Coldframe Construction – Building One Yourself, DIY

coldframe construction
Finished Product

Coldframe Construction

This weekend in the midst of hurricane Desmond battering Belfast, I took to the blogs and to twitter to connect with some other allotment folk and to introduce our blog to them. Chris on the other hand got stuck in and built our very first Coldframe construction.

The wood primarily came from pallets and floorboards which had been salvaged. We are very keen to recycle as much materials as possible. The door with the glass was pulled of a skip (with the owners permission) last summer with the intention of constructing a coldframe. The only part of the structure that we had to pay for were the hinges, even the screws were free as Chris won them on a scratch card after making a purchase at Tradepoint at B & Q.

Last year Chris’s kitchen and living room windows were covered from top to bottom in sprouting seeds he had begun to grow indoors. However when it came time to plant them out, we got hit with a cold snap and months of work had been ruined overnight. it was then we agreed that making a Coldframe construction to keep our seedlings safe in the process of hardening them off for outdoor planting, was a good idea.

 

coldframe construction
Materials Used

 

coldframe construction
Coldframe Construction

Our process for hardening off seedlings will follow something like this to ensure we gradually introduce them to the elements

  1. Place seedlings into the coldframe construction to protect them from strong sunlight, potential frosty nights and less-frequent watering. This will take approximately 1 week
  2. As the temperatures start to rise, we’ll open the cold frame roof for a small time of approx 2-3 hours of sun. Another 2-3 days.
  3. Increasing the time the seedlings are exposed to the elements but closing the lid as and when more serious weather systems come into play – 1 more week

Transplanting the seedlings into the ground when they have successfully hardened off will give us the best chance of growing from seed, something Chris and I are very happy about as the cost savings will be huge.

coldframe construction
Coldframe

Choosing a Polytunnel – A helpful guide

 

 

 

 

polytunnel

 

So the boys here at growblogs are in the market for a polytunnel. This was a decision we made long ago but decided to hold off until the start of the next growing season to save our new purchase a harsh winter. There are many advantages to growing in a polytunnel compared to just growing in the open ground.

Growing Season – One of the main advantages of owning a polytunnel, and one that for us in particular due to our location in Northern Ireland, is the fact that you can greatly increase your growing season. It is possible to start the season from 2 – 6 weeks early, and extend it by roughly the same, dependant on location. We reckon that here in Belfast, that could give us a good 7 – 8 weeks extra growing time which will greatly increase our yield.

Temperature – The temperature inside a functioning polytunnel will be significantly greater than outside, and will vary easily. It is possible to continue growing all through the winter by introducing heat into the tunnel in various ways.

Variety – There are certain types of fruit and vegetables that are only able to be grown in greenhouses or polytunnel. Certain heat and light loving varietys would just not be possibly for me to grow without the finest of summers. Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Chillies and Courgettes all need good conditions to grow well and they just would not be an option for us to grow out doors.

Protection from weather – Polytunnels have their own micro climate and if well sealed and airtight, will keep the contents well protected from the elements.

Protection from pests – The protective film creates a barrier to the insects from your crops. However they will try everything possible to get inside and if they do find a way in, finding their way out will seem fruitless and difficult.

The only real disadvantage they we have discovered so far, is that you cant leave it up to mother nature to water your covered crops. There are ways around this with many automatic watering systems on the market and many more ingenious methods amateur gardeners have been perfecting for years.

Off to the shops.

One of the best friends to modern man is online shopping. The ability to browse countless products and have them delivered to your home all from the comfort of your pyjamas. At first when I googled “Polytunnel UK” I was slightly overwhelmed by the amount of online shops, sell many types and sizes and the greatly varying prices between some of the products. It was then that I reliased that I was gonna have to do some some research to get the most bloom for my buck.
Having spent a few hours going through all the websites and everything I could find on the subject online I came to the conclusiuon that a) there is actually very few differing products, ans b) the difference between quality and price differs greatly.

The cheaper polytunnels come with a green mesh cover as compared the the much dearer clear filmed covers.

The online sites that sell these products explain in detail the science behind the different tunnel coverings and give advice on which would be the best for your own needs.

 

polytunnel

One of the reasons why I believe there is a lack a of a good mid range polytunnel is the commitment that it takes to make the most of the tunnel. Gardening for many people can be a fly by hobby, falling into the same category as golf, fishing and many other activities of whose accessories litter roofspaces and garages throughout the country. When speaking to our fellow allotmenteers there has been countless stories of people being offered a new plot and they go at it all guns blazing for a few months, then as soon as the weather changes or the novelty has warn off, they are never to be seen again. When you receive a new plot it can very much feel like your playing catch up with your neighbours. It can be disheartening looking at a bare plot when all around you are neatly spaced rows of lettuces and gleaming greenhouses. Often the temptation could be to throw some money at the problem and purchase a cheap polytunnel to cover that bare ground and get the growing process underway. These hobbiests are unlikely to spend upwards of £800 on a polytunnel unless they are determined they are in it for the long haul.

While the smart money says “its an investment, “it will pay for itself” the best part of £1000 is a lot of money. If I knew the polytunnel was going in my garden or field where I lived it would be a lot easier parting with the money. Ive been warned about leaving valuable tools in our shed, due to thefts, that im sure occur on allotment sites all over the country. Also random acts of vandalism, that do happen, it only takes a small knife to do a lot of damage to a polythene structure, and we all know there are lots of people out there they who enjoy nothing more than spoiling other peoples fun.

Mother nature can also be a polytunnels enemy. Wind would be a particular issue. While every attempt will be made to firmly secure the tunnel accidents do happen and a particularly strong gust of wind could literally see your investment take off.

Taking all of this into consideration and at our next monthly Growblogs Directors meeting (down the pub) we will be weighing up the options do we go a) cheap and cheerful, b) costly and concerned or c) do we try and build our own like the shed which turned out, cheap and cheerful at first then turned costly and caused much concern.

Chris

Swiss Chard

 

 

Swiss Chard, Chard Beta vulgaris

Having armed myself with my bag for life, earphones and an entertaining podcast I was all set to do the monotonousness weekly shop. Whilst sauntering through the vegetable isle often with growers envy, I was delighted to see that my local supermarket was now stocking rainbow swiss chard. It immediately caught my attention due to the bright vibrant colours and had also caught the attention of the lady beside, me as she rather poorly tried to explain this foreign vegetable to her young son.

The product looked very fresh and enticing. Having exhausted our own supply of Swiss chard I reached for a packet until I glanced at the price. I actually let out an audible laugh much to the attention of my fellow shoppers when I saw that for the rather stingy weight of 200g they very kindly would like to offer you an invitation to treat yourself to the Swiss chard for the sum of £1.89.Swiss Chard, Green Beans, Red Onion

Our rainbow swiss chard “Bright Lights” from 2015 was definitely one of our greatest successes on the new plot. We planted our chard from seed early June. We waited till the plants got to about 10cm in height before we started to harvest some of the delicious baby leaves. While we also left half of the crop to mature to produce wonderful crunchy stalks, all colours of the rainbow.

Such wonderful looking and tasting plants and with great colours and textures when it comes to cooking. Swiss Chard is a no brainer for our plot and kitchens for next year. #

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So that when the weather turns in our favour, we can show you how to prepare the soil and plant up your very own Chard patch.

Chris

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

What’s in a name?

– by Connor

So you may have noticed we changed the name of our blog yesterday. Unfortunately someone else had created a site many years ago called Allotmentor. Clearly they are as smart and funny as ourselves, but because they had picked the name first, we decided it would be in ours and their best interests to differentiate the two websites. We doubt they were even aware of our existence, but when we realised the names were similar, we decided it best to move from the similarity.

Over a few glasses of wine yesterday and after a hard day’s working on the shed (more about that later), we set to work on our blog renaming. Considering I work in this industry you’d think I’d a be a dab hand at this, but when you’re working on your own project, it becomes infinitely harder. We, as you can see decided on the name Grow Blogs. This is for two main reasons

  1. We can continue to showcase our own blog and the work we’re doing on allotment 8b to make our own lives more sustainable and to eat a little bit healthier everyday
  2. Our new name now means we can open up our blog to our allotment friends from around the web and show their best practice techniques as well their own journeys to a more sustainable and healthy life.

If you want to join us on the blog for a guest post or a look at your own allotment growing story, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.

winter-on-allotment

The Shed

Yesterday we set to tackle the shed. Frankly it had become a dumping ground for everything that might be of interest to someone or that could get lost if left out. Tackle it we must and along with shelves and hanging racks, we set to strengthen and fully waterproof the inside of the shed with panelling. Drafts and leaks are now a thing of the past….hopefully. Well except for the felt on the roof flying off in the wind last week, but we can fix that. To be honest we’ve probably spent the same amount fixing up our free from the internet shed than we would have spent on a new one, but the time and effort taken to do so has been…character building.

Overwintering and Wildlife

Autumn Blues

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. That snug feeling of being tucked up in your superman onesie in front of an open fire (chessnuts roasting obv), can feel even more content knowing you have done your bit for nature. 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.

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.

Choy Sum, Seeds

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 wildlife.

Fitting a Water Butt To The Shed

Water is the most valuable resource on this planet. When summer comes round and our plants and vegetables are gasping for a drink, this is most likely the time when we’re being restricted from watering them by our local water company.

But it’s November…

Very true, but winter here is one of the wettest times and we aim to store up as much water as possible between now and next summer. Even in the driest areas of the UK, we could fill this water butt hundreds of times over, but it pays to plan well in advance. Something we’ve learnt from our first year on the allotment.

You can see from the photo, we’ve attached guttering to our “free from the internet shed”, this has two benefits. Firstly it’ll catch every drop of rain that hits out roof and secondly it’ll protect the sides of the shed from rain dripping down the side. Seeing as the shed needs all the help it can get to remain waterproof, this is a great benefit.

The water butt was from B&Q for around £50. To be fair it’s a bit of an extravagance, but we did some research on the benefits of using rain water over tap water and we came up with the following:

  1. Tap water may contain different chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride. Not conducive to organic veg
  2. Rain water has neutral ph levels
  3. Rain water is usually in abundance here in NI and we’ll be laughing mid summer.

Final say

Rain water is generally accepted as the best source of hydration for your veg, but across the board tap water seems to be an acceptable source by many experts and can be used throughout your allotment.

What’s your thoughts? Tap water or Rain water for your allotment?

Allotment Year One – Come Subscribe

Allotment Year One

Allotment Year One
Growblogs Plot

So its nearing the end of Allotment year one and we are loving it. I’m pretty sure it was a drunken joke followed by an email to the council. 8 years letter they returned the correspondence to say plot 8b was ours. It’s been our home from home for the last twelve months and it was a complete jungle before we got stuck in. Allotment Year One just like Romeo – Done !

I’d heard stories of people taking over allotments and being left with an almost ready to go plot. We weren’t so lucky and our first action was to dig up the entire plot and start to weed it. This was our first mistake. We soon realised the work involved and while we completed the first dig, it definitely seemed like the better option to use raised beds.

Now this project is not one we want to invest hugely into bar our time. Where we can source things frugally we will, where we can make something fit a purpose it may not have been intended for, we do. Where we can barter and trade….we will.

raised bed

Chris was able to salvage some floorboards from an old property and these became the basis of our raised beds. Speaking to some of the other allotment neighbours they advised filling the beds with a mix 50/50 mix and to date this has been our single biggest expense at £130. As you can see from the photo below, I may have made an error in my parking, placing the van where the soil was to go. The only way out was to shovel 2 tonne on my own. Cheers Chris.

allotment-blog

We’ve also sourced our “Free from the Internet” shed and have gotten it to be free standing and water tight, which has come in hand recently with the crazy rain of the past week.

After year 1 we’ve had some great successes and overall I’m extremely happy with what we have been able to grow. It’s also helped save on the cost of buying veg as well as ensuring we’re eating healthier. We’ve definitely eaten much more veg the past 12 months than ever before, which cannot be a bad thing.

I’ve honestly found the allotment to be a great stress reliever too. Horrible signal means that mobile data is a no go, so Facebook an twitter are out. Text and calls are possible. Barely.

I’m really looking forward to our second year on the allotment and hope we can share our experiences and mistakes. At least that way someone else will learn from them.

Drop us a message and let us know if we can help in any way.

Grow Your Own – Anyone can do it !

Grow Your Own.

grow your own
Our biggest raised bed

When I told my friends that we had acquired an allotment there was a great enthusiasm from them often followed by a comment along the lines of “id love to grow my own food but everything I touch dies” or “id love to but my garden is too small or I haven’t enough time”. Running an allotment is a big investment in time and money. So I would rarely advise to jump in, head first and take on a plot of land or turnover your wonderful lawn.

If you have a 30 acre field or a tiny windowsill which enjoys moderate sunlight, then there’s no excuse for not even giving it a go, try it, grow your own and be amazed at what you can do! (baring in mind I lived in a 1st floor flat for 3 years and grew salad crops and strawberries on my windowsills and mushrooms in my gas meter box). Were going to help guide you along the way, from growing the easiest of salad crops to some of the more challenging Mediterranean and Caribbean crops.

 

Allotments these days are considered as much a hipster must have as the top knot, squared glasses and well groomed beard (nothing wrong with a beard as long as you don’t buy it presents or decorate it for holidays). Everyone wants to live the good life, and its not surprising with the amount of television shows showcasing the wonders of grow your own and then the equally if not more abundant “cook your own” TV shows. Also with the ever popular occurrence of farmers markets and pop-up grocery shops, buying and consuming varieties and breeds of vegetables to produce every changing desirable characteristics of produce (e.g purple carrots, black kale etc..), for the true “Foodies” that we all know and love has never been as popular.

grow your own
Kholrabi

This year we are dedicating one of our largest raised bed to growing varieties of plants that we have never tried before. This is where we would like your help. What varieties would you like to see us grow or what varieties have you grown yourself and to what success? Is grow your own for you, lettuce know in the comments below.

Allotment Blog allert – Who are we ??

allotment blog
Growblogs Plot

 

 

Allotment Blog

Hello Im Chris and I say this on behalf of my good friend and allotment buddy Connor, Welcome to our blog !

“Another Allotment Blog !!!” I hear you scream at you devices of choice….. Well yeah but its not just any other allotment blog, its OUR allotment blog.

“Whats the difference between this allotment blog and any other allotment blog” You hark as the veins throb on your tempels” Well the simple answer is…. we’ve got a dinosaur on our logo.

Heres a bit about me. My name is Christopher (Chris, Ging) im 31 years old, my favourite colour is purple and fav animal is an elephant. I work in construction for my fathers building firm, tho I also run my own business as an energy advisor for the domestic housing market. Im a keen fisherman love the outdoors, and love the challenge of turning things I find into useful objects or hard cash. When I was younger I was always gardening with my mother at our home, where we grew apples strawberries and peas, and my mothers love of plants. When I was at university and had my first touch at being a big boy, I realised one evening after a discussion about mortgages and a few sherries, that the rat race wasnt for me and I wanted to be one of my horticultural heroes Hugh F W, even tho at 18 I was already folically challenged. And it was while watching a show of his, Connor and myself rather drunkenly decided that if he can do it then between the pair of us we could give it a shot, and filled the form in online there and then. I think as a team we both complement each other and both bring individual skills to the partnership. We are your typical odd couple (were not a couple, connor is happily married with a beautiful new born daughter, and I while happily single will never feel alone as I know my 23 twitter followers are there for me, thnks guys x). So thats about it, please feel free to email at any time with any questions and I will do my best to asnwer, post haste.

allotment blog