I cannot really understand how the winter has been so miserable for so long. I like cold dry weather but incessant damp cold is miserable. The allotment has been blown about, rained on and frozen for so long that I am surprised anything is still growing. So far my winter planted onions and garlic are just showing. The overwintering leeks have just been harvested and the purple sprouting and other brassicas have been eaten by the pigeons as both the bird scarer and cage were blown over. My potatoes are starting to chit and I hope to get them in over Easter but with the ground so cold I may have to wait. Let’s hope we get some sun soon.
I have been putting off posting about the trials and tribulations of my allotment this year as I was hoping that the rain would stop for long enough for me to do more than emergency weeding, slug killing and a little harvesting.
The spring / summer growing period started well, a few dry sunny days and in with the onions and a second lot of broad beans to support winter planted ones. My bird of prey bird scarer made from a bin bag, some support sticks and wire has worked well and kept the pigeons away. The rhubarb forcer did its thing and we had some wonderful metallic red rhubarb for jam and for compot.
Then it rained and was cold and rained more on than off for the rest of the summer ( well so far to mid July). The weeds, especially the comfry, went mad and grew overnight filling up all available space.
In the few dry spells potatoes ( Anya and Miro Sapho) were planted and seem to be doing well. More onions sets were put in spring to complement the winter planted ones and these are also growing as are leeks from seed and garlic.
The broad beans did well , the early planted and later ones ( all Sutton) flowered together and I now have a couple of large freezer bags of beans after having eaten a lot stir fried with garlic and butter. Sweet and delicious.
The garlic has had to be harvested early due to rust but the bulbs seem fine and the bulbs not be eaten are now drying out on chicken wire under the garden table. I hope the rust will not affect my onions or leeks.
The winter planted white onions all collapsed in early July and are now somewhat optimistically drying on the garden table until I have room to put them where the garlic currently is.
The strawberries looked very promising, lots of flowers and a good covering of leaves. unfortunately with all the rain, the slugs have got to the fruit quicker than I have and most of the crop has been eaten. However, some fruit was saved together with some black, white and redcurrents. Enough for a small bowl for two.
The globe artichokes are also doing well and provide a bit of a barrier along the fence beyond which the Comfry is king. I have taken to havesting the the globes early when just larger than a golfball and smaller than a tennis ball. These can be steamed or boiled for about 4 – 5 minutes then the outer leaves striped off and if small the pointy end of ther remaining leaves cut off with scissors. The whole head is split in half and any fluffy choke gently removed with a teaspoon the rest can be eaten with melted butter or in a warm oil and vinagar dressing. Larger heads can have all leaves and choke removed after cooking leaving the rubber ring shaped heart which will freeze or can be used as above or in salads or in risotto.
I hope that the weather improves over the coming month at least so I have enough time to get rid of the weeds!
While I am busy sorting out planting for 2012 I thought I should share this link to my Ruralism blog. It is an article I wrote on allotments first published in September 2011 in the Church Times.
I have a small polytunnel where I hoped to sprout seeds, pot on and take cuttings as well as grow fantastic tomatoes, Chillies and other less hardy veg.
This year has been the first full year of production. Apart from taking off, blowing over a 6 ft fence and landing in my neighbour’s garden the polytunnel has been very well-behaved.
Over the summer it has been full of ripening tomatoes of various shapes and size and some great chillies.
I have made a lot of tomato pasta sauce with onions, sweated down in lots of olive oil, garlic and the tomatoes chopped and reduced to a thick sauce with fresh thyme added to some pots for good measure. All this was sealed in hot sterilised jars and should keep for the winter.
The problems have stated in November. When mice got a taste for chillies and have stripped most of the slower plants which were just ripening off. Such a shame. I am sorry to say that so far the traps have accounted for 7 of the pests, sorry they cannot go in the pot- they will be highly spicy.
To add to the problems there are a number of worn patches in the cover and although tape seems to do the trick, it won’t be long before the cover is mostly tape. One year does not really seem long enough for it to last.
I hope to use the polytunnel over the winter with extra insulation from bubble wrap to bring on some winter veg. Lets hope it does not disintegrate before the spring.
The allotment has been hard work this autumn. The combination of warmth and wet has really benefitted the weeds and the slugs. Other problems have included the dreaded Onion fly which caused my lovingly grown leeks to ‘melt’ . I managed to save the white tips and have stir -fried these and frozen for later use.
Mid October gave me a chance to plant my garlic, sprouts and asian walking onions ( grown from seeds) into the allotment. It took until mid November for me to find the time to plant the onion sets ( by which time some had started to sprout). Does ‘chitting’ onions help or hinder the final crop?
Halloween brough the best crop of pumpkins and squash I have ever had , most are in store and being slowly used for soup. I like to roast them in segments with olive oil and dry chilli flakes then scrape out the flesh into some softened onions, add stock or water and this year I am adding the borlotti and french beans that have been podded and boiled until tender. Really hearty and tasty.
The beans – about 5kg were harvested from the last of the bean pods
The largest pumpkin was selected by my son for Halloween creative carving many visiting ghouls and witches were impressed!
While all this spooky work was going on my new sprout plants were devastated by slugs and so we will have to have cabbage for Christmas.
Buckingham Nurseries have kindly replaced the Medlar tree which died last year so I have planted this out, carefully following the instructions and hope that it can establish itself as well as the quince tree has done. Otter Farm has sent through my Szechuan pepper tree. I am looking forward to seeing it seed over the next few years.
For reference here are the plans for the allotment in 2011 20a sits next to 20b to make a nice rectangular patch with a path down the middle.
Now on with the weeding……
Since last winter I have been on the lookout for the puffball season. In early spring I found evidence of a great number of puffballs which were by then rotten and had I hoped spread their spores far and wide. The puffball season has been around late September but this year ( 2011) it arrived early. Luckily I have been keeping an eye out for these football sized fungi for a few weeks. Walking the dog is a good excuse for a bit of fungi hunting and on 4th September I saw hidden under the hedge the tell-tale white shapes. There were 20 or 30 fresh puffballs. I took three. They have been sliced and fried in butter or olive oil with salt and pepper and frozen for the future. I will stir-fry with garlic and chilli and serve with pasta, or just have with my occasional egg and bacon breakfast.
Next on my list are parasol mushrooms and the less easy to identify horse and field mushrooms. Take care and double check anything you find. If in doubt don’t eat it.
I cannot believe that it is now mid-September and I have not written up the trials and tribulations of cultivation since June. I can only claim that work on the allotment had to take priority over writing about it.
Although the weather from July onwards has been rather mixed with a lot of heavy rain and then warm days, it has been good for growing. The weeds in particular have loved the weather. I returned from a fortnights holiday in Normandy to find that the path had been completely buried in comfrey. It took over three hours to clear but at least generated a lot of mulch for the beans and courgettes.
The other problem with the weather was that the courgettes grew into marrows before your eyes. I took the precaution of cutting all the small courgettes before my holiday but on my return discovered some of the best ‘marrows’ I have ever seen. The plants took a long time to recover from this largess but are still producing sweet, small and tasty produce.
The other debilitating effect of the damp and warm weather has been on the potatoes. Blight is almost inevitable and I had to take the foliage off the plants somewhat earlier than I would have liked. The potatoes are ridged up and appear undamaged. They are now sitting in jute sacks in the garage. I should have enough to last well into next spring if all goes well.
Onions and garlic has been very successful this year the earlier plantings were harvested in late june and the spring planting of onions in august. Both crops did well . The spring planted onions were put in groups of five , something suggested by the Eden Project, and all five grew with a range of different final sizes. I have four big netting bags full or both red and white onions and hope to be able to use them well into next year.
Lettuces planted as ‘cut and come again’ have grown into full large plants and those we have not managed to eat are starting to bolt. I am already planting out winter lettuce so we will have something of the autumn.
The mammoth bean run I put up has worked very well with a combination of borlotti and climbing french green and black ( blue) beans) the freezer is already full and I have experimented with pickling some of the glut.
Other notable successes were the artichokes both globe and Jerusalem. The globe have been planted down one fence with the intention of using the to suppress weeds and have something nice to eat. The Jerusalem have done very well and need cutting back so I can dig up the corms. I will leave some so we have a crop next year.
I have been amazed that I managed ad few aubergines and lots of outdoor cucumbers even though it has not been very warm or sunny.
For the Autumn we aready have leeks and pumpkins growing on. I am looking forward to Halloween and using my own home grown pumpkin this year
A final word should go to my companion plans- the nasturtiums have come on very well, lots of different flowers, all very tasty and they seemed to keep the cabbage whites of my cabbages ( together with the netting).
Since I last posted the weather has turned from fairly unrelenting heat and wind to unrelenting rain and wind. There was hardly a day from March to the end of May when we had any rain . This meant all my plants needed watering every day and even then the climbing beans planted out a bit early ( in April) suffered from being battered by the wind and will take a lot of catching up.
After consulting with my Twitter chums, I finally planted my early potatoes in the first week of April, the variety is Epicure.
There was no frost from then on and they have grown well. However the warm damp weather since June has caused an outbreak of blight on the allotment and I am busy digging up the tubers to save them.
The main crop was planted on 25 April and although they are not badly affected yet but it is only a matter of time.
Peas and more onions/shallots were planted in early April and are doing well. We have been eating the peas as mangetout for a couple of week. They are wonderful stir fried with garlic in olive oil. I usually slice them first so the are about a cm wide each and all cook at the same time.
Courgettes nice striped zucchini were planted at the same time as the main crop but under polyethylene cloches and have done well. The first few were harvested on 25th of May and we have been eating them pretty much each night since.
Also planted around the same time were Corn on the Cob plants, some donated and other sprouted by me, salad mix ( again under a fleece cover).
In early june I have planted more courgettes, squashes, cucumbers and aubergine plants.
I finally finished the path and the fruit is flourishing. Strawberries, tayberries, red, white and black currents have all come at once.
The salads are also doing well, enough mixed leaves for a good salad each night and some full lettuces ready for picking.
TheTelegraph and a Radio 4 Food Program were featuring perennial food. I have since put in Jerusalem Artichokes to complement the Globe artichoke and am growing some Egyptian walking onions from seed. The rhubarb has been extended with another variety and I hope to try a Szechuan pepper tree and Oca next year from Otter Farm. I have also planted day lilies which apparently make good eating. I gather some people may be allergic and that normal lilies are poisonous so do take care.
Lastly, some sad news, my Medlar tree failed to establish and sprout, the nice people from Buckingham Nurseries have agreed to replace it. The Quince is doing very well.
Having spent as many dry days as possible over the winter, putting in fencing and gates and digging over nearly all the plot I am now ready for spring. So far I have planted some broad beans and some winter lettuce which are growing well under cover. I have put in some pea seeds which have not done anything – they were only put in a week ago, some are under fleece and some under a cage to stop the pigeons.
I have decided to keep one leek going and see if I can grow another crop from the seeds – something of an experiment. My globe artichokes are beginning to sprout but it looks as though around half ( 3) have been killed by the early and harsh winter. I will have to wait a month or so more to be sure.
The Medlar and Quince trees, planted in big buried pots are sprouting as are my red and white currents and gooseberries. The vines are still asleep.
The only crop apart from purple spouting and Calvo Nero from last year is rhubarb, my forcer has enabled a couple of crumbles worth. Very tasty. I am going to use the last bits as a sharp sauce for slow roast pork belly.
Having done a brief Twitter survey on seed potato planting, I have decided to wait a couple more weeks, the nights are still cold and I guess we will have some heavy frosts in April. I am warming up the soil under black plastic sheets which look horrid but should do the job.
At home the window sill and polytunnel are full of tomato and chilli seedlings. Also courgettes, aubergines and climbing beans of various types in root trainers. I am hoping to plant runners and french beans across the full width of the allotments with an archway over the path. Around the arch I want to try cucumbers and small squash.
I am very keen to get on with everything but feel the weather still has a few tricks to play before we can really get going.
I have been shocked that some of my neighbouring allotments have been badly vandalised. The plot which won one of the prizes last year and is a real inspiration to us all was broken into, the cages and gate smashed and the bean posts bend and broken. The allotment next to me had its gate smashed and the top of the tool box hacked into. My own plot is furthest from the main gate and the path and was not damaged although I do have a hoe which was thrown away by the vandals and I will return to the neighbours. I find it very difficult to understand why anyone would take even the smallest bit of pleasure from undoing someones very hard work. There cannot be any reason to cause such damage. We have all formed a local Allotment Watch group and although we hope this is a one-off we will have a few more people on the look out in future.