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Allotment Diary

Dealing with a potted Christmas Tree

Potted Christmas trees are quite a bit different if you’re used to bringing home cut, 5ft plus Christmas trees.

The real difference is the size, root stock and evidently the weight. The reason why these differ is due to the age of the tree.

Cut trees, that are around 5ft plus are on average around 3-4 years old, where as potted trees are around a year old, and even at that early age, the root stock required to keep the tree alive is quite substantial.

That’s to say – that a bigger tree, means a much bigger root stock.

What to expect

Potted trees, usually come in a bag, and the main reason for this is because they’ve been grown in a pot, especially equipped to let roots grow through. This means the plant will need repotting into something more substantial.

Roots are quite important, so I chose to cut the pot off with a stanley knife, being sure to not slice off any of the roots.

This was actually quit fiddly, because the pot is quite thick, and you’re navigating around the holes and roots of the pot, but I got there in the end.

Exposing the roots of any tree is always a bit of risky business, but it’s all done with the best intentions.

I shook off any excess earth and I used this excess soil, which was of top soil consistency, with some multipurpose compost and potted the tree in a pot that was of a similar size.

There wasn’t a slightly bigger pot available, but in the new year I’ll most likely seek one out with a view to get it repotted once it’s more established – assuming that it survives! I’ve never grown one before. 🙂

As with potting any new plant, I followed the rule of filling the pot with compost until it wouldn’t take anymore, patting it down and watering it in.

The finished product looks quite smart and is currently living outside with some outdoor lights – which is what I would recommend if you’re conscious of making a mess in the house. If that’s not a bother, then you would need some sort of dish to sit the tree in as it would need regular watering.

These sorts of Christmas trees are an actually great feature for any space in my opinion and it’s really great to look out and see the lights flickering in the dark.

If you can, I would recommend a potted Christmas tree, they look and smell great and after festivities have passed, you’ve gained a tree to admire all year round.

Have you grown a potted Christmas tree before? Did it survive? I’d love to know how it went 🙂

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Allotment Diary

New Allotment Project (Unknown)?

There’s a patch at the allotment that needs some overdue TLC and this is the year where I’m going to make a start with this particular patch.

The space is at the end of the plot and it resides underneath some very old oak trees, which means, that not much tends to grow there, because of the fallen acorns, leaves and the level of light in this space.

Mainly, this space has been used to house nailed together cold frame, which succumb to the elements not so long ago.

If I’m totally honest, I currently don’t know what to do with this space. All I know is that it needs to be easy to maintain and useful. If you have any ideas, please do let me know in the comments below.

The first job on the agenda is clearance, whilst figuring out what to keep and what not to keep.

Pruning Red Gooseberry bushes

At the front of the plot are two well established red gooseberry bushes, which I’m reluctant to remove or move, for fear of doing more harm than good to the plants themselves.

The plants haven’t seem much pruning in recent years, and so as a result have become quite leggy. I’ve left around of the third of the plant left, and I’ve made sure that I’ve made cuts where there’s buds and new growth ready to sprout.

Moving the wood store

Keeping the gooseberry bushes in tact were two wired up logs, which have been there for quite a while.

Removing these wasn’t too much of a struggle as they have rotted at the base and just needed a quick push over. I’ve moved all of the wood in this space to a new area on the plot, behind the shed.

The wood store consists mostly of these logs and off cuts of decking used to create the raised beds.

I’m thinking that these could be quite good for a bug hotel perhaps?

Pulling back membrane

Covering the ground is a plastic membrane which has done a good job of keeping weeds at bay, but over the years, weeds have come grown through the membrane and on top of it, making it unworkable.

I used to be able to pull up the weeds fairly quickly clearing it of weeds, but that’s no longer the case. Going forward, it would be easier to run a mower over the ground.

Pruning fir tree

The space is home to a very well established fir tree, which has grown leaps and bounds over the years, without much encouragement and I’ve kind of left it to it’s own thing.

Needless to say, it’s become a little bit leggy in places and some branches have grown in the way – so a trim was well overdue.

Amazingly, as I was pruning the tree, I was greeted with a strong, delightful lemon scent – something I’d not experienced before with a fir tree. A Google search has revealed this tree could be none other than the Monterey Cypress Goldcrest.

I will most likely keep this tree in place.

What to do next…

Clearance is still underway, and I’m sure inspiration will come to me as I go as to what to do with this space.

Maybe just focusing on clearing the space should be my goal over the next few weeks, rather than getting caught up in figuring out what to do with it… What do you think?

I’d love to know your thoughts, suggestions and ideas in the comments below 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Autumn Allotmenting

Everywhere you look, the temperature is falling, the leaves are changing colour and the allotment is no different.

Visits to and from allotment really do dwindle heading into the autumn and winter, so as the darker evenings move on in, the allotment really does offer a great place to walk to stretch legs and get a breath of fresh air.

Time there at the weekends is also more treasured, probably now this year than in the summer – mainly because we can’t do much else, for obvious reasons at the moment.

On first glance, a good majority of beds are covered and so it looks like not a lot is happening – however, if you look closely, it’s quite the contrary.

Strawberries

These strawberry plants were gifted to us by some very dear friends, and they have taken root superbly – and the fruits taste fantastic. These were planted into some raised beds which were made up of predominantly leaf mould. You can see how I made these raised beds here. I’ve managed to cultivate some more strawberry plants from these and I can’t wait to pick some more in the spring.

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts often feel like they take such a long time to grow, baring in mind that I first sowed these seeds back in April – so you can imagine how satisfying it must be to see actual Brussels sprouts on the stem. They are being eaten by slugs and they’ve been congregating on the heads of the plant, so I really do need to address that. The sprouts reside in a brassica cage,

Last of the fruits

A good 50% of the plot is made up fruits and this is a great tactic with helping keeping on top things, mainly because the fruits look after themselves. The autumn raspberries have done really well and I’ve decided to not prune these like I did this time last year. Instead, I’ll be pruning these in the early spring. The Spring raspberries have not done that well – and I need to find out why. The rhubarb winding down now, and these generated a plentiful outcome. The blackberries… have served their time. They’re very lovely, but their pruning has become (and excuse the pun) a bind. New plans await for these – stay tuned!

This year I grew King Edward potatoes, which I’ve grown before once upon a time…

These were the only potatoes I grew this year. I usually do first early potatoes and mains, but this year I just grew mains.

I’ve been happy with the spud outcome this year, in the fact that I’ve ended up with more than I started with – but it’s worth noting that the jacket potato style spud has been far and few between, but I’ll be honest, I’m fine with that.

They’ve still been great for mashing and roasting 🙂

I’ve still got some potatoes to dig up, but in the meantime I’m storing them in the ground for… even more rainy days.

How is your autumn going so far? I’d love to know in the comments below! (Also, I’ve given the blog a new look – I’d love to know your thoughts on that as well 🙂 )

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Allotment Diary

An Allotment Summer 2020

This time of year always amazes me – wherever you look there’ll be a job that needs completing.

A patch of weeding here, a hoeing there, tying up of plants, harvesting, maintaining areas and the list goes on. This year, has felt easier mainly because there’s been a bit more time on our hands – for obvious reasons, that which must not be named.

On top of the allotment, I’ve also been helping with The Vincent Hazel Project – which is a story for another day, but this has taken up a decent chunk of time.

It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve actively grown anything, because I was rebuilding the beds and trying my hardest to eradicate (or mildly disrupt) mares tail and bindweed, and during that time I took the decision to not do too much growing. Now that I’m growing again – I can’t say how much I’ve enjoyed watching things grow and progress. It truly is a gratifying feeling, especially when you walk away with a trug filled with produce at the end of a visit.

Enjoying the summer at the allotment has been great this year and it’s been great to pick produce each week.

Note to self… You only need about two to four courgette plants…

I created a long raised bed / slash a compost bin and I filled it with a whole manner of green waste consisting on grass cuttings, weeds, and other cuttings and this has made for a great bed for the courgettes.

They’ve been producing consistently each week, to the point where, dare I say it, they’re beginning to lose their lustre – don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining really, I’m secretly always grateful for produce.

We’ve got to the point where we’re making courgette loaves to shift them.

I’ve grown the cucumbers up against old pallet wood, I’ve seen this method through various scrolls on instagram and I have to say that this is a really great idea. Not only does this provide support for the plants, but it also keeps the cucumbers off of the ground, which helps to keep them away from the slugs.

These too have been producing steadily throughout the last few weeks – we’re picking these off and eating them like sweets! Can’t get fresher than that.

The brassicas which currently consist of kale, broccoli, sprouts, cabbages and cauliflower are doing very well at the moment.

We’ve been picking kale each week, and I’ve been coming up with different ways to use it, including creating kale chips. Hopefully, when I’ve perfected this, this will be an upcoming recipe.

There’s been some signs of cabbage fly here and there, and this has resulted in discolouring and shrivelling of leaves. We’ve picked the first of the broccoli and also a couple of heads of cauliflower, which has been a nice treat. 2 cauliflower heads, did sadly become dinner for the slugs. Everyone’s got to eat though right?

The runner beans have subject to a ghastly black fly infestation, which means the growth has become stunted. The leaves are sticky with sap as well. I’ve only managed to pick a handful of beans so far and I don’t hold much hope for the future, but I’m still watering them and I’m hoping for the best ultimately.

I planted these beans in the ground, and next year, I’ve decided I’m going to try and grow them in in pots to help give them a head start to help with any aphidgeddons that may come my way – same with the French beans too.

The onions are doing well too. At first I though they weren’t going to swell, so I’d be a liar if I were to say I wasn’t disheartened at one point.

However – I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the transition of small to large as the tops die off and the bulbs begin to mature.

I’ll need to dig these out at some point and dry these in the shed.

I love the smell of onions drying – it’s a weird thing to like, but I think it’s something unique. It reminds me of autumn.

The root veg has consisted of radishes, carrots and beetroot this year. The radishes were great, so much so they were eaten so quickly that I’ve got no pictures available to show you.

I’ve only attempted to pick a few of the carrots an they’ve not been too big, and they could very pass as baby carrots, some of them are also forked, which isn’t ideal. What I will probably end up doing is, one day I’ll dig them up and either make some sort of soup, roast them or grate them into a salad.

I’ve only had one picking of beetroot thus far, they just look a bit too small at the moment, I’m hoping to get a decent harvest at some point, but I’m prepared that it could be toward the end of the year.

Next year, I think I will look into multisowing to see if this help this is a video about that by Charles Dowding.

The Autumn raspberries are doing ok, but I wish I could say the same for the spring raspberries. With the spring raspberries, there’s gaps and some of the plants look brown and burnt and have shown signs of stunted growth – but I’m not too sure why that could be.

As you’ll see from the pictures below there’s a stark difference between the two rows. If I have time to find out what’s going there, I’ll be sure to let you know what I discover. These plants are just a year old, and I pruned them slightly too early this year, so maybe that early pruning has had something to do with how they’ve started to fail.

We’ve also collected a nice collection of random fruits on our travels which include the usual wild blackberries, red gooseberry bushes, green gooseberry bushes, red and black currant bushes and more recently, we were gifted a set of strawberry plants, an extra gooseberry bush and a grape vine, which is a massive touch – and deserves endless thank yous 🙂 .

A good majority of these are wild, and I really do just leave them to their own devices. Next year, I plan to move the black currents and the currents and focus on getting these plant to produce more fruits over all.

Oh and I mustn’t forget the plum tree – this is doing really well and has some lovely plums that I’m waiting to ripen. I try and keep this pruned so that the energy in the plant goes to the actual fruit rather than to the new growth.

To go with the plum tree, I’m on the lookout for a decent variety of apple that’s good for everyday use as well as cooking – if you know of one, please do feel free to leave a comment below.

So that’s what’s been happening on the plot 🙂 what have you been up to? I hope you’re enjoying the fruits of your labour. 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Planting out – a quick how to…

Planting out is great – you’re at that point where you’ve seen your plants grow from seed, to seedling and now they’re big enough to be released into the wild!

I often try to write about planting out your plants – and the you do this is really simple, and it’s more or less the same for every plant you wish to grow, whether it’s cabbages, sprouts, tomatoes…etc.

I’ve grown from seed cauliflower, cabbages, pak choi, broccoli, sprouts, courgettes and cucumbers – and all in all it took me about week to plant everything out in their entirety.

Don’t cast a clout ’til May is out

Old English

Leading up to planting out, there’s one phrase I always tend to keep with me, and that’s “to not cast a clout until May is out.” A ‘clout’ is an old English word for clothing, so this phrase means to not disregard your winter clothing until the end of May, and this is because we still have a risk of frost until the end of May. (Thanks Google!)

Applied in gardening, this means to not plant out your seedlings until the frost is behind us, as our plants run the risk of being subject to frost damage.

Bed preparation

The bed I chose to plant into was the same one I’d built a brassica cage onto – the ground was a little bit compacted after months of rain and walking on top of it, so I gave the bed a light forking to help with drainage.

It was quite a hot day, and even though the ground was forked, there’s no way I could plant into this bed.

I borrowed on to the top of the forked area a healthy layer of compost from the compost bin to plant into.

Not only does this make it easier to plant into, but it’s also a mulch that will help to reduce weed growth and keep moisture into the ground.

Planting out

  1. First you would need to dig a hole, and to help out with how big the hole should be, you can use the base of the pot as a guide. The hole should be big enough bury the plant.

2. Take the plant outside of the pot, and use your fingers to support the plant and the stem of the plant. The more you can handle the plant from the base the better.

3. Bury the plant into the pre-dug hole and neatly cover the base of the plant with the composted material, making sure that the roots are well covered and the plant is well supported into the ground.

Watering and next steps

Planting out can be a bit of a shock to the system for your plants, so I tend to get into the habit of watering a little bit every day for the first couple of weeks to make sure that they can get established.

Within a couple of weeks, you’ll see your plants take root and this will be reflected in the growth above ground.

You’ll also leaving your plants open to slugs and so you’d want to think about how to manage that. This guide here on dealing with slugs has some helpful tips you can employ to reduce slug damage.

What have you planted out recently? How are you getting on as summer gets underway? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

Making a brassica cage

Over the last year or so I’ve accumulated a good collection of polls and different pieces of metal, with a view to build something that resembles a brassica cage, fruit cage or something along those lines.

What lies ahead, I like to refer to as “Allotment ingenuity”. Making do with what you have, and solving puzzles when you need to.

Why do you need a brassica cage?

Birds and pigeons love brassicas. Once they see them, they’ll waste no time in laying waste to all of the hard work and effort you’ve put into caring for your plants from seed.

The White Butterfly is also partial to a cabbage, sprout and broccoli or two, and they have even been known to lay their eggs among plants, so when that happens – you’re done for.

Talking from experience, it can be really demotivating seeing all of your hard work slowly diminishing, so it’s best to limit any chances of that if you can.

Part 1 – building the frames

For broccoli and Brussels Sprouts your structure needs to be at a minimum 4-5ft high, to cater for these plants. I’ve seen cages exceed that height allowing you to walk in and get more up close and personal if you need to – so with that mind, go with a height that suits you.

The first thing I did, was to organise the pieces that I had accumulated, and I tried to match things into pairs as much as I could.

Over the years I think I’ve built up a bit up a collection of half finished poly tunnel parts, trampoline parts, (I think) parts of an old swing or mattress frame – all of which useful in a full set, but individually, not much good to man nor beast.

I spent ages, probably a good few hours trying to figure out if I should make one giant frame, or make half the bed consist of a frame, and after a good night sleep, I figured out I could probably have two separate frames, which is good because I’ve got plants that are both big and small.

The first frame I built was a square-ish shape, and it’s about 5ft (just over 1.5m) high.

On top of the poles sat two squarish tops, (again I don’t know where from) to define the width of the frame.

To hold in the standing poles, I hammered in wider, poles for the thinner poles to sit into.

This way, I would know that the height would be the same all the way round.

This is an ideal size for brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

The second frame is an arch, and to be honest – I think this was part of a much bigger poly tunnel frame, but I was missing the legs.

At this point, once I’d figured out what I had I was feeling a lot more confident and I was starting to feel like I’d had something to show for all of this hoarding.

I staked into the ground some taller, thicker poles at each end to try and keep everything as sturdy as possible.

This will be great for the cabbages and cauliflower, and I might even plant the pak choi in here as well if I have the room.

Part 2 – adding the netting

There’s lots online about what type of netting you should use, and I’m pretty sure the well seasoned gardener has a preference on what they use and why.

The main thing to consider is that the mesh should be small enough to not let any butterflies or birds through. Searching for butterfly netting online is usually a good rule of thumb as to what you should be going for.

I managed to find this green shade, debris netting (otherwise known as scaffolding netting) on Ebay. It was a really good price and at that quantity, it’s probably going to last me for a good few years.

This netting comes in a range of different colours, but bare in mind that the darker colours (blue, black, dark green…etc) will provide more shade for your plants – so you may or may not need to take that into account.

I chose the standard light green and I think it’s going to do the job nicely.

It’s not everyday that I build a frame and cut some netting to suit, so I did measure up what I’d built and drew out the diagrams on paper to get an idea of what I needed.

On the actual day, it doesn’t always go to plan, but it’s good to have a rough idea of what pieces you’ll need and how long they need to be if you’ve not done something like this before – especially for the arch way.

With an arch, you need to measure the curvature, as well as the base to get a truer sense of how much you’ll need.

And always add a little bit more than you need. You can always take away, but you can never add.

I’ve not dealt with debris netting before and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily it cuts, and how relatively easy it is to handle, even on a windy day.

When cutting long sheets, I lay flat two planks of wood at each end to stop everything from moving and the wood gives me something to cut along as well.

The netting for the square frame was relatively straight forward to put together, mainly because it’s a case of wrapping square sheets onto a square frame.

I’ve used four pieces in total with each piece joining together at the top.

As I was building it I realised it would be a good idea to put a brace at each end to help secure the netting to something – for these I just used a couple of pieces of bamboo cane, and used garden wire to secure them to the main frame.

I want some parts of the netting to be permanently secured, and for those parts I’m tying everything together with cable ties.

Other parts I’m going to want to loose off so that I can get inside and water, and for that I’m using some garden wire that I can twist together and untwist when I need to.

Being able to get inside is something that actually dawned on me as I was building it, and I’m glad it did!

For the archway, I intended to use just two pieces of netting, one for each side – however, it didn’t quite turn out like that.

The first problem I came across was that there was a sag in the middle of the frame, so it didn’t make for the easiest of things to have to secure down.

The second problem I came across was that as I pulled one side, it would then uneven up the other – making it very difficult as to where I permanently secure the netting.

So to overcome the first problem, I decided to build an extra inner arch using two pieces of an old trampoline.

Trampoline parts are super useful, but there’s a lot of on the spot geometry used when putting it all together, because I haven’t got a full set.

I wanted the arch to start and end at the same point, so this means that the middle of the curve would need be straightened out, so I used a bit of wood to achieve this.

In the physical universe that we occupy, it would not be possible to the same base width of the arch as the other two pieces – it’s ok though, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

To secure this new arch independently of the main frame, there’s a peg on the inside of the main trampoline pole staked into the ground, as well as a peg staked into the ground and cable tied to the main pole.

So long as we don’t get hurricane or storm Dennis style winds, I can’t foresee much movement there – but if it does, it’s easily fixed.

The new middle arch really did pay off as it allowed me to limit any sag and riding in the middle of the structure. This did of course change how I Iaid the netting across the frame and I chose to secure everything in the middle of the frame.

This did of course mean I had quite a bit of excess netting to remove.

I also did add a few of pegs in the ground, in between the poles just to tie the netting to at the base.

The last piece that needed to be added was the other half of the netting. This is where I made a little mistake and cut the roll a little bit too short. This means, where I intended to have just two pieces of netting for the frame, I ended up with three – no big deal. I kind of feel this is a blessing in disguise, as I feel that at frequent visits, I won’t want to take off the whole half, so can get away with undoing a quarter.

I feel this has been a good exercise, and I’m really pleased with the outcome. Looking around at my allotment site, it looks like there’s a million ways in which you can make a brassica cage, a fruit cage and each structure has it’s own charm and individuality.

I’d love to read how you go about building a brassica cage and other hints and tips to keep the birds and butterflies at bay.