May 2016 Plot Update

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

 

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

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.

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