What I’m Growing in 2021

The weather is just miserable and no doubt there will be more yukky stuff to come, spring can’t come soon enough and I think we’re all holding out for some better weather, a good potter around the allotment without 20 layers of clothes or a snorkel would be lovely. My seed orders have all arrived and now I can list exactly what I plan to grow, there are a lot of old favourites on the list but each year I like to grow one or two new varieties (more have snuck in somehow) and sometimes a crop I’ve never grown before. I hope you enjoy reading through my list, it’s quite long so well done if you make it to the end! 

Beetroot Boltardy, a variety that always does well for me, resistant to bolting hence the name. Deep red colour, super sweet if pulled around the size of a golf ball, lovely earthy flavour when larger. Sits happily through winter. Rather than sow beetroot direct I multi sow into cell trays, around 3 to 4 seeds per cell and plant out in clumps once the seedlings have their first set of true leaves, not only do you get more beetroot this way but they tend to stay smaller for longer due to the restricted space in which to grow. 

Beetroot Sanguina, another lovely variety with deep red colour and sweet flavour. Produces lovely leaves which are edible and useful in salads when small or cook like chard. 

Borage, pretty star-shaped blue flowers, great for pollinators and edible too. Will self seed readily.

Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia, great for autumn sowing to get an earlier crop the following year and to avoid blackfly, which doesn’t always go to plan! Mine went in a raised bed in November and are doing well under a tunnel cloche which is open to the elements at both ends. 

Brussels Sprout Bedford, a variety I haven’t grown before so I’m looking forward to seeing how this does. I didn’t choose it for the name – purely a coincidence it will be grown in Bedford, my decision was swayed by the height the plants grow to (2.5ft) which will be better for my exposed plot.

Cabbage Golden Acre (summer), I grew this variety last year and if you could picture the perfect ‘Peter Rabbit’ cabbage then this would be it. Firm ball head cabbages which are a joy to grow and beautiful to look at, a shame to cover them with butterfly netting!

Cabbage Romanov (red summer), beautiful and delicious with a long growing season. Last year I planted strong plants during late summer so no surprise they didn’t get going in time to harvest for a summer crop, however they sat well through late autumn/early winter eventually producing lovely tight heads of rich burgundy red so you could squeeze in a late crop if the weather plays ball. Very nice raw and in coleslaw.

Cabbage Traviata (savoy winter), I do love a savoy cabbage and this is a lovely one to grow, beautiful crinkly leaves which are very winter hardy. Slugs can be more of a problem to winter cabbages due to wet and cool conditions, I keep the numbers down by regularly tidying the plants, removing yellowing or very damaged outer leaves. I find wool pellets (organic and wildlife friendly) to be beneficial.

Calendula Pot Marigold, single orange flowers which are beautiful and edible. 

Carrot Mixed, a blend of purple, orange and yellow carrots – Rainbow, Red Samurai and Purple Haze F1 varieties. I’ve not grown this blend before but I have grown purple carrots which are amazing. The big kid in me chose this variety, I like the idea of not knowing the colour of the carrot I’m going to pull. 

Carrot Autumn King, maincrop carrot that I love growing every year. Big roots packed full of flavour, pull earlier for smaller carrots. This variety sits well over winter without splitting, as long as the slugs don’t find them you will still be pulling carrots into early spring. Don’t forget to thin them if you want big carrots, sow direct from March onwards if soil is not waterlogged or frozen and cover with a tunnel cloche or fleece to aid germination. Once the seedlings appear I place a barrier made of fine mesh and bamboo canes around them to prevent carrot fly damage to the roots. This stays in place till the end of the year.

Celeriac Monarch, I grew celeriac for the first time last year and I’m glad I did. Lovely flavour and delicious roasted, sits well all winter so great for late winter harvests. Seeds take a long time to germinate and need some heat to get them going.

Chard Bright Lights, I tend to grow chard for the stems which are delicious roasted, I like the young leaves in salads and give the larger ones to my chickens, beautiful colours of red, baby pink, yellow and white. Quick to bolt in hot weather, remove the flower stems as they appear at the base to keep the plants producing.

Cosmos Sensation Mixed, a favourite flower on the allotment pulling in the bees right up until a hard frost. Great for cutting and will self seed readily, shades of pink and white.

Dahlia, some mixes and dinner plates! I thought I’d never grown dahlias before but looking back through photos I found that I have but the dainty Bishop types. For my birthday last month I received some tubers and some of them are the huge dinner plate types. I’m looking forward to giving dahlias another go, any planting/growing tips would be great, please leave me a comment.

French Bean (Climbing) Cherokee Trail of Tears, a very rare bean with purple flowers and green or red tinged pods. Pods can be eaten fresh or allow them to dry for the small black beans to use when needed. Really nice bean.

Garlic Red Duke, I grow this hard neck variety every year and keep bulbs back for planting in the autumn, usually around November time. They’re doing well in a raised bed which I’m glad I did given the amount of rain we’ve had so far. Pink/red colour to the skin, white when peeled. Strong spicy flavour.

Kohl Rabi Modrava, a lovely purple variety, delicious raw and tastes just like cabbage. Does well in part shade

Kohl Rabi Olivia, a green variety that to me tastes slightly more ‘cabbagey’ than the purple type listed above. I love them grated into a coleslaw.

Larkspur Giant Imperial, cottage garden and cut flower, long flower spikes above feathery foliage. A new flower for me to try.

Leek Musselburgh, long thick stems with good winter hardiness. Sadly leeks are becoming almost impossible to grow on my allotment site due to leek moth and allium leaf miner. I won’t allow the disappointment of last years awful crop to put me off, I’ll try again but use very fine mesh to cover from time of planting out. Fingers crossed it works.

Nasturtium Salad Mix and Bloody Mary, an allotment garden favourite which pulls in beneficial insects. Flowers and leaves are edible. I grow them for the lovely flowers and as a sacrifice plant – attractive to blackfly and cabbage white butterflies which keeps numbers down on brassica and runner beans, the plants are so prolific when they get going they seem to shake off pests very well. 

Onion Bedfordshire Champion, I usually grow onions from sets but last year I gave seeds a go and now I’m hooked. Using the multi sow method in cell trays I planted out in clumps, pulling immature onions through summer as salad onions, allowing the rest to bulb up. 

Parsnip Gladiator, my favourite variety to grow. Long smooth roots some of which are huge! Sits well through winter.

Pea Jaguar, one of the best peas I’ve ever grown and so delicious I eat them like sweeties so hardly any make it to the kitchen. 

Potato (second early) Charlotte, my favourite potato to grow and eat, delicious small as a salad potato and we use the bigger ones in an air fryer cooked with the skin on and sliced into thick chips/wedges.

Potato (maincrop) King Edward, an oldie but I’ve never grown it before, I usually go for Desiree but fancied a change. I know they’re widely available in supermarkets etc but I believe the taste of a homegrown potato can’t be beaten. 

Runner Bean Polestar, my favourite runner bean variety which are stringless when on the small side. Heavy cropper. 

Squash (summer) Crookneck, I’ve been interested in this variety for a while now and finally I got my hands on some seed. Unusual knobbly yellow squash with a distinctive curved stem or ‘crooked neck’. Should be interesting!

Squash (summer) Verde Di Milano, dwarf bush courgette from Italy. Dark green fruit with bushy growth so great for small spaces, but still produces lots of fruit if regularly picked. I pick them small, lovely raw too.

Squash (winter) Rouge vif d’Etampes, French heirloom pumpkin which is my favourite to grow. Cinderella pumpkins with lovely flavour, I use them to make pumpkin and raisin cake.

rouge vif d' etampes

Squash (winter) Galeuse D’Eysines, another variety I’ve never grown is this French heirloom, fruit ripens to a shade of pink and develops a warty surface when stored. Sounds fab! 

Squash (winter) Crown Prince, I’m super excited to grow this squash as I have heard it tastes great, I can’t believe I’ve never grown it before. Blue/green coloured fruit with yellow flesh. Can’t wait to taste it.

Squash (winter) Sweet Dumpling, lovely little squash with light ribbing and green speckled stripes, attractive and easy to grow and very tasty with a nutty flavour.

Sunflower Russian Giant, Black Magic and Copper Queen, my plot is naked without a sunflower or three and these varieties are just some of my favourites. This is a great mix of single big yellow flowers we all know and love and the multi-branching burnt orange and rich purple that just keep flowering all summer. Just stunning to grow and the bees adore them too.

Sweet Corn Incredible, I really like this variety and it usually grows well for me, producing well-filled sweet cobs from late July onwards depending on planting time and weather. Will grow like stink in well fed soils, plants can reach well over 7ft. 

Tomato Sweet Success, red cherry type for greenhouse or outdoor. New variety for me, looking forward to tasting them.

Tomato Sungold, probably the sweetest tomato I’ve ever grown. Orange/yellow cherry type for greenhouse or outdoor.

Tomato Ruby, large red tomato with superb flavour, I really like this variety and usually grow it every year.

Turnip Petrowski, old variety, yellow in colour with a sweet flavour. I confess to never growing turnips before so I’m excited to give them a go.

Turnip Navet de Nancy, a very old French variety with deep purple colouring to the upper part of the root. I decided to try two different varieties of turnip to get a good feel for growing them, a nice mix of colours. 

Zinnia Forecast and Whirlygig, bold and colourful flowers that look almost tropical, need a good summer otherwise they don’t do so well, great for bees and butterflies.

Leave me a comment if you’re planning to grow something you see, keep in touch, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.

Allotments in the Snow

Snow fell on Bedfordshire today, it doesn’t snow very often here but when it does it usually settles. I couldn’t resist getting the camera out and visiting the allotment.

Snow makes everything look so fresh and bright, it makes my shed look yellow rather than cream!

The air was fresh and invigorating, and it was eerily quiet at the allotment today but I rather liked it.

Poor old frozen scarecrow

I love wandering around allotments looking at other plots, not just on my site but others too. Each plot is different in its own way and I love that, from the slightly ramshackle to the neat and tidy magazine-worthy, I find all allotments equally beautiful and inspiring. Today in the snow the plots all looked exactly the same, each one a blank canvas and magical.

I took my dog along with me for the walk, she’s 11.5 years old and starting to slow down a bit now but she had such fun racing around the community orchard, I don’t let her off lead while we walk around the allotments, not that the other plot holders mind.

After taking in the peace and serenity I made my way home, with a rather tired dog!

Allotment Chickens

Well, they’re sort of allotment chickens. Let me explain.

I don’t house my chickens on the allotment, they live in my garden for a couple of reasons. Firstly there really isn’t enough space to keep chickens on my allotment, the site is tiny compared to others with just 33 plots in total which are compact in size compared to standard plot sizes. My garden is plenty big for them to roam around quite happily with someone always at home to keep an eye on them, which takes me on to my second reason – I would worry about them too much! Our site is not secure, just a simple gate which anyone can access, the idea behind this is to allow villagers in to use the community orchard. The site is only 10 years old and I was one of the first tenants, in all that time I believe the allotments have been targeted by vandals just once, my shed at the time was damaged but nothing stolen as is usually the case with allotment crime. However, I really do worry about livestock being left unattended for large amounts of time, particularly in winter.

Even though my chickens are not housed on the allotment they do contribute and are key to keeping my soil healthy. I collect the very best brown compost material which of course is chicken manure mixed with chopped straw. Added to a compost bin this really does help to speed things along, eventually breaking everything down into nitrogen-rich compost/mulch which my brassica love me for. So as promised, let me introduce my little flock of allotment pooping machines (just to be clear my hens are currently on lockdown due to bird flu restrictions, the photos are from previous years).

First up is Tiffany, or ‘Tiff’ as I mostly call her. I got her from a local farm along with two Brahmas as growers, she’s a cross between a Buff Orpington and Gold Partridge Brahma which are two very large breeds.

Tiff is HUGE and very very LOUD!  She likes to shout about everything and lets you know when she’s laid an egg, actually she lets the whole village know. I paid just £5 for her and was told there was a slight chance of her being a he (hence the price), feather and comb sexing can still lead to mistakes but I took her anyway. I could get away with having a boy where I live, but I didn’t realise just how loud she was going to be so I’m very pleased she was sexed correctly, I dread to think how loud a male version of Tiff would’ve been!

This black Brahma is Tara, she has the same ‘father’ as Tiff. In the sunshine her feathers have the most beautiful iridescent glow, shades of green, purple and sometimes blue depending on the angle. She’s super friendly, probably the friendliest chicken I have at the moment and is quite happy to be picked up and cuddled. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to cuddle a Brahma you’ll know just how fluffy they are. Brahmas are a large breed with heavily feathered bodies and feet, just like the tiny Bantam breeds which also have feathered feet they don’t do too much damage to lawns but with Brahmas they will flatten anything in their path due to their size. Tara is actually rather quiet, unlike her half sister Tiff.

These two grey hens are hybrid layers which are crosses to create steady egg layers. The Speckledy (the darker of the two) has a lovely pattern to her feathers, bred from a Maran which are similar. Her name is Florrie and she’s a friendly little hen and very greedy, she constantly tries to steal my food and will jump up 3 feet in the air to grab a bit of sandwich from my hand. The lighter grey hen is more of a violet colour hence her name, Violet. She’s very flighty and skittish which makes her very hard to catch if needed, the only way to get her back into the coop at night is to rattle a corn bucket. I have many skills; Allotmenteer by day, Chicken Pied Piper by dusk.

edna

This lovely lady is Edna, she’s a Light Sussex hybrid. A friendly and inquisitive hen she doesn’t lay anymore but is super fun to have around with her nosey and cheeky character.

The hen at the front is Toff. Isn’t she posh! Full sister to Tara, half sister to Tiff. She’s a Gold Partridge Brahma and really is a stunning chicken. Unlike Tara she isn’t too keen on me, she’s very suspicious and watches everything I do from a distance. Oh well, you can’t win them all round.

Toff has the fluffiest chicken pants.

This old lady is Binky. She came to me as a 1 day old chick many years ago along with 3 other chicks, one of which I still have. Both are going on 7 years old which is incredible considering they were bred for a battery farm and not for longevity. Luckily, Binky and her friends never endured that life, which is why two of them are still kicking around. Binky loves to sit on my head if she gets the chance which is usually when I bend down to top the feeders up. She doesn’t mind being handled but human head perching is preferred. She lives with the Brahma-gang, on very cold nights she can be found squished in the middle of probably the fluffiest chickens in the world. She isn’t silly our Binky!

Last up is Phoebe. I took her in with Binky so she’s going on for 7 years old now. How can I describe her….. hmmm that’s a tricky one, I like her but she hasn’t been a particularly nice hen over the years. She had a nasty habit of pecking the vents of other chickens (the area under the tail from which they lay eggs and poop from), the last chicken on the receiving end of Phoebe’s cannibalistic tendencies was Binky so they are no longer housed together.

Phoebe used to go for me like a cockerel would, as she’s grown older she appears to have calmed down but she still pecks me at times. She pecked a vet so hard once she drew blood, she’s not for the faint hearted. Most people would have given up on her by now and I wouldn’t blame them, but I took her in as chick and bonded with her. So, she’s here to stay with her wickedly sharp beak and ninja moves.

Chickens are not the easiest animals to keep at times, if they were I’d have hundreds of them. I’m happy to go into more detail about chicken behaviour and care etc but that’ll be for another time. I have been a chicken keeper for around 15 years, taking in ex battery hens and dumped hens when space allowed. I actually started off with ex battery hens, so you could say I was thrown in at the deep end but I gained so much from the experience.

I’ll leave this post with a favourite photo of mine, it was used in a previous calendar by the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) for Miss October. Proud moment.

Even Rainy Days Are Allotment Days

It’s dark and uninviting outside, and according to the weather forecast the cold nip has been replaced by milder temperatures, although it still feels nippy to me. I don’t mind the cold if I’m wrapped up with plenty of layers on but the rain is back which is just miserable. Allotment mooching is out of the question today, I can’t really do much on the plot at the moment but I do love to potter around and randomly poke at the soil, wiping my muddy finger tips on my clothes then wondering how the mud got there.

Seeing as it’s pouring down I decided that I would still have an allotment day but from the comfort of my home, going through my seed stash to get organised for the growing year ahead. January is a great month to think about and make a list of the things you’d like to grow and the seeds you still need to source. The first Coronavirus lockdown last March made it tricky to get things such as seeds (due to panic buying, staff shortages/illness, rise in vegetable growing and concerns over food shortage), I usually make a list early on in the year and then take my time gathering the things I need, however I feel a bit rushed to get my seed order in earlier than I would normally and I have already made a start buying certain seeds such as parsnip, carrots and sweetcorn which are best sown from fresh seed every year. I do collect seed where I can, particularly from beans, non F1 hybrid tomatoes and flowers, but not from pumpkins and squash which can be promiscuous so you never know what you’ll end up growing! I lack the skill and time to ensure no cross pollination takes places in my pumpkin patch, I tend to grow so many varieties it gives me a headache even thinking about trying. 

So after a good sort through my seed boxes I pretty much have all that I wish to grow this year, I have plenty of usable seed left over from last year which is great and I just need to put in a very small order to a particular seed company that I like but it’s proving a bit difficult due to the volume of orders they’re currently receiving. A repeat of last year. Hopefully I will make it in time to the next open slot on their online shop before the shutter comes down. I’ve already got my seed potatoes from a local garden centre, stock is running low on them already where I live. I will write another blog post with my full list of what I plan to grow this year once I have everything in place. Ooh look at me getting all organised!

Are you experiencing problems sourcing seed or other garden-related things?

Allotment Addicts

Allotment Addicts is a discussion board (if you wish to) and photo sharing group on Flickr, created by little ol’ me. If you already upload photos to Flickr and love taking photos of your allotment, seedlings, harvests and of course the all important shed, pop along and join Allotment Addicts group and share your allotment photos with other members with the same interests.

Flickr is free to join if you fancy signing up, you might even make new friends!

http://www.flickr.com/groups/allotmentaddicts/

I look forward to seeing you there!