The Trials and Tribulations of Building a Fruit Cage!

As that great saying goes ‘Nothing worth having comes easy!’

Since moving in to our new house, I have wanted to turn the back garden into my own allotment. I thought (even though experience has taught me otherwise) this would be quite simple!

Nope!

So far it has been anything but easy – large trees to get rid of, tree surgeons who don’t turn up, fences to be replaced, Covid-19!

However, slowly but surely we are getting there… and then we tried to build a fruit cage.

I bought, from Harrod Horticultural, a 3.5m by 4.5m steel fruit cage back at the end of April. Obviously, due to our current covid situation, the delivery of this fruit cage was understandably delayed. Not a problem.

We patiently waited and were finally told it would be delivered on the 12th June. It was delivered but it was missing two of the bars that hold the cage up! Great start!

However, Harrod Horticultural did immediately dispatch two new upright bars which arrived a few days later. Despite not having any open customer service lines, they did have excellent customer service via email.

Fast forward to the following weekend, where we finally have all the parts, we start to dig over the space where the fruit cage will go. We removed all the weeds and any big stones. We dug up a forest’s worth of tree roots and an un-measurable amount of ivy roots. We raked the soil over, levelled it off, tamped it down and were ready to erect the fruit cage.

I would like to say that we then opened up the instructions but we didn’t.

We started by determining where the top left corner was going to go, and using a hole former, put in a pilot hole for the ground socket. Considering the difficulty we have had previously trying to put posts into the ground, this was easily done. We then put the ground socket in, hammering it flush with ground level. Going well so far!

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First ground socket in!

At this point, we decided to check the instructions, which when we realised you are supposed to build the roof first!. However, at this point we had only put one ground socket into the ground and this was a good marker for making sure the fruit cage was in the right place. No harm, no foul…yet.

So then we built the roof. The fruit cage was supplied with 3.5m widths and the length were supplied as 2m and 2.5 m bars. Connectors were used to connect all the pieces together and they were easily tapped in with a soft mallet. We had a roof – easy peasy!

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Roof made!

 

Next step was to align the top left corner with the top left socket and square off the frame. We pushed the connectors into the ground to mark where the other ground sockets should go. Carefully moving the roof of the fruit cage to one side, we then started to put the ground sockets in.

Starting at the top right, we took the hole former and started to make a pilot hole for the ground socket. This time, it was a little more difficult. We found we were meeting resistance. Hoping to punch through it, we used a slight larger mallet, and we did indeed punch through whatever was causing the resistance….

Turned out to be a gas line…

3 hours later…

1 day later…

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Whilst we wait for the gas men to return…

Although, historically there had been a gas line down our property boundary, before erecting our new fence last summer, I checked with a guy from the gas network to determine if that line was still there and where it was. I was told that their plans did not show a live gas line down our property.

There is one…and it feeds our house

Even though there is a gas main less than 20ft from the front of our house, it apparently seemed like a good idea to someone to send a 200ft gas line down to the back of the property! We had a total of 5 different gas men on the property during the time this was being fixed and every single one of them said ‘why did they do it like that?’

For those of you who don’t know – that saying has become the bane of my life. Ever since moving into my house, it seems nothing has been done properly and we have had to spend far too much money correcting everything! I now need to move the gas connection to the front otherwise I won’t be able to put in any hard landscaping such as patios etc. (I am also going to build an extension so it would have had to be moved anyway – I just will now be doing it sooner). But I am digressing!

Gas pipe fixed, so 2 weeks later we are able to finally get round to putting up the fruit cage. We had to move the cage so the upright poles were not over the gas pipe and that required digging up the socket that we already had sunk into the ground (without damaging it).

So as before, we moved the roof into place, and marked where the uprights would go. This time we used spray paint to mark the positions which was a lot better. Then we started to put the ground sockets in. Top left socket first – went in no problem. Top right socket – not so much!

The ground sockets come with a steel driving cap. You put this in the socket so that the top of the socket doesn’t get damage when you bash them into the ground. This steel driving cap, that according to Harrod Horticultural is ‘pretty tough’, broke! That’s right – we managed to break steel. The top of the driving cap sheared off!

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Broken driving cap!

We tried lightly hitting the ground socket to get it into the ground without damaging the top but more force is required to get the sockets into the ground. We then tried taping the broken cap to the socket to see if that would work. It didn’t and just messed up the top of the ground socket. Sam tried to file the top so that the upright would still fit in the socket but then the file broke!

I mean you couldn’t make this stuff up!

I am going to be honest, at this point there were tears. I was was beyond fed up and I just wanted a fruit cage – why did it need to be so hard!

So after sitting down. taking several deep breathes, and doing some googling, we decided to dispense with the ground sockets and just stick the uprights directly in the ground, with some metal footplates for added stability.

This time erecting the fruit cage was much easier! The uprights went in really easily and we had all six in within 30 minutes (why didn’t we do this in the first place!) and the roof went on easily after that. All in all, erecting the fruit cage took 45-50 minutes! It slots together really well. The door was a little trickier as we had to make sure it was the right length away from an upright, the hinges were in the right place and facing the right way but otherwise still quite simple. The instructions could have been a little clearer when it came to putting the door together but otherwise we got there in the end, although the lock is the wrong way round – but it still does the job!

Before putting the netting on, I put a layer of weed control fabric around the base of the cage where the netting would attach. To make my life easier in the long run, I don’t want weeds and grass growing up the sides of the netting as I won’t be able to mow or strim the grass without shredding the netting. So instead I have put some fabric down to prevent that as much as possible.

Once this fabric was down, we then started putting the netting on. Again, a relatively simple task. We started at one upright, and then rolled the netting round the cage (it comes in one long piece) and tied it with releasable cable ties at the top. I am grateful for the cable ties being releasable because there were numerous occasions where we had to re-tie the netting. We attached the netting to the uprights and then pegged the netting down at the bottom. We attached netting to the door having to cut it in places to get round the hinges and lock.

Next was the roof netting. We were provided with a lot of roof netting – 5m x 6m. We putting it on the cage and pulled it taught but it mostly looked untidy around the sides. What you can’t see in the picture is that I had to roll large pieces of netting up and cable tie it together. It did not look pretty!

By this point we were getting towards the end of the day and it was starting to rain so we decided to call it a day and I had the night to ruminate on how I could making the roof netting look better!

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End of Day 1 (or 15) – roof netting is untidy but the fruit cage is up!

The next day was still very grey and drizzly but we carried on regardless! To improve the look of the roof netting, I moved the netting so one end was aligned with the back and left side of the fruit cage. The cable ties really came in handy here as I was able to hook the roof netting over the cable tie ends to stop it from moving and to help me pull it taught. I secured the roof netting round these two sides with the clips provided and the set about tightening the netting on the other two sides.

Generally it is advised to remove the roof netting in the winter to prevent snow from laying over the roof and breaking the fruit cage. I assume this is why we were supplied with too much netting – too make it easier to remove and put back on. We do not normally have snow in large quantities where I am located so I made the executive decision to cut the netting so it would look tidier and more aesthetically pleasing. Knowing my luck, we will have the worst snow storms in the UK since records began next winter!

However, I cut the netting and secured it around the top with the clips provided and I have to say it looks much better!

So we have a fruit cage!!!

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Tidier roof netting this time!

Inside the fruit cage we have put in raised beds. We built these ourselves. Getting the materials was also more difficult than it should have been but that is a story for another time. Round the outside where the fabric is, we have put in some fixed wooden edging. More weed control fabric has been put over the paths in the fruit cage and shingle has been laid on top. Previously I have used bark chip but I found that as it rots down, it provides a good growing medium for weeds so can cause more problems than I would like. Shingle won’t completely stop the weeds but at least it doesn’t rot down

Here is the finished fruit cage!

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So if you are thinking of buying a steel fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural I will say the following Рonly get ground sockets if you have a really exposed site. The footplates will provide enough stability. If you do buy the ground sockets get 2 driving caps just in case the first one breaks. They are only £6 each so it wont break the bank!

Now all that is left to do is buy me some fruit bushes!

 

 

 

Veg in pots – update

So armed with plenty of enthusiasm a month or so ago with my veg growing, it has started to dwindle and I remember now why I don’t like growing in pots so much!

Spinach

So I managed to get a few harvests of spinach before it bolted, but the lasts few harvests seemed overly bitter and gritty which I have never experienced before, at which point I didn’t want to harvest it anymore and I let it bolt. I can only assume that the bitter taste came from the overly hot and dry weather we had in May.

Strawberries

Flowers have been plenty throughout April and May and I have eagerly awaited the first strawberries. I said to myself that I will soon have enough to go on my breakfast but to be honest, they didn’t make it to the kitchen! The first strawberries, sun ripened and fresh off the plant were lovely and sweet and too delicious not to eat straight away! But, this soon changed. The strawberries which are now ripening are hard and small and very acidic (if I do dare to eat one) and even the birds have stopped trying to eat them! Specifically, they are coming from my everbearer strawberries (Flamenco) but the Mae variety, which has finished flowering and the final fruits are ripening, have started to do the same.¬† Again, I assume that the hot dry weather has finally got to them. I have watered every day but by the time it comes to the next day, the plants are drooping and I can’t keep them moist enough!

Potatoes

After a sudden hard frost which, quite frankly, came out of nowhere, all but two plants were severely damaged. However, with this hot weather they soon bounced back and are currently growing well. The two plants that did not have any frost damaged (probably because they were sheltered against a south facing wall) have been further along than the others. Their foliage had started to die back and I harvested the tubers.

This was my yield from 2 plants:

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Pretty pathetic! I am not sure if it is the weather again, being too hot? I think I remember something about potatoes not forming tubers when it is over a certain temperature but I am not sure how accurate that is.

It made one lovely meal for me but that was it! I can only hope the other potatoes do better now that the weather has started to cool a little.

Tomatoes

Due to my lack of a polytunnel or greenhouse, my tomatoes have been growing outside. The same sudden frost that damaged my potatoes also killed my tomatoes so I have had to start again. I managed to find some plants from an online supplier even though it was late in the season, and I have only just planted them out. I hope they catch up quickly!

Radishes and Beetroot

The radishes bolted before they even formed radishes, and the beetroot seem to be in some sort of stasis. The still resemble seedlings and have not grown at all! I have no idea as to the reason!

So, basically, so far my yields have not been great and I think this is mostly due the weather. It could be that I have over watered because of the weather, or perhaps the pots are just unable to hold enough water to support the plants and their growth.

However, I have had my first ever pot grown courgette (which was delicious), although all female flowers since have gone yellow and dropped off before even opening!

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Yellowing female flowers ūüė¶

My broad beans and peas are flowering and starting to form pods! I expect to be harvesting them over the next few days. And the carrots are growing better than ever. Even both my olive trees are in full flower!

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Olive tree in flower!

The garden gives with one hand and takes with the other!

Compost bins are in!

So every good allotment garden needs a compost bin or two and we now have ours in the garden!

We ordered a wooden 3 bay compost bin which arrived last Thursday and we spent the weekend putting it together (or my partner did and I handed him things!)

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I first marked out where the compost bins would go with yellow spray paint (as I have a very specific plan for how the back garden will look) and then my partner got to work digging the holes for the posts. Unfortunately, it was hard work as there were a lot of tree roots in the way from the trees next door. Elbow grease and a pruning saw eventually cut through them!

The first bay was the hardest to put together as we had to make sure everything was level and square. It took about 4 hours to put the first one together.

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The second third bays were a lot easier but that was because there were only two posts to sink in instead of four.

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So now we have our compost bins and we can start making compost for our veg garden!

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Rather frustratingly I have to wait for the fence to go in on the other side before I can put other structures in the garden such as the polytunnel and sheds (fingers crossed the fence guy can start work again soon!) but we should be able to put the fruit cage in so that is likely to be the next job!

Hope you all had a lovely weekend!

Growing veg in pots

As alluded to in a previous post, I have given up my allotment and my garden is not quite ready for planting veg in it, so I am planting my fruits and veggies in pots this season.

In terms of fruits, I am growing strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and rhubarb.

cThe rhubarb is quite restricted in the pot so I am not planning to pick any stems this year. The rhubarb is an unknown variety which was given to me by my mother-in-law so I have honorarily called it ‘Linda’. She gave it to me when I first got the allotment and it didn’t feel right to leave it there, so I dug up a chunk and potted it up. It is quietly sitting in a shady spot in the garden waiting for the day it will be planted!

As with the rhubarb, the blueberries, strawberries and raspberries were all bought with me from the allotment. I have a two varieties of strawberries; ‘Flamenco’ (I think) which is supposed to be an everbearer although last year I didn’t get a single fruit from them, and ‘Mae’, an early variety which produces fruit for eating in May.

Luckily, there are plenty of flowers on both and fruit appearing on ‘Flamenco’. If it doesn’t produce fruit throughout the season then it might possible be the variety ‘Florence’ (I lost the label and now can’t remember exactly which one it is!). Strawberries are great fruits because they do just as well in pots as they do in the ground. I am also hoping to propagate from them this year so I can increase my stock.

I also have two types of raspberries; ‘Autumn Bliss’ and ‘Joan J’, both of which are primocane varieties so I hopefully will get some fruit in August/September. I have never grown raspberries in a pot before, and the troughs they are in are not that deep so unsure if I will get much but at the very least it will keep them alive until the fruit cage is up. I also hope to try propagating from these as well.¬† Has anyone else had a go a growing raspberries in pots?

My blueberries have always been in pots, mainly because of the constant threat of bindweed, so they were easy to bring over from the allotment. There are three varieties but I don’t actually remember their names with the exception of the pink blueberry which is called ‘Pink Lemonade’. Again, a plant I have never gotten fruit from, and also the flowers don’t quite look the same as blueberry flowers. If anyone has ever gotten any berries of their pink blueberry please let me know!

I didn’t bring over my currants, gooseberries or grape as the bind weed was so thick, I didn’t want to introduce it to the garden (although I have now discovered that I have plenty of bindweed in the garden!). I will eventually buy new fruit bushes to go in the fruit cage once it has been bought and erected!

I am growing quite a few veggies this year:

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Broad beans – I have never grown these in pots before so I will be interested to see how well they do. They didn’t germinate as well as expected – over 50% of the beans rotted in the soil. I had 3 sparsely growing pots so have combined them into two pots, and then sown a few more beans to hopefully get a second cropping.

Beetroot and radishes – I have sown some beetroot into a planter along with two rows of radishes. I am hoping that I will have harvested the radishes before the beetroot start to fill up the planter. I am used to radishes being ready quite quickly, to a point where they bolt, but their growth seems to be much slower this year. I don’t know if this is because they are in a planter, their position in the garden or weather this year but am eagerly awaiting my first radishes. I have a feeling that I will be waiting a little while longer!

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20200502_153940Peas – like the broad beans, they have also not germinated well. Considering the amount of seed I had sown, there are not many plants. However, the plants that are there are starting to grow well, and I have recently sown more seeds to fill any gaps there are. I put together a make shift frame for the peas to climb up but it is not particularly sturdy! Fingers crossed we don’t get any strong winds!

Courgettes – I have never had much luck with going courgettes in pots, they seem to be all leaf and no flowers. Since I had the allotment, I have always grown courgettes in the ground and they ave always done spectacularly well. I have grown 4 plants from seed and potted on 2 of them. I am hoping that they will produce something for me this time round. The other 2 plants are being kept as spares in case some hungry slugs eats the first two. I would be grateful to hear if anyone has any tips or tricks to encourage a good harvest from potted courgette plants? Perhaps I have just been impatient in the past!

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Spinach – This is a plant I have never been able to grow well previously either in a pot or at the allotment. Either the seed hasn’t germinated or it has bolted too quickly. This year is definitely the exception! I did sow the seeds very thickly which is why the plants are very crowded but they are producing an abundance of baby spinach leaves. I have been cutting a handful of leaves every few days for breakfast (poached eggs and spinach on a toasted English muffin! Mmm!). I placed the pot in a part of the garden that gets good sun in the morning but then sits in the shade for the afternoon and so far this seems to be preventing the spinach from bolting. I think that this may be the way forward for spinach in the future!

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Lettuce – I have many pots of cut and come again lettuce growing but I am yet to have a first crop! I feel like everything is growing quite slowly but that might have something to do with lock down! I just spend my days staring at the plants willing them to grow faster! The amount of lettuce I have should keep me supplied for a few months!

20200502_153944Potatoes – I am no stranger to growing potatoes in pots or bags and so this has been relatively easy, and is also one plant I feel is growing by the second in this lovely warm sunny weather we are having! I have both first earlies and second earlies growing away, and I am experimenting with the types of containers that I am growing the potatoes in. I have use large plastic plant pots with 2 tubers per pot, single tuber bags, and large bulk bags which I have repurposed for the potatoes – 3 to a bag. I am curious to see if they affect the yield in any way!

Tomatoes – I thought without a greenhouse or polytunnel that I would be tomato-less this year but I decided to give outdoor tomatoes a go. I have two money maker plants already planted out in a grow bag, and 4 cherry tomatoes plants (bush variety – can’t remember the name) which will be planted out this weekend in a large pot or hanging basket. I don’t expect the yields that I got from previous years in the polytunnel but I will be happy if we get a few fruits!

Carrots and spring onions – I am also giving carrots a go in pots – the chantenay types – just to see if they work. I have sown spring onions around the perimeter of the planter to hopefully deter carrot root fly! The carrots have actually germinated well but am concerned that the planter I have sown them in to is not deep enough – I guess we will see!

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Finally, I have recently sown some dwarf beans, runner beans and sweetcorn into root trainers. I have pots ready to go for the runner beans and dwarf beans and am confident that they will grow well in pots. However, I am not sure about the sweetcorn. If anyone has ever grown sweetcorn in pots before, I would welcome some advice on what type of pot would be best!

I also have my entire herb garden in pots and they have been doing quite well! The only exception is the chives – they are in the flower border because I love chive flowers! The oregano, mint and chives are all well used at the moment, and the basil seedlings will soon be potted up!

I would love to hear what fruits and veggies everyone is growing in pots – perhaps it will give me further inspiration. Comment below!

One thing I have learnt about growing in pots – there seems to be a lot less weeding to do!

I hope everyone else’s gardens and allotments are doing well and you are getting the opportunity to enjoy them in this lovely weather!

Growing grass!

The lawn in my garden is decidedly dreadful – thick with moss and weeds, hard and compacted and actually very little grass at all.

So I have started a very slow process of renovating the lawn.

Last year, I tried very unsuccessfully to do the whole lawn. I spent an entire day raking out the thatch and moss and trying to get up the weeds. Then I sprinkled grass seed (thinly as directed on the packet) over the entire lawn. Absolutely nothing grew despite plenty of watering and nurturing!

So instead I decided to tackle the lawn piece by piece! As the fence was completed on the right side and I was able to dig my flower bed, I decided to start by renovating that side of the lawn.

I bought myself an electric aerator/scarifier to rake up anything that was not grass and aerate the soil. Now I have such a machine, I wonder how I ever lived without one! Gone are the days of raking the grass for ages – now it takes 5 minutes! If you don’t have one, and you have a large lawn – I totally recommend getting one!

But I am digressing –¬† After a thorough aerating, there was little lawn left and what was left, were mainly weeds. I dug up, including the roots, all weeds that I could find which ultimately lead to huge gaping holes in the lawn bereft of grass.

Then I sowed my grass seed. This time, I sowed very thickly – probably 3 times the rate that was suggested on the box. I then covered all the seed with a good dressing of soil, sand and sieved compost mix (to get all the lumps out).

Very luckily, having done this towards the end of the season, it then rained a lot for the next few weeks.

And… the grass grew!

Now, I have half a renovated lawn – quite noticeably the grass is growing much better and greener on the right side as you can see from the before and after.

So now it is on to renovating the other side.  However, the dog likes to play a lot on that side (probably because it gets a lot of sun) so keeping her off it will be difficult. Again, I am breaking it up into sections Рstarting at the front and working my way back.

I also need to turf a large part of the back of the garden. Recently I looked up the cost of buying turf and it is a little too expensive – especially for the size of my garden. So I am attempting to seed a new lawn.

As with the renovation, I am going to do it in sections especially as we walk a lot over the garden and the dog likes to run and chase the cats and birds. It is easier to block off a section than attempt the whole garden!

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Blocking off part of the garden whilst the grass seed germinates

My attempts so far have not been as successful but I think this is largely due to the fact that our spring has been so warm and dry! The grass seed is germinating albeit thinly and I expect I will need several applications before I see the lush lawn than I currently enjoy on the right side of the garden!

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Grass seed starting to germinate

I am hoping for some semblance of a lawn by the end of the season but we will see how it goes!

Who knew growing grass was so hard!

It’s been a long time…

..since I last wrote a post. June 12th 2017 to be exact! I guess life generally got in the way (We bought a house and I started a new business)!

But here we are in 2020, amidst a pandemic that the world has not seen in our lifetime and I find myself turning to the things around me that I enjoy (including writing).

Gardening and growing my own has been my passion for nearly half my life (god that sentence makes me feel old!) and that has not changed since I last posted. Where I am growing certainly has!

I no longer have my allotments! All 3 plots in Salisbury were given up as my partner and I moved to a new house a little further away. We decided that the near daily trips to water the plants in the summer would cost too much in time and petrol so we said goodbye to all the lovely people we had met over the years, and all the hard work that we had put into the plots! I can only hope that the new tenants have as much fun there as we did!

Instead of an allotment, I now have a garden. And unlike previous gardens we have had (in our rented accommodation), I actually own this one so I can do things with it!

I am very lucky – its is just over 150ft long and 24ft wide. Not only do I have space to have an ‘allotment’, I also have space to entertain friends and family, and space for the dog to enjoy the garden too!

When we first moved in, it was surrounded by fir trees (I hate fir trees!) and a large amount of the light was blocked out. Below is a picture of what our garden looked like:

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Garden when we moved in – lots of fir trees and not much light!

It has been just over a year since that picture was taken and the garden has changed drastically!

We removed all the firs trees at the back as well as the ones in the neighbours garden. They were so tall that it actually blocked out light to four surrounding gardens (my other three neighbours love me for getting rid of them!). We also cut back the line of fir trees on the border and put up a brand new fence. The amount of light in the garden now is amazing! Very luckily, I have very nice neighbours all around. The neighbours with the trees had no problem with me taking them down and cutting them back (although I think they were hoping I would get rid of them all completely!)

We tidied and cleaned up the patio that sits a third of the way down the garden, painted the surrounds white and terracotta (to give it a more Mediterranean feel) , bought some lovely garden furniture to sit and enjoy the garden, and bought two figs, two olives and some roses to set it off.

Then we dug a wildlife pond (of which I am very proud!) as well as a good size flower bed! Here is what the garden look like at the end of August last year:

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Garden at the end of August last year!

Quite the difference!

It actually only took us one weekend to get the pond dug and set up!

With this current lock down, and working from home – we have been able to enjoy the garden so much, and I am truly grateful for having such a large wonderful space. However, it is by no means finished!

We want to get a fence put in on the left hand side (at the moment it is a mixture of chainlink, boards and shrubbery) and had that was scheduled for early April. Unfortunately lock down scuppered those plans so we will have to wait for the fence. In the mean time, we removed some tree stumps still at the back of the property and on the fence line and dug a new flower bed. This one gets sun for most of the day so it is bigger than the one of the right hand side as I will be able to put more plants in it!

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New flower bed dug on the left hand side

We have also tidied up the area in front of the house. We will one day put an extension there to make our kitchen bigger but until that time I didn’t want to look at an ugly back of the house so it got a bit of a face lift! We put bark chip down, some screens up to hide the storage/gas meter/bits and pieces and plenty of pots (although one promptly broke!). The screens will eventually have nasturtiums and morning glories growing up them to better hide what is behind it. We also planted a little alpine garden!

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Area at the back of the house tidied up – although still needs improvement!

A lot of the pots look empty but that is because I am growing veg in them so only a few seedlings can be seen at the moment! I don’t have any raised beds yet so I am restricting my veg growing to pots. This year I am growing potatoes, peas, broad beans, lettuce, radishes, beetroot, carrots, spring onions, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. I also have a little herb garden!

The front third of the garden is for flowers, a bit of lawn and entertaining. The back two thirds of the garden, which is currently empty except for a washing line, some rubbish and a random fence post, will be for my allotment.

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The area that will be my new ‘allotment’

I hope to start getting the hard landscaping in and some structures (sheds, polytunnel, fruit cage) in before the end of the year and then begin growing (on the scale that I am used to) again next year.

I am so grateful to have a space like this a few steps from my back door and I hope you will come with me on my journey of developing my allotment and growing my own in my back garden!

Here is the garden from the Easter weekend!

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This Week’s Harvest – 2017, week 23

The hungry gap is over and it is filled with broad beans! I have had a good harvest this week of broad beans, some lettuce and a few peas.

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I harvested 1.4kg of broad beans and 150g of peas. I also pulled up a couple of carrots to see if they are ready yet. They are still small and have forked but at least there are no sign of carrot root fly!

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I also pulled up the spinach which had started to flower. This tends to happen quickly in dry weather – I think I need to find a cooler place to grow spinach!

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I hope your harvests are coming along nicely!

May 2017!

Wow! We have had some dry weather this last month. There has been the occasional shower but this has certainly been a very dry May. Suffice to say a good chunk of my time is taken up with watering the plot constantly!

I have been quite concerned this month about a number of things:'Well, when I've tried everything and it still hasn't rained, I wash the car.'

a) the lack of water. I know that we had a particularly wet week in the middle of May but the general trend appears to be on the dry side. Whilst most people will enjoy this I feel that it can’t be a good sign!?

b) the lack of bees. I try my best to have spaces in the allotment with bee frinedly plants, the wildlife pond, the herb garden etc. Every year I start to see bees buzzing around the broad beans, strawberries and chives now that they are out and flowering but this year there has been just a handful. As we make our way towards June there numbers are starting to increase but it still leaves me rather concerned! Has anyone else noticed this?

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A rare bumblebee in amongst the chives!

c) the lack of ladybirds. Aphids are slowly taking over my plot and normally I will see quite a few ladybirds enjoying a feast but this year I have only seen one – so much so that I have bought in ladybird larvae to tackle the growing aphid problem.

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All this lovely blossom  was hit by frost!

d) the lack of fruit set. We had a incredibly warm april which bought out all the flowers on my fruit trees. Out of nowhere in the first week of May we had a particularly hard frost which killed all the blossom on my apple, pear, plum and cherry tree. My strawberries were also hit but have bounced back with more flowers. Generally this means that the fruit I will harvest this year is limited to strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb.

Despite all this we have been working hard down the allotment trying to keep on top of things. I perpetually feel like I am behind but every year it gets a little easier!

Working away down the plot on the first bank holiday weekend, the ground was hard and dusty so when it rained (for 3 seconds) I was quite relieved! Mostly, we weeded the plots. The following weekend we ordered a load of manure which arrived promptly and was put to use covering the lazy bed. The bed was then promptly covered with weed control fabric which the wind took great delight in lifting it all off and depositing it against the fence. Cue two hours of trying to battle the wind and peg it back down with the help of some heavy compost bags, the garden table and a garden bench. Excitingly that weekend I ordered the polytunnel!

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Lazy bed has been covered with weed control fabric ready for squash plants to go in!

The following weekend was a planting weekend. I planted out cabbages, sprouted lentils and dwarf beans. The dwarf beans were torn apart by the wind over the following two days which was slightly heart breaking so have sown some more direct into the soil. I think I need to buy some wind breaks for the plots! My aubergines and celeriac plug plants arrived and they were promptly potted on (aubergines) or planted out (celeriac).

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Aubergines have arrived and been potted on!

I did a small amount of weeding in the herb garden specifically in thyme square and planted out some borage and bergamot. I also bought and planted a peony and two hostas around the pond.

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The pond is starting to come to life again with self-seeded california poppies flowering!

Thursday 18th saw my polytunnel being delivered and Sam got promptly to work putting it up with the help of our friend David, to whom I owe a bottle of whisky! I helped a little but generally big construction projects go better if Sam and I don’t work together (we argue!). It has taken a long time to put up the structure and even now the cover is not yet on. We have, however, built some raised beds for inside the polytunnel. Hopefully the first weekend in June will be calm enough for us to put the cover on and hang the doors. Whilst Sam and David were working hard to put up the polytunnel, I planted courgettes and sweetcorn on plot 2 and broccoli, red cabbages and swede on plot 1. The lovely deluge of rain during the week before saw my plots turn into mini jungles, the weeds went rampant among the sea of grass. It took me a total of 2 hours to strim and mow all the grass on plot 2 and 3.

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Polytunnel frame has gone up – just need to put on the cover and the doors!

The last weekend in May saw a second manure delivery after using up the last one. Sam and I got to work filling the raised beds in the polytunnel and earthing up potatoes.

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Potatoes have been earthed up with the new delivery of well-rotted manure!

I have jetted off to Lyon for a work conference (yawn!), where I am currently sat typing this in my hotel room, and Sam went to the allotment to strim the jungle that is the second half of plot 1. Very kindly, Sam’s mum is coming over tomorrow (bank holiday Monday) and I have left a list of things to be done. Hopefully, most of the items on the list will be crossed off. I have also left Sam in charge of the war against slugs and he will be applying the second batch of nematodes whilst I am away!sunshine

So May has been rather busy and now that the polytunnel is almost up and finished, I feel like we are starting to get plot 3 up together!

I hope your May has been a good one!

This Week’s Harvest – Week 21, 2017

At last the hungry gap is passing and I have more to harvest from the allotment than rhubarb!

This week we have harvested two heads of lettuce, one green butterhead and one red little gem, a handful of radishes and 250g of broad beans.

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This went towards a lovely meal of hickory smoked beef brisket with a homegrown garden salad and broad bean and bacon potato salad!

I feel like summer is really here!

What to do this May!

Like April, May can be a busy time for gardeners and allotmenteers! Frosts are becoming less frequent and by the middle of the month we can  be reasonably confident that our more tender veg can be planted out and beans and squash can be sown direct in to the ever-warming soil!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

It is particularly busy time for planting and sowing now that summer is nearly here!

Sowing

  • All your beans can be sown now; runner beans, climbing beans and dwarf beans and peas.¬†¬†Watch out for the dreaded pea moth laying her eggs in June and July on peas which are sown now.
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Peas and beans can be sown direct now!
  • Squashes and other cucurbits such as courgettes, melons and cucumbers can be sown direct outdoors in May or started off in pots indoors if there is still a chance of frost.
  • At the same time, sweetcorn can be sown now both outdoors and indoors. They will be an excellent companion crop to squashes and climbing beans
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Sweetcorn can be sown now, either indoors or direct in the soil once frosts have passed.
  • Continue to successionally sow root crops for continual harvests including¬†beetroot, carrots and this moth is really the last chance to sow parsnips!
  • Brassicas such as winter cabbage, broccoli, late season Brussels¬†sprouts, cauliflowers and kale can be sown now for harvesting in Autumn/winter.
  • Don’t forget to sow other brassicas such as radishes, turnips and swede. These root brassicas still require protection from pigeons who loves to strip the leaves!
  • Salad leaves and other crops that add pep to your salad including spring onions, swiss chard, spinach and lambs lettuce can be sown now. Where necessary remember to keep sowing successionally so you can enjoy salads all summer long.
  • For your herb garden, tender herbs such as basil, parsley and coriander can be sown now too!

Planting

  • Chilli peppers, sweet peppers, aubergines¬†and greenhouse tomatoes¬† that were started back at the beginning of the year can now be planted out into greenhouse and polytunnel borders.
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Tomato plants are ready to be planted into greenhouse/polytunnel borders.
  • If you have ordered sweet potatoes then they will be delivered this month ready for you to plant out. Make sure you plant out after all chances of frost have passed.
  • Any courgettes, cucumber and sweetcorn you started in April will be ready for planting out from the middle of the month onwards.
  • If you haven’t been able to start brassicas off from seeds then you can plant out brassica plants bought from your local garden centre or any of the online retailers.

Harvesting

  • Salad leaves and other salad crops such as radishes, swiss chard and lettuces will be ready to harvest now.
  • Early peas and broad beans may be ready to harvest this month
  • Rhubarb will continue to crop this month as will asparagus if you are lucky enough to have this delicious crop.
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Rhubarb will be cropping well at this month.
  • Towards the end of the month, early strawberries will be starting to ripen. Make sure you get them before the birds or slugs!
  • If you planned ahead, last year you may also be harvesting spring cabbages and cauliflowers!

Jobs on the plot

As the weather warms and we start to make the transition into Summer, your crops will be growing strong – as will the weeds. Watch out for any late frosts in the first half of this month depending on where you live.

  • Protect young and tender plants from any late frosts. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, if the temperatures are set to plummet over night protect with cloches and fleece and earth up potatoes to protect the shoots.
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Potatoes have been earthed up with straw to protect them from frosts.
  • New sowings and young plants will be vulnerable to pests especially slugs and snails who are looking for an easy meal. Put down barriers and traps to stop these critters in their tracks! Apply predatory nematodes and predators such as ladybird larvae to keep the pest population under control and fit brassica collars round newly planted brassicas to stop cabbage root fly.
  • Sow catch crops such as fast growing radishes and lettuces between slower-growing crops like brassicas to make good use of the space and keep weeds at bay.
  • Hoe off annual weeds as they appear but when you see perennial weeds in your patch it might be better to dig these out by hand and remove as much root as possible otherwise they will just come back. Also make sure you get up any volunteer potatoes as they could be a reservoir for blight!
  • Harden off your tender plants before planting them out to acclimatize them to outside conditions.
  • In the fruit garden, thin out raspberries where necessary so they don’t become overcrowded and prune almond, peach and nectarine trees. Remove strawberry flowers from very young plants or any that appear to be struggling and as the fruit starts to ripen on older healthier plants, protect them from pests.
  • In the polytunnel or greenhouse, any tomatoes you have already planted may need staking or tying in as they grow and any side-shoots removed. The temperatures can get quite high under cover so make sure you open vents and doors on particularly hot days remembering to close them again at night when temperatures drop.
  • Keep your plot well watered especially if there isn’t much rain or you grow your plants in pots. Rising temperatures can cause the ground to dry out fast. Where possible apply mulches that keep the moisture locked into the ground.
  • If you have ordered plug plants, then they will be arriving on your doorstep. Get them potted on or planted out as soon as possible. Suppliers send out these plants at the best time for planting.
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Plug plants will be arriving – pot on or plant out immediately!

May Recipe

Pea and broad bean risotto (from BBC Good food)

broad bean risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g cold butter¬†, diced
  • 1 small onion or 2 shallots, chopped
  • 175g risotto rice
  • 100ml white wine
  • 600ml hot vegetable stock
  • 50g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 200g fresh peas, podded (about 1kg/2lb 4oz unpodded weight)
  • 200g broad beans, podded (about 1kg/2lb 4oz unpodded weight)
  1. Heat oil and 25g of the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 4-5 mins. Stir in the rice and cook for a further 2 mins. Turn up the heat and add the wine, let it bubble to evaporate the alcohol.
  2. Once the wine has reduced, begin adding the hot stock a ladle at a time over a medium heat, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next and stirring continuously. The rice should always be moist, but not swimming in liquid. The process of adding and stirring should take about 16-20 mins, depending on what kind of risotto rice you use.
  3. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the peas and beans for 2-3 mins. Drain and set aside. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the remaining butter, Parmesan, peas and beans with some seasoning before serving.