Archive | April 2013

The ‘Hungry Gap’ And A Cheese And Spring Broccoli Quiche

I thought I would talk about the ‘hungry gap’ today.  This usually falls between April and May and it’s the time when there isn’t too much to harvest from our plots.

An overwintering cauliflower

An overwintering cauliflower

I took a slow walk around my allotment site this weekend and took a mental note of what was growing.  There wasn’t really a lot growing on individual plots that I could see, however there were a few cabbages, parsnips and leeks scattered over the site and a few allotments had spring broccoli. This made me think about my allotment plots and what we eat at this time of year.

Overwintering leeks

Overwintering leeks

I try really hard to make sure there are vegetables to harvest all year round from my allotment, though this is obviously easier during the summer and autumn months.  I also make sure I actually use the vegetables that I have available to make meals for my family, as this not only saves us money, but I also know my vegetables are grown organically and not sprayed with chemicals.

Overwintering cabbages

Overwintering cabbages

Unfortunately, at this time of the year I have usually run out of the three vegetables that we eat the most, potatoes, onions and garlic and so I do have to buy them.  However, the things I can harvest at my allotment at the moment are spring broccoli, curly kale, cabbages, chives, lettuce, mizuna, corn salad, spring onions, spinach and rhubarb.  It takes time to plan ahead to grow these things, but I think it is worth it.

Overwintering salads

Overwintering salads

Freezers are also a great help to bridge the ‘hungry gap’.  I still have a good supply of homegrown vegetables in my three freezers, which help to spread the seasons over the year.

I have French beans, runner beans, mange tout, leeks, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, courgettes, broad beans, parsley, strawberries, crab-apples, red currants, white currants, blackcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries and I even found a bag of sweetcorn that I had missed.    These will all be used up before I am able to harvest them again at the allotment.

One of my threes freezers

One of my three freezers

So I think it is possible to still have a good supply of fruit and vegetables to use during the ‘hungry gap’, if you just take a little bit of time to plan ahead to this time next year.

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Purple sprouting broccoli

Purple sprouting broccoli

I thought it would be nice to post a recipe that uses a vegetable that is in season at the moment.  I love purple sprouting broccoli and look forward to the first harvest.  It is nice to use it in different ways too, so yesterday I made a quiche with it:

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Cheese and Spring Broccoli Quiche:

One pre-cooked pastry case – (you can see how to make one here)

350ml semi-skimmed milk

5 small eggs

50g small broccoli florets

1 onion

100g grated cheese

Pinch of pepper

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Boil the onion and broccoli in a saucepan of water for four minutes and then drain.

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Spread the onion and broccoli over the base of the pastry case.

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Sprinkle half the cheese over the onion and broccoli.

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Whisk the eggs, milk and pepper together and pour over the cheese, onion and broccoli.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

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Bake for 30-40 minutes until the eggs are set (but not too solid) and the top is golden.

Cheese and broccoli quiche served with salad leaves and spring onions

Cheese and broccoli quiche served with salad leaves and spring onions

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at approximately 4pm.

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Onion Sets, Peas And Watercress

There has been some lovely warm weather this week and I have been working at my allotment in short sleeves at last.

On Tuesday I noticed the temperature in my polytunnel rose to nearly 37C, even with both doors wide open.

It was lovely to see that bees, butterflies and other insects were coming into the polytunnel, attracted by the mizuna that I can’t bring myself to dig up yet, as it is so beautiful.

Mizuna in flower

Mizuna in flower

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I spent this week planting my onion sets.  I started my onion sets in modules this year, as the soil was in no fit state to plant them direct last month.  I was very pleased with the result as most of them had started to sprout:

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I am hoping this will be a one-off though, as it takes extra time to plant the sets in modules and obviously uses extra compost.  I planted 416 onions all in all, including 80 red onions and I’ve got to say my back did ache a bit afterwards.

This year is really an experimental year with my onions, as I had a problems last year with the allium leaf miner, especially on my overwintering onions.

In autumn, I planted seed sown onions instead of sets (in the hope they would be stronger plants) and covered them in environmesh.  I have also planted summer onions that I sowed in January (again, in the hope they will be stronger plants) and two different varieties of onion sets, in the hope that one may grow stronger than the other.

The two varieties of onions sets I planted this year are ‘Turbo’ and ‘Sturon’.

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The allium leaf miner is a pest that was only detected in Britain in 2002.  It has been spreading rapidly since and spread to many places in the Midlands for the first time last year and unfortunately found my allotment site too.

The allium leaf miner isn’t choosy which allium it attacks.  Alliums include onions, leeks, garlic and shallots.

You can find details of the allium leaf miner here.

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I have also been planting peas again this week.  I have planted some mangetout as my youngest daughter absolutely loves them (though she won’t eat peas, which is very strange), so I would be in trouble if I didn’t grow them. I grew them in guttering as I find I have a better germination rate this way.  You can read how I grow my peas in guttering here.

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I also grow a tall, climbing variety called ‘Pea shooter’, which are really sweet, large peas.  The peas were expensive to buy, so I saved some seeds last year and I am pleased to say that they germinated really well.  I made a frame out of canes tied together and draped pea and bean netting over it, so the peas will have something to climb up onto.

There is nothing like opening your first homegrown pea pod straight from the plant and eating the wonderful, sweet tasting peas inside.  It is something I look forward to every year.

My tall, climbing peas

My tall, climbing peas

As the weather is warming nicely, I decided to sow my watercress.  Eric (the gentleman who had the fourth plot before me) always grew a really good crop of watercress in a great big black pot, so last year I decided to give it a try and it worked really well.  I just sprinkled the seeds and covered them with a small amount of compost and I  just made sure I didn’t let the compost dry out.  This was the result:

My watercress in 2012

My watercress in 2012

When it began to flower, I left it to set seed and I was surprised to get a second growth of useable watercress.

This year I replaced the top inch of compost with new compost and sowed new seed.  I covered the moist compost with glass to help the seeds to germinate.

I am looking forward to the results.

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This week I have been working on this years wildflower patch, as last year I was really pleased with it.

I have been raking the area to produce a fine tilth (a fine crumbly soil) and yesterday, I mixed the wildflower seeds with horticultural silver sand and scattered it over the area, avoiding the foxgloves I had transplanted in the patch.  I raked the seeds in, covered them with net to protect them from the birds and hoped the forcasted rain would come.

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If the patch is only half as good as last years, then I will be very pleased:

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I noticed my comfrey patch is growing well now.

I use comfrey a lot at my allotment.  Comfrey is high in potash, as the deep roots of the Comfrey plants absorb the potassium from the subsoil. Therefore it’s great for using on most fruits and flowers, including tomato plants.

I add comfrey to my compost bins, as it is a great ‘free’ activator and I use it as a mulch around plants.  I also have a water butt which I use solely for ‘comfrey tea’, which I use to feed certain plants.  You can read how I make it on one of my very first posts, here.

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I thought I’d mention a few of things I have harvested this week too.

Over winter, we have been eating the cabbages I sowed last summer.  The variety is ‘Robinson’s Champion Giant Cabbage’.  They have stood through all the wet and snowy weather the winter threw at them and I am really pleased with the results:

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My purple sprouting broccolli is doing well and tastes delicious.  It takes approximately a year to grow from seed, but it is so worth the wait:

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And finally, remember I put a ‘bin’ on my rhubarb in February, to ‘force it’….

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I removed the bin and the rhubarb was beautiful and pink.  I could actually smell the sweetness as I removed the dustbin.  I will be making rhubarb crumble tonight, as it’s my favourite.

If you want to make something different with rhubarb, you could try a Rhubarb and Ginger Cake, which is just as nice.  This recipe is here.

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There is always some confusion about composting rhubarb leaves, as the leaves are high in Oxalic Acid, which is toxic to humans, but this is broken down and diluted in the compost heap as the leaves decompose.  So yes, it is safe to put rhubarb leaves into your compost bin.

Also, a long time ago when I pulled my very first rhubarb stalks from the ground, one of the ‘wise old allotment chaps’, saw me chopping the leaves off.  He told me to always leave part of the leaf on the stalk, so it looks like there are three claws left (like a chickens foot):

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When I asked why, he told me the reason for this is because the end always dries and you chop it off again when you are preparing it for cooking.  This way, you don’t waste any….and he was right!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Monday at approximately 4pm.

Enjoy your gardening weekend.

A Good Website And My Seed Sowing Calender

Before I start today, I thought you may be interested in a website that my good friend ‘Jeff’ has set up with Catherine.  It is called “Crafts for a sustainable future” and it is fantastic.  This is what it says about it:

“Crafts for a sustainable future is a small business using willow weaving and green-woodworking, local and UK-farmed materials to promote a more sustainable future. We demonstrate and teach the crafts, make useful and decorative products and encourage bio-diversity and good habitat management. We work from two bases in Leicester and Cambridge”.

I love all the information on this website and the page about ‘foraging’ reminded me of when Jeff and Catherine took me around our local park.  I was absolutely astounded by the things that grow wild that we can eat, especially beacuse I had walked past them many times without realising that they were edible.  It was such an enjoyable evening that I won’t forget, so thank you Jeff and Catherine.

You can find their website here.

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It’s been another busy weekend.

I did my usual batch baking yesterday and made fruit scones for my daughter’s lunchbox:

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I buttered them and put them in the freezer on a tray, until they were frozen.  I then transferred them into a freezer bag, ready for the week ahead.  It’s easy to pop a frozen scone into my daughter’s lunch box each morning and it’s defrosted by lunchtime.

You can find the recipe here.

My first wallflowers this year in bloom

My first wallflowers this year in bloom

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This weekend I syphoned my first homemade wine into bottles.  I paid £10 in the Christmas sales for a starter kit and I then purchased six wine bottles and some re-usable corks, which came to £6.  I managed to get 5½ bottles of wine out of it, so this worked out at £2.90 per bottle, which I thought was pretty cheap.

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We thought we would try the half bottle of wine straight away and I’ve got to say it was really nice.  So I definately will be making some more.

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My daughter came to my allotment yesterday with me and she noticed there was some frog spawn in the pond.  It seems to be late this year, I assume it is due to the cold spring weather.

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I love frogs as they eat lots of snails.  I was lucky to catch the following photograph last year, which shows a frog eyeing up it’s dinner:

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Seeds I have already sown this year:

I thought it may be interesting for people to see what vegetables I have sown so far this year.  I try to pick crops that we like to eat and I like to grow.  I also like to try a different fruit or vegetable each year, this year I am trying to grow melons in my polytunnel.

I occaisionally buy special varieties that I think are particularly good to grow, but usually my choice is dictated by the seeds I manage to buy in the sales at the end of the year.

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I start most of my seeds in pots on my windowsill at home, or my heated greenhouse, or my plastic ‘mini’ greenhouse that has no heat.

I love to grow my crops from seed, as it gives me an enormous sense of acheivement and self satisfaction, especially when I serve my vegetables at meal times.

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So here is a list of what I have sown so far:

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Crop Variety Date sown
Broad beans Aquadulce 09-Jan
onions Bedfordshire champion 09-Jan
Basil Sweet genovese 09-Jan
Coriander For leaf 09-Jan
Leeks Musselburgh 09-Jan
Peppers California wonder 09-Jan
Celeriac Brilliant 25-Feb
Lettuce Webbs wonderful 25-Feb
shallots 06-Feb
Cauliflower All year round 25-Feb
Cabbage Robinson champion 25-Feb
Brussells Igor 07-Mar
Red Cabbage –  Summer Kalibos 07-Mar
Cucumber-greenhouse Euphya 07-Mar
Pea (Dwarf) Meteor 07-Mar
Coriander For leaf 07-Mar
Tomato-greenhouse Wladeks / Moneymaker 26-Feb
Basil Sweet genovese 07-Mar
Cape Gooseberry (variety not known) 07-Mar
Onion sets Turbo 27-Mar
Spring onions White lisbon 17-Mar
Indian spicy cress (variety not known) 17-Mar
Lettuce Webbs wonderful 17-Mar
Cauliflower All year round 17-Mar
Potatoes Marfona 09-Apr
Potatoes Picasso / Desiree 20-Apr
carrots (variety not known) 09-Apr
Tomato Outdoor girl 05-Apr
Parsnips Gladiator 05-Apr
Beetroot Boltardy 05-Apr
Spring onions Shimonita 17-Apr
Spring Brocoli 05-Apr
Khol Rabi Azure star 05-Apr
Pea (Climbing) Pea shooter 06-Apr
Pea (Dwarf) Mixed – saved seed 06-Apr
Mangetout 06-Apr
Basil Sweet genovese 05-Apr
Coriander For leaf 05-Apr
Radish Sparkler3 09-Apr
Swede Ruby 17-Apr
Butternut Squash Hunter 17-Apr
Turnips Purple top milan 18-Apr
lettuce Webbs wonderful 17-Apr
Pumpkin Hundred weight 17-Apr
Patty Pans Sunburst squash 17-Apr
Courgettes Black beauty 17-Apr
Pea (Dwarf) Onward 18-Apr
Mixed salad leaves 18-Apr
Melon Outdoor wonder 18-Apr
Cauliflower All year round 18-Apr
Perpetual spinach 17-Apr
Gherkins Diamant 18-Apr

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I will put this information on a ‘page’ at the top of my blog, in the next week,  so it doesn’t get ‘lost’ in the many blog posts I write.  I will also include a list of the seeds I have planned to sow over the next few months too.

Hopefully this will help anyone that is unsure of what they want to grow and when to grow it.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

How To Get Peas Out Of Guttering And My Bean Trenches

Finally the weather has picked up and I have noticed the weeds have begun to grow at my allotment.  This isn’t all bad though, as the soil is obviously warming up too.

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This week, I have planted my onion seedlings that I sowed in modules back in January.  This is an experiment, as I am hoping that they will be slightly stronger plants than the onions I grow from sets.  I will also be planting onion sets as well, so I can compare them.  I have been warming the soil for a few weeks, by placing clear plastic over it, so hopefully this will give the seedlings a good start.

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Another job at my allotment was to plant the peas that I sowed in guttering on the 22nd March.  They have sat in my coldframe since I sowed them.

I have tried different ways of sowing my peas, but the best way I find to start my peas off, is to sow them into small lengths of guttering.  You can read about it here.

I promised to show you how I get them out of the guttering, when they are ready to transplant:

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First I use a draw hoe to make a small trench the size of the guttering, ready to plant the peas.

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Then I used a spare bit of guttering and I lift one end of the compost to slide the guttering underneath the roots of the peas.

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The spare piece of guttering ”pushes’ the peas out into the trench that you made with the draw hoe.

  I then use the draw hoe to push the soil back around the peas and the compost they are growing in.

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I water them and then I make a frame, using chicken wire and canes, for the peas to grow up.  I have been using the same chicken wire for three years now and it supports the peas really well.  I thread the canes through the chicken wire and then push the canes into the ground.

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To finish off with, I put glass around my peas to give them a little bit of protection for a couple of weeks and also to stop the birds from eating them, as they love new pea shoots.

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I don’t know if you remember, but in the Autumn I dug a ‘runnerbean trench’.  Over the autumn and winter, I filled it with all my old vegetable peelings and then covered it back up with  soil.

On Tuesday I put my runnerbean canes up, (ready for the end of May) and I thought it would be a good idea to show you how my soil looks now, so I dug a hole to show you:

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The photograph on the right shows no sign of any vegetable peelings as they have all decomposed.  The added organic matter will help the soil around the runnerbeans to hold the moisture, which is exactly what runnerbeans like.

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Finally, I thought I would show you the ‘aubretia’ that I grew from seed last year and planted around my pond.  I am really pleased with it, now it has started to flower.  There are a couple of tiny gaps still but I’m sure the plants will grow into these soon:

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at approximately 4pm.

Have a good weekend!

 

Why Bother With Crop Rotation? Crop Rotation Explained

Last week, I was asked to explain ‘crop rotation’ to someone who is fairly new to vegetable gardening.  I thought this would be an interesting topic to write about as it will soon be time to plant all of our wonderful seeds and seedlings into the ground.  Crop rotation is something that we are told to do when we start to grow vegetables, but not everyone knows the reasons behind it.  So today I thought I would go back to the basics of vegetable gardening.

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The History of Crop Rotation:

As far back as Roman times, farmers used a crop rotation system.  The system they used was called ‘food, feed and fallow’.  The farmers would divide their land into three sections and in the first they would plant grains such as wheat, the second they would plant oats or barley for their animals and the third would be left with nothing growing i.e. ‘fallow’.

By the 1400’s, the area of land that farmers used had increased and farmers began to experiment with different crop rotations.  In the 1700’s a gentleman named Viscount Charles “Turnip” Townshend introduced a four-year rotation system to Great Britain.  This system was developed in Holland and it consisted of wheat, barley, a root crop e.g. turnips, and a nitrogen-fixing crop like clover.  By the 1800’s most European farmers were using this system.

By the 1950’s most farmers had stopped using crop rotation systems and farmed intensively using chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weed killers.  Over the last few years, there has been a lot of concern about the health risk to humans and wildlife when land is farmed this way.  Many farmers are now returning to ‘crop rotation’ and ‘feeding’ their soil in more natural ways.

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Why do you need to rotate your crops in a kitchen garden / allotment?

  • Pests and diseases:

Years ago, it was discovered that if you grow the same crop in the same place year after year, your yield would reduce.  This is because pests and diseases usually attack specific plant families.
By moving crops around, this will reduce the amount of pests and diseases, as they will have nothing to feed on when the plant family is removed from the area.

  • Soil fertility:

Different crops have different nutrient and growing requirements and by grouping plant families together, you can ensure that all plants have the best growing conditions for them.  For example, potatoes and brassicas are hungry feeders and they love manure added to the soil, whereas manure causes carrots and parsnips to fork/split.

Another example is a fungal infection called ‘club root’ which attacks brassicas.  If you have an acid soil, the risk of ‘club root’ can be reduced by liming the soil where brassicas will be grown.   However, keep lime away from the area that potatoes will be grown in, as this will cause ‘scab’ on your potatoes.

By rotating plant families you will reduce the chance of soil deficiencies developing over time, as nutrients removed by one family will build up again over time, as you add organic matter to the soil.  In addition, certain vegetables add nutrients to the soil, improving the ground for the next crop.

  • Weed control:

Larger leaved plants e.g. potatoes and squashes, block out the light which helps to suppress weed growth, which in turn helps the next crop.

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How to rotate your crops:

There are five main plant groups that most vegetables fall into…

Potatoes – Potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers etc.

Legumes – Peas, runner beans, French beans, mange tout, broad beans etc.

Brassicas – Broccoli, cabbages, calabrese, brussel sprouts, radishes, swedes, cauliflowers, kale, oriental greens, turnips etc.

Onions – onions, garlic, shallots, leeks etc.

Roots – parsnips, carrots, celeriac, celery, Florence fennel etc.

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Most people use a three or four year rotation plan.  Basically, you divide your soil into three or four equal areas and grow one plant group in each area.  After the first year is complete, you move each plant group into the next area, so it will be at least another three or four years until the plant group is grown in the same soil again.

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An example of a traditional three bed rotational plan:

Year one
Area one: Potatoes
Area two: Legumes, onions and roots
Area three: Brassicas

Year two
Area one: Legumes, onions and roots
Area two: Brassicas
Area three: Potatoes

Year three
Area one: Brassicas
Area two: Potatoes
Area three: Legumes, onions and roots

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An example of a  traditional four bed rotational plan:

Year one
Area one: Legumes
Area two: Brassicas
Area three: Potatoes
Area four: Onions and roots

Year two
Area one: Brassicas
Area two: Potatoes
Area three: Onions and roots
Area four: Legumes

Year three
Area one: Potatoes
Area two: Onions and roots
Area three: Legumes
Area four: Brassicas

Year four
Area one: Onions and roots
Area two: Legumes
Area three: Brassicas
Area four: Potatoes

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Just to finish off, there are plants that do not actually fit in any of the above plant groups and they can be slotted around your plot where you have space.  These plants include lettuce, sweetcorn, squashes, spinach, parsley, coriander etc.  I actually include these with my legumes, as this way I don’t grow them in the same place year after year.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at 4pm.  Have a good gardening week.

A Cheap Fruitcage, Potatoes And A Flower Patch

This week, I have noticed that it has been slightly warmer in the afternoons and the weather forecasters are promising that it is going to warm up over the weekend.  I really hope it does, as up to now it feels like ‘Spring’ has been on hold.

The only positive thing about the colder weather, is the weeds haven’t started to grow vigorously yet, so I’m not using my hoe every week, as I did this time last year.

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The daffodils are flowering beautifully now.  This inspired me to do a bit of work on my flower patch.  Up until a few weeks ago, there was a swing next to my flower patch.  As my daughters don’t use the swing anymore, I moved it.  This week, I dug the grass up where it stood, so my flowers patch is now an ‘L’ shape and will look much better when I have finished planting it up.  I will be looking out for some cheap plants to buy now.

My flower patch, winter 2012

My flower patch, winter 2012

My flower patch today.

My flower patch today.

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This week I put my two fruit cages up, over my fruit bushes.  I love my ‘cheap’ fruit cages, as this is the third year I have used them and they work a treat.  They are made out of canes and old hand wash bottles.  I find hand wash bottles are ideal to use, as they are made out of a softer plastic that doesn’t become brittle over time.  I bought the nets from ebay three years ago, for approximately £40 for both cages, but this is far cheaper than buying a ready made fruit cage and I can easily take my cages down when the plants have stopped fruiting.  You can see my fruit cage below:

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This week I have also planted my second early potatoes.  The variety I like is ‘Marfona’, which produce a high yield of large potatoes, suitable for boiling, mashing and baking.  I love the first potatoes of the year, boiled and dressed with lots of butter.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it now.

I struggle to dig trenches and line it with manure, before I plant my potatoes, as it’s such hard work.  I have tried different ways to plant my potatoes, but the best way for me is to fork manure into the ground over the autumn / winter and then plant the potatoes with a bulb planter, dropping them in the hole and then covering them up with soil again.  I then earth them up as normal when they are about 10cm high:

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Afterwards I used my bulb planter again to plant some galdioli’s that I had bought form Wilkinson’s:

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In my polytunnel, the weeds are starting to grow now and so I gave it a good hoe.  I then planted out some lettuce that I had grown from seed in March.  The variety is ‘Webbs wonderful’ which my family really like.  I also sowed two rows of carrots and a row of radish.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be warm enough at night, for the seeds to germinate.

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Another job I managed to do was dig over my wildflower patch ready to sow my wildflower seeds next month.  Just in case you haven’t seen the photo’s from my wildflower patch last year, you can see them here.

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Finally, I planted my shallots (over a month later than I normally plant them out due to the cold weather).  My shallots were growing in newspaper pots and they had all rooted well.  I planted the shallots together with the newspaper pots, making sure that none of the newspaper pots were showing above the ground.  If a newspaper pot is above the soil level, it acts like a wick and the plant dries out.

I am really pleased they are finally in the ground now.

My shallots finally planted

My shallots finally planted at my allotment

It has been another busy week at the allotment and I still have loads to do, but that’s what’s so wonderful about gardening, your work is never finished.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I’ll be back on Monday at 4pm.  Have a good weekend.

A Busy Easter Holiday, Mincing And Sowing Parsnips

Hi all, I hope you had a lovely, restful Easter.

My pots of bulbs, courtesy of 'Spalding Bulbs'

My pots of spring bulbs, courtesy of ‘Spalding Bulbs’

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I had fun with my two new gadgets over Easter:

First was the meat mincer (with a sausage making attachment) that I told you about here.  I was disappointed to find that there were no instructions in the box, but I did manage to easily work out how to mince the beef that I had bought, thanks to the pictures on the box.  I am yet to make sausages.

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I wanted to work out if it was cheaper to mince my own beef, rather than buy the ready minced beef.  I spoke to the butcher at Morrisons (as we don’t have a local butcher) and I’ve got to say he was extremely helpful.  He told me that brisket is usually the cheapest cut of meat that can be used for mincing and it is fine to use, however he pointed out that ‘topside’ of beef was actually half price and worked out cheaper  per kg, than the brisket.  So I paid £10.69 for a lovely joint of beef.

The beef was beautiful.  It only had the smallest bit of fat on, which I cut off before I chopped it into chunks.  I then put it through the mincer.

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I must say though, my arm did ache by the end of it, but I managed to get eight bags of mince beef, all weighing 250 grams, which I froze.

I worked out that it would have been cheaper to buy the prepacked ‘value’ minced beef, but it was certainly cheaper than buying prepacked ‘lean minced beef’ and I had the benefit of knowing what is actually in the mince beef we are eating.

I was very pleased with the meat mincer I bought and I will definitely be mincing my own beef from now on.  I will now be looking out for bargain beef joints.

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My 2nd ‘gadget’ is something I have been wanting for a while….a bread slicer.  I have never been very good at slicing my nice homemade bread, which sometime spoils the overall look of it.

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Normally these slicers retail at nearly £90 (which I certainly could never justify), but we were killing time one day a couple of weeks ago and found Debenhams had a half price sale and had reduced it to £40.  They only had one left, which was in an extremely bashed box and my wonderful husband managed to haggle them down to just £35.

This was such a bargain and I am really pleased with it.  It cuts my bread beautifully and I have also sliced ham with it and it cuts it as perfectly as the ready cut ham, that you buy from the supermarket.

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Over Easter I had another jam making session.  This time I made rhubarb jam (my favourite), with rhubarb I still had in the freezer from last year.

I also made some crab apple jelly and crab apple ice cream syrup, from a bag of crab apples that I had frozen last year.  You can find the recipes here and here.

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I also finally opened my Wilkinsons ‘Starter Wine Kit’ that I had purchased in the New Year sales for £10.  Unfortunately some of the items were missing from the box and we didn’t have the receipt.  However, Wilkinson’s were fantastic and changed it anyway for a more expensive kit and gave us the remaining items from the old kit as a goodwill gesture, which we thought was fabulous customer service.

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I have never made wine before, so it is all new to me, which is why I chose a starter kit.  Hopefully when I have sussed it out, I can use some of the grapes from the vines I planted at my allotment last year, when they are established and fruiting well.

So it is now bubbling away nicely.

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I’ve also been ‘pricking’ out my seedlings and they are sitting nice and snugly in my heated greenhouse.  I try to stop the temperature falling below 10c, but unfortunately it has been dropping to approximately 8c on the cold nights we have been having.

My peas that I sowed on the 22nd March in guttering, are doing well now too, they will soon be ready to plant out:

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The peas have a bit of protection in my coldframe.

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The lettuces I sowed on the 17th March are doing nicely and I will be planting these in my polytunnel this week:

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I also sowed my parsnips on Saturday:

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I have always had such a problem with my parsnips ‘forking’ when I sow them direct, or not germinating.  I have dug trenches and filled with compost, I have filled holes with compost and sown into them, but nothing seemed to work until I came up with the idea of sowing the seeds in kitchen roll tubes.

I fill the tube with compost and sow three seeds in each and keep the tubes on my windowsill.  As soon as the seeds germinate, I move them outside into my coldframe and then a few days later I plant the whole tube into the ground.

This way I get straight parsnips nearly every time.

I have been asked in the past if this works with toilet rolls, but it doesn’t.  The reason for this, is the tap root on a parsnip is very long and grows down a long way before the seedling shows above the compost.  Therefore the tap root hits the bottom of the toilet roll tube, which causes it to ‘fork’.  However, as the kitchen roll is longer, the tap root has a longer distance to grow before it hits the bottom.

My parsnips

My parsnips

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Finally, over Easter, I decided to plant my onion sets into seed trays to start them off, as the weather showed no sign of changing.  This will give me a little bit of breathing space before I need to plant them in the allotment.  At least they will have developed some roots and this will help to stop the birds from pulling them up.

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So all in all, it has been a busy, but enjoyable Easter.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Friday, at approximately 4pm.

I hope you have a good week.