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.

 

Christmas 2015

merryxmas

Well its getting to the end of the year now and the boys at GrowBlogs are starting to get excited about taking a long, well earned rest and stuffing our faces full of turkey, sprouts and cheeses we cant pronounce. The build up to Christmas is always a very busy time for us both work wise and the allotment has been slightly neglected the past two weeks. In fact we have just been popping in on my way past to refill the bird feeders and top up the water supply for the birds.

You might have seen us post about a greenhouse that we had acquired. Well… it didnt quite payoff. The glass was clean and intact and there was no obvious signs of rust. Too good to be true I kept saying to myself and I was correct. It was very well put together and I successfully removed and labeled all of the pieces of glass and took photographs of the frame joints to make it easier to re assemble. It was only when I came to remove the frame from the ground fixing that I realised that the greenhouse has been secured to the ground with a raft of concrete paving slabs. When I removed the slabs the frame was completely disintegrated and and there was no way that I was going to be able to salvage it without great cost of both time and money, so I decided that it was not worth trying to salvage. Ah well you win some you lose, its gonna take more than that to keep us down.

greenhouse

The weather in the UK is still unusually mild for the time of year, looks like the decision to get the broad beans in the ground could pay off and hopefully these mild temperatures will give them a good start. There has been reports out suggesting that whilst no temperature records have been broken for this time of year it did come withing half a degree to being the warmest December on record. As I post this, book makers are giving odds of a White Christmas in Belfast, which means it needs to snow at our International Airport at 10/3. We do love a wee flutter now and again and think thats worth 5 pounds of anyone’s money, and sure if were lucky we can stick it in the new greenhouse fund.

So were going to sign off now and we would very much like to wish everyone a peaceful and merry Christmas and hope the big guy with the beard (Not Chris the other one) is good to you. Merry Christmas

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” Calvin Coolidge

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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Coldframe Construction – Building One Yourself, DIY

coldframe construction
Finished Product

Coldframe Construction

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

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

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

 

coldframe construction
Materials Used

 

coldframe construction
Coldframe Construction

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

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

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

coldframe construction
Coldframe

Choosing a Polytunnel – A helpful guide

 

 

 

 

polytunnel

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off to the shops.

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

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

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

 

polytunnel

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

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

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

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

Chris