Updated Patch Plan

With a few changes happening over the last few months, as they have a tendancy to do, I’ve updated the Patch Plan, which you can view as a PDF by clicking on the image:

Acre Field 2015 02

  • The main changes are:
  • New thoughts on juicing room / workshop locations
  • Orchard planting locations updated to show recent Beeley Pippin and ‘Old Merrybower’ (a grafting from scion wood we managed to rescue from the old orchard tree that blew down in storms last winter at the farm next door)
  • Animal rotation timings and locations
  • Detailing of edible hedgerow varieties around the Acre field

Greenhouse Sowing Seeds & Brassica Update

BroccoliA grubby, wet, windy weekend meant time to head to the greenhouse. At least sowing seed trays can be done under cover!

The brassicas Jay had sown the weekend before were already showing themselves – fantastic! We’d moved them from inside to the greenhouse as they can tolerate the slightly cooler temperatures outside, inside their propogators which are, in turn, inside a greenhouse.

Today was the turn of the less cold tolerant seed:

  • Marmande  and San Marzano 2 tomatoes – an eater and a cooker, enough seeds for twelve plants each, from which we’ll pick the healthiest and strongest six each (although I can never resist and usually try and find homes for the weaker ones too, as I love tomatoes!).
  • Telegraph Improved cucumbers – enough for six of those too.
  • (Sweet) Colour Spectrum peppers – we had the pack lying around, never tried them, but don’t like wasting seeds!
  • Black Beauty aubergine – again, six of those, to fill greenhouse no.3 🙂

As all of the above are destined for greenhouses, we start them off indoors until mid May, then move them to the greenhouses once the weather is milder. At the moment they’re tiny trays of compost sat by the windows in the dining room. In six weeks time we’ll be wading through foliage to get to the dining table, and will be glad to move them to the greenhouses!

Asparagus Planting

asparagusOur asparagus bed has not really had it easy since the start. For some odd reason, I laid out two rows of asparagus, 18″ between each plant in the row, with the rows four feet apart, which I’ve since read is a bit wide. And to top it all, the bed sits in a natural slight depression, as does a lot of the allotment. With the bad rains we had a couple of years ago, when we lost our raspberries to the high water table, we also lost a few others things – cherry trees, one rhubarb plant, and half our twelve asparagus plants. So this year, with gaps obvious, and a new tighter planting formation, we added a row of Gijnlim F1 (row 2) and a row of Connover’s Collosal (row 3). We filled in the gaps of the Pacific Purple (row 1) with more plants, and started a fifth row of Gijnlim F1 on the end. Row four, which sill had four of the 6 plants surviving we’ve left alone, and once we’ev figured out where the gaps are we’ll fill those in too!

To combat the wet seasons, rather than bury the asparagus 5″ down, we’ve onl dug down a couple of inches, added a lot of compost into the soil, and then earthed them over like spuds. So they have their 5″ of depth, only raised. I”ll then construct a border around them and fill in the deeper parts until the whole bed is 3 or 4 inches higher than the ground level, giving them more of a chance in wet weather. The only issue will be the existing plants will be deeper than the rest, but we can afford to lose those six plants once the other 20-odd come into production.

When you get 10 eggs a day…

…you eat a lot of quiche, egg custards and pickled eggs! 😀

Quiche & Egg Custard Pickled Eggs and Beetroot

Second Weekend in the Patch

I swear someone has sped the Earth up – each year passes faster and faster! Last weekend we had our first day in the patch, tidying up odds and sods, ready for the year ahead. It’s always a good feeling, starting over again, with thoughts of how things will be done differently from previous years, or the same if they proved a good idea. The geese were extradited from the hay quarter, to let the grass grow! They seemed happy to be back in the big orchard, their summer home, but their attitudes are definitely taking a turn for the worst, with breeding season upon us. The orchard pruning was also completed, with large cuts covered in Arbrex, smaller cuts left to heal on their own. Mole hills are popping up as they get ready for the new year, and their hill earth we squirrelled away to top up the raised bed, as it’s great stuff! Compost bins were emptied, and seeds bought for the year ahead.

Today, I spent the morning on a late hedge cut, after first checking for any new nests. Suz and Smiler cleared away hedge cuttings from a hedge next door at the farm, which has been laid and looks amazing. Jay took on the mantle of chief seed sower, and popped the following into propagators for indoor germination.

  • Lyon (Prizetaker) leek
  • Monarch celeriac
  • Green Magic F1 hybrid broccoli
  • Golden Acre (Primo III) round summer/autumn cabbage
  • All the Year Round cauliflower
  • January King 3 (savoy) winter cabbage
  • Evesham Special brussels sprout

After a lunch which saw us prise open Smiler’s first ever jar of home-made pickled onions (they were fantastic, he made them from growing to pickling), Suz and Jay took it on themselves to clear some of the rubbish on the lane where we live, Smiler scattered chicken manure fertiliser around the various trees and bushes, whilst I rotovated the onion patch, ready for planting out the sets tomorrow. I also got carried away with de-twitching the couch grass that had worked its way into the onion patch, have I mentioned how much I loathe that stuff? We’ve a plastic field trough set aside for weeds this year, which we’ll fill with water and drop any weeds into. Over the year they’ll rot down into great fertiliser liquid and we don’t waste any of the nutrients tucked away in them.


Planting Plan 2015

As our experience grows, our Patch planting plan gets more detailed. This year we’ve expanded to three greenhouses, and it would be rude not to make use of them all. The new raised bed last year was great, especially for the carrots which were most definitely carrot-fly-free – turns out the little critters really are too lazy to fly that extra foot off the ground for dinner! However, I’ve decided to create a more accurate and detailed planting plan, including spacings, for this year. Is there any such thing as senile OCD?

So, I give you the Merrybower Patch Planting Plans for 2015…(drum roll please):

PS the grid scale is 1ft

Greenhouse No.1 Plan 2015Greenhouse No.1

This sees only two tomato varieties, both from the Franchi seed collection of Italy. Marmande is one of our favourites – an ugly beef tomato with the tastiest, juiciest flesh, wrapped in a skin so delicate you can hardly tell it’s there when biting into one! We’re also trying out a different plum tomato, for cooking with. Last year’s Roma VF were great, but these San Marzano 2 are meant to be brilliant of or passata, and I have fond memories of the smell of slowly simmering tomatoes from childhood in Naples. Pure heaven!

Greenhouse No.2 Plan 2015Greenhouse No.2

As this is the greenhouse with the potting bench in, we stick to cucumbers on the floor to the left, our tried and tested Telegraph Improved, and on the bench, once all seedlings have been transplanted outdoors, we’ll have sweet peppers (a non-descript variety as we’re using a lot of left-over seeds from last year this year), and a lot of basil, which we dry and use over the year. We’ll also pop a couple of coriander plants in too, as we have tonnes of seed from a couple of years ago!

Greenhouse No.3 Plan 2015Greenhouse No.3

This is a simple one – six Black Beauty aubergine plants. I’ve struggled for two years with aubergines, too cold I think is the biggest problem, and not enough growing space. Now they’ll have their own greenhouse, so they’d better not complain!

Raised Bed Plan 2015Raised Bed

This is essentially our outdoor salad bed. As last year, we have Royal Chantenay 3 carrots, an early variety but one we were still picking in December and they were HUGE! We’ll sow thinly between the carrot rows Sparkler 3 radish – I’m not a huge fan of radish, I can’t get excited about them, but if anyone has any suggestions please do let me know! Then we have a bed of pick and come again Appollo spinach, a bed of pick and come again Mist. di Lattughe lettuce, two rows of wild rocket and a couple of rows of traditional lettuce – Lobjoits Green Cos and Webbs Wonderful.

Main Vegetable Beds

Vegetable Beds Plan 2015Then we come to our main source of back pain and delight, a bitter sweet relationship if ever there was one.

Starting from the left we have our asparagus bed, which is seeing a small expansion in the number of plants. Of the original 12 only six remain – the wet winter a couple of years ago killed some off. This year we’re building the soil level up and raising four ridges, similar to potato ridges. We’re then getting 36 plants in, spaced tighter but within recommended distances. Then we have our sunflowers – Giant Single this year, although I suspect we’ll have some self-setters from seed dropped over winter by clumsy birds! Then we have French Bonita mixed Marigolds, once matured we’ll plant these around th the allotment as companion plants. And finally we have Nasturtiums – I haven’t bothered buying any as these definitely self-seed!

Our squash/root bed sees some old and new friends this year. Incredible F1 sweetcorn has proved reliable over a few years now so deserves to be in there. As do the Butternut Rugosa and Tonda Padana, a butternut and winter squash from the he Franchi range. We finished the stored Rugosa two weeks ago, early March, and we still have one more Tonda Padana on the shelf! We’re not bothering with traditional pumpkins this year as two years on the trot have been disastrous. Instead, once again we turn to the Franchi range for some Berrettia Piacentina winter squash – lovely blue/green squash with an orange flesh. Two types of courgette this year, from the same range; the UFO-shaped Custard White and the dark Nero di Milano. I like the Franchi range as they’re heritage varieties with some fantastic flavours. Finally, the roots are old friends – Flyaway carrots, Hollow Crown parsnips (old variety with a lot of of taste), and Boltardy beetroot.

The main contingent of the allium bed are Stur BC onions, a good storer. Then we have Karmen red onions, another decent storer, Picasso shallots for pickling, Christo garlic, which we haven’t tried before, and White Lisbon spring onions. For variety we have one row divided between Groene Pascal celery, Monarch celeriac and Helenor swedes. Lastly, one row of Lyon Prizetaker leeks.

The spud patch is easy and simple this year – 1st earlies are Swift, the earliest variety. 2nd earlies are Charlotte, lovely waxy texture. Main crops are King Edwards, and Valour, the latter being a great all rounder boiler, masher, roaster, baker.

The legume patch – we’ve decided we quite like any plant that grows to meet your hands, rather than make you bend to pick it! To this end we have two wigwams a each of Enorma runner beans, and do Sultana climbing French beans.  For the broadbeans we have the familiar Masterpiece Green Longpod, and peas we have two rows of Kelvedon Wonder, an early sweet variety, and one row of Onward main crop.

Finally the brassicas. Funky pointy Romanesco Precoce winter/spring cauliflowers, reliable All the Year Round summer cauliflowers, Green Magic F1 broccolli, Evesham Special brussels sprout, January King 3 winter savoy cabbage, Golden Acre Primo III summer/autumn cabbage and Offenham 2 – Flower of Spring spring cabbage.

That’s about it! We just have to plant them now!

Formative Pruning – 4 Years On

A quick look at how some of the apple and pear trees are looking in the little (bush) orchard after four years of formative pruning.


Planting a Beeley Pippin

Typically the middle weekend of March is the first day we tend to end up down the patch. Nothing to do with any archaic tradition, or bizarre need to get down and dirty with the soil after being shacked up inside over winter. Just that things need doing for the year ahead, and it’s barely warm enough to get outside and do them! The year before last year the geese took it on themselves to nibble a neat, goose-head-high ring of bark (ring bark) from the Beeley Pippin in the big orchard, on MM111 rootstock. Once the layer of bark has been removed from a tree, from every side, the nutrients from the roots can’t flow up to the branches, and the tree dies. Luckily for us it happened in the late summer, and there was enough strength in the branches to keep the tree alive until it entered its winter dormancy period. We pulled it up, but first saved some scions from the healthiest branches, and grafted them. Today was the day we introduced one of the graftings back into the orchard, in the corner furthest from the geese as you can get, for its own sanity. A neat 3′ wide hole, a scattering of blood and bone, and a home made hare guard made from 6mm weld mesh all helped it settle in.

Suz in CompostSuz on the other hand must have taken the idea of getting down and dirty with the soil literally, and can be seen standing inside a compost bin. I hasten to add, nothing at all to do with the fact it needed emptying into the adjacent raised bed, and as you can see, the compost bin is rotated 90 degrees to all the others in the line, with the pull out side facing another compost bin rather than side-on, meaning only Mr Tickle could have emptied it whilst standing outside! Oops.