Monday, 11 October 2010

Last of the Summer Wine...

...or vegetables to be precise! That's right; although the UK basked in radiant autumnal sunshine and warmth this weekend, the heady heights of summer's vegetable growing are now well and truly over.

I went for a morning run up to the allotment this morning before work to see if there was anything left for me to salvage before I started putting the bed to bed for the winter. I've managed to pick one last courgette, which in fairness, is now a colossal marrow, along with several green tomatoes:

Whilst I've enjoyed many successes this year on the London Vegetable Garden allotment, my large 'Pomodoro' tomatoes will not be one of them. Grown from seed on a windowsill, they have taken a long time to swell and thus have failed to ripen in time. I'm actually quite gutted, as I thought these would make a large and triumphant addition to my list of home-grown vegetables (although technically a fruit), but it seems they just weren't to be this year.

I'm going to attempt to ripen these tomatoes at home though in one last valiant attempt! I've heard that putting green tomatoes in a cardboard box with some bananas is a great way to ripen them up, as the gases given from bananas act as a natural ripening agent.

Does anyone else have any proven ripening methods? I'd appreciate your knowledge!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

September Seeds...

With September now getting chillier by the day, it's time to start clearing up the allotment and sorting out seeds for next year. My runner bean plants are still providing me with a handful of runner beans each visit, but there are many pods that have shrivelled up and turned brown and papery.

However, this is all according to plan, since these pods will now contain seeds...

Monday, 13 September 2010

On The Cusp Of Autumn...

The English gardener needs no overt sign that summer is on the wan; indeed, there exists a multitude of subtle signs indicating that the garden is now slowing down as it prepares for autumn and the long days of winter.

The vivid burst and flourish of summer activity, only weeks old in the memory, has now given way to the turning of leaves, gloomier evenings and colder mornings. Indeed, as I went for a stroll along the Thames on my lunch break today, I did so amongst a sprinkling of conkers, their polished surfaces gleaming radiantly like a waxed wooden table.

So how is the London Vegetable Garden allotment at this poignant time? A time when we are undoubtedly on the very cusp of autumn, yet still entertain the odd few days of warmth and sun?

Well, the runner beans are still cropping, but are undoubtedly on their way out. Some of the leaves are turning yellow and crinkling up, although the plants continue to produce an array of little beans, all struggling to reach maturity.

The onions have now all been harvested and dried out – indeed, the majority have even been enjoyed in cooking! The cucumber plants seem to have offered up the last of their fruits, whilst the courgette plants too seem to be succumbing to leaf mildew and look tired.

I have a few beetroots too, following the plants that arrived from Rocket Gardens. I'm looking for different ways to cook and eat these vegetables, so if anyone has any beetroot tips, please leave them as a comment on this post!

The tomatoes though, remain one last bastion of allotment action this year. Followers of the London Vegetable Garden on Facebook will no doubt have noticed that I have enjoyed a steady and abundant crop of tomatoes from the three shop-bought plants. However, my seed-grown windowsill tomatoes are finally starting to turn, with a few of the 'Tigrella' fruits now a promising orange upon my visit to the allotment this evening.

Many tomatoes have succumbed to splitting, with ants and slugs seizing the natural feast that this phenomenon naturally produces. But I still have a healthy crop of around fifteen tomato plants of differing species, all of which stand there laden with appetising fruit, just waiting to turn to glorious colour.

Hopefully I will be enjoying these fruits over the coming fortnight, before October puts paid to their progress once and for all!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Tomato Troubles!

One of the things I learnt from growing tomatoes on my balcony last year was that they need constant care and attention. I took a lot of time on my tomatoes last year, which resulted in a productive period of cropping on the London Vegetable Garden balcony!

Now that the London Vegetable Garden has moved to an allotment, my tomato growing of 2010 has been a very different experience entirely. I started off in the spring by planting some baby plants which I had purchased in the nearby garden centre. These have grown and trusses are swelling, laden with green tomatoes that are just waiting to ripen.

I have also grown tomato plants from seed back home on the windowsill. These plants were then transplanted to the London Vegetable Garden allotment when they were big enough. All in all, I have around six different varieties of tomato to enjoy this year, of which so far my girlfriend and I have been enjoying 'Golden Sweet'.

However, this year's weather has proven rather problematic for many tomato growers, including my mum and myself! The rapid changes in temperature cause the tomatoes to swell or contract, which causes many of them to split. Once they have split, they are susceptible to attack from pests, or simply drying up and decay:

Luckily, this is only affecting a handful of my tomatoes, so I still have plenty of intact fruits waiting to ripen:
I wanted to document this problem as I'm sure urban gardeners nation-wide are experiencing the same trouble with tomatoes that aren't in a greenhouse. Is anyone else in the same boat? Does anyone have any tips on how to decrease the amount of split tomatoes on the allotment?

Monday, 30 August 2010

Bank Holiday Booty!

Another weekend, another harvest! It's that time of year where allotments can quickly get overrun with produce, which is no bad thing for the urban gardener!

This August has seen plenty of rain in London, as well as plenty of muggy weather, which has been perfect for the London Vegetable Garden allotment. As stated before, getting to and from the allotment takes planning – and usually involves a 7k run! - so the fact that nature has been watering my vegetables for me has been a big help.

After spending the Bank Holiday weekend in Sussex, I thought I'd pop up this evening and see what's been happening at the allotment and collected this impressive load of booty:

As you can see, my onions have now been harvested and I shall be drying these out back at home. I'm getting good numbers of 'Golden Sweet' tomatoes, which are very tasty indeed. The rest of the tomatoes on the London Vegetable Garden are plumping up and heavy trusses are forming, which, following last years experiences, shows that it won't be long until I'm enjoying handfuls of fresh tomatoes each day!

Also, if anyone has any useful recipes involving runner beans, please do leave a comment on this post – as you can see I need lots of interesting and unusual ideas!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Edible August

This time of year often leads to inactivity on gardening blogs – the London Vegetable Garden included. Why? Well, in respect of myself, there's been holiday, busy times at work, lazy evenings walking along the river and even a rounders night thrown in.

But the main reason for inactivity on the London Vegetable Garden over the last month has been... plenty of activity on the allotment! The busy days of digging beds, sowing seeds, battling pests and constructing cane tents have now been replaced by solid vegetable growing.

Over the last few weeks, I have been jogging to the allotment a few times a week and conducting brief visits, which seem to consist solely of watering the plot (it's been very hot down in London) and harvesting the vegetables.

I am still waiting to experience my onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, but recently I have enjoyed the following:

Runner Beans

Obviously this has been so rewarding for me. Whilst I really gained a sense of excitement from managing to grow edible produce on the London Vegetable Garden balcony last year, this summer has enabled me to grow crops of a much more significant size.

I may not be harvesting anywhere near enough to avoid shopping for vegetables at Tesco, but I am managing to bring home decent amounts of produce that contribute to a meal or two.

Here are some pictures of my recent harvests – I shall update you all on the tomatoes and cucumbers when I have news!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Summer Seclusion

One of the most charming things about having an allotment next to a stream is that it provides a picturesque retreat – a secluded urban oasis that is perfect for escaping the trappings of modern life. This evening, my girlfriend and I walked up to the allotment for a quiet evening picnic; the functional purpose of plant-watering given added incentive by the thought of escaping noisy neighbours for an evening.

I may have been a little creative with these pictures, but the warm sepia reflects the feeling of a warm hazy evening, in my mind at least!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Tomato Transplant!

Stick your head outside one of the windows at my flat and you'll inevitably be treated to a constant cacophony of screeching planes on their final approach to Heathrow airport. Invasive aviation aside, popping your head outside of the window is also likely to result in a brush with all manner of plants and pots, which I have been growing from seed over the past few weeks.

Along with courgette and cucumber plants, I have been growing two different varieties of tomatoes, 'Pomodoro' Italian beefsteak and 'Lycopersicon Esculentum Tigrella' (the latter are illustrated in the photo at the top of this post), to accompany the shop-bought tomato plants up at the allotment. Many of London's converted Victorian flats have huge windowsills, which is an excellent space to utilise for growing seeds – especially in this hot weather.

Anyway, I hiked the 2 miles up to the allotment this morning intending to get my home-grown baby tomato plants bedded in. I usually run to the allotment, but was laden down with bags of tomato, cucumber and courgette plants, so a slower pace was required!

I separated the plants and proceeded to bed these into the soil, which I had previously broken up with a fork. Now, these plants look very droopy, as they had only just gone in and not been watered when the photo was taken, but hopefully they will bed in fine.

For experimentation, I have also set up a couple of tomato plants in a grow bag:

I'm keen to see which set of plants grows more productively, as the soil in the allotment is rather clay-like and I had such success with grow bags on the balcony last year. I'm not sure if it will make a huge difference, but it makes for interesting experimentation nonetheless. Tomatoes also seem to be one of the few plants that the birds are leaving alone at the moment, so I'm investing a lot of faith in these plants – and the harvest that they'll hopefully bring!


In regards to vegetable growing, the great outdoors is a hard mistress to please. The transition from balcony to allotment has undeniably been a difficult one; however the number of pitfalls, perils and pests has surpassed even my own expectations.

There's no doubt that much of this year's gardening has been a learning curve of huge magnitude; an education which has been supported by many of my new neighbours down at the allotments. Despite knowing that I am learning all the time however, the lack of actually vegetative progress has been a disappointment that's been well documented on the London Vegetable Garden blog.

Well, what a difference a few weeks make. My ongoing battles with pests have led me to attack everything from slugs to ants, when after discussions with fellow plot holders, I have managed to ascertain that pigeons are some of the worst offenders. A fortnight ago, my lettuces from Rocket Gardens looked like this:

However, Maddy (the lady whose plot I'm working on) very kindly assisted me and helped me to put some netting down over the baby plants. I was sceptical, partly as I was so disheartened, but took heed of her advice – after all, she's been gardening for years. Anyway, the netting really has worked! Slugs are still getting a couple of bites, but look at the difference the netting has made:

One of the greatest things I've learnt in recent weeks is to talk to allotment gardeners around you. They are all growing plants and vegetables in the same ecosystem, so it follows that they will all share the same problems that you are experiencing – and subsequently, have some successful solutions to share.

Anyway, the netting has been a huge success and even up at the allotment today, I noticed a few pigeons lurking around. Unfortunately, what they can't get at on my allotment, they'll find on someone else's, but hopefully my plants will now be able to re-establish themselves and everything will not be as lost as I thought it was this time a few weeks ago!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Vegetable Video Diary: June

Pigeons, ants, blackfly and slugs: there's no doubting that these are tough times down at the London Vegetable Garden allotment. Today, I took a 3-minute video showing what's been going on, what's growing and how I'm battling a plethora of pests in order to keep the organic odyssey going...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Potatoes, Potatoes, Potatoes!

By my own admission, I am a vegetable gardener with Jekyll and Hyde tendencies! That is to say, that whilst this weekend has been full of gloom, doom and disheartenment (see previous post!), this post is all about positive potato progress!

The potato plants were one of the first vegetables I planted back in April and so far, seem to be the only plant that's thriving – probably due to the fact that they are underground and out of the way of hungry pests! Anyway, various books, not to mention different allotment gardeners, have said that some very early potatoes may be ready when the plants have flowered.

Well, a few of mine had indeed flowered, so I set to digging around in the soil. This is what I started to unearth:

At last – some form of success dear readers! This was exactly the reward I needed after such a disheartening weekend and provided a much-needed smile!

Now; I'd like some advice from readers of the London Vegetable Garden please! What is the correct way to dig up potatoes? I used a spade, but in doing so, sliced a couple of hidden potatoes as I dug down into the soil. Are these simply casualties of war, or is there a method to lift all potatoes harmlessly? Advice much appreciated!

I still have a few potato plants left growing (of the early varieties), so will leave these in the ground for a few more weeks to see if these encourage a higher yield of potatoes.

Anyway, I got these potatoes home and my girlfriend and I boiled them up as part of our tea and melted a little butter on top of them. Very simple, but incredibly tasty! They were extremely soft and fluffy and one really can taste the difference between potatoes that have been dug up a few hours previously to supermarket ones that have been chilled and frozen for days at a stretch.

Disheartened Digging

There's no escaping the fact that this is the first blog post in a while. Whilst the World Cup has admittedly played its part in the lack of gardening updates, another factor is plain and simply that, for the first time in my very short gardening life, I am feeling thoroughly unmotivated and disheartened - and judging by the picture above, it's not hard to see why!

I've no doubt that every gardener has faced this feeling at some point or another. The arrival at the allotment, only to find that so many of your crops are being devoured and destroyed by pests. All of that hard work; sowing, growing, looking after, watering – all to have the plants eaten in a day by a multitude of shameless pests.

Now, I'm fully aware that I have to keep plodding on – battling pests is part and parcel of gardening and has been for centuries. This is simply my first encounter with them, having previously only enjoyed the pest-free confines of a sterile balcony.

Another issue that I think is relevant in my situation, is the distance between myself and the allotment. The journey is 2 miles, which takes 40 minutes walking at a fast pace, or 20 minutes jogging. Either way, each visit requires planning, thought and consideration and many times, I feel as if I'm lacking access to core materials.

For example, while many other allotment owners use old bits of wood to create frames; mesh for protection etc., it's often hard for me to get hold of these items and also to transport them from the flat to the allotment. It's a different kettle of fish for gardeners who either have a car, or literally live around the corner.

Nevertheless, this is my first attempt at gardening 'in the wild' so to speak. I am learning so much already, and despite being disheartened, am turning these learning curves into positives – by that, I mean that I am using my mistakes to learn how to do things better next time and also, using them to share with readers of the London Vegetable Garden!

I shall be putting together some of these tips next week, so watch this space!

Monday, 31 May 2010

Allotment Update: End of May 2010

As the sun sets on May and June ebbs in to announce the 'official' months of summer, gardeners everywhere are looking forward to a solid 3 months of predictable, dependable British weather. OK, so perhaps there is no such thing as a reliable British summer, but nevertheless, now is the busy season – and here's how things currently stand on the London Vegetable Garden allotment...

Potatoes – a lovely row of plants that will soon be covered up to encourage more potatoes to grow from the plants!

Bag potatoes – planted a few weeks after their cousins in the ground, these bag potatoes are sprouting nicely.

Onions – currently sending up shoots that are as long as my forearm!

Tomatoes – shop-bought plants starting to flower.

Pepper plants – shop-bought once again, but establishing themselves nicely in the ground.

Strawberry plant – just the one, so purely for effect (and a few strawberries for the missus), but the plant has taken nicely and is starting to form baby fruit.

Radishes – only planted last week, but up already.

Salad leaves – again, like the radishes, only in the ground a week, but up already.

Carrots – one of the allotments longest residents, and one of its infants. Feel as if I'm going to struggle to produce some crops in this bed.

Peas – 8 pea plants split from one pot – establishing very well in the ground.

Courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes and basil - seeds growing in pots at home.

Slug Solutions!

The London Vegetable Garden has been a quiet gardening blog over the past few days, chiefly due to a long visit to Yorkshire with my other half. However, posting activity has also been quiet as I've sat back and waited to see how Wednesday's 'slug defences' have fared...

Well, upon yet another Bank Holiday visit to the allotment (these have been frequent in recent weeks!), the first thing I did was to go and cast my eye over the stricken runner bean crop – and see whether Wednesday's defences had had any effect.

Upon looking at the patch and more specifically, the beer traps, I was rewarded with the very gruesome fruits of my labours:

As you can see, this is just one of the beer traps, but its result is beyond doubt. Not only has this proved to very effective in the fight against allotment antagonists, but has also shown that slugs were indeed the responsible protagonists.

So, whilst my fledgling runner bean plants will not win any prizes for appearance, they are, however, starting to grow a bit better and establish themselves.

I may have won this particular battle, but there still remains a whole summer of garden warfare to be concluded. The slug defences seem to have worked, so the ants get a reprieve – for now...

Friday, 28 May 2010

Rocket Gardens – a Fortnight Away!

More regular readers of the London Vegetable Garden blog may remember that a few months ago, I sent off for a 'Rocket Gardens' pack of baby vegetable plants. Well, this week I received an email from the Cornwall-based company stating that my baby vegetable plants would be delivered within the next 5-10 working days.

As always, all progress will be reported here, on the blog, the minute it happens, so watch this space! Once the baby vegetable plants arrive, the allotment will look a very busy place indeed!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Agony Ants

There's a famous adage that reads 'leave no stone unturned' – and I'm glad I took heed of this maxim. The other evening, I knocked over one of the many bricks that lines the London Vegetable Garden allotment plot and discovered this:

Now, my immediate reaction was one of pure guilt. For the past 2 weeks I have been cursing slugs and snails for chomping up my crops, when in actuality, these creatures are the much more likely culprits – a thought solidified as I started to observe them crawling all over my plants! My second reaction was one of pain and irritation, as I was foolish enough to kneel down and receive a couple of bites – I guess my knee is much more tastier than pea plants!

Anyway, I know have a new – and pressing – pest problem. I turned over a few more bricks and this is not the sole instance on the allotment. If you have any tried and tested tips for getting rid of ants (organic only to start with), please let me know! I'd hate for my crops and all of my efforts to be wasted by these pesky creatures.

Answers on a postcard – or even simpler, in the comments box below!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Copper, Coffee & Beer...

Armed with a bag full of copper tape, cans of bitter, plastic bottles and a steely resolve, I set off to the allotment after work last night fully geared up for urban gardening warfare. My runner beans have been taking such a battering over the past couple of weeks that I decided to raid Google and the London Vegetable Garden's various Social Media outlets for advice on dealing with my mollusc menaces.

Now, in keeping with the organic theme of my urban gardening project, I do not want to use any chemicals or slug pellets yet. With this in mind, I asked followers of the London Vegetable Garden's Twitter account for their organic remedies, to which copper tape, beer traps and coffee grounds emerged as the popular consensus – a huge thank you to everyone who helped me.

So, upon arrival at the allotment last night (a 4-mile run all round), I knelt down on the grass and started constructing plastic bottle shelters for the baby runner bean plants. I attached a ring of copper tape to each bottle top, as shown below, and then fixed these into place with bits of old bamboo cane.

Now, for those of you not au fait with the merits of copper tape (and admittedly, nor was I until I sough the advice of various gardeners), a slug's mucus (slime) reacts with copper to cause a tiny electric shock, which understandably, causes the slug to give up on its quest for your crops! Whilst this has left part of my allotment looking like an episode of Doctor Who, I'm now hopeful that this will deter any slugs from munching on my plants!

Another age-old technique for deterring slugs from your crops is to lay out beer traps. The premise is simple: attracted by the smell of the beer, slugs and snails will first seek this out, crawling into the trap and not being able to climb back out again. At least they die happy! Using a knife to cut out the bottom halves of water bottles, I sunk these into the soil so that the lip was level with the topsoil and then proceeded to fill these up with cheap beer. I used Tesco value bitter (4 cans for 97p) and hope to check back in a few days to see if I've had any visitors to my pop-up pub!

Finally, I have been collecting coffee grounds from the coffee machine at work, storing these in a plastic bag ready for the allotment. Needless to say, what with this activity, and purchasing cans of Tesco value beer in Richmond, I have been receiving some very strange looks this week! Anyway, I ringed the runner bean plot with old coffee grounds, as apparently slugs detest these too, so I'm hoping that now I have taken more than enough precautions!

Let battle commence...

P.S. Any slug solutions you have had success with would be gratefully received! Simply leave a comment on this post for all to see, join the conversation on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook or join the brand spanking new Urban Gardeners' network.

Home-Grown Heroes

Another day, another seedling update. As you all know by now, I'm growing tomatoes (2 varieties), courgettes and cucumbers from seed at home in the flat, ready to transplant to the allotment as soon as they're big enough.

It's now been 10 days since I planted the seeds and the weekend's cucumber and courgette arrivals have now been joined by both sets of tomatoes – and the basil too. I'm not sure how long it will be until these plants are big enough to plant out, but I presume it will be another few weeks yet.

Plant Press & PR!

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Isabelle Palmer over at The Balcony Gardener website for featuring me in her latest blog post. As the name suggests, The Balcony Gardener is a fantastic gardening website dedicated to everything from plants to garden furniture – everything needed to make your outside space special, whatever it's size – which is something I relate to!

Anyway, in the latest edition of The Balcony Gardener blog, Isabelle talks about my new social network site for urban gardeners, the aptly named Urban Gardeners! Have a read of the blog article by clicking here – and why not have a look around the site while you're at it – there really are some fantastic things to buy for your balcony, patio and garden!


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