An Exciting Revolution in Homegrown Edibles

I am so excited.  While at my mums I came across some information that blows the normal gardening books out of the water.

This book is a breath of fresh air.

It has a huge range of exciting new plants, fruit and herbs that are not normally mentioned in your usual allotment books, that you can grow.

When I showed this to my sister she went and got one, then my other sister saw it when she visited and was reading it within minutes.  She now has a copy!

Who is it for?

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Why Not Grow Cucamelons? Easier and Tastier Than You Average Cucumber

Discovering Cucamelons

cucamelon pictureWhat Are Cucamelons?

The Cucamelon: The cute, tiny and tangy fruit that looks like a mini watermelon is about to take off in the UK.

Tasty and easy to grow, they are something a bit different to add to your normal allotment crop.

Photo by Poppet with a Camera 

Are they GMO?

These days you never know.

The first thing I did was do an internet search asking if Cucamelons are GMO or not.  I came up with a Daily Mail article that quite clearly says that they are not some GMO weird hybrid.  Thank goodness.

They come from central America and they are a delicacy there.  They taste like a lime and a cucumber combined.  Cucamelons are also so tiny only about the size of your average grape or the end of your finger.  Believe it or not they have also been popular since pre Columbian times.

The Nine Great Things About Cucamelons

  1. They are very easy to grow.
  2. They will grow in the UK.
  3. They do not need to be put in a greenhouse.
  4. They are fairly fast growing (2-3 months).
  5. They don’t need a lot of space and can be grown in grow bags or pots as well as your allotment. (I have seen one suggestion, that they would be great in a hanging basket)
  6. They are easy to harvest as you just wait off them to fall off the vine.
  7. They can be grown in soil, grow bags or tubs.
  8. Butterflies love the little bright yellow flowers.
  9. They are not invasive or aggressive.

Things Not So Great About Them Continue reading

First Visit Of The Year and I’m So Excited!

Yesterday was amazing on the allotment.  Although it is still early January it felt like spring.  With all the high winds I thought I’d better go and check my cloche as when when pinned down it has a tendency to go flying!

It was a beautiful Sunday morning and the sun was out.  Even though the temperatures were said to only be topping about 8C it felt much warmer than being inside.

I did a bit of pruning of raspberries and some weeding and then just sat and enjoyed the day for a bit.

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The Carrot Experiment

carrot photo2014 sees the start of the carrot experiment.

Carrots are an easy to grow root veg.  I didn’t plant them last year as I am not a huge carrot fan.  I use only a few a year.

Also carrots do not do well on these allotments and most gardeners find they are a failure year after year.  They either do not grow or they are attacked by carrot fly.

Photo by charirygirl

However a couple of things have changed.  Since putting in my beds and started crop rotation in earnest I had discovered that I am not actually growing a root veg/potato bed.  So I will have this bed empty.  Rather than that I decided to expand my growing by adding early potatoes and some carrots.  This coupled with a few salad veg will use the spare bed and keep to my 4 year crop rotation plan.

Carrot Issues

Carrots do not do well on these allotments.  Many of the experienced gardeners cannot get them to grow.  This is why I decided to give them a miss.  I wanted my first allotment year to be as much as a success a possible to stayed clear of any problem areas.

There seem to be two problem areas.  The carrots are small or do not germinate. And they have major carrot fly issues.

I have found that most seeds put directly in the ground there do not germinate or grow well so will need to find a way around this.

Possible Carrot Solutions

The carrot fly cannot or does not go about 18″ above the ground.  The standard way to protect carrots is by either raising them up or putting a barrier around them to prevent this.  Unfortunately this does not work on these allotments.  Many people try and try again to grow them with little or no success.

This year one lady was successful.  Her technique was to cover them in a tunnel of fleece with the ends sealed and pinned down for the whole time and being as fast as she could when she had to open the tunnel for any reason.

I have yet to decide whether I will try different methods or just try the last one.

 

 

 

Border Forks, Great For Small Places or Smaller Feet

Border forks are great for borders, weeding, lifting and compost.  They are also great for small places, ladies and smaller people with small feet.  I tend to use mine for all my main digging rather than a bigger fork as I find the larger forks too heavy to work with.

I would not recommend these as your main digging tool unless you are a smaller person and struggling with the larger ones.  I would say anyone with up to a size 5 (38) foot could use one of these if they wanted to.  Larger feet tend to slip off the edges.  Mine do sometimes, but feel this is a good compromise for me personally rather than struggling.

They should be the same in all ways as a larger fork but just not as heavy and wide.  Though of course these days there are stronger an lighter materials even for bigger forks.

Below are some examples of Border Forks from the low, mid and high price ranges along with what you can expect to get and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Great Value for a Budget Fork

Elements Boarder Fork Photo

This is a great tool for someone who is shorter as it is smaller and at just under 2kg which is quite light (about the weight of an average laptop).  This will make it easier to use and work your plot.

This fork has extremely good feedback for a tool in the lower end of the price range.  It is also a traditional ash wood which many people will love.

It is made of heat treated carbon steel and is epoxy coated to protect it from rust which is always important if you are getting carbon steel as opposed to steel.

What drew me to this fork is the shaft is made of ash.  I like many others love the traditional wood finish.  Also I took note of the fact is looks like the grain is fairly straight.

The handle also looks comfy and easy to grasp and well positioned for easy digging.

While it is well made and quite good value for the price I feel that it isn’t suited to the heavier clay soils and would be OK for the lighter soils.

In my view it would be better if you need something stronger to go for the mid or higher range of forks.

Spear & Jackson - Elements Border Fork

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How to Decide on What Garden Tools Are Best

garden tools photoYou don’t have to spend a fortune on getting quality garden tools.  When you are starting out you can get away with a garden fork and slowly build up from there.

It is important to get the right tools for you though and that will vary from person to person.

Photo by Pluentje

Later in other pages I will be doing specific tool reviews to give a more in depth guide on the different options.  Here are some guidelines to think about when deciding on what garden tools to get.

What to Consider If You have a Disability

People with disabilities may have different requirements that they need to consider.  For instance if you have a bad back or a muscle condition you may prefer a lighter weight tool.  Arthritic hands may be better off with hand held handles that roll with them making use much easier on the hands.  It may be that you decide to go over to Square Foot Gardening where you don’t need any large tools and it is much easier.

Spade and Forks

Tool Length

The length of you tool is important.  If you are tall you may naturally prefer a longer tool.  Shorter people may find them more difficult to use.

Overall Weight

Weight of your tools is important.  You can pick up a tool in the shops and be fine.  But consider how you would feel after using it for digging for an hour or so.

Choosing the Materials of Your Shaft

Traditionally gardening shafts were made of wood.  If you are a traditionalist there are still many companies out there that make fantastic wooden forks and spades.

Things to consider if Choosing Wood

Wood can rot and weaken over time.  Although strongly not recommended, many gardeners do leave their tools outside and naturally this will cause the wood to weaken.

Wood is often heavier than its modern counterparts.

Wooden shafts absorb any shocks you may receive well.  This helps reduce discomfort if gardening for a long time.

You can get different levels of quality in wood depending on the type of wood used and the straightness of the grain in the shaft.  With straight grains being stronger than ones that slope slightly.

Wood should be weatherproofed.

Other Material Options Stainless Steel Verses Carbon Steel

Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  With a higher carbon content carbon steel is stronger than stainless steel. While stainless steel is not as prone to rusting out as carbon steel is.  Carbon steel is more likely to be brittle as well.

Carbon steel forks are coated with a coat of epoxy resin to protect from rusting.

There are varying qualities of tools in both materials.

Polypropylene

The Tool Head

 

Single Piece of Metal Verse Welded Metal

Cost Verses Value

If like most of us you are on a budget then the cost is an important factor.  Should you get the most expensive tool on the market or get the cheapest?

My view is to always go for the best quality you can.  For your main heavy weight tools that do most of the work like spades and forks quality and durability is vital.  You may when starting out either invest less in those tools that don’t take such a beating or leave them until later.  If the best quality is simply a mid range tool then that is fine.  Just don’t go for cheap tools.  They are false economy.  They do not last and are not so comfortable to use.

 

The Varying Types of Garden Forks and Their Uses

garden fork photoWhile there are many types of garden fork that you can have most people I know tend only to have one that they used for everything. Or if they have more they are of the same type.  These are usually the Garden Fork.

Knowing each types and their uses will help you choose the best tool for you and for the job you want it for.

Photo by Annie Mole

The Varying Types of Forks for the Garden and What They Are Used For

Garden and Digging Forks The Main Fork To Have

Garden forks tend to be the main fork used in the UK.  These usually have four tines or prongs. These are what most people use for most tasks in the garden.  These are used for digging, turning and breaking up of the soil.  They are great for parts of the country that have heavy clay like where I live.  They are also often used instead of the other kinds of forks for lifting potatoes and turning of compost.

In the US they also have a digging fork which is a cleverly designed fork with wide flattish diamond shaped prongs  to make digging easier.

Border Forks The Perfect Tool for Smaller Spaces or People

These are smaller versions of the garden fork.  Again with four tines.  They are simply lighter and narrower so are better for smaller feet.  They are great for people who are smaller or find the full sized fork too heavy and wearing to use.  I use these because the full sized ones are too heavy and big for my small feet.

Some people may find they do not like the angle of their foot on the border fork and that it may slip off.  Some also find that it is not strong enough for the tougher parks in gardening and that due to it’s smaller size it takes longer to dig over the ground.

My own view is that if you are a smaller person you may find you would soon get tired of wielding a larger too so there would be no advantage to it digging a larger space.  The angle of my foot has never been a problem (size EU 38 feet) yet it would probably slip if you had larger feet.

Note:  The top two options are where I would recommend you start and invest in the best quality you can get of either of these as this and the spade are what do the most heavy work.  This will not only save money in the longer term but also make working easier and more enjoyable.

If budgets are tight then go at least for a mid range tool.

What to Look for in your Garden and Border Forks: You need strong tines that ideally are all from on piece of metal as this is stronger.  Tine width does vary.  You need a rust free or resistant metal.  The tines should glide easily through the soil.

It should be lightweight and well balanced with a comfortable easy to grip handle.  Shaft materials and length are a matter of personal choice, however a well made fork can last a lifetime and beyond if well looked after.

Lift Potatoes with a Potato Fork

There are all kinds and designs of potato forks.  These are meant only for potato lifting and not to be used to dig because they have blunt ends to prevent you putting holes in the potatoes.  Some have the same amount of tines as a normal fork however many also have more tines so the potatoes don’t fall through the gaps.

What to Look For in Your Potato Fork:  More tines will mean you easily dig up more potatoes that you might otherwise have missed.  You would also be better off with a slightly heavier steel as the fork is holding quite a lot of weight and needs to be able to lift the potatoes.  You don’t want anything that is too heavy though as you are already lifting a reasonable weight.  Also heaver tines are less prone to damage.

Pitch or Compost Forks

These are usually used for hay and straw and also for turning your compost heap over. These are quite different in look from other forks.  While they still have 4 tines they are long and slender.  They are also usually curved to hold more compost.  The tines are very sharp so they can stab the compost better.

What to look for in Your Compost Fork:  Look for quality well balanced and strong designs with longer wide set tines that hold more.

 

Last Day In November Finally Sees the Shallots Done

Although my back is still a problem it is not as bad as it was so I took advantage of this to put in my onions and shallots.  Having cycled the mile to the allotment the day before to do the onions I realised I had forgotten all about the shallots.  So I had to go back and put them in.

I am happy now as that is the onions sorted.  It was a beautiful day.  The sun was shining and while you were working not cold at all.  Due to the dry weather recently the ground was soft and not soggy.

I also managed some weeding and tidying up and putting in some more path in my new extension allotment ready for next year.

 

 

Allotment Work Halted Due to Back Trouble

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to go to my allotment due to a bad back that keeps collapsing.

This has meant that my onions and shallots are not being planted.  I did make the effort to hobble there once but by the time I arrived that was enough.  If I didn’t have to dig first I might be able to to it but the walking and the digging is too much.

It is fortunate that it has happened now and not when I needed to be there most days.

I am now behind in my winter preparations.

 

November Storms Leave Ground Soggy

My first visit in November and for a while due to having a bad back which keeps collapsing.  I know it was dodgy but I thought I would try to dig as I have onions and shallots that need planting.

I walked there with a walking stick just in case.  Unfortunately it took double the length of time to walk to the allotment than normal.  By the time I arrived I was shattered.  So I just checked everything over and picked some brussels.

My green manure is doing well in two beds but rubbish on the third one.  My brussel sprouts had mostly gone over and where more like mini cabbages than tight brussels.  I picked them anyway.  It’s not the end of the world I have more coming and can try again next year.  I will probably freeze some of the tighter ones for Christmas lunch.

Things have calmed down a lot now so not so many people are visiting as much.  I am concerned that I won’t get to do my final dig before the ground becomes completely unworkable for winter.  Still you can only do what you can do.