Ready, Steady, Grow!

May was very busy on the allotment front but now feel I can draw a sigh of relief knowing that everything (well, nearly everything)  has been planted. There have been times over the last month when I wondered if 2 plots was just over stretching myself! Luckily, up stepped The Husband.

The potatoes are looking very healthy – 5 different varieties, including my favourite, Desiree.

Potatoes on allotment

Potatoes – earthed

Onions (red and white), shallots and garlic all coming along nicely.Onions, garlic sauce and shallots

The peas and mange tout are looking promising. Some were grown on indoors and some planted straight in the ground.Peas and mange tout

I can hardly believe the strawberries are starting to ripen (just in time for Wimbledon!)

Strawberries on the allotment

Something’s had a little taste!

The fruit bushes are doing well too – netted to stop those pesky birds having a feast.Fruit bushes on allotment

I’ve still got the courgettes, cucumber, leeks, squash and pumpkin to go in. One minor panic, somehow I’ve missed out brussel sprouts. It’s a tradition in our house that, on Christmas morning, The Husband digs up the brussels for Christmas lunch. So I think a trip to the nursery to pick up some plants is called for.

A disappointment along the way – my salad. Usually I just sow seeds straight into the ground every 2 weeks,  which is what I’ve done this year. Only the radishes have appeared, no sign of the lettuces after 3 sowings. Perhaps it hasn’t been warm enough?

I’m going to leave you with a query. This plant was left on our new plot by the previous occupant. It’s magnificent, it has beautiful blue flowers and is a real attraction for bees. The Husband and I thought it might be borage but it doesn’t quite match the description in the books we’ve consulted. Any suggestions gratefully received.

Allotment plant

Mystery plant.

Today is the first day of summer – in the meteorological calendar. So I’m hoping for a little warmth and sunshine – just what my allotment needs. Happy Gardening!

 

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Rhubarb again!

Some of you who have been following my blog will know that I am learning to love rhubarb again! This is just as well considering the amount of rhubarb I am harvesting from the allotment.

I was astounded to see the price of rhubarb when shopping the other day – two pounds for 4 or 5 stems. An incredible price when it’s so easy to grow. However, I also spotted a recipe card in the supermarket and thought I’d give it a try for Sunday dinner. It’s variation on rhubarb crumble, using strawberries.

As luck would have it, I had a bag of strawberries lurking in the depths of the freezer which needed to be used up. I had a glut of strawberries from the allotment last year and had experimented with freezing some whole strawberries. Somewhere I had read that by coating the whole fruits in sugar they kept their shape and texture. It was a partial success – and the strawberries were fine to use in this recipe.

The result was a lovely fruity base with a nutty, oaty topping – ‘rather like muesli,’ said The Husband.

Rhubarb and strawberries

Strawberries and rhubarb from the allotment

Rhubarb and strawberry crumble

Straight from the oven – rhubarb and strawberry crumble

Rhubarb and strawberry crumble

 

You can find the recipe here.

 

 

 

 

 

The verdict. The Husband really enjoyed it, even though he’s not particularly keen on crumbles (or muesli) . Unfortunately Son Number 1 wouldn’t try it, I seem to have passed on my feelings about rhubarb to him. My opinion – yes I would definitely use this recipe again. The strawberries just take the edge off the tartness from the rhubarb and I liked the crunchy topping.

One thing that slightly worried me about this recipe card was the caption at the bottom.Midweek pudding

Now, have I been a neglectful mother/wife/cook all these years? Puddings are for when I have time to cook at the weekend or for special occasions. Is there anyone out there who regularly makes midweek puddings?

Plotting and Planting

It’s been rather a long time since I posted and so I thought I needed to put fingers on the keyboard and give an update on the progress on the allotment! One of the main reasons I haven’t posted is that any ‘spare’ time has been spent over on the plot! Luckily, we had an extra long Bank Holiday weekend and some spells of reasonable weather so we were able to put in some hours working on the plot,

A lovely sight on the allotment – our old apple tree is looking rather beautiful in all its glorious blossom.

Apple blossom

Looking back over the last month…..it was rather a slow start as we still had some clearing and tidying up to do from last year. One of the beds had still not been dug over and time was running out. Thankfully, The Husband came to the rescue! Using the rotavator, he quickly had the final bed ready to go!

Rotavator

The Husband comes to the rescue

Whilst I was thinning out the strawberry beds I came across my hand fork I lost last year, it was hidden under all the foliage. Nothing special about it, other than it was my Dad’s, so had sentimental value and I’m pleased to be reunited with it.

Hand fork in strawberry plot

Lost and found

At the beginning of last month it was time to get the planting sorted out. We decided which seeds we wanted to start off indoors and got planting. As a result, the living space in the house shrunk. The conservatory became the greenhouse – great temperature for getting those little seeds started and the pasting table, covered in black plastic, became a makeshift bench.

Conservatory greenhouse

Conservatory makes a wonderful greenhouse!

The summerhouse was (and still is) the ‘hardening off’ zone before the young plants are taken over to the allotment.

Hardening off plants

Nowhere to sit!

The problem is that two rooms are out of commission so where to sit on a sunny day? (Huh, where has the sun been and when is there time to sit?)

On the plot itself, the potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic were planted. Over the Bank Holiday weekend, the peas, mange tout, cabbages and broccoli were transferred onto the allotment.  There’s still more to be planted, but just waiting for the weather to warm up a bit.

New projects this year include

  • A first attempt to grow outdoor cucumber. Never tried cucumbers before! It’s a mini variety called Hana. It’s still in the conservatory/greenhouse at the moment, but hopefully will go outside in the next few weeks.
  • Growing carrots in tyres. I have had some very interesting shaped carrots over the years and at one point I gave up on them. Last year The Husband tried a new method; he grew them in toilet roll tubes sunk into the ground and the result was marginally better than in previous years. Having acquired some tyres on the new plot, the plan is to fill the tyres with riddled soil and compost and see what the carrots make of that. Will keep you posted!

Still lots to do! I’ve got lots of plants to put out as well as more seeds to start off. However, at the moment it’s drizzling and a bit breezy so I think the allotment will have to wait. Fingers crossed for blue skies and sunshine tomorrow.

Rhubarb rhubarb

Look how the rhubarb has grown!  I would like to say it is because of my green fingers but, to be honest, I haven’t touched it, it’s just grown all by itself! So often that’s what seems to happen on the plot, I nurture some particular crop and it doesn’t produce much. Others are left to their own devices and thrive!

Rhubarb on allotment

Rhubarb in February

Rhubarb on allotment

Rhubarb – beginning of April

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a chequered relationship with rhubarb which goes back a long way. When I was a child my Dad grew rhubarb in our garden, very successfully. So successfully did he grow it that we used to have rhubarb in some shape or form for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Boy, was I sick of rhubarb. Coupled with that was his growing technique – surrounding the rhubarb crown with horse manure. My Dad used to keep a cardboard box and a shovel in the boot of his car, an Austin A40.  Whenever we went out for a ‘drive’, (which is what people used to do in the sixties when petrol was cheap and before anyone worried about pollution), my Dad would travel along the local country lanes looking for horse riders. On spotting a freshly deposited pile of horse manure in the middle of the road, Dad would stop the car, retrieve the box and shovel, collect the manure and put it in the boot. Off we would go again, looking for the next pile. Oh, the embarrassment!Rhubarb

It is no surprise then that, as an adult, I could never quite face eating any dish containing rhubarb. However, to everyone’s amazement I bought a rhubarb crown a couple of years ago (don’t quite know what came over me!) and have since been trying out various recipes. In actual fact I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve actually enjoyed it! Although I have avoided rhubarb crumble, which we had every Sunday!

One of my favourite recipes is this one for rhubarb and date chutney. It is from the BBC Good Food website:

Rhubarb and date chutney

Ingredients

500g red onions, chopped

Rhubarb and date chutney ingredients

Ingredients for rhubarb and date chutney

500g grated root ginger300ml red wine vinegar

500g eating apples, chopped

200g chopped dates

200g mix of dried cranberries/raisins

1tbsp each of curry powder and mustard seed

400g light muscovado sugar

Last, but not least, 700g rhubarb sliced into 2cm chunks

 

Method

Put the onions and ginger into a large pan with the vinegar. (I used a preserving pan) Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the rest of ingredients (apart from the rhubarb) and bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer, uncovered, until the apples are tender, about 10 minutes.Rhubarb and date chutney

Then add the rhubarb. My rhubarb stems were quite thick so I sliced slightly thinner than the recommended 2cm. Cook, uncovered, until the mixture thickens – about 15 to 20 minutes.

Leave for about 15 minutes then spoon into clean jars. It should be left for a month before eating.Rhubarb and date chutney

When I made this last year everyone thought it was yummy so I have just made another batch with the first of this year’s rhubarb. It is great for eating with cold meats or with cheese and of course you can give some jars to your  friends and family.

There’s  still loads of rhubarb to come so if anyone know any other good rhubarb recipes, I’d be delighted to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

March into Spring

A reminder that Spring has officially begun!

Allotment spring flowers

Daffodils on the allotment

Metrologically Spring began on March 1st. However according to the astronomical calendar, Spring started on Friday with the vernal equinox and perhaps you were lucky enough to see the eclipse. I was in Bruges, had a great holiday but it was so overcast that there was no chance of seeing the eclipse!

So Spring is definitely here and I am starting to panic. Fellow allotment bloggers, I am very envious when I read how much you have achieved on your plots, I am way, way behind. Not all the plot was dug over at the end of last year and that has been the first task to complete this month.  Last weekend started off bright and sunny so The Husband and I set to work.

Digging allotment plot

Let digging commence!

The original plot had been mostly finished and is now ready to go.

Plot dug

Dug and done

The newer plot needed more work –

Plot to be dug

Bed needing attention

and is just about finished. This bed had loads of bindweed in it last year and so I was having to try and dig out the roots as we went along in the vain hope that it won’t be quite so prolific this summer! I took on this second plot last year as it’s adjacent to my original plot and had been neglected for the last few years. It needed a lot of work to bring it under control (credit given to The Husband for this achievement). One bed was devoted to potatoes and the existing fruit bushes, one to butternut squash and some flowers. The third, small bed was carpeted(!)and will probably be used for the compost bins.

I’m feeling happier that most of the ‘groundwork’ has been done but there’s still so much more to do and I know that we have limited spare time over the next few weeks. The raspberry canes on the second plot require pruning, the strawberries should be thinned out, all the fruit bush beds need weeding…. So much to do, so little time!

Top tips for planning your allotment!

Here are my top tips for planning your allotment. Spring is in the air, the ground is drying out so now is the time to get started.

Firstly, decide what you want to grow. Only grow what you like. I know it sounds obvious but……..for several years I had a beautiful white currant bush on my allotment which cropped prodigiously. However, the fruit was very sharp and was left on the bush to rot as I couldn’t find enough recipes to use more than a handful! Even the birds didn’t seem interested! Also bear in mind how you’re going to store your harvest when you have a bumper crop, see my previous post – 5 questions to ask before taking on an allotment. My top tip is to sit down with a seed or plant catalogue and write a list of all the things you fancy growing. Then go through your list again, eliminating anything that is not suitable for your soil or climate.

Use catalogues when planning your allotment planting

Browse through the catalogues

Next you need to decide how to grow your plants. There are two main options – from seed or plants. Seeds are obviously cheaper, but are more labour intensive. Oh, the satisfaction when the seeds germinate and the little seedlings appear – you can’t beat it! If you buy plants, then it can end up becoming pretty costly but you do see your plot filling up quickly and not worrying about whether conditions are right for germination. Another possibility is to start your seeds in the greenhouse. Sadly, I don’t have a greenhouse but I do have a conservatory and, yes you’ve guessed it, it doubles up as a hot house for my seeds and seedlings. For beginners, my top tip is to include both seeds and plants then you get the best of both worlds.

Order seeds for your allotment

Seeds or plants?

Having decided what to grow, now decide where to grow. Look on the seed packets or plant labels to see how much space everything needs and then roughly map out the position of your rows. In the past I have always drawn this out freehand, however this year The Husband has gone all techie and produced plans on the computer. Impressed?! This is important to do for two reasons. Firstly, you will need the plan when you actually arrive at the allotment ready to start work. Secondly, you need to keep a record for next year so you can ensure you rotate your crops. Obviously fruit bushes etc will remain in position but brassica, roots and legumes should be rotated in a 3 year cycle.

Allotment plot records

Keep a plan of your allotment

It’s getting closer to the time when you actually need to get out there and do something. So finally you need to decide when to plant. Look at your seeds (or plants), find out when they need to be started off (either indoors or outdoors) and write yourself a list. Then get your calendar or diary out and schedule in some time over the next few weeks when you can get down to the allotment and get your hands dirty!

Work on the allotment

Trug for the allotment

So there’s my top tips for planning your allotment – hope they help any of you just starting out on your allotment adventure!

 

5 questions to ask before taking on an allotment

I have had an allotment for 7 years and it has been such a rewarding and enjoyable experience, so much so that last year I even took on another plot! It’s great spending time in the fresh air, watching your crops growing, harvesting the produce and then being able to cook and eat food you’ve grown yourself.

Allotment

 

However, if you’re thinking about starting up an allotment, or even a vegetable plot in your garden, then you need to ask yourself these questions before committing yourself.

Am I prepared to make a regular commitment? The allotment requires tending nearly all year round, so you need to be prepared to give your plot regular attention. (Well, you may allow yourself a break in the winter months!) There is no point spending all weekend working on your plot then not touching it for a month. Why? If left unattended, weeds will take over and you’ll waste your time  To have a successful plot you need to commit to working on your plot regularly from March to October.

Do I have the time?  Without a doubt, having an allotment takes up a lot of time. Are you motivated enough to make the time to go to your plot? As a rough guide, I would estimate a minimum of a couple of hours each week is needed – more in the planting season, and even more if there is a hot, dry summer.

Am I up to the physical work? When I took on my first allotment it was a wilderness. Luckily The Husband was brilliant and thanks to him it was knocked into shape in no time. You may find that you inherit an overgrown plot and that is a tough job. If you’re not up to it, is there anyone else you can call on for some muscle power? Hopefully, you will be taking on a well-maintained plot and won’t have to sort out a jungle but even then there is still a fair amount of hard physical work. My advice is to do a little and often. Don’t spend a whole weekend digging your plot over and then not be able to get out of bed on Monday morning!

Am I prepared for disappointment? Sadly, sometimes things go wrong. After spending much care and attention on a particular crop, it doesn’t produce anything. All sorts of reasons come into play; it doesn’t suit the climate or soil, wildlife devours it, it becomes diseased. Be prepared for the fact that not everything you plant will be successful. Try to learn from your mistakes so that the following year you could try a different approach. Don’t let your failures discourage you – it’s all part of the fun!

What will I do with the produce I grow? Brilliant! You’ve got a bumper crop! Now what are you going to do with it all? Obviously eating it fresh is the best – but sometimes there’s just too much! Believe it or not, some years I get sick of eating raspberries and strawberries! Friends, however, might be delighted to share some of your harvest. Some produce can be frozen as it is, some might need to be cooked in some way before freezing – think soups, purées. Last year I had to invest in a chest freezer just to store my produce. Other produce can be stored for a while, like potatoes, apples and onions or preserved in other ways, like pickling or jams. So when you’re planning what to grow, bear in mind what you’re going to do with all your lovely fruit and veg.

So you’re prepared for the hard work and ready to commit regular time to your allotment. Great! Now you need to decide what you’re going to grow so I will be sharing my tips for planning your plot in a future post. Watch this space!