vegging.co.uk

A novice's guide to producing his own food


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This is the plan for 2014

This (in theory) is how it's going to go

This (in theory) is how it’s going to go

Those of you who have followed my blog (and there aren’t many) will have noticed that around this time of year I publish a plan of what I intend to do on the allotment for the coming season.

Using Suttons Garden Planner, I basically stick to a rotation, so much of it is a logical development from previous years. Here it is in full: http://tinyurl.com/vegging-plot-2014

However, there are some differences, primarily with the ever-troublesome Brassicas. For the first couple of years they were a disaster. Either crops failed to grow or they were scoffed by caterpillars. The last two years, however, were more successful, but they weren’t being eaten at all — neither by caterpillars or (more importantly) family members. I managed to grow quite a few superb cabbages in 2012, but they weren’t used, and many ended up being fed to the chickens. In 2013, I grew swedes (as requested) but when they came to harvest, Sue told me they disagreed with her!

So, for 2014, I’m going to try something different. I’ll still grow some swedes, but I’ll also try smaller amounts of cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and broccoli, and see if any prove a hit.

There will also be changes to the onion bed. Last year, I grew half red onions and half yellow. Both were highly successful, but the red bolted and didn’t keep well at all. This seemingly is a very common problem with these onions, so, this year, I’ll grow three-quarters yellow.

I’ve also made some changes to the fruit cage. The far left hand side used to be mish-mash of different plants — blackberry, Tayberry, gooseberry, raspberry and  loganberry. Most were disappointing, except for the loganberry and the blackberry (the latter was which was absolutely sensational). So I’ve kept those two, pulled out the rest, and planted another blackberry bush. It was quite expensive, but if it produces the same ultra-sweet and juicy fruit that its partner did last year, then I’ll be delighted.

A year ago, I planted six Glen Moy raspberry bushes. They’ve taken off really well, so I’m hoping for a major harvest this year. It’s a similar situation with the rhubarb. Although planted two years ago, it is only this year I’ll be able to harvest any sticks. If all goes according to plan, 2014 should be a great year for fruit, jams and puddings.


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A second stab at winter crops

Not much to see just now, but this is where I planted the onions and cabbage. The onions are marked out with string, so I know where to weed

Not much to see just now, but this is where I planted the onions and cabbage. The onions are marked out with string, so I know where to weed

In  2012/13 I tried for the first time to grow winter crops.  The plot was in pretty good nick, and there was some spare time, so I thought I’d try growing winter onions, lettuce and cabbage. Get the most out of the plot, and all that.

The onions grew OK, but the lettuce and cabbages were quickly choked out by a late flush of weeds and never really showed themselves.

I reminded myself that everything I try for the first time on the plot is usually a disaster, so, this year, I thought, I’ll learn from my mistakes and have another go. This time I decided to forget about the lettuce, and plant spring cabbages from seedlings. That way they’ll be easier to weed.

The onions were planted as sets, and buried below the ground. As I knew it’d be several months before they showed themselves, I marked their location with string. That way I could weed with impunity. As I write this only one onion has shown itself. That’s to be expected. During the winter months, the onions will set down roots, and come the spring, they should pop through and grow quickly.

The leeks have been a great success again

The leeks have been a great success again

Actually, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call them winter onions. The reality is that they’ll only end up being only about four weeks ahead of normal onions. But that’s OK by me. If I need the space come spring,  I’ll harvest them as large(-ish) spring onions. I did that last year, and they were among the first harvest of the year. Fresh veg, come April and May, is extremely welcome.

There are still other crops on the go at the plot, which aren’t strictly winter crops as they were planted in early summer, but are still maturing. They are leeks, purple sprouting broccoli and turnip. Leeks have been a great success over the past two years, and this season is no exception. Big, thick and white, they have a crunch, flavour and an oniony smell you just don’t get from the supermarket. Plus I managed to grow about 90 in half a bed. You can cram them in, and they don’t seem to mind too much.

The same can’t be said about the broccoli. I planted these in mid-summer, and they grew very fast, but there is no sign of a crop. It’s all green. Not sure where my mistake is, but the harvest season is December to March, so maybe something will show itself yet. If not, I’ll dig them up and give them to the chickens. They’ll love it.

Finally, the turnips (or should I say swedes?).  Another great success. As an experiment, I tried planting these as seedlings too. Seems to be a good idea, as they have turned out to quite substantial. Some of the shapes are bit odd (long and rounded — more like a marrow), but still edible.

It’s good to have something to harvest between now and spring, and its means my plot is producing veg for around nine or 10 months of the year. Not bad at all.


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Video Update No. 1 2013

Good golly, is it video update time already? Yes, that’s right, I about to administer some digital propofol by warbling about my beloved allotment.

If you watch it all, you’ll notice I keep banging on about how a great year it has been (so far). I’m getting better at growing veg, the weather has been particularly good (although some folk still aren’t happy), and I’m actually getting fitter. A couple of years ago, three hours down the allotment would have had me taking to bed for the next couple of days. Not any more. I’m regularly putting in up to eight hours on Saturday, followed by a similar amount on Sunday (I then struggle to stay awake at work on Monday).

All my time hasn’t been spent at allotment, though. At least one day each weekend is spent at home tending to the greenhouse, chickens and quails. And, of course, there are the bees.

Anyway, time to kick back and enjoy the clip.

See! Told you it was rubbish. Before I go, I must correct one mistake. Contrary to what I say in the video, I am not growing climbing beans. The legumes are: (in order) broad beans, early peas, FRENCH beans, RUNNER beans and late peas (I really should prepare better).


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Stepping up a gear

On the left and right of the fruit cage are the rasps. The strawbs are in the middle.

On the left and right of the fruit cage are the rasps. The strawbs are in the middle.

All of a sudden the allotment seems have entered a new phase. After months and months of digging, mulching and sowing in bare earth, the plants are now roaring ahead, and I’ve even been able to harvest something.

The winter onions were an unsuccessful experiment. Despite being planted before Christmas, they’re only a few weeks ahead of my main onions, so (as I need the space) I’ve decided to dig them up  for use in salads. The lettuce in the greenhouse is also ready to eat. At last, the hungry gap is over.

Although there is substantial growth at the allotment, the biggest change is probably in the greenhouse. Up until now, it was being used to bring on as many seedlings as I could. Hundreds of peas (Alderman and Hurst), beans (Blauhilde and Wisley), leeks, lettuce, chillies and tomatoes have all been brought on under glass.

Gradually, however, most have been hardened off and replanted in the allotment, leaving only the tomatoes and chillies. The toms are getting too big for their pots and need to be placed in grow bags. This means a complete clear-out of everything in the greenhouse – three staging benches, plant pots and bags of compost. From this weekend on, it will devoted to growing only cucumber (they arrived in the post today), chillies and, most importantly of all, lots and lots of tomatoes of varying colours and sizes. Nearly all have been grown from seed, but I’ve also acquired about seven freebie plug plants.

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The plan for 2013

If all goes according to plan...

The figure in brackets is the number of plants I should be able to squeeze in comfortably. More info can her found here

http://gardenplanner.suttons.co.uk/garden-plan.aspx?p=398906

It seems nuts to be writing about my plans for this year when it’s already the middle of April, but winter has been so horribly long I’ve barely been able to get things started.

The tomato seeds are growing in an electric propagator, and the rhubarb is starting to show itself, but that’s about it. Surely winter must be on its way out now, and I’ll be able to get cracking properly.

Not that I’ve been sitting with my feet up. I’ve taken advantage of this weather to give the allotment a proper and thorough digging, removing plenty of perennial weeds along the way, and it’s almost ready for the planting season.

Most of my plans for 2013 simply revolve around crop rotation, but there are one or two significant changes. I now have a dedicated rhubarb plot, with six crowns planted in the autumn. Once established, I should get rhubarb staggered throughout the growing season.

I’ve also removed a row of strawberries and replaced them with rasps. Like the rhubarb, this will take two years before I get a decent crop.

The strawberries were rubbish last year — very little fruit, a lot of it rotten, and the fruit that did make it was often ripe on one side, while yellow on the other. I’ve all but given up on them, and decided to go for raspberries which have been far more successful recently. Besides, Sue prefers them.

Another change has been to the brassicas bed. Last year, half the bed was devoted to cabbages, a quarter to sprouts and a quarter to swedes. Although the cabbages were very successful, no-one wanted to eat them, and they ended up being fed to the hens. The sprouts blew and were no good, so I also gave them to my feathered chums who really adored them. As for the swedes — they would have been eaten, but were very small. I am, however, going to give them another go this year, and see if I can somehow get them bigger.

As for the rest of the brassicas patch — I’m not sure what to do. There’s no point in growing stuff if no-0ne (apart from chickens) eats it, so I might throw the area over to more peas. We’ll see….


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Late as usual! I’m finally getting around to posting a video I shot over a month ago.

It was taken just as the tomatoes were ripening, and  as I write this the crop is all but over, and  I’m starting to tidy the greenhouse up for winter.

There are a few straggly tomatoes left on the vines, but most are green and/or rotting. However, at the peak of the tomato glut I did try drying about 30 or 40 tomatoes in the oven, and then storing them in olive oil.

A great hit! Absolutely lovely, and once again it puts the shop-bought rubbish to shame.

 


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Video Update No. 1

The start of the onion harvest. Eventually there will be enough for months and months — if they don’t rot first

Time for another overlong video about my allotment (It’s my blog, so I’ll do as I please).  Last year I posted a clip showing it at its peak, and by way of comparison, I decided to repeat the process again.

This year’s was shot just before I started to harvest some of the crops, and as I write this bare patches of earth are starting to appear again as I start digging up potatoes and onions. Soon the growing season will be over — but I have plans for the winter. More details to follow in due course.

In the meantime, sit back, relax and try not to fall asleep …


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Listen, this is how it is going to be …

I have a plan.

Last year I had a plan too, but it didn’t work out. Neither did the previous year’s. This year will be different, though, because for the first time I am in complete control of the allotment. All I need to do is keep it that way.

There is one major alteration to what I aim to produce. I’m going to start growing flowers (top left, in the salad bed). The idea being, after spending a little too long at the allotment, I’ll surprise my wife with a bunch just to show I appreciate her putting up with my “latest craze” (her words). However, I was so excited by the idea that I immediately spilled the beans as soon as the seeds arrived through the post. Still, it’s the thought.

The rest of the allotment is pretty much dictated by crop rotation. The potatoes go where the carrots were, the carrots where the Brassicas were, and so on.

The spuds, though, will be done slightly differently. Instead of splitting the bed into four sections (salad, first earlies, second earlies and maincrop), I’m just going for the maincrop. The yield is greater, and I’d like to see my potatoes last for at least half a year (we go through a lot).

Oh, and I’ve moved the leeks from their own patch to beside the carrots. Technically, of course, leeks should be in the onion bed, but it’s full, so I’m gonna bend the rules a smidge.

As I write this, most of the potatoes are already in the ground, as are the flowers, lettuces and some carrots. Plenty of work lies ahead, as the onions are sprouting in the greenhouse, alongside the peas, beans and leeks.I just love this time of year and seeing the first plants pop out of the soil. Truly exciting. The icing on the cake, though, is one of my hives is already stuffed with bees, so I’ve put a super on top to collect honey. The Uchman food machine is finally cranking into gear!


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A new year, and a new milestone

The fruit cage was a weedy disgrace. Over the winter I finally managed to clear it, and for the first time, the allotment is pretty much weed-free and under my control.

It’s been a fantastic winter. Last year I was unable to put a spade in the ground because it was so cold. This year, however, as it’s been so mild, I’ve made it to the allotment almost every weekend except for Christmas.

This lucky streak has meant I’ve really been able to really get torn into giving the beds a good digging over  and get rid of those perennial weeds, the main offender being marestail (or rack weed). The worst affected area was the fruitcage. It was so full of weeds it almost formed a turf. When I look at it now, I’m surprised I got any strawberries last year. The plants must have been nearly choked.

Fortunately, the mild winter has meant I’ve been able to deal with the fruitcage properly. I dug out all the strawberry plants just before and winter, and let them rest in a spare bed. Then it was down to the hard work. It took several weekends and many hours just to dig it over once, it was in such a mess. After that I meant through it all again TWICE with a fork to get the remainder out. It won’t be completely weed-free, but should be manageable this coming summer. I’m expecting a good crop.

For the first time since I got the allotment two years ago, I can now say it is pretty much in the shape I wanted it. Everything has been dug over properly, and is as weed-free as can reasonably be expected for someone who is taking the organic approach. I really hope the marestail will only  be a fraction of what it was. My biggest headache is now under control. The job now is to keep it that way.

In the midst of all this I got six tons of compost delivered. This is largely due to the hard work of another allotmenteer — he persuaded  Dundee City Council to drop off ten tons of its highly recommended Discovery Compost. My share cost £80, and was enough for one ton of compost per bed. That’s gotta do some good.

First, however, there was a major hurdle. As the truck had to drop the compost off in a communal area, we had to move it very quickly. Unfortunately, our delivery didn’t impress one grower who took immediate exception and started a shouting match. This is despite the fact that he had had a NINE-ton delivery to the exact same spot a few months earlier. Some folk, eh? Continue reading


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2011: The rise and fall and rise and eventual collapse of the greenhouse

The greenhouse didn't survive the December storm

Looking back over the 2011, it’s clear events have been dominated by one thing – the greenhouse. Money, and even more importantly, time have been wasted on it.

My “big project” of the year was to grow my first veg in a greenhouse, and yet here I am at the beginning of 2011 without one, despite having built one twice and moved it three times. As you’ve probably guessed my year-old greenhouse blew down in the December 8 storm, and is completely unrepairable.

This is the second time it has blown over since I bought it in January 2011. The first time was when it was on the allotment. Then I thought I had lost it for good, along with the £459 I paid for it. However, it was salvageable and so I  brought up to the garden at home.

But, come December, it blew down again. Although it was in a much more sheltered spot, the winds were the strongest in 10 years, and the greenhouse was completely wrecked. However, as it was on my own property, I was able to claim insurance, and got most of the cash back. Good news.

I am still determined to have a greenhouse, and will put the cash towards a proper wooden Victorian lookalikey. This will cost thousands, rather than hundreds, but I am confident it will last. After all, we have two wooden summerhouses and a shed which weren’t at all fazed by the storms.

The fault with my greenhouse was a common one — it used polycarbonate sheeting. This is supposed to better than glass for the plants,  but the downside is it makes greenhouses so light they can’t withstand even moderate winds. After the last storms, it was suckers like me with polycarbonate greenhouses who lost everything, while glass greenhouses stood.

The lesson here is: don’t ever buy polycarbonate. I will never touch them again

But I must’ve be too negative, there was plenty to be excited about in 2011. The harvest (although not large) was at least consistent. Just about everything produced a crop which ended up on the table.

Let’s take a look at each bed  in turn.

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