Harvest Roundup 2017 – my courgette and climbing bean totals

Quantifying the haul from my yellow courgette and climbing bean harvest for 2017. It’s my first harvest roundup!

You may have seen on my Instagram and Twitter feeds and previous posts that I have been keeping a tally of the amount of harvest collected from some of the crops on my allotment this year. I’ve been nerdily weighing everything that makes it home. This year, for my harvest roundup,  I concentrated on the yellow courgette and my two varieties of climbing bean; Cosse Violette and Trail of Tears.

This was for three main reasons;

  1. I’m a big geek
  2. To see if there was any difference in yields between varieties
  3. To see if I could justify the costs of keeping the allotment

Previously on the allotment

Garden Update 22nd July: Courgettes, cuttings and a Leaf-cutter Bee

No Dig Newbie

Allotment layout ideas

Harvest roundup: Yellow courgette

These plants were sourced from one of my favourite local nurseries, Hill House Nursery in Landscove, Devon. I got my allotment in April/May this year and so it felt like a late start to the season so I cheated with some purchased plants. I’ve lost/forgotten the name so I’ve been calling them ‘yellow courgette’ all year. I also bought a green variety but it’s been pants so hasn’t been worth tallying.

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Yellow courgette

My total harvest haul comes to 1194g!

That’s near on 1.2kg from 2 plants. Not bad considering it was a dry start to the year.

I quick look at our nearest supermarket has standard green courgettes at £1.90/kg with the organic version (which I could claim) at £6.67/kg. So being generous I have saved £8. Since you can’t buy the superior yellow courgettes in supermarkets they are priceless.

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One of only 2 yellow courgette plants

Harvest roundup: Climbing beans

I chose two varieties to grow from seed this year. Cosse Violette I’ve grown before and I know they’re straightforward but beautiful on the allotment. I also went to Trail of Tears after hearing about it for years and I was interested to see what all the fuss was about.

Cosse Violette harvest: 2296g

Trail of Tears harvest: 2763g

The standard green beans in the supermarket are £4.50/kg with the organic option £6.67 (are they choosing the same price for all organic veg?). So at around 5kg of produce, I’ve saved  £33.75.

 

What’s been a success on your allotment/ plot this year?

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 

Turning a common and productive weed into nutritious liquid feed for your plants

I’ve never before made nettle liquid feed, but after seeing a large hedgerow bursting with opportunity, I couldn’t resist. The field margins around the allotment are ripe with possibilities when it comes to sourcing nutrients for my plants. One major concern with using weeds is introducing the weed seeds or roots into the plot so liquid feed is ideal. The steeping process kills any seeds and roots so you get all the good stuff without the risks.

Why nettles?

Nettles are able to grab lots of nutrients from the ground and a plant feed made from them captures nitrogen and other essential minerals which can be given to more useful crops. The liquid feed is good as an all-rounder when it comes to feeding plants. Those looking for more specific fruiting or flowering boosters should try some like a comfrey feed.

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 
Nettles

What you’ll need

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 
The tools you’ll need

I went armed with some good gardening gloves, a 5-litre bucket, and some good gardening gloves. The Golden Retriever came along to help but I’m pretty sure it can be completed without her. The gloves were an obvious choice. I bought large buckets with a good lid to keep the contents, and associated smell contained.

The process of nettle liquid feed production

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 
Fill the bucket well with nettles

Completely fill a bucket with cuttings of nettles. I wasn’t sure where in the plant the most nutrition was hiding so I put a mixture of leaves and stems, young and old. Press the leaves in tight to maximise the nutrients. Fill the bucket with water until the nettles are covered and put the lid on.

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 
The stinky product after a couple of weeks

After two weeks you’ll have a stinky stew of your very own. The smell is bad! The neighbours even stuck their head over the fence to enquire about the health of my newborn!

Bottling nettle liquid feed

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 
Tools for the bottling process

I gathered a funnel and sieve (purchased for garden use only) and some empty bottles.

Nettle debris

After straining the mixture I ended up with some very stinky stalks that I threw up the top of the garden, and a stinky brown liquid.

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 
Dark smelly gold

The final product

Home made plant feed: How to turn nettles into liquid feed 
A little of the final product

Here’s two of the bottles I found to fill with nettle liquid feed. I pour in a couple of glugs of liquid and dilute with 9 litres of water in my watering can. The smell does linger for a while after feeding the plants but not forever. The water is slightly coloured only. I don’t want to overdose the plants because this can scorch the roots and doesn’t mean better results. Less is more.

No Dig Newbie – Starting a no dig bed from scratch

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratc

Taking a bare patch of spare earth and turning it into a productive allotment bed using the no dig method

I’m still constructing the bones of my allotment beds and it’s getting to the stage where I think I’ve got too much border to reasonably plant up this year. There’s a lot of the plot that I want to fill with fruit trees and bushes but that’s going to be at the end of the year. The joy of digging and removing hundreds of dandelion tap roots has worn a little thin. So as an experiment and to be a little lazy I’ve decided to see how a no dig border turns out.

The background to the no dig method

Charles Dowding is the most famous champion of the no dig method. He has gardened organically since the eighties, way before the science was there to back it up and certainly before it became fashionable, and continues to inspire generations. For example, my mum was a huge fan of his when I was born and now I’m just starting to find out about him and his approach.

Essentially the idea is that the ritual turning and digging of soil destroys the natural structure, loses moisture, and exposes more and more dormant seeds to the light to germinate. By layering large quantities of organic matter you get the worms doing the digging for you and without destroying the structure of the soil. Ongoing maintenance involves repeated mulching to trap moisture in and reduce weed growth.

Books by Charles Dowding

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I’m still alittle dubious on leaving perennial weeds in situ as I’m convinced that they’ll fit their way through the layers.  Here’s how I did it;

No Dig Method – Stage 1 – starting with bare earth

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Bare dry earth

This is what was left after the turf was lifted right at the beginning of the allotment project. There’s been enough time for the perennial weeds to break out again (mainly dandelions). However, we’ve not had enough rain toget the annual weeds joining in.

No Dig Method – Stage 2 – Using what you have

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Leftover turf

I have oodles of leftover turf from stripping the whole allotment. I thought it would add a better depth of loam and it’s another way of getting rid. So in it went.

No Dig Method – Stage 3 – Addition of manure

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Manure layer

Courtesy of my lovely cousin and her muck producing horse! I added a layer of well-rooted manure over the turf for improved worm activity and to increase the organic matter.

No Dig Method – Stage 4 – Covering up

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Landscape fabric

The landscape fabric that’s on the paths is really better suited to covering a border than being a surface to walk on. I wanted to use it to keep the weeds down. It’ll also keep the soil underneath really warm. The makeshift weights are leftover wood and stones dug up from the plot.

No Dig Method -Stage 5 – Planting Up

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Squashes planted through

I didn’t want to waste the space and I had more young squash plants looking forlorn in their pots. The solution was to make use of the space and plant through the fabric. I’ve installed watering bottles to avoid the area drying out. The squashes can spread over the whole area.  I’ve planted Squash ‘Little Blue Hubbard’ and ‘Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato’.

Getting started with the No Dig Method

That’s me getting started with this whole no dig thing. Like I said, I’m a little sceptical about its ability to keep perennial weeds down so watch this space.

If you’re keen to learn more from someone who knows what he’s doing then take a look at Charles Dowding’s website www.charlesdowding.co.uk.

Allotment Layout Ideas – When the first ten designs aren’t right

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 08

How many allotment layout ideas do you have to go through before picking up the spade?

The answer in my case was 10.

Ever the planner, and looking to avoid tiring revisions to beds and paths after the hard work was done, I put pen to paper, or finger to the mousepad, and mocked up some ideas.

Key priorities when deciding on your allotment layout

  • It has to maximise growing space
  • The paths must give me adequate reach into the borders
  • The water butts shouldn’t be in the far corner
  • Be mindful of shade cast by sheds and other structures
  • It should be easy to construct

Allotment Layout Ideas 1 and 2

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Simple and symmetrical

The paths were wide on this plan but I liked the symmetry. The allotment is 10m x 10m and I love a strong structure in a space. I was concerned about the depth of the central 4 beds, however. I also wasn’t sure there would be enough space around the shed and water butts for practical access. The fence is located along the bottom of the image and the main allotment path runs along the top line. I hadn’t measured out the allotment at this point so I wasn’t sure how much access from the sides I would get.

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Improving the size of the central beds.

By centralising the utilities I was able to wrap the beds around the middle. Aesthetically this pleases me and gives the central beds more accessibility.

Allotment Layout Ideas 3 and 4

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Moving the shed to the back fence I can reduce the impact of shading

I was worried that placing the shed in the middle of the plot for aesthetics would mean I would have to have shady borders behind it (the sun comes from the top of the image). This change pulls it right down to the bottom. It’s still symmetrical though.

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Getting into the finer details

I was worried that the wide central main path was too generous and the access paths were measly and tight. This change tweaks that for better access.

Allotment Layout Ideas 5, 6 and 7.

These are all variations on the themes above. I’m tinkering with flexible growing spaces with more smaller beds that can be optimised for different plants, looking to standardise the central beds to make them easier to construct, and doing away with separated outside beds.

Allotment Layout Ideas 8, 9, and 10 – the oddballs

I was starting to worry that my fixation on having an attractive, read symmetrical, design was compromising the utility of the space and complicating the construction. However, after playing with other layouts and asking for a second opinion from my better half (the verdict being that these look like ‘prison grounds’, ‘graveyards’ and ‘old-man-ish’) these were dumped from the shortlist.

The walkaround

After getting eyestrain from too much time on the laptop I hiked my pregnant wife and bored aunty to the allotment for some fun with string. I had bought a spool and reel from the lovely lady at Twool. With my aunt doing a good impression of a boundary post, we measured out the various beds (quite tricky with a 3m only measuring tape).

A few things became apparent;

  • I needed more space around the shed
  • I didn’t have access from the sides as the neighbouring plots are back to back without a path between
  • The outside beds would have to be smaller to be accessed from inside the plot
  • I wouldn’t need access across the outside beds to tend from the other side
  • The front border may have to be narrower or replaced entirely by a stepover apple.

Final Allotment Layout

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
The final allotment layout with suggested planting for this year

This is the working plan for this year. Permanent planting will go around the narrower outside borders, including asparagus, fruit bushes, and eventually, trained fruit trees.

The beds near the shed will be permanent herbs and cut flowers.

The four main beds will be the focus of the crop rotation.

The front borders are theoretical at the moment until I get my long measuring tape to ensure I’m not encroaching on the main site path. If things are a squeeze I may train a stepover apple along the front to provide a boundary. The maximum height of a fence on the site is 1.2m so I’m going to train fruit to this height to form a living fence and enclose the space a little.

You can see how things have started with my Garden Update 6th May