Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Winter weather getting colder closing down the allotment..

I was the only idiot down the allotment today.  It was very cold.  I went up to finish off digging in the manure into the sweet pea bed.  The soil here is very good now but it needs levelling out .  I have still to put up the supporting posts for the sweet pea canes but this can be done later.  I am going to put cross pieces on the posts so that the canes can be attached vertically rather than sloped.  After some thought, it is better to keep the tops of the plants away from each other because they just grow into each other and this encourages pests and diseases.  Also it is more difficult to take off the side shoots and and tendrils.

There is some thought that you should dig over roughly and leave the weather to break down the clods of soil. Well, I religiously did this year after year until I suddenly realised that the weather was not having any effect on the soil and the person who broke up the clods of soil was me.

If I am going to have to break up the soil, I might as well do it while I am digging rather than later on in the early spring.  So I have broken up the soil with a fork and raked it over to make it fairly level and presentable.  It will have to be done again in the spring but it will not take a lot of time to go over it once or twice more with the rake.

There is a bit of horse manure left on the sweet pea bed band I am going to dig this in where the celery is going to go.  I am going to take out a trench and sieve in horse and pigeon muck. I will plant the celery at the bottom of the trench and keep the trench as damp as I can during the spring and summer.  With any luck I will get some good celery plants.

Rather than start on the top allotment, I decided to go down and tidy the comfrey bed.  I wanted to plant some autumn fruiting raspberries here so I decided to do this too.  It was not the best time to transplant the raspberries because the temperature was about 2oC.  However, it was either plant now or throw the plants away.  The raspberries were planted with a good dose of mychorrhizal fungi but nothing else.  Although it was very cold, the wind was drying the roots out and I wanted them covered as soon as possible.  

I didn't water them in because the soil was very wet verging on waterlogged.  

Along the side of the comfrey bed I am planting a small 150mm hedge of Locinera nitidia one of the shrubby honey suckles.  I am putting some mychorrhizal fungi on these plants' roots as well.  The theory is that these mychorrhiza will form associations with the Locinera nitidia  and grow out to the comfrey making associations with them as well.  The hyphae will then forage for nutrients from the surrounding soil passing some of them to the comfrey.  As this part of the allotment is at the bottom of the hill, all the nutrients leeching out of the other allotments will pass through this part of my allotment and the fungi will be able to tap into this.  My comfrey will potentially be fed by all the nutrients that other people are putting on their allotments.  Thus  I will get comfrey liquid fertiliser fortified by other allotment holders.  I doubt very much if this will happen but I like to think that it will.   

I then when to straightening the lines of comfrey plants which was quite difficult because they have died right back and I could not find them.  Eventually I found some of the roots and put them in the line.  Any that come up in the wrong place later in the spring will be moved onto the correct line.  

I just threw in the original lines of comfrey so they were all over the place.  The new lines of comfrey just followed the old ones.  They were fairly straight but going a little diagonally across the bed and this was annoying me.  Now they are straight and parallel to the new potato bed.

I have mulched the Vitis vinifera with some of the stones that I took out of the soil.  I have chosen stones that are smooth and about the size of my fist.  It looks just like Ground Force.

A black dustbin has been put over one of the Victoria rhubarb plants.  I have put some horse muck around the bin to warm up the soil around the plant.  I will do the same for as many of the other rhubarb plants as I can.  With any luck I will have some forced rhubarb for the early spring.    The rhubarb is not showing yet.  It really needed this cold snap to prod it into growth.  Unless February is particularly cold, I will expect to see some buds developing fairly soon.

I have ordered the Nemaslug nematodes and they will probably be coming in March.  I will have enough nematodes to cover the whole of the top beds.  I am hoping that they will reduce the population of slugs and snails enough so that I can get some fairly large plants this year.  You can tell where they are at the moment because they are eating the green manure.  All around the edge of the allotment the green manures are stunted and eaten back.  When the beer runs out, I am going to try the sugar water and yeast trap to find out if it is better than beer.

JBA potatoes has just sent an email saying that the seed potatoes will be delayed a little due to the frosts and cold weather.  I am not worried at all because keeping them alive during cold spells like this is quite difficult. I would rather have them later and be able to put them out into the cold greenhouse to chit.

The celery and the tomatoes are growing on now but they are a little drawn.  I will plant them quite deep in three inch pots and see if they develop a little more robustly.  Regardless of the weather, I will still carry on planting seeds through February.

The weather is getting decidedly colder and little can be done when the ground is frozen.  I think that I will be shutting the allotment down for the next week or so.  In other words, I will be keeping in the warm until the weather decides to get a little warmer.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Potatoes neither like nor dislike lime.

I think that it is safe to say that potatoes do not have emotions.  They neither like nor dislike lime.

The addition of lime to a potato bed seems to be associated with potatoes getting scab.  Scab is a raised unsightly blemish on the potato skin.  Streptomyces scabies seems to be the organism that produces scab and this appears to live in more alkaline soils.  Lime makes soil more alkaline (raises the pH).

These organisms, that resemble fungi, only infect the surface skin of the potatoes and do not grow into the centre.  So I eat potatoes infected by Streptomyces scabies  and have done so for years.  Most of the time I peel off the outer skin of potatoes anyway.  I tend to avoid the scabby ones when making baked potatoes.

The most that can be said about growing potatoes in soil with a relatively low pH is that the skins will probably be more smooth and "shop like".  The taste will be exactly the same as potatoes growing in a soil that has a relatively high pH. I don't think that scab overtly alters the size and quality of the potato.

If you are growing for exhibition then the state of the potato skin is important and a low soil pH would be essential  but how many of us are exhibition growers?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Digging over the sweet pea bed

I dug over most of the new sweet pea bed today mixing in the horse manure.  The only parts that I did not dig were where where the manure pile is and where the celeriac and leeks are.  I wasn't going to dig any manure into this plot but I had the manure so I used it.

I will get some more manure for the new pea and bean bed.

I watered the leeks with a little comfrey liquid manure to encourage them to bulk up a little.  I planted them late to avoid the leek miner fly and they really need to bulk up now so that I can use them.  The celeriac is big so does not need any extra fertiliser.

I dug up four Brussel sprouts plants to take home.  Most of the Brussel sprouts are over one metre tall and have grown really well.  Due to the warm weather in autumn a lot of the lower sprouts have opened out but the plants still have a lot of usable sprouts which I will take off to cook. The rest of the plant will be put into the big green compost bin.  There was some evidence of club root although I might be misinterpreting cabbage root fly Delia radicum damage.  Regardless, the most effective way of dealing with pests and diseases is to remove the potentially infected material and put it in the recycling bin to be composted well.  

I watered the winter cauliflowers with liquid comfrey fertiliser.  It might be a little early to encourage these to put on growth because they are susceptible to very cold weather.  This year they seem to have kept their leaves and not been cut back as they usually are.  Maybe I will be lucky.   

I have put one dustbin over the Rheum rhaponticum to force some of the leaves.  The Victorians used to put manure around the forcing bins to warm the soil through heat generated by decomposition.  I will not be able to use all the manure on the sweet pea bed so I used some around the rhubarb bins.  It means that the rhubarb will  be fertilised this year.  I may even put some pigeon manure around them - in very small doses.  I have two more dust bins and an old black Darlek compost bin that I can use to force the rhubarb.  I will put these over the rhubarb tomorrow.  

Any manure that is left over will be put around the blackcurrants.  I will feed the Ribes nigrum with liquid comfrey fertiliser  before I put the manure around them.  Two of the plants I cut back hard because of big bud mite Cecidophyopsis ribis have died so I will have to replace them with cuttings.  I will plant them with some inoculated charcoal and mychorrhizal fungi.  

After the high winds we had in early January, the roofing felt has come off one of the sheds.  I will need to replace this as soon as possible so that water does not get into the shed.  

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Finally finished sieving

I have finally finished sieving the soil on the new potato bed.  It has taken me over two months to do it and I really don't know whether it will make the smallest amount of difference to how well the potatoes grow.  However, it has made me feel I have achieved something.

So over the whole of the potato bed I have sieved the soil to a depth of two spits at least.  The couch grass, twigs, branches, weeds, etc. that I buried two years ago have rotted down to a fine compost and could be mixed in with the horrible soil.  Once this was done it made some passable soil.

The whole bed was raked and roughly levelled but I will have to do this again when the weather warms up and the soil is a little drier.

I still have quite a lot of the horse manure left so I will put it around the upturned dust bins that are covering the Rheum rhaponticum.  I am forcing the rhubarb to give me some good petioles in early spring.  I don't mind eating unforced rhubarb but this first crop is always the sweetest.

The hardy cyclamen are flowering again but the species iris still have some time to go before they flower.  I planted some more species iris next to the cyclamen but these have already flowered.

I planted some Lactuca sativa "Web's Wonderful" and some Brassica Oleracea "Golden Acre". I don't know whether these early sowings of vegetables is going to give me anything worth growing but I am only using a few seeds so I don't think that I will be wasting anything.  It is trying to keep them alive that is the difficulty.

I pricked out the Brassica oleracea botrytis "All The Year Round" into their own small 2 inch pots.  I will be a little more optimistic when I have sown seeds during February.  But you have to give it a go don't you?

I really write this blog  so I know when I have done things in the greenhouse and allotment. If you do what I do then you will get the same failures that I get and there is no guarantee that you will get the same successes.

Good growing.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Tomato seed sowing

Sowed the Lycopersicon esculentum seed in a three inch pot using New Horizon's multi-purpose peat free "compost". I did not sow all the seed I had because there is no guarantee that I can keep the seedlings alive this time of the year.  I have other varieties of tomato and these will be sown in February.

I put the pot in the airing cupboard so that it would have enough heat to germinate.

The "All the year round" Brassica oleracea botrytis has germinated well and I will be pricking the seedlings out into 3 inch pots very soon.  The Allium cepa "Ailsa Craig and Befordshire Champion" have germinated but I will leave these for a while before I prick them out into larger pots.

I watered the Lathyrus odoratus  today.  I hope that I will not regret it.  They tend to get fungi attacking them this time of year if they are watered.  Phytophthora and Pythium, which are like fungi and Rhizoctonia and Fusarium, which are fungi, all attack seedlings.  This kind of attack is called damping off.  It is less likely to happen if the compost or growing medium are carefully sterilised but this time of year there is always the threat.

I might try germinating some Lactuca sativa and some Brassica oleracea capitata in the next few days.  

I washed quite a few pots today using washing up liquid diluted in a bucket of water.   There is some suggestion that it is not too important to wash pots nowadays because of the use of sterilised planting mediums that are almost always used.  I would question this.  To avoid the transmission of plant pathogens washing carefully in soapy water is a fairly essential procedure.

Now that I am going to start to make my own composts, I think that keeping pots and tools clean is only prudent.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Beer traps

I had to reset all the beer traps today because I had trapped so many slugs.  I emptied the old ones into the comfrey bin.  They can continue to rot down in the bins.  The old plastic cups were a little dirty and not suitable to reuse so I have put them in the recycling box and replaced them with new old cups.  I fill about quarter of the cup with beer.  It does not need more than that and possibly could have less in - but not that much less.

There is some talk that beer traps attract slugs and snails that otherwise would not come on the allotment.  My view is that they would still come on the allotment beer or not.  My aim is not to remove all the slugs and snails from the allotment anyway.  I just want to reduce the numbers until my plants are not overtly damaged by them.    They can have a few of the lower leaves but no more.

I put a little more of the Ferric phosphate pellets under the tarpaulin but they do not seem to be as effective as the beer traps.

I thought that I would finish the soil sieving today but no.  There is still about five foot square to do.  After that I have finished with sieving for a very long time.

Some turf has been left in the bins by the gate and I was considering using it under the sweet peas.  Rather than just stacking it in a corner, I will put it at the bottom of the sweet pea trenches.  I have some fairly well rotted horse manure to mix in as well.  This is probably all that they will need.  Apart from the flowers that they produce during the summer, I see the sweet peas as a green manure.  They will be dug in after they have finished flowering and this will add fixed nitrogen to the soil as they break down and decompose.

This year I have also put other green manures on the old sweet pea bed.  This will add to the organic matter in this soil.  As some of them are clovers and tares they will also add more nitrogen.

I am going to grow summer cauliflowers and cabbages in this area this season so the added nitrogen means that they will need very little added fertiliser.  I will probably water them in with liquid comfrey, nettle and sweet cicely fertiliser and not add anything else.

I did not buy any chicken manure last season and I am hoping that I don't have to this season.

I will buy some more lime because I am going to lime the brassica bed quite heavily to prevent club root.  I am also going to lime the onion bed not only to try to prevent white rot but also because the onions like a bit of lime in their soil.  In my six year rotation the onions follow the potatoes.  I make the ground a little acidic for the potatoes by adding manure.  This means that the onions will need some lime on to raise the pH.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Mammoth Onions

The Mammoth onions have germinated together with the big leeks.  I am keeping them inside the house at the moment because the weather has changed and there has been frost on the lawns all day.  I was more pleased than I though over seeds germinating. Little things...

We were doing the pruning part of the RHS level 2 course today, however all that I got to prune was a holly hedge.  I think I was a little too enthusiastic and took off a little more than was necessary.  I was trying to shape it a little better and that is my excuse.  I am not the best hedge cutter in the world and it is not my favourite job in the garden.  The  job has to be done though.  My ideal hedge is fairly low and very well cut - by someone else.

I do like pruning though.  I have just done the gooseberry and the vine and will be doing the black currants when the weather warms again.  I cut the black currants back hard last year due to big bud mite,  Cesidophyopsis ribis, so they will not need much pruning.  I will have to be careful not to cut out much of the new growth because this will bear this season's fruit.  Much better to prune blackcurrants just after harvesting.  Cutting back the old growths will stimulate new growth from lower down the plant.

However, I will be cutting out stems with big buds on them in an attempt to get rid of big bud mite.  I checked them today and there were not very many stems with big buds on them.

Friday, 13 January 2012

What barriers will be necessary this year?

Every year I cover the carrots with enviromesh but this year I will have to cover other vegetables as well.  I may put some spring onions between the rows of carrots as well. This is to prevent damage from Psila rosae.

The cauliflowers and the cabbages will be covered with enviromesh primarily to keep the cabbage white, Pieris brassicae, caterpillar away from them but also to stop slug and snail damage too. I know there will be some in the soil too and this is why I will be watering on some anti slug nematodes as well.  With any luck the enviromesh will keep any cabbage root flies, Delia radicum brassicae, away.  So it will be worthwhile putting it over these brassicas.  I will be liming this soil quite heavily to see if I can prevent club root Opiopanax horridum.  There is some club root in the brassicas now and I want to prevent this from spreading onto other areas.

The third area which I will have to cover is the onion bed.  I will be covering the leeks, garlic and the onions.  Only in this way will I be sure to prevent damage from Phytomyza gymnostoma.  I am going to put some lime on this area too to see if it will prevent white rot Sclerotium cepivorum.

The big tabby cat knows that there is a rat on the allotment.  It came and sat in my shed until it got fed up and wandered away. Tomorrow, I might put some milk down to encourage it to stay.   Today, I saw the blooming rat looking at me as if it had no cares in the world.

I still have a small area where the parsnips were to sieve for stones.  I lifted the final parsnip today and it was relatively big.  I'd say about 600mm at least.  As with the majority of the other parsnips and carrots, it was not forked.  Does this mean that the old wives tale about stony ground giving you forked parsnips and carrots is false?  I don't think that you could get a much more stony ground than the soil I am sieving so why haven't I got forked roots?

Another myth that is more anecdotal than factual.

I think that the myth about carrots and parsnips forking if you put manure in is also false.  As far as I can see they fork or not regardless of how you prepare their soil.

Believe it or not the slug beer traps are full and need to be replaced.  I forgot to do it today so I must tomorrow.  I will also put some more ferric phosphate around.  I don't like using this chemical but it is much less damaging that other slug pellets.  It also degrades into a fertilizer.

I am putting the traps and pellets underneath the tarpaulin to keep them away from other creatures and to stop the cups from being filled with rain.

When the sun went down today, it got very cold.  I hope there is a really good frost tonight to kill off some of these pests.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

I have been sieving this soil for over two months!

I was wondering today when I began to sieve the potato bed soil.  Looking back at the blogs, it seems as though I started in November. It is now January and I still haven't finished.  I have tried several different ways to speed up but if I want to mix in the horse manure and pigeon muck then I will have to stick to the technique that it am using now.  I put the bread tray onto the wheel barrow; fill it with soil; add  the manure and then push the  soil backwards and forwards with a spade until it all falls through the holes unless it is a stone larger than about 1 inch in diameter.  The stones are then put into a bucket and finally put onto the stone heap by the car park.

I am not joking when I say that I am thoroughly fed up of doing it now.  However, I will continue because there  is not much left to do.

It  means that the soil has been sieved to a depth of about 600mm and that manure has been mixed throughout this profile.  Whether that makes a jot of difference remains to be seen but it is worth doing just to see if it does produce better potatoes.  I would not recommend anyone doing this because it is time consuming and could be completely pointless.

I have a rat on the allotment and I have to decide what to do about it.  I don't think that it is living on my allotment although there are some holes and runs around the compost heaps.  I was going to take down the compost heaps and redo them so this might help it get the message that I don't want it on the allotment. If disturbing it does not deter it I may have to take sterner action.

There are two ferocious cats on the allotment and I heard one of them having an altercation with the rat but it escaped because I saw it in the compost heaps later.

I dug up all the remaining parsnips because they were in the way of the digging.  They were piled up and covered in soil to keep them fresh.  Some of them were quite big and shows you how important it is to thin them out when they are young.  Even though I was quite ruthless and thinned them to about 150 mm apart, I still have too many and will find it difficult to get through all of them.  This season I will thin to about 300 mm and see if I can get even bigger ones.

The rocket and the American land cress have grown remarkably well during the winter and I am continuing to harvest them.  This is probably due to the warm winter we are having.  I have put the cloches over the American land cress to see if it will encourage growth.  The leaves are a little small at the moment.  I am coming to the end of the carrots and they have had a really good season last year. I just hope that they do as well in the new season.  Thinning is important when growing carrots as well as parsnips.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Allotment photographs for January 2012

January is not the tidiest month on the allotment particularly when digging is taking place.  This is a working allotment and not very pretty at this time of year.  While some jobs are going on, other jobs have to wait their turn.  At the moment stones are being removed from the new potato bed.
Here are some of the stones I have removed from the soil
It is taking a lot more time than I anticipated but I am not going to give up. All the stone must go.  We will probably use these stones on the track ways. I am using my trusty bread tray to sieve with and it is very effective.  I am going to use the black dustbins to put over the rhubarb Rheum rhaponticum in the next few weeks.  I have five of them but 4 are in use so I will have to find somewhere to put the stuff that is in them.  The old bit of trellis is going to be taken apart and used for stakes.  I need a lot more so this will be a good source of stakes.  I need some more because I have a new pea that needs a little support - Tetragonolobus purpureus.  

This is probably the most untidy part of the allotment.  This is the comfrey bed and most of the comfrey has died back leaving only one or two scraggy leaves showing.  I need to clear the stone from this part of the allotment as well now that I can see it.  The two green bins and the dust bins behind them are full of comfrey, nettle and sweet cicely tea.  The new blue bin is 210 litre and I have run a pipe from the guttering to the bin.  The old store shed has lost some of its roofing felt in the resent gales and this needs to replaced before the stored vegetables get wet.  We had some very high winds on the allotment over the new year and this has caused quite a bit of damage on the allotment site.  I got away quite lightly.  The main shed was not damaged but I still think that I will cover the roof with some more roofing felt because I have enough to do that shed as well.  

The blue worm bin and the pallets will be moved off this area because there is a rat in there.  I need to clear it out and make sure that it has no reason to stay.  I will be putting the old sundial up again somewhere on the allotment.  I did select somewhere but I have forgotten where.  

This is the soil I am sieving out the stones from.  I am going down two spits and mixing in this horse muck and a little pigeon muck too.  It is remarkable how easily it is mixed in with the soil but I am getting a little fed up of doing this now.  It is worth it and you can see how many stones I am removing from it.  I am surprised that the level of the soil has not gone down but I am adding a lot of the manure so this might be compensating to some degree.  I always like to work with a lot of tubs. Each one has its job and they are very useful.  I am using my second fork and spade because I do not want to get my best ones broken on the stones.  My one and only gooseberry bush is doing well and I have pruned it as advised by the RHS website to make a bowl shape.  I did not throw away the prunings and they are the cuttings you can see along the curbing slabs.  

It looks like it is going to be a dry week this week so I will attempt to finish this area by the weekend.  It is slow going though.  Mixing in the horse and pigeon muck is the time consuming task.  The mixed top soil that  am getting is well worth while and I will be pleased when I finish it.  Still, think of all the exercise you are getting Tone!

You can see the carrot clamp in the background and the plants heeled in are salsify and scorzonera.  I have been using the carrots quite regularly so the clamp is not as big as it was.  The parsnips are still in the ground in the far corner.  I will have to take them out soon so that I can dig but they can stay were they are for the moment. If there is any of the horse muck left, I will use it on the new sweet pea bed.  The track way is still very wet even though I have put a drainage pipe along here.

Still got a few herbs on the go.  I am mostly using the thyme. There are some box cuttings here as well.  I am going to plant a lot more herbs in pots this year.  The chamomile will be planted in the roots bed though.  I need to buy a rosemary bush or get some cuttings from someone.  It is bit too late to do it now.  I am hoping that the thyme between the paving slabs will recover from being over shadowed by the potatoes last season.  

I have been using the rocket throughout the winter and the broad beans continue to flower producing absolutely nothing at all.  There is a line of clover in here as well as a green manure.  

You can just see the American land cress Barbarea verna behind the plastic closhes.  The cress and the rocket are being used in salads and sandwiches.  I have put cloches over the garlic.  It doesn't need protection like this but I wanted to see if I could make it grow faster.  There is more clover in the foreground.  The bare patch is where the oca was.  I got some little tubers from the plants.  I have not eaten any because I am going to plant all of them this season and see if I can get some bigger tubers.  

The slope down is north facing and this means that the plants here are a little behind.  Also the germination was not as good and the lines are a bit threadbare.  This soil has had a lot of leaves and weeds dug in deeply.  I might add a little more chicken fertiliser where I am going to plant the pumpkins, courgettes and squashes but I am only going to lightly lime where the onions are going to go.  The green manures will be dug in as well.  

The raspberry canes have stood up to the winter gales very well.  As you can see they are as tall as the shed and I cut them down so that they would not be more than about 6 inches above the top wire.  I have kept some strawberries in pots just in case any in the strawberry bed don't grow.  The wind has blown Mr S. board onto my path.  I put this cloche over the broad beans but they did not like it and they are rotting off below it.  I am going to leave the cloche here because it is over some tulips too.  I think that the tulips will appreciate the extra warmth that the cloche will provide.  
I still have leeks and celeriac on the new sweet pea bed and it will be the next area to be dug.  I will just dig up to them and wait until we use the leeks.  The leeks are covered by enviromesh to protect against the leek miner fly Phytomyza gymnostoma. It is not flying about at the moment because it spends winter in the larva stage but there is no harm in taking precautions.  I have used the X cupressocyparis laylandii shreddings to cover the pathway to prevent weeds from growing.  Furthermore, I planted box and Locinera nitidia alongside the path to keep the the shreddings off the soil.  The plants are only little at the moment, however I will keep them about ankle high even after they mature.   
The pumpkins rotted away in the shed so I put them out to be dug into the soil.  Nothing needs to be wasted on an allotment.  It is a shame that the pumpkin didn't last any longer.  I was pumpkined out because of all the soup and pies I ate at the end of last year.  I am going to soup the last of the big leeks.  

When I have finished sieving out the stone from the potato bed, I will dig this are over.  I was going to sieve this soil too.  It does not need sieving but it does mix in the horse and pigeon manure really well.  The sweet pea posts will be put in as soon as the area is dug over.  In addition to the horse and pigeon manure this are will have chicken manure added.  I will not put very much on though.  

The old family plum tree has lots of bulbs and corms planted around it.  The cyclamen are just coming into flower now.  I am hoping that the iris will start to flower with them as they did last year.  

The Victoria plum seemed to take over the family tree and, as it became very diseased, I cut off the Victoria Plum part of it.  I am hoping that this will allow the other plum varieties to grow on now.  There are various different green manures on the new brassica bed. Grazing rye, clover and winter tares.  I planted them late so they are not very big at the moment.  

There is a lot of weed on this area too and I was going to put the hoe through the young weed seedlings.  However, they will be dug in long before they are big enough to flower and seed so I will use them as additional green manure.  There are a lot of sweet pea seedlings in there as well and I might use these if I have any failures from the bought seed.  Last year I did the same but they did not mature very well mainly because of flea beetle damage.  This new brassica bed had last seasons sweet pea and runner beans dug into it.  I will be liming it quite heavily because I have club root on the allotment again.  The Brussel sprouts and the brocolli will not have any additional fertiliser added for them.  The rest of the brassicas will have chicken manure added at planting time and then be fed on comfrey liquid.  

I am getting very irritated with this post.  I don't know if it is the blackberry holding up the post or the post holding up the blackberry.  The post is tied to the frame using wire and nylon string.  It would not take much effort to free it from the frame and reposition it so that it is not leaning over.  As with all these things it is just organising yourself to do it.  The black berry still has leaves on it and is growing well.  I  wont be adding much fertilizer or doing much else until it has fruited.  
The purple sprouting brocolli is still not flowering although it is very big and lounging over everything else.  Next year I must only put one row in.  I put three rows in last season - why?  The strawberries are doing well but they have been taken over by poached egg plants.  They will be taken out when I dig this area over for the peas and beans.  

I am looking forward to the winter cauliflowers producing some big curds.  They have grown well and been protected by the brocolli and the Brussel sprouts to some degree. Usually by this time they have died right back and are looking very sorry for themselves but this year they are very good.  

I have prodigious amounts of Brussel sprouts this year.  I have given them away and eaten them since December and I still have this many left.  This season I will only grow Trafalgar and only two lines of them.  There is some club root in these plants and this is the first time I have seen club root on the allotment for over ten years.  Liming, rotating and growing resistant varieties will help to eradicate it with any luck.  It doesn't seem to have done the brocolli or the Brussel sprouts any harm. I would not have wanted the plants to grow any bigger than they did.  The plant pot was blown there by the gales.  

I have put the tarpaulin over this part of the allotment so that I can prepare it for the leafy veg like celery, celeriac, spinach and lettuce.  I have put beer traps under the tarpaulin and used ferric phosphate pellets.  I have also been lifting the tarpaulin and removing slugs by gloved hand.  I will be using the nematode Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita  here to prevent slugs getting onto the lettuce.  I will not use the nematodes until the soil has warmed up considerably.  Early April will be the very earliest I can do this.  This area of the allotment is very prone to slug damage.  There is a spring in the far corner of this part of the allotment which I have piped down to where I am taking the photograph.  Even though most of the water is taken off the allotment the soil here can be very wet in the winter.  This attracts the slugs.  I will be fertilising this area quite a bit with chicken manure and comfrey liquid to ensure there is enough nitrogen in the soil for the leafy vegetables.  The tubs are full of stones and water to keep the tarpaulin from flying away.  

 I am using grazing rye green manure for the roots bed.  This will be dug in in the spring.  This soil has already had last season's peas and beans dug in.  I also dug in a lot of annual weeds that people have given me.  It should be fertile enough now and not need any more fertiliser added.  

And that is what the allotment looks like in January. It is not the most attractive of gardens but that is not what it is there for.  It is a working vegetable growing allotment and that is what it is optimised to do.  

 I am still harvesting vegetables - today it was parsnips and Brussel sprouts.  Lovely jubbly...

More seed sown.

Sowed seed of onion Ailsa Craig and Bedfordshire Champion; celery Full White; and cauliflower All The Year Round.

Only put about 10 -15 seeds of each in a 3 inch pot using New Horizons general purpose growing medium.

If the do not germinate or I cannot keep them alive until the spring, I will always be able to plant some more later.  The longer maturing time you give the plants the bigger they will get.  I would like some big plants this year.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Charcoal is breaking apart in the soil

There is very little evidence of charcoal in the sieved potato soil except for the larger lumps. This is the first area where I used inoculated charcoal.

In the early stages of my experiment I did not crush the charcoal.

I was putting these few large lumps to one side to crush before putting them back on the soil. However, there was little need to use the bull hammer because they seem to crumble easily between finger and thumb. Now I am not sure whether this is due to the soil, the type of charcoal or possibly the natural weathering of charcoal.

I have put quite a lot of charcoal onto this area over the three years that I have been trying this experiment and the charcoal seems to have broken down in to smaller and smaller pieces incorporating itself into the the soil structure.

An aside: What farmers consider as top soil is completely different to what allotment growers would consider top soil.  My top soil has considerably more organic matter and is much darker than this so called farm top soil.  I also had to remove a awful lot of stones - I will take a photograph of the stone that I have taken out.

The soil was particularly poor being replacement for contaminated soil on my allotment. Now, after adding charcoal and carefully cultivating,  this area of the allotment is cropping as well as the rest of the allotment.

 No shops are stocking charcoal this time of the year but you can still get it from the internet.
Just put that in so that I do not loose the web address, which I am always doing.

I have just bought some Takesumi charcoal to see if has any better properties than lump wood charcoal.

I am going to plant some more onions, tomatoes, summer cauliflowers (All the year round) celery and celeriac tomorrow.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Sowing onions and leeks.

I sowed the Mammoth onions into sectioned trays one seed per section.  I doubt if they will all germinate but there are 60 sections and I doubt if I would need all those plants.  I do like onions though and will grow as many of them as I possibly can do.  I have left the seed tray in the cold greenhouse but will bring it inside the house because the weather is beginning to change and get much colder.

The Mammoth leeks were sown into a pan using the New Horizons peatless compost.

I will put both of them into plastic bags and leave them in the house.  I did not plant any tomato seeds today.  I will do that tomorrow.

Sieved some more of the potato bed soil while mixing in a lot of horse and pigeon muck.    It was a little easier today because the ground had dried out a little from yesterdays rain.

The ground is still very dry two spits down.  This little bit of rain will not dampen the subsoil unless we have a lot more downfalls.

I have taken out all the carrots now and will put these new ones in a clamp of their own.  The parsnips will have to be taken out soon too.

I finished early today because the temperature was falling very rapidly because the sky was very blue and clear.  I will get those seeds in now.

Forgot to take photographs of the allotment.  I will do that first thing tomorrow.

Regardless of how uneventful the activity is, I will write about everything that I am doing in the allotment.  It will give me a chronology of planting times and a time table for next year.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Sowing seeds at the beginning of the season.

   The season has begun and seed must be sown.  I am growing big onions and leeks this year and they need a very long growing season.  They will be sown tomorrow and so to will some of the tomato seeds.

I am not sure yet whether I will sow the seed in the sectioned seed trays or just in a pan.  I can put the pan next to the hot water tank inside the house to germinate the seeds.  Onion seeds can germinate at 0oC so I will put them in a tray and keep them in a warm room.   The tomatoes will be put into a pan and left next to the hot water tank because they will need extra heat.   I will be using the New Horizons peat free compost and putting the trays or pans into clear plastic bags.  The seeds will germinate in any plastic bag if they are removed when the seeds have germinated.  White plastic bags let a lot of light through and these can be left on for a little while.

When the onions and leeks have germinated, I will put them out in the cold greenhouse  and when they get to a reasonable size pot them up into 3 inch pots.  I will try to put them out around March time and cover them with enviromesh to keep the onion miner fly Phytomyza gymnostoma off them.  It will be particularly prevalent in late March and early April so I will have to cover from the time I plant out until early July.

I am going to try to get some very big onions and leeks this year.

I may plant the oca in pots as well because this is another vegetable that needs a very long growing season.  I only got little tubers last season and I would really like to get some reasonable sized ones this season.

Sieved some more soil on the potato bed and mixed in the horse and pigeon manure.  Really, it was too wet to dig and the ground was getting a little too compacted and muddy.  This is when compaction could cause problems.  I am not too concerned because all the soil will eventually get dug over to two spits deep and any compaction will disappear.  I am keeping off the area of soil that I have finished digging over.  There is no reason to walk over; if I do I sink leaving footprints that just fill with water.

The ground will have to be firmed before seed is sown. Seeds don't seem to germinate very well in too friable soil.

I have two dustbins full of comfrey liquid which might sound good, however I would like to use the bins to cover the rhubarb Rheum rhaponticum so that I can get a good early crop this year.  I might have to get another big bin to put the comfrey liquid into.  I don't really want to waste it because it has taken me a long time to amass this amount of comfrey.

Might do photographs tomorrow.  I want photographs for each month for the whole year.  The allotment is looking very untidy at the moment but that is not unusual for this time of the year.  Plants are not really growing very much at the moment and this leads to a very dull allotment.