Next year’s allotment potatoes and onions

We’ve placed our order for seed potatoes, onions and shallots. In potatoes we chosen:

• Maris Bard: which is said to be a smooth white skinned variety and white flesh and the traditional new potato taste. A very early and heavy cropper with good drought resistance
• Wilja: this is our second early potato, it’s a heavy cropper with medium dry texture with a good frying colour and great for boiling
• Cara: which is a round and rather pink tuber especially round the eye areas. It’s a very good baking spud and withstands drought. The claim in that it’s highly disease resistant, including the dreaded and horrible blight.

Our shallots will be Golden Gourmet – a yellow shallot that is resistant to bolt and is said to store well through the winter and our onions are going to be Sturon – an early onion which should form medium sized globe-shaped with very good keeping qualities so it stores far into winter. The brochure says it offers good bolting resistance although bolting hasn’t been an issue for us so far.

This is a completely different set of varieties to the ones we grew this year and in part we’ve done that deliberately to see how different varieties compare on our soil. Our 2009 potatoes were:

• Accent – first early, highly productive – as shown in the photograph above!
• Pink Fir Apple – lovely salad potatoes, high cropping for us, but a bit of a fiddle to clean and prepare.
• Desiree – performed really badly for us, but that’s probably because our soil wasn’t as well prepared as we would have wished.

We don’t know what our shallots were - they were the tag end of a bag given to us by a neighbour, and we grew overwintering onions which we decided weren’t a great idea as although they are juicy and tasty, they don’t offer the same keeping qualities we’d like.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, September 28, 2009 5 Comments

Brassica update

Well my caterpillar squidging, disgusting though it was at the time, seems to have done the trick – although our brassicas are still being attacked a bit by slugs, the wholesale onslaught launched by caterpillars was stopped by my return attack and now it’s probably too late in the season for a further massacre, although I did notice one lorn Cabbage White fluttering around the plot when I was up there yesterday.

Things we’ve learned from this:

1. Netting brassicas is vital if you want to keep your crop alive and that netting has to be tall enough to allow the brassicas to grow at least until mid September. Ours was a bit too low and had to be taken off about ten days to a fortnight early. It also needs to be far enough away so that the brassicas can’t grow out to it sideways or up to it vertically because if they do the pesky butterflies will still manage to find the tiny section pressing against the net to lay eggs on.
2. There is no effective organic caterpillar treatment apart from slaughtering by hand – Derris dust is apparently no longer on the market (although you seem to be able to buy it online?) and other alternatives are not organic.
3. It’s heartbreaking to nearly lose a well-established crop, much worse even than having seedlings eaten by slugs or pulled up by birds.

The picture shows unnetted and netted brassicas next to each other. Although the ones that were netted have been nibbled by slugs, they aren’t showing anything like the damage done by the caterpillars on their unnetted neighbours.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, September 22, 2009 3 Comments

Seed Saving on Allotments

This is the first year we’re trying to save our own seed. And I’ll be honest – so far, we’ve been totally rubbish at it!

What we were going to save:

Broad beans
Runner beans
French beans
Borlotti beans

What we’ve actually managed to harvest seed from so far:

Runner beans

The runner beans are gorgeous as they dry and the rocket went to seed so fast that we only got two meals from it, so there was no problem harvesting seed from that crop! The tomato seed has already been tucked away in envelopes for next year – we are very happy with our greenhouse tomato crop which is still harvesting well.

The broad beans were a total seed-harvest fail. On 235 we planned to harvest, but the pods we were leaving got picked (that’s the risk of co-working) and on 201 the crop, which wasn’t overwintered, was destroyed by blackfly, so there was barely enough of a crop to eat a meal from, let alone leave to set pods for harvesting.

French beans – we’ve left some pods to get big – we’ll see if we are actually organised enough to do the harvesting bit in a week or so.

Borlotti beans – we’re leaving these to dry on the vine, so some will just be used for food and others for sowing next year … that’s the theory anyway!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, September 19, 2009 4 Comments

Best crops this summer?

Soilman's been asking what people’s best crops have been this year. For us it’s definitely (and I’m touching wood as I type this) been the celeriac, which had 100% germination and is bulbing up beautifully. Probably, now I’ve typed this, there will be some previously unknown celeriac blight or pest that will wipe out our crop!

Our worst crop was definitely the asparagus peas – not that they were difficult to grow or anything like that but they just tasted lousy (sorry Duncan, but we weren’t convinced by your arguments in their favour).

Other things that did well this year for us were strawberries and beans. Our peas were good but not exceptional and we definitely need to grow more next year. Our overwintered broad beans were brilliant, but our spring planted ones were attacked by blackfly and did nothing very much. Our first early potatoes were superb: large, tasty, easy to dig, our salad potatoes were good: small, tasty, not so easy to dig, and our maincrop were disappointing, but that wasn’t their fault – we ran out of properly prepared soil and had to plant them in an area of the plot that hadn’t been properly dug or manured and it showed, when we dug them they were small and scabby.

So what’s been your success and failure rate over the summer?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 7 Comments

Allotment haul 12 September

The allotment was looking okay today, I am reliably told by Himself, not having managed to get there myself!

It wasn’t for want of trying. My first attempt was headed off by the need to drop my files and associated stuff for the committee meeting into the committee room. There I go waylaid in the nicest possible way by an allotment-holder who wanted to talk about butterflies.

Then it was time for the ten o’clock tour and as we only had one person booked, I’d already decided to go round, and then another allotment volunteer decided to go with us, and finally an allotment-holder who’d been browsing our excellently stocked shop joined in too.

We were supposed to have four tours, each lasting an hour and a half, but two thirds of the way round the site, we were accosted by our Site Rep who pointed out that the next group were waiting to start! The next group consisted of two people, and he kindly headed off with them, while we wrapped up our truncated trip which meant we didn't reach the part of the site that contains our plot - actually I was rather glad because as you can see, some plots definitely put 201 to shame! The third tour had nobody booked, which was good, as we had a committee meeting to prepare for our AGM in October, and the fourth was due at 14:30 and consisted of three people and a dog.

So in total we had six actual visitors, although I think each tour gathered up a number of people along the way who wanted to explore the site (or perhaps they just wanted a break from their own plots!) in company with others.

I don’t know how the caterers did – I never actually got to taste or drink anything, but they had tables and chairs and cake which I was miserable to miss out on. All in all it was an experience, although a very mixed one, and if we get involved again next year, we’ll want to handle more of the publicity ourselves and perhaps not to have online booking systems.

Rather worryingly, somebody told somebody (you know how these things go) who told the catering lady, who told a section rep, that lots of people think the tours are tomorrow …

On a more horticultural footing, Himself picked a trug of beans, four cucumbers, a large handful of alpine strawberries and an errant leek. So dinner tonight will be lentil, leek and lamb casserole, followed by alpine strawberries, vanilla ice-cream and strawberry coulis from this summer’s frozen harvest.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, September 12, 2009 4 Comments

Allotment haul 7 September 2009

The weather is definitely Indian summery – torrid wouldn’t be strong a word for it – although it will break very soon. As we have seedling swede and freshly-sown mooli, I am having to head up to the plot every second day to water.
I’ve also spent an entire Sunday doing the most disgusting thing in the world: squashing caterpillars. It is really gross – but if you want to be organic (or as organic as you can be) in your gardening habits, the only way to deal with cabbage whites is to pull on your gloves hunt down every crawler and squeeze them swiftly and firmly so that they expire instantly.

And because I am a wimp, I always let things get too bad before I intervene. I try to find all the eggs and squash them instead of the poor bugs, but one always misses a few (or a lot, when it’s that time of year when so much needs to be picked and weeded and mowed and pruned) and those few seem to multiply until you are left with lacy brassicas.

We cut some sunflowers, leaving plenty for the birds to harvest, and pulled the first celeriac (just tennis ball sized) and the first parsnip, to test their growth. Both were very good roasted in tinfoil with Chioggia beetroot, fresh rosemary and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. Which more or less made up for the brassica destruction and the caterpillar destruction that followed. It’s a ruthless business, this allotment lark.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, September 8, 2009 7 Comments

Allotment clearing, tours and planning

We are planning for next year. Several people have talked to us about the ‘seven-crop’ system and it makes a lot of sense. Basically you just grow seven key crops that you know you’ll eat.

Hmmm … except we already have nine raised beds, which would just become nine weedbeds, if we didn’t keep them full of something.

Perhaps we need to buy a lot of weed suppressant and just cover up a lot of the plot? Ugly idea but a functional solution. At least it would kill off our thistle army.

Anyway, we’ve decided we didn’t grow enough peas, that we want more potatoes (or a greater variety of potatoes) and that next year we will plant our garden area, so we actually have somewhere to sit down. But that’s as far as we’ve got.

In the interim, we have a series of allotment tours happening next weekend, in both Brighton and Hove (we're Hove, actually) but at present we are very short of takers. You can book here: Allotment tour - it’s free! And we have a fantastic shop selling seeds and tools and so forth.

And that raised a question in my mind. We are constantly being told that there are people wanting to grow their own etc, and our waiting list is VERY long for a plot, so why aren’t people clamouring to come on a tour?

Any answers? I wondered if it was because it’s an outdoor thing and the weather might not be good … but perhaps it’s some kind of communication gap between the allotment and the general public. I really don’t understand – I thought people would be chewing our arms off for a tour, and I wish I could find out why we aren’t getting much take-up.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, September 5, 2009 4 Comments

And the winner is … (allotment competitions)

We had twelve entrants for the sunflower competition, although when we visited some of the plots, no sunflowers were to be seen! All the entrants had to be children, which ruled out some overly competitive types (Himself for a start!) who were ineligible through age!

Our tallest sunflower was grown by Hannah, and it was 9’ 9” tall – see how staunchly Imperial we still are? The sunflower with the biggest face was grown by Brendan, and it was a whopping 18” exactly across.

The onion competition had fewer entrants, which was a little disappointing, especially as the first prize was substantial (£50!) However, all the entries were very good in terms of weight, shape and condition, so we decided to give marks for three criteria: weight, size and appearance. Our winner was grown by an adult, who just pipped a twelve-year old onion-grower to the top spot by one point! We were encouraged that the second-place onion was not only grown by a younger horticulturalist, but was grown organically.

So that’s the good stuff. The bad stuff is that having spent a lot of Bank Holiday Monday on 201, I stopped and looked back just before we left and it was as if we hadn’t been there. The only change I could see was the raised bed that I cleared out of bolting pak choi and lettuce to sow some mooli (probably too late but fingers are crossed) and the weed heap being taller than when we arrived. We have a serious weed problem, believe me! But the parsnips are looking good …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, September 1, 2009 5 Comments

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