Tag Archives: Crops

Autumn Harvest New Shoots

On the 28th October 2010 Ella Montt arrived at the Allotment Plot at MERL to find that the Cosmos plants had been frost bitten and were dead. The hardy Pot Marigold was still flowering. A frosty few days had given way to warmer weather again. There was a significant down turn in the amount of produce ready to be harvested from the Plot. The Brassicas remained small, the Chard and Kale’s production although not dead, had slowed to a minimum. What there was to be harvested would be limited to Carrots, Leeks and Parsnips for the next few weeks. It was realised that it would also need to be a gradual harvest to make the produce last through to December. The hungry gap will be coming early again and in the first months of the New Year, when the new growing seasons production will have barely started.  This fact will be relevant in the considered planning that needs to take place in deciding what to plant in the first months of the year and early Spring 2011. Although Ella Montt now has a second growing space at Allotment Plot 326, each Plot has to be managed for its own potential and it is unknown from season to season how productive each Plot will be. The garden at MERL is a more sheltered area; Plot 326 is on a more exposed field site on higher ground.

Harvest taken on 28/10/2010 was as follows: Parsnip Halblange White = 6oz = 160g; Carrot Amsterdam Forcing = 6oz = 160g; Leek Almera = 1oz = 20g; Rainbow Chard = 1oz = 20g; Kale Pentland Brig = 1oz = 20g. As the Carrots were removed more Pea Meteor were planted.

Leeks & Parsnips

It was a warm and windy day for the time of year on the 4th November 2010. At the Allotment Plot the ground seemed rather dry again. There had been no substantial rain. Ella Montt used a fork to dig some Parsnips and Carrots, then trimmed away the root vegetables leaves gathering the foliage to place in the brick composter. More Peas were planted in the space where the Carrots had been removed. The overwintering vegetables, the Onions, Broadbeans, some of the Garlic and Peas that had been planted in October were all starting to push their new green shoots up through the soil.

The days harvest was limited to: Parsnip Halblange White = 10oz = 280g; Carrot Amsterdam Forcing = 7oz = 200g; Leek Almera = 5oz = 140g.

Peas Meteor

11/11 at 11am year 2010 the casualties caused by war were remembered. The event of war affects not just the lives of humans, but also animals and environmental eco systems and this should never be forgotten. At times in war, humans have sometimes used whatever land or space they can to grow food to feed themselves, but depending on the nature of conflict this is not always possible. The destruction of the lives of people and the environment can be too great and too dangerous.

The weather on this day of remembrance seemed to echo the misery, darkness and suffering that war can create.  It was a dark day, rough with rain and gales. Ella Montt only spent a short time at the Allotment Plot in MERL’s garden, she quickly harvested Carrots and Parsnips, planted more Peas Meteor in the open space that the Carrots had left and then sort shelter.

Harvest for the day: Parsnip Halblange White = 1lb 1oz = 480g; Carrot Amsterdam Forcing = 1lb 10oz = 740g; Leek Almera = 6oz = 160g.

Today, on the 18/11/2010 at the Allotment Plot at MERL, the weather conditions were unsettled, a mixture of cloud, brief glimpses of blue sky with sunshine followed by short light rain showers driven by a brisk breeze. There was not freezing fog that started the week nor the more prolonged rain of yesterday.

The first row of Garlic is already growing well, some of the spiked shoots have already grown to about 6 inches. The new shoots from the Onions are not as advanced as the Garlic. The Broadbeans and Peas will both need to strive for survival against predators. The predators have stripped some of the Brassicas in the last week. Harvesting commenced with the removal of the last of the Carrots followed by the action of finishing planting the line of Peas. Leeks and Parsnips will need to be the staple crop enduring the next few weeks.

The Harvest: Parsnip Halblange White = 1lb 10oz = 740g; Carrot Amsterdam Forcing 1lb 1oz = 480g; Leek Almera = 6oz = 160g.

Garlic ShootsBroadbeans two

Fenugreek – An Aromatic Culinary Ingredient and Green Manure

At the Allotment Plot at MERL on 19 August 2010 it was noted that some of the plants look a little yellow, particularly the Sweet Corn, Squashes and Tomatoes, this could be that they have been under watered or over watered, the former seems more likely than the latter. The plants have not been lacking sunlight so chlorophyll molecules photosynthesis work that give plants their green colour should not have been impeded. Although it had rained during the night, the soil looked fairly dry. The first row of Lettuce Marvel of the Four Seasons had finished producing and roots were extracted from the ground then left to decompose in to the soil. Meanwhile the Sunflowers glow radiated the cloudy day.

Squash and Sweet Corn

Sunflower with Bee

Ella Montt was preparing to film part of the Plot when two visitors came into the garden to sit at a bench nearby so that they could eat lunch and converse. The Museum’s garden is a public space. Ella Montt, at this moment, did not want to record private conversation, so worked on other areas of the Plot before sitting to consume lunch and then resumed the quest to film the Plot once the visitors were gone. Part of the Plot on that day, was to plant some green manure in any spaces available. The chosen green manure seeds from Tamar Organics was Fenugreek, it is quick growing and should be ready in to dig in ten weeks time, around mid October. The plant is a legume. The aromatic seeds and leaves of Fenugreek are both used extensively in cooking, particularly in curries.

A small green Squash is growing, the other Squash plants are still lacking in female flowers. A first harvest of Spring Onions White Lisbon became part of the day’s action. The Pot Marigold continue to flower producing quantities of seeds, those that had darkened and dried were harvested into an empty seed packet for distribution at a later stage. Thoughts turn to scattering the seeds in Guerrilla Gardening format or seed swaps. The Marigolds will perhaps self-seed as has both the Borage and Chamomile. Harvesting of other crops commenced with Herbs, Basil, Mint, Marjoram, and Chives. Harvesting of other crops commenced with Herbs, Basil, Mint, Marjoram, and Chives; followed by Rainbow Chard = 2oz = 60grams, Kale Pentland Brig = 3oz = 80grams, Tomatoes = 11oz = 320grams, French Climbing Beans ~ Blauhide 2oz = 60grams = and Blue Lake = 6oz = 20grams, and 1 Runner Bean = 1oz = 20grams.

Ella Montt has been considering the growth of the Climbing Beans up the four supporting bamboo pyramid structures. Some of the plants have climbed past the pyramid structures and are searching the sky for support. More bamboo canes were hunted out and collected from the shed across the garden then delivered to the Plot. Ella Montt attached the bamboo horizontally from one pyramid to the next; all of the pyramids are now linked at their zeniths so that the climbing and runner beans can continue to grow to optimize their plant constructions. Ella Montt wishes to enhance the Beans growth potential to compensate for Brassica failure. In any given season the harvest that a crop will produce can be unpredictable at the outset, because of weather conditions, disease, predators and unforeseen chance happenings, Ella Montt has to adopt a flexible working strategy to maintain the balance of available produce.

Climbing Beans

Broadbeans and Peas uprooted

On the 18/06/2010 at the Allotment Plot the Broadbeans and Peas were over and out. The remaining produce was harvested. The plants were uprooted. The last Pea pods harvested weighed 60grams = 2oz once shelled = 1oz Peas = 20grams. The last Broadbean pods harvested weighed 9oz = 250grams once shelled = 2oz = 60grams. Harvesting is an event. The total harvest produced was far less than anticipated.

Broadbeans & Peas up rooted

It is hard to know with a new allotment plot what production to expect in the first year. Vegetable growing businesses such as Tolhurst Organic have years of experience in knowing what to grow and how to grow it. The work is labour intensive and produce amounts vary from year to year determined by random factors and weather conditions. Growing all kinds of plants for market consumption takes a good deal of expert knowledge. If the business is to grow one crop per growing cycle year then all thought processes surround that one crop, but if the business is to grow multiple crops all year round for a vegetable box delivery scheme or for shop consumption then tangible thought processes of multiplicity surround the crops. That is not to say that the thought process for a single crop is not complicated, but it is more rooted in one crop. The thought process for growing multiple crops must in a sense be more rhizomatic, the attention moving from one crop to another. The thoughts graft on to the radicle-system not just a principle root system; the crop rotation layers are folded onto one another. “The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. […] The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couchgrass, or the weed.” (Deluzes & Guattari Rhizome – A Thousand Plateaus). A rhizome grown underground is that of Tumeric or Ginseng, therefore is not a rhizome grown above ground that extends in all directions a Squash plant or plants such as Nasturium, Tomato, Pea, or climbing Bean?

In the space that appeared from the Broadbean and Pea removal Sweetcorn seedlings that had been reared in the fixed up greenhouse were planted. The summer Spinach that had gone to seed was pulled out of dry ground and all the uprooted plants were gathered for transportation to the compost bin across the garden amongst the trees. The Pot Marigolds were beginning to form buds. Seaweed concentrate was mixed with water in a watering can and applied to the plot soaking it with intensity. Lack of rain continues the soil is parched desperately thirsty for any moisture.

Brassica defence against Pigeon invasion was applied in the form of CDs scripted with the words; “HEAVY METAL!” tied with blue plastic string to bamboo support canes. This is an experiment to see whether or not Pigeons are fans of Heavy Metal, if they are not they should stay away from the Brassica plants. How this will be tested since there is no surveillance system is by noting if the vegetable plants thrive and grow. Heavy Metal is unable to be played aloud within MERL’s garden so the Pigeons need to be sensitive to the suggestion of Heavy Metal as a complete genre.

Heavy Metal Pigeon Defence

Planting and Harvest an Experiment

Ella Montt’s experiment of planting and harvesting at the Allotment Plot at MERL is on going. The first harvest (on 20/05/2010), which was over wintered Spinach, was inedible. The Spinach should have produced leaves that would have been harvestable through out the months of winter. The Spinach suffered crop failure and was regrettably dug up on 27/05/2010 to make way for new plants. The fork used to extract the Spinach had great difficulty in root excavation, because the soil was so dry and compact. The discarded plants were placed in a wheelbarrow to be delivered later to a compost bin in order for the molecular break down into soil.

The Brassicas look like they are also doomed to crop failure, but as part of the experiment in planting and harvesting, the striped seedlings will be left for a duration of weeks in order to monitor their progression and as a Monument to crop failure. The experiment here is to test the plants will and determination for growth and survival. Replanting of these particular Brassica seeds is not really an option, because their planting window was March to April and it is now the end of May. The summer Spinach that was planted in March is also going to seed.

On 26/05/2010 it had rained during the night. The rainwater had wet the surface soil, but not penetrated further into the ground. More rain is needed. The ground is desperately dry. However, the evidence of other plant proliferation diffuses a sense of desperation regarding specific elemental conditions that have resulted in particular crops failure.

A handful of Peas (2oz or 40grams) was harvested. More will be ready soon. The Broadbeans are forming and some will probably be ready for harvesting next week, providing no hungry predators attack the young pods.


The next action on the Allotment Plot involved planting. The area that had held the over wintered Spinach between the Peas and the Garlic, was commandeered for the Squashes. Ten holes were dug with a trowel in readiness for the new plants. Various Squashes had been germinated and grown on as seedlings in the fixed up greenhouse at another location. The seeds that had had been planted weeks before in the greenhouse included Cucumber Tanja, Courgette Patriot F1, Courgette Soliel F1, Squash Black Futsu, Squash Green Hokkaido, Squash Uchiki Kuri, Squash Blue Ballet, and Squash Butternut. On moving the plants to MERL a breakdown occurred in Ella Montt’s transcribing communication structure resulting in confusion by Ella Montt as to which plant was which variety. Therefore an assortment of Squashes was planted on the Plot, ten plants initially, but depending on the success or failure of the planting, these may be followed by others. After the plants arrived in their growing destination and their roots were covered a bell was rang to announce their arrival. The plants were shocked and wilting after their travel from the greenhouse to the Plot. They were given water, poured from the watering can, to aid their recovery.

Squash 1Squash 2

Next holes were dug in the Brassica area near to Sunflowers and Garlic, six Tomato plants; one Pepper and one Aubergine were planted. a bell was rung to announce the new plant arrivals and the plants were watered. Sticks are forced into the ground to act as support for the plants as they grow. String was tied around the sticks and each plant.


Another planting action then took place, in the herb border next to the Sage and Chives. Young herb seedlings were planted including Marjoram, Camomille and Basil.

herbs & parsnipsRed Kale

A report on the other crops not previously mentioned on the Plot is as follows: Parsnips, Carrots, Onions, Red Onions, Red Kale are all growing. Leeks, Rainbow Chard and Beetroot are growing, but very small. Sunflower plant is growing and Sunflower seeds are germinating, (predators please stay away from the area).

The Garlic plants are developing central looping stalks know as Scape, these can be snipped off and eaten after they have made one or two loops. Or they can be cut before the loop progresses to try to insure a larger bulb. The Scape can be left until harvest time; the flower will produce Bulbils that is Garlic seed, which can be used to plant to grow more Garlic next year. The Garlic Scapes will be left to grow as an experimental part of the Plot. The Scapes will be cut at different times and the Garlic bulbs monitored as part of the harvesting.

Garlic Scape 1

A final planting for the day occurred almost as an after thought. Shallow drills containing a scattering of seeds Cabbage Red Drumhead, Cabeza, Brooccoli Purple Sprouting Early, Kohl Rabi Azur Star, Florence Fennel Romanesco, and five Artichoke Imperial Star completed the process. Further watering with the watering can was then required.

First Harvest, Weeding and Watering

The over wintered Spinach planted back in the Autumn has gone to seed. On 20/05/2010 the first harvest was cut, producing one bag of flowering Spinach weighing 10oz or 260 grams. The Spinach on the Plot will be left for a week or so to see if more can be harvested or if the plants need to be dug up to reclaim the area for further planting. Spinach Harvest

Weeding can be an intricate and time-consuming activity. Rows of wanted vegetable seedlings can grow surround by an assortment of unwanted weed plants. Weeds are generally unwanted plants growing in a cultivated area. In an organic vegetable growing situation hand weeding is a very important thing and the easiest way to get rid of the weeds. There is a big difference in green manures used to fertilize the soil for growing vegetables to unwanted weeds growing with the vegetables. Having too many weeds amongst the vegetables is generally not a good thing. Weeds compete for nutrients and moisture, they can also over run a plot. When it comes to harvesting, in the vegetable business world, weeds showing up amongst the crop are normally removed to appease the consumer. However there is a place for weeds in relation to the growing environment, unweeded areas that will not interfere with crops can also attract all kinds of biodiversity that can assist in the growing process. Stinging nettles are particularly useful. Many weeds may have all kinds of beneficial properties to the human diet, however some weeds can be harmful if digested or an irritant to the skin, identifying what plant properties are and knowledge is the key.

On the Allotment Plot removing the weeds from around the seedlings revealed the young and tender plants. The shield of protection that the weeds may have given to the seedlings will be observed on further visits to the Plot. The vegetable seedlings that emerged were Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroots, Chard, Leeks and Red Onions. A hesitation was apparent when it came to remove the weeds around the Brassica seedlings, which had already been damaged by hungry predators. The hesitation lasted about 22 hours and then on returning to the Plot the weeds were removed. If the Brassicas can survive is an unknown factor. The Kale Red Russian Curled seedlings and Lettuce Marvel of the Four Seasons are both naturally red pigmented and seem to be growing better perhaps for that reason, this suggests that it may not be pigeons that are feeding on the Brassicas, so perhaps slugs and snails could be the assailants.

After weeding activity, the Plot progresses to watering, in order to alleviate the drought conditions. Water was gathered into the watering can from the tap, carried to the Allotment Plot and poured onto the parched soil. At least six full watering cans were used in drought alleviation.

A triangle of bamboo canes was forced into the ground and tied with string to produce some stability. Near each bamboo cane was planted two organic French Bean (Climbing) Blauhide seeds and two French Bean (Climbing) Blue Lake seeds. A row of twelve Sweetcorn Golden Bantam seeds were planted near the over wintered Onion sets and a row of twelve French Bean (Dwarf) Royalty seeds was also planted. There is no sign as yet of the Wild Rocket seedlings, the Lettuce Lollo Rosso or the White Lisbon Spring Onions.

Carrot Beetroot & Parsnips

Watered 2

Watered 1

Tolhurst Stockfree Organic Vegetables – March 2007 to February 2008

Kate Corder’s film Tolhurst Stockfree Organic Vegetables – March 2007 to February 2008 is currently on view at the Museum of English Rural Life until July 16th 2010. The film documents the growing seasons and biodiversity of the Tolhurst vegetable business over a twelve month period. Running time 124mins.  MERL’s opening hours are:

  • 9am to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday
  • 2pm to 4.30pm, Saturday and Sunday Tolhurst Film Flyer

Allotment Before Significant Snowfall

On Tuesday 5th January the allotment was visited before the subsequent significant evening snowfall. An hour after the visit, the snow started to fall. By morning Reading was covered in a thick blanket of 8-10 inches of snow.

At the time of the visit all the vegetables were remarkably still alive. The broadbeans and garlic looked very healthy, but the peas looked like they are suffering from frost damage.

Peas and Broadbeans

Three days later, the snow has not melted. The UK and indeed much of the northern hemisphere have been engulfed by freezing temperatures. Business is not as usual for many in the UK, because roads are hazardous with snow. The largest snowfall in thirty years in the UK or the freezing winter temperatures were unpredicted, these conditions are the weather, they do not indicate climate change is not warming and if anything are all part of that, because the southern hemisphere is experiencing higher temperatures than ‘normal’ for this time of year.

How weather conditions affect society as behavorial patterns adept to limitations of conventional activity through commerce and consumption is played out through profit and loss. Vegetations slow growth, in winter’s freezing and snowy conditions, lies dormant. However if the plant is not one that over winters this can result in demise and crop failure.

The winter spinach plants on the allotment plot were not planted earlier enough to provide food for winter, but their growth may increase if the weather becomes warmer.

Spinach Seedlings

Allotment Frost

Snowfall – Winter on the Allotment

Winter arrived at the Allotment in the form of snowfall during the night of the 17th December 2009. The snow was beautiful in it’s natural state creating an unexpected winter wonderland, however the streets and pavements of Reading became a treacherous mess for human activity. On Monday 22nd December further snowfall in and around Reading resulted in the town grinding to a halt in gridlock. Pre Christmas consumerism and everyday necessity meant that there were many cars on the road and the snow’s affect resulted in hazardous conditions. The snow soon turned into thick ice that was left unattended and remained that way for almost a week before rain melted it and washed it away.

MERL has been closed over the festive season, tomorrow it will reopen and plant growth observation can recommence. Will the peas and beans have been killed yet by the frost? Winter is known as the gardeners slow time in activity. It is a time for planning for the months ahead. If one has winter vegetables, which are a vital source of nutrients, harvesting can go on throughout the year. The frost and snow increases the sweetness of the leafy greens and root vegetables such as parsnips, however if the ground is frozen solid, digging the latter can become problematic.

Snowfall on the AllotmentSnowfall in MERL's Garden

Snowfall on Peas

‘Farmville’ Perception of Virtual Food Growing

Arts and Ecology posted a link to the doors of perception today on twitter about “Farmville” the largest game application used on Facebook, 62 million people have signed up to the application since June 2009, 22 million people on average are logging on everyday to see how their crops are growing. The idea behind “Farmville” is that one has one’s own virtual growing space, one can plant seeds, harvest the crops before they die (the plants growth times are all time controlled), and one is able to give fruit trees and other gifts to friends and neighbours. Given the amount of individuals using the application, what does this say about human activity and growing space? It is a virtual reality, but is a major clue to social reinvention.

Allotment Undug Method