Fall – Daylight Saving Time, Making The Most Of Your Time

Fall
Jack Be Littles

Fall is a wonderful time of year, with the trees turning every shade of orange, brown and reds. The days are rapidly shortening, and finding time to work at the allotment with adequate daylight is rapidly declining. With the arrival of the Fall, often due to the changes in the weather, much less time is needed to tend to the diminishing crops. I like to use the spare time to maintain my builds, work on future projects and tend to and feed my various compost bins. When up keeping an allotment this time of year, it is important to use your time away from the plot, planning ahead and gather resources when and where it is possible, so that you can make the most of your time on the plot.

While the term fall is now more associated as the American term for Autumn, it originated in England. The term fall, is short for the falling of the leaves, which happens annually at this time of year. This year we are making a concerned effort to store as much of these fallen leaves as possible as, when composted turn to leaf mould, which is the perfect ingredient to use as mulch. Builders sacks are perfect for storing leaves long enough to turn to mulch, and can often be obtained by asking a friendly builder or builders merchants. Last year one of biggest expenditures was the buying in of good quality compost and mulch, and with it being one of the few things used for gardening that you can make yourself, it was utmost that we master this skill pronto.

Fall
Pumpkin bed ready for winter.

With the last of our crop of miniature “Jack be Little” pumpkins harvested in time for Halloween, it meant that we could finally clear the bed and burn the discarded plants as they were suffering from powdery mildew. Once all the weeds and green materials are removed from the bed, I gave it a quick turn over and covered the bed with a thick polythene sheet, and weighed down to stop them taking off in the winter winds.

I then used the rest of the polythene to line the water tank that I recently salvaged from work, making sure to pierce the bottom of the liner multiple times to allow for suitable drainage. I intend to grow carrots and parsnips in this container next year, due to the depth it holds. Therefor I will eventually fill the container with a sandy loam mix, which will allow the root vegetables to grow long and straight.

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The sole survivors left in the greenhouse and continuing to provide me with sweet, and great tasting produce are the long sweet peppers. With the last of the tomatoes making no attempt to ripen I decided to clear them out of the greenhouse and chopped them up into small pieces and added to my increasing compost pile. I did a bit of a clear out of my filing systems back home and shredded the lot as the compost heaps needed a topping up of brown material, after the recent influx of green waste. When the greenhouse is completely clear we are going to secure the frame firmly to the greenhouse base, in preparation for winter. This will also give me a chance to start designing and planning the layout for turning the greenhouse into a potting shed/ greenhouse.

Fall
Last of the greenhouse produce.

Happy Halloween Growfans

 

July Holiday Washout ! 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gherkin Seedlings Adam F1
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First tomato of 2016
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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

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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.

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

Peas Out !

Kohlrabi & Kohlrabi coleslaw recipe

Kohlrabi.

What is kohlrabi ?

Kohlrabi is a member of the brassica family, and is also known as the German cabbage or the turnip cabbage. They are an annual vegetable, and are edible cooked or raw. Kohlrabi boasts many health benefits and is a rich source of vitamin C.

This year was my first year of growing Kohlrabi, in fact I hadnt even tasted it before, but last year one half of Growblogs was blessed with a beautiful baby girl called Olivia, and the other half became a proud uncle. While strolling through Mr. Fothergill’s fantastic seed catalog I noticed the Kohl Rabi Olivia F1 and knew we had to give it a go. So far this year it has definitely been our first success story, so much in fact I already have another batch started in a different bed.

 

 

Kohlrabi Seedlings
Kohlrabi Seedlings

We started off our kohlrabi seedlings indoor on a sunny ledge in a mini indoor greenhouse. The seeds were sown two at at time into individual sets, with the weaker of the two being pricked out, usually anywhere between 1 and 3 weeks after sowing, depending on conditions. When the seedlings have established a good strong root system, and making sure that if they were started off growing indoors, that they are properly hardened off and aclimatised to their future outdoor final positions.

 

It’s possible for them to be started, between February and Mar indoors and May and July outdoors. If planting directly into the ground outdoors, sow roughly 1/2” deep in rows, and when fully established, should be thinned out to roughly 6” to 8” between plants to allow for mature growth.

Like most members of the cabbage family, kohlrabi are susceptible to cabbage root fly attacking the base of the young plants. This is why we provide each of the individual plants with plastic collars and their very own pet stone, for company.

 

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi Juvenile plants

 

Olivia F1 is a fast growing, disease resistant beautiful looking plant, and has a sweet flavor and crispy flesh. Making it the perfect accompaniment to any BBQ in the form of my extra awesome Kohlrabi coleslaw.

So here goes it folks my first recipe. Im no food writer, in fact im no any writer and I think thats pretty obvious, but whilst I may not know my way around Microsoft word, one place I certainley feel at home is in the kitchen.

Food processors are coleslaw fans best friends, making a tedious task, done in seconds allowing more time to get the combos of amounts and seasonings correct, it is possible to prepare the veg with a good sharp knife or a mandolin but who is going to risk their pinky tips when the whizzer (food processor) will do it better and quicker… so heres what you need

  • 1 kohlrabi (skinned)
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots
  • 1 red onion
  • ½ cabbage either white or red (the red makes it look dead fancy)
  • cider vinegar
  • mayonnaise
  • ½ an orange
  • wholegrain musdtard
  • salt and pepper to season to taste

Remove stalks and skin of the onion,kohlrabi and cabbage,peel the carrots and plug in the food processor. Slice the kohlrabi and cabbage and grate the onion and carrots to provide different textures. Once everything is cut, put into a big bowl and give it a good mix up and add enough mayonnaise and mustard to provide a generous but not over powering amount. Mix in 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and the juice of half an orange. Add salt and pepper to taste.. et voila.

Kohlrabi Coleslaw
Kohlrabi Coleslaw

So simply and so delicious and when your getting quizzed on the ingredients it gives you a great excuse to get your phone out and show off photos of your own Kohlrabi patch.

If you have any great kohlrabi recipes please drop us a message as we would love to make the most of this great vegetable.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

Container Gardening/ Growing in Containers

Container Gardening

Last week I acquired these 4 smashing big tubs perfect for container gardening, that were lying in the back garden collecting rainwater from a job I was working on, with the owners permission of course, and I ended up spending the rest of the day dreaming about what I was going to grow in them.

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Container gardening is the perfect solution for people who have limited space for example a small sun gathering balcony, a paved or stoned patio or even just a couple of hanging baskets. Containers for growing can consist of anything from a baked bean can to the most expensive decorative pots. Anything that is the correct size, depth and made of a suitable material and also something that contained a safe/non toxic content that wont contaminate the plants. e.g stay away from paint buckets or anything that might have contained chemicals, let common sense prevail. No matter what you decide to grow your vegetables in, the same rules apply to all containers.

Firstly it is important to make sure that the container is clean and free from any soil or residue if the container had been used to grow in before as it may still be harboring plant diseases that can transfer to the new years growth. When I clean out plastic containers I use a pot scouring pad as I don’t want to scrape away at the smooth surface of the tub, but when I am cleaning a terracotta pot or something that wont scratch I use a small wire brush that I keep in my shed as this roughs up the residue and makes it easy to clean off. Its also common practice to submerge the containers within a bleach solution usually 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for around 10 minutes to further kill bacteria where possible.

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Secondly and importantly is the issue of drainage in your containers. Some purpose bought plant pots come with drainage holes already within the base some don’t, and its important to check. The best method for putting drainage holes in plastic containers is to drill holes and I find that wood drill bits work best, avoid banging nails into the base as this can often lead to the pot splitting. If you are using a metal container then drill holes using a steel drill bit or place on top of a piece of timber and bang nails through with a hammer the wider the better. If you find at first that the water is not freely draining away from the container elevate it and drill more holes until the soil is no longer sodden. It is also a good idea to put a layer or gravel, stones or some people often use broken terracotta pots for this job and it works perfectly at the bottom of the container as this will aid drainage. Here’s a quick tip when picking up a bag of gravel or stones for drainage don’t lift the ones outdoors in the garden part of the DIY store as these are often decorative stones, go to the builders yard and pick up a bag of aggregate and give it a good wash, same job at a fraction of the price.

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When growing in a very porous medium or for example a wooden barrel type planter something that is prone to rot over time, then it is often an idea to line the planter with a plastic membrane to reduce water loss.

Thirdly the growing medium used for container gardening is different from that you would use in a raised bed or directly in the ground. Whilst it is important to have good drainage in your container it is also important to make sure to keep the soil moist. The best soil for this purpose is to use John Innes No 3 – “a richer mixture for final re-potting of gross feeding vegetable plants and for mature foliage plants and shrubs in interior planters or outdoor containers.” This is a loam based compost which means that is is heavier than peat free compost and has a higher percentage of sand that helps it to maintain its moisture. It will also stay moist longer than multipurpose compost.

Depending on the size of the container it might be rather expensive to fill them with bought in compost. If you are intending on growing salad vegetables then the container doesn’t need to be very deep, if you are using an overly deep container it is possible to fill up some of the space that the soil would use with objects like bricks or stones that will not absorb moisture.

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Growing in tubs

Some other benefits of container gardening is that it is much easier to maintain and weed compared to the same plant grown in the ground. Also due to their portable nature they are vital for some plants and trees that will need to be taken indoors to protect from frost in the winter. The tubs that we are using are great for us at the moment as we still have half our plot under construction. We do have a polytunnel on the way but we are holding of ordering it until we can work the ground below to a level we are happy with and until we will have the free time to erect it as we have no where to store it. We also have a few more raised beds to build when the materials become available to us so the ability to be able to move our veg around where it suits without disturbing its growing is a real bonus.

Why not go have a look in the garage or look in the recycling bin and instead of looking at something as garbage, why not think what can I grow in this???

Container gardening
Prepared Ground

Potatoes

Potatoes

One of if not the most popular vegetable grown and consumed throughout Ireland and the UK. The unofficial National Vegetable of Ireland and the star of dishes stretching from chip vans to fine dining restaurants.

Whilst some people ask “why bother growing potatoes” when they are so readily available and inexpensive. True, they do take up a fair bit of room when planted, but it is possible to grow them, successful in containers and pots. Last year we were only working half the plot so we planted a large crop of spuds as they are really good at breaking up the ground with their roots leaving the ground good for the following years planting. Also growing your own, means that you get to choose what characteristics you want from your potato, either a delicious waxy first early salad potato like the Arran Pilot or a main crop roasting potato like the Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pink.

 

Potatoes
Potato Drills

 

The easiest way to grow your own potatoes is to purchase bags of seed potatoes. These seed potatoes are grown specifically to be virus resistant. Different variety’s of potatoes develop at different stages of the growing season. All of the variety’s of potatoes will go into the ground on the same day, traditionally on St Patricks Day on the emerald isle but this year as it falls on a Thursday it will be the weekend before or after.

First Earlies – On a typical growing season it usually takes around 10 – 12 weeks from planting to harvesting, and often when the plants stop flowering is a good indicator that the crop is ready. Popular UK variety’s of first earlies include Arran Pilot, Pentland Javelin which is what we have chosen to plant this year, or Duke of York which is a great all round new potato.

 

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Pentland javelline

 

Second Earlies – Again on a typical growing season second earlier will usually take between 13 – 15 weeks from planting to harvesting. First and Second early crops grow well in containers or pots and this is the approach we are going for this year as we still have a few structures to go into our plot. It also means that we can move them about when needed and we can try and cram them in every available spot. Popular second early variety’s include, Charlotte which is the variety we have chosen as we had great success with the previous year, Kestrel and Ratte.

 

Charlotte Potatoes
Charlotte Potatoes

 

Maincrops – Maincrop potatoes prefer being grown directly into the ground. They will need more space and the tubers often grow much larger then early variety’s. These are normally ready to harvest around 20 weeks after planting, Some of the more popular variety s include, Maris Piper which we will be purchasing in the near future, King Edward and Desiree.

Chitting – About 5 – 6 weeks before I plan to plant out my spuds im going to start the chitting process. This basically means standing the potatoes on their end with any eyes facing upwards on a tray, or anything that will keep them elevated and dry egg, boxes and seed trays are often used for this purpose. The chitting potatoes need to be left in a dry well lit and cool area, windowsills are ideal. Some people suggest that chitting doesnt benefit the growing process, but were going to do it anyway as nothing says Spring is coming that a windowsill full of seed potatoes.

When we come to planting our own potatoes were going to show you how to prepare the ground and look at some differing techniques for growing your spuds and how to care for them along the way.