Allotment Journal: Weekly update

After a few weeks of summer rain the sunshine has finally returned. However, the mornings and evenings are becoming much, much cooler and daylight hours are dwindling, meaning this years growing season is starting to come an end.  Saying that, we still have a number of crops on the go. These include

The Borlotti beans..

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Although they’re looking rather tragic (the wig-wams are crudely propped up with bamboo canes and the foliage is beginning to die back), lovely plump beans have formed inside the brightly coloured pods. We plan to let these exquisite beans dry naturally on the plant so they can be stored for winter use. Ideally the pod should shrivel and turn an unsightly shade of pale beige! At this stage the pod is ready to harvest.

However, if there’s the risk of frost, all pods should be harvested immediately, shrivelled or not… simply pick and dry out at home.  I’m going to keep a close eye on the weather. Me and these beans have already been through quite a lot, and I don’t want to lose this crop at the final hurdle. Currently we are enjoying a spell of warm sunny weather, but as we all know, the English weather has a tendency to suddenly turn.

Pears….

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This variety of pear is Doyenne du Comice and is typically ready to harvest at the end of September. However, this summer because we have enjoyed a long spell of warm weather, enabling harvesting to be brought forward by a couple of weeks.

This dwarf pear tree has produced an outstanding crop of large pears. We are so pleased because last year we didn’t harvest a single pear, they all dropped from the tree during the ‘June drop’.  One branch is so heavily laden with fruit it’s touching the ground. So I decided to pick a few pears to ripen at home. I’ll leave the rest to ripen naturally.

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On plot one, there is a blackthorn tree growing in the hedgerow on the perimeter of the site. It’s large and its branches overhang our plot. We have chosen to leave these overhanging branches for two reasons. Firstly, it provides a much needed canopy that shades us from the scorching summer sun and it also provides cover when it rains. And secondly, it produces the most incredible bitter blue-black fruit, the sloe berry.

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These berries are usually ready to pick in the autumn after the first frosts but they have come early this year. A combination of warm weather followed by a huge douching of rain has led to a bumper crop, that’s ready now. Below are the berries I picked this week. They’ve gone straight into the freezer until we’re ready to use them.

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These berries aren’t typically eaten in pies or puddings because they are so astringent but they are used to make the most delicious liqueurs, such as sloe gin or sloe vodka, or as I did last year, sloe jelly, which was served at the Christmas lunch.

To make the liqueur, prick the fruit, add some sugar and pour over gin or vodka. Store in a dark cool place, gently shake the bottle or container daily for about two months, or longer. This is a true winter warmer, ideally placed in a hip flask and sipped whilst out on a lovely crisp, dry winters day walk. Heavenly!

Leeks…

We do a love a leek, so this year we are growing loads and we’re trying a number of different varieties, some of which will overwinter.

I have no idea what the variety of leek is below. They were kindly given to us by a fellow allotmenteer called Barry, we fondly call him ‘Barry Leeks’. We planted these leeks in mid-June under firm instructions from Barry to dig a trough….

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So a trough was dug…… Barry and I have a very different methods for growing leeks, and I have to say I won’t be digging trenches again. I found the trench aesthetically WRONG! Sorry Barry. And I’m not sure it’s going to produce a different product.

Anyway, fast forward three months and this is what they look like now! They are ready to dig up and eat as and when we need them.

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On plot two we planted our Bleu de Solaise and I snuck in a row of experimental Bulgarian Giant leeks.

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The Bulgarian giant leeks are tender so they won’t over winter terribly well, so we will dig those up in the autumn. However, the Bleu de Solaise are hardy and actually benefit from a good frost. These can be dug up through out the winter in to the spring.

Strawberries…

The strawberries are starting to flower and fruit again. I’m not sure how sweet these strawberries will be, but we may be able to use them to make jam.

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And the plants are also shooting out runners.

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These runners form new plants, but rather than allowing them to overrun the current strawberry bed, we place these runners in small pots of compost, whilst still attached to the parent plant. Once the runner plant has grown some new leaves this indicates the root system has established sufficiently for it to be detached it from it’s parent. At this stage the new plant is ready for transplanting to a new strawberry bed.

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These are some of the runners I have potted up.

And finally….

Back at home I’m slightly obsessed with saving seed..

Dill seeds

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The Cinnamon Basil is flowering and I plan to collect the seed

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Lavender seeds

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And the Magenta Mountain Orach.. it doesn’t taste too good but it certainly adds a splash of colour

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly Update

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This picture pretty much sums up the past week or so! The weather pattern has certainly changed. Storm clouds have rolled in and have kept the plots well watered. 

There hasn’t been too much to do, it’s just a matter of waiting for the crops to mature so we can harvest them. 

I have started to save seeds. I have removed all the old Champion of England pea plants but retained the dried out pea pods. I shall use these seeds for next years crop. I store the seeds in paper bags in a dark, cool place. Make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing them.

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I have started to cut some of the lavender

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Here it is in full bloom from earlier in the season. We’ve enjoyed a blaze of colour for a few months but now is the time to cut the stems that are no longer in flower. I remove all the seed pods, they remain incredibly fragrant, especially Hidcote and Munstead. I store these in airtight Kilner jars,  in a cool dark place. The lavender can be used for cooking, putting in lavender bags or even pop a few in the bath for a lovely relaxing soak. 

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The grapes are doing rather well… they continue to swell

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We may have enough for a thimble full of wine! 

I have harvested the shiniest onions I have ever seen. These are Red Baron onions grown from seed. They’re not very large but they are perfectly formed! Really rather proud of them and they taste great.

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The runner beans continue to produce beans at quite a pace

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Far too many to eat so I wash them, slice them and place them straight in the freezer. I cook them from frozen and they taste incredible. 

And finally 

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The wasps seem to enjoy feeding from area where the sweet corn cobs have been removed.. Swift 1 is a super sweet variety and word appears to be out!

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A Speckled Wood butterfly

And the Peacock orchids are finally in flower. Beautiful!

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly update

This week we caught the tail end of Tropical storm Bertha. Not only did she deliver a LOT of rain, she also brought exceptionally strong winds. These winds wreaked havoc, especially with the clearly structurally unsound, heavily laden legume wig-wams!

The borlotti’s keeled over…

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And one of the French bean wig-wams collapsed into a heap

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Thinking those beautiful twisted willow poles maybe more style than substance! They certainly snap fairly easily.

I’ve had to prop them all up… aesthetically, it’s not pleasing. Such a sad sight, the Borlotti’s have a bit of a lean…. I’m being kind when I say a BIT.

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And the French beans are just about hanging in there with the help of a few bamboo canes

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The other problem we’ve encountered is the emergence of many, many slugs and snails …. they love the rain. I made a lovely platter for the chickens from the ones I found in and around the borlotti beans…. although even the chickens turn their beaks up at the hideously large slimey Spanish slugs, they get hurled over the fence on to a country foot path…that’s the slugs not the chickens, naturally!

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On the plus side, the rain has sunk deep into the ground. The plants are flourishing and the ground has softened up tremendously, we can dig once more.

The slugs and snails brutally attacked the Red Russian kale!

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I also found them in with the parsnips and they started to nibble the tops of the parsnip root…. that’s a NO…so I removed a lot of the foliage that was either turning yellow or draping across the ground. This has allowed light and air in and it will hopefully discourage those slimey pests from visiting.

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I check the parsnips daily to remove any unwanted pests and whilst rummaging through the foliage I saw this incredible moth resting by a parsnip.

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It’s a Garden Tiger moth. It’s rare and a protected species. Numbers in the UK have declined dramatically over the past 30 years, down 89%. They are incredibly striking and reasonably large.

I stole the photo below from ukmoths.org.uk so I can show you what it looks like with its wings expanded. No two moths are exactly the same, all the patterns are all slightly different. I have to say seeing something so rare and beautiful certainly made my day. Nature never ceases to amaze me.

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The caterpillar is extraordinarily hairy… also known as a  ‘wooly bear’. I’m hoping to see many of these little fellas in years to come. (photo from wildlifeinsight.com).

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We harvested our first sweetcorn cob. This variety is a hybrid called Swift F1. I’m rather pleased with the outcome.

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Pollination looks good, we have plenty of kernels on this cob. It’s incredibly tender, so tender that it’s possible to eat it raw. BUT I love hot sweetcorn served with lashings of butter. I boil it for a minute and a half. The taste is sweet and rich. Smiles with contentment!

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On the orchard plot it was time to prune the plum tree.  It seems the fruit trees have been neglected for a number of years. Last year we failed to harvest a single plum, this year we had about a dozen and they were delicious . Yellow gages.. Yum. We have to bring this tree back to its full glory.

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Apart from a lack of fruit the tree appears healthy, there’s lots of green foliage and new growth.

We pruned out any branches that were

  • diseased or dead
  • those that were growing in towards the centre of the tree
  • any that crossed over
  • and finally we pruned the new growth by half, cutting at an outward facing bud

We then gave the tree a jolly good feed of organic seaweed fertiliser.

Post prune the tree is thinned out, allowing more light to get in and much better air circulation.  We have maintained the traditional goblet shape.. albeit slightly lopsided!

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The Wathham butternut squash has turned from green to a more traditional yellowish colour.

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It’s not as massive, only about 7 inches long, but that may be due to the quality of the soil, it’s not great. Squashes are heavy feeders and I’ve not really paid them much attention. We planted these squashes more for ground cover around the fruit trees than to produce crops.

The ‘Barry Leeks’ leeks are growing rather well and I’ve managed to dig in some of that hideous trench. Although it’s still looking rather unsightly.

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The courgette plants have slowed up and aren’t producing many courgettes. We harvested just 5 courgettes this week. I think they may be coming to end of their season sadly.

The strawberry plants have started to flower again! We may be fortunate enough to get a second crop but I doubt they will be that sweet. Jam!

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But we still have raspberries

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These are from the Malling Jewel AGM plant. The flavour is incredible. I plan to buy more plants next year so we will eventually get a decent crop of the most amazing tasting raspberries.

This pear has been severely damaged by scab.

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But the pears on the smaller Comice du Doyenne tree are looking great.

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And finally

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly Update

It’s been another hot dry week, which has meant one thing, a lot of watering! Especially the beans.

The Borlotti beans are developing well, they are beginning to fill out.

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It’s really important to keep them well watered during this phase to help the beans swell up. Although slugs and snails are now proving to be rather troublesome. I’m having to remove them daily. Some pods have already sustained some damage.

The runner beans have been prolific and they taste great.

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We’ve been picking and picking and there are plenty more flowers, so more beans will be on the way, and for some time by the looks of things.

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I didn’t think that the runner bean plants would survive when I planted them, but they have. They’ve endured gale force winds, aphids and high temperatures. As I didn’t think they would survive I sowed some French bean seeds, Cobra and Violette, around the same wig-wams. We have just started to pick some French beans too. I will definitely consider planting French beans with runner beans again next year, obviously staggering the sowing dates. Runner beans followed by French beans a few weeks later.

The peas have come to the end of their season. We picked the last of the fresh peas, and the first of the pea pods that I shall use for saving seed.

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We harvested some of the Pink Fir Apple potatoes. Each plant produced a good number of potatoes. Some were small and a few had scab. But on the whole, it wasn’t a bad harvest.

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I checked the parsnips. They seem to have survived the aphid attack and the foliage is growing well

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and we can see the start of parsnip roots beginning to form and grow.. very exciting

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And finally, flowers, the poppies flowered this week. A beautiful purple flower, my favourite.

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And the velvety rich chocolate Black Magic sunflower is also in full bloom. Delightful!

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Poppy Progress!

Back in May I wrote a post, Poppies are easy to grow, they say! As I mentioned, we have failed to successfully grow poppies naturally. Just the one plant last year despite scattering many, many seeds!

Whilst poppies don’t like root disturbance, I was determined to have poppies this year. At the beginning of May, I sowed some of the seeds that I saved from last years poppy into modules. These seeds germinated well.

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We transplanted 15 plants to the allotment, across the various plots, in late June.

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There have been few obstacles along the way, the 9 plants on Plot 2 were eaten by snails and slugs…….

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but, the remaining 6 plants grew well.  With the help of organic Slug bait!

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And yesterday, we were finally rewarded with a beautiful purple poppy flower. So thrilled!

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Posted in Flowers

Allotment Journal: Weekly update

At the end of last week there was the most amazing storm. It had been a beautifully sunny day, it was around 8pm and I was outside on one of my balconies watering the seedling when suddenly the light levels started to drop. I looked out to sea and I was fortunate enough to witness a rare Tsunami cloud formation rolling in along the coast. After a period of eery stillness, the winds whipped up to gale force and then the heavens opened. We received the most almighty downpour.

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This much needed heavy rain certainly gave all the plants a boost. All three plots are flourishing. The rain soaked deep into the ground, we didn’t have to water for a few days despite temperatures soaring up towards 30 degrees.

With the ground softened by the rain, I decided to dig out the remaining weed mound on plot 2. We are desperate for more space to plant up the leeks seedlings.

It took a couple of days to work through the mound, removing  each couch weed root and every fragment of bindweed root, not to mention re-composting all the vegetation that still needs to rot down. Any excess soil was just simply added back onto the plot.

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Finally, we were mound free..

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and we created a new vegetable bed at the back of plot two.

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We planted three rows of Bleu De Solaise leeks, on the left,  and a row of the Bulgarian Giant leeks, my experimental leek of the year.

On plot one, the Tayberry plants had come to the end of their season. They looked horribly messy and it was time to remove the netting.

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Having not really thought this through properly, I didn’t bank on the Tayberries vigorous new growth actually growing through the netting. This made it extermely difficult to remove the netting. It was quite a lengthy process as I had to carefully cut the net directly surrounding each new stem as I didn’t want to damage any of the new growth. Tayberries are floricanes, meaning next years fruit is produced on this years new growth. Once free of the netting I pruned the old growth from the plant leaving just this years growth.

Note to self: create a different netting structure next year!

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Later in the season we will need to ‘train’ the new stems thus preventing this unruly plant from getting totally out of control! Good luck with that one!

On the orchard plot I managed to harvest some plums

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This is the first year we have enjoyed ripened fruit from our trees. As we inherited the plum tree we have no idea what the variety is. I was hoping it would be a greengage but it’s a type of yellow plum. Saying that, I’m not disappointed at all, the flavour is incredible, fresh and fragrant yet sweet. It may be Early Golden or Shiro. I will investigate.

The pears on the small pear tree are still doing well. I’m hoping that we will have some pears to try this year too. I know the variety of this tree is a Doyenne du Comice as there was still a label on the tree when we arrived at the plot.

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The poppy plants on the orchard plot are growing really well.

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The plants are now roughly a foot tall and the flower head is just beginning to unfurl… As you can see in the background I have ‘liberally’ scattered organic pet friendly slug bait pellets around the plants to protect them from snail and slug attack. You can’t be too careful!

The Blue Banana squash has one fruit and it’s growing at quite a pace. It should grow to about 45 cm long, so still a long way to go. We also have two Waltham Butternut squashes! You can see one in the background.

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I harvested the remaining red onions and shallots.

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And filled the space by planting some parsley; curly and flat leafed.

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The dill plants are flowering and this should produce some lovely seed that we can use for cooking.

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Back on plot two the sweet corn is now in pollination mode. This will last about 10 days and it’s a critical phase.

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The male tassels at the top of the plant have fanned out and the flowers have started to dangle down. These flowers are full of yellow pollen and it’s at this stage the pollen is released. As the wind blows through the tassels the pollen should be ‘carried’ on the wind current to the female silks below.

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There’s not been too much wind this week and you can see the pollen has dropped and collected on the plants leaf. Each strand of the ‘female’ silks needs a grain of pollen in order for each kernels to form properly on the cob.

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I have been manually pollinating some of the silks with this pollen. It looks rather odd but I’m hoping it will pay off.

We have encountered a few pollination obstacles this year, aphids and a lack of wind so only time will tell what the quality of our corn will be like this year.

But the good news is that cobs are beginning to form. Hopefully the lovely hot weather to continue, helping to ripen the cobs. The cobs should be ready to harvest towards the end of August into September. Better make some room in that freezer!

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We’ve also been harvesting many, many courgettes from our SEVEN plants. Each plant is producing 2 to 3 courgettes a week.

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The slugs are rather partial to the flowers! And it’s always the largest slimiest ones!

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We continue to harvest peas but they are beginning to come to the end of their season.

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I think I’m too late to sow more but I’ve discovered a new variety of pea on the Real Seed Catalogue website. It’s called Lord Leicester. Another very rare, tall variety and it produces peas over a much longer period. It starts flowering in March and is said to continue producing peas until the end of the season… I will definitely try this variety next year.

I’m currently saving seeds from the Champion of England plants. I will sow these seeds in situ next spring. You can never have too many pea plants!!!

The Borlotti beans are coming along nicely

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We plan to pick some fresh beans but also to allow others pods to dry out naturally on the plant. The dried beans will be stored and later used during the winter months in soups and stews.

And finally, I saw these caterpillars on an abandoned plot… eating Scarlett Pimpernel weeds would you believe!

They are Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars. The Cinnabar moth is the most beautiful black and red moth.

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I saw a Cinnabar moth briefly, fluttering around the allotment, it was impossible to photograph, so  yet again I have shamefully stolen an image, this time from southwestscotland-butterflies.org.uk website. Sorry and thank you people of South west scotland butterflies, I hope you don’t mind but I think this moth is a thing a beauty.

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Posted in Allotment Journal

Allotment Journal: Weekly update….. updates

After a dry, hot June we finally got some much needed rain at the beginning of July. Being a fair weather gardener I only ventured to the allotment a couple of times during that week. Last week the weather became more settled and I returned to find everything had flourished.

The corn looked amazing, both tassels and silks have formed, and the plants are close to three foot tall.

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However, there was something I didn’t expect to see…. yes, yet more aphids.. who knew they liked corn tassels?! I need to research what impact this may have….. thinking it may lead to pollination issues and a potentially reduced crop if I don’t intervene… I’ll have to manually fertilise the silks with the unaffected tassels to ensure successful pollination…. if it’s not one thing it’s another! Thankfully my right hand predator, the lady bird, is already on the case!

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The borlotti beans have grown really well, the wigwams are covered in foliage and there are plenty of flowers. The daily aphid culling certainly seems to have paid off. Lady birds and spiders are now all over the plants helping to keep the number of aphids at bay.

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The plants look incredibly healthy and are beginning to form baby beans. With all legumes, it’s important to make sure the plants are kept well watered at this stage to help pod development.

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The experimental beetroots plants have grown sufficiently to check up on their developed.

The three beetroots on the left are experimental beetroots, all started at home in modules. They were transplanted to the allotment when the seedlings were about three weeks old and about a couple of inches tall. The beetroot on the right is a beetroot grown from seed in situ. They are all Boltardy.

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The experiment wasn’t a complete success. Yes, we have something that resembles a beetroot, but they are misshapen and the tap root failed to form properly. You can clearly see this if you compare them. The beetroot on the right has uniform bulbous tap root with a long tail. Rather than producing a long tail, the module plants developed masses of thin fibrous roots, rather like an onion. Also, the bulbous part of the tap root on all three experimental plants are more elongated than round. Obviously the root systems were damaged during transplantation and this has impacted proper root formation.

On the plus side, we have loads! The plants were sufficiently large enough to sustain slug and snail attack. We are yet to cook the beetroots and taste them. I will keep you posted.

The onion and shallot sets that we planted in mid April were showing signs of being ready. The foliage had started to yellow and flop.

Talking to a fellow allotmenteer he said that this year has been his best ever year for growing onions and he was wondering when to dig them up… he was concerned about white rot.. yikes… I hadn’t even considered that. So I decided to harvest the Longer shallot, a pink banana shaped shallot.

This year I have regularly watered both the shallots and onions to help swell the bulbs.

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And it seems to have worked. We have a fabulous crop of good sized, firm, great tasting shallots.

Here they are drying out on my outside table at home.

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After a very slow and unpromising start (they’ve survived strong coastal winds, snail and slug attacks, not to mention those pesky aphids, they deserve to survive!), the runner bean plants have finally shown a bit of a growth spurt.

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And we harvested our first ever runner bean! There are more on the way… hopefully.

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We also harvested all the first early potatoes, the Vales Emerald and The Premier.

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The Vales Emerald produced a good crop of potatoes, 7 to 9 potatoes on each plant. The Premier didn’t live up to its name, only 3 to 5 potatoes per plant. Both varieties proved to be fairly floury, they exploded and broke up when boiled. I started off boiling 6 potatoes and ended up with 5! One had completely gone to mush during the cooking process….. Scratched head! They are both supposed to be waxy, firm potatoes.  This could be due to increased levels of dry matter due to the weather conditions or early planting, I need to investigate. Anyway, a slight change of supper plan, they made the perfect roasting potato! They both have a great flavour.

The Mikado oriental spinach plants that I grew at home have transplanted well. Given the poor success rate of sowing seeds in situ, we have one plant from about 60 seeds sown, we will definitely repeat this process next year.

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After the rain, I was horrified to discover that all the poppy seedlings on plot 2 had been eaten by slugs and snails..

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Left with just a skeleton!

Fortunately the poppy seedlings on the other two plots were untouched and still growing…. these are the poppy plants on the orchard plot… I promptly surrounded them with more organic pet friendly slug bait pellets.

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Failing to regularly pick the sweet peas has allowed them to go to seed. New flowers are forming but now on rather short stems so sadly our sweet pea season may be nearing an end.

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We plan to save these seeds and sow them in situ in the autumn and then again in the spring. This seems to produce strong plants early in the season and then throughout the summer. Sweet peas don’t transfer well as they don’t like root disturbance.

This is Cosmos Purity grown from seed by Sal. It’s growing in the orchard plot flower border and looks beautiful.

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And finally, our Guinee rose is flowering again….

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And smells heavenly…

 

Posted in Allotment Journal
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