Monday 2 May 2011

Off we go again

Having pretty much abandoned the allotment over the winter, we've been back in the last few weeks, and it's been pleasingly quick to get it all back in shape. Nat and Jeremy spent a while getting the surface weeds off the soil and then they and Nat's dad set to with the rotavator and cleared the 2nd and 3rd beds very nicely. All in all, it took about three visits to get just about two fully clear beds.

The next step is, of course, to fill those beds with plants! Here's Nat and Jeremy planting out the potatoes last week. As far as we can remember, we've got Majestic, Red Duke of York and Charlotte this year. We got fewer seed potatoes than last year, as they're hard work to plant out and keep earthing up. The Majestic ones are yet to be planted; they're still chitting in the kitchen.

We've also planted (in the foreground) three rows of parsnips, 2 1/2 rows of onion sets and (behind) two short rows of mangetout.

In May, I think the plan is to direct sow sweetcorn, more mangetout and some climbing French beans (but I haven't got my notes on me).

Finally, we have two courgettes and four squashes sprouting nicely on the windowsill in the kitchen to planting out later in the year. Let's hope some of it pays off!

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Mixed squashes and pumpkins

I said last time how well the courgettes are doing (and they still are!). Being closely related to courgettes, the squashes are also very happy this year. Last year, we bought a "packet of mixed squashes and pumpkins", and got two varieties out of it - the stripy Padana pumpkin and the curly Tromba of Albenga squash.

This year, we planted some more from the mixed packet, and some seeds that we harvested from the (prize-winning!) pumpkin from last year. As a result, we've got at least four varieties on the go, and plenty more of each. First up, we appear to have another Padana pumpkin - there are at least three like this, but none have the orange stripes of last year, so they may be from the seeds we harvested, as they apparently cross-breed very readily.

Next up, it's definitely a "Custard White" squash. I was hoping for some of these last year, so this is a very welcome sight. I'll try to get a better photo at some point, but they're quite deep into the squash patch.

I'm really not sure what this one is: it's very round, with smooth skin. My best guess is that it's a classic orange "Quintale" pumpkin.

And finally, we have some yellow curly ones again. This one looks more like the photo on the packet than the ones we got last year, with the beginnings of stripes visible.

So what haven't we seen yet from the mixed packet?
I'll keep an eye out to see if any of these turn up over the next few weeks. The knobbly ones look interesting, but are probably hard to peel!

Thursday 22 July 2010

Courgette counting

Previous years have been a bit disappointing as far as courgettes go, so this year I sowed a who tray of courgettes, to make sure that at least some would come up. We ended up planting out 17 seedlings, which gave me a slight feeling of trepidation: what if they all came good? So here they are a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, they all very happy plants...

So, inevitably, having overcatered on the plant side, we now have a *lot* of courgettes. By my counting, we've harvested at least 25 so far in 2 weeks, and that may be an underestimate!

The Foodshare bin has been benefitting from this, naturally, and we've given some away to friends too (aka insisted they take some!).

The beans are just starting to produce now: I picked a handful today. As I type, there's the first proper rain we've had for weeks, so that should perk everything up too.

Monday 12 July 2010

More planting

I had another good session at the allotment yesterday, despite the heat. I took up the rest of the trays from the greenhouse that needed planting out, namely the 2nd half of the Chinese cabbage, the purple sprouting broccoli, the Brussels sprouts, the cabbage and a few extra French beans.

I put everything except the beans in the brassica area - not quite everything fit inside the cage, so the last few Chinese cabbage were planted outside. We'll see if they survive on their own! The first lot of Chinese cabbage and pak choi look very happy, so hopefully we'll have a better year for the rest of them too this time.

The French beans I took up from home had got to the point of having small bean pods already, which made me look closer at the ones on the allotment that didn't. Something's definitely been nibbling them round the edges. I remembered that we had some spare netting that we bought last year, so that's now over about a third of the beans. If it's rabbits, I don't think it'll keep them off, but if it's birds, it should do the trick.

The courgettes are ramping up now - I harvested 7 yesterday, with plenty more on the way by the looks of it. We may be overrun with courgettes this year - I hope David really likes the taste!

The raspberries are definitely not happy this year. There are far fewer canes than previous years, and the raspberries are mostly very small and not very juicy. The former problem is, I think, because we haven't been managing to keep on top of the weeds, so Mark's ideas about digging it all up and replanting should go a long way towards sorting that out. The latter problem is probably just due to the dry weather we've been having. There's rain forecast for this week, though, so we may yet get a few juicier berries.

Sunday 27 June 2010

The hottest day of the year

Sunday was the hottest day of the year so far, and Jeremy was happy to entertain David for a while whilst Nat did some DIY, and I managed to escape up to the allotment for a few hours - lovely weather for it! I got loads done, which was sorely needed. First, I finished weeding the carrots and parsnips that I'd done roughly the other week. On the right here are 'before' and 'after' shots.

In the foreground, you can see the parsnips - about half a dozen or so have come through - not bad for our first year, as we hear that they're notoriously difficult to get to germinate. I had to look up what parsnip leaves look like, so that I didn't weed them by mistake - these all have the same leaves, and are in a neat row, so I'm pretty confident they really are parsnips.

I then went back to the beans and gave them a good watering, as it's been so hot recently. They seemed pretty happy even before I watered them, so hopefully they're developing good root systems.

Working back again towards the gate, the squashes and courgettes look very happy without any more watering, so I just hoed round them all to keep the soil clear.

The final job for the afternoon was to start on the brassicas at last. I took with me half of the Chinese Cabbage and half of the Pak Choi, and planted them in the brassica area. I discovered that an ants nest had developed on the greenhouse staging, in and around some of the seedling trays. Some of the ant colony ended up being relocated the the allotment - the rest are still in situ, but I've shuffled things around so that the ants eggs are now all under empty trays, not in the ones with seedlings in (hopefully!).

Having planted out the seedlings, it was time to reconstruct the brassica cage to stop things eating them. I saw a rabbit in our allotment while I was up there - I didn't see exactly where it went, though. Hmm. We also want to keep the cabbage white butterflies off, or the caterpillars will decimate the crop again. The cage is currently functional, but one corner needs a couple of screws to keep the wood in place properly, not just balanced as it is now.

What next? Well, at the far end of the allotment is, of course, the fruit cage. Mark told me at the weekend that he'd planted strawberries there again this year, and they're looking much happier than the ones we put in last year. The rest of the fruit cage is pretty overgrown with (mostly) grass, though, so there's a fun job for some point soon. Some of the raspberries are ripe already, and it's be a shame to just let them rot because we can't reach them. After this year, Mark reckons that we should dig up the whole raspberry patch and re-plant the canes, as they've spread over the years and definitely aren't contained within the lovely neat row of wires any more! We could also dig up the grass and other weeds while we're at it, making it more maintainable in general.

Monday 21 June 2010

Beans and bees

Since the last update, we've planted out all the runner beans and most of the French beans. More sensibly than last year, used canes to support them, rather than string. This photo was taken about half-way through planting out - we now have 2 1/2 rows of beans.

The rest of that bed is squashes and sweetcorn. We were going to try to "three sisters" planting method (squash, beans and sweetcorn), but apparently sweetcorn doesn't grow high enough quickly enough in this country to support the beans, so we're just on "two sisters" instead.

We're got a few carrots appearing now in the next bed over. The weeds had set in remarkably quickly, so I cleared them out again to give the carrots a chance.

After a tip-off from a fellow allotment-holder, I investigated the garlic (it'd started to go a bit yellow in places), but found out that it was still too early. Still, the mini-bulb provided a nice meal for 2 last night.

Some newcomers to our allotment are bees! Mark has decided to take up bee-keeping, and the hive is in our orchard area, so we've hoping for lots of fertilisation from them, and hopefully plenty of honey, too. Barny may even have a rival for the produce show this year, unlike last year!

Finally, here's our well working nicely. We're using an old watering can as the bucket. First we drop it in on its side, so it fills up through the usual hole on top, then right it and pull it up with some long string that we keep attached to it (see left of photo). The can has quite a few leaks in, so could probably do with replacing, but it does the job of getting the water up a couple of metres, which is the main thing.

The well has been very nice to have this year, rather than trekking down to the pump. Unfortunately, yesterday I discovered that some local wildlife had somehow got past the well cover and ended up at the bottom of the well, so I switched back to the pump. I'm not sure how we're going to get them out...

P.S. I've been playing with the look of the blog - new background!

Saturday 22 May 2010

Spot the difference!

We had lovely weather today, so spent a lot of the day outside. Nat & Jeremy went up to the allotment for a while; Jeremy planted out loads of the beans (more on that later) and Nat mowed everything he could think of, particularly the paths and round the orchard.

Meanwhile, I sowed the next lot of seeds - mostly brassicas (purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, pak choi and Chinese cabbage (yes, I know the last two should be the same thing, but they look different on the packets, so we'll see what happens...)) and then some "cutting celery" and goji berries (just because I had the packets). See if you can see what's changed in the greenhouse after all that!

So, about those beans... after much to-ing and fro-ing, we finally worked out that what I thought were "Purple Queen" French beans were, in fact, runner beans. I was thrown by the fact that the beans themselves were purple, as I'd remembered the "Purple Queen" ones to be. Well, you live and learn... still, it meant that we had runner beans ready to go!