Saturday, December 29, 2007

All in now.

Whilst I normally plant our garlic in late September or early October, this year some had to wait until today due to other commitments. Some of the cloves had started to shoot so it really needed to be planted. Be ruthless and only plant big cloves as shown in the top picture, any small ones can be used in the kitchen so as not to waste them.

Despite the recent rain and frosts, the growing medium in my raised beds is friable and ready for planting as shown in the bottom picture. The last bed of garlic is now in and tikme will tell if the later planting makes much of a difference.

Hative de Niort Shallots

Despite keeping them cool and light, a few of my Hative de Niort shallots have started to sprout. Shallots are traditionally planted on the shortest day (December 21st) but few people have ground that is suitable then and thus plant them in February to March.

As some have sprouted I have planted the lot in 4" pots and have them in a cool greenhouse. They can be planted out at the begining of February in my raised beds which will be nicely warmed up and not waterlogged. By then the pots will be full of root ensuring them a good start.

Chrysanthemum propogation

Its a bit late I know, but today I forced myself out of my flu bed and lifted the chrysanthemum stools from the allotment, which despite the recent frosts were in good shape. The top growth was cut back to about 6-8" and the stools were roughly planted into big trays in the greenhouse.

These will produce lots of shoots which will be taken as cuttings and used to make lots more plants for the spring. The top picture shows a stool with new growth which will be good cutting material in a week or so. Strangely, it also has a bud. Mmmm.

Blackcurrant care and propogation

We have well over a dozen blackcurrant bushes on our plots and as they are now 4 years old it was time to take out some of the oldest wood to keep the bushes fruiting well and full of vigour. The old wood is taken out right down to the ground.
One thing to be well aware of is big bud disease. This is shown in the middle picture, the bud being big and swolen compared to others on the bush. It is caused by mites which swell buds and come the spring, these mites invade surrounding growth imparting a revision virus which cause the bushes to become sickly and unproductive. Any signs of big bud should be pruned out and burned.
This pruning left a big pile of sticks, but before burning or composting I always take a load of cuttings which are great to plant in any spaces that appear or as gifts. You want to aim for straight-ish sticks about 12" long and as thick as a pencil. These cuttings can be plunged into a nursery bed, about half their length and left for a year, or as I do, plunged around a deep pot and left somewhere out of the way till they show signs of growth when they can be potted on individually. Most will strike they are that easy.

Spring is only around the corner

Several weeks ago I salvaged a load of packing wood from work to cut into kindling sticks. After cutting several sacks full I "batch cut" the rest into pieces ready to be screwed together as nestboxes. I had enough wood to make about 20 boxes, the first 8 went up a few days ago on the allotments.

Below is a link to an easy set of plans to make your own boxes.

Now is an ideal time to make and site bird boxes.

Christmas Day

As well as 13 family members coming over for Christmas dinner, we also had Wellie and Trousers for a couple of nights too.
Trousers was such a boon in the kitchen (well he is an ex chef) that all went brilliantly especially our new recipe of leeks and cavelo nero in cream, topped with parmagio regiano cheese. A dish to die for, honestly.
It was great having so many people for dinner, gifts were exchanged, fun was had, fellowship given, a grand meal demolished and even a dragons snout made an appearance (see the Viz profanosaurus for more info).

Monday, December 10, 2007


Forget those farty sprigs, this is real mistletoe. Form an orderly queue ladies

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cavelo Nero

The Cavelo Nero (Black Tuscan Kale) is looking good now with only the odd hole where a pigeon has had a bit through the netting. I harvest a few leaves from each plant every week which keeps nice young leaves coming through.
Just rip the leaf off its tough main stalk and steam or stir fry, its delicious.

Now is the time to plant fruit trees

With the new half plot now ploughed and with rain forcast for the rest of the week, I took advantage of the good weather today and planted 3 fruit trees as cordons. They were two apples (Golden Delicious and Cox's Orange Pippin) and one pear (Doyenne Du Comice) with around a dozen or more to follow.

Once the trees are planted it will be imposible to dig too near to the planting hole so with that in mind, I dropped a handful of tulip bulbs into the planting holes. These will give some spring colour and with the tulips being planted quite deep, they will flower year after year.

After digging the hole a sprinkle of blood, fish and bone was added along with a whole trug of home made compost which was well heeled in to remove any air pockets.

Leaves and more leaves

With a huge pile of leaves sat on the end of our new half plot, it was time to empty out the leaf mould bin into the raised beds as shown in the top picture and refill it with a small proportion of the big pile. The rest of the pile sits right where I intend to build more compost bins so to save lugging leaves about for the sake of it I will build them "around" the leaves to save work.
Leaf mould really is worth making so if you can get hold of them, do so.

More garlic

Now that another raised bed has been filled, it has been put to good use and was planted today with "Lautrec" garlic, purchased in France this May. When I split the cloves, only the biggest are planted like the ones shown above. Any smaller ones are used in the kitchen. Big cloves equal big bulbs come May when they are harvested. Small cloves likewise give small bulbs. Never has the old adage "you reap what you sow" been illustrated better when it comes to garlic.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Back to the engine room

Due to the glorious late autumn weather I decided to turn another compost bin ready to turn the "black gold" onto either a bed as a mulch or to be sieved, mixed with leaf mould and stored in a dustbin to be used as potting compost.

The big pile of leaves come courtesy of the local councils "mini" road sweepers. Whilst the big ones drop a full load in the allotment site carpark, the little ones can get right to your plot and drop them quite close to the compost bins minimising the hard work of wheel barrowing lots of leaves across the site. Well worth a 4 pack of pedigree best bitter as a thank you to be sure.

Adding to the beds

Today, with the weather being sunny but quite crisp temperature wise was ideal for unloading another load of my 12 year old farm manure. Most this time went into another new raised bed but the balance was laid as a mulch on top of a traditional bed so that the worms can take it down into the soil. There is only one more to make and fill now but it will have to wait until the parsnips have been lifted.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A nice winter haul

I just love being able to pull more hearty veg at this time of year, things like swede, parsnips, beetroot, carrots and celery, all are good eating with lots of uses in the kitchen. With all the summer rain we had, our root veg are just huge this year.

Keeping the beds productive

At this time of the year its easy to have empty beds unless you keep sowing for succession and the changing season. The top bed is full of fennel and module sown winter hardy spring onion, the bottom bed is full of carrots for winter use. With them being in raised beds waterlogging isnt an issue and they store very well, just being pulled as required.

Still doing their job

We always companion plant in our greenhoues and tunnels as well as out in the beds. We use calendula a lot as its great for attracting hover flies and is good for use in hand creams. Despite the tomatoes coming to an end, these plants are still doing their job, flowering their heads off and keeping the good bugs happy.

Lautrec Garlic

Hanging in the allotment shed is the "Lautrec Garlic" which was purchased in Normandy in August for 7.5 euros a plait. This will be going into the ground very soon and all being well will be lifted in Late May or early June. We buy off the growers and it gives fab results for a fraction of the price.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Now that the gladioli and dahlias are either lifted or in their new positions, the end raised bed could be built. They are 4' wide and about 9' long and are built over good membrane to prevent any weeds groweing up through the bed. It will be filled with my usual blend of leaf mould, allotment compost and 12 year old manure which has a consistency of bought compost but with the added benefit of it holding onto moisture very well indeed.
One more to go but for that I need to have finished eating the bed of parsnips in the way.

Blue Lake seeds

The last of the climbing Blue lake seeds are now just about ready to harvest so that they can be dried and saved for next years seeds. Most of my beans and peas are now grown from saved seeds

Romping away.

The first of our "radar" autumn planting onion sets are now starting to show. The cracking late autumn weather is helping them to get a flying start.


This bed was full of summer cabbage and now just requires digging over to be ready for planting with the rest of our lautrec garlic purchased in Normandy.

Fed up with long hoses???

One of lifes mysteries is how a nicely laid out hose can tie itself up into knots or get dragged over fragile crops without any help.
Having finally had enough this summer, I have now sorted out the hose pipes on my plots. The hose is laid out with an end long enough to reach the tap. The rest of the hose is then laid out and is cut at an appropriate distance along the plot and a tee piece fitted. Then posts are knocked in and the I find a tee fitted about a third along if ideal. The hose is then clipped to these posts and are fitted with a stop end. This allows you to connect to the tap and, using a short length of hose, plug into the stop ends to water that section of plot. Typically my plots have three stop end outlets fitted meaning that the bit of hose that I drag about is roughly 5 metres long and easily managed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Keep on preserving

As a luxury twist to pickled onions, today I bottled a few jars in balsamic vinegar. A bit more expensive but well worth it, they taste wonderful.
With a frost forcast yesterday, I hot footed it out to the herb bed and picked some nice French Tarragon shoots and after popping them into 1 litre bottles (sterelised), topped them up with white wine vinegar to make tarragon vinegar. Dont use Russian Tarragon as it is not at all like using the French version.
As a footnote, the 1 litre bottles were originally from a French supermarket and filled with lemonade costing about 90p each. Just the bottle would cost several times that in the UK.

Ripening Green tomatoes

Regular followers of this blog will remember that our tunnels were hit with blight in early September and that we lost all of our tomato plants. Well, all of the unaffected trusses of fruit were picked with the red ones being either eaten or converted into passata. The Green ones however were hung under our porch on a herb rack to ripen and now, some 8 weeks later we are still eating red tomatoes so all was not lost.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pick a peck of peppers

With a frost forcast tonight, and not wanting to lose all of my peppers I picked all of the fruit off 1 side of our tunnel just in case. The other side has been left, hopefully to carry on growing.
The fruits are a mix of lipstick, tesco finest poiny pepper, lange rhode red, an un named bell pepper and a few jalapenos for good measure.
I think we need to make some red pepper and tomato relish tommorow!

Bingo, a decent swede

Swedes always cause us problems and the crop we harvest is usually small and disapointing. However this year we have hit the jackpot. The variety "brora" has performed very well giving us lots of good sized swede. This one will be served tommorow with lamb shanks cooked in mulled wine and seasonal veg.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Normally we leave our gladdies in the ground. However a row need moving this winter to make way for a new raised bed. To prepare these for winter is quite a simple process.
After lifting, rub off any small bulbils if present and save if required. These can be planted in an out of the way nursery bed if wanted and will produce flowering corms in about 3 years. After removing them, you will see the old corm attached to the bottom of the new corm . This should be pulled off and composted as shown in the top picture.. Now you can cut the stem down to 4-6 inches and store the bulb in a cool but frost free place to dry out, ready for planting out in the spring.

The organic option

We never spray against bugs, prefering to companion plant in an effort to attract the "good guys". This is working well as an outbreak of blackfly on our sweetcorn was soon sorted out by ladybird larvae.

Make sure your plot has plenty of overwintering places for these and other good guys such as lacewings to overwinter, thus giving you a head start come the spring.

Spagna Blanco "Butterbeans"

Another tray full of spagna blanco butterbeans were picked today. They are really proving to be prolific as well as huge and indeed tasty. They have been shelled today and put on trays to dry out for winter use.

I can heartily recommend trying them if you like butterbeans, even if they are a type of runner bean.