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...........

Friday, July 31, 2009

Countdown to the Show!

With light rain this evening, gardening has been confined to scrutiny of the Show Schedule to see what I might have ready for the Big Day next weekend.

The domestic classes include jellies, chutneys, fruit cake along with the dreaded marble cake. Ingredients have been bought, & with rain forecast tomorrow, a day of mixing, beating, sieving & baking awaits...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Well, Whaddya Know!

A rain free evening meant that I finished off making bed a1 - hurrah!

I moved ten bags of horse manure up to the bed from beside the skip - although I didn't fill the bed (this will be next year's potatoes so it will welcome plenty of muck) as I was not in 'allotment' clothes & didn't want to come home reeking.

Whilst putting the tools away I saw the plot judging results on the notice board - & there we are!

'Most improved plot' - how brilliant is that?!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Here's One I Prepared Earlier...

Looking at the photos of the gooseberry & redcurrant wines from yesterday, at this stage they do look rather murky – & if the redcurrant didn’t save the day with its fine colour, you could quite rightly argue that they look pretty unappetising at the moment.

However, they will clear with time, & to illustrate the point, here is a glass of pea pod wine poured this evening which was started in August last year, & is delightfully clear as a bell.

It has a distinctively earthy taste – this is not unpleasant (it tastes ‘real’ somehow & quite the opposite of the ‘chemically’ aftertaste of some wines) – it’s just rather unexpected…

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wine Evening!

It’s been such a grey day today, much more November than late July, so this evening I got out the spare demijohns, funnel, sieve & siphon & set too with the redcurrant & gooseberry wine to take them to their respective next stages.

The gooseberry first, which needed racking off – the sediment is thick at the bottom, & the wine translucent. It was the work of a minute to siphon the good stuff into a new demijohn, then I gave it a good shake to de-gas it, then covered it & I’ll now leave it for its final settling.

Then to the redcurrant wine which has been fermenting looking pink & frothy in its two buckets – I put the sieve in the funnel & poured the buckets into each of two demijohns.

Even with the pips & pulp out the way, the volume is still slightly more than a gallon in total, so I split it evenly & popped an airlock on each, wrapped round each with a tea towel (to exclude the light so to keep the delicious colour) & they are now chuckling away in a rigorous ferment.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Plotholders, New Pond

With the weather absolutely wonderful this evening, you would have been right to bet on me being engaged elsewhere for much of it.

However, I did sneak to the Hill for a few minutes to pick sweet peas & a few FRENCH BEANS (triomphe de farcy & emperor of Russia).

I saw the dad of my young interviewer from the other day trawling barrows of muck from the skip down to the bottom to bring the plot up to scratch – Pete & Jane have just taken plot 2B behind returning allotmenteer Christine, & young A is their enthusiastic helper every other weekend.

I went down to say hello to them & to see the pond that John Badger at the bottom is installing – it just needs planting up now – so with all those frogs & toads feeling at home, at least Pete & Jane will have a head start against the slugs…

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I Shouldn't Moan .... BUT

Drizzle ALL DAY today - again.


On the plus side, I did go and buy the last pack of wood in order to finish the final raised bed, though, so I am well placed to carry on.

Assuming it stops raining at some point.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Carpentry Again...

A bit of a tatting around day today, which was a shame as if I’d have put my mind to it I could have done so much more. No matter, it’s not a race, I suppose.

I picked FRENCH BEANS (triomphe de farcy & emperor of Russia), a couple of COURGETTE (golden yellow & all green) & some sweetpeas. I then chopped off the parsnip seedheads which look dry enough for the seeds to start shedding.

Then the main job for the day was to finish constructing bed a2, now that the onions are out the way, & to start a1. I knew that I’d run out of wood & would have to get some more, but in the event I just did what I could with what I had.

I’ve been mulling over the beds for some time now, & although they are an undoubted asset & a real success in many ways, what I didn’t think about when I first started making them is the balance between the space needed for both the rotation & the permanent crops, which means that I’m struggling for room for soft fruit & a future possible asparagus bed, for example.

So a radical decision – by re-jigging the beds so they are 16’ & not 20’ long, I’ll have a 5’ or 6’ wide strip at neighbour Ted’s side of the plot which I can use for permanent crops. These can either be planted up as is, or I can make 4’ square beds at that side for fruit bushes etc – this works out rather neatly as taking the final 4’ off the existing beds, I’ll have plenty of 4’ lengths of wood ready to re-use.

Brilliant! Certainly in theory, let’s see how it works in practise…

Friday, July 24, 2009


I won’t post a pic of the bite/sting that I picked up on my wrist on Wednesday evening at the Hill, despite it being pretty impressive in an alarming itchy-swelling-of-the-extremities kinda way.

This morning it was still very hot & swollen, & at work I debated on a visit to the GP for antibiotics – breathless comments of ‘well, I read that there’s those spiders in the tropics can lay eggs under the skin & they eat feed on your flesh & the maggots burst out & kill you,” from my esteemed colleague did not do down well, I can tell you.

I nipped to see the pharmacist who was not much more use. Browsing, I took a tube of antihistamine cream ‘for bites & stings’ & a tube of hydrocortisone steroid cream ‘for bites & stings’ to the counter & proffered the offending wrist, & asked which was the more appropriate treatment.

“Well, you could use this one, which contains antihistamine, or this one which is a hydrocortisone steroid”, said the lady behind the counter, unhelpfully.

“Yeeeees, so which one would you recommend,” I asked.

“Well you could use either, really.”

Clearly they are two totally different treatments, but the deadlock was broken when I asked which was the cheapest & I now have a £3.22 tube of antihistamine cream – not that it appears to have actually made a difference to the bite/sting.

Later this evening – & with a plaster on the bite, I took mum to the Hill – she commiserated with me about losing the tomatoes & potatoes, but perked up immediately when she was let loose picking some FRENCH BEANS (emperor of Russia) & some sweet peas.

As we were picking these, John Badger (from the bottom) rolled up & gave me some good advice with regard to the biggest pumpkin competition – stopping the plants to prevent more pumpkins forming, & a feeding regime.

We managed to get away as cheery Brian & Pauline arrived, bringing with them the promise of wine to christen their new benches by their Small Shed – just as soon as we get a summer to enjoy…

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Redcurrant Wine!

Showers again today – some of them heavy – although it did clear up this evening.

So instead of going to the Hill this evening I set about starting a batch of redcurrant wine – I think that it’s worth making a note of it here rather than the usual pencil scribbled notes in the CJJ Berry’s First Steps in Wine Making.

I’ve taken 3lb of redcurrants from the freezer with 2lb 12oz of sugar dissolved in a gallon of boiling water. I’ve split the resultant mixture into 2 buckets as the volume of the redcurrants/sugar/water is more than one bucket holds, & a cooled sample shows the SG to be 1090 at the moment.

Once it cools I’ll be adding pectic enzyme then yeast a day later, & then it can be left for five days then strained into a demijohn & fitted with an airlock.

Come back in 3 months & bottle, & leave for up to a year, if you can bear to…

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Warning - Scenes of Carnage Ahead!

I'm afraid that tonight’s trip to the Hill brought no better news on the blight front – in fact the tomatoes were a real disaster zone. The potatoes looked somewhat less devastated, but still with some signs of blight infection.

I saw rhubarb Brian as I got the green bags & secateurs out the car to start the grim task of chopping down the tomatoes. “Oh, they look terrible,” he said accurately, but unhelpfully. I nodded, “I’m worried about the potatoes too – they look to have started with blight as well”. He came to have a look & said dismissively “Ach – but mine look like that!”

I give him a quick lesson in potato blight and its catastrophic consequences, citing the Irish potato famine of the mid 1800’s, & the subsequent starvation of the about a quarter of the population. Spread a little happiness, eh?

I finished chopping down & bagging the tomatoes – I don’t want to put infected greenery in the compost bin – & started on chopping the potato foliage down to the ground, which should stop blight spreading down to the tubers. I think they should be ok - the stems still look good.

I’ve read that you should leave the potatoes safe underground for a couple of weeks so that they don’t pick up blight spores from the surface of the soil, so although I had thought to dig up the last of the second early osprey potatoes to get them safely away, I’ve left them cuddled up where they are for the time being.

I was cheered up enormously once I'd stopped being the Grim Reaper & started picking some wonderful FRENCH BEANS (emperor of russia & triomphe de farcy) & a COURGETTE (yellow golden), which were delicous for tea when I got home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grey Day...

Today’s grey weather & non stop heavy drizzle has not helped the mood, although it did stop me going to the Hill & brooding about blight. If it’s remotely dry tomorrow I will be giving everything another dousing of dithane, although it’s not much good being clever after the event.

Why didn’t I spray when I first thought about it on Saturday, or when Reg-next-plot first told me he’d sprayed his spuds a couple of weeks ago? Tut.

Funnily enough, I’m not so worried about the tomatoes – I have six plants in buckets at home which give me a back up, & lack of great success the last couple of years means I haven’t got my hopes too high anyway.

No, it’s the potatoes – they’ve been so fabulous the last couple of years that I’d hate to lose them. I’ve got used to going into the garage & picking a few out for tea – & not only that, but having a choice of jackets, boilers or mashers.

I’ll dig up the last of the second early osprey potatoes when I can next get to the Hill, & I’m thinking about the maincrops too – they’ve been in 17 wks this weekend, so maybe will be big enough to dig.

Thinking ahead, the peas are coming to an end, so I want to plant the brassicas out in their place, but looking at the potbound seedlings at home (too early sowing these!), I thought I’d better get some more seeds in so I sowed BROCCOLI (raab 60 day) & CABBAGE (greyhound) along with SPRING ONIONS (white lisbon) & LETTUCE (arctic king) in a tray of modules which are definitely worth looking forward to…

Monday, July 20, 2009


That dicey dark brown patch on the tomatoes that I saw on Saturday & I idly wondered if it was blight? It has spread to virtually all the stems & lower leaves of all the tomatoes. Bugger.

I called a hasty conference between David-other-half & wood-chippings-man (called Paul, it turns out) who were both in evidence at the Hill to discuss what they thought the problem was, & if I could do anything about it.

“Perhaps it’s a deficiency of some sort – what are you feeding them” asked woodchippings Paul, rather optimistically.

“Um, well I haven’t really except for the feed they’ve got from feeding the pumpkin”, I had to admit.

“Well I had brown patches on the tomato leaves & I’ve sprayed them & they haven’t got any worse – in fact they have good new growth,” offered David. “Mind you, they didn’t look like yours do” he added, rather unhelpfully.

We agreed a plan of action which involved removing the affected leaves – maybe up to half of the total – & giving the plants a really good spray of dithane, & to see what happens, which is rather less brutal than my original ‘killer secateurs’ idea.

Now thoroughly worried about the potatoes – what looked like dying down on Saturday now looks more sinister to my eye – I went on a wild dithane spraying frenzy of those too & just hope that I’ve done enough…

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pea Variety Evaluation

That rain that was forecast for yesterday all rolled up at once today, which was a bit of a menace for anyone wanting to spend some time out of doors – e.g. anyone wanting to go to an allotment.

So with a visit to the Hill was ruled out, I turned to assess the peas for which I want to grow next year, so I cast a critical eye (& tastebuds) over the varieties grown.

I have deliberately sowed only climbing (& old fashioned heritage) varieties of peas – I think that as most peas have to have at least some support anyway, so why not make those supports a bit taller & grow a higher yielding taller variety? With the taller plants flowering & setting over a longer period of time, there’s less chance of a glut, either.

Unfortunately, the supports have not proved to be the greatest success – although the frames have been great, the sisal strings from the top of the frames to soil had a tendency to rot at the ground, so they haven’t given good support to the pea plants – next year I might use netting instead.

The other problem was the pigeons eating the pea plants – although they did recover in time, & oddly, they didn’t touch the purple podded peas at all. The later the peas were planted out, the less pigeon damage they suffered – but I think that I’ll have to devise a way to net the plants until they start to crop next year.

So, to the all important taste – there’s no disguising that the two purple podded varieties, although a treat to look at, were not good to eat straight off the pod. They are fine once cooked, though, & I’ll try them as mushy peas, too.

The only ones I haven’t tasted are the salmon flowered kindly sent by Kath, & are growing & are in flower at mums at the moment.

Robinson have long curved pods (the curve makes them a pain to shell!) & tasty peas.
Gladstone are also long curvy pods, with big tasty peas, even when older.
Ne plus ultra have flat wide pods with delicious sweet peas – out of the all, the one to grow again!
Newick have been the most prolific, great when young, but the peas aren’t that sweet when older.
Pilot are sweet, but not enormously prolific (I noticed this last year too)

So – what for next year? Definitely climbing peas again – possibly Robinson, definitely ne plus ultra, possibly newick – & on my wish list, a purple eating pea, & a mange tout…

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Questions, Questions...

The rain that was forecast for today was not in evidence this morning, so I went to the Hill keen to see what’s been going on in my absence & with a lengthy ‘to-do’ list at the ready.

The ‘most grown in three days’ award is split between the climbing beans, whipping up the canes at some speed, & the squash plants which are – frankly – barely under control. I spent some time with the squash training their leading shoots clockwise round their respective allotted spaces – I’m having my work cut out trying to keep them in some sort of order.

I dug up the RED ONIONS (electric) – they are fab, & much bigger than those which I grew last year, I must say. With these now out of the way, I can do a bit more in the way of construction of that bed (although I can’t finish it until the swede are eaten), although that’s a job of another day.

I had a little elf helper appear who helped carry the red onions to the car, whist her dad piled manure from the skip to a wheelbarrow for their new plot near the bottom. I was on the other end of some serious interrogation, but once we established how old I was, how old she was, whether I had brothers, or sisters, where my mum was, who Reg-next-plot is & what parsnips look like, she skipped back to help her dad with the muck moving.

I picked some sweetpeas, then a few of each of the eating PEAS (gladstone, newick, ne plus ultra, stephens, pilot, robinson & lancashire lad) in order to do some sensible taste test comparisons so I can consider which I would like to grow again next year.

The next job was to plant out the last of the DWARF FRENCH BEANS (fortel & speedy). The runner beans & some of the climbing beans have flowers, & by ruthlessly nipping the tops out, the plants are bushy & robust, although they are still heading upwards at a tremendous rate. I picked some of the DWARF FRENCH BEANS (emperor of Russia, early warwick & triomphe de farcy) – these taste wonderful.

I cut a COURGETTE (yellow golden), & a LETTUCE (mini gem). I’ve given up on a couple of rows of RADISH (French breakfast 3) as they have been overwhelmed by the courgette leaves, so I sowed another row were they will have a little more breathing space.

Having forgotten to bring the dithane with me, I dug up the rest of the first early POTATOES (international kidney), which taste terrific, I must say, & the POTATOES (wilja) as they were looking as though they were dying down anyway. And then I looked at the tomatoes – one of which had worrying darker patches on the stems – uh-oh – is it blight…?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rain mkII

It's warm & it's rainy.

If I was one to worry about these things I would be very concerned about blight on the potatoes & the tomatoes. As it happens, I'm not losing sleep over it - these things happen, however, I think I owe it to the spuds & tommies to go and give them a spray of dithane tomorrow - rain forecast or not.

Meanwhile, I have opened a bottle of jerusalem artichoke wine, which - contrary to popular (but, happily quite erroneous) preconception - really is rather tasty. It doesn't taste of JA's at all - which I think on balance is probably quite a good thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Well just as I wanted to go to the Hill this fine day, it started to rain, & it hasn't stopped since - but I'm sure that the plants thrive on rainwater much more than being watered with tap water, so that's ok. They can all get on with it by themselves, I'm sure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

¿Y Viva España?

A lovely evening tonight, so I went & planted out some FRENCH BEANS (contender), hoofed up the bolting LETTUCE (hsl stoke), trimmed back the SWISS CHARD (bright lights) & did some weeding in the messy roots bed.

Once this maintenance work was done, I turned to the picking – a COURGETTE (yellow golden), PEAS (lancashire lad & ne plus ultra), a few slender FRENCH BEANS (triomphe de farcy, early warwick & emperor of russia) & a big handful of sweetpeas.

Then I dug up the holiday POTATOES that I brought back from Tenerife (here being inspected by Domino the cat) – they are a white potato with red eyes. I’ll see if they taste anything like the ones over there – although I suspect not, as I think that the flavour of potatoes owes as much to the soil that they are grown in as the variety…

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Variety is the Spice of Life!

Light rain rather than just drizzle kept me away from the Hill tonight – but that didn’t stop me eating well from the fridge & freezer.

In fact, despite moaning for ages in early spring that all I had to eat was kale (which wasn’t actually true), I do seem to have good choice of veg at any one time – hurrah!

I reckon that I don’t do too badly, even compared to the supermarkets selling all veg all the year round – I have already been eating parsnip, new season kale, peas, broad & French beans, courgettes, radish, lettuce, swiss chard, potatoes, onions & garlic, rhubarb, strawberries & raspberries, & earlier in the year I was eating frozen broad beans saved from last year.

I’ve also had redcurrants, tayberries & gooseberries from other generous plotholders – & I’ve given away lettuce, sweetpeas, flower seedlings, peas, rhubarb & broad beans to others

I even ate a carrot (yes, I know it was only one!) this week, & so the only things that I would like to eat & have been missing are the aforementioned carrots, & brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower & spring cabbage – & that is because I cocked up the planting & protection.

I do still buy some fruit, satsumas mainly – which I love – & some salad stuff including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (all at the moment) & celery.

There’s a balancing act which I’ve not cracked yet – managing seed sowing such that I have the maximum length of harvest, & not have an overwhelming glut at any one time. I suspect that however long you grow, that ideal situation will always be just very slightly out of reach!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Potatoes & anti-Pessimism!

Intermittent drizzle at the Hill this evening, but it was still nice enough to go & pick some sweetpeas, PEAS (Lancashire lad), a few final BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19), to sow a seed tape of CARROTS (early nantes) & to dig the rest of the first early POTATOES (lady cristl). The tubers are rather larger than your traditional new potatoes – in fact three plants gave me this hefty trugful weighing in at about 6lb.

Thinking that I saw retired Maureen’s car heading up to the clubhouse & wanting to give her the redcurrant containers back, I headed up there when I’d finished to try & find her. It wasn’t Maureen’s car, though, it was Reg-next-plot & Mrs Reg going for the evening’s entertainment – a jazz band.

Once furnished with a drink, I went across to say hello, & also to Lionel (by the gate) who was there with them.

Lionel asked how my purple peas tasted – “well…rather better cooked than raw”, I admitted, to amusement all round. I wasn’t fooling anyone – we all know that peas straight from the pod should melt in the mouth, although I did redeem myself with the suggestion of excellent mushy peas from the purple pods. I didn’t mention that they would be purple mushy peas – thought that might be a bit of an innovation too far.

The conversation turned to the potato-in-a-growbag competition which Reg has organised – I said “I don't think that Reg thinks that mine will come to much”, to which Mrs Reg said dismissively, “oh, you don’t want to take any notice of what Reg thinks!” with a grin.

I like Mrs Reg.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Even without a Plan!

Because I did not have a particular Plan of Action at the Hill today, I have bumbled around and not achieved very much – however it really is a wonderful time of year where harvesting is concerned.

There is a real joy in picking the first of any variety of the year - something feels 'right' about eating veg when it is in it's season - & at the moment there’s nothing yet that is so overwhelming in quantity that I am getting fed up!

The plants are all big enough to suppress weeds too – most especially in the case of the pumpkin & squash which needed a severe talking to – so with the exception of the messy roots beds (a1 & a2) which have not had timber sides put round yet, the plot is pretty weed free, & picking tea is the predominant job.

I forgot to bring radish & carrots seeds with me to sow (again!) & also forgot the secateurs so I couldn’t pick any sweetpeas, but apart from those rather glaring oversights, I did pick PEAS (lancashire lad & ne plus ultra), the first few FRENCH BEANS (early warwick), the one & only CARROT (manchester table) from the first sowing, and – tonight’s prize – one of each of the COURGETTE (all green & yellow).

Did I say that it’s a wonderful time of year…?

Seed Saving!

I think that plants are pretty clever, really – a whole plant grows from a seed the size of a grain of sand & in a few short weeks gives you loads of great tasting food then set zillions of seeds per plant & off we go again.

Given that plants do this pretty readily off their own bat, it might be considered a bit rich that the seed companies charge even a couple of quid for a packet of seeds. Nonetheless, they do exactly that.

Of course, there are circumstances that the cost of seeds is justified – breeding reliable plants which have desirable properties (i.e. are tasty & pest resistant) costs seed companies an awful lot of money, which is reflected in the price, but that doesn’t explain why it costs the same to buy the seeds of old fashioned open pollinated varieties which breed true to the next generation down the line which gardeners have been growing for years.

The seeds of these plants which fall into the ‘breed true’ category & can be saved by anyone & sown the next year with confidence include peas, French beans & tomatoes.

Those which cross-breed with other varieties & so the outcome of the next generation grown is a bit of a lottery include brassicas, lettuce & squash. So I save pea & bean seeds, leeks & this year I’m saving parsnip seeds to see if they will grow ok next year.

A couple of parsnip sprouted big flower heads with clusters of yellow flowers – I chopped off all but two of the largest heads, & the seeds are formed & are now starting to ripen. I suspect that the trick will be to leave them on the plants long enough to mature, but not long enough for the seed to drop & seed themselves where they stand…

Friday, July 10, 2009

Comfrey Update!

I've been meaning to post about the three comfrey root cuttings that Bilbo kindly sent me a couple of weeks ago - not only have they survived the royal mail (not least due to excellent packaging) but also the potting on.

They looked bloody awful for about a week, but then new leaves started growing, and they look fabulous now.

Well done, plants, and thank you again, Bilbo!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sunshine & Sunflowers!

It was an evening full of summer sunshine which I spent otherwise engaged some 80 miles away from the Hill – however I did nod a ‘hello’ to Bilbo at the signs saying ‘Preston & the North’ when I turned & headed for home.

I did mean to post this picture of the self-seeded offspring of last year’s competition sunflower, which I took yesterday – it’s flowering at about 5’ so would be rubbish in this years challenge.

This year’s sunflower is about the same height, but no sign of a flower yet – which is good news – and it seems to grow while you watch it!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Vampire Exclusion Zone!

It has been cooler & fresher over the last few days, but it was still a lovely evening at the Hill.

When I arrived I saw just how much everything likes this weather – the beans racing up the poles & the squash have dinner-plate leaves.

As I dug up the last of the POTATOES (dunluce), novice neighbour Jody arrived, & he cut courgettes – round, yellow & green, & we chatted as I planted out the last of the LEEKS where the new potatoes had been.

The GARLIC has now got a bad dose of rust, so I dug up the thirty good sized bulbs, & they are now drying on the bench here at home, then I turned to picking PEAS (gladstone & stephens) & BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19 & crimson flowered).

These are all pretty much near the end of the run, but there’s more pea varieties to come, & the final batch of broad beans (witkiem manita) are in flower.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bulb Pass the Parcel!

No visit to the Hill tonight, but I spent a productive half hour sorting out the tulip bulbs which I dug up a few weeks ago & have been drying off in the mini greenhouse.

During the couple of years they've been in the front of the plot, they have grown & multiplied & now I have lifted, split sorted them - I have plenty of tulips now! So many that I've kept some of the very largest ones for replanting, & I've offered the rest of the big & medium sized ones out on the GYO Grapevine seed swap.

I also sorted the daffodil bulbs & the shallots (keeping the two very separate!) & put those in the garage, & that has made room in the mini greenhouse for onions, which have been not getting very dry on the bench...

Monday, July 06, 2009

Crops & Chats!

At the risk of repetition, tonight’s trip to the Hill involved picking PEAS (newick, Gladstone & stephens), BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19) & digging POTATOES (dunluce), however it also involved picking sweetpeas, & Jane on picking duties too, so also a great deal of talking!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Picking Dinner!

Just a quick trip to the Hill this evening in order to plant out the last of the CLIMBING FRENCH BEANS (purple giant) & some DWARF FRENCH BEANS (delinel & tendergreen), & to pick some veg for tea, including PEAS (newick), BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered) & a POTATO (dunluce)

I forgot to take the radish & carrot seed to sow again, but I did at least remember to cut a huge bunch of sweetpeas...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Lists, Onions & Peas!

There was a lot that I wanted to do today, so I made a list, of which I did about half. Of course it didn’t help the ‘sow carrots & radish’ items that I left the seed at home, but even so, a lot of my intentions ran away from me.

I started off tying in & side shooting the tomatoes – Reg-next-plot was around & I asked him about whether & at what point I should pinch the tops out – no point have great gangling plants with millions of flowers & tiny tomatoes if the plant runs out of steam & they don’t grow & ripen nicely. “Let the cherry & small tomatoes get on with it – just stop the plants growing taller than the canes – & larger tomatoes should have each truss of flowers stopped to about half a dozen”, he advised.

We looked at my competition pumpkin – I’d thought to train it round & round it’s permitted 4’ by 4’ space, but Reg suggested letting it ramble through the tomatoes – it’ll keep the weeds down & the moisture in. Right-o.

I did some serious PEA (newick, gladstone & stephens) & BROAD BEAN (barry plot 19 & crimson flowered) picking, then set about he onions. I eased all the ONION (senshyu yellow) sets out & put them all in the car for drying off at home, then picked a mixed bowl of strawberries, raspberries & tayberries (from rhubarb Brian).

John Badger was watering at rhubarb Brian’s – he was on fine form, & showed me round his plot to show me how everything is getting on (very well, I must say) – he has a really impressive vine in the greenhouse, & after talking to him, & studying it, I came home & eyed mine up. I suspect that there is rather more to vine pruning than chopping off the wayward bits which is what I do at the moment.

Home with the windows open to prevent suffocation by onion, then a therapeutic hour of pea & bean podding & blanching for the freezer.

It was only as I got home that I realised that besides forgetting to take the seed packets to the Hill this morning, I have totally forgotten to cut any of my sweetpeas to take home.

So that’s the start of a new list for tomorrow…

Friday, July 03, 2009

Food for Thought, Too

Now that the redcurrant jelly has cooled completely I can hazard a slightly better guess as to how it has turned out – clear & rich, with a softish set, I think.

The jury is out until Sunday when I cook lamb shanks – marinated in red wine, redcurrant jelly, garlic & rosemary, I’ll brown the lamb & add finely chopped shallots & the marinade & cook in a low oven, I think.

I took mum to the Hill tonight for her to pick some PEAS (newick) & BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered) when Julie (2nd best plot) came down & turning to mum said “I’m taking young K to the caravan for a few days, & although Phil may come & pick some veg for his & S’s dinners, he most certainly won’t be picking flowers - please come & help yourself to some sweet peas!”

So we picked a couple of portions of PEAS (newick) & BROAD BEANS (crimson flowered for mum & a bag of PEAS (stephens & newick) & BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19) for shelling & freezing we went to Julie’s plot to pick an enormous fistful of sweet peas.

On the way home mum looked at the bags of peas & broad beans and asked the perspicacious question “why do you grow so much?” which has given me some pause for thought.

The best answer I can give is that you sow more than you need because in the dark days of early spring when you are sowing seeds, you still cannot believe that these 10 little peas in the palm of your hand are possibly going grow to give hundreds of pods with 10 peas in each in the space of just a few weeks.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Using the Harvest...

Still unforgivingly close today – so rather than a trip to the Hill, I made the most of the evening engaged in what we used to call Domestic Science at school.

First up was transferring the gooseberry wine from the bucket into the demijohn – it’s fermenting in rather a fearsome manner! The gooseberry pips sinking to the bottom conflicting with the yeast action releasing gas produce a fascinating 1970’s lava lamp effect in the demijohn.

Then I bottled May’s rhubarb wine – but made a botch of the siphoning, so I have five sealed bottles, a bottle of murk which is re-clearing upstairs & a glassful which tastes rather good actually! A little sweeter than the previous batch & light & fruity too – brill!

Tonight’s challenge was to produce redcurrant jelly at the correct consistency – i.e. set, but not rock hard. I followed the recipe in Marguerite Pattern’s Jams preserves & chutneys, supplemented by the invaluable advice with regard to times taken to reach setting point from the GYO Grapevine.

After a rolling boil for 13 minutes it looked like a set & I whipped the whole lot into hot jars & sealed, & looking at the sample left over in a dish in the fridge, I am rather optimistic…

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Redcurrants into Jelly!

A very sweaty day indeed here – humid as you like, & thermometer is measuring 22C as I type. This made cycling to the Hill tonight an thoroughly unpleasant prospect, so I gave in to the luxury of the air conditioned car – I could go & sit in it right now, frankly.

Just pausing to train the leading shoots of the squash plants round the edges of the beds that they have now romped on to reach, I came home with a tub of BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19) & PEAS (newick & stephens) with the intention of freezing (although I ran out of time so they are in the fridge to do tomorrow) & a huge bunch of sweetpeas.

Following a conversation with my neighbour Patti yesterday – half of which I agreed with her on (about the cachet of home made preserves) & half of which I most certainly did not (about the undesirability of country wines) – I decided to turn some of the redcurrants picked yesterday into redcurrant jelly.

I know that preserve making has not been one of my more notable successes, but the jelly looks so easy! Step one was to gently heat 4lb of redcurrants in a large pan to release the juices -with a little help from the potato masher - then strain through a jelly bag.

There was an element on improvisation involved here which involved a pressing cloth (which in turn started life as a sling from when I broke my wrist at the age of 9. To be fair, there’s not a great demand for a pressing cloth in this house – but thankfully even less call for a sling), but the resulting juice looks very good, & it’s ready for the tricky add-sugar-&-boil-‘til-setting-point bit, which I will tackle tomorrow.
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