Tag Archives: Potatoes

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: 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: 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.

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!

Ankle Biters

*scratch scratch*

Things are coming along beautifully at the allotment. Broad beans finishing up just as the first sowing of French beans have gone into full swing. I must confess I much prefer French beans and am getting a bit tired of broad beans. I find them rather bland compared to other beans. Maybe I just need to expand my cooking repertoire with them.

French Beans…mmmmm.

*scratch scratch*

Squashes are coming along well too, even picked a few summer squashes. Added into a fantastic Sunday roast on the weekend. Eagerly awaiting the teeny tiny courgettes to grow so I can get started on those as well.

Lovely Patty Pan Squashes

*scratch scratch*

Chopped all the potato foliage down as it was getting terrible blight. The taters themselves have been coming up just fine though, not a massive haul due to a nearly sun-free few months, but perfectly tasty.

Wee potato harvest

*scratch scratch*

Got lots of weeding done, everything looking very tidy indeed. I just keep uncovering a gawd awful number of ants’ nests. Massive ones too.

*scratch scratch*

Any suggestions for dealing with them!?

*scratch scratch*

Ouch.

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.

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.