The warm and wet weather in Devon this week has been great for the weeds. I’ve done two tidy-ups at the allotment and managed to fill my large bendy bucket three times. It’s also the end of my tomato adventure for the year.
We were giving some new chairs from a family member and they’re perfect for the allotment. The weather wasn’t that great so we haven’t christened them yet.
The squashes are really enjoying the damp and warm conditions and had spread over the paths. I wasn’t too bothered initially but they’ve got the point that it was hard to reach into the beds for harvesting. They also were concealing a lot of weed growth on the paths.
The module Pak Choi seedlings are doing much better than the directly-sown batch which has been munched to stumps. I think I’ll do more of this transplanting even thought it’s more work overall.
I’ve also installed the Chard seedlings in one of the new beds around the perimeter of the allotment. I’m hoping they’ll give me some fresh greens to each over autumn and into winter.
The Stachys byzantina seeds that I collected have germinated extremely well and very quickly from sowing. They’ve been pricked out and set into their own little module home.
Another sowing that I made from home-collected seed was the Geranium phaem alba. I am the proud owner of one seedling!
The tomato story this year hasn’t been very successful. Blight has struck and the fruits that were threatening to ripen were being munched by slugs before they were harvestable. I’ve taken off all the tomatoes that were salvagable and cleared away the affected plants. The foliage is now in the council green waste bin. I think I’ll use the fresh border for either bringing on perennials over winter or some winter salads.
There’s nothing like an Instagram filter to make even a poor harvest look great.
It’s been a while since I’ve shown what’s happening in the Far Garden. You can see the new boundary shed has a great grey colour that matches the furniture. The chillies are slow in the rectangular planters but I might get a harvest. My new Musa and Echinacea plants are looking awesome.
Yesterday was the first day that I had time to get to the allotment for anything other than harvesting for some time. We had people visiting for the bank holiday weekend so nothing much was achieved in the garden.
Yesterday I spent over an hour at the plot and managed to fill two large bendy buckets with weed growth that’s now been put on the unofficial compost pile. We’re mainly plagued by dandelions and docks persisting as deep tap roots. They’re capable of regrowing after hoeing and have enjoyed the extra rain recently.
I don’t like to leave huge gaps in the beds for two reasons. Firstly, there isn’t much growing area as it is and dedicating space for hoeing seems silly when, secondly, weeds will colonise bare ground as well as between plants which you have to hand weed anyway. I use the hoe on any unused ground that’s waiting for the next crop or where there is space between plants in order to give them room to grow.
The Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato winter squashes have been very prolific in number but I’m struggling to find a good kitchen use for them. Growing something to then have to hide it in food just to use it up seems silly. Roasted pumpkins should be used for roasts, soups and risottos but the bland flavour and silky texture of these leave me a bit disappointed. If I can’t find a use for them that I will look forward to next year then I’m afraid they’re off the plot.
I’m glad to be getting a better carrot and beetroot crop at the allotment. This batch suffered in the early dry spell we had so germination and subsequent growth was slow and poor. I was then too eager to try them so picked some small offerings last month. This lot are more substantial but there’s better to be had. The carrots went into a beef curry and I am plotting what to do with the beetroot. We’re having a picnic tomorrow if the weather holds and I’ve been hoping to make a roasted beetroot, walnut, goats cheese and rocket salad since sowing the seeds earlier this year
We had a bumper picking from the three crops from the allotment I’m monitoring this year on Friday;
Yellow Courgette – 370g
Climbing Bean ‘Cosse Violette’ – 700g
Climbing Bean ‘Trail of Tears’ – 770g
I’ve cleared out most of the pea bed as they’re coming to the end of their productivity and the powdering mildew is making them unsightly. The Peas, mange-tout and broad beans are out. In their place, I’ve planted the Pak Choi seedlings which I started in modules last month. The other side of the bed will have winter lettuce.
The tomatoes continue to be a complete let-down this year. I think I have blight. Initially, I thought it was some cold scorching on the leaves that poke out of the windowless opening in the greenhouse but it’s since spread. I’ve taken some evasive measures to cut away the affected fruits and leaves but it’s fingers crossed for the remainders.
The seedlings of the Chard and winter lettuce are growing well and are soon to be transplanted to the allotment.
For the ornamental side, the Stipa and Stachys seedlings are coming along well. I’m hopeful that my Penstemon cuttings have taken.
The new grey backdrop to the Right Border of the Far Garden is settling in well. I’ve bought some Echinacea Magnus Superb and Musa from Hill House Nursery down the road. I was inspired by my recent visit to Wisley where I had a good look around their Echinacea trials.
This part of the garden has always meant to be an exciting, bright, exotic garden but we’ve never achieved that. The Echiums did well but completely dominated the space so I’m hoping to introduce more exciting plants over winter that will mix well.
I have been triumphantly carrying back the harvest from the allotment this week. I’ve had two good picking sessions. We’ve been munching through two types of climbing beans, two types of mange tout, peas, broad beans, asparagus pea and courgettes.
The amount of veg harvested from the allotment is really exciting. I’m keeping a tally of what I harvest on some of the crops. I haven’t grown the Climbing green bean ‘Trail of Tears’ before so I’m comparing it to ‘Cosse Violette’ which I have grown in the past.
Not only is Trail of Tears a very tasty variety but the amount of harvest is even beating Cosse Violette. I like this variety and think I’ll save some seeds to keep growing it. I’ll still keep Cosse Violette going as it’s such a beautiful plant and still tasty. I’m really impressed with the yellow courgette. I think I’ll not bother growing a green one next year as they tend to be more watery and not as useful in the kitchen. I’m going to try a patty pan type one instead.
It’s not all about the veg. The cut flower patch is getting colourful with some Dahlia, Anemone, Ranunculus and Gladioli.
I’ve given the greenhouse a little spruce to tidy up the various tools and instruments. Instead of taking up valuable work surface space, they are now hanging handsomely on the wall.
The battle to ripen these tomatoes continues but the modules of winter leaves are coming along well.
The neighbours have finished the shed at the back of the garden so we have a secure boundary again. Now comes the challenge of incorporating the change into the look of the garden. I still haven’t decided on whether I am installing a new boundary wall / screen etc.
The Buddleja, Phlox, Japanese Anemone and Nasturtiums are flowering their socks off. The right side of the picture shows the impact shade can have on flowering plants. The overhanging hedge is casting a lot of shade.
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.
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.
What 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
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.
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
I gathered a funnel and sieve (purchased for garden use only) and some empty bottles.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.