I hate those meeces to pieces

There’s almost nothing that can be done on the allotments right now. On 201 we can’t paint fences because the wood is too wet, we can’t dig because the soil is too wet. On 235 we were chagrined today to discover that something (mice?) has been along and eaten several of the broad beans we carefully protected with double-glazing panels just a week ago.

So we had a mystery: mice, birds, some kind of insect or monopod? We think it’s mice and there’s not a great deal to be done about that, except that June, our neighbour at the other end of the site, when we’re working on 201, gave us a tip. If you grow your beans and peas in pots, when they’ve got a good root system you can just lift off the pea or bean from which they grew and which is what attracts the mice to the plants. So when we plant our spring broad beans in the greenhouse, that’s what we will do. For now, on plot 235, we’ve simply put some more twiggy branches around the plants in case it’s birds, and stuck some bamboo canes that were dipped in Jeyes Fluid around the perimeter of the plants, in the hope that it will confuse the noses of the mice.

And Sunday is Seedy Sunday here in Hove actually, so I hope to find some seeds to swap/buy and I’ll tell you all about it next time!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, January 29, 2009 7 Comments

More Celeriac

As a couple of people have commented on the celeriac issue, let me explain why I’m so addicted to this particular vegetable.

It’s like celery but better – I enjoy the taste of celery but hate the strings, and also, I’m not too keen on anything that is quite such hard work on the old jaw! Celeriac has the same delicate flavour, but because it’s a root vegetable (well actually, I think it’s a bulb) it’s much more versatile – you can grate it and use it raw in coleslaw, boil it and mash it like potato, steam it and turn it into a soufflé – it’s really a vegetable with a thousand uses.

It’s good to store – while it doesn’t cope particularly well in the ground once the first frosts arrive, it does seem to cope well in storage in a cool dry place. I tend to peel, chunk and blanch mine and open freeze it before packing it into big freezer bags. Then I can take out as much as I want for a given recipe. I might use it to make soup, or as a roasted vegetable with carrots, potatoes, swede and onion, or mix it fifty-fifty with potato to make a mashed topping for pies.

There are downsides to celeriac - The first is that dodgy germination rate – from what I can gather, anything from a third to a half of seeds might not come up. The second is that it likes a long time in the ground but doesn’t like hot weather, which makes it a bit of a bugger to grow! Last summer the seedlings Maurice gave us did wonderfully, because the weather was so appalling, so this year I’m almost hoping my celeriac does badly as that should mean we’ve had hot and sunny weather. If it’s dry they need to be watered: they are a bog margin plant by nature, and if it’s overly sunny, you might want to cover them with a bit of fleece. We grew ours through mulch fabric last year, this year I think I shall put them in a raised bed.

And if you can’t get seed locally, try for a seed swap – there are several online swapping agencies that can help you.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, January 26, 2009 0 Comments

Sowing Celeriac

Soilman says we should be sowing celeriac, and as this was one of last year’s big hits, after Maurice gave us some seedlings, I am following Soilman’s advice by planting our seeds this weekend. It’s yet another crop that I’ve never grown from seed myself and what I’ve managed to find out is this:

Germination is a more than a bit little erratic so I shouldn’t expect all my seeds to come up (I do though, always, and always get disappointed when they don’t, even real sods like parsnip).

They shouldn’t be hardened off outside until it's properly warm because a sudden drop in temperature can force the plant to bolt which stops it becoming bulbous at the root.
When all risk of cold snaps is past, they should be planted out 40 cm apart and kept both watered and mulched as they like a moist environment and not too much sun. Given what a rotten summer we had last year, it’s not surprising that ours did rather well! What I didn’t do was remove the lower leaves to expose the bulbous root, but several experts do advocate this, so I might try removing half and leaving half (on different plants obviously, not half on each plant) to see what difference it makes.

They can be harvested from early autumn but don’t usually cope well with a frost so it’s important to have them really well covered with mulch if you want to leave them in the ground after November.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, January 22, 2009 2 Comments

Allotment work is never done

201, 9 October 2008

I had a bit of a panic over the weekend, mainly because the wind and rain and rain and wind deprived me of any chance of getting to either allotment and getting things done – the only ‘good’ hours we experienced were spent in an interesting allotment site committee meeting – interesting, but not as immediately rewarding as getting something dug or planted!

We got to 201 in time to put down a single raised bed, before dodging the raindrops on our way down to 235 where we covered the broad been seedlings from the worst of the weather and turned a bit of compost in the lee of the tyre stack in the hope of generating some heat to get our super-early tyre potatoes off to a superfast start. No, we haven’t planted them get, don’t worry, we’re not getting previous with our spuds.

And then the rain became undodge-able, so we couldn’t dig, we couldn’t sow, we couldn’t light the incinerator and burn rubbish … we had to go home instead.

I tried to console myself by planting some alpine strawberry seeds and a tray of hardy tree seeds in the greenhouse, but it was scant consolation for the weather, and when I looked at the trays of potatoes and the packets of seeds piling up, and the amount of undug allotment that still remains on 201, I despaired.

201, 12 December 2008

So I dragged out the photos to remind myself how much we’d already done. And while it didn’t stop me feeling miserable about the weather, it did remind me that we’ve really made a difference on 201, given the short time that we’ve been looking after it.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, January 19, 2009 2 Comments

Birds and Brassicas

Here’s the first of the allotment holder bird-scarer tactics that I’ve seen on our site, and this is really impressive – not only is the Eagle Owl relatively accurately coloured, it’s life-sized, and by some means that I couldn’t elicit, its head turns from side to side. I’m not sure how long it keeps birds off brassicas, because presumably they work out, sooner or later, that the owl might look like an owl, but it doesn’t smell like an owl or fly like an owl, and I don’t know how much the batteries (I assume it’s batteries) cost to keep it running, but it’s quite compulsive to stand there and watch it, and as long as you do that, you’re scaring the birds for the plot-holder too!

Pea seedling update – 37 peas have germinated to date in the (unheated) greenhouse in toilet roll inners. 28 in the pre-soaked section, 9 in the unsoaked section … seems pretty conclusive to me!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, January 16, 2009 0 Comments

Allotment Tasks – Warming the Soil

Of the not-very-many things to be done on an allotment in January, warming the soil is perhaps one of the most important and most neglected. And we’re just starting to think about warming ours, having finally dug enough of it to actually think we might get some crops in!

The point about warming the soil is that it helps germination by two means: it absorbs the warmth of the sun in the day, and slows down the loss of that heat at night, which can protect from frosts. If you have hardy crops like carrot, they will germinate in the soil at around 8 degrees Celsius but tender crops like French beans won’t germinate until soil temperature is 12 degrees Celsius – and remember that air temperature tends to be at least a degree above soil temperature and may be as much as three degrees higher than clay soils. Dry soils warm faster because water holds the cold, so having raised beds with good drainage can improve germination if you have a heavy soil

There are two ways to really warm your soil: the first is adding compost or manure which both breaks up heavy soils, giving them less water trapping, and tends to change the albedo (surface colour to us simple folk) making it darker and therefore more inclined to take in, rather than reflect back, the sun’s rays.

The second thing, of course, is to cover the soil with glass, plastic or cloches. Clear plastic is reckoned to be the best option, and this kind of cloche can be lifted easily to hoe out the weed seedlings, which will germinate very fast, and that’s always great news because once those seeds have germinated and you’ve chopped the seedlings in two, they can’t come back to strangle your plant seeds when you do put them in the ground. So quite obviously, the ideal situation is to put down your cloches a couple of weeks before you plan to sow seed, and get ruthless with the weedlings when they appear.

So why, I wonder, don’t we have any cloches … possibly because we are ill-organised and spend too much time chatting. Oh dear, oh dear, I can see allotment-holder-failure on the horizon!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 1 Comments

Allotment Crops in Season: Kale

This is a wonderful plant, it’s as tough as old boots when growing, and as tender as spinach when harvested! It can withstand the kind of temperatures we’ve got right now, ie freezing and then some, and it doesn’t have the pest problems that other brassicas do.

Sow kale seed in April to June in modules. Once the seedlings are established (say six to eight weeks, it’s a long process) you can move them to their final position, spacing them in rows about 45cm apart. The good news is that kale is much more forgiving than other brassicas and puts up with almost any soil that has reasonable drainage although it does best in a relatively sunny spot – this means you can stick it in where peas, early potatoes or other early summer crops have finished their work. Just remove any weeds and rake a small amount of fertiliser over the top. Not digging allows the roots to get nice and firm, which is what all brassicas like. Water during dry patches and keep weeded. It’s a good idea to walk heavily around the base of the stem every week to firm it, which stops larger varieties swaying and breaking their tiny roots. Most kale won’t need staking.

You can harvest from September for early varieties to May for late ones. The trick is, with curly kale, to start at the crown, cutting a few young leaves each time with sharp knife or a sharp downwards tug. This encourages the production of side shoots which can be harvested between February and May when they are 10 to 12cm long.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, January 10, 2009 0 Comments

Allotment Bird Scarers

Not the best photograph in the world, but you can see the problem. At this time of year, when food is scarce, the disgruntled allotment-holder finds him or herself fighting with birds.

Now the crow, bless him, is really not the problem. He turns up from time to time and will hop down ponderously to snaffle a bit of bacon sandwich, but really he’s not that interested in pecking our broad beans, that’s the pigeons.

And this is the scaraweb!

I ‘scored’ this off freecycle at the end of last year, and while it looks like a crash-landing by Santa, it does seem to be working – also, it’s biodegradable.

The problem with any bird scarer is that birds soon get used to it. You can try:

• Toy snakes (should be more than two feet long)
• Toy cats
• CDs on strings
• Bottles on canes
• Bunting
• Windmills
• Plastic shopping bags tied to string

But any and all of these only work because the birds are surprised and uncertain. As soon as they get used to the whatever-it-is then they’ll be back, pecking the tops out of beans and peas and taking the sprouts off Brussels. So what you have to do, apparently, is change your bird scarer system every couple of days so that there’s a constant novelty to the process. I assume this means that by the end of the week your resident birds will have forgotten what they saw on your plot at the beginning of the week, so they have a longer memory than goldfish, but not by much. Our fellow allotment-holders have a plethora of devices, so I’m going to photograph them and share them with you over the weeks ahead …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, January 7, 2009 4 Comments

January Allotment Tasks

While a lot of people seem to think there’s nothing to be done on the allotment over the winter, they couldn’t be more wrong!

To start with, from 235 at least, there’s harvesting: our weekend lunch included the last of the fennel and the first of the purple sprouting broccoli. Wonderful food, as fresh as possible and when you look at supermarket prices for broccoli right now, we’re eating pure luxury.

And on 201, there’s always clearing up – and burning stuff!

I love burning stuff, and now we have a proper garden incinerator, we also have a way to generate lovely wood ash so that we can sprinkle it around seedling plants to keep the slugs off. You can buy incinerators, or convert an old metal dustbin by knocking holes in the lower sides with a cold chisel to allow oxygen flow which gives a faster burn. We’ve been getting rid of perennial weeds, hedge trimmings, and lots of brambles that were creeping into our plot from over the fence.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, January 5, 2009 0 Comments

Seeds, Apples, Peas, Frosts

I ordered the seeds, exploding cucumbers, celtuce, asparagus peas and all. Even some lemon chilli seeds. And we don’t eat chillis so what I’m going to do with them I don’t know. Still, it’s all in a good cause, because if we don’t keep these older, odder, rarer species in cultivation, they won’t be there when we want them.

This picture shows the last apple on a neighbouring allotment’s tree. It’s Maurice’s allotment actually and whenever I pass it, I remember the old nursery rhyme ‘I had a little nut tree and nothing would it bear, but a silver apple and a golden pear’. Doesn’t it look lovely, if a little lonely …?

Experimental peas – 14 have germinated, but it’s just too cold to hang around and count which were pre-soaked and which weren’t, so I’m going to give it another week, buy which time any that are going to come up, should be up, and then work out if there was any advantage to pre-soaking.

On the plus side, the heavy frosts are breaking up our newly-dug soil beautifully. On the minus side, they stop us doing any more work because it’s just too damn cold to dig!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, January 2, 2009 2 Comments

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