Mid April Update

Mid April 2016 Updateseedlings collage

Whilst being a firm believer in “A little rain never hurt anyone” there are some jobs that are impossible or just plain, too dangerous to do in wet conditions. It has not stopped raining in Belfast for nearly 2 full weeks now, and our plot is very muddy and slippery underfoot, in some areas. Both of our water butts are full to the brim. We are planning to put some wood-chip bark down to help with this, and also to help suppress the weeds and grass between our raised beds.

I am also in the process of erecting a new greenhouse and want to build a good solid and level base for the structure. The greenhouse will be sitting on a slope, so I will dig out and drop the back end before laying a weed-proof membrane. I will then level the ground and lay flag stones on a level bed of quarry dust, and point the joints by brushing in a concrete and sand mix. I will walk you through this when I finally get a dry day to do the work, its planned for this weekend.

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Potato Drills

I finally decided that the ground has warmed enough, due to the first signs of the upcoming war every gardener starts to face this time of year, and your clean worked ground starts to fill up with countless variety’s of weeds. Having managed to get a couple of dry hours one evening after work, we dug drills for the spuds lined with some well rotted manure, and laid the potatoes out to their correct spacing’s. See our potato blog. Potato

We are also busy looking after our many variety’s of seedlings, growing in their various containers. Due to the dull, overcast days, some of the seedlings had started to get a bit leggy so I was making sure to bury them as deep as I could when I was transplanting them to larger pots. I’ve been growing my seedlings in a few different ways this year, mainly because the greenhouse is not yet ready. My main light source in my flat, is an easterly facing bay window, while not ideal, it is still able to produce strong seedlings when blessed with good weather. To give the seedlings every advantage that I could, I purchased a small mini 4 tier greenhouse that I planned to keep my seedling in. I raised the mini greenhouse to the height of the window to maximize light exposure, and place all my pots and sets in watered trays to keep the seeds well watered. On warm days you can see the condensation on the inside and the seedlings seem to be doing very well. Temperature differences to come when new thermometer arrives. I also purchased a small heated propagator, for the particularly heat loving seeds, mainly peppers and chilies. Both seedlings planted on the same date, in both the heated propagator and the mini greenhouse seem to be growing very evenly so we will see when it comes to looking at their roots.

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Fingers crossed that the weather turns soon, and we can get a couple of good full days working hard, to get the now overdue greenhouse up, and get it working for us.

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.

Allotment Etiquette, Sure its nice to be nice !

allotment etiquette
Our Plot

Allotment Etiquette

While every allotment site will have many and varying rules, there is an unwritten code of good personal conduct that allotment owners should adhere too. Most of these are common sense and common decency, and being friendly and courteous to your fellow allotmenteers can have its own rewards.

Up at our allotments in Belfast, it is practically against the law not to give a wave to other allotment holders as you drive in and out. Stopping for a chat with you neighbors, talking about the weather, complaining about the council pathways and talking about how well Big Geoff’s cabbage is doing, while in your head enviously wondering how did he did it, is very common place. Us gardeners are a friendly bunch and are often more than not willing to give advice. When starting out on a new plot it can be invaluable to gain the advise of the people that have been working the land for some time. They may very well have information on your own plot, and can give you advice on the condition of the soil.

Here I am going to list some tips on good allotment etiquette, that I have learnt from my experience.

Weed Killer – This is obviously not going to apply to people who grow organically, but is often regarded to be one of the easiest ways to clear a new plot. When using weed killer it is important to make sure that the chemical is contained within your plot and your plot alone. Do not spray weed killer on a windy day as the spray will travel in the wind. If your allotment is on a slope be careful that the weed killing solution doesn’t run down the slope into another plot. It is common practice to use a separate watering can for use with weed killer and use it for that sole purpose only.

Strimming – Strimming is an excellent way of clearing an over grown plot, or tidying up the edges of pathways or around fences. The only drawback to the strimmer/brush cutter is that it isint selective what it slices and will tear through weeds, grasses and vegetables. This is something that we learnt the hard way, when the council strimmed our pathway and covered one of my raised beds with grass and weeds, which soon started to root in the favoring conditions. Due to the position of out plot we only have one adjoining plot and the fence is not great at the minute. What we do is hold up or attach a large piece of plastic while we strim to keep the cuttings on our own plot.

Invasive or Large Plants – Your are not going to make any friends on the allotment site if you arrive and start planting very large or invasive plants. A 15 foot palm tree blocking the sun is going to gain you the most sturnest of sideways looks. Plants such as bamboo, willows and fast growing conifers are always frowned upon and often banned from allotment sites.

Car Parking – This is an easy one, but its simply courteous, good etiquette and will save you time, and if you have mud on your boots will keep your car floor carpets clean. Leave enough space to allow other cars to pass on pathways. Also leave enough room for people to be able to push a wheelbarrow easily out of the gates and do not block the entrances to their own plots. Sometimes on a busy day you may have to park closely and this cannot be avoided. As im friendly with all my neighbors, we know each others cars, but if you don’t you could maybe leave a note on the dashboard saying where your plot it. When im at the allotment on my own, im always listening to music or a podcast, so I have my ear phones in. That’s why I always tell my neighbors to give me a wave if they need the car moved or throw something at me, which lucky they havnt yet.Weeding the Allotment

Rubbish – No one likes a litter bug, take all rubbish home with you, or put it in bins or skips provided. We generally keep all our rubbish in a corner of our plot until there is enough to do a run to the dump. Also remember to take all cooked food home as this can attract vermin.

Bonfires – You will soon know if you are breaking the rules regarding bonfires, or if your fire is annoying or polluting other plot holders or local residents, be courteous and careful. Do not build a fire too large and keep any fuels used to start the fire in a suitable container at a safe distance from the fire. Its also important to make sure there is no wildlife living in the materials that we are looking to burn.

Water Taps – On warm days try not to hog the water taps, particularly if you see someone arriving after work or just making a quick run up to give the plants a drink. If your planning on hanging around for a while or are in no rush, then let them go before you. Also water is a precious commodity, and while we make every effort to only use rainwater stored in our waterbutts, sometimes we do have to use the water taps and we always make sure that the tap is closed off completely.

Trespassing – Stick to your own plot, unless you have a very good reason to be on someone else plot or you are invited, then you should not be on anyone elses plot !. So far the only reason I have had to enter another allotmenteers, plot was to remove a bird that became trapped in a fruit net.

These are just some of my observations so far and as time goes on I will keep adding to this list, because if there is one thing they cant say about me, its that I wasnt a gentleman lol…. happy growing and good allotment etiquette.

Coldframe
Coldframe

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

Protecting Vegetables from Frost – Our methods

Protecting Vegetables from Frost

Protecting Vegetables from Frost
Strawberries

 

Here are a few methods we employ for Protecting Vegetables from Frost. A few people over the holidays said to me “I see the daffodils have sprung early this year, when can I expect my first box of veg” or “you must be loving all this warm weather, up the allotment”, and the simple fact of the matter is that were not loving it at all.

When the temperature drops below zero degrees, the water molecules which make up a vast majority of the structure of a lot of vegetables, with some types of lettuce known to contain up to 96 % water molecules, tomatoes up to 94% and cabbages up to 93%, freeze which will cause damage to and eventually kill the plants. Its not hard to tell when a plant is suffering from frost damage, the plants often go limp and have blackening leaves and will eventually wither and die. When you have vegetables in the ground and the temperature is dropping, this could could do some serious damage to your produce. But if like us, at the moment the only thing we have in the ground as I type, are broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia) which is highly regarded as being the premier over wintering broad bean, and our strawberries which are a mixture of variety’s all pretty hardy when it comes to bad weather, then the frost can be one of your greatest weed killing allies. If you have ever dug over an allotment by hand you will know that it is lots and lots of fun. My knees never feel better than when they are bent next to a raised bed for hours, as I sting the hands of myself trying to work out what is a weed and what is not. Over winter the frost does all this for you, by freezing the water molecules and slowly killing of the plants and root system.
This is not the only reason why allotmenteers love a good long hardy frost, it also does wonders keeping the pest problem under control. Every wondered where all the insects go in the winter, well it really is fascinating some create their own antifreeze, some go into a state of suspended animation and hibernate the winter, but in truth a lot of them die, and this is important for keeping pest numbers down. So there u have it, two of us growers favorite things to complain about, weeds and insects and the frost is taking them on, for free, while were all lying in our beds.

If you have got plants in the ground that are susceptible to damage from frost and you think they might need a helping hand through the winter then there are a few ways of preventing the plants from seeing the worst of the cold.

Mulch – Mulch is a term that describes any layer of material that is placed on top of soil, many people believe that mulch is purely and organic material but the same term can be applied to any material (e.g plastic sheeting, PVC) that provides the following benefits. Mulch provides a lay of material between the sun and the soil. If the soil cannot receive sunlight then anything will find it difficult to grow in those circumstances, so it is a good method of reducing weed growth. As with light the mulch also traps heat and moisture allowing the soil to stay warmer and might allow for early germination and improved soil nutrient quality. Common examples of mulch often include tree bark, hay, grass clippings which will decay over time and help top improve the soil quality, through to PVC sheeting or recycles rubber pellets from old tyres which will not improve the soil.

Protecting Vegetables from Frost
Covered Beds

Horticultural Fleece –One of the most modern and now common ways of protecting vegetables from frost is the use of horticultural fleece. This doesn’t take much explaining, its basically a vegetables way of putting on a jumper or wrapping itself in a duvet. The fleece can be applied directly over the vegetables and weighted down, or it can be applied the same way as you would put bird netting or chicken wire over a frame.

Covering –This is probably the simplest way of protecting vegetables from frost. Some plants can simply be protected by placing a vessel over them e.g. a plastic bottle which will act as a mini greenhouse or a flower pot, anything that will increase the temperature and keep the frost off.

It may be worth experimenting with different methods of Protecting Vegetables from Frost, to find the best that work for you in your position.

Whilst we have been fairly lucky with the rain here in Belfast other parts of Northern Ireland and the rest of the Uk have been totally destroyed with the torrential rain, many people lost their homes, businesses, farms and livestock. Our sympathy and good wishes go out to anyone whose lives have been affected by any of the floods, and we hope that this is the year that the World tackles global warming and realizes that we just cant keep going on living the way we are.

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.

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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