Sunday 13 December 2009

Ice Festival

In the foreground - digging progress, in the background the brassicas - or the Far Pavillions! The Cavalo Nero is still standing sentinel. We've had two days of feezing fog in Edinburgh and the temperature has struggled to get above zero today. All the green netting has turned into Christmas decoration!

Here's a closer look at the ice baubles.

Friday 11 December 2009

The Seeds of Change

The seed order's arrived and next year the plot should look like this: (but with potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb and hopefully blueberries too!)

And while I'm about it I came across my old planting timetable planner. Note that it uses months of exactly 4 weeks (columns 1 to 4)and the distances (the rest)are all in inches. I've found it invaluable as a prompt as to what (exactly) needs to be done and when. It is based on information extracted from Dr Hessayen's "Vegetable Expert". Of course preparation has to precede the sowing and planting, ideally by a matter of weeks. No one prepares a bed and sows it on the same day do they...)

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Compost - The Worm Turns

I've been prompted to this post by the Drooling Vegetable ,who doesn't believe that composting is possible without devoting half of your garden to it. All you need is a couple of 'daleks' and some squirmy friends:

Here's a 'dalek': (available from local authorities and 'green' agencies free or at subsidised prices)

And if you open the 'control panel', you'll find this

Close up:

These are 'brandling worms' and they'll save you the trouble of turning your compost heap because they mix it up for you, accelerating the breakdown of kitchen and garden waste so that in a matter of weeks the volume of your compost heap is dramatically reduced. In summer this is more dramatic than in winter. This colony has been to-ing and fro-ing between my two daleks for over ten years, surviving temperatures from -10 to +28 degrees C.

Brandling worms can be bought by mail order, but we got ours free from the zoo. (We bought some zoo manure, 'zoo doo', about a decade ago, and by the time I got around to digging it in these had colonised the heap.) I read that they are sold as bait for anglers, so that might be another cheap and local source.

Friday 20 November 2009

Blue Friday

Blue skies miraculously appeared over Edinburgh at 9am on the day I took off work to play catchup at the allotment - after a week of cloud and rain. Don't believe me? Well here's my proof:

Blue is today's theme as I have a lurid plastic blue sandpit to bury and fill with ericaceous compost to grow blueberries in next year. Why? Well you know what it's like when you come across some interesting information that sets you thinking. And then you hear about it from another source. And then another. Well just as I was "reaching for the seed catalogue" or (rather googling for it) I came across an offer for three blueberry bushes at a knock down price. I've been thinking about expanding my soft fruit production by adding raspberries alongside the strawberries and rhubarb. It just so happened that I also heard a Gardeners Question Time question about growing blueberries a couple of weeks ago. Bob Flowerdew knowingly advised that the best way to grow them was in threes (for cross pollination?)in a sunken bathtub (slow drainage) filled with ericaceou compost (they hate lime). Now I don't have a spare bathtub, but I do have a moulded plastic sandpit/paddling pool that has been clogging up the works in the skeleton of a greenhouse on my plot. It even has a plughole just like a bath. Perhaps a little precipitously, as I hadn't ordered next year's leeks, cabbages, lettuces etc, I placed my order for blueberries, along with a dozen raspberry canes and some shallots, over the net. Delivery is promised for next March. I have to admit that subsequently I have the vague feeling that I have become a fashion victim. However Mrs M buys them at extortionate prices from the supermarket and being the wonderfood of the decade they all get eaten, so I guess it's worth a try.

So here goes. Rather than digging in muck today I'm taking the net off the strawberry patch...

...digging down to the subsoil...

...and meeting the watertable on the way. It has rained alot even in the east of the country, but this seems to be clay underneath the loam. Perhaps I'm wasting my time burying the plastic liner as I already have the ideal conditions (clay under loam and my soil has a low pH)for growing blueberries. No don't even think of it. Ploughing on:

Bury that liner

and fill with ericaceous compost (3 bags for £12) I probably need one or two more bags to make it up to ground level without resorting to my common or garden topsoil.

I've kept any subsoil removed apart for relaying the path as Dr Hessayon (Dr Veg) advises that it's the last thing you want at surface level. The topsoil is going to fill the holes left where the old rhubarb root masses are being removed.

Now maybe tomorrow I'll turn my attention to the rest of the neglected plot!

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Beans means... finding space to dry them

The problem with the drying beans Canadian Wonder (aside from the poor rate of germination) has bean that they didn't dry before the winter weather arrived. I've accepted the inevitable and brought them home to dry. Now where can they go?

Remember the CD racks I set up in the shed to chit potatoes...?

...and those string vest bags that the shops have rediscovered...

Forget Christmas Pudding weekend, next weekend should be "podding weekend"!

Tuesday 10 November 2009

What the pH

I’ve just measured the pH of the soil across my allotment and I am a bit mipHed. The one area I limed at the beginning of the year showed little or no dipHerence compared to the rest of the plot! Either I’m wasting my time or the hungry brassicas have gobbled up all the lime I put down. The other pHinding is that it’s all too acidic - at a dismal pHive point pHive on average. (OK I’ll stop that now) Well at least I know how to provide the biggest boost to the veg next year. I’m going to dose it up big style with lime this winter (except for where the potatoes are going). Here’s a link to a site I’ve pHound (I lied) with some of the best grapHics demonstrating the effect of raising the pH into the zone where the soil nutrients become available.

Has anyone ever used the pH tester kit involving a test tube? It seems terribly fiddly to me, and requires some subjective judgement, although it is always the standard recommendation in books! I’ll stick to my probe and meter. It allows you to take as many readings as you want quickly and at no extra cost. It certainly reacts differently to different soil, but sometimes I do wonder if it is correctly calibrated, as I’ve had it for years.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Remember remember...

It's worth looking back.

Being a weekend gardener the winter is important if you are to keep ahead of the weeds in the summer!

I see I started my blog in January doing the work I should have done in November! So this year I'm going to start in November: digging in manure, liming and fencing off the brassica patch ready to be topped out with plastic netting.

Planning and ordering seeds. Now these are the fun part of allotmenteering! I'm going to treat myself to a few experimental purchases. Ooh it feels like Christmas has arrived early! I couldn't resist picking up a (tiny) bag of 'roseval' potatoes at Waitrose yesterday. I counted them first 15 tubers for £1.49 makes them cheaper than the potato day supplies. But I have to store them over winter safe from frost. Last year's Shetland Black and Edzell Blues from the same source did well so I reckon it's worth it and increases the variety of spuds I'm growing.

My recent activities have been to cadge some paving slabs and some bricks locally. So I'll be reinstating the path that runs the length of the plot.

Some people seem to thrive on building work and spend a lot of time on their projects at the allotment. I resent spending precious time on non growing tasks, but this task is long overdue as the few slabs I laid years ago have slithered sideways and all but disappeared under the weeds.

Monday 19 October 2009

Getting back to my roots

Been waiting for the first frost to dig up the first parsnips. Saturday morning the car was iced up. Yipee! They tasted so sweet.

Monday 12 October 2009


I've been plodding along digging up a row of potatoes each vist (I can't carry more). Just one row to go. Here's some Sarpo Miro that have scrubbed up nicely.

They're just what I want at this stage: not so many but a good size and precious little disease or slug attack. Eating qualities yet to be tested properly. Their shape is a bit odd. Not only are they long, they're also flat!

Now for yield the Rooster wins the prize and they make wonderful flavoursome mash and roast well. I've been checking out the store in the garden shed for damaged tubors (of which there were few), and picked out some for baking:

Provided they are stored properly we should be eating our own well into the New Year!

Sunday 11 October 2009


The horseradish that I tolerated has been making an escape bid across the mutual path, so I had a war of attrition against it. The horseradish won - there's some stubbornly holding out. I'll be going back to finish it off.

Having dug out a couple of pounds worth I decided to preserve a good supply in vinegar. First of all it had to be peeled and then macerated in a food processor. Then salted, bottled and covered in vinegar. My error was to take too lightly the advice not to sniff the blitzed root. It nearly knocked me out, and I had to take the dog out for a walk to give myself some fresh air. Do not try this at home... After a break the process was completed. I've also kept some in the fridge without vinegar and some in the freezer just to see how they compare. I'll let you know how the test works out. Here's the one in vinegar:

Sunday 27 September 2009

It's bean too long...

Here are some Wisley Magic I grew just because I had some seed left over from last year. They don't taste as good as White Lady which has been this year's staple, but they are impressive! The White Lady are still flowering (see below), and producing beans for the table with the suplus going in the freezer.

Monday 21 September 2009


Never had such good fennel!

This second row has surpassed the first by not bolting. I guess it is down to the time of sowing, having sufficient nutrients in the ground, and the wet summer! Ordinarily we would just have it in salads but we have extended to braised fennel this year (and it was really good).

I'm fair chuffed.

Monday 14 September 2009

My Way...

Well the gardening calender is drawing to a close. The runner beans are cropping by the shedload, the spuds are half lifted, the two remaining courgette plants (a third withered) contine to produce a steady stream of fruit. The earlier leeks are coming on stream and there will be cabbages, brussels, kale and more leeks to keep the table supplied over the winter. The fennel has been the 'most improved' with a second row looking fat and bulbous without bolting! There will also be beans for drying. So while there is a bit of cropping to be done before the cold winds of late September and the cold nights of October stop production completely the hustle and bustle, the heat and strain of summer are abating. 2009 has been a good year for nature watering the veg (and that's the third year in a row like that) so you won't find me complaining about the 'apalling British summer. I hsve some snaps still to post but I am now putting the blog into hibernation for the winter.

It's been a really good influence on me because I have been forced to think about what I'm going to do in advance. I've also had to listen to my own advice and test out the platitudes that I have picked up over the years and recycled. I'll admit to selectivity with my photos, but the shame of hiding the weeds from view has had a really good motivational effect and as a result I am sure I got more return than in any previous year. So thanks!

My recordkeeping has rather tailed off and I regret this, although photographs are easy and accurate they are not a substitute for a good gardening diary. Perhaps next year I will at least do some of the following:

Record the number of hours spent strictly.
Record the cash outlay.
Change the variety of crops to include items we use more of - eg parsley
Adopt more strict strategies for limiting disease - eg onions at greater distances, carrots with enviromesh to keep out rootfly.
I might even put something into the allotment show next year! No I think I will continue to grow for the table.

If you've got any suggestions, feel free to comment.

In the meantime all the best for the closed season.


Monday 31 August 2009

Brassica Bonanza

Things have gone well under the net. My cunning plan of close planting to suppress the weeds worked pretty well, although I had some difficulty picking my way through the enclosure to harvest plants without causing any damage.

Visually the 'cavolo nero' has been the most dramatic:

But a word of warning - we expected our first picking to be very tender, but it was as tough as old boots! So allow plenty of cooking time for this Italian kale, or stick to the Scottish variety:

Here's 'Tundra' cabbage which we have high hopes for, come winter:

Proof of the potato?

Shetland Black



The flavour was excellent!

And here's Kerrs Pinks:

And if you want to know how we are coping with all these potaotoes and courgettes:

Sunday 23 August 2009


Another potato - a redskin this time!

Saturday 15 August 2009

Black and Blue

Well, actually more purple than blue. As the rain stopped today I decided to dig up some of the more interesting potatoes. They are Edzell Blue, Arran Victory and Shetland Black. They don't look so very exciting in the field:

But with a bit of a wash and a scrub up:

The Edzells and the Arran Victory are quite similar but I have yet to test their eating qualities. The Shetland Black were small and hard to find in the soil. The yield was disappointing, halfe a row giving up the same as two plants of the other varieties. Some had been attacked by eelworms. Again, I reserve judgement until I've eaten them. They have characteristic blue markings in the flesh (see below) but this is reported to have no effect on their taste.

Of course these vivid colours do not survive the cooking process, but I'm pretty excited about them all the same!

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Harvesting Parsnip Seed

A bit of experiment this week.

In a corner of my plot I left a couple of parsnips to go to seed and forgot about them. It doesn't look tidy (see below). Now I notice that the seeds are dropping off so I reckon it's time to chop off the seedheads and collect them in a bag where the seeds can be rubbed off the stems without losing them.

collect the results in an envelope and pop them away somewhere safe and dry.

I wonder if they will be viable next March!

Sunday 9 August 2009

It's been a fennel of a summer

I've hardly stopped to take breath since returning from our Pembrokeshire holiday. The weeds are relentless. One success this year has been the two rows of fennel, planted about a month apart. We've had good eating off one already, and the remaining plants are now at the optimum distance from each other at last (I just can't steel myself to do enough thinning out when I should - when they are still seedlings that is). In the past fennel has had a tendency to bolt. Aside from the thinning, the weather conditions this year have been wet enough to arrest this - so far.

The second row is well hidden between the leeks and the French beans.

Jocelyn Dimbleby has an excellent recipe for Fennel and Potato bake. Aside from being delicious it uses lots of two ingredients that are in abundance just now. I'll see if I can find a link.

It's like this one but I recommend Gruyere or Emmental rather than Cheddar. And if you use your home grown potatoes you won't need to bake it for nearly that long.

Monday 27 July 2009

Look Away Now..

It's a time of plenty. The spuds are ready the mange-tout (see below), runner beans, courgettes, beetrot and chard are coming on stream. The family is fed up of lettuce while huge rosettes adorn the plot, surplus to requirement and a bit over the hill.

So why be glum? Well here the rogues gallery:

We returned from holiday to find the broad beans looking like they'd been through a forest fire. A consultation of the books suggested root rot. (Do not grow the same crop in this area for 8 years)

Next to them the onions were also ailing with white rot (9 years sentence)

... and the last straw is that 6 potato plants have developed tell tale brown spots on their leaves in the course of the last week. This is blight and I have chopped the haulms down and removed them in an attempt to stop this spreading to neighbouring plants. The six plants were all Kerr's Pinks which I bought at the potato day. I'm not too chuffed with the supplier!

I know it has been exceptionally wet but my greatest fear was slugs. So to be told that broad beans and onions are out of bounds, in one corner of the plot at least, is a galling!

Monday 20 July 2009

How Green is My Plot?

Two weeks away and there has been a green revolution. Brassicas:

and the view from the end.

Of course a big element of the green is the weeds! I've been weeding 90% of the time on this weekend's visits. On the plus side:

We are eating first potatoes (Ballydoon and Sharpe's Express), lettuces and broad beans. The runner beans are flowering nicely, as are the mange-tout (both in the forground, above).

Note strawberries finished by first week in July.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Anyone for Strawberries

Wimbledon hasn't even started and the single punnet we picked last weekend has grown into a positive glut by this weekend. For such a neglected corner of the plot the rhubarb and strawberries come up trumps year after year! The netting has preserved the crop from the birds, but something is still managing to breach the defences and drag off the odd fruit, or relocate them just to prove a point, it seems. I don't begrudge the odd fruit. (It's just when there is a peck out of every one that I get mad!)

Lettuce is now also in a glut situation, but I will still be sowing now to ensure there is a succession right up until the autumn frosts.

Bean looking for support:

The runner beans are, for the most part, already wrapping themselves around the poles. I haven't had to tie one this year, just guide the occasional wandering one around its pole by hand. They are positive triffids. Here's one 'looking' for a pole:

It's so nice to get some return - compensation for all that boring weeding!