Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Stand By Your Beds!

Tonight is the annual allotment inspection. The committee processes around all the allotments they administer in Farncombe and decide whether you're doing well enough to be allowed to continue to next year. I feel a bit ambivalent about this - on the one hand it does ensure that only those people who take growing veggies seriously get to do so and it ensures the site is kept looking nice (no vast beds of enormously tall weeds or plots full of rusting metal) but, on the other, it does feel a bit like being back at school, where some stranger is judging what you do and how you go about it. You have little option but comply to their requirements. Having said that, though, the requirements are not that onerous, just keep the grass weeds down, edges and paths mown and ensure that a minimum of 50% of your plot is cultivated.

So yesterday I popped down just to ensure the edges of the beds were trimmed and the longest of the grasses were cut down but I'm quietly confident the plot will pass muster.

Things have been growing apace since the last pictures and, I'm delighted to say, out of all the seedlings/plantlets I've put in over the last month or so, I've only lost one lettuce, so that's not bad at all. Everything is now in except for some successional lettuce seedlings and another 8 Climbing French Bean seedlings which will go in once big enough. I'm still sowing Carrots though. Oh, and I did have to pull up all the Broad Bean plants (so, actually, that probably does count as a loss, a big one too - oh well...) but have used the space where they were to sow carrots and plant beetroot and chard seedlings.

Current overall view of the plot - veggie section nearest camera, fruit bed further away to left of frame

Courgettes and Pattypan Squash bottom to mid right; Butternut Squash and Cucumbers round wigwam; Sweetcorn bottom to mid left; Dwarf Yellow French Beans mid top; Mange Tout and Climbing French Beans round wigwams on far left

Mange Tout & Climbing French Bean wigwams on right. Next to it, going up the picture, is where the Broad Beans were. It now contains - from the left hand edge in - a row of Chard, Lettuce & Rocket, Carrots and Beetroot. Clicky for biggy.

Finally managed to weed the onion and garlic bed - there are about 350 onions and 50 garlics in here!

The lettuce hedge is coming along.

I'm going to start harvesting Salad Bowl leaves (the bright green ones) this week - it's a 'cut and come again' variety so you only use the leaves you want. The red Lollo Rossa are a bit behind, and, this year, I'm also growing Little Gem (the darker green, more upright ones in the pic) which is a cos-type lettuce, meaning you harvest the whole thing in one go.

The potatoes are doing fine.

The smaller row on the left of the picture are my Earlies and should be ready for harvesting in 2-3 weeks' time. The taller row on the right are my Desirees which are a main crop. You can't really tell from the picture but the row was more or less equally split between those planted on ground that had been manured in the spring, and those that hadn't. I think there's definitely better, healthier looking plants on the manured half of the row which is nearest the camera. It'll be interesting to see the difference in the size of the spuds themselves.

As far as the fruit bed is concerned, so far, as of today, I have picked a total of 2658g of strawberries (= 5lbs 13oz). Sainsbury's are currently selling organic strawberries at £9.97 a kilo, so multiply that by 2.658 = £26.50!

The raspberries are all autumn fruiting varieties and, as they were only planted last autum, much like the blackcurrants and gooseberries, they only start fruiting in the second year so I have to wait until next year to get the benefit of these. But the Blueberries are coming along and are starting to turn blue:

Blueberries turning blue

Again, I don't expect a large crop this year (frankly, I'll be lucky to get a punnet's worth) but I'm expecting good things next year, especially after the pampering the 3 bushes have had and will continue to get!

So, it all looks okay, doesn't it? Fingers crossed for tonight and I'll post an update later.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

So where's this summer, then, eh?

It's the 10th of June 2009 and the weatherpeople predicted a hot summer for us, better than the previous two years. I'm looking out of the window and it's grey and cold and raining. Oh well, 'twas ever thus, I 'spose. Still miserable though.

I have been down to the allotment quite a lot lately but keep forgetting to take the camera. Nearly forgot yesterday as well but remembered at the last second so here's an update of what's happening. Please bear in mind that the weeds and I are in a battle but the situation's not really as bad as the pictures make it look - honest!

First off, where I grew the chillies and herbs last year - in a small bed right in front of the shed - I am now growing cottage garden plants specifically for the bees. There are two small Lavender hedges which are blooming nicely, three Foxgloves (only 2 of which have flowered) and I've recently put in an Aster, a Sedum, a dark maroon double Aquilegia and a Potentilla. The two different kinds of Sorrel that were there had overrun the bed so I dug them up completely (they're members of the Dock family and are just as invasive, plus we weren't eating them). The Garlic Chives that were also there I dug up and have brought home to put in a pot in the garden. I figured it was more sensible to have the herbs nearer the kitchen rather than a 10 minute walk away, so I also now have coriander, lemon thyme and basil growing in pots at home.

Because the outdoor tomatoes were hit by blight last year I've decided to keep them in the plastic-
house this year and see if it makes any difference. I'm also growing tomatoes from seeds that I collected from a small vine-type called Vittoria which I particularly like from Sainsburys. No idea if they're 'special' in any way, like they have to be grown in a specific environment or they're sterile or something, but I did look for the seeds on the intertubes and couldn't find them, so this is a bit of an experiment. I just scooped some out of a tomato, spread them on a piece of kitchen paper and let them dry for a day or so before tearing off the bits of paper and planting them direct in pots. It's worked a treat so far and we'll just have to see if any fruits develop. Also I'm growing chillies and red peppers in the plastic-house this year as well. The red peppers didn't really work outside last year and I didn't grow chillies at all even though I use crushed dried ones in cooking all the time. The chilllies and the herbs (basil and organo specifically) I will dry and crush. It'll be interesting to see how much I can get from a few plants because dried herbs in glass jars cost a fortune in the supermarkets.

So, then, this is now the view from the shed looking down the allotment. As you can see, there's been some progress.

At the bottom of the picture you can see the two rows of potatoes (and their associated weeds!) which are looking very healthy indeed. I earthed them up twice and left it at that. It probably won't be too long before we'll start digging up the first earlies. I think, next year, I'll try International Kidney which is the godawful retail name for Jersey Royal new potatoes. Presumably, only those potatoes actually grown on Jersey can be called Jersey Royals (it's that EU law thing), so even though the seed potatoes are Jersey Royals, because you're not growing them on Jersey, they have to be called something else, hence International Kidney.

Anyway, in a bit more detail then, for those that can be bothered ploughing through my drivel, this is the beginning of the squash and courgette patch. The top right of the picture is the first of my bog-standard ordinary green courgette plants to go in (there are another 3 or so in the plastic-house, not quite big enough yet). The other three are the 'Summer Squash Early White Bush Scallop', or pattypan squash as they're known in America, I believe. There's a picture of them on my post below of 15 May 2009.

This is the Sweetcorn patch. I'm growing the same variety (in fact, from the same packet of seeds) as last year, 'Applause'. They're a bit wee at the moment which is a little bemusing. In fact quite a few of my seedlings are a bit 'behind' everyone else's even though I sowed them at the right time. Hopefully they'll all catch up over the next few months. There are, I think, 13 sweetcorn plants which will give us far more cobs than we actually need - I'll try and get my act together this year and cook, strip and freeze some cobs.

Towards the top of the picture, you can make out the 7 Dwarf Yellow French Beans 'Rocquencourt' (again, there's a picture on the 15 May post below). Germination of these was a bit patchy so I've got some more sown in the plastic-house to augment these when they get bigger.

This is the Mange Tout Wigwam. There is a mixture of shop bought and home sown plants here. The germination rate of the seeds I did myself was atrocious, as low as 25%, so when I saw some healthy looking plants for sale at a local B&Q, I thought I might as well get them and add them to the few I've managed to grow. Hopefully now there'll be some sugar snap peas later in the year.

I find it goes against the grain with me to buy ready growing seedlings/plants from the garden centre. To me, a major part of allomenteering is that you grow the plant yourself from seed. I've had to concede that, sometimes, supplementing your own seedlings with shop bought ones may be the sensible option, especially if the slugs get your seedlings and it's too late to sow a new batch - your only option is to head to the garden centre. But I intend to avoid doing this as much as possible.

Next to the Mange Tout wigwam are the two Climbing French Bean wigwams. This is the Cobra variety that did so unbelievably well for me last year. Fingers crossed I get a bumper crop again this year.

The weird white structure beyond the bean wigwams is this year's attempt at a brassica cage although, to be honest, it looks a bit more like a Tate Modern installation. I got so unbelievably pissed off last year with constantly picking cabbage white caterpillers off the broccoli, sprouts and cabbage that this year I've invested in some very fine insect mesh in which the holes are so small that apparently they will even keep white fly and carrot fly out. We'll see. However, never being one to get it right first time, I planted out some shop bought organic calabrese plants (see my comments above) that were half price before I put the mesh over and found that it's too narrow to go over all the plants! And by the time I'd got round to putting the mesh out, the Calabrese were very happily established and growing away merrily so I didn't think it was a good idea to dig up and transplant the two that are left, one on each side, that don't fit. I've added some Savoy Cabbage seedlings as well and there are at least 10 sprout plants and half a dozen each of Kale and Red Cabbage to go in as well. As I plant more, I'll unroll the mesh and we'll see how well it works.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Broad Beans have been completely mullah'd by the blackfly. There were 18 plants there that were very happy and, up until about 2 weeks ago, had nary a blackfly upon them. I only grow them for The Husband and, luckily, he was quite understanding that we may not get so much as a single pod on any of the plants this year. Don't think I'll bother again.

I have two rows of Carrots which are doing quite well. Last year I started them off in pots and then transplanted them into the allotment. I now know this is wrong - they don't like it and it causes them to grow many additional limbs. You have to sow the seed directly where you want them to grow. So I did that this year - two rows so far but more to come. I'm trying a variety called 'Resista' which is, as the name suggests, supposed to be resistant to Carrot Fly. I put string lines down and sowed along the line, leaving the string in place. This means I can then identify the seedlings when they come up. (Picture was taken just after The Husband had kindly strimmed the grass down for me, and the bits of grass fly all over the place).

We have the beginnings of this year's lettuce hedge as well. I'm growing Salad Bowl, Lollo Rossa and, this year, Little Gem. Where I've put them this season they get some shade during the day from next door's shed so we'll see if it makes a difference, although they didn't seem to mind being in full sun (what we had of it) last year. I'm doing proper successional planting this year so the biggest ones nearest the camera have been in the ground longest. The smaller ones near the top have only just gone in. There are more coming along in the plastic-house.

Onto the fruit, then. We've had getting on for nearly a kilo of strawberries from the plants, with plenty more to come. The birds don't seem to bother with the soft fruit, which is a blessing because it means I don't have to net it off. I'm growing a couple of varieties of strawberries this year, Elsanta and Aromel, and now we're just waiting on the Blueberries, which are swelling up beautifully. I have pampered them somewhat - they each live in their own little bed of ericaceous compost, get fed with azalea/rhododendron feed and only watered with rain water. The berries are getting large but not turning blue yet, hopefully that'll happen as the summer progresses.

The raspberry canes are establishing themselves so we won't get much (if any) fruit from them this year. The raspberries that I grew last year (and then moved to their new location in the fruit patch) have come through again (you can see them near the top of the lettuce picture). Obviously I wasn't thorough enough when digging them out and I hadn't appreciated that they are as invasive as brambles. Oh well. The Husband persuaded me to leave them there but I think I may be storing up trouble for myself in future years. I've also discovered rogue potato plants growing where I'd missed digging them up last year. Must ensure I get them all this year otherwise I'll eventually end up with an entire plot full of potatoes!

The blackcurrant bushes have established nicely, as you can see from the picture. The goose- berries have also. We have to wait until next year to get fruit from either of these plants but that's okay. Between the blackcurrants and the black plastic are the raspberries. The black plastic is going to stay there now until next year, hopefully it will kill off the grass underneath it so I can start cultivating a bit more land.

So, that's about it for now. I'll do another update later on in the season when things are looking really good, and I'll try and remember to weigh everything I harvest this year and do a price comparison as I think it'll be interesting (if a little nerdy....)