Amazing, isn’t it? I couldn’t do it in a million years myself!

In fact, pumpkin carving in our house is done by my other half – all I do is use the flesh to make meals, and recipes will have to wait for next time. Here, as the day approaches, are a few tips and hints on pumpkin carving, assuming you want to make the more traditional grinning head:

1. Use specialist pumpkin carving tools (available in kitchen shops or on the net) or linoleum cutters rather than ordinary knives

2. Draw an outline in washable marker so you can change it if you’re not happy with it, or even (apparently) prick the outline with a pin … (I think life’s too short, personally)

3. Assuming you’re making Cut through the stem end of the pumpkin with a sharp knife or pumpkin-carving tool. Use a back-and-forth slicing motion to cut through the thick, tough skin and cut at an angle so that the lid will remain in place even when the inner flesh shrinks

4. Remove the stem end, which becomes the cap, making sure you scrape off any seeds or pulp

5. Use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp from inside the pumpkin

6. Push the cut-outs gently from the inside of the pumpkin to remove them

7. Put a candle inside the pumpkin to create an eerie glow.

Tips:

Coat the cut edges with vaseline to keep your pumpkin fresh longer
Avoid leaving burning candles unattended and if you have pets or small children, consider using a glowstick to provide the light instead – much safer all round!


Pumpkin photograph by ValentinaPowers, used under a creative commons attribution licence.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, October 29, 2007 0 Comments

More slugs



Gardener’s Question Time on Radio Four this week dealt with the pestiferous question of slugs (after I had, which suggests to me that they are nicking my material!) and they came up with a very interesting suggestion – throw out grain for your slugs!

The way this was discovered by the reader who wrote in, apparently, was that she would throw down corn for the ground-feeding birds, and if she went out after fifteen minutes or so, she found the slugs were converging on the grain at a rapid (for them) rate. Apparently slugs love grain! And this greed gives two opportunities for slug disposal – you can either gather them up (or tread on them with your nice thick wellies) and dispose of them yourself, or you can wait for the more predatory birds to realise that once their grain-eating cousins have had breakfast, their own food turns up and can be picked off!

Then there’s that microscopic nematode or eelwom that is watered into the soil. The nematodes (Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita) enter slugs' bodies and infect them with bacteria that cause a fatal disease. I’ve never managed this myself, but other people swear by this approach – I think there’s a real issue about nematodes which is that you do need clement weather and for the past three years my watering in has been followed by either unseasonal hard frost (a guaranteed nematode killer) or torrential floods.

I also use copper bands around my most beloved plants – sometimes you have to buy these, but I’ve gained most of mine by skip diving and stripping the copper component out of electric cabling. Costs nothing but time, and can be wrapped around any kind of pot, or even twined around the base of plants with a single stem like globe artichokes or sunflowers – believe me, slugs will not cross copper if they can avoid it.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, October 26, 2007 0 Comments

We need more frost!

Or at least I do! The snails, and particularly the slugs, who sailed through last winter’s wet but not particularly cold weather, are out in force this October. My winter chard is suffering, not least because I was away for the weekend and once all the first wave of gastropods had eaten my organic slug pellets, the second wave crawled in and ate the chard, the swines!

Did you know snails can have hundreds to thousands of teeth! Most mollusc groups, including snails, have a set of teeth that is shaped like a wavy ribbon called a radula. There can be hundreds of rows of teeth and several different tooth types in one snail or very few rows with a single tooth in each. As the teeth get worn they are continuously replaced by developing teeth, much in the same way that a shark's teeth are. These teeth can be used for scraping food such as algae or tugging away small amounts of leaf material.

I’m not a very ruthless pest killer, sadly – I wish I was brave enough to go out and cut slugs in half with a pair of scissors like Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, but I’m not. I can’t do beer traps either, as the whole thing is disgusting the next morning when you have to empty it.

There is a bit of a plus side, which is that if you can get your chard to a reasonable size, the snails tend to give up – they don’t like the thickness of the leaves, but given that my chard is still baby chard, they are simply destroying the plants. A damn good frost would sort them out without me having to do anything about it, so I’m hoping for clear nights and low temperatures, otherwise I shall have to get ruthless.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, October 23, 2007 3 Comments

Allotment crop rotation

I've been looking at a variety of crop rotation systems, and while they vary in detail, they are all the same in basic outline. Essentially, over a three or four year period they vary the crops and fertilisers used to ensure maximum soil fertility and to avoid pest and disease build-up. Here’s an example – if you divided your plot into approximate thirds – this is how you would rotate:


Year One

Plot 1 - Beetroots, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, Swedes and turnips (fertiliser and lime)
Plot 2 - Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers and kale (compost and lime)
Plot 3 - Beans, celery, leeks, lettuce, peas, spinach and tomatoes (compost and fertiliser)

Year Two

Plot 1 - Beans, celery, leeks, lettuces, peas, spinach, tomatoes (compost and fertiliser)
Plot 2 - Beetroots, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, Swedes, turnips (fertiliser and lime)
Plot 3 - Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale (compost and lime)

Year Three

Plot 1 - Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale (compost and lime)
Plot 2 - Beans, celery, leeks, lettuces, peas, spinach, tomatoes (compost and fertiliser)
Plot 3 - Beetroots, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, Swedes, turnips (fertiliser and lime)

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, October 18, 2007 1 Comments

October tasks

If you’re making compost, you can look at your comfrey and see if it’s ready to become an organic accelerator. A rich compost is vital to for soil health and plant growth and comfrey both accelerate decomposition of green waste into compost and provides beneficial nutrients to the overall mix

Leeks need to be weeded now, and if you’re lazy that means hoeing, while if you’re a committed leek lover, it’s down on the hands and knees. The risk of hoeing, of course, is that you swipe the top off a leek or two as you go. – I suppose it all depends which is more important to you – time or leeks! Weeding is a general process now, as every cleared area is likely to sprout a bunch of miserable weeds.

October’s a funny time of year on the allotments – half the plots have begun to clear, which leaves them looking empty and rather boring, the other half are still stuffed (and sometimes overstuffed) with crops, flowers and various gubbins. Above is an example of the stuffed allotment, and doesn’t it look great!

While you’re out there, why not think about planting something permanent – my suggestion would be a pyracantha for the lovely autumn colours of the berries which will feed the birds through the winter: if you want to be a bird feeder choose the red berried variety, if you want to keep the berries and starve the birds, choose the yellow berried one, as they only eat those in desperation. Another advantage of the pyracantha (aka firethorn) is the wicked thorns, straight and sharp, that deter vandals and harvest despoiling thieves.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Sunday, October 14, 2007 2 Comments

Squash recipe

I've already mentioned that people are either marrow lovers, or they are marrow haters, you don't get people who can take marrow or leave it, just as you don't get people who are happy either way about rhubarb. Some foods inspire strong emotions. Squashes though, don't. Most people are relaxed about their pumpkins, acorn squash or butternut squash, they don't enthuse madly, nor do they run away in panic at the sight. So, given that this is the time when squashes are at their peak, here's a favourite recipe in our house.


Hot Autumn pasta salad

200g pasta
1 butternut squash, skin removed, de-seeded and cut into roughly one inch dice
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped, or dried chilli to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
1 courgette, halved, de-seeded and cut into one inch slices or chunks
40 g pinenuts or sunflower seeds
juice of half a lemon
olive oil
parmesan
fresh basil

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius and oil a roasting pan, spread the butternut squash out in it and sprinkle it with the chilli and garlic. Season and drizzle with more olive oil. Now cover with tin foil and cook for thirty minutes or until the squash is soft when you squeeze it

Cook the pasta as per the packet (we used spiralli, but any short pasta works for this recipe)

Toast the pinenuts or sunflower seeds in a frying pan over a medium heat. Set them aside and use the same pan with some olive oil to fry the courgettes for a few minutes so they remain slightly firm.

When everything is ready, add the pasta, all the ingredients from the oven tray, the courgette and the pinenuts to the serving bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the salad followed by a good drizzle of olive oil and roughly torn basil leaves and give it a good stir. Slice some parmesan over the dish, followed by freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, October 11, 2007 0 Comments

October is Sweet Pea month ...

Sowing sweet peas in autumn produces bigger and better plants that will bloom earlier, and go on for longer – and the best sweet peas I’ve seen for decades are grown by our very own Ronald Buckman. At the end of October he starts a process that allows him to have the most beautiful flowers I’ve even seen.

It’s well known, horticulturally that sweet peas started in the cooler months put all their energy into a rigorous root system to sustain them over the winter, resulting in strong, stocky plants when they come to be planted in their final positions in mid spring. Ron improves on this system by having developed his own germination tricks that seem to guarantee huge and perfect blooms. Here are his secrets …


1. Dig a trench one foot deep and wide and fill it with your own compost or farmyard manure – let it ‘mellow’ over the winter and you’ve got the perfect home for your sweet peas come spring

2. Choose the best possible seeds, Ron prefers to go to garden shows where he can see the flowers the seeds will produce, not to rely on catalogue descriptions. Sadly, many specialist sweet pea suppliers have gone out of business, but you can still shop around for good varieties if you put in some effort.

3. Plant seeds in a tray filled with moist peat. Lay the seeds on top and press them down, don’t sprinkle peat over them. Cover with glass and then newspaper. After three days, many will have shoots, and those can be put in modules in compost, one shooting seed to each module.

4. Keep the rest of the tray covered and as the seedlings appear, lift them out into modules, because they are uncertain generators, you can find it takes several weeks for all the seedlings to appear, but this doesn’t seem to affect their flowering time or rate.

5. Pinch the tops when there are two or three true leaves to ensure you get a stocky, flower-filled plant.

6. In spring, plant your sweet peas, each plant to an individual cane, in your trench. Take off all the flowers until they are three feet tall, then at three feet, remove the plant from the cane, lay it along the ground and bring it up the next cane! For show quality sweet peas you need four blossoms on each stem, and that means pinching out all the side tendrils … but just look at those flowers, it’s got to be worth it, to have sweet peas like Ron’s!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, October 8, 2007 0 Comments

What does harvest festival mean to you?

Three people intimately involved in the world of allotments share their views:

First, Crispin Kirkpatrick – allotment officer.

What does Harvest Festival mean to you (in terms of being an allotment holder)?

I'm not an allotment holder..... although I hold a lot of allotments (about 2500).

What's your favourite autumn/winter crop?

Fave winter/autumn crop gotta be apples, sweet chestnuts (my countryside roots coming out) and maybe curly kale. Thinking about it, one could probably live solely off the above for ages. It’s been an odd year for plot holders- never going to get one that's good for everything. There are great plans afoot for allotments … watch this space- can't give any more clues, but could be exciting!

Second, poet and allotment holder Ellen de Vries who says she has a love-hate relationship with her allotment. She's written several poems set there, on the valley side at the edge of Brighton. The poems 'Longitude, Latitude' and 'The problem with imagination' can be found in her recently published collection 'Girl in the air' (Pighog Press) illustrated by Patrice LeGarrec. Visit her website at www.ellendevries.org or get the collection from Amazon (http://tinyurl.com/3dlqbn).

What does Harvest Festival mean to you (in terms of being an allotment holder)?

I'm not especially religious. I don't hang out with religious people, but I don't like to think of myself as aethiest either. Last year I went to church with a friend who wanted to restore his faith in God and it happened to be the harvest festival. My allotment harvest hadn't been too bad, for a first year. A few knobbly turnips, some tiny, partially munched spinach leaves, quite a few stumpy carrots. I was glowing with pride. I did realise however, that our soil probably needed more 'feeding' as everything we harvested was like a miniature version of the vegetable it should have been.

So there we were, in church, and along came the parade, all God's sons and daughters bearing the fruits of the harvest: Tesco baked beans, Pasta from ASDA, Sainsbury's value flour. Upon arrival at the pulpit the priest asked the kids '...and what do we make bread with?' and the kids were stumped.

So it seemed that I'd missed the point. I was wanting to celebrate the joy of germination. In a basic way, I kind of hoped God, or mother nature, or whatever, might see reason to give us another year based on my devout praise and thankfulness for the beauty of growth, and the joy of plucking my little miracles from the soil.

I felt like I'd come to the wrong party. Though I guess we were all still being thankful for abundance, despite it being non-organic highly corporate supermarket produce.

How was your harvest this year?

I don't know if it’s because the communication lines with 'God' have gone down, but this year has been a dreadful year for crops. In April the soil was parched, in June and July the Size 12 slugs (shoe size) munched their way through the lot, and then there was the Blight. I did everything I could, I fed the soil with everything I could think of. Dung, old fruit, toenail clippings, leaf-mould, anything... At harvest time I only got a few semi rotten potatoes, some partially munched strawberries and four blighted tomatoes.

Perhaps allotments aren't high on God's agenda anymore now that church services concentrate on big-chain supermarket farmed produce.

Not sure what to do about the allotment now. Time to start again and hope for the best next year. I'd like to post a quiet little non-ceremonial 'thanks for the bits, God' in his comments box for when he gets round to it. Just in case it could influence the weather next year.


Finally, Andrew Faulkner, Chair of the Allotment Association:

What does Harvest Festival mean to you (in terms of being an allotment holder)?

The Catholic Church doesn’t have a Harvest Festival service but it means the fruits of the season to me. I see myself as working in partnership with God in the garden.

How was your harvest this year?

Excellent – the fruits, especially apples and soft fruits, were fantastic and I’ve had a bumper crop of potatoes.

What is your favourite autumn/winter crop?


The apples from my Bramley and Cox trees. My friend Flo makes me apple pies through the winter, from apples she stores in cool, north-facing room and that’s one the things harvest suggests to me!



Harvest festival photograph from Bert Hay's allotment!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, October 4, 2007 0 Comments

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