Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Feeling guilty

I may have killed my greenhouse plants. I've been away for a long weekend and didn't arrange for anybody to water the greenhouse. I didn't even set up the watering system before I left or water particularly thoroughly as I had a tired, tearful, three year old in the car and I had to drive to Scotland. I didn't even go today as I had a tired, tearful, three year old in the car. Tomorrow will probably be too late. All that nurturing gone to waste (well, apart from the several kilos of tomatoes, cucumbers and chilli peppers I've harvested).

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Allotment dinner

Went down to the plot this evening with Elizabeth to water the greenhouse plants and came home with the ingredients for dinner: corn on the cob, new potatoes, courgettes fritters, french beans and a yummy hot (chilli) tomato sauce. The only things in the dinner that we didn't produce were eggs (hope to soon), flour and olive oil!

We also came home with a (kids) bucket of blackberries from our foraging along the river bank and a couple of apples from a fellow plotholders tree (I feel a pie coming on!). Also had the offer of ripe elderberries -may have another go at elderberry wine.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Plum jam

I've just made plum jam! I used half of my first batch of plums (1kg) just in case it didn't work, but all seems fine. It set nicely and has formed a seal on the recycled glass jars (the poppers on the top are all depressed). The jam is a beautiful plum-red colour (even though the flesh was green) and best of all the bit I put on a plate to test tasted very yummy.

The recipe was simple: 900g plums (before being stoned), 300ml water, 850kg sugar. Cooking in a wide pan until it reaches 220 degrees F or for about 20 mins on a rolling boil. Test a sample on a cold plate, if it wrinkles when you push it then it will set. Pour into hot sterilised jars.

I'm going to have a go at a plum chutney tomorrow and a plum cake on Sunday. the challenge of course is what to do with the next kilo I pick!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Plums, tomatoes, beetroot and bindweed.

Just back from my hols (Iceland - fantastic place) to find a bumper crop of plums, tomatoes and beetroot, not to mention cauliflowers, courgettes, potatoes....

I'm really pleased with my plum tree - it's about 3-4 years old and last year gave me 4 delicious czar plums. This year, well, the photo hopefully shows that my toddler tree has produced so far a whopping 1.5kg of ripe plums with more on the way.

I also have a dozen beetroot, a bowl of cherry toms as well as golden sunrise yellow toms, some marmande as well as others that I can't remember the name of.

I was delighted with the cauliflowers - I've grown them under enviromesh (a fine mesh-net thing) after a couple of years of inedible catepilliary cauliflowers I've finally won - this year have had 4 cauliflowers so far with no wiggley things inside.

I think I've done well in just under 3 weeks. Many thanks go to my allotment neighbour Shirley and my brother Jamie for watering my greenhouse whilst I was away.

Unfortunately I've come back to a plot that is not only full of produce but overrun with bindweed. I've pulled up a sack of it already and there is still more to go.

Now to find plum and beetroot recipes.

Thursday, 25 June 2009


I think it's fair to say that I have a poppy problem! Every bed, in the paving, everywhere there are big pink poppies. I can hardly see the plot or what's growing on it for poppies. I usually let a few grow but this year I've been a bit preoccupied selling my home and trying to buy somewhere so I've only rushed down to water the greenhouse. I haven't carefully thinned the poppy seedlings down to a managable number and have been over run! I'm not sure if you can see that from the photograph.

It's not bad though, there are plenty of bees and other pollinators, my crops are all doing well (have a regular supply of strawberries for Elizabeth as well as raspberries, gooseberries and soon the blueberries start cropping.

My sweetcorn is doing well, and the interplanting with beans and squash seems to be working this year. The three free roses are fantastic and I've had cut flowers with loads left on the plant for the insects for a month now.

My greenhouse is overflowing with tomato plants and it's a mammoth task potting them all on and more importantly finding pots!

I was also pleased to see the broad beans are thriving despite the odd bit of blackfly. And more pleased to see that there were loads of ladybirds, ladybird larvae etc feasting on the blackfly - its year three and my no chemical principles seem to be paying off.

My next big challenge is how to keep the greenhouse watered whilst I'm in Iceland. Think I need to beg a few favours - they should be able to help themselves to the first crop of tomatoes that will ripen in the next week or two.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Time flies

It seems like absolutely ages since I last spent time at my plot! I've made the dash down there to water the greenhouse but not much else in the last few weeks (my weekends have been taken up with visits to relatives, friends and my Hut).

Absence however has this remarkable power - the allotment goes wild. I now have metre-high poppy plants everywhere (the first one is in flower, a lovely large pink bloom). The weeds are also huge (despite pulling them up everytime I see one - how do they escape!).

On the plus side I do have lots of fruit this year - a bumper crop of pears, apples and plums (see pic) and it doesn't look too bad on the cherry and gooseberry front either.

In the greenhouse things are going well - I had over 100 tomato plants of different varieties but have managed to give many away (hurray!) and potted on the others. Still many toms in pots they have outgrown but will hopefully get to those this weekend. There are quite a few toms already on the plants - some the size of golf balls!

I've finally managed to grow carrots - after my third attempt at sowing seeds. Wonder what I did wrong. And I've only got about 4 parsnip plants after sowing nearly 3 packets of seeds!!!

I've also planted out sweetcorn and squash as well as beans (trying the 'three sisters' again this year).

Harvesting-wise I've had a continuous but small supply of strawberries (they rarely make it off the plot), a few early onions, asparagus and lettuce. The cherries are ripening and I guess the garlic will need lifting soon.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Meet Jimmo

Hi all

Pleased to meet you. I'm Jimmo the Scarecrow. Elizabeth and Elizabeth's Mummy made me - with a little help from our Girl Guide knot-tying friend Clare. I'm protecting Elizabeth's strawberries from the birds. And I hope adding a little something special to the plot.


Fruit glorious fruit!

Probably a bit premature but... I have loads of fruit growing. The cherry (stella) and plum (czar) are 3 years old now and bursting with fruit (see pics). The pear (Williams bon Chretin) that was here when I took over the plot and was the first to be espaliered is laden with baby pears and the apple next to the greenhouse (James Grieve I think) also has a full supply of furry little fruit.

My quince has blousey pink flowers on it but no fruit yet (had one baby one that fell off last year). The new trees understandably haven't produced anything... probably a bit late in the ground.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

First tomato plants in place

It may seem a bit early but I have planted my first tomato plants into their summer positions in the greenhouse! I planted the seeds on the 4th March, potted them on a couple of weeks ago and then this Sunday planned to pot them on again. Only they were so big I decided just to put them into big pots in 'final growing position' complete with watering system. So there are three, foot tall, tomato plants starting the chain of plants that will eventually form a double later around the perimeter of my greenhouse.

I reckon I'll probably get around 24 tomato plants, 2 cucumbers and 2 melon in there. Then on the bottom shelf of my staging I'll have sacks with sweet potatoes growing (if I get the slips... maybe too late already).

On Sunday I (well my lovely friend) cleared another bed ready for the three sisters - sweetcorn, climbing beans and squash. I pulled up the remnants of the purple sprouting broccoli plants to make way for potatoes and to give the broad beans room to grow.

The last of the leeks have also been harvested and mostly given away as I'm a bit fed up with eating leeks.

Tonight after watering, I sneaked in planting a few seeds: lettuce, beetroot, broccoli, and can't remember the rest!

I need to plant another load of carrots and onions as well as try adding some more parnips seeds into the rows as only 4 have germinated so far. Not sure why.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Putting up a greenhouse

Just over a year ago I had absolutely no idea how to put up a greenhouse. You know, one of those aluminium affairs that comes as strips of seemingly identical metal in a couple of small boxes! I now feel like an expert. I've put up two directly and corresponded on a third. My advice? Pay somebody else to do it! Seriously though, if you are going to erect your own greenhouse here are a few of my tips:

1. Sounds obvious, but make sure the company you order the greenhouse through (if not buying second hand) has taken the order correctly. Email/write to them to confirm if necessary. And read that bewildering invoice/order sheet carefully, getting them to talk you through all the abbreviations if necessary. Also, find out what role they play if there is anything broken, what fees there are if a redelivery is needed etc (i.e. think about what can go wrong).

2. Don't open all the boxes and spread the bits out as soon as they arrive to check them off the list of bits. Do, see if they've been bundled into some kind of order (i.e. side wall, end wall, roof) and keep the bits together. Then check them off.

3. Check if the glass is intact and what you ordered. Again, sounds obvious but a friend had a pack with broken glass all the way through and another with bits snapped off the corners.

4. Phone a friend. You really do need help putting it together. When putting my frame up there was only two of us so we used bits of wood to keep the sides propped up until we had screwed them together. It also helps with glass, especially on the roof.

5. If you can, buy large pane toughened glass (or I presume polycarbonate). Not only is it safer, but it is easier to put up as you have less glass to install (1 sheet for every 3 on the wall or 1 for two on the roof). It means less clips as well (which reminds me - wear gloves or something, two weeks after the last one my thumbs still hurt!).

6. Masking tape is really useful to temporarily hold bolts in place - especially when working on the roof (see photo).

7. Alway put extra bolts in the bolt channels. For shelves, hooks, or just those bolts you forgot to insert. Tape them in place as well.

8. Think about access. Do you need ladders, or to hire a platform or something? And if you are putting it in a corner and can't access it from the outside do you need to change the assembly order?

9. It takes longer than you think! If you count everybody's input around 35 hours work went into my greenhouse by my three assembly teams [making the sides, putting frame together and then glazing/finising] or 14 hours overall. It will take longer than that if you work alone for some or all of it.

10. So far, I think that concreting it into the ground has been the easiest and securest way of securing a greenhouse. Doesn't take much time (as long as the site is level) and is very secure (my neighbour's greenhouse blew over).

I think that's it for now, I'll edit the post if I think of any other tips. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Having said all the above - I thoroughly recommend having a greenhouse of any variety (know of some home made ones that are very effective). Not only is it good for tomatoes and cucumbers but you can grow seeds, potter about on cold/rainy days and use it to collect rainwater!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


That's the only way to describe the week's growth. When I left for Scotland last Tuesday there were clear signs of spring - blossom and buds, garlic and peas, daffs and tulips springing into life after the winter dormancy.

After a week 'up north' I came back to a plot that was bursting with life. All the trees had leaves and/or blossom, weeds had shot up (including the dreaded bind weed) and my leeks and garlic had doubled in size. The seedlings in the greenhouse had turned into plants and the grass needed mowing. Ornamental alluims in the perennial bed have appeared and my grapevines that I was sure had died have little buds the length of them. How can one week make such a difference? Even the street trees and hedges along my short drive to the allotment had burst into life: pink white and green everywhere. Amazing. I say it every year but it is still unbelievable!

So what did I do? The plan was to sit in the greenhouse, drink tea and pot on my seedlings (I was expecting rain). I managed that but it took an age (Italian Pimenello plum tomatoes anyone? I have 27 plants!). I admired my self-watering system that lasted the whole week (capillary matting, drip watering bag and a soak-up-able reservoir) and extended it to the full length of the staging; I drank tea and ate a penguin biscuit; cut grass and weeded a couple of beds (fresh greenstuff for the compost - hurray!); re-seeded the bit of lawn that I killed when making my deck; harvested veg; oversaw the removal of my original rhubarb (I remain to be convinced that it's gone, I've tried this before!) and removed the protective coverings from the peas, onions and carrots/parsnips. I also planted out some of the herbs I'd overwintered in the greenhouse into the new bed by the deck.

My planned one hour visit turned into four hours as so often happens and I only tore myself away because I had other things to do.

Aparagus and purple sprouting broccoli risotto

No, I haven't turned this into a recipe blog (yet!) but yesterday was a day I have waited for: my first asparagus was ready to harvest!

There were six of them (seven actually but one had been munched on by a slug or snail) waiting for me when I returned from The Hut [more about that later]. I waited until I was about to leave my plot before harvesting the precious produce. Not quite as I expected. I tried to cut them deep under the soil as I've seen on Gardeners' World, but only bumped into the crowns so had to satisfy myself with a mere centimetre or so [not deep enough for inches]. And the white blanched area was very woody and had to be discarded during preparation. I think this means I need to add even more compost to the bed. Also, unlike the nice and evenly sized produce I usually buy in Waitrose these came in a range of sizes. Short and fat, tall and thin, as well as short and thin (a bit like people I suppose???).

Anyway, it suited us fine. Mummy and Daddy (me and my partner) shared the larger ones and Elizabeth ("I'm two not nearly three") had the two small thin ones. I made risotto with them. Ok, I served them with the risotto (purple sprouting broccoli, dried porcini mushrooms, onions, veg stock, glug of white wine, arborio rice and plenty of parmesan). Delicious. Even Elizabeth agreed. Well worth the three year wait! I hope there will be many more to savour in the next 6 weeks and in the years to come.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

New arch = more trees???

Got a little bit done last night after work (don't you love it when the nights get longer?). Elizabeth and I made the second arch which I originally bought to support a freebie climbing rose I got last year. However now it's up can't help thinking it needs to be a fruit arch... maybe another two espaliered apple trees???

Weekend's sowings have started to appear - the red peppers first followed by the BIG Italian tomatoes whose name has escaped me. What next?

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Asparagus and Potatoes

Today was a lovely day. As well as a picnic lunch, we cleared one of the beds and planted some Rocket first earlies (may be a bit late, but I'm sure it's been too cold), as well as weeded the asparagus patch, the overwintered peas and cleared some blanket weed from the (very small) pond.

Was chuffed to find I had asparagus shoots coming up from 4 of the plants (my neighbour has two). Photo to the left of one of my red asparagus (I can't remember the variety). They've been in the ground for 3 years so this will be my first harvest. So Excited!!! Mind you, was pleasantly surprised to find that purple sprouting broccoli bears a striking resemblance to asparagus.

Also built another flower box to go alongside the deck and cleared some of the stones from the displaced soil.

I've also harvested some forced rhurbarb - a picture of my partially successful attempt is on the right.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Seeds and seedlings

Elizabeth and I have just repotted my 4 March seedlings: Golden Tomatoes and Red Cherry as well as the Ailsa Craig onions. We've planted sunflowers in toilet rolls which are now sitting alongside her sweetpeas on her windowcill (see picture).

New seeds planted are various tomatoes (Tumbling Tom, Yellow Cocktail, Moneymaker, Tigerella, Gardener's Delight, Pomodoro Follia ibrido, Striped Stuffer), Sweet Pepper 'California Wonder', Butternut Squash 'Sprinter' and Festival Squash. These are now sitting on top of the shelf in the living room near the uplighter - I've found it's the best place to germinate seeds without investing in lots of equipment!

Next I need to take seedlings down to my greenhouse at the allotment - hope the weather improves.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Weekend work

Spent Saturday at a friend's house - started work on her greenhouse. Miles of beading to be slotted into seemingly hundreds of bits of aluminium. After a while we gave up and went for a walk but I have been told that she's working away in front of the telly! Will be back soon to help put the frame up and glaze it.

Meanwhile, back at my own plot... on Sunday I put together the new raspberry bed (no. 1 of 2). I also planted some more broad beans and put in the left over red baron onion sets (near the broad beans). Two year old and I also planted sweet peas into loo roll holders and they are sitting on her south facing window cill awaiting germination.

I have a trough of strawberry plants that I rescued from the site of my greenhouse before I put it up. They live in the greenhouse and have their first flowers. Hopefully I'll have so me early strawberries. My purple sprouting broccoli seems almost ready to pick and the last of
my brussels are looking very plump (should have picked them a while ago but couldn't face any more nor give them away!).

Think also that I spotted my first little asparagus poking it's head up. Better get on and weed the bed whilst I can (shame to lose the dead nettles - bees have been visiting them).

Friday, 20 March 2009

Another week

Not managed to get down to the allotment much this week. Managed some digging - cleared (2 bags of) bindweed roots from the raspberry patch on Monday. Tuesday I spent 30 minutes at lunchtime putting preservative on the raised beds. Today as the sun set I weeded the early (i.e. last October) peas and replanted (the first lot having vanished) some broad beans.

Must remember to bring the cordless drill so I can put the new beds together.

Some of my tomato plants have second set of leaves :-)

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Seedling update!

Haven't made it to my plot this weekend, but just checked my first lot of seedlings. I have 7 little cherry tomatoes, 3 golden sunrise tomatoes and lots of little onions (ailsa criag). No cayenne pepper yet... I'm sure they'll make an appearance soon.

Only bit of gardening this weekend was planting peas in my mum's mini-plot (3 troughs on her balcony).

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

What I did in my lunch hour

Nipped off to the allotment today at lunchtime. Managed to plant the second pear tree and tie it to the arch as well as make the first bed/box next to the "deck". Am feeling very pleased with myself (very productive 50 minutes!).

Sunday, 8 March 2009


Have just checked the tray of seeds we planted the other day. The onions have pushed little onion leaves out of the soil. Tomatoes (cherry and yellow) and Cayenne pepper aren't doing much yet. However the salad mix Elizabeth planted last week in the greenhouse has also germinated.

I find it really exciting to see these first signs of life...

New pear tree

Elizabeth and I were at the plot on Friday and put together the new arch and planted the conference pear tree we bought on a whim at Christmas time. I tied it - espalier-fashion - onto the arch. The idea is to have a pear arch - but need to buy another one for the other side. We also finally made up the copper labels and hung them from all the trees (before I forget what they are!).

We also harvested a couple more leeks. Only have about 10 left.

Spring is in the air!

This has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks as the daffodils in the warm south-facing garden at the front of my flat have poked their heads up out of the soil to welcome the sun. The days have been getting longer as well which means I can escape to the allotment for a short while after work!

I've been at the plot this morning and it was glorious. A warm (14 degrees), sunny day with signs of life everywhere... the plums have baby leaves, the buds on the quince have broken open and the buds on the pear tree are just about to burst (see pic). To add to it the primroses and daffodils were shining brightly.

So what did I do today? A bit of a mix really (should learn to focus!). I prepared one of the beds and planted rows of shallots and onions interspersed with rows of parnsip (panache) and carrots (charnterey and scirocco). I started the big dig. For the last two years I've lost my raspberries under an uncontrollable mass of bind weed and couch grass, so today the de-weeding of the raspberry patch began. I dug up about 6 plants (some with first signs of life) and pulled out a bucket load of bind weed and couch grass roots and replanted the raspberries.

I also put in the post supports for the rail around the deck.

Had another feeble attempt at trying to keep the purple sprouting broccoli covered with netting - it's just starting to sprout and I'm sure the hordes of wood pidgeons that live in the surrounding trees will get to it before I can (they've already stripped the leaves).

There was a lot of digging today - don't know about tomorrow but I'm already a bit achey!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Chelsea Flower Show 2008

Here's a link to my thoughts on the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show.


New seating area

When I took over the allotment it appeared to have raised beds with grass paths and a shed which you couldn't see for brambles. Much to my amazement it turned out to have crazy paving and astroturf buried under the couch grass. I replaced the rat-infested, rickety homemade shed with my own and painted it blue!

Anyway, outside the door of the shed there was a higgedly piggedly path which has been the only place to put our small table and chairs. I've lost a lot of tea over the last two summers because the table wobbled so much! When I was left 2 large and one small pallets last year I saw an opportunity to change.

Here is a mid-way-through picture. Hoping it will be somewhere to sit, relax and have tea. Still needs more work... will post another pic when I've done more.

Allotments and other stuff

Welcome to my Blog

I've had an allotment since March 2006 after a very long time waiting and wishing! I've learned a lot in the last three years and will no doubt continue to learn in the coming years. I'll use this blog to share my experiences (both successes and failures) and hopefully it might be of use to somebody out there. And hopefully this will be a forum for me to hear your hints and tips.

I don't promise to only talk about allotments as there is so much interesting stuff out there.