The Remains of the Day

You know it’s been a great evening when you finish off with a couple of empty bottles of fine ale and a bucket full of fresh produce. Days really don’t get much better than this.

We sat in the sun and ate Ratte potatoes boiled with freshly podded peas and pondered over the mystery of carrots. Yet again I managed to produce just 3 carrots out of 3 assorted packets of seed.

I don’t understand how you can grow 3 fine specimens and then about 300 abject failures.

The peach tree has proved to be the most exciting feature of the plot. We transplanted it in  the snow and had concerns for it’s future but it has bounced back and covered itself in fruit. Each week I rush up to check how much they’ve grown and confirm that no one has nicked them yet.

They are looking particularly peachy at the moment but are still rock solid. This is my most eagerly anticipated crop, I can’t wait to try it.

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Spud Dispute

We barely made it to the plot at all in March but just as the month was turning, the sun arrived. We grabbed our seed potatoes and ran to the plot clutching a days supply of delicately cut sandwiches and flasks of hot drinks.

Four hours later, stripped to our t-shirts, we would have happily discarded the flasks in favour of a few tinnies.

We worked ferociously planting spuds and sowing seeds. Lynn would of course argue that she worked the hardest as she planted 7 rows of spuds while I weeded the seed bed and prepared some labels with my Brother P Touch – pah!

Weeding that seed bed was the devils own job. We’d planted onions, lettuce and assorted brassicas under the glazed area some weeks back but pretty much the only thing that had germinated was a field of weeds. After half an hour of dabbling around with a tweezer to uncover 1 lettuce and 3 brassica seedlings it occurred to me that it would be a far better idea to blitz the lot with a hoe and start again.

Our potato planting led to some interesting debates. I’m relying on C. H. Middleton with his Dig for Victory advice from 1945, topped up with a modern infusion from Joy Larkcom, while Lynn is regularly in contact with her Dad – a potato farmer by profession.

I’m a big fan of books and so would usually disregard 50 years of practical experience for something that could be gleaned by a quick scan from the comfort of a bath. We opted for the Dig your Own method: 1/2 spade depth furrow, place in spud and then cover with soil and a sprinkling of manure. No earthing up until the foliage starts to poke through.

The experienced voice tells us to dig a trench, place in manure with spuds on top and then earth up enough to allow the rain to run off and prevent rotting. I know it sounds sensible and was in fact my method of old, but its hard work and in clay, I’m all for short cuts. I do hope the buggers don’t rot though, I’ll never hear the end of it.

We have set ourselves a challenge to excel at two crops this year – peas and leeks. Of course we want all our crops to be prizewinners but these two have proved to be challenging in the past.

I wouldn’t waste time with the autumn sown peas – horrible dry things, but I think a hot day at the end of March might be perfect for the sweet summer variety. We prepared two drills and I started laying out the seeds in a perfect arrangement – square layout with a centre pea, then had a flashback to last years germination rate and walked back along my row scattering the rest of the packet.

Here’s Lynn proudly constructing the mesh cloche over the sowings.

We also had time to set the uber cheap summer bulbs (care of Lidl) by the rhubarb patch and get in a few rows of carrots and parsnips. I’ve gone mad with carrots again, so along with the standard Nantes varieties I’ve got some Red Samurai and Purple Haze, so with my usual carrot success rate these are all set to be mighty expensive tubers again.

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Carrot – £1.20

Carrot - £1.20

I couldn’t wait any longer so pulled the anxiety causing carrot out of the ground this weekend. It was completely blemish free and was chomped almost immediately – delightful, although excessively expensive.

Out of the 3 packs of seeds I sowed in early spring, I managed to persuade 5 carrots to grow to maturity which can hardly be described as successful. Fortunately the June sown carrots appear to have germinated at a promising rate so I should be able to recoup some of my investment.

I checked out my household spending records yesterday and discovered that my grocery expenditure has dropped by £150 each quarter since I took on the plot. I barely buy any vegetables anymore and I should hope that for the next couple of months I ought to be able to go supermarket cold turkey. Good news in this time of spiraling food prices.

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Gooseberry and Rhubarb Jam

The kitchen waste bucket has been overflowing and Shakti was complaining that I haven’t collected hers for a while either and was in a similar state. Compost pressure forced me to get out of bed to go and fix the tyre on my bike so I could take the trailer on a neighbourhood sweep, collecting food waste before heading to the allotment.

It was threatening rain all day but I had a very productive afternoon on the plot. I dug up an entire row of Maris Peer so I could clear some space for another row of peas. I’m risking a late sowing of Kelvedon Wonder as I’m desperate for a taste of the sweet peas of my childhood rather than the starchy offerings I have to put up with at the moment. I’m a little worried about my glut of spuds though, I’ll probably be 3 stone heavier by the end of the summer, I seem to be eating a combination of potato salad and spinach and potato curry for breakfast, dinner and tea.

Radish not Parsnip

I took the cloche off the solitary carrot bed to remove more weeds and discovered that what I thought was lush parsnip growth was actually radish, swollen to elephantine proportions.

Shame I missed out on those, they were too hot to handle at this size and had to go on the compost heap.

I’ve found a couple more carrots in the bed and have replaced the weeds with yet another sowing of carrot seeds. I’ve taken advice from all quarters and followed the following procedure, practically guaranteed to result in a carrot bed worthy of the name:

Fresh Carrot Sowing

Prepare drill
Soak drill thoroughly
Sow the carrot seed
Top off with potting compost
Do not water for a fortnight (to prevent capping)

I like the tram line effect.

I stripped the gooseberry bush bare so I could make jam but thinking there weren’t quite enough fruits to bother with, I pulled a few sticks of rhubarb to bulk it out.

Back home, an exhaustive search of the interweb failed to reveal anything useful on the subject of Rhubarb and Gooseberry jam, although there were plenty of recipes on the individual versions. I considered the possibility that jam makers of the past had tried the combination and declared it vile and constitutionally un-jam-like but rejected the notion and proceeded to knock up my own recipe.

Gooseberry and Rhubarb Jam

It went something along the lines of, 1lb gooseberries, 1lb rhubarb both simmered in juice of 1 lemon and 1/2 pint of water. The resulting puree seemed very watery and I considered draining but didn’t. To this I added 1 bag of sugar (1kg) and then boiled for ages and ages as the damn thing refused to set. I was hoping to boil off enough excess juice to give the setting process half a chance but then I got fed up waiting and wanted my pan back so I could make yet another batch of spinach and potato curry, so just slopped it into my waiting jars.

It’s been a few hours now and it still pours like very runny honey. Tastes damn fine though.

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Don’t Panic, Carrot Returns

Gordon Bennett, those weeds are growing like crazy.

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I made an attempt on the optimistically named carrot bed and retrieved enough speedwell and thistles to fill a compost barrel. I also uncovered the carrot, previously presumed abducted.

It appears alive and well, unless it’s one of those annoying weeds that masquerade as the spitting image of a carrot.

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Community Allotmenting – War or Peace?

One of the plots adjacent to mine is run on a community basis and I find it fascinating to see how well it flourishes. I would expect utter chaos but it’s a very well ordered plot. I haven’t spotted a Gantt chart pinned up on the shed wall with tasks and timelines allocated to individuals and I’ve never seen them huddled round a cuppa holding secretive planning meetings.

Last weekend though, G wandered over to my plot with a half eaten tuber in her hand. She was digging over an empty bed and unearthed what she thought was a Jerusalem artichoke, after rubbing it on her trousers she popped it in her mouth and gnawed off half it. It’s at that point she discovered it wasn’t actually edible so wandered over to seek my help in its identification. Turns out she was trying to enjoy M’s Dahlia collection.

She quickly went back and reburied the tuber and patted down the evidence of the freshly turned over soil but I have an inkling that she’ll be caught out when M gets back from his holidays.

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As you know my parents visited a fortnight ago, after tea on Sunday, Dad and I cycled over to the lotty to see what we could achieve in the last remaining hour of daylight. Working in the same tiny section of the plot (a 4m row), we set off almost shoulder to shoulder, planting our respective crops. Dad stuck in a load of sweetcorn seeds and I popped in 3 tomato plants and just in front of these went the 3 heritage potatoes that we’d saved from lunch (prior to cooking of course).

I marked the spuds with 3 quite impressive hillocks but yesterday while I was down there, I could find no sign of my potato mounds. Instead though, I found a scattering of swede seedlings. Under interrogation my Dad admitted to seeing the potato hillocks but assumed they were just evidence of poor cultivation. He had flattened them out and sown his seed on top!

Dad's Cauliflower

I will forgive him this once as he also put in a row of carrots and these have actually germinated, which is great news as my most expensive carrot in the world appears to have disappeared.

While on the subject of my Dad, I have to sneak in a photo of his rather substantial cauliflower. He dug this up before he came down and it fed 4 of us for 3 days.

That is my kind of vegetable, so I’ve been quick to gets some seeds in.

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Carrot Torment

I’m on the edge with my carrots. Three squandered seed packs later, I’m wondering whether to just walk away and forget that the sweet, orange roots ever existed in my life.

A trip to Petersham Nursery on Sunday gave me another option:

Extortionate Carrot

Now 50p may seem a little steep for an individual carrot, even in a pretty coir pot, but my multiple seed pack scattering has generated just one single germinated frond. If I can nurture that single beauty through the inevitable carrot fly onslaught, one day soon I will get to eat a £6 carrot, maybe the most expensive carrot in the world.

Incidentally the nursery had a whole line of individual potted crops, folk were carrying them away by the wicker trug load, presumably to stock their pretty little potagers.

Turnip anyone?

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Going Hungry

Pea Sticks

I gave myself a day off the running so I could enjoy another leisurely session on the plot. I carried on where I left off yesterday and weeded most of the remaining beds. The peas are getting a bit lanky as well so I stuck some titchy sticks in to keep them on the straight and narrow til the weather becomes more stable and I can remove the mesh cover. There were quite a few empty stations where the peas either didn’t germinate or were swiped by meeces so I popped in a few spare seeds, hopefully they’ll come along soon enough and pad out the row.

Before I came down to the allotment this morning, I passed by Shakti’s for breakfast. She posed the question “If we ran out of money tomorrow, what would we live off from your plot?” About 3 months ago she sowed the pea seeds that I supported above and can’t quite believe that we aren’t eating fresh garden peas yet. I don’t thinks she’s altogether too impressed with the DIY food malarkey, life is just a little more instantaneous down at Tescos.

Hardly Self Sufficient

On arrival I surveyed the crops with a hungry mind but was somewhat disillusioned. I think the only currently edible produce is cabbage and some other critter already seems to have eaten way more than I will ever get to enjoy. Don’t these look like a pitiful bunch?

So in answer to the question, I think we would survive for about a week on limp cabbage leaf. Life would then get tough unless I could find an inspiring recipe for roasted bind weed and couch grass roots. I’ve got enough of those to keep us cooking on gas til the peas start cropping!

Todays sowing

More seeds went in today as well, I’ve sown half a row of carrots – early nantes that came free with “Grow It” magazine and a full row of parsnips. Both have gone in the space I cleared yesterday by removing the salad leaves.

I’ve also started a batch of aubergine and tomato seeds in individual modules. My flat is no go zone for anything green, within 24 hrs every living form of plant life collapses in an irradiated heap. Quite concerning but I seem to cope unscathed. Anyway, the seeds need to live somewhere warmer and brighter than the shed, but safer than my flat so I’ve sent them to germinate at Shakti’s house. She accepted them willingly so I’ll see what other delicate little seedlings I can pass into her care. She’ll soon discover the joys of DIY food growing.

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