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! 

The first harvest

  
Well, I’m not sure if this actually counts as a harvest but it’s the first veggie to make it home with me from the allotment. It’s also the first spring onion I’ve ever grown so I’m really pleased it’s survived when countless others have not! 

Had a quick assessment of the allotment after work today and everything seems ok, although there’s no signs of the potatoes yet but by my calculations they’ve got about another week before I’d expect to see them so I’m hoping they’re doing their thing underground just as they should. There’s also no sign of the second sowing of broadbeans I made about 3 weeks ago. The weather has been just awful these last few weeks so I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’ll pop up soon as we seem to be having a nice spell of warmer weather. 

Checking the fruit, there’s some lovely new growth on the strawberry plants I got last year. I’m hoping this years crop will be a bumper one. I’ve got my mind set on making loads of strawberry and elderflower jam, we’ve just finished the batch I made last year and it’s my absolute favourite, summer in a jar! 

 
I don’t know about anyone else but I never tire of seeing the rhubarb growing. I just love how the leaves start out all small and wrinkly then expand into the biggest monster leaves ever seen! 

   
 This week I’ll be getting the peas sown (at last) and starting off the squash and courgettes. The sweet peas and sunflowers can start to be hardened off and I might just get some winter cabbages started. I can’t wait to see all the vegetable beds full, let’s hope the nice weather is here for a while! 

Confessions of an allotment holder

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Ok. There’s no sugar coating this folks…I’ve been a very bad allotment holder. I’ve been busy and I’ve not spent the time I should’ve at the plot. There…I’ve said it…I’ve failed in my duty to keep on top of the weeds, and I’ve not looked after the veggies as well as I could’ve. In my defence, most of the vegetables have been harvested already, and the ones I’ve left at the allotment should’ve been OK for a while.

Did you see the “should’ve” there?

The vegetables I’m referring to are the leeks and main crop potatoes. I’d thought that by keeping the main crop potatoes in the ground until I needed them (at least until the weather got colder) it would be the best way to store them and keep them fresh.  Today, the allotment told me different. At first I thought the potatoes were OK, then I brushed the mud off them and spotted loads of holes where little white grubs had burrowed their way inside. I hoped that only a few of the potatoes would have been feasted upon, I’m ok with sharing a some of the crops with the little critters that live at the allotment, but no, every single potato I dug up had been eaten. The best I can do is to learn from this and next year I’ll either lift the potatoes earlier or I’ll just stick with earlies and second earlies.

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Grub infested potatoes

Moving along the plot I spotted the leeks. Now, I was under the impression that leeks are a low maintenance vegetable and would be totally fine to do their thing with hardly any supervision. After all, leeks can stay in the ground for months over winter, easy peasey. Well, I’m sure they can but no one told me that there was a chance of the leeks bolting before winter arrives. Checking my little leek patch,  about half of them have bolted.

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Flower head on the leeks

I’m not sure how or why it’s happened, but it’s happened. Determined to find the silver lining, I’ve decided to leave the bolted leeks to flower and the birds can enjoy the seeds. I’ll dig up the remaining leeks over the next few weeks and enjoy them before any more get the urge to produce flower heads.

After a quick rake up of the leaves it was time to go. I’ve not left the plot empty handed for ages and it didn’t feel right to do so today. So I dug up my first non-bolted leek, and it’s a beaut!

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Ready for pulling

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My first leek

Autumn jewels

Autumn. It’s such a lovely time of year. You can see the leaves on trees gradually changing from the fresh vibrant green of summer to the rich earthy tones of red and gold. This is my first successful year of Autumn crops at the allotment and I’m delighted with the harvest so far.

I managed a quick harvesting trip this afternoon (I’ve got a week off work soon so I’ll do all the gardening essentials like weeding then!) and came back with another trug full of autumnal delights!

I’m really surprised to see the runner beans still producing massive pods, and there are more flowers coming.

I’ve decided to harvest a few of the Buffy ball pumpkins. Not sure if they’re quite ready yet but I don’t want to get caught out with a surprise frost so I’ve picked most of them today and left a few of the smaller ones on the vine. The picked pumpkins will store in the garage until I can research how to cure them and hopefully I’ll have mini roasted pumpkins for tea on Halloween

The apples this year are fantastic. There’s just so many on the tree I can’t pick them quick enough! I love the colour of the apples, such a lovely rich red, it’s great to be able to pick your own food just at the right time and to taste it, freshly picked is amazing. (The apples are currently being baked in a crumble as I type…the smell is awesome!)

And last but not least the tomatoes. I’d left them on the plants hoping they’d ripen but I think they’re determined to remain green. I’ve picked them all, still on the vine and I’ll make them into chutney using more of the apples and the already harvested onions to enjoy closer to Christmas.

That’s it for now, I can hear the crumble calling out my name… Here’s a quick look at the haul from today, happy harvests everyone!

Back in the game

  
What a whirlwind the past 6 weeks have been.  There’s been a camping trip, a new school, a country show, a black belt and a house move, which unfortunately has left very little time for the allotment. At times, it’s really stressed me out when I’ve known there’s loads to do at the plot but there’s simply been no time to do it. 

For the first time in weeks I had a couple of hours free last weekend so I hightailed it along to the allotment. 

It was great to be back, just stepping through the gate I could feel weeks of stress slipping away…until I saw the weeds! I didn’t want to spend my first visit in ages simply weeding so I decided to lift the rest of the onions instead. 

  
I’ve had a bit of a mixed result with the onions, I’ve had some tiny ones, some huge ones and a few had bolted but on the whole they’ve all grown and they’ve been pest and disease free so I’m calling them a success! They’re now laid out on a table in the garden at my parents house to dry out so that they’ll store for use over the winter. 

  
The apples were looking good too but I’m never sure when to harvest them, so I gave a gentle twisty-pull to a few and just took the ones that came away in my hand. 

  
Plans for the apples are crumbles and pies, and perhaps an apple cake. I really would like to make some kind of jam/jelly with them but I’m not sure if that would be weird or not? Might try apple and blackberry jam with a few elderberries thrown in for good measure, in essence autumn jam, you never know, it might be delightful, or it might be the most awful thing ever, anyway, I’ll give it a go!

With preserving things in mind I come to my tomatoes. At the start of the summer I’d had big salad-like plans for the tomatoes, as well as slow roasting them to intensify the flavour, similar to sun dried tomatoes. However I’ve only got one single red tomato. Not really enough for slow roasting really is it?

  
I do however have loads of green tomatoes so chutney making will be on the cards next week. 

  
With time pushing on I quickly dug up a few potatoes to take home for tea. The yield from the potatoes has been really good but they have been a touch on the small side. (Must manure next year) Only a few had been nibbled so discarding those I collected my haul and headed home. 
  
My head is now full of plans for the allotment over the autumn. I need to clear the old crops (peas/summer brassicas) and collect the squash before the first frosts. The winter vegetables are coming along nicely with the kale looking healthy and Brussel sprouts just starting to form at the leaf bases so I’ll need to make sure I harvest those regularly.

  
 I’m going to revamp nature corner by re-digging the pond and using a preformed liner to help maintain water levels and encourage more wildlife to the plot. My biggest challenge however is going to be the pampas grass. I think it’s days on the plot are numbered and although it’s going to be a nightmare to dig out, I could use the space more effectively.

So, with the house move out of the way, I’m back on track. I’ve got a plan, and over the next month I’ve really got to get to work. Once the pampas grass is out, I’ll be able to get more spring bulbs planted and I’ll have to re-stake the cordon apple trees as they’re practically horizontal with all the fruit on them (poor things!) 

Oh, by the way, I think I might just hold the record for the slowest latest early sweet corn crop…it’s just started to grow cobs now! 

Happy Autumn folks!   

Absence makes the weeds grow longer

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Its been a busy time for the green wellie brigade recently. We’ve had a camping trip, a country show, a new school, a woodland themed baby shower cake, and an impending house move, all of which is leaving very little time for the allotment. Let’s start at the beginning…

The Camping Trip

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This year for our annual summer holiday we decided to go camping. We hardly get the opportunity to travel very far so we chose a campsite near Stonehenge with a stop off on the way at another campsite in Northamptonshire. Now, what could possibly go wrong with a camping holiday in the UK in August? Oh yeah, the weather! It was the soggiest camping holiday ever! Putting the possibility of trench foot to one side, we did some pretty cool things:

Campfire cooking and melting marshmallows

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Making friends with the ducks at breakfast

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Seeing Stonehenge

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Getting into the Banksy exhibition, Dismaland

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Traveling on a hovercraft to the Isle of Wight

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Visiting the Garlic farm

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Going caving

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Making friends

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In typical holiday fashion it was glorious sunshine on the day we traveled home.

The Country Show

Once back, I had 2 days to get ready for our local country show. Now, when I say local country show it’s just over an hours drive away! For the last few years I’ve only entered the industrial sections (baking and handicrafts). I was tempted to enter a few veggies this year, but when it came to the crunch I lost my nerve and decided to use this year as my assessment year and I’ll try and enter some next year. I’m so thankful I did this as the standard was really high, some of the onions were HUGE! As I had quite a few things on, I narrowed my selection of entries down to 10, including 2 knitting, a jam and a curd. On the whole the baking went well, I only needed to remake one item, but the knitting had me up until 3am. It was all worth it in the end, I came away with 3 firsts, a second place and 2 third places.

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First place in cupcake section

First place for handmade bread rolls

First place for handmade bread rolls

First place for hand knitted cardigan (3am knitting at its finest)

First place for hand knitted cardigan (3am knitting at its finest)

Second place for my hand knitted sheep

Second place for my hand knitted sheep

Third for my white loaf

Third for my white loaf

Third for my strawberry jam

Third for my strawberry jam

But wait, that’s not all, there were 2 cups up for grabs, one in the cupcake section, and one for a hand knitted sheep. Now, I’m not going to lie, I was going for the double cup win, I can’t help having a slightly competitive nature. I came second in the knitted sheep section but first in the cupcakes so I walked away with this beauty!

Bling bling

Bling bling

Out of all the sections I entered I was most thrilled with my third place strawberry jam. The jam section is probably one of the toughest categories with all the judges from all the sections having an input, so for my first year entering the jams I was delighted to place at all.

New school

My son went back to school last week and it’s his first year in middle school. This brings a new uniform including a blazer. He’s growing up far too fast for my liking. It all went well and I’m pleased he’s enjoyed it so far (I’m sure it’ll change once the homework starts flooding in)

First day of middle school

First day of middle school

The cake

I’ve always enjoyed baking, and for a few years I made cakes on request for friends and family. But with the rise in price of baking ingredients it just wasn’t economical for me to continue so about a year ago I hung up my whisk and I’ve not baked cake for anyone other than my son and I. My sister was arranging her best friends baby shower on a budget, and had the goal of making the gifts rather than buying them. My sister is very creative but doesn’t bake, so with a bit of bribery persuaded me to help her out or witness a cake massacre. I can’t stand to see good cake go to waste so I put on my apron and set to work. Here’s my contribution to the handmade baby shower with a woodland theme.

Woodland cake

Woodland cake

Side shots of the cake

Side shots of the cake

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The Allotment

Today was the first day I’ve been able to get to the allotment in about 3 weeks. I can’t believe how much the weeds have grown. That’ll teach me to pile so many activities into a short space of time! Thankfully I had a few helpers with me. My best pal came along with her two little diggers and we set to work unearthing the last of the Charlotte potatoes. We had quite a few onions to lift so they came up too.

My feeble attempt at carrots was revealed today.

One of the 4 carrots that grew

One of the 4 carrots that grew

I’m blaming it on the heavy clay soil.

We picked beans, kale, apples and blackberries and it was fantastic to be able to share the bounty.

Sharing the crops

Sharing the crops

Trug-tastic

Trug-tastic

After laying my own onions out to dry off I checked on the garlic that’s been curing for about a month. While I was at the garlic farm on the Isle of Wight I vowed I’d plait my garlic when the time was right.

That time is now.

Garlic plait that nobody is allowed to touch...Ever.

Garlic plait that nobody is allowed to touch…Ever.

Three heads are better than one

  
This week at the allotment, it’s been all about the brassicas. I don’t know if it’s been the cool temperatures, coupled with the rainy weather we’ve had, but it seems like they’ve just been loving it and have put on a bit of a growth spurt. 

Today I’ve managed to harvest another lovely head of cauliflower and two (yes two) heads of broccoli! I’m so happy that the brassicas seem to be growing, after reading about growing this family of vegetables I was worried that the soil wouldn’t be right and they may develop club root (massive confession…I didn’t test the soil for acidity or add lime…or manure the plot…or add any additional nutrients or anything…but the weeds seem to grow fine so I thought I’d chance it!) or that some other brassica beast might strike them down, but so far they seem to be doing well. 

  
Elsewhere on the allotment the Buffy Ball squash are starting to look like mini pumpkins  and the tigrella tomatoes are just beginning to show their stripes. 

  
These harvests of delicious home grown vegetables are definitely the gardeners rewards, I hope all veggie growers everywhere are enjoying their harvests too!

Harvest-a-rama

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It’s happened. It’s official. We’re harvesting vegetables!

It’s sometimes hard to believe that only a few months ago, the vegetables on my plate for tea tonight were just little seedlings starting out in the big wide world.

Garlic ready to be lifted

Garlic ready to be lifted

About a fortnight ago I kick started the harvest by lifting the garlic bulbs. I’ve been waiting for about half the foliage on the plants to die back before lifting them from the pots they’ve been growing in since November last year. The reason I grew them in pots was because at the time they needed to be planted, I was still cultivating the plot, and I wasn’t quite sure where would be best to put them! Because I was limited by the size of the plant pots, I only planted 8 cloves; 6 Lautrec wight and 2 elephant garlic. Now, I’d had high hopes for the elephant garlic as it was by far the biggest of all the cloves planted, but unfortunately, one of the cloves didn’t really come to anything and the other clove that did grow, didn’t really get to the enormous size I’ve seen elsewhere. It looked like some additional cloves had tried to grow around the outside but thought better of it and gave up! The Lautrec Wight however has been much more successful. I’ve now hung the lifted bulbs in the garage to cure and dry naturally so that they store well over the winter, and we can use delicious home-grown garlic for the next few months.

Garlic, fresh from the ground

Garlic, fresh from the ground

Drying the garlic

Drying the garlic

The purple tinged bulbs of the Lautrec Wight garlic

The purple tinged bulbs of the Lautrec Wight garlic

Each time I’ve dropped by the allotment, I’ve been taking a handful of the peas, ever mindful that if I don’t harvest the peas at the right time (when the peas are still tender) the pods will start to get a bit starchy and the lovely fresh taste of the garden pea will be lost. I was delighted yesterday to notice that the plants have started to produce more pea flowers. I had no idea that peas did that. I had thought that once you harvest the peas, that was it, but it seems I might be in store for more pea harvests over the next few weeks.

Pea jungle

Pea jungle

The last of the Spring/early Summer crops are being harvested now. I’ve been really happy with the strawberries so far, considering that I only bought the plants this year. This leaves me wondering how they’ll fair next year. I’m hoping to clear an area at the allotment to make a dedicated strawberry patch. My goal is to have enough strawberries ready to harvest all at the same time, so that I can make my own home grown strawberry jam, without having to buy additional fruit from the shops. I don’t think I’m asking too much there!

The final few pods of broad beans have been picked this week too. Again, I’ve been happy with the yield from just a short double row of plants. The variety I grew is the Crimson flowered type and I’ve got to say I’ve not had a single black fly touch the crop. I didn’t pinch out the growing tip and they’ve still produced lovely tasting beans. The only down side (if you can really call it a down side) is that they’re a really short podded variety with only 3-4 beans per pod. They taste lovely though, the flowers look and smell amazing in the spring and the pest resistance is way beyond what I had hoped for.

The final few of my Lady Crystl potatoes were dug up this week. They’ve been a lovely early potato and have been enjoyed by everyone who’s tasted one (or two). They’ve grown to a really good size and I’ve only lost a couple to slug damage. The disease resistance has been really good too. Apart from one solitary potato that seemed to take all the potato scab the ground had to offer, the rest have been untouched.

Strawberries, potatoes and broad beans

Strawberries, potatoes and broad beans

Scabby potato

Scabby potato

In the next few weeks I’m hoping that the courgettes will be ready to pick and that I might even get to cut a head of broccoli too! The apples are looking good on the tree and the pumpkins and squashes have been thriving from the recent rainy weather. The blackberries are also just starting to plump up ready for picking in the autumn, you know they’re destined for jam right?

Baby courgette

Baby courgette

Broccoli head

Broccoli head

Apples

Apples

Ukuchi Kuri winter squash

Uchiki Kuri winter squash

Buffy Ball squash climbing the frame

Buffy Ball squash climbing the frame

Blackberries

Blackberries

It’s been great to see the harvests in the trug gradually get bigger as the weeks go by, although, if the pumpkins keep growing at the rate they are, I might need a trailer to get them home (Fingers crossed)

Girlinthegreenwellies

Girlinthegreenwellies

A year (and a week) in the making

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Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? 

I can hardly believe its been a year (and a week) since I started re-cultivating my plot. I say re-cultivating because I’ve actually had the allotment for about 2 and a half years. After the greenhouse was vandalised, the allotment lost a little bit of the magic it once held for me and I didn’t visit as often as I should’ve. I neglected to keep on top of the plot maintenance, and as would be expected, the weeds took over. Last year I decided that I would give the allotment another go and if I was unable to restore it to its former glory I would call it a day and give it up.

Its been 53 weeks since then and I’m delighted that the magic has come flooding back.

I’m really surprised its been a whole year already, I’ve obviously been enjoying myself far too much digging and weeding, repairing and constructing, sowing and growing, not to mention harvesting and cooking. So to commemorate my allotment transformation, I thought I’d post a few pictures of the last 12 months.

So this time last year the allotment looked like this:

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After a weekend with a heavy-duty brush cutter, a rake and some hedging shears, the allotment looked like this:

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Not wanting to waste any time I quickly planted out some beans, carrots, lettuce and a courgette plant bought from our local DIY centre. The courgette lasted 3 days before being totally decimated by the slugs and snails, the birds pecked the beans to death and I can only assume the mice managed to get in under the netting and stole all the carrots and lettuces because they all mysteriously disappeared. Not a very productive start to the harvest.

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Not one to give up, I ploughed on with the aim of getting the allotment ship-shape for next years growing season. I started to tackle the brambles. This took weeks of chopping and digging but the satisfaction at the end was brilliant. Creating a corner for wildlife quickly followed and before I knew it, it was Christmas, so on Boxing Day I gave my lovely new cordless trimmer a test run.

Brambles ahoy!

Ground clearance, digging out the brambles

Pond making

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Clear and ready for action

Testing out the new strimmer

The new year brought newly planted shoots emerging from the ground and a rush to get the beds prepared for planting. Blisters and Bindweed were part of the norm but I don’t mind a bit of hard work (as long as there’s lots of tea and biscuits on hand)

A cold start to the day

Sun worshiping garlic

Bucket of bindweed root

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Half way and 2 hours in

Repairs to the greenhouse allowed me to start growing more plants at the allotment and a sowing and growing frenzy was started…it hasn’t really stopped yet either! The first crop of rhubarb was a delight and the feeling of walking off the plot with your very own produce was amazing.

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Lovely peas

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The unforced part of the rhubarb growing sturdy stems

Weeding, planting and protecting the crops has been the last stage of the re-cultivation plan. I’ve still got a few crops to plant out (broccoli, sprouts, beans and corn) but I’m happy so far with the progress made in this years growing season.

When I look back at the pictures from this time last year, I’m delighted that they bear no resemblance to each other. The following pictures were taken yesterday, see what you think.

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Sowing frenzy

I can’t believe its April already. It doesn’t seem 5 minutes ago since I was waiting for spring to arrive so I could get growing. This week, I’ve been unleashing my inner seed sower and I’ve been planting like mad! Spurred on by planting my peas on Monday, I thought it best to keep up the momentum and plant my next batch of seeds.

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Adding drainage holes to the recycled plant pots

Adding drainage holes to the recycled plant pots

Thursday was the seed frenzy day. First up were the pumpkins.

When I was choosing which pumpkins to grow I was governed by 2 things, size and taste. Firstly I wanted to grow a massive pumpkin, you know, the kind of pumpkin you only hear about:

“its so big they needed a crane to lift it”

“I heard its bigger than a whale”

That’s the kind of pumpkin I want to grow! So I chose the Atlantic Giant. According to the description, it holds the world record for size, so it’s got to be worth a go. On the opposite end of scale I’m also growing miniature squash. I chose the Buffy Ball winter squash which will grow to tennis ball size and also tastes quite sweet too. I’m planning to grow them off the ground, up and over a teepee made from bamboo canes to provide an interesting focal point to the allotment (plus it’ll be a great place for me to hide out). The last of my squashes are a Japanese variety I got free with a magazine called Uchiki Kuri also known as Onion squash. The flavour is smooth and nutty which will be great roasted, perfect for the autumn and winter months.

Atlantic giant pumpkin seeds

Atlantic giant pumpkin seeds

The next lot of seeds to be sown were some of the brassicas consisting of Purple Sprouting Broccoli, regular green broccoli, another round of summer cabbage, red brussel sprouts and last but not least, kale. I’d had to take my onions and my flower seedlings to the allotment earlier in the week to make room for all the new trays of seeds. Hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll be able to move all the seedlings to the allotment and my parents can get their windowsills back!

Next batch of seeds planted

Next batch of seeds planted

Today saw the first actual intentional harvest of the year. I’ve been forcing a section of my rhubarb plant and I promised myself I’d not look until it had been covered for about a month. Well, 3 weeks is pretty close, so I took a little peek.

Unforced and forced rhubarb plant

Unforced and forced rhubarb plant

Lovely long sticks of rhubarb

Lovely long sticks of rhubarb

We have rhubarb! I couldn’t resist taking a stick.

Ta-da

Ta-da

It’s much taller than I thought it would be considering the bucket covering the section is orange and the black plastic bag that I’ve wrapped the bucket in is quite thin, but who cares? It’s fantastic!

The other part of the rhubarb is growing nicely with the stems looking big and chunky, perfect for making crumble. Hopefully it’ll not be long before I can get some more sticks picked off.

Unforced section of the rhubarb growing sturdy stems

Unforced section of the rhubarb growing sturdy stems

The rest of the plants at the allotment are doing well. The barriers I put around the broad beans to stop creatures nibbling the leaves seem to have done the trick with no more chunks being taken. The ground where I planted the peas seems un-disturbed, fingers crossed I’ve fooled the birds and mice.

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Nature corner has really stared to come into bloom over the last week. The little blue grape hyacinths are growing well and the tulips and more daffodils are starting to come through. Birds have started to take some of the fillings from the bug hut to use to make their nests, their favourite seems to be the wool fleece. I’m imagining them all snuggled up cozy somewhere.

Nature corner

Nature corner

I’m over the moon with my little harvest today. I also picked some herbs (sage, thyme and oregano) and a bunch of daffodils to take home. I gave the flowers to my mam as she loves spring flowers.

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Spring in a jug

Spring in a jug

Finally, I know you’re wondering about the the fate of the single stick of rhubarb. There’s only one thing you can do with a single stick of rhubarb.

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Dipped in sugar

Dipped in sugar

Going in for the kill

Going in for the kill

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Perfection

Perfection