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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

VIDEO: The Snow Plot

Everything looks so beautiful when it snows

I seldom get see what the plot looks like in the snow – mainly because it doesn’t snow that often, so I couldn’t wait to get up there and have a gander.

Walking up to the plot, in weather like this really does break up the monotony of it all at the moment. It’s really just what the doctor ordered.

It brought people out of their houses, even though they were keeping their distance, a wave and a smile still travelled the distance.

What a marvel it is to see everything with a nice, frosty dusting – it all just looks so different.

The citrus fir at the base of the plot looked very festive indeed – straight from a Christmas card.

We even posed for a photo, to mark this very wintery event – which is something we hardly ever do.

Video

We didn’t stay for long, but I did manage to get a couple of shots of the plot – Enjoy.

Did you managed to get out there and build a snowman today? I’d love to know in the comments below 🙂

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Allotment Diary

2020…The good bits

We awoke in 2020 in the Lake District, and we couldn’t help but visit and climb The Old Man of Coniston while we were there. The weather was great and it was a great start to the year.

I was nearing the end of my plot makeover and really looking forward to growing some real produce, for what felt like the first time in ages.

Storm Dennis was doing a number on parts of the country, especially around where we’re based, so I was prepping by creating toilet roll seed starters.

They’re really easy and therapeutic to make if you’re looking to pass the time, during these rainy and cold winter months at the beginning of the year.

Shortly after storm Dennis happened… March is when covid-19 started to take hold, and gardening, the outdoors and open spaces (in my eyes) became much more important.

After creating the toilet roll seed starters, I felt I needed a place to store them, and this led me to create Homemade propagators out of mushroom and fruit punnets.

They’re not sending anyone to the moon, but they did work, they’re fun to make, cheap and there’s some recycling involved there too.

To complete the make-it-yourself trilogy, I came up with a way to make your own garden labels out of pots and plastics that are around.

Needless to say, I’ve already started stock piling toilet rolls, mushroom and fruit punnets and plastic pots for the year ahead.

Then… A complete national lockdown was announced and that changed everything.

Can I visit my allotment during a lockdown?

How gardening will help get us through covid-19

The nation was paralysed with the imposition of travel restrictions and a stoppage on social gatherings.

Panic buying then started and this without a doubt rejuvenated the Dig for Victory spirit, to help with food supplies and anxiety about food shortages. Prince Charles even commended this can-do attitude during a BBC Radio 4 attitude.

This ethos seemed to spread across the globe, as I remember seeing this article by the New York Times.

Armed with homemade toilet roll seed starters, propagators and seed labels, I thought it might be useful to do a little how to (ish) series on how to start growing your own produce from seed – which I’m hoping people find useful.

Growing preparation

Seed
sowing

Separating seedlings

Planting
out

Leading into the summer everything became incredibly busy and this definitely did affect blogging activities.

I did a recap here on how fruitful the season was, and how all of the preparation paid off.

A lockdown can really spur on dipping toes into new interests – and so it was only a matter of time before I decided to experiment with new ways to make alcohol more interesting.

There were elderflowers growing nearby and I had seen that you can make your own elderflower infused gin – which was amazing and something I’ll do again. I feel I need to grow an elderflower for this purpose only.

Naturally, I had to compare an ordinary gin and tonic, along with an elderflower gin and tonic – just to make sure it was worth the effort.

That was a really difficult experiment…

The Vincent Hazel Project is something I embarked upon – which took up a great deal of time, energy and brain space from between the end of May and October.

The project involved cleaning up an alleyway between Vincent Avenue and Hazel Bank in Tolworth, which had been subject to years (possible even decades) worth of fly tipping, which had resulted in unsightly mounds and overgrown areas.

This project really came together with nothing less than phenomenal results, thanks to dedicated residents, Idverde and local landscaper Greenwood Paving. A big shout out to everyone who got involved 🙂 .

I’d encourage anyone, looking to get involved with a community project to do so, it can make you think differently about the area you live in and it’s a great way to make new friends and contacts, whilst making a difference at the same time.

These before and after photos of the project really do speak for themselves.

The clear up phase of that project is behind us, and so now I can turn my attention to a new allotment project, which I’ve started just toward the tail end of this year.

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 turning this little corner into a wildlife garden.

The Vincent Hazel Project, really did make me think more about nature, the outdoors and encouraging a more beneficial wildlife on the plot.

So far, I’ve managed to clear the area for the wildlife garden and I’ve even managed to make my first bug hotel.

So that brings us to now. Goodbye 2020 – Hello 2021. Let’s all hope for a better year and good tidings all round.

I’d love to hear how your year went, in the comments below 🙂 .

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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

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.