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...........

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!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Countdown to the big day...

Goodness me, I can hardly bear the suspense!

It’s the Hill show tomorrow & due to a prior engagement I could only nip to the Hill this morning to drop in the entry form.

I’ve now got a marble cake to be proud of (at last – I had four bloody goes at it!), & the beetroot, carrot & runner beans are all entered.

I’d planned to pick the runners in the morning so they would be really fresh, but Reg-next-plot & Barry both drew a sharp intake of breath at this news – apparently you pick them the day before, & store in damp newspaper (‘bound up tight with a couple of short canes – makes ‘em straight’ winked Reg).

So in the dusk tonight I’ve picked a carrier bag full & sorted out 16 likely candidates – couldn’t make my mind up beyond that – so all 16 are swaddled tightly in damp newspaper in the bottom of the fridge (hope that’s ok – forgot to ask where to keep them overnight!)

In the morning go down & pick, scrub & trim 3 beetroot, & pick enough carrots to get 3 nice even ones for scrubbing & trimming (probably all of them, then!). I’ll pick mum & her sponge cake up & the marble cake & we’ll go & ‘stage the exhibits!’

Judging is at 2 till 4.30pm, so we’ll go back with baited breath to see how we’ve got on….

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lights, Music, Action!

We really are approaching a terribly exciting time of the year – SHOW TIME!

With the Hill Show coming up on Sunday, & with the Virtual Show taking place on the GYO Grapevine, I’m looking at all our growing veg with an eye to both.

Of the two, the Virtual Show is easier as I can take appropriate photos of the veg when I’ve harvested it & save them until nearer the closing date. With only one entry per class, it’s ‘strategic’ to take a number of shots & submit the best, I think. Well, actually, I didn’t think of that at all, Wellie kindly pointed that one out – I was all for rushing in submitting anything that looked vaguely likely!

The weather has turned wet again this week, but the weekend was fine & warm – which was fantastic as I planned to go to the Canwell Show to see ‘how to show vegetables’ as homework for the Hill Show, & very instructive it was too.

I also managed to see the judging of the wonderful shire horses, & saw a beehive on the go, & bought goodies from the WI stall (that’ll be MY redcurrant jelly next year!) as well as seeing the veg classes having been judged. They all looked rather good, I must say – but I’ve been urged by the good members of the GYO Grapevine to enter whatever I have as ‘seeing a few entries & the same people winning each time is a bit demoralising for everyone else’. Not half – mind you, me propping up those same entrants doesn’t sound like stirring stuff either, but what the heck.

When I went to the Hill on Sunday it was only to admire the tomatoes (I THINK that I’ve caught the blight in time?) & pick some runner beans & do light hoeing. Fabulous!

I was there in time to see the Committee coming round with their measuring sticks to measure the Tallest Sunflower – & very commendably well we did too! Our sunflower is 7’0” & came a rather creditable 5th out of 18 – how’s that for a first time effort!

More runner bean picking has been the order of the day for the last few evenings – & for the foreseeable future too, I rather think. I am concerned that stringing the beans is ALREADY becoming a bit of a chore, but – cavalry to the rescue – apparently mum has bought me a bean-stringer today, so let’s hope that it is a useful gadget!

I have picked some FRENCH BEANS (sungold) which are delightful – they might not crop as heavily as the runners, but – boy – are they easier to prepare for the pot! Also, I picked some lettuce for Jane & for me & a couple of turnips which I’m mashing with potatoes & garlic to put in the freezer. Still worried that the potatoes will not store – however, I do only have a finite amount of room in the freezer!

Just to cover all eventualities, I’m also entering the ‘marble cake – recipe supplied’ for the Hill Show. It’s in the oven right now – but I’m a bit doubtful about it as it contains industrial quantities of eggs, flour, sugar & butter & I am seriously concerned that the 8” tin I’ve used (as indicated) will not be big enough, & there will be cake EVERYWHERE. So I'll post photo next time if it is a success - and draw your own conclusions if I don't!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bean there....

The weather has been warm & sunny for the last few days, & I’ve not needed much of an excuse to go to the Hill – I’ve had a marvellous time!

The weeding continues apace – the soil is very dry & dusty on top, so a quick whiz over with the hoe is all that is needed & then it’s a case of just gathering up all the weeds.

Once I’d weeded the plot b (misc.), I gave the tomatoes a right good going over – I went round each of the plants (we still have 16 plants, actually – more than I thought) & chopped off anything that was remotely suspect on the blight front & gave them all a serious BATH of dithane spray. Three days on, & they all look magnificent. A few of them a bit on the bare side where I’ve stripped the leaves off, but healthy – & that’s the main thing!

The tomato plant at home has a couple of ripening tomatoes on, but ones in the hanging baskets are still very green indeed.

I also had to beat the nasturtiums back with a big stick! They are making a play for world domination, & we can’t have that, lovely as they are. The courgettes have settled in well, & the butternut squashes have stopped sulking & are putting on loads of growth – so perhaps the flowers will follow soon.

I’ve chatted to Retired Maureen a couple of times this week – always lovely to talk to – & tonight I arrived to see Secretary Hayden talking to Alison the teacher’s sister who I have not seen for a long time. I don’t think that her plot has seen that much of her either, & Hayden was having a ‘bit of a chat’ with her about that.

I’ve given everywhere a boost with some chicken pellets, & done some sowing in plot C (roots) where the onions were of a whole load of short rows of pelleted CARROT (autumn king II) seed which Wellie sent me in the post.

We haven’t grown nearly enough carrots – every time I want to pull a few up for tea, I seem to use half a row, & there aren’t that many rows to choose from! Carrot fly have also been a problem – I hope that I’ve solved this one by sowing the seed far enough apart so that I don’t have to do any thinning.

I also put in a few seeds of SWISS CHARD (bright lights) which I’m hoping will taste as good as the spinach, but not bolt at the drop of a hat.

Whilst weeding in plot A (legumes) I noticed that the black turtle beans look really good – with purple flowers – & the kale seedling I put in under the low cage have really come on too. And it was whilst weeding that I came rather unexpectedly across a dozen or so runner beans which were ready for picking – the first of, well, many I rather think!

They tasted utterly delicious, however, I suspect that the novelty of stringing runner beans may soon wear off….

Monday, August 06, 2007

Out with the old.....

Further to all the spuds being struck down by blight – the potato equivalent of the bubonic plague – I spent a great deal of time this week on the great potato dig. The maris piper in particular look utterly fabulous, & in total we’ve dug about 60kg from the plot of 15’ by 20’ which I think is pretty good going.

There do seem to be a number of opinions with regard to how long the potatoes will store for – from ‘well if they look ok, they’ll be fine’ to ‘well they might look ok, but they won’t store’ to ‘they won’t store’. The only consensus of opinion seems to be that if they do go off in store then my goodness you will certainly know about it.

Further bad news on the blight front – tomatoes are closely related to spuds & it looks like the blight has spread. I bought a pump spray & some dithane to treat the tomatoes, but it may well be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted … but we’ll see. I’ve hoiked up a couple of really suspect plants & if we are being totally honest, the majority of the others are showing signs.

Concerned about loosing all the tomatoes which would be a complete blow, I scoured the local garden centres for left over plants & found a fabulous specimen to bring home & it now holds the title of the World’s Most Pampered Tomato. I also have high hopes for the tumbling tomatoes in the hanging baskets at home – they have marble sized green tomatoes on at the moment.

Of course with so much time spent on the forking up the spuds, the rest of the plot has been neglected so it’s just as well that the weather has held for the weekend for a serious bout of weeding.

When I arrived in the sunshine on Saturday morning, novice neighbour Jody was digging up neat neighbour John’s potatoes – he’s chopped all the tops off in the hope that the blight hasn’t travelled down the stems. Reg-next-plot seems to be about the only one who has not been affected by blight – he says that he sprayed in the middle of July so perhaps that’s a precaution to take for next year – & for the tomatoes.

Barry was cutting down his broad beans & asked me if I wanted some of the pods for drying & shelling & then use the seed for next year – you bet – which I now realise explains why a lot of the plots still have the broad beans on when they are clearly past the ‘eating’ stage. Saving seed is yet another area which I’ve not got to grips with yet!

Thinking that the onions aren’t going to do an awful lot more, I dug those up too. I’ve no idea if they are going to be ok to store, but they are drying off on the bench at home at the moment. I guess that I could chop & freeze them, but I’d prefer to leave freezer space for the beans if possible. All the runners have tiny beans on now & the climbing French beans are in flower.

I spent just enough time weeding in the hot sun to give me a headache, & then did an hour more through sheer bloody-mindedness, but left the Hill with plot c (roots) looking fabulous. Just before I left, I planted out 2 courgettes into plot b (misc) which I hope are going to do rather better than the sad little thing in the pot at home.

As big sister Helen has been up for the weekend it was lovely to show her round the Hill ‘in person’ today & it being a Sunday morning it was very busy – so we stopped to chat & admire & have a nose whilst the sun shone & the bees buzzed & the butterflies flitted.

Once it had cooled down this evening I went back & gave plot b (misc) a going over with the hoe. The sweetcorn is starting to show tassels at the tops despite only being about 3’ tall, but perhaps that is ok for that variety. I got a bit ruthless with the lettuce which now looks miles better & rescued all the rows from the weeds – nettles are not my favourite at the moment!

More weeding is lined up for this week along with looking at green manure for putting in plot d (potatoes) as it looks so bare, all of which will be more than enough to be going on with!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What a wonderful world!

Another ‘VisionOn’ gallery tonight – just to show how fabulous some people can be!

Having ‘met’ Shelley & Paul (Wellie & Trousers) through the GYO grapevine, they have been an absolute source of aspiration & inspiration with their beautiful potager garden at Bream in the Forest of Dean.

More than that, Shelley has provided hints, tips, advice, support & is clearly daft as a brush to boot! Knowing that we were having trouble with our tomatoes, she sent through a parcel yesterday, which covered absolutely all eventualities…

So we had individually wrapped parcels of 5 types of tomatoes – all perfect – a ripe peach (ditto), a couple of daft puzzles for me & my mother, a fantastic remote control mouse – sent in order to drive my cats potty, I’m sure – & some carrot seed. As, I was only expecting the carrot seed, so a shoe box size parcel was a bit beyond expectations!

And on a day that blight seems to have spread to our tomatoes, they were all the more appreciated and really showed me how things CAN be – so thank you, Wellie, you are a complete angel!

And guess what – next year I will mostly be growing tomatoes, with my fingers well and truly crossed!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...