Saturday, February 26

Green with envy - not any more!

After reading other people's blogs I am often left green with envy over the things that they have written about. One thing that I have had on my wish list for ages is to see a real life siskin. Other people write about them and have them as regular visitors but I had never seen one - ever! That is until today - for most of the day a male and two females have been in our garden feeding from the hanging feeders. They really loved the niger seeds, sunflower hearts and black sunflower seeds. Martyn managed a bit of video which we will share later but I couldn't wait to post on my blog about the visit!

Whilst the siskins were visiting us we managed a quick dash to the plot - mainly to collect some vegetables and take a few photographs - some of which I've shared below - you wouldn't want me to post all of the photos that I took as I tend to go a little mad when I have a camera in my hand - you should see how many siskin photos I took! Unfortunately most were blurry as they were taken without a tripod through one of our windows!
We managed to gather a few vegetables, we may even have a sprout plant that has developed some sprouts ...

... before it started to rain - we thought it was a quick shower so went to sit in the shed at which point the heavens opened. Still every cloud etc. After sitting out the downpour I managed to get some shots of raindrops.

I'd never noticed before but the world is upside down inside a raindrop!

By the way did I mention that some siskins came onto our bird feeders today? While I have been rambling on Martyn has put together a mini taster video.

Wednesday, February 23

Dreaming of strawberries by the bucket load!

This year one of our allotment projects will be to plant up a new strawberry bed. The problem is that although they do still produce a harvest, strawberry beds (ours anyway) seem to become very weedy and impossible to weed without uprooting the plants – we even have a buddleia seedling (well it’s a shrub now) growing in one of the beds. Nowhere near where the buddleias actually are either!

Strawberry plants aren’t the longest lived of plants and it is recommended that they are replaced every three years.

If our strawberries had been planted in a more organised way I would have taken runners off existing plants but we started with four varieties which have become mixed up and it is impossible to tell which variety is which so we decided on a new start and ordered some new plants.

We ordered four varieties from Marshalls to try for as long a fruiting season as possible - Marshmarvel - early, Marshmello - main, Amelia - late and Flamenco - everbearing. Three of the varieties were sold as a collection but we wanted to add an everbearing variety and Flamenco was the one on offer. As this is one of the varieties we already have we knew it would be fine. Marshmarvel is new this year but if it is as good as Marshmello which is also exclusive to Marshalls we will be really pleased.

The plants arrived along with the snow this weekend and so needed to be potted up until such time as the new strawberry bed is ready for them.

When we plant this time we will be a bit more organised so that in future we can propagate our new plants from runners knowing just what we will be getting.

The new bed will be divided into four sections and one variety of strawberry will be planted in each section and not allowed to stray from its allotted area (well that’s the plan anyway).

There is still quite a bit of work to be done preparing the bed which looked like this at the end of last autumn. At the moment it is a muddy mess as is everywhere else on the plot (and in the garden).

I’m not sure how well the plants will fruit this year so the old beds will be left in place just in case as we couldn’t have a summer without strawberries could we?
Strawberry related articles on our website here and here. Article about alpine strawberries here.

Yesterday a prospective tenant came and had a really good look around the nesting box. Hopefully he or she was impressed and will return with its mate!

Our camera is taking stills whenever it detects movement and so it took quite a lot of them yesterday and we have set up a bird box cam diary that can be accessed from the button on the sidebar.

Monday, February 21

Update on blog contents

This is just an image and not a live link
Update on Bird Cam: The poor weather seems to have meant that the birds don't seem to be as actively engaged in house hunting. We have had one prospective tenant stick its head through the entrance for a quick nose around but it hasn't been back - probably just a nosy time waster. Just so Martyn and I don't end up writing duplicate posts I have added a bird cam button on the sidebar which will link to any bird cam updates - if you click on it you should be able to take a look at the images grabbed when the first prospective tenant paid us a quick call. The photos have been changed to black and white as this way the image is clearer.
I've also added a recipe button on the bar at the top of the blog. Most recipes are things we have enjoyed creating or have been created by our plot neighbours Pat and Joe. The other links take you to other sections of my website.

Children's Gardening:
I'm adding some resources to The School Vegetable Patch website which are intended for use by schools carrying out gardening projects but they may also be of some interest to those of you who support schools or are trying to interest your own children in growing things. Details of the resources can be found here. They are all freely available on the web or to download - more will be added soon.

Thursday, February 17

A tale of progress or even lack of it ...

In the Indoor Growing Light Garden things are progressing well. The decision has been made to leave well alone as far as the lettuce leaves are concerned and take a 'see what happens and deal with it' approach. The hood has been slid down so that the light is closer to the seedlings which will hopefully be of even more benefit. This can be slid up as the seeds grow. It’s a case of so far so good as all the seeds that have been sown, lettuce, basil, coriander and spring cabbage have germinated well and are growing well. The seedlings are very green and haven’t yet become leggy.
The cobnut, kiwi and Japanese wineberry that we bought from Victoriana Nursery Gardens are now budding. As the ground is still very muddy they will stay in the garden greenhouse for a while longer. The cobnut is fine as we had already planted it in a large pot but the wineberry and kiwi were still in the small pots that they arrived in and so we have potted them on. (By the way Victoriana Nursery Gardens are offering 10% discount to anyone ordering using a link from any of our websites or blogs).
The perennials from Beth Chatto Nursery Gardens are also growing really well so well that I succumbed and ordered another couple of plants to make up for the ones that were unavailable. (Promise I don't get any commission for singing their praises)! My two new acquisitions are Brunnera – Jack Frost and Omphalodes cappadocica - 'Cherry Ingram' (goodness knows how you pronounce that!). Usually the nursery don't accept orders for less than £20 but as I pleaded that I was an idiot who hadn't noticed the bit about accepting substitutes they let me have just a couple of plants - it always pays to ask! These are to add to the area under the crab apple tree.
Also in the garden greenhouse the garlic is growing well. We have also potted up some elephant garlic cloves and some shallot and onion sets. The shallots are already starting to shoot.
In the garden the bulbs have really gathered speed although to get the full benefit of the snowdrops and crocuses we need a bit more sunshine as at the moment the buds are determined to stay tightly closed. The hellebores too that I planted last year are producing buds and would also welcome more sunshine to coax them on. 
Elsewhere in the garden the troughs of pansies are picking up after their battering – tough little things aren’t they? They would also love a little sun though to dry out their petals and make them lift their smiley faces. A daphne that arrived from out of the blue – literally, I think a seed must have dropped from the sky courtesy of a low flying bird - is full of flower. Just goes to show that sometimes it pays not to be too eager to whip out something that looks as though it may be some sort of weed! Pity the bird didn’t drop it somewhere where it would have space to develop but I daren’t move it in case it dies.

Not everything has come through the winter unscathed as it looks as though our gunnera and phormium have had it. Looks like another area of the garden will need some replanting!

And on top of all that love is in the air! Folklore has it that the birds choose their mates on Valentines day. Well our birds are a bit forward and have been seen around in pairs for a while now. Blue tits and great tits are already exploring the bird boxes so it was time to make sure nest cam was in position. (See Martyn’s blog for a photo). Nest cam is another new toy but chances are that being new nothing will take up residence this year especially as our contrary blue and great tits seem to prefer the sparrow terrace!!!

As for any progress getting things done outside well ... that's the lack of it bit!

Saturday, February 12

Sweet smell of success ... again please!

Last year our sweet corn and sweet peppers did particularly well and so we will be sticking to the tried and tested varieties again this year.

We will be growing two varieties of sweet corn Sweet Nugget and Tasty Gold but will make sure as we did last year that we do not plant the varieties too closely to one another as they could cross pollinate. This could produce inferior cobs which would never do! We also try not to grow too near to where our plot neighbours have planted their sweet corn. It isn’t difficult as most of our neighbours plant theirs before we do. The plants are planted in a block rather than a row as they are wind pollinated.

The plants produce two types of flowers – the male tassels and the female flowers are the ones that produce the cobs. Pollen from the male flower blows onto the female flower to pollinate it and this has a better chance of happening if the plants are in blocks. Last years we staggered planting. One lots of both varieties produced earlier cobs many of which were stripped of the corn kernels and frozen. This made up for our lack of frozen peas. The second lot provided fresh cobs.

I’ve added the sweet to the peppers to differentiate them from my vegetable, (although it’s really a fruit) nemesis - the dreaded chilli – dreaded because chillies and I have been known to clash and I have been the one to come out worst.

We have tried growing bell peppers on and off but have never really been satisfied with the outcome. I suppose this is partly due to us not being able to sow the seeds early enough so these will take priority in our Indoor Garden. Anyway last year we grew Jimmy Nardello which produces long thin red peppers and Tequila Sunrise which is described as a carrot shaped yellow pepper that can also be grown as an ornamental. I read somewhere that the long peppers were more reliable than bell peppers and our experiences last year seemed to back up this theory so we are hoping for a repeat performance this year back up this theory.

We are hoping for a repeat performance this year.

Wednesday, February 9

What do you think - thin out or not?

Our Cut and Come Again lettuce seedlings are growing well in our Indoor Garden - so well that we now have a dilemma. Should we thin out - one seedling to each cell - or just let them all grow. When planting them outside we would probably leave them be as they would have plenty of space to grow but maybe if we try this indoors we will end up with weaklings - what would you do?

PS: Off subject completely but has anyone cleaned an oven with a steam cleaner and was it successful and if it was which one did you use? I want to buy one to clean my oven but reviews are contradictory so I don't know what to do - HELP!

Tuesday, February 8

Shoots, buds and even flowers!

Looking out of a window this morning I spotted our first open crocus and so decided to have a wander round the garden to see what else I could find happening. The intention was to post one or two photos but in the end I took so many that I decided to post an album instead. There are lots and lots of signs that spring is just around the corner.

I've also sown some basil and coriander seeds and popped them in the indoor garden unit to try for some early herbs.

Sunday, February 6

Rabbit Food ?

Our first lots of seeds will be sown in containers, (and we may even use a new toy but more of that later), where they will grow to maturity giving us some early pickings. Being fairly short-lived we keep sowing new seed throughout the season so that we have something to pick. If we plant too much lettuce to use, the plants are not a waste as they can be really decorative and add interest to the plot in fact many would be just as at home in an ornamental garden.
Fortunately for us we don’t suffer, as many other gardeners, do from rabbits sharing our crops so we get most of the rabbit food that we grow to ourselves. Unfortunately we do have to share some with slugs so it is a case of cramming in as much lettuce and salad leaves into the available space as we can. We start lettuce seeds off in pots, modules and trays so at least they get off to a reasonable start before any slug onslaught. Sowing and growing on in pots means that less seed is wasted too. Salad leaves may be started in pots but are also sown in the ground once the season is underway.
We have quite a lot of lettuce seed left over from last year and as it is supposed to keep well for at least three years we will be sowing many of last year’s varieties again. Repeat varieties will be Arctic King (loose butterhead), Great Lakes (crisp head), Little Gem (small Cos type) and Kings Mixed Leaves which contains a variety of types and colours. We also have a second packet of Little Gem that was free with one of our gardening magazines. Also free from a magazine was another packets of Mixed Lettuce Leaves.

We also have a range of salad leaves left from last year, Sicilian Rocket Salad Mixed, Salad leaves Tuscany Mix and Salad Leaves Provence Mix - these were all sown directly in the ground last year but the problem was that being mixing it and growing close together it was often difficult to decide which were weeds and which were salad leaves. We may have inadvertently eaten weeds. Still they can't have been poisonous as we are still here - we'll be more careful this year!
Three new choices for this year are Saladin (Iceberg variety), Red Iceberg (as its name suggests) and Rougette du Midi (Red-tinged crispy leaves butterhead) which has been supplied in place of our chosen Parella Red which has suffered a crop failure.
No doubt some salad leaves will be added at a later date. Last year we even had some additional surprises as some lettuce had self seeded and produced lettuces in places that we didn’t expect them. I wonder if they are tough enough to get through this winter and do this again.
Our first lot of lettuce seeds - Cut and Come Again lettuce have been sown and  placed in the Indoor Garden. At first the light was left off as we didn't think it was necessary for germination but once the seedlings started to push through the compost (after 4 days) the light was switched on. This is controlled by a timer switch as it isn't just the level of light but the length of daylight hours that is important for healthy growth.
By the way I have added a button on the sidebar that will take you straight to my complete diary on my webiste for the current month.

Friday, February 4

Sometimes it just pays to take a chance

Regular readers will know that I am planning to replant the bed in front of the house with perennials so I have spent some time over the last month or so browsing the internet to choose what I thought might like the situation and provide as good a display as possible over the late spring into autumn. Spring bulbs will provide a display earlier in the year. At the moment winter isn't being considered as if it is a repeat of this year then the ground will just be covered with snow!

I'd done my browsing and chosen what I was going to buy from about three different companies and then I stumbled upon Beth Chatto Gardens Nursery. On further browsing I found a really extensive plant list including many of the plants that I had already considered buying. So now for the risk part - the plants were just under half the price of the same plants from the company that I was going to order from. Why? I felt fairly confident that something trading under the Beth Chatto name wouldn't produce rubbish so maybe the plants were just very small or young.

I decided that I would take a risk and as I had saved some money I also decided to add some more plants to the list for the shady area under the crab apple. In an earleir post Carolyn from Carolyn's Shade Garden had suggested Pulmonaria 'Majeste' or 'Diana Clare' or Brunnera 'Jack Frost' so I added the two pulmonarias and another variety of Brunnera - Dawson's White which is similar to Jack Frost along with Lamium - White Nancy.

Once I had sent my order off I realised that I had forgotten some delivery information and so emailed that company and very quickly received a reply from an actual person - what a bonus! Then it was a case of just sit and wait.

Then yesterday a parcel arrived - time to find out whether I had done the right thing by ordering the much cheaper plants.

The plants were very well packaged with each individual plant wrapped in damp newspaper inside a polythene bag.
Also it was obvious that the plants weren't the small newly rooted cuttings that I thought I might receive.
Each plant had a really good root system and also shoots that showed each was alive and well.
As there is some work to be done before the plants go into the garden and also I have some more plants ordered from a couple of different companies - mainly as they had collections of plants that I wanted which made them a cost effective option  - we decided to pot up the plants into 6" pots and keep them in the cold greenhouse 'til we were ready to plant. (Although according to what Martyn has been reading our greenhouse is too cold to be classified as a cold greenhouse!!!) 

Besides the plants already mentioned I bought, two rudbekias - deamii and Goldsturm, two asters (Michaelmas daisies) - Monch and Purple Dome and campanula lactifolia - Pritchards Variety. My only disappoinment is that the brunnera and pulmonaria - Majeste were unavailable and so I received a refund for those. I would try ordering a couple of different varieties but with the postage and packaging costing £7.50 it would put up the cost of the two plants quite a bit. I guess I'll just have to look out at the local nurseries - who knows I may be lucky!

Now I just hope the rest of my plants are as good!

PS I have been busy scouring everywhere for a statue for under the crab apple tree but so far no joy - any I like would need a bank loan to buy! Anyone know anywhere that sells lots of reasonably priced tasteful statues in a light colour stone or stone effect?

Wednesday, February 2

How did your blog grow?

Forgive the digression from gardening matters. The seeds of my blog were sown in August 2006. I chose one of the standard templates - Son of Moto for no other reason than because it was green!

Our new allotment site secretary asked me to create a website for our site and a blog seemed to fit the bill. I named it Green Lane Allotments – very original - and adopted the pen name of Green Lane Allotments. I wish that I’d had the foresight to be a bit more creative as now I am destined to remain GLA! Interestingly most people figured that I was male!

The first shoots of the blog were just posts giving information about our allotment site and provided a means of communicating with other plot holders. I never really considered that anyone away from our plot would find it even remotely interesting. Comments were just bantering remarks between plot holders until the novelty wore off or someone became offended.

The chronological style of a blog was a bit limiting and so in November 2006 another seed was sown and my website began to germinate. I used a free community system provided by BT. The web site allowed for more in depth articles and a different structure. The blog remained a communication tool and also acted as a signpost to point to updates on the website. The blog posts were very short – often one liners with links to the website – the growth of the blog was stunted being overshadowed by the stronger growing website. 

In March 2007 I became chair of the Allotment Association so much of the content was still community based, although now also covered association matters with photos taken around the site each month. Some personal stuff crept in but mostly that was kept to the website.

A dose of manure caused the blog to suddenly sprout into growth in a new direction. Unfortunately the growth spurt was fed by our site being affected by contaminated manure. At that point not much information was available about the problem so the blog and website became very much the focus of information for people affected. There was lots of media coverage and so visitors poured in from all over the UK and beyond.

In January 2009 after some political unpleasantness on our site both the site secretary and I along with all but one of the committee members resigned from the association committee. The blog was pruned and reshaped to become personal and renamed Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments even though I decided to include posts about our garden as well as our allotment plots. I felt changing the name completely would just cause confusion for our growing number of visitors especially as many were still using it and the website as a source of information about contaminated manure

Feeling more confident to delve into the mysteries of html, in January 2010 I decided to give the blog a complete redesign to reflect that this was now a personal blog and so developed into the blog as you know it.

Last month I decided that our garden should feature in the title and banner photograph as, during the winter months especially, our garden has played a more prominent role and the blog is no longer mainly about our allotment. So I have now rehashed the banner which will still change seasonally or whenever the whim takes me. I also increased the width of the blog after Mark at Marks Veg Plot widened his to allow for larger photographs.

I've also added some tabs to the top of the page with links that will take you to areas of our website that you may find supplement the blog. We haven't yet created an area on the website devoted to our garden and so this tab is inactive at the moment.

By the way I have recently been frustrated by the image not appearing in word verification and so have switched this off - if I get lots of computer generated rubbish it will go back on again so if any rubbishy comments appear don't click on any web links.
Similar changes have been made on our other two blogs. So how why did you start your blog and how has it developed?