First spring seedlings!

At the end of February I sowed my first seeds direct into the allotment, and covered them with a net tunnel. A month later and they’ve started to come up!


The thin wispy leaves in the foreground are carrots, middle-right is mixed salad leaves, and the back row in Butterhead lettuce.

This is the first year I’ve had the allotment from winter (I only moved in April last year) and the first time I’ve grown salad or carrots there. You can see the ground is very dry – we’re having a very dry winter/spring – so I’m pleased they’ve worked at all. And that the netting has protected them from hungry birds and rabbits (so far).

This is a view of the allotment surrounding my new salad tunnel.

Dug over ground and tunnel

I’ve dug over the ground around it, in fact North helped me with that as some of it had been paths last year and needed a heavy attack with a pick axe. He also helped me colonise some of the back area of the allotment on the other side of the cherry tree, which you can see in the background in the photo above. I’m going to put potatoes in those beds this year to help break up the ground, which has a lot of roots, some probably belonging to the cherry tree, which I’m hoping I’m not going to damage. I’ve spread manure over the dug over ground to try to suppress weed growth and add some nourishment.

The only vegetables I ‘overwintered’ this year are these massive sprouting broccoli plants.

sprouting brocolli plants 24.02.12

Unfortunately they got partly eaten by mice a few weeks ago, so I’m probably only going to get half the harvest I should have had. The mice ate the little shoots that would have become the sprouting brocolli part, and left some poo behind – in case I was in any doubt whodunnit. It was maddening to think all the energy that went into these big plants (the trunks are thick and tall) would be wasted, but turns out the mice got full (or distracted) before they finished them off.

Sprouting broccoli head 27.03.12

This is a photo of the beautifully coloured head taken a month after that first one (today). They’ve sprouted very nicely.

bunch of sprouting broccoli

And picking them is a delight. My favourite way to cook sprouting broccoli is to brush it with olive oil and grill it. The leaves go all crispy (a bit like crispy seaweed you get in Thai restaurants) and the stalks and heads are tender and flavourful.

This next photo is of this year’s root vegetable patch. I’m trying to get organised this year and group vegetables by type, which makes crop rotation easier. I’ve sown carrots and beetroot seeds here and the middle rows will take parsnip seeds when I’ve finished getting the ground broken up.

rows of dug over soil

You can see what I’m dealing with in terms of soil here: sowing seeds is difficult as you need ‘finely raked soil’. Those clumps are sometimes the closest I get! For the carrots and beetroots, I broke up the soil as best I could, then ‘imported’ some finer soil from other parts of the allotment (where I had potatoes growing, and the odd molehill also comes in handy too) and sprinkled that in a thin row just where I was to sow the seeds.

Back at home the windowsills are full with propagating seed trays and young seedlings. We’re having some unseasonably warm weather this week (we seem to have by-passed spring and gone straight to summer) so I’ve been moving them off the window-sills and out into the sunshine during the day.

Seedlings in trays on table in garden

In this photo there are tomatoes, brussel spouts, cabbages, spinach, onions and leeks, basil, parley and lovage. I’ve also sown some flower seeds for the first time, not because I’ve suddenly taken a fancy to non-edible gardening, but because of their pest repellent qualities. I’m growing marigolds to protect my tomatoes and nasturtium to protect my cabbages.

My first spring term at the allotment

I’ve decided to move my blog posts about the allotment from my Moving to the Country blog, to my personal one. I’ve written a lot about cooking here and it seems appropriate that I blog about my food growing here too. To catch up with the story so far, read We’ve been Alloted.

Lesson 1: Discovering the therapeutic benefits of digging

The ground was so hard. Remember that rotavator we had to take back because it was broken? I think maybe we broke it trying to break into this insanely hard soil. I learnt after the rain finally came months later that the soil can be nice and easy to put a fork into, but I didn’t have the luxury of waiting, as I had seedlings to get in the ground, so I would do this crazy dance balancing on top of the fork until it sunk into the ground (and then another to lever the rock-like earth out of position). Then I’d bash it a bit with the fork and leave it for a few days to get softened by, failing rain, a little bit of exposure to sun and wind.

See those ‘rocks’ of earth? They told me to plant out into “finely raked soil” on the back of the seed packet. Well that didn’t happen, I tell ya.

Fork dug into soil

Lesson 2: Patience

Digging was taking such a long time, and I was impatient to get things into the ground. But work was pretty stressful at the time and I found that after couple hours on the allotment digging work felt like a distant memory. So I learnt to have patience.

First 2 rows dug. Potatoes went in there.

First dug rows

Lesson 3: Start those seedlings early!

Growing brassicas at home on the window sill. These were actually my 2nd round of seedlings. The first round included chard (swiss and rainbow), peas, beans, radish and spinach. Potatoes and beetroot were sown direct in the ground.

Kale spouts

Lesson 4: Pause for the sunset (and hurry home!)

Sunset. One of the rewarding things about my evenings on the allotment is watching the sunset over the field. I just have to pop through the trees to the next field to see this view. And this was at 9:30pm. Of course I should be heading home by this time but there was always something else to do – or I simply hadn’t got down there early enough. There’s been a couple times this summer I’ve been planting out seedlings using my night vision!

Sunset over the field