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! 

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. 

The taste of summer

  
I’ve been a busy bee over the last couple of weeks, particularly in the kitchen. The best part of growing your own food has got to be eating it. Hands down, homegrown tastes the best each and every time, no matter what it is or what it looks like. I’ve been eagerly waiting for this specific time of year as the two things which sing “summer” to me are in season right now. 

Elderflowers and Strawberries

Until last year, I’d never really tried anything with elderflowers in it but since then, well, it’s a different story! Last June I made strawberry and elderflower jam and I’ve got to say, the lift the elderflowers gave the jam was amazing. This year I was keen to make more jam and perhaps some cordial too to make the taste of summer last a little longer. 

Armed with strawberries and elderflower heads (foraged from the trees which overhang the allotment fence) I got to work. 

Elderflower Cordial

  
Makes enough for one medium sized Kilner bottle

10 elderflower heads

300g caster sugar

1 pint boiling water

25g citric acid

One large orange

One lime

1. Gently rinse the elderflower heads to remove any little creatures. 

2. Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl and pour in the boiling water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and allow to cool slightly

3. Add the citric acid. Slice the fruit and add to the syrup. Finally pop in the elderflower heads. 

4. Cover the bowl with either a lid or cling film and allow to infuse for 24 hours. 

5. Strain the cordial through a sieve lined with a muslin square and transfer to a cooled sterilised bottle 

Elderflower and Strawberry cordial

  
Makes enough to fill 2 medium sized Kilner bottles with a little left over for “quality control” testing! 

10-15 elderflower heads

750g caster sugar

25g citric acid

225g strawberries (halved and hulled)

1 large unwaxed lemon

2 pints boiling water 

1. Gently rinse the elderflower heads to remove any little creatures and place into a large heatproof bowl. 

2. Add the sliced lemon, the citric acid and all of the sugar. 

3. Pour over the boiling water and stir gently to help dissolve the sugar.

Allow the mixture to cool for 10-15 min.

4. Add the strawberries and stir the infusion. Cover the bowl with either a lid or cling film and allow the mixture to rest. 

5. The mixture is going to infuse for about 72hours and will need to be stored in a cool darkish place. Give the strawberries a squish with a spoon to release their lovely flavour and stir the mixture twice a day. 

6. When ready to bottle up, strain the syrup through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth and pour into cold sterilised bottles. 

7. Quality test the leftovers poured over ice with some sparking water, a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint, summer in a glass 

Strawberry and Elderflower Jam

  
Makes enough to fill 3 standard sized jam jars

900g strawberries (washed, halved and hulled)

1kg bag jam sugar with added pectin

8-10 elderflower heads

Juice of 1 lemon

1. Gently rinse elderflower heads

2. Layer the strawberries and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Just before you’re ready to add your final layer, pop in the elderflower heads, add the last layer of strawberries and sugar and cover with a lid or cling film. 

3. Leave the fruit, flower and sugar mixture for 24 hours. The sugar will draw out the juice from the strawberries and by the time you’re ready to make the jam, there’ll be a lovely syrup suspending the strawberries. 

4. Carefully remove the elderflower heads and prepare the make the jam. 

Pop a small plate in the freezer (to check the jam has set later on) and put your scrupulously clean jam jars into a cold oven to sterilise while you’re making the jam. Turn the oven on and the temperature up to 120 degrees C

5. Put the fruity jam mixture into a large heavy based pan and add the lemon juice. It needs to be quite large as the jam mixture will rise and bubble like mad! 

6. Over a low heat, stir the syrup until all the sugar has dissolved. Don’t rush this step, you need to make sure ALL the sugar has dissolved otherwise you risk the sugar catching the bottom of the pan and burning. 

7. Once the sugar has completely disappeared, slowly increase the heat until the jam temperature comes up to 104 degrees C. If you don’t have a jam thermometer, don’t panic, you’ll know it’s pretty much there when it’s at a vigorous rolling boil. 

8. Let the jam boil for 4-5 min then remove from the heat. Grab your small plate from the freezer and using a spoon, drop some of the jam onto the plate. After 30 seconds push the mixture gently with your finger and see if the jam has formed a skin. If it has, you’ll see the skin wrinkle up as you push the jam- the wrinkle test! If it’s still quite runny, pop the pan back onto the heat for another minute or two then test again. 

9. Once you’re happy that the jam has reached its setting point and you’ve got wrinkly jam, you can remove the jam jars from the oven and carefully start to fill the hot jars with the hot jam. 

10. Once filled, pop on a wax disc and close with the lid*. 

Leave the jam to cool completely and store in the cupboard. 

Now I’ve got that fresh taste of summer bottled and preserved so anytime I need a taste of sunshine, even on the coldest of days, it’s just a trip to the kitchen away. 

* I usually boil the lids in a pan of water for about 20 min to sterilise. 

  

  
    
    
 

 

Bring me Sunshine


I’ve been having a bit of a dilemma recently about what to do with a certain section of the allotment. The area beside the cherry tree is currently sitting vacant, waiting to be put to use, but the ground leading away from the tree is, naturally, full of tree roots. I don’t want to damage the tree or the roots by regular digging but equally, I don’t want the space to be wasted. Then the solution came to me.

Fruit bushes

When I was young, my Granda grew vegetables in his back garden and at the bottom of the vegetable garden were the most delicious gooseberry bushes. I remember picking the ripe fruits for my grandma to make pies and puddings and I’d always get a few to eat straight from the bush as a reward.

I spent a few days last week researching the various types of gooseberry bushes and I decided on two varieties. Invicta and hinnonmaki red.

Both varieties have a good resistance to mildew which can plague gooseberry bushes and both will give high yields of fruit. Perfect.

On Friday I was able to spend the whole day at the allotment so planting the gooseberry bushes were first on my to do list.


I gave the area a quick dig over and set to work finding the perfect spot for the bushes. I want to make sure they get enough sun but are well spaced to allow me to put little fruit cages over them later in the season to stop the birds eating the fruit.

I dug the hole deep enough so that the top of the rootball would be level with the ground, and hey-presto! We have gooseberry bushes!



I’m not expecting much of a crop this year as I believe the fruit only forms on branches over a year old but to my delight I spotted these little fellas



Next up were the sunflowers. Last year I planted the seeds in March and I think I waited too long before planting them out so they didn’t grow to their full height. This year I waited until the end of April before sowing and I’ve been hardening them off for the last week or so, ready to be planted out earlier. I loved them along the fence last year, it was like having a whole wall of sunshine to brighten up the plot. I’ve got 2 types this year, Titan and ruby sunset, I’ve planted them out without knowing which type is in each pot, we’ll get a surprise when they open in August.



To finish that side of the allotment I’ve sown some seeds directly, radish, Spring onions both red and white varieties, carrots and lettuce. I’ve left some space to transplant the beetroot and rainbow chard I’m growing in modules at home.


I can’t wait to get this side of the allotment growing, all we need now is the sunshine ☀️

Timsey and the sweet peas 

  
Today I planted out the sweet peas at the allotment. They’ve been hardened off for about 2 weeks and with the weather forecast to be quite settled for the next few days I took the opportunity to let them loose in the big wide world. 

It’s the first time I’ve grown sweet peas and I’ve been really pleased with the germination rate. I pinched out the tops when the plants had 4 sets of leaves and I’m delighted that (as promised) more branches started growing out from the main stem. Brilliant!

  
At the allotment I’ve got a very special climbing support. 

Meet Timsey. 

 My sister made Timsey in high school and used her friend, Timsey, as the model. The original use was to hang clothes on but I think she will wear the sweet peas with style. 

   
   
I’ve picked a nice sunny spot for Timsey to hang out and I’ve taken a selection of the sweet peas and planted them at Timsey’s feet. The remaining plants I’ve given to my mum for her garden. 

A quick check over the allotment and more potatoes have started to pop up. I’m really excited for the salad blue ones, even their leaves have a blue hint to them! 

  
   
 The second sowing of broad beans have come through, these ones are the Crimson flowered variety I grew last year. I’d almost given up hope as they’ve been in the ground for 3 weeks! 

  
Last but not least I spotted the first 2 pea shoots to burst above ground. Everything is really starting to get growing now. 

  
Happy garden = happy gardener

BOOM!

  
It’s been a veritable growing explosion at the allotment this week. The cherry tree is in full bloom, the apple trees are just starting to blossom, the broadbeans the cat ate a few months ago have recovered brilliantly are starting to flower, I’ve even spotted flowers on the strawberries. 

   
   

  

 

 I’ve discovered a mystery currant tree too which has loads of flowers dangling off it. I must remember to check it regularly otherwise the birds will strip it before I can discover what kind of currant tree it is!   
Just when I thought it could get any better, I spotted the first few leaves of the potatoes popping up! 

  
Blooming marvellous 

Back yard beauty

  

I love my allotment. Its a little haven just for me.
It’s split into two sections, the first part is like a little garden, with a grassy area surrounded by roses and (at the moment) daffodils. The second part is where the vegetable beds are. I’ve not had a garden at home since I lived with my parents so I’m thrilled to now live in a flat which has a back yard. For months now I’ve been imagining the yard filled with flowers and pots and hanging baskets. (Perhaps the odd pot of salad leaves too) I’ve also been holding onto a wooden pallet with a view to transforming it into a beautifully rustic wall planter. (In reality I’ll probably butcher it and then throw it in a skip)

  
About 2 weeks ago my sister and I made a start on the back yard transformation. It’s quite a small space, with white painted brickwork, and the floor area is totally decked. We gave the decking a clean a week or so before, so we were good to get planting! 

  
We chose a mixture of plants both in size and colour. With the walls being white we wanted to add some additional colour and interest to the space by using a mixture of plant pots too. We’ve also repurposed an ikea waste paper basket I picked up free! 

  
Pansies, violas and little begonias went into the hanging baskets, I love how bright the colours are together. In a few weeks time they should be really be blooming. 

  
We made a lavender trough, and went wild with a planter mixture of tall red spikes and more pansies and violas. 

   
 We were a bit spoiled for choice with the climbers so we went for everything; Clematis, climbing jasmine, Passion flower and a honeysuckle! I know there’s a lot going on but if they actually climb and flower, I think it’ll look (and smell) amazing. We found some low growing flowers so we planted them in a long tub hoping they’ll fill out a bit and cascade over the sides. 

 
I’ve also planted some summer flowering bulbs, gladioli and freesia. I know they’re a bit old fashioned but I think they look lovely as cut flowers. I’ve never grown these before so we’ll see how they go. 

  
I’ve managed to get a herb bucket going with all the kitchen cooking essentials included, thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano, and this week I’ve sown some wild rocket and spinach to be planted up into outside pots when the weather settles a bit. I can’t wait to just nip outside to pick fresh leaves and herbs to cook with.

Ps. I’ve not attempted to up cycle the wooden pallet yet, I’m still working up the courage to hack it to pieces but I’m sure there’ll be an update about that soon! 

 

Soft as Clarts

  
It’s been raining steadily here since Monday and the thought of digging in the rain has been hanging over my head all week. As luck would have it, the drizzle we had this morning had stopped by 9.30 so off I popped to the allotment. I’m way behind on my digging plan, I’ve still got 4 more beds to dig over, but today I wanted to get the bed for the potatoes dug so it’s primed for their planting tomorrow. 

I’ve been debating whether I should plant the potatoes while the ground is so wet but if I leave it until the weather improves they might never make it into the ground! So, with my fork and bucket I made a start on the very wet plot. 

  
With all the rain this week I’d thought that the plot would be really difficult to dig, but to my delight the ground was so soft the weeds just came straight out. The Bindweed came out intact, Dock roots slid out whole, even the long tap roots of the dandelions came out in one piece (which for me is virtually unheard of).

  
The down side of this is that the little weeds, you know the type, the small weeds with the capacity to spread for miles in the blink of an eye, they stuck to my gloves for all their worth. Not a big thing, you’d think, but every weed, covered in clarty sticky mud, stuck to my clarty sticky gloves. Nine times out of ten I’d be flicking the weed back into the freshly dug plot! But I’m persistent, so picking, flicking and scraping the weeds into the bucket was the order of the day and before I knew it the bed was dug!

  
The surprise spring onions are still going strong. I’m going to let them grow in the potato bed for the next month, until I start earthing up, then they’ll have to come out. The rhubarb is starting to come up nicely and in a few weeks I’ll be making (and enjoying) the first batch of allotment rhubarb crumble, yum yum.

   
   

Speedy Seeds

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It’s been 11 days since my super seed sowing assistant got in on the growing action and I’ve got to say, I think he’s got the gardening touch! Over the weekend, pretty much all of the seeds we planted germinated and they’re all doing really well. I’ve never grown sweet peas from seed before and I only realised after we had planted them that (according to the packet) for best results we should soak them in water overnight prior to planting.

Whoops

Thankfully all the sweet peas have germinated and I’ve avoided a seed sowing disaster. Now all I’ve got to do is find out when to pinch out the tops. I’m sure there’s plenty of time yet, I think it’s when they’ve got a few leaves on so that it encourages a more bushy plant. I’m really looking forward to using them for cut flowers, there’s even a category for sweet peas in the country show I go to in August, if I play my cards right I could have a couple of entries in the flower section…ok, I probably won’t but a girl can dream!

All is going well with the potatoes too. The little sprouts are really starting to put on some growth at the moment, hopefully they should be ready to plant out in about a fortnight. I’ve still got their patch to dig over at the allotment, so that will keep me motivated to get some more digging done. It will also give me time to get some manure. I’ve come up with a plan to dig the trench, line it with manure, pop the potatoes straight in and cover them up. I think I’m supposed to mix the manure into the ground a bit first but I’m sure (ish) that the potatoes will be fine going straight in.

The broadbeans that were eaten by the cat a few weeks ago have been brought back from the brink (my dad has been a fabulous bean keeper) and I’m pleased to say they have made a miraculous come back! I’ve started hardening them off and they’ll make it onto the plot at the end of the week. As a safety precaution I’m also going to plant some more broadbeans seeds directly into the ground at the same time. This should ensure I get a good steady crop of broadbeans throughout the summer.

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Miracle broadbeans

Next on the to do list will be to plant the sunflower seeds and to get some more digging done (this digging lark never ends does it?!)