Category Archives: Allotment

Preparation for the 2019 Season on the allotment

Garden design

The plot layout didn’t change from last year. The crops will rotate between the sections of the main vegetable patch (between the veg bed 1-2-3-4), following the four-year crop rotation system (see previous year’s planning here). I will extend the planting area into the front of the plot which I didn’t use last year, to accommodate for any excess amount of plants I end up having after planting up all the beds.

I still have a fair amount of seeds from last year so I will just use them all. I also will try a few new varieties and a few new plants I never grew before. For example sweet peppers and chillies, turnip and kale; or the potato variety of Arran Pilot.

Seed catalogues and the ordering of all the seeds

During the winter I realized there are a good amount of places out there where you can buy seeds. Apart from bigger supermarkets, there are garden centres and then there are the seed catalogues. An entire booklet just for seeds! So I just entered into the search engine ‘seed catalogue uk’ and went through pages after pages, websites after websites. I ended up ordering eight different catalogues.

  • Dobies
  • Unwins
  • Marshalls
  • Mr Fothergill’s
  • Thompson & Morgan
  • Chilternseeds
  • Sarah Raven
  • Seed-Cooperative

When I got all of them I checked the prices in all and checked whether the seed varieties I wanted would be available in any. I also included the delivery charges. I was surprised that they were all quite similar in price. If one packet of seed was more expensive then another was cheaper within one particular company. So I ended up ordering from the one which had the most variety I wanted: Mr Fothergill’s.

The ordering process online was tricky though, as I just missed the minimum limit to qualify for free P&P. They threw in a 20% discount on two items, which lowered the overall price of my order moving it under the limit. Checking the order confirmation e-mail I realised my oversight, it was just not as clear as I would have preferred it. Well, maybe next year I will use my eyes. All the bulbs arrived 5 days later, and the seed packs 11 days from ordering (including 2 Sundays), which is within the promised 7-10 days delivery time.

Sowing schedule for the vegetables

I decided that I will try this year to sow by the Moon phases. There is this idea, that the Moon’s gravitational pull has an effect on the growth of the plants, and sowing them in their suggested times would create an optimal condition for the seeds to germinate, the seedlings to emerge and the plants to grow. The Moon’s four phases are its four quarters, from where I would sow only in the first three, as the fourth being a rest time.

I downloaded a free yearly planner from Calendarpedia (http://www.calendarpedia.co.uk/) and marked all the phases of the Moon in it. How did I know those? Well, I didn’t, I checked them on a few websites. (For example: https://www.timeanddate.com/moon/phases/uk/london) Then I took the seed packs one by one and checked the suggested times for sowing. For example, tomatoes are to be sown from February to April. Tomatoes are above ground producing annuals, where the seeds form inside the fruit, thus it should be sown in the second quarter, which is the week leading to full moon (13-19 Feb, 15-21 March, 13-18 April). Considering we can only plan Saturdays into this equation safely as we work during the week, there is only one Saturday in each month when sowing of the tomatoes are available (15 Febr/16 March/13 April).

The next step was to set up a spread sheet with the plants, varieties, month and manually input the dates as calculated above. For all the hundred plants! Then colour code them, sort them by date and then just copy & paste the upcoming month. I ended up with a pretty sheet:

I am hoping that this will help to keep track most of the things I’ll need to sow.

Our allotment site in the last few weeks were quite busy. We are creating new plots, covering existing walkways with wood chips, plowing the plots to get ready for potato planting. There are committee meetings and site inspections, pot exchanges and manure ordering. Spring is on the way. We are getting ready.

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Harvesting season on the allotment, 2018

In retrospective, I think it turned out to be reasonable. I chose plant varieties to be able to harvest throughout the year, well into the winter.

It all started with the radishes at the beginning of June. Delicious and sweet radishes just with a faint reminder of pepper. They were actually almost sweet! Then there were the strawberries. Sweet, delicious, juicy strawberries.

Lots of the plants struggled during the summer from the heat and the lack of water. It was an exceptionally hot summer. I run out of water (from the water butts) by the end of June, afterwards, I had to water from the tap. I used way too much water, more than I thought I would. I measured it and I think it is scary the amount of water I went through to be able to feed the plants so I would have food through the year. When they introduced the hosepipe ban in Ireland in midsummer and I heard rumours about that they might turn off the taps on the allotment, I came very close to give up and let everything die off. This year I will need to introduce a few more water butts into my plot.

Eventually, most of the plant caught up, and grew and produced. Most of the vegetables were smaller in size than expected, and reduced in amount. So I had the ‘Jazz’ variety of french beans, but only a few handful. I had runner beans too, but again, I couldn’t fill in the freezer with them. I could eat them from the bush though. The onions were fairly mid to small size, but I am still crying every time I am chopping them up. The cabbages were also tiny, compared to supermarket standard, but I fell in love with the ‘Greyhound’.

Cooking tip: Shred the cabbage (‘Greyhound’) into fairly small pieces (1 cm to 1/2 inch) and stir it into your sugarless pancake mix. Make sure to add only just enough cabbage shred that your mix is still pourable, otherwise it doesn’t form circles in the pan. You can experiment with the ratio, I like it full of with ‘greyhound’ taste. This variety won’t be crispy, it is quite the opposite, soft and sweet.

I ate an endless amount of spinach and chard. I had an awful lot of blackberries and plums. Now I have an awful lot of jams. There was a point during the summer when I just couldn’t eat any more vegetables and started to make pickles, chutneys, jams, cordials, blackberry vinegar, apple sauces and blackberry vines. It was 37 °C outside and I was making jam. It was horrible. I ended up covering the side of the building with a bed sheet and watering it down to try to cool the kitchen and myself, with quite a bit of success.

The unsuccessful plants

First of all if you want to know all the almost 50 different plants I tried to grow, please read my previous post: Phase 2 – The main vegetable patch

  • Garlic (Casablanca): It is a hard neck variety. I planted it late, I would say. They grew 1-2 inch greenery then they died off or disappeared. The culprits may have been some slugs or birds.
  • Spring onion (Ramrod): They were attacked by some caterpillar, and the majority had got chewed up. I had a chance to try a few tiny ones, and they were good!
  • Leek (Musselburgh) / Carrot (Amsterdam Forcing 3) / Parsnip (Gladiator): None of these germinated. I don’t actually know whether the seeds weren’t viable anymore or the conditions weren’t favourable.
  • Wild rocket / Lamb’s lettuce / Raddichio / Lettuce: Most of the salad greens didn’t germinate either. There was one survivor of lettuce which I watered for weeks until it grew into a nice big head. I wondered why no slugs, bugs, worm or even the pigeons had a go at it until I tasted it. My friend, it was bitter like nothing I tasted before! Yeah, I know, lack of water.
  • Pea (Kelvedon Wonder) / Mangetout (Sugar Bon): These grew all right. They just turned into seed within a couple of days! From previous experience, we knew you could leave the pea pods on the plants for a few weeks so you end up with bigger peas. Not this year. We missed our window.
  • Broccoli (Purple sprouting): It had got a heat shock. It didn’t form a head but started to produce the small side shoots where the leaves are attached.
  • Cauliflower (All The Year Round): These ones germinated, I had a good amount of 1/2 inch long seedlings when the heat wave hit the Midlands. So they all died. Well, I cannot do anything about the weather.

Despite the problems, I think I’ll try to grow these plants again. I hope for a less warm summer.

Bug encounters

I like bugs. From a distance. But then they are the days when everything slows downs, even the bugs, they stop by to sunbath or just catch their breath. And then there are the bees! I had quite a good amount on my plot thanks for the randomly growing poppies. So here you are, last year’s goosbum creating creatures:

All in all, I am glad that we signed up for a plot in 2018. It was a good workout physically. I met a few new people, surprisingly friendly ones. There is always a good company on an allotment and there is no shortage of tea and biscuit. I learned a lot on gardening, organic gardening, permaculture, all the different type of plants, the soil and food. I even learned a bit of history too. We produced over 115 kg of fruit and vegetable in this year which I would consider a good turnout.

We signed up for 2019 too. We shall see what the year brings.

Sowing season on the allotment, 2018

Considering that the plot needs some extra care, we decided to make life easy for this year and do one type of task in a certain period of time and try not to overlap tasks. For example, we will not do consecutive sowing of peas and beans during June and July. We have done the groundwork in March and April, so any other groundwork needed will be done in late autumn or winter.

From mid-April until the end of May we sowed everything we wanted to grow this year. We put many seeds into seed cells, then replanted them into small pots, then some of them into bigger pots end finally into the ground, to their final position. Some seeds we put straight into the ground. Some plants had to stay in big pots as I wanted to grow them in the greenhouse.

Unfortunately, there were a few heatwaves during this period, so some of the seedlings died or didn’t germinate. It seemed that the carrots, leeks, and parsnips didn’t come up, and the cauliflower seedlings didn’t make it. A few weeks into June I discovered one parsnip though. All the above root vegetable seeds were put into the soil via seed tapes. Note for self: no more seed tapes!

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From left to right: yellow onion, empty carrot line, empty parsnip line, red onion.

Most of the vegetables grew extremely well during the second half of May. I managed to build a sort of lattice for the gherkins.

I did forget a tray to check and replant: the radishes. We ended up leaving them in the tray then just eat them from there (after washing). Surprisingly, they were sweet and didn’t have the characteristic of “pepperiness”.

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It was an active six weeks, with lots of digging and potting and sunburn, but it was also rewarding to see how the plot transforms slowly.

Phase 3 -The front of the plot

This was the phase where we had to decide what kind of fruits we are going to grow, at least this year. We had already two trees at the back, so only another 4 are allowed to plant, and one blackcurrant bush was between the two trees. Shall we put all the fruit bushes and trees at the back? Then what will we do with the front? Shall we put some perennials like rhubarb or comfrey there? Or shall we dedicate the place for Mediterranean herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage? Decisions, decisions.

The clue for the solution came with a discovery: we had already some strawberries at the front and some mysterious berries poking up from the soil here and there.

 

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mystery berry

 

It is probably some sort of raspberry. The good news is that it doesn’t have thorns! And we like berries, especially the ones without thorns. We like strawberries too. However, we don’t like the fact, that they both are spreading.

The soil at the back is quite hard and full of stones. If we plant raspberries at the back, we would need to dig or pull up the excessive growth and that would probably disturb the root system of the trees. So we need to plant them at the front.

The random raised beds gave us the idea to grow spreading fruits in contained areas. So we restructured the front: dug it up, leveled it, placed the raised beds where we wanted them, then filled in the walkways with wood chips. No weed control fabric was involved in the making of the walkways. From previous experience we found that bind weed love growing underneath it and will creep up at the edges where even more difficult to remove them.

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raised beds

We ended up with four shorter raised beds, which will be the home for our strawberries, and one taller raised bed, which will accommodate the raspberries. The strawberries will stay in a bed for three years then the bed will be used for some cover crop. The raspberries will stay in the bed for as long as they produce and healthy, but every autumn fresh mulch will be placed on the top of the soil to replenish the nutrients used up by the plant.

Nevermind the sink at the edge of the road. At this point, it is waiting for removal. Someone thought it could be a good water feature for the wildlife. Someone else thought they can reuse the tap so they broke the ceramic. It is going to be a feature on the landfill apparently.

Next step is to dig the remaining area between the raised beds and the road and plant some flowers for this year.

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sunflowers, poppies, sweet peas and dust

I managed to plant a row of sunflowers, a row of sweet peas along the sunflowers and replanted a few poppy looking plants. And that was it. The summer hit. Hard. The soil became dusty concrete like substance and I wasn’t able to dig more. For the whole of the summer. The front stayed wild with a few random flowers in it.

I have got comments like “So that is your wildlife area!”

Well… I guess… it is for now…

 

Reference pages:

 

 

 

 

 

Phase 2 -the main vegetable patch

As the weather has changed we turned to phase 2: the actual planting stage. From mid-April to the end of May there are 6 weeks when I could measure plot space, sow the seeds, repot plants and place them into their final position.

Growing system

This year I try the crop rotation system I read about in a book by Dick & James Strawbridge: Practical Self Sufficiency. I mean, I learnt about crop rotation in school, but it was something which belonged to the past, to medieval times, ancient Egypt or what not. I have never seen it in practice. The crops are divided into 6 groups which follow a four-year rotation. The groups are the following:

  • Alliums
  • Umbellifers
  • Legumes
  • Brassicas
  • Miscellaneous
  • Salads

Alliums and umbellifers share an area, while the salads can fit in anywhere.

Measuring of the patch

The main vegetable patch is 7 metres wide and 16 metres long. Along the two pathways I won’t use around a foot wide strip on both sides, as probably that’s where I will collect throw the pebbles. This gives an area of around 100 square metres (or around 120 square yards). For each section, I will have a 7 metres wide by 4 metres long area to plant.

crop rotation 2018

crop rotation 2018

The idea is that whatever seeds we have, just throw into the relevant area and see what happens. They might grow. Or not. Either way, we will learn a lot about the soil.

Alliums and Umbellifers

Also to avoid injury in the first year, we decided, we only dig up the first section of the main vegetable patch, where all the root vegetables will be. They will be planted fairly close so I cannot measure and mark the area and dig only in the space where the seeds/bulbs would go. The rest of the crop group grows above ground so I could loosen up the soil with a hand trowel when I plant the crop. We don’t know what had happened in previous years on our plot, what kind of vegetables grew, so double digging a section a year seems a fair share. (Double digging I mean to dig two shovels deep and turn the soil over and break it up a bit.)

We dug the trenches for the potatoes and put them a foot deep. They are on the south side of this section. We put on the north side all the other vegetables belong to this group.

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Potatoes Charlotte (second early) 18
Potatoes Kestrel (second early) 18
Potatoes Picasso (main) 16
Onion Stuttgarter Giant 25
Onion Karmen (red) 23
Garlic Casablanca (hardneck) 11
Garlic Solent Wight (softneck) 18
Shallot Red Sun 8
Spring Onion Ramrod 1/2 row = 3 metres
Leek Musselburgh 1/2 row = 3 metres
Carrot Amsterdam Forcing 3 1/2 row = 3 metres
Parsnip Gladiator (F1) 1/2 row = 3 metres
Beetroot Detroit 2 – Grimson Globe 1/2 row = 3 metres
Spinach beet Perpetual spinach 1/2 row = 3 metres
Parsley Green Pearl 1/3 row = 2 metres

Miscellaneous

As I love the warming earthy Halloween inspired soups in autumn and winter, I decided to try a full pack of pumpkin seeds to sow this season. I also had some leftover sweetcorn seeds from previous years, slightly out of date so I thought to give them their last chance. I built a bamboo structure for the gherkins so I would be able to tie them up as they grow, and the gherkins won’t touch the soil and start to rot. I have never grown salads so I will try to this year in this section.

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Pumpkin Cinderella (Heirloom) 6
Sweetcorn Applause (F1) 13
Sweetcorn Incredible (F1) 3
Gherkin Venlo pickling 16
Squash Hornet (F1) 5
Squash Jaune de Vert 2
Courgette ? (gift) 3
Courgette ? (gift) 3
Lettuce Little Gem 1/3 row = 2 metres
Radicchio Ceasare 1/3 row = 2 metres
Lettuce Lakeland 1/3 row = 2 metres
Lamb’s Lettuce 1/3 row = 2 metres
Wild Rocket 1/3 row = 2 metres

Legumes

From previous experience, we learnt that it can be a problem if all the beans and peas ripe at the same time. We could manage to harvest but got into trouble with post harvesting; we run out of time to be able to handle, clean, sort, package, preserve and last but not least eat all the crop. We had to discard a lot of them as they turned bad and spoilt. So this year we try with succession sowing: sow seeds in batches so the plants ripe continuously.

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Broad Bean Bunyards Exhibition
24
Runner Bean
Scarlet Emperor 4+6
French Bean Jazz 12+6
French Bean
Wachs Beste von Allen
12+11
Dwarf French Bean
Borlotto Firetongue 12+11
Pea Kelvedon Wonder 48 in pairs
Mangetout Sugar Bon
48 in pairs

Brassicas

We have only grown Brussel Sprouts previously, by chance. I wanted to try to grow a few more vegetable in this group as green leafy vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals. Apparently, it is quite difficult to grow them for various reasons so it will be an interesting experiment to work with these plants.

 

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Brassicas are under cover

 

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Broccoli Purple Sprouting
12
Savoy Cabbage
January King 7
Cauliflower All the Year Round 12
Brussel Sprout
Bosworth
16
Radish
Scarlet Globe 15
Cabbage Greyhound 4
Cabbage Golden Acre
5

 

All these vegetables will be exposed to the elements, to the good old English weather, moderate sun and fair amount of summer showers. If all things go well, there will be plenty of food to eat.

Phase 1 – Preparing the back

First of all, we were lucky enough to have been offered an unused greenhouse.

Considering that the beginning of March was cold, we anticipated that there will be no spring at all, or it will be very, very late. Sowing anything would be early anyway. So re-building the greenhouse could be a good start.

 

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Greenhouse in its original condition and location

 

After careful planning, the following steps took place.

We repositioned the apple tree. From the left side of the allotment, we moved it to the right side of the allotment. It sits in line with the damson tree now. The idea is that on the right side (sunny south side) will be a line of fruit trees and bushes. The tree itself was 6-7′ tall. One of us held it in place, the other one was filling the hole with soil. A few days later we put some wood chips around the tree. Moving can shock the tree, so we do not expect any fruit this year, but we hope the tree will survive the move.

 

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Apple tree in the top right corner of the plot

 

We were sawing off all the branches of the ash tree and the majority of its trunk.

 

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Ash tree remains by the edge of the patio

 

One of the previous plot owners tried to cut back the ash tree. As long as the root is intact, most of the trees will regrow from the base of the trunk.  Ash tree also produces suckers. To be able to remove it permanently, we applied a tree killer onto the trunk. You can see the hole on the top left of the picture where the apple tree was sitting before.

 

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Ash tree trunk

 

We dug up the area where we wanted to place the greenhouse, removed all the grassroots and pebbles. Apparently, there was a pebble walkway under the grass. The digging lasted two days.

 

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The groundwork for the greenhouse

 

Removed all the glass panels from the frame and carried them over to our plot.

 

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Some of the glass panels under the apple tree

Then carried over the paving slabs and started to lay it down straight onto the soil. We skipped the sand base. The soil level is slightly higher next to the walkway, so we placed a U-shaped steel joist along the paving slabs on the north side, and pegged it into its position with wood pegs.

 

 

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Base construction

 

We also moved the frame, the rest of the paving slabs, some netting, some wire/plastic mesh, a few bricks to put them to good use.

 

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under construction

 

The frame apparently should have had a base which we didn’t possess, so we put some wood under it. We drilled a few holes and secured the frame to the paving slabs with bolts. ( Easyfix Concrete Bolts from Screwfix ) Why secure it? Well, because the wind could either lift the structure or push it at an angle, which would deform the frame in a way that the glass plains could break.

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Then we cleaned the frame and each of the glass plains, placing the glass and plastic boards in position. Before even finishing the build, we had our first tenant.

 

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Probably a cabbage moth larvae

 

 

By the time we finished the greenhouse construction it was already mid April.

 

 

 

The location and condition of my new plot – part 2

What is it in the front?

A trapezoid-shaped section has leftovers from last year: strawberries, mint, chard, onion; and some sorts of flowers and weed.

A trapezoid-shaped walkway has two raised beds. The walkway is unusable around the raised beds as it is too narrow to walk around. The raised beds are full of weed. Two bags of green waste lie by sadly.

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What is it at the back?

A few trees. A damson tree, which is not pruned, but badly butchered on one side. An apple tree, which is on a tilt, held upright by a rope and a metal rod. An ash tree, which looks like someone tried to kill it without success, now sprouting, sucking the nutrition away from the apple tree.

A composting area. Two compost bins are filled up with last year’s produce of potatoes, squashes, and pumpkins. The third bin is half filled with soil. There are a few bags of some sort of green waste, probably cut grass or weed.

Random rubbish. Apparently, the site is open to the elements soo much that some items can fly from one end of the allotment to the other end (for example bins, green netting, greenhouse, plastic panels, etc).

 

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And finally, the blueprint to get your bearings right:

 

plot blueprint March 2018

plot blueprint March 2018

 

The main vegetable patch is covered with black plastic sheets. From the drawing, you can see that its area is 7 metre by 16 metre, which is  112 square metre. There are pathways on both sides, so I am not going to plant anything close up to the path, leaving around a  foot gap next to the path. This will reduce to available planting area to around a 100 square metre.

The shed is small (6′ by 6′) but sufficient enough to store some pots, manure and escape somewhere when it is raining. It is leaning to one side, the side panels have plenty of holes, but hey, some plots don’t even have a shed.

This plot is slightly bigger than we wanted to be, but this could be a good challenge for the coming year. We can see how we can balance the effort we put into it with all the yield we gain from it.