Sunday, 28 January 2018

Sunday On The Allotment - Leeks and Compost

St Ives Cornwall Allotment - January
St Ives Cornwall Allotment - January

Dry and fairly mild weather in West Cornwall today - so I headed out happily to my plot. As last week I was determined to get on with preparations for Spring. A nice walk out along the St Ives - Zennor road, then up the lane to Trowan. As usual I poured myself a cup of tea, lit a cigarette and had a quick look round the plot. All looking fairly good. The I got down to work.

Allotment Growing - Leeks

My first task for the day was harvesting the last of the leeks. I've been growing these through Summer and Autumn and digging them up as needed. Really satisfying to think that I sowed the seeds way back in Spring 2017. Leeks are a crop that need to be sown early but will usually grow on and stand on the plot right through Winter. If you haven't grown Leeks before take a look a my blog post:
Spring - Sowing Leeks In Pots

Allotment Growing - Adding Compost

Once the leeks were out I continued preparing the bed for Spring planting. I hoed it over to remove a few weeds and tidied up the edges. Then I added a layer of my own compost, made on the plot.

This bed is earmarked for Sweetcorn and Squash this season, so probably won't be planted up until early June. What I'll probably due in the meantime, once the weather warms up a bit, is sow some Green Manure to keep the ground covered.

Allotment Growing - Pallet Compost Bin

I was really happy to be digging out my own compost. I "topped out" this bin way back in October 2016. At the time it felt like it would be ages before it was ready to use - but now here I am adding it back to my plot - and its broken down beautifully into fine crumbly black stuff. Classic recycling - the plants took nutrients out of the soil in Summer 2016, the green waste from the crops went into the compost bin, now all that goodness is going back into the ground.

Allotment Growing - Preparing Beds

So - the end result - another growing bed ready for Spring planting.
Another very enjoyable and productive morning on my little plot!

Friday, 26 January 2018

A Year on the Allotment - January - Allotment Plan

Planning Your Allotment
A Year on the Allotment - January - Allotment Plan

A Year on the Allotment

A series that aims to help new allotment growers to get started and produce lovely crops to eat.
This post is about planning your allotment.

1.3 January - An Allotment Plan.

One thing well worth doing when you get your first plot, then at the start of each new growing year, is a plan for your allotment.

You can do this with an online computer based tool, or the "old-fashioned" way with pen / pencil and paper. Although I have worked as an IT professional for more than 30 years, I still prefer doing this on paper. It works for me - but its up to you.

Here are some good reasons for putting together an allotment plan:
  • Gets you thinking about what you want to grow.
  • You can work out the best use of space.
  • You can make a start on a list of seeds and other supplies needed.
  • Its fun! Gets you looking forward to a year ahead on the plot.
My plan includes the layout of the plot, where crops will go and then a list of seeds and other items that I need to obtain for the coming season.

Allotment Plan

I start by drawing out the basic layout - the "fixed" items like the shed and compost bins, pathways, the current layout of the growing beds.

If you have a new plot and its an empty "blank canvas" then this will be more a plan of what you want - rather than how things are now.

I then work on the more detailed layout of the beds - what will be sown or planted and where.

I use a crop rotation system. Basically this means moving my crops around on a four year cycle. Based on four groups:
  • Potatoes.
  • Beans and Peas.
  • Brassicas.
  • Onions and Roots.
My plot is divided into four corresponding areas and then I rotate the crops around each year. So - for example - potatoes in area 1 in 2015, area 2 in 2016, area 3 in 2017, area 4 in 2018 .... then back to area 1 in 2019. Beans and Peas will be sown in 2018 in the area that had potatoes in 2017 .... and so on ....

Allotment Plan

Some crops, such as Sweetcorn, Spinach and Squash, don't fall into any of these groups and so, in principle, can be grown anywhere. But I still avoid growing the same thing in the same place two years running.

The reason for this rotation is that the different crops nurture different pests and use different nutrients from the soil. So you reduce the build up of these pests and make best use of the soil. You don't have to do this, you may not have enough space, you may not think its worth the effort. I think its worth doing but its not vital. Up to you.

So - the next step is deciding what you want to grow.

This is largely a matter of preference, it also depends on local conditions and also, of course, the nature of your plot.

I have certain "staple" crops that I grow nearly every year. My reasons are a combination of things that are fairly reliable and easy to grow - also things that I like to eat! So these are some ideas for you - although the possibilities are almost infinite:
  • Potatoes
  • Broad Beans
  • French Beans.
  • Peas.
  • Sweetcorn.
  • Squash.
  • Leeks.
  • Cabbage.
Bear in mind that I do not have a greenhouse or polytunnel - but if you do it will extend the possibilities considerably. You could look at crops such as chillies, grapes, melons - and lots more.

Allotment Plan

Some crops also need two or three years to mature, so need semi-permanent beds. These include asparagus, strawberries and other fruit. So include space for these on your plan if you want to grow them. The rest can be rotated each year, as described above, if you wish.

I also include a couple of wildflower areas as well - because they look nice - and they attract bees.

Then each year I choose at least one "new and unusual" plant - something that I haven't grown before and looks interesting. Last year I tried growing Cucamelons - which failed to produce anything. The year before I tried Black Salsify - which produced good crops. I enjoy trying things out - and inevitably - sometimes things work - sometimes not!

So based on your choices about crop rotation and crops to grow, start filling in the growing beds on your plan. See how things fit, try to get in a good variety of crops, but don't be too "greedy" (one of my failings!) and try to crowd in too much.

Next you can start on a list of seeds needed. I do a check through my seed drawer, check expiry dates, throw out any that are too old, note the ones that I can use this year. Then start on a list of what I need to get in.

Allotment Growing - Planning

My plan for this year is still partly in my head - every time I go out to my plot in Winter I take a look around and start visualising what it wall all look like in a few months time. Helps me to get through the Winter!

Finally - growing is not just about planning, its also about doing!
So while we all wait for Spring to come and growing to start in earnest, here are a couple of things that you can get on with right now on the allotment:

A Year on the Allotment - January - Preparing Ground

A Year on the Allotment - January - Compost Bins

More posts for A Year on the Allotment coming soon.
Get inspired - get going.
Happy growing!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Sunday On The Allotment - Winter Clearing

St Ives Cornwall Allotment - Winter
St Ives Cornwall Allotment - Winter

As I looked out of the back door this morning I did wonder about going out to my plot - or staying indoors in the warm.

A bit wild and windy in West Cornwall today, but not too cold so I decided to brave the weather and was glad that I did. It wasn't so bad once I got moving.

For the last couple of weeks I've focussed on on simple task - clearing growing beds ready for sowing seeds in March. First to go in will be Potatoes and Broad Beans, so I'm working on the beds earmarked for those first.

Allotment Growing - Potato Bed

One thing that I've learned in previous years is that putting effort into preparation now pays big dividends later in the growing season. Its also relatively easier because, while there are still some weeds to clear, they are fairly dormant and so easier to get out.

My method is simply to hoe over the ground, remove weeds and any big stones that pop up. Then I add a layer of leaf mould followed by a layer of compost from the bins on my plot. I don't do much more digging, unless I need to. I leave everything to bed down and work in naturally - as I've said before on this blog - let the Worms and Weather do the work!

Allotment Growing - Potato Bed

So my potato bed is now pretty much ready. I'm just wondering whether to add a bit of manure from my pile and maybe some chicken manure pellets. Now I've just got to be patient and wait until March before getting my spuds in the ground.

If you are a new allotment grower and thinking about growing spuds, you might find this blog post from last year helpful:
Spring On The Allotment - First Sowings - Potatoes

Allotment Growing - Turnips

Before I headed home I checked on the final crops I have left in to harvest over Winter. I still have a few Leeks - and some Turnips that are approaching monster size. I'll need to get those out soon.

Allotment Growing - Swede

Also my Swede - seem to be growing ok but a bit small to harvest just yet. I'll see how they grow on into Spring.

Last Summer I made plans to grow more crops over Winter and exactly as I expected I've had mixed results. As well as the crops above I sowed Winter Spinach and Autumn King Carrots - neither of these have come to much. But I will repeat this next year. If you are interested take a look at my blog post:
Allotment Growing - Autumn and Winter Crops

More news from my little plot in West Cornwall coming soon. More pics and posts are on:
Allotment With A Sea View - Facebook

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

A Year on the Allotment - January - Compost Bins

Allotment Growing - Compost Bin

A Year on the Allotment
A series that aims to help new allotment growers to get started and produce lovely crops to eat.
This post is about getting started on building compost bins and making compost.
This can be added to your plot in future years to improve the soil.

1.2 January - Compost Bins

Compost is a "foundation stone " of the allotment - in my opinion.

Making your own compost on the plot is a great way of recycling goodness back into the ground year on year. It will improve both the fertility and structure of your soil.

It will also save you money - and this is one reason why many allotmenters have a plot in the first place. You'll have less need, or no need, to buy in compost and manure.

Allotment Growing - Compost
Allotment Growing - Compost
So - building a compost bin, or more if possible, is one of the first things to do a a new allotment plot. Making compost takes time so its worth starting right away. It will also help to keep things neat and tidy as you will have somewhere to put stuff as you clear your plot of weeds and other unwanted plants.

Start by planning your layout - on paper, or maybe using a computer based tool if you prefer.

Choose carefully where to put your bins as moving them later would be a pain. Obvious spots are on the edges or corners of the plot. Try to choose a spot that you can get to easily with a wheelbarrow.

The next thing - decide what sort of bin you want.

Plastic "Dalek" Compost Bin
Plastic "Dalek" Compost Bin
A quick solution is to buy (or scrounge for free!) a plastic "dalek" type bin. The advantage of this is a quick fix - just drop into place. The obvious disadvantage is that it may cost money. Some people think these look a bit unsightly, but I don't personally, they are very functional.

But I have found on my plot that these bins are a bit too small to hold all of the material that I want to compost down. So I've build a couple of much larger bins made from wooden pallets.

Wooden Pallet Compost Bin
I've written a post previously about this - so I won't repeat it here - but please comment if you have anything to add or have any questions:
Building A Wooden Pallet Compost Bin

Finally - if you don't have the time or resources to do any of this yet - that's fine. You can just start a compost heap in one corner, pile up any organic waste materials and tidy it up later if you want.

The main point that I'm trying to make is - just get going and get composting - one way or another!

Here are a couple more blog posts on the subject of compost and composting that you might find helpful:

Spring Preparations on the Allotment - Compost - Part One

Spring Preparations on the Allotment - Compost - Part Two

More posts for A Year on the Allotment coming soon.
Get inspired - get going.
Happy growing!

Friday, 12 January 2018

A Year on the Allotment - January - Preparing Ground

A Year on the Allotment - January - Preparing Ground

A Year on the Allotment
A series that aims to help new allotment growers to get started and produce lovely crops to eat.
This post is about getting your plot ready for growing, but not all at once, doing it one bed at a time. That way you can see visible progress and get some crops growing quickly.

1.1 January - Preparing Ground

January is the time to start thinking ahead, planning and preparing for the new growing season.

Its a great time of year to get going and start looking forward to warmer and sunnier days ahead.

It is too early for sowing or planting most crops, but any preparation work that you put in now will pay dividends later in the year. Besides - there is not a lot else to do on the plot at this time of year.

Clearing Ground on the Allotment
Clearing Ground on the Allotment
Preparing growing beds is a key job and a fairly simple one, although it may be hard work, depending on what you are starting with. I love working on the plot at this time of year, anticipating the Spring and keeping warm by doing some physical work out in the fresh air.

If you've done a plan for your plot and crops - start by working on the beds where your first will be sown. I usually start the year with Potatoes and Broad Beans. If you haven't yet drawn up a plan, no matter, start in one corner of your plot and work outwards.

Planning Your Allotment
Planning Your Allotment
For more about planning and some help to get started - take a look at my earlier post:
Allotment Planning - Crops and Crop Rotation

First - a tip for new allotment growers, who have just taken on a new plot.
Don't try to do everything at once!

I've seen many new plot holders try to clear the entire space before getting any crops in the ground. Some do succeed, but many get discouraged by the amount of work and the lack of visible progress. They then often give up.

Clearing Beds on the Allotment
Clearing Beds - One at a Time
It is far better to work on one area at a time. Get one or two growing beds cleared and ready, get some seeds or plants growing, see some visible results.
So - choose an area to work on and get going!

First - mark out your bed with some string if it is not already defined clearly.

Dig out and clear any weeds. A hoe will be enough for most weeds, but and grass / turf may need digging out with a spade and fork. Add the weeds to the compost bin.

Growing Beds - Adding Compost
Next - if you have any - add a layer of compost. This will add nutrients and also act as a mulch to suppress weeds. Even better - again if you have any - add a layer of leaf mould first, then cover it with the compost.

If you don't have either, don't worry, crops will still grow. Making your own compost takes a year or so. One of the first things to do on a new plot is getting a compost pile going, which you can build up through the year, then cover and leave to rot down until the following Autumn.

Allotment - Compost Bin
Allotment - Compost Bin
Here is a post about building your own compost bin:
Building A Wooden Pallet Compost Bin

I  generally follow a "No Dig" approach to my growing beds. I don't dig any of the compost or leaf mould in, I just rake it roughly level and leave it on the surface. The weather and worms will work it into the ground for me.

Once you are done - you'll have the satisfaction of a new growing bed ready for crops later in the year. You may need to give it a hoe to remove any weeds that pop up, but that's about it.

Allotment Growing Beds - Ready for Planting
Allotment Growing Beds - Ready for Planting
As mentioned above - two of the first crops that you might sow in Spring, maybe in March (depending where you are) - are Potatoes and Broad Beans. Both fairly easy to grow and will produce crops early in the year.

Here are a couple of blog posts with more about that:

Spring On The Allotment - First Sowings - Potatoes

Spring Sowing On The Allotment - Broad Beans and more ....

More posts for A Year on the Allotment coming soon.
Get inspired - get going.
Happy growing!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

A New Year On The Allotment

St Ives Cornwall Allotment - Winter
St Ives Cornwall Allotment - Winter

Another year on the allotment begins - with January blue skies and sunshine in West Cornwall.

This weekend I made a start on preparations for Spring sowing and planting.

I started on the bed where - under my crop rotation system - I'll be planting potatoes in March. I cleared the weeds, added a layer of leaf mould and then a layer of my own compost.

I found it really satisfying to be using stuff recycled and made from my own plot. The leaf mould has been rotting down since Autumn 2016 and is now ready to use and add structure to the soil. The compost bin that I've now opened was also covered and left to rot down in Autumn 2016.

Allotment Growing - Potato Patch

The bed is now partly cleared. I'll clear the rest and then leave it for the weather and worms to do their work before planting the seed potatoes. It will just need a bit of weeding with the hoe and raking over in March.

This year I'll be using Pentland Javelin again, as last year they grew well as both a first early (June) and second early (July onward) crop.They also stayed blight free, although there is no guarantee that will happen again this year!

Allotment Crops - Romanescu

My Winter crops are coming to an end, with just a few leeks, turnips and swede still in the ground. My Winter spinach has failed to come through. But one unexpected bonus - this lovely Romanescu. We had this with Sunday dinner.

Allotment Wildlife - Robin

Finally to complete a lovely day on my plot, my little friend the Robin has returned and was with me for most of the afternoon.

More news as Winter passes and Spring returns - soon.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Growing and Harvesting Backyard Potatoes

Growing and Harvesting Backyard Potatoes
Growing and Harvesting Backyard Potatoes

This year I reduced the space for potatoes on my allotment, as they have been badly hit by blight for the last three years.

Then - as luck would have it - 2017 has been a blight free year, with a really good crop. I wish I'd planted twice as many. Such is allotment growing.

Every year I also plant up a bag of potatoes in my back garden / yard. These tend to be less prone to blight and generally deliver a good crop.

They are grown in a big plastic bag - bought from Poundland. I put about 8 inches of compost in the bottom, place a couple of seed potatoes on top, then add more compost to cover, about another 6 inches.

Growing and Harvesting Backyard Potatoes

The potatoes sprout after three weeks or so. Once the green growth is six inches tall I earth up with more compost. I then continue to earth up every week or so as the plants grow and until the bag is full.

This year (2017) I grew first-earlies - Pentland Javelin. They were ready to harvest by early July - but they were still growing on well, so I left them to grown on, hoping for a bigger crop.

I cut back some of the foliage - and they still kept growing! Also - no signs of blight. I finally dug them out this week - as my store of spuds harvested from my allotment in June and July had started to run out.

Growing and Harvesting Backyard Potatoes

As you can see - a really good harvest. So - "Backyard Potatoes" are well worth growing, particularly if you only have limited space - a small yard or even just a balcony will do.