Friday, December 29, 2006

Sunday 24th December 2006 - CHRISTMAS EVE

Wow, another year has flown by, and once again, I am visiting the allotment on Christmas Eve to gather veggies for the big day. Daughter number one came with me to keep me company and it was lovely. We giggled and got muddy and gathered loads. I was chuffed to see the plot still looking in tip top condition.

We dug parnsips - 'gladiator', carrots - 'Kingston', leeks and a celeriac - 'alabaster'. We cut a nice bowl full of sprouts, not as many as last year, they seem to be really late for me this year, but there will be enough for dinner. Also gathered brussel tops, cavalo nero kale, bright lights rainbow chard and plenty of romanesco brocolli. Cut a nice big bunch of flat leaf parsley to make chestnut and parsley stuffing with and we both enjoyed a suprise treat.......raspberries! Couldn't believe my eyes to see them hanging there, like Christmas jewels.

Once the children get back to school in January I will be able to spend more time on the allotment and get ready for the new year. I certainly have plenty of seeds to get sowing!

Jobs outstanding - rebuild the fruit cage!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday 8th December 2006 - Weather: Cold, windy and WET!

Cor, a whole month since my last entry! I have popped to the plot from time to time, but only to check all is well, and to pick things I have needed. The same thing today really. Just a general check over after all the wind we had at the weekend and through this week, and to take stock of what will be available for Christmas dinner! Can't believe Christmas is upon us again already! Where did that year go???

A general tour down plot number one heading for the shed. Still a good patch of flat leaf parsley. Must decide what to do with it really - the frost hasn't touched it at all! The leeks up there are slow at fattening up, I can't remember the variety but the ones that were given to me by the site secretary are already huge. At least I should be able to harvest over a long period. The parsnip foliage has started to die back. I dug a couple just to see and they are fabulous long chunky clean roots with no sign of canker. The carrots alongside are also looking great, and again I dug a few. Some splitting and a little slug damage, but considering they have been left in the ground, they are huge and look great! The globe artichokes are in full growth, looking lusher now than they did in the summer, the same with the cardoon! I fear that a really hard frost is going to kill the lot, although maybe all that foliage will protect the crowns.....we shall have to wait and see. There are still lots of beetroots in the ground from a late summer sowing. I am going to leave them in and take them as I want them. The French beans never flowered, even with cloche protection. Well it was an experiment really. Next year, if I am more organised, I will try some in the greenhouse with more protection to see if that works. Nothing ventured etc. I have two half rows of mooli - one white and one black. They are all lovely and thick and useable over the winter. I pulled one of each to have over the weekend. Down to the greens. WOW! The rainbow chards look great at this time of year. I'm sure the cold air brings out their colours even more, and my cavalo nero kale is looking good and dark so the frost did it's job. I will have just enough sprouts for this Christmas dinner, but they haven't grown as well as last year. All I can really put it down to was the incredibly long dry summer/autumn we had. My allotment really suffers being very open, yet sheltered - a real suntrap, and with no water on site things do struggle through July and August. I plan to try and irrigate plants more next year....if I can get enough water on site before the dry spell begins. Loads of romansco brocolli coming. I couldn't believe my eyes! I am hoping as it is cold that they won't make significant growth now and go over before Christmas as they will be lovely with our dinner! The cabbages have slowed right down, but they will bulk up for spring. Nothing showing on the purple sprouting broc yet.

On plot two I have my onions and garlics and I am pleased to report everything is up and growing like mad! Hopefully the cold snap will have help the garlic start to clove up. The onions have a good 3 inches of top growth, which considering they went in quite late, I think is excellent! Spud volunteers everywhere! I never know whether the heavily fleece some to see if I can get some new spuds or just to dig them out and dump them. The leeks on this plot are huge and because I 'earthed' them up with shredded paper and straw, they have lovely long white shafts. Down the far end I do have some red and green kale for spring greens, but they suffered a real check in growth when they were infested with caterpillas. I am sure they will be fine as the days warm up again in the New Year and will provide well wanted veggies at a time when most other things are nearly used up.

Overall, thrilled! After all that wind and rain I didn't really know what I would find up there, but alls well in the world. I imagine I won't go back now until Chrissy weekend to harvest enough veggies to feed us all - but if I am pasing and have the camera, I may well stop by and take a few snaps!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tuesday 7th November - Weather: dull and overcast

An apology, no photos today, I forgot the camera yet again!

A nippy start to the day, but I needed to clear the runner beans now as we have had a couple of frosty mornings so there will be no more beans this year. What a carry on that is. How on earth do you easily detangle the twisted mass of thick wirey stems? With some, if the bamboo was loose I was able to just slide the bean plant off the pole, but some were so tangled and webbed I was cutting and moaning and cutting away. Anyhow, job done so that area was dug over followed by the tomato bed. I picked three teeny courgettes, 2 white volunteers and one green baby, and I had a handful of runners. Plot number 2 looks very clean and tidy, if a little naked now. The leeks at the top of the plot are lovely and thick and the garlics are all through. The onions that I set last week are all still nicely settled and haven't (yet) been oiked out by the local bird population. As I was finished off and gathering my tools, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Foxy baby! Such a brazen creature, he strolled right up to me, sniffed the air then wandered around the neighbouring allotments before strolling back passed me again, and wandering around my shed. I followed him to see where he was heading, and he walked up the dry stream bed and leaped into Laurette's garden and chased the birds. Apparently he has been around a lot lately. We only ever seem to see him in the autumn and winter - I guess times are hard so he is on the look out for a free meal.

Then Jack arrived. He tipped me the wink, and we sneaked off together through the hole in the hedge and into the neighbouring farms orchard. One of the ladies who works at the farm was in there having a pick also, and still there are masses and masses of pears! There must be over 100 pear trees. We filled up 4 carriers again and I asked Jack what on earth he is doing with all of his. He has stored 4 trays worth, all wrapped in newspaper, in his shed to see if he can keep them to eat through the winter. The farmers wife (is there a name for the famers wife? Farmlet maybe??) told Jack that they had managed to keep lots good for Christmas. Other than that, he is just eating them. I have bottled some, juiced some, and am eating at least 1 a day, but still, there are hundreds so now I have 4 trays of pears, delicately wrapped in the local peper, residing in our cool dark garage to see if I will be able to deliver fresh pears to mum in December when Nanny and Taxi come up from Devon. I am also going to have a go at pear jelly as I have been told it is delicious, if a little hard to get to set.

We returned to the plot, back through the hole in the hedge, chewed the fat for 10 minutes, then we went our seperate ways and as the lovely Jack left, he left me a big bundle of spring onions by the car. He is a real sweetie and hinted that he wouldn't be able to carry on for much long as he is approaching 80. I told him to get that crazy idea out of his mind, he's going nowhere. If I can help, I will!!

I have been toying with the idea of improving and enlarging my fruit cage, but have been putting the job of as it is such a palava getting all the netting down and dealing with dock and nettles, but today I decided to press on. Actually, thanks to the wet spell and the frosts, the ground was lovely and soft and weeding was a breeze. Getting the net down on the other hand was a pain in the bum, but I got there in the end. I am moving the front of the cage out by about 18inches to allow more room for moving around and picking. Once I have cleared all of the weeds, cut back anything dead, pruned the fruit bushes and gently forked over the area, I am hoping to put down a good thick layer of compost as this years raspberry harvest wasn't great. There were plenty of currant and jostaberries, but the gooseberries and raspberries were small and a little on the dry side. I think a good watering, and a good mulch over the autumn and winter, followed by more watering and a really serious feed in the spring will give them all a well needed boost. I also plan to make the roof of the cage higher so Mark doesn't have to crouch when he is in there with the children picking the fruits.

That was it, time up! I am half way through the weeding of the fruit bed which I will finish next visit. The visit after that I hope to get the cage constructed - minus the netting, the next visit will be mulching time and then netting time. Should keep me out of mischief!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tuesday 31st October 2006 - Weather: blustery and decidedly chilly!


You may have been wondering where I have been hiding for the last few weeks? We lost our broadband connection due to Garner Digital going bust, and we had to wait 10 days for the new company to switch us over and for BT to switch us on! However, I am back with avengance and managed to get to the allotment for a couple of hours this afternoon.

There isn't much really growing now - even the weeds have started to slow down. So, job number one, planting the 200 odd Radar onion sets that the lovely Growmore sent me after Marshalls completely let me down. They are planted on plot number 2 at the end away from the stream. I have divided the top section of this plot in half, the right half has the leeks and garlics, which I am pleased to say are poking through, and the left section has the onions. Looks very neat! I used some old straw to mulch up the leeks a couple of weeks ago to help with blanching becuase I plant very closely to make the most of the room and don't have the surrounding soil available for earthing up. Mulching with straw, grass cuttings, or my most recent mulch material, shredded bills creates lovely long, CLEAN white stems. I dug one up just to see how they were blanching and as you can see, they are looking very good indeed!
With a chilly weekend forecast I wanted to bring in the last of the tomatos and courgettes and managed a tray of toms, 3 courgettes and 1 cucumber. If we escape the cold I reakon the courgettes will just keep going! The beans however have finished. They are lovely and green and lush looking, but there isn't a flower or bean in sight, so next visit, they will be cleared.
I have grown black and white moolis this year for a winter veg - the whites although patchy germination, they produce big roots. The blacks have huge top growth and thick germination but smaller roots in the same space of growing time.
Still growing/just growing:
Leeks - autumn giant and musselburough
garlics - purple wight and elephant
onions - radar
courgettes - white volunteer, black beauty, 2 yellows and 1 green with no labels
cucumber - lemon
chard - bright lights
kale - red russian, green curly, cavalo nero
brussel sprouts - red bull, green variety
cabbage - savoy, pointy and round with no labels
purple sprouting brocolli
9 star perrenial brocolli
moolis - white and black
beetroot - detroit, boltardy
celeriac - alabaster
french beans under cloches - currently in flower!
radish - salad rainbow
globe artichokes
parsnips - gladiator (I think)
selection of fruit and 2 thick rows of daffodils for cutting.
Not a bad selection for this time of year I feel.
Anyhow, just started to think about packing up when I spotted Old Jack looking for me. He asked me if I fancied going scrumping in the woods with him!! Well, I told him I'm not that sort of girl, which he thought was very funny, so off we went into the undergrowth. Alongside our allotment is a farm and they have a couple of huge ornamental lakes around which are orchards. The pear orchard, a mix of Commice and Conference pears, are still full of fruit and the farm didn't want anymore so they were being left to the birds. The farm owner told Jack to help himself and spread the word to the other allotmenteers. Well, an hour of giggling and pear picking later and I came away with 2 big carriers packed full of fruit, all perfect and fabulous looking! I spent some very nervous minutes whilst with Jack because he decided to climb up an old wooden step ladder, an old, rotten step ladder, and then leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeean across trees to get that last big pear! My heart skipped several beats as I was trying to work out how to explain to the 999 operator where on earth we were! He is a funny old soul, full of stories and jokes and he such a generous man. As he left he told me to help myself to all of his beetroots that he had piled up as he had enough for him and he didn't want any more. 'Shame I hadn't been on the plot in the morning', he told me, he filled a 2 litre icecream tub with rasberries!!!!
I will go back later in the week for a full day just to finish off really. A bit of weeding - might try and clear under the apple trees, and also have a tidy up in the shed. Then to be honest, other than to pop down and pick, very little will be happening. Gives me plenty of time to plan though - and I want to try to start a few things of very early in the greenhouse to try and steal a march on spring!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Monday 9th October 2006 - Weather: started overcast and damp but brightened into a lovely afternoon!


Today was plot number two's day. Having not been to the plot for much more than harvesting over the last couple of weeks, and after all of the lovely rain, and warm spells, things have started to turn into a tropical rainforrest, so, boots on, gloves on, digging head on! I re-edged the plot as I went along which I do by slicing down and turning the slab of earth into the plot - this leaves a ditch around the plot which prevents the couch grass from the paths creeping in. I oiked out most of the squashes - the last stragglers were brought home last week and dug over that half of the plot. In this portion I already have some pruple sprouting broc and some red and green curly kale. This will be my brassica section for this coming season. There are still four courgette plants insitu - 2 yellow, 1 green and 1 white volunteer. I don't know how much fruit they will produce, but they all have baby fruits at the moment so I will leave them until the weather takes it's toll. I also have the lemon cucumber still under the cold frame, although it is beginging to look rather sickly (yippee!!). Once again, picked nearly a dozen cucumbers. I think this monster holds the world record for cucumber production! A very satisfying mornings work - I love the look of a freshly 'fluffed' allotment!

Next into the tomato section. I pulled up all of the tomatos that were in the open last week, but there was still a lot of debris and canes around, so I gave that area a really good tidy and carefully forked it over - why carefully, well I have 100 daffodil bulbs planted in that area and I didn't want to dig them up. Then into the tomato tunnel. A couple of plants quite obviously had blight, so they came out and onto the rubbish, and a couple had no fruits left, so they came out. This has left about 8 plants still with fruits. As they are undercover, I am hopeful that the fruits will start to ripen a little. I will bring them all home in the next couple of weeks, but if they can ripen on the vine, so much the better! As it was I filled my trug with blighted toms, windfalls and ripe ones. Picked a large handful of runner beans again - they really have started producing amazing long tender beans. Fingers crossed they will keep going. Next year I will grow the toms where my runner beans are, and my beans where my toms were to give the ground a rest. I also plan to put down a monster pile of manure along both sides of the tomato house, and inside to give everything a really good start next year.

At the end of plot number 2 are my Autumn Giant Leeks, and they are really begining to bulk bip now. I weeded around them and then used to last of this years straw bale to mulch between them. The plan is the straw will help with the blanching, and can be dug into the ground in the spring to help with the soil structure and moisture retention. I have a couple of sacks of partly rotted leaf mould at home and I am also going to use that to 'earth up' my leeks. This section of plot number 2 will be my onion and garlic section, if Marshalls ever bother to send me my sets!

Chuffed with plot number 2 - looks tidy and weed free, and still in production, which is very satisfying at this time of year.

Had a quick flick over plot number one, but that is a job for later in the week/next week. I did take the second half of my cold frame over from plot number 2 to plot number 1 and have placed it over my newly growing French Beans. These are dwarf frenchies that we brought in France - a late sowing I know, but I am really hoping that with the protection of the cold frame, they will produce a desirable crop in November/December. French Beans are perfect flowers and do not need bugs to do the pollinating, so as long as they are warm enough, they should produce beans.

The sweetcorn have all finished now so I need to clear those out and dig over that area. The great thing I spotted is the cardoon, which I feared had died after the long dry summer, is in growth again - at least 4 new shoots at the base, so they will get a good mulch as I clear to help them along. I have found a local smallholding who sells bales of straw quite cheaply, so I may pick one up to snuggle my cardoon and globe artichokes.

Picked an amazing cabbage - I will photograph it tomorrow. No idea what type but it is a conical boy. Also picked some white romanesco brocolli so tomorrow night we are on roast chicken with all the trimmings.

A couple of people have given up their allotments so I am expecting to see a few new faces next year. Most importantly for me, I will have a new neighbour, a retiring headmistress. Fingers crossed she spends more time working her plot than my previous neighbours who have left me with an amazing crop of groundsel!

Oh, and another rant! Those Chapmans have cut a lot out of the old bramley apple tree which hung over one of their plots - and it was full of mistltoe! There is only 2 or 3 tiny pieces left growing in the tree now - the rest is piled up ready for a bonfire! GGRR. I wish wish wish I could get the darn stuff to grow in one of my apple trees. I have lost count of how many berries I have squished and wedged in the bark and nooks and crannies of my trees!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tuesday 3rd October 2006 - Frustrated of Essex!

All around me people are planting their overwintering onion sets and their garlic, but oh no, no not me, and why I hear you cry? Because I ordered them back in the summer from Marshalls and trusted they would arrive when ready. Yesterday I telephoned Marshalls to ask when I could expect them, and I was informed they were posted to me on the 21st September and I should have had them by now. As I clearly hadn't it was my responsibility to go to the postoffice and insist they look through their undelivered parcels to see if they had my onions! I did mention to the young lady that perhaps the postoffice would have hundreds of parcels and mine would hardly stand out.....she informed me that they wouldn't have hundreds of parcels with onion sets in!! Anyhow, if the postoffice didn't have them, I was to telephone again and they would see what they could do. By now, I was getting rather cross. I asked if they would take responsibility for my £22.00 plus P&P parcel, and she said, they would see what they could do!! As expected, no joy at the postoffice, so I called Marshalls again and explained the situation, and after a brief pause whilst she 'checked' she confirmed they would send me a replacement parcel immediately. Not very impressed I have to say. I think I will resist mail order next year and buy my onions, garlics and spuds from DIY stores and garden centres! At least then it will be my responsibility to purchase decent goods and get them home in one piece rather than trust a mail order service, and the less than impressive Royal Mail system.

Rant and grumble over now.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wednesday 27th September 2006 - Weather: hot and sunny

This great weather is really keeping everything on the allotment going. And the rain, followed by sunshine is making the weeds cheer! GGRR! However, as fast as they grow, so do my seedlings, and my toms ripen, and more cucumbers swell, so I am not really bothered by the few weeds. Not long and a cold snap will nip them all off anyhow. So, this afternoon was really only a picking session and to just survey all I own. I have 2 fabulous rows of French Beans, brought in France and the packet said they could be sown up until August. Now I know they probably have milder weather for longer in France, but I plan to move my coldframe from over the melon and cucumber plant and onto the French beans. I am hoping to have a crop in November and maybe through to Christmas!! Also have a thick row of black radish, and a patchy row of white mooli. Also a row of baby beetroots, but no spring onions or lettuce have yet germinated. I don't mind, it was only a pinch or two of the seeds.

Picked a huge trugfull of toms again. Great white, white beauty, reisentraube, gardeners delight, galina, orange berry, texas wild tom, a plum, omar lebanses, alicante, momarte, and lots of cherries from unamed plants. There are still hundreds of fruit, and what I thought was blight, might just have been natural die back and a cold snap as the plants are all so very healthy! Fingers crossed they keep ripening, I am loath to pick them and bring them all home, just in case they colour up naturally. I will wait until I visit and there are none ripe, then next visit, if still none have ripening, I will clear the plants and bring the green fruits home.

Harvest 12, YES 12 (!) lemon cucumbers, from just one vine! There are at least another 24 baby cucumbers on the vine so as long as this good weather lasts, we will have cucumbers every day! Thing is, I just don't know what to do with this amount and I can't bring myself to just chuck them on the compost heap! Even daughter number one is fed up with them, and is now taking apples from the trees in the garden in her lunch box instead of cucumbers.

Picked 3 corn on the cobs. These were a late sowing, made directly just to use up the 8 seeds that were left in a packet when I was having a sort out. There are 12 cobs still there, but they are a long way of ripening. They may come to nothing, but the 3 cobs have been a lovely late summer bonus that all three children will enjoy at the weekend. Courgettes are still coming, although it is (thankfully) much slower now. Next year I really will try to make an earlier sowing to start the season early, and a very late sowing like I did this year with the pattypans, and most importantly, 2 or 3 plants is MORE THAN ENOUGH! Also pulled a handfull of lovely, damage free carrots. They were a late sowing so no problems from carrot fly.

The runner beans have started flowering and producing again. Lovely long slender beans - the variety is Enorma, one I would recommend. Again, if this mild wet weather lasts, I could be picking runners into November. I know we should be, and are worried about the changes in the climate, but the bonus for us allotmenteers is the extended growing season. Will the time come I wonder, when half hardy veggies survive a winter?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Saturday 23rd September - Weather: warm and sunny with a light breeze


Well, today was the day of the village show, and I had 17 items entered and paid for, which cost a whopping £3.40. I was actually a little nervous having never properly showed my veggies before. Of course family and friends have always complimented everything I grow or make, but so they should, they are related or as near to it!

Everything was picked and polished and loaded into the car by 9am, and off we all went to St Johns School. We were the first to arrive, but others started coming within a few minutes. The children helped me lay everything up nicely whilst my darling ferried trays of veggies back and forth from the car. Took ages, and then he nipped back home to pick up some beefsteaks that I had decided not to show, then changed my mind about!

First for my 'Great White Beefsteak' (Large beefsteak class) and second for my 'Omar Lebanese Beefsteaks', third for my 'Alicante toms' (Tomatoes medium) . Highly Commended for my 'Reisentraube cherry toms' (small fruited class)

Third for my 'Edzel Blue spuds' (coloured potato class) . Second for my yellow courgettes and third for my 'Lemon Cucumber' in the outdoor cucmber class.

Third for my 'Marrow and Ginger Jam' (recipe using marrow or courgette class) .Third for my 'Greengage Jam' (jam made from stone fruit class)

Second Prize for the Top Tray displaying 3 Lady Chrystl spuds, 6 enorma runner beans, 6 white beauty tomatoes. (I won a certificate and was presented with a £5 DTBrown seed voucher.

And most importantly, Number One Daughter won first prize for her garden in a seed tray

I also entered other things which didn't win.

Really thrilled with the prizes and the taking part. Has definately given me a taste of what it is like to show of your fruit and veggies, so you just know I will be doing it again at the next show. There is a Winter show, and that is where you bring your most unusual fruit, veg or flower. Me thinks my swan guord will be making its debut!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday 18th September 2006 - Weather: dull start, beautiful afternoon

Not many photos - took the camera, then forgot to take photos!

What a miserable start to the day! I had big t-shirt on, and jumper on standby as it looked like rain, and of course, the sun came out and I was baking!

First job of the day was sorting out the brassica plantation. They had started to smell....well....cabbagy! There were a lot of dead leaves and quite a few weeds creeping in, so I needed to get in there and clean out before my sprouts suffered. Suprisingly little catterpillar damage, but plenty of white fly. Was squishing, brushing and generally moaning at the little blighters. Am hoping that the improved air circulation, now things have been staked, or pulled out, or cleaned up, will help with the pesties. The purple sprouting brocolli is reaching for the sky at over 6 foot! Is this normal? I can't see if it is sprouting or not! There are about 6 nice cabbages, at least 1 is pretty much ready for harvest, and the rest should hold well in the winter for use as the cold arrives. Hopefully there will be a good one for Christmas, along with the sprouts and cavalo nero kale.

Then I had a general tidy up on plot number one, and filled a bucket with lovely apples. Although there aren't as many this year, they are definately much, much bigger. (As an aside, I have spent the last 24 hours processing apples, pears and plums and have them bottled, jarred, jammed, in cakes, crumbles and tarts!!)

Next onto plot number 2 as I really wanted to harvest all the squashes now as the nights are getting chilly and I do worry about vanadalism at this pumpkin time of year. Have a nice selection - no where near as many as last year - I will do better next year! (Famous last words!) The swan guords are stunning, and the children have one each to decorate or carve as they please. There are still plenty of squashes on the plot, and they will all come home by the end of next week. The other reason for tidying up and clearing the pumpkin patch is that area is going to be the new brassica encampment and I already had kale - red and green, and purple sprouting 'corvet' to get in. Netted them against the darn pigeons, and I'm afraid to say, scattered a few slug pellets as they seemed to be everywhere!

Dug up the last of my spuds, so cleared a row of Edzel Blue - nice spuds, okay yield, no damage; Red diseree - lovely big spuds, good yield, no damage; Cara - HUGE spuds, fabulous yield, riddled with slug holes! Such a shame when that happens. I wonder if it was the location as they were grow on the edge of plot one down by the shed, so in shade. Probably cool and ideal for every slug on site to come for a chip supper! I will grow them again next year though as they were lovely big baking size spuds - just right for this time of year. There are still volunteers that I haven't been able to get to yet thanks to other plantings, so the supply continues.

Am hoping to enter the local village show at the weekend, and I think, (fingers and toes crossed), I will have 13 items to enter. Unlucky for some? We shall see. I shall post lots of photos. If I do win a few firsts, I might be away for a while, maybe cruising the med. Wonder how far 50p will get me?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday 12th September 2006 - Weather: warm but overcast

Cor did it rain on the school run, came down like stair rods! However, by the time I arrived at the allotment, the sun was trying to break through the clouds, and I could see blue sky. The plan for today was to clean up plot number 2, the home of the pumpkin patch, spuds, toms and beans.

Weeded around the leeks first, and then went on to dig the pink fir apple spuds as their foliage has been dead now for a good few weeks. Quite a dissappointing harvest really. No big knobbly bobbly spuds like last year. Drought I guess. I will grow them again next year as I really do love them, and they keep so very well. I still have the edzell blues in, which I will probably clear next visit.

The beans are having a second wind, and I was able to pick quite a bundle. Will have to do a 'proper' dinner tomorrow. I will keep the beans up until the frosts. Hopefully there will be another good few pickings.

The, into the tomato mayhem. Wow they have grown. Blight has struck, but only on the plum toms, which is very odd! I was able to pick alicante, orange berry, white beauty, reisentraube, gardeners delight, sweet million, omar lebanese, golden green, and galina. Also picked the okay green plums which I will cook into something interesting. It took me a good couple of hours to sort through the jungle. I removed at least half the leaves from all the plants, and cut the tops out at the point just above a good developed truss of fruits. I also cut out any side shoots, and iffy looking leaves. I tied everything up to make sure the fruits were all exposed so they could get on and ripen. I am hoping they all start to get some colour before the blight ransacks them.

My last job was to make a start sorting out the pumpkin patch as this is to be next years cabbage patch. I picked a dozen lemon cucumbers, and an array of courgettes - yellow, green and round. I could have picked lots of patty pans, but decided to leave them for now....basically because I had no room left in my carrier bag! I cleared away the watermelon vines as they never really took off - but as I pulled the vine, there, hanging on the end was a baby watermelon, about the size of an apple. Well, I didn't have any lunch with me, so I peeled it, and the flesh was ripe, pink and juicy, so I ate a WHOLE watermelon for my lunch!

However, the highlight of my day was picking my first ever, properly grown MELON! The scent from it was breathtaking and I couldn't wait for tea to open it. When we did cut it, the flesh was soft and juicy and peach coloured. The scent filled the room, and the taste was quite different to those you get from the supermarkets. It just goes to show how used our palates are to under ripe fruits. There are a couple more not far behind, so hopefully we will be enjoying our melons for another couple of weeks.
I was planning to leave at 2pm so that I could go sloe picking before picking the children up, but as I was leaving, Ken who lives on the edge of our site, waved. I went over for a chat - he is a lovely chap, 80 next year. He lost his wife 3 years ago, and it took him a while to refocus, but now he fills his time with alsorts of committees and trips, plus he has a little allotment. He grows the thornless Oregan blackberries, and he gave me a carrier bag full of them! He also has a yellow plum tree - but they are very very round fruits - could they be Mimosas? Anyhow, he told me to help myself, so I may fill a bag next visit and do some bottling.

So, tonight, I made apple and blackberry jam, and I bottled some blackberries. They look like little purple jewels in the jar! Oh, I did also have time to go sloe picking, and half filled another carrier - after I had tipped all the courgettes out onto the front seat of the car! So, sitting alongside the jam is a bottle with a layer of sloes, a layer of sugar, and a bottle of gin. I still have a basin full of will be popping to Asda for another couple of bottles of mothers ruin!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wednesday 6th September 2006 - Weather: warm and wonderful!

So lovely to know I have a full day on the allotment today. Dropped the urchins at school and headed straight to the plot. Still really just clearing and weeding. Had already decided to dig up half a row of globe artichokes as we really don't eat that many and they produce so many heads per plant that it seems like a waste of ground. They have huge roots, so took some shifting, but I tidied them up and stuck them in a bucket to take home. I want a couple in the garden at the back of borders as they have such stunning flowers.

Started to sort out the raspberry canes and fruit bushes inside the cage. They didn't do as well as last year and I put this down to the drought. Am hoping to completely weed the cage out, hard prune the fruit bushes, carefully loosen the soil around the plants, water, and then mulch with plenty of leaf mould to try and improve things for next year. The cage needed a few repairs, thank goodness for string! Allotment number one is ship shape, which is such a relief!

Picked lots of tomatos again, and cucumbers, and courgettes! This rain has helped in a huge way. A lot can ripen and grow in 24 hours!

Things that are still in the ground are; leeks, parsnips, beetroot, bright lights chard, kales, cabbage, brussels sprouts, sprouting brocolli, carrots, spring onions, celeraic, celery, french beans, runner beans, tomatos, squashes (incl cucumbers, courgettes, melons, etc), spuds, and sweetcorn. Recently sowed and germinated is salad radish, black radish, beetroot, looseleaf lettuce and mooli. Perennial plants are the artichokes, cardoon and apsaragus. Fruits are raspberries, strawberries, black and red currants, jostaberries, white and red gooseberry, blackberry and anything growing wild in the surrounding hedgerows.

Have received the program for the autumn show. I hope to be able to enter a few catagories, including the jams and chutneys, although I will have to check the jars are the correct standard. Might have to pay my WI neighbour a visit. Daughter number one rather fancies entering so will have to make sure I am organised.

Weekend bargain! Husband purchased a rather smart petrol mower for the allotment from a carboot sale. Only cost £10 and it runs! At last I will have neat allotment paths.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Jamming and Bottling - August 2006

I have been busy trying to make the most out of the fruits that are coming in abundance at the moment. Unfortunately, I have now run out of reasonable sized jars - only have huge ones left - so all the fruits are now in bags in the freezer.

Marrow and Ginger jam

2Ib cooked, well squeezed marrow
2Ib sugar
8oz ginger in syrup
pinch dried powdered ginger

Cook the marrow until very tender then SQUEEEEEEZE out as much liquid as possible. Weigh it and use the same amount of sugar as you have pulp. Put it back into the preserving pan and add the sugar. Warm slowely until the sugar has dissolved and add the chopped stem ginger. Chop it as finely or coursely as you like it. Add a pinch, or a large pinch of ginger - again, your taste. Cook rapidly until you have a smooth paste - you are not trying to reach setting point, just a paste like texture. Bottle in sterile warm jars and seal.

Marrow and citrus curd

2Ib cooked, well squeezed marrow
2Ib sugar
4+ citrus fruits of your choice. Lemons and limes, 6+
4oz butter

Cook the marrow until tender in a little water then SQUEEZE it good and hard to get as much liquid out as you can. I put a plate on the top of the marrow which is in a collander and weight it overnight.Mash with a spud masher or blitz with a hand blitzer until you have a smooth puree, then into a large pan with the grated rind and juice of the citrus fruit, sugar and butter. Slowely warm until the sugar has dissolved, the cook gently until you are left with a smooth paste - took about 25 minutes for mine. You are not trying to reach setting point. Bottle in sterile warm jars and seal.

Tutti Fruitti Jelly (daughter number ones jam of choice!)

A selection of berries that you have available
couple of tart cooking apples
1 lemon

DAY 1: Place all the fruit in the pan. Peel, core and coursely chop the apple. Cut the lemon in half. Add these to the pan. Cook slowely for about 30 minutes so the fruit is all tender, the juices are running and the apple has completely turned to mooosh.
Bash with a potato masher, or blitz with a hand whizzer. Carefully pour the liquid through a seive, then pour the liquid through a jelly bag for a really clear jelly. I squidge and rub the mooosh as it goes through the seive to get maximum liquid and flavour. Then I pass the liquid through the jelly bag first, followed by the pulpy mooosh which I then leave to drip into a bowl overnight.
DAY 2: Measure the liquid and for every pint you need 1Ib of sugar. Gently warm the liquid in a preserving pan with the sugar, stirring well until all the sugar has completely dissolved. Now bring up to a rapid boil and cook until setting point in reached. Bottle in warm, sterile jars and seal.

Chilli Jelly

Roughly chop a big pile of apples - cookers and eaters - a lemon and a couple of chillis. Place it all in the preserving pan with just enough water to cover. This apple mix should be cooked slowely until you have a big pan of juicy mash. This is then passed through a seive or jelly bag. If you want it clear and sharp, through a jelly bag and don't squeeze, if you don't mind it with a bit more body, then give it a squeeze or a squidge. I now measure the liquid and for every pint I use a pound of sugar. The liquid and sugar goes into the preserving pan with as many chopped chillis as you see fit. I use a selection of whatever I have and I chop them, seeds and all in my mini blitzer. Slowely bring this up to the boil making sure all of the sugar has dissolved, then get boiling. BE WARNED, the steam is chilli flavoured and MIGHT make your eyes sting. Once it reaches setting point, bottle into sterile jars. I did some fancy by pushing a whole fresh 'pretty' chilli into the middle of the jelly. I also did some with some smoked praprika added at the end of cooking time. Made a lovely smokey chilli jelly.

Bottled Plums (Thanks Supersprout)

A bowl of firm red plums - de-stoned
Kilner jars or similar (Le Parfait etc.)
Fresh rubber gromits

Rinse out jars with boiling water, including lids, to sterilise. Wash fruit and pack into jars. Thump the bottom of the jar on the table as you fill it to get as many in as possible and pack tightly. Close the jars, but do not seal with gromits and place in the oven at 120c for approximately 90 minutes.
Make a fruit syrup - light is 4 oz sugar to 1 pint of water, more sugar makes a heavier syrup. Some juice will have come out and the fruit will have sunk. Take the bottles out of the oven and put them on a wooden or plastic board (to stop them cracking). Pour boiling water over gromits and funnel, to sterilise. Pour syrup to fill jar through the funnel. The fruit might rise a bit, but will sink later. Fish gromit out of boiling water, fix it on jar lid, and clamp or screw shut. Next day or when completely cold, unclamp or unscrew and lift by the lid to check there's a vacuum.

Plum/Greengage jam

4Ib de-stoned plums/gages
4Ib sugar
1 lemon

Place the plums and lemon into a preserving pan and cook until the fruits are tender and the juice has run. Fish out the lemon and add the sugar. Stir well until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring up to a rolling boil and cook until setting point is reached. THIS JAM WILL CATCH SO STIR STIR STIR!! Bottle in sterile, warm jars and seal.

Tuesday 5th September - Weather: warm but overcast

Yippee, the kids are back at school, so I arrived at the plot just before noon. Very muggy day but the cloud cover hardly broke. I did think it would rain a couple of times. Anyhow, the allotments are looking like tropical rain forrests, so let the weeding begin! Don't know why, but I started by pulling up all of the finished corns, snapping them down a bit and sticking them on the compost heap. Then worked my way along the strawbs. So many weeds the compost heap was soon overflowing! The big cooking apples have started to fall, so as I cleared around the strawbs, I picked up all of the windfalls that weren't to damaged and picked those on the tree I could reach. The other apple tree is good for eating and cooking, but the apples still resisted being picked, so I will leave them a week or two longer.

Took a break from weeding and filled my trug with tomatos again. Tonight I will cook all the toms I currently have at home down and get it frozen before they start going mouldy. Also picked yet more courgettes and cucumbers. Am at a loss what to do with all the cucumbers as they are coming so fast now! Also picked a handful of runner beans - enough for a couple of meals.

The squashes are all coming along nicely, considering a lot suffered in the drought and we lost several plants. I think this monster is called a swan guord. It is getting huge, and I have promised the children they can have one each to carve at Halloween - we like to be different! The melons are also getting bigger and bigger and I don't know if I should pick the biggest yet. I would hate to harvest it only to find it unripe. I guess whilst the weather is still so good, and the plant is still in active growth, I should leave it for the time being.

I have lots of things to sow, hopefully, over the next week and also my curly Kale. They will go on plot number 2 where the spuds were - which reminds me, now the top growth has completely gone on the Edzell Blues and Pink Fur Apples, I had better dig them up before any secondary growth starts, and the slugs move in!

Glad to say my globe artichokes 'Green Globe' are growing again. They have really suffered in the drought and completely died back leaving nothing more than a blackened stem. However, today I noticed that every plant has lovely new green shoots sprouting from the base. Now I feel guilty that I am planning to dig half of them up and shove them on the compost heap as I have decided we don't need that many plants as we don't eat that many artichokes! I will be giving the babies away to gardening friends who want them, and I might bung a couple in the garden as they make such stunning plants. I don't know if the cardoon will make a come back as he is in a similar state to the artichokes. Fingers crossed as I would be sad to loose that.

I have started to put together a spreadsheet listing all my seeds, sowing dates and comments so I can try and keep slightly more organised next year...famous last words! I also plan to sow at least 1 seed of every tomato, pepper and squash plant that I own, and any that fail to germinate will have one more sowing attempt, and if they still fail, I am binning the seeds as every year I seem to have a few that fail to come up. Anyhow, I have no idea if I can add a spreadsheet to my blog, but if I can, I will!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sunday 27th August 2006 - Seed extravaganza!

This is just to post a list of seeds I managed to buy for 20pence a packet in Wyvales on Sunday. I had heard a rumour through the folks on the allotments for all website, so took myself down there with the family to investigate. Bargains galore!

Sweet pepper - Jumbo
Sweet pepper - Big Banana
Chilli pepper - Prairie Fire
Chilli pepper - Joes Long
Chilli pepper - Hot Tepin
Swiss Chard - Bright lights
Climbing bean - Goldfield
Tomato - Supersweet (x2)
Tomato - Gardener's Delight
Tomato - Gartenperle
Tomato - Marmande
Parsnip - Lancer
Parsnip - Javelin
Parsnip - Tender & True (x2)
Herbs - Sorrel
Herbs - sweet basil (x2)
Pea - Jaguar
Marrow - Tiger Cross
Broccoli - Autumn spear
Broccoli - Summer purple sprouting
Lettuce - Clarion
Lettuce - Salad bowl (x2)
Lettuce (organic) - Ice King
Lettuce - Iceberg set
Chinese cabbage - One Kilo
Radicchio - Versuvio
Brussels Sprouts - Red Delicious
Brussels Sprouts - Bedford Fillbasket
Brussels Spouts - Falstaff
Cucumber - Prima Top
Carrot - Purple Dragon
Carrot - Healthmaster (x3)
Mangetout - Oregon sugar pod
Onion - Bunton's showstopper
Onion - Brown Pickling
Courgette (organic) - Dundoo
Courgette - Parthenon
Courgette - Defender
Kohl Rabi - Logo (x2)
Pumpkin - Hundredweight (x3)
Leek - Musselburgh (x3)
Cauliflower - All the year round
Cauliflower (organic) - Goodman
Calabrese - Hydra
Calabrese - Autumn spear
Swede - Brora
Swede - Angela
Aubergine - Moneymaker
Aubergine - baby rosanna
Spinach - Scenic
Celeriac - Monarch

Not a bad list huh! This should keep us very well stocked on the allotment next year!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Friday 25th August 2006 - Weather: bright and breezy

A flying visit today as mum is over and was babysitting whilst I took the chance to pop to the plot to have a little pick. All of that lovely rain means the waterbutts are all full, but it also means the weeds have gone CRAZY! I couldn't believe it. The bindweed is the biggest thug of all and has been quietly making itself at home in the pumpkin patch. But I shall not worry - the urchins go back to school in just over a week, and then I will be able to spend as much time as I can over there getting rid of it all.

As I am in the pumpkin patch I can report that things are looking good. Not as many squashes as last year, but still plenty! Picked another bucket full of cucumbers, and the courgettes have started again thanks to the rainfall. I have several crown prince and a grey one whose name escapes me. Plus the swan gourds have grown to huge proportions! I shall take my camera next visit. There is a turks turban and a couple of others, so enough for us. The runner beans that run along the middle of this plot are in full bloom again, once again thanks to that rain, so it looks like we will get a nice late bonus harvest from them. Also the late peas I sowed have had a growth spurt, but I don't know if they will come to anything as they suffered such a check in growth because of the drought. Some flowered when they weren't even an inch tall. I shall monitor them and if they just sit there doing nothing, when I clear the squashes, I will just dig them in. The leeks have started to bulk up and I am saving loo roll inners to experiment with blanching the leeks. I know it has worked for others. The last major thing on this plot are the toms, and wow they are fab! Picked a lovely trug full, but they are slow to ripen. Picked the first beefsteak - Omar Lebanese. These are fab beefies, although incredibly ugly!

Over on the main plot things are really slowing down now. The second batch of sweetcorn has all but finished so I can start oiking them out. However, the good thing is the black and white radish and the mixed lettuce leaf that I sowed last visit are all up already!

I really do need to spend some quality time on the plot pulling up what has finished and raking the rough ground down. I am tempted to sow even more seeds in September as I reakon most quick to mature things like salads will do the business long before the weather turns.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Saturday 18th August 2006 - Weather: Sunny but breezy

An early start once again and I was on the plot before 8am (had to pop to Asdas (ggrr) first). Only had a couple of hours spare, so the first job was picking. Eight lemon cucumbers - that rain did the squashes to power of good! A handful of french beans, dozens of cherry toms - both yellow and red, couple of flying saucers (oh okay, pattypan squashes) and a bowl full of blackberries. Checked the waterbuts, and they are all full which is very satisfying. Last job was to dig and rake the old carrot bed. It dug beautifully, again thanks to the rain and I was able to rake it down to a very fine tilth. I sowed a row of white mooli winter radish, a row of black long winter radish (both great in stir fries and salads), a row of redball beetroot, a row of winter lettuce and a row of mixed leaf salad. I don't have any fleece now as it was all on it's last legs so it ended up on the compost heap - so before the weather gets nippy, I will get some so I can protect these as necessary. I still have red and green kale to plant and late French beans to get in. Also want to sow more spring onions and regular salad radish. Am contemplating sowing a couple of rows of carrots under fleece to see if I can harvest a crop for Christmas dinner. Now the weather is cooling, I am hoping that they would get away quickly before the weather really turns.

Overall, after the fabulous week of rain we have had, everything has really perked up. There are fresh flowers on the runnerbeans and squashes, my late 3rd sowing of sweetcorn is now standing over 4 foot tall and has flowers and the greens are looking lush and turgid.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saturday 12th August 2006 - Weather: wet and windy at 7am!

Well, set the alarm for 6.30am and by 6.45am my flask was made and I was all kitted up for a couple of hours work on the plot. I knew it had been raining in the night, but when I looked first thing, it had stopped. So, opened the front door...and it was coming down in sheets! GGRR. Okay, quick re-think. Found my raincoat, grabbed a hat and headed off for the plot anyhow. By the time I arrived it had stopped raining and the horizon looked bright. Now, really, honestly, I am not complaining about the rainfall. No siree! My allotment is now so dry that I decided to dig the spuds whose foliage had long died down, and the ground was dry as deep as I could dig! In places, the soil was dust like. Even after the rain we had, enough to half fill my water butts, the ground was bone dry after just a couple of centimeters as you can see (hopefully) in this photos. The ground on the left was untouched, the ground on the right had my valour spuds dug out. So very dry. So spuds - I dug valour, sante, desiree and lady christl. Valour was very disappointing. Very low yield of small spuds, but no damage, and we had them with out Sunday salad today, and they were very tasty. However, I don't know if I will bother with those again. The others were all excellent - good yeild, no damage, pest or disease and some whopping big tatties! Can't yet comment on flavour.

After all that digging, I was exhausted so did some light picking for a while. Picked a couple of handfulls of runner beans, couple of cucumbers, a few tomatos, and my first dozen corn on the cobs! Very pleased with my corn plantation after last years complete failure. These were sown in pots by the children and planted out in late spring. They have really grown tall and each plant has at least 2 cobs, some have 3 and I spotted at least 3 canes with 4 cobs! Plenty for the freezer. The minipops have also been a great success as daughter number one doesn't like big corns, only babycorns, so they are a must for next year.

It looks as though we will harvest around 8 melons - cantaloupes I think. And there are at least 3 watermelons, which will have loved this rainfall.

The cardoon and sunflowers are in competition who can get the tallest. I am thinking about taking some of the cardoon home in the autumn for the garden as it is so spectacular.

Saw Old Jack, he was over picking runners for his Sunday roast. He told me that a couple of people had given up their plots as they didn't have the time. I am sure they will be snapped up as there are 8 people on the waiting list. As one of the plots is next to mine, I hope it will be used as the weeds are slowely but surely heading my way!

That was it - step daughter needed collecting and son had a party, so I was home by 11am, just as the rain came in again. Looks like the forecast for this coming week is wet and windy. Glad of the wet, not so keen on the wind.