Friday, June 30, 2006

We get potato blight

We’ve got early blight on our potatoes. This seems a little unfair, as nobody else on our allotment site has it.

If it spreads to our tomatoes, we’re in trouble.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

We eat some potatoes

Tesco, our favourite supermarket, sells an excellent range of new potatoes, but they’re not a patch on ones you’ve dug up yourself and cooked the same day.

They’re growing to a decent size now, although we had to chuck a few green ones out, as we haven’t quite mastered they black art of ‘earthing up’.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Squash progress

We’re growing four types of squash: Blue Ballet, Marina di Chioggia, Butternut, and Butternut Sprinter. We started them off in our living room, and they were a bit annoyed when we planted them out on the allotment, but they’ve now got going. They are, I think, not as big as everyone else’s.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Division of labour

Regular visitors to this blog may have got the impression that Amy does all the work. This is a common mistake. In reality, Amy does everything that requires skill and intelligence (such as cooking), while Dan moves large objects from place to place.

Here, Amy harvests some lettuce.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Water shortage

Summer has arrived! It’s hot, it’s dry, and the nation is outdoors applying sun block.

One of the peculiarities of a hosepipe ban is that you cannot water your vegetables, but it’s entirely legal to hose down your pet cat. The authorities have presumably thought about this, and I’m sure there is a sensible and enlightened reason for this law.

In any case, our allotment society does not allow hosepipes at any time, so we set to work with a watering can and a bucket.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Our potatoes flower

Having survived a tough spring, our potatoes have flowered.

This means that they can now be eaten.

Which, after all, is the whole point of being a potato.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Undisciplined Pak Choi

As expected, our pak choi has run to seed.

They’re rather fussy - they don’t like long days, and there isn’t a great deal we can do about this.

Happily, when we visited Tesco, we found that their pak choi has bolted too. This makes us feel much better.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Health Foods

One of the benefits to having an allotment is that access to a plentiful supply of fresh produce helps you eat more healthily.

So having harvested some of our wild rocket, we made some pizza.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What are we growing?

In the soil:

Potatoes: Jersey Royal (huge) and Charlotte (just come up)
Tomatoes: Sub Arctic, Gardener’s Delight and Brandywine. Covered in aphids.
A marigold: to encourage hoverflies, which kill aphids. Yet to flower.
Pak Choi. Still young, yet looks like it’s going to bolt any second.
Wild Rocket. Started slowly, but it’s started to perk up a bit.
Swiss Chard. Looking good.
Spinach: Tetona. Very healthy. And tasty.
Radish: Scarlet Globe. The first batch was eaten by slugs and flea beetle, but the second batch is looking better.
One courgette plant: Zucchini. Planted without being hardened off. Doesn’t want to stay upright.
Beetroot. I think. I don’t know what a beetroot seedling looks like. A profusion of different plants have started growing where we sowed these, and they surely can’t all be weeds.
Garlic: Cristo. Has many large shoots.
Spring Onion: White Lisbon. Growing extremely slowly.
Onions: Turbo, Sturon, Red Baron, Stuttgarter Giant. All have large shoots which collapse easily.
Carrots: Early Nantes, Chantenay, Paris Market. Still tiny.
Dwarf French Beans: Safari. Sowed today.
Peas: Waverex (Petit Pois). The first double row has germinated magnificently, and we’ve just sown a second batch.
Sweetcorn: Kelvedon Glory. Sowed today under bottle cloches.
Some random lines of lettuce. Not yet emerged.

Still to go in:

Tomatoes (Sungold and Costoluto Fiorentino)
Choi Sum

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Our potato plants

We have two batches of potatoes. The Jersey Royals to the right are now the size of trees.

The ones on the left are Charlotte potatoes in April. A few weeks wait, and up they popped.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Our first mini-harvest

Today our first crop - a radish - was ready.

According to the textbooks, they are supposed to take four weeks to get to this stage. Ours took nine.

We took it home with some baby spinach thinnings, and Amy transformed them into a delicious micro-salad.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Very tall tomatoes

Our tomato plants have become alarmingly enthusiastic. We moved them from our windowsill to the cold frame, but they were too tall, and started to push against the roof. So we had to plant them in the soil.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


The organic vegetable grower is annoyed by a variety of small monsters. In the foreground, horticultural fleece covers the pak choi and spinach, to prevent flea beetle from punching holes in them. To the right a fleece thwarts the carrot fly. To the rear, more fleece protects our peas from birds, mice, and the pea moth.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow. We bunged these in the ground two months ago – and look!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Our struggle against the carrot fly

To the vegetable grower, carrot fly is the worst thing in the world. They lay their eggs in the soil, and when you come to harvest you find that the young maggots have eaten up most of your crop.

Students of the Old Testament will, of course, remember that the Lord would regularly send a small pestilence of carrot fly unto the land to vex his people. But perhaps not as well documented, but equally important, is the appalling starvation suffered by the peasants of East Grinstead during the Great Carrot Famine of 1754-55.

As we hope to avoid this sort of misfortune, we’ve surrounded the carrots with a shield of horticultural fleece. We hope they now won’t find their way in.

Shortly after we’d finished building this (frankly magnificent) shield, we asked one of the veterans of the allotment if anyone had ever had any trouble with carrot fly. ‘No no, we never get it here,’ he assured us.

Oh, well. I suppose that’s good news.

‘But we do get a hell of a lot of wireworm.’

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Any dead slugs yet?

Yes there are! The beer trap caught about 12 on the first day. Then we set out some more traps and filled it with a different brand of beer and then we caught none! Further research reveals that slugs are very picky when it comes to what brew they like. They seem to like Fosters, but they don't like Sainsbury's Basics Lager. Apparently it's something to do with the fermentation they use. Some lagers use a sugar based process, whilst others use a more wheat based method. It's the wheat which is important as that is what attracts the slug. In fact there was an American study done on this and the published paper says that Budweiser is the alcoholic beverage of choice for slugs but we're going to try other brands first as Bud is a bit pricey to be wasting on slugs.

The nematodes solution has gone in but this was very tricky as the water supply has not been turned on yet at our allotment which meant that we had to haul water in three trips from our flat. We've also now put down some organic slug pellets to see if this will kill any more. Hopefully, this will wipe the slugs out!

As for growth, some of the tomatoes had to be repotted yet again as they are growing extremely fast. The squash has slowed down considerably and it may be due to the root disturbance it suffered upon transplanting.

Down on the allotment, the potato plants are looking excellent and we were complemented on them from a fellow allotment grower. The raspberry canes are flourishing and the pak choi, spinach and rocket appear to have germinated well.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Die Slugs, Die!

Slugs are evil. This is a fact. This is because they eat up all your hard work and they don’t care. It is because of this that we have decided to take evasive action. As we want to try to be organic, we’re not going to be using the usual evil slug pellets that not only kill slugs but also harm wildlife. After looking at several alternatives we have decided to start with traditional slug traps filled with beer as well as nematodes. Apparently slugs love beer and are lured by the scent to a watery end and we have made these out of yogurt pots with lids, punched holes into the sides, filled them with beer and then sunk them into the ground.

Now nematodes are a fairly new, organic and biological slug control. Basically they are microscopic worms and you water them into your soil and they get inside the slugs and kill them. They are only harmful to slugs and should a bird eat the nematode ridden slug, they will not be affected. We are using a brand called Nemaslug as recommended by Sarah Raven.

Tom Toms and Squashes

Before we left for our adventures in Dubai, we planted some tomato seeds. We planted four varieties: Sungold, Gardener’s Delight, Brandywine and Sub-Arctic. These were chosen as lots of books have told us that they are tasty. We put them into small pots with compost at first and wrapped the whole lot in newspaper and left them next to the radiator. According to Sarah Raven’s The Great Vegetable Plot, you then have to wait a few days for them to germinate and then when they show any signs of life, you should take off the cover and put them in full sunlight which is what we did. They sprouted magnificently and then we had to leave them whilst we went to Dubai, hoping that they wouldn’t die whilst we were away. We came back and found that they hadn’t died. Huzzah!

A few days ago we transplanted them to larger pots and they are looking fabulous.

When we planted the tomato seeds, we also planted a seed from a butternut squash that we had bought from Tesco’s. Amy didn’t think that it would grow but she was wrong and it is growing very well. It has been put in a big pot after the initial germination as squashes don’t like root disturbance.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spring is here!

All over the allotment, plants are beginning thrust manfully through the soil. The garlic has sprouted. The raspberry canes have leaves. The potatoes have probably appeared, but since I have no idea what a potato shoot looks like, they may simply be potato-shaped weeds.

We also got a letter from the One Tree Hill Allotment Society telling us that thanks to our sterling efforts with the fork and the spade, we have passed our probationary period.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Things start to grow

Things are starting to show signs of life. Our strawberry plants, which looked dead when we put them in the soil, are putting out new leaves every week. The raspberry canes have produced some small buds, and the tomatoes we sowed a few days ago have produced their first seedling.

Behind Amy in this picture, you can see our cold frame which we got from Lidl for only £19.99. This was a tip off from another keen gardener that Amy got in contact with from the British Born Chinese website. She has been growing her own food for many years and kindly sent us many seeds and some great advice. Thanks Susan!

Monday, March 13, 2006

We take advantage of Lewisham Council

Lewisham Council is subisdising compost bins for residents, presumably as it helps them meet their recycling targets. As we don’t have anything to compost at the moment, Dan has filled it with horse manure.

Tomato seed

Tomatoes can’t be planted outside until mid-May as they find it too cold, but they take quite a while to fruit. This means they need to be started off indoors. We sowed some Gardener’s Delight, Sungold, Sub-Arctic and Brandywine tomatoes in a tray of small pots – £2.25 from Poundstretcher.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Someone Commits An Extremely Serious Offence

Somebody stole one of our bags of compost.

May bindweed infest their allotment. May eelworm consume their potatoes. May the carrot fly riddle their plot with maggots. May mice make great holes in their pumpkins. May caterpillars fill their cabbages, and may their tomatoes be blackend with blight.

I wonder if there is a chemical which, when mixed with compost, makes anything growing in it turn blue? I must find out.

Cold earth

Today we planted our first lot of potatoes. We are keeping them under clear plastic for now, as it is still extremely cold.

The Benefits of Chitting

Chitting, pronounced with a hard “ch” as in “chips”, is a posh word for letting your potatoes sprout a bit before planting them. You are supposed to put them in a light place, without direct sunlight, at a temerature of 10 degeees C.

We chitted in the living room. It seemed to work.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Planting Garlic

We have a very amusing book by Dr D. G. Hessayon called “The Vegetable & Herb Expert”, which is essential reading if you aspire to be old-fashioned. (“People who claim that they never need to spray [pesticides] are lying, lucky or living on poor vegetables.”)

The advice on garlic is that “If you are a beginner with garlic, you must use it very sparingly or you will be put off forever.” If you are feeling really daring, the author suggests you “try using crushed garlic in meat, etc. as the Continentals do.”

Toxic fumes

We dug up quite an enormous pile of roots, which are likely to grow rather than compost down, so we decided to burn them. Ash is, apparently, high in potassium, so we spread it on the raspberry and onion beds, which apparently like this.

After the bonfire, Amy had a headache and Dan started talking gibberish. We think we got carbon monoxide poisoning.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Dug. Huzzah!

We’ve finished digging! Shame – it was quite fun.

Our patch of land no longer looks like wasteland. In fact, it looks rather convincingly like an allotment.

We’re going to carve it up into four-foot wide temporary raised beds, as the soil is still rather heavy and we think this will improve the drainage.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Before the invention of the plough

Amy does some digging.

Rooting out trouble

Some years ago, our plot was reclaimed from a large thicket of brambles. The roots seem to be remarkably durable, as the ground is still packed with them.

We don’t seem to have too many other weeds in the soil, apart from odd patches of couch grass. This, apparently, means we are quite lucky.

Old Asparagus

The last plotholder left this. Is it asparagus plant?

We’ve decided to leave it where it is to see if we get a small crop this year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Pine Needles

We had thrown out our Christmas tree at the appropriate time but Lewisham council were very lax and didn't take it away, even though Dan tried ringing their Christmas tree hotline and it just rang and rang! It sat there for a good few weeks. Then Amy found out from the internet that strawberries like acidic soil and one of the things that benefits them instead of a straw mulch is a pine needle mulch. So back in came the Christmas tree and Amy patiently stripped the pine tree of its needles. It took her well over a week to do it as she kept getting tired thumbs!

Manual labour

By the middle of February, we’d managed to dig over most of the plot, but because of the wet weather, we still had a few patches to go.

We put Amy’s mobile phone through the washing machine

After planting the raspberries and strawberries in the mud, we looked like we had been on a particularly innovative army training exercise, so the first thing we did when we got home was to put our clothes in the washing machine.

Unfortunately we forgot to check our pockets.

Miraculously, Amy’s phone can still make and receive calls, but the screen no longer works.

Here Amy dries out her phone by blowing on it.

Planting in the mud

We ordered some bare-rooted strawberry plants and raspberry canes, as they need to be planted while it’s still cold. Unfortunately bare-rooted plants will die if they aren’t put in the ground straight away, and it was pouring with rain all weekend.

So we planted them anyway, and got extremely muddy.

Improving the soil

Some of parts of the soil look like they’ll produce quite good crops, but other parts would look more at home in a pottery class. We need to add some organic matter to bulk it out. Unfortunately we didn’t have any, so we popped down to the garden centre to buy a few bags of compost.

Our friend Vivien very kindly helped us by bringing her car along, and pushing the wheelbarrow up the hill in high heels. Unfortunately she doesn’t enjoy having her photo taken.

Preparing the ground

One of our books tells us that the best thing to do, when you have a new allotment that’s a bit of a mess, is not to try to tackle it all in one go, or you will become disheartened – just get to grips with a small area, and get the land into shape gradually.

We think this is silly advice, and we’re going to dig over the whole thing as quickly as we can.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The allotment so far....

We got the alloment a few weeks ago and it didn't look like much to start with. There was a lot of old carpet covering the plot which had shed a lot of backing onto the soil. This wasn't too hard to pick up and the good thing is that it kept the soil warm and due to light deprivation, it killed all the weeds.

The allotment on our first day

It's half a plot which is about a 1000 sq feet which is plenty big enough for two people as a full plot is supposed to be able to feed a family of four.

The soil is like most London soil, very heavy in clay and on the first dig, it turned out that the fork and spade we had bought just wasn't cut out for it and they snapped and bent and we ended up having to take them back!

Dan did most of the hard work but I helped by breaking up the larger clods of earth.

As the first day was mainly spent getting to grips with the size of the plot and arranging our tools we didn't get much done but we did a lot more digging the next day.

We plan in total to have five beds. Four for vegetables and one fruit bed.

Welcome to our Allotment blog

Dear All,

This is going to be our blog charting the progress of our little allotment. We will post up regular pictures to let you know what's going on.