Success Failures 2016

Autumn 2016

Our wee plot !
Growblogs Plot

You can never rely on Irish (Happy Cas ?) weather in Autumn, to be consistent from year to year. But there is one thing that you can rely on, and that is the trees will put on a fiery display of orange and brown leaves, and the wind will do its best to help them to the ground.

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One thing we missed out on last year, and a great way to reduce costs and produce an excellent, helpful product is to create leaf-mould. This essentially means to make compost from the leaves that have fallen from the trees. This process is started in Autumn, naturally when the leaves are ready to fall. We will be collecting as many fallen leaves as possible and treating them like normal compost. We will be keeping the leaf mould in a large Hessian builders sack beside our compost bins, on site for easy access, and so that we can check and turn the compost when needed. The end quality of the compost will be determined by the quality and type of leaves added to the compost. The most desirable leaves are beech or oak as they break down easily and produce a good quality compost. Conifer Needles may take up to 3 years to break down completely and pine needles should be avoided as they produce an acidic end compost.

While overall the plot is starting to look a little bare, our Autumn veg are doing well. We are consistently feeding and weeding our Autumn veg to give them the very best chance of doing well.

Autumn veg bed
Autumn veg bed

Our pointed sweethearts have recovered well after an attack from Cabbage White Caterpillars, and are forming nice large pointed heads.

I have also now thinned the beetroot out to their final growing positions, allowing enough space in between plants to grow the beets to the size I desire. I transplanted some of the stronger plants that I thinned out as a bit of an experiment to see if they would take, and also to use up some bare ground.

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Curly kale

Curly Kale, is an absolute delight to grow and one of the best tasting and versatile veg in the kitchen. Kale is often at its best from late September until February, so now is the perfect time to start harvesting and reaping the benefits of this high protein and fiber rich, super food.

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Carrots

We have never really made a proper attempt to grow conventional looking supermarket carrots. The past few years our carrots have been consistently poor. Not great tasting and terrible shapes. Once again the carrots have been an after though in fact more of a gap filler. We had space at the top of the fruit bed and transplanted about 20 carrot seedlings. As yet, they havnt been decimated by carrot fly and at the surface seem to be doing well, so we never know we might get a fluke crop for our Christmas dinner.

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Strawberries with seperate runners in pots.

Our second batch of Autumn strawberries are now starting to fruit, which will give Conor a chance to place with his new birthday present a strawberry slicer ( I know.. thats what mates are for). We have also been busy potting up strawberry runners to increase our strawberry stocks as they are certainly a plot favourite.

What are you growing this Autumn ?, we would love to hear from you in the comments.

September 2016

Septembers harvest 2016

Allotment, growing, growyourown, grow, horticulture, vegetables, food, produce, harvest, purple beans, beans, peppers, pepper, aubregine, orange pepper, yellow pepper, bell pepper, courgette, yellow courgette, beetroot, kale nreo di tosca, september
Septembers harvest 2016

Whilst September may be one of the most bountiful months, often with some of the most prized and colourful vegetables, a plenty, it also has its down side. For someone who has spent as much time, planning and preparing their growing season, there is that inevitable feeling every vegetable Gardner dreads , and that is that its time to start winding up the garden for the year.

Our maincrop peas and mange tout, which excelled for us so well throughout the summer, have provided us their last pods. With the freezer full of our pea harvest, all ready for Christmas dinner, we took down the cane supports, stored for winter and composted the plants. When we had cleared all of the peas plants away, it was clear that we weren’t the only fans of our peas, and we reckon a wee mouse or two was using our pea plants as a B&B.

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Cleared raised bed

Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

When we cleared the plants away it was time to decide, do we sow green manure in preparation for next season, or do we replenish the nutrients in the ground and try and get a late crop. Ever the optimists we did a late sowing, of mixed salad leaves, lambs lettuce and pak choi, all of which are hardier and faster cropping vegetables that may well just, with a bit of help from mother nature get us a late stir fry or salad.

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Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

We have reduced the amount of watering in the greenhouse, to just keeping the plants moist to try and encourage the ripening of the fruits, and have stopped feeding the tomatoes and cucubrits with tomato feed completely. You would be surprised the amount of people who don’t realise that green, yellow orange and red peppers are all the same fruit just at different stages of ripening.

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My One and Only Aubergine/Eggplant
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Bell Peppers Ripening

Our courgettes, gherkins and Jack Be little Pumpkins were hit hard with what I believe to be a case of the powdery mildews. This is a white powdery coating that covers the leaved and suffocates the plants. It is a fungal disease that attacks the foliage and stems of the plants. As there appears to be no sprays or miracle cures for this disease on edible plants, and with it being too late to take the advice to mulch and thin out the plants, I decided to cut back all the major infected stems and leaved and dispose off away from our compost.

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Pumpkins and Courgettes attacked by fungal “Powdery Mildew”

 

This should give me enough time and hopefully with the good leaves left enough time to ripen, all of the many fruits on the plants. One of the bonuses of cutting back all the foliage was uncovering a yellow courgette plant that I had forgot about, which im loving the colour for cooking with. I think it might have been the climbing variety that I never actually managed to get to climb this year. So there’s the first of my next seasons resolutions, im going to have a beautiful arch of yellow climbing courgettes.

caterpillars

Our Autumn Cabbages got attacked by Caterpillars and while we are not an organic plot, I dont like the idea of spraying food that I am going to eat, so I decided to employ gorilla tactics to combat these critters. Basically they got put in a coffee cup and driven to a warehouse somewhere never to be heard off again… ill say no more. Thankfully plants are resilient and it looks like we will be eating our pointed sweethearts after all.

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Autumn Winter veg

Over the winter when the plot is going to be a bit more quiet, we plan to release many more instructional blogs, and maybe a few videos to help explain things, that we would have found useful had it been explained to us at the beginning of our growing fun. I also don’t know if its just here in Belfast, but the growing bug seems to be spreading and im being inundated from friends looking advice or help to start their own vegetable patches, and im only more than willing to help, as I know how happy our plot makes us.

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Marketmore Cucumbers

Peas out ! Growfans 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenhouse Goodness August 2106

Greenhouse Update

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Our Greenhouse
After our early doubts about the effectiveness of our DIY greenhouse, we can safely say that it is working a treat and we are starting to reap the benefits. Next season the greenhouse will be mainly used for seedlings, with the larger plants going to be in our, as of yet non existent poly-tunnel. This season, I started some seedlings at home on my windowsills, with the intention of maturing them in the greenhouse. Thankfully everything went to plan, and the greenhouse was constructed in time, as all of our outdoor tomatoes failed, suffering from blight. The greenhouse provides us with much more controllable and consistent growing condition, and thankfully all of our plants inside remain blight free.

We are currently growing two variety’s of tomatoes in the greenhouse.

Gardeners Delight – Is very much a favourite of gardeners, producing delicious tangy but sweet cheery tomatoes. These tomatoes are hardy and perfect for growing on a sunny windowsill or on a patio a large container. When the fruits started to show we have been feeding weekly with tomato feed.

 

Costoluto Fiorentino – These are a large growing Italian tomato with irregular ribbed and deliciously juicy fruit. These are also easy to go and suited to UK conditions and are also suitable to grow in a large pot.

Along side our tomatoes, we are growing two variety’s of Peppers.

Sweet Romamo – are a long sweet pepper deliciously slow grilled straight on the BBQ, we are trying one of these plants outdoors so we will show the comparison at the end of the growing season.

Bell Peppers – these are a year round staple of most cuisines, so we decided to grow some in time for the end of BBQ and salad season. Germination of these seeds were rather difficult and I only got lucky when I kept the seeds inside a mini greenhouse instead of just the windowsill.

We also started some gherkins “Adam F1”off from seed and when they started to sprout we gave them some time in the greenhouse, too to grow strong roots before hardening off and placing them in their final growing positions. I constructed a meshed lean-to at the front of the shed with enough room for the containers to hold the creeping or climbing plants. Previously this year I had a crop of mange tout growing in the same position, but I decided to switch for a gherkin patch as they are one of my favourite veg to pickle and deff one of the the best tasting. After a few days hardening off and with Conor making a cracking job of a protective fleece for their first few nights outside on their own, I can happily report that I harvested my first ever gherkin tonight. Ta Da !

Another first for me to grow this year is Aubergine, I have three plants that have been flowering for about 4 weeks now but none of them had set fruit yet. It was only last night when I was rotating the peppers, that I seen the first of my eggplants.

The last of our greenhouse variety’s and this one is a complete accident is our one and only cucumber. I sowed 6 cucumbers with the thought of keeping two and giving a few away which I normally do to friends. I was left with the two I was keeping for myself (the best examples obviously). But I had nowhere to put them so they were neglected at the back of a blind on a sunny window sill with the intention of compost bin. When it came to dispose of the fallen climbing plant I was surprised to see the yellow flower of a small cucumber on one of the plants. I had to try and save it. With nowhere for it to climb properly I just planted it into the ground where the one fruit continued to swell. It may look like a kids constructed oil rig, but its my cucumber, my pride and joy, and boy is it gonna taste damm good !

August Allotment 2016

Mid August and the Allotment is in a transition period, from the dull wet summer conditions to whatever Autumn has in store. The warm and moist weather has been a perfect breeding ground for diseases and we lost all of our outdoor tomatoes to blight, across the allotment. The potato plants started to show signs of blight too, so we cut the plant of and let the potatoes stay in the ground until we either harvest them or need the space.

 

We harvested our red cabbages this month “August” “Red Drumhead” a variety that we purchased from SeedParade. They were great tasting and and had nice big heavy heads, defiantly a variety I will be trying again. We are also starting to harvest some of the produce from the greenhouse. Our sweet peppers “Sweet Romano” are now at the perfect length for sloshing with some olive oil and throwing on a hot grill.

It seems that all of our peas and beans have come good at once. We tried many different variety of varied architecture and colours all producing good and tasty yields.

These purple beans are, while not only visually striking are a firm favourite in my kitchen. We have grown both Dwarf Bush Bean Purple Teepee from Thompson and Morgan, and a Purple Climbing Bean also fromTthompson and Morgan. While the dwarf plants have produced a vastly superior yield the climbing beans when mixed with other colours of climbing bean create a beautiful structure. We have also been consistently harvesting our mangetout “Pea Kennedy” and our podded peas “Pea Ambassador” which have both been problem free and heavy yielding and both produce a pleasing white flower. Freezing individual portions of peas, helps to provide fresh tasty veg in times when its not available in the garden.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead to autumn, we decided to lift all the potatoes and replenish the ground with manure and nutrients (fish blood and bone and chicken manure pellets) and allow the worms to work their magic, while our autumn veg seedlings are growing strong roots. Brassicas are hardy vegetables and can handle the ever changing Autumn weather conditions, but its important to give them a strong head start. When planting brassics seedlings its well known the importance of firming the plants into the ground, Firm them in then do it 5 times more. We always put a collar around our brassicas to help deter root fly. This autumn we are growing, curly kale “westland Autumn”, cauliflowers, black kale “Nero de tosca”, Radicchio”Palla rossa Precoce,” swede “Gowrie,” Swede “Best of All,”

Turnip “Purple Top Milan”. Our broad beans took a battering in a wind storm last week so I think once I let what is left of the crop when the beans reach a good size I will lift the crop, and then haunt the gardening stores for something to fill the gap.

We received a warning letter for non cultivation of our plot from the council this month, this gave us a good laugh after the initial shock. Were pretty sure they have made a mistake for an over grown neighbouring plot as I think were way ahead of where we had planned to be at this time.

July Holiday Washout ! 2016

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GrowBlogs Allotment

Having my annual July holiday week, I thought I would use the good weather to get ahead of myself, and to give the plot a really good tidy up and weeding. Normally this time of year, I spend a lot of time making sure that all my crops are well watered, but this year there has been no need. It has rained everyday for the past few weeks with few sunny intervals. While not ideal at all, most of the crops are doing well, and we are recording good temperatures in the greenhouse.

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Some July Produce

July for the vegetable grower is a busy, but bountiful month. Plenty of crops to harvest, rows of spuds still nestling in the soil, hedgerows full of berries and the delightful bright red strawberries, poking from under the luscious green leaves, means that summer is well and truly upon us. There are a few gaps starting to appear in a few of the beds, mainly in the brassica bed. The romanesco cauliflower, while producing massive leaves failed to form a head. The broccoli “green calabrese” grew really well and were delicious, and we are still harvesting the kohlrabi, kale and are fingers crossed for the two massive red cabbages “red drum head”dominating the bed.

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Brassica Bed

Its time to start planning autumn and winter veg, and whats going to be on the plate for this years Christmas dinner. I transplanted some carrots “Rainbow F1”which had been started in a pot, to the bed beside the rhubarb. I also sowed some of the same seed in a deep container to compare the difference.

Something new to me and the plot, that we are trying for the first time this year is Radicchio “palla rossa precoce”. They have been described to me as a mix between a lettuce and a cabbage, with a tangy slightly bitter flavour, which grows particularly well this time of year. They are better sown directly where they are to mature. Seedlings normally show 1- 2 weeks after sowing, weather dependant, and plants normally reach maturity around 60 – 70 days also weather dependant and is harvested whole like an iceberg lettuce.

Thinking ahead and trying your best to time when to harvest your crops, and to replenish the ground and plant out new crops, is not easy but something which is important to maintain a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. To fill the gap where we were had previously grown the broccoli, I had already started some Autumn cabbage seeds “Pointed Sweethearts” that I will soon be hardening off and planting out. I have also made another sowing of Kale seeds as its been a firm favourite this year and im starting to get the room for a few more plants.

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Autumn Cabbage Seedlings
This month we sowed the last of our crops for the greenhouse, our gherkins “F1 Adam”. I started the seedlings in a heated propagator, to maintain a consistent temperature. Then when the seedlings started to form their first true leaves I potted them on into their individual pots. They are currently residing in a mini greenhouse, in my sunny South east facing bay window and are doing well.

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Gherkin Seedlings Adam F1
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First tomato of 2016
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First pepper 2016

One thing that we had been lacking up at our plot was a permanent compost bin, and we were using builders sacks to store our vegetable waste and

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Gherkin Seedlings Adam F1
materials. While not easy to turn the compost over, and sticking out like a sore thumb in a rather nice overgrown end of the allotment, they had to go! So I got some long screws a few old wooden pallets and some left over wood and banged this together. Its defiantly not going to win any architectural awards or fans on pinterest , but its sturdy and serves a purpose and has tidied up, which was a rather ugly end of the plot we dont like to talk about.

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New Compost Bin
Till next time grow fans when hopefully we will be starting to harvest our maincrop peas.

Peas Out !

Greenhouse Construction, Proper Job !

 

GrowGaff MK1
GrowGaff MK1

 

The greenhouse is complete and not a minute too soon. We ordered and cut to size, the panels for the greenhouse, we used 9mm clear PVC, while not cheap, it is strong and will with stand even the hardiest of thugs, hurled stones.

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Glazing the Greenhouse

I had been growing some tomatoes and peppers in the bay window of my flat, to get them started to move to the greenhouse, upon completion. Unfortunately due too the of the delay completing the greenhouse, they were starting to outstay their welcome. Basically they were touching the ceiling and taking up at least 1/4 of my living space. Then came moving day and we realised that they were to tall to fit in Conors van. Out came the secateurs and off with their heads. This was unfortunate as we lost alot of the few flowers that we had. When moved into the greenhouse I was sure a good spout of sun, would soon have them back to their best and well… im still waiting on that sun.

Greenhouse

 

The flowers on the peppers are doing much better, probably due too the natural pollination from the insects that they were being starved off while situated within my fat, and were lucky as there seems to be a good population of bees hanging around our plots this year. In fact just this evening as I was doing a bit of watering that I noticed the first 3 peppers, on separate plants starting to grow, so it will be important to keep well watered and fed weekly.

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Pepper Plant Starting to Pepper
After 3 failed attempts to germinate successful sweetcorn, with just a measly 1 out of 36 successfully hitting the surface, I eventually gave in and had to buy some plug plants. Im not against this at all, but I was trying to do a whole season without. The main reason I prefer to grow from seed is simply the cost, plug plants can be dear which is why I was delighted to see this many healthy Sweet Corn “Hanna” for £1.50 on sale at Homebase. Whilst going to be a bit behind, im going to place the plugs under cloches when they have been properly hardened off and when the weather has turned in my favour.

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King Edward Left, Maris Piper Light

We have started to harvest our potatoes, with the main crops we lifted the poorest looking plant from each variety, and while the sizes of the spuds was poor the amount and quality were good so we have decoded to leave them another week or two and hope for better weather. Our first earlies, Pentland Javeline and Aaran Pilot, while also disappointing in yield made up for in taste. This will all come in a potato summary when were finished with the main crop.

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Pentland Javelin Left, Aaran Pilot Right
This past week ive been fortunate enough to have had some free time and we are well caught up on major tasks, which has given my brain time to wonder and start too look for improvements that were going to make to the plot. With all the good stalks,roots and discarded elements of the veg that we are consuming, starting to pile up we think its important that we set up a proper compost solution. We had to bring in a lot of compost and manure this year to improve our ground, and these are products that we can make ourselves, with a bit of hard word, and help get us on our way to self sufficiency.

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

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Greenhouse Base

Greenhouse Base

Every good structure is preceded by a good solid base or foundation. When it came to choosing a material to use as the greenhouse base, it was obvious that paving slabs would be the best choice. Due to the location and nature of the build, paving slabs will be the quickest and most convenient method for us to use, while still providing us with a semi permanent solid foundation. If I had been building the greenhouse on my own land I would bed the slabs on concrete, but as I will be growing vegetables within the vicinity, and because I may want to move the greenhouse in the future (were only on our second full season), I decided to lay the slabs on a bed of quarry dust. When laid correctly, leveled and maintained, a well pointed paving slab area will provide a strong and weather proof base for many garden structures including shed bases, greenhouses bases or just a seating area.

Before I tell you how I laid the slabs there is a few important safety shout outs I must give.

First and foremost paving slabs are very heavy. Anything above a 2′ x 2′ paving slab is a 2 man lift. Gloves and steel toe cap boots are essential and if you need to cut the slabs, then you will need eye protection, ear defenders and a dust mask. When it comes to cutting slabs, the only viable method is to use an angle grinder/ Stihl saw with a concrete cutting or diamond tipped blade. If you are not confident or 100% competent, using either of these tools then you are better leaving it to someone who is. These are very dangerous tools if used incorrectly or in the wrong hands.

Tools you will need for the job.

  • Spade – for digging down to level the ground, also helpful to open the bags and spread the quarry dust.
  • Rubber Mallet – This is good for compressing the slabs into the bed of dust and to level off corners without damaging the face of the slab.
  • Spirit Level – This is essential to level off the dust to get a consistent level plane, to lay the slabs on. It is also a good tool to drag the dust back, and to use as a tamper to even out the dust.

When it comes to leveling the dust off, I use the edge of a large spirit level and level each side first to a desired height. This means that as long as either side is level, I just need to keep the dust up and flush with the bottom of the spirit level. 2016-04-16 11.38.42

Its important to remember when laying a slab beside another slab, not to get your finger trapped between both edges. When the slabs are laid firmly on the dust you should be able to walk on them, without the slabs rocking back and forth. If you need to open or adjust the spacing’s simply stand on the slab you don’t want to move and use a spade to lever the opposite slab into position.

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Level Greenhouse Base
Greenhouse Base
Laying dust level to set the greenhouse base slabs onto

I am still trying to decide what I am going to do about the spacing’s. The obvious option is to use concrete and point them, but im trying my best to refrain from using any concrete products on my plot. If you have any suggestions of what I should use, please send me an email or contact us on Facebook.

Allotment Etiquette, Sure its nice to be nice !

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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

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.