Allotment Construction

Allotment Construction

allotment construction
New raised Beds

We may have been quiet on the blog front but we have been busy concentrating on allotment construction. Its defiantly been more of a fence post, than a blog post last few months. A month or so Connor said something very profound during one of our many coffee breaks.

“Wont it be really nice when we can just come up here and plant a few things and relax” and for once he was right.

Allotment construction
Chris skiving in the shed

So we decided for one big push to finish all of our allotment construction projects. Hail, rain and shine we have had the lot. But it didn’t stop us and we played a blinder.

Due to the slope of our plot raised beds helps us keep our land from washing away and allows us to create level paths. The only bare ground left is where we grew our last season potatoes and some late kale and brassicas. The ground is generally good, and has been turned well by the potato roots. The top bed is heavy with sand so we removed a couple of wheelbarrows and topped up the carrot water container. Carrots are font of sandy ground and we replaced the earth with some multi-purpose compost and manure to the top bed. For the top beds we used decking boards, as they are a good depth, and are pretreated to survive the rain and damp conditions. The reason one is shorter is to allow us to push a wheelbarrow throughout the plot.

allotment construction

Sowing Seeds

We have been busy sowing seeds and getting ready for the final frosts to lift. We erected a few mini greenhouses within our main greenhouse. This is allowing us to reach temperatures, suitable enough for heat-loving seedlings such as chilies and tomatoes. So far it is working well and we are starting some of the more heartier veg such as cabbage and onions within the main greenhouse. http://growblogs.com/sowing-seeds-indoors/

allotment construction
Propagation Station

Poly-tunnel

We finally made a decision and purchased the poly-tunnel. We decided to stick with a 3m x 6m and have started to level ground. The ground underneath has been covered with black PVC since last autumn and was dug and turned to allow the frost to penetrate. We have been busy researching the best tips and tricks to erecting a polytunnel and will be hopefully showing our results soon. When the polytunnel is erected that is all the major allotment construction complete. Well.. until I get a new idea or project. 

Spuds

Its also time to get our spuds in the ground and off my windowsill. This season were planting http://growblogs.com/potatoes/

  • First earlies – Red Duke Of York

  • Second earlies – Kestrel

  • Main Crop – King Edward

  • Main Crop – Maris Piper

So in a few months get ready for more photos of us with our feet up and hopefully a few homegrown cocktail recipes.

allotment construction
Onion Sets

Sowing Seeds Indoors – The Do’s and Donts

Sowing Seeds Indoors.

sowing seeds indoors
Seedlings

The first of our Seed Sowing guides will focus mainly on sowing seeds indoors. Whether it be on a sunny windowsill, heated propagator or in a seed sowing greenhouse, the principals are basically the same.

Why do we sow seeds indoors?

There are many advantages to sowing seeds indoors/ under glass. The added protection they gain from the cold and windy weather at this time of year allows for some of the more tender seedlings to establish themselves. When the outside temperatures rise enough to start planting seeds outdoors (normally around May-June), the seedlings started indoors, will be sturdy enough to plant out. Meaning the seedlings will ultimately spend less time reaching maturity when they are eventually planted out, allowing you to maximize yields and save on space.

sowing seeds indoors
Mini Propagators, Seed Sowing tray, and Compost

When can I sow seeds indoors/ under glass?

If your lucky enough to have a large warm windowsill, heated greenhouse/ propagator, then it is possible to start some seeds as early as January. When sowing seeds indoors it’s important to make sure the temperature is consistently around the 13° – 22° mark. When planting any seeds, it is important to pay close attention at the information/ growing guides printed on the packaging. These guides normally provide you with an Indoor sowing date, an outdoor sowing date, and a planting out date. While the temperatures in parts of the UK and Ireland can vary greatly, these are often just a rough guide, and you will soon learn how to work with the weather in your local climate.

What seeds can I sow indoors?

You can technically grow any seeds indoors, but some will appreciate the extra heat and warmth more than others.

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Okra
  • Aubergine
  • Chillies
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Khorabi
  • Herbs

All of these seedlings are susceptible to a cold frost and are often much better starting indoors at least until the last frosts have cleared.

It is also possible to start garlic and onions bulbs in sets indoors. http://www.growblogs.com/alliums

sowing seeds indoors
Garlic Bulbs

What can I sow my seeds in?

There are any number of different sized plug trays, pots, and containers designed for sowing seeds. Basically, if you can put soil in it, and it is not too small then you can sow seeds in it. A garden shop bought seed tray will work just as well as an empty yogurt pot. Seed trays are  inexpensive and we tend to get ours from discount/pound shops. They are also reusable, noting it is important to clean them thoroughly after each growing season, to avoid cross contamination and spreading any diseases. Using designated seed trays and plug trays are handy, as it’s possible to purchase existing plastic or glass covers to the correct size, and are often designed to fit the shape of a standard windowsill.

The size of the seeds often determine the size of the container that you sow your seeds in.

Small Seeds e.g. herbs, cauliflower, broccoli. I often sow these randomly over a seed tray, and once the seedlings have started to develop a true leaf, are often pricked out into larger containers.

Medium-sized seeds e.g. Peppers, Chillies, Lettuce. I often sow one or two at a time into an individual plug. The reason why I sow two at a time instead of one is in case one of the seeds doesn’t germinate. If both seeds germinate then one is removed. I often use these individual plugs to keep trays of lettuce and salad crops ready to fill up any gaps or empty spaces I might have within the plot.

Large Seeds e.g. Courgettes, Pumpkins, and Sweetcorn. I often sow these into small individual pots ( 3” – 5”) as they require more growing space for their root systems to get well established.

sowing seeds indoors
Sowing seeds

What is the best type of soil to sow seeds in?

Seeds can be sown in any soil, buy you are much better off starting your seedlings in a seed sowing & cutting compost. These composts are sieved well and contain fewer larger pieces of bark and stones, anything that may restrict a seedlings growth. They often contain large quantities of loam, allowing the compost to retain moisture while repelling nutrients which can be harmful to seedlings.

sowing seeds indoors
Heated Propagator

There are no right or wrong ways when it comes to sowing seeds. And you will soon realize that some just work better than others. The winter can be a very long period for keep vegetable growers. Starting some seeds indoors and caring for them, helps take the edge off until Spring time comes. Over time you will find your own preferred methods, containers and sowing compost that works best for you.

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.

toms
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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

2016-04-05 17.13.21
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.

2016-04-07 20.29.29

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.

Caring for Seedlings

Its that time of year when gardeners start to get excited about the upcoming growing season. Winter is almost over and today we had a beautiful clear blue sky and I read 16° on my car dashboard. Having spent many a winters night planning, researching and ordering the seeds that I am planting this year, now’s the time when I can start to get some of these into soil and get the germination process underway.

Different seeds require different methods of germination, and its important to read and understand the instructions provided on the pack, or if your part of an allotment group or seed sharing group, then follow the instructions given to you when you receive the seeds from the previous grower. Im not going to show you how I sow seeds in this blog, as I plan on doing mini-blogs for each vegetable that I grow this year, and I will explain the sowing process for each individual vegetable. What I will do is show you how I will treat every seed, collectively, and how to care for them.

As it is still touching on freezing during the nights, I am going to begin with sowing some of the more hardier vegetables, and start them indoors in front of the window that receives the most sunlight and importantly heat. To increase the temperature around my seedlings, this year I decided to keep them in an indoor mini greenhouse. It seems to be doing well so far and I am pleased with the germination rate and non legginess of these pepper seedlings. 2016-03-08 20.54.29

When you see the first glimpse of a green sprout peeping through the soil, you cant help but get excited at the potential outcome. Over the next couple of days you see the seedling grow taller and taller with no sign of the first true leaf. Then you wake up one morning and the seedlings have bolted upright, became leggy and are starting to lean towards the light.

“True Leaf – When a seed sprouts it will form two leafs that allow it to photosynthesize and to continue growing. After a couple of days a third leaf will form, this is the true leaf and will look different to the original leafs, and will take the form of the leafs of the adult mature plant.”

True Leaf at the top.
True Leaf at the top.

Plants will always grow towards the light as they use it as fuel. When seedlings get leggy it is because the plant is reaching upwards to gain as much sunlight as possible, because it is obviously lacking. As the plants are using up all the energy they get from the scarce sunlight to grow tall, the stems are not growing wide and strong enough to support the plant. Leggy seedlings will eventually grow too tall and top heavy and will fall over and wither. One method of helping to strengthen leggy seedlings and all seedlings for that matter is to gently run your finger over the plants or gently blow on, or use a fan to create movement. The movement will trick the seedlings into believing that they are growing in windy conditions, and in return will react and release chemicals to help the plant to grow a sturdier stem.

Leggy seedlings :(
Leggy seedlings 🙁

This year I will be sowing all my seeds in Verve Sowing and Cutting Compost (Available in B&Q, as I tried a few variety’s last year and I believe that this came out on top. Its important to keep the soil moist for germination and the temperature constant for some heat loving seeds e.g. Tomatoes will only germinate above 10°C and thrive best between 17° and 20°. Seed germination rates also vary greatly from seed to seed so if you see some variety’s sprouting within a couple of days, while others lye dormant, don’t worry as they might just take a bit longer. Some lettuce seeds could sprout in as little as 3 days while Parsnip seeds may take up to 14 days plus.

The pepper seedlings on the left took 2 weeks to show, while the pak choi on the right took only 4 days.
The pepper seedlings on the left took 2 weeks to show, while the pak choi on the right took only 4 days.

Whatever seeds you are growing its important to remember, the importance of getting your seedlings enough light, heat and water to allow them to grow good strong stems and ultimately fruitful mature plants.

Growing Wheatgrass “Liquid Sunshine”

 

Growing Wheatgrass

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

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

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

 

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

growing wheatgrass
Wheatgrass Seeds

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

 

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

growing wheatgrass
3 Days After Sowing

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

growing wheatgrass
After One Weeks Growth

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

 

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

 

 

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

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 .

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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