at just under a foot apart. Also cut my first ever successful cauliflower! Very pleased indeed with that.

The earliest peas that were started in paper pots in the greenhouse and then planted out under cloches are now in full flower and there are plenty of pods already. I imagine by next Friday I should be able to make my first picking. The broad beans are also smothered in flowers, and finally the lower ones now have pods showing. I have them double netted, and I stood them all up and tied them to the cage before zigzagging some string over the top of the cage to hopefully keep the birds and squirrels out. The raspberry canes are covered in flower buds also.

I was able to pick a nice lot of salad crop, some red spring onions, radish and lettuce thinnings. Also, some of the italian mixed leaves are starting to bolt, so I pulled out the ones with buds coming, and thinned what was left. Hopefully these will carry on for a few more weeks until the rest of the salads are big enough to really start harvesting properly.

I planted another dozen tomato plants under the tomato house - what a difference in temperature the roof makes! It was very sheltered and warm under there and the patch of bronze fennel is already huge and lush...if only I knew what to do with it! I had another 8 squashes to plant, things like mini white cucumber, swan guord and black futsu, so I had to clear some volunteer potatos that I had left behind from last year. Managed to collect a bowl full of nice new spuds - marble size to golf ball size - perfect with our fresh salad at tea time!

The runner beans have flower buds on them, so I am really really keeping my fingers and toes crossed that we don't have a sudden frosty snap, but as they are growing alongside the tomato house, I do wonder if they will benefit from the protection. The variety I am growing is Enorma.

Next visit I will have to get in the rest of my squashes, tomatos and maybe even my sweetcorn as the children will then be on half term for 10 days so I won't be able to get up to the plot for a while. Yes, I think I will have a big push next week and sow loads and plant everything that I have left. I am going to keep 2 tomato plants in the greenhouse along with the chillis and aubergines, and maybe one melon plant. So much to do, so little time!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Friday 12th May - Weather: feeling hot hot hot!

What a glorious day! The sun shone like an August day, the birds and insects tweeted and buzzed all day through, and most amazingly on our site, quite a few people visited their plots today.

Lots to do, mainly weeding and sowing. My early dwarf French beans which I had planted under cut down cola bottles have been revealed to the weather and are coping just fine. The grass was creeping towards them from under the apple trees so I weeded them and killed several slugs.

As ever, I sow far to much, and far to closely, but I like the plot to be as productive as possible and as I tend to pull roots young because they bolt or go woody due to lack of water, I can afford to plant closer. So, I will start at the top end of the plot and walk you down to the shed.

The first bed by the old plum trees is going to be flowers this year, not only for cutting to bring home, but also to encourage lots of buzzy critters to the plot. For the last 2 years that has been the runner bean patch - proper bean trench was dug when I first took the plot on, and year one produced the best runner beans ever. However, last year a family of voles moved into the rough ground around the derelict plum trees, and they chewed through the stems of all of the beans! Devastated my main crop completely. I did another late sowing elsewhere on the plots, but it was so late, and I had so few seeds left that I really didn't get a huge harvest and didn't have enough to freeze. So, this year, flowers. Originally, about 3 weeks ago, I sowed a selection of annuals in nice straight rows, but as is the way with me and sowing seeds directly, they germinated in patches, so I decided, as I still had lashings of flower seeds left, I would just mix all the seeds up, and scatter them over the bed. Hopefully I will be rewarded with a fab show starting in about 8 weeks time. The cardoon in that patch is a monster and I am glad now that during the winter I made a cage using a stiff metal wire frame I had to surround the beast so I could plant around it. It is like a fountain now bursting out, up and over the top and it looks as though it is going to be a mass of flowers. I don't really grow the cardoon to eat, although I guess I should try, but more becuase it is such a stunning ornamental veg that the bees absolutely love, and a good A4ALL chum sent me the original piece so it had to have pride of place! Around the cardoon I grew flat leaf and curly parsley last year and it overwintered nicely, however, it is starting the bush and send up flowers, so I sowed a pinch of fresh seed around the cardoon a few weeks back, and sure enough, they are germinating nicely so as I dig up the old plants, the new ones should take over.

Next stop, the root section. My parsnips have started to germinate so I weeded along the row, and where there were gaps, I sowed a good pinch of seed. I would rather have too many and thin than not enough and come Christmas, when everyone is at mums, have to ration the roast parsnips! I have sowed two varieties, Gladiator and another which typically of me, I can't remember! Immediately next to the row is a row of radish - theory being they will be long gone before the parsnips are any size. The radishes were little Rouge variety and I have pulled loads already! These have to come out quickly as again, with no water, they bolt as soon as they start to swell. They are gorgeous! So peppery, yet with a sweet twang that makes you want to pop them in like little sweeties! I have been so pleased with that variety that where I pulled the large ones, I made little drills and sowed another few pinches in the gap. Again, they will be long gone before the parnsips get in the way. Down the row I swap from radish to spring onions. Very very slow to germinate. I have trouble with any members of the onion family because of the onion white rot that plagues my plots. Again, wherever there were gaps, I sowed thickly. I don't thin spring onions, I let them thicken up and pull them in clumps, in the same way you buy bunches in the supermarkets. I have 2 varieties mixed, a red and white one. Then comes a rather stunning row of turnips. I am very pleased with these as I have had mixed success with turnips over the years, but these are doing well. Can't tell you the name as I got them from Seeds of Italy and the italian name escapes me. I have had to give them a dusting with Derris powder because the flea beetles moved in the nano-second they germinated! I don't like using chemicals, but sometimes it is a battlefield out there, and if I want turnips, I have to take evasive action. I could fleece them, but I use my fleece for the carrots to stop the carrot fly. I guess I should put fleece on my Christmas list this year.

There are a few of last autumns cabbages and caulis now dotted around under netting and I am proud to say, there are baby caulis coming! Anothing thing I have struggled with in the past. Fingers crossed we might get some in a couple of weeks time. Through these I have carrots, lettuce and more spring onions sown, and I also managed to squeeze in a row of Boltardy beetroot and witloof - the chicon type of chicory.

Next, my lovely globe artichokes. An entire row! Such extravagance I know, but another stunning plant to look at, and I do love the artichokes. Mind you, how many can one girl eat?! I guess at some point I will thin them out to just a couple of good plants, but for now, I will keep them all. This is another flower that the big bumble bees get absolutely drunk in! Thanks to another A4ALL chum, I now have a purple one planted in a gap so that should be interesting. The artichokes didn't die down at all over the winter, so this spring they are huge. Again, I am very glad I created a network of string to keep the foliage lifted slightly so I can sow closer to them.

After the artichokes comes the purple sprouting brocolli, spinach, chard, mixed Italian lettuce, Australian yellow leaf lettuce, spring onions, radish, several broadcast sown beds of carrots and beetroot. The PSB had to come out so I could prepare the ground for sweetcorn production, and there were a few stray plants over with the salad leaves, and that came out also so the salad could now flourish. To be honest, the PSB had reached the stage where the flowers were openeing as soon as a new bud emerged. I managed to fill a bag with good tight flower stems, but the rest ended up on the compost heap. I sowed more beetroot, more lettuce and a few more radish. As you can tell, salad is our summer favourite. I do favour the cut 'n come again style of salad leaf as you just take what you want for that meal, so it is still sweet or peppery rather than have to wait for a lettuce to heart up, then cut the entire head and have to use it all before taking another, by which time they could be going over. That said, I sowed an entire row of Little Gem lettuce that yet another A4ALL devotee sent me, but I figure as they are so small and sweet, they will grow quickly and I would use several at one sitting. Plus I do rather fancy trying them braised like Nigella Lawson does, with fresh peas.

Now we have the strawberry bed, apple trees, and fruit cage. Not much to do there. Everything is in full bloom, plenty of gooseberry and currants begining to swell and buzzing bumble bees all over the strawbs doing what nature intended.

Now into the shadier part of plot number one. Immediately the other side of the fruit cage I have peas and broad beans on the go. The broad beans are Red Epicure and they are smothered in flowers. Tempting fate by saying this, but so far, not a blackfly in site! I have them surrounded by chicken wire because for the past 2 years I have lost almost the entire harvest to either jays or squirells who seem to know exactly when the beans are at their peak and scoff the lot, wripping the pods open and scoffing the young tender beans, leaving me nothing! I will put a net over the top of the wire cage also as the beans start to develop, which I suppose will be my next visit. The peas are called Early Onwards, and the kids sowed them in pots for me at the start of the year. I planted them early on the plot under my greenhouse roof cloche, and they have grown away like mad. They are now smothered in flowers so I removed the glass protection as I needed it elsewhere, and hopefully it will only be a matter of weeks before the kids can come up after school and help pick them. I have another 4 rows of peas, Kelvedon wonder, Alderman and 2 others...guess what, I can't remember their names. These are all in various stages of growth, from freshly sown on Friday, to 6 inches tall. For the last 2 years I have managed a couple of good harvests from the peas, with a few to freeze for the next couple of weeks, but this year I am hoping to be able to freeze more to last a bit longer. I still have 2 unopened packets of seeds, so I am hoping, fingers and toes crossed, that I will make the room to sow them in a few weeks time to extend the season even more. The asparagus bed is amongst the peas, and this is now growing. I am the only one in the house who loves the asparagus, so the 6 or so crowns provides enough for me to have a few delicious meals of it. It is a luxury, not an essential.

Now my latest structure. My very impressive brassica house. The pigeons have always left my brassicas alone, but I noticed the ones further up the plot had been really chewed on, so I covered those and felt it wise to build a proper cage for this seasons plantings. In here I have caulis, purple sprouting, 9 star perrenial brocolli (which I have started cropping from), spring cabbage (which are filling out nicely and will be ready for harvest in about 2 to 3 weeks time), kohl rabi (red and white), Cavalo nero kale and cabbages. I have red and green sprouts and red cabbage all waiting in the greenhouse at home. They will go in as the spring cabbages come out and when the first crop of peas are over, they are destined for that bed. Dotted in amongst the brassicas are lettuces - romaine type, and last autumns spring onions that are ready to pull really, but I haven't as yet as I had some in the fridge to get used up. They will come home with me next visit. Also in this cage is my rhubarb bed. The bubby is a monster! Every crown has tried to flower. The stems are incredibly long this year and the leaves are so big I could use them as umbrellas if there were another short shower! The great thing is the leaves fill up the compost heap for me.

Last but not least, another row of peas which are climbing up the brassica house, and my row of emergency spuds...the spuds that I couldn't fit into the main spud area.

As you can see, my rotation leaves a lot to be desired, but I do aim to move my spuds, onions and brassicas on by a third of a plot every year. It seems to be okay.

Now........plot number 2. This is my lower maintenace plot. A third of the plot is all spuds, and they are all coming up at different speeds. Then, in the middle is my patent pending tomato house, with new improved guttering and roof thanks to my darlings visit a couple of weeks ago. Then the last third is currently Japanese onions and garlic, which are all bulbing up like mad, but this will be my squash bed. The runner beans which are growing up the side of the tomato house are running like mad and already have flowers on them. I put this down to the protection of the plastic roof. There really was a noticeable difference in warmth when I stood inside the structure. I planted some more tomato plants as the first batch were all fine, and the plastic I surrounded them with was keeping them very cosy indeed. The I planted a couple of courgette plants to join the cucumber plants I planted in the rain on Monday. This is where the glass greenhouse roof was needed. I placed it over them just to give them a warm start to life in the open. I did have a wander around the site and noticed that nearly everyone else now has marrow plants and sweetcorn planted out so they are all confident we won't be having a cold snap, but whilst I have the protection available, I might as well use it.

So there you have it. Whilst all of the sowing and pottering was going on, I was weeding away, and forking over areas, and sowing, and sowing and sowing. I have probably overlooked telling you about other things I sowed, but you get the idea. By the time I left at 3pm on Friday afternoon, I had sunburnt shoulders, a carrier bag full of rhubarb, spinach, purple sprouting broc. and salad and the satisfaction of feeling that I have now sowed everything I want to have sown. Whatever I can squeeze in now is a bonus, and I will squeeze in loads more as gaps come about. Which reminds me, I must sow some sunflowers!!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Monday 8th May 2006 - Weather: RAIN RAIN GO AWAY!

Can you believe it? Well I couldn't. I had Monday clear, a day to finally make some headway on the plot and what do you know, rain is forecast. However, the morning started clear, so after dropping the urchins at school I set off for the plot. I had lots of weeding and planting to do and started in the brassicas. Managed to get all the weeding done and planted a row of cavalo nero kale and a row of kohl rabi seedlings, when slowely but surely, down came the rain! I was determined to stick it out, positive it was only going to be a passing shower - how wrong was I? It rained and rained and rained. I took a break and had a cuppa in the shed for a while, but I had so much I wanted to get on with! I struggled on, now wet through to my knickers, and planted 3 cucumber plants. I know this is horribly early for such tender plants, but I protected them with my greenhouse roof cloche. I left them as snug as bugs in rugs! At this point I had started cutting my hands and not noticing as they were so cold and wet, so at about 11.30 I thought it was time to head for home and a warm drink and bath. Before leaving, I did wander around and take a few photos.

As you can see, the blackcurrants are begining to swell, which for a fan of preserving, is always exciting! Also look at the lovely pink apple blossom! The scent in the air was incredibly sweet. And just look at all the flowers on the broadbeans, and not a blackfly in sight....or is that tempting fate?

Am still picking rhubarb like it is going out of fasion. Really need to come up with lots of exotic recipes to use it up - can't palm it off on mum as it brings her up in a rash, and the kids don't like it as it is to sour and they don't like the texture! My mixed lettuce germinated really quickly and they do look so pretty all mixed up. I now can't decide whether to thin them out or leave them thick and use them as cut 'n come again. And my proudest moment of the day, carrot seedlings! Well, little things please little minds!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday 5th May 2006 - Weather: Steamy!

Just typical. Today was going to be my day at the allotment. Was figuring on getting my beans all in, lettuce and brassicas, and having a good harvest and do some what happens, I am struck down with a horrendous 24hour stomach bug. This is a killer bug, cramps, sweats, aches and pains, and as delightful as it is, spending far to much time examining the frankly modern design of my toilet bowl! Yuck - toooo much information. However, I didn't fill you in on our quick visit on Bank Holiday Monday. Mum was over to stay so she babysat whilst I dragged the other half to the plot. Although he was very impressed with my home made guttering structure, which had been working I hasten to add, he did remove it and replace it with some proper guttering and down pipe into the waterbutt. He also strengthened the roof. Now on my next visit, I will fork over the ground beneath inside the tomato house and get planting! I have quite a variety of toms, from beeksteaks ; 'Supermarmade', to black plum; 'Black Ethiopean', to yellow; 'Golden Queen', along with Gardeners Delight and a host of others. I promise to write down the names as I plant them and post a list.

The rhubarb is attempting to take over the world, so if I can't use it up, I am chucking it on the compost heap. Every little helps! Lots of germination had taken place - weeds as well as veggies, but there are still gaps that need filling. Monday will be my day! I will get up there with my hat and seeds and plants and lunch and flask, and stay there, even if it is lashing down! I will also take my camera to take a few snaps. I guess the apple trees are in full bloom by now as the ones in the garden have finally opened. The pear and cherry tree in the garden are also full of bloom so I am really hoping for a fruity year this year!