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, 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!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Show Time!

Well I really have only just recovered from the excitement of it all!

Sunday morning I looked at the marble cake, & it still looked pretty dreadful, but I put it ready to go, along with the fruit cake, beetroot chutney & the coleus. Then the white & red potatoes went in the bag, a box with some sand (for the shallots) some white plates, then the shallots, red (seed) & white (set) onions. Then three best-of-a-bad bunch carrots.

A second look at the beans picked in the rain on the previous evening didn’t look like winners, so when I whizzed to the Hill to pick radish & spring onions I picked some more – but of the early warwick which I’d previously dismissed as too big, but at least they were all the same size & straight as a die. I also selected my three rhubarb sticks (broke one as I pulled them & said a very rude word indeed) which were nearly uniform.

Home to select & wash the radish & spring onions then they were wrapped in newspaper & went in the bag with the rhubarb & beans. The last things to go in were a couple of lettuce which had been sitting in a bucket of water all night. Tricksy things kept snapping the outer leaves off, which went rather against the ‘shown as grown’ requirement – more ‘shown as knocked about a bit’, but time was of the essence & in they went to the back of the car.

At the Hill I met up with mum & big sister Helen who wanted to stage their plain cake & pot of homemade jam respectively & I busied myself finding where each class was situated & unpacking, unwrapping, wiping & arranging the various entries.

I had enough ‘good’ entries left over to put in for ‘Class 1 – Collection of 5 vegetables’ which I was rather proud of – playing with the big boys now, eh? However, an elementary blunder meant that I arranged 9 rather than 7 beans as part of my entry which meant I was disqualified – I felt better about this when I found out that Reg-next-plot who has been entering veg shows for years did exactly the same thing…

The club house was busy with entrants staging their exhibits with a real buzz in the air. There was a barbecue laid on, the bar was open, John (the plot at the bottom) was selling raffle tickets & had a seed swap going & the gardening library on display.

Later with the judging over, the exhibits were open for inspection by all. We squeezed in to see mum’s second placed plain cake, my second placed fruit cake & a – frankly astonishing – victory for my marble cake. Stiff competition in the jam section meant that big sister Helen’s jar was overlooked for a prize, but my beetroot chutney picked up a second too.

In the veg section last year I had no placings, so I was delighted with a second for the white potatoes, radish & spring onions – with the most satisfying being the white potatoes which beat those of Reg-next-plot. He’ll think twice about helping me select my potato entry for next year, I think…!

We stopped for the raffle & prize giving – novice neighbour Jody, wife & young baby arrived to watch too – then a post match analysis on the way home & a split of the spoils!

Now next year……

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Marble Cake Update...

...if I'm being honest - it really doesn't look very good.

And that's an understatement.

It's early Sunday morning now, and I've had a real hum and har as to whether I could whip up another cake overnight as it were, then gave myself a stern telling off - get a grip, children in Africa are starving, and I'm worried about how attractive (or otherwise) is my marble cake ...?

I'll enter it in the Show anyway, of course, but as an aide memoire for next year USE THE 7.5" DEEP TIN NOT THE 8" SHALLOW TIN!!

This way I may avoid cake sticking to tin/overflowing tin/cracking on top issues.

Or not, maybe, but I guess that's all part of the fun!

Pip, pip!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Preparations mk II

So, I’ve handed in the entry form for the Show tomorrow & I will be entering a grand total of 16 classes…

I went to the Hill in the pouring rain this morning & was very pleased to see Reg-next-plot who was able to advise me on how to present my onions, & to generally give my confidence a bit of a boost!

I got absolutely drenched as I replaced the netting with a 4m wide piece that I bought from the allotment shop – much better – & headed off home with onions to prepare, along with a couple of lettuce, & a bunch of carrots. Bit of a pity that I didn’t wash the carrot which revealed carrot fly damage BEFORE I entered them on the form – all I can say is that they are an improvement on last year's effort. A bit.

The afternoon has been spent with the ‘chosen few’ veg of each sort which I think make the grade, washing, trimming, tying up, & generally beautifying them ready for their big day tomorrow!

Along with the fruit cake that I cooked a couple of weeks ago which has been ‘maturing’, I have a marble cake in the oven at this very moment. I have taken the precaution of making the cake at the last minute in order to avoid the trap I fell into last year of making another, & another, & another in an attempt to improve. Fat lot of good that did – I came third out of three, & have had marble cake clogging up the freezer for the last 12 months – & that’s after giving slices of it away to everyone from my accountant to the Avon lady.

I have the coleus potted up, a pot of beetroot pickle ready to join the party – & I’m just about to go back & pick some beans, pull 3 sticks of rhubarb & sort out half a dozen spring onions, then it’s radish tomorrow & that’s about your lot!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

beanz meanz squeakz...!

I saw Ian-from-the-bottom when I cycled to the Hill yesterday evening who was mulling over what he can enter for the Show – I went to ‘advise’ (i.e. have a good nose round his plot) & his marrows don’t half look good! I reckon that he’s a real contender there, however with around a dozen at a foot long to choose from, I do hope that he has plenty of marrow recipes up his sleeve too!

I took the last two CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) & a couple of CALABRESE (early waltham) to plant out in plot d (legumes at the mo, brassicas over winter), taking down the spent PEAS (kelvedon wonder) & saving the pods as I went.

The netting seems to be going well enough at the moment, but there’s no disguising the fact that as the brassicas grow, the netting won’t be wide enough to cover the width of the bed. I should have bought a 3 rather than a 2m wide piece, but I think that it’ll be far easier to start again & buy a new adequately sized piece than to try to cobble a second piece on to the first – live & learn yet again!

I spent some time peering though the extensive bean foliage – you could hide whole tribes in there let alone a few beans! The CLIMBING BEANS are all looking fabulous & I was pleased to find that the beans themselves are bigger than I expected. I picked a dozen horseshow-shaped ‘barlotto lingua’ for tea which wouldn’t have made it to the showbench anyway – they were utterly delicious, but they do squeak when you eat them and I’m really not sure about veg which answer you back!

Monday, August 04, 2008


I’m going to have to change my posts from ‘I just nipped to the Hill…’ to ‘I slogged my way on my bike to the Hill where I had to go & have a little sit down to get my breath back…’ if I keep up this cycling lark! Phew!

So tonight (once I’d had a little sit down), I dug up the majority of the red onions, & I will now have to go & look on the internet as to how to present them to show – my main question is how many scrobby layers of onion can I remove so that the onion looks really good? (Rather suspect that the answer to this is ‘none’.) Anyway, they are drying on the mesh now, & I’ll see if they are fit to enter later in the week.

I would have brought them home with me, but once I put them in the front basket I realised that I had a bit of a logistics problem with retaining forward visibility whilst riding home. I also needed to make room for the Coleus which I had just dug up & stuck in a 2 litre pot to take home to make ready for the show.

I’m on a bit of a learning curve here – I’d never heard of a coleus until treasurer Mike said ‘here’s a free coleus which you grow on & enter in the show’ – sounded good to me, so I took it in it’s dinky pot & planted it out by the sunflower.

Then I found out that it’s a pot plant & you pot it on, pinch it out, feed it & generally pamper it. Well, it takes its chance round here, so it’s had a happy time in the open air for a couple of months, & now I’ve potted on, fed it & given it new compost, & we’ll see on Sunday from the others what they are supposed to look like. Live & learn.

I planted out four more CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) that I’d bounced around in the front basket, then picked some FRENCH BEANS (tendergreen) – I do feel somewhat in limbo at the moment as I don’t want to eat any potential prize winners ahead of Sunday! Mind you, there isn’t a category for squash, so I had one of those for tea once I had cycled home…

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Beans, brassicas and bicycles...

Weather continues to be muggy with the odd shower – & now I’m worried about blight ruining the potato & tomato crop. So I took the spray to the Hill yesterday & gave all the spuds & tomatoes a really good going over with Dithane.

Reg-next-plot arrived & we chatted about the upcoming show – he very kindly gave me some pointers with regard to showing veg, & even more kindly ended up digging up the two rows of POTATOES (charlotte) so that he could show me half a dozen likely candidates.

I’ve kept those separate, & when I got home I washed them with a soft cloth (but not actually with cotton wool as instructed…), dried them & wrapped them individually in kitchen roll & they are stored in a dark drawer. They’d better win after all that!

John (the plot at the bottom) stopped by briefly for a chat, & then I set about rigging up some netting for plot a (winter brassicas). I suspect that I’ve only done a stop-gap job, & will have to make something a bit more spacious for when they grow a bit.

Part of setting up the netting meant that I had to whiz up a couple of rows of PEAS (kelvedon wonder) which would have done a hundred times better with proper support. Also, I must note for next year, that although the variety is supposed to grow to just 18” tall, this is a load of old nonsense & the supports need to be at least 2 ½ ft high if they are not going to flop everywhere & get on your nerves.

I saved the pods for drying & shelling the peas will be sown again next year & if I end up with zillions of peas, I’ll have to see about using them to cook with over winter, although I suspect that successful mushy peas are made with marrowfat peas rather than these.

I also picked one of the fruit from the SQUASH (‘redondo’ not redmolo as I’ve been calling it here!). It’s a winter squash really, for maturing & storing (like a pumpkin), but I don’t see why I can’t eat them now too, especially in the light of not having grown any summer squash (bit of an oversight there – like not having any cucumbers!). Having said that, cheery Brian & Pauline have invited me to help myself to their abundance of yellow & green courgettes, so I’m not totally bereft!

Of the five squash varieties that we have planted, there is only one which is not flowering and setting fruit - and looks a bit grim, frankly. It's the SQUASH (thelma saunders) the seeds of which I was sent by a kind member of the GRO grapevine (link on the right) & Reg-next-plot diagnoses mosaic virus - for which the cure is to dig it out and burn the plant. Drastic, but there you are, and we are therefore now down to four squash varieties...

The FRENCH BEANS (early warwick) are getting a bit big & tough now, so I’m leaving the rest to mature for shelling in due course – & now the tendergreen variety have kicked in to take their place. The climbing beans are miles behind the dwarf varieties – you seem to trade a higher yield for an earlier harvest, so it’s best to have both sorts, I think.

There are flowers on the RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) – but although I was a bit later sowing the seed this year, this time last year we were already overrun & I had a good choice to enter for the show (just look at the posters that novice neighbour Jody has designed & printed up - good eh?).
No chance of runner beans for the show this year - I’ll have to be content with entering the dwarf beans instead. There are a lot of other items that I can enter, though – although the proposed list of entries changes every time I have a look round…

Noticing that the bathroom scales seem to be creeping in the wrong direction, I thought that might cycle to the Hill tonight to pick FRENCH BEANS (tendergreen) for tea & to plant out four CAULIFLOWER (all the year round) which just fitted in the front basket snugly.

As I was puffing away (alright – I did have to get off & walk a couple of times. Well, three, actually.), I worked out that it costs about 75p in petrol every trip to the Hill, which rather ruins the economic argument for growing my own veg. It took just over twice as long as it does to drive, but whilst it’s light & dry (don’t understand how anyone can cycle in the wet when the brakes don’t work!), I really am going to have to make the effort – for purse & waistline!
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