Allotment Update June 2016

Hello growfans, you may have noticed that we havnt blogged in a long time, truth be told we have both been very busy. We havnt neglected the plot tho. While I sat in France during some of their worst flooding in recent times, back home in Belfast from what ive heard,and from a few dodgy looking tan lines, I believe it was almost tropical. Everything started to grow massively, espically the weeds and you know what they say “1 week away, takes two weeks to catch up” in fact I dont know if people say that, its just how long it took me, so you heard it first here folks.

Just these last few days have we started to sample the goodness from all the hard work with, out first harvests of broad beans, and kohlrabi. Im going to do as separate blog about the kohlrabi, as I was experimenting and made a                                                                                     slaw I was particularly pleased with. 2016-06-12 11.09.09

The potatoes must have grown about 1 foot in a week, and are now far too tall and starting to fallover in places. The first earlies look strongest, and fingers cross some of the growth had been used underground growing some fat tubers. They have just flowered so  roughly 3 weeks from   now they will be ready to eat.

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When the potatoes are fully dug up and devoured, ive decided to use the space for growing fruit, and im putting in some canes, of variety’s that work well with alcohol, sloe berries, gooseberries and one im particularly looking forward too, one all Ikea shoppers will know, Lingon berries.

The strawberries are starting to ripen, and I will be putting down a layer of hay soon, to stop the heavy strawberries rotting on the damp ground, and helping to protect them from pests.

The legumes bed is growing strongly with all the peas and beans growing nicely. 2016-06-12 11.13.37 I also have a few quick cropping salad vegetables growing in this same bed. Firstly butterhead lettuce and pak choi. As I thin out the seedlings im potting them up to plug any gaps or to simply fill up space and maximise my yield. These also made great little gifts as they will grow enough to eat in the small pots they are in, or are easily transplanted into a flower bed.

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We realise that the blog was unavailable for a period of time and for this we apologise, we will be working hard on the technical aspects of the blog, including how it shows on android and ios devices.

Lets hope we get back to the good weather soon, and I can top up my farmers tan, and watch my dinner grow.

Pest Protection – Protecting Your Crops

Pest Protection

Net Collage

When it comes to protecting your fruit or vegetables from pests there are a few important questions to ask, before deciding on the best method.

What Fruit/Vegetables am I trying to protect, and what are the most likely pests, that will be attracted to them ?

Different crops will attract different pests, and its important to be aware when and what is likely to attack your food. Its important to have a grasp of the local wildlife, in the surrounding area where you grow your crops. If you are growing in the countryside, then you are going to face a much more diverse group of pests, than someone who is growing in say, an inner city urban balcony. I have read blogs about people In England/Wales having to defend their produce from large animals like deer, badgers and moles from devouring or demolishing crops. Thankfully the largest animal I have had to chase from the plot was a Grey Lag Goose that was making light work of my neighbors lettuce. If you have just gained a new plot and you are unsure what pests you are likely going to have to defend your crops against, then you should take a good walk around, and have a look at others peoples plots, and see what means of protection they have undertaken. You should also get chatting and talk to other plot holders, as they will keep you up to date about what has been lurking in the area. In fact just by talking to a few of the more attentive plot holders I like to call the the “PlotFlys” in the nicest possible terms, that we have a bit of a rat problem at the plots at present. By getting together and informing the council who run the allotments, and taking some precautions ourselves hopefully we will be able to eradicate the problem before the main harvest.

 

The most persistent pests that I will have to deal with can be split into 3 different animal classes – Birds, Insects and Mammals. In this blog I am going to describe the methods I am using to protect my veg, and as my plot evolves and as I start to grow different vegetables and fruit trees I will keep updating this page.

Birds will eat many different types of vegetables, ive seen ducks destroy patches of lettuce in minutes and pigeons strip strawberry plants and raspberry canes bare. One of my raised beds is half filled with strawberry plants and they recovered well after the winter and are now flowering. The other half has some rhubarb and an early crop of spinach, which when harvested will mainly be used for salad crops, lettuce, beetroot etc. The two main pests that I will need to provide protection against, on this bed will be birds and slugs. When protecting against birds the best way is to build a cage or use protective nets. There are many ingenious ways I have seen being used on allotment using many different products and techniques. Here are a few different methods that we have used, that seem popular with other growers.

  • Half Loop Method – This basically means using any materials to build an arch over a vegetable bed then draping a protective net over it. Materials often used for this product are plumbing pipe, which are ideal as the plastic pipe comes in coils and are already the correct shape and easy to cut, and will never weather as they water proof. To attach the semi hoops to the beds I simply took a hammer and flattened one end before screwing the ends firmly into the raised beds.2016-05-05 17.13.23 Its important at this stage to remember to leave enough room to allow yourself to be able to lean in and be able to work the ground. When the protective nets have been placed over the frame there are many different ways to attach and hold the nets in position, popular methods include tent pegs, weighing the nets down taught with stoned, purpose built pipe clips or cable ties, basically whatever will do the job.

 

 

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  • Cage – Well this basically means building or creating a structure and covering it with whatever material is needed to complete the job. This first cage I created I am going to use for keeping birds and small mammals from getting at the seedlings. Until the seedlings are well established and to increase the temperature and help protect them from the frost, slugs and snails I will be planting the seedlings under plastic bottle cloches. I made this from a wooden frame basically as it was going cheap and I knew I could have used it for something. It was built to the height of the chicken wire to maximize height.

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  • Flexi Ball/Bamboo Structure – What can I say about Flexiballs apart while not being the cheapest product, are very easy to work with and very time efficient. Flexiballs are designed to work with bamboo canes or metal piping. They are perfect for net protection and they provide a smooth corner for dragging the protective layer over without damaging the net, which makes them easy to maneuver and install by one person.

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There are many products that you can buy straight off the shelves that will provide protection for your crops. Some that I find useful are the prefabricated netting tunnels. I so far this year have used these to protect some broad beans from frost.2016-03-20 13.30.57 I will also use them when I plans out my peas, until they get them well established. The only real disadvantage to these protective nets is that they do cut out some of the sunlight for hungry seedlings.

Another vital tool, that I just would not be able to cope without, is slug pellets. Whilst these pellets are not the naturalists favorite product, they are essential for us who are not able to attend the plot every evening to pick slugs and snails by hand. Beer and larger traps are often advisable too, when the rain comes after along dry spell and you can guarantee, that the slugs and snails will be out in force, with hungry slimy bellies.

Have you seen any ingenious methods of pest protection around your allotment site, or are you a master scarecrow maker? Or do you just know someone, who has a face that would keep even the hungriest of gastropods of your iceberg lettuces. If so please send us a photo or email us with your ideas ?

May 2016 Plot Update

 

May is well under way, and we are currently in the middle of a much appreciated heatwave. Temperatures today topped at 25°, with overnight lows of 9°. Whether we have seen the last frost only time will tell, as it was snowing in parts of the country not just 10 days ago. This is just a quick update as to what we have been getting up to on our plot.

The ground has warmed enough now to start sowing some hardier seeds, evident by the strength of the weeds that are starting to show. The peas and beans bed for the season, was well manured and dug over a few months ago, and then covered by a black polythene to allow the worms to do their magic. The weekend past, I treated the bed to a feed of chicken manure pellets to increase the nitrogen levels and other elements that provides strong growth.

Different variety’s of peas and beans will require different structures to allow the plants to grow tall and abundant. Dwarf or bush variety’s may not need any structural help, or simply a pea stick or net, other high yielding crops will require stronger structures. When it comes to creating these structures, there are no rules, there is no set method and I have seen some wonderful and ingenious methods of providing a suitable structure for climbing plants. Bamboo canes are a much widely used choice because of their strength, natural waterproof protection and because they are easy to cut, relatively straight and easy to work with.

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The variety’s of Peas and Beans I am growing this year include.

Pea – Pisum sativum “Terrain” – British bred maincrop.

Pea – Pisum sativum – “Ambassador” High yielding, mildew resistant maincrop.

Pea – Mangetout “Kennedy” (Snow Pea) – British bred producing high yields, mildew resistant.

Beans – Broad/Fava Beans “Aquadulce Claudia” Hardy overwintering, high yielding, frost resistant.

Beans – Broad/Fava Beans “Stereo” High yield, great tasting.

Beans – Phaseolus vulgaris “Climbing Bean Mixed” Great looking multi coloured pods

Stay glued to the podcast to follow, hopefully our success and we will keep you updated and provide our results, from all the beans and peas we have grown.

The potatoes have shown, and seem to be growing just as well in the ground as the ones I am growing in containers. Keeping the potato drills maintained and weeded, allowing the potatoes to use up all the nutrient rich soils for themselves. Today I earthed up the potatoes to maximize the underground potato baring stems, which will greatly increase the yield.

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Another area I have been working hard on, recently is protection from birds and pests. Building and creating ways to keep the animals and insects from my fruit and veg, but that is a blog in itself, in the meantime here’s the brassica cage I built. 2016-05-09 18.14.10

Today I cut collars for the brassicas to protect them from cabbage root flys, and removed the plastic bottle cloches I was using due to the particularly warm weather.

I also was able to erect the frame of the greenhouse, but after one particularly windy night, it took a big of a dive and has bent itself into a shape I don’t like. Its not all doom and gloom tho, its very much repairable, but its a two man job and one of the grow-bloggers has gone and taken himself of to the Costa Del Sol for the month. So I am going to call in a favor from a friend who is good with a set square.

 

Everything is go this time of year, but with the weather this glorious a few hours on your knees weeding just doesn’t seem like a chore.

Easter Holidays

Weed Control/ raised Beds

 

Now that the clocks have changed, and the days have become longer and warmer, there is no doubt that the ground has become a lot more manageable and forgiving to work with. Having already dug over most of the ground that I was working again recently, and had a rather successful potato crop, I thought the easy option would be to just rotivate the entire area. How glad I am that the suspension went on our van, and I was unable to pick up the rotivator from the hire shop, and ended up having to do it by hand.

weed control
Working the ground.

Whether it was just shoddy work on our behalf, or someone has been playing a cruel trick on us and planting stones in our ground. I say stones, some of them were small boulders and you all know the feeling when spade connects with stone and it shatters the whole way up to the elbow.

One of the main benefits of digging the plot by hand and helping weed control, and the main reason that I will continue to dig by hand, as long as my body lets me, is that the rotivator/tiller is not selective of what it rips and tears through. When working the ground by hand its much easier to keep the good dirt and get rid of the nastys that you don’t want.

In terms of gardening its important to learn fast what are the bad weeds and what are the really bad weeds ! There are library’s full of identified variety of weeds but when it comes to weed control, for us gardeners there are two types.

1) Perennial Weeds – These are the absolute worst, examples include Dandelion, thistles nettles and couch grass need to be removed from the ground by hand, taking great care to reach the very bottom of the root of the weed, or and by using weedkiller. When a rotivator blade hit a perennial weed, it will divide the weed into many parts

2) Annual Weeds – These are annoying at best and at times and left to their own devices will steal water and nutrients and sometimes light from your vegetables. They can either be pulled by hand or hoed into the soil as when the are cut from the root they will often decompose in the soil without re rooting. Examples of annual weeds include Shepard’s purse, Chickweed and Annual Nettles.

Getting dirty fingernails and hands on gives you a feeling of the ground beneath your feet. You can identify areas that are particularly sandy and will benefit from additional compost or areas that have contained a lot of stones and therefore have been free draining.

The area where we are growing our potatoes this year is particularly sandy, so we added a lot of well rotted horse manure and multi purpose compost to enrich the ground when we were turning it over and removing the stones beneath.

Another project which I finally got tackled over the Easter was the erection of the greenhouse with no instructions. It sounds like a challenge from the crypton factor and well…. it might as well have been. 7 hours later and after realizing that the discount greenhouse frame that we bought, was missing 3 pieces, I was happy in the knowledge that I would be able to fabricate the pieces myself, and once I had a solid base I could start to erect the completed frame.

Garden Structure/Greenhouse Base – How to do it yourself DIY

So my attention turned to the solid base. I’m a builder, so this is the project I had the most faith in. There were different options to me but due to the lack of power at the allotment and due to the fact that I simply did not want to throw a load of concrete beside and under where I will be growing my dinner I decided to level the ground of and made a base from 3ft x 2ft flags,laid on a base of quarry dust and pointed with a sand cement mixture. Greenhouse Construction, Proper Job !

Ok, so far this was written the night before I was meant to go to the builders yard to get some flag stones, only to realise that the builders yards does not open on the Tuesday after Easter in Northern Ireland (now being a builder, you would think I really would know this, but im getting older and wiser and instead of dying with a hangover, which I normally do on this day, I dug stones out of the ground lol) and I was stuck with a day dedicated to the plot and no materials to work with. Never to kick a Goodman when he is down, I went to a local DIY store and pick up a load of MPC and Horse manure and set to enriching my soil.

weed control
Bought In Goodness
weed control
Lining Up the beds, making the best of growing vegetables on a slop.

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Having spotted a rather large rat the day before, and after having spoke to a few of the other plot holders, one rather funny chap with a rather large rat chap, always complaining about the council, told me that there was a problem due to the very mild winter. I decided to turn the compost and have a root around the wood pile that I stock to use for my many projects. I came across some decent timber that I salvaged from a job, and after a few calculations I worked out I had enough to make another two raised beds, and id bought the materials to fill them. Lets just say I left the plot with a big grin on my bake that night and after getting home and having a long shower I slept like a baby.

New Raised Beds.
New Raised Beds.

Just a small tip, always have a back up plan or job to do, make a list of things that need attended or things that you are aspiring to do. Buy or salvage the materials you need, when you can, when you see them cheap, discounted or hopefully lying in a skip.

Growing Wheatgrass “Liquid Sunshine”

 

Growing Wheatgrass

Theres no doubt about it but wheatgrass is a super food, and from what my health addict friends tell me not the cheapest ingredient around. I was asked to learn fast and get growing wheatgrass ASAP, so I did and here’s my guide.

Using wheatgrass fresh is apparently the best way to get the most from the product, instead of the dried powdered alternatives or pre packaged juices which ive been told are rather expensive. If you know me you will know that I am no health addict, and while I do enjoy growing food and produce for my friends I am writing this blog purely to show you how to grow wheatgrass, and defiantly now how to drink it, as well….. tbf it is bogging ! (Although if you read this and you have some good recipes or ways of using/ growing wheatgrass please feel free to email us and we will add a link or add your input into this blog info@growblogs.com)

Heres the science bit straight from wikipedia (Concentrate) – Wheatgrass is a good source of potassium, a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, and has a negligible amount of protein (less than one gram per 28 grams).

 

Growing wheatgrass is easy and its a fast germinating plant, which makes it a fun and healthy way to grow with children. I purchased the wheatgrass seed from the internet and the first thing I did was to soak the seed in cool water over night for roughly 10 – 12 hours, to re-hydrate the seeds and get the germination underway.

growing wheatgrass
Wheatgrass Seeds

I then drain the seeds into a colander and leave at an angle to drain the water, it is important at this stage to rinse the seeds and repeat the drainage process 3 – 4 times or until the seedling starts to grow a small tail. When the tails emerge then its time to transport the seeds to the growing medium.

 

I often find that the best medium for growing wheatgrass in is to use a seeding compost, although a multi purpose compost will work just aswell. I filled a tray to roughly 1 1’2” of potting compost and watered the soil in well. Then spread the germinated seeds evenly over the surface covering the entirety of the vessel you are growing in.

growing wheatgrass
3 Days After Sowing

The seedlings do not like direct strong sunlight and for the first few days I placed them under dampened sheets of unbleached white paper. After a couple of days when the growth is able to lift the paper of the seeds themselves, then remove the paper and then slowly introduce the wheatgrass to a bit more sunlight.

growing wheatgrass
After One Weeks Growth

Its important to keep the soil moist and I would suggest to water well in the mornings and then moisten the plants with a good spray in the evenings.

 

When the wheatgrass reaches the desired height roughly 6- 10 inches depending on the strength of the stocks height the easiest way to harvest is to snip with scissors along where the white meets green on the stalk. Once harvested you should continue to water the plants in the same routing and you should receive a second crop from the same seedlings. When finally complete recycle or compost the old soil and use a continual sowing technique if you plan to make wheatgrass a staple of your diet.

 

 

Your body is a temple ! And when your running around in the prime of your life with the theme tune to Rocky in your ears feeling amazing, don’t forget about your friends at Growblogs who showed you the way of Wheatgrass !

5 Basic Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginners

Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginners

Where ever your inspiration came from TV, a magazine article or where ever, you’ve decided to take the brave step and grow your own food. Congratulations, you wont get instant overnight results but if you follow and stick to some simple guidelines there’s no reason why you wont be pulling your own fresh produce at bbq’s (in front of friends of course to really show off) and whipping up tasty dishes, with the freshest fruit and vegetables straight from the ground. That is if you follow our amazing 5 Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginners.

Here are 5 helpful Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginners.

1#. Only grow what you like to eat. There’s no point growing food that wont be eaten, yes Globe Artichokes and giant pumpkins look fantastic when growing and are certainly a sign of an accomplished gardener but if you don’t like the taste then they will most likely go to waste.

Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginners
My seed boxes

2# Only grow what you have space for. Weather you are growing in a garden an allotment or even just a pot on a balcony, there is a limit to the number of plants that will grow healthy within a certain space. Why not look at our previous blog posts on growing in containers and building raised beds to give you some insight into some of these growing methods. Growing in Containers Building Raised Beds If growing from seed the packaging should contain the correct depth and distance apart that the plants will need to grow well. If you are limited to space it is possible to grow dwarf variety’s of vegetables that take up much less space, or climbing variety’s for those who have limited ground space but could grow vertically.

3# Only sow what you are able to maintain. Your might work 6 days a week or you might be retired its important to only sow what vegetables you will be able to manage. This includes watering,feeding, weeding, protecting from pests and identifying and treating any diseases. If you will only be able to devote say 1 hour to your produce a week, then there is no point digging up your garden and and digging drills of spuds and planting a variety of differing veg that will take hours of care a week, you will soon see your garden turn into more weed than feed.

4# Start simple. When people ask me what should I start growing to get my kids interested in growing I always advise to start with quick growing salad crops. Keeping children interested in any subject for more than a few days can often be tricky and the thought of keeping them interested in the growing process all summer seems daunting, hence why its important to grow something that will germinate fast and give you a result within weeks. Lettuce and radish are some of the fastest growing vegetables and a great start. It can also be a good idea to maybe buy a few plug plants so that they have something to look at, after a days getting their hands mucky. Strawberries are also great and can be bought in plants/plugs that may already bear or will bear fruit within a number of weeks, also who doesn’t like a fresh Strawberry. Potatoes, peas and beans are also good vegetables to grow for beginners, when treated correctly and are always well received when gifted to friends.

Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginners
Beetroot, Strawberries

5# Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your reading this then your on the right step to growing your own food. Its not always as simply as sticking a seed in some soil adding water and hey presto fine dining ! Like everything living, different variety’s/species of plants like different growing conditions weather you are growing lime loving brassicas like cabbages or shade appreciating beets, optimal growing conditions will create the biggest tastiest veg. Its been proven that growing vegetables is good for your mental health and happiness and we growers are generally a friendly bunch. There are plenty of people who will happily give you advice on anything that you would like to know, and we are more than happy to answer and questions that you would like to ask us about our Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginners. Please feel free to drop us an email, and happy growing.

Container Gardening/ Growing in Containers

Container Gardening

Last week I acquired these 4 smashing big tubs perfect for container gardening, that were lying in the back garden collecting rainwater from a job I was working on, with the owners permission of course, and I ended up spending the rest of the day dreaming about what I was going to grow in them.

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Container gardening is the perfect solution for people who have limited space for example a small sun gathering balcony, a paved or stoned patio or even just a couple of hanging baskets. Containers for growing can consist of anything from a baked bean can to the most expensive decorative pots. Anything that is the correct size, depth and made of a suitable material and also something that contained a safe/non toxic content that wont contaminate the plants. e.g stay away from paint buckets or anything that might have contained chemicals, let common sense prevail. No matter what you decide to grow your vegetables in, the same rules apply to all containers.

Firstly it is important to make sure that the container is clean and free from any soil or residue if the container had been used to grow in before as it may still be harboring plant diseases that can transfer to the new years growth. When I clean out plastic containers I use a pot scouring pad as I don’t want to scrape away at the smooth surface of the tub, but when I am cleaning a terracotta pot or something that wont scratch I use a small wire brush that I keep in my shed as this roughs up the residue and makes it easy to clean off. Its also common practice to submerge the containers within a bleach solution usually 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for around 10 minutes to further kill bacteria where possible.

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Secondly and importantly is the issue of drainage in your containers. Some purpose bought plant pots come with drainage holes already within the base some don’t, and its important to check. The best method for putting drainage holes in plastic containers is to drill holes and I find that wood drill bits work best, avoid banging nails into the base as this can often lead to the pot splitting. If you are using a metal container then drill holes using a steel drill bit or place on top of a piece of timber and bang nails through with a hammer the wider the better. If you find at first that the water is not freely draining away from the container elevate it and drill more holes until the soil is no longer sodden. It is also a good idea to put a layer or gravel, stones or some people often use broken terracotta pots for this job and it works perfectly at the bottom of the container as this will aid drainage. Here’s a quick tip when picking up a bag of gravel or stones for drainage don’t lift the ones outdoors in the garden part of the DIY store as these are often decorative stones, go to the builders yard and pick up a bag of aggregate and give it a good wash, same job at a fraction of the price.

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When growing in a very porous medium or for example a wooden barrel type planter something that is prone to rot over time, then it is often an idea to line the planter with a plastic membrane to reduce water loss.

Thirdly the growing medium used for container gardening is different from that you would use in a raised bed or directly in the ground. Whilst it is important to have good drainage in your container it is also important to make sure to keep the soil moist. The best soil for this purpose is to use John Innes No 3 – “a richer mixture for final re-potting of gross feeding vegetable plants and for mature foliage plants and shrubs in interior planters or outdoor containers.” This is a loam based compost which means that is is heavier than peat free compost and has a higher percentage of sand that helps it to maintain its moisture. It will also stay moist longer than multipurpose compost.

Depending on the size of the container it might be rather expensive to fill them with bought in compost. If you are intending on growing salad vegetables then the container doesn’t need to be very deep, if you are using an overly deep container it is possible to fill up some of the space that the soil would use with objects like bricks or stones that will not absorb moisture.

container gardening
Growing in tubs

Some other benefits of container gardening is that it is much easier to maintain and weed compared to the same plant grown in the ground. Also due to their portable nature they are vital for some plants and trees that will need to be taken indoors to protect from frost in the winter. The tubs that we are using are great for us at the moment as we still have half our plot under construction. We do have a polytunnel on the way but we are holding of ordering it until we can work the ground below to a level we are happy with and until we will have the free time to erect it as we have no where to store it. We also have a few more raised beds to build when the materials become available to us so the ability to be able to move our veg around where it suits without disturbing its growing is a real bonus.

Why not go have a look in the garage or look in the recycling bin and instead of looking at something as garbage, why not think what can I grow in this???

Container gardening
Prepared Ground

Potatoes

Potatoes

One of if not the most popular vegetable grown and consumed throughout Ireland and the UK. The unofficial National Vegetable of Ireland and the star of dishes stretching from chip vans to fine dining restaurants.

Whilst some people ask “why bother growing potatoes” when they are so readily available and inexpensive. True, they do take up a fair bit of room when planted, but it is possible to grow them, successful in containers and pots. Last year we were only working half the plot so we planted a large crop of spuds as they are really good at breaking up the ground with their roots leaving the ground good for the following years planting. Also growing your own, means that you get to choose what characteristics you want from your potato, either a delicious waxy first early salad potato like the Arran Pilot or a main crop roasting potato like the Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pink.

 

Potatoes
Potato Drills

 

The easiest way to grow your own potatoes is to purchase bags of seed potatoes. These seed potatoes are grown specifically to be virus resistant. Different variety’s of potatoes develop at different stages of the growing season. All of the variety’s of potatoes will go into the ground on the same day, traditionally on St Patricks Day on the emerald isle but this year as it falls on a Thursday it will be the weekend before or after.

First Earlies – On a typical growing season it usually takes around 10 – 12 weeks from planting to harvesting, and often when the plants stop flowering is a good indicator that the crop is ready. Popular UK variety’s of first earlies include Arran Pilot, Pentland Javelin which is what we have chosen to plant this year, or Duke of York which is a great all round new potato.

 

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Pentland javelline

 

Second Earlies – Again on a typical growing season second earlier will usually take between 13 – 15 weeks from planting to harvesting. First and Second early crops grow well in containers or pots and this is the approach we are going for this year as we still have a few structures to go into our plot. It also means that we can move them about when needed and we can try and cram them in every available spot. Popular second early variety’s include, Charlotte which is the variety we have chosen as we had great success with the previous year, Kestrel and Ratte.

 

Charlotte Potatoes
Charlotte Potatoes

 

Maincrops – Maincrop potatoes prefer being grown directly into the ground. They will need more space and the tubers often grow much larger then early variety’s. These are normally ready to harvest around 20 weeks after planting, Some of the more popular variety s include, Maris Piper which we will be purchasing in the near future, King Edward and Desiree.

Chitting – About 5 – 6 weeks before I plan to plant out my spuds im going to start the chitting process. This basically means standing the potatoes on their end with any eyes facing upwards on a tray, or anything that will keep them elevated and dry egg, boxes and seed trays are often used for this purpose. The chitting potatoes need to be left in a dry well lit and cool area, windowsills are ideal. Some people suggest that chitting doesnt benefit the growing process, but were going to do it anyway as nothing says Spring is coming that a windowsill full of seed potatoes.

When we come to planting our own potatoes were going to show you how to prepare the ground and look at some differing techniques for growing your spuds and how to care for them along the way.

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.

 

Overwintering Part 2 – learn from mistakes

Bird Feed

Bird Feed, seeds, peanut, sunflower seeds, mealworms, bird seed, suet balls, bird mix, mixed seeds

Im very much a believer in the term “learn from your mistakes” and this week it was very much prevalent, whilst I sat in my van having a builders salad (sausage roll) in the drizzle, watching the birds feeding from our offerings. I have always been a nature fan and my mother always enjoyed feeding the birds, so we would go out of our way to purchase food and collect household bird friendly scraps. My mother worked as a primary school teacher and yearly used to make suet balls and put bird feed out with her class to inspire the children, and it certainly rubbed off on me. The only difference between our back garden and the plot of  grass outside her classroom is the wildlife that we attracted.

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. This is not something that we have had to contend with before.

This post is going to focus on how to get your bird feed to, well…. the birds of course !

Tuesday just gone I finished my work an hour early and having been on the right side of town to my allotment I thought I would pay a visit. 10 minutes after filling up the bird feeders and after just replenishing fresh water in the bird bath, mother nature decided to bless me with a shower of fine rain that can only be described as the type that “soaks you through !” so I decided to take an early tea. Id barely unwrapped my salad before I seen a large well fed black and white cat immediately start to skulk my plot. Not wanting to inter fear in nature my inner Attenborough said to me just observe, and as I poured my coffee I could resist narrating the scene in front of me in the style that only the great man himself could. Here we see… is said in my head filling my shirt with pastry flakes, knowing fine well if that cat had got one of my birds I would have flapped at him like id just sprayed mace in my armpits. Simple answer to this solution if you are a cat owner put a bell on your cat and give the birds a chance. If you do a google search there are thousands of article showing the correlation between the rise of domestic cats and uk bird decline.

winter-on-the-allotment

 

After chasing the cat back into the housing estate where I presume “Its Humans” live, I returned to the van to finish the crossword when only a few moments later I spotted an old friend, who we have hilariously nicknamed Sirrel The Squirrel, make a reappearance. He seemed nervous at once then just went for it. This was the first time I had hung a suet ball feeder at the allotment. It fell to the ground more to the surprise to Sirrel than to me, because I gasped but Sirrel must have jumped his body hight at least 10 times. The problem was I hung the suet ball holder on the end of the branch foe the birds but not expecting the weight of a squirrel the branch snapped.

Another quick tip I learnt this week from the internet when leaving water in a dish or bowl for birds to drink or bathe their feathers in, place a ping pong or tennis ball in the bowl to stop the water freezing. I dont know the exact science myself but I linked it on our twitter feed so it must be from a reliable site.

No doubt I will have more failures and even more successes for my quest to become one with nature this winter.

Cheers

Chris

Bird Feed