Friday, February 28

The Front Line

We only have a small flower bed at the front of the house and this is planned to have some colour all year round. The herbaceous perennials were chosen on the basis of their long flowering period and most have lived up to expectation.

The perennials are under-planted with spring bulbs - mainly short growing varieties to stay in proportion to the bed. 
Each year in order to allow the bulbs to do their stuff, the perennials need to be cut back. As I could spot the bulbs trying to force their way through the greenery I decided the time had come to get handy with the secateurs.

The penstemons have become large thick clumps and I will soon need to divide them. They are definitely a good choice of plant if a long flowering period is a consideration.  The photos below were taken in December.
Some of the hardy geraniums hang on to a sprinkling of flowers throughout the year and also self seed even in the most unlikely places including in any gaps they can find in the paving. The plant in the top photo below is by our front door step and has had a flower for months.
To fill some gaps I planted some antirrinhums which also self seed. Both these and the hardy geraniums will need to be kept in check.

Although I still need to do a bit of general tidying up the bulbs have responded quickly and are now producing their flowers.
Not all the perennials have been as successful as the ones described above. The two rudbeckias started life well but now, although they have produced flowers, for some reason the plants don't grow strongly or produce a good display. However, the biggest disappointment has been aster novae angliae Purple Dome. It is a strong growing plant which produces buds but never seems to manage to come into flower before it begins to go over.

Being a small front garden patch, the plants in this bed have to earn their place so I think I'll move Purple Dome and replace it with a phlox. I'll maybe also add another phlox if I can find a suitable gap. 
The bed still needs a little more of a general tidy up and I'll apply a general fertiliser - maybe fish blood and bone to the ground before the perennials produce more growth and then hope for another good display throughout this coming gardening year.

More photos of this bed and a planting plan are here on my website

Wednesday, February 26


Sunday, February 23

The cycle continues

In my earlier post I mentioned that some of our small onions had been used in pickles as they were starting to shoot.

On the plot the autumn planted onions are still progressing well.
The tops may have been bent a little by the wind but generally speaking they are looking better than they did at any point last year when many either disappeared entirely or just didn't grow. We are hopeful that this year we will at least get some sort of harvest - that is as long as the rain doesn't continue and they end up rotting!

For next year's summer onions we have bought the same varieties as last year - Red Karmen, Rumba, Sturon and Stuttgart. We have been tempted by more varieties of shallot and have bought, Golden Gourmet, Red Sun, Jemor, Yellow Moon and Picasso (that's what comes of visiting a garden centre!).

Some of the sets have been planted in modules in the greenhouse to give them a bit of a start.
We will have to make sure that these are planted in the ground before they become pot bound so we will be looking to get them planted out during the first week of May. 

I posted here about how pot bound plants just didn't seem to recover. Some sets will be planted directly in the ground and maybe a second batch set out in modules.

As before left over sets will be planted close together to provide us with a crop of small onions that we can pickle next year.

And so the cycle continues - we hope!

Friday, February 21

The Big Allotment Challenge

I'e been asked to circulate this - Anyone up for a challenge? 

Wednesday, February 19

Going in!

Monday, February 17

Smelly Fingers

We grow onions from sets and as we like to grow a few different varieties we usually end up with more sets than we really need. Once we have planted enough sets to provide an ample (if all goes well) onion harvest we use up the surplus sets by mass planting close together.

This provides us with a supply of small onions which are very useful in the kitchen. We also grow shallots. 

Last year we had lots of small onions and shallots, more than we knew we could use up before they started to grow. With this in mind to avoid waste, I decided to pickle some. I've been pickling a jar or so every so often but this week I noticed that some of the small onions are starting to grow so it seemed a good time to pickle the remaining small onions.
This is where the smelly fingers comes in as peeling a batch of onions leaves a distinctive odour on the fingers that, in the short term, washing seems unable to completely remove. 

Once peeled the onions were placed in a bowl of salted water which is supposed to reduce the amount of moisture in the onions and stop them from going soft when pickled. To be honest as we don't like salty food I've always been a bit wary of this stage but was assured by various bloggers that the end product didn't taste salty as long as the onions were well rinsed before pickling and this proved to be correct.
The saucer was placed on top to stop the onions bobbing up out of the water. I left the onions in the salt water for about 24 hours and then rinsed thoroughly before packing them in a jar. The onions tend to shrink a little at this stage so you need to prepare slightly more than you need to fill the jar.

Some recipes tell you to boil the vinegar before using but I left this step out as the fumes from boiling vinegar permeates the whole house. I'm not sure what this adds to the pickling but we've found the result to be just fine without subjecting ourselves to this.

I use pickling vinegar with a few more pickling spices added for good measure. I also add a little sugar and a little water to take the 'edge' off the sharpness of the vinegar.
Must make better labels - did you notice the mistake too?

Hopefully the pickled onions, beetroot and piccalilli with go nicely with our summer salads. Now shall I pickle some red cabbage or not?

Friday, February 14

Cold Frame Courtyard - Raised Bed

I've decided to give the area around the cold frame a name. By giving it a 'posh' name the idea is that we will create an area to reflect this!

If you didn't read the post I published about the state of the part of the garden in which the cold frame is situated and our plans for it, this post will make little sense so you may want to pop back and have a quick read.

We received a delivery Wednesday morning of what will become the raised bed. Just to remind you this is our plan.
When it came to choosing how to construct the raised bed we had a bit of luck. Co-incidentally I was approached by Henry from Woodblocx asking if I would consider giving them an ad on my blog. I do try to limit the advertising but I had read about Woodblocx on Mark's blog here and the product seemed impressive so cheekily I offered to review a kit for them.

To my delight Henry thought that this was a good idea and asked me to send specification for the type of kit I would like. We decided a bed measuring 1.875m x 0.750m x 0.450m would fit in nicely and very quickly Henry arranged delivery.
An email gave us the delivery date and approximate time and the kit arrived promptly early in the morning - well it was early for us.  We now just need to sort out the cold frame area before setting about playing with our giant Lego! (I did love building with Betta Bilda - anyone remember that? - when I was a child so maybe I can relive a bit of my childhood). Must admit I hadn't realised quite how versatile Woodblocx was until I viewed its Flickr page.

I know that we could make a raised bed out of wood or sleepers and nails or screws but remember we want this area to be posh and live up to it's grand title. If we were building a raised bed on the plot it would be a different matter.

So now we are well and truly committed to turning our area of shame into the Cold Frame Courtyard and no doubt you will be hearing a lot about it as it hopefully takes shape.

Just one outstanding matter to resolve, Martyn is trying to bag the pallet to add to his composting bins whereas I fancy making a bug hotel from it! Anyone got another pallet to spare?

Wednesday, February 12


 Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Monday, February 10

Bulbs are seeing the light.

My Wordless Wednesday post featured the hellebores in our garden that are now beginning to flower. Strange how the mind plays tricks - we seem to always convince ourselves that things are a lot earlier or later than in previous years. This is where a collection of photographs come into it's own. I took last week's Wordless Wednesday photos on Sunday 2 February. Last year I took the following photos on 3 February.
If anything I'd say that last year they were a little ahead and the hellebore nigers (I always wonder whether that should really be hellebores niger?) that this year are still only in bud were actually in full flower.

The photo below is the stage the snowdrops were at this year on 2 February.
Below is a photo taken last year on 3 February.
Not much difference here but again I'd say last year they were very slightly ahead - some flower buds were just beginning to turn down in the second photo.

Other bulbs making progress are iris Katherine Hodgkins ...
... and various tulips and narcissi.
Last year on 6 February I took the following photos
The daffodils had flower buds forming and our first crocus was making an appearance - no crocuses yet this year!

This year temperatures have been milder than they were last year but the bulbs don't appear to have changed their habits to reflect this. This made me wonder whether bulbs responded to better levels of daylight but according to Martyn's weather data we have had just about the same amount of solar energy this year as last.

So I wonder just what does trigger bulbs into growth - is it linked to the conditions at the time of flowering, were the bulbs waiting for a cold period to wake them up, do they respond to the increasing number of daylight hours, is it connected to something earlier in the plant life cycle when the bulbs are bulking up? Nature always keeps us guessing doesn't it? (I bet Roger will have an answer!)

Saturday, February 8

Every garden has one - don't they?

Let's be honest most of our gardens have a least one tucked away area that we are maybe just a little ashamed of. An area where we never venture with camera in hand.  An area which becomes a 'temporary' holding bay for items that we don't really know what else to do with.

We have one such area, (if truth be told maybe more than one). Our patch of shame is conveniently tucked out of view behind the greenhouse. We can forget it is there for most of the year and even Tivvy hardly ever pays this are a visit.

Breaking with the unwritten rule that such areas should not be exposed to public glare. I recently took a few photos so if you are of a nervous disposition look away now!

In the photo above you can just catch a glimpse of the offending area.
Above you can see the area in all its 'glory'. The trough raised on the wire stand holds strawberries which we tried to keep out of reach of the colony of slugs and snails that reside in these parts. There are also various unused tubs and troughs that we really didn't know what to do with.

Just tucked in behind the rhododendron on the right is our cold frame. 
Mint is planted in the large tub in the centre and provided us with a good supply of fresh herbs last year.
The cold frame is quite a large aluminium framed structure which has seen better days, At the moment it is housing some overwintering perennials. One major problem with the frame is in the way it opens by sliding glass panels across the roof. This means that if the frame is open when it is raining trays become full of water. As a result the plants are standing on upturned trays to avoid plants standing in water. Seedlings housed in the frame regularly fall prey to hungry molluscs too. Our attempts at slug defence are described on various blog posts here and here.

Don't get me wrong the cold frame has worked hard for us and done a good job in the past but we (maybe more me than Martyn) fancy a nice new style one. This area although unsightly is very useful and productive, it just needs a bit of a facelift.

From certain angles this area looks much bigger than I think it is - I think the clutter shrinks it.
Note the incinerator that we don't want to take to the plot despite having bought it for that purpose. If thieves will steal a charred one with a burnt out base then this one wouldn't last long. The bird cage is to use as crop protection somewhere, maybe!

The greenhouse in the photo above is in next door's garden, I had my back to our greenhouse when taking this photo.

We did tidy the area a couple of years or so ago but this was only ever meant to be on a temporary basis and the temporary relatively organised look didn't last!
I quite fancy using this area to grow a few salady things which can be picked fresh rather than having to remember to bring back from the plot so we thought a raised bed would be easier to protect from marauding molluscs.

So far the initial basic plan is  something like this.

More to follow on our progress later.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Friday, February 7

The nightshades

Hear the word nightshade and chances are that the adjective 'deadly' comes to mind. The nightshade or solanaceae family of plants does contain plants that are harmful or even poisonous but a few of the food plants we grow also belong to the nightshade family. Potatoes and tomatoes are two food plants belonging to this group but peppers and aubergines (egg plants) are also members of the nightshade crew.

Peppers and aubergines are two crops that regularly feature in our must do better category. Maybe they suffer due to competition for space and attention from the tomatoes growing alongside them in the greenhouse. 

We tend to do better with the bull's horn shaped ones rather than the bell peppers.
Last year we grew Jimmy Nardello, King of the North, Paladio and Solero none of which performed really well. This year we are cutting varieties down to two. One is King of the North for no reason other than, as it is described as a cool season pepper, (that for one thing will increase our chance of a warm summer), we think it is a variety of bell pepper that we have most chance of getting a crop from. The other variety is Orange Bell. We decided that although the bull's horn peppers perform better the fruits have less kitchen value.

As for aubergines, last year was the best crop we have ever had. We grew a variety called Jackpot, a small variety which is supposed to be suited for container growing.
We're growing Jackpot again this year to see if it repeats last year's performance. If nothing else it looks pretty when in flower.

Our full list of seeds for 2014 can be found on our website here.

Wednesday, February 5

Hellebore time