Winter colour on allotments

What colour would you call this path? I have to say that when I saw it last week I felt a bit … dazzled? It just seems too garish for an allotment, to me at least. Still, it’s not my path so I don’t have to worry about it.

On the other hand, a colour I’m particularly happy to see is this lovely shade of purple which is glowing gently from the brassica corner – my purple Brussels sprouts didn’t blow at all and look lovely, tightly-budded little beauties that they are. I wonder why though? Do they take up nitrogen better than the green ones or perhaps they need less of it? I have no idea why they stayed as tight as buttons while the green Brussels sprouts with which they are inter-planted went off in big rose-like blowing frenzies. Does anybody else know what the answer is?

I’ll tell you what though, that dried blood did the trick. Once I’d picked off all the blown sprouts (and stir fried them, waste not, want not!) and sprinkled dried blood and watered it in (and what a stinking job that is) the sprouts higher up the green Brussels stems are just as unblown as the purple ones. Lesson learned for next year: stake better, lime more, and ensure that if they start to blow I take remedial action on day one.

I suspect that to keep the colour in the purple Brussels they will need to be steamed rather than boiled, so I might try a test run this weekend when I go up to get some more Jerusalem artichokes to make soup. I want to have purple vegetables on our Christmas dinner table, and I’m hoping for both purple sprouting broccoli and purple Brussels sprouts. The first broccoli floret has appeared, so the timing is looking good.

Still no frost to kill off the whitefly though … but lots of rain to wash them away. And we lifted our bean frame this week, so that we can put it in its new location once we’ve manured the soil where it’s going to go. If it every stops raining, we might be able to get on with things a bit!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, November 27, 2009 6 Comments

Jerusalem Artichokes, brassicas and parsnips

These are our ‘overflow’ parsnips – we didn’t have enough space to plant all the parsnips we wanted, so we stuck in a row along the front of our runner beans, knowing that the soil wasn’t ideal (nor was the position, the leaves went over the path and got walked on a lot, and they were a nuisance to step over to get to the beans – most of the bean pods we failed to harvest were low growing ones we couldn’t find amongst the parsnip leaves) and they have come up rather forked but we’re still happy with them, as we haven’t even begun to harvest the ‘real’ parsnips in their properly prepared bed. Hope they are a bit straighter!

Steve Godley emailed thus: I have a block of brassicas containing brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers and curly kale. It is netted with ½” mesh netting against the pigeons but everything is covered with whitefly. At home in the garden I watch the bluetits and their friends searching through the treetops for similar insects I have just set some 2” wire mesh on two sides of the enclosure in the hope that smaller birds (bluetits and the like) will get in and feast on the whitefly. Has anyone already tried this? Or is there another way to get rid of whitefly?

Well, the only remedy I’ve found for whitefly is soapy water sprayed on at regular intervals. I know that all the gardening books say that whitefly does little or no harm to a plant, but a proper infestation will definitely stop the brassica growing properly, and it is horrible to have to wash thousands of flies (and eggs) off the convoluted leaves of something like curly kale. What we need is a good frost to kill the little blighters off, but no sign of that so far.

Jerusalem artichokes – the jury is still out, but the jury foreperson (me) is inclining towards a ‘guilty’ verdict. They definitely to induce wind, which is rather embarrassing if you spend all day with the public, as Himself does, but also, we weren’t thrilled by the flavour. I cooked three or four in a beef casserole and the results were truly flatulent. We’ll try twice more and if we don’t like them any better the third time, we will not be eating them again!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 4 Comments

Allotment shallots

I will start by being honest – these are not shallots we’ve grown ourselves! They are Andy’s shallots and if anybody has green fingers, it’s him.

We did grow shallots, but I’m not allowed to tell the story because it doesn’t present himself in a good light. It doesn’t present me in a good light either, but it’s even murkier light that falls on him. Maybe he’ll let me, if I ask him nicely.

Anyway, shallots – the tradition is to plant them on the shortest day (round about 21 December) and harvest on the longest (round about 21 June) and you set them in the ground like an onion, with just the tops visible. Don’t push them down into the earth unless your soil is profoundly sandy, as this damages them and can allow mould and disease to enter the bruised and broken areas.

Set about six inches apart and weeded carefully, they can otherwise be broadly ignored until the growing tops begin to yellow, which is harvest time. They keep very well and have a wonderful flavour, like onions but richer, sweeter and more nutty. If you have never grown shallots - get some! They are one of the allotment treasures that make life worthwhile: their flavour and texture are like liquid gold and you will never regret your investment.

The one thing I am not sure about is another bit of tradition – I’ve read in several places that if you want large shallots you should plant small ones, and if you want small shallots (why would you?) you should plant large ones. Does anybody know if this is true, and if so, why?


Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, November 20, 2009 3 Comments

Allotment crops for November – Jerusalem Artichokes

Well, they aren’t artichokes, and they don’t come from Jerusalem. That’s a corruption of Girasol, apparently, which means they are part of the sunflower family, and if you’ve grown them, the flowers are a bit of a give-away on that subject, looking just like half-starved sunflowers as they do.

So … we have a healthy crop of Jerusalems from the tubers we were given almost exactly a year ago. The photo shows the haul from just one plant and we have eleven. Which means that if we don’t like them, we’ll have to find somebody to give them away to.

They are a great crop for the new allotment-holder, with a few caveats and reservations. They grow tall and fast, providing a bit of a windbreak or blocking off a bit of unsightly plot from public view and they aren’t too fussy about soil conditions. The caveats are that they need staking in most regions as they are easily blown about, and they can be invasive if you don’t get every tuber out of the ground when you dig them up. The reservations? Only one: they are wind-inducing!

From what I’ve read, the wind-creating properties drop the more you eat them, as the body adjusts to them, which means, I suppose gales followed in a few weeks by calm. They are also a bit fiddly to prepare as they are both knobbly and prone to discolour so you have to put them straight into acidulated water as you peel them. Given our harvest, I’m simply cutting off the knobbliest bits and discarding them. We’re having them for dinner tonight so watch this space …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 5 Comments

Allotment harvest and winter fruit

Okay, it’s a bit late, but this is the first chance I’ve had to get round to showing what we took off the plot the day we went to plant strawberries. There are celeriac, parsnips, leek, kale and a summer cabbage (the last of them, and very slug damaged on the outside) which we took home. The celeriac we made into soup and a celeriac and potato mash to go with sausages, the parsnips were also souped, the leek we had in a stir fry with the kale and the cabbage is going into puff pastry to become a lovely pie (better than it sounds, I promise you).

One thing this haul made clear to me is that Britain is not a great place for winter fruit. I really want to get more late season and early season fruits onto the plot so we can have fresh fruit all year round, so I’ve been browsing James McIntyre for ideas. I think gooseberries and craneberries sound great, and at least I can get them into the freezer for use in the fruit-free months.

What do you grow as winter fruit, I wonder?

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, November 13, 2009 3 Comments

Allotment strawberry beds

My new strawberry plants arrived in the middle of last week, so I grabbed the chance on Monday to go and plant them out. Okay, that’s not strictly accurate, I skived off work (I work for myself, so I had to explain myself to myself when I got back from the allotment) to take advantage of the good weather, and I’m glad I did because it has rained, non-stop, since then.

I ordered Strawberry Alice because they are late season and I already had runners from our old strawberry bed, which are mid-season, so I hope this will give us strawberries for longer. I’ve decided to plant them in two different raised beds, partly because the way the runners from the old neglected bed (which, let me remind you, was not neglected by us but by the previous allotment owners) had managed to travel at least two yards outside the bed, so anything that limits that rampaging has to be a good thing! Himself put in another two rows of broad beans, which makes five (and I feel sure there should be a joke about how many rows of beans make five, but I can't think how it would go) while I planted the two strawberry beds.

The top of the plot, previously known as the allotment shame, has been rotavated and as I had a new compost bin to install, I got on with that too, turning the compost from bins one and two and setting up bin three. I’m expecting the compost from bin one to be ready in spring, bin two in the autumn of next year, but bin three won’t be ready for a couple of years as it has been started off with a lot of twiggy stuff that came out of the rotavation process.

Now we need to get some weed-suppressing membrane down over the dug area, in the hope of smothering a few of the perennial weeds that will recover from being chopped to pieces in short order. In fact, if you want to propagate bindweed (but who would be so insane?) rotavating it is the best way, as every tiny fragment puts out roots and becomes a new plant. I hope I got most of the bindweed out before the machine arrived but it doesn’t take more than a single length of the disgusting stuff to spread itself right over a lovely newly dug area – especially if the blades have chopped it up and spread it out, all ready to take over!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 4 Comments

Allotment – too much rain!

I don’t know about you, but our winter digging programme has been totally derailed by the amount of weather we’ve had this week. Every time we’ve tried to get to the plot to dig, it’s either rained heavily just as we’re about to set out, or we’ve got there to find that the ground is too wet to work.

It’s very annoying, as winter digging is one of the things that we failed to do adequately last year, mainly because we were still pulling out six foot thistles and enormous clumps of rampant horseradish and suckering raspberries, so we were determined to get everything properly double-dug and manured this year. I can only hope that as November continues it will get colder and less wet or we’re going to have to rethink our plans – we have so much unworked ground still to dig that it will take us all winter to get it into reasonable shape.

My seedling globe artichokes are looking a bit sad – I’d hoped to get them into the nursery bed this week too, so that they can have it as a bit of winter protection before being transplanted in spring to take their place with the plants I set out last year. I really have to get that done this weekend, as well as putting the strawberries in their new raised bed, which at the moment resembles a paddy field surrounded by wooden walls!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, November 6, 2009 6 Comments

Allotment Tasks for November

We’re going to be harvesting leeks – ours have done well, although next year I might try collaring and blanching them to get even more lovely white tender length.

The great thing about leeks is that they put up with an awful lot: they grow in a wide range of soil conditions, really only objecting to being waterlogged and they are pretty hardy so you can leave them in the ground in winter until you need to harvest them.

We’re leaving the leeks in the raised bed to be harvested between full winter and late spring, as even if the ground freezes, they have a good degree of frost protection from the bed and from the bark mulch that forms a path around the beds, but we’ll be lifting the ones that were planted in the open and then brushing them off, and storing them in a box of sand in the shed, where they will stay nice and fresh for around a month

And we’re lifting a rhubarb to force at home because we love the sweet stems that don’t need peeling. Although you can simply cover a plant as soon as it starts to grow (round about February) we’ve found that if we lift one and overwinter it in the house, we can actually get champagne rhubarb (the thinner, pale pink stems that are strawberry sweet) at the same time as people are only just starting to cover outdoor rhubarb to force them! We pot a crown into a small dustbin and keep it in the porch with another bin over the top to exclude all light. We need to water it a couple of times a month, but because our porch faces south, the crown gets plenty of heat and by the end of February we can be harvesting rhubarb. Then we replant the crown and don’t harvest it at all the next year to allow it to rebuild its strength as forcing exhausts the plants resources.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, November 3, 2009 6 Comments

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