I heart my allotment…

10 June 2013

2013 05 23_buckland_0009

From my allotment…

You can see the sea. Or, at least the Bristol Channel.

On a clear day, Exmoor is visible to the east. Pop your head over the hedge and there’s a view of Dartmoor.

It’s a peaceful place. Many days, I’m a lone allotmenteer. My accompaniment is singing blackbirds, swooping swallows, the odd pheasant and occasional high flying buzzard.

Sometimes, there is the interruption of tractors, motorcycles or cars. But, we’re without the constant drone of traffic.

More disruptive are strimmers and other lazy people’s tools.

Me? I’m hardcore. All done by hand. Digging, weeding and cutting: all back, shoulders and ibuprofen.

And, when I have company it’s great to down tools for ten minutes or so to discuss your uncooperative onions, composting tips or whatever’s going on in the village.

For a couple of months, frozen ground or Atlantic storms mean Sunday is spent on the sofa rather then hacking away at clay. Come spring, whenever Mother Nature decides that might be, my crooked wheelbarrow can be heard rumbling through the village up to my plot.

The fresh veg is nice. But, the time to think, the fresh air, the gossip. In equal measure these mean I heart my allotment.


Peas and beans and peat free

1 June 2013

2013 06 01_gardening_0002

Thanks to the late Spring and general lethargy, I’ve been a bit behind on sowing seeds this year. There are potatoes and broad beans up at the allotment about which I’ll blog soon.

Back at the greenhouse, peas and beans have made a slow start. The runner beans are left over White Emperor which last year succumbed to rain, slugs and 2012′s overall rubbishness. Given that the season is “two weeks behind” according to something I heard on the radio, it’s not too late for the runners. At least, they have a home to go to: dug, and fed last weekend.

Keeping the beans company both in the greenhouse and in the legume trench are Ambassador peas. These are another left over from the 2012 apocalypse. I found another variety in my seed stash – Karina – but opted to go with Ambassador which, given the vote of confidence, have kicked off nicely.

(Note the toilet roll approach to sowing though I’m still getting used to the narrower diameter tubes.

2013 06 01_gardening_0004

Together with another run of peas, today was brassica sowing day: broccoli, cabbage and Brussels. Though brassicas tend to do well up at the allotment, this is all a bit of a punt. Most of the seeds are near the “use by” date and I’ve planted a bit late in the season.

2013 06 01_gardening_0003

Of the three, I’m holding out for broccoli. That’s handy as it’s one of my favourite vegetables even though I swear my mum put it in front of us for 100 days in a row one summer.

2013 06 01_gardening_0005

This the first year of using coir as my general planting out compost. I do try to stay with peat free though I’m not too fussed about organic or otherwise. Coir was the only type on offer at my last garden centre trip. As far as I remember, it’s ground up coconut husks or something like that. It seems to hold moisture quite well. Let’s see if it’s providing decent nutrients.


Refresh

22 March 2012

Once upon a time this was a blog about a transplanted townie tending an allotment. Not quite the “good life” (whatever that is), but the odd belthering about weeds, polytunnels and broccoli.

All of a sudden, the calendar said 21 March. Vernal equinox. Or, as we know it in the northern hemisphere, spring.

And, allotment 5 1/2 is looking a sorry state.

That’s a poor show considering it’s been a mild and dry winter, suitable for clearing weeds and putting goodness back in the soil. There’s been too many distractions. Community life aside, Jeff Stelling, the Saturday Soccer crew and a comfy sofa have proved too much, too easy.

There’s no promise that I’ll get out this weekend. Rarely, the southwest forecast is the best of the regions: dry, bright and 16 C. But, there’s some stirrings in the loins.

In a week filled otherwise with telephone calls, meetings, internet searches, re-writing business plans and share offers (and this was supposedly a holiday), I did fit in a little bit of yard work (I love that phrase) before returning to the day job on Monday.

The raised bed has been cleared and primed with cat deterrent. I’ve even got some baby greens thriving under a cloche, a remnant of autumn planting. I spent a couple of back breaking days pulling weeds, hacking down redundant shrubs and stumps of trees that should never have been planted. The garden waste bin overflowed with green detritus.

Meanwhile, up at the allotment, my Brussels have finished. Three types of garlic have wintered well. There’s but a few stunted bulbs. So, if I can avoid rot, we should have a good crop come June.

The spring cabbages are looking slightly sorry for themselves. All bar one should perk up. But, that renegade has bolted, sprouted a seed head. I’ve never seen a cabbage do that. My thinking is it’s a function of the dry, mild weather.

2012 03 16_broad_beans_0014

Deid!

Next door to the cabbages, I have or had a good bed of broad beans that I planted out in early October.

Look at them now. Those that I covered under a netted cloche are straggly, but alive. In contrast, those left to the elements have expired.

2012 03 16_broad_beans_0009

Check out Mr F's forearms - wow! It's Popeye!

2012 03 16_broad_beans_0010

Always read the instructions - yeah, right.

So, off to our local budget garden centre last week to fill a big shopping trolley. With a small packet of discount seeds. And, three large bags of peat-free compost. And, cat repellent. Naturally slug repellent too. All organic, mind you.

2012 03 16_broad_beans_0005

The toilet roll method

Using the expired toilet roll method, I’ve started off another batch of broad beans, which hungry mice permitting should be ready to plant out by the end of April.

The rationale for autumn planting of broad beans is to avoid black fly which can devastate your crop. Late planting means you run the risk though by pinching out the tops once the fruits start to form also discourages the flies.

But, in three years of trying I’ve now lost well over 50% of my crops. Conclusion, next season I’ll start off beans under cover in January for March planting out.

For many gardeners in my division (Conference South) broad beans are one of the first crops to be ready, a bit of a treat in April or May.

The beans are quite versatile. You can eat them as young ‘uns, in their skins and quite sweet. As a mature bean, pop off the skin after a quick blanch: great in a salad with spring onions, kidney beans, couscous, lemon and oil. As old boots, add broad beans to casseroles and soups.

From indifference, I’ve become a great fan.

For the weekend, the lazy to do list consists of tomato seed sowing. The active, active, not sitting in front of screen list includes additional digging, weeding and shooting the breeze with fellow allotment growers.

Ctrl+F5.5=Allotment 5 1/2 refreshing.


Autumn roundup

16 October 2011

Blog Action Day 2001 – #BAD11

2011 10 16_allotment_0008

My allotment

It’s been a mixed growing year on the allotment, in the garden and the greenhouse.

As I’m sure every gardener complains, the weather has not been co-operative this year. Spring was a mixed bag. It arrived early and promised a bumper year of fruit and veg. But, warm March turned to soggy, cool May. Summer in these parts never kicked off.

Tomatoes and cucumbers got a jump start, but as summer went dull, cold and windy my plants were reluctant to fruit. I can count the number of cukes on one hand: that from two wind swept specimens. (Just a quick word to the neighbours’ cats: can I grow my veg in your litter trays please?)

That early springs was a good news for the onions and garlic though garlic Sprint suffered from a mysterious mould that wiped out a third of the crop. Sandwiches are still getting a good kick from strong and sweet Red Baron.

Slugs and worms once again got to the potatoes before I could lift them – rain in June and July. Yet, there’s still two bags of salvaged tubers sitting in the shed.

As seems to have happened every year since moving to Devon, the summer brought the odd game that blew for a week or so. That did for the peas and September winds clobbered the runners just they were heavy with beans. But, overall I picked about 20 lbs of runner beans and 8 meals of broad beans. Not so successful with the peas which got hit by the full house – slugs, heavy rain, wind, weeds and rot.

So, to the winter.

2011 10 16_allotment_0004

Strawberries (and weeds)

I’ve moved strawberries – which went beserk in my home raised bed – up to the allotment. After a few weeks of bedding in, they’ve produced a couple of fruits. Not bad for some cast-offs and runner.

2011 10 16_allotment_0005

Raspberries

The strawbs are not the only cast-off. I’ve been donated some raspberry runners. About 2/3 have taken. I have no idea of the variety and raspberries are new to me, so it’s going to be yet another experiment.

2011 10 16_allotment_0003

Sprouts

2011 10 16_allotment_0002

Netted sprouts

Yet another experiment: a dozen brussel sprout plants. I’ve tried out netting them which seems to have had the effect of stunting their growth. There’s a lot of leaf damage, yet I’ve got a reasonable number of sprouts on each stem. The stuntedness might not be a disaster as it probably reduces the chance of the plants getting blown over. F1 Doric if you’re keeping score at home.

2011 10 16_allotment_0006

Cabbage

Further adventures in brassicas with my cabbage selection. I’m growing Myatts which should be ready about June or July. There’s a bit of slug damage, but all 10 plants look like they’ll form heads.

2011 10 16_allotment_0007

Four rows of garlic

At the back of the allotment I’ve got four rows of garlic. I’ve gone for Thermidrome which has been a success the past few years. Instead of Sprint, I’ve got Vallelado on the go. Another experiment.

Finally, at ground control I’ve just sown 16 broad bean seeds – Bunyards Exhibition. They’ve got a temporary home in the greenhouse hopefully away from mice and other critters.

Busy days.


Allotment tasks – 20/21 August 2011

22 August 2011

Allotment tasks completed this past weekend:

  • planted out last Brussels sprout plant, stunted little plant nurtured back at the greenhouse after the rests the plants went in last month
  • netted sprout bed
  • weeded sprouts bed
  • fed slugs put out more slug pellets in cabbage and sprout beds
  • picked 4 lbs of runner beans, a few peas and the remaining broad beans
  • pulled up broad beans and part-weeded bed

To do:

  • figure out where to transplant strawberries
  • er, more weeding, everywhere

Fruits of labour and love

26 June 2011
11 06 26_fruits_0009

Autumn onions

The effort is definitely worth it: all the digging, the weeding, sowing of seeds, transplanting, back-breaking work in all weathers.

It comes together in the growing season.

A first batch of onions, planted out in the cool days of October. Now, ready for the kitchen. A further station on the supermarket route detoured until the New Year.

11 06 26_fruits_0003

Strawberries for tea

Another small cache of strawberries – this year’s pleasant and tasty surprise.

11 06 26_fruits_0007

Brightening up the house

Just to prove that the overgrown garden can produce beauty and pleasure, from labour and love.


Sweet

9 June 2011
11 06 09_strawbs_cabbage_0001

Today's harvest

Sometimes you spend £25 on a dozen strawberry plants and get nowhere near the financial return. Four years is the accepted life of a plant. With a fair wind, you might get 3 or 4 kilos of fruit a year and some decent runners.

Strawberries have yet to be a success in my garden. This is the sixth year or so using a planter. To date, I’ve had zero edible fruit. Meanwhile, the half forgotten runners and five year old plants are cropping.

Today, a £25 taste of sweet fruit.

In contrast, the last of the spring cabbage from a £1.99 packet of seeds.

Which tastes sweeter?


Strawberry update

26 May 2011

The homemade strawberry jam, albeit under set, was delicious on rice pudding.

11 05 22_strawbs_0016

Fruity juicyness on the way

In the raised bed, which I’ve been too lazy to deal with, there’s a possible bumper crop of strawberries. There’s a mixture of 4 year old plants, which should have petered out by now, and runners. Indolence means I can’t tell one from the other. And, there’s grass growing between some of the plants.

At least I’ve been busy with nets to protect from the hungry blackbirds.


Rocket powered

24 May 2011
11 05 22_rocket_0013

Rocket, roquette, arugula

Breakfast has been improved.

Lunch has been rocket powered: spicy salad filling from my raised bed.

This batch is a bonus. Last year’s rocket bolted quickly. To my surprise, plants appeared in early March this year. At first, I assumed they’d survived the winter but later realised the rocket had self-seeded.

Around late March I took a bunch; sniffed that unmistakable peppery smell; and, had a tentative taste. Yep, rocket.

Sandwiches to the stars!


Jam today and tomorrow

23 May 2011
11 05 22_strawbjam_4

First batch of 2011 strawberry jam

The jam and marmalade cupboard ran bare the other day. Breakfast is not the same without preserves.

Strawberry prices are a little high. Afterall, it’s still May. The Barnstaple pannier market has Combe Martin strawberries at £2.50 for 450g (1 lb to you and me). A punnet of Ashford fruit will set you back about £4.

Carefully picking through the market stalls, I found some good looking fruit at £1.75 a pound, albeit from Belgium. For budget conscious jam making, I’ll suspend any food mile issues.

And, what good berries they were… Virtually no wastage after two days in the fridge though a little over ripe for jam making.

St Delia provides the recipe:

  • 4 lb strawberries
  • 3 lb sugar
  • 2 large lemons (I used 3 regular sized)
  • a knob of butter

Hull the fruit, place in a maslin pan and sprinkle each layer with sugar. (Delia recommends using under ripe fruit – if you can find it – and leaving the fruit overnight to allow the sugar to dissolve – if you I had the foresight to do that.)

Gently heat to dissolve all the sugar. Avoid stirring to keep the fruit whole shake the pan to ensure all the sugar dissolves.

When dissolved add the lemon juice and bring to a vigorous boil.

The mixture should boil for 8 minutes. At this stage test your jam. Place some on a chilled dish, which you should have put in the freezer at step 1. When at room temperature, run your finger through the jam. It should crease if set.

If not set, return to the boil for another 4-5 minutes and repeat until set or if you wind up with a gloppy mess at the bottom of your pan.

When set, allow to cool for 15 minutes, pour into sterile jars and seal with wax disks and cover to keep airtight (I use wetted plastic disks held with a rubber band).

In my case, I can never get the setting right. Whilst preferring runny jam, I would have liked it to set a bit more yesterday. It was probably down to over ripe fruit, impatience and a little less sugar than called for in the recipe.

I’ll make another batch in a few weeks by which time prices will have come down to about £1.20 a pound. I’ll take care and add an extra lemon for additional pectin, that what helps set the jam.

Meanwhile, today’s breakfast was complete with delicious home made jam.

Addendum: the warm spring has also helped my own usually pathetic strawberry growing. A lot of fruits have set though they need more rain and warm weather to plump up. With any luck, there’ll be home grown fruit in a subsequent batch of jam.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 715 other followers