Friday, 29 December 2017

End of year round-up

So once again the wheel turns full circle and we come to the end of the year. Time to reflect back on what was achieved and look forward to what we aspire to.

So what happened this year?

Well for starters it was an extremely poor start. January saw me fighting off a lingering lung infection which required a couple of trips to hospital. But on the plus side, I got to take part in the Greenliving Forum's Seed Swap.
February saw me start getting the new greenhouse put up. This actually took quite a while due to the lack of glass, but it did get put to good use throughout the rest of the year as the Tomato and Chilli house (oh and Carrots too).
March saw the completion of the afore mentioned greenhouse and the start of our actual planting as well as preparation for this years courgette mound.
April we got hit hard by a late frost. It's unusual to get frosts here in the centre of London due to the heat island effect, but this one almost wiped out our courgettes, and did wipe out our sweetcorn. Fortunately we had corn to spare and some of our courgettes survived.
May was warm. Really warm. Unseasonably warm. Time for a Barbecue. But it also saw the first of the Bread Club's visits to a working flour mill.
Blooming June was just that. Loads of flowers (keep the Wife happy) and the start of harvest-able veggies (keeps me happy).
July paved the way for this year's courgette season to really get rolling.
By August we were into peak production across the board. Many things were ripening and we started enjoying fresh potatoes and yet more courgettes.
September rolled on and we were getting pretty sick of courgettes by now. Fortunately we could now start combining them with our own tomatoes to make chutneys and jams and even get to show off the Bread making skills at the Produce show.
October finally things started to slow down. Once again our carrots were forked sixteen way to Monday, but they still tasted wonderful.
By November we'd finished with courgettes (finally), and made a start securing the new addition of an extra rod which has been added to the plot, and we also harvested what we could of the Cape Gooseberries.
And by December, it was all over.

So lets go over some of the more specifics that we did.
Apples - The apple tree didn't carry as much fruit this year as it has on previous years. I tried using a moth trap to see if I could cut down on the number of maggot infested apples. I'm not sure how well it worked as we had less infested apples, but we also had less of a crop. The apple tree however will soon have a major trim to tidy it up and make access to it easier. I have also removed the Bramley (never really produced well) and the third apple tree (which has never produced anything anyway).

Artichoke - The artichoke had a huge thinning as it was partly in the way of the flower bed which I built last winter. But even so it once again produced a load of bee friendly blooms.

Beans - Dismal failure. We tried for borlotti beans again this year, but I fear the slugs were rather ravenous and they didn't recover.

Beetroot - Only a single bed this year. But even then that was more than enough to produce a whole load of delicious beetroots. And some even got turned into bread.

Blueberry - Getting bigger and better ever year. Though I will have to cut them back this winter.

Cape Gooseberry - Prolific is the word I would have to use. However it should be noted that the plants in the beds but more effort into growing foliage rather than fruits. Whereas those in pots soon got root bound, but did produce a substantial quantity of fruits. Perhaps limiting their nutrient intake is the better option.

Carrots - Forked. Again. But tasted wonderful in soup.

Chilli - We produced a pretty impressive quantity this year. Certainly we'll have to do the same again next year. We dried and crushed them, and now they feature regularly in our meals.

Courgettes - We lost count at around the 130 mark. I reckon we had over 150 of them. Fortunately we can trade them for cheese or eggs with our neighbours. So it's a win-win all round. We did try de-hydrating them this year. They took 24 hours in a low heat oven to dry, and that seemed to go OK. But when re-hydrating them, they just turned to mush and tasted foul. So either less main courgettes or we need to switch to growing winter squash instead.

Flowers - The new flower bed did wonder and the Wife was really pleased. So much so that now she wants even more flower growing areas.

Grapes - Seemed grow OK... but once again somebody went and pinched them off the vine. Have to definitely rig a camera trap to catch the culprit.

Lavender - We lost our planted lavender, so now we have potted ones. And they did really well this year. Next year hopefully they'll be even better.

Leaf Beet - One of our front beds to totally given over the Leaf Beets and it's in constant production. A good staple.

Onions - Well they grew, of sorts. The problem was that they were so small as to not really be worth pursuing. So maybe I'll re-plant them this winter and see if they can produce something decent this year.

Pak Choi - Again they grew... but didn't really like the greenhouse. Seemed to be lamky and tasteless. But if I had planted them outside they would have been devoured by the slugs. So I guess they dodn't win either way. We probably won't be growing them again.

Potatoes - Didn't do so well this year. Very small results. But growing them in bags is a useful way to get them going so we're going to be doing the same again.

Rhubarb - Does nothing stop this plant? I'll have to make even more Rhubarb and Ginger Jam next year.

Strawberries - The Wife wants a strawberry empire. She's already earmarked one of the new beds to be another dedicated strawberry bed next year. And she also wants a vertical grow wall at the rear of the greenhouse too. And lets not mention the strawberry towers. Fortunately, I like strawberries too.

Sunflowers - The Giant Russians didn't germinate. But the smaller ones did put on quite a decent show.

Tomatoes - They just kept on coming. Though the larger ones didn't really ripen properly, so I suspect that we're going to standardise on cherry toms next year.

A few points of note.

  • Firstly there was a distinct lack of Black Fly this year. Not sure why but we didn't get any on our Artichoke or other plants. None whatsoever. I really have no explanation for this, but it's good to see.
  • Secondly I'll be more wary of late frosts. We carry over our courgettes seeds from one year to the next. This year we gave away a lot of our seeds and seed marrow to neighbours. So when we lost a lot in the late frost, we were almost wiped out in the courgette area. That however has been our biggest producer each year, and we use it as a staple in trading favours with our neighbours.
  • Thirdly we're going to have to start inter-planting a bit more. Especially when it comes to the Cape Gooseberries. They will be better used as possible ground cover in amongst the sweetcorn.

So what about next year? Well we now have a bit more room to play with. We have the soil in an excellent position to carry us forward so things are looking good. Here's to the next growing season.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Allotment Week: Beds and Woodchips

There has been a fresh delivery of woodchips this week. Once again the woodchip bay is brimming. It makes sense as the various arborists around the area do most of their work in the winter months. They don't have to worry so much about leaves, and they can clearly see what needs to be cut back. But then they have to get rid of the resulting mess. Which is why Allotments around the borough will gladly accept their rubbish, because to us it's like gold dust.

So I have a new extension to the plot, which is only small, but I reckon I could get 5 8ftx3ft beds in there. So first thing this morning I went to the local Wickes to pick up some boards to be made into beds. I grabbed 10 8ft boards, and 5 6ft boards. The 6ft's will be cut in half to make the end pieces. I done a post on how I construct my beds so I won't go over it again here.

But what I didn't reckon with is the cold. It played havoc with my drill's battery and I could only get 2 beds done before the power wasn't enough to drive a screw in anymore.

So I now have 8 6ft beds complete in the centre of the plot plus 4 6ft beds down alongside the main path (by the rhubarb and shed). I should have 5 8ft in the new section and 4 10ft beds at the very front. I'm not counting the Wife's flower bed which was last year's winter project.

Of course the big problem is that Wicke's (Merton) do not carry 10ft boards, so I'll have to go further afield to get them at some point n the future. But since the drill packed up, there wasn't a lot else to do other than saw up corner sections and trundle woodchip around the beds to fill them up and make nice happy mycellieum homes.

Yesterday I started levelling out the old mound area. The new section is very low, and obviously the mound is very high. So the new path which has to go in needs to run between the two, mis-matched levels. Not an easy job. But I eventually managed to get a levelled section and put a new path in.

I'm still missing a section between this path and the one I did on Tuesday. But I guess I can do that at the weekend.

But back to that pesky drill of mine. It's getting a little long in the tooth and the battery doesn't hold the charge so well. It was only a cheap'n'nasty non-brand drill anyway. So I'm contemplating getting something a little better. I've been looking at the Ryobi One+ range as they have a variety of power tools with a common power system.

Has anybody tried these?
Are they worth it?
What drawbacks have you found with them?

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Allotment Week: Paths and Mounds

One of the requirements of taking over a small additional section of an adjacent plot, is that I put in a pathway between plots 30 and 31. Now there never has been a path between 30/31, same as there is no path between 28/29 or 32/33, so it's kind of awkward trying to figure out where it should go.

One big issue is that the apple tree slightly overhangs the boundary, so in order to get a free walk down the path, the apple tree will have to have a significant haircut. But not today.

Today is the path for actually putting a path in. I've started at the back of the plot because the closer section needs some serious levelling and sorting out.

Of course another big problem is that there are significant amounts of bramble and couch grass blocking the way. So I gave the brambles and grasses short shrift with the billhook and then put down weed membrane. It might keep them at bay for a while. I then piled loads of wood chip on top.

Meanwhile all the grasses and weeds that I've been digging out of the paths and beds are being dumped on top of the Cape Gooseberry stems which were chopped down the other day. This will eventually be turned into another courgette mound, since these mounds do so well.

All-in-all, not a bad days work. Rather cold and brisk, but sunny enough to make me take my fleece off when doing the heavy work. Still more to do though. Back tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Allotment Week: Clearing up

End of the season, time to get things cleared up ready for winter.

I dug and manured 4 beds today. Over the winter hopefully the worms will do their work on the manure and these beds should be great for next year. Not sure what I'm going to put in them yet, though.

Meanwhile, the wife washed the pots that we grew stuff in (and additional pots which we scrounged over the year). The water will be switched off over winter so it's best to get this done sooner rather than later.

I also gave the Buddljia a good hair cut as well. There were a lot of twiggy bits at the bottom, and I really want to encourage it to grow upwards, rather than outward.

There's a lot of other stuff thats been done as well, which I didn't get photos of. I cut down two of the three apple trees. The Bramley which is at a very awkward angle and has never produced anything worthwhile, and the small one at the back. Not sure what it is (was) because in the 5 years we've been on the plot it has never so much as flowered, never mind given fruit. The big apple tree will also get a haircut at some point over the winter as it need to be made a little more manageable, and it will also overhang the new pathway that I have to put in between us and plot 31.

This next week should see quite a bit of activity on the plot as I have a week off work. So now it's time to get lots of stuff done ready for next year.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Cape Gooseberries

The Cape Gooseberries (also known as Inca Berries by some) have gone rampant in the beds this year. But it seems that they have put more into the growth of the plant rather than the actual berries.

There have been some frosts recently which has effectively killed the plants. "Not so bad", we thought. But it was only when we started harvesting them that we realised that many of the pods had no fruit developed inside them, which was extremely disappointing.

However we did manage to get a reasonable amount of fruits. Certainly enough to keep some of the fruits for seeds next year. And possibly enough to make a small batch of jam as well.

Other than that, there has not been much done on the plot this time. Illness over the past couple of weeks and the cold/miserable weather has meant that doing anything down the plot is an unfulfilling experience. Possibly more will be done in December as there is still a lot of infrastructure work that needs doing... building new beds... making new paths... cutting trees... You know. Stuff.

The stuff which every allotmenteer has to do to get ready for next year.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Almost the end of the season

Things are coming to an end now. The plot is definitely starting to look a little worn and bedraggled. Not surprising since this year has been pretty productive.

The Cape Gooseberries outside are still pretty green. But the ones we had in pots (outside) and all those in the greenhouses have certainly ripened enough to harvest. Fortunately they do keep well. But considering the total amount (or at least the potential total amount) then we should be on course for a very good harvest, and possibly jam. i think we'll probably wait a couple more weeks for the ones outside to see if they are ready. If not then we may be forced to pull them and work with what we get.

The outside sunflowers are also starting the die back and go to seed. rather than let the seed scatter, we decided to start pulling the heads off. We'll probably make sure they are properly de-seeded then we can make seeded fat balls for the birds over winter. And of course keep some seeds back for next year.

Remember the dodgy carrots from last week? Well, the Wife made them into soup. Plenty of onions and carrots boiled up with seasoning.

Then a blitz with the blender and it made a delicious thick soup, the colour of which is not done justice in my poor photos. Purple carrots at their best... no matter how they look.

Add some tomatoes from our stock and you have a meal fit for kings. This is what allotment good food is all about.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Carrot failure (again)

It seems we never have much luck with carrots. Our carrots this year were grown in just coir. In previous years we've tried soil, compost, sand and various combinations in between. We thought that keeping it loose and free from the normal rich mix you'd expect in a growing medium, that we'd get something different. But alas we ended up with the same branching a splits that we've had in previous years.

Hopefully though, they'll taste just as good.

The Corn that we pulled last week has been sitting in a large tub in the greenhouse. I was hoping that they'd start to dry out. Bad move. Looks like the mould and the wood lice have started to move in. So instead we opted to pull all the outer leaves off and take the cobs home to dry in the kitchen. Apart from those which were not fully formed or a bit scrappy. They'll be offered to the chickens.

These make some pretty damn good popcorn. But I also am going to try making cornmeal for baking cornbread.

And finally the time of the courgettes is coming to an end. There are still a few last little ones growing, but the leaves are definitely past their best. Perhaps one more week before they all get culled.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Death to sweetcorn

Well it looks like once again we missed the optimum point for harvesting the sweetcorn to enjoy it's delicious ripeness directly. But not all is lost.

First our small forest of corn stalks needs to be felled.

Now in permaculture principles, nothing goes to waste. First and foremost is obtain a yield. So we have a whole load of corn.

Now most of this seems to be past it's best for how people eat the traditional corn on the cob. But these make perfect popcorn. Even more so, as a baker, I can make corn-meal out of them for baking corn bread and muffins. Something I'm very eager to try.

Next we have the stalks.

These have been put in the greenhouse to dry out over the next few months. They will be used for feeding the Ghillie Kettle.

Finally there are a whole load of leaves and the tops of the stalks.

Some will be composted, but most will be used as mulch on the new beds which I will be making over the winter time.

Whilst I was clearing the corn, the Wife was collecting the last of the tomatoes. The stalks may have died, but the fruits were small and sweet, just bursting with flavour.

And finally, the two weeks we've been away have just flown by... but the courgettes just kept on coming.

So much so that I've kind of lost track of the real numbers. So now I'm down to reasonable guesswork. We're certainly doing a lot more than last year on numbers, but then again we have twice as many plants. We really wanted to do Butternut Squash, but of the 6 plants we put out, only 1 came up with a true squash. The others were in fact, courgettes.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Guess I'm going to be giving stuff away at the office again.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Tomatoes, Apples, Chutneys and Jams

The Tomatoes are on their last legs. The leaves are starting to curl up and the green toms have just been sitting there for a couple of weeks and not turned red.

Time to pick and consider chutney.

But of course you cannot have a decent chutney without apples. We haven't had a decent crop this year. Well decent as in quantity anyway. The quality is top notch. Very few have got maggots in them. Perhaps it was worthwhile putting out that Codling Moth trap. Certainly they are very sweet and juicy. We need a few for the Jam (Blackberries have been in the freezer for a month) and the chutney.

The courgettes on the new mound at the back of the plot seem to be over.

There are a few newish leaves and flowers so they may yet offer up some goodies. But to ones at the front of the plot, and the Butternut Squash seem to still be charging along. I expect many more from them.
So we piled some of the toms, apples, courgettes and such into the big bucket to take home.

We've left some of the toms still in place in the hope that they may mature during the week. But I think it's doubtful.

As I work from home two days a week, I can nip to the plot in the evenings. So last Thursday when we went we had a visitor. A reasonably friendly chap who we call "Ben". Short for Bent Tail, because he seems to have a damaged tail.

He thanked us for the remnants of the courgette cake by leaving a deposit. All adds to the compost I suppose. Though it goes for the new compost bin which won't be used until 2019.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

So this evening I made 8.5 jars of Blackberry and Apple Jam.
2kg Blackberries
5 large sweet apples.
2kg sugar.
The Blackberries were frozen, so it was simply a case of throwing them in a large pot on a high heat. As the thawed and the juice started flowing, throw in the sugar. I used 1kg normal and 1kg of Jam sugar. Grated up the apples and let it simmer for a while., When the froth had dissipated and the temperature was 104C, then it was decanted into washed clean jars that had spent the time sitting in the oven at 100C. Sorted.

Tomorrow I'll do chutney.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Honey and Jams and stuff

Just a quick visit to the plot today, chiefly because I arranged to pick up some honey.

I also grabbed a few ripe tomatoes, dared to try a sweetcorn cob, and of course courgettes (they just keep on coming). I was also given an aubergine and pepper and some Sloe Jam.

This is the great thing about an allotment community. If you have too much of a glut of things then give them away to friends and neighbours. You'll get gifts in return. Barter was the original form of trade.

Meanwhile at home, I have a couple of kilos of blackberries in the freezer. Really have to get some apples from the tree and start making some jam. And I also have a can of make-your-own marmalade which I really ought to do as well. I foresee and extended stint at the cooker in the not too distant future.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Produce show

Now I'm never one for the prettiest veg, heaviest this, longest that. Veg grows in all-sorts of shapes and sizes. It's this so called supermarket mentality which gets a lot of veg thrown out because it doesn't look right and people won't buy it. That to me is plain stupid.

The end result of veg is to eat it. So I prefer categories that allow you to show that. So I only entered two categories. Bread and Cakes. And to go with the alliteration, Courgette Cake and Beetroot Bread.
The Courgette Cake I've done before. Unfortunately though, it didn't come up to the standard of those who entered various cup cakes and layer cakes.

The Beetroot Bread though was nice and pink. Although oddly the insides, once cut, was just a normal colour. Just a nice pink crust.
Anyway, it tasted of a faint beetroot flavour and it came second... out of two entries.

Not much actually doing on the plot today though. Mostly it was spent sheltering in the greenhouse from the torrential thunder storm that rolled through.

But at least we hit over 100 courgettes during the week. I suspect there will be more tomorrow though.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Complicated Compost

I still have the compost pile to sort out from last week. So out with the sieve and fork and a time to dig through the year's worth of stuff.

However down at the bottom there were some nasty surprises. The first nastiness was an egg. Well there were plenty of eggshells (that I really should have smashed up better before adding to the compost). No, I mean a real egg. One which had been buried for a year. As you can imagine when the fork went through it there was a loud pop... and a stink that made me stand upwind for the rest of the digging.

Secondly I have a little complaint about "compost bags". I used Sainsbury's Compost Bags for my compost caddie, and then, when full, they were dumped into the compost bin. They've been in there for over a year, so you'd expect them to have decomposed. No. They haven't.

The packet says that they're made of potato starch. Well OK, I've got a couple of potatoes that are still relatively whole in the compost, but these bags are somewhat disappointing. Do you use compost bags at all? How do you find them?

Meanwhile the Wife is ripping out some of the weeds (and flower stems) from one arm of her raised flower bed.

So it can get a nice load of freshly sieved compost.

And I bought 20m of weed membrane to cover the extension to the plot. I'll build the beds to go in here over the winter time so they'll be ready to use next spring.

Meanwhile... courgettes. Ugh, don't they ever stop?

The 2017 Courgette Tally: