Monday, 17 October 2011

Ryton Gardens Heritage Seed Library

I was interested to hear on BBC TV’s “Gardener’s World” about Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library at Ryton Gardens, Warwickshire. Garden Organic claims to be the leading organic growing charity in the UK and researches and promotes organic gardening, farming and food. The Heritage Seed Library aims to conserve and make available to their members vegetable varieties not widely grown.

As for my allotment (also aiming to be as organic as possible), I’ve been getting some more work done. I’ve found room to fit one more small bed into my half-plot, next to the compost bins, and as with the other beds, edged that with timber last week. Originally I thought this would be a “nursery” bed to bring plants on, but now I’ve bought one of those mini-greenhouses with the zip-up polythene covers, which I’ll keep at home for propagating seeds. Next year I’ll probably plant sweetcorn in the new bed, but for now I've transplanted some of my winter cabbage plants into it, to give the others more room.

The weather seems to have caused some confusion (not just because I covered vulnerable crops with fleece, only to find autumn turning back into summer). One of the cordon apples has blossom on it. I’ve also had aphid on my late broad beans (as well as the chocolate spot I previously mentioned), so I sprayed them with soapy water. They seem to look better. Anyway, it looks as though cool weather is on the cards this week, so maybe the seasons will get back on track.

I grew some globe artichokes in my flower border at home this year, and some of these I put in the permanent beds at the allotment. They make a striking ornamental plant, but now those I left at home are forming heads (a bit late, I think, but they were a little crowded earlier in the year). It’s difficult to know when to harvest them, not having grown them before. The only thing I have to guide me are articles on the Internet. All this vegetable growing is leading to new adventures in the kitchen.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Winter Preparation

It’s been a while since I found time to blog - it’s been busy, busy at the allotment. After having some chillier mornings and covering the beds that need it with fleece, we had that very hot spell (well, what else can you expect?). It won’t be long, though, according to the weather predictions, before the covers are needed.

We’ve been eating well from our crops. The raab (great in stir fries) has now finished, and the pak choi is almost over. We’re trying to ripen the last of the tomatoes, still cropping various types of lettuce, and having delicious beetroot and turnip, as well as using curly and black kale, and Swiss chard as cut-and-come-again. Not bad, considering it’s only 10 weeks since we started digging and planting.

We’ve had lovely butternut squash, too, that I grew in a pot on the patio at home. These were great roasted with onion, potato and turnip, and also made delicious soup cooked with chopped ham, fresh ginger and cumin.

The shallots, garlic and onion sets I’d ordered for the allotment have just arrived, so I must get those in soon, once I’ve cleared enough space for them, keeping in mind my planned crop rotation for each bed. The plans are pinned to the back of my shed at the allotment, as a reminder, as well as my wife’s spreadsheet which shows what has to be planted, when, spacing, whether it needs winter-protection, and when it should be harvested.

My first sign of disease has begun to show on the late broad beans I sowed back in August. It looks like chocolate spot (I’m not the only plot-holder to find this, and we suspect it could have spread from common vetch, which I’ve seen nearby). So far it doesn’t look too bad, but I’ll keep my eye on it. I don’t think my plants are over-crowded, which can also make the condition worse, according to the RHS.

Well, enough of my hobby. I must get on with some “real” work...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Reptiles and more...

Last week my wife and I decided to make the most of the sunshine and went to the New Forest Reptile Centre . We arrived just after it opened, with the sun just warming things up, so it wasn’t long before we saw lizards moving about, and later a grass snake, adder, slow worms and a green frog, sitting on a lily pad. It’s an excellent place with informative, friendly staff who are pleased to chat. It’s free, apart from a parking charge, with a woodland trail and picnic tables.

That was a break from the allotment, which has continued to flourish. We’ve been eating pak choi, raab, lettuce, tomatoes, turnip tops; and now we’re beginning to get full-size turnips. Eating what you’ve grown yourself is such a pleasure, and we’ve found it really makes you plan your meals more carefully.

The chillier morning and evenings reminded me that it’s time to prepare some cover for the more tender crops on the allotment, so I’ve been using some old plastic piping and fleece to make “tents” to go over some of the raised beds, and to raise up some of the netting, to try to stop the pigeons eating the brassicas. Other plot-holders have been doing the same, with various ingenious ideas. Some have put jam jars on posts, and spread fleece over that; others are using improvised mini polytunnels. I’ve got to tweak my covers a bit – the recent heavy showers have caused the fleece to droop between the plastic pipe.

As a bit of fun I painted the planned guardsman on our “sentry box” shed. He now looks after over our plot when we’re not there.

I’ve had to take a bit of time out to tidy up my garden at home – although not too much. As I blogged before, autumn tidying shouldn’t be too thorough.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Fruit Trees Arrive

Well – a lot seems to have happened since my last post. It’s amazing how quickly things have grown – we’ve already eaten thinning from the salad crops, and enjoyed a stir-fry using some of the young pak choi; the tomatoes have been ripening too. I’ve also cut some turnip tops and black kale to use as greens.

I built the first fruit frame, ready for the plants I’d ordered. I dug out deep post-holes (I found some clay about a spade-and-a-half’s depth – I’m a lot luckier than some of the plots, which have clay near the surface), and put in sturdy posts, bracing them with angled timber. I then stretched 3 wires, 60cm apart, between the posts using straining eyebolts, and tied canes to the wires, 75cm apart, at an angle of about 60 degrees. Three types of apple arrived, and these were planted at an angle, so that the stems could be tied to a single cane. These are termed “oblique cordons.” Cordons are simply a single stem which bear fruit on short side shoots.

I’m going to have another frame the other side of the plot, and will eventually have pears and plums too. I also prepared another frame for later planting of cane fruit (raspberries and vertical cordon gooseberries) and in the centre of this planted a goji berry – supposedly a “super fruit”. It’ll be interesting to see how it does, anyway. Along with the trees I previously planted in my front garden, we should be well-supplied with fruit.

A deer (seen in the field one morning) had been in one of my permanent beds, where I’ve planted some globe artichokes and broad beans, so I stretched wires across to deter it. We’ve also collected some more CDs and stretched them across in front of that bed, and taken some clanky wind chimes there, which may frighten it off. The Parish Council are reportedly going to add another deer fence on another side of the field.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Allotments Grand Opening

Last weekend saw the grand opening ceremony of our allotments. This included the unveiling of commemorative plaques, cutting of a ribbon and the planting of two apple trees by a representative of the trustees who donated the land. Part of the funding for the allotments came from the New Forest National Park, under their Sustainable Development Fund and Lottery funding. I worked on my plot for the rest of the day, finishing off the rest of the permanent beds, which just leaves the fruit strips left to do. I transferred some strawberry plants from home, which had a lot of runners, which I’ve also planted, to make the full quota of plants required. They looked a little stressed yesterday when I was there, but hopefully the overnight rain will have perked them up.
Some farmyard manure was added to the permanent beds, and I plan to transfer some artichoke plants from home this week.

I sent for some mail-order plants last week - Onion Senshyu Yellow, Onion Sets Radar, Shallot Griselle, Garlic Vayo (hardneck type), Radish Mantanghong F1 Seeds, Broad Bean Luz De Otono Seeds, Broad Beans (Vicia faba), Asparagus Gijnlim, Asparagus Dariana F1, Goji Berry, Apple Redlove Sirena, Apple Paradis Lummerland, Apple Paradis Idylla. That’s when I began to realise that setting up an allotment isn’t exactly a cheap option – but eating your own produce in years to come must be more satisfying than buying commercial stuff from the supermarket.

We ate our first crops at the weekend – the thinning from the salad beds, which were delicious, and a couple of aubergines, from the plant that we’d bought, and brought on. Next year I hope I’ll raise all my own plants.

Having started a compost bin off, I made a lid for it, using part of an old tarpaulin, stapling it to the back of the bin, and securing it at the front with cup hooks, through the tarp’s eyelets. Manufacturers of cup hooks note: I’ve found a new outlet for your product, having used them all round my timber frames for securing netting.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

National Allotments Week

How appropriate that this is National Allotments Week. Allotment sites are encouraged to open to the public – sorry, but there’s not too much to see on ours yet, although several sheds have appeared, and raised beds, as well as a little planting.

This is my plan showing the six rotational and three perennial beds, and planned fruit strips.
I was planning on some thornless blackberries here, but there are plenty of wild ones next to my plot, so I think raspberries and a cordon of pears, maybe minaret apples and/or standard gooseberries would be a good idea. A friend has donated some rhubarb to go in one of the perennial beds, and I’m planning some strawberries, and asparagus and both globe and Jesusalem artichokes here. I’ll continue to grow potatoes in pots at home, which have always been successful, but I’ll probably also grow a few early salad ones as part of my rotation. Here’s an update on what we’ve done this week.
There are now six beds with frames round, all dug-over, and more plants in situ. Just for this year, since it’s late in the season, we’ve bought some plants from a garden centre, as well the ones I grew at home. These include an aubergine, sweet pepper, sweet potatoes, sprouting broccoli, kale and leeks. I added lime to the brassica bed, so fingers crossed. Wood chip or bark, I think, would be more suitable for the paths between the beds, instead of gravel. It’s cheaper, and will look more in keeping.

All these framed beds now have netting over them. Cuphooks around the timber hold this in place, and allow for easy access. Where the beans, chillis, aubergine and tomatoes have grown taller, I’ve rolled the netting back to leave the bed just partially covered. Many of the seeds we planted are coming up well – salad & stir-fry crops (which will have to be thinned soon), beetroot, carrots, parsnips, turnips and onions.

Apparently rabbits are a nuisance in the adjoining (established) allotments, as I guess pigeons will be from the surrounding trees. Hopefully the netting should give some protection. We’ve also hung old CDs on string to try to deter the birds. More worrying is the deer which someone saw in the field early one morning. Although deer-proof fencing has been put around three sides, it seems the tall hedge hasn’t deterred them on the fourth. The parish council is aware of the problem, so maybe something can be done.

Also this week I received the small compost bin that I’d ordered online. Some people have made their own out of pallets, but this one was so reasonably-priced, it seemed I could use my time more profitably concentrating on the digging and the plants. Now all I have to do is remember to keep all the kitchen peelings. If anyone knows a good source of well-rotted manure around these parts, please let me know – especially if it can be bagged or delivered!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Work starts on the Allotment

There was excitement in the air the first day I was able to get into the allotments. Someone had beaten me to it, and there was already a shed and a compost bin, made out of old pallets, on one plot. Other people were there to look round, some to get digging, and others, like me, to start marking thing out. It was good to meet some of the other villagers, and it seemed as though it could be a whole other social opportunity once things got established.

My first job was to interpret the design I’d worked out on my CAD system. The rudimentary dimensions I’d been given for my half-plot were more-or-less the same, but the orientation was different. Having done this I marked out the beds with pegs and string, and put down weed-suppressing membrane on what will be the paths between (eventually to be covered with gravel).

I’ve planned six rotational beds (10’ x 4’), three perennial/permanent beds (6’ x 4’) and some fruit strips (2’ wide).

On the second day a friend helped me put up a small shed. This came with a bright orange stain, and has been called a sentry box by some that have seen it. This has given me the idea of painting a guardsman on the front of it...but there’s a lot of work to be done before that. Watch this space.

We then began digging the beds, ready to get some of the plants I’d grown at home planted and some of the seeds that can still be sown this late in the year. I edged two of the dug-over beds with timber, and will eventually do the same for the others. Last weekend we were able to plant dwarf beans, chilli plants and coriander. We also planted salad-leaf and stir-fry leaf seeds, for succession planting, and some carrot, onion, turnip and beetroot seeds. Blood, fish and bone was used as fertiliser. The timber edging has enabled me to put netting over the beds, to deter pests.
Digging has been a bit of a pain, since the ground was previously pasture, and was only turned over by machine. This has meant tedious removal of clods of grass. Some plot-holders have put down carpet and plastic to kill off grass and weeds but I wanted to get on and plant. “Little and often” will be my mantra, I think, until I can get everything up-and-running.

We’ve bought some plants from a garden centre to enable us to grow leeks, aubergines and peppers this season. Next year, I hope, I can get sowing early, and have a full year’s, home-produced crop.