Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Cat that got the Cream!

Did you hear that loud whop of delight coming from the North East around about 12.30pm today? If you did that was me. My potatoes have arrived so I can start to get my earlies chitted, I can almost taste them. Samson almost did, when I was looking through the box to check they'd all been dispatched, he's stuck his nose in and pinched a bag, I think i've got myself a little pilferer (well a big one, he's a Dogue de Bordeaux). But do you know what the best part was, we had ordered 5 seed potatoes of the 1st early ‘Rocket’ for Caleb to grow, and when I opened the box, they’d sent us 20 at no extra charge, I feel like the Cat that got the cream. Great stuff eh, funny what little things make us happy. Now the only problem is I’ll have to have a think of where I’m going to plant the extra 15 as I’ve not budgeted for them in my space, oh the decisions we plotters have to make, lol.

If you live anywhere near Middlesbrough, you may be interested to know that Natures World is holding a potato day on Sunday 31st January between 10am and 2pm. I think I’ll have a pop along and see if I can get myself a few tasters to try, in view of growing a different variety next year.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

My Dream Farm

One to look forward to, I missed the first episode last week but can’t wait to see this tomorrow night. Experienced horticulturist Monty Don assists six families as they try to realise their dream of quitting the rat race, by helping them return to the land. This week is about Karon Roberts and Simon Sanders who have quit the rat race to breed rare pigs in Suffolk. They have swapped the London suburbs for a windswept corner of Cornwall, but in their pursuit of a self-sufficient lifestyle they soon begin to haemorrhage money. The couple have grand plans for an enormous barn housing a farm shop, cafe and art gallery. But the whole scheme is threatened when some of the pigs fall ill. This is the 2nd week of a series of 6, all based around the same principles. I’d love to do something just like this, totally up my street. If you would like to tune in, it's on Thursdays, Channel 4, 8:00pm - 9:00pm

Monday, 25 January 2010

At Last more than just a Fleeting Visit!

Caleb and I popped over to the allotment on Saturday for 10 minutes, the weather was dry and I wanted to see if it was feasible for me to do any work. I had some free time on Sunday afternoon and I wanted to fill it with ‘muck’ and hard graft! Things looked promising.

Sunday arrived; it was a bit nippy so I wrapped up well. Samson has only been to the allotment a couple of times, we only adopted him in November so there have been few chances to get over there since he came to live with us. So the allotment and growing veggies will be a new experience for the two of us (well three when Caleb’s enthusiasm is working, he blows hot and cold about the whole thing).

So down to some work, as the pigeons had decimated my PSB I’ve pulled them all up, chopped them down and composted them. I had about 5 cabbages still in the ground when the snow hit, well you couldn’t call them cabbages anymore, slimy green blobs would be a better phrase, and so up they came. Next it was the sprouts, they hadn’t really amounted to much and the pigeons had eaten the tops, so I pulled them up and decided to snap off the few decent sized ones that had developed. I didn’t have a tub to put them in (something I’ve got to start collecting) so I put them on top of a piece of board on a bucket to gather up when leaving for home. I turned around 5 minutes later only to find Samson chomping away at them, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The pigeons had eaten my PSB, the snow had finished off my Cabbages and Samson had scoffed the sprouts. I thought it was supposed to be Grow Your Own, not grow for everything else!

Not to rub salt into my wounds, it looks like the over-wintering onions have all gone mushy, so I don’t think they’ll be worth persevering with, and not one single broad bean had germinated. So much for hardy veg!

Friday, 22 January 2010

But then the Snow Turned to Rain

When will this awful weather stop? Throughout November it was rain, and then we had the snow and now yet more rain. My allotment doesn’t have very good drainage hence the reason I’m building raised beds to plant my veggies in. And all this bad weather doesn’t help when you want to get things moving along for example those ‘winter’ jobs we should be getting on with. Well that’s my moan over with.

I’m going to make a trip to the allotment over the weekend, come hell or high water (more probably high water if the rain continues). The snow has all melted and I want to see how things have faired, mostly to see if I have any broad beans before I plant some more and to pull and put it in the compost bin what’s left of the PSB and sprouts after the pesky pigeons had their way with them.

On the seed trial, remember I said that I’d planted up some leeks, onions and cauli’s as a kind of test to see how things move along here in the North East. Well all I can say is leggy cauli’s, the poor little things have stretched themselves so much looking for the light, so they’re definitely one seed that I’ll have to play the waiting game on, but the onions and leeks don’t seem to be too bad, I’ll keep persevering with the one’s I’ve sown and maybe do another batch at the end of the month.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Wildlife Friendly Gardens

Following on from my find yesterday (the potential pond) I sat with Caleb last night and we discussed things that we would like to put into the little area of the allotment that we are going to dedicate as our Wildlife Friendly Garden. I know we all need to recognise the value and importance of insects and spiders and the vital role they play in our gardens. Of the millions of species of insects and spiders, only a few are considered pests and yet they are all seen as unwanted visitors. In order to create a wildlife friendly garden it is important to value insects and spiders and work with them to create a balanced environment.

Thinking ahead and looking though our magazines for thoughts and inspiration, we’ve decided on a few things which are going to make up this area. Firstly we are going to create the pond, and then we are going to have a Bugs B‘n’B. I found a little bumblebee house which looks simple enough to do. Caleb is going to make a Hedgehog house and a Toad house from some easy to follow instructions out of our gardening magazines, this will hopefully keep his enthusiasm for the project going. And dare we not forget all those lovely nectar rich friendly flowers.

Insects and spiders perform a huge range of activities beneficial to our gardens. They are an important food source for many other animals such as birds and mammals, fish and amphibians. They also provide products for us in the form of honey and beeswax.

Insects are excellent pollinators and are vital to most of our food crops, flowers, fruit and many other plants. Many insects are predators of garden pests, they are also important for recycling materials from the garden, eliminating waste and keeping our soil in a healthy condition.

Some examples of the many different species of insects that are beneficial in the garden:
• ladybirds eat aphids, scale insects and whitefly
• lacewings also eat aphids and leafhoppers
• ground beetles eat slugs and many different species of garden pests

Do’s and don’ts for insect gardening

If you would like to make your garden more insect-friendly you can use any or all of these features and incorporate them into your own design. To help you get started here are some important do’s and don’ts for insect gardening:
• do plant a variety of flowering plants rich in nectar
• do mix your plants so that those that attract insects such as ladybirds and lacewings are close to plants that experience problems with greenfly
• do plant close together to provide a moist shaded area, an ideal environment for lots of arthropods to thrive in
• do keep your soil healthy by adding compost to provide food for insects
• do provide a source of safe water
• do not use pesticides and insecticides

Just a few of the suggested planting to help and encourage the wildlife:

Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Foxglove Digitalis pupurea
Iris Iris pseudacorus
Ivy Hedera helix
Herb Robert Geranium robertianum
Holly Ilex aquifolium
Marsh marigold Caltha palustris
Poppy Papaver rhoeas
Snowdrops Galanthus nivalis
Teasel Dipsacus fullonum
Water forget-me-not Myosotis scorpiodes

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Find of the Month!

Whilst out last night walking Samson (my dog), I spotted in the skip down the road a large plastic object. Never one to pass up an opportunity to acquire something to utilise and for free (I’m always rubber necking whilst driving around to see if I can make use of anything) I decided to go and have a look. Well you can imagine my delight when this big plastic object turned out to be a children’s sand pit that had been thrown out. Seeking permission I grabbed it with great delight and scurried off home with it.

So now my head is spinning with ideas of how I can make it come to life in my allotment as a wildlife pond so that it attracts welcoming frogs/toads etc. It comes in two halves each measuring 43” x 36” and about 24” deep. Although shaped like apples (very apt) I’m sure the visiting wildlife won’t mind too much and it will eventually be a haven of delight for both me and them.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Potato Order

Last year was the first time I’d grown any vegetables other than the odd tomato plant as a child. I’d always wanted to grow my own but had always lived in houses with no garden (just a back yard) and never really thought about getting an allotment, they were something that old men had, I know please don’t shout at me for my ignorance!

I found these wonderful patio potato planters in the local garden centre. I got some seed potatoes (Pentland Javlin) from a DIY store, planted them up and some weeks later pulled out the most wonderful potatoes I’d tasted, I couldn’t believe the difference in taste. And there the journey began, I was hooked.

Remembering how wonderful my potatoes tasted, when all the seed catalogues started arriving I thumbed through to the potato selection and was spoilt for choice, I was like a child in a candy store. The final list, decided with a little help from Caleb (my son) was:

First Earlies: Pentland Javlin (for me as they were so good the first time) and Rocket (for Caleb)
Second Earlies: Yukon Gold
Early Maincrop: Rudolph (Caleb’s choice - I wonder why) and Blue Danube (only 99p due to size of order, so we thought we’d give them a try)
Late Maincrop: Golden Wonder and Pink Fir Apple
Christmas Collection: Orla - First Early, Vivaldi - Second Early, Carlingford - Second Early, Sarpo Una - First Early

So here I am, seed potatoes are in the shops, and I’m waiting anxiously for mine to be delivered so I can start to chit my earlies!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Hope and Happiness

The Grand essentials of happiness are: Something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

Something to do: sow seeds a plenty
Something to love: your budding seedlings and blossoming plants
Something to hope for: a fruitful harvest

Should this dreadful weather ever change I would like to get over to the allotment over the weekend, have a look and see if the snow has disapeared at an amazing rate (I think not) and see what damage it has done to the broad beans and over wintering onions, should I be able to find them, lol. Possibly do a bit of tidying up in the shed or at least mend the shed as it kind of started to fall apart when it was moved back in November and what with all the dreadful rain and then the snow i've not been able to get round to mending it.

Looking at the forecast (for Middlesbrough), well for Sunday at least, things are looking promising. It is anticipated there will be large amounts of dry weather, with temperatures closer to normal, dare we HOPE?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Withdrawal Symptoms

I’m sure there are plenty of fellow plotters out there who, like me are itching to get on with things. I experimented sowing a few seeds a couple of weeks ago, on my window-ledge just really to see what happens and how things progress here in the North East. Being my first real season for growing things I’m not sure what I can get away with and when I can realistically start to get things moving. So i've decided to document what I sow and how they do. Anyway I’ve got a few onions coming through and some of the cauli seedlings are progressing nicely. Only time will tell as to how they grow.

With this weather is I’ve not been able to do anything productive on the allotment since probably the middle of November. We had a lovely half term week at the end of October, but then things turned. First we had several weeks of endless rain, and the plot was quite flooded in places. Reading through all my bumf, it’s advised not to dig when the mud sticks to ya boots, and my mud was certainly very sticky to say the least. Then just as things seemed to be drying out, along comes the snow, and then more snow, and even more snow. Since taking over my allotment, I’ve been working on it most Sundays, quite often Saturday afternoons and several evenings during the week (until the nights drew in that is). So I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms now, is this something that I’ll get used to or does it only get worse the more years I grow my own?

With nothing really more to expand on I’ll sign off with a picture of Samson, basking in the sun outside the shed. This picture was taken as things were mid-November and shows how things a progressing (see picture 3 in my entry 'Plans for 2010' to see how it looked back when I took the plot over).

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Plans for 2010

Well there is nothing really to update you on regarding the plot so I though I would describe it to you (with a couple of photos thrown in how the plot looked when I took it over) and share with you my plans for 2010.

View 1 (front fence joining right fence & curved fence)

View 2 (curved fence to left)

View 3 (back fence joining right side fence)

I think the best way to describe the allotment as is an odd shaped ‘pentagon’. My back fence measures 40 ft and the long fence to the right of my plot measures 70 ft the left side fence is 40 ft and the front fence is about 16 ft. This is all joined together by a diagonal fence which I’ve not really measured as it’s not straight; it’s a kind of curving fence. If you measure from the bottom of the left fence straight across to the right fence, this is about 60 ft. So you can see I’ve got quite a decent size area to grow everything.

The previous owners left me a decent sized shed, which I’ve now moved into the back right hand corner of the plot as this area is very shaded with trees from the plot next door and I don’t think I’d get much to grow there. I’ve made this area my working area by laying a patio and that’s where I’ve got my compost & water bins.

As for my plans for 2010, first and foremost I would like a productive season, which goes without saying. I’ve decided to follow a four year crop rotation policy and so far I’ve built raised beds for three of the rotational/cropping areas and therefore need to get moving and finish the raised beds for the fourth area.

I’ve bought myself a little greenhouse so I would like to get that put up/built and utilised ASAP. I am currently using a couple of those little plastic ones (at home), with three shelves in them, so I’m looking forward to being able to potter around in my new one.

I’d really like to get a fruit area up and running, I’ve been donated some raspberry canes and strawberry plants. I’d like to grow some rhubarb, grapes and peaches and if I can prepare an area, plant up some apple, pear and plum trees next winter. I’m going to make a few permanent beds, to put in bits like rhubarb, herbs etc. I’ve earmarked an area where I’m going to have some flowers, especially those which attract bees. Lastly and probably my most adventurous plan, I’m going to build a bottle-house. Here I plan to keep my toms, aubergines, cucumbers and peppers once they are past the seedling stage and need a bigger area to grow.

Other thoughts for 2010 (but more like 2011), I’d like to make a wildlife ‘hotel’, build a pond and maybe at some point in the future start to keep some chucks.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Welcome on Board

Hi, and welcome to my blog, this is all a new experience for me so I hope you stick around as I'm sure things will only get better. Nothing much happening here in Middlesbrough, the snow is slowly disappearing so hopefully once it all goes i'll be able to get to the plot to finish off the winter digging and create a few new veg beds.

I went over to the allotment at the weekend, the snow was several inches deep, when I got there I found that the pigeons, well i'm blaming them, have eaten all my purple sprouting brocolli and demolished what few sprout plants I had. NOTE TO SELF cover next winter with netting!! I'd planted some Broad beans at the end of November and had planted some overwintering onions, i'll have to see how they have faired once all the snow goes.

So far this month I have sown some Onion seeds (Bedfordshire Champion), some Leeks ( - ) and some Cauli's (All Year Round and Snow Crown). I'll keep you posted as to their progress in the coming weeks.

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