Tuesday, 26 May 2009

High point/Low Point

Rob from A plot too far wished me a happy anniversary and asked me what were the high/low points during my first year attempting to turn dirt and seeds into something fit for the dinner table.

The Highs really outweighed the lows although there were a few; I had to think harder to include them to balance out the post.

High point/low point

High Point: Kids Got involved in the sowing, growing and harvesting which opened their eyes and filled their bellies with the freshest veg money cant buy and only a hop skip and jump (into a puddle) away from our family home kept them active and more importantly away from the play station and television.

Low point: Kids had a theory of why plant one seed when one hundred would be more fun. The carrots were a disaster as was the early salad sowings I didn't thin out too much either. The carrots came out in tangled clods looked like a banshees hand and were impossible to clean or eat unfortunately.

High point: Learning from mistakes was invaluable from planting spacing (see above) to calculating cropping times for follow on crops and grouping of vegetable types so that you can concentrate on a bed knowing all the plants need the same treatment. This year has been much more rewarding already and nothing has died (yet).

Low point: Grew three Aubergines outdoors and cropped one "bitter" aubergine. Haven’t bothered this year. May try them in the green house next year but they are off the food factory floor for 2009.

High point: Eating Sunday Roast with my parents with every single veg including Potatoes, Sweet corn, Cabbages, Swede, Peas and of course the courgettes which I took my own body weight home in Last Autumn.

Low point: Not netting up my Purple sprouting broccoli and finding it razored by the mauling pigeons and having to rely on handouts from kind plot holders to taste what I was missing.

High point: Taking in a fantastic evening over the plot with Michael and shooting dead several fat pigeons from their vantage points in the oak trees. We prepared them on the spot and had a barbeque of pigeon breast, courgettes onions and sweet corn. They eat our veg, we eat them.

Low point: Having prized marrow and produce pinched. They always took the best that I had and it annoyed me to think it was probably fellow plot holders rather than kids. The oiks that do occasionally cause a bit of hassle are more intent on destruction of property and kicking your veg about than pinching it.

High point: health and well being has been improved no end. With a farmers tan and losing a bit of weight I feel better now than I had for years.

Low point: Shed being broken into and kids tools being burnt in the shed was a "bad day". Fortunately I shrugged it off and bought some replacements so to the idiots who did it. I’m over it and you're still losers most likely doing community service by now……parp.

High point: Kindness in these times from complete strangers is a rare occurrence. Not on the allotment though. Far from it, I have seen sincerity; kindness and fellowship flourish into friendships in a short space of time. My boy’s love it too as there are so many kids to play with.

Low point: Weeds. Do they ever give up? I watched the gardener’s world and uktv gardening programmes in disbelief as they potter around doing the planting, potting up and designing. Not once have I seen them in a situation where they have left the kitchen garden for a split second to find half the plot has been swamped in Fat hen, dandelions, couch grass and bind weed.

High point: Seeing James happy as a kid with a box of matches with his new toy. Scorching up the weeds and his paths with a flamethrower.

Low Point: Driving up to my plot after several days of torrential rain only to get the car stuck in a rut and having to walk home and get the wife and mother in law up to help me tow it out. This caused a stupid argument over my stupid actions. Needless to say I apologised and no longer drive in the bog.

High point: Coming home from summer holidays to find that several plot holders had been kindly watering for me whilst I was away and the whole garden looking fantastic.

Low point: Spending several months looking after the pumpkin plant only for them to get a few nicks taken out of them and going mouldy. Still I had one decent one and you can only eat so much.

High Point: Appreciating the seasonal changes with every passing day leading up to the summer equinox through to the stillness of its winter opposite. With the exception of the bitter February it was always a pleasure to be in the open experiencing with new eyes the changing of the seasons.

Low Point: Tomato Blight - It’s a bitch.

Friday, 22 May 2009

First anniversary

A year ago today I popped into the council offices and picked up two keys, signed a contract and handed over less money that I spend on a night out to the cinema.

Today - looking back to a year ago my life has improved and I'm happier for it.

Heres looking forward, not back to the next year. #

Chin Chin

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

May Cazaux Time

It was a wonderful May evening and I have misplaced the keys to my shed. Not wanting to miss out on this fine spring sunset. I grabbed the camera and snapped away.

Heres a few pictures. The rest can be located here.

The flowers smell so sweety-sweet. Hello gardner, nice to meet. Berries are my favourite thing. Birds and flowers, it must be Spring.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four,
five potato, six potato, seven potato more.
Icha bacha, soda cracker,
Icha bacha boo.
Icha bacha, soda cracker, out goes Y-O-U!

I always eat my peas with honey;
I've done it all my life.
They do taste kind of funny
but It keeps them on my knife.

There was a young man from Prestatyn,
Who fancied he ought to learn Latin,
He said; 'I shall speak,
Of my hatred of leek,
But the Welsh don't have words to put that in.'

Sit while I sing you a fanciful song,
Which tells of the cabbage's lore.
It's not that exciting and not very long,
For the cabbage is often a bore.

How best to picture this much-maligned fruit
That has troubled the wisest of sages?
It is leafy and green and yet looks rather cute
When it's squashed in a book with large pages.

Fitted with wheels on its sides, it becomes
The most truly extraordinary car.
And when covered in tinsel and circled by plums,
It resembles a rather small star.

The cabbage was never the smartest of fruits,
But its uses outnumber its brains.
The leaves can be used to make edible suits,
And the stalk for unblocking the drains.

I hope you have learned of the cabbage's way,
And recall it if salads are bleak.
But now you should leave, for I fear, if you stay,
I will tell you the tale of the leek.

My Uncle Lionel
Is a spinach leaf,
The iron'll do you good
Boil him up for half a day
He'll taste like mashed up wood.

Beans, broad, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot!
Beans, broad, they are good for your heart.
The more you eat, the more you fart.
The more you fart, the more you eat,
The more you sit on the toilet seat!

Hot Corn, cold corn, bring along the demijohn
Hot Corn, cold corn, bring along the demijohn
Hot Corn, cold corn, bring along the demijohn
Fair thee well, uncle Bill, see you in the morning
Yes sir

They fell in love, then they married
A tomato bouquet she carried
Tomatoes cooked to perfection
Were served up at the reception
As they drove off they were showered
...Not with tomatoes but flowers!

Si tu me miras
Watching the sunset
Si tu me miras
Taking a picture
Of the sunset

Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green,
Strawberries sweeter than any I've seen
Beetroot purple and onions white:
All grow steadily day and night.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The miricalgrow of life.

I'm expecting babies very shortly.

Isn’t it amazing that after nine months and several billion cells splitting, us human beans are able to make a mini us's.

Two eyes for watching television, two hands for playing play station, two feet for kicking people with on a Saturday night after drinking twenty pints of Stella. A mouth to swear with and ears to stick I-pod headphones in. Such is the miracle of reproduction and adolesance in our glorious twenty fist century thug land.

Only the other day I was in my local corner shop, three kids walked in and racially insulted the owner. Demanded he sell them Cigarettes and alcohol. I was happy to see Petre the owner flash his bat at them and practically threw them out.

Crikey - what has the world come to I thought? I must be getting old! Petre told me not to worry; he gets it all the time.

As I left the shop I thought to myself that When I was a kid back in the early eighties. We would have never in our wildest dreams done something like that, no way. We would have created a distraction and quietly just pinched a sherbet dip. No need for the insults.

I’m going off on one.....Back to the subject.

My babies by contrast have been ten months in making, it’s been a long and difficult conception, and in only a couple of weeks, I'm going to eat them with a cheesy b├ęchamel.

Whoohoo, yep, I'm talking about my beloved brassica. Last night I made a very happy discovery - My Cauliflowers are finally heading up.

A few weeks back I blogged about these, so won’t repeat my self too much about the efforts involved.
I was considering giving up on them as my patience was running thin, and I need some space to plant out my gherkins. However, after much discussion about them with fellow plot holders, about these huge plants with nothing to show for them after so long, A few suggested that I might cut off a few of the outer leaves to stimulate/shock them a little bit.

Hesitant at first, because you are told they dislike conditions anything short of perfect. I decided to test this suggestion, and cut three to four mammoth leaves from a few of them. Michael keeps chickens and happily took these for them to peck on.

Any roads - A week later and I have half a dozen "farmer Fists" sized heads. The are very tightly packed and I am quietly confident that these are going to be beauties.

I picked off and disposed of several snails and bugs lurking in the bed. Looks like snail season has begun. Hosed them in Comfrey tea and threw in some blood and bones to the mix.

Another sight that brought a smile to my face, and will have my boys going mental do-lally is that we have a dozen strawberries turning from lime green to pink. Oh yes. Vanilla Ice-cream has been added to the shopping list.

The salad days are well and truly here now with Kos lettuce, sweet cut and come again, mountains of fresh spinach, radishes, basil, beet leaf, lambs lettuce, all year round salad and spring onions.

Turnips and Kohlrabi are beginning to fatten up nicely. I’m looking forward to a tagine couscous by my wife with these.

The over wintered onions, shallots and the not too rusty garlic continue to fatten up. What am I going to do with 200 onions? Maybe I'll take a load as a gift to Petre as payback for all those missing sherbet dips. He didn't escape the courgette glut last year and always asks my how my garden grows.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Garlic’s- R- us t

As mentioned in a previous post the Garlic I planted last year was a mixture of heads purchased on a week’s holiday to Provence - France, plus a gift from my parents who live in sunny Spain. The holidays a distant memory now, but the Garlic plants, which until now have looked a picture of health, have served to remind me of that fantastic family break.

They where planted in the middle of September last year in the bed I had used to grow Maris Peer Second early potato’s and another bed that was used to grow Broad beans. Can’t remember the type of broad beans that they where as they where shop bought plants.

The soil is in good shape! The cultivation of the potato’s and the added compost and sharp sand for added drainage for both beds has changed the structure of the soil remarkably for the better.

We have had a stinking cold winter, but dry by all accounts which by most internet references suggests ideal conditions for getting the garlic off to a flying start and providing the conditions that are needed to split the bulb into several cloves rather than one large onion like bulb.

I haven't watered them directly this year, which should be fine as there is plenty of moisture below surface. So my question is what could have encouraged them to develop early signs of Garlic rust?

Spacing certainly isn't the issue as I have followed the 10 centimetre on rule and added a bit more for good luck

Could it be that the fat cloves of garlic which I planted were infected with this fungal infection and I should heed every seed sellers advice and only use certified virus free stock? I hope not.

Could it be that the water tank just up from me broke a few weeks ago pouring water through my plot for days on end caused the fungal infection?

Or maybe everybody that grows garlic suffers from rust and I'm rantign for nothing. I know Peter and a couple halfway down grew it last year and both theirs developed rust too but we had a very soggy spring in 2008 so I put it down to moist conditions, but maybe there’s more to it.

This is one of the painful moments of keeping a plot, the disappointment and realisment (yankism) that something you have had high hopes for is going to shit.

This is an extract from the most useful page I found whilst googling that answers most of these questions.

Puccinia allii (or rusty garlic): This fungus has caused major epidemics in California and some losses in Arizona. California isolates did not infect leek, shallot or elephant garlic. However, P. allii in Europe is extremely damaging on leek.

This fungus may over winter on dead plant material, in soil, or on wild hosts. When seed cloves collected from rust-infected garlic plants were planted in studies by the University of California, none of the plants that grew from these cloves developed rust (Counts out the infected bulb theory).

The rust is autoecious and same-season re-infection by urediospores is common. Severe losses are reported when excessive rain, fog, or irrigation are present (Looks like the water-tank maintenance fault then).

Highest infection rates occur at cool temperatures (50-59° F) and 100% relative humidity. Temperatures below 50° F and above 75° F inhibit the disease.

Symptoms: Initial symptoms include small white to yellow flecks and spots. The spots enlarge and become oval to elongate or diamond shaped and take on an orange cast as uredia develop. Later in the season, black oval to elongate telia develop. These telia may or may not break through the epidermis. Telia of a related species, P. asparagi, found occasionally on onion, tend to be dark brown rather than black. Heavily infected plants have an orange cast, outer leaves may yellow and wither prematurely, and bulb size may be reduced.

No resistant garlic lines have been identified.

More to the point, what can you do about it?

Organic control:

Nada, nil, zilch. You can try cutting back infested leaves which will have an impact on the size of the end product but it won't cure it. - I was hoping nature had the answer. Sounds like athlete’s foot for Garlic! Maybe I'll get some talcum powder and put clean socks on them daily......

Chemical control:

Dithane F-45 Rainshield at 2.4 quarts/A on a 7-day interval. The addition of a Latron surfactant will improve performance. Do not apply more than 24 quarts/A/crop or apply to exposed bulbs. Do not apply within 7 days of harvest. 24-hr re-entry.
Manex at 1.6 to 2.4 quarts/A on a 7-day interval. Do not apply more than 24 quarts/A/season or apply to exposed bulbs. Do not apply within 7 days of harvest. 24-hr re-entry.

Quadris at 6 to 12 fl oz/A on a 7- to 14-day interval. Do not apply more than one (1) foliar application of Quadris or other Group 11 fungicide before alternating with a different mode of action. Do not apply more than1.5 lb a.i./A per season of azoxystrobin-containing products. May be applied the day of harvest. 4-hr re-entry.

So this leaves me with four options, one of which I deplore as it uses a non-organic approach.

1) Napalm them with a cocktail of Dithane/Manex/Quadris - Not even sure if this stuff is available to average Jo – Occasional allotment gardener. Sounds more like the makings of a Molotov bomb than an answer to my problems.

Verdict: B"$%^ks to that, Id rather eat a creamed slug sandwich.

Who in their right mind would treat their crop with this poison? To me it’s like saying I have a sore throat and somebody advising you to drink turpentine as that’s what they give camels in Morocco after they have travelled through a sand storm. Sure your sore throat will go away, but you liver will pack up and you may get stomach cancer but what the hell, if its good enough for them camels why not give it a go?

Don’t believe me? Check this out on the Chinese grower’s choice Dithane.

2) Dig them up and consign them to a bonfire.

Verdict: To early to tell how bad its going to get.

3) Cut all the affected leaves off and hope for the best

Verdict: I want fat bulbs, cut the plant cut the chances of a decent crop and they won’t store.

4) Do nothing, leave them be and possibly mulch with potash -Bonfire soot and hope for the best. The chances are it will have little effect on the final crop other than reducing the size of the bulbs slightly and you won’t be able to braid them.

Verdict: Do nothing – Live in Hope – Stop stressing – Cazaux Likes.

The question is…..What would the infamous garlic farm on the Isle of Wight do in a situation like this?

Your advice would be very much appreciated.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Homegrown corn on the cob is out of this world

Hands up who has ever grown Sweet corn and rushed home with a bunch of fat ears, ripping off the outer layers on route to expose ten inch yellow hand grenades, perfectly formed without a missing corn or a weevil in sight?

I have, it took me 23 minutes to get up and back from my plot, rip off half a dozen little beauties and back home again to a big old pan I started boiling before I sat off. I ripped off the outer leaves and threw them all in the steaming pot as quick as possible to get the sweetest corn that literally no amount of money can buy you from any market in the world.

This was the highlight of 2008's season; I can't recall anything that I grew last year that had the "Oh My God! Pat yourself on the back farmer - you've just cultivated sex on a cob" factor as I munched through three of them, butter dripping from my chin and an Ice cold beer. Max was just as impressed although he's six and had to settle with a soft drink, I think this was the day we both developed the obsession with corn on the cob.

On that 6th September 2008, I made a promise to myself to grow more than the 16 plants I had experimented with, and this year I will be hoping to beat the 23 minute bar.

Why is it so important to get them from plot to Cocotte in the fastest time possible? Well, it is because the natural sugars that are in sweet corns begin to turn into starch from the moment you pick them. You could do a taste test to compare that within just two hours, there is a marked difference with the taste that most people, especially sweet teeth would notice.

Leave it another day and 60% of the natural sugars that exist may have turned leaving you a very different product from your food factory.

The same can be said of peas, that's why many people adore the frozen variety as the farms scoop up the entire plants, shell them and fast freeze them within a matter of hours to capture the sweet flavours, but find the peas to pod from your local supermarkets and vegetable stalls quiet mealy.

Growing sweet corn is a doddle.

I Started by buying root trainers or you could use toilet rolls three weeks back, then placed a single seed into each cell filled with general compost, planting 64 in total. Then I take a pencil and push them gently into the compost, cover with a bit more compost and drench them with warm water from the kitchen sink. Pop a lid on your sowings and leave for a week or so.

After a week or so you should find most of your sweet corn has popped up and you can take the lid off and drench them once again in Luke warm water but leave the lid off this time.

Wait another week and they should be six inches tall and if you are feeling confident that we are going to have the hottest summer in living history then you can prepare to plant them out now.

You can prepare the plot for them by digging deep and incorporating as much organic material as possible. I personally dumped four bags of horse muck and a couple of barrow loads of home brew compost. Then I borrowed James Mantis and tilled the area and piled it up so the bed was raised above the natural level of the plot. I cover the area with gardener’s membrane and slit holes every 18 inches (40cm) leaving 22 Inches between rows so you can sent you kids in to pick them.

From the 64 I planted I was happy with 63 that germinated.

Last weekend I planted five rows of nine plants, I have held back four in-case a few don’t take and gave the remaining thirteen to Bob, he gives me way too much stuff so it was great to repay the compliment. I think he was happy as he was still chitting his corn (Something I don’t bother with).

According to many threads you can plant closer than this but in doing so you run the risk of reducing the yield. At these distances you should expect 1.5 (Average) cobs over your crop so I’m going to be eating plenty come August with a bit of luck and some supercharged summer days.