Cases of manure contamination are still cropping up see here so it's still important to take care when acquiring supplies. This is especially important in areas where Forefront weedkiller is available.

Garden Direct are offering a range of autumn plug plants

Harrod Horticultural are offering 10% discount 'til 31 August on Harrod Horticultural arches and pergolas quote ARC10 at the checkout. They also offer extra value saver packs of various types of netting

Friday, July 25

Clearing an overgrown plot - plot 5

On some blogs that I visit I have recently come across new allotment plot holders who feel a little overwhelmed with what they have taken on. They feel that they will never get 'on top' of their plot. This post is intended to show that it can be done but that when taking on an overgrown plot there is no quick fix!

We took on our fifth plot at the end of August 2005. We never started out expecting to garden five plots but our site was very overgrown and in danger of being closed so at that time it was typical for plot holders to have multiple plots. 

Except for the first plot, which we first rented in the late 1980's and had been ploughed by the council (back then they even mowed all the vacant plots regularly too), all the plots were in a similar condition when we started them. Perennial weeds were above head height and the plots were littered with assorted debris mostly hidden amongst the undergrowth or buried below ground. Only when we took  the final plot did we decide to keep a photographic record of our progress.

So we started off faced with this:
The fairly flat bit was what remained of a shed that had been partially removed by another plot holder leaving broken glass, pieces of foam and rotten wood behind. It previously looked like this.
The jungle of weeds included a large proportion of large docsk and bramble both of which had become firmly established.
The first task was to clear as much top growth as possible. This had to be done with due consideration of what type of material could be lurking amongst the undergrowth so it wasn't just a case of setting to with a strimmer - a pair of shears was the tool of choice,. I have already mentioned broken glass, we also found a supermarket trolley, a mystifying number of television aerials, a pathway made up of metal grids and a large piece of partially rotted carpet.

Gradually, by October we started to see daylight and piled up any rubbish that it was possible to burn, the rest went into a skip, (the council provided a skip back then).
Really we took the plot at the right time of year as we did lots of the clearing in the winter months when the weeds were not growing and we didn't have to keep on top of the other plots. We were also lucky that we didn't have a very wet winter so digging and removing weeds started in January 2006. We hoped that the winter frosts would help break down the clumps of heavy soil.
Clearing continued into February and a rotavator was used to help break up the clumps.
A section at the end of the plot was very rough and so this was left for the moment
As many weed roots as possible were removed and by April we started to mark out a rough plan so that beds could be dug over and what would become paths left to become firm. By now we needed to spend more time planting up and maintaining the other plots. We planted up a large area of the newly prepared plot with potatoes and decided to just make sure that the other half of the plot was kept under control until we could tackle it again in earnest.
The weeds in the unplanted half of the plot were kept under control with a non-persistent weedkiller and more crops were planted in the half we had cleared. Having not been cultivated for quite a few years the soil was really fertile and things grew really well. We had never grown such huge cabbages.
Once the 2006 growing season was over we tackled the remaining half of the plot which was then fully planted up in the 2007 season. The grass was allowed to grow on the paths and frequent mowing meant that it gradually looked more like a lawn that an area that we just hadn't weeded.
In 2008 it looked like this.
If we could clear such a badly overgrown plot and still maintain four other plots with only time to spare at the weekends then anyone can. You just need to be systematic and be prepared for some hard work. No-one ever said it was going to be easy but think of it this way - you won't need to go to the gym!

If you are interested the following is a video of the plot (about 4 minutes long) as the plot looks now.

Wednesday, July 23


Monday, July 21

Red gives ground

It was salad weather last week and the plot and garden provided us with a plentiful supply of ingredients - various types of lettuce, Mini Munch cucumber, raw peas and raw courgette.
15 July

16 July
We have also picked the first ripe Sungold tomatoes from our plot greenhouse in spite of some other varieties being suddenly struck down in their prime.

16 July
We harvested potatoes from the blight attacked plants. The potatoes go down a treat eaten either hot or cold. 

The starting pistol has been fired with respect to the inevitable courgette glut so we will be looking for recipients happy to receive excess fruits.

We are managing to claim a share of the cauliflowers despite slugs developing a partiality to the curds. Some of the deheaded calabrese have produced welcome side shoots - not many but worthy of picking.

The first lot of peas have been picked over and will be frozen and the mangetout have just about fizzled out.
18 July
Having now probably picked enough redcurrants it's the turn of the blackcurrants to take centre stage. The red team, however are continuing to feature as the alpine strawberries are producing lots of fruit. The tayberries are slowing down production - much to the disgruntlement of the resident blackbirds but we are still picking a few raspberries from the new canes that we didn't expect to produce anything this year.
18 July
I picked my first lot of dahlias. After deciding to forego dahlia growing this year we relented but have chosen simple single varieties. We must be morphing into bees as we have developed a taste for single flowers! 

Sweet peas are now starting to flower so we need to keep up with removing the flowers. This week two bunches have been gathered and they haven't really got going yet.
20 July
Some of the cabbage above may be destined to be made into coleslaw. Tucked in amongst the courgettes are our first ripe blackberries - another score for the black team!

Why not pop across to Daphne's Dandelions to see what else people were gathering in last week.

Saturday, July 19

Stripy Tomatoes

Those of you who visit Martyn's blog will already know that this year

 our tomatoes problems have moved from the garden greenhouse to the plot greenhouse.

Suddenly between visits to the plot - we try to go every other day - some of our tomato plants looked to be struggling. Two varieties Amish Gold and Sioux are failing. Sioux was our best cropper in the plot greenhouse last year but this year has developed brown stripy tomatoes and the tops of the plants have curled. The sickly plants are those either side of the door.

Advice from the RHS point to the plants being under stress which it is suggested could be due to poor ventilation leading to too high temperatures in the greenhouse. This is feasible as, although we have an automatic roof vent, the door is rarely left open. If it becomes windy we can't just quickly shut the door as we would for the home greenhouse, or quickly respond to any other changing conditions. Also as blight was about on the plot it seemed right to keep the greenhouse shut to offer some protection against the tomatoes being attacked

The greenhouse does have side vents that Martyn has now rigged up so that they remain open and yet protected against entry of birds that could otherwise become trapped inside.

You would expect, however if the tomato problem was caused by poor ventilation that all the plants in the greenhouse would suffer but only plants in two of the growbags seem affected, in fact we are picking ripe fruit from the Sungold plants.
Going back to our poorly tomato plants - I also sent this photo of the lower leaves of the ailing plants to the RHS. In response to the photo the RHS wrote suggested it was possibly a magnesium deficiency and to try applying Epson Salts. They added that the compost in the growbags could be - 'sub-optimal' - this can occur with peat-free and peat-reduced bags. It was suggested that we flush the bags with water to remove soluble salts and then feed as usual. 
Last year all our garden greenhouse tomatoes were affected by blossom end rot which is supposed to be caused by irregular watering. However, the tomatoes in the plot greenhouse were fine, in spite of less regular watering, than those in the garden greenhouse.
What I draw from all this is that when plants are being stressed in some way we can only try to make an educated guess as to the reason.

Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency. Irregular watering is blamed as this can cause the plant to be unable to access all the available calcium. However, could it be that the compost is sometimes lacking in calcium which as a result causes blossom end rot.
Interestingly the left over tomatoes growing in the plot cold frame and planted directly in the ground are showing no signs of a problem even though the plants were not exactly prize specimens when planted.

After years of growing tomatoes etc. with few problems why suddenly is it proving to be a challenge? I'm wondering whether a problem with today's composts are causing the plants to be stressed and consequently the symptoms are being attributed to something we are doing wrong.

Professional growers are likely to create their own potting mixes and probably don't struggle with sub-standard growing media but for most of us this just isn't an option.

I am concerned that the ingredients used in compost as well as producing a extremely variable product could also introduce contaminants as Mark has experienced this year.

I'd be interested to hear of any problems anyone else has experienced when using commercial composts. 

Thursday, July 17

Fragrant Opening Time

You may remember in my Greenhouse Update post at the weekend I mentioned a lily that was the only surviving member of a collection that I bought a while ago. 
It wasn't a very significant member of the photograph so here is a closer view.
The bulbs had been potted up and left in the greenhouse when some sort of intruder rootled amongst the plant pots digging up and scattering the bulbs. The bulbs were actually rather small pathetic looking specimens to start with and had I been reviewing them wouldn't have had a favourable write-up. As it was some bulbs had disappeared completely obviously eaten or carried away by the aforementioned intruder.

Originally all the pots were labelled but after repotting any bulbs that looked as though they had a half chance at least of surviving I had no idea which bulbs were which.

As I mentioned, in the end only one bulb produced anything and even then only a few straggly leaves. It was left in its pot and really forgotten about until this year when we noticed some shoots.

The bulb was repotted into a larger pot and promoted to a better place in the greenhouse where it has repaid us by at last producing flowers.
It's making quite a statement in the greenhouse in terms of colour and fragrance. It has been a long time coming - at least two years - and I can only dream of the display we would have achieved if the whole collection had made it to the flowering stage. But would we have kept about two dozen bulbs in the greenhouse that in the end took two years to flower - maybe not. I'm guessing they would have ended up in some forgotten spot in the garden where I doubt that they would have survived.
At least for now we have these flowers to enjoy

Wednesday, July 16

Wentworth Hall Nursery Walled Garden