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.

sep6
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.

sep5
My One and Only Aubergine/Eggplant
sep4
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.

sep7
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.

sep3
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.

sep8
Marketmore Cucumbers

Peas out ! Growfans 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenhouse Goodness August 2106

Greenhouse Update

20160818_171535[1]
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.

July Holiday Washout ! 2016

20160709_115703
GrowBlogs Allotment

Having my annual July holiday week, I thought I would use the good weather to get ahead of myself, and to give the plot a really good tidy up and weeding. Normally this time of year, I spend a lot of time making sure that all my crops are well watered, but this year there has been no need. It has rained everyday for the past few weeks with few sunny intervals. While not ideal at all, most of the crops are doing well, and we are recording good temperatures in the greenhouse.

20160629_172153
Some July Produce

July for the vegetable grower is a busy, but bountiful month. Plenty of crops to harvest, rows of spuds still nestling in the soil, hedgerows full of berries and the delightful bright red strawberries, poking from under the luscious green leaves, means that summer is well and truly upon us. There are a few gaps starting to appear in a few of the beds, mainly in the brassica bed. The romanesco cauliflower, while producing massive leaves failed to form a head. The broccoli “green calabrese” grew really well and were delicious, and we are still harvesting the kohlrabi, kale and are fingers crossed for the two massive red cabbages “red drum head”dominating the bed.

20160703_155831
Brassica Bed

Its time to start planning autumn and winter veg, and whats going to be on the plate for this years Christmas dinner. I transplanted some carrots “Rainbow F1”which had been started in a pot, to the bed beside the rhubarb. I also sowed some of the same seed in a deep container to compare the difference.

Something new to me and the plot, that we are trying for the first time this year is Radicchio “palla rossa precoce”. They have been described to me as a mix between a lettuce and a cabbage, with a tangy slightly bitter flavour, which grows particularly well this time of year. They are better sown directly where they are to mature. Seedlings normally show 1- 2 weeks after sowing, weather dependant, and plants normally reach maturity around 60 – 70 days also weather dependant and is harvested whole like an iceberg lettuce.

Thinking ahead and trying your best to time when to harvest your crops, and to replenish the ground and plant out new crops, is not easy but something which is important to maintain a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. To fill the gap where we were had previously grown the broccoli, I had already started some Autumn cabbage seeds “Pointed Sweethearts” that I will soon be hardening off and planting out. I have also made another sowing of Kale seeds as its been a firm favourite this year and im starting to get the room for a few more plants.

20160714_192851[1]
Autumn Cabbage Seedlings
This month we sowed the last of our crops for the greenhouse, our gherkins “F1 Adam”. I started the seedlings in a heated propagator, to maintain a consistent temperature. Then when the seedlings started to form their first true leaves I potted them on into their individual pots. They are currently residing in a mini greenhouse, in my sunny South east facing bay window and are doing well.

20160714_192846[1]
Gherkin Seedlings Adam F1
20160714_151249
First tomato of 2016
20160714_151309
First pepper 2016

One thing that we had been lacking up at our plot was a permanent compost bin, and we were using builders sacks to store our vegetable waste and

20160714_192846[1]
Gherkin Seedlings Adam F1
materials. While not easy to turn the compost over, and sticking out like a sore thumb in a rather nice overgrown end of the allotment, they had to go! So I got some long screws a few old wooden pallets and some left over wood and banged this together. Its defiantly not going to win any architectural awards or fans on pinterest , but its sturdy and serves a purpose and has tidied up, which was a rather ugly end of the plot we dont like to talk about.

20160710_122720[1]
New Compost Bin
Till next time grow fans when hopefully we will be starting to harvest our maincrop peas.

Peas Out !

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.

Greenhouse glazing
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.

20160705_170610[1]
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.

20160703_151216[1]
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.

20160626_110247[1]
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