Tag Archives: Onions

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.

Anticipation

Spring, it’s all about the anticipation. As much as I love the warmth and abundance of the summer months, it’s the spring season I love best. I feel like a kid at Christmas, I keep peeking at the soil to see what’s coming up and checking bare branches for the first buds.

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First Spring Bulbs.

The spring bulbs are making an appearance finally, the daffodils are about to flower and the tulips are coming along. I tend to use them primarily as cut flowers for the house, but the odd one that flowers before I can cut it will always bring a welcome splash of colour to the plot. For the first time, I have actually given one bed over to a set of “trial tulips.” The gardening company I work for orders thousands of tulip bulbs in the autumn and yours truly was in charge of all our bulb sales. Our suppliers very kindly gifted me several sets of new tulip varieties, which I’m indulgently trying out at our plot. My boss got quite excited at the idea of trialling bulbs and plants in my allotment, but I had to remind him I do want to grow some veg!

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Red and blue potatoes going in. 

Last weekend I planted our shallots and this weekend we planted up our chitted potatoes. We’re growing Charlotte again this year, as it made the most divine French potato salad last summer. As part of my Heritage/ Unusual Variety Helps Disease/ Pest Resistance Experiment, we’re planting Highland Burgundy Reds and Salad Blue potatoes. I was worried the weather is still much too cold, but the soil is perfectly moist and they’d been slowly drying out in our spare room. Also, in deference to the baby potatoes, the heat has been kept off in the spare room, but Scott was getting tired of having to wrap up in a duvet every time he wanted to work on the computer.

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Kale harvest!

In order to make some space for the potatoes, we did have to clear out the kale plants. We met up with our co-plot mate Simon and we set about dividing the kale. We’ve got a nearly exploding carrier bag sitting on the kitchen table now. I will attempt some kale chips/crisps with some, but otherwise will blanch and freeze the rest.I asked for some good kale recipes via Twitter and got some great suggestions, but I’m always open to more. We’ve got lots to go through!

Despite the cold, I can’t wait to get back out there. I’ve got a few long weekends coming up thanks to some leftover vacation still owed to me. The plot is nearly ready to go and I can’t wait to get it up and running again. The anticipation is killing me…

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.

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.

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 Hits

On to the positive! I have been amazed at how much is growing despite the low temperatures. I realise ripening may be an issue later, but I’m hoping we’ll get a final summer surge for September and October, hopefully starting this weekend. Also, with all the rain, the pressure has been off slightly with having to keep up with the watering. As much as I can, I often pop by the plot after work to potter about for a bit. However, work has been very busy of late and I’ve been glad that the necessity of going to the plot regularly to water has been reduced.

The Hits

As I mentioned in my previous post, the early potatoes have been patchy, but the main crop potatoes have been beautiful, full and healthy. Full to the point of needing no weeding, other than a quick tidy around the edges of the bed. I can’t wait to dig those up and see if the foliage growth gives all it’s promising now.

I’ve often read that beet seeds can be quite temperamental when it comes to germination. The seeds I sowed about three months ago have done very well. We thinned the seedlings out and used the leaves for salads, the last collection even giving us a couple of baby beets. Well, maybe not even baby beets, more like embryonic beets. Perfectly tasty anyway. Encouraged by their success, I’ve sown another row else where for a later crop.

Wee beets.

The garlic has been looking quite rusty from all the wet weather, but the onions, so far, have gone unscathed. I worried they would start to rot with all the wet, but having mounded up the beds seems to have paid off. They’re meant to stay in the ground for sometime yet and to only be pulled up as they’re needed. I’m glad they’ve kept well so far, otherwise I’d have to do a marathon Onion Tart Making Weekend!

Happy onions.

In the legume corner, we have the contenders; the lightweight French beans and the heavyweight broad beans. The French beans have germinated well and are working their way up the netting. They’ve done so well, that I’ve sown a second lot of purple beans on the patch the cucumbers were originally suppose to occupy. If the peas continue to struggle for much longer, I may even add some beans there. The broad beans suffered a touch of black fly, but pinching out the tops and the resident ladybird population have worked their magic. I don’t really consider myself a fan of broad beans, but I can’t deny their reliability.

Beans, beans, the musical fruit…

Over in the ornamental area, along with the bumper crop of sweet peas, the sunflowers have been growing strong. No flower buds yet, but I’ve already had to stake them to keep them upright. I have no idea how many seeds we sowed in that patch, but I’m happy some have survived in the end.

Strong sunflowers

Super smelly sweet peas.

I think I may have to book mark this post for myself, to read again and again. For when it all starts to go wrong again, I will need to be reminded that it does go right sometimes.

Grow Forth My Little Ones

I know most of us here in England have been delighting in the grand irony that as soon as the hosepipe ban was implimented, we’ve had non-stop rain. While it’s been great not having to worry about watering everything thing that’s already “in ground,” it has left us falling behind on a few things. Weeding mainly.

However, the onions are looking good and the radish seedlings are going great guns at the moment. I’ll have to thin them out soon by using some of them for baby leaf salads. Even the tulips have held up well against the near constant battering of rain.

Radish seedlings.

Lovely bright tulips.

Mainly, I’ve been pushing on with my seedlings at home. The chillies and the first round of tomatoes have now been potted up. They’re having to reside on the floor as I don’t have enough table space available for them. I don’t think they’re going to get enough light there, so I may have to do some creative furniture shifting.

Grow little seedlings!

Annoyingly, the sunniest room in the house does not include any windowsills! One solution I’ve employed is to move the seedling trays onto the coffee table each morning. While we’re all at work, it’s in full sun through most of the afternoon. There hasn’t been much point the last couple of weeks due to the rain, but they do seem to thrive nonetheless.

Sunbath.

Due to the extreme limitations for space, I’m planning to directly plant as many things as I can. I know this means having to be a bit more patient, but ultimately the seedlings will be stronger and more robust. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Before we launched onto this enterprise, I did a lot of reading in an attempt to understand, or at least begin to understand, just what we were getting into. One factor that was often discussed was money. In many respects you save money by not having to buy produce, through recycling materials in the most creative ways and, definitely in my case, saving money by not needing a gym membership. You also spend money on things like too many seeds, materials you just can’t find no matter how many skips you look in, and, if you’re anything like me, books.

However, there’s one financial aspect that was never discussed in any books; gift giving. I suppose it can’t be counted on or predicted in any way, as it depends so much on the kind of people we are surrounded by and by our own personalities. There may well be allotments out there where no one speaks to each other, everyone stuck in their own isolated world. I highly doubt it though, it just isn’t The Allotment Way.

One recent gift I recieved was through the Royal Horticultural Society’s Grow Your Own Campaign. As one of the first 10,000 supporters, I received a lovely parcel of seeds donated by Mr. Fothergill’s Seeds.  Very pleased with my gift of  sweetcorn ‘Swift’, spring onion ‘Ishikura’, summer squash ‘Sunburst’ and my favourite tomato ‘Sweet Million’.

Seeds from the RHS

A couple weeks ago our onion sets arrived in the post and I diligently headed to the plot to get them in the ground while the weather was still dry. I had allotted a full bed for them, but it quickly became apparent that I had far too many for the space I had. Every other square inch has already been reserved, so I faced the dilemma of what to do with them. It was about then our plot neighbour, Tom arrived. I offered them to him, as I couldn’t bear to see them go to waste. He was very pleased with them and naturally asked me how he should plant them.

This morning Scott and I got an early start at the plot. We were soon joined by Simon and his partner Alice. Poor Simon did his back in during the week, so wasn’t able to do much other than take Alice, who hadn’t seen the plot for a few months, on a tour of our work so far. Alice also arrived bearing a gift of some asparagus crowns from her mum. Leaving us with this to plant, I had to then work out where on earth to put them.

When I opened the box, I was amazed to find three different varieties and five crowns of each! I had thought of reducing the rhubarb patch down to half and planting asparagus. However, I had been thinking this would be something to do next year, after we had a chance to see how the rhubarb performed this year.  After much waffling, I ended up digging up two of the smallest rhubarb plants and dumping them into some plastic pots. I’ve rather haphazardly planted the asparagus, far too close together I’m sure, in an odd ‘L’ shape around the remaining rhubarb.

The new asparagus, erm, bed.

Once again Tom arrived on site just in time and my waste-not-want-not philosophy was allowed to remain intact. I admitted it wasn’t the best time to transplant them, but Tom was very happy to take them. He wanted to return these recent favours and offered some cauliflowers seedlings from his cold frame. As it’s been quite chilly lately, he said to just take them whenever I like. He also promised to bring some more seedlings from home for us to have. As someone who has really no space at home to start things, this was a most welcome gift.