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 inĀ  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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M1 Gardener

We were on the plot by 10:30 ready for a full days labour. I collected one of the communal petrol lawn mowers on the way in and then wasted 30 mins wrenching every muscle in my shoulder trying to get it started. I managed to get it going long enough to shave a wonky line down our path then it started smoking and conked out. I returned it to the allotment hut, sheepishly.

From one petrol machine to another found at http://toolsaroundthehouse.com/reviews/best-self-propelled-lawn-mower-guide/.

We hadn’t tried the hand-me-down rotovator since we picked it up last month and weren’t all that eager to pull it out of the shed now. It threatened to be a right arse and the lawn mower had put me into a mood. As it happened, the M1 Gardener started perfectly and by the time we’d dismantled half of it and discarded the air filter, it actually stayed started.

There is only have a tiny patch left to work and it was damn hard to control the machine within the confines. I’m pictured battling with the machine that was intent on ploughing through the neighbours fruit cage and then dragging me six feet under.

I finally got into a rhythm of ever decreasing circles and the effects on the ground were amazing. I was left with a tilth almost fit for sowing. I can’t wait til the end of the season when I get to churn up the whole plot.

Meanwhile, Lynn spent hours weeding the peas. Either the worms had worked the seeds to the surface or I had planted them too shallow because every weed pulled seemed to dislodge a tiny pea plant. Lynn must have transplanted at least half the row as she went along.

We’ve been researching pea support for last few weeks but in the end Lynn managed to forage enough dead wood from behind our plot to create an impressive architectural structure across both rows.

They look amazing and I hope those peas climb because it was a monumental effort.

There had been quite a hard frost at the beginning of the week and every last spud lay wilted and scorched over the earthed up mounds. I earthed them up again but we are at the limit now so I hope it doesn’t freeze again. I think the peach blossom was probably knocked back as well.

I’ve started to reclaim some of the fancy fruit area by sinking Grow Pots into the weed suppressant fabric and bark covering.

I’ve planted a few squash plants and if I can find a supplier of more grow pots I’ll have melons in there as well.

I had a slight hiccup with my squash seeds. I’d run out of plant labels so wrote the name on the polystyrene potting cups with marker pen. All the details floated away with the watering and now I’m left with umpteen unidentified forms of pumpkin and squash. It’s like last year all over again.

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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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To be or not to be – that is the question

The Organic question at least.

I’ve been somewhat troubled down the plot recently.

Black Fly Stunted Beans

For example, what is it with the blackflies this year? I whipped my broad beans out really early, in fact almost before I’d had the first crop, because the flies were depressing me, but now the runner beans have got it bad. Since when have runner beans suffered with black fly?

I’ve tried soapy water but they appear to be sticking two fingers up at me.

Then there are the tomatoes. Watering is a bit of an issue at the moment. I just can’t get to the plot more than twice a week and that is just not enough for under cover, grow bag enclosed tomatoes. I went last week and had to perform assorted resuscitation techniques on some very withered plants and then went to the garden centre in search of life support machines for neglected crops.

Water timer

I came back with a battery operated timer system, which, so far so good, seems to be performing the necessary miracles. Its linked up to my sprinkler system and saturates the greenhouse for 30 minutes every 24 hours. Perfect antidote to my neglect but also provides the ideal conditions for proliferation of Phytophthora infestans or Blight of the dreaded variety.

I’m going through the same thought process as allotment blogger who is wondering whether to go for a prophylactic spray with copper or sit still and remain principled.

I’m not sure how I feel about copper, it may well be your everyday sort of metal but how does it sit on a plateful of lettuce and tomato? It brings to mind plaques, fatty tangles and early onset dementia. Possibly best avoided.

Maybe bugs and fungi aren’t all that troublesome after all. I have a feeling that I may have ingested a pea complete with maggot on the plot this evening and to be fair, it was rather delish! Now if only I could stop picturing the pulsing grub I could remain fine and principled.

These peas that I mention were the much anticipated 10ft telegraph poles (or some such) and have proven to be a big let down. 4 plants out of maybe 50 seeds, sown on 3 separate occasions, grew to the giddy heights of 3 ft and produced merely a garnish of greenery for todays tea.

Late June Pickings

It might have been somewhat more impressive than a garnish if it had not been for the holes, and creepy crawlies emanating from said holes.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of Lynn reading this after I’ve fed her but the only gigantic thing about these peas were the maggots feeding upon it. I’ve never seen the like before. I had to squash one before relegating it to the bin and the effects were “medical” to put it politely.

I’ve always gone for the maxim: “one for me, one for the pigeons, another for the grubs, slugs and others”. Unfortunately the latter are having more than their fair share and I also have a few more mouths to feed.

Which leads me back to the original question, to be or not to be?

More pondering required.

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Month in Pictures – September 08

Month in Pictures - September 2008

It was a bit of a struggle to find enough for photos for Septembers month in pictures. What a wash out it’s been. I’ve hardly made it to the plot at all this month.

I’ve started saving a few seeds and amazingly some of them have even dried out enough for storing. In the specimen jars I have poppy, blue mist, foxglove and sweet peas. The first two self seeded everywhere and almost all plot holders would call these weeds but I love them and can’t bring myself to yank them up when they blossom in the middle of my semi-pristine rows.

It’ll look like Flanders next year.

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Little Helper

I escaped to the coast for most of the bank holiday to get some essential swimming prep under my belt, but today I was free to catch up on some much needed admin on the plot. All the spuds have been dug and bagged, the mid summer peas have been ripped up and the gasping tomatoes were watered.

The outdoor tomatoes have been decimated by blight but I haven’t dealt with them yet because I’m not sure what to do. Ideally I’d burn them but my arson skills are limited and I have a whopping great mound of blight invested potatoes haulms to deal with first.

New Gardener

I had a little helper on the plot today. He watered my spinach and kohl rabi and then emptied my sack of spuds as I tried to fill it. I boiled up a delightful cob of corn but he wasn’t interested and opted instead for a couple of yellow french beans and a load of shelled peas.

It feels great to share real food with little kids, so many people in cities haven’t a flipping clue where food comes from or what it looks like. This one now knows the joy of a freshly podded pea.

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Month in Pictures – June

So June has been and gone and I can’t believe I managed to miss the summer solstice. I was pleased to discover while putting together this months – Month in Pictures, that I was at least on the plot on the 21st – sowing more carrots. If the summer solstice is also known as midsummers day, that would also suggest that I missed the whole of the first half of summer, I’ve been assuming we were still in spring – when does summer actually start?

Month in Pictures - June 08

June was a good month on the food front, the broad beans were finished with but were replaced at the end of the month by runner and borlotta beans. Spuds were worth digging up from the 2nd week, although I’d probably have got some earlier if I’d taken some anti slug measures.

Seeds germinated at break neck speed this month, it’s worth remembering next year that I shouldn’t stress too much about getting all my plants in early – they soon catch up.

I’m already planning next years seed order, I suppose it’s a bit too early to send the order off but I’ve made my choices of squash, pea, bean and tomato seeds from the Real Seed company. I’m going more exotic next year and avoiding some of the poor choices from this year.

I’m not bothering with Feltham First next year, they may over winter well and crop early but they are gross. In fact I am wiping all smooth peas off the drawing board – only wrinklies will enter my seed box from now on. I think I could manage 3 rows of broad beans as well, I’ll stagger two sowings of Aquadulce and then try something different for a late spring sowing.

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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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