Allotment problems – blown sprouts

Just to prove it never rains but it pours, we’ve got blown sprouts. It seems there could be two causes, either wind rocking or lack of nutrients – and the result is that the sprouts open up like a flower, instead of staying tightly budded.

It seems that if we remove the blown sprouts and feeding with a fertiliser high in nitrogen, it can stop the problem, allowing the sprouts further up the plant to develop properly. I do have a good recipe for blown sprouts, which is a stir-fry with orange and ginger and sesame oil, so that’s okay, but the liquid fertiliser is a bit of a swine. The only way I could work out to do it was to used dried blood (which is organic and high in nitrogen) and then water it in well, because I couldn’t find any organic liquid fertilisers that weren’t equally N-P-K. I hope it works. Dried blood, if you’ve never used it, is about the vilest smelling substance on the face of the planet.

So I sprinkled dried blood around all the brassicas, not just the Brussels Sprouts amd watered it in on Thursday - I shall have to restake the sprouts tomorrow. And there I was, smugly thinking we were almost on top of our allotment task list for the first time this year!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, October 30, 2009 3 Comments

Allotment business – the AGM

We had 44 people turn out for the AGM – nine more than last year and that meant standing room only at the back, which was great in one way, but in another it means that we need to move the AGM offsite next year to a bigger venue, which is a bit sad.

As usual there was a mixture of fun and frustration. Prizes were awarded for the onion and sunflower competitions, at least to those who could be present (if you couldn’t, yours will either be in the post or in the shop if we don’t have your postal address) and then we got down to the business of running the place.

This year’s problems were different to last year's.

Top of the list, from us on the committee – access! There are too many allotments where the frontage is spilling onto the paths and roads and we’re duty bound to keep access clear for council and emergency vehicles. We’ve had to have ambulances to the site twice since I started visiting, and it’s not a lot of fun to try and get our own vehicles around when dirty great brambles scratch the paintwork or elder trees try to rip off your roof rack! So the council have told us they will cut back the frontages this winter and after that we have to make sure tenants maintain their own plots.

Speeding – we have many more children on site now than we did a couple of years ago, and while it’s a parental duty to ensure they are safe, having drivers zooming around the site is not a good idea. We’ve imposed a 5mph speed limit and we’ll be reminding parents that children should be supervised too. Both sides need to work together to ensure safety on this one.

Trees – um. Somebody had been round rumour-mongering that all the trees were to be cut down. I can’t imagine why, when it’s not true, but we had about six people ask the same question about trees at different points in the AGM so obviously some idiot had completely misunderstood the new Allotment Officer’s tree ruling and then gone around and blabbermouthed their own foolishness far and wide. Most trees (not all trees, there will be certain exceptions such as veterans, trees that aren’t on plots, trees where neighbours agree to keep the tree whole etc) will have to be cut down to 2 metres. New trees being planted should only be on rootstock that enables pruning to two metres. Only fruit and ornamental trees should be planted. We’re going to produce a factsheet about this but basically, allotment-holders need to remember what they are: tenants, not owners! At some future point, another allotment-holder will take over their plot (nobody lives forever!) and it should be in a condition that allows them to cultivate – half a dozen great big trees dotted around can make the soil impossible to work and shade nearby plots as well as stealing water with deep roots that then starve crops with shallower roots. In other words, it’s a bit of live and let live, but you’d have thought we were threatening to spread agent orange on anything over a foot tall. Oh the fun we have sometimes!

Still, mostly the meeting was great, we have a list of great projects to get on with, and I was re-elected Secretary. So you’re stuck with me for another year.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 1 Comments

Query from anonymous

Dear Anonymous

Your Roedale contact is LowerRoedaleRep(at)googlemail.com. or you can go direct to the allotment officer at Brighton and Hove Council by phone or email. Any tenant has the right to contest a termination notice, but may not be given the right to appeal repeated notices, so if this is your first notice, you should be able to explain your position - if you have photos of the plot in good previous cultivation etc then make sure you see your representative/allotment officer and show them the evidence that you're not a slacker!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, October 26, 2009 2 Comments

Allotment tasks for October

It’s so hard to plan the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow 24th is White Night in Brighton and that means many cultural events with places staying open all night. And of course we all get an extra hour’s sleep on Sunday, to make up for staying up all night – but should we go to the allotment on Saturday, and risk not making it to White Night, or leave it until Sunday and risk not making it to the allotment if we did many to party the night through?

Then the teen wants to have a barbecue at the allotment on Hallowe’en. Should we view this as a good idea, and perhaps a sign of his impending interest in things horticultural, or should we fear the arrival of a dozen teenagers who might trample our beds and squash our squashes?

Whatever, the top part of the allotment (the bed of shame, as I call it) has been strimmed and looks a lot better, once it’s rotovated it should be better still! I’m already planning which squashes to grow on it next year. Any recommendations?

And the picture shows what I hope to be doing next year. One of our allotment neighbours has been cutting the ferns on his asparagus bed – we have exactly six ferns to cut: you could fold them into a shoebox and still have room for shoes, but we dream of the day we’ll have a heap of ferns to cut, just like these!

And yes, that means the AGM went well and I have 'my' plot for another year!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, October 23, 2009 2 Comments

October allotment harvest and crop rotation

I’ve managed to dig over the whole of the strawberry bed although this picture shows the halfway point of digging.

The result is a pile of old strawberry plants, with roots as tough and woody as elder, that’s about waist high and over a metre long – seriously that strawberry bed was over-crowded. About a quarter of the bed was grass, which has been impossible to weed out because the strawberries were so closely crowded, so we won’t have that to contend with next year either.

I’ve also got about six strawberry runners potted up to replant in a raised bed, and I’ve ordered another nine plants from a supplier. That will give us two different varieties – ours are rather late so I’ve ordered an earlier cropper so that we can have a longer strawberry season. To be perfectly honest I got fed up with spending so many of the best days of the year picking and freezing strawberries so if I can spread that out a bit it’s better for my mental health!

While I dug the strawberry bed, Himself dug over the area that had held the peas and beans in the summer. This year the broad beans, French beans, peas and petits pois will go into the area where our first early potatoes were planted. The ground in which we had maincrop potatoes (our biggest failure) needs a lot of work to get it truly productive, so we hope to work in lime over the summer and get it ready for next year’s brassicas. And our potatoes will go where the peas and beans were – crop rotatation, not exactly perfect, but pretty good for year 2 on a previously neglected plot, I think.

And we also harvested another trug full of borlotti beans, the last of the beetroot (okay, we missed them and only found them when we were digging over) and a few carrots, as well as some alpine strawberries – still delicious!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 5 Comments

Brilliant Borlotti – allotment beans

I’ve just been up to look at my beans.

It’s not impressive at first sight, I agree, but this is my Borlotti bean pyramid and those are lots of beautiful borlotti beans drying in the pod, on the plant. I didn’t think we’d get away with it in the UK, and maybe next year we won’t but a good 9/10s of the pods are dry and the beans inside are too.

They are gorgeous! There’s something very special, very Jack and the Beanstalk about growing your own beans for drying (as opposed to growing them and failing to harvest them so they end up being dried beans by accident) and Borlotti’s rehydrate so beautifully to make a big, meaty, juicy bean that’s ideal in robust Italian cooking (particularly good with lamb, I think). It’s all gone so wonderfully well that I find it hard to believe this is the first year we’ve grown drying beans. And borlottis are as wholesome and pretty as a speckled hen's egg.

But to be on the safe side, I harvested all the dry pods and just left the ones that are still a bit soft on the plant – if it rains I could lose the whole crop and whenever the weather forecasters say ‘sunny weekend’ I think of Michael Fish saying ‘there is no hurricane’ and I go and bring in the washing – or in this case, the beans!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, October 16, 2009 3 Comments

October allotment harvests

We got the last of our onions in during September, but you can still be harvesting them this month. Fortunately we’d already worked out where and how we were going to store them, as we didn’t have a single onion fail to come good this year – we’ve gone for placing them on mesh shelves in our dry and airy shed at home rather than hanging them in the one on the allotment which is still prone to springing new leaks in the roof. We’ve cut off all the foliage, just as the do in the supermarket, and they’ll be kept cool and dark. They are separated from each other so that there’s no chance one diseased onion will spread its problems to others.

We don’t have to worry about storing potatoes as our maincrops were so paltry, but we can see our neighbours lifting and storing their maincrops, sometimes in big paper sacks, sometimes in boxes of peat.

We’ve also stripped, blanched and frozen all our corn cobs to see us through the winter – although they take up a lot of room in the freezer, we think it’s worth it to have that delicious summer sweetcorn taste in the middle of winter.

We didn’t have outdoor tomatoes this year, but all the ones on the site have gone, after a very cold night this week, so the plants are being dug up and removed. If your tomatoes had blight, don’t compost them, as you risk overwintering the spores for next summer.

We've also been storing pears, taking them from the tree before they fall, checking them for blemishes, then setting them in paper nests (recycling old printing paper) in the shed. They will be delicious for several months.

And soon it will be time to plant the broad beans and start all over again!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 2 Comments

Autumn Asparagus Care

We’ve just fed our asparagus with their autumn feed of bone-meal and hand-weeded the bed which was a chance to lightly trowel the meal into the soil. Their roots are very shallow, so you can’t hoe the plants without risking damage. Because we only planted the crowns last year, we haven’t harvested any asparagus yet, but in the next week or so we’ll cut the foliage down to about two inches above the ground – at the moment it’s still green, so it’s still taking in nutrients but once it turns golden it won’t be feeding so it can be removed to avoid any winter wind damage.

We hope that next year we’ll be able to harvest our first stalks – which we’ll do when they are about six inches tall, and although we won’t get much from them in their first harvestable year, they do grow quickly so we’ll be cutting every third or fourth day.

We don’t have Asparagus Beetle, but because it has been seen on the site, we planted our crowns in a raised bed – we hope that we won’t get them either, although if we hand-pick the beetles off as soon as we see them, we should be okay. The important thing if you do get them is to cut down and burn any foliage in winter because the grubs overwinter either in the soil or in debris left around the base of the plant. We also have bottle waterers next to each crown so that we can water the roots of the plant without having to make the soil surface damp: this means that weed seeds that land on the surface get no extra encouragement to germinate because we never water the soil as a whole.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, October 9, 2009 3 Comments

Rain starts play

It’s not often that rain brings on activity – most of the time we huddle up under duvets and watch old films, but if you’re an allotment holder, this week’s heavy rain will have been a blessing.

Our clayish soil is like terracotta – once it gets dry you can’t get a fork into it. Where we’ve already double dug, and especially where the spuds have been, it’s fine, you can turn it even when it’s bone dry, but the undug part of the allotment, where it’s full of grass and perennial weeds, is literally impenetrable. Our Jerusalem artichokes finally flowered and they do a good job of breaking up the soil too, but they are getting attacked by thistles.

So this rain will help. I shall dig up the old strawberry bed this week, and put all the old plants out to compost. Then the new strawberry plants will go in a raised bed that’s already prepared. But we’ve given into circumstance and will have the top quarter of the plot, that we never got to this year, strimmed and then rotovated. I’ll cover it with weed suppressing membrane and plant through it in the spring – courgettes and squashes will do fine there and planting through the membrane means we can get some value out of the ground while still keeping the weeds underground and under cover so that they weaken. I know it’s the fool’s option to rotovate, but with half the plot still to dig by hand, I know I’m just not going to get to the wasteland unless I give in and go for mechanised assistance.

Good news is that the Swedes Len gave me as seedlings are putting on a fine show in the raised bed that had lettuce in all summer. They are planted through membrane too, and as I can’t remember a year when we ate more than nine Swedes, I reckon this will take us through the winter comfortably.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 3 Comments

Allotment doings

October is usually a funny old month on allotments – many more organised allotment holders have cleared out their summer crops and dug in their manure or compost. The rest of us (the majority) still have pillars and wigwams of seedy beans, fading sunflowers, bolting lettuces and other end-of-season crops hanging around looking like the tall plain girl who never got asked to dance at the school disco.

I notice that one of my neighbours has already got his shallots in. There’s a saying about shallots – ‘plant on the shortest day and harvest on the longest’ which basically means any time after 23 September, the autumn equinox when the day and night are the same length, is good for shallot planting. If your soil gets a lot of frosts early in the year then the sooner you get them in the ground, the more they will establish themselves before they get frozen to the spot.

It’s also AGM month for our allotment site. Have I done a good enough job as secretary? Will I be voted on or off? It’s a nerve-wracking question, because if I get voted off then I lose my allotment, because I am only caretaking it for the allotment association I serve. Suddenly I feel like Gordon Brown, facing an election and wondering whether there will be anything left for me on the other side of the ballot box …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, October 2, 2009 4 Comments

October allotment tasks

It’s frightening to think that this month is when some parts of the UK will have the first frosts of winter. We shouldn’t, being in the balmy south, but we need to be thinking about fleece protection for some of our crops.

• We’re picking over our potatoes and putting any that are less than a third green in complete darkness – after a month the green will be gone. It’s the result of sun exposure and the green parts contain a poison called an alkaloid which just goes to show that potatoes and Deadly Nightshade are part of the same family. However if they’ve gone back to potato coloured after a month of total light exclusion they will be safe to eat.

• We’re not planting garlic until November, but it’s time to prepare the garlic bed – this year they will be going into a raised bed as we grew far too much last year!

• We also need to move our broad bean supports to their new site so that we can plant the beans next month. We found overwintering broad beans to be much better than spring-planted ones so we’re doubling our sowing in November.

• And we’re picking off any yellow leaves from our brassicas so that they don’t harbour slugs or diseases like botrytis.

What are you going to be doing in October?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, October 1, 2009 5 Comments

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