New Season New Challenges On the Allotment

Mother Nature

challenges on the allotment
Our Destroyed Polytunnel

After Christmas returning to the allotment always feels like starting all over again. Unfortunately for us this rung very true. Mother nature loved throwing new challenges on the allotment our way. The Polytunnel that we erected and had a great growing season, was destroyed. I believe storm Elanor was the culprit. The fence we built in case of such emergency did its job and kept the cover from the train tracks. The veracity of the wind threw one of the decking boards holding down the skirt into a nearby tree.

Not exactly a great start to the season. Not much was done that day and plenty of coffee was drunk. But it didn’t stop us from planning ahead for the season. Marking out beds in our mind while working out how we can improve on the next polytunnel. 

“We can rebuild it, We have the technology.” 

In the meantime, we moved the frame back into position. Dismantled the beds. Gathered all of the soil into the middle of the frame and covered with the old cover. This will stop all the goodness getting washed from the soil. It will also allow us access to repair and thoroughly secure it to the ground. We’re still not sure the best method yet. How have you secured and protected your polytunnels from the wind?challenges on the allotmentchallenges on the allotment

Lumos

Having recently moved house I no longer have the luxury of a large south facing window. I now only have a north-west facing windowsill which is far from ideal. To combat this we have invested in some LED grow lights. These light use minimal electricity while providing the right conditions for healthy growth. Over time we are working out the best way to utilize these lights.

challenges on the allotment
New Grow Lights

Backlog

challenges on the allotment
So much to do.

Everything we had planned to do over the Christmas period didn’t happen. The weather was atrocious. The ground, unworkable. In fact, often dangerous and a few times we both nearly binned it. Add this to the time to repair the polytunnel and our schedule is already blown. So its catch up now. But no mad rush. Take it in our strides. We always get there in there eventually and end up playing a blinder. Plus if it wasn’t for new challenges on the allotment it wouldn’t be fun. Plus when the sun makes an appearance productivity thrives.

Alliums

We are going shopping for our onion and garlic bulbs this weekend. The shops should be soon stocking seed potatoes too. Anything we cant source locally we will try to source online. Heres how we will be starting our sets. 

http://growblogs.com/alliums-garlic-onions-and-shallots/

What onion and garlic varietys are you trying this year. Leave us a comment below.

Growblogs – Award Winning Horticulturists.

Growblogs – Award Winning Horticulturists 

Our Awards

 

Every winter when there is nothing to sow, idle gardeners with itchy fingers reach for the notepad. Refreshing on crop rotation rules and making a list of allotment achievements for the year ahead. Being award winning horticulturists was a very distant plan. During winter the greatest of plans are created, sketched, laminated and as soon as something doesn’t seed well, forgot about. How long the plans are stuck to is a different matter. Often our beds are filled with what ever we have managed to propagate, and what will live together without fuss.

We did exactly the same thing last year and set ourselves a list of goals we wanted to achieve with the allotment and blog. Physically working on the allotment had taken prescience to the little spare time that we have had. Our output, unfortunately, has suffered and we have been producing much less instructional blogs than intended. We also wanted to put out a few instructional videos to accompany posts but that has also had to take a back burner until next year. One of the many goals we set last winter, was to enter our produce in a local village fair. Well, we had no intention of entering anything until just a few weeks ago, when I was leaving the allotments I noticed a small sign on one of our neighbour’s fences. Upon further investigation, I discovered it was a flyer for a local Horticultural Society’s annual village fair… it’s like the start of a dodgy film. There will be no montage with 80’s music and .gifs of me sweating over a few turnips while frantically weeding and watering consecutively. But it did get me thinking.

Preparation

Runner Beans

The next day I went up to the plot early to see, if I was going to, what could I enter? Not knowing what a prime vegetable looked like a lot of googling was done. Intimidated by the pristine condition of some of the entrants online made me think again. Being the friendly type I was chatting to out plot neighbours and mentioned the fair. To which she was delighted as not only a member but the reigning champion over all winner. I was assured of the amateurish element of the competition and that my entry would be greatly appreciated.

Award Winning Horticulturists
Last of our carrots

What have we got to lose, and it will be good to make a contribution to the society. The day before the fair, I went to the allotment to see what we could enter. pickings are slim this time of year as we have been harvesting throughout and gifting produce to our friends. We lifted our last tub of carrots but was unable to get three similar enough to enter, so they went in the pot. We were a little more successful with 3 handsome beets, and 6 slightly too far gone but straight runner beans. Our cucumbers were two weeks too young but we entered one anyway. The one thing I was slightly hopeful was of our courgettes. I planted some courgettes as ground cover so ad a lot to choose from.

 

Our entrants

 

The Day of the Fair

The morning of the fair I was unable to attend so Conor brought the veg up and entered in the correct classes. To our astonishment and delight, we actually won one of the classes and got two seconds and a third. While it might not be up to Harrogate standards to say we were both delighted with ourselves was an understatement. And did we milk it, you bet we did? Rosettes in the post. 

Overall it was a great experience and one we both thoroughly enjoyed. It was also great in rejuvenating our passion for our allotment, as tho despite torrential rain Connor was raring to go 9.00am the next morning.

 

 

 

Late Spring – The Joys Of

Late Spring

Spring

Late Spring and for once the weather has been on our side. The end of the season has been pretty wet but no signs of blight yet. Almost everything we have planted has been doing well. In fact, we ended up losing a few seedlings due to sun scorch. Pretty much most of May was glorious sunshine.  

Late Spring

Early Sring is about hardening off seedlings and keeping an eye out for the lasts frosts. Mid Spring you start to plant out your seedlings and protect from pests and the elements. Late spring is when you realize all the hard work was worth it. You start harvesting early greens. Lettuce, rocket, and spinach. Spring

 

Berries are starting to ripen and fruits are forming on the fruit trees. Eating as you work, picking the specimen fruits for yourself.  Spring

The brassica bed is starting to fill up. Cabbage heads are forming big and hefty. The legumes are starting to climb tall and flower. The first of the mange tout will be ready to harvest anytime now. We’re trialing a variety of pea called “Asparagus” this season and will keep you informed of the progress.  

Late Spring

The potatoes are starting to flower and will be ready to harvest in a few weeks time. This is definitely one of our favourite times of the allotment season. Irish men do love their spuds. 

Late Spring

 

 

In the Polytunnel

Late Spring

 

Inside the greenhouse, it’s fair to say that as usual, I have over done it with the tomatoes. At last count, there were 30 plants in the polytunnel, and 6 in the greenhouse. I will start gifting them to anyone who will take them. 

Late Spring

Our Aubergines seem happy enough and growing steadily. 

Late Spring

As too are the cape gooseberries and sweetcorn. Out of 50 sown corn kernels, these were the best 12 I could manage. Corn is a firm favourite to eat for myself but I have terrible luck germinating. 

Late Spring

Our chillies plants are starting to show signs of bushing up. Being hardy plants and enjoying being neglected we have been watering just once a week except when temps are high.

Late Spring

 

Courgettes inside the polytunnel and outside in a bed are both doing well and starting to produce. The end of spring does great things for your salad containers.

 

SO basically nothing to learn here it’s just me showing off all my wares so enjoy what’s left of the spring and roll on summer.

Happy growing everyone. 

How are your crops coming along ?  Subscribe now and leave us a message or send us a picture of your produce.

Polytunnel – Our latest plot edition.

 

We have always planned on getting a large polytunnel. http://growblogs.com/polytunnel-2/ 

The construction of our first polytunnel was a fun project and was helped along by some great weather.

Preparation

poly1

Before we had even ordered the polytunnel we dug over the ground underneath where our polytunnel was to sit. We took out as many weeds as possible, much like if we were planting directly into the soil. This area is riddled with mares tail so the weeds removed were dried and burned. We then covered the area in a thick black plastic, to prevent sunlight reaching the ground.

We were talking to a fellow plot holder whose polytunnel skin took of like a kite and ended up damaging some closed by roof tiles. Our plot is close to a set of railway tracks, and safety is utmost. Conor can often be found waving at trains while enjoying his black coffee. I decided to build a fence next to the polytunnel, to provide some additional support.

 

polytunnel

 

 

Polytunnel Construction

 

The frame went up relatively easily. Our skill sets complemented each other well on this task. Our love of music lead to some strange looks from the neighbors, but on the whole, a good day was had.  poly4

 

 

With the exact area of growing space now visible, 18 square meters. Strong and highly recommended weed proof membrane was purchased and placed on top of the ground. Growing directly into the ground is not an option due to the annoyance of mares (horsetail. So raised beds on top of a strong weed suppressant it is. This definitely adds to the costs, with additional materials and soil to fill the beds being required.poly5

It’s always best to skin your polytunnels on a calm day, in fact, it’s almost impossible to do it in strong winds. It is also better to do it with a few spare hands floating about. But it is possible to do it alone as I managed if you’re smart about it. Initially digging a trench and covering the skirt with soil was the plan. But on the day it seemed something more substantial was required. The decking was initially used to hold the skin down and stop the wind from making it flap. I decided to skirt the edge of the polytunnel. with the decking to add weight and help hold the skin down.

poly6

This also seemed to allow the corners to sit well over the frame. The front door of the polytunnel is one large zippable flap. At the minute I secure it by tucking under the frame and applying weight with a pallet. It is definitely something I have been thinking about and something I might have just cracked this very evening.   poly8

After a few days of tweaks and fixes and retrenching one of the corners I am finally happy with the way it turned out. 

Polytunnel FitOut

Having already blown the allotment for this year on the polytunnel, the fit out needed to be thrifty. The hoarders in us last year salvaged some fencing and we had some timbers left over from Conor’s new decking at his home. If we use them a couple of seasons then they owe us nothing. 

poly9

I’ve never used grow bags before, but as our local DIY store was running low on decently priced MPC I thought I would give them a go. 

polytunnel

In preparation for the polytunnel completion, we started a crop of tomatoes, chilies, and peppers. Also with the added benefits of extra heat, light, and space. We will soon be enjoying some new variety to the plot including, okra, and cape gooseberry.  

polytunnel

Being new to polytunnel gardening, I haven’t got much advice to give. except that if you’re planning to work inside your polytunnel and the sun is shining? Shorts, sun cream and water are a must. 

Please send us tips and photos of how you have laid out your polytunnels?  And lettuce know what you are growing in yours.

 

Allotment Construction

Allotment Construction

allotment construction
New raised Beds

We may have been quiet on the blog front but we have been busy concentrating on allotment construction. Its defiantly been more of a fence post, than a blog post last few months. A month or so Connor said something very profound during one of our many coffee breaks.

“Wont it be really nice when we can just come up here and plant a few things and relax” and for once he was right.

Allotment construction
Chris skiving in the shed

So we decided for one big push to finish all of our allotment construction projects. Hail, rain and shine we have had the lot. But it didn’t stop us and we played a blinder.

Due to the slope of our plot raised beds helps us keep our land from washing away and allows us to create level paths. The only bare ground left is where we grew our last season potatoes and some late kale and brassicas. The ground is generally good, and has been turned well by the potato roots. The top bed is heavy with sand so we removed a couple of wheelbarrows and topped up the carrot water container. Carrots are font of sandy ground and we replaced the earth with some multi-purpose compost and manure to the top bed. For the top beds we used decking boards, as they are a good depth, and are pretreated to survive the rain and damp conditions. The reason one is shorter is to allow us to push a wheelbarrow throughout the plot.

allotment construction

Sowing Seeds

We have been busy sowing seeds and getting ready for the final frosts to lift. We erected a few mini greenhouses within our main greenhouse. This is allowing us to reach temperatures, suitable enough for heat-loving seedlings such as chilies and tomatoes. So far it is working well and we are starting some of the more heartier veg such as cabbage and onions within the main greenhouse. http://growblogs.com/sowing-seeds-indoors/

allotment construction
Propagation Station

Poly-tunnel

We finally made a decision and purchased the poly-tunnel. We decided to stick with a 3m x 6m and have started to level ground. The ground underneath has been covered with black PVC since last autumn and was dug and turned to allow the frost to penetrate. We have been busy researching the best tips and tricks to erecting a polytunnel and will be hopefully showing our results soon. When the polytunnel is erected that is all the major allotment construction complete. Well.. until I get a new idea or project. 

Spuds

Its also time to get our spuds in the ground and off my windowsill. This season were planting http://growblogs.com/potatoes/

  • First earlies – Red Duke Of York

  • Second earlies – Kestrel

  • Main Crop – King Edward

  • Main Crop – Maris Piper

So in a few months get ready for more photos of us with our feet up and hopefully a few homegrown cocktail recipes.

allotment construction
Onion Sets

Fall – Daylight Saving Time, Making The Most Of Your Time

Fall
Jack Be Littles

Fall is a wonderful time of year, with the trees turning every shade of orange, brown and reds. The days are rapidly shortening, and finding time to work at the allotment with adequate daylight is rapidly declining. With the arrival of the Fall, often due to the changes in the weather, much less time is needed to tend to the diminishing crops. I like to use the spare time to maintain my builds, work on future projects and tend to and feed my various compost bins. When up keeping an allotment this time of year, it is important to use your time away from the plot, planning ahead and gather resources when and where it is possible, so that you can make the most of your time on the plot.

While the term fall is now more associated as the American term for Autumn, it originated in England. The term fall, is short for the falling of the leaves, which happens annually at this time of year. This year we are making a concerned effort to store as much of these fallen leaves as possible as, when composted turn to leaf mould, which is the perfect ingredient to use as mulch. Builders sacks are perfect for storing leaves long enough to turn to mulch, and can often be obtained by asking a friendly builder or builders merchants. Last year one of biggest expenditures was the buying in of good quality compost and mulch, and with it being one of the few things used for gardening that you can make yourself, it was utmost that we master this skill pronto.

Fall
Pumpkin bed ready for winter.

With the last of our crop of miniature “Jack be Little” pumpkins harvested in time for Halloween, it meant that we could finally clear the bed and burn the discarded plants as they were suffering from powdery mildew. Once all the weeds and green materials are removed from the bed, I gave it a quick turn over and covered the bed with a thick polythene sheet, and weighed down to stop them taking off in the winter winds.

I then used the rest of the polythene to line the water tank that I recently salvaged from work, making sure to pierce the bottom of the liner multiple times to allow for suitable drainage. I intend to grow carrots and parsnips in this container next year, due to the depth it holds. Therefor I will eventually fill the container with a sandy loam mix, which will allow the root vegetables to grow long and straight.

20161029_123712

The sole survivors left in the greenhouse and continuing to provide me with sweet, and great tasting produce are the long sweet peppers. With the last of the tomatoes making no attempt to ripen I decided to clear them out of the greenhouse and chopped them up into small pieces and added to my increasing compost pile. I did a bit of a clear out of my filing systems back home and shredded the lot as the compost heaps needed a topping up of brown material, after the recent influx of green waste. When the greenhouse is completely clear we are going to secure the frame firmly to the greenhouse base, in preparation for winter. This will also give me a chance to start designing and planning the layout for turning the greenhouse into a potting shed/ greenhouse.

Fall
Last of the greenhouse produce.

Happy Halloween Growfans

 

Winter Wildlife – A little help goes a long way.

Winter Wildlife

winter wildlife
Bird Feed

There’s no doubt about it there’s a nip in the air, and the media are scaring us with tales that the winter could be much worse than 2010. This means only one thing, time to tuck the plot in for the winter while trying to make it a haven for our wild animals this winter. That snug feeling of being tucked up in your superman onesie in front of an open fire (chestnuts roasting ob.), can feel even more content knowing you have done your bit for winter wildlife. If your cold and hungry imaging how that little robin at the end of your garden feels.

There are many activities you can undertake from the very simplest through to some that will take time and some expense. One of the simplest and most rewarding you can do is simply put feed out for birds. Whether you keep leftover bits of fat from bacon rinds, bread crumbs or go to the expense of purchasing seeds or mealworms you will greatly help out our feathered friends when food sources are scarce. It is also important to remember this much over looked fact, birds drink water ! And when there is snow on the ground or temperatures are below zero then this is not always easily accessible to them.

winter wildlife
Bird Feeders

As the days started to gradually get colder and the growing season started to run out, we started to think about bugs and small animals. There is a great abundance of wildlife up at out allotment (with most of it living in my shed), we are blessed to have seen hares, grey squirrels, all of your common uk birds, frogs and we even arrived one day to chase a small flock of grey lag geese from our neighbours salad patch. We had planted some asian vegetables late end of summer and were unable to harvest it all. Our Choy sum had started to flower and was covered in bees and hover flies. As we weren’t going to have time to gain another crop from this space we decided that it would do the bees a world of good to have that extra source of food so we left it in the ground.

 

With little to no growing on our plot the focus has mainly turned into maintenaince and improving our structures. We gave the plot a good tidy 2 weeks ago and removed some of the rubbish that was accumulating in one of the corners. There was some offcuts of wood and various logs that were sodden and probbly no good for the fire but we didnt want to disturb them as it was probbly providing home to many wonderful beasts. It can happily sit there until next year when the weather starts to pick up and nature is back to its most energetic.

The simplest things we can do can mean the difference of survival or not for our winter wildlife.

Allotment Planning – Essential for any serious grower !

Allotment Planning

Well its a new year and the boys at Growblogs are as busy as ever allotment planning. Thats why, January is going to be nice and cosy as we reach for the note pads, seed catalogues and laptops for a good read of everyone else’s plans, before settling on our own. With the days still being short, and the weather hampering all of the work we had planned over the Christmas holidays, were slightly behind with the restructuring of the plot. We had hoped to have had the rest of the raised beds in place, and had the whole plot dug over ready for the frost to get in and kill all the weeds. But with the rain and storms we have had recently, I have barely spent more than one afternoon digging. Weekends in January are going to be scarce because of weekend work commitments, so that’s why were going to make a realistic plan of everything we want to achieve, so that we can make the most of the time we get up to the plot.

When it comes to allotment planning, I always whizz up a simple diagram of the plot that I am working with containing measurements of the raised beds, so that I can plan where and what I want to plant in them. The visual diagrams will help with our allotment planning and assist us to successfully monitor crop rotation aswell as helping us to take advantage of companion planting. We will also be able to work out what is the maximum number of plants that we can happily fit into each bed without over crowding, while achieving maximum yield.

 

allotment planning
Plot map

 

I’ve been deciding what variety of seeds to sow this year, pretty much since the end of the last growing season, and have been purchasing them throughout the winter, when I see them discounted or on offer. Allotment planning and the purchasing of seed it an exciting time of year and it can be easy to get carried away, especially when you don’t have too large of a growing space. My seed box is starting to get a bit full and I know that some of the seeds will be past their best by next growing season so I need to plan what I need to keep for this season, and next. The rest of the seed I normally share among my friends (who are starting to turn green fingered themselves) or other people at the allotment. Its a great conversation starter to people you don’t know and always handy when you hear someones else kettle whistling and you’ve forgotten your flask.

 

 

allotment planning
Our seed box

 

A few weeks back Conor and myself decided to take a walk round the whole allotment site, just really because we have never seen it all and its a great way to pick up tips and ideas. We got chatting to one of the allotment holders and he then introduced us to two other plot holders. After the usual talking about the weather and what they were growing and complaining about the council, one of the gents let slip that he was the current holder of plot of the year. He then explained that the last time they held the competition was 8 years ago and that they used to have events and fundraisers quite often, but that it had all just fizzled out. This is something that I feel the young(ish) blood of Growblogs could rectify. We will be discussing this in great detail and our next directors meeting, which is scheduled for 1st January 2016, Pub yet to be confirmed.

We would both like to wish you all a Very Happy New Year.

“Live Long and prosper” Spock .

Sowing Seeds – Our guide to Growing Seeds

Sowing Seeds

sowing seeds

Here is how us fellas here at growblogs go about sowing seeds. We’re not ones for spending frivolously on the allotment and with the average price of an onion costing us well in the £1’s last year, it was an expensive year, but many of those costs incurred in the first year were one offs or will not need replaced for many years to come. Our free from the internet shed has cost well over £200 in repairs and fixes. The raised base alone, which we hadn’t budgeted for was nearly half the total amount above.

sowing seeds

 

In 2016 it’s our aim to be as economical as possible with our purchases. we’ll be attending seed swaps if we can find them and if not creating our own one on the allotment. We’ll be growing from seed wherever possible and really taking our costs down to a minimum across all areas. Any ideas you want us to go into great detail on, please let us know and we’ll put our heads together for you.

Today we’re talking about Growing from Seed or otherwise put “What is the correct method for sowing seeds”. Growing from seed is extremely cost effective especially if you are in an allotment or gardening club. Sutton seeds (http://suttons.co.uk) offer huge savings on seeds and other discounts across their product range for those in gardening clubs. This means with some careful planning you can have many years growing for very little cost.

 

Sowing seeds indoors allows for an early start to the season and ensures you can get a head start, especially if the weather is horrible. If you have window space, this is an easy way to get your plants started. Here’s how we sow seeds inside.

  1. Fill seed trays 1/2 full with seed compost. Seed compost is vital here as this has a nutrient content perfect for early seed growth and development. Don’t be tempted to use normal compost as your results may not be the best. Moisten the compost, don’t soak!
  2. Take a pinch of seeds and sprinkle them over the compost. Leave an inch or so between each seed and then add another 1/4 layer of compost on top.
  3. If you buy a small plastic cover “propagator” to cover the seed trays, this is an inexpensive way to ensure the seeds don’t dry out. We have also had great success using sandwich bags tied with an elastic. Both should post less than a fiver.
  4. As soon as you see seedlings emerging from the compost it’s time to remove the cover. Usually it’s best to wait until the second set of leaves grows before transplanting, fertilising or thinning.
  5. When the plants are ready to be moved, it’s now time to consider the end goal. Plant the seeds in a pot big enough to cope with their growth until they are ready to be transplanted into the soil. We have built our own cold frame, which will be used to harden off the seedling and help them sustain their growth right up until planting. Using pallets, a free from the internet glass door and Chris’s won screws, the cold frame cost us nothing, but will help us ensure the best success for our plants.

sowing seeds

N.B Remember all seeds are different and have different growing requirements. We always stress the importance of reading the packets for the correct growing instructions. We also take no responsibility for the growth of your seeds, no matter how awesome the results may be…

Let us know your plans for sowing seeds successfully and if you have any of your own tips to add.

 

Over Wintering Broad Beans – Getting Ahead

 

Over Wintering Broad Beans
Broad Bean Seeds

Here is our guide to over wintering broad beans, check back later in the year for the results.

Back In September I read an article on the Express website titled “Coldest Winter for 50 YEARS set to bring MONTHS of heavy snow to the UK”. They warned us “Sub-zero temperatures and violent snow storms could hit as soon as late October as a freak ocean cooling in the Atlantic threatens to trigger a historic, nationwide whiteout.”

Now im no meteorologist but I do own an allotment, that means im an expert on the weather and here where I sit now in Belfast, I still haven’t seen one snowflake this side of Autumn. In fact almost daily im seeing pictures on my followers twitter feeds of veg still growing well outdoors. Brussels Sprouts are reported to have generally increased in size by a third from last year due to the unusually mild Autumn. As of Sunday the 10 Dec we still has a small pot producing delicious mixed lettuce leaves, and my friend was asking if id came across any unusual ketchup recipes because he was struggling to preserve all of his late crop of greenhouse tomatoes..

Rather stupidly I believed what I read and decided that I must get the plot ready for winter, and on a Saturday middle October I prematurely dropped my bean and pea supports, stored the bamboo canes and composted the plants which could possibly still be fruiting today.

Over Wintering Broad Beans

 

Isint hindsight a wonderful thing. We know now that, to sow our broadbeans early November would have been the perfect time. Once again we were put off by scaremongering tales of a Winter scene C.S Lewis himself would have been proud to have described. So we held off and held off, until I decided enough was enough and I purchased some seeds and a new thermometer for the shed. I bought the seeds from Premier Seeds Direct and they arrived very quickly and look to be of great quality.

So to Over Wintering Broad Beans

Overwintering Vegetables means growing vegetables over the winter period which will often result in restricted water supply to the plant, frost and reduced sunlight. One of the main benefits of sowing before winter is that you can often expect to start harvesting the plants up to a month before those grown in the Spring. Over Over Wintering Broad Beans are also much more resistant to blackfly. Aquadulce Claudia is widely regarded to be the premier choice when it comes to Over Wintering Broad Beans , it is long podded, high yeilding, matures early and is most importantly very tasty.

 

 

The beans will be planted 3 Inches deep, 8 Inches apart in rows 18 Inches apart. I plan to plant one row half with overwintered Beans so that I can compare it with beans that I will sow in Spring.

As I had already prepared and covered my peas and beans bed for next year, the only thing I am going to lose by planting them now is the seeds themselves, and you can assure yourself that as soon as seed hits soil this Friday Jack Frost is going return with a vengeance.

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