Really perfectly lovely potatoes

At the Gardening Club that followed potato day, we unpacked our goody bag of potatoes, luckily not too many, so we should have room for some other veg on the plot after all. We decided to chit them as we had done before, that is,  all of us taking some potatoes home in a seed tray or egg box, and hopefully returning them to get planted once they had started to sprout. After a bit of time rummaging around in the shed, which needs tidying up (again), I remembered that I had just recently given all the egg boxes to a gardener who keeps chickens, to tidy the shed up a bit (which had not worked). Flummoxed by this, we broke for tea, and then had to retreat to the polytunnel to dodge a sudden rain shower, where I realised that we had a brilliant potato chitting spot right there, in the shape of an old apple store rescued from the tip and now sitting, unassumingly, in the corner of the polytunnel.

After our potato day education, we realised that we needed to know the name and the type (first early, main etc) of the potatoes, and that it was important that we didn’t muddle the potatoes up this time, as has happened every time in previous years. The apple store was an elegant solution; each variety of potato in its own drawer, neatly labelled in chalk. Just lovely. When all the potatoes were in their drawers, The whole group stood round the apple store and admired it for the deeply satisfying piece of work that is was. We have high hopes of our spuds this year.

For the rest of the session on the allotment this week, we were preparing our ‘no dig’ plot . . . by digging out the last of the couch grass. Seems rather contrary, but the stuff does just keep coming back, so I thought it was worth the effort. The no dig plot is a response to the difficulties some of the group members have with heavy work, plus the fact that the soil was so very dry in the spring and early summer last year, plus it was the result of a very inspirational trip to Charles Dowding’s Somerset market garden: check it out here  http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk/node/67.

More on our adventure into no dig next time!

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Potato Day learning curve

Today was our first Bridport Potato Day and seed swop, organised by local guerilla gardening group Plan B, with potatoes, heritage seeds and fruit seeds from Pennard Plants (www.pennardplants.com).

Well, what an eye-opener today was! I had no idea there were so many varieties of potatoes in the world, let alone available to buy and plant locally, all displayed neatly in trugs, ready to load into lovely brown paper bags, like a huge, satisfying potato pick ‘n’ mix.

For the community allotment, after much agonising and much discussion of the characteristics of blight-resistance, skin and flesh colour and cooking properties, all helpfully provided by Pennard Plants, we went for a mixture of some classic, reliable varieties such as Charlotte, Ratte and Home Guard, and a few tubers of unknown (to us) varieties, to try them out for flavour and grow-ability on our plot.

Obviously, just like in the usual sort of pick ‘n’ mix, where you get to the till only to find out that your bag of carefully selected sweeties is going to set you back about £43.50, we ended up with what I suspected were sufficient tubers to cover all of our available growing area, which was a little bit worrying until, with perfect timing, Daryl – the man with his hand on the tiller of all things allotment-y in Bridport – showed up at the event and assured us that our new allotment area, just over the road from our main plot, would be ready very soon indeed, so potato armageddon thankfully averted.

The beauty of providing the lovely brown paper bags, potatoes for the loading of, is that we were able to write on the bags useful information like the name of the variety, the number of tubers (mostly for the ladies on the till, that one) and, importantly, the type of potato – whether first early, second early, or maincrop.

And at this point I’m again going to have to confess to a huge hole in my gardening knowledge. And why then do I presume to write a gardening blog, you ask? well, it’s always good to be able to say ‘I was completely baffled, now I’m not, and this is why . . ‘ so I’m happy to admit here and now that I have always been pretty well baffled by these categories of potato, and by the cultivation of potatoes generally, to the extent that my potato experience could generally be summed up as ‘buy potatoes, plant potatoes, forget to label potatoes, dig them up at some random point’ – and I know that I was not alone in this confusion.

Today, all that has changed, all thanks to the wonderful, clear instructions for Pennard Plants, which I summarise here:

1) Plant all types of potatoes (early, mid, main, whatever) AT THE SAME TIME – within a three-week period from the end of March.

2) Harvest as follows:

First earlies: start to harvest & test crop as the flowers reach full bloom.

Second earlies: do the same, but for these ones wait until the flowers start to fall off.

Maincrop: harvest after all the top growth has died down.

3) It’s as simple as that.

In essence, it’s all to do with how long they are in the ground once planted, which is done all at the same sort of time; also, what is going on above ground is a huge clue to what should be going on below. Armed with this knowledge, this year I will be labelling my potatoes by name and by type, and watching the top growth with a newly knowledgeable eye.

Hope this is a lightbulb moment for some of you too – and don’t they feel good!

Raspberries

So, there are two types of raspberries, the summer fruiting ones and the autumn fruiting ones.

We were given some raspberry canes for the community allotment last year, which were very sorry-looking, but they grew. Previously I had also been given some canes for my own allotment which again were pitiful-looking roots with a bit of stick when I got them. Both raspberry patches now have clear plans for world domination, but whereas my raspberries have, well, raspberries, the community plot ones do not.

My raspberries started fruiting in mid august, which must make them autumn-fruiting raspberries, but the community plot plants have nothing on them now, and had nothing on them in the summer. Why?

We were discussing the raspberry problem on the plot yesterday, and came to the following conclusions: either our raspberries are duff, or an error was made in the pruning last year. This is in part a problem of getting plants donated to the allotment; we were so happy to have a load of fruit canes to put in, that we (well, it was me really) neglected to ask which sort – i.e. when they would fruit.

We planted them in early summer 2010; much later in the year I was visiting RHS Wisley with my mum where we were discussing the problem with raspberries amongst the immaculate fruit beds.  We found some Wisley gardeners in the fruit garden who told us it was much too late to prune any sort of raspberry at all now, but if they were autumn-fruiting ones, we could prune them in February. Still none the wiser, on both plots I cut some back in February, and left some. On my allotment most are fruiting, but on the community plot none are. There is, of course, the possibility that there is a mixture of canes on both plots.

In summary, the expert pruning advice is: If you are picking raspberries right now on your allotment, then lucky you, and you should prune all the growth back to ground level in February, and give them a feed. If you were picking raspberries in summer, but they have all gone now, then now is the time to prune out the canes that had fruit on them. If you have the sort that someone mentioned on the plot yesterday that fruit twice, then could you post what you do with them?because I have no idea a all.

On the community allotment, I think we will experiment. The raspberry patch needs controlling anyway, so I think we will cut a path through the middle, thin the rogue canes, then prune one side now, and the other side in February; making sure we take a note of what we’ve done, and then wait for next summer. In the meantime, in case the canes are duff, I will be moving some runners from my plot onto the community allotment to make a new raspberry patch.

Raspberry obsession? yes – and this is why!

Sharon gave me the recipe for her home made raspberry ice cream last week, and this week bought a pot of it along to the allotment so that we could all try it. Obviously we had to eat it pretty quickly so that it didn’t melt, but that was really not a problem – it was fantastic.check out the recipe for Sharon’s gorgeous raspberry ice cream on the recipe page.

 

Making a hot bed

Hilda checking the tomatoes in the hot bed

In midsummer we had some bags of farmyard manure delivered to the allotment. We had planned to dig it straight in to empty ground before planting up some hungry crops, but on inspection some of the compost was a little too fresh to use this way, and needed to be matured.

After a week or two of looking at the manure, stacked in an unlovely pile of blue plastic bags, I decided to take a Permaculture approach, and turn a problem into a solution. On our new plot we had inherited a home-made cold frame, sturdily-built of window frames, but currently unused.  We emptied all the manure into the cold frame, topped it with a layer of soil, and then made soil-filled planting pockets into which we planted our young plants – two courgettes and two tomatoes. The manure and soil had filled the cold-frame about 2/3 full, so as well as enjoying warm feet courtesy of the still-maturing manure, the young plants also had some protection from the elements from the glass sides, which was an ideal growing environment for these plants.

the biggest truss of tomatoes ever!

So, how did they grow?  The courgettes have produced several glossy dark-green fruits, and have more yet to come, but the tomatoes have performed most spectacularly. These plants, one a mini ‘tumbler’ variety, and the other a large fruiting beefsteak type, didn’t have the best start in life. Leftovers from planting up the polytunnel and an outside bed, they were left in a pot too long before planting out, but soon made up for lost time.

The mini tomato has the biggest truss of fruits any of us have seen, currently still green, and resembling a  huge bunch of grapes, and the other has a large truss of good-sized fruits, both on very compact plants that seem to have put all their energy into producing the crop rather than growing leaves.

I think we’ll use this method again next year, probably to grow another hungry crop, like squash. These are good value on the allotment, with our favoured ones giving lots of small squashes, which are good to share out at Gardening Club, but they need a rich, moist bed to grow well.

Finally, once the crops have finished we’ll empty the hot-bed and spread the compost, still with a lot of nutrients in it,   onto a nearby bed. Then we’ll cover it all in cardboard and soil (see ‘Mulch’) and leave it to the worms to dig it into the soil. Easy!

Keeping it watered – what works for us

Congratulations, you have a poly tunnel, and can raise your own seedlings. You sow the seed. Seed grows. Little plant starts to look  like it might be able to make it on it’s own then – disaster! miss a couple of days watering, and it all goes horribly wrong. After a few of these incidents, I made a thorough search of the local garden centre for irrigation options that would work for us on the Community Allotment, the conditions being: attention guaranteed only once a week; no mains water via hose;  no electricity supply; limited budget.

These are some options that are currently being tested (and approved) by us:

chillies growing on capillary matting

 

Capillary matting and inverted water bottle. (cost £10-12)  We are using this for our chillies and peppers, which are in pots in the polytunnel, and so are very vulnerable to drying out. This is a simple bit of kit that I bought, and soon figured I could duplicate at home. In the box was a length of capillary matting, and a large, square  water bottle with a screw top with a hole drilled in it. Water your pots and sit them on the capillary matting. Fill the large bottle with water and put lid on tight. Invert bottle onto capillary matting, where it will slowly release the water over the course of a few days. As long as the plants are watered before putting on the matting, this works very well.

 

watering spike - not yet stuck into the ground

Watering spike. (cost ranges between £4.29 for 6 to about the same price for 1). Take a careful look at the available options for this, as the cost per spike varies a lot between the different brands. I eventually settled on a pack with 6 spikes in, which cost the same as a single slightly fancier one. It’s a plastic spike that you’ll stick in a pot – it doesn’t need to be fancy! The spikes screw on to most types and sizes of plastic drinks bottles – fill bottle, screw on to spike, stick spike in the soil. Again, it’s best if the plants are watered first. We are using these on outdoor tomatoes in pots; they’d be good for plants in the ground too, if you wanted to be sure they didn’t dry out. Ours were cheap as chips, and still had a little device to allow you to control the water flow. Very useful.

 

Drip watering system. One especially for greenhouses or polytunnels, as the water is dispensed from a black rubber bladder, like a fat hot water bottle, which must be hung up. Review to follow soon…

Carolyn B 
Community Gardener

Keeping stuff watered – mulch

Keeping stuff watered.

Another dry spring followed by summer rain has led us to plan for this being the norm.

Every drop is precious!

Although everything is growing well now, there are lots of gaps where early sowings failed to thrive, or failed to sprout at all. As ours is a community allotment where we garden as a group only once a week, watering can be a problem;  people do pop along to water during the week when they can, but another issue for us is that no hosepipes are allowed on our site,  so all the water we use has to be carried some distance in a watering can. On our plot,  keeping the high raised beds watered is a problem due to water loss through evaporation, and on the new plot the soil is the problem; a clayey loam, it bakes so hard in the dry weather that we can’t get the fork in to dig it, and the amount of watering we can do by hand makes little difference to the soil condition. We needed a cleverer solution.

Several members of our group were interested in no-dig gardening, and we thought this would be worth a punt, especially as most of the group find heavy digging difficult. so, working on the new plot, the no-dig allotment is evolving thus:

  •  As we get ready to plant up a bed we cut down any tall weeds, and dig them out if we can.
  • Then we cover the whole area in opened-out corrugated cardboard boxes. This works best if the soil is moist, so we’ll be doing more of the allotment this autumn.
  • Then we damp down the boxes
  • Then we cover all the cardboard up with compost from the bin.
  • We plant up by clearing a bit of the compost, cutting a hole through the cardboard, digging a little hole, popping in the plant , then watering into the planting area, and re-covering the cardboard with the compost.
Using compost from the bin is great, because you get a gratifyingly tidy-looking plot, plus the compost keeps the cardboard cool and moist, and the worms will eventually do the digging for you, and integrate the cardboard and the compost into the soil. If you want to try this, but don’t have enough compost yet, you could use the cardboard under mulch material, grass clippings, or straw- the cardboard will help to suppress the weeds and keep the soil cool and moist, plus the worms will get much more active in the upper layers of the soil.

Some sun, some rain, some sun again

Welcome to Bridport Community allotment gardening blog!

The community allotment is a shared plot, open to all,  sited in the Community Orchard behind St Mary’s South Street, right in the middle of town.

The gardening group meets 2-4 on Thursday afternoons; Mountjoy school also uses the plot during term times.

It’s also a place you can drop in to for gardening help and advice.

For more information about the gardening group, take a look at ‘about’. 

Carolyn B.

Community Gardener