September 5

When your vegetables have offspring!

I love fennel and this year has been a particularly good year for it on plots 11 and 24.  I grew two types; Rondo and Doux de Florence.  They both did well, fattening up before bolting – something which I struggle with here on sandy soil but they have very different habits.

As Rondo matures, it tends to get wider and wider, becoming like its name suggests rounder. The scales (I’m not quite sure what you all each overlap of fennel) get thicker and are quite juicy when eaten raw or cooked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doux de Florence seems to get taller as it matures and bolted. Maybe I should have eaten this type of fennel when it was younger and smaller.  The bulbs that were left all bolted at the same time which means we need to eat quite a bit of fennel NOW!

The Doux de Florence did also do one other thing.  Just before they bolted, offspring appeared attached at the base of the bulbs at the sides first and then all around. I haven’t ever seen this before so when I pulled each bulb there were actually three or four fennel which could be snapped off and eaten too.

I don’t usually grow tomatoes outdoors because of blight. I grow them in the polytunnel but this year, I put four plants an a small patch of land behind the green house as I thought this would protect them a little bit. They have grown into large plants with a few tomatoes – something to do with the compost I put on the ground before planting.  The best have been Sungold, probably as they are small and much more likely to ripen. I’ll repeat this next year but only with cherry type tomatoes.

What is doing well on your plot?

November 5

The last and first harvest of Autumn

It has been over two months since I last wrote a post on this blog. Time has flown by. I thought when I retired I would have a lot more time and yet this doesn’t seem to have happened. How did I manage to work?

Anyway, back to the vegetables. The weather has finally broken with gales and much-longed for rain.  I went down to the allotments to check on the polytunnel and then couldn’t leave it without picking almost the last of the tomatoes and the very last of the cucumbers.

I haven’t watered these since the beginning of September in order to prevent splitting which always seems to happen at this time of year. The plants have done remarkably well, a little droopy on some of the hotter days but recovered overnight. It does make me wonder if I need to water them as much as I do during the hotter months.

The cucumbers have been one of the stars of this year.  I have had one grafted plant of Mini Munch and it has produced 19 kgs of cucumbers. I debated buying two plants but thank goodness I didn’t. I haven’t ever kept records of how much I grow before – too busy working- so I can’t categorically say that it is a lot for one plant but it did feel like a lot when we were eating them. I have now pulled the plant out as well as the aubergine plants to make way for some winter crops of salads and garlic.

But as ever there are things to look forward to.

Last year I grew one decent sized celariac of the type Giant Prague. This year I have 12   I put that down to the very thick layer of home made and bought compost I put on the bed before planting them out. I watered them as much as the other vegetables so they didn’t get any special treatment in that sense.  I am looking forward to these as chips and mashed up with potato on cold winter nights.

The squash haven’t done too badly considering the weather.  The green ones are Crown Prince which are my all time favourite but we eat last because they keep better than the butternut squash. The orangy ones are Hunter which have been developed for the UK and the yellowy ones behind the Crown Prince are Waltham. They are not quite ripe but will not ripen any more on the plant so I have picked them. These should last us until next spring.

Although I have been picking chard throughout the summer, it seems to come into its own at this time of year and through the winter. I add it to almost everything and I am hoping that I have grown enough for us to have some all through the winter.

And looking good, apart from the slug nibbles, are the Cavalo Nero or Black Tuscan kale. I net it against the pigeons that sit in the trees surrounding my plot. This year has been a terrible year for the little white fly that love to live on brassica leaves. They were everywhere and it is quite hard to wash them off. As I walked past the beds of brassicas, clouds of them would ascend although the colder weather does seem to have killed off many of them.

As ever, this post is part of the Harvest Monday blog posts hosted on the wonderful blog Happy Acres.

September 3

A changing harvest

The start of September usually signals a change in harvests for us. The courgettes are slowing down and the sweetcorn is ready.  We picked our first cobs this week and they were very sweet and tender. Now it will be a race between us and the badgers to see who gets the most!

The chillis are now in full swing. I have two types: cayenne (long and pointy) and one from a seed packet called Chilli Shakes. When I looked at the packet more clearly it is yet another mixed packet that I bought and so I don’t know what type this is.  I really MUST stop buying mixed packets!

I am also picking chard regularly now. I add the leaves to almost everything. Tonight it is chilli made with black beans to which I will also add shredded chard leaves.

L to R: Leaf beet, Lucullus and Rainbow chard

It has taken me a very long time to work out what to do with the stems. I read somewhere that we grow chard for the leaves and the french grow it for the stems.  After reading a blog post from the Frugalwoods about their mammoth chard growing and storing days, I too decided to chop the stems very finely and add them to stir fries. It works a treat and now no waste!  I believe the french use the stems in a gratin – I do love a gratin but am not convinced about a chard stem gratin.

The allotment seed catalogue from Kings has arrived and I have already spent a pleasant hour perusing the delights.  The more blogs I read about growing, the wider the range of seed companys I need to use. For instance, I want to grow Aji Limon chillis this year so will have to get them from the South Devon Chilli Farm. I will get the Stupicke tomatoes from Sarah Raven and the Coriander Cruiser from Simply Seeds. (I have just bought the coriander because it is on sale at 29p!) And I haven’t even made a list of all the things I do want to grow yet.

I did something I have never done before. I pulled up some tomato plants that were still productive.  Zlatava was a tomato that I tried for the first time this year and found it to be watery and tasteless and prolific. It didn’t matter what I did, I couldn’t get rid of the wateriness so I pulled the plants up. It felt wrong but who wants food that they don’t like to eat?

What are you thinking about growing next year?

My thanks to Dave at Happy Acres for linking us all up with his Harvest Monday posts.

September 2

Seed trial update no. 2

This trial is to try and find out which method of seed sowing is the  quickest and easiest and results in plants that grow quickly once they are moved to the allotment.

I looked at the seedlings in the cells and the transplanted ones and decided they were big enough to go out on the plot.

Cell sown seedlings 31/08/18

This is the part that I find difficult with cell seedlings: getting them out of the cells without destroying the roots.  What I noticed this time around was that the more roots, the easier it was to get the seedling out. The easiest way is to quickly squeeze both sides of the cell and then pull the seedling out. I have tried just pushing from the bottom of each plant but can’t get them out completely.

A root system like the one on the Red Frills mustard below will come out reasonably easily.

The rocket seedlings, however, were still tiny and I could not get them out intact at all. I left the rest in the cells to get bigger and try again later.

What this did mean though is that I didn’t go ahead and plant out the transplanted seedlings. They look the same size as the seedlings that had been sown in the cells but their root systems can’t be as big.

I am going to leave these another week and then plant out. It is probably just as well because I am going to have to clear some ground for these.

Conclusions from today are:

  • seedlings in cells probably need a bit longer than I really want to give them to ensure that they have good root systems that come out of the cells easily
  • transplanted seedlings will definitely take longer to get into the ground – they are still not in yet whilst the seeds sown in soil blocks are in the ground and growing.
August 27

Harvest Monday

On Wednesday and Thursday last week the weather felt a bit autumny. Slightly cooler mornings with dew and balmy sunshine by mid day. Today we have strong winds and rain. I am very thankful for the rain as the allotments are so dry and I have been watering every other day even though the heatwave is well and truly over.

The harvests continue, however, regardless of the weather. I pick every two or three days just because I don’t want to miss anything. Below is Friday’s harvest.

I am still finding it difficult to believe that these are the last of my blackberries. I do have canes that ripen in October but I have moved them this year so there will be no harvests from them until next autumn.  I don’t know what type they are, they were given to me by a nearby allotmenteer, but they have long, stiff fairly upright canes and I had placed them where they caught all the prevailing winds.  The second time they were all blown over I decided to move them to a more sheltered spot which I have done.

The fennel bulbs are now big enough to start to harvest and they are delicious. I sowed three different types: Montebianco, Doux de Florence and Di Firenze (I’m not sure whether the last two are the same plant just with French and Italian names).  Whilst it has been a difficult year for fennel, the Montebianco has bolted very quickly with the Di Firenze producing good, round bulbs. I love roasted fennel where the edges go a little bit caramely  or raw in a salad with grapefruit, avocado and Manchego cheese.

The cabbage is Dutchman and has done very well.  It makes a very tasty slaw. I much prefer raw cabbage to cooked cabbage and so we eat a lot of this!

At the bottom of the basket are the onions I grew from seed. Let’s just say they are not enormous!    The seed sown onions were sown a little late but were regularly watered and were grown on a sandy soil.  The white onions are Aisla Craig, the red are Red Baron and the shallots are Figaro. As I look at the picture, the shallots definitely did better than the onions.

Not an impressive harvest.

A much better harvest.

The set onions have not been watered by me once, just rainfall, and were grown on a clay soil. I don’t know the variety because these were the last lot of sets in the supermarket near the garden and they had lost their labels. The onions are flat bottomed making them very irritating to peel so I wonder if they are Stuttgart Giant. I have no idea about the shallots.

I tried seeds  because I always found that the red onion sets bolted and I wondered if seeds were the way to go. Can you believe it? Neither seeds nor sets bolted this year. The conclusions from this very variable trial have not helped me decide one way or the other. I’ll run this trial again  next year but try and get the onion seed started earlier.

One thing I will say about both groups of onions is that shop bought onions rarely induce tears  but these make me cry copiously when cutting them. It must mean that they have more of the chemical compounds in them that do this and are therefore probably have more nutrients in general.

Do you use seed or sets when growing onions? How have they done this year?

 

August 26

Sowing trial update no.1

This trial is to try and find out which method of seed sowing is the  quickest and easiest and results in plants that grow quickly once they are moved to the allotment.

At this time of year germination is very quick and so within three days some of the seedlings were up. I have to say that the seedlings in the soil blocks were up before those in the cells or trays for transplanting.

You can see the blocks behind the cells with more seeds germinated.  It did take another 4 or 5 days for the trays and cells to catch up with the soil blocks. They look starved of light because they have been covered in black plastic which I remove as soon as I see the seedlings.

But… something has started to eat the seedlings in the soil blocks. I moved the trays and looked for the culprit but couldn’t find it at all. I am not sure if it is coincidence that only seedlings in the soil blocks have been eaten or not. Those in the trays and cells were untouched. The seedlings in the soil blocks were the biggest of the three on the 24th of August. Below are the cells, blocks and transplanted seedlings.

Update: I eventually found a caterpillar on the seedlings which would explain why there was no slug or snail slime trail.

I decided to put the soil block seedlings that hadn’t been eaten out on the allotment. They were smaller than I would normally plant out but it might prevent them from being completely destroyed. I have covered them with plastic bottles: I do this with all seedlings to protect them from slugs and snails and to give them a slightly more protected start.

So to summarise:

  • soil block seeds germinated first and more evenly than the other methods. This meant the seedlings were slightly bigger than the others.
  • soil blocks did not need watering as often as the cells or trays. The cells needed watering twice a day on warm days, the trays once. The soil blocks would last a couple of days without watering.
  • the soil blocks seem to be more susceptible to slug/snail damage.
  • It didn’t take very long to pot on the seedlings from the trays.

I’ll report again in a week to share how the seedlings are doing.

See seed trial update 2 here.

 

August 19

It’s a tomatotastic harvest!

 

It has been a fantastic year for tomatoes. We have had kilos of them and they are still going strong although they have slowed down a little as the weather is  slightly cooler. The new tomatoes I grew this year have been a mixed bunch and the only one I will keep is Rosella – the small dark red tomato at the bottom of the picture on the left-hand side. It is sharp but sweet which is just how I like my tomatoes. I won’t grow Yellow Pear and Zlatava (large orange one at the bottom) again.

The aubergines, cucumbers and courgettes continue to be prolific and I am off to buy a second freezer tomorrow as we just can’t fit it all in to the one we have. I am going for a chest freezer this time so that I can just pile it all in and work our way through it during the winter.

The climbing French beans have been a little difficult this year. I sowed them in May, June and July. The May bunch were covered in black fly and never recovered. The June batch produced beans but were not prolific. The July batch have been very prolific. They obviously did not like the early heat and I probably didn’t water them quite enough at the right time. The photos are the May and July sowings and you can see why the last lot are more prolific..

The beans were a packet of mixed climbing beans. Once I had sown them in July I threw the packet away so I don’t know which sort they are but are yellow, green and purple and taste fine.  We ate them in a pasta dish with broccoli, artichokes and home made pesto.

I do prefer these to the dwarf French beans not for taste reasons but because I find the beans on the dwarf plants tend to touch the soil and get muddy and then the plant flops over.

 

The new harvest for this week is cabbage.  I am not really ready for red cabbage thinking of it as more of an autumn vegetable but the red cabbage is ready to be picked.

The cabbage is a pointed type, Kalibos, and is good in salads but this one is quite large –  over 2.5kgs – so that will be many salads.  The only thing I could find to show the scale when I took a picture  was a peg which is at the bottom of the stalk on the chair.

And finally, to celebrate National Allotments Week we held an Open Day which had lots of tea and cake but also included a tour around the plots.  I don’t often walk around the plots – I think there are over 300 – as I normally need to get on with the work so it was a real treat. The image that will stay with me is the dahlias grown for shows protected by umbrellas . They were enormous and fantastic.

I have started to sow autumn and winter seeds and am undertaking a small trial. I hardly ever direct sow: carrots and parsnips being about the only things. I find the plants get off to a better start in a warm, protective environment. I sow in three main ways: into a tray and then transplant seedlings, into cells and into soil blocks.  I have sown several types of seed in these three ways and will see which method produces the plants that take off best once planted.

As ever, this post is hosted by Dave at Happy Acres 

 

 

 

 

 

August 9

A new trial

As we move into the start of the autumn, I know – it is only half way through August but the weather has changed, I usually start to sow seed for late autumn/winter.  I thought I would do a small trial about methods of sowing because I have changed how I sow and I am not sure that it is any better.  Time to look more closely.

I have sown a variety of seed in three different ways:

  1. into trays for potting on
  2. into cells where the seeds stay until there is space to plant out
  3. into soil blocks until there is space to plant out.

One thing I have done is change my sowing medium. This year I have been using Sylvan compost or ‘growing medium’ as they call it. The conclusion I have come to is that there is not enough ‘food’ in this medium to sustain seeds for the length of time that I need to keep them. It’s a shame because the germination rate is good. So, I have gone for a general compost with a bit of sylvan compost mixed in.

I have sown the following seeds. They should give a good indication for a much wider range of vegetables at this time of year:

  1. spinach: medania
  2. rocket: Jekka McVicar rocket that was free with a gardening magazine
  3. choy sum: this is quite old seed so it might not germinate well
  4. april: a good basic cabbage for early next year
  5. red frills: a mustard for salads over winter
  6. beetroot – boldor: a yellow beetroot. I didn’t sow this for transplanting as this would not suit the vegetable.
  7. Treviso and pallo rossa: chicories for early next year

Sowing in trays and cells is very common. Fewer people use soil blocks.  They are made with a trusty soil blocker. I bought mine about 18 years ago from Organic Gardening and makes 4 blocks 5cm by 5cm. I do like the look of the larger block which this block fits into but I reckon you would only need it for tomatoes and squash so it is probably not worth getting.

Mix compost with water to make a wet mud pie

Push the soil blocker down and compress the compost into the blocker

Press the lever down to release the blocks

Voila! Blocks with a depression to sow into

And here they all are on in the greenhouse.  The soil blocks are covered in black plastic until the seeds germinate and then it is removed: the seeds are not covered in compost. Those in the trays and cells are covered in a light layer of compost.  

 

The disadvantage of the soil blocks are the time it takes when sowing to make the block but that time may be made up if seeds because the seedlings don’t need to be potted on.  The advantages are that the compost contains more water than the other two methods which may mean faster germination and I find them the easiest to get out of the tray to plant.

The advantages of the cells are that they are very quick to sow and stay there until planting so no further work needed. The disadvantage is that I find them really difficult to get out of the cells and often split them or break the roots.

The disadvantage of sowing into trays is that there is more work to transplant them before planting out but I do think that the transplanting seems to benefit the seedlings, making them stronger and providing fresh compost and space to grow into.

The cells and blocks are very economical with seeds. I put two seeds into each cell or block where as I tend to end up with a few seedlings left over when sowing into trays.

What I am interested in knowing is what is the quickest method for sowing and planting out that leads to the strongest seedlings that take off as soon as they are in the soil.  I will keep you updated.

Have you undertaken any trials this year?  What happened?

Seed sowing trial update 1

Seed sowing trial update 2

 

 

June 25

First and last harvests

 

This year is proving to be different as far as the weather is concerned. Having had one of the wettest winters and a very late spring, we are now experiencing heat and no rain.  I love the heat but the allotment is starting to droop so watering is important at the moment and seems to be taking longer and longer.  The heat also means that produce is either early or over quite quickly. However, lots of things are just starting to get into their stride.

Mara de Bois strawberries and Loganberry

These are the last of the strawberries for the moment. I understand that Mara de Bois  are meant to be perpetual strawberries but I suspect they have worn themselves out and won’t fruit again for some time. They are worth it though because the taste is fantastic.  They took along time to get going and didn’t really fruit for 2 years. I think they were too dry in our soil – the name does not suggest sandy dry conditions. I did wonder about trying some planted between the fruit trees as if they were in a wood.  What really helped was a mulch with Strulch, a straw based mulch with an inbuilt slug deterrent. It is expensive but I didn’t lose many strawberries to slugs. The other berries in the dish are the first loganberries. Again, there aren’t many but they are just about to get going. The thing about loganberries is that once they are ripe they have to be picked and eaten or frozen on the same day. They do not keep at all which is presumably why you can’t buy them in the shops.

Globe Artichoke Gros de Leon

The first globe artichokes of the year. They are fiddly to cook and eat but I love them dipped in mayonnaise. They do all seem to be ready at the same time so that means I have about 20 on the plants all good to go.  Sarah Raven’s globe artichoke tart is another favourite way to eat them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other firsts are the outdoor garlic, courgettes and sweet peas.  I grew soft neck garlic but have just learnt that if you want garlic scapes you need to grow hard neck garlic. Next year!  The courgettes are British Summertime (dark green), Yellow Stripe and Tondo Chiaro di Nizza (globe).  Over the last few years I have found the yellow courgettes to be more productive than others so British Summertime is a new variety to me and I am hoping more productive than Green Bush which I normally grow.

Lettuce Iceberg 4

This is one enormous lettuce! It fills the sink.  The seeds were free with a gardening magazine and I only sowed them to see what it was like, not having much hope that I would like it as I don’t really like the iceberg lettuces you can buy in supermarkets. However, this is a winner!  Large, green and crunchy with a good lettucy flavour. I will be growing these again.

What’s growing well in your garden?

Many thanks to Dave at Our Happy Acres for hosting the Harvest Monday posts. Do have a look at all the linked posts.

June 4

Harvest Monday 4th June 2018

I do love this time of year. Everything in the vegetable garden starts to get going and there is a choice about what to have for lunch, not just spinach!

This is probably the earliest cucumber I have ever grown. I bought a grafted plant, Mini Star, which already had some small cucumbers on it and this one didn’t go yellow and drop off with the cold but grew.  It will take a little while for the next one to be ready.

This is the first beetroot from outside. It is a mixture of Boltardy and Bona and is the first year I have grown Bona. It has done just as well as the Boltardy the only difference being in the shape of the root: it is a globe with no point on the bottom.  On the back of the packet of the seed it says that they are as good as any hybrid which made me wonder if I could save my own seed from them.  I think I will sow some more, let them grow through to next year and save the seed just to see what happens. Tomorrow, however, I will make beetroot and feta samosas with them.

All of my outdoor carrot seedlings were eaten by slugs and snails. Grrrr! So, I only have the carrots in the polytunnel at the moment. Some of them are a little wiggly because I garden on sand and stone. I am going to eat these with the peas below, broadbeans and a lemon and mustard dressing.

Again, these peas are from the polytunnel. The outdoor ones won’t be long but it does show how the polytunnel extends the season at both ends.  These are Douce Provence and I will definitely be growing them again. The plants seem to be stronger and a little tougher than the Hurst Greenshaft I normally grow. The peas, however, are tender and sweet.

The smallest harvest ever of potatoes. One of the Nicola potatoes was flowering so I thought I would just take a look.  They are small but were delicious cooked with mint. Patience!

And soon to come are the strawberries and the globe artichokes. I can’t wait!

My thanks to the wonderful Our Happy Acres blog for hosting the Harvest Monday posts.