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...........

Saturday, December 20, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot D (legumes)

We started off the legume bed at the beginning of the year with overwintering leeks, which were great, despite some allium beetle damage. There weren’t quite enough really, but despite knowing this, I’ve got even fewer growing at the moment (combination of the plants not doing too well, & too few seeds sown!). I let one of the leeks flower for seed too, so no excuses next year!

The beans & peas have been fabulous – after joining the Heritage Seed Library last year, five out of my six choices of seeds were legumes, because they are tasty either fresh, dried or frozen, prolific, they crop for ages, they are pretty, & it’s easy to save the seeds.

Apart from the HSL peas & beans, we also put in some kelvedon wonder peas – which grow much taller than they were supposed to, & I didn’t support properly so they flopped everywhere and drove me mad – some dwarf French beans (barlotti & tendergreen) and runner beans.

Early in the season the broad beans did really well – the crimson flowered variety in particular was lovely – pretty resistant against blackfly, gorgeous flowers & tasty bright green beans. These are a definite for next year!

Overall, the dwarf French beans did really need to be supported in some way as they were so prolific that the plants weren’t quite robust enough to hold themselves up – & the climbing beans make better use of the space.

I do think that having shorter rows of canes ‘tent-stylee’ worked well, but I think that wigwams for next year will make for stronger structures against the weather – particularly autumn gales.

The peas were brilliant – but there weren’t nearly enough of them! I’ve saved seed for next year, though, so we can expand the amount grown.

Now this bed is half sown with brassicas for over winter . I haven’t quite got this right in that the sprouts won’t be ready for Christmas, & all the cauliflowers came ready at once, but the sprouting broccoli has been great, & I’m expecting plenty of red cabbage for the Spring.

All the dried beans are being eaten, saved for sowing next year or swapped for other varieties with other on-line gardeners. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the seed box holds rather more beans than one might expect to fit into the plot, & the new HSL catalogue arrived this week too…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot C (potatoes)

And now for a phenomenal success – the potatoes! As this was the roots plot last year, it took a bit of juggling to get the last of the parsnips out, & the plot manured before it was time to put in the first potatoes, but it all worked out in the end.

It was very worthwhile going to the potato day at Ryton in February – there was a really useful sheet with allsorts of information about the various varieties & their characteristics, then all the potatoes were sold loose at about 18p a spud.

The first earlies were both good (lady cristl & maris bard) with the lady cristl edging ahead on taste, so that’s one for next year. The second earlies were charlotte (excellent waxy spud) & blue edzul, which were lookers, but did have a tendency to disintegrate on cooking. Even steaming them didn’t seem to solve that.

The main crops were really good – HUGE tubers! The damp summer helped – although this ultimately led to the onset of blight, but the potatoes were ready to dig up by then anyway. Both the varieties were a real success (pentland dell & picasso) & make brilliant mash & jacket potatoes (although you’d be exceptionally greedy to have a whole one).

After the first earlies were dug up, the plan was to plant out leeks for the winter. I think that the timing of this may have gone a bit awry in that the leeks are still really weedy & not really up to the mark, & now is the time that I would like to be digging them up & eating them. Perhaps they will perk up at the onset of spring to fill that hungry gap.

The rest of the plot has been sown with grazing rye green manure – however the germination has been very poor indeed – so it’s back to the drawing board for that one. Never mind, I have two whacking great sacks of spuds in the garage which will keep me going for ages – brilliant!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot B (roots)

Plot B was the roots crop this year – well, in the main it was, but there were sweetcorn, lettuces & radish which made their way into there too, but it doesn’t pay to be over-rigid with these things, I’m sure. That’s another way of saying we don’t always get it right, of course…

So, we had over wintering Japanese onions & garlic in this bed early on, both of which did pretty well – the garlic especially. The onions are great too, but they are not keeping especially well. Par for the course, apparently – we should also have onions from seed in if we want them to keep over winter. Now we did have some seed onion in too – the red Brunswick – but red onions don’t keep that well either, so back to the drawing board with these.

Spring onions did very well – I found the tip of sowing half a dozen in a small pot then growing them all on together in a clump worked really well. You just dig the whole lot up when you want a bunch of spring onions – in fact, Prize Winning spring onions! They do take forever looking like bits of grass before they get going though.

The sweetcorn was a real hit Рwe trebled the number of plants this year, & it paid off. Loads of cobs over a period of over a month РI started getting a bit blas̩, casually picking & eating them straight from the plants if I was feeling a bit peckish.

I’ve now found a radish variety that I like in saxa 3 – which isn’t too hot – & these are Prize Winning radish too after our success at the show! The lettuces were great too – we had some lovely cos lettuce seedlings from cheery Brian & Pauline, & our own iceberg. We still had too many ready at the same time, but we weren’t quite as overwhelmed as last year!

The parsnips were fantastic – we had a whole 20’ row, all of which seemed to be monsters! Now this year we have sensibly rationed ourselves to 24 parsnip plants. Mind you, they seem not to be as massive in size, so now I’m worrying that we won’t have enough to see us through to Spring…

For a really low maintenance crop, beetroot has to win hands down. I’m not overkeen on the taste, but I did want to make some pickle, so direct sowed a couple of short rows in mid June & just ignored them until I dug them up a couple of week ago. Fantastic!

There is no getting around the fact that the carrots were dreadful – again! We just don’t seem to be able to avoid the carrot fly. I really need to either make a pretty big raised area/container (which will take an awful lot of compost at £3 a bag – that would buy a LOT of carrots!) or work out an effective way of covering them or using a barrier, which is what I favour. And no, ‘carrot-fly resistant’ varieties aren’t.

We also grew swiss chard. I know it looks pretty, I know that it’s there when there’s not much else growing, it’s just that I really am not at all keen. Give me kale any day – so most of the plants ended up running to seed & being composted. On the bright side, that’s one lot of seeds that I can happily give away out of the extremely overfull seedbox…

Sunday, December 07, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot A (misc.)

Plot A was legumes last year, & so should have been brassicas over winter, then the short season miscellaneous crops this summer.

In reality, the only brassicas that we had over winter were some curly kale plants. I love curly kale (we’ve grown a flat-leaved kale this year, but I’ve found that I prefer the curly kale) & the few plants of a dwarf variety were not nearly enough.

We had 7 varieties of tomato, & interplanted with five squash varieties. Overall, the tomatoes were not great – although they were better looking plants than last year’s (which were planted out late & leggy), I didn’t keep a good enough eye on them with regards to side shooting & staking. In retrospect, being rather more ruthless about only allowing a limited number of trusses to set would have been a good move too.

The blight did for them in the end, but we did have some ripe tomatoes which was an improvement on last year! Of the varieties grown, the heritage broad ripple yellow currant cherry tomato was prolific & tasty; the alicante & harbinger good looking but not over tasty & the paul robeson black beef tomato was juicy & good, but in general the beef tomatoes were disappointing.

The squash were much more successful! I discovered that there are many different varieties of squash, & we grew winter squash – pumpkins & similar, whose skins cure & harden & keep well – & they are proving very tasty too.

One of the plants had to be ditched as it had a mosaic virus, but the rest thrived – the most prolific in terms of growth & number of squash was the pomme d’or which must have yielded over 50 tennis ball sized fruit which are creamy when cooked.

The red kuri is another rambling squash which had about 4 orange 8-10” round fruit on each which are fleshy & sweet & make brilliant soup. The buttercup & redmolo squash are more compact bush varieties, which means that they are a lot less unruly than the ramblers, however, they have had fewer fruit.

Next year, I’ll make sure that we have a courgette plant or two – I’m not entirely sure why we didn’t get round to these this year – & we must also try a cucumber or two, these two crops can take some of the room that the tomatoes took this year – I’ll try growing tomatoes at home in an effort to finally thwart the blight...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

End of year report!

Well doesn’t time fly! Mid November marked the end of our second year at the Hill, so it’s high time that I did the Annual Report…

As last year, we have some overall winners, losers & conclusions:

  • It is still fabulous fun – we’ve met more allotment holders on site, & no longer feel like absolute new girls. This said, I would think that we will retain ‘new girl’ status for many years to come in the eyes of the old hands, but there’s no harm in that.

  • Most prolific crop: parsnip – we’ve grown fewer this year – hopefully not too few!
  • Most disappointing crop 1: for the second year running – carrots – can’t seem to get these right at all, with early, mid season & late sowings still all getting decimated by the carrot fly. Either diligent covering of the carrots, or growing in high sided containers is the way forward here.
  • Most disappointing crop 2: again, for the second year running – tomatoes – although we did better than last year, blight still curtailed the crop. Perhaps growing half a dozen plants in pots at home is the answer.
  • Most delicious crop: here’s one thing I have learned – each crop is utterly delicious as it is eaten properly in it’s season. I can think back now to how wonderful the first peas, or runner beans were, the taste of the sweetcorn straight from the plant & also how much I’m looking forward to the first of the leeks.

  • The weather’s been ok overall – a bit of a lack of prolonged summer, but that’s meant that we’ve not had to water too much, & the potatoes have been marvelous.

  • The Show was terrific fun – it’s very much easier to enter classes that you can plan ahead for (e.g. cakes, pickles, potatoes, onions, rhubarb) than those for which the crops have to be ready for at peak of perfection on the day (e.g. beans, peas, tomatoes, radish, most other things), but I did better than I expected – although it was quite stressful!

  • I’m delighted with the compost bins – we now have two, & have turned out our first batch of compost on to the plot. Very satisfying.

  • Now the bed positions are pretty settled, we aim to make the beds rather more permanent – we’ll use pegs and boards (I think) & wood chippings for the paths

  • Another area to look at is that of the fruit from the plot. The gooseberries were completely rubbish this year, & the plants are full of terrible thorns - they will be lucky to survive the coming year! We do have strawberries in situ & covered with the cage, so hopefully we’ll benefit from those this year; & we still have to make a decision about the raspberries – i.e. whether we keep the suckers that keep popping up, or buy new ones & sort out posts & wires accordingly.

  • The little greenhouse has been a real asset at home for seedlings but it could have been used for a couple of chili plants too, I think.

  • We’ve started putting more flowers at the front of the plot – I must sow our own seeds for next year, tho’ – the bedding plants were our greatest expense this year.

  • We’ve grown more unusual & heritage varieties this year – particularly beans & peas which are not only good dried for the winter, but have easy-to-save seeds which I’ve been offering to other allotment holders at the Hill, & to on-line gardeners too. On the seed front, we have an embarrassingly high number of seed packets e.g. half a dozen varieties of carrots, when we can hardly grow one decent one. I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to have a good sort out, & to only have new packets from the Heritage Seed Library. Ha!

  • I’ve made a valiant effort with pickles (surprisingly good), preserves (er… needs further work) & wine making (pretty fab, actually!), & this is certainly an area to concentrate on next year…

What strikes me is that I thought we’d done a lot last year, & looking back on this year, so much more – fantastic! All in all, a very successful, tasty & enjoyable year – I shall raise a glass of parsnip wine to gardeners the world over – may your fingers be forever green!

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