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?