Thursday, 31 March 2011

Time to start sowing seeds at the allotment.

These are two of the wild flowers flowering in my garden at the moment.
This is a dog violet (Viola riviniana)
The dog violet is growing in the path in front of my greenhouse.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
This is the hairy bittercress and I always call it wavy bittercress but, as I noted today, it is not very wavy.  Still at least I got the bittercress part right.
Everything is beginning to grow now and this means that I am going to put out a lot of vegetables grown in the greenhouse.  First I will put out all the sweet peas and the potatoes.  I will make sure that the soil is warm by taking the temperature with the soil thermometer.
After these go out I will plant some carrots and cover them with enviromesh netting to keep the carrot root fly off.  I will be planting several varieties including Early Nants and Flyaway.
I will sow the salsify, scorzonera, American landcress, swede and a few other things that I cannot remember at the moment.By the time I have done this and continued to dig over the new allotment I will have used up all my time and will want to come home.
I have used up all my seed compost now planting mange tout peas in sectioned trays.  I will endeavour to get some more seed compost tomorrow.
I also need; some more lime, some chicken manure, peat free grow bags and  some blue water pipe to hold up the nets.  I think a trip to the garden centre is warranted.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Range of seeds sown.

The onions and leeks are growing on well and forming strong seedlings.  I wanted a few more leeks than I had so I have sown some more.  The lettuce is growing on well but still a little too small for planting out yet.  I have sown some more lettuce, although it might be a little too soon after the first batch.
The calabrese, cabbage (Golden Acre), Brussel sprouts (Trafalgar and Topline) and the summer broccoli have all germinated and are growing on well.

A lot of the Early Onward peas have germinated now so they will be planted out soon.  The Totem Tomatoes are growing on well in their 3 inch pots.

Today, I have planted chives, radish, summer cauliflower (Chessiro), winter cauliflower (Walcheren Winter Pilgrim), Broccoli (Late Winter Mix) and cucumber (Burpless Tasty).

I will be planting the squashes, pumpkins, courgettes and cucumbers in the next week or so.  The climbing French beans, runners and dwarf French beans will also be put into sectioned trays.  Sweet corn needs to go in as well but I will not grow as much of this as I did last year.

Carrots will go straight into the ground at the allotment next to the parsnips.

I have just found that I did not buy any Okra, which is a bit of a bind.  I will have to see if I can get some from the local garden centres.

I will be buying some Nemaslug nematodes this week.  The soil temperature was about 15oC so this is warm enough for them to survive now.  I will only put them where I know slugs and snails congregate.  This will be especially around the rhubarb and the aubricia.  I will also use them where I am going to plant things like lettuce.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Allotment planning for 2011 amended version .

Although I keep on making small changes, I think that this is the final version of the allotment plan for this year.  The only thing that I will change is whether I have a follow on crop after taking the summer crop out.
This is the final plan for allotment 25(b)
The only change I have made to this plan is to move around where I put the different varieties of sweet pea.

Final plan for allotment 26(a)
Several changes here.  I am planting pumpkins as a follow on crop after the onions.  I will also put in some sweet corn here as well. I may reduce the number of leeks and put more onions in.  I will follow the garlic, which will come out around July time, with broad beans. Now that I have some Pink Fir Apple potatoes, I will put them in next to the Kestrel.  Also the Oca can go in here because it is lighter and warmer in this part of the allotment.  The Kestrel will be followed by a green manure and the Epicure will be followed by carrots.
Final plan for allotment 26(b)
The main change I have made in this plan is to move the root rows so that they are north to south.  I have tried to keep the carrots as far away from the hedge along the track way as I can.  It seems that carrot root fly rests and is protected by hedges.  I could have moved them further away but I wanted to get the parsnips in first.  I had forgotten to put beetroot into the previous plan altogether.  It is a classic vegetable that I could not imagine not growing.

I have been forcing the rhubarb under black bins and took a first crop yesterday.  I am coming to the end of the parsnips now.  I am really sure now that I only like parsnips in soup.  Roasted parsnips are all right but I prefer a soup especially with other vegetables.

All the fruit trees that I was given are growing.  This is remarkable because I moved them last summer and I thought I had done for them.  There are three heeled in by the side of the shed where the Jerusalem artichokes are.  I will have to sort them out next autumn.  Maybe these could go onto the new allotment.  There are two apple trees on the new allotment already but I think the previous tenant wants to take them off and replant them on the half he has now.  I think that he will kill them if he transplants them now particularly as they are quite large trees.

I am not even going to think about producing a plan for the new allotment.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

An Allotment too far?

The soil temperature was 15oC today.

 I'm not too sure whether this new allotment is an allotment too far.  I took out another two trenches and filled them with weeds and compost. There is a great deal of mare's tail in the soil and I have found the roots three spits down in the subsoil.  I am not going to try and get them all out.  This is a long term project.

One of the old blokes came over and asked what I was going to use the new allotment for.  That is a good question.  Really I produce far too much on my other allotment so why I need this I don't know.  It is a challenge and it will get me fit.  Or do me a mischief...

I will also probably use it to put fruit on.  I have a few blackcurrant cuttings that have rooted and they would do fine on this ground.  I have cleared quite a bit by slicing off weed turfs and putting them in the trench. I have covered these with some compost and then some shredded branches.

The problem is that this is taking up a lot of my time and I wanted to get on on my clean allotment.  After it got to about three o'clock, I decided enough was enough and went to plant the rest of the broad bean plants.  I have got two rows out of them and they should fruit in a couple of months so that I can take them out and plant the brassicas.

Now that the soil has warmed up - 15oC today, I have put in three rows of parsnips in the bottom bed.  Going on the surplus I had this year this will be plenty.  I watered them in with some comfrey liquid.  It was last years comfrey so I am not too sure how potent it is.  It will not do them any harm in any case.

The strawberries got a good weeding and they also had some comfrey liquid too.  I wanted to give the garlic and the winter cauliflowers some but I ran out of time.  Being very tired after digging deep trenches, I decided that I would go home and have a good cup of tea.

Next time, remember to take a flask of tea with you.

I took a cursory look in the greenhouse when I got home.  Most of the brassicas I sowed have come through which means that I will have to prick them out and that means that I will have to plant out all the sweet pea seedlings because otherwise I will not have room in the greenhouse.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Double digging - the first trench.

The soil temperature was 14oC today.  I think that it is safe to start to sow seeds now.

First trench 
 I took out the first trench putting the top soil and the subsoil in separate piles on the adjacent half of the allotment.  The skimmed off weeds are just in front of the the soil piles and I will be adding these to the trench next.

Split your allotment into two halves and work down one half then up the other half.  

 You can just about see the blueish string line that is showing where half the allotment is.  The shed is Barry's and not part of my allotment.  This part of the allotment is not too weedy probably because the soil is so poor.   There are an awful lot of mares tail though.  I was pulling the roots out of the third spit of the trench.
Trench forked over at the bottom.  

You can see the standard of the soil.  It is more builder's sand than soil.  I have removed two spits of soil and then forked over the bottom spit.  The idea is to add a lot of carbon in order to improve the drainage.  I  put two black current bushes in the bottom of the trench.  These were covered with the old brassicae plants and then I put the skimmed weeds on top of that.  I skimmed off quite a few of the weeds to the right of the picture and filled the trench with them.  I made the trench about 2 feet wide so that I had more room to do things.  This means that another two feet of top soil needs to be removed and put next to the piles on the other side of the allotment.  Now that I have skimmed off these weeds I will have a relatively clean space to put the soil.
The bad end of the allotment.  

  As you can see there are plenty of weeds.  The carpet will go.  The Allotment Committee is going to order a skip and we are only going to put carpets, glass and car tyres in it.  Why do people bring all this rubbish onto the allotment.

Will I get this done this year?  I don't know at the moment.  Regardless of anything else it will improve this area of the allotment site a little.  The bloke who has the one next to this is a good gardener so we will benefit each other if we can keep these allotments clean.

 There is still a lot more to do but I will take this very easily.

I planted out all the Blue Danube sweet peas using inoculated charcoal and rootgrow mychorrhizal fungi.

Mychorrhizal Fungi

They were watered in with rain water.  There is something eating my sweet pea seedlings.  It looks a bit like flea beetle damage.  I will monitor the plants carefully.

Next,  I took out the two blackcurrant bushes that I put into the double digging trench and replaced them with two cuttings with no big bud mite on them.

I began to make a space for the parsnips to be sown into by moving some of the broad beans onto  the brassicae bed.  I will eventually have two or three lines of broad beans.

I started digging the new allotment

I started double digging the new allotment yesterday.  I have only put in one trench at the moment.  It seems that the subsoil is builder's sand.  Not the best of soils to begin planting in.  
By all accounts the allotment is where a large pond used to be.  The council filled with hard core and sand when they developed the allotments in the 1940s.  That is why this ground is so water logged. 
I split the allotment into two by putting a line down the halfway mark.  Then I put a line across to show me where to dig the trench.  I skimmed off all the weeds and put them into a pile.  Next I started to put the topsoil from the trench onto the other half of the allotment in a neat pile trying to mix it as much as possible. There were potatoes in the soil but I will not deal with those until I put the soil back into the trench. The subsoil was also put onto the other half of the allotment alongside the topsoil but not mixed with it.
This is where I stopped because it was getting dark around half past six.  It will be much better when the clocks go forward at the weekend. 
In order to improve the drainage, I will put a layer of brushwood at the bottom of the trench first.  I have a large hedge at the bottom of the allotment and this could be tidied up really well if I use the prunings for the trench.  There is a large dog rose in the hedge which I would like to keep but it needs trimming back. 
On top of the brushwood, I am going to put the skimmed weeds, old brassicae plants and some of the rough stuff from Fred’s mega compost before I cover it with the next trench’s soil. 
I have eventually finished putting up all the sweet pea and runner bean canes.  I wanted to fit 20 canes in each row but there was only room for 18.  I placed them carefully every 9; the rows being 2 feet apart. I have six rows: five for sweet peas and one for runner beans.  
I am going to move the broad bean plants onto the brassicae bed to give me room to plant the parsnips.  I will not be planting out the brassicas before about May so the broad beans have plenty of time to produce some beans.  Even if they don’t they will have provided a little nitrogen for the cabbage and cauliflowers.  I am going to pick the beans when they are quite small because they seem to be sweeter then. 
The strawberry bed needs a tidy up as well so I will weed this area and give the strawberries a feed of comfrey liquid.  I will also give the cauliflowers and the blackcurrants some feed as well.  Some of the blackcurrants have got big bud mite and I will take them out and bury them in the trench on the new allotment.  I have replacements – last year’s cuttings to go in straight away.  I doubt if they will fruit this year but they will be good plants for next year. 
So those are my jobs for this week.   

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Pricking out the onions.

I have spent most of the morning pricking out onions into trays.

The greenhouse within the greenhouse

You can see the tray on the second shelf and my trusty orange dibber. I am taking them out of this tray and putting them into a sectioned tray.   The brassicas are on the top shelf in 3 inch pots.  My tomatoes are on this shelf too.  They really need to be pricked out into larger pots as well. There are three trays of peas under the onions.  I have just sown them so they will not be harmed by having the onion tray on them.   The spuds are chitting well and I will be putting these out in April.  These are pink fir apple and Kestrel.  If you look carefully you will see the Oca at the front of the small tray.

Sweet pea seedlings

These are the February sown sweet peas.  They look a darn site better than the autumn sown ones did a couple of months ago.  All these have been pinched out and a lot of  them have already started to grow their side shoots.  I will be planting these out as soon as I have put the canes up for them.  They are quite hardy and a few frosts will not hurt them.  Indeed, there are some that have germinated from last years seed in the soil on the allotment.  I am going to plant these feral sweet peas with the others and see what colours they are.
Range of different seeds and seedlings

More sweet peas at the back and then the onions that I had just
pricked out.  The leeks are in a 3 inch pot and will be pricked out tomorrow.  Then there are some cuttings but I have forgotten what of.  I think that these are all growing but I have lost a lot of them.  Web's Wonderful lettuce in the next tray are doing well. I haven't used the sectioned trays for these because they will transplant well even if their roots are disturbed a little.  Next come the pea trays.  I have 9 trays of peas so there will be three trays per row on the allotment.  This will be fine.

I will have to sweep the floor of the greenhouse.  I always get seed compost everywhere when I am planting seeds.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Seed sowing is well underway

I have spent most of today sowing seeds in the greenhouse.  I have planted about nine trays of Early Onward peas.  You might think that this is a time consuming way of planting peas, however I find that this is the only way to protect the peas from the very voracious pigeons that inhabit our allotment site.  They will leave the peas alone  when they have germinated and formed their roots.

Most of the brassicas I am going to grow this year have been sown.  These include Trafalgar and Foremost Brussel sprouts,  Golden Acre cabbage, Early sprouting broccoli and calabrese.  I have still to sow the late purple sprouting broccoli and the cauliflower - both winter and summer.

I still need to prick out the rest of the onions, the leeks and the tomatoes.  I will begin to do this tomorrow.

I took the parsnip seeds to the allotment with the intention of planting two rows.  Well needless to say, I did not plant them but they will not suffer if I wait a while until the soil warms up a little more.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Started sowing seeds

I pricked out the Bedfordshire Champion onions and the Webb's Wonderful lettuce.  I will do the Alisa Craig onions tomorrow. The Early Onward pea seeds were planted in those trays with little divisions.  These ones had 60 sections and I used three of them just for one packet of seed.  I am going to space the pea seedlings a little further apart on the allotment this year.  I think that I put them a little too close together usually.

I decided to plant the autumn sown sweet peas in the allotment.  I had already put up the canes for them so they were planted with a little mychorrhizal fungi and inoculated charcoal.  There was still some noticeable amounts of charcoal that I used for the onions last year lying on the surface of the soil.  I think that the frost makes stones rise to the surface and this is what happened to the charcoal.  I just collected it up and put it into the planting holes with the rest.

I got quite a few Oban Bay sweet peas to survive the winter and they made up the majority of these seedling.  Others were Anniversary, Charlie's Angels, White Supreme, Charlie's Angels and Dynasty. There were about 17 plants in all.  I watered them in with some comfrey liquid diluted with rain water.  I always seem to be taking home dirty pots and trays so this time I decided to wash them all in the water butt by the tap.  The water is not on yet but some people are planting and they have asked for it to be put on again.

I took the dead brassicae off the top bed and put them in plastic bags to bring home.  Then I thought that I might well put these at the bottom of the trench in the new allotment.  So I left them on one of the compost heaps.  The compost on this bed is a little rougher than the compost I put onto the onion bed.  I had not reached the bakers tray sieve in my excavations of the mega compost heap so none of this compost was sieved .  It needed digging in and now that the Brussel sprouts and the purple sprouting broccoli had been taken off there was a great deal more room for digging.  I dug and forked all the bed and then raked it to get rid of any stone.  There was some glass in the compost.  I just cannot get away from the stuff.

I have only once got seriously cut by broken glass on the allotment.  I got a glass splinter stuck down the side of my thumb nail.   I got it out but it could have been a lot more dangerous.  My allotment is regularly covered in cow and horse manure which contains a great number of potentially very dangerous bacteria like tetanus.  I do not want that injected into my thumb.  This is why I always take any glass shards, no matter how big they are, off the allotment.

 More sweet pea canes were put up before I came home.  The digging has taken its toll and I am very tired now.     

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Possible new allotment?

I was thinking of taking over this allotment. What do you think?

I really think that allotments should not be allowed to get into this kind of state.  It is just unfair to all the other gardeners around.  It's covered in nettles, brambles and bindweed.  I think that the mounds were compost heaps. Over the heap in the foreground there is a thick carpet - not very effective is it?  If I do take it over then I will take photographs as I clear the ground.

Thinking about this piece of ground; there is little chance of a no dig method being effective.  I am going to double dig and skim off weed turfs to bury in the lowest most trench.  With the amount of metal, I think that I will need a skip just for this allotment.  Luckily, I have not found any glass but that might change and I will be ultra careful in any case.

The allotment is far enough away from my own allotment that it does not affect me that much but maybe it would be worthwhile to put some soft fruit on.

It was really warm today and the allotment site was buzzing.  It is a shame that they do not keep that up all year. The soil has warmed up - I didn't remember to look at the soil thermometer today so I don't know exactly the temperature but it was warm to the hands.

I got three more barrow loads of sieved compost and put them onto the onion bed and levelled them off.  There is still a substantial amount left and I was thinking of sieving it and putting it on top of my compost heaps so that I could grow pumpkin or courgette on the compost like I did last year.  I will not be using this compost this year with all the compost I have from the mega compost.

I put up another row of canes for the sweet peas. I am putting them 9 inches apart.

Tomorrow I will start planting seeds in earnest starting with ordinary peas.  I might have to reorganise the greenhouse and put some more staging in along the other side so that I do not have to put the peas on the floor.  I cannot be sure that the field mouse has gone from the garden yet.  It did eat some of the stored potatoes but I have not seen it for several weeks now.  It really irritates me when I plant several trays of peas and the blooming thing then goes and eats them all.

Several people have planted their potatoes but I think that it is still a little early.  I have been caught before with severe late frosts.  I will wait until the end of the month or the first week in April.  The potatoes are chitting away really well in the greenhouse and this will give them a good start when I eventually plant them.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The decision is not to dig the compost in.

I still double dig but my allotment would be waterlogged if I didn't. It has two springs on it. The only way to divert the water is to raise the allotment and double dig, putting brushwood in the trenches. I also have two drainage pipes and 3 soak aways leading into a drainage pipe that goes alongside the allotment. 

I think that there is benefit in double digging when you first take over an allotment.  You can bury an awful lot of weeds if you do it properly.  This must be a better way of retaining nutrients than burning. 
 If you put your manure at the bottom of your second spit then it is less available to your vegetable plants.  The way that the Victorians did it was to double dig every year and put the manure in the top most trenches, so that the manure nutrients would be brought to the surface in the second year.

Whenever I can avoid digging then I will. Forking or hoeing the top of the soil seems to be as effective as digging with a spade.  If it is available then I will cover the soil with manure and allow the worms to mix it in over the winter.  You can also do the no dig method with compost heap compost or leaf mould. 

 If you are following the blog you will know that I am putting the mega compost heap compost on the top of two of my vegetable beds and I am thinking whether it is worthwhile digging it in.  When I am sieving the compost I am also on the lookout for earthworms.  The majority are in the roots and rhizomes of the weeds growing on the compost.  I get hundreds of worms and put them in the sieved compost.  I am hoping that they will do the job of mixing in the compost to the top six inches of the allotment soil. 

My soil is not compacted at all so it does not need loosening or air putting into it. There are no weeds on my allotment as you can see from the photographs but if there were it might be a reason for digging. 

I think that the no dig method makes your soil more friable than digging it.  There is some suggestion that digging destroys the micro organism soil community within the soil.  I have some sympathy with this because in dug soil there is little evidence of mychorrhizal fungi aiding plants to grow healthily.  While the numbers of invertebrates - millipedes, centipedes, spiders and beetles increases in undug soil.  

There is some suggestion that you should avoid digging because it brings weed seeds to the surface and you get a bloom of weeds just when you want to plant.  Well, I have gardened every which way and no matter what I do I get a flush of weed seeds germinating in April to May time.  You just cannot avoid it.  Every year I have to get down on my knees and hand weed between the rows.  Even with a thick mulch of manure or compost, I still have to do this - digging or not. 

I have a tarpaulin over some of the allotment soil and the worms have been having a field day underneath it.  The soil is particularly friable and will make a really good tilth for seeds to germinate in; particularly as it now has the compost spread over it.  So I don’t think that I will dig this area. 

I still say that you cannot avoid digging when you are cropping.  There is no way that I am going to believe that I have removed all the little potatoes until I have thoroughly dug over the potato bed.  They are a pest to get out when you have planted something like onions and they start growing between them.  

Monday, 14 March 2011

When is clean too clean?

I am in two minds about whether we should keep seed compost sterile or not.

Several people suggested that I use the mega compost heap compost to make up a mix to plant seeds into.  Well   the probability is that this mega compost heap has never heated up enough for seeds to be killed off.  So using it will mean that there will be a lot of weed seed germination.

As weed seeds would probably grow faster than the vegetable seeds,  competition and crowding out would mean that vegetable seed germination may be very disappointing.

We used to use a big steamer when I worked at the Glasshouse and Crops Research Institute.

We steamed the loam and mixed it with peat in the proportions that the scientists wanted.  It was mixed in a big pile by hand - I know cus I was there.  It is where I learnt my mixing techniques.  We also threw it through a massive shredder.  I had muscles the size of footballs when I eventually left that job.   I suppose if I had access to a good steamer to sterilise the compost heap compost then it could be a very good  seed compost or at least the main ingredient of one.

Using things like leaf mould is better because this is a little more sterile than compost heap compost.  Peat is sterile and that is why it is used in commercial seed composts.

It is important for the seed to germinate within a soil community so that it can build a good immune system.  Possibly this is more important to plants than it is to animals.

Now I still maintain that there is a need to keep all the pots and trays washed and clean.  The build up of diseases and pests in the remains of compost at the bottom of discarded pots could be the source of such things as damping off and mildew.  I would use a fairly insipid chemical like soap rather than the powerful petrochemicals that are made into fungicides.

There is a place for cleanliness especially in the greenhouse but that may not have to extend to the seed and potting compost.  As Percy Thrower used to say, a tidy clean garden is a good garden and I, in the face of such gardening excellence, would never presume to disagree.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Photographs of the mega compost heap.

Corner of the mega compost heap.

These are some pictures of the mega compost heap.  Mixed in are various assorted plastic bags and nets.

I had taken out most of the centre of the heap although there was a lot left.  I took another four barrow loads today and put them on the area where I am going to plant lettuce and Florence fennel.

Top of the compost cliff

However, once you have sieved out all the rubbish, the compost is ideal.

It is hardly believable that with a little sieving we can get  really good compost like this.

After getting more than enough compost - it is about 10 cm deep over the whole of this bed and the pea and bean bed - I wanted to think about whether I needed to fork the compost in.

While I had a think, I put up some more of the sweet pea canes.

They look neat don't they.  Probably the last time that will happen.
They are running north south so that both sides get some sun.  I haven't grown them north south since I first started to grow them seriously four years ago.  It means that the plants do not get the full blast of the sun at midday.  I think that sweet peas like cooler temperatures really.  This year I am only growing those sweet peas that are known as exhibition plants.

In the foreground you can see the stump of my old family plum tree.  It really should come out but I have planted so many bulbs around it that digging a big hole would disturb them.   I am just going to leave it until it gets in my way somehow.  The cyclamen are still flowering away but the species iris have gone over now.  A spectacular show, but over so quickly.

These are the climbing French bean poles.  I am using silver birch branches rather than canes.  I don't think that there is any difference at all but these are free while the canes are quite expensive.  The flowers on the bottom left are aubrietia, which have just started to flower today.  Now lots of people would say that making a triangular frame is not as good as making a vertical frame.  They keep telling me that the plants will get all tangled at the tops when both plants grow together.  Air will be excluded and disease will be encouraged.  I have never had disease at the tops of my beans or the sweet peas.  If you leave the top and not pinch out the leading stems when they reach the top of the poles then you will get a mass of growth at the top of the canes.  So I pinch out the stems that reach the top.  This encourages fruiting side shoots to grow and I get a heavier crop.
The sweet peas will not be left to over grow the top.  I will try to layer them down this year.  It was not very successful last year because the stems and leaves got a lot of mildew on them.  I think this is because I was growing them east to west and one side got a lot less sun.
The advantage of the triangular construction is that it is particularly strong and stable.  We have some high winds up on top of the hill, which knock down a lot of the bean rows.  A strong structure makes this less likely to happen.
The alternative method of putting canes up
Fiddling around making a cross piece for the main supports is not what I am good at. It is easier to wire one cane to the main supports and then lean the canes onto that.  Having said that, I do think that vertical canes are a bit better and give you healthier plants.

But that is how I do it. And it was the way my father and grandfather did it so I will be keeping with the traditions of my family...

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Compost in a barrow

Compost from the mega compost heap.
I know that I keep on going on about it but this is really good compost from the mega compost heap.  You can see the piles where I am putting it.  I put about 6 barrowloads on this area of the leek bed.  It probably does have a lot of weed seeds in it but that is a little problem compared with the nutrients, carbon and micro organisms that are added by compost like this.  There were lots of millipedes (Oops I really mean centipedes because they are carnivores)  in this barrow of compost.   I am hoping that they will eat any pests around this area.

As I was digging out the compost, I found several wire ties.  I have been buying wire for ties for years and now I have a big tub full of them.  I doubt very much if I will have to buy wire this year.  One saving at least.
An aim of mine, if you could say I had aims on the allotment, is to garden with as little cost as I possibly can and that is why I don't like watching gardening programmes on television.  They always tell you to buy the most expensive gardening things and never seem to suggest that there is any other way of gardening.

Now you might think that I have passed this compost through a sieve to get it as fine as this.  I have sieved the  compost because it had a lot of couch grass and bind weed rhizomes in it.  However, every time I use a sieve I get tendinitis in my shoulder.  So I hatched a cunning plan. Buried deep inside the mega compost heap was an old bakers tray like this one:

I leant the tray up against the cliff face of the compost heap and ran the compost down it.  The good stuff falls through the holes while the rough stuff is retained in the tray.  It filters really well as you can see in the photograph above.  I was going to take a photograph of the mega compost heap today but I found that I had forgotten to put the memory card back into the camera.  That meant that the camera would only take one picture and then said that  its memory was full.

I am going to fork the compost into the top 6 inches of soil so that the plants can take full advantage of it straight away.  I did the same with the ground under the taupalin.  I will keep the tarpalin on the ground until I have space to store it in the store shed.

I can still reach the parsnip clamp just by lifting a corner of the taupalin. There may be a good arguement for sowing parsnip seeds, although I will need to take the soil temperature.  I didn't remember to take the soil temperature even though I looked at the thermometer several times and said to myself you need to take the soil temperature. 

You can also see the cuttings I took last year of the blackcurrants and the gooseberriesn in the green pots.  I am not too sure where I am going plant the blackcurrants but the gooseberries have a dedicated area next to the comfrey bed. 

I started to put the canes up for the sweetpeas.  It then began to rain...

I spent a little time putting the tools away and locking the sheds.  Then I went down to the black bins covering the rhubarb.  It would seem that I am successfully forcing some of the stems.  This supposed to make the stems sweeter however I think that it just reduces the amount of oxalic acid in them and makes them more digestable.  Most people would tell you that the oxalic acid in rhubarb is confined to the leaves, yet a lesser amount is also found in the stems too.  You would have to eat an awful lot of rhubarb leaves to kill yourself and the little you will find in rhubarb stems could never harm you.  

Needless to say, I spent too long down at the allotment and got no sowing in the greenhouse done.  I did put the Oca in the greenhouse with the potatoes.  The Oca had started to sprout making me optimistic about whether they will grow in my allotment or not.
There is always tomorrow and I am always in a rush to start planting things.  If Scotland is to be considered, winter is certainly not over yet.

Gardeners's World still not very useful for experienced gardeners

Well, I watched Gardeners' World on BBC 2 last night and I cannot say that I was blown away by it.  There were spectacular winter gardens and those white birches were out of this world.  However, the amount of information about growing in a normal suburban garden or allotment was very limited.

I know it is a little early yet but there should be more reference to seed planting.

Monty Don talked a little about seed sowing and mentioned he was using his own mix of seed compost.  This is where I started to listen a little more closely particularly with the new thread of allotments uk website about whether sterilised compost is necessary or even desirable.  I must admit that I regularly mix seed and potting compost with mychorrhizal fungi.

Monty talked about using a mixture of leaf mould and loam and it would be really interesting if we could compare this with a commercial seed compost.  John Innes seed compost is a soil based compost but it is still sterilised.  I used to mix up John Innes composts when I worked at the Glasshouse and Crops Research Institute in Littlehampton. It would be interesting if they did a trial that we could watch over the weeks.  

I think that I am going to experiment more with my own mixes of seed compost.  I might not get the high germination rates of sterilised compost but maybe I will get healthier plants.

Friday, 11 March 2011


Soil temperature today was  7oC .

I decided to mow the back lawn today.  It was the first cut of the year.  Amazingly the mower started first time although I had left some petrol in it over the winter.  I will do the front lawn tomorrow.  I will also give the lawns a good feed for the spring.

After this, I went in and sorted out the green house.  It seems that I have already run out of space.  I need the sweet peas to be planted out as soon as possible.  For that to happen the canes will have to be put up on the allotment.  I will do that next week.   I have about 20 plants that survived through the winter and these will be the first ones to go out.

The February sown sweetpeas are still a little too small even to pinch out so they will be left in the green house for now.  I took them all out of the small plastic tower greenhouse at the back of my glass greenhouse and put them on the staging.  I left the tomatoes, leeks and lettuce in the plastic greenhouse together with the Kestrel and Pink Fir Apple potatoes.  The potatoes are chitting away well and they will be fine for another few weeks while the soil warms up a little.  I was thinking of putting the Oca out with the potatoes too.  I will do that tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will have to prick out the onions, lettuce and leeks into sectioned seed trays  and then I will definitely have no room left in the greenhouse.

I want to start my peas off in the green house too so I will have to squeeze these into the greenhouse somehow.   The main reason for starting the peas off in the greenhouse is because the pigeons seem to love to eat all the seed that   I plant in the allotment.  It also seems to give them a good start and I can put some mychorrhizal fungi in the planting trays.  I am not planting so many seeds this year because I am going to plant them a little further apart than last year.  I am hoping that they will produce more peas like this.  I will be putting inoculated charcoal in the planting holes again this year.

I was going to pick some Brussel sprouts today but they are still a little too small.  I will get some parsnips tomorrow.  They are really all that is left in the allotment at the moment.  I think that only four of the winter cauliflowers will produce anything this year.

I dug in the compost that I put on the onion bed and then moved the tarpaulin over the dug area.  I will put compost on the rest of this bed and dig it in.  I will have to get a photograph of that compost heap.

Something had eaten through the stem of one of my garlic plants which was a little annoying.  Now I have a gap in the row.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Waiting for the warmer weather.

Soil temperature today is   5oC .

Some times when you go down the allotment there is nobody there and you can get on with what you wanted to do and sometimes there are lots of people and you get to talking and get nothing done.

There wasn't much to do today anyway but I got some more compost and put it on the onion bed.  It was good stuff because I had sieved it.  I should have sieved all of it because it produced some fine compost.

I then took some 3 x 2 foot slabs down to Mac's allotment.  He is going to use them to curb his rhubarb bed.

I wanted to rake over the brassicae bed where I had been treading to get the Brussel sprouts. Some of the winter cauliflowers had definitely gone over so I took them out.  I am putting them into a plastic compost bag because I may feed them to the worm bin.  I don't put them onto the compost heap because they might have a bit of club root.  I also raked the onion bed to smooth out the compost.  I doubt that I will dig the compost in - although I might fork this area over a bit.  The poached egg plants are still in there and they could be dug in as a green manure.

I swept the paths because I dropped a lot of compost onto them when I was transporting it so they needed a little clearing up.  I use the old spade to scrape the path slabs and then sweep over with an old yard brush.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Pink Fir Apple potatoes.

Soil temperature today was  4oC I told you not to let that  9oC go to your head.  I think that the soil temperature will be up and down during all of March.  It is better to wait and plant in the greenhouse so that I don't loose any seeds.

There has been very poor germination from the Bedfordshire Champion onions.  I will prick out the ones that have germinated and plant them.  There are about four or five germinated out of the whole packet.  Still they were at least one year old.

I bought some pink fir apple potatoes from the allotment shop today and guess what they were JBA potatoes.
I wasn't going to grow these this year because I did not have room.  I will grow them instead of the Epicure. I put the pink fir apples in the greenhouse to chit in egg trays. It seems that JBA has sold out of pink fir apples now.

Picked some more of the Brussels sprouts and brought them home.  I will wash and peel those tomorrow because I got home too late today.

The seedlings in the greenhouse are all right although they need to be watered.  I don't really want to water them because it may make them rot off at the base.  I will water them on the first warmish day we have.  They will survive until then.
Virtually all the new sweet pea seeds have germinated.  I might buy all the sweet peas seeds from Simply Seeds next year.

I put some of the compost mountain onto the onion bed.  I might just spread it on the top because I have not dug this area since the potatoes were dug out.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Do potatoes need a concentrated NPK fertiliser?

I have to keep reminding myself of this:
N - Nitrogen: promotes the growth of leaves and vegetation
P - Phosphorous: promotes root growth
K - Potassium: promotes flower and fruit growth

I know that the biochemistry is much more complicated than this but this is good enough for me.

The Marshalls's potato fertiliser is N:P:K 15:21:24.5 which is massive and I don't know why potatoes would need so much potassium.

Whatever, I use comfrey for potatoes and this has a higher ratio of potassium, but nothing like the Marshalls's fertiliser.
Comfrey's percentage NPK is 0.74:0.24:1.19 nowhere near the Marshalls's fertiliser.

Relative to the amount of carbon dioxide and water that the plants need to produce sugars, the amounts of N:P:K that they require is tiny. I would question the necessity for such high ratios.

It is remarkable how the amounts of these elements in plants mimic the amounts in the soil. There is some evidence that excessive nitrogen in food is not a good thing.

I like to put quite a lot of animal manure on the potatoes and this year it was mixed in well with tree leaves.

Apart from this, I am sticking to home made compost, comfrey tea and nettle tea to fertilise my veg.

Have a look at what my potatoes are like now in May with only comfrey, horse manure and leaves added to the soil. 
Kestrel potatoes at the end of May

Kestrel potatoes in June