The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

So I haven’t blogged for a while and I was thinking of a way to post an update you on what’s been happening at the allotment over the last month or two in an interesting way.

With that in mind I decided to write an update with a Sergio Leone theme whereby I can highlight The Good, The Bad and The Ugly over the last month or so.

The good

Potatoes

This year I planted Charlotte Potatoes first and Desiree potatoes and judging from the tops they’ve gone from strength to strength and have really flourished with the weather changes.

If you’re starting an allotment I would fully recommend growing potatoes, they can be very low maintenance and rewarding at the same time.

I also think the flowers you get on your crop can often be overlooked and are overrated.

Potatoes

Garlic

I’ve started to harvest the garlic that I planted last year. I decided to grow lots of them because garlic is something that we use a lot of in the kitchen and so far I’ve been greeted with wonderful bulbs of white and purple cloves.

The patch is a bit overgrown with weeds and the dreaded horsetail so I’m getting rid of this as well.

Garlic.jpg

Red Onions

My red winter onions have been a pleasure to dig up. They’re lovely and round and I’m going to enjoy cooking with them in the kitchen. They haven’t needed much maintenance over the last few weeks except for a weed and a hoe hear and there.

I was a bit stingy with how many I planted last year and so I will aim to plant more next year.

Onions Courgettes Garlic

Courgettes

Wow! Simple wow. My courgettes have taken on a life of their own and are showing lovely wide, leaves, being a source of ground cover at the same time.

As is always the case with courgettes – I’ve left a few on there for too long and so I’ve ended up with few marrows. I’ll need to think of new and interesting ways to try and use them up.

Best start collecting those jars for some chutney…

Blackberries

The wild blackberries growing at the allotment are always a reliable delight. If ever things get a little bit slack here or there, I can always count on them to come up trumps.

That said they do have a tendency to grow bigger and take over quicker than you think. So pruning and chopping little and often can really help keep them in check.

Not only that, but regularly pruning encourages the plant to put it’s energy into the fruit.

Blackberries

Peas

I had these curved poles hanging around in the shed for a long period of time and I decided to something with them and I ended up creating this rather elegant structure for my peas to grow up against – and if I say so myself, it doesn’t look half bad.

I’ve been periodically watering the plants and now I’ve generated a respectful number of pods.

I love fresh peas so next year I’m going to try and grow more of them.

I think that’s the trick with peas, grow lots of them so that they feel worth while to grow.

Strawberriesย 

We did have a good glut of strawberries which was a lovely surprise baring in mind that I haven’t tended them to at all over the last 12 months. I’m growing Elsenta strawberries and they’re the most common type of strawberry that you’ll find in the your local garden centre.

Next year I’m going to expand the strawberry patch and grow some more. I’m yet to make strawberry jam, so that’s my goal for next year ๐Ÿ™‚

Strawberries

The Bad

Tomatoes

I was excited to grow lots of different types of tomato plants, because I haven’t properly focused my efforts into growing tomatoes for a good couple of years. I said at the beginning of the year that this has to change – which it did for a while.

We’ve had two mini heatwaves here in the UK and my seedlings were completely wiped out by the heat during the first one. I was so discouraged that anything that did come up I just left to the slugs.

Lesson learned. From now on, I’m starting tomato plants in my flat where I can keep a close eye on them. I did say to myself that I should resow, but in the end I never got round to it.

Tomatoes

Runner beans

Same thing with the runner beans. They got wiped out by the heat and then decimated by the slugs.

What’s more – I built a pretty nifty structure for them as well, which is sadly going to waste.

Calibrese

Sadly, the calibrese were the third victim of the heat and slugs. Which is a shame because they came on so quickly and so were so healthy looking at one point.ย  Again I thought about resowing them – but seriously ran of out of time, so I’m left with no calibrese.

Maybe next year I’ll have more luck.

I have learnt something from the above however, and that’s to sow the plants I want to see succeed at home, because by doing this I can keep an eye on the seedlings and watch them grow.

Calibrese

White onions

Now, I’m not sure if this would sit in the bad category or the the ugly category as technically – they did germinate, but they didn’t grow as well as I’d hoped – not like the red onions.

The reason being is because I sowed them next to a place where I had some mint, lemon balm and some chives, which I think was too much competition for the onion sets, hence why they didn’t swell as well as I’d hoped.

Another lesson learned for next time!

The Ugly

Bindweed

Something that has done incredibly well (annoyingly) is the bindweed. A truly prolific weed which seems to take over at an unprecedented rate.ย  It’s long wiry leaders spread far and wide and seem to last longer than you would ever expect to last.

If you have bind weed – avoid putting it on your compost bin – you’ll regret it later on as it will, without doubt still survive and spring up wherever you spread your compost bin.

My advice with dealing with bindweed is to leave it out in a wheelbarrow to dry and then once it’s dry, burn it.

Horsetail

Seems quite apt to end a Sergio Leone – allotment-update-ish type of post with a horse related reference… Can you see what I did there? Anyway, Horsetail (often called Marestail) is another prolific weed that takes over and will outlive us all.

Horsetail is a prehistoric plant that really takes some hard graft to get rid of. I’ve written a post here on how to to deal horsetail.

So there we have it! That’s what’s happening!

10 Reason why gardening is awesome!

Last week, National Gardening Weekย just passed us by.

What better excuse than to sit back and reflect on why I love gardening and why we should all be doing it in some sort of capacity, whether it’s tending to indoor plants, a window box or a garden.

Here’ are my 10 reasons why gardening is awesome!

Gardening is exerciseย 

I’ve always said that my allotment is the best gym in the world. It’s actually cheaper than a gym too. So last year I was part of a gym and I can honestly say I seldom broke that much of sweat, compared to the sweat that I build up at the allotment. The health benefits are well documented from aerobic exercise to improving circulation and lowing blood pressure.

Gardening The Wonderdrug - Physical Health Benefits of Gardening

You get to be creativeย 

Gardening is great way to use plants to brighten up spaces of all different shapes and sizes. You can mix different plants to achieve different colours, heights and shapes. Instagram is great place to aggregate different ideas for your space. There’s also a lot more videos online showing you how to make quirky planters and grow in the smallest of spaces. Get creative! ๐Ÿ™‚

Help the bees

It’s no secret that our bees need a helping hand. The decline in bees over the years is thanks to climate change and industrial farming methods. I’ve always grown up believing that if there are no bees in the world then human kind will cease to exist (or something like that…). It’s only now that big business is starting to think along those lines, with the decline in bees putting global business at risk. I’m hoping to plant some more pollinators at my allotment to help.

Help the environment

The world needs more green spaces and every little helps. Plants release oxygen – everything needs oxygen to survive, therefore plants are good for the environment, it really is that simple. Whether you tend to plants indoors or outdoors, you increasing the quality of your space infinitely by growing plants. They’re also a bit of a focal point in that particular space.

You compost

Composting is easier than ever and you can you compost a lot more than you could. Hot composting and no dig gardens are all the rage and they both involve using biodegradable material straight from the source. Composting reduces the amount going to landfill and you improve the growing conditions of wherever you plan to grow your plants.ย  Compost helps promote good soil nutrients and water retention.

Compost bin

Assists with stress relief

I’m a firm believer that gardening is a great friend if you’re stressed out or if you’ve had a tough time recently. Everything naturally moves at a slower pace which gives you time to think. In my opinion, plants have a very calming effect and that is a good thing. I recently read this fantastic article by the Bohemian Raspberry about how gardening has helped her through some trying times. Check it out here.

You learn about plants

OK, so gardening brings out my geeky side – I’m fascinated by the history of different varieties of plants and vegetables. When it comes to vegetables I’m eager to learn how different varieties work best for different dishes – for instance, Desiree potatoes are meant to make awesome chips and Maris Piper make fantastic roast potatoes.

You learn about the weather and the climate

I’m constantly watching the weather, purely because I’m a fair weather gardener at heart. To go as so far as to say I was fussy wouldn’t be too far from the the truth as well – I like it not too hot or not too cold. Watching of the weather often helps me to make decisions when it comes to planting things, cutting things and sowing things. The conditions have to be just right. For instance, this year I held off from sowing any seeds – and it’s paying off.

If you grow your own – you get food

Going from plot to plate… Is there anything more satisfying or delicious? I follow a simple mantra when it comes to food that’s been passed down to me – it’s not about quantity it’s about quality.ย  Fresh food from your plot really is a treat and you really do taste the difference. You can also educate your pallet and soon find out what’s good and what’s bad. Check out my recipe page to see what I do in the kitchen with my produce.

It’s relatively inexpensive

Gardening really isn’t an expensive hobby. It all starts with one pot, one bag of compost, some seeds and away you go. I love looking at my plants and seeing how they grow – a bit like a hobbit. You can also recycle a lot of your household items which makes gardening even more satisfyingly cheap!

So there we have it! If you garden let me know the reasons why you love it so much in the comments below. If you’re thinking about taking up a new hobby – I hope I’ve convinced you to take the first steps ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

Gardening is awesome!

Picking Rhubarb

Picking Rhubarb

Picking Rhubarb is great because it’s probably one of the first signs of the year that all of your hard work has paid off.

As I’ve said before, throughout the year rhubarb is one of those really low maintenance plants that offers a great return. It’s a great filler in cakes, crumbles and tarts.

I was lucky enough to learn from a young age that there’s a knack to picking Rhubarb so that you don’t end up damaging the plant when pulling out nice clean stems. .

With my particular rhubarb, which is called champagne, as a general rule of thumb, late March to late May is a good time to pick it. The crop is at its best and it’s not too bitter. I remember picking Rhubarb in the summer years ago and it was a huge disappointment – it was sour and tasteless.

How to pick rhubarb

Rhubarb stems grow in different directions, so it’s best to pull the rhuarb stem in the direction it’s growing in. If you don’t then you run the risk of snapping the stem which is not only messy, but what’s left in the crown can rot and damage the plant later on.

Now, it’s inevitable that the odd stalk will snap – it always happens with me at some point, so don’t worry too much, I guess the moral of the story is that you don’t want it happening too often.

When picking your stalk, get in as close to the center as possible, grabbing a stem as low you can – and then pull. They’ll be a natural give when you pull and a hollow crunching sound as you pull – but not a snap.

When you pull out a stem of rhubarb you should have a nice, clean but almost gooey end that’s a U shape. Lovely stuff!

Then once it’s picked you need to top and tail the stem. I like to cut the leaf about an inch or two from the base of the leaf and a couple of inches from base of the stalk so that I get as much as I can from the stalk. As a rule of thumb you want try and cut the stem at the point at which it starts to turn red.

I don’t like to be too severe when picking rhubarb as each time you pick it you’re giving more space, light, water and air to the rest of the crop – so I try and aim to pick around 3 or 4 stalks from each plant.

The remaining pieces I lay on the compost heap. I’ve read that sometime this isn’t ideal as the leaves are quite acidic, but in truth I’ve never noticed too much of a problem with doing this.

And that’s how you pick rhubarb! It’s easy-peasy lemon squeasy ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve got a few rhubarb recipes you can use, but I’m always interested to here what you do with yours. Be sure to let me know in the comments below.

Sowing Tomatoes: San Marzano

Little did I know when I received a copy of Kitchen Garden magazine that I would be growing one of the most unknown but used tomatoes of our time.

Shortly after sowing the Red Cherry tomato I sowed San Mazarno plum tomatoes. I really wanted to grow plum tomatoes because not only do I not grow them that often, but when I go abroad, especially Poland in the summer, I often see them and think how wonderful they are.

So I Googled San Mazarno tomatoes to write this post and I was amazed at the information available. In short, it’s probably one of the most canned and used tomatoes in the world and you will have probably used them from either a can, sauce or puree without even knowing it.

It’s a very highly regarded variety and has been referred to as the ‘most important tomato of the 20th Century’ – I would expect this because of the food and manufacturing industries it’s fuelled and sustained over the years.

One of the reasons why it’s used for canning is because the flesh is thicker than other varieties of plum tomatoes and there are less seeds. Making it a very profitable product.

I for one are very excited to see how these turn out and I hope they last through UK climes, or we have a decent Italian style summer to help ripen them.

Like the Red Cherry, this variety will require bamboo cane support and the side shoots taken out as they grow.

I honestly had no idea what I was sowing when I planted these seeds – I guess that’s one of the wonderful things about gardening is that discovering different varieties can take you by surprise.

This year I’m growing 4 types of tomatoes and this is the third after after Gardener’s Delight and Red Cherry.

Have you grown San Mazarno plum tomatoes before? Were they any good? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. ๐Ÿ™‚

Sowing Tomatoes: Red Cherry

I discovered Red Cherry Tomatoes last year, and ever since my discovery I thought – I must try and grow them. So my favourite cherry tomato is Gardener’s Delight and I think I’ve been quite vocal about this, so these will be a nice addition to my tomato collection this year. That’s right, I’m still growing Gardener’s Delight ๐Ÿ˜‰

Let me tell you how I discovered Red Cherry Tomatoes. Last year, when I was at the RHS Chelsea Flower Showย I came across the Hobbit garden in the main tent and I was able to sample some Red Cherry tomatoes in the little front courtyard at the front of the garden – and I have to admit, the flavour really took me by surprise. It was probably the sweetest tomato I’d ever tasted. And I know what you’re thinking, it’s Chelsea, it’s bound to be particularly excellent…But it really was!

I remember the the foliage being a real deep green and the tomatoes were such a deep lipstick red – they were a real stereotypical red tomato colour, which was absolutely fantastic!

I also noticed that they planted basil with their tomatoes, which not only looked great but apparently kept pests at bay. I think this added a real Italian edge as well, we all know that tomato and basil goes hand in glove. So I’ll definitely be doing this at my allotment.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017

All I know about Red Cherry Tomatoes is that the manufacturer is Mr. Fothergills and that you sow them like every other tomato seed.

They’re also an indeterminate tomato variety, which means that when they grow they’re going to need support from a bamboo stick and some string. I’ll also need to pinch out the side shoots in order to stimulate growth and encourage the plant’s energy into going into producing lovely delicious tomatoes!

I’d love to know if any one else managed to sample this wonderful variety at last year’s RHS Chelsea Flower show, plus anyone else who’s ever grown this particular variety – are they as sweet and tasty as I remember?