Allotment Feed

3rd Nov 2015

Today, I thought I'd treat the chickens to their first chard meal...they weren't very sure at all to start with. But of course they slowly started to get that the weird green stuff might actually be tasty. It's very rewarding watching them start to get to grips with normal chicken behaviour. The past couple of nights, two of the chickens haven't worked out that there's two snug warm hen houses to sleep in. I've found them fast asleep outside, just at the entrance to one of the houses. So they needed popping into their house to keep warm and safe.

I've also decided to keep a track of eggs and a mini record of the hens. It's a good way to track, injury, who's laying (if you can tell), what's happening at what time of the year...etc etc. This morning there was one egg. Yesterday there were they seem to be fine and settling in nicely. 


2nd Nov 2015

So this is a picture of our first egg and Little Blue. Poor Little Blue wasn't feeling too bright in this picture. She unfortunately got stuck in one of the doors on her journey from the battery farm to the rescue centre. The other hens thought it was a great game to peck her bum. As we arrived at the rescue centre, one of the volunteers was carrying her to give her a little sunshine and asked if we wanted to take her...I promptly said yes. I just figured if we were going to rescue unfortunate chickens, we may as well rehome one of the most unfortunate. I wasn't sure how many other people would want her, as she looked pretty awful.

Anyhow, as chickens are attracted to the colour red, any bleeding wound can attract attention and result in quite serious injury. The rescue workers sprayed her bum with gentian violet antiseptic her bum is blue. And she subsequently got called Little Blue.

I should also mention, she did not lay the egg in the picture. As soon as the chickens were released into their new home, one of them quickly discovered the nest boxes and kindly left a homecoming gift. 


My First Chickens are Booked!!!

I'm super excited...I've just booked to pick up my first batch of chickens. I'm going to be rehoming some ex-battery hens and will pick them up on 1st November. 

It's really good, as it gives me a little more time to get ready. I've been advised that ex-bats have never eaten layer pellets, so I need to start them on mash and move to pellets by gradually integrating them. So I have some time to get them and also, to do a few last minute tweaks to the chicken run, as I ran out of cable ties and although I'm pretty sure all the gaps are filled, I'd like to do a few final checks. I don't think I can be overly secure as it's the difference between life and death. 

One of my allotment neighbours had all their chickens killed in the first 24 hours by a fox. It wasn't a big gap in the fencing, but foxes are smaller than you imagine under all that fluff. So even small gaps need to be filled. I would be totally heartbroken if my lack of attention resulted in anything like that happening and I'm lucky enough that all of us on the site can benefit from the harsh lesson. 

Anyhow, the plan is to pick up these four ex-battery hens and let them settle in to their new home for a week or maybe two and then go to one of the farms to get some hybrid point of lay hens and maybe some bantams. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to go yet. As I've mentioned in the past, I really want some silkie bantams, but they aren't that easy to source. So the places I've looked at to get the POL hybrids don't seem to have silkies...the places that do have silkies seem overly expensive and I don't want to pay £40 for a chicken. So I'm having a bit of trouble working out the best place to go at the moment. I may end up getting a different bantam breed instead of a silkie. I quite like lavender pekins too...polish bantams are also really cool. 

I think I just need to look at the hybrid chickens and decide on the place to go for them. If I need to get the bantams elsewhere, that's fine...I had hoped to get the rest of my hens from the same place in the hope that I would only need to do one lot of introductions...but I think bringing in new hens is something that's inevitable when owing chickens. I also don't want my ex-bats to be too stressed through all the changes. But I guess we'll see how things go. I have two hen houses and an extra small run which fits inside the big run, so at least I have space to be able to separate chickens if needs be. 

Chickens here we come!!!

Finally, finally after the long wait, the chicken run is finally finished. I am soooo eggcited!!! Sorry, I just couldn't help myself. 

20151011_160840I know we have to wait a few weeks before we go and pick out our chickens, but that's okay. It's just very nice to know that everything is ready to go. 

I'm planning a trip to a place that sells lots of different kinds of chickens, as I really want some silkie bantams and some POL hybrids. My niece and nephew are coming too, as they want to pick a chicken each and name it. I have a few other people with dibs on names too. But they will have to name their chicken by photo.  I'm also toying with the idea of some ex-batts...but I'm not sure at the moment, as they only do hen rescue runs at set times during the year. I will be looking into it though, as I've heard they are really reliable layers and I want to give some chickens who've had a rough start, a nice retirement. 

Photo of the Day: 4th Oct 2015

First addition to the new celebration of getting plot 51, I saw this at the garden centre and couldn't resist. How gorgeous are the crab apples on this tree?? It's a semi-dwarf crab apple tree and should grow to about 2-3 metres tall...the crab apples grow in glorious clutters and I am really looking forward to seeing the blossom next spring. 


Something Lost and Something Found

For some time now, (in fact all this year), I've had to face the reality that having two plots at opposite ends of the allotment site just isn't working very well. The site is a really big one with over 100 full sized plots, and having two at opposite ends is decide you want to do something and realise the stuff you need is on the other plot.

Perhaps if I didn't work and I went for several hours every day, this would be less of an issue, but I tend to be on a tight schedule and it's just not working for me. Back earlier this year, I spoke to one of our site reps and asked if he'd let me know if any of the nearby plots to 67 came up for rent. There are two plots opposite which have definitely not been tended at all this year. 

The other day, I heard there was an interesting plot available. It wasn't opposite, but it wasn't far from I contacted the council to see if I could swap. Unfortunately, it was bad news...I was actually pretty disappointed, as I'd been told it was vacant and then that it had been offered to someone else. I'd already been dreaming and making plans (oh and ordering bluebell and garlic bulbs for the woodland area). Silly me...getting way way ahead of myself.

But...I always think  things happen for a reason and literally the next visit to the plot brought some welcome news. The plot opposite 67 was being given up. 

20151003_160314To cut a long story short, I am now the proud tenant of plot 51. I'm keeping 18 until the end of the year, as all the raised beds and the shed need to be moved up to 51. And that's going to take a bit of time. (and help)

I'm really excited and a little sad. 18 was my first plot, and I've tried very hard to make it work. But this year once again, I've had mixed results with the beds due to the overhanging trees. I have to carefully work out crop rotation and what will grow in shade. I can't over winter anything on 18, due to the tendency for the plot to flood in the winter. And it's at the opposite end of the site to 67. 

I have added a picture, but I'm really annoyed with myself, as I didn't get a proper one of before...I pulled out a massive pile of weeds before remembering I wanted pictures....aaaaarrrrgggghhhh!! Oh well. I have some pictures from my first day on the plot. 

So...I lost out on plot 45 (although it did get re-offered to me, but by that time I already knew about 51), I'm losing plot 18, and I'm gaining a bright and exciting future growing on plot 51. 

Trying to fill the empty beds

Yesterday I finally managed to finish planting up the beds on plot 18. I filled the last bed with some turnips, pak choi, beetroot and rainbow chard. I ended up ordering a bumper pack of plug plants to fill the spaces. They looked pretty good little plants. I decided to plant them reasonably close together, and then thin them as baby veg to give other plants more space. 

I also have some leeks and peas to plant out...but the leeks will go into the last empty bed on plot 67 and I managed to forget the pea protection, so need to wait to plant out the peas. My first set of peas (actually purple mange tout) that I planted on 67, got attacked well and truly by the marauding pigeons. I managed to find some great rolls of chicken wire in Pound Land...obviously only a £1 each. They're perfect for pea protection. I looked in B&Q for the same type of stuff and it was ridiculously expensive in comparison. 



Sorting out the onions and garlic

20150715_115929_resizedAs I mentioned, I decided to use my parents conservatory to finish drying the onions and garlic out. Thank goodness I decided to get them in, as it's rained every day since. I was going to try plaiting them...but in the end I decided I'd just trim them and put them into net storage bags instead. There are just so many and I've never plaited onions before. I would have liked to have had a go, but I just needed to get them sorted and stored and out of the conservatory before my parents get home today. 

Here's a picture of some of them on the table. The net bags were meant to be delivered today, but haven't arrived yet...and my massive marketing bag isn't big enough to hold them all, so they are all over the window sill awaiting the bags. 

I have to say I'm absolutely thrilled at the harvest. I don't think I'll have to buy onions or garlic for a very long time. In addition, I also harvested the small amount of garlic on plot hadn't really done much in terms of bulking up, but I decided to peel it all and pop it into the freezer. I was going to use it as green garlic, but there was just too much of it. 

The only thing I was a bit disappointed about was the shallot harvest. They didn't really bulk up and stayed really tiny. I will definitely give them another go next year though, as last year's were quite good. 

Plans for the fruit harvests

Over the past week or so, I've managed to harvest quite a bit of fruit and thought I'd have a go at making some jam. I have a large quantity of blackcurrants, and a few raspberries and blueberries. I just thought I'd throw them all into a jam. In addition, I needed to harvest more rhubarb (it's such a tough life, :)). I should have split the crowns during the winter, as they really need it. Unfortunately because I was so poorly, nothing I'd hope to get done from November to March ended up happening. As a result the rhubarb is massively over-crowded and needs to be harvested quite regularly. 

For the rhubarb, I first thought of making a rhubarb jam...but to be honest, I don't really eat a lot of jam. I already turned the last lot of strawberries in to a strawberry and chia seed jam. It's actually not really a jam and just involves mixing mashed strawberries together with chia seeds and honey or maple syrup or another sweeter. The chia seeds thicken it all together to get a jam like consistency. It's a raw food jam. In any case, that's only just I'm not keen on converting the rhubarb into jam as well. So in researching other things to do with rhubarb, I discovered a recipe for rhubarb cordial. Perfect!!! I love cordial and apparently rhubarb cordial is a lovely summer drink and you can also mix it with prosecco for a refreshing alcoholic drink. The recipe I found needs 1.5kg of rhubarb. I weighed my little haul and am about 200g short, so will grab another couple of stalks when I go and water today or tomorrow. Mmmmm, I am really looking forward to that cordial.  

New front bed all nicely planted, plus lots of work on the plots

20150712_161244_resizedSunday was an allotment day with a vast amount of work to do. 

Ages ago, I bought a couple of roses for the front area of the plot. A beautiful old fashioned pale pink rose, with a tight head and an odd very open purple rose.  So with the front bed finally built and ready for planting...they could finally go into their new permanent home. I also had a baby barnsley mallow to go in. But apart from that it was trip to the garden centre for two lavender varieties (a white one and purple one) and another mallow with pretty purple pink flowers. I also got some herb plants and added a couple of chive plants into the front. It looks really smart now and I'm really pleased that it's tuned out so well. I need to get going with the left-hand side now, and get that side looking just as smart. 

In addition to planting up the front bed, I cleared the old artichokes out of the two front L-shaped beds and generally tidied them up and weeded. There's a lot more space now and I planted the other herbs I'd bought into some of the spaces. Two oregano and two marjoram plants went in. There's still quite a few gaps, so I'll probably put some chard in the larger gaps. I'm also expecting the artichokes to have a second flush and they get really big. 

The goji berry bushes had their first prune. They were planted last year and had been left to rampage. A bit of research told me that they need to be tamed into an umbrella type shape. I haven't seen a single flower on them no berries yet either. Hopefully the trim will help...we'll see. 

Work also started on the chicken run too...I am super excited about getting chickens, so I think that's for another post. Oh...and as it was horrid and grey and threatening rain, all the onions were loaded into the car to finished drying in my parents conservatory - they have no idea, but luckily are away for a couple of days, so will never know. :) I also finished harvesting the blackcurrants on plot 18. There are a lot. I'm planning on making jam from them all. 

Little dinner harvest

20150707_185136_resizedTuesday evening at the allotment and this was my haul, after a bit of watering and weeding...just a nice amount for dinner...well, maybe a few too many potatoes for dinner. (I have to admit that digging up potatoes is very addictive - it's just the excitement of what you might find, how big they might be...what if there are more that you haven't found. I dig up one only to find myself digging around so much I've started on another plant by accident)

I just love being able to pop down and unearth and pluck fresh produce like this for a single meal. There's something wonderful about it. It almost feels decadent in the most wholesome of ways. And it really does give you a massive sense of achievement. 

Beetroot and my new front bed

To fill out one of new newly empty onion beds, I managed to get a tray of beetroot seedlings. In the past, I've sown my beetroot direct from seed...I know it's so easy to grow. Or some plug plants have arrived as part of a collection. But this is an empty bed emergency.

I love's one of my favourite vegetables. It didn't always used to be. I used to get beetroot in my veg boxes back before I had my allotment, and never really knew what to do with it, so it sat in the box until it looked a bit sad and I threw it out. It's amazing how growing your own encourages you to learn how to prepare and cook things, to try new recipes and find new favourites. 

Anyhow...this morning I was really keen to get the seedlings planted out. I was pretty pleased when I came to taking them out of the trays...loads and loads in each cell. I managed to plant out 96 into one of the empty beds. I've gone with quite close spacing as I will thin them as baby beets...but they are easily 10cm apart, if not more. And...out of a 12 cell tray I only used 9 cells worth of seedling so still have another 3 cells left over. I'll plant this out on plot 18 in my last remaining empty bed on that plot. 

20150707_181300_resized_1In other exciting news, on plot 67, I have a new flower bed at the front of the plot on the right hand side. My new rose bushes will go in here and I can go crazy at the garden centre to fill in the gaps with other pretty perennials. I want this is to be a low maintenance bed that provide a pretty front to the plot. Eventually I want to create another rockery style bed with alpines on the left-hand side...but that's a project for later in the year. 



Onion harvest and general plot tidying

This year/end of last year was my first year attempting onions. I had a go at shallot last year planting the set in April for an August harvest and they did pretty well. My garlic, last year was a bit of a disaster, as the plot flooded along with all my garlic bulbs.

Anyhow....not one to be defeated, I thought I'd give some garlic and onions a try on nice dry plot 67. I planted the sets and cloves last October, along with my broad beans. They sat and looked sickly for quite a while. They were buffeted by the winds and rains and I had to replant quite a few one or twice. Then about two months ago...they suddenly started to look a lot better, with a marked improvement almost daily. 

20150630_091813So last week was time to harvest them. Some of them had started collapsing and they are enormous. So they are currently drying out on the plot. At first lying on one of the empty beds, but one of my fellow allotment chums suggested using one of the unused harris panels as a drying wrack. So they've all been moved now. But here's a lovely shot of some of the harvest. . 

I wasn't really anticipating having the garlic and onion beds vacant at this point. I thought they'd be free at the end of July/ beginning of August. In addition, my broad beans were struggling with black fly and were pretty much over. So I took them all out and harvested the remaining pods.

So suddenly I have lots of empty space and nothing to plant. I managed to fit all my beans on plot 67, in the various spaces. I had set aside two beds on plot 18 for beans. So this now leaves me with the four empty onion beds and two spare beds on plot 18. So I took a trip to the garden centre(s) and managed to get some chicory raddichio, swiss chard, some beetroot seedling and fennel. I also got some more climbing french beans, sugar snap peas and more mange tout. 

Not everything is planted out yet...the beetroot and fennel seedlings are tiny are need careful transplanting. In any case, there's a lot of tidying up to do on both plots. Because of my operation last year and then this year, it was a very slow start to the year and at the last allotment inspection I got a pass, but it's still a bit of a shock that my plots wouldn't have passed otherwise. Plot 18 was a work in progress and apparently it's not cultivated to the 75%. Which surprised me, as it's a summer plot and I just hadn't finished getting everything in the beds. Plot 67 is, but would still have gotten me a "tidy up your plot" letter. I know they're not looking up to scratch, but I didn't realise they were that bad. It'd given me a bit of a shock. This autumn and winter, I will make a big effort to get everything easier to manage. Membrane and chipping down. The back of 67 needs a good sorting out and I've asked one of my site reps to let me know if one of the plots around 67 becomes available. I think if one comes up, I will move plot 18, as it's been too hard with having the plots at opposite ends of the site.  

Broad beans and burgers

20150111_111214I sowed broad beans back in November last year on plot 67 and surprise surprise they flourished. I did plant broad beans on Plot 18 in November 2013, but then the hurricanes came and destroyed the blow-away poly and plot 18 flooded, so no overwintered broad beans for me. Last year I bought a tray at the garden centre and planted them out in April. They did well, but I wanted another go at over wintering my own hand sown ones. 

I was really pleased with them. They grew about 4ft tall and were really lush. I harvested bag after bag of them. My good friend who also has a plot had her crop devastated by some beastie so I gave her a good carrier bag full too. She has has raved and raved about Yotam Ottolenghi's broad bean burgers. So I gave the recipe a go. They were pretty good, but difficult to keep together (perhaps I didn't mash the beans enough). By far the best dish I created with mine was a tomato, onion and broad bean salad served with campaillette. I basically simmered the broad beans for about 5 mins, chopped a large beefsteak tomato and half a red onion. I crushed the cooked bean a little and added the tomato and onion with olive oil, some herb de provence and salt and pepper. It was totally delicious. 

The broad beans are all over now. I did think about ordering some autumn cropping broad bean plants, but I've had my glut of them this year and there's something wonderful about eating seasonally. I'm sure I'll still have lots of other produce to get through by then. Plus I have lots of broad beans in my freezer which still need eating. 

P.S. I really wish I could have posted some pictures of the full sized plants or the dishes...unfortunately my phone malfunctioned and keep restarting over and over. I had to reset it to factory settings and lost all my photos. I couldn't even back it up as it would restart before the backup was complete....sooooo annoying and I really need to get into the habit of carry my camera around with me.