Thursday, 29 December 2011

Last Onions

When we took up the onions there were many more than we have produced before, many of them large and all lovely. I laid them out on the greenhouse shelves to dry and it became the store for them. Yesterday we gathered the last of them and brought them home where they are stored in the bottom of a cool dark cupboard. A few had become soft or mouldy (and were discarded), but most are still firm and delicious.

I hung the garlic in the roof of the shed and we brought the rest of that home too. When I hung it up I didn't wash all of the mud off the bulbs and that was a mistake that I'll try to not make again.

We dug some more leeks too. They continue to be crisp and delicious. We have always dug the biggest stems and until now the smaller ones left in the ground continued to grow, but it seems that now the days are very short they are not growing any more. So the ones we take are a bit smaller than earlier ones and so we need to harvest more for each use. They are still much bigger and better than last year's leeks that needed more water than we gave them.

We are just outside the declared drought area which extends to the Humber in Lincolnshire. That seems to have more to do with the way the water companies have managed the shortage rather than the fact that East Yorkshire got more rain than Lincolnshire - it didn't. Our plot only did well because we watered much more than last year.

Still need to think about what to grow next year ...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

No mud and a moveable fence

I like to stay off the plot across the winter as much as possible. The soil structure can take a real pounding if it gets walked on too much when the ground is wet. With nothing much growing none of the moisture in the soil gets lifted by the plants so it is easy to turn it into mud. We went up to dig some leeks, so you have no choice but to walk on the plot, but I need not have worried, the ground is still not wet enough to churn up easily.

I dismantled the carrot fence that supported the fleece to keep carrot fly out - I should have done it weeks ago. Part of the fence was an old shelf pressed into service to support the fleece. Now I know it works well I'll now make the missing sections to use next year.

People have suggested that we make a carrot bed but I like to rotate as much as possible. Having fruit bushes, rhubarb and asparagus in fixed sites means I want to move as much else around as easily as possible. Having a simple movable fence to protect crops from carrot flies, partridges, pigeons and the like works really well, I just need to make it a bit more sturdy and easy to use.

We are beginning to plan next year's crops, so I'm fishing for suggestions of plants or varieties.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Hasp

A new hasp made our shed safe from the weather, if not the intruders.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Tidy up and broken into

We popped up to check on the state of the plot. We had some plastic uPVC strips that we have built stuff from, but there was a lot left over that we didn't expect to use so we took it to the tip. One of the trees we thought about moving we decided to cut down instead, so that went to the tip too.

Sadly we also discovered that our shed had been broken into. The hasp was broken and stuff inside had been rummaged through, though nothing seemed to be missing. There was no lock on the door, so I don't know why the hasp was broken; the wire holding the door closed is easy to pull out. I expect it was dark.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Move a tree

We planted a few trees around the edges of the plot when we first took it over, not with any particular plan in mind. there were three oak trees, which with hindsight was not the best idea. Two of them have grown to be substantial small trees, crowding out the third. We tried to move one of them which proved to be a lot harder than I expected.

Just dig out the root ball is what the TV gardeners will tell you. What with, a JCB? We dug out what we could, broke two fence posts in the process and had to cut more of the roots than I wanted to but we managed to move it into a gap in the hedge behind the plot. The other, even larger, tree still awaits its movement day.

We have had another round of rabbit hassle, with another hole appearing in the plot, but this time only close to the shed and outside the fenced area. This was filled with stones and a couple of bricks. It looked like it had been dug from below, with no spoil around it, so I'm hoping it was the rabbits' escape route and that by filling it in I have prevented them returning, but we will see. If I have blocked them in they will easily dig a new exit - I just hope my efforts persuade them that somewhere else would be a more pleasant home.

A big pile of cow manure appeared in the car park once again. It is substantially better rotted than the stuff last year, but still it is not what I really like. Too fresh and the ammonia in it causes more harm than good. I decided to not use it this year again. The structure of our soil is pretty good, we can feed the soil in the spring where the crops need it so I think we will be OK without it. The small hedge next to the car park was planted with buckthorn I think and now the berries are splendid.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Next year's garlic

A couple of days ago we planted the garlic for next year. It can be a bit awkward planting stuff at this time of year, because it is usually in the ground the following year when you are ready for planting more stuff. In previous years I've had a plan to work to, though the plan rarely survives long before something changes.

This year's garlic planting has used a bit of the plot we have ignored before, next to the asparagus, so it shouldn't get in the way. I will think about a plan soon. That involves looking back at what worked and what needs to change. I do enjoy reflecting on the goodies we have had and looking forward to what we can grow next year.

More leeks, carrots and parsnips came home with us. Parsnips are very good this year. We will be blanching and freezing some more before the ground freezes.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Thanks to the French beans

The French beans have given given us their last crop. The leaves had begun to shrivel so we dug them up. We took some carrots and some more leeks too.

The parsnips looked good so we dug a couple. They looked particularly good, clean with no canker, a good size and shape. We ended up digging some more and blanching and freezing them for later. The idea of keeping them in the ground until you're ready for them has not worked too well in the past. If the ground freezes digging them up intact is difficult and as they sit, largely leafless, the rot and canker sets in. So this year we're going to steadily dig them up and freeze the ones we don't need right away. Frozen ones work well for roasting, in soup and in stews so it is a good option, if you have the freezer space.
I took a photo over the fields behind the plot, mostly to try out the camera in my new phone. The view never disappoints me; it really is a lovely place to have an allotment.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Warm relief

Freshly sprouted winter wheat as a green haze
A very warm spell has wafted over us. The plot had already wound down, but the remaining French beans might just give us another crop thanks to the warmth. The courgettes just missed it, the sweet corn is almost over any way, carrots are fat and probably won't notice, the leeks should fatten up a bit more.

The warm spell might still do us a big favour. The field behind our plot had oil seed rape earlier this year. That is harvested very early and so the field has stood largely empty for a long time, but recently the field has been ploughed, harrowed and planted. This empty spell may be part of the reason we have been visited by rabbits. The warm weather may have come to the rescue, because the winter wheat in the field has sprouted, so rabbits will have plenty to graze on.

No more rabbit holes
I blocked up the rabbit hole with stones, pushing them as far down as I could reach. The rabbits, or something, moved some of the stones, but not enough to uncover the hole beyond. I keep checking the state of the bank to find new scratchings, but no new holes. I hope the rabbits like young wheat, but I expect Martin, the farmer, won't be so pleased as I am if they chose his crop over mine. Any more incursions and I will buy enough wire netting to cover the bank. If I put that on over the winter, the growth in the spring will embed the netting into the bank properly.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Planning and the end of allotments

I have been listening to the arguments about the planning system for years and years. It has been loaded heavily in favour of developers and large companies for as long as I can remember. When an application is made to build a group of new homes or a new super store it can be turned down with local politicians making a big fuss about how they have protected the local area from the blight of development, knowing that the applicant will appeal to the central planning appeal who often approve the application, but with some modifications. There is no appeal for the locals to prevent an application that has been granted by either process.

There has long been the cosy process where some large company and a local council cooperate to allow some improvement, such as a new road using an unused part of the company's land who miraculously get granted planning permission either to extend their site or build lucrative housing on other land they own.

The current planning guidelines insist that most new houses are tiny boxes with no gardens because they must meet a criteria to cram a certain number of homes into each hectare. They have stupid restrictions that minimise the size of driveways so second cars end up being parked on the roads, blocking the footpaths and cycleways the council insisted on.

All of this, and much more, is badly in need of change, so when I heard the Government was reforming the planning laws I was hopeful. In addition they trailed it by saying that local people would gain more control over the process. As soon as I saw the minister in charge was Mr Pickles my heart sank. I don't believe he is fit to lead a dog for a walk and certainly not lead a Government department and the fiasco he has produced confirms my belief. Actually I don't believe Mr Pickles did write the document, but he is the front man for it.

The essence of the proposed reform is that planning applications in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding natural Beauty and existing green belt will be resisted, but everywhere, everywhere else the presumption will be to approve development of any kind except for coal mines. There will be no option for locals to appeal so developers will have a free-for-all. The worst is that these changes are supposed to promote growth. Great. Lets chase growth by smothering the country with concrete.

Green field sites are an obvious target, but that requires services, like water, gas etc to be extended to the new area. This makes allotments look very vulnerable. Plots of land inside villages, towns and cities, like allotments, are already close to facilities and services so building on them would be easy and cheaper. Cash-strapped councils would make a tidy sum from selling the land for development. You don't think it will happen? Well I want to be sure and the only way is to ensure these outrageous plans are scrapped.

I want the planning laws reformed, but not scrapped. Please write to your MP to object to a free-for-all for developers and to encourage real reform, allowing local plans to determine the local priorities and to remove the opportunities for corrupt and disingenuous practices. If you want any and every piece of green space concreted over don't bother.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Final beetroot

Yesterday we dug up the last of the beetroot. I thought it would be a small harvest, but actually it was loads. Jean boiled it, sliced it, bagged it and froze it so we will have beetroot for some weeks to come. Another batch of French beans have been added to the freezer. As the days get shorter and cooler I'm not sure we'll have any more, but they have been a success and I'd grow them again. We've been taking more sweetcorn and it's lovely, but one of the cobs today has not got many kernels on it, so the fertilisation has failed again this year, at least to some extent. I have tried to take pollen-bearing flowers and dust them onto the female flowers, but clearly I missed that one.

The rabbit trouble continues, with a small hole in the bank next to our plot. I have filled it in with stones picked from the freshly ploughed field next to the bank - the farmer will be happy to have fewer stones and I'm happy to block up the rabbit hole, not so sure about the rabbits though. They have abandoned the hole for now. I don't know if it was me or the fox that left its tracks in the freshly ploughed soil. I'm going to find a way to put wire netting over the bank to deter the rabbits from digging there. There is another rabbit hole near to Jim's plot. There may be a hole under someone's shed too. It seems we need to deal with them quickly to persuade them to move on before our crops are eaten or Jim gets his gun out.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The delight that is fresh sweet corn

There are highlights of the year on the allotment, particularly when each crop is ready for the first harvest of the year. The first asparagus and the first rhubarb herald the spring, the first beans and the first salad crops the start of the summer season. All of these I look forward to, but none as eagerly as the first sweet corn. Today it arrived.

Our first cob was ready, with brown tassels and a fat cob so I opened the leafy parcel to reveal the little corn kernels which produced a milky ooze when squeezed with a thumb nail. That means it was ready to eat. I took one cob to try and it was wonderful. We have many more to look forward to.

Once you have tried really, really fresh kernels you will always be disappointed by the ones shops sell - they can never be fresh enough.

We also took some carrots, beetroot, French beans, courgettes and Jim gave us a cucumber which was also very much tastier than a shop-bought one, just because it was so fresh. Jim does know a thing or two about growing good stuff too.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

More rabbit trouble

The fence around the plot was patchy, with some of it from before we took the plot over. Last winter some of it collapsed under the weight of snow and rabbits invaded by clambering over the mound of snow with a collapsed fence under it. When the snow had melted we still had a problem with a warren that had an entrance into the plot and a hole in the fence that had gone unnoticed. All of this we dealt with, including replacing parts of the fence with a new one. Part of the plan was to move some of the fruit bushes to a space outside of the fence near the hedge between the plot and the fields. This turns out to be a mistake.

Rasps stripped by rabbits
The unfenced raspberry canes have been eaten by rabbits. This is a serious loss, because next year's fruit would have grown on the canes the rabbits have eaten, so we will get much less fruit, if any, next year. Fortunately I had only moved the raspberries, I was going to move the gooseberries and blackcurrants too, but I hadn't decided the best way to do it. Now I need to fence the fruit space first, which is a nuisance because I used the unfenced space as a way onto the back of the plot without needing a gate. Now I need to think again.

We have dug the remaining onions, taken some lovely carrots and more beetroot is boiling in the kitchen. We planted out some broccoli along with some spring cabbage Rob gave us - I have covered the young plants to keep the birds off. The sweet corn is forming more cobs, but none are ready yet. Leeks are swelling nicely. We sowed some spinach to grow in the cooler autumn days which it seems to like.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

More produce and a chewed door.

Today we took a break from building work at home and went to harvest some more produce. Jim gave us another of his lovely cucumbers and we pulled some carrots, courgettes (of course), beetroot, French beans and spring onions. Some the onions we dug last time have dried gently in the greenhouse and are ready for use. A few are slightly softer than others so we took these to use first, hoping the others will store for longer. All of the onions look good, with the average size much bigger than last year.


The sweet corn is coming on nicely. Cobs are forming, with the tassels collecting precious pollen. The top, male flowers are bursting with pollen, so things look good. I suspect the first ripe cob is still a couple of weeks away, and there looks to be lots of cobs forming so we should be overrun with wonderful sweetcorn very soon.

The site is on the edge of the village, largely surrounded by fields with a woodland nearby. There are often wild visitors on the site, especially attracted to so much food in such a compact space and like all allotment holders people here try to stop their precious produce falling into the clutches of crop-noshers. Fences keep rabbits out most of the time, nets keep birds and some insects off fruit and cabbages, more elaborate fruit cages and green houses help too, string, silver foil, CDs and other deterrents dance in the wind and a couple of plots even boast scarecrow. None of this stuff protects my shed door from attack.
The close-up picture shows the way the surface of the door has been systematically scraped away, probably by the jaws of wasps to carry off to make the paper that their nest is made of. Oddly enough, we haven't seen may wasps this year, but they must be out there ...

Friday, 12 August 2011

End of the peas

The mange touts have been pretty good, after a sticky start with partridges helping themselves, but now they have finished. I pulled them up while Jean did some much needed weeding. I checked our hazel nuts, which are ripening nicely and have not been found by squirrels or jays. The sweetcorn is producing more cobs. They are beginning to get tassels and the male flowers are beginning to open. I've been trying to shake the pollen onto the cob tassels.

There were some french beans to take. They have not turned out to be as prolific as people told us they would be, but they are very good to eat and they freeze well too. There were some more carrots, which are a good success this year, after a couple of failed years. Naturally there were courgettes. The neighbours are beginning to hint that they can't keep up with the supply. Next year we must grow fewer plants.  The onions are laying down, so I pulled about half of them and laid them out in the shelves in the greenhouse to dry. I would have pulled more but the shelves are full. They smell fantastic.

Our leeks are fattening up now the ground has been soaked. One thing I noticed is that Tony has just planted out a bed of very small leeks. I think these are intended to be picked in the spring, which sounds a really good idea. It's too late to grow them now, but we might try that next year.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Rain, produce and weeds

The latest dry spell broke with very heavy rain showers. The plot has benefited from the rain, which does so much more good than we can ever do with a watering can. Over the last week we have had some beetroot, which is very sweet and succulent. We have had lots of mange touts and a few good harvests of French beans. The courgettes have been prolific, one harvest produced 8 good sized courgettes and then more a couple of days later. Our spring onions have been delivering well. Carrots have begun to produce very good roots which are sweet and so crunchy.

Sweet corn is showing the male flowers on some stalks and the beginnings of a few cobs are forming too. The rain should help them. The rain will also swell the leeks which look good, but the need the water to swell while the days are still long. The onions are looking very good. Some of their tops are laying down, but they are not shrivelling yet so we will leave them in the ground until they do.

Jean has sown some broccoli, which is growing very fast. It was sown a bit late but it is experimental winter crop this year.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Going nuts

When we first took over plot 18 we planted a few small trees around the edges. Some were hazel trees and I thought that maybe we would see a few hazel nuts in many years to come. Well just four years on we do indeed have hazel nuts on one of our trees. I tried to pollinate some of the female flowers with a catkin from another tree and it seems to have worked. Now I need to work out when the nuts will be ripe, and hope the local squirrels don't find them. Six hazel nuts will not make a feast - maybe more next year.

We also took the last of our gooseberries yesterday along with five courgettes and our first carrot  - another little success. There were a good take of mange touts and sweet peas too.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Dwarf french beans

We spent some time watering the plot this morning. Promised rain came to very little and no more rain is forecast this week, so it was needed. The good news is that the dwarf french beans have produced a crop. When we looked closely it was more substantial that I had thought. We took a few spring onions too. A few of the beetroot are swelling so we might have some of those soon too.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Hungry army

A very useful visit to the plot this morning gave us half a kilo of broad beans (out of their pods), another half kilo of gooseberries, some mange touts, a big bunch of sweet peas, our first spring onion, two courgettes and the army arrived but too late.

The broad beans have caught up a bit but they have still not produced as many pods as in years before. Some of the plants were so badly attacked by black fly that they had no useful pods on them. We have taken the last pods only to find the plants were covered in an army of seven-spot lady bird larvae. They should much through the black fly, but they arrived too late for the beans.

The gooseberries are all ripening nicely. There will be loads more yet, they are just a pain to pick with the thorns being carefully positioned to defend each juicy berry. Some more mange touts were ready with the plants growing nicely having recovered from the partridge attack. I wonder if ladybird larvae will attack partridges.

The courgettes have responded to the water we have given them, and some rain has helped. The first two fruit were ready with more growing. The spring onions are doing very well, so we took one to try. I also dug up the first garlic, but the stem was still too hard so they can stay in the ground to fill out some more yet. The French beans are growing well, but they are not quite big enough to pick yet.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Mange touts

The summer is really upon us, with warm, sometimes hot, days. The long days have pushed everything into growth spurts and so lots of water is needed. We still haven't had plentiful rain, but June was a bit wetter than the previous three months. Today we paid two visits, the second in the afternoon was after we saw how much work was needed from a brief visit in the morning. There was a lot of weeding with a hoe and by hand, a lot of watering and the reward was our first mange touts. Not many yet but the plants, suitably watered, weeded and protected from partridges and pigeons, now look strong with flowers and a few more small pods. The time from flower to edible pod is quite short so we should have some more to eat later in the week.

We took another batch of sweet peas. They just go from strength to strength - the more you cut the more grow to take their place.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Hmmmmm

One of the things I look forward to each year is the first crop of broad beans. We have just pulled a few pods that are just about ripe. This year I'm experimenting with taking the pods a bit earlier to, hopefully, get beans that are more tender and sweeter. We'll see how that turns out when we eat them this evening.

We took more fruit too today, about a kilo of blackcurrants and 350g of strawberries. I feed the courgettes with tomato food to encourage the flowers they are just producing to turn into fruit.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Useful things

I made a few frames in the past because I thought they might be useful. They are simple things, wooden rectangles with reinforced corners covered either with plastic mesh or chicken wire. They have short plastic legs screwed the ends so that when the frames are stood on their edge they are resting on the plastic legs, which can be pushed into the ground to help support the frame. The plastic doesn't rot. When two frames are stood either side of a few rows netting can be spread across the top and the ends to keep the plants safe inside. Clothes pegs are very useful for holding the netting or fleece strung over these frames. Two of the frames have the legs at right angles to the frame so the frame is supported 15cm above the ground by the legs so crops can grow under them. The netting on that wraps over the edge to reach the ground.

When I made them I thought they would be useful and I was right. Of course they were not my idea - I copied the frames other people were using. I added the legs as my contribution to the evolution of the idea. Currently the two flat ones are covering the strawberries and some of the beetroot, the biggest two are protecting some leeks that would otherwise be outside if the fence and likely to become rabbit food. Another two, with the addition of some plastic netting,  are keeping the birds off our peas. The remaining two were being used to protect the French beans, but they are now big enough to not need defending, so I moved them to protect the carrots.

Yes, we do have some carrots! I have three short rows of them and room for two more rows which I will sow shortly. The carrots need to be protected from carrot fly, so I have used the frames to hold up a double layer of fleece which should do the job. Having struggled to grow carrots in the past I don't want to lose them to the dreaded fly.

We have been picking strawberries and blackcurrants in the past week, with a good crop so far of both and more to come. Gooseberries are ripening slowly, though some are splitting after the rain as they swell too quickly. The broad beans are stunted, for the second year. We will get some beans but not as many as I would like. Next year I'm going to research some different varieties. Courgettes are growing, though a bit more slowly than other people's. Our sweetcorn is looking good too. French beans have flowers and the leeks are growing well. Our winter onions and garlic both look promising. We have been nipping off the garlic flowers so they put their energies into growing the bulbs. A few onions have bolted so we ate them straight away. The spring onions are doing well, growing them in pots and planting them out in small clumps seems to work well. The summer onions look great with only one flower so far. The peas were set back by the partridge eating their leaves, but they are growing well now, though no sign of flowers yet. Sweet peas have their first buds showing.

Some decent rain has finally halted our march between plot and tap and we can now look forward to some great vegetables.

Monday, 6 June 2011

More fruit

Another batch of strawberries, which will become jam, and our first batch of blackcurrants were ready today. The leeks got some extra water to ease them over the shock of being planted out. Everything else looks good.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Last leek

The rest of the leeks went out today, except the few we gave away. I sowed a few more carrot seeds, I'm wondering if I'm wasting my time, I don't seem to have orange fingers.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

A flood of leeks

 I'm not sure what the collective noun for leeks is, but a flood of leeks sounds quite good in a pun sort of way. Anyway, we planted a flood of leeks today. It was more than half of the leeks we have in the greenhouse. The space I had reserved for them was too small, partly because Jean spaced them more widely than I would have done and partly because more survived the processes of potting and growing on than we expected. We now have to find a home for more leeks, that might involve giving some away. A flood of leeks is also appropriate for the amount of water needed to settle them in. We plant leeks, like most people I think, by making a hole with a dibber (the sharpened handle of an old hoe in my case) popping the leek in the hole and filling the hole with water rather than earth. Today the water just ran away in a second, so we used rather a lot.

The first of our strawberries have ripened. I put a frame over them with a plastic mesh on it to keep the birds off, sadly something got in and nibbled a few of the most ripe, most succulent berries - I suspect a mouse. One thing about the very dry weather is that slugs are not a problem this year. The strawberry patch is looking quite full, so I'm going to extend it a bit and use the runners from this year's plants to populate the extension. I might go mad and add a frame around it to just mark out the space. The removable frame would need re-sizing or perhaps a extra one adding to keep the size manageable so I need to think that through. I can do that while munching on strawberries later.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Sweet corn

Over the weekend and the Spring bank holiday there was some decent rain. The ground is damp, not wet, and it is starting to dry out again. I was expecting that the rain would have given us a little reserve in our water butts too, but sadly they are empty. The tap was not properly closed, so any rain ran out.

We have planted out our sweet corn in a block. There were 27 plants, so we could be overrun with cobs later in the year, I certainly hope so. The peas that were eaten by a partridge are producing the beginnings of a few new leaves, so they might yet survive.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

French beans

Our first attempt at growing french beans seems to be going well so far. We planted six bean plants out today, they look strong with great roots. I covered them with a side frame and netting clipped to the fence - I don't know if hungry partridges like french beans, but I'm not taking any chances.

When we arrived at the plot it was raining, quite hard too. I still watered much of the plot, which seemed a bit odd in the rain, but the effort-free water had only dampened about a millimetre, my watering cans go further. The rain soon slowed and stopped, but it all helps.

We took another batch of the quite delicious spinach. There looks to be one more batch to take before there will be a gap since the next sowings are growing but not quite ready to go out, let alone ready to harvest.

We found a few pinkish strawberries, with many more growing which is great news. Gooseberries are fattening up too. The first batch of beetroot is looking in good shape and spring onions are picking up after a few good doses of water.

Watering is time-consuming and boring but it does mean we will get crops that otherwise would have failed completely.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Disappointments

 Anyone who has read this blog will know I want rain. The ground at the allotment is bone dry. Our plot is the furthest from the each of the two water tanks, so fetching water is a slow business. Our water tanks gathering rain from the shed roof were empty months ago. I refilled them with a hosepipe from the mains supply, using a hosepipe is frowned upon, but they were quickly emptied again. Our fruit bushes have produced berries, but now the black currants are dropping the fruit and some is shrivelling up. I just can't give them enough water. It is disheartening to put the effort in only to see the plot shrivel up in front of you, and it isn't even hot yet.

Various plots on the site have been raided by partridges. We know it was them because they were seen. They have stripped brassicas and peas of their leaves, mangetouts in our case. I have covered them now, but some cabbages have been stripped under netting, it seems the very strong winds over the last couple of days blew the netting open.

We planted out the courgettes, french beans and sweet corn will be soon, though that just makes more stuff to water on the plot and they are all thirsty. I have stopped taking asparagus already to give the plant chance to grow. They were suffering with the lack of rain and I need them to continue producing for years to come. Our latest attempt to grow carrots doesn't look good. There may be a few seedlings, but only a few. The tops of some of our winter onions look to be starting to turn down, which is the sign that they are getting ready to harvest. The problem is the bulbs are only the size of golf balls - the drought again.

I am very glad this is not how I earn my living.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Looking forward to peas

It has rained a little bit over the past few days. Only a bit, but it all helps. We popped up to water the plants in the greenhouse and a little shower met us as we arrived. The mange-touts look strong so we planted them out. Their roots were very dense so they should do well. We only watered the mange-touts in and left the rest of the plot to rely on the rain showers. I cut some more asparagus which was a bit bigger than I expected, it just keeps growing, but only because we watered it. The local growers are complaining of a largely stunted crop because of lack of rain.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Lovely onions

Three more winter onions bolted. They were lovely, but I would have prefered to let them grow to full size. Some rain has fallen, but the ground quickly dried up and no more rain is forecast for days.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.8

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bolting onions

The winter onion bulbs are beginning to swell but unfortunately a couple have developed flower bulbs, known as bolting. We know that as soon as the flower starts to grow the bulb suffers, so I pulled them up and we will eat the small bulbs in a salad. A couple of years ago we grew both white and Japanese winter onions and the Japanese ones didn't bolt. This autumn I will try to get Japanese ones (the current ones are white) to see if that really makes any difference. Maybe we'll grow both again.

The long promised and awaited rain shows no sign at all of appearing. Today is bright and sunny. There was a sharp frost last night, with some potato tops on other plots getting nipped. We have continued to water, especially the tender stuff. The beetroot we put out is really not doing well, but we have another batch in the greenhouse and more seeds to sow. There is no sign yet of the carrots sprouting.  One thing that has become abundant is the wood pigeon. They seem to be everywhere and in great numbers. We will need to protect things that go out from the pigeons. This can be either by netting them (the plants not the pigeons) or hanging CDs over them on strings as a scarer which seems to help keep butterflies off too.

Courgettes and French beans are both doing well in the greenhouse. I hope that our timing is right, so that as they as big enough to plant out the frosts should be over - neither will stand any frost at all.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

It really has been dry

A quick visit to water and harvest. We took our first spinach of the year and cut some more asparagus, this time to give away. We watered most things again. Still no sign of any carrots.

The new month means the weather statistics are being published for April. it seems that it has been the warmest April since 1659 and the driest month (not just April) on record. The recording station at Leeming only received 2mm of rail all month. This is following a record-breaking dry March, so all of the watering really has been necessary. The temperature extremes are most marked given that December was one of the coldest on record too. Climate change really is happening, though predicting the details is almost impossible. 

The last time we had a hot, dry spring (2007) it was followed by such torrential rainfall that Hull and surrounding areas were very badly flooded, even leading to loss of life. I would like some rain (lots of rain) but not that much.

Many people have told me not to water the allotment, with stories of how it will encourage only surface roots or how the plants will be dependant on me watering. I don't know if any of this is true, but I do know that last year when we didn't water we got poor crops. I'm still not sure why watering is any different from rainfall. It's not as if rain somehow fills the ground from below. Water is vital to all plant growth, leaves need the water to combine with carbon dioxide (and a few trace nutrients) to make all of the sugars the plant needs to grow, light being the energy source to drive it. Plants are largely carbon from the CO2 and hydrogen from the water. Without water they cannot grow. I'll see what happens, but our plants will be watered if it doesn't rain.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Busy day

A fine, warm Easter Monday tempted out a lot of people up to their allotments, including a few new faces. Roz seems to have persuaded a bit of turn over so plots get properly used which I agree with, especially since there is a waiting list.

We planted out some beetroot which is getting too tall and leggy in the rather-too-warm greenhouse. We watered things that looked dry, especially the newly sown carrots and the planted out beetroot. The broad beans have flowers, so they got some extra water. The strawberries are covered with flowers, so they got some water.  The spinach is looking lovely so that got some water. The asparagus is sending up even more shoots, so that got some water. The sweet peas are beginning to reach up their sticks so they got some water. The winter onions are beginning to swell so they got some water. The garlic is throwing out extra leaves so it got some water. The raspberries are looking stronger than I expected given they were moved, so they got some water. All of the seedlings in the greenhouse looked dry so they got some water.

The tanks are getting emptier again, so rain is needed or a huge topping up session. 
Winter Onions

Broad bean flowers
Strawberry flowers
Spinach

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

French beans

Every year we have tried to grow something new to us. This year it is dwarf french beans. The consensus seems to be that they are prolific, so you don't need many plants and that they are not hardy so they need protecting from frost. We sowed our first batch today and that may be the only batch we need. We also sowed the next batch of beetroot and some courgettes. All of these are in the greenhouse to germinate to ensure they stay frost-free. We will grow more courgettes than we need because the process of transplanting them from pot to ground doesn't always work. We have sown more french beans than I think we need, just because I don't know how they will perform. Unused plants are easy to give away.

The ground is thoroughly warm and very, very dry. Without rain soon we will have to soak the ground just as preparation for planting.

We took some more asparagus today; it will probably get used at lunch time. The spinach is looking very strong and is responding well to watering. Our strawberries look good, with lots of flowers already. The blackcurrants and gooseberries have lots of flowers and hold the promise of a bumper harvest. The warm weather has brought things on quite quickly, I just need to keep up with watering to swell the fruit.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Spring onions

The first batch of spring onions got potted on today, three to a pot. They then went up to the greenhouse to harden off, although the temperature is so warm (21°C today) they will probably wilt rather than harden. The asparagus is getting into its stride. We took some more with some rhubarb. There will need to be some more watering soon since there is no rain in the offing.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Asparagus and weeds

A leisurely visit to the plot with a couple of jobs in mind turned into a watering session. The ground is dry as dust and newly planted things were very dry. Jean planted out the spinach - which looks very promising, I harvested some asparagus - our first this year - and transplanted a strong looking raspberry plant. It had grown up close to where the raspberries used to be so I moved it to where they are now, filling a gap where a plant hadn't survived the winter. I weeded the strawberries, which are filling out nicely and have a few flowers showing. Jean weeded the winter onions and planted the last few sweet peas. I added a few more canes for them to climb.

We then watered the freshly planted spinach and sweet peas and after checking the rest of the plot we watered the asparagus, broad beans, summer onions, parsnips and raspberries. I would have liked to water the other fruit bushes which have flowers on them, but our water tanks are nearly empty. I estimate we have used about three hundred litres of water in the last few weeks, and the thirsty plants are not sown yet. A few very wet days would be welcome to water the plot properly and refill the water tanks, but nothing is in sight.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sickly beetroot

We start our beetroot in pots, a couple of seeds in each pot and then they go out as soon as they look big enough. We sow them in batches so the beets are ready through the season. Our first batch of beetroot started off well, but much of the young plants have keeled over an died. We have taken the remaining ones to the greenhouse in the hope that they will like the cooler space. We have sown a lot more to try to catch up.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Rain in sight

We planted the remaining parsnips out today. They look puny, but they should be fine. The first batch of sweet peas were big enough to go out two to a cane.

The weather forecast is for heavy rain in a few days, I hope they are right. The local weather forecaster is hoping for no rain to set a new record for minimum rainfall in March. I hope he is disappointed.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Going well

We took the remaining pots of leeks from the first batch of sowing up to the greenhouse along with the second batch of parsnips. The parsnips will need to grow a little before they go out. The second batch of leeks have been potted. When they have settled down they will follow the first batch up to the greenhouse.

The newly planted parsnips look great. The soaking we gave to a few areas of the plot are still visible. The second asparagus spear has appeared but is still too small to cut. I put up a string of CDs to keep the birds off the onions. Pigeons and crows sometimes pull up the onion sets when they see the tops poking out of the soil. Once they sprout they are safer, the birds don't seem to like onions.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Plantings, insects and nuts

The unusually warm weather has encouraged us to plant some of the hardy plants out. It has also stirred the insects and birds. Around Plot 18 there are great tits, robins, blue tits, dunnocks, sparrows and blackbirds all showing signs of pairing up and gathering nesting materials. The winter flocks of tits have broken up. We saw a crow flying past struggling to stay airborne under the load of the stick it was carrying. Insects and spiders are on the move, with a particularly large number of ladybirds this year. We've see our first bees and butterflies and spiders race for cover with almost every footstep on the ground.

We took up some leeks, spinach and sweet peas up to the greenhouse. Our leeks have potted up particularly well this year, looking strong and upright. The earliest batch of parsnips had the tips of their roots showing at the bottom of their tubes so they had to go into the ground to keep the disturbance of that root to a minimum. Jean used a bulb-planter to cut a hole in the freshly raked soil to drop the parsnip, tube-and-all, into the ground, then carefully fill in around the tiny plant to cover the cardboard tube. The tube will quickly rot away if it is buried.

The leeks will sit in the greenhouse for some weeks until they are a thick as a pencil before they go out, the spinach might take a couple of weeks but some of the sweet peas will be ready to go out sooner than that. I'm going to try training each sweet pea up a single cane this year to see if that will work.

Some years ago I gathered a few seeds in the autumn: some acorns and hazel nuts and a few holly, rowan and whitebeam berries. many of them grew in pots, not the holly, and when we got the allotment I transplanted a few around the edges of the plot. This year we have our first female flowers on the hazel. They are tiny flowers (sorry about the picture) and there are a few male catkins around. I tried to dust the flowers with pollen from the catkins because with luck we will get a few hazel nuts. Not what I had expected to grow on the allotment, but why not?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Broad beans, onions and water

Broad beans
The air was slightly warmer with a gentle breeze and as dry as a bone. The forecast for the week is dry and warmish, so it seemed the right time to plant out the broad beans. They have been sitting in the greenhouse to keep them cool and stop them growing too fast. If they do grow too quickly they get floppy so when they get planted out the first bit of wind blows them over and possibly snaps the stem. That isn't always too bad, because the plant usually grows on again and is just a bit later to produce beans. The ground was very, very dry, so they needed a lot of water to set them on their way. I strung up some simple supports until the have got used to being out.

Winter Onions
I marked out the rest of the plot with little marker sticks. It gives us an idea where to plant things when their neighbours are not ready to plant yet. To do that I need to know what the spacing is for the plants in the rows and between the rows. This varies for different plants and can be varied to stimulate different growth, for example wider spacing of onions can help to grow bigger bulbs. I can't remember the spacing from one year to the next, so I look them up, but that means remembering to do that before going to the plot. We do have a printed copy of the plan pinned up in the shed so it occurred to me that printing the spacing on it would mean I had a copy there, so when I've finished writing this I'll add the spacing to the plot plan and reprint it.

While Jean planted the onion sets in neat rows, guided by a string line, I watered the asparagus, strawberries, garlic and winter onions. As I watered the asparagus I noticed the first spear has just emerged, so the season will soon start for real. The winter onions are beginning to look a bit stronger after sitting under snow for weeks.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Using the tube

For the past few years we have chitted our parsnips and then grown the sprouted seeds on in a pot or a cardboard tube before planting them out. This year we have done the same again. The first batch of 26 have sprouted, been potted, or should that be tubed, and are now in the greenhouse, with the second batch sprouted and tubed. They will go up to the greenhouse as soon as the leaves appear.

The plot looks tidy but very, very dry. There has been little rain since the snow in November and December. We will need to water extensively before we plant anything out and then keep watering until it rains. The forecast is not just dry for the week ahead but warmer, so the broad beans might well go out shortly, but only with a lot of water.

The first batch of leeks have been potted into individual pots today. When they have got over the shock they will go up to the greenhouse to gently grown on for a few weeks before the go out.

We now need to water the asparagus and strawberries to ensure a decent crop of each this year.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Spruce up

The fencing job has left us with a pile of rubbish: old, mangled wire fencing, some broken, rotted fence posts and a couple of old rotten gates. We swept them up into the trailer this morning and took them to the local tip to be recycled.

The broad beans and sweet peas in the greenhouse are doing well, the beans are about ready to be planted out if the weather stays warm.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Plan

The plot is secure and dug over. We already have some winter and perennial crops on the plot and some annuals are already sown, with some growing well. The trouble is that there's no plan as to where everything will go, or al least there wasn't until now.

The newly moved raspberries have made some more space, but somehow it's just been used. We need a big space for leeks and onions, the carrots are speculative and may come to nothing. The sweetcorn and courgettes are best in blocks, so there may be some wiggle room there. The beetroot may spread into some of the space near the strawberries. There's no space for sweet peas - they may go outside of the fence but be protected by a wire cage.

Now we just need it to be a bit warmer and a good downpour and we're all set to go.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Fenced in

The new, step-over fence is now in place, though it needs a bit of finishing off. It is wired along the top for extra support and when I have finished adding a wire along the middle it will be firm and robust. The bottom of the fence is buried in a trench to deter burrowing under it. The joins are trapped between two battens screwed together for strength and to stop the stray ends of wire snagging passers-by.

Meanwhile Jean finished the digging, with the whole plot now dug over, except for where the winter onions, garlic and asparagus are. The broad beans are now safely in the greenhouse to slow down their growth a bit before they are ready to go out.

All that remains is to take the pile of old fencing and some other rubbish to the local tip and we are ready for the new season.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Measuring the size of it

Much of the digging over of the plot has been done. The first part of the fence has been moved, leaving the fruit bushes outside of the fence. I have now measured up the old split and damaged wire fence and I need about 20m to replace it. I'll see what I can find over the next week. We need the fence replaced before we plant anything out, but that's a few weeks off yet so no great rush. As the old fence is removed it is a chance to cut and edge the grass paths around the plot before the new fence is installed. The new battery strimmer should get an outing for just that purpose.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Old bean

All of the broad beans have sprouted. They are growing so quickly in the kitchen that they will soon need to be taken to the cold greenhouse to stop them becoming too leggy. One thing to mention is that these are not growing from beans saved from last year's crop - they got eaten by weevils. These are beans saved from 2009's crop. So eighteen months stored and they all germinate.

The garlic we grew last year looked enough to last until the next crop is ready, as it did last year. Unfortunately it has all spontaneously rotted, in both of the places we store it. So it looks as though the tough growing season last year has left us with weak garlic bulbs as well as all of the other poor crops.

I have put up the temporary table in a spare bedroom to hold some of the trays for allotment seeds and garden seeds that abound for the next few months. Now it just needs to be a bit warmer ...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Digging, gates, fences and holes

Jean continued to dig over the plot. We guessed she has probably done about 30% now. The soil is damp and breaks up nicely without being too sticky, so it seems a good time to be digging. We haven't finalised the layout of the crops this year yet - we need a plan. I have added some blood fish and bone to one area Jean dug over and to the asparagus bed but until I know where things like carrots and parsnips are going I'll not add any more because they don't like it.


Remains of the rabbit hole
I repaired a gate that was spare and fixed it to the shed. Then cut a gate post from a suitable piece of tanalised timber, dug a hole to mount it in put the post in and back-filled the hole. This gate post is going to form the start of the new fencing. It does look as though some of our fencing is past its best, with holes and tears in some of it. Some of the fencing was on the plot when we arrived and it looks as though we need to replace it. I think I'll use fencing that is not so high on some parts so we can just step over rather than needing gates. This works well for other people.  When we were leaving I looked closely at the old fence and found two holes which are easily rabbit sized, which explains how they exited from the plot when they vacated their warren. This all needs to be repaired before we can plant any new plants. When we foolishly planted some sweet peas outside of the protection of the fence in a previous year they where eaten to the ground the next day, so rabbit proofing is important.

The village has the first signs of blossom showing, crocuses are out in the verges and daffodils are rapidly pushing up. On our plot the blackcurrant and gooseberry buds are opening up and the rhubarb is starting to push through. We'll see if there are any raspberries that have survived - there do look to be a couple of canes with buds. The strawberries have suffered by being half buried by the excavations made by the rabbits, but some should be fine.

I'm looking forward to getting some stuff in the ground, but as always the preparation is important and that's not finished yet.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

We're off

Suddenly it all happens. The broad beans we sowed a week ago are starting to show. We sowed leeks today and started the parsnip seed chits too. Jean dug a bit of the plot while I worked out the layout of the fence alterations. Jean found a few parsnips that we had missed under the snow. They have sprouted and are woody, so they are in the compost bin.

The rabbits seem to have evacuated their hole, with no sign of activity at all. If they are still absent in a couple of days I'll properly fill the entrance hole and celebrate a victory.

The raspberries we moved last year seem to have suffered badly. They were uprooted and moved and soon after the very cold weather and snow followed and I don't think they have survived. It looks like we might have a year with less fruit. I'm going to leave them alone to see what does grow because if I need replacements I would plant them in the autumn. They were part of the original plants on the plot left from the previous tenant, so if we buy some more I could choose what varieties we would like. If some survive I could still top up with a few new canes later this year.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The big dig

The rabbits have fought back, surfacing once more inside the fence of the plot. The only way forward seems to be to dig them out. We started today, but they are deep. I will not give in now until they have gone. We will see what happens over the next few days.

As an aside, the last of last year's broad beans will be on the table tonight.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Rabbit flaps

It has been a quiet time on the allotment, as you would expect at this time of year. The ground is still wet so walking on it just turns everything to mud and damages the soil texture. The best thing to do is to stay off the ground.

There are jobs that need doing though and one is complete, we have bought our seeds for this year's crops and soon the sowing will begin for some of them. We also need to repair and move some of the fencing. I want to move the fence away from the hedge to make it easier to keep the weeds down that seem to thrive there. The fruit bushes don't need to be fenced in, even though they do need netting to keep the birds off. Good fences are important to keep the resident rabbit population away from our leafy vegetables.

We have been tackling the local rabbit population's attempts to gain entry to the plot and we have had some success. They have had a long-standing warren under the bank at the back of the plot and they have made some attempts to gain entry before. Over the winter they surfaced through a hole in the middle of our plot and through a hole just outside the plot next to our shed. I blocked up the hole on our plot, first by filling it in and after they dug that out again by pushing metal bars across the hole so they couldn't get past them. That seemed to work, though we lost our leek tops before they were barred.

I wanted to persuade them that our plot was not the best place to live, without causing them direct harm. I have filled in the main entrance under the bank a few times and the much smaller one near the shed even more times. I know they can just dig their way out, but I hoped that making it hard would force them to go elsewhere. I have put a few rocks and bricks in the main entrance and I think this may have worked. The hole near the shed was there, presumably how they got out, but the main entrance is not touched. I filled the shed-side hole again with earth and I'll be back again to see if that has been dug out.

If they are still there, I wondered about making some sort of rabbit flap. The idea is that the flap, made of wire fencing or even aluminium sheet, would hinge open to allow the rabbits out, but spring shut to not allow them to re-enter the hole. That way the next time they leave the hole they would all be forced to move on into the fields and hedgerows that border our plot.

Am I being cruel? I don't think so. Other plot holders on the site will happily remove them with a shotgun, I am just encouraging them to move on.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Parsnip overload

The parsnips this year seem to be woody in their centre. I've come to the conclusion we leave them too long before lifting them, but they also suffered from lack of water last year. It seems that the Met Office are now quoting last year as a very dry year, something I knew at the time but no one else seemed to acknowledge. The annoying thing is that I didn't respond to my own local information and water the plot more. We have lifted the rest of the parsnips and took a few leeks too.

Next year I think I'm going to try planting some parsnips later to see if it makes any difference to how woody they end up being. One thing about the very cold December we have just had is that I know our parsnips have been frosted, which is supposed to make them taste better. They were so frosted that they were frozen firmly into the ground and immovable.

The ground is very muddy, just as I would expect at this time. The plot looks a bit sad and unkempt, especially because the fence is quite a mess. Having seen the damage rabbits can do, both in previous years and again this year I need to repair the fence before we plant out anything new, but there's plenty of time for that yet. At the moment we need to keep off the muddy land to help preserve its soil texture, so moving and repairing the fence will have to wait. The only exception will be to gather the two more harvests of leeks that still remain.

The rabbit hole that appeared in the plot appears to be abandoned - I filled in the entrance and the long-eared leek-scoffers have not dug it out. The entrance that is outside the fence, next to the shed, has been enlarged. I have filled that in, partly by standing next to it and falling into the hole as the surroundings collapsed. That revealed much more of a tunnel heading towards the plot next door, which I'll mention to Rob when I see him. We've had rabbit holes around the plot since we arrived, especially in the bank under the hedge. I don't expect they will leave, just quickly adjust to my measures. If it means they don't eat my crops that's fine.