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

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Sunday 2 February 2014

Review of the year 2013

Ok so I'm a bit late posting this but I do like to go through and see how the year has gone, which crops have been successful, which varieties have done well or otherwise and what I could have done better. I'm learning all the time about which varieties are good, how to grow crops to their best on my plot and I'm now developing a good routine and some varieties which I know do well for me but its always worth seeing how things could be changed and how the new varieties that I try each year fit in.
Its also always interesting to reread my posts from last year to see how the plot changes, I also keep a diary noting when I sow seeds, when they get pricked out or potted on and eventually planted and then hopefully harvested at my plot to give me a guide to my year. I also make a note of the general weather conditions as this often dictates how the year goes.
So 2013 started slow, very slow, the winter seemed endless, in Huddersfield we had a big snow fall in January with some snow on the ground for around 12 days and very cold, there followed a cold February with some further snow showers, though there were some really sunny days including one day when I made a delightful trip to Hodsock Priory to view the snowdrops little realising till I got there that the garden also contained a host of other winter flowers.
February and March stayed mainly dry with many cold but grey days seemingly endless, until mid March when we had some more really heavy snow, the most I have seen in Huddersfield, this was when I really lost the plot, under drifts of snow.
The snow lasted into April and up to Easter but by now the days were getting longer and spring did eventually arrive. Though it was unusual as some of the earlier spring flowers, like the daffodils and the hellebores which flowered for a much longer season as it was cool, were still in flower when the later spring flowers started into bloom, like the tulips which burst into flower when the sun and warmth finally came.
With spring being quite dry I managed to get quite well ahead with jobs at the allotment and I also made a big effort to improve my soil this year, sharing a big load of manure with a fellow plot holder, I also had a go at growing some green manures but I've not managed to get that into my routine yet. The other advantage of this spring was the blossom, which was delayed due to cold but once it came was glorious and so this meant bumper crops for fruits at my plot. I had good crops on my gooseberries, redcurrants, strawberries and my newly planted apple tree had a great first crop. My rhubarb had matured enough for a proper harvesting this year too. This year I added a blackcurrent bush to the bed so hopefully next year I'll get a few of those too.
My plot really helped me this year too, I'd had a difficult start to the year as my dad had been poorly since October of 2012 with a stressful time of him being in and out of hospital and my mum struggling too, sadly my dad passed away in May. But the allotment was a place for calmness and refuge which may sound daft but it really helped me stay 'normal' in a bit of a mad time.
In June we finally had some warm weather which was much appreciated by all and everything really got going and its fair to say I think we all caught up after a long winter and spring. Everything really started to flourish in July and with the weather being so good I was up at my plot at least a couple of nights a week. We had a really warm July, and that's when the harvesting started in earnest. I had a couple of fabulous trips away this year the first was a trip down to Devon as I'd won a competition for the 'Get Growing' course at River Cottage and we had glorious weather.
With the weather being so good sitting out in the evenings became a regular occurrence and this is when we realised we were on the evening walking circuit for hedgehogs, which encouraged us to sit out all the more just for a glimpse of these lovely little creatures.
My blogging started being a bit erratic after August as this is when I started my WRAGS training in a lovely garden on the outskirts of Leeds called York Gate, I'm working 5 days now two days at the garden and 3 days at my usual job and it is tiring but worth it as I'm loving the training. Its really varied and just lovely to be outside for 2 days a week very different from my other job. But I've managed on the whole to keep up with my allotment but we'll have to see how that goes this year, the weather will be the crucial factor there.
Vegetable growing wise it was an extremely successful year, I even had some success in sowing things direct, though I made some mistakes, I sowed some peas direct and some in modules, I assumed that the ones sown direct hadn't come up (not patient enough!!) and planted the ones in modules in between and then up they came so I ended up with 4 rows of peas too close together. I still got massive crops off them though.
I didn't have great success with the Florence Fennel as many bolted, I think this was partly due to sowing too early and also the dry spring. I tried growing Tomatillo but had a few problems with slugs when potting on the seedlings and only ended up with one plant which grew really well and flowered well but never fruited. I found out later that you need more than one plant for pollination to get them to set fruit. I had my first go at growing cauliflower and they grew well and set nice heads but that's when I hit the problems I didn't cover them up well enough and so the curds became a bit discoloured. Still fine for eating though so I was pleased with them overall but will just cover them better next year.
Again I had mixed success with the celeriac, it grew well from seed but it didn't develop very big swollen roots, I think again this was a watering issue they need plenty of water and also I think the advice is to start removing some of the leaves later as they develop so will try that next year.
I've got a large middle bed in the plot and this is where I planted sweetcorn, beans, courgettes and squash, but I also put in two rows of leeks but this ended up looking a bit of a mish-mash and the squash overran it a bit which isn't surprising but the leeks got a bit taken over and the competition meant they didn't grow as well. This issue has been solved now as I've split this bed into two now and so I'm hoping this section will look more organised this year.
Those are the negative things but they are tiny compared to the great crops I got from other veg. One vegetable which I've struggled with in the past was beetroot, mostly as I was trying to sow direct and they never got going or eaten by slugs, but this year we needed to grow some for our allotment show, they were one of the compulsory vegetables so I needed to get some. I think I went a bit mad as I ended up with loads of beets! The trick for me here is to sow into modules and then plant out and that has been fine. I managed to grow some different varieties including 'Golden Globe' and 'Chioggia' as well as the sturdy 'Boltardy' but I have to say for taste and sweetness I don't think you can beet (pardon the pun) the 'Boltardy'.
New vegetables that I grew this year included the Cucamelon which is like a cross between a cucumber and a melon. It grew quite rampantly and did have quite a few grape-like fruits on them, though not as many as you'd expect from the growth, but it was the taste, I was never really quite sure whether I liked them or not, I think its because in your mind you think they are going to be sweet like a grape and they are not!
I grew a wigwam of some Borlotti beans and these grew and cropped really well and these have been stored as dried beans and are being used in soups. They look great too with the red marbled pods shining out.
I had a good summer season of salads, with good success at a few lettuce varieties, the old-favourite 'Webbs wonderful' a few seedlings of which were given to me by my plot neighbour, this grew really well, as well as 'Little Gem' and a lovely variety called 'Freckles' which was slow to bolt. Little and often is really the key to these plants. I grew some great cucumbers with no greenhouse, the variety was 'Burpless Green' and I got at least 6 or 7 really long cucumbers from these. This was due to the great sunny weather of course so whether that will happen this year only time will tell.
My squash plants did well again and I'm still eating the stored fruits now. Courgettes were excessive as usual, and overall beans did well. I grew some Crimson flowered bean this year and these were pretty as well as cropped well, they also had a delicate scent.
I was much better this year at spreading the growing season and so into autumn and winter I've had a good crop of Brussel sprouts, parsnips, leeks, celeriac and the ubiquitous beetroot to get me through. For some reason I missed out sowing Kale which I've missed this year and I'm going to grow some purple sprouting broccoli for next winter.
I've taken to growing lots of flowers on my plot too and I think this year that is going to be extended, my real favourites this year were sunflowers I had them all over my plot, I love the tall single flowered varieties just for the sheer fun of them but I also grew some multistemmed varieties which were a revelation. I started cutting some for indoors and they just kept sending out more flowers I was still picking them in October. The two I grew were 'Valentine' which is short pale yellow variety and 'Claret' which as its name suggests is a dark red. They are on the must grow list for next year.
I also had masses of Cosmos, again another fabulous cut flower which kept on going well into autumn. I had a great year for Sweet peas, though I was quite late in sowing these as my first sowing failed to germinate well they really took off. Cropped well all summer and then seemed also to have a second burst of flowering in the autumn. Tithonia rotundiflora 'Torch' was a new one for me, it germinated really quickly and really took off with erect orange flowers which looked great with another new flower I grew, which was Salvia viridis, the Blue Clary, this was also planted in that great mish-mash of my middle bed at the plot and again this flowered for months and I just kept picking and picking.
I also had Nasturtiums, Dahlias, Borage, Calendula, Cerinthe, Campanula, Veronica, Astrantia, plus some lovely delicate poppies. I want to extend my range of flowers for cutting this year.
So all in all a great year for veg and flower growing, can we order a summer like that again for this year.

Saturday 1 February 2014


On a very blustery Saturday I managed a couple of hours up at my plot, this is only my second visit of the year, the weather has just been dreadful especially at weekends which is the only time I can get up there at the moment. It has been a very mild winter so far for Huddersfield, there have been a few frosts but not many at all, the rain and winds have been the main feature. Evidence of this is all around at the allotment as the annual weeds are still appearing albeit slower than normal. My garlic is growing well and starting to come up above ground which is earlier than normal for me. The over-wintering onions are looking well this year. 
But I was surprised to see my rhubarb plants starting to unfurl their leaves. I know this variety is 'Timperley Early' but still.....
The plot is soggy though but at least not waterlogged. Apparently in Huddersfield we have had double the normal amount of rainfall in January, but really I have to say we have not had it anywhere near as bad as the some parts of the country. I've been looking through my posts from last year, so that I can write a review of the year, and its really different to last year when we had some bad snow showers but on the whole had a dry winter. Anyway more on that in my next post.
At home the greenhouse frame is now up and the glass is all cleaned and ready to go in when we get a less windy day.
Its looking a bit imposing in the garden at the moment but once I can move things around and create more space around it it will look better. I can't wait to get it finished so I can start using it.

Finally some less good news this week, all allotment plot holders across Kirklees have received letters this week about price rises. We had been warned about this at our last allotment meeting, but we finally got the news in writing. Apparently the council have reviewed allotment rental prices across Yorkshire and found that the rents for Kirklees allotments are one of the lowest, I pay about £23 for the year, and because of this they want to increase our rents. They say other council rents range from up to £90 a year and the average is £50 so our prices are going to go up to bring them in line with "the current regional average". This is going to start next year where we will have a £10 rise over the next three years, plus the usual inflationary rise. So our rents will end up around £53 a year. There will be a 50% concession for OAPs but there is no mention of a subsidy for people on low incomes. Here's how it was reported in the local newspaper. My first reaction when I received the letter was its not right to just increase our rents because they are lower than in other regions! We had been told in the meeting that it was due to increased expenses for allotments for water rates and security for example and I could understand it a bit more if this was the case as I do realise that the council has gone to a lot of effort for many sites now with high fences round to improve security, but the letter just says its doing it to bring us in line with other areas. That doesn't feel right to me. They do say in the letter that all the income generated from the increased rents will be allocated to the allotments budget but will it? I'm not sure I believe them on that. Is this a slippery slope and are councils now just able to do this as allotments are so popular at the moment with long waiting lists? But then I step back and think is £53 really a high price to pay for a years hobby? For me its just an ingrained part of my life now and I love it so much that it is well worth the money for me. Its a really difficult one, but I know that it is something that is often mentioned in blogs and some allotment holders are suffering much more. For councils land is becoming a crucial commodity and with all the enforced council budget cuts many are looking at other ways to raise money and many are considering selling off allotments for housing or other developments, the most notable being the Farm Terrace allotment campaign. Unfortunately I think this is a story that will repeated at allotment sites across the country.