Thursday, 6 June 2013

LIVE: Collecting a Honey Bee Swarm

I know I haven't blogged for a while, but what better way to get back in to it than a live post from my Grandparent's house whilst collecting a swarm.

I was down the allotment just about to put my sweetcorn in and my mobile started ringing. It was my Grandad
'Martin, your grandma wants you'
'Ok. Hi Grandma.'
'Martin there's a swarm of bees outside the back door do you want them.'
'Yes please. l'll be there in 5 minutes!!'

So, I put the sweetcorn in the she ready for planting tomorrow morning. Dashed home, got my veil and off I went. This is the 3rd year in a row that a swarm has congregated by/at my Grandma's house!! However this is the only year that I've had an empty hive to house them in!!

They were congregated on a wall so I scooped as many as I could in to the bucket before turning it over and waiting for the rest to follow on in. I'm just waiting for the last few stragglers whilst having a coffee indoors. Here's a few pictures, I'll let you know how it goes and maybe I'll even make an allotment blog tomorrow!!

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Finally catching up...

Well this blog post is certainly long over due. In fact, everything I will mention took place about two weeks ago when I took a couple of days annual leave to catch up at the allotment. So when you come back to read tomorrow's post, pretend it's been a whole two weeks since this post and not 12 or so hours...
The Potatoes and Onions are finally in the ground!!
We might have slightly overdone it with our potatoes. We have 4 rows (5.5m long each!) of Desiree and 3 long rows of Charlotte and we still have some seed potatoes to spare. If I get some big pots I might just put them in there and see what happens. It's not like we are going to be short of them anyway... Well, I hope not after the back breaking amounts of work I put in to planting them..

Next along from the potatoes are two rows of Onions (Stuttgarter Giant) and then a row of Beetroot (Boltardy)!

After the onions there is currently a large gap which come the middle of May will be planted up with Cabbage, Kale, Pumpkins, Courgettes and Squash. After this currently empty space, closest to the patio area is the beans. 6 rows of broad beans and there is space for a further 2 rows of dwarf French beans. I have also dug out the trench and emptied one of the compost bin’s contents in to it and then filled it on top with some used compost from last year’s raised beds, the support frame has been erected for the runners, and finally the allotment looks like an allotment again and not just a wasteland!

Here's a full on shot of the once again allotment like allotment!

The next couple of jobs are to actually sow the runner beans, courgettes and pumpkins and also prepare the ground for the cucurbits by digging in some well rotted horse manure!! There is also the unappetizing job of weeding the strawberry bed at the top of the allotment. It will be done, but when... I am not sure!

More soon!!

Martin J

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

This is the week!

This week the sun has come out and somewhat un-coincidentally everything is starting to look a little brighter. All of the seedlings are really getting a move on and it will soon be time to move things on up to the plot!!

For the first time I was able to make use of the extended daylight hours yesterday because it was dry, sunny and warm until almost 7pm! It was lovely to be back up the plot and I am so glad that we started digging it over last Autumn, because if we hadn't we would be in a real mess now. Thankfully the head start has really paid off!

The plot is now almost completly dug over and ready for use. We have 3 compost bins full of compost to spread over the potato patch, and providing the weather stays dry, I'm hoping that Friday might well be Potato day!! At last!! I have previously said that we always liked to get them in on Good Friday, but this year there was still snow on the ground and the plot was just completly unworkable. The potatoes still cover the kitchen table but all have really healthy strong sprouts/eyes which will be a real benefit when they finally get in the ground!

It's also good to see signs of life already emerging on the plot without having to plant anything, the rhubarb is getting stronger each day and I love seeing the contrasting colours of the bright red stalks and succulent green leaves! Rhubarb is an allotment favourite, and I really don't know what an allotment would be without it. After all, it comes back every year without much need for love and attention!

Inside, the tomatoes that we sowed in the last week of February are now several inches tall, the chilli plants have also started to kick on this week which is great news.

There is so much positivity for gardeners to embrace in April and May and it is much needed after the extremly long winter we have endured. I still can't believe that in less than a fortneight I should really consider sowing runner beans and courgettes yet on the other hand the potatoes and onions still aren't in the ground yet! Madness!!

I'll be back down the plot tonight finishing off the potato bed, and if I have time I will plant out my 30 new strawberry plants and 7 bareroot gooseberry bushes. That may have to wait until tomorrow though, we'll see!

I really look forward to catching up with other blogs over the common days. It is very nice to see so many signs of life on my 'reading list'.

Have a good week!!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Baking Sunday and 'those' Creme Egg brownies...

If you regularly use social media websites such as Twitter or Facebook then there is a very good chance that at some point over the last 7 days you would have come across a picture of unknown Lizzie Batchelor's 'Cadbury Creme Egg' Brownies. The recipe has become insanely popular and over 60,000 people have shared or tweeted a picture of her creation.

I do usually spend Sundays in winter/spring watching the football but this week due to the Easter break and also the unbelievable amount of snow still covering the garden and allotment we were left a bit stumped regards how to spend our time. But having seen the results of this creme egg brownie recipe there was only one place we would be this Sunday, in the kitchen (after the football of course)!!

Here are the results and I can say that if you like creme eggs then this recipe is a must, they are mind blowingly delicious!

Alongside the brownies we also made a lemon drizzle cake a chocolate mine egg nest too!! After losing over 2 stone since the turn of the year it was quite nice to have a day off over Easter!! But I'll be back to rations again tomorrow - that is for sure!!

If you hadn't stumbled across the recipe for the creme egg brownies then here it is. You must have a go!!

I can't believe that this time last year we had onions, beans, lettuce, raddish and potatoes on the grow already. So far this year nothing is actually in the ground and we have been restricted to growing a few bits in our. Pop up greenhouse!

Anyway, the cake was good so I am happy!!

Enjoy the rest of your Bank Holiday and thanks for reading!!


Friday, 29 March 2013

Oh chit!

Today would be the usual day to get our potatoes in the ground but the truth is that the ground is still completely unworkable and the weather is so unpredictable. After a week of snow - we thought spring and sunshine were finally on the way yesterday. However to see it start to snow around lunchtime today, it has slightly dampened our spirits.

Anyway, I hope you all have a lovely Easter and are able to get growing soon!!


Saturday, 16 March 2013

We're getting there...

I now don't feel quite as far behind as I was..

Sowing proceeded last week! It was very exciting and filled me with optimism.

You can probably tell I have no loyalty to one particular seed company!!

Things ARE growing though and that's a good start. The lettuce seedlings that I sowed last week are starting to come through. I've put them in my new mini greenhouse and they seem to be doing ok.

On the kitchen windowsill there are tomatoes and chillies. The tomatoes 'Roma' and 'Costaluto Fiorentino' are already up but the chillies aren't yet.

I'm growing these Italian varieties for a good reason. I've always grown the traditional salad tomatoes and although they are delicious, I like to use tomatoes in cooking. Roma is perfect for sauces and in ratatouille and the like. Then the Fiorentina are good for grilling and also for salads so they seem like a win win!

There are 3 different varieties of chillies. 'Tabasco' which I have grown before and 'Black Pearl' which I have not. There is also 'Big Banana' which I think might be a long banana shaped sweet pepper now that I think about it..

This years showings started off particularly badly. I was in the garden and I filled my seed tray with small pots which were sown in to. These were the tomato and chillies and I wanted to put them on the windowsill. As I was coming through the door with the tray the dog clocked on and thought it must be food and jumped up at the back of my legs and the tray landed on the floor..


Today I've been at it again - sowing that is, not making a mess!  I have been sowing Swiss chard to transplant later and also sowing my cabbages 'Golden Acre' and Kale 'Tuscano di Nero'.

The allotment is now more or less ready for action. The only bit which does need some attention is the top bit where the pumpkins were last year. It seems like couch grass enjoys congregating in this area and it is pretty rife! My idea is to get this part dug over in the evenings, after work next week. I'm then going to grow potatoes in this area because the couch grass won't like the constant disturbance of the 'earthing up' process. As soon as all of the potatoes are harvested in the autumn - the plan is to cover I over with black plastic to restrict light to the invasive weed and then come next spring the situation shouldn't be as bad as it currently is!

Anyway, it's raining today so that's not much use. Fingers crossed the weather makes up its mind and the sun shines bright in to the evenings!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!!


Friday, 15 March 2013


Is a very bad habit!!

Whilst stuck in the office with the sun glistening through the window - I find myself daydreaming about the allotment and just being outside.

Thankfully, here at Fircroft we have 6 acres of gardens which can satisfy my need to be outdoors.

Having a quick stroll around the gardens yesterday afternoon I was delighted to see so many signs of spring. I am not a photographer and I am pretty useless with a camera but since getting my iPad for Christmas I have been reasonably satisfied with the images that it captures...


This pak choi is definitely inspiration to get some crops on the grow on my own patch!!

Thankfully, I have the day off today and although it is far too chilly to go up to the allotment, I will be making a few sowings in my new pop up greenhouse!

Thanks for reading!!


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The joys of Spring...

Spring has sprung and signs of optimism have come with it. Delightful days full of sunshine and fresh air have arrived!! There are crocuses and daffodils here, there and everywhere and I may even sow some tomato and chilli seeds in pots on a windowsill tonight.

The only slightly annoying thing is that their has been a frost for the last 2 days, and that has put me off continuing my digging at the allotment. Never mind, at least it will break up the ground which has already been seen to.

Another bonus of Spring is the first bantam egg of the year (foreground). There is nothing worse than buying eggs through the winter when you are having to feed chickens at home which will not lay! I think this one is from Barbaradeux, but I am not sure. It has felt like so long since we last had one of our own hen's eggs to eat.

I hope March brings you all a tiny piece of happiness and joy! After all, more daylight hours means more time in the garden or up at the allotment. Don't forget the clocks go forward on Easter Sunday too!

Enjoy the rest of your week!

I'll be back with another update before the weekend!


Thursday, 28 February 2013

A year on plot 114

It's been a year since we took over plot 114!!

I can't believe how fast it has gone but then on the other hand it seems like we have had it forever!!

Do you remember what it looked like on Day 1? It was a mess...

Come May it looked like this...

Late June...

And earlier this week it looked like this...

To celebrate 1 year on plot 114 I went down after work and stayed until sunset at 18:19 - in that time I managed to dig an area about 10ft x 5ft and that has released a little bit of the worry I was feeling earlier this week.

If the pleasant change in the weather extends to tomorrow then I will be there for the first allotment DAY of the year. Happy times!!

Here's to another bountiful year on Plot 114!


Monday, 25 February 2013

Time to kick on...

It's almost March! But where did February go?

Having been in France from the 11th-15th and then bed bound with flu from the 16th until yesterday, this month has completely passed me by. Whilst I lay in bed on Wednesday I was flicking through some gardening magazines only to start panicking by how little I had done in preparing for the new growing season. The only respite was that we only took over the allotment on February 28th last year and it was covered with brambles and couch grass from bottom to top. Despite all of that we still had an amazing year which kept us well fed from on a daily basis from late May until early October! So if I look at it from that perspective then I have such a good head start on last year with 3/4 of the plot dug over and ready to go. I want to get the other 1/4 dug over before I start planting so that I have a blank canvas to start from. That is something I would like to do on Friday - weather permitting of course!!

The plot would definitely benefit from a few days of TLC. Following the shed tipping, every time I visit I seem to find more and more bits of broken plastic pots or newspaper. There is still some stuff which needs clearing and the annual allotment skip can not come soon enough!! I think it normally arrives mid-march but you have to be quick because it fills in a day!!

Despite the little niggly negatives that I am confronted with, there are of course lots of positives too. The extended daylight hours mean I can get up to the plot after work for an hour or so which is of course very welcome, today I managed to clear some weeds from the rhubarb patch and then added a mulch of home made compost around each crown to not only feed them but also keep weeds further at bay. The crowns have burst open and there are lots of mini stalks of rhubarb emerging from the ground. I don't think I will harvest any rhubarb this year, I want the patch to get stronger for future years. Short term loss - long term gain! It is nice to see something actively growing on the plot in addition to the purple sprouting!

I haven't even thought about planting anything out in the ground as of yet. It's still far too wet. I think onion sets would rot and likewise broad beans. I think that when I buy my onion sets this week I will start them off indoors before planting them out when the elements are slightly more favourable.

Another positive thing is that the kitchen table is covered in 'chitting' seed potatoes..

This year I am growing Desiree. Although I did Maris Piper last year and they turned out fantastically well, I wanted to try and be a bit more imaginative and try a new variety for the first time. These potatoes come highly recommended by my Allotment neighbour and when reading about them I was impressed by so,e of tenor properties. I haven't bought my early potatoes yet because I haven't been out and about but I can not forego growing Charlottes like last year, because they were simply magnificent and after all.. Amy insists!! However, I would also like to try another early variety in addition this time!

There is certainly lots to do on the plot. If March lends itself to some warmer weather then I'll be spending every possible minute down the plot trying to make the improvements I want to. It was nice being down there today and just getting my hands dirty!!

Have a good evening,


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Bare root bargains...

On the way to work each day I have to drive past an Aldi supermarket. Although I don't go in there very often I always glance over towards the store entrance because I know in the past that they have sold good value garden equipment and this year I was on the look out for a couple of fruit trees. Well, just as luck would have it, I was going past yesterday and I saw a big box of fruit trees being unloaded from the delivery and I made a mental note to return later.

All day I was wondering which trees I would liek for the allotment. I know that last year they stocked peach, apricot and greengage trees aswell as apple and pear.

I have a perfect spot for the trees which last year was a bit of an overgrown couch grass infested mess. So come 5pm I was straight in to have a look what they have got.

There was so much choice and I almost fainted at the price tag. All bare ruit fruit trees were £3.99 each and they had fruit bushes at 3 for £2.50. So I made my selections and headed for the till point.

My final chocies were:

1 x Conference Pear
1 x Cox Apple
1 x Cherry
6 x Red Gooseberry

I was particularly pleased with the gooseberry bushes. I had been wanting to plant some at the perimiter of the patio to prevent access to the patio from the path for vandals and the like. I had been looking the garden centres last week and they were priced anyway from £6-18 each depending on size. These will do me just nicely..

Like I said earlier, I have a spot marked out for the pear and apple tree. The cherry tree was a bit of an impulse buy and I'm still not sure where that is going to go. I am hoping to turn that weedy patch in to a nice mini orchard come summer. Using a few ideas I have seen in gardening books etc. I am going to dig out as many of the couch grass roots as possible. Plant the trees 1.5 apart and then cover the whole area with compost/well rotted manure and then water well. Following that I will cover the area with non-inked cardboard and then on top of that I will water the cardboard and then add a top dressing of manure. I believe this method is called lasagne gardening and the idea is that it keeps weeds down but improves soil fertility at the same time. We'll wait and see but on paper it does sound like it should work.

The first allotment I had when I was just 14 years old had a massive apple tree in the middle of it and obviously the roots were a slight problem to work around. I don't want to have roots growing all the way through the allotment and I believe these are dwarf root stock anyway. So in order to restrict the roots a bit I am going to copy the idea of a 'fig pit' and put 4 paving slabs in the ground to create a restricted space for the roots to grow in to. The fig pit will stop the roots from spreading underneath the surface close to the ground but will instead force the roots to move downwards before spreading down in a deeper area. Fingers crossed this idea also works, thats what I love about my gardening. Just experimenting to see what works well and what doesn't. It means that your gardening methods are changing all of the time and that of course means it can be very fun!

If you are interested in getting some of these fruit trees then get down there soon because I remember they sold out of the more exciting varieties last time and all that was left was Royal Gala apples.

We are in Paris next week from Monday to Friday so there will be no time for planting these just yet but judging by the care label as long as the roots are kept frost free then the trees can be planted a little later in the season. So I will have something to look forward to when we are back. The shed also needs painting too. The growing season is coming that is for sure...

Thanks for reading as always,


Monday, 4 February 2013


I am a bit tired of the overuse of the 'dig for victory' motto. It appears on cups, cushions, tea towels you name it in most modern garden centres but it is nice to have a feel of victory in your gardening at times.

Since it was tipped over last year you may remember that my shed and its contents have been piled up and covered in tarpaulin through the winter. But today was the day it returned to its standing glory.

The sense of achievement is phenomenal and it sure does feel good to have got rid of the blighty pile from the corner of the plot. To make it more stable we have used a tonne of screws to screw it to the base and we have put slabs around the edge to make it more difficult to repeat again. We have also reduced the size of the patio to make way for some prickly gooseberry bushes to make access to the plot for intruders a lot more difficulty. Oh and a lick of paint certainly won't go a miss either!

That's it from me today. I do have more to share with you but I have a busy evening ahead which includes making up a cabinet, oh joy!

Thank you as always for reading. It feels great to restore some normality and direction to plot 114.


Thursday, 31 January 2013

Paper and Pencil time

The snow has finally gone and the month has gone with it. This time tomorrow, I'll have flipped over the page on the calendar and all of a sudden it is February. February the 1st is a special start to the month for us though because it is Amy's birthday. We're still not sure what we are doing yet because our minds are all over the place for varying reasons. Unfortunately Amy's Mum is currently in hospital and we don't think she will be out for another week, it's nothing too serious I must hasten to add but it is a shame she won't be there to celebrate Amy's birthday with her in the way she would have liked.

Aside from not knowing what we will be doing tomorrow, I have a few plans for the rest of the weekend and for Monday. I'm not going to give away too much, but I'll share the results with you all on Monday, that is for sure. However I will give you a clue.. It involves allotments and a lot of hard work. No matter what the weather is like, I will be getting things done nonetheless!

So not only is a small bit of excitement around the corner for me, but also for all of us gardeners. I went in to the garden centre on the way home from work yesterday to buy Amy a birthday present and I could feel the smile on my face at pallets upon pallets of seed potatoes, onion sets and even small tomato seedling. Still a bit too early to be thinking about the latter in my opinion, but it certainly won't be long. End of February maybe? Crikey! That's only 4 weeks away! Time certainly does fly.

It definitely is time to get a piece of paper and a pencil and start making a physical note of my plan for the allotment this year. I have said previously that we are changing the layout of the allotment slightly. Last year we created 5 beds with nice easy to use paths, but after all of the vandalism we are reverting back to the traditional row of vegetables. It really knocks your mentality when something so severe happens, and we don't want to waste hours again for it to be destroyed. But anyway, it may be a less aesthetically pleasing layout but we will actually gain a lot of growing space thanks to the elimination of the paths. I'll be sketching that out tonight I am sure, and I'll share the plans with you over the weekend.

Anyway, I hope you all have a good weekend, no matter what you are doing.

Thanks as always for reading,


Monday, 21 January 2013

Frozen Fircroft

Well the snow certainly persisted, and we now have approximately 7 inches of snow all around us, maybe 8 inches at home. But today I'm back at work and back at Fircroft College of Adult Education where I am on a year long placement.

You may remember I did a walk around the college and it's beautiful grounds when I first joined back in August/September time if you can't remember then here it is. Well, it certainly looks very different today in comparison with that pleasant Autumnal day last year when I did the same walk of the gardens, because today it was covered in thick snow! The main house at Fircroft looks idyllic at the vast majority of times but in the snow it seemed even more grand and magical.

I intend to sign off this post with a host of pictures from today's walk around the grounds of Fircroft which mainly involved following footprints left in the snow by a fox. If you want to find out more about the fantastic work that Fircroft does for less privilidged adults in and around the Birmingham area then click here or click on the logo on the right hand side of the blog in the sidebar.



Fircroft House and Teaching Block

Former Cadbury Family Home in the Snow.

Orchard in the snow


Lots of untouched snow, I simply had to run through it!

Isn't there just something mesmerising about snow settled on trees.

A wintery path leading to the woods..

Following fox footprints..

Magical trees

Friday, 18 January 2013

A walk in the snow..

Well today is what you can officially call a 'snow day'. It is far too dangerous to go to work so it's simply a day to bask in the wonders of winter.

It started snowing yesterday at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and it has not stopped since.

So having phoned work and decided to have a walk to see the extent of the blizzards. Instead of waffling on I'll just post the photos and a small sentence here and there.

Ok, so first call was my grandparents house...

The park as we go by..

Coming up to their house for a nice cup of tea..

Off towards the high street now after a nice warm drink..

The very wintery and very beautiful St.Nicholas church.

Perfect postcard scene...

Fields on the way up to the allotment. Very white..

The allotment site..

A nice amount of untouched snow on the way up...

Believe it or not this is our allotment. it looks like the brassica nets have collapsed under the weight of the snow.. sigh!

Time to go home again for another cup of tea..

Thanks for reading as always. Enjoy your very own 'Snow Day'.