Radicchio harvests and butternut squash preparations

Right now we’re harvesting raddichio di Treviso (recipe in the book, Minding My Peas and Cucumbers: Quirky Tales of Allotment Life, if you don’t know how to cook them, or if you’ve grown them and found them too bitter to eat) which, to my mind, is as pretty as any houseleek or ornamental cabbage, and much tastier.

We’ve also been busy repurposing stuff – the bamboo that we cut down is going to be part of the butternut squash frame: OH has drilled the holes in the frame and we’re poking the bamboo stems down to make supports for the squashes themselves. You can get some idea of the scale from OH's hand in the photo!

Butternut squash are relatively heavy and need a lot of sun to cure, so we have to find a balance between their weight and wanting as many of them to last as long as possible. Most people grow them along the ground, where the vines spread prolifically, but we find that they often get slug or woodlouse damage at the point where the young green squash forms and touches the soil, and once that happens the squash does not store well. Also, the last couple of years our wetter late summer weeks have caused many ground-growing butternuts to get mildew.

So the frame: we will tie in the vine to uprights and stretch wire across to make some horizontal supports to which we can attach the squashes – sometimes I’ll crochet a little hammock to support the squash, so it stretches as the squash does. Yes, I know how insane that sounds, but believe me, you can do the same thing with the net bags from supermarkets, as long as the squash has cured enough for the netting not to cut into the flesh and as long as the bag is big enough to stretch to the full size of the squash.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, February 27, 2012 2 Comments

Greenhouse report late February 2012

Today is gorgeous: sunny and bright after early morning rain, and I can almost feel things germinating in the ground as I walk over it. Unfortunately, the weather this month has made planning very difficult so we’ve played it safe in terms of sowing and are very much behind, compared to last year. At this point in 2011 we already had chilli, pea and lavender seedlings, and poppies, primulas and sweet peas in trays ready to germinate.

This year we have … broad beans.

It’s not that we don’t have seeds to plant, we do. But I just haven’t had the confidence to get them out yet. We’ve lost so many seedlings in the past two years through the soil not being warm enough to plant them out, and there not being quite enough space in the cold greenhouse to keep them going once they’d outgrown the seed trays.

The indoor chilli is covered in little red-hot dried up chillies and has a couple of lilac flowers on it too. It will be planted out on the allotment once the frosts are over and will be amazingly prolific through the summer. Second year chilli plants always double their yield in our experience. We harvest the plant dried chillies as we need to use them through the winter and take all the remaining ones off on the last day of February so the plant can flush into new growth

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, February 23, 2012 5 Comments

How not to grow Kelsae onions

I could have called this post Allotment Wins and Woes – I’ll get to the good stuff in a minute but for now, this is definitely not the way to grow onions from seed.

What happened was this: we had four small trays of seedling Kelsae onions. I potted one whole tray up into individual pots, and then, a couple of days later, OH potted up the other three trays, also into individual pots, and all the pots went into the spare bedroom which is cool but not cold, and light. But what I didn’t realise was that OH had taken my first lot of onions and put them on a lower shelf in the spare room. So, thinking all the pots were on the top shelf, and the unit on which they are housed having a solid back, so I couldn’t see the lower shelf as the pots were facing the window, to get the best light, not the door, where I might have spotted them, I merrily failed, for ten days, to turn or water all the onions I’d transplanted.

Net result: about two of the twenty onions might survive.

The moral is, when two of you are working on a growing project together, try to exchange all information and not to make assumptions!

On the other hand, the broad beans in the greenhouse are doing magnificently. They will be used to replace the ones lost to mice, and although we’ll have to spray against blackfly (which never works: spring sown broad beans always get blackfly, in my experience) we should still have a good bean harvest this year, on the current showing.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 2 Comments

Chitting potatoes

As far as the eye can see, in our spare bedroom, there is a sea of potatoes being chitted. The reason for chitting is that potatoes are only half-hardy, so you can’t plant them early to get a good crop as the cold weather damages them, and you can’t leave them in the ground too late, as they will get slug damage, so getting them off to the earliest start allows the tubers to develop as much as possible before the plants have to be lifted.

Chitting potatoes means that they get to grow stronger, and without having too many sprouts developing that will therefore produce numerous but smaller potatoes. The idea is to get just two or three sprouts that give a suitable number of large sized potatoes and this is done by removing other sprouts, especially those that are too close together to produce substantial spuds, at this time, with a potato peeler. I core out the unwanted shoots to about 5 mm deep so that they don’t regrow. Then after a week I give them a little spray with rainwater to get them developing in the remaining sprouts.

If you don’t chit, some potatoes don’t produce enough sprouts so you get gaps in your potato rows which is annoying when you’ve gone to so much effort to prepare the soil and earth the planted potatoes up.

The potatoes sit in egg boxes until the time to plant arrives, usually, for first earlies, the last week in March but sometimes, given the weather, as late as mid April.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 1 Comments

Cauliflowers, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli

That’s what we harvested from plot #103 on Sunday. We were surprised to find the last of the late late caulis had formed a nice little curd, and although it was a little brown, it tasted perfect made into a tiny cauliflower cheese pie with a puff pastry topping. If your caulis do tend to brown, you can always try bending a couple of outer leaves over the curd and clipping them to the leaves on the other side of the plant to protect the creamy colour, but in winter it’s quite difficult to keep caulis looking pretty and we count eating a fresh a baby cauliflower in February as a bonus, even if it wouldn’t win any bonny baby competitions!

The leeks were frozen, of course, but like most winter veg that gets hit by frost, once cut and cooked (straight from frozen) they made an excellent soup. The purple sprouting was delicious: plump and succulent and full of flavour – it’s a real winter winner with us.

The onions seem to be coping with the sub zero temperatures: this is one of the times that raised beds do come into their own, as they offer shelter from the scouring winds and the improved soil in the bed is less likely to heave as a result of frost action. Heaving is where clods of earth explode as the water inside freezes and expands – it’s good news for those who had digging heavy soils, as winter does a lot of the work for you, but bad news if your heavy soil is around the roots of an overwintering plant, as it can leave tender roots and stem areas exposed to the low temperatures.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, February 13, 2012 0 Comments

February allotment tasks

It’s always a dodgy month, February. Either it’s hideously damp and the ground is too waterlogged to dig, or it’s horribly cold and the ground is too frozen to dig! This year it’s the latter, and we haven’t been able to do a single, useful, thing for ten days, allotment-wise.

Laughably, we put some soil coverings out just before the intense frost and sub-zero temperatures, but it will be worse than useless given the air temperature and the aridity that results from such low temperatures. We can’t dig, either, although where we did dig in January, the clods will be beautifully shattered by the cold weather.

I have three potting sheds, and they are all too cold to work in! So I’ve been potting on the Kelsae onions on the kitchen table, which is usually forbidden (compost in the teapot and grit in the butter and all that) but there’s been absolutely no choice about the matter – if they weren’t potted on they would have failed, and they couldn’t go outside to the somewhat heated greenhouse, as that’s dropping below zero overnight and Kelsae won’t be doing with such bitter temperatures.

We should be sowing leeks, peas and F1 hybrid broccolis now, but there’s just no point until the temperatures are likely to rise, and with this cold snap looking less like snap and more like a long-drawn-out game of bridge, we can’t start anything off that needs night temperatures above zero.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, February 8, 2012 0 Comments

Allotment Frost!

Not much to say. Ground frozen, feet frozen, plants frozen and even the ones in the greenhouse going back underground in these temperatures! Only good news – the first replacement broad bean is about to poke its head through the potting compost…

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, February 3, 2012 2 Comments

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