Ignoring the Old Timers

Two successive weekends on the plot and I can officially declare the allotment season open. This weekend was particularly glorious and I may have even acquired a little sunburn.

I always get over excited at the first sign of spring sun and despite the old timers warning me that the soil is still too cold, I scatter my seeds and tubers with gay abandon.

Last weekend we dragged out the M1 Gardener and rotovated two of the cleared beds, planted a couple of rows of spuds and set up the seed bed with leeks and cabbage.

This weekend was much warmer but I found it far too easy to sit on the bench, basking in the sun, and passing out instruction as Lynn continued with the digging and planted another 4 rows of spuds. My only contribution was a little raking and the planting of 100 onion sets.

As ever I’ve ordered far too many potatoes and I could easily fill the entire plot if we weren’t interested in any other crops.

I was sent a copy of The Allotment Source Book by Caroline Foley a few months ago. With my new found gardening enthusiasm I’ve been tempted to pull it off the shelf and turn through the pages. It’s a massive tome at 384 pages and quite unlike the usual vegetable gardening books on my bookcase. Although it does have a monthly what to do guide and an A-Z veg guide, I would say that at least half of the book is given over to inspiring ideas of the veg growing variety.

It has a scrap book feel to it and the most fabulous photos. I’ve enjoyed flicking through the book – it has left me feeling as though I’ve been on a reconnaissance tour through a series of allotment sites and I’ve picked up tips for new structures and swanky pea supports.

I was very impressed to see the step by step guide to making nettle rope. I’ve had a go at this on one of my foraging trips and the demonstration looks very thorough.

The Allotment Source Book by Caroline Foley is available from New Holland Publishers.
Enter the discount code warrior at the checkout to receive 20% off and free P&P. (Offer valid until 31st March 2011.)

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The Spring Potato Glut

There has been a slow and soggy start to the 2011 allotment year but the urge to plant is becoming more forceful.

The urge to get out there and dig over the plot isn’t that strong yet though.

Hopefully it will come soon as the potatoes are taking over the house….

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Putting Down Roots

I must feel settled here.

I spent the afternoon preparing a permanent bed, with manure, trenches and finely sieved soil, all for a crop that won’t be harvested for about 4 years.

It’s an incredibly high maintenance crop, at least at the outset, and it only produces edible shoots for a couple of weeks. Hardly seems worth it but Lidl lured me with it’s offering of heavily discounted asparagus crowns.

I managed to lay out this bed with £8 worth of spidery aliens – bargain.

I was ready to wipe off the idea of Christmas potatoes when we arrived. The spuds we planted back in summer had all collapsed with the blight and with only a couple months worth of growth I didn’t think we stood a chance of harvesting anything bigger than a smartie.

Lynn managed to uncover a remarkably impressive array of delicate skinned tubers from the two diseased rows and we headed home to run a taste test on the three varieties – Bambino, Vivaldi and Maris Peer.

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The Remains of the Day

You know it’s been a great evening when you finish off with a couple of empty bottles of fine ale and a bucket full of fresh produce. Days really don’t get much better than this.

We sat in the sun and ate Ratte potatoes boiled with freshly podded peas and pondered over the mystery of carrots. Yet again I managed to produce just 3 carrots out of 3 assorted packets of seed.

I don’t understand how you can grow 3 fine specimens and then about 300 abject failures.

The peach tree has proved to be the most exciting feature of the plot. We transplanted it in  the snow and had concerns for it’s future but it has bounced back and covered itself in fruit. Each week I rush up to check how much they’ve grown and confirm that no one has nicked them yet.

They are looking particularly peachy at the moment but are still rock solid. This is my most eagerly anticipated crop, I can’t wait to try it.

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Spud Dispute

We barely made it to the plot at all in March but just as the month was turning, the sun arrived. We grabbed our seed potatoes and ran to the plot clutching a days supply of delicately cut sandwiches and flasks of hot drinks.

Four hours later, stripped to our t-shirts, we would have happily discarded the flasks in favour of a few tinnies.

We worked ferociously planting spuds and sowing seeds. Lynn would of course argue that she worked the hardest as she planted 7 rows of spuds while I weeded the seed bed and prepared some labels with my Brother P Touch – pah!

Weeding that seed bed was the devils own job. We’d planted onions, lettuce and assorted brassicas under the glazed area some weeks back but pretty much the only thing that had germinated was a field of weeds. After half an hour of dabbling around with a tweezer to uncover 1 lettuce and 3 brassica seedlings it occurred to me that it would be a far better idea to blitz the lot with a hoe and start again.

Our potato planting led to some interesting debates. I’m relying on C. H. Middleton with his Dig for Victory advice from 1945, topped up with a modern infusion from Joy Larkcom, while Lynn is regularly in contact with her Dad – a potato farmer by profession.

I’m a big fan of books and so would usually disregard 50 years of practical experience for something that could be gleaned by a quick scan from the comfort of a bath. We opted for the Dig your Own method: 1/2 spade depth furrow, place in spud and then cover with soil and a sprinkling of manure. No earthing up until the foliage starts to poke through.

The experienced voice tells us to dig a trench, place in manure with spuds on top and then earth up enough to allow the rain to run off and prevent rotting. I know it sounds sensible and was in fact my method of old, but its hard work and in clay, I’m all for short cuts. I do hope the buggers don’t rot though, I’ll never hear the end of it.

We have set ourselves a challenge to excel at two crops this year – peas and leeks. Of course we want all our crops to be prizewinners but these two have proved to be challenging in the past.

I wouldn’t waste time with the autumn sown peas – horrible dry things, but I think a hot day at the end of March might be perfect for the sweet summer variety. We prepared two drills and I started laying out the seeds in a perfect arrangement – square layout with a centre pea, then had a flashback to last years germination rate and walked back along my row scattering the rest of the packet.

Here’s Lynn proudly constructing the mesh cloche over the sowings.

We also had time to set the uber cheap summer bulbs (care of Lidl) by the rhubarb patch and get in a few rows of carrots and parsnips. I’ve gone mad with carrots again, so along with the standard Nantes varieties I’ve got some Red Samurai and Purple Haze, so with my usual carrot success rate these are all set to be mighty expensive tubers again.

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Amanita Fears

I went to the plot this weekend with the intention of digging over acres of land ready for mammoth spud burying activities on Good Friday but the ground was too soggy for me to bother. I did a bit of shed tidying instead and laid out a load of the bargain seed potatoes that Dad and I bought from B&Q.

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I had to dispose of a load of King Edwards as they were black and soggy with the blight. No wonder they appeared to be such a good bargain.

The shitake mushrooms had ballooned over the past week and had turned a touch slimey. They were splattered with mud from the rain as well so weren’t altogether appealing. Not having tasted them yet I thought I’d overcome my reticence and cook them up with a few sausages.

I didn’t really enjoy them too much. They tasted mushroomy enough but it occurred to me during the cooking process that I didn’t really have a clue what shitakes looked like. They did appear to be growing from one of the dowells that I had inserted but as they were alone it could be possible that a stray variety may have self seeded itself in the log – perhaps a highly poisonous fungus of the deadly variety?

I love mushrooms but this sort of russian roulette with the foraged specimens does really put me off my lunch. I’m not dead yet but them Amanita phalloides takes 6 days to wipe you it, I think I’m on day 3, so watch out for a long delay in blog posting.

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Winter Roots

Winter Roots

I woke at the crack of dawn, dreaming of crunchy roast potatoes. Fortunately I didn’t have a stash of Kerr’s Pink in the flat or I think I would have been chomping away long before 5am.

Not one to delay gratification for too long, I waited for daylight and then headed down to the plot to source a roast dinner of monster proportions.

It was a bit too wet and claggy for doing anything awfully productive but I gathered up the wilting courgette plants and stuffed them into the compost bins with a load of decaying comfrey and then turned my attentions to the joyful task of harvesting.

Purple Sprouts

I’m good at picking and may have got a little carried away considering I only have myself to feed – I suspect I may explode after tonights meal.

Not content with the bucket of winter roots, I thought I ought to try out the peculiar purple sprouts, I don’t want any nasty surprises at Christmas.

When I came to bag everything up, it became clear that I had at least a months worth of roasts in my sacks and so I split the bounty 3 ways to share with my neighbours.

Turned out to be a very profitable move as I ended up swapping one fine parsnip for a bottle of wine – a perfect kind of alchemy. I’ll be growing more of those next year!

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Little Helper

I escaped to the coast for most of the bank holiday to get some essential swimming prep under my belt, but today I was free to catch up on some much needed admin on the plot. All the spuds have been dug and bagged, the mid summer peas have been ripped up and the gasping tomatoes were watered.

The outdoor tomatoes have been decimated by blight but I haven’t dealt with them yet because I’m not sure what to do. Ideally I’d burn them but my arson skills are limited and I have a whopping great mound of blight invested potatoes haulms to deal with first.

New Gardener

I had a little helper on the plot today. He watered my spinach and kohl rabi and then emptied my sack of spuds as I tried to fill it. I boiled up a delightful cob of corn but he wasn’t interested and opted instead for a couple of yellow french beans and a load of shelled peas.

It feels great to share real food with little kids, so many people in cities haven’t a flipping clue where food comes from or what it looks like. This one now knows the joy of a freshly podded pea.

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