June at Plot 4

So, summer has started and its rained all day for the first two days of the month! Still, it promises to be a good, and busy, month at the allotment.

With the transition from spring to summer, there is increasingly more to harvest from the plot. The salad leaves have enjoyed the gentle rise in temperatures and surfeit of water, producing a great crop of cut and come again leaves. We’ve also seen the Swiss chard in its last flourish, producing some beautiful glossy leaves, which have made their way into curries, tarts and pasta dishes. As the days get longer, with increasing amounts of sunlight, the strawberries have been getting close to ripening, and we should be enjoying their juicy sweetness very soon.

This time of year is brilliant for sowing, as pretty much anything will germinate rapidly, sprouting into life and onto its journey to harvest. I’ve been sowing more French beans, both climbing and dwarf varieties. Starting them off in plugs in the greenhouse to avoid the mice and rats getting the seeds before they germinate. I’ll also sow some cime de rapa; it’s very short period of growth allows us to fill gaps in the ground before planting out other crops later in the year. A succession of salad leaves, and even a few more peas will no doubt also be sown during the month.

With all the seedlings, and plants growing, there are many jobs on the plot at the moment; not least the unending battle to keep the growth of weeds under control. I’ve installed a new water butt at the top of the plot, and I’m looking to link it with the old one to allow me to collect the maximum amount of rainwater. The growing temperatures we hope for as June develops will bring an increased need for watering, so we’ll be using the longer evenings to nip to the plot for a quick water, weed and crop. Here’s to some warm evenings at the allotment; it’s one of my favourite times to visit.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

May at Plot 4

 

The month of May is a significant one, being the month which ushers out the spring and welcomes in the summer. On a personal level, it has my birthday in it, and as such is a convenient point to analyse the year gone and reassess priorities. I find, as I start another year, the promise of better weather and abundant growth such a positive thought; one which can see me through darker days.

We are finally able to harvest some new crops. The rhubarb is looking beautiful and has been excellent in crumbles, as well as accompanying a granola and yoghurt breakfast, and a cheeky pasteis de nata. The first of the salad leaves are also coming to harvestable size; so we will be able to enjoy lettuce again fresh from the plot, instead of the bagged salads the supermarkets so like. Last month saw the mint at the allotment flourishing, so its time to enjoy its freshness in dishes like tabbouleh, salsa verde, and of course in mint tea.

The April sowings of beetoot, beans, peas and salads have all sprouted and are doing well, but its time to sow another batch to ensure a succession of crops. I’m also going to be sowing some parsnips, a bit late I know, but I think it will be worth it. Like the carrots mentioned last month, parsnips don’t like my clay rich soil, so I’m going to experiment with using a large bin with a good draining sand-rich soil in it.

With the evenings becoming longer there is more time to visit the plot and develop the baking day job, this meand that I can  keep on top of the ever growing list of jobs this month.  The crops already planted, need to be hoed between to control weeds and also create a “dust mulch” to conserve precious soil moisture. I try to water with a watering can in the cool of these evening visits, as it allows me to direct the water around the root area of the crops and the sun doesn’t get a chance to evaporate it before the plants can have a drink. The strawberries are already flowering and I will put some straw underneath the developing fruits to keep them off the soil, as well a water around the base of the plant to reduce any problems with mildew. 

 It all looks a lot to do. Still, there’s nothing like a bit of time at the allotment to make everything better.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

April at Plot 4

This month generally starts with a few days of beautiful weather. My wedding anniversary on the 2nd is almost always beautifully sunny. This year the greyness of March has carried on to the start of April, and my mood has only lifted now that the sun is shining (and I’ve managed to get the plot on two consecuetive days).

Having harvested the last of the overwintering crops last month, there is littlt to harvest at the moment. The Swiss Chard is still hanging on, so they will be used in fritattas, bruschetta and in soups. Supplementing this are the emerging nettles, mint and rocket. The fresh flavours of these new leaves are super in risottos.

The sowing has really started, with peas and broad beans about to be sown outside. The greenhouse will no doubt be groaning by the end of the month as more and more is sown (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, chard and courgettes will all be starting their life in modules during the next few weeks). The last of the potatoes will need to be planted, with the spaces between the rows being utilised to sow radishes and herbs like parsley.

As for jobs, there are so many. The gooseberries, and red and white currants, need to be pruned to prevent disease and encourage new growth. You need to remove the dead wood, then prune all the sideshoots back to a few buds from the base. You’re looking to shorten the branches by about 1/4. All the pathways also need clearing and covering with a new layer of woodchip, and on a theme of tidying the sheds need a good sort. And of course, the battle with the allotmenteers nemesis, the slug, starts afresh.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

March at Plot 4

So much for the fresh hope for better weather, it seems to have been particularly wet over the last few weeks, culminating in the wettest day ever for the last 24 hours of February. The allotment is as a result undiggable and pretty much untouched in the a couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had decent days, but now I have work commitments again they have nearly always coincided in a meeting or a need to bake some loaves. Oh well, these things happen, and at least I spent the first morning of March at the allotment, with the kids, tidying the shed (oh, and having hot chocolate made on the woodfired stove).

I think March is perhaps the worst of the ‘Hungry Gap’ months, as the overwintered crops dwindle and there is little to harvest. There’s still Swiss Chard going, and the Jerusalem artichokes are lying in the ground awaiting harvesting. I find that they’re best kept safe in the soil, only digging what I need. Although, in the next few weeks they will begin to sprout and it will be time to harvest the remaining tubers before they start growing into hundreds of plants!

It’s definitely time to start sowing. I’ve been a little slow in getting going on this, but with a bit of spring sunshine around its time to really start. The seed catalogue has been studied and varieties ordered. Over the next few weeks I’ll get sowing more celeriac, cucumbers, the first tomatoes, and some salad leaves in the greenhouse, to take advantage of the spring sunlight. Outside it will be time to sow some broad beans and peas (which I missed sowing in the autumn). I’ve also got some carrot seeds ready to go into a large container. The soil at the allotment is not favourable to carrots, using containers with a sandy, free draining soil, enables us to have fresh (well shaped) carrots.

The jobs on the plot start to really add up this month with cleaning out of sheds, greenhouses and other areas of the allotment. Hopefully the soil will dry out a bit, enabling a good amount of diggning to be done and potatoes to be planted.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

February at Plot 4

The year has well and truly started now, and for me it has meant a lot of aborted trips to the allotment. My new role as project lead for Stoneham Bakehouse community bakery has meant that I have had less time to spend at the allotment. What time I have had, has often been thwarted by the rain and generally inclement weather. At least, at this time of year, a few weeks of little inactivity is manageable; although with the mild start to the year Jack Frost hasn’t been able to help me keep the perennial weeds under control, or break up the soil I’ve managed to clear. Still, a new month, brings fresh hope for drier, colder weather.

Although the plot is very much in a dormant phase, there are still vegetables to harvest. The brassicas which are overwintering under the protection of netting, are providing us with iron rich green leaves to accompany stews, go in soups or top pizzas. Yesterday’s evening meal was a delicious pizza bianca topped with an unctuous  combination of onions, garlic and kale. Jerusalem artichokes are at their best at the moment, especially pureed and accompanying fish. The onion supply from this year is dwindling, but I have plans for the production of a version of French Onion soup, using the shallots, red onions, and our last garlic (an English Allium soup if you will).

Last year I completely forgot about sowing any sweet peas, relying on a few bought plants later in the year to provide the allotment with these fragrant and colourful legumes. So this year I’m determined to get sowing soon, doing so in the protected cool of the greenhouse. Given the relative mild winter so far, I suspect the dahlias I neglected to protect and dig up in the autumn are probably fine. That said, I’m looking to pot up a few dahlia tubers in some compost, ensuring they are kept somewhere warm (well 10 degrees or above). As for vegetables (we haven’t eaten dahlia tubers in this country since they arrived in this country in the 1700s), I hope to start the early sowings under glass of cauliflower, celeriac and leeks.

The main jobs on the plot this month are ones of maintenance. The various beds need edging, weeding in some cases, manuring, and generally tidied up. Before the new sowings in the greenhouse I need to give that a good clean and sort out; the stormy winds of a week or so ago have loosened a few panels of the polycarbonate, so they need securing and sealing.  The raspberries also could use a bit of work; the autumn ones need to be chopped down to ground level, and the summer-fruiting varieties need last year’s canes removed too. The blueberries in pots will also benefit from a top-dressing of pine needles to improve the pH of the soil. The other main job is to secure the tool shed. As in every winter so far, the local rodent population have managed to nibble their way in and have been sheltering from the colder weather, whilst nibbing away at various pieces of kit. It’s time to reclaim the shed!

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

January at Plot 4

 

There are still vegetables to harvest, the Chard, Cabbage and Broccoli are still looking good and will no doubt make their way into a few soups, or onto the plate with a winter stew. This year I have grown cauliflower for the first time, the Romanesco variety. Cauliflower has become the vegetable of the season, its been like finding an old friend, whether served with a cheese sauce in a gratin, or in a curry, it has become ever present in our diet. The Jerusalem artichokes are also waiting patiently in the ground and will come into their own as the cold sets in, providing an alternative to the ubiquitous potato.

After the festive month, January is time for a new start, a fresh approach. The seed catalogues have started to drop through the door and I’ve started to form a list of potential seeds to grow next year. By the end of the month I hope to have ordered and started chitting my seed potatoes, finalised the seed purchases for the new year, and I think I might start to sow a few peas and broad beans in the relative warmth of the greenhouse.

The cold and wet weather ahead, means the jobs at the allotment will probably be limited to sorting and tidying. Both the shed and the greenhouse need a good sort out, and the whole plot has developed a bit of a scruffy look as the weather and different commitments have conspired to limit my time at the allotment. Still, a new start in January means a chance to rework my time to ensure the plot is shipshape for the anticipation of the growing season.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

 

October at Plot 4

September, with the start of the school year and my work to develop a local bakery in the heart of my community, has sped by. If I’m honest, I’ve neglected the plot a bit. I’ve been there a fair bit, but have been harvesting crops and just enjoying the space, rather than getting on with the jobs I should have been doing. Consequently, the start of October is necessarily going to be a busy one.

 

There is still a lot to harvest, the autumn fruiting raspberries are still going, as are the blackberries. The beetroot have been a great success and have been used in a range of dishes recently, including this delicious slaw. The squashes are also ripening nicely and I look forward to harvesting the first of the fruits in the next day or so. Squashes to me, are the archetypal autumn vegetable and also one of the most versatile one. They can be used roasted for gnocchi or pasta dishes, in soups, even in cupcakes. The last of tomatoes are ripening too, so I’ll be using these in various dishes, as well as preserving a few too.

At this time of year there is little to sow. I’ve sown a few rows of late lettuce, now that the days are a little shorter and the heat has diminished a little. I’ve got a number of brassica plants and leeks to plant out in the next day or so, although not sown myself they should bring a harvest later in the year.

The autumn tidy up is the main job this month. There’s paths to tidy, greenhouse to clean out, fences to fix, beds to be dug; the list goes on. With the cold weather coming towards the end of the month ahead, I’m also going to make sure I have enough firewood for the log burner. The allotment is a great place to spend time, and having a warm shed to pop into for a hot cup of tea, or just to warm up, makes being there and getting jobs done all the easier.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

September at Plot 4

August has seen some scorching weather, but also unseasonably cool and wet days. The slightly odd weather and the fact that we’ve been away for a decent portion of the month, has seen some super growth by veg and weeds alike.

August has offered much to harvest. The beetroot have swollen to a good size, and the French beans have been plentiful, giving us a load of different dishes, including a new found classic – tagliatelle with pesto, green beans and new potatoes. Last year’s cucumber monster has reared his head once more, and we have an ongoing supply of the coolest of vegetables. The soft fruit this year has been amazing; raspberries have followed on from the strawberries, and now we have a bumper crop of blackberries to devour. Our early apple tree has been laden with fruit for a while, but they have just become ripe and we are inundated in apples. The trouble with having an early variety of apple like Beauty of Bath is that they don’t store well, so I’ve been bottling and making to use them as well as I can.

A new row of salad is due to be sown in the next few days, and I will sow more  Cime di Rapa too, as the first few rows have been decimated by the weather, pests and (if I’m honest) a little neglect on my behalf. I’ve failed to prepare properly for the winter period, so may have to source some kale and other brassicas from somewhere to fill a gap or two. In the greenhouse the tomatoes, peppers and chillis are doing their own thing, but I’ll look to sow some salads as space becomes available.

As I mentioned, our trips away from home during August have resulted in a little wild growth, and as a result there are many jobs to do in September. One of the major jobs is to prepare ground for the autumn/winter growing period. Depending on my success in finding crops to pop in, or sow, this may also involve the sowing of green manures. I’ve had little success in the past with these, ending up on one occasion with a mass spreading of rye grass across a section of plot, and failing to remove it all properly. However, this year if I have space, I’m going to revitalise the ground with a green manure. Any ideas which work best?

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

August at Plot 4

July seems to have whizzed by and the children are eagerly anticipating the summer holidays and a month of enjoying the great outdoors in the summer sun (well hopefully).

There continues to be much to harvest, with the last of the broad beans being enjoyed in salads and pasta dishes. The raspberries have been excellent and we have been able to pick a large punnet or so every other day. With so many raspberries in the kitchen, we’ve been using them in loads of dishes and have the prospect of more when the autumn varieties ripen. The yellow French beans have also started to crop in earnest, and the onions and shallots have been pulled and dried ready for use.

I’ve continued to sow salad and radishes and I’ve also been sowing crops for the winter ahead. Included in these has been Cime di Rapa, an Italian version of purple sprouting broccoli which I grew with success last year. The beetroot already growing is doing well, but there’s still time for one last row, and whilst I’m at it I’ll probably put in another row of Swiss chard. You can never have enough chard. With the autumn and winter in mind, some brassicas will also be going in. I think I’ve missed the boat in terms of sowing purple sprouting broccoli, but I think I’ll try and get some plants to plant out.

We, like many families, are going away during the summer holidays, so one of the jobs this month is to create some kind of drip irrigation system which allows the greenhouse tomatoes to stay watered during our break. The plan is to utilise the water butt beside the greenhouse and a piece of old hosepipe to dribble a little water into the plants over the period of our absence. Needless to say, I think we’ll need to still call on the kindness of allotment neighbours to keep an eye on the plot; not least because many of the crops will undoubtedly be ready for harvest whilst we’re enjoying the Sicilian sunshine.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.

July at Plot 4

June has been a really warm month down here on the south coast. We’ve had slightly above temperatures, with occasional heavy downpours. All in all, perfect growing weather. As a result the allotment has flourished, with the crops just about outgrowing the weeds.

The good weather has meant there has been much to harvest. The broad beans have been a roaring success, with literally bagfuls being picked and eaten over the last few weeks. Whilst the original overwintered crop has just finished, the spring sown bean are about to be ready to pick; so we’ll be enjoying these sweet and tasty beans well into July. The strawberries have also been excellent, with a really good harvest of big berries. They too have begun to reach the end, but as they finished the summer raspberries have ripened and are providing us with a great crop. Salads are hard to get germinating when its so hot, but those which had grown have been giving us a constant alternative to the hermetically sealed bags of overpriced salad in the supermarkets.

Over the last few weeks I have been sowing more Swiss chard, as well as some Florence fennel. Hopefully they can get going and provide us with a good crop into the autumn. There’s still time to sow more peas and dwarf beans, so once the potatoes are dug, I’ll put a row or two of each for a late summer crop of fresh peas and beans. This is the month I start to think about the winter, so I’ll be rifling through the seed box and working out which of the brassicas I can sown now to give me a crop when the days are colder and shorter. For a quick fix, I’ll also be sowing some more radishes. They’re so quick to germinate and swell, and they add an amazing heat and crunch to any salad.

The ongoing jobs of watering and weeding will continue this month. I’m trying to be smart with the watering; only watering those plants that really need it, and making sure that they don’t go from drought to flood too much. In terms of the tomatoes, this consistency is crucial to ensure that the fruits don’t split or become diseased. The pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers, beans and indeed tomatoes, all need tying in to their supports as their tendrils and shoots grow in the summer’s heat. This year I’m trying to control the pumpkin and squash growth by training them up a step ladder and around an old parasol frame. The plan is to tie them in every so often, so I can let the plants become big without them taking over the whole allotment!

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.