Welcome to our plot!

I'm Hazel, and in Nov 2006 my friend Jane and I took on a half plot at Hill Allotments, Sutton Coldfield - we want the satisfaction of growing and eating our own fruit and veg, and to improve our diet (and fitness!).

This is the story of what happened next...........

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The New Year starts...NOW!

The weather’s pretty grey at the moment – & has been quite gusty at times – and is still rather damp up underfoot Even so, I went to the Hill yesterday with the aim of getting some of the green manure in plot D dug in. It’s about 6” tall & I’m hoping that by digging it in now, it will have rotted down ready for me to sow broad beans & peas by the end of January – or the middle of February at the latest.

I have to say that sowing the green manure in rows has been a fabulous success – not only can you get your spade easily between the rows, but the rows also form a guide for digging so that it minimises (but does not actually eliminate!) the number of times that you turn the same bit over twice, thus bringing the clod BACK up to the surface again…

I dug a couple of PARSNIP (gladiator) – which are just as big as the earlier sown white gem – & a CABBAGE (primo II) & when I got home I made some spiced parsnip soup to a Sarah Raven’s recipe from her Garden Cookbook which is excellent.

Just as I was leaving the Hill, I saw Teacher Barry driving up who told me that Novice Neighbour Jody’s wife has had a little boy (7lb 6oz) & mother & baby are well & are now home, so my best wishes to the whole family – I wonder how long it will be until we see Junior Jody being introduced to the delights of the allotment!

With the shortest day having been & gone, it’s technically getting lighter in the evenings now (not that you’d know it yet) but it does mean that I feel justified in starting this growing season off by getting one or two things sown. Hurrah!

When we went to the Malvern Autumn Show we met David & Kazzi (from Evington, Leicestershire) who kindly let us have some SHALLOTS (hative de niort & banana), so although one or two have gone soft (lesson in storage learnt there…) I still managed to pot up 9 hative de Niort & 3 banana shallots which are now outside in the courtyard & will all be transplanted to the Hill once the green manure in plot B is dug in & rotted down & then will be left to go to seed for next year.

Inside, in my new 20 pot seed-&-cutting tray I’ve sown some ONION (ailsa craig), CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) & SPRING ONION (ishikura), all of which taught me that a 20 pot seed-&-cutting tray is nowhere near adequate in size...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

A second Christmas at the Hill, & although due to a planning cock up earlier in the year we have had no Brussels sprouts from the plot, we did have LEEK (mrs D) & PARSNIP (white gem). I cheated with shop bought CARROTS – although I did have a half a dozen of ours (which made precisely one carrot fly free portion) earlier in the week along with some KALE (alice).

The weather has warmed up – with rain – in the last few days, which made me want to get started on digging-in some of the green manure, but in all honesty it really is rather wet underfoot, & I needn’t get started until much later in January.

Of course plans for the year ahead are afoot – I have managed to track down some seeds for the crimson flowered broad beans which I’ve been hankering after ever since seeing them at the Malvern Spring Show, so I think that I can get those in pots soon, as well as some onion seed & the banana shallots which I’m growing for seed this year.

I’ve chosen my seed varieties from the HSL catalogue, & once those arrive I must have a sort out of the seed box – with various cover-mounts & tempting mail order offers, I have many more seeds than I can ever hope to grow. I’m sure that a good home can be found for them with the members of the GYO Grapevine – it’ll be good to ‘give something’ back to the on-line community there.

I’ve had some wonderful Christmas presents from friends & family – books on preserving & winemaking, seeds & a garden radio. I know that January is the season for Seville oranges, so I’ll have a go at marmalade to start with, & with the acres of parsnips still in the ground, I think I will use them to try my hand at the winemaking.

At least I know that help is only a phone call away if I get in a mess – Shelley in the Forest of Dean for the preserves, & Clare in France for the wine – & I’ve any amount of good advice only a mouse click away on the GYO Grapevine forum.

Shelley & Paul called to see me at the weekend & I showed off the plot – it was lovely to see them, & they were suitably impressed with Belinda Scarecrow, giving her a festive hat to wear for the occasion. I really do need to sort her out with hair – I’ve given the matter some thought, & I may have come up with just the thing…

Friday, December 14, 2007

Happiness is a seed catalogue!

Well, winter draws on, as they say! We’ve had four really good frosts in a row this week, & today has been really cold & damp through the day too.

All terribly good for the plot in the scheme of things, but I don’t feel overly inclined to spend a great deal of time at the Hill in this weather, so on Saturday morning I rebuilt Belinda Scarecrow. I was very satisfied with the outcome – skirt & all – that is, apart from her head.

I’m not entirely sure about what’s gone wrong here – she looks like she is wearing a pillowcase over her head. Now, I know that she IS wearing a pillowcase over her head, but I was hoping that it would look more head-like & less pillowcase-like, somehow. Perhaps I should look into giving her hair/a hat/a headscarf, or something. Hmm.

Once at the Hill, apart from knocking Belinda over the head with a brick a few times to stand her up, I pulled PARSNIP (white gem), a few LEEKS (Mrs D), a couple of PAK CHOI & picked some KALE (alice).

I actually had a few CARROTS too – well, me & the carrot fly, that is. Out of the eight that I pulled, there was only enough actual unmolested carrot left for one portion. Note for next year: must try harder!

I can always rely on the GYO grapevine forum to cheer me up – such a wonderful group of veg growers – & this week they did me proud. As I was ‘member of the month’ in October, the prize was a ‘goodie box’ which the postman delivered this week! Of course it’s always a treat to get presents, but to be rewarded for doing something so enjoyable is fabulous!

More good news with the arrival of the Heritage Seed Library catalogue through the post – I’m looking forward to selecting my six varieties of seed for growing next year. Homework for this week is to work out a plan whereby I can leave some of each crop for seed collection too…

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Woolly hats and no knickers!

It really has not been a great week weather wise – cold at nights with some frost, & Saturday was not much better with a sharp wind. That didn’t stop Reg-next-plot who was busy with the loppers tidying up the hedge & saplings at the back of his plot, but I'm not surprised that we had the Hill to ourselves.

It was cold enough for Reg to be wearing a loose fitting woolly hat which seemed to spend just about as much time clinging to the side or back of his head as it did actually keeping his head warm.

My own hat was rather less mobile, & I kept warm by taking up the sunflowers at the front of the plot – the soil underneath the plants was surprisingly dry considering the exposed areas of the plot are rather cloggy.

Although I want to get the odd raspberry suckers into some semblance of order, it didn’t feel like the day to do that job, so I did some harvesting instead. I cut a CABBAGE (primo II) & CAULIFLOWER (all the year round), dug a PARSNIP (white ace), a couple of SWEDE (best of all), & I thought that I’d see what the SALSIFY was looking like, & so dug up a couple of them too (bit like a thin white carrot, really).

After bleating on about not being very keen on BEETROOT, the kind people on the GYO grapevine have come up with some very tasty sounding recipes which I will be trying, so I had half a dozen of those out too.

The KALE (alice) is looking fabulous – but I'm keeping that for when all the cabbages are eaten, so instead I pulled a couple of LEEKS (mrs D). The leeks do seem to have a sort of burrowing bug or worm in them – brown & just a couple of mm long, they seem to munch their way vertically down a layer in the leek – & there are maybe 2 or 3 per leek. They don’t seem to do a lot of damage, but it would be nice to know what they are & I can’t find them in any of my books.

Poor Belinda Scarecrow is in a bad way – her arms appear to have dropped & her head is in danger of totally losing contact with the rest of her, so before she entirely loses her head, I’ve brought her home for some maintenance.

I hear that there is speculation at the Hill as to the absence of any garments around her nether regions, so I’d better preserve her modesty with a skirt too – before her reputation slips even further than her arms have…

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Report - Plot D (Potatoes)

Although this should have been the easiest bed to plant – i.e. cover with manure, plant POTATOES, 3 months later dig up lots of potatoes – it wasn’t quite that simple for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I had no concept of how much space to allow for each row of potatoes despite being told this very piece of information by Reg-next-plot, & even, in fact, recording that information here in the blog. So I planted too close together.

I compounded the planting error with a lack-of-labelling error, so that when the plants all came bombing up out of the ground, there was just a sea of plants. Impossible to earth up properly & digging them up took forever & I kept spearing the tubers with the fork. Brilliant crop though – 4 half sacks full, & all delicious except the rocket first earlies which are just bland.

Once the earlies were out, I could put in some LEEKS (mrs D) – I grew a whole tray full at home, but – with hindsight – should have planted out another couple of rows of the seedlings. They all went to good homes though – just not MY good home!

I’ve also had put the spring cabbage seedlings – courtesy of Jody – in this bed as I was so short of space up in plot A, but it’ll all come out more or less in the wash, I expect.

So for next year? There as so many different potato varieties available – the Maris Piper was good though, & definitely want to try a waxy salad one.

Here ends the potato report!

Report - Plot C (Roots)

Here we find one of the biggest successes, the biggest white elephants & the biggest failures! There’s no getting away from it, growing carrots has been a real problem.

First the success – PARSNIPS (white gem). These are absolutely brill – good germination, masses of green growth, enormous tasty roots. Just need to remember next year that there is no point at all in successional sowing as they all store well in the ground until you want them.

The white elephants are the BEETROOT. They grow well, they are strong & healthy, but the snag is that however I cook them – roast, boil or pickle – I really don’t actually like the taste very much, which is a bit of a shame. Pretty leaves on the plants, though.

The failure is the CARROTS. There is no getting away from this – virtually every single carrot has been ‘got at’ by the carrot fly – & not just a bit, but tip to top, & all sides. Now I love carrots very much indeed, so this is very poor form. I already have ideas for next year for ME to actually eat some of them, rather than the dreaded fly – including barriers/netting round the rows, a resistant variety & much more careful sowing so that I don’t have to thin the rows out.

The SPRING ONIONS have been a bit on the patchy side – infuriatingly easy to grow to look like chives, but they don’t seem to go the extra mile to get to anything any bigger. The CELERY is also looking good, not big, but good.

Bit of bad organisation in the world of salad crops – it seems that whereas a bit of frost is supposed to give celery a bit of zing, anything cooler than ‘well, I’ll take a cardy out with me’ kills the rest of the salad tribe stone dead, & yet they are all supposed to end up on the same plate at the same time. Hmm.

The SALSIFY in this bed is looking good – I’ll be doing a taste test soon to see if this unusual root veg has won a place for next year!

So for next year? Carrots are the biggest challenge & fingers crossed for the same parsnip success

Here ends the root report!

Report - Plot B (Misc.)

This is the plot which had the short season, salad & less hardy crops in. A few anomalies did sneak in here, however – the GARLIC for instance, a row of CARROT (early nantes) & some SPRING ONIONS (white lisbon). The garlic was great, but the bulbs were small as we’d only planted small cloves. Wish I’d know that particular fact before planting this year’s cloves, & I would have only put the large ones in. Hey ho.

A row of DILL also sneaked in, which – frankly – I wasn’t sure when to pick, or what to do with it then. I think as a herb, I’ll grow it at home next year if I feel the need.

The LANDCRESS was an absolute unqualified out & out success. Shame really, then, that I found after a nibble of one leaf of one plant that I really, really don’t like it at all – it is so peppery & hot, it’s untrue. Damn stuff stands for months without bolting, is drought & flood hardy & is near indestructible. If Jane wants it in her salads next year, she can grow it at her house!

I did learn a valuable lesson with LETTUCE sowing – little & not-quite-so-often next year, I think! Lovely as they have been, they win the second prize – after the runner beans – for profligacy! The RADISH has been brilliant – out of the various varieties that we tried, I think that the little round saxa 3, or the mirabeau have been the nicest. The white icicle variety has rivalled the landcress for heat, although keeping them in the fridge for a day or two seems to take the ‘bite’ out of them.

The Prize Pumpkin was also in this bed – growing our pumpkin has been fabulous fun, along with the Tallest Sunflower competition – we may not have won either, but it’s brought out my competitive streak at least – so watch out next year, novice-neighbour-Jody – I’m a year ahead of you!

The TOMATOES were such a disappointment – a combination of being a bit leggy to start with, late planting out & a great wave of blight sweeping all before it meant that there were no ripe tomatoes at all, although the small crop of 4-5lbs green tomatoes has made some great chutney.

The BUTTERNUT SQUASH & the COURGETTES (black beauty) were hardly prolific either – again late sowings did for these, I think – with one squash between three plants (impressive spreading leafy growth, though!) & just four courgettes in total.

Finally, for this bed, an unexpected success – the SWEETCORN (conqueror f1) plants gave two or three cobs each from each plant all of a decent size – & I learnt that scoffing raw corn straight off the cob is an absolute delicacy unknown to non-veg growers!

So for next year? Earlier sowing of tomatoes & squash, I think – & I’d like to try cucumbers & sweet peppers too.

Here ends the misc. report!

Report - Plot A (Legumes followed by brassicas)

A wigwam of BARLOTTI BEANS was just about the prettiest crop – not enormously prolific, but each plant yielded fat red streaked pods which contain cream & red speckled beans. A slight gripe would be that there aren’t that many beans, given the ground taken up. Neighbour Ted, however, grow & ate Barlotti beans fresh as an alternative to runner beans – Mrs Neighbour Ted said they were delicious

A bean I would not grow again, I’m afraid, is the DWARF RUNNER BEAN (pickwick). Although the plants really were quite prolific for their size, & there was nothing dwarf about the beans themselves, which meant that they tended to trail on the ground & tended to be nibbled at the ends. Why would you not grow a normal climbing bean?

The BROAD BEANS (aguadulce) were an absolute hit – of course it does help that they were early cropping & were the first real veg from the plot, but even taking this into account, they were so versatile – picking from 4” pods & eating whole to mature pods boiling & peeling the beans. They cropped for over a month at a time when there’s not much else going on! I’m thinking of pot sowing them over Christmas & planting out at the beginning of Feb this time to try & get an even earlier crop. There was very little in the way of blackfly damage – it was either a blackfly-free year in general, or the trick of sowing early to avoid them worked!

In contrast, I really was not sold at all on the FRENCH BEANS (sungold) – the pods are a weedy yellowy colour & just look unappetising. They didn’t flourish either, so I won’t be looking to sow these again.

The BLACK TURTLE BEANS were fabulous, though – virtually a whole jar of black beans for eating over the winter. I’d be happy to do twice as many – & would hope that if I sowed them earlier, I could get them cropped & find it easier to squeeze the brassicas in afterwards.

Of course the RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) & the CLIMBING FRENCH BEANS (blue lake) have both been super – although a runner bean overload in the summer means that perhaps we’ll cut back on these & concentrate more on the PEAS (early onward) which were fabulous, & we could have done twice as many.

Running the brassicas in with the legumes really could have been better organised – I had to squeeze in pot grown CAULIFLOWER (all the year round), CABBAGE (primo II) & KALE (from Alice) in under netting where I could, & I’ve had no room for the BRUSSELS SPROUTS (Bedford filbasket) still in pots at home.

The SWEDES (best of all) are shaping up impressively – & taste wonderful, but not all of the TURNIPS been up to scratch. Some have been woody or had slug damage.

So for next year? Possibly wigwams for the climbing beans, definitely more bean varities for podding, more peas, & with better planting, I’d hope that I can group the brassicas for netting more easily.

Here ends the bean report!

End of Year Reports!

It really doesn’t seem like anything like a year since we took on plot 16a at the Hill – but our first anniversary is upon us - so this is a time for reflection on this year as well as planning for the next.

With due credit to John Seymour’s Self Sufficiency, our 20’ by 55’ half allotment has been split into 4 plots & the reports for each of the four beds follow.

Our overall conclusions – in no particular order – must be:
  • This has been the most tremendous fun – any hobby which involves eating delicious things has to be good, & add to that exercise-that-you-don’t-realise-you’re-getting & lots of fresh air. It’s challenging & extremely rewarding.
  • Most prolific crop: runner beans – remember to grow a few less next year
    Most disappointing crop 1: carrots – I think we’ve been very fortunate with our lack of serious pests this year, but the carrot fly has definitely won here
    Most disappointing crop 2: tomatoes – I was so looking forward to these, but we were not alone in have terrible problems with blight – we were lucky not to lose the whole plants, really
    Most delicious crop: tricky, this one – perhaps it was the very first broad beans, or the cauliflower, or possibly the taste of roast parsnip.

  • We need to turn our attention to the more ‘permanent’ features – the compost bin is in (though I’d like to build a second one) & there’s a few strawberries planted. Next in line is to move the raspberry suckers, & put a structure in place, then perhaps another go at asparagus as I suspect that our two plants from earlier this year have not prevailed.

  • I don’t think that a greenhouse is practical for the Hill – the plot’s not big enough, & I think it needs to have a better eye kept on the plants in it, so that’s an aim for me here at home.
  • Although we’ve made a start at devoting the front of the plot to flowers – with bulbs & bedding – I think we need to aim for bee attracting flowering plants next year.
  • I would love to expand my ‘preserving’ horizons next year – perhaps wine making, too?
This has been a marvellous year – I’ve had so much fun! I’ve met lots of new people (& made some very good friends) both at the Hill, & on the GYO grapevine – in particular Shelley from the Forest of Dean & her chap Paulie, & latterly, Clare who lives in the beautiful French countryside & husband Keith.

I wouldn’t change a minute of this year, & can’t wait for next season! Here’s to veg growers all round the world – may your fingers be forever green!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bin there - or bean there...?

The weather forecast for the weekend implied that if I wanted to keep dry at the Hill, I’d better get on with it on Saturday morning.

I had the Hill virtually to myself, & got busy with clearing the late sown French beans, & constructing a compost bin using pallets & strong green garden wire. It looks fantastic, & if I ‘liberate’ another couple of pallets, I think that I’ll put another one up besides it. That way we can have one bin full & ‘working’ with another being filled.

Once the bin was completed, I started to dismantle the bean tent. It took quite a long time as the beans tangled themselves round the poles & each other, & I wanted the bean plants in the bin, any pods still on the plants to take back for podding, & the poles lined up for storing over winter in the garage.

Jane & E arrived & pitched in & we finished the job in short order. Reg-next-plot stopped by & we chatted about the school visit last week, & he gave a few tips on the compost bin – I’d empted a couple of bags of ‘neat’ horse manure into the bin, & Reg suggested some strawy stuff too, to make a better mix, so out with the fork & bucket & into the manure skip to collect the right stuff to add into the bin & redress the balance. The bin’s about two thirds full now – it’ll be interested to see how it rots down.

Jane & E whipped up the land cress (thank goodness for that!) & after a quick hoe, E split the final garlic bulb (which I rediscovered languishing on the back seat of the car) into 16 & we made two short rows & squeezed them in.

I rough dug plot A which will be next years ‘miscellaneous’ (it should be full to bursting with brassicas – better planning for next year, I think!). It only took about quarter of an hour – last year the first dig over of the plot took weeks!

Jane & E left with a parsnip, & once I’d had a final look round & tidy up, I left too with some SPRING ONIONS (white Lisbon), CARROTS (mixed) which although are a reasonable size, look to be chock a block with carrot fly, a couple of LEEKS (mrs D) & a CABBAGE (primo II).

The sunflower head from the tallest sunflower competition has spent a few weeks on the head of billy scarecrow, so when I give him his sex change (!), I bought the head home for further drying, & this has yielded a couple of hundred seeds – so I’ve plenty for next year! Perhaps the school could use some for the children to sow up & take home next year.

I also spent a happy hour in front of the fire podding beans, & now realise that I need to work out the best way to cook runner bean seeds, otherwise I will be in a position to supply not only the school, but about half the county with seed for next year…

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Back to school!

We’ve done something a little bit different this week – we had some of the Year 3 (6 & 7 year olds) children from Jane’s school come for a class visit to the Hill.

The visit was two classes with four teachers & Jane, & we had four members of the committee & me to escort the groups & answer any questions the children would have – which turned out to be a lot!

I took Belinda Scarecrow back to the Hill & planted her facing the gate for when they arrived, which went down very well, but was not as popular with the teacher, as the crocodile of children were all too busy looking at the scarecrow to listen to the DOs & DON’Ts. I was asked, ‘Miss, why does your scarecrow look like ET?’

All the children were issued clipboards with a form with column headings ‘VEGETABLE’, ‘PICTURE’ & ‘WHAT PLOT?’ like those I SPY books, so they were all looking out for the different veg in the plots.

At the very bottom of the Hill our group met John Badger on plot 1, who used to teach & was frankly BRILLIANT, showing all the children the worms under the leaves, which went down very well with the boys, & he let the class pick the heads off some lavender to take with them, which went down very well with the girls!

We had some fabulous questions! I’m not sure if the answers were all up to scratch, though…

‘Miss, why is that sunflower dead?’ To attract the lovely birds who feed on the seeds.
‘Who can tell me why those tyres are there?’, ‘Is it to stop the plants escaping, Miss?’
‘EEWW, that’s POO!!!!!!!’ Much excitement at this.
‘Can you eat all those flowers too, Miss?’ They are dahlias. No.
‘Miss, why are there DVD’s on string over there?’ To stop the lovely birds etc etc. Ah - inconsistency alert.
‘Where are the rabbit holes, Miss? You said we’d fall down & get lost in the rabbit holes?’ Mmm, yes, I did, didn’t I.
‘Why aren’t there any strawberries?’ This is the Sainsbury generation!
‘Why is that lettuce so tall? Is it so you can pick it up more easily?’
‘Oh, WOW - I’ve seen another worm, Miss!!’

I’m sure that all primary school teachers see a bunch of curious 7 year olds all the time – & I’m equally sure that I saw this particular lot on absolute best behaviour – but I did find that showing these eager youngsters round, imparting just a bit about growing your own – something which I’m obviously very keen on, & I think is pretty vital to their health & future, well, it’s been an absolute privilege.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hello Belinda Scarecrow!

Things really are looking ‘year end’ now – which is rather appropriate as we will have had custody of our half plot for exactly a year tomorrow. I’ll do an ‘end of year report’ at the weekend, as we’ll need to do some planning for next year…

There’s still plenty to do, though, so on Saturday I went to the Hill in the sunshine & raked over the rest of plot B (misc as was) & sowed the rest of the green manure.

Once that bed was ‘put to bed’ – ha ha – I turned my attention to plot C where there are still a lot of the ‘roots’ in situ – mainly parsnips, but also celery, a few odd spring onions & quite a few rows of late sown carrots, the success of which I do not – frankly – hold out a great deal of hope for.

The parsnips are an absolute success – although they are in the ground a long time (sown in Feb, & likely to be there for more or less the whole year) they more than earn their keep. They have had a good germination rate (they are reputed to be a bit ‘tricky’), strong growth & huge roots – & whether I’ve roasted them or mashed with swede & potato, they have tasted fantastic!

This bed will be the potatoes next year, & I need to have the ground clear in order to stick a load of manure on, which given a bit of a lack of logic when it came to sowing rows of seed, this is not proving that easy – I’m just having to sneak the manure on as the parsnips are eaten.

The bean poles are driving me crackers with the plants getting tattier by the day, but I’ve wanted to leave the pods on the plants for as long as possible to mature. I think I’ll have the rest down this weekend though. I did take down the barlotti bean wigwam, & dug that small patch over. I took the green mesh tent down too which the late sowing of peas climbed up. The peas suffered with an extreme case of mildew – but the peas once podded look fine & are all drying out for sowing next year.

I’ve left the late sowing of black turtle beans in situ for the time being – again I want to give the pods the best chance to mature. I soaked, boiled & ate some of the beans in the week & I must put aside more room for growing pulses to dry next year – they’ll be a great winter food, & of course as they are dried they can stay jars & be stored in the garage if necessary.

Once I’ve cleared the ground there I will construct a couple of compost bins – I’ve now got the necessary pallets, & as we’ve had notice that we are going to shortly lose the green waste skip there is a pressing need to have somewhere to put biodegradable waste. Something else to learn all about!

I spotted about half a delivery of manure sacks which needed emptying into the skip, so I did my community duty there before harvesting a small CAULIFLOWER (all the year round), CABBAGE (primo II), the first couple of LEEKS (mrs D) & a magnificent PARSNIP (white gem) & took that little lot home with me along with Billy Scarecrow who was in great need of a makeover. He got more than he bargained for - he's ended up with a sex change….!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Of Roots and Roasts...

Autumn is in full swing now – it’s been quite a job sweeping the leaves up at home, & there’s plenty of clearing up to be done at the Hill too.

But firstly, some planting – we bought some JAPANESE ONION SETS from Malvern, & not having room to put them in the plot at the time, Jane’s planted them all up in modules where they’ve really got a head start & are all sprouting up very nicely. Jane’s also planted dozens of bulbs at the front of the plot for spring colour, so I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve planted the onions out in plot B (misc. as was) and the rest of the bed will be sown up with green manure next the weekend, & then that’s that plot ‘put to bed’ for the winter.

The chickweed has not cottoned on that it’s now November & continues to grow, so I hoed it all out of plot D (potatoes as was) which was an easy peasy job what with the Hungarian rye all being sown in rows. Ha!

About a third of the bean pods looked dry enough to pick off, so I podded those later at home – plump, shiny runner beans, & pale green French beans – I’m hoping that they’ll have dried out properly so that they can be planted next year.

I’m looking forward to saving a lot more seed next year – it’s ecologically sound, & of course it’s cheaper than buying packets! Also it would be lovely to be able to swap seeds that I’ve saved – with confidence that they will grow – with other members of the GYO Grapevine so that I can grow some more unusual varieties. Today I’ve also joined the Heritage Seed Library which will give me access to unusual varieties too.

Although the sunflowers are past their prime, I’ve been delighted with half a dozen which I cut & brought home – they’re lasting much better than I expected them to, & cut flowers are another ‘first’!

I had a very good haul to bring home – the last of the late sown LETTUCE (little gem) & RADISH (saxa 3) along with some SPRING ONION (white Lisbon) for salad, so that’s that for a few months, & I also came home with a lovely CABBAGE (primo II), a respectable sized SWEDE (best of all), a TURNIP (snowball) & a huge & very lovely PARSNIP (white gem).

Needless to say, I had a fabulous Sunday roast beef dinner with that little lot – now all I’ve got to do is work out how to raise my own cattle…

Monday, October 29, 2007

Harvest Festival!

This week the weather has been cool & bright with a lot of the leaves now off the trees & a real smell of autumn in the air. It was time to turn the clocks back this weekend so now it’s dark about 5pm, which puts paid to visits to the Hill in the week, bar the odd sneak down at lunchtime.

I have had an extremely satisfying weekend at the Hill – & in the kitchen. The main job has been to clear all the ‘summer’ crops, so after picking a carrier bag of various sized & variety of green TOMATOES, all the plants came up, along with the marigold, BUTTERNUT SQUASH (harvested one small one!), PUMPKIN (harvested one pretty big one), nasturtium, bolted lettuce, courgette, slug eaten radish & sweetcorn.

This has left just the indestructible (and, quite frankly, so-hot-it-is-inedible) landcress, a row of pak choi & a row of spinach in plot B. I gave the bed a good old rake over & sowed some 30 short rows of green manure. I also planted up the garlic sets bought at Malvern, & the dianthus plants along the front of the plot for some spring colour.

I also dug up a JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE, out of curiosity, & now have a heap of funny shaped tubers to ‘do’ something with! I rescued the Prize Pumpkin (19lb, 5th place) from the polytunnel, & along with the absolute star of the day – a small but perfect CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) – I went home to deal with the bounty…

So with my pinny on, I cooked up a batch of Green Tomato Chutney from a recipe from the GYO Grapevine – which looks wonderful (& a sneaky taste confirms…) – and I spent a merry hour cursing the density of pumpkin flesh as I hollowed out the smaller of the two pumpkins (weighing in at 13lb). The pumpkin is now all cooked & frozen – & some put aside for soup – & then I had a rather a lot of fun making this chappie for Halloween…

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Looking forward to winter too!

What a difference a couple of weeks makes!

Having been to the Malvern Show at the end of September (& I must just say right now what a fabulously wonderful day it was) – buying onion sets, garlic & some dianthus plants for the front of the plot – I just had time at the Hill to ask Novice-neighbour-Jody to put the Prize Pumpkin in for weighing in the middle of October before disappearing off on holiday for a couple of weeks.

Back home, & the weekend weather has been gorgeous with crisp sunshine bringing the autumn colours out in the trees – but of course that means that the evenings have been very chilly indeed. The courgette, squash & tomatoes seem to be hanging on for the moment, but I must make harvesting the green tomatoes for chutney a priority now.

I can’t wait to have a crack at the chutney, not least because due to a timely birthday & a very thoughtful family, I am now the very proud owner of a shiny new Stellar maslin pan, jam thermometer & a heap of kilner jars all just waiting to be christened!

Despite the neglect & the cool weather, the plot is still looking pretty good – the green manure is all up in neat rows and all the ‘winter’ veg (kale, cabbage, leek & parsnip) look great and are just waiting for their turn to be picked. And better late than never, the sunflowers at the front of the plot are starting to flower & look beautiful – although a dwarf variety for the front of the plot for next time, I think!

I’ve now started to clear the black turtle & barlotti beans for podding & storing in jars and there’s also loads of runner & French bean pods left on the plants which we missed – so I think I’ll try & dry them too – lots of bean casseroles coming up in winter, I think!

So there’s still plentyto keep us busy with lots of clearing & manuring to be done in the next few weeks – & of course with assessing this year & planning already in progress for next …

Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's a bit of a squash...?

A couple of cold nights this week, but that hasn’t seemed to have affected either the courgettes – which look like they might get as far as another courgette apiece in the next few days – or the butternut squash.

The squash plants are quite extraordinary! I distinctly remember saying to Jane when we planted them out ‘oh, we’d better give then quite a bit of room – say 4’ each?’ but they have gone utterly crackers – sprawling all over the tomatoes, the paths, the adjacent beds, everywhere!

I would love to say how delighted we are with the fruit too, but unless all those leaves & trailing tendrils are hiding some real secrets, I think that we have two tiny ones between the three plants – & I would think that we’d be very lucky indeed for them to grow very much more at this stage in the year. (Note to self: sow earlier next year!)

No sign of the green manure as yet – but I have had most of the remaining SWEETCORN (conquerer) – a real success, these with 18 cobs from just 7 plants, & I also picked some of the dryer looking BARLOTTI BEANS for podding. They are the prettiest beans – it almost seems a shame to eat them!

I’ve also started to pick some PEAS (kelevedon wonder) from the late sowing that I made in the middle of July – that’s about 10 weeks – although the plants themselves are full of powdery mildew.

With a lot of the Summer crops coming to an end, it’s both time to think about clearing/digging/manuring, & also to anything else that can be put in to overwinter. I’m not convinced of the benefits of peas & broad beans to sow in Autumn (can always grow them in pots at home in early Spring for transplanting), but given the onion problems we’ve had, I want to put in some Japanese onion sets in, along with garlic in what will be the new roots bed (plot B).

With the front of the plot is looking spruce too, we’ll need some winter bedding too – perhaps wallflowers or winter pansies.

So with that shopping list, it’s a good job that we’ve had a trip to the Malvern Show today…

Sunday, September 23, 2007

We plough the fields and scatter...

The weather is turning decidedly more Autumnal – with a frost for some last week. No such worries yet for us, but with the change in the weather & the nights drawing in, it does make me wonder about the fate of some of our more ‘tender’ crops – it would be a shame if the tomatoes having been rescued from blight were struck down with the cold!

The Hungarian rye seed from the Organic Catalogue arrived this week, & so the main job has been to get that sown. The snag here is that ever since the potatoes were planted, there has been a distinct unevenness in that plot, which is only highlighted by the slabs which I plonked on a few weeks ago, so now is the time to correct that.

The redistribution of the soil seemed to take an absolute age, because you can’t see how you’re doing till you step back a bit, so just when I thought I’d done a fine job, I’d look again & see that there was more to be done. Eventually it was to my satisfaction, complete with the repositioned the slabs now much flatter & ‘sitting’ better.

Teacher Barry was on hand to offer a Monty Don tip with regard to sowing the rye seed – I was all for a ‘broadcast’ approach, but he suggested that I sow it roughly in rows so when it is time to dig it in, in the Spring, it will be easy to put the spade down in between each row. Good thinking! I created a path along the middle of the bed & scored out about 25 short rows on each side, sowed the seed & raked over – & very good it now looks too, if I say so myself!

Whilst I was on the landscaping, Jane came along & was on picking detail – & we both went home with a bumper crop – helped in no small part by Mrs neighbour Ted who invited us to help ourselves to their cucumbers which they had rather a lot of. This was an understatement – Jane came back with a great armful of them (about 8) & she said that there were many more to grow yet!

Besides the cucumbers, between us we had:
FRENCH BEANS (blue lake)
RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot)
a couple of PARSNIP (white gem)
TURNIP (snowball)
a few CARROT (multicolour)
SWEDE (best of all)
a CABBAGE (primoII)
a small pumpkin which had popped up on the Prize Pumpkin plant
RADISH (saxa 3)
…and the absolute icing on the cake was a few cobs of SWEETCORN (conqueror f1)

I had my fabulous corn of cob just as soon as I got home – going ‘mmmm’ & with butter running down my chin! Superb!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reaping what you sow....

Having had a second week of exclusively picking our wonderful produce & not so much as pulling up a weed seedling, I am getting a bit worried that I am ‘taking out’ a great deal more than I am ‘putting in’ – will there be anything left to harvest in the bleak mid-winter?

Obviously, that concern has not stopped me gathering FRENCH BEANS (blue lake), RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot), a wonderful PARSNIP (white gem), TURNIP (snowball) & a fantastic CARROT (multicolour) when I went to the Hill this evening!

I saw Novice-neighbour-Jody – he’s been hard at work starting to manure his plot – with it having been dry for some weeks, all the plots look pretty dusty, so the manure can only help with the soil structure. I can’t start our over-winter manuring of the roots bed until some of the carrots/parsnips/beetroot are lifted, not to mention the celery which (lack of forethought here) are slap bang in the middle of the roots bed.

Jody kindly let me have some of his chilli peppers which look like they could kill at 10 paces – as they will keep (either left to dry in the kitchen or chopped & frozen), there’s no rush to make chilli con carne just yet.

This week’s preserving project has been beetroot chutney – funny how half a dozen beetroot, half a dozen onions & a couple of bramleys shrink into one pot of chutney? It did smell very good in the pan, so I’ve high hopes for it in a month or so.

I’ve also ordered some rye seed for sowing as green manure on plot D (potatoes as was) so hopefully the molehills will not soon be quite so visible, even if our ‘guest’ is still in residence….

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Getting Pickled...

It’s been another week of picking produce – how fab is that! I’ve had a couple of bags of RUNNER BEANS (Reg-next-plot) & CLIMBING FRENCH BEANS (blue lake) in the week, & when I got to the Hill yesterday, Jane & Paul were busy filling a bag each & before I left I STILL picked a half bag of French beans that they’d missed!

We dug up the first full sized PARSNIP (white gem) which is destined for roasting for a family meal at Jane’s today, & I sent her off with a couple of TURNIPS (snowball) too. For my tea I picked some small BEETROOT (woden), which I roasted (was a bit heavy on the ‘dash’ of vinegar – but you live and learn!), & had some pink fir apple potatoes given to me which are so delicious I have immediately put them on the ‘must do next year’ list!

I also have some RADISH (saxa 3), one of the last LETTUCES (mixed) – good job I have another row nicely growing away – a few SPRING ONIONS (white lisbon) & a TOMATO from the plant here at home so I will be enjoying a salad tonight!

I did some weeding where it needed it – including plot D (potatoes as was) & there really is no getting away from the fact that we have a MOLE at the front of the plot! It’s quite surprising considering the pretty high resident cat population that we have at the Hill, & I do hope that having a mole doesn’t trouble the legumes that are going in that bed next year.

There’s not that much that can be sown in September, but I did put in short rows of RADISH (saxa 3), PAK CHOI (riko f1), SPINACH (samish F1), SALAD LEAVES (oriental mixed) & ROCKET, & back at home have sowed a dozen jiffies with CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) for over wintering. I hope that they do more than the ones which are in the ground at the moment.

And for this week’s preserving experiment, we have Spiced Pickled Runner Bean pickle. I managed to find some Kilner style jars in Tesco (under a pound each!), but the pickle has to ‘mature’ for a month which is a shame as by the time I find that it turns out to be delicious, the runner beans will be over…

Monday, September 03, 2007

HOW many beans...!?

I’m continuing with the ‘preserving’ theme, out of some necessity as the RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) have gone nuclear! The freezer is full, Jane has been away, everyone I know – & some who I don’t – have had a heap of runner beans & I will soon be accosting total strangers in the street!

They do taste absolutely fantastic, so no complaints there – as do the CLIMBING FRENCH BEANS (blue lake) which have also been prolific – it’s just that the runners are such a fiddle to prepare in comparison.

So if you can’t freeze runner beans, what do you do? Well, you salt them. I’m not 100% sure of this – & for once don’t have a definitive answer on the GYO grapevine, but I’ve gone for it anyway with an inexpensive plastic airtight container & a sack of salt….

The plan seems to be to string & slice the beans & layer them with the salt – so far so good – but I’ve had a real dither on what exactly constitutes a ‘layer’ of beans (& for that matter, a ‘layer’ of salt). You keep adding layers as you pick the beans – & I’ll have one more stringing session, I guess, before the container is full. Airtight lid, store in garage, eat in winter. Come back in January for an update as to success or otherwise!

I have noticed that as the plot is in pretty good shape with a lot of established plants in, there is much less weeding to be done – hurrah! Maybe once Spring is out the way when all the weed seeds germinate, that’s it (until next year, anyway!), & it means that half an hour picking every two or three days is all that it needs to keep it ticking over.

There are a number of things which I am very pleased about at the moment – besides the sheer abundance of the beans – including the way that the CABBAGE (primo II) are hearting up, & if the PARSNIP (white gem) thinnings that I had roasted for tea are anything to go by, they will be terrific too!

CAULIFLOWERS (all the year round) don’t look so good, though – they were sown at the same time, but compared to the cabbage, they are really not doing much. I’m also a bit worried about the STRAWBERRY plants from Reg-next-plot that I put in at the weekend – I do hope that with the extensive watering that I gave them yesterday that will pick up. The RED & SPRING CABBAGES from novice-neighbour-Jody look at lot better for it, after all.

I gave everything a good old feed yesterday too – & wouldn’t it be nice if my reward for that was a few flowers – and of course fruit – on the otherwise robust courgette & butternut squash plants…?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Getting into a Jam?

Completely caught up with enthusiasm for all things home produced – despite my less-than-successful show entries – I decided to give JAM MAKING a go this weekend!

The plums on the little tree at home have been prolific, & although I’ve been eating quite a few each day for the last week or so, they are ripening far more quickly than I can eat them!

This photo of the plums gives me an excuse to show off my new polo shirt that Shelley & Paul put in my ‘goodie bag’ last weekend! I’d LOVE them to be able to come along to the Show again next year – but it might not be quite as practical as this year as they are in the throes of selling up & moving to France….

As ever, the GYO Grapevine came to the rescue with a suitable jam recipe (although with hindsight it was written in jam-makers shorthand rather than an Idiot’s Guide) & despite a number of crises involving setting points & jar filling, & the entire kitchen being left in the most revolting sticky state, I made 5 medium size pots of jam which although ‘firm’ are not ‘solid’ & it tastes FAB!

This has given me a real alternative preserving method to ‘bung it in the freezer’ which is just as well given that the freezer is choc-a-block with runner beans. Having picked half-carrier bags over the weekend for my neighbours, my mum, me & a chap in the Club & with plenty more to come, I’m going to investigate how to salt beans – there’s plenty of room in the garage after all. Although they are really tasty, I’ve a definite note for next year to not grow quite as many!

When I went to do some weeding at the Hill yesterday – that rarest of creatures, a hot & sunny August Bank Holiday weekend – Reg-next-plot was digging up some of his strawberry plants & asked if I’d like any. I thanked him for 10 crowns, & made room for a 4’ by 3’ bed by the barlotti bean wigwam by pulling half a dozen turnips. I dug in a couple of big buckets of manure, planted them out, & gave them a good old watering. Actually, they don’t look great, today, but I’m hoping that they will pick up.

More generosity of spirit from Novice Neighbour Jody who was planting out Spring & Red cabbage & had spare plants, so I firmed up an area in plot D where the potatoes were & added some lime (thank you once again, Jody!) & planted them out, covering them with the rabbit run cage – the needs of the new plants being greater than that of the summer cabbages in plot A. These are looking marvellous, actually, & hearting up nicely, although Reg says they need another month.

Although the warm summer evenings are closing in now, there’s still plenty of time for picking, & a bit of weeding & watering – & I must remember these wonderful times for when I’m digging in bucketfuls of horse muck in the depths of winter!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Show Time!

I cannot get over what a fabulous day I had on Sunday!

Honestly, last November I thought that having an allotment would be a bit of fresh air, exercise & nice home grown vegetables – I had no idea of the ‘community’ involved – either at the Hill, or on line at the GYO Grapevine forum.

The first excitement of the day was that Shelley & Paul from the Forest of Dean told me they were coming to the Show! Fancy coming all that way to see my marble cake!

So I made sure I had suitable refreshments in hand, then went to gather my potential prize winning veg from the Hill. Digging appropriate beetroot was easy enough – although I did have a bit of a dither as to whether they were too large or not…but I had 3 which were relatively uniform and about the same size, so that looked ok.

I hit a hitch with the carrots – not having either x-ray vision, or tons of carrots to dig up and choose from, I really struggled to find 3 good ones & it really was a case of picking the best of a bad lot.

Back to base to wash and trim these, and select the best of the runner beans to enter – 7 beautiful identically straight beans – with just a suspicion of newsprint making the beans a bit darker green than as picked!

With Jane otherwise engaged for the day, it was just me & mum armed with the entries & mum’s sponge cake going along to ‘stage the entries’ at the Club House, where we met up with Shelley and Paul.

The beet looked ok compared to the others (middle left), the carrots faintly embarrassing (top left), the runner beans lovely (bottom left), & the marble cake excellent – in my opinion! Mum’s sponge was also clearly streets ahead of the other entrants.

We retired to the bar where I opened the most wonderful goodie bag from Shelley & Paul, which had the most fabulous produce freshly picked from Holly Cottage, home made hand cream, home sun dried tomatoes, a cake recipe book, string-in-a-tin to stop tangling, a flowerpot man to match their full size ones (known as Junior Flob) & a most fantastic polo shirt printed up just for ME!

They show ridiculous levels of thoughtfulness & kindness, and I was completely overwhelmed!

Whilst the clubhouse was closed for judging we came back home for coffee & marble cake (what else?) & we chatted until it was time for the winners to be unveiled!

So back to the Hill for the moment of truth…

Well, none of my veg came in the prizes, the marble cake came third – but out of three & mum came FIRST with her sponge cake!
A final look round the plots & it was time to bid Shelley & Paul a safe journey home & to collect the entries.

Reg-next-plot took the flower category honours, along with ‘best exhibit’ for his leeks, & Jason (behind retired Maureen) won the overall veg prize, so all quite evenly matched – AND Reg let me have a couple of his prize winning leeks, so I won there!

So much to think about for next year, whilst I’m weeding & picking beans, & there’s oodles of cake to eat up, veg to pick & cook & freeze ….food for thought indeed, and no mistake!
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