Diary update: May and the must have rain

On the evening of Thursday 11 May, I stood in my kitchen with the lights out. I sipped a cold beer and watched the rain pour down onto the garden. It was beautiful.

So beautiful in fact, I wanted more of the experience and so opened the window to let my ears soak up the sound of the heavy drops as they splattered over the patio and drummed on the plastic recycling bin. Just when I thought the event couldn’t get any better, thunder grumbled out of the clouds above. Bliss.

I doubt I’m the only one who enjoyed this luxury. It’s been a dry spring and in Wales, we are used to the rain wetting our world for much of the time. As a result, I rarely water the allotment and so weeks without rain is like stepping into the twilight zone.

If I wasn’t a gardener, I may have been disappointed by the arrival of rain. I can imagine the neighbours shaking their heads at the sight of the downpour and with dismay exclaim, “there’s our summer over then!”

It’s been a while since I published a diary update. This isn’t because I’ve not been doing anything with the allotment garden – spring, after all, is a busy time in the gardening world, but I’ve not really been doing anything worthy of a full diary blog. I have been updating Twitter and Instagram with our sowing and growing, however.

When spring arrived, the uncultivated areas on the plot burst into life. Weed life. One thing I’ve learned is that the areas of undeveloped plot, unloved and uncared for (in a time before me) become hard work. It’s not that I’m shy about pulling the shirt sleeves up and breaking a sweat, it’s simply because I don’t need to break my back over that ground at the moment and by waiting for autumn when the couch grass and brambles have died back, the job becomes much easier.

It’s given me a time to reflect on the area I have worked and brought back into production. In comparison to what it looked like when I signed on the dotted line, it’s something I’m very proud of and I’m enjoying the rewards. However, I did get rather carried away with moving forwards and as I don’t want to spend another summer carrying out more hard graft, I have the opportunity to fine tune and improve the existing section of the allotment.

There are sections of the raised beds that need to be finished off and I still have areas of the cultivated section to clear and build more growing space. In fact, I’ve calculated I can increase the number of beds near the front of the allotment by at least six.  That doubles the beds I have already and I still have at least 30 feet of the allotment to cultivate (the autumn work).

There’s also a long strip running down the east side of the allotment that I’ve ignored. It’s a narrow mound of grass and weeds. This banking was created by the previous tenants after digging a ditch the length of the plot. Since digging out all the paths and building raised beds on the plot, the ditch, a solution for combating the high levels of water this area suffers, is pretty redundant and the bank is just a waste of space.

If I remove the banking, I’ve worked out I can create even more raised beds running the length of the allotment. These beds will run perpendicular to the existing arrangement of beds on the plot and be of at least the same size. Brilliant!

When the allotment is fully developed, the amount of growing space that will be available really amazes me. I will update the diary as this work progresses. In the meantime, it’s tremendously exciting to see so many crops bursting into life.

Blueberry flowers are covering the three bushes we have. I’m hoping this will mean a bumper crop this year. The spinach looks fantastic and it’s been such an easy crop to grow. This is the first time I’ve managed a successful germination of carrots and I’m excited with their progress. Finally, the parsnips – I really wanted to have a crop of parsnips this year and I hope it will mean home grown parsnips for Christmas dinner.

We’ve had our first taste of the allotment produce. Last week I harvested some rhubarb for the first time. I’ve needed patience as the two crowns were planted last year and were left to establish. The wait was worth it. A few stems stewed and served warm with ice cream. Simple and truly delicious.

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This weekend I’m planting out the squash and pumpkins. I have a wonderful selection including, Turks Turban, Honey Bear and Old Boar white. If you read my article earlier this month on pumpkins and the disgraceful waste every year as a result of Halloween, you will know I’m very keen to encourage others to grow their own. As a result of that article, the nice people at Marshalls got in touch. I’m trialling some mini pumpkin and squash as I want those without an allotment or large garden to grow their own too.

I’m asking a few friends of mine to grow these varieties in their own gardens to find out how they get on. The two varieties are Festival and Wee b little. The squash can be grown vertically which means it takes less space to accommodate. I’m going to follow along with their progress right up to tasting – my hope is it will inspire those with a small space to grow their own pumpkins and squash in the future.

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It’s such an exciting time of the year when you’re growing your own fruit and veg. After the dark and cold days of winter and the careful nurturing of seeds and seedlings in early spring, now the promise of what we have to come is a beautiful sight. I hope you all are enjoying the spring and your own crops are giving you the same amount of pleasure.

I’d love to hear how your own allotments and kitchen gardens are progressing. Drop me a comment below or join me on Twitter and Facebook.

Book review: SowHow – A modern guide to grow-your-own veg

The shelves in my dining room are lined with an ever expanding collection of books on the topic of allotments and kitchen gardening. If I flick through the pages of these books, there is a noticeable similarity in content and style. Continue reading “Book review: SowHow – A modern guide to grow-your-own veg”

10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: April

There’s a fantastic number of allotment, kitchen garden and grow your own bloggers out there. I read as many as I can for inspiration, advice and to find out what everyone is getting up to.

Here are a few of my favourite articles and blog posts from April.

1. Face Planting. When an author writes a blog post that’s not only about growing your own but has you in stitches (and I lie not – this one did!), then the delight of reading it reaches new heights! This is the honest truth of how allotment gardening can be both a sanctuary and a driver for removing even the pedestals of stardom.

2.  Are you gardening outside the box? You may know I’m a bit of a fan of James Robbin’s blog posts. As a professional gardener, he has this wonderful knack of writing knowledgeably on the topic but there’s always a thought-provoking twist on the theme. Well, this time he’s hijacked that bearded beauty, Michael Perry’s blog with this thinker. James explores the relevance of gardening tv in the context of contemporary forms of media. Put the debate on sidelining Gardeners World to Snooker on hold – this is where the conversation is at!

3. How to Grow Your Own Thai Curry.  I’m always banging on about the benefits of growing your own, whether on an allotment or a back garden, is the variety of vegetables that become available. However, as this post from Nic Wilson demonstrates, growing your own also opens up the possibility to grow the often flown-far ingredients to cook your favourite Saturday night ‘Take-away’. Nic also shares her delicious recipe.

4. The beets go on… Esme is bonkers about beetroot. Seriously, she’s even named her blog after the stuff. In her debut blog post (Welcome Esme!), she tells us all about her passion and gives some varieties to try and some tips on growing them successfully.

5. Parsnip to beetroot fudge. Speaking of beetroot, Shaheen has provided a cracking way to serve it up. Here she takes a recipe for parsnip fudge and gives it a twist by changing the key ingredient to beetroot. These look fantastic and I for one will be giving it a go with my own homegrown globes later this year.

6. How to keep kids entertained on an allotment without ending up in A&E. As a dad of a six-year-old, I’m passionate about keeping her engaged in the allotment garden. I’m happy to say that for the most part, Ava is engaged with the sowing, growing and harvesting of the crops – which is absolutely what I want, but there will be times when we aren’t doing those things and well, some of the other tasks are just not as appealing. The thing is, allotments can be great places to have fun, even when the jobs are not as engaging for little ones. I love the concept behind Becky’s post in keeping little ones entertained on the plot. A few suggestions too.

7. Why tickling empowers sensitive seedlings. Etiolation. This new term is one I could quite easily apply to me many times from Monday to Friday – to become weak and floppy. However, let’s use in the context in which James Wong means for it to be used, that resulting character of those seedlings that have grown long and leggy. James offers a scientifically valid approach to helping these weaklings out – give them a tickle. I’ll let James explain why.

8. 5 easy to grow unusual edibles. We’re back to those benefits of growing your own again. Modern Veg Plot is all about growing interesting and unusual edibles in a greenhouse and allotment plot. This post shares 5 that are easy for anyone to grow and show off to your friends when you invite them around for dinner – Cucamelon salad and stuffed Acocha anyone?

9. The benefits of making Comfrey tea. Us Brits are renowned for having a bit (165 Million cups a day) of taste for a good cup of char. Well, we aren’t alone – those crops of yours love a decent brew of their own. As with all of Matt’s posts, this is an informative guide to making up Comfrey tea to use as a fertiliser on the allotment. I’d recommend a peg for your nose with this one mind.

10. 5 ideas for dealing with gluts.  If you have had an allotment or kitchen garden for some time, you will know that no matter how well you plan, gluts happen. As satisfying as it can be to rejoice in the high yields of any crop you have grown yourself, there’s really only so much courgette or runner bean one can stomach. Trust me – I know. Jono has come up with a plan (well 5 actually) on how you can prepare to cope with the inevitable summer sackfuls that will come our way as harvests arrive over the coming months.

Any blogs or articles caught your eye this month? I’d love to hear about them. Let me know in the comments below or on twitter