Thursday 23 July 2015

Crop Protection

At some point many crops need protection from birds or insects or from the weather/sunshine etc

I dislike using soft plastic or nylon mesh nets as birds can easily get caught in them, in fact I rescued a blackbird from underneath someone else's the other week. However, more sturdy metal mesh can be used to protect against birds or cabbage white butterflies as slow below:

This mesh is approx 10ft long and arranged in a triangular prism so that it can allow plants to grow tall underneath as necessary.

This photo shows it protecting our lettuces, which we found are a tasty treat for House Sparrows, in fact they tell their friends and all have quite a party nibbling them down to a stump if unprotected. Interestingly, this behaviour has only been noticed in the past couple of years, maybe they just got away with it before then, or maybe their tastes have changed.....

Now, it is over the blueberries as Blackbirds and thrushes will gobble the lot if left unprotected!

Some of our allotment neighbours have a problem with pigeons going after cabbages, however this only seems to be in the more "open" allotments, ours has hedges around and I think that it is the enclosed nature of the allotment that pigeons do not like - in fact I have seen pigeons sitting on the fence at the back, having a nosy and then ignoring our cabbages in favour of ones in a more open allotment!

As is said in this earlier post disguising crops by planting flowers in amongst them is a good idea, and I have also found that garlic and onions in with carrots will help reduce carrot flies (the best defence is height!), some people use very small knit mesh or fleece. Garlic barrier spray works well on peas and beans and damsons to some extent.

Flowers in the Allotment

When people find out that I have an allotment, quite often they say, "You must be a really keen gardener!"
The answer to that is that I spend a lot of time growing vegetables but am not knowledgable in the slightest about flowers! (apart from the obvious ones like knowing what a daffodil looks like!)

However, flowers can play a very useful part in the allotment, both to attract pollenators and also to act as diversions from or indeed mask vegetables from the nasties that might want to eat or lay eggs on them.

Marigolds (Tagetes)

Marigolds are said to be able to deter aphids, attract some pollenators and the Tagetes Minuta variety (not shown) has been researched and shown to be able to clear ground of persistent weeds.

Ours now self seed and live down near the far end of the allotment, which this year is around the onions, carrots, leeks, garlic and parsnips.


The nasturtiums are going mad! This is the top end of the allotment near the gate, and this is what greeted us in the middle of the pea and bean patch after we had come back from holiday.

Some people eat nasturtium leaves, battered or fried apparently. Can't say I have tried, or indeed want to try this myself but the rabbit we used to have liked them!

The do seem to attract blackfly, so act as a diversionary plant for beans, especially broad beans which can be prone to them. (A tip with broad beans is to remote the growing tip once enough beans have set and it is tall enough as required)

Again ours self seed.


Cosmos are good for attracting butterflies and also the seeds at the end of season are attractive eating for bird.

These are planted around the carrot tyre stacks to hide the black tyres.


Quite apart from the fun of growing tall sunflowers, and their general attractiveness, the seeds of these can be collected in Autumn to put in bird feeders or indeed give to some small pet animals.
Alternatively leave on the plant for Goldfinches and other birds to peck at in situ.

They do suck up a lot of water and create shade so ensure that there's a bit of space around them, don't try to grow other vegetables too close. That being said the shade is good to stop cauliflower heads going yellow and lettuces from going to seed in the strong summer sunshine.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Weeding peas

Weeding peas is a fiddly job! Peas need plenty of water but of course that encourages the weeds as well. In the gap between rows, hoeing is possible if you are careful but otherwise it is a hands and knees job!
Be very careful, peas at this stage, just flowering and producing the first peas, can be uprooted very easily and peas will often try and use the nearest object, e.g. a weed,  for support instead of all those pea sticks collected over previous months.
I have found that, despite getting dirt up fingernails and on hands, it is better to dispense with gardening gloves in order to pick out the weeds from in amongst the peas.

This year has been cold for them, the earliest pods did survive the frost but went a bit of a funny colour, but now there's plenty of pea flowers and pods forming. CDs on strings have also been used as a defence against sparrows looking for a nice bit of greenery to munch!

Monday 18 May 2015

What's going on at the allotment - part 2

Despite the slow start, there is quite a lot of activity in the allotment and most of it is under cultivation. Eats at the moment are the very last of the leeks - they are getting a bit tough and the ends are swelling up into bulbs, a small bit of asparagus - picked very sparingly this year so as not to weaken the plant in the 3rd year of growth, some rhubarb and some broccoli.

 These are the overwintered onions and garlic.

Overwintered onions - sometimes called Japanese onions - are planted in September as sets and are hardy enough to stand even the coldest winters we get here.

There are 4 garlic plants among these. I planted a whole bulb's worth of them so I don't know what's happened to the others.......

These will be ready towards the end of June.

One of the garlics will be saved until next year, however you can just go to the supermarket, buy a garlic bulb, break it up, peel the papery skin off and plant! That's what we did when we first got the allotment!

Here are the strawberries, flowering with one or two very small strawberries forming.

In autumn last year, I dug out all the strawberry plants and runners, and gave the bed a really good weed, getting rid of as much of the invasive couch grass as possible. Then, putting in plenty of manure and compost, the best plants and runners (including some from the window box at home) went back in and certainly looking at them now it was worth the effort!

Blackcurrants - these seem to grow more and more currants every year, which is good providing you have an infinite freezer and an lifetime's supply of Kilner Jars!

They are turned into jam (along with the raspberries, blackberries, rhubarb, some of the apples and the occasional blueberry!),

 and preserved in vodka!

What's going on at the allotment - part 1

It is now mid May and the weather doesn't seem to have warmed up any!
On my Twitter account
there are followers from various parts of the UK, and it is really quite interesting to see the difference in the growing conditions between such as Dorset and Kent - very much ahead in terms of what is ready, here in North Yorkshire and indeed in the northern parts of Scotland, where frost (and indeed snow a couple of weeks ago) are still a problem!

 Here is a general view of the allotment, with the poor peas that seem to have had everything against them this year, being pecked by sparrows until CDs on strings and mesh were deployed, frost and cold conditions, nearest the camera, with the potato patch next, and in the background the fruit area which has flourishing rhubarb. Beyond the fruit are areas for brassicas and for onions, carrots etc.

Here is a closer view of the potatoes....

 As you can see, I have already made ridges to save a bit of earthing up, the ridges have also meant that only a little covering up with earth was necessary to protect the earliest shoots from frost.

All the potatoes are in now, it has been a bit of struggle finding space due to the overwintering and indeed overrunning broccoli!

 Can't complain though, even at this time in May there's still some really nice purple brocolli to eat. That is, if you like brocolli - my family do but I don't! Really don't.....but I am happy to grow it for others to enjoy!

Saturday 25 April 2015

Eats, shoots and leaves part 2

What is ready to eat just now, sprouting broccoli, rhubarb, peppers in the house, salsify.

Eats, shoots and leaves part 1

Some pictures of the vegetables starting to pop up in the allotment.

First potatoes coming up, leek seedlings, asparagus, carrots.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Household veg and fruit

Although most of the fruit and vegetables are grown in the allotment, some of them are grown in the house or started off in the house.


This tomato plant is an rooted offshoot of the five year old one that finally keeled over at the end of last year after one major fling in late Autumn.

As with it's parent, this one is producing tomatoes at unseasonal times of the year, which is a great show-off really, as we have had home grown tomatoes straight off the plant for the past few years in the middle of winter and at Christmas!

It is right next to a radiator - ironically its predecessor was more active when the heating came back on in the Autumn - and next to the window and gets regular feeds and rainwater.



This is the first home grown pepper of the season, picked around the end of March

Peppers can be grown all the year around indoors, this is a bell pepper but there are chilli pepper plants on the windowledge as well. 
There's a succession of plants to give a steady supply.
Recent pepper seedlings

 Meyer Lemon tree. This tree was given as a present, with about 9 lemons on it.

It has sulked a little since the lemons were taken off but now it is in the sunniest window it is starting to produce flowers again.
Lettuce seedlings. These will be grown in a window box on one of the windowledges but there are others that will be going into the allotment or outside pots. Also (out of shot) are some mini carrots designed for window boxes.

Sunday 12 April 2015


Recipe for Mexican Tortillas


3 chicken breasts
1/2lb frying steak
3 peppers
1lb mushrooms
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
3 mugs full assorted dried beans (red kidney, butter, blackeye)
1 can plum tomatoes
Tortillas and/or tacos (8-16)
Vegetable oil for frying.
2 chillies or a teaspoon of chilli powder - reduce or increase to taste, can use red, green or jalapeƱo chillies. 

Serves 9 portions, ingredients can be increased as necessary.

Important: Dried beans must be soaked in cold water overnight and then the water changed before boiling for 45 minutes.

 Wash hands thoroughly after handling chillies or wear clean plastic gloves.

While the beans are cooking, wash and slice up the peeled onions, mushrooms and de-seeded peppers and peeled garlic. Core and slice the chillies if using. Place these in a large saucepan with some vegetable oil and start frying up, stirring occasionally.

Whilst frying the vegetables, slice up the steak and the chicken into strips and the put in the pan with the vegetables

Cook until the meat is cooked right through, this is usually 10-15 minutes to be sure, it won't harm if kept stirred and turned over and prevented from sticking with oil.

Add the tomatoes and chilli powder if using. Warm through.

Warm or microwave the tacos or tortillas.

When ready, serve beans and other ingredients inside tortillas/tacos.

Toppings include melted cheese, salsa, iceberg lettuce, chipotle sauce

Sunday 5 April 2015


Today was, I think, the warmest day this year. At least 15degC. So, it was time for the peas to leave their home in the greenhouse for the allotment.

A row of peas had been planted already, but the birds seem to have had a nibble, well more than a nibble and some of them are little more than shredded stumps, so a bit more protection was needed.

I can't take credit for the construction, my youngest daughter and my wife were busy as well with the CDs and the mesh, though I went round after this photo was taken to put in lots of twiggy sticks for the peas to climb up.

Some of the peas are already flowering! So, I have sprayed with an organic garlic spray to stop pea moths from laying eggs, and therefore peas getting maggots in.

Also, as well as a generous compost dressing (manure was spread over the patch at the end of last year), and then some organic, wildlife friendly slug pellets.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Update - Indoors

 First of all, how did these get to a first floor bedroom?

At least they are not the 13cm Spanish ones on the news recently!
 Planting new peppers for coming year into a long tub that sits on a windowledge in a second floor bedroom.
These peppers are not far off ready, peppers appear to be able to germinate at any time given a radiator, light and watering! My aim is to get all year round peppers which I think should be possible in the house. 

The tomato plant, saved as a rooted cutting from our now deceased 5 year old one, is now producing tomatoes. 

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring

Even though it is still quite cold, in fact yesterday was only about 5 deg.C (today was warmer with the sunshine), there are signs of new life in the allotment. 

 Rhubarb - this rhubarb originally came from a root split from my mum's rhubarb, she lives within the Yorkshire "Rhubarb Triangle", so it's good stuff!
 These are the onions and garlic overwintered from plantings in September 2014. This means that there are onions from mid June ready to harvest. Garlic is easy, to begin, buy a clove of garlic from a supermarket or greengrocer.. Plant in September and leave overwinter. Some shoots will grow below the end of the year anyway. When picking in July, save the biggest one for splitting in to cloves and planting again in September. Over time it becomes adapted to the soil and selecting for the biggest ensures a good crop every year.
The onions are the "Japanese" kind which are winter hardy.
 Sprouting broccoli. Takes nearly a year to get to this stage but if you like broccoli, is pretty prolific if you keep cutting the heads regularly.
Shoots on the pear tree. These are minarette type, one of the trees is Comice, the other Conference. The Comice last year was the most prolific.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Stir Fry - with lots of home grown produce

Stir fry is easy to cook and can vary according to taste, meat content and type, vegetable variety etc. This version is using some home grown vegetables and some shop bought items to produce a tasty meal.

The good thing about stir fry is that it can scale up easily according to the number of servings required. In this dish there's enough for about 9 servings, 5 of which were consumed on the day of making with two servings keeping in the fridge for the next day and two in the freezer.

I have included brands which I use in this particular meal , many others are available and if there is a Chinese supermarket nearby the list is seemingly endless!

The vegetable and meat preparation and initial cooking (before adding sauce) is gluten free, and can still remain gluten free providing the correct sauces and noodles are used.

Ingredients (* indicates home grown)

3 cloves of garlic *
2 or 3 medium onions *
3 red peppers *
12-15 mushrooms               
12-15 mini sweetcorn *
2 tins of Blue Dragon water chestnuts (or 1 tin water chestnuts and 1 tin bamboo shoots)
1 packet of beansprouts (from supermarket - usually with pre-packaged stir fry vegetables)
4 large chicken breasts (from local butchers)

1 * large jar of Sharwoods or Blue Dragon stir fry sauce (Hoi Sin and Plum / Sweet and Sour / Chow Mein / Black Bean - many of the Blue Dragon ones should be gluten free - please check with the manufacturer)

Soy Sauce (in this case Clearspring Japanese soy sauce which is gluten free)

Sharwoods dried egg noodles and/or gluten free rice noodles (Amoy do some "straight to wok" rice noodles that are gluten free although dried ones can also be obtained.

15 fl. oz Brown rice - cook according to packet - the nicer ones take longer to cook, usually 25-30 minutes.

Optional - if doing sweet and sour then 1 * small tin of pineapple slices or chunks can be added.


Ingredients can be prepared in advance of frying if required, do the vegetables first and then the meat. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat and ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly through before serving!

Pre-heat vegetable oil in a wok (to cover the bottom of the wok - more can be added later if things are sticking to the wok. However, the trick is to get the wok hot enough and keep food moving enough to prevent this from happening)

Peel, rinse, dry and slice the onions and add, as shown opposite.

Start to cook the onions until going soft, usually about 4 or 5 minutes

Take the pith and seeds out, wash and then slice the peppers and add to the wok.

Break off 3 cloves of garlic, peel, wash, dry and then dice the garlic up very small and add.

Wash and slice the mushrooms and add to the wok,
stirring regularly to ensure even cooking.

Slice the chicken up into strips about an inch long (2-3cm) and
about half an inch (1-2cm) wide.

Add to the wok and stir fry until cooked right through - i.e. entirely white inside. Wash your hands after handling raw meat!

Whilst the chicken is cooking, drain and add the water chestnuts and/or
bamboo shoots.

Add the beansprouts. These usually do not require washing
if bought in a sealed packet from the supermarket.

Keep stirring and mixing to allow even cooking and to
make sure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the wok.
If food starts to stick, add a little bit more oil and give the food
a scrape at the bottom of the wok.

Allow the contents of the wok to cook through 
before moving onto the next step. 

The contents of the wok should now look like the picture

Add your chosen sauce and then allow to simmer for 10 minutes or so, longer if wished.

Whilst the sauce is simmering, prepare the noodles according to the packet

Serving Suggestions