I spent a happy couple of hours this weekend lifting the last of our second early potatoes down on Plot #59 . They’re a variety called ‘Saxon’, which is fast becoming a firm favourite. They have a lovely, creamy texture when boiled or steamed as new potatoes, store really well and make great mash, roasties and even jackets, if they get large enough. A true all-rounder.
This year’s crop was hit by the potato blight that has swept through our site this damp and dreary summer, and I took the haulms off at the beginning of July. Luckily a decent number of tubers had been able to form before I took drastic measures, and although we’re well down on last year’s epic crop, we should have enough to last us through to the end of the year at least.
They’re currently drying in the greenhouse before cleaning up a bit and sorting for either immediate use or storage, depending on the degree of slug damage.
(There’s a third shelf full as well, but honestly, it just looks an awful lot like the first two…)
Jo and I also picked several kilos worth of assorted beans – runner, French and broad – which I spent my Sunday evening trimming, chopping, blanching and freezing for our winter stores. We picked another few tubs of mixed berries, too: raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and Japanese wineberries (see last week’s post for pics).
And we’ve picked the last of the peas, most of which are too dry for eating fresh, but we’ll try storing them for soaking and adding to winter stews, see what happens. Oh, and more courgettes (which rather goes without saying) and a bit more purple calabrese.
Still to come: sweetcorn (forming up nicely, let’s hope they get enough warmth to ripen), winter squashes, chillis, cabbages (not long gone in, let’s hope they establish before winter), kale (likewise) and hopefully more turnips. Hardly any carrots though. The carrot-fly have ripped through them and destroyed around 95% of the crop. More on that set-back in another post.
Summertime (down on Plot #59) and the harvests are mighty! Here’s what we’ve been picking for the last couple of weeks:
Our four varieties of courgette are all producing like crazy, as you can see from the above. Not a few of those ended up in this year’s batch of courgette and tomato chutney, now maturing nicely in the cupboard.
And all three ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ plants have decided to throw off their mere ‘courgette’ appellation and make a bid for full ‘squash’ status:
I’ll leave those to mature and toughen up, before bringing them inside for curing into gem squash (at least, that’s what someone from South Africa told me the larger versions are called and who am I to argue?)
In other news, the (predicted to be) truly epic bean harvest has begun:
From left to right there, we have ‘Blackpod’ (a Heritage Seed Library runner bean variety), ‘Fasold’ French beans and good old ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runners. Still to come: ‘Prizewinner’ runners, ‘Medwyn’s Exhibition’ French and maybe a few ‘Cobra’ French as well. Oh, and we had a few ‘Purple Queen’ French from the plants in the greenhouse (which I tried to blanche to keep their colour, but they turned dark green. I’ll steam the next batch instead.)
Further down the plot, the broad beans and peas have been doing very nicely indeed:
The ‘Shiraz’ (purple) and ‘Golden Sweet’ (yellow) peas grew like crazy while we were down in Kent and no-one was around to pick them. Luckily the latter variety more than lives up to its name, delicious as a crunchy mangetout and, as it turns out, equally sweet and tasty as a young pea, either raw from the pod or lightly steams. We’ll be growing those again next year.
Just next door, we’ve lifted this year’s elephant garlic crop:
I forgot to add a pound coin for scale so you’ll have to trust me when I say those bulbs are as big as my fist. I brought them home for drying in the shed – the recent heatwave will have helped with that – and as long as they’re stored well we’ll still be eating them in March next year.
We also lifted an initial batch of onions and the ones we left in the ground seem to have swelled nicely while we were away:
Meanwhile, over in the fruit patch, the strawberries might be over (and in desperate need of reorganising and thinning out) but we’ve enjoyed a good-sized crop of gooseberries:
And just this weekend, we picked a big bowlful of redcurrants, the vast majority of which I turned into redcurrant jelly.
Still to come: many more courgettes, beans and peas. The blackcurrants need picking; a dozen rows of potatoes need lifting, drying and storing; I need to check the carrots to see if any of them have escaped carrot-fly attack; cabbages and kale are going in at the moment (a little late, I know, but the weather was against us earlier in the year); and we need to re-check the seed packets to see what we can sow now for late Autumn and/or winter harvests.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lovely stuff, and lots more to come.
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:
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.
Summer is here! Although you wouldn’t know it to look at the weather records of late. But the crops are starting to come in down on Plot #59 and we’re beginning to enjoy a wider range of the fruits of our labour.
Here’s a quick photo-montage of the foodstuffs that we’ve been able to harvest recently:
Last year adverse weather conditions meant we harvested a total of three ripe strawberries. This year we’ve done much better, although the grey mould has ripped through the patch, so we’ve thrown away three times as many as we’ve picked, but it’s still a good result. A lot of these were a tad mushy, and so they went in to a batch of mixed fruit jam. The rest went into us, with a dollop of natural yoghurt and a handful of early summer raspberries.
Having spotted blight patches in the second earlies and lifted a plant to make sure we had tubers to rescue, it would of course have been daft not to enjoy the spuds. Many, many more to come, all being well. Those radishes are called ‘China rose’ and are probably a bit bigger than ideal, but have a good, peppery kick.
Our summer veg is in full swing now, with broad beans, Swiss chard, peas and the inevitable courgette glut kicking in. I’ve been thinning our < a href="http://allotmentnotes.com/2016/04/24/we-need-to-talk-about-carrots/">carrot patch and we’re eating any thinnings big enough to crunch in a salad or chuck in a stir-fry. And having lifted garlic t’other week and saved a few bulbs from allium white rot, we had some green garlic to cook with as well.
All of which went into…
…our first allotment medley stir-fry of the year. That was our Sunday dinner, along with a few sausages, those new potatoes and steamed chard leaves – delicious! And of course there was far too much there for just two of us, which meant allotment bubble-and-squeak for my lunch today – bonus!
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:
It’s starting to look a lot like Summer. My next few Harvest Monday posts should be a bit more interesting and varied, too.
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.
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.
The courgette patch that I started planting out a couple of weeks ago is now full:
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:
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.
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.
Rhubarb! We’ve got so much rhubarb from our eight crowns this year.
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!
Also, lots of lovely fresh salad leaves and pea shoots from the trays in the greenhouse.
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:
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:
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…)
There’s always a temptation – one I admit I succumbed to when I first started growing – to start sowing seeds at what seems to be the earliest possible opportunity. We get that first warm(ish) weekend in mid-February or early March, when surely Spring can only be a few days around the corner, and the urge to start sprinkling seed around starts to become all-but irresistible.
Over the past few years I’ve learned, through trial and error (mostly error…) that it’s far better to exercise patience than it is to watch your first few crops of precious seedlings fall foul of the pitfalls of early Spring. A late March or April frost could kill them off, or they could stretch out towards the dribs and drabs of available sunlight until they’re so thin and leggy they’re likely to snap as soon as you look at them, or they might simply run out of steam before the conditions are warm enough for them to start developing the root, stem and leaf systems that they’ll need to power them on to productive adulthood. Better to wait until a little later in the season – especially here in North Manchester, where the weather’s seldom balmy until April at the earliest – than lose the lot and have to start over again.
There are a few exceptions to the general rule of thumb, of course: early-cropping veg, hardier varieties, those that take their time to germinate or need a long, slow growing season to develop, and crops destined to spend their entire lives under cover in a greenhouse. These are the sorts of seeds that I’ve learned you can get away with sowing round about this time of year. I’ve already sown my chillis (to grow under cover) a few weeks back – they’re doing quite nicely in the propagator at the moment – and over the past couple of days I’ve sown two more essential food crops: leeks (long season) and broad beans (early, hardy).
I’m a late but enthusastic convert to eating leeks. Up until three or four years ago I hated the things (due to a childhood trauma involving being force-fed leek and potato pie until I ran out of tears to cry) but then I tried them sautéed in butter and the proverbial lightbulb clicked on. I’ve grown them every year since, with a pretty decent success rate, although last year’s crop wasn’t the finest I’ve seen, mainly due to various house-move related timing issues.
This year I’ve sown three varieties of leek (Allium ampeloprasum / Allium porrum – sources differ): ‘Elefant’ (Mr Fothergill’s), ‘Herfstuezen 3 – Porvite’ (Thompson & Morgan – no longer on sale) and ‘Walton Mammoth’, an heirloom variety that I was sent as past of my first Heritage Seed Library selection.
I’ve changed my sowing method slightly; in the past, I’ve sown leeks in standard, shallow seed trays and then picked out individual seedlings to grow on in modules. That’s definitely one of the most laborious, tedious gardening tasks I’ve set myself to-date and has meant the loss of a number of seedlings in the process: not great fun.
This year, I’ve sown them in a deeper tray instead, with 2-3cm of seed compost on top of around 7-8cm of multi-purpose. The theory being that they’ll grown and develop to the ideal pencil-thickness in those tubs, and when the time comes I can just split them up and dib them in to their final growing position in one go. Less fuss, more leeks. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m a huge fan of all the members of the Fabaceae family that I’ve encountered so far. They’re a joy to grow and a wonderfully versatile, protein-rich food crop. This year I’ll be growing around a dozen different varieties of beans; it is the International Year of Pulses, after all.
The first to go in, sown this afternoon, are Broad Bean (Vicia faba) ‘The Sutton’ (SowSeeds.co.uk). It’s a white-bean variety, which should contrast and compliment nicely with the ‘red epicure’ (Unwins), which I grew and enjoyed last year and will be sowing tomorrow. I’ve also bought a packet of ‘aquadulce’ (Thompson & Morgan), which I grew last year as well. I’m saving those for an Autumn sowing, to see if I can over-winter them for an even earlier crop next year.
After some reading around, I decided to soak the beans overnight in tepid water to see which ones swelled and were therefore more likely to be viable. Of the 28 I soaked, 23 were definitely nicely fattened and one was borderline. Those 24 have now been sown in modules of standard multi-purpose compost: beans aren’t so delicate that they need special seed compost and the young plants should grow strongly in the richer compost. With any luck they’ll be large enough to be planted out sometime in April and Jo and I should be feasting on garlic-butter sautéed broad beans by June.