An Indian Summer Garden Sunday

Sunday was an action packed day full of culture and gardening. An Indian Summer Festival down Leicester’s Cultural Corner was full of dance, music, food, mhendi, exhibitions workshops and stalls. The sun was shining and everybody was happy and chatty, which made the atmosphere wonderful.

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One of the most fantastic performances was a Holi dance (which means festival of colours) whereby the dancers dressed in white with bright coloured scarfs were throwing bright colours everywhere and encouraged everyone to get involved at the end! It really was chaos. Strangers were colouring strangers, bringing everyone together as friends!

To add to the atmosphere there were tuctucs buzzing and beeping around; giving rides around the cultural quarter for a donation to charity, curry cookery demonstrations, numerous food and jewellery stalls and mhendi (my favourite). I think I might actually start doing my own mhendi, a bit of doodling practice and – boom – I can have non permanent tattoos whenever I want πŸ™‚

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We have also started harvesting the spring onions from the Urban Farm They are looking very healthy. We planted the rest of the sweetcorn out and found some space for Jenny’s red chard at the end of the patch. John told us today that we should use the three sister garden concept and plant our spare squash and peas in between. He also mentioned something about leaving the beans in the ground until next year so loads of nitrogen gets stored ready for next year!

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Very tempting large bags of compost are on sale in B and Q at the moment; we also accidentally bought a new hand fork too as our one bends at the sniff of hard ground.

All in all a very lovely Sunday.

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Charlecote Park

Last Saturday we visited the beautiful Warwickshire Charlecote Park with its Tudor house and beautiful gardens. Although it was raining heavily on the m69 as we drove there,as we parked up, the sun was shining brightly.

At the visitor reception, we all had our membership cards scanned and stickers displayed ready to go into the park. As we left the reception a lady ran out saying ‘I have a proposal for you! Please can you take a GPS device so we can monitor where you go?’ We gladly agreed, thinking that it would be great to have a look at where we had been. Every step we took from then on made us think of the valuable data that we, as a group of four, could provide as National Trust market research.

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I was looking cool with the GPS round my neck!

The gardens were beautiful although not as big as expected. The woodland garden was the most exciting. Lots of nooks and crannies; loads of little places to sit, giant fungi, foxgloves and wild woodland flowers. As the sun broke through the clouds, it gleamed through the gaps in the leaves creating the most powerful sense of light in the woodland. Below you can see how the light really enhances the texture of this fungi.

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20130629-095234.jpg A cage of twigs to protect the dahlias.

After some refreshments in the Orangery Restaurant we strolled over to see the bee keeping area and spinney and to our delight found four red pigs galloping around and playing. They were all to happy to accept a rub and tickle behind their ears and seemed to love human attention! Pigs are wonderful animals. They use so many different sounds to communicate to each other.

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Oink oink!

20130629-092229.jpg There has been a herd of deer on the grounds for centuries.

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20130629-094820.jpg The pike symbol is seen throughout the house. The symbol represents the Lucy family.

20130629-095404.jpg The house looks over the River Avon and looks absolutely stunning!

Turned out that the lady who asked me to hold the GPS didn’t know how to use the device and couldn’t show us the route after we came back which was a shame. We ended the adventure by wondering round the small National Trust Nursery and bought a Scaredy Cat plant and a bag of locally milled flour. Splendid!

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The plant that scares cats away!?

We have had trouble with cats for a while now. This year, not only have they trampled on the young salad leaves and pooed everywhere, they have been munching on our ‘Dawn to Dusk’ Nepeta Grandflora bush and we have had to protect it with a crate.

On our travels to Charlecote Park in Warwickshire the lovely little nursery was selling Coleus Caninus or ‘Scaredy Cat Variegated’ which omits a smell that is supposed to deter cats. We shall see if it works!

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20130625-212917.jpgTransplanting into a well drained ceramic pot. They are not hardy plants (coming from South Africa) so for now it’s probably best in a pot so we can put it in the greenhouse when the frost starts.

20130625-212614.jpgThe cats had already cleared a suitable area in the salad leaves for the plant to sit.

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Physalis Peruviana flower!

Finally! We have two flowers on out Physalis plant! Our lovely friend Hannah Magenta gave us her small physalis plant last year. After repotting, it grew fast and strong and now it has two beautiful yellow flowers! It is very exciting as we will hopefully get some physalis fruit!

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We have kept it indoors as it seems happy in the windowsill. Not sure if we should put it outside this summer due to the heavy showers we have been having! Please do comment if you have any tips and hints about how to grow these wonderful plants. We would love more flowers!

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Beautiful Wednesday BBQ down Lottie

Yesterday the sun came out and the air warmed up so we decided against an indoor gym session and headed down to Lottie to have a barbecue and potter around instead. As you can see from the pictures we had some lovely multigrain cobs and salad with delicious homegrown cucumber to accompany Dan’s meat and my veggie stuff. There is something wonderful about being able to spend our whole evening there to forget about the stresses of work, say hi to the plants veg and flowers and have a washing up free meal!

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The nights are long and light now, making allotment visits very productive indeed. As the food was cooking, Dan got to work on a new support for the newly transplanted tomatoes. As we have so many tomato plants, we decided to put four tomato plants in each grow bag which means that we will have to regularly feed. As we cleared a spot for the fifth bag which was outside the greenhouse, we were reminded of a sunflower that had randomly sown itself by the side of the greenhouse. Funnily enough, this rogue sunflower is stronger than the other sunflowers we have growing. The seed must have landed in the right place at the right time. It is beautiful to see flowers that have randomly popped up without us knowing. The foxgloves also decided to make their home on our patch; hopefully we will see more wild flowers in our overgrown areas!

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Dan’s Sturdy Support

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Rogue Sunflower standing strong and tall.

After weeding the squash and pumpkins, we decided that we would take some of the protective glass off the ‘A’ frame we made for them. Some were not quite strong enough to not be battered during heavy rain (like our first batch were last year) so we kept some glass over them for a bit of protection. We could feel in the air that storms were on their way. The clouds looked gloomy to the East, the sun was beautifully breaking through with the deepest orange as it was setting the west and the air was warm and humid. The weather so far this summer has been a delight to the allotment. Sun and showers; the perfect combination!

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Squash are doing well!

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Beautiful Lottie Sunset

We were very surprised to see how well the apple trees are doing. They are almost in their second year of being in the ground so we have had to think about managing the abundance of apples on the small, thin branches to ensure strong, healthy trees in the future. After consulting Clive, the Guru of Apples and fruit, we have decided to wait for a couple of weeks and see whether some of the apples drop on their own accord, or whether we should take a few off to keep some strength in the tree. If we do it right we should have a bumper crop next year! There are groups of 3-5 apples growing strong all over the trees despite the small branches, although the gala tree has grown long branches (that are actually quite strong) but has fewer apples. We are debating whether to train it into an espaliered fruit tree just for fun πŸ™‚

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Our Wednesday night down Lottie felt like a treat; probably because it was warm and light up until 10pm. It was like we had two days out of our one Wednesday and a mid week mini weekend. Our stresses of the day were soaked up in the horticultural engagement which was then reflected in our Lottie dreams that night.

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Long Peas all the way from India

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Planting out Sunday

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A very productive day down Lottie today! Planted out the stronger sweetcorns (twelve of them!), french beans, some brassica and yellow tomatoes. We now have a mostly full bed of sprouts, cauliflowers, and some curly kale and broccoli that Jenny, the allotment committee Secretary very kindly gave us! The advice has been to really squash the soil and pack it down in brassica beds to get a nice strong root. It may have pest control benefits too!

Dan and I transplanted the melons today. Really struggling to find really good advice about how to grow melons. You have to trim them and only allow a certain amount of fruit so you get a number of bigger fruits. I’ve been saving the nets that hold oranges in preparation for the support. Does anybody have any tips on how to prune melon plants?

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Yellow Tomato plants

The tiny yellow tomato seedlings that Barry three doors down gave us about a month ago are beautiful and strong. I love the smell that a tomato plant radiates as you touch it. We are growing eight of them in beaten up grow bags lying on their sides (to get a deeper bag). We then made a support out of stakes and bamboo as it can get quite windy sometimes. An impromptu mini project well done!

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Our harvest today was rhubarb, a couple of strawberries and our first cucumber; surprisingly enough I’ve found another one hiding behind the climbing frame and it is almost as big. They are doing us proud πŸ™‚

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We are so fortunate to have our little natural haven to escape the city life, play with the wonders of life, seeing nature grow, exploring and learning the land. The buttercups and clover are really attracting the bees; so nice to sit in the sun having a tea break with these helpful friends buzzing around. It’s amazing how the summer has finally kicked in, making every day different as nature evolves and our allotment grows.

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One if the many bees buzzing around.

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Growing Mung Beans and Other Sprouting Veg

We found a packet of Mung Beans in one of our local garden centres and decided to try and grow some beansprouts for a stir fry. The directions on the packet were to soak the beans overnight and then spread out on some cotton wool on a dish and cover with cling film and then newspaper to keep the light out. They sprouted fine, although after about a week they started to go mouldy.

I found a growing book (in Aldi of all places) which explained what I was doing wrong. It is important to rinse the beans every 2 days to keep them clean and moist. You also need to keep them somewhere where the air circulation is good (so don’t cover with cling film!). There was no mention of cotton wool or cloth or a dish shape. All that us needed is a jar with a mesh type lid for easy wash and draining!

Reply to this blog if you have any ideas or had any experiences sprouting and growing beansprouts! I have a feeling that it will take a few attempts with different methods to get this right!

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Summer is Here!

The allotment and Urban Farm have come on in leaps and bounds since our last blog a couple of months ago. The hotter weather after the long, cold winter has brought lots of blossom, a boom in growth and lots of pests! Read below updates on our growing produce and flowers, problems and successes we have encountered.

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Greenhouse and it’s exotic contents

The greenhouse has provided us with heat and shelter for many new seedlings. Although growing on a windowsill in the house seemed successful last year, the greenhouse has really provided strong seedlings with healthy root growth. With light all day as we have a south facing allotment, everything seems to be growing every day!

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We have built a cucumber climbing frame out of old planks of wood and some chicken wire. They are climbing quite well now, with only the need for a bit of tying to help the ‘clingers’ cling to the wire and support the heavy fruit. Yes, that is right, we now have one fat Moneymaker cucumber and many more in different sizes. We have had the greenhouse door and window open so bees and insects can freely buzz around to pollinate those beautiful yellow flowers. As Moneymakers don’t grow that big, it is best to harvest them when they are half the size of a ‘normal’ supermarket cucumber so you get the best taste. My Gran and Grandad bought us ‘The Greatest Gardening Tips in the World’ by Steve Brookes. One of the first parts I read was about cucumbers and how you can cut them in half and keep the growth side on the plant to keep it fresh. Not sure if it will work; if anybody has tried this, please let us know!

The cucumbers probably won’t grow all the way up the climbing frame; this is good as we have other ideas for the top part. We have decided to put our hand to growing melons in the greenhouse! They are so far looking very healthy and if we are lucky should provide us with 4 fruits per plant. They need a lot of attention and help with their fruit; you also need to support the fruit in netting (apparently the netting you buy oranges in is perfect). Watch this space to see how we get on! πŸ™‚

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Rest of Allotment

Everything is looking good apart from our beans, mange tout and strawberries. We will need to find some semi-organic pest control for these. Maybe a better idea would be to encourage frogs, toads, birds and hedgehogs! Our broccoli seedlings have failed again this year which is a shame. We still have time to sow some more seeds, hopefully sowing them in the greenhouse will make them strong and healthy.

The onion and garlic bed is going well, beetroot and parsnips are through and growing strong! The Rocket potatoes have flowers on them and will be ready to harvest soon; this means that we still have time to do a main crop after we have dug them out!

We bought some cauliflower plugs from the allotment sale a couple of weeks ago. They are growing surprisingly fast! Word on the allotment was to put a couple of slithers of rhubarb each side of the plug when planting will prevent club root fly later on. So far it seems to be working!

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Last Saturday in March

Saturday 30th March was a productive day down the allotment and urban farm. The weather was sunny with showers of snow. Working hard kept us warm, as the temperature did not really reach much above freezing.

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Urban Farm

We planted the blueberry bush into a bigger pot, using used ground coffee as a source of nitrogen which should hopefully mean that the soil will not need to be as acidic. In time, we will probably have to add vinegar or other organic acidy material to keep the fruit bush happy. Even though we have some small sized leeks at the allotment (they have been in over the winter), we decided to sow some more today in deep pots and use sandwich bags to cover so they have their own mini greenhouse. We find that seeds germinate quicker that way; even indoors.

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Allotment

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We met a very friendly 86 year old Ukrainian man called Pete today; we were passing his plot to find some spare bricks on a plot which has been vacated when he kindly said that he would give us some to finish off our greenhouse base. He has been on the allotment for 40 years and is still going strong! We managed to finish the greenhouse brick base in the couple of hours we were there. Putting up a greenhouse is hard work; we just hope that the second hand greenhouse has all the bits!

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We also got given some rhubarb crowns off a couple on the plot opposite Pete. We already have some young rhubarb down the bottom by the picket fence although that area is not the sunniest so we will probably have another batch in the top flower bed for a couple of years. That’s what is great about the allotment; people give and take making growing and harvesting very rewarding and cheap.

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Mid March Lottie Diary

We decided to go down to Lottie regardless of the slushy rain and had a wonderful time prepping for our new greenhouse to be built. Jim, a hardworking committee member, kindly advised us on the best way to erect a recycled greenhouse. A greenhouse which had been in his shed throughout the cold winter months.

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As our plot is on a hill, our task for the day was to level out the ground. We decided to place the greenhouse down the bottom where there is some spare space and dug through the stubborn grass. Luckily Dan was on digging form and dug out the grassroots in about an hour. The soil happens to be very good quality down the bottom of the plot; it is clear that nobody has worked that area for a few years! We therefore decided to make a pile of topsoil and put it back inside the greenhouse when it is erect. Getting the soil level was a challenge as your eye deceives you when you are on a hill!

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Hopefully next weekend the weather will be drier so we can get on with the next step which is to find some bricks and place them all around the level ground where the greenhouse is going to sit, place some scaffold planks on top of the bricks and screw the greenhouse to the planks, creating a sturdy base so the wind does not blow it over! Luckily Jim suggested that we take some spare bricks and slabs from a vacant plot a few doors down. I’ve put a ‘wanted’ advert on LeicesterFreecycle website so hopefully somebody has just knocked a wall down and wants to get rid of some bricks!

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Last week at the committee meeting there was some controversy due to the fact that some people had been helping themselves to items on vacant plots so a visit from a friendly neighbour on plot 17 to check that we had permission was to be expected. Turns out John is also a first year allotmenteer and has a wonderful plot growing a variety of veg, flowers and herbs in a complimentary fashion. He has done a lot of research on partnering different crops and plants together to ensure maximum growth and and create an organic way to deter pests. So now we have a new friend who has enhanced Dan’s inspiration for bean sculptures due to his numerous archways and fancy fences constructed with the intention to create a beautiful retreat in the summer.

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We then went home to sit by the fire and see the lads!

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