3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower

Allotments are daunting projects. You arrive onto a plot that’s usually filled with weeds as tall as your head. Dig a fork into the soil, and it’ll either be compact with couch grass roots or clumpy clay – or you could have beautiful, fluffy soil (grr…).

The best course of action for a really compact plot is to dig out bigger weeds, mulch with cardboard and manure and then wait until the following spring – however, if you’ve walked onto a plot in March, April or May and you want to have a go at some vegetables – here are 3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower.

Now, with very well-established weeds, you’ll need to make sure that your plots are mulched with a mix of either cardboard or newspaper, then layers of leaf mold (rotting leaves), compost or manure. Once the bulk of the plot is covered, you can use parts of the space to grow very early crops.

I should add that the harvests won’t be huge. You may have a few troubles along the way with your soil as it hasn’t had a good year of feeding and nurturing. You’ll also need to keep on top of the weeds every week as they try to come through (do 10 minutes or so – they will eventually lose their energy and die off after a few goes). However, these crops will still be tasty, and you’ll have grown your first allotment crops!

Potatoes

Whenever I’ve tried to tackle a heavy and clumpy plot, my first vegetables that I turn to are plants with strong roots. Potatoes, in particular, are a great starter vegetable – this is because they break up that solid soil as they go, and – if you go for first earlies like Maris Bard or International Kidney – you may even have time to plant a June crop of beans.

How I start my potatoes off is either at home or in the greenhouse. Potato plants grow through the chits, or sprouts (those little bits we find on their surfaces when we come to peel them). Knock off the eyes until you have around five all in the same area, face the spuds with the sprouts directed at the sun and keep them warm and dry.

Once the sprouts are the length of your finger, and the danger of frost has passed – check here for your areayou can plant them outside. Now, as the soil hasn’t been well-fed, either locate comfrey leaves and lay them along the bottom of a trench or pick up vegetable feed from any garden centre or DIY store.

When mulching your plot, make sure that you leave room for a trench a spade’s-width. Plant your spuds into the space 30cm apart and 50cm between rows if first earlies or 38cm apart and 75cm between rows if they are maincrop potatoes like Picasso and King Edward. Fill the trenches with a mix of compost and your dug earth and then water well throughout the season.

You will find that the weeds come through, but – so long as you do 10-15 minutes of uprooting every week, they shouldn’t cause too much bother.

Courgettes

Another vegetable that will work well in a mulched bed. Before you sow your seeds, grab a couple of bags of compost or a heap of manure, several sheets of cardboard and newspaper and any vegetable waste you might have. Dig over your weedy soil lightly and remove the biggest plants and roots.

Soak your sheets of cardboard or newspaper and throw down. Cut or leave a hole about 50cm wide (this will be your spot for your courgette). Now layer up the plot with your composting material and leave the worms and microbes to do their work as your courgettes grow.

Start courgettes off in a warm, well-lit house or greenhouse around mid-April/May. Sow the seeds pointy-end up and cover to the top of your pot with soil. Make sure that the pots are moist.

Once your elephant-sized plants have three or four leaves and the risk of a late frost has pased, it’s time to plant them outside.

Where you marked out your courgette spaces, dig down a spade’s depth. Fill this with vegetable scraps and comfrey leaves before topping up with manure. Now take your courgette plant and an extra plant pot. Lay the courgette over the manure and the pot beside it. Slowly fill in the roots of the courgette with the de-weeded topsoil and an extra layer of compost. Firm down and water thoroughly weekly, using the plant pot to get deeper down to the roots.

Strawberries

Get this – you can grow tasty strawberries pretty well in clay soil. As above, mulch the area you’ve set out for your strawberry plants. Again, insert plant pots next to each plant as these will make sure that water reaches the roots!

Strawberries are easiest to grow when they’re bought either online or from the garden centre. As we want delicious strawberries this year, we’ll go for the garden centre potted plants.

Taking the pots, pop them into a large tub of water and leave them to soak for around 10 minutes. Use this time to dig out the holes you’ve marked up in your beds.

Removing the plants from the pots, place each one over a layer of well-rotted manure and then fill until the roots are buried. Firm down and water well and feed with tomato feed throughout the season.

You can enjoy allotment strawberries in no time!

Taken on a plot this year? What crops have you gone for? If you’ve been growing your own for years, I want to know what edibles you started with. Let me know in the comments below.

Here’s a Way to Help You Keep the Weeds Down

I would be lying if I said that I was an organised gardener. My allotment certainly takes on the “wild” look and this also extends to the piles of pots and lost tools that I spend endless amounts of time trying to find. As an unorganised gardener, I also have a big problem with weeds and slugs and, if you’re reading this, I imagine you must do too.

I would love to have days and days to spend neatening up my allotment plot, but the reality is that other things like work come in the way. If you’re young or you’re new to growing your own food, seeing an entire plot of land consumed with weeds is not motivating – particularly if you only have a couple of hours a week to spare gardening.

So how do you deal with weeds and more with so little free time?

I’ve been asking myself this question for months. If you don’t get rid of the weeds, your delicious crops lose all of their energy, the slugs have a place under the weedy growth to thrive and decimate plants and, if they even survive all of that, growing so close to these dominating neighbours will result in harvests that are tiny and sad.

But now I have a plan, and you should try it too

By taking out my phone and timing myself on one patch, I discovered that it only took 10 minutes to do what was a couple of square metres of earth. My allotment is big, but by multiplying this time by the ten or so plots I’ve created on the allotment, I worked out that I could get the entire stretch done in well under 2 hours. And this is clearing weeds that have been allowed to establish for months!

Granted, much of the weedy growth on my plot has been killed back by placing cardboard, newspaper, manure and veg waste thickly over the greenery in the past three years. However, even a tougher job, when broken down into a specific time, looks much more achievable.

Now, moving forward, I can plan to do anywhere between ten and twenty minutes of de-weeding a week. Furthermore, I can be sure that next year’s crops will grow and flourish the way that they are supposed to, without bindweed clambering, grass sprouting and brambles clinging.

This isn’t a ground-breaking new technique to get the whole plot done in less than a second (although please let me know if you do manage to do this). Yet, like almost everything about gardening and growing your own food, it’s all about changing your mentality and making life easier.

If you’re working on a new garden or allotment this year, or you’re struggling to keep on top of things – remember – it’s far better to break large jobs into smaller chunks than attempt to do it all at once.

Do you have any tricks for managing weeds and juggling a busy life? Let me know in the comments below!

My Budget Greenhouse, Six Months On

Back at the beginning of the year I decided to run a little experiment. You see, I wanted to buy a greenhouse, but I had neither the means to afford a proper glass one or the means to transport it up to my plot, so I settled instead on a plastic model. The trouble with plastic greenhouses is that they aren’t nearly half as durable as their glass counterparts. One strong gust of wind, and the frames end up in a mess or the material covering the house is ripped up. You could even find your greenhouse caught up in a nearby tree.

After choosing the Wilko Greenhouse for around £30, I had to work out a way of ensuring that this wouldn’t happen to me. My plot is quite exposed and even if I could only keep the greenhouse up for a year, so long as the growing season was done I could at least take something away from it.

I decided that digging a trench for the base was one of my safest bets at keeping it secure. Once this was done, I filled the entire square with earth and woodchip to help anchor it down. Wilko do supply you with guide ropes, which I made as tight as I could. Yet, having a compost bin on one side and some fencing on the other guaranteed that the structure wasn’t going to blow off in a hurry.

I can safely say that, six months on from setting the greenhouse up, it has yielded some fantastic results. My tomato harvest has increased to triple the amount I had last year out on the exposed balcony. I’m picking countless hot chilli peppers too. However, the biggest achievement for me this year has been successfully growing aubergines.

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Just some of the delicious tomatoes I’ve picked this year.

It’s not just inside the greenhouse that I’ve reaped the rewards. Providing yourself with a growing space that’s warmer than the outside during the winter and gives plants shelter to grow at their own pace means that you can have several strong vegetable crops ready to plant a little earlier than those you’ve had to grow at home. They’re also cheaper than garden centre varieties, too.

In the five years that I’ve been growing my own food, I have attempted aubergines three times now. On only one of these occasions have I managed to get any fruit. Picking my two long fruits earlier in the year, they made a fantastic base for curries and veggie Bolognese.

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Whether the greenhouse survives some of the winter storms remains to be seen. But the overall picture is very promising indeed. In fact, I am so impressed by the results of my experiment that I will be erecting another greenhouse just a metre away from the original to house more of my seedlings next year.

So, if you’re hesitating about buying a plastic greenhouse over a glass one ready for next year, don’t overthink it. There are plenty of ways that you can keep your greenhouse secure, and the crops are worth it too.

Healthy Breakfast Apple Muffins

 

How many of us, rushing to get to work, forget to eat our most important meal of the day? Porridge is a faff, cereal and milk isn’t portable enough to eat on the way to work and expensive smoothies are completely out of the question. Well, like all things in life, plan ahead and you can both perform at your best and not be eyeing up a horse by the time your lunch break arrives. Even better still, this recipe takes only an hour out of your week and you can enjoy the rewards throughout.

Healthy Apple Muffins

 

Ingredients

150g of whole-wheat flour

50g of oats

½ teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of vanilla

1 egg

75g of butter

75g of honey

2 apples grated

1 apple sliced with skins kept on

 

 

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The Cooking…

Turn the oven onto Gas Mark 5/ 180C.

Grab a cake tray and place your muffin cases into the slots.

Measure out your whole-wheat flour, baking powder, oats, cinnamon and salt and add these to a large mixing bowl. Next, cube your butter and drop this into the bowl. Using only your fingers, gently combine the butter into the flour. Once the mixture begins to resemble breadcrumbs, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add your egg. Taking your spoon, fold the dry mixture into the egg, following the figure of eight to ensure that air gets into the batter.

Next, add your grated apple, honey, vanilla essence as well as the chopped pieces of apple. Stir these into the batter carefully again, making sure that you don’t rush the mixing. When this is done, transfer your batter into the cases and slot the cakes into the oven for around 35-40 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the knife comes out clean. As the muffins cool, add a little drizzle of honey over the tops to give your cakes even more flair.

Pack into an air-tight container and the muffins should keep for a week. Enjoy as a healthy alternative ready to get you on your way in the morning.

 

Don’t Let the Weeds Bring You Down

Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re either a very neat and tidy grower or you’re a messy one like me. Yes, contrary to the professional (cough, cough) pictures, my allotment is more on the wild side than it is the Gardener’s World side. The site is big; I’ve inherited a whole batch of great plants – yet I’ve also inherited a very well-established hoard of bindweed, which is nigh-impossible to get rid of.

On a typical trip up to the allotment in mid-summer, I can often come away feeling disheartened. Even if I get on with a good bit of de-weeding, the grass stands wild and tall and the pesky weeds dominate the plots once more. In the end, I’ve come to the realisation that I should simply embrace it.

Young Growers – Don’t Give Up Over Weeds

I’m appealing particularly to my generation of young gardeners here, as it’s with first-time gardeners and growers that weeds win.

Across my youthful allotment site, I often compare younger gardener’s plots to older people’s. What I find is that, where there had been good intentions – growing a range of tasty, organic fruit and veg – what instead happens is the manured beds and cleared edges become perfect breeding sites for thick weedy growth.

Many of these people give up their plots after a short while and abandon the idea of growing their own food completely.

As a passionate advocate for growing your own food, and as someone who has his fair share of weedy worries, this makes me very sad. So, I want to tell you something:

Weeds Will Always Grow Because Nature Has More Time on Its Hands

You can’t stop weeds entirely, so move that thought aside. When you see pristine allotment plots, notice the little tuft of grass near the bed’s corner or the creeping vine – no one is perfect and no allotment is either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to improve conditions, though.

By mulching your growing beds heavily in the late autumn with leaf mold, horse or cow manure and things like newspaper or cardboard, you can kill off a lot of weeds by starving them of light. Then, when the few sprouts begin to surface, book yourself in for a weekly de-weeding session that only needs to last 10 minutes. Do a quick scan of your beds and pull a handful out here and there. By keeping this consistent (use a phone calendar if you need to) you’ll have more time to focus on your veggies.

By raising the soil up, you can also stop the weeds from spreading. The trick is to smother and starve any unwanted plants underneath. Then, once your growing beds are ready you won’t have to worry about weeds. So long as the weeds aren’t growing or creeping over any growing vegetables, just keep them a little managed.

It’s also healthy to let the grass grow. Remember that lots of wildlife relies on tall grass for coverage, pollination and much more. So you only need to give that a cut once it reaches your anywhere before your knee. If the grass is going to seed, it’ll likely spread across your beds. Don’t worry though – as long as you keep up a little bit of weeding each week and learn to embrace the messiness of nature, you’ll do just fine.

Whatever you decide to do – remember this: if the weeds are too high, don’t give up. It’s nature’s job to grow – and you just have to work with that. What’s more important is that you get something out of your garden or allotment. You know, there are even professional gardeners and veg growers out there who use weeds and permaculture to make their crops better.

 

Small Space Garden Episode 3 | Peashoots and Peas

The Small Space Garden series continues.

June is the perfect month to roll up your sleeves, pick up a trowel and start growing some quick and easy crops.

Peas are great speedy vegetables. Home-grown, their flavour is phenominally better than those cheap ones in cans, and if you’re clever you could even save a bit of money too.

In just under a week and a half, with a bit of heat, you’ll have pea seedlings poking through the soil. Very soon after potting the peas up or planting them outside, you’ll be inundated with flowers and delicious pods, ripe for picking.

Trust me, they won’t make it back to the dinner plate.

Last year, I grew just one large container’s worth of peas. There were about ten plants in total. From those ten plants, I received a constant supply of pea pods that saw me through the best part of three weeks. This just goes to show how productive peas can be, even in the smallest of spaces.

No room for a big container? Grow your peas in a small pot and harvest the growing tips instead. Use these on your salads and you can gloat about how healthy you’ve become.

Check out my video below for more information on growing peas:

Somerset Garden Day

The days are warmer, the sun is out for longer and there is plenty of fun to be had in the garden. Today is Somerset Garden Day, the first garden celebration day of its kind in the UK. Whether you’re the proud owner of a window box, a terrace or a full-blown garden, today is the day for putting your feet up and enjoying the space that you own. In celebration of the day itself, myself and fellow blogger and Incredible Edible Bristol community gardener, Man vs Allotment took time out of our busy schedules to throw a little party.

I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have many visitors to my plot. Although the plot itself is huge, it’s been under development for quite some time. However, with Somerset Garden Day dawning, it provided me with the perfect excuse to get some of my allotment neighbours and housemates over to the plot for some relaxing and unwinding.

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By allowing yourself the time to unwind in these places of nature, or by sitting in your terrace garden with friends, you really do feel the stresses of the week fall away. It’s been proven that spending time around plants and trees and nurturing your own garden helps with anxiety and depression, and as someone who suffers from the former, I can confirm that it really does work.

Not only did we take some time out to immerse ourselves in the allotment, I also learnt more about my allotment neighbours. Ross (Man vs Allotment) is famous on the site for featuring with his innovative pub-shed idea in Big Dreams, Small Spaces presented by Monty Don. Naturally, I had to see it and we wandered up to enjoy a beer and talk about a range of different plans and ideas. Through inviting people into your garden or allotment, you can exchange great new ideas and inspiration, and I came away exactly having achieved it.

What was also brilliant to see was the diversity between the five of us. My two housemates own a colourful terrace garden right in the noisy centre of Bristol. Yet, they surround the space with lots of different plants to create a tranquil space. Tim, one of my allotment neighbours who writes for a local community newspaper has just taken on his second half-plot on the site and we exchanged lots of ideas about gardening and garden writing. Ross, again, has some great ideas for using his space, growing hops over his pub-shed so that he can start making his own brew, as well as lots of other little quirks on his plot. Together, we were all a hive of different ideas and the whole day was a refreshing change from the norm.

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Across the county, let’s escape the stresses of the week and immerse ourselves in our slices of paradise. If you haven’t got enough plants, why not pick some fresh new colour, edibles and more from a local garden centre today?

Don’t forget to follow Somerset Garden Day on Twitter and on Instagram and tweet/take lot of photos of your garden spaces!

Small Space Garden | Episode 1 – Building A Small Raised Bed

I’m 27 and I have a great passion for growing food. For five years I’ve been on a journey to learn about how I can get more colour, flavour and excitement into my meals. From allotments to balconies and windowsills, I’ve grown in a variety of spaces. Now, I want to share what I’ve learnt with you.

In towns and cities, space is becoming increasingly hard to come by. If you’re interested in growing your own food, but you rent a home, you don’t have a garden or you just don’t have the hours to commit, the idea of growing your own food might seem impossible.

I have great news for you though: you only need a windowsill, a balcony or a small raised bed to grow some delicious crops. In my new series, I’m going to show you exactly how you can get the most out of growing your own food in a small space.

In the first episode of the Small Space Garden, I’m building the small raised bed that I’ll be using for the project. All you need is some thick material to keep the bed together, compost, food scraps, woodchip or dead leaves and you can turn your small or paved garden into a fresh food feast.

Check out Episode One, below:

younggroundsound – #1: Paul Matson Interview

Are you interested in gardening but don’t have the first idea about how to get started?

In my first younggroundsound podcast I talk to Paul Matson, co-creator of Sow How, about his book and about just how important growing your own food is for your health. Check it out below:

Growing your own food couldn’t be easier with Sow How. You can find more information about the book here. You can also follow Sow How on Twitter, here.

 

Setting Up A Greenhouse Without the Cost

A few weeks ago I took a risk. Indtead of following sense and investing in an expensive but reliable glass, I decided to buy myself a cheap £30 model from Wilko. Yes, that’s right. Perhaps I have gone mad if I think that I can keep a plastic sheet and frame up against the wind on my exposed allotment site. Yet, £30 is a bargain against the £250+ that I would be expecting to pay for a sturdy greenhouse or polytunnel. Even a self-build polytunnel is a lot of time, energy and money – especially if you want the plastic sheet to keep the space warm.

Even as I pressed the order button, I was doubting my own competence. Surely a cheap plastic greenhouse like the one I’d ordered wouldn’t last more than a day on a windy allotment site?

Well, three weeks on from setting up the greenhouse, I can confidently say that it’s managed to stay up. Of course, it’s still too early in the year to tell whether the model will keep up throughout the rest of the growing season. However, £30 is still a massive saving on the expensive rates needed to buy a new frame, or the time and energy and transport needed to move a “free” model from a Gumtree advertiser’s home.

What kind of magic have I used to keep something so cheap up against the torrents of wind? Read on to find out more:

Dig Your Greenhouse In

Now, by digging in I don’t mean bury it like a plant. What I mean is measure out the space needed to fit in the base and dig down to around a spade’s depth. Once you’ve set up the greenhouse, slot this into the space. The ground on all four sides will both stop the wind from getting under the frame and lifting the greenhouse up. The ground will also be pushing the sides in.

Cover the Base, Push in the Sides

Once you’ve firmly placed the greenhouse inside the space, it’s also a good idea to get some woodchip or gravel and run a layer of it over the top of the base to secure it even further.

In addition to this, you could do what I’ve done and dig two wooden crates or supports into the ground either side of the greenhouse. This will add to the structure of the frame and stop the wind from getting anywhere vulnerable.

Reinforce Those Joins

More often than not, the problem with plastic greenhouses has been the poles coming out of their joins, causing the entire frame to fall in on itself. To stop this, I’ve reinforced all of the greenhouse’s joins with strong camping tape to keep everything in place. Alternatively, you could use any kind of strong tape to keep everything together. This is an important step, because the tape will also ensure that the frame has structure.

Follow all of these steps and you should hopefully have a greenhouse that also stays up. Just to give you an idea of how windy my allotment site is, even the strongest plastic polytunnels can suffer at the hands of the harsh gales. These thrifty ideas will give you that warm and sheltered growing space to start off some healthy vegetables this year at a fraction of the cost, time and energy needed to build a greenhouse or polytunnel.