Tag Archives: Cucumbers

Taking Our Chances

It’s been the coldest spring in thirty years, at least that’s what the gang on Springwatch say and, hey, they know best. So why do I feel like I’m running behind this spring?

I really didn’t do much during the early May long weekend, I pretty much worked the entire weekend. We spent a lovely weekend away the following weekend, then I worked the weekend after that… However, I was determined to get stuck in this long weekend. I would have spent the whole weekend on the allotment, but the bathroom mildew needed bleaching.

Still, enough moaning, Scott and I headed down today to plant out our tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The forecast is less than stellar for the next couple days, but the plants were starting to take over the flat. A few were started as plugs I had ordered and others as potted plants. I did do everything from seed last year, but these plants have gotten a far better start and are much more robust looking.However, I did lose several plants last year to the cold, so we’ve protected these as best we can. I really should build some sort of mobile polytunnel thing, but chopped up plastic pots and bottles will have to do for now. I will be making after-work visits to check on them!

IMG_5613

Good luck little plants.

We still need to continue our battle against the weeds. Despite the seemingly cold weather, the grass has been growing at an astounding rate. Simon whacked down a massive amount recently with a strimmer, which is great. I’ve already done the fruit cage once, but you wouldn’t know it looking at it today. We’re slowly working our way through clearing the beds and getting things into the ground. Plug plants are all in now, but there’s plenty of seeds that still need direct sowing. A few seedlings are making their way fine so far, but time is ticking on.

Before...

Before…

...and after.

…and after.

I really hope this slow start spring means we’ll be having a hot summer and autumn. If I can get the rest into the ground soon, warmer weather would mean catching up. Too much to ask of the British weather? I suspect so, but we continue on anyway and will just have to take our chances.

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!

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.

 

Hits and Misses: The Misses

While we’ve been partaking in the great British tradition of complaining about the weather, has it really been a complete disaster? For a start, we haven’t suffered the terrible flooding that has affected most of the country, so I’m thankful for that and my thoughts are with those that have.

I’ll take a slightly more selfish perspective for a moment and take stock of what’s been happening, or rather not happening, on our plot. I did lose quite a bit of things over June, which I mainly blamed on my failure to get timings right  and not providing enough protection for newly planted things. I do now know though others that I’m far from alone. I had a plot neighbour stop by for a chat the other day. He was curious about what we had growing and what had completely bombed (my words, not his). It seems the failures and successes vary across the site and I was told one ol’ timer of thirty years declared this summer, “the worst summer of living memory.” For myself, I think that this is simply not the year for some things, but a time to really go for other things. With that in mind here’s a run down of what’s going on:

The Misses

I always believe in giving bad news first and I’ll try not to make this into a list of epic proprtions.

Firstly, the cucumbers, tomatoes and chillies, basically everything that needs hot weather, toast. I diligently started them all indoors, thought we were going to have a great bout of hot weather, which turned into heavy rain and wind, which lead to virtually no plants. A few tomatoes are struggling back, but unlikely to fruit at this rate. I did buy a few new chilli and cucumber plants and have collected some large plastic bottles to turn into makeshift cloches. I’ve definitely learnt my lesson with these!

Surviving tomatoes and new cucumbers.

We haven’t dug them up just yet, but the foliage of the early potatoes has also been looking worryingly patchy. I don’t know if it’s blight, but the foliage seems to be slowly dying back and has been very thin. It’s a sharp contrast to the main crop potatoes in the next bed, which look full and healthy. I’m wondering if we’re going to get many salad potatoes this round, we’ll soon find out I guess. I’m wondering if going for a second round of late season “earlies” might be worth trying for?

Patchy potatoes.

Germination can be hit and miss at the best of times, but my herb seedlings are really suffering. We’re very lucky in that the soil in our plot never really gets waterlogged. We have a nice sandy/loam mix with very little clay. Perfect for herbs really. I had visions of a nice full herb patch to compliment my herby window boxes at home. I thought the beds may have been drying out too quickly for the wee seedlings, but I’ve become more convinced that the cold temperatures are the main culprit. All the herb plants have been fine, but I think my dream of fresh dill this summer will have to wait until next year.
While most legumes have been chugging along, my peas have been a real disappointment. I love fresh peas, frozen peas have nothing on the delicious sweet, crispness you get with freshly shelled peas. As a child, one of the summer tasks for the kids was sitting with a big bowl in your lap shelling pea pods. Until I bought some from the local farmers’ market last year, Scott had never had fresh peas before. I really wanted to have some of our own to pick this summer, but after three rounds of sowing, only a tiny handful have sprouted. Ah, well, thank goodness for the French beans doing well.

A few sprouts out of the many, many peas sown.

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.

Jumping Jubilee Weekend

Even if you’re not from the Commonwealth, I’m sure you are aware that this year is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Thus everyone here in the UK has been blessed with a four day weekend. Over a million people headed into central London to watch the Thames pageant complete with Royal Barge and Royals. As for myself and Scott, we headed over to the allotment.

In March it was unseasonally warm, then cold and wet in April, then it was warm again, now it’s gone cold and wet again. It has left us with an abundant crop of weeds, seeds that have yet to go into the ground, directly planted seeds that have failed to show up and lots of seedlings that really, really need planting out.

Thar be seedlings in there…somewhere.

I’ve been holding off on planting my tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers due to the rather topsy-turvy weather. Truthfully, that’s what I keep telling myself, but really it’s because these are my babies I grew from seed and I’m finding it hard to set them free. It’s a cruel world out there don’t you know?

Baby tomato plants

Baby chilli plants.

I did manage to suck it up and planted them out yesterday, along with the cucumbers and sprouted corn. We weeded the beds, lovingly tied the plants to stakes and diligently mulched the new plants. I woke up last night and could hear the rain pounding down. When I checked on the plants today they were looking a bit worse for wear, but I’m hoping they’ll perk up soon.

Sad tomatoes.

Flattened corn.

Sad cucumbers

While we’ve managed to get a lot done in the last two days, there’s no rest for the wicked and the Weed-a-thon will have to continue tomorrow. Thank goodness for the extra day off. Cheers your Majesty.