Sunday, 27 April 2008


The last couple of days have been a lot warmer and this has helped the asparagus to send up shoots. They're skinny little purple spikes and there's only two of them, but I'm delighted. I have seen conflicting ideas about whether to get any crop this year. Some say no stems should be cut this year, some say cut one stem per crown to encourage more stems to grow, some say even two stems per crowns. I have decided to not cut any stems this year because the instructions that came with the crowns suggest so - I think I can wait that long.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Cabbage scoffer

We have a cabbage scoffer in our midst. The little plants have been sitting still, quietly growing, guarded by overhead CDs dangling on a string, but at the edge of the range of the CDs a scoffer snook in. It was probably pigeon shaped.

We planted the remaining cabbages out and put up more CDs, with a better coverage. If the scoffer has still found a way in then I'll put up some netting. We used the greenhouse space left by the cabbages to put the young tomatoes in, which should suit them.

We turned the compost from one bin to the other and watered it well. The sweet peas are thriving but the asparagus is yet to show.

Thursday, 24 April 2008


[Not really allotment stuff]

I have been giving the issue of automatic watering systems some thought. I have some resources and restrictions. I have two large water butts which will have water in all the time. They are not very high (they are below the shed gutter to collect the water) so there is not much pressure. There is no mains electricity. There is a shed and a greenhouse. I have a spare car battery and a solar panel to charge it.

I have searched t'internet for pumps and motorised valves. I can find pumps, including 12v pumps for water supplies in caravans and 12v pumps for garden fountains. I have had no success with any kind of low voltage motorised valve.

I have wondered how to deliver a fixed amount of water to a grow bag or pot. I have tried making a simple syphon with a drinks bottle and some piping, which works as expected, but how to fill it?

As a simple stop-gap I'm going to build a simple two step timer. This will trigger a few times per day and each time it will switch a pump on for a fixed time.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Getting warmer

Spring has sprung, or so it seems. The weather was warm and dry so a bit of sorting out was due. We moved the netting to the new sweet pea spot. They have survived a couple of days - the last lot didn't survive overnight - so the netting frame was moved. It was easier than putting it up originally because there was no tangle.

The cabbages are romping away, so we planted half of them out. They were sown two to pot in case some didn't grow, but they all came up, so we split them up and planted them all individually. A string with some dangling CDs over them should keep the pigeons at bay.

We put some more of the remnants of pernicious weeds into sacks to take to compost, and I knocked down the extremely rotten wooden frame that had been a large compost bin. It didn't take any effort. We then took the rotten wood to the tip along with a pile of plastic and broken glass pulled out from the site. We are still getting rid of rubbish that we didn't introduce, the glass is particularly annoying.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Sweet peas, beans and pumps

We dodged the showers to do a bit more work on the allotment. The remaining sweet peas were getting very tall and floppy, so we planted them out. The last lot got eaten in a few hours, and I think that was rabbits, so this lot were planted inside the fence, so I hope they survive. These nine plants are the last of our sweet peas, so if they got scoffed we're sunk.

We also planted another fourteen broad bean plants. The first row we planted a few weeks ago now have flowers forming. We're holding off sowing the last beans to delay their growth otherwise we'll be overrun with beans all at once. You have to pick them when they're ready, except for the few we will allow ripen fully. These will be next year's seeds.

We have moved all of our leeks up to the greenhouse now. There are about one hundred little plants. I think we can just fit that many into the bed we've set aside for them. They are way too small yet, but the weather forecast is saying that the temperature should go up next week, so things will grow more quickly.

If the temperature goes up, so the need to water will increase. I'm still mulling over the best way to automatically water plants, but no firm decisions yet. I have found a pump from MUTR which is an outfit I have used before. It runs at 3-6v so, since I'm thinking about using a car battery, I'd need to step the voltage down. I think I'd also step the voltage down to a circuit board to time and switch things. This stepping down is worth it I think because a car battery is a big reservoir of energy, I have an old car battery to use and I have a solar powered 12v battery charger ready to use. I've looked at a few simple systems on t'internet, but they don't get any recommendations from people who have tried them.

We harvested some more spinach for a couple of meals which I can really look forward to.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Water, water ...

We popped up to the allotment today to check things out, especially checking that things in the greenhouse are not drying out. They were fine, it has been cold and cloudy for the last few days so they are not dry. This ritual will be repeated throughout the summer and if we put peppers or tomatoes in the greenhouse it will be even more important as the heat increases (if it ever does). I am now thinking of how to water things automatically. We have water butts collecting rainwater, they're full to the brim right now, but the pipework doesn't give much pressure at all because the butts are below the shed gutters to catch the water so have no head to make the pressure, and as the level changes when there's no rain and we use the water the pressure will drop. We also have no power to drive a pump or the like. I'm thinking of how to water things reliably, possibly with solar power. If I get past go I'll describe the set up (and the results) here.

Broad beans are looking good, but not as good as Norman's next door, which have flowers showing. Rhubarb is not far off and the remains of last year's spinach is growing too. Parsnips are fine in their little tents.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

All systems go.

We've just dodged a shower to plant out another couple of rows of parsnips, again under a fleece tunnel. The last lot look fine and the ones in the greenhouse are thriving so we went for it. It is clear that the plants in the greenhouse are doing much better that the ones on window sills at home, which is interesting. At home they are in heated rooms, but the extra light in the greenhouse is clearly what makes the difference.

We've decided to try planting the remaining sweet peas inside the fence - it seems likely that their nemesis was rabbit shaped. There is no sign of asparagus yet, but the spinach is big enough to harvest some for a meal tonight.

The gooseberry bush and currant bushes have flowers on them and they are bursting into leaf. The two small plum trees are also coming into leaf, as are some of the little trees we planted. The rhubarb is growing fast, I think we will harvest some soon.

We tried to remove some more of the weed roots from the hedge bottom, but it was not as easy as I expected. They have rotted down, so much is more like soil and is very heavy, so we don't want to overload the council bin with it. I'm still sceptical that the soil made from these roots won't be full of seeds from nettles, bindweed and docks.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Parsnips in a tent

Yesterday we decided to plant out our first parsnips. The first 15 parsnips growing in their fibre pots had the bottoms cut off the pots so the all important tap root can get away. That root will, of course, be the parsnip we eat next winter. We made temporary cloches with strong wire hoops covered with fleece to protect them for now. This morning they look great.

We took the rest of the parsnips we have started to the allotment greenhouse, to make more room at home. The cabbages are looking great, so they should go out soon, but they need mesh over them to keep the pigeons off.

When I had finished putting up a tiny tent for the parsnips I noticed Jim had a frame that rivals Wembley stadium half complete. He bought it from the internet and I don't think he realised just how big it was about 7 metres long, about 5 metres wide and 2½ metres high. He wants to grow some tomatoes, but will still have enough space to hold a barn dance.

Monday, 7 April 2008

And a partridge on the shed roof

The asparagus crowns arrived today. What great timing. It snowed again overnight and is set to be frosty again tonight. The planting leaflet says plant without delay, so we set off to plant it.

The snow had all melted and the ground was wet but not too sticky. The patch set aside for the asparagus had loads of manure dug in few weeks ago. A pit was dug, about one metre by one and a half and about twenty centimetres deep. Then three ridges were built up along the bottom. The crowns were laid out four to each ridge, with the roots spread out on either side of it. Then they were carefully covered over. There is enough soil left to bank them up if needed.

I now have to wait a whole year before I can cut my first shoot, but if all goes well I could be cutting about 90 shoots each year for twenty years. I do hope so.

The sweet peas we planted have been eaten to the ground. We kept some back just in case, but I don't know what ate them so I don't know how to protect the next batch.

And the partridge ... it was sitting on the shed roof when we arrived. A lovely red-legged partridge. Hey, I hope he's not the sweet pea eater.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Trees 1, Parsnips 0

After a spell of windy, cool weather, today has been warm, calm and sunny. We set off to do a few jobs. The greenhouse is helping plants along, except our parsnips. We put some in the allotment greenhouse, partly to make room at home, and it's been a disappointment. They are wilting and not really growing well at all. I think the fibre pots are drying out too quickly, so that's not a great success yet. We will keep the ones at home where they are until they nearly ready to plant out.

I put some plastic netting up for sweat peas to grow up. I avoided the worst tangle but it was still a bit fiddly. We planted half of the sweat peas against the net - I hope they latch on to it soon. We only planted half in case we're too soon, we have some to fall back on. These are also outside our rabbit fence, so they could be vulnerable to munching.

I cleared some poles and planks from around the edge of the site so we could plant some tree seedlings. They grew in pots all last year so I decided to plant them out to see how they do. There are some hazel, oak, whitebeam and rowan trees. Eventually I want them in the hedge (maybe not the oak) but growing them for a year or two inside the fence will give them a better start.

The forecast is for more cold and windy weather in the next few days. I hope spring starts properly soon.