Thursday, July 20, 2006

Away To Switzerland For Seven Months

On Monday I am heading of to Switzerland for seven months as a contractor so this will be last article for a while.

The sweet corn is standing up well and is just beginning to form flower tassles.

We have had several meals of broad beans and runner beans wonderful when eaten fresh. The broad beans and runner beans are still producing and the french beans are just starting to crop. The onions have started to lay over now and as they do so I have been lifting them and taking them home to dry off and store.

So, from Monday it is over to Ann to keep the plot in good order and harvest and eat the vegetables.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Garlic Crop

Originally uploaded by jollygreenp.
The garlic was planted in the middle of last October and has been making steady progress ever since. Some of the tops were starting to fall over so I have lifted the whole crop. Ann and I then trimmed it up and cleaned off the peeling earthy husks to get the nice clean looking specimens you see here. We pickled a couple of jars of the cloves in balsamic vinegar. I'll report back later as to how they turn out. We have also had some of the broad beans, they are so nice when you have them fresh. I picked them in the morning just before I returned for lunch and then shelled and cooked them as soon as I got in.

Friday, June 30, 2006

What is an allotment?

In these days of easy international communication it is sometimes easy to forget that some terms in English that we take for granted are not understood by everybody around the world. This post is the result of one of the readers of my blog who lives in Singapore contacting me and asking me what an allotment is. Below is my reply to his question.

Allotments are plots of land that can be owned by the local town or village council, the church, a farmer, or even by a company. The owner then allows portions or "allotments" of land to be rented by local individuals for the purpose of raising vegetables and fruit. There are fairly strict rules about what can and can not be done on an allotment and they vary from one allotment site to another. In some areas allotment holders are allowed to keep livestock like chickens and pigeons whilst in others it is strictly forbidden.

The allotment that my wife Ann and I rent is administered by the York City Council and we pay them an annual rent. The site was owned by a business man in the area and when he died he left it to the Parish of Heworth, the area where we live, to be used for the enjoyment of those residing in the parish. During and after the second world war the whole site was covered in allotments but there has a been a great decline in interest in the area and much of the site has become overgrown with long grass and thorny brambles. This in turn discourages new allotment holders from taking on plots. Recently though there has been some interest and plots are begining to be taken up again.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Beans Onions 28 Jun 06

Beans Onions 28 Jun 06
Originally uploaded by jollygreenp.
Just after the longest day and you can see the base of the onions beginning to swell and fill out. Apart from watering and planting out some squash plants very little interesting activity at the moment.

The runner beans are starting to flower and you can see the globe artichoke flowers staring on the artichoke plant. Behind the runner beans the cabbages and sprouts are growing on well. The sweet corn is coming on fairly well and the lettuce and cabbages are starting to heart up. We have a few feeds off the radish and rocket.

I make a sort of pesto with the rocket using Wensyldale chees, pine nuts, rocket and olive oil. It makes a nice spread to have on crackers or digestive biscuits.
Runner Beans 28 Jun 06

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A few warm days

Allotment 4 June 2006
Originally uploaded by jollygreenp.

Photo taken a couple of days ago. I am only posting it now as my broadband modem decided to stop working and I had a small problem with the login ID for the new modem configuration. As you can see everything is continuing to flourish with the beans getting taller and the onions fattening up. It's amazing the difference a few warm days will make to the growth.

The patch that was left clear by removing the white sprouting broccoli has now been half filled with leek plants. Holes were dibbed, plants dropped in and then watered by watering can with a rose on to wash loose moist soil into the hole. Then they have been watered every day to get them established and stop them drying out in this warm spell.

Just for comparison here is the bean and onion photo taken 18 May just to show the progress in just a couple of weeks


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The answer to yesterday's question is YES!

Managed to spend several hours down at the allotment. The white sprouting broccoli has gone over and is just starting to flower. So, all the plants have been lifted, chopped up and are now on the compost heap, except for one plant. I left one plant in to flower so that I can collect seed from it. I have dug over the patch and will work in somore manure ready for dibbing in the leeks.

There were a load of small comfrey seedlings sprouting so I have lifted a lot of them and dropped the roots into water and will transplant some of those to the comfrey patch. Once I had cleaned up that patch I transplanted some Cos Lettuce into it. Need to get some more seed set off to keep the rotation going.

The few sweet corns that have sprouted and a squash and a pumpkin plant have been planted into the hot bed. I have also planted a load of sweet corn seeds and squash seeds directly into the hot bed. As Charles on the allotment next to us is away during the week at the moment I gave his tomato and courgette plants a good watering with the hose (no hose pipe ban here!).

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Has it stopped raining yet?

Beans and Onions
Originally uploaded by jollygreenp.

After all that rain last week I managed to get down to the allotment for a few hours yesterday. Well, the weeds were springing up all over so the onion and bean bed got a good going over with the hoe as did the comfrey bed on the new allotment. The potato bed at the top of the allotment had sprouted well so I earthed up and then put on a straw mulch to try and supress the weeds. I'll follow up with the potato bed you can see at the back of this picture when it dries up again. Some Kale plants had sprouted in amongst the potatoes so I dug a few up and transplanted about half a dozen of them. The white sprouting broccoli has now passed its best so that is on the list for pulling up and digging over.

The brassicas and beans seemed to be doing well although the runner bean leaves looked a bit brown, maybe from the cold turn in the weather. The asparagus is still doing well and I mulched two fo the new beds with confrey leaves and stalks. It acts as a good feed when it rots down. The comfrey rotter tube needed topping up and was refilled to the top again, there is about a pint of fluid in the collecting vessel so that will need transferring to a sealed bottle soon.

Beans and Brassicas.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Garden Club Trip

Originally uploaded by jollygreenp.

The only sunny day of the week so did we get down to the allotment? We'll, no actually we went on a trip with the Linton On Ouse Garden Club. It was a short coach trip up to Stockton on Tees to visit the Peter Barrat garden centre. It is a very neat and tidy garden centre where the plants seem to be well cared for. The photo to the right shows how well plants are displayed. You get the feeling that somebody cares about the appearance of the place and they don't just plonk plants down higgledy piggledy, there is some planning going on to get a good display. The photograph is of Aqualegias, those ones with the face that turns up and the colour combination looks good.

After lunch at the garden centre it was a short trip down the road to Butterfly World. Spent quite a bit of time in there a took lots of photographs of leaves where a butterfly had been. Although the Pentax Optio is good in regards to the optics it is very slow to react to you pressing the shutter release. I fancy a Canon EOS 350 D as I really miss the feel of a good SLR camera. Can't really justify spending in the region of £500 on a camera though at the moment. so I'll have to try and make allowance for the slow reaction time on the Pentax.

I did manage to get a few photos of butterflies and here is one of them below.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Alchemilla mollis in the rain

Alchemilla mollis in the rain
Originally uploaded by jollygreenp.
After a fine start to the day it soon deteriorated to heavy rain. In the hope that it would clear up we went out for a pub lunch at The Anchor in Whixley where they do a really good roast carvery for £6.50 a head and then on to the open gardens in Little Ouseburn. The rain kept coming down and we got wetter and wetter. I think the photograph sums it all up!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Well, what a wet day!

Originally uploaded by jollygreenp.
Non stop rain since we got up this morning. I went down this morning and put in four dwarf bean plants and dibbed in some dwarf bean seeds. The broccoli seems to be getting huger and huger so I cut a bucketful and have blanched and frozen it. I also cut quite a lot of asparagus so it is going to be a treat for teatime.

Just as a reminder of sunny days I have included a photo of the magnolia tree in bloom I took a couple of days ago.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday and the forecast is "Rain"

The past few days has seen activity in weeding and hoeing, cutting comfrey and mulching. If the weather permits the plan for tomorrow is to put in some dwarf french beans and sow some cauli seed. I'll also be cutting some more broccoli and some asparagus. Tomorrows broccoli dish will probably be to make a mound of vegetables including broccoli on a baking tray, pop a few pieces of chicken on top then surround with par boiled potatoes before baking in the oven for half hour at 190 degrees. The fat and juices from the roasting chicken imparts a wonderful flavour to the vegetables.

As it was wet this afternoon I spent some time updating my website and have added some photographs of orchids that I took at Keukenhof in late April. You can find them at you can find them about halfway down the page.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

So what has been happening the last few days?

On Saturday Ann and I headed off in the car to Portsmouth and caught a P&O ferry "The Pride of Bilbao" for a trip down to Spain. The Bay offs Biscay was calmish going down and very calm coming back. The conditions were perfect for spotting whales and dolphins. One juvenile fin whale breached vertically out of the water several times in front of the boat and several times as If passed along the side of the boat. It became very addictive watching for whales blowing and rolling in the water and watching for the splash of dolphins as they raced in to ride the bow wave. The ferry has a wildlife officer who made regular announcements as new sightings were made.

When we got to Spain there was only time for a very short bus ride tour of Bilbao and about an hour to get some refreshments and do a very quick walking tour. Bilbao is a very pleasant city with numerous parks with flowers in bloom. The Railway station for the Santander and Bilbao railway is very ornate as seen in the photograph. Many of the buildings are interesting and also ornate outside as well as inside. The creamy yellow building is the Cafe Boulevard and is amazingly ornate inside with coloured glass windows and mirrors, fancy gold leafed ceiling mouldings. The cup of cocoa and egg custard was good as well. Another interesting looking eating place was on the Nuevo square. Very ornate exterior and tiled inside. The waiter is always on duty although his posture is a bit wooden. As we wandered around we came across the pilgrim trail de Santiago at the base of the climb up to Begonia. No time to climb up there but we did follow the trail round to the church visited by the pilgrims. The visit was over all too quickly and we were back on to the coach heading back to the ferry for more dolphin and whale watching.

So what had been happening at the allotment whilst we were away. With the rain weeds were springing up so it was back to the fork for the thistles and get in there with the hoe to deal with the rows of onions. I planted some of the Dwarf runner bean plants between the cabbages to act as nitrogen feeders for the cabbages and hoed around the cabbages before putting the wire mesh back round them to keep the birds off. As I was hoeing a Robin kept coming in very close and grabbing any insects as they were disturbed by the hoe. As the compost heap had settled a bit I did three barrow loads of muck to top up the heap. We'll probably turn it over in a couple of weeks time just to keep the rotting process going. The Broad beans have put on a couple of inches of growth as have all the potatoes whilst we have been away. I think they are probably about at that maximum point where you can't get any more earth on them. I'll probably put a picture up tomorrow.

There is rather a lot of the white sprouting broccoli waiting to be picked and I went home with a bucketful and that was just from two heads. So teatime was a very quick vegetable curry using a tin of curry dahl chick peas, a tin of veg curry with some fresh broccoli cut up into it with some chopped ginger to take away the brassica notes. After heating it was piled onto a naan bread.
The next dish will be a spicy black eye bean and broccoli soup and then the rest will be blanched, bagged up and frozen for later use.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Mulching Runner Beans

Woke up this morning with usual hay fever itchy eyes and sneezing. I took an anti histamine but couldn't be bothered going back to bed as it was light. Had a cup of tea and went out into the back yard to water all the plants in tubs. As the anti histamine had kicked in I decided to go down to the allotment and do a few jobs there.

When I got there it was really quiet and peaceful, just the odd bird singing and flapping about. I started cutting Comfrey and soon had enough to mulch the runner beans and put some between the rows of cabbage. I checked the collector on the comfrey rotter and it was a third full and also a similar amount had collected from the stuff Ann had set up in a tall flower tub sat in a washing up bowl. When this was added to the bottle it was about 2/3 full. So I changed the collecting bottle and brought the bottle with fluid home to use on the plants at home. The tomatoes in the back yard will be needing feed soon because there is a flower on one of the plants already.

As it was still dry I decided to water the plants and did a full round of the broad beans, onions, cabbage, runner beans, parsnips, carrots, fennel and beetroot with the watering can. This afternoon saw a massive downpour, lightning and hailstones!

There were some large infestations of goose grass so that pulled up and placed into the rotting bath. Time for breakfast so I went home had breakfast only to find that we can't stay with my son tonight on our way down to Portsmouth for the P&O ferry to Bilbao as he has no running water. So we'll drive down tomorrow instead without calling to see him. We'll maybe call in to see him on the way back home.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Earth up the tatties

Hay fever was bad, sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes all night despite the anti histamine tablet. So, I didn't get up till midday and after lunch pootled around in the back yard pinching out the fuchsias and making a support frame for the tomato plants planted in the growbag yesterday. Noticed a flower on one of the plants already. Once I finished that it was time to head down to the allotment for an hour and earth up the potatoes in the boxes. The hardest part of that is finding soil to do the earthing up. I think I might invest in some of that compressed coir compost and use the expanded stuff to do the rest of the job as the tops of the plants shouldn't need feed and the bottoms are sat in a mix of manure and soil. That should make it a bit easier.

The next job was a bit smelly. We have some comfrey and weeds rotting down in a tub of water. I used some of this vile smelling concoction mixed with water to do a foliar feed on the runner beans and cabbages. I'll be glad when there is enough concentrate from the comfrey rotter to work with. It has the advantage of being a lot less smelly.

We are off to Bilbao for a short visit. P&O again but from Portsmouth this time and it takes a bit longer to get there! So, I expect a few jobs at the allotment will have arisen by the time we get back.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Beautiful Day in May

Over the last couple of weeks it has been hectic. Ann has persuaded the allotments officer and the allotments secratary to allow her to set up a community comfrey patch on one of the disused plots next to the block of flats that has been built. It has loads of rubble left from the building work and having been left it also has a fair bit of bramble. We have started to clear a patch and have put in about 40 plants so far. The plan is that as we clear areas other members can move their Comfrey to free up ground for other crops.

In the meantime the potatoes have shown their heads above the surface and have needed to be earthed up a couple of times you might just be able to make them out in the rows at the back. The onion bed is doing well and has been gone over with a hoe to deal with small weeds that have been popping up. The potatoes in the boxes have been doing really well and need earthing up again after only two days. The first earlies are now nearly three boards high and the second earlies are actually at three boards high. We are rapidly running out of soil to fill the boxes with! We'll also need to get some more boards. I'll top up with more soil tomorrow.

There are some short rows of cabbage and runner beans behind the potato boxes with asparagus behind them with one solitary globe artichoke plant in amongst the asparagus. In the foreground are some rows of Florence Fennel, and Celeriac and Beetroot.

The white sprouting brocolli has done so well that some of the heads actually look like cauliflowers.

The crop of Garlic is absolutely amazing it looks like a bed of leeks but no it really is a bed of garlic. Just to the right of it you can see the comfrey bed on our allotment. Once we have more space cleared some of it will move to the communal comfrey bed. I have set up a pipe to stuff comfrey into so the concentrated fluid can be collected during rotting down. It is amazing it just seems to swallow handfuls of comfrey every day. The fluid that comes out looks a bit like "Tomato feed" and it works well as such. The fluid is high in Potash and Nitrogen and makes a wonderful foliar feed when mixed at the rate 1 capful to a gallon of water. Comfrey is so deep rooted that it pulls nutrient up from fairly deep levels.

The comfrey rotter is built like the diagram with a bottle of water to act as a a weight to push the comfrey down the tube.

A section of plastic drain pipe.

Plastic milk bottle to act as a catching funnel

Plastic collecting bottle to collect fluid.

Next to the onions is a bed of peas under a cloche and the bed continues on with more peas planted yesterday without the benefit of cloche to speed it up. This should give us a second cropping of peas.

Spring has sprung

After a funny winter, sometimes cold sometimes warm and then a cold snap after a warm spell we have got the onion sets in and rotavated some of the straw mulch in and it is only 25 April. My wife invested in a Mantis Tiller quite small, fairly light and revs at a high speed. It certainly gets the job done. I used with the border trimmer to tidy up the edges of the path and then fitted the rotovating blades. It is a very simple job to change blades, just pull out the retaining pins, slide off the blades you are using and put on the new blades by rotating to match up the flat parts, slide the blades on and put the pins in.

The plum tree is in full blossom and looking very pretty. The Berberis Darwinii is also looking amazing with the orange blossoms. Some of the paving needs a bit of sorting out and a few weeds that are showing need dealing with. The pots have collected a bit of weed as well and some need topping up with compost. That means lifting them out of the pots after a good watering, throw in some new compost to raise the level of the plant and then get as much compost as possible in down the sides of the rootball.

The first early and second early potatoes have been planted fairly close in the linkaboard boxes that have been given a dose of horse manure and compost before putting the potatoes in. They have then been covered with a mix of compost

and soil and will be topped up with soil as green shoots emerge and need earthing up.

The asparagus bed has been mulched with a covering of some of the straw cover on other parts of the bed. The new asparagus plants have also been planted. So in that case it is time to gate on with moving some of the paving.

Seeing as the plot is fairly well advanced we booked a few days off to visit the Keukenhof in Holland. Travelling over from Hull by P&O ferries on one of their mincruises. The fare includes transfer by bus from the port of Rotterdam to Keukenhof and back to the ship. With the new faster ferries you leave Hull later, get in earlier and return later making a lot more time available for visits like Keukenhof.

How it was in October 2005

The compost heap was fairly small in October 2005. It was been dispersed around the allotment and a new pile started. As I had been away in Switzerland for some time and my wife was suffering from a strain injury things had become a little overgrown. That is now largely back under control. Both the strain injury and the weeds!

As we dug over each area we covered it with a straw mulch to suppress weeds. You can see an area that has been mulched in the picture behind the linkaboard square and next to the Kale.

The overgrown plot next door belongs to an elderly gentleman who is having difficulty and has now been mown and trimmed by his son in law. He made a visit just after I took this photograph.

Preparations also started for next years curcubrit bed. A containment area was built and as manure became available we started to fill it. the first layers were of horse stable manure a mix of droppings on wood shavings that were fairly mature. In April we got cattle manure and topped up almost to the top with it and then finished off with some less mature horse and wood shaving manure. The whole thing was then covered with a tarpaulin to stop leaching from the rain falling on the heap and let the manure mature a bit longer. The Butternut squash, courgette and pumpkin seeds have now been planted at home and will go in in a couple of weeks time. The brassicas next to the enclosure are White Sprouting Broccoli plants. Over the last week we have had several feeds from these plants which are now probably one and half times higher than you see them in this photo. In front of the enclosure you can see a couple of plastic cloches. These were used to start off some leek plants.

If ever there was a good value packet of seeds it must surely be a packet of leek seeds. You get a large number of seeds for a reasonable price and then provided your ground is fertile you get a massive crop of leeks that sees you right through the winter.