Friday, 25 November 2011

The Winners and the Losers

(the winners)

As the winter chills sets in and the seed catalogues continue to drop through the letter box, now is the time to reflect on the Winners and Losers of the Allotment Year before placing orders for next season’s harvest.

Top of my list of Winners are:
Runner Beans - the seeds can be planted straight into the ground making them very easy to grow and they always produce masses of beans.  We were still picking up until the end of October. My husband’s favourite!

Salad Leaves –  I always start them off in the greenhouse otherwise the slugs never let them see the light of day but other than that they are quite easy and produce masses of leaves.    The trick is to always have some seeds on the go for succession planting – something I’m still perfecting the art of!  Hoping my winter lettuces might produce something before Christmas.

Raspberries – Produced an abundance of berries this year and so tasty too. But you have to eat them the same day you pick or they go mouldy.  No keeping qualities at all.  Another easy crop as you only have to cut them down once a year, although birds are a big problem.
French beans – another prolific producer and easy too but not as sweet as runners.

Courgettes – another prolific plant.  Great to freeze in ratatouille. 
Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb and yet more rhubarb!  They didn’t like the lack of rain at the start of the spring and went all limp and floppy but soon picked up once the rain came.

Blackberries – big juicy thornless variety, easy to grow and produces masses of fruit.  
Dahlias – I adore these flowers.  They are such good do-ers producing a riot of colour from August right though to the end of November.   You can leave them in the ground too in the south if you cover them over with some manure or leaves.

Apples - as many as I want from my neighbour's tree. That's what is so great about allotments it's share and share alike!

Top of my list of Losers
Tomatoes – tomato blight seems to be rampant on our site so I’m finally going to give up on these. 
Round Yellow Cucumbers – I spotted these at Chelsea Flower Show this year and thought they would be something different, but the skin is so tough you need to peel them first.  Life’s too short!  Next year I'm going to grow more of the coventional variety. 

Red gooseberries – despite the fact that we now have them in a cage, we still only get about three or four berries off three plants.  I always thought it was the fault of the birds or mice, but the cage is now like fort knox!
Strawberries – didn’t get a single berry, but the birds are definitely the culprit.  Need to cover with a net next year.

Blueberries – again not a single berry!
Sunflowers – planted 10 among the raspberry canes, mistakenly thinking I had the 10 foot varieties and they would soon tower over the fruit. But mixed up the packets and had the miniature versions so they died through lack of sun!

Carrots – the soil is just too heavy and too much faff to grow in containers, especially when they are such good value in the supermarkets.

So all in all a good year and a lot more Winners than Losers.  Roll on next season, can't wait to get planting!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Open Day

Two hundred and sixty people visited our allotments on 14 August when we opened with the National Gardens Scheme, helping to raise over £1,200 for charity.   Visitors ranged from young families, older couples and even a BBC journalist (well known for his coverage of Chelsea Flower Show).  As usual the tea and cake stall on the communal plot did a roaring trade, helped by some welcome sunshine.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Allotment Open Day Sunday 14 August (2-5 pm)

There are only three weeks left to go before the allotment open day with The National Gardens Scheme and much still to do. With day after day of rain recently, I have to confess, I have not been putting in my usual amount of hours down there and the weeds have started to take hold.  So a concerted effort is called for to get everything in ship shape condition. 
But I’m pleased with how many crops I’ve got on the go.  I’ve just harvested the first of the French beans, the row of runners should soon be bearing beans (these are always our most productive crop and so easy), I can hardly keep up with the courgettes and hopefully when the sun does decide to shine the cucumbers and tomatoes will start to bear some fruit too. 
Another great success is the blackberry bush, the fruit is so much bigger and sweeter than the wild variety and apart from one prune a year, there’s nothing to do.  We’ve also got raspberries, figs, leek, fennel, a rather sparse bed of Cavolo Nero kale following a slug attach and some very tiny celeriac plants and a few small cordon fruit trees.  So really I am quite pleased with how it should all look.   
The lettuce has been magnificent but despite my best efforts it always seems to come at once and is already starting to bolt.  I have sown some more seeds which are just starting to sprout, but they need a bit longer to look anything special.  The beetroot will be over too.   
Sometimes I think I plan my whole allotment year around the opening, deciding what to sow when so it will look its best for the visitors.  I remember one year I left a whole bed of cauliflower unpicked just so my plot would look its best. And then, of course, it all went over before we’d managed to eat it all. But then when I read Joy Larkcom’s Great Vegetable Book I was reassured to hear that she felt the same and just refused to harvest a cabbage or lettuce if it spoiled  the ‘look’ of a bed!  I wonder if this a female thing? DISCUSS!
But it’s all in a good cause.  Last year’s open day raised an incredible £1,500.  And it all goes to the NGS charities, whose beneficiaries include Macmillan Cancer Support (they are their biggest single donor) Marie Curie Cancer Care, Crossroads – Caring for Carers and Help the Hospices.

So if you are in the Richmond area on 14 August, please do drop by.  You can find us in Old Palace Lane, the door in the wall next to the White Swan pub, TW9 1PG.  Admission is £3, with children free of charge. Tea, cakes and refreshments will be available on our communal plot and you’ll will also be able to buy some freshly dug veg to feast on during the week.    

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Vegging Out at Chelsea Flower Show

The sky’s the limit when it comes to growing fruit and veg, if B & Q’s nine metre high ‘edible tower’ at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show is anything to go by.  With a living wall of sage, camomile and thyme, window boxes of tomatoes and nasturtiums and  solar panels and a wind turbine, it certainly ticks all the ‘green’ boxes.   But with the average show garden costing around £180,000, it’s not for everyone!  Just as well then that B & Q has launched the Vertical Wall planter which will set you back just £10 (solar panels and wind turbine not included!)

Fellow allotmenteer Cleve West surprised the judges with his flowering parsnips in the Daily Telegraph garden,  but they were obviously suitably impressed as they awarded him Best in Show.  Well deserved, in my opinion, as the planting was beautiful.  I can’t wait to get my hands on Dianthus cruentus before the garden centre shelves are cleared.

During the Second World War, the Ministry of Food, developed a cartoon character called Dr. Carrot as part of an educational campaign to encourage people to eat healthily during rationing.  Depicted carrying a medicine bag brimming over with Vitamin A, it showed just how nutritious this home grown veg really is.  Good to see him getting another outing at Chelsea along with Potato Pete. Mustard Communications has also brought him back to life for a PR campaign for the British Carrot Growers' Association

Can’t understand why Bunny Guinness’s Kitchen Garden for the show’s main sponsor M & G Investments only got a Silver Gilt.  I think she was robbed.  Here’s hoping she gets the people’s vote. 

An idea to steal from the floristry marquee were retro handbags being used as hanging baskets.  Making an appearance down on my allotment soon.  A little beyond my capabilities was this South Pacific dress. Such a work of art!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Spring is Sprung

There is something so satisfying about planting out the first seedlings of the year.  Especially ones I have sown myself and carefully nurtured in the greenhouse.  I guess it’s all about renewal, optimism and generally looking forward to the summer.  But whatever, it certainly does gladden the soul.
First in the ground was rocket.  I’ve had variable success with this in the past as it often tends to bolt.  So this year I’m hoping to fare a little better by choosing a shady spot.  Next in was lettuce, a beautiful green and red ruffled variety (I’ll tell you the name when I pop down tomorrow).  I hadn’t really thinned them out as I should have done and so had to prise the roots carefully apart before planting.  They did look a bit battered as they flopped sulking onto the soil, but lettuce always seems to be one of my most successful crops, so here’s hoping they revive.  I have to confess I always scatter a good handful of slug pellets when the seedlings first go in, otherwise they just get razed to the ground – the slugs love those soft tender leaves. But once they’ve got going after a couple of weeks,  they tend to leave them alone (apart from this and the very occasional spray, I am almost organic, honest!).
I managed to prise Tony, my partner, away from his desk for a couple of hours ( I know it’s Easter, but he is a bit of a workaholic), to put up the bean poles for the runner beans.  Men are just so tidy when it comes to allotments, everything in dead straight lines and all the poles crossing at the exact same point.  I used to think my random haphazard planting was much more romantic, but now I too have become a bit of a fan for symmetry – a great contrast when edged by my blousy flower borders.  Unfortunately,  we then misread the seed packet and planted half the row with French beans instead of runners  – spent ages scrabbling away in the soil trying to find the seeds so I could discard them and put in runners instead (I usually plant the seeds straight into ground as they come up so quickly and they have such big distinctive leaves, you are never going to mistake these for weeds). Runner beans are our No. 1 favourite crop – they never fail to give us bucket loads of produce from July right through to October.   I had already started five French climbing beans plants off in the greenhouse & Tony erected a smart little wigwam for these.     
Another big job for the weekend was to fill up some of the raised beds with top soil, because I have to confess  there isn’t a lot that’s ‘raised’ about them.  Very flat, I’d say.  The eight bags we lugged up the path did a terrific job for one of the beds – but there’s another four to go. Maybe a long term project! 
Feeling very hot, dirty but satisfied, I started putting away my tools, when Jo, my neighbour but one, strolled by with the comment “beans in April, bit optimistic aren’t you.”  Of, course, beans shouldn’t really go in until the end of May, especially the very tender French beans!  I know this.  What had I been thinking!  I’d been persuaded by this gorgeous heatwave that summer had truly arrived.  But last year we had frosts right up until the first week of June.  So if you are reading this blog, please do as I say, not as I do!  The rocket and lettuce will be fine, but leave the beans for another month to be safe.  Fingers crossed mine survive. 

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A bad month for....

It’s been a bad month for rhubarb, strawberries, spinach and parsley.  My partner Tony has just been diagnosed with kidney stones and these are all at the top of his ‘Not to Eat’ list from the doctor.
Not only am I left with an abundance of forced rhubarb and the problem with what to do with it all, but also the vague disquiet that the many years of serving up rhubarb crumbles and compotes may in some way have contributed to Tony’s quite agonising condition.  And although I can still enjoy  these dishes,  it’s somehow not quite  the same.  I used to feel quite virtuous about not only enjoying the fruits of my labour, but also eating healthily as well, but if it is having the opposite effect, I somehow feel cheated.   
I don’t have to start digging up the allotment beds quite just yet though.  The doctors have taken samples and are currently analysing exactly what the kidney stones are made of.  So maybe there is another cause.  In the meantime, my office colleagues are enjoying rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb..... 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Robin Red Breast

They say that robins are a gardener’s best friend and it certainly seems to be the case on our allotment as there’s always one to keep me company while I’m weeding.  They are on the look-out for worms and insects, of course, studying the soil intently for any fat offering as I fork the soil over, flying in so close when they see one that their wings almost brush my face.  I often think it’s not just the food they’re after, but a bit of a game as well. 
We used to get wild parakeets here as well, which looked really surreal when you looked up and saw them sitting in the cherry tree.  I still spot the occasional one in Richmond, but I haven’t seen any on the allotment for a couple of years now.  I think maybe the last two cold winters might have cut their numbers.  There are a range of theories about the arrival of parakeets to Surrey – some say they escaped from a container at Heathrow airport; that they were released from aviaries damaged during the great storm of 1987 and that Jimi Hendrix brought them to the area to make a film.  Whatever the theory, it would be nice to see them back here again as they certainly add a bit of exotica to the borders!
The soil is full of worms today and the robin gets his fill.  So I guess this means the soil is in reasonable condition, but it is very heavy clay and after the rain of the weekend is terribly hard to weed – you have to bend down to prise out the weeds one by one from the huge claggy clods of earth.  According to perceived garden wisdom, I guess I shouldn’t be treading on the earth at all, but it’s so hard to weed a big bed by standing on a board.  I’m still working in lime across the plot and will leave it for a month and then add some compost.  Hopefully this will improve the soil a little more and generate better veg this year. The rhubarb doesn’t need any help though, it’s doing wonders.  Picked another four stalks today – made a mistake last weekend as I thought it was so tender that it wouldn’t need any sugar.  How wrong was that!
I also sowed a few more seeds – beetroot, celeriac and rocket. I promised myself I wouldn’t sow so much this year but would take the easier route and buy plugs from the garden centre, but I think I’m a bit addicted!  Well, I guess there’s worse things to get addicted to....