Friday, July 24, 2009

Come rain or shine!

I was told by friends earlier in the year that we were supposed to be having a proper summer this year, I'm not qute sure what's happened. I know it's not been cold but my God the rain!! It seems to have been beautiful sunshine one minute and then we get a torrential downpour the next,. I'm getting very worried about the risk of blight as this warm and wet weather is perfect breeding conditions for fungal disease. I'm not so worried about the potatoes as we had fab earlies and I can rescue some main crops now if blight comes. What does drive me mad is trying to get my tomatoes to ripen in time. I grow all my toms outside so the chance of blight is higher, I am determined to have a greenhouse before next spring though.
The browny/rusty coloured plant in the picture above is a parsnip from last year which I have left on purpose to get the seeds, I'm amazed at how tall they grow!! It must be at least 5 foot tall. I'm not sure if the seed will be much good but they always say that parsnip seed must be as fresh as possible so I thought I'd have a go at saving my own.

We've started to harvest some of our onions, I think because of the weather being hot one moment then raining the next that they are confused and some have started going to seed. The ones that have started to do that must be used up first as they wont keep but the rest have been set out to dry and then will be tied into strings.
We've also harvested our garlic which is the first time we've been succesful with garlic, I bought the garlic to plant from an ethnic supermarket down the road from us and it's worked really well.

I've also just harvested my first ever cauliflower!! Just the one!! But boy he was a whopper, almost the size of a football. I decided to use some for tea the first night we harvested it and then I blanched and froze the rest, I'm never sure about freezing things as they always seem to loose something in the taste and texture.We've also planted loads of pumpkins and squash this year, if you've never had roasted squash then you haven't lived! I love butternut squash as you get a really nice sweet and nutty taste when roasting it. This pumkin looks like it's going to be a big 'un, it's early days but it's going for it, I've just lifted it up and put some wood under it to stop it from just sitting on the damp ground and rotting.

And finally our 'cutting garden' side of the plot is starting to blossom like mad, the sunflowers were such a success last year that we decided to try some more, I think this lot are 'little leo'. 3 in a vase on their own look great, such a smiley flower!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer time! (...and it's hot, hot, hot!)

'D' strimming the plot

So ... lots has happened since my last posting on here about the plot. Sadly we suffered more vandelism, I once again stomped my feet and said 'stuff the allotment' and was ready to jack it in for all of 5 minutes! I suppose it is part of having an open garden but it still hurts to find things trashed.

Anyway, we've bounced back and despite the heatwave that is making us wilt lots is growing well at the plot. Watering has been increased to try and help the plants cope with the incredible heat, most days it has reached 32 degrees this week!!
We're just about at the end of the broad bean season which has been great. I never used to like them but we tend to double pod them mostly now, it makes such a difference and removes any bitter taste. The new potatoes have been great, a really nice flavour from both the Belle de Fontenay and Carlingford varieties.
'Globe Artichokes'

A veg I have never eaten despite having a HUGE plant on the plot is Globe Artichoke, we planted it more for the look of the structural leaves than to eat! However it has produced loads of 'Globes' this year so it felt criminal not to have a go at cooking some. I never knew how to cook Globe artichokes but like most things a quick internet search gave instructions. Basically you just cut the stem off the base to make a flat base, snip the points of the scales with scissors, slice the top off (like a boiled egg) and then sit it in boiling water to half way up the globe and simmer for 20-40 mins depending on size of globe. When ready one of the scales should come away easily when pulled.
To eat it, pull each scale off one at a time and dip in butter or sauce and scrape the end with your teeth to eat the flesh, once all the scales are eaten then you eat the artichoke heart, firstly you remove the furry inner bit to expose the heart flesh at the base of the inner part of the globe this is a saucer shaped bit at the bottom, eat in the same way dipped in butter or sauce. Very simple to do and delicious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Most of the rest of the plot is doing well, most things are bigger than previous years and crops are generally producing well, we put lots of effort into digging in manure and preparing all the beds this year so it looks like our hard work is paying off, here's to a good summer!!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Long time no see!!

I have been told off for not updating the blog by friends so this is a quick post to say hi to all!! The allotment is blooming away and feeding us well, I've been so busy with work that I haven't had the chance to update the blog. At the moment we're harvesting new potatoes, broad beans, red onions, peas, strawberries, raspberries, rocket, courgette and artichokes.

I don't have any pics at the moment so here are a couple of the garden at home!
After a marathon 5 hour session in the garden yesterday it is looking great, the pics don't do it justice as I ran out a few minutes ago to take the pics and its getting dark now.The tomatoes are doing well, I've suffered from blight for the past couple of summers and not actually managed to harvest ripe tomatoes. This year I'm trying out the ring culture method of tom growing, it apparently gives more root structure and a stronger plant which can hopefully withstand disease more.

The other edibles that I'm growing at home are chilli plants (in window boxes), figs and tumbling tomatoes (in hanging baskets). These are all at the front of the house as it gets more sun then the back garden and the brick walls of the house radiate the suns heat. Tomorrow is an allotment day for us so I will take pictures and try to get back to my regular updates!

Monday, March 23, 2009


First Asparagus spear

Believe it or not these are the hands of someone in their late thirties although you would be forgiven for thinking I am at least seventy by this picture!! Anyway, this (I am VERY proud to say!) is our first ever Asparagus. Sadly as this is the first year of planting we won't be able to eat it as it needs to build strength for the first couple of seasons. I'm chuffed though that it has come through as we planted it in the middle of all the VERY cold weather when it went down to -10c some nights, so I wasn't sure it had survived. I must plug 'Victoriana Nursery Gardens' again for their excellent mail order/internet order service.

With Easter being at a more normal time this year ( very early last year) I decided to jump ahead for planting the first early potatoes. I've tried to stick to planting on the traditional day of 'Good Friday' in previous years but we will be travelling this year during Easter so I decided to do them now as it's been such good weather. I've chosen Belle de Fontenay again for my 'firsts' as they were very good for us last year, good result and taste.

This year I have only put muck in the trenches, last year I also put shredded paper with the idea that it would help conserve water, I'm not sure if it made much difference so I'm only doing muck ... LOTS of muck!

Potato trench

After a good week of weather we've been able to get to the plot quite a few times to start the season off and whilst it's still early in the season it's starting to look ok. We've got loads of parsnips still from last year and the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is bloomin' GORGEOUS almost as nice as fresh asparagus tips.

I've also managed to get the first of the peas in which I started off in toilet roll tubes last Autumn at home. I've got several more lots just sown for successional sowing as this year I'm hoping for bumper crops of fresh peas!!! You can't beat the taste of peas eaten straight from the pod.

Peas against Hazel sticks

Monday, February 02, 2009

Asparagus planting

'D' examining the new Asparagus bed and harvested carrots in foreground

Well, after a very long break in the blog I'm back! Sorry to anyone who has been waiting for a post (especially the Suffolk contingency!!)

So, when we first took on the plot I didn't think we knew that it would last for as long as it has. Part of me wondered if it would be a flash in the pan but no, here we are in our 3rd year. One of the veg that I LOVE is asparagus but one downside of growing your own is the time needed for the plant to mature to the point of being harvestable (is that a word?) I've taken the plunge now and decided that if we're now in our 3rd year that we may well still have the plot in a couple of years so I went and bought some asparagus plants.

I'm really excited at the prospect of cutting our own fresh asparagus, steamed and smothered in butter and grated parmesan....yuuuummmmmmmm!!!!!!

I say I went and bought some plants when in reality I sat by our roaring log fire and perused a brilliant website for a nursery in Kent and ordered them. The nursery is called ''Victoriana Nursery Gardens" and is owned by the Shirley family. I first used the nursery a couple of years ago when I was on the search for a 'Brown Turkey' Fig tree, I was so impressed by their service then that when deciding to buy the asparagus, a crop that will be in the ground for many years, I decided they would be the place to get them from.

I have to say that once again I'm really pleased by the service I received, a cardboard box arrived with my plants well packaged and masses of literature to read about them and other things. I couldn't resist buying some cauliflower plants from them at the same time as I'm normally rubbish at growing them so I thought I'd start off with some good plants.

Planting the Asparagus 'plugs'

We went up to our rather soggy plot and dug over a spare bed and then 'D' planted the asparagus plants (well big plugs with roots!) whilst I put the cauliflowers in. Fingers crossed, I can smell the melted butter and parmesan now!!!!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Save the environment .... compost your kitchen waste!

My 'compost cake' showing rotted and half rotted compost

Believe it or not but part of the fight against Global warming is home composting. We throw away an amazing amount of uncooked food waste in our kitchens which when put into landfill tips releases harmful greenhouse gasses as it tries to decompose buried under tonnes of rubbish. The answer is to save it and put it into a home composter to prevent that and also to provide beautifully rich compost to either pot up plants with or enrich flower/veg beds.

The secret to successful composting is to make sure that you have a good mix of different types of waste. Things fall into different groups ...

BROWNS ... Woody garden cuttings twigs and sawdust, cardboard, egg boxes, toilet rolls, newspaper, shredded paper.

GREENS ... Old flowers and bedding plants, uncooked kitchen scraps, peelings, t-bags, grass cuttings, annual weeds.

NEVER PUT IN ... cooked food, meat, perennial weeds with roots, dairy products, diseased plants, cat/dog muck.

The way to compost well is to make sure you have an ample mix of the above ingredients, keep it damp and just keep feeding the bin.

It takes about 9-12 months for the ingredients to rot down properly. I find that the best way to access the usable compost is to remove the bin by lifting it up and revealing the bin contents as a 'compost cake', you will find that the usable stuff is in the bottom 1/2 section and as you move up the layers become less rotted. I did this the other afternoon with the 2 bins at home, I took the top layers off and put them back into the bin to carry on rotting and then I sieved the usable stuff to produce the most fantastic compost for FREE!!!! About 6 big plastic sacks full! Go on, do your bit for the environment AND your garden!

Compost cake (courtesy of wrap website)

Monday, November 03, 2008

All is well

Well, after having not been up to the plot for weeks due to the weather/vandalism/lack of oomph and stuff, we finally got there to do a bit of tidying up. What with the vandalism and other issues it has been difficult to feel like going and sorting things out but once we got there and got going it reminded us both just how therapeutic it can be.
The weather has now taken a big turn for the worse and we've had several frosts now which has knocked back all tender plants, it is amazing how one day it can be all green and lush with things still in flower and then the next day it's all brown mush. The next couple of pics were taken a few days before the frosts arrived so we still have chrysanthemums, marigolds and sunflowers in flower.

Calabrese in the foreground with nasturtiums and the remainder of the borlotti beans drying on the canes behind

'D' mowing the grass on plot 2 where all the Chrysanths and Sunflowers are

Rocket (gone to seed) producing the most beautiful flowers

The plot is still producing masses of produce, Parsnips, courgette (marrow sized!), Curly Kale, Cabbage, Calabrese, Summer sprouting broccoli, Carrots, Swede, Squash and pumpkins. I actually like autumn and winter crops a bit more than spring ones I think, nothing can beat oven roasted root veg with a beef casserole and dumplings! The parsnips really have been amazing this year, I chitted the seeds at the beginning of the year (see here) and can only think that is why they germinated so well and have produced such HUGE sized roots. Sadly the carrots haven't been too great due to slug and carrot fly damage. The fly damage has been really bad this year and I am going to have to put up some sort of barrier next year to prevent it. Apparently they can only fly to 30 cm or so height so if you put a barrier of fleece around the outside of the bed at that height they won't get to them, sounds a bit far fetched but maybe worth having a go.

We also harvested the last of the Borlotti beans which I'm drying off to store so that they can be used in stews and soups later on. 'D' surprised me with an early birthday present before we went up to the plot, a pair of Felco secateurs which I had been after since I saw them at Chelsea flower show. They're not cheap and boy can you tell when you use them, they actually work well and cut things properly unlike the £10 ones we normally make do with and they should last a lifetime! The model is number 7 which has a rotating handle to eliminate stress on the hands when using them, the handle swiveling as you squeeze them together feels odd at first but it really does make them feel so easy to use. I can't believe I'm getting excited about secateurs ... I think I'm getting old!!!!!!