Something for the bees to play with
Something for the bees to play with

You could feel a sense of urgency at the allotments today as the allotmenteers took advantage of the one warm day and rushed to weed, plant out (lots of that) tidy up and take stock before cooler air sweeps in tomorrow and more rain wanders into view.

It was a productive day. I managed to clear some corners of weeds and embarked on a touch of anticide regarding a couple of unwelcome hillocks in the beds. The garlics were weeded – they look tall and strong though they are not yet ready – and I cleared under the cabbage net. This year I have made it taller so I can get underneath more easily. I am also determined to leave a me sized hole in the planting so I can get in there and weed when the plants are bigger.

The strawberries are producing fruit, though only one or two are ripe, and the apple and pear trees are full. Well, one apple is, the other has only a handful, though it was covered with blossom. It is a tree with three different apples grafted onto it, but only one variety seems to be reliable.

The plum tree had a lot of small fruit forming, but most of them have vanished. They are not on the ground, so I assume the birds have had them.

Generally, it is beginning to look a little bushier, but I would have liked a little more activity at this point.

The green houses are doing okay, but are needing more sunlight now to get warmth to some of the more stubborn seedlings.

I really don’t know what success I am going to have this year – it is looking a little fragile and the flea beetles and snails are taking their toll. We will see.


The First Strawberry
It didn’t last long

Netting time today; the strawberries have been attracting attention from the local blackbird population who have been stopping by with measuring tapes to check the growth of the fruit.

And while netting I was surprised to find just a single, swollen and ripe strawberry, ready for picking and eating. It very nearly did not make it as far as the camera, but I was strong willed and took this little photo before biting into the small, welcome morsel. And delightful it was too!

The last few days of rain have left the allotment sticky and saturated. Weeding today was unpleasant, but necessary as with more rain and sun due, the weeds would have had a growing bonanza.  A few small items have made their way onto the plant-out list, but some still need hardening off. Purple sprouting broccoli was planted out, but cucumbers, courgettes and other candidates have been transplanted into larger pots and put in the cold frame for one more week or so.

I am suffering from a lot of flea beetle and my early crop of rocket has been nibbled to uselessness; it has been lifted and put in the compost heap. The pak choi have also been chewed, but I think they are more usable.  I suspect this is going to be a problem this year.

The annual open day is at the end of the second week of June with judging the week before, so lots of allotmenteers are starting to clean up their allotments to be ready in time. Personally, I will just be happy if things grow!


Snail from Hell
Snail from Hell

So, it is not exactly cold, but with the wind buffeting my shed and the rain running down the plastic windows of my little conservatory, it did not feel like a particularly pleasant spring morning.

I have been engaged in a small battle with a beastie.  The mild, wet winter might have left us with a nice high water table, but it has also left us with some rather healthy snails – a lot of them. They have been getting everywhere, including up on the shelves in the greenhouses, and their voracious appetites have left me bereft of some important seedlings. Gone are all my aubergines and my pepper crop is looking very sad indeed. I do sprinkle snail and snug killer around, but I am not over fussy up on the shelves; this is a policy that has now changed. This morning, I threw out the shells of probably a dozen poisoned snails that had been making their way to my crops for their regular snacks.

Salad Seedlings
Salad Seedlings

Other than snail problems, things are looking relatively healthy at the moment. It has been mild, though the one frost we have had left one variety of broad bean looking a little weather beaten while the others seem much healthier. In the greenhouses I have plenty of squashes coming up and the melons and sunflowers are now popping exploratory shoots above ground level. I have risked putting a couple of seedlings out, including a few cold-frame hardened cabbages; they will be joined by some sprouts and swedes tomorrow. Thankfully I did the nets last weekend as I would not have had a hope in this wind. My sweetcorn is desperate to leave the cold frame, but if I can hang on a little longer, then this should be a good thing.

Young peaches
Young peaches

The peach trees in the greenhouse are covered with fruit, but I need to find out more about keeping the fruit on the branches; they have already dropped a handful. I probably need to feed them more than I did last year and keep them well watered, but I will do some extra research too. The grape is looking healthy and I am being really strict with limiting its growth. Last year was not good for the grape, which was a particular shame since the previous year had been bounteous.  The outdoor vine has yet to show much activity, but there are a few tentative buds.

I have made a thin bed for flowers, next to the raised beds, and that uses up some space. I have planted it with Blue Bedders and Dahlias for the moment. I am not sure what I will do in the long term. Some of my larger potted herbs, the sage and the marjoram, have now been planted out into the back of the raised beds which is an area that I have difficulty reaching. I am also growing rosemary there. This seems better use of this part of the bed which often gets neglected. A lot will change very fast now as the weather warms and the days get longer – and the amount of weeding will soon increase too. C’est la vie!

Home made arch
Home made bamboo arch

I decided to take a small batch of lenses with me today, mostly so I could do a little bit of macro photography. Thankfully it was a nice bright day since I didn’t actually think to take my tripod; a near necessity when working with macro.

The heavy duty canes that I have been using for the normal selection of bean supports have come in useful in creating an arch-for-no-particular-reason. This is a special kind of arch that supports nothing, celebrates nothing and is only vaguely in a place where you can walk beneath it; so a fair amount in common with the majority of garden arches. It is not completely without intent; I plan to grow a mixture of sweat-pea and trombone shaped squashes up it which I hope will offer some unusual decoration.

At the moment it is a little bit of a waiting game. Despite a fair amount of sun and the need to water, it is still early spring and too cold for many of my seedlings to go out into the main allotment. Some of my seedlings are being a little stubborn too – most notably my barlotto beans and some of my peppers. I have planted another batch as a back up, but hopefully this will not be needed.

Generally speaking I am slightly ahead of the game, I think, which is a first. But the next few weeks as I move from seeding to growing in the plot will really expose any weaknesses in these best planted plans!


Warming Up

Slowly and gently, the ground is getting warmer. Each night it cools a little less and each day it warms up a little more. And you can see it everywhere on the allotment and in the garden. Grass seed is germinating, peas are popping up, strawberries are blossoming and the insects and butterflies are busy doing their thing – which is generally good for the garden as long as it does not involve eating the produce!

It was a favourable twenty four degrees Celsius in my little conservatory at the shed and warmer in the greenhouses. With very little rain, a good part of my afternoon was spent treading the path between my beds and the tap, filling up a double load of watering cans to make sure my young shoots make it to good plants. Once that was complete it was on to the main intent of my visit; Canes.

I have managed to get hold of some really heavy duty canes this year from Amazon. I really recommend spending out on these as they are much thicker than your average B&Q sticks, a good 18mm diameter at the base. I bought 50, though I could have easily used more.

I have been using them where I need the greatest strength and then infilling with my lighter canes where it was less important. They look good too; being that bit thicker has definite design advantages and my wigwam for a squash or two has a strong, business like feel about it.

It is not quite time for much planting out, though I have planted out my broad beans. The other seedlings are too young and the ground still a little too chilly for them. I have some solid plastic cloches turning up next week, so that will help warm up the ground and protect the youngest – especially from the cat!

Other than that, it is mostly just watering and getting ready. The weeds haven’t got going yet and all the ground is dug, so there is little else to do. But it will all change very rapidly over the next few weeks…

The Bow Tie DuckIn a different life (yes, I am not completely consumed by cooking and allotments) I design the occasional website using a rather clever content management system called ProcessWire. The warm community that affectionately gathers around this very good bit of software often shares its latest creations; websites designed and developed for a plethora of interests from composers to artists, luxury villas to municipal sites, festivals to food.

Today, one particular site showcased by Julien Marie caught my attention; partly because of the good design but mostly because of the rather luscious looking leg of cured ham resting front and centre on the home page.

The Bow Tie Duck is a considered collection of irresistible offerings imported from choice suppliers in Europe into Manila, Philippines. It is far too easy for us in the west to assume that all peoples of the Orient only eat their own, amazing cuisine, but of course western influence in the style of the French, British and Portuguese goes back many generations and there is as much love of things European as we love their traditional offerings, albeit at an import premium possibly beyond the average salary.

“Our first job is to be the curators of your palate. We keep on travelling around the world, tasting and negotiating products for your pleasure.” A bold claim, especially from a company geographically remote from its suppliers.

But the range, while not huge, is manageable, and certainly the venture seems to be taking careful steps in introducing items that are at least familiar to both ex-pats and locals. Manila being many leagues from my home in the UK, I cannot assess its impact against the existing cosmopolitan market of the islands.

The food list is separated into three simple categories: The delicatessen is a small collection of mostly French sausages ranging from the familiar saucisson, a red label item which I assume will be something like Bastides, to the famous Morteau and a solitary Boudin.  It will be interesting to see how this range is expanded with perhaps some of the more fiery Italian Genoan salamis or perhaps the best of the Spanish hams.

The Signature foods sections is unembarrassed by any idea of low cost. Foie Gras (becoming controversial now in Europe), Plougastel Oysters (flown in from the commune in Brittany I assume and nearly as good as some of the heartier British and Irish offerings),  and of course, black truffells and caviar, are ready to bedeck the plates of those with more credit than sense.

But this is what this company is about. It is not about cheap imitations or quick food fixes, but is aimed at those that truly love those things that are otherwise so hard to find ten thousand miles from source.

The last section of the site offers a small collection of wines, all French from what I can see.  I have not been through all of these, but wines such as Château La Croix Saint Estephe 2007 retail for around £15 a bottle in the UK and Domaine de Bonserine Côte Rôtie  La Garde 2003, which is a delicious offering from the Syrah grape, sells for between £50 to £70 from a broker – so they are not weighting the list with inaccessible wines.  They are also having to compete with companies such as Manila Wines and other companies that import large quantities. Alcohol, especially wines and whisky, from Europe is much sort after and the export market is buoyant and large.

This is a company who have a small list, but are keeping it exclusive and deliver to your door – and if the service matches the expectations of the well designed web site, then they will be a contender in a very competitive market. I wish them luck, even if they are just a little out of my way!