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.
Friday 13th May 2011 - weather: still hot and dry (and some photos - at long last)

A whole day at the allotment, alone. Can't be bad. Today was tender planting day, so squash and toms. I filled the car with as many plants as I could and headed off. The problem with these tender plants is they have all been growing for several months so are all in large pots, so even in my big old Landie, I couldn't get loads in. I sensed several journeys home were infront of me.

Upon arrival, of course, I was alone on site. No mucking around, down to business. I planted an array of toms; Alicante, Gardeners Delight, Marmande, Roma, Yellow Stuffer, Tigerlla, WhiteBeauty, Rose, Lemon Drop, Idle, St Pierre, Riesentraube, Black Plum, Moneymaker, Costoluto Genovese, Jersey Sunrise and San Marzano. I think that is all. The great time saver is, the leaky pipe watering system clever hubby installed the Sunday before. Once all the toms were planted, I turned the tap on and 20 minutes later, turned it off leaving happy, watered tomato plants. I also planted 8 mixed chilli and pepper plants and 3 aubergine plants at the front of the tom bed.

Squashes next, and after last years failure thanks to our slimey friends, I have grown larger, stronger plants which should withstand a certain amount of munching. An array went in, through weed supressing membrane and in rich planting holes full of ripe manure. I can't remember them all but those I can are; Hooligan pumpkin, Atlantic Giant, Butternut, Cobnut, Turks Turban, Marrow, Marina di Chioggia, Hawk, Arrowsmith, Courgettes green and yellow, 4 different varieties of cucumber - approximately 10 plants, Uchiki Kuri, Sugarsweet, Sweet Dumpling, Watermelon and Honeydew melon. There are also a couple of gourd plants; Caveman's club, Speckled swan and a small gourd mix so it could produce anything. I reakon that should cover all of our squash needs. The irony is, I am alone in my liking for cooked squash, although the family do get it in soups and stews during the winter, but I like it steamed or roasted as a veg in its own right. They love me to grow them purely for ornamental purposes, but I don't mind, I love them all.

By now, I had been home once and filled the car back up with plants, leaving the allotment site empty. When I got back, there was nowhere to park! All the old boys had arrived, Ray, Jack and Joe and even the site secretary was over planting and sowing. You have to understand, for our allotment site, which is small, that is very busy.

The lovely Jack, my allotment buddy, gave me 6 white sprouting broccoli plants and Joe (aka smokey or coughing Joe as he has terrible Emphysema) gave me 6 spring cabbage plants. I never turn down donations, but it does mean I have a shortage of room for my brussel sprout plants. I think they will have to go in once my garlic comes out. I also planted another 8 Cos lettuce plantlets. I am really trying my best to be organised and keep sowing at home in modules so everytime a gap appears, I have something to put in it. I still have masses of plants at home and have just germinated another tray of All Year Round lettuce seeds, runner beans, peas and red sweetcorn.

The turnips haven't germinated but the kohl rabi sown the same day has, so the turnip seeds must have had it. I will buy new and sow again. Parsnips are up, beetroot and carrots are starting to push through. Mixed salad leaves are germinating in dribs and drabs but that is okay as it means I should have plenty to pick as and when, little and often. The baby corn seeds I sowed direct are starting to push through properly now and the childrens rows of carrots are through and are very thick so some careful thinning will have to take place sometime soon.

That was it, time up. Hopefully next week I will be able to make several brief visits after work, and have at least half a day on the plot on Friday again.

Now for some more long awaited photos. As you can see, things are marching along - I seem to be the only person on site harvesting and am regularly picking strawberries, lettuce, spinach and broadbeans. I have also had a couple of spears of asparagus from my one that survived the cull a couple of years back.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday 10th May 2011 - weather: hot hot hot!

Is it ever going to rain again? The poor old allotment is starting to resemble a dustbowl. I have sown seeds, but even with watering from a can, not a lot is germinating. However, the young plants that are in are growing great.

So, since my last report, there have been several short and sweet visits.

On Friday 6th I popped down between jobs and watered and sowed a row of runner beans with my borlotti beans. I did this last year and they are so obviously different that it isn't a problem, and anyhow, you can eat young borlottis like runners so everyone's a winner. I also sowed some more cut and come again salad and sowed a row of basil. Well, I couldn't get the stuff to germinate in pots at home, so, with it being so warm and sunny, I thought why not, nothing to loose and the prospect of a thick row of lovely basil is an enticing thought.

Sundays visit was to lift the membrane in the tomato house, put down a thick layer of my lovely home made compost, then peg down a leaky hose and finally, replace the membrane. The leaky hose fits directly to the waterbutt, so in theory, when all the tom plants are in, I can turn the tap on when I arrive, let it dribble for a while, then the toms will be watered from beneath, reducing water splash, one of the causes of tomato blight, and I should get lovely plump toms in August. The three tom plants that I had already planted have done great and already have flowers on them. The rest will be planted out this coming Friday. I also picked a few ripe strawbs and some salad - an early summer bonus.

Another brief visit took place on Monday for watering and weeding. Even the weekend rain didn't penetrate deeply so I am emptying waterbutts trying to keep things turgid. (I like the word turgid.) I picked a couple more strawbs and my first broadbeans, which although still small, are perfectly formed and delish quickly boiled and served with my home grown salad and home grown peppery radish. Actually, the salad is doing really well and I have managed to do several sowings over several weeks so I should have plenty for the summer.

Finally, today after work. Had an hour so took my sweetcorn plants with me and planted approximately 50. I now have a big blood blister in the palm of my hand which is stinging, but I am pleased to get those plants in and watered.

I may have a chance for a brief visit on Thursday, but I will definately be on site all day Friday and plan to get as much planted as possible.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sunday 1st May 2011 - weather: bright and breezy

No photos...sorry readers. Still having computer issues, but hope to get that sorted later this week so should have a few snaps to show you, including Tom and Bertha, our 2 new residents (who Flora, are doing great, eating us out of house and home and shagging constantly), and photos of the quail and allotment.

News on the quail, the 3 adults are now as free range as flying birds can be in that they have the whole of the extended greenhouse with exterior run to roam and flap around in, the 5 teenagers are in the greenhouse (aka the Quailarium) but housed in the guinea pig run for another 2 weeks, and the unborn are hopefully hatching as we speak...well, 3 eggs had signs of breakage so all being well, by morning there will be new life. Of the 3 adults, at least 1 is a chap, and a noisy chap at that, but he is the incredibly handsome range colour and is very tall, so he will be our stud. We have rather efficiently ringed the broods so we can make sure we know who is who so when we start hatching our own eggs we don't have any dodgy inbreeding going on.

So, the blog is called Allotment News, so what news have I to report. Well, a flying visit last Wednesday (27th April) cutting paths, watering, weeding and sowing more radishes. I also got the runner bean poles up. For me, an allotment isn't an allotment until the runner bean poles are up. A productive, if rather quick couple of hours. The proper visit took place on Sunday with the family. BBQ packed, trailer full of young plants, off we went. As we approached the plot, I saw movement, and sure enough, Mr Muntjac was grazing happily. Hmm, I don't mind him grazing the grass and young spring buds, just wish he would keep off our allotment.

A full day was planned and whilst I planted and watered, watered and planted, hubby erected the last of the muntjac proof netting, he weeded the tomato bed (!!), he strimmed and strimmed and he sorted out and netted the brassica bed and sorted out and netted the strawberry bed. I hate dealing with gets all tangled and flaps around. Of course, he did a lovely neat job and it is all secure, so a big old raspberry to the fat pigeons. I planted caulis, cabbages, sunflowers, lettuce, french beans, florence fennel, spring onions endive chicory, runner beans, 2 squash plants, 3 tomato plants and 1 sweet pepper plant. Just for those of a sqeamish disposition, the pepper is under glass and the toms and squash are just a couple of hundreds I have at home, to be honest, the garden is creaking at the seams with plants so I decided I would take a chance. 'Old Jack' doesn't think we will get any more frosts in Essex, especially on our plot as it is very sheltered and the wind doesn't blow that way, and the sun rises over there, and.... you get the idea. The kids played, watered cooked lunch on the BBQ, argued, watered and then demanded to go home, so that was the end of our day.

Things are looking great, and there are little broad beans already developed, the garlic looks great, if only we would have some rain to help swell those bulbs, the spuds are all through and earthed up, the strawbs are smothered in flowers and already have some small green fruits, the raspberries the same, the beet, spinach, chard and salads that I planted are all growing well and I pulled 4 little marble sized radish to scoff with my burger at lunch time. The seeds are proving very slow at germinating, but of course, I blame lack of rain. The beets are just starting to show, as are the carrots, but I thought parsnips were through, but I don't think they are and there is no sign of the spring onions. Rain dance please!!!