Sunday, October 19, 2008


There is only one thing to do with cranberries and thats to make them into a fabulous cranberrysauce or chutney for Christmas.

Our plants are ground cover for our 15 blueberry bushes. Well, it makes sense as they enjoy the same conditions. They wil be harvested in the next week or so and turned into delicious preserves to eat over the festive period. As a bonus the plants are easily propogated by layering.

Putting raised beds to "bed"

Some of our raised beds (such as the ones above) are being left fallow over the winter. I am a firm believer of not feeding the plant so much as feed the soil.
With that in mind the beds are topped up with a mix of vintage manure

and plenty of well rotted leafmould
and are then covered with membrane. Over the winter, worms will draw down the manure and leafmould mix and the cover will prevent weeds from growing. A welcome bonus is that the soil will be a few degrees warmer come spring than that which is exposed to the air. This will allow me to plant some crops out a little earlier than I could do in traditional beds.

Winter Crops

The beds are still quite full of winter crops. Above is spring cabbage planted through membrane in an attempt to keep the weeding down to a minimum.

Our Swedes are looking good although some are quite cylindrical rather than round. Never mind, they all will taste just grand when cooked.

We use lots of celeriac. Its grand mashed with spuds or added to stews. Ours are bulking up fabulously now.

These tomatiloes are not a winter veg but as they are in the tunnel they will be harvested for another few weeks or until the frosts finally come. We have used them to make a proper Mexican salsa today and mighty fine it tastes too. A good job as we now have 6lb in jars to last through till next year with a lot more to come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The asparagus experiment update

The 1st year asparagus crowns were planted in 25 litre drums, filled with a very rich compost well rotted manure mix in the spring.

They have grown exceptionally well and as they are not a permanent bed where good practice states they are not really harvested till the third year, they will be brought into the tunnel after Christmas to be brought on to give an exceptionally early crop of English asparagus.

Trying to push the boundaries is one of the great gardening challenges.

Feed the birds.

The sunflowers have now gone over and the heads are just bursting with seeds. We just cut the heads off and leave them stuck on a cane.

It does not take long for the birds to make the most of the feast, as the above "cleared out" head shows.

What a bountiful harvest!

Ok, so they are covered in mildew, but the courgettes are still producing fruit and very welcome it is too. This one will keep going till the first good frost.

Our spinach bed has produced and produced all summer long. We have even resported to steaming it, squeezing the water out of it and freezing it ready for use in the kitchen. Hopefully this will stand over the winter.

The yellow flag iris by the pond on the plots have flowered well and have now set seed. This ripe pod will be setting its seed by the pond and I will of course, scatter some hither and yon.

Ab fab for bees, grow verbena bonariensis and you will attract all manner of pollinating insects. Its great as a cut flower too. It really is a "must grow" on any plot.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Savoy anyone?

This beauty is one of 12 that were grown under netting and have managed to keep caterpillar free. Lots of colcannon mash for the freezer methinks.

The parsnip experiment worked

After sowing pre germinated parsnip seed into toilet rolls with mixed success last year, this year I planted pre germinated seed directly into a bed. The result being 100% long straight roots. I will undertake 2 sowings next year, with the second being in late spring in a raised bed to produce lots of small roasting size roots rather than big ones like shown.

Preserving for the winter

Here is a small selection of our preserved food for winter use.
Pasta sauce.
Sweet chilli sauce.
Sun dried tomatoes.
Blackcurrant jam.
We have much more in the cupboard, from tarragon vinegar to Wellies courgette soup, spaggeti bolognese to cranberry chutney but I would need a long wall to fit them all on.

Strawberries into October?

Our grapes (Cardinal) grown in the tunnel yielded over 30 bunches of fabulous sweet fruit. The same variety planted outside are some 6-8 weeks later but despite the poor weather are now ripening and will be ready to eat in mid October.

These "Aromel" everbearer strawberries just keep on giving us fruit, 60 plants yield 4-8lb a week and are most welcome in autumn. The first frosts will put a stop to them but we are making the most of them whilst we can.

The freezers are full and still it comes!

We have so many carrots that I am going to bottle a few jars with my pressure canner to see how they taste. These are just a nice size to try it with.

Despite making lots of 8oz jars of sweet chilli sauce, believe me its divine, we have lots of "Evington yellow" chillies plus scotch bonnets and long red ones. Some more sauce may be in the pipeline.

The sweet peppers grown from Tesco finest range sweet pointy peppers again have done exceptionally well with fruit up to 18" long.

These are the French Black tomatoes we grew from saved seeds, the tomatoes were originally bought at a French market. They are sweet with a nice acid bite, prolific and versatile. We will definitely grow them next year.

Winter Prep

In readiness for winter, fruit bushes from last years prunings are now in the cold frame along with raft of agapanthus. The fruit is very hardy but young plants always fare better with some protection and make well established plants quicker than those taking the worst of any weather.

These strawberry plants from last year will fare adequately well on this bench prior to being brought into the greenhouse after Christmas for forcing.

An important job is to weed out growing or overwintering crops to help prevent disease and allow as much light into them as possible during the short days. These are leeks (Bleu de Solaise) getting weeded out ready for winter.

Magic beans

We have grown a double row of borlotti beans for drying. The pods (above) look stunning as do the actual shelled beans (below).

Another type of bean we are growing this year, this time as seed guardians for the HSL are Madeira Maroon (below) which lok like jeweled sweets. These have been very productive and will be grown again next year.

Several other varieties of bean are still ripening and include coco bicolour, ryders top of the pole and several others.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oh for a bit more time

For those who look at my blog regularly, I can only appologise for the lack of updates this summer.

Normally I work in a quarry and work 4 days and then get 4 off. Unfortunately due to the credit crunch I have been redeployed and now work Mon-Fri and can be anywhere in the country. This has obviously had a huge impact on my free time and taken some adjustment.

I fully intent to start regular updates very soon as lots has happened on our plots, not least our coming second in the best Leicester allotment this year, we came third last year so we are still improving.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Its been a long time but!

Its been a long time since I updated my blog but a change in work circumstances means instead of working 4 days on and 4 off I am now working Monday to Friday and very often away from home giving me much less free time than before.

Anyway, the grapes in our tunnels are now ripening up, so much so that we have picked the first bunches. They taste superb. Very sweet and just gorgeous striaght off the vine. The variety is "Cardinal" and came from a nursery in Normandy (France). We now have 3 in the tunnels and 2 outside and we may stretch to a row or two in an attempt to grow enough for some wine although that will be a very hit and miss affair knowing our weather.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Making space

I dont know about you, but at this time of year, easpecially during a mild spell, there is always a juggling act going on with regard to greenhouse space. Our first lettuce (8 varieties) are now hardened off and planted out with the first little gems having already been pulled and eaten.

The red salad bowl (above) above will soon be ready to have leaves harvested, the devils tongue cut and come again variety has already matured to a size where we can pick leaves.

The last two rows of "Marfona" potato went in late last week. They had chitted nicely and will romp away now they are planted. Whilst they are a second early, we grow them as an early maincrop and they really do make a good all round potoato.

The second tunnel is now planted up with tomatoes and all of the canes are tied in. This year we have Bloody butcher, Shirley, Sungold, French Black,Rio grande and Mountain pride. All have set the flowers on the first truss and hopefully we will be picking the first ripe fruit in Late June.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Planting, planting and a bit of harvesting

Our hardened off module sown herbs went out today. The dill (above) and flat leaf parsley (below) are really useful in any kitchen and we use handfuls of both. Corriander and basil also got the module treatment but they are a bit too soft to be planted out yet.

The asparagus bed is just about to come alive with tasty spears, and with this being the beds third year we can cut for the whole six week season. As an experiment I started to plant crowns in barrels a few weeks ago and now have thirteen planted and lined up on the path adjoining the asparagus bed. Hopefully they will establish this year, being in barrels with handles means I can bring them undercover to force a few early spears next year.

Our rhubarb bed is cropping like mad. We had a cracking crunmble on Saturday night with chopped up stem ginger added to the rhubarb and chopped brazil nuts added to the topping.

Both the asparagus bed and the rhubarb bed get top dressed with about 4" of well rotted manure in the winter.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The new greenhouse is ready for action

Following on from an earlier post, the greenhouse is now up and running. Whilst a lot of glass was replaced, some original glass required cleaning in a big way. A bucket of warm soapy water soon got things sorted.
The path is 2' wide leaving 4' wide beds.

The nearly finished article, just a few bits of glass to clean and we now have far more growing space on the same sized area. In addition, 2 other plots have been given my old 8 x 6 greenhouses so happy faces all around.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Parsnips and peas

I mentioned in a previous post that this year we were going to pre-germinate our parsnips but rather than then sowing the seed into toilet rolls, they would go straight into the ground so as not to cause the root tip any damage, resulting in forked roots. Well, above is the result, Three seeds were sown at each station and either two or all three seeds have made it above ground. Hopefully this winter we will have straight roots rather than ones that look like an octopus.

Today I planted out a batch of purple podded peas, a quality heritage variety. They were sown in standard 4" pots, three seeds to a pot.

As you can see from the fabulous root structure, there is absolutely no need to sow them in root trainers, toilet rolls, guttering or any other vertibule, a bog standard pot will do the job as well as anything. Of course, our maincrop peas, due to the large amount of seed involved, are sown direct into the ground making things even easier, but for small, or early sowings, pots will do fine.

Little Gems, succession and catch crops

These little gem lettuce are one of many varieties of salad leaves that we grow. We start all of the varieties off in pots and then plant out good sized plants as space becomes available. By sowing a few seeds every fortnight we get good succession.

This is one of the tunnels preped and awaiting the planting of tomatoes next week. As the lettuce will mature and be cut well before the ground is covered by the much larger tomato plants we have planted a catch crop of lettuce at the front of the bed. The added heat and protection of the tunnel will mean we are cuting these a week or so earlier than the plants outdoors.