Month: June 2016

Lifting This Year’s Garlic

Last week I decided to lift the bulk of this year’s garlic crop. It’s technically a little early – according to a recent email from The Garlic Farm, at least – but as you can see below, one variety was quite badly hit with allium rust and I’d spotted signs of onion white rot in another, so I didn’t see much point in leaving it in the ground to get worse.

Here’s the state of the crop before harvesting:

June 2016 Garlic crop
Plenty of foliage, some of is a bit rusty, time to see what the bulbs are doing…

All seed garlic was bought from The Garlic Farm and planted out last September so it could over-winter.

1. ‘Extra Early Wight’ – a softneck variety that’s suitable for harvesting a little earlier than most.
2. ‘Elephant Garlic’ – a definite favourite, performed wonderfully well last year, cloves lasted for months and months.
3. ‘Carcasonne Wight’ – a hardneck variety that was supposed to be able to support flowers, and would have done if we hadn’t eaten the scapes…

I started with the ‘Carcasonne Wight’ and as I’d feared, more than half of it was infected with allium white rot, a nasty fungal infection that damages the stems and bulbs, reducing vigour and rendering cloves inedible:

June 2016 allium rot
Not what you want to see when you lift your garlic.

I cleaned up what I could, saving a few half-bulbs for immediate use, and set the rest for drying:

June 2016 - Carcasonne Wight harvest
Not a great return on around 30 planted cloves.

Next to come out, the ‘Extra Early Wight’. Much better results from that one, only one bulb showed any signs of white rot, and that was cleanable and usable. The rest were quite badly affected with allium rust – a fungal infection that usually only affects the outer layers of the leaves and stems, so doesn’t damage the bulb – but once they were cleaned and trimmed I had three dozen bulbs to set out for drying in the greenhouse:

June 2016 Extra Early Wight harvest
Much better – 36 lovely cloves of good-sized garlic – enough to last all winter.

I’ve left the elephant garlic in the ground for now, but I might be tempted to lift that at the weekend, rather than risk any white rot creeping in. It’s such a great crop – flavourful without being too overpoweringly garlicky, and the cloves last for months if properly stored – that it would be a shame to lose any of it just for the sake of hoping for a few extra grams of weight.

I’ll be placing this year’s seed order with The Garlic Farm before too long. ‘Elephant’ and ‘Extra Early Wight’ are both definites, but I won’t be growing ‘Carcasonne Wight’ again.

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Asparagus Update

It’s out first year of growing asparagus on Plot #59 and whilst we won’t be able to harvest anything until the 2018 growing season, we’ve been keeping a close eye on the plants’ development and we’re pretty pleased with what we’ve seen so far.

Every crown bar one sprouted not long after planting, and the majority of the spears shot up to around three feet in height. Unfortunately they were all quite spindly – new growth, we assume – and got blown around in the high winds back in May – we put in a decent wind-break in what we thought was the prevailing wind direction, but of course the wind has been blowing from the other end of the site this year – so some of them are a tad more horizontal than we’d like.

Recently, all twenty-nine viable crowns have been sending up fresh shoots though, so it looks like they’re establishing nicely. It’ll be time to feed them soon, to give them a bit of a boost – one fellow grower on another plot recommended Super Phosphate, but I’ll double-check that before I go ahead – and it’s very important to keep on top of the weeding, to minimise competition.

Here’s that flush of second growth, across the three varieties:

June 2016 Asparagus 'Guelph Milennium'
Guleph Millennium is meant to be a late-season variety, but it’s been strong since planting in April.
June 2016 Asparagus 'Purple Pacific'
A lovely colour on this variety, although it does run to green as it grows taller.
June 2016 Asparagus 'Connover's Colossal'
Connover’s is looking anything but Colossal, but hopefully it’ll shine next season.

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A Quick Mid-June Plot #59 Photo Update

Phew! That’s the exams done and dusted. Until I start the next RHS Level Two course in September and sit the next set of exams in February 2017, that is.

My pre-exam weekend was spent down the allotment, on the grounds that I’d already crammed about as much into my head as was going to fit, so a bit of fresh air and exercise was likely to do me more good. Here’s what the place was looking like:

June 2016 courgette patch
Not long now until the start of the courgette glut, and the spuds are looking good.
June 2016 bean canes
The bean army marches into the distance, with a few flowers showing at the far end.
June 2016 carrot bed
Yeah, those carrots are going to need to be thinned out a.s.a.p.
June 2016 peas and broad beans
The mangetout peas and broad beans are coming along nicely. First pickings before too long.
June 2016 allium patch
Onions romping away, garlic looking like it’s ready for lifting.
June 2016 Three Sisters
The corn, squash and beans are co-habiting well, so far. I’ll need to keep an eye on the squash foliage though.
June 2016 Parsnip Plant
Ever wondered what parsnips do if you leave them in the ground for season two? They do this…

It’s starting to look a lot like Summer. My next few Harvest Monday posts should be a bit more interesting and varied, too.

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RHS Level 2 Exams Imminent

Royal Horticultural Society

Since January this year I’ve been studying to take the examinations for the RHS Level 2 Certificate in Plant Growth, Propagation and Development. Those exams are coming up on Monday and I’ve been revising like crazy of late, hence the recent lack of blog updates. That’s likely to remain the case until the middle of next week, although I might sneak a couple of quick ones in if I get time.

Anyhow, I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish any and all fellow L2 PGP&D students who are taking their exams on Monday the very, very best of luck!

I also wanted to put a shout out for the course itself. It covers everything from molecular cell biology to appropriate use of control methods for plant health problems, via soil structure and texture, propagation, pollination, respiration, photosynthesis, and a hundred and one other topics. Personally, I’ve enjoyed every minute; It’s been an absolute pleasure, and a real eye-opener. I’ve learned more about the science and common sense practice of gardening that I think I would have picked up in the next five, maybe ten years of just getting out there and having a go. If nothing else comes of completing the course (although I hope it will), I’m sure I’ll have improved as a gardener and grower as a direct result of taking the course and I highly recommend it for anyone who has the time (and the spare cash to cover the course fees).

Speaking of which, there’s a list of approved teaching centres on the RHS website, but if you live anywhere near North Manchester / Salford I’d highly recommend the course I attended, at Ordsall Hall. Run by the fantastically enthusiastic and hugely knowledgeable Lindsay, in the settings of a genuine Tudor mansion and its grounds, with a fully equipped teaching room; it’s a great venue, with a great course tutor.

If you’re even vaguely horticulturally inclined then I think you’ll get a huge amount out of it. Or, if you think that a Level 2 Certificate in Garden Planning, Establishment and Maintenance might be more your thing, then applications are open now. I’ve already signed up, so I’ll see you when the course starts in September!

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Dahlia Update: First Flowers

Not just the first flowers of the season, either. Our first ever Dahlia flowers, courtesy of tubers that we bought from J. R. G. Dahlias back in March.

The three ‘topmix’ cultivars – ‘red’, ‘purple’ and ‘mama’ – have been the first to flower; we’re still waiting on ‘Christmas Carol’ and ‘Don Hill’ to do their thing, but buds are showing on both, so it shouldn’t be too long.

June 2016 - Dahlia 'topmix purple'
Dahlia ‘topmix purple’ has a lovely gradation of colour from almost-black, through deep burgundy to almost-pink.
June 2016 - Dahlia 'topmix mama'
Dahlia ‘topmix mama’ has dark green foliage and bright red flowers.
June 2016 - Dahlia 'topmix red'
Dahlia ‘topmix red’ is a splash of bright scarlet and yellow against a vivid green leaf.

Lovely, no?

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Harvest Monday for June 6th 2016

It’s been a while since I posted a Harvest Monday piece, mainly because about all we were harvesting from Plot #59 from February through until early May was the last of last year’s leeks. But finally, I have something new to report.

Garlic Scapes

June 2016 garlic scapes
Delicious sauteed in butter or lightly fried.

As seasonal delicacies go, you can’t get much more seasonal than garlic scapes. In case you’re unfamiliar, they’re the flower stems and heads of garlic plants. The spell of hot weather recently has encouraged our garlic crop to bolt and set flower. That diverts energy from bulb development though, so it’s generally a good idea to remove the flower stems before the flowers open. Unless, of course, you want the flowers to open and feed the bees for a while, in which case feel free to leave them, but your garlic bulbs will be smaller as a result.

Anyhow, I’ve de-scaped our softneck garlic, chopped it into 5cm or so lengths and we’ve been eating garlic-butter sautéed asparagus with the past couple of evenings’ salads (and we’ve still got the elephant garlic scapes to come, too). They’re absolutely delicious. Once they’re cooked, the scapes’ garlic flavour is noticeable but quite mild. I did try nibbling on a raw piece and I have to say I can’t recommend it as a salad vegetable, unless you’re a fan of very strongly concentrated garlic flavour.

If you’ve got a garlic crop coming along and don’t want it to flower, then do trim off the scapes and give them a try.

Rhubarb

Well, actually, we’ve been picking rhubarb since early May (as I mentioned in my May update). And so much rhubarb, too! The warm, wet spell in mid-May sent our eight crowns into overdrive and we ended up with masses of stems. Here’s the first harvest:

May 2016 rhubarb harvest
It’s been an exceedingly good year for rhubarb so far

The stalks we’ve harvested have only gotten longer and thicker since then. We’ve mostly stewed it and enjoyed it with custard (as you do) or in a crumble, with custard (as you really oughtta). Some has been frozen for later in the year, some has been given away, lots more is still to come.

Harvest Monday is a GYO meme hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

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We Have a New Shed

Earlier this week, the lads from Cocklestorm turned up with the best flat-pack kit ever: a 4.8m x 2.4m pent-roofed, heavy duty, custom-spec shed.

Two opening windows, plus doors at either end for extra ventilation (we’ll be using it as a potting shed as well as for storage, once we’ve got everything properly organised). Just right for that blank patch of concrete we’d uncovered by getting rid of the old garage.

Jo and I spent a couple of hours this morning adding a length of guttering to the front edge, which will catch the rain from the roof and (eventually, if we ever have rain in Manchester again) fill the two large water-butts round the back.

I’ll leave you with a few pics. Feel free to experience shed envy to the appropriate degree… 😉

June 2016 New Shed
Fits like a… well, a made-to-measure shed on a pre-existing concrete base.
June 2016 - New Shed from the side
A nice bank of windows for what will eventually become the Potting Shed side.
June 2016 - New Shed Interior
A very roomy interior indeed (or it was, before I back-filled it with all our junk…)

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Plot #59 Update: May 2016

Plot #59 Update May 2016
Starting to look a lot like a hard-working allotment again…

May was a manic month down on Plot #59, and no mistake. My plate is particularly full at the moment with revision for my RHS Level 2 exams in mid June, so please do excuse me if I whizz through this month’s update.

Projects / Maintenance

As well as sorting out an old compost bed Jo and I started on some of this year’s structural work: a pair of sweet pea obelisks and a pea harp.

Sowing

Not a lot happened this month on the sowing front, just five varieties of cabbage in a multi-module in the greenhouse. They all germinated with at least 90% success, so after thinning I should have around 100 cabbages to pot up in due course. I had a small selection of other seeds that I wanted to sow this month, but time hasn’t been on my side. I’ll have to get them in soon though, or they’ll run out of growing season.

Planting

The courgette patch that I started planting out a couple of weeks ago is now full:

May 2016 courgette patch
12 courgette plants, plus companion Swiss chard and Tagetes.

Four varieties of courgette there: ‘Tondo di Piacenza’, ‘Soleil F1’, ‘Midnight F1’ and ‘Zucchini’. The companion plants are four Swiss chard and three Tagetes, for a splash of colour amidst the eventual sea of green foliage.

Next door to the courgettes, I’ve set up and planted out the first two climbing bean A-frames:

May 2016 runner beans planted
‘Prizewinner’ and ‘Blackpod’ good to go.

They’re both runner beans: ‘Prizewinner’ and ‘Blackpod’ (a Heritage Seed Library variety, and the only one of three varieties I had from them this year that’s actually germinated, alas). I’ve got three more A-frames and a few wigwams still to go for the rest of this year’s beans.

Swiss Chard and Peas went in to populate the pea harp and the latter are scrambling away nicely.

Meanwhile, Jo has planted out her sunflowers around two edges of the three sisters section, set sweet peas to scramble up their black bamboo obelisks and provided a tray or two of nasturtiums to accompany the climbing beans, broad beans and peas. All for the good of pollinators, who are always welcome on our plot.

All good so far. A lot more to be planted out in June.

Harvesting

Rhubarb! We’ve got so much rhubarb from our eight crowns this year.

May 2016 rhubarb patch
Romping away and clearly enjoying the warm, wet weather earlier in the month.

We’re stuffed to the gills with stewed rhubarb (and sometimes custard) and are rapidly running out of freezer room. We’re giving away as much of it as we can, but it just keeps growing. Send help… and jam recipes!

May 2016 - first rhubarb harvest
This was our first harvest. The stalks have only gotten longer and stronger since…

Also, lots of lovely fresh salad leaves and pea shoots from the trays in the greenhouse.

General Progress

The asparagus bed seems to be coming along nicely. All but one of the crowns have sent up one or two thin, spindly shoots. As it’s just year one, we’ve left them to do their thing; which seems to be branching, setting flower buds and (rather unfortunately) blowing over in the wind. Ah well, as long as the root system is developing under the surface they should be a lot stronger next year.

The raised carrot and root beds are showing strong signs of life, albeit in a slightly irregular pattern in the carrot section:

May 2016 carrot bed
I think this raised bed might have a bit of a slope on it…

There was a lot of annual weed in the soil I used for the beds as well, so I’ve been in and hand-cleared between and among the rows a couple of times.

I posted a few shots of our fruit bushes in flower and I’m glad to say that they’ve been visited by the bees and pushing on to set fruit:

May 2016 redcurrants
Nowhere near ripe just yet, but a good redcurrant crop in prospect.
May 2016 strawberries
Looks like we might actually get a strawberry harvest this year..!
May 2016 gooseberries
Goosegogs far from ripe and rock hard at the moment.

There are signs of fruit-set on the blackcurrants, whitecurrants and the mystery fruit trees at the front of the plot as well.

Elsewhere, the broad beans are in flower, the onions seems to be bulbing up nicely, the garlic is producing scapes (very tasty) and the dahlias are just starting to hint at one or two flower buds opening. And the potatoes are doing well; I think just about all of the seed spuds I planted have sprouted, with maybe one or two exceptions. I’ve earthed them up once, but with not much risk of a frost now, I’m going to leave them to do their thing and hope for the best.

It’s all hugely exciting. Can’t wait to see what June brings (endless hours of revision aside…)

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Cottage Garden Project Update: May 2016

Cottage Garden Project update May 2016
Very different to the last time we posted a pic…

At last! After a few months of not much to report, we have something to talk about on the Cottage Garden Project front.

Planning

Jo (project lead, chief plantswoman) and I (general dogsbody, occasional suggestions) have spent a fair bit of time chatting ideas back and forth and have come to a general consensus. We know what the general shape of the garden will be, thanks to the advice we got from Joan Mulvenna back in January: a seating area near the house, with a gravel section between the house and shed, and a gravel path leading from the seating area down to the utility area behind the shed.

The path will bisect the garden and create two distinct planting areas: on one side, nearer the fence-line, where sunshine is at something of a premium, we’re going to establish a cool, relaxing, shade-friendly planting scheme. Lots of woodland plants in the shadiest parts of the garden and then traditional cottage garden style, with lots of height, soft frothy foliage, and flower colours in shades of soft pastel, whites etc.

On the other side, we’ll up the energy and tempo a bit, with some stronger (but not too bright) colours and more sun-loving plants, as that side of the garden will get a lot more of the daylight, particularly in the heat of a summer’s afternoon (if the hotter days of this month are anything to go by). We’ll also have a few linking plants or base tones, to provide a bit of coherence, and a quite literal link in the form of an arch across the path with mixed climbers meeting and subtly mingling the two colour schemes.

The gravel area outside the back door will be for potted plants: dwarf fruit trees, herbs, flowers, shrubs, bulbs, you name it.

That’s the general plan, anyhow. First, there’s the not-so-small matter of:

Landscaping

The big decision we’ve taken here is that, rather than bringing someone in, I’m going to do the bulk of the hard landscaping myself. Two reasons for doing so: firstly, so save on the cost of hiring a landscaper, meaning we have more budget available for the materials we want to use. Secondly, it will be good practice for me. My long-term goal is to move to a career in horticulture, and hopefully this sort of project will provide the sort of experience that a potential employer might find relevant.

The first big step forward was taken on Bank Holiday Monday, when the old garage was demolished and the ugly-ass concrete crazy paving patio lifted and removed…

May 2016 - The old garage
Before: concrete monstrosity.
May 2016 patio area
Before: ugly-ass concrete crazy paving

…revealing a lot of builders’ sand, rife with roots from the neighbours’ trees (ripping those out is a quick addition to the job list) and a concrete plinth, ready for the delivery of our new super-shed:

May 2016 garage gone
After: lots of builders’ sand and tree root
May 2016 - garage demolished
After: garage gone, ready for shed

We’ve also started researching and/or ordering materials for the landscaping: Indian sandstone for the seating platform plus assorted steps and stepping stones, a balustrade railing to surround it, a few tonnes of gravel for the pathways, trellis panels, and an arch for the planting area.

We’ve also had a think about the path and bed edging. We were going to use plain gravel board, but decided that would end up looking rather dull and utilitarian. Instead, we searched around a bit and found a supplier of something a lot more attractive and (hopefully) hard-wearing. More on that in a future update.

The actual work is going to have to wait though. I have Level Two RHS exams to prep for in mid-June, so nothing will be occurring until they’re done and dusted. Then I’ll roll up my sleeves and get cracking.

Floral Display

Everything is in a state of flux at the moment, with plants in pots being moved here, thither and yon to get them out of the way of the outgoing garage and incoming shed, so there’s nothing much in the way of a permanent display. We’ll have some photos to show once we actually start getting something in the ground.

Right, that’s it for this month. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to nip outside and see how the construction of new shed is coming along…

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