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...........

Monday, May 31, 2010

Peas, Potatoes & Planting Out

I've had a busy bank holiday weekend, although only part of if it at the Hill - there was some most welcome light rain for most of Saturday & yesterday I was otherwise occupied.

Looking at the seedlings still at home on the bench or in the mini greenhouse, it stuck me that not only are the tomato seedlings looking rather small, it is the end of May and I have quite a lot of seedlings still to get planted out.

The tomato plants will benefit from being put into their buckets (these will be in the courtyard garden at home, hopefully safe from blight), but that's a job for another day, so I packed the various pots into the car along with the trowel & headed to the Hill.

A scrutinise of the plot reveals that Saturday's rain had done very little good - although there are flowers on the PEAS (red flowered) & 3" long pods on the BROAD BEANS (witkiem manita) - I'll be picking some of these next weekend, I think, to eat whole.

After I planted out the FRENCH BEANS (contender), MARROW (long green bush 2), COURGETTE (black beauty), PUMPKIN (bag end) & BUTTERNUT SQUASH (brampton), I got the watering can out & got busy giving all the plants a good drink.

I got bored of this by the time I got to the furthest beds from the tap - which was a bit of a shame as these are the potato beds, and stood to benefit the most from a good watering, but there you go. I did have a poke around under one of the potato plants to see if they are ready to harvest (answer: not yet - this one is about an inch across).

Before I left I popped down to John Badger (at the bottom)'s plot to drop a note off to thank him for collecting some empty wine bottles for me.

When I'd enquired at the homebrew shop about larger corks to fit into the necks of screw top wine bottles, I was told that I shouldn't be using these as the glass is weaker at the screw top bit, so I ditched any spare bottles that I had & asked JB if he could have a scout around for non-screw top bottles (saves looking like a bit of a loony hanging round the bottle bank).

Peter & Jane (behind returning allotmenteer Chris) were planting out leeks, along with inquisitive young daughter A - so we had a chat & when I'd dropped the note off, A came back up to my plot to compare the progress of my competition sunflower against hers, skipping off back down the bottom when she was satisfied that mine was no further ahead.

I nipped up to the club house before going home & heard some sombre news that one of the Saturday Old Boys is very unwell, so tonight he is in my thoughts & I have toasted him with his favourite tipple, a nice glass of red.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rhubarb Wine - Day 14 to 3 months

The rhubarb wine will be fairly quiet now - maybe the odd 'blip' of air through the airlock - but pretty quiescent over all.

Now for the trickiest part of wine making, in my view - the syphoning of the wine from the demijohn into another - called 'racking the wine'. The purpose is to take all the yummy fermented wine (opaque as it still is at the mo) off from the layer of pale sediment at the bottom of the demijohn - which comprises dead yeast, bits of stray rhubarb & all sorts of other yuck which we don't want hanging about in our wine.

With the demijohn of wine on a worktop & a fresh demijohn (or bucket) on the floor, insert a long tube part way into the wine - but not all the way down into the yuck.

To get the wine flowing along the tube, suck the lower end to pull the wine up the tube & then QUICKLY put the sucky end into the lower demijohn/bucket (this seems a bit unhygienic to me, but I haven't worked out a way of sterilising my mouth as yet). As if by magic, the wine will flow up the tube out the top demijohn and down the tube into the lower. Hold the tube firmly into the lower demijohn/bucket - if it gets free there will be wine pouring out everywhere.

The idea is to get the good stuff up the tube & leave the sediment behind. The level of wine in the top demijohn will be going down at an alarming rate and you will have to concentrate to keep the tube in the top demijohn below the liquid level, but not so far down as to suck up the sediment. When the level is perilously close to the yuck in the top demijohn, pull the tube out at the top end.

Points to note:

- when you suck the tube to get the wine flowing, you are not attempting to drink the stuff, just to draw it up the tube sufficiently to get it out of the top demijohn
- swiftly taking the tube from your mouth and putting it into the lower demijohn/bucket is essential if you don't want to end up squirting the wine all over you and the kitchen floor - and is a catastrophic waste of your good wine.
- keep the tube firmly fixed into the lower receptacle while you concentrate on the top
- try not to suck up too much yuck, but if you do, it will always settle out as sediment & can be syphoned off again in due course.

Make a note of the SG & have a taste - I dithered about adding a couple of ounces of sugar as the SG reading was rather low (i.e. will be pretty dry wine), but a taste told me it was not mouth-puckeringly so - I compromised on adding an 1oz of sugar to sweeten it a little. The strength of this wine is 13.5% at the mo.

The demijohn can be put in a cool spare room/cellar for a couple of months, at which point it's likely to be clear - but with a small amount of sediment on the bottom, so we'll then go through this rigmarole again.

PS - A Confession

I extracted the juice of a pound of redcurrants that I had in the freezer to my rhubarb at start - I didn't mention it in order to keep proceedings simple - but it does seem to have added a very pleasant colour to the wine - it's more certainly more pink that it would have been using rhubarb alone.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Generosity Again!

It has been a very hot weekend indeed - the sun shone all day long both days & today I am typing this sitting in the courtyard garden being told off by the blackbird. He will likely get his own back, though, by eating all the cherries off the tree in a week or two as they become ripe, like he did last year.

When I went to the Hill yesterday, I saw that neighbour Jody has had a couple of dozen scaffold boards delivered, & he was sizing up where to put them - the immediate priority being to replace the old edging at the side of his plot on the other side of our shared path.

As he busied himself with that, I made a lovely discovery of a tray under some fleece in which were couple of courgette & three cucumber plants which Julie (2nd best plot) had left for me - I'd been bemoaning that it's not been a great year for me germinating seeds, & she seemed quite happy that she could offload some of her spares to a good home. Suits me just fine!

I had a planting out session with the courgettes & cucumbers, along with Ollie's sunflowers, FRENCH BEANS (triomphe de farcy, emperor of russia & early warwick), four pots of SPRING ONION (apache) & the last few PEAS (newick), then did a little weeding in the roots bed where the parsnips, & a few carrot have come up.

The peas & broad beans are looking good - tiny beans forming on the broad beans & there are flowers on the crimson flowered variety just starting to come out.

The direct sown climbing beans are not so clever, though - only coming through patchily, and some slug damage too. Tonight I've sown extras in pots where I have the seed - I think that in my pots-vs-sow-direct experiment, the pots have it.

Although digging in this weather is a bit daft, I wanted to get the rest of the strawberry plants out of the messy patch at the back of the plot & into the little veg patch at mum's.

I've already moved 25 into the square fruit bed & these are the left over ones - they are doing rather better than the ones in the bed, but I'm putting that down to the fact that these haven't been replanted, rather than me choosing weedy ones, or giving them some sort of kiss of death when I replanted.

I was overheating by this time, so took the strawberry plants to mum's to plant out, & in turn she not only fed me delicious ham sandwiches (home cooked ham & home baked bread) & chocolate cake fresh from the cooling rack, but even gave me half the cake to take home with me - result!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rhubarb Wine - Day 7 to 14

With the wine in the bucket having calmed down somewhat from it's wild frothing earlier in the week, it's a safer bet now that it can be transfered into a sterilised demijohn without fizzing up & out through the airlock.

It's worth checking the SG at this point - it will have dropped fairly dramatically.

The reading for this batch has fallen from 1086 to 996, which means that in the space of a week, the sugary rhubarb juice has fermented into something opaque containing 12% alcohol, & it is still working away.

(I know this because the difference in the start & finish SG readings divided by 7.36 gives the percentage of alcohol)

The lower the SG at the end of the ferment, the drier the wine will be, & I think that this batch will end up rather sharp if I leave it as it is, so I added 2oz sugar to the bucket (watch it FIZZZZZZZZZZZZ!) & gave it another stir.

I then poured it into a demijohn (use a funnel) & fitted an airlock (half fill airlock with water) - actually, with rhubarb wine being so exuberent, I used two demijohns, half in each.

The wine will finish fermenting soon - it gets to a point where level of alcohol is too high for the yeast to survive - so when there are no more bubbles moving in the airlock, it can be put in a cool room where it will start to clear.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kindly Plotholders

The downside of growing vegetables on an allotment is that I have to travel three miles to the Hill just to pick something to eat for tea, as opposed to nipping out into the garden. The advantage, however is that I do meet some incredibly generous people.

On Monday evening I went to the Hill to collect the pepper seedlings offered by neighbour Jody & also went round to returning allotmenteer Chris' house round the corner to collect some tomato seedlings (& to have a nose round her lovely garden!).

Whilst I was at the Hill collecting the pepper seedlings, I saw Julie (2nd best plot) & in the course of conversation I said how well the rhubarb is doing & that I was looking for maybe a chutney recipe to try.

"It's great, isn't it!" agreed Julie, "but there's so much rhubarb that I'm having to find different ways to con the boys into eating it - I think that the recipe I have for rhubarb chocolate sponge is a winner, & I have all sorts of other recipes to hand, including chutney, I'm sure. I'll copy them for you."

Not only were the recipes there in the toolshed for me to collect later in the week, but Julie also said how the purple sprouting is overwhelming the family too, & to please go & help myself - brilliant!

Yesterday was a day for jobs at home, one of which was to repaint the fence - I borrowed mum's spray gadget, which made the job rather quicker (& considerably less messy) that using a brush - & with the small amount of fence paint left over, I nipped to the Hill & treated the toolshed to a couple of coats.

And at the Hill today I saw the havoc that this week's cold nights have wreaked on the potatoes - it has certainly been frosty enough to damage the leaves, although having earthed them up last weekend, there is no lasting damage.

It was a lovely afternoon with the sun shining & the birds singing - there are great tits nesting in the birdbox next plot but one, the young tweeting away furiously everytime one of the parents flew in to feed them.

Richard (3 plots down) wandered up to see what I was up to (weeding the onion bed, as it happens) & we talked about different varieties of veg.

"I always sow late varieties of leek & brussels sprouts - what's the point in having them ready in October or November when you are stacked out with things to eat? Much better to have them to pick in March & April when there's not much else to be had," which made a lot of sense to me, I must say.

"The ony other plentiful crop at the moment is the asparagus - we're stacked out with it. I suppose that I'll have to come down in the week after work and pick another bagful," he sighed.

He must have seen me goggling at this news, so took pity on me & handed me a huge handful of spears, saying, "We have prawn & asparagus risotto, but really, there's only so much you can eat!"

Now furiously making plans to plant up one of the spare fruit beds with asparagus.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rhubarb Wine - Day 3 to 7

With the bucket of wine covered & in a warm room, a sneaky peep will reveal that it does not at this point look very appetising - less like a delicious light rose style wine, more like something which might appear on Dr Who.

It will be fizzing away like a grown-up bowl of Rice Krispies, & you can hear & see the contents of the bucket furiously working away, all the while the yeast eating up the sugar & transforming it into alcohol.

In a few days it will calm down sufficiently for it to be transferred to a demijohn without the danger of it frothing out through the airlock like a sherbet fountain.

But for now, besides a daily stir, it can be left quite happily to its own devices.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rhubarb Wine - Day 2

Once the sugar in the bucket of rhubarb has all dissolved - takes about a day - the sugar can be gradually rinsed off with a gallon of water into another bucket.

Keep the rhubarb as it can be cooked down & eaten.

Actually it can be eaten as it is like sweeties - the sugar softens the rhubarb as well as sweetening it.

Add in the tin of grape concentrate and give the bucket a stir.

At this point, the specific gravity of the mixture needs to be taken - pop the hydrometer into the bucket (or a sample jug) & take the reading.

It should be somewhere about 1080 - 1090, although if it is lower than that, more sugar can be added (add by 2oz at a time) until the reading is there or there abouts.

Now for the magic.

Add a teaspoon of yeast nutrient & a teaspoon of yeast, give a final stir, cover the bucket & leave in a warm room. By tomorrow morning it will be fizzing away, turning the sweet rhubarb juice into light fruity delicious wine!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rhubarb Wine, for Jody - day 1

Neighbour Jody would like to start making wine, & so I've offered him my surplus of demijohns, syphons, bungs, airlocks, a spare hydrometer & other paraphernalia (mostly courtesy of John Badger from the bottom) & tonight I took a selection of useful bits to the Hill for Jody to collect to get him underway.

Rhubarb wine seems like a good place to start - Jody has an embarrassment of riches in terms of rhubarb on his plot to pick, the juice is extracted 'cold' (so there is no faffing about boiling stuff up in a in a cauldron), it's pretty straightforward, & the wine (which is ready in about 6 months total) is fresh & light.

He'll need to buy wine yeast, nutrient & a tin of grape concentrate from Wilko to get him going for this first batch of rhubarb wine (& steriliser, but Milton's is just as good, & likely to be handy with a small baby in the house) & the full ingredient list is as follows:

3lb rhubarb (about 12-14 stalks)
2.5 lb (and a bit) sugar
1 can grape concentrate (from Wilko)
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp yeast nutrient

(Its useful if you have a couple of gallon buckets (with approx measure marks) and even better if they have lids).

  1. Chop 3lb rhubarb stalks into 1" chunks, & put into a clean bucket
  2. Pour over 2.5lb white sugar, shake the bucket, cover & leave for 24 hrs for the sugar to dissolve.

That's it for now. Tomorrow is 'making up the batch to start the brew' & the final step is 'fermenting out, racking & bottling'.

There, easy!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Flowers, Decorative & Possibly Edible

It's been jolly cold all week, & yesterday was not only cold, but drizzly too, so I decided on an afternoon baking rather than gardening.

Today, however, the sun shone warmly, so armed with a list of things to do, & a handful of seed packets I headed to the Hill where I saw neighbour Jody busy with the hoe & we chatted in the sunshine as I weeded the front of the plot.

It's looking rather good, by fortuitous accident - a whole heap of last years annuals have self-seeded, so once I'd pulled out all the chickweed & bittercress there is quite a pretty display in the offing.

Then I sowed a row of CARROT (manchester table), RADISH (french breakfast) & LETTUCE (dazzle & mini green).

The spring cabbages are coming on well (from seedlings that Julie (second best plot) kindly gave me back in September) & I cut one for Jody in return for his offer of a some spare pepper plants & whilst we looked at the brassica bed, we considered the kale.

"What a shame it is that it has started to bolt", I said, looking at the long flower shoots, "it looks a bit like purple sprouting, but green. I wondered if I can eat the shoots?"

"Dunno," he said, then leaned over & snapped a flower head off & popped it in his mouth & ate it. He considered for a moment before nodding "yep, you can. It tastes like that cabbage you use for coleslaw."

Brilliant! I wasted no time in cutting all the sprouting stems, and had a portion for tea tonight. Admittedly I cooked the ends furthest from the flowers, but - boy - they were woody. I'll try again tomorrow with the tips to see if it is less like eating twigs.

Back at the plot, I planted out the PEAS (newick, neplus ultra, raisen cap & ezetha's) along with the ONION (hi-keeper) seedlings. I used these to fill in some gaps left from some of the sets not making it overwinter.

I was just earthing up the potatoes when returning allotmenteer Chris came over & we chatted about this & that - she's offered me some spare tomato plants, & asked if I wanted to go across in the week to collect. Fabulous!

With all the jobs done, I picked a huge armful of rhubarb and headed off home to get a batch of rhubarb wine underway.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Return of the Tourist!

So the planes did fly, the sun certainly did shine, but all good things come to an end & now it's back to business.

So a quick trip to the Hill today with mum (tempted by the offer of rhubarb - although she didn't actually go home with all of this armful) to see how a few dry days, followed by a few wetter days have treated the plot.

The wind was chilly (only potager Chrissie around putting up her bean frame) so it was a whistle stop tour to see that all the POTATOES have sprouted; there's no sign of any of the direct sown climbing beans yet; & all the KALE has started to bolt with flower heads ready to burst.

Back home, with frost forecast tonight, I tucked up all the pots of french beans on the bench with fleece & pulled the front down on the mini greenhouse to make sure that the tender seedlings which have taken the trouble to sprout don't get stopped in their tracks.
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