Allotments: the bad side
As well as measuring sunflowers and shooting the breeze, there are other things we allotment officials have to do as we tour the site, one of which is looking at the plots and deciding who needs a weed notice. On our site, after a certain number of weed notices the tenant gets a termination notice and then we (under our new rules) divide some plots into four, offer each quarter to a new tenant and then, when they’ve proved they can cope with a full plot, move them up to a full or half plot, as they desire.
That’s the theory. Of course, from time to time, we have to cast that stern eye over our own plots, and 201, to be honest, is heading for a weed notice! See, I don’t hide the ugliness at the heart of our paradise. We won’t get a weed notice, not because I’m on the committee (they were handing out weed notices to each other like Christmas cards last year!) but because the site rep who covers my area knows that we’ve had a tough few months, first with my stomach op and then with Himself getting swine flu. Also, the plot was totally neglected before we took it over in November 2008 and it takes more than a year to get to grips with really ingrained perennial weeds. So that, along with our health woes, gives us a few month’s grace to get this mess tidied up.
So if you’re an allotment holder, and you’re struggling to cope for some reason, talk to your allotment committee BEFORE you get a warning, not after. It helps us when we’re going round the site if we know there’s a reason for your lack of good housekeeping, and it helps you if you know that your committee understands why you might not be on top of the weed problem.
Allotment Competitions and Niceties
So, the onion competition – bet you can’t wait for the results!
Prepare for disappointment.
Not a single onion turned up.
We had a sort of post-mortem, as we wandered around the site, measuring sunflowers, and came to the conclusion that three things had conspired against us:
1. Lots of people have been disappointed by their onion size this year and so they may have felt they didn’t stand a chance of winning
2. Shoreham Airshow and Worthing Birdman were both happening on the day
3. The weather was gorgeous, so perhaps people went to the beach while they could instead of coming to the allotment.
So we’ve rescheduled for next weekend. I know at least two allotment holders who could have entered but didn’t because they thought their onions were too small, so I shall have to make sure they pitch up with their onions next Sunday.
You may be wondering why we were measuring sunflowers. Because of the children’s sunflower competition of course!
And you’ll be wanting to know who won that too.
Prepare for disappointment.
I do know who won, but I can’t tell you. The thing is, I’m not so arrogant as to believe that the world and his allotment dog read my blog, but just in case they do, I want the relevant children to be informed by the Allotment Association before I start spreading the news far and wide. In the meantime, you can see my esteemed colleague Peter measuring a sunflower, and I can tell you that the tallest sunflower was an astonishing nine feet and nine inches … so watch this space for future revelations!
Growing artichokes on the allotment
We have two lots of artichokes: the ones in the ground, grown from a sliced-up globe artichoke root and the ones at home, which were grown from seed and look pretty healthy although they are not big enough yet to survive a winter up on the plot, where the winds are awesome and the temperatures can drop to semi-glacial on rare February nights.
So the ones in the ground have been thriving, and a few days ago I went around and did the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do since I got the allotment – I cut off every single bud. Did you know that the globe artichoke is actually related to the thistle? Well I did, as soon as I tried to remove those heads – I speared myself on a dozen different spikes and prickles at once! If you’re growing perennial globe artichokes (not that weird variety that is grown as an annual in the USA) then in the first year, you should remove all the flower-heads because (a) they are pretty well inedible and (b) taking them off strengthens the plant so that it can cope with the winter and produce better and more edible buds the following year.
It was a tough thing to do though because the buds are so pretty, even if you’re not going to eat them, and I notice that most people don’t bother to use them as a crop, perhaps because they are a bit of a faddle to prepare. Anyway, I told myself that the end justified the means, and got on with it.
On the other hand, a crop that we grew to run to seed is doing very well – the sunflowers are looking gorgeous and should be able to provide some winter food for small birds on the plot, as well as the damn squirrels and mice.
It was worth waiting for. Despite the fact that my parents have informed me that their potato harvest ranks in the hundredweight, and that their tomatoes were weeks earlier than ours, we are definitely the winners in the sweetcorn stakes, mainly because my parents didn’t grow any.
We love corn on the cob anyway, and Himself once spent a few weeks working as a sweetcorn stripper on the Isle of Wight (isn’t that a job titled to conjure with?) although the whole story is not a happy one – his father died, and he took four days off to deal with all those things that have to be dealt with, and when he went back to work he was told he’d been sacked in his absence because they didn’t let casual workers take time off for any reason. And this was one of those firms that supplies Tescos!
Anyway, our sweetcorn, home-grown and all that, knocked the supermarket varieties into a cocked, or any other shaped, hat. It was simply sublime. It was sweet, juicy, easy to eat and very palatable: some people find that sweetcorn isn’t easy to eat because of all the little fibres that get between your teeth but with Lark Early that doesn’t seem to be a problem, there were a few fibres but they were soft and easy to get rid of by brushing said teeth.
What we’ve learned is that sweetcorn is easy to grow, but not quite so easy to germinate. We had about half our seed corn actually sprout, so next year we will start it a little later and make sure it is warm enough. It doesn’t like overly wet conditions when germinating either, and I did find that when I emptied the non-sprouting pots, three corn had germinated but then rotted off, so we will take more care with air circulation and drainage on our sweetcorn pots, because it’s worth it.
Labels: allotment sweetcorn
Allotment Beans – the test results
There were some scoffers when we put up our bean supports – somebody even said it looked like a set of bunk beds. Oh you scoffers, eat your words!
The test is in the picking, and outward leaning bean poles, like ours, mean that all the beans simply hang away from the plant and can easily be seen. Bean wigwams, pretty as they are, tend to hide vast amounts of beans on the inside of the wigwam, so you have to poke around to find them, and risk damaging smaller beans that aren’t ready to be picked.
It takes two minutes to pick our runner beans from this structure compared to over ten minutes to pick one of the wigwams. And so far I haven’t found a single monster over-sized bean that has escaped detection until its reached Godzilla proportions, which has happened every other year when we’ve grown runner beans.
So the test is conclusive, outward leaning poles make picking easier!
Allotment tomatoes and how to use them
We are brimming over with tomatoes, although to be honest, they are not – strictly speaking – allotment tomatoes because our greenhouse is not at the allotment, it’s tucked into the bottom of the garden at home. This is the first year we’ve grown tomatoes (or anything else) in a greenhouse and we’re very impressed with the results. All these were grown from seed we saved ourselves. The black tomato came from an allotment neighbour, and the fruit it produces are relatively small in size but firm and meaty and perfect for cooking with.
We really like tomato clafoutis, which we first had in France – a clafoutis is something like a Yorkshire pudding and something like a soft batter pudding, in that it’s crispy and brown on top, but soft and melting underneath.
25 grams plain flour
150 milk (or milk and cream if you’re feeling luxurious)
10 to 12 ripe firm tomatoes cut in half
1 teaspoon olive oil
75 grams firm cheese, like feta or parmesan or sheep’s milk cheese, cubed
Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4 and while it’s heating, whisk the flour into the eggs and then add some seasoning and the milk, in small amounts, whisking continually to keep it smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Put the tomatoes cut side up, in an oiled ovenproof dish. Season with salt and pepper and put in the oven for ten minutes.
Take the dish out of the oven, put the bits of cheese in the gaps between the tomatoes and pour the batter over the top. Cook near the top of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes.
Great hot or cold, we like it best with new potatoes and a beetroot salad so everything is seasonal!
And my mother, who knows more about allotments and cooking than I ever will, rang to tell me that she boils small new potatoes (golf ball sized ones) rolls them in melted butter and freezes them in bags. They don't taste quite like fresh new potatoes, she says, but they still taste absolutely great. So that's what I'm doing next ...
Allotment harvests, and waiting for harvests
While we could spend all day, every day, picking French beans and still find when we got to the end that some beans had magically matured at the other end of the row, there are other crops that don’t quite want to get there.
I know that we have a while to wait for our borlotti beans. In fact, I’m wondering whether it was a good idea to grow them in the UK at all, given that they apparently have to be dried on the plant and given that our September, last year, was notable for its peculiar blend of rain and fog, meaning that sometimes you got wet vertically and sometimes you got wet horizontally, but either way, you got wet – that doesn’t bode well for beans drying on the plant at all. They are shy beasts too, given how colourful they are, it took me ages to find any to photograph.
The other crop that is keeping us hanging on is the sweetcorn. Whenever I think about it, my mouth waters, but each time I peel back some of the covering leaves and pierce a kernel with my nail, it still runs clear, not milky, which is the sign that the cob is ripe. It’s Lark Early which should be ripe by now, I’m sure, but it simply isn’t and I’m not sure if:
1. I’m impatient
2. We’ve done something wrong
3. Our corn is jinxed.
Okay, I know that last one isn’t true, but never having grown corn before, and having had only a 50% germination rate, I can’t help expecting the worst all the time. Is everybody else’s corn ripe, or am I jumping the gun, sweetcorn-wise?
Allotment Learning Curve – what we won’t do next year
When everything is so busy, and the thistles are growing faster than almost anything else on the plot, even though we thought we’d pulled every last one of them up in November, and when, if you stand still, the bindweed actually grabs your ankles and tries to climb up your leg, it can be difficult to stop and take stock.
But we did.
We sat down and looked at what we’d grown and decided what we need more of, and less of, in 2010.
• First, asparagus peas. Like The Cottage Smallholder we have decided that these are a swizz! The companies that market these as a vegetable should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act (or whatever) as I don’t think even a hungry goat would enjoy them. They are fabulously pretty, and we’ve decided to use up the many seeds we have left as a ground cover crop for any bare soil we have next year – they should work like any other legume and if we cut the tops off to compost, their ground covering behaviour which keeps down weeds, plus the pretty flowers (and the roots left in the soil to convey nitrogen) mean we won’t have entirely wasted our money on them. But we will never, ever eat them again. Vile.
• Second, we won’t grow outdoor tomatoes. Ours have developed blossom end rot through uneven watering – not because we watered unevenly but because deluges of rain, followed by a couple of sweltering days, then more rain made it impossible to give them a regular watering regime. Also, blight is on the next allotment but one to ours, so I reckon they will have it by the end of the week – greenhouse tomatoes only for us next year.
• Third, more peas please! We have some kilos of peas in the freezer, but we could easily have doubled our planting – we do love our peas and there’s never a day when I look at peas and think that I can’t bother with them!
• Fourth, spuds. I think we need more varieties with later croppers to take us through the year. This suggests we need to do more research on the keeping properties of various maincrop potato varieties – we have been very happy with our potatoes this year, apart from the ones grown in tyres which were rubbishy.
And by that point, the bindweed had reached our knees and we had to start moving again or become a permanent fixture on the plot. But the picture is our French bean harvest for the day – excellent! And if you think that’s an odd shadow looming over them, it’s Rebus, the Cairn Terrier, who is very fond of raw French beans and will ‘guard’ the trug all day for a single bean as his reward.
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