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. 

Slugfest

  
It’s so totally on. 

For he last few weeks, things have been ticking along nicely at the allotment. The weather has been a bit hit and miss, but other than that it’s been relatively uneventful. 

Until now 

Last weekend I had a trip away to visit my university pals so had a few days away from the allotment. 

Little did I know that my trip away would coincide with the biggest allotment event of the year…

SLUGFEST

It must’ve been a sell out event judging by the total decimation they left in their wake. 

  
There’s only one pumpkin plant left in the whole of the pumpkin patch, that’s right only one, out of 11 plants including all the courgettes. They must’ve thought it best to leave one as, you know, eating them all would be greedy! 

Now, for the slugs that couldn’t make the main event, they attended the fringe festival

SUNDOWN

They’ve eaten the sunflowers down to stalk stumps. All but 3 as, you know, it’s greedy to eat them all. 

(I was too sad to take a photo of the stumps)

All the time I’ve been growing vegetables I’ve prided myself on being an organic gardener, and I’ve not minded the odd leaf being nibbled here and there but today I’ve declared war. 

To all slugs and snails-

Be afraid…be very afraid

Wool pellets are coming

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

Touch down

   

  
After a traumatic start, the broadbeans have made it to the allotment. I’m so delighted that after being eaten by the cat to what I can only describe as stumpy stalks, they’ve bounced back and continued to grow. I’ve been hardening them off for the last week or so and waiting for a good spell of weather so today I hightailed along to the allotment to get them planted. They’re always the first vegetables to be planted out at the allotment, and for me, they mark the start of the growing season. I mixed in some compost to help improve the soil texture and aid drainage then got cracking.   
I’ve planted out all the broadbeans that recovered. These took up half the row. I still had some Crimson flowered broadbean seeds from last year so I finished off the double row with these. I’m hoping that I’ll see them in about a fortnight (I’ve never sown broad beans directly in the ground). They were lovely last year, such a pretty colour and they smelled fantastic. 

  
I’ve put homemade plant protectors straight over the beans. Slugs and snails will not be feasting on these beans! 

Next on the to-do list were the potatoes. They’ve been soaking up the sunshine for the last 6 weeks and have developed some lovely sturdy shoots. I had already dug the potato bed ready for their arrival so while the weather was still fine I thought I’d get them in. 

   
  
So that’s it, the veggies have landed. It’s  so nice to finally have some plants in the ground, I just have a few more beds to dig and weed, then it’ll be all systems go! 

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.

   
   

Hello mojo

 

 
  

I’ve been feeling nervous. I’ve only had a couple of visits to the allotment over the winter season and for the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing myself for the worst. Winter alone can wreak havoc with the allotment so I was quite anxious to actually see the allotment especially with all the storms we’ve had here recently.I couldnt put it off any longer.

Today I took my first serious trip up to the allotment, and to my surprise, the allotment had faired pretty well over the winter. The shed was still standing, all the glass was accounted for in the greenhouse and the hanging baskets were still…well…hanging! 

  
I had a quick look over the vegetable beds and although they will need a good digging over, I was delighted to see that they hadn’t become totally over run with weeds. 

  
My leeks were still standing even though most of them bolted last year, I spotted some of my purple sprouting broccoli was still sprouting and I even still had a solitary kale plant still going. 

  
In last years onion bed I spotted what I thought was a very straight line of weeds. On closer inspection I realised these were actually the spring onions I planted last year…better late than never I suppose!  

  

  
While the sun was shining I took the opportunity to clear out the shed. I hate cleaning out the shed. Spiders live there. But no one else is going to do it for me so I grabbed my wellies, gloves and a large broom and got to work. 

It’s amazing what a difference a clear out can make. Just spending an hour or so sorting out plant pots, getting rid of all the old junk that had piled up last year, picturing the greenhouse full of seedlings rather than full of rubbish really boosted my enthusiasm for this years growing season. 

The reassuring signs of Spring have started to appear at the plot. Crocuses have started popping up, the rhubarb has burst through the mulch and the Rosemary cuttings I took last year are really coming on. 

   
   

  

Hello gardening mojo, I’ve missed you

Green tomato chutney

After picking all my tomatoes yesterday I was keen to transform them into a delicious chutney.

Confession time. I’ve never made a chutney before. I’ve never even tasted a green tomato chutney either.

I resolved myself weeks ago to the fact that my tomatoes were unlikely to ripen but I was determined that they wouldn’t go to waste or be forgotten about on a windowsill. The search for a chutney recipe began. My main aim was to be able to use all home-grown produce (vinegar aside) so I needed to find a recipe to suit. Eventually I found the one I was looking for, tweaked it slightly (I don’t like raisins or sultanas so I substituted those with apples and added a little extra spice with some fresh ginger)

Here’s how it went down…

1Kg green tomatoes

200g onion

400ml malt vinegar

200g soft brown sugar

100g apples

Thumb size portion of fresh ginger

Method

Wash and chop the tomatoes. You can make the chunks as big or as small as you like, if you like chunky chutney keep them big, if you want it less rustic looking, chop them smaller.


Place the chopped tomatoes into a bowl and add a good sprinkling of salt. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave over night. The salt will draw out liquid from the tomatoes and help intensify the flavour. Removing liquid from the tomatoes now will help reduce cooking time later.

The next day, when you’re ready to make the chutney, pour the vinegar into a heavy bottomed pan and add the soft brown sugar. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves completely.

While you’re waiting you can chop the onions, and peel, core and chop the apples.

Once the sugar has dissolved, bring to a gentle boil.

Add the chopped onion, stir through, then add the apple.

While this is coming back up to a gentle boil, drain but don’t rinse the tomatoes.

Add the drained tomatoes to the pan and stir the mixture gently.

Peel the ginger and grate straight into the chutney.

That’s the hard work done!

Simmer the chutney gently, so that the liquid slowly reduces. This took me just under 2 hours. It’s worth keeping an eye on the mixture just to make sure it doesn’t catch the bottom of the pan, we don’t want to burn the chutney now!

While the chutney is reducing, prepare the jars. The quantity above made 3 full jars with a small amount left over…just enough for quality testing at the end!

It’s worth mentioning here that the lids on the jars should have a plastic/rubber seal as the vinegar may react with metal lids and spoil the chutney. Most Kilner jar lids have the rubber seals on the inside.


Wash the jars and lids so they are spotlessly clean and place the jars on a baking tray. Put the jars into a cold oven and turn the temperature to 110-120C and leave until your chutney is ready. To sterilise the lids, place then into a pan of boiling water for about 20 minutes.

Once the chutney has reduced and thickened it’s ready to put into jars. You’ll know it’s thick enough when you can drag your wooden spoon through the chutney and you can see the bottom of the pan for a few seconds.

Carefully, take the jars out of the oven, keeping them on the tray. Spoon the hot chutney mixture straight into the hot jars and screw the lids on tightly: make sure you’re wearing oven gloves though!


That’s it, chutney made.

There was a small amount left over so I had to try it, still warm with cheese on rivita…it was delicious!


Depending on your taste you can eat this straight away or leave it to mature for a couple of weeks…

I’m hoping I’ve still got some left for cheese and biscuits at Christmas!


Here’s the link for the original chutney recipe I found online, I can highly recommend it. You’ll notice the quantities are different. I only had 1kg of tomatoes so I reduced the quantities accordingly.

Stealth Attack

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Having an allotment has taught me many things; patience, planning, adaptability, resourcefulness and above all else to expect the unexpected. All allotmenteers will know about this. You expect a crop to fail, and against all the odds it succeeds. You dig over a forgotten corner in your plot and discover a vegetable tucked away that you never knew you had. The allotment holds many surprises. With a little bit of luck, the surprises will be happy events. However, sometimes, this isn’t always the case. Your treasured seedlings are devoured by slugs, the pigeons strip your cabbages, or the mice have a feast on your freshly sown seeds. Most things you can plan for and with a bit of resourcefulness and creative thinking you can protect your crops against most predators.

This week my squash plants have been under attack. Not by slugs, or snails, or birds or badgers, not even by bugs or any other pumpkin loving creature. This attack was more stealthy.

Meet my current nemesis….Powdery Mildew.

Powdery mildew on a squash leaf

Powdery mildew on a squash leaf

It’s awful. My lovely pumpkin plants are covered with white patches of this fungal disease. I first noticed it last weekend and thought that it was because I’d watered them a little too well and that the water had splashed up onto the leaves and with a little bit of sunshine they’d sort themselves out. I was horrified a few days later when I saw that the white patches on the leaves had spread, making their way around the rest of the squash and pumpkin plants.

Early signs of powdery mildew

Early signs of powdery mildew

Spreading powdery mildew

Spreading powdery mildew

Serious research was called for. I’m trying to grow everything at the allotment organically and so far I’ve not used any kind of pesticide or fungicide on any of the plants, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to control this outbreak without some heavy-duty help.

Most of the information I found on the Internet calls for the use of fungicides, but I really want to try and treat this as organically as possible. Further research suggested using a mixture of bicarbonate of soda, water and a dash of liquid soap, while other reports suggested that a mixture of milk and water works really well. Today I loaded up the milk and set off to tackle the outbreak.

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I cut off the most badly affected leaves and discarded them. (Don’t put the leaves into the compost or you could transfer the spores to other plants in the future). Then I set about making the milky mildew killer cocktail; one part milk to two parts water. Once my sprayer was loaded I waded into battle. I sprayed all the leaves, front and back, even the ones not showing any sign of the mildew. I’m hoping with a few repeated applications I’ll be able to at least stop the spread of the spores to the new leaves.

After battle I thought I’d cheer myself up with a little harvesting. I managed to dig up a nice crop of Charlotte potatoes, I picked my first courgettes, an onion, some more peas and a few green beans.

Charlotte potatoes

Charlotte potatoes

Courgette

Courgette

The first onion

The first onion

The harvest

The harvest

The onions are starting to topple now so in a week or so, if they’re not all over, I’ll bend the stalks to help the maturing process.

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The apple trees are laden with fruit but I’m not quite sure when they’re going to be ready for picking, I’ve got a plan to make apple and blackberry jam so I’m hoping I’ll not have to wait too long.

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Even though the pumpkins have been under attack, they are still producing fruit. I’ll have to make sure that they stay in tip-top condition and that any further attacks are dealt with swiftly.

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I’ve checked over all of my other crops to see if the mildew has attacked any other plants and for now it seems to only be affecting the squash and pumpkins.

On the bright side my inspection brought some exciting news…the purple sprouting broccoli has started to sprout!

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I’m pleased the allotment visit today wasn’t all doom and gloom. I was really worried about how much the mildew might have spread. I’ll keep you posted with the results of the milk and water treatment. If anyone else has any tips or tricks or even an alternative treatment I’ll gladly give them a try.

PS. My son spotted this little beauty today at the allotment too, aren’t dragonfly wings just amazing?

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