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, 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…?
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