Tag: carrot

Our Allotment Year in Review: 2016/17 Edition

Plot #59 Update: July 2016
Plot #59 at the height of August 2016

A year has rolled on by since I posted the first Year in Review piece here on Notes From the Allotment, and a lot has changed down on Plot #59.

After three years of hard graft, we’ve finally reached the point where almost the entire plot has been transformed from a weed-choked, debris-strewn nightmare into a usable, cultivated growing space. There’s still one small area of midden-ground that I’ll be clearing later this year, and a problem section or two at the back. Once those are tackled though, Jo and I can draw a line under phase one (disaster response) and get on with the serious business of full-scale growing.

In the meantime though, here are the particular high-points and low-points of the last twelve months:

Legumes – Beans and Peas

Last year we grew a stupid amount of beans – we’re still eating through the freezer stocks of blanched pods, and have a couple of kilos of dried beans that we probably won’t get around to using, unless we get a lot more creative – and it was great.

As well as the traditional ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runners and ‘Fasold’ climbing French, we tried a couple of new-to-us varieties, the best of which had to be the ‘Blackpod’ cultivar that we received through our Heritage Seed Library membership. Very tasty when young and still in the green, maturing into deep, burgundy pods filled with purple-black beans, they were a visual feast and a delicious accompaniment to many a pork chop.

September 2016 Runner Bean 'Blackpod'
The very lovely deep purple colour of these pods is just superb.

We also had a good year for broad beans, with Spring-grown ‘The Sutton’ and ‘Red Epicure’ providing us with a rainbow of colours. And the mangetout peas ‘Shiraz’ and ‘Golden Sweet’ grew like crazy up the pea-harp that we constructed for them, and provided us with fresh, sweet pods for weeks and weeks. We’ll be growing both varieties again this year, along with a couple from the Heritage Seed Library.

August 2016 broad beans
A selection of tasty broad beans – ‘Red Epicure’ and ‘The Sutton’

Cucurbits – Squash and Courgettes, and Corn

We had our best year yet for the Cucurbitaceae family, with a dozen courgette plants performing at their usual prolific rate and then a harvest of around a dozen good-sized, firm-fleshed and very tasty ‘Turk’s Turban’ squash to brighten up our autumn and winter dinner plates. (I think I might be getting the squash-growing bug, if the dozen varieties poised and ready in the seed-box are anything to go by.)

September 2016 squashes
Turk’s Turban and Tondo ahoy!

The sweetcorn performed well again last year. It seems to like the spot we grow it in – at the front of the plot, in full sun (when the sun is out) – and we ended up with another good haul of sweet, juicy cobs. This year we’re trying a heritage variety called ‘Rainbow Sweet Inca’ which promises multi-coloured kernels. Sounds like good fun.

Alliums – Onions, Leeks, Garlic

Our over-wintered garlic did very well indeed. We harvested a good dozen or so large bulbs of ‘Elephant’ garlic around 30-40 of the ‘Extra Early Wight’ and ‘Carcassonne Wight’, although the latter’s bulbs were a little on the small side.

July 2016 elephant garlic
Properly dried and stored, these giant Elephant bulbs will last us well into next Spring.

A good year for onions, with around 80 of assorted sizes from the ‘Sturon’ sets that we started off in modules before planting out. They kept well in an old dresser drawer in the shed and had a good, strong-flavour to them. Same again this year.

The leeks went in rather late, at the tail-end of August rather than in June, so they didn’t get much growing done before winter set in. We’ve been happily harvesting every other one for the past few months though and they’ve been very enjoyable indeed. The last few dozen are starting to put on new growth now, thickening up a treat. We may even end up with some decent-sized specimens before we need to clear the patch for this year’s courgettes.

September 2016 leek patch
Lots and lots of lovely leeks.

Spuds and Toms

Alas, we suffered from a double-dose of potato disease last year. Our first earlies were hit by potato leaf-roll virus which killed off about half the plants, and then a rather vicious attack of early blight ripped through our allotment site back in late June and early July. That meant the haulms had to be removed before the tubers had reached their maximum potential, and cropping was affected as a result. We still managed to harvest a decent haul of ‘Pink Fir Apple’ and ‘Saxon’ but nothing like 2015/16’s enormous piles of tubers. This year I’m sticking to Saxon and crossing my fingers that we have a drier spring.

June 2016 potato blight
The last thing you want to see on your spud foliage…

Same story with the tomatoes, alas. We didn’t actually grow any down the plot, they were all in the back garden at home, where we’d hoped they’d be isolated from blight. But we must have brought some spores back with us from somewhere, because it took hold and destroyed the lot. We didn’t get so much as a single usable green tomato… one more try this year, and then we’ll have to decide whether they’re worth the inevitable disappointment.

Soft Fruit

It was another great year for blackcurrants, rhubarb (I know, technically a veg stem, but if it goes in a crumble it gets a mention here) and raspberries, with kilos and kilos of fruit filling up the freezer, or being turned into delicious jam. We also enjoyed our first really good crops of gooseberries and redcurrants. Our potted blueberries did okay, but they were re-potted earlier in the year, so we thought they might rest up and recover a bit.

July 2016 - berry harvest
How’s this for a berry selection? By no means the entire crop, either.

The real discovery though was the Japenese Wineberry. The fruit of this spiny, long-stemmed bush is small, bright red, and slightly tacky to the touch. When the berries are ripe they come away from the bush with the slightest encouragement and taste like slightly tart wine-gums. They don’t keep all that well, which means you have to eat ’em up quick – a terrible shame, that – but they’re great in a summer fruit salad. This year we’re going to try to increase our stock by layering in a couple of branches.

July 2016 - Japanese wineberries
These wineberries are something of a taste revelation – a lovely balance of sweet and sharp.

The one disappointment was our strawberry patch. We did have a reasonable crop back in June, but we lost a hell of a lot more to botrytis grey mould, which ripped through the tightly-packed plants in May and destroyed most of the early fruit. The plan this year is to thin out every other plant and then keep on top of trimming back foliage to increase ventilation. Then at the end of the year we’ll probably re-plant the whole section with brand new stock.

Roots etc.

Despite having big plans and high hopes for a carrot crop, the carrot fly managed to get in and ruin about 75% of what we grew last year. We did harvest a few small, stunted, but still quite tasty roots, but nothing worth shouting about:

We did have a pretty good year for roots of other types though: mooli and black radish, scorzonera and salsify all grew well and were tasty additions to our baked root veg dishes. We also tried root parsley, but it didn’t really get going. We’ll give that one more go this year on the off-chance we were just unlucky.

October 2016 root veg
Carrots, salsify, scorzonera and mooli.

Brassicas – Cabbage, Kale and More…

We went big on brassicas this past year, planting out four varieties of Brussels sprout, purple cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, calabrese, red cabbage, green cabbage, savoy cabbage, green kale, red kale, and walking stick kale.

The best performers were the cabbages, which grew strongly despite a late planting and we’re still finishing off the last few red and savoy. The worst were the romanesco, which bolted again, and Brussels sprouts, of which only one variety (Rubine) produced anything decent-sized enough to eat. We’ll try sprouts again this year, and get them in a bit earlier, see if that helps.

The walking stick kale was an interesting novelty, growing to around 6′ in height with huge leaves, but those leaves were pretty tough and leathery. They did cook down, if you fried them for long enough, but the flavour wasn’t so spectacular that we’d rush to grow them again. Not when smaller varieties of kale are generally tastier, and more manageable too. As for drying the stems to use as plant supports or even walking sticks, we’re giving one a go, but we’ll have to see how useful it turns out to be.

January 2017 Plot Planning #10
The Big Brassicas section – something of a disappointment, truth be told.


Last year we grew a few novelty items just for the fun of it. One of them was the aforementioned walking stick kale. Another was the electric daisy, and the third was an allegedly highly-edible Fuschia called ‘Berry’.

Electric daisies were kinda fun. The plants and flowers themselves aren’t much to write home about – straggly, thin stems with not much leaf and strange, lumpy daisy-type yellow flowers – but it’s the effect you get when you eat a flower that’s the point of growing them. It’s a bit like licking a 9 volt battery with a mouth full of popping candy. Not entirely unpleasant, unless you really hate the dentist-esque sensation of your mouth going steadily numb, but it wasn’t something that either of us were hugely enamoured with.

James Wong, who champions the variety via the Sutton’s Grow For Flavour range, suggests breaking up the flowers and sprinkling them into a lime jelly for a more gentle, fizzing sensation. But I don’t think we have time to make lime jellies from scratch. And really, we just grew them so we could see the look on Jo’s Dad’s face when we made him try one. That particular moment was well worth the time and effort.

The same can’t really be said, alas, for the Fuschia ‘Berry’, which you may have seen touted last year by Thompson & Morgan. We bought five plugs (they’re now selling them in packs of 10, but you probably won’t want or need that many) and four grew to a decent size.

The flowers were rather lovely, in shades of deep pinkish-red and purple. But the berries, although large, were… meh. Bland and tasteless, not very juicy, hardly anything to recommend them. It could be because they were grown in pots in the greenhouse, rather than the open air and rain, or it could be because the berries just aren’t all that nice. We’ll grow on any plants that have survived the winter, but for their flower display rather than their fruit.

Honourable Mention – Asparagus

We established and planted up the asparagus section of the plot in March and April last year. With no harvests for the first year or two – to give the crowns plenty of time to develop – we haven’t actually tasted any just yet. But we saw plenty of good, strong growth last year, and the first spears have just about broken ground this year, so things are looking good for next year’s first cropping.

September 2016 asparagus patch
Lots of leafy growth in October, just before we cut back for the winter.

The Floral Department

Our plan has always been for Plot #59 to be somewhere to grow an abundance of flowers as well as edibles. Mainly as a food-lure for pollinators, but also because they’re so gosh-darn pretty. Jo is in charge of the floral department and over the past year she’s sown and grown some absolute stunners.

I’ll just leave this gallery here for you to browse through…

Plans for 2017/18

As discussed back in January the aim for this year is to make the entire plot as productive as possible. There’s some infrastructure work to do – the central path will finally be laid, and a seating / hard-standing area at the back, hopefully – and of course the regular rounds of maintenance, watering and weeding. But at long last, the focus will be set firmly on growing and harvesting, rather than clearing and sorting.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop. Please feel free to drop in from time to time to see how we’re doing.

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Harvest Monday for October 10th 2016

Autumn is in full swing down on Plot #59 and we’ve got the seasonal veggies to prove it.

A few weeks back we harvested our squash and were quietly impressed with a decent showing in our first year of semi-serious squash growing:

September 2016 squashes
Turk’s Turban and Tondo di Piacenza / Gem Squash curing in the greenhouse

We also called time on our single, lonely tromboncino squash. Not worth entering in the Sutton’s Cup, but definitely tasty – we oven-roasted chunks of it to accompany our Saturday sausages and it was pleasantly firm in texture with a lovely, nutty squash flavour.

Also on that plate were the first pulled roots of the year: a few trimmed-back but mostly manky carrots (not a good crop after all, by the looks of things), and some much nicer salsify, scorzonera and mooli (although at the risk of seeming indelicate, one of those last three gave me terrible wind yesterday… just a word to the wise, there).

October 2016 root veg
Carrots, salsify, scorzonera and mooli.

We’ve continued to pick bags and bags of runner and French beans for drying. We I deliberately planted a lot of beans this year and we’ve got the pods to prove it. Here’s a small selection drying in the greenhouse at home, and there’s another batch just like it at the allotment greenhouse, plus the couple of kilos of dried beans already packed away, and a whole lot more still on the plants:

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

We’ve started to pick out first kale leaves and cabbages. They went in late and the slugs have had a field-day on the latter, so there’s a fair bit of livestock to remove before the cabbages can be cooked, but they’re very tasty once you get them properly cleaned up.

September 2016 - freshly washed kale
This lot is destined for a date with a hot frying pan and a big knob of butter.

We’ve had a pretty decent chilli harvest from our main greenhouse at home as well. Here are a few ‘cayenne’:

September 2016 Chilli 'cayenne'
A few artistically arranged chilli fruits; many more went into a batch of chilli jam.

Most of them went into a few jars of chilli jam. One of the jars – the last to be filled from the jam pan – had re-crystalised and I was going to ditch it, until my Mum suggested it might make a good chilli glaze for pork chops. Good call, Mum.

Fruit-wise, we’re all about the Autumn rapsberries at the moment, although everything else has finished for the year. We’ve been stewing most of them up with apple and some of our frozen blackcurrants, for use as a breakfast porridge topping or custard-drenched pudding. Delicious either way.

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

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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.


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.


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.


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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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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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.


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:

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.


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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We Need to Talk About Carrots

Of all the veggies I’ve tried to grow in the past few years, I think carrots have to be the most frustrating. The first year I grew them, in our back garden plot back at our old place, the carrots actually did quite well. If by ‘well’ we mean beautifully twisted and gnarled beyond any supermarket-standard definition of a carrot:

Mutant Carrots!
On the left: “nudist jogger”. On the right: “carrothulhu”.

They still tasted rather fantastic (the knobbliest ended up in a rather nice carrot and cumin soup, as I recall), but that’s been it for carrots ever since. I’ve sown them a few more times and all I’ve ever really grown is carrot tops (apparently they’re quite edible, if you cook ’em right, but I’ve never tried) with short, stumpy rootlings at best.

“Why bother?” You might cry, and with reasonable reason. Carrots are around 60p a kilo bag in most supermarkets, so why do I put myself through the hassle and heartache of trying to raise them from seed?

The Science

The answer, as with so much that’s home grown, has to be: the flavour. Compared to the long-stored, shop-bought versions – and especially the stored-in-the-ground-for-months specimens that are around at the moment – fresh-out-of-the-ground carrots really are a taste sensation.

There’s a perfectly good scientific reason why: carrots are biennials. Their roots are storage bunkers for the sugars that the plant needs to keep it alive over winter so it can grow again, set flower and spread seed the next year. That’s what, if we pick ’em and eat ’em fresh, gives them their sweet, pungent, palate-pleasuring burst of flavour.

Whilst hibernating though, the plant is gradually using up those sugars (via respiration) to keep its cells and tissues in good order. But it isn’t able to replenish them as it doesn’t have the chlorophyll-filled foliage to photosynthesise new carbohydrates. Which is why, come Springtime, stored carrots mostly consist of sugar-depleted packing material, which keeps ’em crunchy, but really doesn’t do much for their flavour.

Conclusion: if you want your carrots to taste really, really good, then grow your own is the way to go. Here endeth the lesson.

The Plan

On to this year’s carrot (and other root) growing plan: I’ve read up on the subject, and the general consensus is that what carrots need is super-fine soil with minimal stone content – when a carrot root hits a stone, it grows around or away from it rather than shoving it out of the way, causing forking and splitting you see above (which, when you think about it, is a terribly British way of doing things: “I’m so sorry, were you obstructing me? I’ll just inconvenience myself by going around…”) – that’s still reasonably fertile. But not too fertile, because that encourages the growth of side-roots and yet more forking. Not that I mind a bit of forking – I’m growing for food, not for show – but they’re quicker and easier to clean if they’re reasonably straight-ish.

Next up there’s the dreaded carrot fly to consider: they can smell freshly crushed carrot leaves from a mile away and will zoom on in to lay their eggs at the base of the stems. The grubs will then tunnel into the root and chomp away until it’s damaged beyond all hope of use or salvage. They do have one weakness though: the egg-laying females can’t fly more than 60cm / two feet (or so) above the ground. So a barrier of fine mesh around the growing area should be enough to keep them out.

The Process

Here’s what I’ve been working on the past couple of days:

April 2016 - relocated raised beds
A couple of old raised beds should provide a sturdy framework.

Firstly, I forked over and re-loosened the soil in the section I’m using this year – most of which was dug out of the back section when we laid the base for the greenhouse last year – and then relocated a couple of old raised beds (former pallets) that we inherited when we took over the plot.

April 2016 - membrane barrier
Membrane round the inside should keep out slugs and keep in soil.

Next, I tacked strips of doubled-up weed membrane around the inside of the beds, to block the gap between slats, which will hopefully keep most of the slugs out and most of the soil in.

April 2016 - raised carrot beds in progress
One done, one to go…

The biggest part of the job involved bringing in soil from a section in the middle of the plot that I’m levelling to make way for a path, and hand-riddling the lot through a large, metal sieve to remove as much stone and weed root as I possibly can. As you can see, the result is about six inches or so of prime-quality crumb tilth, over a sub-surface of reasonably well-broken soil.

Next, I raked in a reasonable amount of fish, blood and bone fertiliser – round about NPK 4-7-4; a slightly higher phosphorus level should aid root growth – and then formed drills in the beds and watered them well. I was going to sow the carrot seed mixed in with fine sand, but the local DIY shop didn’t have any, so I ended up doing without.

April 2016 root beds initial sowing
Carrots, salsify and root parsley sown so far, parsnip, mooli and scorzonera to follow.

I’ve sown six carrot varieties into the larger of the two beds: ‘Nantes 5’, ‘Royal Chantenay 3’, ‘Autumn King 2’, ‘Charlemagne’, ‘Purple Sun’ and ‘Creme de Lite’. The last two are from James Wong’s Grow For Flavour range (from Suttons Seeds). The Chantenay seeds were sown right along the edge of the bed, to see if they germinate any faster for the soil being extra-warmed by the heat stored in the wooden bed edging.

In the smaller bed I’ve sown some other root crops: salsify ‘Giant’ and root parsley ‘Eagle’ (another Grow For Flavour variety) so far. I’ll be adding parsnip, mooli, scorzonera and quite possibly a catch-crop or two of radish at a slightly later date as well.

April 2016 root beds prepped and protected
That enviromesh fence is about 30″ high, hopefully enough to keep the carrot fly out.

Finally, I surrounded both beds with a screen of fine enviromesh, around 30″ or so in height. It’s reasonably sheltered by the neighbour’s compost bay and fruit trees, so hopefully won’t suffer too much wind-damage, but I’ll have to keep an eye on the pegs, or maybe invest in some cane-clips if they seem to be getting loose.

Fingers crossed for a decent carrot crop this year! Because if all of the above preparation doesn’t provide an amenable-enough environment for carrots to grow in, then there’s probably not much else I can do to help.

Update: 27.04.16

I’ve just watched these vids on the Allotment Diary YouTube Channel (@AllotmentDiary on Twitter). This would be how the serious show growers do it:

And this is the sort of result they’re after:

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Our Allotment Year in Review: 2015/16 Edition

January is the traditional time to post a year-in-review piece, but for me, the start of the sowing and growing season – with the last of the previous year’s over-wintered veg crops being harvested or cleared away and the first of this year’s plants being sown and planted out – seems a good time to think back on what went well and what wasn’t such a success.

Last year was an odd one: we moved house (eventually) at the end of July, which meant that from March through to October – almost the entire growing season – we were doing a lot more sorting, skipping, packing, moving, unpacking, redecorating and recovering than we’re (hopefully) likely to have to do again for a very long time.

Nevertheless, we still managed a pretty good all-round showing.



Last year we deliberately grew far too many potatoes in order to help condition and turn over a massive, newly-cleared section of the plot; almost an entire quarter of the total space. Our ‘swift’ first earlies were great, as were the ‘saxon’ second earlies – which we actually harvested as main-crop and turned out to be an excellent all-rounder – and ‘pink fir apple’ main-crop. We had so many of these latter two varieties that we were still eating them well into February, until they started shooting like crazy and depleted their starch stores.

October 2015 Spuds drying out
About a quarter (?) of our total 2015 potato harvest…
October 2015 - Pink Fir Apple
Knobbliest pink fir apple contest? We have a winner!

Not so Good

Our fourth variety was ‘Golden Wonder’ which grew reasonably well, albeit with smaller yields than the other three, but turned out to be less useful from a culinary point-of-view. Their extreme starchiness meant they were okay as roasties or oven-baked wedges, if you didn’t mind the uber-crunchy exterior and quite dry interior, but rather useless for anything else; you just have to wave them in the general direction of a pot of boiling water and they start to dissolve, so you can’t even par-boil them. I even tried making crisps with them… frankly, not worth the effort. Ah, well.


All Good

We had a pretty decent harvest of regular garlic, the elephant garlic was excellent (double the amount is already planted out and growing on for this year), our ‘Musselburgh’ leeks grew well – they’re still going strong and are very tasty with it – and the brown onion ‘sturon’ sets, that one of the old boys donated from his surplus, did well.



I love beans. I love growing them, harvesting them, cooking with them and eating them. Last year we grew broad beans in Spring and then runner beans (scarlet emperor), climbing French beans (borlotti and fasold) and dwarf beans (cannelini) in Summer. All of them did very well indeed and we managed to fill a freezer tray with pods and a couple of tubs with dried beans for the winter.

May 2015 broad beans
Broad beans coming along nicely, back in May 2015

Not so Good

The one failure was the variety I tried to grow as part of my ‘three sisters’ (squash / sweetcorn / beans) companion planting section. Not wanting to plant anything too vigorous, I went for a dwarfing purple variety, which were almost totally swamped by the masses of squash foliage that I didn’t have time to control. This year: a climber, and more pruning.



Around a quarter of our plot is planted up with soft fruit bushes and rhubarb, many of which were newly-transplanted from home or elsewhere on the plot at the end of year one, so we weren’t expecting anything amazing in their first full year. We were surprised and delighted though by bumper crops of blackcurrants, raspberries and rhubarb, all of which featured heavily in my jam-making. We also had an excellent blueberry harvest from our two potted bushes in the back garden. No jam there though, they barely made it inside the house. Our gooseberries and redcurrants were less impressive but still put in a good effort; the bushes should do better this year. Still to perform (hopefully this year): whitecurrants, Japanese wineberry and loganberry.

Not so Good

It was an awful year for our strawberries. The previous November we planted up three ridges, with a dozen plants on each, and looked forward to the glut to follow. What happened instead was a red-hot April that forced early blossom, followed by a cold, wet May which killed it all off again before it could be pollinated. Net result: three fruits. Not three kilos, or even three fruiting plants. Just three lonely little fruits. Here’s hoping for better growing conditions this year.



The three varieties of cabbage – all pointy-headed types – that we planted did very well and we enjoyed them immensely. Our kale was good as well and over-wintered nicely, until the pigeons worked out that the new shoots were ripe for raiding.

Not so Good

Our sprouts were a big disappointment: small, poorly formed buttons on spindly stems, barely a crop worth the name. I think I know where I went wrong: I kept them covered in enviromesh for too long, so they got a bit cramped as they were growing strongly over the summer. This year I’ll take the covers off sooner and plant them a bit further apart, too, to give them more room to stretch out. Because we couldn’t keep on top of the watering, our Romanesco broccoli bolted. It was still tasty as shoots/spears, but we didn’t get the tight, fractal-pattern heads. We’ll have another go this year and see what happens. And our purple sprouting broccoli was annihilated by the same pigeons (we assume) that did for the kale, back in February.

Cucurbits and Corn


Courgettes! So many lovely courgettes. We grew four varieties and they all did extremely well; we were eating them from late Spring right through to mid Autumn. A superb crop, they pretty much take care of themselves and will keep on producing until the frosts start to bite. Highly recommended. Our sweetcorn did rather well, too. It was the first year that I’d grown it properly so wasn’t sure what to expect. When we ended up harvesting around two-dozen good-sized cobs from a dozen plants I was rather pleased. More of the same this year, I reckon.

August 2015 Courgette harvest
Courgettes! And one mini-marrow. And a round one on the way to a pumpkin.

Not so Good

The ‘sweet dumpling’ squashes that we planted in the three sisters section didn’t work at all well. Again, it was down to a lack of time to keep on top of the masses of foliage that the vines produce; I didn’t cut them back soon enough or hard enough and they sprawled massively as a result, causing damp, humid conditions that rotted the fruits on the vine. More care and attention needed this year.

Roots etc.


We didn’t do all that much on the roots front, except to sow a few rows in a spare patch of ground just to see what happened. As it turned out, the parsnips and salsify did rather well, with the latter a very tasty revelation. We still have the last few parsnips in the ground; they’ll be coming up shortly.

March 2016 - Last of the Salsify
This strange, hairy stuff is salsify – rather tasty baked or sauteed in butter.

Not so Good

Carrots. Ugh. They didn’t do at all well, we got nothing at all from the row I sowed. But then I didn’t do much soil preparation and didn’t take any precautions against carrot-fly. More and better of both this year. The celeriac was poor as well; sprouted greens but failed to set roots. I’ll have to read up on that one. Likewise, the celery plants that our next-door plot neighbour donated did nowt worth mentioning. To be fair though, I don’t know if they were a trenching or self-blanching variety, so just chucking them in and hoping probably wasn’t the best strategy.

Salads, Misc. Others, etc.


We didn’t grow our usual trays of greenhouse salad leaves last year, due to the uncertainty of the move, but what we did have made a fresh, tasty change from supermarket lettuce. I didn’t go in for peas much either – I usually do pea shoots at home for salads and mange tout in tubs, as well as down the greenhouse – but those will feature more heavily again this year. No exotic or unusual fruit or veg last year (same reason as before), the chillis were a bit of a failure (I blame the wet summer) and the three bush tomatoes that I chucked in at the allotment didn’t do much (except sprawl through the courgette patch and make a nuisance of themselves) before getting blight-struck. So it goes.

This Year’s Changes

Fewer spuds, more elephant garlic and onions, hopefully a better fruit harvest, more (and better spaced) brassicas, even more beans, a new asparagus patch, improved squash-foilage control, more salads, greenhouse and outdoor tomatoes, plenty of chillis, a few exotics, an actual carrot harvest (hopefully), and all sorts of other stuff.

Watch this space!

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