Sunday, 30 January 2011

Last of the carrot harvest.

I dug up the last of the carrots yesterday and I washed them for cooking tomorrow.  They are a little moth eaten but they will do.  I am amazed that they survived the very cold weather but you can see that they have suffered a little.  When you have peeled them and diced them you cannot tell how they looked beforehand so I am not worried about how they look now. 

I bought home a few of the smaller parsnips to make soup out of.  I have the others in a clamp on the allotment now because I needed to dig where they were.  You can see that these had a little bit of canker at the tops.  I have cut most of it off but there is still some showing.  That will be cut off when I am peeling them. 


These are the last of the beetroot.  They are not bad but a little small.  They really need to be cooked because they are begining to go over now. I had to put quite a few in the compost bin. 

A good lot of Brussel sprouts.  These are Trafalgar and they taste very sweet.  Never ever eat frozen Brussel sprouts they are foul. 

Brussel Sprouts 

Friday, 28 January 2011

Has aminopyralid finally gone away?

There were many of us organic growers in UK affected by the aminopyralid herbicide. It affected potatoes particularly badly. Used on grass, which it did not affect, it was supposed to be effective for at least two years. Cows and horses ate the grass and we used the manure on our allotment gardens. The effect of this herbicide on our allotments is only now beginning to wear off. It is worrying to realise that chemicals like this can pass through the food chain with little monitoring from the people that produce the chemicals. We were told by Dow AgroScience that our produce would be edible but we all had to think hard about whether we were going to eat it. 

Aminopyralid herbicide was banned for a while in the UK but now it can be used again. The government has published instructions that say affected manure cannot leave the farm. I am just wondering if it is on bedding straw that is moved to farms and stables . They can sell us their manure but it will still be contaminated. A lot of us are thinking hard about using cow and horse manure now.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

My allotment via Google

This is my allotment of about three years ago.  They had not changed the soil on the bottom bed next to the carpark on this photograph.  I now have two sheds and four compost bins on the allotment that I didn't have then.  The car park looks spectacular here.  Well they ripped it all up and took it away because it was contaminated.  It did not contaminate my soil. Oh no, that was already polluted with benzo (a) pyrene, so they had to replace the soil in the bed on my allotment next to the carpark.

I took the greenhouse down because it was getting smashed up by vandals.  Thank heavens we have cured that now.  The trackway has had a lot less water on it because I put a proper drainage pipe alongside the allotment.  There are two springs on my allotment.  The first is in the bottom right corner and the other is about half way down the right hand side.
I dug down quite deep today and did not find any water.  I did find a lot of brushwood that had not decomposed even after a year Tone.  That surprised me. 

The allotments around me look quite good don't they? I wish.  Now that some of the old blokes have gone it is getting a little untidy again.

There is still some weather to come.

It was very cold down the allotment today.  My feet were fine to begin with but my hands were really cold even with gloves.  

I started digging in the manure on the new potato bed.  I took out the primula plants next to the shed and moved them up onto where the brassicas are going to be this year.  It keeps the primula out of the way and they will not be over shadowed there.  

I dug back until I reached two retaining slabs that were leaning over.  I wanted to straighten them up and make them more horizontal.  This meant digging down a little more than 2 feet below the surface of the soil, digging out some soil under the path and then replacing them.  Just like that.  It took me about two hours.  

By this time my hands were as warm new made bread, however my feet ...

As my daughter had requested my presence, I decided to collect up the vegetables that I was going to take home and go.  I had lifted the beetroot yesterday with the parsnips and the last of the carrots.  So I just had to scoop them into a bag. After this I went up to the Brussel sprouts and picked quite a few.  There are a good few left on the plants even after picking.  Tomorrow, I will be washing all the vegetables and considering what to do with them. 

Two very large pumpkins I was storing in the allotment shed have succumbed to the frost and started to rot. I could not leave them there to get mushy so I scooped them up with a spade and put some into the worm bin and the rest into the charcoal bin.  I don’t want to waste anything.  When I was tidying up the brassicas and the carrots I got a lot of waste material.  Now I could just dig this in but this might introduce club root and carrot root fly to new areas of the allotment.  What I would usually do is take the waste home and put it into the big green council bin.

Well, do I need to give away my nutrients quite so easily?  I am going to keep the waste leaves and roots and put them into the worm bin when there is room.  The worms are not very active at the moment but they will soon finish off the waste material when I put it in.  I don’t think that the brassicas or the carrots were diseased but you need to keep a tidy allotment.  As Percy Thrower used to say: a tidy garden is a good garden. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Revising the allotment plan

I cannot allow myself to alter the planning for the beds but I can move things around within the beds and still keep the correct rotation.

Squashes will need a lot of sun so they will stay the same with the four rows of onward peas and the row of mange tout.  To keep the planning correct I then have two rows of Okra and two rows of dwarf French beans.  The climbing French beans are on this side of the allotment so that they do not shade anything.  The track way and hedge are on the other side.

I have added a line of swede to the brassicae bed.  (I am still putting the rocket in the roots bed although technically it is in the brassicae type family)

After the Calabrese comes out, I may try to put some summer cauliflowers in.  I will have to net them very carefully to keep the cabbage white caterpillars away.

There will be no change in the sweet pea bed (Seed have not come yet!!!)  except that I will not have so many varieties.  I am going to try to save at least some of the sweet peas in the greenhouse.  Not all of them have gone over.  I will dedicate one of the rows to these plants.  The runner beans will be on the track way side to avoid casting shade over the sweet peas.

I have swapped round the top bed on allotment 26.  I have found out that the onion miner fly might be using hedges for shelter.  This means that vegetables nearer to the hedge are more likely to be damaged by these pests.  I will put the onions over the other side and butt the leeks right up to the onions covering them all.  I will just move the cucurbits and the cucumbers over a little with the lettuce and the Florence fennel.   Sweet corn will stay by the shed because it will not over  shadow anything there.  (Except the tomatoes… I am reviewing the situation diddle, diddle, diddle, dum…)
Finally I am going to turn the roots 90o so that they are facing north south and I am going to include the salsify, scorzonera and beetroot in this bed.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A dark and dismal January day.

Garlic and broad beans seem to be surviving well but it is still very early days.  We still have one more week of January to go and there is forecast some more cold weather.

Two lines of garlic were planted in October last year and now about 6 inches tall.  They have been planted with inoculated charcoal and mychorrhizal fungi.  The frost tends to bring the charcoal to the surface but I don't think you can see it particularly well on this photograph. 
These are the broad beans that have germinated.  There are big gaps in the row as there was last year but I expect them to germinate as soon as the weather warms a little more.  You can see the difference between this soil and the soil in the onion and garlic bed.  The soil from this area was totally replaced by the council due to contamination.

The new soil was from an organic farm but had a very large proportion of stone in it.  Four allotment holders had their soil replaced completely while I only had the bottom bed of my allotment replaced.  You can see that even with a great deal of stone taken off, there is still a lot in this soil.  The other thing you can see is the charcoal that I used last year under the Onward peas.  I found the inoculated charcoal very effective especially on this poorer soil.

I have raised up the level of the soil using a mixture of turf, weeds, leaves and compost.  This has helped to drain this soil.  It was full of large lumps of clay and needed a great deal of working before it would grow anything substaintial.  I am hoping that the broad beans will add a little nitrogen to the soil here because I want to grown roots after the broad beans have fruited.  The rhubarb is in the background and is just starting to bud.  However,  I don't expect it to start growing substantially for another couple of months. 

This cyclamen is growing at the side of the sweet pea and runner bean bed.  I have added a lot of gravel to this area and the cyclamen seem to be enjoying it.  Some of the other bulbs are beginning to show now.

The soil in this bed is particularly fertile having a lot of organic matter added to it. It has been sieved thoroughly.  Most of the stones on this bed are 1/4 inch or less.  If you look carefully at this soil you can just see the charcoal that has been added.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Salsify and Scorzonera

I have grown salsify and scorzonera before and I am again this year.  They are very easy to grow and salsify will self seed if you allow it to flower and seed.  (It has a lovely blue flower).  Not too sure whether I am going to sow them where they are on the plan though. 

The roots are not like parsnip or carrot but much thinner so don't be disappointed.  If you can spend the time washing and peeling them they are a good extra veg. with an interesting taste.  One of them is supposed to be the vegetable oyster but I can't remember which.  It is supposed to taste like oyster.  I'm a vegetarian so I would not be able to comment on that.

Salsify has white roots and scorzonera has black roots.  As scorzonera is a perennial you can leave it in two seasons so that the roots get a little thicker.  In my experience it is marginal whether you do get bigger roots. 

I would sow in fertile soil that has been manured the previous year.  I would also thin them out to about 6 inches apart to try and get slightly bigger roots.  Apart from that and keeping them weed free, I would say they can get on with it by themselves.

I have put them in with the other roots - parsnips, carrots, beetroot, and Hamburg parsley.  They fit in well with this rotation.  I have fed them with comfrey this year and the roots are significantly bigger than I have grown them before.  They are a medium carrot sized root.  

Should we be using aspirin as a pesticide?

Organic gardeners, like myself, must try to remember that everything is made out of chemicals including ourselves and the vegetables we eat.  Some chemicals are more dangerous than others.  This includes “natural” chemicals like belladonna (atropine) and digitalis.  A great number of medicines started their lives as plant extracts like these.   Salicylic acid has been found in most plants and was first extracted from the bark of a willow.  Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is made from salicylic acid. 
Some scientists asked the question why do plants produce this chemical and it turns out to be part of the plants immune system; the way that it combats disease and pests.  There is a lot more information here:

This is not the only immune system that has been discovered in plants; however it is the one that amateur gardeners could use to help them in their garden or allotment. 

What about trying aspirin? I have tried it on virtually all my allotment vegetables, however it seems to be more effective when sprayed on seedlings.  

Now that Derris and Pyrethrum have been proscribed in the UK, there is little for the amateur gardener to use against pests and diseases.  Picking off pests might be alright for gardens and allotments but whether this is viable for farms I would question.  Maybe aspirin might be a way of preventing pest damage to crops that is a little gentler to the Earth than artificial, petrochemical pesticides. 
There is much that is unknown about the use of aspirin and there may be unforeseen damage to insects other than those attacking vegetables.  Yet, I have been spraying with aspirin since March 2008 and I have seen lots of ladybirds on my vegetables.
The most noticeable affect that I have seen is the reduction of whitefly on my winter brassicas. It almost encourages me to start to grow kale again.
The two unknowns about aspirin application to plants are the dosage and the timing. I have used 2 tablets in 10 litres (2 gallons) of water. I only sprayed seedlings once but the veg. about once a month.   I have used dissolvable aspirin in these experiments.  I know that other people are using willow water made by marinating fresh cut willow branches in water.  As some organic gardeners object to the use of synthetic aspirin, willow, a good source of salicylic acid, water could be used instead.  So we could argue that spraying with aspirin is similar to spraying with nettle or comfrey extract as a pesticide.
A more effective way of extracting salicylic acid from willow bark is to make it into a tea using boiling water. 
Rather than using the organic label, I would rather the: "natural" label. Maybe that is just as difficult to define, but I mean by it that I am using nematodes, fungi and bacteria to combat diseases and pests. And I use a barrier rather than chemicals that are not usually found in nature. Aspirin, as I said at the beginning, is found in most plants.  I would suggest that it may be one of the more benign of the chemicals that plants produce and therefore a chemical that we can use to advantage on the allotment. 

Friday, 21 January 2011

Planting Tomato Seeds

I am going to plant some Tomato Toten F1 Hybrids tomorrow.  I found these seeds in the shed. I don't know how long they have been there but they have never been opened.  If they don't grow then I will be no worse off.  If they do then it is a bonus. 

As you can see all the sweet peas have gone over.  Bit of a disaster.  Not a pretty site at all.  I doubt if I will be able to rescue any of them.  Never mind.  I have bought new seed and only allowed myself 8 varieties.
Blue Danube
Mollie Rilstone
Valerie Harrod.
They are all exhibition varieties and all ones that I have grown before.  This is getting to be an expensive hobby. 
I also bought 5x 2.5kg bags of kestrel potatoes.  
The Ailsa Craig onions have germinated and I have put them out in the cold greenhouse.  I am hoping that they will survive. 

Why do I like to bury rather than burn?

I have already talked about my objection to burning on allotments in my blog "My Rant About Garden Bonfires".
However, I have thought of another reason for burying woody material in the subsoil rather than burning.  There is nothing new and when used to make raised beds is called Hugelkultur.  All I would add about this is that burying woody material will aid in drainage.  

I accept that placing woody material in soil depletes it of nitrogen. Bacteria and particularly fungi take in nitrogen in order to break down cellulose and lignin.  If there is free nitrogen, as in the anion NO3- indeed it will be rejected by the negative charge on most organic matter and soil particles and be leached out of the soil.  However the foraging hyphae of fungi decomposing woody material may well mop up any NO3 -  that is available in the soil when decomposing brush litter. 
It seems that size of the brushwood fragments, burial of remains and nitrogen addition positively influences fungal and bacterial biomass and activity.  (ref: van der Wal, De Boer, Smant, and van Veen (2007).  I would suggest that the increased activity of these organisms is brought about by absorption of leached soil NO3- after the nitrogen sources within the decaying vegetation have been depleted.  The fact that there is not lots of undecomposed woody material scattered throughout the soil profile would suggest that decomposition does occur, albeit slower than in the top soil, and that nitrogen for this process must be coming from somewhere.  I conjecture that leached NO3-  from the top soil is a good contender for this nitrogen.

If we can trap this nitrogen within the bodies of bacteria and fungi then there is more of a chance of recycling it later when this material is returned towards the surface of the soil. Conversely, it may become available to plant roots or associated mychorrhizal fungi hyphae.  Regardless, nitrogen will be recycled rather than being leached away and it passing into water courses.  

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Garden myths

Do carrots fork and split if you dig manure into their bed?

Does fresh horse and cow manure burn the roots of plants?

I don't think so.  Old wives tales???

Why don't more people grow vegetables?

I think that our disconnection from the Earth is a worldwide problem. There are few that know where their food comes from and there are few that understand how they rely on soil, air and water cycles. They would rather believe that the city supports their life. 

I think that a mystique has been built up around growing that clouds gardening in a cloak of old wives tails and misunderstandings. Plants do not go out of their way to die. On the contrary, they will struggle through drought, extreme temperatures, and pests, while growing in the poorest soils. 

We just have to tease out what helps plants to live and grow and this is not difficult. Many of the best growers I know are self taught or learnt from watching their parents and grandparents. Why are so many people afraid of failing to produce good crops? Nobody bothers except the gardener. It would be more of a problem if this was the only food that you were relying on. But, if it goes wrong, you can always nip down to the nearest supermarket and buy vegetables. 

And this might be the crux of the problem. People don't grow their own fruit and vegetables because they don't have to. They can buy sterile, over packaged, tasteless, chemically grown vegetables that are easy to prepare so they do not bother growing their own. Why even cook when you can get over processed, out of season, chemically enhanced fast food.

They are denying themselves the immense pleasure of cooking and tasting vegetables that have been cropped minutes before. The enjoyment is increased when you know where the food you are eating has come from and the effort it has taken to produce it.
I am off to make parsnip and apple soup. Parsnips were dug out of the allotment garden earlier today. Apples are from the store shed. Lovely jubbly...

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Gooseberry American Mildew

It has been suggested that recycled beer (pee) prevents American mildew (Sphaerotheca mors-uvae) on gooseberries.  You can spray it undiluted before the leaves open, then dilute it once they are open.  I’m all for a natural remedy that does not cost the Earth. 

My two year old gooseberry bush in the corner of the potato bed.

I sprayed my gooseberries with Bordeaux mixture, which was supposed to prevent American mildew but didn’t.  I got a lot of fruit off before the gooseberries were affected but lost a lot more.  You can wash or scrape mildew off the fruit but it takes a lot of time.  I can do recycled beer no problem but I think that the fruit will have to be washed particularly carefully before putting into a pie. 
I eventually gave up on the gooseberries and buried them – as is my want.  The new gooseberry is Xania, which is a red, sweet heavy cropping variety resistant to mildew.  I have also moved the gooseberry row to another part of the allotment in the hope that the new ground will not have mildew spores.   The lesson I have learnt from this is don’t leave gooseberries in the same ground for 30 years.

Comfrey tea

I have said in several of the previous posts that I use comfrey, sweet cicerly and  nettle teas to inoculate charcoal.  I also use them as liquid fertilizers. 

I have grown comfrey (Symphytum officinale) for about 30 years now.  It has a beautiful pink purple flower and large dark green leaves.  It can grow up to 1.5m tall and is rather a thug in the vegetable plot if you allow it to be.  I have five 25ft rows of it.
Comfrey bed 
My plants are not the sterile  Bocking 14 and they produce seeds prolifically.  They will spread.  Their roots are very thick and robust and you can use them to propagate new plants.  They are, indeed, very good ground cover plants because little will grow under them particularly if you grow them closely.  

Neat comfrey coming out of the butt.
This butt does not have a tap

Whenever I feel in the mood I cut down the comfrey and put it into a butt (a water barrel) with a tap at the bottom.  The comfrey rots down to a black liquid and that can be drained out of the barrel.  Some people cover the comfrey in water but it is unnecessary.  The liquid is relatively high in potash (Potassium) so it is good for fruit and flowers.  Its percentage NPK is 0.74:0.24:1.19 for the Bocking 14 comfrey
which compares very favorably with commercial tomato liquid fertilizers. 

However, it costs nothing!

What goes into the barrel stays in the barrel.  It will all rot down regardless of how tall the comfrey grows.  It does get coarser as it gets bigger and takes a little bit longer to break down in the barrel but it still forms the black liquid.  Now, you might think that the decaying comfrey would block up the tap at the bottom of the butt but it decomposes so quickly that it rarely if ever blocks the tap. 

I kept a large bottle of comfrey liquid for about 3 years and it still seemed to be alright. I keep my comfrey for about 6 months to a year in the butt but I keep topping it up as I crop the comfrey. It lasts over the winter as well. 

Nowadays I bury most of the allotment undiseased waste in the comfrey bed and let the comfrey recycle it for me. It gets a dose of manure or lawn mowings along the rows when I have nowhere else to store them.
The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Sweet Cicerly (Myrrhis odorata) also make valuable liquid fertilizers.  Ref: “Ear to the Ground” by Ken Thompson.

Both worm tea and comfrey tea seem to make tomatoes grow.  I don’t know the NPK ratio for worm tea but I don’t think that it would be too different from comfrey tea.  

Comfrey does smell when it is rotting down and that is why I put it in a covered water butt.  I do not put water with it because that makes it smell even worse.  If you are constantly using it, like I am, then the smell does not seem to be so bad.  I use it on all the vegetables although things like beans and peas together with tomatoes and pumpkins seem to thrive on it.  

Hunts (see comment below) said that he found maggots in the dried comfrey liquid.  I reckon that these were rat tailed maggots. They are larvae of one of the hoverflies such as Eristalis tenax.  The larvae are one of the few that will live in very polluted water.  While some hoverfly larvae feed on aphids, Eristalis tenax larvae probably live off bacteria or other microorganisms living in the polluted water.  

So how to make comfrey tea that will not go ‘off’.  I think that Hunts’ went off because all the water in it evaporated away.  So,  run it into old orange squash bottles –the large ones with a handle at the top.  Screw on the top and this will prevent the adult hover flies from reaching the liquid.  I have kept comfrey liquid for some time like this.  You can then dilute it down however you want.  I dilute  it down like Tomorite plant food. 

Nowadays, I put the comfrey liquid into a lidded dustbin full of charcoal so that the marinating charcoal soaks the tea up and I can put it onto the soil in a more sustainable form.  I suggest, and there is very little evidence I can quote on this, that the comfrey liquid nutrients will not be leached out of the soil quite so readily in this form.  This is one of the main principles behind the development of a method of creating Terra preta type soils in England's temperate climate. 

As Mikey says in the comments below, the comfrey leaves can be put into the worm bin as in the photograph below.  
However, I would fill this little bin up several times over with the amount of comfrey leaves that I produce.  So the large bins are also brought into service.  In addition to comfrey leaves, I put most of my pernicious weeds in this worm bin.  Bindweed Convolvulus sepium  and horse tail Equisetum arvense ( arvense meaning of the field) are the two main weeds added to the bin.  Comfrey leaves or not, the bin produces copious amounts of black tea like liquid which get mixed with the comfrey liquid manure.  In the front of the worm bin is an area of nettles Urtica dioica  which is also added to the worm bin and the comfrey bins.  It is all grist to the mill.  

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Looking forward to spring.

Not quite yet but maybe next month.

Winter aconite

Aconite with snowdrops

Just snowdrops (Mine are just showing now)

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Growing better soil

The Terra preta experiment that some of us here in the UK have started is about growing better soil.   
I don’t think that the production of Terra preta type soils depends on the climate.  Our indigenous micro organisms should be able populate charcoal in a similar way to those that are associated with Terra preta soils in other parts of the world.  

When artificial petrochemical and industrial based chemicals are placed on the soil, I would speculate that it affects micro organisms within the soil adversely.  

I would also suggest that we destroy the symbiosis between plant and fungi in many ways, not least by cultivation itself.  Adding insult to injury, if we then pour on damaging chemicals, the ground is further denuded of beneficial micro organisms.   Adding mychorrhizal fungi to garden soils just helps to replace ones that we destroy through cultivation.  If there is a way of maintaining these fungi by giving them a new habitat within charcoal then we may not have to keep replacing them.   

I doubt if gardeners will stop breaking the soil because even the act of cropping potatoes, carrots and parsnips involves us in destroying the fine networks of symbiotic relationships within the soil  Maybe charcoal is a way to ameliorate this problem.  

It may be true what academics say about mychorrhiza being abundant in the soil; however I cannot see their influence in the vegetable garden.  

Inoculated charcoal could produce a slow nutrient release system.  Affinity of the charcoal for nutrients depends on the condition and type of soil it is in, but I would suggest that this could be a buffering mechanism.  It would adsorb nutrients when they were in surplus but as concentration decreases the charcoal would lose nutrient by a diffusion process, maintaining equilibrium with the surrounding soil.”

I would like to believe that the ancient indigenous civilizations of South America knew what they were doing when they created Terra preta.  This would have been a fundamental scientific understanding of how the soil works and how it provides nutrients to the plant.  Remember, science is not a list of unassailable facts; it is the best interpretation of data that we can come up with.  It may seem impersonal but that is the best way of understanding nature and can prevent us from going down blind alleys.  We want to know if adding charcoal to soil works the way that we think it does. Through some rudimentary experiments, I have come up with a a little encouraging observational data, which has convinced me of charcoals efficacy.

It will be even more convincing if I can replicate my results in 2011.  

Artificial, manmade chemicals must affect microorganisms adversely and subsequently go on to have an effect on higher animals.   All life is beneficial and the more diverse it is the stronger the web of life becomes. As Chief Seattle said: Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

The chemicals that we put onto the soil go somewhere.  I have been told that they break down into other less harmful substances.  I would rather that we did not have any artificial chemicals so they would have no chance of entering our food or the food of other living things. 

So the experiment goes on.  The soil will be fed with a diet of homemade inoculated charcoal.   

Wiki charcoal! 

It is so important that homemade charcoal soil amendments are developed because we must avoid industrial  take over.  There is great concern that areas of natural forest might be felled to plant crops that could be used to make and inoculate charcoal.  This is what they did with biofuels.  Making the inoculated charcoal a cottage industry will help to prevent this from happening. 

We have enough domestic vegetable waste to produce all the composted charcoal that we need. You do not necessarily have to use the “teas” that I do.  It may be that composted charcoal is a better soil amendment than inoculated charcoal.  

The soil created by adding augmented charcoal seems to be a lot healthier especially when it is used on poorer soils.  Soil should be alive with micro organisms in their many forms and produce a strong web of life within the soil. 

It has been suggested that we use the system called Bokashi devised by Professor Teruo Higa in Japan with inoculated charcoal.  The Bokashi system uses very specific bacteria to break down kitchen waste, however it can also be used as a remedial process that can help to cleanse polluted land and water.  I hope so…  

Humanity has gone over the edge of the cliff and now we must work to make our landing a little softer. 

Bedfordshire Champion

I sown the Bedfordshire Champion Onions today.  I have left them in the greenhouse but they are very hardy so I think that they will survive.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Allotment Garden Planning for 2011

 In the early days, I religiously recorded where I had planted vegetables, how well they grew and the weight of the produce I got.  I must have done that from 1982 through to 1985.  I realised very early that I could not compete on price with shop bought vegetables, however I consoled myself by saying that I could produce vegetables that were not contaminated by pesticides.  I knew where and how my food was grown and that was enough for me.  Growing was not just a means of producing vegetables for the family.  It was also a means of keeping fit and exercising in the fresh air.  It was a means of keeping stress away and touching the earth.  

So for 29 years this little piece of ground, 25 feet by 124 feet, has been providing my family with vegetables.
This is what the allotment looked like in February 2010.  Wet and muddy.  You can see how I use slabs to hold the soil back. I do not raise beds - I raise allotments. 

What is most surprising is that it is still producing great vegetables and flowers after so many years.  In fact, I think that it is producing more now than it has ever done.  After the first few years, I did no more planning.  The rotation was locked in and I began to get stricter, not allowing myself to break out of the scheme I had developed.  (Last year was a great exception when I had too many seed potatoes). 

This year I am going to break with tradition because I have actually planned the allotment.  Really I did no planning at all because I knew where everything was going to be planted.  However, the software makes spacing and numbers of plants needed very specific.  It is interesting to see how my rough plan was interpreted by the software program and whether plants would fit where I had imagined they would.  

So this is what I envisage the allotment will look like when I have finished planting it this year.   

Allotment plan for  25 (b)

I don’t think that I will stick rigidly to this plan having already decided not to have so many rows of sweet peas.  I might also have the runner beans on the other side of that bed.   I may also put in some other varieties of brassicae having found seed in the shed.  The top pea and bean bed really needs to have some horse muck put on it.

This is the bed in 2007 with peas on it; the last time that it had legumes on it.  I had grown caliente  mustard in it and dug it in in September 2007.  

Allotment plan for 26(a)
I intend to plant Big Max pumpkins to replace the garlic and onions when they go over.  It looks like I will be planting Gardener's Delight in pots on the south side of the shed again this year.  I had some really good tomatoes off bushes planted here last year. 
Allotment plan for 26(b)
Have I planted too many strawberries this year?  We will see.  I did not buy any this year and these are all from runners off the old strawberry plants.  I thought that some of the strawberries would die because of the very cold weather but they all seemed to have survived.  The rhubarb will probably overshadow some of the strawberries.  I will be spraying nematode worms Phasmarhabditis hermaphroditaunder the rhubarb to try and limit the number of slugs and snails in this bed.  I will not even order the nematodes until March/April time though.  I hope that the Xania gooseberry cuttings grow because I will only have one if not.  I need five of the cuttings to take.  Xania is a heavy cropping red gooseberry that is fairly resistant to American mildew.  The other gooseberries have been taken out and buried because they were all very old varieties and they had been growing in the same place for about 20 odd years.  One of the old blokes on the allotment gave me them when I first came onto the allotment site.  I think that I would like to have named varieties so that I can look up and find out how and when they crop. 
Now I have changed the plan so go here if you want to see the final plan - or so I think at the moment.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The importance of the Montezuma method.

The weather was relatively warm today.  I actually had to take my coat off. 
I finished putting in the posts for the sweet peas and runner beans.  I need four more posts to fill the plot.  I am not sure whether the sweet pea seedlings are going to survive but, if they don’t, I will get some more seed and replant in February.  There is plenty of time for them to develop into very good plants.  It is just that they will not come into bloom as early as the October sown ones.  It might even be good to have later ones because that will give me a longer flowering season. 
I leveled the soil between the posts with the rake and the beds look very good now.  Two people have asked whether I was planting seed because the beds look like seed beds. 
Needless to say, nothing will be sown in the soil until late March at the earliest.  There is some talk about there being another bout of very cold weather and I will not be surprised if there is.
I took out some of the leeks and I am going to use them in some vegetable soup that I am going to make tomorrow.  I don’t know what it will taste like because I am using up some of the carrots, potatoes, parsnips and onions to make a good mixture.  I will zap it all with the hand blender and have it for dinner. 
I began to turn over the brassicae bed again and dug some deep trenches to bury the blackcurrant bushes that I did not want. I went down two spits (a spit is one length of a spade blade).  There was clay at the bottom of the trench because I don’t think that I have dug this area since I had the allotment 30 odd years ago.  This part of the allotment always had the blackcurrants on from the earliest days.   I cut the branches up with a pair of secateurs so that they would fit neatly at the bottom of the trench. The roots went in the trench too but only after I had knocked off all the soil.  I went through the remaining black currant bushes with a little more care to see if I could find any more big bud.  There was surprisingly little, although I did take off several suspicious looking buds and put them at the bottom of the trench.
The trench started to fill with water, which indicates the importance the Montezuma (see the other posts on Montezuma method) method of raising the beds for draining the water off the allotment.  I think that I will ask Fred if I can have some of his brushwood from his big pile to put at the bottom of tomorrow’s trenches.  The spring was flowing peacefully at the corner of the top bed.  It is not affecting any of the plants but I am worried that the water may be leaching out nutrients from the soil here.    
On top of the blackcurrant branches went a mixture of turfs, leaves and lawn mowings.  The soil then when back into the trench. 
I don’t really want this soil to get too rich because I will be planting Brussel sprouts here in May time.  If the ground has too many nutrients, the Brussel sprouts will ‘blow’ and not have the tight button shaped structure that good Brussel sprouts should have.  I don’t know why but the Brussels, winter cauliflowers and purple sprouting broccoli were giving off a horrible cabbage smell today.  I think that some of them have succumbed to the very cold weather (lowest temperature on the allotment was -16oC).   
I used the rake to level across the bed and I think that I have lost the dip in the middle.  I had my camera so I should have taken a photograph.  However, I had not finished the bed and it looks untidy where I have walked all over it.  It was very wet all over the allotment and some would say that you should not walk on soil this wet.  Tough, I could not waste a warm day like today so I soldiered on regardless.  If the ground is forked over where you have been walking then there is little damage done.  I suppose that this is one of the advantages of raised beds – you can avoid treading on them.  Nevertheless, I cannot be doing with dibbling about in tiny areas of soil.  I don’t do raised beds, I do raised allotments.  So tomorrow loads more leaves and grass mowings to raise the brassicae bed up even more. 
I remembered that I had lots of seeds in the shed and brought them home to go through them.  I am not too sure how good they will be so I think that I will just keep them in reserve at the moment.  I may just use them as a green manure, sowing them and then digging them in when they have developed a little. 
The seed that I have already are. 
·         Chives  Not germinated
·         French Bean Blue Lake Germinated
·         Beetroot Wodan F1 Hybrid
·         Beetroot Boltardy Germinated
·         Onion Bedfordshire Champion .  I think that I will plant these tomorrow in the same way as the Ailsa Craig. Only three germinated.  
·         Broccoli Sprouting Redhead Germinated
·         Broccoli Summer Purple Sprouting (Wok Brocc) Germinated
·         Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia
·         Broad Bean Bunyard’s Exhibition
·         Nasturtium Tom Thumb
·         Dwarf Bean Delinel Not germinated
·         Courgette Black Beauty  Germinated
·         Runner Bean Streamline Not germinated
·         Runner Bean White Apollo  Germinated
·         Carrot Royal Chantenay Red (Two packets)  Germinated
·         Carrot Early Nantes
·         Spinach  Germinated
·         Cauliflower Chassiron F1 Hybrid  Germinated
·         Brussel Sprout Topline  Germinated
·         Squash Winter Harrie  Germinated
·         Corn Salad Cavallo  Germinated
·         Rocket  Germinated 
·         Chicory Variegata di Castelfranco 
It’s amazing what you find when you start looking!  I wonder what else is buried in that shed…

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Forking, digging and leveling.

I finished moving the slabs today.  Now they are all upright after being checked with the bubble.  I found out where the water was going from the spring on the allotment because the trench started to fill with water.  I didn’t let this concern me and carried on regardless. Eventually, I backfilled the trench I had taken out with a mixture of turfs, leaves and old grass mowings. 
This left me with the leveling job to do on the new brassicae bed, however I had all the posts for the sweet pea and runner bean rows lying on this bed.  I decided to plant the posts where they will be needed later in the year, just to get them out of the way. 
I put the posts in north south rather than the usual east west.  There are many advantages of doing this.  The most important being the sweet peas and runner beans will get a more even distribution of light and will not block the light to the onions in the next bed.  Also the sweet peas do not really like direct hot sun and this way they will not get too much.  I will have to get some more posts because I will need more rows. 
I forked over where I had been treading and then I raked the soil a little more level.  This bed is too high in the middle.  

 I am going to change the plan on the planning software to reflect this.