Archive for pumpkin and squash

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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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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Progress and harvest

Thornless blackberries

Thornless blackberries

Butternut squashes - very prolific this year

Butternut squashes – very prolific this year

Soldier beans almost ready to harvest

Soldier beans almost ready to harvest

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Crown Prince Squash bulking up!

103 crown prince july 13Gosh – first Crown Prince squash … that’s looking very good indeed!

It’s rained a lot of today, so I’m mainly tying things up and pinning things down, and putting these big squashes (that seem to have almost appeared overnight) on tiles and flat, smooth pebbles so that they don’t sit on the damp ground (how lovely to be able to feel moisture in the soil) and develop rot or get attacked by slugs, snails or woodlice.

Its our first year of growing Crown Prince, and I’m thrilled at the way they are racing ahead of both the Turk’s Turban and the Butternut squash.

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Allotment rules – the law of diminishing returns

103 tayberry handfulFunnily enough, as I type this, Rebus has just learnt this law. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks but you can certainly introduce them to immutable laws.

We used to own another Cairn Terrier, whom Rebus cordially detested, by the name of Falco. Falco loved to eat … well, anything, to be honest: cardboard, vegetables, gravel, cat poo, flowers, socks, fruit … especially fruit. He used to eat any kind of fruit, but especially windfall fruit because he was a little dog and that was what it was easiest for him to scavenge. He would get terrible bellyache from eating little green windfall apples but it never stopped him. So we learned to reward him with better food – if he brought in a rock-hard windfall apple, usually brown and bruised and rotten on one side and as bitter as sour grapes, we took it from him and gave him a little dog treat.

Rebus never ate, or brought in, a single windfall. He was contemptuous of the process and scornful of Falco. However, since Falco died, several years ago, Rebus had decided it’s his job – after all, somebody needs to do it, right?

rebus camouflagueNow Falco was greedy and probably ate three or four apples for every one that he brought in. Rebus is conscientious and brings in every apple he finds. That could be a lot of treats!

So the law of diminishing returns has to apply – he gets a big treat for the first one, a small treat for the second one, half a treat for the third one and a pat on the head for the fourth. He never brings in a fifth apple.

It hasn’t rained here for weeks and weeks and weeks – there was a dribble of drizzle on Wednesday night but it was really insignificant in the face of parched earth and empty water butts! It’s going to rain tomorrow (all day apparently – hurrah!) and I am utterly sick of watering. We can use hoses at the allotment but it’s really a waste of effort for all kinds of reasons – plants need water at their roots, the soil doesn’t need water (unless you’re germinating seeds) and every time you water it you (a) encourage weeds to germinate, (b) stop the roots heading down to find water and encourage them to grow more shallowly.

103 harvest 9 sept 10So dig down and see where your soil is still damp. Usually it’s still wet four to six inches (9-12 cm) below the surface and most roots reach that far. Some plants need a lot of water like winter squashes and tomatoes – water them by all means. Others don’t need that much and watering them to the same level is a waste of time, effort, water and may even damage their productivity. So a lot of what I’ve been doing in the past three weeks is hand watering into plastic bottles sunk in the ground. It’s exhausting. It’s necessary but exhausting.

The law of diminishing returns applies here too. I don’t water courgettes or radishes in this weather – they can die for all I care! They’re low value crops and they usually recover from quite drastic ill-treatment if it doesn’t continue too long. Peas and beans lose out next because while they are great crops, the amount of effort I put into watering them doesn’t get a great return. Perennials get watered with love and care: our new fruit trees and bushes and our asparagus will still be feeding us in five to twenty years time – the return on the investment this year is four to twenty years of harvest – the opposite of diminishment.

So apologies for absence, but the watering can has been calling me …

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Plastic bottle propagators and how to pot on from them

bottle propagators

This is how the propagators looked on 15 May

bottle propagators

And how they looked on 22 May

To pot on from a week-away propagator you need to remove the bottle cap and push gently on the soil and roots in the aperture, to get the whole plant moving out of the wider end.

To pot on from a week-away propagator you need to remove the bottle cap and push gently on the soil and roots in the aperture, to get the whole plant moving out of the wider end.

seedling root formation

Root formation is usually substantial, and it’s fun to be able to see the roots through the clear plastic but if you let the seedlings get too big, you’ll have to tease out the cotton wick from the roots, which can be faffy.

seedling roots

Even if the roots aren’t tangled with the string, it’s good to ease them out of the shape of the bottle top.

squash in flowerpot

Replant nice and deeply, in multipurpose compost and allow to sit in water so that the roots immediately start to reach out – don’t top water.

squashes in pots

And there they are, four Turks Turban and four Crown Prince in their new homes!

P.S. Instructions for making week-away propagators can be found in The Allotment Diaries!

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