As well as watching over our green manure like horticultural hawks, we're in the throes of deciding what we need to save from this year to sow next year, and what we're going to have to buy:
• Shallots - we replant our smallest shallots year on year
• Black tomato seed - outdoor variety - we were given this tomato seed four years ago by our lovely neighbour Sue, and we grow it every year at home in the garden, not on the allotment (outdoor tomatoes always get blight on the plot)
• Olive tomato - we were given this tomato plant by Len and we're not sure if its F1 hybrid or not. We're going to save some seed anyway, and give it a try in the greenhouse
• Royal Black Chilli - it's so pretty and we gave away so many plants grown from the original seed that was donated by Jill that we're going to save seed again and hope that in 2011 it will get off to a faster start
• Peppers – we are enjoying the chocolate peppers a lot, but visitors to our house do seem a bit dubious about them, so we’re going to have some classic red peppers too, for when we’re entertaining guests
• Borlotti – to our great disappointment we haven’t managed to get hold of any tall borlotti beans that are not F1 hybrids. We can buy dwarf borlotti that are not F1 but they are only about half as productive (naturally enough!) as the tall ones. We want the tall ones and will be scouring catalogues to obtain them.
• Nero kale – I was rather hoping somebody would give us a couple of Cavolo Nero plants this year, but nobody did. Black Tuscan, as it’s known in some catalogues, is an elegant and very tasty and hardy winter vegetable, and you can save the seed easily if you have a parent plant (which we don’t, hint hint!) so if we don’t manage to track down a seed-saving allotment-holder we shall end up investing in seed of our own.
Buying seed is a bit of an issue for me – sometimes I love splurging on new plants and seed and at other times I feel that I should be more frugal and try to run my whole allotment from saved seed and propagated plants. Am I alone in feeling the tension between self-sufficiency and investing in my passion?
Those green manures do really shoot up don't they? This picture shows our mustard four days (FOUR DAYS) after sowing!
Royal Black Chilli update
As black as your hat and as small as my thumbnail, but definitely a chilli (or chili, or chillie,or chile - it seems you can spell it any way you like). I wonder how hot it will be and when it will decide to turn red?
Blithering pollination issues
Hell and damnation, it never rains but it pours. Or perhaps because it rains it pours damnation.
Remember the issues we had with sweetcorn germination this year, requiring us to buy a whole extra packet of seed and go for a second sowing?
Well they did come good in the end, and we’ve eaten some, given lots away and this week I blanched and froze fourteen cobs. Lovely jubbly and all that.
But there is a downside. All our second cobs, the ones further down the stems, are empty. There are three potential reasons for this, and I reckon that they could all be true:
1. Not enough pollen present in the air to achieve fertilisation of each kernel on the cob because of high winds (we’ve had some doozie winds here on the south east coast)
2. Too much rain which washes the pollen down to the ground before it can fertilise the kernels (we had heavy rain in June and August)
3. Edge failure, which is what farmers call this situation where corn in particular, at the edge of a field, is less fertile because the pollen count is lower and comes only from one or two directions, unlike the middle of the field where the count is high and pollen is airborne from four directions.
Sometimes it feels as if everything from microbes to macro weather systems is conspiring against me!
And this is what the plot looks like today – even the Green Man has put a jumper on, it’s so chilly. August? I don’t think so.
allotment haul this week
Not that I'm boasting or anything ...
- sweetcorn - Lark F1 or Supersweet or both, no idea which as OH planted them out without labels. These are the F1 hybrids I would not like to be without, as they are gloriously sweet and quite reliable given the general difficulty of getting sweetcorn to germinate in the UK.
- beetroot: cylindrical
- winter radish
- courgettes, both yellow and green
Not bad eh?
Labels: allotment harvest
Questions of scale – allotment tomatoes
The issue of tomatoes is a vexed one: we grow ours in a greenhouse at home, not at the plot. It’s not that we haven’t tried … three years, on three different plots, over our co-working career, we spent (dare I say wasted?) three summers growing (trying to grow) outdoor tomatoes. We raised them from seed, we planted them out, they developed fruit, they got blight, they died. It was a constant theme of dreary failure in our lives.
Then, a couple of years ago, my wonderful OH gave me a greenhouse for my birthday. Regular readers will remember. My birthday is at the beginning of autumn and the greenhouse finally made it to standing status at the end of the winter … better late than never, and entirely down to OH’s profound ability to do things practical with straight lines and level surfaces, which has not been my forte, I will freely admit.
On the other hand, the greenhouse has been the saviour of our tomato growing career. From the tiny and charming tanginess of the currant tomato, whose plant was donated by a friend, through to the vast pulpy (and somewhat tasteless, I have to say) impressiveness of the Big Red F1 hybrid, whose seeds were also a gift (Secret Santa – I sighed when I saw what I’d got, but they have been fun to grow if not thrilling to eat) we have not lost a single tomato plant to blight.
So, as the rain breaks again over our house, I am able to wander down the garden to the greenhouse, and pick a handful of nose-prickling, delicious and entirely unwet and unblighted tomatoes.
Joy is not in it. If there is a heaven, I think there will be tomato plants there, but no blight!
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade ...
... but if it gives you grape thinnings - make grape jelly.
When it rains, there's nothing better than sitting indoors and making preserves from your allotment produce.
Green manures to follow potatoes
We decided to go for mustard as a green manure to sow on the area of 201 where we’d had our first early and second early potatoes. Mustard seed, as a manure, can be sown from March to September and matures in four to eight weeks. It has a maximum height of 90 centimetres, which is pretty damn tall and means that it will produce a lot of green ‘matter’ which gets dug into the soil. It’s also a half-hardy annual which means it will get killed off by frost. There are two other reasons we chose mustard:
1. it may need extra watering in dry periods to get established (but we are in for a wet few weeks according to the forecasts)
2. it is said to reduce the population of wireworms by stimulating the pest to complete their life cycle much quicker which means the larvae are mature before the potatoes get sown.
Two notes of caution – as part of brassica family you shouldn’t follow mustard as a green manure with a brassica crop and while it looks delicious (apparently) it’s not fit for human consumption.
I sowed it on Wednesday, after raking over the area where we’d lifted potatoes and watering it well before broadcasting the seed. Within twenty minutes, while I was still admiring my borlotti beans, I was rewarded with an intense shower of rain. I anticipate a fantastic green manure!
From my new plot - who'd have thought it?
1. Grape thinnings to make vine jelly (delicious, but you only get a couple of small jars a year)
2. Apples for chutney.
I'm thrilled that plot 103 is turning out to be productive already. But just don't ask about the weeds, the old baths, or the voodoo doll-heads.
Allotment Gluts part 2 – being organised!
I’m not as bad as I think I am. I can’t be, or I couldn’t have made all those cakes for the allotment cake sale, and done a full week’s work, and worked on my monstrous plot, could I?
We had a great time yesterday, cakes were sold, new names learned (and nearly as swiftly forgotten, sorry if I was calling you Pat when you’re Pam or Joe when you’re James!) and crops swapped – we got given runner beans, which we aren’t growing this year by our new neighbours and gave sweetcorn, of which we have much to somebody else.
Mind you, that doesn’t reveal what didn’t get done: the ironing pile taller than a prize-winning sunflower, the family fed on toasted sandwiches for another week, (Joanna, Mum’s glut recipe is a deep secret for now, but could be appearing next year – wait and see!) the weeds sprouting on plot 201 where the bindweed has twined further up the bean poles than the beans have, and the overstock corner has become a wilderness of rampaging courgettes, borlotti escapology and gone-to-seed pak choi.
Still, I’m trying not to think about it. Instead I am planning my winter crops – our winter radish are absolutely huge already, so I won’t be sowing any more for a month or so, which pushes them to the edge of sowability, our Brussels are once again rubbishy but our purple-sprouting broccoli looks marvellous. The asparagus bed is worrying me, as next year is the first harvestable year and this year three of the nine crowns didn’t show … do I replace them now, or wait until next year and see if they come good? My reference books are remarkably silent on this (possibly a little specialised) question. I think I might try banging in some chard, although we’re not terribly fond of it, to take the place of the Brussels sprouts in our winter menus. It's all a bit of a rush, to be honest ... but then, isn't it always?
August is all about harvests ...
Yesterday I spent all of an hour at the plot, because I needed to be at home dealing with produce!
1. blanched and frozen a dozen corn on the cob
2. cooked down a pasta pot full of courgettes, tomatoes, onions and other summer veg to make a very special dish, based on a greek recipe but reinvented by my mother to become the best ever glut-user-upper!
3. cleaned a tray of shallots, and still have another tray to clean before they can be put into storage in the shed
4. turned the cured onions but not got around to actually cleaning and hanging them yet (we didn’t grow many onions this year, so they have plenty of room to loll about for a while)
5. made some blackcurrant and wild plum jelly to give away to the various people who have ‘donated’ items for our plot this year – namely a neighbour who gave us some decking to make beds and another who was throwing out an old table which we now use for potting on seedlings.
I haven’t found a really good way of managing this time of year – my kitchen is filled with fruit and veg, my freezer ditto, and yet my family gets to eat take-aways because I am so exhausted from cooking/blanching/picking over/freezing/pickling/jam-making that they are lucky if I have the strength to press the ‘down’ lever on the pop-up toaster!
Are other people much better at managing harvest than me? If so, what’s the secret?
Black Chilli flower (at last)
I'd almost given up on the Royal Black Chilli, but on this rainsoaked morning, it's flowered!
That's the Big Red F1 hybrid tomato in the background, by the way, lovely big fruits but about as much flavour as eating a polysterene replica of a tomato. Won't be buying that seed again! Actually it was a gift, I didn't buy it ...
This is the first year that 201 has been what I consider to be productive. Okay, it’s only the second summer we’ve spent on this plot, and I advise everybody else to assume three years before you can feel confident about productivity, but those rules don’t apply to me!
So yesterday we harvested:
• Potatoes, red and white maincrops
• Sweetcorn (delicious beyond expression)
• Beetroot (long rooted, not globe)
• Summer cabbage
• Salad onions
• Cucumber (small and ugly, but a cucumber nonetheless!)
• Winter radish
And we also had a trug full of blackberries and gooseberries.
Not bad eh?
On the other hand, our Brussels sprouts appear to be too big and some of them are already blowing sprouts – I have no idea why we are so prone to this on 201. We have put up windbreaks, planted with collars, hammered down the soil until it’s almost impossible to break it up again afterwards, limed … and still we get Brussels sprouts like David Austin roses! Any ideas, you clever people?
OH has a magnificent crop of sunflowers this year too. The allotment site has a sunflower competition to judge this week (children only, so he won’t be in the running for a prize) and on Sunday I was one of the judges for the onion competition. We had thirteen entries this year, a big increase on the four we had last year, but this year’s winning onion was a little smaller than last year’s because of the dry weather, I suspect, keeping the size down because the layers weren’t as plump, although the weight was comparable.
Allotment headless bathers!
Well I thought I'd seen it all ... but headless naked bathers?
And you can see why they call it 'Chocolate' pepper!
It tasted good too ...
Green manures - who knows the facts?
There's been a lot of talk about green manures in recent years, and I found in one of my many allotment books mention that potato worms are unable to mature if you plant agricultural mustard as a manure after harvesting spuds. Given that our potatoes are as tunnelled as the lines under Central London, I'm tempted.
But everybody I've spoken to has said that the cost and time are not borne out in terms of reward, that they are much more difficult to dig in than the books suggest and that their effect is minimal.
So what do you think?
In other news on 103, which is several years from being a potato-growing allotment, believe me, I have finally managed to lift the shower tray that I located last week. Under it I found baby lizards! Yes, baby common lizards are almost black. It had to go (shower tray, not lizard) but I've put down some broken clay pots as a hiding place for them. Now we must work out how to combine clearance with lizard sanctuary preservation ...
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- End of month recipe: Caramelised Onions
- Fingering onions
- Allotment windbreaks
- Allotment horror story
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- Water, weeds and wintry weather on the allotment
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