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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Month in Pictures – April

Month in Pictures - April

Progress report for April

What a crazy month its been, at the beginning I was so worried about the broad beans that I resorted to exhaling over them in an attempt to thaw the snow cover and by the end of the month I was blistering in the sun.

I’ve planted out loads of the over zealous seedlings from the front room nursery and so yet again I am watching the weather with crossed fingers. Surely we can’t have a frost in May? I have the feeling that April is the pivotal month in the gardening calendar, we are so vulnerable and yet the temptation to get a head start with the tender crops is almost irresistible.

Here’s a quick spin around the plot (as at 27th April 2007) so I can compare progress this time next year.

Spud Hillocks

Starting next to the shed we have the spud bed, most of these have peaked through the surface but I am still able to keep on top of the earthing up process.

Spin to the right and you get the fruit area – strawberries, rhubarb, gooseberries and blackcurrant.

Strawberry Puddles

Then the second sowing of peas are coming though.

Pea Wave

Early Cloches

These are the cabbages I planted way back in week 1, I’m not terribly impressed with them. The blue ones are incredibly strong and need boiling for about a week before you can serve them. Some are riddled with white fly and most have juicy slugs living in the cosy hearts. I imagine I will compost these soon.

Next to them I have a few onions left but I’ll have eaten them all in a couple more weeks. As they go I am planting parsnips and carrots in their place, not having much success with either of these though, the carrots won’t germinate and something is eating my parsnips.

Beans, Garlic, Onions.

Here are the broad beans I’ve been so protective over. They seem to have survived although Ive probably lost some flowers and therefore productivity with the snow but I’ve eaten all the tips so far and started on the small pods.

Next to these we have the garlic – 2 forgotten varieties and the 2 overwintering onions.

Chard and Beans

I’m happy with this section.

Under the cloche are the ruby chard plants which are beautiful and tasty and productive which makes them number on my list. Next to it are my second sowing of broad beans, also now in pod.

Peas and Holes

Right at the bottom of the plot I have the first sowing of peas with a backdrop of pear and plum trees and a selection of holes awaiting my squash plants.

New Bed

On the other half of the plot we have the pond, a predominantly empty bed with sowings of french bean, kohl rabi and turnips.

Under the cloche are transplants of greyhound cabbage, they are pathetically small though.

Finally we have the bed with the 99p cloches. I’ve mostly got salad crops in here – mustard, rocket, radish, lettuce etc.

Salad Crops

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Day of the Triffids

London woke to a pretty dreary and overcast day this morning. Not the most inspiring of days and it seemed to push me into the dumps as I arrived at the plot. I haven’t been keeping my eye on the allotment stores recently, the shed was clean out of digestives and my cup of tea just wasn’t as revitalising as usual.

Day of the Triffids

I wandered round the garden sipping tea and imagining the future, a day of the triffids style future where the weeds grow to 6 foot and throttle you as you reach hopelessly for the hoe.

If I’m sweating with dread in February just imagine when the growth really starts to kick off. You have to pull yourself together when the weeds on your plot start to give you daytime terrors. I put the cup down, stopped stressing about the future and just knuckled down to the here and now.

I like gardening, it never fails to ground you.

First strike today went to the old rocket and spicy salad leaves bed. The rocket has been a super provider but has now past its best and the spicy leaves are so overrun with nettle plants that my salads have a tendency to give far more bite than is healthy. Both were whipped out at the roots and plonked in the compost bin. First tidy patch sorted and I have space for something new now.

Cats Cradle

My early planting of broad beans have been very successful, maybe even too successful? They have been pushing at the top of my fleece cloche for a few weeks now and bending at the tips. Today I decided it was time to expose them to the elements and whipped of their toasty covering.

Most of them are flowering so hopefully they wont be traumatized by any more frosts. I spent about an hour tying myself in knots with about 100m worth of twine, fashioning a cats cradle support. There is very little wind protection in that particular spot and the beans are effectively trying to stand tall in a wind tunnel.

Chard

Carried away with the weeding, I whipped off more of the cloches and cleaned around the chard and cabbages.

Everything started to look beautiful again, I began to smile and contemplate my next cuppa and a future decidly more rosy and bountiful than it seemed when I started.

Swift Potato

I finished by planting my first row of spuds! How ridiculously early is that? The traditional date for planting potatoes is Good Friday which this year is particularly early anyway so I’m not sure what possessed to me to anticipate the great day by about a month.

I’ll do my best to keep them cosy and earthed up til summer arrives.

Oh and did I mention that my sweet peas have germinated? What a glorious and uplifting day its been.

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Early Sowing

I didn’t think I’d get to the allotment this weekend but while I was in the park, trying to squeeze in a long run for my half marathon training, it struck me what a great gardening day it was. Didn’t take much for me to cut the run short and head off to the plot.

Beauty and the Beast

What a lovely day, plenty of signs of spring, vibrant colours bursting out of the soil.

My legs were aching a bit too much for digging (I’m full of excuses) but I did do something productive – seed sowing has commenced! I know I am way too early but I’m working on a tip off from my Dad who has suggested I might get away with an early batch of spring onions, radish and greyhound cabbage.

My early broad beans and peas have quite a spacious row between them so I’m trying to utilise the cosy spot under the cloche for bringing on the seedlings. Hopefully the existing crops will provide some protection for my seeds and not grow so quickly that they turn in to the neighborhood bullies.

January Sowing

I left with another sack of rocket. It’s starting to taste very strong though and I’m not such a fan of bitter salad leaves so I may check out some cooked arugula recipes, I’m bound to be able to do something pasta related.

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Chard Nurturing

Compost Heap

I staggered across to my allotment today, laden with compostable materials. Not sure what the heck happened on the waste front last week but I’m going to blame the veg box. I could barely carry the bag of peelings, vacuum crud and shredded paper and by the time I added my friends sack of grass clippings to the load I was really struggling.

Still, it’s got to be done. Compost is my new passion of the moment and as I have three bins to fill I can’t slack on the waste production front. I was even tempted to pick up a few discarded pumpkin heads on my way but that was just too much.

It was practically dark by 3pm today so I had to light my way by a rather impressive bonfire. It was my best so far and actually managed to make an impact on my mountain of couch grass roots. It’s also provided a good heap of high potash ash that should give my fruit trees a good spurt for next year. I’ve been building the fire on the site I’ve earmarked for the Spartan tree due next month.

Lacewing Hotel

I’m really enjoying the preparation stage of this allotment and am just a tad worried about what I’m going to do when I’ve got everything sorted. I have a low attention span and get rapidly bored by tasks so the new plot is ideal for me – every 5 mins I can hop to a new job. Today I did bonfire building (which is actually quite hard to get bored of), lacewing hotel making, weeding (doh!), transplanting, manky chard nurturing, cloche making and compost stirring.

I was fortunate to find my broad beans pretty much in one piece but I wasn’t going to risk it with the pigeons and chose to knock up a protective fleece cloche with my last bits of blue piping. The fleece turned out to be the perfect size, something like 8m by 1.5m and it only cost £2.99 from Wilkinsons. Wish I’d got another pack at that price.

I mentioned last week that my first delivery of plug plants had got lost in the postal strike. Well my little chard plants and assorted brassicas finally turned up after 3 weeks locked inside a cardboard box. Most of the plants were complete mush as you’d expect and went straight into the compost pile but a few of the chard plants seemed to have a few leaves still in the land of the living. I’ve nurtured them on my windowsill for a few days and stuck them in the plot next to their more vibrant brothers today. I’m not holding out too much hope but fingers crossed.

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End of Week One

Pigeon Thwarter

My parents are heading back to Yorkshire today but we were up early enough to cram in a quick trip to the lotty. We needed to see if the shed contraption was still in existence and construct a brassica protecting cloche. Talking to a few locals on the site yesterday indicated that my biggest threat was going to come from pigeons, so huge netting contraptions are required.

Mum with Fork

My mum can’t resist the urge to dig when she’s spots a weedy patch so the trip was extended as she attacked the last remaining heap. Over the last few days we’ve only managed to escape from the allotment by whining insistently until my mum finally gives in and hands over the fork. Anyone with digging requirements would do well to try and attract my mum to their plot!

Me and dad filled the time by creating another architectural wonder and planting a few rows of onion sets. I’ve also snuck a row of rocket under the enviromesh – I had a small bag left over from my last allotment days, not sure I can hold out too much hope for a massive of crop from year 2001 seeds though.

All in all, I think it’s been an incredibly successful first week. My folks have been relentless labourers and shown that weedy patch absolutely no mercy. I couldn’t have hoped to have any crops planted this year if it wasn’t for their help.

Side by side

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