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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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.

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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 …


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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