Sunday, 24 November 2013

Really diggin' it

Well there's a play on words for you. A really lovely sunny day to be down the allotment. But to start the day off you can't beat a cup of coffee and a breakfast.

Now in all my perusing around teh intarwebs, I haven't really come across many articles or videos that deal with cooking at the allotments. It may be that this is a little too complicated for most people, given the lack of facilities. Well I come from a Scouts and Venture Scouts background and have an active interest in camping, hiking and stuff like that. So I am keen to see what my little alcohol stove can do apart from brewing the kettle for a cuppa. So this morning I decided to have a go and cooking Bannock for breakfast.

Bannock is a Scottish bread traditionally cooked by pan frying it. So maybe it would be ideal to cook over an alcohol stove? There are many different recipes but they all come down to the basic same two ingredients. Flour and a rising agent. My mix is plain flour, milk powder, baking powder and a sprinkle of salt. So I took the dry mix in a bag ready to be used, mixed it with a little water and put it in one of my cooking tins.

Now this is where it all starts to go wrong. The alcohol stove puts out a very intense heat, albeit for a short duration, so it's ideal for heating water. But for cooking like this it doesn't seem to do well. The first thing that happened was that the base burned. The heat was kept in the billie due to the lid so it warmed up very fast. This cooked the outside well, but unfortunately it didn't heat the middle which was still a bit gooey. I think I'll have to find a way to make a small oven system to cook Bannock with this method. But breakfast wasn't all that bad. Have to figure out alternative recipes to cook.
The remains of breakfast.

The coke can alcohol stove in full burn.

Meanwhile outside...
It's been raining and my water barrels are full. I'm pretty sure it's going to rain some more at some point so any more rainfall would just be lost unless something is done about it. Well in the opposite corner of my little plot, actually on plot 30a, there is a water tank. It has no tap of means to fill it. It is simply dumped there. So I decided to siphon off my barrels into this tank. The next time it rains then these will fill up again. So we end up saving even more water.
That grey thing with "30" painted on it is a spare water tank.

As I mentioned in my round up, the Raspberries are not doing very well. So it's time for them to come to an end. But no sooner do I get down to their roots, do I find endless rhizomes of couch grass throughout. So the digging just keeps on getting bigger and bigger. After about my fourth wheelbarrow of rubbish I decided that I'd had enough digging for today and made a start on getting rid of the blackberry runners that were infesting the boundary between myself and my neighbour to the south. Spiky little buggers but I did manage to cut a lot back. Guess I'll have to do more digging to get the roots out. But as the light is beginning to fade in these short autumnal days, it's time to head out.
What started as this...
ended as this...

But as I was leaving I bumped into Paulina who was just arriving. We had a short chat about the Walnut Tree problem. More specifically about the Allelopathy problem it creates. My only source of info about walnuts comes from the RHS and Wikipedia. Neither of these say about the best way to remove the insidious chemicals which inhibit the growth of plants.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

End of life...

... well life for this year anyway.
The rhubarb and grape vine are showing the end of their growth for this year. 

It was a nice sunny day today. Compared to yesterday's rain it was a huge change. Unfortunately I really wasn't up to much today. I was fighting a massive headache in the morning (no, it wasn't a hangover) so other than check over the chillies and mint growing in the greenhouse, there was not really a lot to do. Especially as all the work necessary on the plot involves some serious digging.

Hopefully I'll be a little fitter next week.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Other Stuff

So this is the first full year of growing stuff. What worked out well and what didn't?

The Plot:
The Greenhouse. This was an excellent improvement. It allowed me to get things up and running in terms of seedlings. Protected me from the rain at times.
What wasn't so good was keeping plants in there longer than was strictly necessary. Must try and get them outside earlier next year. Also need to create a better doorway to allow bees in fertilise the plants, especially Tomatoes.

The Shed. Well it was a place to throw things to keep them out of the way. Nothing especially important about it, other than it's use as a support to the grape vine. The addition of the vine supports and wires held the shed together even better than it was normally supposed to do so. Although improvements will have to be made to the inside... such as clearing out the rubbish and installing some shelves.

The Beds. Well they kind of worked, but there are serious issues. Firstly the bed I placed next to the green house is just plain wrong. It is way too close to be used properly as I cannot get round it properly.

The Mound. The mound was really an accident due to the scraping of the topsoil last year. I needed to deal with the overgrown plot and scraping it all off seemed like a good solution. Well it worked, but only after a re-working later in the year. The mound then became the home of the Courgettes and didn't it do well. Well next year the mound will be reduced as I dig it out and sieve it into the new beds.

The Plants:
  • Apple Trees - The crop from the main apple tree was superb. But most of the apples suffered from a severe infestation of critters. I'm loath to spray but that may be the only solution. The main apple tree needs a damn good pruning this winter. The third one needs to be staked upright. And all three need to be super mulched (not just the cardboard and wood chippings) to prevent brambles and bindweed.
  • Artichoke - Produced a superb set of flowers. But the huge infestation of black fly prevented consumption. But the bees really loved those flowers. Not sure if the plant will regrow as it put up two huge flower stalks and promptly fell over. Will have to read up on the vagaries of Artichokes so see how it fares. 
  • Basil - Started off well. But the excessive heat in the green house during July caused it to bolt to seed. Said seed has been duly harvested and we'll try again next year. Will have to consider splitting it. Some inside, some outside. Seems to grow well but attracts aphids like nobodies business.
  • Blackberries - Well the brambles kept trying to take over. And I kept cutting them back. Needless to say they did not produce anything close to edible.
  • Chillies - Grown well. A few small chillies. The plants should improve as time goes by.
  • Courgettes - Slow start but once the got outside took off like a shot. Must consider getting them put outside earlier next year. Although they definitely need to be in a weed proof environment. The amount of courgettes produced meant that we were eating (and giving them away) for the better part of a couple of months. Maybe less plants next year. 
  • Garlic - Started out well enough with green shoots. But then gave up and died. Perhaps it's better to start with seed rather than garlic corms that were left too long to home.
  • Ginger - Failed dismally. You are supposed to be able to grow ginger from a spare root corm. Tried 5 separate pieces all of which simply rotted away.
  • Grape Vine - Considering that previous years it has simply been growing on the ground, this year giving it something to grow up and support it seems to have helped immensely. Also the extra carpet mulching seems to have helped in keeping down the weeds around it. Gradually being trained to grow up and over the shed. 
  • Lettuce - Planted in the wrong place. But still grew true and tasty. Kept us in salads during the summer months.
  • Nasturtiums - Did well - for the black fly. Not much use with anything else.
  • Onions - Grown from seed they seemed to do OK, though they never reached the size stated on the packet. Still I did get a nice pot of pickled onions to go with my fish & chips. 
  • Oregano - Sadly it did not do so well. A combination of too small a container and the July weather meant it really didn't do as well as expected.
  • Peas - Well the peas did get off to a reasonable start. The only problem was that I expected the sweetcorn to do better and provide them with better support. Unfortunately it also provided support for the bindweed as well and having the two together (peas and bindweed) made for a bad combination. As pulling out the bindweed inevitably meant that the peas were also unearthed. 
  • Raspberries - Dismal. Bound in bindweed. Small straggly things. They are just taking up space and will be ripped out.
  • Rhubarb - Superb. Even the new little plant at the back of the plot seems to have recovered due to me removing the surrounding weeds. Kept us in Rhubarb and ginger jam and the odd extra batch all summer. Have to chuck a load of compost on it over the winter to ensure it does the same again next year.
  • Rocket - Did not go well. Bolted to seed just like the Basil. 
  • Spinach - Planted mixed in with the lettuce. Not a good move. Also planted in the bed right next to the greenhouse which meant that getting at them was nigh on next to impossible. 
  • Sunflowers - Seemed to be ok, but could have done with being put outside a little earlier. The rogue sunflower outside the greenhouse did much better. Will try and get the seeds from these to germinate next year.
  • Sweetcorn - Went well(ish). Though they could have done with being turfed out of the green house a lot earlier. Got a few good cobs off the plants but they didn't seem to thrive and grow as tall as you would expect.
  • Tomatoes - Varied success. Whilst we had a few, the keeping of the toms in the greenhouse meant that, although we had loads of flowers, they didn't get the necessary visits from the bees to allow them to set. I'll still keep some of them in the greenhouse, but I'll make sure that a good lot are outside.
  • The unknown plant. Yeah that oddity. Not edible. No flowers. Made a one way visit to the compost bins.
  • Weeds - That damn bindweed gets everywhere. Planting directly in the ground just encourages it and you constantly have to keep pulling it out. Very time consuming. The brambles kept getting in the way as well. Will take serious work to keep under control. 

Things to do:
  • Build better beds. The beds at the moments are open to weeds. Need new beds with enclosed borders and base to stop errant weeds from getting in.
  • Clearly defined border. On the north side of the plot is an access pathway. But the south side borders my neighbour. It is overgrown with brambles and bindweed further hampered by the apple trees. A clear border and mulched base needs to be installed to prevent weed encroachment.
  • Paths. Get the place laid out a little better and have some clearly defined paths.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Surviving the storm

Now the clocks have changed, I can only get down the allotments on the weekends. Last week we had a bit of a bluster. Despite the odd tree coming down near the allotments, we did manage to survive, but not without some small problems.
The grape vine had broken free of it's supports and collapsed and one of the shed windows had blown in. Nothing major but annoying. Fortunately I had put in additional eye hooks and wire. So using some of the nylon ties that last saw usage holding the glass packages from the greenhouse construction (I'm a pack-rat and never throw away anything useful), I carefully lifted the grape vine back into position. The past growing season saw the vine put out some decent growth so I now have long vines in all the necessary places for how I want it to be in the future.

The window is also not a problem but I am having some issues with trying to make it stay in now. However by the simple expedient of wedging the rake against it, it now stays. But I really do need to sort out the shed at some point. It would seriously benefit from a tidy-up.