This rather erratic weather does nothing to improve an already low level of allotmenteering mojo. Already feeling as though I am behind, hearing the hail come down as you return from the allotment is not exactly encouraging or inspiring. Today was pencilled in as the opportunity to take stock and sow an assortment of seeds. With the frost window in Birmingham open til the end of May, I made the decision to sow squashes. These grow quickly, require potting on if they become too large to soon and will eventually need hardening off before being plugged into the raised beds on the plot.
The squashes that have been sown are largely summer squashes. We have traditional green courgettes and a marrow, as well as patty pan, yellow scallop, a round variety and another that is white a green but also a space ship sort. The seeds have been sown into pellets, and will sit inside to germinate. What I have yet to sow are winter squashes such as pumpkins and butternut squashes. I am likely to either cheat or sow the seeds in the coming week or so. There are seeds saved from a couple of winter squashes that I will look into sowing again. There has always been a pumpkin on the plot, the plot would not be the same without a bruno. Whilst I am not a big fan of marrows, my mum is; so that is why I have sown some. I am likely to share the seeds sown with her, so they aren’t all for me!
Squashes have generally been quite straight forward. Sowing and growing Cucumbers on the other hand, has been somewhat of a challenge for.In the past, I have sown quite a few, but slowly, one by one, by April they will have keeled over in a cold snap. April has so far been fairly horrible in terms of weather, so I am somewhat glad to have made a late decision to sow cucumber seeds. Swing is a new variety, have not sown that before. Whereas I have previously sown marketmore and crystal lemon. The latter have cropped, and produce a lovely round and yellow fruit that does actually have a lemony taste to it.
The previous sowing of beans was something of a disaster. I think it was just too cold and damp in the poly tunnel; so I making a second sowing and keeping at home. The hope that this will encourage a better level of germination, seedlings will be more robust and once hardened off, these can be planted out on the the plot. The varieties sown are scarlet emperor runner bean; a favourite and previously a very good cropper. The climbing french bean variety is blue lake, and this has also been very abundant.
Sowing seeds is always somewhat therapeutic. I’ve now ran out of pellets, so the beans and cucumbers are being sunk into soil proper. I did give the compost a brief window to warm up, and then it was moisten with warm water. Otherwise there is an increased chance of rotting if everything is very cold and damp.
You can see the youtube version here.
There are a whole host of different seedlings that now require observation. The observation does happen to be carried out by mum, and is communicated to me along the lines of “Punam, shall I water your tomatoes, they look a bit sad.” Half of the time, she is right, but I do try and make sure that they aren’t over water. The tomatoes and chillies are actually still under fleece during the night time for now. There have been a few nights were where the temperatures were significantly under 10 degrees celsius. So I have been a little wary in leaving the seedlings exposed.
You can see the youtube version here.
When I hear the words “Punam, your tomatoes look a bit sad” I do tend to check, and see what Mum is suggesting. There are some varieties, such as ‘Cream Sausage’ that do look a little bit sad as they are quite feathery in appearance. These, I can look at double check that they are still with us. What you don’t expect, quite so soon, is a flower. A bright yellow one at that. The label appears to have disappeared for the one in the picture, so I can’t determine what variety it is. The plant doesn’t look unhappy, but sending out a flower means that it is either too happy, or a bit stressed out. I will keep a closer eye on the plants and make a decision as to what to do next. It is most likely that it requires potting on, but I am going to hold fire with that for now. The plan is to plant the tomatoes in the open ground of the allotment. Last years experiment of having them all in the poly tunnel wasn’t very successful; and by and large, all the previous success has come from tomatoes being outside. Plants will need hardening off, and I hope that can be done in the coming month or so.
I went down to the plot today! I wasn’t booked to be anywhere, I could have a lie in, and then I was able to go do things on the plot. The last few months, in fact since the start of the academic year, have been rather busy. Between school work and volunteering, there has been a lot going on. So much so, there have been times where going to the plot has been somewhat challenging. I am for making time, and there have been instances where it has just been a quick visit to make sure things are still standing.
Also, it hasn’t rained today. Yet!
The sun is out, it has just nipped behind a cloud, as I type; but it is out. Has lent itself to being used appropriately. I am hoping that my gardening mojo will return as the seasons change and the growing season kicks off proper.
Today, was about tidying up the poly tunnel. Not a lot has happened in there since the summer, I didn’t plant anything in there; though I probably should have. I have had it a couple of years now, and I am still trying to work out how to use it properly. In I went, and tidied up and away the assortment of grassy weeds that had taken up residence. I also passed a hoe around to break up and aerate the soil. A green film had appeared across the soil and needed to be scuffed away. A couple of days ago, I had removed the rather mottled and decaying pots of chillies, there may be a couple more in the smaller greenhouse actually. Free of both weeds and pots, the poly tunnel started to look a bit serviceable again. To make it even more so, I had some shelving to build.
It does look a little wonky, yes, the ground isn’t particularly level inside and I’m not investing in industrial strength shelving. There is going to be a point where I run out of space at home in terms of window sills. I do have the four tier blowaway and the walk in greenhouse as well to help ease congestion. Thing is, any seedlings sown need to be mature enough and hardened off before they exist the house. As wonky as it looks, the shelving is okay. Was simple enough to build, it didn’t require any tools; and I have secured the shelves themselves to the frame by tying wool. It is most likely that as the tomatoes and chillies at home get bigger, they will find themselves on these shelves. It won’t be long before I need the window sills at home for squashes.
The next thing to do was to actually sow something. I am still a little behind, or at least it feels like I am. I am still meaning to sow sunflowers, but today was all about beans.
In particular climbing French beans and running beans. Beans have been one of the most successful and abundant crops on the plot. I have stayed with the varieties that we have sown and grown in the past. These are:
- Scarlet emperor
- Painted lady
- Borlotto beans
- Blue lake
As you can see, the whole tray of modules is full. Yes, that is an awful lot of beans. They do all get used, either fresh or are frozen for use in cooking. When frozen, they do keep well. I don’t actually recall Mum ever blanching them. The crop tends to be washed and diced, before ending up in the freezer until needed. I quite like the climbing french beans, and I would not have been forgiven had I not sown runner beans. Mum asked a couple of weeks ago-she made eyes at me and everything-about when I would be sowing runner beans.
Incidently, it is very hard not to type runner beans….
She is not a big fan of the interestingly coloured borlotto beans, but I wasn’t going to let them escape the plot. I quite like them, they look really quite nice peeking out through the foliage on the canes. They are pretty much used in the same way as runner beans in the kitchen, so the appearance gets glossed over. Once curried in a pan, you can’t really tell the difference in the appearance. Turmeric will do that to a dish.
In other news, I am working on the next GYO/Plot book. It was a thought that crossed my mind, and stayed there. There is a vague plan, of what might be in it; I will need to reflect further on the fine details. But there will be recipes in there, that much I do know!
Not sure when it will be done, but I will get it sorted soon. This means working on book two and three most likely at the same time over course of the year.
As a year of two halves, 2015 has been somewhat interesting but different. The first half of the year involved having the best of intentions. Seeds were sown, I had half a plan as to what I wanted to achieve. No different to what I might have done in previous years, I was going to use all my knowledge and experience to make things better, bigger and more efficient. Then came July, 2015 became incredibly busy and in the tail end; I am only just recovering from a very hectic six months.
Let’s take the first six months, where by the growing season is starting. Plans are afoot, the world is full of promise. We are hoping to have a good year.
Tomatoes, chillies and aubergine were the focus of the first three months. Makings sure that the seeds were sown, that these germinated and the plants pampered. Pampered, as so many valuable lessons had been learned as to how they might be successful. It was touch and go for a while in the early stages. Half baked chillies and tomatoes can be a very scaring and intimidating experience, when you let them be in a hot room or poly tunnel. There were even aphids and bugs that needed to be dealt with.
In July, I hosted a workshop during the annual conference of the Association of teachers of Psychology. I spoke about horticulture and mental health, the benefits that teachers might gain for both themselves and their students. I had asked my Psychology colleagues to sow sunflowers in the Spring and also encouraged conference delegates to do the same in giving them seeds that were kindly donated by the information point. It was also at this point, that I finished the Level 3 Certificate in Counselling studies.
Then came the summer, with lots and lots of growing!
No one year will be the same as the preceding or following. Yet this year felt different. There was just something palpably different that made growing more of a challenge ad something beyond me being busy with work and studies. Last year, I remember being ankle deep in tomatoes, green ones; but there were lots of them. This year,I had a foliage, and not a lot of fruits. Positioned in the poly tunnel, the crop was meant to do well. Even the chillies appeared to have struggled this year. Whilst the poly tunnel seemed to have been filled with triffids, there was a muted level of success. Aubergines did themselves no favours once again. I must say every year that I will not sow them. I finally have proof that I might be better off without them. Lovely plants, the occasional flower; but diddly squat fruit even if the poly tunnel was a bit damp and sweaty.
And note the gadget! The apple one. Having acquired all of those apples from a plot neighbour (they were not scrumped, I had consent!) that was an investment and a half. Saved me hours. The home brew kit is still waiting in the wings. untested this year, maybe it will be used in the growing seasons to come. There were a number of pickles and preserves. The preserving pan was rather busy this year, even though the produce was a bit hit and miss.
With the plot ticking along, and the blog growing. Something else also happened. I had been lucky enough to write guest blog posts for WRG, via the fabulous Michael Perry. This was and still is one of the most valuable writing experiences that I have ever had. This actually triggered something more complex and more challenging than I first realised. Over the summer, the winner of the Big Allotment Challenge Rob Smith had written a short book. One of my fellow counselling students, L.A.Cotton, had also burst onto the young adult contemporary genre (She’s epic, tell her I sent you) with phenomenal success.
These three things combined spurred me to be courageous and write something myself. June and July were turning points, and I remembered sending a message to both my sisters; saying that I wanted to write an ebook, and I would try and get it out by Christmas. That was it, I was going to do it.
Having written as mentioned previously, the guest blogs for WRG , one of them was about the Indian Inspiration on the plot. I think Michael Perry used the words ‘Bollywood Gardener’ or something similar, and I adopted the hashtag! This inadvertently became the start of the book. I wrote in a way I can only describe as feverish. I have the same frame of mind when writing the blogs, to be honest; and it’s part of the blog life. The book however was different in that this was thousands of words and trying to bring the assorted elements of the blog together. There was a lot of things that I wanted to include in my budget of 25, 000 words. I had a notebook-my blog book actually, the one that I take to the plot-and a pen. Scribbling ensued, and it’s hard to read my writing anyway. So when it’s all in very hurried, that doesn’t help with typing.
What I ended up with was ‘Playing with Plant Pots: Tales from the allotment’. Plus it was well before Christmas!
With a bright yellow front cover, you cannot miss it!
I am going to be naturally very biased, and say that I like my book. However, that is genuine. I like to share it, because I do honestly believe in my book. You might, for example, have writers out there, who will promote their books; but not necessarily believe in their own work. You know if you don’t blow your own trumpet, it’s difficult to get others to do the same.
Standing in the kitchen, leafing through my own book was rather surreal. My name was on a book, that I had crafted. Then there was the few hours that it was at number one. A fellow independent writer informed me of that happening, and that made my day, I tell you! I am determined to get back to the slot.
Then there was the swag. The merchandise. Again, this sounds likes trumpeting! Petal, the horticultural Obbit, has always been the online avatar of the blog. A registered trademark, she’s face (other than mine!) of the blog and social media presence.
As you will have read, this year may have been different to others; but it has not been quiet. So much has gone one, it’s no wonder that the tail end of the year is slower and more reflective. If it had all been plain sailing, there would have been very little learned, very little documented in the blog, and very little left to reflect upon.
For now, my only plan is try and sow chillies at some point, and plant my fruit trees when they arrive. I haven’t really thought about anyhing beyond that.
I thank you, for having accompanied me on the 2015 journey; and look forward to the one starting in the new year.
Happy new year!
The last week has seen teaching finish and exams start; so I have been a little busy with a real life beyond the plot. With evenings and weekends, I have spent some time defoliating the very leafy tomatoes in the poly. Beyond that, parents have been along to the plot. Ma is on her summer school holidays, so has been taking up weeds and digging over as she does anyway. Just with a bit more gusto. I get waken in the morning, with the words “Punam, I am going over road for an hour. back in a bit.” Two hours later, she’ll turn up at home for tea time.
Dad’s engineering training was utilised this week. I am too short to reach the top of the bean wig wams, I have decided to put a horizontal cane between the wig wams to maximise growing. So Dad helped to beam them.
Then he noticed squashes trailing up canes. He decided that I had done it wrong-not sure about the right way and that I shouldn’t use black string-luckily I had gardening twine. So decided to construct some scaffolding for the burgeoning squashes.
My Sunflowers had doing well, lots of blooms appearing. Allowing bumble bees to come by and get a bit intoxicated.
The plot is starting to kick off now. As you may have seen from another blog post, the poly is well and truly alive. The tomatoes are five foot tall triffids. Yes, these are the things that only week ago were only eighteen inches high. They are now starting to send out yellow flowers, and some of them have started to set. What you see at the marmande and cream sausage varieties. Not in the pictures, but in the poly tunnel we also have the tiniest of money maker tomatoes.
Beyond that, the scarlet emperor runner beans have started to display lovely red flowers. The blue lake and cobra french climbing beans are somewhat behind, and only just starting to climb and live up to their name.
There are weeds cropping up all over the plot. There are also harvests to made too. I will be hoeing the weeds down soon. The harvests, though, have been good so far. Firstly, we have spuds. Potatoes/ Over the last four years I have variable harvests. From sinking into open ground to raised beds. I finally have a spud that I am proud of. Today, I have harvested probably about a couple of pounds of kestrel second early potatoes. The foliage had started to keel over, so I took this as a sign to harvest. I wasn’t so quietly impressed when digging over. I may have blasphemed a little bit; my mother who was in ear shot, exclaimed my name. Not at my blaspheming, but at the fact that I was handing over fairly nice looking potatoes.
A plot neighbour kindly donated some redcurrants that she was harvesting. These with the pounds of frozen strawberries already harvested went into a jam alongside some purple haze and cayenne chillies.
It does taste rather nice, and I don’t actually like strawberries that much.
I have been further monitoring the raspberry situation. To be honest, I am not in the least bit happy. Yes, these were planted in Autumn. A full season collection, I had thirty canes. Not all of these have foliage, and they are all very much still brown and sticky. Those that are leafy, have so far produced the grand sum of six-maybe-raspberries. All of the canes have rooted, I have done the tug test. They have definitely rooted.
On the other hand, I have ten fall gold yellow raspberry canes and two pink autumn bliss raspberries. The two autumn bliss ones are happy, having been cut back, and now fairly leafy and about to bear fruit. The yellow ones, have provided three yellow raspberries so far. This I can deal with.
With the distinct lack of pink summer raspberries, I am feeling a bit dejected. A lot like England crashing out on penalties. Penalties, can be practised.
Runner beans are shooting up their supports, and rapidly. So much so, I have spotted a cluster of red flowers. The climbing french beans however, don’t look so good and are still very small.
With the end of May, being the closing of our frost window; today was plant out day. This was the result of plants being hardened off over the last week or so in quiet anticipation. Plus the plants were starting to get a bit too big to be stashed in the 4TB.
First thing first, three of the metre square beds had to be filled up, these were filled with well decayed farmyard manure. Then, sixteen squash plants, yes, sixteen, have been sunk. There’s half and half split, with some being plugged into raised beds, with the others being plugged into open ground. These were the seeds sown the second time around as the first batch had become cold and damp. Compared to what squashes have looked like at the same time in previous years, they are a bit smaller. I haven’t managed to sow and germinate pumpkins or butternut squashes, so this may be a jet episode.
Next came the beans. We had about thirty plants. These were the traditional scarlet emperor runner bean, as well as cobra and blue lake french climbing bean. All of these three varieties have in the past been very productive. I have another tray sat on the window sill germinating, so I may need to make some more wig wams at somepoint.
Mum has been telling me for some times to sowing ‘running beans’ so that was happened today. A batch was sown previously, but as the seeds were too cold and wet; these have more or less rotted away to pulp. A fresh batch has been sown, and placed onto a warm and well lit window sill. These are
- Cobra Climbing French beans
- Blue Lake Climbing French Beans
- Scarlet Emperor runner beans
I have sown all three of these previously and with fair success, so I am sowing them again this year. I think we have only just finished the last of last summers runner bean crop.
I have observed that the Climbing French Beans are far more productive then the dwarf varieties. The dwarf varieties, in my experience, get munched on by slimers. They eat the crop, before you do. I have sown these today, which means I will have to construct the supporting structures for them to grow up. In the past, I have use two types of structure. Climbing french and runner beans, have been grown up either wig wams, or criss-cross frames. The wig wams are meant to be space saving. I can see how the criss cross frames might take up more space. All being well, these will germinate, the seeds won’t get too damp and rot away.
One thing that is certain, is that once you have grown your own climbing french beans, you will see supermarket produce in a different way. Especially, when they don’t grow straight, but curly as the dwarf beans do. They all crop abundantly, when you have the appropriate conditions for them to grow productively.
The fleece is off! Not quite June, by 24 hours, but let’s go!
Mama H and I took a walk down, bits and pieces tucked under our arms. All of the squashes were uncovered as were the cucumbers, sweetcorn and the one tomato that was down there. Mama H huffed and puffed at me; taking off the fleece there. Whilst I was planting out broadband and dwarf French beans, Pops came by. As you do. With two big bags of grass clippings. These were then tucked around the potato foliage. Looking a big ugly, if I might add. Pops pottered around too. Surveying, it’s a Dad thing. I haven’t put the leeks out yet.
Avalon and sweet dumpling have taken a hit. Big leaves eaten. There are smaller, leaves starting to come through. The sweetcorn is 3×3 with yellow scallop and patty pans dotted in between. Looking a bit windburned actually. This years ghost rider has rallied, it looked a bit ropey last week. Womble-wonder which courgette that is-is looking a bit on the petite size; whilst Astia looks all right. Baby marrow is similar.
Cucumbers didn’t look too bad. A couple of crispy leaves. Four of the second sized tomatoes were planted out.
Planted out some Cherokee trail of tears. With the runner beans looking a bit scruffy; not sure if they will actually survive.
Cauliflowers and kale didn’t look too bad in their beds. Having raised beds is certainly making a difference. I’m not quite sure what Mama H is going to do with all her fenugreek and spinach. It does all look very green.
There was a moment of hilariousness. Mama H picked up a big fat black slug, and launched it; screaming at the top of her lungs that I had a big fat slug. It didn’t land far. I then picked it up after and I’m afraid to say; it was euthanised by being slung against a wooden fence. Don’t think it felt a thing.
Not a bad start, eh?
Yours in anticipation,