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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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Ask Adam

Ask Adam #13: Filling a raised bed

Kav from Scotland has written in with the following question regarding some new raised beds:

I’m filling our raised beds and wondered what you suggest we fill them with? (They will be used for vegetables). I’ve read conflicting information about rocks, branches and gravel! Our raised beds are on top of soil – we dug out all the grass.

Kav, Scotland
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Allotment Diary

Frost damage

We’ve had a bit of a cold spell so I thought I’d check out the damage incurred

It’s so lovely to look at the plot when it’s covered in snow, however, in my experience, it’s the frost and the ice which can prove to be much more damaging.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed shoots in January, only for them to be decimated by a thick frost a few weeks later. That trend, along with the the colder temperatures in general, is one of the reasons why I tend to not do much growing, outside of hardy plants and fruits that can withstand the frost like conditions.

Blackcurrants and
alpine strawberries

I recently transplanted black currants and red currants from the back of the plot to a bed nearby.

With that I also planted some alphine strawberries, to act as ground cover. Alpine strawberries tend to grow pretty rampantly, so I’m hoping they’ll keep the weeds down.

The currents themselves, at this time of year, don’t tend to show much life, and they’re kind of twiggy anyway. The alpine strawberries however, have taken a bit of a pounding. The leaves were a little bit frost bitten and burned.

I’m hoping that they can recover, it’s only because I’ve transplanted them from elsewhere which makes me slightly uneasy about their survival.

Plum tree

The plum tree is always a delight to look at, and it’s pretty hardy too.

Because this is currently dormant, like the blackcurrants, this does look very twiggy – but if you look more closely, you’ll see very tiny shoots that are holding off from sprouting.

In the spring, I’ll give this the annual prune, and now it’s a mature tree, I’ll need to think hard about which direction I want the tree to grow in, and how high I want the tree to grow.

I’ll need to do some research on how to do this, much more properly.

Garlic

A couple of weeks ago, the boredom of lockdown and the need to garden led me to plant brown and red onions, along with casablanca garlic bulbs.

I know I was way too early and probably a bit too keen, but just thought… why not. With that in mind, I planted everything just that little bit deeper to withstand the cold that little bit longer.

That said, it didn’t seem to deter the garlic, which has poked through unhindered.

Rhubarb

Now, in the past – the rhubarb has seen a lot of damage due to frost. What I’ve noticed happen previously is, new shoots will sprout, only to be struck down, and those damages shoots rot into the crown, damaging the plant as a whole.

This results in stunted growth of the plant, and ultimately not as much rhubarb.

These shoots have indeed only just sprouted – but I’m hoping that they’re small and innocuous enough to not get damaged.

I’ll keep you posted on how well they grow as the year trundles on.

Strawberries

Overall I think they faired fairly well – the older, outside leaves were frost bitten and scorched, but the strawberry plants themselves looked pretty good and strong.

In my experience, strawberry plants are quite resilient and I’m hoping the cold temperatures we’ve won’t cause too much damage. I’m not too sure what varieties these are, but they are terrific croppers and crop both in the early summer and in the autumn.

I’ll be cultivating these and filling in any gaps of where these plants reside.

Generally speaking, I think I’m fairing quite well during these cold spells – how’s everything on your plot thus far? I’d love to know in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

Wheelbarrows make great beds

I’ve always wanted to grow something in a wheelbarrow, mainly because it looks so cool and rustic – and now I’ve got my chance.

Quite a while back, a much used and beloved wheelbarrow rusted right through to the point where the wheel and the frame were the only parts that were fit for purpose.

I parked it up and parked up is where it stayed, until last week whereby I was able to make use of it, as part of the wildlife garden I’m making.

I want the area to be as low maintenance as possible, and the beds are rather large. With large beds, you have to consider how easy it is to stretch in and out of the bed, therefore I plan to fill the middle of the bed with permanent structures, that generally don’t need to be moved.

I started by setting up a small water butt in the middle as a source of water for the area. Leaves from the trees will fall into this and this will over time also make for a rich source of natural fertiliser. I sat the tank onto some cardboard, followed by a slab to raise it up slightly.

Around the edges of the tank, I placed some logs – a. to make it look nice and to b. provide further habitation for things.

In front of the tank, came the wheelbarrow itself which I lined with cardboard – to cover the rusted holes. I weighed down the cardboard with some thick twigs that had naturally rotted and fell off of the old oak trees from behind.

What came next is nothing short of composting gold dust! I fill the barrow with oak leaves that had fallen from overhead, followed by compost from the compost bin.

I did a similar thing before when preparing the raised beds for the strawberries and this is a real winner of a method, and so easy to do. The leaves will rot down on their own accord and produce some really fertile soil to grow in.

That bit underneath the wheelbarrow felt like empty space – that needed to be filled, so I cut down some spare logs that were laying around and stacked them accordingly to to create another small bug hotel, that will attract something beneficial (fingers crossed).

It is a wildlife area after all and I did enjoy making a bug hotel not so long before.

So there we have it, a wheelbarrow bed for wildflowers 🙂

I have a frame and a wheel left over – what would you do with these? I’d love to know in the comments below.

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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.