Ducks on the Pond

At this time of year for the last three or four years, we’ve had a pair of Mallards visit our pond. Its obviously impossible to tell if its the same ducks each time (in fact last year we had two males chasing a single female) but they appear to be trolling around the local ponds. Why they do this I cannot say but perhaps its part of the paring activity in spring as the ducks work out who their mate is going to be for the year.

The male is obviously slightly aggressive as it came down to our lounge and attacked itself in the reflection in the sliding patio doors. Interestingly (and somewhat amusingly), it had spent a while posturing in front of the patio doors and then going around the side of the house to look for the “other male” and then coming back around to the front a little bemused.

Anyway, they eventually flew away, I expect they’ll be back tomorrow.

Posted in Garden, Wildlife | Tagged ,

New Year, Restart the Blog

Although its now February, I haven’t been doing much gardening yet but I have some plans as to what I’m going to do in 2017. This means that I start up my blog again, reporting (irregularly) what I’m doing/trying to do.

For those of you who are not familiar with my gardening efforts, I have:

  1. A full sized allotment (which consists of eleven 7mx2m beds plus a permanent fruit bed, two apple trees (one cooker one eater) and blackberries. I’ve had the allotment for about 11 years and it is 2.5 miles away;
  2. A large(ish) garden (which we’ve had for 30 years) which includes:
    1. A 20ft x 10ft Polytunnel;
    2. Two 6ft x 8ft Greenhouses;
    3. A small vegetable bed (about 15ft x 6ft) beside the polytunnel;
    4. A fruit area (rhubarb, a blackcurrant and gooseberry bush);
    5. Two apple trees (one cooker one eater); and
    6. A large oak tree (as well as other trees around the boundary which provide lots of shade).

In the past, I’ve tried to grow all sorts of fruit and vegetables at the allotment and grown tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in the polytunnel and greenhouses. However, as all the family have now moved away, growing large quantities of tomatoes (whilst fun) is a bit silly and the journey to and from the allotment is becoming more awkward.

So this year, I’ve decided to change my approach to the gardens and do something different.

Changes at the Allotment

Having read a book entitled “The half hour Allotment” (by Lia Leenertz), I realised that I have been spending too much time at the allotment “titivating around the edges”. The book suggests that, by being properly organised (e.g. planning what you’re going to do before you get there), one should be able to grow enough food for a family of four at an allotment spending no more than half an hour per day, five days a week (or two and a half hours one day a week). It also suggests that one should focus on growing things that you enjoy eating and can’t be bought cheaply from the supermarket. In addition, I’ve added constraints on growing things that don’t grow well at the allotment for whatever reason.

The allotment is heavy clay and try as I will over the years, despite all the manure, mushroom compost and garden compost that I’ve added, the ground remains heavy, cold in spring and heavy throughout the year. I don’t have a rotovator and because the allotment is a fair distance away, using power tools is a problem and I hand dig the beds.

With that in mind I have decided that:

  1. I won’t grow stuff that crops between November and March (the allotment is too wet and miserable to visit over the winter);
  2. I won’t grow potatoes (they’re cheaper from the supermarket and there’s lots of blight);
  3. I won’t grow carrots (carrot-fly and the ground is too hard to grow sensible sized carrots;
  4. I won’t grow parsnips (ground too hard);
  5. I won’t grow turnips (we don’t really like them);
  6. I won’t grow Leeks, Onions or Garlic (whiterot and leek moth);
  7. I won’t grow tomatoes outdoors (Blight) [except for perhaps blight resistant varieties as a continuing experiment];
  8. I won’t grow winter squashes;
  9. Any brassicas will be plants (not grown from seed);
  10. Three beds will be dedicated to growing strawberries (that gives me one bed to plant and two that should be cropping well). The oldest bed will be dug out each year and put into the vegetable rotation to let the ground improve.
  11. One bed will be Autumn Fruited Raspberries;
  12. That leaves me seven beds for:
    1. Sweetcorn (always does well and doesn’t need much attention);
    2. Peas (ditto);
    3. Dwarf French Beans;
    4. Broad Beans (I put them in before the winter so I won’t have anything to do provided they grow);
    5. Beetroot & Lettuce;
    6. Courgettes;
    7. Swiss Chard & Brassicas;

All of which should largely look after themselves and not require large amounts of attention over the growing season.

Whilst this may all seem very negative (a long list of “I won’t”), my hope is that it will give me more time to grow what grows well and to spend more time on the garden at home.

Changes at home

Poytunnel

Usually, through the summer, the polytunnel has been filled with tomatoes planted into the borders a total of 48 – 60 plants. Last year I experimented growing a mixture of French Beans and Courgettes in one border and tomatoes in the other.

This year, I’m going more extreme and plan to put the whole polytunnel to Climbing French Beans, Dwarf French Beans, Courgettes, Lettuce, Radish, Peppers (in pots) and Strawberries (in pots).

Greenhouses

Last year, one of the greenhouses was not used and the other grew physalis, cucumbers and peppers. This year, the greenhouses will be used mainly for tomatoes with a few (three) peppers and (possibly) a cucumber.

My plans are to grow the following tomatoes:

Amish Mayberry, Ananas Noire, Berkley Tie-Dye, Black Icicle, Black Sea Man, Black Unknown, Brown Sugar, Buffalo Horn, Chiapis Wild Tom, Cream Sausage, Cyril’s Choice, Dark Galaxy, Earliana, Gold Rush Currant, Golden Queen, Green Grapes, Japanese Black Trifele, Kanner Hoell, Legend, Mountain Magic (F1), Mountain Princess, Mrs Ruck’s, Oleron Yellow (A), Oleron Yellow (B), Otto’s Papa, Pink Brandywine, Quedlinberger Fruhe Liebe, Reisetomate Pocket Book, Rosella, Speckled Roman, Summer Cider, Vesennij Mieurinsky.

It may seem a lot, but I’ll only grow one of each plant and the determinate varieties will go in pots outside the greenhouses. (Mountain Magic will go to the allotment).

Outside

Again, last year, the outside bed was largely left untended so this year, my plan is to grow Mangetout Peas, Radishes and Lettuces.

Why am I changing?

Whilst I didn’t keep an accurate record of what I did at the allotment last year, my feeling was that I spent about eight hours a week actually there, plus six hours going backwards and forwards. My hope, is that I can reduce the travelling to/from the allotment to once a week (two hours travelling) and spend three to four hours actually there.

The time saved can be used at home where I can spend odd half-hours doing a range of jobs (not least keeping the rest of the garden under control).

A disadvantage (as I see it) is that during the peak cropping season, last year I went every other day, picking raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc. for the next few days. By going only once (or at most twice) a week, the picking each time will be larger (and therefore more difficult to carry back) and will have to last the whole week (or half) until the next visit. However, there should be crops from the garden and the polytunnel to make up the difference and (if last year is anything to go by) courgettes and beans will crop earlier and longer than at the allotment.

Posted in Allotment, Allotment Blog, Garden, greenhouse, polytunnel, Vegetables | Tagged , , ,

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 , , ,