Saturday, 30 May 2009

First Strawberries of the year!

Yay for the first strawberries of the season!! Okay, there's only 8 but it's a start...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Price of supermarket bought organic vegetables

On 20 October 2008, I was in my local Sainsbury's and decided to write down how much they were charging per kilo for some of the veggies that I was growing at the allotment. I grow my veggies as organically as possible and so decided that the price of the organic versions was the one I should go for as that would be the nearest in quality to what I would be producing.

I've had this scrappy piece of paper kicking around the kitchen since then as I've always meant to post the figures on this blog but just never got round to it.

Well, today's the day! I know we're now seven months down the line and the current prices of the vegetables listed probably bear no relation to what they are now but if you're at all interested, you can do what I'm going to do come harvest time and weigh what you've picked and work out how much it would have cost if they'd been bought from the supermarket.

Actually I'll probably do this again nearer the time and write a fuller list (as there's only six types here) so, in reality, this is all a complete waste of both your and my time, but we're both just going to have to suck it up because I'm writing the list anyway -

Remember, the price is per kilo and it's the top of the range organic stuff from Sainsbury's:

Purple Sprouting Broccoli - £9.95
Brussels Sprouts - £1.95
Red Cabbage - 77p
Cucumber - £4.33
Parsnips - £3.19
Carrots - £4.22

Isn't that astonishing? The price of the purple sprouting broccoli is frankly criminal! And why is red cabbage so cheap by comparison?

Anyway, I'll do this again later in the year, but at least I can now throw this manky piece of paper away...

Friday, 15 May 2009

Welcome to the new plastic-house

A few days ago I was wandering around eBay (as you do) when I thought I'd visit some of the seller's I have saved that I've not been to for a while. One of these is Premier Seeds Direct. They're fully registered and inspected by DEFRA so you can be assured of the quality of their seeds, and they do some fabulous and unusual varieties. Prices are very reasonable too - everything is 99p a packet plus postage but if you buy several packets, you only pay one lot of postage and everything arrives in a couple of days. I can highly recommend their site and suggest that you head off there for a wander round yourself.

I got five packets of seeds, a couple of which, no doubt, I could have got from my local Homebase but as I was already loading up with other seeds I thought I'd bung those in the basket as well. What I got was:

Crystal Lemon Cucumbers - The website says: "An unusual Heirloom variety producing a profusion of apple-shaped fruits, with lemon-coloured skin and lime green flesh, which is very mild, sweet, and never bitter. Best harvested at lemon size. Although outstanding for salads or pickling, chances are you will end up eating most of these delectable nuggets out-of-hand like an apple. This is a vigorous plant which should yield a tremendous crop." I did extremely well with just two Telegraph cucumber plants last year so we'll see how these interesting ones go.

Dwarf Yellow French Beans 'Rocquencourt' -"One of the finest and earliest yellow heirloom French Filets available with a taste that is truly un-comparable. Heavy crops of long thin oval yellow string-less pods with black seeds are produced on sturdy dwarf plants. Can be sown in succession until mid-July as this is one of the most cold tolerant of all French beans." This sounds good, doesn't it? I'll let you know how it goes. I also don't know if the colour remains when cooked or if they turn green, like those purple ones you can get. But I expect I'll find out.

Summer Squash Early White Bush Scallop - "A prolific variety, scallop-edged and flattened, this patty-pan variety is sweet, nutty and white-fleshed. Compact bush-type plant is ideal when space is a factor. Cultivation character and habit as per Courgettes, fruiting all summer if picked regularly. For optimum eating quality, harvest when fruit are a maximum of eight inches in diameter. Use raw in salads and with dips, or steamed, fried and baked. Freezes well. Matures in 50-55 days." Don't these look fab? This is just an experiment really because I've no idea if I'll even like the taste of them but, hey, if I don't give them a go then I'll never know, right?

Little Gem Lettuce - "One of the quickest and earliest varieties to mature. Little Gem produced small compact plants which are packed with a crisp sweet heart and little outside leaf". It'll be a miracle if I can get this to grow properly but I like shop-bought Little Gem so thought it was worth a try.

Broccoli (strictly, Calabrese) 'Waltham 29' - "Excellent compact, 20 inch plants have dark blue/green, solid, medium sized heads, with plenty of side shoots once the main head is harvested. Developed to withstand the coldest of winters. Don't use this variety for spring planting. Best for late summer sowing for autumn to spring harvests." I grew Purple Sprouting Broccoli last year and wasn't exactly bowled over by it. What I want to try this year is 'proper' Broccoli, like what you get in the shops, which is actually Calabrese. I'm hedging my bets with this, though, because I also bought a polystyrene tray of six Calabrese seedlings today that were on special offer, which can go into the allotment shortly.

But then it dawned on me that I didn't really have enough space left in the plastic- house in the garden so decided there was only one thing for it, and that I'd have to just get another one, so welcome, one and all, to the new companion plastic-house (the one on the right of the picture). May the deity of your choice bless her and all who grow in her!

(God, I don't know what's happened with the fonts and the colours and I can't sort it out. Look, just read the words and ignore the rest of it. Hopefully the next post it will be back to normal!!)

Monday, 11 May 2009

Digging In

The weather is still being unaccountably glorious, and I've been spending my time at the allotment mostly weeding which is, frankly, not that thrilling to do never mind blog about! So be grateful I've spared you from the boredom of reading about yet more couch grass and aching hip bones.

I'm aware that it's been 10 days since my last posting so this is just a brief catch up really. I've decided that the Leeks have been in the ground long enough. Some of them have started to put up flower spikes which makes the centre of the leek weirdly solid when you cut into it. They've sort of been semi-successful. They didn't grow nearly as big as I wanted and have been in the ground almost a year which strikes me as being an unreasonable length of time but, for all their sins, I'm having another go this year and about 30 seedlings are looking long and spindly in the plastic-house. They can stay there for a bit longer yet, I'm in no hurry to plant them out - I've yet to decide where on the allotment they're going to go; the criteria is somewhere possibly not quite so shaded this time, where they can be left in peace for a very long time and where they're not going to interfere with any other planting.

My potatoes have been earthed up once and need to be done again. The row in the picture here are Maris's of some kind or another (Peer or Piper - can't remember which), but I do remember they're second earlies. The main crop, Desiree, are also about an inch or two above ground and should also be earthed up again. I expect I'll get round to it over the next week or so. The Maris's are immediately next to the right hand edge of the black plastic in the picture, and the Desirees are further over to the right, next to the border of the plot. And, yes, I did shove the hoe between the two rows after I took the picture so it's not currently as bad as it looks - promise!

The Broad Beans are doing very well indeed and (touch wood) don't seem to have been attacked by the blackfly yet, although this can only really be a matter of time. I'm growing more of them this year than last year as The Husband really likes them and I don't think I explored their full culinary potential last year.

The 400+ onions and garlic that were planted up on either side of winter are doing pretty well. I have to admit to having been very slack about weeding these guys - the picture shows where I've started doing the weeding at the top end of the rows but then lost the will to live. I intend to go back this afternoon and pick this up where I left off. Onions and garlic really REALLY object to sharing their beds with weeds and will sulkily not grow so well if there are any, so it's genuinely in my best interest to pull my finger (and the weeds) out. I'll have no-one to blame if I end up with nothing bigger than a spring onion if I don't.

The fruit patch is coming along nicely and I've been expanding it sideways (this just involves clearing more ground really, and is not that exciting to see so there's no pics). Not sure what I'm going to put in the newly cleared ground but it's always good to have some space. I fear that at least 4 of my raspberry canes haven't taken, which is a bit of a shame, and they'll have to replaced this autumn. The 46 strawberry plants have all got flowers on them so fingers crossed for a good crop this year. I've been pampering the Blueberries - not only are they each sitting in a pocket of ericaceous compost but they've also been fed with Azalea feed and are only watered with rainwater (tap water is too acidic - or is it alkali? can't remember). They've all got flowers on them but the early fruiting bush has the most - see?

What else? Oh yes, it was my birthday last month and some very good friends gave me an Apricot tree, which was lovely of them. Strictly speaking I'm not allowed to put full-size trees - or trees that will grow full-size - on the allotment, but I've got nowhere else to put this (I literally don't have the room in my garden at home). So I've decided to sneak this in, between the cherry tree and the fence at the end of the plot, and try and keep it pruned a bit so it doesn't get too large. I planted it yesterday and was a bit concerned to notice that, upon extracting it from its pot, it barely had any roots at all. I stuck it in the ground with some Growmore fertiliser anyway, and we'll just hope for the best. If it takes and starts to put out any leaves - at the moment it just looks like a bare stick - then I'll post some pictures.

I also applied for and received my free seeds from the BBC's Dig In campaign that they're currently running. Over a million packets of seeds were made available on a first-come first-served basis if you applied online or happened to be somewhere where the Dig In van was. In the envelope you get a packet each of Lollo Rossa lettuce, Butternut Squash, Gardener's Delight Tomatoes, Boltardy beetroot and Early Nantes carrots. I'm currently already growing Lollo Rossa lettuce and Boltardy beetroot, tomatoes won't work for me unless I have a greenhouse (which I don't) and, anyway, I'm experimenting with Vittoria ones, I grew Early Nantes carrots last year and they turned into comedy vegetables AND were eaten to death by carrot fly; for that reason this year I'm having a go with a variety called Resista which are meant to be resistant to carrot fly. So, in all honesty, I'm just having a go with the Butternut Squash seeds, to see what happens. Still, they were free - I may plant them up and give them away to friends, who knows?

Friday, 1 May 2009

The swifts have returned!

I was pegging out the washing this morning (it's the only domestic chore I like doing) and checking on the vegetable seedlings in the plastic-house, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my back, birds singing away when I suddenly heard a familiar (and much-missed) sound - 'squee squee' - that can mean only one thing: the swifts have returned. Gazing up into the achingly blue sky I spotted them, two dark, thin crescent shapes, weaving around each other. As I watched, another joined them, then another until there were six in all. I like to think they must have arrived overnight, finally completing the 5,500 mile journey from South Africa that they endure every year, and they're gathering together to have a quick gossip before getting on with the important business of finding a mate and somewhere to nest. The sadness is that they're only here for 12 weeks to raise their young, and then they're off again and the skies are just that much quieter.

Every year I watch out for the return of the swifts - summer can't begin without them. Last year they arrived on 3 May so they're 2 days earlier this year. They always give the impression of having so much fun - they're the fastest flying birds on the planet and I just adore that 'whoosh' you get when they swoop low overhead, squealing as they go.

The allotment site is surrounded by 1930s houses and seems to be quite popular as nesting sites for the swifts. Last year I can remember standing up and having to duck as a gang of swifts did a very low (and very quick) flypast just over me!