ALLOTMENTS / KITCHEN GARDENS

ALLOTMENT ADVICE

Allotment diary:

Please scroll down to read the current month's entry.

OCTOBER

The soil seems in great condition and is easy to work just now. Am going to dig over all areas I've cultivated already and then either sow a green manure or cover them before winter, both to stop weeds growing and the stop the rain from leaching out the good in the soil. I want to plant some gooseberry bushes but have just heard from the allotment association that they won't be getting any bushes this year - they'd have to order too many, so am going to hunt for some online. I'd like a mixture of varieties. I already have a red one, but it's not very prolific so will look for something that's meant to give more fruit. And I'd like some that give plenty of fruit for jam - and for making wine, gooseberry wine is one of the best, goes well with fish.

SEPTEMBER

Runner beans are in a heap on the ground thanks to yesterday's winds. Some of the beans are too tough to enjoy sliced but will take out the beans to freeze for later on in the year. Have picked all the green plum tomatoes - kept as many as possible attached to their vine, they'll have to ripen indoors now. The Money Maker tomatoes are more sheltered so they'll stay out for a few more days - they seem to be turning colour quickly so will leave them until it gets too cold at night.

Time to begin the big clear up. Sudden drop in temperature turned the pumpkin bed grey overnight - leaves were suddenly mildewy, edges browning. Glowing bright yellow squash - seem to be sultan's turbans but no bright red stripes so far. Queensland Blues are green! Couple of nice big orange pumpkins for Halloween. Lots of Borlotti beans but the beans inside are pretty small - think they must have suffered from lack of water. On 'must do' list for next year is water reservoir near bean bed to make watering less of a chore.

AUGUST

Bean feast! Hard to keep up with picking the runner beans. Some big squash - Queensland Blue, a traditional Hallowe'en one and lots of yellow round ones that I think must be going to turn into Sultan's Turban's but should be Butternut! Am confused and looking forward to autumn when I should know what they are. Am going to split up my Welsh Onions. Started with one nearly 2 years ago, it became 5, now I hope each one will make at least 5 more. They look fantastic in the spring, very 'sculptural'. Know they used to say 'with welsh onions you're never with an onion in the garden' but with the number of onions we eat that would take quite a few years to come true for us.

Sun, rain, sun etc, and now everything's growing like mad. Even the outdoor tomatoes that were looking sad - droopy leaves, not a lot of fruit - now the leaves are bright, healthy green and more fruit setting. And we're enjoying runner beans every day, plus delicious courgettes. Some BIG squashes - but there's a problem, don't know what they are. There's a very impressive dark green one that looks similar to the Jack o Lantern ones I grew last year, there are also some big pale green ones that I thought must be butternut to start with but if they are they'll be the biggest butternut I've ever seen. Also an impressive big pale yeallow squash. I planted several varieties, was convinced I'd remember what was what...Next year am going to label the plants individually! 

JULY

Couldn't get onto the allotment 'til middle of the first week - much too wet. Was amazed at how good the potatoes are despite being drowned. Main crop look fine, earlies have lost their foliage and it's nothing like the crop we had last year but the potatoes there are are beautifully white - and delicious! Loganberries are good, some of the raspberries are going mouldy but there are still quite a lot of good ones. We're lucky because some of the other allotments have got a lot of mould on their soft fruit. One solitary apple on our two young trees, not surprising because it's been blowing a gale, or rather lots of gales. Am going to put up some windproofing and see what that does. 

JUNE

Deer alert! Being next to a field has its drawbacks - we've just had some trampling but other plots have lost runner bean plants etc. Now have a smart new run of deer proof fencing, and they've put some rabbit netting at the bottom. On a wildlife theme we keep being visited by partridge, very handsome birds and not as shy as I'd expect.

Managed some catch up over the weekend but our neighbors at the allotment think they're around 2 months behind their growing and cropping thanks to the weather. More artichokes to pick and a big bag of gooseberries plus a bunch of roses. Can't bring myself to cut roses in the garden at home because they look so pretty growing so having some at the allotment means I can bring some indoors without a guilty conscience.

Have been enjoying our own globe artichokes since late May - think it must be some kind of record! I've got some more plants to put in and hope they'll be as productive as our monster artichoke and not as slow as the other one we planted at the same time - it's still to give us anything.

Am begining to suspect rhubarb just doesn't like our plot. Really doesn't seem to want to thrive although other plots further up hill have great forests of red stalks. Will have a go at moving them to another spot.

There's a warning on the seed packet of the Achochas we sent for - 'may take over a polytunnel'. To get them off to an early start I started them in our porch and they certainly made that feel like a set from Day of the Triffids, they twined around each other and separating them was interesting! They didn't like the outside at first and looked as if they might be going to give up but suddenly they're putting up new tendrils. Can't wait to see the fruit - it's meant to look a bit like a cucumber but taste like a green pepper when it's cooked - watch this space!

Last June

Mid June and new potatoes still yielding a crop but not as much as last year. Some large potatoes and lots of tiny ones. The foliage is being hit by slugs so I think that's slowed growth down and they are wetter than last year. Next year will have a go with nematodes and I also think I have to get the ground clearer before I put the seed potatoes in. It looked as if I'd got rid of most of the couch grass and horsetail but even tiny bits of root grow new weeds. Roses I planted last year are blooming beautifully. It's lovely to be able to pick them - when they're blooming at home I like to leave them in the garden to enjoy. Will move a couple of non flourishing roses from home to the allotment in the autumn and see if they are happier there. One is a Moss Rose and the other is a deep red rose that the Romans brought to Britain - can't remember the name. Saw a similar one growing at the Yalding Organic garden - they had it in the centre of a square bed, had encouraged the branches to loop over and pegged the tips to the soil. The rose sent up shoots and the flowers were all facing upwards - it looked stunning, will try to copy.

The first new potatoes! Had to dig up 4 plants to get over a kilo of beautiful, white potatoes - but it was worth it. Apart from being delicious there were more of them than the Jersey Royals I paid £1.99 for a couple of days ago. Also picked another good sized globe artichoke, that's 4 so far from the plant I put in last year. The second one I planted then is still pretty small so I'm keeping weeds away from it and hoping for the best. Have now planted another globe artichoke - different variety this time. The roses I put in last year are now blooming - came home with a gorgeous bunch of red roses. Must plant more of them, they're such a treat.

MAY

2 rhubarb plants happy - 2 floppy and miserable. Since they're growing side by side I don't think it can be the soil, and I can't see any major slug damage. Will feed them generously and see what happens. Seedlings are growing very well, won't be long before I can plant them out. Sowed fennel, beetroot and ruby chard at the weekend. My ruby chard from last year has been brilliant but has just decided to go to seed - looks very glamorous though, the most amazing colour.

Am sowing lots of bean seeds indoors to get ahead of the drought/slugs etc. Have got borlotti - they were excellent last year, some Painted Lady seeds, because a neighbour grew those and I loved the flowers, also green and purple dwarf beans - didn't grow any last year but thought I'd give them a go again. And am going to grow flowers this year at the allotment - something pretty to pick and bring home.

Last May

Phew! Maincrop Potatoes have appeared at last and now we've started to get some rain hope they'll catch up. Picked my first globe artichoke and there are three more to come on the same plant. Put 2 identical plants in last year, one's very handsome and productive, the other is very miserable. Thought it would die but it's now decided to act as if this is its first year - hope for a result next year. 

APRIL

I should have kept a diary years ago. Reading what was going on in April last year makes the strange weather this year even worse! We had thick snow on the 5th and 6th - great for a Christmas card photo but couldn't even get to the allotment. Have spent lots more time sowing seeds indoors. This is going to be the the year of the Achocha or Exploding Cucumber - I hope. I put the seeds in the propagator a couple of weeks ago and they popped almost overnight. Now got 16 handsome little plants complete with secondary leaves. Have got squash on the go too including Burgess squash that if it lives up to its description on the seed packet will be good, and some round courgettes - a grew the same variety a couple of years ago and they were fantastic, loads of courgette that grew quickly and kept much better than their traditional cousins. We're still eating some Queensland Blue Squash I grew last year, they're delicious and when you look at the price of much more boring squash on sale - usually butternut - think my investment of £1.10 in a packet of seeds was more than well spent.

Last April:

Earlies are growing! Can't decide whether to water them or not. The tap is 2 allotments away - uphill, so always think more than twice before getting water for anything. Will put up a hut this year so that can put waterbutts around it, then I'll be able to water when I need to. That's if it ever rains again! Think it's something like 5 weeks with hardly any rain now. A couple of days ago they forecast rain this weekend but now sounds as if it's just going to be cooler.

Ground is so much drier after the past few sunny days that I really want to plant my early potatoes - but the forcast is for snow next week! I've got Swifts again this year and they've got plenty of green sprouts growing well. Think I'll cover the area they're going to go with some fleece and hope it keeps the warm in. I know the tradition is to plant them on Good Friday but I'd love to get a couple of week's head start.

MARCH

2008

Nothing like a bit of early sunshine to get the family volunteering some help. My son came over and dug for around an hour, between us we got most of the area for potatoes cleared up and ready. And we had a go where the broad beans will be. Were inspired to buy a couple of gooseberry bushes for the windiest corner as theory is they can tolerate wind.

Vandals! We've been lucky but several sheds have been burnt down around us. Remember watching a Good Life episode where someone steals Tom's leeks and turns him almost murderous - you can understand why. Last year someone - actually it must have been several 'someones' stole one of the Sumo pumpkins on an allotment that's not far from the road. Perhaps we'll end up mounting guard duty.

Managed some digging last weekend, but only on ground that had been covered under black landscaping fabric since the end of last year. That was dry enough to turn over. Had a bonus when we moved the plastic greenhouse - it's floor was covered in landscape fabric too, soo we've dug another bed for potatoes. Was so desperate to grow something bright and green that I've sprouted some black mustard seed on the kitchen windowsill. There's still rocket and cavolo nero to pick, and some ruby chard plus plenty of jerusalem artichokes but it would be good to feel we've started for the year.

FEBRUARY

2008:

Cold miserable - that's me and the allotment. Ventured down a couple of times but it's very bleak. Nobody about except when the allotment shop is open, that's a hive of activity at the weekend with everyone stocking up for the year ahead and you can buy local honey there, perfect with lemon to fight off the cold I got pottering around outside on what I thought was a warmish day.

2007 on the allotment is starting in February - well it will be if it dries up a bit. I've got potatoes chitting in egg boxes and a packet of broad beans desperate to get into the ground but it's too wet to do anything. Put some shallots in on 1st Feb but they don't look very  happy, some sun would cheer them up. Want to plant an apple tree to pollinate the Bramley that went in last Autumn, but you guessed it, ground too waterlogged. Never mind, am having fun looking through the online seed catalogues.

The story so far:

This is the second year on our allotment - but the first was a disaster! Our allotment society has plots turned over with a tractor when they change hands. The area that had been rough grass with vague signs of past cultivation was turned overnight into a roughly ploughed sea of heavy clay. After three days of frantic digging we seized up, my back gave up entirely and I spent eight weeks in physio - made the pain worse really. Meanwhile the weeds were growing and we spent the rest of the year making spasmodic attempts to conquer the whole area. Net result, flatter site, multitude of weeds, ticking off from allotment society.

2006 New Year's Resolution - tame the allotment 

The year so far:

OCTOBER

Tremendous rain on the first day of the month but still warm, a couple of fine days and now we're promised heavy rain, winds, and a real chill in the air - when are we going to get time to start clearing the ground? Want to get a head start and rough dig as much as possible for the frost to break up. Also want to get an area clear for some gooseberry bushes to go in later in autumn. Gooseberries are meant to tolerate wind quite well so am going to put them on the most exposed corner of the plot. Will put some temporary screening - hessian sacks or similar - up if wind is really strong early next year.

SEPTEMBER

16 September and it's all change! Suddenly the tomato plant foliage is withering and the tomatoes are falling onto the ground. Will pick them all today. Lots of the beans look as if they need picking as well. The great news is that the Cavolo Nero that was eaten to almost nothing by cabbage white caterpillers are growing again. Beautiful dark, smokey green leaves are sprouting from the bare stalks, fingers crossed we'll have green vegetables all though the winter.

Nearly mid September, some plants seem to think it's still summer and others have decided it's autumn. Still masses of outdoor tomatoes, both the Italian plum tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Runner beans are doing well - and that's a surprise because most gardeners are saying their's have failed this year. Climbing french beans and dwarf french beans are doing well - the dwarf ones are a very glamorous dark purple - you can watch them turn green as they cook! Borlotti beans are looking good - the pods starting to turn very stripey although most of the beans inside are still green. 

AUGUST

17th August, enormous Sumo pumpkins are sitting n allotments all around us - will plant some ourselves next year but don't know if we'll manage to keep up with all the watering they need. Sprouting Broccoli seems very unhappy. Romanesque Broccoli has just produced leaves, so think the weather has disagreed with them. Meanwhile red onions are still doing well - they're slightly undersized but firm and delicious. 

9th August, still getting potatoes altho' all the foliage has gone now. Think we're OK for a bit longer but suspect if it rains heavily what's left in the ground will sprout again. The earlies - Swifts - that I sprouted at home were ready far earlier than the supermarket assortment that had sprouted in their bags, BUT now the supermarket crop is impressive - large, clean spuds.

7th August Marrows are amazing! And courgettes are growing faster than we can eat them. Red cabbages are refusing to heart up, green cabbages are very small but at least have a solid round heart. Frilly lettuce are all starting to bolt, am sowing salad leaves to take their place. The rocket was attacked by flea beetles but has still grown to quite a height and is now flowering, they add a pretty touch to the salad bowl. Cucumbers are enjoying the combination of heat and evening watering. Lots of flowers on the beans now.

JULY

3rd July, Well into our new potatoes now - faced with the virtually weed free soil they're leaving we've decided to use it to create our asparagus bed. We'll keep working on it to make sure there are no weeds at all, probably put some black plastic over it to help and then in the autumn have a go putting some crowns in. We'll have to wait a few years for a crop but am convinced it'll be worth it.

1st weekend in July and it's scorching hot. Going to the allotment in the evening to water and a little weeding but not much else. Glad we cut the grass a few days ago. The onions are starting to swell - red look so impressive!

'til end of month - hot, hotter and just too hot. Only bonus is that weeds seem to be growing more slowly. Must work over the winter to have a working rainwater collection system - something like lots of rain butts linked up to fill from the shed roof - now just need the shed!

JUNE

25th June, the 1st potatoes! These are 'Swifts'. They taste delicious, each seed potato has yielded about the same as a £1.90 bag from the supermarket. Spent £2.99 on seed potatoes, think total yield should be about 15 supermarket bags - that's £25.51 profit. Plus they taste far better, and I've cleared a patch of the allotment growing them.

27th June - even more potatoes from second digging - makes them even more profitable!

               
   Proof of plenty. This compost bin belongs to our neighboring allotment holders. The strawberries on top were small because of the drought, but on the same day as this photo was taken they picked 2 big punnets for themselves - and 1 for us. They were real, 'old fashioned' strawberries, full of flavour. They also gave us 2 big bunches of beautiful roses. We gave them a frilly lettuce. Will never be without an allotment again!

17th to 22nd

The horsetail is winning! But at least it doesn't seem to interfere with the growing vegetables. The couch grass is something else - that chokes everything so will be even more determined to get rid of it this autumn. The onions - grown from sets - are looking good, I planted red and white ones, the red look tastiest but won't pass judgement 'til we start using them. The romanesque looks amazing - worth growing for its appearance alone. Two small artichokes I planted a couple of months ago are beginning to look established but I'm seriously jealous of the next door plot's massive plants.

7th to 16th

Weeding, hoeing, grass cutting, watering - looking forward to digging up some potatoes. The earlies (Swifts) look great but I'm not convinced there are any potatoes there yet. Bought some good looking plum tomato plants from a local nursery where they were talking about the potatoes they grew in their 'dump' for old compost. Apparently all they did was scrape a hole, drop in a potato, pull over a little compost. Then at harvest time they just felt around with their hands for the 'spuds'.  Don't think my clay soil's going to be quite so easy! Have been surprised that lettuces have only needed watering every second day - before all the talk about drought I would have watered them daily but it shows it's not necessary. The big, floppy red lettuces I planted early are about to bolt without really producing many leaves so am eating them quickly. A bit bitter in taste but nice and crunchy, am adding honey to the salad dressing and they taste OK.

1st to 6th

Sunshine! Had almost forgotten what it looked like, and suddenly everything needs watering. It was too wet to earth up half the potatoes - and now it's too dry. Can't understand why the Romanesque we planted are so happy and the multiheaded broccoli so miserable - same soil and presumably same family. Perhaps the broccoli is just too refined for an allotment?

Have planted some lettuces (and admit to a sprinkling of slug pellets) but suspect we won't water enough. That's the problem with not going every day, but can't be helped. Will add even more humus to beds everytime we change crops and try planting closer together to stop evaporation. Funny how one week we're knee deep in mud and the next walking on rock hard soil. Never mind, all part of life's rich tapestry...

?when will dig the first potatoes. Says June/July on label of the Swifts we planted - they're first earlies. Will try and hang on til end June but am very tempted


MAY 2006

From 1st to 17th

Over Easter we hired a rotovator - you can use them in the rain, we proved it and turned about a quarter of our allotment into useable 'beds'. I don't like spraying with weedkiller so the plan is to take control of smallish areas at a time, keep the rest cut down using a rotary mower - can already see the benefit of this as grass seems to be growing better than the nettles and other weeds with every cut- and give ourselves 'rewards' with some crops this year.

Planted sprouted potatoes - some I bought from the allotment shop, they looked very professional, dark green shoots in abundance. The ones from the supermarket that sprouted before I could cook them were all shapes and sizes. The real seed potaotes burst into leaf a week before the supermarket ones. Will be interesting to see which provides the biggest crop.

Queuing to buy seeds etc in the allotment shop is great place to pick up tips, was told by someone to rub off all except 2 sprouts from the potatoes before planting them if I want big 'spuds' for baking.

We've transplanted some currant bushes from home - a red and a white one. Also moved 2 gooseberry bushes and bought a new one. Planted 2 loganberries and a thornless blackberry. The rhubarb we planted last year looks much happier, even had a enough for a (small) crumble.

17th to 31

Oh the weather! It has rained and rained, blown a gale and generally been wet, wet, wet. We're not alone in having abandoned the allotment for a ten days. Managed to earth up about two and a half rows of potatoes but then it started to rain again and the ground was too wet to work.

Good news - on the 31st managed to get a row of raspberry canes in, now we'll baby them through 'til autumn.

Amazingly good news! Two of our neighboring allotment holders have said how good our plot's looking! Main thing we've discovered is to mow regularly with a rotary mower where we're not creating beds. It's keeping down nettles, thistles, Evening Primrose (beware, these spread like wildfire, great if you want them in bulk but otherwise be ruthless with selfseeders), must be keeping down horsetail too but they're still rampant everywhere else.

Current anti horsetail activity is attack wherever we can - digging up when we're planting, making new beds etc and otherwise hoeing and removing cut off bits.