Category: Monthly Updates

Plot #59 Update: October 2016

Plot #59 Update: October 2016
Starting the long process of clearing away and putting to bed for winter…

October was another mild month – the ongoing legacy of the El NiƱo phase of the ocean temperatures in the Southern Pacific earlier this year, most likely – which meant we were able to put in a fair few sessions down on Plot #59.

Here’s where we’re up to, as Summer is banished to the halls of fond memory for another year and Autumn takes a firm grip on the plot:

Harvesting

As per my latest Harvest Monday post, the Autumn fruit and veg has been in full swing. We’ve had cabbages, kale, squash, leeks, mooli, scorzonera, salsify, turnip, swede, chillis (back home in the greenhouse) and, to take the savoury edge off, lots and lots of raspberries.

Speaking of squash, I swapped one of our Cucurbita maxima ‘Turk’s Turban’ for a plot-buddy’s Cucurbita maxima ‘Crown Prince’, and baked half of each last Sunday.

October 2016 Squash ready for cooking
A tale of two squash: The Crown Prince and the Turk’s Turban.

After about 40-45 mins in a reasonably hot oven (around 200oC) they were both delicious; rich, creamy orange flesh with some lovely caramelised bits on the cut-side.

Jo and I agreed that the Turk’s Turban was ever-so slightly sweeter, but the Crown Prince had a slightly smoother texture and consistency. We’ve since eaten the other half of the ‘Crown Prince’, steamed and added to a risotto, and it was very tasty again.

I’ll be growing both again next year, all being well. I’ll need to buy some ‘Crown Prince’ seed though; I’ve saved seed from the one we ate, but as C.P. is an F1 hybrid and squash cross-breed quite readily anyhow, it’s guaranteed that any offspring won’t be true-to-cultivar. But who knows, my Cucurbita maxima ‘Crown Prince X’ might end up being even more delicious than its sire. It’s worth a shot.

Growing On

Although the summer crops – peas, beans, courgettes, in particular – are over and done for us now, there’s still plenty to look forward to harvesting in the next few weeks and (hopefully) months. Here’s a quick gallery:

October 2016 root section
We have a few tasty roots still to pull: carrots (hopefully), scorzonera, salsify and Hamburg parsley, all being well.
October 2016 Swede
We have a few decent-sized Brassica napus swedes to look forward to adding to our Autumn stews and mashes.
October 2016 cabbages
Our cabbage patch went in late but has caught up nicely and is eating very well indeed.
October 2016 kale
Kale ‘redbor’ and ‘cavollo nero’ are both growing – and eating – very well, too.
October 2016 sprouts / walking stick kale
A few of our sprouts are afflicted by club root, but we’re hoping we’ll have a decent crop for our Yuletide dinner.
October 2016 purple cauliflower
I think I’m giving up on growing caulis next year – they always seem to bolt before I can get them cut and eaten.
October 2016 black radish
Radishes the size of swedes, anyone? No? No-one? Ah well, they’ll compost down like everything else…

Not too shabby. Not as much winter veg as I’d hoped to have in the ground by now, but this year has been busier than anticipated in the back garden landscaping department, so I haven’t had as much time as I’d hoped for successional and winter seed sowing. Next year. Definitely.

Floral Department

We had the first hard frost earlier this week, so I expect that when we head down to the plot later today we’ll find the dahlias foliage blackened and the tubers in need of lifting for storage over the winter. They’ve been doing astonishingly well until now, though and even as the temperatures have started to dip, their bright reds have provided a welcome splash of colour at the front of the plot.

Elsewhere we’re still getting cheery colour from Erysimum ‘Bowles’s mauve’ (wallflower), Verbena bonariensis, Tagetes(marigold), Centaurea cyanus (cornflower), Oenothera fruticosa (evening primrose), Rudbeckia and a few others. And I know Jo is already planning ahead for next year, when the riot of colour will be a joy to behold and the bees, butterflies, hoverflies (and other members of the ever-welcome Union of Associated Pollinating Insects) will be utterly spoilt for choice.

October 2016 rudbeckia
Jo’s Rudbeckia are still brightening up the plot with splashes of gold and bronze.
October 2016 tagetes
The two small Tagetes plants we added to the courgette patch have taken over since the dead courgettes were removed.
October 2016 Verbena bonariensis
We grow Verbena bonariensis mainly as a bee lure among raspberries, but it’s very lovely indeed in its own right.

Projects

Most of the work this month, rather inevitably, has involved clearing away summer crop residues, tidying up winter crops, the inevitable ongoing weeding, and working on the central path; the long-awaited first thing we put on the to-do list when we took the plot on back in January 2014. It’s been slow going, as per my recent Hard Slog: Man vs. Midden post.

The plan is to roughly level it off and lay weed membrane down for now. Over the winter I’ll start moving the flags that we’ve currently loosely laid at the back of the plot down to the front, and then when we have our driveway at home re-done – next Summer, most likely, after the back garden hard landscaping has been finished – we’ll recycle the old flags from the current drive and extend the path right down to the back of the plot. That’s the plan, anyhow. We’ll see how it goes.

That’s it for October, then, and November is already bringing colder nights and, since the clocks went back last weekend, darker ones, too. Here’s hoping the rain isn’t too torrential and we can get down the plot to carry on digging and weeding as much as possible. Fingers crossed.

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Cottage Garden Project Update: October 2016

So here we are at the end of October and, being realistic, at the end of the season for work on the back garden.

It’s been a strange old month, hasn’t it? If, on the first of October, I’d seen an accurate weather forecast for the next four weeks, I might have been tempted to go ahead and order a load of hard landscaping materials, push ahead with getting the trellises in and the patio laid, with the balustrade railings installed to boot. But with the constant threat (if not a promise) of the weather turning wet, windy and a lot more Autumnal at any moment, it didn’t seem worth the risk of getting bogged down mid-job. Plus, laying stone and putting timber in place now would just mean a winter’s worth of lifespan-shortening weathering before we could actually start to use and appreciate any of it. Best to leave it all until Spring.

What I did get on with was digging out the base for the patio area. It’s quite a large area, 3 x 3.7m, with cut-off corners, but then we’re planning on investing in a couple of sun-loungers, so we’ll need the space eventually. Since this shot was taken, I’ve been busy with short lengths of bamboo cane, marked to 10, 12.5 and 15 cm depths, which I’m levelling in to mark out a slight gradient for the M.O.T. limestone sub-base:

October 2016 patio base dug
Dug out, subsequently re-levelled, and to be filled with three tonne of MOT limestone in due course.

You can probably just make out some of the dark-coloured muck – ground up tarmac, or some sort of clinker by the looks of things – that someone, sometime, thought would make a good garden soil, at the back of the house. I’ve been able to usefully re-distribute most of it though, by digging out the usable top-soil from where the main path is going to run (see September’s update for a more overhead plan-view) and back-filling with the useless muck.

This, then, is where we’re up to at the end of the digging year.

October 2016 back garden
It’s starting to take shape, if not actually take form…
October 2016 back garden
Work very much still in progress across the back of the house.

We’ve achieved the following check-list tick-offs to-date:

  • Install new greenhouse and shed.
  • Remove old crazy-paving style concrete patio.
  • Dig, bastard trench, back-fill large planting bed alongside shed.
  • Dig the fig-pit, line with concrete slab and tile, back-fill a third with smooth stones.
  • Dig out main path, back-fill with sand / tarmac grounds.
  • Dig post-holes for trellis panels, front (18″) and back (36″).
  • Dig out area for patio sub-base.

Not too shabby. We’ve also bought, but not yet planted, a few choice specimens: Eupatorium maculatum (for height in one of the beds), Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’ (a rather lovely variegated ivy for the low trellis), Dryopteris affinis ‘Crispa Gracilis’ (lovely, compact, thick-leaved fern) and a pair of rather handsome Miscanthus (ornamental grass, can’t remember the name off-hand).

Although the project hasn’t moved on as far as I’d hoped, that’s partly due to my focus on the RHS Level 2 exams earlier in the year, but mostly down to the soil (or lack of it) conditions. Having encountered nothing but builders’ sand in large parts of the area that I’m turning into planting beds, so having to mix that in with top-soil from elsewhere as I go, all whilst bastard trenching the old lawn – removing perennial weed root by hand in the process – and breaking through a sub-surface pan of compacted clay and silt (see my July update for more on the soil) to boot… well, the job has taken a whole lot longer than digging a similar-sized section on the allotment would have done.

So it goes. I was hoping to have the hard landscaping done and be moving on to initial planting by now, but I’ll have all that to look forward to next Spring. I’ve got a second set of RHS Level 2 exams to focus on between now and early February, then I’ll see what the weather is doing and start making plans for more progress.

Here’s one final, panorama-mode shot of the whole back garden. It’s a bit blurry in the middle (I must have swung the phone around a bit too fast) but you get the gist. When I do a panorama-shot at the end of next year it will look very different indeed, I can promise you that. As I say, I’m hugely looking forward to cracking on with it all in the Spring.

October 2016 back garden panorama
The view across the back, in panorama-mode.

And here, for the convenience of any interested readers, are the rest of this year’s Cottage Garden Project updates:
January | March | May | July | August | September

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Plot #59 Update: September 2016

September 2016 Plot #59 Update:
It’s all starting to die back and quiet down as Autumn begins to kick in.

September turned out to be a really good month, weather-wise, so I ought to have been down at Plot #59 for most of it, working my backside off to finish a few infrastructure projects, clearing the last few patches of stubborn weeds, sowing a few winter crops and prepping for next year’s growing season. Instead, I spent most of the month working on our cottage garden project – digging, digging, and more digging – so progress wasn’t quite as dramatic as I’d hoped.

Still, with a few good weather days on the weekends, Jo and I were able to get down to the plot and put in a good few hours’ graft. Here’s what we achieved:

Harvesting

September is, of course, the month of multiple harvests. At the beginning of the month we lifted the last of our main-crop ‘pink fir apple’ potatoes and a bit later on we picked our squash and put them to cure in the greenhouse. We’ve also had the last of the fresh runner and French beans and have been picking dozens to dry for winter stores.

September 2016 drying beans in the grenhouse
A quite small sample of the vast number of beans we’re drying this year. Anyone for cassoulet..?

Our chilli harvest has been pretty good this year as well; a first attempt at chilli jam was made, with reasonable results. We’ve also been picking and eating sweetcorn – served up in smoked paprika butter, more often than not – and have lifted a few turnips – they’re surprisingly tasty when oven-baked – and picked the first cabbage and kale of the year late (we planted them out quite late) last week.

September 2016 cabbages under cover
The enviromesh does a really good job of keeping the cabbage whites at bay.

I deliberately planted the cabbages out quite close, the aim being to grow smaller, two-person heads, rather than football-sized monsters. Of course, what’s happened is that every other plant seems to have out-grown its neighbours, crowding them out and developing into big ‘uns. Nature, eh?

And of course, the Autumn-fruiting raspberries are in their element at the moment. We’re picking a good-sized clip-top boxful every few days and we’re managing to eat our way through most of them, either fresh or stewed down with apple and blackcurrant as a topping for our morning porridge.

September 2016 autumn fruiting raspberries
Plump, juicy and tart-sweet – what could be better?

All in all, we’re doing quite well; we’ve not had to buy much veg from the market or supermarket to supplement what we’ve been able to pick from the plot, and if I was spending a bit more time down the plot and a little less in the back garden then we’d be eating even more of our own-grown, I’m sure. Next year we’ll see if we can get to 100% plot-grown for the whole of the Summer and as much of the Autumn as we possibly can.

Projects

I’ve finally been able to get to grips with the tricky central section of the plot and have started digging and levelling a channel for the main path. Again, progress has been a little slow, mainly due to the presence of a rubbish midden right in the middle of where I’m working; more on that in another post.

September 2016 Path Progress
The plan: a central path, paved with recycled flagstones.

Soon to be tackled: the asparagus patch is looking like it’s ready for cutting back, once the stems begin to turn a little more yellow:

September 2016 asparagus patch
Not long now until we take the clippers to this lot.

Growing On

The leeks that I planted out at the end of August have put on some good growth. It’ll soon be time to start thinning out a few baby leeks for eating, to give the others more room to grow and develop.

September 2016 leek patch
A mass of foliage is a good thing at this stage. Time to thin then out a bit to improve air-flow.

It’ll soon be time to start pulling our root crops – for roasting and mashing with some of our squash and ‘Saxon’ spuds – as well. The salsify and scorzonera seem to be doing well, we’ve got massive mooli radishes coming along, and I think the carrots – presumed fly-eaten and useless – might actually have made a comeback. I’m not too sure about the Hamburg parsely, but I’ll lift some in the next couple of weeks and see where we stand.

Floral Department

The sunflowers have finished and gone over – we’re leaving the seed heads for the birds – but Jo’s Rudbeckia and Cosmos are lovely at this time of year, adding bursts of late-season colour in splashes of yellow, orange and red.

September 2016 rudbeckia mixed

September 2016 rudbeckia red

September 2016 rudbeckia yellow

Our Dahlias are still going strong as well; they’ll keep flowering until the first frosts and then we’ll need to see about lifting, drying and storing the tubers. Likewise the Tagetes among the courgettes and the Nastutiums that have run rampant across about a third of the plot; they’ve dropped so many seeds we’ll be seeing them for a few years to come, I reckon.

September 2016 Dahlia 'Christmas Carol'
We’ve had months of glorious colour from our collarette dahlias.

It’s been a good month, lack of time notwithstanding. Let’s see what the rest of October brings.

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Plot #59 Update: August 2016

Plot #59 Update: August 2016
Lush foliage everywhere, plenty of rich pickings to be had.

Ah, the long lazy days of high Summer! (What’s that? Summer? Has it arrived yet? Are we due one? Answers on a postcard to the usual address…) Definitely long, but not so lazy if you’re an allotment holder, with early crops finishing and going over that need clearing away, and later crops just starting to come into their own, with plenty of picking, preparing and preserving to do as well. And of course, that’s before you start on the weeding…

Down on Plot #59 we’re in full Summer-to-Autumn transition phase. All the onions and garlic have been lifted and dried. The broad beans have finished producing and have been cleared away. The peas will follow shortly. The strawberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants are long-finished, but the Autumn-fruiting raspberries are starting to fruit on a regular basis. Likewise the Japanese wineberry: from a single plant we’ve had a regular supply of sweet, tart, raspberry-like fruits with just a hing of wine-gum about them.

The beans are in full flow: runners and French varieties alike. We’ve been eating them and giving them away for weeks now, and our freezer is packed to the gunnels with packets of beans for winter. It’s getting to the stage now where we’re deliberately leaving the larger pods on the plants to ripen up: we should have plenty of dried beans for winter soups and stews.

August 2016 bean plants
Beans, beans and yet more beans… yum!

Our courgettes are marching on as well. The three ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ plants each produced a full-sized fruit, so we have three large squashes maturing for use later in the year. Speaking of squashes, this is the first year we’ve grwon ‘Turk’s Turban’ and the results have been impressive: we’ve got a good dozen maturing on their vines in the ‘three sisters’ section at the front of the plot, alongside some nicely-ripening sweetcorn cobs (and yet more beans).

This year’s leeks have been planted out and the area nearby cleared, ready for the seed garlic which will be arriving before too long from the Garlic Farm.

I’ve made a start on lifting the last of the blight hit second early potatoes – ‘pink fir apple’, which a couple of folks have told me is particularly blight-susceptible – and I’m happy to say that the crop has been reasonable, if not as impressive as last year. The tubers are smallish, but perfectly usable and tasty. Thankfully, taking swift action to remove the haulms seems to have kept the blight from infecting them, so they should store quite nicely.

None of the cabbages are ready yet – they’ve only been in the ground since late July so there’s a chance they went in a bit too late, but we’ll see – apart from a bit of calabrese-style broccoli. Hopefully we’ll start to get some kale in September. The sprouts seem to be coming along nicely though, and we have lifted a few decent-sized turnips, and some very tasty black radishes that I sowed on a whim.

August 2016 brassica nets
Got to keep those pesky cabbage whites and diamond-back moths at bay.
August 2016 - Black radish and turnips
Golden and trad turnips and a couple of peppery black radish.

And of course, the floral department continues to put on a good display. The sunflowers are starting to look a little ragged around the edges, but the Dahlias, Lavender, sweet peas, Tagetes, wallflowers, evening primrose and Verbena are still going strong and the Nasturtiums are everywhere. Jo has planted out a few rudbeckia, black-eyed Susan, and Zinnia as well. We’ll have a lot more flowers on show next year, when we sort out the central path and dig out flower beds either side.

Apart from all of the above, the main work on Plot #59 has been the aforementioned weed-clearing. Unfortunately our plot-neighbour to the back moved to a new plot and his old one has been left to go to wrack and ruin, rather than taken on by new tenants. So that’s now weed-choked and is spreading seed, spores and rhizomes through to the back of ours. And another plot-neighbour hasn’t been around as much as usual (for entirely valid personal reasons), so his plot is starting to go the same way. I’d love to spend a bit of time helping him out, but to be perfectly honest there’s more than enough to do to keep our own plot in reasonable shape at the moment. I’m spending a lot of time at home digging out the first bed for our cottage garden project, so that’s keeping me from putting in the hours that I’d like to.

Well, nowt for it but to do what I can, when I can: roll up my sleeves, reach for the fork and dig out the worst of the weeds, then get the covers down and try to keep the beggars at bay until we next need the ground for planting. That’s the allotmenteers way: grin and get on with it.

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Plot #59 Update: July 2016

Plot #59 Update: July 2016
Masses of lush green foliage and summer colour this month.

July was a hugely busy month on our allotment plot, with regular picking and harvesting added to the usual rounds of planting out, cutting back, dead-heading and weeding. The weather wasn’t too bad on the whole – mostly overcast with sunny spells, a few hot, dry days and some rain here and there – so we were able to get on with a fair bit of work.

We were away for a few days though – which of course gave the weeds a head-start – so we’ve not had much time to clear and prepare the last few sections of rough ground as we would have liked. That might be a job for the Autumn, along with laying the long-awaited flag path up the centre of the plot, but we’ll see how the rest of the summer goes. August isn’t too promising so far.

Here’s what else we got up to in July:

Planting

July 2016 - Cabbages under cover
Netting any brassicas is essential to keep the ravenous pigeons at bay.

I was able to dig over one new section to plant out cabbages. They’re netted against pigeons and (hopefully) cabbage white and seem to be doing okay last I checked.

Growing On

Our turnips have been thinned and are coming along nicely, but I think I’ll need to re-sow the swedes. The Brussels sprouts and walking stick kale that I planted out in June are growing strongly, to the point where I had to take the enviromesh cover off a couple of rows. The sweetcorn seems to be doing well again this year: each of the twelve plants I put in have both tasseled anthers (male) and silky stigmas (female) on display, so I’m hoping for two or three decent cobs per plant. And we have squashes:

July 2016 spaghetti squash
Still young but developing nicely.
July 2016 - 'Turk's Turban' squash
I love the two-tone effect on these squashes.

I actually have no idea how big either of those needs to be before they’re ready to be picked, or how long they need to ripen and cure before they can be stored. More research needed, clearly.

Our fruit section is also doing very well. Although the strawberries have finished and are sending out runners, and the last few gooseberries have gone over, the Autumn raspberries are just getting into their stride, we have bushes full of blackcurrants that need picking, and we had enough ripe redcurrants to make jelly.

Harvesting

July 2016 - three beans
The first (of very many) beans have been picked.

So much good stuff! (Deep breath…) potatoes, courgettes (so many courgettes), carrots, peas, beans (runners, broad and French), onions, garlic, elephant garlic, gooseberries, raspberries, Japanese wineberries (just one or two so far, more to come), redcurrants, a small squash, a small head of purple cauliflower (that actually turned out to be calabrese), and handfuls of sweet peas.

July 2016 - redcurrants
A big bowl of juicy fruit destined for the jelly pan.

We’ve been busy in the kitchen as well, making batches mixed fruit jam (raspberry, blackcurrant, strawberry and gooseberry) and chutney (courgette and tomato, then courgette, runner bean and tomato). And we’ve discovered three bean and courgette ratatouille, which is a great way to cook up a surplus.

Floral Department

July 2016 giant sunflower
Thoughtful sunflower is thoughtful…

Jo’s sunflowers are looking particularly good this year, despite the general lack of sunshine. We’ve also got rampant nasturtiums running through the beans (and across the side path, into the neighbour’s manure bay), towers of sweet peas, mounds of dahlias and plenty more besides. All of which thoroughly deserve their own post, which I’ll get around to before too long.

That’s it for last month’s update. Hopefully this month we’ll get on top of the summer weeding and make a start on sowing some more winter veg, oh, and get the leeks into the ground. They’re definitely ready for planting out.

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Cottage Garden Project Update: July 2016

With the weather holding reasonably dry at long last, I was (finally!) able to make a start on some rough measuring out and actual digging in our new back garden.

Having lifted and disposed of the old crazy paving patio we’d revealed an expanse of builders’ sand, and I was eager to get a spade in and see what state the soil was in underneath. The answer, based on an initial test-hole, was: what soil?

July 2016 Test Hole
Not looking promising so far: sand, sand and more sand…

Well, I reasoned to myself, maybe that’s because it’s the area near to the solid concrete base that the old garage was build on. Undeterred, I began excavations for our fig pit. This will house the Brown Turkey that we’ve ordered from Grow at Brogdale (along with three apples and a morello cherry) in what is the sunniest spot of the garden for the longest part of the day, and the tree will hopefully be trained espalier-style up and along the outside of the shed in years to come.

A fig pit – roughly two-feet deep, lined with concrete slabs (and old roof tiles by the time I’m done) and part-filled with rounded stones (to aid drainage without damaging the roots) – will restrain the roots of the fig, encourage fruiting and prevent the tree from becoming far too large for the space. The finished result looks okay, despite my stacking the far end and left-hand side slabs a bit wonky (but who’ll ever know once it’s back-filled, eh?)

July 2016 Fig Pit
Restricted root growth and a sunny aspect – ideal for figs.

The next section I decided to tackle was the top end of the planting bed that’s planned to extend out from the corner of the shed towards the house. Again, I was hoping to find soil under a top layer of sand and again I was disappointed. A couple of inches of builders’ sand, then between four and six of compacted silt (caused by years of run-off from the back of the house, I reckon), then more builders’ sand, down to a depth of about twelve inches or so. Then it’s hard-panned, compacted silt and clay all the way down, as far as I can tell. I found a few small traces of actual soil in and around the masses of tree roots from next door’s Prunus, but otherwise: nothing worth the name. Joy.

July 2016 - Soil Horizons
Barely a scrap of organic matter in sight…

This poses a number of problems, the main one being – as I learned on the RHS Level 2 course earlier this year – that although sand is good for drainage (until the water hits a solid sub-surface pan and starts backing up, of course), that’s about all you can say for it. It’s inert, so doesn’t hold on to mineral ions, and for that reason is pretty much infertile. And of course, excellent drainage means drastically reduced water holding capacity, which isn’t great either. There’s really not much you can do with it, except add an awful lot of organic matter in an attempt to bring both the nutrient levels and useful water levels back up again, so that’s what we’re going to have to do.

I’ve started the process with a spot of ‘bastard trenching’. This is a technique for recycling turf that I learned about at Ordsall Hall, during the RHS course. It involves digging a trench, putting the soil aside, then taking the top layer of turf from the next section to be dug and laying it upside-down in the bottom of the previous section of trench, before back-filling with the soil below. Repeat until you’ve dug over the entire target area, using the soil from the first section to fill in the last.

My version is a variation on the above: I started by digging out the rough shape of the planting area, piling the sand up to the side, picking out tree roots and stones (rounded ones into the fig pit, sharp ones set aside for a sump that I’ll be digging at the far end of the shed). Then I used the fork to break up the hard-pan underneath, to about a spit-depth, in an effort to sort out those potential drainage issues and give whatever we plant a fighting chance of getting its roots down deep enough to do some good:

July 2016 shed-side planting area
Hard going – double digging through compacted clay/slit is tough work.

Then I started slicing off the turf from the grassy patch (I can’t in all conscience call it a lawn) and inverting it into the dug area, and back-filling on top. I was hoping for a bit of decent soil underneath the turf, but close to the shed there’s not much at all; it’s pretty much sand all the way. (Although I did dig a 6′ trench where I’ll be siting a trellis over by the boundary fence furthest from the shed, and it seems there’s a decent amount of soil in that section – where the neighbours’ apple tree and Fuchsia have been contributing leaves over the years – so that’s a lot more promising.)

July 2016 - bastard trenching in action
Turf off, inverted and buried, giving a much-needed organic matter boost to poor soil.

Generally though, bastard trenching is a process I’m going to have to repeat for pretty much the whole garden. Except for the path sections, which I can just de-turf, coat with a layer of sand and level off before putting down weed membrane and gravel. It’s going to be a long, hard slog, and we’re going to have to invest in a lot of compost and composted bark to help the process along, but it will be worth it in the end.

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Plot #59 Update: June 2016

Plot #59 Update June 2016
What a difference a month makes.

June was a quieter month than you might think, down on Plot #59, thanks to a combination of wet weather and exam revision. Nevertheless, Jo and I forged ahead as best we could and kept things moving on several fronts.

Projects / Maintenance

June 2016 middle section
Our guilty secret, the middle section of the plot that’s usually hidden from view…

The ground was too wet for most of the month to allow any serious digging, but we have made a start on clearing the last properly overgrown section of the plot. More progress in next month’s update, all being well.

Sowing

We found a spare patch of ground in-between the carrot bed and the pea harp, so we’ve sown a couple of rows of swede and a few of turnip for later in the year. The turnips have germinated well and need thinning, but the swedes are a bit sparse. We might have to re-sow to fill the gaps.

Planting

June 2016 - netted brassicas
There are sprouts under all that enviromesh and caulis next door, with a light anti-pigeon drape.

We finally managed to get the first batch of this year’s brassicas planted out and covered over with enviromesh. There are a dozen sprout plants of four different varieties under there, and next door I’ve planted out a few cauliflowers. They’re staked and well-spaced, and we’ll be keeping a closer eye on the watering and clearing dead foliage a lot quicker this year, so hopefully they won’t suffer from the same problems as last year’s plants – sooty mould and wind-rock mostly – and we’ll actually have a decent sprout harvest this winter.

A cauli or two would be nice as well, but it’s the first time we’ve grown them, so we’ll have to wait and see there. We’ve draped a loose net over the top of those to hopefully make the pigeons think twice, and have companion planted a few chives to hopefully keep the brassica pests at bay, but I suspect the diomandback moths have found them already. So it goes.

June 2016 courgette patch
The courgettes are romping away in the mild, wet weather.

The courgettes that we planted out at the end of last month are doing really well. They seem to be doing well in their sheltered location, with a greenhouse to one side, and runner beans / potatoes providing wind-breaks on two others.

Harvesting

As per the latest Harvest Monday post the summer fruit and veg is starting to flood in. Strawberries, raspberries, broad beans, mangetout peas, Swiss chard, potatoes, carrot thinnings, courgettes and garlic are the main crops at the moment. We’re still getting rhubarb, too, with the crowns showing no signs of needing a rest just yet.

June 2016 Extra Early Wight harvest
Three dozen lovely cloves of good-sized garlic – enough to last all winter.
June 2016 -strawberry harvest
Strawberries! A much better showing than last year.
June 2016 first spud harvest
That’s a decent return on a single planted tuber.
June 2016 courgettes, broad beans, peas
Broad beans, golden mangetout peas and a selection of courgettes.

Lovely stuff, and lots more to come.

Floral Department

Jo’s flower beds are really coming into their own as well, with dahlias (an update post on those shortly), lavender, sunflowers, foxgloves, sweet peas, geraniums, lupins, toadflax, ox-eye daisies, marigolds, nasturtiums, tagetes, evening primrose and cornflowers all doing their bit to add splashes of colour and bring the pollinators to the plot.

Here are a few highlights, and I’ll see if I can persuade Jo to put together a floral-themed blog post at some point, too:

June 2016 nasturtium
Trailing nasturtiums are winding through the broad beans
June 2016 mini sunflower
This dwarf sunflower is a miniature star-burst at knee-height.
June 2016 wallflower
Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ is a perennial favourite with bees and allotmenteers alike.
June 2016 toadflax
The tall spires of the freely self-seeding toadflax come in both purple and pink.
June 2016 foxglove
A slightly darker-than-usual shade to this common Digitalis purpurea.
June 2016 yellow lupin
These golden lupins really catch the sunlight.
June 2016 red lupin
These lupins shade from red to dusky pink, depending on the light and weather.

It’s all coming along rather nicely, and judging by the way things have already moved on and changed there’s lots more to come in next month’s round-up.

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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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Plot #59 Update: April 2016

Plot #59 Update April 2016
A burst of early morning sunshine in mid April 2016.

“April is the cruellest month,” said T. S. Eliot, in the opening line of his epic poem ‘The Wasteland’. He could well have been referring to the tricks that April seems to enjoy playing with the weather. Last year April served up a prolonged, scorching heatwave, followed by a thoroughly miserable, damp cold-snap. This year the month started out typically grey and wet, switched to a few days of August-like temperatures, then conjured storms for the South, dropped hail, snow and sleet on us here in the North, and now seems to have settled back to a steady, spluttering, mucky mizzle.

As a result, Plot #59 has gone from a sodden mud patch to a parched, cracked hard pan and back to a sort of dank dreariness that’s keeping air and ground temperatures well below useful ranges. Recent overnight frosts have meant that seedlings germinated earlier in the month have been kept greenhouse-bound, taking up space that I should be using to sow the next batch of edibles: beans and cabbages in particular. But then I remind myself that last year, due to the house move, we were even later getting most things into the ground and everything quite happily caught up. So there’s really no need to panic. I just have to be patient, keep everything ticking over and moving along when possible. It’ll all come good in the end.

The jobs I have managed to do this month have all been useful ones though. The month started with signs of life in the fruit section and since then the gooseberry bushes have all been given a further pruning and the whole section has been fertilised and then thoroughly mulched with leaf mould. Jo has hacked back a lot of last year’s dead or dying strawberry foliage and it looks like the plants stopped just short of actually putting out blossom in the recent hot spell – the buds have formed but not opened yet – so I’m hopeful that they’ll come along later this year and won’t suffer as badly. We might actually get more than three berries, all being well.

April 2016 - mulched fruit section
A good thick layer of leaf mulch will help keep moisture in.

I finished another one of this year’s Big Jobs when I planted out asparagus crowns on the ridges that I prepared last month. I’m happy to report that they’ve nearly all sent up their first shoots, so I’m confident that they’ll establish well this growing season. I also finished off this year’s potato planting, with main-crop ‘pink fir apple’ joining first-early ‘swift’ and second-early (or main-crop) ‘saxon’. We’re growing around half the number of potato rows that we deliberately over-grew this year. Hopefully this time around we’ll be able to use up all our stored tubers without this sort of thing happening again:

April 2016 potatoes sprouting
Yeah, I think the last of the spuds have gone over…

I’ve put a bit more thought and effort than usual into this year’s carrot and root veg beds after a few years’ of disappointing results in the carrot department and hit-and-miss cropping elsewhere. Here’s hoping all the digging and sieving pays off later in the year. One notable failure already is the Garden Organic clover experiment that I started last month. The combination of scorching heat and cold, dry winds has blasted the seedlings and they’ve all-but died off completely. Garden Organic have sent me a fresh batch of seed, and I’ll be re-sowing just as soon as conditions improve a little.

With sowing and planting largely off the agenda, I did take the opportunity to do some maintenance work on the composting section at the back of the plot. The two compost beds that Jo and I built in our first couple of months, way back in 2014, were cleared of stored pallets, plastic piping and water butts, then turned one into the other and well watered; the first time I’d done that for a good while. A lot of the material was bone-dry, so I gave it a good soaking as I turned it, then covered it all over with empty bin bags, dumped a pallet back on top and I’ll leave that lot to break down for a couple of weeks before I turn it back again. And so on, through the summer and into the Autumn, when the bulk of the fresh material will be ready to add in again.

April 2016 - compost turning
There’s good compost in here, somewhere.

Elsewhere there are promising signs of blossoming fruit trees, and the over-wintered garlic and Spring-planted onion sets continue to grow strongly. The rhubarb patch has finally woken up and our eight crowns are sending up some good, thick, stems. But there’s not a lot else going on, just yet. I get the feeling that it’s all poised and ready to explode into activity just as soon as the temperatures come up a bit and then stay there. We can never rule out late frosts in May, of course, but with any luck we’ll get enough of a run of decent weather to start the process of hardening off and planting out in earnest. I can’t wait to share the summer updates.

By the by, I found time in April to share my recommendations for top bits of allotment kit that you might not immediately think of. Please feel free to take a look and let me know if there’s anything else you’d recommend, via the comments on that post.

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