Monday, 16 January 2012

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Happy Gardening.


Friday, 30 April 2010

Rabbit food

First crops of the 2010 season are ready for the picking.

Back in late March I made my first sowing of radish French breakfast. These were covered under fleece along with a disastrous carrot sowing; I think I have five carrots showing from two small rows. (Old seed and crap weather) and a very successful Salsify sowing (also old seed but these all germinated - go figure!)

Growing radish isn't a labour of love like your average Brasica. Along with Spinach which is also ready for its first cut of baby leaves, it’s probably the easiest and quickest cropper you can plant.

Both have the same growing/sowing instructions. Start by drilling a shallow line into your prepared soil using a hoe/bamboo stick (Whatever really, they will grow even if you leave them on the surface). Sow thinishly, cover up if you can be bothered and then keep the seed bed moist. After several days they will emerge. Thin the emerging seedlings to a few centimetres between plants. Then in just four weeks or so later you eat them.

Sow every where you have a bit of space, in my opinion there’s no point having a radish or spinach patch. Mine grow between potatoes, salads - anywhere there’s some free space. You need to grow a lot of spinach as it wilts down to next to nothing.

My wife loves the radishes and the kids love them because they can sow, grow and munch in a very short space of time and then plant something else.

How to eat them? Well they don’t cook too well like the winter Mooli. These are strictly salad fodder. The French get on their velo and ride to the bakers for a crusty baguette which is then buttered with Buerre Normandy. A little "salt well" made up on the plate and of course the radishes cleaned and de-headed. Crunchy, simple, and delicious! Goes down a treat with a pint of Abbots ale.

So the humble radish - nothing to get ecstatic about unless like me a few years ago, it was the first thing I had ever taken home from the allotment and I nearly pissed myself with excitement.

Spinach on the other hand does make me far more exited. This is another crop that takes on a whole new dimension when grown fresh. The leaves picked young are bouncy and snap with freshness. The taste is something you will not experience from the commercially cleaned, hydroponically grown vacuum packed isles in Waitrose.

Spinach is very versatile. You can add them to salads, Juice it; it goes great with fish steamed with a tiny amount of lemon juice and rock salt once plated up. I personally don’t thing red meat is its best companion. By far my favourite, and also the favourite of anybody I recommend it to. Is to lightly fry off some spring onions with lots of their green leaves too, blend the spinach into the onions for a few seconds and then crack open some gifted chicken or duck eggs and make a runny omelette seasoned with a little salt and plenty of cracked pepper. Fast food that I would take over fine dining any day of the week. Goes well with abbots Ale and grainy bread to lap up the juicy bits!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Purple sprouting Broccoli – It’s a Sin!

This delectable vegetable was said to have been first cultivated by the Romans some 2000 years ago. Italians must have kept this a secret because it’s not until the nineteenth century that it began to be more widely cultivated in the UK.

Now I love Calabrese too, but comparing it to home-grown purple sprouting broccoli is like comparing a decent table wine with a cheese roll to an aged grand cru served with canap├ęs of fois-gras.

The taste when cooked Al dante is exquisite. Just two minutes in a roaring pan of water without salt is all it takes. The flavour is a textured, unsullied succulent treat on its own. Add a little slightly melted salty butter and pepper and you could be making noises that people would pay a premium chat room to hear.

Getting it on your plate is another challenge. April is the time to plant the seed. Making sure you don’t get root rot from overwatering or choked from lack of, potting on as required. Then Planted at a whopping 60cm equidistance in June into deeply dug soil with plenty of the rotten down good stuff. Do a rain dance around them to firm up the soil, water in and net. Failure to net at any stage of its growth will see your efforts razored to stumps by its nemesis - the evil pigeon.

In addition to the pigeons you need to fight off Slugs, snails, cabbage white butterflies and white fly during the summer months. Keep the ground clear of weeds (mulching really does help) and feed with organic tonics and regular water in the summer. Then stake towards the end of summer as the plants become top heavy with foliage. The plants have to be big strong brutes come spring. Don't do what half the plot holders do and rip it up because it looks a bit droopy in winter or early spring. There will be a flush of new growth in spring which means the pants are entering the business end. When this begins I chop off the old craggy leaves and the plants put even more effort into bud development

Once you are luckily enough to get to the budding stage then be vigilant. Pick regularly and pick smart. Don’t cut the buds if they are too small or it will be a waste. More importantly if the buds are becoming loose and bobbly then the plant is doing its best to flower and cut these off without delay. The trick is to get them somewhere in the middle without letting the plant go to the yellow flower stage at which point you'll have no more lovely purple sprouting broccoli until the following year.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Farmer Hoofs

Check out this farmers hoof.

Back to work with scraped knuckles and perma-dirt under the nails and skin.

I washed these for ten minutes last night and again when I showered this morning.

One of the plus sides of the sitting around watching tele or the go down the pub gang is that they do have lovely hands. Mine were too - but now they are f@'ked and I think I may have a bit of arthritis developing on the index knuckle.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Mid April

On inspection yesterday evening I noticed that the Home guard Potatoes and a few other earlies have made it to the surface. I could just about make out the dark browny green leaves pushing though the soil in the raised bed planted spuds. This came as a bit of a relief as we ignored the advice of buying the hens egg sized tubers and purchased the larger ones from the East Anglia potato day. We then cut them in to chunks with three or more chitted bits on them before planting. Twice the seed - half the price, but only if they don't rot off of course.

One of the strawberry plants has flowered - these are now in their third year and look a picture of health so I don’t think I will change them unless they begin to reduce their yields. They have been getting regular bucketfuls of the noxious smelling tea made from all the weeds I have been digging up.

The weed tea stinks to high heaven. Max won’t go near it and a few plot holders have turned their noses up at sixty paces. But I don’t think the plants can smell it, and it must be doing them no end of good. It’s in a big green water butt and gets refilled with water whenever I take from it.

I dug out a couple of trenches twelve feet long and half filled them with manure and compost. Then back filled them and set up a bean frame with the help of railway Steve (he’s six foot four - a bean frame himself). There’s a lot of Steve’s, Bobs and Allen’s up the plot so each gets their own tag.

I'll be setting up another four frames for growing several different varieties for their pods, Shelly beans and dried for winter recipes and reckon I'll need to bring around 200 seeds for the supports and another 100 flageolet bush beans to plant between the sweet corn. I had been looking for Tarbais for ages without any luck. There was one French company willing to send them but 100 grams of seed would have cost almost twenty pounds with the postage. My wife found some tarbais in a Jardiland in France a few weeks back - she's a good gal.

The peas have grown an inch (couple of centimetres) since the weekend. I whacked in some stakes and netted up one side and it looks really smart. But ran out of netting to do the other side. Planted thirty each of Triomphe de Farcey and Major Bush beans that I had germinated and brought on in my little greenhouse. They went between the two rows of peas on Sunday and sparingly applied slug pellets to give them a chance.
Looking closely at the peas and it looks like something’s having a go at the leaves. There are small semi circular notches taken out of a lot of the leaves. Most likely a mouse or maybe something bigger. I can't really lay traps about because my boys would somehow manage to stand on one or play with them when my back was turned. So they are welcome for now to a free nibble, as long as they don't start killing the seedlings because that would be a declaration of war.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Plentiful Peas

Question: How many peas should you plant from a packet?

Answer: All of them, and then some more.

The peas are up. I planted a packet a few weeks back and they are already a few centimetres tall. The variety was douce Provence. Apparently you can overwinter these but I have seen other plot holder’s attempts at overwintering this same variety and this winter must have been too much for them because their crops are patchy and many have black stem so I will stick with spring plantings.

The next week I found another packet of peas so planted those too. This time they were Feltham firsts

The onion sets and shallots I have planted have finally rooted well and are no longer being pecked at by the dirty pigeons.

But the Purple sprouting broccoli I planted several months ago is just putting on serious amounts of leaf growth. It’s annoying me as my plants are far larger than those on other plots around me but theirs are in full swing pumping out the good stuff whilst mine is just taking its time occupying the best soil on the plot.

Other sowings are now pushing though the soil including the radishes (French Breakfast), Salsify, Early Nantes carrots, spinach, baby beets and bolt hardy beats.

In the greenhouse the First bean sowings are standing proud (Triumph de Farcy and Major) both bush varieties. My little Jenson helped put together the Root trainers, fill them with soil and push the seed into the soil and water them in. Amazing how a four year old loves to help daddy. Whilst Max was very helpful to in sweeping the greenhouse floor and tidying up dads mess.

Also in the greenhouse we have Drum cabbage, Calabrese, cauliflower and Savoy all being potted up from their sowings.

Sixty four Swift sweet corn are in the root trainers. A tray of Swiss chard and salads galore.

This weekend promises to be kind, although Mother Nature has a nasty habit of breaking her word but you can live in hope.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

April Attire

Whoohoo. We are finally getting regular double digit days.

How many of you were becoming so desperate for spring that you contemplated sitting in your car, revving the engine thus releasing a couple of kilos of dirty-dirty carbon into the air whilst eating de-foresting McDonalds and drinking bottled water from a far flung corner of the Alps?

Well I thought about it! But in the end I didn't, but not on moral grounds. My wife had taken the car out shopping for the day, McDonalds chips are a bit salty for my liking and finally Evian is not as good as eau d'East Anglian water authority straight out of the tap.

Spring finally broke despite of my lack of efforts to speed up global warming allowing me outside more often. It’s not SAD I get its "four-wall" syndrome AKA "recycled air" dementia and I got it bad!

April may be the month of showers. For me it’s also the month of the year I constantly get my choice of gardening attire wrong. For instance a week or so ago I wore my Jack Pyke wellies to the plot. These babies are insulated which was great walking up to the allotment.

But by the time I got there and had dug over for a few minutes my poor feet felt like they were going to melt off it was so warm. The thermometer on my shed showed 17oc. That’s flip flop weather!

Then the very next day I look out of the window to beautiful blue skies so put on only a thin top and cotton trousers. No sooner had I left the house I felt a chill on the wind which I chose to ignore - putting it down to the early start I had made. This time, by the time I got to the plot I was cold to the bone.

The blue skies swiftly disappeared and in its place, a rotten grey overcast front formed.

I got rained on. Not just the speck of rain that catches you out sometimes, this was Mother Nature’s wayward sense of salop humour soaking me to the skin. My shoes caked in mud from the paths which just hoovered up the rain waters and turned back into slosh as I ran home.

I put on my pykes, changed into warmer clothing and made my way back to the plot. But the rain stops, the clouds part, the sun dips back into sight - and I'm wearing the wrong blinking clothes again!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Just a little longer

Let’s not forget winter still holds the upper hand and is only very slowly beginning to show signs of releasing her grip allowing spring to break through.

Heavy ground frosts continue to check the growth of my purple sprouting broccoli. Icy Rain and winds have delayed the growth of spring bulbs and fruit buds.

So when I saw several plot holders using last years planning diaries to forge ahead with the planting of their early potato seed and sowing carrot, parsnip and beetroot seed unprotected I had to laugh (at them not with them).

Why go to all the trouble and back-ache of digging your plot and buying seeds only to guarantee failure or at the very least disappointment from germination failure and bolting beets? It’s difficult enough to afford the time with the plot what with the family and the job as it is. Impatience to get going regardless of the season must be reaching fever point but don’t get suckered in.

There’s really no need to use a calendar to determine when to plant first earlies. If the grass in the garden doesn’t look like it needs it first trim of the year then don’t bother about planting anything in the ground until it does. You may get away with a few peas and broad beans if they are protected by cover. Onion sets can go in too but in my opinion anything else would be a waste of time and seed. I hope they prove me wrong.

Everything will be later than last year, but surely it’s better to grow under the correct conditions than to plant now whilst winter remains dominant. On the plus side - The bugs must have taken a hammering this winter so organic gardeners may find it slightly easier when the weather finally breaks.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Forking Finally

Popped over to the plot for a reccy on last weekend, expecting the usual flood plain of stagnated rain waters and frozen compost. I was in no mood to do anything other than dump the weekly contents of our food scraps onto the heap and head home. I'm not a SAD sufferer, but the last two weeks of February and beginning of March are grinding away at my resolve to be outside.

But what was this? To my surprise the skies were a wonderful hazy blue with the low hung sun doing its best to gently warm the super-chilled soil.

The rest-bite from a few days without rain coupled with some decent winds blowing through the mouth of the Thames Estuary had dried up the heavy clay on the paths somewhat. Enough so, that it didn't clump and stick to my boots as I ambled up the path to my patch on Plot 40.

I like to blame the weather on the state of my plot at the moment, but in truth I have been a little reluctant to starting the "big dig" this year. Overwintered perennial weeds are scattered all over. The heavy rains have brought untold stones to the surface. Its not a pretty sight!

So I found myself pottering and stood their pensively scanning my unkempt weed patch over what to do. After several minutes I dared to open my shed and pull out the digging fork.

Thinking it best to test the high ground I went to the top end of the plot. With the first stab, the fork sunk into the topsoil. I turned the earth and smashed the clump with the back of my fork, then pulled out a few stones and tap roots . Wonderful I thought as it broke into a mash of dark crumbs - the soil is finally improving after a couple of years adding all manner of humous, compost, manure and mulch.

Two hours later and several layers of clothing removed. I cleaned down my trusty fork having done the first couple of honest hours work on the plot this year.

The Vim has returned and I look forward to getting back over at the weekends until British Summer time kicks in and I'll have a few evenings a week to play catchup.

Friday, 22 January 2010

2010 - Third year for this soiler toiler

The snow which gripped the nation has finally gone in East Anglia - Its gloomy outside but each day brings a couple more minutes of daylight.

A little stump no larger than a coconut is all that is left of our snowman, hopefully he'll have melted by the rain today and we'll have had the last of the snow for the year.

I'm sowing Salads, spring onions in the house and digging out my packet of Giant cabbage for planting this weekend. Apparently they can grow to monsterous proportions. Its way to cold to germinate anything in my little greenhouse outside so they will get a window box in an unheated bedroom once germinated.

The Brunswick Giant Cabbage

The search for sources of potatoes is back on, so as the get the best seeds available and to get them well chitted for March or April depending on the weather.

Winter seems to be racing along now and in only a couple of months the food factory will be back in full swing. It may be cold and gloomy outside but I'll have to wrap up and carry on with the preperation of my plot if I am to get the most from the short growing season.

Last year was my "year of the tatty". I went to the Suffolk and Essex potato fair on the 14th February. There were so many varieties of potato to choose from it went to town buying about 140 seeds of different type and varieties. If you are growing potato in your veg patch this year I would definately recommend going to one. They are organised events around the country where you can also buy seeds and tools.

My family had never been fans of the "new potato". Being tricky to peel because of its size and the fact they are not keen on eating the skins. However the "Pixies" were a great success. Their little pink eyes were a novelty to the kids who were happy to eat them mashed with skins on. The blight resistant sarpo's and the Mayan gold were the disappointments from the main crops. Sarpos being an inferior cooker and the Mayans being of good quantity but too small and in cumbersome for my wife and mother law to appreciate. The reliable Desiree was the most appreciated main crop for uniformity, flavour and minimal slug and wireworm damage. The Anya was to die for, a revelation in the kitchen.

I'll be scaling back the potato growing this year to about half of that of 2009. It was backbreaking work and brought a tear to my eye as my lower back popped on a couple of occasions whilst earthing up and had to take time off from work. Will be growing more Main crop than Earlies as they kept better but will have a small mixture to ensure I get to enjoy freshly dug spuds throughout the season.

If you are planning on growing potatoes I'd love to hear which varieties you intend to grow and why.