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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenhouse Goodness August 2106

Greenhouse Update

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Our Greenhouse
After our early doubts about the effectiveness of our DIY greenhouse, we can safely say that it is working a treat and we are starting to reap the benefits. Next season the greenhouse will be mainly used for seedlings, with the larger plants going to be in our, as of yet non existent poly-tunnel. This season, I started some seedlings at home on my windowsills, with the intention of maturing them in the greenhouse. Thankfully everything went to plan, and the greenhouse was constructed in time, as all of our outdoor tomatoes failed, suffering from blight. The greenhouse provides us with much more controllable and consistent growing condition, and thankfully all of our plants inside remain blight free.

We are currently growing two variety’s of tomatoes in the greenhouse.

Gardeners Delight – Is very much a favourite of gardeners, producing delicious tangy but sweet cheery tomatoes. These tomatoes are hardy and perfect for growing on a sunny windowsill or on a patio a large container. When the fruits started to show we have been feeding weekly with tomato feed.

 

Costoluto Fiorentino – These are a large growing Italian tomato with irregular ribbed and deliciously juicy fruit. These are also easy to go and suited to UK conditions and are also suitable to grow in a large pot.

Along side our tomatoes, we are growing two variety’s of Peppers.

Sweet Romamo – are a long sweet pepper deliciously slow grilled straight on the BBQ, we are trying one of these plants outdoors so we will show the comparison at the end of the growing season.

Bell Peppers – these are a year round staple of most cuisines, so we decided to grow some in time for the end of BBQ and salad season. Germination of these seeds were rather difficult and I only got lucky when I kept the seeds inside a mini greenhouse instead of just the windowsill.

We also started some gherkins “Adam F1”off from seed and when they started to sprout we gave them some time in the greenhouse, too to grow strong roots before hardening off and placing them in their final growing positions. I constructed a meshed lean-to at the front of the shed with enough room for the containers to hold the creeping or climbing plants. Previously this year I had a crop of mange tout growing in the same position, but I decided to switch for a gherkin patch as they are one of my favourite veg to pickle and deff one of the the best tasting. After a few days hardening off and with Conor making a cracking job of a protective fleece for their first few nights outside on their own, I can happily report that I harvested my first ever gherkin tonight. Ta Da !

Another first for me to grow this year is Aubergine, I have three plants that have been flowering for about 4 weeks now but none of them had set fruit yet. It was only last night when I was rotating the peppers, that I seen the first of my eggplants.

The last of our greenhouse variety’s and this one is a complete accident is our one and only cucumber. I sowed 6 cucumbers with the thought of keeping two and giving a few away which I normally do to friends. I was left with the two I was keeping for myself (the best examples obviously). But I had nowhere to put them so they were neglected at the back of a blind on a sunny window sill with the intention of compost bin. When it came to dispose of the fallen climbing plant I was surprised to see the yellow flower of a small cucumber on one of the plants. I had to try and save it. With nowhere for it to climb properly I just planted it into the ground where the one fruit continued to swell. It may look like a kids constructed oil rig, but its my cucumber, my pride and joy, and boy is it gonna taste damm good !

August Allotment 2016

Mid August and the Allotment is in a transition period, from the dull wet summer conditions to whatever Autumn has in store. The warm and moist weather has been a perfect breeding ground for diseases and we lost all of our outdoor tomatoes to blight, across the allotment. The potato plants started to show signs of blight too, so we cut the plant of and let the potatoes stay in the ground until we either harvest them or need the space.

 

We harvested our red cabbages this month “August” “Red Drumhead” a variety that we purchased from SeedParade. They were great tasting and and had nice big heavy heads, defiantly a variety I will be trying again. We are also starting to harvest some of the produce from the greenhouse. Our sweet peppers “Sweet Romano” are now at the perfect length for sloshing with some olive oil and throwing on a hot grill.

It seems that all of our peas and beans have come good at once. We tried many different variety of varied architecture and colours all producing good and tasty yields.

These purple beans are, while not only visually striking are a firm favourite in my kitchen. We have grown both Dwarf Bush Bean Purple Teepee from Thompson and Morgan, and a Purple Climbing Bean also fromTthompson and Morgan. While the dwarf plants have produced a vastly superior yield the climbing beans when mixed with other colours of climbing bean create a beautiful structure. We have also been consistently harvesting our mangetout “Pea Kennedy” and our podded peas “Pea Ambassador” which have both been problem free and heavy yielding and both produce a pleasing white flower. Freezing individual portions of peas, helps to provide fresh tasty veg in times when its not available in the garden.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead to autumn, we decided to lift all the potatoes and replenish the ground with manure and nutrients (fish blood and bone and chicken manure pellets) and allow the worms to work their magic, while our autumn veg seedlings are growing strong roots. Brassicas are hardy vegetables and can handle the ever changing Autumn weather conditions, but its important to give them a strong head start. When planting brassics seedlings its well known the importance of firming the plants into the ground, Firm them in then do it 5 times more. We always put a collar around our brassicas to help deter root fly. This autumn we are growing, curly kale “westland Autumn”, cauliflowers, black kale “Nero de tosca”, Radicchio”Palla rossa Precoce,” swede “Gowrie,” Swede “Best of All,”

Turnip “Purple Top Milan”. Our broad beans took a battering in a wind storm last week so I think once I let what is left of the crop when the beans reach a good size I will lift the crop, and then haunt the gardening stores for something to fill the gap.

We received a warning letter for non cultivation of our plot from the council this month, this gave us a good laugh after the initial shock. Were pretty sure they have made a mistake for an over grown neighbouring plot as I think were way ahead of where we had planned to be at this time.

Greenhouse Construction, Proper Job !

 

GrowGaff MK1
GrowGaff MK1

 

The greenhouse is complete and not a minute too soon. We ordered and cut to size, the panels for the greenhouse, we used 9mm clear PVC, while not cheap, it is strong and will with stand even the hardiest of thugs, hurled stones.

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Glazing the Greenhouse

I had been growing some tomatoes and peppers in the bay window of my flat, to get them started to move to the greenhouse, upon completion. Unfortunately due too the of the delay completing the greenhouse, they were starting to outstay their welcome. Basically they were touching the ceiling and taking up at least 1/4 of my living space. Then came moving day and we realised that they were to tall to fit in Conors van. Out came the secateurs and off with their heads. This was unfortunate as we lost alot of the few flowers that we had. When moved into the greenhouse I was sure a good spout of sun, would soon have them back to their best and well… im still waiting on that sun.

Greenhouse

 

The flowers on the peppers are doing much better, probably due too the natural pollination from the insects that they were being starved off while situated within my fat, and were lucky as there seems to be a good population of bees hanging around our plots this year. In fact just this evening as I was doing a bit of watering that I noticed the first 3 peppers, on separate plants starting to grow, so it will be important to keep well watered and fed weekly.

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Pepper Plant Starting to Pepper
After 3 failed attempts to germinate successful sweetcorn, with just a measly 1 out of 36 successfully hitting the surface, I eventually gave in and had to buy some plug plants. Im not against this at all, but I was trying to do a whole season without. The main reason I prefer to grow from seed is simply the cost, plug plants can be dear which is why I was delighted to see this many healthy Sweet Corn “Hanna” for £1.50 on sale at Homebase. Whilst going to be a bit behind, im going to place the plugs under cloches when they have been properly hardened off and when the weather has turned in my favour.

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King Edward Left, Maris Piper Light

We have started to harvest our potatoes, with the main crops we lifted the poorest looking plant from each variety, and while the sizes of the spuds was poor the amount and quality were good so we have decoded to leave them another week or two and hope for better weather. Our first earlies, Pentland Javeline and Aaran Pilot, while also disappointing in yield made up for in taste. This will all come in a potato summary when were finished with the main crop.

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Pentland Javelin Left, Aaran Pilot Right
This past week ive been fortunate enough to have had some free time and we are well caught up on major tasks, which has given my brain time to wonder and start too look for improvements that were going to make to the plot. With all the good stalks,roots and discarded elements of the veg that we are consuming, starting to pile up we think its important that we set up a proper compost solution. We had to bring in a lot of compost and manure this year to improve our ground, and these are products that we can make ourselves, with a bit of hard word, and help get us on our way to self sufficiency.

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