Price Points: Plum trees

Plum trees | H is for Home

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a bunch of saplings for sale outside the entrance to our local supermarket they were all priced up at £5.00 – bargain! I had a look at all the labels and amongst the apple, pear and cherry trees I spotted a single Victoria plum tree. I thought to myself that I’d return a bit later on in the day to buy it.

Needless to say, I popped back mere hours later and it was gone – I lost my chance! Anyway, a couple of days ago, I was back at the supermarket to pick up a couple of things and there were a couple of plum trees back in stock. I picked one out on my way in – I walked all around the shop with it – I wasn’t going to miss out again.

It said on the label that it’s self-pollinating (self-fertile), however, I did a bit of research online and apparently having other compatible plum trees nearby helps improve fruiting. ‘Compatible’ simply means another variety that flowers at the same time.

I’m torn between ‘Black Amber’ and the dual ‘Bleue de Belgique’/’Reine Claude d’Oullins’. The former only gets to 1 metre tall – perfect for a small garden like ours. However, the latter gives you two completely different varieties on a single tree; again, a good option for our limited space.

  1. Plum ‘Black Amber’ (mini fruit tree): £12.99, Van Meuwen
  2. Dual plum ‘Bleue de Belgique’ + ‘Reine Claude d’Oullins’: £17.50, Bakker
  3. Plum ‘Opal’: £24.99, Thompson Morgan

How to prepare for the year on your allotment

Aerial view of allotments

Spring, whether it’s meteorological (the 1st) or astronomical (the 20th), begins in March. It’s the time of year to begin thinking about getting back down to the allotment again. Before diving straight in, there are a few tasks that need to be taken into consideration.

Ensure you have suitable outdoor clothing & protective footwear

Safety shoe on the allotment

Before you begin any work on your allotment, make sure you’ve got the right kind of gear to wear. Don’t ruin your best pairs of trousers or training shoes – buy some hard wearing clothing that’s built for the jobs in hand and that you don’t mind getting dirty… and of course heavy duty, protective footwear. We’ve all heard those horror stories of people standing on rusty nails or impaling themselves through the foot with a garden fork!

Have a spring clean

Upturned terra cotta plant pots

You probably did a lot of the chores at the end of autumn as the gardening year wound down. However, if you haven’t, this is your last call for completing all these jobs. Tidy the shed and greenhouse if you have one. Sweep paths, remove slippery moss, clean pots, make sure water butts are full, bring the garden table & chairs out of the shed and paint or oil as required… and scrub that barbecue clean in readiness for some al fresco dining!

Prepare the soil

Garden soil

Flower beds and fruit & vegetable plots have probably lain dormant for almost 6 months. Now that the final frosts are almost over, it’s the perfect time to dig over beds, tackle weeds, mulch, rotate compost bins and sow green compost.

Clean & repair your tools

Collection of garden shovels

Why make gardening jobs any tougher than they need to be? Make sure your secateurs and shears are sharpened, shovel and rake handles are secure and free from splinters. Consider a service & deeper clean for electrical items such as lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Organise your planting calendar

Fenced off allotment plot

Organise your planting diary for the year ahead. Look back at what you did last year and rotate beds to avoid disease and pests and maximise yields. Do some research as to what might grow well in your situation and soil conditions… and of course enjoy browsing all those lovely seed catalogues, gardening magazines & books for inspiration and ideas.

Care for wildlife

Hegehog on grass

Not only are they lovely to look at and listen to, wildlife helps to pollinate flowers and they eat pests such as slugs and aphids. You can do lots of things to attract creatures to your allotment. Build insect boxes, provide food for birds, plant insect-attracting flowers, create paths for hedgehogs and find space for a water feature of some kind if possible – even if it’s just an upturned bin lid! It’s one of the single most effective way of attracting wildlife to an outdoor space.

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12 perennial vegetables to grow for a low-maintenance allotment

12 perennial vegetables to grow for a low-maintenance vegetable garden or allotment | H is for Home

You may or may not have noticed that we haven’t done an update about our allotment in quite a while. Yes, we still have it. Unfortunately, because of Justin’s back injury, poor weather and neglect due to time pressures, this year has been a wipe out!

In an ideal world, we’d potter about amongst the fruit and veg every day – alas, this just isn’t possible at the moment. We’ve come to the conclusion that, for the time being, we’d be much better off concentrating on low-maintenance perennial vegetables. We’ve done a bit of research online and from Eric Toensmeier’s book, Perennial Vegetables. This is our short list of 12 that we’re going to try out.

Allium fistulosum - Welsh onion

Allium fistulosum – Welsh onion

It may say Welsh on the tin, but this allium actually originates in China. We think it would be perfect for our allotment. Not only is it good for cooking and eating, it’s a beautiful ornamental when it’s in flower. It’s used widely in East Asia in miso soup, stir fries and in salad garnish.

Available here

Allium ursinum - Wild garlic, damsons, wood garlic

Allium ursinum – Wild garlic, damsons, wood garlic

Wild garlic grows… well, wild in lots of places near where we live. We have an old tin bath that we planted up with a few wild garlic bulbs a couple of years ago. It absolutely loves the dark, damp spot where we put it and its spread has already doubled. We’ll dig up a bit of it and replant it in a similar position on the allotment. We look forward to the wild garlic season every year, we use the leaves a lot in cooking.

Available here

Growing asparagus in a pot

Asparagus officinalis – Asparagus

Asparagus is one vegetable that I wish we’d cook and eat more often. It’s always so expensive in the shops – and it’s almost always thick, fibrous spears on offer. Because the soil in or garden and on our allotment isn’t at all sandy, we think we’ll grown a little asparagus in containers. Maybe one green, one white and one purple.

Lots of people say that it can’t grow in pots but we’ve seen on the internet that it can be done. Apparently, the container needs to be very deep with very good drainage – so we were thinking of using a couple of old metal dolly tubs. The downside of container-grown asparagus is that it doesn’t live anywhere near the 10-20 years that it does in open ground and the resulting spears can be a little spindly. The upside is that the taste of asparagus cut from the earth and cooked within hours is incredible – as is the feeling of knowing you’ve grown it yourself.

Available here

Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides - Broccoli, Nine Star Perennial

Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides – Broccoli, Nine Star Perennial

A broccoli that looks like a cauliflower and is a perennial? We’d never heard of it! Each head grows to the size of a tennis ball – so the perfect portion. It would be great roasted or served with a cheese sauce and a crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Available here

Cynara scolymus - Globe artichokes

Cynara scolymus – Globe artichoke

Yes, it’s a faff to prepare. Yes, there’s a lot of wastage in its preparation. But you never see it in the supermarket and rarely on a veg stall at the market. And it’s such a show-stopping, architectural plant in the garden or on the allotment; we think it earns its place on this list.

Available here

Helianthus tuberosus - Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke

Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke

Another vegetable that you don’t see in the supermarket, the Jerusalem artichoke (it’s not an artichoke… and nothing to do with Jerusalem for that matter!) is a relative of the sunflower. As such, this perennial root vegetable doubles up as an ornamental having bright yellow flowers on a stem that can grow 5-10 foot tall.

Available here

Matteuccia struthiopteris - ostrich ferns and fiddleheads

Matteuccia struthiopteris – ostrich fern, shuttlecock fern

It’s the young unfurled fronds, or fiddleheads, of the ostrich fern that can be eaten – not raw though. Neither of us have ever tried them, but they are meant be delicious sautéed in butter. They contain omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids, fibre, potassium, antioxidants… full of goodness!

Available here

Phaseolus coccineus - Scarlet runner beans

Phaseolus coccineus – Scarlet runner beans

The pods of the scarlet runner bean conceal the most beautiful beans! Eat them in their pods while they’re still young & tender, cook the shelled beans from fresh or dry and store them for a later date. Grow & train the plant up a wigwam or trellis where you can appreciate the scarlet flowers in all their glory. Even the roots are edible – a true perennial all-rounder!

Available here

Polygonatum biflorum canaliculatum - Solomon's seal

Polygonatum biflorum canaliculatum – Solomon’s seal

We’ve had a pot of Solomon’s Seal in our garden for years and never knew that it’s an edible plant. Talking of all-rounders, the starchy rhizomes of Solomon’s seal can be used to make bread and soup, the young stems can be eaten like asparagus and it’s used in herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory, sedative and a tonic.

Available here

Rheum rhabarbarum - Rhubarb

Rheum rhabarbarum – Rhubarb

One of my favourites! I love it in pies, crumble and as a compote atop plain yoghurt. We may use it like a fruit, but it’s actually a vegetable, similar to celery.  It’s a beautiful, sculptural plant with its huge, tropical-looking leaves at the end of bright pink stalks. It’s only these stalks that are edible – the leaves are famously poisonous… but they are terrific for the compost heap, the toxic oxalic acid quickly breaks down. Rhubarb is known as a bit of a bully and can become rampant, so keep an eye on its spread. We already have a couple of varieties growing in dolly tubs in our garden.

Available here

Scorzonera hispanica - black salsify

Scorzonera hispanica – black salsify

If you live in a cold part of the country like we do, black salsify can cope with that. Another relative of the sunflower, it has lovely yellow flowers. If you’re growing carrots on your allotment, use this as a companion plant as it’s believed to repel carrot fly. Another nutritious root vegetable, it’s rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium, and various vitamins.

Available here

Urtica dioica - Stinging nettle

Urtica dioica – Stinging nettle

Most people see stinging nettle as a weed, a pest. Poor thing, it doesn’t deserve that reputation! It’s really versatile. We inherited a couple of patches, which we have left alone, when we took on our allotment (their presence is an indicator of a good quality soil!).

Pick the young leaves (wearing gardening gloves) and cook with them in much the same way as you would use spinach. It’s full of protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. It can be used to brew tea and beer. Use the leaves and roots to make natural dyes. Even the stalks can be used to make a textile similar to linen. Soak it in a large watering can or water butt to produce home-made liquid fertiliser. Insects love it,  If you keep chickens, feed it to them and the yolks of their eggs even more yellow. If you still feel the need to uproot it, put it on your compost heap, it’s full of nitrogen which helps in the breakdown of the organic material. What’s not to love about the humble stinging nettle?

Price Points: Garden arches

Selection of garden arches | H is for Home

Our thoughts have turned to garden arches for this week’s Price Points. A bit random perhaps, but they’ve cropped up in a couple of conversations recently – that’s often a good starting point for this blog series. They’re perfect for climbing flowers or vegetables – clematis, sweet peas, french beans and the like. The ends can go into the ground or into two large pots.

Justin’s parents want one for an access between their driveway to their garden, we thought one would look nice in our garden to add structure – and we also have plenty of space at the allotment. We love mid-range #2 – the action of pushing through gates and passing under an arch to enter our little allotment would make it feel like a grand entrance!

  1. Easy arch 2m x 1.4m black: £9.99, Two Wests & Elliott
  2. Spiral garden arch and gates: £79.99, Amazon
  3. Wrenbury round top arch: £141.00, Taylors Garden Buildings

Price Points: Windowsill propagators

Windowsill propagators | H is for Home

We’re on summer time – the nights are getting shorter, the days are getting longer. The earth is warming up, it’s time to get some seeds sprouting. Some seeds can go straight out into open ground or outdoor pots & planters. Many other seeds are a little more delicate and need a helping hand. Windowsill propagators are the perfect tools for the job.

This week, I’m finding it hard to choose the best of the three, each has its own plus points. The cheap Jiffy comes with biodegradable ‘pot strips’, so there’s no need to disturb the fragile little roots when planting out. The mid-range Marshalls offering comes with trays that can hold up to 48 cells, so pricking out won’t be necessary. The Super 7 has a heated tray which means that seeds will germinate earlier, more quickly and more successfully. Quite an asset if your windowsills are as cold as ours!

  1. Jiffy 20 strip windowsill propagator: £6.00, Suttons
  2. Windowsill propagator kit: £14.95, Marshalls
  3. Garland Super 7 windowsill propagator: £25.99, Keen Gardener

Etsy List: Autumn planting

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'Autumn planting' Etsy List curated by H is for Home

The successes of the summer crops on our allotment have been inconsistent. It started well with bountiful berries & currants. From there it went gradually downhill with indifferent potato yields and then absolutely abysmal with just a handful of tomatoes saved from a blanket of blight.

We’re now planning our autumn planting scheme and want to grow some garlic, onions and shallots. Perhaps even try our hand at some container-grown asparagus.

Hopefully our next harvest will be better than the last!

Autumn planting
Curated by H is for Home