Gardening Advice from Olga

Making Weed Tea

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

At this time of year the annual struggle against perennial weeds – dandelions, bindweed, mares tail,  dock….  is really getting going.  What to do with the weeds?  One cannot put them directy into the compost heap because the roots do not decompose in a home composting environment, so they will propagate themselves with great enthusiasm.  An alternative is to bag them and chuck them into your LA’s green waste  heap (assuming it exists) but an even better alternative is to use them to make  free organic liquid fertilizer – otherwise known as Weed Tea.

Perennial weeds, especially those with very deep roots such as dandelions, dock and creeping buttercup, have mined valuable minerals and other vital nutrients from the soil and store the nutrients in their roots and leaves. When you pull up these weeds and simply throw them out, you toss out the minerals and nutrients as well. Turning the weeds into liquid fertilizer returns the nutrients to the soil. It is recycling at its best.  After the process is complete the roots will be drowned and unable to propagate so you can safely add them to your regular compost heap.  The process is quite smelly, so you will not want to do it in a small back garden, but hidden away at the bottom of your plot,  it will simply add a rich agricultural atmosphere.

Turning weeds into liquid fertilizer is rather easy but does take time:

  •  First collect a reasonable pile of perennial weeds removing as much soil as possible – a couple of pounds at least.
  • Get a large bucket or other container with a lid and line it with a permeable bag (e.g.hessian sack or old onion set/bulb bag). Tie the bag to the lid or handle of the container.
  • Put the pile of weeds (including both roots and leaves)  in the bag in the bucket. Add  about 8 cups of water in the bucket for every pound of weeds; the water should cover the weeds in the bottom of the sack. Cover the bucket with a tight-fitting lid. Leave the bucket for 6 to 8 weeks. This should ensure the perennial roots are not able to create new growth at the end of the process.  Stir it every week or so. But be forewarned—the fermentation process can be aromatic! Try not to get any of this concentrated concoction on your hands or clothes; it will stain.
  • Remove the bag, the liquid is what you will want to use on your plot; the solid mass of fermented weeds may be added to a fresh compost heap. After you have removed the sack and you are left only with liquid, the weed tea is done.
  •  Dilute  before using, at the rate of 1 part weed tea to 10 parts water. Then pour it on the soil at the base of your plants. To use it as a fertilizing foliar spray, dilute it until the colour of the liquid is like a weak tea. You can also pour it on the base of your vegetable plants, but don’t spray it on the vegetables that are ready to be harvested.

People have been gardening for thousands of years, and did not always have manufactured fertilizers available for purchase. They used what they had available—including weeds— and made their own fertilizer. Making liquid fertilizer from weeds is a back-to-basics way of returning the nutrients in weeds to the soil and avoids increasing waste going to landfill. What could be easier?

August

Friday, August 15th, 2014

If you are on holiday this month, it’s worth asking a friend or a neighbouring plot holder to keep an eye on your patch, as no doubt everything will come into season all at once. It’s important to keep picking.

Harvesting

Continue harvesting of all vegetable crops.  Particularly keep up with the picking of runner beans to maintain cropping well into the autumn.  Continue lifting potatoes. Prepare to lift onions towards the end of the month. Wait until the tops begin to fall over as this indicates that the bulb has stopped swelling. Dry them before stringing and putting into store. The bulbs should then keep until next March.  Start  to thin apples and pears down to one or two fruits per cluster. The apples and pears will soon begin to colour up. Plums and damsons will be in full flow so harvest regularly.

General

The end of this month signals the time to begin summer pruning any apples and pears which are grown as cordons, espaliers or fan.  Leave trees and bushes until the winter to prune.  Start with with pears and then move on to apples. The purpose of summer pruning is to encourage the development of fruit buds for next summer. August is definitely the last month to prune stone fruit trees  (plum, apricot, cherry and peach).  Complete the task as soon as possible. You want to aim for an open structurce of branches and remove any that cross over so they don”t damage each other.

Pest and Diseases

Blossom end rot can affect aubergines and tomatoes causing black sunken blotches on the skin of the fruit. Usually due to lack of calcium, the disease can be stemmed by amending your watering habits to ensure the calcicum found in the soil is fed through the water to the plant.  So water regularly and dont allow the soil to dry out. Discard any damaged fruit.

July

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

July is usually one of the driest months so watering can be essential. To help with this, hoe regularly to break up the soil and remove weeds, water in the cool of morning or evening.

Harvest

onionsForHarvestingKeep up with harvesting of all crops because the alloment is now in full production. Lift early potatoes and carry on earthing up the rows.  Harvest garlic and shallots when the foliage begins to become yellow and strawlike. Pick the first of the early tomatoes.  July is the start of the globe artichoke season.  If your plant is into its second year  cut off the bud once it is big and swollen with some stalk attached. Lift autumn planted onions for immedate use.  Continue to pick rhubarb untill the end of the month and begin to harvest the main crop of strawberries. Start to pick plums, early pear and apples.

Sowing and Planting

RipeRedCurrantsNettedStart sowing the seeds of the over wintering crops of kale, spring cabbage, radicchio, chicory, spinach beet and hardy type of onion to mature in early summer of next year.  Now is the best time to sow the carrots to avoid attack from root fly. Continue with successional sowing of beetroot and lettuce. Plant out the last of your marrow, pumpkins, squashes, over wintering cabbages and leeks.  Cover with netting to help protect them from birds.

Pests and diseases

This is start of potato blight season, and if the weather is wet and humid in July then your crop is at risk from the blight. These should be sprayed from June onwards if a wet July is predicted ( crop rotation the following year is advisable). An infected plant will have a watery rot on the leaves, causing them to collapse – the infected matter should be binned or burned and not placed into your compost, as this will not kill the disease and it will re-occur the following year. The main pests are aphids, cabbage while butterfly caterpillars and pea moth, spray to control the aphids and pea moth with insecticidal soap bought from a garden centre .

This is May

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Herbs in MayWe look foward to May as the first month of summer but actually it marks the end of spring. In fact May can be a complete disaster month, bringing damaging frost, cold wind and heavy rain or hail.  So be prepared to take steps to protect plants if it is necessary.

Harvest

Sprouting broccoli, cabbage, spinach, rhubarb, spring onion, early sown lettuce, beetroot, radish and peas. Cut asparagus regularly to maintain the supply. Start removing the side shoots on tomatoes.  Use up the last of the leeks.  Clear away any old or finished crops, dig over the soil and prepare the site ready for the next crop.

Sowing and Planting

Golden Zucchini

Golden Zucchini in pots

Sow dwarf and climbing french beans, runner beans, sweet corn, outdoor cucumbers, courgettes, pumpkins, squashes in pots or trays under glass.  All these can be planted out next month.

Continue making  successional sowings directly in the soil of lettuce, radish, spinach, turnips, ( switch to kohl rabi when the weather becomes hot) beetroot for summer use and also maincrop beetroot to put into store at end of the summer.  Meanwhile the leeks, brussel sprouts and french beans sown last month under glass, can be planted out.  This is also your last opportunity to sow peas and parsnip this year.

General

Thin out  the seedlings of beetroot, carrots, lettuce, onions, parsnips, turnips whilst they are still very small.  Always water along the row to settle the disturbed seedlings back in, once the job is completed.  Put up poles for runner and climbing french beans. Support peas and broad beans before they become too tall. Start to earth up potatoes especially if a frost is forecast.  Put some straw, if you can get it, underneath the developing strawberry fruit to keep them off the soil and try to avoid watering overhead to reduce any problems with mildew.

Pest and Diseases

Look out for blackfly on broad beans, greenfly on peas, lettuce, cabbage root fly, carrot fly, thrip damage on brassicas especially when the plants are small.  Spray the affected plants with soapy water (diluted washing up liquid) or squash the flies with your thumb and finger. You can buy insecticides if you prefer, including a fatty acid soap on plants.

April

Monday, April 21st, 2014

April is the  ‘lets go for it’ month on the alloment.  But proceed with caution.  With luck  we will all be feeling the benefit of  lengthening days and warm sunshine.  Even so there can be a price to pay, with the threat of hard night frosts never far away. Hold back and wait a day or two rather take a risk.  It isn’t so much the loss of seedlings or young plants that does the damage but the loss of your precious time that you will never get back.  The allotment will always catch up eventually and reward your patience with a bumper harvest.

Sowing and planting

Onion SetsContinue  planting out seed pototoes.  Aim to complete the job by the end of April.  Be prepared to cover the emerging shoots of first earlies with soil if a frost is forecast.  Complete the planting of onion sets and carry on making successional sowing of beetroot, carrots, parsnips, lettuce, spinach, spring onions, kohl rahi, radish, turnips, early peas, swiss chard.

Prepare a seed bed and sow the seed leeks and summer cabbage.  Plant out celeriac grown on earlier.  Sow under glass, in pots and trays filled with fresh seed compost, the seed of runner beans, sweetcorn, courgettes, pumpkin, squashes, outdoor/ridge cucumber.

Now is the time to plant up a new asparagus bed.  Remember it will take two more years to establish before producing succulent shoots.

General

Early sowings of brussel sprouts will need thinning  this month and the soil for next months transplanting of sweetcorn, courgettes, marrows,pumpkins and outdoor/ ridge cucumbers will need preparing. Put up the runner beans poles and start to support the growing peas with brushwood or netting.

Prepare seed beds for outdoor sowing of main crop vegetables next month.

Pest and diseases

Check over top and soft fruit for the first signs of aphids and take appropriate action.  Spray the plants with soapy water (diluted washing up liquid) or squash the flies with your thumb and finger. You can buy a fatty acid soap to spray on the plants.  Protect any early strawberries with netting to keep birds and squirrels out.

March is here

Saturday, March 15th, 2014
Chives

Chives and tulips

Hopefully by now we are standing on the threshold of spring and the new gardening season. The days are beginning to lengthen and although it may not feel like it, the temperature is increasing day by day.  More importantly the longer days are trigger to new growth and you will find that with the help of little protection you can really go for those early sowings.

Sowing and Planting

Plant out first early potatoes as soon as possible and follow on planting out at regular intervals with the second earlies and first maincrops until the end of the month.  A little bit of forward planning: don’t be tempted to plant out more potatoes than you can protect from frosty weather futher down the line.

Transplant any early peas, beans, cabbages or lettuce you may have started off earlier. Sow the seed of brussels sprouts, summer cabbage, broccoli, onions and leeks in short rows on a nursery bed.  These will be grown on to be transplanted in April.

Rhubarb could use a top dressing too

Rhubarb could use a top dressing

Plant out onion sets, shallots and garlic before they start to produce shoots. If you are buying any from the site shed or garden centre reject any that are shooting. They will only bolt during the summer. Transplant any onions that were grown from seed sown last summer in rows. It is best to treat these as a sacrificial crop to be harvested and used from August onwards.

General

Complete any unfinished digging and winter pruning. Clear  old leaves from the strawberry plants and clean up the ground in between the plants before giving them a top dressing of general fertillsers.

February is Here

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

 

Leeks

We get glimpses of early signs of spring this month. The soil begins to warm up around the middle of February and we see, for the first time this year, buds beginning to swell on fruit trees and bushes. Over wintering vegetables begin to look less sorry for themselves,  and start to produce new growth.

Sowing and planting
ClocheAfter the middle of the month it is safe to think about sowing the seeds of early vegetables under cloches. Prepare the  seed bed, warm up the soil under cloches or horticultural fleece  (if soil temperature is much less than 10 C seeds will not germinate).  Sow white lisbon spring onion, or the early Nantes 2 carrot variety.  Early types of lettuce can also be started, try ‘cut and come again’ varieties to save on time waiting for a heart to form. It may be too early to make start on parsnips in colder areas of the country but  if you really want large roots now is the time to sow parsnip seed, be careful to use a canker resistant cultivar.

February is the best month to plant out garlic and shallots. Prepare the ground as you would a seed bed and plant using a trowel.   Don’t push the bulbs into the soil.  Plant the garlic cloves about 2in/5cm deep and leave the tips of the shallot bulbs just at soil surface. The birds will pull one or two out leaving them lying on ground. Replant them as soom as possible – the birds will quickly lose interest.

General
Check over  chitting seed  potatoes and begin to rub off unwanted eyes leaving three or four well-spaced shoots. Keep some fleece or newspaper nearby to cover them up on cold, frosty  nights.  You don’t   want to run the risk of losing them at this late date.

Fruit
Top dress  fruit trees and soft fruit bushes with general fertiliser at the recommended application rate. At the same time top dress the rest of the plot with general fertiliser as land becomes available.
Check over fruit trees and bushes for damage and disease problems and take appropriate action.
Prune late/autumn fruiting raspberries down as low as possible and mulch around them. Tip back summer fruiting back around 6ft/1.9mts to encourage the development of fruiting side growths.

January

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

My leeksJanuary is usually the coldest  month of the year.  Coming on top of the  heavy rains that fell  just before Christmas this year,  it is well worth taking the time to look over the allotment and prioritise the jobs for the month. Top of the list must be to clean up the plot and dispose of all of the damaged and rotten crops. Don’t worry too much about soil preparation for now just concentrate on clearing the way for a February biltz. Weather permitting of course.
 Harvesting
 Continue to harvest brussel sprouts, cabbages, leeks and parsnips (if they haven’t been damaged by flood water!).  Check on any vegetables in store and discard any that have gone mouldy or rotten.
Sowing and Planting
 Patience is the watch word. The days are still too short and cold to think of sowing seeds  outdoors  in the open.  A few sowings of onions, lettuce, peas. broad beans, radish and early carrot can be made under protection towards the end of the month . The January sun can push the temperature quite high so give a little air to transplanted lettuce plants on warm days, closing down early in afternoon.
General
Pack some straw or fleece around celery to protect from any damaging frost but remove it on sunny days to let plants breathe. Draw the sod up around the stalks of cabbages and winter cauilflower to just under the first set of leaves. Check over brussel sprouts and broccoli and support them from being blown over in high winds. Take advantage of days when the soil is frozen hard to barrow and stack manure and compost close to where it will be dug in later on.

If you have any plants or seedlings ticking over in cold greenhouse cover them with several layers of newspaper on frosty nights. Rremove the newspaper on warm days. Seeds potatoes will be available from the end of the month. Order your seed potatoes and collect seed trays or wooden tomato trays ready to chit them.  On days when you can’t  work on the plot clean the shed, greenhouse, tools and linseed oil any wooden handles check that the watering can and buckets don’t leak and that the wheelbarrow doesn’t have a flat wheel.
Fruit
Towards the end of the month,  when the weather and soil conditions allow,  plant out soft fruit bushes.  Spray all fruit trees and bushes with garlic winter wash.  Do this on a fine day, do not spray in frosty conditions. It won’t hurt to hold the job over to the next month.

This is December

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Last LeafThe year is coming to an end and the longest night this month heralds the slow advance towards next season. So take a bit of time to reflect on your successes and to consider what went wrong with some crops. Always remember, there are no failures in gardening, it is always down to the weather, furry things or acts of god. Allow yourself a little relaxing time around the New Year and be ready to hit the ground running in 2014.

Harvesting

Brussel SproutsKeep picking the brussels sprouts to ensure the sprouts don’t blow open. Also harvest winter cabbage regularly although, depending on variety,  they can remain in soil for months. In reasonable weather, parsnips and leeks can be left in the ground to be lifted as needed.

If a prolonged cold or wet spell is forecast you can lift leeks and parsnips to be used at a later date.  Store  them in a container of old compost or soil.  Cabbages and even sprouts can be lifted with their roots in a soil ball and stored in shed or greenhouse. Don’t forget to water the soil occasionally.

Sowing and Planting

There isn’t anything to sow in garden this month except onion seed. This should be sown in trays or pots in gentle heat towards the end of the year.  Treat yourself for once and spend some dream time looking through the pages of the seeds catalogue.   Post your order ASAP.

General

Check over all your tools in the shed to make sure that they are safe and fit to use next season. Clean metal and wipe  down all wooden handles with linseed oil. This preserves the wood and also makes it more comfortable on the hands.

Jobs for November

Thursday, November 7th, 2013
No time to rest! There is just enough daylight to clear and tidy up the allotment removing any old crops in preparation for next year. Don’t leave the remains of summer crops to rot. They will harbour over wintering pests and diseases. Wait for a clear, crisp, sunny day and go for it. You’ll feel shattered but a lot better at the end of the exercise.

Harvesting
Start to harvest winter cabbage, brussel sprouts, leeks and parsnips.  Leave parsnips till after the first frost because the chilling effect turns the starches into sugars and gives them their natural sweetness.  Pick brussel sprouts working from the bottom of the stalk upwards to give all of the sprouts get a chance to swell. At the same time snap off yellowing leaves at the base to ensure that there is good air circulation around the plants.

Sowing and planting
If you have a greenhouse or coldframe you can sow a crop of a hardy round seeded pea  such as Feltham First in 3in/7cm pots.  If the weather conditions are really favourable they can even be sown in open ground but remember they will rot off in wet ground. They should be transplanted when the roots have reached the bottom of the pot. Transplant any pot raised broad beans sown earlier to somewhere sheltered and protected from cold, icy blasts. It is not too late to take a chance on an outdoor sowing of broad beans if it is done early in the month. Transplant October sown lettuces to grow on under cloches or frames.  Space them 6 in/15 cm square.

Although these winter varieties are tough enough to withstand most normal weather it is always best to have some protection on hand – coldframe, cloches, fleece –  ready to protect them if need be. Always remember wet growing conditions can do as much damage as cold ones.

Fruit

Now is a good time to plant new fruit trees and bushes. This is the time to prune soft fruit bushesand they can also be moved as needed.

General

Dig, dig, dig. This is the priority job of the month. The more that you can get done before the end of the year the better.

Most of the leaves will have fallen by now. Collect them up and make a leaf mould stack.

Brussel sprouts ready for harvesting

Brussel sprouts

lettuce

Winter Gem lettuce

Collecting Leaves

Collecting Leaves