Posts Tagged ‘Allotment’

As the allotment season draws to an end

October 10, 2011

As the 2011 season draws to an end, our workload reduces on the allotment.  Apart from harvesting some of our winter veggies, we will be able to take some time off from weeding, strimming and maintenance in general.

Flower arch on allotment

The arch renewed!

Mostly, the beds are either occupied or weeded after the earlier weed explosion when we were on holiday.  I’m pleased to say the clematis arch has been repaired and is gracing the path once more.  It does now have a certain allotment charm … instead of a smart metal arch, we have a make-do-and-mend construction with the original metal and some salvaged wood.  But isn’t that the delight of an allotment?  Smart, modern, new constructions seem so out of place in a world where reuse, reduce and recycle should come first.

The onion experiment – results!  

Onion grown from a set

Onion sets win the day

If you remember, I decided to try growing onions from seed this year instead of sets.  Our onion experiment was fairly well controlled, with both lots of onions being treated equally.

I’m afraid I have to say the onion sets have won hands down.  The onions grown from seed were smaller, but more importantly, many of them bolted and several more have already gone soft, so they won’t store.

It did seem to be a lot of effort and, as we’re trying to make our plot less labour-intensive instead of more, I’m giving up my onion seed ambitions.

Successes vs failures?

Although our beans and courgettes didn’t do as well this year – presumably due to lack of rain – we’ve had no real failures.

Mayor of Chipping Norton presenting allotment awards

Me and His Mayor-ness - photo by kind permission of Kaye Freeman (Chippy News Team)

But successes?  Yes!  For the first time we had proper calabrese heads and those wonderful plants are still giving us a good picking of broccoli sprouts every week.  Another first this year is the Brussels sprouts.  To date, all we’ve achieved have been pea-sized – a pimple on the stem!  But this year, we have sprouts to be proud of (and enjoy).

Of course, I must brag again about our Commended Award in the Chipping Norton allotment competition.  That was another first … and will be spurring us on to bigger and better things next year (so I can have my photo taken with the Mayor again, you understand).

Still to come?

While the summer season might be over, of course we’ve still got plenty of goodies left on the allotment.  We’ve taken the first Savoy cabbage now, and a few swede and leeks.  The purple sprouting looks stunningly good and I’m looking forward to some frost for the kale.

Marian swede grown on allotment

The first swede of the year

Winter veggies are my favourites, I have to say.  I get bored quickly with runner beans and courgettes, but never tire of buttery golden swede, crisp roasted parsnips and the really rich dark greens.

Once we’ve taken down the beanpoles, I’ll be back with an end of season video and post it on YouTube.  The onion plaiting video has attracted almost 300 hits and I’m keen to polish my technique.  Be sure to watch it on a PC near you!

Our prize-winning allotment and holidays

September 20, 2011

The lack of our allotment blog activity is a result of a family visit and a long-awaited summer holiday.  So now I’m going to make up for lost time and update you on our allotment activity.

Allotment competition 'Commended' certificate

Our prize-winning allotment certificate

The hottest piece of news is … Plot 66a on the William Fowler Allotments in Chipping Norton is a prize winner and that’s official!  We came home from holiday to find a letter telling us of our ‘Commended’ award in the annual allotment competition.  Last night we proudly went to the Chipping Norton Town Council meeting to be awarded with our prize.

Needless to say, we were thrilled to have all our hard work recognised.  But also a little amused as winning competitions isn’t what our allotment is about.  Our motivation is getting away from the house and our desks, (being a home-based copywriting company, this is very important), enjoying the fresh air and, having a plentiful supply of home-grown vegetables throughout the year.

Wind damage on the allotment

Our poor clematis and honeysuckle arch!

We knew you’d ‘enjoyed’ a spell of bad weather during our absence, so we wondered how the allotment had fared while we were away.  The high winds had done some minor damage to our bean poles, the sweet corn is now listing a bit, but tragedy!  Our glorious clematis and honeysuckle arch is now a sorry heap.  A damp weekend meant we have not yet been able to repair the damage, so I just hope the allotment judges don’t pop back for another look!  Our prize-winning allotment is looking a bit the worse for wear.

We must give a mention to our chum and local business networking buddy, Ken Norman.  Ken kindly agreed to ‘allotment’ sit while we were away and pick some of the surplus produce to ensure it continued to crop.  In our absence, he was allocated his own plot,  so in future years, we’ll be able to return the favour!

I mentioned our family visit earlier in the post.  Our little town-dwelling granddaughter (2½ yrs), with her Mummy and Daddy naturally, came up for a long weekend.  ‘Baby Bear’ was on a promise … she was to help dig up the potatoes she helped to plant earlier in the year.  Needless to say she was very excited at the prospect and eagerly set to work.  ‘Daddy Bear’ was in charge of the digging, supervised by yours truly, of course.

Helping dig up potatoes

Baby Bear helping Daddy dig up potatoes

Miss Baby Bear diligently carried the potatoes, one by one, from ground to trug.  This was a scene worthy of the Good Life episode where Margo helps pick the runner beans!  But she enjoyed every minute and went home chattering about her potatoes and playing at planting more.

So with the 2011 summer season coming to a close, supplies are dwindling on the allotment.  The beans are at an end, earlier than usual this year, and the courgettes’ days are numbered.  But if the weather is kind, the late peas might give us a bonus crop and we still have all the winter harvest to look forward to … not to mention some overdue weeding!

Know your onions?

August 11, 2011

I am a very impatient gardener and for weeks now, I’ve been itching to dig up the onions (grown from sets).  And finally, the big day arrived!  I did rather underestimate the volume!  Three large containers later, they were all out of the ground and in the car ready to go back home to allotment central to ‘cure’.

onions curing in the sun

What a lot we got!

Last year, our onions didn’t keep well, which is why we decided to try growing some from seed too.  However, I have since found out that ripening onions in a greenhouse is a bad idea!  It seems they cook rather than cure in the intense heat.  So I’m looking forward to storing my onions without them rotting this time round.

Champion-sized onion

What a whopper!

The onions grown from seed are progressing!  I still wonder if they are worth the effort as we’ve had some corkers from this year’s sets.  But they are still growing and have at least gone past the pickling onion size as previously reported!

Freezing vegetables without blanching

A couple of weeks ago on the blog, I mentioned the potential for freezing veggies without blanching them first.  Two different people had recommended this for runner beans.

As promised, I’ve had a go and here’s the results: the broccoli was ‘interesting’, shall we say.  The flavour was excellent, but it didn’t pass the tenderness test. It was rather like eating broccoli-flavour chewing gum.  So back to the drawing board with that one!  But … the runner beans were quite a success.  They had a good flavour, kept their colour fairly well, and were only slightly chewy, but not enough to put me off freezing them this way.  A result!  The next experiment will be French beans and courgettes … watch this space.

Maris Piper potatoes

Our first Maris Piper potatoes

Confession time

OK … I know I was meant to leave them another couple of weeks, but I’m afraid curiosity got the better of me.  Yes … I dug up a potato plant.  Now I’ve seen what’s going on under the surface, I’m satisfied.  The remaining seven plants are now waiting for a little girl who is very excited about digging up Nanna and Papa’s potatoes.  And there’s only 10 days to go before she can!

Cracking cauliflower!

July 29, 2011
Caulflower grown on an allotment

Our cracking cauli!

In case you thought I was slipping and had forgotten to update the blog this week … you’d be right!  I really must mend my ways.

I’ll start with the bad news.  Sadly, the missing pea seeds, fork and gloves have failed to turn up.  Clearly another one of life’s little mysteries!  However all three have now been replaced, so it must only be a matter of time before they’re found.

We had a busy morning on the allotment on Saturday.  David was on tying up duties.  It’s a job I hate, but he is an excellent ‘tyer-upper’.  On the other hand, he’ll find a multitude of urgent tasks to avoid weeding, while I’ll happily weed away for hours.  It makes for a good division of labour.

Marian Swede grown on an allotment

The swede are doing nicely

Apart from David restraining the raspberries and sundry other plants and my weeding mission, there’s not a lot to report on the allotment at the moment.  Weeding and picking are the order of the day. But so far, it’s all doing rather better this year than it did in 2010.

The perpetual spinach is amazing as always, and our haul of just over 3kg in one picking was an all-time record.  Our biggest success this week was our first cauliflower though, and it was pretty good – even if I do say so myself.

I continue to be impressed by our onions grown from sets.  The chicken poo pellets certainly worked, along with the weekly feed of ‘worm wine’ or ‘comfrey cordial’.  They are certainly our biggest onion success so far.

Bolthardy beetroot from the allotment

Baby beets!

The potatoes continue to torment me! Growing things underground is incredibly exciting … you just never know what’s there.  I feel like a kid at Christmas who isn’t allowed to peep at the presents under the tree.

The potatoes have just started to die back, so I know it’s too soon to dig them up.  Added to which, our 8 seed potatoes (we don’t really eat potatoes, so they’re a token crop) were planted by our 2 year old granddaughter at the end of February.  And in about three weeks time our little treasure is coming to stay for a couple of days and is on a promise … she will get to dig up ‘her’ potatoes.

So, if I don’t blog next week, don’t be surprised to find I’ve died of curiosity fighting the Maris Piper temptation.  Of course, perhaps I could just dig up one.  She’d never know … she’s not old enough to count … just one … pleeeease …

Where, oh where can they be?

July 20, 2011

Lost:

  • One packet of peas seeds (500) Onward variety
  • One pair of gardening gloves (cheap, nasty, pink & yellow [YUK] worn once)
  • One rather jazzy lime green hand fork

As you might have guessed, we have spent a fair bit of time looking for the missing items.  In desperation, we ordered more pea seeds and have given up the gloves and fork as a lost cause.  A big tribute to seed merchants Edwin Tucker, for the speedy delivery of replacement seeds which arrived today.  All we need now is to buy new gloves and another fork … and all will no doubt turn up.

It’s quite challenging to write a regular weekly post when all one does is weed and pick.  But here goes …

Self-seeded viola

Look what I found hiding in the beetroot!

This weekend’s weather was not ideal for allotments.  With a wary eye on the weather forecast, we opted to bunk off work on Friday afternoon in favour of getting some weeding done.  In our defence, we did work over the rainy weekend instead.

Our main objective was to remove the broad beans, consign them to the compost bin and plant the next wave of peas.  Needless to say this went awry when we couldn’t find the peas!  However, the bed has been cleared, the new pea supports installed and is ready to go.

Large broccoli head grown on the allotment

My final broccoli brag

Everything is in full production now up on the allotment.  The courgettes, which were slow to start, are galloping away, and we are now planning some broccoli and blue cheese soup to use up the glut.  Our first cauliflowers are probably about a week from maturity and all the beans are covered in flowers.  I do enjoy this time of year!

While it is fantastic to grow your own veg, I always under-estimate how long it takes to actually harvest the stuff!  The perpetual spinach alone takes around 30 minutes to pick.  This means longer days on the allotment and frequent mid-week trips to keep the WORD-right kitchen supplied with fresh vegetables.

We have been told recently (from two sources) about freezing veg without blanching.  Runner beans, or so we are told, are better being frozen from raw.  I’m not convinced, so have decided to conduct my own experiment.  The runners aren’t ready yet, but I have put one broccoli floret in the freezer ‘au nature’.  I’ll keep you posted about the results.

Coming up soon on the allotment chore list is a new felt covering for the shed roof.  When it rains, it leaks like a sieve and the old kitchen worktop floor is starting to collapse.  Also on the agenda is a sort out of the shed which will no doubt reveal an empty pea seed packet.  If they were left there by mistake, I imagine our mice and voles will have had a midnight feast!  Perhaps that is where they went.  I wonder if they made off with the fork and gloves too?

But as you can see from the picture below, we have the search party on the case!

Helicopter over Chipping Norton allotments

Helicopter over Chipping Norton allotments

This is what it’s all about …

July 12, 2011

We were allotmenteers on a mission on Saturday.  The broad beans were ready to harvest and as for the peas …

Bunyards Exhibition Broad Bean

The broad bean harvest

With dark skies overhead and dodging the odd shower, most of our allotment visit was spent a-picking and a-harvesting.  During a lull, I did do something I’ve been intending to do for a while now.  I made a video!  So if you fancy a walk round our Chipping Norton allotment, you can see the results on YouTube here.  This is my first attempt, so apologies for my lack of camera skills and the blowing a gale sound effects!

First up were the broad beans.  David set to work with a bucket or two which were quickly filled up.  The plants are still in the ground and there’s a small picking left.  We planted the broad beans in waves in 2009, but didn’t gain from it.  Because they freeze so beautifully, we now plant them all as early as possible and harvest them in one go.  That way, we can free up the bed and get a late crop of something else.  This year, flushed with success, it will be more peas.

Broccoli head

Broccoli triumph

Picking was essential on Saturday as we had a day trip to Portsmouth planned for Sunday.  Needless to say the family expect us to arrive accompanied by a week’s supply of fresh vegetables!

Our little granddaughter is veggie mad, which is a great attribute for a 2 years and 3 month old tot.  They have a small amount of veg in their garden and she is very excited about growing her own.  Much to her delight, their courgette plants produced two courgettes ready to pick … secretly grown here and transported to Portsmouth, and laid on the ground when her attention was diverted!  We are looking forward to their visit next month when she can dig up the potatoes she helped plant in February.  But I digress.

Onward peas

Just a few peas

The biggest mission was of course … the peas.  I know I keep on about them, but we have never had peas like it before.  We always pick the peas last and prepare them as soon as we get home, either cooking them to reheat later or blanching them for the freezer.  After an hour or so, peas start to turn their sugar into starch, so they are best within a short time of picking.  This was a bit optimistic … it took us more than half an hour (and two aching backs) just to pick them all!

Both the French and runner beans are in flower, the courgettes are getting going, and the Greyhound cabbage are fantastic.  We’ve had no more critter attacks on the broccoli and I’m delighted to say, we have given up buying veg now for the duration.

Harvest from allotment

Most of Saturday's harvest!

We won’t mention the two hours of podding and blanching on Saturday, but all in all, it was very satisfying allotment day.  And that’s what it is all about!

Mr Neat & Mr Tidy’s Allotment

June 28, 2011

With hot weather forecast, we were up at our Chipping Norton allotment at 8am on Saturday.  Our uncertain weather conditions meant we were hoping the fog and drizzle would pass, and it certainly did.  By 10am it was sweltering!

David was on strimming duty this week.  The edges of the plot were in dire need of a hair cut.  My mission, as usual for this time of the year, involved the ongoing battle of the weeds.  By the time we went home, our allotment was pristine and did indeed look like an example from a Mr Men storybook.

mange tout

First mange tout of the season

I love this time of year on the allotment.  On the other hand, I don’t enjoy this time of year in the kitchen.  When we’re almost ready to start reaping the benefits, I begrudge having to buy vegetables.  However, soon we will soon be in full production, and this week saw the first of the mange tout arrive on the table.

We are more measured with mange tout sowings than we were before.  Having discovered they are pretty horrible frozen and getting heartily sick of them for breakfast, dinner and tea, we now have successive sowings throughout the season.  Reuzensuiker mange tout are prolific croppers!

Young calabrese

Baby calabrese

Our biggest highlight this weekend was the discovery of baby calabrese heads.  We are not good at calabrese!  They generally get to the size of ping-pong balls and start to go to seed.  Of course we’ve experienced this excitement before (several times), but never fail to be filled with optimism at this time of year.  If you are a calabrese guru, please leave a comment if you have any idea what we might be doing wrong!

The first Bunyard Exhibition broad beans and Onward peas are expected to deliver next weekend, and our Greyhound cabbage are forming hearts.  The perpetual spinach is growing like mad, and we have more lettuce than two people and dog can manage.  And of course, the dog of course isn’t big on salad anyway!  So in a couple of weeks I’m expecting to be allotment and kitchen happy.

Don’t forget the calabrese advice – we badly need it.

Just what we wanted our allotment to BEE

June 21, 2011
bees entering nest

Bee burrow entrance!

We’ve tried to make our allotment bee-friendly.  I will admit to not knowing my bumble bees from my honey bees, bit I do know how critical they are.  My excuse for being ignorant about bees is simple – they move too quickly and I never have my glasses on outside!  I just can’t spot the difference!

But excuses apart, we try to make our garden and the allotment as bee friendly as possible.  In fact we have flowers in the garden which would not be my choice, but are there because the bees love them!

We have plenty of bee bait on the allotment: borage galore, comfrey, sage, lavender, honeysuckle and other plants cloned from the garden.  We had a bee nest on our first year on the allotment.  Mistakenly, we thought it would be a permanent residence, not realising they live in temporary housing and build new nests each year.

But this year, the bees are back.  We have a nest under the slabs on our ‘patio’, in front of the shed.  We didn’t realise it was there until last week when I dug up some parsley which had gone to seed.   There was suddenly a frenzy of bee activity, as I had inadvertently covered their burrow with soil.  All was  restored when … David … in a moment of madness this weekend, decided to rake over the patch of soil!

Fortunately they are quick to burrow their way in (or possibly out) again and harmony was restored to our bee colony.  They are now suitably protected by a plastic ringo (an excerpt from our prospective book: a million uses for pop bottles on the allotment).  This means the bee burrow is safe from unwitting people attack, and I can go ahead and plant my lettuces around the entrance to their des res!

Promise of things to come

I love this time of year on the allotment.  The beds seem to go from empty to burgeoning with life, almost overnight.  We are probably a week away from having our first mangetout, the broad beans are starting to fill out and the peas are covered in pods and blossom.

The brassicas on the allotment are looking better than ever before.  So far the cabbage white butterflies haven’t attacked and the infernal pigeons have been kept at bay with plenty of netting.

But home at allotment central, our kale and purple sprouting haven’t fared as well.  They have, as usual, been grown in modules.  But for some reason they haven’t prospered. Some of the purple sprouting seedlings have damped off and the rest are in a state of limbo.  Having nurtured them for weeks, they were stubbornly refusing to grow.  Drastic measures time – they are now in the ground and it’s down to them.  Perhaps I’ll just sow a few extra – just in case.  I’d hate to be kale-free this winter.

Plants on the allotment

Promise of things to come?

A belt and braces sort of day

May 23, 2011

We were the first up on the allotments on Saturday.  This deliberate move meant we could be first in line for the water tap before the hoards arrived.  Strangely, they didn’t … arrive that is, and we had the tap to ourselves for the 5 hours it took to fill our 1,000ltr tank.  Needless to say the water pressure isn’t great on the William Fowler allotments in Chipping Norton!

Parsnip seedlings

Few & far betwen parsnips

We learned a lot from last year’s drought.  Having spent weeks gazing at empty beds hoping seedlings would magically appear, we decided to hedge our bets this year.  Once the weedlings were separated from the seedlings, we found very little evidence of our parsnip crop.  While I can live with a lack of carrots, a parsnip famine is a major catastrophe.

So … belt and braces it was!  I set to and planted new rows of parsnip seeds between the existing rows.  Of course, if they all germinate it will be the root vegetable equivalent of the Black Hole of Calcutta, but you can never have  too many parsnips.

And the Chantenay carrots’ time was up!  After weeks of waiting there was not a carrot to be seen.  So in line with our new ruthless attitude … it was off with their heads!  The carrot pen has gone, the bed hoed, and the carrot seeds replaced with beetroot.  Well … they can’t say they weren’t warned!  Of course having gone to such an extreme, I fully expect to find a tangle of carrot and beets as they pop up merrily in tandem.

You might recall our 2011 onion experiment.  Back in April we planted onion seedlings, which resembled little more than blades of grass.  Two months on only half have survived, and they still look like little blades of grass!  Meanwhile back at the ranch, the remaining onions are still in the modules.  Even though they have reached a reasonable size and are soon destined for the ground, I can’t believe they will ever reach onion-proportions!  The onion sets, on the other hand, are the best we’ve ever grown.

Growing onions

Left to right: onion sets, onion seedlings planted early April, growing onions in modules

This weekend was a rare treat … two whole days spent either on the allotment or in the garden.  The allotment is looking good, the garden is looking splendid … just a shame we never got round to doing any housework!

Another water crisis averted

April 26, 2011

For all the glorious weather, we didn’t do a lot at the allotment over Easter.  Our mission was to spruce up our back garden which always plays 2nd fiddle to the lotty.  While the garden … allotment central … plays a vital role in our veggie production, it has been somewhat lacking as place of recreation in recent years.

Onward peas

Peas recovering from attack - note the gap!

We did have a couple of short trips up to the plot though to complete the onsite seed planting.  While I sprinkled and sowed, David was charged with strimming the paths for the first time this year.

Watering has been high on our agenda this year, having suffered so badly in last year’s drought.  I was sure the water level in our 1,000ltr tank was very low, but David assured me there was plenty.  Hmmm!  In case you’re wondering why we can’t tell by looking at it, I need to explain the tank is black and raised up about a metre off the ground.  The only way to measure the water involves mountaineering and a long stick.  However, I digress … before we had finished watering on Sunday the tank was as dry as the proverbial …

If you remember our performance from last year, you’ll know filling our 1000ltr tank takes time and a performance involving 3 hose pipes measuring nearly 150mtr in length.  If anyone else is using the water, anywhere on the allotments, the pressure drops to little more than a dribble.  David’s Easter Monday mission was to pop up to the allotment early, accompanied by a good book and a flask of coffee, and relax in the sun while the tank topped up.  I didn’t expect him to rush off at 6am though leaving me to slumber on.

So in the meantime an update … the infernal C-things still have not made an appearance.  But I am NOT going to stress about them this year!  The Onward peas seem to have recovered from their attack, but the more recently planted ones appear to have suffered the same fate.  Obviously then it’s rodents at work – all the netting has ensured the pigeons can’t get a look in.  Back to the paraffin next year!

Honeysuckle on the allotment

Honeysuckle with buds

I was delighted to see our honeysuckle plant has finally got buds.  Three years ago a honeysuckle in our garden self-seeded and we had plants galore.  Many were given away, but a couple found their way up to the allotment.  This will be its first year in flower so we’re looking forward to enjoying the sight and the perfume.

The onions grown from seed, which I planted last week, are not looking happy.  They are still resembling blades of grass and definitely the worse for wear.  On the plus side, the ones in the plant house at home are looking considerably better, but I am quite confused as to how these tiny little plants are ever going to grow into anything more sizeable than a spring onion … but time alone will tell.

Next week, brassica planting is on the agenda.  Last season’s kale and purple sprouting is finished and the perpetual spinach is rapidly going to seed … just as well the new season is underway.


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