Plot produce picking up

 

Things are starting to pick up! Inside the poly tunnel, the first of the chilli plants is starting to flower. The Purple haze variety has sent out a couple of flower buds. These tend to be a purple rimmed flower that indicates that the fruit will be a matching purple and eventually turn red. I did have a quick scan around the other pots, and I think the jalapenos were also on the turn.

Across swathes of the allotment, there is a carpet of white flowers. These flowers, all being well, will turn into strawberries. I don’t think I have seen quite so many strawberry flowers; they seem to have run riot.This is not altogether unexpected, the idea was that they would run riot and send out lots of runners and form a carpet that would help reduce other weeds from springing up.

In terms of other soft fruit, there are the tiniest of gooseberries coming through. To be honest, I had not seen much by way of gooseberry flowers. The plants are still young, and will still need time to become more established. I am looking forward to see the different colours, there are red, yellow and green varieties that are all looking very leafy.

Then there are tomatoes. There are quite a few plants, seventeen, at the last count; and they have taken something of a beating with the inclement weather. At the moment they do look a bit weather beaten; however they can’t be that miserable as there are baby tomatoes. There are tiny fruit on both my plants and those planted on Mum’s half plot. They could be a little more leafy, but all being well, they well catch up.

 

Piece of Mind: Mental Health Awareness#MHAW 2016

Yesterday  saw the start of Mental Health week 2016.It is also, funnily enough, National Tomato week.

At first glance, those sentences couldn’t be less connected. It might cause you to question how the humble tomato might link to Mental health.

And if it does. Good.

That question is well worth considering.

I like gardening, I like tending to my allotment; I also happen to have an interest in Mental health. Over the last few years, the two have become somewhat linked.

By trade, I am teacher of Social Sciences; my specialism is Psychology. I have been teaching for a number of years, about the science of the human mind, our brains and behaviour. In doing so, I have be able to reflect beyond the visible and easy to see Physical health. My experience has informed me that whilst the medical model is heavily entrenched in what we can see, there are concerns that exist even though we cannot see physical signs or symptoms.

Not only do I teach, I have become a trained listener, I support survivors of abuse and also have an interest in supporting veterans of conflict. Mental health is a concept that somehow has managed to feed through all of those areas in one shape or form.

Being on the allotment, is something I enjoy. There may well be the odd tantrum when things don’t germinate, or the plot gets waterlogged. These things happen; but the plot also serves to have a rather positive impact upon both my physical and mental health. Physically, I will know about it if I have been digging or dragging my wheelbarrow around. There is a great deal of activity to be done on the plot. Mentally, the plot has a number of functions. In the first instance, there is a sense of mindfulness. Being able to stop, pause, take stock. To think about the here and now. Second, you find yourself thinking of other things rather than marking, planning lessons or trying to work out how you might have changed a lesson. Third, you get to experience mud beneath your finger nails in connecting with the world. Fourth, you realize that sowing seeds and seeing them germinate does rather make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Yet the merest mention of Mental health and the subsequent response is anything but warm and fuzzy. There is still alot of stigma, negative attitudes, and a disparity on a national scale as to the support available to those who experience mental health concerns. In the last eighteen months, I have noticed there have been attempts to shift the perception of mental health. A number of organisations have made strides towards an increased awareness. Even the venerable Stephen Fry tried to remove the use of  the stock ‘head clutcher’ image so very often used to accompany the words mental health.  Mental  health has started to come to the fore in the media, and people are talking about it. People are sharing their experiences, their journeys and making incredible first steps in helping Mental Health be placed firmly in the public consciousness.

Only in the last few days, I have seen the ‘Campaign against Living Miserably’. Prior to that, there was Professor Green’s documentary about how the increasing number of men committing suicide. The mental health of children and adolescents has also become a talking point. There is something definitely in the water.

As a teacher, I am mindful of a number of things. The students that I work with, may well be experiencing mental health concerns; they may know of someone who is experiencing mental health concerns, they may have questions in general about mental health. Fortunately, I am able to listen and signpost if necessary. I am more than willing to offer support. Sadly that is not always the case, and there are unfortunately, communities out there, where Mental health isn’t spoken about. If it is spoken about, it is discussed in hushed tones, behind closed doors and with people surreptitiously looking out for the Joneses and Patel’s lest they hear something. The mere sight, sound and feel of mental health concern elicits a shaking of the head, a tut, and a ‘pull yourself together’, and further makes a difficult situation even more challenging.

I mentioned the fact that it is National tomato week. This is a nod to how over the last few years the activities within therapeutic horticulture (or horticultural therapy depending on where you are) have contributed a great deal to supporting individuals with mental health concerns. The charity MIND was very successful in using activities and being able to measure the level of impact. Thrive is another example of work carried out to positive effect.

For me personally, having an allotment and tending to it, has been a really very positive experience. Beyond the lack of germination, the odd slug attacked cabbage, I firmly believe that my outlook, my mental health has been positively influenced. For example, when you have marked two dozen essays, are seeing stars; seeing the roses that you planted in full blossom is always going to gladden the soul.

So why not smell the roses? Why not, during Mental Health Awareness Week, sow a sunflower, sink some runner beans, try and sow some lupins or maybe you fancy growing your own Dahlias? You never know.

Beyond that; if you are experiencing mental health concerns, then you are not alone. There is support, talk, have a chat.

And if you know of someone who is experiencing mental health concerns. Listen. You’d be surprised just how much that helps.

 

 

Sinking Sweetcorn

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It has been sometime since I last had sweetcorn on the plot. It was only when revisiting my previous two out of three sisters experience, that I decided to have another go. Plus Mum wanted some for her plot. I have decided to have another go at two out of three sisters. It is two and not three as I will not be putting runner beans into the equation. Runner beans are something of a sore subject; they have currently failed to germinate twice, and also cucumbers seemed to have died a death.

I think there are twelve plants  (Incredible F1) in the picture above. In previous experience, I only had eight, so I am hoping for a better level of success. The plan is to plant squashes in between the rows; probably about three or four as they do tend to grow quickly  and take up a lot of space. That is if we don’t get a frost! The frost window closes in two weeks, so I am taking something of a chance. The squashes in question will need to keep growing and will also need to be hardened off as well before being put in situ.

The seeds were sown into pellets, and had come through in a matter of days. Subsequently, they grew quickly and were quite tall. I think we may have had a few casualties along the way, but there were enough plants to be shared between Mum and I. We both have blocks of sweetcorn. The one difference is that Mum’s are in open ground, mine are in raised beds. The raised bed contains a combination of multi-purpose compost and leave mold; and this will form a nutritious base to feed the plants.

You can see the youtube version here.

 

(P.S. I realise that I do sound a bit miserable in the video; I noticed it a week or so ago. Will try to get that sorted!)

Glads to planting tomatos #gdnbloggers

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Doesn’t look too bad, does it?

This would be plot, as we approach the ides of May. Over the last few days, the calmer and warmer weather has allowed the plot to dry out a little. It looks less like what one of the ‘old boys’ of the allotment described as a paddy field. It is drier, yes, and I am able to see the wood for the trees. Especially, as the potatoes have stared to come, the odd previously sunk gladiolus are also coming up and the grapevines are starting to look alive.

I mention the glads, as more have been sunk today. I think I have read somewhere that glad’s have their naming roots in Gladiator swords. Actually makes me smile, but also think of Clash of the titans. In  the older Harryhausen movie, skeletal gladiators rose from the earth; so I often imagine this as I see thin green and scarlet tinged blades start to rise from the soil. More on the glads later though.

Fruit trees were looking frilly, the falstafff apple still is actually. I think the pear tree has somewhat suffered, and has been scorched by a frost. I was quite clad to see that the Morello cherry had blossomed out in bulk, as I wasn’t expecting it to be in bloom so soon after planting.

Today the task was to plant out this years cohort of tomatoes as well as sinking more gladiolus.

Having moved from home, this years tomato plants have been sat in the poly tunnel for a week or so. I did make an attempt to plant them out on Wednesday, only for the heavens to open whilst I planted just the one plant out. There were another fourteen plants to be planted out today, with seven additional plants being given to mum for her half plot. The first thing to keep in mind, is that whilst we are half way through May, a threat of frost still exists here in Birmingham. So if we do have a frost, these are probably for the high jump, and it truly be ‘good night, Vienna’ for them. There is an assortment of varieties, with yellow stuffer, aisla craig, marmande and cream sausage amongst the plants. Some of them have lost their labels, so I will have to take a rough guess if and when these do fruit. I did actually see a baby tomato on one of the plants on Mum’s half plot. All being well, they will be happy and won’t be frosted. Famous last words, I know.

The other job was to sink more gladiolus.

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basket full of blooms

In the last couple of years, I must have sunk hundreds. There were a hundred that were sunk today. Thankfully,  of those sown over the years, are starting to sprout. These are however, largely in raised beds. Those there were in open ground are thin on the ground as Ma has dug over large patches where they might have been on the edges and scattered them around. That’s not a bad thing, they will appear if they want to. I have found that those in the heavy clay of the open ground may well have decayed and disintegrated over the winter; during the summer they did actually flower quite well.

  • Butterfly mix
  • Purple Flora
  • Black Surprise
  • Video
  • Green Star
  • Essential

The varieties that have been sunk, vary from being dwarf varieties to larger, giant varieties that are easily four to five high. I am intrigued as how the green variety are going to turn out, as well as the black surprise. I remember giving the latter ones away last year when I felt that I had too many to sink. The purple ones are a favourite, and always look rather pretty. There is a vast variety in the butterfly mix. A smaller dwarf variety, this selection usually contains many different colours.

 

In the next few months, garlic will be on the agenda. This is the garlic kindly supplied by Marshalls, and it’s not doing too badly. There is strong and healthy looking foliage, that indicates just how robust garlic can be and especially during rather erratic weather conditions. I am very glad to say that it hasn’t bolted; there are not signs yet of a flower forming on the top of the garlic scrapes. The foliage has certainly filled out and become more leafy. When it starts to go brown and hessian like and falls over, then it will time to harvest .garlic

Poly potting up, yet again

 

All of this years chillies are now in the poly tunnel and in their final pots. There are twenty six pots, some of which contain more than one chilli plant. This is by far the most ambitious number of chilli plants grow; I think previously I had only had half the number of plants. This is testament to the germination rates of the chillies. Whilst there are habanero chillies amongst the number, there are no super hot chillies this year. There are also a significant number of smaller habit, patio chillies rather than the taller, sprawling varieties.

In the above picture, the one’s on the left are the smaller varieties.  The patio varieties are distinctly different, with rather serrated edge leaves. The hope is that these will continue to flourish, and that ultimately, we will have some interesting chilli fruit.

Polytunnel potting up

Finally, I am moving the chillies from their warm sitting place to the poly tunnel. I have potted up twelve pots into larger flower buckets. This is half of this years chilli cohort, with another two dozen pots to be positioned in the poly tunnel. Potted up today were Purple Haze cayennes-two plants, with a third waiting at home-jalepenos, hungarian hot wax, prairie fire, patio sizzle and sparkler. These are plants that have had something of a growth surge recently, and one of the purple haze plants has even started to form flowers. I have taken this as an indicator that these are now ready to move home and head to the poly tunnel. These are the final pots for the plants, and I don’t anticipate potting them on again.

You can see the you tube version here.

Squashes also need to be potted on, and I didn’t realise quite how many I had. I counted just over two dozen plants; luckily for me, I can share these with Mum. There are four marrows in there, which she will no doubt have designs on. Marrows are really not my thing, but Ma can work magic with them.  I have yet to sow pumpkins and butter nut squashes; to be honest, I might cheat in those cases. I can never get pumpkins or butter nut squashes to actually germinate. Seedlings tend to be okay and I can look after them from that stage onwards. There are a few patty pans and yellow scallops, these become the coolest of space ship courgettes. There are the standard green courgettes as well as other yellow ones.

The poly tunnel is now occupied with a number of different seedlings. Tomatoes and Sweetcorn  have been basking in sunshine for the last few days, and I have taken the decision to move them to the poly tunnel by way of a half way house. The Latah variety and a few others have already started to flower, so moving might be useful. The tomato cohort as a whole are probably not as tall as they could be-they were sown later than usual-and are starting to look a bit weary of their pots. The aim is to plug these into raised beds in the coming week if the weather remains fair. I just need to keep an eye on them in the poly tunnel, as I remember having a small panic last year in nearly cooking plants as the poly got rather too hot. There should be enough water in the gravel trays though, for the next couple of days if the temperatures remain; the vents are also open.

You can see the youtube version here.

It was world naked gardening day today, apparently. I can assure you that I fully clothed all the time.

Hello, Sunshine, where have you been?

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If you ask my Mum, the tomatoes have been looking routinely quite sad. They needed watering, and they were cheered up with doses of haitch two oh as and when required. What was more important, was sunshine. Sunshine, which has been somewhat absent and has finally turned up. And very welcome it is too, as it has kick started and renewed feelings of optimism as far as the allotment is concerned. According to the weather people, the sunshine is going to be around for a while; a week at least. With that in mind, the tomatoes have been sent outside to the path in Dad’s garden to start the process of hardening off. Unlike last year, where the tomatoes were all grown under cover; these are going to be outdoors and in raised beds or open ground. Currently they are all having a strop in pots, and I am hoping that if the plants sun bathe for the next few days that I can then take them to the allotment and bury them a bit deeper. The appearance of yellow flashes, tomato flowers, suggests that these all need to get a wiggle on and fairly soon.

This year’s cohort of chillies are the current room mates of the tomatoes, and will also need to be removed to the poly tunnel and be potted up. There are chillies here that are supposed to be small and stumpy, as it were, and those who are supposed to grow tall and abundant. I did sort them out into two groups to make the sorting out easier. The taller chillies will be potted up into large flower buckets, whereas the smaller ones are going to put into pots as they are not expected to take up a huge amount of room. In the last few weeks, the chillies have rather had something of a grow spurt and on time. In the next four weeks they will grow further before being moved to the poly tunnel. Having been sown a little late doesn’t appear to  have to knocked them too much.

With the chillies hitting a stride, there are also emerging seedlings. Recently sown cucumbers and squashes have started to come through. With the frost window remaining open until the next May bank holiday, both of these have got four weeks to grow and become more robust.  In my experience, squashes grow very quickly; you sometimes have to re-pot them to key up. I am hoping that with the four week window they are suitably sized for planting out once that they have been hardened off. With the cucumbers, I do intend for these to be planted and grown outside. I have previously grown crystal lemon outside and harvested a crop.

Seedlings are sat on the sidelines, mean making crumble. Last year I was able to harvest trugs full of apples and these were then frozen alongside some plums. Today has been spent making a plum and apple crumble. The second in four days!

With the crop of a previous year being used up, we can look to the future crop. A walk to the plot meant finding cherry and apple Blossom. The two cherry trees, Sylvia and Morello, are new additions to the plot; so it was rather heartening to see white buds n the Morello, but a lovely white bloom-just the one!-on the Sylvia tree. I wasn’t expecting to see any blossom on them this year, so I am really quite surprised to see blossom. I did check on the Concorde pear, that appears to have taken the frost on the chin, and is still looking frilly. The darling peach tree does still have a couple of deep pink blooms, there had been half a dozen; I did fleece at one point only for the wind to disagree with the shrouding.

The otherwise heavy clay of the allotment has had a chance to dry out. This has been to the relief to the heritage garlic that Marshalls were kind enough to provide for the plot. Garlic is wonderfully resilient, and is actually doing quite well given how much rain it has suffered. There are no signs yet of any bolting, and the ground is weed free so the bulbs should be making the most of the nutrients available from the clay.  The foliage is still very green and leafy, and with another eight weeks to go there is still a lot of growing to be done.

heritagemarshall

I do like it when the post person delivers something that you’ve been hotly anticipating. Copies of ‘Sow Grow and Eat’ landed on our doormat and rather made my day. My thanks to the fabulous Howard-(the artist who once sunk spuds, remember him?) for having put the cover together. You will also spot that the Loldeantimber trug is now something of a cover star, it also appears in the book. Given how the trug is used so much on the plot, it was definitely going to end up in the book.