Allotment harvest 26 May
Okay, it's not the most impressive haul in the history of allotmenteering.
On the other hand, I also had the most unimpressive haul in the history of allotmenteering too. At 3am this morning, my son woke me up to tell me that the kitchen was full of ants.
And immediately I remembered that when we'd picked out the tops of the broad beans, to remove the very many blackfly eggs that we saw there, we'd also seen some ants ...
So, we brought home the tops to put in the bin and put them in the bin, and forgot about them. What I'd intended to do was tie up the binbag and put it outside for collection tonight, but it slipped my mind. And then, there they were - ants all over the kitchen like a surreal cartoon!
Allotment crops and planting 23 May
At last a harvest after the hungry gap!
Not much of a harvest, but the broad bean tops were delicious, we pulled the potatoes we’d been growing in the greenhouse and some of the carrots too – it was all very good. Our marina de Chioggia has also decided it’s time to flower, which is great; I’m not a huge fan of squashes etc but this one is apparently a very good keeper so I’m hoping that it’ll provide some colour and flavour in our diet into the winter.
The weekend’s sunshine brought many things to life: blackfly and greenfly, bluebottles and wasps were all in evidence on 201. We saw the fox cubs too, as we were watering at about nine at night. That wasn’t entirely intentional – as everybody who rents an allotment turned up on Sunday, the queue for the water tap was extreme and while we watered everything else with watering cans, it’s just impossible to irrigate a 2.5 rods of potatoes that way!
So … the first sweetcorn are in, with a good windbreak around them, the next lot need me to paint a windbreak for them before they can be installed. The borlotti beans are belting their way out of their pots and will soon need to be planted out, and the sweet peas finally seem to be putting on a growth spurt. If only the warmth lasts for a few days, we might start to see some pollination and burgeoning and all those other things that should have been happening weeks and weeks ago.
And we finally got the ‘other’ leeks planted, in the standard fashion. We have three beds of leeks, the rest just get shoved in wherever we find a gap: bed 1 is Andi Clevely style, bed 2 is standard ‘dig a deep hole, plant the leek in it, fill and water’ and bed 3 is an interim kind of bed: it has leeks planted in a deep hole, filled and watered, but also has a newspaper mulch topped with grass clippings in the Andi Clevely style – I shall weigh and measure leeks in all three beds and find out which system worked best for us.
Summer Scarecrow on Plot 201!
And an update on crops tomorrow!
Broad bean flowers are beautiful and useful. They are one of the favourite food sources for bumble and solitary bees – those big noisy bees that appear early in the year – and we all know by now (don’t we?) that promoting the happy life of bees is good for our crops.
The Romans also loved broad beans (yes, if you’re visiting from the USA, I do mean fava beans, as promoted by Hannibal Lecter as the food of choice for eating with human flesh) and early Christians from that city ate dried broad beans with herbs on the Day of the Dead in November – while my Celtic ancestors apparently reserved the beans for funeral meals which might be where we get the term beanfeast from.
Heigh ho – isn’t history interesting? And pretty as the flowers are, I’m always happier to see the pods forming! It’s depressing to note that this time last year I was harvesting broad beans every third day, while this year I don’t yet have enough even for a single meal, not even if I indulged in the sinful Italian habit of picking them while they are still the size of peas! So I shall go to the plot today and harvest some broad bean tops, picking out the top leaves to encourage the still worrying small plants to bush out. We steam the tops and eat them with pork dishes usually, but today I shall go for steamed broad bean tops in mustard dressing to accompany a rather boring looking cottage pie that I’ve just found languishing in the freezer.
Andi Clevely’s leek growing method
We own The Allotment Book, by Andi Clevely. In fact we own enough gardening, vegetable growing and allotment books to build a reasonable sized shed. And from time to time I find something in one of them that leads us to an experiment.
Andi Clevely is one of my favourite innovators in allotment growing – his outward leaning beanpoles were one experiment that we conducted and that we found to be a superb innovation. Not only can we grow a salad crop at the bottom of the rows, harvesting beans is about 70% faster when they lean outwards and offer themselves to the picker’s hand.
But then there are the leeks. Is it really possible to simply dig a six inch deep hole, denude a leek seedling of soil, plop it in said hole and have said leek fill hole without further intervention?
Mr Clevely says so. My faint heart says not. So we have decided to experiment in one raised bed, using the Clevely method as shown in these photos. The idea is to use the newspaper as a mulch and weed suppressant, adding grass clippings as and when we get them to provide further mulch and nutrients, presumably. Once the leeks are dropped in (plopped in, as Himself insists on saying) you water them well and that’s it! Apparently they will expand to fill the space available, rather like work does …
Our other leek beds will be planted using my standard method – dig a really deeeep hole, drop leek in, fill hole with growing medium, earth up a bit as they grow. And come harvest time I shall measure the leeks in each bed and tell you which lot were bigger!
The leeks in question are the Elephant variety which should get pretty big, so we’ll see what happens.
Allotment salad crops
What about this then? These are the salads that I’ve been raising under glass – we have some large double-glazing units that we lean together to make a big inverted V and under which we start our salads. Normally, we’d have taken off the glass two or three weeks ago, but the weather has been so atrocious that I haven’t dared risk it.
No matter, everything seems to be doing pretty well. We don’t eat an awful lot of lettuce, mainly it’s a garnish for sandwiches etc, and the fennel gets used in two ways: the fronded leaves are snipped to use in really robust salads, such as those with tuna or new potatoes in them, and the bulb itself is used later in the year to eat with fatty or oily foods such as pork or mackerel, where its gentle aniseed flavour cuts through the richness of the other ingredients.
I do love the way that salad crops are so vivid and fresh and the contrast of colour, shape and form here is like an artist’s composition rather than a vegetable bed!
Visiting Allotments - Torquay
I’ve had the chance to visit some allotments that are well out of my normal territory this week.
This is the view from the allotment site where my parents have a plot – isn’t it spectacular!
What’s also spectacular is how far ahead the far west is of the far south east! My parents’ potatoes are at least three weeks ahead of ours, maybe a month.
Our outdoor carrots are not even showing through the soil yet, while my parents have a nice set of container-grown carrots making a strong display. Part of the reason they are so far ahead of us is climate generally: our last frost is usually three or four weeks after theirs, so that they can plant out much earlier, but also that they are on a headland specifically, as you can see from the photo, surrounded by a clement ocean, which means that they have more southerly winds and that the ambient temperature is a degree or so higher than it would be inland, as the moist salt air acts favourably to stop air frosts affecting the upper leaves of plants as often happens in the late spring and plants get 'nipped'.
The fruit trees are actually about the same point as fruit trees in Sussex, and it’s certainly an astonishing display of blossom this year – let’s hope it means a bumper harvest and not that we get lots of blossom and then all kinds of later problems with fruit drop etc.
I’m very glad to say that their greenhouse and ours look quite similar in terms of the state of the tomatoes, but there’s a big difference in what we grow after that – my parents are big fans of squashes, courgettes and pumpkins, while I am really a take-it-or-leave-it person where the squash family is concerned.
We are growing only one this year, kindly donated by an allotment committee member, but I shall probably give away the harvest (if we get any) unless I find a recipe that really pleases me. However, we do grow a lot of peppers – as many peppers as we can, and so our greenhouse is full of yellow and chocolate (colour, not flavour!) pepper plants.
What’s really interesting is that although Mum and Dad’s allotment site is managed by their local council, the land is actually leased from the church – I never fail to be amazed at how varied and complicated the allotment world is!
Allotment Strawberries May 2010
Don’t they look happy? Himself has been strawing our strawberries in their new homes – they aren’t flowering prolifically as yet, but I’m not expecting too much from them in their first year in their new homes. It’s quite an improvement on the weed and grass choked bed they were in last year and it’s noticeable to me that the few flowers we do have are about twice the size of the ones that appeared last year.
Rhubarb Forcing and Recipe
Yesterday's picture shows rhubarb from the rhubarb crown we lifted to force indoors. We lift a plant in November, plant it in a big black pot and put it in the shed, covered with another big black pot with the drainage hole covered over. You need to water every couple of weeks through the winter and keep well covered all the time. The simpler way is to just cover an outdoor growing plant as soon as it starts leaf up (round about February, see photo!) However, we’ve found that if we overwintering a rhubarb crown indoors produces better champagne rhubarb (these thin pale pink and apple green stems that are strawberry sweet) and it appears around the same time that you’re starting to cover the outdoor ones – so this is the last not the first, of our champagne rhubarb! We’ve been harvesting since the first week of March.
Now we’ll replant the crown and ignore it for the next 12 months so that it becomes strong again – otherwise, if we harvest next spring, it will probably die during the summer because it will be exhausted.
If you haven't forced rhubarb, and your stalks are a bit tougher and darker, this recipe gets the best flavour from them. Champagne rhubarb works better with cream, as in a fool, or with meringue!
Rhubarb Spice Cake
140g butter softened
300g self-raising flour
2 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
100g dark muscovado sugar
250g golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs beaten
300g rhubarb – washed if necessary and chopped
Heat oven to 180C or gas 4 and put the kettle on. Butter and line a deep 20cm square cake tin.
Sift the flour and spices into a bowl. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the golden syrup.
Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 200ml boiling water, then gradually pour into the mixture as you beat and add the flour and beaten eggs alternately, mixing briefly before gently stirring in the rhubarb.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for around an hour or until the cake feels firm to the touch and springs back when pressed. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out and cool on a wire rack.
Paler, sweeter and earlier than outdoor grown rhubarb, 'champagne' rhubarb is the princess in pink of spring fruit. Tomorrow, how to grow it, how to cook it!
201 Greenhouse in May
So, having shown you the crème de la crème as far as greenhouses are concerned, here’s the 201 greenhouse (it’s at home, not 201, but we use it almost entirely to stock the allotment) with its less than organised contents.
You can see the first of the tomato plants that have been transplanted into their final pots in the bottom right-hand corner, and at the back of the greenhouse are our first earlies in pots and some carrots in a huge tub (which was a recycling box, but it split across the bottom so we’re re-recycling it!). There’s lettuce and basil, pepper seedlings, some rather spindly annual dahlias. We have purple-black ipomeas that will scramble up our arch, some chillies that are slowly but certainly making their way out of the sowing compost and our sweetcorn.
We had started hardening the sweetcorn off, but this cold snap would be too much for it – the bottom leaves started to yellow, which is a sign either of stress or nitrogen deficiency, so we gave it a pinch of a nitrogen-rich fertiliser and tucked it back into the greenhouse for a few more weeks.
Himself has been making cloches for the cabbages, because we lost all our cabbages to caterpillars last year, and I’ve been transplanting them into newspaper pots so that they can be planted straight into the ground without any further root disturbance.
This is not my greenhouse, but that of an allotment neighbour, and now I have greenhouse envy. Apparently it was built many years ago, and it looks it, because you just don’t get that solidity of design these days. Makes mine look naff, to be honest. It’s the Rolls Royce of greenhouses in my view.
Anyway, I shall be taking pictures of mine tomorrow, to share, but this is the gold standard to which all future greenhouses must be compared!
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