The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch

I have just completed the Big Garden Birdwatch for my garden.
Actually it was a lovely thing to do on a sunday morning, to just sit and watch the birds. I've been watching from my upstairs bedroom, and I opened the window so that I could hear them too. I think the cold probably helped the number of birds that I saw, as the feeders were very busy. I have placed most of the feeders in one of my apple trees at the bottom of the garden, which is next to a big rhododendron bush, which I think the birds like as they fly into there for protection if they are disturbed.
I have three feeders, one with hulled sunflower seeds, one with peanuts and one with nyjer seeds, plus a hanger with fatballs in them. It seems to attract a mixture of birds to the garden, the sparrows, like the sunflower seeds, the blue tits like the peanuts and goldfinches like the nyjer seed. I put this feeder out especially to attract the goldfinches as I think they are such beautiful birds, very easy to identify with their red face and gold wings. The other day I had a whole flock of them in the garden, the collective noun is a charm of goldfinches, how poetic. It took them a while to find the feeder but now I see them regularly.
My most common garden bird is definitely the sparrow, which I know is struggling these days but I regularly get flocks and they roost in shrubs and bushes round about here, making a racket sometimes but its lovely to hear. It was difficult to count them today as they flit from one feeder to another and in and out of the trees and bushes but I think there were 11 in the garden at one time.
At this time of year I also see a couple of robins, which often have run-ins with the dunnocks, chasing each other off,  I also have a few local blackbirds in the garden which tend to get the bits that drop down from the feeders. Last year in our really cold winter, in the snowy spell at the beginning of January I was very excited to see some fieldfares in the garden, which were attracted to the apples which had dropped from my trees which I hadn't tidied up, thank heavens I'm not a tidy gardener.The blackbirds have started to sing again in the mornings and at dusk and there is nothing nicer to hear.
My most lovely bird today though was a bullfinch, another beautiful bird with a rosy pink chest, it was the male that was in the garden, I couldn't see a female with him, though in the past when I have seen them in my garden they have been in pairs.
I love feeding and watching my garden birds but I have pangs of guilt every now and then as I also have a cat. I have had a few traumatic moments when he has bought in a bird, often dead but not always. I've rescued a few but others have just been unsaveable. I like to think that I help more birds than Bob kills but it is still a moral dilemma. He's getting old now, and doesn't go out as much so he's definitely not bringing as many things in as he once did. Anyway Bob is fast asleep this morning so the birds are having a good time.
So in my hour, I saw the following (the number is the most seen at any one time):
Sparrow - 11
Blue tit - 2
Blackbird - 2
Dunnock - 2
Robin -1
Goldfinch - 4
Bullfinch - 1

Friday, 27 January 2012

Potatoes in the post

My potatoes have arrived in the post!
I've gone for 'Pentland Javelin' which is a first early variety. It has white skin and flesh, with a waxy texture. Then also 'Cara' which is a Main Crop variety. It is white with pink eyes and considered to be a very robust variety. Good for jacket potatoes.
I think I'll also put in a few 'Pink Fir Apple' potatoes which are a bit unusual looking but taste great.
Last year I grew three varieties 'Charlotte', Vales Emerald' and 'Pink Fir Apple' and whilst I had a good healthy crop from the 'Vales Emerald' they were a bit floury in texture for me. Everyone will have different preferences for potatoes, but I definitely prefer mine more waxy than floury. I'm still trying out varieties each year to find which I like best and which grows best on my plot.
This is the time of year when you get articles in gardening magazines about the pros and cons of chitting. To chit or not to chit, that is the question! Most people seem to think it is an advantage and I have always done it. It basically just encourages the potatoes to produce shoots, and encourage them into growth quicker when you plant them in the ground. I'm going to start them chitting in a cool, frost-free but bright place. They need to be in the light or they will produce the long white spindly shoots that you get when you forget about your potatoes and find them weeks later in your cupboard! In the light they will produce smaller, dark green shoots. The advice is to start chitting in warmer parts of the country from late January or in February in cooler parts, but about six weeks before you intend to plant out the potatoes. Can you chit for too long!? I planted mine last year at the end of March beginning of April, but I guess it all depends on where you live and the spring weather conditions. We did have a frost here quite late in the spring and the tops of my potatoes were damaged a bit but it didn't seem to affect the crop. I plan to plant them in the part of my plot that didn't get too much attention last year. Potatoes are know to be a good 'cleaning crop' for allotments as they break up the soil and the foliage grows fast and thick and can help smother some weeds. I will give the site a weed, add some garden compost and give a fork over before I plant them but that will be all.
I still find the digging up of your first potatoes of the year is one of the most exciting parts of the veg growers year and the first spuds always seem the tastiest. Apparently the heaviest potato was grown by Peter Glazebrook and weighed 11lb (4.99kg) (, thats heavier than my cat! Don't think I'll be trying to break that record, small and sweet for me.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Books, Books Books.

Wild windy weather has returned to Huddersfield today, its been very windy with frequent showers. A day when even I'd prefer to be indoors. Although I love gardening I actually quite enjoy the lull that you get in winter, I definitely go into a type of hibernation. Its a time to recharge your batteries and to reflect and plan your garden/plot for next year. Over the winter my fellow garden bloggers have been writing about things they do to keep busy when we can't be where we'd most like to be, out in the garden. There have been posts on soup making, baking, crafts, seed catalogue studying, allotment planning and lawn lounging! It seems some of us relish a bit of downtime from gardening, though whether we'll still be saying the same thing in February I'm not sure!
For me its a time to catch up on reading. I've been sorting out my gardening books, if I can't do any gardening I can still read about it, so this is the time of year when I go back to some of my old favourites.
 I've just realised how many I have, from kitchen garden books, organic gardening, cut flowers, garden design,  you name it I have it. My favourites though, are those written about a persons garden experiences, such as Mirabel Osler's 'A gentle plea for chaos' and Beth Chatto's 'Garden notebook' but here are my two of my favourites. Elizabeth von Arnim 'Elizabeth and her German garden' which I reread frequently. I love her wit and passionate descriptions of her garden. She also wrote one of my favourite novels 'The Enchanted April', for any one who loves Springtime and Italy, the descriptions are enough to make your mouth water.
But the one book that I've read so many times its now falling apart and has so many pages marked for reference is by Elspeth Thompson 'Urban Gardener' which is in diary form and was about her garden in the centre of London and her allotment. I love it, its what inspired me to get my first allotment years ago and gave me loads of hints and tips about growing in a small space. I was heartbroken when I heard that she had died at the very young age of 48 after a struggle with depression. She was such an inspiring woman to me.
I've recently been buying a few gardening classics, I read Vita Sackville West's 'In Your Garden' which is a collection of her newspaper column articles that she wrote for the Observer. Her descriptions of her gardens are legendary and her gardening knowledge so extensive its scary. I need to go to Sissinghurst to visit very soon. She'd have been an amazing blogger!
On my holiday last September I found a brilliant book shop in Lyme Regis where they sold a few great gardening books, I bought Eleanor Perenyi 'Green Thoughts', Gertrude Jekyll 'Colour schemes for the flower garden' and Margery Fish 'Cottage Garden Flowers'. I didn't realise until it was too late that when we were on holiday in Dorset, we were near Margery Fish's famous garden East Lambook Manor, Somerset. We want to go back next year so that will be on the itinery. Anyway these books will while away the winter months for me.
For practical gardening books I love Carol Klein, Alys Fowler, Sarah Raven and of course Alan Titchmarsh. I have noticed that there aren't too many male gardeners in my list of favourites, I do enjoy reading Monty Don and Christopher Lloyd but I seem to veer to ones written by women. For Christmas I got Monty Don's 'Ivington diaries' and Carol Klein's 'Life in a Cottage Garden' both of which are also in diary form and are easy to dip in and out of.
Anyway my armchair is calling I'm off to do some reading.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Planning my 2012 plot

Today I've been sat at my desk, with my cat Bob (can you spot him?), planning my allotment for this year but I keep getting distracted by the lovely sunny day and the view from my window which looks out over some allotments and over to the most famous landmark of Huddersfield, Castle Hill.

Sadly I couldn't get one of those plots behind my garden, that would have been ideal. The end plot was not being cultivated very well and I tried and tried to see if I could get it but each year the bloke who had it would come for a few weeks plant some potatoes and then leave it again for the rest of the year, so in the end I gave up and asked for a plot on another site. Its only a few minutes walk so its not too bad, but one day I would love to get one of these!
I've been up to my plot today but there has been a hard frost this morning and that combined with the wet weather we have had nothing much can be done there today so back home to plan!
So now that I've reviewed what I grew last year I've sorted through my seeds and whilst I still have lots of seeds left over from previous seasons I like to try and few new varieties every year. Here are my new ones.
I bought some from the flower shows that I went to last year, including some from W.Robinson & Sons, those of the famous mammoth onion who create amazing displays of vegetables in the great pavilion. Some from T&M and some from Sow Seeds. Finally some from a seed company who have heirloom tomatoes (, they came to do a talk at my local allotment society meeting last year, bringing lots of tomatoes for us to taste. So I'm trying two of their tomatoes, one with a great name called 'Auld Sod', which is supposed to be good for outdoor growing and one called 'Red grape sugar plum' which on taste was amazing, so sweet.
I'm going to try some crimson flowered broad beans, to add some colour though I love the flowers on the ordinary broad bean too, they are so pretty. Some round yellow courgettes, and a very weird looking courgette called 'Trombocino'. Some mangetout peas, Crystal Lemon cucumber, a yellow beaned dwarf french bean and a purple beaned climbing french bean. Basically I'm adding some colour to my plot this year, it will be interesting to see if they taste good too! Maybe I've gone a bit off course, but I'll be growing lots of my usual tried and tested varieties as well, these are just some extras!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Review of the year

I know lots of bloggers have done this but really this is just for me to keep a note on things which have worked well, or not so well and to decide what to grow again or whether to try new varieties. But also to make me feel better when I go to the allotment and see it all bleak and bare, to prove to me that things do get better.
It has been my first year on the allotment and I've loved every minute of it even the weeding. Its not my first allotment but you have to get used to the conditions on the site and I've had challenges on this site which I never had on my other plot. For example here pigeons are a problem and it seems alot drier (my other allotment was in Disley on the Cheshire/Derbyshire border). I've been growing fruit and vegetables in my garden for a few years so it hasn't all been completely new to me but its always a challenge on a new plot and it needed some preparation as it hadn't been cultivated properly for a few years. I was extremely lucky though as there weren't any really horrible weeds, like couchgrass or horsetails, it needed a good dig over though and some areas needed more work than others. 
I 'rescued' a shed from a skip and now have a lovely place to sit and store all my stuff.

The main troublesome weeds on the plot are thistles and dandelions which I've tried to remove the whole root but obviously will have missed some. There are some buttercups which are spreading at the bottom end of the plot, an area which I didn't cultivate last year. Throughout the year there were also some problematic annual weeds, a particular pest was an annual euphorbia, which seeded all over the plot. 
There were two raised beds which were virtually ready to plant, they just needed a dig over and some compost added and I started with these while I prepared the other beds on the plot. These two beds I roughly divided into 4 to have some sort of crop rotation. So I had a onion family bed (garlic, onions, shallots and leeks), a legume bed (broad beans, runner beans, peas), a brassica bed (calabrese, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage and kale) and a roots and greens bed (carrots, parsnips, beetroot, celeriac, spinach and chard).

Then there is the remaining a big square plot which I divided into smaller plots separated by paths made from black membrane, just so that I had manageable areas to work on and didn't get too overwhelmed by the whole digging process! I created a more permanent bed running along one side of the plot where I have planted a small strawberry patch, a gooseberry bush, a redcurrant and a rhubarb crown. This was interplanted this year with sunflowers, nigella, cerinthe, marigolds, some herbs, and I've edged it with alpine strawberries. 
 On the opposite side of the plot is another long bed into which I planted potatoes (Vales Emerald, Charlotte and Pink fir apple). I had a good crop and I'm still eating the potatoes, down to the pink fir apple now but still delicious. I'm going to try some different varieties this year, I'd like a good potato for baking and roasting so I need to do some research. 
 Then in the middle of the plot were two smaller rectangular beds into which I planted a mixture of crops some tomatoes, cucumbers, sweetcorn, courgettes, squash, dwarf beans, kale, chard. There was plenty of space for the squash to travel around and across the plot sending tendrils in different directions though I removed some after a while. I planted too many courgettes but I just didn't know how many would survive luckily there is a local greengrocer who bought some off me when I had a big glut. I grew a mixture, some green, yellow and some round ones, which were very popular, prolific and great for stuffing! My sweetcorn was my big failure this year and thats a shame as its one of my favourite crops and I have grown it successfully before. I will try again next year, but maybe sow a bit earlier and water better. Though reading other peoples blogs I realise that many people had problems with this and it may have just been down to the cool summer that we had.
And a very lush September

Most things I'd grown before but I tried a few new crops, celeriac, parsnip and the squashes. Squashes were a great success and again I'm still eating these as they store so well. Celeriac was a bit small and parsnip a bit forked but will grow them again.
Some of the things that I've learnt this year are to always net your brassicas to protect from pigeons! To have a good sturdy framework for your peas and beans. To not get too uptight about the weeds, some of them attract beneficial insects. This is the first year that I've seen loads of ladybird larvae on the plot and most were on the weeds! Although I put down weed suppressive membrane to make the paths these were only temporary and haven't lasted. They are mostly in bits (I obviously didn't buy v good membrane) so I really need to make proper paths like the ones next to the raised beds. However the main structure of the plot is there. I also want to make a proper compost heap, so I am going in search of some pallets for that. The bottom end of the plot, near the shed, was not used at all last year and is quite weedy now so this is the main project for this year.
I plan to grow most of the same next year, though going to give runner beans a miss as I'm not a big fan and my dwarf french beans were very prolific and I much prefer the taste and texture of these. But maybe do two sowings of this to extend the growing season.  I'm not going to grow any cabbage over the summer but sow it later to crop later and keep over winter. I'll stick to the calabrese for a summer crop. I also want to grow more flowers including a big frame of sweet peas for cutting. I've lots of seed still left from previous years but I've supplemented with a few new varieties.
So overall a great year and seeing it change over the year makes me feel good, both for my soul and my body, but I completely agree with wellywoman in her great blog, who needs a gym when you have an allotment.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Batten down the hatches!

Well we've certainly started the new year with some wild weather, after the lovely day on monday woke up on tuesday to winds and heavy rain and it didn't stop until last night. I hardly slept on wednesday night the wind was so strong I kept waiting to hear the sounds of banging and crashing on the roof. Its a lovely sunny day today and I went out to survey the damage. Luckily nothing too major though two sad sights in the garden.

This is my oldest mini greenhouse that has done me very well for quite a few years. Had a replacement coat but other than that has been great. But I think its the end now. Its situated at the side of the house where wind can really blow down like a wind tunnel so its not surprising that this has happened. It collapsed with only a few plants in it, but I think I have managed to save those. I've got two other mini greenhouses in the garden which have got more plants in so I'm glad it wasn't one of them although the wind blew the cover completely off one of them.
The other casualty is my arch.
Bob is helping me survey the damage! I've learnt my lesson now though, am going to have replace it with a much sturdier (and inevitably more expensive) one. This one just rusted at one side and has completely snapped at the bottom. But I think in this case you get what you pay for. I hope I can save the honeysuckle, jasmine and clematis but I'm sure they'll be fine.
Hope my allotment shed will have survived the winds, will have to go and look later if I get chance.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year

I've not written a blog for a few weeks, I'm afraid I've been in hibernation mode. I've been off work since 16th December, working for a university I get the week off between Christmas and New Year but I always take a few extra days at this time of year to try and get a couple of weeks off to recuperate from a busy year. To relax and catch up with reading, watch films and visit friends and family. I can't believe how fast it has gone, its back to work tomorrow. But the break was needed and I do feel rested.
The weather has been poor over the two weeks, so I've only been up to the allotment a couple of times, to pick some of the last few crops, the winter harvest includes leeks, celeriac, parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli and kale.
Its not been cold, in fact has been very mild at times. But it has been very wet and so still not suitable for digging but there is plenty of time for that. Though could do with some digging exercise to counter all the chocolates eaten over Christmas!
I wanted to show one of my favourite christmas presents, from my friend Amy, she is so thoughtful. It will have pride of place on my shed.
Today I did my first trip to the allotment of the new year, it was a lovely sunny day, bit of a chilly wind but it blew away the cobwebs.
This was the state of my shed.
I couldn't even get in it, I'd just been throwing everything in and it has gradually got worse and worse. But today was the start of the new year and a new organised shed! Hooks are the answer so all the tools have gone on the wall. Canes all stacked at the back. I can now get in, if I need to shelter!

It needs a bit more work, some shelves would be handy so that is the next job.
But I sat for a bit after I'd finished looking over the plot as the sun went down.

I came away feeling great, it is the ultimate therapy for me, just getting out in the fresh air, knowing that the shortest day has been and gone and that spring will be here before we know it. Time to get planning.......