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.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Everything coming on stream now

This is what I harvested last Friday, and I also picked a cucumber later on too. I'm glad I didn't sow too many turnips. I must have had some ideas of what to do with them when I sowed them, but now I can't remember what. I made turnip and carrot soup which was not very nice at all. Don't think I'll bother with turnips next year.

Below are some of the flowers I've got growing between my beds. Unfortunately the photos don't do justice to the borage flowers, which are so pretty and the bees go crazy over them. But I didn't realise quite how big they would grow. Next year I will keep them around the sides and edges, out of the way.

The onions and shallots really look as if they're ready to harvest now. I wasn't expecting this so soon - last year they weren't really ready until late summer. I haven't got space anywhere under cover to spread them all out to dry at once, so I think I will do it in batches. Also, we are down to the last jar of onion chutney now, so I will definitely be making more of that. Which brings me on to the subject of a recent acquisition - my Mehu Liisa Steam Juicer.
I have a big bag of last year's damsons in the freezer, and a couple of bags of chopped up apples (but not peeled or cored), both of which have been waiting for this to happen. I have been motivated to get on with it because the freezer really needs defrosting, and I need to make more room for this year's harvest. I think I will just make jelly this time. Next year however, I plan to put in more currant bushes, and make my own cordial. This gadget means no more mucking about with rigging up muslin nets (last time this involved selotaping the edges of the muslin to the outside of a large plastic box, with a bowl inside, underneath, and putting the whole thing into the shower cubicle so nobody tripped over it). I hope this will make the whole process quicker and easier.

Finally - this has been puzzling me for a while now, despite the cool weather, I haven't seen nearly as many slugs and snails as I would normally expect - especially at the allotment. I have had a few in the garden, more since the latest rainy spell began, but at the allotment there is virtually nothing. I'm not complaining of course, and I don't want to tempt fate, but it just seems odd. I did find a big pile of empty snail shells the other day, so maybe I have some very hungry thrushes dealing with them for me, but the lack of slugs is a very welcome mystery. Hope I haven't jinxed this run of good luck now.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


I have been composting for ages, but wanted to find a way to keep most, if not all food waste out of the domestic bin. I tried a wormery, but I found the little blighters needed so much tlc it wasn't worth the trouble. They were very fussy - wouldn't eat oranges, or onions, and every so often, for no apparent reason, a whole tray of scraps would just go completely rancid and all the worms would dive down to the bottom and lurk in the sludge. In fact a lot of them seemed to live permanently in the sludge, and I was forever fishing them out and throwing them back in the top tray. And yes I did add lots of shredded paper and cardboard, plus the lime mix, plus the special treat stuff, and they STILL weren't happy. I only ever harvested one trayful of compost, and when I came to use it to sow seeds in, discovered it was full of slugs eggs. So I freecycled the wormery and hope the new owner has more luck than I did. So for nearly a year now I've been using this bokashi system.

You can put just about anything in it - I even put leftover cat food in it, and it's true that it doesn't smell while you're filling it up, even though I keep it in the corner of the kitchen. However the juice that comes out the bottom is a bit wiffy, and I'm not convinced about it keeping the drains fresh, though it doesn't make them any worse. I have also used the diluted juice for feeding plants, and that does seem to be fairly effective. I haven't done any scientific trials though.

The worst part is when you come to empty it. The 'pickled' contents, described by the blurb as a 'sweet and sour' smell when you tip it out, actually smells of vomit, but it is true that it breaks down incredibly quickly. Over the winter I dug several trenches on the allotment and buried the stuff in those, ready to plant this year's beans and peas into. However something obviously sniffed it out and started digging big holes where I had buried it. There were also rat tunnels in the compost bin where I had added it in there. So I've decided from now on it will just go into the compost bin, with a wire mesh underneath to keep the rats out.

So far so good (ish) - the peas and beans are looking pretty good, but as I said, I haven't done any comparison trials or anything like that. I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has been using it longer than I have, as to whether they think it makes a difference to their crops.