Thursday, 25 September 2014

Lazy Wolfies

Well we had a fortnight off work and didn't do a tap.

We went to the lotty a couple of times, to do some scant weeding and crop some veg, but other than that, not a lot. We cleared the pea bed in the back garden, and cut excess leaves off the tomato plants, but that is it.

We have a lot of catching up to do before the season is over. Hubby is working at the weekend so I will get stuck in - on my own though, as our lad is back at Uni now. I will need to do as much as I can at the weekends, now the evenings are drawing in, to make sure we still get the best out of the plot. It looks somewhat untidy at the moment, it needs strimming at the edges, and the weeds pulling up, and the squashes taming. Hopefully the remaining sweeetcorn will still be edible, so I'll crop what I can and put the rest in the compost bins - except for the weeds of course. The rhubarb is fading, and the pumpkins need to come home to dry off and be eaten. The cauli is pretty much finished, there are a couple of plants left but they have bolted, so will need removing. The swedes will carry on growing for a while yet, as will the cabbages and the leeks. I will try and clear what I can and make it look a bit tidier.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

No Rest for the Wicked

Hubby and I have a couple of weeks off work coming up soon, and we have a long list of things to do. One of the items is to relax and eat fish & chips and drink mucky pop :-) but the others on the list are all hard work, including remove the ivy, remove the bamboo, paint the fence, move the greenhouse, move the compost bin, build the cold frame... so no small tasks as you can see. Fingers crossed for decent weather so we can crack on. Also during this time we will be taking our son back to his uni digs, so we will lose a helper for the hard work!

At the weekend son and I popped to the lotty to tidy and crop and weed, and we came home with so much food it was fab! I'd been feeling a bit despondent about the lotty, so much work, not much joy, trying to tame the rampant squashes, broad beans failing, yardlongs looking feeble; but this weekend changed all that. We got 3 massive cauli's (tasty gorgeous of course!) which hadn't bolted quite as much as the first one so that was good; a load of beets; a load of runner beans, a few yardlong beans (weird looking creatures they are); another couple of punnets of raspberries; some tomatoes; and 3 sweetcorn cobs. It turned out that only two of the sweetcorn cobs were properly ripe, so they will be another week or so before we can get properly stuck in. And a load of courgettes.

I made a heap of ratatouille with the courgettes, but not all of them cos they wouldn't all fit in the big stew pan! I had some peppers and onions already, added some of our own tomatoes, and a tin of toms, and cooked it down, om nom nom. So now the freezer is full of courgette based meals. And there are two fresh courgettes in the fridge, along with a heap of other fresh veg. Smashing.

I trimmed back the tomato plants in the back garden, to remove some of the leaves so the light can get to the fruits to help them ripen, and pretty much filled up the compost bin with the cuttings. Looks a lot tidier now mind you. The peas are finished, and I was going to pull them up but there is nowhere to put the plants now the compost bin is full so I'll do them another time. No rush, we don't have anything else ready to go in the bed so it can wait.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Gorgous Caulis & Poorly Broad Beans

We have eaten our first cauli this weekend which had partially bolted (so we got it just in time) and it was utterly gorgeous! So we can salvage them, if we are canny and catch them in time. There is another one that is ready on the plot, so we need to nab it before it bolts like the other ones. Such tasty veg.

Son and I ripped up the poorly broad beans and plonked them on the compost pile, and also got rid of a lot of big weeds. The two pumpkins are looking marvellous, and are changing colour, so should be lovely come October. They are still rambling all over though, I cut off a few invading tendrils. I also chopped some of the tomato leaves out but the plants are rampant, same as the ones at home. They have plenty of fruit but tons of leaves.

The runner beans are looking great, the black fly remedy seems to have worked, as there is not much there now - soapy water in a spray bottle, excellent. Will be adding that to the Tips page. The cannellini beans are looking splendid, whereas the yardlongs are still flowering and producing leaves but no beans as yet. Not sure if we will try them again, but we had to give them a go. Maybe it's just too cold in this country for them.

We also cropped some more courgettes and some raspberries. Will be making raspberry jam soon I think.

Over the weekend I made a load of courgette curry, using a jar of rogan josh sauce, and other fresh and tinned veg, we had some with rice and it was delicious. I popped the rest of it in the freezer, we now have 5 plastic tubs of lovely frozen curry stored, so at least the bountiful courgettes won't go to waste. There are more courgettes to come, and tomatoes, so I may make ratatouille for the freezer next time. Om nom nom.

The sweetcorn isn't quite ready yet, but not far off, and we still have a glut of beets in the ground, so I will be making more pickled beets for over winter again, we love them. And I spotted the first of the winter squashes on the plants, we'd had plenty of flowers but no fruit before now - I doubt if we will do them again next year, they are very space hungry plants and we simply don't have the room for them with only having a half plot. But we had to give them a go.

So next year we will do courgettes again, and will try a couple of different varieties, patty pan and round ones maybe, as well as the stripy ones. We will also do more french beans as we prefer them to runners to be honest, runners are nice but french are nicer. If the yardlongs don't do anything then we won't waste the space, they have been pretty plants but not productive just yet. We'll give broad beans another go but in a different spot, they just weren't happy where they were. Cabbages are a must, red cabbage especially, and cauli if we can stop them bolting.  And tomatoes of course, lots of tomatoes :-)

Friday, 22 August 2014

Veg Gluts, Green Tomatoes and Dreams of Old Style Pantries!!

We've been away for a couple of days, and had horrible weather when we got back, so hadn't been to the plot for a few days - we were expecting weeds galore, pumpkin madness, runner bean fest, courgettes a-go-go, beetroots a-plenty. And tons of raspberries. :-) And that is exactly what there was - we came home with a couple of marrow sized courgettes and some smaller ones, a massive bag full of runners, several beets, two punnets of raspberries (leaving lots on the plants that we couldn't carry) and the last few broad beans we could find - those plants are coming out at the weekend, they are really sickly looking this year, poor things.

But everything is looking ok, the cabbages are fine, the toms are very leafy with lots of fruit on there, the cauli has bolted :-( and the italian yardlongs are getting plenty of flowers on there but no beans as yet. The cannelini beans are dripping with pods, so they should be great later in the season.

We had our first couple of ripe toms from the garden over the weekend, with plenty more to come, still green as yet. But they are outside and not in a greenhouse so progress may be a little slower. I still need to strip the leaves and the excess flowers off so the fruits can concentrate on ripening. If indeed they will in this cold weather... The weather seems to have cooled down a huge amount, it feels almost autumnal, I do hope we still have a few warm days to come before autumn/winter kick in, it doesn't feel like we've had a proper summer yet. My feet are usually cold at present, so I know it is generally a lot cooler than it was a week or so ago.

I don't know if it's just me but I do feel a bit despondent about gardening at the moment, just waiting for things to grow and ripen, not much to do apart from weed and water. I know we have some crackin veg to come but I feel a bit lost... We ate our petit pois from the garden at the weekend, and I think that's it, all gone now - is there much point in growing peas if you get such a small crop? I'm also concerned as to how we will store the veg and fruit we are growing - the raspberries are easy, raspberry jam, and the redcurrants made lovely jelly, but we still have some apple mush from last year in the freezer, and most of the fresh fruit have dropped off the tree already before they were properly ripe... and we will have a load of pears too. We may have to think about taking one of the trees out, we have too many pears. We are eating as much of the fresh veg as we can, it's the storing of it for over the winter that is the problem I have at the moment. We don't have a cool garage or pantry, only a small (warm) kitchen and a couple of packed freezers. I would love a house with a proper old-fashioned cool pantry :-) Well, I can dream can't I?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Invading Pumpkins and Redcurrant Jelly

It looks like we will get 2 decent sized pumpkins from the two plants this year, there are lovely big football sized globes, and the largest is beginning to change colour. We don't know what the variety is, hopefully it will taste good, or there is no point in growing pumpkins as they take up a lot of room. They are mighty invasive though, we had to pull them out of the broad bean plants and cut them back from the leeks and the courgettes and the sweetcorn. One plant next year - maybe!!.

The runner beans are being hugely productive at the moment, we may have to think about freezing some, although I'm not sure where we will find the space as the freezers are full of fruit, with apples to come, and beans from last year still in the drawers. We are eating lots and lots of lovely fresh runner beans :-) I even taken some into work for my colleagues.

Made redcurrant jelly at the weekend from this year's crop, and from 2.5 kilos of fruit I got 7 little jars of lovely clear jelly, really pretty. Last year I got only a couple of little jars, which shows how much fruit the shrub produced this year. This is going to be lovely with any meats, or cheeses. I made them by following a standard jelly recipe which I will include on the recipes page.

My darling hubby bought me a recipe book, entitled "What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes?" by Elaine Borish. It has a huge number of recipes in there, from starters and soups, main meals, salads, and even cakes. Looking forward to trying them out :-) If I find any really fab ones I'll add them to the recipes page (with acknowledgement to Elaine of course.)

We need to tend to the lotty, but the weather has turned rather rainy at the moment, so we know the soil will be muddy and sticky and hard work. There is always weeding to do, and I need to trim leaves off the tomatoes to let the fruit get the light. The Italian yardlong beans are still flowering, we are waiting for the beans to appear there. The cannelini's look to be full of beans, so hopefully they will be ok. The broad beans however look quite sickly, we have had a small handful of beans off them and they were delicious, but the plants look brown and crispy and unhappy. So they may be coming up in the next few days.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Notes to self (for next year)

We've been  thinking about what we have done this year and what needs to be changed because they didn't quite work and what worked well and will stay the same for next year's growing season. We stopped at 20 things otherwise the list could be as big as the Lotty ;)

1)  don't do so many tomato plants
2)  don't do so many courgette plants
3)  chitting seeds is a Good Thing
4)  get some quality seed compost for seedlings instead of using questionable multi purpose
5)  don't do so many runner beans, or stagger the sowing - 4 plants is plenty for us
6)  refresh the beds at home
7)  one pumpkin plant is sufficient
8)  peas need support
9)  label all seedlings!
10) don't do so many braaasicas
11) sweetcorn is good, 12 plants is plenty
12) tidy the raspberries sooner
13) give plants more space
14) cut garden hedge sooner and more often
15) protect beds from cats earlier and more robustly
16) keep an eye on the plot over winter and don't allow weeds to thrive
17) get stuck into the plot before the 28 day letter arrives! Act, not react.
18) Mr Nunn's Quality Quarter Horse Apples are a Good Thing - the cow poo was fab but there is no more, so the horse apples are the next best thing - clean, no chemicals, excellent.
19) put weed suppressant fabric below the bean poles
20) enjoy the growing and planting as always!!!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Colours of the Rainbow and YouTubers

Last week we ate the first of our courgettes along with the first of our mange tout (which stayed purple when cooked, yay!) and beans and half a left over yellow pepper - gorgeous! I do so love going into the garden and cropping stuff and eating it pretty much straight away, it feels fab, and must be doing us some good as well, eating such fresh produce. We had beets as well, just a couple of those left in the garden now, will be cropping the lotty beets soon I expect.

Of an evening we've been watching Rickvanman's allotment videos on You Tube, we started around video 95 and went through to the end, and now we have gone right back to the beginning when he first got his allotment. Last night we saw him crop his first produce, and his joy at picking his own veg, we can totally relate. Even now that we are a few years into this grow your own malarkey, we still get such a satisfied feeling when our meals contain our own produce. We got to Rickvanman via Mr Sam The Allotment Man (another You Tube channel), someone had posted a link to Mr Sam on one of the gardening forums we go on, so we watched all of Mr Sam, and he mentioned Rick, so we went off and found him. Neither Mr Sam nor Rick claim to be experts, in fact they both say quite clearly that they are gardening amateurs, and simply share their experiences of allotment gardening. Recommended.

The lotty pumpkins are getting rather huge, we have one about the size of a cantaloupe melon and one the size of a basketball! Both are sitting on a plastic layer to keep them off the ground and away from dampness. Hopefully they will both mature. We cropped a load of runner beans and a load more raspberries from the lotty at the weekend, and 3 courgettes, a plain green one and two stripey ones :-) very pleased with those. It feels wonderful to be eating our own produce, this is the time of year I absolutely love.

The Italian yardlong beans are finally flowering, so hopefully these will get going as the runners are finishing, they took a while to take off, but this is the first time we've grown them so maybe this is normal. The cannellini beans are producing lots of lovely pods, but these are beans eaten as beans not as pods, so they need to develop further before we pick them.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

The feasting begins!

So far we have cropped:
Beets (from the garden)
Runner Beans (from the lotty)
French Beans (from the garden and the lotty)
A Courgettes (from the garden and the lotty)
Raspberries (from the lotty)
Redcurrants (from the garden)
Blueberries (from the garden)

Not much as yet. But it will gather momentum as we move through the season. Last year we got to a stage where we rarely went to the shops for veg, we just ate what we had, not what we felt like. Which was lovely :-) We are still eating the tomato sauce bases I made last year and froze, so I expect I'll do the same type of thing this year. The raspberries and redcurrants and blueberries are all in the freezer ready to be made into jams and jellies - I must crack on with the redcurrants as they are taking up too much room! Also, we have a lot of runners and french beans in the freezer from last season, we must try them and see if they are any good - if not, we'll compost them and just eat the fresh beans.

The apples are ready to pick and eat, they are dropping off the tree. However the number of lovely apples will be relatively small this year as the starlings have been feasting on them in the tree, we have had lots drop to the ground with bloomin big holes in them, and the starlings sitting cackling in the tree. I expect we will do a similar thing to previous years and stew them and freeze them after we have eaten lots - the apples that is, not the starlings. Tempted though.

The tomato plants on the lotty and in the garden are producing lots of lovely fruits, all green as yet, but the plum tomatoes are dripping with fruits. The courgette plants have numerous small fruits on them, and the pumpkins have one fruit the size of a large football, and several smaller fruits too. The beets on the lotty are growing very well, the yardlong beans are thriving, took them a little while to get going compared to the runner beans but they are romping away now, and the cannellini beans have got plenty of pods and are still flowering well. Oh and the sweetcorn has lots of cobs :-)

The mange tout and petit pois are producing pods, so we will tuck into the mange tout tonight with pork chops and runner beans. Lovely purple mange tout, looks spectacular, we do like our purple/red veg, we have red cabbage in at the lotty and purple beans growing at home, and we have seeds for next year - purple pakchoi, purple and white carrots, purple brussels sprouts :-) And plenty of purple French bean seeds and purple mange tout as well of course.

The not so good news, the cabbages at home have been slugged - we have now blued the bed so fingers crossed they survive. We still have some cauli seedlings to go in so once I crop the remaining beets I'll put them in and we can cover the bed with debris netting. But all the other braaasicca seedlings have been eaten as they weren't covered, so they have gone into the compost bin.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Dark water & Mental Pumpkins

We were watering at the lotty at 21:30 on Friday evening, it was almost dark! We waited until the heat of the day had dissipated a bit, and we gave everything a good drench.

We found that we have blackfly on the runner beans, boo! I sprayed them with a soapy solution (washing up liquid in water) so we'll have to see how that goes. I may need to give them another few goes. Strange thing is the broad beans, which are right next to the runners, are currently blackfly free, which are normally prone to them. I pulled off some of the most infested leaves and sprayed them and flung them into the compost bin. But we ate our first runner beans at the weekend, and they were lovely.

The pumpkins and the squashes on the lotty are going mental - the one big pumpkin is almost football sized now, and the plants are still pushing out fruits. And we cropped our first courgette! It's only a small one, but it's a start. Some of the other courgette plants are being swamped by the pumpkins so we'll see what happens, we haven't grown courgettes on the lotty before. The courgette plant in the garden is very happy and is producing mini courgettes already. Wonderful.

Oh and I tidied up the tomato plants a bit, by removing the extra stalks and a lot of leaves from the base so I can see the plants properly again now.

Hubby works near a coffee place, and they have given us some of their used coffee grounds - we are going to try just composting them for now, as we have heard conflicting reports of how good/bad they are for the soil - some people say they suck all the nutrients out, others say they add nutrients in... we will find out. But the compost bin is pretty warm at the moment, which is good, it is now full of tomato leaves as well as coffee grounds.

Have reorganised the two greenhouses, the main one and the little plastic one at the side of the house - this one is now a pot, tray and compost store, and the main one will have the staging in it and the plants next year. Got rid of a load of rubbish from the little gh, we had allsorts in there, and because it is several years old the cover is disintegrating, and things get wet. So storing pots will be fine.

In yesterday afternoon's heat hubby and I tackled a bit more of the ivy on the back fence - hubby managed to cut out a lot of the thick ivy stems that were wrapped around the bamboo, and he also cut a stump of hornbeam right down to the ground, so that's good. I cut a few bits of hornbeam and ivy out of the side fence, we'll need that clearer in order to tackle to back fence. Still loads of ivy and russian vine to get rid of, that will need bagging up and taking to the tip again, but it was too hot yesterday, we gave up and went back indoors.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Sick n Ivy

Had a few days of illness so not much has been done either in the garden or on the lotty. One thing we did manage to do was to swap over a couple of the brassica frames, as the red cabbages were pushing against the net of the lower cover - swapped the swede and red cabbage covers over, as the swedes are a lot shorter than the cabbages at the moment. We do have some impressive looking pumpkins growing, one in particular is about the size and colour of a yellow melon! There are other fruits growing on the plants, we just hope they all come to fruition. The other squash plants are growing very well as well, we've been really impressed as we've not grown squashes before. 

Before my cold kicked in we managed to get a whole heap of ivy down from the back fence, and our son cleared all the invading ivy from the greenhouse. Our brown bin is full, and collection is over a week away! There is still a lots left to clear, but it is all on the outside of the fence now, in the car park behind and not our garden. We haven't seen the inside of the fence so clear for years. We will remove the rest of the ivy and take it directly to the tip, this was made easier with a builders bag we received from a fellow "Freecycler". The sooner we get this sorted the happier we will be! As will the people who use the car park no doubt!

We intend to do some major rearranging in the back garden over the autumn/winter. The ornamental pear will be reduced in height, to give us some more light in the garden. Cuttings will be taken from the redcurrant this autumn, which will then be relocated somewhere else, maybe even to the front garden. We will cut back the fruit trees, letting us see where the beds and structures can go.

Other than that, it's just been a case of weed and water and maintain.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Mad Pumpkin & Bad Ivy

We picked up a bargain - a Wilko's greenhouse staging shelf kit for £3 instead of a tenner! Great! I need to organise the greenhouse now the plants are no longer in there, it's being used as a dumping ground for tools and bags of compost and the like, and the new staging will give me the kick I need to get started. We also picked me up some plant food, some blood fish & bone, pots, and potting compost.  Groovy. We went back to Wilko's at the weekend and picked up some more pots, and some propagators and some other bits and bobs.

Down the lotty at the weekend we discovered that the pumpkin plants have gone a bit mad, we had to chop the ends off two or three of the tendrils as they were invading.  And we found out afterwards that that is exactly what you are supposed to do, nip the ends off. We counted about 6 female flowers, so we should have a decent crop, especially if we remove the weaker fruits to give the stronger ones a better chance.  Or we crop them small rather than let them all grow to full size. Will need pumpkin recipes, if I find any good ones I'll add them to the blog.

In the garden we’ve planted out the cabbages - they are probably a little overcrowded, but we don't have a lot of room left. We made a debris-netting cover for the bed and held it down with the milk bottle weights same as on the lotty, should do the trick. I also harvested some beets and planted  swedes in the gaps. We aren't going to have room to plant the caulis I sowed... I also cropped all the remaining redcurrants and got another 600g. All in the freezer now, will make redcurrant jelly with it soon.

While I was doing that Hubby made a start on tackling the ivy, and he's got a huge amount down, the sunshine is now getting into the greenhouse again! We took a builder's bag full of the cuttings to the tip, and were going to carry on but we both felt shattered, so we'll get to it when we can. There is still plenty to get rid of, and it is tempting to just clear our bit of fence, but if we don't get rid of it all it'll grow back and we'll be back to square one. The SBK did a good job of killing off the Russian vine, but hasn't touched the ivy, so we are back to the idea of just ripping it out manually. We have a double layer of fence at the back, the original one that is a bit gappy, so a bamboo screen was put up.  The ivy has intertwined between the two so we are planning  to take down the bamboo fence, and just put up with the gappy fence again and the lack of privacy. That is, if the ivy hasn't destroyed the original fence of course! With our son home from uni for the summer, he can help too. All hands on deck!

We are still pondering the thought of a polytunnel, I am struggling to picture how it will fit in our wee garden, I'm sure it will, but we'd have to do some serious tree pruning (1 apple, 2 pears) or even removing (an ornamental pear that we planted over 20 years ago.) It feels strange to be thinking about removing a tree, but it is only ornamental, and dries the ground to the extent that not much grows down the bottom of the garden.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

We want to be together

We are having a weekend together, without work getting in the way for a change. So Saturday we got up early and headed to the lotty, and planted out our swedes, along with the final 3 courgette plants - we just can't bear the thought of composting perfectly healthy seedlings!

As we were taking a few pics - we realised that we are chock-a-block full, we couldn't fit anything else in even if we wanted to!

So we thought it would be a good idea to make a note of the plants and varieties we have in down the lotty, for ourselves for future reference if nothing else.

We have:
5 Types of Beans:
 - Runner (3 varieties - Polestar, Butler and Enorma)
 - French - Borlotti Firetongue (Dwarf) and a climbing variety from last year's saved seeds
 - Broad - Bunyards Exhibition
 - Cannellino - bush bean Impero Bianco - (no wonder these aren't climbing, d'oh!)
 - Italian Yardlong

4 Types of Tomato:
- Moneymaker
- Gardener's Delight
- F1 Inca Plum
- Beef - Costoluto Genovese

4 Brassicas:
- Red Cabbage
- Cauliflower
- Swede - Tweed
- Savoy Cabbage - January King

5 Types of Cucurbitaceae:
- Pumpkin (plants came from a friend but it's a big orange variety
- Winter Squash High Sugar Mixed
- Butternut Squash
- Courgette Cocozelle v. Tripolis (a stripey one)
- Courgette Zucchini (a plain green one)

3 Beetroot varieties:
- Boltardy
- Chioggia (a pink and white stripey one)
- Burpee Golden (a yellow one)

Sweetcorn - Mainstay

Leek - Musselburgh

A Rhubarb plant

Several Autumn Raspberres

A Blackcurrant

Oh and some Marigolds and Nasturtiums, as pollinator attractors, alledgedly, although the runner beans are in flower and the nasturtiums aren't!

So the plot is full, the pumpkin plants are going away great guns, the sweetcorn is developing well and growing into thick sturdy specimens, and the broad beans are flowering, as are the runners. All the recently planted brassicas look a bit feeble just yet, especially as they are planted so far apart... But that will change as they develop.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Guilty Weekend

Had a headache-filled weekend last weekend, so just did some gentle jobs in the garden, and not at the lotty, and felt guilty about it.

I cleared the strawberry bed, it was chock full of plants and had numerous mouldy strawbs in there - we aren't eating them so we decided we could make better use of the space and uproot them, refresh the ground and plant something else. So I pulled all the plants out and fed the dry and dusty ground with chicken poo and some of Mr Nunn's Quality Moo Poo, the last bag of it. Gave it all a good mix and a lot of water (some of those dry moo pats are rock hard!) and covered it with weed suppressant to keep the cats off while it settles. We may have to add some topsoil or something to the mix as the old compost in there is very dry and dusty.

I also planted out a courgette in to its bed, and added plenty of blue slug killer, so far so good.

The braaasicas are ready to plant at the lotty, unfortunately I wasn't up to it health-wise this weekend. We are going to struggle to find the space we need at the lotty for all the plants we have, which was the reason for clearing the strawb bed at home. We should gain some space at home as we harvest from the beetroot bed, they are just about ready for cropping, nice and small and sweet hopefully. We think there will still be some seedlings that have to be composted, even with all the extra bed space. Ah well, we'll just plant the strongest ones.

Oh I also pruned a couple of small branches off the apple tree so now the laundry whirligig can whirl again! The joys of a small garden, we can fill the available space with plants and trees but we still need somewhere to dry the washing.

After work on Monday evening hubby and I popped to the lotty, and planted out 8 savoy cabbage seedlings (fingers crossed, they look very gangly), we also planted a couple of courgette plants, giving them a handful of Mr Nunn's Quality Quarter Horse Apples at the bottom of the hole, and a good watering in. We still have some more courgette plants left over so we may plant another one or two at the lotty. Yes, we know we will probably end up with loads of courgettes but we can give them to friends, and the joy is in the growing, as well as the eating, and we don't like composting perfectly healthy seedlings!

Monday, 7 July 2014

From then to now

We have achieved so much in such a short space of time, it is astonishing when I think about it. The lotty was empty except for weeds when I sprayed with glyphosate on Good Friday this year, and we now have an almost full plot and an almost full garden at home. All we are waiting on now are the courgette plants to mature a bit, and the braaasicas that are still in the greenhouse.

The growth on the plot has been tremendous, the two pumpkins are spreading and we've spotted two female flowers with little yellow blobs behind them, fabulous. There may be more, but two is great! The runners and french beans are growing away nicely, but the cannellini and italian yardlongs aren't looking too great, hopefully they will pick up. The two other squashes (Winter and Butternut) we planted last week are looking settled and are beginning to produce flowers, and the tomato plants have fledgeling tomatoes on them and lots of flowers, yay!

We are already planning ahead for next year's plot, and have started a free trial of some garden design software, it seems ok, it is probably quite useful once we become accustomed to it and all its little foibles. Using the software it seems that we could fit a lot more on the plot than we currently do. And I thought we squashed stuff in already. Ww will have to see what we think come next year. We have already decided to put some permanent paths in, and begin an asparagus bed, we will tidy up the raspberries and the blackcurrant and put some supports in for them, and that will give the plot some more definite structure.

Oh and we ordered some more seeds from the website :-) They sent me the missing Ailsa Craig onions from my first order, and a free packet of Tosca onion as a gift, nice :-) Good customer service.

We need to find a way of organising our seeds, we have lots, and it is becoming difficult to find the ones we want. A simple card index system should do it. They are all in used Jacobs cracker tubs, so all I need is a few A4 dividers and cut them to size.

At the moment we are thinking about getting a polytunnel for the back garden. The garden isn't very big but it would mean that the productive space would be concentrated in one area, and we would hopefully get more produce and earlier. Still working out the logistics of it really, it would mean some cutting back (or even cutting out) of some of the established trees and shrubs, and moving the beds about, but we'd planned on moving the beds around at the end of the season anyway. 

So that's it for now, I'll keep you all updated when more things happen.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Blessed Rain!

After a couple of weeks of fabulous sunshine we have had a change in the weather and it started raining Friday night, rained on and off for most of the day, then on Saturday we had a downpour! It's Glastonbury's fault of course. The rain is welcome, as it means we don't have to go to the lotty and water, just let nature do her thing. We'll have to pop over and check for weeds, as the rain encourages them out of the ground of course! The rain has also refilled the water butts at home, as they had become rather depleted recently, I have been using this water for the garden, rather than tap water.

We've ordered some seeds from a new-to-us website,, they have a sale on at the moment so ordered some seed varieties that we haven't had before, gotta be worth a try - a different broad bean to our usual Bunyards Exhibition (Aquadulce), some onion seeds (Ailsa Craig although the wrong onions were delivered, I got White Lisbon's instead - emailed the company and they are sending the correct ones immediately, which is great customer service I think), some more beetroot Chioggia (the pink and white stripey one) and a couple of climbing french bean varieties that we haven't tried before, Hunter and Cobra (sound like Gladiators to me!)

We also got some veg seeds free with a gardening magazine, so we'll give them a try too, spinach beet, and sorrel, and some more cauli and turnips and a few others. Got nowhere to put them at the moment of course, both the lotty and the garden are planted, or spaces spoken for. We'll have another look round the website to see if there is anything else we want, asparagus seeds perhaps, or other brassicas. We quite fancy having a go at kohl rabi, but to be honest what puts me off is not knowing how to cook it, I haven't a clue.

I did a bit of tidying in the garden at the weekend, and cropped as many of the ripe redcurrants as I could, they are all washed now and in the freezer, I managed to get almost 1.75 kilos.

 I also tidied up the strawb bed a bit, and discovered lots of rotten strawbs, so as we aren't eating them we think we will just scrap the whole lot of them and refresh the bed for something we will eat. I swapped some of the bed netting covers around, and thngs look a bit better now. I also sowed a load more petit pois in the pea bed, as not many of them had come through. And I potted on the courgette plants, hopefully they will be able to go in at the weekend.

I also filled several 2 litre size milk cartons with sharp sand, as we use these as weights to hold down the netting on the lotty - I suspect we will have to do something similar at home, its not an elegant solution but it works.

Hubby sprayed all the invasive and overgrown ivy in the back garden yesterday morning, with the Vitax's SBK Bushwood killer, it's not a quick solution but hopefully it will be effective.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Cold Frame

We have wanted to build a Cold Frame for some time, we've had some timber for ages, along with a couple of pieces of plastic sheeting (from a fellow freecycler). Hubby has now used it to construct the cold frame for down the lotty - it hasn't been assembled yet, so we can transport it more easily, but it's all cut and ready to go, when we can find some space for it. It'll be better at the lotty as there is a little more space for it than in the back garden. He'll probably use the offcuts to make something else, a seat or something maybe, as it's good sturdy wood.

Need to take some pics of progress at the lotty and at home.

We have cropped a small handful of beans already, some deep purple french and some speckled french, they look amazing, but the plants aren't very large. I got confused with what I'd sown (didn't label them very well, lesson for the future, always label yer seedlings) so I think there are some dwarf frenchs at the lotty mixed in with the climbing runners, and some climbing frenches too hopefully. I also think I have a climbing bean in the dwarf bean bed at home, as its sending out tendrils... staked it and will see what happens. I am keeping my fingers crossed with the cannellini beans, the info says they grow easily, but our plants look a bit feeble to be honest. Still, we'll give them a try.

We have planted the Italian yard-long beans (I always thought they were footlong, but yard-long, crikey!) It's all an experiment, we'd rather have a go at growing things you can't get so easily in the shops, than grow stuff which is mega cheap in the shops, makes dinnertime a little more interesting :-)

And the two squashes (1 winter and 1 butternut) are looking healthy, with good roots, and sturdy leaves, they went in the ground at the lotty a couple of days ago. The courgettes need to do a bit more growing before they go in the ground, I'm just hoping that I haven't left it too late this year. So we should be able to put our final plants in at home and on the lotty in the next few days. Well, I say final, that's not counting all the braassicas that are growing in the greenhouse, ready for over winter.

Hubby and I recently reread all our 2010 posts, we have come a long way since then, for instance the hornbeam trees in the back garden are now a sturdy hedge, needs cutting back a bit, but it is under control, unlike the massive trees we had a few years ago. We also have less garden grass as we have filled a lot more of the back garden with raised beds. And the little pear tree that was dwarfed by the hornbeams is now growing happily and producing fruit. Also, we have given up on the idea of trying to grow tomatoes in containers, and this year they have gone in the ground instead.

We have further plans for re-designing the arrangement of the beds in the back garden; and removing the ivy from the back fence that has gone mental; and pruning the various fruiting trees as they have also gone mental. But those will be jobs for the autumn.

At the moment in our back garden we have 3 1x1 metre raised beds and 4 2x1 metre raised beds, and 1 small greenhouse (6ft x 4ft). The strawbs all migrated from one bed to another, and are happily fruiting away. I need to crop the redcurrants, and I will probably do like I did last year and freeze them as I go along, then make redcurrant jelly to go with winter meals.

The plan is to move the greenhouse from the back fence (where it is disappearing under shedloads of ivy) and rotate it through 90 degrees onto the side fence, where it will get a lot more sun, and will enable us to tackle the ivy. We tried using glyphosate but that didn't cut the mustard, so we are going to try a super strong weedkiller like Vitax's SBK Bushwood killer and see if that does the trick... the ivy was planted many many years ago when the garden was new but like everything else in the garden it has gone nuts this year and is now a problem. If the weedkiller doesn't sort it then we will just have to physically rip it out. There is a lot of it.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Feeling in need of a Lotty fix

We go down there after work and water the plants and potter about, and check the progress of the plants and seeds, but now there are no structures to make or big jobs to do we both feel a little lost!

We would love to find a reasonably priced little tool shed for the lotty, to store our scruffy chairs and keep a few tools in, but unless we can find a suitable second hand one the cost will be too prohibitive. Neither of us are particularly handy at woodwork so we'd struggle to make something, but we may have to give it a go. Anything like this that appears on Freecycle disappears at hyperspeed! I'm sure something will turn up at some stage though, things usually do...

We'd been after a cheap hose reel to make coping with the hosepipe a lot easier, and sure enough, they eventually had one in Aldi for a tenner (instead of multiples of tens of pounds for a branded one.) It has been a smashing purchase, despite being somewhat fiddly to assemble - makes watering so much simpler - connect it to the tap using a short piece of hose and roll it out to the length needed, water, then roll it back up again, bob's your uncle, so simple.

In the meantime, everything is trundling along nicely, growing steadily, and looking good. We planted some leeks (Musselburgh) and sowed some Golden (yellow) beets and pink & white stripey beets on the plot at the weekend, we also planted out the Cannelini beans, but to be honest they are looking a little sickly at the moment, fingers crossed they pick up. The Italian footlong bean plants are looking ok, if a little small, I may need to pot them on before they go in the ground.

The courgette plants are coming on a treat, they will be able to go in the ground soon too, although I sowed more than we'll need, as per usual, so have passed some on to friends. Them and the two squashes we have ready and waiting will mean the plot is finally almost filled, except for the brassica seedlings we have in the greenhouse.

Oh and all the tomato plants are showing signs of flowering :-)

Getting things ship shape

We both had a week off work recently week, so we 'set to' down at the lotty. The weather was kind most of the time, and we got loads done.

We'd already dug a bed, and tilled it and planted in it, as mentioned in our previous posting; and the spuds from 2 years ago were growing away like mad, so they had to go. Basically there was a huge section that we hadn't dug over last year and we wanted to do it all, to uncompact the ground and make it usable again.

So we dug, and turned, and added manure, and dug some more, and tilled, and dug and dug and dug! But now the vast majority of the plot, all the current growing area, is dug over and tilled, and fed with horse, cow and chicken poo. We'd like to sort out the work area at the fence end of the plot, but we sprayed all the nettles and other weeds there, so need to wait for those to die down before tackling that section.

The problem we have is the clay soil, which after a day of sunshine turns into rocks - and we struggle to break it down into a fine tilth. Thankfully there is a water supply on site, a little addition of water makes the clay easier to break down, but too much turns it into a sticky muddy mess... Hopefully a few years of good horse muck and compost will help to improve the condition of the soil.

During our week off we also made some structures, to cover the brassicas - we bought red cabbages and cauli plants from Dundry, and planted them under debris netting to keep the Peskys off them, and we have sown winter cabbages and swedes and cauli in the greenhouse, and have made structures for them out of debris netting and blue water pipes cut to size.

After all our work the lotty is totally up to scratch, and the structures are in place ready for the plants that aren't ready yet. Feeling very satisfied.

I'd lost my little courgette plant to the slugs in the back garden so chitted some more seeds in the airing cupboard, I now have 8 healthy plants and space for 3... will see if anyone in work wants any. If not they will go into the compost bin. As long as I'm not too late... Hopefully things will catch up after our late start.

Chitting is a method I'd not used before, but I will definitely try it again, as it means I am only sowing live seeds. Take a sealable plastic tub (like takeaway tubs) and place some kitchen roll in the bottom, dampen it, place your seeds on there (bigger seeds are better, courgettes, beans, sweetcorn, etc) and seal tightly. Place your little parcel in a warm place (I use the airing cupboard) for a few days - after about 4 or 5 days you should have lovely chitted seeds with roots sprouting. Simply carefully sow them in compost and after a few days the seeds should be showing signs of life above the surface.

Oh and the peas and broad beans we sowed at the beginning of our holiday are appearing above ground :-) Happy days.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

We're Baaaaaack

Oh crikey, I hadn't realised it had been such a long time since I posted last, I guess life got in the way and I just got out of the habit of posting.

2013 was a bumper year for us, we got our local parish council (half) plot, and turned it from a weedy dry neglected chunk into a productive plot in a comparatively short time. We grew sweetcorn, toms, runners and french beans, broad beans, beets, peas, and found garlic and spuds left over from the previous plotholder.

We ate it all and enjoyed it immensely. Our plot is on the sunny side of the site, the soil is fertile, if prone to weeds, and the views across the open fields are stunning. We are very lucky to have such a super plot, for the grand total of £15.00 a year rent.

We ate a tremendous amount of home grown veg and fruit last year, and I made jams, jellies and chutneys, and tomato sauces for the freezer. My favourite is my seedless raspberry jam, which was so easy to make it was almost scary! (It probably helps if you know a bit about jam making before you start though.)


Seedless Raspberry Jam

Pick the raspberries through the season as they ripen and freeze them as you go along.
Once you have enough (at the end of the season probably) defrost them all in a big bowl.
They will collapse and go squishy and juicy when they defrost.
This is the messy bit.  Push the raw raspberries through a sieve into a large measuring jug bit by bit, until you have all the juice and pulp in the jug and a pile of dryish seeds. Discard the seeds.
You make the jam in the same way as a jelly, i.e. a pint of juice to a pound of sugar.

Raspberries aren't as high in pectin as brambles, so you may want to add some lemon juice, or some cooking apple peel & lemon peel tied up in a muslin bag to the mix to increase the pectin. Or you could use sugar with added pectin but I've never used this so have no idea whether it would work.
Bung the raspberry juicy pulp and the sugar (and the muslin bag of cooking apple peel/lemon peel if used) in a big pan and cook it until it gets to the setting stage.
Pot into sterilised jars, pop the lids on and allow to cool before labelling.
The resultant jam is a little sharp and utterly delicious.


Then the winter came with all its rain, rain, rain, and our clay soil got compacted and neglected by us. We both work full time and when the weekends came the weather was usually unpleasant. So when we finally got some half decent weather this spring we got down there, watered the weeds with a double concentrate of glyphosate, and gradually got the plot back into shape.

And this weekend just gone I finally cleared the remaining dead weeds, we finished digging over the big first bed, tilled it, fed it with horse poo (from a good friend in work), got the runner bean frame up and finally planted!

So far we have - runners and french beans (couple of varieties) with pretty marigolds along the edge, sweetcorn (mainstay variety, same as last year, from Dundry Nurseries, a local independent near to Staverton Airport) and a couple of pumpkin plants that were spares off a chap in work. We've grown courgettes before but not pumpkins so that should be interesting.

We've also still got raspberries, a rhubarb crown, and a wee blackcurrant.

In the greenhouse and in the back garden we have some tomato plants ready to go to the lotty, and we have broad bean seeds to go in, and a few other bits and bobs.

The spuds we didn't manage to dig up last year are sprouting, but as they've been in the ground for a few years now we'll probably just dig them up and compost them.

It felt so good to finally get some plants in the ground. In the back garden we have a couple of fruit trees (apple and pear), a fecund redcurrant (seems to have gone mad this year!), a feeble rhubarb crown, and herbs, beets, carrots, strawberries, toms, dwarf french beans and a courgette. We have an empty bed where we'll probably sow peas although we haven't decided yet.

We feel very behind, other plotholders seem to be well ahead, and some plots are planted with military precision! Ours is a mess by comparison, but as far as I'm concerned we aren't growing for show we are growing to eat. There are some other messy plots on our site, and lots of neat and tidy ones, but we aren't fussed about neat and tidy - as long as we keep on top of the weeds and our plants grow that'll do us grand. And we will catch up, we did it last year, and we'll do it again.