Posts tagged ‘vegetable’

March 14, 2012

Allotment update: Seeds or Seedlings?

It is rapidly approaching April and yet again, Spring has caught me off guard. This happens every year. I spend rather too long each Winter, happily reading through my seed catalogue and deciding what I want to grow, and then suddenly there is a mad rush and the proliferation of seed trays all over the house, on every spare shelf, available windowsill and all over the porch. If it’s not compost filled seed trays, then it is row after row of carefully saved loo roll inner tubes, each filled with the requisite pair of bean or sweet pea seeds.

There are several problems with this. Firstly, I look a bit like a crazy person, with my loo-roll-inner filled house. Secondly, the kids are very interested in what is growing and cannot resist a bit of poking about in the compost, which usually ends with half of it on the floor. Lastly, and probably the most important in terms of actual growing, seedlings that are grown in a rush tend to be a bit poor. They’re often leggy and weak, especially the climbers like sweet peas.

Still, it’s always been a matter of principle for me that I grow from seed, because that is what allotment gardening is all about…or is it? As more and more allotment holders are younger people, with jobs or small children – and in my case, both – perhaps I need to approach it differently. After some deliberation, I have decided that there is no shame in buying in seedlings where it makes more sense. So the plan is now to buy seeds where they are to be directly sown into the ground, and buy seedlings of the things that I usually have in my seed trays.

So here is my new list:

Seeds:

Dwarf French Beans. I grow ‘Rocquencourt’, ‘Purple Teepee’ and ‘Cobra’, which are direct drilled in thick rows in a raised bed. Each variety is a different colour (yellow, purple and green, respectively) which pleases me enormously.

Borlotti Beans: ‘Lingua de Fuoco’. I’ve decided not to grow runner beans this year because we just don’t eat them, but I love these beautiful red beans and a climber always adds some great structure to the plot.

Carrots: Early Nantes’ and the beetroot ‘Candy Stripe’ will be sown together in a raised bed. I LOVE this pale pink beetroot variety. Despite being a huge fan of the taste of beetroot, I loathe the bright pink staining it leaves everywhere and this variety removes that problem. Growing carrots in a raised bed will help remove the carrot fly, as will growing them mixed with other roots and anything from the allium family, so they’ll go in the raised bed next to my onions, which are already in the ground.

Peas: I’ll be growing both a maincrop pea (‘Hurst Green Shaft’) and the ‘Sugar Snap’ variety for eating whole. Hopefully I’ll get better results this year. I do struggle to grow a brilliant crop of peas but they are one of the vegetables that are so much better eaten straight from the plant, that I cannot give up trying!

Leeks: ‘St Victor’. I love the purple tinged leaves of this leek variety. Although they do have to be grown in a seedbed, they’re not urgent so I’ll manage it.

Potatoes: Slightly different, obviously, but the varieties I’ve chosen are ‘Charlotte’, which is a second early variety, and ‘Cara’ which is a late maincrop. This will give me a successional cropping, rather than a great big potato glut.

Dahlia: I’m going to get corms here, not seeds, and grow three different bold coloured varieties for cutting. ‘Happy Halloween’ is a small, bright orange decorative type, ‘Hillcrest Royal’ is a cerise pink cactus type and ‘Downham Royal’ is small ball type in a dark purple. Together, they will look amazing!

Seedlings:

Sweetcorn: ‘Sweet Nugget’ variety to grow in a square block.

Pumpkin: ‘Atlantic Giant’ – this is for Halloween, rather than for eating, so size is everything here! The pumpkin and sweetcorn will be grown together in a variation of the traditional ‘three sisters’ approach, where tall thin sweetcorn plants, climbing beans and sprawling-on-the -floor pumpkins are grown together. It makes the best available use of space, and it looks ace.

Sweet peas: A selection of varieties; ‘Lord Nelson’, ‘Prince Edward of York’ and the original sweet pea, ‘Matucana’. This is the Harlequin Sweet Pea mix from Sarah Raven.

Any other annual flowers I choose for the cutting garden will probably be bought as seedlings too. I am still to decide what else I want to add in.

In addition to this, I want to get some new strawberry runners for Eve’s little garden, if there is time this year.

Although the colours of the vegetables I grow don’t generally have any impact on their taste, the way the plot looks does matter to me. I like it to look pretty! Which is perhaps why I’ve always grown climbing varieties, different coloured beans and peas, flowers and pumpkins. I’ve chosen tried and trusted varieties this year, (all from Sarah Raven, purely because I like the company ) that I’ve had previous success with, as the year is too busy for experimentation, although it will be interesting to see if I get significantly better results having bought seedlings in, rather than growing my own.

Now I have a plan, it’s time to get to work…

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January 18, 2012

Grow what you like…

It’s the time of year when I rarely make it to the allotment and instead spend far too much time planning what I will be growing in the Spring. The mild weather we’ve been having has forced me out of the house on a few occasions this winter, but now it’s colder, the ground has frozen. At the moment, all I have in the ground is some over-wintering onions and garlic, which have started to grow but will now lie dormant until the weather warms up again.

Instead of going outside and freezing, I spend lots of time in the winter looking through seed catalogues and marking the varieties I fancy growing this year. Generally, I get far too carried away and end up with enough seeds for a small farm, but this year I’m going to be more organised about it. The main problem, I’ve realised, is that I’ve been growing the wrong things.

If you look at a ‘traditional’ allotment, you will see rows and row of vegetables, lined up with some kind of precision, unlike mine. Lots of brassicas – cabbages, cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, as well as climbing runner beans. There is a pretty standard crop rotation too, which means you move everything round every year, depending on what group the vegetable belongs to – roots, brassicas, legumes, onions. Potatoes often fall outside of this, and I pretty much put them anywhere, especially in places where the ground needs work, as they do a lovely job of breaking up the soil for me!

What I’ve come to realise is that this crop rotation just doesn’t work for me. I’ve been growing things because I think I should, because they fall into the crop rotation and because, in truth, an allotment just doesn’t look finished without a teepee of beans scrambling up it.

No more – this year I’m only going to grow what I LOVE to eat – loads more French beans and no runner beans. More sweetcorn and fewer cabbages. And if I want a teepee of climbers, they’ll be sweet peas instead of runner beans. I will grow more of the kids favourites too – peas, raspberries, strawberries, carrots. My new crop rotation plan, therefore, goes something along the lines of: if it wasn’t grown there last year, it’ll be fine to grow it there this year. Which might produce some interesting results, but I’m hoping that by concentrating on our favourite foods, we’ll end up eating more of what we grow. Or, in the case of the sweet peas, bringing more of them home to fill the house with scent and colour alongside all the dahlias

So, now all I have to do is choose what varieties to grow! I’ll share them with you once I’ve made up my mind.