Waste not, want not

  
For the last 5 years or so, I’ve taken great delight in pumpkin carving at Halloween. The whole process really gets my jets all fired up! You know…picking out the perfect pumpkin, deciding what to carve, being thankful it’s not a turnip like our parents had to hollow out when we were children! Then, the moment of magic arrives, you set about scooping and carving your spooky creation. 

Epic. 

  
  
  
  
Up until last year, I’d been quite happily scooping and binning the insides of the pumpkins… that was until I saw a post on Instagram about saving the seeds and roasting them at home. 

It was like a lightbulb moment! I immediately decided that I’d never waste pumpkin seeds again. Quick as a flash I had them in the oven, and delicious snacks of pumpkin goodness were born. 

  
Making your own delicious pumpkin seed snacks is super easy.

1. Separate the seeds from the fleshy pulp you scoop out from inside the pumpkin. 

2. Place the seeds into a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Pat the seeds dry with kitchen paper, or leave spread out on a baking tray lined with a clean tea towel over night. 

3. Pre heat your oven to 160 degrees C

4. Drizzle a little olive oil over the seeds and add whatever you want as extra flavour. I’ve done half salted, and the other half smoked paprika. 

5. Pop in the oven for 20 min or so, stirring occasionally to make sure they’re all roasted evenly. When they’re looking golden and toasted, remove from the oven. (Try and them cool before diving in!)

  
  
  

  
Delicious! 

Autumn Treasure

  
There’s something about the change in season, from Summer to Autumn that I just love. The crispness in the air, the last remnants of warm sunshine on your face, the magnificent colour changes in the leaves, bumper crops of apples and the rich pickings of blackberries in hedgerows… what’s not to like?! 

Something I absolutely love to do at this time of year is to go out for nature walks. To soak up the season change, marvel at the rich colour tones of the leaves and forage for nature treasure to make Christmas decorations from. I did this last year, well, I found loads of treasure but didn’t actually get round to making the decorations.

Doh! 

This year, not only did my squad of magnificent treasure hunters gather in loads of items, I found 10 minutes today to try a little experiment…

  
A mini acorn (not quite sure if they’re acorns) garland to hang  on the tree! 

  
I’ve got bags of them along with pine cones, cinnamon sticks and mini sleigh bells.. I think the hot glue gun is going to get quite an outing! 

Happy Autumn everyone 🍁

  

Big Decisions 

  
I think it was Ferris Beuller who said “Time moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” 

It seems that life has been moving fast, perhaps too fast as I’ve sadly neglected my allotment (and the blog) for much longer than I’d thought! It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about the plot and yearning to get my wellies muddy, but with work and family I seem to have let the year fly by without getting my green fingers in gear. 

Now it’s autumn and I’m left with a dilemma… should I accept that I’m probably not going to be able to carve out the time the allotment really needs and give it up…. or can I get my wellies back in action and turn the plot into a really productive little patch. 

In my heart of hearts I don’t want to give it up, I really don’t. I’m filled with thoughts of planting garlic, renovating the pond and nature area, getting some spring bulbs in and just pulling out everything old and having a blank canvas to start up again in the spring. 

The alternative would be to grow in pots at home as I only have a back yard so wouldn’t be able to grow tonnes…

But then the wild gardener part of me says “do both”! 

As I’m writing, I can feel my excitement building up with thoughts about how much I could accomplish at the allotment in the next 12 months, what seeds catalogs I’ll be pouring over in the winter months and waiting for the first signs of the seedlings popping through the compost. 

 
Actually, I think I’ve made my decision. 

Wellies at the ready

Strawberry Fields Forever

  
Well, not quite a field and possibly not forever but I have made a little strawberry patch at the allotment this week! 

For the last 2 years I’ve grown my strawberries at the allotment in pots. The main reason for this was space; I just didn’t have a bed I could dedicate solely to one crop. Last year I did think about creating a little strawberry patch but with my lack of organisational skills I simply ran out of time and space to do it before they started to crop. 

So, when I saw the flowers starting to appear on the strawberry plants last week, I was determined to get them into the ground sooner rather than later. 

I spent a few hours last week digging and conditioning the soil in an area I felt would get a reasonable amount of sunshine and would allow me to plant  quick growing crops either side of the strawberries. 

  
Once the sun came out on Sunday I headed along to the allotment to rehome the strawberries. I’ve not really pampered the plants while they’ve been in the plant pots, I’d not even removed the old runners from last year, poor things! 

  
  
Once I had separated the plants, removed the old runners, discarded the surface moss and pulled out the weeds, I started the transfer the plants. I’d dug in some well rotted manure the week before so hopefully this will have settled into the ground and will give the plants a good nutrition boost. As a precautionary measure this week, I’m going to mulch around the base of the plants with straw to help maintain a good moisture balance in the soil and to prevent the fruits from spoiling if they come into contact with the soil. 

  
  
Now all that remains to be seen is if I can get to the berries before the birds! 

Status Report Captain…

  
How the weeks have flown by! One minute you’re pawing over the seed catalogues and the next it’s May and you’ve not even planted out the potatoes….well, rather, I’ve not planted out the potatoes! 

I know, I know, it should’ve been done weeks ago but, the delay in planting then has made sure they haven’t succumbed to the sharp frost we had, and I’m sure once they do make it into the ground, which is going to be tomorrow, I’ve every confidence they’ll still be delicious when harvested, even if it’s a few weeks later than anticipated! 

  
So that’s the potatoes. 

I’ve been equally late in getting the beans and peas going but I’m pleased to report that the broad beans have made an appearance over the last 7 days. Last year I veered away from the Crimson Flowered variety and tried Bunyards Exhibition. The pods themselves grew really long but I did prefer the sweeter taste of the crimson flowered type, so I’m back to those this year. 

  
Last week I sowed the peas direct and constructed a support frame from bamboo canes for them to scramble up when they get going. I’m sticking with the tried and tested Hurst Greenshaft peas, but I’m also dabbling in the world of Mangetout. The variety I chose is Shiraz, and the pods are a lovely deep purple colour. I can’t wait to try them later in the year. 

  
The shallot sets have fared the frost well and the onion sets have started to sprout. I also spotted the first of the familiar lily pad shaped leaves of the self seeding nasturtiums today. I love how they come back again and again adding colour to the plot. 

  
  
The Gooseberry bushes I planted last year have put on loads of growth (I think I should be pruned them in winter) and I had an abundance of flowers in March and April. I’m delighted to see that there are now loads of mini gooseberries gently swelling up. 

  
Indoors, the tomato plants are coming on great guns. I’ve been tickling them every day to encourage them to grow strong and sturdy for when I plant them out at the allotment. There’s something about the smell from the leaves of tomato plants that just reminds me of the summer! I’ve tried not to get too carried away with the tomatoes this year and have restricted myself to only 2 types: Gardeners Delight and Sungold. 

  
The Cayenne chilli plants are now flowering away quite happily on the window sill. I’m not sure if they are self pollinating or not so once a day I’m playing the part of a bee and gently using a small brush I’m transferring pollen between the flowers. I’ve got huge respect for the bees, pollination is tricky! 

  
I’ve also got sunflowers growing along with a second batch of cabbage and cauliflower. I’m not sure what happened to the first batch of brassicas, they just shrivelled up. I’m hoping the second sowing is more successful. 

  
The next few weeks are going to be hectic with all the squash, courgettes, beetroot, strawberries and the rest of the quick crops. I’d better get the last of the leeks dug up quickly otherwise I’ll have nowhere to put them all! 

  
Happy Gardening! 

Leek Week

  
Last week it was all about the leeks. After months of holding their rightful place as the longest vegetable standing, it was time to pull them. They’re often the last vegetable I harvest mainly because they can stand in the ground over winter and they give me a little of my gardening mojo back just when I need it! 

I have grown leeks in the past but unfortunately they have had quite a few spots of leek rust, so last year I ditched the fancy varieties and stuck with a tried and tested reliable variety: Musselburgh. 

  
To my delight, not a single leek has any rust! 

Not one! 

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, they aren’t going to win any country shows for size but, skinny as they are, I’m delighted they’ve made it through the winter unscathed! 

  
  
Washed and trimmed within a few hours of pulling, they were transformed into a hearty Leek and Potato soup and the remaining leeks were treated to being part of a leek and cheese tart. Just from this trugful, I managed to get 4 portions of soup and 6 portions of leek tart! 

  
That definitely makes the Leeks the stars of last week! 

That’s Shallot

  
 One of the most rewarding things about growing your own veg, is that you get to make and enjoy some pretty awesome food with the produce you grow. Onions are probably my “go to” staple vegetable of choice when I’m cooking at home, but I’ve never really paid much attention to their close relative, the shallot. 

In the past few seasons of growing, I’ve got a little stuck in a rut with regards to the types of vegetables I grow. Call me crazy but I want to like the food I’m going to be eating! But then isn’t it a gardeners duty to try to push the vegetable boundaries and try and grow new and exciting things? 

Enter the shallot

  
Here in the North East I feel it’s still a little early to get the shallot sets straight in the ground, so I’m trying a little experiment by starting them off in modules. 

It’s fair to say that the sizes of the bulbs vary but I’ve only got these modules to hand so they’ll just have to do! It’s not like they’re going to be there forever, more like a couple of weeks to get a jump start on the growing season. Once they’ve started to shoot and it’s slightly milder, I’ll transfer the sets to the open ground at the allotment. With a bit of luck, they’ll be ready to pull in July! 

The smallest things…

  
It’s funny how different things make you happy. As a child, going to the paper shop after school on a Friday for a 10p mix-up was the best thing ever!! 

As a gardener there are many things that make me happy: 

Picking the perfect pod of peas

The taste of a freshly dug new potato 

The smell of the sweet peas on the wind 

Looking back at a freshly dug plot

Winning the war on slugs (haven’t quite got that one sorted yet but I’m going to be so happy when I do!) 

But nothing can compare to the first glimpse of a teeny tiny seedling! 

It just seems to me that the sight of a newly sprouting green shoot holds so much potential…

   

The smallest things really do bring the biggest joy! 

Sole Survivor 

  
I know, I know…it’s been a while. Despite my best intentions during the latter half of 2016, I have neglected both the plot and the blog. Today I am determined to rectify both of those counts! 

The last half of 2016 was brilliant. I had a fabulous holiday, went to River Cottage, walked the entire length of Hadrians Wall and celebrated my 40th birthday, all before Christmas and New Year. 

  
  
   
 
  
Turning 40 has had a surprising effect on me. I had thought that I’d hide myself away with a bottle of wine and a take away and simply deny the milestone. The surprise was that I didn’t hide…I embraced it! I’m pleased to say it’s made me more focused, not only on what I want to achieve in the future but all of the things I’ve put off doing. 

No more! I’m a list maker, and in this, my 40th year, I’m making a list of all the things I’m going to do and allotmentry and regular blogging is definitely high on that list! 

Today I thought I’d make a start and face the allotment after the spell of abandonment. I was fearful of what might greet me…

“Have the brambles reclaimed the entire plot?”

“Has the allotment turned into a jungle?”

“Will I be able to tell where the vegetable beds are under all the fallen leaves?”

“Will feral cats be living in the shed?”

The good news is that no, the brambles haven’t reclaimed the entire plot however there are some huge canes to be dealt with, I can now see where my paths are after sweeping up tonnes of fallen leaves, no, it’s not a jungle, it’s just a bit messy and thankfully no feral cats were found in the shed! 

  
Last year was admittedly a poor growing year for me. I had clearly underestimated the destructive force of the slug and snail population and a large quantity of my vegetables were destroyed. I had pretty much given up on the growing season and totally forgot that when the slugs had eaten all my squash plants, I’d planted out my leeks…  

 
Lo and behold…I give you the sole survivors at the allotment! 

  
I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see my leeks still standing! They’re not particularly big, ok, a lot of them are rather skinny but they are all still there, they’ve not bolted and there’s not a hint of leek rust either! 

I’m going to leave them standing in the ground for a few more weeks to see if they grow any more but if not, I’ll dig them up in the spring when I’m turning the beds over and enjoy a whole host of leek inspired dishes! 

Now that I’m back into the growing groove, the only thing left to do is to start planning this years vegetables! 

Bring it on! 

The Great Potato Fake-out

  

This week at the allotment I’ve noticed a few crops are starting to show signs that the time for harvesting is getting closer.
The quick crop radishes have suddenly bulked up and I was delighted to see the different coloured radish tops poking up out of the ground. 

I’ve been patiently waiting for what seems like forever for the strawberries to ripen and within the last week they’ve finally decided to put me out of my misery and turn a gorgeous deep red. 

   
   
The broad beans have continued to flower and the first pod has been picked, just as a tester to see how they’re doing! I’m more than happy with the sight of more and more beans developing and that there’s no black fly in them yet…happy days! 

   
   
The peas have started to flower, which I’m really pleased about, especially after I was so late in sowing this year. The peas are a double podded variety (Hurst green shaft) and there are loads of double flowers dotting about the crop. 

   
 Bolstered by the happy sights at the allotment I thought I’d chance my luck and check on the potato progress. For the first year ever, I’ve got flowers on the potatoes. I never realised how pretty they are. 

  
The first potential potatoes for me this year will be the international kidney. Earlier in the week I had a little dig around the bottom of the potato mound and lo and behold I discovered a lovely perfectly formed potato. 

  
Brilliant. 

This must be a good sign I thought. 

They must be ready I thought. 

They’ll make a lovely potato salad for lunch on Sunday I thought. 

   
   
Not quite the haul I was expecting! 

Not to worry, at least I know they’re growing, I’ll leave then another 3-4 weeks and I think they’ll be perfect.