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...........

Saturday, December 20, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot D (legumes)

We started off the legume bed at the beginning of the year with overwintering leeks, which were great, despite some allium beetle damage. There weren’t quite enough really, but despite knowing this, I’ve got even fewer growing at the moment (combination of the plants not doing too well, & too few seeds sown!). I let one of the leeks flower for seed too, so no excuses next year!

The beans & peas have been fabulous – after joining the Heritage Seed Library last year, five out of my six choices of seeds were legumes, because they are tasty either fresh, dried or frozen, prolific, they crop for ages, they are pretty, & it’s easy to save the seeds.

Apart from the HSL peas & beans, we also put in some kelvedon wonder peas – which grow much taller than they were supposed to, & I didn’t support properly so they flopped everywhere and drove me mad – some dwarf French beans (barlotti & tendergreen) and runner beans.

Early in the season the broad beans did really well – the crimson flowered variety in particular was lovely – pretty resistant against blackfly, gorgeous flowers & tasty bright green beans. These are a definite for next year!

Overall, the dwarf French beans did really need to be supported in some way as they were so prolific that the plants weren’t quite robust enough to hold themselves up – & the climbing beans make better use of the space.

I do think that having shorter rows of canes ‘tent-stylee’ worked well, but I think that wigwams for next year will make for stronger structures against the weather – particularly autumn gales.

The peas were brilliant – but there weren’t nearly enough of them! I’ve saved seed for next year, though, so we can expand the amount grown.

Now this bed is half sown with brassicas for over winter . I haven’t quite got this right in that the sprouts won’t be ready for Christmas, & all the cauliflowers came ready at once, but the sprouting broccoli has been great, & I’m expecting plenty of red cabbage for the Spring.

All the dried beans are being eaten, saved for sowing next year or swapped for other varieties with other on-line gardeners. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the seed box holds rather more beans than one might expect to fit into the plot, & the new HSL catalogue arrived this week too…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot C (potatoes)

And now for a phenomenal success – the potatoes! As this was the roots plot last year, it took a bit of juggling to get the last of the parsnips out, & the plot manured before it was time to put in the first potatoes, but it all worked out in the end.

It was very worthwhile going to the potato day at Ryton in February – there was a really useful sheet with allsorts of information about the various varieties & their characteristics, then all the potatoes were sold loose at about 18p a spud.

The first earlies were both good (lady cristl & maris bard) with the lady cristl edging ahead on taste, so that’s one for next year. The second earlies were charlotte (excellent waxy spud) & blue edzul, which were lookers, but did have a tendency to disintegrate on cooking. Even steaming them didn’t seem to solve that.

The main crops were really good – HUGE tubers! The damp summer helped – although this ultimately led to the onset of blight, but the potatoes were ready to dig up by then anyway. Both the varieties were a real success (pentland dell & picasso) & make brilliant mash & jacket potatoes (although you’d be exceptionally greedy to have a whole one).

After the first earlies were dug up, the plan was to plant out leeks for the winter. I think that the timing of this may have gone a bit awry in that the leeks are still really weedy & not really up to the mark, & now is the time that I would like to be digging them up & eating them. Perhaps they will perk up at the onset of spring to fill that hungry gap.

The rest of the plot has been sown with grazing rye green manure – however the germination has been very poor indeed – so it’s back to the drawing board for that one. Never mind, I have two whacking great sacks of spuds in the garage which will keep me going for ages – brilliant!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot B (roots)

Plot B was the roots crop this year – well, in the main it was, but there were sweetcorn, lettuces & radish which made their way into there too, but it doesn’t pay to be over-rigid with these things, I’m sure. That’s another way of saying we don’t always get it right, of course…

So, we had over wintering Japanese onions & garlic in this bed early on, both of which did pretty well – the garlic especially. The onions are great too, but they are not keeping especially well. Par for the course, apparently – we should also have onions from seed in if we want them to keep over winter. Now we did have some seed onion in too – the red Brunswick – but red onions don’t keep that well either, so back to the drawing board with these.

Spring onions did very well – I found the tip of sowing half a dozen in a small pot then growing them all on together in a clump worked really well. You just dig the whole lot up when you want a bunch of spring onions – in fact, Prize Winning spring onions! They do take forever looking like bits of grass before they get going though.

The sweetcorn was a real hit Рwe trebled the number of plants this year, & it paid off. Loads of cobs over a period of over a month РI started getting a bit blas̩, casually picking & eating them straight from the plants if I was feeling a bit peckish.

I’ve now found a radish variety that I like in saxa 3 – which isn’t too hot – & these are Prize Winning radish too after our success at the show! The lettuces were great too – we had some lovely cos lettuce seedlings from cheery Brian & Pauline, & our own iceberg. We still had too many ready at the same time, but we weren’t quite as overwhelmed as last year!

The parsnips were fantastic – we had a whole 20’ row, all of which seemed to be monsters! Now this year we have sensibly rationed ourselves to 24 parsnip plants. Mind you, they seem not to be as massive in size, so now I’m worrying that we won’t have enough to see us through to Spring…

For a really low maintenance crop, beetroot has to win hands down. I’m not overkeen on the taste, but I did want to make some pickle, so direct sowed a couple of short rows in mid June & just ignored them until I dug them up a couple of week ago. Fantastic!

There is no getting around the fact that the carrots were dreadful – again! We just don’t seem to be able to avoid the carrot fly. I really need to either make a pretty big raised area/container (which will take an awful lot of compost at £3 a bag – that would buy a LOT of carrots!) or work out an effective way of covering them or using a barrier, which is what I favour. And no, ‘carrot-fly resistant’ varieties aren’t.

We also grew swiss chard. I know it looks pretty, I know that it’s there when there’s not much else growing, it’s just that I really am not at all keen. Give me kale any day – so most of the plants ended up running to seed & being composted. On the bright side, that’s one lot of seeds that I can happily give away out of the extremely overfull seedbox…

Sunday, December 07, 2008

End of Year Report - Plot A (misc.)

Plot A was legumes last year, & so should have been brassicas over winter, then the short season miscellaneous crops this summer.

In reality, the only brassicas that we had over winter were some curly kale plants. I love curly kale (we’ve grown a flat-leaved kale this year, but I’ve found that I prefer the curly kale) & the few plants of a dwarf variety were not nearly enough.

We had 7 varieties of tomato, & interplanted with five squash varieties. Overall, the tomatoes were not great – although they were better looking plants than last year’s (which were planted out late & leggy), I didn’t keep a good enough eye on them with regards to side shooting & staking. In retrospect, being rather more ruthless about only allowing a limited number of trusses to set would have been a good move too.

The blight did for them in the end, but we did have some ripe tomatoes which was an improvement on last year! Of the varieties grown, the heritage broad ripple yellow currant cherry tomato was prolific & tasty; the alicante & harbinger good looking but not over tasty & the paul robeson black beef tomato was juicy & good, but in general the beef tomatoes were disappointing.

The squash were much more successful! I discovered that there are many different varieties of squash, & we grew winter squash – pumpkins & similar, whose skins cure & harden & keep well – & they are proving very tasty too.

One of the plants had to be ditched as it had a mosaic virus, but the rest thrived – the most prolific in terms of growth & number of squash was the pomme d’or which must have yielded over 50 tennis ball sized fruit which are creamy when cooked.

The red kuri is another rambling squash which had about 4 orange 8-10” round fruit on each which are fleshy & sweet & make brilliant soup. The buttercup & redmolo squash are more compact bush varieties, which means that they are a lot less unruly than the ramblers, however, they have had fewer fruit.

Next year, I’ll make sure that we have a courgette plant or two – I’m not entirely sure why we didn’t get round to these this year – & we must also try a cucumber or two, these two crops can take some of the room that the tomatoes took this year – I’ll try growing tomatoes at home in an effort to finally thwart the blight...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

End of year report!

Well doesn’t time fly! Mid November marked the end of our second year at the Hill, so it’s high time that I did the Annual Report…

As last year, we have some overall winners, losers & conclusions:

  • It is still fabulous fun – we’ve met more allotment holders on site, & no longer feel like absolute new girls. This said, I would think that we will retain ‘new girl’ status for many years to come in the eyes of the old hands, but there’s no harm in that.

  • Most prolific crop: parsnip – we’ve grown fewer this year – hopefully not too few!
  • Most disappointing crop 1: for the second year running – carrots – can’t seem to get these right at all, with early, mid season & late sowings still all getting decimated by the carrot fly. Either diligent covering of the carrots, or growing in high sided containers is the way forward here.
  • Most disappointing crop 2: again, for the second year running – tomatoes – although we did better than last year, blight still curtailed the crop. Perhaps growing half a dozen plants in pots at home is the answer.
  • Most delicious crop: here’s one thing I have learned – each crop is utterly delicious as it is eaten properly in it’s season. I can think back now to how wonderful the first peas, or runner beans were, the taste of the sweetcorn straight from the plant & also how much I’m looking forward to the first of the leeks.

  • The weather’s been ok overall – a bit of a lack of prolonged summer, but that’s meant that we’ve not had to water too much, & the potatoes have been marvelous.

  • The Show was terrific fun – it’s very much easier to enter classes that you can plan ahead for (e.g. cakes, pickles, potatoes, onions, rhubarb) than those for which the crops have to be ready for at peak of perfection on the day (e.g. beans, peas, tomatoes, radish, most other things), but I did better than I expected – although it was quite stressful!

  • I’m delighted with the compost bins – we now have two, & have turned out our first batch of compost on to the plot. Very satisfying.

  • Now the bed positions are pretty settled, we aim to make the beds rather more permanent – we’ll use pegs and boards (I think) & wood chippings for the paths

  • Another area to look at is that of the fruit from the plot. The gooseberries were completely rubbish this year, & the plants are full of terrible thorns - they will be lucky to survive the coming year! We do have strawberries in situ & covered with the cage, so hopefully we’ll benefit from those this year; & we still have to make a decision about the raspberries – i.e. whether we keep the suckers that keep popping up, or buy new ones & sort out posts & wires accordingly.

  • The little greenhouse has been a real asset at home for seedlings but it could have been used for a couple of chili plants too, I think.

  • We’ve started putting more flowers at the front of the plot – I must sow our own seeds for next year, tho’ – the bedding plants were our greatest expense this year.

  • We’ve grown more unusual & heritage varieties this year – particularly beans & peas which are not only good dried for the winter, but have easy-to-save seeds which I’ve been offering to other allotment holders at the Hill, & to on-line gardeners too. On the seed front, we have an embarrassingly high number of seed packets e.g. half a dozen varieties of carrots, when we can hardly grow one decent one. I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to have a good sort out, & to only have new packets from the Heritage Seed Library. Ha!

  • I’ve made a valiant effort with pickles (surprisingly good), preserves (er… needs further work) & wine making (pretty fab, actually!), & this is certainly an area to concentrate on next year…

What strikes me is that I thought we’d done a lot last year, & looking back on this year, so much more – fantastic! All in all, a very successful, tasty & enjoyable year – I shall raise a glass of parsnip wine to gardeners the world over – may your fingers be forever green!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Indoor Allotmenteering too...

It’s been pretty darn cold the last couple of weeks, & even a sprinkling of snow one evening last week. I know that it’s supposed to be winter, but there’s not an awful lot that I want to be doing at the Hill if it’s only a few degrees over freezing, hat or no hat.

However, last Saturday I wanted to go & lift the beetroot in order to make chutney. The recipe calls for apple along with the beetroot, & onion, but I read that you can use Jerusalem artichokes in their stead, & as we have oodles of them, & no bramleys, that’s what I thought that I’d use.

Whilst I was lifting the beetroot, Jane & E arrived, & I stood around being cold & grumpy whilst they did some weeding. Actually, we did lift a row of the CARROTS (flyaway) which I optimistically took home, but once washed found them to be more carrot fly than carrot. We also took a portion of KALE (Sutherland) home each which I am enjoying very much indeed.

Back home, once thawed out, I made the chutney. There is rather a lot of it, actually – all these jars from two 4’ rows of beetroot!

Sorting out the seed box is another indoor activity – I had a merry time labelling up the jars for the pea & bean seeds, & making up some seed packages to send out in the post to other gardeners from the GYO grapevine forum. Eyeing the seed box (or rather ‘boxes’!) it looks like I will need a very good sort out before the temptation of more seed overwhelms me – at the very least, the Heritage Seed Library catalogue will be dropping on the mat before too long…

Sunday, November 23, 2008


On Tuesday night it was the Hill AGM!

I couldn’t make the meeting last year, so I was very much looking forward to going along & seeing what went on, as well as meeting up with a whole host of allotment holders all at the same time. I remembered to take a bottle of the redcurrant wine along for Julie, who’d kindly let me help myself to her redcurrants earlier in the year – it really needs another couple of months to mature before drinking, but it’s a fantastic colour, & I have high hopes of it!

Chairman Ken opened the meeting with a silence to remember those who are no longer with us, & then the ‘apologies’ from those who couldn’t attend. Actually, it was a very good job indeed that not everyone did attend – the meeting was not held in the social club big bar, but in the little back-meeting room, & it really was rather snug in there, as well as increasingly warm as the evening progressed.

I must say that secretary Haydn kept the meeting trotting along in a tidy fashion – & we covered matters including a report on the Show back in August by Scottish George (in which he unexpectedly & very kindly gave me a flattering mention), the accounts, maintenance of the site as a whole, & fund-raising donations of honey by Dr Bob, & dahlia bulbs by Reg-next-plot.

Astonishingly, I totally forgot to offer up any of the millions of bean seeds that I have saved for this very purpose, but have since put that right, taking the first batch of seeds up to put in the communal seed swap box at the weekend.

It’s nice to ‘give a bit back’ – & I also have plenty of seeds all ready to package up to send out to online gardeners too…

Saturday, November 15, 2008

There's gold in them thar ... compost bins!

We’ve had fabulous fun at the Hill today – it’s been really mild today, although drizzly a bit later on, but surely that is why hats were invented.

I arrived at the Hill at much the same time as novice neighbour Jody – & I chatted to him whilst I barrowed some good strawy horse manure onto the other half of next year’s potato patch. He was only there for an hour or so, yet seemed to get more done that I do if I’ve been there for the whole day – how does that happen?

Reg-next-plot arrived soon after as I was pulling up some errant raspberry suckers – I was trying to work my way through to the first of the compost bins, curious as to how it was faring. This first bin has been full & covered for about 4 months, & I can see that it has reduced in volume by about a half.

Jane arrived & we tackled the bin together – removing one pallet side by cutting the wires attaching one to another, & having a poke around with a fork. I think that I was expecting the contents to look similar to when we put them in, but what a fabulous surprise!

The contents had become transformed from a whole heap of weeds, cuttings & green waste into the gardening equivalent of gold! I know that you read all the books & that is actually supposed to happen, but when you see it in action it really is quite amazing. Honestly, I could have wallowed in it, it was so fine!

I’m not altogether sure that Jane & E (who joined us for a spot of compost moving a spreading) shared my enthusiasm – which I found a bit odd, frankly – but I didn’t care! Proper allotment holders make compost, & we have made compost! Actually, as Jane did point out, all we had done was ignore it for four months, but I’m still taking some credit.

After all the excitement of spreading our very own compost around, we put the bin back together, & started the whole thing off all over again with a little off the top of the second overfull bin, which we covered up & waved our magic wand over, ready to uncover the booty in another few months.

We took a big bag of veg home each too – JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES, KALE (Sutherland), a portion of CALABRESE (waltham) & even a PARSNIP (tender & true) which had started to bolt.

All of these were fab – as I hope the Jerusalem artichoke wine will be which I’ve started off this evening…

Monday, November 03, 2008

Carrot Catastrophe!

In the shops, one of the cheapest veg is carrots, which would imply that Mr Farmer has no difficulty whatsoever in growing fields & fields of them. For some reason, Mr Farmer – who has fields & fields of carrots – does not have any carrot fly.

Why not?

Because he has damn well sent all them all round to me to ruin any hopes that I may have of a decent crop. I sowed a whole packet of ‘Flyaway’ in August – which should have avoided carrot fly anyway – & after I planted out the wallflowers yesterday, I thought that I would dig some up for my tea.

No chance – finger sized only, & still eaten by the bloody carrot fly.

I love carrots – they are one of the nicest veg. Boo.

So it's back to the drawing board for next year...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

What wallflowers?

Wrapping up warm was certainly the order of the day when I went to the Hill yesterday – it might have been bright, but it was very cold indeed. No matter – all that I’d got planned was planting out the wallflowers.

Besides Alison the teacher’s sister working hard further up on her half plot, there were few people around – although cheery Brian & Pauline made a flying visit to drop off some geraniums to over winter, & David-other-half stopped by too – cutting some of his gorgeous dark red chrysanthemums before the frost gets them, & he kindly cut me an enormous bunch too.

There’s nothing like a spot of digging to get the blood flowing, so I set too on plot d (beans as was) where Jane had taken down all the bean poles (tidied away in the back of the car to put in the garage over winter). There is something very therapeutic about digging – & the plot looked much better when I finished.

I found that weeding the front of the plot wasn’t so easy – I couldn’t just go whacking in with the fork to get all the summer bedding & weeds out or I’d dig up the bulbs planted there already for the Spring display, but I eventually got it all prepared for the wallflowers. By this time, however, I was feeling bloody cold again – feet & hands in particular, so I decided to call it a day.

I cleared up & cut half a dozen CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) to take home to make a big batch of cauli cheese, & picked enough CALABRESE (Waltham) sprouts for a couple of meals – all that was missing from day was planting out the wallflowers – which was the one job I actually went to the Hill to do…

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bags of Beans!

So, Mrs Clever here thought that by whipping all the leaves off the beans, the rows would be safe from autumn gales while she went off on holiday to the sun for a couple of weeks, huh?


However, Jane to the rescue – she’s done a sterling job of picking ALL the bean pods left on the ALL the plants, & has dug up the plants & tidied away the canes. Hurrah!

With four huge carrier bags of various beans, shelling beans is the order of the day & this is a brilliant sitting-by-the-fire job whilst the autumn nights draw in outside. It now feels very cold indeed – so cold, in fact, that this week we have had snow falling – in October too.

The mornings are bright & crisp which means that the rhubarb, remaining squash & the bedding plants at the front of the plot have all succumbed to the frosts.

On a flying visit to the plot at lunchtime I was pleased to see all the onions sprouting away, and absolutely delighted to see the cauliflowers which are ready to cut. Mind you, I was disappointed to see how little of the green manure has sprouted – I wonder why that is?

I’ll have plenty of time to contemplate this at the weekend whilst I’m planting out about a million young wallflowers at the front of the plot which mum has kindly given us….

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Sorry, Keats...

Not quite the season of ‘mists & mellow fruitfulness’, more the season of 'getting a bit nippy & being rained on'.

However, the beans won’t pick themselves, so it was on with the wax jacket & beanie hat & off to the Hill.

I wasn’t quite alone – Teacher Barry was having a clear up of his plot & told me that novice neighbour Jody had been laid low with kidney stones – sounds very painful, so get well soon, Jody.

I’d promised a couple of orange SQUASH (red kuri) to cheery Brian & Pauline, so I cut the six remaining fruit off the plant & popped a couple up to their plot along with half a dozen of the pomme d’or & a redmolo for a bit of variety.

Jane arrived as I was trying to make some order of the beans – they are not all mature & dry by any stretch so I was a bit loathe to pick them, but with the climbers, the canes are in grave danger of blowing over, so something had to be done. We discussed a compromise, & stripped most of the leaves off the plants, thus making them less susceptible to high winds, & picked off any beans that looked ripe.

The two rows which we did have all the beans off were the FRENCH BEAN (tendergreen), & the climbing BARLOTTO (lingua de fueco) from Jody. The latter do not look remotely like the other barlottis as they have long round pencil like pods & smallish mauve seeds, but that’s what it said on the packet. Either way they have been fabulous to eat fresh & have cropped like mad – definitely one for next year.

With the beans in better shape, we turned to the SWEETCORN (tender & true) – it’s getting past its best now, so we had the last of the cobs off & pulled the plants up. This has been another excellent crop – lasting ages & we’ve both had loads of gorgeous sweet cobs. Whilst we were in chop-down mode, we felled the sunflower (easier said than done!) as it was starting to shed some of its seed & I brought the head home to dry off.

Today’s star prize is this CALABRESE (Waltham) – a total surprise as I’m sure it was no where near forming a head last time I looked – and it tasted just as good as it looks! Yum yum!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Autumn is here...

I’ve had to sit on my hands & think of other things to do this weekend rather than go to the Hill because the only job of note is to pick all those zillions of beans, but I really do want to make sure that they are properly mature on the plants before I pick them for drying, & the only ones that I think have got to that stage are the FRENCH BEANS (early warwick) of which I picked a whole basketful a couple of weeks ago – none of the rest look to have remotely ‘dry & papery’ pods.

Mind you – after a warm & quite sunny weekend, it’s cool, rainy and distinctly autumnal now, so they aren’t likely to be doing much in the way of drying at the moment.
Also, everyone else of my gardening acquaintance seems to be well on with picking their beans, so I think that I should get anything that looks about mature off next weekend & they can all be laid out on newspapers in the spare room.

I’ve not been totally idle – I took a trip to the rather nice cook shop in Leamington Spa in order to try to get some of the smallest Le Parfait preserving jars for making beetroot chutney – these are just perfect ‘gift sized’ for chutneys, & John Lewis seems to have stopped stocking them. Mind you, so does the rather nice cook shop in Leamington Spa, so I’ll have to look further a-field.

I’ve also started off the raspberry & blackcurrant wine – what a wonderful colour! It’s an odd one in that you let the yeast get going with the fruit & water for a few days before you add any sugar – the fruit must be sweet enough on its own. I’m guessing that this is to stop it going bananas – it’s pretty wild as it is!

And this week’s rather nice surprise is that the grapevine in the courtyard garden – which is having its very best year ever – has not only produced half a dozen or so decent sized bunches of grapes, but they are ripening up, & (although pippy) taste really rather good. I’ve definitely got my eye on it for wine making for next year…

Monday, September 22, 2008

Green Tomatoes and Garlic

With Sunday bright & sunny, I cycled to the Hill ‘just for half an hour to pick off the green tomatoes’ – yeah, sure. I was surprised to have the place virtually to myself – Richard (3 plots down) arrived soon after me, but that was it, until novice neighbour Jody rolled up just as I was leaving.

I started by picked off the TOMATOES, then I thought I might as well pull the plants up – & as I planned to use the space to grow this year’s garlic, I pulled up the SQUASH (buttercup) too, taking the two big ripe squash growing to dry further in the mini greenhouse at home.

On a bit of a roll, I also cut back the SQUASH (red kuri) to expose the 7 or 8 big deep orange fruits to finish ripening, & took another half a dozen of the SQUASH (pomme d’or) & cut that back too – there are still loads on what’s left of the plant, it’ll have grown about 40 of these cuties in all. And true to their word, when I’ve left them to cure for a week or two, they have turned from british racing green to a fetching yellow, exactly as billed.

With that space released, I forked it over & planted 30 cloves of GARLIC off two of the biggest bulbs saved from this year’s crop. I’ve planted the biggest off each bulb, & kept the little ones in the middle to cook with – I remember being told last year (after I’d planted the garlic!) by David (Evington Hilltop Adventures on the list on the right) that the bigger the clove planted, the bigger the bulb it produces, so I’ve done just that.

The second compost bin was now full to overflowing with all the squash foliage, so I put in a wheelbarrow’s worth of particularly heavy ‘hot’ horse muck from the skip on top & whacked it all down with the spade, & it’s in much better order now. The contents of the first compost bin have reduced by about half now – I think that I’ll have to investigate it soon to see if it stands any chance of being ready to use.

Lunch was a couple of SWEETCORN (tender and true) cobs straight of the plant, then I picked a handful of RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) to take back for tea – these have been so good this year – absolutely melt in the mouth with not a string in sight. Fantastic!

With the squash, green tomatoes & runner beans packed in the bike basket, I discovered that there was just enough room to fit in a punnet of freshly picked raspberries…

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More fruit & new faces...

What a summery, sunshiny weekend! What a shame that it’s about two months too late…

At this time of year, it is mostly picking & clearing – I remember the same from last year, & being concerned that it was all ‘take-out’ of the plot with not much ‘put-in’ – of course this is just the other side of the coin on which ‘sowing & weeding’ is written.

When I arrived on Saturday, the first thing I wanted to find out was if there were any blackberries around the back of the Club building – I’d spent a lovely evening on Thursday out with Jane & E picking blackberries over by Hillwood Farm, however the evening was rather more notable for the country walk & chat rather than the quantity of blackberries, & if I want to make wine, then I need 4lb, rather than the 1¾ which was the evening’s bounty.

I found myself rather wishing that I hadn’t scoffed all of last weeks raspberries that I had from cheery Brian & Pauline & kept them to add in – & wondered if they still had plenty to go round…?

In the event, there weren’t any blackberries of note behind the Club building, but I did see Brian & Pauline who were busy painting their bench & small shed, & in exchange for half a row of my CARROTS (gonsonheimer), they invited me to help myself to more of the raspberries. Hurrah!

I was busy picking when Jane arrived, & shortly afterwards, her husband Paul & the dog. After introductions, a guided tour of Brian & Pauline’s plot for Jane & some further raspberry picking, the three of us moved back down to our plot & had a real harvesting session, starting with a taste test of the various bean varieties (this was before I read today that ON NO ACCOUNT should you ever eat raw beans as they contain toxins – I’ve not spoken to Jane since but trust that they are both ok!).

It was lovely to meet two returning allotment holders who came by to say hello – having recognised us from our photos here. Mike & Chris live a few doors down from Jane, & they used to have two half-plots at the Hill years ago – they’ve been on the waiting list & have now been offered the front half of one-arm-David’s plot down the bottom next to John Badger.

Jane & Paul went off laden with plenty of SWEETCORN (tender & true), RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot), FRENCH BEANS (tendergreen) for shelling & some SQUASH (pomme d’or), & I finished by pulling up the rest of the FRENCH BEANS (early warwick), taking the pods home for shelling - to be used in stews over winter & for sowing next year - along with some runner beans, BARLOTTI BEANS & some ripe tomatoes which I then made into salsa.
The rest of the green ones, showing signs of blight, all wanted picking off too, but that was a job for another day…

Monday, September 15, 2008

Potatoes, Picnics and Pickles

An industrious weekend at the Hill – with the rain falling for most of last week, I really made the most of the welcome dry spell.

The first job on Saturday was to finish digging up the remaining POTATOES (pentland dell) – I left them on the top of the soil for the skins to harden before filling the big tub to take them home. I weighed them later at home – these alone were nearly 30kg – so a good year for potatoes!

I chatted to secretary Haydn, & to teacher Barry (who suggested lifted the rest of the RED ONIONS (Brunswick) before they begin to sprout) then I picked some SWEETCORN (tender & true), TOMATOES (bloody butcher & alicante) & CARROTS (gonsonheimer) which I ate as a picnic lunch.

I picked a dozen or so of the riper-looking FRENCH BEANS (early warwick) to take home for drying, did a little light weeding then went up to chat to cheery Brian & Pauline. Their plot is looking good – they are using bark for some of their paths. Perhaps this is the answer to our pathways too? I’m happy with the four-beds-split-longways-in-two layout, although the plastic weed suppressant pathways are pretty lethal in wet weather, so there’s not a lot to stop my biting the bullet & knocking in some pegs & boards. Must check bark prices & make a decision!

Brian & Pauline gave me a lettuce, & kindly said that I was to help myself to raspberries – I had planned to make some jam (as actually making a few jars is the only way I will improve on the various rock hard/runs off the knife stuff that I have managed so far), however, what with the raspberry container being on the front seat as I drove home, & then on the work top in convenient ‘dipping’ distance all evening, there weren’t enough left to make it worthwhile!

I wasn’t idle on the culinary front, though, as I picked a big bag of RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) in order to make spiced runner bean pickle which was rather a hit last year.

On Sunday I went to the Hill via the garden centre in order to buy autumn sown onion sets, & was rather taken by the ‘all seeds for 50p’ sign – hurrah! Once at the Hill, I planted the ONION SETS (electric & senshyu yellow), & sowed the rest of plot c (potatoes as was) with green manure. I had a sweetcorn/carrot/tomato picnic lunch again, & bought home carrots & runner beans for tea.

I made the pickle (er – it’s rather sloppy & I’m not sure that it will thicken as it matures) & bottled the redcurrant wine which has been on the go for the last couple of months. It is a fantastic colour, & tastes mighty fine too! I’ve squirreled it away to mature – but must give Julie (2nd best plot) a bottle to say ‘thank you’ for the redcurrants.

Given that the batch of wine only came to 4 and a half bottles in total, I wonder if the ‘thank you’ bottle to Julie can also double as a ‘prepayment’ for redcurrants for next year…?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rain, rain, go away.....

So, it is very rainy. Very, very rainy.

Far too rainy to go to the Hill on Saturday, but I did make the most a dry spell on Sunday late afternoon to get some weeding done in the brassica bed. This was well overdue, & the bed looks much better for it.

I may be winning the caterpillar war too – hurrah! - I only found three titchy ones. Call me an ol’ softy, but I can’t face despatching them – I just relocate them to a bare bit of ground for them to take their chance with local eagle-eyed robin & blackbird population. Mind you, that actually sounds pretty cruel, now I come to say it.

Once the netting was back in place (not entirely sure that it is doing a massive amount of good – but maybe the brassicas would be like so many lace curtains without the netting – who knows), I moved on to the miscellaneous & roots beds & dug up the flowering swiss chard, a row of woody radish, weeded the carrots & tidied up the squash again, all of which has pretty much filled up the compost bin.

With the plot tidied up, I set to tucking part of the plot up for winter by sowing some green manure. I raked over where I’d dug up the potatoes & planted out the leeks, & sowed grazing rye – as I did last year – in rows in order to make digging-in easier in the spring.

Once all this was done, it was time to do some harvesting, so I spent a merry half hour picking some SWEETCORN (tender & true), RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) & FRENCH BEANS (barlotti & purple giant). I picked half a dozen TOMATOES (bloody butcher & yellow currant) & decided that there were some of the FRENCH BEANS (early warwick) mature enough for picking & bringing home for drying – well, lets face it, they are hardly going to dry on the plants in this weather!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Beans & beans. And beans.

After a trip to the Hill to pick some TOMATOES - which are rather lovely, I must say - I may have to concede a small point with regard to French beans. There are, in fact, rather a lot of them.

Lots & lots & lots.

There is a good reason – of sorts – for this. Last year we had a 20’ row of canes with runner beans up the one side, & they went absolutely bananas. This year we have a 5’ row of canes with runner beans up one side, & that’s been great, & a late sowing of another 5’ row should keep us going till the frost arrive in a couple of months. Fabulous.

However, with the French beans this year, instead of having one 20’ row, we have a 5’ row of each of the following dwarf or climbing beans – early warwick, borlotto fueco de lingua, bird’s egg, tendergreen, barlotti, purple giant, firetongue, boston & black turtle. That’s the equivalent of a 45’ row. Oh – over twice as many as last year then.

So, next year, it is more peas & fewer beans. Not that I’m complaining about the French beans, really – they have benefited an awful lot of people of my acquaintance, & I’ve had a session of chopping & blanching this evening, so I’m filling up the freezer for the months ahead.

I won’t be salting beans this year – that was one experiment that didn’t really go that well, if I’m honest. Although, I must keep some beans aside for making runner bean pickle, which was a rather surprising hit last year…

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lovely people...

Is it just gardeners who are generous & kindhearted, or is the world not quite as rotten as previously thought…?

For a start, the ever generous Kath (Vegetable Heaven in the blog list on the right) has not only send me some BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered) but also some of her salmon flowered peas which she has grown this year – they are an old fashioned ‘crown’ pea which hold their pretty flowers & pods at the top of their 4’ stems & I look forward to growing them next year.

Then at the Hill on Saturday, novice neighbour Jody gave me some of his courgettes, cheery Brian & Pauline invited me to come & pick some of their raspberries, & indomitable Fran & Alan offered me the pick of their beautiful smoky blue sweet peas.

How lovely is that?

So on the ‘what goes around, comes around’ principle, I’m sending out one or two little packages of seeds & things to friends in the post this week, although Kath is going to have to wait for my more interesting peas & beans to dry properly before I send hers out.

Talking of seeds, when I inadvertently left one of the parsnip from last year, I collected the seed head & it has been drying in a paper bag, so this afternoon I separated the seeds out & put them in an envelope for next year. It sent me bloody cross-eyed – I’m guessing that Thompson & Morgan et al have a rather more efficient system.

Whilst at the Hill, I dug up 8 main crop POTATO (pentland dell) plants to reveal another bumper potato crop – the spuds have been just fabulous this year! I also took the squash & tomato plants in hand – chopping back any new growth so that they concentrate on producing their respective fruits. They look better now – & the tomato plants (which do look rather tatty) have trusses of tomatoes now changing colour. Hurrah!

I picked another 3 caterpillar off the brassicas (where do they come from – they are netted after all) then off home to make a huge batch of ratatouille – yum!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Disaster strikes!

Oh-oh! It was all going so well too!

I’ve had half a dozen BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered) growing in mum’s garden in order that I’d get pure seed from them for next year, but I had a phone call from her yesterday querying what she should do with ‘all these black pods that look like they’ve split open…’

I hot-footed it round there in the dusk, & managed to salvage just two pods – that’s precisely six beans for next year. Boo!

Better news at the Hill tonight (Hazel 5, caterpillars 0) where I cut off all the potato haulms in preparation for digging them up at the weekend, & I picked a cycle basket full of FRENCH BEANS (barlotto de fuoco), & a few RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) to have for tea.

I also picked a couple of TOMATO (bloody butcher) – none of these will make it home at this rate.

Unusually, neighbour Ted was also at the Hill this evening – he was thinning out some lettuce & he told me that they’d had their first sweetcorn this week – ours are not quite ready, but perhaps will be in the next week or so along with a second row of very healthy looking carrots, so it’s still good news overall…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fruits of our labours!

I love harvest time!

At the Hill tonight, the only limit to the bounty was what I could carry home on the bike!

So after scrutinising the brassicas for caterpillars (Hazel 12, caterpillars 0), I picked some RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot), a handful of BARLOTTI BEANS & half a carrier bag of FRENCH BEANS (barlotto lingua).

Back home I promptly gave a big handful of these to my neighbours – I’m somewhat overrun with these, thus benefitting my mum, accountant, neighbours & the hairdresser. I haven’t frozen any of these yet – I suspect I will have plenty of time for that given the amount of beans still to come…

Also coming home in the bicycle basket was SQUASH (red kuri), CARROTS (gonsonheimer) & tonight’s star prize – a couple of ripe TOMATO (bloody butcher). Yum yum!

So I have had a very smug tea tonight – half a stuffed squash, shelled barlotti beans, carrots & cabbage from Reg-next-plot.

No photos, though, as I scoffed the whole damn lot before I remembered the camera…

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mrs Potato Head!

With the sun shining yesterday morning I went to the Hill armed with hooks, screws, cordless drill & a piece of stick to improve the inside of the shed. The more that things are hung up, the less the shed has to be ‘unpacked’ before you can find what you’re looking for. This does not solve the problem of where to store the heavy duty green plastic mesh that is currently stuffed in a loose roll ready to trip the unwary every time the door is opened, but maybe a couple of hooks on the outside would do the job so it can be hung by the compost bins.

With the new hooks in the shed installed, I planted out the final 4 RED CABBAGE in plot d under the netting, & – rather neatly, by accident rather than design – the bed is just full.

I went up to the allotment shed & bought a couple of kilo of growmore so I could give everything a boost, & had a chat with secretary Hadyn & treasurer Mike, & then tried to work out the best way of getting the growmore onto the ground – raking it in is not an option on plot a with the squash in full foliage.

Reg-next-plot was digging manure into part of his plot – he bemoaned the state of his runner beans (not unreasonably – sorry, but they look dreadful) before asking me if I wanted a swede. Fab!

Given the dry & sunny weather, I took the opportunity to dig up the main crop POTATOES (picassa). Well, goodness me, if I had known what was hidden away in the ground I would have entered the ‘heaviest potato’ category in the Show, & won by miles! Not quite the size of my head, but they are enormous!

I let the potatoes dry out on top of the soil whilst I went up to the club house at lunchtime – no sandwiches for sale again, I will have to start to take my own – and afterwards loaded them into sacks. I weighed them later at home – 36kg total weight, or two just-about-liftable heavy sacks.

With the potatoes out the way I planted out the LEEK (mrs d) seedlings in their place. They are supposed to be planted out when they are ‘pencil thick’ – mine are ‘blade of grass thick’ at the mo, but I guess that they will sort themselves out.

Picking some RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) & more FRENCH BEANS (barlotto di lingua), I had a good look at the leek that I let go to seed from last year – it has 3 huge flower heads, but the seeds don’t seem to have matured yet. I saw a very handsome yellow beetle on one of the flower heads the other day – no idea what it is, but managed to get a photo, & perhaps someone can tell me if he is friend or foe

Brian & Pauline arrived in the afternoon, & after Pauline came down to compare notes on how our respective parsnips are faring, she invited my up for a very civilised cup of tea at their small shed. We had a hugely entertaining gossip with regard to allotment holders past & present, but being at their comfortable & welcoming plot makes me think again about the layout of our own rather - well - functional plot…

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cracking Carrots!

I cannot say just how pleased I am this evening after cycling to the Hill, as I have actually pulled some very, very impressive CARROTS! Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! It’s only taken me two years! Admittedly, it’s 10 days too late for the Show, but, hey, you can’t have everything!

The crops are growing like fury due to the warm & very wet August we are having – I’ve weeded the carrot seedlings this evening, but in the other beds the leaves of the beans & the squash in particular don’t give the weeds much of a chance.

In fact the squash leaves don’t give anything else much a chance – the tomatoes sharing the same bed are just about holding their own, but when it comes to picking them when they eventually turn red, I’m going to need to be armed with a big stick, I think!

I did fight my way through to pick a mandarin sized SQUASH (pomme d’or) – these are supposed to be apple sized winter squash, one person sized. The one I picked was indeed a one person size – a small person size at that – but the skin was cured hard, so I guess that it was ready.

Cut in half with the seeds scooped out & roasted for tea tonight, it was very tasty indeed. Just as well, as I think there are a couple of dozen more of these on the plant.

I picked a couple of big handfuls of the FRENCH BEANS (barlotto lingua) – 8 to 10” long round pencil-like bean which don’t actually look anything at all like either the dwarf French bean (firetongue) or climbing French beans barlotto saved from last year, but there we are.

I also picked half a dozen RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) which I steamed for tea with the carrots & they absolutely melted in the mouth. Fabulous!

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I have been reflecting on my entries for the Show, & want to have a think about next year, too…

Timings 1 – although staging of the entries can be from 10am to 2pm, I think that it’s better to place entries earlier rather than later, so that you can ‘bag’ the best bit of the table. This means that you don’t get to see the other entries at the time, but there is nothing to stop you going in at 5 to 2 in order to see what you are up against, & would give an opportunity to take stock of the show as a whole, & to take photos.

Timings 2 – when the judges have finished their marking, the entries are all supposed to be left on display for everyone to have a look at, but it seems that some entries (notably in the cake entries) are whipped away at the first opportunity, mainly to stop people breathing all over them, I suppose. This means that if you want to see the winners in all their glory, you need to nip in pretty sharpish.

Read the rules – nothing quite so dopey as being disqualified for putting the wrong number of veg in your entry. Best veg in the world won’t win you a prize if you enter 9 beans instead of 7 in your ‘collection’, will they, Hazel?

Prepare entries as far in advance as possible – this is easy for things like jam/pickle/cakes to be made in the preceding weeks or days, not quite so easy to pick, select & prepare the veg that needs to be dead fresh for showing. This is quite stressful!

Think ahead with regard to sowing/planting times – it was a shame not to have peas to enter as they were all finished, & the runner beans not ready, & it’s worth growing a couple of courgettes not just to eat, but to show (although I think I may let the marrow classes go)

Flowers can be good to show too – having more flowers is an area that I want to explore further anyway next year, so there’s no reason why I can’t do more with sweet peas, for example.

A quick word on varieties – with lettuce, do not try to enter iceberg lettuce as they are too fragile shedding leaves all over the place! The cos lettuce I grew from seedlings kindly given to me by Brian & Pauline were far more robust, & I think would show better.

And next year we’ll have a few more entries from my fellow bloggers – go on, you lot, know you want to!
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