Welcome to our allotment blog. We've got a plot, now we're trying to figure out what we're doing! So please join us - put the kettle on, sit back, and dream about Living The Good Life...

Monday, 29 December 2008

Curiouser and curiouser

The chooks are getting mischievous.


Cocky, even, if you'll permit the pun.

We were tidying the garden (hence the state of the kitchen floor in the pic below) and not only were they determined to get their heads between the sledgehammer and the stake we were removing from the ground, or underneath the spade and the dirt we were attempting to shovel, but Lola then tottered into the house to see if Adam had found any treats while he was doing the washing up.

Oh, and you really should see them jump for worms (or spaghetti). I'll try and post a video one day.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Festive foodstuffs

So, we went to the allotment on Christmas morning, when all was nice and peaceful, to pick some brussels sprouts, swede, leeks and red cabbage to have for lunch. Delicious. Especially the red cabbage, stewed up with apple and cinnamon. We also roasted the last of our potatoes, and the last of our carrots, which were pathetic-looking, if I'm honest, but tasted GREAT! Which is the main point, I suppose.

Bad news on the cauliflower front though. They mostly seems to be going mouldy, not sure why, as we've done everything the books tell us to. And if you can't trust the books any more, then what is the world coming to?! Maybe it's global warming...

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas

Hope everyone has a fantastic Christmas and New Year.

Sarah and Adam x

Sunday, 14 December 2008

In the bleak mid-winter...

...frosty winds, earth hard as iron, water like a stone? I wonder if whoever wrote that carol was a gardener?

Anyway, I'd better bring you up to date on the plot, hadn't I? Obviously the chooks have been the most exciting thing of the past few weeks in terms of producing our own food, but the allotment is still chuntering away in the background.

Looks a bit bleak though, doesn't it? And that front left bed definitely needs weeding before the grass takes over completely... (add to To Do list...)

At home, we're still eating our own potatoes, onions and shallots, although supplies of each are starting to get a bit low. We've got two small pumpkins left, and Adam is working through a batch of courgette chutney in his cheese sandwiches for lunch. In the freezer we've still got frozen broad beans and runner beans too. All in all, most pleasing. The damsons were the main disappointment - a distinct lack of them anywhere in the world (it seems) means we'll have no damson gin this Christmas. Apparently it was A Bad Year for damsons...

We went to the plot last weekend and did a bit of tidying. And pillaging, if I'm to be truthful. The plot next door had been paid for but (as you can just about see on the picture above - to the left of out plot) nothing's been done. Now their rent has expired the secretary can re-let the plot, which shouldn't be too hard - it's got a shed and everything! - but also said people could take any of the 'stuff' the previous occupants had left behind. There was some wood and some corrugated metal sheets which went to be recycled into someone's new shed, and we nabbed a gargantuan water tank (with a hole in, as it happens, but we'll patch it, oh yes). Plus there is a compost bin half full of luscious, crumbly goodness which *might* work its way over to our patch. I feel slightly guilty about taking things, but maybe that's part of what allotmenteering is all about - making use of other people's unwanted 'junk'. You should see some of the sheds going up on the plot- one of them is - so far - tied together with old rags (I kid you not!).

My dad brought us three large drums to use as water butts (Dad - we still owe you a beer) so now we can set up a nice system round the back of the shed and we'll have no problems with water storage. It's not really something we've had to worry about so far. Since we've had the plot we haven't even really had to think about watering in the summer, as the summers have been, well, wet, to say the least. But it's always been on our minds that we don't have quite enough water butts about.

Our garlic and onions are doing ok, all poking their little pointy shoots through the soil. Our different types of garlic have shown an obvious difference. The garden centre bought bulbs emerged first, with bright green shoots, but only now have the bulbs we bought from Pat's deli on the corner put in an appearance. The garden centre bulbs were white, so we tried to buy pinker bulbs from Pat's and, indeed, the shoots do have a pink tinge.

And here's the cauli. Beautiful curly whirly shapes. Some of the others - the yellowish varieties - are looking a bit sick, and slightly browned. Maybe they got frosted a couple of weeks ago? I'm not sure what's up, never having grown cauliflowers. But we've tied up the leaves which is supposed to protect them so hopefully they'll be decent enough for us to eat. The purple ones are still looking good. Oh, and we should have just enough brussels sprouts for Christmas. After trying to be so careful and grow more plants this year, we've actually ended up with less than last year! Damn slugs... Watch out, or we'll set the chickens on you!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Here come the girls

Well, the chickens are named... Lola and Ruby Tuesday. Thanks to everyone who gave us ideas - lots of food for thought. Henna was a particular favourite...

Here's Lola, scrummaging around in the garden...

"Her name was Lola,
she was a showgirl,
with yellow feathers in her hair,
and a dress cut down to there... "

...no dress, but she's got the yellow feathers. She's very friendly, and will always come over and see what you're up to. She seems to think that fingernails and rings are edible.

Here's Ruby, striking a pose in the run. She's much more reddish around the head than Lola, with less gold on her front. She seems to be the bossy one of the two. She's a bit more wary of us humanfolk but is always first to the food and treats.

Lola lays her eggs in the morning, and Ruby seems to lay about lunchtime.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Eggs three and four

Two more eggs today!

I thought one of the girls was eyeing-up the nest box when I left for work, and then - hey presto - two eggs, Both In The Nest Box.
Clever chooks!

Adam's cunning ploy of putting a shop-bought egg in the nest box, so they'd spot it and think: "ooh, there's an egg - that must be a lovely place to lay eggs. I'll lay mine there too and I won't poo on them" seems to have worked.

By the way, they do have provisional names, we're just going to give it a day or two before I post them, otherwise there's no going back...

Cauliflowers fluffy...

...and cabbages green. (or red, in our case.) Anyone else remember that song from school?

Went to the plot yesterday afternoon to discover that one variety of the green cauliflowers look like they'll be really interesting, a sort of Romanesco type. They're still quite small, but beautiful. Can't wait to try them. Some of the others were getting to a nearly edible size, but I restrained myself and will let them grow til they'll at least feed the two of us!

The purple caulies were looking fantastic as well! Ok, my focus isn't great on this pic, but just LOOK at that colour! Verging on ridiculous! We'll have to remember to steam them when we want to eat them to preserve the purple. Cauliflower cheese will never be the same again!

I really must have a look at the plant labels underneath to find out what varieties these really are, but when it's cold and damp and threatening rain and snow, the last thing you want to be doing is crawling around on bare earth to rummage underneath cauliflower plants.

After ooh-ing and aah-ing at the caulies, we tied the larger leaves around the... err... umm... heads? to protect them from frost, as a couple were looking a bit suspicious. Picked some pathetic-looking carrots, a swede and a couple of little kohl rabi, and roasted them all at home with some Picasso potatoes from our crop waaay back when. The only potatoes we buy now are really BIG baking potatoes, as only a few of ours got large enough. But Picasso have been great for baking, mashing, boiling and chipping. (Mmm, chips...)

Also, we've decided we need some friends to come and help us do some weeding, in return for a meal and maybe some beer. Any takers? :)

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Egg-cellent news

Another egg!

100% success rate!!! Well done girls!

Feathered friends

We've got our chickens!

We picked the girls up from a nice little local farm shop (www.freedompoultry.co.uk), had their wings clipped, stuck them in a big cardboard box, bought their food and that was that!

I felt a bit sorry for them last night. They'd been plucked (excuse the pun!) from a nice big barn, which was filled with hundreds of their chicken-y friends, to a little hen hut in our garden. Plus it was the coldest night of the year so far, with snow predicted. But in the end we only had a light dusting of snow, and the girls looked quite pleased to get out of the hut into their run this morning. The weather was grim - freezing cold with rain and wind - so I took a quick snap to post.


...we had an egg! The first egg! Even though the chicken man said they wouldn't lay for a couple of days, one of them Laid An Egg! (I think it was the chicken in the foreground as the egg was where she was sleeping last night.)

If the rain eases off a bit this afternoon we'll be off to the the allotment to see how our sprouts and cauliflowers are doing. Plus we should probably do a spot of weeding, but there's nothing worse than weeding in the rain 'cos you get covered in mud and the rain goes down the back of your neck. Brr.

Actually, I've just thought, we're going to have to pop to the plot later anyway to get some veg
, even if it starts snowing again, as we've got a chicken to roast for dinner! (shh! Don't tell the girls!).

Oh, by the way, they're not named yet. Any more suggestions welcome!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Home to roost

Everything's slowed down a lot at the plot now. This time last year we still had half the plot to dig over, but, seeing as that's all done now, it's just a matter of tidying up for time to time, and spreading manure on the enpty patches. We've already planted red and white onions, and lots of garlic, to overwinter. We're just starting to pick our first decent-sized brussels sprouts, we're waiting for the cauliflowers, leeks and swedes to grow larger, and we're unfortunately getting to the end of the carrots, so looks like we may need to buy some for Christmas dinner after all.

Plus, we have a new project back at home - chickens! Yes, you read that right, we've been building a little chicken house for two chooks to live in, plus a run so they won't have the whole garden to decimate. We'll feed them the odd bits of kitchen scraps, they'll do their droppings on wood shavings or straw, we'll bung all that nitrogen-rich stuff in the compost bin, which will then end up fertilising the allotment. Plus we'll get fresh eggs.

Don't have the actual chickens yet - will probably pick them up next weekend.

Some of you must also have chicken or two, so any hints or tips about keeping our feathered friends happy would be much appreciated!

Any ideas on suitable names? (I'm not adverse to calling them Tikka and Korma, or Paxo and... umm...)

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Yeay! Pumpkins!

It just keeps raining, doesn't it? We managed to pop down to the plot on Saturday in between showers to harvest our mini pumpkins, not quite in time for Halloween. We B Little, they're called. And they are - about the size of a grapefruit. Just right for two, in fact. I got a good armful for a picture. (Would have been a shame not to, seeing as how I'd managed to colour co-ordinate myself!)

After the pumpkin plucking it was obviously time for a sit down and a cup of tea (so soon? Well, it was quite cold.) Adam took some time to give his Grandad's old dibber which - he's inherited along with some other handy tools - a bit of winter protection with some beeswax. After a spot of weeding, Adam flung some of our home-made compost on one of the beds and then we planted lots of garlic, using the dibber of course. We'd bought 3 white bulbs from a garden centre - for improved disease resistance an' all that - and then bought 3 more from our local Italian shop, which have a pinkish tinge. So we'll see which ones work out best.

Discovered a tiny purple (PURPLE!!!) cauliflower nestling among its leaves at the bottom of the plot. I'd guessed that the 'Cheddar' cauliflower variety might be yellow, but purple is much more exciting!!! I'll have to check what type it is next time... I think they keep their colour better if you steam them, right? Although that might be purple sprouting broccoli, I'll have to check. Also had to do some more caterpillar flinging. Little bastards. Gerroff! How on earth are you supposed to stop the little squidgy things from getting onto the brassicas? Obviously the netting didn't stop the butterflies from laying on them.

We picked our first decent sized swede too (ok, it looks quite small here but honest, it was a proper size, like you get in a shop!), and ate it mashed with half a dozen small carrots for Sunday lunch. Along with a roast chicken, a good handful of spinach and chard, and oven-roasted pumpkin on the side it was really tasty. Real sense of achievement, after that meal (until I saw the washing up...)

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Oh my god - it's nearly November

No, we haven't died. Or been cruelly neglecting the allotment. Our computer broke and I can't access the blog at work so that's the reason for the long silence.

And then, when we finally got a computer up and running, blogger was unavailable. Typical. So sorry for the long absence.

But I'm back. For now anyway. And I'll try not to ramble on for too long about what we've been up to for the last few weeks.

The first weekend of October we went to London for a spot of sightseeing and a stay in the Waldorf Hotel (as you do... One of the benefits of working for a big travel company is being able to use your concession on a nice hotel!) So, that was great fun, but no allotmenteering!

Since then we've harvested all the sweetcorn (mmm, yum, delicious - sorry to those of you who we promised to give some - it was too nice and there just wasn't enough to spread the wealth... so maybe next year...) The final courgettes, cucumbers and squash have also been eaten, and we've composted the remains of all the plants. Adam dug over the now-empty beds at the far end of the site, and we've now got lots of space ready for us to plan what's going in next year. Hee! Look at all that nice fertile earth! Now I'm just waiting for the seed catalogues to drop through the door so we can start dreaming of the veggies to come in 2009!

While Adam was wrestling with the cucurbit plants I dismantled the runner bean poles which was an epic task to say the least, as the beans stubbornly refused to let go of their sticks. Then I dug over the bed which had also had the pathetically tiny dwarf French beans in.

The red onions which Sian planted at the end of September are poking their heads above the surface. They're an overwintering variety but I need to find out whether they still need a bit of protection for really cold weather or not. A week after the red onions went in I planted some regular white overwintering onions too, so we should get a decent amount next spring.

We've got some more spinach growing and the chard is going great guns. I've also been pulling beetroot now and again (that reminds me, there's a couple boiling on the hob as I type) and it's great just sliced in sandwiches.

I also dug a little bed next to the shed where I might put some sort of climber to ramble up and over. I mentioned before about getting some honeysuckle in, but I need to find out what sort of conditions it likes first - the soil next to the shed is quite shallow and rubble-y and doesn't get much moisture or sun...

Erica, a friend from work, came to stay last weekend and we took a quick trip to the plot to get some veggies to roast for dinner. Erica pulled some carrots and seemed sufficiently chuffed. We also sacrificed the first leek (it was a bit small, to be honest, but we just HAD to try one!) and had a swede. The first swede! Excitement indeed!

Adam did some more weeding (good man) while I made tea, and then we all had a traditional Bedfordshire Clanger for lunch. (For anyone who doesn't know what a Bedfordshire Clanger is, think of a rectangular Cornish pasty, made with suet pastry, with a hammy-meat-and-veg filling at one end and a stewed-appley filling at t'other. Main and pud all in one!)

We've got some tiny cauliflowers growing, nestling down at the base of the leaves, hiding from the chill it seems. But, see - they look great! I do have to keep picking off caterpillars though and I'm too squeamish to squish them so I fling them into the undergrowth on the deserted plot next door, hoping they'll perish before they find their way back, or get eaten by a hungry sparrow.

And we've been eating the kohl rabi. After neglecting it for the best part of 6 months it's not half bad roasted!

Finally - a random pic. Here's the remains of the cucumber plant on its way to the compost bin. Anyone else think it looks like something out of a Tim Burton film?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Quick plot stop

Our friends Sian, Kate, Louise and Ian came to stay on Friday for some pre-birthday fun and frolics. We had a massive dish of roast allotment veggies for dinner, with salmon, which seemed to go down well. I love preparing and cooking our home grown veg, and sharing them with others is a strange feeling. I almost feel a bit nervous to start with, in case they aren't as nice as they should be, and then kind of proud, like I'm saying: "Look! Look what our clever courgettes/squash/potatoes/onions did! All by themselves!"

Anyway, we popped down to the plot this morning to have a look - Ian and Louise had never seen it but they made all the right appreciative noises. Sian stayed a little longer, donning gloves and a healthy sense of disgust to help me pull up all the blighted tomatoes (*shudder*) so we can burn them in the incinerator. There's nothing quite so sad as a whole bed full of blighty tomato plants. I think we ate a grand total of 7 tomatoes this year... maybe 8... Although it's heartening to know that pretty much everyone else I spoke to (except Nic, grr, jealous) has also had a rubbish tomato year, either bring struck by blight or just not getting enough sunshine to ripen. I think we may have cursed British Summertime though. Ever since we've had the plot, so the last two summers, it's rained and rained and rained. But it has meant we haven't had to worry about watering so much!

Sian also planted three small rows of red onion sets which my mum gave us last week. Apparently they'll over-winter ok for an early crop. I'll just have to find out whether they need any protection from the cold.

After Sian had gone, Adam rotovated the old tomato bed and strimmed the paths, and I sowed a few rows of spinach. A bit late, maybe, but if they do come up it'll be nice to have some more winter greens. The spinach that's currently growing is doing ok, but there's not as much of it as we probably need to get a decent portion from them.

The plot is looking quite tidy 'cos the grass seed has taken well on the paths and it's just a case of getting the weeds out now. But what you probably can't see in this picture is the couch grass which is beginning to infiltrate the front beds. Any tips for getting rid of it? Or is it - as I fear - another bindweed-type-jobby where it's a case of digging it out, piece by tiny piece...?

We've also got a few flowers (a type of marigold?) which have self seeded around the place. They look lovely in the sunshine, but I have a feeling that they're just planning on taking over while our backs are turned. I'm going to transplant them, I think, to go alongside the shed wall. Just need to attack the grass there and make a little bed. I was also thinking about planting a honeysuckle or some other evergreen climber - preferably with flowers and a scent - to ramble over the sheds. Not only will it look nice but might act as a deterrent to anyone thinking about burning something down (which has happened in the past, though luckily not to us - touch wood).

Thursday, 25 September 2008

All things bright and beautiful...

... well, yellow, anyway, judging by these pics.

I've been off work for a couple of days feeling ill, but this afternoon I felt like I needed to get out of the house and get a bit of fresh air, so I decided to go down to the allotment and see what was going on this week...

Here's an overview pic of the whole plot. You can see in the foreground and on the far left that a few of the squash and courgette plants are well and truly over, while others are still valiantly trying to produce more before the cold weather really kicks in.

I picked a couple of courgettes and three small squashes today as well as the two ripe sweetcorn cobs to have for dinner. I think we'll probably have a roast vegetable omelette to make the most of the harvest.

Fingers crossed that the yellow pumpkin gets enough sun to ripen fully... it's called We B Little so it won't get much bigger than it is now (about 5 inches across) but this one and its 5 friends need to get a bit more orange before they're picked. I also want the strange pointy-shaped squash above to ripen as it's not like any of the others we've had so far.

Grow little squash! Grow!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Indian summer

Well, I have a confession. We did nothing on the plot all weekend, even though the weather was great. But we do have an excuse... Adam was laying a patio in the back garden, and I was decorating the spare room. So, we were keeping ourselves busy - just not at the allotment.

Then on Monday I was overcome with a sense of guilt and neglect. How could we have left it a whole ten days since we last went down? What about the weeds? What about the snails? We might have become over-run with squashes and courgettes, and some more sweetcorn might have ripened! So we popped down on Monday evening to find that the sky had not, in fact, fallen in and the weeds had not taken over the world. We had one big courgette (almost a marrow) and a few smaller ones, as well as a couple of small squash and lots of runner beans. Apart from that, everything seemed to have been taking care of itself quite nicely. Certainly the weeds aren't growing as fast as they were, and the courgettes aren't ripening quite as manically. I guess that's due to less hours of sunlight, plus the fact that a few of the courgette plants have succumbed to mildew and others seem to have been affected by the colder nights.

My Dad very kindly got the strimmer going properly over the weekend. He took it home and re-built the carburettor, I think, as well as re-attaching the 'stop' button. (That wasn't really a necessity before, as getting the thing to stop wasn't an issue.) Anyway, this now means that we can strim our paths and edges to our hearts' content, and it'll make a big difference to how neat the plot looks, especially now that things are starting to die back and it's all looking decidedly autumnal.

Easygardener from greenforks.com left a comment saying: "One of the upsides of the end of the season is thinking about what to plant next year - and what not to repeat - in my case that would be carrots!". Luckily for us, our carrots are now doing fine, after many, many attempts. But I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment about looking forwards to 2009. I think I get most excited when we're planning what to plant next, flicking through the seed catalogues and choosing the exciting-looking varieties. There are quite a few things that we probably won't bother with again, one being asparagus peas. Who decided they tasted like asparagus, anyway? They taste more like... well, what I would imagine eating grass tastes like.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Mildew, mould and machines

Mum called me this morning and offered (really offered - no arm twisting involved) to come and help us weed! Fab! I love it when people actually want to come and help out. As long as they don't mind taking some extra veg away with them as well!

So, this afternoon - making the most of the sunny weather - we went to the plot with Mum and Dad and got looooads done!

Dad and Adam immediately turned to the petrol strimmer and rotovator. The strimmer is notoriously temperamental but Dad got it going and strimmed all the paths which has made a huge difference. Then he and Adam had a go with the rotovator and churned up some of the already-dug beds, mixing in the manure which we spread a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, me and mum were weeding around the cauliflower plants (looking good, the snails haven't found them yet!) the courgettes and squashes, and the chard, and pulling up some of the mange tout plants now that they've died right back. Everything looks neater and tidier now.

Here's mum among the courgettes...

We picked quite a lot, including the first two cobs of sweetcorn, which we had for dinner. YUM! This is one of the few things that I can honestly say tastes SO much better than shop- bought. You know how people usually smother corn on the cob with butter? No need. Ours are sweet and delicious, and I'm just hoping we get enough sun for more of them to ripen. Anyone who has a couple of square feet in their garden, or even in a bucket on a patio, should grow some. As Tony the Tiger would say, they're great.

Here's the rich pickin's from the plot this week... swiss chard, runner beans, a little pumpkin (picked too early 'cos I thought it was a squash!), white and red beetroot, colourful carrots, white scallopini squash, a green acorn squash, some dark green cucumbers (bottom right), courgettes, a yellow scallopini squash, a round courgette and the beautiful, delicious sweetcorn. And this isn't all of it, because we gave a carrier bag full to mum and dad for helping out.

Not everything has gone according to plan. The red cabbage and swedes are being munched to death by snails. Grr. The tomatoes have blight, I think, so we've picked all the healthy tomatoes and I'll make some Green Tomato Chutney. The dwarf beans have, frankly, been a bit pathetic, though we've had enough for a couple of meals from them. Some of the courgette plants have mildew, we pulled up the most productive squash plant yesterday after it started to die back with some weird disease, and the biggest cucumber plant has withered and died too.

But all in all, it's been an ok summer for the plot. I'm feeling quite pleased with ourselves.

Now we just have to think about overwintering things and ahead to 2009!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

We're back!

Hello again one and all. Sorry for the absence but we're just got back from holidaying in Cancun, Mexico. (Not very carbon neutral, I know, but we'll plant some trees or something to make up...) It's an amazing part of the world but it's a bit depressing to come back to all this rain and grey skies.

We popped to the allotment on Monday which was very kindly looked after by our Mums while we were away...

Good things:
  • there are many, many squashes ripening, which is good 'cos I like squash (as I may have mentioned before.)
  • the carrots have grown, finally, and they taste really good.
  • there are lots of blackberries on the surrounding bushes so I can make bramble and apple jelly again.
  • the sweetcorn is getting fat and is nearly ready to pick.
  • the beetroots are getting big and juicy-looking.
Bad things:
  • some of the courgette plants have got mildew and look a bit pathetic.
  • one of the squash plants has some weird disease which makes the fruits go all bobbly.
  • the tomato plants have blight. Again. (sob!)
  • snails are eating the brassicas.
  • there are weeds EVERYWHERE!
  • I don't know if we'll get enough sun now to ripen the sweetcorn. That would be A Sad Thing.
  • I've realised I don't know how to cook beetroot... (research is needed.)
Things to do at the weekend:
  • set some beer traps to catch snails.
  • weeding, weeding and more weeding.
  • tie up the cucumber plants.
  • general never-ending tidying.
  • find out what to do with raspberry canes which are getting long and whippy.
  • decide what - if anything - we can plant to grow through the winter.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

They're taking over!!!

We popped to the allotment during this week to pick a 'few' veg, and ended up with a whole carrier bag full of courgettes. It's obviously that time of year when the courgettes decide to go mad. We've had stuffed courgette, barbequed courgette, fried courgette, a mousakka with courgette in,
the funkily-named 'courgetti spaghetti', and now I've made a whole load of courgette chutney. And still, when we went to the plot today we came back with another bag of courgettes... and that's not counting the ones still in the fridge.

We also picked the first scallopini squash, which we simply chopped into eighths, skin on, and baked with olive oil, salt and pepper. Delicious, light, slightly buttery taste. Yum! Everyone should try it.

Today we had a big weed and tidy up session as we're due to be going on holiday next week for a fortnight. Good ol' parents have agreed to keep an eye on things, though we're not expecting them to start weeding and digging, just the odd splosh of water here and there (if it ever stays sunny for more than a day) and the chance to pick whatever's available to take home. My poor mum is going to be overrun with courgettes...

Do courgettes freeze? I doubt it. Drat.

Part of the general tidy up involved digging up all the remaining potatoes and onions, plus picking a couple more squash, a couple of cucumber, some runner beans and the aforementioned carrier bag full of courgettes. The potatoes were our maincrop, Picasso, and were a decent size - we even got a couple of jacket potato-sized spuds which is great. As for the onions, well, we had some titchy ones as well as some absolute monsters. Strange, seeing as how they were all planted the same time, in the same bed, with the same conditions. I was really pleased with the onions, cos' as well being pretty much hassle-free, I thought quite a few would have gone mouldy in the ground, what with all the recent rain, but only 5 had to go straight in the compost heap. Here's the onions drying in the sun...

I think I'm going to have to dedicate some time to preserving and pickling (or something) this week, or our families may end up with a big bagful of courgettes on their doorstep before we go on holiday. I enjoy sharing the fruits (and veg) of our labour, but I admit I'd prefer to be able to store it for future use, especially as I'm not sure we've planned far enough in advance for the winter.

Here's our haul - and yes, we did have to use the handy fold-up wheelbarrow to get it home - that's a half sack of potatoes and a nearly full sack of onions in there! No way I'm carrying one of them home with my delicate girly arms!

Oh, you may also spot a little purple kohl rabi on the side. this time it's gonna get boiled and maybe mashed. Barbequeing one last month was not really a success.

And as far as 'not successes' go, the asparagus peas are right at the top of my list for Things We Will Never Grow Again. We tried them, little wiggly pods that they are and, frankly, they ming.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Ethical overload

Not much to report from last weekend I'm afraid - well, not when it comes to the allotment anyway. I spent the weekend at my friend Jo's house in Stoke on Trent. She and hubby Martin are expecting their first child in November, and it was great to see how she's 'blooming', help her choose some baby clothes, and see how her own veggie patch in their garden is coming along.

On another note, I've just read a book which has given me food for thought - A Life Stripped Bare: My Year Trying To Live Ethically by Leo Hickman. As a journalist/writer for The Guardian Leo undertook the challenge to try to live more ethically, everything from the food he and his family ate to the clothes they wore and the bank he held his accounts with.

But the steps and struggles he went through did made it seem more, well, do-able, I suppose. At least to make a start and change those things straight away which aren't such a massive step. Also, I was quite shocked that a lot of this 'ethical' stuff I just hadn't really thought about before.

Anyway, it's got me thinking... I tried to buy an apple at the supermarket the other day and there was not one - not one! - from anywhere in the UK. 'Hmm,' I thought, 'maybe it's not quite UK apple season... Aha! A neighbour had fresh plums on their tree at the weekend, I'll try that.' But the only plums there were from Israel. So... umm... strawberries! 'British strawberries' as the label proudly stated... but then they were £1.99 for sixteen strawberries (yes, I did count them) and even for a surge of ethical-doing-good-ness, that's a bit steep.

Organic, Fair Trade, air miles, local, European certified this and something else recommended that. It's a minefield out there. Is Fair Trade stuff flown from Kenya more ethical than organic stuff shipped in from Spain? Who knows???

I felt I had to share this with you guys. My gut feeling tells me that you fellow allotmenteers may have some stories to share or hints and tips...

I admit to feeling slightly smug, as I calculated our household annual Carbon Footprint online, and we came in at 2 tonnes under the UK average! But that's still 2 tonnes OVER the world average. Hmm. I get the train to work, Adam rides his bike, we recycle everything our council will accept, plus we have a compost heap and the all-important allotment, but I'm sure there's more, much more, we can do.

So I'm starting with household cleaners and detergents.

I ordered some soap nuts online today. I'll let you know if they're any good...

...and I'm sure that lemon balm in the garden is good for something.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Squash brings a smile

Much excitement down on the plot today! (Well, it's probably just me.) One of our squash plants has three little squashes on! Hurrah! I actually did a tiny little jig of joy when I saw them! The variety is 'White Custard' and it's one of the little flying saucer style summer squashes that you can cook with the skin on.

We've also picked our first yellow courgette today - along with lots of green ones - and there's a nice round courgette growing nicely too. PLUS the cucumbers are really getting carried away.

Above is a kind of support I put up with canes to keep the cucumbers off the ground, also because the bigger plant was starting to grow over the smaller ones and I didn't want them to get swamped. We ate a freshly- picked, small but perfectly formed cucumber along with hunks of cheese and chunky bread for lunch. Very rustic, and very tasty.

What else did we get up to? I did lots of weeding, 'cos with all this rain the weeds are getting a bit manic. I also tied up the tomato plants as some of those had put on a growth spurt too (no red tomatoes yet), and I sowed some spinach too, a variety which is apparently good for summer sowings and shouldn't bolt. Also pulled up a dozen or so small onions which are now drying outside (I'd like a bit of sunshine but at least it's not raining.)

Adam began weeding the overgrown strawberry patch - a mammoth task. 'But wait!' - I hear you cry - 'didn't you clear the strawberry patch already?'. Yes, indeed I did, some of it back in the winter and some in early May with Jo, but the weeds have once again taken over. I blame the patch next door which has run to rack and ruin since the plot holders' rotavator broke. Then they seemed to lose interest...

Adam also dug a bit of manure into the ex-broad bean bed... Did I not mention the manure? Last week we popped to the garden centre to get a plant for our garden, and on the way back saw a place selling well-rotted horse manure for 50p a bag. Too good a bargain to miss! So we took ten bags, filled the back of my tiny Ford ka, and drove the 5 miles back home with all the windows open. It was a very hot day... poo!

Here are some pics to get you all up to date with what's going on down on Our Patch of Earth...

Little French beans, yellow courgette, pretty Swiss chard, baby runner beans, our first round courgette and a lovely cucumber flower, which the bees seem to like.

Here are our very healthy looking squash plants (they've got bigger than we expected, otherwise we'd have put them further apart!) and part of the sweetcorn patch in the background.

Louise gave us ten little cauliflower plants a week or so ago - 5 different varieties: Cheddar, Emeraude, Nessie, Gitane and Graffiti. They've now been planted out and covered with netting to try and keep the pigeons at bay. Why do pigeons like brassicas so much?

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Hot 'n' tasty

So, Saturday was a busy day. It was very, very hot, so I made best use of the shed and a rather attractive, if not droopy, sunhat to avoid as best as possible going pink. Adam only has to look at the sun to go nice and brown but I - alas - am not so lucky and have to work at getting a tan. I am getting an allotmenteer's tan - brown arms, feet and face/neck but sadly pasty legs. I'll have to hit the bottle before going on holiday, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I digress...

Adam chopped down all the broad beans, leaving the roots in the soil to make use of their nitrogen nodules (sounds like something out of Star Trek). We also picked the past of the pea pods which we'll dry to save for seed for next year. There weren't very many, but Frank the Italian came over to see how we were getting on and he was quite adamant (Oh! I've just 'got' the name of Adam Ant... he he... oh dear) that we should save some. We picked the first kohl rabi - I still think it is possibly the cutest vegetable I've ever seen - and inspected the tomatoes for any red ones. Not yet. But they are coming along nicely. 6 cherry tomato plants, about 20 beef tomato ones and 7 regular sized ones. We'll have a taste test when they're ripe!

We also discovered that the nicely laden bough of the damson tree behind the shed Has Been Cut Off! Seems we may have suffered from the lack of bees that the paper keeps mentioning, cos not very many of the blossom from spring have been pollinated, and now the one branch that had has gone!! We think it's the new people behind us, who've done a fantastic job clearing the plot and attacking a bramble bush with gusto, but still... looks like we'll have to buy damsons again this year for the gin purposes. Bah!

So what else did we do on Saturday? We weeded and weeded, watered and tweaked. I got excited about little yellow courgettes and tiny cucumbers. We tried some asparagus peas raw (Bleurgh! Don't try this at home!) and picked and ate some mange tout. Now, here's a thing. Waaaay back, we bought the sugar snap peas and mange tout from our local allotment shop (not attached to ours - it's at some allotments the other side of Bedford) and one of the nice, rustic brown paper bags actually had 'Mange Tout' crossed out and hand-written 'Sugar Snap' instead. Now it's come to cropping time, I think they ballsed up, 'cos none of our sugar snap peas are sugar snapping. They're all mange tou-ing.

Never mind, still very tasty.

And carrots! Finally, they've decided to play ball. We had a grand total of ten (count them!) carrots which had germinated from the second sowing we did - the first was an outright disaster, even though we covered them with snuggly fleece an' everything. But now, we've got proper rows of carrot seedlings, god only know which ones are which though, I'm just hoping we end us with some of the 'Rainbow' multi-coloured ones , 'cos strange coloured veg is fab.

And then, Saturday evening, it was time for the barbie. I popped back home for get the chicken portions, local Bedford sausages (Lingers butchers' pork and Bombardier beer ones are highly recommended) a red pepper - not one of ours, sadly they're no where near that stage yet! - and plates, knives forks etc, and away we went. Tried barbequeing the sliced kohl rabi, which was nice, but I think it'd be better boiled. The highlight - of course - was the courgette, picked and sliced straight onto the BBQ. About 30 second from plant to grill and five minutes from plant to mouth. Just add olive oil, salt and pepper... Mmm.

How's that for cutting down on food miles?