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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Purple Throbbing Digitalis

There was a bit of a water crisis on the site last weekend, a huge leak had been discovered in one of the pipes and a rumour spread suggesting we were going to be without running water forever. Even though it seemed to have been sorted out on my half of the site by the next morning, it acted as a trigger for me to start a water conservation project. I acquired a water butt from freecycle and the weekend was scheduled to create a shed, butt and guttering ensemble.

How long could it take to install a single span of guttering? To give the game away right from the start, it took me 3 hours and as I left the guttering was propped up on the inside of the shed, thereby serving absolutely no use whatsoever. Perhaps a few more hours tomorrow will see the task complete.

I started by siting the butt at the back of the shed, leveling the ground and preparing a raised support, then I had to repeat the whole process at the other side of the shed as someone had seen fit to install a flippin birdbox slap in the middle of my guttering route. I intended to put the gutter with a slight downward slope so that the water just trickles into the butt without the need for fancy attachments and downpipes but my first attempt failed at the first hurdle – the roof overhang went beyond my guttering and the rain just slipped over the edge.

Batons were sourced and cut to force the guttering out beyond the overhang but then I had a problem with my screws – too short – too long – the usual. I got a bit knarked and started hammering the screws and a few nails until walloped my finger with a direct blow. I wanted to hop, scream and swear like a lunatic but an audience had assembled on the overlooking platform. I had to smile and take cover in the shed until I could cope with the throbbing finger. It also gave me the opportunity to retrieve all the items scattered on the floor after my banging frenzy.

I regained my composure and finished the job off, slid the guttering into the brackets and went in search of some water to test the trajectory. Still with an audience I poured a bottle of water into the middle of the guttering only to be welcomed with a splattering sound at the wrong end – someone installed the shed on a flipping slope. You just can’t get the workmen these days!

Off to Homebase again to buy an end piece for the guttering so that the water gets directed back in the right direction. Guttering apparently works with some impossible connection that took 3 beefy guys from the customer service section to be able to break into. I was sent off with the suggestion that I loosen up the rubber with some hot water and washing up liquid. I needed a cuppa tea anyway so just chucked the end piece into some boiling water on the trangia. When I remembered to fish it out again it looked a little on the overcooked side and rather twisted out of shape. No hope that it would fit on the end in the designed fashion. Not to be outdone I opened up my tub of bitumen and smeared great dollops around both ends of the pipe. So now its propped inside the shed, hopefully drying into super sturdy water proof seal. We’ll see tomorrow.

Whopping Cabbage

Although I am clearly the worlds worst DIY’er I can console myself with being probably the worlds best cabbage grower. I dug up one of my monsters today and had to utilise the bike trailer to get it home.

I’m sure Norris McWhirter would be interested in this photo.

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Cuppa Char Anyone?

Room of Ones Own

I woke this morning with plans of allotment pottering on a slightly more sophisticated level than I managed yesterday. I still wasn’t feeling on top form so my plans centred mostly around my new chair and dreams of a hot steaming mug of tea.

My mug of choice was A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf, so apt for the shed I think, and my stirrer is a little family heirloom from my Gran.

However, these were just dreams. I actually woke to an email from a freecyclist offering me a gift of a 9ft extendable ladder. Now as I’m in need of a ladder to apply some roofing felt to the shed I was very happy to take him up on his offer, but herein started a 2.5 hour challenge to claim the goodies.

The ladders lay 6 miles to the west of me, an easy enough cycle but it was quite an ordeal to lug them back. My trusty revolution cargo trailer proved its worth again though and really took the weight off me. Most of the route was along the thankfully straight dual carriageway – it is understandably tricky to steer a rigid 9ft bike around tight bends.

06012008046

I was knackered by the time I arrived on the plot, so stopped for the first in a long line of cuppas. After this essential revival, I started on the roofing task.

Applying roofing felt is quite tricky, I made a fair old mess of it all and am choosing not to illustrate the point as its too embarrassing. I even had a barracking from someone waiting on the train platform opposite, who informed me I had put it on upside down. He’s probably right. I daubed the edges with bitumen paint so it should do the trick anyway.

Talking of bitumen, I met my closest plot neighbour today, seems we keep missing each other. Anyway she was just passing by with her kids to pick up something from her shed and popped over to introduce herself. We shook hands and I’m afraid she left covered in the black tar that had somehow spread itself across my palm. I know how to win friends and influence people!

Bird Box

Just before the day ended I started on another task. I have a stack of wood offcuts lying around that either littered the plot when I took it on, or came with the freebie shed. I’ve had my eye on one of the planks for a bird box.

Rather like the roofing task, I rather botched this one as well, cutting the base too short. Still, I was able to wing it by substituting the roof. I then fashioned a new roof with some extra thin ply, covered it in an offcut of roofing felt and bashed nails in liberally.

I was at the bashing stage, feeling rather hopeless about the future of the box when a little Robin came and settled on the doorstep of my shed and watched my progress for a while.

I hope he comes and lives there.

*UPDATE*

I’ve just found what appears to be the definitive guide to designing bird boxes for specific species and it informs me that Robins like open fronted boxes, not tiny squeeze threw hole boxes. Maybe I’ll make another one just for my digging pal. It also looks like I might need to enlarge the hole a touch, at the moment it is 22mm but it seems that even tits like a minimum of 25mm.

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Carriage Awaits

After last weeks struggle with the compost I decided it was time to invest in a high tech conveyor – a wheeled contraption is required for lugging the heavy stuff.

Revolution Trailer

This particular model is the Revolution Cargo trailer by Edinburgh Cycles. It normally goes for £125 but I managed to source one on ebay and save myself a fair sum. It is pretty impressive, very manoeuvrable and can carry 50 kg, which is a lot of compost. Now I have to go in search of things to carry, perhaps I should cancel the veg box and set up my own scheme delivering fresh produce from the back of the bike.

Pea Planter

Yesterday the trailer showed its worth by carrying two whole seed packets to the plot. My freebie pea and bean seeds had been delivered so I thought I’d better get them in before the weather got much colder. So thats another double row of Aquadulce and a row of Feltham First. It also means the whole of one side of the plot is now completed, where am I going to put all my plants next year? I think I may need another plot already, I can imagine the remaining side will be filled by squash plants as I have in the region of 7 varieties of seeds and I haven’t even started on the spuds and carrots and……

Shakti (pictured sowing peas in her posh gardening clobber) has offered me her garden shed for use on the plot. How exciting is that? The next few weeks are going to be taken up with dismantling crises, as we try and take it apart, balance it on the bike trailer and deliver it the allotment ready for reconstruction. The whole family have been called in to help with the construction part so it will make for some Heath Robinson style photos as I don’t think any of us are that talented in the DIY department.

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