Digging and planting early potatoes

First day of ‘heavy lifting’ in the allotment today. And it was a lovely day for it. 

I’m sharing the hire of a rotavator in mid-April, but I didn’t think my well-chitted first early potatoes (Lady Cristl and Anya) could wait that long to get in the ground. 

Three hours of weeding, digging, raking, furrowing and planting and I am a WRECK! Aching, stiff and exhausted. 

Before – the designated spud patch

After – two rows of Lady Cristl and two of Anya, ready for their muddy blankets

Though my body is crying, I’m dead pleased to have got that job done for another year!

Pick of the Week(s)

Where has it all gone wrong?? My plot seems to have so much bare earth on it still. I’m not really sure how that’s happened. I think I’m going to blame poor spring weather, over-cautious planting and a lack of potatoes to make the plot look lush!

It feels like there’s nowhere near enough time left to make this a bumper year, so I suppose I shall have to be thankful for small mercies/harvests.

I’ve also shirked on my blogging – having missed a couple of PotWs and not having nearly enough time on the allotment to have anything much to write about.

Oh woe is me!

…so to catch-up. My Picks for the past two weeks have to include potatoes. I planted only first earlies this year – Arran Pilot and Sharpe’s Express. The yield has been poor – just a few per plant – but I think that’s my fault for not manuring them at planting time…I know, I know. However, when I manage not to overcook them they are delicious, with a knob of butter melted over. Mmmmmmmm.

Today, in a quick and rainy dash up to the plot to grab a few spuds for my dinner tonight (the above picture is NOT tonight’s individual portion!!) I spied that my something-like-cavolo-nero-kale-donated-by-a-neighbour looked ready for its first harvest.

You can almost smell the health-givingness of these plants, and the intense deep dark green just screams VITAMINS! at you.

The flavour of this cut-and-come-again brassica is strong and earthy. I had it simply steamed with a few Sharpe’s and a pan-fried fillet of salmon, but these leaves could take strong flavours – I’m thinking garlic, strong cheese, or chorizo.

Next week’s Pick has absolutely got to be blackcurrants – they’re all ripe on the bushes, just looking at me accusingly like “you never have time for us anymore!”. I just need the rain to stop, and a couple of spare hours…. pleeeease

Nap-time efficiency

Miss MBaF turned 3 yesterday and I turned 3-something last week (at one point I was informed her due-date was on my birthday – but there was NO WAY I was going to be sharing!). With the palava of birthdays and a few days away, I haven’t got much gardening done for a fortnight.

Despite now being a “big girl” Miss MBaF still needs a nap some days, and I like to make the most of these halcyon afternoon hours!

So when little miss was settled in bed I grabbed my gear and headed to the allotment with a list of urgent jobs. (No need to call social services, I didn’t leave her on her own. Mr MBaF was home after a night shift.)

First was to call it quits on the early sowings of carrots, beetroot and peas that haven’t done much. I hoed-up the few shoots that had appeared and started over.

In again went carrots (Amsterdam forcing) and beetroot (Rainbow mix), and peas (Kelvedon Wonder). You may remember that Miss MBaF was ‘in charge’ of sowing the peas the first time. Whether this has anything to do with their poor germination, I wouldn’t like to say, but to be fair the mangetout she sowed/plonked is looking better.

Pathetic peas

Pathetic peas put out of their misery (not the one on the right, that’s a weed)

Next up was to get some sweet peas and climbing French beans in the ground. The former have been doing well in my coldframe, and I’ve left the lid half open for the past week, so I figure they’re sturdy enough to go out now.

Sweet peas join the cut flower patch

Sweet peas join the cut flower patch

First climbing French beans (Cobra) in the ground

First climbing French beans (Cobra) in the ground

I’m running a little trial with the beans. I forgot/didn’t get around to digging muck into the ground they were destined for. However, after the supports went up I dug a trench on one side (nearside in the picture) and filled it with manure. I couldn’t do the same on t’other side because it’s too close to the path – and hence my carefully planned (!) scientific experiment began. If I remember/can be faffed, I’ll weigh the takings from each side and report back later in the season.

Finally I earthed up my spuds (Arran Pilot and Sharpe’s Express) for the final time. I find the earthy architecture of potato ridges very pleasing for some reason – fingers crossed there are lots of tasty morsels fattening up within.

Ravishing ridges

Ravishing ridges

A bit of watering and some hoeing of weeds, and I was done. With just enough time on my way out to snap the strangely different appearance and behaviour of my purple sprouting plants. Both came as seedlings from my Dad, who sowed them from the same packet. One is rather green, tall, with long spindly stems and loose florets – and has already gone to flower. The other is deeply purple, squat, with thicker dark stems and tighter broccoli heads, and still has a few edible pickings left on it! Whatever the mix-up, I know which one I’d rather have again.

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

(And the two wierd fluffy white things in between are excuses for cauliflowers!)

(Wo)man vs machine

I needed to get the Sharpe’s Express spuds in the ground today. The chits were so chitty they had foliage!

Really really ready for the ground

Really really ready for the ground

So I was forced to grit my teeth, ignore my back, and get the potato bed dug. When I arrived at the plot, a neighbouring allotmenteer was rotavating. So naturally I took my coat off, grasped my fork, and began my own little race against the machine!

With a bit of competitive spirit I got it done in record time. My neighbour finished just before me, and had done a much bigger area without having to take his coat off. But he made a lot of noise in the process and had to whack his rotavator with a big spanner a couple of times!

So, how did the results compare? See for yourself.

The results of my labours. A bit lumpy. Gardening glove for scale

The results of my labours. A bit lumpy. Gardening glove for scale

A nice tilth on the rotavated earth

A nice tilth on the rotavated earth

It might be noisy and (relatively) expensive, but a rotavator will soon be on my Christmas list!

Chit away my beauties!

I’m a bit late to the party, but finally my spud-growing season has begun and the little blighters are chitting away on top of my kitchen cupboards (HT to Clairesallotment for the cupboard idea!).

Explainer: Chitting is the process by which you leave a potato somewhere comfy for a few weeks to grow some little shoots. We’ve all done it inadvertently in the veg drawer plenty of times. But when prepping the potato crop, most people lay out their ‘seed potatoes’ on trays somewhere light and cool (not cold) so each one can sprout healthy little protrusions.

Then you carefully plant them in the ground (more on that in a few weeks) and the sprouts grow and branch like crazy, forming brand new potatoes on the end. Some people don’t bother with the chitting process and just let it happen in the ground. To others that’s just crazy talk! I’ll probably try the no-chit method one year when I’ve left everything too late to bother.

Turns out that putting the seed potatoes out in the egg boxes I’d saved (their comfy place) is another toddler-friendly gardening job…so long as you can cope with seeing them get a bit of rough treatment.

Miss MBaF helped with this job

Miss MBaF helped with this job

I’ve gone for two first early varieties; Arran Pilot (my Dad reckons they have the best flavour) and Sharpe’s Express (because it was nearby on the shelf and the packet said you could roast them – keeping Mr MBaF happy). I’ve given them lotty space for three rows of 10ish plants, 1.5 row per variety.

I’m not growing maincrop (e.g. King Edward, Desiree, Maris Piper) this year, as explained in my planning post.

Now I just need to find some time to prepare the ground for them…

Gardening with toddler

Toddler-friendly allotment jobs

Miss MBaF announced this morning she wanted to go to the allotment.

With the UK in the midst of storms bringing high winds and heavy rain, this isn’t the ideal day for messing about on the earth. But I’m keen to instil in her a love of gardening, not least so she’ll be willing to join me on the plot when there are lots of jobs to be done later in the year.

So I thought of an easy job she could help me with: mulching the dahlias with bark chips.

NB. I planned to do this weeks ago, hey ho, it’s not been very cold yet so hopefully they’ve survived up til now.

We got suited and booted, filled a bucket with the mulch, she hopped on her trike and we set off merrily. She/we got the job done (see pic above) and I showed her the raspberries I planted yesterday, explaining that she could help me pick/eat them in the summer. As we toddled off the plot, she said “We’ve had great fun at the ‘llotment!”. Mission accomplished.

Other toddler-friendly jobs we’ve found in the allotment and garden:

harvesting potatoes. Miss MBaF loved finding spuds in the earth as I lifted the plants.
– picking strawberries. Who wouldn’t?!
filling pots with compost. She spent ages happily trowelling potting compost into plastic pots. I would keep her occupied with that in the back garden while I did my own jobs.
– sowing seeds. Choose large ones that are easier for little fingers to handle, like sweet peas, beans, radishes, sweetcorn etc.
– transplanting seedlings. Miss MBaF is a particularly careful child, so she did a surprisingly good job gently lowering seedlings into planting holes for me. Make sure you’ve got plenty of extras if your toddler is boisterous.
planting bulbs. I made the holes and she dropped them in, proudly instructing “pointy bit up, tickly bit down” as she worked. Now the daffs are poking through, it’s nice for her to start seeing the results of her work.
going to the garden centre. Not a ‘job’ as such, but larger/more commercial garden centres generally have animal-shaped garden ornaments – and a cafe – to keep little ones happy in between waiting for you to browse the seed packets. One near us even has a playground and small petting zoo!

NB. there are some health risks to be aware of with handling compost, so make sure your toddler wears gloves, do it in the fresh air, and wash their hands afterwards. The RHS has all the info and great advice.