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.