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.


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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.


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

Raspberry Pi Temperature Sensor – V3

Development has been slowed down by the weather, its been good enough to need to go to my allotment and make sure things grow there as well as keeping the grass short at home.

Anyway, I think I’ve just about finished now so I’ll publish it and leave it at that.

Ive done two changes since my last post Raspberry Pi Temperature Sensor – V2, the number of entries in the output is now automatically calculated based upon the number of sensors detected when the programme starts and it records the maximum and minimum temperatures measured between midnight and midnight each day.

The code is here sttemp_maxmin and you’re free to plagiarise it if you want. Two files are created (temp_data and maxmin_temp_data). The format of the data is very simple:

temp_data has one line with the time and an entry from each DS18B20 connected giving the temperature (to 1/10C). In order to save disk space, an entry is only written if the temperature for every sensor is different but this means you have to print it as an X-Y plot rather than as a simple line graph.

maxmin_temp_data has one line for each day with the date and two entries for each sensor, the maximum and minimum temperature measured between midnight on the day before and midnight on the given day. Obviously, this file takes a long time to get much data in it.

My next plan is to start doing some “greenhouse automation” based upon similar information. What I had thought about was:

  1. Starting a fan if the temperature in the greenhouse got too hot;
  2. Creating a solar thermal store by pumping water through a pipe if the temperature around the pipe was higher than the temperature in the thermal store;
  3. Warming the greenhouse by pumping water through a pipe if the temperature in the thermal store was higher than the temperature in the greenhouse.

The “big issue” that’s holding me back is power. The logical thing to do is to power everything off a 12v battery with a solar panel to charge it up but obviously that means I’ve got to buy some stuff!



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This year (as always) the allotment seems to have been a lot of input with little return. The garden and polytunnel have been producing rhubarb and lettuces but the allotment hasn’t given back anything other than a few Purple Sprouting shoots and some Swiss Chard which were put in last year. However, today saw the start of the new seasons crops with the first of the strawberries. Why I’m surprised I don’t know, looking back over the past few years we get Strawberries this week, then the rest of the crops start to come through.

So here we are my share of the first of the strawberries with creme fraiche and a mug cake. Strawberries from the allotment are so much better than bought from the supermarket (even if the slugs have had a small share).


Over the last couple of years I’ve built up the number of plants so that now I’ve got three beds. However, the first bed has become extremely weed infested so at the end of this year it will be dug up and another bed will be created using runners from the plants.


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

Raspberry Pi Temperature Sensor – V2

In my previous post I showed you how incapable I was (still am) at programming in Python. I created a simple programme to read the temperature from a set of DS18B20 sensors and to store it away in a file.

The programme worked (after a fashion) but only when running under the emulator (IDLE) and not when called directly from the command line. The reason I wanted to be able to call it from the command line was because I think its the only way that the programme can automatically start on power-up which is something I want it to be able to do.

The issue (as far as I can make out) is the fact that I was trying to use multi-threaded code without fully understanding the interaction between different threads. Its not fully clear what was wrong, but as far as I can tell printing from two different threads requires that the threads are not both trying to print at the same time.

Anyway, multi-threaded code assumes that there is some benefit and (as my eventual target will be the Pi Zero) there’s no benefit in multi-threading.

My new code therefore, is single threaded. I’ve also modified it so that I don’t need to hard code the identities of the DS18B20 sensors, the code now loops around for all of the sensors.

I’ve maintained my file writing process to store the information and only stored the temperature when it has changed. However, the way in which I store the information is now different. I’ve used a Python List with each element representing one of the active sensors. The temperature is read using the normal process and then if it is different to the temperature stored, the list is updated and then printed and saved to the file. Obviously this means that the stored data will be larger than if I used a separate file for each sensor as the temperature for each sensor will be stored every time one of them changes. However, it makes it a lot simpler to handle the resulting data as a simple X-Y scatter plot can be created.

My new code is here sttemp and the temperatures measured are 160509 – Temperature Output. The two graphs show the temperature outside (the blue line) and the temperature inside (the green line). The spike in the temperature inside is caused by the fact that the inside sensor was on my desk in the sunshine so the temperature rose very quickly. However, I moved it out of the sun and it settled back down.

What else to do?

There are yet more modifications I plan to make:

  1. To add more sensors. At the moment the two sensors are about 3 ft apart. I’ve got more sensors and I’m going to put those out in my polytunnel which means I need a few meters of wire.
  2. Rather than having a fixed size list to store the temperatures, I will dynamically create the list based upon the number of sensors detected;
  3. To record a daily max and min for each of the sensors;
  4. Perhaps to be able to select how accurately the temperature is recorded, at the moment its fixed at .1C and my experiment is to see whether a butt of water in the polytunnel smooths the temperature by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night. This I will do be finding out if the temperature of the water in the butt increases and decreases during the day and night.

So, I’m still learning, if you’re interested please comment.

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A Short Break in the Lake District, Red Squirrels and Snow.

Last week we decided to have a short break. So, on Saturday, we had a look through what would be available from the following Monday and booked ourselves four days in a small self catering cottage (mind you the email confirmation didn’t arrive until Tuesday when we were halfway through our break).

So, we set off in bright sunshine on Monday morning, up the M6 towards Keswick and the Lake District.

We stopped off at Sizergh National Trust property for a cup of coffee (well you have to make full use of your membership) and a wander around the garden. It was then we realised that the floods in December had had a significant impact even that far south as the guide told us that the gardens were still recovering from the damaged caused by the flooding. Anyway, it was a lovely wander around and I guess their stumpery will look wonderful when its complete.

From there we continued to our cottage just north of Keswick arriving at about 5:00pm.

The following day we decided to go to Aira Force and to wander from there down into Glenridding. Aira Force was a lovely view with the waterfalls and streams. It was relatively quiet (a Tuesday in April isn’t probably going to be too busy) but there were enough people about that the only wildlife we saw at this time was a Grey Wagtail bobbing at the water’s edge). On the way to Glenridding, it began to sink in even further just how much water there had been. It was difficult to judge exactly how high the water had come up, but there was a tide-mark of dead vegetation something like six feet above the level of Ullswater as we walked around. Our assumption was that this represented the high water level, but if that was across the whole of Ullswater, it must have been quite frightening.

In Glenridding, there was lots of work ongoing, the hotel and restaurant were still closed but there was a nice little cafe by where the tourist information centre had been (and would be again). It was obvious from the boulders that were being shifted about that the water had come down the hillside. Look at these pictures to give an idea of the work that still needs to be completed. As we sat in the cafe, the heavens opened with hail and snow blowing horizontally. We’d timed it just right.

DSCN0244After the weather had improved and we’d finished our tea, we set off back towards Aira Force. On the way, we saw a Red Squirrel (not seen one of those for many years). This picture is of the tree where we saw it, by the time I’d got my camera out and focussed, it had vanished.

The weather got worse again as we wandered back to the car and by the time we’d got there it was time to head back. We went via Keswick and had another cup of tea and a wander around. Keswick didn’t seem to have been affected by the floods in the same way.

The next day we went to Cockermouth to look at Wordsworth’s house. Now, to be honest, I’m not sure what the fuss is about. My guess is that, had it not been the place where Wordsworth spent his early youth, the place would have been demolished years ago and, despite whatever is said in the blurb, if you have to pay to visit, I would find somewhere else to go. Again Cockermouth is recovering from the floods and the head gardener was working hard to improve the garden after the floods (which apparently weren’t as bad as the floods in 2009).

Finally, we drove out towards the coast near Allonby and had a walk along. Here we saw more wildlife than we’d managed before, Oyster Catchers, Curlews and Ringed Plover. It wasn’t until we were looking at the pictures later that we realised we’d also seen Dunlins in the background of the pictures I’d taken of the Plovers. Provided they kept still, they were all but invisible.

So look carefully at the pictures.

Thursday we decided to go and look at Hadrian’s Wall and went to the fort at Birdoswald. Its strange to realise that, had the locals not robbed out the stone of this impressive defensive structure, history would possibly have been different. At 14 feet tall or so, it would have created a barrier through which it would have been difficult to travel. The fact that it stood for three or four hundred years is testament to the organisation of the Romans. It lasted longer than the British Empire and when you think how much the world has changed in the last three to four hundred years, you realise how different the world might have been.

Anyway, at this point the weather closed in and we got snow, rain and hail and so decided to go back to out cottage, passing Herwdick and other sheep on the way all sheltering from the weather with their lambs. Overnight on Thursday, the weather got worse and we woke on Friday morning to an inch of snow. However, when we set off back home, whilst the snow was still around at our cottage at 700+ feet, we only had to descend a few feet to get below the snow and (eventually) into the sun and better weather.


When we got home I was pleased to see that all my tomatoes had survived (both inside and in the greenhouse) but disappointed to find the mice had eaten all my sweetcorn so I’ve had to sow some more. Mousetraps and poison?

Anyway, we’re back, the sun is shining although the weather is still cold for this time of year.


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Snake’s Head Fritillary

I didn’t realise until I read the Telegraph this morning that my lovely patch of Snake’s Head Fritillary are doing their bit to conserve wild flowers that are becoming extinct. In the paper it says “the snake’s head (or leper’s bell) has declined because it has been picked and sold as cut flowers” and “the land where it grew was drained and given to crops”.

We started growing these many years ago in the same space as we grew crocus. So early on we get a show of crocuses, followed in April by the Snake’s Head Fritillary. They have spread over the years and the only things that we have to do are to avoid mowing the grass until the flowers are over and the plants are starting to die down and pick off the lily beetles which seem to like them. (Talking of lily beetles, when you squash them they scream, a noise my wife and daughter can hear but not me).

Anyway, they’re lovely and we will keep growing them and giving them space to expand in the garden. The white ones seem to be doing particularly well this year.DSCN0212

Posted in Wild Flowers, Wildlife | Tagged , , ,