Monday, October 20, 2014

couch grass clearance

The cosmos is still really going for it but autumn has definitely arrived.....

Which means that it's time to get to grips with the couch grass.
Back in April, I did a bit of rough digging on the middle section of the plot. The ground was like concrete but I managed to break it up a bit. I chucked down some piles of well rotted horse manure and covered the whole section with black plastic. Then I cut holes in the plastic and planted through it squashes, courgettes, dwarf French beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and sweetpeas; all of which did really well and produced bumper crops.

Now the crops have been cleared and I can clearly see my trio of most tenacious weeds.

The docks and bindweed have
Dock sneaking out
taken advantage of any tiny gap in the plastic, even forcing themselves through the neckhole of a pop bottle. A part of me can't help to be impressed! Isn't it a shame they don't make good eating? The couch grass, though weakened where deprived of light, has redoubled it's efforts along the edges.

I will dig this area now and remove roots as I come across them; maybe border the edges with wood. I plan for this area to become 'no dig' beds in the future.
The docks grew like crazy where the plastic was split

No Dig systems sound so easy but the truth is that couch grass and bindweed will quickly overwhelm them, strangling plants both above and below the surface. The ground needs to be 'cleaned' of perennial weeds first.

Horseradish growing in pipe

In other news, the horseradish in the pipes seem to have taken well. Here at the stoney end of the plot I have planted my elephant garlic and some wallflowers this week. I will edge this bed with daffodil bulbs. Apparently, couch grass hates daffs! (Who knew? ) and won't encroach the bed past them. What's more, a host of bobbing daffodils to greet me will be a welcome sight on a cold February morning.

A less welcome sight is this poor dead rat. I hoped that a fox might come and remove it but no, looks like I'm going to have to overcome my squeamishness and move him myself. What does one do with dead vermin these days? Bury it? On a plot where you grow food? Insights and sage advice gratefully received!
Gorgeous globes

Friday, October 10, 2014

September End

As September came to an end I had a look around the plot.....

mint at the stony end of the plot.
The stony end.
This strip, at the southernmost end of the plot, is where generations of plotters before me have chucked all the stones as they were working the rest of the allotment. It is impossible to dig here with anything but a small hand fork. On the plus side this area is free draining and the stones retain the suns heat. I have decided, then, to make this my herb bed with a few self seeding annual flowers thrown in.
I love horseradish sauce. Seriously, I could eat it straight from the jar with a spoon. It's ridiculously easy to
Horseradish growing in pipe
grow....too easy in fact; horseradish is a real thug and will take over the whole herb bed if I let it. This year I'm trying an experiment. I have planted it in 2ft long lengths of pipe. This will hopefully mean that I get long, straight roots (which is the part you use to make the sauce) and will prevent the plants from spreading all over the place.
squashes, plastic and pop bottle.
 Squashes and pumpkins
I lost my vines to powdery mildew a few weeks ago. Planting through plastic (while waiting for the couch grass to die) makes it hard to water. I did 'plant' pop bottle funnels by each plant and I have plenty of good sized fruits. Unfortunately, they weren't quite ripe when the mildew struck and so how well they store remains to be seen.
globe artichoke year one
We've had a long old summer here in London.
September has been the driest on record with high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. I got off to a late start in the spring when I took on this new plot and so it follows that seeds sown late will flower late. As the plot should be winding down for winter, I am being treated instead to a spectacular show! The globe artichoke is more than 5ft high and has thrown out a dozen buds.
Also the cosmos, sown a little late, has waited until now to flower. These sweet peas just won't quit! I stopped picking (and watering) at the beginning of the month to allow seeds to develop for next year but they just won't stop flowering and the scent as you brush past is just amazing.
sweetpeas still flowering

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Cucumber Pickles

 I harvested the last of the cucumbers and used two different recipes to make sweet pickles and sour dill pickles....
cucumber glut to be processed

The first recipe was this one for sweet dill pickles. I do these as slices and they are very popular with Little Flower who will pop a jar and eat the whole lot  while doing her homework....better than sweets I s'pose!
Little Flower's pickled Qs
250 ml white wine vinegar
1 dessert spoon of mustard seed
1 dessert spoon  of dried dill
130 g ordinary white sugar
250 g sliced onions
450 g sliced cucumber.
Put the sliced onions and cucumbers in a bowl and layer with salt.
Leave for four to eight hours, rinse well, strain and turn out onto a clean tea towel to absorb any excess water.
Put all the other ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Simmer for 5 minutes before adding the cucumber and onions....allow to come to the boil again and immediately spoon into hot, sterilised jars and seal with vinegar proof lids.
Leave for at least six weeks before scoffing.
My mum prefers sour pickles. They're not easy to find in the shops but I found this recipe online by the wonderful Delia Smith.
I left the onions out (mum doesn't like them) and I only had dried dill available but apart from that I stayed true to Delia's recipe.
Now I just have to wait THREE MONTHS to try them and tell you how they taste!
Dill pickles

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I've got a greenhouse!

My neighbour was getting rid of it so he passed it over the fence to me. Marvellous!

Okay, it could do with a bit of a clean.....

damaged corner

And there is the odd bit of damage here and there......but nothing than can't be fixed

grotty greenhouse

The frame is a little bent and some screws are missing. It hasn't been used for four or more years and there is an accumulation of green crusty stuff, immense spiders and the odd snail. Even so, a bowl of soapy warm water and a soft J-cloth......
after washing the right hand window with soapy water

Chili peppers and aubergines are soooo on the menu for next season!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

So, here we are again at my favourite time of year...

 Blogger and me are not getting along. This is my third attempt to publish this post  and I'm starting to get the hump. I'm giving it one more go but if it doesn't work this time I'm going to flounce off, slamming the door behind me.

Harvest 20 September

The new allotment still looks pretty crappy but is providing a great deal of food. Unable to tackle the couch grass head on I planted through black plastic and in small, roughly cleared areas just to have something (anything) growing while I waited for autumn and the chance to sort it out properly.
I didn't have high expectations so didn't keep an accurate tally but there has been lots to eat and a surplus to store.
Today, for example, I am mainly turning 9lb  of  cucumber into pickle.


Monday, March 03, 2014

Designing a new allotment

Where to begin?

Starting a new allotment is at this time of year is tricky.
I am plagued with indecision. Should I wait to see if any useful perennials emerge? Or should I cover everything with black plastic for a bit?
If I go with the plastic, should I rake first to make it lay flatter or leave the bushy tussocks to rot down and eventually add to the humus in the soil?

1st raised bed weeded
 While I pondered these questions I set about making the most of what the last plotter had left me.
I weeded one of the raised beds....this is going to be my seed bed so that at least I can have something growing while I sort the rest out. I'll go over it a couple more times to get the rest of the couch grass roots then fill with a mix of compost and vermiculite for seed sowing

compost bins
I also pulled the couch grass from the compost bin and found underneath some good dirt that will be sieved and used to fill the raised bed. I've started taking veg peelings and chicken poop up to fill the right hand bin so hopefully I'll have plenty of compost/manure ready come autumn.

I have bought some weed membrane and put a couple of strips across the middle of the plot but it might not stay there.
A neighbour mentioned that there was a lovely, established asparagus patch somewhere to the right of this membrane so I'm going to hold on and see if any spears emerge. If they do I'll build the whole plot around them because I absolutely love asparagus and it takes so long to get going from scratch.

Weed membrane

The rent for these plots is astronomical. A ten rod plot costs £200 a year! Fifty odd plots on the site, probably forty or fifty sites in the borough. Must add up to a pretty penny. And for that, the council do absolutely nothing. They will not collect rubbish or provide a skip. They take no responsibility for paths or fences, there is no lighting and we garden at our own risk. It's easy money for them and a pain in the bum for me. I'm having to drive car loads of rubbish to the dump. My car is smelly and there are slug slime trails across the upholstery! I just know a big fat slug is going to land on me one of these days....probably as I'm bombing down the motorway!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

And So We Start Again!

After a difficult year I'm back! Picked up the keys to a new allotment last night and I'm ready for the spring rush....

It's a small plot. I haven't measured it yet properly but it's 18 paces by 10 paces on my fat little leggies.
Now...obviously, it doesn't look great just yet....but try to see the potential

It's a little overgrown.........


and for some reason there is a bath full of couch grass plonked in the middle

But there's a sturdy looking compost bin....

And a couple of raised beds........

A tree (possibly plum?) and a rusty bar that might do as a bean frame....

And the obligatory piles of crap........

Some of which I might even find a use for!