Friday, 1 December 2017

Allotment Week: Beds and Woodchips

There has been a fresh delivery of woodchips this week. Once again the woodchip bay is brimming. It makes sense as the various arborists around the area do most of their work in the winter months. They don't have to worry so much about leaves, and they can clearly see what needs to be cut back. But then they have to get rid of the resulting mess. Which is why Allotments around the borough will gladly accept their rubbish, because to us it's like gold dust.

So I have a new extension to the plot, which is only small, but I reckon I could get 5 8ftx3ft beds in there. So first thing this morning I went to the local Wickes to pick up some boards to be made into beds. I grabbed 10 8ft boards, and 5 6ft boards. The 6ft's will be cut in half to make the end pieces. I done a post on how I construct my beds so I won't go over it again here.

But what I didn't reckon with is the cold. It played havoc with my drill's battery and I could only get 2 beds done before the power wasn't enough to drive a screw in anymore.

So I now have 8 6ft beds complete in the centre of the plot plus 4 6ft beds down alongside the main path (by the rhubarb and shed). I should have 5 8ft in the new section and 4 10ft beds at the very front. I'm not counting the Wife's flower bed which was last year's winter project.

Of course the big problem is that Wicke's (Merton) do not carry 10ft boards, so I'll have to go further afield to get them at some point n the future. But since the drill packed up, there wasn't a lot else to do other than saw up corner sections and trundle woodchip around the beds to fill them up and make nice happy mycellieum homes.

Yesterday I started levelling out the old mound area. The new section is very low, and obviously the mound is very high. So the new path which has to go in needs to run between the two, mis-matched levels. Not an easy job. But I eventually managed to get a levelled section and put a new path in.

I'm still missing a section between this path and the one I did on Tuesday. But I guess I can do that at the weekend.

But back to that pesky drill of mine. It's getting a little long in the tooth and the battery doesn't hold the charge so well. It was only a cheap'n'nasty non-brand drill anyway. So I'm contemplating getting something a little better. I've been looking at the Ryobi One+ range as they have a variety of power tools with a common power system.

Has anybody tried these?
Are they worth it?
What drawbacks have you found with them?

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Allotment Week: Paths and Mounds

One of the requirements of taking over a small additional section of an adjacent plot, is that I put in a pathway between plots 30 and 31. Now there never has been a path between 30/31, same as there is no path between 28/29 or 32/33, so it's kind of awkward trying to figure out where it should go.

One big issue is that the apple tree slightly overhangs the boundary, so in order to get a free walk down the path, the apple tree will have to have a significant haircut. But not today.

Today is the path for actually putting a path in. I've started at the back of the plot because the closer section needs some serious levelling and sorting out.

Of course another big problem is that there are significant amounts of bramble and couch grass blocking the way. So I gave the brambles and grasses short shrift with the billhook and then put down weed membrane. It might keep them at bay for a while. I then piled loads of wood chip on top.

Meanwhile all the grasses and weeds that I've been digging out of the paths and beds are being dumped on top of the Cape Gooseberry stems which were chopped down the other day. This will eventually be turned into another courgette mound, since these mounds do so well.

All-in-all, not a bad days work. Rather cold and brisk, but sunny enough to make me take my fleece off when doing the heavy work. Still more to do though. Back tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Allotment Week: Clearing up

End of the season, time to get things cleared up ready for winter.

I dug and manured 4 beds today. Over the winter hopefully the worms will do their work on the manure and these beds should be great for next year. Not sure what I'm going to put in them yet, though.

Meanwhile, the wife washed the pots that we grew stuff in (and additional pots which we scrounged over the year). The water will be switched off over winter so it's best to get this done sooner rather than later.

I also gave the Buddljia a good hair cut as well. There were a lot of twiggy bits at the bottom, and I really want to encourage it to grow upwards, rather than outward.

There's a lot of other stuff thats been done as well, which I didn't get photos of. I cut down two of the three apple trees. The Bramley which is at a very awkward angle and has never produced anything worthwhile, and the small one at the back. Not sure what it is (was) because in the 5 years we've been on the plot it has never so much as flowered, never mind given fruit. The big apple tree will also get a haircut at some point over the winter as it need to be made a little more manageable, and it will also overhang the new pathway that I have to put in between us and plot 31.

This next week should see quite a bit of activity on the plot as I have a week off work. So now it's time to get lots of stuff done ready for next year.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Cape Gooseberries

The Cape Gooseberries (also known as Inca Berries by some) have gone rampant in the beds this year. But it seems that they have put more into the growth of the plant rather than the actual berries.

There have been some frosts recently which has effectively killed the plants. "Not so bad", we thought. But it was only when we started harvesting them that we realised that many of the pods had no fruit developed inside them, which was extremely disappointing.

However we did manage to get a reasonable amount of fruits. Certainly enough to keep some of the fruits for seeds next year. And possibly enough to make a small batch of jam as well.

Other than that, there has not been much done on the plot this time. Illness over the past couple of weeks and the cold/miserable weather has meant that doing anything down the plot is an unfulfilling experience. Possibly more will be done in December as there is still a lot of infrastructure work that needs doing... building new beds... making new paths... cutting trees... You know. Stuff.

The stuff which every allotmenteer has to do to get ready for next year.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Almost the end of the season

Things are coming to an end now. The plot is definitely starting to look a little worn and bedraggled. Not surprising since this year has been pretty productive.

The Cape Gooseberries outside are still pretty green. But the ones we had in pots (outside) and all those in the greenhouses have certainly ripened enough to harvest. Fortunately they do keep well. But considering the total amount (or at least the potential total amount) then we should be on course for a very good harvest, and possibly jam. i think we'll probably wait a couple more weeks for the ones outside to see if they are ready. If not then we may be forced to pull them and work with what we get.

The outside sunflowers are also starting the die back and go to seed. rather than let the seed scatter, we decided to start pulling the heads off. We'll probably make sure they are properly de-seeded then we can make seeded fat balls for the birds over winter. And of course keep some seeds back for next year.

Remember the dodgy carrots from last week? Well, the Wife made them into soup. Plenty of onions and carrots boiled up with seasoning.

Then a blitz with the blender and it made a delicious thick soup, the colour of which is not done justice in my poor photos. Purple carrots at their best... no matter how they look.

Add some tomatoes from our stock and you have a meal fit for kings. This is what allotment good food is all about.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Carrot failure (again)

It seems we never have much luck with carrots. Our carrots this year were grown in just coir. In previous years we've tried soil, compost, sand and various combinations in between. We thought that keeping it loose and free from the normal rich mix you'd expect in a growing medium, that we'd get something different. But alas we ended up with the same branching a splits that we've had in previous years.

Hopefully though, they'll taste just as good.

The Corn that we pulled last week has been sitting in a large tub in the greenhouse. I was hoping that they'd start to dry out. Bad move. Looks like the mould and the wood lice have started to move in. So instead we opted to pull all the outer leaves off and take the cobs home to dry in the kitchen. Apart from those which were not fully formed or a bit scrappy. They'll be offered to the chickens.

These make some pretty damn good popcorn. But I also am going to try making cornmeal for baking cornbread.

And finally the time of the courgettes is coming to an end. There are still a few last little ones growing, but the leaves are definitely past their best. Perhaps one more week before they all get culled.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Death to sweetcorn

Well it looks like once again we missed the optimum point for harvesting the sweetcorn to enjoy it's delicious ripeness directly. But not all is lost.

First our small forest of corn stalks needs to be felled.

Now in permaculture principles, nothing goes to waste. First and foremost is obtain a yield. So we have a whole load of corn.

Now most of this seems to be past it's best for how people eat the traditional corn on the cob. But these make perfect popcorn. Even more so, as a baker, I can make corn-meal out of them for baking corn bread and muffins. Something I'm very eager to try.

Next we have the stalks.

These have been put in the greenhouse to dry out over the next few months. They will be used for feeding the Ghillie Kettle.

Finally there are a whole load of leaves and the tops of the stalks.

Some will be composted, but most will be used as mulch on the new beds which I will be making over the winter time.

Whilst I was clearing the corn, the Wife was collecting the last of the tomatoes. The stalks may have died, but the fruits were small and sweet, just bursting with flavour.

And finally, the two weeks we've been away have just flown by... but the courgettes just kept on coming.

So much so that I've kind of lost track of the real numbers. So now I'm down to reasonable guesswork. We're certainly doing a lot more than last year on numbers, but then again we have twice as many plants. We really wanted to do Butternut Squash, but of the 6 plants we put out, only 1 came up with a true squash. The others were in fact, courgettes.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Guess I'm going to be giving stuff away at the office again.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Tomatoes, Apples, Chutneys and Jams

The Tomatoes are on their last legs. The leaves are starting to curl up and the green toms have just been sitting there for a couple of weeks and not turned red.

Time to pick and consider chutney.

But of course you cannot have a decent chutney without apples. We haven't had a decent crop this year. Well decent as in quantity anyway. The quality is top notch. Very few have got maggots in them. Perhaps it was worthwhile putting out that Codling Moth trap. Certainly they are very sweet and juicy. We need a few for the Jam (Blackberries have been in the freezer for a month) and the chutney.

The courgettes on the new mound at the back of the plot seem to be over.

There are a few newish leaves and flowers so they may yet offer up some goodies. But to ones at the front of the plot, and the Butternut Squash seem to still be charging along. I expect many more from them.
So we piled some of the toms, apples, courgettes and such into the big bucket to take home.

We've left some of the toms still in place in the hope that they may mature during the week. But I think it's doubtful.

As I work from home two days a week, I can nip to the plot in the evenings. So last Thursday when we went we had a visitor. A reasonably friendly chap who we call "Ben". Short for Bent Tail, because he seems to have a damaged tail.

He thanked us for the remnants of the courgette cake by leaving a deposit. All adds to the compost I suppose. Though it goes for the new compost bin which won't be used until 2019.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

So this evening I made 8.5 jars of Blackberry and Apple Jam.
2kg Blackberries
5 large sweet apples.
2kg sugar.
The Blackberries were frozen, so it was simply a case of throwing them in a large pot on a high heat. As the thawed and the juice started flowing, throw in the sugar. I used 1kg normal and 1kg of Jam sugar. Grated up the apples and let it simmer for a while., When the froth had dissipated and the temperature was 104C, then it was decanted into washed clean jars that had spent the time sitting in the oven at 100C. Sorted.

Tomorrow I'll do chutney.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Honey and Jams and stuff

Just a quick visit to the plot today, chiefly because I arranged to pick up some honey.

I also grabbed a few ripe tomatoes, dared to try a sweetcorn cob, and of course courgettes (they just keep on coming). I was also given an aubergine and pepper and some Sloe Jam.

This is the great thing about an allotment community. If you have too much of a glut of things then give them away to friends and neighbours. You'll get gifts in return. Barter was the original form of trade.

Meanwhile at home, I have a couple of kilos of blackberries in the freezer. Really have to get some apples from the tree and start making some jam. And I also have a can of make-your-own marmalade which I really ought to do as well. I foresee and extended stint at the cooker in the not too distant future.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Produce show

Now I'm never one for the prettiest veg, heaviest this, longest that. Veg grows in all-sorts of shapes and sizes. It's this so called supermarket mentality which gets a lot of veg thrown out because it doesn't look right and people won't buy it. That to me is plain stupid.

The end result of veg is to eat it. So I prefer categories that allow you to show that. So I only entered two categories. Bread and Cakes. And to go with the alliteration, Courgette Cake and Beetroot Bread.
The Courgette Cake I've done before. Unfortunately though, it didn't come up to the standard of those who entered various cup cakes and layer cakes.

The Beetroot Bread though was nice and pink. Although oddly the insides, once cut, was just a normal colour. Just a nice pink crust.
Anyway, it tasted of a faint beetroot flavour and it came second... out of two entries.

Not much actually doing on the plot today though. Mostly it was spent sheltering in the greenhouse from the torrential thunder storm that rolled through.

But at least we hit over 100 courgettes during the week. I suspect there will be more tomorrow though.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Complicated Compost

I still have the compost pile to sort out from last week. So out with the sieve and fork and a time to dig through the year's worth of stuff.

However down at the bottom there were some nasty surprises. The first nastiness was an egg. Well there were plenty of eggshells (that I really should have smashed up better before adding to the compost). No, I mean a real egg. One which had been buried for a year. As you can imagine when the fork went through it there was a loud pop... and a stink that made me stand upwind for the rest of the digging.

Secondly I have a little complaint about "compost bags". I used Sainsbury's Compost Bags for my compost caddie, and then, when full, they were dumped into the compost bin. They've been in there for over a year, so you'd expect them to have decomposed. No. They haven't.

The packet says that they're made of potato starch. Well OK, I've got a couple of potatoes that are still relatively whole in the compost, but these bags are somewhat disappointing. Do you use compost bags at all? How do you find them?

Meanwhile the Wife is ripping out some of the weeds (and flower stems) from one arm of her raised flower bed.

So it can get a nice load of freshly sieved compost.

And I bought 20m of weed membrane to cover the extension to the plot. I'll build the beds to go in here over the winter time so they'll be ready to use next spring.

Meanwhile... courgettes. Ugh, don't they ever stop?

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Monday, 28 August 2017

Sunny Bank Holiday

It seems that Sunny Days like busses. You wait ages for one and then three come along at once. It even brought out the rampant sex at the allotment.

So this Bank Holiday saw me down the plot wilting in the heat as I try to get the un-managed parts of the plot into action. Hiding behind the sunflowers and sweetcorn is a section of weed membrane being held down by spare pallet wood, potato bags and strawberry towers.

Time to pull it up and make space for a couple of new beds. Well needless to say that I ended up too damn exhausted in the heat to be able to do much. I built another of my stackable beds, dug out the now baked clay and installed the compost bin into the bed, ready for it to spend next year being the host to all of the composting.

Once in place the new bed will be surrounded with wood chips and gradually filled with decent soil to replace the clay.
Meanwhile the weed membrane has now shifted to the side where I will have to build a path alongside my plot. There never has been a path between plots 30 and 31. Same as there never has been paths between 28 and 29. But the Committee has said that I have to build one and in return they will allow me to use the small off-cut of that once was plot 31 which is now available due to the newly build woodchip and manure bays. I'm not going to complain about that since I effectively go from 5 rods to 6 rods.

The old compost bin was opened up and a start made on shifting some of the lesser composted material over. It's turned into some really good stuff, despite my usual method of completely ignoring it.

Many people go on about how you should turn and aerate compost to get the best out of it. Fine. That works if you really want to turn over your compost fast or make huge amounts of it. I find that simply having two compost bins on the plot works just as well and you can simply leave it to get on with it and do it's thing. The worms and wood lice love it in there. The only problem is that it takes an age to sift out the uncomposting material. Something which is hard to do in this heat so I kind of gave up and decided that I'd be better off at home in the cool which a nice chilled cider in hand.

But I do have to take "George" home with me to be kept on top of the kitchen cupboards ready for being turned into seeds next year.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Monday, 21 August 2017

How do you know when Sweetcorn is ready?

I'm now at the same dilemma as last year. How can I tell when the Sweetcorn is ready?

There are some who say that it's when the tassels turn brown. Well on some they started brown!
Then there are those who say that it's when the tassels stop being sticky. Some of the new tassels are already not sticky. The rain washed any "stickiness" off them.
There are those who say that you have to pick a cob and test it. That's all very well if you have a field full and can risk losing some of your crop for testing.

I just wish that there was a simple way of finding out.

Meanwhile, the grapes are starting to fill out.

And we upended one of our potato bags to a an extremely disappointing harvest. This is the total of our Red Russets.

Considering that the pallet board is a mere 4 inches across, those 7 spuds are minuscule. Maybe the late frost did more harm to them than we anticipated. Anyway, not all is lost. We do have a few other bags where there is still plenty of foliage. So hopefully we can get some spuds.

But I'd still like to know about the sweetcorn. Or maybe I should just leave them on the stalks to harden and settle for making popcorn.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Doing a runner

Not me. I don't run. But elsewhere on the plots things are running away.

The Strawberries seem intent on conquering the world but spreading themselves around (much to the delight of the Wife who has already potted on a load of runners).

Then there are the Tomatoes which are sprouting six ways to Monday. They got a major haircut anyway, because although there are plenty of flowers, some of which have set, the toms are not ripening fast enough. So cutting down on foliage means that the plant doesn't have to worry about growing, and there is more sunshine available to ripen the fruits that have set.

And of course, the courgettes are trying to escape as well. They're sending out runners everywhere, but fortunately they're still plagued by fruit.

Mind you, I don't want to move them too much. Because underneath the runner above (look at the top right area) there is a small plastic tray. And Mr Ribbit has made himself at home.

Well Ribbit can help himself to as many slugs as he likes. There's plenty to go around.

The 2017 Courgette Tally: