Archive for the ‘allotment’ Category

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

More on our adventure into no dig next time!


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.