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!