July 31, 2015

The Boutique Allotment Plus: What’s cooking?

It was March of this year when I last posted an update on the progress and development of our newly expanded boutique allotment so now we are well into the summer season, I thought an update was a little overdue. You may recall me telling you that the size of our allotment has almost doubled this year. We have been able to modify and or create raised beds on this new area, in preparation for growing fruit and flowers (the later in a U shaped bed) -see its development here  Rather than a ‘he said she said’ diary, I thought I’d frame the progress by looking at 4 aspects of our growing this year, giving an overriding tip for each. Oh, and I’ve thrown some allotment-based scribbles in for good measure at the end.

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Business as usual

Rule number 1: Grow what you like to eat

This may sound somewhat obvious but over the last couple of years, we have narrowed down what we grow and whereas we may have grown huge numbers of things, we are now a little more selective. I admit though that this is also linked to what grows well (see next point below); this year, in the developed half of the plot, we have potatoes (only waxy salad ones: Nicola and Pink Fir Apple, not larger potatoes) , corn, courgettes, squashes (the flat ribbed brown/orange ones: Futsu), salad crops (had real trouble in getting these growing over the last couple of years due probably to slugs, despite a great first year with a huge variety see here (blog), climbing beans (Blauhilde) and onions (only red ones (Red Baron), I must grow some overwintering Japanese onions but not tried that yet). Things seem slower this year, all those which usually take off in a couple of weeks, sat for a lot longer before taking off, e.g. The climbing beans, sat for ages!, probably due to the cold. Again rust has been a problem but this was confined to the garlic necessitating a swift harvest and small bulbs and didn’t spread to the onions and chives. We will see what transpires with the corn but so far so good.

 

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Some new approaches

Rule number 2: If it won’t grow, try something else or another way of growing it!

Now there are certain things like different sorts of salad crops, Mizuna, Italian salad leaves, rocket and the like, alongside carrots that are my ‘reason for being’ as far as growing is concerned. I must have them! They taste so sweet and different to those bought. However, we have over the last couple of years, got progressively less successful at growing these in the raised beds, so this year, for the first time we are growing them in lined old fruit boxes in the polytunnel. The salad crops are coming along a treat and taste wonderful, the carrots will take a little longer but they are growing!

Brassicas are my other major bugbear and we never seem to get more than a couple of meals out of the sprouts due to the cabbage white butterflies somehow getting onto the netted plants! So this year all change, no sprouts, no kale, just 2 crops: Kohl Rabi and Hon Tszi Tai purple sprouting greens. These are supposed to be quick sprouting with green leaves and purple stems. They are to be picked just before the flowers come and used like broccoli in cooked dishes and raw in salads.   The Kohl rabi are now growing better although were hammered by slugs at the beginning of the year. The sprouting greens are young seedlings started direct in the ground at the beginning of July.   We are using organic slug pellets to try to get these plants established.

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Flowers

Rule number 3: don’t worry too much about colours clashing, try what you like, what the bees like and what will look fabulous in a vase!

This year I decided to try my hand in growing annuals before turning to perennial flowers from spring next year (although I may still add my favourite few annuals too like Californian Poppy and Sunflowers!). Some worked, some didn’t and I found that only a few were resilient enough to grow directly from seed in the ground (Calendula ‘Art Shades’, cornflower and Hordeum jubatum, others were grown and pricked out in the polytunnel. (Sunflower Earthwalker, Salvia ‘Blue Monday’, Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Cosmos ‘Sensation’ and Rudbeckia ‘Marmalade’). As I am sure you can imagine, this was a lot of work and took up all the space in my small 8 x 6 feet polytunnel! Sadly my cerinthe overheated in the polytunnel (during the few warm days of summer!) so they didn’t happen this year but I shall try again as they are one of my favourite annuals!

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The fruits of our labours

Rule number 4:  Make adequate time for planning and preparing for fruit as well as researching the best varieties for you and what they need in terms of maintenance. They are a long-term investment not a single season show

The existing plot prior to additional space had several types of fruit, planted last year, including autumn raspberries and 4 Ben Nevis blackcurrant bushes grown in large Rainbow trugs. The later have done fabulously well this year (planted as containerized plants last autumn from Blackmoor nursery), producing about 2 lb. of fruit each – enough for puddings but not jam too! We will grow more bushes for that! We also have strawberries, some in stacked tyres (doesn’t work particularly well as you only get strawberries on the top layer and I found them to be small and easily dried out.), and some in the edge bed that we inherited. The edge bed is against a west facing wall and there are 5 beds that are 3 m x 1 m each, all currently covered and awaiting transformation. These will have a variety of soft fruit (blackcurrants, summer raspberries and gooseberries) as well as cordon apples and a plum fan but that is for another day, when we can prepare the beds and get all the posts and supports in.   They will be planted in autumn/winter but perhaps spanning a couple of years…. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

 

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I am a landscape architect with experiences in contemporary design and green space management. My practice includes the design of interesting urban spaces including roof terraces, courtyards, kitchen gardens and other green oases. I provide both design services as well as project management and green space consultancy across a wide range of urban projects. You can also find me drawing in the urban environment where I love to report on the things I see and love. My scribbles blog is: www.ScribbleMyStreet.wordpress.com

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