Giving peas a chance…

For someone that doesn’t normally eat a lot of peas I seem to suddenly have a lot in my seed stash for planting in 2019. I do have childhood memories of eating peas straight out of the pods on my Mum’s allotments and enjoying them this way much more than eating them cooked and served with my Sunday lunch a couple of hours later. In later life shelling them seemed to be a bit of a faff and why bother when you could either have mange tout or sugar snaps – or frozen peas. And I do like a tub of mushy peas with my fish ‘n’ chips 😉

I didn’t have much success this year – possibly due to the hot weather – with the varieties I grew: Charmette (dwarf petit pois), Rosakrone (tall)  and Golden Sweet (Mange tout), all from Real Seeds. The latter was particularly attractive though and did crop for a long time even though I indulged my inner child and very few pods made it home 😉 I still have seeds of all these varieties left over and will give them all another try.

 

To these I have added Roi des Conserves from D T Brown. This is a tall variety and as the name suggests is for canning or for saving as dried peas. I was also taken by a couple of varieties on offer through the Heritage Seed Library: Kent Blue, which can be eaten as a mange-tout or allowed to mature; and Parsley pea, which produces a mass of tendrils and so I will be growing primarily for pea-shoots. And then to add to my collection the ‘freebie’ surprise packet of seeds from the HSL was yet another pea! Doug Bray of Grimsby is another tall variety producing regular peas.

So a variety of types which should give me a continuous harvest for several months – and will also provide some beautiful flowers to rival some of my neighbours sweet peas with the bonus of an edible crop too 🙂

STOP PRESS:

Selection of pea products from Hodmedod
Selection of pea products from Hodmedod

My first order from Hodmedod came this week and I must have had peas on the brain because amongst the items I ordered are a selection of pea related lovelies: Tinned and dried Carlin peas, Kabuki marrowfat peas, roasted peas (horseradish flavoured!) and yellow pea flour. I shall probably have a go at sprouting (& possibly growing on ) the marrowfat and Carlin peas just to see what happens. Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

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A new Kale

I made a rare visit to my local garden centre last week as I had a couple of vouchers to use and was passing by anyway.  Not a lot I particularly needed but didn’t want to miss out on £7 worth of vouchers which were due to expire the following day. Scoured the Manager’s reduction shelves & was almost tempted by some winter pansies but opted instead for a marjoram plant for £1 and then some reduced sedums (I do occasionally buy some inedible plants!) as I already have a few and wanted a few more for a planned display next year.

I tried to avoid the seeds but my eye was caught by a sign which said “plant now” and this piqued my curiosity. The display included a few microgreens and winter lettuces, none of which took my fancy but there was also a red kale with the unprepossessing name of KX-1. Sold by Thompson & Morgan it promised ‘attractive kale for baby leaf and full maturity’ and priced at £2.49 (£2.99 on their website). Interestingly the packet gives different growing instructions than the website – the packet suggests sowing under glass or indoors from October through to March for use as baby leaves. A bit of scouting around online I discovered that this is, as I suspected from the lack of a more descriptive name, a newly developed variety, originating in the US and developed by Vilmorin North America and now being grown in the UK to meet the demand for kale for bagged salads for supermarkets. And also with added nutritional benefits as it has much higher iron content even than spinach – and apparently in a more easily digestible form. So an enhanced superfood!

So definitely unlike the heirloom varieties I’m normally attracted to. But I will be planting them and growing on my kitchen windowsill this weekend – and should be starting to pick them in 35 days as baby leaves. And if they look as attractive as on the packet they’ll help to brighten up a dreary January day. Watch this space….

An unproductive November

A combination of poor weather, a cold, a trip to London (on the best weekend of the month!) and a bad back have all contributed to a less than productive month on my plot.  I have barely been there to do anything but have made a couple of quick raids to see if there was anything worth harvesting.  And have been rewarded by still harvesting assorted lettuce leaves, oriental greens, kale, a couple of small cabbages, a romanesco cauliflower and finally last week the oca. I was disappointed by both the size of the oca harvest and the individual tubers. Not sure if it was the dry summer or maybe the hastily built raised bed and poor compost they were planted in.  Will try again next year as I do think they are a tasty crop – my daughter got hold of these and turned them into a surprisingly good vegan curry. 

With help from fellow allotmenteers plus my daughter and her boyfriend I finally managed to move the shed I had purchased in the allotment auction way back in June on to my plot.  But I still have some issues to resolve before I feel confident about erecting it. There’s a vacant half-plot next to mine covered in brambles and I was asked to leave space at the top of my plot to allow access for the council to get across with machinery to remove them and rotavate the plot (personally I think this is a recipe for disaster!) and the route across would be just where I want to site the shed.  I’ve also learnt that a new drain is to be put in across the top of my plot. And none of this work is scheduled to take place until February at the earliest so somewhat thwarted at the moment.

Late Autumn happenings on the plot

Hard to believe we’re into November already! Where does the time go?  But even though the days are shortening and the temperatures dropping I’ve been finding lots of opportunities to visit my allotment plot and have been reaping the rewards of earlier plantings whilst getting lots of prep done for next year.

I’m still harvesting lettuce – Morton’s Secret Mix from Real Seeds IMG_20181020_174614– taking a few leaves at a time from each plant.  Throughout the summer I’d had no success at all despite several sowings but by September my last sowing had germinated and despite a slow start finally produced a decent crop and the plants are still going strong. This mix includes Reds, greens, brights, darks, splashes, blushes, crisps, butters, leafs, heads, and tongues. The mix is really attractive in a salad and all of them are tasty.I’m harvesting a bag full of leaves about once a week. Surprisingly they last really well in the fridge – much better than a commercial bag of salad despite them probably being in a protective atmosphere (at least until the bag is opened!).

I’ve been able to supplement this late summer crop with oriental greens – particularly img_20181028_174508_829mizuna and with some mustard greens too.  I was intending to make some successional sowings but haven’t gotten around to it (yet!) But if the mizuna keeps producing as well as it is at the moment maybe it’ll keep me going all winter….

I’d originally planted it in a bed in the polytunnel but once that had blown away I just put a fleece over it.  I can’t quite believe that a thin fleece can do much to stop freezing temps – I’d need one more than a few microns thick! – but it will keep off pests including the local pigeons. And the plants are supposed to be frost hardy anyway.

The beans and tomatoes are almost a distant memoryimg_20181028_174631_940 now although I do still have some from my garden ripening on the kitchen windowsill. I’m not a huge fan of chutneys (have to confess I prefer Branston pickle) so will wait for them to ripen gradually. I do fry some of them green and have with a breakfast fry-up.

Although not a huge radish lover I’m hoping to be converted by different varieties, especially not I’ve discovered that cooked in a stir fry they img_20181103_180338_974actually taste quite pleasant.  So I’ve tried some Spanish black radish

I’ve not had a huge success with my brassicas although some are now coming on.  Despite being netted they have suffered some insect damage and now seem to have a whitefly infestation – do they not get killed by the cold?

I’ve had a couple of small broccoli spears and one slightly manky cauliflower. But the Cavolo Nero is looking good and I’ve started harvesting it by taking a few leaves each week.  There are a few cabbages which are starting to heart up and I even discovered some tiny sprouts starting to form – maybe they’ll be ready for Christmas? 😉

It was Halloween this week and I had managed to grow one pumpkin!  I’d picked it a couple of weeks ago whilst still green and had hoped it would ripen and go orange by 31st but it was still mainly green. I did do a very last carving to put outside for trick and treaters.

But my daughter’s creative skills put my feeble efforts to shame – and will provide a much longer lasting autumnal decoration.

Autunmnal decorated patty pan squash
Autumnal decorated patty pan squash

I’ve planted garlic and elephant garlic together with onions to see how they overwinter. And also field beans as a green manure on a couple of beds. Not too worried about the cold but am concerned about how wet it might be given that my plot was very sodden when I first took it on. I’m hoping that using raised beds will keep them out of the worst of the floods.

But I am disappointed about my leeks img_20181103_134003which have been infected by the dreaded allium leaf miner. The green leaves showed no signs so I was unaware of it until I harvested a couple of stems last week.  So I’ve now harvested them all and disposed of any infected material. And so instead of a crop that I hope would keep me going over winter, I’ve been left with a few usable remnants that might just be enough to make me cup-of-soup!  And of course, I am also a tad worried in case the bugs get onto my young garlic or onions. I’d planted elephant garlic in a gap in the leek bed but following the discovery of the ‘miners’ thought I should move them before they got too established.  But furtling around in the soil to find them as they don’t have any green growth yet I was surprised to discover how much root growth they had put on. I didn’t feel I wanted to disturb them as they were doing well so decided to take a chance on leaving them in situ and will cover them with mesh to prevent any later infestations.

So all in all a bit of a mixed bag on the production side but I am pleased with the progress I’ve made on prep for next year already.  I’ve set up several more raised beds using the lasagna bed methodology. Layers have included cardboard, horse manure, semi-rotted compost, green and kitchen waste and leaves.  I’ll top up with a layer of compost when I’m ready to plant them.  I’ve sown a couple with a green manure mix and another with field beans which I’ll possibly chop as a green manure but may be tempted to leave to produce a crop.

And I’ve planted a few perennials – currant and gooseberry bushes, Daubenton’s Kale and asparagus and moved the strawberry bed.  So a productive month in many respects.

Will be concentrating now on prep for my first full gardening season in 2019; getting my shed built and hopefully salvage the polytunnel.  And sorting out my already large seed collection and filling the gaps from the ever-growing stash of catalogues piling up by my desk.

 

 

The Polytunnel Saga – a salutary lesson

When I first took on my plot the only structures I’d envisaged were a shed, raised beds, a compost bin and a wigwam for my beans.  But surveying the neighbouring plots I soon discovered that almost everyone had numerous other structures – hoop tunnels in all shapes and sizes, greenhouses and polytunnels.  And very soon my shopping list started getting longer. Which was a bit of a problem as my earnings – and hence my budget – seemed to be shrinking rapidly.

But as luck would have it our allotment association was organising an auction of unwanted items from plots that had, or were being, vacated as part of the downsizing programme.  And I had my eye on one of several sheds – and then my heart skipped a little beat when I discovered that there was also a polytunnel up for grabs!  I was actually out of the country during the auction but my neighbour had offered to bid for me on anything on my wishlist.  And when I got back I discovered she’d managed to get everything on my list (shed, polytunnel, water butts and canes – and I had money back too!

 

I then had many sleepless nights trying to work out how to move the shed and polytunnel several hundred metres across the site to my plot.  The shed has actually yet to be moved although I have had help to dismantle it and if we can get the allotment trailer mobile this task should be accomplished next weekend.  But a few weeks ago I was able to get the critical mass of people together to shift the tunnel without having to dismantle it.

So a mix of family and new allotment friends all grabbed a bit of tunnel and with my brother-in-law directing us we set off around the site  like some giant green caterpillar. You can see what I mean by watching the video – and, as I find it far too upsetting to write about (boo hoo!)  do watch to the end to see what happened in high winds, just a few weeks after the triumphant installation of my new pride and joy 😉  The joy was definitely short-lived although I am still hoping to be able to salvage something from the wreckage.

And the lesson to be learned?  Take note of your neighbouring plotholders who warn you how strong the winds can blow across the exposed site – and always dig in your polytunnel covers before there’s a storm warning!

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Malvern Autumn Show 2018

I’ve been happily snapping away this year on my allotment and elsewhere and thought I’d have a go at putting some of the images together into a video format – if only because I want to teach myself a bit more about how to create videos for future projects.

So here, for anyone interested is my first small effort showing images from a recent trip to the Malvern Autumn Show.  If you’ve never been I can strongly recommend it.  I went with my sister and her only complaint – there was too much to see! So we’re definitely going back in the Spring to see what is on offer there.

Video from the Malvern Autumn Show 2018

 

And because I omitted to include it in the video here is a pic of my favourite exhibit at the Show – a Giant tortoise! So much nicer than the freak show of the giant vegetables;-)

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Planning a perennial garden

I’m inherently quite lazy so much as I am enjoying gardening I want to be able to work towards making my allotment plot as self-   as possible. And I, hopefully not too naively, think that my approach can fit with ways of growing that make best use of natural resources, are organic and work with, rather than against nature.  So yes I believe that no-dig gardening methods as espoused by Charles Dowding will be just as productive, if not more so, than traditional methods of digging and double-digging. And at the same time I don’t have to exert myself too much other than mulching and compost-making. It will also be kinder to my back.

By the same token, it seems to make sense to grow a wide range of perennials, or self-seeding annuals, and reduce the amount of time (& space) on sowing, pricking out, growing on and planting out. There are rules on my allotment about the number of trees etc that can be planted so whilst I don’t think I’d get away with turning my whole plot over to forest gardening I am planning on using some permaculture ideas on at least a small corner of my plot – once I’ve tackled the brambles which are currently encroaching from the vacant pot next door.  More of a shrubbery or hedgerow garden than a fullscale forest garden but we all have to start somewhere!  So I’m currently keeping my eye out for bargain perennials and working on my design which I hope to be able to implement over the next year or so – as finances and time allow.

Traditionally a food forest has seven layers starting at the top with the canopy layer of large fruit and nut trees down through a low tree level, shrub level, herbaceous layer, ground cover, rhizosome/root layer and vertical climbers or vines.  I think I’ll have to dispense with large trees but am planning on trying for 6 layers.  So something along these lines at the moment forming both an edible hedgerow along two sides plus filling in an area close to my shed and surrounding a planned wildlife pond (which may also contain some edibles).

  • Low tree layer – dwarf or cordon apple & plum trees, szechuan pepper
  • Shrub layer – Black and red currants, gooseberries, chokeberries (aronia), sea buckthorn (nitrogen fixing)
  • Herbaceous layer – liquorice, perennial kale, rhubarb, Egyptian walking onions, comfrey, borage, sorrels, herbs eg feverfew, lemon balm, asparagus?
  • Ground cover – strawberries, ramsons
  • Root layer – Skirrett? Groundnuts? Jerusalem artichoke?
  • Vines – hops

So how far have I got?  A rough plan I’m playing with on my garden planner, a couple of plants in pots, a few plants on my plot which may need to be relocated, some sown seeds and others waiting for sowing/planting in spring – and a growing wishlist!