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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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The Plan

My plan for this year

After a dry and hot spell for several weeks, it’s quite nice to see some rain. Good for the veg, of course, but it also gives me time to do some blogging.

The last few weeks have been very full-on — the bees have taken up a lot of time (but more of that in my next blog), and there has been a constant rota of planting seeds in the greenhouse,then hardening them off in the cold frames, and finally planting them in the ground at the allotment. Last year nearly everything was sown directly into the ground, but now that I have a greenhouse, I’m starting as much as I can in there.

There are three distinct advantages to this. Firstly, a greenhouse extends the growing season, so I should get bigger and more veg. The second, nothing goes into the ground at the allotment unless I can see it is healthy and growing (last year quite a few plants — particularly peas — didn’t pop up at all). Finally, seedlings are planted later than seeds, so it gives me time to get rid of more weeds beforehand (a final fork through has done wonders).

Another major issue last year was productivity. How do I get the most out of the plot? I suspected I was too generous with spacings, and could have been more productive.

With this is mind, I signed up for Suttons Vegetable Garden Planner. For a £15 annual fee it promises to keep you right as you progress through the year, giving you planting times, feeding advice, tips etc. More importantly for me, though, is it allows me to calculate what I should be getting from my allotment.

The numbers in brackets are the number of plants I should be looking to harvest. Some are (quite frankly) astonishing. Six hundred onions! Nine hundred carrots! I planted nowhere near that last year, and it shows you how productive my plot should be. However, at the other end of the scale, the planner suggests only six courgettes.  In the same space, I had sixteen plants growing quite successfully. That, to me, suggests I should use the planner’s suggestions as a guide, not a rule.  Continue reading


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At long bloody last

Progress so far. The fruit cage is at the top left.

 

I open nearly every new post with the same(-ish) phrase: “I’ve been hellishly busy on the allotment”. Not only is it boring, but it’s true. Just now, I’m juggling three distinct elements, none of which are complete. There’s the conversion of what was a neglected site,  then there’s getting seeds in the ground and, thirdly, I’m trying to keep on top of the weeds.      

Five out of the six raised beds are built, and I’m currently finishing off the fruit cage. Just got to get the netting on, and I’m done. It’s taken a lot more work than I thought, and I had to concrete eight posts into the ground, then put beams around the outside to hold the net. It’s the only major structure on any of the allotments, and I’m sure everyone else thinks I’m crazy. Probably a lot of that has to do with the fact I’m spending far more time and money than anyone else.       

One of the reasons I’ve waited until now to write my latest post, is I wanted to see the plants springing to life. For a long time, nothing seemed to grow at all, and at one point I was getting really fed up. Winter was never coming to a proper end. Then the weather took a sudden turn – the air heated up, and finally we got some action. The change was remarkable. There was only two days between me being pished off and wondering if it was all worth it, to me getting excited again.      

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The Master Plan

  

How the plot will look eventually (we hope)

 

  Since acquiring the new allotment I’ve done little except dig. Out of the six major beds, I’ve now completed three. This is despite spending every spare weekend hour with a spade (when the weather has been kind enough).        

However, Janek and I did complete one job very quickly – planning the allotment’s new layout. On the day we took the keys (to the shed), we got out the measuring tape, and spent the evening drawing up a plan. Like I said in my last post, we will be taking as inspiration the “ideal allotment” from Caroline Foley’s Practical Allotment Gardening.        

Pictured above is what we came up with. I’ve ordered nearly all the plants and seeds from Dobies (not to be confused with the Dobbies with two ‘b’s. That’s for genteel coach parties. In Dobies with one ‘b’ , the ‘b’ stands for bitchin’).        

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