2016 Year’s End at the Allotment

OK, so like many people, the year at the allotment has come to an end and the new year is starting so its time to write a brief review.

A quick summary of what I planted where. We have two greenhouses, a polytunnel a couple of apple trees and some open ground at home, plus an allotment a couple of miles away. So this year, I tried to reduce the amount of time spent at the allotment both by improving the paths (getting rid of grass) and growing vegetables which require less attention. I also grew more vegetables at home, in the polytunnel and in the open ground.

The Allotment consists of eleven beds 6ft x 20ft plus a larger bed with fruit bushes, a couple of apple trees and some thornless blackberries.

First of all what has done well and what has done badly:

Most things did reasonably well this year, despite our three week holiday at the end of July/start of August which meant no visits to the allotment at that time which possibly limited the Strawberry harvest and certainly meant that the summer Raspberries were missed. The other fruit all did well and showed that it should be left until properly ripe (the Blackcurrants were huge and sweet) rather than picked because they look nice before they’re properly ready. The failure because of our holiday was probably the blackberries which had been and gone while we were away.

Also using half of the polytunnel for vegetables (rather than tomatoes) was a success with French Beans and Courgettes both starting earlier in the tunnel than at the allotment.

The sweetcorn did really well (and is now sitting as frozen kernels in the freezer) and the apples all did very well so we’ve got them sitting in the garage to be eaten over the winter.

The Peas did relatively well, but next year I think I’ll have to improve the support system so that they don’t pull down the netting.

The courgettes also did well, far more than we could eat ourselves which is a problem because they aren’t something that we like to keep. So we picked them really small and ate them in salads as well as letting them grow to their normal size and eating them or composting them during the real glut. The squashes are debatable, they probably need a support system to get them off the ground so that they can ripen better. I picked them this week and it looks like they’ve been frosted.

Lettuces did well and gave us salads all through the summer. The lettuce in the polytunnel gave us salads over the winter and kept the polytunnel in use so that was really good.

The Autumn Fruited Raspberries (as ever) did well. In my opinion, autumn fruited raspberries are one of the most productive and worthwhile crops to grow at the allotment. They need a reasonable amount of space and need lots of sun so they don’t do very well at home. But I would recommend to everybody to have an area of Autumn Raspberries on their allotment.

Now what did badly:

Potatoes. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no point in growing maincrop potatoes, they need time both earthing up and watering to make a reasonable crop. Our soil (heavy clay) is not suitable for early potatoes, the grounds too hard and cold and all you end up with is a few misshapen tiny marbles. So next year there will be no potatoes. (which is probably a good thing).

The strawberries didn’t do very well and I think I possibly need to get some new plants into the ground. Again, I think the heavy clay soil doesn’t help, the plants struggle to get going and keep going so I need to get a good helping of compost onto the new rotating strawberry bed. (By rotating, I mean that I have four beds that I put strawberries in, three growing strawberries and one growing something else).

Cabbages: The plants never really got going properly so, whilst we had a few cabbages, they didn’t seem to be worth the effort, particularly growing from seed.

Tomatoes: I persist in trying to grow tomatoes at the allotment. It really is a waste of time. Blight is endemic and the plants dies off quickly once affected. I tried growing “Blight Resistant” varieties (Crimson Crush and Mountain Magic) and, whilst they got less blight than the other varieties, the fruit have blight and I would say that about 10% of the fruit are affected and won’t ripen. In addition, the fruit hasn’t ripened at the allotment (despite being in full sun) so now I’ve got a load of green fruit which I’m hoping will ripen but even when they do, they don’t taste particularly wonderful.

What about 2017?

I’m going to try and reduce the amount of time I spend at the allotment. I’ve read (and taken some ideas from) a book called “The Half Hour Allotment” which suggests that one ought to be able to manage an allotment on 2.5 hours per week (half an hour each day five days a week). So even more concentration on things that will look after themselves and no growing of things that need care and attention to avoid pests.

So that means:

  • No Potatoes;
  • No Tomatoes;
  • No Summer Raspberries (autumn ones are best);
  • No Mangetout peas at the allotment (they have to be picked every day);
  • Cabbages from plants (not seed);
  • Fewer Courgettes.

But grow more:

  • Podded Peas ( a whole bed);
  • Dwarf French Beans;

Other than that, its pretty much as before but concentrate on getting things done rather than talking, and improve the means of protecting and growing so that its easier to hoe the weeds (particularly around the strawberries) and make a “dust mulch” to reduce watering needs.

Posted in Uncategorized

Tomatoes and Allotment September 2016

I realise that its been a while since I reported on my tomatoes and also what has been going on at the allotment. I’ve decided that its not sensible to run two different blogs, particularly since I’m growing tomatoes (successfully) at the allotment, so I’m going to join both blogs into a single one and put it all together in one place.

Read More …

Posted in Allotment Blog, french beans, Fruit, Garden, Peppers, Raspberry, Runner Beans, Strawberry, peas, spinach, Sweetcorn, Vegetables

Green Bean Relish

What to do with lots of French Beans? Here’s a recipe for green bean relish, something we’ve made before and is well worth the effort.

We’ve been away for a couple of weeks and (for the first time) I’m growing French Beans in my polytunnel. As a result when we came back, I picked 2kg of beans and there are others which still need to be picked. Judging by the plants, there will also be a lot more to pick and then there are the ones at the allotment which, whilst there aren’t as many per plant, will contribute to an excess.

Obviously we’ll be eating them fresh, but at this time of year there’s lots of vegetables coming through so they need to be stored in some form or another. I don’t like frozen beans as they tend to be stringy so this is one of my solutions. Any sort of green bean can be used (french or runner) but I prefer to grow french beans (mainly dwarf but some climbing).

Overall it takes about an hour and makes enough to fill a 500ml and 250ml kilner jar. Obviously the recipe can be multiplied up but we prefer to make things in small batches.

Ingredients

  • 450g beans trimmed and cut into small pieces (abount 1cm long);
  • 1 or 2 onions chopped finely;
  • 250g soft brown sugar;
  • 425ml malt vinegar (we use white vinegar);
  • 3/4 tsp mustard seeds (we use black seeds);
  • 1tbsp cornflour;
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder;
  • 1 tsp turmeric;
  • 1/4 tsp salt;
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper.

Instructions

Put the onions, sugar, half the vinegar, mustard seeds, salt and pepper in a large pan. Bring it to the boil and simmer partly covered for about 30 minutes. Use this time to trim and slice the beans then, in another pan, boil them in salted water for 5-6 minutes draining them when cooked. Take the cornflour, mustard and turmeric and mix them together with a little water.

When the onion is cooked, add the beans and the rest of the vinegar to the pan, bring it back to the boil and simmer (uncovered) for a futher 20 minutes, then add the cornflour mixture to the pan, boil and simmer for the final 15 minutes. 

Finally put the mixture into warmed, sterilised jars and store it for about a month before opening.

Posted in Allotment, french beans, Recipes, Relish, Runner Beans, Vegetables | Tagged , , , ,

Harvest Trays & Potato Harvest

At this time of year, I begin to need storage trays for the harvest of potatoes, apples green tomatoes, etc.. I tend to use trays rather than hessian bags for the potato harvest because I find it is easier to keep a watch out for blight and other problems. Blight is an issue because there is always blight at the allotment and some of the potatoes always seem to be infected regardless of when they are picked.

Anyway, until now I’ve used the green trays that the supermarkets have their lettuces or melons delivered in but I guess they must have either found a different way of delivering such things or improved their recycling because there don’t seem to be any about this year.

For many years I’ve been thinking of investing in some wooden trays but buying them seems to be incredibly expensive and even buying the wood is not cheap for something that is just for storing potatoes and the like.

Then, watching a programme – Something for Nothing – I realised that I already had a supply of the right sort of wood in the shape of pallets that I used last year in my polytunnel as temporary benching. All I needed to do was to break them down and re-construct them as a storage tray. So I set to work with my trusty tools and hey presto after a couple of hours I had this:

A sturdy tray 70cm x 50cm perfect for storing my potatoes. They’ll stack up, aren’t heavy and are almost perfect for the job. I say almost because its a little bit wide to carry through doorways and (when full) quite heavy to carry around so the next ones I build will be the 50cm x 35cm so that they are more manoeuvrable. I’ll also put a couple of extra uprights in the big tray so that I can stack the smaller trays on to of the large one.

So there you are, a couple of hours work (most of it getting the pallet apart) and you have a perfectly workable storage tray.

PelicanPlants

Posted in Allotment, Allotment Blog, Vegetables | Tagged , , ,

Gooseberry “Harvest”

Today I picked the Gooseberry Harvest (such as it is). Neither the red nor the white have produced a significant crop (around about 1lb of each) which is barely worth the spiked hands and arms reaching into the bush. When you consider that last year we were giving them away, its a real disappointment (one of many this year).

I’ve also pruned the bushes back (new growth back to 5 leaves) and hope that next year sees a decent crop again.

I’ve also been summer pruning the cooking apple tree at home and thinning out the fruit so that we get bigger apples. I seems a little perverse to be picking off what look like perfect fruit but I’ve found that they keep better if they’re larger.

I should also do the same to the eater (Discovery) but I’m not sure if the “June Drop” is still to happen and I don’t want to take off the best apples only to find that the remaining fruit decide to drop off so I’ll give it another few days. I would like to prune the Discovery (its leaning over since we dropped the walnut tree on it when we took it down several years ago) but as a “tip-bearer”, I’m much less confident about pruning it and still getting a crop of apples. However, I’m going to have to get the pruning saw out over the winter to re-balance the tree before it pulls itself over.

Still no tomatoes😦

PelicanPlants

Posted in Allotment Blog, Apple, Fruit, Garden | Tagged , , ,

Potatoes – Not much

Of my eleven beds, this year two have potatoes in them. I always grow a few potatoes but concentrate on first or second earlies because maincrop always seem to get blight. I normally grow Kestrel but this year I bought myself some Red Duke of York. I’ve grown them before and was relatively pleased.

However, my daughter wanted to grow some potatoes as well (in potato bags because she doesn’t have a garden at the time) so she selected some more unusual varieties (Shetland Black, Ratte and Belle de Fontenay varieties that I haven’t grown before).

I started picking them the other day on the assumption that the wet weather would mean that they had grown significantly and we would need to eat through them before blight struck (as it always does). So imagine my disappointment when the potatoes were both small and few and far between, particularly as last year I was picking potatoes from late June. I’ll have to leave them a bit longer.

However, I have (re)learned an issue which I knew but didn’t remember and discovered something new that I didn’t know.

The Shetland Black potatoes are virtually impossible to find in the ground. They are the same colour as the soil. I knew this (or at least something similar) as I have grown black or blue potatoes before and its taken years to get rid of the soldiers coming up in the bed. All you need is an odd potato left in the ground and they come up through whatever is in the bed that year – a real nuisance. Ah well, it will at least mean that I’ll have to dig through the bed a few times before deciding what to plant next year. Another problem with the Shetland Blue is that they seemed to be attacked by millipedes (or centipedes with a lot of legs) so they all had to be sorted through when preparing to cook and wouldn’t keep because they were damaged.

On the positive side, Shetland Black are a nice colour (they turn the water blue when cooking) but (the new thing I have learned) they explode into the water when you cook them so you end up with a pile of mush as you can see in these pictures of our dinner last night (Caribbean Fish Stew with our own peas, broadbeans, potatoes [Ratte and Shetland Blue] and swiss chard which was added after the photograph).

As you can see the Shetland Blue potatoes turned to mush whereas the Ratte held themselves together very well.

Will I grow them again? Probably not, whilst Kestrel are not the best of potatoes, at least you can find them when digging them up.

PelicanPlants

Posted in Allotment Blog, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , ,

The Allotment – June and Early July

Its been about a month since I last posted and in that time the allotment has been doing its wonderful thing of producing fruit and vegetables.

The weather this year has been “unhelpful” (to put it mildly). A dry May followed by a wet June (and early July) with some spectacular downpours. None of this has improved the allotment much (except perhaps for the number of slugs) and I’ve had to replace a number of plats and sowings as the slugs have done their worst. The strawberries have been particularly badly hit with about 50% of the crop either slugged or hit by mould. So the crop this year was significantly down on previous years. The only good thing is that the weather seems to have encouraged a lot of growth so, hopefully, we’ll get a bigger crop next year.

Its been something similar with the redcurrants, the bush has put on a lot of growth but overall we’ve had a much smaller crop this year. On the other hand, the rhubarb has done well and, looking at the gooseberries, I have a feeling we will get an adequate (though not spectacular) crop with lots of growth needing to be cut back.

The summer raspberries are beginning to crop and the autumn fruited variety (Polka) has put on masses of growth and will perhaps make up for any shortfalls in the other fruit.

With Blackcurrants, Blackberries and apples of various sorts to come later, overall my feeling is that the fruit harvest will be down on previous years but plenty to keep us going.

The vegetables, however, are more of a mixed bag. I made the decision not to grow Garlic, Onions and Leeks because of a combination of Whiterot and Leek Moth and that doesn’t appear to have been a wrong decision as it gave more space to other things.

The potatoes are difficult to decide about yet. I dug up the first roots the other day and had a small handful of largish potatoes from the Red Duke of York so my concern is that (for whatever reason) the crop will not be large this year.

Similarly the beans at the allotment are struggling to get started, the cold and wet is certainly not helping. However, the dwarf french beans in the polytunnel are growing strongly and cropping well, giving us more than enough beans and there may be a need to make some bean chutney (which I really like). The peas on the other hand are doing well with enough extra to need to be frozen (although fresh peas are by far the best way to eat them). This year I dedicated a whole bed to peas and sowed/planted four 10ft rows. The first and second lots are doing well with the second just starting to take over but the third and fourth are not doing anything like as well. I think this shows that I’ve got to make sure the peas are in early.

The courgettes and squashes have behaved peculiarly. I’ve battled with slugs and had to replant a number of plants but now the courgettes are doing well. However, the squashes are struggling to get going and seem to have been attacked by far more slugs – maybe they are coming out from the less well cultivated plot to the west of me and have filled up before they reach the courgettes. The one plant in the polytunnel is also doing well and producing a couple of courgettes every other day. It looks like we’ll be on courgette soup before much longer.

So that’s it. My impression is that overall it will be a poor year (glad that the supermarket isn’t far away) but my plan of working full and half beds only certainly seems to be reducing the amount of work needed to keep the weeds at bay.

PelicanPlants

Posted in Allotment Blog, Apple, Blackberry, Fruit, Raspberry, Strawberry, peas, spinach, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , ,