Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Seed sowing and transplanting.

I have completed transplanting the 'Golden Bear' and 'Armstrong' onions into sectioned trays. I think that I have more than enough to fill the space I have on the allotment for them.  I also pricked out the brassicas; the 'Brunswick' and 'Stonehead' cabbages; the calabrese and  the 'Flamenco' cauliflowers.

Next I transplanted a couple of trays of 'Blue Solaise' leeks.  I may not have room to plant these out where I had planned so I will need to get a move on and dig over allotment 3A so that I will be able to put the leeks out.

The outdoor tomatoes 'Outdoor Girl' have germinated very well and I have over thirty of them.  I am going to grow them as cordons outside.  If I eventually move the greenhouse down to the allotment, I will grow bought 'Shirley' or 'Alicante'  tomato plants under cover.  The 'Outdoor Girl' will have string supports like my greenhouse tomatoes but the strings will be attached to long, thick canes supported every two foot by two short canes.

I sowed the 'Alderman', 'Telegraph' and 'Champion of England' tall climbing peas into sectioned trays.  I was not sure where these were going to go on the allotment but I have decided to plant the pea seedlings next to the sweet peas.  The cane supports for these peas are already up and all I need to do is cover them with netting.  The netting will do two jobs; give the peas something to climb up and protect the pea seedlings from the pigeons.

Chamomile, marjoram, basil and thyme are the herbs I am growing from seed this year.  If there is room, I will put these in the leaf's bed.  Which reminds me, I need to remember to get some spinach, coriander and  sorrel seed.

The celery, celeriac, and florence fennel have been sown and will be put into the leaf's bed when they have grown to about four or five centimetres tall.

More lettuce and cauliflowers were sown for the succession together with winter cauliflower, brussel sprouts, late broccoli, green cauliflower, but no kale this year.  I might still get some kale seed but I don't have any at the moment.

The winter 'Aalsmeer' cauliflowers on the allotment are beginning to flower now.  The ones that I have harvested have only been small but I have some bigger plants that may produce heads a little larger.  They don't really like the hot weather we have been having and are flagging and drooping their leaves.  Although I watered all the seeds and sweet peas today, I did not get round to watering the 'Aalsmeer'.  Took one home today and harvesting to cooking could only have taken about 30 minutes.  Luvly jubbly.

At the allotment, I sowed the salsify and Hamburg parsley in the roots bed.  After that, I watered all the root's seed that I had put in.  The Sanguisorba minor that I had potted up from the old allotment was looking decidedly poorly even though I had watered them so I planted them where I had a space at the end of the carrot rows.  I was going to put them next to the greenhouse path but now I will put the rosemary seedlings alongside the path.  Salad burnet can be another leaf used in mixed salad; it can be used as a cooked vegetable or made into a tea but only the young leaves can be used.  The older leaves are very bitter.  

Finally, I dug in some of the green manure on the brassica bed and sowed the turnips, kohlrabi and swedes watering them in thoroughly in this hot weather.

I think that the sweet peas are beginning to get eaten by flea beetle again.  I am beginning to suspect that flea beetle are living in the green manure and survive winter and the digging to infest the sweet peas.  Something that I need to keep in mind next year.  Maybe I need to avoid using green manure where the sweet peas are going to go next year.  I am not too sure what I can do about it this year; except make sure I move the soil around the seedlings to expose any eggs that can be eaten by the robins and blackbirds.

I began to dig the area where the runner beans will go.  There is a little bind weed growing into allotment 2 from the path and I wanted to get rid of this.  Green manure and compost from the old allotment is going to be dug in along the runner bean line later in the week.  I will also use the old allotment compost under the climbing french bean row.

I really need to complete the hedge and greenhouse paths as soon as possible.so may do this tomorrow. Also, plot number 3A needs digging over to remove mare's tail and bindweed.  When I have done this, I will have far too much land to manage sensibly so I will be giving up all of the old allotment.  However, I might just keep a quarter.

So more jobs to do tomorrow.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Organising the allotment jobs.

Today, I wanted to sow my root vegetable seeds.  These include carrots, parsnips, beetroot, Hamburg parsley and salsify.  In order to do this, I had to complete the path alongside the allotment.  Putting the curbing in to retain the growing bed topsoil would mean I would disturb the seeds.

In order to complete the path, I needed to get some subsoil to level the path foundations and to get the subsoil, I had to dig out a trench across allotment 3A (which I have also taken over).

However, before starting any of the jobs, I filled all the bird feeders.

So, next I started with digging the trench out, sieving the top soil to remove perennial weed rhizomes and stones and placing it on the top soil I had already sieved.  This gave me access to the subsoil, which I put into the wonky, battered wheelbarrow and took down to the path making area.

Taking out the subsoil meant that something had to replace it or the soil level would be lower in this area.  I have been cutting back the bushes growing at home and had these, together with some lawn mowings, ready to put into the trench.  More subsoil was forked over and put on top of the cuttings and mowings, making sure there was no mare's tail or bindweed in it.

I am not going to dig over allotment 3A as well as I did allotment 2 because I will use it primarily as an overflow allotment.  Having said this, I will use some of it for my comfrey bed and another big area for the large rhubarb.  The big rhubarb is still at the old allotment and I will not be able to move it until next year. This will give me an opportunity to prepare the soil really well and add lots of horse manure to the top soil. Rhubarb seems to respond really well to copious amounts of well rotted horse manure.

I thought that I levelled the path quite well but I will have to do this again sometime.  As I have the curbing bedded in now, it means that I can raise the slabs and level their foundations without disturbing the seeds. However, that is jumping ahead of myself.

With the path foundations levelled, I began to walk the two foot square, concrete paving slabs down to the end of the path.  Not too difficult to start with but as the day drew on and I became more tired, it seemed to become much more arduous.

The slabs were laid up to next door allotment's pallet compost heap.  They had built this over the path so I cannot make the path up to the hedge.  It also meant that I had to do a dogleg in the path to get around the compost heap and link up to my hedge path.  After putting in the curbing to retain top soil, I put more slabs along the hedge path.  Although the slabs reached quite far down this path, I will still need quite a few more to complete this path and the one up to the greenhouse foundations.

Rather than going home because I was very tired, I decided to put the seeds in.  This was a much more enjoyable job.

I decided to put the carrot seed in first.  This would allow the carrots to develop in full sun all day - provided the sun was out - because this area of the allotment is south facing and not shaded by the hedge.  I put in four 16 feet long drills  for the seed and each drill was watered with comfrey liquid.  I did not add any other fertilizer because this area had both blood, fish and bone; and rock dust mixed into the top 300 mm of soil. The drills were taken out with the back of a right angled rake and carefully filled again after the seed had been sown thinly.

The seed was sown thinly so that I do not have to thin the carrots a great deal, later in the year.

When this task was completed, I had one row of 'Flyaway'; a row of 'St. Valery'; and two rows of 'Autumn King'

Wire cloche supports were then used, at two foot intervals, to stretch enviromesh over to form a barrier preventing carrot root fly getting to the carrot seedlings.

A 17 foot drill was taken out  for the parsnips 'Tender and True' and these seeds were sown after I had watered the drill.  The drill was carefully filled with top soil and the seed bed raked to remove foot marks.

The same procedure was completed for a 16 foot 'Boltardy' beetroot drill and that is when I called it a day and went home for some tea.

I like it when I have organised the jobs at the allotment so that everything is done in the correct order.

I still have to sow the Hamburg parsley and the salsify but they can wait until next week.  The next big job is to sow the greenhouse seeds.  To do this I need some more New Horizons organic compost.  Getting seed compost will be my next job.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Finishing off the path with 2 foot square concrete slabs.

I think that it was John Loudon who said that grass paths have no place in the kitchen garden.  They are a pain in the neck in the allotment too.  Grass paths get churned up when the weather is wet particularly if you are wheeling a wheelbarrow over them constantly.  They get full of weeds which incessantly encroach on growing areas regardless of how diligently they are removed or cut back.  Finally, grass paths take a lot of maintenance with frequent mowing and edging.

John Loudon, in agreement with many other Victorian horticulturalists, said that the gravel path was ideal for the walled kitchen garden.  I would like to add my agreement too.  However, there is no way I have the time or inclination to make gravel paths around the allotment so I have compromised by having paths made from two foot square concrete slabs.

While they are not as evil as the 3' x 2' slabs they can still be nasty pieces of work especially if they fall on your foot.  Most of these slabs are the 2 inch thick versions and they are heavy...  Thick, heavy and hard wearing are good when talking about allotment paths.  They do not dent or rutt in wet weather, they suppress weeds, they make wheeling the barrow really easy, I can walk around the allotment in wet weather without getting my shoes dirty and I can clean the paths with a garden brush really easily.

I have collected the slabs over the years at my old allotment so I have more than enough to make the paths.

I have made the main path between allotment two and allotment 3A because this will lead to the shed.  The path will continue along the hedge to the small shed, which was a toilet and will probably be one again when I have constructed or inherited a shed for my tools.  Another path will go from the hedge path to the greenhouse - about 24 feet.  So three paths are all I need allowing the rest of the allotment to be growing areas.

In order not to waste topsoil underneath the slabs, I have thrown it up on the growing areas and replaced this good soil with subsoil dug from the bottom of digging trenches and stones sieved from the top soil.   As the subsoil is very clay like, the subsoil foundations for the paths are becoming rock hard and an ideal surface to lay slabs onto.

I have given up one half of the old allotment and am slowly dismantling it.  I took out the path to the tap and the slab curbing and took the slabs to the new allotment.  As I was leaving the 2' 6'' slabs, I eventually took thirteen slabs to the new allotment today.  The 2' 6'' slabs are too heavy to maneuver easily so rather than injure myself they will have to be left in situ for someone younger and dafter to deal with.

I need to add more subsoil foundation to the main path because it is a little low where the new slabs will be laid, so I left the slabs on the allotment next to the trackway.  Either I will 'walk' the slabs down to the work area or wheelbarrow them down.  I will get the subsoil from the new trench I am digging in allotment 3A and replace the subsoil with shredded woody material.

I am going to have a comfrey bed at the front of allotment 3A so I am not adding any compost or fertiliser to this topsoil.  I want the comfrey to throw down  long roots and tap the nutrients deep in the soil.  Their roots will grow into the shredded material with little or no detriment particularly as it will be at least two spits down.

In order to remove most of the bindweed and mare's tail, it is easier to sieve the top soil than try to pick out the perennial weeds with a fork.  So I am sieving into the wheelbarrow at the moment and putting the top soil on a carpet away from the pernicious weeds. I will put this top soil back into the trench after adding shredded material to the trench and covering with a thin layer of subsoil.

I will continue to lay the two foot slabs on Friday because tomorrow I am going to do the garden at home.  I will mow the lawns and prune back some of the shrubs.  This will mean that I will need somewhere to put the prunings and mowings at the new allotment.  I have an empty Dalek compost bin at the old allotment  and this would be ideal to bring to the new allotment for the garden green waste.  

Another reason for completing the main path is to give me an edge with curbing from which to measure drills for the root seeds.  I want to sow 3 or 4 rows of carrots next to the path and I am waiting until the path is finished before I start on this job.  I will need to bring the wire supports and the fine, enviromesh netting from the old allotment to cover the carrots against Chamaepsila rosae,carrot root fly.  When I have done this I will be able to measure out where the drills for parsnips and beetroot will go.

I usually sow my parsnips during March but this year they will be a little late.  I expect I will still get too many to eat and have to give away many, as I did this year.

The other side of this bed will be for leafy vegetables and I will be planting the Sanguisorba minor, salad burnet.  I did not realise that it was a perennial until last year and was religiously resowing every year.  This year, I have kept the plants.  I have also brought the chrysanthemums from the old allotment and will palnt them in the new allotment where there is some space.  I will just let them grow this year and not try to get very large blooms.

I have taken all of last year's comfrey liquid to the new allotment and drained out the comfrey tubs.  I will clean them and take them down to the new allotment.  They are up on pedicels so that a watering can or tub can fit under the tap.  The pedicels are made from slabs and bricks stacked on top of each other and will easily be dismantled and taken to the new allotment.  I am going to put both tubs next to the little shed where there is just enough space for them.    

So, today was a backwards and forwards day; carting a load of stuff.          

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Planting out the sweet peas.

Although they were not very big, I decided to plant out the sweet peas  at the allotment regardless.  I had the cane supports already constructed so it only involved knocking them out of the root trainers and putting them into planting holes.  Before I put them out, blood, fish and bone was scattered along the rows and watered in with comfrey liquid.  This, together with the green manure already dug in, would give the sweet pea plants plenty of nutrients for good growth now that the temperatures are beginning to climb.  I put some mychorrhizal fungi in the planting holes of some of the plants to encourage a symbiosis and possibly enhanced growth and flowering.

I did not have as many plants as I had expected because some had been eaten by slugs and snails when they were hardening off on the patio at home.  However, I got five rows of fifteen fairly healthy plants with seven different varieties.  This year I put the name of the variety onto a plant label and tied them to a cane at the beginning of the row so that I would remember which was where.  When the label had just been put  into the ground at the beginning of each row, I was constantly losing them or mixing them up.

The left over double line of canes will be used for the Pisum sativum 'Alderman' and the other tall, climbing peas.  I will cover the canes with old netting and let the peas scramble up.  Doing this, it produced a good crop of peas last year.

In order to keep the rows looking acceptable, I went along each path forking the soil to erase my footprints. I'm not sure whether I will do this every time but it will help to keep weeds from growing on the paths.

I have labelled most of the fruit trees and bushes now.  I have two Malus domesticus  'Discovery'; Malus domesticus 'Egremont Russet' which I grafted myself; Malus domesticus 'Ribston pippin'; a Malus domesticus 'Cox's Orange Pippin'; two Pyrus communis unknown varieties; Pyrus communis 'Doyenne du Comice'; Prunus domestica 'Opal'; Prunus domestica 'Victoria'; a black fruited Vitis vinifera and a white fruited Vitis vinifera unknown varieties; Rubus fruticosa 'Adriene'; Rubus x loganobaccus; Ribes idaeus 'Xania' which is a red desert gooseberry and Ribes idaeus unknow green variety.

Two of the three grafts I made using the M9 rootstock and the 'Ribston Pippin' during March seem to be taking and the buds swelling.  However, I would like to see more growth movement before I admit success.

Most of the top fruit is being grown as espaliers.  This enables me to fit all the trees into the allotment, divides the beds as a partition to enable easy rotation,  increases my skill in pruning to espalier shape,  produces fruit where it is easily harvested and does not produce an overwhelming number of fruit.

Two 15 foot lines of broad beans have been planted in the peas and beans bed. One line of Vicia faba 'Bunyards Exhibition' and one line of Vicia faba a black podded field bean.  I don't really like broad beans to eat but it gives me another vegetable to sample now and again.  I will also grow these for seed and use them to grow plants as a green manure to cover the ground during next winter.

Three lines of Pisum sativum 'Douce Provence'  were planted alongside the broad beans.  I have surrounded the peas with chicken wire mesh primarily for the peas to climb up, however this has also made a particularly good barrier against the pigeons which seem to have a particular penchant for pea foliage.   I put some concrete reinforcing wire at the ends of the rows to give the chicken wire some shape and strength. Surrounding with chicken wire makes weeding a little more difficult but is worthwhile because it gives me a higher yield of peas.  The pea plants grow more upright and the flowers are more exposed for insects to pollinate.

When these legumes have been harvested, I will dig them into the soil.  The extra nitrogen that they have fixed with the help of root nodule bacteria will also be added to increase the fertility of the soil.  If the legumes are moved as part of the allotment rotation, the next crop can take advantage of  this fixed nitrogen.

I did not add any blood, fish and bone to the rows of broad beans and peas because I had added rock dust and blood, fish and bone when sieve double digging earlier in the year.  This base dressing of fertiliser should be enough for the legumes.  Hopefully, they will fix their own nitrogen using nitrogen fixing bacteria in root nodules.  I did add a little mychorrhiza to some of the broad bean and pea plants to encourage symbiosis.

I need to bring some more two foot slabs from the old allotment to finish off the path down the side of the allotment.  This will enable me to put the curbing in; which involves digging deep holes alongside the path.  I cannot sow any of the 'root' seeds until I have completed this and levelled the soil.

I have started to dig allotment 3A now.  I am only going to use this area to plant comfrey so I am not digging very deep or with as much care as allotment 2.  I am taking all the bindweed and mare's tail out carefully because I do not want to be tackling this during the summer.  Hopefully, the comfrey will grow large and healthily and shade out any weeds that try to grow between it.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Finally finished digging Allotment Number Two.

It is amazing how small the allotment looks after it has been dug.  When it was full of weeds and debris it looked enormous.  The task of clearing and digging it over, seemed overwhelming.  The compost heap at the back of the allotment took up over ten feet of growing space, was covered in numerous carpets and consisted primarily of composted shredded woody material.  Now that it has been cleared there is a definite altering of perspective.  I started digging on the 3rd of September and finished the digging on the 26th March 2014 my brother's birthday.

Although the allotment was full of mare's tail and bindweed, the trusty bread tray sieve has helped me to take out the majority of it.
Allotment covered in carpets and tarpaulins
before being dug over. 
Most of these carpets, plastic sheeting and tarpaulins have been removed from the allotment now.  The blue plastic sheets broke up when I was removing them and there are still little specks of blue plastic all over this area.  I will remove any that I find but it is difficult.


After removing the compost pile.  

I buried the big carpets under the back path leaving an overlap that I could take up the bank to prevent the bind weed in the hedge from growing into the allotment.  I may put some concrete slabs to lean along the hedge bank but not until next winter.



Before allotment was dug over;
looking towards the little leaning apple tree.

I was hoping to keep some of the nettles, Urtica dioica, but they were growing through the carpets and would have taken an age to disentangle.  They have all been assigned to the subsoil of the trenches.

I have several large, disintegrating, rectangles of plywood which will need to be removed from the allotment. I will break them up and if they are not covered in paint might use them in the biochar burner.

The hedge at the back of the allotment has been cut hard back both sides and should thicken up really well in the spring.  There is still a lot of bindweed in the hedge but I am hoping the carpet barrier will keep most of it in the hedge and not allow the rhizomes to grow into the allotment.

After digging;  looking a little neater now.
After digging out the large compost pile and
putting in the path along the hedge.
The raspberries are, "Glen Ample"; "Malling's Admiral" and "Cascade Delight".  They are all summer fruiting raspberries because I don't like autumn fruiting ones.

The path up to the greenhouse foundations has been completed with stones sieved from the rest of the allotment.  I am planning to cover the stones with two foot square concrete slabs.
All the mess behind the little apple tree has been cleared
away.
After digging and tidying the back of the
allotment.

The Sarcococca hookeriana cuttings have been grouped together around the base of the leaning apple tree. The other plants in the pots have been planted in my daughter's garden.  The redcurrant has been moved into the fruit bed on the other side of the allotment and the M9 rootstocks have been taken home and grafted with various apples - I mixed up the prunings and don't know what sion I have grafted onto the rootstock.  I am not worried because, if they grow, they will be an unexpected bonus for the allotment.  I have planted the last of the raspberries behind the leaning apple tree next to the path by the hedge.  They are the "Cascade Delight"

According to the RHS, "'Malling Admiral is a fairly vigourous raspberry with erect canes.  Fruit are red firm, long with a small core and good flavour, heavy cropping from late July to mid August". Whilst the BBC says, "'Glen Ample produces masses of large tasty, deep red raspberries from July to August.  The fruit freeze well so any excess can be used later.  Not too sure about the 'Cascade Delight'
Carpets and blue plastic covering the compost heap. This
has all been cleared away and levelled.
Although you cannot see it from the photograph, there was a large, metal, fire grid type thing and the frame of a metal chair buried in the compost. There were also three blue plastic sheets which were slowly disintegrating into little blue flecks of plastic.  Very difficult to remove all the little flecks, although I have make a good start.  The compost has been mixed through the sieve with top soil and incorporated into the roots and leaves bed.  I dug down at least three spits deep  and removed some of the clay to make the pond.  Smearing the clay over the bottom and the sides of the pond , a process called puddling, should make a waterproof lining.  At the moment the water level is going down because there are some holes in the liner - it is only a black plastic sheet I found buried on the compost heap.

Now all the rubbish has been cleared away
it looks tidy but smaller.  

The metal drum has a lid and could be converted into a burner for biochar.  If it fits into the burner at Bishop's Wood, this would make quite a sophisticated biochar burner. I  am thinking seriously about converting the bindweed and mare's tail rhizomes into biochar.  Last year's rhizomes did compost down when they had been completely dried and I could do this again with this years rhizomes.  However, converting them into biochar means that I can use them on the top soil this year.

The hedge has been pruned hard back to buds that are facing inwards or upwards to, hopefully, thicken it up. Stones and rubbish at the bottom of the hedge have been cleared away so it is looking a little tidier now.

The path has been continued across the back of the allotment under the hedge and this will be slabbed when I have time to bring the slabs down from the old allotment.  Alongside the path, I have planted the last named variety of raspberries.  I think that it is "Cascade Delight".  They have supports already and are secured with wire ties. They have been transplanted very late in the season and not cut back, so it is doubtful they will fruit very well this year.

I will need to continue the allotment path with 2 foot square concrete slabs until it reaches the path along the hedge line.

Pea and roots bed.  
I have to separate the peas and beans bed from the roots and leaves bed.  This will be done with the big blackcurrant bushes at the old allotment.  I don't know if it is too late to move them now but I doubt if they would have cropped very well whenever I had moved them.  They will have to be moved in the next week.  I also want to move the gooseberry and the rhubarb.  However, there is no water on at the new allotment yet and they will not be able to be watered in.

I bought the old blackberry and loganberry supports from the old allotment and constructed them on the new allotment.  They were an old climbing frame that my son and daughter had when they were young.  The metal is rusting but it is still good enough to support the plants.  
Brassica bed and bay tree.
I have put green manure on the brassica bed to keep it covered and stop the nutrients from being leached out before I get a chance to plant the brassica seedlings.

Started to put up the sweet pea supports
The green manure on the sweet pea bed was dug in and I started to put up the sweet pea canes.  I need some more canes now and I will have to retrieve them from the old allotment soon as I can.  

Strawberries.
Dug in most of the green manure on where the onions and leeks are going to go and hoed between the strawberries.  I still want to put some straw mulch between the strawberries but have not got round to getting the straw.  
Garlic and shallots.
The garlic and shallots have produced some leaves now and are growing away well.  The grape's buds are swelling but not broken out yet.  
New puddled pond
I still have the winter cauliflowers to harvest when they decide to flower.  They are growing quite big now so I expect it will not be long now that April is just around the corner.

I am trying to puddle the pond with clay.  It is starting to make a waterproof seal but I need to spend some more time smearing the clay on the sides of the pond to make a seal.  I have some 1x2 foot slabs that will fit around the pond, however one of the sides will be the greenhouse path and the other will be the greenhouse base.  I am also going to put the sundial in one of the corners of the pond.  

The foundations for the greenhouse and the path to the greenhouse have been finished.  Now I need to get some paving slabs to make the path and base for the greenhouse.

So still lots of things to do but at least I have finished the digging part.  However, there is the next door quarter allotment which I have said I will clear this year.  I might as well start on that when all the other jobs have been done.  Hey Ho why not...