MyHarvest Site

I don’t know whether you’ve seen this, but if you’re an allotmenteer (or just grow stuff at home) but MYHarvest is a research activity at Sheffield University to measure the amount of produce that we amateur gardeners produce.

Go here to read more

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

Hidcote and Snowshill Manor

We went off down to Gloucestershire last week for a few days and on the way there and back visited Hidcote (where we’ve been before) and Snowshill Manor (where we haven’t). Both days the weather was kind to us, whilst it was raining on and off, whilst we were outside it was dry.

To me, Hidcote is one of those places which are overplayed. Yes, you can drift through the various “rooms” getting surprises around each of the corners and the design of the garden makes it much more interesting to view than if it were open parkland. However, it is largely just a garden and, as the aspect of gardening that entertains me the most is fruit & vegetable gardening, when I see vegetable gardens that struggle to show their crops off well and (more importantly) where you feel the output of the garden isn’t used or wanted, I feel slightly annoyed/depressed. So, would I visit again, probably as a stop on the way but not as a deliberate individual day out.

Snowshill Manor on the other hand is a place that I would make a deliberate journey to go and see again. A fantastic, eclectic collection of everything from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary, each and every room in the house surprised, entertained and amazed all at the same time. Charles Wade apparently collected all sorts of things and used the house as his “display case”. Its not a museum (fortunately) but a display of all the things he collected (from the UK, he didn’t travel abroad, all the items on display were acquired in the UK and repaired/restored for display). So there are clocks, model ships, bicycles, Japanese Samurai armour, all sitting next to each other in the rooms he themed just to display them. Equally fascinating is the Priest House where he lived with its box bed.

Its a place I would definitely return to, there was so much to see, all in good order. It reminded me of my other favourite place (Calke Abbey), however, unlike Calke, it was handed over to the National Trust in good order and hadn’t run down in any way so what you get is the impression of a wealthy, eccentric collector who was proud of what he’d got together and wanted to show it off to everybody who was willing to come. (How true that is doesn’t matter, if he wanted to keep it all to himself, fortunately the National Trust wants to show it off). By keeping it all together in largely the way he left it (obviously a “route through” has had to be created) its far more evocative of a personality than a museum or art gallery would be.

Go visit, you’ll be entertained.

Posted in Walks and Things | Tagged , , ,

Calke Abbey Tramway Walk (Again)

The National Trust property at Calke Abbey is one of the nearest to us and one we love to visit regularly. The house has been maintained in the condition that the Trust acquired it in the late 1970’s, not tarted up to look as somebody imagined it might have done a long time ago.

Talking to the Volunteers and reading around books about the place, it seems incredible how much of an impact death duties have had upon the stately homes of the UK. Essentially, when death duties (or Inheritance Tax) was introduced, if the landowners hadn’t worked out what to do (either through ignorance or stupidity) when they died, their descendants were lumbered with a large tax bill based upon the value of property which they had to find cash to pay or (as happened at Calke) to hand over large chunks of property to the Government in lieu of the tax due.

Calke also has the unusual situation that the owners had not really had the funds to run the property effectively for a number of years and had moved from a multi-bedroomed mansion to a small number of rooms within it, leaving the rest to decay, filled with all the detritus of living (broken furniture, etc.) that accrues when you don’t need to use the rooms.

The National Trust has maintained the house in this state, even to the point of having to repair the ceiling of one of the rooms damaged by water with the crack in place, despite the fact that it would have been cheaper to replace the ceiling without the crack.

Anyway, we took the five mile walk around the Tramway, as we did back in March last year and it was a pleasant walk. Despite the fact that its only mid August, the hedgerows are extremely autumnal, mushrooms & fungi, blackberries, elderberries, sloes, acorns, conkers, and other such fruits in abundance. In the usual way this year, the weather was mixed. We walked most of the way in beautiful sunshine then, just before we got back to the Abbey, the heavens opened. Lashing it down with large spots of cold rain, thunder and lightning. We sheltered for ten minutes under a tree with the sheep (yes I know you shouldn’t but the alternative was to get very wet – we hadn’t got rain gear with us) until it passed over and then made our way to the restaurant for a bowl of soup.

After that we went up to the garden, where everything was looking beautiful, flowers, vegetables, fruit and we looked into the hole where they are excavating a new tunnel, interesting.

All in all a pleasant day out, despite the changeable weather.

Posted in Walks and Things, Wild Flowers, Wildlife

Mid August Review

Definitely a strange year, particularly for the tomatoes.

Growing vegetables in the poly tunnel continues to be a success, with the climbing French Beans coming into play after the dwarf beans. However, the plants are really too large (or the tunnel too small depending on which way you look at it) and my guess is that they’ll get hit by the cold as soon as the weather turns because the leaves won’t have air-flow around them. I planted a number of different varieties of beans but the ones that seem to be doing best are my old favourite Blue Lake. As ever, deciding what to do with the excess beans is a problem, in my opinion, they don’t freeze well so I guess it will be more Bean Relish. We made some earlier in the season and it half eaten already.

I’ve succession sowed some more climbing beans where the peas came out, but they’re struggling to get started. Succession sowed dwarf beans, however, look like they’ll produce some more in the next weeks.

The courgettes have overwhelmed us, 25kg (and counting) is a lot of soup. We’ve frozen some but, we’re not keen on frozen courgette, it’s slimy and only any use for bulking things out. We’re not impressed with a new variety to us (Shooting Star), it was late to start setting fruit and it doesn’t seem to keep on the plant, going mouldy from the flower end if not picked relatively quickly. One thing I continue to learn is to plant fewer plants. The four courgettes in the poly tunnel should have been two or even one, they’ve grown into each other making it very hard to look after them. It’s noticeable that Autumn is coming, the leaves of the courgettes are already becoming brittle.

In the fruit, the blackberries have been a success but are largely over now the freezer is well stocked (we picked about 14kg over the weeks) ready for mixed fruit over the winter, the raspberries are coming on strong, enough for us to have fruit every day and still some going into the freezer for the winter. The apples are slowly looking like they’re ripening but the squirrel is playing havoc with the crop. Not a day goes by without us seeing him taking at least two apples off the tree. I would mind less if he would eat it all but the garden is scattered with half eaten fruit and the tree is getting emptier. There will be some, but nothing like the bumper harvest it looked like we were going to get.

The tomatoes continue to be frustrating. So far we’ve had less than 4kg of ripe tomatoes and they’re in dribs and drabs from a mix of the plants. There’s lots of green tomatoes, when (if) they do ripen, my feeling is there will be lots, but the season is lacking the sun needed to get them there. The cucumbers are in a similar state, 11 cucumbers from 2 plants is less than I would normally expect (although it’s enough for us) and there don’t look to be any more flowering, the season looks to be over unless the weather changes.

Finally, the potatoes were dig up last week. Not a brilliant harvest but we don’t eat a lot of potatoes so it’s not really a problem. The major issue is that they don’t cook well. Although they bake well, they boil into the water, break-up when steamed or microwaved. I think it’s a combination of variety and the weather. I’ll have to make sure to grow a waxy first early next year.

Posted in Allotment Blog, french beans, greenhouse, polytunnel, Raspberry, Vegetables, Wildlife

Mid Year Review – July 2017

Its been a funny old year, both at the allotment and in the greenhouses/polytunnel at home. Things which are normally productive seem not to have been and accidents have done well.

So let’s have a review:

Allotment

The plan to spend less time at the allotment has achieved its goal. The aim was 2.5 hours per week in two sessions. So far this year I’ve spent around 40 hours at the allotment. Whether that has reduced the amount of produce, I don’t know.

One of the best changes I’ve made is one of attitude. I’ve used the time going over to the allotment to decide exactly what I’m going to do meaning that when I get there, instead of wandering up and down admiring the plot, I get straight to it.

There have been a number of effects:

Watering: Spending fewer days at the allotment (the biggest change) has meant that things have to manage on their own. I think this reduced significantly the strawberry harvest because we had a very dry session early on and the plants haven’t really got themselves established. My plan now is to set the hosepipe watering when I arrive and move it a couple of times whilst doing other things.

Grass: I’ve only taken the trimmer once and the areas of grass are long and untidy making the plot “less attractive”. It takes 45 minutes to cut all the grass and (to be honest) its probably pointless.

Peas: With the peas, I did two things wrong. First: when I planted out the first peas I forgot to cover them so when I returned a few days later there wasn’t much sign of them, the pigeons had destroyed them. Perhaps if I’d been going every day I would have noticed and rescued them earlier. The second problem has been the quantity of weeds. Reducing the time spent means that I’ve done significantly less weeding, relying instead on hoeing quickly around things. This has not worked with the peas and they have been overrun by weeds and this certainly has had an effect on their productivity – we’re not going to get many peas this year (certainly none for the freezer).

Compost: I have taken a number of bags of compost from home to try and improve the soil, but I haven’t had any time to use the compost at the allotment which means its continuing to build up. Something I will have to deal with late on in the season when there’s nothing else to do.

Netting Fruit: Again, similar to netting the peas, the net over the gooseberries came off and allowed the birds in so the gooseberry crop was much reduced. If I’d been at the allotment more often, I would have noticed and so lost less.

Picking: Now that the season has really started, its impossible to much other than pick fruit and vegetables in the time available. Fruit takes a long time to pick and takes up all the time available.

Anyway, most things are doing well and my crop so far this year looks like this:

  • Beetroot: 5kg
  • Broad Beans: 22 kg
  • Courgettes: 10kg
  • Currants (Red & Black): 2kg
  • French Beans: 3kg
  • Gooseberries: 3kg
  • Peas: 1kg
  • Potatoes: 2kg (one root out of 20)
  • Strawberries: 6kg

Which I don’t think is bad overall.

Polytunnel/Greenhouses

This is where I’ve had the biggest change. Previous years I’ve grown tomatoes in the polytunnel and greenhouses. Last year, I dedicated half of the polytunnel to tomatoes and the rest to a random collection of vegetables.

This year, I’ve tried to be more organised and grown French Beans (climbing and dwarf), courgettes, beetroot, lettuces, sweetcorn and swiss chard in the main part of the polytunnel with determinate tomatoes on the bench at the end.

The greenhouses have been used for tomatoes, cucumber and peppers with half of one of the greenhouses left for potting etc..

The result I count a success. We had French Beans earlier than the allotment, the courgettes have produced (but four plants is more than there’s space for, two would have been better). The swiss chard has been productive and produced enough both for salads and cooked spinach. The beetroot worked and produced enough to add to the beetroot at the allotment. The only failure is sweetcorn which grew too spindly and has been removed.

To show what we’ve had:

Here’s the polytunnel in May (pots of strawberries hanging on the left):

polytunnel-May

June (Some strawberries replaced by tomatoes):

polytunnel-June

Mid July (Courgettes overgrowing on the left):

polytunnel-Early-July - 1 (1)

Late July (The dwarf french beans are over and new ones sown, lettuces replace beetroot & sweetcorn)

polytunnel-Late-July - 1

Posted in Allotment, Allotment Blog, french beans, Garden, greenhouse, polytunnel, Strawberry, peas, spinach, Sweetcorn, Vegetables

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 , , ,