Welcome to our plot!

I'm Hazel, and in Nov 2006 my friend Jane and I took on a half plot at Hill Allotments, Sutton Coldfield - we want the satisfaction of growing and eating our own fruit and veg, and to improve our diet (and fitness!).

This is the story of what happened next...........

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Onion Conundrums!

This Eelworm problem really has exercised the ol’ grey matter for the last few days – the problem in essence is that although the Eelworm will naturally die off if you don’t grow the onion family (or a host of related plants), it will take a couple of years, & in that time you are only ‘safe’ in growing brassicas & lettuce.

I’ve taken advice from the good folks on the Grapevine, & have done a bit of research, & we appear to have a number of options:

Sterilise soil – similar to what they did in Vietnam.
Pros: will definitely cure Eelworm infestation
Cons: will also 'cure' all the ‘goodies’ - hardly a ‘green’ option; most chemicals which will do the job have been banned

Organic cure – sow a variety of marigold (tagetes minuta) which discourages Eelworm
Pros: can sow around existing planting plan; ‘green’ solution
Cons: will only ‘discourage’ not ‘cure’; plants are a bit big and not too pretty

Hard work cure – building raised beds, line with cardboard, import ‘clean’ soil
Pros: can grow onions and related in the raised beds, and brassicas & lettuce in the rest; this will look very good – we aspire to raised beds
Cons: expensive; lots of effort

Conscientious cure - only grow brassicas and lettuce in the plot for two years
Pros: this will get rid of the eelworm, & in an organic way
Cons: there are only so many cabbages you can eat

Lazy cure – just carry on & hope that this is just a bad year for Eelworm
Pros: It might be better next year; can minimise problem by sowing autumn onions & spring onions can be grown in pots at home
Cons: It might be worse next year

So those are the choices – having been to the Hill tonight with a view to taking a photo of the afflicted onions, they didn’t actually look too bad, & if the only real down side of having the Eelworm is that the onions don’t keep……well, I don’t know. We don’t have to decide anything just yet, & I’d still like to talk to Reg-next-plot – there is every possibility that I’m making a bit of a fuss about nothing very much!

I though about all of this as I picked my tea – POTATO (rocket), TURNIP (snowball) & BROAD BEANS (aguadulce) along with some LETTUCE (mixed), RADISH (cherrybelle) & BEETROOT (woden f1) leaves which I’ll have in a salad tomorrow. I also couldn’t resist pulling up the first GARLIC plant – rather a small bulb, & without peeling it, I don’t know if it has split into cloves properly – but it looks fantastc - cheered me up no end!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Onion Disaster!

Well I suppose that our plot at the Hill being trouble free forever was too much to hope for – and sure enough, we have our first – er – ‘challenge’!

I did mention that the onion set leaves were flopping all over the place – but assumed that it was ok because so were everyone else’s – NOT TRUE! Barry, dispensing advice as ever, had been busy up and down the Hill comparing onions, & when he came over to me carrying a book called ‘1001 Fatal Diseases & General Bad News for Vegetable Growers’ or similar & opened with ‘oh – not you as well’, I knew that there was trouble in store!

Apparently we all have something called Stem & Bulb Eelworm which is a ‘microscopic soil-living pest’ which kills young bulbs and produces soft bulbs which can’t be stored. Nice.

I felt better when I had a nose round other plots – David-other-half, Reg-next-plot and neat neighbour John all seem to have it. Not just us then. Treatment seems to be to sterilise the soil using something now illegal, or not to grow onions for years.

Clearly this is appalling news – although onions are cheap in the shops (but not red onions), I use loads to cook with, & they are not practical to grow at home as they need quite a bit of space.

I’ve shared our ills with the kind folks at the Grapevine, & they have cheered me up no end with the consensus being that you can still eat them, so there you go. Interestingly enough, although this affects shallots too, it doesn’t seem to affect autumn sown Japanese onion – so that’ll be at least part of the answer, then.

The weather has been dry all week – with a predictable change to miserable, cold & rainy weather just in time for the bank holiday weekend.

I did manage not to get wet yesterday at the Hill though, & the dry weather meant that there was not as much weeding to do. All the POTATOES are now showing, so I earthed up the main crop (i.e. the ones which are far enough apart to do so!) and sowed short rows of SWEDE (best of all), TURNIP (snowball) and ASPARAGUS PEA in plot A (legumes), some marigold and RADISH (saxa 3) in plot B (misc) & a row of BEETROOT (red ace) in plot C (roots).

I also dug in a couple of huge buckets of manure into a patch in plot B (misc) – supervised by my cheeky robin friend – then planted the Competition Pumpkin plant. I also planting out the Competition Sunflower – but that looks rather droopy (understatement!). I fed both with a ‘traditional high nitrogen feed’ to give them a boost – I’d really like to do well – wouldn’t it be great to win a prize!

Once the ‘jobs’ were out of the way, it was time to ‘collect the booty’, & I took home some POTATOES (rocket), LETTUCE (mixed), RADISH (cherrybelle), SPINACH (hector f1) – & the PRIZE which was a dozen finger sized BROAD BEANS (aguadulce) to be cooked whole with butter – what a feast!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

And the Winner is.....

Now that we’ve had our half plot for 6 months, it’s time for reflection – winners & losers, ups & downs, what do we make of it all…..?

Overall Prize Winners – the crops!
Radish: hasn’t been eaten by anything (other than us!) – a few flea beetle nibbles on the leaves, but hardly anything.
Potatoes: pulling up some of the first earlies (rocket) has been so exciting – just like the bran tub at the school fair! Would like grow different ones next year to compare the taste
Carrots: first few finger sized ones just ready now – very sweet indeed!
Lettuce: growing the ‘mixed leaf’ sort gives good variety in salads. We had a real false start with the lettuce though, as we had old seed which came to nothing at all.
Spinach: I like this, you can certainly tell you’re eating a veg with spinach – it just tastes…well…green!
Turnip: you get an awful lot of ‘top’ for each root, and eaten raw they are rather peppery, but – boy – sliced and cooked for a few minutes they are suberb!

Runner Up Prize – the Potential crops!
Peas: flowering like mad, the plants have grown about a foot in a few days – I think that they’ve enjoyed the rain!
Broad Beans: they are so near ready it is untrue – pods about 3” long. I may have to have a few on Saturday. Broad bean tops are ok – but just taste ‘green’ but not really anything to write home about.

The ‘If I’d have known then….’ Prize
Planting distances: I have had a tendency to assume that I know better about these things than all the current gardening gurus, my fellow plotholders and generations of man all the way back to stone age hunter-gatherers, and have consequently been guilty of (1) sowing seed too thickly so we have a lot of wasted thinnings & (2) sowing too close together.

I can’t get a hoe between the onions so have to hand weed the chickweed which is a soul destroying job. I can’t get between the rows of potatoes to earth up so I have ‘field of potatoes’ rather than ‘ridged rows of potatoes’. Oh, and a label or two would have been useful

The ‘Touch Wood’ Prize
Baaaaaad bugs, and the lack thereof: besides prolific bean weevil attacks on the broad beans & peas, it doesn’t seem to have affected the plants, besides giving them a fetching frilly-leaved look. No slug damage to speak of, black fly on broad beans spotted & tender tops pinched out.

The Community Prize
For me, split between my fellow plotholders – characters each and every one, and the Grapevine gardening forum – whatever your comment/query/concern/news there’s always someone to reply/solve/commiserate or just chat with. Of course Wellie and Trousers deserve a special mention (see their aspiration garden in their blog) - I’m delighted to have come to know them not least because of their generosity of spirit, Wellie’s wicked sense of humour and a final mention for their lovely cat who could be a twin of one of mine.

Lifetime Achievement award
Mother Nature: this could all happen without us, but we couldn’t do any of it without the soil, the horse muck, the worms, the weather – take a titchy seed, watch it grow into a plant, eat the fruit 3 months later.

Don’t tell me that isn’t impressive.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fruits of our Labour!

A day of sunshine and heavy showers – real April weather with blustery winds too, & more rain forecast – but it saves on the watering, I guess!

I spent a smashing few hours at the Hill today – I even managed to avoid most (but certainly not all!) of the showers – Reg-next-plot was there, along with a number of other plotholders up & down the site.

I wanted to sow the seeds that we bought last week at Malvern, but first the inevitable weeding. Today’s ‘live and learn’ lesson is that it really is a pain having the onions so close together – the tops also flop everywhere (so do everyone else’s – I did check) so you can’t get the hoe in, and chickweed is maddening stuff to try to get out wholesale rather than just breaking the tops off.

I’m now less worried about fitting everything in (except pumpkins, of which more later) because I realise that as we’re eating up the short rows, it does create more space for the next lot.

As I was weeding, Hayden-club-secretary pulled up and was very complimentary about the size of the parsnips – nice man, knows how to encourage the newbies! Reg-next-plot said that the secret was apparently to have no patience and sow them far too early. That’ll be me then – although it does seem to have worked out pretty well.

Hayden also said that if we wanted to enter the ‘heaviest pumpkin’ and the ‘tallest sunflower’ competitions, the young plants were 50p each & to help myself from the polytunnel. Well of course we want to have a bash at those! So I chose the sturdiest plants and will plant them out in due course. Reg-next-plot isn’t taking part – he’s no room for the pumpkin – so I’m hoping he’ll give us some sure-fire tips!

Of course, growing merrily at home are two more pumpkin plants (as I didn’t know about the competition at the time) and I know there will definitely be no room for all, so I’m going to have to find a good home for my two!

Once the weeding was done to my reasonable satisfaction (my motto: ‘well, it’s better than it was’), I set about some sowing & put a short row of FRENCH BEANS (sungold), LETTUCE (mixed), RADISH (white icicle), CARROT (early nantes), PARSNIP (gladiator f1), SPRING ONION (white lisbon) and CARROT (multi colour mix). Also I sowed 32 seeds of BEANS (black turtle) which are grown like French beans, but the pods mature on the plants and you shell the beans when they are dry (thank you, Wellie!)

Another innovation (thank you AGAIN, Wellie) was putting coloured balls on all the canes which have a practical you-wont-poke-your-eye-out quality as well as looking utterly FAB! They drew many complimentary comments, and made my fellow plotholders smile!

Finally, I pulled some RHUBARB which is now part of a rhubarb sponge cooking in the oven as we speak. Also I picked RADISH (Mirabeau) & LETTUCE (mixed) which are in a salad for tea along with some very small CARROTS (Adelaide) & POTATOES (rocket). I also picked some of the outer SPINACH (hector f1) leaves which will be for tomorrow’s dinner.

It’s taken six months, but – boy – is all that hard work paying off!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

And do it properly this time - mk 2!

It’s been a very fine day at the Hill today – that is ‘fine’ as in ‘good’ as opposed to ‘fine’ as in ‘dry’.

I arrived at the Hill just as a shower started – & met the indomitable Fran & husband Alan who invited me into their shed to keep dry – & for a cup of tea which was very civilised – if a little crowded.

Fran dispenses gardening tips like confetti – lots of really useful information, including which size netting butterflies can and can’t get through (good old Wilko comes up trumps again) & not to leave the plank flat on the soil as it will attract slugs which will then scoff everything in sight.

Jane arrived as the rain stopped & after we had a tour of Fran & Alan’s plot – utterly fabulous – we set about sorting out the bean canes. Half an hour, some string, extra canes & another substantial shower later, we have something of which we can be rather more proud.

As a finale we sowed RUNNER BEANS (Reg-next-plot) down one side & CLIMBING FRENCH BEANS (blue lake) down the other. We also put in a short row of RADISH (cherrybelle), CARROTS (early nantes), TURNIP (snowball) & LETTUCE (mixed).

We picked a bucketload of radish – some of which has gone to good homes, as there is a limit to the number of radish that a person can consume. We have a tip for rabbit owners – they LOVE radish leaves, although our research also shows that neither young inquisitive dogs nor fat & otherwise greedy cats are quite so keen.

I also put a row of marigold and nasturtium seeds in between the garlic plants, thinned the carrots and hoed up some weeds.

On inspection of the broad beans, the blackfly seem to be present at some of the tips, so I pinched them all out (lightly steamed for tea – yum!) & got filthy whilst fishing out a few small potatoes for tomorrow’s dinner.

Going to rinse the worst of the wet soil off before I got in the car, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a thoughtful plotholder has provided a tablet of soap and nail brush by our nearest tap!

Civilisation, indeed!

Friday, May 11, 2007

When a girl's thoughts turn to SHOPPING!

We’re still getting rain – it’s been quite constant over the last 2 or 3 days – the trays holding the pots certainly want emptying out regularly before everything drowns!

I had a small potting-on session last night – so now the half a dozen BRUSSELS SPROUTS (Bedford filbasket) have now joined the tray of 18 CABBAGE (primo II) & 18 CAULIFLOWER (all the year round).

I also potted on the TOMATO (balconi yellow) which I want to use in hanging baskets here at home, & sowed half a dozen more in jiffys (well, the kitchen windowsill looks so bare!)

I’m a bit worried about the SWEETCORN (conquerer f1) – they are having a hard time of it with being too wet, perhaps. That and the big pieris pot falling on top of them a couple of times in the wind has not helped.

Thinking of a shopping list for Malvern – under the constraints of my general frugality – I would very much like to buy:

  • Various seeds if they are on offer/if they are exotic/interesting
  • Water retaining granules for the hanging basket – only if cheaper than Wilko
  • Netting for brassica bed – ditto

What I WILL NOT be buying:

  • Anything which can be reasonably be described as a ‘gadget’
  • Anything which can otherwise be picked up in a skip/Oxfam/be homemade – I’m thinking of the magic words ‘raised bed’
  • Any veg seedlings – however tempting!
  • Any item of clothing designed specifically for the gardener – exception may be made if I can find a sleeveless jacket at a reasonable cost – no, not even that – I’ll keep my eye out at Oxfam

The forecast for tomorrow varies from hour to hour, but I want to strengthen the bean pole run at the Hill, & then it’s supposed to be wet on Sunday – but nil desperandum it’s going to be a fabulous day!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Taste of Things to Come!

We've had some actual RAIN over the last two days - hurrah! You can almost hear the earth making big sponge-like sucky noises! After emptying a good inch of water out of all seedlings' containers, I went to the Hill to see what the plot thought about having a good soaking.

As you might expect, everything was looking very happy indeed - I thinned out the SPINACH (hector f1), & realised that the thinnings would make a portion of veg for tea - a rather miserly portion after cooking, I later realised (but lovely nonetheless), & after picking a few radish too, I went for 10/10 on the impatience scale & had a furtle around under the POTATOES (rocket) to see what I could find!

I was rewarded with 5 potatoes of a reasonable size - a bit smaller than golf balls but they came home and went straight in the pan with a sprig of mint. Delicious! If this is what we have to look forward to, I'm all for it!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Are We Nearly There Yet...?

It’s really dry here still – with just enough rain to dampen the ground last night & this morning & it’s blowy too – as it has been for the last few days.

In fact, looking at the bean pole run at the Hill yesterday waving around in the wind, I think that we’d better strengthen it before we put the beans in – I’d hate to have the whole lot collapse when all those yummy beans are growing up it! Looking at Reg-next-plot’s bean poles as well as neat neighbour John’s neat structure I think that I can see where the weakness is – it’s in the horizontal poles at the top which give each other support when they overlap – except ours don’t very much.

This dry weather does have some compensation – the weeds pull out of the dust pretty easily, but that doesn’t cut much ice as far as the ol’ back is concerned after a couple of hours bending!

Everyone’s plots seem to be coming on now – even without the rain – especially Reg-next-plot’s strawberry plants which are full of flowers & David-other-half even though he only seems to have spent about 15mins at his plot in the last 2 months.

I can’t wait to pick some of our tasty looking crops! Clearly I’m not complaining one jot, but it’s been months now since we’ve taken the plot at the Hill, & yet the only things that we’ve been eating have been radish, radish & more radish. Perhaps for next year, some earlier lettuce would be very much appreciated!

I’m delighted that something which I’m taking to be the Jerusalem Artichokes seem to have come up at long last – they were planting mid February, so I’d more or less given up on them. Also showing are a row of TURNIP (snowball) & RADISH (cherrybelle) put in last weekend, the CARROTS (early nantes) & BEETROOT (woden f1) in the root bed & some unidentifiable potatoes. Memo to self – next year plant potatoes FURTHER APART & MARK EACH ROW!

Other exciting news is that there are now flowers on some of the PEAS (kelvedon wonder) sown at the end of February, & the POTATOES (rocket) are showing flower buds, so about 3 weeks till eating?

Jane was up with E on Saturday, & they had a good old weed of plot B (misc) & sowed LAND CRESS, SPINACH (hector f1), SPRING ONIONS (white lisbon), CARROTS (early nantes) & DILL.

Once I’d had a good old weed & a hoe (including this week’s disaster of hoeing straight over the row of marigold seeds that went in a couple of weeks ago), I put in a short row of LETTUCE (mixed) in plot B (misc), & a row of CARROT (early nantes) in plot C (roots). I squashed a half long row of RUNNER BEANS (dwarf pickwick) – thank you GoGrow – between the peas & broad beans.

My cheeky robin friend was back again to inspect my hoeing – but he must be camera shy, as the photo I took of him this week sitting on top of the pea netting support was just as hopeless as the one of him on the spade handle last week!

I thinned the TURNIPS (snowball) – they’ve been in about 6 weeks & are looking quite big now (on top at least) – & the parsnips, which are now looking really good.

I came home with a bunch of radish, to put in the salad for tea, & then repotted the CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) & CABBAGE (primo II) – which have been merrily growing in their jiffys – into 3” pots. They’ve got quite a long wait until they see any soil as they go into plot A after the beans & peas are all done, but I hope this will keep them happy for the time being.

We’ll have to think about netting for the brassicas – but with the Malvern Show next weekend, I don’t think that we’ll be short of ideas…
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...