Wednesday 30 March 2011

Inherited Strawberries

Last year M's father sadly passed away. He was a keen gardener and every trip to visit him included a tour through his immaculate garden and whatever veggies he had growing. As someone who went from never growing anything to growing on an allotment scale during the time I knew him these visits and his advice were as invaluable as they were inspiring. It was seeing how productive his greenhouse was for example that inspired us to get ours.

On one of the last visits we made before the end, when he was too ill to do the garden tour himself, his wife gave us a tray of strawberry plants that he'd potted up from last years runners and now needed a home. We took them back with us, potted them up in their own special blue tub and when he sadly passed a few weeks later we made a promise that we'd use them to populate a proper strawberry bed on the allotment in his memory.

So, when they started giving off runners at the end of last year we potted as many of them up as we could and left them over the winter to grow. At the weekend we cleared a smallish area on the plot and last night we took the baby plants up and planted them in their new home.

Later this year we'll take more runners from the originals and these new plants and next year add these to the strawberry bed until we've filled the space and have enough plants to enjoy a bumper harvest for years to come. I like to think he'd have approved.

Thanks Derek.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Plot time!

Well, the weather did play ball and we did manage to get up early enough Saturday morning to spend a couple of hours on the allotment before we went away.

It's looking surprisingly weed free and for the first time I actually think we're on top of things this year. The spring brasicas under that white netting need re-covering this week if possible as the cheap netting seems to be falling apart and could to with being lifted off the crops now they're getting bigger.

The over-wintering onions and garlic have done amazingly well, I've read so many reports of people losing most of their crop this winter I was half expecting to find a load of gaps but actually I think pretty much everything we planted is still there growing merrily. Yay! We added this years shallots to the bed too while we were there as they really needed to be in the ground now.

Ever since I was a little boy my Dad has grown rhubarb at the bottom of his garden. He's got about four crowns I think and they've all pretty much as old as me. Every few years he splits them, replants a section of them and they carry on producing masses and masses of huge sticks without my Dad paying them any more attention. Last autumn was splitting time and since the rhubarb we inherited on the plot has been less than impressive so far we jumped at the chance of getting our hands on some of Dads spares. We dumped a load of manure on top of them and pretty much left them to it over the winter and as you can see they're sprouting nicely at the moment.

The fruit bushes are all coming back to life too, the blueberries in particular are looking beautiful with their little clumps of buds looking just about ready to burst into flower. The plan for this year is to use the far end of the plot as a large covered fruit area, with money not exactly laying unused in our pockets at the moment we're just looking at covering the ground with some weed suppressing fabric and erecting some netting covered canes to keep this years crop safe, but all being well at some point we'll be able to get a proper fruit cage installed.

As well as giving the plot a bit of a general tidy and hoe we also managed to get a couple of rows of potatoes in the ground. We planted some Riviera (first early) and some Charlotte (second early) and we've got some Gladstone (second early) to go in this week all being well.

All in all it may not have been the longest session on the allotment we've ever had, but we did manage to get the jobs done we wanted and seeing the plot look nice and tidy at the start of the season was lovely. Best of all though was seeing the daffodil bulbs we planted last autumn in full bloom. If ever there was a sign of spring, this is it.

Friday 25 March 2011

eBay buying and weekend plans...

In my quest to grow some more interesting things this year I had a bit of a splurge on eBay this morning buying some Oca and Ullacon tubers (see below) as well as a few Egyptian Walking Onion bulbs.



Now, I've only ever once before used eBay for things like this (some tomato seeds a few years ago) and while that worked fine I have to admit to being a little paranoid about what I'll receive this time. Mainly I'm concerned because they're not your everyday seedy type purchases. On the one hand I assume anyone selling something so specialist probably knows what they're doing, but then again perhaps they're working on the assumption that for the same reason I won't have a clue about what to expect from whatever they give me...

I guess really it's just a case of wait and see what turns up... I'm sure I'm just being paranoid...

This weekend we're actually going away for a few days, but all being well if I get up early enough I'll be able to spend a couple of hours on the allotment before we go. The plan is to have a quick tidy and a hoe of all the beds, get the shallots in and get the first and second early spuds in. If I can do all that I'll be able to go away feeling on nicely top of things. I'll try and remember to take the camera up there too so I can post the first plot pics of the year on Monday when we get home.

Have a fun weekend!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Spring's sprung...

All of a sudden, almost without warning, it seems like everything has come to life. While we've had some tomato and leek seedlings merrily growing for a few weeks now, over the last couple of days it seems like everything else we've sown has suddenly sprung into life as well.

Inside we've seen the first cucumbers and a plumb tomato come through. I was only planning on three tomato plants this year, one outdoor one and two greenhouse cherry ones, but now seem to have two extra plumb varieties on the go as well. Damn you seed companies.

In the greenhouse we've had Pac Choi, Leeks, sprouts and cabbage appear in their pots as well as the salad leaves and container carrots.

In the greenhouse beds we've also seen the first raddish and little gem seedlings break through. Leaving just the spring onions that were sown at the same time yet to make an appearence.

I love spring!

Monday 21 March 2011

The Edible Garden Show and interesting veg...

We're aiming to try and grow a few more interesting foods this year, it's all very well doing a load of onions, potatoes and beans but there's a lot to be said for trying to grow some things you can't buy quite as easily in the shops. To that end I recently bought a copy of A Taste of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono which has proven to be an inspiring read and I've now got things like Yacon, Egyptian Walking Onions, Daylillies and Kai Lan on my list of weird and wonderful veg I want to try growing this year.

With that in mind I was doubly looking forward to a trip to The Edible Garden Show on Saturday. Unfortunately all bar one of the seed companies selling their wares were offering nothing but the bog standard favorites which seemed a huge missed opportunity to me considering who the show was aimed at. Other than that though we had a fun day browsing through all the stalls and could have spend hundreds of pounds if only we'd had the spare cash.

The one company exhibiting that did offer some unusual seeds was Heirloom Tomatoes Ltd who had a great selection of tomato seeds and plants as well as a sprinkling of cucumber and squash seeds too. We came away with the four packs you can see above which were Red Pear Tomato, Sikkim Cucumber, African Horned Cucumber and some Hooligan Squash. I'm especially looking forward to seeing how the African Horned Cucumbers turn out, they look so strange they'll be very interesting to try, assuming we can grow them!

The plan is to get the new seeds sown tonight and then start focusing a bit more on the allotment for the rest of the week to get the first and second early spuds in and to make sure everything is still on track for when things need to be planted out.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Parsnips and a new gardening TV show...

Yesterday I finally got round to starting off this years parsnips. I didn't grow any last year because I left it too late so this year I didn't want to miss out again.

Rather than germination problems with these notoriously tricky seeds I 'chit' my parsnips so I know what I'm dealing with. To do this I damp a few sheets of kitchen roll and fold them into the bottom of a plastic container. I then sprinkle some parsnip seeds onto the wet paper, seal the container and place it in the airing cupboard (although anywhere warm will do). Once the seeds have germinated (keep an eye on them, you don't want them kept in the dark once they've sprouted) I carefully take each little seedling and pot it into its own toilet roll filled with compost to get properly started before the whole thing goes into the ground a couple of weeks later.

This week we've also discovered The Horticultural Channel, a fortnightly TV show on The Information channel (Sky 166, FreeSat 402 or available via their website and YouTube). Described as being made by gardeners for gardeners with the focus on allotments, chickens and self sufficiency it seems like exactly the kind of show we've been wishing someone would make for years. The first episode, originally broadcast on 6th March, was really promising and it'll be interesting to see how it develops over the year.

Thursday 17 March 2011

First seedlings of the year...

There's still a week or so to go till the clocks finally change but the nights have drawn out enough to give us about 45 mins of light when we get home from work meaning there's just enough time to get a few things done..

Top of the list last night was some re-potting. The tomato seedlings had got as leggy as I could bare to see them so it was high time to get them into a new container. They look much happier now, all being well they can go into the greenhouse in the next week or so where they'll get far more light than where they are. I left the few other seedlings I don't need in there last night to see if the cold kills them off as a test run.

Next to get the re-potting treatment was those baby chilli seedlings I mentioned last week. I've picked the biggest three to grow on so fingers crossed they do ok. I have to admit I'm a little worried about what they'll turn out like. I'm not too hot on how these things work but I have a feeling chilli's cross pollinate and there were about fourteen varieties stuffed into our greenhouse last year so goodness knows what kind of mutant these offspring will end up being...

How is everyone else's seeds doing?

Tuesday 15 March 2011


Is it just me who thinks there's something beautiful about chitting potatoes? The alien like growths exploding unprompted out of the earthy brown skin of humble seed potatoes are one of nature’s more impressive ways of reminding you that spring is on its way.

With the weather now warming up (if we can all just pretend yesterday’s slight frost didn't happen that'd be grand) my thoughts are turning to thoughts of potatoes, more specifically when to get the first earlies in the ground. I'm thinking it may still be a little early for this weekend, however with a week away on holiday looming at the beginning of April that only leaves the weekend of 26/27th if I do rule out this coming one, and then what if it's wet and horrible that week? Perhaps it'd be worth risking getting them in this weekend, if the weather permits, after all?

Monday 14 March 2011

A lovely weekend....

Well that was a lovely weekend wasn't it? The first genuinely warm one of the year in fact. Yay!

We had M's son and his girlfriend up for a couple of days so we took advantage of the good weather and spent a large chunk of Saturday visiting Prinknash Bird Park. Located just outside Gloucester it's only about a 5 minute drive from our house yet as often seems to be the way with things on your doorstep, we'd not visited in years. There's a wonderful selection of birds, ducks and geese all happily roaming around a beautifully kept park. There's even some beautiful tame deer you can feed which pretty much made my day.

After a night that involved a fair quantity of homemade liqueurs Sunday dawned warm and sunny. While the youngsters recovered I managed to grab a few hours in the greenhouse while M prepared a huge roast dinner that included our first ever home grown leeks picked fresh from the allotment and one of last year’s winter squash which had developed a really lovely deep nutty flavour after a winter spent in the spare bedroom.

In the greenhouse I managed to get a load of salad leaves, spring onions, lettuce and radish sown as well as a few brassicas before I was called back into the house to aid in the final stage of cooking.

It was good to get some proper sowing done at last and with the first of this year’s leek seedlings showing their heads in the propagator upstairs it was an all-round good day.

All being well I'll get some more seeds sown over the next few evenings and then be able, weather permitting, to give the allotment a few hours’ work at the weekend. I probably shouldn't say it, but things are looking unusually in control this year so far...

Friday 11 March 2011


There's something lovely about gardening books. In the cold winter months when the plot is on standby they're something to thumb through while dreaming of the growing year ahead, then once spring is finally here they suddenly become practical reference manuals referred to regularly for plant information and growing tips.

My long standing go-to book has been Carol Kleins 'Grow Your Own Veg', I love the way it's organised by vegetable family with loads of well laid out info on growing each kind of veg. It's been my bible over the last few years and I can't see that really changing much in the future.

However, this year, despite having owned it for ages, I've also suddenly gained a new appreciation for Andi Clevely's ‘The Allotment Book’. I still think the pages on specific veg lack detail and feel a tad cramped and hard to read when compared to Carol Kleins book, but what he does have that's great is a really useful section detailing all the things you should be doing, sowing, planting out, harvesting etc at each point in the year. As well as being a good reminder of things that need doing it's proving to be a good way of scratching that 'what can I sow now' itch and prompting ideas for veg I'd not thought of growing.

What about you guys, what gardening books couldn't you survive without?

Thursday 10 March 2011

Chilli babies!

Right back when we started trying to grow our own we grew a chilli plant. Its label long lost I have no idea now what variety it was but it spent it's first year happily watching the world go by from the upstairs landing window. That winter it simply never stopped producing, it seemed like magic to our novice grower minds that assumed such things died come the end of the year. The next year it grew bigger, eventually moving to a new home in our shiny new greenhouse. It came back inside for winter and seemed happy in its old home on the landing. Last year it spent the whole growing season back in the greenhouse and gave us a massive crop half of which is still serving us from the freezer.

Sadly this winter it finally succumbed to the passage of time and passed away. We were sad.

Then, as if by magic, just when I was about to empty its pot, new green shoots started to appear. Now a few weeks later there are loads of little baby chilli plants growing round the base of the old one... It's like our old plant gave us some kids just before it died. :)

Obviously I know really they came from a few dropped fruit etc but I prefer the more romantic view...


Wednesday 9 March 2011

Magic herbs!

I have to admit to being a tad lazy last year and not actually getting round to clearing the greenhouse of all the dead plants etc before the winter set in. A couple of weekends ago I finally got my finger out and had a good old tidy up and there in the midst of all the dead things were three pots with herb plants in. Amazingly despite being sat on the shelving unwatered for about three months they seemed to have some green growth amidst their branches so I moved their pots onto the soil beds, gave them a water and wondered if they would survive...

Fast forward to today and the answer seems to be 'yes', there are now even more green shoots and general 'life' about them, enough to warrant being repotted in fresh compost at the weekend anyway.

Ain't nature grand....

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Leggy seedlings

When we first moved into our house neither M or I were gardeners so the number of sunny windows wasn't high on our list of housy priorities... Oops!

Of course now, with growing our own a passion, we run out of space almost instantly at this time of year. The first casualties of 2011 have been the tomatoes. As you can see they're looking a tad tall at the mo...

Of course the saving grace with tomatoes is that they can be potted up right upto the leaves without any problems so they should be fine in the end, fingers crossed...

I'm still a bit wary of starting seeds off in the greenhouse at the moment as the last few nights have dipped below freezing here but I think it's probably time to risk a few brasicas at the weekend. At least it will make the greenhouse look a bit more lived in...

Oh and this is my first attempt at mobile blogging so hope it looks ok by the time it arrives...

Monday 7 March 2011

We're back....

Blimy, it's been a while hasn't it. I wonder if there are still any readers out there? I don't really know what happend to my blogging muse last year. I did spend over three months on crutches through the end of the summer which dramatically slowed progress on the allotment. However for the periods where I didn't have a medical excuse I can only put the lack of updates down to the nagging the feeling that I really didn't have anything of interest to say outside reporting seed germination and plant growth.

So what's going to be different in 2011 I hear you ask... Well first up, while the main theme of the blog will remain the allotment and all things veggie growing, I'm going to broaden the scope a little to include more of things like our brewing, preserving and cooking experiences as well as a little bit more day to day life to make it all a little more personal and hopefully more interesting.

Also, having recently joined the iPhone revolution I'm now fully equipped for blogging on the go which seems far more exciting than having to make time to sit down and post properly.

So anyway, that's the plan, first proper post tomorrow all being well... :)