Last allotment harvest of July

I’ve been to the plot this morning to harvest, clear and replant. The first thing I had to do was pull a trug-full of beetroot. We do love beetroot and this year I’ve grown two varieties: Chioggia – which is gloriously pretty, having rings of pink and white, and very delicate in flavour and Cylindra which we cook (1-3 hours baked in foil) and either eat immediately or pickle or freeze (peeled, sliced in half and open frozen before being transferred to freezer bags). Beetroot only keeps for three months in the freezer and is one of the foods that deteriorates really fast, but it’s worth keeping to eat lovely earthy-tasting beetroot in November! There were some smaller beetroot that I've left in the ground, after giving them a nice foliar feed with comfrey tea, in the hope that they will fill out and be harvestable in the next couple of weeks.

Around the skinny beetroot, in the bed I’ve cleared, I’ll plant more rocket as a catch crop, along with oriental salad leaves and sow some raddichio and mooli as winter crops. Our maincrop peas have started to get some nasty little pea grub in them, so I picked all the good pods I could find and it will be time to take down the plants next week, and make room for something else. OH has already cleared the broad beans from the front of the plot, so that we can spend the winter killing off the elder tree that was cut down and around which we planted them, and which is sprouting away merrily. Having our incinerator bedded down on top of it for the whole of the winter will definitely put an end to its phoenix-like behaviour! Next year we will put pumpkins and summer greens in that area, and the year after that, it’ll become our potato bed.

I also picked up half-a-dozen of our monster onions to make caramelised onion relish, and cut four courgettes to give away. I made a nice salad in the week with grated courgette, grated carrot, white cabbage and cashew nuts, but already I’m pretty fed up with courgette! Next up is a big batch of courgette and lime cake to freeze but that will have to wait until after the weekend, by which time another batch of courgettes will be more than ready to be cut. It’s non-stop in summer, and we haven’t had a drop of rain (again)!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, July 29, 2011 2 Comments

Allotment Open Days, workshops and containers

Sunday was our allotment Open Day. Lots of people turned up, probably because the weather was marvellous, and we had craft stalls in our central car park, with people dipping candles, selling wonderful turned wood items and offering home-made cakes, refreshments and hand-made cards.

Several other plots were open for the day, including plot 22 which is a social enterprise plot – we were impressed by the courgette and lemon cake we grabbed for our lunch!

On plot 103 I ran a Grow and Tell workshop: this month it combined container gardening with some writing exercises exploring people and places a how they interact. The participants seemed to have a good time, I certainly did, and now I am looking forward to the September workshop which will cover Reaping what you Sow: how to harvest and store crops and writing stories with appropriate pace and detail. We’re also going to have a produce tasting session so people can try their hands at writing about tastes and flavours!

Back to yesterday: we looked at how to group containers to create a mini-ecosystem, at drainage and why it matters, and at the plants you can (and can’t) grow together. I demonstrated making strawberry fertiliser from runners and excess leaves and several participants picked their own maincrop peas to take home for dinner, while others opted for marrows, courgettes and Royal Black chillies to take home.

By the end of the day I was tired but very happy – plot 103 looked amazing (although we need to widen our paths for wheelchair access) and the whole day was a great experience, with many allotment-holders on hand to talk to visitors about their plots and many visitors full of enthusiasm for the site and the different growing styles they found on it. Roll on next Open Day!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, July 25, 2011 0 Comments

Allotment gluts

We’ve got a glut of courgettes (who hasn’t?), beetroot and blackberries. Am I complaining … not really (just a little bit, about the courgettes – the only way I can see to avoid a courgette glut is not to grow ANY, which seems a bit extreme) but I am getting potting fatigue now.

I become jam and jelly exhausted every July and I never seem to learn. Currently we have:

• Apple curd
• Plum curd
• Blackcurrant and apple jelly
• Plum and apple jam
• Chutney.

They’ve all been made and potted in the past fortnight and I still have a vast number of apples, an increasing number of blackberries and far too many courgettes to cope with. The pears are starting to look like they might also glut and the late apples and autumn raspberries appear to be relatively fecund too. There just aren’t enough hours in the day!

On top of making preserves I’ve been making beetroot and cheese slice and freezing it, and also loaves and muffins like apple and blackberry loaf which is tasty and easy to slice and freeze for packed lunches. It’s like being trapped in a culinary whirlwind – I almost never get to see the plot, I’m so tied to the kitchen!

How do other people cope with their gluts, I wonder? It’s true to say we never have any jam or jelly left at the point the next year’s preserving begins, although I do give away quite a lot of jam. And I’ve only once had to throw away home-made curd because we hadn’t eaten it within the suggested three months, and that only happened because the jar got hidden behind something else in the fridge. It is quite exhausting though, and as usual I’ve run out of jars and am begging them from strangers!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 4 Comments

Wonderful allotment rain!

Okay it’s brought out a ghastly crop of annual weed seeds (things that look like giant pea seedlings in particular, we’ve been hoeing them in for three days and they still pop up like cartoon plants) and it’s knocked over a couple of the borlotti beans that need to be reattached to their bean poles, but otherwise, it’s all good.

The zigzag is less zig and zag than a solid planting of summer seedlings: the oriental spicy salad is insane – give it a short back and sides and turn your back and it’s outgrown its space and sprawling all over its neighbours again. We are not complaining: it’s very tasty! By comparison the white salad onions look spindly, but they will bulk up as the days pass. The beetroot are thriving: 103 seems to be a good plot for beetroot to our great pleasure, as is the spinach patch, and the radishes are being properly radishy. Of course some of the coriander has bolted, as it tends to do in hot weather, but as we only use a few of the leaves and let the rest set seed to dry for cooking, that’s exactly how I like it, and I think the delicacy of coriander flowers is, in itself, one of the prettiest features of an allotment herb bed.

An update on the edible landscaping – this is the border area I last posted a photograph of in May, which I'm reposting here to show how the border area has developed. It’s really filled in and become more interesting, I think. Combining and contrasting colour, form and family is something of a juggling act with edible landscaping: it’s not enough to make it look pretty, we have to try not to plant things next to each other that compete for nutrients or space, and actively companion plant those things that thrive as neighbours and enjoy each other’s company. Beans, for example, are not too keen on the tagetes family, while parsley and strawberries seem to get on brilliantly.

We have a mixture of perennials, particularly flowers like rescued patio roses, lavender and agastache, in with our crops: this encourages pollination as well as looking beautiful. Aesthetic concerns are also important. Low-growing annuals like lobelia or radishes happily grow under and between blocks of sweetcorn, keeping down the weeds and look prettier than the squashes that fulfil that role in a three sisters planting.

Speaking of three sisters, in each of our pumpkin beds we’ve corner planted either a tall skinny variety (like a leek) or a fast catch-crop (like radishes) so that those little angles of unused space get used before the pumpkin sprawls into them.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, July 18, 2011 0 Comments

Allotment Learning Curve – what we won’t do next year

Every year I try to find a few hours to explore our mistakes. While high summer seems like the most insane time to do this, it’s worth the effort as it usually allows for an instant appraisal of what’s worked, what hasn’t and where we’ve wasted our time.

On plot 103, as on the former plot we were managing: 201, bindweed has been a monster problem – it comes up everywhere! I’m going to try and persuade OH to try the blowtorch approach this year, as nothing else seems to work and if you try to pull it out in hot weather it only snaps and produces twice as many new twining shoots.

What we’ll grow less of next year:

• Maincrop peas – I have a freezer full of early peas and the maincrops just aren’t as tasty – next year we just won’t bother with them
• Broad beans – plot 103 seems to produce a great broad bean harvest and I reckon we could have got away with three rows this year, instead of five. So next year we’ll split the difference and grow four …
• Lettuce – we just don’t eat that much of it. More rocket and oriental leaves, less green salad for us next year!

What we’ll grow more of:

• Potatoes – more varieties, less quantity. I would like to grow a salad potato, a jacket potato and a good floury potato next year, plus a really fast first early. As our allotment shop will let you buy very small quantities of stocked varieties, we’re going to experiment and find out what grows well in containers. We probably won’t bother with potatoes in the ground for another two years, as we have found that many neglected plots harbour wireworms and eelworms that destroy potato harvests and we’ll take time to turn the soil and dispose of such monsters before investing in a large-scale potato crop.
• Raspberries – bit of a no brainer this one, as we’ve already put in four canes of autumn cropping golden raspberries but we do really love this fruit and never get enough of it.
• Flowers – I already have Echinacea and woad to go into the wildlife garden next year, and I would like to have a much greater variety of wildflowers, pollinators and herbs growing in this still un-cleared part of the plot, along with medicinal and cosmetic plants.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8 Comments

July heat on the allotment

We are struggling to keep the allotment watered. One of our mountain spinach has succumbed to a combination of drought and blackfly, which is frustrating.

On the other hand, the gourmet peppers in the greenhouse at home are doing magnificently. I wasn’t overly hopeful of these (the packet says ‘orange blocky fruits’ which makes them sound like the capsicum equivalent of a house-brick!) but they are flourishing alongside the corno ie toro variety. Next year we will grow our peppers at plot 103, although I’ll need to remember to hand pollinate them the way I do at home. I’m always surprised that people don’t know that they can often double their pepper harvest by using a small dampened paintbrush to move the pollen from flower to flower – peppers (including chilli plants) are not necessarily good self-pollinators.

And we have had some great beetroot - both chioggia and cylindra doing well, along with an amazing harvest of onions. This is the bag of unknown sets – 50 for £1.99, that I picked up in a cheap shop when I was buying a bottle of water to drink on the bus. I only grabbed them because (a) they were cheap and (b) we needed to fill the ground at plot 103 with anything we could, just to stop the weeds taking over and (c) I have a sentimental streak that sometimes short-circuits my sensible horticultural side. Anyway, they done good!

We lost about four to rot, mainly because the soil wasn’t properly levelled and they ended up being planted too deeply, and two had begun to sprout before we got them out of the ground. The others range from acceptable to huge in size, are clean, heavy, juicy and sweet and are now curing in the greenhouse before OH sets about garlanding them.

They won’t keep for long, of course, being summer onions and not having great keeping qualities, but I shall use some to make relish and we love baked onions on the barbecue, so they won’t last long. The soil on 103 is better than we ever dared to hope, and next year we’ll get a more level area on which to grow onions and a named variety that will have better storage qualities.

Meantime OH has been rediscovering his inner Jack Hargreaves. OH’s dad used to plait onions so we found a video of Jack on the internet and OH had a trial run with our shallot harvest. This is them, hanging from my hammock (yes, I have a hammock on the allotment - so bite me!) I think he did brilliantly for a first attempt with unpromising material (the shallots were a little too dry) and I look forward to having a proper onion garland hanging up in the kitchen in the next week or so.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, July 11, 2011 1 Comments

Allotment harvesting and beds

We’re ready to be judged! The shallots are harvested and laid out in the greenhouse on sacking on top of mesh boxes so that they can cure. The garlic is hanging up in the greenhouse too – it’s ridiculously early this year but definitely ready and if it’s left in the ground too long the cloves start to separate and become less easy to cook with. As well as being ridiculously early it’s large and looks like it will have a great flavour.

Some of the beds are looking very good – the strawberries are still netted because, amazingly, they are still producing, but I anticipate that the net will come off by the end of the weekend and then I’ll lift the straw, weed and leave the bed open for the birds to get in and take out insects that have been lurking.

The sweetcorn is looking good too, as are the soleil courgettes but I don’t want to talk about the ‘wildlife corner’ which is really just shorthand for ‘horrible mess with pond and newts’. We are getting to it – really we are, but it’s a slow process, partly because the previous tenant, or a previous tenant, favoured growing very spiky, spiny, things in this area and then letting them run riot, so it’s a painful process to clear it. Also we don’t want to disturb the wildlife we know we have (including definitely shrews and maybe dormice) newts, loads and loads of butterfly species, bluetits, blackbirds and (sporadically) a pair of nesting wrens.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 2 Comments

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