Tag Archive | Using comfrey

How to Prune Apple Trees And Making Marmalade

It has rained every day this week and at times I have been really wet whilst working at my allotment.  The soil is too wet and soggy to stand on now, as it would ruin the soil structure.  So I have chosen to do jobs that do not require me to stand on the soil.

As a general rule of thumb, if the soil sticks to your boots, then it is too wet to work on.

In between the showers there has been some beautiful rainbows:

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My first allotment job this week was to complete my runner bean trench.  I dug it out two or three weeks ago and have been filling it with old peelings, etc. since then:

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And as both trenches were full, I covered the peelings back up with soil so they can decompose ready for the end of May (when I plant my runner beans).  This will help retain the moisture in my soil, which runner beans love.  You can see in the photograph above, I have been standing on a plank of wood so I didn’t need to stand on the soggy, wet soil:

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I have also given my ‘comfrey bed’ a tidy up, by removing all the old leaves and putting them onto my compost heap.  I have an enormous comfrey bed as I find it such a useful plant to have at my allotment and it saves me pounds as it makes a wonderful FREE high potash fertiliser.  You can read about how to make ‘comfrey tea’ here.

I also use comfrey by adding the leaves to my compost bins as the leaves are a great ‘compost activator’ and if I have any spare, I add them as a mulch around my potatoes, which I just dig into the soil after I have dug my potatoes up.

If you are thinking of buying comfrey plants, then the books will tell you to buy a variety called ‘Bocking 14’ which doesn’t produce seedI ignored their advice and just dug up a plant on my neighbours plot (that they said they didn’t want) and took lots of root cuttings from it.  As long as you ensure that you cut the plants down before they flower, then you won’t have a problem with it self seeding.

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I have also given my blackberries a major prune, as there was loads of dead wood that needed removing and I also wanted to clear away the canes at the front of the bushes, so I can start to work on this area:

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Blackberries fruit on the previous years growth, so I pruned away the old canes and tied in the new growth.  It looks a bit drastic in the photo below.  It will be interesting to see how many blackberries I actually get this year now, but I do know the pruning will have done the blackberries good in the long run.

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Pruning Apple and Pear Trees

I have also been pruning my apple and pear trees this week (it is important you don’t prune plum or cherry trees in the winter).

Unfortunately I have been having a problem with my shoulder (since slabbing in the autumn), so I have had to prune just one tree a day.

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Pruning isn’t difficult, yet people seem to think that it is.  All you are doing is firstly removing any damaged or diseased branches and then any branches that are crossed, so they don’t rub together and cause disease:

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Then you need to remove any ‘watershoots’, which are ‘whip-like’ twigs that grow vertical (usually from a wound site).  These are not productive and divert energy away from the tree’s real job of producing fruit and while they are there, they are decreasing air circulation within the tree.

Watershoots

Watershoots

After this, you are aiming to open the centre of the tree up, to produce a ‘goblet’ shape so the air can circulate, again to prevent desease.  Make sure you don’t overprune….only prune away upto a quarter of the branches.  If you get into the habit of pruning every year, then your tree won’t need too much taken off each time you prune.

I use my loppers and my long handled pruners when pruning my trees.  The long handled pruners were a birthday present from my daughters a couple of years ago and they have been brilliant.  They were recommended to me by my tutor at Horticultural college.  He said they were as good as the expensive pruners that you can buy.  I seem to remember they cost approx. £15 to buy from Wilkinsons.

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The pruners extend to twice the height that you can see in the photo above.

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Good Pruning Advice:

There is some brilliant advice on the RHS website about pruning here

and before you begin pruning your own trees, the RHS have some great videos to watch here too.

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Back at home this week, I have been trying to think of a place to put the seeds I have sown.  I like to keep my seeds inside my house for as long as possible, so I don’t have the expense of using my electric greenhouse heater until I really have to.  Unfortunately, now we have french doors, I have lost the great big windowsill I used to have that was so great for keeping my seeds on.

After a few discussions with Mr Thrift, I decided to bring in an old ‘mini greenhouse (without the cover) and buy a growbag tray to stand my seed trays in:

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So this week, I have sown some white and red onions, some more broad beans and some peppers and coriander.

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I have had to move our kitchen table back a bit, but as I always say…

“where there is a will, there is a way”.

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Finally, I bought 2lbs of seville oranges from the market last saturday for £1.40.  So I decided to make some orange marmalade.  I have never made marmalade before (because I have never liked it), but I thought it would be nice to put in my Christmas hampers (I like to think ahead).

I followed Delia’s recipe here and I’ve got to say I am very impressed.  Even I enjoyed it on my toast this morning!

The recipe made me five and a half jars of tasty marmalade, which I will now store in my pantry (except the half jar which I am eating).

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I worked out that the jars cost me approximately 80p each to make, which is more expensive than the cheaper shop bought varieties (which I have obviously only eaten and didn’t like before) but less expensive than the higher quality brands.

Providing my family enjoy it when I give it to them, I will definately be making it again.

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

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Completing Planting And A Bumper Harvest

I have so much to write about today, as I have been working so hard at my allotment this week.  I wanted to finish planting all my crops before the long school holidays begin, in exactly one weeks time.  The schools here in Leicestershire break up earlier than the rest of the country.

I started by planted some more perpetual spinach:

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….And some more spring onions.  I sow my spring onions in modules as I always had a very bad germination rate when I sowed them straight into the ground (though I don’t know why as they are supposed to be an easy plant to grow).  By sowing a few seeds in each module, I find it almost guarantees a high germination rate.  I don’t thin the spring onions either, I just plant them as they are when they are ready:

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In the right hand photograph above, you can just see the newly planted spring onions and you can see the ones I planted out three or four weeks ago growing nicely behind.

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I also planted out my spring broccoli, curly kale and some more khol rabi.  All of the brassicas were planted in firm soil which I had dug and manured last autumn.  I also walked over the area before planting.

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As the ground was dry when I planted the brassicas out, I dug a hole for each plant and filled it with water.  When the water had drained away, I then planted them.  This allows the water to go deep into the ground to encourage the roots to also grow deep to find the water.  It also helps to stop the water from evaporating quickly after planting.

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I also planted some quick growing turnips too, but you may have to enlarge the photograph below to see them:

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All my brassicas have nets over, to stop the dreaded pigeons eating them.

While I was working in my brassica patch, I removed any yellowing leaves from my remaining spring cabbages. This will help to stop the build up of any pests or diseases lurking in them.  These cabbages were planted a month after my first spring cabbages and they are now starting to heart up nicely, so I will start to use these now.

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I have now officially ran out of room in my brassica beds and so I can finally say I have finished my summer brassica planting:

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This week I cut my comfrey down.  I prefer to cut my comfrey down before it flowers, but I just wasn’t quick enough this month.  If you have been reading regularly, you will know that I have already made comfrey tea this year (which incidentally is a wonderful high potash fertiliser used for all fruit and flowers e.g. it is a great tomato feed).  You can read how to make comfrey tea here.

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I have also added a vast amount of comfrey to my compost bins already this year.  So when I cut it down at this time of the year, I lay it down between my main crop potatoes instead.  This acts as a mulch to help to stop water evapourating from the ground and also helps to stop annual weeds from germinating.  When the comfrey breaks down, I just dig it into the ground to add nutrients to the soil.

I think comfrey is a wonderful plant!

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This week  I also cleared my old perpetual spinach that had ran to seed and planted my french beans in it’s place:

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I cleared my broad beans in my polytunnel that had finished producing beans:

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And I cleared my poached egg plants that had finally finished flowering either side of my path.  I transplanted some self seeded calendula plants in it’s place, though it looks quite bare at the moment it will soon grow and look pretty and be a bonus for the bees:

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Another thing I have started to do is to ‘nip’ the tops of my runnerbeans off as they reach the top of their supports.  This helps the plants to ‘bush out’ further down and produce more beans:

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This week’s harvest:

Plants have been growing slowly due to the cold spring we have had.  However, the plants are finally now producing and I seem to be having a bumper harvest.

I’ve started to pick my outdoor broadbeans this week and I have needed to pick them every other day:

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I have found my peas are just great, even though they a month behind.  My back has ached just picking them:

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So too is the mangetout (even though some are a little larger than I would have liked, as I didn’t notice they were ready):

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My potatoes taste delicious (especially with a knob of butter) and we are eating lots of lettuces, watercress and spring onions….I love summer so much.

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And my strawberries…well what can I say other than it really is a bumper crop and I’m picking carrier bags full every two days:

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Of course the down side is that I had to defrost my freezer ready for all the fruit and vegetables that I have been bringing home….

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.,….but it will be worth it when we are still tasting ‘summer’ in the long cold winter months.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday with some Jam making tips.

Hope you have a good weekend.

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.