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Allotment Diary

Picking out a Christmas tree that will last

Christmas! Love it or hate it, one of the big highlights of every season needs hardly an introduction – the Christmas tree!

In the world that we live in, picking out a good tree is crucial to enjoying the festive season with your loved ones and there’s nothing worse than waking up on a snowy Christmas morning to a bald, dried out tree.

Something to bare in mind is that your Christmas tree is slowly drying out after being cut – so the key is to keep it moist or at least pick out a tree that is as fresh as possible.

It’s placement within the family home, exposed to gas and central heating only accelerates the drying out process, and is made even worse when you start adding lights, which also generate a certain amount of heat.

This in mind, I called upon Squires Garden Centres for some advice on what to look for when buying that all important Christmas tree:

  • Look for a tree with a good shape, evenly spaced branches and one strong leader at the top for your star or angel to perch upon.
  • Your tree should have lovely deep green needles (rather than paler green) and should not be shedding too many needles when you move it.
  • Nordmann and Fraser Firs will naturally have better needle retention than Spruce.
  • To really help needle retention cut a few inches off the base when you get your tree home and plunge the trunk in to a bucket of water ( as if it were a bunch of flowers) and keep your tree in a cool place until it is time to bring it in the house.
  • When you do bring it inside avoid placing it too near a radiator or other source of direct heat.
  • Above all enjoy the scent, colour and movement of a real Christmas tree this festive season

Questions you should ask when picking out a good Christmas tree:

  • Are the branches stiff?
  • Do the needles fall off when you shake it?
  • Is it a big tree – but actually quite light when you pick it up? A light tree will indicate, a dried out tree
  • Is the top bald or lacking needles?
  • As above, how green is the tree?

Luckily – it’s  been a good growing season for trees this year with enough wet weather during the year to promote good growth and good needle retention, so chances are, in our year 2014, you’ll be okay in whatever tree you pick out.

If you have any other Christmas tree tips, be sure to comment and let us know!

Merry Christmas!

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Allotment Diary

Foraging for seeds at the end of the year.

Autumn is a great time of year to look around your local allotment find what you would like to grow the following year.

Deadheads and old flowers often contain hundreds of seeds and can be a really cost effective way to build up a collection of seeds and experiment with what you like and what you don’t like.

At the time of year, the plot is beginning to wind down and much of the time spent is used to collect dead leaves for leaf mould and keeping things alive during the winter.

Some of the deadheads you collect may already be dry, but if they’re not, you can easily dry them out on a shelf in the shed or greenhouse.

dahlia-seeds

Dahlia seeds

Dahlia plants can be quite expensive (depending on where you buy them from) if you buy them from the shops. The fantastic thing I have found with Dahlias is that they can reproduce via two methods, these being by seed and by the bulb.

Years ago I grew Dahlias from seed with great results, they produced huge colourful blooms which is a great way to attract bees to your plot.

 

marifold-seeds

Marigold seeds

Probably the most abundant of all of the deadheads. Each dead flower will contain hundreds of seeds. Marigolds are a great plant to grow as they serve two purposes. They keep the blackfly at bay and attract bees to your plot.

They’re dead easy to grow and can be sown straight into the ground in the spring.

 

runner-bean-seeds

Runner Beans

After you purchase the first set of runner bean seeds from the shop, you won’t need to buy them again.

Towards the end of the season I deliberately left some runner bean pods to go boney. These pods eventually went to seed, which means that when the plant dies, the pods will dry out and these seeds inside the pods will be good to plant in pots.

sunflower-seeds

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflowers always look impressive in the garden, and let’s be honest, when we grow them we always want them to be the biggest in all the land!

As you can see from the photograph, we’re not the only ones to have an interest in sunflower seeds, birds and squirrels like to raid the deadheads for food.

It’s been years since I’ve grown sunflowers so I’m hoping to give them another go next year.

chive-seeds

Chives

I absolutely love using chives in the kitchen, as a herb they can add a lovely aroma to the simplest of dishes. They’re also a great substitute for onions if you’re thinking of using an onion as a garnish.

Personally, I think chives work best with scrambled eggs.

The chive plan I have at the allotment will grow back next year, but I hope to grow them again in the kitchen as I believe chives work best when their fresh. Chive seeds a small, so when I grow them I will simply break the dead head up in a pot and cover with compost.

yellow-courgette-seeds

Courgette seeds

I’ve picked what’s left of the courgettes after letting them grow to a decent size. The plan is to store them in the shed and as and when I need to the seeds I shall scoop them out and let everything dry on a tray.

I’ve read that obtaining courgette seeds like this can be a bit hit and miss, but I’ll give this a go none the less.

tomato-seeds

Tomato seeds

Just like the marigolds, tomatoes hold hundreds of seeds inside of them, but how to get to them? Well, I’ve heard that you can take the tomatoes, wrap them in foil and let them dry out. They’ll smell a bit as decomposition takes place – but this is normal.

However, like the amateur gardener that I am, I did Google “how to extract tomato seeds” and found that this is probably the most reliable method. This article from The Guardian details every little step you need to go through to extract seeds from a tomato – it’s a bit fiddly, but it looks like you can save money in the long run.

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Allotment Diary

Autumn 2016 – A welcome sight…

So we’re well into Autumn and I have to say that this is a time of year that’s always welcome. After constantly battling the weeds that seemed to poke through over night throughout the summer, it’s nice to weed a patch that will stay clear until for at least a few weeks before you have to turn the ground over again.

Autumn at the allotment is a relatively stress free time because for the most part I’m clearing dead plants and injecting the ground with air by digging everything over. It’s not all dying off as I’m happy to report that the Elsanta strawberries that I have cultivated have established themselves into fine looking plants.

The purple sprouting broccoli I’ve had in the ground for most of the year, has been a massive disappointment – not one sprig, although the plants themselves are in quite good condition so I’m reluctant to dig them up and get rid of them. The Brussels sprouts however, look like their starting to produce a fine crop, so that’s a bonus – here’s to hoping they’re ready for Christmas.

The Rhubarb is dying off for the season and no doubt these are the few plants on the plot that will welcome the frost and snow that winter brings.

Shortly before I went on holiday to Barbados, I managed to plant my leeks outside into the ground – It feels like it’s taken them all year to grow to size of a pencil. I don’t think they’ll be ready for the kitchen until early next year, but that’s OK, it’s good to see something green on a plot that’s slowly winding down for the season. I’ve still got Maris Piper potatoes to dig up, which I’m hoping to do over the next couple of weeks before the weather really starts to turn.

The blackberry plants have also started to stop growing too – at one point it’s as if they were growing out of spite and taking over as much space as they can grab. I’m digging up some white gem parsnips as and when I need them and I have to say, not having grown parsnips before I’m really impressed with my efforts – the only thing that I regret is that I didn’t grow more.

That’s all to report for now – they predict a harsh winter so I’ll let you know how I get on with dealing with that.

Allotment-Autumn-2016

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Allotment Diary

How to tie up tomato plants

Tomato plants need support as they have no means of holding themselves up naturally.  Tomato plants that have the support of a bamboo cane or stake will naturally supply you tomatoes that are of  a higher standard, because your fruit will end up bigger, be relatively free of any dirt and other little pests that may want to tuck into them. It also makes picking tomatoes really easy too.

Tomato plants that haven’t been tied will remain on the ground, increasing your chances of developing diseases and causing your tomatoes to rot.  Tying up your tomato plants will held reduce any wind damages that may occur to your plant also.  My plants are around 12 inches tall and were starting to sway in the wind, and this is what has prompted me to give my plants some added support.

When I first planted them in the ground, you may have noticed that I already planted them with a stake/bamboo cane for this very purpose.   I tend to use gardeners twine because it’s quite durable but ultimately it’s bio-degradable so it’s good for the environment.  I have seen gardeners tear old t-shirts and clothes into lengths to use as ties also, so you may want to experiment with that.

I’ve also a number of ways in which gardens tie their plants to the bamboo canes, but I have a specific knot that I stick by because it allows just the right amount of movement, is strong but also it takes into account the growth of the plant as the stem grows bigger.

  1. Tie the a knot around the cane, making sure there’s a decent length of twine on either side of the knot
  2. Make a figure of eight with the twine and on the last loop, encompass the stem of the plant
  3. Finish off the figure of eight with a double knot

It should look like the pictures below.

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Allotment Diary

A look at the allotment so far in 2016

It’s amazing what moments you’re able to capture with your phone. Here are a few close up shots of what the plot looks like in June 2016!

Sit back and click!