Archive for Grow and Tell

Root-trainers and broad beans

broad bean planting

I started by digging out holes for the broad beans

broad beans root-trainers

The beans looked sturdy enough, but what would the root development be like?

broad bean root development

Once opened the root-trainers revealed strong root development

broad bean cloches

The only problem? The first set of cloches were too small to cover all the broad beans!

broad bean seedlings being planted

Larger cloches were the answer. Of 36 bean seeds sown, only two failed to germinate

broad beans in cloche

The broad beans covered with fleece for a week to allow them to fully harden off.

This is the first year we’ve used root-trainers rather than biodegradable pots and I’m impressed with the results so far. After ten days of leaving the beans out during the day and putting them in the shed overnight to avoid potential frosts, I was ready to plant them out…

Today’s harvest was red kale for dinner and some rhubarb which I’m experimenting with – I have a new Paleo rhubarb custard recipe to cook, and if it’s any good the Grow and Tell workshop attendees will get to try it on 29 March.

If you live around Brighton and Hove you’d like to learn to grow your own food (whether you have an allotment or just containers) and particularly if you’re interested in growing your own food to eat Paleo, why not come along to this year’s workshops? On 29 March we’ll be looking at propagating perennial crops like rhubarb and growing exotics like lemongrass. £5.00 per session. Email growandtell@hotmail.com to reserve a place.

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Seedlings, storage ideas and this Sunday’s allotment harvest

I would like to be sharing some exciting news with you about some readings I’m going to be doing … but nothing is finalised yet, so I have to bite my tongue and wait until it is! Meantime:

winter density lettuce seedlings

The winter density lettuce seedlings are through!


radish seedlings

And the radish seedlings are even further along.


clever greenhouse storage solution

Winter is the time to work on storage solutions: like greenhouse flowerpot stockings!


allotment harvest leeks and rhubarb

Today’s allotment harvest: muddy leeks and early rhubarb.


nasty rhubarb

All of which leads to smugness when I see the price of supermarket crops that are of inferior quality to my home-grown ones!


My first workshop of 2014 will be on 29 March and I’ll be teaching people how to propagate perennials and grow their own exotic crops in a cold greenhouse. £5 per student, an extra 50 pence if you want to take home a starter pot of fresh lemongrass. Contact me through comments if you want more information!

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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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October workshopping and allotment harvest

allotment haul 28 sept 13We managed to dodge the weather today! While there was torrential rain in the morning, and torrential rain in the afternoon, our two-hour workshop in the middle of the day passed completely unscathed.

Today we looked at three key topics: winterising greenhouses, curing and storing squashes for winter use, and planting overwintering onions and garlic.

There’s a lot of useful information on the web covering preparing a cold greenhouse for winter so I’m not going to go into all again here.

Harvesting squashes and pumpkins is less well covered though. A lot of people use the fingernail test – if you cannot penetrate the skin of the pumpkin with your fingernail, it’s ready to harvest. The real problem with this test, in my opinion, is that if you can make a hole in the skin with your fingernail, you probably just did, and that immature but nearly ripe pumpkin is now going to be left to face any bacteria, mould or pests that might find said little crevice and crawl inside to proliferate/multiply/feed. This sounds like a risky way of pumpkin testing to me!

103 allotment haul 20 oct 13I prefer a three-fold assessment.

1 – is the vine (the main plant) still supplying nutrients to the pumpkin? So check if it’s green, leafy and verdant (if you’ve already had an air frost it might not be any of those things) and if so, whether the stem where the plant joins the fruit is still plump and moist. As a squash ripens, this stem becomes pale, shrivelled and cracked and it’s easy to see that the fruit isn’t getting ‘fed’ by the plant.

2 – can you (carefully) insert your thumbnail into the stem and make any impression on it? Stems are often prickly so be careful. If you can’t, it’s probable your fruit is mature.

3 – does the skin sound solid when you knock on it and does it feel hard to your fingers? Experienced growers can often tell by weight too, but you need to have been growing pumpkins a few years to be able to assess this – they do actually get a bit lighter when they’re mature, but it really does take years of growing pumpkins to notice!

If you get No to 1 and 2 and Yes to 3 it’s a good time to harvest. If you say no to 1 because the leaves have died away/gone black, it might be you’ve had an air frost already – in which chase you might want to lift your squashes and get them into a frost free environment to cure. Frosts will attack the skin of a pumpkin, causing it to soften and collapse. Rain can also harm mature pumpkins, by forming puddles under the fruit or pools on top of it, which then causes rot to develop.

Curing is the process that allows a squash to be stored for weeks or months. Ripe or mature is not cured, it’s just ready to cure!

A cured squash has a dense, impermeable skin and a fully dried stem. Simply place your pumpkin in a cool, dry place with good air circulation for 7-10 days, turning it every couple of days so that each part is exposed to the air. This means any tiny cuts on the pumpkin skin can heal, the stem can desiccate fully and so no rot, mould or mildew can get in to shorten the life of the squash.

We also cut lots of herbs: thyme, lemon verbena, parsley and pulled some lemongrass for growing on. Harvest today was: a huge butternut squash, red kale, salad onions, lemongrass, Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli and golden raspberries!

I also got to share a very exciting gift with this week’s students. When I went to Hampton Court Flower Show to read from The Allotment Diaries I fell in love with Chris Beardsley’s show garden for McCarthy and Stone Retirement Lifestyles and, having raved about it on and off ever since, was delighted to be sent some packets of the wildflower seed used in the garden! There were actually too many for my needs, which I’m not going to talk about yet as it’s still at the planning stage, so I was able to pass some seeds onto the the students … it will be great to see how they use them! Thank you McCarthy and Stone, specifically Jan and Alexa, for such a lovely surprise in the post!

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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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