Monday, 14 December 2015

End of year roundup

So it's been a busy old year down the allotment.

What has worked well, and what didn't? Well this year I started getting the beds into shape. Still have a few more beds to build and there is the ever present threat of bindweed and brambles. Those I suspect will be an ever ongoing battle. But by having clearly defined growing spaces it's easier to pull what shouldn't be there.

So here is a full list of everything:

  • Apples - Good crop. Certainly better than last year. But again infested with maggots.
  • Artichoke - More blooms than last year. Bees really loved it. One of these years we may actually eat some of them.
  • Beetroot - Again a pretty good success. New batches of pickled beetroot were produced as well as them being in copious salads and dinners.
  • Blueberries - Produced more than last year. So they're on their way. Next year they will have to go into larger pots in spring.
  • Borlotti Beans - A goodly amount. Though suffered slightly from mildew. There was a sufficient amount that it will be worth trying again next year, with this years resulting beans.
  • Carrots - Despite adding sand to this years bags, they came out all deformed. Still edible, where you could actually get something of a reasonable size. But even so, still no a success by anybodies measures.
  • Cauliflower - Hmmm. They seems to be coming along nicely, then after the rains they suddenly turned to mush without getting to any really decent size. Not sure what went wrong there.
  • Courgettes - Yeah, for the third year running these have been a runaway success. Good job we really like courgettes. Next year definitely have to get around to trying my hand in drying them.
  • Flowers - The wife loved the flowers this year. Foxgloves, Cosmos, poppies and loads of other varieties. She's going to be taking over more of the plot next year. Guess I may as well try and put up with it.
  • Grapes - We actually had some this year. Previous years had seen them stolen off the vine (and no it wasn't the birds, birds don't take the stalks as well). They were sweet but a little tart. Suspect they may be wine grapes as opposed to dessert grapes.
  • Herbs - Hmm. Partial success. The herb bed was just a scattering of various seeds. Unfortunately the haphazard way of planting also resulting in a multitude of weeds taking hold which kind of throttled the herbs. The Basil withered, the thyme seems to have survived though so maybe it's not a great loss. We'll probably rip it out and try anew next year though.
  • Kale - Grew brilliantly. Loads of leaves all ready to eat... and then the pigeons discovered it.
  • Leaf Beet - Big success. They went to seed this year, so in the bottom of the leaf beet bed, there are hundreds of seedlings. Looking forward to a good crop next year.
  • Leeks - Never really amounted to anything. Anyway, they're still in the ground, so maybe they'll pick up somewhat.
  • Onions - Slightly better than last year, but still not much of a size. Still two new full jars of pickled onions to replace the ones used up from last year.
  • Potatoes - Good crop of Maris Peers and Russets. A rogue one popped up in the ground as opposed to the bags.
  • Rhubarb - The large rhubarb at the front once again produced a staggering amount of stalks. More Rhubarb and Ginger Jam.
  • Runner Beans - Huge success. Some were eaten young as normal. But others were left to grow into huge bean pods which resulted in a huge addition to the soups and stews.
  • Soya Beans - Abject failure. Not one of the 50 beans I planted germinated.
  • Strawberries - Big success. The tendency of strawberries to produce runner means that these are slowly starting to take over the plot... which is no bad thing.
  • Sweet Potato - Despite an early failure these were a reasonable success. Will be bother again? Probably not. The corms that were produced seemed a little on the small side. Plenty of them, but it makes cooking rather tricky. 
  • Tomatoes - the smaller cherry toms did really well. But the outside larger ones were less so. For one, the Black Russian ones didn't have much taste. Nice colour, but we won't be growing those again. Cherries however are now a firm favourite.

Cooking wise, there we certainly made the most of the abundant berries and made jams galore. Both the afore mentioned Rhubarb and Ginger, and the Blackberry jams meant I was starting to run out of jam jars. The new label printer has certainly help though. Maybe I ought to think about a Plot 30 logo?

Although I mentioned it last year as something to try, I never got round to dehydrating stuff. The courgettes would be a good starting choice, but possibly the apples as well. Really must do it next year.

Anyhow, the remainder of the year will see me pulling and pushing the beds into better shape. Hopefully building some sort of cage to prevent those pesky pigeons getting in and maybe even some sort of strawberry tower. We shall see.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

November days and blue skies

Don't let the blue skies fool you. Over night the temperature went sub-zero as evidenced by the ice on the water dip tanks, and the weed mulch bucket. It also took a toll on the last remaining sweet potato plant. Definitely time that this was dug up.

The corm were a reasonable size. Not massive, but definitely sort of edible. I say sort of, because there was a lot of evidence of worm activity. However if they are anything like the normal potatoes that were dug from the ground, then it's not worms which are the major problems, but ants. They do like making their nests inside. They get a decent meal, are reasonably secure inside, and can carve out their nest chambers with ease from the inside out.

Elsewhere on the plot the flower bed has finally stopped producing flowers. It's been a good run and we let the all go to seed. So hopefully there will be more next year. But given that this flower bed was built on top of the old spinach bed, there a still a lot of spinach plants that want keep rearing up. As the saying goes, a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place. And these are definitely considered a weed. Albeit a delightfully edible one.

Time to attack and pull them out. Some will go for tonight's dinner. Others will grace the compost heap.

The Kale has also come under attack. But from aerial predators. The "rats with wings" (aka pigeons), have take delight at the bounty now before them and have happily munched their way through a whole load of leaves. They seem to have managed to unhook the netting that was being used to protect it. But then again that may have moved in the storms.

Hopefully it'll regrow.

There is still a lot to do over the winter. I spent most of today digging the fox mound. Those foxes seemed to have been very house proud as I dug out some industrial carpet squares and paving slabs. They seemed to have been using those as roof supports. Although technically I suspect they simply dug under the existing, buried, slabs. Either way, the mound is being moved off to the side to become next years courgette mound, and make place for a new long bed which will probably be dedicated to strawberries.

I think I'll have to do a separate yearly round up post as we have had quite a few successes and quite a number of failures this year. It'll be good to make a note of what worked and what didn't.

But our mound of beans has dried off nicely.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

It does amount to a hill of beans

Things are closing down on the plot.

The courgettes (marrows) are gone.

Though some are bigger than others...

And now it's time for the beans to be pulled out.

But there is way more here than I expected. Certainly a lot more than last year. Definitely a hill of beans.

But the biggest surprise this year is we have grapes. The previous couple of years we never had any grapes. They were always stolen before they could come to fruition. This year, with the help of netting and a camera trap, we seem to have scared off whoever was responsible. And now we can enjoy. They're very sweet, but we don't know what variety they are.

There is still a lot to do in the way of preparation for next year. We need to build more beds, and the mound is in the process of being moved. Some of the mound (the good soil) is going into the new beds, whilst the rest of the mound will be manured and covered, ready for next year's crop of courgettes and squashes. Whilst we were recently in Austrian we managed to pick up some very, let us say, strange squashes. Should give everybody a surprise.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Digging the mound

Been an excellent sunny day. Plenty of work to do.

That mound has been growing a bit long in the wig. Time to give it a haircut. In this case the errant growth is actually Lambs Quarters (aka Goosefoot). A weed to many. But as I say, "a weed is just a plant in the wrong place." Never the less, the weeds are starting to take over. So It's time to get stuck into that mound and start turning over the soil. It's had three years in there now. Two of which have been courgette city. This time I decided to let it go fallow. Time to get digging.

But not everything in there is wasted. Somewhere in the middle is a couple of spuds left over from Sainsbury's. They started to sprout so I just dug a hole, threw them in and let them get on with it. Sure enough after a few minutes digging the gold was uncovered.

So things are starting to die back a bit now - apart from the weeds. The cherry tomatoes in the green house just aren't turning, yet the leaves are starting to yellow and fall off. So it's time to give them their due and harvest what's left.

So today's harvest comprised of a single courgette (not shown), toms and spuds.

Meanwhile in the green house, it looks like the strawberries are trying to escape. They've sent out offshoots and are trying to make a break for the door. Before they could get very far, I grabbed them and stuffed them in some pots. I haven't yet snipped them from the mother plant. I probably won't do that for a while yet. But it's good to increase the number of plants.

There still a few more trailers from other plants, so hopefully come spring we can have a load more plants. Guess it's time to build a vertical planter for them all.

Now last year (and the year before that) some thieving little blighter had it away on their toes with my grapes. This year I'm going to try and ensure they don't get them by a) covering them with netting and b) rigging a camera trap.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Biggest harvest

Today was the final removal of some of the remaining plants. The last of the beetroots (to be pickled) the last of the outdoor tomatoes (to be chutney'd - the indoor cherry toms are still going strong).

The courgettes are still cranking out the odd one or two, though the rate of production has slowed somewhat.

Then there is the lavender that we planted ages ago. It seems to have done a reasonable job this year. I wouldn't say a brilliant job because the recent rains over the past few weeks has somewhat dampened the flowers. But today was pretty dry so I though it would be a good idea to try and harvest a few of the longer stems. I want to try and turn them into Lavender Wands.

Whilst I was at the plot, I also started cutting back the leaf beets. They'd all gone to seed anyway, so now is the time to trim them back ready for the winter months. Hopefully next year they'll do us proud once again. Providing the frost doesn't get them. Mind you, we really do need a good winter to kill off some of the pests that seem to be everywhere these days. Maybe the El Nino effect that is going on at present will oblige. It's usual effect is to give us a colder, drier winter.

But garden pests are not the only danger that is out and about. I travel to Slough for work. So Slough Station is a common place I visit. And so do hundreds of kids with their parents thanks to Legoland at Windsor. So imagine my dismay when I see a rather pest of a plant growing right by the side of the platform where any grasping little fingers can get at the tempting looking berries.

Three guesses as to what this plant is...

I know exactly what this is, and I have informed the appropriate authorities.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Has beans

The Borlotti Bean foliage is starting to die off. It doesn't help that the leaves had been the victim of a horrendous black fly infestation. So many of the beans have actually been malformed.

The courgettes are still cranking out the fruits. So those and a few leaves of the spinach which appears to have survived despite the plants being pulled will form the basis of tonight's dinner.

It looks like the outdoor tomatoes are starting to decay as well. But unfortunately the fruits are still green. I suspect that the only way to do anything with them would be to turn them into something like a chutney. I've never attempted a make a chutney... other than when my parents used to make them which was some 35+ years ago. So I suspect that I will have to do a spot of research for an appropriate recipe.

Unless anybody has a handy recipe to suggest?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


There is a horrendous amount of Blackberries around at the moment. So over the weekend I made enough Jam to last me until the middle of next year.

Of course this has now presents me with a new problem. Namely the fact that I now appear to have run out of spare jam jars for the making of the pickled courgettes and beetroot which need to be done. I always keep spare jars and tuck them away of top of the kitchen cabinets until the time comes to re-use them. I rather favour the Lloyd Grossman pasta sauce jars as they are of a decent size. But I also have a lot of spare honey jars too. I find that these do not work as well for jam due to the screw lids on them. They have a tendency to lock down too tight. I asked a friend of mine on the allotment who has a hive about whether he can re-use them for honey... but apparently there are strict regulations which means that honey must be provided in brand new jars.

Oh, and I've also got myself a nifty new little label printer. Pretty useful little beastie. Dead easy to use. But certainly not the first time I've used these. In my guise as a web developer I've used it for a client to automatically print their order labels. Now I have one of my own to print labels for my concoctions.

Maybe it's about time I sorted out a logo for Plot 30?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Tsunami has begun

It's been a while since I updated the blog. But that doesn't mean that things have stood still on the plot. On the contrary things are going great guns.

We are now well into the Courgette Tsunami. They are popping up at the rate of one or two a day, and have been doing so for the past 3 weeks.

The onions stagnated. Not sure what was going on with them, but the leaves all fell over and they just refused to grow any more. So I pulled them all out.

They're not as big as I would have liked, but that's no major problem. I left them to "dry" out a bit, just to wheedle out the better ones, and now I'll be soaking them in brine and turning them into pickled onions.

Whilst I'm pickling those, I may as well try pickling some courgettes too. At least the beetroot is still going strong, and the couple we've had so far for our salads are absolutely delicious. But again, I'll probably be pickling those as well.

That's the problem with the glut. There is only so much you can eat (been eating Courgettes everyday now... and there are still 8 spare despite giving some away) and given that we don't have a freezer of any capacity (just the tiddly one in the top of the fridge) it's hardly worthwhile attempting to freeze things. So we either have to pickle or dry.

Now the carrots were a bit of a shock too. We were watching them grow in the bags. And two of them we could just see poking their shoulders out above the soil and they looked to be a right old size. So we decided to pick them for dinner. Uh oh.

It seems that despite adding sand to the mixture in an attempt to loosen it up, it only compacted it even more. The roots had simply split and twisted into small unusable little tendrils, Doesn't bode well for the rest of the crop.

But one thing which has done really well is the flower crop. Not that we eat them of course, but the bees are loving the wild flowers, the artichoke flowers and most of all the buddleja.

Think I'm going to attempt to dry a courgette tonight and see how it turns out. Oh, and pickle the onions (and a courgette). And maybe make a courgette cake too.

Did I mention that we'll be having courgettes for dinner tonight?

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Flowers and ... blight?

Things are proceeding as normal. Especially in this hot weather that we're currently experiencing. I would say "enjoying" but I'm not. But parts of the allotment are.

The Buddleja is liking it immensely and has started putting out a mass of flowers.

However I fear that there may be problems ahead. One of my Potato plants is showing worrying signs possibly of blight.

Even so I decided that it would be better to harvest it now rather than risk it.

Not too bad a crop for a small pot. But I worry about the rest of them. So far they all look green and healthy. But if it is blight then it can spread fast.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Things are growing

Managed to get our first harvest of the outdoor Strawberries this weekend. They're not as sweet as the ones from in the greenhouse, but there are far more of them.

One the flowers side, the Foxgloves and Ranunculus are in full swing.

The courgettes on the mini-mound are starting to look a lot better. A little less yellow in the leaves now. The flowers mean that they may well start producing soon.

Elsewhere things are starting to look better. The Onions are now a full grown thicket of greens.

The beetroot is looking like a decent crop.

And the French Beans are starting to progress. More so than the rather disappointing Runner Beans.

The "long walk" of Potatoes is not too shabby either.

But what's this at the far end? Do I detect the June Drop is starting on the Apple Tree?

Time to sweep them all up and throw them in the compost bin. Waste not, want not.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

War on weeds

If your plot is anything like mine, then the weeds are everywhere you turn.

You uproot a weed, turn your back for 5 mins and another takes it's place. It seems like it's a never ending infestation of weeds all over the place.

The angle above doesn't really do it justice, but it's about 20cm deep pile of weeds that was roughly pulled out of just one bed and it's surrounds. The bindweed gets thrown in the bucket. The other weeds get thrown on the compost.

But at least the plot looks a little clearer now. (But still more to do.)

There is a marked difference between the strawberries outside, and those raised in the greenhouse. They're the same plants (the greenhouse ones were offshoots from runners). But the inside ones have certainly ripened faster. Only a couple of the outside ones have ripened. But the biggest difference is taste. The inside ones are very sweet but the other seem a little bitter. Maybe we should just wait a while until the rest are fully ripe. Not long to wait.

There are flowers appearing on the rogue potato. Not sure when you should actually harvest them. Does anybody know? The rogue is probably a Charlotte. The ones in the bags are Maris Peer's and Red Roosters. Although due to a mix up, we're not sure which is which.
Also... note the BlackFly. Yes that horrible scourge has returned in great numbers. Consider the Artichoke which always gets them.

Still there do seem to be a few Ladybird Larvae around. Go get 'em.

For the past few Sunday's we've been going to the local Car Boot sales. Not to buy. To try and offload some of the huge amount of "stuff" that we (read "the wife") has collected over the years.

Seems like a good way to make some space, and maybe raise a few coins. Problem is people are so stingy. Would you really bargain down something that's already priced at 50p?