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...........

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…
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