Thursday, 27 December 2012

Sowing Sweet Pea Seeds

Now, I  have seen in two books:  "Plant Propagation  for the Amateur Gardener" by John Wright and "Science and the Garden" edited by David  Ingram among others, that sweet pea seeds should either be chipped with a knife or sanded to make a hole  for water to enter the seed.  This they say will help to overcome seed dormancy.

Well  if you think that I am going to chip over 300 seeds then you are sadly mistaken.   I have been growing sweet peas since I was 16 and I have never chipped or sanded sweet pea seeds.  They are tiny little beggars in any case and I think that I would be chipping and sanding the ends of my fingers rather than the seeds.

Although I cannot remember every years germination rate, in most recent years I have had more or less 100% germination without chipping.

Having run  out of both pots and room  in the greenhouse, I have decided to wait before I sow the rest of the sweet pea seeds.  I  have until March to sow them.

I will choose a warmish day to plant out the shallots, broad beans and garlic that I have started in pots and cover them  with plastic cloches.  This will give me more than enough pots for the sweet peas.

This is the first time that I have run out of space in the greenhouse in December.

I will  have to make  room  for the giant leeks and onions when they need transplanting  into pots.  Also, I  will  need to transplant the big cabbage and cauliflowers.

I am hoping to grow  some big plants next season. 

Problem is that I can't get the digging done.  Will the rain ever stop?  I have still got over half the new allotment to dig over and put plants into.  I will try to get down there tomorrow.  I also need to get the veg from the old allotment.  I need some more carrots, onions, pumpkins (if they haven't gone rotten now) leeks and brussel sprouts.  I will  see if there  is any more kale or broccoli but there wasn't much last time I looked.  I will spend a little more time on these next season.

The kale and broccoli seed were given to me so I didn't bother too  much with them. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Cleaning more plant pots

After searching around in the shed I have found quite a few three inch pots.  There is probably enough for at least one more variety of sweet peas to be sown.  I spent the morning cleaning them out and putting some more staging in the greenhouse.

If I  am going to sow some more seed I  will have  to have the space to line them out in the greenhouse.  The staging is  falling apart and will need some woodwork to put it together again but at the moment I  am just going to cover it with some large compost bags and use the trays  to  support the pots.

I cleaned the pots with the hand  brush and a damp rag.  I thought that I had washed a lot more of the pots at the allotment  but I was cruelly mistaken and had quite a few to do.

They do  look  good when they are  carefully cleaned though; almost as good as new and a lot cheaper.  I have at least three hundred pots and have never bought one.  They have aways come with a plant, mostly tomatoes, planted in them.  I   only throw  them  away when they get very old and  decrepid.

 I have been given quite a few of them as well.  Still  haven't enough though.

As  some of them have been given to me,  there  is a chance that they may have diseases or pests in their residual soil.  Regardless, cleaning them  is always the best  policy and avoids bringing  nasty bugs into the greenhouse.

It is  remarkable  how  much growing  medium is left in the pots when you knock out plants.  I have almost half filled an  old bucket with this residual growing  medium.  The growing medium  is probably still  full  of added nutrients even after a year so it  will be added to  the compost bin.  Its all grist to the mill Tone.

Tomorrow  I  will sow some  more  sweet pea seeds in the morning.  It seems that I will be  going to the cinema to watch the new Hobbit film  in the  afternoon.  This might suggest that I  would  rather be sowing seeds rather than sampling the visual interpretation of Tolkien's magnum opus and you might be right.  It is just the  though of his  little  book being  stretched out into three films.  What do they think they were doing?


Monday, 24 December 2012

Sowing more sweet pea seeds

I sowed the Charlie's Angels and Cirrus sweet peas today.  Not sure about Cirrus because I haven't grown it before.  I like the Charlie's Angels blue which is a little darker than Oban Bay. 

I have  several other sweet pea seeds that I haven't grown before but I am going to give them all a go.  I was thinking of putting all the blues: Bristol, Charlies  Angel, Blue Danube and possibly Karen Louise on  the old allotment and the others on the new allotment.

I have found quite a few three inch pots after scrabbling about in the shed trying to put some order into my pots and seed tray box.  While I  don't think that I will have enough pots for all the sweet pea seeds, I will sow until I run out of pots and then leave the other seeds until I plant  out some of the others.  This way I will get a succession of flowers.

The temperature in the greenhouse was a balmy 12 degrees Celsius.  This is quite good for December in UK.  If this continues over the week, I might get some seed germination.  If I do, I will not have any pots to transplant them into.  The garlic and shallots will have to be planted out on the old allotment and that could be a problem particularly as the ground is so water logged. 

The green manure where the onion bed will be this year is growing particularly big and could be dug in now.   I might dig in a little just to see if it is possible or whether the ground is too wet.

This time last year I was hoping for some rain.  This year I am hoping for  some dry weather.

I couldn't get down to the new allotment to continue digging due to the rain but in the drier periods I cut the hedge back and filled another bag with the cuttings.  There is still quite a way to go before it is finished so  I will have a lot of brushwood to add to the tripple digging trenches.

I really need to crack on with the digging because I  have quite a few plants that should  be planted  now.
An apple tree, autumn raspberries, bay trees, rhubarb,  strawberries etc.   

If it stops raining even  for  a little while I  will make  sure  that this  is my priority.  Really, if I  wasn't sieving both the top and the subsoil,  adding manure,  I  would have finished it by now. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Planting the Raspberry canes.

As raspberry canes can suffer from replant disease, I decided to take a trench out and replace the soil that I was going to plant the  raspberries in.  They are in the ideal position at the moment so I  didn't want to move the row. 

Probably due to the replant disease, the raspberries in this part of the row were not doing very well and a lot smaller than the others in the other half of the row. 

I took out a trench about 2 feet wide and two spits deep. 

It has been raining for quite a while now and the trench soon filled with water.  I just back filled with soil from another part of the allotment.  This soil was dry enough for the raspberries to be planted into so I set out the twelve plants and tied them to the wire supports.  The roots were dusted with mychorrhizal fungi and more new soil was put into the trench until the raspberry roots were covered. 

I don't  reckon they will need watering at the moment. 

So I have planted the new raspberries and I will look forward to picking them next year.  Raspberries rarely go home. 

Got all the vegetables for Christmas.  These included carrots, parsnips, hamburg parsley, beetroot, kale, broccoli,  brussel sprouts, cabbage, leeks, onions and pumpkin.  We will also have shallots, garlic and potatoes from the store shed and beans and peas from the freezer. 

Not bad for a very poor, wet, dark year. 

I sowed the Jilly and Blue Danube sweet peas into three inch pots.  Needless to say that I am quickly running out of these pots and labels.  I am sure that I can scrabble around for some more somewhere.

I cut back the hedge in the back garden a little more and bagged up the cuttings.  They have been taken down to the new allotment to be put at the bottom of the tripple digging trench.  I still have quite a bit more to take off the hedge but it seems a lot easier if you do it in small stages.  I will take some more off tomorrow.  I will also sow some more sweet peas - as long as I can find some pots to put them into. 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Sowing Sweet Pea Seeds

The  sweet pea seeds came too late to plant in October and really sowing them in  autumn would give quite early flowers.  Planting in March will give later flowers but not really by much.   So how about sowing them in December? 

Having all  the sweet pea seeds handy in the greenhouse  was far  too much of a temptation so I have spent a couple of hours today sowing the Bristol and Eclipse seeds.  I am planting them in 3 inch  pots with New Horizon's peat free growing medium; one seed per pot.  Whether they will survive well  until the spring is debatable but worth a go.  I sowed 25 Bristol and 29 Eclipse seeds which will give me a lot more than I will need.  King's seeds seem to be very generous with the number of seeds in a packet.  They have been put into the plastic greenhouse inside my glass greenhouse to give them  a little more protection and warmth. There is no heat in the greenhouse at the moment but it does seem to stay about ten degrees during the day in the plastic  green house.

In order to keep all the same colours together in the rows when the sweet peas are planted out, I have labelled them very carefully.  I hate it when I mix up the varieties.  Writing  out the labels is  a very time consuming task  but it is worth it. 

I washed all my labels earlier  in December and put them all together in a net bag.  I have been collecting old  labels from where ever I find them.  I have about ten from the new allotment.  Carefully washing them to remove the old writing means that I have quite a few this year.  From  the  number I used today, I think  that I will still run  out before the summer.   I will wash and recycle them  but I am not confident that I  will not have to buy some more before the spring is out.

I planted some of my own broad  bean seed  in  November and they have  germinated fairly well.  I have transplanted  them  into 3 inch pots and they seem to be doing  quite well.  I am  hoping that they will grow quite big and be ready for the allotment  competition  in the first week of July.  However, just in case,  I  have sown some more exhibition ones to make sure I have a presentable row. 

I took a load of hardwood cuttings in  the autumn and  they all seem to be coming very well.  They are all fairly simple  to  strike:  Forcythia x intermedia, Ribes sanguineum, Spirea japonica and Spirea prunifolia and they will either be put into my daughter's garden or on the new allotment. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Using brushwood

It has long been known that adding lots of carbon to the soil will deplete it of nitrogen.  What people forget is that adding lots of nitrogen will deplete the carbon.  Adding air will deplete both.

I have been cutting back the hedge in the back garden, which has become quite overgrown.  This is producing a lot of woody material.  The hedge on the new allotment needed cutting back too.  This has given me a lot of brushwood.

The hedge in the back garden is mostly cherry laurel Prunus laurcerasus  and the hedge on the new allotment is hawthorn  Crataegus monogyna and these plants have deep roots that penetrate well into the soil bringing up nutrients and incorporating them into their structure.

To burn or bin this rich source of nutrient is unnecessary when they can be buried in a trench to rot down over the year.  Burying them deeply means that they do not interfere with the top soil and cultivation can continue without being  interrupted by meeting brushwood while digging or forking over.

So the brushwood is being bagged up and taken down to the allotment to add to the tripple digging trenches.  This will help with the drainage, raise the soil and possibly heat up the soil a little while the brushwood decomposes.  

200 new bamboo canes came yesterday and these will probably be used for the sweet peas.  The scaffold  netting 2m x 50m came today.  I have been given some blue water pipe and these will be used as supports for the scaffold netting. Either this will be put over the brassicas or cover the onions. 

Even though the allotments are run on completely organic principles, there is still a need to protect crops from disease and pests.  The only way open now is to use barriors and the most effective one I have found is using scaffold debris netting.  This will let a lot of light through while preventing all but the tiniest pest from getting to the crops.

Debris netting  is a little unsightly so  I  am endevouring to use them only when the adult pests are laying eggs.  There are some pests such as the cabbage white which seems to be laying eggs for most of the summer and this encourages me to leave the nets on all summer.

I would rather not have to have  the barriors up all summer because I want the allotment to look good as well as produce lots of food. It also means that weeding is that much more difficult.  I like to bury the edges of the netting in the soil to anchor it and prevent the pests from finding a gap to get in.  This means  that every time  I weed I have to rebury the edges again.  A little time consuming.

The best pest protection is the gardener's shadow.  I will go over the brassica  plants carefully removing any pests that I find.

I sowed some cabbage,  cauliflower and broad beans today.  Probably far too early but I have plenty of seed so I thought I would give it a go.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Seed planting

Although the temperatures have been below freezing for about a week, the weather has warmed a little.  I needed to begin the seed sowing for next year.  I already have some Bedfordshire Champion onions on the go and am slowly pricking them out into three inch pots.  This is really an experiment using old seed. 

The onions germinated relatively well and I am going to see if I can grow some big ones.  I got a few large onions last year even with the wet weather.  The darm dismal weather made growing quite difficult. 

As the new seed has been delivered, I decided to begin sowing.  I have sown the Mammoth onions and the pot leeks.  I will be needing some more seed compost soon.  I will be sowing more leeks today. 

I may well so the Sweet Peas today as well but only if I have time.  Really they should be left now until early spring. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Getting rid of the hedge bindweed.

Hedge bind weed is a particularly pernicious weed which can spread great distances with very tenacious stolons,  rhizomes and almost any other part of the plant that it sees fit to use.  I have decided that if I ever have to teach plant propagation, I will use this plant to demonstrate that you can use absolutely any part of it to generate new clone plants.  This is why I am spending so much time removing it from the new allotment. Even tiny pieces of rhizome can regenerate to make a new plant. A lot of the allotment is clear of it but you cannot be certain so I am sieving all of the soil to at least two spits down.  The rhizomes are white and cylindrical and the growing ends can have a purple tinge.  The stems can be stoleniferous making new roots when they touch the ground.
Calystegia sepium rhizomes  
With all the dead tops and rhizomy stolons from the hedge bindweed over the top of the soil it does not look very tidy.  However, it looks much more presentable when it has been dug over.

The only way that I can ensure that all of the rhizomes are removed from the soil is to sieve soil through the bread tray sieve.

Calystegia sepium rhizomes  being sieved out of the top soil.
I must admit that the rhizomes are growing in the top 30 cm of soil and I am finding very few lower than this. I was skeptical when others said this would be so but it does seem to be true.  However, I cannot be sure so I am going down two spits and checking.  When rhizomes have been buried up to 60 cm deep, some have regenerated.  The rhizomes seem to throw  up weakened plants that are easily hoed out but the fact that they do regenerate from this depth and there is a need for constant vigilance means that I am very reluctant to bury the rhizomes without being sure that they are thoroughly dried out. Too much nutrient locked up in these rhizomes for them to be thrown away so I am carefully drying them out ready to bury in the trench. 
Calystegia sepium rhizomes can be seen in the clod of soil.
Once the soil is sieved, it produces this lovely loamy mix.  I am not stupid enough to believe that I have removed all the bindweed but I have taken out a substantial amount and the soil is much cleaner now.  As you can see I have an elaborate method of sieving using four tubs and two planks to raise the bread tray sieve off the ground.  Even with the large holes in the sieve, the sieved soil breaks down and becomes very friable and easy to work.

There is a plum tree in the background -  you can just see the trunk.  I am trying some forest gardening with this tree creating a glade using comfrey, gooseberry and blackberry plants.  They are forming concentric semi circles around the tree.  The comfrey is on the inside and the fruit bushes are around the drip line of the plum.
It means that the ground under the plum tree is used for planting even though it is shady.  The comfrey can be cut in situ and left on the ground as a mulch for the plum and the fruit bushes.  I have planted both the comfrey and the gooseberries with mychorrhizal fungi. When this trench is filled again I will be planting the blackcurrant cuttings.
Calystegia sepium rhizomes
This is what I have sieved out at the moment but there is a great deal more in the soil.  I am drying these out on some old carpet I found on the new allotment.  Eventually I hope to bury these in one of the triple digging trenches.  I will have to make sure that they have dried completely otherwise, as I have already said,  they will spring to life again and grow even at a triple dug depth.  They are packed with plant nutrient so I am loth to bag it up and dispose of it elsewhere.  Burning it means that some of  the nutrients go into the air as gaseous oxides and are blown away onto someone else's garden.  I would rather keep the nutrients on the allotment even though burying these rhizomes may cause them to spring back into life.  I have read that they need to be dried for two days before burying but these have been drying for a week or more and they still seem to be full of life.  I will not bury them until I am sure they are dry and that might take some time with the very wet weather we have been having.  The cold damp autumn has meant that the ground - and everything else - is thoroughly saturated with water.

The only things that I want to remove from the allotment are the vegetables that I am going to eat.  Even the peelings are brought back and put onto the compost heap to be dug back into the soil.  In this way nutrients are locked into the cycle of vegetable, compost heap and soil.  Very little nutrient is lost and that which is can easily be replaced using imported animal manures, leaves, wood chip, comfrey, green manure and shreddings.

Aporrectodea rosea
This is an irritating worm because I keep mistaking it for bindweed rhizomes.  It seems to be a very light form of Aporrectidea rosea because the pictures that I have seen give it a much more redder hue.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Seed order has arrived.

All the seeds that I ordered in October have come now.  I have sorted through them and put them into groups according to the rotation beds.

I did order some garlic and shallots (I didn't think that I had)  so I have quite a few of those to put in.  Ed gave me quite a few and I bought some because I thought that I had not ordered any.  The ones that I have left over will be planted on the new allotment.  As most of the old allotment is covered in tares and grazing rye green manure, I don't really have the room to put the garlic in so I have potted them up in some of the old potting compost.   The elephant garlic that Mick gave me together with the large ones I got from Ed are making some good root growth but not produced any tops as yet. Some of the small garlic have produced both tops and roots.  The potted garlic will be planted out on the old allotment but I am not sure when.  I will put them outside preferably in the cold frame until there is some space to put them in.

The new allotment has quite a few plants in pots ready to be planted.  There are about ten small bay trees, eight asparagus plants; a rhubarb plant; a vine that Ed gave me; two apple trees that were really cheap at the garden center; and several herbs.  I will  plant these over the winter putting some mychorrhizal fungi in the planting holes each time one is dug.  There is room now but I am not sure where to plant things at the moment and it would irritate me no end if  I planted one of the perennials only for it to have to be moved later in the year.  I will  probably use the asparagus to divide two of the beds and I could use the bay trees to do the same.

I might sow some of the giant cabbage, leeks and mammoth onions.  I doubt that I will get really big ones but I would like to try.  The sweet peas should have been sown during October and it is a bit late to start planting now.  I will leave the sweet peas until the early spring now.  They will flower a little later but I am happy with that.

The new summer fruiting raspberry canes have arrived too and I have put these in a large pot and covered the roots with the old potting compost to keep them  damp until I have the time to plant. The autumn fruiting raspberries will be taken out and put onto the new allotment.  They do not grow too big - about one and a half metres - so will not need any supports constructed.  I will put these at the north end of the allotment along the pathway.

The summer fruiting raspberries will be planted where the autumn fruiting ones have been taken out of the old allotment.  There is some suggestion that this is not a good strategy and new plants will not do very well.  This seems to be a similar thing to rose sickness.  I think that I will replace the soil with new from another area of the allotment and use mychorrhizal fungi to help to ameliorate the sickness.  I will also use some sequestrene in order to add some micro-nutrients.

Digging over the new allotment is coming along quite well.  I am bastard trenching  the whole allotment sieving the soil through my trusty bread tray while I  am doing it.

There are three different types of digging.  Single digging, double digging and bastard digging.  Single digging is more than adequate in most situations but sometimes a more serious technique needs to be used.

  • Single digging is where the soil is turned over usually with a spade to one spit deep incorporating well rotted organic matter.  Annual weeds and green manure can be turned in as well.  When done well the surface weeds can be cut off with the spade and put at the bottom of the trench.   
  • Double digging is where the top soil is taken out and a trench one spit deep is made.  The bottom of the trench is forked over, with added organic matter,  one spit deep but the soil is not taken out.  I usually add skimmed off annual weed turfs to the bottom of the trench.  This is why I call it skim digging.  If the ground adjacent to the trench has been skimmed then the ground is clear when you are digging.  A wider area of ground can be skimmed and put into the trench so that the surface weeds do not need to be cut off with the spade and get in the way when you are trying to fork the bottom of the trench.  Perennial weeds would probably be able to grow at this depth so it is best to remove them.  
  • Bastard trenching is a bastard to do.  Now you can do this by continuous trenching, working, backwards, but I find that this creates a vast hole and is quite hard to control. So I remove the top soil of the trench to a depth of one spit, sieving it and adding well rotted organic matter.  That goes on the dug side of the trench.  Next I remove one spit of subsoil and put that on the undug side of the trench on ground that has been skimmed of weeds.  The bottom of the trench is forked over to one spit depth but the soil is not removed.  This will mean that the soil is dug three spits deep.  I then search around for any organic matter I can lay my hands on.  Rotting wood, shreddings, hedge trimmings, perennial weeds (except for bindweed and horse tail), prunings, leaves, grass mowings, in fact anything that was once living can go at the bottom of the trench.  Today I was using perennial weeds from the track way covered with  shredded hedge clippings.  The subsoil is sieved back into the trench with well rotted organic matter being added at the same time.  The top soil is then replaced and, just to make sure, this is sieved back into the trench too.  

You don't have to triple dig.  For many people single digging is too much and they can garden just as well using mulches and the minimum of forking over. Triple digging is not necessary for most allotments and gardens but I have several reasons why I am doing this now.

  1. I like digging holes.  One of the reasons why I like gardening is for the exercise and fresh air that it gives me.  
  2. I am triple digging a new allotment and this will give me a good idea of  the top soil and the subsoil  structure and texture.  Luckily, at the moment there is no indication of hard pan or consolidated soil except where the pathways went.  
  3. The new allotment has a lot of organic debris that can be buried such as old compost heaps that are more weeds than compost; overgrown hedge branches that need to be cut back, rotting wood, perennial  weeds, tree branches and trunks.  All these can and are being put at the bottom of a bastard trench.  
  4. I am also putting hedge and tree shreddings into the trench.  I have a large pile of shreddings and it is steaming away during these cold months.  This is an indication that it is producing heat from micro organisms breaking down the organic matter into plant nutrients.  Putting a good layer of shreddings at the bottom of the trench will produce heat, albeit not as well as when it is heaped on the topsoil, and this will keep the soil warm for planting next spring.  Or that's the theory anyway.  
  5. I will have a large sponge of organic matter that will regulate the drainage over the allotment allowing water to run away when in excess but retaining water during drought times. 
  6. The allotment is infested with both Calystegia sepium (bind weed)  and Equisetum arvense mares tail and triple digging will help to remove them at least from the top 60 cm of soil.  This is another reason for sieving the soil.  
I still have a lot to do and triple digging is not a speedy way to clear a weed infested allotment, however it is a fairly effective method of removing pernicious weeds.  I am not foolish enough to expect the soil to be clear of all the bind weed and mare's tail but I will certainly have given it a bang on the head.  I am an advocate of slow gardening and would rather have a good well mixed homogeneous  top soil that has taken some time to produce than a quick fix heterogeneous top soil with layers that are more or less fertile.  

Digging the allotment in this way will take me most of the winter and possibly beyond, however there is no point in complaining.  I might as well just get on with it.  It will be finished when it is finished.  

Friday, 2 November 2012

Seed for 2013 and October photographs

Late October and the leaves are beginning to turn.

I keep loosing this list so I will write it here so that I know where it is:

Wodan Beetroot *

Perpetual Spinach

Rainbow Chard

Curly Kale*

Broad bean*

Broccoli Red Arrow*

Brussel Sprout Trafalgar*

Cabbage Bruswick*

Cabbage Stonehead*

Red Cabbage Red Drumhead*

Calabrese Green Magic

Cauliflower All the year round*

Carrot Flyaway *

Carrot Sweet Candle*

Carrot Autumn King*

Celeriac Asterix

Celery Victoria*

Cauliflower Aalsmeer*


Courgette Jermore*

Cucumber Crystal Lemon*

Cucumber Bedfordshire Prize*

Florence Fennel Rondo

Florence Fennel Romanesco

Good King Henry

Garlic Wight

Kohn Rabi Purple Delicacy

Leek Mammoth Blanch*

Leek Pot *

Leek Blue Solaise*

Lettuce Web's Wonderful*

Onion Mammoth Improved*

Onion Armstrong*

Onion Santero*

Parsnip White King*

Pea Douce Provence*

Pea Early Onward*

Pea Progress No9*

Pea Lincoln*

Pea Onward*

Asparagus Pea

Runner Bean Liberty*

Squash Metro*

Pumpkin Kills Atlantic Giant*

Sweede Tweed*

Sweetcorn Early Extra Sweet

Shallot - my own*

French Climbing Bean "Trail of Tears"*

The ones with large asterisk will give 12 points and the ones with small asterisk will give me 8 points.
The early potatoes this year will be
I am only going to grow Latah tomato this year.
I will be planting several of the saved seed including Cobra French Bean, Broad Bean, Telegraph Pea, Runner Bean and Trail of Tears climbing French Bean. I would have liked to collect and keep a lot more seeds but I haven't had the time this year.
Potatoes for this year will be;




Red Duke of York


Arron Pilot

And the second early will be:


I have finished off sowing green manure.  Experience shows that planting it this late in the year does not really give it time to thicken up very well.  I will probably not plant any more now until the Spring. I have used quite a bit of pigeon manure this year because it was free and left by my allotment.  Having said that I have been careful to use it sparingly digging it in now to allow time for it to decompose a lot more before the spring.  It does produce quite a bit of ammonia and this could burn the roots of plants.  However, it does not seem to have done my green manures any harm.  Maybe this is due to the care I took not to put too concentrated amounts in any area.
I have quite a lot of well rotted compost now but I am not too sure where I am going to use it yet.  There is a rat in this compost heap and I want to make sure that it does not stay there during the winter.  I keeps on throwing out the compost when it digs its burrows and the compost is being banked up against the shed.  This might make the shed rot.
The comfrey bed is not very tidy at the moment because I have been taking the pigeon muck and the compost out and trampling over the plants.  All of the pigeon manure has been dug in now.  The remnants have been put along the rhubarb plants.  I am going to give the rhubarb some of the well rotted manure next.
These comfrey leaves will be taken off now and put into one of the big water butts to rot down together with the nettle tops.  I will probably keep this until next year and use it to water in the seeds and seedlings for next season.  Some of the comfrey bed is covered in horse manure which is mostly wood shavings.  I will spread this out a little better when I deal with this area a bit more systematically.
The green manure on the new onion bed has really grown thickly covering the soil and blocking out light to weed seedlings.  The rye grass and tares were sown directly the potatoes were taken out and have had plenty of time to grow large.  I am hoping that the later sowings of green manure will fare so well.  It is producing lots of carbon and nitrogen to dig in next spring. All this will be dug in just before Alliums are planted next year.  As I have planted all this green manure, I have not got any room for my garlic so I have started them off in pots in the greenhouse.  I have the room because I am sowing sweet peas in early spring this year.  I usually sow sweet peas in autumn but I have not even got the seed yet.

The worm bin is still on the go.  I have virtually filled it with dock and bindweed roots.  Hopefully the worms will devour them with relish, however if they don't then bacteria and fungi will do an equally good job.
If you look carefully you can just see the green manure beginning to germinate.  This area will probably be used for broad beans next year.
I dug in some pigeon manure and I am hoping not to have to put much more onto this bed because the green manure should add enough nutrient for broad beans.  I am hoping that the green manure will take up nitrogen from the pigeon muck but at the very least it should prevent nitrogen from the pigeon manure from leaching away during the winter.  

This is where next year's runner beans and a few rows of sweet peas will be put next year.  I like to grow the green manure in lines so that I can weed between the rows.  They close over and form an impenetrable canopy eventually.  I have got two plants of oca in here somewhere and they will have to be taken out soon. They did not flower this year but I still hope there will be some tubers.  I will not eat any of them though because I am trying to build up a stock.  Last year I lost a great deal because I did not store them properly.  This year I am going to put them into paper bags and keep them in a frost free shed.  
 Some of the leeks are quite big but others are a little ropy.  You cannot tell when they are in soup or stew.  They will be used over the winter.  

This will be where the new summer cauliflowers will go.  This soil has had the sweet pea tops dug in and compost and pigeon manure added.  The green manure will protect the soil until next spring.  Hopefully it will grow much bigger and form a canopy.

The rest of the new brassicae bed which will be limed fairly soon.  I did get some club root this year and I would like to avoid it for next.  The cauliflowers and cabbage seem to be particularly susceptible but the brussels, calabrese, winter cauliflowers, kale and broccoli seem to be more resistant to it.
 These are the old runner bean plants ready to be dug in and which has now been done.  Guess what, I planted green manure here as well.  You can't have enough of a good thing.
Winter cauliflowers in the background with the remnants of the cabbages.  I have sown rocket and lambs lettuce here but they do not seem to be germinating very well.  It might be because this area of the allotment is a little shady.
A rather atmospheric photograph of the Trafalgar Brussel sprouts.  In other words the low Sun is making a mess of the photograph.
The strawberry bed looks a little untidy at the moment even though I have  hoed through it and raked it.  I dug in quite a lot of comfrey leaves and, when these decompose, the soil level drops unevenly and leads to undulating soil.  It might not be very aesthetic but why worry if they produce lots of strawberries.
The blackcurrants have been mulched with pigeon manure and horse manure.  The horse manure does not have very much body in it so I fortified it with the pigeon manure.  Blackcurrants are very hungry plants and withdraw lots of nutrients from the soil so I like to mulch them really well in the winter.  They are loosing their leaves now and I will keep an eye out for any sign of big bud.  I tend to cut out any branches that show signs of this mite.
This is the new roots and leaves bed.  In the background are the climbing French beans "Trail of Tears".  They have been taken down from their supports and the supports put down by the store shed.  The beans were dug into the soil here and green manure sown.  The carrots will be planted where the beans were next year.
This is the new potato bed.  It looks very untidy in the picture but I have just finished digging it over adding pigeon manure and sowing green manure.  The carrots, parsnips, beetroot, Hamburg parsley, salsify and scorzonera will be harvested during the winter so they were left.  They will help to cover the soil and keep the rain from washing away too many nutrients.  The asparagus pea, which I have now dug in, has been quite successful and would be a good candidate for sowing after the potatoes or onions have come out.  You have to be careful only to harvest the very young pods because they get very tough and inedible when they get a little mature.  Believe me cus I was there.

So the allotment has been put to bed for the winter.  The only things now that I need to do are to empty the compost bins and to construct new ones opposite the store shed with new fence panels I have acquired.   After I have done this I can take off all the comfrey leaves and then dig over the comfrey bed.

Then all I will do is harvest the leeks and the roots and use up the stored pumpkins, potatoes, onions, squashes and marrows.

Not bad for a poor year.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

My Daughter’s Blog

A Flower Garden
I have been challenged by my daughter to create a garden that is in bloom all year round. She would like vibrant colour, different textures and a space she can use for entertaining all year round.
I was given a blank canvas.
To see the progress of this garden, click on my daughter’s blog.

It looks a lot different now.  I have sieved all the soil and planted quite a few plants.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Allotment photographs for September 2012

It is always a little sad when this years vegetables have been harvested and the ground is empty.  Even looking forward to next season is no consolation.  However, there are still seeds to sow and seedlings to plant but these will not take up such large areas of the allotment.

 This is why planting a crop of green manure is ideal.  Green manure will cover the ground during the winter protecting it from heavy rain and preventing excessive leaching.  The grazing rye has particularly fibrous root clumps, while tares have root nodules containing nitrogen fixing bacteria. When the tares are dug in they will add extra nitrogen to the soil.  The green manure will take up nutrients from the soil and sequester them in their tissues during the winter and prevent them from being lost from the soil.  It will eventually form a canopy over the soil preventing light getting to weed seedlings.   Hopefully, this will prevent germination or, if germination does occur, the weed seedlings growing.  Finally, green manures  rot down relatively quickly when they are dug in releasing nutrients into the soil for the new crop.

Winter tares and grazing rye green manure mix.
I got a winter green manure mix of grazing rye and winter tares to cover areas of the allotment that would not have vegetables growing on them until next spring.

As the ground would not be cultivated for a while, I took the precaution of careful single digging with consolidation and raking to make a good seed bed.  I also added pigeon manure at the same rate I would with chicken manure.  Although I was very careful to bury all the old strawberry plants, several stems and leaves were dragged to the surface when I was raking.  They will not hurt the seedbed and will decompose during the winter. Having said this,  Strawberry stems and roots take quite a while to decompose.  I am still finding them where I have dug in strawberries before three years ago.

After digging over I shuffled over the area consolidating the ground.  This helped to break down the lumps of soil and enabled me to get a good tilth.  The RHS advice is generally to sow green manures broadcast and their video advice is very good.  However, they do say at the end of the video that if annual weeds are a problem then  growing in lines enables you to hoe between the lines.

I have news for the RHS.  Annual weeds are always a problem even on an allotment as clean as mine - so I always grow green manure in lines.

If you look closely weed seedlings are growing between the rows of green manure. Several years ago I sowed poached egg plant Limnanthes douglassii as a green manure.  It continues to germinate even though none has seeded itself since.  This seed must be three years old.   I will take the hoe between the rows to keep them clean.  Eventually the green manure will grow large enough to shade out weed seedlings and the ground will not have to be hoed any more.

Green manure on old pea bed
I will be hoeing until October though.   The lines of tares and rye mix are about 30 cm apart.  They will still make a canopy and cover the ground completely.

Green manure slowly covering the

As the ground has become free I planted green manure.
Green manure covering the old potato bed.
This means that I will have to dig again in the spring.  There are some times that you can avoid digging but I don't think you can when using green manure.  Some say that the green manure can be cut off and left on the surface of the soil to rot down.  Others suggest that green manure can be covered with black plastic until it has rotted down, however to avoid slug and snail problems I find it much easier to dig it in.
Celery has a little rust on it.

This has been the first time I have grown celery in over twenty years.  Remarkably it has done quite well and I will be trying it again next year.  I have already eaten most of it particularly in soups.  One thing is for sure it has had enough water this year.

Asparagus pea

First time ever that I have planted asparagus pea.  It has grown about 30-40 cm and produced a lot of small pea like pods.  They are a welcome addition to stir fry.  Quite successful. Although it does flop about a little it does support itself and does not need anything to climb up.   

As the summer has not been so pleasant, I have not really been having much chamomile tea.  That is why there are still lots of flowers on the plants.  The fresh flowers make the best tea so I do not want to dry these ones.  I will use the best ones for tea and collect the others for seed.
Russian tarragon
The Russian tarragon does not really have much of a smell and tastes a bit bland.  I have tried to transplant a couple of plants but it does not seem to like being moved.  I will still try to put it along the path to form a little hedge and maybe I will use it in salads just as an additional leaf.  It germinated very well and the plants have grown quite big now but it would have been better if I had grown the french cultivar.

Too many beetroot again.  I thought that I would not have enough because of the poor germination in the spring.  I should not have worried.  I have given quite a lot away and will still have more than enough.
Net over the carrots
I am still keeping the net over the carrots just in case carrot root fly is still about.  I took the net off about this time last year and the carrots were infected by root fly.  I bury the edges of the net in the soil so I am sure there is a good seal and the flies cannot get in.

Second sowing of carrots
Having to sow the carrots again due to the very wet spring, these are now producing a good crop.  They will not be as large as last years but they will be adequate.  This second sowing was "Resistafly"
Trail of tears climbing french bean
The trail of tears beans are just coming into their own now and producing prodigious amounts of excellent beans.  The flower is purple and the beans are purplish too.
Trail of tears beans
More trail of tears beans.  
Trail of tears flower

I am growing them up some old branches that I cut off the hedge and some that I got from birch trees.  The birch tree poles are rotting away now and I will need to cut some more.

I have fed the black currants with pigeon manure and mulched them with horse manure.  Hopefully, I will be able to mulch the others before the winter sets in.

Another of the allotment holders had a trailer of horse muck delivered and put on the path by my allotment.  After they had moved the pile I raked up what was left and put it on blackcurrants.  You have to make use of any free stuff like this.

I am going off horse manure because of its lack of nutrients.  I think it is very good for mulching and use it all the time but I would never buy any.  We are lucky to get free deliveries of horse muck and I don't mind putting this on the allotment.

It will be the pigeon manure that gives the blackcurrants the nutrients and encourage them to produce next years fruiting stems.

I am still cropping summer cabbages although I am coming to the end of them.  They are a little slug eaten but this is just on the surface and if the outer leaves are removed it will leave a good hearty cabbage.

The allotment and plants tend to look a little untidy at this time of the year regardless of how much work you put in tidying up.  While I will keep the allotment clean by weeding regularly, I do not worry too much about appearances.

The winter cauliflowers in the background are beginning to be eaten by cabbage while caterpillars but they  will not take too many of the leaves and I am taking them off by hand.  They have been given a top dressing of pigeon manure but they don't really need it.  It may make them put on new growth that will be susceptible to frosts.

Brussel sprouts are getting some height now and should be ready just before Christmas. They are getting on to be about 1 metre tall.  I like to keep all the brassicas together like this so that I can regulate club root infection.  I did get a little clubroot in the summer cauliflowers and the calabrese but this ground will not be used for brassicas for another six years and by then there will be few spores in the ground to infect the plants.  The new brassica bed has the sweet peas on at the moment.  These will be dug in to give a little more nitrogen to the soil because they are legumes and have root nodules that fix atmospheric nitrogen.  The new bed will be limed in the spring to make sure that this soil is not a good habitat for the club root fungi.  The new brassica bed has not had brassicas on it for about six years.  Rotating strictly like this enables you to eradicate diseases like club root.

The brassica plants still need to be netted against pigeons, cabbage white butterflies and cabbage root fly.

The transplanted strawberries seem to have taken a long time to establish themselves.  They are planted on the Hugelkultur trench that I did last year.  I dug in quite a few comfrey leaves to give them an additional boost and when I did that before they really perked up.  I will just have to wait for them to grow a few more roots.

I like to make a new strawberry bed each year using the new plantlets from the stolons that the old plants produce.  There are always far too many new plants produced and these cover the strawberry bed so you cannot tell where the rows are.  A new bed allows you to plant at whatever distances you think are appropriate and into clean ground that has been prepared specially.  I also watered in these plants with comfrey liquid and used a little mychorrhiza to aid in their establishment.
Hopefully these strawberries will grow on and establish

The sweet peas have definitely gone over now.  They got the dreaded yellow disease which starts on the lower leaves and gradually works its way up the plant.  I think that it is a viral disease and affected them particularly this year because they were under stress from the cold wet weather.

Virus infected sweet peas

Not much you can do about this.
I am not worried about digging these into the soil because a viral infection will not affect new sweet pea plants from the soil.  I think that the vectors are aphids.  Also, I will not be growing sweet peas in this ground for at least six years.  

I planted some gladioli between one of the sweet pea rows and they have produced some good flowers.  I want to grow some big corms and get even bigger flowers next year.

Taking down the sweet pea canes is the next big job on the allotment and will take some time.  I will have to carefully store the canes so that they do not rot during the winter.  I try to keep and reuse all the wire ties that I have used to tie up the plants.  Inevitably, some of them break or are lost on the ground but keeping them is a saving that allows you to spend money on some other more important items for the allotment.  

The runner beans will continue to flower and produce beans well into October so they will have to be regularly picked and watered.

Although the squash is yet to fruit, the pumpkin has produced several very good fruit.  I will let some of them get bigger while using the others for pies and soups.  

Apart from the squash and the courgettes, I have grown marrow again.  Something I had neglected for over ten years.  
Squashes are slow to flower this year
Although they are slow to flower, the squashes are taking much more room than they did last year and are starting to overwhelm the leeks.  

The sweet corn has produced quite a few cobs although neither the plants nor the cobs are very big this year.  Sweet corn is a C4 plant and needs a lot of sunshine.  Unfortunately, these plants have not received nearly enough light to produce good cobs.  

I am just glad that I have got some sweet corn.  

The leeks on the other hand have really enjoyed the dark wet weather and produced some good plants.  I have only cropped one of the leeks up to now but they will be used during the autumn and winter.  

They will do fine if they are not too swamped by the pumpkin and squash.  

I have cut out this years fruiting canes from the raspberries and tied in the new canes.  These are the summer fruiting raspberries although somehow some autumn fruiting ones have sidled in somehow.  
Glen Prosen  raspberries
Not sure which raspberry this is.
I don't know where these autumn fruiting raspberries have come from but the fruit grows remarkably big.  They are a little more bitter than 'Autumn Bliss'.  Needless to say I have eaten all the red ones  already. Raspberries rarely go home.  

Victoria rhubarb
I put quite a bit of farmyard manure of the rhubarb in the spring and it seems to have done them a lot of good.  They have also liked the cool wet summer we have had.  

I have three varieties of rhubarb; Timperley early, Champagne; and Victoria.  The slugs and snails have had a really good go at the Champagne but it has recovered and is growing well now.   
Victoria rhubarb
In order to grow herbs really well, you need to make sure that you keep picking them whether you are going to use them or not otherwise they will loose their bushy shapes.

The mint really needs to be cut back
Rainbow sage (Salvia officinallis 
Variegated lemon thyme
Thymus x citriodorus 'Variegata'  
Mentha × piperita 'Chocolate Mint'
 I will tidy up the herbs when I have a little more time.

 Both the comfrey and the nettles are ready for cropping and putting into the large green bins to make liquid fertiliser.

That is the allotment in September.  There are a lot of spaces that have been filled with green manure ready for digging in next spring. Crops are still being harvested and we are slowly moving towards autumn.