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. 

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 

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

Better late than never

  
Does anyone else feel like they’re running late planting vegetables this year? I’ve been waiting for ages to plant peas at the allotment, but for the last few weeks the weather has been more like autumn than Spring and it was just too wet and cold to sow peas. I’ve been really anxious about how late I’ve been in getting the peas sown, this time last year they had been in the ground for 4 weeks already! Thankfully the weather turned fairer last week so I high tailed it along to the allotment to get sowing. 

  
The plot I’m planting the peas into had potatoes growing in it last year and I can honestly say that the soil texture was (to my surprise) just fabulous which made turning it over for a final weeding that much easier. 

I made a flat bottomed drill then popped the peas in. I had good intentions of spacing them nice and evenly in two neat rows, but when I finished it appeared I had subconsciously adopted a more scatter and hope approach! 

  
Before covering them up I lined the bamboo canes along the edges of the drill and secured them all at the top. I’ll add some twine or netting for them to scramble up once they start growing. 

  
Last year I grew two types of peas, Hurst green shaft and Alderman. This year I’ve stuck to one type (Hurst green shaft) to allow more space between the rows in the vegetable beds. They will grow to about a meter in height compared to the 6 feet high alderman variety. 

When planning out the beds I had thought about using the remaining space to grow runner beans but now I’ve actually got the broad beans and the peas in I’m worried if I put the tall growing runner beans in, by the time they start climbing, they’ll cast a massive shadow across the rest of the bed. The alternative is to relocate the beans and plant something low growing in the space. I’m thinking courgettes or perhaps a dwarf bean like purple teepee. 

Rookie error there I think! 

Tonight’s the night

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It’s here. The night I’ve been waiting patiently for. The night that I’ve been imagining over and over again in my head for weeks has finally arrived.

Tonight, I’m making Raymond Blanc’s pea risotto as featured on Kew on a Plate. Since watching the series I’ve been dreaming up ways to use my freshly picked allotment produce to their fullest potential. The risotto dish from the “Spring” episode really caught my attention, mainly because all of the vegetable was used in the dish, nothing went to waste, and if you’re growing your own vegetables you want to eat and enjoy as much of the vegetable as possible.

The peas at the allotment are finally ready for picking so just before tea time, I headed along to collect as many pods as I could so that I could make the risotto with the freshest peas possible.

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The process of making the risotto starts with the shelling of the peas, unsurprisingly there weren’t a lot of offers for help with that job!

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The pods are then blanched for about a minute then plunged into really cold water. The pods and the water are then blitzed in a food processor to make the greenest pea stock you can ever imagine, and it’s this which is used to cook the rice in.

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Pea shells ready to be turned into stock

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Pea stock

A small portion of the peas are then sautéed in a dash of the pea stock to make a pea purée. The purée on its own is absolutely delicious. The taste is so fresh I could’ve easily just sprinkled some chopped mint on the top and eaten it with warm pitta bread! But no, risotto was calling and I had a recipe to follow.

Back on track I started cooking the rice in the pea stock. It’s cooked slightly differently to the traditional method of risotto cooking. Usually you add the stock to the rice a spoonful at a time stirring until the liquid has been absorbed, but this method called for all the stock being added at once and then cooked gently until the liquid had been absorbed. Only the last 5 minutes are spent stirring the rice, which will bring a lovely creamy consistency to the food.

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Rice and stock together at last

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Lovely creamy risotto

The purée is added along with a good handful of fresh Parmesan cheese. Only at the last moment are the peas cooked, making sure that they keep their texture and sweetness and above all else, their freshness.

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The finished dish

Needless to say, it was well worth the wait.

Under construction 

  
The warm weather this week has worked wonders for the allotment. Everything seems to be thriving in the sunshine and I’m delighted with the progress that the plants are making. Earlier on this week I planted out my tomato plants, I’ve picked the  2 strongest of each variety and planted them in grow bags against the side of the shed. It’s a lovely sunny but sheltered spot currently being enjoyed by the strawberries, but after a quick re-organisation there was room for everything. 
 

On Wednesday morning, on my pre-work visit, I noticed the first of my strawberries starting to ripen and turn red.
  
Not wanting to leave them in the car to sweat it out while I was at work, I decided to pop back along after work to pick them. Unfortunately the birds must’ve spotted them too because they’d completely disappeared by the time I got back! I’ll have to work out some form of protection for them because I’m not losing any more! 

Today I’ve spent a lovely morning at the plot building some more of my squash hide-out. With a bit of training, the squash plants will climb up the bamboo framework and I’ll have a really cool little hide away covered with little mini squashes. I attached the first rung when I initially planted out the squash plants a couple of weeks ago and now the plants are growing well, it’s time to give the plants more rungs to scramble up. 
   
   

I’m making the framework from bamboo canes, cutting each rung to fit. It’s amazing what you can make with canes and garden twine! 

   
   

While I was making the squash hide-out, my dad popped along to check on the progress of the vegetables. While he was there I showed him my random red flowering peas. I noticed them a day or two ago and I’ve not been able to work out how they’re red! The only thing I can think of is that a random red flowering pea variety snuck into the seed packet. I’m not complaining, I can’t wait to see what the peas are like.

 

While I was checking out the pea flowers I noticed something curly sticking out from one of them…

  
A POD! 
I can’t believe it! An actual pea pod. Once I saw that one I spotted another, and another!
   
   

I can’t believe it was only last Thursday I saw the first pea flowers and just one week later we have pods! 

I must’ve got swept up in “pod fever” and I picked my first broad bean pod today too. I think I picked it a bit too early but it just seemed too good to pass up. 

  
I was really pleased with the jam I made last week (the jar I kept for me has been used up already) and I really fancied making some elderflower cordial, so I managed to pick a few umbrellas of elderflowers before I left the allotment. 

  
I’m going to make the cordial tomorrow and add some fresh ginger to the mix too. The plan is to use the cordial in drinks and to add extra flavour to any more jams I make. 

Tomorrows day at the allotment will be spent weeding mostly I think. The weather has worked wonders for the weeds too! I might even treat the pumpkins to a mulching of manure while I’m at it. Happy days. 

A watched pot never boils

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For the last few months I’ve been making daily trips to the allotment whenever possible. Primarily this has been to make sure that all the plants in the greenhouse have had enough water and to check all the plants out in the plots have survived the elements. It really seems like the first half of the year has flown by.

Now that most of the plants are out in their final positions (I’ve only got the find homes for the tomato plants) it feels as if I’m playing a waiting game…which vegetable is going to crop first! On each trip to the allotment I spend the first 10 minutes or so assessing the progress of all the vegetables, and in my head I recall how they looked last time I was there (usually the day before). It never seems as if any of my plants are growing!

I love checking out everyone else’s plot progress on their blogs and I’m practically addicted to Instagram and it seems like everyone else’s vegetables are light years ahead of mine, so much so, I’ve had to check the seed packets to make sure I’ve planted everything at the right time.

Drastic measures were called for. I decided that I’d not visit the allotment quite as often this week, as a kind of experiment, to see if the vegetable progress would be more noticeable. In the last 7 days I’ve only been to the allotment twice. Both just to check the plants were still alive, the weather here’s been rubbish this week so they haven’t been short of water.

Good news. On my visit today I noticed a massive difference in almost all of the vegetables.

These were the broad beans 3 weeks ago

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These are the broad beans today

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I didn’t think it had only been 3 weeks since the beans started appearing but I had no idea they’d grown so much. I think they’ll be ready for picking in a couple of weeks, perhaps earlier if I can’t hold myself back!

Same with the peas. I’ve been watching the foliage of the peas climb higher and higher but I’ve not been able to see any flowers at all…until today!

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Pea flowers. I can hardly hide my excitement! These are on my shorter variety, Hurst Greenshaft which are double podded and are a slightly earlier cropper than my main crop variety, Alderman. Hopefully this is a sign that peas will be following shortly and I can finally make Raymond Blanc’s pea risotto from Kew on a Plate.

I’ve also spotted my first flower on my Buffy Ball squash

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I’ve been swatting up on male and female flowers on squash and pumpkins and on closer inspection, this appears to be a male flower. The female flower will have a slight bump behind it as the bump will eventually turn into the fruit or pumpkin. Feeling very proud of my plant anatomy knowledge I checked out the giant pumpkins. There’s only a flower appearing there too!

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How fantastic is this? It seems to be a female flower, so I’ll have to keep a look out for some male flowers too to ensure successful pollination and those enormous pumpkins.

The tomato plants have started flowering, the onions are starting look bigger towards the base and the bean plants are twirling up their canes now too.

Tomato flower

Tomato flowers

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Red Baron onions showing their colour

It seems like the allotment’s been waiting for me to look away before unleashing it’s growing potential. If someone could just pass the message onto the strawberries, that would be ace.

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It could happen to anyone…

We’ve all been there. That moment you realise you’ve just done the most ridiculous thing, and you’ve no idea why. It’s never happened before, you’ve taken steps in the past to avoid it ever happening in the future but some how, against all your best efforts, it’s happened.

Over the past week I’ve been making steady progress at the allotment. I’ve been re-digging and re-weeding the larger plots while waiting for the tender crops to be planted out. I also managed to plant out the cauliflowers and get some brassica collars to put around the base of each plant. I found  a net tunnel protector lurking in the shed which I managed to stretch over the whole row to protect them from the birds.

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Next on the list was the onions. I’d been hardening them off for about a week and a half so they needed to be planted out, all 120 of them. I’ve got 3 varieties (2 rows of 40 for each) – Bedfordshire Champion, Red Barron and  Ailsa Craig. I hadn’t appreciated how many onions I’ve been growing and had thought I’d have room in the onion bed to plant out my leeks along with my carrots and parsnips. That’s a plan I’m going to have to revise! I’ll be lucky to get just my carrots in the space that’s left. No matter, I’m sure I’ll find space somewhere.

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In the short time I’ve had at the plot this week I’ve potted up all my squash and pumpkin seedlings. I’d planted them in cell trays next to some sprouts and cabbages to save on space and pots but they’ve grown so fast they’ve started to over crowd the other seedlings. I reused the pots from the cauliflower plants to re home the squash so it was a win-win all round.

Every day, before and after work, I’ve managed to pop along to the allotment, just for 10 – 20 minutes or so to check on the plants, make sure the slugs are keeping their mitts off my cauliflowers and to check the birds haven’t pulled up any of the onions. All the plants have been watered, the new seedlings are popping up and everything that’s been planted out has survived the elements.

Climbing peas

Climbing peas

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Potatoes

Blooming broad beans

Blooming broad beans

Today before work, I was a little pushed for time so I only managed to water the plants in the greenhouse. I made a mental note to swing by on my way home to give all the plants a check over and to nab a few stalks of rhubarb to make a crumble tonight. When I arrived at the allotment I opened the shed, checked on the plants in the greenhouse and assessed the crops already planted out. Nothing unusual to report, no pests or green-fly on the broad beans, the peas are making their way nicely up the twine supports, the onions are still there and are starting to perk up a bit and the potatoes are sufficiently leafy enough to warrant their first earthing up tomorrow. Feeling pretty good, I grabbed a few stalks of rhubarb, lopped their leaves off and returned the cutters to the shed. I shut up the shed, padlocked the door and headed out.

It was then that it happened.

Looking back at the shed door I realised I’d left all my keys hanging up on a peg inside. My car keys and the keys to lock up the whole allotment site. I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen? I can’t even remember hanging them up, I never hang them up, I always put them in my bag and keep my bag with me wherever I am on the plot to avoid ever leaving the keys hanging up and inadvertently locking them inside the shed. To say I was annoyed with myself was an understatement. In times of trouble there’s only one thing to do. Reinforcements were called and my Dad headed along with a hammer. I had left a window open on the greenhouse which is attached to the shed, so the first plan was to try and climb in. Cat burglary is clearly not my strong suit and after realising there was no way to get through the window, even after using the upturned burning bin to give me a bit of extra height, we finally decided to get the hammer out and jemmy one side of the padlock off.

Locking my keys in the shed is a lesson I’m not likely to forget in a hurry and before I can start to get busy earthing up the potatoes tomorrow, I’ll have to get the drill out and fix the padlock back onto the shed door.

Now I love taking pictures of all the ups and downs I encounter at the allotment, and I feel it’s important to share both the successes and failures along the way. Having said that, I am not going to share pictures of me in my work/office clothes balanced precariously on a metal bin trying to get my leg through a small greenhouse window! I will however share the picture of the apple and rhubarb crumble I made to compensate for my epic fail!

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The week the lurgy struck

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Its been an illness infested week for the green wellie brigade. On Monday morning (my son’s first day back at school after the Easter break) I was called at work to be told he was poorly and I’d need to come and collect him. Poor thing had a sickness bug. It’s been doing the rounds by all accounts, so off I went to collect him from the school office. The worst thing was, he told me he’d had tummy pains while we were getting ready for school that morning, but I’d thought he was suffering from the well-known back to school illness “Monday-itis” and with a stern, matron-like voice told him he’d feel better when he got to school. Well, I was guilt ridden for the rest of the day. Luckily it was a 24 hour bug, by Wednesday he was back on top form and back to school.

Thursday was a lovely sunny day and the first of my 2 days off this week so off to the plot I went. Digging and sorting out the canes for the peas were the jobs on the list along with day one of hardening off the onions and summer cauliflowers, and sowing the first round of my spring onions. Armed with my sun cream (got sun burned last week, not making the same mistake again) I spent a most enjoyable day pottering at the allotment.

My plan for Friday, the second of my 2 days off, was to continue digging over the Brassica beds for the second time (that bindweed never stops growing) and to prepare the ground for the beans and corn. This however was never to happen. Lurgy strike. On Friday morning I woke to stomach cramps and the dreaded sickness bug. How could this happen? I never get sick! I’m so grateful for my family. My sister sprung into action and got my son off to school. My parents picked him up from school, called in for an over night bag and have let him have a weekend break at Grandma and Granda’s house while I stay quarantined at home.

I did manage to hand over my allotment keys to my dad with the instructions to water the plants in the greenhouse. What a gem. Not only has he watered them, he sent pictures of the plants back to me so I could see how they were doing! My main worry was the cauliflowers. The last time I tried to harden them off they almost died, so it really helped so see the pictures of them looking fine and dandy.

Cauliflowers after their first day in the open

Cauliflowers after their first day in the open

It’s taken me almost 3 days to get over the horrible bug but tonight I managed a quick pit stop past the allotment on my way back from collecting my son from his weekend retreat. I’m pleased to see the allotment hasn’t become over run with weeds in the few days I’ve not made it along, and I’m pleased the peas are looking particularly good. (You know my next post will be how the slugs ate the peas)

Lovely peas

Lovely peas

The tomato plants are getting taller and stronger and the spinach is really starting to get going. The chilli peppers have even started to sprout up too. The blossom is now in full show on the apple tree and the tulips are just about ready to open. Things are looking good.

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Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings

Spinach micro salad

Spinach micro salad

I’m pleased the week is ending on a high note, and without the help of my family I’m sure it would be a different story. Thanks a million.

Cat-astrophy

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Noodles. Not on Santa’s good list at the moment.

He’s done it again. The cat has been at my seedlings. There must be something about brassicas he finds irresistible because he’s not touched any flower seedlings, or herbs, or even the leeks or onions. Just the brassicas. I had thought he was only partial to the cauliflowers (I moved those to the allotment after he chewed the leaves off a few weeks ago and planted new ones out of sight) but today I found out that he’s quite taken with brussel sprouts too. Not wanting to sacrifice another leaf, I’ve transported all my brussels and cabbages to the greenhouse at the allotment tonight.

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

Its to lovely to be on the allotment in the evenings. It has a totally different feel about it. While I was dropping off the brussels I had a quick check on the other veg I’ve got growing there at the moment. I’ve been a bit worried about the peas I planted last bank holiday Monday. I’ve been checking them daily for two weeks and although there’s not been any sign of pests digging or scratching trying to get to the seeds there’s not been any growth…until today. It was a double whammy. I found new pea shoots emerging from the ground (hooray) but I also found about 3 peas which had been pulled out and left on the soil (boo).

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New pea shoots popping up

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Pulled out pea

I’ve quickly replanted the few pulled out peas and I’ll have to get some netting to put over all the canes to stop the pests feasting on the new pea shoots. (Can’t blame them really, pea shoots are really tasty!)

The micro salad leaves are looking great. The rocket and the spinach are getting their true leaves now so they’ll be ready to harvest in a couple of weeks. The tomato plants are growing strongly since I potted them up too, and the previously eaten cauliflowers have made a remarkable comeback.

Rocket

Rocket

Spinach

Spinach

Tomato Forrest

Tomato Forrest

The comeback cauliflowers

The comeback cauliflowers

The warmer weather we’ve had over the last two weeks has really helped the plants come on leaps and bounds. Long may it last I say!