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Allotment Diary

A summer update 2021

The weather in the UK goes from the ridiculous to the sublime, in the blink of an eye

Between April and May the weather was less than desirable, it was raining, blowing a gale and it really wasn’t the weather to be sowing seeds or doing anything at all with regards to gardening and growing your own.

End of April

I really didn’t do much until the end April looking back, and this consisted of sowing some seeds into some seed starters.

Compared to last year, this year I was very late when it comes to sowing seeds, but that’s ok, the weather was rubbish and in my opinion, it was too cold for germination to have taken place.

After a cold snap, then a rainy spell, the weather picked up in May where we enjoy a very hot spring. After that, it’s been relatively mild with a splattering of rain here and some warm weather there.

Heading into the summer

It’s been a classic British summer, with the weather delivering a mixture of hot, cold, wet and wind in varying degrees and lengths. This has been good for some plants, and not so good for others.

Fruits

Strawberries

The strawberry beds are doing absolutely fantastic. Earlier in the year, I cultivated a few extra strawberry to help fill them up and increase ground cover, and it’s most certainly paid off.

I’ve also been diligently removing weeds and any dead foliage to help keep things tidy.

The flowers have been magnificent and all being well, I should be picking some strawberries very soon – assuming that the slugs don’t go to town and have a right old knees up.

To keep the birds away, I’ve adopted something that I do with the onions and that’s tie string from one corner to another and through the middle of the bed.

The idea hear is that the string puts the birds off from landing, and thus will not attack the beds. It works superbly with the onions as they do tend to pick out the bulbs, either for fun or because they would like to use them to build a nest – but can’t.

Rhubarb
(with some autumn and spring raspberries thrown in)…

Rhubarb is great because it basically looks after itself, and provides great ground cover. In the rhubarb bed, I planted both spring and autumn raspberries to help with ground cover, and also to make the most of the bed.

As is tradition, we’ve made many a crumble and we got into the tradition of adding port to the crumble mix to make Rhubarb and Port Crumble.

The wind totally battered the bed, and there was alot of rhubarb that had to be picked, so I decided to make some Rhubarb Gin, for the very first time and it was delicious! I usually freeze any left rhubarb, but now instead – I’m drinking it.

Spring and autumn raspberries

There is a stark difference between the spring raspberries and the autumn raspberries, for reasons thus far unknown. The autumn raspberries are much more upright, fuller, they have new growth and berries a plenty that have started to ripen.

They’ve ripened up slightly earlier than last year which is unexpected – I would perhaps put that toward the warm and wet weather we’ve experienced.

The spring raspberries look a bit sad if I honest, I’ll need to look up as to why that could be. I wonder if it could be the ground conditions, but I’d like this be to be just as full, if not fuller if possible.

Gooseberry bushes

These gooseberry bushes have been in pots for the last few years and earlier this year I planted them into a bed to give them room to grow. Generally speaking they are very young plants and growth has been steady throughout the year.

When we had the snow earlier on this year, this affected new shoots, but it looks like they have been able to recover from this. The fruit yield is slow, but I put this down to the stunted growth from the colder conditions we experienced in the first half of the year.

I may experience with taking some cuttings and growing more of these fruit bushes.

Alpine Strawberries

The alpine strawberries were first growing around the base of the shed where they had grown naturally in the ground, but started to get in the way.

I moved them to a different bed and I’m using them as ground cover for where red currants and black currents grow. These strawberries have produced a lovely spread baring in mind they’ve been uprooted and placed somewhere new within the last 12 months.

Alpine strawberries are quite the delicacy, they’re very small, but absolutely bursting with flavour. They’re great in granola, but can add a twist to many cereals in the morning.

Vegetables

Runner beans

It’s been a few years since I’ve grown runner beans, and now I’ve started growing them again, I can say that I’ve missed them. I’ve built an archway out of bamboo and they’re growing up against that.

The black fly has been rather prolific and I’ve had to give them the odd spray to help keep on top of them. Spraying is quite a controversial topic, but for ease and convenience I have resorted to using an off the shelf bug spray. Next year I’ll try and mark time to not use such chemicals.

The beans themselves have made a fantastic change – shredded, boiled until soft and mixed with butter really does conjure up childhood memories.

Beetroot, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower and pak choi

I actually grew all of these in the infamous toilet roll seed starters, which you can read how to make here.

Having adopted multiseed method, for both the leeks and the beetroots I can honestly say that the beetroots have turned out better than expected – for the life of me, I can’t remember what variety they are, but they’re the long type. The leeks have established themselves well, and I know that these will take longer to grow.

It’s the same with the cabbage and cauliflower. These will take longer to grow and establish themselves and I’m hoping to pick these toward the end of the year.

The pak choi went mad! I didn’t actually get much pak choi and I ended up pulling it out because it seemed to just take over.

Red onions, brown onions and garlic

Looking back, I was very lucky with the onions and garlic this year. I planted them a couple of months before the second hit of snow and it because of that I think they were established enough to get through that.

I kept the bed relatively weed free as I understand that they don’t tend to like too much competition and the produce has been pretty good as a result. I’ve picked them and they’re currently hanging in the shed to dry out.

I really must learn how to do garlic and onion plats to hang them – they can look really appealing.

Tomatoes

I had around 40 tomato plants, all of differing varieties including gardener’s delight, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes and run of mill ordinary tomatoes and they did unfortunately get the tomato blight.

The mixture of the warm temperatures and the wet conditions have most likely brought this on. I had to uproot the plants and put them aside. Very sad, and unfortunately, it’s quite common in these conditions.

Next time I will most likely do the research and look to grow something that’s blight resistant. These kinds of seeds can be more expensive, however, I think it’s probably worth it considering the trouble blight can bring.

Potatoes – dig versus no dig

I am conducting a little experiment with the potatoes, with one half being no dig and the other being grown how I usually grow them, and this is in a trench. You can read more about the experiment here.

On the first glance, I have to say, the no dig potato tops look in better shape. They’re less leggy, there are less weeds and the mounds are much more defined. These traits were the opposite for the dug potatoes in comparison. I guess I will really only know after I dig them up in a couple of weeks.

These potatoes did start to get some blight, most likely from the tomatoes so I’ve cut the tops off to limit any further damage. With any luck, the tubers in the ground should ok.

Video

So that’s everything, you’re all up to date – how are things on the plot where you are? I’d love to know in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

Cutting Grass

Is there anything more satisfying than seeing some grass being cut?

Well – sit back and enjoy!

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Allotment Diary Main Crop Potatoes Maris Piper

Dig vs. No Dig: Potatoes

It’s potato planting season and this year, I’ve decided to have a little bit of an experiment to help satisfy my own curiosity.

I’m yet to go full on No Dig, but I have been doing a lot reading and for the most part it’s making total sense to do so.

The No Dig habits I have picked up have been paying dividends the most notable is keeping the beds covered to help keep the weeds down. The second being to hoe little and often, again to keep the weeds at bay.

Now I’m dipping my toes into the No Dig method for real and I thought I’d have some fun by pitting No Dig potatoes against potatoes grown in a more traditional method.

I’m not just looking at returns, I’m also looking at how convenient it is too.

The potatoes I’m growing are Maris Piper potatoes, which are a good all round potato, and are a main crop.

The first thing I did was split my potato bed into two – one side being for dig, and the other for no dig.

Growing No dig potatoes

Finally, keeping all of that cardboard from all of those online deliveries paid of.

For the no dig side, I laid down some cardboard, of which we had accumulated quite a lot over the last few weeks, and emptied a few cans of water onto the cardboard to stop it from flapping around, and to flatten it even more.

Then started to empty the compost bin on top of the cardboard. There’s no technical ability required – and it was good to get stuck in and burn some calories. I was sure to leave a border of cardboard as well to stop weeds coming through.

I then spaced out the potatoes about a trowels depth apart, and planted them about a trowels depth into the mound.

I took a lot of cues from Charles Dowding’s “How to grow potatoes without digging?” video below. It’s a fairly straight forward method to be fair and it’ll be great to see if they turn out the same (or similar). I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Growing Dig potatoes

I’m not too sure if “dig potatoes” is even a term, but we’ll just use it for the sake of this post. 🙂

I first dug a couple of deep trenches, which were about a spits depth (a spits depth is a fancy term meaning a spade deep), making mounds either side of the trenches.

Much like the no dig potatoes, I spaced them around a trowels depth apart.

I then dug a hole for each potato and planted it into the trench. I then watered each of the sides of the bed generously.

As they grow, for the no dig bed, I’ll add soil from the compost bin, and for the dig bed I’ll move earth from the sides of the mounds into the trench – and this is really to help protect the shoots from any frost damage that may occur.

The weather is still a bit on the cool side, so the likelihood of the frost causing damage is still a possibility.

And now we wait. I’ll keep you posted on developments, but in the meantime, I’d love to know if you’ve grown potatoes in different ways and how you’ve got on with them in the comments below. 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Age UK Mobility: Simple gardening tips for those with limited mobility

I’m delighted to have taken part in an article with Age UK Mobility offering some gardening tips on how those with limited mobility can get the most out of their gardens and green spaces.

The article can be found in the link below and it’s packed full of advice. Be sure to check it out 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Bringing a Banana plant back to life

Toward the beginning of March I had a knock on the door from a chap down the road asking if I wanted to try and bring a banana plant back to life.

Like most plants, there was some sentiment attached, and so I took up the challenge to see if I can put ones botany skills to the test.

I’ve documented what happened just to quench my own curiosity.

March 12th 2021

The plant was in a less than desirable state. There were a lot of dead leaves, there were dead parts of the stem, where outside leaves had started to rot, and this has stunted growth and stopped a new set of leaves from opening up and photosynthesising.

I cut off the the dead leaves and stripped back three or four layers of the plant, getting back to the healthy un-rotted stems. Granted this does look quite brutal, but it was really to open up the plant and cut back to where there are signs of life.


March 21st 2021

Over the course of the week, the plant (I think) was getting over it’s amputation and making use of the room for growth.

At this point, I watered every other day and kept a close eye on what would happen next.

The plant was a pale green, and I was encouraged that there was growth coming up out of the middle of the plant.


March 29th 2021

I noticed that the plant was turning kind of yellow-ish, which is a sign of too much water and/or poor drainage. Therefore, I held off watering every other day and let it do it’s thing.

The middle of the plant grew faster than I’ve expected at this point, and I couldn’t wait to see it open up with fresh leaves. Rather significant as these were the first fresh set of leaves.


11th April 2021

The first leaf was well and truly opened up, and the plant as a whole was a nice deep green colour. This means the watering routine (approx. 3-4 pints every 2-3 weeks – and or looking dry) was paying off.

That said I did notice the banana plant was leaking fluid. The stem at the base and the end of leaves had droplets, which is a sign of slightly too much water.


18th April 2021

Freaky looking mushrooms have grown at the base of the post in the last week or so..

Have removed these as I’m not keen on mushrooms in places on where they shouldn’t be.

Mushrooms will give off spores, with can lead to mouldy plants. I actually don’t know these types of mushrooms – if you recognise them, let me know in the comments below.


18th April 2021

My work here is done…

The watering became a bit more stringent in these last few days and it certainly paid off.

The plant was a deep green and the second set of leaves were a lovely and broad and deep green in colour.

The stem was also just as green with no dead or rotting in sight.

Before and After

I think the results speak for themselves, and it only took a month and a half!

Do you have any plant saving stories? I’d love to hear them in the comment below 🙂

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Allotment Diary

The day I met Joe Swift

The other day, I found another absolute gem in the hard drive from the old radio days, which I’m hoping you’ll enjoy.

A bit of background…

Back in 2012, I was a roving reporter for my local radio station, (the great Radio Jackie) and around that time I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Swift at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton about gardening and his first entry in the Chelsea Flower Show 2012.

The garden designer and Gardener’s World presenter and had joined forces with Homebase to produce the Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden.

To raise awareness and in support of the trust, Joe Swift held a closed gardening workshop for previous patients at the hospital to come along and learn how to plant a variety of seeds, plants, bulbs and vegetables and learn about the benefits of gardening.

Date:20/04/2012 Rep:Sophia Sleigh Ref:SU65881 Contact Name/Number:Sophia Address:Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital, Downs Road, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5PT Job Details:Title: gardening marsden gardening at royal marsden for past patient – https://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/9671920.gardeners-world-presenter-joe-swift-visits-royal-marsden-hospital-in-sutton/

This is the discussion we had and the edited audio – I can’t believe that this was nearly ten years ago now! How time flies.

Audio

Transcript

Joe: I’m going to be talking to some of the cancer patients for the Teenage Cancer Trust, about gardening really, how wonderful it is to plant some seeds, watch them grow, get a bit colour into your life, and how easy a lot of gardening is really, and here, we’re just going to be planting a few tomato seeds and planting a few bedding plants and creating a bit of colour.

Adam: Now, I’m 22 and I have my own allotment, now why do you think it’s so important for young people to get out there and get stuck in?

Joe: You know, I just think so many kids and young people like yourself are sitting around, playing video games and watching TV and stuff – and it’s really up to us to create the opportunity to get kids out there, get younger people into gardening, it’s great for the environment, but as you know yourself the rewards can’t really be gained by anything else, in a funny sort of way. There are no down sides to gardening, none that I’ve found yet, and I’ve been doing it for years. Everything is so positive about it.

Adam: How is the garden doing at Chelsea, has it got a long way to go?

Joe: Well yeah, we started the build on May 1st, so I’ve different parts of the garden all over the country at the moment. I’ve got these huge timber frames which are down in Kent, I’ve got my boulders which are up in Yorkshire, I’ve got my plants which are in Hampshire – I desperately want to get them all together and get building because the process before is great, it’s exciting but now I just want to get on with it.

Adam: This is your first garden you said earlier – you must be nervous, I mean you’re going up against people that have been there for years – not that I’m trying to put you off or anything.

Joe: I know, I know…I know them all pretty well, I’m right next door to Cleve West who is one of my best mates and basically won best in show last year. He won a gold and best in show and has got six golds at Chelsea and I’m right next door to him. I have set myself off having slagged of many peoples gardens on TV, so I’m waiting for it all to come back on me, but I’m really enjoying it so far, and you know, it’s a dream garden – you don’t get to do these sorts of gardens for clients.

Adam: What would say to young people who want to get an allotment but feel it’s not really cool, it’s not very trendy…

Joe: Hang on, hang on – Allotments are cool. They are cool! Honestly! I live in Hackney, just up the road from Dalston, which apparently is the coolest place on earth and everyone is growing their own down there in any little space, balcony, roof garden, if they can get part of an allotment or even get an allotment and divide it up between four or five of you. A big allotment is quite a responsibility, I mean there’s nothing more fun than four or five of you going down there, growing a bit, getting a BBQ, getting some salads and getting some beers out. In the summer, it’s just a wonderful space, you can kind of do whatever you want and that’s what gardening is about. If you’ve got your garden then great, but if you haven’t then get somewhere you can grow together.

Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden 2012

Pictures of Joe’s first garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012, can be found here.

He won gold and was presented with the award by none other than Roger Daltrey, Who you may have heard of from a well known four piece. The Who front man is a patron of the trust.

How time flies. Allotments were cool and still are (in my opinion). Do you think the number of young people getting into gardening has increased over the last ten years? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.