Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Wednesday 28th June 2006 - Weather: bright and sunny , 27'

A midweek visit! Luxury! I couldn't believe my eyes. Those darn weeds just loved that rainfall and now the bright warm sun. So, first job of the day was to weed in the brassica bed. Whilst in there I cut a lovely iceburg style lettuce, a greyhound cabbage and picked some more purple sprouting brocolli. I also took a light picking from the rhubarb. Growth on that has really slowed down now, saddly, so I thought I would just take a few stems to make a nice crumble at the weekend, then leave it alone until next year. I must remember to get some chicken manure or something to give it a good feed so it can be stronger next year.

I filled a carrier bag with peas again. Kelvedon Wonder, not glory like I keep saying. The early onwards have pretty much finished although there are new flowers appearing. I need to decide whether to oik them out and sow something new, or leave them to see if I get a second crop. Thinking aloud, I will probably have them out on Friday as I have the Alderman peas which are going to start next week, and another row of Kelvendon Wonder at the bottom of the plot which have just come into flower. Plus I bought a packed of late peas from Marshalls, Fortune I think they were called.

Half filled a carrier with my lovely Red Epicure broad beans. Some have been munched by a furry or feather critter, but not many. That chicken wire really did the trick. Will grow those again next year for certain.

Loretta came onto the plot today and I haven't seen her since Christmas. She told me all the gossip about her house build and about the allotment and the locals and then she asked if I could find a home for a few leeks! Of course I can!! It meant digging up a large patch of spuds to make the room, but that was fine, they were only Red Duke of York volunteers, and clearing them meant I filled yet another bag with lovely spuds varying in size from marble to fist!

After lunch I weeded up in the flower bed as it has become obvious what are weeds and what are flowers. In tidying the bed up I cleared a large area and was able to plant another 24 leeks, sow 3 short rows of Spinach 'matador' and a half row of little gem lettuce. I needed to thin the row of little gems that have been growing quickly, and ended up, yes you guessed it, filling yet another carrier with perfectly formed little lettuces! Have no idea what I am going to do with so much salad, but as I have plenty of peas, tomorrow night I might try the braised lettuce with peas that Nigella does.

So, a general overview. The brassicas are all growing great, the kohl rabi are about the size of golf balls and the sprout plants are getting steadily taller. The celeriacs are now begining to 'ball' nicely but the celery is incredibly slow. The sweetcorns, both mini pop and sugar sweet are growing tall and strong. I have never grown such outstanding looking corn. I have high hopes! Carrots and salad crops everywhere, wherever there is a gap! Need to think about sowing some winter roots like the 3 different types of mooli I have, and more kohl rabi. The pumpkins and squashes are all growing like crazy and I expect to start picking courgettes next Friday, cucumbers any time after that. The pumpkin seeds I shoved in just to see if they would germinate directly, have! There is a touch of black fly on the runner beans, but I sprayed very very carefully just on the stems and the leaves with a soft soap type spray. There are plenty of beans there already so again, next Friday I reakon I will be able to have a light picking. At some point I need to start digging my 'proper' spuds. I haven't needed to because the volunteers have kept us well fed, but I need to think ahead and I could do with some room to sow winter peas, salads and roots.

Mr and Mrs Pheasant strolled around the site all day making a racket. They are a very handsome couple and I tried to sneak up and snap a photo....and the batteries run out in the camera! tch! Better luck on Friday!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tuesday 27th June 2006 - Weather: warm, overcast and humid

This is a note for my records really, so I remember what I have sown when. Today I sowed in modules:

Brocolli - Corvet
Cabbage - Copenhagen
Florence Fennel - Montavani
Kale - curly - red and green mix

The greenhouse is filling up rapidly. I wasn't planning to grow any tomatoes in there this year, but have ended up with 3 plants and 1 cutting. Only 2 aubergines ever germinated, but they are both different, one is a long thai variety, and one is a regular purple oval. As we don't eat it in any huge amount, that is probably more than enough for us. The chillis and peppers are growing like crazy now and there are plenty of flower buds, at last! I also sowed a late pot of chillis to drag the season on into winter. These plants - 6 of them from a mix packet, will end up in the conservatory around November time and should provide welcome colour, and heat in the depths of winter! The experiment in there this year is the okra and I planted 8 young plants into a huge pot. Apparently they become very hairy, which can be an irritant, so I will have to beware. The flowers are supposed to be gorgeous, so even if we get no fruits, the flowers will be very welcome. I have also been taking cuttings from plants from friends gardens I visit. I have no idea where they will all end up if they root!

Right, back to more seed sorting - I am off to the plot tomorrow so want to make sure I take plenty of seeds to sow...if only I can make more room up there!

Ho hum....have just been looking at some great blogs of peoples allotments....I really must try to work out how to put in links and things. I am such a computer dunce!

Well what do you know, the better half has cracked it for me, I now have links and a counter! Singers and dancers to follow!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday 23rd June - Weather: Cloudy to start, but very hot and sunny by lunch time

Usual routine, dropped the urchins at school, then straight to the plot. All dressed up in t-shirt and tracky pants as the morning was cloudy and grey. What a mistake! By lunch time I was cooking, and I hadn't bought any water to drink!

Because of the lack of rain, the weeds are slow to grow, but then so are my precious seeds. However, the sweetcorn seeds that I stuck in just to see around Mrs Scarecrow last Friday have all started germinating. Yippee! Could this mean a harvest of cobs into September?

Spent the first hour picking peas, strawberrys and broadbeans. The peas are going great. I have never had such a good harvest! The 'Early Onwards' are almost finished, maybe another 2 picks, but the Kelvedon have now started. The Alderman, which are the old fashioned tall variety are in full flower, and there are plenty of pods forming. Another 2 weeks and I reakon I will start to harvest those. The pods on Alderman are much bigger than regular shorter variety peas and you get much more for your money.

The mice have started munching the lower broadbeans already, so I was glad to pick those. A bumper harvest! So glad I planned ahead and netted them with stiff chicken wire when the plants were still only small. Also, pinching some of the tops out last week because Mr Blackfly had started to infest has hurried the pod growth up, so there were plenty to pick. These are red Broad beans, something along the lines of Red Epicure.

And my first dwarf French beans! These were started in paper pots in the greenhouse back in April, and planted out under pop bottle cloches in May. They are in a sheltered sunny spot by the apple trees so the weather really hasn't bothered them at all, and there are loads of little beans to come. A nice taster before the main crop is ready.

I sowed some more carrots, and lifted the fleece on one carrot patch and weeded it. Lots of already nice sized roots. I don't want any yet though, so didn't pull any. Pointless doing it until we are ready. I did however need to thin the Snowball Turnips and pulled three whoppers! No slug damage, minimal flea beetle damage to the leaves, but I dusted the seedlings once with derris powder and they have grown like crazy ever since. If we could just have a good downpour it would really help fatten the rest up.

The lettuces are really growing strong. I have a couple of rows of colourful cut and come again mixes, half a row of Australian Yellow leaf, which is a nice buttery lettuce, a half row of flame, which looks like it is going to be a bright red oakleaf lettuce, and a half row of little gems. I also have some iceburg lettuce dotted around the brassicas, but there are already very big and really should be cut, but as I have plenty of salad leaves, I am not rushing to take them. If they bolt, they go into lettuce soup, or onto the compost heap. Either way, they aren't wasted.

I shan't sow any more radish now as the ground is to hard, hot and dry. They just bolt immediately. The next sowing will be in late August, early September at the same time as my spinach sowing.

Take a look at these runner beans. This variety is called Enorma and they were started, 2 to a pot, in the greenhouse in mid April. I planted them out during the first week of May and they have romped away. They have been in flower now for a couple of weeks, and already there are beans forming on the lowest flowers. There is a small infestation of blackfly, which I am squishing as I go. I will keep an eye on them. There are plenty of ladybirds and their larvae around so I would rather not spray.

The swiss chard 'Bright Lights' is growing well now. Last years plants were removed last week. So many pretty colours. They really do brighten up the plot!

After lunch I went and tidied up the tomato plants, tied them to their bamboos and dusted them with Bordeux powder. I don't like using chemicals, no matter how 'friendly' they are, but I cannot afford to get blight on the plot and loose all of my toms. Last years tom harvest lasted us until about 4 weeks ago when the last of the frozen tomato sauce was used. This year I have grown about a dozen more plants to try and produce enough sauce to last an entire year. There are loads of flowers showing. Whilst I was doing this, the magpies in the trees across the lane were going crazy. What a racket! Something was bothering them. I don't know if they have nests in the tall trees, but whatever was going on, it lasted almost half an hour. The funny thing was, whilst all of this rumpuss was taking place, Jays all started lining up in the trees along the edge of the allotment. Wonder what was spooking the birds in the trees.

I needed to dig up the garlics - Purple Wight - as they were covered in rust, and because of the white rot, the less time they spend in the ground the better. Well I have to say I was chuffed with the harvest. All nice clean firm heads, not bad sizes either. Some was like golf balls, but the rest were regular, what you would expect sizes. Phewie the car was going to pong on the way home and make the kids moan like hell!

By 2pm I was begining to flag. My flask of hot coffee was empty, I was sweltering and thirsty so I decided to walk everything back to the car and head for home. As I walked past the fruit cage, a ray of colour caught my eye. What do you know, the first Glen Ample raspberry all ripe and ready for picking. It was perfect, and lasted abour 4 seconds. YUM!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Friday 16th June 2006 - Weather: Hot and humid - perfect blight weather!

Another fabulous day here in Essex. That rain at the start of the week, then again on Wednesday has really brought things on! I couldn't believe my eyes when I arrived on site. My cardoon monster must be 12 foot tall now. No chance of me seeing up into those gorgeous flowers and watching the drunken bumble bees. Everything must have grown a foot since last Friday, weeds included!

I was one of those days, if it crept, crawled or flew, then it crept, crawled or flew near me! Firstly as I arrived, Vincent Vole and his kids all marched from my flower bed back into the rough area where the plum tree stumps are. I was hoping the removal of the trees might have evicted them and made them move on. Obviously not. Then down by the shed, where the waterbutt and my pallet table is, Millie Mouse kept darting about making me jump! She is the one responsible for chewing up a lovely heap of fleece over the winter! Then as I walked across the slab path to check out progress on plot number 2, Laura, Leonard and Les Lizards were all laying sunbathing. They scuttled off into the long grass as I approached. Bert Blackbird foolishly got tangled up in Lorettas strawberry netting, so I had to set him free, and Justin Jay sat in the tree above me chattering as I ate my lunch. Peter Pheasant, who is stunning, didn't show himself today, but he did sit in the hedgerow and screech at regular intervals. In the distance I could hear cuckoos and woody going about their business, and on the drive home, a daft grey squirrel decided to run infront of the car all the way down the lane. Really, all I needed was a heard of Bison to stroll through and my day would have been complete!

Anyhow, I digress, today I decided to split my work into 2 halves and spend the first half of the day on plot number one, and the second half tidying up plot number 2 around my toms, beans and squashes.

I weeded along the flower bed - lots of creeping buttercups and other creeping strangling little flowers. Now that the plum trees are all gone, I should be able to grow veg there again next year if I want. I do have a row of beetroot and a row of little gem lettuce in with the flowers and they are really growing strongly. Amazingly this year I have remembered to sow little and often with the salads so should be able to harvest as and when I need it right through until the dark nights of winter. The parsnips are growing really fast now - their foliage really is big and tough, but I must remember to be careful as their sap really caused me some bad burns on my arms last year. I still have the scars to prove it! Turnips are looking great - using them as I want them. I am pleased with the 'nips as I haven't had any success in the past thanks to the flea beetle decimating them, and the lack of water. This year however, a light dusting of derris as they germinated, and then that lovely wet weather, and they have grown really fast. I am using the thinnings grated raw in salads. Hoping the rest will swell and be okay later in the summer when the other roots start swelling for heartier meals.

Dug up the last of the bolted spinach. Must sow some more, but I think I will wait for another wet day so the seeds can get away quickly and not bolt immediately. If we haven't had rain by the middle of July, I will water a patch every day for a few days to get it really damp deep down, then sow. The new bright light chards have really put on some growth, and the young leaves are so sweet and tender. These are so much tougher than spinach and go a lot further for us. I love the colours also. Where the spinach was I sowed some sweetcorn. I have never tried these directly, but if they grow, they will be a good few weeks behind the maincrop, and even if we only get one or two cobs per plant, it will be fab! Last year my sweetcorn failed completely, either too early or the squashes got away too quickly and strangled them as I grew them altogether. This year I am growing them seperately to see if I have more success. So far so good! There are carrots everywhere as I tend to broadcast sow them rather than neat rows. Once they are up, I weed carefully, then cover with fleece to keep that horrible carrot fly off.

In the brassica bed everything is really coming on quickly thanks to that drop of rain, and again I have purple sprouting brocolli. Everyone keeps telling me how well it freezes so I might give it a go as I don't really fancy any at this salady time of year. The autumn planted cabbages that I have started picking are great! This one I think is called April (could be wrong) and is a pointy one. These make great coleslaws and salads. The cavalo nero kale is looking rather handsome. No catterpillas... YET! This really blackens up once the night time temperatures drop. This is for Christmas dinner!

Picked a load of peas, 3Ib of strawberries and some lettuce before having my lunch, cold spinach pizza! Delicious!! It was nice to sit in the shade for 10 minutes.

Plot 2 isn't as high maintenance as half of it is over to spuds, the middle section is my structure with beans up one side, tomatos through the middle and toms on the other side, oh, and bronze fennel which really seems to like my allotment, then the last section is currently a mix of onions and young squash plants, oh, and of course, volunteer potatos! The onions and garlic are starting to come home with me now. The onions once the tops are bent over come home, and I am digging garlic as I need it. Unfortunately the garlic this year really seems to have suffered from white rot, which is a pain as it means the garlic won't store. However, what I plan to try is bringing it all home and pulping it in my blender, then freezing the garlic pulp in ice cube trays. Once frozen I can bung them all in a big tub in the freezer, the idea being, when I want to add garlic, I just grab a frozen lump and bung it in. Good thinking huh?!

I have plenty of flowers on the runner beans already which is great as last year we didn't get many thanks to the Vole family chewing through the stems when the plants were young. Of course, they don't want to run up their poles, oh no, why do that when inside the structure are loads of bamboos supporting young tomato plants that you could strangle! Took me an age to unravel them and tie them to their own poles. Plenty of flowers on the tomato plants which is a very satisfying site. I had another dozen tom plants, 4 water melons and 3 honeydew melons to get in so I needed to clear a patch of stray volunteer spuds. Heavy going, but the ground is still so wet they came up quickly and I filled a bucket with 9Ib's of new potatos. Very chuffed! Looks like this is going to be a great year for the humble spud. Worked my way down the plot cleaning around the various squash plants. There are already some baby lemon cucumbers coming which is perfect. I did plant some more pumpkin seeds directly into the ground, just to see if they grow really. I also sowed some beetroot at the edge of the plot - well, I had half a packet of seed left in my pocket so I thought why not.

The Chapmans came over and we had a little chat. His spuds really aren't growing well which is a mystery as mine are looking great. Of course, there is no telling what is happening under ground! Plan to pop up after school on Tuesday for another strawberry and pea picking as it is school sports day and hopefully my darling will be able to get the afternoon off work. He wants to see how everything is shaping up. I shall have to moan about the long grass to see if it will encourage him to cut it for me!

Friday 9th June 2006 - Weather: hot and balmy

Firstly I must applogise as this is being published a week late! Why, becuase I have been so busy during the days, and so tired and fed up with my hayfever at night, I just haven't gotten around to it.

Okay, thinking back. I arrived and what a stunning morning. Of course I forgot to wear a hat or have any sunblock on so I figured I would have a sore back by the time I went to collect the kids. Jack, bless him, had cut all of my paths for me. I really should give him some money for the petrol.

First port of call, the brassica bed. Where did all the weeds spring up from? Picked a fabulous spring cabbage. It is a round one called spring something, but of course I can't remember what! It was from a pack of brassica plantlets I purchased from Thompson & Morgans. Lovely firm heart, about the size of a football. Plenty of crunch coleslaw next week! Tidied up the rhubarb which resides within the brassica cage, and filled any gaps with new brassica plantlets. Planted a mix of red bull brussel sprouts, purple sprouting, red cabbage and cauliflowers. The brassica bed is crammed now. I am planning to sow some more kohl rabi direct in there as they are quick to mature, but I don't tend to have any luck sowing brassicas direct. Will have to see how they go.

Carried on weeding down the plot as far as the apple trees. Cleaned around the broadbeans and finally there are pods showing. The plants have gone crazy and a couple are nearly 5 foot tall! No sign of blackfly....yet! Loads and loads of peas - 2 batches of Kelvedon glory, 1 batch of early onwards and 1 batch of aldermans. Picked a carrier full of peas from early onwards and noticed that there are plenty of young pods developing on the kelvedons. The aldermans are reaching for the skies and are just getting flowers. Should have a good succession of peas. I really want to try and freeze some this year for later in the year....if only I can stop daughter number one scoffing them as she shucks them!

Into the fruit cage - a dangerous place really. Last year I got stung on my back by a wasp whilst delving around in there. The rasberries - Glen Ample, are smothered in flowers. The gooseberries are covered in young fruits which will be ready in late summer and I really think this is going to be a bumper year for currants. The bushes are absolutely weighed down with immature fruits! Better start checking out some interesting recipes!

Further down the plot I dug up the last of last years swiss chard and started clearing away the bolted spinach and ropey italian mixed leaf salad. The carrots I have sowed are all up and growing nicely and now all nicely tucked up under fleece to keep the pesky carrot fly off. Sowed some more beetroot and radish.

During the afternoon 'The Chapmans' came over to the site. This family run 8 plots and have never spoken to me. However, that was all to change this sunny Friday afternoon. Inbetween my plot number one and there first plot there used to be a row of old plum trees. They never fruited and he had tried on several occassions to hack them back. They were becoming a pain as they shaded the end of my plot, sent runners up everywhere and left the ends of both of our plots dry. So, in a fit of power tool excitment, he has cut them all down and burnt the remians. Great for me, more light and hopefully, wetter ground. The downside is I used to feel quite private. The hedge was very dense and I always felt hidden away. Now I am open to one and all. I'll get over it. So, they wanted to come over and just check that I was happy - very decent of them really. We ended up talking for ages about what grows well where and what they are growing and what I am growing. They suggested I enter the local flower and veg show, which I may well do - which reminds me, I must ask locally when it is.

There were plenty of strawberries to pick, so once I picked the kids up from school, the three of us went back to the allotment and they gave me a hand picking. Filled a large trug with lovely ripe fruits. I have no idea what the varieties are as they have come from many sources, but the nice thing about the mixture of plants is the fruit is coming at different times. I still have plants that are only just coming into flower, so hopefully we will be picking strawbs for a few weeks more yet!

Tuesday 13th June - I popped up to the plot unannounced, in between downpours. I knew there would be strawberries and peas to pick, and there were plenty. As I walked across to my plot, I heard a rustle in the long grass on an abandoned plot, and out shot a very large cock pheasant! Grogeous bird, who really shouted at me, and trotted off in to the hedgerow. He stayed there for the duration of my stay and kept squarking at me to clear off. Hope he hasn't helped himself to any of my strawberries!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Saturday 27th May 2006 - Weather: Beeeeeeeeeeeutiful!

I was up by 7am and out of the house with supplies by 7.30am. The boss man was babysitting so I had until 11am to see what had been happening at the plot since my last visit over a week ago. Glad to say it was all looking very good. The weeds haven't been gowing to fast thanks to the damp chilly weather, but the cold northerly wind has taken it's toll on some of the french beans on plot number two and I think there will be a few casualties. Not to worry, I will sow a later cropper - like Pogo - and they can fill the gap. My visit was really just a catch up and a pick, and pick I did! Just look at these peas. Early Onwards I believe they were. These were the ones daughter number one sowed in newspaper pots back in January and I planted out in March under glass cloches. They are a good few weeks ahead of the others on the plot. The kids helped me shell them, and daughter number one ate then like little sweets, but you won't hear a complaint from me!

The salads are really coming into their own now and I must sow more beetroot, spring onion and radish on my next day visit. I picked a lettuce, couple of spring onions, and a monster bunch of radish, some of which ended up at the in-laws. I am sowing the radish just a pinch at a time as I only want about 7 a week and they go to seed so quickly on the plot thanks to the lack of water. Of course, that hasn't been a problem these last few weeks - the ground is so soft and wet up there. I can't wait for the first beetroot. I reakon I will be able to pull golf ball sized roots in about 3 weeks time. These are little gem lettuce sent to me by a chum from the Allotments for All website. I find I have much more success sowing directly at this time of year. Lettuce germinate so quickly and stay much more chunky and robust of sown in the soil - I find they are to soft and leggy at this time of the year in modules. However, for those really early lettuce like those I am picking now, I do so in modules in January and keep them snug.

The rhubarb is still plotting to take over the world, so I picked a bag full and plan to make Rhubarb Marmalade next week once the kids go back to school. I also cut down the spinach and chard which has started to flower. I don't dig these up when they flower as the leaves down the flowering stem are so tender and sweet, and by cutting them back they will produce another flush of small leaves. These will fill the gap as the new chard 'Bright Lights' fill out. I won't be sowing spinach on the plot until late August - any earlier and it immediately runs to seed.

The big netting job was the most important job, and the one I left until last. The strawberries have started pinking up so I used some hoops of thick hose which have bamboos stuck in the end to go over the plants and then draped the net over. The net was then pegged to the ground just to stop the wind lifting it. I had to tie a currant bush and a jostaberry bush up as they are so laden with fruit the bushes had collapsed out! I have never seen so many currants. However, by pulling all the branches up I exposed all of the young fruits, so I needed to get those netted before I left. Glad to say Father Christmas had put lots of boxes of netting into my stocking last year so I was able to do a really good job.

I had a test dig on one of my garlics - Purple Wight which was planted in November. Plot number one suffers terribly from allium white rot and although I manage a good crop, I never succeed in growing maincrop onions, or having enough onions or garlic to last me an entire year. Last autumn I decided to try growing my wintering alliums on plot number 2 and they have done very well indeed. I would normally have to lift my garlics about now before the rot really gets hold, but by the looks of this one, and the foliage on those still in the ground, I can leave them to get bigger for a few more weeks yet. This baby was a bit bigger than a golf ball. (His stem was used to flavour a spicy chilli I made Saturday evening for supper!)

This last picture is of another net structure on my plot. This is the cabbage castle, if you can see it. This structure is made to keep the pesky pigeons off my brassicas, and any fluffy bunnies or deer that wander through. I pushed 7 foot bamboos into the ground at intervals around the edge of the plot, then placed the net over and around. Some of it is a little haphazard as I didn't have quite enough net at the time, but it works a treat and I can walk around upright under it (being short helps). This is for Svea who asked to see it. Hope you can make out what it looks like.