Artichokes

Artichokes. Yes, now this is where the plot starts to get a bit more interesting.

There are 2 kinds of artichokes you can grow, and right now I’m just talking about the globe variety.  Those big green flowers which most people in the UK buy as de-leafed hearts marinated in a jar, or as a pizza topping at upmarket pizza restaurants.  Well before they look like this…

Open Jar, tip onto plate et voila!

Open Jar, tip onto plate et voila!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

..they look like this:

An edible green ball on a thistle

An edible green ball on a thistle

A friend came back from a trip to Italy around 5 years ago and her souvenir gift to me was a packet of artichoke seeds.  I tried to grow plants the following year but with little success.  The 2 plants which survived planting out were pitifully small, as were the globes.  The hearts were so tiny I’d lost all enthusiasm for them by the time they made it onto the plate.

Now this year, I have renewed hopes that the prickly plant will get to see my allotment once more, and this time leave a better impression.  On me and my tummy.

15th March – 16 seeds sown, 2 per pot in the tray.  Kept indoors of course.

18th May – Of the 16 sown, an impressive 12 have germinated and after 2 months of looking happy they now look a bit cramped.   Not unhappy but i’m sure they should be getting bigger by now.  Right….let’s work this out.  Cramped and stunted?  Ah ha!  Let’s re-pot them.  So each of the 12 little artichokes now has its own medium-sized pot.  The shelves can’t cope (especially with the toms starting to grow) so they are now getting used to the outdoor life.

15th June – let’s get these babies into the plot, hurrah!  These plants can grow into huge lofty things, but I’ve planted them fairly close to one another on the basis that I don’t actually need 12 plants, and a few of them will probably not survive the move.

 

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Green Beans

For me, green beans are in the same camp as courgettes: easy to grow, very versatile, cheaper than the supermarket.  A staple of the allotment yield, year in year out.

Broadly, there are 2 types, dwarf and climbing.  I grow both, and have come to the conclusion that the dwarf are preferable.  They are more tender and tasty, and whilst the yield is far lower, this means that you don’t end up with a surplus of big tough ones that no-one wants to eat.  On the plus side for climbing, as you will in all likelihood end up with far more than you can eat, if you’re organised you can blanche and freeze your surplus whilst they’re still young and tender.

This year, as per usual, I am growing both.  I should point out that all of the varieties are called french beans (not green).  I suspect this is for clarity rather than pretention.

  1. Ferrari (dwarf french)
    • BBC says: a superb high yielding variety which produces long, straight pods. They are stringless, full of flavour and also have a good shelf-life
  2. Cosse Violet (climbing french)
    • Pennard Plants says: a highly ornamental round-podded climber is a very heavy producer of rich purple pods. Stems are purple & the leaves have a purple tinge. It is distinguished because it retains its colour if dried, but as with all purple French beans it turns green when cooked
  3. Blue Lake (climbing french)
    • Sarah Raven says: a wonderfully prolific climbing bean, with a long, steady cropping pattern of tender and tasty green beans.

I did sow a few green beans into trays back in March, but it was far too early. Around half germinated which is OK I suppose but they started to look a little worse for wear in mid-April so I planted them out (at the same time as the courgettes). Yes, they too were victims of Jack Frost’s rampage over the May Day weekend. So, back to square one.

14th May: I’ve set up 2 teepees of bamboo canes to support the climbers, 4 canes per teepee. 3 seeds pushed into the ground by the foot of each cane, so as long as I get 33% germination rate I’ll be OK.

However, the Cosse Violets are fairly old now, I’d say around 3 years so they might not come up at all. Same goes for the Blue Lakes, which I got as part of a freebie package the BBC did 4 years ago as part of something called Dig In. If I don’t get anything coming through at all by the middle of June bean-wise I’ll buy some new ones.  Watch this space.

26th May:  Blue Lakes are looking teeny tine but happy.  Cosse Violets have yet to germinate.  Only 1 of the pesky dwarf green beans has germinated.  Time to buy some more seeds pronto.

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Courgette

For me, courgettes are a no-brainer.  As long as there is the space – which allotments tend to have – then courgettes are a very easy to grow outdoors and one of veggies which is considerably cheaper than in the supermarket.  1 successful plant could support a courgette-eater for around 3 months, still yielding until the end of September usually.

I like to grow 2 yellow and 2 green.  They taste exactly the same if you ask me. Courgettes have such a mild (some might say bland) flavour that my main criteria for growing courgette is the aformentioned colour combination and that’s about it.

this year Dobies have provided me with these two types:

1. Orelia

  •  Dobies says:  A golden yellow courgette, producing delicious and attractive 12-18cm (5-7″) fruits. Vigorous-growing and heavy-cropping

2. Zucchini

  • Dobies says: A good length * Extremely early with deep green, cylindrical fruits 15cm (6″) or more in length. Recommended for deep freezing

Seeds were sown in the 16th March “mirage of summer” along with most other veggies.  They all germinated under glass – like I say, they are very easy going.  I was the proud owner of nearly 20 courgette seedlings, all happy and growing well.

The main hiccough was that the labelling of the 2 colours were removed by accident (3 year olds, gotta love em) so I don’t know which tray contains which colour.  I didn’t think this would be too problematic, as long as plants from both sets were planted.

Then, as I posted in this article about the early May frost, disaster struck.

11th May:  a little over a week later and perhaps 1 of the plants has survived.  All of the frost-bitten and thus dead leaves have been clipped off and the flowers which were forming are clinging on for another 4 or 5 plants, but being foilage-free I’m not sure if they will be able to make a full recovery.

On the other hand the other courgette (which I reckon are the green, and I’ve wrecked the yellow) are looking fabulous.  They’ve been hardened off nicely in the cold frame for the past month and are so ready to go into the ground.  Obvs after the frost incident I am going to be patient and wait til the end of May for that.  I have even given away some to veg-growing friends as 7 (9 less then 2 lost to frost at the allotment) is 5 too many.

So for now, time to plant some more seeds and keep watering the coldframe goodies.

 

* A good length!!  Who are the copywriters for these catalogues?

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Jack Frost nipping at my legumes

This May bank holiday had a little surprise in store for me.  An unexpected visit by Mr Jack Frost on the Friday night which left my courgettes and french beans decidedly worse for wear.

It wasn’t unreasonable to plant out some healthy courgette and green bean plants at the end of April. They had happily hardened off over the previous couple of weeks in the mild weather and I knew they were ready to get into position in the allotment and get growing.

Here they are on 27th April looking young but robust enough to commit to a life outdoors.

Ready and willing!

Ready and willing!

About to start the ascent up the bamboo

About to start the ascent up the bamboo

 

And then what happened?  Unbeknownst to me, the following Friday night a frost descended and took my courgettes and green beans from me.  They be dead, dead, dead.

Nowt but bamboo now

Nowt but bamboo now

Whilst away camping I had also left outside most of my other courgette seedlings, along with my broccoli and cauli seedlings.  You can see below how brassica and frost are friends but legumes are really delicate things which should have been put indoors or under some kind of cover to survive zero degrees.  In the photo below I’ve removed most of the shrivelled dead leaves from the courgettes in the vague (vain?) hope they will be able to survive and grow more.  The two in the bottom left of the tray have a fighting chance but for the rest it’s really just an undignified death with this publication of their demise adding further insult to their short-lived, neglected lives.

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

RIP courgettes and green beans.

I shall be planting out more seeds this week.

 

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Sweetcorn

16th March:  In my giddiness brought on by the unseasonal heat we experienced in mid March, I made one (of several) faux-pas when sowing my first round of seeds.  I sowed my sweetcorn.  It does says quite clearly (quite in the very sense, not marginally sense) to sow in mid-April.  I just got a little carried away and before I knew it there was a full seed tray of all my lovely Sweetie Pie.

2 weeks later and it’s clear that the very name was a clue, let alone the instructions.  This seed likes sun, and there isn’t enough of it this early in Spring.  All bar 3 of the seeds failed to germinate and then rotted in their pots.  Damn.

9th April:  another 2 weeks later and NOW it’s about time to sow the sweetcorn.  B&Q standard offering – Sundance f1 – which I think I’ve used before.  Same as before, 2 per pot, which will provide a total of 30 should they all germinate.

When you grow sweetcorn, you’re meant to grow it in a block so that it’s easier for them to pollinate each other.  The wind blows the pollen onto the silks (those wispy bits) and hey presto, they start making cob babies.  So ideally I’ll have 25 plants on a 5 by 5 block.  It’s all very ‘Children of the corn‘ once they get going you know.

11th May: From the potential 30, i’ve had 22 seeds germinate, some stronger than others.  On the basis that all other influencing elements worked in their favour, this means the seeds themselves have approximately a 75% germination rate, which isn’t bad I suppose.  About a week ago I moved them from the shelves indoors in the coldframe to harden off a bit.  They’re all still going, but seem to be flagging a bit.  So today they have been upgraded, each going into a larger pot on their own.  There are 3 particular stragglers who I don’t expect to make it so they have gone into a pot together.  Their pot is the Palliative care ward.  Hopefully in another few weeks they will look like their 3 Sweetie Pie cousins who survived the premature sowing.  It’s like Little and Large at the moment.

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Potatoes

Ah, the spud.  Probably the most popular vegetable in the country.  Certainly the most versatile.   Never ever under-rated in my house.  During periods of intense time-killing with friends as a teenager, I remember we would pose hypothetical questions to each other.  If you had to snog Jimmy Nail or Mick Hucknall, who would it be?  What’s your favourite song from Dirty Dancing?  And so on.  Wait, I’m getting to the point….. ‘if you could only eat one thing forever, what would it be?’  For me, the answer was easy: the potato (followed closely by fish which was accepted unchallenged as 1 type of food, happily leaving me with a lot of options for dining should this scenario ever arise).

As a grower, I am ambivalent about the potato.  On the plus side home-grown potatoes:

  • allow you to try varieties that would never make it to farmers’ markets, let alone supermarkets
  • are very easy to grow
  • taste delicious

On the downside of growing spuds, they:

  • take up a lot of room on the plot
  • are more vulnerable to disease than many other veg (I am mainly, thought not exclusively talking about blight which spreads across an allotment like an Australian wildfire)

OK, so there are more pros than cons, which is a good thing I suppose.  This year, I had decided not to bother, having got a very wide selection of other veg to grow.  However, whilst down the plot today, putting in Peas and Beetroot, the local maverick plotholder Mikalo paid me a hello  (I may give Mikalo more coverage later, he is a character that certainly deserves it, but for now back to spuds) and donated 4 different varieties of spuds to me, leftover from his sowing.  They were all nicely chitted and much happier to make their home in my plot than get put into the compost.

  1. International Kidney (second early or early maincrop).  I had never heard of this one, but having googled it, I think I’m going to be in for a treat.
  • Thomson Morgan says: A heritage variety that has stood the test of time. If harvested as a second early, ‘International Kidney’ makes a perfect, very waxy, salad potato. Harvested later as an early maincrop, it produces floury, large, general purpose tubers. Height and spread: 60cm (24″).

2.  Nadine (second early)

  • JBA Seed Potatoes says: Nadine seed potatoes are one of the most successful varieties introduced around 1987 by famous potato breeder, Jack Dunnett. Nadine tubers are round in shape with a clean white skin and cream coloured flesh

3. Charlotte (second early) *

  • Love Potatoes says: A classic salad potato and widely available across all major retailers. With a creamy skin and light yellow flesh, they are relatively small potatoes. 

4. Maris Piper (main crop)

  • Love Potatoes says: A favourite English potato grown since the 60s, Maris Piper is a purple flowered maincrop potato and is one of the best known and most popular varieties on sale

So today, 22nd April, a small fallow patch which I had neglected last year suddenly had a purpose.  Only room for 3 trenches so Nadine and Charlotte are sharing, but I’m sure they’re fine with that.  No manure added into the soil but again beggars can’t be choosers and these spuds were an unplanned addition to the family.  I also should have been more diligent in weeding the soil, so will have to try and keep on top of them in the coming months to make sure they don’t takeover the spuds.

No pic for now, will add one once they show their leaves.

* Whilst searching for a description of this variety, the 3rd results was for a news article from the Charlotte Observer about a man holding up a shop with a potato in Rhode Island.  The power of the potato knows no bounds.  http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/04/22/4858044/police-man-armed-with-potato-in.html

 

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Cabbages

4 types of cabbage this year.  This is because they keep really well, so we can be eating cabbage from July time right through till after Christmas.  Some might say that having this much cabbage in your life is excessive but I’ll post some recipes once they’re off the plot and into the kitchen.  Perhaps there will be some cabbage converts….

  1. Roderick (red)
    • Dobies says: A high quality new type for summer/autumn cropping. The medium sized round heads produce tasty, crisp internal hearts which hold well without splitting. Sow March-April.
  2. Ormskirk (savoy)
    • Seedaholic says: A very old heritage variety, it gives a fine head of cabbage, solid in the centre with deep blue-green outer crinkly leaves and a pale green centre. It matures from November and can be harvested through to March and beyond
  3. Greyhound (sweetheart)
    • Seedaholic says: One of the earliest summer cabbages and a reliable old favorite. Very fast growing with a yield of mild flavoured tender juicy hearts. Well suited to successional sowing. Sow from February to July, crops will be ready for cutting from June to October.
  4. Sping Hero (late)
    • Dobies says: Very hard, dark green, the compact round heads are of excellent quality with nearly white, crisp, sweet hearts, about 0.68-0.9 kg (1½-2 lb) in weight

15th March:  Sowed all 4 varieties, sharing 1 seed tray, 3 pots per variety, approx 5 seeds per pot.

Kept them indoors as there wasn’t enough room in the coldframe for them, but this led to them not coming on as quickly as I’d expected, though they all germinated happily enough.  Think the main disadvantages are that it’s too warm and dry and also once the seedlings are up and seeking the light, they only get the sun until around 2pm, whereas the coldframe gets at least another 2-3 hours.

About 2 weeks after germination I finally realised that I had foolishly sown Spring Hero, forgetting that it was a late cabbage and shouldn’t be sown until August.  I only realised because the seedlings looked SO pathetic, I knew something had to be awry.

12th April: Seedlings looking a bit wimpy (that’s not even including the Spring Hero), so moved the seed tray into the coldframe to harden them off and hopefully bring them on a bit.  The broccoli and the cauliflower have been in the coldframe since they germinated and look very happy.

16th April: Epic fail.  Forgot to water anything in the coldframe and whilst the broc, cauli and courgette aren’t happy with me, they’re well established enough to cope with a thirst for a couple of days.  The cabbage are not so lucky.  All bar one stubborn, albeit wilted, seedling have passed on.

Fortunately I have plenty more seeds and the seed tray is now replenished (no Spring Hero this time) and sat out, well watered, waiting for a few days of spring heat to kick start the germination process.

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