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