Archive | September 2013

How To Compost The ‘Lazy’ Way

Today I thought I would talk about composting.

Composting really is the most environmentally friendly way of disposing of all your garden waste and vegetable peelings from your home and allotment.  In fact it is at this time of year that I have the most to put into my compost bins at my allotment.

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There are many books written about composting and lots of information on the internet too, also I am yet to go to a gardening exhibition where there hasn’t been a presentation dedicated to it.  They talk of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ composting, keeping carbon and nitrogen in the optimum ratio, transferring your compost from one heap to another, turning your compost, etc. etc. and to be honest I sometimes feel exhausted just reading about it.  Unfortunately, as far as compost is concerned, I am quite a lazy gardener and I really haven’t got the time or energy to mess about with it.  I just want the end result without the work in between and this is how I do it:

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To start with, I have two different types of compost bins on my plot. The first type of bin I have is the black dalek compost bin, I have four of these for compost (I also use more for my leaf mould too).  These bins can be purchased cheaply via your local council.  Leicester City Council are selling the 330 litre bins at the moment for £11.48.

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I use my dalek bins just for vegetable peelings and for composting any vegetables that are past their best and I also put the outside of vegetable leaves in here before I take the vegetables home to prepare.  Every so often I bring our toilet roll inners and shredded paper and put it in too.

The dalek bins have a removable part at the bottom that you are supposed to take your compost out of when it’s ready.  Unfortunately, the part you remove is so small that the only practical way of removing the compost is by using a trowel, which is obviously impractical at an allotment!  So when I want to use it, I tip the whole bin over and put it to one side and use all the compost in one go, however, when the bin is full I do struggle to do this.  After I have tipped my bin over, anything that has not quite composted down goes back into one of my other black dalek bins.

The compost in these bins is ready quicker than the compost made in my second type of compost bin:

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The second type of compost bin I use is made out of pallets.  This is my favourite type of bin as it’s so easy to make.  I don’t screw or nail the pallets together, as this would be too much like hard work for me, all I do is tie four pallets together with strong string and I line the inside with weed suppressant.  When the compost is ready I just remove the front pallet.

I go against all the advice the books and internet tell you and I throw nearly everything else in this compost heap e.g. perennial and annual weeds, lawn clippings etc. and I also occasionally put brambles in it too.  When it is full, I just cover it all with weed suppressant and leave it for three to five years.  The result is wonderful, sweet smelling compost!

One thing I must say is that this bin does end up with lots of weed seeds in the compost as I am not fussy what goes into it, but as you know, I hoe each part of my plot once a week so if any of the weed seeds germinate they are hoed off before they get established.

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So as a lazy gardener I don’t turn my compost bins and heaps and I am not careful about layering ‘brown waste’ on top of ‘green waste’ (explanations of both are given below).  I just let nature take its own course.  I will admit that making my garden waste does take a lot longer to become beautiful compost, but I have several heaps dotted around my allotment, so I always have compost to use.  I am happy making it this way.

So for anyone that is fairly new to composting, here is a list of what you can and can’t compost:

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Green Waste

 

Vegetable peelings

Nettles and comfrey

Teabags and coffee grounds

Grass clippings (but not too much at a time)

Green plant/weed growth

Soft green pruning’s

Poultry manure and bedding

Animal manure from horse or cows

Brown Waste

 

Cardboard

Newspaper

Hedge clippings

Bedding from rabbits & guinea pigs

(e.g. wood shavings, straw, hay)

Bracken

Sawdust

Other things that can be composted:

Charcoal from the BBQ (not briquettes)

Crushed egg shells

100% cotton or wool (natural fibres)

Wood ash

Plants that are suffering from tomato or potato blight with the seeds taken off ( i.e. the actual potatoes or tomatoes) as the blight can only live on ‘live’ plant material which includes the seeds.

What can’t be composted:

Meat

Fish

Cooked food

Cat litter / dog faeces

Coal ash

Plants that have soil bourne diseases such as club root or white rot

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Just in case there is any doubt in your mind about my lazy composting methods, below is a picture of one of my compost heaps that I opened in February.  It was 3½ years old and it contained all types of perrenial weeds and brambles etc. (that gardening books tell you not to compost).  These plants have so many nutrients, which are great for returning back to the ground when I use the compost, as it will benefit the vegetables that grow in it.

 As you can see all the weeds have completely died off and a beautiful, sweet smelling compost is left:

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This compost was used all over my allotment and in my polytunnel in February and March and I think the photos I post on my blog are proof that providing you hoe each area of your plot every week, then the weed seeds are not a problem.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time on Friday.  Have a good week.

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Identifying Tomato Blight And A New Fruit Area

On Monday I reported that my tomatoes had finally succumbed to the dreaded ‘blight’.  I thought it would be interesting to take photographs to show just how quickly ‘blight’ spreads over the plant.   So here are the pictures that I took:

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Day Two

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Day Four

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So by day two there was no mistaking that the plants had ‘blight’.  By day four the remaining tomatoes growing on the plants had begun to turn brown too:

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I hope these pictures will help to identify ‘ blight’ if anyone reading this blog is at all unsure what to look for.

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This week at the allotment I have managed to get quite a lot done.  It has helped that I am staying there longer than usual each day so I don’t get in the way of the builders at home.

Below is a photo that shows the outside my polytunnel last year.  Since this photograph was taken,  this area has become a bit of a dumping ground and is now quite messy and so this week I decided it was time to make it a much more productive area.  I have decided to grow my fruit bushes here instead.

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I started by lifting the slabs that were laid over half of the area:

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And then I re-laid the path at the side:

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I then dug up all the grass.  I actually just turned the grass over and leveled the ground.  I will be putting weed suppressant down at the weekend which will kill off any grass that remains.  In a few weeks time I will plant the bushes and then lay wood chip around them so it will be quite a low maintenance area.

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Another small thing I did this week was to finish off around my shed after moving it last week.  I sowed some grass seed in the space next to my shed that I had dug out by mistake:

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I also coved my two waterbutts to stop leaves etc from falling into them.  The last few years I have used the thin weed suppressant to cover the butts, but it always rips, so I decided to look for something different to use.  I found an old tent liner that the previous plot holder had left and I cut it up and used this by tying it to the down pipes.  I was really pleased with it, even though it doesn’t look particularly good, it serves a purpose.

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The Michealmus Daisys are looking really beautiful on my plot now.  I love this time of year when they are in flower.  I grow them for a few reasons:

  1. They separate my rotational beds
  2. They attract lots of beneficial insects later in the season
  3. They look beautiful when they flower
  4. They remind me of my grandad (who died before I was born) as his birthday was on September 29th which is Michealmus Daisy day.

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I think the Michealmus Daisys compliment the orange Calendula that are still flowering beautifully along my paths….what do you think?

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday with an update on our building work.

I hope you have a good weekend.

Moving A Shed/Pond And A Butternut Squash Problem

Last Monday I wrote about our very exciting building work that was due to start last Tuesday.  Unfortunately, for one reason or another the building work was delayed another week, but I am pleased to say they have started today.  As I write, The kitchen has been removed and our backroom carpet has been lifted and they are currently removing the ceiling.

It is all very exciting.

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Up until now the builders have been very professional and they have great references from people we have been to see, so we are hoping that the delay was just an unfortunate ‘blip’.

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I’m very pleased to say that at the weekend Mr Thrift and my brother-in-law managed to move my shed on to my newly laid slabs, without it collapsing and I no longer have a ‘crooked house’.  I am very grateful to them.  They also moved and set up my two water butts ready to catch the winter rains.

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My pond in Spring

My pond in Spring

I also decided to move one of my small ponds at the weekend.  Unfortunately the pond was in an awkward place next to one of my compost heaps so I came to the conclusion it needed moving.  I wanted to move it before the winter as I wasn’t sure if I would disturb anything that would be hibernating over winter.

I put the pond at the far corner of my woodland area.  This area is not in the shade and it is near the middle of my plot, so I thought it would be a good place to encourage frogs to visit it and then go away and eat the slugs and snails on my plot.

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First I dug a hole ready for my pond liner.  The soil was rock hard as I don’t think this area had been dug for years and years:

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I then put all the pond water into an unused water butt next to where the pond was moving to:

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I dug out a bit more soil so the pond liner sat straight and then I filled the pond up.

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I put some old bits of crazy paving around the pond and then transplanted the aubretia that I grew around the pond previously.  Finally I emptied the water from the water butt next to the pond.  I didn’t want to use the same pond water, as there were leaves, mud and lots of lots of pond weed in it, but I hoped that by emptying it next to the pond, any pond life would be able to crawl back into my newly located pond.

I was very pleased with the result, however I will need to cover it with netting soon to make sure that the autumn leaves don’t blow into it:

Before

Before

After

After

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I just thought I would finish with a couple of things.  The first is my tomatoes….I am sad to say that they have finally succumbed to the dreaded tomato blight.  You can read more about it here.  As I have caught it really early, I have stripped the remaining tomatoes off my plants and I will be ripening them in my polytunnel and greenhouse at home (I would normally ripen them on my windowsills but due to the building work this isn’t possible).  I may still lose some of them to blight, but time will only tell.

I have read so many times that you should burn the foliage when you have blight, but this is just not true.  Blight is a fungus that remains in the seed (the tomato) but not on the foliage.  The fungus will not survive on the stems or leaves after the plant has died, so it is safe to add it to the compost heap, provided you have removed all of the tomatoes.  If you are still unsure, you can read more on the Garden Organic website here.

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And finally, three different people at my allotment have asked me the same question this week, so I wondered if the answer would help anyone who reads this blog, as it is obviously a problem that a few people are suffering from…..butternut squashes that are not yet ripening?  I have been asked what to do with them when they are still partly green?

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Butternut squashes were late producing fruit this year as if you cast your mind back, it was still quite cold in late May and June.  This meant the squashes were all slow to get going.

My reply was that I would leave them out as long as possible and watch the weather forecast like a hawk.  If there is a frost forecast I would either cover them up with fleece for the night or if I couldn’t leave them outside any longer, I would bring them into a cold greenhouse or polytunnel to see if they would ripen just a little bit more.  If they are still green then they won’t store very long, so I would eat these ones first.

I hope this helps someone here too.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday, hopefully with some better news about our building work.

Slabs And Planning For Next Year

My poor old allotment shed has been sitting on a bit of a slope for the last eight or nine years and unfortunately this has caused my shed to lean to one side, like a crooked house.  So this week I have been preparing a much better base for it to sit on, by laying slabs that I have recycled from a path I don’t use anymore.  Mr Thrift helped me to dig up the grass to prepare for the slabs and he helped me to lay four slabs, I managed to lay six more on my own the next day and on Wednesday my brother in law (who has the plot next to me) helped me to lay the final six and I was very grateful for their help.

Unfortunately, as I was laying the slabs on a slope, I needed to keep digging the soil from underneath each slab to ensure they were straight.   I must admit I did find it so hard at one stage that I started to wonder why I do things like laying slabs, instead of staying at home painting my nails and watching day time TV….but I suppose that just isn’t me.  I am now very proud of my square of slabs.

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Tomorrow I will attempt to move my shed over to the new slabs, again with help from Mr Thrift and my brother-in-law.  I pray it won’t collapse in the process.

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Between slabbing I have been preparing for next year by planting my overwintering onions and spring cabbage.

The overwintering onions that I planted in 2011 were not very good at all.  This was due to a fairly new pest called the Allium Leaf Miner (you can find details of it here).

In 2012 I planted seed sowed onions instead of sets, as I had read that they produce slightly stronger growth and after planting them I covered them with environmesh.  These onions were much better and I was very pleased with my crop:

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I’m not sure if the seed sown onions made a difference, but the environmesh definately stopped the Allium Leaf Miner, so this year I have planted them in exactly the same way:

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I also planted my spring cabbages this week:

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I prepared the beds for the spring cabbage and the overwintering onions by just raking in some blood, fish and bone a week or so before.

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I have also been clearing away the old plants in  ‘Calendula Alley’ next to my polytunnel.  The plants gave a beautiful display of flowers that all self seeded from the previous years plants.

I grow Calendula as they are great for attacting beneficial insects to my allotment, such as hoverflies, bees and butterflies and as an extra bonus, the petals are edible and look really pretty scattered into salads.

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It’s quite sad when the plants have finished flowering and it’s time to clear them all away for another year, but at least I can add them all to the compost heap.

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I covered the area with weed suppressant to prevent any weeds from growing:

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I am amazed to say that my outdoor tomatoes are still producing lovely, juicy fruit.  I am unable to freeze or preserve any more of them due to our building work, so I am giving bags of them away to anyone that wants them.  I have never managed to go this late in the season without them succumbing to the dreaded tomato blight, but this has been an exceptional year.  You can read about tomato blight here.

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The variety of tomato I grew was ‘Outdoor Girl’.  This week I have saved some of the seeds ready for next year.  There are different ways to save tomato seeds but I find this way easiest:

 All I do is chop the tomato in half and scrape out the seeds and spread them on a piece of kitchen towel.

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Allow the kitchen towel to completely dry out for a few days and then roll it up and pop it into an envelope ready to store it in a cool, dark and dry place.  Next year I just rip off a few seeds and plant them into compost with the kitchen towel still attached and it works a treat.

Please note:  Do NOT save seed from ‘F1’ varieties as they will not come ‘true to type’, which means you can’t guarantee what you will actually be growing.

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My allotment is still producing, but things are definately slowing down.

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One lovely thing I harvested this week was my first melon from my polytunnel.  I have never grown melons before and thought I would give it a try this year and I am very pleased with the results.  I have seven melons from two plants.  The melons are actually an outdoor variety called ‘Outdoor Wonder’, but I thought I may have better results planting them in my polytunnel.

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The melon was delicious and my daughters loved it, so I will definately grow melons again.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Life Is Too Short – An Exciting Project

Over the next few weeks something very exciting is happening….we have builders coming into our house to carry out some well overdue work and I would like to share it with you.

We have been in our house nearly eleven years now and we haven’t really done anything to the inside of it, except to give it a quick lick of paint.   All this time we have been dreaming of knocking our kitchen wall down and having a kitchen diner, as our kitchen is really small and impractical for the amount of cooking I do.

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It doesn’t look too bad in the photograph above, but the kitchen is too small to have a worksurface on both sides of it, which makes it very difficult to store my cooking equipment and groceries.  As you can see in the photographs below, we have things stored in all sorts of places in different rooms and my fridge is in my pantry and my freezers are in my dining room which is totally inpractical:

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Life is too short

If you have been reading my blog since the beginning of the year, you may remember that my very good friend, who I had known for many years, passed away in February.  This devastated me and I still struggle with coming to terms with it now.

The death of my friend made me question every part of my life, (which I think must be a normal part of grieving) and it has made me realise what is and isn’t important to me.

It has made me realise who matters in my life and who never did and I have finally realised that life is too short to worry about what others think about me.  My home is the centre of my universe and I love the simple life I lead with my family, even though it isn’t the ‘normal’ way to live.

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I love growing fruit and vegetables at my allotment and using them to prepare food for my family and friends.  I enjoy preserving, freezing and storing my produce so we can eat like ‘kings’ on a small budget, but I do find this difficult in my tiny kitchen, so this is why we finally decided to make our dream a reality.

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So we have decided to spend some money to knock two rooms into one, to make a kitchen diner.  It will be lovely to have room for my freezers and places to store my groceries and preserves altogether, but most of all, it will be big enough to have my family helping me with my cooking and preserving, which at present is just not possible (which is a lot of work for one person especially during the summer months).  I am also looking forward to chatting to friends and family  whilst I cook, instead of being locked away in my little kitchen that no one else can fit into when I’m cooking.

It is something we have thought long and hard about, in fact we looked at moving house to start with, but every house we could afford seemed smaller than we have already or was too far away from my allotments.  We also came to the conclusion it would be more expensive to move house anyway.

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Starting the building work has been a big decision for us and it feels like the planning has been going on for months, but finally tomorrow it will begin.  I have spent the last couple of weeks batch baking microwave meals for us all, packing things into boxes and moving everything from our sitting room and kitchen into our front room and bedrooms for the duration of the building work.

We have ‘car booted’ excessive items and given things to charity shops and now we are left with the items we really wanted to keep.

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So for the next few weeks I will share with you the ups and downs of our new kitchen diner, together with my usual allotment posts.

The death of my friend has made me re-evaluate everything around me and make changes for the better.  She has made me realise that life is short and it’s important to do the things that make you happy.  So even though this work is expensive and people would say it is not really part of a simple life, it will make my life much simpler and make a much more comfortable household to live in.  It really is time to spend some money on our house so we can enjoy the rest of our lives here.

And finally, I would like to say ‘thank you’ once again to my old friend, for making me realise that dreams can come true.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at the usual time.

Winter Salads – A Winters Delight

Hi all.

Today I thought I would talk about the winter salads that I grow at my allotment, especially now that Autumn is approaching.

On the 14th August I sowed some winter hardy lettuces, mizuna, corn salad, perpetual spinach and winter hardy spring onions.  As the weather was still warm then, they germinated in just four days which I was quite amazed at:

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This week they were big enough to plant out:

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I cleared away some of my old crops in my polytunnel and then raked in some ‘Blood, fish and bone’ before planting them all out.

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All the above salads are great to grow all through the winter.  All they need is a bit of protection i.e. under a cloche, cold frame, a cold greenhouse or polytunnel.

I tend to treat the salads like cut and come again leaves, as I just pick a few leaves from the outside of each plant each time we want a salad to go with our meal.  This way the plants continue to ‘heart up’ in the centre.

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The photo below shows some different leaves I picked on a winters day at the beginning of the year.  There are two different winter hardy lettuces, corn salad leaves, mizuna, winter hardy spring onions and ‘baby’ perpetual spinach leaves.

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They all make a lovely salad mixed together:

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The two photos below show the salads growing last year in my polytunnel:

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The photo on the right shows the corn salad, mizuna and some younger winter lettuces.

I like growing mizuna as I particularly like the peppery taste of it in a mixed salad and as it’s a brassica, it looks beautiful when it eventually flowers in Spring and attracts the first butterflies of the year:

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Winter salads are usually sown in August and September and grow slowly over the winter under protection.  They have a lower proportion of water than summer lettuces, which is why they survive after being frozen.

A few winter salads you may like to try are winter hardy lettuces (I use a variety called ‘Artic King), mizuna, rocket, corn salad (lambs lettuce), mustards, winter purslane, land cress and winter hardy spring onions.

If you haven’t tried growing winter salads then have a go and I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at the usual time.

Fareshare, Autumn Tidying And A Bit Of Good News

I hope you all had a lovely weekend.

Flowers at my allotment this week

This weekend I have been busy making batches of tomato sauce with some of the tomatoes that have grown this year.  All I do is wash and chop them in half and then cook them in a large pan with a cup of water.  When they are soft I use my stick blender to liquidise them until there are no lumps and when it is cool I freeze it in portions ready to use.

I use the sauce in place of passatta in recipes like pasta sauce, pizza sauce or spaghetti bolognaise.

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This year really has been a bumper year for tomatoes.  Unfortunately I have nearly ran out of freezer space, so I have been giving lots of tomatoes away to anyone that wants them.  Last week I had so many that I gave two extra large carrier bags full of tomatoes to ‘Fareshare’.

FareShare is a national UK charity supporting communities to relieve food poverty. FareShare is at the centre of two of the most urgent issues that face the UK: food poverty and food waste.

If you also have any large amounts of good quality vegetables spare, they would love to have them to distibute, just give them a call and take them down to their depot.   You can read about Fareshare here.

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Over the bank holiday weekend,  I went to the Leicester Horticultural Show.  It’s the first time I had been to a show like this and there were some wonderful entries.  I thought I would show you four photographs that I took, as the size and quality of the vegetables was amazing:

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Back to reality (after dreaming of growing leeks and onions the size of the ones above), I have been digging up my potatoes this week.  These are my red ‘desiree’ potatoes.  I was very pleased with the size and quantity of potatoes and I noticed that there wasn’t many slug holes (unlike the other two varieties that I grew this year).  So I will definately grow them again.

After drying the potatoes for a few hours, I transferred them into sacks ready to store them.  I will check them every so often just to make sure that none of them are rotting.

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Another job I completed last week was the pruning of my old, rather large plum tree.  I don’t think it has been pruned for years, so I have decided to prune in stages over the next three or four years.  I’m not sure what variety the plums are, but they are small, very much like damsons.  Hopefully my crops will be better in a few years time when I have finally finished rejuvenating it.

I started by removing any dead, diseased or damaged wood and then I removed some of the branches that were crossing each other.  This will help to improve the air flow between the branches and will help to stop the branches from rubbing on each other, which can increase the chance of a disease called ‘Silver Leaf’.

The ‘Silver Leaf’ fungus produces most of its infectious spores in autumn and winter, so it is important to prune susceptible plants in summer. Not only are there fewer spores at this time, but pruning wounds, (the main point of entry for the spores), heal more quickly.

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I have also been cutting back my summer raspberries.  Summer raspberries produce fruit on the previous years growth, so it is important to only prune canes that held fruit in summer by cutting them right back to the ground.  This is usually a job for autumn, but I wanted to sort them out as they also needed weeding underneath them.

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On Thursday we had a beautiful sunny and hot day, so I collected some of my pea seeds that had been drying on the plants at my allotment.  I knew they were ready to pick as I could hear the pea seeds rattling inside their shells when I shook them.  I have now left them to dry inside my house for another week or so, before I take the pea seeds out of the shells and put them away in an envelope, ready for planting next year.

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I then cleared my peas away, by cutting the stalks from the roots and removing the top growth.  I left the roots in the ground as the root nodules will add nitrogen to the ground ready for my next crops.

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I thought I would show you my sweetcorn as I am really pleased with it.  I don’t know if you remember, I dropped my own homegrown sweetcorn just before I went to plant them, so I had to buy some more to plant.  The new plants have grown really strongly and have produced a wonderful crop.  I wish I knew what variety they were as they taste fantastic.

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I have noticed over the the last few days that there is now a feeling of autumn in the air.  This makes me sad as summer is nearly over, but after such a busy summer I am looking forward to having a rest from all the frantic picking and harvesting I have been doing.

I am now watching the temperatures at night, ready to cover up my winter squashes if a frost is due and to shut my polytunnel and greenhouse.

It’s the time of year that I start to clear my old crops away and look forward to planning next year.

My butternut squash

My butternut squash

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I’ve decided to leave you with a great piece of news….

I am in the Autumn edition of the ‘Grow It’ magazine as a runner up for the best allotment plot category.  You can see my plot in the photo below.

I don’t win anything for being a runner up, but I am very proud to be in the magazine.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at the usual time of 4pm.

I hope you have a good week.