Saturday, 30 April 2011

Tying and Winding up the greenhouse tomato plants.(Supporting greenhouse tomatoes)

 I bought some organic grow bags but I don't like putting the tomatoes in them because I cannot regulate the watering very well.  I take the compost out of the bags and put it into big pots, planting the tomatoes and tying them up.  I have been mixing my own compost to put seedlings in but I did not mix the compost for the Alicante.

String support for the tomato.

I dig a hole in the compost and run a string from the wire in the roof of the greenhouse down and into the pot.

Tomato in pot
I plant the tomato on top of the string, burying the string's end, and wind the string around the tomato.  The string supports the tomato as it gets bigger.  It is much better than putting up canes because you do not have to tie the tomato in - you just wind it around the string.  Although the string does not pull out, it is better not to wind it around the tomato too roughly.  The tomato only need it coiled around a little to give it support.  

Strings attached to the wire in the roof.  
I put all the Totem bush tomatoes in their final pots and left them on the staging.  The Totem does not need supports because they are a bush variety.  They were a little pot bound so I am glad that I transplanted them today. I mixed up my own compost for the Totem.  It was about 50% home made compost from the compost heap, 50% peat free bought compost with a little grit mixed in to keep the home made compost a little more open.  After being sieved a few times the home made compost tends to form a crust and I did not want this to happen.

Tomato plants wound round string supports
 June 11th 2011

You can see the Alicante at the back is having the string wound round them.  (The reason why they look a little anaemic is because I bought some organic grow bags and used this compost in the pots.  The tomatoes do not seem to have liked this very much and I am struggling to get them to grow well.)  The beef stake tomatoes at the front of the Alicante have not been wound up yet so the strings are fairly loose.

This year 2012 all my different tomatoes germinated well.  I never like to throw away plants so I have put most of them into pots in the greenhouse.  They are a little close together but unless I get botrytis or some other fugal disease, I will leave them like this.  Not so big tomatoes but a lot of them.

Tomatoes wound round strings to
support them June 2012
Tomatoes in July 2012
With this many tomatoes, I don't think that it is necessary to go to the ridge of the greenhouse as I did last year.  The wires go across at eves level.  I might take one or two higher but the tomatoes never seem to ripen when they are in the roof space.  Last years wire is still stretched across the ridge and can be used whenever I want.

Tomatoes wound round strings.
June 2012

Tomatoes wound around strings  July 2012

Friday, 29 April 2011

It threatened rain but none but drops fell.

I planted out the calabrese watering in with comfrey liquid. I put them a foot away from the cabbages and then planted a line of early sprouting brocolli alongside.

Afterwards, I went  to the other side of the brassicae bed and put in the Trafalgar Brussel sprouts.  They were watered in with comfrey too.  I like to net the brassicas against pigeons, which can be a big pest eating the seedlings right down to the ground.  I do not put up anything elaborate just using canes to stretch the netting over the plants and down the sides too.

I think that this is more perception that efficient because the pigeons see the barrier and assume that they cannot get to the seedlings.  They probably could if they tried hard enough.

This was when someone started to burn damp grass.  I did not appreciate this.  For my views on burning look at:

I went and told him to put it out because it was blowing over people's gardens and we would have complaints again.

I had a discussion with the old lags down the allotment to see if it was too early to put runner and French climbing bean in now.  Ed has already planted his runner seedlings in the allotment.  I thought, I have bought them up to the allotment.  I might as well plant them.  I have put netting around them to keep the wind off.  Tony said that it was the wind that caught his runner bean seedlings last year rather than the frost.  I gave the plants some mychorrhizal fungi and watered them in with comfrey liquid.  

The French beans were put in as well with a dose of mychorrhizal fungi and comfrey liquid.  I had decided to put courgettes between the poles and I had brought these up to the allotment too.  They went in along the middle of the French bean row.  If it goes cold now several things will be caught.  The potatoes are growing quite large now.  I tried to hoe them up a little more but they are too big to cover effectively against the frost.

I spent the rest of the afternoon side shooting and tying up the sweet peas.

Watering was the final job and the broad beans, new brassicae seedlings, the kohlrabi, the French beans, the garlic, the lettuce and the Hamburg parsley were all watered.

I was going to water the strawberries but I only got one row done.

I took some of the runner beans and French climbing beans down to a couple of allotments near to the allotment too far to give away.  I hate wasting anything I have grown and I will give it away rather than put it on the compost heap

On the way back I filled the barrow with nettles to put into my digester butts to make liquid manure.

Came home for a nice cup of tea.  Which reminds me.  I need to take some milk with me tomorrow so I can make a brew at the allotment.    

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Less in the Greenhouse now.

I will soon be able to pot up my tomatoes in their big pots.  I have taken out a lot of the brassicas and left them to harden off outside.  The runner and climbing French beans are also outside.  The low night time temperature is forecast to be 7-8oC so there is no danger of frosts now.  
Greenhouse full of seedlings.
The winter cauliflowers at the front are still quite small and need to stay in the green house for a while. The lettuce is big enough to be put out into the allotment but I may wait for another few days to let them get even bigger.  As you can see I still have some leeks and lettuce to transplant into pots or sectioned trays.  The Hunter squashes  and the cucumbers are growing well but I would like to see much bigger plants before I transplant them outside.  

The tomatoes need to go into their big pots.
The green house within a greenhouse
I have planted the pumpkins into three inch pots.  The sweet corn is still a little too small to plant out but the climbing French beans have been put outside.  

The okra has not got its second leaves yet and it is growing very slowly unlike the courgettes next to them.  
Runner beans and leeks on the path.
I don't like leaving plants on the pathway. I keep tripping over them for starters.  As hot air rises, this is the coldest part of the allotment.  The runners are outside now and because they were growing quite large I nipped  out  the growing tip. This was to encourage side shoots to develop and to slow the growth down.  
Various brassicas
So, this is my full to the brim greenhouse.  I would like to start some flowers off now but I just haven't got the space.  

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Threat of frost tonight.

Now that it is getting towards the end of April the weather, of course, is getting a lot colder.

What can you say about this weather.  It is completely contrary.  Tonight it may well get down to 3oC and this is a bit too cold for comfort.  A lot of people have put out courgettes, squashes and pumpkins. I hope that they do not succumb to the possible frost.  I may well be panicking prematurely but that is what gardening is all about this  time of year in England.

Well, fortunately I have not put out my Cucurbitaceae.   They are tucked away in the greenhouse within a greenhouse.  Even so they might get caught by the frost.

The only other plants that I am worried about are the potatoes.  I did not have the time or inclination to earth them up a little more so their tops are open to the elements.  I am hoping they will be all right and they probably will be.  The oca has still not poked its head out of the soil and this is a good thing because it will not be affected overmuch  by the cold night.

I put the calabrese and the purple sprouting brocolli outside to harden off a little before being put into the allotment.

Still no germination of the Moneymaker tomato seed, Florence fennel and the celeriac.  I don't know what I have done wrong but my seed germination is very poor this year.  However, every cloud has a silver lining and this has  helped me manage the plants in the greenhouse a little better.  It is still chocker full of seedlings even though I have planted out the peas, some of the climbing French beans, some of the Brussel sprouts, the cabbage, the onions, the lettuce and the leek seedlings.

But, I should know that this is a very busy time of the year.

I didn't do much at the allotment because I was working today.  I just had some time to water all the newly planted seedlings and the newly sown seeds.  The kohlrabi and the Hamburg parsley still have not germinated.  I doubt that they like the change to much colder weather.

I also gave the strawberries a good watering.  They are quite small plants but they have some very big flowers on them.

When I came home I watered the greenhouse a little.  I did not want to put too much water on some of the seedlings because this may cause them to rot off if there is a frost.  Drier compost seems to allow a much better survival rate in very cold weather.  I will water them tomorrow when the temperature has risen a little bit.

I did water the pumpkins and the tomatoes.  I had missed them when they were transplanted into bigger pots yesterday.

So lots to go out in the allotment when the weather becomes more clement; which I hope will be this weekend.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Another warm dry day. Not many April showers?

The rest of the leeks that I had taken to the allotment were planted under the enviromesh netting.  I gave them a good watering with comfrey and some mychorrhizal fungi.  The ones that I planted yesterday were standing up well.  The sooner I get the ones in the greenhouse onto the allotment the better.  They will have a good long growing season and I might get some big leeks.  The plan is on this link.

The only other things I have planned for this part of the allotment are the chamomile, cucumber, and Florence fennel and they will fit into the space left very easily.  The Web's Wonderful lettuce is standing up well and has no slug damage at all.  I think that the nematodes are doing their job.

No sign of the oca yet and maybe this is a good thing because there might be a threat of frost in the next week. The potatoes, however are all poking their heads over the soil even though I have earthed them up.  If there is a frost forecast, then I will have to earth them up even higher and cover the young foliage.

The Pink Fir Apple has not poked its head out of the soil yet so I think that these will be all right if there is a frost.

The Marshmello and Cambridge strawberries have flowers on them now.  I am feeding with comfrey once a week and watering them during this hot weather.

I have weeded the Cobham Improved Marrow parsnips but I have not thinned them out yet.  Only a few have got their second leaves at the moment so I will wait until they get a little bigger.  I have not weeded under the enviromesh netting over the carrots but I will have to soon.  You can see the lines of carrot seedlings quite clearly now but there are too many weeds in between.

No germination from the Hamburg parsley at the moment so I gave it a good watering to see if this would speed things up a little.  I still need to plant the Wodan Beetroot, however I am trying to wait until May before I do this.

Some irritating animal has scuffed up my scorzonera looking for worms.  I think that the fox does this.  I will plant some seed to fill up the holes that this has made in the row.

I have planted one line of Topline Brussel Sprout.  These seed were given to me so if they do not do very well I will not mind.  On the other side of the brassicae bed I put in a line of Golden Acre cabbages next to the new line of kohlrabi.

 The Brussel sprouts and the cabbages were watered in using comfrey liquid.  When I am planting brassicas I put the seedling into the hole and then "puddle" them in.  This is to wash into the hole as much surrounding soil as I can; filling the hole with a mixture of water and soil.  As the water goes down and soaks into the soil, it leaves a residue of soil covering the roots.  The soil rarely fills the planting hole but it is simple to go along the row with the trowel filling the holes and smoothing the soil.  Doing it this way, the brassicae seedlings never droop even when put out in the warmest of weather - like today.

Both the cabbage and the Brussel sprouts were covered with a 1 inch, mesh, plastic netting to keep the pigeons off them.  They will reduce them to stumps if they are not protected.

The next to go in are the calabrese and the broccoli.

I am going to try summer cauliflower this year.  I have not grown this for an awful long time.  The cabbage white butterflies seem to be attracted to  them more than any of the other brassicas.  I am going to construct a 1/4 inch netted area for them and hopefully this will keep the cabbage white butterflies off them.

The netting is just put over canes dotted along the lines.  I do not tie them on because they never blow off the canes.  More elaborate structures can be constructed but the purpose is to keep the pigeons off the brassicas and mine do just that so I am not going in for anything more complicated.

I think that most people grow these cauliflowers in poly tunnels to keep them away from the pests like this but this is cheating.  I want to grow as much as possible outside.

Peas are doing particularly well but I have seen signs of slug damage on them when I watered.  I am keeping them damp so that the nematodes will do their work.  Surprisingly, I want some slugs to be on the allotment because the nematodes will starve to death if there are none at all.  I hope that the nematodes do work because I don't really want to resort to slug pellet - organic or not.

I still haven't done the Blue Danube and Gwendoline sweet pea rows.  They need the main stem to be selected and the other stems cut out.   They are still quite small though and it is difficult to tie them in so I will leave them for a little while to let them grow on a bit.

Exhibition sweet peas - the next stage.

After starting the sweet peas off in the greenhouse:

they are planted next to the canes and then left to grow on for a while.  

Now the sweet peas need to be tied in and a main stem selected.  The other stems need to be cut off.  Only in this way will I get really big flowers. Remember that you can click on the pictures to make them bigger.

Only one shoot is needed on the Restormel sweet peas
Valerie Harrod Sweet peas with one main stem tied in to canes

Those on the left are not done those on the right are done.

The sweet peas are then tied to the canes because they will have no means of climbing otherwise.  As I have disturbed the plants, I gave them a good watering with comfrey liquid.  This seemed to have cheered them up quite a bit.


There are two tubs in the photograph.  One is for the sweet pea side shoots and the other has all the wire ties.  Whatever I do, I cannot put the cut side shoots into the correct tub and have to go fishing to get them out of the wire ties tub.  Sort it out for goodness sake Tone.

I will be busy from now on removing side shoots and tying in the main stem that has been chosen.  The tendrils as well as the side shoots will be removed and tying in will be essential because the plants have lost their natural means of support.  If the plants are not tied in they flop about and grow in a contorted way leading to flowers that do not have straight stems.

I will continue to water the sweet peas with comfrey.  If you give them a fertiliser too high in nitrogen at this time of year it might lead to bud drop.

You can see that I have begun to put netting around the runner bean canes.   The runner beans are nearly big enough to go out now but there is still a great risk of frost.  The netting may help to prevent them from being too badly damaged by any frost we have.  The three White Apollo are tucked down this end of the row.  I have not protected the Blue Lake climbing French beans like this but I can easily replace them with the Cobra climbing French beans if they get caught by a frost.

The ground looks very dry here although there is some dampness a couple of centimetres down.  I am watering though.  The ground has not been prepared in any special way for the sweet peas.  They will grow well in any relatively fertile soil.

Last year I double dug this area because I was burying logs from the 6 silver birch we had taken down in the garden.  I dug the whole area so there were no dedicated trenches for the sweet peas.  I don't think that the logs and brushwood have rotted down yet but it did not seem to bother the onions last year and now the sweet peas.  I also used leylandii shreddings much to the consternation of other allotment holders.  They were suggesting that I would "poison my ground" if I used them.  While I would not used them to dig into the top soil,  I see no reason why they should not be used to increase the carbon content of the subsoil.  They are a bit acid and they will reduce the nitrogen content of the subsoil around them but I don't really mind.  Vegetable roots will not usually get that far down and if they do then it might be a reservoir of water retaining vegetation for them.  The top soil got a lot of tree leaves dug in but that was all.

I dug down 2 spits and then broke up the subsoil with a fork
I ran out of birch so I used leylandii shreddings

Double digging the sweet pea area February last year
The top soil had a lot of inoculated charcoal added when the onions were planted.  This is now mixed in well with the rest of the top soil.

The point is that I have not done anything special for the sweet peas this year.  I am just relying on the general fertility of the soil.  In fact I am relying on the sweet peas to increase the fertility of the soil by adding nitrogen when they are dug in at the end of the year.  Nothing should be wasted in a good garden.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Dealing with seedlings

There were three or four pots of seedlings that needed transplanting into larger pots.  I like to use 3 inch pots because the plants have enough room to get relatively large before they have to be planted out in the allotment.

The plants that needed bigger pots were courgettes, cucumbers, okra, lettuce and leeks.

I decided to use my own mixture of compost using 50% peatless compost, 40% own compost,5% grit and 5% really well rotted leaf mould by volume.  The other plants that I have transplanted seemed to like this a lot.

I also used the mychorrhizal fungi in each of the planting holes.

I watered them in with tap water.  I don't have any comfrey liquid at home, however the plants will not need any extra nutrients until they are planted out in the allotment.  I will have to get some comfrey liquid when I plant out the tomatoes because they will be staying in the greenhouse all year.

I will be giving the tomatoes a mixture of 50% organic growbag and 50% my own compost mix as their final planting compost.  I may well put some grit into the mixture as well because my compost is a little fine after being sieved and tends to clag up a little.  I could really do with putting the tomatoes into their final big pots now but there are so many other plants in the greenhouse at the moment that there is no room.  I could do the bush variety but I will wait and do them all together.

There are still some leeks and lettuce that will need to be pricked out but they can be left in their seedling pots for a couple of days before they have to be transplanted into bigger pots.

All the beans have grown much quicker than expected in this very hot weather. I am thinking of planting out some of them.  In April - the first time I have ever done that.  

I have one or two of the Galaxy and White Apollo runner beans from seed that was given to me.  I will be no worse off if these get caught by the frost because I have more than enough Aintree.  So I am going to take a chance and put them out.  Similarly with the French beans and the courgettes.  I cannot believe I am putting these out before my brassicas.

The brassicas are hardy enough to go out now but they are not really big enough.  I like to grow them on until they are quite large and then the pigeons and slugs leave them alone.

I planted out some more lettuce watering it in with comfrey liquid.

The peas were hoed using the onion hoe.  This is a very useful little tool.  It saves a lot of hand weeding. I watered them with liquid feed and hoed between the rows.

I put some climbing French  beans in under the bean poles.  Again these were watered in with comfrey and a little mychorrhizal fungi.  Under the canes on the sweet pea bed, I put three White Apollo runner beans.

Now the rumour  is that there will be a frost this week.  If there is I will probably loose all the beans but they are from old seed that was given to me so I will not have lost anything.  If they survive, I will have gained a lot.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Gardening on a hot day

Always wear your hat Tony.

I pricked out some summer cauliflowers.  As the winter ones were so poor this year, I thought that I would try some summer cauliflowers.  The reason I never plant them is because they always get covered in cabbage white caterpillars.  Washing them is a nightmare.  If I can cover them with a fine mesh net then possibly I will be able to avoid the caterpillars.  Hope springs eternal... or so Alexander says.

Mowed the back lawn and clipped the hedge.  The grass is beginning to suffer from the hot weather and no rain now.  I hope that we get some rain tomorrow.  We might get some a little later today.

Mowing the front lawn and clipping the front hedge too.

I have put the mange tout peas out to harden off before I plant them on the allotment.  There are some lettuce in the same tray but I think I will use these to finish off the row I have already planted.

Back to the front lawn.

I have pricked out all the purple sprouting brocolli and the germinated runner beans.  I am not really going to do much more.  The lettuce are a little too small to be transplanted, the leeks are still tiny.  I could do the squash, cucumber and okra but they have not got their second leaves yet.  They will wait a little more time.

I took the mange tout peas and the grass mowings to the allotment.  When I got there I decided to plant the peas.  It kept on threatening to rain but eventually there was not very much.  We could do with a lot more than this.  There is more rain forecast for tomorrow but I am not going to hold my breath.

I harvested another of the autumn cauliflowers and this one was quite big.  I only have one left in the allotment now.

The peas were watered in with dilute comfrey liquid.  I constructed another chicken wire support for them to climb up. It was too late to do any more watering.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The allotment soil is getting very dry and powdery

The ground is getting very dry and powdery.  It really needs some rain.

I decided to water and hoe the whole allotment and started with the peas.  They are growing remarkably well but I am keeping them well watered.  They seem to be responding to this now.

There was not much weed germinating but it is worth hoeing where there are no weeds and remarkably you get no weeds growing.

More water was given to the sweet peas under the French bean poles and I gave them a really good weeding.  I used the swoe again under the poles because it is much more manoeuvrable than the big hoe.  The corner of the big hoe had turned up and was not helping with the hoeing so I got the big bull hammer and encouraged the corners to curl back.   It was doing a much better job after that.  I might sharpen it tomorrow.

I watered and hoed the sweet peas.  They will need tying up soon.  Most of the plants have two side shoots growing well.  I will choose the best one to tie to the cane and cut the other one off completely.

I went back to the brassicae bed and watered the broad beans.  Hoed a little around, used the three clawed cultivator and rake to smooth out the soil a little more.

I watered the American Cress which is just germinating.  It has very small seedlings but you can just make out where the line goes.  The Marion swede, on the other hand, has great big seedlings that you cannot miss.  Hoeing between the rows was relatively easy.  I bought some kohlrabi which is bright red so these were put in next to the swedes.  It is not on the plan but I probably can squeeze them in.  I made a v shaped drill and watered along the line with comfrey liquid.  The seed were sown on the damp soil. I covered the seed using the rake and tamped down to firm the ground around the seed.  I gave them some more water because the weather has been particularly dry.

I watered and hoed the garlic and the lettuce then moved over to where the onions were planted.  I needed to change one of the enviromesh sheets on the onions because the one I got last evening was too small.  I like to bury the edges of the enviromesh in the soil so that the little beggars have no way to get the onions.  I watered all the onions well.

I didn't do much to the potatoes.  There is not much to do now they are all earthed up.  I did get some compost and put it on the potatoes nearest the shed because they needed a little more soil to cover them.

I am a little worried about the oca.  I am not sure whether I have buried them a little too deep when I earthed them up.  Not too sure whether they are as strong as potatoes in growing through the soil.

Hoed and watered the roots and they are all coming very well.  Thought about planting some Woden beetroot  but I can leave that until next couple of weeks or so.  I had bought some Hamburg Parsley yesterday and I wanted to put it in.  You eat the root and it is supposed to taste like a cross between kohlrabi and something else that I can't think of at the moment. Again I made a v shaped drill with the back of the rake (it is a straight rake and well suited for this but if you haven't got a rake like this I often use the hoe). I watered the drill with diluted comfrey liquid and then sowed the seed.  I used the rake to cover the seeds and smooth the ground.  Finally I tamped the soil down over the seeds with the rake to firm them in.

Whatever, I will give it a go and see what it tastes like in a vegetable curry or stew.

Watered the carrots and the parsnips.  I carefully weeded along the parsnip line with the onion hoe - a very useful tool.

After this I went up to see if I could dig out a carpet from below a mound of nettles.  The secretary of the allotment association said that they were having difficulty getting this carpet out and into the skip.  I went up there and dug two carpets out and put them into the skip.  There are at least another four there.  Why on Earth do people bring these things onto allotment sites.  All that happens is that they are left and some poor soul, like me, has to go and get rid of them.

I am now going to shut the green house up.  There were two pumpkins germinated this morning.  I hope there are some more when I close up tonight.

Gave the greenhouse a good watering. More Big Max pumpkins have germinated.  Some of the duff seed has actually germinated.  I have at least one Galaxy runner bean.  The French dwarf bean Delinel, however has not germinated and I don't think that it will.  This is why I have bought some others - French dwarf bean Ying Yang, Borlotti bean Supremo and Cannellini bean Sorano.  You can use them all as a French bean and eat them when they are young or leave them on the plant until they dry and have the beans for winter stews or curries.

I planted some celeriac in a pot yesterday and left it in the plastic greenhouse.  It was 20oC in the greenhouse when I went in at eight o'clock.  No problem with frost at the moment.  I am not too sure where I am going to put the celeriac on the allotment because it was not in the plan for this year.  I do have some room between the parsnips and rhubarb though and I think I will put them in here.  Hopefully the rhubarb will not start growing big and swamp them.

I'm just worried that we will be clobbered with a frost in the next couple of weeks. I remember a really heavy frost on June 1st.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Photographs of things growing in April

The May allotment photographs are at:

I was going to crop the comfrey yesterday but I left it to get a little bigger.  I did crop the sweet cicerly and the nettles and put them into the green butt next to the shed.  The comfrey needs weeding a bit but I will leave that until I have finished the rest of the allotment.  I am running out of liquid manure.  All the butts are almost empty now.  I also need to get some more charcoal to put into the butts with the liquid manure to make inoculated charcoal.  This seems to stop the nutrients from leeching out of the soil.  I put some of the mega compost heap compost into some plastic bags.  I was going to take it home to mix with the potting compost for the tomatoes.  I have taken enough home so I will use this compost to  spread on the allotment.
Comfrey is growing well

This is the very poor soil.  The council replaced the soil that was originally here because it was contaminated.  The soil that they replaced it with was mainly stones and clay.  It is growing things now but it has taken an effort to improve it.  I planted the vine in the very poorest of  this soil and I am hoping that it will not take over the world and grow with too much vigour.  

I had to put the slabs around it like this so I did not have to move it again during the winter.  I thought that I might kill it.  I shouldn't have worried.  The gooseberry cuttings are in the pot but they are not doing very well.  I will have to take some more later in the year.  I planted the rhubarb this year and it is struggling a bit probably because of the poor soil.  
You can just about see the parsnips coming through.
All the roots have come through very quickly.  As the rhubarb has not grown as large as I expected, I may put another row of parsnips here.  
Carrots under the enviromesh 
The enviromesh  over old cloche wire supports
I always put my carrots under enviromesh.  I bought this about 20 years ago so I have really got my money's worth out of it.  Apart from going a little grey it is still as good as it was when I got it.  It is really useful in keeping the carrot root fly off the carrots.  Some people just put a barrier around the carrots in the mistaken view that carrot root flies cannot get over them.  Well haven't you heard of wind?  They might have difficulty flying over barriers, however a good waft of wind will get them over.   This has been my experience and this is why I like to cover them completely.  The carrot seed has germinated but you can't see them in the photograph.  
The other roots have germinated.
 I think that April is one of the best times in gardening.  It is when things start to germinate and grow on.  I like to sow quite thinly so you can only just see the lines.  We have rocket, beetroot, spinach, salsify and scorzonera. 
The strawberries seem to have been hit hard by the winter but they are recovering well.  I have fed them and watered them well in this hot weather we are having.  I have not replaced the ones that I have lost, although several people have offered me replacements.  I think that I have plenty so they can just have a bit more room.  
Potatoes poking through soil.
I always think that you cannot garden properly unless you have a tub by your side.  I have two because one is for stones and glass -  we have a lot of glass on the allotment, while the other tub is for weeds.  As you can see not many weeds.  
Earthing up the potatoes
The ground is very dry at the moment but it does make earthing up the potatoes much easier.  I put the garden line along the rows so that I can see where the potatoes are.  They then get a good watering of comfrey liquid and finally the soil is drawn up over them using a draw hoe.  I have finished hoeing up the potatoes now.  It is not a job I relish but if you want good potatoes it has to be done.  The oca is at the beginning of  this row.  It has not poked its head through at the moment but the literature says that you should hoe it up in the same way that you do the potatoes so this is what I have done.  
Garlic in between the tulips
The garlic is growing quite large now.  I am watering and feeding it with comfrey liquid.  The tulips seem to like comfrey too.  I don't normally grow tulips like this but well its a long story and not really relevant to gardening so suffice to say it was down to my daughter.  She will have them when she gets a garden.  In the mean time I will see if I can get them to multiply a bit.  They add a little colour and interest to the allotment.  
Webb's Wonderful lettuce seedlings.
Next to the tulips are the lettuce.  I have planted these out and not put any slug pellets down.  I am hoping that the Nemaslug nematodes will keep the slugs at bay.  The tarpaulin is covering the ground where I watered the nematodes in and I am hoping it is keeping the ground damp for them.   I want to put some beer traps down for the slugs but I haven't any beer at the moment.  
Area where the leeks are going to go.
I have put three rows of Ailsa Craig onions into this area since I took the photograph.  There is still a lot of room for the leeks though.  I have put enviromesh over these onions to keep the leek miner fly off them.  
Onions under the cloches
These onions have cloches over them to keep the leek miner fly off them.  The cloches are not very straight, I have noticed, but they are doing their job well in any case.  
Sweet cicely 
Cropped sweet cicely
I have cropped the sweet cicely now. It makes a good liquid fertiliser like comfrey does. I have rhubarb plants in the corners of this bed and the blackberry growing over the frame.  The blackberry has a lot of flowers on it and I am hoping it will produce a lot of fruit this year.  
Sweet cicely in the butt.
I thought that I would add some nettles from the allotment too far and a little comfrey.  This got added to the butt with the sweet cicely.  I cropped a little of my own nettles but they were not very big.  It may be better to leave them for a year to grow bigger.  If I leave them they may attract small tortoise shell and red admiral butterflies that lay their eggs on them.   
Nettles and comfrey from the allotment too far
I have another source of nettles and I may go and get them tomorrow.  
My little nettle patch.  
Exhibition Sweet peas 
The sweet peas are nearly ready to be tied into the canes that they will be growing up.  I will select a shoot to train up the cane and cut the others off.  I will tie them in using garden wire.  
The canes in the foreground are for the Aintree runner beans.  There were a lot of weed seedlings on this part of the allotment and I needed to hoe in between the canes.  The large heavy duty hoe was a little too cumbersome so I decided to use the swoe.  The swoe that I have is very light and easy to use between the canes.   I gave them a good watering after hoeing.  

Although the blackcurrant bushes have loads of flowers on them, I don't think that they will crop very well because they have big bud mite.  I will have to ditch the lot in the autumn and start again with some clean bushes.  I do have some cuttings but I doubt if they will fruit for a while.  I do like blackcurrants though.  
Blackcurrant bushes.  
Broad beans are the only thing in the brassicae bed
The brassicae bed is all ready for the brassicas that will be put out at the end of this month or beginning of May.  I am hoping that the broad beans will have cropped and will be out of the way.  You can see that I have added lime to the top soil.  When you add lime you should not really also add manure.  The lime will cause ammonia to be produced and lost to the atmosphere.  As the sweet peas and runner beans were on this soil last year and then dug in during the autumn,  I am hoping that this is enough nutrients to produce big cabbages.  The brassicas will be watered in with comfrey liquid but I will not put any other nutrients on this year.   
Early Onward Peas
The Early Onward peas are growing on well.  I have put the chicken wire all around them so they have something to grow up.  You have to pick the peas from the top but this is not a difficulty.  I have four rows of peas and when the mange tout are big enough I will add another row.  
The squash bed is on the left and I have added a little more compost to this area to give them a boost when they are planted out in May.  
French runner bean poles.
The French runner bean poles have been up for a while but the beans will not be put out until the end of May. The sweet peas that I had over were planted here and I put up some plastic nets for them to grow up.  I will not be taking off side shoots and tendrils but will just let them climb up the netting as they will.  The beans will still be able to climb up the poles.  I am going to plant courgettes under the beans mainly because I am running out of room and to give the beans a green mulch.  
I am not sure whether I am going to trust the Okra outside here.  I have bought some more dwarf  French beans and will fill the space with these.  I think that the dwarf French beans that I have already planted will not germinate because they are old seed.  
Last two winter cauliflowers
The last of the cauliflowers are growing well and producing big heads.  However, three plants surviving the winter out of about 25 is not good.  I hope that this winter will not be so harsh.  This is where the dwarf French beans and the Okra will go between the climbing French beans and the peas.  Oh yes and there will be a row of mange tout peas as well.  My allotment just goes up to the slab edging.  The other allotment has been taken over by Eric's grandson. Eric was my neighbour allotmenteer for 25 years and now the dynasty is carrying on.  
aubretia on tap path
I do like it when the aubretia is flowering. The fox has gone along the side of the track way looking for slugs and snails.  It's either the fox or the badger.  I have seen the fox this year but I have not seen the badger yet.  
aubrietia by the French bean poles
So things are beginning to grow.  It is a great time of year.  

Monday, 18 April 2011

Planting the onions and lettuce.

I got up to the allotment early so that I would have some time to do the planting.  I decided to put the lettuce in first.  To do this I needed to move the tarpaulin.  I took off all the slabs and just slid it across the soil so that it was out of the way.  The line was put in four feet from the track way.

Lettuce do not need to be very far apart when you first put them in.  If you put them six inches apart along the line then you can thin them out as you take them to eat.  This gives more room for the others to get bigger.  So, I used the green trowel with the scale on the blade to measure between plants and to dig the holes.

I put some comfrey liquid into the watering can and filled it with tap water.  I have emptied the water butts now so I cannot use rain water any more. A three to four inch hole was dug for each of the lettuces and a little mychorrhizal fungi was added before the lettuce plant was carefully dropped in.  I do not drag the soil back into the hole with the trowel.  Rather, I water the soil around the hole so that soil is washed onto the roots.

This does several things.  It puddles water around the plant and this means that they rarely wilt.  It washes soil onto the roots so there are no gaps or air pockets and it fills the holes so that a cursory hoe around the row means that the holes are completely filled.

But for about three seedlings I got two rows out of the lettuce.  I had already watered the Nemaslug nematodes onto this area so I am hoping that they will be free of slugs for most of their lives.  The tarpaulin was pulled back next to the lettuce and the slabs returned to keep it from blowing about.  I will make sure that there are also some beer traps to make sure that no slugs get to the lettuce.

I moved over to the other side of this bed to plant the onions.  I wanted to be as far away from the hedges along the trackway as I could because Phytomyza gymnostoma    shelters in hedges.  I doubt whether it will make a difference but I wanted to give it a go and see what would happen.

The onions were planted more or less like the lettuce and then given an additional watering of comfrey liquid.  As a further precaution against Phytomyza gymnostoma , I put a three plastic cloches over the lines of onions.  I will leave them there until I crop the onions because I don't think that the onions will mind.   I will remove the cloches to weed between the onions but put them back as soon as I have finished.  

I planted three double rows and I think that this will be sufficient.  I still had some left over in the sectioned trays and rather than waste them I will use them in salads for spring onions.

I hoed the area between the onion cloches and the tarpaulin because there were lots of weed seedlings germinating from the compost I put on this bed in March.

I really needed to hoe between the sweet peas as well.  Weed seedlings were starting to grow here as well.  I was going to water the sweet peas but ran out of time.

The newly planted Early Onward seedlings have settled in really well and are growing away now.  The swedes, salsify, scorzonera, rocket, spinach, Boltardy beetroot, carrots, and parsnips have all germinated.  The potatoes are also showing through the soil and I will have to hoe them up to prevent the foliage being scorched if there is a frost.

I hoed around the broad beans which are  flowering profusely.  I will get a crop off these plants in the next few weeks.

The winter cauliflower head was quite large now and I thought that I would take it home.  I also picked a few rhubarb stems as well.

Just as I was going to the car, I started to talk to one of the allotmenteers  about the skip that the allotment society had provided.  I said that although the committee had cleared off the glass on the allotment too far they had not removed the old bath.  We went down to the allotment too far to see if the bath was a cast iron one or a plastic one.  It was plastic so we decided to carry it to the skip.  The problem was that it was full of soil.  Turning it over and emptying it was a job for two strong men.  However, we had to do it instead and it was a great effort.

Carrying it over to the skip was easy in comparison.

Then I went home.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Transplanting seedlings and sowing more seeds.

I pricked out the winter cauliflowers into 3 inch pots using a soil less compost.  They can grow on in 3 inch pots until they are about 15 to 18 inches tall.  Their roots will have filled the pots by then and they will have to be put out.  I transplanted the Golden Acre cabbages into 3 inch pots as well.  The chamomile was planted this week and put into the propagator to get them to germinate.  They are with the Florence fennel.

I also sowed some more rocket, radish, lambs lettuce and mizuna for summer salad.  I know that they say to sow lambs lettuce for winter salad but I sow it all the year round.  I am sowing these seeds in home made compost from the mega compost heap on the allotments.  I have sieved the compost several times and it is now a very fine, friable compost.  The only problem there will be with it is that it contains a lot of weed seeds.

The greenhouse needed a good watering because I have been away for two days and it had not been watered.

The Aintree runner bean, Cobra climbing French bean, the courgettes, some of the cucumbers, the maize, some of the squashes and the tomatoes have germinated fairly well and are growing on.  I will transplant these into 3 inch pots when they get big enough.

The third sowing of lettuce has come through.  I will transplant these into the small sectioned trays.  They will not go out in the allotment until about May time.

The second sowing of leeks looks quite healthy.  I will leave them in the pot until they get a little bigger.  I might even transplant these straight into the allotment.

The only seed that has not germinated now is the dwarf French beans.  I might get some straw for these because I hate dealing with mud splashed beans when it is very wet weather.

I have planted some walking stick cabbages to see how big I can grow them.  I am not sure where I am going to put them but they are a bit of fun.

The onions grown from seed and the first sowing of lettuce are ready to go out into the allotment now.  I must buy some beer for my beer traps.

The mange tout peas are growing well but they need to grow on for another couple of weeks before they can be put into the allotment.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

More thoughts on the Terra preta problem.

We need to think carefully about the value, or not, of digging compost and charcoal into the soil to make a deep Terra preta type soil. I do like to bury large amounts of carbon deep in the soil for several reason including drainage and prevention of leaching. The charcoal, however is always put into the top 6 inches of soil.  Moreover, this is usually an addition to planting holes especially the potatoes, peas, beans and sweet peas.

There is an alternative method which involves no digging and a raising of soil level by addition of compost and charcoal to the surface. One of the raised bed systems - although you could just raise the beds without the obligatory wooden edges if you wanted to.

These methods are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

While I have dug over parts of the allotment, I have not dug over other areas. In the no dig areas I have used home made compost and charcoal as a mulch. As the compost is a few years old, it just looks like good friable soil with a lot of carbon in it.

I can see there could be a conflict between the diggers and the non diggers where there does not need to be one.

Both methods are valuable depending on what you want to plant. I like to dig in lots of stable manure for my potatoes. The peas and French beans are just getting a 2-3 inch mulch of home made compost on top of the soil.

The root bed got home made compost dug in.

Maybe we should all be using mattock and have done with it

Monday, 11 April 2011

Allotments are just hard work

The soil temperature was a heady 19oC at 12 o'clock yesterday!  So I was less worried that I had planted the potatoes, however tonight there may be a frost.  Blooming English weather.

I was chatting to one of the allotment holders who is finding it difficult to keep their allotment clean of weeds.  She said that you see presenters on television pottering around making it look very easy.  However, taking on an allotment is a great deal of hard work.  Clearing it is a serious project that needs a lot of commitment.

This is what I am finding with the allotment too far.  It is indeed an allotment too far.  I will not clear it and be able to plant in it this year with all the horse tail (Equisetum arvensis)and bind weed (Calystegia sepium ) in it.  I am going to continue to clear it but it is difficult particularly as I have a full, clean, easy allotment to plant things in and keep weed free.  It is truly amazing how many of the old lags come down to the allotment too far and exclaim what a terrible mess it is in and then say, "It's not as bad as my allotment was when I took it over."  To all those that plan to come down to the allotment too far and say this - it does not help.

What I am thinking of doing is burying weed turfs in the trenches, covering with at least 2 foot of soil, covering the soil with a 2-3 inch layer of shredded branches then covering with black plastic for at least 6 months.  The black plastic would have to be laid very flat to keep out all the light and weighed down with the many bricks I have found on the allotment.  I walked around the allotment site yesterday and it is amazing the amount of black plastic on allotments that looks like it has dead bodies underneath it.  Lay it flat for goodness sake.

Why on Earth someone wants to put that much rubbish on their allotment I don't know.  There are about twenty window frames, two black Dalek bins, loads of rubble, two large builder's bags, loads of plastic of various sorts, a bath, bricks, corrugated iron sheets, rotten scaffold planks and so on.  The allotment committee are getting a skip for the weekend.  I think that I could fill it on my own.

One good thing is, there is a vast amount of nettle on the bottom end and I am going to harvest it to make liquid manure.  I will mix it with the comfrey and worm tea in my digester bins.  I have just put lots more tiger worms (Eisenia fetida) and red worms (Eisenia andrei)  into the worm bin to hasten the rotting down process.

I planted the Florence fennel in the greenhouse today.  I was going to plant it straight into the soil but changed my mind at the last minute mainly because it said to sow indoors on the packet.  I don't know why I didn't sow it indoors to start with because I had a lousy crop last time I grew it.  I think that it needs a bit of warmth to start it off.

I'm glad I was working today because it started raining and was showery all day.  It has certainly watered in my seeds and helped to keep the Nemaslug nematodes alive.  I looked carefully at the lettuce seedlings today and thought that I would put them out at the weekend.  Hopefully with the nematodes and beer traps I will not get any slugs eating them.  One of the things I have found very difficult to grow on the allotment is lettuce but now things will change - I hope.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Got Sunburnt Today!

Why is it that when someone lights a fire, the wind is blowing in a direction that carries all the smoke onto my allotment and into my lungs?

Why is it that those that put black plastic on their allotment never make sure that it is flat, there are heavy stones or slabs on it and and that it will not catch the wind?  How difficult is that?

How is it possible to spend a whole day on the allotment and only plant two rows of peas?

I think that I got tired today because I am very grumpy now.  At the allotment, I watered all the seed and seedlings that I planted yesterday so I am hoping that it will last them until the end of the week without any further intervention.

I went over with the hoe to make sure that I did not miss any weed seedlings.  I will have to continue to do this until after May when vegetables will be big enough to shade out weed seedlings.

I have made two changes to the plan - as usual.

I wanted to put a row of rocket in and decided to put it next to the Boltardy rather than wait until I had planted the Woden beetroot.  I will plant the Woden later in the month.  I was going to plant some of the onions but I really  ran out of time.  I am not really worried because they are not really big enough to put into the allotment soil.

I will put the courgettes under the climbing French beans.  Last year I put the cucumbers under the beans and they did fairly well.  Even though they were not the best they still produced more courgettes than I could eat.

There is a suggestion that I could put cloches over the strawberries to bring them along quicker.  I could put a cloche over some of them but I rather like having strawberries during Wimbledon week.

The gooseberry could do with a dose of washing soda or pee to prevent American mildew.  I am going to go with pee because it seems to be more organic...

I pruned the forsythias today and bagged up the clippings to take to the allotment for composting.  They will grow big new flowering stems now.

I need to sow the Florence fennel in seed compost tomorrow.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Beautifully warm day today.

I prepared the area where the lettuce are going to go by hoeing, three prong cultivating and raking.  Lots of little weed seedlings were germinating in the compost that I had spread over the top of the soil here.

I watered the whole area and then got the Nemaslug nematodes out of their box.  You are supposed to cut the white powder into quarters and add each quarter to two gallons of water. So that's what I did.  This was then watered over the hoed area.  I covered the area with the green tarpaulin to keep it damp underneath.

While I was doing this  I thought that I would reconstruct the old sundial and put it up on the strawberry bed.  It is really useful for telling the time.  I have not screwed the sundial down because I can move it about for British summer time then back again in the autumn.  Before putting it up though, I watered the area and added some of the nematodes under the plinth base.

The rhubarb is always covered in snails and slugs so I watered all the rhubarb and then dosed them with nematodes as well.

I still had some left over so I went up and down the sweet pea bed and the Onward peas, together  with the beetroot sowings.

I decided to plant the sweet peas that were left over in the area for climbing French beans.  They were just watered in with comfrey liquid.  I put up a couple of 1 inch mesh nets for them to climb up.  I will still  plant the French beans here as well.  It will just look a little more colourful.

The bees were really busy around the aubrietia now that they are flowering with some gusto.

I went round watering things.  I don't usually water like this but I wanted to feed some of the veg as well.  The three remaining winter cauliflowers all are forming flowering heads.  The one by the path is getting quite big.  I am watering and feeding them with some relish.

Believe it or not, I am still getting compost from the mega heap.  Mr Singh is also getting some and putting it on his poor soil.  He has also used it to make a pumpkin bed.  I took some today and brought it home to make potting compost.  I also put two barrow loads onto the potato bed.

Although I didn't really want to, I went down to an Allotment too far and skimmed off some more of the weeds.  I nearly filled my trench but not quite.  I will give it some more welly tomorrow.  Still too much mares tail and bind weed.  In places they are matted together. These are the two weeds that I would never bury because you can find them growing deep in the soil.  It is making it slow going removing all  these rhizomes when tripple digging.   Tired myself out so went to talk to Stellar.  She gave me her rent for the allotment so I must remember to give it to Mick in the morning.  She wants some of my blackcurrant cuttings so I will dig some up and plant them in a pot before giving them to her.  I might use some of the mega compost to give them a good start.  It is not really the time to be digging up blackcurrants but I will give them a good dousing with rain water and that will keep them alive.

I closed up the greenhouse windows when I got home.  It was quite warm today so I am glad that I opened the windows.  The Okra has germinated..  It germinated before the tomatoes did.  Remarkable.

I will have to plant out more of the Early Onward peas and the onion seedlings because they are getting quite big now.
That is for tomorrow though.  Now its time for a nice cup of tea.