Tag Archives: Carrots

Planting Plans: Root Veg

As the snow drifts past the window, it’s yet another weekend where I can’t do much with the allotment, other than dream of warmer days. I don’t need it to be tee shirt weather, just warm enough so I don’t have to Penguin Walk for twenty minutes on slippery pavement to get to the plot.

My weekends haven’t been completely idle, I’ve nearly finished watching the second season of Downton Abbey and have done rather a lot of seed and plant ordering online.

As things begin to arrive, I find myself sorting though and contemplating this year’s planned endeavours. The root vegetables are very possibly my favourites,  not just because they do so well for us, but because there’s such variety to be grown. Last year was really about finding out if we could grow anything at all. As we’ve managed to do that, I now find myself wanting to grow more things we couldn’t otherwise get or afford to buy on a regular basis. The next few posts will be all about our great Planting Plans.

Last year, due to the necessity of having to clear the plot first, we planted our garlic rather late in February. While we got a nice crop midsummer, the size of the bulbs left something to be desired. This year we planted in late October and already we have green shoots poking through. We bought a collection of bulbs from The Garlic Farm which included Elephant Garlic, Lautrec Wight, Iberian Wight and Tuscany Wight. I’m not sure if I’ll be 100% sold on the Elephant Garlic, as I like my garlic strong enough to blow your face off. We shall see.

Planting Garlic.

Planting Garlic.

We grew some rather boring, run-of-the-mill white onions last year. While their impressive size gained us some nods of approval at the allotment association’s annual show, they do take up a lot of space on the plot and are so easy to buy. This year, we’re going for flavour over size and are trying Red Gourmet shallots. Scott makes the best sausage and mash I have ever encountered, so some fried shallots would be a great addition to that.

This year our allotment will be orange carrot-free. Along with the very successful Purple Haze carrots we grew, we’ll be trying out Dragon Purple. I bought the Dragon Purple seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue. Hopefully, carrot fly will be less of an issue this year due to the purple colour throwing them into a state of confusion. Also, I’ll be better about netting the carrot seedlings.

Beetroot is another repeat crop, this year I’m trying Solo. A good friend has supplied me with a beetroot hummus recipe, which I really want to try out. The first crop last year did quite well, but the second crop never really got a chance to grow before the colder autumn weather set in. I’m determined to get a second crop this year, just have to make sure not to leave it so late.

New this year, it’s leeks and  parsnips. I’ll be growing Musselburgh leeks from young plants as I’ve had to accept starting masses of things in our tiny flat is just not feasible. Baby leek plants are one crop that will be ordered in this year.  I will be doing the parsnips from seed however, growing the traditional Tender & True variety.

Finally, the potatoes. Three different varieties this year which are Charlotte, Salad Blue and Highland Burgundy Red. Charlotte is a repeat for last year, as we grow masses of tarragon in the herb plot and we absolutely love French potato salad. Salad Blue and Highland Burgundy Red are coloured varieties, which will be a great cooking experiment. I’m hoping they will retain some colour, as the idea of blue and red chips makes me smile. It’ll also be an interesting experiment to see how these varieties deal with the ravages of blight, which are endemic on our allotment site.

Salad potatoes.

Salad potatoes.

So that’s just the root veg so far, there’s still the rest of the plot to go through. The brassicas are the next big contender, as many of them are still providing for us even now and we should really grow more of them. Then there’s the squashes and fruiting vegatables to consider, which is harder to think about at the moment. They’re such quintessential summer plants, but I still see the vision of them, even as I watch the snow fall.

Looking Ahead

Now, I’m not much of a New Years resolution person. I never vow to lose x amount of weight or to completely stop eating sweets. I usually think of something I’d like to improve on, rather than anything absolute. Last year I decided I need to make more effort in keeping in touch with friends and family. Now, I’m not perfect, but I have been much better about it in the last year. Also, following my resolution of ’05 I certainly eat fish far more often now.

As we cleared out the plot, packing away the pea frames, cleaning out the shed and such; I got thinking about what could I improve with at the plot.

I could certainly improve my timings with crops, there were (and are) far too many beds sitting empty when they should have been producing something. Keeping up with the weeding is another, our fruit bushes virtually disappeared under a blanket of grass and bindweed this summer.

However, it was our carrot crop that inspired my ultimate “resolution” in the end. This summer we grew two different varieties of carrot. One standard orange variety and (for pure whimsy) a purple variety. The summer crop did so well that I did a second autumn crop. The first crop was untouched by pests, so it was a little disappointing when the second crop was a bit damaged by carrot fly. Now, I do need to be more vigilant about protecting crops, which could be yet another potential resolution, but it’s not what I’m getting at.

My new variety of Trouser Carrot

My new variety of Trouser Carrot

When we lifted the two varieties of carrot, both grown side by side, there was a marked difference in the amount of damage each had suffered. The hybrid orange variety had come out far worse. The non-hybrid purple variety had minimal damage. Now, this is purely observational and by no means a proper scientific experiment with statistical significance, proper reproduction or control groups. Still, it made me think more about the pros and cons of hybrid crops. Hybrids are generally considered high yielding  but do have their limitations. I certainly grew F1 hybrid vegetables last year and many did just fine. Modern varieties certainly have their own value, heritage varieties were “modern” at some point in history after all. Hybrids more often than not, gain us highly valued yields  even if they have the draw back of producing seed that carries little to no value*.

As I said, I don’t believe in absolute rules, so I will continue to grow some hybrids, but really want to try out more uncommon non-hybrid varieties in the allotment this year. I’ve got my copy of The Real Seed Catalogue. I have always had an interest in heritage/ non-hybrid varieties, in part of their cultural and natural history, but also for their genetic value. As a biologist at heart, I like to think with this resolution, I can add my own small support to continuing and preserving something that may have an immense value to us and our environment.

Non-hybrids galore!

Non-hybrids galore!

* For those that have been lucky enough to have avoided several years of university genetics courses; F1 hybrid plants are the offspring of two parent varieties of plants that have been carefully cross-pollinated. These parent plants or “inbred lines” each show a very desirable trait such as profuse flowering, growth vigour or uniformity, for example. Individually, they don’t tend to do that well. However the first generation, the F1 generation, show “hybrid vigour” and display the very best traits of their respective parents. However, this doesn’t last beyond the second generation as the poor traits tend to start showing up in the F2 generation and  beyond. Thus the seed you collect from an F1, won’t necessarily produce offspring anything like it.

One Last Taste of Summer

The other week the weather made a sudden turn and I found myself wrapping up in about fourteen layers of clothes. As I scraped a thick layer of frost off my gardening van in the morning, I thought about what was left at the plot. Mostly winter crops, but there was one last batch of carrots to be harvested.

That weekend, Scott and I launched Operation Carrot Rescue. I had covered them with a fleece tunnel to protect them from the worst of the frosts, but when we got there the tunnel was no where to be found. We had a rather windy night earlier in the week, I imagine the Wind Gods had demanded it as a sacrifice. We wandered around the site a bit, but no luck.

Despite the frost, the carrots were looking relatively decent. A few nibbles from the slugs but the most damage had been done by carrot fly larvae. Interestingly, the orange carrots were far more infested than the purple ones. Score one for the non-hybrids.

Last of the carrots

Last of the carrots

We hauled them home and gave them a good scrub. With some careful dissection, we were able to salvage most of the carrots. Five pounds worth in all, now safely stored in the freezer. This winter will be a season of stews, pies, casseroles and pasta sauces. The carrots, along with the masses of French beans we’ve got, will remind us of the warmth and abundance of this summer.

Scrubbed, packed, ready for freezing.

Scrubbed, packed, ready for freezing.

Mangled and Mutant

In the course of harvesting over the last few months, we’ve had plenty of comedic carrots, curious courgettes and one very peculiar pumpkin. I like to think of our not-so-perfect  veg as being rather like X-Men. They’re simply mutant individuals with super powers.

Double courgette

Odd cucumbers

We certainly had a good laugh at our odd-shaped cucumbers. The mangled carrots, such as the one that placed second in the Ugly Veg class, were great, even if they were a bit of a faff to wash/peel/chop. I was hoping the tomato crop would have provided us with at least a couple Little Bottom fruits. I’ll have to settle for the multitude of Willy Carrots we got instead. The super powers clearly not just tasting great, but making us laugh until we were could hardly breath. Dangerous indeed…

I’ll leave you with a story in pictures of our Mutant Pumpkin.

Funny pumpkin

Bigger than your average supermarket pumpkin.

 

Silly face for a funny pumpkin.

Bit weird, as is the pumpkin.

From mutant to mangled and straight into the freezer.

 

Autumn Tidy

The days are getting shorter, the mornings nippy-er and I’m feeling sleepy-er. Must be the oncoming winter, that or I just need to get to bed earlier.

However, the recent cold nights have put an end to many things at the allotment. We’ve harvested the last of the squashes, courgettes, onion and summer carrots. The faded plants are cleared out and the beds weeded one last time. It’s a happy time weeding, knowing that when we come back in a week, the beds are still weed free!

Happy Pumpkin.

Happy harvester.

With the fridge and freezer packed with of lots of lovely veg, there’s still more to come off the plot. Our late sowing of carrots is looking fine and I’m hoping they’ll supply us for the next couple of months. Especially the purple ones, my favourite by far.

Final carrot crop of the year.

The winter crop of kale, sprouting broccoli and winter cabbage is looking good and safely netted to keep the marauding pigeons off. They got slightly hit  by white fly, but nothing to cause real concern. I have to confess, every time I look at that patch, I’m still stunned we started all that from just four little seed packets. Old hat to some people I’m sure, but I’m still basking in the allotment newbie glow of Actually Achieving Something From Seed.

Winter crops galore

I don’t really thing of this time of year as anything but harvesting, but there are things that we can get a head start on. For us, it was getting our garlic crop into the ground. This time last year, the plot was choked with weeds and all our efforts were just put to clearing it out. We planted garlic in late January and got a decent, albeit small crop. I’m hoping an early start will pay off by giving us larger bulbs to harvest next summer. Already looking forward to covering all our meals with lashings of stinky, tasty garlic.

Garlic in!

Normally, I tend to dread winter, but this year it’s such a different feeling. There’s still the slight sadness in seeing the lushness of the summer fade, but the anticipation for next year is already building. I’m looking forward to the cold winter days planning for next spring. Bring on the short days and nippy weather, I’ve got planning to do. In between all those wintertime naps of course.

Reaping the Rewards

Well, it’s been a brief hiatus recently. I have been to the plot fairly regularly  but not doing masses of work there, just harvesting really. It’s great, it must be what it’s like for those celebrity chefs that “grow their own” veg. Sadly, the reality is that I did all the work myself, not the hired help of my imagination.

Basket of goodies.

I certainly haven’t been the only one enjoying the bounty of our hard work. My parents came over for three weeks in September and it was a joy to cook for them using the produce from the plot. The oven roasted potatoes cooked with duck fat, sea salt and fresh rosemary was a big hit. Sweet carrots, steamed with a pat of butter and a touch of ginger were also appreciated…

I think the best reward from the plot yet has been taking my parents there and seeing them enjoy the allotment as much as I have over the last year. My dad loved taking photos of all the birds found on the allotment site, while my mum got stuck in, helping me weed and harvest. I dearly wish they could come there with me every week, it was tough seeing them fly back to Canada.

Proud parents.

With the recent wet weather, I got slightly panicky and we dug up the last of the potatoes and the remaining summer carrots. Four carrier bags worth of potatoes will be keeping us and several friends well fed for the next little while. However, it’s been our outstanding carrot crop that has been making me puff with pride this year. We have gotten our fair share of Rude Willy Carrots, but also some fantastic beauties. Silly willies or not, they all have tasted amazing, a sweetness I’ve never tasted in a shop-bought carrot.

Beaut!

The first frosts have yet to set in, so there’s plenty more harvesting to do. The last of the squashes and courgettes have yet to be collected. As the cold weather really sets in, there’s plenty still to do. With no hired help (sigh) the final clean up will need to be done and there’s still garlic to go in yet. Before we really start into that though, we’ll munch another sweet carrot and take a moment to saviour the joy of our hard work and the rewards it has brought.

Crazy for carrots!

The Cutthroat World of Vegetable Showing

When we dug up some rather fine purple carrots a couple of weeks ago, we thought we might actually have something worthy of the allotment’s upcoming annual show. Suddenly, the care and pampering of our veg was taken to a new level. Actually, I just got a bit more diligent about removing pests.  Can’t have them ruining my prize veg, now can I?

The show was held to today and when we arrived in the early morning, there was a noticeable buzz about the site. I could see several people scouring their plots for something presentable. I heard quite a lot of conversations in near by plots that went along the lines of;

“Find anything?”

“No, the birds/foxes/slugs have got there first.”

Still, with some searching and a show schedule in one hand, we managed to pull together enough things to enter eight classes. The purple carrots and “beautiful” onions were our main contenders. The herb patch hasn’t completely gone to seed and produced a decent collection of herb bunches. Similarly  the purple dwarf beans and squash plants contributed some fine specimens. Finally, our lovely little orange sunflowers managed to just squeak out the minimum number of stems required to enter the flower class.

Getting prepped

We headed up to the site’s community building, produce and vases in hand. I used to do horse shows when I was younger and it’s been many years since I felt that slight flutter; a delicious mix of excitement and apprehension.  I did actually have a tiny moment of paranoia, which made me reluctant to leave my entries unattended, worrying they might be “tampered”with! Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, especially at this level.   At least, not that I saw…

In the end, my fears were clearly unfounded as we placed in all our classes except one! The courgettes were the only non-placing entry, but admittedly they were a bit mismatched, albeit the only yellow variety entered.

Third place in the Other Vegetable class for our slightly over grown summer squashes.

 

Third place in the Flower class for our orange sunflowers. First went to a vase of stunning blood red dahlias, so I can’t fault that choice!

Second place in the Dwarf Bean class for our suddenly-ready-today purple beans. We have masses of them, so getting matching lengths wasn’t a problem.

A second place for Ugliest Vegetable class with our last minute entry of a mangled carrot we dug up in the process of looking for perfectly shaped ones.

First place in the Herb Collection class. Went for as much visual contrast as I could, which was only possible with the wide variety of herbs we have.

 

First in the Carrot class for our much better looking purple carrots. The only purple carrots in the whole show. Lots of compliments, comments and questions about these.

 

Yet another first for our onions this time, described by one of our plot neighbours as “beautiful.” Lots of queries from everyone about where we bought the sets (Marshals), what variety they were (Fen Globe) and when we planted them (March).

At the end of the show, many of the entries were auctioned off to raise some money for the association. Most things went for 10 to 20p generally, all our veg were snapped up pretty quickly. However, I did go a little pink when the onions came up. They went for a whopping 50p, out doing anything else auctioned off. One of the organisers commented that they were amazed I was willing to part with them. It’s quite hard to modestly say, “it’s okay, I have plenty more where those came from.”

Scott told me that someone asked him which plot was ours, which had produced so well. When they were told, they replied, “ah yes, the one with the blue shed.” Yes, the Blue Shed Plot, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to vegetable showing.

Hampton Court Flower Show Shopping

I always swear to myself that I will never purchase things at flower shows. I know that it’s almost always possible to get the same stuff; whether it’s plants, tools or decorative doo-dads, at much cheaper prices elsewhere. I did first break this rule at Chelsea Flower Show this year by buying a couple of hand tools from Burgon and Ball. Okay fine, it was several hand tools, but they’re sooo nice.

Scott and I had a lovely time at Hampton Court Flower Show today and utterly abandonded my “no buying things at flower shows” rule. Well, we certainly spent far too much money. I have managed to justify all of it, of course. I love the Hampton Court show, it has a great variety of things there, isn’t wall-to-wall with people like the Chelsea show and has lots of Grow Your Own stuff (hence the purchases). I also have a special love of the Palace, as I spent a year there doing my landscape design diploma, and wish I was still going there twice a week now.

Hampton Court goodies.

I bought some seeds, two of carrots to fill in the bed when the early potatoes come out and some more French Beans to fill in where the cucumbers were going to be. The peas are struggling terribly and may need filling in as well. Also, I love French beans and welcome any possible “glut” I may create with planting these.

I also got four cucumber plants and two Jalapeño plants to replace those lost in The Great Plant Die Off of June 2012. I easily justified the purchase of these, as I’ve been hunting for a supplier of veggie plants with absolutely no luck. So many suppliers are completely sold out, I guess I wasn’t the only one to suffer big losses this year…

We have been having great success with the Lautrec Wight garlic we planted in January, so the display from The Garlic Farm was irresistible. I got four seed garlic bulbs, their Softneck Pack which includes Solent Wight, Iberian Wight, Early Purple Wight and Albignesian. I’m looking forward to planting them up later this summer for a vampire-free year next year.

Don’t be fooled by its small size, that garlic will blow your head off.

I also loved the display from Eagle Sweet Peas, I’ve bookmarked their website and plan to order some seeds from them for next year. Our own sweet peas have been growing like crazy, despite the wet weather, and I’ve been picking them as often as I can to prolong the flowering. This has lead to virtually every room in our flat smelling of sweet peas, which is utterly divine.

Eagle Sweet Peas

Masses of sweet peas!

I’ve come home with lots of excitement and enthusiasm for what to do next year. Even though the weather has been rubbish so far, I’m hoping next year will be better and I can crack on with all the things I want to do. Even if my wallet won’t thank me for it.

 

Running Between the Rain

Oh goodness, this weather has just been, well, depressing. Along with numerous setbacks recently, either seedlings dying on me, weeds getting the better of me, everything has been just poo. It has been the first time I’ve really had doubts about this allotment lark. Thank goodness for other blogs and Twitter, I’m relieved to read I’m far from alone. At least I know it’s not entirely due to me being utterly useless…

Sadly the cucumbers, chillies, most of the squash seedlings and virtually all the tomatoes are gone. Yes, the wet weather didn’t help, but I mostly blame myself for these losses. My vague attempt at hardening off by leaving the kitchen window open day/night was clearly not enough. Also, my lack of protection when the weather turned for the worse didn’t help. I clearly need to invest in making cloches and mini-polytunnels. I also found myself browsing cold frame kits on eBay, though I’m a bit unsure where we’d put it…

Dead cucumber.

Our War on Weeds has finally been making progress. Armed with shears, forks and a grim determination, things are looking much tidier. Paths, ornamental beds and fruit cage are looking much better. We’re slowly getting the mounded beds cleared out and sown with seeds. Carrots, kale, cabbage, sprouting broccoli and pak choi are finally in the ground. I also finally remembered to mark the seed rows with string so I can find them later when the weeds make their inevitable come back!

Clearing beds

Sowing seed

Another setback, mainly due to a lack of weeding, has been the demise of our herb seedlings. Germination has been pretty disappointing anyway and the disappearance of the few seedlings I had, I just decided to clear out the bed and start again. If the seeds fail again, I think I may just resort to ordering plant plugs and going that route instead.

Round 2 of the Herb Bed

I bought a few more seeds and have more ordered, but today while the sun was shining, we headed down to do yet more weeding. My cousin Robert is visiting from Toronto and expressed great enthusiasm to go and visit the allotment. I took him for a quick tour and I wanted to do a quick weed through while we were there. Before I knew it, he’d nabbed some gloves from the shed and was helping weed the potatoes! Being a gardener himself, he was compelled to help with the weeding. Too bad he lives 3500 miles away…

Robert helping out

Robert’s encouragement and enthusiasm has given me a great push forward, which I dearly needed. So while the weather is better for now, I’m hoping to get back on track. Even when it turns back to rain, Wednesday apparently, I’ll continue to run out there and weed between the rain drops.

What to Grow?

When it comes to deciding what to grow, it’s very tempting to go for unusual things. I want varieties that I can’t get in the supermarket, or at least things  that will amaze and astound people, especially when I’m holding a fabulous dinner party. However, reality must be acknowledged and I’m well aware that I’m a bit of a ‘newbie’ at this. The unusual things are often more expensive and more challenging to grow. That, and my dinner parties are more frantic than fabulous really.

Generally, I’ve gone with modern varieties, but thrown in a few unusual things.  For example, I’m planning on growing ‘Resista-fly’ carrots, along side some ‘Purple Haze’ carrots. I figure we could use some challenge, after all, what’s life without challenge?

Our fruit area is mainly made up of things that were already on the allotment.  So we have raspberries, gooseberries, red & black currants, rhubarb and now strawberries. We planted the strawberries a few of weeks ago, there was a bit of snow on the ground, but the soil wasn’t frozen. I did manage to nab a couple of fleece tunnels out of the clearence bin at the Wandsworth B&Q. When the weather warmed up I left them uncovered, but have been on Red Alert for frost warnings since.

Baby strawberries, all cosy and warm in their fleece tunnel.

We’ve been fairly strict in making sure we grow things that we will actually eat, try to avoid gluts of things if possible. That being said, once I had a run through the seed catalogue, it had lots and lots of post it notes. We have 240 m², I now realise we need about 240 acres. So there was a quick discussion and some heavy editing occurred. So we’re growing two varieties of potatoes, not four. Two types of carrots, but only one onion. I have kept all four tomatoes varieties. Amazingly, all four of us want to grow sprouts.

We’re using a three year crop rotation on 18 beds, so 6 beds per ‘year’. In trying to balance out root veg, fruiting veg and brassicas, I’ve found we need to really embrace the brassicas. No colon cancer in this house, but we may need to spend next winter with the windows open…

Just a few Post-Its