Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sunday 9th October 2011 - weather: chilly and overcast

Not on the allotment as it is all shipshape still, that is the great thing about this time of year, the weeds have stopped growing. Today I was in the garden. I am planning a major hack back and dig up before the spring as the shrubs have all got huge and the clumps of crocosmia are out of control. I have so many young plants, cuttings and chunks of perennials that I have acquired from my customers gardens for my own, I just need to make room for them.

Outside the conservatory is a large Buddleia, Philadelphis and a Photinia 'red robin', al of which had grown into one another and were towering over the conservatory roof. Now I ask you, what is the point of having flowers and scent all the way up there when I am just a little shorty 5 foot 3 inches? So, the Bud and Philly have been cut right down to 6 inches from the ground but the Photinia has just been thinned and cut back towards the fence. I started this several weeks back and already there are lovely new, bright pink shoots emerging so I am now confident in cutting it back even more. I am a little nervous at being so bold as it will open the garden up and we will loose our privacy for a year, but it will let so much more light into the beds, and hopefully I will be able to keep the shrubs under control so they don't get out of hand again.

Next to the Photinia is a Ceanothus which is very old and woody but it does give a lovely show of electric blue flowers. It hasn't liked the last few cold winters and has suffered with some die back, but I have been pruning this out over this year and it has lots of new growth, so I am ignoring this particular shrub.

Underneath these large plants are alsorts of smaller perennials, grasses, ground cover plants and bulbs like pulmanaria, bugle, iris, crocosmia, asters, kniphofia, cyclamen, roses, etc. Some of these will be moved around, some split, and some chucked out, like the darn crocosmia. They aren't special varieties, just the old fashion monbretia type and they are thugs and the foliage is messy and smothers everything around them, so I am gradually removing the clumps. I will leave some where they are tucked away, but this particular bed is the only sunny area, so I want to get in lots of colourful perennials. After lifting the crocosmia I moved a small hibiscus plant to the back of the border and also planted a small forsythia cutting into the back and then planted a large drift of apricot coloured foxgloves. I also planted a load more daff bulbs and some imperial fritilaria.

By now the brown wheelie bin and trailer were full and the afternoon was leaning towards the evening so I down tools and poured myself a glass of wine and threw some more wood into the chimnea. I hope to continue pottering during the next few weeks whenever I have the chance as I want to thin out the bugle and pulmanaria and get some of my heucheras in.

On the allotment front, the only thing I have done up there during the last couple of weeks is plant 20 young winter hardy lettuce plantlets and pick several sacks full of apples.

As for the quaily birds, they have now pretty much stopped laying for the winter and have become very quiet and lazy. The boys have lost their sex drive, much to the relief of the girls and they are all hunkering down into the layers for straw to keep snug.

The tortoises are preparing themselves for hibernation. Travis, our Hermans, doesn't hibernate, never has and the vet told us not to attempt it as he been kept in a heated viv all of his life - until he came into our lives. He has been out with Tom and Bertha in the garden all summer, but now the temperature has dropped, he has been sent to Coventry and is back in the heated viv for the winter. Tom and Bertha, our adopted Greek spur thighed are spending a week in the conservatory to make sure their digestive tracts are clear by not eating and allowing them to shit all over the conservatory floor. They will then be packed away into insulated boxes to spend the winter in the garage, sleeping until late spring wakes them with a kiss.

Dear reader, I will now depart to try and remove some of the splinters I managed to get into my hands today whilst untangling stray brambles from my Pittosporum.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friday 23 and Saturday 24th September 2011 - weather: bright and breezy

Okay, I confess, I have been popping to the allotment for the odd half an hour to pick and start tidying up for autumn, but I had a surprise day off on Friday, so I headed to the allotment straight from the school run. The paths hadn't been cut for weeks and weeks and were very shaggy, and full of morning dew, but I managed to get the mower through them. As I was struggling with the dense grass between plot number 2 and my neighbour, a very long slow worm slithered out and I just spotted it in time as he headed onto the brassica bed and avoided the mowers blades. It is amazing what a difference just cutting the grass can make, like hoovering a room, even with the weeds, the plots looked neater.

Now dear readers, I could give you a blow by blow account of my weeding, but I don't think it would make for gripping reading. Let's just say I started at the top of plot number one, amongst the strawberries, and worked my way right down to the shed. This took the rest of the day but the plot looked fab after I had finished.

I have in my onion sets, 3 varieties of garlic and 1 variety of shallots. Also still growing on plot number 1 are...working from top end to shed end... wallflowers, perennial salads, strawberries, globe artichokes, turnips, chard, onions/garlic/shallots, peas, spring onions, beans, leeks, apple trees, fruit cage, carrots, chicory, turnips, spring onions, kohl rabi, spinach, swede, parsnips, beetroot, beans, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes.

A good day, and I met several new allotmenteers to the sight, young, friendly families so hopefully the site will be buzzing with activity next year.

Saturday was also an unexpected lottie day as I was planning to spend it in my garden, but the family had other ideas, so we packed up BBQ supplies and headed back to the plot. Whilst the kids built dens and played in the stream, hubby sorted out the waterbutts for the winter as I have been given another one, so they are all set up to collect every drop mother nature deposits. He then fixed the shed roof and re-felted it and then promptly emptied it and loaded all of the rubbish and unwanted toot onto the trailer and headed for the dump. I swept the shed and refilled it with everything I wanted to keep and tidied the area around the shed. I have to confess, it is all looking rather neat and tidy over there.

Whilst the kids cooked the bangers and burgers I started clearing plot number 2. I had already stripped all of the leaves from the tomato plants, and binned any suspicious, blighty plants, and already the fruits were ripening. Again, you don't want a blow by blow account of my weeding fun and frolics, but what I can tell you is I cleared most of the squash plants as they were dying back. So, still growing on plot number 2, starting at the top end by Darren and heading down to the stream there is a blackberry bush, Daughters patch with celeriac, carrots, spring onions and chard and on sons plot there are carrots, spring onions, chard and flowers. There are a few squash plants, like courgettes, marrows, cucumbers, plus a row of rocket and a row of lambs lettuce. Then we have the beans, tomatoes, chillies, then brassica heaven. Here we have sprouts, broc, cauli, savoys, pointy cabbage, round cabbage, purple sprouting and kale and at the end of the brassica patch is a long row of mixed beans for drying like borlotti beans. Plenty still going on there.

By now, the sun was getting low in the sky, we had fed our faces, and the children were becoming restless, so we headed for home. Visits will become few and far between now, just visiting to pick, although I did notice in our local nursery that they have an array of winter veg plug plants to get in I may be back to do some planting. Hoorah.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday 11th September 2011 - weather: cloudy

Such a long time since I updated my blog my ever faithful readers, and I can only humbly apologise. I blame the summer holidays, the kids off school, and us going to West Sussex for a week, and then a couple of weeks later, 2 weeks in the South of France, close to the Spanish border. A fabulous holiday was had by all, but now September is here and life very quickly gets back to normal.

The allotment missed us terribly, and how did it show us, by growing like some possessed tropical rainforest! We visited on Sunday 4th September and came away with 14 kilos of ripe tomatoes, a carrier bag overflowing with runner beans and the same with French beans. We also pulled a couple of turnips, and picked 20 courgettes. There was plenty ready, but I only wanted to pick things which really needed picking.

Before leaving, Darren, another younger allotmenteer, was digging up 2 monster cabbages and I mentioned how we had all been admiring them as they were mahoosive! Just like that, he said I could have them as they don't eat cabbage!! 'Well why grow them?' said I, and he just shrugged his shoulders. The tortoises will be living off the outer leaves for weeks to come and we will be having cabbage at every meal for a month.

Finally, we popped onto Jacks plot and picked some raspberries as he had left me a message whilst we were away telling me to help myself as he is getting sick to death of them. He is filling a bowl full every other day and his freezer is full. Well, how can a girl refuse such an offer.

The children and I popped to the plot again on Friday 9th September for a quick harvest and filled another carrier bag with tomatoes, another with runners, and we filled a basket and large tub-trug with apples. My two trees are so heavily laden I don't know what to do with them all. I have been making tomato soup and tomato pulp for the freezer. I have also done a couple of batches of chunky tomato sauce using courgettes and onions with the toms and freezing that. I have frozen a lot of the French beans as I do find they freeze okay, and have frozen some raspberries. I have juiced a large batch of apples and have about 6 pints of juice which I am going to turn into hot chilli jelly and mint jelly for winter use. I will juice more apples and freeze the juice, and I think husband is going to have a go at making cider now we have found somewhere that stocks home brewing supplies.

Our latest visit was today, the 11th of September, and the main plan was to get my Japanese onions in the ground. Husband dug the last of the spuds - won't be bothering with Maris Piper again as they were scabby and sluggy, so next year I will just be growing Kestrel, International Kidney and Pink Fir Apple. He then picked crates and crates of apples, clearing all of those that over hung the paths and beds. He then cut the branches back and tidied up. Meanwhile I dug and raked over the old spud area and planted my Electric, Radar and Biondie onion sets. The onions were pretty rubbish last year so I am hoping that these will do better as they have gone in a touch earlier.

I picked yet more ripe toms and then we headed for home. There is still masses on the allotment for harvesting during the autumn and winter. Swiss chard, purple kale, savoy cabbage, pointy green cabbage, white cabbage, purple sprouting brocolli, caulis, sprouts, spinach, spring onions, beetroot, leeks, parsnips, turnips, kohl rabi, swede, chicory, chillies, jerusalem (f)artichokes, french beans, runner beans, peas, carrots, courgettes, marrows, cucumbers, various winter squash and tomatoes. I have some radish which have run to seed and I have tried their pods, something which Alys Fowler from the beeb reckons are great with a beer rather than nuts. Don't know if I would go that far, but they aren't bad so I will pick some of them next time as I think they would be nice mixed with a salad.

Next visit, all being well, next weekend.
Sunday 11th September 2011

Ten years since the '9/11' terrorist attacks. Can you remember where you were? I can so clearly. Jessica was only 2 and James still a baby at almost a year so I was still at home. I had the lunch time news on, flitting in and out, when I saw what was unfolding and couldn't believe my eyes. I had friends in NY at PolyGram, and we have friends who are bankers in that district. Shock, sickening shock. To this very day I still cry when I see those shocking images of people choosing the throw themselves out of the windows, and I cry for the babies that were born after their daddies had been killed. I cry....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tuesday 17th August 2011 - weather: Overcast but warm

Went for a quick pick today.

How to use up 7 courgettes and several dozen quails eggs. Nigella's courgette sponge, the beebs courgette and choccy sponge and a friends courgette and cheese bread. Delicious. Tis how I keep my size zero figure. :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday 10th August 2011 - weather: bright and breezy

Welcome home Sally and Ian all the way from the land down under. Do women glow and men plunder I wonder?

And welcome home Geoff and Karen from across the pond. Hope you had a lovely holiday.

Now down to business. I am a slacker, I have no photos to show as it is late, they all need resizing, and to be perfectly honest, after the day I have had, I can barely keep my eyes open. I promise faithful reader to resize and post a plethora of photos once I am recovered.

Today was the day I had threatened to take the kids to the allotment for the whole day. Yes, the whole day including lunch and dinner. You can imagine how excited this made the hormonal 12 year old. The hyper 10 year old didn't mind, he likes nothing more than playing in the ditch with sticks and bows and arrows chasing goodness knows what.

We arrived, with various picnics, at 11 and the allotments looked like a tropical rainforrest. Someone had obviously sown lots of prickly sow thistle seeds all over both plots as they were infected. However, very easy to fork out. Plot number one was first under attack and as I had already cleaned the strawberry bed, I started in the spud/onion/leek/others bed. All of the lettuce plants have now bolted so they were all pulled out and in no time at all, the whole area was looking a lot more under control. I picked a big bundle of french beans and asapagus peas (which I think taste like grass but the flowers are pretty and the seed was free) and dug some International Kidney spuds. The leeks are growing really quickly and I think for the first time ever, I will have some decent sized aliums for winter use. There is also a row of young French bean seedlings, peas and spring onions which only recently germinated for a very late harvest in the autumn.

Beyond the apple trees is my seed bed, mainly roots and salads. Again, all of the bolted lettuce went followed by the bolted beetroot, although I have kept these to juice. A lovely show of Borlotti beans on the vines and huge spring onions.

For lunch we fired up the BBQ and enjoyed toasted bacon sandwiches after which the children were told to keep the home fires burning as it is such a faff to light a BBQ that I didn't want to have to go through it again at tea time, so whilst playing, they would through little bundles of dry twigs onto the coals to keep it quietly smouldering.

Meanwhile I headed for plot numero two and set about sorting the squash plantation. This is going to be a great year for the squashes, a lot of variety, and at least 2 giant pumpkins. Harvested 10 courgettes....again.... and weeded through. Not such a bad job as most are planted through membrane. The corriander has all run to seed, but that is okay, I will keep the seed to dry roast and grind. The rocket hasn't gone to seed, but also hasn't grown much which is a shame as I do love it. The lambs lettuce has made very pretty rosettes which should give us leaves into the winter. I picked a few toms, and a bundle of runner beans. I then set about clearing the sweetcorn bed which either the squirrels or the deer have completely decimated. I have some fab brassicas forming, some huge cabbages and there are already mini sprouts on the brussel plants. This wet, coolish summer has certainly benefited some plants.

Dinner time and the BBQ was still nicely hot so we topped it up with more coal and waited a while before throwing on some sausages. The kids chopped some freshly pulled onions and as their dad had now arrived, we all sat in the shade of the willow and enjoyed our supper al fresco and out of doors. Perfic.

We left after nearly 9 hours on the plot in which time I had humped dozens of trugs full of weeds over to the compost dump, picked lashings of crops, got stung by nettles oodles of times and completely forgotten about the worries of the world. The children had a great time spending the whole day away from the TV and out in the fresh air and by the time I left, I could look over the plots and feel very proud of how neat they both look and how much produce is still growing on them. A good, if exhausting day.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Friday 1st July 2011 - weather: sunny

Such selfishness. Another full day on the allotment. I was hoping to have a sneaky visit on Thursday but due to the teachers deciding to strike, daughter number one's school was closed so I decided to keep myself available for her and her chums rather than loose myself on the plot.

Really, todays visit was a continuation of last Fridays visit, so to pick up with the weeding, where I left off. However, I think someone had been along with and shaken the trifid stick all over my allotment as in the matter of a week, everything had grown like the clappers, and not just the weeds.

The tomatoes are romping away and I am once again growing them under a roof which prevents rain splash, one of the quickest spreaders of the dreaded blight spores. Normally this means I am picking toms long after everyone elses have succumbed to blight. It isn't perfect, but it certainly helps.

The courgettes have now readily set fruit and I was able to harvest good sized courgettes. I have about 8 plants, but sown at different times so hopefully I will be able to have a longer picking season.

I picked the last of one patch of broadbeans. The rest will be left to really swell and will be frozen to bulk up winter stews.

The cos lettuce have bulked up so rapidly that they are harvestable now and are delicious. The butterhead, winter hardy lettuce are also putting on good growth quite quickly so another couple of sowings at home are required.

The apples on the trees are swelling quickly and there didn't appear to be much of a June drop so the boughs are weighed down with fruits. I did remove a couple of low hanging branches that were proving a black eye hazard.

I am digging spuds as we need them - we aren't great tatar eaters so once or twice a week is more than enough. I am working through my row of Kestrel at the moment and they are the most delicious spud with small purple eyes. Very creamy, slug and scab free. A definate for every year.

The soft fruits have been sumptuous and I shall once again wax lyrical about the abundant Glen Ample raspberry. The fruits are large and so flavoursome and they are produced in could say they are ample.

The beetroot haven't minded the dry spring and wet early summer and have grown magnificently. I will never bother sowing them directly again. These were sown, 3 to a module, planted out when they had their first true leaves, and left to their own devices. Two varieties, old reliable Boltardy and Bulls Blood. The first thinnings were just smaller than a golf ball, took minutes to cook and were sweet and succulent. The next thinnings just smaller than a tennis ball, and I am enjoying those now. The rest will be left to get as big as you like and will probably be roasted or blasted in the pressure cooker. Next year I plan to try more varieties.

Salads have been great keeping us, and the livestock in greens for months now. Cut and come again is definately the way to go and I shall resist ever pulling a lettuce from the ground again. I just cut cleanly across the plant down low, and within a week new leaves are developing and within 2 weeks, I can cut again. Staggered sowings will be keeping us in salad leaves until the winter takes its toll or the tortoises go into hibernation.

As I have been weeding and clearing, I have also been sowing and planting. More salads, radish and peas have gone in, along with yet more carrots, turnips and swedes. The leeklets I planted a couple of weeks back are now looking very perky and green and the asparagus peas I sowed are up. I have grown them before, and although I am not keen on them, the seeds were from mum, the flowers are pretty, and they aren't very prolific so there will only be a couple of meals worth of pods. The rocket is growing and seems to have beaten the flea beetle attack and the lambs lettuce sown alongside it is growing into neat little rossettes. Even the corriander is growing - I now because I accidentally weeded some out and I got a waft of that unmistakable soapy smell from the crushed leaves. I am delighted with how everything is coming along, yes, some of the rows are gappy, some seeds didn't germinate, and some seedlings were frazzled clean away, but I do believe this is the most organised I have ever been. Do you think.....after 40 years of life, and at least 35 of those gardening, I am finally getting the hang of it?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Friday 24th June 2011 - weather: bright and breezy

A whole day, yes, one whole day all to myself at the allotment, between school runs of course. So that is roughly five and a half hours. I kid myself that in such an acre of time I can get on top of all jobs and have time to chat to any lottie friends that arrive. Of course I didn't.

Thanks to the wonderful rainfall the weeds are all growing fast and out competing my desired veggies. Plan of attack, begin on plot number 2 at the brassica end and work my way up, then across to the top end of plot one and work my way down to the shed.

The brassicas are mostly planted through weed supressing membrane, an exercise I would recommend to anyone who has a plot and doesn't have enough hours in the day to visit as often as they should. The brassicas love the cool, damp earth and the complete lack of competition from weeds. However, I didn't have enough membrane at the plot in the spring to cover the entire area, so there were sections that needed some TLC. I oiked out the failed Japanese onions, loosened the soil and planted all of the spare, unlabelled brassicas that I had knocking around, roughly another 15 plants. I sowed a quick crop of radish between these brassicas. I weeded through the sweetcorn and was rather disappointed to see flowers forming, and the plants are only about 3 foot tall. Does this mean no sweetcorn for us again this year? Finally the beans, a mix of borlotti, climbing french and runners. I am not a neat allotment holder, I don't really do straight military lines and strict veggie varieties in rows, so my runner bean canes will by a mix of colours, shapes and sizes and will look a picture as it all comes into bloom.

I had already sorted the toms on an earlier flying visit so straight to the squash area, another area with 75% weed supressing membrane in place. At long last the squash seem to have greened up and taken off. They have really struggled with the dry this year, but thanks to the rain, they are now away and going mad. The Speckled swan gourd is clambering through the blackcurrant bush, the courgettes are covered in baby fruitlets and the Atlantic Giant pumpkins already have set baby pumpies. The mini corns are growing well, surrounded by sunflowers which are shooting up for the heavens. I have left the last few broadbean plants in the ground for these pods to really get huge so I can freeze them for winter soups and stews. More beans here, just runners, but these are mixed with the cucumber plants, all sharing the canes and netting. The rocket sown a couple of weeks ago has germinated and is duly being eaten by flea beetles but the lambs lettuce is up and doing fine and the corriander is up, although patchy, but I don't need masses. In the gap where the failed rocket failed I sowed a row of carrots. I had sown another patch of mini corn seed direct, but the mice really enjoyed them leaving a bare square, so I filled it with lettuce plantlets that I had sown in modules at home.

The kids patches are doing great but number one sons patch was looking a little nude as we had consumed all of the lettuce so I weeded and sowed a row of carrots and a row of radish. Plot number 2 is now filled to the rafters with young plants and seeds.

Over to plot number one. A few weeks ago I sowed a row of wallflowers along the daffodil line, and there is a row of seedlings, but I am unsure if they are weeds or the wallflowers. I shall have to keep an eye on them. The netting came off the strawbs as they have almost finished now and I weeded through them. This took an age as the mares tail was thick, as were the dandelions. The basil seed I sowed directly, just because they were excess seeds and it has been so hot I thought why the hell not, are now growing like crazy so I think I will make a huge batch of pesto in the autumn and freeze it like Ina Garten from the Barefoot Contessa does. The perennial salad plants, also sown direct, are growing really well and are lovely and peppery. They should overwinter to give us light pickings.

As the day was marching on I went and picked the raspberries, goosegogs and currants. I say this every year, but Glen Ample are the best rasps and grow so well in the dappled shade of my apple trees. I also cut the grass on the patchs, which was appreciated by my lottie neighbour Caroline.

That was it, time was up. Looking over the plots I realize I will have to dig up and chuck out the globe artichoke plants as they haven't produced any flowers for the last 2 years, and as I am the only one who likes them, I think I will just buy, or acquire, one plant to replace the half a row of tired plants. The cardoon hasn't grown as tall this year as previous years, but blame the drought. The insects won't care though as there are plenty of flowers and those thistles are packed full of nectar and pollen and the bumble bees get quite drunk dancing from flower to flower. I have a few empty areas on plot number one to fill and I have plenty of seedlings and young plants in modules at home which can start going in as they get large enough and I have ordered my Japanese onions, garlic and shallots from Unwins which should arrive late summer early autumn, so I will have to remember not to fill every square inch so I can squeeze them in.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday 21st June - Quail diary (and tortoise update)

Again, slacking on the quail news. So, what news. All is very happy in the quailarium at the moment. We are getting between 8 and 11 eggs daily, there doesn't seem to be any bullying from the chaps, the girls all look very prim and proper with hardly any neck feathers missing and they are all in tip top health. This batch of birdies, unlike the lot that the fox set free over winter, just adore lettuce leaves, which is great as I do have quite an abundance of lettuce on the allotment as I am hoping to grow a constant supply to supplement the tortoises hunger and the guinea pigs taste buds. I throw in a few leaves in the morning and they descend on them like a pack of hungry wolves. I just wish the kids were as keen on their greens. We have had one cull so far, so from 16 birds in the quailarium to 15. It was a chap, a very, very noisy chap. The neighbours don't really complain about the noise, but the lady next door but one did mention that she could hear one even when her windows weren't open. Of course, when I suggested that hubby do the business and make the noisy bugger oven ready, there was shock and consternation. Welcome to the world of animal husbandry. As I keep explaining to people, I adore my birds, but they aren't pets, and thus I personally don't name them. The gals provide lovely eggs, and the boys are delicious gently roasted with some allotment veg.

As for our hatchery department, today is day 0 on the incubator and these are our own 7 eggs from our own gals, not bought in eggs, or given eggs. Fingers crossed. The Bobwhites were a failure. Just one chick and it is THE most skittish, insane, mad and crazy chick in the world, ever. But you don't know these things until you try. Just gotta hope it's a girl.

The fox proofing seems to have done the trick and the furry tailed fiend hasn't been seen for a couple of weeks. Mind you, the people round the corner have hens now so maybe he has bigger fish to fry....

Tortoise news for those who know. Tom and Bertha are doing great. Tom badgers and shags poor old Bertha regularly. However, we have dotted around various obstacles and there are lots of mature shrubs that she gets in and he can't find her so she can have a peaceful sleep. Travis, our tropical boy (or girl, the vet has never been sure) lives happily with the couple and they all put themselves to bed every night, all cuddled up in their wooden penthouse. They have a feeding board so they can all clearly see the fresh food which is out in the full sun so they can eat and bask and generally behave like teenagers and sleep, eat and shit just where they stand. The three of them are eating me out of house and home and I come home most days from work with a bucket full of mixed weeds from peoples gardens. I also gather lots from the allotment for them. In the autumn, the apples will fall from the trees...I wonder if they will scoff them? Tom is still a toe biter, and Bertha drew blood on number one son's finger when he was hand feeding her. But they are great and I love them all. I am such an old hippy at heart. :)
Tuesday 21st June 2011 - weather: bright but very windy.

Another flying visit, a little earlier than promised in my earlier post, but I had half an hour before I had to begin the school run/mum taxi service, and I really fancied some new pots with my salad, so I swung by the allotment. It is amazing what you can achieve in a very short space of time. I tied in and removed all extra shoots on my tomato plantation and am pleased to report that there is a smattering of baby toms on most plants. HOWEVER, I am less than pleased to announce that I think my lottie neighbour already has blight on her spuds. Eeek. So early!!

After the tomato job I dug 2 Kestrel plants up and furtled around in the soil and found over a dozen decent sized spuds. Not bad considering the drought, and they are such a lovely potato, definately to be grown again next year. I am just digging up a plant as I want the spuds, so with this current wet spell, the tats are just getting bigger and creamier by the day. I still have International Kidney, Maris Piper and another....whose name escapes me. I also grabbed a handful of fat pea pods, 2 beetroot, a handful of broad beans, 3 perfect spring onions (better, plumper and whiter than I have ever purchased or grown before), and an asparagus spear. I had a late lunch on site, 2 strawberries, a handful of white strawbs and a bigger handful of raspberries.

Before dashing off, I quickly weeded around my only successful onion patch. Looks like we will have some decent sized onions even after the complete lack of rainfall when they needed it most. If only the reds would catch up, but I think they have had it.

Promise I won't be back on the allotment until Friday...promise.
Tuesday 21st June 2011 - weather: changeable

Sorry dear readers, I have been slacking with the Blog. Of course, since my last entry I have been to the allotment numerous times, however, I haven't had the chance to do any full days, lots of hours here, half an hours there, but no dedicated time. Life has just been a rollercoaster with family events, animal husbandry and work work work.

So, to recap. The allotment is so very grateful for the recent rainfall. For a brief spell, East Anglia, our region, was in an official drought. Farmers had to ration water on their crops, rivers and streams were running dry and trees started shedding leaves like autumn. Now however, lawns are again green, crops are pert and blowing in the breeze and the weeds are growing quicker than I can oik them out. I have sown a lot of seed on the plot as I am determined not to have bare patches or miss out, so I have rocket, dill, coriander, lambs lettuce, Kohl Rabi, dwarf french beans, radish and carrots all sown direct and starting to germinate thanks to the rain. I have also sown seeds at home in modules to fill in caps and so far have beetroot, turnips, chard, spinach, florence fennel, french beans, lettuce, purple sprouting broccoli and pak choi. At home, already growing as strong plantlets I have leeks, lettuce and an array of brassicas. I also have a few straggly tomatoes and squash plants that I may just poke in around the edges rather than compost them. So, the theory behind this sowing madness is that everytime I dig up a potato plant, for example, I rake the soil down, give it a light feed, then plant something immediately in its space.

Things are growing well on the plots. The toms are big and bushy and desperately need their side shoots nipping off and tying in. The sweetcorn plants are growing fast now thanks to the rain, as are the brassicas. In fact, I am planning to start harvesting some of the purple kale now before the horrid white fly strikes. The squash plants still look a little weedy, but they have time and once they get going, there is usually no stopping them. We have had a few courgettes already and there is a baby butternut developing nicely. The raspberries have been a joy, as they always are. Glen Ample is a really good, large berry, sweet and delicious. I have a few unamed strays that have wandered onto my plot from surrounding plots, and they all come a few weeks later which is perfect. The strawbs were okay....we started picking them weeks ago, but because they were so dry, a lot were small and seedy. The first flurry were devine and I noticed there are still flowers and fruits, so hopefully now we might get a late picking.

Directly sown seeds are patchy, aren't they always, but the gaps soon fill either with the same plants, or I fill gaps with other things. The parsnips are big and busy, but from a short row, I think there are only about a dozen plants. The carrots are all patchy, but I just keep sowing those as we don't mind them finger thin or arm thick. The spring onions and beetroot which I sowed in modules in very early spring and planted out and fab and we are already enjoying the thinnings. We have had our first few feeds from the peas, but the marrow fat style have out performed the petit pois varieties. Again, I have sown more directly and they are through and romping away. I will sow more of those directly. In fact, I will continue to sow right into August with the faster growing and hardier crops as I have found on our sheltered site, things grow almost 12 months of the year.

I have taken Friday off work to spend the entire day on the plot, so I will have my trusty camera to show off my labours. I shan't have to water which will be a relief, but I know the weeds are growing thick and fast thanks to these wet, warm, bright days.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday 22nd May 2011 - Quail Diary

It has been a hair raising, or should that be feather ruffling few days here due to the renewed presence of a bold fox. As you may recall, we lost our last flock during late winter when a fox bashed his way into the Quailarium, killing at least one birds, and setting the rest free. People don't realise they can fly. Well let me tell you, they certainly can, straight up and away. After this tearful event, Hubby went about reinforcing the Quailarium with galvanised wire, sleepers and paving slabs. Well reader, I am glad to report that the fox proofing worked. Not to say the red fiend hasn't had a very good try at getting in, digging up my pot of mint which stands alongside the Quailarium and generally scratching around and making a mess, but he couldn't get in. We know that it is a fox because our neighbour but one was eating her brekky and glanced up the garden only to see Mr Fox (or Mrs) sunning itself on her lawn. Then, that very night, the foxes were in the street making such a racket. To be honest, it sounded like a young woman was being killed! The neighbours shot out hunting for their cats, and the foxes shot off down the road, 2 of the buggers.

Anyhow, Hubby gave the house the once over, and did even more reinforcing to make absolutely sure no uninvited guests could make themselves at home, so much so that if there is a threat of an atomic bomb being dropped around the Essex area, the family and I will cower with the birds within the Quailarium as it is quite probably stronger than our house.

Still haven't taken the camera up to see the kids, but I did take a piccy of their produce. Egg count is now at 14, not bad as the ladies are only just reaching egg laying maturity, and so far, it seems as if we only have 1 male to 13 girls. What are the odds?

Sunday 22nd May 2011 - weather: very windy and cloudy, but warm.

Someone said to me the other day that my allotment was just like my work, 'same shit, different place'. How wrong they are. The pleasure of bringing home this harvest in mid May is wonderful. Just wait until things really start. By mid July I will be giving my surplus away to the neighbours. There is nothing quite like the taste of an English strawberry, ripened slowly during late spring, or the sweetness of that first freshly podded pea, nothing like those in a tin or from the deepfreeze. But, it is a personal thing. I am in awe of nature and am amazed to watch seeds germinate - it is my 'thing. Other peoples thing might be hitting a golfball around, or catching fish, I don't get it, but that is 'their thing'. Good job we are all different I say.

Anyhow...I digress. A family day on the allotment was forecast as I really needed to plant out the last of the surplus squash plants and hubby had decided that if he filled the compost heap to the brim with manure from the pile, we could plant at least 10 in there and if they do the business, result, if they don't, well, they were destined for the compost anyhow so nothing lost.

Upon arrival of course a row breaks out between adults and eldest child who decided she really didn't want to be on the plot, but, after a lot of letting her cool down, and pointing out the abundance of huge ripe strawberries, she soon calmed and we had a lovely 5 hours on the allotment, including our now legendary BBQ lunch.

So, Hubby and number one son went back and forth to the manure heap which is generously given to us by the farm next to our site. I reakon it took 15 loads to fill the heap. Once filled, I planted an array of squash, all far to close together, really not sensible, but as I said, they were only going to end up on the heap anyway so any fruit will be a bonus. Two cucumbers, turks turban, butternut, sunshine squash, 2 ornamental gourds and 2 atlantic giant pumpkins. They will wander up and over the shed, down over the heap and along the path, in fact, wherever they like. Of course, these buggers will perform better than the molycoddled ones in the pumpkin patch. Sods law!

Number one daughter, after I dragged her away from the strawberry bed, dug up my wilting garlic plants, a variety called Marco. They really shouldn't be ready yet, but with it being so dry on the plot, this variety is dying off so it had to come out before the dreaded white rot set in. To be honest, there is probably enough garlic to last us a year, and I still have another 30 plants, a different variety, growing well.

Monty Don on Fridays Gardener's World made me feel that I wasn't making the most of my allotments when he showed us his frankly stunning veggie garden, so I had taken an array of seeds with me to plug the gaps. Problem is, there really aren't any gaps. I did sow 2 rows of Rocket, 1 of lambs lettuce and 1 of corriander where the garlic had been though. I am also going to plant the last of my brassica plants in amongst my ailing Japanese onions as again, due to lack of rainfall, they haven't bulked up, and a lot are running to seed. I may even just oik them all up next visit and use them as salad onions. The maincrop onions, which I don't normally do due to the white rot, are doing slightly better - if only we would get some rain. My last brassicas are sprouts, purple and white sprouting and some cabbages. My brassicas are planted through weed supressing membrane and are under net to keep the pigeons off. At the end of the row are my beans, a mix of climbing french and runners one side and a row of runners and borlotti planted as seeds the other side.

The generosity of gardeners is constantly felt by me. Not only do many of my customers give me cuttings, clumps, seedlings and flowers from their gardens, but my veggie growing friends are always giving me their spares. I have already had cabbages from Joe, white sprouting from Jack and courgettes from Ray. Then on Friday one of my customers gave me a bundle of leeks plantlets, and today Jack gave me 6 brussel sprout plants along with an big bunch of sweetpeas. I will give Jack some quail eggs when the girls really get into their stride.

As you can see, things are growing well. I am astonished at the state of other peoples plots on our site as I really do seem to be the only one harvesting anything much at the moment.

Before leaving, we had watered, weeded (see windswept me with a handful of mares tail and a handful of dandelions. One for the rubbish heap, one for the animals), and picked strawbs, broadbeans, radish, lettuce and rhubarb and had pulled a couple of onions to cook on the barby to have with our bangers. A very productive day even if we did all come home rather windswept.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday 18th May 2011 - weather: overcast.

Firstly, apologise for the blog looking like this...something odd is happening and my non computer technology brain cannot fathom it. Give me cuttings, seeds, poorly plants and I am your girl. Give me a machine that is playing up, no idea.

After my mammoth visit last Friday I have managed to get in a few half hour visits after work and before doing the school run. I am pleased to report that my test basil plantation has germinated and is growing rapidly. Home made Pesto all round. Also the perennial salad seeds I sowed at the same time are germinating. Beans are starting to poke their noses through as are the peas. The baby sweetcorn bed is germinating more and more but I might have to do some thinning as I forgot how many seeds I had sown, and as I had a dozen or so left in the packet, I shoved them in also...if they all come up, we will be on stir fries for every meal come late summer. The kohl rabi is up - have I said that before? - but the turnips were a no show, so fresh seeds were purchased and sown. The spring onions from seed never showed and as I have planted out hundreds as young plants, I scraped that row and have sown swede over it instead. Of course, now the spring onions will germinate! I have sown more parsnips in the gaps in the row, same with beetroot and carrots. The larger carrot patches have started to germinate, and the blessed rain last night will certainly have helped.

Back again on Sunday with the family and BBQ and will take the camera. Hopefully by then Blogger will be back to normal and I can post properly.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday 16th May 2011 - weather: warm but overcast

It seems my computer is still playing silly buggers, but whilst I can, I thought I would give those interested in my ramblings a quick animal update.

We have invested in 6 mature quail hens to boost our flock. We now have 16 birds and it looks like only one is a male, and he is a rampant boy packed full of testosterone. There is a little bickering in the flock, but I know from last year, this settles, or else the most spitefull quickly become oven ready. Of course, no photos, but I shall correct this over the next couple of days. We have an array of colours from range to fawn to white. We also have 7 fertile bobwhite eggs in the incubator. They take longer to hatch that the Japs and Italian so we have had to do some research. Should be interesting. Egg count so far, only 3. One pure white, one with colour only on it's top and bottom and one healthy speckled egg.

As most of you know, we are the proud owners of 2 new tortoises, Tom and Bertha. They needed a new home that they could ransack, and we have just the spot. They have they whole top end of the garden to call their own, an area put down to bark, grass and paving and has several flower beds and lots of hiding places and they can stomp around and watch the quail in the quailarium if they like. Tom is rampant, another male in the house with a big ole hairy chest, strutting around like Tarzan. Poor Bertha must get a headache from the shell bonking, so we have made lots of obstacles for her to hide behind, and there are several mature shrubs that she can sneak into. They have settled into their wooden home and put themselves to bed every evening as the sun goes in. They will have eaten every dandelion in the neighbourhood, and per instructions, they get regular feeds of softly cooked broccoli and cauli. We also have Travis, our hermans who is now spending all day out with the loving couple, but he comes in at night as he is a softy and lives under lights in a tropical atmosphere.

And here are our other 2 scaley friends. Leccy is a Bearded Dragon and Crystal is a Corn snake. We have had these two characters for approaching 4 years. Leccy should eat plenty of greens along with his locust, but, typical of this family, he refuses anything that contains any vitamins and only scoffs the crunchy insects so we have to make sure they are well fed.
Crystal devours whole mice, nice. She is beautiful and is now 3 foot long, very slender and very soft.

We also have a guinea pig, Pebbles, who is incredibly grumpy and an array of fish, tropcial indoors (2 oscars, 5 silver dollars and a plethera of small community fish) and a pond full of goldfish, frogs and newts. Apart from the guinea, no cuddly pets. I like them scaley or feathered personally, although I fear I will have to give in eventually as the pressure is on to get a dog. Groan.