Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Eve 2007 - weather: chilly and damp

Today we had our annual journey to the plot to gather veggies for the Christmas festivities. Number one son came with me as our little girl was quite poorly with a shocking cough and cold. It was chilly and damp and we both got quite muddy, but we were able to gather carrots, parsnips, chard, cabbages, turnips, celeriac, salad leaves, red and white winter radish (mooli) and beetroot to feed family and friends during the festive period.

As you can see, the moolis have put on some serious growth considering I didn't sow until after the longest day back in the summer. They have the typical radish pepperiness if eaten raw, but chopped up or grated, they are a valuable winter root for soups and stews where they loose that heat and turn sweet and tender.

Red cabbage and savoy cabbages came home with us. The red was braised with onion and apple, a slosh of white wine vinegar, a little water, Christmas spices, salt and pepper for a couple of hours very very gently until it was tender and sweet with a hint of sour and delicious. It will definately be on my winter menu again. And of course, the parsnips. Not as massive as in previous years, but they were buggers to germinate so didn't get going until late in the spring. However there are 2 rows of these beauties, another great root for this time of year.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday 14th December 2007 - Weather: chilly and overcast

Wow, has it really been over a month since I last posted? I have popped to the plot a couple of times, but only when passing just to check everything is okay. Pretty much the same thing today. I had a hot date with old Jack to go over to the orchard and pick some miseltoo and as he wasn't arriving until 10, I had a whole hour to knuckle down. Started digging, did a section on the brassica patch, then cleared the runner beans and the few tomato plants that I hadn't gotten around to oiking out. My waterbutt had fallen over, not vandals I am certain, but the moles seem to have been burrowing around that area, and the bricks the butt was up on were at an angle, and I imagine the strong winds we have had recently were enough to tip it over, so I sorted that out. An hour is no time on the allotment, and I still have some tidying to do on plot number 2, number one is spick and span and ready for 2008.

Still in the ground and growing well are Japanese onions, garlic, leeks, chard, cabbages, purple sprouting, brussel sprouts, kale, mooli, long red radish, carrots, parsnips, swedes, turnips, a big selection of salad leaves like mustard, corn salad, oakleaf, mizuna, etc and beetroots. Should have plenty of veg for the Christmas hols.

Hopefully, weather permitting, I will go to the allotment for a couple of hours Monday afternoon, and Tuesday afternoon.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th November 2007 - weather: brighty and breezy

In memory of Nanny Shipley - 1906 - 2007

I know, I know, I have waited a whole week to get the blog updated, but honestly, I have been so busy with family and 'stuff' that only now do I have time to sit down and properly get this info up to date. A lovely time of year on the allotment, a time of tidying and preperation and sitting back and enjoying the colours of this season. I spent several coffee breaks sitting watching the squirrels larking about in the trees, and blue tits and wrens in the brambles. The sound of birdsong was so incredibly loud.

The main aim of this 2 day stint was to get everything cleared and all vacant beds dug ready for the winter weather to do it's thing. The squashes hadn't liked the cold nights and they were all black and shrivelled - fortunately the squashes all came home a couple of weeks ago. I dug and dug and dug, tidied the aspargus patch and the rhubarb and turned out some of my compost heap. Not bad stuff - too chunky to be used as potting compost, but as a mulch on the plot to improve moisture and open the texture up, just perfect. The rhubarb and sparagrass both had a good top dressing. I will continue to empty the heap and spread it about with gay abandon throughout the autumn, winter and spring.

I finally cleared the last of the spuds that were in the ground, filled a bucket, some slug damage, but considering I should have had them out a few months back, they were in pretty good shape. I dug a couple of Kestrel, the size of a rugby ball, and as clean as could be. They are a must for next year - the obviously love my allotment.

I made the decision some time back to sort out the strawberry patch as I don't really tend to it, just let the runners root at will all over the place, which is great as there are hundreds and hundreds of plants, but it is a real pain to pick the fruits as it is a complete tangle of strawberry plants, and dreaded creeping buttercups. So, I dug up large clumps, seperated out the plants chucking out any big, old, gnarly plants and started planting up neat rows of fresh young plants. Looks very neat - quite a worry for me as I rarely plant things in lovely straight lines. It will mean however I will be able to straw them nicely in the early summer, and hopefully pick them a lot easier. The other bonus is I have relocated them at the top end of plot number one, the sunniest spot on that allotment, so fingers crossed for a bumper harvest.
Most of the apples have finally fallen from the trees, so I gathered a few okay windfalls to use in crumbles, the rest are left in cider scented heaps under the trees for the birds and other critters to enjoy. By spring hey are usually all rotted down and I put fresh mulch under the trees. It seems to work okay.
Jack gave me a lovely green cabbage called Lion. I haven't heard of this one before, but they have grown very quickly for him and have made very tight cabbages, very green with a lovely sweet flavour. I also picked a red cabbage and dug some carrots. Still lashings of carrots in the ground and I may through some fleece over them to keep the a little bit cosy before the day time temperatures fall too low.
The tomatos have all finished now, along with the beans, and I will clear those next time and get the area dug over. The corn have also all finished and I picked the last of the rainbow cobs. Daughter number one loves these so am hoping to grow more next year.

Currently in the ground I have brussel sprouts - red and green, savoy cabbages, green cabbages, red cabbages, brocolli, purple sprouting, kale, kohl rabi, spring cabbages, lettuce, leeks, japanese onions, garlic, celeriac, rainbow chard, spinach, carrots, mooli, radish, spring onions, parsnips, turnips, swedes, pak choi and red mustard. A large amount still growing which is brilliant as I like to be able to visit the allotment year round and have something to harvest.

A PS to add - here are our various pumpkin carvings, basic I know, but the childrens designs. As you can tell, we went from large round pumpkins, right down to little baby gourds.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Saturday 20th October 2007 - Weather: sunny with a nip in the air

Flying visit time of year with the kids on half term and not much growing now. I popped up to assess the situation and to bring home the squashes now the mornings are frosty. Not as many as I would have hoped but in the rotation plan this year, the squash bed was unfortunately in dappled shade and of course, with the old hernia problems, I could pamper them, so they were left to get on with it. However, I am pleased with what I brought home, and it will give us some to carve at Halloween and the rest for soups and stews. My lot aren't keen on squash as a veg on it's own, but it is great in soups and they don't mind it then, so to be honest, this is enough.
Looks like this is the last courgette for 2007. I don't buy them in the supermarket at other times in the year, so looks like I will have to wait until next May or June. I made a chunky season veg soup and in it went. Delicious!

Picked a red and green cabbage - the green called Greyhound, sorry about the pic quality. The red will be a coleslaw base, and I will have some braised with apple, the green has already been scoffed, with Sundays roast chicken. It was so sweet. You cannot beat picking something and cooking it soon after.

I plan to get up to the allotment once the kids go back to school for 2 or 3 days on the trot, to dig every where that needs it and to get the compost out of the heap and start getting that on any bare areas. I am also tempted to dig a bean trench and fill it over the winter with kitchen and garden waste to try and give them a good boost next year. It will help with water retention.

In my vague rotation plan for next year, the cabbages will remain on plot 2, but will shift down into the shadier area at the bottom of the plot. The spuds will be on plot 1 down by the shed, the squash on plot 1 up in the sun beyond the apples and my 'others', so roots, salads, etc will be on plot 2 in the sun at the top end. I don't really do maincrop onions due to the white rot - the over wintering onions are already in and growing on plot number 2 at the lower end. They will be cleared as the brassicas go in. Leeks are also in with them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Forgot to add...
On allotment one I had a rogue alpine strawberry plant grow last year. I was going to weed it out, but never did get round to it, so it now has pride of place up amongst my flowers. I have been keeping an eye on it waiting for the perfect little strawbs to turn red, but they just weren't budging, so I picked one and popped it into my mouth. Soft, sugar sweet, a ZAP of pure strawberry flavour. Amazing. So I have a white alpine strawberry plant on the plot! I should save a couple of fruits and dry the seed and see if any off spring are white also.

Tuesday 25th September 2007 - Weather: bright but rain threatening
Today I had to meet Old Jack on the plot as we had a scrumping date over on the farm. Filled my carriers with plums, pears and crab apples. The owners are thrilled that we go and have a pick as none of the fruit is used in bulk and most of it falls to the ground and rots, which is such a shame. The crab apples will be transformed into chilli jelly, some of the plums will be turned into jam, the rest into plum gin and vodka and the pears will be eaten, frozen, bottled and given to the neighbours.

Once back on the plot I cleared the old pea and sweetpea area infront on the runner beans as this is the overwintering onion, leeks and garlic patch. The leeks that the site secretary gave me a few weeks ago are already in and settled and looking good. The area was dug, raked, dug and raked some more until I was left with something resembling a fine tilth. Then I planted my 75 white onions and 25 red onions. My mate Growmore sends me these from Yorkshire and the quality is outstanding, much better than I have ever received mail order. They are strong firm sets which seem to shrug of the dreaded white rot, giving me a great useable harvest in early summer. I also planted 2 bulbs of purple hard neck garlic, purchased from the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. I have tried garlic from other mail order suppliers, and had rubbish harvests - the Garlic Farm were the best when I first used them, and I tried to be cheap, and paid the price. From now on I will stick with quality. I have saved 2 bulbs to break up and plant at home in a large trough. These should be white rot free and give me clean specimens for platting.

From there I did some harvesting. Still plenty on the plot and I picked a couple of cucumbers, a couple of crystal lemon cucumbers, courgettes, chard, turnips, radish, salad leaves and the bonus, a bowl of strawberries. There are lots of flowers and immature fruits still on the plants, but the nights are getting a lot colder now, so whether they will ripen, we will have to wait and see. I also picked the last raspberries from Jacks plot as he didn't want them. They went straight into the freezer as they turn mouldy so quickly this late in the season.

I did harvest a couple of the red sweetcorns, but they hadn't developed very big cobs. I don't know if it was due to the weather, or if they got checked when I planted them out, but they perfect, sweet, and beautiful.

Clearing time really. I still have a few spuds in the ground so I cleared the last of the kestrel and Maxine and I have a few pink fur apples to go. So, after an hour of digging, the rain started setting in, so I set off for home. I will be back next Friday for another farm rendevous and to clear the last of the spuds, pick all the apples I can reach and finish any digging I have left to do.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Saturday 15th September 2007
Danbury & Little Baddow Autumn Horticultural Show 2007

Finally show day arrived. The kids had worked very hard Friday night, daughter number one made a lovely fruit salad with peaches, kiwi, apples, melon, rapsberries, apples, blackberries, strawberries and alpine strawberries. She then made an edible necklace with a mix if little fruits and veggies. Son number one made a dinosaur from vegetables - a marrowsaurus.

We got up early to shoot to the allotment to decide what flowers to put into the annuals section and to try and pick some good apples. We decided that the 3 sunflowers were gorgeous and they would be winners, so we loaded the car and arrived at the school hall at around 10am. I showed:
5 culinary apples
3 beetroot
3 carrots
3 courgettes
1 outdoor grown cucumber
1 table top marrow
5 onions grown from sets
12 shallots
5 coloured potatoes
5 white potatoes
7 runner beans
3 beefsteak tomatoes
5 medium tomatoes
7 cherry tomatoes
any other root veg - turnips
any other veg - turks turban squash
top tray - collection of 3 types of veg
vase of annual flowers
recipe using plums (Mulled plum jelly)
jam made from soft fruit (Strawberry jam)
jam made from stone fruit (Greengage jam)
chutney (curried rhubarb chutney)

We left the hall and went off to do our chores, heading back there at around 3.30 for prize giving at 4.15. I wasn't expection to do great as I hadn't had lots of time over the summer to molycoddle my veggies, what with the hernia op and going away on our hols. Also the toms had some blight, and I had trouble matching veggies - for example, I had 2 smashing big beetroots, but the rest were all small like golfballs, same problem with the carrots. All the whoppers were slightly twisted or had green shoulders, so we went with the smaller ones that we could match.

I left the inlaws and hubby to look at my veggies whilst I went with the children to see how they did. They were very proud as son took a first for his Marrowsaurus and daughter took seconds for her fruit salad and necklace. By now the inlaws and hubby were very excited as I had managed to take a few firsts myself. In fact, I took 7 firsts, 7 seconds, 4 thirds and my greengage jam was highly commended. My top tray came second and I won a £5 gift voucher for DT Browns. I took the most points in the show to won the prestigious RHS Banksian Medal and the Dawson Challenge Cup. I was thrilled and the chairman of the society made a point of telling everyone how tough it is on our allotment because there is no water, we have to save what we can, or lug water from home. He went on to tell the audience that I work the plot on my own, as well as working, and being chief mum and head bottle washer. Gush Gush.

The next show is in the spring and is usually only flowers. Wonder if I have time to plant more daff bulbs as it is the daffodil society in the spring,

Now my photos of my winning entries.



Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday 7th August - Weather: hot, sunny outbreaks, humid then overcast!

Well, it's official, the urchins are back at school and at last I have spent some SERIOUS time on the allotment. I have been Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but didn't think you would want a day by day/blow by blow account, so I am keeping it all to today.

The weather has been so warm, great for ripening the toms but not so great for the young seedlings and plants that could do with a good downpour to help them along. I don't imagine this warm snap will last for long, after all, this is the UK!

Wednesdays main job was to sort out the poor toms. Blight was in amongst the plants, but not all, and even those that were blighty, weren't blighty all over, so good hygene was called for. All the plants that were undercover were fine, no blight, so I just tidied those up, took the tops out now so the plants can concentrate on the fruits that are already big and beautiful and tied them in. The blighty ones, mostly yellow berry and sungold were cut back to where the blight stopped and the clean tissue began. I removed about three quarters of the foliage and any blighty fruits on the vines. I tied them up and took the growing points out. I don't know if the fruits will ripen, but I am buggered if I am going to pull up good plants with lots of toms on. If only a quarter of them ripen then it was a worthwhile exercise. A couple of plants came completely out, several plum toms and a beefsteak, but all the fruits were removed and bagged seperately so I can use the blighty ones quickly, cut off the yuck and cook down the remainder, the green ones with no signs of blight will be cooked down and made into Green Tomato Mango Chutney, and the ripe ones with no sign of blight. I will keep an eye on the ripe fruit and as soon as it shows any signs of blight, I will oik them out.

This should have only taken a couple of hours, but of course, the lovely Jack called me and he was picking his Autumn Bliss raspberries....for me! We ended up chatting and picking and eating for the best part of an hour, but he is worth his weight in gold and in a couple of weeks we go over to the farm and into their orchard to scrump pears (with the farmers permission of course) and he has a dozen winter lettuce seedlings for me when they get a little bigger. (The blackberries I picked from the school playing fields. The mums all think I am slightly eccentric, they can't understand what I do with blackberries!) This is an edit, just to say that this evening I bottled the blackberries in lovely, pretty kilner jars - the cooker method. We had some a couple of weeks ago that I bottled last year and they were nectar!

In the afternoon I started to clear where the sweetpeas were and started to dig this area over. There is a row of dwarf french beans there and I am letting them dry on the plants to give me a jar of dried beans to use over winter. We had so many beans that once the runners started I stopped picking, so already some are drying out. Once they are dry on the plants, and before the weather starts getting to wet and cold, I will pull them all up and lay the pods out on newspaper somewhere cool and dry for a week or so to make absolutely sure they are dry, then I will shell them all and jar them for the winter.

Wow, what a difference. Cutting the paths whilst I worked and re-edging the plot makes such a difference and plot number 2 was really looking great by the time I left.

Thursday was brassica day. The cabbages and sprouts were in a jungle of chickweed, creeping this and stinging that, so I pulled off all the netting and got down in amongst the cabbages. Straight forward weeding was all that was required, but it did give me the chance to squish over 10 slugs and crush about the same number of snails. The purple sprouts, falstaff I think, already have baby sprouts so they will definately be ready for Christmas dinner. The green ones, I can't remember their name, do have sprouts, but they are tiny so I think they will feed us in the new year. I picked a handful of brocolli which daughter number one normally scoffs and admired my lovely savoy cabbages. They look so amazing. I must make sure I grow more of them next year. Once again the cauliflowers were rubbish - really don't know why I bother, so out they came, and I planted a row of Asparagus Kale that I got from a seed swap on A4All. Lovely strong little plants, should give us some kale for Christmas and then into the spring. There is room for the other greens that I have at home, I just have to remember to take them up there.

After I renetted the brassicas I moved over to the side where I have a couple of unusual sweetcorns growing, given to me by a lovely friend I met through A4All. Once variety is rainbow corn and one is red inca. The rainbow is doing amazingly well and there are 2 or 3 cobs on each plant and some of the plants are over 6 foot tall. The red isn't so tall, but each plant has at least 1 cob on it so I am chuffed. Because I received the seed a little late in the season, I didn't sow the entire packet meaning I can do the rest next spring. Wondering now if I can save one cob from each plant to get more seed for next year. I weeded around the corns and the sunflower patch and in amongst the corns and weeds I had a row of carrots - Paris Market, a row of Kohl Rabi and a row of Curly Kale. Well, half rows really, and they were rediscovered, growing for victory. I pulled one of the carrots just to see, and I ended up pulling the lot because they were just beautiful. For me, this has been the best year ever for carrots. No fly at all, perfect clean roots, very little greening at the neck, sweet and tender and just perfect. The kohl rabi, although nice little plants, were still very little thanks mainly to the shade. However, they are now out in the open, so of course the pigeons will eat them, but if they don't spot them, then after a couple of downpours of rain, we should start having golf ball sized rabis to cook with out turnips.

At the end of Thursday, plot number 2 looked perfect. I still have some digging to do where the sweetpeas were - I only got half way across the plot, but that isn't an urgent job and I can do a little of that every visit. It is my onion bed, so will become urgent once my garlic arrives - order from the garlic farm on the Isle of Wight, and my Japanese hunions arrive, courtesy of the lovely Jim on A4All who sends me lovely sets which thrive on my plot and hardly any succumbe to white rot....why, we don't know, good quality Yorkshire sets he tells me.

Friday - today. Well, I am aching all over because today was spud digging day. I have left this job so late, but my hernia operation prevented me from doing any heavy hard digging, so we have just dug a few plants as and when we needed potatoes. Well, now I want them up because I want some for the village show next weekend, and because I know some plants had blight and I want to get the tubers out before any blighty ones spread, and because I know I have the entire population of slugs living on my allotment who will enjoy spuds for breakfast, dinner and tea if I leave them in too much longer.

First up, Pink Fur Apple. A lovely salad type spud, knobbly and bobbly and a pain to peel, so don't! Give them a wash, toss them in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and roast. YUMYUM PIGS BUM! A good harvest considering my potato plants do not get any extra water, only that which mother nature provides. The wet early summer has meant the tubers are huge, just not many per plant, but I expect pound for pound, we have done miles better this year than ever before. Maxine next, a delightful red lady, again, HUGE tubers, but some slug damage. Not too bad though.

By now, 3 rows in, I am flagging. My allotment neighbour and site secretary was over hacking back her Jerusalem Artichoke forrest and she offered my about 40 leek plantlets. I grabbed them becuase I was all behind with my leeks, blaming the old hernia again, and although I had been sent some from an A4All member, the post office had been so slow in getting them to me, over half were rotten. I do have some in the greenhouse, but they are like blades of grass at the moment. These were like thin knitting needles, and I planted them over on plot 2 in the section I had dug and raked. Lovely to see vacant ground growing again. There are more leeklets for me if I want them, but I ran out of room.

After lunch I picked a bag full of apples, a handful of minipop sweetcorn for daughter number 2, and Jack told me he had strawberries ripe again, so I had a looksie at mine, and what do you know, a bowl full of ripe strabs and masses of developing fruit! Amazing, sometimes I love this global warming. If this warm spell hangs around for a week, I reakon I will be picking another decent sized bowl full next weekend.

Time was marching on and I was feeling the strain from digging all those spuds, so I went and picked runner beans and tidied up my globe artichoke plants. They have baby flowers coming - I had a couple last week, and there at least 3 flowers coming again, not big main buds, but lovely tender baby buds, so I shall enjoy them, probably next weekend with my strawberries! All I need now is for the asparagus to think it is spring again and I will be eating like a king!! I took the time to look at my other veggies, mostly those growing beneath the ground. The turnips really need pulling as they are getting so big - tennis balls now, but I want three beauties for the village show next week, so they can stay put until next Thursday. The same with the beetroot. This has been such a good year for me and root veg. In fact most veggies have done really well. The only thing I would say was a bit poor were the peas. We had plenty, but not enough to freeze this year. The Alderman really didn't perform well. I shall continue to grow them though as they are an exceptionally good pea, and this has been an exceptionally odd growing year.