Wednesday, 31 October 2012

tucking up for winter

Finished organising the beds on the north side of the west end of the garden.  I now have 6 beds with nothing much in except some phacelia and field beans, oh and potentially the winter tares I sowed, which I'm not sure will come up. Then the brassica tunnel containing psb, cauli, and cabbage.

Then the old-fashioned raised beds area, which has kale and winter onions. East of that is unhappy looking leeks and happy looking celeriac.
And then the euphemistically named wild flower bed.

I roughly dug over one of the beds that was a path last season and is therefore badly compacted. I then added a top dressing of organic chicken manure, and covered it over with weed suppressing fabric. I'm thinking I might do the same for the next bed south as it is in a similar state.

 I will be interested to see what it the soil is like come the spring, and whether it might be worth doing this with the whole plot in future winters.

Sawed up the little apple tree and took off some spare branches from the others.  They are probably going to come out next year anyway, unless they shape up and produce some decent fruit.
This is the apple crop of 2012. (And a few potatoes for the dinner.)  Not that I'm blaming the trees for the scarcity of apples, it was the rotten spring that did that, but the apples haven't been great for the last two years.  There were plenty, but just not very nice tasting.

Monday, 29 October 2012

making beds

Another nice day.  Not exactly warm, but neither is it cold, just a bit damp.

Monday is washing day, but I had a minion to do it this week, and I already had the main meal sorted for this evening.  So nothing to do but go to the lottie.

I remembered to take the saw with me at last, so I cut up three long lengths of wood from behind the shed into  pegs to support the planks on the bed dividers. So that's two more beds now delineated and with astroturf paths between. Looks a bit cobbled together,(forgot to take pics as it started to rain proper, but I will get some later) but it has that authentic make-do-and-mend-allotment look about it.
(pix below as promised)

Fortuitously, it has worked out that when I've made the beds 4 ft wide and paths about 18 inches, and starting from the shed end, the brassica tunnel, the first fixed feature I've come to, has fallen on a bed not a path!  Result! I wish I could say it was good planning and measurements, but sadly, it's more down to good luck.

This plotplan is not right now, I have just counted, there are six beds north of the brassica tunnel not four as shown on plan.  Back to the drawing board....

Saturday, 27 October 2012

garlic planted

Mostly bright,clear and cold, alternating with occasional dark, showery and cold.  2C this morning in the greenhouse but by lunchtime it was up to 16C in there.

My sweet potatoes won't like those low temperatures.  I had a rootle around in one of the bags to see if they were anywhere near ready.  The tops are supposed to die back around end of October and then the roots are ready to be cured, but they are showing no sign of dying back and are still producing new leaves. But being impatient and knowing it was only going to get colder, I had a rummage.  Couldn't find anything apart from a few pink roots. By the time I had realised that those roots were the immature sweet potatoes...
It was too late to save that bagful.
I turned to my favourite website forum for advice,, they have a thread going on sweet potatoes.  So I need to keep them warmer and give them more time.  Apparently they grow a lot bigger, late on in their growth cycle. I can't heat the greenhouse, it has zero insulation so it would be like trying to heat the back garden.  All I can do is raise them off the concrete floor and insulate them a bit.
So there they are, the two remaining bags, tucked up and cosy-ish.  They got a bit battered looking as they had to be detwined from the bench shelves and legs, and had grown tendrils into every corner of the greenhouse. I had contemplated putting them in the bath as the bathroom is always lovely and warm and the watering would be no problem, but I thought the family might object.  The electric blanket was another thought, but even if I could get a cable through to the greenhouse, the blanket is brand new and unused, and it wouldn't improve it to put soggy grow-sacks on it. So they have to tough it out with the old camping mat and some bubblewrap. Poor things, they are just not up to the north-east climate and I don't think they will appreciate 2C at all.

The sunshine has turned the allotment into 2% snow and 98% mud.  I took the tray of 2 inch pots that I bought at Aldi last year, to the plot and planted garlic cloves in them.  The ground is definitely too wet to walk on.  I'm going to leave them at the plot in the cold frame, but I'm not going to put the lid on as they should be quite tough enough to survive the winter, they would if they were in the soil.  I didn't need to buy any new garlic bulbs as I saved the biggest ones from last season's crop. I've still got plenty left over anyway, I'll have to think of some way to use them up, although they do seem to be keeping quite well.

Bought a new bag of multi-purpose compost as I'll need some for the new apple trees when they come, and discovered I've got a flat tyre on my wheelbarrow! I have no idea how to mend a puncture in a wheel like that. Internet here I come!

Now that the leaves have mostly come off the old apple trees I can see that one tree has two small apples on it, that's the apple crop for 2012. And one of those had been got at by the birds!

Friday, 26 October 2012

First snow

Went to the plot for the first time since Sunday.  That's the longest gap for a while, autumn draws on.
Very cold this morning, the thermometer in the greenhouse said 5C.  I don't think there was a frost at the allotment, but a really cold wind made it feel near 0C.
The ground is drying a bit, but still too soft to walk on.  I'm thinking I might plant my garlic cloves in modules until the soil is workable.  Surely, it is bound to dry up sometime, isn't it?
I cut down the autumn fruiting rasps.  There were still some new berries and new leaves coming on, but too late....
I stacked the cut canes under a cover to keep them a bit dry for the bonfire season due to start on 1st November when the council's garden fire ban ends.
Excavated some Charlottes from the gro-sacks.  Not many more left.
little and large

Spent a happy half-hour disentangling some more weeds from the astroturf paths.  When the feeling had disappeared from my fingers and toes, I decided it was time to go home.
A lovely evening, still light at 5.30pm, (although that will change when the clock goes back at the weekend) it has been a lovely clear cold day, which is a change from the last three damp and foggy days.
10.30pm, snowing tonight!

Friday, 19 October 2012


Fennel and "last ofs

I forgot to tell you, dear diary, that last week I had one of the few success stories of the year.

Hidden and ignored in among the weeds were five or six Florence fennel bulbs which hadn't withered away like the rest of the garden! Most were small only a couple of inches across, but one, the star of the show, was as big as my hand. I just wish I had remembered to take a photo of it. Very annoying!

Apparently they are quite tricky to grow, and I have completely neglected them, apart from the occasional weeding. Perhaps that is the secret...ignore things more and lots of luck.

I have never eaten or cooked fennel before, so after consultation with MGG, I halved the big one and cooked the others whole. They had a lovely delicate aniseed y taste. The outer leaves on the big one were a bit tough but the inner and the smaller ones were very nice indeed. I didn't do anything fancy to them as I like to see what a thing tastes like, au naturelle, before I start messing around with it. So I steamed them and served them with a very mild cheese sauce, along with new potatoes and the last of the runner beans and a juicy lamb chop. Mm-mm....

Another "last of" is the beetroot. I pulled them all out because the were getting in the way of my new path and beds arrangement. Typically, they ended up in the middle of a path rather than a bed. There were about twenty, some so small they went straight on the compost heap, but the rest I cooked, sliced and pickled.This time I just cooked and sliced the beetroot and poured on some ready made pickling vinegar. I hope they turn out better than my pickled shallots (see entry for 8th August 2011)which were a disaster. The instructions in my book said to steep the shallots in brine overnight before they were put in the spiced vinegar, which I duly did. But, almost a year later, when I opened the jar, they turned out much too salty to eat. As I don't like wasting anything, even a whole jar of inedible shallots, I washed them a few times and left them in several changes of water until a lot of the saltiness had gone, and then I warmed them through with the Brussels sprouts. They were very good, well I thought so. The rest of the family seemed a bit doubtful. Such stick-in-the-muds!

There isn't much more left in the garden, some potatoes, brassica, celeriac, leeks and winter onions. It might have been possible to plant more things for over winter, but it has been such a miserable year and the garden has been constantly wet, I just haven't had the heart.  I can't even get my garlic cloves in its been so wet.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


cane connectors

Finished taking down the beans....There it was...gone.
I had used these Figo connectors
to construct the A frame and they were very good, only blew undone once and that was just one joint.  They were much more tolerant of odd sized canes than the last ones, (below)....which work okay with short canes that take only a little stress, but not for anything a large as a runner bean frame.

Also the slots in the round ones were too short and the material they were made of was too rigid to grip the canes well. But I think they would probably work well with the purpose-built tubes that the manufacturers sell to go with the connectors.
As you can tell I'm always up for a good gadget, but just a little too mean to go the whole way (I didn't buy the tubes)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

time to take down the runner beans

I decided it was time to take the runner bean frame down.
What I would like to know is, who's bright idea was it to put netting on it for the beans to grow up?... and under...and through...and around... It has taken me an hour to disentangle that one side of the bean frame.  
Note to self, don't do that again!  Usually I grow the beans up teepees and all I do is slide the canes out, leaving a pile of bean leaves and stalks on the ground.

I've done the worst bits and it is starting to rain, so I will finish it tomorrow.
Before I left the allotments I checked out the uncultivated plot next to mine and it was pretty wet too.  It also had way, way more brambles and weeds than mine.   So maybe I'll stick with what I've got.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

more rain

Lots of overnight rain so I had a walk down to check out the water table, and I wanted to take some photos of my new pear tree area. (See last post) I'm not sure why I do this to myself, I would probably be much happier if I didn't see it.
No surprises....
 The brassicas don't seem to mind, but I'm not sure how the leeks are coping.
 Below is the wild flowery area, seems to have turned into a water meadow.

 There is nothing to be done about it except work around the flooding.  A future plan could be to build double height raised beds, fill the bottom layer with rubble and topsoil on the top.  But that might be a plan for the next tenant as I think it is probably too much for me, both in monetary and physical terms.

Monday, 15 October 2012

pear tree tidy

Tidied the area under the plum tree, that's the bit to the left on the picture. (This is an old picture, it was much more overgrown today) So I have weeded it, added some growmore, covered it with some bits of landscape fabric and another two barrows of wood chippings.  It looks quite smart now, I'll get some pics in a bit.
I planted some perennials.  Coreopsis, Pyrethrum,(superb mixed) and Echinacea (white swan) planted in the corner beside the Rudbeckia that my friend Pat from Nunsmoor Allotments gave me. So I hope to have a flowery corner there next year, instead of a bunch of nettles.
The garden is draining nicely, but still pretty wet.
I cleaned up some more artificial grass strips but it is a tedious business.
 And the "grass" paths

Friday, 12 October 2012

under water again

Went to the plot today to take the runner beans down, but it is under water again, and I didn't have the proper footwear.
The sun came out so I just admired the reflections on my little lakes, dug up some more spuds and came home.
I didn't bother to take any photos, it is just the same old, same old.... (see entry for 26 Sept)

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Dug some more potatoes today, steamed them and they were delicious! There were some left over after dinner, but not for long! Keep your caviar and pate de foie whatsit, a dollop of Hellmans on warm fresh potatoes cannot be beat.  (Butter is actually better but sadly, I have to watch my cholesterol)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

what better thing to do on a lovely day

Another lovely day in sunny Newcastle!  More messing about with planks and paths, those old bottles have been really useful. I'm not making raised beds, I just want to define the edges of the beds a bit better, so hopefully I can keep control of the weeds.
It is starting to take shape.  I will buy some more landscape fabric when the hut is open again and put strips down on the paths.  I will put the strips of artificial grass down on top, but first I have to weed it.
You wouldn't think you would have to weed artificial grass would you? Otherwise what's the point of it, but you do.  The weeds grow almost as happily in that as in the soil.  I thought I would just lift the strips off the ground and the weeds would come out, but no, they stick firmly rooted into the weave of the plastic grass, and have to be picked out one by one.  I've spread them on the path for the time being, hoping the weeds will die back and come out easier.  I suppose I should be grateful they aren't artificial weeds and they will die back eventually.
 Rootled in the potato growbags and found some perfect new potatoes!
 I just took enough for today's dinner and left the rest (hopefully there is a "rest") in the compost for later.  They should be okay as long as there is no really hard frosts.
 I forked over the two newly formed beds and sowed some vetch and winter tares seed that I had left over from 2009.  I don't know if it will germinate at this late date, but we'll see.  It'll probably wait until spring when I don't want it. Although, if it does come up in the spring I will just leave those beds till last to plant something in. The green stuff is nasturtium which will die back into the soil.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Cutting back time

I've been messing about with planks of wood and trying to arrange the top end of the garden into some sort of order. I tend to be a straight line sort of person and its been irritating me that I've ended up with plants splattered all over the place. So I have made paths and beds, just roughly, and of course it has turned out that the bed I have just put the manure on has a path running slap down the middle.

So scrape it off again. Really! If I thought these things through properly first I could save a lot of work.

Cut back the old wood on the thornless blackberry. The remaining berries were small and not worth picking.

Took out the sweetcorn stalks and tried to rake the soil into what the books call "a fine tilth". Some hope! I have a smart new rake which is very pretty, but no use at all on big lumps of clay soil, it just bounces off. So I had to get the old heavy duty one out and bash away at it. Did the job though!

The next thing to come out is the runner bean frame. There are still a few left and I've had precious little this year so I'm getting every last one.

There are a few onions showing their greens. If you look very closely you can just see them.

In among all the nasturtiums are some cucumber plants, which started well, but too late.   Its too cold for them and anyway the slugs have nibbled them.

All in all, it has been a beautiful day.  Days like these make up for all the misery earlier in the year.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

manure map

Up sharp to the 'lottie to get the manure heap key.  I glibly paid for five barrow loads of well-rotted horse manure.  I was beginning to wish I hadn't been so gung-ho by the time I got to the last barrowful.  I had never really noticed that it is uphill to my plot and good manure is really heavy.

However, by the time the trading hut closed I was able to hand the key back in, phew! You wouldn't think it would take two hours to fill, cart and spread five barrows of muck, but what with chatting and getting opinions on apple trees.......

Muck spread on the the three new raised beds and some on the old brassica bed.

(brown bits are manured bits, green bits are green manure)

I was muck and mud up to the eyeballs after that lot! It is all very claggy stuff. There is a very special corner in our hallway reserved for my boots.

Next is to decide where to put the garlic.  I've still got lots left, so I've selected the best ones of the last batch for next year's crop.  Not so many this time.

On the theme that it is a funny old year, there is some blossom on the apple tree! It must have known I am going to replace it.  I ordered the new ones today ont 'tinternet.
I haven't decided whether to pot or not.  I think I will have a look at the ground under the old tree and see how waterlogged it is, first.

Monday, 1 October 2012

spick and span

I had bought some landscape fabric from the trading hut on Sunday, so I set to and cut it into paths around the new raised beds.  I've put a path down the fence this time, because although it might seem like a waste of space, nothing much grows there in the shadow of the fence.  It means I don't have to walk so far around to get to the other side of the beds and so won't be tempted to walk on the soil.  That's the theory, anyway.
There's a huge pile of chippings at the gate, so I barrowed about 6 loads up the hill to finish the new beds off.

They look very smart and tidy on the outside, but still lacking some soil to go in them.  That will just have to build up over time as I get compost and such to go in them.