Monday, 21 June 2010

The Great Clearout....

Now though I am not proud of it, I have had the sort it out or get lost letter. There was an inspection and for all my little patches amidst the jungle, it's a fair cop. So intense ground stripping commenced yesterday.

Best method so far seems to be to use a fork to get at the top layer on as horizontal an angle as possible, gradually force it further in, lean hard and hear that quite comforting ripping noise as all the roots of the grass come away, and then remove the grass etc (with its couple of inches or so of roots) to an ever increasing pile at the bottom of the allotment.

It's slow going, back-breaking work. I am also slightly concerned I will end up with more soil on the rubbish heap than on the ground.

However, too bad, it must be done. However embarassing I have no problem with that notice. It is not fair to plots nearby who have worked hard to get it all clear to be face with a home grown weed factory. I must borrow that strimmer again....

So onto pest of the day - Ants. Thousands of them. When clearing the ground I have found two big nests so far and they are horrid. I have lost a few of the remaining broad beans as they are caked in ants. Better just to dig them up at that stage which is what I have done.

Back tonight - more that just sounds wrong!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Broad Beans

Is there anything as wonderful as that very first time when you can proudly take something home and call it a crop?

Well maybe, but it still feel pretty special! At last visit the broad beans had plenty of pods and didn't look half bad. Visiting last night I had plants literally groaning from the weight of the pods and looking as though they could barely keep upright in a couple of cases.

Having done my investigations on the best methods of harvesting I started with the lower pods that were actually trailing on the ground and was surprised to find half a wheelbarrowful by the time I finished. A couple of the plants that looked really unpromising I got rid of, but left the roots in the soil as they are laden with nitrogen. The rest I have left as I am expecting a further crop from further up the plants.

Elsewhere it was definitely time to liberate the raspberry canes I had inherited. The grass is so high around them that I only know where to find them because I already knew they were there! As I did not want to disturb the canes themselves this was a tedious case of pulling the grass little by little by hand rather than digging. I have got rid of some suckers however that I do not really need and are coming up in totally the wrong place. Still a lot of work to do, but one side of them at least looks like someone cares about them!

Cabbages are still doing well, but I have pulled up a few plants from the edge of the net cage that must have been too close to the edge and were peppered with munch marks. If plants are too near the net, then the pesky varmits that want to munch them will still get through.

I also decided enough was enough and started to strip the surface off a couple of metres of my jungle and get close to joining up a couple of the beds that are in existence. All very depressing and the beginnings of a bad back!

Top pests of the day are therefore snails....grrr..... and from the plant world, bindweed. I hate bindweed. It is everywhere.

Still, once home there was the crop of broad beans to gloat over. I podded them, boiled them for a couple of minutes and squeezed them out of their shells to leave just the bright green inards. You can of course eat them with their 'skin', but I prefer without. I made a risotto which was finished with the broad beans and some cream and it was completely delicious! Yum! It did look like an awful lot of pods for a small amount of return though...

It has inspired me to clear more growing space....

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A Nice Freebie!

Had to share this with you - just fill in a few details and get a free guide to growing your own!

Can't be bad!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Bible

I did a lot of background reading when I started all this and I have to say of all the books out there Carol Klein's was the absolute winner. It is written in a chatty, no nonsense style that did not scare me, but made me believe it could all be possible!

Mmmm- Leeks

I absolutely LOVE leeks. We use them all the time at home; one of our absolute favourite vegetables. I was delighted to find that they are also a good crop for the allotment. They are hardy, don't mind a little bit of neglect (always a good thing for me....), and, perhaps most importantly, they do not take up too much space.

I did start a few off from seed last year (Musselburg), but it was not a roaring success. I would have to confess that this was probably my own fault. I started them all off in trays and they did come up, but never really got very big - at least not as big as my books told me they should be for transplanting (i.e. pencil thickness). In the end we got to October, there were a few left sitting in the tray and guilt and a devil-may-care attitude made me stick them in. I put empty toilet rolls around them and walked away. Well, despite all that terrible weather and frost and snow, I still have a few that survived. They are coming up quite fast now and I should have half a dozen or so that will qualify as worth pulling to eat: But half a dozen is not going to go very far!

Having left it rather late to sow from seed I decided to investigate vegetable plants on-line. Suttons and Marshalls both advertised several varieties, but they were expensive and all apart from one, out of stock!

Panic led me to Ebay. There I found a seller advertising at a buy it now price of £3.95 for 40 plants of a variety Dawn Giant. This seemed to me an absolute bargain and so with a certain amount of trepidation I ordered them. They arrived less than 48 hours later in a long box, neatly wrapped in bunches of 8 with plenty of roots and a good deal of moist tissue around them.

That was definite motivation to go up and get them in. I found a small space and made deep holes with the handle of my hoe, popped them in with just a few inches around each one and filled the holes with water. You do not need to backfill leeks with soil when planting. The puddle of water helps the soil find its own level and gently settle around the plants leaving lots of room for those tasty shoots to sweel and grow.

In the end I gave some to my neighbouring plots and a colleague as I had too many for my meagre space.

Next project - I must clear some more ground. I have salad that's sprouting and will want somewhere to be planted out to!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Are The Plants As Thirsty As Me?

Yes in a word! Drought seems a harsh word to use after just a couple of days since the last rain but it has been so very hot everything is panting and sucking the last drop out of the ground.

No answer, just watering! Unfortunately my plot does not have a supply so I am relying on one rain butt (at least that's full) and wheelbarrowing water up in 6 pint milk containers. Seriously hard work, but no way out!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

A 'Net' Profit!

So the tentative trek back to the allotment after some 2 weeks of non attendance was taken. Actually, not too bad!

On arrival it was a depressing sight with the grass once again about knee height or over on the areas that have still to be cleared. Definitely time to borrow that petrol strimmer again… thoughts of a rotivator have been quashed by my two elderly gurus who are always free with their advice. All I will do, I am assured, is chop the weeds into 50 pieces that will all grow again. If I can get some help to dig out all the weeds first then perhaps a month or two of weeding after that might be the time to consider it.

To lift my gloom I decided to make the grass invisible and see what was growing and what was not. I was pleasantly surprised. My broad beans that I planted last in October last year (Aquadulce Claudia) are doing well despite the recent drought. Having never grown them before I am the first to confess I do not really know what I am looking for. I was expecting to see a lot of black and white flowers in clusters up and down the stems looking almost like huge insects. I had certainly seen a few last time I had a look at them, but they were gone. There were some that looked like they may have been munched. However there were also some nice fat pods, probably more than I could see at first glance. I have decided not to pick, but to wait and see what a couple of days brings. I am not even sure what they are supposed to look like when they are ready; I have been told it is personal preference and that just feeling the pods will tell you how large or small they might be.

I have done a little research. Common broad bean complaints are that they are tough and a bit boring. I have decided on a kind of recipe which will involve double podding the beans. I will pick them and then pod them, boiling the beans in their individual shells. Then I will slip them out of their little jackets just leaving the tender very centres. These will then be stirred into a risotto. What else will go into the risotto I don’t know, but I will keep you posted!

Onto other things. My onions seem to be struggling. I put in autumn sets last October, both red and white. The whites do seem to be growing, but there is no great size. The reds have lovely thick green tops, but one I unearthed accidentally was exactly the same size as when it was put in. What a disappointment. My understanding of these early varieties was that I could harvest them in May. Well I think July is looking more likely if I am honest. We will just have to see what happens.

The plants I was feeling most nervous for were the cauliflower, summer and autumn cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli that I put in two weeks ago. I had been careful to construct a net system over them, but even so I was quite convinced that yesterday’s enemy of choice, the snail, would have wreaked absolute devastation. I was pleasantly surprised! The net has been an absolute life saver. I had been warned before I even thought of planting brassicas of any kind that I would be wasting my time if I did not construct a net cage over them immediately. Cabbage whites would land almost as I was planting them and have them nicely obliterated once the caterpillars hatched. There is not a mark on any of them and they are all at least twice the size of when I planted them. I think I felt that first flush of contentment that something was actually noticeably growing on the plot. So the stress about the net was absolutely worth while. Top tip of the day.

Now how about enemy of the day. Well yesterday was snails, today it’s bindweed! I hate the stuff and my plot is absolutely riddled with it. I spent the best part of an hour getting the damn stuff out.

Finished off with a thorough soaking for the broad beans and brassicas. Lovely hot weather today so I did not want to risk leaving them. I have been told by several sources that if you don’t water anything else, you must water the brassicas or they will bolt. So I did as I was told and wandered home with a satisfaction tainted with guilt about the state of the place.