Posts tagged allotment

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 to reserve a place.


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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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Allotment Fruit Trees – winter maintenance

allotment fruit tree mulching

Removing the old mulch from the base of first year fruit trees

Jupiter apple tree top-dressed with manure

Top-dressed with well-rotted manure because the mini-orchard was planted in poor soil and modern thinking is not to remediate the planting hole which can lead to root binding but to top feed instead.


Jupiter apple tree top-dressed and re-mulched

Weeds removed, top dressing added, mulch reapplied – tree ready for spring!

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Belated Christmas present

It’s hardly been going to the plot weather, hence the complete lack of posts. But I did go and check my allotment yesterday, as the gales have caused quite a lot of damage locally. Nothing was wrong there, but look at this:

allotment strawberry bed My new ‘free form’ strawberry bed! It’s been built alongside the path and to abut (but not touch) the asparagus bed, so it’s an odd shape but I love it.

Now I just need to drag OH to the plot again so we can bed it down properly, then it’s my job to fill it with manure, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow … I hope the strawberries appreciate the efforts we’re going to!

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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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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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Mountain spinach seedlings getting used to their new locations

mountain spinach seedlings

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