Back to the plot

I went to the allotment today for the first time in weeks.  It’s been insanely windy and a bit rainy and miserable lately–no big shocker for March, but still no fun to go out in.  I didn’t really feel like going today either–the weather was better, but not exactly balmy, and I had a million other things I felt like doing at home.  But, after a big lunch I managed to kick my ass out the door and the whopping 1/4 mile or so to the plot.

It was largely a mess–the crappy woven plastic sheeting I bought off of eBay did manage to keep the weeds off of some of the beds, but it also shredded itself and so there’s black plastic bits all over the place.  I felt guilty enough buying it in the first place–now I feel extra shit since it hasn’t even lasted a season and I suspect is managing to mess up the planet in ways yet untold.

Still, that’s not the takeaway from today.  The big thing is that, even when it’s a mess, I still really love it.  The rocket had bolted, making pretty flowers for the pollinators.


A tiny re-seeded forget-me-not was starting to bloom.

img_20190323_153834902_hdr-1The hyacinths that I forgot were there were putting on a show.


I planted the pea seedlings that were probably beyond salvaging–I’ll be shocked if they grow, but since they weren’t really doing anyone any good just sitting in my porch I figured why not?  I also planted a pound of shallot bulbs.  That seemed like a lot of shallots, but I love shallots, so fingers crossed it works out.

Oh, and I picked some rhubarb.  Hurray for perennial edibles! Hunger gap, shmunger gap…



Seed starting 2019


I lack the emotional or mental capacity to keep this blog up in any reasonable fashion, but since the whole point was to provide a journal of what was happening in the garden and allotment so that I would not be doomed to repeat my mistakes, I thought I should do some recording.  Today I started my first tranche of seeds.  Spring is always, always, always a crazy time for me with work and random disasters and finding the 30 minutes it takes to just get some stuff going can sometimes be difficult.  But today I did it!  Hopefully in reasonable time.


In the warm southern facing window:

Tomato ‘Green Zebra’

Tomato ‘Skynomish’

Tomato ‘Galina (my hands-down best variety ever!)’

Tomato ‘Orange Banana’

Tomato ‘Jen’s Tangerine’

Tomato ‘Grushkova

Basil ‘British’


(I genuinely looked at my seed packets today and thought, “Really, do I have enough tomato seeds?” and then went to Real Seeds and considered getting a packet Moskova.  Because I am clearly a madwoman.

In the cool northern facing window:

Leeks ‘Blue Solaise’

Beetroot ‘Jannis’

Lettuce ‘All Year Round’

Lettuce ‘Rouge d’Hiver’

Rocket ‘Astra’

Peas ‘Jesse’

Mangetout ‘Golden Sweet’


I think that will be it until April?

Autumn reckoning 2018

Wow, I just realised I haven’t written on here for at least a year! If we needed any evidence of why I’m not the next Alys Fowler, I guess we have it.

So, how did this year go? And what would I do differently/the same next year?

Weather this year: It was hot and dry for a lot of this summer.  That made it great to grow the North American crops I love, but a bit challenging in terms of keeping everying watered for the course of the summer.



I need to remember to grow tomatoes properly.  I need to give them good support early on (maybe make some American-style tomato cages?)  and pinch out the suckers.  This year I just let them grow like crazy, and it was probably not the best idea in terms of harvesting. I grew some plants outside and some in this year; some of the outside plants were in pots.  The outside plants in the ground did surprisingly well, but not the ones in the pots.  I might have to think about a different strategy for greenhouse growing, like possibly getting the capillary based feeders that are so ridiculously expensive.

Galina: I have found my must have, will never be without tomato, and it is Galina.  This tomato started producing early, is still producing now in mid-October, and stays well on the vine, so it doesn’t mind if it doesn’t get picked for a while.  They’re tasty little things and they grew pretty well both outside and in.  I probably don’t need quite as many next year, as there’s only so much you can do with cherry tomatoes, but I should never be without at least a couple plants.

Jen’s Tangerine: I grew this the first year I had the allotment, and then for some reason forgot to grow it last year.  That was dumb.  This is a great tomato. I just grew this one in the greenhouse, but it produced consistently over the season and it tastes terrific.

Latah: A total bust for me. Barely produced at all, either inside or outside. The fruit was okay, but sort of strangely shaped. Perhaps if I started it earlier I could get the super-early tomatoes everyone always seems so excited about with this variety?

Green Zebra: Did okay in the greenhouse.  These tasted good and were pretty.  It’s worth growing a couple plants, just to have them look nice on sandwiches.

Skynomish: Didn’t produce until the very end of the season. I screwed up with these by not providing enough support, so a lot of them ended up on the ground.  They were okay, but nothing special.  Probably not worth growing next year.

For next year: I’d like to add a proper sauce tomato to the mix, in order to can some tomato sauce for the winter.  I think Sunrise Sauce is probably the variety I want to go with, but that will mean a lot of orange tomatoes.  But I might be okay with that.


I grew two varieties this year: Miniature White and a Wautoma that a friend at the allotment gave me. Miniature White was definitely the better cuke for me–produced slow and steady over the season.  I might go back to the Salt and Pepper cucumbers I grew last year, though–they were very nice and might be a bit more disease resistant?


It was a good year for squash. I grew Hokkaido, Sweet Meat, Sibley and Galeaux d’Eysines. They all did pretty well.  Sweet Meat only produced one largish squash on the one vine, but it produced early and ripened early.  Hokkaido grew a number of smaller squash on the two vines, and ripened nice and early.  I didn’t get Sibley in until late, but it still managed to produce quite a large squash.  It isn’t clear if this was 100% ripe when I brought it in, so I’m worried about storage.  But it was so delicious when I grew it two years ago that I don’t really mind.  I didn’t really think Galeaux would do well here, but I’ve got about two large fruits per vine.  It didn’t set fruit or ripen until quite late, so I don’t know how it would do in a normal winter.


This may be temporary, but I feel like I’ve figured out what I really need in terms of beans. I grew Cosse Violette pole beans and Royal Burgundy bush beans.  I grew Royal Burgundy last year, and they were a winner then too.  They start early and produce steadily.  They don’t require a lot of work.  Cosse Violette starts a bit later, when Royal Burgundy is slowing down a little.  I pretty much had beans for months and months.  Also, the Cosse Violette beans stayed okay on the vine while I went to visit my family in August. This wasn’t ideal, and I think it slowed down production in the long term, but they were certainly still edible.

I also grew runner beans (Czar) in attempt to be more British.  I don’t really get runner beans. They seem so self-evidently less delicious than pole beans.  I decided to just collect the beans and dry them this year, which has gone okay.  I’m not sure if that’s worth doing for next year.


I failed to get the peas in the ground in time this year, and didn’t get much of a crop.  Might be worth switching up varieties next year–perhaps something a bit more colourful.


The raspberries (Joan J) developed some ugliness about half-way through the season this year.  They looked diseased and the canes started dying with fruit still on. I think it might affect next year’s early crop.  Still not sure what caused it, or how to prevent it next year.  Still managed to get a nice, long, steady crop of raspberries.  The yellow variety that Phil gave me is not working out brilliantly–I should probably tear it out for next year.


The birdies completely stripped my gooseberry crop before I had a chance to get at it myself this year.  I had a hard time getting mad, since it was a rough year for wildlife.


The artichokes produced this year, but the plants looked really unhappy. Perhaps they need to go someplace else?  Or maybe I need to start over with a new variety that’s a bit more robust/perennial?

Things I failed to grow:

I failed to get in any leeks, shallots or kale this year. I will definitely be feeling it this winter.  Last year I had so many leeks that I didn’t every need to worry about having enough. This year, nothing. The lack of kale is similarly bothersome, although my perennial kale has survived and I think I will be okay to harvest some of that this year.

For reasons I still can’t understand, I failed to grow much in the way of lettuce or chard this year. I love my leafy greens, so that is quite frustrating.


Autumn reckoning

If the point of this blog was to keep an ongoing record of how things were going in the allotment, it has not been a rousing success.  As it turns out, Instagram has been a lot easier to jot down what is happening on a week by week basis.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to look back with Instagram like I would like to, but at least it’s something.  I thought it was still a good idea to reflect back on what has gone well and poorly in the allotment this year, so that I’m not tempted to make the same mistakes next year…


This would be a classic case of having a really good year last year, then deciding to change everything I was doing.  So silly.  This year I tried growing Orange Banana, Jen’s Tangerine, Fiancello, plus a couple of things from the allotment sale.  None were a great success.  The Orange Banana suffered from a lot of blossom end rot, and I had a lot of splitting in general.  This was probably down to the fact that the automatic waterer ran out of battery just as I went to Utrecht for a week in July.  Always check!  I didn’t grow Grushkova this year and that was a mistake.  I really need an early tomato in this climate.  I’m still harvesting in October, so that’s something, but the harvest overall has been a bit paltry.


I had both rust and white rot on the garlic this year.  Still managed to harvest quite a few heads, though.  I foolishly thought the rust would resolve itself, and I really should have cut back the rusty bits a lot earlier.  I wonder if this is just going to be a chronic thing on the allotment and if I should just try to do garlic in the back garden instead?


I grew Royal Burgundy bush beans and a single plant of runner beans that I picked up at the allotment sale.  The bush beans were terrific–delicious and prolific.  I put a second planting in in August, but the initial planting kept me in beans for ages.  They were annoying to pick, so I am considering trying pole beans instead next year.  But I need to remember how much I like these.  The runner beans were fine–didn’t produce much, but they weren’t much trouble either.  I may try to plant these for realsies next year–probably Czar from Real Seeds.


I grew Dazzling Blue.  It is, indeed, dazzling, especially with the purple cosmos and the the rhubarb.  Too bad it needs to be moved next year.  The taste was good if not amazing, but it was super easy to grow.  It is supposed to benefit from a bit of cold, so I’m hoping it will be amazing during the winter harvest.  I need to think about planning this out as a winter crop.  I also managed to get two plants of Daubenton kale!  These have established themselves reasonably well, even if they haven’t really grown that much yet.


In an effort to get ever more perennial vegetables in play, I started some artichokes from seed this year (Artichoke Tavor).  Six went into the allotment.  I’ve gotten a decent harvest this year, and hope they continue to produce next year!  I do need to develop some better artichoke recipes…


I need to remember that my asparagus comes up later than everyone else’s!  I started to panic this year when everyone on Instagram had spears coming through and I didn’t.  It’s just that I have a late variety, I guess. I haven’t actually harvested anything yet, but hopefully next year?


Put in a lot of Joan J, plus two golden raspberries from Phil.  They all seem to have established really well, so hopefully raspberries next year!


Bit of a disaster.  Supposedly an everbearing variety (Calypso?), but I only saw berries in the spring. They weren’t that good and they tended to get mouldy.  I probably didn’t have the plants spaced far enough apart.  Not sure if I’ll rip them all up and start over with a different variety, or just pull about half of them and see if the increased space helps at all.


Moved one of the white currant plants from behind the greenhouse to the side.  It got stripped of its currants by the birds pretty quickly, though.  Same for the gooseberry I moved.  Perhaps it would be sensible to think about how to deal with this for next year? The other two new gooseberries look like they’re establishing pretty well so far.  Phil gave me five blackcurrant plants as well (rooted cuttings, really) that I need to find a permanent home for this winter.


So, I’m apparently the only person in the whole world who is incapable of growing a bumper crop of swiss chard.  Mine always seems to go rusty and a little weird looking, and there isn’t much of it.  It’s reasonably edible, but I have yet to crack the code on this.

After a great first year with lettuce, this year was a bit hit or miss.  I had trouble with germination this year, so didn’t really manage to get much in the ground early. Everything I put in bolted way too fast.  Cimmaron was gorgeous, but bolted much too quickly for the quantity I had planted.  I tried putting in a late planting of that specked trout lettuce and that’s just kind of sat there.  Maybe I just got cocky last year and I need to pay more attention to varieties and whatnot next year?  It seems like it was a decent summer for it (which is to say, it was grey and miserable all summer…)


I grew Carouby mange touts this year and they were great–prolific, easy and delicious.  The only thing is that I might want more of them?  I might try a purple podded variety next year to make picking a bit easier, but this should be in addition to Carouby not instead of!


I thought I would plant some cut flowers in the garden this year.  Lesson learned: cosmos is gorgeous but huge!  I only need a few plants of it, and I really need to give them room to grow.  They squished the cornflowers they were going next to, as well as the baby rhubarb.  They started blooming a lot later than the cornflowers, but are still going so seem worth it for that reason alone.  The cornflowers were nice and early, but got some sort of powdery mildew, especially once they were crowded out by the cosmos.  The alstroemeria was great–I didn’t bother picking it last year, but you can just really go at and it bounces back.  Too bad I don’t actually like the colour!  I should try to get another variety, as it is just so easy to grow and use as a cut flower.  Next year, I should invest a bit more time in thinking about varieties.

Cukes and squash:

I want these crops to work so badly.  This year I grew Crystal Apple and Marketmore cucumbers.  I got a couple of decent cukes off of Marketmore, but only some sad, twisty things from Crystal Apple. I was trying to grow them up the trellising, which may have been part of the mistake?  At any rate, I will try to go back to the Salt and Pepper cucumbers that worked so well for me last year.

The squash harvest is non-existent as of this writing, which is pretty depressing.  I think I’ll have a couple tiny ones off of Hokkaido, and one small Sibley.  But that’s nothing compared to last year.  I think this is partly down to having a bad year for it–very little sunshine–but also that I placed them poorly.  I didn’t really think about it at the time, but they were on a sort of mini-slope that faced north.  Not next year!


Planted some Pink Fir potatoes, did nothing with them in terms of hilling up etc (because, let’s be honest, I just don’t care that much about potatoes).  I’ve dug a few up, and they were good, but I’m not sure I understand what the fuss is about.  But maybe I’m just not a potato person?


Managed to get beets to grow this year (starting from seed was key), but I have to acknowledge that I just don’t really feel like eating beets in the summer.  I really think of them as a winter crop, but I keep on planting them in the summer and then letting them just sit there.  A golden one got big and kind of ugly and I don’t think it can be eaten anymore, though the beet greens are gorgeous.  I should try to figure out when best to plant these so that I will actually use and enjoy them.


First seedlings: away!

Despite gardening since I was a little girl, I’ve never thought of myself as very good at seed starting.  Sure, I could get  radishes to grow, but who couldn’t?  Like every other gardener, looking at seed catalogues is how I survive winter, but I never had much faith it would result in anything.  I’ve gotten better in the last couple of years, helped along by the fact I can afford good seed starting mix (Fertile Fibre’s peat free seed compost) and my allotment came with a greenhouse (I’m sure better gardeners than I can make it work with lesser equipment).  Still, I never quite believe that it will really work.  Which makes it all the more thrilling when the first ones germinate.  This time, it’s the Artichoke Tavor that’s started to come up.  I wanted to squeal and clap my hands when I saw those little bits of green.


Right now I’m working on restraining myself from knocking the bits of soil off those emerging sprouts.  The plants know what they’re doing–they will get there without my intervention.  I planted all 15 seeds and it looks like most of them are making a go of it, so there will be the additional question of what to do with all those artichoke plants.

Now the (not so) patient wait begins for the rest of them…




Things are stirring!

A couple of beautiful, sunshiney days have put me in a mood to get started again.  I popped down to the allotment to bring home some seed starting mix and generally have a poke around.  The new raspberries I planted (Joan J) are starting to show signs of life.wp-1487428009183.jpg

The rhubarb is coming up (even though it has an obnoxious bramble growing in the middle…).  Rhubarb is just astoundingly gorgeous when it sprouts.  One of the nice things about this whole blogging/instagram malarkey is that you take time to notice how lovely things are.  The newly divided rhubarb is actually looking really good–possibly ready for a bit of harvest this year?  But I should be good and just leave it ’til next.


The sorrel from last year has put on some new leaves.  I should really have planted more of it–the broadleaf is lovely to eat and easier to deal with than what I have in the garden at home.  It looks like some of the yellow chard from last year is ready to go again this year.  I have a bunch more in the greenhouse, so my fantasy of living on chard may be about to come true.



I finally started planting seeds, too!  Two flats of Zebrune Shallots (from Real Seeds), seven plugs each of Jen’s Tangerine, Orange Banana and Fiaschetto tomatoes. I also sowed some perennials for the back garden.

And, as luck would have it, a local community group was selling hellebores at the Jesmond Food Market for £2.50 this morning.  I snapped up three gorgeous specimans.  I had been thinking for a while that I could use some hellebores under the cherry tree in back, so I’m super-excited to get these.


Seeds planted so far:

12 February:

  • Artichoke Tabor
  • Delphinium Belladonna mix

18 February:

  • tomatoes (Jen’s Tangerine, Orange Banana, Fiaschetto)
  • nasturtiums (Tall Climbing mix)
  • bronze fennel
  • malva zebrina
  • shallots Zebrune
  • acanthus
  • Beetroot Jannis

Rhubarb division

Here’s the thing people: when Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh and whoever tell you to divide your rhubarb every 3-5 years, they’re not joking around.  Let your rhubarb go too long and you’ll be facing the sort of mess I did at the allotment today.  img_20161218_120035758That, my friends, is a rhubarb that’s gotten a little out of control.  The main root leading away was bigger than my arm (note: I am not Kate Moss.  My arms are substantial.)

It was really cool to see how much of a life support system those roots are.  Worms were wriggling out all over the place and these little pill bugs had made a home.

img_20161218_120349127I have been leaning more and more towards a permaculture/no dig approach to vegetable gardening, and this really shows how much life there is around the roots of plants.

I finally managed to lever out old man rhubarb, and chopped it into divisions to replant.  The stuff I read suggested using a sharp knife for this, but there’s no way I could have gotten through all of that mass with anything other than the spade.  Not all of the divisions will be viable, but I don’t need a dozen rhubarb plants anyway.  Two went back in the ground at the allotment, I dropped off one at a friend’s, and we’ll see if anyone local wants any of the rest….