That’s a whole lotta ‘lottment

So, I signed up for an allotment earlier this year.

Thanks to delays getting it prepped, I didn’t get my hands on it until the weekend before Easter, when I was going to London to visit friends.  Then there was Easter itself, when I travelled North to visit family.  Then I got a stomach bug (apparently all the rage), which wiped me out.

So I’ve managed three visits to it since handing over a cheque – in the middle of what should be the planting season.

IMG_3480
A whole lotta ‘lottment

It’s big.  Around 120-feet-long big.  About a tenth of that wide.  And it’s been ‘fallow’ for three years, for which I think we can read ‘neglected’.  It was ploughed and rotivated before I got my hands on it, but that mostly means they’ve buried and broken up the weed mat and roots that were on the surface.  Still, I’ve found evidence of dandelion, bindweed, docken, nettle and some sort of really persistent grass with long, tough, wiry roots.

And parsnips.  I think we can say that the previous tenant really liked parsnips.

This thing is going to be a challenge.  Still, the potatoes are in.

Sproing!

…and then Spring happened.

If you’re currently living in the UK, you won’t need me to tell you that we went from snow to sunburn in under two weeks, and though we’re still having the occasional frost (in May!!), daytime temperatures are remaining high, and us opportunistic Brits are behaving as though summer has already arrived.  After all, this might be all we get.  😉

My gardening plans are in a total shambles this year.  Firstly, I was expecting to be in a rented property in Scarborough at this point.  Then I considered the possibility that I might be moving out of there in the middle of the growing season – so I bought seeds for plants that are container-friendly during the February ‘heat wave’.  I also started chitting some potatoes that were turning green – waste not, want not! – and picked up a few potato ‘grow bags’ for a very cheap price as they were last year’s, apparently.

Then it started snowing again, and I moved back down south, and then BAM – growing season!

I got the spuds planted (in pots! Feels so weird…) a couple of weeks ago, and I’m giving the veg bed a serious digging over.  It’s already very late to be planting some of my seeds, but I’ll probably give most of them at least a small go anyway, and save the rest for another year.

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And whaddaya know?  The potatoes celebrated May day by sticking their heads above ground.  The first one made it up yesterday, on the Bank Holiday itself.  Two more are up today, and the fourth and final one looks like it will be putting in an appearance tomorrow.

…the letter ‘C’ and the colour orange

Another long-overdue issue of the Sustainability Sundays series…

The garden has been much-neglected this year, firstly because Yarnscape was such an all-consuming business to run full time, and secondly because the return to ‘regular’ full-time work has been a bit of a shock to the system.  Besides, it was too late for many crops by then, anyway.

I did get a few plants in the ground this year, though:

  • Potatoes, from last year’s seed.  I’d intended these to be our salad/new potatoes for summer eating, but since our ‘summer’ never really arrived, they’re mostly still in the ground.
  • Jerusalem artichokes.  Not only did I specifically plant on some of last year’s tubers, it seems that every single one of the ones I failed to dig up from last year’s patch has sprouted and thrived.  I think they’re going to be one of ‘those’ plants.
  • Beans.  I had really poor germination of my pole beans for some reason, but the few plants that made it have produced well.  I’m not going to harvest any more for eating green; I’m allowing the rest of the pods to produce seed and/or big beans for drying now.
  • Carrots.  Oh, boy!!

I wanted to grow both carrots and parsnips this year, but I was late ordering seed (and doing just about everything else), so I decided to sow my old carrot seed instead.  As it really was pretty old, and I didn’t know how viable it was, I decided not to sow rows, but just ‘broadcast’ it over a bed about 1.5metres per side.

I think that carrots are one of my personal tests for a garden soil.  If it can grow good-sized carrots that are not bifurcated, twisted, lumpy or otherwise deformed, then you’re doing something right.  And it seems that my garden soil has now reached that level of maturity.

I’m also pleased to say that we seem to have been remarkably free of carrot fly this year; it’s plagued us in the past, and is supposed to be endemic to this area in general, so I’m even more pleased that I don’t have to deal with nasty little maggoty holes in my produce.

Again, most of the carrots are still in the ground.  They’ll keep just fine there, and will even get sweeter with a frost or two to encourage sugar formation (it’s natural antifreeze for plants, you know!) – but I’ll have to be sure to dig them up before the ground freezes hard, or – horrors! – gets covered in snow.

Unseasonable

Well, it’s October tomorow, and yet we in England have been sitting in a heatwave for the last few days.  Lazy lunches, sunhats, ‘too-hot-to-do-anything’ afternoons and barbecue dinners.  I think it has everyone flummoxed, though few people are complaining.  (It’s the best summer weather we’ve had since April, which was also warm).

I have a tomato plant that I didn’t actually cultivate; it just popped up a while back in one of the veg beds.  I wasn’t going to grow tomatoes this year; we had such bad blight last year that I thought I’d give it a rest, but I find it quite difficult to kill a healthy plant, so this one has been allowed to remain on sufferance – as long as it stays healthy!

It started late, so I’d expected it to maybe produce a few stems of green tomatoes, which I could either chutnify or ripen indoors.  Instead, it is now loaded with small, green fruit, and I’m starting to think a few might actually begin the ripening process on the plant itself.

We also have a houseguest for a few days; J’s Mum is visiting, so the amazing weather gives us a chance to do all sorts of summery things that we normally wouldn’t have a chance of contemplating at this time of the year.  Yesterday was a day for relaxing though: some shopping in the morning, and just chilling out in the afternoon.  I made a couple of cheesecakes, and in the afternoon got weaving on a project that has been in the getting ready phase for a month now:

I’m really delighted with the way it’s coming on.  This is an 8 shaft pattern, by far the most complex threading I’ve ever attempted, and there was only one error.  I was worried the warp wasn’t up to it at one stage, but I think we’re doing OK now.

Today: the beach?

The Return of the Garden

Anyone looking at the UK weather reports for the last couple of months will know that spring arrived late, and fast.  I’d had my usual burst of seed-sowing enthusiasm earlier in the year (umm, late February?!), but things had damped off rather as the frosts and bitter winds persisted.

About a month ago, I made sure that all the garlic that wasn’t planted in the autumn finally made it into the ground, along with all our seed potatoes.  We have planted a *lot* of potatoes this year, in the hopes that we won’t have to buy many at all.  Additionally, we should be self-sufficient in garlic, as all the seed garlic was from last year’s harvest.  I also managed to get the broad bean seeds in the ground (also seed from last year’s harvest.  Given that the original seed was given to me by my Dad, I’m keen to continue the line), and to thin out the strawberry plants (the baby plants from last years’ runners have gone in a patio-strawberry-tower thingy).

…and last weekend, I finally got to plant out some of my rather overgrown seedlings, and tend to the veg beds.  I have rather a lot of baby chilli plants now (various varieties), and quite a lot of okra.  Also, three cucumber plants, which, bless them, may not survive the transplantation.  The biggest problem with leaving them in the seed trays so long is that, by now, they have a lot of roots to damage.  What follows is a quick photo tour of the things that looked interesting this evening (brought to you by A Failure To Focus.  Just *what* was going on with the camera, I don’t know, but the light is now Gone, so out of focus it will have to be):


The broad beans, tall and sturdy


Lots of strawberries! (Slightly blurry)


The blueberry bushes, in their second
full year, are looking promising too…


…though I think the white currants are
stealing the show! (Exceptionally blurry).


These are cherries…


…whereas these are plums!


Trying to grow hops between two poles
to minimise vertical height required…


The last shot and the blurriest (but I love it!)
FIGS!

Quick update on the Leylandii

The wretched hedging plants seem to have struck a chord with a few people! UK residents might like to know that the ‘high hedge law‘ applies to any group of two or more evergreens which form a barrier to light or access and is over two metres high. If you own such a high hedge, affected neighbours have recourse under the law to get it sorted out.  (Or, if your neighbours own such a hedge and it is a nuisance to you, then you can start complaining, too).

Anyway, removal of our hedge has (predictably) left a lot of debris and mess in the garden, though most of the actual vegetable matter has been removed now.  It’s also allowing a lot more light into the garden, especially in the evenings, which is lovely!  It’s a lousy phone-snap, but just to give you an impression, we have before:

And after:

Not quite the same vantage point, but the bird feeders are in both shots.  And the new fence is the same height as the one you can see in the left hand side of the ‘before’ shot.

We’ve regained a lot of space, over four feet in depth, and the ‘feel’ of that end of the garden is much more open and light than it was.  We like it!

Bye-bye, Leylandii

One of the ‘features’ of our garden is a Leylandii ‘hedge’ along one of the borders.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with these monsters – firstly, congratulations.  Secondly, they’re a coniferous hedging plant, common in suburban gardens, presumably because they’re difficult to kill and form a tight, meshy growth that isn’t easily seen through.

Unfortunately, they are also very vigorous, and need regular attention if they’re not going to get away from you.  If they *do* overgrow, you end up with a huge, bushy, straggly and potentially very tall hedge which is only thick and green on the outside.  If you cut it back far, you will be faced with scrubby, brown, dry growth which will take forever (read: years) to green up and look nice again – if it ever does.

Our hedge was a little rambunctious when we moved in, but I managed to trim the sides back up to a height of around six to seven feet.  The plan was to take the tops off above that height and maintain them there.

As you can see, it hasn’t happened (dog included for scale):

The ‘controlled’ part is still about six feet tall; there is at least another six feet above that, now, which takes us well beyond the ‘tall hedge’ height (above which neighbours have the right, under law, to ask you to sort the damn thing out).

As you can probably imagine, we also lose a lot of depth (easily a metre, at a guess, probably more) to the thing.

There is, in fact, a path (juuust visible in the picture above) that runs alongside the hedge and which can hardly be walked thanks to the overgrowth.

Much as it pains me to cut down a tree, these are clearly beyond our control.  In addition, they don’t add much, if anything, to the ecology of our garden.  So today, we have some nice men coming in to cut them down and erect a fence in its place.  The reclaimed space will become a border, either for flowers or to house my collection of Fruit Trees In Tubs (more on those later) – or possibly for a cold frame or two, because the location and orientation is ideal.

We’re also going to have this ‘passageway’ down the side of the house cleared and the fence will continue down there:

That’s the wall of our house on the right.  The Leylandii start just outside the left hand side of this shot; that fence panel behind the elder bush is (mysteriously) the only one standing on the border.  The old shed door, on its side, stops the dogs getting down the passageway, which has a dead-end and has become a bit of a dumping ground for Things That Need To Go To The Tip.  I will be *so* glad to see it opened up!

In fact, I think the only person who will be sorry about any of this is Woody, who spends a lot of his garden-time investigating the myriad smells to be found under the hedge.  Quite often, all that can be seen of him is his tail, bottom and hind legs, sticking out from the undergrowth as he sniffs and snuffles eagerly.  Still, I’m sure he’ll cope: there’s still the back of the shed to enjoy.

92) Of socks and carrots

…in which we prove that something is always better than nothing.  First, I think, the carrots.  Some of these carrots are Very Small:

I planted these carrots as part of a second crop, much earlier this year.  For the two or three days immediately after I sowed the seed (evenly, in a well prepared bed, I might add), it rained, solidly.  When the carrots germinated, they were all on one side of the bed, where the seeds had been washed.  I ignored them totally until it was time to clear the beds back.

And when I cleared the beds, I found carrots.  As you might expect, they were very variable in size and shape.  Some of them (top right, for example), are almost normal.  Others… aren’t.  But they are carrots.  Between them, I managed to salvage enough actual vegetable for seven portions of squash and smoked paprika soup (recipe possibly to follow – it’s good), and around ten portions of bolognese.  Sure, I’d have gotten more carrot if I’d dug up the cramped ones and sown more, but since I never got around to it, I still got some carrot.

And so to socks.  I rarely knit socks.  I think they take forever, and I’m tough on my footwear, so it seems I wear them out faster than I knit them.  But when I do knit socks, it’s almost always as a secondary project; I hardly ever actually work on them.  These, however, have been my main project for the last ten days:

For me, that probably means 10-20 minutes in an evening, plus whatever time I can snatch at my desk during the day.  Time is short round here.  And see?!  Progress!  It’s amazing.

Take home message: Doing pretty much anything towards what you want is better than doing nothing.

76) The garden roundup

It seems appropriate that I post the close-of-summer garden post today; last week, we had the first plant-killing frost.  It didn't kill everything, but the bush beans have definitely had it, so it counts.  And this morning, a harder frost; when I set out for work this morning, de-icer was called for (not my favourite thing in the world)

Executive summary:
My gardening has been diverse and varied this year; I've had successes and failures in probably equal measure – and it's notable that last year's successes have been some of this year's disappointments, and vice versa.  Most notable, though, is that I haven't actually followed through on a lot of my gardening commitments.  If I'd committed to less, and invested the same total amount of effort into that smaller goal, I would have reaped a much larger harvest.  This is something to think about, in the context of my life as a whole, not just the garden, and something to remember for next year.  I'm probably not ready to take on that allotment just yet, eh?

Legumes

  • Peas – I grew dwarf hatif peas, green telephone peas and golden mange tout.  The hatif I think have potential, but I planted them too late in the season for them to have a good chance.  I'm not sure that it's worth trying to grow your own green peas (except to harvest the pods, which make excellent wine!), and this year the telephones were particularly disappointing.  I planted two 'pyramids' of mange tout, but one would have been plenty – or two, but not at the same time
  • Soy beans – Like the hatif peas, these went in too late and got swallowed by the one successful squash plant.  I wasn't paying attention.
  • Chick peas – These were fun!  They were victims of my erratic attention span, though, and I missed the harvesting window.  They went from 'green' to 'gone' in what seemed like a blink of the eye.
  • Bush beans – I'm a total convert to these.  They take up so little space, start producing quickly, and crop and crop and crop for aaages.
  • Pole beans – Cherokee Trail of tears and Rhinegold (I think).  The Cherokees were not bad, but given that I planted the others very early in the year, its sort of a shame they're just coming into their maximum productivity now – because they were badly affected by the (very mild) frost this week.  I will probably grow the Cherokees or a similar variety for drying next year, but skip the others – the bush beans were so much better for a French/runner type
  • Broad beans – I planted some of my Dad's seed for these, and they were delicious – but the third and onwards 'layers' of pods rotted off.  I'm not sure why, but fungus seems to have been a recurring theme in my garden this year.

Alliums

  • Onions – unfortunately, a lot of my onions got crowded out by volunteer tomato plants, which I decided to let grow because hey, if it's a good year for tomatoes, then I want all I can get!  Even more unfortunately, the tomatoes all succumbed to blight, so I got nothing from the onion bed.
  • Garlic – one of this year's success stories!  Albegensian wight, Chesnok wight, Lautrec wight, Picardy wight.  The Albigensian Wight variety produced the biggest bulbs – but no scapes (we really enjoyed the scapes!) Planted late last year, we have enough garlic that, with care, we might manage to be self-sufficient in garlic next year.
  • Leeks – another crop lost to my erratic attention span, early in the year.  I'm sorry about this; I've had some pretty good success with leeks in the past, and I miss them.

Root vegetables

  • Beetroot has been a raging success this year, with much bigger roots than last year's efforts, and luscious, prolific greens.  I've only grown one variety – the white ones from Real Seeds – which I picked specifically because the greens, as well as the roots, are supposed to be good to eat.  I love the roots chopped and roasted in olive oil, with dried rosemary and salt.  I'll definitely grow these again next year.  Phased growing seems to work well with these, too, so you don't get all your crop at once (I still have a few in the ground!)

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  • Carrots have been pretty much a non-event this year.  The first carrot bed was overrun by weeds due to neglect, and a downpour washed all the seeds in the second one to one side of the patch!  We do have carrot fly in this area, but haven't suffered with it too badly this year.
  • Potatoes – mixed success.  Actually, we got quite a good crop, but I wasn't very interested in cooking when the best new ones were ready, so we sort of missed the best bit.
  • Parsnips – slow to germinate, we got overgrown with weeds before the plants themselves were up.  These definitely need a better prepared plot for next year.

Belladonna fruits

  • Tomatoes – a range of varieties, including a vast number of volunteers.  Some were wonderful (especially the yellow centiflors):

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But I lost a lot to blight:

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The blight was such a problem that I plan not to grow any tomatoes next year, to give the land a rest.

  • Peppers – One variety, Sweet Kaibi.  I grew these in my little poly-greenhouse, and I'm really impressed.  It's not as if I've come close to meeting our annual pepper requirements, but these have been sweet, crunchy and impressively thick-walled compared with shop bought ones.  Definitely one to repeat for next year.
  • Chillis – two varieties, Rotoco and Lemon Drop.  The Rotocos haven't fruited yet, but the Lemon Drop have done pretty well.  We ate one in a stir fry last night, and it was pleasantly hot, with a distinct lemon scent (not sure about flavour, though).
  • Aubergines – Two beautiful plants grew from seed, but didn't set a single fruit.  Next year, I break out the tiny paintbrushes and give them a helping hand.

Leafy stuff

  • Lettuce has been a washout.  I tried red iceberg for the second year in a row, but I find it very slow growing, and a couple of heads rotted off, seemingly from the inside out, before I got to eat them this year.  I think successional sowing of 'baby' greens might work better for my work lunches, at least.
  • Rocket needs to be sown more often and in window-box style pots, not in the raised beds
  • Chard – Swiss chard, aka perpetual spinach, has been another real win this year.  J's favourite pizza topping has been sauteed 'spinach' with blue cheese and walnuts, with an egg on top.  This is a major coup, since a) it contains no meat, and b) he's been a lifelong greens-hater thus far.  We've had three chard plants, and they've cropped all season long; a fourth would mean we have some to freeze, too, if I was diligent about it.
  • Herbs – eh.  So many herbs (basil and coriander, I'm looking at you!) seem to need diligent succesional sowing in order to give a useful crop without killing the plants.  I'm working on it, but it's another thing I either need to really, really commit to, or just don't bother.
  • Amaranth – I grew some!!  I've been trying to grow this from seed for years, and the seedlings have just been dying off.  This year, I succeeded – but I've not done anything with it.  Heh.

Brassicas
All the brassicas have been impossible to grow to eating stage in previous years, due to intense predation by butterflies and snails.  This year, I got the better (mostly) of the butterflies by growing under mesh, and picking off the caterpillars that got in anyway.  Next year, I need to do something about the molluscs.

  • Broccoli – for the first year, I got some that was worth eating!  We had five plants (I think), but still, most of our broccoli was bought in.  Is this one worth it in a small garden?
  • Cauliflower – all lost at the seedling stage, this year
  • Kohl Rabi – we love this in coleslaw, but haven't eaten much this year.
  • Swede – lost the whole crop to various insects.  Bah.
  • Rapa senza testa – this one cropped well, but I was having a lazy spell, and didn't actually get around to harvesting it.  Wasted effort!
  • Broccoli raab – we tried this as a quick-to-crop alternative to broccoli; it 'works' just fine, but even I found it bitter.  Not a favourite with J.
  • Brussels sprouts – still in the ground, and, since we've had the first frost, I could technically consider them ready!  I hope to have some at Christmas.
  • Cabbages – I have a head!!  This is a major win, given my past experiences.  Now to make sure I actually harvest the thing, instead of letting it go to waste…

Squashes and curcubits

  • Cucumber ('Parisian Pickling' variety, another dual-purpose plant, with fruit good for pickling and for salads) has been an oddly mixed success.  I gave up on these plants after the general squash-failure early in teh year – only to find that they'd struggled on regardless.  With absolutely zero attention from me, these little plants have straggled their way through the beds, in the shade, and have produced about as many fruit per plant as they have leaves.  I have no idea how they managed it:

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I'll definitely plant these again next year – I'm really keen to find out how well they do if they're actually tended.

  • Melons and summer squash – all my seedlings died after I planted them out just before the last cold snap of spring.  I re-sowed seed, but the second crop of seedlings failed to thrive, and I didn't have a single plant.  Not to worry, though – Geodyne has provided us with more courgettes, patty pans and other summer squas than I can count!
  • Winter squash – one vine (a Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato) survived the tragedy that took all the summer squash and melon plants.  It has multiple fruit, and I must pick them.

 Fruit

  • Strawberries – I planted 10 plants from my parents' place this year.  We got some fruit, though it was a race between us, the snails and the birds; not bad, for year 1.
  • Raspberries – Again, this was their first year in the ground, so I didn't expect any – and I wasn't disappointed.  Maybe a scant handful of fruit; a very promising 'watch this space'.
  • Blueberries – enough to keep me in breakfasts for a month or so!  I only bought these bushes last year, so I was very pleasantly surprised here.

If you're still with me, you deserve a prize!  But sorry not today – come back later in the week.  😉

54) Not more sustainability, surely?

Though really, can you ever have too much?  I will admit, a catchup on the rest of my life is definitely in order, but it's been one of those months.  And the backlog has reached the point where it is, frankly daunting.  These posts are at least structured, and scheduled (even if I *am* late again).

Anyway:

 
1.
Plant Something –

  • Bush beans, peas.
  • Started a new batch of beer (not really 'planting', but definitely 'starting')

 

2. Harvest something –

  • Broad beans
  • French beans
  • Mustard greens
  • Spinach beet
  • Beetroot leaves
  • Beetroots!
  • The very last garlic scapes
  • New potatoes
  • Mint
  • Broccoli
  • The first blueberry! It wasn't 100% ripe…

3.
Preserve something
    Nothing this week

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

  • Saved peas from the last of the mange tout crop for next year's seed
  • Racked 'dormant' wine from demijohn into storage

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)

    
Nothing this week!

6.
Build/support Community Food Systems

  • Shared seeds
  • Educated folks on making yoghurt (it's easy! It's good!)

7. Eat the Food

  • Spinach beet on pizza
  • Beetroot leaves in chicken soup and in stir fry
  • Garlic scape butter on garlic bread
  • Last year's summer squash, roasted with sage and olive oil
  • Pizza bases made with sourdough
  • Yoghurt and yoghurt cheesecake (coffee flavour was good, but runny)
  • Beetroots, roasted with rosemary and salt
  • New potatoes
  • Bush and pole beans (our go-to veg this week)
  • Wine and beer.  🙂

8.What I bought

  • Bread
  • Onions
  • Wine

9. Looking forwards

  • Aubergines still flowering! No fruit set yet…
  • The tomatoes are setting really well; some are nearly ripe, and lots more are visibly ripening.
  • All my onions are lying down.  Why?  Are they failing??
  • Blueberries are actually starting to ripen.  Ye gods, but they're slow!
  • The last of the broad beans will be ready very soon now; need to save some for seed
  • The various squash plants have finally started to grow properly, and might even set some fruit one day soon!
  • One of my chilli plants has baby chillis!
  • Garlic needs harvesting, but I'd rather it was dry.  Oh, the irony…