Tag Archives: seeds

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.

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.

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.

Seed Anxiety…

…we all get it. What to start, when to start, where to start and how long until we plant it out. No matter how much reading you do, it seems, rather annoyingly, that the only way to really learn is through trial and error. Lots and lots of error.

I’ve seen a slew of posts recently from other bloggers reporting their success and even failures when it comes to starting seeds. I envy those that are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or a polytunnnel in which to start their seeds. At the moment all I have at my disposal is the spare room and a bit of space on the kitchen table. The spare room is unheated, I’m planning to start most things there, with the chillies, tomatoes and peppers started in the kitchen.

I made the mistake of getting impatient and turned the heat on in the spare room for two days. Whoops! The sunflower seedlings shot right up to the moon and are looking dangerously leggy. Everything else, to the best of my knowledge, looks okay but may soon follow suit.

The chillies are doing nothing so far. I’m thinking it’s not warm enough for them, but now I’m worried that they’ve rotted sitting in moist compost for the last week. So for now I hover over the trays, wringing my hands, hoping they’ll make an appearance soon.

Hello? Anyone growing?

I also keep wondering what is going on with the weather. Last year in Southern England it was 30°C in April. On Thursday I was working in a t-shirt and driving with the windows rolled down. Friday, I was wearing a lined jacket and a scarf… In desperation, I even tried to find a Farmers’ Almanac online to consult. The best I found for March 2012 was, “a  mix of weather types.” Very helpful, not.

This morning I looked at my floppy sunflowers and decided to take a chance and plant them out. I did the same with my sweet pea seedlings, which went out with some sweet pea plants I had to plant anyway. I figure if worst comes to worst, I can always sow some seeds outdoors later if needed. So I’ve set them loose to manage without my constant, erm, pampering.

Sweet pea Tee-pee.

This morning we met our new plot neighbour Tom, who confessed to being a complete amateur. I confessed to being a professional gardener, to which he immediately started requesting advice. I offered up suggestions for transplanting shrubs and tips on watering. He then asked me if it was okay to plant out his broad bean seedlings…I laughed and told him he was suffering classic seed anxiety, he just looked confused.

Edit 23/03/2012:  YAY!

Hello!