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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.

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Allotment Diary

Separating seedlings

Much like sowing seeds, separating seedlings is more or less the same from plant to plant…

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Ask Adam

Ask Adam #11: Covering your spuds with manure?

Richard has written in with this very timely question regarding 1st and 2nd early potatoes.

After planting 1st and 2nd early potatoes can you cover the soil with a thick dressing of manure to keep the frost off.

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Allotment Diary

Working smart… Not hard.

This one goes out to all you new allotment holders out there…