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, November 29, 2009

Side of Plot Progress

Winter is certainly upon us in that it has been cold & damp all week - yesterday was too horrible with freezing drizzle to contemplate a trip to the Hill, but towards lunchtime today it was rather more promising, so off I went.

I was just admiring the ONIONS (electic) sprouting in bed d2, & unloading half a dozen tomato pots from the car in order to empty the compost into the bean trench, when John Badger from the bottom came up complete with festive holly spring on the front of his woolly hat.

"Have you seen your present?" he asked, & pointed over to the side of the shed where three clear demijohns nestled. "They need a bit of a clean up, but I think that they should be ok."

I thanked him profusely, & off he went to the club house. And if he'd stopped there rather longer than he did, I would have gone up & bought him a drink, but by the time I was ready to head up there, he was on his way home. Next time!

I popped the demijohns away in the car, & then the plan was to move the swiss chard from the end of bed d2 across a bit then shorten the bed by 4', & if I had time, to dig up the leeks from the end of bed b2 & heel them in further along so that I could shorten that bed too.

Once this is done it will leave a strip about 6' wide all the way from the front to the back of the plot at neighbour Ted's side.

I want to dig the whole of the strip over before started to put in the 4' wide, 8' long beds (which will be for the fruit & permanent crops) as it's all a bit wonky at the moment and I can take the opportunity to level it all.

The soil is very wet indeed in the beds, & it was the work of a few minutes to relocate the swiss chard, & once I'd shortened the bed, I started to fork the side strip over from the front of the plot back past beds d2, d1 and c2.

It then started to drizzle, so I called it a day, cutting a CABBAGE (kilaxy), some spears of CALABRESE (waltham) & digging half a dozen LEEKS (mrs d) for eating in the week, then back home for a hot bath & the rest of the afternoon spent in front of the fire with a good book.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fair Weather Gardening!

The weather has been pretty 'orrible this weekend, although our extremely squally showers have been nothing compared to the unprecedented rainfall that Bilbo's area of Cumbria has experienced with floods & collapsed bridges. Awful.

The weather has put me off going to the Hill - I'm firmly tucked up in front of the fire at home, & only ventured out briefly yesterday to mum's church's Christmas Fayre. I didn't win the 'guess the number of sweets in a jar', or a prize on the tombola, but I did spy this little book on the bookstall, & snapped it up for 10p.

It's called Adam the Gardener and dates from 1974 - it's the collected weekly newspaper gardening columns from the Sunday Express.

I'm not keen on some suggestions (November jobs include 'treat soil with a fumigant such as naphthalene'), but there are some interesting ideas in there, such as digging up the roots (or tubers) from runner beans & keeping them overwinter for replanting.

Although they are still just as frost tender, they will apparently romp away quicker than seeds sown next year. Now I wish I'd kept a few back as an experiment rather than sticking the whole lot on the compost...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hill Allotments AGM

It was the AGM on Tuesday night, & what a well run, informative & entertaining evening it was too! Quite why only 26 out of 70 plot holders were present I do not know – even if you are not a 'joiner-in' you should attend, I think, if only for the useful information given out.

The main – & most welcome – difference this year was that the meeting was not held in the small back run of the clubhouse, but it the main bar.

This was an enormous improvement on last year as the number of plot holders, family, committee members & others crammed into the little room last year was extremely claustrophobic.

The meeting clipped along at a fair pace with entertaining & informative reports from neighbour Ted (in his role as deputy chairman), secretary Hayden, Scottish George as show secretary & treasurer Mike then committee members were elected or re-elected as appropriate.

Pride of place of the cups & awards was the cup awarded the Hill for the best allotment in Birmingham – so a collective pat on the back there. I was delighted that I was singled out for a mention in the show report, & Jane & I were proud to collect our ‘most improved plot’ cup.

We left after the buffet, reflecting how odd it was to see my fellow plot holders in ‘mufti’!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Solving Wine Problems & a Revelation...

I noticed a funny thing with the apple wine a couple of weeks ago - both apple mk II & mk III were looking decidedly cloudy. That's not 'cloudy' as in 'not clear, a bit foggy looking', but 'cloudy' as in 'fluffy cotton wool, spring lambs' cloudy.

Consulting CJJ Berry, I found that 'tiny jelly blobs which look rather like frogspawn' are the result of a pectin haze - the solution of which seems to involve a lot of complicated laboratory type chemical preparations & procedures, so I bunged a teaspoon of pectolase in each demijohn instead & gave them both a good shake.

I should have added the pectolase at the start of fermentation, it would seem, which would have destroyed the pectin & avoided this problem. Live & learn, eh?

After a couple of weeks, the effect is quite astonishing - both starting to become crystal clear from the top, the clouds sinking to the bottom - brilliant!

I racked the elderberry & apple off tonight - a taste reveals that it's lovely & fruity, although no where near clear yet so I bunged in a teaspoon of pectolase whilst I was at it for good measure.

Having tasted the apple III the other day, the elderberry & apple this evening and having a bottle of this year's parsnip on the go at the weekend, I'm coming to the - admittedly intuitive - conclusion that fruit wines are actually better tasting than vegetable wines...

P.S. I found out where the worst storm of the year went to this weekend - it was busy at my big sister Helen's house on the south coast making a nuisance of itself, so the weather forecasters redeem themselves a little...

Sunday, November 15, 2009


We were promised 'the worst storm of the year' by the weather forecasters earlier this week, & on Friday, yes, it was very rainy & on Saturday it was squally, but today has been lovely.

An example of weather warnings from the Met Office being rather over the top. Yes, it wasn't very nice weather, but as it is the middle of November, I wouldn't have expected to be able to have a picnic either.

The way the forecasters had it earlier in the week, we should all have been cowering under the bed praying that the roof didn't fall in.

In the event, although it was damp underfoot, & not the nicest of days, I did get to the Hill for an hour or so yesterday without any other mishap that to get caught in a shower as I was loading the car to come home.

I dug myself up a PARSNIP (guernsey), which was full of canker; a few LEEKS (mrs d), which were full of the little brown leek moth grubs; & a perfect SWEDE (virtue) before moving on to bed-shortening duties.

In order to bring bed d1 into line, I needed to move the blueberry bush across a few foot - rhubarb Brian had very kindly planted it out in the plot for me whilst I was away & he certainly earned himself a pot of mock lemon curd for that kindness, & next year a pot of blueberry jam too.

I made short work of whipping out the screws from the bed sides & end, then took the 4' lengths of 'side' & stakes away & refixed the 4' end to reduce the overall bed length from 20' to 16'.

I moved on to bed d2, hoofed up the COURGETTE (golden yellow) which has given up the ghost & tidied up the swiss chard. I'm going to have to move this - it's really in the way of shortening this bed, but I'm not sure how it will react to being moved. I guess it has two choices.

The final bed for shortening will be bed b2, which currently has about 30 leeks growing in it at the end I want to work on. I'll try moving these too, I think, by digging them up & heeling them into a trench.

Then I can get stuck into constructing the beds for the permanent crops. It looks like there is room for 5 beds which will be 8' by 4' (for strawberries, raspberries, redcurrant/blackcurrant, asparagus and A N Other which I haven't decided on yet) but I want to level the whole area before I start to put these in, as the ground is all over the place at the moment.

So plenty to be getting on with next weekend - if we don't have storms...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Grape Wine Making

By the time that I mashed the grapes (to which I'd added a crushed campden tablet & a tsp of pectolase per instructions on a homebrew web site), then squeezed them through an old stocking, I had 2.2l of wine juice - I made this up 4.75l & an SG of 1088 with water & 1lb 12oz of sugar.

Whilst I had the wine gubbins out, I racked the apple mk III into a spare demijohn.

Actually, I racked into the same demijohn once it was cleaned out due to the fact that when I was cleaning the spare one, I foolishly did the final rinse with water boiling from the kettle which resulted in a bloody great PING & it shattering.

On the plus side, once the apple wine was safely in an intact demijohn (SG 988), I had a taste & it is extremely promising...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

First Take Your Squash...

...and work out how the devil to get into the damn thing in order to make the planned batch of Mock Lemon Curd.

This was very difficult indeed.

The good news is that I do still have the requisite number of fingers & the operation did give me a comprehensive upper body workout, although the air was turned quite blue.

Once the squash was chopped & steamed, I thinly peeled the lemon rind from 10 lemons (careful use of the potato peeler here), juiced the lemons & blitzed all this up in the food processor.

I put this into the maslin pan with the butter & sugar, simmered for half an hour & potting it up.

I ran out of pots when I got to 19 & the last bit had to go in a soup bowl to be eaten up first. That's a lot of mock lemon curd.

In fact, more than enough to eat at every single meal for the next twelve months, I think - even allowing for giving away as Christmas gifts to virtually everyone I know.

And that's not all.

As this was the smallest of the three olive squash, lovely as it is, I can't possibly make more - so what on earth shall I do with the others...?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Kind Deeds & Designs...

A sunny but cold day today, so I had to keep moving in order to keep the blood flowing - this not as easy as it sounds with Reg-next-plot & teacher Barry both at the plot to chat to when I arrived & John Badger from the bottom on the way past soon after.

By the shed, JB had very kindly left me a 5 gallon brew barrel containing a demijohn (fab - I have none spare at the moment), bungs, corks, filters & a number of other brewing bits & bobs - brilliant!

I set about taking down the bean poles - the bean structure has worked well, & I'll do this design again.

It was a right fiddle taking it down though - because the thin horizontal wires I used to help keep the canes in line were not robust enough, they snapped in a number of places & had to be repaired during the late summer, which made the whole thing a bit of a jumble. Lessons for next year, I think.

I persevered, & stacked the canes to bring home to store, unfastened the end supports, put the dead stems in the bean trench, rough dug the bed, then shortened the bed by 4' in line with the other beds, which will enable me to build permanent crop beds in the space left towards neighbour Ted.

This side still has three beds to be shortened - I need to eat the leeks in bed b2, the swiss chard in bed d2 before I can finish this job, & then level the ground and decide whether the new permanent beds will be 4' or 8' by 4'.

There's no rush - it's this year's Winter Job, and I enjoy the planning of it too.

Home to get 6lb of grapes out the freezer ready for wine making, now I have a demijohn to ferment it in...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Mock Lemon Curd Prep

Here's the smallest of my three olive squash which I'm going to cook up into mock lemon curd at the weekend.

I'm trying to work out just how many jars I'm going to need to pot it up, and thought that if I put the quantities down with the method, then some bright spark might be able to advise.

My squash weighs 11lb as it is, and according to Xanthe Clay's 'It's Raining Plums' (which my big sister Helen bought me for Christmas and is excellent) a squash yields two thirds of it's weight in usable flesh, so we'll call that 7½ lb, and to that I'll need just less than that weight of sugar, half as many again lemons as squash, and an eighth of the weight of squash in butter.

So with a bit of rounding up and down for convenience - and also adjusting after consulting Nic's blog, here's what I'll be making.

Mock Lemon Curd

7 lb 8oz peeled, seeded and cubed squash
6 lb sugar
1 lb butter
10 lemons - grated rind and juice

Steam the squash till tender (about an hour) then leave to drain overnight
Mash (or liquidise) the squash with rind grated from the lemons & lemon juice
Simmer squash, lemon rind & juice, sugar & butter for 20mins, stirring constantly
Pot up

All I've got to work out is how to chop the damn thing up!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lovely News!

The weather forecast for the weekend proved spot on, in that Saturday was a better day for being outside than Sunday. Too right - if I'd gone to the Hill today instead I would have been blown all the way home again!

So it was T-shirt weather yesterday - especially after a bit of light forking of the two miscellaneous beds (d1 & d2) at the front of the plot. I dug up the CUCUMBER plants but left the COURGETTE in place as it still seems to be producing the odd fruit.

The squash plants that were also in these beds didn't leave much room for weeds to grow, so it didn't take long to prepare the soil & plant out some overwintering ONIONS (electric & yellow senshuyi) & the bigger cloves from a couple of bulbs of GARLIC.

I saw that novice neighbour Jody had been busy on his plot, and he arrived soon after me with news that Mrs J had a little girl last Friday, mother and baby both doing well. Congratulations all round!

He has dug a shallow trench across his plot, and when I asked him what it was for he said, "it's for my elephant garlic - Reg-next-plot told me to plant them in a trench, and if Reg says that's the way to do it, that's good enough for me."

That seems sensible - Reg grows cracking veg. Jody then spread lime, saying "Reg's told me to add a load of lime too."

When I asked if the trench was so he could earth up the garlic (although I've never heard of this before), he said, "I have no idea - Reg hasn't said yet." Fair enough.

John Badger passed by on his way home - we chatted about the grapes & have decided that I should make grape wine, & not mix it with other fruit, & he even asked if I wanted a 5 gallon fermenting bucket, a demijohn & a couple of other bits & pieces - I'll say so! Hurrah!

I dug up the first of the SWEDE (virtue) which looks very respectable, a couple of disappointingly forked PARSNIP (hsl guernsey) & a couple of LEEKS (mrs d).

Potager Chrissie came down for a chat & we discussed the pilot project the site has undertaken whereby a couple of the full allotments have been split into quarter plots.

There are pros & cons here - personally, I think that a quarter plot is neither here nor there - you wouldn't have much room to grow, or room for a shed or greenhouse - however, I suppose that people will be able to see if they like having an allotment, and can maybe more to a bigger plot if they do.

Mind you, it's also a jolly convenient way for the Council to reduce the number of people on the waiting lists without the expense & bother of setting up new allotment sites...

I thought about this whilst I dug a bean trench for next year - the compost bins are way beyond full, so the plan is to take the excess off the top of the heap, putting it and any other weeds and other compostable stuff in the trench which will rot down & be covered over in Spring to form a good water retaining layer for the beans next year.

I finished up by roughly forking over the next section between the beds & the boundary with Neighbour Ted - I'll make beds in this area for fruit this winter, but in the mean time, the weeds are hell bent on making it their own...
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