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...........

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Charity Begins ... At The Shops!

I had a stroke of luck at lunchtime. Although charity shops don't often keep demijohns as they are big & fragile, it's worth asking when you go by, & today one of our local shops had three - two brown & a clear.

"I wish you'd take them all off my hands, blooming big wotsits," grumbled the assistant, but I only wanted the clear one really. I was glad of my decision when she charged me £1.99 for the one - well over the going rate in my view! That made me feel a bit mean - perhaps you shouldn't begrudge the money going to such a good cause. But the last ones were only 50p each.

Anyway, with that prize in my grasp, it does mean that I can get another batch of wine underway - I'm rushing though as many batches of apple wine as I can, as there's still quite a boxful in the garage & it would be such a shame for them to go off.

I set about Apple mkIII, chopping 6lb of apples & simmering in water for 15 mins then straining onto 2 1/2 lbs of sugar & the rind of a lemon. It's cooling now, & I'll add concentrate, lemon juice, yeast nutrient & yeast when it has cooled tomorrow.

There's about 4lb of apples left in the box, so maybe apple & redcurrant wine for the next experiment - then I think that is quite enough for the time being!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bean Planting Plan...

I made a quick trip to the Hill this evening to pick drying bean pods - blauhilde, triomphe de farcy & bird's egg (or were they climbing barlotti...?)

Although I was quite sensible in planting total different varieties side by side down each side of the bean frame, so I could easily tell which variety is which, I wasn't quite so clever in making sure that totally different varieties were grown opposite each other.

Some of the beans sneaked up their opposite counterpart's poles - which is fine when you have two sets of beans like 'polish' (heavy black streaked pods) and 'pea bean' (greeny-yellow pod), as they are easy to tell apart when picking.

But if they are very similar varieties - like 'bird's egg' & 'climbing barlotti', well they are pretty indistinguishable inside and out. I can't be sure I've kept them separate so I've bunged them all in together.

They'll still taste as good, I'm sure, & if I do want 'proper' seed for next year I'll worry about it nearer the time - it's not like I'm short of varieties to try...

Monday, September 28, 2009

What's In A Name?

I sent an email to John-the-accountant the other day asking him if he liked lemon curd. "You bet!" he replied, so I've looked out a jar of the marrow cream to take with me next time I see him.

Then it struck me that it me that although he said that he loved lemon curd - & the marrow cream tastes like lemon curd - I can't see him & his family tucking into marrow cream with quite the same gusto.

Given the amount of squash I plan to use for this purpose, & given it tastes great but has an unattactive name - I think I need to give it a re-brand. All suggestions as to what as, are most welcome...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Notes & Queries

I put the elderberry & apple wine into one demijohn this afternoon & measured the SG whilst I was at it. It's down to 994, & still fermenting, so this is set to be another dry one unless I do something.

I added a couple of ounces of sugar (which has raised the SG to 998), & I might add a bit more in a few days as I think that I should probably be aiming for a finished SG of just under 1.000.

Twinsane has asked me about the baked beans that I made yesterday - it was nominally taken from 1000 classic recipes p172 (a cookery book that has had much use over the years despite no pictures and a rubbish index), but I did tweak it a little - and I made half of these quantities. Here it is in full:

Home-Made Baked Beans

450g haricot beans, soaked overnight & drained (I used bird's egg & barlotti)
(actually the recipe says 450 haricot beans, but I presume that I wasn't supposed to count them and the 'g' had been left off by mistake)
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
2tbsp black treacle or molasses (I used treacle)
1/2 pt water
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp milk
pinch basil, salt & pepper
225g tomatoes skinned & chopped.
I added in a 225g pack of smoked lardons, & a generous squeeze of tomato puree.
  • Simmer beans, bay leaves & cloves for an hour & a half, drain & discard bay leaves & cloves
  • Dilute treacle with water & mix in flour made into a paste with the milk
  • Add basil & seasoning
  • Put beans in greased casserole dish cover with tomatoes & the sauce & bake on gas 4 for an hour.
Lovely! It freezes well, too.

Finally, Veg Heaven commented the other day that the 'polish' french beans looked similar to the 'bird's egg' variety.
They are about the same size, with the same markings, but as the photo here (just about!) shows, they have different background colours - mauve for the polish on the left, creamy for the bird's egg on the right.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bean Feast!

I wanted to get a load more of the beans picked today - it's still dry & sunny - & then I thought I might tackle the next gooseberry bush & continue tidying that side of the plot ready for putting the permanent crop beds in at some point over the winter.

In the event I didn't do any of the latter items, but I did get more than I bargained for bean-wise.

I picked a carrier bag each of FRENCH BEANS (birds egg, cherokee trail of tears & black turtle beans) & as I finished this, indomitable Fran, cup in hand, called over. "Here's a cup of tea for you, & would you like to help yourself to as many as you like of the seed from our climbing beans?"

Fabulous on both counts, obviously.

"The beans are a flat yellow bean - not sure what they are now, might have been 'hunter'." All of the beans were very dry & the pods rattled - I picked a good carrier bag full, & found that the seeds are quite small - but I was thrilled when I started to pod them later to find that they are a beautiful pure white haricot - can't wait to start cooking with those.

I then took the netting off the brassicas and picked about a million caterpillars which are intent on scoffing the cabbage, sprouts & calabrese - one of which had a small head forming with I cut for tea tonight.

I took a couple of SQUASH (red kuri), SWEETCORN (tender & sweet) & a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless) down to John Badger at the bottom for his hamper that he will be raffling at the club house tomorrow, along with a pot each of runner bean & beetroot & jerusalem artichoke chutney, then came home.

I shelled the driest of the various french beans, then set about turning the beans which had been soaking overnight into baked beans. They need ages to cook, but it's an easy recipe & taste is cracking - bring on the beans!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beanz Meanz...Well, Not Heinz, Anyway!

Now that I have a serious quantity of beans, I thought I'd better look for a serious number of bean recipes. Baked beans seems a pretty good choice to start with so I've found a recipe which includes treacle & tomatoes & half a pound of climbing barlotti beans which are soaking overnight ready to cook tomorrow.

Of course I've always looked at beans as being a bit of padding with not a lot of taste, but vegetarians have to eat something & they're OK if you like that sort of thing, but give me a steak any day.

I do give them their place with sausages, or in a stew or to make mince go a bit further, but it's only now that I come to look at some recipes, that I have rather more enthusiasm.

By chance, I caught the end of a Jamie Oliver programme C4 this evening & - damn me - if he wasn't cooking barlotti beans too in a delicious looking dish which I must have a go at too.

Wonder if I've grown enough beans...?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Autumn Harvest!

It's been so dry in September that I know that I'll have to keep an eye on the beans drying on the plants - I don't want to find that all the pods have split open & the beans have re-sown themselves!

So I popped to the Hill this evening - just for half an hour, it's pretty much dusk at 7pm now. I was right to be concerned about the beans - although some stalwarts still have tender pods for eating (notably the FRENCH BEAN (purple giant) so I picked a few of these for tea), others are dry & rattly & more that ready for harvesting.

So I started to strip some of the varieties of FRENCH BEANS (polish, early warwick & pea bean), then picked some sweetcorn cobs (which I've frozen), COURGETTE (golden yellow & all green bush) & a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless)

The beans are spread out upstairs on newspaper for the pods to dry further (these are some of the drier ones podded - polish on the left, pea bean on the right), then they can be podded & stored in jars ready for all those wonderful winter casseroles.

Pretty, ain't they?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Elderberry & Apple Wine

The elderberry & apple wine continues to froth at an alarming rate - I might put it into a couple of demijohns tomorrow, but at the moment it's fizzing away like mad in a bucket.

It's a lovely colour too.

Promising. Very promising.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Giving & Receiving & Giving Again

John Badger at the bottom sent a note round to all everyone at the Hill a couple of weeks ago asking for donations of any spare produce to make up a hamper to raffle off this weekend at the clubhouse.

I'll put in a couple of the red kuri squash, a couple sweetcorn cobs, & a couple of jars of chutney. I toyed with the idea of donating the 'olive' squash, but figured that it would be rather bigger than the hamper, so discounted that thought.

On a separate note, JB has been nurturing a grapevine in his greenhouse & now that the bunches of grapes are ripening, he's asked me to take the bunches & make wine with them.

He dropped me a note today, "Its great to be able to look forward to some home made wine. Help yourself. They are only small but sweet," thus demonstrating a great deal of confidence in my wine making abilities...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Well, It's a Start...

I sat down this evening with the part of the seedbox which is 'veg but not peas or beans' & sorted all the seed packets into 'keep - for next year, or maybe the year after' & 'I really can't see me getting this sown'.

The exercise means that I now have 38 seed packets for redistribution to others - coo - & it raised a number of interesting questions:

1 why do I have a packet of lovely purple brocolli, a packet of heritage green brocolli - both excellent & on the 'keep' pile - yet I also have two identical packets of Mr F bog standard brocolli?
2 why do I have three unopened packets of beetroot? Not being hugely keen, I grow half a packet a year for chutney, and not even that this year.
3 why do I have achocha seeds from Veg Heaven and the seed swap parcel, yet I have about 3 million seeds to save from my own plant this year - and it is a contender for world's most boring veg?
4 Why have I kept the packet of celery seeds when the only time I grew celery in was so stringy it was inedible, and the wine I made from it was vile too?
5 Why do I have so many seeds that I can quite comfortably give away 6 types of tomato & 3 types of pepper without blinking...?
...etc, etc...

I am happy, though, as I can now get all the seeds in the box - just the peas, beans & flower seeds to go now...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sweet Marrow Cream & Dry Wine

Although the weather has been lovely today, & I could have gone to the Hill, I decided to don my pinny & have a day of domesticity instead.

First up was to continue with the Marrow Cream - I put the steamed squash into the food processor with juice & zest of 3 lemons (actually, 2 & a half lemons & half a grapefruit - the other half of the lemon having graced a g&t the other day). Then I boiled this up with a couple of pounds of sugar & 6oz of butter stirring continuously for a very boring half an hour & potted the result up.

I must say that it tastes very good indeed - exactly like lemon curd - an absolute winner! So thanks must go to Nic on who's blog I first came across the recipe, and to It's Raining Plums compiled by Xanthe Clay where I saw a very similar recipe a few days later.

With the jars labelled up, I turned to one or two wine jobs to be done - the redcurrant wine started in July is clear, so I wanted to bottle that to free up a demijohn. I took the final SG reading (986, giving a 14% strength) & had a taste & found it to be on the dry side - fruity, but definitely dry.

I had a bit of a brainwave - the first batch of apple wine is shaping up to be rather sweet, so why don't I try my hand at blending the two? So the redcurrant is now back in a dark demijohn waiting for the apple to settle out, and we'll see how we get on from there.

The second batch of apple wine has calmed down enough to be put into one rather full demijohn - I measured the SG at 992, so already this is shaping up to be drier than the first batch, but then again, it wasn't as sweet to start off with.

Finally, my 'make it up as you go along' wine. Pointed in the right direction by Retired Maureen yesterday, I picked a whole heap of elderberries from a tree at the Hill at the back of David-other-half's plot. When I stripped them from the stalks with a fork at home & weighed them I found that I only had 2lb, not the 3lb need for a batch of elderberry wine.

I had a dither whether to add some redcurrants from the freezer, but decided to add a couple of pounds of apples instead from the garage. I boiled the apples, crushed the elderberries, added 3lb of sugar to get an SG of 1092, yeast & nutrient, a teaspoon of citric acid for good measure, & away it goes...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Making Edges & Marrow Cream

Although I did get a lot done today at the Hill, I did spend an awful long time doing it.

I wanted to make some headway with that side of the plot by neighbour Ted (where I plan to put in beds for the permanent crops & fruit) which is getting pretty shabby & overgrown. Although I can't put these beds in until all of the existing beds are shorted to their new 16' length, there is still work to be done in that area.

First off was to get rid of the next gooseberry bush - there were five of these altogether & with two down (& scratches healed!) I took the fork to the next in line.

At that point the lady from the stables arrived with a trailerful of horse muck, we chatted as we unloaded the bags from the trailer, & I picked some sweetcorn cobs for her to take. "Well, this takes me back!" she laughed "when I lived in Bermuda they cooked corn cobs at the side of the road - wonderful!"

Just as I was wondering why the devil she had moved back here, Woodchipping Paul arrived & so I helped him to empty the manure bags into the skip, keeping half a dozen to put on my own compost heap. A good - if mucky - workout.

Back with the gooseberry bush, disaster struck when I gave the fork one heft too many, & the shaft broke. Fortunately it was the 'spare' fork with the uncomfortable handle & wonky tines which seemed to arrive with the plot - the trusty Spear & Jackson stainless steel fork made a rather better job it, admittedly after a great deal of effort.

I then set about pruning the currant bushes - not sure quite how this was supposed to go, but ended up with an 'open goblet' shape on each one when I finished, so I was happy with that. Finally I whacked the whole area over with a spade and rake to level. Much better.

By this time, the compost bin was precariously full of cuttings and weeds, so I decided to call it a day, picking a SQUASH (olive), FRENCH BEANS (purple giant & dried early warwick), SWEETCORN (tender & true), CUCUMBER (burpless tasty green) & RUNNER BEANS (essex bb & reg-next-plot) to take home.

After a well needed bath, I set about making some marrow cream with the squash picked earlier - peeling, scooping out the seeds, chopping and steaming - it's supposed to be rather like lemon curd, which sounds yummy. It makes me wonder if it is so lovely, why I have never heard of it before...?

Friday, September 18, 2009

This is How it Should Be!

I am incredibly smug - it might have taken three years, but I reached the point tonight when even though I had nothing prepared for dinner, I could just take a store cupboard ingredient (in this case spaghetti), add all home-stuff & come out with a delicious meal!

So that was fried up courgette (green & yellow), onion, chocolate pepper (photo), garlic & tomatoes mixed in with the spaghetti & garnished with a good handful of basil - scoffed in about a minute as it was so lovely.

Oh, it was washed down with a glass of grapefruit wine - which is pretty spot-on too.

I do know that my smugness will not last, as all those just happen to be fresh in the fridge at the same time as this is the time of year, but I do feel like I've 'arrived' somehow!

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Well I did have a sort through my seed box tonight.

Er - I do have rather a lot of seed packets, & this is after I put a whole heap of seed packets into the seed swap parcel which I had a few weeks ago.

The list of seed looks like this:

Unusual veg - 7 varieties/packets
Root veg - 26 varieties/packets
Beans - 35 varieties/packets
Peas - 14 varieties/packets
Brassica - 18 varieties/packets
Salad veg - 54 varieties/packets
Herbs - 3 varieties/packets

I originally had a list of an astonishing 37 types of vegetable detailed separately - but thought the list might look rather less lavish grouped into categories, but I'm really not so sure now...

Must get a grip!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Did THAT Happen?

I thought a rather enjoyable job would be to start looking through the various seed packets & start to form some sort of opinion about what I'd like to grow next year - which varieties are a definite 'yes' & a definite 'no'.

Of course I know that there will be a grey area - particularly with some of the peas & beans as although I will not necessarily want to grow pea X again next year, I might not want to do away with it forever.

But I did think that if I started to sort the seeds into different veg, at least I would be able to see if I have - say - 8 varieties of carrot, or something.

I got disheartened with this virtually immediately because there are just so many packs of seeds - I don't remember putting all of these in the box - & I need to be in a much more ruthless frame of mind than I am tonight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wine Matters

It has not escaped my notice that I still have a freezer full of redcurrants & a garage full of apples, & if I want to store anything else in the freezer, or use the apples before they go off, I'd better step up wine production.

All this means in practice is that I should jog thing along a little, & to be a bit less tardy about getting the stuff bottled & stored.

So today I bottled the iffy gooseberry & rhubarb wine - by the time I've taken a generous jugful out to make risotto, & had a couple of extended testing sessions, I have just three full bottles which will be kept for some months to see if it improves.

That left a demijohn free to transfer the latest batch of apple wine into from its fermenting bucket (the other half going into a spare demijohn). I split the wine into two halves as it is just over a gallon in total - once racked it will be just about on the nose - & given the vigorous ferment, if it was in one over-full demijohn it would go mad frothing up through the airlock, so it's chuckling away in the two demijohns now.

Finally I racked the first batch of apple wine - it still has the odd bubble showing, but having re-read CJJ Berry's words of wisdom that stale yeast can taint wine, I thought that racking it off might not be a bad thing.

In the process, I measured the SG at 1002, and had a taste. I don't think that it's quite finished 'working' yet, but at present it is lined up as being on the sweet side - which will suit mum down to the ground - but at over 15% it's not to be bandied about with abandon at the ladies luncheon circuit...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Something MUST Be Done!

It was lovely to receive a package through the post today courtesy of Vegetable Heaven which containing some heritage climbing pea seeds for me to try next year, along with some huge white butter beans.

These seeds are rather the straw that has broken the camel's back in terms of the seed box capacity, so I will have to have a serious look at what I would like to grow next year very soon.

And when I say 'the seed box' that doesn't include the basket upstairs in the attic room which is gradually filling up with paper bags of peas and beans...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Seeds, Sets & Sweetcorn

I'm thinking ahead for the next season (putting aside the embarrassingly high number of seeds in the seedbox, for the moment), in particular with regard to planting overwintering onions & garlic.

Although there is no great rush to get these in (they will go in either of the plot d (misc.) beds once cleared of squash/sweetcorn/pumpkin/courgette), I know from experience that if I hang on more that a couple of weeks, the holiday will suddenly be upon me & then it'll be into November before you know it.

I'm already resigned to more expensive onion sets this year - Wilko's price doubled this year to £2 for a bag of 50 - so decided to wander around the local Wyvale garden centre, just up the road from the Hill.

I had a thoroughly good mooch - especially round the 'all seeds for 50p a pack' section. Managed to resist all but a packet of tomatillo seeds (totally swayed by a fellow gardener's blog entry where she's made salsa), & a packet of red cabbage sprouting seeds.

You are supposed to sow these like cress and eat them as titchy seedlings, and so there are zillions of seed in the packet, but I can't see why they can't be grown on like proper full size red cabbages - in which case, the size of the seed packet makes this the bargain of the century, especially at 50p.

I found the onion sets - & bought the same varieties as before for £3.40 for 100 sets each of red onions 'electric' & white onions 'senshyu yellow'.

I did some sums on spacing to see how much room I need, & it looks like I have just about the right amount (along with the garlic sowing) to fill either bed d1 or d2, leaving the other free for starting root crops in the spring of parsnip & carrots, along with some shallots.

I called at the Hill on the way home in order to see if there were any courgettes ready, & to pick any dry pods from the FRENCH BEAN (early warwick) plants. I picked a few RUNNER BEANS (essex bb & reg-next-plot), FRENCH BEANS (purple giant) & the first SWEETCORN (tender & true).

I ate the sweetcorn there and then - yum yum - & also picked some bolting LETTUCE (little gem) - if there is a reason why you can't pick the leaves of these and eat them in a salad, I'll find out once I've had them for tea tonight.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Front of Plot Dilemmas...

An astonishingly efficient morning at the Hill - although I was beset by a conundrum which almost scuppered my plans.

I'd planned to clear the summer bedding, replant the daffodil & tulip bulbs & to plant out the winter flowering pansies - but looking at the front of the plot, it did seem rather mean to rip out snapdragons and nasturtiums which were still flowering.

As I was dithering about this, secretary Haydn came down, and asked whether I'd consider serving on the committee - I declined on the grounds of a lack of time but suggested that returning allotmenteer Christine might be interested. He also advised whipping out the summer bedding.

Soon after, Rhubarb Brian came past & I asked him the same. "You should do what you want to do"," he rather unhelpfully suggested.

I grasped the nettle (actually, literally), and whipped out all but one magnificent plant which is clearly still in its prime. I have no idea what it is - it did strike me later that it might be a weed, but it's pretty enough to stay for the time being.

I popped all the daffodil & tulip bulbs in along the edge of the final bed (d2) & the winter flowering pansies in front. They do look rather lost at the moment, but I don't want to make the same mistake of cramming too much in, as I did with the summer bedding.

Happy with what I'd done, I picked some runner beans then went home by lunchtime, later making some Sarah Raven's pumpkin soup which is utterly delightful.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wine Worries

I really am persevering with this gooseberry & rhubarb wine & it is still tasting -uh - cardboardy, & I still don't know what's gone wrong with it.

I certainly don't want to give cheery Brian & Pauline a bottle & say, "here you go, this might be OK cook with," when I have used 3lb of their lovely gooseberries to make it with.

The compromise is to give them a bottle of redcurrant wine - there's plenty of it, and it's zesty, fruity, smooth - & you don't have to pull a face when you drink it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Making the Most of...


I put my pinny on tonight & got a big pan out to 'do something' with all the tomatoes that have been gradually ripening on the six remaining tomato plants that are in the courtyard garden.

I heated up some oil and chopped a couple of celery sticks, some garlic cloves, red onions & a large courgette.

Then I picked six delightfully shiny PEPPERS (mini bell) from the mini greenhouse chopped and deseed them & then skinned a the big bowl of tomatoes & added them in too.

Half an hour & a pinch of basil & thyme later I had the most delightful, sweet ratatouille ever!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sharing Squash...

Nipped to the Hill late afternoon on my way to a meeting with a colleague - I was going to take him some FRENCH BEANS (purple giant), but there weren't really enough, so I picked just a few for me along with some RUNNER BEANS (essex bb & reg-next plot) & FRENCH BEANS (barlotti jody & early warwick) along with a couple of COURGETTE (golden yellow & all green bush).

I didn't go to my meeting empty handed, though, I took John-the-accountant a beautiful bright orange SQUASH (red kuri). The fruit are plentiful - about eight good sized ones on each of the two plants - & are about 8" in diameter.

I didn't have a bag with me so it did form rather a conversation piece as it sat on the table between us...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Gooseberry Wine Conundrum

The gooseberry & rhubarb wine is proving to be somewhat troublesome, & I really don't know why. It has cleared, but has a slight haze to it - and it tastes, well, not great. Not fruity even, but ... cardboardy?

The SG is down to 992, but it has sat in a demijohn & not got any clearer for the last two months. I think that if I bottle it as is, & give a bottle to cheery Brian & Pauline to thank them for letting me have the gooseberries, they will be sorely disappointed, except it could be used in cooking.

Mind you, the second test glass that I had this evening did taste rather better than the first...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Runner Bean Freezing

Because I think that runner beans freeze really well, & that I find that french beans don't, I've started to squirrel any runners I pick into the freezer - & I'm eating platefuls of delicious tender, sweet french beans (I'm knee deep in them) & enjoying every single one.

I have forgotten if I blanch the runner beans or not - the broadies definitely do get a minute or two in boiling water, then ice water, are dried in a tea towel & packed in bags, & the peas either do or don't depending on my mood - but I'm scratching my head with regard to the runners.

I've decided that I think that they should be blanched - although I'll be appalled if they turn soggy/slimy on cooking from frozen, so I must check by eating some before any more get the same treatment...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Advice Shop!

Today's aim was to take down the sweetpeas & the last pea frame. I also thought about taking the summer bedding from the front of the plot, replacing it with the winter flowering pansies bought yesterday & replanting the tulip & daffodil bulbs at the same time.

However, looking at the front of the plot, it seems a shame to whip the flowers out while some of them are still going strong. The calendula are well past their best, but the antirrhinum & nasturtium as still looking good along with a mystery plant with purple foliage & blue lantern flowers.

I took the last pea frame down & then fixed the bed end in properly - since shortening the bed the other week, I hadn't got round to screwing the end plank in.

As I was putting the last screws in, Paul (at the front by the gate) came across & said, "Can I pick your brains?"
"Well, of course," I replied taking a couple of screws out my mouth and putting down the cordless, "how can I help?"
"It's this winter digging - do you do it in autumn, or wait till the new year?"
"Given then you'll be digging the plot over in early spring anyway, I stick a huge layer of manure on the top in the autumn, & then turn it in about February."

It was only after he'd gone that I realised that I hadn't asked him about where his roots were going to be next year, & not to manure that area - otherwise he'll have forked parsnips & carrots, so that wasn't the best of advice, really, was it?

Next past the plot was Jane from the bottom, and I asked her how her & Pete were getting on. "Well, we've nearly cleared the plot - it's felt so much like hard work!" she grinned.
"It's tough to take on a plot in late summer with not a lot to show for it until well into Spring the next year, isn't it?" I sympathised, "but Homebase are selling trays of brassica seedlings for £1.99, so you could at least get something in the ground."

No sooner had she gone than Julie (2nd best plot) walked down, and said "Can I pick your brains?" Well, I'm feeling like a gardening guru now - if Julie's asking me for advice! "I've got barlotti beans with the pods quite big & going red - when can I pick them? I need the space for the spring cabbages."

I told her about shelling out the immature beans & freezing them if she didn't want to leave the pods to fully mature & the beans to dry, & she said, "well, I didn't know that!" & "would you like a few spare spring cabbage?" & as now had a gap where the pea frame was, I most certainly did, thank you very much.

Julie also asked if I'd like to cut some dahlias too, so once the spring cabbage were planted out and the bed snugly netted over, I went and cut these vibrant blooms & headed home.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Birmingham Gardener's Weekend

We had a lovely day out today at the Birmingham Gardener's Weekend, organised by Birmingham Council & held at Kings Heath Park.

Most of the sellers had plants for sale (as opposed to the plastic gadgets, wellington boots, ornamental ironwork, benches, wind chimes & all manner of other gardening fripperies), so I bought some winter flowering pansies for my hanging baskets at home & for the front of the plot.

As well as the show gardens, there was a Societies tent in which were wool spinners & weavers, bee keepers, bonsai growers, begonia clubs & fuchsia societies all showing off their skills, & the Allotments tent which had the Show classes all laid out.

Fantastic displays of all sorts of veg, as well as the wonderful 'collection' classes which were entered by the various allotment societies throughout the City.

Mum pointed out the skill of a particular entrant who's name cropped up on many first placed exhibits of both flowers and vegetables saying, "He is so skilled - dahlias, gladioli - and look at that 'foliage arrangement' - it's lovely!"

"I think that whatever the size of your show, the same clever what-nots are going to keep winning the prizes," I mused, "although quite how he's found the time to stage all these entries, I don't know."

The only surprise for me was the lack of seed merchants - in fact Robinson (the mammoth veg people) were the only one I saw. Their onion sets - although undoubted winners - were rather on the dear side, so it's back to Wilko in the week for them, I think.

We popped up to the Hill on the way home, picking a couple of pounds of raspberries from cheery Brian & Pauline's plot, as invited, & a bag full of RUNNER BEANS (essex bb & reg-next-plot) & FRENCH BEANS (barlotti jody & purple giant).

I had to make some running repairs to the bean frame - a slight variation on the design for next year, I think.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Rasperries & Rhubarb Wine

Dave-next-door came round earlier & said, "You know, those purple beans you gave us this week - well they were gorgeous! So sweet!"

Which they are actually, & tender even when pretty hefty in size. They aren't my favourite dried bean - flat & brown & a bit boring - but delicious fresh, & I think they'll earn a place on the plot next year.

It's been a pretty good evening, actually - I had a text from Cheery Brian & Pauline earlier saying that as they were off to the wedding tomorrow, & so would I like to help myself to the raspberries?

Well, I don't need asking twice, so I'll be taking a punnet to the Hill tomorrow for filling!

And tonight I've opened a bottle of April's rhubarb wine, & very tasty it is too. I mentioned that I was going to open it to colleague Rita, & she said, "You told me I had to wait until Christmas to open my bottle!"

Ahh, did I? Oops!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Wine Racking

The current batch of redcurrant wine seems to have stopped bubbling, & a layer of sediment has built up at the bottom, which means that it is time for racking off.

Although I could leave siphoning off the good wine from the gunk until the wine is clear - & in fact go straight to bottling at that point, in theory - racking the wine off when it has finished fermenting to get the dead yeast out the way is generally considered to be a good thing, & once this is done the wine can get on with the job of settling out.

Of course, each time wine is racked, you lose a bit, but I cunningly accounted for that when I made the batch up - there is more than a gallon in total (i.e. a gallon of water added to the redcurrants, then the sugar added on top), which is why the wine has been split in half and has been fermenting away in two demijohns, each a little over half full.

Racking both of the demijohns off into a bucket, I cleaned one out, kept aside a glassful for testing the SG (& for tasting, lets be honest), then poured the wine back into the demijohn & it is now back under an airlock & will be left to clear.

The SG is just under 990, making the strength of the wine an astonishing 15% - so best be a bit careful with this one.

And the taste? Fruity!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Autumn Evenings...

There has been rain throughout the afternoon & evening, & a distinctly chillier feel in the air than of late.

And it was dark by just after 7.30pm this evening - talk about the nights drawing in!

I guess that's the way of things, and I should be looking forward to pumpkin soup, and roast parsnips & leek gratins, which I am - but we seem to have missed out on summer a bit though.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Didn't We Have A Lovely Time ...

Being August Bank Holiday yesterday, it was predictably grey & cool, but that didn't stop me going to a garden centre with mum. I was after some brassica seedlings as I have sown mine far too early & more or less all the seedlings have failed in one way or another.

The trip to Dobbies didn't start well - the coffee was great, but no, they don't do toasted teacakes. Extraordinary!

No matter, we had a browse through the books, clothes, seeds, pet section & sundries before finding the plant section. 'Not very well signed, is it?' said mum, wanderling around trying to find the climbers, '& I can't see anyone to ask.'

I found the vegetable seedlings, though - but at £4.99 for a tray of just six spring cabbage, it would be cheaper to buy the finished article in Tesco, so I thought better of it. A chap to my left was browsing & turned his nose up too, saying 'I think I'll go to the farm a couple of miles up the road to get mine,' the location of which I quizzed him about further.

After a turn round the food section & separate clothes store, off we went - mum having found a clematis to her satisfaction (a pot version which doesn't grow more than 3-4' high - perfect for an ironwork mini pergola that she has) - to find the farm a couple of miles away, which sadly didn't turn out to have any brassica seedlings in stock.

However, we popped into Homebase on the way back - & they came up trumps with a tray of ten cauliflower & a tray of ten curly kale for £1.99 each. Brilliant!

Back at the Hill the netting was whizzed to one side & the seedling planted out in no time at all, then I spent forever picking caterpillars off the brussels sprouts & cabbage - note to self with regard to smaller mesh netting for next year...
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