Down on the Allotment

What's happening down on the allotment? An intimate account of a passionate veggie grower.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Matron's Allotment Flower Show

 Regular readers will remember that 'Matron does not do flowers'.. well, our little pollinating insects do need a bit of a hand nowadays, so you may find that I have planted just a few plants to help them along the way.  This Limanthes is also known as the Poached Egg Plant.  The bees just love it.
 If I can encourage pollinating insects to my allotment then they will help to pollinate my vegetables as well.
 In fact, I have noticed that the simple nature of vegetable flowers is very attractive to bees and on many occasions they prefer vegetable flowers to flower flowers!  Look at these beautiful Broad Bean flowers.
 Horseradish flowers are also a particular favourite, a member of the brassica family.  These simple, open flowers are a magnet for bees, they love them.
 How about chive flowers?  In fact, any onion or leek flower is adored by bees.  I always make sure I leave one or two vegetable plants to go to seed at the end of the season.  You might have to wait for a second year in some cases - take parsnips for instance - they are biennial, they grow a root in the first year and then the most amazing umbrella shaped raft of yellow flowers in the second year.  I once had a flowering parsnip that was more than 7 feet tall and covered in honey bees!
A particularly good flower for bees is the Borage herb.  This flowers right the way from April to the first frosts of Autumn and the bees love it!  If you appreciate the subtle things in life, then how about a nice bouquet of vegetable flowers?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When Matron Went to Chelsea Part 2

 There is so much colour, perfume and taste at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  But it is not all about flowers.. actually! This wonderful stand from Trinidad and Tobago had a stunning display of both tropical flowers and spices.
 Look how the nutmeg grows.  Encased in a fleshy fruit (which can be made into a tasty preserve) is the nutmeg which itself is surrounded by this red, lace outer - this is the spice known as Mace.  But inside this hard shell which must be cracked open, is the nutmeg.  One of my favourite spices.
 And everyone's favourite tropical edible is Cocoa.  Look at this wonderful display.
 Of course, one  of my favourite displays at RHS Chelsea is this amazing selection of potato varieties from Thompson & Morgan.  Potatoes were grouped into geographical areas of origin.
 Potato groups which came from South America, France, Netherlands, The USA and from Scotland had wonderful individual groups. When you look at just the humble old spud, I wonder if people realise just how many different varieties are available to grow in the UK.
So a big thumbs up for Thompson and Morgan for this wonderful display. This one gets Matron's Gold Medal !

Monday, May 18, 2015

When Matron Went to Chelsea Part 1

 There's just so much of interest for everyone at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year.  The TV coverage does tend to concentrate on the designs of show gardens, but there is plenty of excitement for the ordinary allotment gardener. So many more people are interested in wider aspects of growing plants, the RHS are certainly reflecting this in the range of exhibits.
 My eye was certainly caught by this delicious selection of restored garden tools.  I felt so nostalgic about these old zinc watering cans.  Years ago I didn't think anything of them, but now I just hanker after those old things.
 I just wanted to reach out and fondle these wooden handles. Perfectly designed, crafted and preserved here they were just so tactile and just wanted to be gripped, used and loved.  You can keep your modern, moulded handles and give me a good old country crafted fork and spade any day.
 Mr Titchmarsh was certainly dressed for the weather!  It was a bit drizzly this morning but it brightened up later.  Lots and lots of celebrities and experts were on hand today on press day at Chelsea.
 A beautiful kitchen garden display by Pennard Plants, this twine winder caught my eye.  What do you call it?  Mine is just two ancient old wooden tent pegs with a length of string between.  Does it have a real name?  Whatever it is, this one was just the ticket!
 So much character in these old glass cloches. Pennard Plants just hit the spot with their very practical and traditional kitchen garden.
and how about this old Sussex trug? and these old clay flowerpots.  All of these beautiful objects are still as fit for purpose as they ever were.  I just remembered a little story my Dad told me when we were on our allotment years ago.  All these clay pots, and clay bricks we used on our allotment when I was growing up came from the clay that was dug out of the ground when the London Underground was being dug in the 19th and 20th century.  Good old London clay! Is that true I wonder...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The World's Longest Chilli

 I'm entering a competition organized by Sea Spring Seeds to grow the World's Longest Chilli.  Guinness World Records have been approached and they confirm that no such record currently exists. This means that whoever grows the longest chilli will be the winner!  The two varieties that are recommended are Joe's Long and Spaghetti.   So I am growing both to see how I get on.
 A little dilemma I have is whether to pinch out the tops to encourage more bushy side growth, or to leave the tops to grow taller.  Generally you will get more fruit with more side growth, but I want size not quantity.   I think what I might do is to prune out some of the fruit and just grow a few chillis on each plant - in the same way you do when you grow a giant pumpkin.  Any advice out there?
 Meanwhile, the courgettes, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons are really growing fast.  We've had some lovely warm days in the greenhouse.  Beware of late frosts forecast, in London tonight a frost is forecast, so everything is inside for tonight and out again tomorrow.
 My Japanese Wasabi plant is coming to life again.  I have it in a pot, underneath a dripping tap against a North facing wall.  It seems to like it there.  I re-potted it last year, no sign of useable roots.
Now 3 years old, I wonder if I will get some at the end of this season.  Fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Hardening off Tomatoes

 Lovely, warm days in the last few weeks have meant that my tomato plants have been spending days outside hardening off.  The gentle movement of the wind sways the stems and leaves so that they become stronger and more resistant to the outdoor life.   They come into the greenhouse at night because there are still a few late frosts about.
 This is an interesting variety I called 'Quebec' because I bought some lovely beefsteak tomatoes in a market in Quebec in 2008 and saved some seed.  Apparently there was a greenhouse tomato breeding programme in Quebec to find varieties suitable for growing in greenhouses at that latitude. I did ask a market trader what the name of the variety was,  the reply was something like 'Den de L'or" but with a French Canadian accent I'm not sure.
 I have grown them for a few years in my greenhouse, and outside, they are a really lovely, smooth beefsteak tomato.
 This is what they looked like on sale in the market.  I grow them every few years to keep the seed fresh and to keep the strain going over here.
Another interesting variety I found is this dwarf, bush  yellow tomato called 'Sweet n Neat'  I thought they might make a Summer display on the patio.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Bees are Buzzing

 The blossom has been amazing this year!  Warm days and cold nights here has meant that it has lasted quite a bit longer.  The blossom on my Bramley Apple tree also smells heavenly.
 The crab apple tree is also covered in blossom.
 So the honey bees are having a great time these past few days.
 It looks like pollination will be good this year, and hopefully will follow a good crop of apples.
 I am breaking the habit of a lifetime this year and planting F.L.O.W.E.R.S. on my allotment.  Regular readers will know that 'Matron does not do flowers' but if a few flowers encourage the pollinating insects to pollinate my vegetables... then why not help out a bit.  These giant Sunflowers, a variety called 'Giraffe' are doing fine.  I need to wait until all risk of frost is past to plant them out.
 And ditto these Borage flower seedlings.  Seed saved from last year.  Bees just adore Borage flowers which last right the way through the season.  Also known as 'star flowers' these little blue flowers can be picked and floated in drinks.   Supposed to taste like cucumber.. mine didn't!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Matron Doesn't Do Flowers!

I picked my first sticks of rhubarb this afternoon.  This time of year the sticks are sweet and tender and take much less sugar than later on in the year.  Just a few minutes in the microwave and it was heavenly!
Now Matron's mantra has always been "I don't do flowers because you can't eat flowers..." (no witty remarks about nasturtium leaves in salads please..) but needs must when bees and other pollinating insects must be encouraged into my allotment in order to pollinate my vegetables!  So just a couple this year.  These are a sunflower variety called Giraffe... very tall I hope!
 I re-potted my chilli seedlings today as well.  I am growing Joe's Long cayenne, and a variety called Spaghetti.   I am taking part in a Guinness World Record attempt at growing the world's longest chilli.  This is being organized by Sea Spring Seeds - apparently no current record exists so whoever wins this year will hold the record.
 Tomato seedlings are looking good in the greenhouse as well.  Lovely warm days recently have meant that I take them outside during the day to start hardening off... then back in the greenhouse at night when it can get below freezing at the moment.  Still much too early to put anything outside.
 Apple blossom has been sensational this year.  Trees are just loaded with blossom, and the perfume from this apple tree today was heavenly!
 Another flower that I am growing to encourage pollinating insects is Borage.  I grew this for the first time last year, and these flowers bloom from April right the way through to the first frosts of Autumn.  Apparently these flowers are edible and they are supposed to taste of cucumber - I tried some last year.. and could taste nothing at all.  Quite decorative in a cool drink on a hot day!
 And finally...
MY POTATOES ARE UP!  hooray!  Will be sure to earth them up soon because frost is still a real danger at night. This little shoot is from my Red Duke of York seed potato.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

A Week in the Life of a Tomato

When you look at your tomato seedlings it sometimes feels like a case of 'a watched pot never boils'. So what happens if you take just one photo at the same time every day for a week?
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
 Day 5
 Day 6
 Day 7

and the sun comes out!

Monday, March 30, 2015

New Shoots

 There's no doubt about it, Spring is here.  The clocks went forward yesterday and the days are getting longer.  Plants on the allotment are feeling the change and the sap is rising.
 I always start broad beans in modules to protect them from pests at the beginning. They are quite hardy so once they have germinated under cover they are happy to sit outside for a few weeks.
 Chillis and tomatoes are a bit more tender so they are started in a heated propagator in the greenhouse.  I am growing two very long chillis, Joe's Long and Spaghetti chilli .
 I've been busy pricking out tomato seedlings into individual pots.  Still under cover but gradually hardening off inside the greenhouse and outside on warm days only.
 The Webbs Wonderful lettuce are enjoying life too.  They do well when the days are cool.  I have them protected in this black dustbin.
I always leave a few broccoli plants to go over into flower.  The bees just adore vegetable flowers so it is worth leaving some space for last years' veggies to go to seed.  It is worth leaving some for the bees, have a look at the RHS Perfect for Pollinators project. Bees love leek flowers too.