Tag Archives: Herbs

And We’re Away!

I’m here, I’m alive and doing a happy dance in the sunshine. Even the odd downpour hasn’t, ahem, dampened my excitement. Here’s hoping it lasts!

Work has been incredibly busy for me these last couple of weeks. My client’s gardens are finally taking off and I’ve been doing lots of big planting projects. Truthfully, it’s left me quite exhausted, resulting in short visits to the allotment and minimal blogging. It really feels like we’ve hardly done anything yet, but a few things are already going. The potatoes and onions are in, as are lots of summer bulbs have been planting. Seeds for direct sowing are all sorted and ready to go, but other than that, it’s been quiet.

Last weekend, with the warmer weather, we made a proper jump forward though. We have a small bed set aside for herbs, but last year our herb crops were a bust. Other than a small sage shrub and a few terragon plants, that was pretty much it. Anything started from seed never managed to get started. My theory is that, unlike our mounded veg beds, this bed was ground-level and got too water logged to allow herbs to flourish. I saved a fair amount of scrap lumber from work projects and we constructed a raised herb bed.

Making a start

Making a start

We did look into making all our beds into raised beds, but we worked out that even with the cheapest lumber, it was going to set us back at least £400. We decided that we’d rather spend that kind of money on a second shed. Mounding the beds was a compromise, but has worked just as well. I’ll admit, having neat, tidy, perfectly sized and spaced beds appeals deeply to my sense of aesthetics, but such is life. I’ll just have to derive satisfaction from the tidiness of our herb garden instead.

End result.

End result.

This weekend is not so nearly ambitious, but I’m hoping to finish weeding out the last few beds and to get the plot looking it’s best. I might even give our recently donated BBQ a clean. If the weather continues as it does, we’ll be needing that soon.

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.

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.

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.

An Explosion of Activity

The recent rain has been keeping us off the plot for the most part, but as the rain has let up a bit recently we’ve managed to get a few things done. Simon was toiling away last weekend setting up the frame work for our fruit cage. We’ll be needing it soon as the currant bushes are already starting to set fruit! So far no bird damage, but I feel we’re operating on borrowed time here. In typical fashion, the netting I ordered off of eBay arrived as I was at the plot this morning. I’ll have to find so time in the upcoming week to collect it from the local Royal Mail depot and put it up next weekend.

Fruit cage.

It’s a thing of beauty.

Currants

Baby currants.

There’s also been an explosion of growth thanks to all the rain, mainly in the form of weeds. Scott and I are going away for the long weekend, so I took the day off work to get ready. In between doing the laundry and running errands, I naturally spent a couple of hours down at the plot. A full wheelbarrow load of weeds later, things were looking much tidier. The soil was still very moist, so I kept my efforts to removing the “biggies” like nettles, thistles and %#&^%&! bits of artichoke that insist on springing up everywhere.

Beds

Before: super tidy!

Beds 2

After: not so much.

Even through the curtain of weeds I can see lots of seedlings fighting their way though. Radishes are going strong, I just kind of wish I hadn’t packed so many in, as they’re getting really over crowded already. The beetroot and most of the herbs are coming along as well. I did have to lean right over the beds and peer at the soil surface from about two inches away. I kept thinking I was just looking at more weeds, but I could often just make out the long, deliberate line of seedlings. I even managed to keep my dignity by not falling face first into the wet soil. Leaning over the mounded beds with my backside in the air was undignified enough…

I’ve even managed to add a few decorative touches to the plot. The bee house got an added lick of paint and was made to match our shed, which was suggested by our flatmate, Lindsay. I think it was a stroke of genius and I love the little matching buildings.

Bee house

Looking rather spiffy.

I was doing a rather wet and muddy garden clearance on Thursday and we spent all day pulling masses of ivy off an old brick wall which was due to be torn down. Lots of rotten rubbish was uncovered, but I did find a lovely terracotta bust. Covered with ivy for years, I loved her rather rough looks and slipped her into an old compost bag and then into the back of my van. I just hated the idea of her being dumped into a skip, so she now resides by our herb patch. I’ll get some reclaimed bricks and give her a proper pedestal. Just need to come up with a name for her. I was thinking Matilda, but am open to suggestions. Any ideas?

Bust

Who could resist that cheeky smile?

Setbacks

So far I’ve been feeling rather pleased with how much progress we’ve made with the plot. From a mass of weeds, we’ve cleared and organised the plot amazingly. However, just to make sure I don’t start feeling too smug, there have been a few setbacks. Swings and roundabouts as they say.

I posted in mid-March about my Seed Anxiety, a worry that hasn’t really gone away and I imagine never really will. The sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seedlings I planted out have all succumbed to recent late frosts and hail storms. They had struggled on for a while but the torrential rain/hail in the last week may  have been the final blow. It was nearly the final blow for me as I got caught in it on Friday, which resulted in a rather soggy drive home.

The rain has also given the weeds and snails a lovely kickstart, which I think will need to be tackled today. I do have to admit though, when I made a quick visit yesterday to pick some more rhubarb, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Still, plenty to do nonetheless.

I also planted up my window box with lots of lovely herbs, but a naughty starling has discovered them recently. The little fecker has nearly annihilated my mint, one thyme and a sizeable chunk of my chives.  I caught the blighter early one morning as I was drinking some motivation (aka tea). I banged the window thinking that would be the end of it, but he’s been sighted more recently by my flatmate. Dawn raids seem to be the main tactic. I find it particularly irritating as we had a bird feeder out there for two years with no takers. Now that it’s gone, why suddenly start on my herbs!?

Thyme, Chives & Mint. @%$&%$!?!!

Mint. @^%#@^&^$!!

I’ve also noticed that my chilli and tomato seedlings, which started out really well, but seem to have “stalled” over the last couple of weeks. I’m assuming their growth naturally slows down as they get bigger, but any advice, input or reassurance from anyone would be very welcome.

Lovingly watched over by Sparkly!Jesus.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things these things aren’t all that bad, I’m fully aware there will be more to come. I pride myself in being a good problem solver, so I will directly plant out some more sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seeds. Hunt snails, weed and rake beds until my back hurts. Most of all, I’ll get up extra early and sit by the kitchen window boxes, armed with a sturdy broom.

Herbs Within Easy Reach

Things are certainly ‘hotting up’ at the allotment, still plenty of planting to do and seeds to be started. Slightly ironic to say that as the recent hot weather seems to have abandoned us, it’s now cool and cloudy again. Maybe this the respite we need to finally be able to water things without it all evaporating as soon as it hits the soil…

It’s Saturday, so we headed to the Wimbledon Farmers’ Market as they had their Spring Plant Fair on. Along with our usual free range eggs and seasonal veg, we also picked up some lovely herbs for our window boxes. We bought most of our plants from Herbal Haven, who also do online orders. They had a great selection of herbs and friendly, chatty stall attendants.

Lovely herby things.

Although I am planning to have a herb bed on the allotment, it’ll will mainly be used for larger things such as dill, sage and rosemary. I’m also hoping to get larger crops of favorites, like basil, that the window boxes are just a bit too small to provide. For the last couple of years the only growing space I had available to me was the three window boxes I put up on our Juliet balcony. I am slightly rubbish at remembering to water the window boxes regularily, thus lining them with cut up bin liners and water retaining gel powder have been my absolute saviours. However, it’s all worth while as I find it very handy to have stuff close at hand when I’m cooking. A few snips of chives or parsley in many dishes does absolute wonders.

Lots of lovely herby things.