Archive for brassica

Allotment currants and seedlings

pruned currant bush goblet shapeIt was a year ago today that we picked up our fruit trees. Then, this December, we drove to Brogdale again, to collect our final tree, a grafted Krasnyi Standeart, which is still waiting to be planted out – the weather really hasn’t been on our side!

I can assure you there’s nothing less interesting to look at than a fruit tree in winter, so I didn’t bother to photograph them. Instead, I have a nice picture of one of our currants which I pruned a couple of weeks ago and has a lovely goblet shape, if I say so myself!

Today was the half marathon on Brighton seafront, which apparently had to be snow-ploughed to remove all the shingle that was thrown up in the big storm the day before yesterday before the runners got down there! It was a gorgeous sunny day, and I knew lots of people who were running so I was a little torn about whether to go and spectate but it’s been such a rotten year that I felt obliged to grab any chance to get up to the plot and check things were okay. They were okay, although apparently two sheds were flattened on our site.

february rhubarbOf course the long (looooong) wet winter has had some upsides, although they are mighty few. One of them is the rhubarb! Rhubarb is doing well this year, and ours, which was well mulched with the last lawn clippings of 2013, has roared into the new year and I will be harvesting our first fresh fruit of 2014 next weekend!

broad beans and leek seedlingsAfter yesterday’s excitement of spending time in the glasshouse at RHS Wisley with the wonderful butterflies, my day seems really mundane, although it was very productive. My glasshouse is not exactly to Wisley standards although with a little bit of sun it seems just as warm, and my plants may not be nearly as exotic as theirs, although I’m happy with my broad beans which got off to a late start and are looking beautifully healthy. I hope to be getting them planted out next week too, if the windy weather abates a bit. They’ll go out under a cloche to give them some protection from the winter.

I also got on with some sowing: winter lettuce (two kinds: winter density and winter gem), the first batch of radishes and a tray that contains half kohl rabi and half leeks for later transplanting. I felt so happy to get some seeds underway at last!

I harvested leeks, red kale, thyme and a tiny amount of purple sprouting broccoli …I do wish the psb would hurry up, it would be lovely to have a bit of home-grown veg that I wasn’t already eating three times a week!

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Grow and Tell allotment workshops 2014

It’s been too wet to do anything at the plot, so I haven’t been posting. But I have been writing courses!

allotment harvest29 March – propagating cropping plants (for an extra 50 pence take home a ready-rooted lemongrass plant for your cold greenhouse or conservatory

19 April – planning a productive plot (or replanning one that doesn’t seem to be working, with a focus on avoiding weed notices and other problems

31 May – Brussels Sprouts, cabbage, cauliflowers, purple sprouting broccoli: how to plant brassicas and cover your seedlings, pest protection and summer-long maintenance tips to get the best from these long-growing winter crop

allotment squashes21 June – growing winter squash – how to have a harvest that will feed you through the winter

27 July – watering and mulching – practical ways to cut down on watering, conserve moisture and keep your crops alive through the summer

20 September – composting and green manures – this is the month to start adding nourishment back into your soil: tips on choosing green manures, building compost bins and making good compost

6 December – special class on training and pruning fruit trees in winter.

Limited to 8 participants to allow for maximum practical experience and problem solving. Meet at 11:00 at Weald Avenue Allotment Gate – indoor space available in bad weather – workshops finish at 13:00. Each session includes hands-on experience, comes with notes on the plants and techniques covered, and finishes at the WAG shop so people can buy seeds and supplies if they wish.

While the site is largely wheelchair accessible, those with limited mobility are advised to arrange a site visit first, to ensure they are comfortable with the location. £5.00 per person (please note some classes have an optional extra charge for plants to take home, there is no charge for crops harvested on the day!) All money goes to Weald Allotment Gardeners (WAG) for upkeep of Weald Site.

Prior booking is essential. Please email growandtell@hotmail.com to reserve a place on a session or book through the WAG shop.

Also, I have some very exciting news about some fun things I’ll be doing this spring with some very nice people, maybe in a shop near you … but as nothing is finalised yet, I shall just have to be a bit of a tease!


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Squash harvest and crop disappointments

giant butternut ripeningOur squash harvest has been pretty good this year: despite the pollination rate being very low (even with hand pollination) we’ve got some good sized Turks Turban and Crown Prince and the butternut squashes are magnificent.

We’ve had eleven butternuts, plus this monster which is still curing … never seen a butternut this size before!

giant courgetteMy former allotment neighbour, Maisie, used to have a lot of sayings, some of them garbled, but ‘never get between a man and his marrow’ was one of them that I’ve always taken to heart. There’s something about allotment men which is a bit … obsessive. OH has always been that way inclined, whether it’s the Best Kept Allotment or the biggest onion, tallest sunflower or whatever. This year it was his decision to see how big this marrow would get. Except it’s not a marrow – it’s a courgette that was missed in the harvesting and is now taking over the entire plot. The glove is there to gove some sense of scale … roll on the first frost is what I say!

I’ve been tying up the asparagus now that the weather is getting windier, pruning the tayberry, picking apples and kale and getting beds ready for the overwintering onions and garlic – general preparation for the winter, made rather unseasonable by the sudden hot weather. All my peppers have ripened and so the greenhouse is almost empty except for the lemongrass which is doing well, and a couple of Royal Black Chilli plants which will soon come home to be overwintered in a heated house. They don’t tend to survive in an unheated greenhouse.

flowering psbA couple of things have really disappointed me this year: the first is the purple sprouting broccoli, which had me running up to the plot every day in February to see if it had sprouted yet. Admittedly this is an earlier variety but it shouldn’t be flowering now! I’ve had to cut off every one of the flower-heads that had actually flowered on two of the plants and can only cross my fingers and hope that the others don’t burst into flower too. I suppose I’m going to have to run to the plot every day from now on, but for entirely the opposite reason.

powdery mildew on raspberriesAnd my gorgeous Autumn Gold raspberries have got a little powdery mildew – just one plant, and I’ve cut it all off and removed the mildewed material from the plot, but it’s the first time that I’ve seen mildew on yellow raspberries so I hope it’s a one-off rather than an indicator of things to come.

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Allotment netting

103 fruit cage 2Yesterday we had a Grow and Tell session at the allotment. Amongst other things, we explored the way that bird predation has destroyed many of the spring crops this year. Whilst slugs and snails haven’t been massively in evidence, birds definitely have, and many of us have had crops from fruit bushes to brassicas to salads stripped by hungry birds.

As a result, plot #103 is shrouded in every possible form of net and covering. The strawberries have a net anyway, on their specially designed roundabout bed, the fruit cage around the currants is made from netting, (the photo shows it just after construction in April) canes and those balls that have loads of sockets in them to accommodate said canes, and the brassica cage is a collapsible netting affair that moves around the plot every year. On top of that, there’s a bunch of upside down dump stacks (the things shops use to pile up sale items), a plethora of cloches and even some sieves and colanders that are no longer fit for kitchen use but work to cover up seedlings!

I also have a recipe to share, but I’ll post that tomorrow.

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Spring allotment tasks – cauliflower planting

cauli planting 1Every allotment holder has to make some triage decisions. They might not know that’s what they are making, but they do.

Example – do you protect your plants from slugs? If so, how? Maybe you protect the most tender and valuable with slug pellets, the less valuable with various cheap and cheerful barriers like sand or salt and those you’re willing to sacrifice with nothing at all. That’s triage, it means focusing time and attention on what can be saved, or protected.

cauli planting 2For us, triage is applied in two main ways – keeping predators away from plants and keeping plants away from damaging elements. The former case involves examples like the fruit cages people place over currants, while the latter is what we do when we invest in greenhouses, cold frames, polytunnels etc.

We protect our purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflowers from cabbage white butterflies, but we let our kale and cabbages take their chances. I don’t actually care if I never harvest another cabbage, but I care like mad if I lose a single cauliflower!

Our system includes digging holes with a bulb planter, interpolating (posh literary word for inserting something between two other things) the cauliflower seedlings with bottle planters filled with stones, and covering with netting or fleece.

cauli planting 3Last year we used fleece and while we got a good set of caulis from the process we weren’t thrilled by the effort we had to put in – every time we wanted to check progress or water the seedlings we had to lift the fleece which was something of a hassle, and after a few weeks the fleece itself started to tear and at the end of the growing season we had to bundle it up and throw it away.

This year we’ve gone for netting. It’s the same stuff we use to cover the currants and the purple sprouting broccoli and we generally get four or five years good use out of it (by good use I mean that it covers two crops a year: one summer, one winter) and the best thing is that we don’t have to lift it to water.

The bottle watering system works for us in summer as it means we water directly to the roots of the plant and the lack of surface water reduces germination of weed seeds. Of course rain contributes to weed germination but the more we can do to reduce surface watering, the less we have to do in hoeing and hand weeding.

cauli planting 4As the cauliflowers grow, we take out every other plant when they are still quite small 10-12cm and allow the remainder to grow to full size. This means that if we are lucky we can plant closer than the recommended planting distance and get two harvests a few weeks apart. If we’re unlucky we get a glut of cauliflowers which all have to be eaten at once – but that’s the kind of bad luck I can definitely put up with!

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Allotment – nothing to report

103 greenhouse 30 mar 13It’s just too cold to plant anything out!

I’ve potted up 18 celeriac seedlings, six chocolate pepper seedlings, started off red cabbage, brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and lots of flower seeds … and everything is clogging up the greenhouse because we’re still getting zero temperatures at night.

It would be depressing if all the seeds weren’t popping up as if they really thought spring was here!

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Greenhouse tasks for early March

103 pea seedlings 6 mar 13We’ve had a couple of warm days, but the cold weather is heading back to us again. As a result, the greenhouse plants that have been spending time outside, to acclimatise (like the polyanthus I divided earlier in the week) are heading back indoors for a while. In addition to those plants, we’ve got pea seedlings that are definitely more like pea plants now! The great thing about growing them in biodegradable pots is that we don’t have to rely on the weather getting good to plant them out. The roots are already through the base of these pots, but that’s okay, we just sprinkle some multi-purpose compost between the pots, the roots spread out and down, and the plants keep growing strongly.

103 rocket 6 mar 13The rocket is also doing amazingly well – this crop comes from the tail end an old packet of seeds (use by 2011) which I found in the bottom of a drawer in the shed. I simply poured the seeds out and watered them – rocket is easier to grow than to not grow, in my experience, and I reckon we’ve got 100% germination of this supposedly ‘past sell by’ date packet. We’ll start to harvest in about a week or so: as they are very crowded, I’ll begin by thinning out the growth, taking around half the baby plants to use in a salad. From I will give it a week, thin them again, and then it will be cut and come again until these plants start to bolt.

103 chocolate pepper seed sowingOur cauliflower seeds are germinating well too – we have great success with cauliflowers (almost none with celery – just to make clear that I’m not boasting here, I’m just lucky with caulis, I think) and we’ve marked out on the plot where the cloches will go to protect the seedlings from birds, cabbage whites and the remorseless attentions of our local fox which does nothing to curb the rodent population but does like to take a dump on newly planted crops! The last task today was to sow some chocolate peper seeds. These are the only peppers we grow now, as we prefer their sweet flavour to all others, and I sow them in a pot, covering half the seed and leaving about half not so much covered as ‘obscured’ by just enough potting medium to hide them from view – for some reason chocolate peppers seem to germinate better with the lightest possible covering of soil. We can only grow four plants, given our space limitations, and I expect to get seven or eight seedlings from this pot, so we will swap the other seedlings, probably for tomato plants from other growers.

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