Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Harvest Monday - false security and an allotment update

It's been unusually sunny and hot here the last few days, easily lulling us into a false sense of security. The good thing is it's brought on the growth of things like tomato and pepper plants which really hadn't been enjoying the cold, dull weather. And luckily none of my little brassica seedlings got frazzled in the greenhouse, which did happen one year. Quite a few things need potting on now, so I should get on with that before they become too leggy. Ooh, and I noticed today that the first cucumber and winter squash seedlings are emerging. 

Down at the allotment I've been getting the beds ready for this year's plantings. This meant harvesting the remainder of the leeks, though I did leave a few little ones to go to flower, because they look pretty and the insects like them too. 

I've also made another harvest of purple sprouting broccoli, this was about half.
And the self seeded chard is putting on some lovely fresh growth, before it begins to bolt...so I should really go round harvesting as much of this as possible. 
The broad beans I sowed in Autumn made it through the recent cold weather, phew. They're quite hardy but showed a big of damage  (blackened leaves) after several freezing days (interestingly, the snow didn't cause any damage, it was the extreme cold later that did). They've all been nibbled by weevils (which create little scallops all round the leaf edges) but it never seems to bother the plants too much. I love the flowers, that white and black is stunning.
At home we're eking out the last of the rocket in the lean-to greenhouse. Not many harvests left now. Excitingly our local organic greengrocers has Isle Of White tomatoes in - the tomato company uses waste products to generate heat for their grow-houses, plus they have a warm micro climate down there, which means very early tomatoes - it feels like a real treat.

Here's a quick look round the allotment. I mowed the grass paths the other day, so it looks quite neat (I have one of those push-mowers, which are great if the grass isn't too long to begin with). Also, you can't see the edges of the plot, or around the main fruit bushes, which all need mulching. But on the whole I'm quite pleased. No doubt the grass will need cutting again the next time I go down though....so I'm trying to get rid of some of the smaller grass paths by mulching with cardboard, to save maintenance in the future.

Standing near the entrance looking down length. One of my dwarf apple trees in the foreground. Shed to the right (out of shot). Bags of manure ready to spread on the beds (I went with a friend to collect manure the other day...very well-rotted, I could do with a trailer-ful!)

About two-thirds down...the neat bit. I've started mulching the summer raspberries on the left. In the foreground is self sown chard which I'll crop and remove when it's time to put the new plants in. Oh and I left a few plants of corn salad to go to flower and seed.

These three beds are potatoes. The two outer ones have manure added on top (ideally this would've been done earlier) the middle bed had manure last year for squash plants, and as I don't have loads of manure I'm prioritising where it goes. I'm also going to try not earthing-up the potatoes (which disturbs the soil) and instead try and find enough mulch material...will see how this goes but may end up earthing-up after all.
The fruit bushes (far end and edge of plot, behind me) are all full of flowers, it looks like another good year for them, I'll try and get some piccies next time. The plum tree next to the shed seems to have responded well to the pruning I gave it last summer so I'm looking forward to plums as well, mmm.

I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres
Dave at Our Happy Acres

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Harvest Monday - PSB at last! And winter salads finishing

There's a lot of green this week, it's quite surprising. The winter salads are all starting to go to flower so it's time to pick most of them in bulk and let some go to seed.

Corn salad sows itself all over my allotment plot so there's masses to pick at the moment. The stems have started to elongate as it heads towards flowering. But the stems are still nice and soft, and I find it also makes them easier to harvest, as the upper leaves have less soil-splash on them. I cut the whole plant off just above soil level (to leave the roots in the ground to compost) and then simply cut off all the top leaves in one go. 

The winter purslane I sowed in August and planted out early autumn didn't do amazingly well on the allotment (but was excellent undercover in the lean-to greenhouse at home). It was time to clear the allotment plants and get a small harvest. With all the rain we've been having, there were plenty of tiny slugs at the base of the plants, so it was good to clear these onto the compost heap too. I've also cleared all the purslane from the lean-to because aphids had started to run-riot. Out on the plot the other day I did notice ladybirds becoming active so I'll have to coerce some home to munch on the aphids.
After getting severely munched by pigeons during the snowy weather (the mesh had come off), my purple sprouting broccoli has finally made a comeback, yes! It's funny because I've recently sowed this year's PSB which has germinated nicely. I think it's worth a year's wait to get this tasty harvest though. 
I harvested an even larger load of corn salad on Sunday. That'll probably be the last that I pick and the rest will go to flower. They have beautiful tiny white flowers. This all went into a big batch of pesto (with cashews).
And there was a second harvest of PSB as well.
We got the train up to Cromer on the north Norfolk Coast yesterday, and did a lovely circular walk. Right near the start of the walk, past an area of woodland, the wild garlic (ramsons) was looking delicious so we picked a few leaves (as far from the path as possible to avoid potential dog wee!)

We had a few leaves last night, mixed in with the corn salad pesto, and with extra toasted walnuts on top. I meant to steam some PSB too but forgot, so may have that with poached egg tonight.

We've been trying to get a few walks in recently because we're having a couple of days walking with Jan's mum at the end of the month and need to get our walking-legs in shape. Yesterday's walk via Felbrigg Hall (National Trust) was really lovely and really felt like an escape from our usual day-to-day activities.
Jan's fancy photo of the hall.

We did a bit of geocaching too, which was fun. There was a cache hidden at the base of this incredible beech tree.

And I found a new home for us. Maybe it's a bit draughty. 
At home, I've been gradually getting through the seed sowing. Most things are done now and germination is on the whole ok, phew, though I've still got beetroot to go. Then there'll be some things to sow a second crop of later, plus direct sow beans etc straight into the garden and allotment in May and June. My tomatoes are about half the size they were at the same time last year, the light has been so poor. But flowers are starting to appear on my Autumn-sown broad beans and on the fruit trees. Looks like I might get some plums this year, mmm.

Thanks for reading and sorry for being a bit sporadic with posts recently...life seems particularly busy at the moment! I'm linking in with
Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Harvest Monday - rain, rain go away...

Wow it's so rainy here at the moment. I had an allotment session yesterday before the deluge started in earnest, managing to plant out my onion sets (variety Sturon) and 2nd early potatoes, variety Orla. This is a new variety for me as the catalogue had run out of my usual. I'm also trying a new maincrop, which I'll plant whenever the rain decides to stop. Over the last couple of weeks I've been harvesting loads of leeks (but didn't get any pics) and cleared them all from one bed, in readiness for the maincrop potatoes.

In the lean-to greenhouse at home I cut all the winter purslane leaves from one pot, to encourage some fresh growth from below. It's quite an easy way of harvesting too, grabbing a handful and cutting through the lot, rather than picking off individual leaves. These mainly went into a pesto, made with toasted cashews plus some rocket leaves from Eves Hill Veg Co where I volunteer, as these particular rocket plants had started to bolt. They still had a nice soft texture though. Some rocket from the lean-to here at home went on top of a potato-pizza that Jan made...that was a goood pizza.

I've also continued to harvest corn salad / lambs lettuce from the allotment. I meant to get some more yesterday but forgot, making a quick getaway from the cold rain. 

A few days ago it was actually sunny, which handily coincided with a free day for me, so I had a good session sowing broad bean seeds - I dib the holes first and then go along popping one seed in each hole, then use a rake to gently cover the rows. Before I dibbed the holes, I also raked the whole bed, to kill off any weed seeds germinating in or just below the soil surface. The dibber is actually just the handle of an old fork which snapped a few years back.

After sowing the beans, I then made two seed drills inbetween the three bean rows, for parsnips with radishes. I've used this method before - the radishes grow quickly, and are then harvested whilst the slow parsnips germinate. The broad beans do their thing too and are cleared (leaving the roots in the soil to feed the parsnips) before the parsnips really need to get going. It usually works except last year I had zero parsnips germinate, which may have been a dodgy pack, even though it was fresh seed. I water along the seed drill first, then sow the seeds. It was useful for the papery parsnip seeds to stick to the wet soil, as it was a bit windy and they tend to get blown around otherwise. I expect the ones which got blown away will germinate and grow better than the ones I properly sowed!

I'm still volunteering at Eves Hill Veg Co (community market garden) most Wednesday's, there's a good crew of us at the moment. Last Saturday was also the monthly open day, where a wider group of people tend to come along and help / have a look around. It was particularly special this week as two heavy horses were on site to help shallow-plough the field-scale beds. Whilst the aim of the market garden is to try and disturb the soil as little as possible, it's quite difficult to prepare the long beds otherwise. I think everyone enjoyed seeing the working horses too, there's a real skill in handling them. These two particular horses are usually helping to remove logs felled within woodland, so they did really well getting the hang of it quite quickly.

Oh I forgot, I've also potted-on all my tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. They're now in the lean-to greenhouse where the light is much better than indoors. I've protected them from the worst of the cold with bubble wrap on the shelf and along the adjacent windows. I'll probably sow some more things this week, (it is April after all, I think, ha). But most of the seed sowing will start later in April / May.

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Harvest Monday and starling murmuration

It's been a funny old week of sun, rain, snow, wind. I managed to get a couple of allotment sessions in, and finished weeding the beds where my onion sets (variety Sturon) will be planted and broad beans (Eleanora Express) will be sown. I also made a nice harvest of leeks, Nero kale, corn salad and chard, but somehow only managed to photograph the leeks.

The leeks have such a good flavour, not too overpowering. I use the dark green part of the stem as well as the white bit, so although they're not huge you get a decent amount of edible material from each leek. Interestingly there's not any rust on the plants, which usually makes an appearance at my plot. Maybe as the soil is (hopefully) more healthy now, it makes the plants more healthy and more likely to fight off problems. These leeks were planted out where I'd had broad beans earlier in the season, and I left the bean roots in the soil when clearing the plants away, that could've helped too, feeding the leeks as the roots broke down.

The kale and leeks went into a few dishes including a noodle soup one-pot (I love saving on washing up).

Jan was out for a meal one night so I made a quick tea for just me of softened leek and kale with fried egg on toast,  drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar, mmm. (Also just using the one pan, hooray). It was so good, I made it again for the two of us the following night!

Jan made us potato pizza one night - the base is boiled potato with flour and butter. It sounds odd but is really good. You may recall she made us one a few weeks ago too. A nice thing about pizzas is the variety of toppings which can be incorporated (last time included sliced beetroot). This time round, the homegrown elements were chard from the allotment and a tub of roasted tomato / pepper / garlic / onion mix from the freezer. I think it was the last one which is a shame, but it was put to good use.

Last night we had a curry, using up the last of the leeks, kale and chard, plus a bag of chopped French beans from the freezer. There's only one or two bags of these left now but they've been really handy over winter, so I'll try and increase the amount grown and stored this year. I've got a couple of different varieties to try as well, including a yellow waxy one. We had two mini naans leftover, so I made another curry tonight. The fridge was a bit bare of veggies so I used the third last acorn squash and a couple of bought carrots (plus am still eking out the last of the stored onions).

In the lean-to here at home I have some coriander still growing from a sowing last August, so used a bit of that for some greenery. The coriander looked very droopy after the first lot of cold weather recently but recovered well, which really surprised me.

And of course I couldn't not have sandwich photo, so here we are with self-sown corn salad from the allotment. I've also defrosted a tub of broad bean hummus from last summer, so have been enjoying that with home-sprouted shoots. In the lean-to I've cut back some of the winter purslane plants completely - they had lovely big leaves but had started developing a sort of mould where unfortunately aphids have been munching on them. So hopefully I removed a load of the aphids along with the leaves. I need the ladybirds to wake up and starting eating the aphids instead. Sadly, since the snow storms a couple of weeks ago we haven't seen the wren which had been visiting our garden and lean-to (and eating aphids I think).

But the last three evenings (at least) Norwich has had some lovely avian visitors....starlings. I haven't seen a big starling murmuration in Norwich for a couple of years, but the very cold weather must have brought them all together. Late on Saturday afternoon I happened to spot a huge murmuration from our house...it was over the area near County Hall of the south eastern edge of Norwich where there are woods with big ivy-clad trees. It was soo cold and windy we decided to just enjoy the stunning aerobatics from inside, but last night we headed over to that area to see them. There was only a smallish murmuration, so we figured maybe as the weather was calmer they'd not formed such a huge flock. It was still enjoyable to watch  but then as we walked back towards home Jan spotted the mega murmuration - it was further west than before, huh! We had some good views of them swirling around until they suddenly swooped down to roost, mainly into thick ivy growing up through trees alongside the Lakenham Way (disused railway which is now a foot- and cycle path). We took a walk along the path - the starlings were so loud, clicking and clacking to each other, and moving between trees. It was like walking through a tunnel of starlings - pretty amazing.

So tonight we took another walk (well, 5.30pm-ish seems about the right time), and found them again. It was in a very similar area to last night but a tiny bit south west, where there happened to be a handy place with open views to enjoy them. The photos as usual don't really do the experience justice, not capturing the vastness of the spectacle, and so I didn't take many. Interestingly, the starlings don't seem to call to each other during the murmuration, the only sound is the subtle whoosh when they fly close over head, or a sort of clatter when landing in the trees. But as soon as they're in the trees the chatter starts, catching up on today's news no doubt.

I'm not sure what the weather's meant to be like tomorrow but I may have to go on another starling hunt!

Thanks for reading this week, I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Harvest Monday and Wonderful Woodchip

I missed last week's Harvest Monday because I was away for a couple of days at the beginning of the week....more on that later. In the meantime we've been having all sorts of diverse weather, including absolutely masses of snow last week...I popped to the plot this afternoon and was pleased to see the broad beans survived  (the snow mostly melted away in Norwich a couple of days ago when we had a day of rainfall). They look a bit flopped over from the weight of the snow, but I think most of them will be ok.

In terms of harvests and using up stored crops, I made a big curry thing with the last of my sweet dumpling squashes (below). They were still in good condition and could've kept for longer but it felt like the right time for them. Their flavour is very sweet and the skins can be left on too, which is handy as it involves less cutting, and also means there's more to eat. I still have three squashes left, all the cream coloured acorn style, which again are still in good condition but I'll use them up sooner rather than later.

We've continued to use up goodies from the freezer...I have several bags of sweetcorn which are great to add into different meals, adding a 'pop' of texture and sweetness. I'm growing the same variety this year - Sativa early. This pasta meal also included some kale from the allotment. I harvested a load more today actually...fortunately the enviromesh covers protected them from pigeon damage. I had a wander along the main path through the allotment site after I'd finished today and saw kale plants on other plots completely decimated...such a shame.

Before the big freeze last week, I picked a nice selection of rocket from the lean-to greenhouse for our sarnies. Over the course of the cold week, the plants looked very droopy and sorry for themselves, with very low daytime and nighttime temperatures. I thought there might be some casualties but actually most of them have recovered, so that's good news.

As we couldn't really pick any fresh leaves last week, we focussed on home-sprouted beans and lentils, enjoyed several times on open sandwiches, to use up homegrown/made beetroot hummus which I'd thawed from the freezer. Last time I got a jar out we didn't use it up fast enough and it went mouldy so I didn't want to waste any this time.

The weekend before the freeze, it was time to start sowing things...exciting! As these stay indoors for a while I wasn't too worried about it being cold outdoors, and they live on top of a set of drawers near the radiator so they get extra heat from that. I also wrap them in bubble wrap (over and under the trays) for extra insulation which then gives a warm enough temperature for tomatoes and peppers etc to germinate.

So Jan helped with this, which was great...much less fiddly than just me on my own. We sowed tomatoes, sweet peppers, aubergines and onions. We're not bothering with chilli peppers as I have four plants that have over-wintered indoors, one even has some flowers on it at the moment. I had to move them away from the windowsill to make way for the trays of seeds though so I hope they're not too grumpy. The tomatoes and onions have already started germinating though, so that's a good sign.

My seed order has started arriving, hooray. It's coming in dribs and drabs for some reason. I'm hoping the onion sets and early potatoes arrive soon as I usually plant these out at the end of March. I'm trying a new variety of maincrop potato this year called Linda, and have put the seed potatoes in the lean-to to chit.

So last week I went to a seminar at Tolhurst Organics (near Reading) with a couple of friends from Norwich. Luckily we made it there and back safely in the snowy conditions, so a big thanks to Joel for his careful driving. Joel is setting up an organic market garden just outside Peterborough to supply salad and veg for a new farm shop which has just opened...you can follow his journey on Instagram under @RodkersJourneys or Facebook at The Market Garden at Harvest Barn Shop.

The seminar was titled Wonderful Woodchip and organised by the Organic Research Centre. Wow it was a great day, the main crux being how to obtain, produce and use woodchip. Tolly (Iain Tolhurst) has been honing the use of woodchip on his organic farm over the last few years. The farm is stock-free (no animal inputs) and uses a combination of green manures and woodchip to improve the soil structure / life etc. The woodchip adds carbon to the soil and improves its microbial / fungal health. 

The majority of the woodchip at Tolly's is brought in by a tree surgeon, to whom the woodchip is a waste product.

Composted woodchip has many uses...if left to compost for long enough it is even fine enough to use as a medium for raising seedlings. In the photo below, the woodchip in the large sack has taken two years to break down into a soil-like medium. Whereas most bought seed composts will be relatively sterile, the composted woodchip is full of life.

The large bits are sieved out and vermiculite (to aid drainage) is added (1:4 vermiculite:compost I think). 

Very healthy seedlings. Interestingly they have tested composted woodchip from different species and by the time it is composted there is very little variation in its make up. It was suggested that it's best to not just have solely conifer species, and to mix them with others. Also, don't use walnut or larch (I forget the reason!).

In the polytunnels uncomposted woodchip is added to the paths as a thick mulch, which breaks down over time. The chip acts to both suppress weed growth and improve the soil as it breaks down. The roots from plants in the beds grow out into the paths and benefit from the improved fungal conditions in the paths. Composted chip is also added onto the beds themselves.

Here's a relatively fresh pile of chip recently delivered by the tree surgeon. Tolly highlighted the importance of knowing what is coming onto the farm (e.g. As mentioned above, walnut and larch are not wanted). 

Tolly composts the woodchip in rows (oldest at the end) but it can be done in piles if that's all the space you have. Turning it speeds up the composting time...his takes about a year but could be speeded up if he turned it more. Also it's quicker if you're composting on the same area as previously compost has been made, because the beneficial soil organisms are already in situ.

Here's some of the older chip, really starting to break down. Tolly also adds in some vegetative matter produced on the farm (e.g. Stored potatoes and squashes that are past their best). My iPad memory was full at this point so the rest of the photos from the day are on my camera and difficult to get off, but we went on to look at the field-scale crops where a seven year rotation incorporates green manures, with the composted woodchip being added to the soil surface after the green manures have been growing. 

So that's a brief run down of the seminar. We also learned about setting up hedgerow management plans for your land (for example to identify different wood chip sources), which was interesting....I used to do a lot of practical habitat management and it was great to touch on this subject again, combined with food growing objectives. Oh and I haven't even mentioned ramial woodchip (produced from branches), or agroforestry but I'll leave it there for now.

I'll finish with a snowy shot of the garden. We made sure to put out extra food and fresh water each day for the birds, which encouraged a few new visitors as well as the regulars.

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in a day late to Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Harvest Monday - February - time's a-flying

I had a coldy-flu-cough thing for a few days last week so didn't think I'd have much to write about this week. I was especially annoyed to be stuck inside during some sunny days. But hooray, towards the end of the week and over the weekend the sunshine continued and I spent a happy few hours pottering around on the plot, clearing weeds and laying out homemade compost. I try to disturb the soil as little as possible, so after hoeing off annual weeds I just put the compost on top of the cleared soil, easy peasy. For any perennial weeds (like the dreaded couch grass, which I've mainly got rid of already), I just loosen the soil with a fork and pull the roots out, without turning the soil over. This means that all the fungi highways moving nutrients throughout the soil remain largely undisturbed, the soil structure isn't damaged, the soil doesn't dry out as much and all the wee microscopic organisms can live happily, making a lovely nurturing environment for my veggies to grow nice and strong. 

Talking of which, I harvested more kale, leeks and mizuna this week. I'm really impressed with how well the mizuna does over winter without any protection. One thing I wish I'd checked on though is my purple sprouting broccoli....at some point recently the chickenwire mesh I had them covered with had been blown off by the incredibly strong winds...giving the local wood pigeons a tasty feast of PSB leaves, darn! So I covered them back over and fingers crossed they grow back again....they should do, plus I don't need that bed for ages so I'm not in a rush to remove the plants.

The last two nights we've had a surprisingly tasty saucepan-meal with the leeks, onion, garlic, kale, French beans (from the freezer), red lentils and tinned tomatoes, with mashed potato. As ever, it tasted better than it looked...

Whilst Jurrasic World was on TV the other night (I do like a dinosaur movie), I thought I'd be productive and crack open the rest of my hazels from the allotment. There's a nice big bowlful, which I'll toast in the oven next time we put it on...I love their flavour, it's so good.

And I figured it was time to use up the stored apples from the shed. Most have kept pretty well, wrapped in newspaper. I chopped these up and cooked with some mixed berries from the freezer - gooseberries, raspberries, black currants, and sweetened with a few spoonfuls of a previous year's elderberry jelly. That's breakfast toppings sorted for a while.

I haven't sown any seeds yet but today I brought in a trayful of compost to warm up....(and covered it with another tray so it doesn't dry out). I'm planning on growing some onions from seed this year, as well as from sets. I'll also start off some tomatoes and peppers in the next few days.  But most crops don't need sowing for at least a month or two so I'm not panicking just at the moment.

After a sunny few days, the weather took a damp turn today. It's off out to Eves Hill Veg Co volunteering tomorrow (community market garden) when apparently the drizzle will continue unfortunately but at least it's not the predicted minus six degrees coming later in the week! 

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.