Summer Harvest

Summer Harvest

Summer Harvest

Summer harvest is one of the most exciting times for the kitchen. The allotment has enjoyed the early summer sunshine, followed by heavy rains. This season our successes are greatly outnumbering the failures, and we are starting to get to grips with the polytunnel. At this time of year, there is an excellent variety of fruit and vegetables available at the plot. It’s the time of year when the outdoor vegetables are maturing, and the first signs of ripening tomatoes and chilies are appearing in the polytunnel. 

Summer Harvest

Recent weather has provided perfect conditions for blight. Which luckily so far seems to have avoided our potatoes and tomatoes. So far from the few plants that we have lifted the potatoes seem to have done really well. Early Pink “Duke of York” spuds taste as good as they look. Our main crop “Maris Piper” is providing some excellently sized baking potatoes and perfect Sunday roasties. Having received them in a novelty Christmas gift I didn’t hold out much hope for these Purple Carrots. I’m delighted with the results and the deep water tank with a 50/50 sand/mpc mixture has worked a treat. 

Summer Harvest

One of my personal favorite parts of the summer harvest is the pea and beans glut. One bit of advice don’t bother growing Asparagus Peas. They do have a lovely red flower but they taste bland and 1 day late in picking and they are hard as a rock. Gathering enough of the same size for a meal is a chore. In conclusion, if it comes free with a magazine doesn’t mean you have to grow it.Summer Harvest Since every day is a learning day and the best way is by doing and trying. My first every runner bean crop is excellent with some whopping beans must look up those record books.  As always the ever reliable “mange tout” is starting to come to an end and have accompanied some great meals. 

Another steep learning curve for us this summer harvest is managing the polytunnel and greenhouse. There were a couple of days this summer when Conor was out of the country and I was too busy to get to the plot. Within 36 hours of the polytunnel door being closed and window vents being closed, we lost a lot of seedlings and damaged many plants. Hence now we try to open the polytunnel and greenhouse each morning to allow the air and insect to circulate around our plants. Having spent a sweltering few hours in the polytunnel removing excess foliage and removing suckers to increase the airflow around the plants. This not only makes it easier to navigate and water the polytunnel but reduces the risks of blight.

Summer Harvest

With some crops starting to come to an end and some spaces starting to fill up in the beds. We are replenishing them with fertilizers and using plug plants that we started from seed in the greenhouse. It is also possible to make some late sowings this time of year. Salad veg e.g. beetroot, lettuce, radish can still be sown. Along with a large variety of Asian greens, and early or dwarf veg. 

Summer Harvest

Living in Belfast it’s not every day that you come face to face with a live Dinosaur. Due to a long and boring training course about protected species, I knew not to touch or disturb it. Having taken a photograph and contacted  Ulster Wildlife, we soon learned that it was a Smooth Newt, Northern Irelands only native and protected species.

Summer Harvest

While the rain is great for the plants it’s not great for the plans that I had made to build a potting area and workbench for the allotment. May the sunshine return.

 

Success Failures 2016

Autumn 2016

Our wee plot !
Growblogs Plot

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

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

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

Autumn veg bed
Autumn veg bed

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

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

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Curly kale

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

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Carrots

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

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Strawberries with seperate runners in pots.

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

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

September 2016

Septembers harvest 2016

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

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

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

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Cleared raised bed

Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

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

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Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

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

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My One and Only Aubergine/Eggplant
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Bell Peppers Ripening

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

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Pumpkins and Courgettes attacked by fungal “Powdery Mildew”

 

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

caterpillars

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

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Autumn Winter veg

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

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Marketmore Cucumbers

Peas out ! Growfans 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pest Protection – Protecting Your Crops

Pest Protection

Net Collage

When it comes to protecting your fruit or vegetables from pests there are a few important questions to ask, before deciding on the best method.

What Fruit/Vegetables am I trying to protect, and what are the most likely pests, that will be attracted to them ?

Different crops will attract different pests, and its important to be aware when and what is likely to attack your food. Its important to have a grasp of the local wildlife, in the surrounding area where you grow your crops. If you are growing in the countryside, then you are going to face a much more diverse group of pests, than someone who is growing in say, an inner city urban balcony. I have read blogs about people In England/Wales having to defend their produce from large animals like deer, badgers and moles from devouring or demolishing crops. Thankfully the largest animal I have had to chase from the plot was a Grey Lag Goose that was making light work of my neighbors lettuce. If you have just gained a new plot and you are unsure what pests you are likely going to have to defend your crops against, then you should take a good walk around, and have a look at others peoples plots, and see what means of protection they have undertaken. You should also get chatting and talk to other plot holders, as they will keep you up to date about what has been lurking in the area. In fact just by talking to a few of the more attentive plot holders I like to call the the “PlotFlys” in the nicest possible terms, that we have a bit of a rat problem at the plots at present. By getting together and informing the council who run the allotments, and taking some precautions ourselves hopefully we will be able to eradicate the problem before the main harvest.

 

The most persistent pests that I will have to deal with can be split into 3 different animal classes – Birds, Insects and Mammals. In this blog I am going to describe the methods I am using to protect my veg, and as my plot evolves and as I start to grow different vegetables and fruit trees I will keep updating this page.

Birds will eat many different types of vegetables, ive seen ducks destroy patches of lettuce in minutes and pigeons strip strawberry plants and raspberry canes bare. One of my raised beds is half filled with strawberry plants and they recovered well after the winter and are now flowering. The other half has some rhubarb and an early crop of spinach, which when harvested will mainly be used for salad crops, lettuce, beetroot etc. The two main pests that I will need to provide protection against, on this bed will be birds and slugs. When protecting against birds the best way is to build a cage or use protective nets. There are many ingenious ways I have seen being used on allotment using many different products and techniques. Here are a few different methods that we have used, that seem popular with other growers.

  • Half Loop Method – This basically means using any materials to build an arch over a vegetable bed then draping a protective net over it. Materials often used for this product are plumbing pipe, which are ideal as the plastic pipe comes in coils and are already the correct shape and easy to cut, and will never weather as they water proof. To attach the semi hoops to the beds I simply took a hammer and flattened one end before screwing the ends firmly into the raised beds.2016-05-05 17.13.23 Its important at this stage to remember to leave enough room to allow yourself to be able to lean in and be able to work the ground. When the protective nets have been placed over the frame there are many different ways to attach and hold the nets in position, popular methods include tent pegs, weighing the nets down taught with stoned, purpose built pipe clips or cable ties, basically whatever will do the job.

 

 

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  • Cage – Well this basically means building or creating a structure and covering it with whatever material is needed to complete the job. This first cage I created I am going to use for keeping birds and small mammals from getting at the seedlings. Until the seedlings are well established and to increase the temperature and help protect them from the frost, slugs and snails I will be planting the seedlings under plastic bottle cloches. I made this from a wooden frame basically as it was going cheap and I knew I could have used it for something. It was built to the height of the chicken wire to maximize height.

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  • Flexi Ball/Bamboo Structure – What can I say about Flexiballs apart while not being the cheapest product, are very easy to work with and very time efficient. Flexiballs are designed to work with bamboo canes or metal piping. They are perfect for net protection and they provide a smooth corner for dragging the protective layer over without damaging the net, which makes them easy to maneuver and install by one person.

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There are many products that you can buy straight off the shelves that will provide protection for your crops. Some that I find useful are the prefabricated netting tunnels. I so far this year have used these to protect some broad beans from frost.2016-03-20 13.30.57 I will also use them when I plans out my peas, until they get them well established. The only real disadvantage to these protective nets is that they do cut out some of the sunlight for hungry seedlings.

Another vital tool, that I just would not be able to cope without, is slug pellets. Whilst these pellets are not the naturalists favorite product, they are essential for us who are not able to attend the plot every evening to pick slugs and snails by hand. Beer and larger traps are often advisable too, when the rain comes after along dry spell and you can guarantee, that the slugs and snails will be out in force, with hungry slimy bellies.

Have you seen any ingenious methods of pest protection around your allotment site, or are you a master scarecrow maker? Or do you just know someone, who has a face that would keep even the hungriest of gastropods of your iceberg lettuces. If so please send us a photo or email us with your ideas ?