Easter Holidays

Weed Control/ raised Beds

 

Now that the clocks have changed, and the days have become longer and warmer, there is no doubt that the ground has become a lot more manageable and forgiving to work with. Having already dug over most of the ground that I was working again recently, and had a rather successful potato crop, I thought the easy option would be to just rotivate the entire area. How glad I am that the suspension went on our van, and I was unable to pick up the rotivator from the hire shop, and ended up having to do it by hand.

weed control
Working the ground.

Whether it was just shoddy work on our behalf, or someone has been playing a cruel trick on us and planting stones in our ground. I say stones, some of them were small boulders and you all know the feeling when spade connects with stone and it shatters the whole way up to the elbow.

One of the main benefits of digging the plot by hand and helping weed control, and the main reason that I will continue to dig by hand, as long as my body lets me, is that the rotivator/tiller is not selective of what it rips and tears through. When working the ground by hand its much easier to keep the good dirt and get rid of the nastys that you don’t want.

In terms of gardening its important to learn fast what are the bad weeds and what are the really bad weeds ! There are library’s full of identified variety of weeds but when it comes to weed control, for us gardeners there are two types.

1) Perennial Weeds – These are the absolute worst, examples include Dandelion, thistles nettles and couch grass need to be removed from the ground by hand, taking great care to reach the very bottom of the root of the weed, or and by using weedkiller. When a rotivator blade hit a perennial weed, it will divide the weed into many parts

2) Annual Weeds – These are annoying at best and at times and left to their own devices will steal water and nutrients and sometimes light from your vegetables. They can either be pulled by hand or hoed into the soil as when the are cut from the root they will often decompose in the soil without re rooting. Examples of annual weeds include Shepard’s purse, Chickweed and Annual Nettles.

Getting dirty fingernails and hands on gives you a feeling of the ground beneath your feet. You can identify areas that are particularly sandy and will benefit from additional compost or areas that have contained a lot of stones and therefore have been free draining.

The area where we are growing our potatoes this year is particularly sandy, so we added a lot of well rotted horse manure and multi purpose compost to enrich the ground when we were turning it over and removing the stones beneath.

Another project which I finally got tackled over the Easter was the erection of the greenhouse with no instructions. It sounds like a challenge from the crypton factor and well…. it might as well have been. 7 hours later and after realizing that the discount greenhouse frame that we bought, was missing 3 pieces, I was happy in the knowledge that I would be able to fabricate the pieces myself, and once I had a solid base I could start to erect the completed frame.

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

So my attention turned to the solid base. I’m a builder, so this is the project I had the most faith in. There were different options to me but due to the lack of power at the allotment and due to the fact that I simply did not want to throw a load of concrete beside and under where I will be growing my dinner I decided to level the ground of and made a base from 3ft x 2ft flags,laid on a base of quarry dust and pointed with a sand cement mixture. Greenhouse Construction, Proper Job !

Ok, so far this was written the night before I was meant to go to the builders yard to get some flag stones, only to realise that the builders yards does not open on the Tuesday after Easter in Northern Ireland (now being a builder, you would think I really would know this, but im getting older and wiser and instead of dying with a hangover, which I normally do on this day, I dug stones out of the ground lol) and I was stuck with a day dedicated to the plot and no materials to work with. Never to kick a Goodman when he is down, I went to a local DIY store and pick up a load of MPC and Horse manure and set to enriching my soil.

weed control
Bought In Goodness
weed control
Lining Up the beds, making the best of growing vegetables on a slop.

2016-03-27 15.12.37

Having spotted a rather large rat the day before, and after having spoke to a few of the other plot holders, one rather funny chap with a rather large rat chap, always complaining about the council, told me that there was a problem due to the very mild winter. I decided to turn the compost and have a root around the wood pile that I stock to use for my many projects. I came across some decent timber that I salvaged from a job, and after a few calculations I worked out I had enough to make another two raised beds, and id bought the materials to fill them. Lets just say I left the plot with a big grin on my bake that night and after getting home and having a long shower I slept like a baby.

New Raised Beds.
New Raised Beds.

Just a small tip, always have a back up plan or job to do, make a list of things that need attended or things that you are aspiring to do. Buy or salvage the materials you need, when you can, when you see them cheap, discounted or hopefully lying in a skip.

Allotment Etiquette, Sure its nice to be nice !

allotment etiquette
Our Plot

Allotment Etiquette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coldframe
Coldframe

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 !