Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Look what I got for Christmas!

Roll on March! I can't wait to get my seeds going in this - it's heated!

And also this:

But so far the birds either haven't noticed it yet, or are turning their beaks up at it. I don't know why as you couldn't wish for a posher or smarter feeding post. Anyway it's a lot more attractive than the swingball that was there before.

I went on a long walk this morning, coming back through the allotments. I haven't walked down the alleyway that connects them to the main road for a while, but today I noticed that the vandals have obviously rampaged their way down there as well: a whole length of fence has been pulled down. They clearly start at that end and work their way down, having a go at all the allotments on either side of the public path, particularly the ones nearest the entrance gates. One poor plotholder has had his metal shed (presumably a precaution against arson) completely destroyed. It's just a mangled mess. I think by the time they got as far as mine they had run out of steam a bit - just a couple of tyres and a plank of wood out of place today.

I have been thinking about what could be used as an effective, but legal deterrent. The site manager had had the good idea of surrounding my shed with prickly brambles and holly etc. What would be really great is if you could somehow douse the offender with some seriously smelly fermented comfrey juice. But how? Suggestions welcome. I will have to wait until spring now anyway as there is no comfrey growing at the moment.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

I spoke too soon....

Had another phonecall this morning; the vandals have been back - with a vengeance. They have finally managed to fulfill their ambition of pushing my shed right over, along with both compost bins. And as usual, several netting hoops pulled out again. Apparently about 25 kids were running amok up there last night, the police were called and ONE of them was arrested! Let's hope they persuaded him/her to TALK. The site manager advised me to leave the shed as it was until it has all died down, or they'd only be back to do it again. However I needed my spade to sort out the compost situation, so I had to put the shed back up as it was lying door side down. It didn't take me too long to put everything back as it was, so I'm hoping they've got it all out of their systems now. I wonder if vandals go out to play over Christmas, or do they stay at home like everyone else? It's hard to imagine what's a normal lifestyle for a vandal.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas decs!

Nothing whatsoever to do with allotments, but I just wanted to show off my Christmas decorations! I love to have the house bedecked with greenery brought in from the garden:

Fairy lights and things the children have brought home from school over the years,

and of course, the sweetie tree!

The snow-flakes are stuck on the window behind, not part of the tree.
Sorry about the fuzziness of some of the above - I switched the flash off to get the warmth of the fairy lights so got a bit of camera shake as a result of the longer exposure.

Allotment news is: the vandals came back once again, but haven't been back the last two times I've been. I intend to go again tomorrow to check. Also, my seed potatoes have already arrived - a couple of weeks ago actually, so I've left them in their cardboard box and put them in a cool dark place, hoping they won't go mouldy between now and February when I get them out to start chitting. When's the earliest you can start? January?


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Yetis? Hoodies more like

I had a phone call this morning from the allotment site manager to tell me there had been a spate of vandalism, and they had attempted to lift and move my shed!! She and her husband had very kindly put it back as it was (they hoped) and it seems to be still in tact, albeit slightly wonky on it's base. However the contents had been rather shaken up so it all fell out when I opened the door.

In addition they had taken a whole bag of bark chips, split it open and sprinkled the entire contents all over the path just outside the gate. They had also pulled out some netting hoops and thrown them over the hedge, and chucked a few bamboo canes around for good measure.

However it seems I got off pretty lightly, look what they did to the plot on the other side of the hedge:

He only put this shed up a few weeks ago, and they have kicked the door in, breaking the catch and the hinges. He has put in a lot of work and, by the looks of things, spent quite a bit of money, over the past few months.

These aluminium pole and ball structures don't come cheap, some of these have been completely mangled.

Ooh it makes your blood boil. We have been asked to phone and report it to the police individually, presumably because the more reports they get the more likely they are to do something about it (fat chance). Anyway I hope if they ever do send someone to patrol they catch the little toerags and BANG 'EM TO RIGHTS!!

On a happier note, here is a thrush on top of the damson tree:

Does he look full of snails?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Indoor winter veg progress report

These are the lettuces growing on the kitchen windowsill - a bit spindly compared to the ones I left in the greenhouse:

These are smaller but look healthier. I think the light must be better. I might try putting some bubble wrap around them to keep them warm at night.

And these are the carrots. ... well - I suppose I might get some in late spring??

Up at the allotment, when I went up to get some leeks and carrots, I spotted a large footprint, which couldn't have been one of mine as it was right in the middle of the over-wintering onions - one of which had been squashed. It's unlikely it was another plot-holder, which can only mean one thing: foul play. But there is no other damage, and only the one single footprint. MOST mysterious. Especially after the leek incident a couple of weeks ago. The 'PLOT' thickens !!!! Ha ha

Monday, 17 November 2008

Soggy and Grey

Needed a walk this afternoon so went up to look at the allotment to see what was going on, and to throw some toilet rolls etc in the compost bin and everything looked very soggy and depressing, but on closer inspection......

...if you look very closely, right in the middle of the picture you will see an onion with a little green shoot coming up! There were two or three like this. I only took the little camera, and I don't know how to zoom in and save it like that.

The other thing I noticed was a leek that had been uprooted and chucked on the ground. Although it was on my plot I'm not sure if it was one of mine - there was no evidence of any other damage, although some of my bamboo canes had been moved. Suspicious, but not alarming. Anyway of course I brought the leek home for tea.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Garlic and Broad Beans IN !

Still no photos - I did take the camera today, only to find the batteries needed recharging, but there wasn't much to photograph anyway. I have put in two rows of garlic and four rows of broad beans. I have also ordered next year's potatoes! 20 Mimi (1st early) 20 Charlotte and 20 Anya (2nd early) and 20 Sarpo Mira. I am doing twice as many as last year, so maybe I can save some for the following year and save a bit of money?
Tonight I have made celeriac gratin dauphinoise - it was a Gordon Ramsay recipe from the Saturday Times magazine, except it was supposed to be hazlenut and celeriac, but I left the nuts out. It was delicious!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Dreadful drizzle and colourful compost

I was hoping to get to the plot this week to plant the garlic and broad beans. I really don't fancy it today though as it's drizzling persistently and I just can't face it. The rest of the week doesn't look much better. No photos today because I haven't been for a while and last time I went I WISH I'd taken the camera but I'll just have to describe it to you instead:
I emptied the bin with the finished compost in, then set about transferring the contents of the current bin to the empty one, by way of turning and aerating it. So. I slid the black plastic container up and off the contents, and was left with a perfect cylinder of stripey layers! Bright green on top, then getting darker and more decomposed as it went down, interspersed with layers of white/beige of shredded paper and cardboard, and one or two rather lurid layers of rotting bokashi bin contents. Very very exciting!
The finished compost went onto next year's potato patch, having first turned and dug in the weeds that were growing there, and I have also covered it with a tarpaulin for good measure, to stop any reappearing.
We have eaten the first two leeks! They were the only two that were big enough to dig up, the rest are still quite small and skinny.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Blackberry boo-boo

I stopped off at Lidl yesterday on the way home from work, to see if they still had any cheap fruit bushes. I picked up two packs of what I thought were blackcurrant plants, for a grand total of £1.28, only to get home and discover they were actually blackberries. The very close-up pictures looked just like blackcurrants. Still, they were little more than sticks really, very recent cuttings, and so I haven't lost out much.

I might see if Wilkos have any though.

Here is the plot, looking very empty and dull after removing all the marigolds. (Notice the newish plotholder the other side of the hedge has recently put a shed up). There are still carrots coming (behind my shadow), celeriac to the left and behind that, leeks.

I don't know if it's just wishful thinking, but I think the leeks have perked up a bit since I fed them, but they are still a bit feeble.

I'm also fairly certain that there are fewer whitefly and aphids on the broccoli. Whether this is down to the spraying I gave them, or the cold night we have just had, I'm not sure.

I went to the garden centre today and bought some autumn planting onion sets, some garlic and some broad bean seeds, all to be planted soon.

Here is the Phacelia Tanacetifolia (sp?) - green manure, on next year's summer veg patch (ie squashes/courgettes, sweetcorn, tomatoes).

I also chopped down all the comfrey and put it in the compost. Next job is to empty the bin of finished compost so I can start filling it up again.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Pumpkin soup

and pumpkin bread to go with it. This was a bit dry and heavy though. It didn't rise properly, I think because the mix was a bit dry. It also contains polenta which is two years past its sell-by date. Not too bad nonetheless.

Went to the allotment this afternoon to squirt the p-s-b with Bio-Friend Plant Defence http://www.victoriananursery.co.uk/plant_care_and_gardening_tools
/biofriend_plant_defence_no1 to see if it will help to fend off the whitefly and woolly aphids, but I fear it may already be too late. It was quite successful in the spring against greenfly and the little green caterpillars that attacked everything so badly last year in the garden. But on brassicas the leaves are so water repellant the stuff just beads and rolls off. I've run out of this BFPD now and don't know whether to get some more. It's not cheap. Next year I will cover all the winter brassicas with enviromesh or fleece before these insects get the chance to attack.

I have sown some lettuce seeds, which have now germinated, and some carrot seeds, in the greenhouse - just to see how they get on. I have never really grown food in the greenhouse over the winter before, so this is a bit of an experiment for me. I'm planning another good session at the allotment tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

A clean sweep for the broom

I have taken the plunge and cut this..

down to this....

Eeek! Radical!
Now I can walk behind them without crouching. There were three altogether, but I have removed one completely as it was already quite loose and wobbly as a result of some overenthusiastic weeding earlier this year.

Here is my bark chip path which should keep the weeds down. As you can see there is still a strip for planting flowers, and where I planted the daffodil and bluebell bulbs. Next year I will put borage, sunflowers, teasels, oxeye daisies and cornflowers in here too.

Here is some gorgeous compost, ready to use. This photo makes it look nearly empty, whereas it is in fact nearly half full. I put some around my leeks the other day - they are looking a bit puny, I fed them with liquid feed too so fingers crossed.

I have terrible whitefly on the purple sprouting brocolli. I don't like to wish for cold weather, but that's the best treatment for them really. On the John Harrison forum site somebody suggested spraying them with salty water, but didn't say what concentration to use - too salty would surely damage/kill the plant? Anyway, I dare say the weather will get cold again soon, so they should be all gone by the time the plants start producing the brocolli.

This area is going to have a little makeover too. I'm going to put a few slabs down, make a little 'utility'/ patio area, take a plastic chair up there, a bit of space for mixing feed etc, possibly another water butt. Surely there will come a time when I need to actually use some of this water, rather than just collecting it? I saw some slabs in a skip the other day - or - I could probably spare some more from the end of the garden.

The weather was unbelievable today - shame I couldn't have spent more time up there, but the forecast seems to be indicating more of the same for the next few days, so I will be making the most of them. Friday I gardened at home - mowing, clearing out the greenhouse, planting tulips, sowing lettuces in the greenhouse. Tomorrow we have a walk/pub lunch planned, but Monday I have the whole day to play with at the allotment.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Autumnul hues

The virginia creeper looked beautiful this morning in the early morning sun.

I have had a really productive day at the allotment today. I found the additional planks I needed for the edges, down behind the cabin, and took them down there (or rather, my neighbour, who is a man with a van with a roofrack, and just happened to appear as I was trying to insert the plank into the boot of my car, with the front end sticking out of the front window, which he informed me was highly illegal - took it down there for me). So I got those into position, then cleared away the last of the weeds as far down as the builder's-sack-compost-container, which is about 6 metres, then went to collect 5 bags of bark chips and spread them along by the edge of the plank, leaving a border along the hedge, where I planted 20 daffodils and 20 bluebells (bargains from Wilko's - and yes I'm pretty sure the bluebells are native British ones) - oh- and a cowslip which my parents donated.

I also strimmed the grass on the other edge, removed the mesh from the carrots (I'm pretty sure the carrot fly season is over now..??) and dismantled the runner bean wigwam. Finally I emptied a bin of bokashi into the compost bin. I brought home some chard from my neighbours, and a few sprigs of p.s.brocolli. Believe it or not there are STILL strawberries ripening, but they don't taste very nice any more so I didn't bother to bring any home. The strawberries really need weeding, but that's a job for another day.

The birds have been enjoying the sunflower seeds, of which there are still quite a few left, so I will leave them for now. A bit of a mystery: under the hedge I found a stash of walnuts and walnut shells - I didn't think there were any walnut trees growing on the allotments, but I suppose there could be. One of the old hands will probably know.

Another day of rain to come tomorrow, and my water butt is already full right to the brim. I suppose it will just have to overflow.

Unfortunately I keep forgetting to take the camera with me, but next time I should really take some pictures as things are changing quite rapidly at the moment.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

New seed catalogues

Today I received my new copy of 'The Organic Gardening Catalogue', and recently the new T& M catalogue too. Definites for next year so far:
Sungold tomatoes. 'Voted by gardeners as the sweetest tomato ever from seed'. Unfortunately they are F1 hybrids so a bit more expensive and I won't be able to save the seed, but I shall do the trusty Gardener's Delight as well.
Dwarf french beans instead of climbing ones. I like the look of 'Aiguillon' - 'a true 'haricot vert', pencil slim, stringless beans .... mature very early on strong, upright plants'.
I'm very tempted by all the exciting looking squashes, such as Uchiki Kuri, Marina Di Chioggia, Blue Ballet - most of them in fact, although I'm not sure if the family really likes them, except made into soup with plenty of chilli and spice. Also they take up a lot of space which I might need for other things. But I'll certainly be doing one of them.
Spinach - I've never grown it before because I don't like what it does to my teeth - I don't mean getting bits of green stuck between them - I mean it makes them feel all rough and funny. But the family say they all like it so I'm thinking of a leaf beet called 'Erbette' - 'a tasty traditional cut and come again leaf beet from Italy, with tender green leaves and stems'. It looks more like spinach but hopefully won't have the same effect on the teeth.
Spud varieties (from T&M): 'Mimi' a little pink 1st early; 'Anya' a cross between pink fir apple and Desiree - 2nd early; Charlotte - 2nd early; and maincrop - 'Sarpo Mira', which has everything apparently - 'unprecedented blight resistance, huge yields, vigorous weed suppressing foliage, long storage, and tubers do not appear to be affected by slugs'. Not that I've had much of a problem with slugs on my spuds, but it doesn't hurt to be on your guard.
I might go and check out what the local garden centre has first though, as I hate the suspense of waiting for the seed potatoes in the post. I was on tenterhooks last year, wondering if I'd have enough time to chit them properly.

The other dilemma is whether I should buy new seeds while I still have some left over from last year? And what to do with seeds that you don't really want to use again? I don't like throwing them away and I don't like spending money if I don't have to. I could Freecycle them I suppose. Mm - good idea.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A Sea of Orange

My pumpkin is ripening nicely. What I want to know is, how do you get the flesh out of a pumpkin without chopping it up? We can't do that until after we've used it for hallowe'en. Only once we've been burning a candle in it for a few hours it doesn't look too appetising.

Today I took down the french bean plants - they have finished - and the sweetcorn, which have also finished. I also cleared away the dead melon and the outdoor cucumbers, which have produced lots and lots of rather bitter cucumbers. We haven't eaten a single one - they all ended up on the compost. I will stick to all-female next year. The greenhouse ones were fine.

While I was doing all this some naughty kids - well teenagers really - kept ringing the bell on my bike, which I had left just the other side of the fence. They weren't really doing any harm, just trying to wind me up. I haven't come across any really nasty behaviour up there yet - although my allotment neighbour, Valerie, was once menaced by a young lad who threatened to burn her plot down!

I keep wondering about cutting down the Broom trees next to the shed. I always feel very guilty at the thought of destroying perfectly healthy plants - especially ones that size. They are very impressive when they are in flower, but they are getting quite big and they really get in the way. I wonder how severely I could prune them back?

Here they are in flower. They are even bigger than this now, and overhanging quite a big area of this corner of the plot. With a great big clump of marigolds on the right now as well, it's almost impassable.

The dreaded cabbage whites have found my purple sprouting brocolli. I have managed to keep the caterpilars more or less under control by hand-picking them, but I don't really like handling them, I wish they wouldn't ooze green goo all over my hands.

Found a few french beans as I was dismantling them, and picked almost the last of the runner beans - just enough for a meal. And this afternoon my son and I have made an apple pie.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Summer's back!

Spotted these two butterflies in the garden yesterday - I don't know what they are?

This afternoon on the allotment, as I was shovelling the well-rotted manure, I inadvertantly uncovered a nest of three tiny, newborn baby mice (or something, most probably mice). They were really new - pink, bald and helpless. As I stood there, panicking slightly, wondering if I could rectify the situation, the mother scuttled out from under a bush, took one look at me and, quite understandably, ran away terrified. I decided that the damage was already done, the nest was probably done for, so I made a little hollow at the back of the heap, put some dried grass in it and moved them all into that. Then I covered it up with the tarpaulin that had been covering the manure. A little while later I peeked in to see if they were ok and they were all gone! So I HOPE that the mother had found them and taken them away somewhere safer. I did feel so guilty and distressed about it.

The toad has moved away from under the plank. There was a toad-shaped indentation in the soil! There were a lot of empty snail shells in the manure heap too - I wonder what had been eating them, or perhaps they just died there - a snail graveyard?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Rude Tomatoes

I couldn't resist posting a picture of these cheeky chappies. Anyone know why this happens?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Cheeky Chilli Pepper Chutney

Yesterday I made Jamie Oliver's 'Cheeky Chilli Pepper Chutney' from his 'Jamie at Home' book. It's nice - quite hot and spicy. It's a fairly simple list of ingredients: red peppers, chillis, red onions, rosemary, cinnamon and bay leaves, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. But it's a bit of a palaver grilling all the peppers and chillis until charred, blackened and blistered all over, then putting in a bowl covered with clingfilm until cool, then peeling off all the skin and removing the pips and pith. Luckily I had my parents visiting, and they helped with this part. And after all that, only 3 and a bit jars! I didn't have any of my own peppers either, which slightly defeated the object, mine aren't ripe yet. However I might try doing it with tomatoes instead of peppers, or maybe a combination, once my peppers start to ripen.

Here are my boxes of tomatoes, in various stages of ripeness:

I should really go and pick some more, before they all get blighted.

Today I went to have a peek at the allotment show. I haven't been to anything like this since I was a child and I used to enter the children's miniature garden category. I can't remember if I ever won anything. Anyway, today's show was quite an education. The same few names appeared again and again, and some vegetables weren't even represented at all, eg courgettes and squashes, french beans, cucumbers, brassicas other than cabbages, and fruit - nothing except apples and one plum entry. If there's only one entry in a category, you automatically get first prize don't you? I don't know if there just weren't other categories, or whether there were but nobody had entered them. There was only one pot of jam - if I'd entered one I could have at least won second prize??? Maybe next year...

Monday, 1 September 2008

First Day of Autumn

It's the beginning of the end of the season and everything is starting to look a bit faded and frazzled. My pumpkin is rather lumpy, but beginning to turn orange. The tomatoes in the background are beginning to get blight. I picked lots of ripe-ish and semi-ripe ones yesterday that hadn't yet been affected, and brought them home to ripen in boxes. With the weather we are due over the next couple of weeks I will be lucky to get many more unblighted ones.

Here are my winter and spring brassicas - a cauliflour in the top left corner - there are several of those; savoy cabbages in the middle, and I can't remember the name of these spring cabbages on the right.

The marigolds have got so big that this area, where the legumes were, and which I then sowed with clover, has shrunk to about half its original size. Most of the clover has been cut now and is now mulching down. The roots should decompose over the winter leaving a lovely nitrogen-rich environment for next year's brassicas. I have taken down the rather mildewy peas that you can just see at the back, in front of the beans, which are all that are left there now. I didn't organise this bit very well - next year I will do a lot more broad beans, a lot more peas (sown successionally) and definitely no asparagus peas. The crimson clover has been quite successful, so if there are any empty spaces I will put that in again.

I forgot to take pictures of the sunflowers when they were at their best. In fact that was while we were away so it would have been difficult. This flowerhead is easily 1 ft across. There are several more along the path, one of which has a droopy head which I keep bumping my head on as I pass. It's more painful than it sounds.

The borage is now pretty much over. I need to remove it but I would like to save some seed if possible. The marigolds have all but taken over the plot but it seems a shame to pull them up when they are still flowering so well and the bees and other insects are still enjoying them. They also smell amazing - spicy and aromatic.

One project I definitely need to complete over the autumn/winter is the path/hedge/verge area. I need a couple more planks for edging, and I don't know where to get hold of them. I'm too self-conscious to be a skip-scavenger. Maybe I can get some from the tip. Don't want to buy them new, obviously. My parents are visiting at the end of this week, the idea being they will help me on the allotment - that is if it stops raining for long enough to do anything.

Also I would like to plant a few bulbs and flowers/wild flowers to come up along the hedge next spring - a few daffodils, bluebells, I've got a cowslip to go in, and some primroses would be nice. Don't know whether I will ever get around to doing a pond - maybe I don't need one, I've got my toad, and I saw a frog up there the other day too.

The great thing about veg growing is that you can start all over again every year.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Greenhouse Magic

We have picked and eaten my first melons. They are only the size of oranges, but very tasty and juicy. There are 3 more still ripening. The outdoor melons have been a disaster, but that's not surprising considering the summer we've had. I was down to just one plant, from an original total of about 5. It even had a melon on it, again about the size of an orange. When I noticed this fruit,I lavished tlc on it, gave it feed and water, removed all the weeds etc, and now it seems to have upped and died. All the leaves have shrivelled up and gone brown. I don't know how long to leave it to see if the melon ripens anyway.

We have also had the first curry of the season. These chillis are 'Ring of Fire' and they get hotter and hotter the redder they get. When they are scarlet they are 'blow your socks off' hot. Last year I froze all the excess chillis whole, and to make a medium-hot curry I put in two of these, slightly crushed/bruised, and took them out before serving. They are difficult to cut up once they have been frozen.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Plague and Pestilence

I have an infestation of asparagus beetle - and I have only myself to blame for not looking out for it. I knew it existed of course but it didn't occur to me that it might find MY asparagus. I vaguely noticed that the plants were going a bit brown - but I didn't stop for a closer inspection as I assumed they were just dying back for the autumn. As a result some of the plants are virtually done for. I hope they recover. We haven't even eaten any ourselves yet, as I only planted the crowns last year and we're not supposed to harvest it until next year.

The beetles themselves are quite pretty - the size of an elongated ladybird, black and brown with white spots. But the larvae are nasty little grey maggoty things, which squidge out asparagus-coloured goo when you try to pull them off. I have spent a couple of hours hunting them all down and dropping them all into a jar of soapy water, which dispatched them pretty quickly. I will have to keep checking and removing them every day from now on, and next year of course I will be much more vigilant.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Long delay due to holiday and general busy-ness

Have been to Spain for two weeks, although I have now been back since 9th August, so it is just lack of time that has prevented me doing another post. That, and the feeling that nobody had discovered or read my blog so far, and I would like to thank 'MyDarlingtonAllotment' for leaving a comment, because I now feel encouraged to continue - thank you so much. I didn't discover this comment until today even though it was left in June - and hadn't been published - I'm afraid it's because I'm pretty new to blogging and don't really know how it all works. So sorry about that.

On arriving at our villa the owner presented us with a big bag of giant tomatoes, which he had grown in his vegetable plot, directly behind the villa! There was also a big bag of chilli peppers, and he had left some onions in the fridge too. So it was a bit of a 'home from home' experience. In the end I couldn't resist taking a bag of onions, courgettes and squash in our suitcase, which survived the journey with no problems, so we had plenty of veg to keep us going.

This is Senor Pepe's veg plot:
There were lots of tomatoes, chillies, aubergines, and melons, and although it was very hot and dry, he had the most elaborate irrigation system: a well in the garden behind us, connected to a timed sprinkler and drizzle hoses along the rows of veg. The result was no manual watering necessary, and a beautiful, lush lawn and lovely flowers around the villa. The only drawback was that the sprinklers came on rather noisily at about 4.00am every morning! However that wasn't the only disturbance: the crickets (which I love and wouldn't keep me awake on their own) some cockerels which started up at around 4.00am also, dogs barking, and some very noisy frogs who lived in a pond in the garden.

There was also a donkey in the field opposite the front of the villa, but he only made a noise during the day, so that was fine! But it was all very charming and rural, and a good time was had by all. We went with some friends so there were 8 of us altogether. The weather was amazing, needless to say, with a really well-needed dose of sunshine to keep me going till next summer.

Back home on the allotment, it was clear that I needn't have worried about the lack of water. Everything was absolutely rampant, especially the weeds. I have had a few good sessions tidying up, weeding and removing excess growth. The summer brocolli had all gone to flower so I pulled all that up, and the spring cabbages, which I had left for the pigeons, the pigeons hadn't wanted thank you very much, so I was pulling them up to chuck straight on the compost, when I realised they were actually perfectly good to eat still, so we ate a couple and I put one in the freezer (shredded), but the rest had to be composted because we are officially onto the summer greyhounds now. The empty space has been sown with phacelia as green manure.

I have picked loads of runner beans and french beans, a few peas (most had been had by the allotment sitters - fair enough), a few courgettes and squashes, the tomatoes are ripening, but I haven't staked them properly, or removed side shoots, or generally looked after them at all, so they were way too bushy and flopping all over the place, but I've decided it's too late to do anything about it now - 'EVERYTHING WILL BE DIFFERENT NEXT YEAR!!!' I keep saying to myself. The Spanish grow their tomatoes just like we grow our runner beans, up very sturdy cane structures (see pic above) - that's what I'm going to try next year.

This morning I dug up the first of my maincrop potatoes - 'Cara' - and they are HUGE! Baked potatoes for supper tomorrow - we have to eat the carrots and french beans while they are still fresh so we'll have them tonight.

My two compost bins are full so I managed to find one of those big old square builder's sacks at the bottom of the garden, and that is almost full now too.

I have cut down my clover green manure, which is now mulching the almost empty legume bed. I pulled up all the asparagus peas - I'm with the general consensus that they really aren't very nice. Pretty flowers though.

The on-going weather forecast isn't very promising: there are a few dry days coming up, so I will have to make the most of them, but the rest of August, and probably September too according to the BBC weather 'monthly outlook' - doesn't look at all nice. How depressing. How many more years of this do you think?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Strange Bedfellows

I found this toad under a plank of wood yesterday, curled up all cosily with a big fat slug! I thought toads were supposed to eat slugs, not go to bed with them.

Another strange thing I noticed (well - perhaps it's not so strange, I don't know) was a head (spear? sprout?) of purple sprouting brocolli - surely that's not supposed to appear until next year? This is an early variety, but even so I would not expect to see it until at least September, which was when it started last year, and most of it did not come until February/March/April.

As we are going away for two weeks from Saturday, I thought it would be a good time to harvest all the onions, leave them spread out on the ground until Friday evening, then spread them all over the kitchen table while we are away! Then when we get back they will be ready to be bagged up and stored for the winter. Either that, or mouldy and rotten.
There is still a row of spring onions, which I keep forgetting about - i have never successfully grown spring onions before - and the empty space left by the onions has been sown with buckwheat, as a green manure.
I am thinking of smuggling a bag of onions into one of the suitcases - I can't bear the idea of having to buy onions while on holiday. Buying any vegetables at the moment seems pretty crazy, but particularly the onions as I am so absolutely inundated with them. The other downside is you can't compost anything while on holiday either. Those are the only downsides though, apart from the packing, the unpacking, and the stress of all those jobs you have to get done before going...... but apart from that.....!! I don't want to be complaining about going on holiday.

I have had a couple of sessions of weeding, tidying the plot up a bit ready for the allotment-sitters, some friends who will be harvesting courgettes, squashes, potatoes, carrots, peas, beans and hopefully spring onions, while we are away.
I am multi-tasking at the moment, while writing this I have been popping in and out of the kitchen making spicy squash and pumpkin soup (last year's pumpkins - still in the freezer - it's almost ready to defrost!)
Tonight we are having chicken pie with a few potatoes, brocolli, carrots, peas, one runner bean each, and quarter of a french bean each! The beans are just starting to come on stream - just as we're going away (another annoying thing about going away - the tomatoes are just starting to ripen as well).
The apple jelly I made the other day was a bit of a failure. The juicing part worked well, with my steam juicer, but the jelly making part failed dismally. I put loads of lemon juice in, but it just didn't set. I should probably have used pectin sugar, but it always seems to give it a funny consistency - kind of gloopy. I tried re-boiling it all, with extra lemon slices, but now it just tastes of lemon marmalade, and it still hasn't set. Anyway, it's alright if you pour it on your toast when it's still hot, as it just sinks in, but if you put it on cold bread or unmelted butter, it slides off and dribbles all over your hand.

Finally, for a bit of colour, my echinaceas are flowering! How pretty.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

More flowers than veg

I may not win 'best kept allotment' but if there was a 'most colourful' category I might be in the running.
I had to move a large marigold and a huge borage plant down to the 'messy end' yesterday - they were crowding out the runner beans.

These are 'straightneck yellow' squashes. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them, but they look just like yellow courgettes, so I think I'll begin by cooking them like courgettes, ie mainly roasted, occasionally sauteed.

This is what we had for lunch today - we had guests. The shallots went into a lamb shank casserole, which we had with some of my Vivaldi 2nd early potatoes, and the cabbage, carrots, peas and broccoli. I'm really pleased with the carrots - they are perfectly formed and carrot-fly free. The peas are lovely too, and not a maggot to be seen. There aren't very many ready yet though - they were more of a garnish than anything else, but there are lots more coming.
In fact I'm tempted to boast a bit about the lack of pests and disease I've had this year, but I won't because a) it might tempt fate; b) it's probably mainly down to luck and c) there's plenty more time for things to go wrong...

This is my 'Ogen' melon, it's the first to get bigger than a pea, it's about the size of a ping-pong ball now. I have been painstakingly hand pollinating, hopefully there will be more of these to come.

Tonight I have made 7 1/2 jars of damson jelly, and yesterday I made four jars of onion/shallot chutney. There are still plenty of onions and shallots to be made into more of this. Just need to make the apple jelly now and then I can start to think about defrosting the freezer.