watervole: (Default)
 We've been getting a veg and fruit box from Riverford for several years.

This week's melon started erupting.  Literally -interesting frothy stuff was bubbling out of it, with sound effects.

I left a message on their web site explaining the problem. (and popped the melon in the compost bin)

Within five minutes, a lady had phoned, apologised for the problem and offered me a choice of items to have next week as a free replacement for the offending melon.

So, next week, we're getting extra mushrooms.

Nice people, always friendly and helpful. I think the boxes are good value too.  It's rare that we get a duff item, but they've always been replaced without any stress or hassle.

Happy to recommend them any day.
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: (Default)
If you have gooseberries, now is a jolly good time to see if the leaves are vanishing.

If they are, the chances are high that they're being eaten by gooseberry sawfly.  They chomp their way along the edge of the leaves and are quite hard to spot until you get your eye in. Tiny green caterpillars.

If you don't want to use chemicals, pick the little blighters off by hand.  Richard's just picked 500 (no, that isn't a typo) off the bush in his back garden. 

Once, when he was a lad, his mother offered him 1penny for every caterpillar he picked off her bushes.  She only ever made the offer once...

If you have onions or other plants that are bolting (flowering and setting seed when they should not be) , then the cause is almost certainly lack of water.  We've been watering our onions regularly (and giving them the dilute urine treatment) and they're looking a lot larger than last year's ones already.  Although, to be fair, I'm talking about autumn-planted onion sets, which have a head start.  The spring planted sets are still small in comparison.  They're growing well though, healthy green leaves and the stems are starting to thicken up, but only a few are starting to swell into bulbs yet.  Keep weeding as well.  You want your plants to get the nutrients, light and water, not the weeds.
watervole: (allotment)
Weeded around the mangetout peas.  Weeded a row of emerging runner beans.  Cut down some brambles at the back of the plot.  Weeded around a globe artichoke (though it may be too late as the weeds were winning).  I left the artichoke pretty late as the yield last year wasn't really worth the effort.  It didn't taste particularly good and the globe was very small.  Mind you, it's in totally the wrong position, so I shouldn't be surprised.

Things to do:

Plant things like radish and beetroot in a fine seed bed.

the rough rule of thumb is that the smaller the seed is, the finer the soil needs to be.  A great big runner bean seed can be planted almost anywhere (as long as there's lot of manure or compost).  A tiny beetroot seedling won't be able to cope with stones and lumps of soil that are bigger than it is.  It can't lift them out of the way.

You could try growing spinach or perpetual spinach. Perpetual spinach isn't really perpetual, but it's a biennial (lasts for two years) and produces a decent crop about now, when almost nothing else is cropping at all. (and it tastes very nice chopped up and cooked with pasta shells and tinned red salmon - she says, having just had this for tea).

Remember that disasters are part and parcel of growing veg. Don't get discouraged if things go wrong. It's a steep learning curve and we haven't reached the top of it yet.

We've lost loads of seedling spinach and turnips to the birds this year, so netting is becoming the order of the day. Either that or lots of strands of black cotton (about six inches between strands and several inches off the ground. The cotton should be tightly strung between pegs or short sticks.)

I was talking to a new plotholder yesterday. He's a retired chap and spending several hours each day on his plot.  It looks immaculate.  But he hasn't got the knowledge yet.  He told me that his peas had been badly attacked by mice, so he'd dug up the small plants and binned them.

When he described the damage (leaves with neatly nibbled scalloped edges) I knew immediately that it wasn't mice.  Mice go for the pea/bean seed in the ground. You can trace their progress by the neat little hole where your bean was...

The scalloped edges are caused by pea and bean weevils.  They're a nuiscance, but they rarely kill plants. And once the plant is more than about six inches tall, they cease to be much of a nuisance at all. They can't jump high enough to get the top leaves.

It's sad, but if he'd left his peas alone (and given them something to climb if they didn't have that already) then they'd probably have been fine.

My pea plants have lovely little scalloped edges, but they're starting up the netting now and making new growth and before long they'll be well and away.  I'll lose a few of them, but not enough to make  a serious difference.

I've read that hoeing the soil around pea and bean plants reduces the damage done by the weevils.  I don't know why it's supposed to work, but I'm happily hoeing away as it helps keep the weeds down in any case.

Big Tip.  don't put off weeding around seeds and small plants.  The weeds will grow faster than your seedlings and choke them.

If you've planted your seeds in a straight line (Use a tight piece of string as a guide when planting), then you know that anything not growing in that line is a weed.  Furthermore, anything in the line that looks exactly  like something you've just removed is probably a weed also.

After a while, you get to know exactly what small speedwell (gosh, I wonder how it got that name...) and small scarlet pimpernel plants look like.
watervole: (allotment)
Impressed by the large number of people who would like data on when to plant things and the like, I shall try and do regular postings on this topic.

Cabbages - cabbages and their relatives (cauliflower, kale, brocolli, calabrese, sprouts) grow well in the British climate.  I'm told that the Romans in Britain lived on cabbages, onions and beans as their staple diet, and it seems plausible.  Beans can be dried and stored for the winter and there are enough varieties of cabbage that you can crop them virtually all the year round for fresh greens if you time things right.

So, here we are today, planting cabbage seeds in a seed tray.  Why a seed tray? Well, the allotment is filling up fast and cabbages (unlike some other veg) don't mind being transplanted when they're small, so you can use the space for other stuff while the cabbages are little - our potatoes are there at present.  You could start them in a seed bed or in a tray.  A tray (if you've somewhere handy to put it on a windowsill, in a cool greenhouse/whereever) gives you a slightly better head start against the slugs, but you'd do fine in a seedbed if the soil is okay.

Cabbages like ground that has been well manured, but not recently.  Ideally, when the seedlings are ready to plant out, you'll put them where a previous crop (of something else) has been.  Failing that, manure the autumn before (if you haven't got manure, then use compost. If you haven't got compost, get a compost bin).  Cabbages and their relatives like a deep soil - if you have a really good well dug deep soil, then the roots can do down nearly a metre. Don't think our soil is quite that deep...  (If you haven't got manure or compost, then either buy some, see if your neighbours have got unused compost sitting in a bin, or just go for it anyway and hope for the best)

CAbbages often follow after peas or beans in a crop rotation - they like the nitrogen that peas and beans (or rather the symbiotic baceria that live in their root nodules) leave behind.

NEVER grow the same crop on the same soild two years running. There's a high chance of diseases lingering in the soil and rotating the crops reduces the chance of re-infection.  (One patch of soil in our allotment has club root.  That can linger for 12 years, so we won't be growing any brassicas (cabbage family) there for a very long time...

How can you tell if you've got club root?  Well, the plant looks small and sad, and when you pull one up, you can see instantly where the name 'club' root comes from.  Judith - who composts everything - does NOT compost plants with club root.  Take them away and put them in your bin.  It's very infectious.

Brassics (especially sprouts) like a firm soil.  Don't dig just before planting.  (you can weed, but try not to dig deeply).

We're breaking this rule as they're going in after the potatoes come out (and nothing digs up the soil like digging up potatoes).  Such is life...  So, after the spuds are out, we'll have to break up the soil well and walk all over it to firm it down (which is the ONLY time I approve of walking on soil.  Walking on soil is a bad thing and normally to be avoided at all costs).

If you're keen, you can get two crops a year off most of your soil.

However, trying to be good about dates for you:-

If you want to grow cabbages, find a variety that says 'sow May' and sow it in a seed tray or into the soil. While they're growing, you can weed/dig the area where you will eventualy plant them out.

Think twice before accepting gifts of brasscias from anyone else.  We were warned, and we still accepted some cauliflowers in our first year - that was probably where our club root came from.  (the soil we used last year was okay, so it's only part of the plot that has it)
watervole: (allotment)
Today, we went down to the riding stables and collected about 20 bin bags of manure. We've long ago learnt to put only about three spadefuls per bin bag (big spadefuls admittedly) as after that the bag gets difficult to carry.  Drove the short distance from stables to allotment.  Weeded the area (having now removed the last of the leeks and cabbages from last year) where the sweetcorn and squashes are going to go this year.  Spread several inches of manure all over.

Note that we used it as a surface mulch, not digging it in.  Although the manure is well rotted (probably at least a year old), it would still be too strong for roots of plants that touch it.  (Think of the brown patches on a lawn where a dog has peed - you have to dilute stuff or let it work into the soil gradually over time).  When we plant the sweetcorn, we'll make sure we leave a hole in the manure several inches wide around each stem so that it won't burn it.

Sweetcorn and squashes are both greedy crops - they like to be well fed.

If you want to grow sweetcorn, plant in little pots now (if it's an early variety) or a couple of weeks from now if it's a maincrop variety.  You can sow maincrop direct into the ground.  The earlies need a head start as this country isn't really warm enough for sweetcorn.

If growing sweetcorn (which isn't the easiest of crops, but is very rewarding to eat), then remember that you must have a bare minimum of a dozen plants and you must plant them in a square rather than a row. They're wind-pollinated, so you have to allow for all wind directions to get them fertilised.  Only grow in a sunny spot.

I also weeded around the perpetual spinich (it's really a biennial, but you can pick stuff at a time of year when very little else is cropping).  I cut off all the flower stalks - if you let it flower, the leaves go all bitter. That tends to apply to most veg. As soon as they bolt (ie. send up a flower stalk) the plant isn't fit to eat.  However, with perpetual spinich, you can often persuade it to produce another crop of edible leaves.

Weeded around the recently transplanted autumn raspberries which are settling in nicely. The grass clipping mulch around them has helped to surpress the weeds, but I didn't have enough clippings to do the job to the depth I'd have liked (two inches of clippings does a really good job and can still be reducing weeds nine months later when it's just an almost invisible thin brown layer), so some annual weeds were appearing.  You don't want to have to do much weeding around raspberries (they're shallow rooted plants for one thing, and life's too short for another), so mulches are very much your friend here.  Be it grass clippings, well-rotted manure or compost, they all do the trick and they all add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil.  Just remember not to apply the mulch too close to the stems.

Cut back the brambles behind the plot. Put a layer at the bottom of the new compost heap.  A layer of woody stuff at the bottom is said to help air circulation and thus make the heap rot better. (In a 'dalek' I just chuck everything in willy-nilly - I tend to cut the woody stuff into smaller pieces - they won't fit in easily otherwise)

We'll need to plant more beetroot as the slugs have got many of the seedlings (it's in the bed next to the hedge this year and that always seems to get the worst slugs).  Beetroot is a very good reason, all on its own, for growing veg.  Yum!
watervole: (allotment)
When you get given plants or seeds with no instructions, it's very easy to make fatal mistakes.

The lady I visited yesterday had been given a few left over onion sets (thin of them as baby onions) by a friend and she'd done what seemed logical to her (and I can imagine a time when I might have done the same) - she'd planted them like bulbs, a few inches underground.

Onions don't work that way.  You plant them at surface level.  Dig a tiny hole with your trowel (don't push the onion down into the soil) and then put the onion set in it.  The top of the onion set should be just above the surface.

It's really too late for planting onion sets anyway this year, but I mention it so that you'll remember for next year.  Next year, also consider shallots.  They taste like a mild onion and can easily be grown in a small space.

(Does anyone want an occasional calendar of 'veg things to do at this time of year'?)
watervole: (allotment)
On the local Freecycle, I saw a 'wanted' request for gardening books and advice.  As it was a lady in Corfe Mullen, I dropped her an email and we met up today.

Very nice lady with two young children.

I advised her to use her front garden for veg as it gets a lot more sun than her back garden.  The soil is pretty poor (the house is about a decade old, so lots of builder's rubble), but the position is good.  I've told her how to find the local riding stable and she'll go and get lots of manure.  She'll probably be digging out big stones and mortar for several years to come, but at least that gives her something to blame if things don't grow well. (I find a scapegoat is handy for one's morale).

My rule of thumb on stones is to remove anything that's big enough to get caught in the prongs of a hand fork.  (and for a seed bed, remove smaller stuff than that)

Her kids really like veg. I took them down the allotment and let them nibble leaves of sorrel (lemon flavour) and wild garlic and chives.  Gave her some wild garlic and chive plants.  Not sure if they'll transplant well this time of year, but I've plenty of them so I can give her more another time if they don't survive.  The wild garlic will probably grow under the trees in her back garden, which is a bonus.  Wild garlic has leaves that you can use in salads (they go nicely in a cheese sandwich), has really pretty white flowers in spring, and grows well in shady corners.  Win, win, win!

What is good to plant right now?

Radishes and rocket are dead easy for beginners.

Dig your soil well if it hasn't been dug before.  (I believe all soil needs a really good dig when you begin gardening - look up double digging - you don't want to mix subsoil and topsoil)  If it's had a good dig, and you haven't walked across it and compacted it, then you don't need an annual dig.

If your soil is in good nick, then just weed the top of it and break the surface down into a 'fine tilth'.  This means that you try and get a surface with the texture of sand.  (Don't worry if you can't - it's hard if the soil is lacking in organic matter as it may well be when you begin gardening)  Just do the best  you can.  Give soil a good watering if it's dry.  Sprinkle radish on surface (a square foot is a reasonable area). Don't bother with straight rows for radishes.  They will emerge within two weeks and be ready to eat a few weeks later.

As soon as the radishes are recognisable as small radishes, start another patch off. As soon as the radishes are ready to eat, start eating them at whatever rate maximises your enjoyment of radishes.

Rocket - very like radishes.  I usually sow rocket in a row as I find it harder to recognise the small leaves.  (rows are very helpful for things that grow slower than weeds. Radishes and rocket are about the only plants that grow faster than weeks)  It's easier to identify the 'plants' if they're all in a straight line.  And you can hoe between the rows - becasue your rows will be far enough apart to allow you to hoe between them - allow for a bit of wonky hoeing when working this out...

When the rocket is 10 cm high, cut it down to 2 inches and eat the stuff you've cut.  Repeat as the rocket regrows.  At some point (maybe at monthly intervals), start a new row of rocket.  It's a slightly bitter salad vegetable.

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Judith Proctor

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