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! 

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. 

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. 

  

  
    
    
 

 

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

Here today, gone tomorrow?

  
I’ve been a bit late with everything at the allotment this year. It’s not for the lack of planning or enthusiasm, I was just a big scaredy cat about planting out when we had all that rubbish weather. I was worried it would be too cold/wet/windy for the delicate seedlings and all the plants would wither/rot/blow away. As such, I held off planting out, and delayed sowing the tender crops, such as beans and summer squash, hence why I’m so behind this year. 

The vegetables I have planted out so far, seem to be doing well, the potatoes are having a real growth spurt, I earthed them up less than a fortnight ago! 

 

Potatoes 2 weeks ago

 
 

Potatoes today

 
The broad beans are coming along nicely too. The second sowing of broad beans I planted directly into the ground are the Crimson flowered variety I grew last year, so I’m hoping for a lovely display of pink flowers (and delicious beans of course) later in the season. 

  
Today I started to make the climbing support for the peas. I’ve had the bamboo canes in place since the peas were sown but I couldn’t decide what to use for them to scramble up. Netting? Twiggy branches? Twine to the rescue! Got a bit creative with the twine making patterns between the canes, but why not be a bit creative I say! 

  
I’ve always been a bit nervous about sowing seeds directly into the ground at the allotment. There’s all manner of creatures out there waiting to eat the seedlings. This year I’ve thrown caution to the wind and sown a whole host of quick cropping seeds. The radish have germinated first, and its a delight to see their lovely leafy shoots all straight beneath the string row marker. There’s no sign of any leuttce yet and no sign of any carrots. I had a disaster with carrots last year, only 3 germinated, and they turned out to be the teeniest carrots in history. How I can grow dandelions and dock, both with MASSIVE tap roots but can’t grow carrots still mystifies me but we’ll see how these go. I had almost given up hope on the rest of the seeds but I spotted the thin green grass-like shoots of the Spring onions! Hooray! 

Radish

 

Single spring onion shoot

 
 The last job for the day was planting out the beetroot. I’ve never been able to grow beetroot, (perhaps they’re in cahoots with the carrots) but not wanting to be beaten, I started some off in modules a few weeks ago and low and behold they germinated! They’ve been hardened off at the allotment for the last week and it is time to get them planted out. 

 

Beetroot seedlings

 
This is the bit I’m worried about. Planting out the new seedlings. We know that the weather has been a bit off kilter recently, which unfortunately has resulted in a boom in the slug and snail population. We also know that slugs and snails will tend to eat the tender new shoots of vegetables. I’m hoping they’ll cut me some slack and hold off the beetroots, they’ve already worked their way through almost half of the sunflowers, surely they’ll be satisfied with what they’ve had already? We’ll see if the beetroot are still there in the morning!

Fingers crossed 

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 ☀️