watervole: (Default)
 I only used to eat runner beans when cooked, but many years ago now, I observed my mother-in-law's tortoise eating raw runner beans with great enthusiasm.   So I tried one and found that I liked it.

Oswin does too.  Really likes them.  Can eat several in a day.

Today, she was eating a slice of cake.  Grandad came in with fresh supply of runner beans from the allotment and gave her half of a runner bean.

She took it with great delight, ate it at once, and only then went back to the cake.

I love a three year old who appreciates allotment veg!
watervole: (Default)
 Planted a row of rocket where the shallots have just been dug up.

The shallots didn't do very well.  Maybe they were planted at the wrong depth, or they weren't watered enough.

The onions sets did better.   We had some white skinned ones and some brown ones (think the Brown ones were 'Shakespeare').  The brown skinned ones did best of the two.  Some of the onions bolted (threw up a flowering stalk - this is not what you want as they put the energy into the flower instead of the bulb).  Probably not enough watering when it was dry - plus there was a spell when I didn't do enough weeding.

Rocket is a handy crop. It lives up to it's name and grows really fast.  It's a leaf veg with a good flavour - Richard really loves it and often puts it in sandwiches with tahini or cheese.

I cleared a row of sugar snap peas that had finished. Sugarsnap are delicious and half of them never make it home as they get picked and eaten on site!
watervole: (Default)
 We're close to the end of the planting season, but several bits of allotment have just been freed up as a result of the broad beans coming to an end and the onions being harvested (we plant autumn onion sets).

I've been looking around for suitable stuff.

Several rows of beetroot have just gone in (Cylindrica and bolthardy).  I love beetroot.

Rocket should be okay, so I'll probably plant that tomorrow.  (and maybe try another sowing in a week or two if I'm organised enough)

Just across the road from the bookshop is a small, friendly garden shop. They believe I can get in a quick crop of carrots and spring onions, so I shall try those (and radishes if I  have any seed left from the last attempt).  I also bought a packet of 'perpetual spinach' (aka 'spinach beet') - very useful stuff indeed.  It doesn't have fantastic flavour, but it's very hardy and crops right through to March.

I've also placed a sign saying "This plot fertilised by urine" where it is clearly visible from the gate.

It might deter potential thieves. Besides, it happens to be true.  Urine is a great, free fertiliser and we've been using it for years with good results.  (If you want to know more about how to use it, just ask)
watervole: (Bloody Torchwood)
 This was going to be a post about how well the allotment is doing right now.

Unfortunately, it has now become a post about some bastard who stole most of our rhubarb (and badly damaged the plants in the process) nicked the only ripe squash and helped him/her self to all the ripe courgettes.

I hope s/he chokes on it - though given the amount of rhubarb taken, they must have been stealing to sell.

There are plots available on our site (the short term future with regard to property developers has greatly reduced the waiting list), so there is not even the excuse that the thief has nowhere to grow their own produce.

watervole: (Default)
 So much going on and so little energy to deal with it.

The costochondritis seems to have come back a little (possibly triggered by a cold a couple of weeks ago).  Nothing like as bad as the first time.  I can still lift things (Including Oswin, fortunately), but I'm very careful to lift as little as possible in case I make it worse.

I just feel so tired all the time...

The allotments are in an 'interesting' position.  They aren't owned by the council so have no statutory protection.  The land is owned by a builder and is now in an area on the local plan marked for building.  The plan requires suitable alternative allotments to be provided, however, a lot hangs on the definition of the word 'suitable'.

In an area that is mostly former heathland, 'suitable' land is rare, especially when you realised how much of it is owned by various developers who are happy to wait decades or more to get planning permission.  Prices are sky high and horse trading is the only realistic option.

IN  essence, it's likely to be a deal that goes " you get permission to build here, and you give the council some freehold land elsewhere in the parish"

Unfortunately, the land they have to trade is on a slope with very thin soil at the top, deficient in some key nutrients  and has very poor drainage at the bottom. There may also be Japanese knotweed...  On the plus side, freehold is freehold and some remedial work is possible.

The allotment society are holding out for another site elsewhere in the village, but this would be very expensive and although they believe the builders could be persuaded to pay for it, I don't think they have a snowball's chance in hell.

Meanwhile, the developers have retaliated by giving the parish a year's notice on the current allotment site....


Oct. 10th, 2014 03:17 pm
watervole: (Default)
 My health has improved enough to do a little bit of work on the allotment, and Richard is able to do more now his morale has improved (employment makes a big difference to morale).

We've a lot to catch up on - it had been getting pretty weedy.

We've planted some onion sets for next year and are experimenting with over-wintering shallots.  It's important to firm the soil around the sets rather than just pushing them into the soil as the birds are very keen on pulling them up.

Richard's also planted some broad beans - mixing some compost and well-rotten manure into the soil.


Apr. 17th, 2013 09:14 am
watervole: (Default)
 This is the planting season.  A bit later this year because of all the weather, but Richard has been really busy this last week (I managed to do my back in trying to move the shredder, but I'll be weeding again soon)

Broad beans survived the winter reasonably well, though we lost about a third of them.  A new double row of seeds has been planted now to give a succession when they crop.  I love broad beans - they are one of the veg that really justify growing your own.  I never knew that fresh broad beans had a scent until we had an allotment.

Manure has been spread all round the fruit bushes and almost everywhere except where the brassicas will go.  Cabbages and their relatives do not like freshly manured soil - they prefer things a little more alkaline.

The propagator and our mini-planthouse are working overtime.  The peas are all up and being hardened off prior to planting out.  If you start things off in the warm, then you need to introduce them to the real world gradually - otherwise they're liable to die of shock if you take them straight from a warm greenhouse and plunge them into the cold soil.  Put them outside during the day first to get used to the idea.  It will also make them harden their stems (to resist the wind) and become a little less of an easy target for slugs.

Cabbage, lettuce and purple sprouting broccoli seedlings are emerging.  Our luck with cabbages is usually dreadful as we have clubroot.  We're trying a resistant variety this year.  Fortunately PSB (purple sprouting broccoli) is the one brassica that is immune to clubroot.

Squashes and courgettes are growing on the bedroom windowsill - they won't go outside for a while yet as they are tender plants.
watervole: (Default)
I took a batch of photos for you, but won't be able to upload them until Richard's finished fixing my computer.  The poor machine has been sick for months, but installing a new hard drive seems to have cured the worst of it (the old one was corrupted and causing all sorts of problems).  We had to reinstall the operating system from scratch as it wasn't possible to copy it over because of the disc problems.

Photo software isn't yet on the new drive.

Today, I planted the remainder of a packet of turnips "Armand".  They will need thinning to 6 inches apart and will need watering well when it's dry.  The rest of the row was filled in with a free packet of Cos lettuce (unnamed variety).  These seeds are a year past their 'sow by' date, so I don't know how many will germinate.  They will need thinning to 6 inches apart as well.
watervole: (Default)
 Another morning down the allotment.  The key to today was to ignore the weather forecast.  It predicted showers, but I decided to go anyway and just take my jacket.  In fact, it never got beyond spitting once or twice, so I didn't get wet at all and got in a good morning's gardening.

I've dug up more of the onions.  We didn't record which row was which variety, which is a real shame as some rows did far better than others.  However, I note that I shan't bother trying red onions again.  We've have bad results both years we've tried them.  They tend to give up and die too easily.

A good harvest of mangetout - they've done very well this year in spite of the weather.  We'll definitely grow both mangetout and sugarsnap peas again.

I cleared a space where some of the onions were to plant a row of perpetual spinach.  It doesn't have a variety name, but it's one of the leaf beet family and a very useful plant.

I'd originally intended to plant spinach (the real kind) which has smaller seeds, so I hadn't put the the seeds to soak.  (The beetroot that I planted this way on Tuesday last week have already emerged).  However, when I came to plant them, I realised the seed was several years beyond it's 'plant before' date.  I may try them anyway if I have some space to spare, but I'm going to try the within date seed first.

It'll be interesting to see if the perpetual spinach emerges as quickly as the beetroot without the soaking.  They're related plants with similar seeds.

I'll need to thin the beetroot soon, but I'll wait until the whole row have emerged - which will probably be in a few day's time.

The perpetual spinach will need thinning to 8 inches (20cm) apart.  I also note that it says it's better to pull leaves from the plant rather than to cut them and that cropping the leaves regularly will encourage new growth.  (I'm noting this stuff down as one tends to lose seed packets...)

If tomorrow is reasonably dry, I'll probably plant either radishes or a different variety of beetroot.

The area where I'm thinking of planting them is still fairly weedy (though I did get some out today.)

Would anyone be interested in photos of the process from start to finish?  I could include pictures of different tools I'm using and what they contribute to the process at each stage.

watervole: (Default)
 On Monday I planted a row of corn salad, aka lamb's lettuce.  Variety 'Vit'  (I'm trying to record varieties here so that a year from now when I've forgotten what I planted, I can come back and check what varieties did well.)

It's a simple salad vegetable and is hardy unless the weather is really bad, so I should be able to crop some through the autumn (depending on how fast it comes up)  I may add a second row later on to have a succession.  I may possibly need to add a cloche when the weather is really bad.

I didn't plant anything today, I was feeling a bit wheezy and tired.  Hopefully, I'll get something done tomorrow.  Richard picked all the blackcurrants yesterday, so we'll freeze most of those.  I've got some redcurrants to nibble.  I love those and they cropped reasonably well.  Having netting made a big difference.  We got more than the birds this year!
watervole: (Default)
 Spent a couple of hours down the allotment.  

Planted a row of Swiss Chard (Silver chard 2) next to the row of beetroot I did on Tuesday.  

Chard are related to beetroot and have very similar seeds, so I soaked the seeds for about an hour before I planted them.  With large seeds (ie. those that you can actually handle as opposed to the ones that look like pepper or poppy seeds) it can improve germinate if you soak them first.  The bigger the seed, the more likely it is to benefit.

Weeded, trimmed grass and removed various nettles and brambles encroaching on the runner beans.  I may buy some more runner bean seed tomorrow if I can find a late variety.  We lost about half of them to the bad weather/slugs - and it takes a fair bit to kill a runner bean as any gardener will tell you.

On the plus side, I picked some more sugarsnap peas - they've done well and I'm looking forward to growing them again next year.

Picked some rhubarb stalks as well and a couple of turnips.

The French beans are finally showing some decent growth and the squashes are no longer static.  The sunshine seems to be helping a lot on that front.

If my feet are up to it tomorrow (I've been having problems with my Achilles tendon for the last couple of months), then I'll plant a row of something else - haven't decided what yet - probably between the carrots and the mange-tout.
watervole: (Default)
I went down the allotment just before noon and ended up losing track of time and staying until it was nearly 3pm.

Weeded out some of the bigger weeds around the broad beans and picked some for tea.  Weeded the big stuff around the onions and garlic.  The onions suffered badly in all the rain, but some have survived. I'll dig them out soon.

Weeded absolutely everything down to the smallest seedling where I dug the shallots out a few days ago and levelled and smoothed the bed to make a new seed bed.  We need to get some more stuff planted asap as we lost so many seedlings to the cold, rain and slugs.

I decided to give my beetroot seeds (Pronto) maximum tlc, so I soaked them in water while I prepared the bed.  The soil is now free of lumps and stones.  I used my string to lay out a straight line and used a corner of the back of the rake to draw along the ground to make a drill about an inch deep.  I used the spout of the watering can to put a trickle of water along the drill so that the seeds would have a little water next to their roots, then I put a seed about every two inches.  If they all survive, then I'll thin them out to half of that.   I used the back of the rake to push soil back into the drill, smoothed out the surface and then used the head of the rake on end as a tamper to tamp down the soil without totally compressing it.  (that should ensure the seeds make contact with the damp soil beneath them).

I actually remembered to take  a pencil to label the row!

Tomorrow, I'll plant something else.  Haven't decided what yet - I've several packets that are July/April sows. Probably chard or a leaf veg of some kind.

Still lots of weeding to go, but I'm starting to gain on it now.  If the weather stays fine,  then I'll clear another bed and see if anything can be done for the courgette plants.  You know it's been a bad year when the courgettes look unhappy!
watervole: (Default)
In answer to a couple of questions:

Urine is a fabulous free fertiliser.  It contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus in the ideal ratio for plants (in commercial fertilizers, you'll commonly see this referred to as the NPK ratio).  It also contains a good collection of trace elements.

Logical really - it contains all the elements necessary to produce food for human beings.

It's also a liquid feed, which means that plants can take it up very quickly in their roots.

I started down this path several years ago after reading 'Liquid Gold'   Surprisingly, given the subject, it's a light, entertaining read with all sorts of interesting facts.

I tried it on the allotment and found the results were quick and impressive.  Onions did really well, ailing bean plants suddenly shot up.  Courgettes and all kinds of plants love it.  Right now, my only problem is not having enough to go round!

If you talk to older gardeners, they'll tell you that their parents and grandparents used this trick, especially during the war.

It should always be used dilute.  Neat urine is too strong and could scorch roots.  The ideal ratio is around 1 part urine to at  least six parts water.  It isn't a precise measurement.  I use plastic milk bottles to collect and transport it.  The screw-top lids avoid any risk of spillage or smell.  Gentlemen can pee directly into the bottle.  If I'm contributing myself, I use a jug and then pour it into the milk bottle.

I then take the bottles down to the allotment and use half a bottle to a watering can full of water.  That's two pints/ one litre to a typical 2  gallon (16 pints) can which makes for easy arithmetic.

One of the most interesting results I find is that treated plants seem to be more resistant to slugs.  I'm guessing the trace elements and NPK just improve their natural defences.  Certainly, my much-munched runner beans are now showing several new shoots from once bare stems.  (To be fair, I also removed neighbouring weeds which were probably providing shelter for the slugs.)

Try it - see if it works for you.  

I made several converts when I last posted on this subject - it's very easy to see a quick improvement if you have an ailing plant.

If you're scientifically minded, try it on half your plants and compare the results.  Apply once or twice a week for best results.
watervole: (Default)
The sun's been shining today, without being too hot, so I've been busy outdoors.

Spent a couple of hours this morning working on the front garden.  Mowed the lawn, weeded the bed by the house and transplanted a small euphorbia that was being swamped by large bleeding heart plant.  The bleeding heart has flowered fantastically this year (the flowers really do live up to the name) so there was no way I was going to cut it back.

This afternoon, I went down the allotment and spent a relaxing three hours trimming paths, weeding around beans, shallots and squashes.  I rescued a few sorry looking chard plants and noted that a few carrots survived the horrible wet weather and the weeds.

Picked lots of strawberries - they cropped really well this year - and mangetout and sugarsnap peas.  I love sugarsnap!

We lost a lot of seedlings when the weather was bad, but the beans are all doing really well.  The broad beans are really tasty and there's plenty more of them to come.

A couple of plants were looking a bit pale/yellow, so I've been taking bottles of urine down the plot.  Dilute half a two litre milk bottle into one watering can and pour all round the plant.  Works wonders.  I've already persuaded a few badly slugged bean plants to put out new shoots.
watervole: (Default)
I think the reason I mixed up my spinaches the other day was probably because we'd just been told that New Zealand flatworms have just been found on the allotments.

These nasty little critters feed exclusively on earthworms and hence are not good at all for soil quality.


It's hard to say how harmful they are as there seems to be little definite information that isn't over a decade old.  There's a suggestion that they may not be as bad as originally thought, I can't find any definitive studies.

The best way to trap them appears to be to place black plastic bags on the soil surface and then to cut the flatworms in half and drop them in salted water.  Squashing them may not kill them.
watervole: (Default)
I should have said perpetual spinach yesterday instead of New Zealand Spinach.  The two are different (I couldn't find the seed packet)  I need to get some seeds....

It has a long cropping period.

When we took over our allotment, it was the only plant there (the previous plot holder had left it in really good condition, covered up beds with black fabric as he removed the crops, so we had very few weeds to deal with).   For many months, until stuff we had planted grew, it was the only crop we could harvest.  We came to appreciate its merits and to know how well it responded to a mulch of grass clippings.

It's definitely worth letting one of them go to seed - the seed comes up in places that are just right for the plant - it seems to like areas that were manured the year before.  and, conveniently, they only start to put on real growth about the time you are harvesting other stuff, so they don't really get in the way until space is becoming available anyway.

It isn't actually perpetual, but it does crop for a long time. 
watervole: (Maypole)
 Cleared out some more of my email backlog - I'm making good progress on it at the moment.

Went down the allotment for a couple of hours.  Spread more manure (it's the best time of year to do this job, just before things start into growth).  Started weeding and thinning the New Zealand Spinach - it's a plant that is totally unrelated to spinach, but serves pretty much the same function in meals.

It's great merit is that it grows through the winter, survives frost, and is available to eat at a time when almost no other green leaf crops are ready.  It's also pretty much untroubled by pests and diseases.  At the moment, I'm taking leaves off the larger plants and thinning and composting round the smaller ones.

It's other great merit is that it often self- seeds.  Not enough to be a nuisance, but enough to give you some bonus plants - which are inevitably healthier and bigger than the ones you actually planted!

Followed the allotment by going for a quick swim and then cleared more email.

Have discovered that membership of EFDSS comes with free public liability insurance for people performing or teaching folk arts.  Much cheaper than what I was paying for public liability insurance for my maypole last year, so I've just joined.  I'd been thinking of joining in any case.  I'm tempted by the library of folk history materials, which I may go and visit some day.
watervole: (Default)
Yesterday Richard and I went to the local stables and dug lots of manure from their pile.  We'll probably go and dig some more next weekend.  I'm always amazed by the ability of horses to produce the stuff faster than gardeners grab it.

Manure is a fantastic soil conditioner.  It's a good fertiliser, but if you use it for several years, you get this wonderfully fine, crumbly soil that is pure delight to work.  It lightens clay soils and makes sandy ones retain water better.  (Just like compost in fact, but with less twiggy bits)

Today, I took a half moon edger round the rhubarb plot to neaten it up, dug up a lot of nettles and a few other perennial weeds and removed a few annuals.  Another advantage of manure is that it's pretty much weed free.  

Once I'd got all the weeds removed and the edges neat, I surrounded each rhubarb plant with a couple of inches of manure.  Rhubarb is greedy, and it tastes good.  Two excellent reasons to feed it well.

Tomorrow, if I have the energy, I'll plant a half row of broad beans and weed the survivors from the autumn sown ones - the late, hard frost, killed quite few of them.    I also need to finish weeding round the raspberries and cut down a few more of last year's stems from the summer fruiting ones.  I'll probably manure the raspberries in the next week or two, as soon as I've got the bed neat and tidy.

We've got a sheet of clear plastic over the soil where the broad beans will go.  This will help warm the soil and bring them forward a little.
watervole: (Default)
We're making good progress on the rockery.

Richard's been lifting more of the stones for me.  (they tend to sink an inch or two every decade).  He's done all of the ones at the front now and most of the middle ones.  The ones at the back will be the hardest as they're stacked more like a wall there - there's a lot of soil washed down over the years and there's not much soil at all around some of the top ones.  We may leave part of that job until next year.

The shape of a lot of the soil pockets has changed.  We're generally going for slightly larger pockets and building up the soil level overall.  Added in loads of compost and some top soil from the allotment.  Some of the plants have got rather knocked about in this process, but they'd already taken a bashing from the total weed removal I've put them through.  The sedums are tough and will survive.  They grown back from cuttings before.

I've put in several new plants already and am contemplating adding a purple heuchera.   (http://heucheraholics.co.uk/heuchera_shop.html)
Heucheras aren't normally rockery plants, but they don't grow very tall - around 30cm - and they are fairly hardy with attractive foliage.  If you want some good looking low-growing herbaceous plants, you could happily consider heucheras.  They don't get invasive and they aren't terribly demanding.

Tomorrow, back to the allotment.  I'm roughly alternating between allotment and garden.  If the weather's fine, it might be a good day to plant the broad beans that will over-winter.


Oct. 12th, 2011 02:27 pm
watervole: (Default)
I haven't posted about the allotment in a very long time.  That's mostly because the tennis elbow meant that I was unable to do weeding, so Richard had to do most of the work this year. 

Now, thankfully, I think (fingers crossed) that the tennis elbow has pretty much run its course.  The arms still ache, but that's because I'm using muscles that I'd been carefully avoiding for a long time.

Been down the allotment together every day for the last six or seven days and we're starting to make inroads into a vast backlog of work. Still plenty to be done, but we've weeded round the beetroot and spinach, trimmed most of the grass, dug over the bed where the broad beans will go and cleared most of the weeds from the strawberry patch (as well as firming in a lot of poorly rooted strawberry plants and removing runners that weren't worth rooting).

If I can find the energy this afternoon, I'll cycle down the nursery and buy some broad bean seeds and onion sets. Also need to get some garlic.

The chard is cropping really well at present.  It's on ground that was well manured last year, and the leaves are enormous and taste really good as well.


Sep. 8th, 2010 02:13 pm
watervole: (allotment)
There's a lovely row of bright orange squashes and longer, thinner, butternut squashes lining our windowsills.  They're a splash of bright colour in the lounge, and being on the windowsill allows them to ripen.  Ripening is good, as it hardens the rind and ensures they will keep for several months and we'll be eating some of them in the winter.

I love the flavour of squashes.  They're so  versatile in cooking as you can use them for all sorts of things.  They add both colour and flavour to meals.  They add a wonderful background texture to soups and stews, as well of having plenty of other uses.

This is far and away the best crop of squashes that we've ever had, and it's due to Richard's efforts in going down the allotment every morning during the drought and watering them.

Going down first thing in the morning has become a habit.  as long as it isn't raining, we go down every day now and do half an hour's weeding before breakfast.  It's a great way to start the day with some gentle exercise and to come back with  a supply of fresh beetroot and French beans and sweetcorn.
watervole: (allotment)
We've been experimenting and learning for several years with both squashes and sweetcorn.  Last year, we had loads of male flowers on the squashes and very few female, and the sweetcorn were devoid of flavour.

This year, both were massively better - and  we were growing the same varieties.

Here's how to do it.

Start your plants off in a small pot indoors or in a greenhouse.

When they're five or six inches high, plant them out.

Dig a hole with a spade.  Put a shovel's worth of manure in the hole.  Put the soil back on top - and make a rim to hold water (i.e. a circle about a foot across).  Plant one squash, or 3 sweetcorn (near the edge of your circle) on top of the soil on top of the manure.

Water.  Keep watering.  If the weather is dry - water.  Do not forget the watering.  If you aren't sure - water.

If you can add urine to the water, even better.  (for new readers to this journal, dilute urine - about a litre of urine to one watering can - is a perfect liquid feed.  It has an ideal NPK ratio, is sterile when fresh, can be carried easily in plastic milk bottles, and is free.)

If you water, you will finally get those female flowers on the squashes, and your sweetcorn will set properly and taste fantastic.

Also, when the shoots of the squashes are getting too long, pinch out the tips.  You want them to put energy into the fruits, not into growing more leaves.

These are both greedy plants.  Feed and water them properly, and they will reward you with delicious food.
watervole: (allotment)
I've been so busy with morris stuff that I haven't posted much about the allotment, but it's still going fine and we're going down almost every morning at present to do a bit of weeding and collect food.

We've had a really good potato crop this year, the runner beans are coming on great and so is the perpetual spinach.  The mange tout were okay ,but not as good as last year.  The drought caused them to suffer in spite of lots of watering.

The squash plants are the best we've ever had.  We're tying to give them lots of water this year to encourage them to produce more female flowers ( the ones that end up with fruit) and it seems to be working.

The pigeons made a real mess of the blackcurrant bush. The last two years they've hardly touched it, so we hadn't bothered netting it.  THis year, they not only got most of the fruit, but also did a lot of damage to the bushes and broke a lot of the branches.  Next year, we'll net as soon as the fruit are all pollinated.

The redcurrants were very tasty.  The bushes are younger and this was the first decent crop. Here's hoping for more next year.

We need to plant more rocket and also more cabbages, and beetroot if we can.  The drought got too many of our beetroot seedlings, though we also lost some when my knees were bad and I wasn't getting down the allotment enough.

Next job will be transplanting leeks into the ground freed by the potatoes.  Then we'll need to start looking for good strawberry runners to move the strawberry bed (which you should do every few years) into the space where we've just dug out the onions.  We had a good onion crop too.  The strawberries suffered a bit from the drought.  We watered them a lot ,but not enough for all the fruit to swell properly.  Still, the glut was glorious while it lasted!
watervole: (Default)
Went to the dentist this morning - he's growing a few veg at the back of the surgery and was asking for tips.

A lot of my friends are also starting to grow things for the first time.

So, here are my handy tips on compost.

1.  Anything organic will rot.  (by organic, I mean 'made of organic material', not 'grown without pesticides')

You can compost: cotton shirts/towels, woollen jumpers, all kitchen waste (if you're worried about rats, then either exclude meat or else put chicken wire underneath your compost bin), all weeds (some people exclude dandelion and bindweed roots, but I find even those usually get killed, though I wouldn't put bindweed roots on a heap in the shade), all grass cuttings (but do mix them up with the other stuff if you have a lot of them), corrugated cardboard, cardboard egg boxes (don't squash them, they provide handy air pockets), used straw bedding from hamsters, rabbits, etc, sawdust, hedge clippings (but only if well chopped up, and do mix with other stuff) and probably other stuff as well.

I'm just editing a book on the history of Loose allotments ('Loose' is a village in Kent and is pronounced 'Looze').  In the last century, there was a butcher who annoyed his neighbouring plot holders by putting all the left-over bits of meat on his plot.  They rotted down just fine, but the smell and the rats weren't popular...

Another plot was found to have lots of small buttons on it.  My mother-in-law (keen gardener and social historian) worked that one out.  The plot must have been fertilised with 'shoddy', which was what cheap clothes were made of - it was made from recycled woollen cloth.  The clothes rotted away and left the buttons behind.

Hop waste was also popular as a mulch in Kent.

2.  Kitchen waste is easy to collect.

Everything from the kitchen: potato peelings (If you really must peel your potatoes and lose all the vitamins...), veg peelings (same comment about vitamins - there are almost no vegetables where you gain anything by peeling them, expect possibly squashes when the rind has hardened), stale bread, food scraps, left over takeaways, past the date foods, apple cores - if it's food of any kind, you can put it in the compost.

Keep a small compost caddy in the kitchen - I line mine with newspaper which makes it easier to empty and to clean - and the newspaper can, of course, be composted as well.  There are lots of compost caddies on the market.  A few examples can be found here, but there's lots more.

A lid is necessary to keep out flies, but smell (in my experience, at least) is not a problem as long as the bin is emptied as soon as it is full.  You have three options with lining.

a.  No lining.  I've done it this way in the past.  You'll find the bottom of the bin can get a bit wet.  I just clean it out with a handful of newspaper and then compost the newspaper.

b.  Biodegradable lining.  I'm not keen on these personally.  They have a high carbon footprint to manufacture and you need to pay real money for them.  (and they don't rot as fast as newspaper)

c.  Newspaper.  Not decorative, but it uses up our free newspapers and helps soak up some of the moisture from the waste.  I use three or four pages at a time to line mine.  I overlap them a  bit and fold them over the edge to keep them in place.  I try and have multiple layers at the bottom of the bin.  The paper will soak up most of the moisture, though you'll probably need another page to clean out after you empty and before you make a new liner.

When your caddy is full, take it out and tip it into your compost bin.

3.  Compost Daleks don't take up much space.

They're called 'daleks' for obvious reasons, though most of them don't look like this:

but more like this:

There are other kinds of compost bin, but 'daleks' tend to be cheap and cheerful and often available at a discount from your local council.  They don't take up a lot of space and are easy to use.  (they can be a bit fiddly to remove the compost at the back, but if the worst comes to the worst, you can just lift the whole thing up, dig out the good compost and stick the rest back again)

At the end of the day, any kind of compost bin/heap will do. 

We have three daleks in our garden to fit into smaller spaces, down the allotment, we have two heaps surrounded by a crude wooden fence.

Tip everything into your dalek (or on your heap) - do NOT compress it (the air spaces are an important part of the process).  If you run out of space in the bin, start another one.

4.  There is a perfect mix, but you don't need to worry about it.

If you start reading up on compost, you'll find all sorts of fancy recipes.  Don't worry if they sound too complicated.

The basic rule is this: use a mixture of different stuff and it will all work out fine.  Don't let one ingredient dominate (apart from weeds, you can have as many of them as you like).  You can speed up the process by mixing up your heap with a fork, but it isn't essential.

If you have all grass clippings and no weeds or woody bits, then approach a neighbour.   They'll be only too glad either to give you an occasional bag of weeds/hedge clippings, or alternatively to take your grass clippings.  I get stuff from three of my neighbours now.

5.  If your compost bin has a lid, water it occasionally.

Heaps don't have lids -they get water from the rain.  They rot down fine.

Daleks have lids (which can help the heat build inside them on a sunny day and kill weed seeds).  Take the lid off now and then and if it looks really dry, chuck in a bucket of water.  This is not a fine art, and it won't be the end of the world if you forget.

6.  Real Compost is lumpy and has twigs in it.

Packets of compost from garden centres are full of fine-grained black stuff (and cost a lot of money).  That's because they have a lot of peat in them.  This fine if you want to grow seeds in trays or acid-loving plants, but for everything else, your home-made stuff will be better.  Peat is very low on nutrients.

How do you know when your compost is ready?  When you can't recognise the original ingredients any more.  (Don't worry about egg shells, just smash them and leave them in - they're good calcium).  The exception is twigs.  You have two options with twigs.  You either leave them in the mix  you're going to spread on your garden (which is what I do with the small ones), or chuck them back in the compost to go around a second time (which is what I do with the bigger ones).  Stuff bigger than twigs should not go into the compost in the first place.  (twigs, if you really want to know, add carbon and help create air space and structure in your compost bin and are a useful part of the process even if they don't rot completely the first time around)

7.  You can use compost almost anywhere.

When you have your compost, lumps, twigs and all, you can either dig it into the soil, if you're preparing a new area, or simply put a layer an inch or two thick on the surface around your plants.  Don't put it right up against the stems - plants know where they think the surface should be and you shouldn't argue with them.  You can spread it under trees, around fruit bushes, between rows of plants, inbetween perennials, anywhere where you think your plants are hungry.

Over the next year, your layer of compost will mysteriously vanish - ready for you to add some more the next year.  And your plants will be bigger, healthier, and crop better.

watervole: (allotment)
Lots of stuff planted out.  Runner beans and French beans are out  and rapidly gaining height (with a bit of fleece for protection).

Spinach, beetroot and pea seedlings are all making good progress.

Watering has been absolutely essential.  The soil is just a dry powder and I don't think any of the seedlings would have made it without water.

We've been watering the strawberries which are now starting to set fruit.  Several plants would have died by now, let alone managed to produce any fruit without extra water.

The fruit bushes like blackcurrants are also water-stressed.  The raspberries and the blackcurrant bush in the back garden are doing noticeably better than the the ones on the allotment.  That's because they're right outside the kitchen door and every time I run the tap to get hot water to wash the dishes, I end up with half a bowl of luke-warm water which promptly gets poured on a thirsty plant.

Raspberries on the allotment that were transplanted earlier this year are the ones that are suffering most, but all raspberries are shallow-rooted and thus suffer when the soil gets too dry.

If you have any fruit or veg, get watering.   A light sprinkling is no help at all.  The soil is bone dry and you need a bare minimum of  can of water per square meter and preferably several.   Too little will just wet the surface and evaporate away.  (Dig a small hole after you've watered and see how far down the water has got - the result may surprise you.)

On the allotment, we have a water tank.  (Other plots use water butts or dustbins - anything that holds water and has a lid will do).  We fill the tank from the tap with a long hose pipe; then we only have to walk to the tank to fill the watering can.

Don't let rain fool you.  It rained last night, the first rain in ages.  However, although the ground looks beautifully wet on the surface, a quick glance at the birdbath tells me that it wasn't actually very much rain - no more than .25 cm.  That's not going to make much difference to the plants.  We need serious heavy rain to soak the soil, a couple of centimetres at least.  It's got to get down to the roots, or it isn't going to help.
watervole: (allotment)
I notice that Liquid Gold is currently available on Amazon UK for less than £4 including postage.

It's an easy, enjoyable read with amusing notes on the uses of urine throughout history.  It's also very reassuring if you want to use urine on your garden and want to know if it is safe/effective.  The key point is to dilute it, so that it isn't too strong for your plants.

(If anyone wants to know, I pee into an old jug and then pour it into plastic milk bottles for storage and carrying to the allotment.)
watervole: (allotment)
Hoed around broad beans, spinach, peas.  Watered same (the soil is powder dry, we haven't had any decent rain in ages).

finished weeding strawberries.  Watered strawberries.  (using dilute urine - I use it in rotation on different crops as I can only carry a couple of bottles down to the plot)

Memo to self.

Spinach, leek, pea and beetroot seedlings all grow faster ( as clearly shown by the bits that I did first) if you actually weed and water them....

Spinach also benefits from thinning.  So will the beetroot when I get around to it tomorrow...  (Perpetual spinach - aka 'spinach beet' - and beetroot have seeds that are sort of little clumps of seeds, so you tend to get several small plants coming up together. You need to remove the excess seedlings while they're still very small)

Picked purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb for tea.
watervole: (allotment)
Anyone thinking of growing veg for the first time and looking for something easy to try could do a lot worse than grow rocket.

The first rule of growing veg is to grow something you like to eat.

I'm not a massive fan of rocket, but Richard really loves it and will eat it in preference to lettuce every time.  Rocket has a mild peppery flavour.  You can eat it as a salad vegetable or cook it like spinach or use it in pizza recipes.

The second rule is to grow something easy.

Rocket is on of these crops where you put in the seeds, stand back and wait for the plant to hit you.  Okay, maybe not quite that fast, but it is called rocket for a reason..  It germinates quickly, grows quickly, and you can do lots of small sowings for a succession of plants throughout the summer and autumn.  You could also grow it on your windowsill.

How to grow it.

1.  Get seeds (between £1.15 and £2 per pack.  This should be an easy plant to save seed from if you don't want to get new packets every year)

2.  Look at this page (I was going to give instructions, but they'd said almost exactly what I was going to and they have pictures to boot).

3.  Start picking leaves as soon as the plant gets more than six inches tall.  It'll be up to a foot in height before you can blink.  (Sow your second row once the first row has clearly visible tiny plants)
watervole: (allotment)
The vertigo has eased off a lot recently (fingers crossed) and I'm able to do a lot more.  My wrist (that I hurt five or six weeks ago) is almost recovered and I'm finally starting to get back to that dimly recalled thing called 'reality'.

Massive backlog of jobs on the allotment, but I've managed to go down for a while every day for the last four days.  My work capacity (measured in 'buckets of weeds' seems to be improving a little each day).

I've now weeded all round the beetroot and am starting round the leeks. Those leeks are seriously big, especially considering the skinny little things we dropped into the holes when we transplanted them.  Definitely a testament to all the compost we dug in before transplanting them.

I've also started work on the summer fruiting raspberries.

If you have summer fruiting raspberries (defined as ones that have finished fruiting by now, in the south at any rate), then sometime during the next few months, you need to do the following:

1.  Cut out all the canes that have borne fruit. Cut them right down to ground level (you can leave an inch or so if it makes the job easier, it won't do any harm)

2.  Look at the canes that are left (the new ones that have grown up this year).  Any that are weak and spindly, cut down to the ground.  Leave the strongest canes only. The weak ones don't bear enough fruit to be worth it and they'll only take light/nutrients from the stronger canes that will bear the decent crop.

3.  If any of your canes are more than four foot tall, then you're going to need to support them - otherwise, the poor things will only flop over when they start having the weight of fruit to support.  The simplest way is to knock in a six/seven  foot post at the end of each row, stretch some gardening wire between them at three and four feet (the height of the wires isn't a precise art.  Look at your canes and pick a couple of heights that make sense for your plants.)  Then use string to tie the canes to the wires.   It will project them from blowing over in strong winds and also stop them going floppy and trying to grow sideways...

4.  If you have a compost heap, spread the cut out canes across it in a loose lattice pattern and pile your weeds on top. The canes help maintain air pockets in the pile and also add carbon to balance the nitrogen in the weeds/grass clippings.  If you have a compost 'dalek', then chop up the canes a bit to get them to fit in.  Because canes are so weak, they rot a lot faster than most woody stuff, so I find them really handy in compost making. 

Autumn fruiting raspberries are fruiting nicely now (yum!) and should keep going for some time.  I'll cover what to do with those later on in the year.
watervole: (allotment)
Sometimes, there is just so much hard work on the allotment....

You have to get the entire family to help on occasion.

I mean, quality testing on the strawberries - you wouldn't believe how many you need to sample to be sure the flavour is just right...

And the sheer slog of walking all the way from the kitchen to the back garden to pick raspberries.  I mean, there's so many of the darn things.

And the extra bill for all the cream!


Not to mention the mountain of crisp, mangetout peas that have to be dealt with.  Admittedly, I can't complain that I have to shell them, but I'm sure I'll think of something to complain about if I really work at it.

I know my friends. You're a truly selfless group of people, and I'm sure you'd help out if you could, but I think we can just about manage the struggle on our own...


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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