Sunday, 16 December 2012

Garlic, leeks and parsnips

The last week or so brought frosts that didn't really give all day, but the weather broke with a warmer, windy and very wet day, so the day after the ground had properly thawed. We went to gather some more leeks and parsnips. The ground was as claggy as you might expect and it will only get worse until the spring. We need to stay off the land as much as we can now.

The leeks were in beds covered with netting to keep the pests off, which we have not had to do before. The leeks are really tasty, but not as big as we would like. If we leave them now they won't grow much and we are ready for them. We finished off the first bed and I packed up the canes and netting from the covers.

Jean dug some parsnips. They have done very well this year with great long roots and not very woody in the centres of the really big ones.

I pruned the black currant bushes - probably rather later than was ideal. I planted loads of prunings both near the moved raspberries and in the hedge bottom too. Too much of the hedge is elderberry and it is dying back leaving a bare and useless hedge. I think a hedge that produces black currants would be great. We will see how well the prunings do - I'll need to cut down the weeds in the hedge bottom to stop them out-competing the currant bushes.

Jean planted some garlic. Again this might be a bit late, but it will probably do well in the spring. Sweet, home grown garlic is too good to miss, so if it doesn't grow I'll try some spring-planted ones.

The broccoli is still looking good in its covered frames. No sign of spears yet, but it is probably still too early.  It would not be there without the covers. Norman on the next plot has had cabbage, sprouts and leeks all eaten to the ground by pests. Some were covered but not perfectly. We still think it is rats. The ground is very soft after the rain but there were no animal tracks we could see. People are putting out rat poison and it is still been taken in volume, so it feel like a losing battle.

As the rent for the plot relentlessly goes up year on year, maybe the parish council could spend a little getting some help dealing with the rats. The water bill for the year (previously quoted as a major cost) must be low this year - no one needed to water much this year.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Fat parsnips

It has been a couple of weeks since we visited the plot. It looks fairly tidy and mostly in good order. The rats seem to have left us one way or another. The felt on the shed needs repairing - job for a calm, dry day. I hope the wooden roof under the felt is intact so we only need to cover it with some more felt. Broccoli is looking good, so we might get some spears in a couple of months or so, just when fresh veg is hard to get.

Today we took some leeks and some parsnips. The leeks are not quite as big as previous years after being badly eaten in the summer. They are, nonetheless, quite respectable and some may yet fatten up some more. Cleaned and trimmed they look great. The parsnips are huge. They seem to have benefited from the extra rain this year. Their leaves are dying back so we pulled seven to bring home, the straightest ones are pictured (I'm not going to show the worst ones now am I?). The really big ones can get a bit woody in the middle, so we discard the core. All of these were cut up into chunks or chips, blanched and frozen ready for making into stews and soups. We have hardly touched the crop so parsnips will be available all winter and most of next year from the freezer I think. The flesh seems white, soft and creamy and the smell of freshly cut parsnip make my mouth water.

Saturday, 13 October 2012


The leaves on the trees are turning golden and beginning to fall. The hedgerows are full of red berries of hawthorn, rose hips, rowan and white beam. We collected up the remaining onions from where they were drying on greenhouse shelves, ready for taking home. A few were soft and headed for the compost bin, but the crop is far better than I realised. Now stored in the cool, dark cupboard at home they look as good as last year, which was a good year.

The leeks on the plot are slowly fattening up. We might have been tempted to take a few by now in previous years, but they have been so small that we have waited. I think they will be fine and a good number too. I hope their slow growth, even slower than most years, will make them even tastier.

Our first proper try at growing broccoli is looking good, though they do seem to have some white fly. The plants are looking sturdy and growing taller. They are protected by frames and netting to keep the pigeons off, who, I'm told, like broccoli. No sign yet of any spears to take, but that might not be until January or February.

The asparagus was yellowing so it all got cut back to the ground, before any storms rock the roots and cause damage. Monty Don suggests covering the ground with compost to feed the plants for next season, which I will do, compost topped up with blood, fish and bonemeal. Mind you, Monty Don suggests covering everything with compost or digging compost into everywhere, which would be nice but our compost heap doesn't make enough for a fraction of what we would need. 

Jean sowed some spinach which grew slowly. We decided to plant it at home in tubs to make it easier to look after and pick. We'll see how that goes.

We are still feeding poison to the rats, who dutifully consume it. One dead rat has turned up on Geoff's plot, but still they go on. I think we need to use a different tactic.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Greedy rats

I have now used a full tub of rat poison and started the next one. Each time the suggested dose of poison has gone completely. When I put down a tray with some in, the tray disappeared too. I feel like I'm feeding them rather than poisoning them. Something, maybe the rats, ate the last of our sweetcorn, so the stalks got pulled up and the patch dug over. I'm beginning to wonder if the rats are also under the shed, so rat proofing the spaces around it with wire netting or bricks might be on the cards. I wish I'd thought to do it when we put the shed up - it would have been much easier. I'm also wondering about the best way to stop creatures burrowing into the bank below the hedge. That really lies outside of our plot in the adjoining field, but a bit of netting might benefit us and the farmer.

This allotment is beginning to feel like a battlefield and a minor civil engineering site this year. I hope we get back to better times next year.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A good year for pests

Very fresh sweetcorn is a delight and something worth growing. It seems that others agree. Two of the largest cobs have been partially devoured in yet another pest attack. If this year has been notable for anything it has been for the range of new ways to have our plants eaten by pests.

We have had some lovely sweetcorn this year, and today we took some more. Most of the remaining cobs are small. If they ripen there will still be enough more to enjoy, if the pests leave them alone.

On the rat front, or rather the rats at the back of the plot under the compost bins near the hedge, I have decided to put down rat poison. It is easy to drop it into their hole and cover that with a small plank to stop anything else eating it. All we have delivered has been quickly eaten - I'll see how soon the current batch disappears. Once the rats have been dispatched I intend to find a way to cover the bank they, and before them rabbits, burrow into so easily. Concrete would be effective but not possible, so chicken wire mesh laid across the bank and buried at the edges might be effective. I think I'll dig out the compost bins and lay chicken wire under them too make they whole area hard to use. I'm sure the key is making things difficult or unpleasant so pests just move elsewhere, but when they are resident firmer action is needed.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

You dirty rat

More Autumn digging and we're about done. In the bank behind the plot there's a new hole which heads our way. It is freshly dug but looks fairly small - a bit too small for rabbits. Gary found a dead rat, so the hole is probably a rat hole. I need to discourage them, poison them, scare them away or do something to remove them - I'll give it some thought. I had to hack through nettles to get to the field and part of a now-dead elderberry broke off as I pushed past it, so now there is a big gap in the hedge. It is supposed to be a hawthorn hedge, but much of it is elderberry and much of that is on its last legs. I think I'll plant as many hawthorn berries as I can to try to grow a new hedge. Mind you, with a decent hawthorn hedge, how would I check what is digging in the bank?

The shed has a felt roof, and I found part of it on the plot. I climbed up to look and found the felt is torn and has holes in many places, so a new covering of felt is required. Getting the old stuff off will be easy, getting the old felt nails out may be harder and fitting the new felt along the join with the greenhouse, without dismantling the greenhouse roof might be awkward. I don't trust the strength of the roof to sit on, so I will have to work from the edges.

We thought about growing leeks over the winter then forgot. I hope it is not too late to start some now for harvesting in the spring.

Monday, 17 September 2012

New Gooseberry Bushes

We want to move the blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes, but we don't want to lose them. They don't like being moved at all. I have pruned the gooseberry bush today and some of the woody prunings I turned into cuttings and planted six of them in the new spot we want the bushes in. If any of them have taken in the spring, I'll choose which ones to keep and remove the rest. Once the new bushes are doing well (assuming any take that is) we can decide if we want to try moving the original bush or just dig it up. I'm going to repeat the process with blackcurrants in a week or two - they still have most of their leaves.

As well as getting thoroughly scratched by gooseberry thorns I tied in the green growth of the raspberry canes. They have done really well in their new home, although they didn't have much fruit this year they have put out masses of new shoots that should all bear fruit next year. Now they are tied to wires supported at each end by posts they stand a better chance of surviving the winter winds without breaking.

The Autumn dig is under way, with about half the plot dug over and weeded. The small hazel trees around the edge of the plot are now much bigger and some have nuts on them. I'll harvest the nuts when they are ready and then prune them quite hard, which I've done to the ones with no nuts.

Sweetcorn is doing well, with more cobs to eat today. They are unbeatable. The beetroot has finished, the beets have stopped growing, so got composted. The remaining cabbages were full of caterpillars so they were pulled up and composted. The compost bin is quite full and needs turning soon to help encourage the rot. Some of the lovely compost from our bins has helped the raspberries do so well. The rhubarb is dying back, so its leaves and stems will add to the compost too.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Parsnip and Onions

A warm, calm day and the plot invited some attention. Lots of weeds came out - we still have too much bind weed. The remains of courgette plants came out which have been worthless producing only two small fruits all year. The sweet peas are over so they came out, with accompanying bing weed. All of the remaining onions were lifted to dry off and I lifted the first parsnip which looks large and very good.

It begins to look like the start of autumn.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Time might be running out

More beetroot was ready today and we lifted some onions to dry in the greenhouse. The broccoli has had some slug damage, but should be OK. We took a cabbage which had some caterpillar damage, but the heart looks great. The sweet corn is now in a race against the weather and the shortening days. Many of the sweetcorn stems were falling over, I hadn't staked them this year - I will another year. The cobs are growing but they are not ripe. I hope there is still time for them to ripen before the days are too short and before any frosts. Just a few sunny, warm days might do it.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Village show

We popped up to the plot to see what's happening. We got half a kilo of beetroot and some sweet peas. The sweetcorn look great, lots of cobs all with tassels and every stalk has a male flower too. I tried to spread some pollen onto the tassels so we will see how that works out. Still a couple of weeks at least to wait for a sweetcorn.

I pruned the raspberry canes. The growth on the new canes is the best I've seen so next year looks promising. The onions are all starting to lay down. We pulled a few where the top growth had died back a bit bit most need a touch longer. I'll put them in the greenhouse to dry again - that worked well.

Cabbages are doing well, they are forming hearts with one nearly ready to take. The first batch of broccoli is looking great, with the later batches also growing. They have plenty of time to catch up.

We took some black currant cuttings. We want to move the bushes but they don't take to being moved, so one way is to grow some more plants, plant them in the right place and when they are doing well, dig the old ones up. It could take a couple of years though.

There are lots of weeds to dig up and the existing fruit bushes need some pruning, but things look good.

One thing I'm not sure about is the village show. Brenda pressed a show guide on us and asked us to enter the show. I'm not sure I want to. We grow for the table, not to show. Will any of our stuff be up to showing? Can I be bothered to primp and preen it into what the judges want? I'm not sure, but I've got a couple of weeks to decide.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Not enough spring onions

We took the last of the spring onions today. We sowed a whole packet of seeds and we have got a good crop, but we could easily have used more. I think if we stagger the sowing a lot we could grow more and they would be very welcome. They are especially crisp and sweet so worth any effort and when they are warmed up they are very sweet.

We took another batch of beetroot too. A few had bolted with no real beet. They got pulled up to make room and resources for the others. The beets we took are a perfect size, with still much more to come. It freezes well, once boiled, so like the spring onions it would be worth trying to grow more, though staggering the sowing is less important because freezing it will spread its use.

Every sweetcorn stalk has a male flower on it. One or two are beginning to open to shed their pollen. The cobs are beginning to swell on the stalks but only one stalk has any tassels yet. I took the netting off - we have not needed netting in previous years. When I got home I found a pocket full of clothes pegs which I'd taken off the netting and forgot to leave at the plot.

We decided to water the beetroot and the brassicas. Rain is forecast for next week, but I don't trust the forecasts that far out and the plants need water now. I hope there is some good rain, the ground is dry and hard and needs weeding - softer ground is easier to weed.

Now the soft fruit is over we need to prune the bushes. We might try to move a blackcurrant bush too - we really want to get all of the fruit closer to the hedge, but I don't want to kill the bushes. The blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes are particularly good. I'll try to use some of the pruning to grow cuttings as a back up.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bean fest

The broad beans are over, but what a crop. We've eaten them, frozen them and given them away and they are superb. We now also have our first, and hopefully not last, French bean crop. The mange touts have struggled to give us a few pods before they gave their last gasp. A very few sweet pea flowers were ready to cut - I'm at all sure how many more will come through on the straggly plants. Some plants have bindweed through them but I can't remove it without breaking the sweet peas, so I'll wait until they are done. 

A few beetroot were ready - they are boiling away as I type. there are lots more to come and they look good. Another harvest of spring onions will be delicious with maybe one more crop to come. The main onions are looking pretty good, most have recovered from being nibbled and a few tops are turning so not long before we pull and dry a few of those too.  The sweetcorn is beginning to get the top tassels growing and hints of cobs too. After their demolition by pests I'm pleased they have done so well.

We planted out the last of the broccoli plants and covered them with frames and nets. The glut of pigeons continues to be a problem in the area, hence the netting. The pigeons are turning to farmland, especially wheat and oil seed rape and are leaving our plot alone at the moment. What will happen when the large flocks find the fields ploughed and empty? I think we are ready for them, but I've thought that before and been wrong.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Fruit harvest and planting out

The latest crop of fruit was great. We took lots of blackcurrants, some strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. We also took a lot of broad beans. There are still gooseberries, blackcurrants and beans to come.

We have had a proper go at growing broccoli this year. We sowed the seeds and grew them on at home and now they are ready to go out. We fitted one batch in next to the cabbages, there are more to go out yet. I want to reuse the space the broad beans are in for some of the plants and we have some other spaces elsewhere.

I want to plant out the broccoli in blocks because they will certainly need to be covered, which is easier for blocks than a few plants scattered here and there. They will become pretty tall, all being well, so the frames I've used may not be big enough yet, but since we have not managed to grow broccoli before we will have to see what happens.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Lovely young broad beans
One of my favourite crops of the year is starting to be ready, broad beans. They have been a bit battered by the heavy rain, so I've propped them up a bit more. They have plenty of pods and a I could feel the beans in some, so I took them. I'm trying to take them as the beans are small and sweet. That means you get less beans by weight, but they are so better to eat it is certainly worth it. There were still some black fly on some stems, so I cut them off, but they have not done much damage, unlike last year.

Everyone seems to be losing plants to slugs, mice and pigeons, much more than recent years. A few people have suffered with rabbits too. One thing that has not suffered with pests is our fruit.

Our raspberries, in spite of being badly damaged over the winter, are still providing some fruit, with lots of shoots for next year too. Our blackcurrant bushes are weighed down with fruit, all beautifully swollen by the rain. We took our first half kilo today and they look superb. The gooseberries too look very good, with lots of fruit which is beginning to ripen, but not quite ready to take yet. All of the fruit bushes have put on a lot of growth, so they will need carefully pruning later in the year. The disappointment are our strawberries. They needed more sun and warmth I think. We should get some, but not many and they are getting eaten by slugs too. Time to think again about how and where we grow them and whether to buy new stocks.

The next big job is a weeding session. The various covers make weeding awkward and the rain has helped all sorts of weeds shoot up. many hours weeding will be needed this week if the rain holds off for long enough.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


A quick trip to the plot on a cool, gray, cloudy day gave us some spinach. I sprayed some bindweed and nettles in the hedge with Glyphosate - it really is badly overrun. If there was a decent hedge it might help to keep the weeds down, whereas now I think the weeds are strangling what there is of the hedge.

Something that is doing very well are our brassicas. The cabbages that are covered are growing nicely. They don't seem to mind the cool, wet weather. The soil is well drained so I'm hoping their roots don't get waterlogged. At home, in a cold frame, we have our broccoli growing in pots. It looks strong so I hope it will make the transition to the plot safely. It will need a lot of protection if it is to make it to late next winter. It is a favourite caterpillars, slugs, and, in the winter, pigeons too. If we protect it until next February, we will be taking spears from it, at a time when not much else is available.

I checked the broad beans. The pods are swelling, but the beans are still too small. I do want to take them when they are small, soft and sweet, but they still need more time before the first will be ready. A few raspberries are reddening and a few blackcurrants are ripening as are a few gooseberries. The strawberries need more sun; there are lots of berries but they are not ripening and the whole area is wet and dank. i fear they may rot before they are ripe.

We gave up on the mange touts. We took off the covers and left the stumps in the open, tomorrow I expect there to be nothing remaining. There are a few flowers on the dwarf French beans and a couple of very small fruits on the courgettes. Leeks are recovering under their protective netting and onions look good.

We do need a good weeding session to see us through the summer. Usually when the weather warms up and the ground dries out the weeds slow down, but this year they keep growing strongly, but we don't have to water anything at he moment.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Still not in control of pests

A trip to plot 18 and we have returned with some more spinach and our first spring onions of the season. Chatting to other plot holders it seems we are all suffering from losing our plants to something hungry. The blame is being spread between, slugs and snails, pigeons, partridges, rabbits, mice and deer.

I discount rabbits on our plot; our fence is good, there are no droppings and some uncovered plants which have not been touched would have been demolished by rabbits. Similarly I discount deer. They could easily hop over our fence, but there are no tracks or droppings and they would browse everything.

There doesn't seem to be a firm pattern. We have covered mange tout peas which have been demolished. I don't expect any crop from them. There were slug trails near there and we have put out slug pellets, but the rain may have washed some away. Mice could get under the edges of the netting, but I doubt birds would. Spinach is in the open and untouched, it must not be to the liking of the scoffers. Some onion leaves are still being munched, but only at the edge of the bed, where the CDs and strings are not covering it well. Here I suspect birds. Parsnips are in the open and untouched. They are the best looking parsnips we have ever grown, but it's the roots I'm interested in so we have to wait until we pull them to really see how good they are. Our dwarf French beans have been nibbled under a net, so again I blame slugs. Our strawberries are under cover and are beginning to ripen and as they do the red bits are getting nibbled, again slugs or snails. There have been some black fly on the broad beans, but not much and nipping the tops off has dealt with it. The bean pods are growing well and some will be ready soon. Our courgettes are not doing well with the plants not enjoying the cold and the few tiny fruit quickly nibbled away. Undercover cabbages looked fine, ones in the open have gone. Fruit bushes all look good, with signs of ripening berries.

I suspect we are just getting assaulted by multiple pests and I especially blame slugs, pigeons and maybe mice. I wonder if some creatures thrived in the warm March and there are now more mouths to feed. We will get some produce, but we will miss out on some too. More to learn about yet I think.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Internment camp

Improvised bird proofing
Mange touts in a tent
Our allotment plot never looks perfect. When it has just been dug over from end to end it probably looks at it's tidiest, but there are always scruffy bits, piles of canes or poles, untidy edges near the fence and hedge and so on. At the moment it looks like some kind of miniature internment camp, with wire, fences, dangling CDs and mesh everywhere. Some of the structures are more carefully planned and constructed than others, but all are a bit ugly. They are also always in the way, you can't walk around the plot without climbing over or squeezing past something. To get at any of the plants means uncovering them from the mesh, which then gets tangled up with something else like the fence.

Healthy beetroot
Covered cabbage and eaten cabbage
I feel we have little choice with everything getting so badly eaten, but I wish it wasn't needed. The fact is it is needed. We deliberately planted out excess cabbages alongside the covered ones and they have been eaten, with some plants completely gone. The idea was to be sacrificial, but they were probably just wasted.

Broad beans
The broad beans are doing very well. They are tall and straight and covered in flowers with some small beans beginning to grow. The cane and string supports are simple and encourage the plants to support each other which stops them breaking in the wind but also stops them breaking against a hard support too. There were a few black fly in the tops of some plants, so I nipped the tops off of all of them to get rid of the fly and force them to put their vigour into beans.

We put more slug pellets out - there were some huge slug trails around the plot. We took some spinach for later.

Monday, 18 June 2012

All out

The greenhouse is empty. We have not been robbed, we just put everything out that was still in there. In the past few years we have grown about four courgette plants and we've been overrun with them. Really nice as very fresh courgettes are, there's only so many we could eat and when our neighbours were not accepting them too we knew we had grown too many. this year we grew five plants and determined we would only plant the two best ones, which we did a few weeks ago. The three still in the green house have been watered and kept out of the cold and they have done much, much better than the two outside, even thought they have been constrained in their pots. Today we planted out the three from the green house, but we will pull up at least two when we know which ones do best.

We also planted out the remaining mange touts. They too looked as good in their pots as the ones previously planted out. We have had some damage to the ones outside where they have grown through the mesh covering and been eaten, probably by birds. Last year partridges scoffed the lot, so today I built a plastic mesh cover propped up on canes. The plants are well away from the mesh, so, hopefully, the birds won't get close to our peas. It might be a nuisance to uncover to pick the pods, but we'll see.

We also planted out the cabbages that Gary gave us to replace the ones razed by birds. I made a plastic mesh tunnel supported by wire hoops and held in place with tent pegs. We had a few extra cabbages left over, so we planted them out in the open to see how long they last and as a kind of offering to the pigeons. The pact is they can have them if they leave everything else alone, but I don't expect they will understand that.

A few strawberries have been nibbled - I suspect slugs. I put down some bark chippings around the plants, but I think I need more, and more slug pellets too. There are no berries looking ripe yet, but lots of small green ones so if we can keep the slugs off we should get a good crop.

The broad beans stems are huge. They have flourished in the wet and they are tough enough to thrive in the cold. They are covered with flowers and the bottom ones have set into small bean pods. No sign of black fly yet, but lots of patrolling ants.

We took some rhubarb, it won't be long before we stop taking it so the plant bulks up again. The stems are still red and it cooks down really nicely.

When the broccoli at home is ready it will spend a few weeks in the greenhouse before being planted out. Just like cabbage, it will need a  lot of protection from the birds and unlike cabbage it will grow outside for months and be vulnerable through the winter. I hope it makes it.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Spinach looks good

We went to harvest some spinach this morning. I was a bit unsure what we would find, but to my relief the plot was fine. Our Heath-Robinson approach to covering our plants seems to have kept the veg scoffers at bay. The sweet corn does look a bit better than I hoped and the leeks are all as we left them. We tried and failed to find a supply of suitable netting - we'll have to look a little further afield.

The spinach looks really good; cooler weather does suit it. It was just 11°C at 10am Mid June. The ground is nicely wet too, so this current weather is good for some things.

We bought some seeds for early purple-sprouting broccoli today - it's a touch late to sow it but since it grows for nearly a year I'm sure it will catch up. That should be a treat next February when not much else is available to harvest.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Eaten away

Jean planted out the remaining leeks and sweetcorn a couple of days ago. Today we went up to check how the rain had helped the plot only to find the leeks and sweetcorn had been badly eaten. It is odd. I don't know for sure what is causing the damage, but some things are untouched, such as large spinach plants in the open. We have tried to cover the leeks and sweetcorn with netting and frames. At this rate we will just need one giant net over the whole plot.

Across the road from the site there were a couple of men shooting wood pigeons, and they seemed to get quite a few. Many people have commented how there are lots of pigeons around at the moment. Pigeons are high on my list of suspects as veg gobblers.

I'm not sure the sweetcorn will survive. Its leaves are mostly eaten away with just the stalks remaining. The leeks probably will as they grow for much longer and there is more of the plant still to grow from. This year has been odd, warm in March, very wet and cold most of the time since, maybe that has forced the wildlife to look for different food supplies, but this has, for sure, been the worst year of losses since we started.

I'm going to look for some extra netting and canes to support it. I hope the men with the shotgun keep bagging pigeons too.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

First Leeks

Jean planted out the first batch of leeks and hung some CDs over them to keep the birds off. She also put out some more spinach and beetroot too.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Netting and CDs

The rain of April seems a distant memory and now the warmer weather has encouraged growth we have been planting out more stuff. We planted out our dwarf French beans and courgettes a few days ago, today the first batches of spring onions and mange touts went out too and some cabbages. To dig the ground over we first had to soften it with water and once the plants were in we watered them in too. The forecast rain arrived disguised as a warm, sunny, calm day, so no water there. Rain is now forecast for tomorrow, I hope it comes.

Everything we have out is covered with netting, wire frames or has CDs dangling over it to deter the local wildlife.

We gathered another big bunch of rhubarb, some spinach and some overly long asparagus, some of which will be good but some will be woody.

The gooseberries and black currants are swelling, the strawberries are covered in flowers so fruit looks promising.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

May is out before May is out

May has finally turned into spring rather than late winter. The temperature was up and so were the weeds. A bit of weeding, still more to do of course, and a couple of courgettes went out. I covered them with a net which we have not done before. So much stuff has been eaten by the local wildlife that I thought it was prudent. As well as watering in the courgettes we watered the asparagus and beetroot. The beetroot was definitely flagging in the sun.  I added some bark chippings around the strawberries, which are covered in flowers, secured a stray raspberry cane and cut another couple of bunches of asparagus.

The hedge between plot 18 and the field would be much better if it was all hawthorn, but much of it is straggly elder with some gaps. It is also a reservoir for weeds, especially bind weed and cleavers. The small hawthorn bushes are finally in bloom. The flowers are also known as may flowers but I would normally expect the may a little earlier in May than this.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Fistfuls of asparagus

It seems that the local wildlife are hungry. Some of our newly planted out spinach has been nibbled but we have got off lightly. Some other plots have been grazed to destruction. Even onions have been eaten and they usually get left alone. I suspect birds, probably pigeons or partridges.

We took a good two fistfuls of asparagus - it is quickly turning into the most productive year. We had enough to give some away.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Sweet peas
We have had a setback. The rain has soaked the ground quite nicely, much of what we have planted out are doing well, yet we have had a setback. The fence is secure, the rabbits have stayed away and even the chewed raspberries are bearing some flowers.

The setback lies in the way our sweet peas have been grazed to the ground.

I tied canes into a simple tower and Jean planted the sweet peas to grow up the canes but instead something arrived and ate them. I suspect partridges. They have feasted on our mange touts before. Whatever it was I just hope the remaining stumps survive.The photo is of the biggest remaining stump. I wrapped the remaining plants with netting.

The asparagus is doing well. The broad beans are short, but very sturdy and now they have flowers showing. The beetroot is mostly under a wire frame. The plants that are not covered are slowly being eaten, but the rest are fine. Jean planted the next batch of beetroot and spinach. The first batch of spinach is growing slowly in the cool weather. I'm willing it on.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Warmth works

Courgettes and Dwarf French Beans
 We bought a heated propagator earlier this year. It costs tens of pence to run for the time it takes to encourage plants to germinate and it seems to have made a big difference to the germination rate for some seeds. The sweetcorn, dwarf French beans and courgettes have all come through quickly and completely. If anything they have come through so quickly that they are a bit early. They can go up to the greenhouse to gently strengthen for a few weeks, until the frosts are over; none of them would survive any frost at all.

The cold, wet weather continues. The ground is nicely soaked without being over done. The cold weather is holding things back a bit, but that is strengthening shoots and roots I think. As the amount of daylight increases plants respond and grow if there is enough moisture, though they may grow much faster if it is warmer. I'd like to see the spinach flourish, that is the next crop I'm eagerly waiting for and we have the next follow-on plants waiting to go out too.

The handful of strawberry flowers show they are trying to come on. They will withstand frost, but unripened fruit wouldn't. The much-damaged raspberry canes are all throwing out new shoots, but I do wonder if we will see any fruit this year. There are still stray raspberry plants appearing in a few places around the plot and I might yet transplant a few to be with the others to enhance our chances of fruit next year.

We are up-to-date with jobs, so we are just waiting for the best time to plant more young plants out.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Slowly does it

Asparagus is growing slowly, but there are lots of spears appearing. Yesterday we took some spears, some more pink rhubarb and a spring cabbage. The latest batch of spring onions went up to the greenhouse. There is frost forecast overnight at the weekend so the sweet peas will have to wait until next week before they go out.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Cold and wet

A quick visit to plot 18 revealed what the cold, wet April has produced. The temperature has been below average, below the magic 10 degrees many days. Following the very warm March it has been a bit of a shock. On the other hand the drought has been broken by more than double the rainfall for the month.

Broad beans are doing well. They are short and strong so they should grow nicely. Asparagus is growing slowly. Most of them stems are fat, so when they are ready to cut they should be juicy. There are a lot of stems too.

The onions all seems to have sprouted. They seemed to take a while to get going, but now they are looking good. Parsnips too look very good. They cope well with cool weather and the rain has helped them on. The freshly planted spinach and beetroot all have taken well.

Fruit bushes and strawberries are flowering and looking strong. The rhubarb has produced a couple of kilos of young, juicy stalks.

Friday, 20 April 2012


Someone has stolen some of our asparagus. We found footprints on the plot that were not ours a couple of weeks ago and now some spears of asparagus have been taken. I know it has not been grazed because the small spears that are too small to cut yet are still there, an animal would just eat anything above ground. I'm going to leave a note to remind the thief to be careful in case I catch him.

I weeded the strawberries and then covered them with a wire frame. A few flowers are beginning to open. The berries will be a long time coming yet, but I don't want to risk losing any to the birds. After the very welcome rain we will need to protect them from slugs. I have spread bark chippings around the plants, tucking them under the leaves too. That helps.

The onions are sprouting, the garlic is doing well, the broad beans look sturdy and the plants in the greenhouse are doing well. So well that the first batch of beetroot and spinach are almost ready to plant out. No sign of any carrots yet.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Hmmmm, Rhubarb

We took our first rhubarb of the season today along with some more asparagus and a spring cabbage. The cabbages are in the middle of the ground set aside for leeks, but I'm sure they will be long gone before the leeks are ready to go out.

The rhubarb tops and a few outer cabbage leaves look a bit lost in the freshly emptied compost bin, but it will fill up over the coming months.

Onions are just beginning to sprout and everything in the greenhouse looks fine. Things are only growing slowly now the temperatures are lower, but that is often good as the plants get stockier and not leggy. A couple of sunny days and things will romp away.

Saturday, 7 April 2012


With the rain earlier in the week and some overnight the plot looks nicely wet. The rain also smooths out the ground so a well trodden path shows up in outline but individual footprints disappear. We popped up to check the plants in the greenhouse and to see if the asparagus was ready to pick. The plants were fine but the asparagus needs another day or two.

Then I noticed something that shouldn't have been there, a crisp fresh footprint. Then another and another. The prints don't match either of our boots and were bigger, so someone has stepped over the low part of our fence and walked down the plot, before leaving at the bottom end somewhere near the hedge. The gates were closed, the shed and greenhouse doors were fastened nothing was damaged or moved.

Someone's shed has been broken into recently, maybe the wearer of the boots was looking at ours. We don't leave anything valuable in the shed and no weed-killers or the like that could do any youngster any harm, only a few old hand tools, string, nettings and the like. We don't lock it either I think that implies that there is something valuable in it and by the time anyone finds out that there is not, the lock or the door has been broken.

It is possible that someone was just curious? The view over the back hedge is good, but you can see that by walking down the path between plots. Did someone see our shed was open and walked down to close it? If so thank you. The fact is, we will probably never know. Some people might be worried or unnerved by this, I'm just curious.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


Today the rain came down. Most of the day there was some rain, sometimes gentle sometimes quite hard. It will make no difference to the drought; we need huge amounts of rain to fill the aquifers, rivers and reservoirs. It will, however, help growers in the short term because the top soil will be nicely soaked, for a while anyway. It should have put back some of our lost water reserves too.

Jean sowed the next batch of beetroot and spinach and the first batch of spring onions.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Mange tout and Cabbages

Rob gave us some spring cabbages as small plants last year. They have been quietly growing away over the winter and we have eaten the first one. It was rather good so it has prompted us grow some summer cabbages. We bought some seeds today and sowed some of them. It seemed a good time to sow some mange touts too, so we did.

So already the plan has been changed, but that is what plans are for, aren't they?

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Tapping it

I decided that the tap was going to leak again sooner or later and that water is too precious to lose, so I installed the outside tap inside the greenhouse for now. It is much harder to leave on by mistake. We put a little water into the tanks to check the leak isn't somewhere else and then turned the unrotted stuff from one compost bin onto the newly emptied one.

We saw our neighbours from across the street who are helping out with a plot that someone else can't manage for the moment. I hope they get as much from their plot as we do from ours.

Water leak

We collect water from the shed and greenhouse roof and store it in tanks. We use this to water the plants in the greenhouse because that means we don't have to fetch the fairly small amount as and when we need it. Later on when there is nothing in the greenhouse if there is any water in the tanks we can use it to water the rest of the plot. Today the tanks were empty because the tap in the greenhouse had been left slightly open and over the last two days the tanks had drained with the water running away in the barren floor of the greenhouse. The tap was not really intended to be used regularly and is difficult to turn off properly. The real tap is not connected because I didn't want to expose it to frost outside, so we have been using the shut-off tap and now we have paid the price by losing all of our water. In a drought, with little prospect of rain and needing days of rain to fill the tanks, it is a nuisance.

On the positive side we took our first asparagus. It looked good and tasted better. Sometimes the very first asparagus stems have grown slowly so they can be stringy or hard, but this was succulent and melt-in-the-mouth. Being picked only an hour before we ate it certainly helps. I watered the asparagus crowns and the sprouting garlic. The rest of the plot looks parched, so another watering session looks inevitable.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Carrots and compost

I laid out the site for the carrot bed. It will be surrounded with frames to hold the fleece up. The fleece will keep out  the carrot fly. The bed size is defined by the size of the frames and although the frames will not be up for a while, the size is useful to know in advance. I raked the bed carefully and removed a few stones then soaked the ground with water before sowing two rows of carrot seeds which I covered carefully and gently watered in.

Jean finished emptying the compost bin and we spread the lovely stuff around the fruit bushes, which we then watered with can after can to soak the ground well. We'll see how long that lasts.

The asparagus is sending up new spears almost daily. The first are almost ready for cutting. There are only three crowns sprouting, but it is early yet. In a few weeks the spears will shoot up more quickly and we will be ready for them.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


East Yorkshire is now officially in drought. It's certainly not a surprise to me, there has been low rainfall for about two years. The only surprise to me is that it took so long for the authorities to realise. We have no hosepipe ban announced yet, largely thanks to the work Yorkshire Water did in the mid nineties to connect the drier east to the wetter west with pipelines.

On the plus side the warm, bright start to the spring has helped things power on, but only if they get water. Our broad beans look great, the parsnips and onions are in the ground and sucking up as much water as we can give them. The asparagus is producing spears, in a few days we might be able to take our first ones. The gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes are bursting into leaf and the flowers are out on the gooseberries which are attracting bees to pollinate them. The much damaged raspberry canes are beginning to produce new growth. I fear we won't see much in the way of fruit this year because the canes were eaten by the local rabbits and the canes that should produce fruit this year are badly damaged or completely gone. We will see how the canes respond.

I have dug out some of the compost from the oldest bin and it is lovely stuff. We will use it as a mulch for the fruit bushes to suppress weeds, retain moisture and nourish the bushes. There is still more to come out then I'll turn the other bin into the empty one and make room for this year's stuff to rot down. In digging out the bin I found a couple of pieces of rhubarb that we dug out over a year ago. They were both sprouting, so we gave them away to our newest plot holder. 

The site is generally looking with most plots getting started for the new season.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

One year on

This time last year we planted broad beans out, today we did again. Last year we had just planted out the onion sets, they are still in their bag today. The first asparagus spears had just appeared a year ago and we were watering them and the strawberries. Today I flooded the strawberries and asparagus and two spears were showing. A year ago we had spinach, leeks and parsnips in the greenhouse and we have today too.

I opened the water stop tap on for the site so the water tanks would fill. Once the tanks were full I checked the meter and it was till turning over, even though the tank valves seemed closed. I did some quick arithmetic and I think that at the rate of flow I saw would actually use about 430 litres every day, which if it is a leak is going to cost the parish council a lot each year in wasted water.

I turned the stop tap off again.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Gentle progress

The parsnip chits have all been tubed (potted in a cardboard tube) and most have sprouted leaves. We've taken them to the allotment greenhouse to harden off. The broad beans have been there about a week. It's been cool and overcast this week. The beans look great, not lanky, very upright because the light comes mostly from above and they are forming more leaves. I expect the beans will get planted out shortly, if they are not too tall they grow steadily without much risk, but if they are lanky they break in the wind and would need supports. The stems will need support when they are bigger, but that is easier then.

The sweet peas are still struggling, but there are four shoots now.

There are a few regular jobs that need doing like turning the compost bins and clearing out the shed. One of the compost bins has had squatters of the rabbit kind, so I'm not sure what we will find when we turn it over.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Chits away

Parsnip chits have erupted. The first 41 have been planted into compost in cardboard tubes. We bought a potting tray - I was going to make one, but the tray was less than the wood and paint I would have needed and is easier to clean and store. It is great for these compost jobs, keeping the mess in one place. The sweet peas are showing now too. I still don't know where we will plant them yet, but they will certainly find a home. All but one broad bean germinated.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Come on garlic

We planted the spring garlic today. I expect that that is all that is needed for the existing garlic to spring into action and grow vigorously.

At home almost of the broad beans have sprouted and look good. Leeks have started to sprout, but our parsnips chits have yet to sprout.

The rabbits have not re-emerged, but I'll keep checking.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

GW catch up

It looks like my method for starting off parsnips is becoming popular. It is mentioned in the BBC magazine Gardeners' World, but not mentioning me of course. I did come up with the idea, but so would other people too. It seems common for different people to come up with the same or similar answers to problems independently.

Parsnips are slow to germinate and unpredictable, some say unreliable. I have heard people have said things like 'I have sown hundreds of seeds and only a couple of plants came up'. To avoid the uncertainty we chit the seeds on damp paper, that is spread them on a damp surface and when they sprout a root, transfer them to seed compost in a cardboard tube. As soon as the first leaves appear think about planting them out so you don't disturb the root. We use a bulb planter to bury the tube to the right depth. The cardboard tube rots away leaving the plants to grow nicely.

The germination rate is around 50%, amazing for parsnips, and because you plant out plants, not sow seeds, there's no thinning needed.

Gardeners' World don't plant into cardboard tubes, rather plant straight into the ground. We find the tubes useful, indeed I recommend it.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

We're ready

The plot has been dug over. The remaining spring cabbages are under a couple of frames to keep the pigeons off them. Most of the soil has had blood fish and bone scattered over it. Substantial rain is forecast for tomorrow which should wash it into the ground. I deliberately left the parts of the plot where parsnips and carrots are due to be planted as they don't want extra nutrients. I didn't have enough blood fish and bone to cover the whole area at the level I wanted so I left out the area for leeks as it will be a long time before they are ready to go out. I cleaned out the greenhouse which was mostly removing the papers from drying onions there. There were some canes and stakes stored there too for the winter and the water tap which I left disconnected to protect it from frost. I'll probably reconnect that in late spring which things start to go out and need water.

The garlic is not doing well. Other people's plots have large, healthy-looking rows of garlic we have just one, quite small garlic plant. This has happened before and I suspect we are about to fall into the same trap, but hey-ho. Today we bought some more garlic, as well as some more blood fish and bone which I'll spread that sometime soon, preferably just before rain. The existing garlic may yet grow (it did before), so I need to find a spare corner to plant the new batch without disturbing it.

The ground is looking good at the moment. The digging went well with the dryness helping turn the crumbly soil nicely. Our local nuisances the rabbits have dug out another hole in our compost bin, which I have refilled with stones and capped with bricks. If it is uncomfortable I hope they will leave.

The good news is that the first ten of our broad beans have sprouted, so growing is really under way.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Digging, both Human and Leporid

Plot 18 needs its yearly makeover. The soil needs turning and weeding ready for the planting to come. If the weeds are removed now they don't get a hold as the weather warms up. The digging has begun with about a third of it complete. The soil is lovely to dig - but not at all like you would expect at this time of year. It is soft, fine and crumbly whereas you would expect it to be heavy and in sticky clods. I think some of the texture is due to being carefully worked now for some years and left untouched over the winter. Some, however, is due to the very dry winter. The ground is damp, not wet and without a lot of rain we will be back the watering regime of last year.

I have also moved the fence to surround the raspberry canes, what's left of them, and protect them from the rabbits. In the process I found an extended rabbit hole which had come up through the compost bin. I filled it with rubble to make it as unpleasant as possible, but I think our skirmishes with the local rabbits looks like continuing. Geoff, the parish council chairman and neighbouring plot holder, suggested finding someone with a ferret.

On the positive side the rhubarb is beginning to appear, the gooseberries are covered in buds and a few are opening and the blackcurrants look weighed down with buds. A few wayward raspberry canes also appeared and they can be moved to supplement the gnawed remnants now inside the fence.

It's good to get in touch with the earth again.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Bean planting

Broad beans are in their pots. 24 Bunyards Exhibition beans, one per pot, are now being willed to sprout. Let's give give them a week or two.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Last of the leeks

We just dug up the last of the leeks. There were a few soft ones that went straight to the compost, but most looked great. There were signs of rabbits all over the place, but none inside our fence. When the ground is ready we will alter the fence to take in the raspberry area and add a place to store our frames between uses. Seed planting time is fast approaching - I can't wait.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


There's been snow on the ground for a few days and hard frosts, so the leeks that remain at Plot18 are frozen in for now. They're getting a bit old now so they really need using before they go woody. Staying off the plot, my attention has turned to buying the seeds for the new season. The solar Spring has started, the thirteen weeks of shortest days are over, so planting time is approaching for some things. I've been out and bought some seeds.

I've changed some varieties this year and there is nothing bold and new, so far, but the planting plan does leave a few spaces to try anything that we fancy. The list is:
  • Broad beans
    • Bunyards Exhibition
  • Mangetout
    • Oregon Sugar Pod
  • Dwarf French beans
    • Ferrari
  • Sweetcorn
    • Incredible F1
  • Parsnip
    • Javelin F1
  • Carrot
    • Chantenay Red Cored 2
  • Spring onion
    • White Lisbon
  • Spinach
    • Lazio F1
  • Courgette
    • Astia F1
  • Leek
    • Musselburgh
  • Beetroot 
    • Boltardy
  • Sweet peas
    • Old Fashioned Mix
In previous years we have kept broad beans as seeds, but last year's crop was not as prolific as in the past so we decided to buy new seeds. There are a few stalwarts in Musselburgh, White Lisbon, Boltardy and Old Fashioned Mix (grown for cut flowers of course). The rest, well time will tell. I might yet buy some different carrots as an experiment and we still need onion sets and some new raspberry canes.

Monday, 23 January 2012

New boots and frames

After a wet and especially windy weekend a bright, calm morning tempted us up to plot 18. A quick look around the hedge an the edge of the field beyond showed lots of small scrapings by an animal to get at the roots near the surface. It's probably the local rabbits, but might just be a badger. There is a clump of woodland at the edge of the field so there could be a set there, maybe I'll take a look. I could also put out a tray with sand in it to try to get footprints to examine.

I've made a couple more frames. this time they are quite short at only a metre long. They will be the ends of a rectangle made of frames that I will use to surround a carrot bed. I used longer frames for the sides last year and had to improvise the ends. The main job of the frames will be to support fleece to keep the carrot fly at bay. Last year's carrots were very good, so protecting this year's crop is certainly worth it. The frames are simple wooden sides made from pressure-treated timber used as roofing laths. The corners are reinforced with plywood triangles. They have plastic screwed to the ends to allow them to be pushed into the ground, but the plastic won't rot like wood. the whole frame is covered with a mesh, plastic in this case but others have chicken wire mesh, whatever is available. The frames make the plot much more flexible as I can use them where I like and move them each year. I use frames in parallel pairs with netting strung over the top and ends to keep birds off brassicas and legumes.  I may make more end frames if they work well.

Jean bought some more boots. Her old ones had been around so long that the sole came away with the weight of mud clinging to it. Good boots are important to an allotment holder, indeed good outdoor clothes in general. If you get wet and cold then any job seems too unpleasant and gets left undone.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The planting plan

Each year we make a plan of what to plant where. Like all good plans it is flexible but it gives us a place to start.

The plan layout started with a list of what we wanted to grow. The mainstays where there: broad beans, onions, beetroot, leeks and parsnips. We then add the things we have tried, did well and we liked. This gives us spinach, sweetcorn, courgettes and spring onions. Then there are the choices, French beans or runner beans, peas or mangetouts, and carrots or not?

Then the placement needs to be thought about. Try to avoid using the same plot as last year for most things. Some things don't move because they are perennials, like asparagus and the fruit bushes. Some things take up little space so they can be slotted into small areas like spinach. Garlic is already planted from last autumn.

I also wanted to think about reusing some of the ground that early harvests free up, like broad beans. Here I could plant something to stand over next winter, but in the end I just ignored that, too much changes to think that far ahead.

So here is the plan, I hope it works well this year.

Next is the choice of varieties and buying the seeds. It makes me excited for a new season of growing and of delicious home-grown fresh veg.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Fence stakes

We mended a couple of fence stakes today. It was cold but beautifully clear and bright. The low sun hadn't quite thawed all of the frost by early afternoon. Jean took half a dozen leeks too.

The stakes just support the fence along the end of the allotment. they don't take much strain and they are a bit flimsy.  They were rotten at ground level. I bashed the stake further in and adjusted the way the fence was fastened to it. It will rot again, but not for a year or two. The main fence posts are at the corners and gates and they are much more substantial.