Malvern Autumn Show – its all about the veg

I have spent today at the Malvern Autumn Show with my eldest son (21) and my niece (7).  It is interesting how visiting these shows with different people gives you a whole different viewpoint.  The Autumn Show used to be very much an agricultural show but this seems to have faded in recent years with more focus on gardening and in particular growing edibles.  I suppose this makes sense as late September is when vegetable growers are really reaping the rewards of their efforts.

The edible growing ranges from designs for vegetable gardens which is where I took the above two photos.  We were rather taken with the soup ladle water feature and at least your squashes would be clean!  I did like the modernist look of the salads growing in colanders but I always wonder just how practical these really are and whether the vegetables would really grow as well as that if they had been planted as small seedlings or even sown.

Then there is the vegetable show starting with the giant veg.  This isn’t the largest pumpkin, there is one larger but it was busy having its photograph taken by many people so I didn’t bother.  In the past when I have been to the show on my own or with gardeners we have browsed through the show tent, with my tent we went at a brisker pace especially once she had caught onto the fact that there were first, seconds and thirds.  We really motored from one category to another.

I managed to slow things down a tad while I looked at the dahlias but not very much after all there was still discovery zone to explore where owl pellet dissection and dragonfly making beckoned.

As I said the show used to be more of an agricultural show and there are still show animals.  We saw donkeys, horses, a few sheep, a pig and many dogs including those being trained as gun dogs – this was my niece’s favourite bit as she loves dogs.  We looked at the show rabbits and decided the lop eared ones looked depressed and to be honest I really didn’t like seeing them in the small show cages. Then there was the acrobatic flying and tug of war which was quite entertaining.

I did manage to get half an hour in the floral ‘marquee’ but will save that for another post.

All in all it was a nice day, the sun shone and the refreshments were good.

Dear John…..

Yesterday I read a lovely post on WellyWoman’s blog which was a Love Letter to her allotment written especially for National Allotment Week. WW’s plot is exactly the same size as mine and like  me she  has  had it  for 18 months, there isn’t even that much difference in the amount of rent we pay.  WW obviously loves her plot and it has made a real difference to her life.  This got me thinking about  writing a similar sort of post about my plot.

However, and there is always a however, I think mine would be more of a Dear John letter.  Our relationship is definitely not at its best and thoughts of giving the allotment up have  drifted into my mind a number of times over the last six months.

Now this isn’t a moan about the weather and slugs making it hard to grow anything it is more a case that we are just not compatible, mis-matched so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong I am proud of what I have achieved and as regular long-term readers will know getting an allotment had a knock on effect of involving my parents which then led to my Mum getting half a plot.  This has been such a wonderful thing and has had such a positive effect on her dealing with her grief over losing my sister that no matter what I decide to do I won’t regret the effort we put in.  I also wonder if in some way the allotment has  helped me with the grief.  It was very difficult last year especially when my parents were helping me and we had some fraught times and disagreements but we have worked through them and are stronger and closer for it.  Looking back I find myself wondering whether the allotment acted as a catalyst for us resolving these issues.  It is amazing how much you can resolve and how difficult a subject you can discuss when you  are both head down, bum in the air, digging up couch grass!

I like being at the plot when I am there but that is the problem getting there both time and distance.  The site is surrounded by fields and first thing on a Sunday morning when you are the only one there, listening to the bird singing, watching the rabbits frolics (opps they aren’t meant to be ) and admiring the horses in the neighbouring field it is wonderful. But, I work full-time  generally a 40 hr week which leaves little time for other things.  My weekends are precious  and I am spending Sunday mornings at the plot, coming home and wishing I had more time to spend in my garden which is weedy and neglected.  The plot  is eating up the time I would spend tending the garden.  I told myself last year that the first year would be tough as it was a virgin plot but no matter what anyone tells you even when you have cleared the plot you still need to spend the same amount of time there.  I’m not afraid of hard work but it’s the logistics.  The plot is 15 min drive each  way so I have to organise having the time to go there when really what I would rather do is potter outside in the garden when it suits me.  I have tried to go on the way home from work.  This doesn’t work when the weather is warm as it is just too hot at that time of day to be weeding etc, and I am generally really tired and hungry so clock watching.

Then there are the quantities – it’s all or nothing.  I seem to be forever giving crops away or even, heaven forbid, putting them on the compost bin.  I find myself questioning the whole thing.  I put all this time and physical effort in, as well as some finances, to grow some veg which may or may not result in a harvest only for me to ditch a load of it.  I have a constant battle between only growing enough for my needs and filling up the space.  I was amused when my neighbouring plot holder told me he was thinking of taking up his paths to maximise the growing space when I was considering covering up more ground.  When my youngest is away at University it is only really me that eats the crops and a 20m x 6m plot is a lot for one person!

I have also realised that whilst I like food I’m not a foodie.  I have no real interest in growing unusual  stuff and spending large amounts of time preserving etc.  I’m not that big a potato fan preferring rice and pasta.  I enjoy growing salads, rhubarb, black kale, gooseberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes but these  alone would only fill a third of the plot.   I want to be able to wander up the garden when I get home from work and pick a courgette or two, maybe some salad leaves. Not as is the case now fit in a trip to the plot  on the way home on a day when I don’t have to rush back to do dinner because I or one of the boys has to get somewhere else.

I  think the fact that the photo at the top of this post is my favourite from the photos I took at the allotment this evening says it all.  I simply am not an veg/fruit grower,  it doesn’t float my boat as they used to say.  I don’t get depressed when I lose a whole  crop to some bug and I thought this was because I had low expectations in the first place but now I think it’s just because I don’t really care that much – how awful is that.  When I raised it a few months ago with Mum she said I should  plant more fruit bushes, more perennial veg, maybe lay  some turf!  But that all still  needs maintaining and still  takes me away from my first much neglected love – my garden.

So I am pondering what to do.  I want to grow some veg and fruit, the things I have listed above but I don’t think I can sustain my relationship to the plot for another year.  I don’t think  counselling or an intermediary would work or even a trial separation.  My eldest and I have discussed a couple of times putting in some raised beds in the garden where I could grow some veg.  I want something ornamental, beautiful, on the doorstep and I think we have a plan which he says is achievable.  I just need to measure up and see whether the area would work in terms of growing space.  It would be something along the square metre idea of growing veg . I’m  not rushing into the decision as I  don’t have to pay the rent again for a few months and it would be good to time it so I could re-locate some of the fruit  bushes in the autumn if I decide to give it up – so we shall see.




Lurking in the greenhouse

I seem to have finally got my gardening mojo back – well almost – thanks to some visits to very inspiring gardens.  I don’t think I am alone in struggling to be interested in the  garden this year especially with the damp and cold summer we have had here in the UK.  Today I decided to get a grip of the garden.  No mean feat considering how much everything, weeds included, has grown with all the rain and also my total lack of engagement (by which I mean work) over recent months.  Having started on the cottage garden border the rain drove me into the greenhouse, which was probably a good thing as this too was overgrown.  It’s only a tiny greenhouse so is quick to adopt jungle like tendencies left to its own devices.

The first job was to tame the Crystal Lemon Cucumber which seems to be making a bid for world domination with five stems covered in flowers cavorting amongst the other plants.  I reduced the plant down to three stems and tied them in to the side of the greenhouse in a bid to regain some control.  Lifting the stems up off the staging I was thrilled to discover two fruits.  I have no idea what they will taste like when they are ripe or indeed how big they are meant to grow or how I know they are ripe but they are very fascinating.

Having reduced the cucumber plant it made it easier to see what the aubergine was up to.  This is a rescued plant from the plant garden centre of which I have had little expectations (a general approach I have to gardening) but I do like the combination of the foliage and purple flowers.  However, lo and behold there are at least two fruits on the plant.  Having been told by commentators on this blog that I won’t get any aubergines this year as it’s too cool I am now hoping that I get at least one of these to ripen fully!

The final unexpected delight amongst the neglected and weedy seed trays was the passion-flower you can see in the top picture.  It really is beautiful and the scent is divine.  I must pot it up and give it a better support but its Ok for now.

I am pleased to report that thanks to the rain the greenhouse has been completely overhauled.  All the seedlings have been potted up and moved on and the tomatoes have been tied in and excess foliage removed.  All in all a good afternoons work and at least a start although there is part of me that thinks the garden seems to do better without me.

The Greenhouse Year – July 2012


Not much has changed in the greenhouse over the last month.  The light levels and temperatures have been lower than normal and this has held things back.  I have been using the greenhouse to protect many of my succulents and alpines to prevent them getting too water damaged.  However with the temperatures due to return to what we would expect for this time of year I have moved them out so the greenhouse isn’t looking as crowded as usual.

I still have some trays of seedlings to prick out and pot up so that’s at the top of the to do list this weekend.  I did finally get my act together today and sow some late managetout, broccoli, chinese cabbage and brompton stocks.  With the various pests at the allotment meaning I have had to lift a lot of crops early I have some space to fill so am hoping to get some late crops in.

The Lemon Crystal cucumber is beginning to produce flowers which is very exciting as I have no idea what the fruits will taste like.  The rescued Aubergine keeps producing flowers but at least one fruit has fallen off.  I have never grown them before so no idea of what they need.

The tomatoes finally have flowers on them but the outside plants seem to be further ahead with small fruits already!  You can just see one of the remaining flowers from the Watsonia.  This is the first time they have flowered having grown them from seed about 3 or 4 years ago.

So that’s the greenhouse this month – who knows by next month there might even be a tomato or cucumber to report.

Courgettes are Go!

Its July down the allotment and despite the rain and low temperatures we have been having it’s not doing too bad.  As you can see the courgettes have started to fruit.  The one above is Courgette Floridor and I have already had 4 fruits off it.  I also have Courgette Clarion and picked the first fruit today.  Both plants are very healthy but the same cannot be said for my dark green Courgettes – I can’t remember the variety. They went in about a month later and have really suffered with slug damage.  I think the others had got well established before the real damp weather unleashed slugs galore.

But as you can see they are valiantly struggling on so I don’t have the heart to pull them up yet.

Elsewhere on the allotment things are generally doing OK especially the buttercups and thistles but then I have hardly  been to the allotment for two weeks due to a heavy workload, rain and our  holiday in Barcelona.  I am on leave this week so am determined to try to get on top of things, if the weather will let me.  The borage looks wonderful and has definitely drawn the small amount of black fly from the tomatoes.  The tomatoes are looking OK so far and there are even some small fruits.  I just need it to warm up and hopefully there will be a tomato crop.

The kale and purple sprouting broccoli is also looking good and I am really pleased with the netting and bamboo hoops combo which has deterred the pigeons.  Having lost  my entire cauliflower crop to pigeons I am a little twitchy when it comes to brassicas.  I am also wary of using netting since last summer we killed a grass snake in some netting which was very distressing.  This time I have pulled the netting taut and weighted the sides down with stone so hopefully we wont have a repeat performance.

I finally weeded the celeriac and celery bed and I am quite chuffed with progress so far.  I haven’t grown either of these crops before so I need to do some research on what to do next.  I am protecting the plants from the various low flying pests with some whizzy fencing I bought and I think it has also helped protect the plants from the winds we have had.

Now before you get irritated with my tidy allotment I have to confess I have only shown you the goodish bits.  At the fruit end of the plot it is not so good.  The weeds are taking over and all the salads in the raised bed had bolted.  So I decided enough was enough and pulled the lot up and have started again with a new sowing of mixed leaves and also salad onions.  I have never really got on top of this area it is always the lowest priority but I am determined to get it  sorted and get some paths down by this winter!

Looking at the weather forecast I might get some more time on Friday morning this week so hopefully it might start to look a bit more loved.  Saying that despite feeling full  of despair while I am weeding away, wondering if I will ever get on top of the situation, walking back to the car I notice that few of the plots are immaculate and many  are struggling with weeds like me so maybe I should be kinder to myself.



Garden Bloggers Harvest Day – June 2012

I have been doing regular posts on the allotment but I thought it might be interesting to join in with the Garden Bloggers Harvest Day meme hosted by Barbie and Christine.

However, despite it being June the cold weather we had recently has slowed everything down and delayed young plants being planted out  so in fact there is little to harvest at the moment.  There is a real sense of anticipation that the strawberry harvest will be fantastic this year.  The fruits seem to have been sitting there for weeks and I am beginning to wonder whether I should remove some of the leaves to try to get the sun to the fruits.

We have been harvesting rhubarb although it hasn’t been as prolific as I had hoped.  I have two plants planted last year.  One of them sent up flowers and has only just started to crop properly after I removed the flowering stems right to the ground.  The other seems to be producing quite thin stems which could be the variety; it was in my garden and I have no idea of the variety so who knows.  Anyway we have had numerous rhubarb crumbles and I have made some rhubarb and ginger jam which I have to say is quite divine.  I am hoping to get enough in the next couple of weeks to make some sorbet before we have to stop harvesting.

The cut and come again lettuce in the new raised bed is cropping well.  I think I might sow some more as we get through a lot of it in the summer. The pak choi has been less successful; two batches have bolted before they were big enough for me to harvest.  I suspect it is the wet one minute, hot one minute weather we have had.  I will try another row but then will leave it to late summer/early autumn.

This week I harvested the first onions.  I planted these as sets back in the Autumn, they are Japanese Overwintering Onions and I am really pleased with the result.  I will definitely be planting more of these sets this Autumn.  As I am still on a steep learning curve I wasn’t sure when I should harvest them.  However one of my fellow allotment holders advised that this variety doesn’t store very well so I should harvest as I needed.  Result delicious succulent onion for the stir fry.

The gooseberries are imminent.  This will be the first gooseberry  crop and I am quite excited at the prospect.  Last year the plants were new and then it was very hot, dry and windy and the few fruits fell off the plants so fingers crossed for a glorious bountiful crop.

The broad beans and mangetout are now flowering so it can’t be long now before we start to harvest them though I am sure we were harvesting broad beans by this time last year.  I don’t know why I am being impatient as I will probably be moaning in no time about how many broad beans we have.

Hopefully next month I will have more crops to show on this meme.  If you want to see what others are harvesting visit Barbie and Christine

Allotment Year – April 2012

I had a very soggy visit to the allotment yesterday.   It was a case of having to go as I hadn’t visited for just over a week and as I am away next weekend it would be another 7-8 days before I would have another opportunity.  As I have been working so hard at the plot I wasn’t too worried about the work that might need to be done but I wanted to pick some rhubarb and purple sprouting broccoli, plant out some extra pea and broad bean plants I had and also put some straw around the strawberries.

You can see how wet it was and my hands were chilled very quickly.  I was glad I visited as there were lots of signs of growing.  Salsify, pak choi, spinach, rocket, spring onions, lettuce had all germinated as well as the nigella and calendula I have sown round some of the beds.  The first leaves of the potatoes have also come through.

The only downside was that something has had a go at my cauliflowers.  It could be slugs or rabbits though I have taken precautions against slugs and rabbit fencing has recently been put in so I am wondering if the damage is pigeons.  Anyway, I will see if they are still there when I next get to visit and if not so be it and I will use the bed for something else.

The orangey brown stuff you can see at the far end is spent hops.  There is a micro  brewery up the road from the site and they drop off the spent hops.  I rarely get any as its delivered during the week but over Easter I happened to go down early one Thursday morning and there were bags waiting to be taken.  It was a bit of a slog barrowing them down the site to my plot but worth it as the hops really lighten the heavy soil and improves drainage.  It has made a real difference to the beds where I applied it last year.

I couldn’t find a photograph from April 2011 to show the progress I have made over the last year but above is a photograph taken in March 2011 and it is quite startling to see just how dry the soil was a year ago. I remember it being hard work. You can also see some of the progress on surrounding plots.  There are only a couple now where no or little progress has been made and the atmosphere is very different to last year.  I find it very interesting to see all the different styles of plots and approaches.

I did get to do all the jobs despite my fingers quickly becoming chilled and the mud getting everywhere even from just spreading the straw around the strawberries.  This is their second year and last year we only had a handful of berries.  I don’t know whether that is because they need time to establish or it was too dry but this year I am determined to get a good crop.  They have been mulched with manure and this has resulted in loads and loads of flowers so I decided to use the old fashioned approach and tuck straw in under the flowers.  Who knows this year we might get enough berries to have a bowl each

Of Cabbages and well…..

…….cabbages really – not a King to be seen anywhere.  Anyway the point of the title of this post is that I have been a little disgruntled recently, well in fact for about a month, about my cabbages at the allotment.

I planted out two beds of cabbages last Autumn.  One bed had January King in it and the other a cabbage called April which is a clue as to when it is ready for harvest.  However, I forgot what is was called and in my head it changed to a sort of pointed cabbage that I could harvest about now.  Anyway, the cabbages have been hard work as I haven’t wanted to use nets to protect them having had a very unpleasant experience with a dead grass snake last summer.  I have sprayed with garlic spray to deter the pests including rabbits and had picked caterpillars off them.  They got neglected over December as I didn’t really have time to visit the allotment and when I did get down there one of the January Kings had been really gnawed up.  So I sprayed around the plot again with a spray that was recommended to me for keeping off rabbits etc and I also sprayed the crops with the potent garlic spray. The January Kings seem to have ben rescued and look alright (see above)

I was really fed up as the April cabbages which had seemed to be forming heads before Christmas but in the New Year appeared to have been blown for want of a better word.  There was no firm centre and I was feeling very despondent and thinking of digging them up, using some of the leaves as winter greens and chucking the rest.  The only thing that stopped me was that I didn’t need another bed to clear given the amount of other work I have to do at the plot, so I left them.  I was so fed up that I even managed to make them invisible ignoring them completely and this was only brought home to me today when I was talking to one of my allotment friends and moaning about the cabbages.  We had a look and he said well they are heartening up and some of them seem to have more than one heart.  Well I was so surprised and to be honest excited.  You can see from the photo above how good they look.  I have even dug out the seed packet to find out what I planted and discovered that they probably won’t be ready for harvesting for another month so I am thinking of investing in some enviro-mesh to protect them from pigeons and other bugs.  I need to get some for the plot as I want to have another go at cauliflowers so it would be a good investment.

We also had a look at my Purple Sprouting Broccoli.  I have never grown this before so it has been a bit of a mystery to me as to when the shoot will appear for harvesting.  At the same time as I had been disheartened by my cabbages the PSB also looked sad and slightly eaten.  Again I sprayed with the garlic spray and also gave them a good feed of seaweed extract.  We looked at them today before we considered the cabbages and low and behold there are some sprouts.  They aren’t ready yet but I reckon give them another week and we will be there.  It is quite exciting.

The other success at the moment is the raddichio which just looks so pretty I am thinking of growing some in the flower borders at home.  Again, being a novice I have no idea when these will be ready for harvest and what I should look for.  I suppose I ought to read some books on the subject.

Anyway I came home today feeling more positive than I have for ages.  I even picked one of my January King cabbages which I will be having for dinner tonight, along with some leeks.  I have also sown mangetouts in pots ready to go out, a few broadbeans, some pak choi and some leeks.  I think next week I might sow some salad leaves in module trays ready to go out once the soil is a little warmer but if the weather continues as it is that won’t be long now. This year I am going to try very hard to label things much better and make a note of when they will be ready for harvesting!!


Day 10 in Sproutapouch

I have been tardy in updating on the success of the Sproutapouch, hence the poor photograph for which I apologise.

As you can see the seeds have really sprouted.  In fact I think it was day 5 that I came home to discover a bag of green leaves.  They are a little leggy now and have probably got too tall.

The seeds I chose were Rocket and the idea behind microleaves is that the flavour is intensified in the small seed leaves however I have to beg to differ in this case.  I have found these leaves quite bland compared to the rocket I would grow in the garden, although I don’t know exactly what that the seed was compared to what I grow in the garden.

My other criticism of this form of salad leaf growing is that unlike cut and come again salad leaves once the micro leaves have been picked that’s it.  If you remove the seed leaves then the plant has no way of producing more leaves.  The cost of this packet is high, in my opinion, compared to the cost of a bag  of salad leaves which is greater in volume.

I know I could just buy a packet of seeds and get lots of micro leaves but I have to confess that they aren’t my preference but it has been an interesting experiment.