Monday, 24 October 2016

Note to Blackbird....

It does seem strange that even though the harvest of this year's crops is nowhere near finished, we are sowing a crop for next year already!

We have had good success for many years with "Japanese" onion sets, which give home grown onions from late June onwards! And although they don't store for quite as long as main crop onions, it is worth it to get them so early!

Anyway, as with any onion sets, they do tend to get pulled up again by blackbirds that do not seem to know the difference between the "tail" of an onion and a worm!

So, for all blackbirds reading this, here is a handy guide!

Onion set:


Worm:


Talking of worms, we started digging over vacant patches this week and each spade put in brought up worms, which of course is a very good sign! Some people advocate a no-dig system, putting a large layer of mulch over the earth which worms and other creatures take down into the earth. We dig over the soil to help remove weeds such as couch grass (a real problem in the allotment), docks, dandelions and so on. Also, the local blackbirds, robin, song and mistle thrush love having a root round where we have been digging, getting quite tame sometimes. But then, rather than digging in the compost and manure, we just spread it over the grown and then let the worms do their work!



Saturday, 23 July 2016

Renewables and Brexit

One of the many concerns around Brexit is what this might do for our obligations under the EU Climate Change treaties.

Obviously, after Brexit we would have no specific obligation to meet any new EU target but we have incorporated measures into the Climate Change Act already.

Unfortunately we seem to have gone backwards somewhat, with a hard brake on solar power and onshore wind subsidies (when the industry was expecting a gradual reduction and phase out).

The Carbon Capture and Storage proposal fund has been shelved and vested interests, political interference and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitudes often oppose what are sensible schemes for generating more power from renewables.

The cabinet reshuffle the other week doesn't bode well for environmental protections generally but with the axing of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the responsibilities passing over to another department more focused on business vested interests will still mean such as gas and oil and coal will be preferred over renewables.

Many other countries are investing heavily in renewables and some examples as below:

Portugal - 48% renewable generation
Netherlands Plans for offshore wind generation
China  Some controversial schemes but huge turnaround from the coal dependent generation a few years ago

 (In fact if you're a train enthusiast and want to see some of the last "service" steam locomotives in use in the world there's only a few dozen left in China now with, I think, just one passenger service which uses steam due to diesels not coping with the high altitude of the line. There's (surprisingly) a handful in Bosnia at a coal mine as well! There were a few in Ghana as well but India went diesel/electric a few years ago)

I'm reading An Optimist's Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson and this, although written about 3 or 4 years ago now, gives so many different projects that people are working on, such as carbon capture, improving solar cells and so on.  There's a really low tech way of improving soil and grazing and conserving water in the Australian Outback simply by changing the way cattle herds are managed!

In summary, with the right investment, right cooperation across countries, business and institutions, and with the proper steer and commitment and investment from Government, we can bring down the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, run on cleaner generated energy, become more energy efficient and sustainable.

But an isolationist, populist departure from the EU, together with vested interests having too much influence at the top of Government (and quite frankly some selfish and short-termist views of some of those in power) is going to be very bad for the environment and for the climate generally.







Sunday, 26 June 2016

Allotment update - late June 2016

The allotment is nearly full now and everything is in. The full list is as follows:

1st section:

Onions, leeks, parsnips, mini sweetcorn, nasturtiums, garlic (just picked), carrots

2nd section

Peas, three types of beans, sweetcorn, two minarette pear trees, 3 blueberry plants, lavender (last three permanent), pumpkins

3rd section (permanent beds)

Raspberries, blackcurrants, rhubarb, minarette damson, minarette apple

4th section

Asparagus bed (permanent), potatoes, 1 random cauliflower that should have come up last year! Minarette apple (permanent)

5th section

Courgettes, strawberry sweetcorn, cabbages, broccoli

Sides

Strawberries, autumn raspberries, blackberries, Pinot Mernier grape vine, minarette apple

Also - at house - peppers, cucamelon, fig tree, grape vine, Meyer lemon, rocket, mini carrots, tomato

Bird update

Still possibly one occupied nest in hawthorn tree at top end, possibly house sparrows. Was a blackbird nest in side hedge. Song and Mistle thrushes have nested somewhere nearby, as have robins.



Recent sightings have included first record of a garden warbler and linnets. And - although not a good photo, this red kite has been regular, and was very low at times - calling out as well.












Unfortunately we may have a problem (although maybe the solution is pictured above!)

This was in a neighbouring allotment though I suspect that it has had a look round ours.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Rhubarb Chutney

Time for something new, not tried this recipe before, but with quite a lot of rhubarb to get through, it seems like a good idea! 

In Yorkshire, an area between Leeds and Wakefield is known as the "Rhubarb Triangle"
The rhubarb in the allotment was originally a root cut off one winter from some from my mum's plant, which is from the same type of soil just outside the designated EU area - that being said there was a forcing shed near their house. 

Anyway, what you will need to make approximately 2-3 jars of chutney is:

1kg rhubarb, washed, peeled and diced. 
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into small pieces
Pickling spice (usually obtainable in small jars from the supermarket where all the other jars of herbs and spices are)
200ml pickling vinegar
400g sugar
1 small lemon (I used two really small ones from the Meyer lemon tree we have)
1 small piece of ginger root, peeled and chopped up small. (if you want to have a bit of fizz on your tongue, try a small piece of raw ginger!)
First step is to wash, peel and chop up the rhubarb, sometimes you can just peel it straight off with your fingers, but sometimes you can - pointing away from you - pare the skin off as if you were whittling a piece of wood. Dice up and place in a large saucepan. De-seed and chop up the lemon roughly. 
Then peel and chop up the onion and add to the pan. (note I actually made two 500g batches of chutney, one with onion and one without)




 





Peel and chop up the ginger and weigh out the sugar, and measure out the vinegar. Note that I have used a mixture of dark brown and white sugar but all it does is vary the colour of the chutney.


  





Add all the ingredients to the pan, and then boil up and simmer until everything goes mushy. Then, using a potato masher, mash up all the mixture and then boil up until the vinegar has reduced and the chutney is rather sticky and clingy. 








Then spoon into sterilized jars - it's easier using a funnel on top of the jar, seal and allow to cool before labelling up.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Spring Blossom

It's been a late start this year, not least because of the late April snow! But now, although the weather isn't too brilliant, everything's catching up and there's plenty to do.

But first, it is such a joy to see the blossom on the fruit trees, and such a challenge to protect it from late frosts like we had at the end of April/start of May! We keep a number of clear plastic sheets and bags at the allotment which can cover up the minarette fruit trees, the strawberries and the grape vine in the event that a frost is forecast.

This is the blossom on the Falstaff apple tree that is trained against the rear fence of the allotment.

The following link shows the apples that come from it, along with ones from the Chivers Delight and Gala.

http://cashandcarrots.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/apples.html




This is a close up of a blossom flower on the Chivers Delight apple tree. We try to keep the trees around 6ft tall, although the damson seems to have decided it wants to be a grown up damson tree rather than a minarette but we keep it under control!








This is a close up of a blueberry blossom. We have three blueberries and after a slow couple of years after which we changed compost (ericaceous) and now all three bushes have loads of blossom and we hope for more than the single jar of jam this year!








Now planted in the allotment are peas, sweetcorn, cabbages, a couple of courgettes, onions, parsnips and potatoes. Still being eaten from last season's crops are the last of the purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and new season asparagus.

Close up of a purple sprouting broccoli head. This needs to be picked, any later and it will go into flower heads and then beautiful yellow flowers which actually provide a useful source for bees, butterflies and other insects early on before other flowers are available.

The difficulty every year with the sprouting broccoli is that it is in what becomes the following year's potato patch (we have four rotating beds), and in general it is a struggle to find space for all the potatoes until the broccoli has finished! In fact, this year all the potatoes are in and the purple broccoli has only just finished in late May!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Welcome back!



The more observant among you may have noticed that there hasn't been a blog update for some considerable time! I have though been keeping up to my Twitter account @cashandcarrots

Main crop at the moment is parsnips, which are now starting to go a little woody inside but the outside of them is fine still for eating - parsnip chips done in a chip pan (observing all usual precautions for deep frying of course!) are delicious! They also roast very well.

There's some sprouting broccoli, and a few leeks, and a few remaining onions in store with the odd garlic left and a few potatoes keeps turning up as the ground is being dug over for this growing season.




Thoughts turn to Spring now, and what to plant where and what to sow. Due to increased work commitments, this year we're going to have to concentrate on what can be done on a mostly fire and forget basis.

Good crops for the time-limited vegetable grower:

I will assume you will wish to regularly weed and water your crops!

Onion sets - weed, dig over and prepare ground with some compost, and plant onion sets in rows or blocks. Weed occasionally - this has to be done by hand to avoid damaging the bulbs, but other than that just harvert come July-August. Or earlier if you overwinter some Japanese ones - this works at 54 north here in the UK, they can survive harsh winter weather.

Potatoes - weed and dig over ground, and put in plenty of organic matter - compost, manure etc into long trenches running north-south if possible. Plant potato sets over several weeks. Earth up the rows once planted and then again when there's plenty of foliage or when a late frost is forecast. Spray the main crop with Bordeaux Mixture (or for the less organically inclined Dithane) fortnightly from mid June - earlies are usually harvested well before blight comes. Blight can be a problem anywhere in the country. Dig up as necessary and eat or store. Don't dig up and eat for at least a week after spraying - I usually work out what I am going to eat for the next fortnight - dig those up and spray the rest.

Fruit bushes - dig a big hole twice as deep as you think you need in late autumn or winter (up to late Feb). Put plenty of manure and compost into the hole and then plant a minarette apply/damson/plum/pear tree or blackcurrant or raspberry (or other berry) bush. All fruit bushes can be ordered in a dormant state over the cold season. Water in. Follow pruning instructions and mulch with well rotted manure or compost a couple fo times a year. May need to use Diphane for such as black spot fungus - hate having to use it but it is the only thing that deals with it as far as I know.

Beetroot - dig over and prepare ground with compost. Plant beetroot seeds about 6-8 inches apart. Harvest!

Broccoli - either calebrese or shooting broccoli is pretty much plant into big plug pots, wait until large enouhg to withstand slugs (6-8 inches) and plant out into a dug over and composted bed about 18-24 inches apart. Use a non-harmful slug deterrent as necessary. Harvest!

Beans also are pretty much plant in pots, pot out when large enough to survive slugs - plant into manured bed around a cane or metal wigwam or other frame. Tie them in if necessary and then wait to harvest the beans!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Crop Protection

At some point many crops need protection from birds or insects or from the weather/sunshine etc

I dislike using soft plastic or nylon mesh nets as birds can easily get caught in them, in fact I rescued a blackbird from underneath someone else's the other week. However, more sturdy metal mesh can be used to protect against birds or cabbage white butterflies as slow below:

This mesh is approx 10ft long and arranged in a triangular prism so that it can allow plants to grow tall underneath as necessary.

This photo shows it protecting our lettuces, which we found are a tasty treat for House Sparrows, in fact they tell their friends and all have quite a party nibbling them down to a stump if unprotected. Interestingly, this behaviour has only been noticed in the past couple of years, maybe they just got away with it before then, or maybe their tastes have changed.....

Now, it is over the blueberries as Blackbirds and thrushes will gobble the lot if left unprotected!





Some of our allotment neighbours have a problem with pigeons going after cabbages, however this only seems to be in the more "open" allotments, ours has hedges around and I think that it is the enclosed nature of the allotment that pigeons do not like - in fact I have seen pigeons sitting on the fence at the back, having a nosy and then ignoring our cabbages in favour of ones in a more open allotment!

As is said in this earlier post disguising crops by planting flowers in amongst them is a good idea, and I have also found that garlic and onions in with carrots will help reduce carrot flies (the best defence is height!), some people use very small knit mesh or fleece. Garlic barrier spray works well on peas and beans and damsons to some extent.