Grandpa’s Allotment

Local Grandpa and seasoned gardener Mike Morris is blogging for us about his allotment

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May 23
Triumph and disaster!

Let’s get the disasters out of the way first.

Last week there was a frost.  It only happened on one night, but it was enough.  All over the allotment estate those hopeful early potatoes were blackened.  It wasn’t enough to kill them, but yields will surely be affected – and not just in gardens and allotments.  Apparently, farmers have been caught out too.

We don’t grow potatoes on Plot 79 – we hardly ever eat them – but BUT – do you remember the yellow courgette seeds we sowed and which I wrote about back in my very first blog?

You’ve guessed it. I put out the strongest and healthiest and it succumbed to the frost.  Fortunately, I still had reserves and they are all out in the ground now. There’s no risk of frost in the forecast.  I should have been more careful. Frost in May, even in southern England happens quite often.

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That hasn’t been the only disaster.  We planted out the kale which we lovingly grew from seed.  Then we nipped home for lunch.  By the time we got back less than two hours later the pigeons had pecked the lot. Fortunately, kale is very robust and we are hopeful that it will recover.  It’s a great winter standby, giving many pickings right through to the spring.

And the triumphs?  Just look at the picture at the top – garlic, broad beans, shallots all coming on well.  If you look very carefully you can see how full of fruit our gooseberry bush is.  Jam making next month.

Got a gardening question? Mike is happy to answer any emails at mikegmorr@gmail.com 


May 17   
Compost...                                                                                        

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Compost.  I love it – love it!  We have two compost bins on the plot.  I built them out of old wooden pallets.  Now it’s time to dig one out.  I always have one building up and one getting ready.  It’s the nearest thing to magic or alchemy.  In goes kitchen waste, grass cuttings and other organic waste – and out comes rich crumbly black compost.  This lot will be spread as a mulch on the top bed among the broad beans and shallots.

Here’s my recipe for successful compost:

·      put the right combination of green and brown stuff plus a little bit of earth. turn it over occasionally to get air into it.

·      keep it damp if the weather is dry. 

·      Some people add a compost accelerator to speed things up.  I don’t bother since I am not in a rush.

·      the bigger the better.  Small compost heaps or bins don’t really work because they don’t generate the heat which makes the composting happen. For compost nerds like me, there is no greater pleasure than seeing the giant compost at Kew Gardens.  They have a special viewing platform.

Mulching is best done when the soil is wet after rain or watering.  If you want to use the compost for seed planting or potting, a nice big sieve is a useful tool.

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The other big job on the patch this weekend was planting out the seedlings we pricked into trays.  Here are ‘Little Gem’ lettuces.  It’s amazing how much root growth they have put on.  The key to seedlings is to keep them moving so they never stop growing.  This week I will be sowing a few more lettuces to plant out when these been eaten – by us, hopefully, not the slugs.

Here’s a question I got last week about foxes...

"Hi Mike, Can you help me, I've got a fox problem where every night they run riot across my vegetable patch, scuffing up the soil and uprooting my carefully planted vegetables (celery, potatoes, radishes, peas etc). Any tips on how to deter them please?"

and my answer...

"Foxes can be a real pain. We have them in the allotments. They often trot across my patch in broad daylight but so far they haven't done any damage. My last garden backed onto a railway line and it was impossible to keep them out. I tried everything. This website is pretty good at listing the options. www.upgardener.co.uk.  One thing they don't mention is spraying male pee around the edge. I used to do this and it was as effective as anything else. It tells the fox that the territory belongs to a much bigger male animal.”


I also had a comment on my blog with another great idea which doesn’t involve urine:

"Just an idea... if you have netting or similar, use that, or in my case, we ordered food delivery (Hellofresh etc) and they sent cold stuff wrapped in a sheet of sheep’s wool. I drape those over the vegetables at night. Stops frost and foxes."

Have you found anything that works with foxes? Do let us know!

Got a gardening question? Mike is happy to answer any emails at mikegmorr@gmail.com 


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May 9
It’s pricking out time on Plot 79.  I wrote about all the seeds we sowed in my first blog back in the first week of April.  Well, they have done pretty well.  

I sowed three types of lettuce.  Salad Bowl. Lakeland and Little Gem.  I tried to sow them thinly and all in only one seed tray. They went in the cold frame and I watered them carefully, so they have all come out.  I like ‘pricking out’.  You sit down comfortably with your trays full of compost in front of you.  Then, using a pencil or a plastic label, you carefully tease the seedlings apart and pop them in the new trays – roughly twelve to a tray. 

I now have 106 viable lettuce plants!  Obviously, they aren’t all going into our allotment.  Usually there’s a plant swap day at the allotments about now – but because of the lock down it isn’t happening this year.  I will probably just stick some of them on the path and invite people to take them away.

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I need to talk about parsnips. I planted a row last year, not having ever tried to grow them before.  They looked very good on top, but underneath they were developing into grotesque many-footed monsters. They tasted OK, but there was an enormous amount of waste.  Parsnips don’t like stony soil.  This year I have spent hours digging out a trench, then sifting the stones out of the soil, mixing it with sand and sticking it back in the trench. My wife Chris, who shares the allotment with me, thinks I’m bonkers.  It takes up to eight weeks.


Got a gardening question? Mike is happy to answer any emails at mikegmorr@gmail.com


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May 3
The big event on Plot 79 this week has been the appearance of asparagus.  Nothing says ‘spring is here’ like the first spears of asparagus.  They suddenly pop out of the bare asparagus bed like mushrooms. We cut the ones in the picture and steamed them and ate them with butter the same evening.  Delicious.  The queen of veggies as far as I am concerned.

But there’s a catch.  You buy your asparagus (in my case, the variety called Gijlim) as crowns, and it’s three years before you can actually start harvesting them.  

So, the first thing I did, four years ago after rooting out the brambles, was to plant asparagus.  You dig a trench, leave a mound in the middle and place the crowns with their roots across the hump.  Then put in plenty of compost, fill the trench and wait. The second year is particularly hard because the asparagus shoot do look ready – but it’s a mistake to cut them and you are rewarded with lovely thick spears in the third year.  After that, you just shove more compost on top, keep out the weeds and with luck, you will have lovely asparagus for up to 20 years.

OK. So maybe now isn’t the time to start asparagus, but Kew Gardens have a good guide to easy windowsill veg.  

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Seeds are miraculous, aren’t they?  The ones we have planted are all starting to show.  The picture shows the cold frame where we have three different varieties of lettuce in one tray, kale in another – and something quirky called ‘Kalette’.  It’s a newly invented hybrid of kale and brussels sprout.  We will see.

No sign yet of the courgettes I wrote about last time.  I think the greenhouse maybe a bit too cold these chilly nights.  I may have to bring them into the flat and stick them on a windowsill.


Got a gardening question? Please feel free to contact Mike at 
mikegmorr@gmail.com


Welcome to Plot 79!
I’m going to tell you a bit about what’s going on at our allotment – plot number 79.

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So, after the relentless rains right through to mid-March, suddenly the weather has dramatically improved, so it’s time to get sowing seeds.

Luckily, we popped down to the garden centre and bought all the seeds we need before the lockdown. If you have somewhere to grow things, you can get seeds by mail order.  Apparently, the seed companies are doing a roaring trade on-line. We have got more than usual because we can’t rely on buying young plants.  We usually cheat with quite a lot of stuff, but it seems the lockdown will last way beyond when we would need them.  The garden centres will end up having to throw lots of plants away.

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Courgettes are one plant we definitely would prefer to buy in – but hey this year it’s got to be seeds.  I filled a medium pot with compost, watered it well and put four seeds standing on their ends around the edge.  ~We only need two plants at the most, so if they all come up, I will have two to give away.  I’ve planted a variety called ‘Gold Rush’ as the name suggests, they are yellow.  I do try to plant veggies that are not easily available in supermarkets. They hate frost, so I’ve started them off in the greenhouse.

We have also sowed Swiss Chard, spinach beet, shallots, and French beans.  I will be giving progress reports as they start to show.  

As you can see from the picture above, there’s not a lot to see on the allotment yet, so here’s a pic of me at the allotment with four of my eight grandchildren, Sophie, Thomas, James and Daniel…

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For any gardening or allotment questions, please feel free to contact Mike at mikegmorr@gmail.com 


About Mike
Mike Morris lives in SW London with his wife Chris. He has three daughters and one son and is grandfather of eight children aged six months to 18 years. Mike has enjoyed gardening all his life and kept an allotment for many years. In his working life Mike was Personnel Director of the Royal Opera House and, more recently, the Chairman of the Alexandra Rose Charities whose mission is to give low-income families access to fresh fruit and vegetables in their communities through the Rose Vouchers for Fruit & Veg Project.

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