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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

How I built a hedgehog hotel

A hedgehog hotel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now and today I spent the day putting it together.

This is all part of the wildlife garden I’m putting together, and having a hedgehog hotel is a nice supplement to all of the other wildlife features that are in place – like the bug hotel.

You may have noticed earlier that I’m getting into the habit of using egg shells as homemade slug deterrents, and having hedgehogs in the garden is a good excuse to move away from chemically based slug deterrents.

Why encourage hedgehogs to the garden?

Hedgehogs eat slugs and snails. As a gardener and allotmenter, (for selfish reasons) that’s the biggest selling point for encouraging hedgehogs into the garden.

That said, there is a greater, wider need to encourage hedgehogs, and this is because the British Hedgehog Preservation Society in July of 2020, announced that the hedgehog is close to extinction.

To make things worse, the Mammal Society conducted a survey in the August of 2020, which discovered that the extinction of the hedgehog was close to imminent, especially in Surrey, which is where I am.

Materials

Pallet stamp: IPPC, PL 04-522, HT

As is with true allotment style, I built this with a pallet, some screws and other bits and bobs.

Now, with this particular build, pallet selection is quite important, as this is going to be home to hedgehogs, it’s best to use as friendly materials as possible.

If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see there’s a stamp on the pallet which indicates:

  • IPPC: The International Plant Protection Convention helps to reduce the spread of pests for plants products internationally. This means, this is an international pallet, intended to move around the world.
  • PL: Country of origin – Poland
  • 04-522: This is a regional identifier, and this is a region in Warsaw.
  • HT: This pallet was Heat Treated, which is preferable for this kind of project.

If you see MB on a pallet, the pallet was treated with Methyl Bromide, which is a toxic pesticide. In my opinion, think twice when using these pallets.

For more pallet advice, please see a great point of reference here.

Making the sides

The first thing I did was cut the strips off of the pallet wood, which would go to make the four sides.

I then used strips of old deck board to brace the sides together, and also to help give me something to drill into, for when creating the actual box.

I didn’t actually measure anything when I was cutting the wood, but when screwing in the deck, I did make sure that they were at a 90 degree angle.

This allowed me to cut and shave as needed to make sure it was all square… Well, as square-ish as I could make it.

Making the hole

Now that the sides were all put together, the next thing was to make a hole for the little critters to enter into.

Having done a Google search, I’ve read that the ideal size for a hole is approximately 5inches (13cm). I cut this using a multi-tool (thank you for lending me that for this project – you know who you are!).

To add extra stability to the hole, I added a brace made from one of the off from the hole.

The lid

At this point, I hadn’t really put too much thought into the lid, outside of knowing that it needed to be made from wood.

I used three deck boards, which as tremendous luck would have it, were the perfect width of the whole box.

These were actually the same pieces of board I used to create the raised beds, so I cut them to size, leaving an overlap to act as a kind of canopy. The canopy is really just for looks and isn’t really necessary for a hedgehog hotel, but it looks nice. 🙂

Next came the second piece of tremendous luck – and that’s that the piece of old perspex for the lid, fitted perfectly onto the lid, without having to cut anything. Love it when a plan comes together.

I wanted to add a piece of perspex to help keep it dry from rain water, and also it would match the bug hotel.

The tunnel

Ideally, I’ve read that a hedgehog hotel needs a tunnel at the front, and this is to help stop predators from getting inside of the box, and causing any damage.

This was easy enough to construct with some old scrap pieces of wood, and just drilled into the sides, around the hole of the box.

One thing I did make sure was that the hole of the tunnel was still that 5inches (13cm) in size to allow the hedgehogs to get in.

Placement

I placed the hedgehog hotel under the citrus fir, and next to the mini bug hotel, by the wheelbarrow bed.

The citrus fir will provide some extra shelter from the wind and rain, and hopefully the insects that the bug hotel will attract will act as a food source – I’ll also try and place in a water source nearby, out of an old bowl too at some point.

Around the back of the box and the sides, I added some old dead leaves – this is so that the hedgehogs can use this material to create a nest inside.

All in all, I think it all came together quite well, baring in mind that it was made from scrap wood and old pallet.

Hopefully, this will make for a nice residence for some hedgehog guests. Fingers crossed they go to town on the slug population too!

Have you had any experience with hedgehogs? I’d love to know what they are in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

Homemade eco slug pellets

Making homemade slug pellets/repellent is easy, cost effective and much more friendly.

Making homemade slug pellets, or a slug deterrent is very easy, and much like collecting toilet rolls for seed starters, does involve an habitual change, in the fact that this will involve putting aside and collecting eggshells day to day.

What you will need

  • Egg shells
  • Container
  • Rolling pin, wine bottle, pestle and mortar… something to crush with
  • Baking paper and tray

What to do

The first thing to do is to get into the habit of collecting old egg shells, and the easiest way to do this is to get a box or any kind of container for them to build up in. Before you know it, you’ll have a healthy amount of egg shells to work with.

Once they start to build up, you’ll know doubt look at them and think “Cor blimey! We really should start doing something with those,” that’s the time to whip out a baking tray and some grease proof paper whilst you’re making dinner.

Whether the oven is already on, or whether it’s heating up, around 10-15 minutes in the oven will dry them out dry off any gooey bits. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve not kept to any real records of how long they should bake for, but 10 minutes plus at any usual heat seems to be the ideal rule of thumb.

Once baked, let cool and place into a container of choice and crush into tiny little bits. This is very therapeutic and very satisfying. Once crushed, spread around plants you deem to be the most vulnerable. The idea here is that this will prove to not be a pleasant path for slugs, and so will them put them off from eating any plants that are in their way.

Video

As I said in the video, I find this on Instagram and commented on the post saying what a great idea it was. If read this, and this was your post, leave a comment and take all of the credit 🙂

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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

What to grow in Brexit Britain

The weather is absolutely freezing at the moment and it means that not a lot can be done outside… And this has got me thinking about the future.

The time that the latest lockdown brings and rumblings of things changing in the shops due to Brexit, has led me to ask myself – what should I be growing now that the UK is out of the EU.

It’s no secret that gaps are starting to appear on shelves down the fresh fruit isles, due not only to new Brexit importing rules, but also the strain covid-19 has put on staff shortages at food producers.

So let’s try and answer the question – What should I be growing in Brexit Britain.

Let’s start with some cold hard facts to help decide:

  • Approximately 30% of food in the UK arrives from the EU, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)
  • Around 50% of fresh fruit and veg in the UK, comes from the EU and most of that consists of fruit
  • Generally speaking, imports and exports of produce can fluctuate dramatically, based on season. For instance, during the summer months, the UK produces 95% of its own salad leaves. In the winter months, the UK can only rely on 10% – the rest has to be imported in
  • Since 2016, imports of fresh fruit and veg from the EU has been in decline overall – but the produce that the UK makes itself is at around 60%

So, of the produce seen on our supermarket shelves, how much of it approximately is imported in from the EU, produced in the UK and imported in from outside of the EU…

Produce most commonly
found on our
supermarket shelves
Imported in
from the EU
(%)
Produced in
the UK
(%)
Imported in
from outside of the EU
(%)
Spinach99%0%1%
Artichokes 98%0%2%
Aubergines 93%0%7%
Chillies and peppers84%11%6%
Tomatoes 21%70%9%
Cucumbers 71%28%1%
Lettuce58%42%0%
Mushrooms52%48%0%
Squash and pumpkins77%0%23%
Lemons and limes62%0%38%
Tangerines and satsumas0%55%45%
Cauliflower and broccoli 43%56%1%
Cabbages13%87%0%
Onions17%82%1%
Apples28%53%19%
Potatoes2%97%1%
Potatoes (non-frozen)0%99%1%
Sweet potatoes21%0%79%
Carrots and turnips4%95%1%
Peas3%90%6%
Leeks19%79%1%
Strawberries28%69%3%
Melons43%0%57%
Grapes33%0%67%
Green beans15%28%57%
Asparagas 10%29%61%
Plums49%19%32%
Oranges45%0%55%
Bananas10%0%90%
Blueberries92%0%8%
Pears74%15%11%
Cherries58%21%21%
Compiled from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2019/aug/13/how-a-no-deal-brexit-threatens-your-weekly-food-shop – Aug 2019

The above statistics are obviously subject to change as things unfold – but I think it’s a good start in knowing where our food is coming from predominantly.

What to grow in Brexit Britain

If rising prices and/or low availability due to how the UK imports goods from the EU is a concern, you’d do right to grow the items that are imported the most (70% or higher), from the get go.

  • Spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Aubergines
  • Chillies and peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Squashes
  • Pears
  • Blueberries

The winter months, for the UK is the time where prices and availability are more likely to be affected, so ideally (and if possible) in the winter it would be good to grow your own salad items, mainly tomatoes and lettuce. Perfect if you’ve got a polytunnel.

Soft fruits (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries..etc) are imported during the winter months. With that in mind, it would be a good idea to freeze and store these as they’re ripening in the summer months. Spinach, squash and pumpkins also have the potential to be frozen or stored.

Root veg and brassicas seem to grow well in the UK – so I’m not sure if I should worry too much about those. This is with the exception of frozen potatoes (chips, waffles, frozen roast potatoes…etc) of which 0% is created in the UK

As mentioned previously, times at when items are imported can change with the seasons, and the BBC made this helpful infographic below to show what is imported and when.

Carrying out research for this post and trying to find out when the UK conducts its imports, has led me to some very interesting materials online.

I’ve also identified numerous variables to take into account in all of this, which may or may not come to pass as time goes on.

The UK will no doubt be looking toward other places to trade with and import produce from – although this can take time to materialise.

I suspect (and would like to think) that the UK will also adapt, with UK suppliers looking to grow out of season produce domestically. Growing your own and gardening has also seen an uptick in interest in the past 12 months or so.

Lastly, Brexit is still relatively fresh and so the way in which things are actually conducted at various borders are still being worked out. Hopefully, as efficiency improves, so will the cost and availability of produce.

Having researched this topic, it makes me ponder – should I grow the usual fare? Should I be growing things that I like? Should I be growing things that provide good yields and can be stored, regardless of world events? Should I be growing things that will either be hard to come by or may become too expensive?

Or – should I just not give this all a second thought? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.