29 August 2011

Summer time and the living is...

... all a bit mad really. What with kids being off school, going on holiday, the allotment going mad and job hunting. Now that's the excuses out of the way, what been happening?

Plot no. 2
I discovered I have a plum tree! The tree was on my list to chop down in the autumn as I didn't know what it was - it not having bothered to produce anything in the last three years - and nor did any of my neighbours. But 18 plums this summer have saved it. Yes, everyone else was complaining about trees groaning under the weigh of plums and mine managed a paltry 18.

All 18 plums seemingly on this branch!

The picture does seem to show far more plums on the tree than I actually picked! However, the tree doesn't look the healthiest of trees so any advice on what's up with it, and more importantly what to do about it, appreciated. Clearing up around it would be a start though.

Unhappy plum tree

Elsewhere, the plot is really suffering from a lack of water. It's far drier than plot no. 1 at the best of times, but we've hardly had any rain this year here in Sheffield and it's like digging in sand at times. As a result there's not much going on up there really. The peas and climbing beans largely failed to germinate. I'm suspecting the seeds were eaten. The dwarf beans have been the stars of the show though, slow to get going but once they did we've had masses of yellow and purple beans, freezing quite a few of them. The only disappointment being the purple ones turn green on cooking.

The apples are looking good, even though the trees are in a 'transitional' stage. I pruned the two larger ones quite a bit last winter to stop them from falling over as they were growing sideways, which has obviously impacted on the amount of apples growing this year. There's still quite a bit of work to do with them to get them growing upwards again, so another quiet year expected next year too. And the smaller 'eater' tree is getting better although the birds and wasps have taken a liking to the fruit meaning most of them have been eaten before they were ready to be picked - there were probably only 30 apples anyway.

The strawberries were poor once again and will be going. The raspberries I attempted to move in the winter have largely died - amazingly for raspberries! - but I'm sure those that have survived will spread out in time to cover the space. I've remained restrained and not touched the newly moved rhubarb, not that there would have been much anyway with the lack of water.

The dahlias have been a bit crap up on plot no. 1 (another quality product from Garden 4 Less - not!) and the gladioli really needed staking, but the cornflowers have been the stars of the show up there. All I did was throw a packet of seed on the ground and they've been brilliant all summer:

They're going to seed now and have been battered by the wind in the last few days, but are still flowering away.

Plot No. 1
The polytunnel is keeping me busy with endless watering, and even then it's not really enough for the tomatoes. They could also do with a bit more sun and warmth. They're slowly ripening, I've even tried putting some bananas in there, but the six of them are a bit lost in there really! The chillies are also slow to ripen and somewhat of a mystery this year. Not quite sure what happened but there must have been a serious mix up with the labelling this year. To paraphrase Eric Morecambe, I have all the right labels, but not necessarily on the right plants. I have some Padron, Hungarian Hot Wax, Joe's Long, Cayenne, Jalapeno and Ring of Fire, but not one of them seems to be labeled correctly. I can recognise most of them but the wild cards are the couple I bought at the school plant sale, that I can't remember what they were and weren't labeled anyway. It appears as though I have many Joe's Long growing since most of the plants have very long chillies on (about a foot long), but not as many Jalapenos as I wanted.

The chaos inside the polytunnel!

Banana ripening trick

Joe's Long?
I've added some velcro fastened plastic over the door ventilation screen to keep some of the heat in over winter. However since it's not exactly warm at the moment, I'm keeping one of them closed most days and the other still open. I also put a wire along the length of the tunnel that I'll use to train plants up next year, but for now is handy to dry onions and seed heads from. Could do with tightening up a bit still though.

Outside, the Charlottes have been great as ever but almost at an end. I made the mistake of letting the kids dig up "one plant" only to realise they'd dug up half a row the next time I looked. We had potatoes a lot that week. And they didn't complain once!

I've just started digging up some of the others (Desiree, King Edwards and Pink Fir) since the tops died off a while back and they're all looking a bit small, which is understandable given the lack of rain. The slugs seem to have taken a liking to the King Edwards though, but none of the others???

The climbing French beans have been slow to climb but have been reasonably productive. The Borlotti beans positively sprinted to the top of the netting though and will be prolific if they fill out before it gets too cold. The peas I'd all but given up on have finally come to life and whilst we're not going to be eating many, there should be enough to keep the kids happy.

The courgettes of course are highly productive. I think I have about 8 plants this year across both plots but I'm keeping on top of them by picking them very young - about 10cm long. Well until we go away for a few days then they're at least twice that length and a lot fatter! Picked the first patty pan (Pattison Blanc) this weekend.  Not entirely sure what to do with it, any ideas? The Gemstore round dark green squash I grew last year have been a lot shyer this year. Last year I had 25 off two plants, this year I've got two growing on two plants. My orange pumpkin seems to have given up on the idea of producing fruits and the Crown Prince have produced a couple of small pumpkins between them. Again I guess the lack of water hasn't really helped.

The raspberries have finally kicked in, they're always a bit disappointing to be honest. As soon as they get going it starts raining then they all go mouldy. The blueberries didn't survive the birds, must do a better job with the netting next year.

The broad beans have gone and leeks have gone in where the Charlottes were. The recent rain has helped them bed in nicely. I underplanted the climbing bean and reluctant peas with salad crops that have been brilliant all summer. It even helped keep the rocket from going to seed as quickly as normal. Now it's cooling down a bit I've planted some more rocket alongside the polytunnel, together with some chard (which I originally thought was beetroot!), spring onions and dill.

Flowers - again
The flowers on plot no. 1 have been far better. We're inundated with sweet peas and various dahlias. I'm not sure why the dahlias have been so much better than on plot no. 2, as plot no. 2 is the one that usually gets the most sunshine.

The gladioli seemed to hold up much better and we've even had some carnations.

That's probably most of it for now, the next update should be along in a couple of days when it'll be five years since I took on plot no. 1!

13 July 2011

Flowers on the plot... The answers

Quite a few of you had a go at naming the flowers in the blog entry - although I think Susan claiming to have 16 of them within minutes of me posting possibly intimidated some people from entering ;>) And you all obviously know your stuff, but no one got them all correct. So here are the answers:

1. Daisy - not sure what kind they were there when I got the plot and come back stronger each year.

2. Potato, maincrop can't remember which variety!

3. Chilli.

4. Cucumber - Paris Pickling.

5. Tomato.

6. Foxglove.

7. Allium - of the flowering variety rather than one going to seed.

8. First sweet pea of the year.

9. One of the last Broad Bean flowers.

10. Dahlia - not grown these before.

11. Creeping Buttercup, an ongoing battle to stop them rampaging across the plot.

12. Carnation.

13. French marigold.

14. It's a squash plant, I can't remember which one but looking at the number of flowers I'd guess it's one of the courgettes.

15. Phacelia - self seeded and much loved by the bees.

16. Dill - which seemed to be one of the difficult ones to identify.

17. Sunflower, one of the dwarf ones.

18. Coriander.

Thanks to everyone who had a go, have to try and think of something else later in the year!

10 July 2011

Tomato problems...

Well, anyone got any suggestions as to what's going on here???

It is from a Costoluto Fiorentino, growing in a large pot in the polytunnel and none of the others seem to be developing (?) like that. Any suggestions welcomed.

Oh and no one has got all the flowers from the last post correct yet! I'll give it another couple of days before giving the answers.

6 July 2011

Flowers on the Plot

I was wandering round the plot today with the camera and couldn't help noticing the number of flowers out. Some of them pre-date my time on the plot, some of the are unwanted (i.e. weeds!), some of them are from the fruit and veg and some of them are flowers I've planted for cutting.

So I thought I'd have a little competition to see how many you can name. I say competition, there is no prize other than the glory! So here they are, and I'll give the answers in a few days:

1. They appear every year in the same place, nothing to do with me!

2. Surprising attractive flowers

3. With added greenfly I've just noticed!

4. Miniature version, but going down well so far.

5. The taste of summer?

6. Vastly under rated flower.

7. This one's cheating a bit as it's not out yet.

8. Almost there.

9. One of the last flowers on this plant, before the mice eat them?

10. New one for me, I'd never have got this one if I didn't know what it is!

11. It's all I can do to keep these from taking over the plot.

12. One for the wife.

13. Hopefully keeping the nasties out of the polytunnel.

14. Small at the moment but soon it'll be trying to take over the plot.

15. This one looks quite spooky.

16. Small and delicate.

17. Just about to explode into life.

18. Last and possibly not the best photo, but it's a challenge!
Good luck!

3 July 2011

What's in the Trug?

Well I say 'trug' but actually I'm far too tight to buy one of those nice wooden trugs and no one has taken the hint and bought me one yet. So it's actually a plastic tray left over from the local fruit and veg shop.

So what's inside?

I picked a big bag of lettuce leaves from the Little Gem and Romaine Ballon, with a few beetroot leaves for variety. We're getting through a few bags a week, so that's saving a fair amount of money in itself. It also keeps far better than anything we buy and the salad spinner we were given as a wedding present almost 12 years ago now is finally paying its way!

There are three different herbs: a small amount of dill for Mrs D to pickle the gherkins with, some parsley and a huge bunch of coriander that was looking like it was about to go to seed. I'm growing a variety that is supposedly a cut and come again variety (Calypso), so I've hacked it back and will chop this lot up and freeze it with a small amount of water to put into curries as and when we need it.

Hidden under everything is a couple of pounds of Charlottes from two plants. I picked a small number of broad beans, hopefully just about enough to go with tomorrows tea! There's a couple of gherkins, a couple of beetroot and a solitary carrot!

The strawberries are still going strong and I picked another couple of punnets, although they still need careful picking over to spot the holes and chunks the birds and mice have had. I've been sharing the gooseberries with the birds - we're not big fans of the gooseberry really - but I did pick some in the hope inspiration will strike. And if you look really carefully in the strawberry punnet on top you'll spot a couple of blueberries (Nui).

Finally, there are some cornflowers and carnations for the wife, which stops her from getting annoyed with me when I say "I'm just popping out to do some watering" and come home an hour and a half later! Well it's dry out there ;>)

29 June 2011

First produce from the Polytunnel!

Just over a couple of weeks after putting the tunnel up it's beginning to pay dividends. The first harvests today were one cucumber (Miniature White - OK it's only a couple of inches long, but the clue's in the name!) and three gherkins (one Paris Pickling and one Bimbostar, and one unlabeled but it's one of those two! Fortunately Mrs D is a big fan of pickled cucumbers and gherkins, so if anyone has a recipe feel free to share ;>)

Paris Pickling

Miniature White
Elsewhere in the tunnel...

First Hungarian Hot Wax chilli forming

First tomato - Costolutu Fiorentino

Is that a decent cage for the brassicas I see?

Yes, I believe it is! For the first time ever I've finally built a cage that is tall enough, pinned down all the way around it and leave room for me to get in and out of it. It is now full of Flower Sprouts and Purple Sprouting Broccoli - although quite which is which is a bit of a mystery due to a bit of a labelling mix up. There's still room at the side of the cage for a few Brussels plants I've got to go in as well.

Harvest Time!
Despite my ongoing battles with the mice, I think I'm getting more than they are at last and am hoping to make some jam from them too. The potatoes (Charlottes) are coming thick and fast, as are the salad leaves (beetroot, Little Gem and Romaine Ballon - I'm just picking off the young leaves rather than picking the whole lettuce, which is a tactic that is working really well). Not getting the variety I'd like but I've got a lot more mixed salad leaves on the go and a couple more types of lettuce, but it'll be a couple of weeks before I start getting anything from them. Finally getting a few broad beans from plot no 2 (always a week or two ahead) but the plants on plot no 1 are looking much healthier with no signs of black fly yet or mouse attacks:

And it won't be long before we're having our first courgettes:

No I know this can be a emotive issue, no names mentioned but you know who you are ;>) I however do like to find some room to grow some flowers for a number of reasons: firstly they can't help to attract the pollinators and secondly I can pick them and take them home for the wife, saving me money at the florist and scoring me brownie points to make up for her being locked out whilst I was down on the allotment!

Foxgloves up on plot no 2

Cornflowers just beginning to come out on plot no 2. I have since picked a few to bring home and they do look stunning and went down very well.

More foxgloves and some carnations (hopefully ready soon) down on plot no 1
Finally, up in the pond (aka bath at the top of the plot) a frog was basking in the sun. Do frogs bask in the sun?

Oh and I've finally updated some of my blog links on the right hand side - apologies to many of you I've only just got round to adding a link to.