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. 

  

  
    
    
 

 

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

Heads up

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Allotment time has been tight this last week. The weather has been down right awful recently, making what little time I’ve had to get to the allotment tricky to say the least, with hail and thunder one day, searing sunshine the next followed by drizzly rain after that. How’s a girl supposed to keep on top of the weeds?!

I had a little trip away last weekend to visit a lovely group of girls I met at University 17 years ago. It’s only the second time we’ve met up since we left, but when we get together, we all just fall back into each other’s company so comfortably, it’s like we just saw each other last week. I love friendships like that.

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My University girls

After my time away, I was keen to check up on the plot before the working week started. To my delight the plot had survived without me, the slugs and snails didn’t launch a stealth attack in my absence and the birds hadn’t devoured the strawberries.

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I have to say, I’m loving the way the allotment is looking at the moment. It’s great to see all the beds being used and little by little there are signs that vegetables are either ready or on their way. I’ve started to harvest my new potatoes now, even though they’ve not flowered yet. They’ve been in the ground for about 13 weeks and quite honestly I couldn’t wait any longer to get digging! The crops per plant have been just big enough I think, but I’d definitely manure next year to increase the yield.

I’ve been harvesting the Lady Chrystl variety mostly and they’re quite delicious. They take only 8-10 minutes to cook, hold their shape well, and taste fresh even after they’ve been stored for a few days. I’m keeping the harvested potatoes in a closed cardboard shoebox lined with absorbent paper in the kitchen until I’m ready to cook them. I know it’s a little unorthodox as far as potato storage goes but I don’t want to keep them in the fridge in case they absorb any moisture and disintegrate when they’re cooked and I’ve read that if they are too cold when stored the starch in the potatoes will turn to sugar which will affect their flavour. Not having a paper potato sack handy, the next best thing I could find was a cardboard shoebox and some kitchen roll and I’ve got to say it seems to be doing the trick.

I had a fleeting visit to the allotment on Tuesday, again to make sure no critters had been eating the crops but was able to spend about an hour and a half yesterday getting a little plot maintenance done. I swiftly cut the grass, as my mum deadheaded the roses. I also had to add another rung of support canes to my squash hide out. Since mulching the squash and pumpkins with manure a couple of weeks ago they’ve put on a huge amount of growth.

This is a picture of the Buffy Ball squash plants taken on the 2nd July

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This was them yesterday

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I can’t believe the pictures are only 15 days apart. As I was tying in the stems, I noticed my very first squash fruit. Fingers crossed it was pollinated and doesn’t drop off!

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I’ve been keeping a close eye on the brassicas recently as I found a caterpillar and a whole load of eggs on one of the broccoli plants last week. After their swift removal I’ve been a little obsessive with checking all the leaves front and back to make sure I’d not missed any more. Well I think I’ve been focusing too much on the creepy crawlies because I completely missed this beauty

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A cauliflower! An actual real cauliflower, and it’s growing on my allotment! Even better, there’s more of them! I spotted 3 the size of the one in the picture and 2 smaller ones. How I missed these I’ll never know. Quickly I cut some twine and gathered the leaves around the heads and tied them together. Using the outer leaves to cover the cauliflower heads will keep them a creamy white colour as sunlight can turn the curds a brownish colour.

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Feeling like a proper gardener I quickly harvested some more potatoes, broad beans and some strawberries before leaving for the day.

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The potatoes and broad beans I’m using today to make a summer vegetable frittata.

The strawberries have gone already…

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Gifts from the garden

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June is a busy month for birthdays and occasions in our family, and typically they’re all at the end and within 10 days of each other. Needless to say, June weighs heavy on the purse strings. I was discussing this with my sister, who has her birthday in June, and she gave me a challenge of making her birthday gift this year rather than buying her something. What a great idea I thought, and while I’m at it, I’ll make a birthday gift for my Mam too, whose birthday is the day after my sister’s.

Now, what was I to make? I wanted to keep the cost down, but I wanted to make something special that looked good too.

Jam. Everybody loves jam, and the jars can look fancy too can’t they? That was settled. I’d make a lovely batch of home-made jam using fruits and flavours from the allotment. While I was at the allotment on Thursday I cast my eye over the plot to see what I could use. The rhubarb is still producing a few stalks so I picked a few of those, and then I saw it. The perfect accompaniment to the rhubarb: elderflowers. There’s  something about the taste of elderflowers that just says “summers here”. The elder tree is actually in the park, just on the other side of the allotment fence and overhangs the plot ever so slightly, so because I had to climb up onto the fence to reach the flowers, I think this technically counts as foraging. Armed with my goodies I set off homeward bound to make the jam.

I love baking, and have baked regularly for a number of years now but I’ve never made jam before. It’s always seemed so technical to me with all the talk of setting points and wrinkle tests, but I do like to try new things, so, not put off by my lack of experience, I ploughed on. As I was assessing my ingredients, one thing became clear, I didn’t have enough fruit. The 4 stalks of rhubarb I’d brought back were definitely not enough to make jam. The only fruit I could think of that would go with the rest of the ingredients was strawberries but my strawberries at the allotment are nowhere near ready yet, so reluctantly I called into the shops and bought a couple of punnets to bulk up the fruit.

Once I was happy with the amount of fruit, I got started on preparing them for the first stage; infusion.

I soaked the Elderflowers in water to make sure no little creatures were hiding, then washed and rinsed them again.

Foraged Elderflowers

Foraged Elderflowers

I chopped the rhubarb into small chunks and hulled and halved the strawberries.

Chopped rhubarb

Chopped rhubarb

The rhubarb went into the bowl first and I covered the chunks in sugar, then I alternated the strawberries and the sugar, until there was only one more portion of strawberries remaining. The upturned Elderflowers went into the bowl, then I added the final layer of strawberries and sugar.

Fruit/sugar combo

Fruit/sugar combo

I left the mixture over night to allow the sugar to get to work on the fruit and pull all the lovely flavours out and into a syrup.

After 3 hours

After 3 hours

Fruit suspended in syrup after being left to infuse over night

Fruit suspended in syrup after being left to infuse over night

The next day, I sterilised the jam jars, and got to work on making the jam. I was in two minds as to whether I should put some of the actual flowers into the jam too, but as it was going to be a gift, I thought it best to pull all the flowers out.

Flower removal

Flower removal

Slowly I heated the fruity syrup until all the sugar had dissolved and then brough the mixture to a rolling boil. After a few minutes I tried the wrinkle test on a really cold saucer (if the jam has reached setting point, a tea-spoon of mixture dropped onto a really cold saucer should form a skin and wrinkle when prodded with your finger after a few moments)

Wrinkle test

Wrinkle test

It wrinkled! Fantastic. I wasn’t sure how long it had taken to get to setting point so I let the mixture boil for about 3-4 more minutes then turned off the heat. The result was a lovely deep red fruity jam.

Before

Before

After

After

Carefully I transferred some of the jam to a measuring jug and filled the hot jam jars. The lids went on straight away and I turned the filled jars upside down. Apparently this is to help form the seal and to keep the jam in tip-top condition.

Topsy turvy jam

Topsy turvy jam

I found some squares of material and cut out large circles to cover the lids and hey presto! Gifts from the garden.

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I can’t just give a jar of jam for a birthday gift, so for my Mam, I whipped up a batch of scones, popped them into a basket and I had a lovely gift. My sister is in Glastonbury for the festival at the moment so won’t be back for a few days. When she does get back, I’ll magic up some fresh scones for her too.

Birthday gifts

Birthday gifts

My son and I also made a pebble art picture using wool and some pebbles. It’s a really simple idea and works really well put into a box picture frame.

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My Mam was delighted when I gave her the gifts last night. Of course we had to try the jam and scones (the scones were still warm).

I think the jams a winner!

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I spy with my little eye

Its official…we have vegetables. Ok, so when I say vegetables, I mean very small vegetables. Seriously, what I actually mean, is I found teeny tiny broad bean pods. Two of them. Hurrah!

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The first broad bean pod

I’ve really enjoyed seeing the broad beans growing and flowering at the allotment. Having never grown broad beans before, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. From experimenting with planting the seeds into cardboard tubes and then fretting about them being left unattended at the allotment, worrying about what will happen if the snails/slugs/birds take a fancy to them, to seeing their lovely deep pink flowers burst open and smelling their lovely sweet scent on the breeze. The bees have really taken a fancy to the flowers recently and I’d hoped this would result in lots of bean pods emerging, so it was lovely to spot the tiny pods peeking out from the flowers on the plants this morning.

The next thing I need to do with the broad beans is to pinch out the growing tip so that the plant can put all of its energy into producing lots more lovely bean pods, but I’m not sure when I need to do this. Do I pinch it out now? Do I leave it until there are a few more pods growing? Do I leave it until the first lot of pods are nearly full size? Clearly I think more research is needed. I will be slightly sad to remove the growing tip of the plants as this will mean no more lovely flowers, but I’m sure the end result will be worth it.

Feeling rather excited with my bean discovery I went off in search for signs of other vegetables growing. Most of the vegetables I’ve got planted out at the allotment at the moment have quite long growing seasons, such as the garlic, onions and potatoes, so to counter that, I’ve sown some quick growing crops too.  A few weeks ago I planted some rocket, radish and spring onion seeds into an up cycled roasting tin. Feeling artistic at the time of sowing the seeds, I put the rocket around the outside, the spring onions in the centre and the radish in between. Looking at the salad tin today I think I’m going to have a salad explosion! In a week or so, I’ll thin out the radish to let the remainder grow on but I’m hopeful that some of the thinnings will be big enough to use in salads.

Salad planter 2 weeks ago

Salad planter 2 weeks ago

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Salad planter today

I was thrilled when I also checked on my Atlantic giant pumpkins; I saw a cluster of flower buds forming on the stem. I’ve been having a final weed of the pumpkin patch today so hopefully I’ll be able to get all the squash and pumpkins planted out in the next day or two and we’ll see the flowers open up soon.

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The strawberries are coming along great guns too. They’ve been flowering like mad and today I spotted a whole cluster of berries just starting to form.

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It’s so exciting to be at the allotment at this time of year. I love that each day there’s something different to see, whether it’s new vegetables growing or new flowers blooming, every visit is still an adventure.

A really fun-gi

I woke up to a lovely sunny day this morning, and feeling spurred on by the progress made yesterday I headed along to the allotment with my sandwiches and flask in hand.

First task of the day was to plant up the strawberries. I have an area on the allotment which, at the moment, houses the broken cold frame. I had planned to take it down and dig it out to use as the strawberry patch, but the little test dig I did a few weeks ago proved it to be full of really tough woody roots (where they’ve come from and what they are I’ve got no idea). So strawberries in planters was my next best option. I like the idea of vertical gardening and as I’m short on patio space I thought stacking strawberry planters was the way to go.

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I love strawberries, so I’ve planted 18 individual plants, 3 per pot. I had thought about stacking them 3 pots high to save on space but I think stacking them 2 pots high is going to give the plants more sunshine.

After an hour or so’s digging (got to keep on top of those weeds) I stopped to plant up some more seeds. I planted my climbing beans – Cobra, my runner beans – Enorma and my dwarf bush beans – Purple Teepee. I’m growing the runner beans and the climbing beans up wigwam style support canes so I’ve only sown 6 seeds of each. If I need any more, I can plant a few seeds directly into the ground when I plant the beans out.

After that, I thought I’d test my luck and plant a few beetroot seeds and some Swiss chard directly into the ground where I’d been weeding. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Swiss chard. The variety I’m growing is called Bright Lights and the stems will be lovely shades of red, yellow, silver and purple. If I only pick the outer leaves, they should keep producing more to last right the way through the summer, and even into autumn.

After all that hard work, it was time for a cup of tea. Off I went to nature corner to relax and enjoy the flowers.

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As I was watching the bees, I noticed something growing beside the grape hyacinth…

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There, right in the middle. Can you see it? It looks like the weirdest wrinkly fungi ever! I cast my eye over the woodland-like floor and spotted another…

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And another!

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Once I got home, I did what anyone else with pictures of weird looking wrinkly fungi would do. Put the picture on Instagram and asked for help! After a short time I had a reply saying it was a Morel wild mushroom. The best thing is that it’s really easy to identify (once you know what to look for in your mushrooms) and it’s edible too, supposedly it’s quite delicious.

I’ll have to do a bit more research, just to make sure it is a Morel before I eat them all, but I’m delighted that nature corner is producing things to forage. And so what if the mushrooms are all weird looking? It’s can certainly come to party at my allotment…because it’s a really fun-gi.