Allotment heatwave

Well, it had to happen! It’s not even flaming June yet and half our seedlings have decided to respond to the warm weather as if we’d menaced them with a flame-thrower.

I seem to be spending half a day each day at the plot, just watering and hoeing down the weeds: how is it that weeds thrive in conditions that beloved plants just die in?

Anyway, the salad crops are delicious: students took away radish, spicy oriental leaves and Little Gem lettuce leaves from the class last weekend and this week we’ve been adding rocket flowers, chive flowers and violas to our salads along with red and green basil, thyme, nasturtium leaves, oregano and leek thinnings. You can eat the thinnings from many sown crops, and leeks are tasty if you nip off the ends that have been in the dirt and just strew the hair-like green stems over some scrambled eggs – delicious!

Other than that, we’re still sitting on our hands waiting for the first new potatoes to be ready, but the rhubarb is well away: we’ve had four meals from it already and got a good kilo into the freezer and I’ve just picked a few strawberries to bring home and ripen on the kitchen windowsill as neither of us can get to the plot again until Friday, and the strawberries will have been slug-investigated by then, if I leave them around to be nibbled.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2 Comments

Harvesting overwintered onions

I’m about to head to the plot to see whether there are overwintered onions ready to harvest.
Onions have a variety of habits: some are planted in the winter, do nothing (apparently) for months and months, and then shoot into growth in spring. Others are planted in spring, and others still are sown as seed in the winter and sit in the ground through the cold months, before appearing in spring. It can be very confusing.
Basically, the little sets that you plant in the autumn are overwintering onions, also called Japanese onions. They put down roots through the winter, which is when they appear to be in suspended animation, but they are working away underground.
They will be ready to harvest any time from mid May onwards, and you should take any that start to flower first, as they won’t keep. In any case, overwintering onions don’t store well because they don’t get that papery brown outer layer that holds in the inner moisture. You need to plant spring sets to get storing onions. Overwintering onions also have thicker necks, which don’t dry, so the crop will tend to rot if left too long, either in the ground or in storage. They are immensely useful to grow in the period before storing onions are ready, and we have both reds and whites, as we like their mild, juicy nature.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 2 Comments

May potatoes, peas and beans

It’s been a struggle to find a good time to earth up the potatoes this month! It’s been more like ‘mud up’ to be honest, and while that’s good in one way (mud is an excellent light excluder, so there’s little chance of green potatoes in our harvest) in another way it makes it really difficult to get the earth to mound up, which apparently increases the potato harvest, and it also means that when the weather finally becomes warm (if it ever does) there’s a high risk of the former mud becoming a nice solid crust around the spuds, especially if you have a high clay content soil, and that’s difficult to break up and dig the spuds out of without spearing a few on the way.

The peas are enjoying the weather though, proof that every cloud really does have a silver lining. They are a cool season crop and have a high range of pollinators, so as long as the sun gets out from time to time, they will do fine and the longer it stays cool, the longer they will produce flowers for.

The broad beans have struggled this year. We lost our first seedlings to rats in the snow, and the second lot have come up well but seem to be lacking pollinators. Most broad beans are pollinated by bees, although they can also be pollinated by almost anything that brushes against the plant (a bit trigger happy, are broad beans) which is usually reliable but when there is a lot of heavy rain, the raindrops knock the plant about a bit, it drops the pollen which is immediately washed down to ground level and swept away by more rain, so pollination can be difficult in wet months … and that’s what we’ve been having since February!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, May 14, 2012 0 Comments

Garlic: wild and cultivated

Our cultivated garlic is looking sturdy in the rain, but it will be a while before there is anything to harvest. I know that some people advocate harvesting immature bulbs at this time of year, as they have a delicious mild flavour but honestly – who’s going to do that unless they have a total garlic glut already? And even if I did have a garlic glut, I’d be worried that something would wipe out my crop before harvesting.

At present, we haven’t found that the old adage for garlic ‘plant on the shortest day, harvest on the longest’ holds true. We do try to plant around 21 December, but we’re not usually harvesting until early August. That’s a long time away from now, and I’m not pulling up any of my garlic at this stage, just in case some marauding fox comes and digs some of it up in June (it’s happened before) and leaves me without enough to get through the winter.

Meantime though, there are Ramsons. Wild garlic is pretty, invasive and dead easy to grow. It can’t be mistaken for anything else because it smells like garlic (only milder) and in April and May it’s a delight to eat. The bulbs aren’t a lot of cop, to be honest, it’s the leaves that are the tasty part: use them like chives in an omelette or make Ramson soup, which is delicious and not as anti-social as garlic soup!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, May 8, 2012 0 Comments

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