Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday 27th July 2007 - Weather: sunny, breezy, overcast in the distance

Our lovely friend and neighbour offered to have the children for a couple of hours today to give me a chance to get to the plot for a pick. In return, I would give her a selection of the goodies. Also, lovely lovely Jim from the A4all site sent me some Dithane to treat the blight threat on the toms, so I was able to do those whilst I was there.

Picked over a dozen courgettes. Amazing how quickly they grow. When I was last on the plot I cleared all of the courgettes, so I was really suprised at the harvest. I love these little ones with their flowers, and we had the flowers stuffed with our steak tonight. Delicious!

Now beans......oh beans.....beans coming out of our earholes! So much for staggered sowing! Not one batch of beans were sown on the same day and the purples were a good 6 weeks after the rest, and look, all coming at once. Fortunately my neighbour loves beans, so she had a pile, plus I do find the frenchies freeze very well, so some went in there. I love french beans lightly blanched, so they are still crunchy, but tender, then cooled, drizzled with olive oil, plenty of pepper and served with feta cheese or flaked tuna. I think they make a lovely salad and could eat them every day....good job!!
The yellow is one I brought in France called Beurre something, the long thing greens are called Corden Bleu, again from France, the flat frenchies are a climber and called Gold something, I think they were from a swap, the purple, again from France are called Amathyst and the runners are called Enorma.
I pulled a few carrots, picked the peas, yanked out a few beetroot, picked some blackcurrants and cut some spinach. Ooo, also found some brocolli to pick! My final job of the day was spraying my toms. I don't like to spray anything, but I wouldn't be able to stand loosing my hole tom crop. I do always keep a few plants at home in the greenhouse as a backup, but there is nothing as wonderful as being on the allotment and picking toms, especially those cherry babies which pop into your mouth as you work!

Whilst over on plot number 2 I checked out the seeds I sowed last visit, kale, mooli, chinese cabbage etc, and they are all up already! Nature is amazing.

Before I left, I did take a few photos of the various squashes that I am growing. We don't tend to grow them all to eat, which I know seems like a waste, but I grow them because the children love to go and collect them and sort them, and then at halloween they carve some of them, not necessarily traditional pumpkins, plus I make soup. All in all, a productive couple of hours.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Saturday 21st July 2007 - Weather: bright and breezy again.

We have been so lucky here in this part of Essex not to get any floods. The allotment is actually quite dry in places, as is my garden at home and I am having to water pots and hanging baskets!

I popped to the plot today just for a pick and to plant some leeks that a kind member of Allotments 4 all sent me. Picked another vast trug full of French Beans. Now have 6 bags full in the freezer, have 2 bags to take to mums and am keeping my friend and neighbour regularly supplied. She is chuffed as her kids wolfed the beans down and they aren't usually keen on veggies. Great what home grown can do.

A few more courgettes and my third cucumber. Also a handful of peas ripe for popping and half a dozen beetroot. The last thing to do before I left was to pick the few gladioli and a couple of huge alliums to take to mums.

All things considered, and yes, I mean the weather, the allotment is looking pretty fine. Everything is lush, apart from the blighted spuds, and although some things took a long time to germinate because of the long hot start to spring and then the chilly end to it, pretty much everything I wanted to be growing, is growing nicely.

Back home I am embarking on a bit of a garden make-over. Our garden is very shady thanks to the huge willow in the middle, a selection of fruit trees, and lots of mature shrubs. I have stood in the garden on sunny days and have spotted the various sun spots and these are areas I plan to clear and fill with bright flowering plants. I don't mind all the lovely lush green plants in the shady places, but I want more colour, more flowers and scent in the garden. This will mean removing a few older shrubs, which is fine, and also cutting the rest right back. I am going to be quite rutheless, but do it over a few seasons rather than be harsh now. Today I got into the black bamboo and cut about a third out, and in the monster green bamboo I probably cut out about a half. I always keep all the long stems of the bamboo to use as supports. The black stems are like mahogany! So next Spring I am going to have to take advantage of my trade discount and go to the trade nursery and start buying pretties for the garden. I don't think I will follow a theme, and design is not my thing. I will select plants that I know and love. I fear lots of bright yellows will come into it! If I can work out how, I will probably try to start another section within my blog to keep a diary of the garden and how it changes. It will help me to keep track of what I am doing, and you can point out any obvious mistakes. Now, to work out how to sub-blog................

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wednesday 18th July 2007 - Weather: Very warm and sunny

Back again, trying to cram as much time in before the kids break up from school. Actually, the old allotment isn't looking to bad. I seem to spend more time picking than weeding and sowing at the moment, which I suppose is the way it is meant to be. Picked loads of yellow French Beans again. Left the Amathyst and the 2 green French varieties until Friday, although to be honest, I could have picked masses of both today! They will be fine for Friday. Also picked more courgettes. I have discovered how fab the flowers are stuffed, dunked in batter and deep fried. They may not be the healthiest accompaniment to a meal, but boy are they tasty, so I am treating these flowers as another veg. It does encourage me to pick the courgettes when they are smaller, but it means I keep ontop of the glut as I need more courgettes to each recipe. I will leave the next few to get a little bit bigger as I want to make a big batch of courgette bread next week. Filled an ice cream tub with redcurrants again, and another punnet with black currant. I adore black currants, but I think I love the scent from the crushed leaves more! The perfume for me is heady. I then had a rootle (is that a real word?) in the Kestrel spuds to see if I could find a couple big enough for baking. Oh boy did I ever! One of them weighed in at 1Ib 5oz. A monster. That will fed the whole family. Over on plot 2 I pulled a bunch of carrots and was amazed to see no carrot fly damage, hopefully that is thanks to the spring onions sown all the way around the carrot bed. Thinned my little gem lettuce and kept the thinnings as salad leaves. Filled a tray with alderman peas. Pulled a couple of spring onions, my first beetroot and spotted my first ripe tomato of 2007. Joy of joys.

I am getting handy with the hoe that Jack gave me, so I hoed all around my sweetcorns and along the paths and realised I could sow lots more seeds so I gave these patches a good watering, then gently forked them over with my hand trowel until I had a nice fine tilth and started sowing. Today I sowed, Chinese cabbage, white mooli, pink long radish - like a mooli, but pink, cobra beans, perpetual spinach, mixed coloured kale, swedes and carrots - parmex. As the spuds are cleared I will get in leeks and winter salads. I find the Essex winters are so mild, that leafy plants can go on almost all year. I will plant more chard, spinach and lettuce right into autumn, so long as it is mild and warm enough for the seeds to germinate and get away, they don't need the sun to ripen any fruit and I have a nice supply of leaves for salads or bigger leaves for roasts etc.

I fear blight may have reached my toms, even after being dusted with bordeaux, so a bit of housekeeping, taking off dodgy leaves and generally thinning out the foliage to allow better air circulation. I always grow a few at home in the greenhouse as a back up. I couldn't imagine life without home grown toms!

Considering I have been working almost full time, and then have been taking it so easy because of my operation, the allotment seems to be more productive this year than ever before. I am not being shy about sowing seeds, and am picking more regularly. We have been very lucky in our part of Essex. No floods, and the generous rain, however destructive and boring has made the crops growing quickly and strongly.

I will visit again on Friday and must remember shears and I might buy some roundup or something similar as there is a nettle patch at the end of my allotment that is beastly, I don' t have the time or desire to get in there and weed it all out, so I am contemplating doing something I have never done before, and that is use a weedkiller! Eek.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday 16th July 2007 - Weather: Overcast but hot and humid
I had promised myself today, all day, on the allotment, the first full day since my operation. I knew I had to take it easy, so really I was planning to just weed and pick. However, upon arrival I was suprised to see the state of the spuds. Major blight so first, and main job of the day was to go through the spud patch, weed, cut back any rotting stems, and leaf clear any top growth with only minor blight damage. The idea is to keep as much foliage above ground for as long as possible to allow the tubers below ground to keep growing for as long as possible. Maxine and Pink Fur Apple seem okay, Kestrel were the worst hit, but with those I think it is a combination of blight and natural die back, after all, they were earlies and should really have been cleared by now. I did dig one, carefully of course, just to see what the spuds were like underground and had quite a shock. Monsters! Supper sorted, jacket potatoes all round.

This really took me all day, but I did do other jobs inbetween for several reasons. Firstly it is boring doing the same old thing all day, secondly, lots of things needed picking, and thirdly, it made my incision scar tender bending and stretching as I was weeding, so plenty of breaks helped.

I gathered a nice little pile of courgettes. Really pleased with their production. They are planted in dappled shade so seem to be much slower growing than last year, meaning I am not picking dozens each visit, just 4 or 5 which works out great. Plenty of baby squashes developing now, baby pumpkins, banana squash, gourds and other monsters. I tend to just ignore them now then in the autumn the children and hubby go on a squash hunt.

Picked another cucumber - marketmore I think this variety is. Very crunchy and sweet and again, at the moment quite slow at production, one a week so far but I did notice the next batch are all similar sizes, so a glut my be imminent.

The French Beans have adored this damp cool weather and I filled the trug with different varieties. Yellow wax and Amythyst are the coloured beans, then the long, very slender green are called Cordon Bleu, the stubbier greens name escapes me, my fault for not noting it down, and the slightly flatter green with pale red blotches are called something like Triomphe D'arcy. I staggered all the sowings, but they all insist on cropping together. Fortunately the runner beans are hardly starting, the same with the climbing French and the second batch of Amathyst. They are a good couple of weeks off yet, which will be perfect.

I think the raspberry production is begining to slow, but boy has it been an amazing year for them, and so many new canes to replace the old. Hopefully now the plants have put on such great growth we will get good abundant crops from now on. I also started picking all the red and black currants and cleared the last of the gooseberries. Still masses of currants, I will have another pick later in the week, they aren't going anywhere. A pound of the currants went into my Rumtopf at home with 8oz sugar and an little slug of Rum. I did give it a good stir today as the sugar wasn't dissolving. I also had a little sample. Roll on Christmas!

One nice thing about the allotment are the flowers. The sunflowers are now opening and are so pretty. I have a patch of shorter pompom ones over on allotment number 2 but they are a way off flowering yet. Also I have odd onions, leeks and garlics that I leave behind on purpose for the flowers and they are like white and purple pompoms. The prettiest thing I think at the moment though are the globe artichokes. The purple centres positively glow and the bugs and bees love them. They completely bury themselves in the bristles and come out drunk bumbling off in all directions.

The seeds I sowed last visit, so the chinese greens and radish are all up already, but no sign yet from the spring onions or florence fennel. I noticed at home in the greenhouse the different kales and savoy cabbages are all up so I need to get them pricked out ready to be planted at the end of August.

By the time I left at just after 2.30 I was exhausted and aching. All that bending didn't do me any favours, but I achieved a lot and the plot looks great considering how neglected it has had to be whilst I recover. I hope to get back again midweek and then at the end of the week.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Monday 10th July 2007 - Weather: bright and breezy

As I said I would, I was on the allotment just after 9am. I did swing by the garden centre first as I wanted to buy some florence fennel seeds and give them a go. I have tried before, but an early start on my water deprived plot means they bolt immediately. I am hoping a later sowing might do the trick.

Anyhow, I took things easy and first job, I cleared all the broad bean plants, cutting them down leaving the roots in the ground so they can release their nitrogen stores as they break down. I did have to dig a couple of stray spuds out, but I was gentle. The area raked lovely and I sowed a row of the fennel and a row of radish.

I hoed around the squashes and picked a selection of lovely little courgettes and my very first cucumber! Salad for supper maybe??

Next into the fruit cage where I gathered lots of raspberries and the red goosegogs from the plant my sister gave me 2 years ago as a birthday gift.

After this I journeyed to the very end of allotment number one and tidied and weeded around the gladioli. Only 2 flower spikes showing, which is very disappointing. Fingers crossed they are just a tad late and there will be lots there in August. Where the International Kidney spuds were cleared I raked the ground to a fine tilth and sowed half a row of pak choi, half of mizuna, half of chinese cabage, half red mustard, half rosette pak choi and half spring onions.

Begining to feel rather worn out now so trundled over to plot 2 and picked the peas and a bunch of sweetpeas. Also went around and noticed French Beans ready for picking so gathered long green, long yellow and a few short purples. Delicious! Plenty of seeds up over on plot 2. Lots of carrots, parsnips, beetroot, salad, corriander and other things. I do need to oik out the lettuce that have started to bolt, especially as I have so many cut and come again and little gem lettuce germianted now, I don't need to keep these others. This should clear some room as I need to put some netting in for my mange tout and alderman peas that are through, and also it should give me some room to sow some other bits and bobs. I had a good sort out of my seed box yesterday and found quite a few things that can go in still, so there is no excuse for gaps!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sunday 8th July 2007 - Weather: Fabulous, dry and sunny!

As requested, here follows my legendary Curried Rhubarb Chutney. I cannot claim it as my own, it was given to me by an elderly neighbour who has been in the WI since God was a boy and she was given the recipe by an elderly lady some 30 or 40 years ago. The original recipe was double this amount, but I find smaller amounts of preserve easier to handle, however, it is so fabulous, I have since made 3 batches. It really really does improve with age, if you can stand to wait a year it is well worth it. It is almost like a mango chutney, sweet yet sour, fruity yet savoury. Amazing with cheese, delicious with papadoms, less calories than mayo with a salad and makes a lovely glaze on chicken breasts if smeared on when they have about 5 minutes cooking time left. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!
2Ib Rhubarb
1/2 Ib sultanas (I didn't use these as I don't like them in chuts)
1oz curry powder (I added just a touch more for some va va voom)
1 cup malt vinegar
2 large onions
2Ib sugar
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon salt (I halved that as I am trying to keep our salt intake low)
Chop the rhubarb into small chunks and chop the onion. Place all of the ingredients into a large preserving pan and cook slowely until everything is tender and pulpy which will take between 40 and 80 minutes. Bottle in sterile bottles and label when cold.
Because I missed out the sultanas I added an extra onion and a couple of extra stalks of rhubarb.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Thursday 5th July 2007 - Weather: bright and breezy


I know I shouldn't, but I could wait no more, so this morning, after taking the kids to school, I popped to the allotment. My only intention was to pick, and that is all I did. Considering all the rain, the plot is quite dry, but thanks to the rain and warm days the weeds are growing well, along with everything else!

Picked a tray of broad beans, red epicure and cut them back to the last bean - hopefully then they will fill out before my next visit and I will be able to cut down the plants and plant something else in their place. Next to the beans are my Supersprout Jerusalem Artichokes and in the wind from the last few days, they were laying down on top of my Green Mealie Corn, so they were staked.

Next along were the raspberries. Masses again and all monsters. They taste AMAZING. I don't want to make jam with these, so I have decided to freeze them for use maybe at Christmas. Might make a nice trifle as we are hosting this year. The canes are still covered in young fruits, so fingers crossed I will get another couple of harvests. the other fruit in the cage is maturing well and the gooseberries will be ready by the middle of next week, along with the redcurrants.

Then, rhubarb, another thing that has adored the wet warm weather. One of the stalks was as thick as my daughters arm and the leaf was like an umberella. I picked masses leaving only clusters of young stems. I plan to make some rhubarb chutney, and if I have enough left, a large crumble for the weeekend.

No strawberries, so I went to plot 2 and pulled the red onions. They didn't really come to much, the rot got them, but I will use them in the chutney, and also at the weekend as we are having a BBQ. I also pulled 2 salad bowl lettuce which had started to bolt. Also pulled an oak leaf lettuce which weighed a ton! Plenty of salad for the next month!! Picked a dozen lovely red radish and took a good look at all the seed beds. All the young seeds are really growing well which is great, but gaps are appearing as I harvest things, so next week I will have to sow more.

Went along the pea netting - the Alderman peas have pods and loads of flowers so they will be ready in a week to 10 days time. The shorter peas haven't done great thanks to being eaten by either birds or the deer, however I did fill a tray with pods. Also picked a lovely big bunch of sweetpeas and 3 big sunflowers to brighten up the house.

Last job of the morning, I tied up my tomato plants as they have really put on a growth spurt and dusted them with bordeaux powder. Plenty of flowers and buds and quite a few young fruits. Most only the size of a marble, but fruit nonetheless.

Then home where I got on with making tutti fruitti jelly, chilli jelly and rhubarb chutney!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sunday 1st July 2007 - Weather: Overcast, threatening rain!

Had to get to the allotment today, really needed to get the last of the International Kidneys out of the ground, so I dragged the clan with me. I'm still off digging duty and will be for a few weeks yet.

My love and number one son were on spud duty. The lovely thing I have found with Int. Kid. is that the spuds all seem to stay nicely attached to the roots, even when they are huge, so lifting them was very easy. They are a lovely egg shaped spud, clean and damage free. I loved listening to the whoops of excitment as another plant was lifted and the spuds were gathered. Thanks to all of this boring rain, it looks like we are in for a bumper potato crop this year, unlike last year where it was so dry, we didn't dig any big spuds and were lucky to get any at all from some plants.

Number one daughter had tummy ache - she had been a little bit poorly in the early hours, but we all agreed the fresh air and walk would do her good. Therefore she was in charge of flowers and gathered two lovely big armfuls of sweetpeas, cosmos, poppies and other flowers that have seeded themselves over both allotments. She arranged them all herself. Very Sarah Raven I felt.

Whilst she got on with this, I picked what I think is almost the last of the strawbs. We have been picking them for weeks now and they have been fabulous, again I think due to the wet, warm weather. I will be sad when they finish, I think if I am lucky, there will be one more punnet full. Have to decide whether to make a small batch of jam or freeze them.

Then daughter and I went into the fruit cage and picked the raspberries. These are coming thick and fast now - Glen Ample, and aren't they just! Souch beautiful fruit. Again, boring I know, but this rain has really given us great big berries. Last year they were a lot smaller and I have to supplement my harvest with some that Jack let me have from his autumn canes. A pound of this batch will be joining the strawberries in my new Rumtopf, the rest, well, jam maybe? I already have a couple of pound in the freezer to make ice cream with at Christmas.

We nipped over to plot number 2 and I surveyed the scene. HAPPY! All of the seeds that I sowed before my hernia operation have all germinated! I could see masses of carrots, lettuce, spring onions, peas, mange tout, beetroot, radish and kohl rabi. The lettuce are getting ever bigger, so a loose leaf salad bowl and our first little gem came home with us today. Number one son fancied pulling some radish, but he didn't like the rough leaves so he gave that job to his dad whilst he picked peas. We then picked a few broadbeans and there were 3 courgettes ready.

All in all, a brilliant hour, glad to see the weeds aren't to bad, and now I have some room to plant some leeks and other veggies as the spuds clear. I plan to have one more week at home and then starting next week I am going to try to go to the allotment for a couple of hours most days. I also plan to get the garden looking shipshape and I fancy an outing to Hyde Hall, but of course, that all depends on my hernie-ernia.