Allotment Journal : Monthly update Produce and plots galore!

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Lavender, plot 2.

July was a predominantly dry month, with temperatures roughly in line with the seasonal average. After an extended period of dry weather, heavy rainfall finally arrived late July. Around 45mn of rain fell over 3 days.  This rainfall was much needed and gave the plants a good growth burst, and on the plus side, we didn’t need to water the plants for an entire week!

Here’s whats been going on over the past month

Courgettes

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Verde Di Milano, Plot 2

The courgette plants have been cropping for weeks and we’re currently harvesting between 4 to 6  courgettes a day from our 9 plants. To be honest, I’m a little courgetted out! Apart from giving loads away to friends, I’ve been baking cakes, using them in pasta, throwing them in stir fries and I’ve even stuffed them with minced beef, a childhood dinner, and it was actually surprisingly good compared to how I remembered it!

However, I do plan to make this dish, it’s a courgette and pea tart. I ordered this as a starter when I had lunch at Hendy’s Kitchen, in Hastings Old Town last Sunday.

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Courgette and Pea tart, Hendy’s, Kitchen, Hastings, Old Town.

This tart is beautifully simple, it uses seasonal produce to create a lovely light lunch or supper. Think more of an assembled tart than one that is baked in the oven. It’s a puff pastry base, already cooked blind and allowed to cool. The base of the tart is something Alistair Hendy calls goat curd. Goat curd is essentially smooth goats cheese mixed with some creme fraiche; I had no idea, so I asked Toby, the chef.  Spread a good layer of this curd over the pastry.  On top of the curd place the courgettes. The courgettes have been sliced thinly, lengthways, and then rolled. Add a good sprinkling of fresh tender uncooked peas or blanched peas if you prefer less crunch, then drizzle with olive oil, season and add some sweet Genovese basil leaves. Very simple, and it tastes deliciously clean.

 Sweetcorn : Swift F1

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Sweetcorn Swift F1, plot 2

The sweetcorn went through its pollination phase towards the end of July. There is a possibility that the sweetcorn may not be that good this year, and this is why. The male tassels opened and started to deliver pollen before the majority of the female silks had emerged. I saved the pollen in small brown paper envelopes, and later manually pollenated the silks as and when they eventually emerged. The trouble being, I had insufficient pollen to pollinate all the silks.

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Saving sweetcorn pollen..

The second problem is that the wet weather arrived during the middle of the pollination process. It’s likely that this has also hampered the pollination process. Only time will tell.

On the plus side the cobs are starting to fill out

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Sweetcorn cobs, plot 2

BUT they’re most definitely not supposed to do this… YIKES!

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Exposed sweetcorn cob! Plot 2 

I’m unsure what caused this cob to do this, so I’ll do some research.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

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Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Plot 2

I’m not one for reading instructions, I typically just get stuck in and then wonder why it’s not working! I’ve been waiting patiently for the broccoli to sprout, I keep checking yet nothing is happening, so I thought I’d better read the seed packet. The reason there hasn’t been anything sprouting is because harvest time is in February and March next year……. aha! so a bit of a rethink as these plants are going to have a terribly long growing season. So this week, we’ve removed all the dead and and yellowing leaves and then we sprinkled over some organic chicken manure pellets to ensure the plants remain well nourished over the coming months.

Runner beans

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Giant runner bean wig-wams, Streamline runner bean plants, orchard plot

After battling the elements and losing two sets of runner bean seedlings to the gales earlier in the season, we finally have runner bean plants, and they’re doing brilliantly. The plants have plenty of flowers and there are plenty of bees and pollen loving insets to help set the flowers. We’ve ensured the plants remain well watered at all times, this helps the bean setting process.

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Enorma runner bean plants, plot 2

It’s important to harvest the beans at least every other day. I like to pick them when the pods are about 8 to 10 inches long. At this stage they are so lovely and tender they can be eaten raw, and if cooked they need a minimal amount of cooking.

Don’t leave the beans unpicked and allow the seeds inside the pod to start to swell. When this happens the plant stops flowering, which will shorten the cropping period.

Butternut Squash

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Discarded small round butternut squashes

All the butternut squash plants produced these small round squashes, it was rather odd. However, recently they have started to produce some proper shaped squashes, so we decided to remove all the small round ones.

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Butternut squash, plot 2

Each plant has around 4 or 5 squashes, and we’re growing 4 plants. That should keep us going through out the winter months!

Onions: Record Rosso Tondo Tropea

The foliage had become either horribly nibbled by the slugs or it had keeled over, so it was definitely time to harvest the red onions. Not a bad crop,  but I’ve realised we didn’t grow enough.

The Long Red Florence onions are still growing. I suspect we’ll be harvesting them within the next month or so.

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Record Rosso Tondo Tropea harvest

Celeriac

We’ve been keeping the celeriac fairly well watered, especially during the hot, dry spells. However, there has been one small problem!

We discovered some of the celeriac on plot 1 had collaspsed

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Collapsed celeriac, plot 1

On closer inspection it became apparent why

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Devoured root, celeriac, plot 1

The small whitish/ grey field slugs had eaten their way through 6 of these. Slightly disappointing to lose so many, but that’s the problem with gardening organically.  We still have 10 plants left on plot 1, and a further 21 plants on plot 4. The roots are still fairly immature, but they’re slowly swelling,..celeriac certainly isn’t one to grow for the impatient gardener.

Leeks : Bleu de Solaise

In mid July we planted a further 50 leeks on the orchard plot.

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Bleu de Solaise leek seedlings, orchard plot

Within less than a month they have already grown tremendously.

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Bleu de Solaise leeks, orchard plot

Blackcurrents

On plot 4 there are a number of well established blackcurrent bushes, and they were laden with fruit.

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Blackcurrents, plot 4

We harvested the blackcurrents on July 19th, they were perfectly ripe.

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Blackcurrent harvest

Sal made some blackcurrent jelly with the produce. She had enough blackcurrents to make 6 jars of jelly. Mmmmm.

And finally we have a new plot!! I know, I know… it’s a long story, but this is what happened in a nutshell. About 3 months ago I became a committee member of the Choice Allotment Association, and then very shortly after that I became the assistant site secretary.  After meeting with the council for a site inspection it became apparent that whilst there are no vacant plots, the waiting list for plots is rather short. By law the council has to provide residents an allotment site providing there is demand…. so this is where we’re going with this…

Next to the Orchard plot is a 10 rod plot, which has been abandoned for a long as I can remember. Grumpy Pete used to be the tenant but he left years ago. So I said if no one else will take it, I’ll have it. However, it had just been re-let, and I was offered plot 2, which is our plot 5! And here it is.

As you can see it’s horribly overgrown.

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Plot 5

Fortunately we had had a lot rain, which softened the ground enabling us to make good progress, fairly quickly. The plot had been worked last year, so the overgrown weeds were fairly easy to remove. The huge amounts of brambles on the other hand were rather tricky to remove.

We’ve cleared about a third of the plot so far, but there’s still much to do.

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Work in progress, plot 5

That white structure is interesting and not necessarily in a good way…. it’s made from old French doors and windows, apparently constructed by the previous tenant to grow melons in….. we don’t intend to grow melons so this structure will be removed at some stage…… very soon.

As the plot is at the very end of the site, we plan to make a gorgeous 40ft flower border along the side of the plot. It’s going to look spectacular. We’ll keep you posted with our progress.

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Monthly Update

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Strawberries, Plot 1 and 4. 

June was a fairly dry month with only a couple of days of decent heavy rain, so it’s been a month of using the watering can. It takes about an hour to water all four plots, so on the plus side it’s been great exercise! Temperatures were roughly in line with the seasonal average for June, although there was a mini heatwave at the end of June/beginning of July. Thankfully those strong winds finally died down.

We’re now well into the growing season, and we’ve got quite a lot on the go, some harvesting, some planting and a lot of nurturing!  Here’s what’s going on

Garlic

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Garlic, Plot 2 and the Orchard plot.

The rust on the garlic continued to be a problem and the plants started to turn yellow, so we decided to dig them up in mid-June. We were pleasantly surprised with the size of the bulbs, they had filled out nicely. We planted the cloves 2 inches deep this season and it seems to have  paid off, it’s definitely the best crop of garlic we’ve harvested so far.

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Drying out the garlic in my potting room at home

Peas: Champion of England

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Champion of England pea plants, plot 1

The Champion of England pea plants certainly lived up to their name this year. They were magnificent. They grew really tall and produced a bountiful supply of peas, most of which have been frozen, apart from the odd allotment snack along the way..

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Harvested Champion of England peas. 

We started harvesting peas around June 20th, and we harvested the last of the peas and removed the plants on July 9th. The plants had toppled over and had started to turn yellow. Whilst that wasn’t a terribly long cropping period, we definitely had a great yield of peas this year. We removed the plants  because we want to make way for other crops that we need to plant. Experimental crop 2, the runner bean Greek Gigante will be planted shortly.

Peas: Petit De Provence

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Petit De Provence peas, Orchard plot

I rather love peas so when I saw some Eden Project peas seeds at the local garden centre how could I resist?! These pea plants produce ‘petit pois’ and the peas are supposed to taste beautifully sweet. The plants only grow 40cm tall, so we’ve simply used pea sticks and some twine to help the plants climb. I’m looking forward to this allotment snack!

Sweetcorn : Swift F1

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Sweetcorn, plot 2

Freshly grown sweetcorn is such a treat, so for us it’s a must have crop each year. We sow seeds in deep root trainers during April.  This year we planted out the seedlings in early June, 42 plants on plot 2 and a further 18 plants on the orchard plot.

Sweetcorn is a member of the grass family so it’s thirsty,  it’s also a heavy feeder. If it’s a particularly dry spell we water the plants every day. As the soil quality isn’t as good as we’d like it to be, we feed the plants with a good quality liquid organic vegetable fertilizer once a week.

This year we’re also growing a few squash plants in an around the sweetcorn bed, they are great companions.

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Sweetcorn, Orchard plot.

 

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Sweetcorn, emerging male tassel.

The male tassels are beginning to emerge. I always think the plants are a little like an expanding  telescope at this stage of their growth. They are such architectural plants and planted in a large grid they look rather impressive.

Purple sprouting broccoli

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Purple sprouting broccoli, plot 2

The purple sprouting broccoli has grown rather quickly, the plants are fairly big now.  I worry that I haven’t spaced them sufficiently apart as their large leaves are bulging out the cage! We’ve kept the plants netted to protect them from the thuggish gangs of pigeons and crows that patrol the allotment site…. the netting has failed to keep out the cabbage white butterflies, they freely contort themselves in and out of the netting when ever they please… I will inspect the plants from hungry caterpillars!

Beetroot: Boltardy

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Beetroot, plot 2

Last year we sowed packets of beetroot seeds in situ and hardly any seedlings survived the slug and snail attacks. This year we sowed the seeds in deep root trainers, grew the plants to a size that could sustain a snail attack before planting them out.

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We then surrounded the plants with copious amounts of ‘Gone Slug’, an organic wool pellet, which also acts a fabulous mulch. We didn’t lose one plant to the slugs and snails and so far the plants are doing really well….

I’ve sowed another batch of seeds for planting out later in the season. I’ve found beetroot seeds don’t do well if they are sowed after July 31st, so it’s best to grow them now.

Onions: Record Rosso Tondo Tropea

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Onion plants, plot 4

The onion plants are growing well, they’re about the size of a giant spring onion at the moment. They’ll need at least another month or so before they are a proper onion size.

Celeriac

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Celeriac, plot 1

Celeriac takes an age to grow, it’s not one for the impatient gardener. We sowed the seeds in March, planted them out around mid- May and they won’t be ready to harvest until October at the earliest. We’ve been making sure the soil remains damp and we’ve  kept the  the ground around the plants weed free to help the plants establish.

I’m quite happy with the progress so far, a small root is forming….. the roots should swell from late-summer into the autumn.

Runner beans : Various varieties including, Streamline, Benchmaster, Wisley Magic, White Lady, Enorma, St George and last years saved seeds. 

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Runner beans, Streamline. Orchard plot

My favourite crop from last year has to be the runner bean. Strangely we’d not grown them before, and we only grew them last year by chance, when John from the real plot 2 wandered over with 14 plants. They were fairly easy to grow, despite the aphid infestation, and we got a decent harvest. I froze a good number of beans so I was enjoying that true runner bean taste well into the winter. I intend  to pack the freezer full of this most delicious vegetable this year. Consequently we’ve….. or rather, I’ve gone a bit runner bean bonkers this year, we have runner bean wig-wams on all four plots.

The runner bean plants in the picture above were planted only a couple of weeks ago, they’ve rampaged up the canes. Runner bean plants are thirsty, so during dry spells they are watered daily to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out. It’s particularly important to water the plants when they start to flower, this helps the flower to set. Most varieties of runner bean are self fertile, but only a handful of varieties, which have been crossed with french beans, are self setting. We grew a self setting variety from seed called Firestorm  in our first batch of runner beans plants. Sadly it was blown and battered to death during those terrible gales in May. So keeping everything crossed that the flowers set and we get plenty of beans.

Courgettes: Verde Di Milano and Verde Di Milano

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Courgette, Verde Di Milano. Plot 2

We’ve planted a total of 9 courgette plants across plot 2 and plot 4. Courgette plants are fairly trouble free and easy to go, all they demand is a lot of water. They are also heavy feeders, so we feed them weekly with an organic liquid vegetable fertilizer. We’re currently harvesting around 2 to 3 courgettes a day.

We plan to sow some more seeds this month to extend the harvesting season.

 Butternut Squash: Hercules, Hurricane and Hunter

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I do love a butternut squash but we’ve not been that successful in growing them in previous years. So this year I’m thrilled to say they are actually doing quite well. We packed the soil they’re growing  in with a lot of organic matter, we water them daily and feed them once a week with a good quality organic liquid vegetable fertilizer. It seems to be working… we have some baby squashes.

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Baby butternut squashes on the Hercules butternut squash plant. Plot 2

Now to keep the pesky slugs and snails away from the tender young fruit!

Leeks: Bleu de Solaise

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Bleu de Solaise seedlings, planted on Plot 4

Leeks are another crop we like to grow each year.  Home grown leeks are tender and taste totally delicious. The Bleu de Solaise leek is hardy and it overwinters well.  We’re planting lots of leek seedlings this year to ensure we have a plentiful supply throughout the winter months.

So far we’ve planted around 40 plants on plot 4, and we have a further 60 plants to plant out on the Orchard plot. I plan to do that next week as rain is forecast for Sunday, which will aid the planting process.

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Leek seedlings, ‘topped and tailed’ to help invigorate them.

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Planting the leeks, plot 4

On June 25th, we planted the first batch of leeks on plot 4. We simply use a dibber to make a deep hole, around 8 inches deep. We then place a leek seedling, that we’ve top and tailed, into the hole. We then water the seedling in, the residual soil at the side of the hole should cover the seedlings roots.

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Leek seedlings, plot 4

Although only planted two weeks ago, the leek seedlings are established and beginning to grow.

Jerusalem Artichokes

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Jerusalem Artichokes, orchard plot

All I can say is YAY! Don’t they look magnificent. It’s now a matter of waiting until November at the earliest…I can’t wait!

Chickpeas

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Chickpeas, plot2

I have to say I absolutely love these chickpea plants, they look fabulous and they’ve been fairly low maintenance. They’ve just started to flower so let’s see if we get any pods over the couple of weeks..

And finally we’ve been harvesting some fruit….

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Tayberries, plot 1. They are back, they taste amazing this year.

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Cherry tree, orchard plot. Netting the tree has paid off, we have cherries!

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Gooseberries, from all 4 plots.

And LOADS of strawberries….

Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Monthly Update

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Borlotti bean seedlings, started off in root trainers.

After a long spell of unseasonably dry weather in April, rainfall finally arrived in mid-May. Although it didn’t rain every day in May, the rainfall that we had was extremely heavy, making May wetter than the seasonal average. Average daytime temperatures were slightly below the seasonal average. Average night time temperatures were much cooler than the seasonal average. Consequently, soil temperatures struggled to rise in May; a propagator was a must for seed germination.

May was also a rather windy month, with gusts of up to 50mph on some days. This certainly played havoc with some of the earlier crops that we planted. Fortunately the pea plants were fairly well established and sheltered, however, we’re now on to the second sowing of runner beans and borlotti beans!

During April we enjoyed the most glorious blaze of blossom across all the fruit trees, the blossom has turned into this………….

Yellow gage

The yellow gage tree has many gages, okay they’re mainly on one branch with a few other fruits scattered around the tree, but it’s definitely an improvement on last years crop. Last year we  harvested about a dozen gages.

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Yellow gage, Orchard plot

Cherry tree

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Cherries

The cherry tree has a good crop of cherries this year. We’re still unsure if it’s a sweet or sour cherry tree, so we decided to net the tree to protect the fruit from the birds that usually strip it bare.

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Cherry tree with a ‘hair-net’ 

Pears

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Large pear tree, orchard plot

The sickly large pear tree has only a small number of pears this year. There are no obvious signs of rust, so far, but the tree has sustained serious wind burn during the gales. It’s not a good year for this tree.

In contrast, I don’t think it’s possible for a little pear tree to pack any more pears than this on its branches…. it’s on overload!

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Small pear tree, orchard plot

Fortunately a decent amount have fallen from the tree during ‘June Drop’, which has thinned them out naturally.

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June drop, small pear tree.

Blackcurrents

There is a bountiful supply  of blackcurrents on the plot 4. We’ve netted the plants to protect them from the birds.

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Blackcurrents, plot 4

Redcurrents

We added three redcurrent plants on plot 2 in May.

We decided to make the back of this plot into a soft fruit section.

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Ripening redcurrents, plot 2

Gooseberries

After the disappoint of last years gooseberry crop (we harvested only 12 over sized, extra plump gooseberries), we’ve added gooseberry bushes to all plots. We planted four gooseberry bushes on plot 2 and  a further three bushes on the orchard plot. The gooseberry bushes on plot 1 are now three years old and seem to be cropping well.

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Gooseberry bush, plot 1

Even the young gooseberry bushes on plot 2 and orchard plot are laden with fruit.

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Gooseberry bush Invicta, plot 2

Raspberries

The raspberry canes that we planted on plot 2 have sprung into life, there’s foliage everywhere.

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Raspberry canes, Malling Admiral, Plot 2

Vegetables

This is what’s going on with the vegetable plants

Peas

The Champion of England pea plants have rampaged up the canes.

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Champion of England pea plants, plot 1.

The plants are now flowering and we have some peas forming.

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Champion of England pea plants, plot 1

Pea plants are thirsty plants and required plenty of water at this stage of their growth. I’ve found the best time to water is in the morning. If watering in the evening or at night, the moisture isn’t always fully absorbed. The residue moisture tends to attract pesky pests such as slugs and snails, which we certainly don’t want.

Jerusalem Artichokes

We planted some Jerusalem artichoke tubers on the Orchard plot and plot 4. Nothing emerged at all on plot 4, and only three plants have appeared on the Orchard Plot. Snails love to eat the emerging foliage, it’s a snaily delicacy. To protect these plants we’ve used a good amount of Slug Gone wool pellets around the base of the plant. We’ve found these organic wool pellets to be quite effective against slug and snail attack.

Jerusalem artichokes are part of the sunflower family and they grow tall, they can reach as much as 10ft. We will provide a stake to support them when they are a little taller.

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Jerusalem Artichoke plants, Orchard plot.

Garlic

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All the garlic plants have rust, so we’ve tried to manage the problem rather than just dig out the plants. In the picture above, you can see we’ve trimmed the garlic plant leaves. In fact we’ve cut away the infected leaves three times now . The bulbs are still fairly immature, so we will leave the garlic plants in the ground for another few weeks. If there’s no improvement during this period we will simply remove the plants.

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Garlic, Orchard plot. The bulbs are still relatively immature.

Early Purple Sprouting broccoli

On plot 2 we’ve planted eight early purple sprouting broccoli plants. We’ve netted them to protect them from the wood pigeons and the cabbage white butterflies.

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Early purple sprouting broccoli, plot 2

Celeriac

We’ve decided to grow celeriac instead of parsnips this year. We’ve planted 16 on plot 1 and a further 10 plants on plot4. The last time we grew celeriac it was a disaster. They split and the root failed to grow to any decent size. Hopefully, this time, with more knowledge, it will be different.  I shall be writing a piece about growing celeriac shortly.

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Celeriac, plot 1

Chickpeas

Chickpeas are our experimental crop of the year. We’ve planted 8 chickpea plants on plot 2.

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Chickpea plant, plot 2.

Runner beans

Runner beans have to be one of my favourite vegetables from last year. I froze loads and enjoyed that true bean flavour well into the winter. I’d love to do the same again this year. We bought loads of 7ft canes and we’ve dotted wig-wams across all the plots.

Sadly the runner beans that I grew from seed, Enorma and Firestorm, were brutally and terminally injured by those ferocious gales. As a stop gap, I got these runner bean plants from the garden centre, they’re a variety called Streamline.

Back at home, I’m growing some more from seed. This time we’ve chosen three new varieties to try, all of which have RHS Award of Garden Merit. We’ve chosen  Wisley Magic, White Lady and Benchmaster. The seeds are yet to germinate!

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Streamline runner bean plants, orchard plot

Onions

Last year we grew some Red Baron onions from seed. Whilst onions are readily available and reasonably cheap in the shops, these onions were totally fabulous.

We prefer to grow onions from seed rather than from a set because we noticed that onions grown from seed tend to be more bolt resistant than onions grown from set.

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Onion seedlings, grown at home in small trays.

We’re growing two varieties, Long Red Florence and Record Rosso Tondo Tropea, or translated into English, round red onion! I have a few Red Baron seedlings at home too, but the germination rate poor this year which is why we’ve mainly got the other two varieties. We will be plant the red baron onion seedlings out shortly.

We planted the long red Florence and Record Rosso Tondo Tropea seedlings around 4 weeks ago, on plot 4.  They have been slow to settle in but they are finally beginning to grow.

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Record Rosso Tondo Tropea onion seedlings, plot 4

And finally,

Angelica

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Angelica, plot 1… the healthy one!

Last year we bought some small angelica plants from the garden centre. I had this vision of candying the stems and making 1970’s cake decorations. However, there’s also the pure architecture of the plant, I think it’s a wonderful addition to the allotment.

One thing I didn’t realise was that slugs and snails are truly fond of the foliage, those small plants were demolished within a couple of days. So this year, I spotted some much larger, truly hefty plants at Harborough Nurseries, surely these would be slug and snail proof…  I got two! They’ve been in a couple of weeks now, one has survived, the other however has been severely nibbled and is looking rather sad. I’ve now surrounded both plants with wool pellets just to be on the safe side.

I was checking for slugs and snails when I noticed one of the leaves on the healthy plant had discoloured. I turned it over and this is what I discovered…

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Parsnip moth caterpillars, angelica plant!

The parsnip moth caterpillars have moved in and made themselves at home. The leaf was removed and the caterpillars destroyed. Both parsnips and angelica belong to the apiaceae family…. as do the celeriac plants. Yikes! Will be carefully checking the leaves of the celeriac plants.

Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal : Monthly update…..

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A blaze of blossom. Blackthorn trees, growing on the boundary of Choice Allotments.

This has to be my favourite time of year, when nature emerges from it’s winter dormancy and literally bursts into life. We’re rewarded with the most beautiful display of young leaves and blossom, the bustling activity of the butterflies and bees and the birds are busy making their nests.

April was an incredibly dry month. The Met Office statistics reported that Herstmonceux, East Sussex, just 10 miles from where our allotment is, had just 9mm of rain during the entire month. The average for this area in April is usually 62mm of rainfall. The average number of hours of sunshine was 43% higher than the typical average for April. We experienced some lovely warmth during the day, with temperatures soaring to a high of 25  degrees centigrade on April 15th. However, night time temperatures were cool, meaning  air temperatures were roughly in line with the average for this time of the month. The combination of warm days and cool nights helped to prolong the length of time the blossom remained on the trees, creating quite a spectacle. 

Our blossoming fruit trees….

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Cherry blossom, and a busy pollinating bee. Orchard plot

 

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Pear blossom. Plot 4

 

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Pear blossom. Orchard plot

Fruit is already forming on the large pear tree on the orchard plot. This tree produces the most delicious sweet red pears. We’ve been nursing it back to health and we’re hoping for a decent crop of pears this year.

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Pear tree. Orchard plot.

We’re keeping a close eye on the the pear tree for signs of rust. Last year we cut out all of the diseased wood and removed all the infected leaves, including those that fell to the ground. We pruned the tree further to allow better air circulation. We also sprayed the tree with organic seaweed fertiliser to help provide the tree with some essential nutrients. So far the young leaves are perfectly healthy, but only time will tell.

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Pear tree leaves. Orchard plot

 

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Yellow gage blossom. Orchard plot

 

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Quince tree. Orchard plot

Last year we planted three varieties of rhubarb on the orchard plot, Timperley Early, Victoria and Glaskins Perpetual. These plants are only a couple of years old, so we were very surprised to see this happening to the Victoria rhubarb plant

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Victoria rhubarb, an emerging flower head. Orchard plot

At first we thought it was a large leaf, but as it grew it became apparent the plant was about the flower.

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Rhubarb flower head.

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Emerging rhubarb flower.

It’s important to cut the flower heads off as soon as they appear so the plant can direct it’s energy into stalk and leaf production rather than setting seed. Cut the flower stem as close to the base as possible. Excess stem left on the plant will begin to die and rot, which may harm the health of the plant.

We’ve found a lovely surprise on plot4. There are loads of current bushes, of some variety,  we’re unsure if they are redcurrent or blackcurrent. We’ve given them a good feed of organic chicken manure pellets and we will wait an see what emerges later this year.

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Mystery current bushes in flower.

On plot 2 we decided to plant some fruit trees. We chose gooseberries as these are fairly difficult to find in the shops and there’s nothing nicer than gooseberry fool, or gooseberry crumble with lashings of custard.

We planted two different varieties. Invicta, a traditional green gooseberry that produces high yields of good sized high quality fruit. It’s a fairly vigorous variety with good resistance to mildew and late spring frosts.

The second variety we chose is Hinnonmaki Red. This gooseberry bush produces a high yield of bright red berries that are sweet and aromatic. Again this plant is fairly vigorous, and has a good resistance to mildew.

As these gooseberry bushes are rather vigorous we spaced them 4ft apart.

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Invicta gooseberry bush, plot 2.

We also chose to plant 20 raspberry canes. We wanted to plant the same variety that we put on the orchard plot last year, Malling Jewel. Malling Jewel raspberries are the most delicious raspberries I’ve ever tasted. Sadly the Malling Jewel variety was unavailable this year, so we opted for Malling Admiral as an alternative.

Malling Admiral has spine free canes with high disease resistance, which is rather important when growing plants on an allotment. It’s a moderate to fairly heavy cropper of firm red berries that have good flavour. The berries are usually ready for picking from early to late July into August.

At the moment it rather looks like we’ve stuck sticks in the ground, but as spring progresses they should come to life.

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Malling Admiral raspberry canes, plot 2

At this time to year there’s very little going on at the allotment vegetable wise. We only have a couple of crops currently on the go.  We have the garlic that we planted early last November.

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Garlic plants, orchard plot.

We noticed that our garlic plants have the first signs of rust.

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Garlic rust.

Every year, during May, we get garlic rust,  sadly it’s a hazard of growing garlic at the allotment.  Garlic rust is caused by a fungus called Puccinia Allii. The spores from this fungus become airborne and they’re easily spread by the wind.

Garlic rust can become so severe it will stunt the growth rate of the plant, resulting in the plant producing small undeveloped bulbs. We’ve found that the best course of action is to cut off the infected leaves,  this should give the plant those few extra weeks required for the garlic bulb to reach maturity. The advantage of planting garlic in the autumn is the plant should be fairly close to maturity by the time rust appears in the spring.

Peas are one of the earliest crops of the season. We sowed some Champion of England seeds in deep root trainers in early March. As there are low levels of daylight at this time of year, I decided to grow them outside in a propagator. I’ve found that plants grown indoors at that time of year become rather etiolated and weak. Growing the pea plants outside worked really well, the plants were strong and healthy.

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Champion of England pea plants.

We planted these pea plants on plot one, using an A-frame support structure.

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Champion of England pea plants, plot 1

On the other plots we’ve constructed some wig-wams to support the rest of the legumes we plan to grow. We’re using a combination of 8ft and 7ft poles, and using 6 canes per wig-wam.

This year we plan to grow

Runner beans:  Firestorm, a red flowered, self fertile variety, and a traditional variety called Enorma

French beans: two green bean varieties, Cobra and Blauhilde, and a purple bean called Cosse de Violette.

Borlotti beans, Lingua di Fuoco (meaning tongue of flame). The seeds inside the pods are dried and stored for use through out the year.

And for fun, we’ve sowed something a bit different. The Real Seed Catalogue sells a very rare runner bean seed called Greek Gigantes. It comes from the mountains in the Northern part of Greece, where it has been grown for hundreds of years for it’s enormous buttery beans seeds, rather than  grown for it’s pod. Think butter bean! I’m a bit of a convert to pulses so I thought why not give this a go this year. The seeds are huge, about an inch long. We’ll grow just 6 plants and see what happens… thinking 10ft bamboo canes and a ladder may be required!

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Legume ‘wig-wam’ structures, orchard plot. These are 8ft poles, used for growing the runner beans.

We’ve decided not to grow any potatoes this year, however potato plants are currently popping up all over the place like weeds. These plants have grown from the potatoes we left behind in the ground last year…. it’s inevitable that potatoes get left behind in the ground, it’s now just a matter of digging them out as they emerge!

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Unwanted potato plants growing from potatoes left behind from last years crop.

We’ve still not dug up the flowering kale yet, the bees are loving it…..

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Flowering kale, plot 1. The yellow flowers of the Cavolo Nero and the while flowers of the Jagallo Nero

However, so are the aphids!

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These aphids have bred and multiplied smothering the Russian Red kale flower head. 

As the winter months were relatively mild it’s highly likely the aphid will be a bit of a pest this year. So it’ll be important to regularly check plants and remove these unwanted visitors. Some aphids carry viruses and can infect crops such as peas and parsnips, which may severely impact cropping yields.

And finally, we left a very small patch of the green manure, Phacelia Tanacetifloia, to grow on plot 1, and it’s flowering!

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Phacelia Tanacetifolia 

 

Posted in Allotment Journal, Fruit, Garlic, Raspberries, Rhubarb

Growing Runner Beans

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Runner bean plants, the summer of 2014. 

The runner bean is a sub-tropical plant, originating from central America and northern parts of South America, growing at high altitude. The Spanish brought runner beans back to Europe in the 16th century, they were introduced to Britain during the Tudor period. Originally grown in the Britain as an ornamental climber, they’re now one of the most popular vegetables grown in Britain today.

Runner beans are perennials but grown as an annual in the UK, the plants are tender and will not survive our cold winters. They are easy to grow and fairly trouble free. As climbers, they grow vertically, taking up relatively little space. Picked young and frequently, the plants provide a plentiful yield of delicious beans. Surplus beans can be simply frozen or given away to lucky friends.

Here’s how to grow runner beans:

Sow

  • Sow seeds, from late April until the end of June, in individual 9cm pots, filled with seed compost, at a depth of 2 cm.
  • Water well and place the pots in a propagator, placing the propagator on a sunny windowsill or place the pots in a green house.
  • Germination requires the soil temperature to be above 12 degrees C  (54 degrees F).
  • The seeds will take about a week to germinate.
  • Alternatively sow directly in the ground outdoors once any danger of frost has passed, usually around mid to late May in the UK.

Planting out

  • Once germinated, the seedlings grow at quite a pace.
  • Harden off the plants for a week or so before planting out.
  • Runner beans plants require a support structure. Create a frame, either a wig-wam or an A-frame, for the plants to climb up.
  • Runner beans prefer to grow in moist soil, so ensure a lot of moisture retentive organic matter is dug into the soil before planting out.
  • Plant out once all risk of frost has pasted, usually from the end of May in the UK.
  • Space the plants 9 inches to 12 inches apart for optimum yield.
  • Mulch the base of the plants to help keep the roots moist.

Growing

  • After planting out, the plants will rampage up the support structure
  • Once the plants have reached the top of the frame, pinch out the growing tips, this will encourage the plant to grow side shoots.
  • Runner beans, like all legumes, are self-fertile but they do require bees or other pollen loving insects to ‘trip’ the flowers before bean pods can set.
  • Ensure the ground is kept moist, especially when the plants are in flower, and forming beans.
  • Keep an eye out for slugs and snails, and aphids.

Harvest

  • Pick the beans when they are about 8 inches long, and definitely before the seeds start to swell in the pod.
  • Pick the beans frequently, every two to three days. This will help lengthen the cropping period.
  • If beans are left on the plant for too long and the seeds in the pods start to bulge. If this happens the plant will become less productive, shortening the cropping period

Saving Seed 

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Saved runner bean seeds, 2014.

Last year we were given some runner bean plants from our allotment neighbour, John. Towards the end of the season we allowed some beans to go to seed. As you can see from the picture above, there’s white and purple seeds. This means that we had at least two different varieties of runner bean growing within close proximity.

Runner beans cross pollinate with other runner bean varieties very easily because bees are attracted to the brightly coloured flowers. As the bees buzz around from plant to plant they  transfer pollen from one plant to another. So, if there is more than one variety of runner bean within the range of a bee, which can be up to half a mile, any seeds saved from those plants are highly unlikely to be true to the parent plant, they’re much more likely to be a hybrid.

Potential problems 

  • The flower may fail to ‘set’ beans pods.

There are various reasons why runner beans flower but fail to ‘set’ bean pods.

  • Not enough visits from bees or other pollen loving insects. This may happen if the summer months are too cold
  • Temperatures are too high: this impacts the ability of the pollen to germinate,
  • The plants roots are not moist enough.
  • Failure to harvest beans frequently enough.

To over come the setting problem, Tozer Seeds created the first self setting runner beans by crossing a runner bean with a climbing french bean.  There are currently four self-settling runner bean varieties to choose from. Moonlight was the first, followed by  Snowstorm and Stardust, all white flowered. Snowstorm and Stardust are improved versions of Moonlight. Finally there is red flowered version called Firestorm.

This year we plan to grow a traditional variety called Enorma. It has a RHS Award of Garden Merit, these beans are long and slender and have excellent flavour. We’re also going to grow one of the self setting varieties, Firestorm. It will be really interesting to see which variety yields the most,  which has the best flavour and texture. We’ll keep you posted.

Posted in Runner Beans

Allotment Journal : Weekly update

 

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Quince tree

Spring has finally arrived. The perennials are beginning to emerge from dormancy, and daylight hours are increasing. I absolutely love this time of year, watching everything come back to life. I saw this tortoiseshell butterfly last week. It’s so good to be back at the allotment.

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Tortoiseshell Butterfly, Orchard plot

The past few weeks have been spent getting the plots ready for this season; here’s what we’ve been up to:

We’ve cut down all the green manure (phacelia) and dug it into the vegetable beds. The plant will rot down adding nutrients and providing much needed organic matter to the heavy clay soil.

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Phacelia (green manure)

We’ve fed the fruit trees.

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Although of course we had to dig out the bindweed and couch weed roots first! We used fish, blood and bone, a good all round fertiliser. We’ll use a little potash (rich in potassium K) later in the season, as the plant starts to flower and fruit.  Although some research claims potassium doesn’t directly promote flower growth. However, potassium is still important as it regulates the movement of water and nutrients in the plant cells. So we’ll bung a bit in the soil anyway.

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Fertilisers

We’ve been tidying the strawberry beds, and we’ve fed the strawberry plants with an organic seaweed fertiliser.

We’re rather excited to have a fourth plot. We’re looking after it for our lovely allotment neighbours, Tony and Maureen. I shall miss them, our chats and all the laughter, but we shall take great care of their beautiful plot. This plot has two large strawberry beds.

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 Plot4, strawberry bed.

We’ve dug over Plot4. It’s looking rather marvellous. There’s a rather large seam of raspberry canes  running two thirds back. We’re not sure if they are summer or autumn fruiting or a combination, so we’ve left the canes and we’ll see what happens.

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Plot4

We’ve dug up all the remaining leeks and parsnips before they start throwing up flower stalks.

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Bleu de Solaise Leeks Plot 2

These leeks are still perfect, but if left any longer there’s a danger they may become woody and bitter. Leeks are biennials, as the plant enters into it’s second year it produces seeds, hence the flower stalk. We’ve found if we dig up the leeks by the end of March they’ll be fine, any later there is a danger we’ll lose the crop.

Parsnips are also biennials and as they enter into their second year they too produce a flower stalk. We dug them up, the majority were fine but we had a couple with canker. We grew Gladiator and True and Tender, both are supposed to have a good resistance to canker… clearly not that resistant looking at this!

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Parsnip canker, URGH!

Parsnip canker is caused when fungi (typically Itersonilia perplexans) present in the soil get’s into the plant, usually through the crown. The plant may have sustained some damage either from digging or damage caused by pests….. thinking back, it could be that gang of huge slugs that I caught nibbling at them, they have something like 27,000 teeth each! Soil conditions in that bed will need to be improved.

We’ve fed the garlic plants. We planted the garlic cloves at the beginning of November, so they’ve been in the ground for 5 months. We’ve fed them with organic seaweed fertiliser to give them a bit of a boost.

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Garlic plants, Orchard Plot

And finally the kale has started to flower so unfortunately it’s time to dig it out.

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Cavolo Nero Kale, Plot One

Posted in Uncategorized

Chickpeas

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After saying we’re not growing an experimental crop this year, we’ve decided to grow chickpeas!  I popped to the garden centre the other day to pick up some chicken manure pellets; as I walked down the aisle the seed section caught my eye. I saw packets of seeds labeled Eden Project, amongst the packets were chickpea seeds. Of course I got two packets.

Chickpeas are part of the legume family, as they fix their own nitrogen they should be grown in relatively poor, but well drained soil. Chickpeas are susceptible to fusarium, a fungal disease, and other similar foot-rots, so they tend not to do too well in heavy clay, waterlogged soil, which of course we have! Too much nitrogen in the soil will promote ‘leafy’ growth at the expense of pod production. In the UK, chickpea plants should be grown in full sun. They grow best in dry conditions and at temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees.

Chickpea plants are bushy and only grow up to two feet tall, so yay, no supports are required!  Compared to other legume plants the chickpea pod is relatively small, just an inch long, with each pod only containing one or two chickpeas. In terms of how many plants to grow, it seems from my research that around 7 to 8 plants should provide a decent yield for one person.

We’ll start the seeds off at home, in root trainers because like most legumes chickpea plants dislike root disturbance. Sow seeds from February until May. Sow the seeds about an inch deep and keep the compost moist until the seeds have germinated. The seeds can take up to two weeks to germinate. Once germinated, don’t over water the seedlings as they are prone to dampening off.

Plant out the seedlings once the risk of frost has passed and the plants are around 10cm to 15cm tall. Space the plants about 15 cm apart and the rows should be 60 cm apart.

I think we’ll sow our seeds at the end of April, to the beginning of May, depending on the weather. Chickpeas enjoy the dry, warmer weather  the summer months offer. Chickpeas are reasonably hardy, they can withstand light frost and they’re also fairly drought tolerant; they have a low demand for water. Their roots are shallow, so it’s worth mulching the base of the plants. When watering, avoid watering the plant itself as this can promote mildew. Water moderately, once or twice a week during dry spells. Increase watering when the plants start to flower and produce pods.

It takes around two months before the the plants start to flower and produce pods. The pods can be harvested whilst they are still green. At this stage the chickpeas are supposed to taste something like a raw french bean meets a garden pea…. I’ll let you know!! Alternatively leave the pods on the plant to dry and go brown. Harvest when dried or pick as they brown and finish drying out at home. Once dried store the chickpeas for use throughout the year.

I’ll post chickpea plant updates later in the season.

Posted in Chickpeas
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