Last week we had a couple of frosty nights and down on Plot #59 I spotted that our Yacón plants were feeling the effects:
With the frost starting to kill off the leaves and stems, and not much more photosynthesis in prospect, that meant the tubers would probably be as large as they were likely to grow. So I trimmed back the top growth and carefully up-ended the first of three pots to see what, if anything, the plant had produced. I was very happy indeed to find the following:
A few years ago, veg pioneer Mark Diacono wrote a piece on growing, harvesting and cooking Yacón for The Guardian, which explains what happens next. The larger, ‘storage’ tubers are detached from the plant and left for a couple of weeks to sweeten. The smaller, Jerusalem artichoke-like ‘growth’ tubers are the essential part of the crown that needs to be packed in moist, spent compost and stored in a cool, dark place over the winter. It’s the same sort of procedure as you might use to store a Dahlia crown.
They’re very easy to tell apart, as you can see:
With the large tubers detached and sweetening, and the crown carefully packed away for winter, the next stage will be to cook ’em, eat ’em and see if Jo and I actually like ’em or not. (I did try a small piece raw on the spot and it was rather like a juicy radish / sweet chestnut, so I’m probably a fan already). Then then there are two more tubs to come. Apparently the large tubers store really well, so either we’ll be eating them for weeks and months to come, or my colleagues on the Ordsall Hall gardening team will be getting a few more Yacón tubers to try than they’ve been led to expect.
How about you? Have you grown Yacón before? Do you have any top tips for storing crowns or cooking the tubers? Please do let me know, via the comments.
We got back to Plot #59 to find that weeds had sprung up everywhere (of course), Jo’s flowers were blooming (you should have seen the A-frame of sweet peas before we picked them…) and, most of our edible Allium crops were ready for harvesting.
June and July are the best months, depending on the weather, for lifting and drying the edible members of the Allium family – onions, garlic and shallots – before putting them into store for autumn and winter. This year we grew all three, and through a combination of plenty of sunshine, tempered with occasional bouts of rain, they’ve all done rather well.
This year we grew ‘Sturon’ from sets. I did sow some other varieties from seed back in January or February but they didn’t do too well, so I’ll have to try those again next year.
Unfortunately, our plot has a pretty endemic problem with onion white rot. The best advice is to not re-grow alliums anywhere that’s suffered white rot, but as that could be anywhere, for the past couple of years we’ve just planted anyhow and taken our chances.
Luckily around half of this year’s crop managed to escape infection. I laid them out for drying in old plastic bakers’ trays that I rescued from the skip earlier in the year:
The bulbs that have any sign of white rot have been temporarily quarantined out on the surface of the onion bed. When I have a bit more time at the weekend, I’ll clean each one up, removing any infected material, and then assess them for usefulness. If they’re edible then we’ll use them as soon as possible, otherwise they’ll go in the bin, rather than the compost heap.
Last year, Dad-in-Law Guru Glyn gave us half a dozen seed sets of two varieties of shallots. Of course, I can’t remember which varieties they are (I’ve emailed him to check.) Anyway, they grew rather well and divided nicely:
Each set has split into between four and ten new bulbs – plenty enough for a fair few portions to eat, with seed stock left over for next year:
Edit: Guru Glyn says: “On the left, ‘Hative de Niort’, on the right, ‘Jermor'”.
We’ve always had mixed results with garlic and this year was no exception. Back in October we planted three cultivars: Extra Early Wight, Red Duke Wight and Elephant Garlic, with two rows of the latter, one of seed cloves from The Garlic Farm and one of our own, plot-grown cloves.
Both the Extra Early and the Red Duke started developing allium rust back in May and by the end of June it had completely covered the plants, killing off the outer foliage, preventing photosynthesis and effectively halting the growth of the plants.
Luckily, the Extra Early has already developed decent-sized bulbs:
But the Red Duke was next-to-useless; small, barely-divided bulbs good enough only for chucking whole into winter stews, or saving to use in next year’s garlic spray.
The elephant garlic, interestingly enough, managed to avoid the rust problem completely. The outer foliage died back and dried up, as you’d expect, but there were no signs of the orange pustules that affected the other two, despite them being grown next door and so within easy infection distance.
The plants grown from the Garlic Farm seed stock germinated, grew, developed and went over much faster than those grown from our own cloves, even though those were originally grown from the previous year’s Garlic Farm seed stock. The environmental conditions are obviously very different in the Isle of Wight to North Manchester, which probably accounts for the disparity. So the Garlic Farm plants have been lifted and put to dry, whilst our own stock plants are still in the ground:
I’ll wait to lift the second row before I make a firm decision, but I think this year I’ll just re-plant from our own stock, rather than spend extra money on bought-in cloves, which do tend to be rather pricey.
How have you done with your edible Alliums? Do let us know, via the comments below, or on Twitter.
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:
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).
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:
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.
We’ve had a pretty decent chilli harvest from our main greenhouse at home as well. Here are a few ‘cayenne’:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a good month, lack of time notwithstanding. Let’s see what the rest of October brings.
At this time of year, the greenhouse does double-duty as a giant drying-rack, first for the onions and garlic crop and then for runner and French beans. It’s also a great place to cure our winter squash harvest ready for storing, and this year we’re delighted that we’ve actually got a few squash to cure and store:
The weird and quite wonderful, knobbly-looking specimens are Cucurbita maxima ‘Turk’s turban’ and as you can see we ended up with seven good-sized fruits from our three-sisters patch. There were a few more that almost made it before the rot or the mice got them, but we’re happy with our seven; that’ll be plenty to keep us going a while(if I don’t get over-generous and start giving them away). I reckon they look like baking-squash to me, that rind will be a beggar to peel otherwise.
The three large, almost-round squash are mature Cucurbita pepo ‘Tondo di Piacenza’ (a.k.a. courgettes). An accidental discovery last year, when one last courgette matured into what a Twitter-correspondent from South Africa identified as a gem squash. So this year, I deliberately left one fruit on each Tondo plant to do its thing, and this is the result. If they’re as tasty as last year we’re in for a treat, especially once they’re steamed and then mashed with mountains of butter and black pepper. Yum.
We also have one rather small ‘spaghetti’ squash, a couple of courgettes-gone-to-marrows that we’re curing to see what happens, and a ‘tromboncino’ that isn’t going to win any prizes (more on that in another post) but will hopefully make a tasty meal or two. All in all, not bad at all, and we already have plans for boosting next year’s harvest…
The do say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’ll briefly walk you through the above. From the top-left: a bag of apples and plums donated by a plot-neighbour; the last of this year’s maincrop ‘pink fir apple’ potatoes, with three giant black radishes on top; (in the box) autumn raspberries and Japanese wineberries; this year’s onion harvest, cleaned and trimmed and ready for storage; the first of this year’s ‘turk’s turban’ squashes (we have another nine or ten at varying stages of size and ripeness); a few more courgettes and a smallish spaghetti squash (at least, I think it is…); another bag of fresh runner and French beans, plus an unruly head of bolted purple cauliflower / broccoli.
Not too shabby, if we do say so ourselves.
Coming soon: sweetcorn, which I’m leaving a little longer to enjoy this week’s forecast sunshine, and perhaps the first of the cabbages.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What’s that? You’ve just taken on an allotment for the very first time? Hey, congratulations! You’re about to start on something that could be truly wonderful; great for your health (physical and mental alike), your diet, your shopping bill, your social life, you name it. Just wait until you lift your first potatoes, or start picking your first raspberries, or see your first sunflowers unfurl, or… well, the possibilities are endless.
Jo and I started out on Plot #59 down at Langley Allotments back in January 2014. Here are a few things we’re either very glad someone mentioned, or wish someone had sat us down and properly told us, before we launched ourselves at the plot and got stuck in.
1. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
On the Facebook allotment groups people sometimes post before & after pics of the scrubby patch of ground that they’ve transformed into a ready-to-go allotment in, oh, around a week or so. If you’ve got the time, the energy and maybe a small enough plot, then that’s great. The feeling of achievement after that week of intense toil will be incredible. (As will be the back pain, most likely, unless you take suitable precautions.)
On the other hand, if like us you’re not really keen on (or suited to) the ‘going at it hammer and tongs’ approach, then remember: it’s fine to eat the proverbial elephant in nice, small bites. Pick a manageable section to work on and sort it out properly. And then pick the next section, and repeat until you’re done. Because…
2. There are Very Few Short-cuts to Long-term Success
Yes, a quick strim and a once-over with a rotavator might seem like a great way to quickly make your new plot look lived in (and of course you get to play with power tools, which is always fun).
But once you realise that you’ve just chopped up a huge patch of calystegia sepium (better known as bindweed) – which re-grows into a whole new plant from even the tiniest fragment of root – and liberally distributed it across a large section of your allotment, you really will wish you’d taken a bit more time and been a bit more thorough with your hand-weeding.
Luckily, Jo’s folks warned us about this sort of thing before we started, so we’ve made it our practice to weed and clear thoroughly and diligently from the beginning. A few other plot-holders on our site don’t seem to have been given the same advice though, and they’ve tended to be the ones who haven’t lasted the distance.
Likewise, Glyphosate-based weedkiller might seem like a handy solution to a problem patch, but, well, it’s been banned in several countries for being probably carcinogenic, and although its license has been temporarily extended by the EU, the debate is raging across the rest of the World.
Your health, your risk, your decision, of course. Personally though, I’ll only ever use the stuff on path areas that I know won’t be used to grow any food crops, ever. And then only on a still, dry day, to avoid the stuff blowing into areas I might actually want to grow on.
So what to do about those tricky, problem areas..?
3. Dig, Cover, Repeat
On a year-one (or -two, or -three) allotment, your very best friend might just turn out to be a large, dark-coloured tarpaulin or a long, wide roll of heavy-duty weed membrane. Beg, borrow and, er, acquire as many as you can, and then cover over as much of the plot as you’re able to.
All plants – including weeds – need light to thrive. Block the light and you prevent photosynthesis. No photosynthesis means not enough energy for the plant to grow, whilst respiration continues to consume its internally-stored resources. Net result: dead plant.
Black is best, blue and green let a bit too much light through to be totally effective, white and/or clear are next-to useless, but putting down a layer of cardboard under a lighter-coloured tarp is a good combination; the cardboard blocks the light and a well-weighted tarp on top prevents the cardboard ripping up and blowing around in the wind.
Leave those covers down until you’re ready to tackle a section – a year or more, if you can – and when you lift them, you’ll find the job of clearing whatever might have survived is much, much easier.
Two-and-a-half years on, our patch is looking a whole lot better than when we started. We still have a section in the middle that needs properly clearing, plus the central and border paths to sort out, and some sort of seating area to set up at the back, and… well, it’s still very much a work-in-progress is what I’m saying. But we’re getting there. We were lucky in that our allotment secretary told us to think of it as a three year project just to get the basics sorted out. Which took a lot of the pressure off, so we’re grateful for that.
But along the way, we’ve tried very hard not to lose site of the need to…
4. Love Thy Neighbour
I don’t just mean that in a ‘have a chat, make friends, share a flask of tea, swap surplus produce’ kinda way, although all of that is important (and great fun) too. I’m talking about the responsibility that you have to your neighbouring plot-holders not to let your patch get out of hand.
In my previous advice to would-be allotmenteers post, I mentioned that weeds have no respect for boundaries and borders. None whatsoever. If you ignore those persistent dandelions, or that rapidly-spreading clump of creeping buttercup, or the gnarly mess of bindweed clambering up your apple tree, or the forests of dock leaves that are sheltering a thriving population of slugs, then before too long the stuff will be making a bid for freedom and heading for pastures new and plots next-door. And that’s not going to make you a popular plot-holder.
You’ll be given a bit of leeway to start with, especially if you’ve bravely taken on a plot that’s been an absolute nightmare for a while (as we did). But if all you do is turn up at the beginning, dig a bit, weed a bit, promise yourself you’ll be along again shortly, then disappear off for a nice long holiday abroad during weed-growing season (which is any time from March through to October) then you might come back to a few less-than-friendly mutterings about your spreading weed problem, or maybe even a pointed chat with the allotment Secretary about the need to improve standards or move on.
Keep things under control with the aforementioned covers. Dig, clear and plant when you need the space and then make an effort to keep that planted space as weed-free (or at least, as low-weed) as you can, and everyone will get on just fine.
Speaking of planting, here’s something I’m only just getting to grips with after two-and-a-half years:
5. Don’t Get Greedy!
When you first start growing your own, there’s an awfully strong temptation to assume that more means… well, more. Cramming an extra fruit bush into a gap, or planting up eight kale seedlings in the row instead of six or generally ignoring the spacing instructions on the seed packet and assuming that it’ll probably be okay.
Fooling yourself you are, Padawan. Those spacing guides are there for a reason: namely that the experienced plantspeople who come up with them know how big those plants will get in time. Plants need enough space to ensure an adequate supply of light (see photosynthesis note, above), water, nutrients and root-room if they’re to grow and expand to their full, adult, food-producing potential. Healthy plants are also better able to fight off the almost inevitable pests and diseases that will afflict and attack them during the course of the growing season. Deny them the essentials and there’s a good chance that the plants will suffer, maybe even die, and overall yields will be reduced.
Also: you need to remember to leave room for you. Jo is constantly telling me off – and quite rightly – for forgetting to leave adequate walking and working space between rows of crops. How is she supposed to get in to weed the brassica patch – she quite reasonably wants to know – if there are so many brassicas in the patch that there’s nowhere left to step, stand, crouch, or perform any of the other necessary weeding manoeuvres? Good point, well made.
One job we’ll need to do this winter is re-spacing the fruit bush section. When I planted out a few blackcurrants, gooseberries, redcurrants etc. a couple of years back, I didn’t take eventual sizes into account. We now have a patch of highly vigorous gooseberries right in the middle of our blackcurrants and redcurrants, making it extremely difficult to harvest either of the latter without risking severe puncture wounds from the spines of the former. Note to self: when Carol Klein says, in her Grow Your Own Fruit book, “space blackcurrant bushes six feet apart”, she doesn’t mean “ah, go on, three feet will probably do”.
There are exceptions, of course. A lot of the spacing recommendations have been handed down from Victorian kitchen gardens, when maximum yield was the absolute goal. James Wong, in his book Grow For Flavour points out that not all the Victorian guidelines will produce food crops with the best flavour and that sometimes, treating them mean badly make them produce better-tasting results. And in last year’s series of Beechgrove Garden, Jim demonstrated that cabbages will grow to fill the space you assign to them, so if you want smaller, two-person plants rather than leafy beach-balls, then planting them closer is the way to go.
So, yes, your mileage may vary. But generally speaking, my advice would be to go by what they tell you on the seed packet, plant larger specimens with enough room around them to prune, harvest, water and weed under them, and bear in mind that anything else you do is an experiment and that results may not be guaranteed.
Above all, though, the most important piece of advice I can offer to any new allotmenteer is:
6. Stick At It!
Because once you’ve put the hours in, covered over, dug and cleared the weeds, planted out your seedlings, done your very best to guard them from pests and diseases, nurtured them through droughts, floods, tornadoes and hailstorms (if the average British summer is anything to go by)… you’ll finally get to the really, really good part: harvesting the fruits of your labours.
If your fingers are even vaguely green, or you have any sap in your blood whatsoever, then the feeling of picking, cooking and eating your own is a truly great one. Whether you get your buzz from doing your bit to eliminate food miles, putting good food on your family’s plates, a renewed connection to the Earth, or just a tiny bit of (understandably slightly smug) self-satisfaction at a job well done, then it’s a really great feeling to have. You can and should be justifiably proud of yourself, because whichever way you look at it, you will have achieved something good, wholesome and genuinely beneficial to you and those around you.
Appreciate it for as long as it lasts – pretty much all year, if you get your crop planning right. Then, once the harvest has slowed to a winter-trickle, sit yourself down with a pad of paper and a pencil, and start planning for next year’s growing season. As you steadily move from novice to experienced allotmenteer, you’ll find that there’s always more work to do, more mini-projects to dream up, more lists of new must-grow crops to jot down, and so much more to learn. It all starts again in the Spring and, with your first season under your belt, you’ll be desperate to get on with the next one.
Don’t forget to make good use of the off-season as well. Work out what jobs you can usefully do – remember: you shouldn’t dig when the soil is wet, because you’ll destroy the structure and limit its potential – and set yourself up with an action list. There are tools and pots to clean, equipment inventories to check, maybe a greenhouse to scrub in February or early March. Plenty to keep you occupied.
You can develop your allotmenteering skills and knowledge during the winter break, too, by reading and researching. There’s a huge amount of information out there, in books and magazines, on websites and blogs, to be had by picking the brains of the old boys from your allotment site over a pint or a cuppa, and if you avail yourself of that you’ll be in a much better position long-term.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.