Monthly Archives: February 2013

Groundhog Days

Last weekend the weather was glorious and it enticed many a gardener out on to their plots. Like the legendary groundhog  I emerged from my burrow, but I should have known better when I saw my shadow…This weekend it’s back to frigid temperatures  and I’m huddled back in my burrow.

Even though this weekend was less than productive, last weekend we did manage to weed and mulch the fruit patch. The shrubs all got their winter pruning earlier in January and the strawberries are already starting to put on some growth. This will be the strawberries’ second year, so I’m really hoping we might get a nice little crop this year. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a difference the fruit cage makes in regards to our current and gooseberry crops. Last spring, I arrived at the plot to find two plump wood pigeons eating their way through all the red currant flowers, so no currents last summer.

Fruit cage before....

Fruit cage before….

 

...And the fruit cage after.

…And the fruit cage after.

The rhubarb & asparagus patch even got a weed and mulch. We had a rather large rhubarb plant in the middle of the asparagus half, but it has now been donated to a neighbour plot and gives the old ‘gus a bit more space. We’ve still got four rhubarb plants, but I think that will be more than enough for us.

Of course, now that area is all done, I’m itching to push on with a few other jobs before the real madness begins in mid-March. I still need to build our raised herb bed and I want to assemble our log/scrap wood bench. I know I’m not the only one dying to get on with things. Maybe I just need to get over my fussing about the cold weather, layer up and get out there. Or maybe I’ll just have another hot chocolate and wait for another week. Yeah, that sounds good.

Planting Plans: Beans & Fruiting Things

For most of the country, it would seem that winter has found its second wind (so to speak), but here in London it remains mild and rainy. I really should head out there and get some final jobs done, but am struggling to get the gumption to do so.

I haven’t been totally idle, seed potatoes are chitting away in the spare room, winter pruning of the fruit shrubs is already done and the seed packets are already organised by planting month. The sun is setting later and later in the day, before I know it, I’ll be back to visiting to the allotment after work again.

I can’t wait for those longer days and the crops that can only be had with some hot summer sun. We had some great success with dwarf and climbing beans last, even if the summer wasn’t the best. This year we’ll be growing Golddukat, a yellow dwarf French and a purple climbing French, Purple Cascade. Peas were less successful last year, reaching a mere three inches in height, but I’m determined to try again. We’re trying a English heritage variety, Champion of England. Originally developed in the 1840’s and nearly went extinct, but was in part saved by a family farm in Lincolnshire in the 1940’s. I’m hoping I can do the provenance of these seeds justice and grow them successfully.

I really do have my fingers crossed for some hotter weather this year, there are a few crops that I want to attempt again this year. Their lack of success, even utter failure was not just down to the weather. The fault in part to me not being diligent enough in keeping the crops safe from weather changes or pests. We’re determined to grow sweetcorn again and put up fortifications around it to stop the foxes from getting it again. This year we’re growing a bi-coloured variety, Double Standard. With it’s yellow and white kernels, it’s what I could call a Peaches and Cream variety, which is a very popular type back home. We had some success with cucumbers last year, just a few rather wonky looking ones, but they tasted fantastic. Even the chilli plants managed to cough out a couple of Jalapeños. I’ve ordered plants for this year though, I’m hoping they’ll be more robust than the ones I started from seed last year. Also being started from plants are the tomatoes; Sungold, Chocolate Cherry & Tropical Ruby. Last year, I started everything from seeds, but the plants were knocked flat by a sudden cold spell. Thought some recovered, blight struck just as the fruits were about to ripen up. I’m hoping by ordering plants, they’ll get off to a quicker start and fruit out before the inevitable blight gets them.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

The fruit cage remains more or less the same this year. The strawberries, which were planted last year, are filling out nicely and we’re hoping for more fruitful crops this year. I’ve pruned the gooseberry and current shrubs harder this year as they were getting very congested. I may have lost some fruit due to cutting back much of last year’s growth, but mildew was an issue last year. Really, I’m hoping the fruit cage will make the most difference  protecting what fruit we do get from the marauding wood pigeons. As someone said to me last year, “you don’t really realise how much you’re feeding to the birds until you put up a fruit cage.” My only addition to the fruit cage is a container grown blueberry. The container was left over from a planting job, which means I can plant it in lovely acidic ericaeous soil. It’s a novelty variety of blueberry, bright pink Pinkberry bought from Thompson & Morgan.

Novelty fruit or otherwise, I hope hot summer don’t become a novelty. The rain splattered windows today make it a little hard to imagine, but perhaps through our combined power of hopeful thinking, we can make it so!

Planting Plans: Brassicas & Squash

It’s a month like this where we’re extra grateful for the fresh winter veg that the allotment is providing us. Yes, there’s still a smattering left in our big freezer, even a giant marrow still residing in our kitchen awaiting roasting, but it’s the freshly harvested things that make you feel so good. The snow did little damage to our cabbage and kale. A touch of white fly, but that seems to be under control now. With the slightly warmer weather recently, I’m hoping for everything to “bulk up” just a bit more. The purple broccoli is just sending out the first colourful florets, the kale leafing out some more and the cabbages are forming nice firm hearts. Impatience got the better of us and a few of the cabbages have already been used. Fried up with a generous portion of pancetta. (insert Homer Simpson-like drooling noises here.)

This brings me to a quick run down of the brassicas and squashes we’re planning on in the coming year. Firstly, something we tragically missed out on last year, which is brussels sprouts. Again laziness and a lack of space has meant I doing these from ordered plants. I do love sprouts and not just for Christmas. If they do well enough, I may just not bother with cabbage in the future. I like the idea of being able to harvest a few handfuls of sprouts to cook as and when I need, rather  than contending with one huge head of cabbage. Although, given our current tiny cabbages this hasn’t posed as much of an issue for us really.

The cabbages we have growing at the moment are Tundra, a great winter cabbage. As we haven’t completely given up on cabbage yet, we’re trying out Savoy cabbage next year. I’ve had some excellent Savoy cabbage dishes in the past, so it’ll be nice to see if I can recreate some.

New this year will also be cauliflower and in keeping with our love of purple vegetables, we’ll be growing Graffiti. It’ll make for an interesting looking cauliflower cheese.

Winter crops galore

Winter crops galore

Some repeats will be pak choi, kale and purple sprouting broccoli. All grew really well, but suffered a bit due to my lack of diligence regarding pests. The pak choi was greedily munched by slugs and white fly ruined a significant portion of the kale leaves. However, the last twelve months have been all about riding the learning curve, so I am determined to not let the pests get the upper hand again this year.

Squashes were another success for us, but this year will be more about keeping a strict limit on how much we grow. We discovered that there is only so much courgette any one household can consume! Even with baking, frying and grilling in spades, we really did suffer a glut in the summer months. So with just a few plants, we’ll be growing butternut squash, Atena courgettes and one, just one pumpkin plant.

Last year's rather odd double Atena courgette

Last year’s rather odd double Atena courgette

Ultimately, I’m glad we had the forethought to grow a few winter crops this season, I never imagined we would appreciate it so much. While our decent sized plot will never make us self-sufficent, we should really up the productivity of the plot over the coldest months. We owe it to ourselves to help us get through the toughest time of the year.