Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Allotments

An account of our work and progress on the allotment at Bobs Coppice

Favourite Flower 2018 – Balsam Dwarf Bush

Last year I started a set of posts that I intend to continue annually. My aim is to choose a favourite flower that Ive never grown before and my choice this year is Balsam Dwarf Bush. The seeds were bought from Seekay earlier this year and sown as usual in a seed tray then transferred into 7″ pots and much to my surprise turned out to be quite large plants. I potted three of them on  into a five litre black bucket and they grew like Topsy with almost a trunk forming. The flowers were very attractive and plentiful.

Another surprise was when the seed heads began to appear. I have seen them referred to as fruits. It is now half way through September and these seeds heads are unfurling to reveal many dark brown seeds. I shall definitely have another go with these flowers next year. However, this year, as the stalk/trunk is so substantial I plan to cut them off at ground level and see what happens next Spring. The supplier described them as annual and 10″ high but in my experience they have grown to over a foot.

An annual variety of Balsam that will grow to a height of 10″. The plants produce a mass of doubled flowers that range in colour from white to pink and purple from July to Sept. Sow the seeds under glass from late Feb. Cover lightly and give a  little heat. Germination will take up to 21 days. Plant out when all risk of frost has passed. These plants will not require very much care. A little fertiliser every now and then and occasional watering will be ample.

 

Overwintering Cabbages 2018

Overwintering cabbages

Overwintering cabbages is a method whereby spring cabbages are late summer sown. by doing this they  produce small tender cabbages or spring greens in April and May. Confusingly, late spring sowing of Durham Elf can ensure earlier crops in autumn and winter so I may try those next Spring..

Overwintering cabbages

Overwintering cabbages

To over winter cabbages sow mid July to August ¼” deep in a seed bed or in trays of seed compost. Keep moist. Transplant to their final position when plants can be easily handled which should be in about 5-6 weeks.

Allow 18” between plants. Plant firmly and water well until established. Harvest in April and May for good firm hearts.

The four varieties that I am sowing today are Durham Early, Durham Elf, First Early Market and  Offenham 2 Flower of Spring.

Update – The seeds I sowed on 13th August have not all germinated. Today 4th September I have potted on 12 First Early Market.  Nothing else was big enough to transplant but I shall leave them a little longer.

I am hoping to get these in at the allotment in the middle of October and hope to harvest in April and May 2019. They will be protected by a tunnel as we have lots of hungry pigeons down there..

 

 

Alstroemeria Flaming Star

My current stock of Alstroemeria were inherited from the previous plot holder of our allotment. They were growing like weeds, prolifically, every year getting more and more, so much so that Rob began to pull them up and destroy them. I have saved a few rooted plants and lots of seeds. The flower is available in various colours. The variety I have is the bright orange Flaming Star pictured at the top of the post and I am determined to get hold of the white variety for the garden at home too. They are very sturdy plants and can be invasive so I shall grow them in large containers.

Tip – These flowers are best obtained by buying a well rooted plant as they are difficult to germinate from seeds. Plant Alstroemeria plants in a sheltered site, in part shade or full sun, any time between May and August in good soil. All Alstroemeria like good living, so give them plenty of organic matter in the planting hole. If you have a greenhouse plant some inside too. Pot them up into generous 5 litre pots and keep them frost free. Once they start to shoot in spring, feed and water well and they’ll give you an almost continual flower harvest. Pull from the root and they will continue to flower for months.

Alstroemeria, commonly called the Peruvian lily or lily of the Incas is a genus of flowering plants in the family Alstroemeriaceae. They are all native to South America although some have become naturalised in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Madeira and the Canary Islands. Almost all of the species are restricted to one of two distinct centres of diversity, one in central Chile, the other in eastern Brazil. Species of Alstroemeria from Chile are winter-growing plants while those of Brazil are summer-growing. All are long-lived perennials except graminea, a diminutive annual from the Atacama Desert of Chile.

Alstroemeria are very versatile plants and will grow in different situations. All varieties will flower from May through to the first frosts of Autumn and will benefit from the use of a free draining soil. Shorter varieties such as Princess, Inticancha and Little Miss are ideal for the front of the border or for growing in containers. Tall Alstroemeria are good for the back of the border and will provide a continuous supply of cut flowers throughout the summer months. Inca are slightly shorter but will also give long enough stems for cut flowers are good for borders and will also thrive in large containers. Some companies sell loose Alstroemeria rhizomes which is another method of propagation..

May cause skin allergy or irritant – Having skin or eye contact with these plants could result in an allergic reaction, burning or rash.

Sowing and Growing Sweetcorn in 2018

 

I’ve gone from saying that I am not growing any sweetcorn this year to sowing three different varieties. This morning I have sown 16 seeds of Sweetcorn Fiesta, a colourful, edible variety that I have never grown before and 30 seeds of Sweetcorn Mini Pop. I have sown them into a flat seed tray, side by side and hope to grow them on a little before they are planted at the allotment. Although we are into May the temperatures are very low so I decided to start them at home. The other variety is Sweetcorn Incredible, an F1 variety that we have grown before. These Rob wants to sow directly into the ground at the allotment.

 

Fiesta is an incredible multi-coloured variety was developed from traditional Indian corn with kernels of yellow, red, black, purple, pink, even marbled! A Traditional Indian Corn, that produces long cobs with multicoloured grain. Fiesta is a large, annual, cereal grass with erect, leafy, dark purple stems bearing dark purple ears containing sweet, edible, multi-coloured seeds, ready for harvest as early as late summer. This cultivar is suitable for cooler climates. The jury is out as to whether this corn is edible. Beautiful? yes. Unusual? yes. A talking point? yes. But edible hmmmm.

Sweetcorn Mini Pop Has been specially bred to be small. Each plant produces 5-6 long pale yellow cobs witch have  a sweet crunchy taste. They are useful in stir fry, curries or just on their own.

Sweetcorn Incredible is an F1 main season variety that produces medium sized sugar enhanced cobs producing a high number of  average sized cobs.

 

 

 

Growing Leek Musselburgh From Seed For 2018

This morning I have sown the last of my leek seeds. They are Musselburgh bought from alanromans.com and can be relied upon for a top sweet flavour, winter hardiness and good all round performance. It is a variety with good disease resistance and an excellent flavour. This year I have gone for sowing the seeds individually in toilet roll tubes just eight at a time for staggered planting at the allotment.  The seeds should germinate in about 21 days and will be left to grow on until they are about 8″ high and pencil thick. We shall plant them out in  May leaving a gap of about 6″ between them and with rows about 1′ apart. We have grown this variety before and had varying results so fingers crossed for this year.

Tip – When planting Leeks, choose a well drained bed and apply a general fertiliser a week before. Water the bed the day before if the weather is dry. Make a 6″ hole with a dibber, drop in the leek plant whilst at the same time gently filling the hole with water to settle the roots. Do not backfill with soil at this point. Keep ground moist and earth up when the white base starts to show. NO MANURE. 

Cooking with Leeks. Leeks are part of the onion family but have a sweeter, more delicate flavor. Leeks contain good amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making the vegetable a wise addition to a healthy diet. You can cook leeks by poaching them in chicken broth, pan-frying them in a little oil, or boiling them until tender or you can include them in a variety of other recipes. I use Leeks mainly in soups, stews and casseroles but they are equally useful as a side vegetable or in a pie.

 

 

Trying Second Early Salad Potato Jazzy and Old Favourite Maris Piper 2018

It’s well into April and we are only just starting our potatoes. First Into the allotment were some Maris Piper bought from Lidl. 20 seed potatoes were put into the allotment on 1st April, after chitting at home. We have another 12 waiting to go in. Maris Piper are a Main Crop popular English potato grown since the 60s, They are purple flowered and are one of the most well known and most popular varieties on sale today. More Maris Piper potatoes are grown than any other variety in the UK. This variety has a golden skin and creamy white flesh with a fluffy texture.  This makes it a versatile all rounder, great for chips and roast potatoes, but also good for mash and wedges. Update 22nd April and the last 12 Maris Piper have been planted at the allotment.

Today we bought Second Early Salad Potato  Jazzy. This is new to us and looks very good. 29 seed potatoes cost £3.99 from Highdown Nursery  in Sugarloaf Lane, Norton. The producers guarantee 35 potatoes per plant when grown in an 8 litre bag. However there are reports of up to 80 potatoes per plant. The small waxy tubers are said to be more versatile than Charlotte with good flavour. Good for boiling, mash, roasting or steaming, this new second early variety has been awarded an RHS AGM for its superb garden performance. Second early crops can be harvested approximately 13 weeks from planting when the foliage begins to turn yellow and die back. The first single potato was planted into a black flower bucket on 18th April. Two more black buckets prepared today Friday 27th April.

Plant potato crops from March. Prior to planting, chit the seed potatoes by setting them out in a cool, bright position to allow them to sprout. When growing in the ground avoid planting in soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession to reduce the risk of disease. Prepare the planting area in a sheltered position in full sun on moist well drained soil. Dig in plenty of well rotted manure. Place the seed potatoes 4″ deep.  When shoots reach 8″ earth up the soil around the shoots leaving just a few cm of green growth showing. Repeat this process after a further as required.

Where space is limited, try growing potatoes in potato bags on the patio.

  • Fill an 8 litre potato bag to just below the top of the bag with good quality compost mixed with some well rotted manure.
  • Carefully plunge a single chitted potato tuber into the compost with the shoots pointing upwards at a depth of 5″ from the soil surface.
  • Place the bags in a sunny position and water regularly to keep the compost moist.

 

Rob and I have been watching a chap on YouTube whose channel is called ‘Home Grown Veg’. He recommends growing potatoes in plastic shopping carriers inside black cut flower buckets. We are definitely having a go at this this year.

  • Making sure that the containers are clean and have sufficient drainage holes fill the carrier bag, which should be inside the bucket, one third full of multi purpose compost.
  • Put one seed potato in and fill the bucket up to one inch from the top.
  • Water well at this stage.
  • Leave in a draught free sheltered place outdoors for ten weeks.
  • After ten weeks, lift the carrier bag, roll down the sides, the soil should hold together by the roots, then harvest what potatoes you can find.
  • lower the bag back into the pot.
  • Repeat this at 13 weeks.
  • The third lift will probably be the last one.
  • Remember to keep the used compost, revitalising it with fish, blood and bone, and use the same bag and pot to grow some leeks in the same way.

 

Sowing A Colourful Variety of Climbing Beans for 2018

I have quite a few old favourites amongst the Runner Beans in my seed box and this year have added a few new varieties just for fun. The first seeds to be sown were Climbing Bean Yard Long. on 5th April, I have started 16 seeds in toilet roll tubes with 100% germination. These are an unusual variety of climbing bean that produce pods that grow up to 3′ in length. The pods can be harvested from when they are 1′ long and make a tasty addition to any meal. 

Climbing French Bean Cosse Violette, pictured in the header of this post, is a strong growing variety of Purple French bean that can be harvested over a long period. Sow the seeds directly outside from May- June in rows 12 ” apart. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and water them in. These plants will require support as they grow. To prolong the harvest crop the plants regularly. A fortnightly feed with a tomato type fertiliser will result in better crops. Keep well watered in dry weather. 15 Sown indoors on 11th April.

Surprise Bean from Philippines. These are beans given to me with no label and no explanation other than that they were posted from the Philippines so we will have to wait and see. Sown 17th April.

Climbing Bean Blue Lake – I have grown this variety successfully before and have been very pleased both with how prolifically it has grown and the taste of the beans  when cooked. Considered one of the gourmet varieties, these are a prolific producer defying the driest of summers, whilst remaining sugar sweet, stringless and tender with medium length beans. Excellent and easy to deep freeze. Can be grown against a trellis, on poles or up netting and require little or no maintenance. A white seeded variety. growing to 5′ or more.  Beans are hungry crops that require ample organic matter dug in prior to sowing. Sow in pots undercover in April for an earlier harvest or directly outside when all danger of frost has passed. Sown 17th April.

 

 

Broad Bean Grano Violetto

Broad bean Grano Violetto from Premier Seeds is an unusual winter hardy, early maturing Heritage variety with an excellent flavour. The freshly harvested beans are green drying to a deep violet colour. I am sowing one large pot full at home and the rest are going to the allotment. As its already March these seeds are late going in but I live in hope of a harvest of young beans at about the same time as the peas.

Broad beans probably originate from the area of the southeastern Mediterranean coast and started spreading over the entire Mediterranean area 5000 years ago. Earlier forms have relatively small seeds and are mainly found in Arabic cuisine.

 

 

 

Growing Peas – 2018 – Canoe & Ambassador, Waverex.

These two varieties of pea are seeds left from last year and need using up this year. I shall sow the Canoe now and the Ambassador a little later in the year. I intend to grow some peas at home in containers this year as well as at the allotment as quite a few were lost last year when Rob couldn’t get down to harvest.

Pea Ambassador – Pea  Ambassador is a Maincrop variety of pea which is ideally suited for sowing later in the season.  It is a robust growing, short-vined pea with good resistance to downy mildew.  A high yielding variety producing masses of large, blunt-ended pods containing up to nine sweet and tender peas of great quality. Ambassador is one of the only Peas that can be sown in July for an October crop and is ideal for successional sowing. I am swishing a few more of these seeds today, 2nd August,  and hoping the weather will help us get a late crop.

Pea Canoe – A well named and highly productive variety producing long slightly curved pods with pointed tips that each contain up 12 peas. With such full pods, Pea Canoe is set to become an ideal variety for exhibition. The heavy crops are carried on semi leafless stems for easy picking and plants become virtually self supporting if grown in a block. Surplus crops of this wrinkle seeded pea freeze particularly well. Useful for Spring and Autumn sowing. I am swishing a few more of these seeds today, 2nd August,  and hoping the weather will help us get a late crop.

Pea Waverex – These tiny plants produce masses of pods filled with tiny sweet peas. Peas are a good source of Vitamins A, C, B1 and folic acid and also contain soluble fibre. These seeds were an afterthought, ordered from Premier Seeds Direct, they are a petit pois variety and didn’t disappoint. I swished the seeds in a jar of water and they sprouted after a few days. Rob sowed them at the allotment and this week, 11 weeks later,  we harvested them. Not one pod let us down. I shall be focusing on these peas next year as both of the other varieties were no shows. We have had weeks of sweltering weather and we thought we had no chance of getting a good harvest but every tiny pod was full to bursting of tiny sweet peas. Our only regret is not sowing more at fortnightly intervals. Note to self for next year.

 

Peas are a cool season crop well suited to the UK climate. Peas can be direct sown outdoors from March to June once the soil has warmed up. Using cloches will help the earliest crops to germinate. In milder areas some hardy early maturing cultivars can be sown in late autumn for overwintering and producing particularly early crops. For a continuous crop it’s a good idea to sow a new batch of peas every 10-14 days. Alternatively, try growing different early and Maincrop varieties that will mature at different times throughout the growing season. Water regularly once pea plants start to flower to encourage good pod development. You can reduce water loss by applying a thick mulch of well rotted manure or compost to lock moisture into the soil. Don’t feed peas with nitrogen rich fertilisers as this can create leafy growth instead of producing pea pods. In most cases peas won’t require any extra feed.

Peas should be harvested regularly to encourage more pods to be produced. The pods at the bottom of each plant will mature first so begin harvesting from low down and work your way up as the pods mature. Peas can be frozen but they are sweetest and tastiest when eaten freshly picked from the garden. Early varieties can be harvested 11-12 weeks from sowing while Maincrop varieties need 13 -15 weeks to mature.

  • Plant where peas have not been grown for 2 seasons, digging in well rotted organic matter.
  • The distance between the rows should equal the expected height of the variety.
  • Avoid sowing during any cold or very wet periods
  • Protect immediately from birds. Keep weed free.
  • Provide support when 3″ high.
  • Pick regularly to maintain yields.

Peas are legumes which take in nitrogen from the air and store it in small nodules along their roots. When growing garden peas don’t be tempted to pull the plants up from the roots at the end of the season. The leaves and stems can be cut off at ground level and added to the compost heap before digging the roots into the ground. As the roots break down they release nitrogen into the soil. 

Cucumber Long White T&M – Cucumis Sativus

I bought the seeds of this Cucumber, Long White, from T&M way back and have had several attempts to grow them without any success. They were £1.99 for 25 seeds and there were ten left in the foil packet so I have put them all into some damp compost, enclosed the pot in a polythene bag and sat it on my computer box for a little bottom heat.  This is my first sowing of the year. I have not been enthusiastic this year about seeds and sowing but I have nothing to lose with this as the seeds are here and its either sow them or throw them. I think it will be the same story with most of my seeds as I have only bought parsnip seeds for the allotment this year as these are well known for not staying viable over time. The allotment is now Robs domain any way as I will probably concentrate on the house, the garden and the chickens. Update 18th February – One seedling through at 8 days.