So this week is National Allotment week, it brings back happy memories of my first allotment that we decided would be a wonderful idea ( myself and my partner at the time), we would be self sufficient in vegetables and it would be such fun to do!
Oh my goodness…..
We were really lucky as some local allotments out where I live in (very) rural Suffolk hadn’t been used for years and so were quickly available. In fact, we were told we could have two! So I quickly drove to see the local chap who ran the allotments and handed over my £10 for the year for both ( I know, how cheap was that!) and we were on our way.
Humming the tune to “The Good Life” we went down, armed with spades, hoes and various tools that we thought we’d need, we had seen the allotments from the footpath but never actually set foot on them until now. It turned out that a more suitable variety of tools would have been dynamite, a JCB and a flame thrower! Mare’s tail was everywhere, bindweed, fat hen towering over our heads, nettles galore and brambles that were actually deliberately trying to trip us at every opportunity. However – my partner and I were determined to make a start, and we did just that, slashing digging raking all commenced in earnest! Followed by bonfires and flasks of tea, rolls, oh, and blisters, hot baths and plasters too.
It was incredibly worth it though, after clearing the worst, we hired a huge tiller and we turned over the whole site, raked and removed root clumps, tilled again and repeated over and over for an entire weekend until we actually had a useable area.
We couldn’t wait to plant all sorts, starting with onion sets brassicas, lots of spuds and even butternut squashes, peas, beans and a pumpkin that we’d been growing in the greenhouse back at home.
I won’t say it was easy, but my goodness it was rewarding, being able to go down to the allotment after work, a flask of tea and some snacks and do some gardening was good for the soul, being able to sit and look over the river in the distance after doing a couple of hours’ weeding felt like an accomplishment and eating the fruits of our labours (literally) was the best feeling in the world. That was usually after giving away loads of fresh veg to our neighbours too! Who knew that 15 years later, I’d be lucky enough to work at Thompson & Morgan and be reminded today of those amazing days.
What were your first experiences of allotmenteering ? I’d love to hear them, feel free to share in the comments below.
All the best
One of the main reasons for the increase in gardening activity at our house was to grow our own fruit and vegetables. As mentioned previously, we have 4 raised beds that have been neglected for a few years now and so it makes sense to restore and use them. They are in an ideal spot in the garden where the ground is relatively level.
The first thing that I wanted to grow was tomatoes. What could be easier right? Furthermore the Isle of Wight is quite famous for them (http://www.thetomatostall.co.uk/). Not as much as the garlic (www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk), but Island tomatoes are great.
In my head I thought that I’d dig over one of the raised beds (I’d already sprayed the existing 3 feet high weeds with Roundup), mix in some compost (not home-made, naturally), add some tomato feed, and plant the little, erm, plants.
I researched some tomato varieties that seemed to be ideal for me to grow so off we went to the garden centre – I was after Gardeners Delight (they sounded perfect!). My plan was instantly thrown out of the window as they only had one plant, and I wanted three. Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen? So I ended up with 3 different types of tomato plant instead, one of which is Sweet Million. And some canes as I thought I’d need them at some point.
Back home and armed with my trusty fork, I headed off to the raised bed. Now, this was a couple of months ago before we’d had any rain, and the soil was like concrete. Really hard. The soil appeared to be a bit like clay and, having been baked in the sun, it was as hard as a brick. I could break bits up, but I didn’t think that this would be the fertile and nourishing soil that the tomato plants would want to thrive in. A cactus might have survived…..
So, the next idea was a tomato grow bag. Surely this was the obvious choice? They even came with instructions which made it seem really easy. However, having looked at the depth of the tomato bag and the height of the cane I thought that I might have a problem with the canes staying up right so I located the bag next to some fencing where I could tie the canes higher up to make them more secure.
I cut out three holes in the top of the bag with my Stanley knife and popped in the new plants – I guess they were about 3-4 inches tall. I put the canes in and tied the plant to the cane and the cane to the aforementioned fence. Then I watered thoroughly, as I understand that tomatoes need a lot of water. The issue with growing in the bags though is that the water just kind of runs off and they don’t hold that much liquid. The consequence there is that it seems to dry out pretty quickly. I think ideally, and I’m happy to be proved wrong, the bag needs to sit in a tray of water, but it might be that this would mean that the soil would become waterlogged. Is this a bad thing for tomatoes? Probably I guess…..but better than drying out?
The thing that I never really got was this term “pinching out”. Something to do with pulling out shoots that are 45 degrees to the main plant stalk and means that the plant’s energy is concentrated on the main areas where the tomatoes are going to grow. Well, I’ve given that a go but, a couple of months later, I can report that I have branches going in all directions some with fruit, and others without. We have had about 4 ripe fruits so far, but the skin seems a bit tough and this is apparently due to the plants not having enough water. So next year I’m going to do things a bit differently.
Ideally I would grow the plants in a greenhouse, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to do that from a financial point of view, but they will definitely be grown in the ground. What I’ll probably do is buy a couple of the tomato growing bags and mix that into some good quality topsoil so that I know the right nutrients are there. I can also really push the canes into the ground then so that they can support the tomatoes weight without needing to be supported higher up. This also allows me to really soak the ground without the bag overflowing so that water won’t be wasted and the ground won’t dry up.
In the meantime, we can either eat what we’ve got or make some tomato chutney from those fruits that are too tough to eat. I am happy to report though that all 3 of the plants are now bearing fruit which is slowly ripening. Time to pick some of my basil and have them with some mozzarella. And some salt of course. Please note salt police – tomatoes should only be eaten if there is salt on them as it really brings out the flavour.
One day I’d like to try growing tomatoes upside down – that looks like a good way to grow them and allows the fruit to be exposed to the sun a bit more and the weight keeps them out of the way of the shade of the leaves. Has anyone tried this at all?
What’s happened to the summer sun? Honestly it’s more like autumn in Pembrokeshire! The days are usually overcast, with a fair chance of a shower. The wind makes it impossible some days to open the greenhouse doors or windows for fear of damage, and the sawflies are out in force.
On days it is actually sunny, my poor plants get caught out as temperatures soar. The other day it was too wet and wild to open the greenhouse and we had to go out. When we got back at lunchtime the weather had brightened up and inside the greenhouse was 38 degrees. Thankfully the plants didn’t suffer too much stress. There’s an old trick to getting the temperature down quickly under the glass, which is to open all doors and windows and then damp down the path with a can of water. Then the use a mister to slightly wet the foliage. Each year I think about buying shade paint, but then promptly forget to get it, so I’ve now taken to taping split orange plastic recycling bags to the outside of the greenhouse on really hot days.
This month has been particularly busy in the garden; I’ve harvested peas, beans, strawberries, red currents, raspberries and red gooseberries. These plants are low maintenance and give so much in return every garden should have them! I’ve also grown cut flowers for a vase everyday; this is often an ecclesiastical mix of perennial and annual flowers, herbs, wildflowers and foliage. I’m dahlia mad and a currently have two favourites growing. Ice and Fire from T&M and I love Life, that I bought as a sad dried out little tuber in a local shop for £1.49. My favourite wildflower at the moment is Scarlet Pimpernel – but many would class this as a weed.
The grassy knoll is starting to take shape, but there is room for more ornamental grasses as well as some herbs. Unfortunately, the slugs ate all of my Hyssops after they were put in their final growing positions, so I’ve set off more grass seeds as well as Stevia and Lavender. There are some grasses that require a cold snap before germination, and some that just need a consistent temperature, and there are many varieties that can be grown in July. Some are just sprinkled on the surface of good compost, while others need a layer of vermiculite and then sealed in a plastic bag before they start to grow. Hopefully within one to six months I should see Pony Tail, Tail Feathers, and Rainbow Phornium seedlings appear. These seeds are in the small greenhouse along with a new batch of freshly sown Liatris, Hollyhock, Cabbage, Turnip, Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Viola, and an Olive. The Turnips were eager, germinating in only forty-eight hours. Followed closely by the Stevia, Lavender and a pot of Violas. I’m looking forward to the Heartsease as it’s an old fashioned variety called Jonny Jump Up.
I’ve squeezed three extra tomato plants into the small greenhouse too. One in the border nestled between the money tree and a giant aloe. The other two are on the path in potato grow bags. I have no idea if they will be deep enough in the bags, but they seem to be flowering so fingers crossed. Another tomato is in the spent pea container outside. I’m experimenting with the theory that the Nitrogen left behind in the pea roots (which stay in the used compost) will give enough nutrients to grow a tomato plant in. It’s also only being watered by the rain. It seems to be standing without supports at the moment; I’ll let you know how it goes.
The aloes have finished flowering, the cacti has had a few babies, and the money tree is still putting on lots of new growth. The three house plants that people gave me in work are still green, but as yet there are no new flowers on them. I can’t remember what they are called, but they have strappy leaves and a flower spike comes out off the middle, similar to a flaming Katie. Hopefully the picture will help.
The big greenhouse is full to the rafters, literally! On the shelves we have spider plant in full flower, pretty little white things, but so pot bound we are will have to cut the pot for it to be replanted, I am wondering if it’s hardy enough to go outside in our sheltered bit, between the house, shed and maple tree, next to another houseplant ,(mother in laws tongue) the spider plant belonged to dad, so I don’t want to kill it, or give it away, but it’s too big for the house. Perhaps I will thin the aloes and stick it in the small greenhouse after all. There are also baby money trees in pots which I am looking for homes for. I have cuttings of Christmas cacti on the shelves too. In the left border, we have three highly prolific Sweet Aperitif tomatoes, these cherry ones, certainly live up to their name. It’s so hard not to eat them all walking back to the kitchen. Alternatively, they are absolutely delicious in a cheese, onion, and tomato toasty, sprinkled with turmeric, black pepper, basil and oregano. We also have two large Yellow Stuffer tomato plants growing there too. These are yet to change colour, they are about the size of an apple at the moment, and getting bigger. I’m surprised at how many there are; wrongly assumed that as they were bigger fruits there would be less of them. Under planting the tomatoes with Marigolds, and many rouge Amaranthus, (we have transferred half a dozen outside) has attracted many pollinators, which means more fruits for us, and absolutely no white or greenfly. We do seem to have an ant problem in both greenhouses though. (The sparrows usually sort this out for us by comically hanging off the guttering or doors and grabbing the ants midair. Occasionally the blackbird is in the foliage digging for the grubs.)
The back border is where my aubergine trial is taking place. The normal Celine ones are flowering profusely, and I have already had one tasty aubergine from an early plant. The Patio Mix are just starting to fruit. One is called Jewel Jade and is just starting to form green fruits. I’m still waiting to see if I have a white and purple stripy one come up. The right border contains a pumpkin, (another is in a container outside, another experiment.) as I couldn’t find anyone to take it. It seems to be behaving by not spreading too much, and putting up beautiful yellow flowers. Next to it are two Pepper Sweet Bonita plants, which have fruits that are slowly starting to ripen. There are plenty of new flowers coming too. I absolutely love this pepper as it’s very mild and juicy.
Next to the peppers is a Chilli Medina. I don’t like chillies but grew it for Mark. The first chilli to come off it was a dark green beast, but as I left it on the kitchen worktop for two days it turned bright red. One night making supper, Mark decided to fry some mushrooms with the chilli, I told him to try it first before adding it to the pan. I shouldn’t laugh, but it was hilarious, he went from white to red, to purple in about three seconds. He did a little jumping around on the spot before muttering something I dare not repeat! He would have drunk straight from the tap if he could have. Apparently his tongue was still burning fifteen minutes later, (even though it was de-seeded.) His lasting memory of that chilli was “an unpleasant experience, never to be repeated!). Luckily my friend Trisha’s partner is part dragon so he can easily tolerate the heat in them.
Next to the chilli, and taking up at least six feet of the greenhouse including wrapping itself around its trellis the shelf and the lead for the solar lights is the cantaloupe melon. It has at least four melons growing. I have to keep picking off the flowers, as advice from T&M and one of my mum’s friends, is to allow only a few fruits to develop, as these will be bigger and better quality. Try telling the plant that! Everyday, a new flower appears. I have to keep pinching out growing tips that are as annoying as the tomato ones. I have to untangle it from the lights, and occasionally cut off a few yellow leaves. The stems are hairy and can irritate like a tomato, but otherwise it’s easy to look after.
Oh I forgot, there’s also a purple Nicotiana between the chilli and the pepper. It’s so pretty I don’t want to dig it up and transfer it in case I accidentally kill it. Trouble is, it may decide to seed itself like the Amaranthus did, and then I will be cursing next year, when I end up with a greenhouse full of flowers instead of edibles – though surprisingly the French eat Amaranthus leaves like spinach.
Until next time.
Love Amanda xx
A first blog for Thompson & Morgan
We’ve been witnessing a bit of a quiet revolution in recent times, with more and more of us turning away from mass-produced convenience foods towards a more organic, back to nature approach, including the food we order out. It’s reached such levels that apparently some folks are even blaming Millennials for their lack of savings on an over-fondness for artisan brunches of avocado toast (no, really). I personally love an avocado, so I’m not judging.
Yet despite this, research suggests that children in the UK are disconnected from the environment, and the food on their plates…cue much hand-wringing and rose-tinted nostalgia for the olden days.
Well I say let’s not blame anyone young or old for not knowing the provenance of their food, or even when it is meant to be ‘in season’. Lots of us live urban, busy lives with little access to an outdoors space for growing things after all.
I don’t mind admitting that growing up in 1980’s suburban Birmingham, I had no idea food even had a ‘season’; it just came from the supermarket, right? At school, Harvest Festival hampers wouldn’t be groaning with fresh produce, but rather clanking with tinned peas and pineapple. Canned macaroni cheese, anyone?
Nobody likes a moaner though, do they? So what can we do about it?
Get Digging – grab the kids and get outside this summer.
Got a tiny space or just pushed for time?
- Containers are your friend. Window or balcony boxes can be filled with herbs, salad veg, or even things like kale and dwarf beans. Chuck in some seeds and eat your own produce just several weeks later. That’s practically instant gratification.
- Oh, if the packet tells you to thin out, it’s best off doing so. Look at this from my own garden. Tiny, crowded, unhappy beetroot (still eating it though)
Got a slightly bigger space?
- Planting a fruit tree is such a good thing. The Victoria plum in the back garden, after several years of sluggish output, has this year excelled itself. So much so, we’re making a homemade crumble with it this weekend. What’s not to love?
Before, I’d always associated plums with being a purely autumnal fruit but it turns out they belong in summer too. That delights me, and brings us neatly back to the theme of this blog, namely learning to reconnect with our food and understand its space in the growing year.
encouraging children to grow in the garden
In these blogs I’ll be writing about what’s going on in the garden, what’s doing well and what really isn’t. As an enthusiastic novice with a standard new-build sized garden, I like to pick up tips from been-there-done-that family members, oh and the internet of course (don’t we all?) Hoping you can join me along the way.
I’m interested, though. Do you grow your own, and if so what? Comment here and share it with the group. See you next time!
Five years ago our lives were very different. My wife and I were both commuting for at least 2 hours a day whilst using a childminder to look after our young family. We were on a treadmill of long days and early mornings without a great quality of life. Something had to break and unfortunately that was me. From that point we decided to work our way to a different kind of life and now here we are on the Isle of Wight. We have opted to try and simplify our lifestyle.
We recently moved house and I was talking with a neighbour at the weekend whereby he asked me if I was a gardener. I answered negatively – that sounded like a profession to me, but it did get me thinking. I like the idea of gardening, but not being a gardener – to me that means doing it for others and that’s too much responsibility.
Our new garden is much bigger than any we have ever had before and has been neglected for some time. There is an area of raised beds for a vegetable patch, these are overgrown with weeds right now, but I’m using a small corner of one of them to attempt to grow some runner beans. First lesson – use long canes!! This is my first effort. I am also growing some tomatoes (in a grow bag), chilli’s in a pot, and a cucumber plant.
I would like my children to get some appreciation of where food comes from and the effort involved in producing it – that’s really important. I also want to be able to prove to them that it can be done and its cheaper / healthier / tastier / better for the environment to grow your own food if at all possible. As ever, time is the main problem, but now that I have left the rat race behind there is more of a chance that I’ll be able to spend some proper time in the garden.
Other jobs that I’d like to be sorting in the garden sooner rather than later (but I’ve got to get used to the fact that the seasons affect what grows and when so I’m not sure when the best times will be yet) include:
Weeding, digging over, and planting up the front garden so that it has a cottage garden feel (I’m investigating what this actually means)
Encourage the front hedge to be consistent (fill in gaps, grow higher). Its brambles, ivy, and bind weed right now
Sort the lawn out so that its actually more grass than weeds
Clear out the pond, relining and refilling it, re-bedding slabs, and restoring the waterfall that used to run into it many years ago
Behind the pond is a shady area – I’d like to try and see what kind of “woodland” planting I can do here – I’m thinking ferns, moss and so on
Establish a hedge along the side of the garden for privacy
Recommission the raised beds for a vegetable patch and then work out what needs to go where
Have a wild meadow patch to encourage the bees and butterflies
Build a greenhouse or similar – something to keep the plants warmish in the winter
Replace the dilapidated shed before it falls down – this will require proper money
So my problem is that, other than watching Gardeners World on a Friday and having a bit of enthusiasm, I have zero gardening knowledge. I can dig a hole and that’s about it. I’ve tried learning some plant names but then promptly forget. I generally describe plants as red flower, purple flower, long grass, dead twigs, so I really need to get my head around this and work out a strategy for remembering the names.
However, armed with the internet and the team at Gardeners World (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/episodes/guide) I’m sure I can make a pretty good go at this. I just need to fit it in along with everything else. I’ll be keeping you updated with what I’m doing and how it’s going – please let me know how you think I’m getting on and if you have any advice!
Firstly may I apologise for the lack of a May blog, I’ve been busy in the garden, but I also had a major setback. As some of my regular readers would know for the past year I’ve been fighting ovarian cancer, but many of you might not know I was born with a life limiting condition known as Fallots Tretology. It basically means I have four things wrong with my heart and although I had surgery as a child, I was still left with two heart murmurs and some dodgy heart valves.
Whilst the chemotherapy did its job in killing my cancer sadly it severely damaged my heart. Two and a half weeks ago a blood clot formed in one of the heart chambers causing long term dysfunctional heart failure and temporary kidney failure. To say I’m lucky to be here is an understatement. I’ve never felt so rough in my life. But I’m back home and I’m in the garden, and I’ve got an awful lot to be thankful for. My cardiologist says I have to rest and take things easy, but with the gorgeous weather we are having this week, I find it way to difficult to sit around, so I’m doing lots of supervising and planning and possibly nagging poor Mark to do stuff as well as and talking to the plants, setting of new seeds, transplanting, misting and pollinating.
The greenhouses have gone mad, I have absolutely no idea what Mark did, but when I came out of hospital the plants had gone ballistic- maybe they were just happy to see me – because within two weeks they had grown a hundredfold. I asked Mark had he given them liquid feed – he said no, apparently his secret is to open all the doors and vents, hang the sock airer or small clothes horse in there, with lavender scented conditioner on the clothes to attract pollinating insects, (poor things being tricked like this) water just before dusk, as he still has to do all the housework, eat, have a shower, visit the patient and do everything else that needs doing, and that’s it – simple! I think he deserves a medal, or a holiday poor man.
So in May the little greenhouse was full to the brim with seedlings, and baby flowers, I had also ordered Lucky Dip annual plug plants, and dahlia plug plants from T&M as well as Gardeners World perennial plug plants. There were close to 500 things growing on the shelves. Not to mention new pots of germinating grasses, veg, flowers and fruit. I was in my element, I was getting ready to return to work and I was really excited about the plant sale I would be holding the second week in June.
Then it went all went a bit wrong….. Mark had no option but to plant the bigger flowers outside, move them to the cold frame or sheltered positions – However, he doesn’t know a Phlox from a Nepeta, or a Carrot from a Cornflower, so my plants for sale were planted in our garden by mistake. I gave mum about 144 plug plants for her garden, as well as tomatoes, aubergine, and pepper. What’s left are pot bound and in dire need of planting but there’s not enough left for a good sale and I don’t feel like I can charge people for something that I know will grow perfectly but looks past it’s best. My lovely friend Trisha from work has said she would deliver any plants to my other colleagues if need be so maybe there’s a solution after all.
This month in the little greenhouse I have pots of germinating grass seeds, English Marigolds, Liatris plus mixed grass seedlings, geranium, phlox and begonia plug plants left to move to the cold frame or plant out. I have spinach beet, and cornflowers that need transplanting, as well as a very slow T&M aubergine, hollyhocks and hyssop. The greenhouse border is full of Aloe Vera flowers, the cacti is growing slowly and the money tree is bigger too. There are a number of seeds that I can start off in June, but I think I have enough for the moment. The only thing I will continue sowing are my Radish – they are delicious – they have a mild peppery flavour and we have recently been using them with our new potatoes and a red onion to make potato salad. I also want to try my hand at Beetroot, but I appear to have lost the seeds. I am wondering if I gave them to my niece, but I don’t think I have.
The big greenhouse has turned into one of the best and interesting places I can get to at the moment. But it misbehaves when I’m not at home, the watermelons are trying to get into bed with the tomatoes, and the peppers think it’s fun to push up amaranthus seeds. I’ve never grown amaranthus in the big greenhouse so the peppers must have decided to do some gardening for themselves.
There is equal growth between the yellow stuffer and sweet aperitif tomatoes. They are only about two and a half feet at present, but they are exceptionally strong. Although tied to a framework they appear to have better roots than the ones I grew last year. The tomatoes are situated on the left border and under planted with French Marigolds to deter whitefly.
The back border is filled with aubergines; I am doing an experiment to see which grows best, a normal purple skinned type, a green and white type and a pale purple type. Unfortunately the one from T&M is still in its three centimetre pot as it’s extremely slow growing – I think it’s gone dormant as the temperature soared.
The right border has two Sweet Peppers and a Chilli, plus a watermelon and a cantaloupe melon. The melons, might not be a good idea, not that I don’t want them, because I do, but because they are putting tendrils everywhere. They are climbing and flowering well, but left to their own devices I fear they will take over the ten foot greenhouse no problem. On the shelves of the same greenhouse, I have Zinnia Red Spider that have not germinated as successfully as I hoped, out of forty seeds only ten have popped up. I think the reason for this was the unexpected frost towards the end of April that knocked everything back and caught out lots of gardeners. There are also a few pot bound tomatoes, a spider plant, a Poinsettia, an orchid, two money trees that have successfully rooted, some hyacinth bulbs that still haven’t died off and a massive Begonia. Although I seem to have lost my Banksia Hookerina seeds.
And finally there are pots of dahlia tubers baking in the heat on the path of the greenhouse. I usually bake them until the first flower buds start to appear, then they get put in a sheltered position for a few days, before being moved to their final place. My cold frame is full of pumpkin plants needing a home I have enough for myself and some for the family so I might contact the secretary of the allotmenteers here and see if they want some free plants. I also have tree seedlings from The Woodland Trust, that are putting on strong growth.
Finally, I have six Hyssops that are big enough to be planted in the grassy knoll. Speaking of which, my neighbour’s gave us a lovely blue grass to add to it. It’s a stunning plant, the colour compliments the red Acer and it will look amazing when it seeds. The lady said to Mark that as her and her husband are no longer well enough to garden; they enjoy walking past ours and seeing what’s in flower, or what’s looking good in the greenhouse. It’s such a compliment when someone gives you something for your garden, or says that your garden cheers them up, it’s especially nice to think that we have inadvertently enriched their lives.
I have been banned from growing or buying any more plants until the autumn and I have been asked by Mark to “just grow fruit and veg next year!” The thing is, I’m sort of addicted to the thrill of nurturing seeds and seeing something grow – I can’t promise I won’t buy anything, but I might just stop growing seeds until September. Oh and I definitely need flowers in my life, so I won’t be growing just fruit and vegetables either. Sorry!
Until next time,
Love Amanda xx