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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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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Could this actually be a good year?

A nucleus hive at the allotment

A nucleus hive at the allotment

Ever since I started beekeeping, one thing has been consistent — beekeepers have moaned about the weather. They are, of course, right — over the past few years it has been dreadful, and I could only listen in wonder when they talked about the glory days of beekeeping with supers groaning under the weight of honey.

Not any more. Although 2013 hasn’t been perfect, it has certainly been pretty good. Not only that, but I’m becoming a better beekeeper. For the first time, I feel I am in control of the bees, and I don’t seem to be lurching from one crisis to another. Have I got it cracked? I doubt it, because I’ve been undoubtedly helped by the glorious sun. Had the weather been erratic, then perhaps things would be different.

As you may recall, I started the year with just one colony.  Being in this situation is not good. One mistake, and I could be beeless, so I decided to spend 2013 building up colony numbers, and not bothering whether I got honey or not.

Well, perhaps this is the right attitude, because as it happens my sole hive produced 23lbs of honey — only 1lb less than the two colonies combined last year! Although the oilseed rape was late in flowering, when it did come, the fine weather meant my bees could make the most of it.

There was further good news when it came to the swarming season. This time I was well prepared, both psychologically and equipment-wise, and so I decided to try a wee experiment. Instead of creating one artificial swarm, and getting two hives, I thought I’d try splitting my sole colony into three.

I created two nucs (small hives with only five frames each). Each nuc had a few frames of bees, a few frames of eggs, some honey, and, crucially, a queen cell each. On advice, I kept the two nucs away from each other, putting one on the allotment (pictured above) and one at the apiary.

Then it was just a matter of waiting. After a week, I peaked inside. Although I didn’t see the newly emerged queens, I noticed their cells had been broken down by the bees. That’s a good sign — they probably hatched OK. So far, so good. The next hurdle was to see if they mated. Again, good weather helps because the virgin queens will be able to make as many flights as they need. However, it is still a risky business as they could get scoffed by a hungry bird.

Last weekend, after a two-week gap, I looked inside the nucs. There were eggs! Both queens had mated and were laying away happily. From having only one colony, I now have three. Result!

The next hurdle is to make sure my three hives keep building up numbers, and go into the winter as strong as possible.

So far, everything this year has gone exactly according to plan. It’s a first!


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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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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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My beekeeping year 2012

The bees at Glenesk

The bees at Glenesk

On January 7 I gave a short talk at the Members’ Night of the East Of Scotland Beekeepers’ Association, covering the major highs and lows of 2012. Here it is in full:

The first notable event of 2012 began on May 20. I had two hives and had already noticed that one was bringing in a serious amount of honey, expanding rapidly, and producing queen cells.

It was time to create an artificial swarm  –  my first. I found the queen on the first attempt and popped a queen cage on her and prepared to move her to her new hive.

It was all going well until the cage dropped off, and, to make matters worse, the queen then flew away. That was Crisis No. 1.

Where did she go? Chances are she went back to her hive, but by this time the bees were so disturbed, I had no chance of seeing her, so I shut the hive up.

That was on a Sunday. On the Monday, I returned to see if I could find her. No sign, despite going through the hive twice. I was preparing to go home when I turned round and saw something that rooted me to the spot. There was a huge swarm in a nearby tree. It must’ve been at least three-foot long.

Crisis No. 2. What do I do? I’d never caught a swarm before and didn’t have the right equipment. So, I phoned my mentor. Luckily he was available to help.

Within an hour, we had cut it down, and stuck it in a spare brood box.

My mentor reckoned it was a belter of a swarm which would work like crazy to bring in honey. Furthermore, it would produce astonishing clean and perfect comb.

This was going to be great, I thought. Three hives all going like crazy, bringing me honey. I might even have some to sell.

The following day at work, I got a very confused message from my son. Someone had a swarm in their chimney, and they thought it was mine. Crisis No. 3.  I couldn’t understand it. I knew one of my colonies had already swarmed, and the other wasn’t ready to. Perhaps they weren’t my bees. Continue reading


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My Fourth (And Final) Greenhouse

This one is going nowhere

Greenhouses and me have had a very chequered past.

My first (which was a small plastic jobby with tent guy ropes) blew into the burn at the back of allotment.

The second I bought second-hand already dismantled and I didn’t have the patience to rebuild it. The third was the polycarbonate disaster.

And I have now gone all-out, and spent a lot of cash on a greenhouse which not only looks beautiful, it claims to be one of the strongest you can buy. I’m taking no more chances.

It’s a belter, though, and I really pleased with it, The nice gentlemen from Woodpecker Joinery actually came up from Birmingham to build it. Prior to that I had to construct a concrete base.

The wooden staging (it was free!)

This morning, eleven days after receiving the greenhouse, I saw the first white shoot of an Alderman broad bean starting to peak its dozy little head out of the soil.Practically as soon as it was up, I put it into action. I must’ve planted about 1000 seeds in little pots, including 400 onion sets, 300 broad bean plants, 90 pea plants, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, leeks, chillies, and herbs in the cold frame.

That can only mean one thing: it’s almost time to start putting stuff in the ground. Hooray!