Friday, 23 May 2014

Third week of May

I have cut the comfrey under the plum tree and put it around the tomatoes I have planted next to the leeks.  I was going to plant the sweet corn, pumpkin and squashes here but there was very little room.  I have put two rows of tomatoes, Gardener's Delight and Moneymaker, in the space that was left.  I have mulched the tomatoes with straw left over from mulching the strawberries.

The strawberry bed has been mulched with straw.  I am not too sure about this straw because I got it from a farm shop.  It may not be very organic.  In any case there were a lot of seeds in it and they have started to germinate.  It is easy enough to pull the seedlings out but it is just another unnecessary job.  The strawberries got a good feed of comfrey liquid before I put on the straw.

The shoots of the grape vine that survived the frost are nearly big enough to tie to the second horizontal wire.  The small white grape has produced some good shoots too but they are not big enough to tie in yet.

I have planted the Alderman tall peas and they have climbed half way up the netting already.  There are no flowers on them yet but I expect they will flower quite soon.

The sweet peas have fully recovered from the flea beetle attack and are growing away quite fast now.  They are starting to grow their large leaves with long tendrils.  I have taken all the tendrils and side shoots off and tied them up to the canes.  Once they are tied to the canes they seem to grow much better but this may also be due to the comfrey liquid I have given them.  There are no misses at all this year and even the ones severely stunted by the flea beetle have grown considerably.

I have cut back all the herbs alongside the path to make them bush up.  They have all lost their woody appearance that they took on when I moved them - especially the sage.  I have just pricked out some  thyme, oregano and basil to add to my herbs.

I have planted some laburnum seedlings in between the  herbs with the intention of growing some trees that I can pleach over the path and make a laburnum tunnel.  Laburnum is a legume and with the help of bacteria, fixes nitrogen from the air.  So an additional benefit.

All the espalier trees have recovered from being cut very hard back.  The little apple from the old allotment is even producing fruit.  This is amazing because I moved it in February this year.  All the trees are producing side shoots that will be suitable for training along the wires.

I have thinned out the swedes, kohlrabi and turnips and covered them with scaffold netting.  The pigeons were eating the kohlrabi and some of the other brassicas were being eaten by cabbage root fly so putting a barrier over them seemed to be the best idea.

I have one row of Flamenco cauliflowers and another of All the Year Round.  A well spaced row of Brunswick cabbage and another of Romesco green cauliflower.  Half a row of red cabbage and half a row of Stonehead cabbage will be more than enough of these.  Two lines of calabrese and one of winter cauliflower means that I have just enough room for two lines of Brussel Sprouts.  I have covered all of these with scaffold netting supported by blue plastic water pipe.

Now that the Adrienne blackcurrant has thrown up two big shoots, the Loganberries "Ly 654" are too close and will have to be moved.  I will do this at the end of the year because I don't really want to move them when the weather is hot and dry.

I now have four rows of peas on the allotment, Alderman, Douce Provence, Early Onward and Progress No9.  The Lincoln peas are germinating in modules in the greenhouse to be planted out later in the month.  I could not fit another line of peas in this bed after the Lincoln so I have put in two rows of dwarf French beans to fill the space.  The broad beans are about three feet tall and have produced flowers that are covered in bees.  They are almost shading the sundial.

I have seeded the new pond with pond mud from Bishop's Wood pond and more from Pendeford Mill lake. This has cleared the water.

I have put only native plants into the pond including Stratiotes aloides, Ceratophyllum demersum, Hydrocharis morsus-ranae, Menyanthes trifoliata, Lysimachia nummularia, Mentha aquatica, caltha palustris, and Althaea officinalis.  There are quite a few invertebrates swimming around already, including water boatmen, caddisfly larva, mayfly, and water flea not forgetting the frog tadpoles.   

The greenhouse has not been moved onto the allotment yet because it is still full of plants and germinating seeds.  Once all the plants have been put out in the allotment, I will think about moving the greenhouse.  However, after moving the cold frame and repairing it there is less incentive for moving the greenhouse quickly.  The cold frame is overflowing with trays and pots already though and I have to leave some trays outside to harden off the seedlings.

I have good rows of Hamburg parsley, beetroot, parsnip and carrots.  The parsnip and carrots could do with thinning but I will leave them until they have grown a little more.  Slugs have eaten some of the roots near the little shed path but all this means is I can fit more stuff in.

I have three rows of lettuce in succession, one of American land cress, half a row of asparagus pea and annual spinach and a row of chamomile in the "leaves" bed.  I will be planting Florence fennel, celery, celeriac and basil when it has grown on a little more.  If there is room, I will sow coriander, Good King Henry, and more annual spinach in this bed.

The little, leaning apple tree has had some die back where leaves have turned brown and died.  This may be due to the sharp frost we had two weeks ago but I will keep my eye on this tree to make sure there is no further dieback.

The raspberries are next to the apple tree and they are suffering the same fate - dieback due to frost.  I have cut all the dead canes out so that the raspberries can throw up new canes from the roots.

Two rows of climbing French beans have been planted between the potatoes and the greenhouse foundations.  Some of the Gardener's Delight tomatoes that were left over have been planted between the rows of beans.

The potatoes have had their final hoeing up but they need weeding again.

Five rows of onions and four of leeks have been put into the allium bed and covered with mesh to keep the Phytomyza gymnostoma fly off them.  I thought that I had lost a lot of the seedlings but I took the mesh off today and there were only one or two misses.  I don't have any replacements having planted all the seedlings initially so I will just have to have gaps.

It was very cold with some heavy showers today which is quite a contrast to the 23 degrees we had last week.  I think that I would like the warm weather back.

Monday, 19 May 2014

1st May Allotment Photographs.

 This is what the allotment looked like on the 1st of May 2014.  It shows that you can turn around an allotment in a year but to do so takes a lot of time. You can see what the allotment was like earlier in the year if you look at my clearing and triple digging an allotment blogs.

Comfrey under the plum tree.
This is all that is left of my permaculture guild.  The comfrey and gooseberries were planted in concentric circles around the tree.  I will leave these plants under the tree but I will be making a much bigger comfrey bed on the new allotment area.  I don't think that the plum will produce as much fruit as it did last year.  The metal drum is going to be used to produce some biochar.  I still need to weld a chimney on and find a smaller drum to make a retort to put inside it.

Victoria Plum Tree
I am just assuming it is a Victoria Plum tree because it looks like the one I had on the old allotment.  It was covered with bindweed when I took over the allotment.  There is still a lot of dead and crossing wood in the crown which I will begin to cut out during the summer.  I have been pruning dead wood off the tree but all the advice says that you should prune a plum during the summer to avoid silver leaf disease.  The path down the side of the allotment will be covered with shredded material because I don't have enough concrete slabs to make a path this side too.  I have put up the runner bean canes along the path.  They have to go here because I don't have anywhere else to put them.

Composting area
I haven't completed the composting areas yet.  There will be two pallet composts, two dalek bins and a large black dustbin.  I was going to use the dustbin as a water butt but it leaks.  Only one of the pallet composts is being used at the moment.  It has a large plastic woven sand bag - the ones with handles - in it for the bind weed and mare's tail.  I have dried out these weed rhizomes but they are still growing in the bin.  I will keep covering them up with more rubbish from the allotment.  I have some potatoes from last year left over and they have gone leggy and soft so I will add these to the black bins.  I have planted some autumn fruiting raspberries alongside the composts mainly to mask the compost from the rest of the allotment.  The sweet peas in the pots have now either replaced ones that I lost due to flea beetle or planted in my daughter's garden.  The Alstroemeria chilensis is starting to be a weed because it is spreading through the strawberry bed.

Strawberry bed.
The strawberry bed needs a mulch of straw and a feed of comfrey liquid.   Apart from that the strawberries can look after themselves.

Tall climbing pea supports 
The grape pruned to the Guyot system has been caught by the frost and several side shoots have died back.  I will have enough to train but will not have as many potential fruit as I was expecting.  The side shoots are very small still and not long enough to tie in.

I miscalculated how many rows of canes I would need for the sweet peas and had this row left over.  These canes will be used for the tall growing peas.  I am going to put the netting around the canes to give the peas something to grow up.
Sweet peas
The sweet peas were very severely affected by flea beetle and I am beginning to wonder if the green manure is giving them a warm habitat during the winter and that they are still about when I have dug it in.  They usually recover from flea beetle towards the middle of May but it does set them back.  I have five double rows with eleven different varieties of sweet pea.
Action of flea beetle
Two of the sweet pea seedlings were killed but these were easily replaced with spares. 
Most recovered from flea beetle like this one.

I have begun to put ties on the sweet peas but these ties will be used again when the plants start to go up the canes.  All they are doing is keeping the plants upright and trained to the canes.

Herbs alongside the path

Espalier Apple?
This is my first attempt at pruning an apple to espalier shape.  All the top fruit I have planted are going to be trained to espalier.  I have cut them hard back so that they will send out horizontal shoots that can be easily tied in.  

Brassica seedlings will be planted here.
I have put nematode worms over this bed to deter slugs.  It also had some of the freebie blood fish and bone fertiliser hoed into it.  I have just learn that blood, fish and bone is not an organic fertiliser because there is no way of telling where the constituents come from.  I put it on regardless.

Brassica bed
Sweed, kohlrabi and turnip seedlings
The pigeons have started to peck at the kohlrabi so these will have to be covered with a net.  I will cover all of the brassicas with nets to keep the birds off them. The swedes, kohlrabi and turnips will have to be thinned out later in the month to give them room to grow.
Loganberries and blackcurrants
I thought that I had lost my big Adrienne blackcurrant but it seems to have revived.  Only one of the cuttings has survived but I have been given two named Loganberries, "Ly 654".  I don't know how well they will do but they add to the stock of soft fruit on the garden.

Broad beans and peas.
The beans and peas were planted with a pinch of  mycorrhizal spores to  help them establish themselves.  The chicken wire serves two purposes.  Firstly, to give support to the pea plants. Secondly, to keep the pigeons from eating them.   There is still room for another two rows of peas and I am going to squeeze in a couple of rows of dwarf French beans.

Peas and beans from the shed

New pond by the broad beans and peas.

Path going up to the greenhouse foundations
The allotment  is beginning to fill up now.  I am still waiting for some warm weather but many things can go in the ground regardless of the frosts.

Roots bed
The roots bed has Hamburg parsley, beetroot, parsnip and under the enviromesh four rows of carrots.  The slugs and snails are eating the seedlings at this end but I am hoping that the anti slug nematodes will reduce the damage done.

Carrots covered with enviromesh.

The carrots are covered to keep Chamaepsila rosae, the carrot root fly, away from the seedlings.  Covering after sowing the seed and keeping them covered throughout the summer is the only way I have discovered to keep the fly from laying eggs around my carrots.
They don't look very big at the moment.
Even though I have sown these seeds very thinly, there will be far more root vegetables than I can use.  I will thin them out at the end of May.

Leaning apple tree
There is a lot of blossom on the small, leaning apple tree.  I hope that this gives me some apples this year.  I haven't put much into the "leaves" bed yet.  However, I do have some lettuce, American land cress, spinach and asparagus peas to put in.  I will also need to put in the celery, celeriac, globe fennel, good king Henry, coriander, chamomile, basil, plus their second sowings.  I am seriously running out of room.

Path to the little shed
Although most of the raspberries have started to grow, I will probably have to cut them back this year.  I have two varieties that I planted last year and they are fruiting well but the ones I planted earlier this year will need another year to build up their strength.  The path was finished a couple of weeks ago and remarkably, the two foot square slabs fitted exactly.  It wiggles a little to accommodate the shape of the hedge bank.  

Blackcurrants and gooseberries.
The gooseberries and blackcurrants are last years cuttings and growing well.  They need a much of farmyard manure but I am not sure that they will get it this year.  

Earthed up potatoes.
The potatoes have been touched by the frost this year and their leaves were slightly damaged, however they are protected now I have earthed them up.  The hard cut back tree is a Discovery apple which I intend to make into an espalier.  

Runner bean canes.
I have put the runner bean canes next to the path so that I can pick from this side quite easily.  When I plant out the runner seedlings, I will put netting around the bottom of the canes to protect them from the frost and wind.  Once they start climbing up the canes and are more stable, I will remove the netting and put it in the store shed.  

Clematis growing up the shed. 
I have planted three clematis plants to cover the shed.  Their roots are in shade most of the day but the tops are in sun.  The rhubarb will shade the roots too.  This is the heritage rhubarb and does not grow very big.  My main rhubarb is at the old allotment and had to stay there because it was far too late to move them.  I still haven't dug over the bed that I want to put them on.  I have a bit more land on the left hand side as you look down towards the little shed but it needs careful clearing of mare's tail and bind weed.  

New pond and sundial.
The pond is full of frog tadpoles that a friend of mine gave me.  I am hoping that they will develop well and eat all the slugs on the allotment.  I put the pond here because I am going to direct the water from the gutters on the greenhouse into the pond.  With any luck this will keep the pond fairly full during the summer.  Any overflow will be drained away by the stones under the path.  Also, I want to put a solar pump in the pond to aerate it and I can put the solar panel in the greenhouse for safety.  

Allium bed
 The allium bed has had nematode worms watered onto it.  The blue water piping will be used to support an enviromesh cover over the onions.  I will probably use one over the leeks too.  Garlic, shallots and elephant garlic are growing very well.  

Site for the greenhouse
There is just enough room on the left hand side of the greenhouse foundations for a double row of climbing French beans.  On the left hand side of the path opposite the pond will be where the cold frame will be sited.
So lots of bare ground now that I have dug in all the green manure.  All the beds are ready for planting up and this is what I will be doing for the next few weeks.  

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Planting out the brassicas and beans.

I have planted out the cauliflowers and the big cabbages.  I still have a lot to plant in this bed and I hope that I have enough room for everything.  The cauliflowers were covered with scaffold netting to keep the cabbage white butterflies off them and the cabbages were covered with one inch plastic netting.

The runner beans were planted next to the potatoes.  I hope there will not be another frost now because they are quite sensitive to the cold.  I have put some fine mesh netting up to protect them from cold winds but this will be limited if it gets too cold.

Two lines of lettuce have been put into the leaves bed.  Remarkably, the first sowings were smaller than the second sowing.  I think that this is because of the seed compost I used.  The quality of organic peat free compost can be very variable.

I have sown one line of American land cress and asparagus pea.  A small row of spinach has also been sown in the leaves bed.  I will plant out the globe fennel, camomile, basil, celeriac and celery when they are big enough.  I also have some good king Henry, coriander and more lettuce to sow in this bed.

I have finally moved the cold frame to the new allotment.  Most of the glass has been broken so I replaced it with 10mm polycarbonate sheeting.  This has been very successful although I have already filled it with seedlings.  After they have hardened off I will plant them out and use the cold frame for growing mixed leaves and radish.

The pond has been stocked with wild life from the pond at Bishop's Wood and thank you for that.  I have planted a couple of plants in the pond too but I will have to get some more.  I will not put any fish in the pond because they tend to eat everything.  I want to encourage amphibians to use it and eat the slugs and snails on the allotment.  There are lots of frog tadpoles in the pond at the moment and I am hoping they all will survive.

I had positioned the pond directly outside the greenhouse so that I could put a solar panel inside the greenhouse to power the pump in the pond.  However, now I think that I will put a path of two foot square slabs along the front of the greenhouse running the pump cable under one of the slabs.  This slab will slightly overhang the pond, which I had planned for, but this would not have been a good foundation for the greenhouse.  Setting the greenhouse back two foot will mean the foundations are on the clay that I have put here; a much better foundation.

I have put a straw mulch around the strawberries to raise the fruit above the soil and keep them clean.  This worked very well the last time I did it.

Four lines of leeks have been put into the allium bed.  This has taken up more room than I had planned for because I have covered them with scaffold netting to keep the leek miner fly off them.  I will not have room now for the pumpkins and squashes that I had planned to plant in this area.

I need to put a row of outdoor tomatoes in this bed too. The Gardener's Delight are hardening off in the cold frame and I am going to plant them out as soon as possible.  They will get string supports, which I will wind them up as they grow.

 I will probably plant the squashes in between the sweet corn.  I have done this before and is not ideal but I got some good squashes when I did it last time.  They are much better in full sun though.  I am not too sure where the pumpkins will go at the moment.

I have started to construct the supports for the climbing french beans the other side of the potatoes.  There is plenty of room for them here but I am not too sure where the dwarf french beans will go.  I might just have room for them in the pea bed.

I have planted a row of Alderman, Champion of England and Telegraph tall climbing peas next to the sweet peas.  I am glad that I had room here because I had nowhere else to put them.  

The sweet peas have finally recovered from being eaten by flea beetle.  I knew that they would begin to grow away now because that is what happened last year.  I will have to select the stem that I will train up the canes and cut the other stems out.  I will only take one stem up the canes this year because I want some big flowers.  So I will have to start tying up which is a time consuming job.

While the sweet peas have been eaten by the flea beetle, the broad beans have been eaten by the pea and bean weevil.  There are the characteristic u shaped scalloped edges to the leaves that they leave after feeding.  I am not too bothered about the damage and can tolerate this insect as I do with the flea beetle.  However, hopefully, the number of predators for these pests will increase and I will not have quite so much damage.

I have taken two of my grafted apples to the allotment to plant.  They will go between the pea and roots bed. I will prune these to an espalier shape like the others.    Two out of three successful grafts is brilliant.  I just wish that I knew which of the trees I got the scions from.  I am not too sure what the variety the grafts will be.  I am keeping the unsuccessful graft for the rootstock.  I will do a side veneer graft next year using one of the named apples.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Spring is always the most busy time of the year.

It would seem that I have passed the examinations for two of the four courses that make up the 'Level 3 Certificate in the Principles of Plant Growth, Health and Applied Propagation.'  I have no idea how I did that.

The examination venue was completely unsatisfactory; the weather was atrocious with both wind and rain;  I was certainly discombobulated; and I even forgot the latin name of nettle.

After a great deal of preparation, there were a lot of questions that I was not expecting; which also threw me a little. I was not pleased and certainly not confident.

However, I have passed but now muse on how well I could have done if the conditions were much better. The course is run by Darren Rudge at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in their classrooms.  The classrooms are quiet, well lit, familiar and with outstanding views of the Garden.

Why can't we have the exams there?

Remarkably, we have now been told that we can take the exams at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and a good job too...

I am far too old to be surrounded by hundreds of noisy teenagers ( nothing against the exuberance of youth but not when I am nervous and in an exam situation ); be told to take my hat off inside the building and to be squeezed into a small classroom just to take an exam that I am doing as a hobby project.

I look forward to the exams in June...

Let's get back to the allotment.  After finishing the clearance, I have begun to fill the beds with seedlings and seeds.

Shallots, garlic and elephant garlic bulbs keep from last year have been planted and are doing well.  There is some signs of Phytomyza gymnostoma, the allium miner fly, but not as much as I had expected.  I have not had time to net these alliums so they have been exposed to the fly during April when it is laying eggs.  One of my next jobs is to plant the onions grown from seed and these will certainly be covered with enviromesh.

The onions grown from seed are not growing very quickly so I will have to plant them out much smaller than I would have liked.  This will be an experiment but I do not have any worries about it.

The strawberries that I transplanted in the winter seem to be growing very well.  I need to get some straw to mulch them with and that is another job that I need to do soon.  About half of the strawberry plants have flowers on them.

The sweet peas have been devastated with flea beetle again this year.  I have lost about five, which is not as bad as last year but still irritating.  Last year and this, I sowed the seed during late winter and early spring and this may be why the beetle attacks them.  With October sown seeds, the plants have time to harden off during the winter so that when they are planted out they are much more robust.  This year I will sow the seed in October. I have some plants to replace the ones that have succumbed to the flea beetle but I will have spaces in the rows if any more die.

I am going to plant the tall climbing peas next to the sweet peas.  Alderman, Champion of England and Telegraph are the three I am growing this year.  They have all germinated and will be planted out as soon as they are big enough, which will probably be at the weekend.   I will grow them up the old fishing nets as I did last year.

I have cut the sage right back to one bud and now they do not look scraggy at all. I am hoping that they will grow into big, dense bushes because they give off an amazing herby scent during the summer.

The kohl rabi, swede and turnip seed has germinated well and is growing on.  I need to net these with scaffold netting to keep the cabbage root fly off them.  They do not do much damage to the kohlrabi or the swede but they devastate the turnips.

My big blackberry bush Adrienne has died but I have a well sized cutting that has survived being moved.  The old loganberry has established itself and is coming into flower now.  I will not be surprised if it fruited well this year.

I have been given two rooted cuttings of Loganberry 'Ly 654', which is thornless and suitable for small gardens being not very vigorous.  I have planted these where the blackberry was.

All the green manure on the brassica bed has been dug in now to prepare for the seedlings.  Again, the brassica seedlings have not grown very fast because the greenhouse is too shaded in the garden.  I can't wait to put it down on the allotment.

I have two rows of broad beans on the pea and bean bed.  'Bunyards Exhibition' and a black podded field bean that someone gave me as seed.  Both sets of bean are doing well except that they have had neat scallops taken out of their leaves by flea beetle. Pesky little beggars.  Two rows of peas are growing well.  'Douce Provence' and 'Early Onward'.  The 'Early Onward' were planted today with a little mycorrhiza.   I have put chicken wire around them again this year, supported at the ends with concrete reinforcing wire. Canes have been pushed into the soil along the rows at 2 foot distances and secured to the chicken wire to support it.

This will give the peas a good support for them to climb up and keep the pigeons from eating them.

I need to show a succession of peas for the allotment competition so the next pea to go in will be 'Progress Number Nine' which is a second early.  It was originally know as 'Laxton's Progress number 9' and is a low growing variety.  'Lincoln', which is described as an early maincrop, will go in last.

Various herbs including rainbow sage; variegated thyme; fennel, chocolate mint, chamomile; sweet cicely and parsley have been planted along the pathway.  I still have margarum, chamomile,and  thyme to plant out. The rosemary has been planted alongside the greenhouse path.

Four rows of carrots, Flyaway, St Valery and Autumn King, have germinated under the enviromesh. Hopefully the net will keep the carrot root fly away from them.  The parsnips 'Tender and True' have eventually germinated with the beetroot 'Boltardy', however the Hamburg parsley does not seem to have woken up yet.

I have celery, celeriac, camomile, basil and florence fennel growing on to put into the leaves bed.  The salad burnet and sweet cicely have already been planted.  I need to get some annual spinach seed.

I have put up the canes for the runner beans but still have to erect the canes for the climbing french beans.  They are going either side of the potatoes.  I have only planted 'Kestrel' this year because I still have far too many bags of potatoes left from last year.  By this time they are starting to grow and going too soft to eat. They will go into the dalek composter though.  The cold frame is going next to the greenhouse but I need to get it from the old allotment and repair it.

I have watered the whole allotment with the slug nematode, Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita,  to prevent too much damage.  They don't eat too much of the cabbages, cauliflowers and lettuce but I would like to keep them away so they don't lodge themselves inside them.