May 9

The third year of no-mow May

I have a small patch of grass that I look after outside my house that doesn’t belong to me but I have cut it for the last 22 years. Three years ago I heard about no-mow May and decided that would be what I would do with it. I do cut around the outside of the patch so that it looks ‘gardened’ and not just abandoned as we have had people park their cars on it before.

This year I have looked at the range of plants/weeds growing in it just to try and get some idea of the variety, so here it is.

In the section of grass that has only been left for one year we have a much smaller range of plants: only two types of grass and Cat’s ear so length of time does increase diversity.

If you know what any of these are – especially the ones I have not named – do let me know.

May 8

The wildlife plot April 2023

April is a time of showers and sunshine, sometimes quite windy and sometimes warmer, others colder. I think we had it all this April and the wildlife responded to it by being visible sometimes and not others. Probably as it should be at this time of year. We did have some sightings of insects I have not really been aware of before and some old friends back again such as this buff tailed bumble bee on the grape hyacinth. I love how furry they look.

This month they have also been on the Skimmia, Lithodora and the early geraniums when it has been sunny. They are always the first bumble bees that I see and the most prolific on the plot.

The newcomer, to me, was the Hawthorn fly. There were swarms of them on the plot and down the path between the wildlife plot and my plot and are quite distinctive. They are all black and hover, settling occasionally on flowers and then darting away (very difficult to photograph) and have long legs that drag behind them as they fly and hover. These give them quite a distinctive shape in the air.

The first photo is a little bit blurry but I have included it so that you can see the long back legs. Here they are settled on one of Dave’s brassicas that he has left to flower. Leaving your veg to flower is a really easy way to invite wildlife onto your plot. Hawthorn flies are particularly keen on hawthorn (!) which is in the hedge at the back of the allotment plot, but are also very good pollinators of fruit trees, apples, cherries and some pears which are in full blossom now. With the planting of the native hedging around the plots a couple of years ago, we should be seeing more of these over the next few years if it is allowed to flower.

I think the one in the photo must be a male because it has a large head and large eyes. Apparently the female has a small head and tiny eyes.

All the blogs that I have read about these flies suggests that they are normally seen around the 25th of April – I think we started to see them about the 20th – and they live for about a week. They are certainly not around as I write this. Strong winds can blow them over rivers and streams and this causes fish that feed on floating insects to rise and this is why fish hooks are made to look like them. No trout or grayling in the pond though.

The next thing I found on the plot was a moth sheltering in a patch where I had left weeds to grow – a good enough reason to leave small patches of weeds in out of the way places on our plots. I have no idea what it is and I can’t identify it online so will ask in the moth facebook group. (Update: Someone on the allotment Facebook group identified the moth as a Silver Y – yes it has little white Ys on its wings.) I do, however, know ladybirds and the sunshine brings them out from the cracks and crevices of the manure spread on my veg plot.

And finally, the holly blue which do not just like holly but also like dogwoods, Spindle and Bramble all of which we have on the plot.

What have you seen lately?

May 6

How do I know when it is ready to prick out/transplant/plant out?

We get the best of questions on our veg course at the allotments because we take so much for granted. One of the excellent things about working with adults is that they will ask the questions around the areas that you don’t explain. It is a really good question. Over time, experience will tell you that the plant is too small, too big or just right for the size of container you are growing it in. But, there are other things that you can judge by.

Roots and size of plant.

We sow the majority of our seedlings in modules for a variety of reasons. We know a plant is ready to go out when we start to see the roots coming out of the bottom of the modules.

The celariac below is just about right and ready to be planted out. Look at the size of the plants, the amount of roots coming out and when I pop one of the modules out, the roots in the compost. The plants are not touching each other and you can still see the sides of the modules unlike the lettuce seedlings in the previous pictures.

So, what about vegetables grown in pots? Well, the same principles can be used. Below is one of my tomato plants that could be planted out in my polytunnel now. It is a reasonable size in the pot and the roots are just starting to peep out of the drainage holes.

And finally. How do we know when to prick out seedlings?

Well, here the smaller the better. They only need their seed leaves. This means that their roots are not too big and difficult to get ino the holes we dib for them, we are also less likely to tear the roots as we tease them out. This will all reduce the transplant shock.

Brussel sprout seedlings ready to be pricked out. They are not big!

But don’t just take my word for it. In this article by Charles Dowding, scroll down and you will see a section on transplanting. Charles seems to judge his by the amount of time they have been in the modules – about 4 weeks. Dates on your plant labels help here. He is also trialling planting out when the plants are even smaller this year to see if that has an impact on growth. Tricky with all this rain and not too much sunshine.

Keep on asking those questions.

April 10

In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing

This is a book of 14 essays written during and post-covid, exploring what green spaces and gardening mean to 14 different writers. Taken altogether, it illustrates our need for gardens, whether they belong to us or not, and what they can do for us. I didn’t think there was anything really stand out in the essays, in fact at times I was just confused, but there were things worth a mention.

I enjoyed Nigel Slater’s view of his garden and the changes he has made over the decades. After all, what is gardening if it is not a response to what is going on outside. He talks about the three iterations that have been the garden and why it has changed and settles on the fact that possibly it is in its final form. I bet it isn’t.

I also enjoyed Caroline Craig’s exploration of gardening in Provence, France. She starts off with the romance of it but moves to the toll it takes on the landscape and wildlife. As the place becomes drier and drier, water is needed, chemicals are sprayed and run-off continues. What may appear idyllic is frequently not. And we know that we are losing plants and insects at an alarming rate. The essay introduced me to an article in the Guardian about the theft of a small water lily – it sounding a bit like tulip mania with vast amounts of money exchanged for one bulb of the illusive, must-have plant. It does, also, have the best explanation of the reason why losing just one species of plant is a disaster

He tried to explain extinction in terms that I might understand. Each chromosome is a letter. Each gene is a word. Each organism is a book. “Each plant that is dying contains words that have only been spoken in that book,” he said. “So one plant goes, one book goes, and also one language goes and perhaps a sense of words that we will never understand.

Why would someone steal the world’s rarest water-lily? by Sam Knight in The Guardian in discussion with Carlos Magdalena

What a wonderful explanation.

October 15

The dreaded Oxalis

I have just taken over a new bit of ground for the wildlife plot which is quite empty apart from some fruit trees and the dreaded oxalis. Thisis one of those weeds that is invasive and vigorous and can be found all over the site. There are three types – Oxalis latifolia, Oxalis debilis and Oxalis corniculata – and I think I have all three on the plot. They are recognisable by their three-lobed leaves that look a bit like clover.

The first one is Oxalis corniculata or what I call creeping oxalis. Any part of its stem that touches the soil will root and so it moves its way along the bed slowly but surely. Just to make it even harder there is a purple-leaved version which doesn’t really stand out from the soil so it is easy to miss. The only good thing about this plant is that it does originally have a small tap root and if you can get this out, you are on your way to winning the war against them. It is the one on the right in the picture.

The second oxalis is too difficult for me to identify as oxalis debilis or latifolia – who cares. Just look at that root. Every single bit snaps off as you try to pull the plant out of the ground. Sometimes the little white bulbils snap off, sometimes the almost translucent tap root snaps off. And of course, the plant can grow from any of these parts. It is very difficult to get rid of and will need persistent digging up and trying to remove it. I wouldn’t recommend using a fork or spade to remove this though because as you shake the soil free, you also sprinkle the ‘bits’ everywhere. Soil disturbance spreads them. I would use a small handfork and remove the minimum amount of soil possible.

This is the only weed that I do not compost.

These are persistent weeds and you need to be persistent in order to reduce their number on your plot.

Category: weeds | LEAVE A COMMENT
August 9

Six reasons to take leaves off fruit and veg

Phew, it is hot. Again! And absolutely no rain in these parts for all of July and now 9 days into August. I don’t water my garden and it is yellow (the grass) and droopy (the plants) and I may have some losses this winter but if they can’t survive this weather, I can’t really grow them as this will not be the last time we have this heat and drought.

The veg plots, however, I do water – you have to grow food if you have planted it. I watched Charles Dowding’s film about taking leaves off plants and thought how useful it was.

To summarise, here are the six reasons for removing leaves:

  1. To harvest. This happens with plants like lettuce, kale and spinach where the leaves are the harvest that we are after. Taking some off each plant and leaving the growing leaves – those at the heart of the plant – is a sustainable way to harvest and means the plant keeps on growing, producing more leaves for you.
  2. To remove dead and dying leaves. These are slug fodder and so removing these helps keep the growing area free of slugs and snails meaning less damage to your veg.
  3. To allow the sun to get to the fruit. This is particularly useful for fruit that needs the sun to ripen such as melons, squash and tomatoes.
  4. Allow for better air circulation. Tomato plants can get very leafy and then trap moisture around the leaves and then get blight, a disease carried in the air at certain humidity and temperatures. One way to reduce this is to reduce the number of leaves and this ca be done by taking away the bottom ones up to the truss that is ripening. They look at bit bare at the bottom with all the leaves at the top but those are the growing one. I do this for cucumbers as well.
  5. Reduced leaves around the root area allows for easier watering. As the leaves are not present to provide shading and keep the moisture in the soil, good mulching is required.
  6. It allows you to observe your plants and interact with them. It reveals the weeds (!) and means that you can pull them out, reducing competition for resources and preventing them seeding. When I pulled the lower leaves away on my cabbages, which are under fleece, I realised that they were underwatered and so did something about it.

I am just waiting for the melons to ripen now. How about you?

July 22

Why we mulch – reason no.1

I write this in the heatwave where several places in Britain reached 40°C today. Down at the allotment the jobs have been water, water, water, pick and repeat. Now is the time when I am really appreciating all the mulch I have used. See this post here for the compost I am using as mulch.

If you don’t mulch, the water just creates a run off and the path (and weeds) get a good watering but not the plant. You can see it in the photo and it means that every time I water, the water will just run off the soil on this pathway.

You can see a thin layer of mulch and then the sandier soil and stones under it on the run-off path.

However, if you mulch thickly, the mulch absorbs the water and traps it underneath, providing water to the plant and no where else!

Watch a short video of newly planted red cabbage (Kalibos) being watered with a whole watering can of water and no run-off at all. This was the second can on that patch and will last the plants up to a week depending on the sunshine and wind meaning I can spend more time picking.

Water, water, pick, pick.

Category: july, water | LEAVE A COMMENT
July 13

The Treeline: The last forest and the future of life on earth by Ben Rawlence

The trees are on the move. They shouldn’t be.


This is a book that looks at the visible elements of global warming by visiting the boreal forest or the treeline which is the growing limit of trees in cold areas. In some places this line is a couple of metres thick and in others it is kilometers. The boreal forest is the less sexy of the forests – think of the attention on the Amazon rainforest but is the true lung of the world.

. . . the boreal is the planetary engine regulating patterns of wind, rainfall, climate and ocean circulation in the northern hemisphere.


Only a small number of trees make up the treeline – 3 conifers and 3 broadleaves all of which have evolved to withstand the cold. The Scots pine in Scotland, Spruce in Alaska, birch in Scandinavia, larch in Siberia and, to a lesser extent, poplar in Canada and Rowan in Greenland. But as the book makes clear, we also evolved from the forest landscapes – think of our opposable thumbs – and so it is not just the trees that are losing their way of lives but also the people who live and work in these cold lands. For example, the Sami in Finland and Russia where there is less and less space for the reindeer to roam as the ice disappears or doesn’t appear. The languages, cultures and traditions are being clung on to but many have developed other lives in conurbations rather than spending their time out on the snow and ice.

The book argues that we are between times. There is the past where we discovered how we came to be and how we fit into the grand scheme. We haven’t yet worked out how to be in the now or in the future where the past does not fit and this is unsettling

Rawlence’s solution is to reconnect with nature, in particular move to forest school for everything where nature is the classroom. He believes we need to become entangled with other living things to see their value to the planet and to ourselves so that we are thinking like a forest and can not cut down the trees or continue with global warming. If we think of other cultures who are entangled with other living things, not necessarily those connected to boreal forests such as the aborigines in Australia or the tribes that live in the rainforest, their respect and use of the land and animals is very different to ours. They take what they need, have respect for the land and all living things where we take what we want with no seeming end to it and see ourselves as the top of the pyramid of living things. As I sit and write this review in the second heatwave of the year and it is only the start of July, I wonder how long it will take us to get to that point and what crisis will deliver us there.

July 10

Compost for seed sowing part 2

I have started a compost for seed sowing trial as I haven’t been happy with seed germination this year. This is my second post regarding the compost so you can see part 1 about how I set it up here.

The seeds have started to germinate and it is interesting to see what has happened because the composts are not all equal.

The seeds in the Westland (pic 1) and Gardener’s (pic 2) compost germinated first and so are slightly bigger than the Sylvagrow (pic 3) and Jack’s Magic (pic 4). The PSB are up as are the chard seeds but in all the composts the chicory has not yet germinated. If my memory serves me correctly, chicory can take a little longer to germinate and it may be a bit too hot at the moment. 28 degrees C in the shade today so much hotter in the greenhouse.

The beans are a no-show at the moment but one is visible in the Gardener’s compost. And finally, the Geums.

They are all doing well but the second picture shows the Sylvagrow multipurpose compost and it dries out quicker than all the other composts and in this hot weather needs two waterings a day. The water also runs out of the pots much more when watering, suggesting that it is not being held onto by the compost. I would say that if I use this compost I will need to put trays underneath to hold onto the water that runs out and allow it to be absorbed throughout the day.

I’ll check in again when I transplant the seedlings which if they continue the same way that they are will not all be on the same day.

July 4

Compost for seed sowing

Sticks thicker than a Sharpie.

I haven’t been pleased with the seed germination rates this year and have also been a little less than positive about the compost I have been using so thought I would undertake a seed sowing trial of composts to see which is the best.

I normally buy Jack’s Magic compost which this year is a new and improved formula. I applaud them for removing the peat but you can’t just add sticks instead. They need to be more composted before they are used. (See photo for one of the sticks found when sowing seeds in the trial.)

I have chosen three types of compost available from Garden Centres where I live and I have bought new packets of seed so that I can be a little more sure that my failures are not just due to older seed.

The Composts

My first is Westland’s Gardener’s Multipurpose Compost which states quite clearly on the front that it has peat in it. I don’t normally choose composts with peat but this is what is available locally so I thought I had just one compost with peat – about 70% judging by the back of the bag. However, meet compost number 2

This bag from Westland of multipurpose compost says nothing about having peat in it. It is only when you turn it over that you see it has about 45% peat in it. I really only wanted one with peat so I should have read what was in it before I bought it.

The third compost is Sylvagrow multipurpose compost which is quite different in texture – almost like flakes rather than fibres. I have used this before and didn’t think it had enough nutrients in it but I am giving it a second go.

The seeds I have are ones I haven’t grown before in terms of variety. Chard – Fire Fresh F1. I have never grown an F1 chard and am not sure that it is necessary but it will be interesting to see how it differs from open pollinated chard. Then there is a chicory – Treviso – as my seeds of this have failed so far along with PSB Rudolph whose seeds I already had unopened but due to expire in September 22. And finally, some dwarf french beans as my first lot I planted over an ants nest. These are called Mistick. All are from Thompson and Morgan apart from Rudolph which is Kings. I sowed the chicory, PSB and chard into a tray and the beans into modules. I also had six plug plants of ‘Totally Tangerine’ Geum which I potted up in the composts to see how they do. Each compost had one strong plant and one that was a bit weaker.

See how the composts differed when the seeds germinated here.