Thursday, 16 April 2009

Do you rotate?

Brief conversation with Bill the next door tenant about crop rotation earlier this week.

My question: "What do you think about crop rotation Bill? You always have your runner beans in the same place."

His answer: "I've grown runner beans in the same place on this allotment for 41 years. And on that allotment over there I've grown 'em in the same place for 25 years. And they've always done well. I just add a bit of manure, bit of compost, in the ground every year. I don't need to move 'em."

Follow-up question: "What about your other veg? do you move them?"

His answer: "Not really. Grow the onions pretty well the same place. I've had to move some of the potatoes this year. Otherwise everything grows where it's put. Just feed the soil and it grows."

He grows the most beautiful vegetables; wonderful crop of pumpkins and squashes, always plentiful greens, leeks, tomatoes, lettuces - everything he grows, grows well.

So what do you think? Do you rotate? Is it necessary on a small plot?

A few nice pics from the allotment

This week I thinned out the first tiny mixed salad leaves (right). I like to eat the ones I pull out - I'm sure they should be washed first but there has been a lot of rain this week, they tasted clean enough. (I try not to think about the state of my gardening fingers). I also thinned the brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and covered the remaining miniplants (only two leaves big) with the cage I made last year, to keep the pigeons off.

This clump of spinach (left) is looking good, and the small shoots of garlic, planted in early March, springing up around it.

Some of the strawberries are in flower already! Around two thirds of the plants I put in last autumn. This week I had to replace four that died over winter. Not bad, I think, out of 24 plants.

I fished snails out of the sorrel (below) and threw them onto the main path, where the birds can find and eat them later.

My earliest broad beans are looking pretty good now, and can you see, in the top left hand corner of the picture below, I'd started building the frame for my runners? I like to go from one job to another rather than sticking with the same old task for hours. Scattered Gardener, drifting from one thing to another.

Bereavement in the garden

Tragedy in the back garden - Paul found a headless lady newt. Whodunnit? Magpie is the chief suspect - they lurk around the pond with their sharp sharp beaks, their sharp sharp eyes and wagging tails - but it could have been a crow I s'pose.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Bean frame brings out my inner girl guide

This year I have finally developed a sure method to build a stable frame for the runner beans - which I have yet to plant this season, but there's plenty of time!
In my early years of allotmenting, my traditional bamboo bean poles always blew over, or at least became very wonky within very few weeks of the summer. With this method, the frame is much more stable.
I find 7 foot (2 m) poles about the right size, using thirty all together, and a good deal of green garden twine to tie them all together. My swiss army knife comes in handy! This task definitely brings out my inner girl guide... All that practice putting together washing up tripods finally paying off!
Start by laying out a pair of poles for each end and one for the middle, with a cross pole at the top and two across the middle between each pair (see picture, left). The whole frame ( allowing for overlaps) is about 12 foot long.
Bamboo is good, as it grows in roughly one foot sections, and so the cross poles helpfully indicate the distance to allow between supporting uprights, and, eventually, the bean plants. (I usually put in a double row of beans round each upward pole.) Add the uprights in pairs, reserving 2 poles to use as supports for the ends.
It's useful to tie each pair of uprights to the top cross pole, but only about a third to the middle ones. Use good knots and secure girl guide methods!
Lastly, insert the last two poles at an angle leaning into either end of the frame and tie them in securely. I like to plant nasturtiums or train sweetpeas up these end poles.
The last pair of poles add stability to the frame, and will stop it bending to every breeze, although if there are high winds later in the season, I sometimes need to attach guy ropes and pegs (borrowed from our tent) for additional support.
With this size frame and with a double row of bean plants each side ( about 40 plants altogether) I usually grow sufficient runners for my family of four to eat three or four times weekly through August and September, and give surplus to neighbours and friends now and then.

Unexpected gifts...

Yesterday we potted up tomatoes and other bits and pieces for the greenhouse, and Paul dug up the scruffy old rosemary bush from the border - we've replaced it with Ceanothus for its darker green small glossy leaves throughout the year and beautiful deep blue flowers in late spring. Looking forward to that!
Today we returned to the allotment - a blessed treat on a Tuesday as we didn't have time to do more than drop off compost last week. Before we left I searched the cupboard for the last six Jerusalem artichokes, carefully saved in a red net bag, to plant in a new patch on the allotment. Alas, it turned out Paul cooked them about three weeks ago. So perhaps we were not to have any next winter.
But what should I find this afternoon as I prepared the soil for this year's runners beans? A whole pile of sprouting tubers!
I could have sworn that patch was cleared thoroughly when I dug up artichokes to extend our winter roasts. And given that last year's plentiful crop came forth from just eight tubers, it looks as if we shall enjoy even more next winter.
Be warned my friends - once planted, you're never without a Jerusalem artichoke.
More in hope than anticipation, today last year's patch was cleared again, and readied for beans.
I hope to report positively on the new JA patch later this summer, if these little treasures settle well into their new home, somewhere near the back of the allotment.

Spring flowers in the border

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Sprouts and seed swapping

Everything is sprouting this week! Down on the allotment today, cauliflower and brussels newly through; tomatoes two leaves tall, celery tiny yellow tinted white worms, and black-eyed susan (Thunbergia) thrusting up like beans on the windowsill at home; and in the greenhouse, Victorian Purple Podded Peas showing their first leaves just a fortnight after planting.
I have some different varieties of seed to grow this year, a new initiative as until now I've been happy to buy whatever's available from local garden centres. Reading around, I'm persuaded that I could be doing more to preserve old varieties and promote diversity, even on my little plot.
I was particularly inspired by
who writes lovely reviews and photos of traditional varieties and makes saving and using one's own seeds seem very simple.
It seems there is a growing blogger seed swap network, and by following links from I found which has lots about allotment gardening and a variety of seeds.
Generous Miss Fuggles sent me two varieties each of peas, dwarf beans, runners and tomatoes in exciting little origami packages. I hope I can return her kindness next year...

I've also purchased a stunning selection from the Real Seed Company
They have a mix of unusual varieties as well as traditional favourites such as Parsnip Tender and True, which I recall my grandad growing! Despite a slightly reproving little message on the website about it being the busiest time of year, and to expect some delay in fulfilling my order, it arrived within five days a month ago - excellent service.

Finally, my friend Nick from Colliers Wood sent me some rocket seeds from his organic garden which I plan to plant out this weekend. So I'm really looking forward to some different flavours on our dinner table later this year.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Digging nearly done

Weary this evening, having nearly completed two jobs - digging the allotment and painting the garden fence. Isn't it annoying when you just run out of time, or physical capacity, shortly before a task is completed? I'm not a great "finisher" anyway, I always find those last bits and pieces - the small corners unpainted, final edit on an article, trimming the edge of the lawn - a real bore to complete. But in the case of the fence, my feet had gone to sleep after standing in one position too long (not a good time of year to find a gap to stand in at the back of the flower bed; lots of bulbs and new seeds bursting through, it would be a shame to crush their optimism.) And this morning's digging had to end at 2 pm when beloved really couldn't wait any longer for his lunch and a pee!

This warm, bright morning we found:
  • broad beans up an inch, some just bringing forth their third leaves, three weeks after planting
  • much of the garlic, planted at the same time, up an inch or two
  • a row of two types of salad leaves, put in a fortnight ago, just visible above the soil
  • carrots sprouting - Early Nantes, seeded three weeks ago and late season Long Lisse de Meaux, which were only planted last week!
No sign of cauliflower or leeks yet.

Most of my fellow allotment tenants seem to have planted their spuds already - it still surprises me how much space they devote to them, they're an unrewarding crop. Once we've enjoyed the first few new potatoes, one might just as well buy in. I am planning to try oca this year (lemon flavoured root tubersoriginating in Latin America) and more Jerusalem artichokes. Otherwise I find space is more usefully and tastily occupied by less pedestrian veg.