Tuesday, 29 December 2009

blog makeover

I decided that the blog was long overdue a makeover, so I've made a start and loaded up a new header image. I'm certainly no graphic designer but I'm quite pleased with the result. The image currently on display is from our permanent allotment referred to as "Site 2". As you can see the local hill provides an idyllic backdrop to our plot as well as being a great place to go for a walk when you need a break from digging or weeding!

Over the coming weeks I plan to update elements of the blog so don't be surprised if it looks somewhat different from visit to visit. I'm still relatively new to the blogosphere and I'm keen to try my hand at a little web design, therefore the results may be a little unpredictable so please bear with me.

This is likely to be my last post of 2009 (yikes! where did this year go to?) so I would like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy & Productive (horticulturally speaking) New Year.

All the best, Michelle

Friday, 18 December 2009

Christmas veg woes

Well it's a week to go until the "Big Day" and hasn't the time flown by? I haven't had a chance to blog all week as I've been busy with Christmas preparations.

Managed to get on site last weekend. Still very soggy up there and we weren't able to do too much apart from a little weeding. Came away with some more snowball turnips (they're doing great guns) and swede and a nice red cabbage from My Folks.

We had been hoping that the sprouts would be doing better than they had been up to now. The sprouts My Folks are growing look super and will definitely be ready for serving up with Christmas dinner. Ours, on the other hand, were looking very stunted and almost dwarf-like. On closer inspection I noticed some of the leaves had a white mould-like substance on them. After consulting my disease book I concluded some of the plants had succumbed to White Spot. There was nothing for it but to strip off the infected leaves and chuck them on the burning pile. We had to pull up a couple of plants as they were too far gone. According to the book, mild damp conditions and too close planting can cause the disease to occur. Certainly we've had the weather conditions for it. As a further precaution we've staked out the remaining plants to ensure they don't grow over each other and stripped off some of the lower leaves to keep them away from the soil. I don't know if this remedial action will help or not, but its a pretty safe bet to say that we won't be having our own sprouts with Christmas dinner this year.

On a happier note, I'll leave you with a picture of a little bit of natural decoration I found for our shed

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

wet, wet, wet

No, I'm not referring to the 80's pop group but to the dismal weather conditions we've experienced over the last few weeks. As many of you will have experienced first hand, heavy rain does not make for productive allotmenting !

We've lost the carrots. To be honest I think we were a bit optimistic to hope that we would get a harvest from such late planting. They had been doing really well up to a couple of weeks ago then it got too wet for them and they started to rot.

On a happier note, we've harvested some petit pois - very unexpected - and some snowball turnips which are doing well. The turnips have been a bit of a hit at home as I've been using them in slow cooked stews. I "disguised" them by cutting them into cubes roughly the same size as the potatoes and everyone just assumed they were potatoes. Result!!! Our Nicola potatoes have had mixed success. We harvested the whole crop about 2 weeks ago but about half of it had been lost either to some unidentified burrowing insects or voles. Cloddigger picked up what looked like a large spud only to find it was just the skin - a vole had perfectly gnawed out all the potato leaving just the skin. Amazing and frustrating in equal measure. However, I can recommend this variety for its taste and we'll definitely try this one again.

There are still things growing and hopefully we will be able to harvest the sprouts and parsnips in time for Christmas.

A dry spell is forecast for the next few days so I'm looking forward to catching up with some tidying and preparing for Winter this weekend, and hopefully some up dated photos too!

Monday, 7 December 2009

an unexpected award

Oh my goodness. How completely unexpected (but very gladly accepted!) a Best Blog Award from Maureen of the marvellous Allotment Heaven fame. I'm sorry I don't have a better prepared acceptance speech ready, but suffice to say it is a lovely surprise and I feel humbled to know that somebody out there takes the time to read my blog!

The idea is that by accepting the award you pass it on to 15 other people whose blogs you enjoy, and put a link to their blogs. I have chosen the 15 and hope they accept the award, but will understand if they don't as it isn't everyone's cup of tea.

If you accept the award and pass it on, don't forget to let the people you pass it on to know. And so, in no particular order, here are 15 blogs that inspire me:

Monday, 26 October 2009

first harvest from Site 2!

Well this is our first item harvested from Site 2 - a lovely cauliflower. We cut it yesterday and it was served up with our Sunday roast last night. Very nice it was too.

Sadly our Broad Beans have gone. We noticed recently that some of the plants had strange brown spots on the leaves. After consulting the diseases book, we concluded they had been struck down with chocolate spot. So all the plants came had to be pulled up and burned. We haven't had much luck with broads this year - we lost our crop at Site 1 due to black fly earlier in the year. Still we'll try again and see if it's a case of 3rd time lucky.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

late September sunshine

Things have been a bit quiet on the allotment front this last couple of weeks. Went up today and was pleasantly surprised at how well the Snowball turnips are progressing. We thinned them out and, rather than chuck them on the compost, we've transplanted the thinnings into the remaining space in bed 4. It was only after they had all been watered in that Cloddigger wondered whether or not he actually like turnips. Well, he's going to have plenty of chances to decide if they all grow!

'Snowball' turnips - today's thinnings transplanted to the right of the main turnip row

Some of our brassicas have been suffering from wooly aphids so have been sprayed. Hopefully this has dealt with the problem and the plants will recover enough to grow to maturity.

Another pesky problem is our resident mole(s). It/they appear particularly fond of the brassicas bed so we've been looking into humane methods of repelling them. The best bet looks to be solar powered sonic stakes. These clever devices are placed into the ground and emit sonic waves which irritate the moles thus encourgaing them to move on elsewhere. I couldn't find anywhere locally which sells them so I'll be ordering online. I'll let you know how successful these devices are once we've given them a go for a couple of weeks.

Pests aside, other crops appear to be doing well. The potatoes are going great guns and the first tender shoots of beetroot & garlic have made an appearance. The petite pois are now big enough not to be tempting to birds, so I removed their protective wire cloches and have fitted pea netting to their wig wam.

September continues to delight us with its warm, balmy days so it is an absolute pleasure to spend lots of time at the lottie. The nights are starting to draw in now and I'm sure it won't be long before we're having to think about putting out the protective fleeces and cloches.

The lottie today enoying late September sunshine

Sunday, 13 September 2009

growing, weeding, watering

Yesterday was a beautiful day and perfect for doing some odd jobs at Site 2. Even though it was only 6 days since our last visit loads of growing had been going on. Potatoes, onions and shallots are doing really well and the swede thinnings from Mum I planted out last week are beginning to pick up.

It wasn't only the veggies growing well but also the weeds! We did a lot of weeding (as my aching thighs will testify to) but I think it is definitely worth keeping on top of it. As it has been dry for the last few days we made sure everything was well watered.

Just about all our 4 beds are filled up with the exception of bed 1 (in the foreground with black tiles on it) which has the Jerusalem artichokes growing out of shot. We'll probably just put weed control matting down on it over winter ready for planting up next Spring. There is still a little bit of space remaining in bed 4 (potatoes and root veg) so may sow more parsnips and turnips.

Bed 3 has broad beans (which are growing a little too well - I wish they'd slow down a bit!), onions, leeks, shallots and chives; all of which seem to be thriving

Cloddigger grabbing a quick cup of coffee while admiring the marigold bed. These are such great plants - they've flowered twice this season, which is brilliant considering they were all abandoned plug plants rescued from a compost heap!
Looking round at neighbouring plots, there are signs that Autumn is truly beginning to set in with summer crops coming to the end, beds being cleared and bonfires being lit. A timely reminder that we need to be doing some clearing ourselves up at Site 1; that'll be a job for during the week I think.

Monday, 7 September 2009


As anyone who follows this blog will know, a few months ago Cloddigger, My Folks and I took on an overgrown plot (dubbed Site 2) which we have cleared and taken back to bare soil. During the clearing process we came across a fair amount of rubbish and rubble, most of which was disposed of.

Some of it, though, proved to be rather interesting to one of us at least and ended up being crafted into very beautiful and unique object. To find out more about the piece "Unearthed", check out the Woodwose Carving website.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

autumn planting

Well, the holidays are well and truly over and we find ourselves back into the usual work & school routine. Things are shaping up rather well at Site 2 with the beds filling up rapidly.

To date we have sown / planted:

  • Jerusalem artichokes

  • Peas

  • Sprouts

  • Broccoli

  • Cabbage

  • Cauliflower

  • Swede

  • Broad beans

  • Spring onions

  • Onions

  • Shallots

  • Garlic

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Parsnip

  • Beetroot

  • Red currants

  • Gooseberry

There's still some room left in a couple of the beds so we're deciding what to fill them with. Considering some more potatoes at the end of the root veg bed - it may be slightly late to get them in for harvesting this year so I need to consult my books.

view of our half of the plot this afternoon

Friday, 28 August 2009

plums R us

Well, we've been on holiday for a week hence the lack of posts. We haven't really done much at either allotment since coming back other than a quick visit to both sites to check on things. Site 1 is still coming up trumps with the runner beans and we harvested (prematurely as it turned out) the first of the sweetcorn. The silkies had gone over brown and the corn was milky when pressed with a thumb nail, but on opening 4 large cobs they were mostly immature and covered with an excess of green outer. Never mind, they've come home and been blanched and are in the freezer - they'll be absolutely find for using in stir frys. Guess that's what comes from being too eager.

On Site 2 the Nicola potatoes are all doing well as are the onions. Photos on those after the weekend when we have a proper session up there.

The main focus this week has been on home produce, namely plums. When we arrived back at the start of the week we were amazed that all the plums were ready to harvest. There were about 25lbs of plums to do something with. I passed a couple of pounds over to my Mum and a few were eaten, but that still left a lot to use up.

A couple of weeks ago, Cloddigger had taken a first harvest of plums - enough to start 2 gallons of home brewed wine. From this bigger harvest he has started a second batch of plum wine. All being well it will be ready in time for Christmas.

I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon making Spiced Plum Chutney using an amazing recipe recommended by Mum. It's an adaptation* of
Deliah's Spiced Damson Chutney and boy, does it taste good. The recipe recommends letting it mature for 3 months before opening, so that'll be another plum product ready in time for Christmas.

* my adaptation was to use 1.5 pints of vinegar (Deliah says 2 pints, but I find it doesn't all evaporate off) and I used equal measures of malt vinegar and white wine vinegar, rather than just malt vinegar. I couldn't get any whole berry mixed spice, so sprinkled in about a teaspoon of ground mixed spice over the cloves and cinnamon in the gauze square before infusing it in the other ingredients in the pot.

I still had a couple of pounds of plums to use up, so this morning I spent an hour or so making Plum Jam from a really
easy-to-follow recipe found on the Internet. This was the first time I'd ever made jam and was surprised how straight forward it was. Of course cook's prerogative meant I got first taste and was pleased that the resulting mixture was just the right balance of sweetness and fruity tang.

all the ingredients in the pot to start the Spiced Plum Chutney. I didn't have gauze so improvised with an old clean muslin square to infuse the cinnamon, cloves and mixed all spice

near the end of cooking, I dished some out to check how well it thickened as it cooled (yummy flavour!)

the chutney all bottled up, labelled and ready for storage

plums, water and lemon juice boiling up before adding sugar jam (this already has pectin added so no need to buy separately)

the finished product. The photo doesn't do justice to the wonderful warm colour of the jam. If might not be the prettiest jam (it has a few bits of plum skin in and perhaps hasn't cleared as well as it should) but it is really tasty and that's all I'm interested in!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

two days, two allotments

Its been a bit of an "allotment fest" this weekend with us managing to hit both sites over both days. Before going any further, I must apologise for this post being rather photo-heavy; my excuse being that I'm feeling rather fatigued from all my efforts and so too tired to compose a proper post. Anyway, the photos pretty much speak for themselves!

a treat for me - new pair of Town and Country leather and fabric gloves. So comfy and no more cuts and stings. Pricey but definitely worth it. And no, they don't look this clean now!!!

Yesterday we went to Site 2. The fruit bed is now planted up. Against the fence are a loganberry and 2 redcurrant bushes. The rest of the bed is taken up by gooseberry bushes courtesy of Deb & Dan who popped up yesterday with them as an allotment warming present (very much appreciated). At some point we'll construct a fruit cage over the whole bed to keep the birds off the fruit.

Our Nicola potatoes have started making an appearance already! Not shown, but the first of the onion shoots have also come through and all only a week after planting.

Today we went to Site 1 and were greeted by a huge sunflower smiling down at us as we walked along the path to the plot. Cloddigger is going to harvest the seeds to keep for next year.

The Boyz flower patch is looking particularly colourful. All the plants you see here were plug plants rescued from the compost heap!

Our first pumpkin has started to grow

managed to harvest more runner beans (they just keep on coming) and the spring onion

another bed has been cleared - the remaining carrots have been lifted
So another successful couple of lottie days. We're going away for a few days to visit family so we'll be taking some of our produce with us by way of a gift. I hope they like carrots!!!!!!

a lovely surprise

We arrived at Site 2 yesterday to find a lovely surprise waiting for me in the shed - this lovely yellow courgette courtesy of Dad. He's been growing them in his greenhouse at home and had very kindly brought one up for me. It's enormous; plenty big enough to make a tasty side dish. I haven't decided yet which recipe to use it in but I'm certainly looking forward to eating it.

Friday, 14 August 2009

a film about allotment life

Cloddigger and I watched a lovely film on BBC 2 tonight called "Grow Your Own" about an allotment site in Liverpool and the impact that refugees introduced to the site have on the existing allotment holders.

A wonderfully engaging film which we really enjoyed.

If you didn't get a chance to watch it, possibly its available to see on BBC iPlayer. I would really recommend watching it if you get the chance.

Monday, 10 August 2009

not so good old Blight(y)

Disaster has struck. All our tomato plants on Site 1 have been wiped out with the dreaded 'B' - Blight. We had an email from Deb last night to say her tomatoes were diseased and thought that ours might be too. Cloddigger hot footed it up there today after work to find that all our tomato plants had been infected. Nothing for it but to pull them up and remove the plants for burning. We couldn't believe how quickly it had taken hold as there were no evident signs of blight on Saturday.

Looking at a neighbouring plot, Cloddigger could see that their potatoes have been infected. Luckily our last batch of salad potatoes had been spared so these have now all been lifted. We're not taking any chances though, the potato plants will also be burned.

I guess it was pretty inevitable that we would feel some effects as the weather conditions have been perfect for encouraging the disease. I think we will be cautious about planting up tomatoes at Site 2 and just stick with growing them in the greenhouse at home where there is more control over the climatic conditions.

magic beans?

We had rather a lot of runner beans off Site 1 this weekend so I thought I should prepare some for freezing. While doing so, I came across a very large, mature pod which was far too tough to eat so I decided to remove the beans to see if they could be dried and stored for next year.

When I took them out of the pod I was surprised at just how shiny and colourful they were. They almost look magical and put me in mind of how Jack must have felt when he exchanged the family cow for a handful of "magic" beans.

If they do produce plants next year, then they truly will be magic !!!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

meanwhile, back on Site 1

It's been awhile since I've posted any updates about Site 1. Rest assured, we haven't abandoned our efforts there. In fact we've been busy harvesting and most stuff seems to be doing really well.

All the potatoes from the main barrow have been lifted, as have the onions. The carrots are still going strong and are now starting to be quite big. The taste of them is amazing - having never grown carrots before, we can't get over how much better they taste compared to shop-bought ones which are insipid in comparison.

The runner beans are consistently providing plenty of pods each visit and I'm having to now freeze them as we are in danger of glut.

sweetcorn are doing very well. Lots of cobs which should be ready to begin picking by the end of the month

the cauliflower have started to develop

a little sad that the potato barrow is now empty and onions all lifted as this signifies the start of the gradual "closing down" of our section of Deb and Dan's plot

some of the many onions harvested - now hanging up to dry in the greenhouse at home

still plenty to pick in the coming weeks

Monday, 3 August 2009

planting up on Site 2 (at last!!!)

Yesterday, while the men were installing the wooden frame greenhouse, I was able to get on with some planting - yippee!!! On the cards were:

  • Jerusalem Artichokes in Bed 1 (permanent bed) right at the back to act as a screen. These have been transferred from Site 1 so fingers crossed they'll take ok

  • Bed 2 is designated for brassicas this year, so have planted up sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower. Also set up a net cage around them as cabbage white butterfly are prevalent on the site

  • Bed 4 is for root veg so the spuds ("Nicola") have gone in and, if I've got my calculations right, should be ready to harvest just in time for Christmas Day

  • Also planted up a clematis to grow up the side of the shed

All in all it was quite a productive day. Didn't manage to sow the spring onion (need to do soon as just slipping past the ideal time to get the seed in the ground) as the netting took longer than I thought. But hey, time has its own pace on the allotment :D

(clockwise from top left) Beds 4, 3 and 2 with all paths in and chippings laid down

brassicas all protected (hopefully) from butterflies and slugs and any other little chompers

jerusalem artichoke

Sunday, 2 August 2009

greenhouse #2

We have been on the lookout for a greenhouse for Site 2 for some time. I had placed a wanted ad on our staff intranet site at work and was delighted when someone responded saying they had an old greenhouse they were looking to dispose of. Cloddigger and Dad went to have a look and were thrilled to discover a 30 year old, hardwood greenhouse complete with solid base in excellent condition. They spent a morning last weekend dismantling it and then today hired a van and delivered it on site and then put it all back together again. The results are very pleasing and it will prove an invaluable space for bringing on seedlings and cuttings. So, big, big Thanks to ND (you know who you are!) and expect some produce to come your way in the near future.

some of the component parts prior to re-assembly

are you sure that bit goes there?

ta-dah! The finished item. Well done to Cloddigger and Dad for your splendid efforts!!!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

bed time

Wow it's been a tiring but productive day up at Site 2 today. We really cracked on with levelling and marked up all our beds and Cloddigger started boarding out. The plot is looking fantastic now. But oh my goodness we're both paying for it now after 3 hours of raking, picking up stones and rubbish, hammering and sawing. Still it is so worth the effort. We had a lovely comment from one of our allotment neighbours who stopped by to see how we were getting on: "Looks like you've got Ground Force in", he said, "Nice to see the plot coming together so well". How lovely was that?

Mum planting up cabbage, Dad and Cloddigger boarding out

All our beds are marked out and mostly boarded - just need to get some more timber cut to finish them off

My Folks' half with beetroot planted in the nearest bed and cabbage in the next bed

Just need to decide now what to plant up first. Going to consult with my planting calendar to see what is suitable to go in the ground now...

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

the levellers

We spent last Saturday afternoon on Site 2. It looks really good now that it has been rotovated but there's still quite a lot to be done. We decided to make a start on our half by clearing out some of the larger stones and other detritus which had worked its way into the ground. There is a lot of broken glass on the site which, according to some of our neighbours, is probably as the result of an old caravan been broken up on the plot at some point.

Not too onerous a task as the soil is nice quality and is easy to rake over to turn up the rubble to the surface. Just time consuming and involving a lot of bending over!

Cloddigger doing what he does best!

After a couple of hours, we'd managed to clear and level about half of our share. To the left of the picture you can just make out two lines of orange string marking out the pathway dividing our half of the plot from My Folks' half

beginnings of the main path coming from entrance gate across to the shed.

Once we've finished the levelling, we will mark out the beds and internal paths and then (all being well!!!!) we will be ready for planting.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

fencing, painting, rotovating & levelling

Thought I'd create a short photo montage of the work carried out on Site 2 over the last few weeks. Cloddigger and I can take absolutely no credit for what you are about to see - it is all down to my wonderfully enthusiastic parents. So, Mum and Dad "Thank YOU" for taking this all on whilst we've been busy with Site 1.

ground awaiting rotovation, no fencing up

Some of the pallets that My Folks managed to source (with thanks to one of our fellow allotmenteers) which have been used to finish off the fencing around the whole plot

whole plot completely enclosed - no pesky rabbits for us (we hope!)

soil after being double-rotovated and in the process of being levelled off. A lick of green paint has smartened up the shed and should extend the lifetime of the fence

Next task is to head up there this afternoon to start laying down paths (with any luck) and re-measuring so we can begin mapping out how we're going to set out our beds. This has been rather like watching a beautiful butterfly slowly emerge from a cumbersome cacoon. It's going to be interesting to see how the plot develops once the beds go down and we begin planting up winter crops...

Friday, 17 July 2009

the fruits (veg) of our labour

Fabuloso - we're now starting to bring home fresh veggies on a regular basis. It is exciting that we've been so successful in our first season as allotmenteers.

peas and tender baby carrots

some of the 8+ kilos of potatoes harvested so far - there's plenty more to come!

the sweetcorn is starting to produce cobs. Roll on late August / early September when they'll be ready for picking - yum, yum !!!