Saturday, August 31

I take it all back

Regular visitors may remember that our summer fruiting raspberries were wiped out this year.

This was a bit of a blow as we love raspberries. We did harvest lots of purple fruiting raspberries but these are smaller than the traditional varieties, so it's not really the same.

Fortunately our two varieties of autumn fruiting raspberries were not affected by the rotting disease. They are in a different position but I have read that they are less susceptible to root rot.

Now I have to eat humble pie and make a public apology. In the past I haven't rated the yellow variety Allgold. It had produced smallish berries which were easily damaged in wind and rain. Being disappointed with its performance we had considered digging up the bed but this year, (with little wind or rain to spoil things) All Gold has been a star. The canes are loaded with good sized clean berries.
So All Gold - I apologise unreservedly.

The red Joan J is also producing a good crop of large juicy berries.
So we have our raspberry crop at last - now we need to think about replacing the summer fruiting varieties and also decide what we can plant in the old raspberry bed that won't be affected by Raspberry Root Rot (Phytophthora fragariae)

PS: We carried out a mega harvesting session yesterday see Martyn's blog here

Friday, August 30

Seven Year Itch

Reading the title of this post you could be thinking that I am writing about the bites that seem to plague me every year at this time. I need to spray myself liberally every time I venture out of the house and woe betide me if I forget just because I am popping into the greenhouse. Itchy as I feel this isn't the subject of my post.

Today it is seven years since I published the very first post on this blog. In those seven years things have changed a lot for both me personally and my blog. Don't bother checking back posts from 2006 as I can guarantee you will be bored, bored and bored! My blog had a whole different purpose and personality back then - in fact it didn't have a personality at all. It had a job to do and it did it. The posts were almost one liners and served as a message board for the plotters on our site. For this reason I started my website as a personal diary rather than an allotment site bulletin board which was more or less where my blog fitted in and although I wrote the blog it wasn't really mine in the true sense.
Gradually the blog evolved - the main change being in 2009 when the blog and the allotment site association parted company. The 'history' behind how my blog grew is posted about here just in case you are interested in that sort of thing. 
At this point the new focus of the blog was to provide information about the manure contamination that was spreading across the country but gradually posts became longer and included life outside of the allotment plot and the blog metamorphosed to become what it is today.
I started my blog thinking I was communicating with a few people on our allotment site and now I am constantly amazed at how far the blogosphere reaches. Initially visitors comments were restricted to banter between plot holders and then gradually I began to gather a group of regular commenters from further afield which I am happy to say are being regularly added to. I still am just as interested in the comments about my posts as I was in those earlier days. 

Initially I tended to 'live' in isolation rarely venturing outside of my own blog area but now I enjoy reading many other blogs as much writing my own. Many of the blogs I enjoy are featured in my bloglists but more are in my pending tray with new ones being added regularly. Some will become firm favourites and others may fade away. Just as in 'real life' we find we have more interests in common with some than with others.

Last week I checked the data from my Clustermap widget
First there is information about UK visitor numbers per area. If you click you can read the information. It seems the highest number of UK visitors come from London. Although there were 1,360 visitors from an unknown location.
As far as non-UK visitors the highest number come from the USA.
What I find amazing though is the number of countries that my blog has reached out to. Granted quite a lot of visitors will have just paid a fleeting visit having arrived 'by accident' but a percentage will be visitors with some sort of interest in what I have written. I think it demonstrates the power of the internet as a communication tool. Like all communication tools, though it can be used for bad as well as good reasons.

If you are a visitor that comes regularly on purpose then thank you for your interest and encouragement. If you are a new visitor please don't be reluctant to join in by making comments. New commenters are very welcome. Often it is using the links left by new visitors that I find new blogs to read. (Less welcome are the spammers so please don't follow any links that they leave behind. Many spam comments are filtered out anyway so in most cases they are just wasting their time).  If you are a regular visitor but still are more comfortable just reading then thank you too for taking an interest. 

As for the seven year itch - let's hope we survive it. I think for me the secret has been not to allow the blog to become a job of work or a chore. I don't write about everything we do in the garden, I write about the things that are interesting me at the time. If you also follow Martyn's blog you will have found that although we are writing about the same garden and plot we often write about very different aspects of our gardening activities.

Our website tends to be the diary and record keeping device that we can look back over and compare the current year to previous years and my blog is more snapshots of activities and events. Maybe that will change over time but for now it's how I like it.

As for the other itches I'd better go find that spray before I go out! See you later - I hope

Thursday, August 29

A dreadful start to the week!

Monday we were involved in a nasty accident with a runaway horse drawn tram that we had just boarded at Middleton Railways Festival of Transport. Reports about the incident in newspapers proved to me that you just must not believe everything they write in newspapers. Some reports were just so far from the truth it was hard to believe it was the same incident. 
Comments made by people reading the online versions were often really cruel and ill-informed. People also actually took photographs of emergency services working to rescue the groom who had been trapped under the tram during the incident. One newspaper even contacted Martyn to ask if he had a video. We had both camera and video camera to hand but wouldn't have dreamed of filming! I'm not going to describe the incident Martyn has already done so on his blog if you want to learn more about what actually happened rather than cobbled together versions cropping up all over the internet.

Tuesday a morning call from a plot neighbour informed us that someone had broken into our shed. Again Martyn has posted about this here. Strangely the window had been carefully removed and put safely to one side so it wasn't too bad a job to reinstall it. We don't keep anything of value on the plot, as could be easily seen had the would-be thieves had a good look through the window, so nothing was missing but it did spur us on to a good clear out and shed cleaning and tidying session.
We only lock the shed to stop it becoming a venue for unseemly activities!

Wednesday, August 28

Clothed in purple

Monday, August 26

Time for some TLC

Three of our strawberry varieties have now finished fruiting and if I want to improve our chances of a good harvest next year it is time to give the plants some attention.

The old leaves have been cut off taking care not to cut the new leaves that are emerging from the crown. Normally there would also be a tangle of runners to cut away or pot up but this year the plants don't seem to have produced as many runners as normal.
Any weeds growing in the areas not covered by the weed control fabric have been removed and the soil just loosened a little.

The plants have been fed and watered. I avoid watering if I can when the plants are fruiting as this can spoil the flavour and lead to the water bags that are sold in the supermarkets.

Flamenco the perpetual fruiting strawberry will be left alone for now, (I may just trim some of the really shabby leaves off), as it is still providing us with a few fruits. 
Perpetual varieties produce fruits over an extended period and don't usually provide the bounty that the other plants do.

Sunday, August 25

Do blackbirds use anvils?

I was doing a bit of weeding on the plot when I came across this. I have cheated a little and collected the broken snail shells together but they were all scattered around the large stone in the photograph.
Now I know that song thrushes use large stones as an anvil on which to smash snail shells so they can devour what they consider to be a tasty morsel, however I haven't noticed any song thrushes on our plot recently.

Now it's quite another story where blackbirds are concerned. We have lots probably attracted to all our soft fruit!
They sing to us from the top of a conifer on the plot and squawk at us when we are stealing 'their' fruit. So my question is - do blackbirds use stones as anvils in the same way as their song thrush cousins do?
Or have we a secretive song thrush in the area? I do hope so.

We regularly find snail debris near to a stone so this isn't a one-off occurrence. 

Whichever bird is responsible I hope it continues to dine on our garden pests, I won't be moving the stone and hope the fact that we have uncovered the redcurrants to let the birds in won't put them off their pest control activities. Snail for the meat course and redcurrants for dessert should be just the job for a discerning bird.

Back in the garden we regularly find empty snail shells. Often these are scattered but these caches were found in and around the cold frame which is unfortunately a snail party venue.

The first is a pile of damaged shells.
These weren't smashed to bits like the ones on the plot and there was no anvil nearby so was this another bird?

This pile was under netting and so not easily accessible to birds (although they are resourceful creatures) but we do find frogs in the cold frame. They somehow manage to find a way in under the netting.
I have read that frogs would also eat the snail shells, but would they winkle the snails out of their shells? This cache of shells was found intact minus snail occupants. If they had died a natural death I wouldn't expect the shells to be so clean.
So what type of creatures are assisting us in our fight against slugs? Is it blackbirds, robins, song thrushes, frogs, mice or hedgehogs? Maybe a mixed army of allies - whoever it is "Keep up the good work guys!" 

Martyn came face to beak with a song thrush on the plot today - case solved - great to have one around.

Saturday, August 24

Some you win and some you lose

If you have been reading Martyn's blog you will know that he has been repeatedly lamenting the state of the tomatoes in our garden greenhouse. Every ripe tomato grown in there so far has suffered from blossom end rot.
We are not alone in this problem as a friend is having just the same problem in his greenhouse. One reason given for this is erratic watering which is strange as the tomatoes on our plot greenhouse are not suffering even though those of a plot neighbour are. If anything the plants in the plot greenhouse are watered more erratically than the ones in the greenhouse in the garden.

To be honest we are assessing how we use our garden greenhouse next year and may reduce the priority given to tomatoes!

Happily some things in the garden greenhouse are faring far better. For instance the aubergines. We haven't really had a lot of success with aubergines in the past and this year tried a mini variety called Jackpot. The plants are compact and earlier in the year made beautiful decorative plants.
Then fruit started to set - not just one or two but lots of them.
These can be allowed to grow on or be used as baby vegetables.
Also after it looking as though we were going to be pepperless the pepper plants are now also producing.
They would benefit from some extended growing time having been off to a slow start but hopefully we should manage a harvest of sorts.

The grapevine is just carrying on unperturbed. We don't thin the grapes as it used to be a neck aching job. It does suffer severe pruning throughout the season as otherwise it would fill any available space in the greenhouse  and then head out of the window in an attempt at world domination!

We put up with its thuggery though as the grapes are delicious.
So not everything in the greenhouse is blossom end rot - thank goodness. How are your tomatoes doing this year - is it just our part of Yorkshire that has been seeded with tomato rot?

Friday, August 23

It's not JUST a crumble

I think most people like crumbles and many gardeners end up with a glut of courgettes that they don't know what to do with so when I came across a recipe for courgette crumble I was intrigued. I expected it would be a savoury dish with maybe a crumble topping containing cheese but no this was a dessert. Courgettes for dessert? It can't work can it? But then again that is what I thought about using squash to make a pumpkin pie and when we finally decided to have a go and make one it was nothing like we expected.

To resolve my curiosity I decided to have a go at courgette crumble being prepared to be disgusted. I wasn't convinced enough to make a large crumble and decided to make just two individual crumbles. I was so confident of failure that I made about a fifth of the  recipe.

Firstly I cut up two small courgettes (one green and one yellow) and stewed them in lemon juice until they were soft.
Then sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg were added and the mixture cooked a little longer.

The mixture was shared between two ramekins.
I just put crumble of the top  (the recipe says to press some of the crumble mix on the base, place on the fruit mix and then sprinkle the rest of the crumble mix on top). The crumble was then popped into the oven to bake. Being small the crumbles only took 20 minutes rather than the longer time suggested in the recipe.
The recipe blurb states "You would never guess that this crumble is made with courgettes and not apples!"

As we each sat waiting for the other to try it first we were not convinced but surprise, surprise - it really did taste like apple crumble. What next courgette and blackberry crumble?

If you fancy having a try at this recipe, the original is here.

I also have reinstated the courgette recipe page that I put together last year - the link is on the sidebar or click here. I have made a few additions so let me know if you have an interesting (and tested) way of using all those courgettes and I'll add it to my list.

Thursday, August 22

Bargain Time

If you have ever bought plants or gardening equipment on line then like me you have probably found your way onto many mailing and emailing lists. At this time of year it means that every day new offers seem to come along as companies are reducing the price of the plants that are still on their 'shelves' or of newly rooted cuttings. Restraint has to be shown in the face of these offers as some can offer amazing savings

For instance one email received last week was Thompson and Morgan's offer of 100 allium bulbs for £5. very tempting but I don't really want 100 alliums, however I did share the link on my blog just in case someone out there fancied taking up the offer.

I am not always as restrained though as recently I ordered some plants following an advert for an offer from Hayloft. They were advertising 10 named variety phlox plants for £10 and this fitted in with my planting plans and so I went to the website to check the offer and decided to order a pack.

These arrived as small bare rooted plants which I thought I had taken a photo of but obviously didn't. I'm growing them on in pots for a while before planting out in the garden. Here they are newly planted.
They are now growing away and have been placed in the cold frame.
I also ordered 10 dianthus which were also £10. These arrived as small plug plants.
which have also been potted up to grow on.
If you have ever come across offers in newspapers or magazines then it is likely that the offers are being provided by Hayloft. Whilst browsing their site I came across a section called Magazine Offers. If you click on the Magazine Offers tab on their home page you will see a list of publications that have had Hayloft offers in the past. Many are still available directly from the website (you don't need to buy the magazine!)

Whilst browsing this section I found an offer for a collection of erysimums and as I had been thinking of adding some erysimums to the garden I placed an order. These plants however will not be dispatched until April.

I'm hoping that the dianthus and erysimums will provide some lovely scent on the patio next year.

If you keep an eye on the section at the top of my blog I share some of the offers that I receive, some are through affiliation schemes and others are just offers that I think may be of interest.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Wednesday, August 21

Now what do we do?


Sunday, August 18

So did Grazers slug and snail deterrent work?

Maybe in many ways  the hot dry period in summer wasn't the best time to try out a product to control slugs and snails, however I have been able to draw some tentative conclusions. Bear in mind that this is a very limited trial and only reflects my experiences.

This year I grew some Bishop's Children dahlias from seed and had planted some in the garden only for them to become mollusc fodder. For this reason I thought the dahlias would make a good test subject and I sprayed some newly planted dahlias with Grazers Slugs and Snail control.  This did keep the molluscs at bay for a limited period. (The product needs to be reapplied weekly but I didn't do this for reasons that I will explain later). Although this application didn't prevent all damage it did give the plants a chance to make some growth. The unsprayed plants were eaten before they had a chance to grow!
I also mentioned in a previous post that some of my hostas had been badly damaged by slugs and snails
I cut the damaged leaves from these hostas and sprayed the remaining leaves with the deterrent. Again this gave protection for a while and gave the plants a breathing space in which to make new growth.
The slugs moved back in after a while as again I didn't respray
Then we had some pots of mint that were being badly attacked by slugs and struggling to make any growth at all.
So I sprayed these plants. This was the most effective outcome as the protected plants grew away and the new tougher growth seemed to resist further attack in spite of me not respraying.
So why didn't I follow the manufacturers instructions and spray weekly to maintain some protection. The simple answer is that the spray was running out. It is supplied in a 750ml bottle at just under £7 a bottle and so to use weekly would prove very expensive.

My conclusions based on limited experience is that the product does deter slugs and snails from munching your plants. It won't protect them completely but will very much reduce the damage. At this stage the product would prove too expensive to use extensively in the garden and on a weekly basis as recommended by the manufacturer but it would be useful to protect your more precious plants and also to give young plants a protected start.

The manufacturers tell me that they brought the ready to use spray out quickly this summer, to test the market, after they received such positive trial results. Their intention is to release a concentrated form which will be much cheaper to produce and more cost effective for repeat use, based on the sales so far they will push forward with this product in the autumn. 

Saturday, August 17

Controlling the weed control fabric.

A comment from CJ after my post on using weed control fabric asked how we kept the fabric in place. As a reply in the comments would be far too long I promised a post about this - so here goes.

We really started using weed control fabric under our apple hedge and redcurrants as the grass grew very long here. Wasps also managed to build nests in underground holes under the redcurrants, one of which I managed to stand on when picking. The wasps reacted badly to the intrusion. Not good when you are trapped under netting and desperate not to drop the punnet of redcurrants which had taken so long to pick whilst angry wasps attack your foot. (Sorry I digress). 

Anyway in these instances the fabric was just covered with a thick mulch of bark chippings which are deposited on the site by the council parks department. The edges were held in place using 'prunings' from a coppiced hazel bush.
It was after this worked so well at keeping these areas tidy that we decide to experiment. At first our methods of keeping the fabric in place were fairly primitive and involved large pieces of wood and stones.
One problem was that we hadn't enough material to carry on doing this and also the wood and stones provide great hiding places for creatures that love to feast on newly planted vegetables.

Where there are only cross slits cut into the fabric we found that the fabric really only needs holding down around the edges and so we decided to bury the edges under either soil or a mulch.
The downside is that weeds tend to still grow around the edges of the bed but these are mainly young annuals growing in the soil on top of the fabric and are easily removed.

The courgettes were given an additional top mulch of manure which along with the black material we hoped would warm up the soil too.
The courgettes loved it and when the fabric is taken off after harvesting the manure will be incorporated into the soil.

The fabric into which slits are cut is a bit trickier. For the parsnips and carrots we held the fabric down using strips of plastic. This only needed to be a temporary arrangement as once the tops grew they would keep the fabric in place.
The onions posed a different problem but we had bought some pegs with one lot of fabric and we used these to hold down the edges of the 'trenches'. In the photo below they are the black squares on plastic. They are supposed to pierce the fabric but we used them along the edges. This worked well enough but we needed too many and it would prove a very expensive method.
So for the second lot of onions I improvised and constructed a sort of grid using bamboo canes held down under strips of wood.
This worked too but I felt I needed too many canes between the plants and they could interfere with plant growth.

For other crops such as peas which were also planted in a 'trench' we mulch the fabric to keep it in place - the idea was that this would also retain moisture.
The peas seemed to thrive in these conditions and we have far better plants than we have had for a while.

For 'trench set-ups' I now have a new idea to try. I have placed long canes on the strips of control fabric and held these in place using 'L ' shaped pieces of wire. The wire pushes into the soil with the bottom of the 'L' fitting over the top of the cane like this.
I've just planted out some flowers, sweet Williams, sweet rocket, wallflowers and dog daisies using this system.
I'm not sure how well these pieces of wire will hold the canes in place so we bought some tent pegs with rounded ends that slot over the canes more securely.
I planted out the rest of the flower plantlets using this system
I watered the 'trenches' first and then used a dibber to plant the young plants.

When we can acquire the autumn onion sets and garlic bulbs we will use the tent pegs to secure the fabric around them. The main problem is that the canes are not perfectly straight but so far I am happy with how this is working. Once the plants grow they also help secure the fabric.