vegging.co.uk

A novice's guide to producing his own food


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Tripping the Glut Fantastic!

Peas and runner beans

Peas and runner beans

You are going to have to forgive me if I sound a bit pleased with myself. That’s because I am. I’m in the midst of what is by far my biggest glut – and it isn’t over yet.

Behind me in a box, as I type this, are jars of strawberry jam, raspberry jam, rhubarb and ginger jam and honey.

In the kitchen are a box of eggs, a bowl of tomatoes, a bowl of onions, three cabbages, a spindly lettuce and a food-grade plastic bucket with what I hope will eventually be sauerkraut.

The freezer in the shed has two drawers with courgettes, raspberries, spring onions, cubes of pureed basil, broad beans, runner beans, peas, and vegetable soup,

Beside the freezer are two sacks, each of which contain 28lbs of potatoes (first and second earlies), with the main crop still to come.

And, finally, next to the shed is the greenhouse, where are four racks of onions drying in the heat before I string them up.

This substantial store of food means two things — we will almost certainly be eating food I have produced daily until at least until Christmas, and I reckon this is the first time since I started the allotment, that the money I have saved has exceeded money spent. That’s not, of course, the reason why I do this, but, still, it’s a wee bonus.

 

 


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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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Orchard plan finally bears fruit

East End Park -- site of the orchard and wildflower meadow

East End Park — site of the orchard and wildflower meadow

I’ve always wanted some fruit trees. Some apples and maybe a few pears. There wasn’t enough room on my allotment, so I tried to get a hold of some adjacent land which would have taken about six trees. That was a failure, so I was at a dead-end.

That was over a year ago, and I’d almost given up on the idea until I bumped into Alex Graham, who is chair of Monifieth EcoForce — an environmental group which does its best to keep the town looking good. I said I was looking for some land for an orchard for myself or the community. “Leave it with me,” he said. I thought little more about until we met again several months later, and he said there was a piece of ground near the golf course which would be suitable for an orchard combined with a wildflower meadow. 

A quick visit to the site left me overwhelmed. It was huge! Roughly 50 x 100m. It was more than I ever dreamed of.

Google Maps view of the site

Google Maps view of the site

The more I thought about it, the more the idea of doing something for the community appealed. There was no doubting this was going to be a massive task, and so I asked Frank King, a fellow allotment holder, if he would come on board. I was delighted to hear him say yes.

Not long after he came up with a genius fundraising idea. Why don’t we allow people in Monifieth to sponsor their own family tree? Brilliant. Folk would have a tree in their name with a plaque giving their details.

Meanwhile, I got in touch with Andrew Lear, who specialises in reviving orchards in this area, particularly in the Carse. He reckoned there was room for 90 trees. And he listed the types of pear, plum and apple which were commonly grown in this area.

So far, so good. But there were two huge hurdles to overcome — getting funding and permission. Thanks to Catherine LLoyd, of Tayside Biodiversity, we applied for a grant from Angus Environmental Trust — a group which uses money from the landfill tax to promote projects like ours. They were very enthusiastic and gave us a grant to cover the cost of the trees, stakes, guards and seeds for the meadow.

The bigger problem was getting permission from the council to go ahead. Although they were behind the idea, their cogs turned extremely slowly. However, after I put in an appeal with our councillor, things started moving — still too slowly for my liking, but faster than before.

On stipulation they had was I should consult with all the owners of the neighbouring properties to get their views on the matter. Two sides of the area was owned by the golf links. I spoke to the chairman, and he was delighted that an eyesore was going to be put to proper use. Residents, however, had reservations. While the vast majority were in favour, many were concerned trees would block their views of the golf course.

This was all passed on to the council who eventually agreed at the beginning of March to lease us the site for the orchard and wildflower meadow. Nothing can stop us now. The money is in place and we have the cash.

Now the real work begins …


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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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What a weekend!

The quail -- well five of them -- safety at home in our garden

The quail — well five of them — safety at home in our garden

It’s Sunday evening, and I’m reflecting on a weekend that was a bit hectic, but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable. The rewards are starting to reveal themselves after all the hard work I’ve put in over the last few months.

Saturday began with an 8am start. Janek and I were driving to the village of Dollar (almost 55 miles away) to collect six Japanese quail. My three boys had decided to get them for me as a Father’s Day gift. Janek had seen an allotment holder with quail, and reckoned I’d like some too. A nice thought.

The sun broke cover by the time we left Dundee, and most of the day was gloriously hot. The drive to Dollar was quick as Janek and I chatted quite a bit (I rarely see him). We found the farm easily enough, and collected the quail in a pet carrier. Lovely little birds, and they make a soothing cooing noise. Although they are ground-dwellers, you look after them in the same way as chickens.

Back home, I transferred my new wee pals into an ark I had bought for the chickens (but never used). After cowering in the shade for a bit, they soon ventured out.

In the afternoon, I visited the pet shop in Monifieth, and bought the quail two little houses (which are meant for small rabbits). They seemed to like them, as they provided more cover. I think I’m right in saying that quail traditionally live on forest floors, so they like being out of the sun.

On Sunday, Janek accompanied me again. This time to check the bees. It was his first-ever visit , and he was (naturally) quite wary. But he did OK, remained calm and didn’t get stung.

My main hive is absolutely chock-full of bees. I’ve never seen so many. And they’re bringing in more honey. The super is getting heavy for a second time — something that has never happened to me before. I’ll keep this honey for the bees, and let them use it over the winter.

The nucleus hive at the apiary (the other is at the allotment) is also doing well. Plenty of bees about to hatch. I’ll have to “upgrade” the nuc to a full brood box soon.

On our way home Janek and I decided to drop in on the allotment. All of a sudden everything seems to be becoming ready at the plot. The two of us spent the next two hours harvesting, and between us gathered the first potatoes (purple majesty), red and white onions, two types of garlic, courgettes, broad beans, two types of peas, a few raspberries, even fewer Tayberries, but a massive 5lbs of strawberries. Oh, and an absolutely huge bunch of sweet peas for Sue.

The strawberries have been stunning this year (they’re even good from the shops), and I think I have harvested about 7lbs so far. There will be more to come, but I suspect today was the peak.

Back at the house, I spread the onions out to dry, and gave Sue a hand as she shelled the beans and peas.

After tea (and an amazing snooze), I zipped back to the allotment to check on the nucleus hive there. It’s also doing great. Although it has not grown as strong as the other nuc, it does have sealed brood. That’s a sign that I can move it back to the apiary. Mission accomplished!

This evening has been spent preparing the strawberries to make jam, making potato and courgette soup, and using a couple of bulbs (yes, bulbs) of garlic to make guacamole.

That’s the end to a perfect weekend. Time to put my feet up and pour myself a whisky.


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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.

Continue reading


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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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First sign of life!

photo

Squint at the photo above and you’ll see something which has lifted my spirits no end. Sprouting out of the compost are sweet pea shoots – the first signs of growth for 2013. This means we are coming out the other side of winter, and that a full-time return to the allotment, bees and greenhouse is not far away.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: sweet peas aren’t a veg, but these shoots will eventually be heading down to the allotment once they are bigger (and it is warmer). Last year I tried growing cut flowers for Sue, but they were disappointing. If memory serves, I got one small bunch. This year, I’m going to try sweet peas.  I found a packet stuck to the front of a magazine, and planted them in November. Since then they have been sitting largely ignored (until now!) in the greenhouse.

The sight of some growth got me heading down to the allotment today for the first time in a month  to see how things were getting on. I have been experimenting with growing winter crops for the first time, and most (though not all) seem to be progressing well.

The bed in which onions had been growing in the summer was the first to be cleared last year, so I thought I’d keep the ball rolling and use that space to plant some crops which will be ready to harvest in the spring. I started by planting  winter cabbage, pak choi and lamb’s lettuce seeds straight into half a bed. That quickly turned out to be a failure. As is just about always the case when I sow seeds direct, the weeds took over before the veg itself could grow, and the whole thing was just swamped within weeks.

Much more successful (so far) are the winter onions and garlic. Throwing caution to the wind regarding crop rotation, I planted three types of winter onions in the other half of the onion bed – White, Electric Red and Shenshu, and (in the bed formerly occupied by the courgettes) I planted two types of garlic (Lautrec Wight and Solent Wight). All seem to be doing well, and their delicate green shoots are popping out the ground. If all goes well, the onions and garlic should be ready by May.

Elsewhere, the biggest change has been the digging of a new rhubarb patch. This is located in the last part of the allotment which was uncultivated, and had previously been used to dump weeds and compost. It is just about big enough for six crowns — two each of Victoria, Stockbridge Arrow and Champagne. Of course, this is a long-term investment, and it’ll be 2014 before I’ll be able to harvest any.

The fruit cage has also had a makeover. I’ve ripped out 12 strawberry plants (I hardly got a crop this year), and put in six raspberry canes (Glen Moy). Again it will be two years before I get a harvest.

Next on the agenda is to finish turning over and feeding the soil. However, as it is snowing outside, I’ll need to wait for some better weather. Hopefully, it’ll not be too long….


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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 …