Allotment tasks – gluts

There’s one thing that I always forget about allotments and vegetable gardening generally: growing the lovely veg is one thing – preserving it is quite another! And why does everything decide to be ripe and ready at once?

After a week away (and a tour of a French allotment site – I’ll be reporting on that in a few days!) I’ve come back to find:

1. French beans like broad beans
2. Broad beans like bullets
3. Lettuce like the Eiffel tower
4. Courgettes like marrows

Not much can be done for any of those: 1,2 and 4 will go in the stockpot to be reduced into vegetable stock for soups and casserole bases, but 3 goes straight onto the compost heap.

I’ve rescued some peas (blanched one minute and frozen) and the smaller and less leathery broad beans (blanched three minutes and frozen) and picked the last of the redcurrants and the first of the blackberries (picked over and frozen) and it’s not much of a surprise, after a day in a steamy kitchen, to find that I’m gazing with warm approval at the only harvested veg that doesn’t require me to fiddle around with pans and trays and freezer bags: these glorious peppery radishes!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, July 30, 2008 3 Comments

Holidays and allotments

We’re only going to be away for a week or so, but it feels like we’re abandoning the allotment. The feeling of neglect and ingratitude is made worse when we sit down to a salad of tasty new potatoes (from the allotment) and earthy beetroot (from the allotment) topped with carrot and dill thinnings (from the allotment). And it’s not as if our plot won’t get some tlc while we’re away – plotholder Duncan will go up and weed and water and harvest, just as he did for the whole year before we became co-workers.

But I can’t help it, I feel as if I’m kicking a puppy to leave my lovely allotment at its most productive, and needy, period. I’m convinced that everything will bolt, keel over, get infested with aphids, succumb to blight and just give up and die, purely because it knows I’m not going to be around.

In preparation for our short-term absence I’ve been up to water everything, to thin the aforesaid carrots and herbs, and to put up some make-shift bird scarers because Duncan says he thinks some of our brassica damage is bird rather than slug-induced and a close inspection of the leaves suggests to me that he’s right. All I did was cut the bottoms from some plastic bottles (lids still on) and stick them on top of canes planted between the broccoli. I wonder if the birds try to pick off the slugs and end up getting a mouthful of greens?

There's another reason for bird scaring. We have slow worms! I'm so excited about this, after getting involved in the mammal-spotting project, I find myself
with a wonderful legless lizard living right on my patch! They are gorgeous little creatures, with false tails that can seperate from their bodies in moments of great danger. They eat slugs and snails (yippee!) and other insect life. Large birds like seagulls and crows will try to take them from the ground so I felt really determined to get those bird scarers up asap. Cats also predate them, which is a worry as there are a lot of cats up on the allotments. But isn't he or she gorgeous?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 2 Comments

July is bursting out all allotment

We’ve got more potatoes than we know what to do with plus beetroot, onions, garlic and rhubarb going into the freezer. Not bad for a first year. What we don’t have are some of the lovely rarities that other people have managed to establish – see picture!

I really want a vine that we can harvest for grapes – dessert grapes might be pushing it a bit, but we could grow wine grapes I reckon. Of course, to succeed we’d need to have a greenhouse (and we don’t even have a shed yet!) so I’m overreaching myself more than a little bit, but the idea’s been planted and now I am browsing catalogues to see which would be the best variety.

Of course you can make wine from anything (the rhubarb in the freezer for example) and now my mind is also running over what crops might be convertible to a cheeky little vintage in a few year’s time. Do you make wine from allotment crops? If so, what’s your best recipe?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, July 14, 2008 3 Comments

Rotten allotment tasks

Things I have discovered I hate doing:

Digging potatoes in the wet – I know we should have got them out of the ground when the weather was fine, but remember, strictly speaking they aren’t our potatoes: Duncan grew them and we felt he should have first dibs. Then the heavens opened and it doesn’t matter who dibs now, the spuds are lurking sullenly in clayey, gluey soil and are horrible to dig out. They have to be washed in a bucket of water before we take them home, where the first ones we dug could actually be laid out in the sun to toughen for a few hours before transporting home. If you can do that, they keep a lot better, but if you leave them in the sun for more than about eight hours they start to go green. Fat chance of that, this week!

Weeding in the wet – Yes, you can hoe, but if you have clay soil like us, even the sharpest hoe gets clogged with clay very quickly, so bucket number two (the one that doesn’t have potatoes in soak) has to be used to wash the clay off the hoe every few feet. Ugh.

And I hate not being able to get my storm kettle going ...

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, July 10, 2008 2 Comments

Allotment rain – at last, and tasks

Whee! After six weeks of nothing, our first real rain! Sadly, it’s accompanied by howling gales but you can’t have everything. At least our brassicas and lettuce will be getting a real soaking.

And at last we can stop going up every evening to water the peas. Our crop is going to be feeble anyway, we had only half a dozen pea plants and they got horribly wind-scorched before we got the windbreak up, but peas are, to me, the Faberge egg of allotment life – without peas fresh from the pod, the summer’s wasted. Of course we will need to go up again and check their supports, as this kind of wind could knock even a wrought iron terrace flat. They are just about ready for harvesting, so I’m keeping a very beady eye on them.

We’re also watching our radishes, which should be benefitting from this cool weather. We sowed another row last week and they are already showing two leaves, but I always think you can’t have too many radishes (and if you do, you can make cold radish soup, which is called poor man’s gazpacho in our house). As radishes will bolt if it gets too hot, we’re relatively pleased that this sowing is starting off in cool weather, as one school of thought argues that bolting behaviour is not just triggered by hot weather at the time, but may be a predisposition of hot weather at the time of germination. They only need water in July, never feeding.

And at the end of the month we’ll be sowing winter radish, spreading out the sowing period from late July to early September to ensure a supply over a long timeframe.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, July 7, 2008 2 Comments

Allotment life

Tomorrow I have to do one of those things that goes with my ‘real’ job – standing up in front of a couple of dozen people taking a creative writing class. So last night, as well as preparing my various papers and information, I did that thing that ladies have to do, which used to be called ‘grooming’ (a term that now applies only to dogs). And it came as a bit of a shock.

I have five broken fingernails, mainly from planting things in our somewhat stony plot, or pulling out weeds. On my left leg there are four wheelbarrow bruises, from resting it against my thigh while I tip it up (bad habit, must learn not to do it) and on my right ankle a lovely range of bramble scratches. My face and arms are burnt brown by the sun, even though I wear a good sunblock, and yet the rest of me is lily white (where it isn’t bruises or scratches). Put it this way – I wouldn’t want to shake my rough, scratched hand and can’t imagine anybody else would either.

Yes, I should wear gloves, but gloves don’t let you feel the condition of the soil and are useless when you’re teasing out tiny seedling roots into a planting hole. Yes, I shouldn’t use myself as a fulcrum for the wheelbarrow and yes, thicker trousers would probably have dealt with the brambles. But I’m an allotment holder, that’s what I do, and no matter how often I tell myself I’m going to be careful, when I’m on the plot I immediately plunge into the dirtiest jobs with insane abandon.

So my poor students will be taught by somebody who looks like a daughter of the soil and I hope they don’t mind, because I know I won’t change …

… and anyway, on my way to class I just have to nip up to the plot and dig up some potatoes!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, July 4, 2008 2 Comments

Allotment bad weather

We haven’t had any bad weather since we got our plot, but with tonight’s storm warnings in the South we are planning to get up there early in the evening and work out what we can do to protect our plants.

It was perhaps a bad idea to put two rows of lettuce seed and two rows of carrot seed into a bed on Sunday! But as we haven’t seen how germination operates in our soil, we thought we’d conduct a kind of ‘test run’ so that we have some idea whether seedlings damp off, get wind damage, how well the soil holds water etc. As I say, our timing may have been less than perfect.

Of course the rain, if we get any, will be welcome, because we’re watering just about every night now and with the hot sea breezes, most water seems to evaporate almost before it hits the ground, even at dusk, but storms are a different matter because they wash the soil away from a plants roots and strong winds with heavy rain can break leaves or even stems on smaller plants. So we’ll be bodging up rain protection systems (I’m pondering banging together some wood to make a kind of upside down V-shaped cloche just for the storm warning period) and hoping that not too much stuff gets washed away ….

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 2 Comments

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