Allotment harvest: mainly red
I’ve hardly been able to get to the plot this week, owing to swine flu and me still struggling to get over my surgery (gosh, don’t we sound like a house of crocks and invalids) but I did manage to shoot up for an hour yesterday to:
-- water the monster cucumbers (variety Bushy – temperament: productive)
-- and to pick some beans (variety Scarlet Emperor – temperament: productive)
-- as well as pulling a row of the heritage beetroot we grew from Seedy Sunday seed (variety Ukraine – temperament: expansive).
Our sweetcorn is within a couple of days of being harvestable, apparently. Once the silks begin to brown and fold, then you peel back some covering and pierce a corn kernel with your fingernail: watery is not ripe, creamy is ripe, like raw dough is overripe (hope we don’t get to that point).
Our red chicory has gone very red indeed, it’s a gorgeous shade although, to be blunt, we are getting a little bit sick of eating it.
On the whole though, we’re very happy with our summer harvest, after slightly less than a year of allotment-holding.
Allotment Garlic Goings On
Our garlic did well this year, and between the ones planted in the garden in case they didn’t like the allotment, and the allotment ones that seemed very happy, we had quite a harvest. Given that we don’t eat that much garlic, I thought I’d plait it and hang it up in the kitchen where at least it would look pretty.
Have you ever tried plaiting garlic? The ‘ingredients’ alone are pretty daunting: scissors, an old toothbrush, a couple of bath towels and a knife as well as a dozen or more garlic bulbs.
Well, I tried. And failed. And so our garlic is hiding in a mesh basket in the shed, where it is cool and dry and the mess I made of it can’t be seen. After all, nobody will know what it looked like when they eat it, will they?
The reason I was plaiting garlic instead of doing something more useful and nurturing like picking beans or raspberries, is that we have an outbreak of swine flu in the house and while I know I should be at the plot: watering cucumbers, feeding tomatoes and generally tidying up, it would seem hard-hearted beyond belief to head off to nurture vegetables when Himself needs nurturing at home. And before you ask, no it’s not Man-Flu, it’s the genuine, full-blown swinish article and he has it badly, poor chap.
So here's the last photo I managed to take before we became a plague house ... our marigolds!
Gluttier and gluttier – excess allotment crops
According to the Allotment Cookbook by Kathryn Hawkins, you can boil new potatoes, drain and toss in melted butter, and put in a freezer bag, and they will survive being frozen for 6 months. Has anybody tried this method?
I’m making lots of potato ‘things’, like our favourite mashed potato laced with strong cheese, steamed red chicory, bacon bits and chopped onion, which is then packed into containers and frozen – lovely with summer cabbage, for example. I’ve never tried freezing whole new potatoes though and the idea has its appeal.
Our Pink Fir Apple potatoes have gone insane – they must have heard me saying I was disappointed and bucked their ideas up, because we have bushels of them and they are delicious, but even I can’t eat potatoes more than twice a day. We’ve had potato soup, potato salad (hot and cold), potato and cucumber soup (cold), potato mash, fried potatoes with shallots and baked new potatoes with mint dressing. So new ideas would be welcome.
And even as I speak, the borlotti beans are making a bid for glut status – although I know what to do with them: dry them!
Allotment rain, crops and planning
It has rained and rained and rained. On the plus side, we haven’t had to water the beans. On the minus side, digging up new potatoes has been horrible – dashing up to the plot to try and get the spuds out of the ground while it, and we, were relatively dry. And failing, more often than not.
My sweetcorn is still going great guns, or rockets or whatever the proper metaphor should be for corn. I managed to get a good photo between rainstorms, although you can see the clouds gathering for another go at drenching 201 while I’m on it.
My herb garden is looking good too – the dill has gone to seed and I’m hoping to harvest that seed, some for cooking and some for sowing next year, as dill, despite being a perennial, never survives a winter on our exposed area of the south coast. The amaranth (love lies bleeding) looks very pretty too, although I’m a bit puzzled by it: the same seed last year in the garden grew to about three and a half feet, but it seems to have stuck at a much shorter height on the allotment. It could be a sign of poor soil, I suppose, we didn’t do a lot of work on that area before planting it out.
And now, as the chicory and peas are harvested, the radish too, and the beans are coming on in glut proportions, I wonder what we could do with the bare soil left behind the finished crops. The obvious answer is to leave it for a while, especially where the pea roots are, and then dig it over and compost or manure it. But are there any quick crops one can stick into the ground in July?
I’m going to be potting up strawberry runners in the next week though. We’ll keep the current, rather tired, strawberry bed, for another year but start planting out a new one, so that after the harvest of 2010, we can dig up the old one entirely. That’s the plan anyway!
Allotment soft fruit
Last year Pat and Steph at Bifurcated Carrots were kind enough to send me some white alpine strawberry seed. At the same time, we had to move 201’s overgrown, highly rampant raspberries into an area where they could be corralled. I planted my strawberry seed and dug up my raspberry canes without any expectation of fruit from either this year.
The seed went into the greenhouse and came up as absolutely tiny plantlets. I grew some on for myself and gave all the others away – some went to the allotment that grows crops for the local hospice, so I hoped that the plants would be given enough time to prove themselves before being dug up to make room for something else.
How very wrong I was to doubt!
Okay, we’re not exactly in a glut situation, but the strawberries never will be a glut crop – they grow a few fruit at a time over a long time frame, so you get just enough to have with your breakfast cereal or to snack on at lunchtime. They are delicious - tangy, almost citrus-flavoured and very soft, more like a raspberry in texture than a strawberry. The raspberries themselves have done very well to fruit at all, so I’m definitely not complaining about their productivity.
So this is with thanks to Pat and Steph, and an encouragement to people who’ve only grown seed from seed companies – it’s not difficult to harvest seed, and it seems quite easy to grow it too. If I can do it, anybody can!
Allotment Leeks – to earth up or not to earth up?
Leeks – you can’t have too many of them! This is our raised bed of leeks, then we have two rows of leeks in with the peas and we even have a line of leeks in the raspberries because we had so many left over.
But I don’t know whether to blanch them, and if so, how and when? I do know why – it’s to increase the length of white stem and make it more tender by reducing sunlight. All the information I’ve been able to gather is that you draw dry soil around the stems when the plants are well developed, in stages, like earthing up potatoes, but not allowing any earth to fall between the leaves of the leeks or the plants will be full of grit. I also know you should finish earthing-up in late October.
So – some questions to the allotment universe:
1. is it a good idea to put something around the plants to avoid that grittiness like, say toilet roll inners sliced laterally and then held round the leek with elastic bands (hope the reader can imagine what I mean, the slicing to get the cardboard over the leaves, the band to hold the roll in place snugly) or does that give chickie-pigs and other beasties a perfect new home?
2. have I got the wrong kind of leeks, as mine seem to be growing leaves from the ground out, so it’s hard to imagine how they might ever develop a long stem – I’m sure they should have done it by now – or do I cut the bottom leaves off to make a long stem?
Gosh I’m confused. We grew self-blanching leeks last year, which was easier although the germination was nowhere near as good as with ‘classic’ leeks. Perhaps I should have stuck with what I know. I suddenly feel like a massive leek ignoramus, which is a sad thing to be, when you love leeks as much as I do.
Allotment pests and prettiness
This is not plot 201. This is the allotment of somebody with a developed aesthetic sense and a rightful focus on beauty as well as productivity.
201 has an arch too. Or rather, it has two blue metal shop fittings that are supposed to be the uprights of an arch, when we bury them either side of the path and sling some plastic trellis over the top to make the ‘arch’ bit. For the past eight months or so, they have been moved around the site, from place to place, with people constantly falling over, or into, them and then cursing and kicking them and moving them somewhere else.
The net result of our ‘feed the masses’ ethic is eleven cucumbers in the fridge and no arch. I think we’ve got our priorities a little bit wrong somewhere, but there never seems to be time to stop and work on non-food-crop related things now.
To start with, we have whitefly on everything, but mainly on the brassicas that aren’t in the brassica cage. And while whitefly are said to be more a nuisance than a pest, we still have to wash them off all our seedling plants every few days. The distinction between ‘nuisance’ and ‘pest’ seems to be that nuisances annoy and make work harder, while pests simply destroy and make work fruitless (or cropless, if you prefer). The tomatoes seem to insist on being tied up every ten minutes, the beans don’t seem to be flowering as fast or as much as himself would wish (and the runner beans are attacked by blackfly) and the celeriac can’t get enough water. With all that going on, who has time to stop and consider a rustic arch?
But I didn’t get an allotment just to have kilos of crops that have to be blanched or dried or pickled or given away. I got an allotment to have scope to express myself in plants as well as in words – but on the current evidence I have about as much ‘green’ creativity as the average bus timetable. I think my autumn focus needs to be on beauty …
Allotment new potatoes and running repairs in the rain
Today we got everything the wrong way round. We arrived at the plot with a short list of necessary chores, the most important of which was getting the new lid on the cold frame. But we got seduced by the glories of sweetcorn. We have never grown sweetcorn before and it was not the best germinator in the greenhouse so we never really expected to see this on our plot. It’s amazing. Sweetcorn. Wow! If it tastes half as good as it looks I shall be one happy allotment holder – fresh corn on the cob is one of my greatest pleasures, as are barbecued cobs with a black pepper and butter dressing.
Anyway, back to what we were supposed to be doing. Regular readers will remember that a couple of weeks ago, when we had the lids propped open to allow our nascent cucumbers some air circulation, a rogue breeze (of about gale force seven!) smashed the heavy glass-glazed lids down onto the frames, causing massive damage. So Himself has spent the last couple of weeks reglazing the panelled lids, moaning on a regular basis about the fact that they were made (by the original plot-holders, not by us) from soft wood so they have warped and twisted in the heat and rain, and today we took the second one up to replace on the frame.
But as I say, the sweetcorn seduced us, so then we had a good look at everything, and then we had a chat with June who was walking past, and they we decided to dig a couple of potato plants and then …
This happened. The reason that the church in the distance looks blurry is the heavy, heavy rain. The reason the sky looks so leaden is the heavy thunderclouds that were hammering and, well, thundering, overhead. I couldn’t manage to get a picture of the lightning, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
And you can see the second lid to the cold frame, leaning against the raspberry supports, can’t you? So you will understand that we had to stand, with icy rain sliding down the back of our necks (me) or hitting us right in the eyes (Himself), with thunder deafening us and lightning making us jump out of our skins, until each of the six fiddly little screws was fastened on the fiddly little hinges and the lid could be lowered into place. On the plus side we didn’t have to water the cucumbers, the rain did it for us. On the minus side we did have to empty out our shoes before getting in the van. Yes, it rained that much … summer, isn’t it fun?
Allotment winter crops and summer preparation
So the cage is ready and the kale is in it and the purple sprouting broccoli will go in too, this weekend. The Brussels sprouts are outside it though. Why? Because even Cabbage Whites don’t seem at all attracted to Brussels sprouts. We have both red Brussels and green ones, as you can see.
Sometimes aphids will land on Brussels, but if you wash them off with the hose they never seem to come back, unlike on other plants where the infestations are almost unending. Add to the pest-free element the fact that Brussels sprouts don’t need a lot of care, just regular watering and hand-weeding because they have shallow roots. You don’t even have to feed them, because if you do give them too rich a soil the sprouts simply ‘blow’ and become leafy. You may need to stake them (note in the photo that we staked ours from planting out, because Sussex by the Sea is noted for its winter gales and damned if I’m going to try and get stakes in the ground in October and risk damaging the roots on my lovely brassicas, when advance planning allowed me to get the stakes sorted out in May!) if you live in a windy area.
You can pinch out the top of the Brussels in September, which is what those growers do who have started producing Brussels ‘canes’ that turn up in supermarkets with all the little sprouts still on the stem. If you don’t pinch out the top, the sprouts will mature at different times, if you do pinch out, then all the sprouts tend to be ready at once. If you have a big family and want sprouts for Christmas, pinch out some tops in September to guarantee a full stem of sprouts for dinner in December. If you don’t have a big family, leave the tops in and you can harvest over a much longer period. Or, if you’re like me, and adore Brussels Sprouts, do some of both.
Allotment gluts and failed experiments
We had high hopes of our early potatoes grown in tyres, but the piles of tyres rose much higher than the results! To be blunt, the potatoes planted in tyres were a waste of time. They produced only three or four medium-sized potatoes each and in one tyre those potatoes that were produced were warty: I don’t know whether this was the effect of some chemical from the tyres or just coincidental, but we threw them away.
The same variety of seed potato grown in the open ground and harvested two weeks later had between seven and 12 potatoes each, and the same potatoes left a full month after we harvested the tyre-grown ones were producing around a dozen large tubers each. So the idea that we might get a smaller but earlier harvest in tyres didn’t work for us, although I know it has worked for others. Anyway, we are now swimming in potatoes although that’s not exactly a hardship – we have plenty of friends willing to take delicious new potatoes off our hands if we get fed up with them!
We also have a cucumber glut, and having tried six different salads, two soups and using them as a face pack, I’m running out of ideas what to try next.
We had a bit of a disaster last weekend too. The high winds on Friday caught us out entirely – we’d opened the cold frame to water the said cucumbers, but because it was so very hot, we neglected to apply common sense to the situation and left the frame propped fully open to allow the air to circulate. About ten minutes later, as I was watering the nearby raspberries, the wind lifted both lids off their supports and sent them crashing down. Net result: five of the eight glass panes broken and one wooden supporting bar actually fractured by the effect of the fall.
Our cold frame is big and heavy and isn’t what we would have built for ourselves, but it was on the plot when we arrived. So we work with it. Himself cut glass for one side of the frame during the week and reglazed one lid. The other is still covered by a sheet of corrugated plastic held down with bricks. The cucumbers don’t seem to mind at all, but next year I’m rather hoping we can use plastic rather than glass, as if I’d been stood two foot closer, I’d have been showered with dangerous fragments – and you do have to open and close cold frames regularly if you’re going to actually grow things in them, so we’re always at risk of the lids slipping out of our hands.
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