Archive for the ‘Weekly Allotment Diary’ Category

As the allotment season draws to an end

October 10, 2011

As the 2011 season draws to an end, our workload reduces on the allotment.  Apart from harvesting some of our winter veggies, we will be able to take some time off from weeding, strimming and maintenance in general.

Flower arch on allotment

The arch renewed!

Mostly, the beds are either occupied or weeded after the earlier weed explosion when we were on holiday.  I’m pleased to say the clematis arch has been repaired and is gracing the path once more.  It does now have a certain allotment charm … instead of a smart metal arch, we have a make-do-and-mend construction with the original metal and some salvaged wood.  But isn’t that the delight of an allotment?  Smart, modern, new constructions seem so out of place in a world where reuse, reduce and recycle should come first.

The onion experiment – results!  

Onion grown from a set

Onion sets win the day

If you remember, I decided to try growing onions from seed this year instead of sets.  Our onion experiment was fairly well controlled, with both lots of onions being treated equally.

I’m afraid I have to say the onion sets have won hands down.  The onions grown from seed were smaller, but more importantly, many of them bolted and several more have already gone soft, so they won’t store.

It did seem to be a lot of effort and, as we’re trying to make our plot less labour-intensive instead of more, I’m giving up my onion seed ambitions.

Successes vs failures?

Although our beans and courgettes didn’t do as well this year – presumably due to lack of rain – we’ve had no real failures.

Mayor of Chipping Norton presenting allotment awards

Me and His Mayor-ness - photo by kind permission of Kaye Freeman (Chippy News Team)

But successes?  Yes!  For the first time we had proper calabrese heads and those wonderful plants are still giving us a good picking of broccoli sprouts every week.  Another first this year is the Brussels sprouts.  To date, all we’ve achieved have been pea-sized – a pimple on the stem!  But this year, we have sprouts to be proud of (and enjoy).

Of course, I must brag again about our Commended Award in the Chipping Norton allotment competition.  That was another first … and will be spurring us on to bigger and better things next year (so I can have my photo taken with the Mayor again, you understand).

Still to come?

While the summer season might be over, of course we’ve still got plenty of goodies left on the allotment.  We’ve taken the first Savoy cabbage now, and a few swede and leeks.  The purple sprouting looks stunningly good and I’m looking forward to some frost for the kale.

Marian swede grown on allotment

The first swede of the year

Winter veggies are my favourites, I have to say.  I get bored quickly with runner beans and courgettes, but never tire of buttery golden swede, crisp roasted parsnips and the really rich dark greens.

Once we’ve taken down the beanpoles, I’ll be back with an end of season video and post it on YouTube.  The onion plaiting video has attracted almost 300 hits and I’m keen to polish my technique.  Be sure to watch it on a PC near you!

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Our prize-winning allotment and holidays

September 20, 2011

The lack of our allotment blog activity is a result of a family visit and a long-awaited summer holiday.  So now I’m going to make up for lost time and update you on our allotment activity.

Allotment competition 'Commended' certificate

Our prize-winning allotment certificate

The hottest piece of news is … Plot 66a on the William Fowler Allotments in Chipping Norton is a prize winner and that’s official!  We came home from holiday to find a letter telling us of our ‘Commended’ award in the annual allotment competition.  Last night we proudly went to the Chipping Norton Town Council meeting to be awarded with our prize.

Needless to say, we were thrilled to have all our hard work recognised.  But also a little amused as winning competitions isn’t what our allotment is about.  Our motivation is getting away from the house and our desks, (being a home-based copywriting company, this is very important), enjoying the fresh air and, having a plentiful supply of home-grown vegetables throughout the year.

Wind damage on the allotment

Our poor clematis and honeysuckle arch!

We knew you’d ‘enjoyed’ a spell of bad weather during our absence, so we wondered how the allotment had fared while we were away.  The high winds had done some minor damage to our bean poles, the sweet corn is now listing a bit, but tragedy!  Our glorious clematis and honeysuckle arch is now a sorry heap.  A damp weekend meant we have not yet been able to repair the damage, so I just hope the allotment judges don’t pop back for another look!  Our prize-winning allotment is looking a bit the worse for wear.

We must give a mention to our chum and local business networking buddy, Ken Norman.  Ken kindly agreed to ‘allotment’ sit while we were away and pick some of the surplus produce to ensure it continued to crop.  In our absence, he was allocated his own plot,  so in future years, we’ll be able to return the favour!

I mentioned our family visit earlier in the post.  Our little town-dwelling granddaughter (2½ yrs), with her Mummy and Daddy naturally, came up for a long weekend.  ‘Baby Bear’ was on a promise … she was to help dig up the potatoes she helped to plant earlier in the year.  Needless to say she was very excited at the prospect and eagerly set to work.  ‘Daddy Bear’ was in charge of the digging, supervised by yours truly, of course.

Helping dig up potatoes

Baby Bear helping Daddy dig up potatoes

Miss Baby Bear diligently carried the potatoes, one by one, from ground to trug.  This was a scene worthy of the Good Life episode where Margo helps pick the runner beans!  But she enjoyed every minute and went home chattering about her potatoes and playing at planting more.

So with the 2011 summer season coming to a close, supplies are dwindling on the allotment.  The beans are at an end, earlier than usual this year, and the courgettes’ days are numbered.  But if the weather is kind, the late peas might give us a bonus crop and we still have all the winter harvest to look forward to … not to mention some overdue weeding!

How to plait onions & our onion experiment

September 20, 2011

As you might remember, we decided to experiment with growing onions from seed this year.  But taking a ‘belt and braces’ approach, we also planted some onion sets.

Large onion grown from set

Our champion onion!

The onion sets easily outstripped the seeds in terms of convenience and size.  In fact, they were our best onions ever, despite the drought conditions.  While the onions grown from seed were fairly successful, they were labour intensive and the size was variable.  The seed onions took longer to grow, were more prone to bolting, and we had a failure rate of around 25%.

We can only assume this year’s onion set success can be attributed to the addition of chicken manure pellets to the soil, regular feeding and frequent watering.  However, both groups of onions were treated in the same way to control the experiment.

We’ve had problems storing onions in the past.  But this could be because we’ve dried them in our plastic plant house.  The onions dried this way seemed to cook in the extreme heat instead of drying slowly and naturally.

Plaited onions hanging up

Onion plaits in storage

Another challenge has been stringing up the onions. I found several sets of instructions on how to string onions, but have always found them difficult to follow.  Instead, I developed my own method of plaiting onions which is fast and effective.   Rather than writing instructions which would be hard to follow, we’ve made a short video about plaiting onions  which you’ll find on YouTube.

This year however, I did find very useful video on stringing onions, which was clear and easy to follow.  But not being known for my patience, I found this to be time-consuming and much more fiddly.  So after one string, I reverted to my tried and tested method of making onions plaits.

Plaiting onions is a lot like French plaiting hair (except onions don’t complain whereas little girls generally do!).  Grade your onions and if possible, use onions of around the same size.  Alternatively, start with the bigger ones at the bottom of the plait for uniformity.

Our onions grown from seeds are still drying out but will be ready to plait soon.  Once they have matured, we’ll put the final stages of our experiment to the test and compare the flavour and the shelf-life to those grown from sets.

At the moment the indications are we will be sticking to onions sets in the future.  The time and work involved in growing the seeds would seem to outweigh the advantages.

Know your onions?

August 11, 2011

I am a very impatient gardener and for weeks now, I’ve been itching to dig up the onions (grown from sets).  And finally, the big day arrived!  I did rather underestimate the volume!  Three large containers later, they were all out of the ground and in the car ready to go back home to allotment central to ‘cure’.

onions curing in the sun

What a lot we got!

Last year, our onions didn’t keep well, which is why we decided to try growing some from seed too.  However, I have since found out that ripening onions in a greenhouse is a bad idea!  It seems they cook rather than cure in the intense heat.  So I’m looking forward to storing my onions without them rotting this time round.

Champion-sized onion

What a whopper!

The onions grown from seed are progressing!  I still wonder if they are worth the effort as we’ve had some corkers from this year’s sets.  But they are still growing and have at least gone past the pickling onion size as previously reported!

Freezing vegetables without blanching

A couple of weeks ago on the blog, I mentioned the potential for freezing veggies without blanching them first.  Two different people had recommended this for runner beans.

As promised, I’ve had a go and here’s the results: the broccoli was ‘interesting’, shall we say.  The flavour was excellent, but it didn’t pass the tenderness test. It was rather like eating broccoli-flavour chewing gum.  So back to the drawing board with that one!  But … the runner beans were quite a success.  They had a good flavour, kept their colour fairly well, and were only slightly chewy, but not enough to put me off freezing them this way.  A result!  The next experiment will be French beans and courgettes … watch this space.

Maris Piper potatoes

Our first Maris Piper potatoes

Confession time

OK … I know I was meant to leave them another couple of weeks, but I’m afraid curiosity got the better of me.  Yes … I dug up a potato plant.  Now I’ve seen what’s going on under the surface, I’m satisfied.  The remaining seven plants are now waiting for a little girl who is very excited about digging up Nanna and Papa’s potatoes.  And there’s only 10 days to go before she can!

A new shed roof and an impromptu picnic

August 3, 2011
Repairing the allotment shed

Running repairs

The big day finally arrived.  After resembling a leaky sieve for the past two years, the shed roof was finally going to be covered in felt to protect it from the elements.

The shed if you remember, evolved from one of two compost bins and is … an interesting construction.  The roof, which was made from flooring grade chipboard, was in a pretty poor state and badly needed some remedial treatment.  It was, according to David, a job which would take a ‘couple of hours’.

We got an early start and were the first ones on-site before 8.30am.  This was fortunate as we wanted to fill the water tank too – a major operation.  I pottered and weeded while David started his preparations.  Some four hours later, I cut some lettuce and a cabbage (for coleslaw) and set off home to organise an impromptu picnic.  The roof was still a long way from being completed.  My solo arrival and quick turn-around confused the dog no end!

But it was a lovely day for a picnic and our first this year.  I’m pleased to report by 3.30, the roof was complete.  Needless to say, it hasn’t rained since, so it’s integrity has yet to be put to the test!

The courgettes, which have taken a while to get going, have started to go mad.  A blanching and freezing session will put some away for later in the year.  The French beans and runners are doing well and just a few days away from the first picking.

The onions grown from seed are finally starting to look like proper onions, but as you will see from the pictures at the bottom, they have a long way to go to catch up with those grown from the sets.  The jury is still out, but I am coming to close to thinking they really were not worth all the extra work!

Sheep eating lettuce

A tasty snack!

We grow a lot of ‘cut and come again’ lettuce, both at home and on the allotment.  Salad is our staple summer lunchtime fare.  With regular sowings we avoid the need to buy that nasty supermarket stuff until well into the Autumn.  However, the first sowing had finally bolted.  We always grow too much, working on the basis that it won’t get wasted.  What doesn’t get eaten will simply be composted and put back into the ‘system’.

Geese eating lettuce

Sharing the lettuce

This year though, the old lettuce have been put to an even better use.  A local friend The Balloon Lady, has pet sheep which are very partial to some freshly cut salad!  There was so much, her geese also enjoyed a nibble of this delicious fodder.

There is something very satisfying in knowing little goes to waste up on the allotment.  We’ve become masters of ingenuity, finding a use for all manner of useless objects and recycling everything possible … and that’s what it’s all about.

Comparing onions grown from seed to onions grown from sets

Left: onion grown from a set Right: onion grown from seed

Cracking cauliflower!

July 29, 2011
Caulflower grown on an allotment

Our cracking cauli!

In case you thought I was slipping and had forgotten to update the blog this week … you’d be right!  I really must mend my ways.

I’ll start with the bad news.  Sadly, the missing pea seeds, fork and gloves have failed to turn up.  Clearly another one of life’s little mysteries!  However all three have now been replaced, so it must only be a matter of time before they’re found.

We had a busy morning on the allotment on Saturday.  David was on tying up duties.  It’s a job I hate, but he is an excellent ‘tyer-upper’.  On the other hand, he’ll find a multitude of urgent tasks to avoid weeding, while I’ll happily weed away for hours.  It makes for a good division of labour.

Marian Swede grown on an allotment

The swede are doing nicely

Apart from David restraining the raspberries and sundry other plants and my weeding mission, there’s not a lot to report on the allotment at the moment.  Weeding and picking are the order of the day. But so far, it’s all doing rather better this year than it did in 2010.

The perpetual spinach is amazing as always, and our haul of just over 3kg in one picking was an all-time record.  Our biggest success this week was our first cauliflower though, and it was pretty good – even if I do say so myself.

I continue to be impressed by our onions grown from sets.  The chicken poo pellets certainly worked, along with the weekly feed of ‘worm wine’ or ‘comfrey cordial’.  They are certainly our biggest onion success so far.

Bolthardy beetroot from the allotment

Baby beets!

The potatoes continue to torment me! Growing things underground is incredibly exciting … you just never know what’s there.  I feel like a kid at Christmas who isn’t allowed to peep at the presents under the tree.

The potatoes have just started to die back, so I know it’s too soon to dig them up.  Added to which, our 8 seed potatoes (we don’t really eat potatoes, so they’re a token crop) were planted by our 2 year old granddaughter at the end of February.  And in about three weeks time our little treasure is coming to stay for a couple of days and is on a promise … she will get to dig up ‘her’ potatoes.

So, if I don’t blog next week, don’t be surprised to find I’ve died of curiosity fighting the Maris Piper temptation.  Of course, perhaps I could just dig up one.  She’d never know … she’s not old enough to count … just one … pleeeease …

Where, oh where can they be?

July 20, 2011

Lost:

  • One packet of peas seeds (500) Onward variety
  • One pair of gardening gloves (cheap, nasty, pink & yellow [YUK] worn once)
  • One rather jazzy lime green hand fork

As you might have guessed, we have spent a fair bit of time looking for the missing items.  In desperation, we ordered more pea seeds and have given up the gloves and fork as a lost cause.  A big tribute to seed merchants Edwin Tucker, for the speedy delivery of replacement seeds which arrived today.  All we need now is to buy new gloves and another fork … and all will no doubt turn up.

It’s quite challenging to write a regular weekly post when all one does is weed and pick.  But here goes …

Self-seeded viola

Look what I found hiding in the beetroot!

This weekend’s weather was not ideal for allotments.  With a wary eye on the weather forecast, we opted to bunk off work on Friday afternoon in favour of getting some weeding done.  In our defence, we did work over the rainy weekend instead.

Our main objective was to remove the broad beans, consign them to the compost bin and plant the next wave of peas.  Needless to say this went awry when we couldn’t find the peas!  However, the bed has been cleared, the new pea supports installed and is ready to go.

Large broccoli head grown on the allotment

My final broccoli brag

Everything is in full production now up on the allotment.  The courgettes, which were slow to start, are galloping away, and we are now planning some broccoli and blue cheese soup to use up the glut.  Our first cauliflowers are probably about a week from maturity and all the beans are covered in flowers.  I do enjoy this time of year!

While it is fantastic to grow your own veg, I always under-estimate how long it takes to actually harvest the stuff!  The perpetual spinach alone takes around 30 minutes to pick.  This means longer days on the allotment and frequent mid-week trips to keep the WORD-right kitchen supplied with fresh vegetables.

We have been told recently (from two sources) about freezing veg without blanching.  Runner beans, or so we are told, are better being frozen from raw.  I’m not convinced, so have decided to conduct my own experiment.  The runners aren’t ready yet, but I have put one broccoli floret in the freezer ‘au nature’.  I’ll keep you posted about the results.

Coming up soon on the allotment chore list is a new felt covering for the shed roof.  When it rains, it leaks like a sieve and the old kitchen worktop floor is starting to collapse.  Also on the agenda is a sort out of the shed which will no doubt reveal an empty pea seed packet.  If they were left there by mistake, I imagine our mice and voles will have had a midnight feast!  Perhaps that is where they went.  I wonder if they made off with the fork and gloves too?

But as you can see from the picture below, we have the search party on the case!

Helicopter over Chipping Norton allotments

Helicopter over Chipping Norton allotments

This is what it’s all about …

July 12, 2011

We were allotmenteers on a mission on Saturday.  The broad beans were ready to harvest and as for the peas …

Bunyards Exhibition Broad Bean

The broad bean harvest

With dark skies overhead and dodging the odd shower, most of our allotment visit was spent a-picking and a-harvesting.  During a lull, I did do something I’ve been intending to do for a while now.  I made a video!  So if you fancy a walk round our Chipping Norton allotment, you can see the results on YouTube here.  This is my first attempt, so apologies for my lack of camera skills and the blowing a gale sound effects!

First up were the broad beans.  David set to work with a bucket or two which were quickly filled up.  The plants are still in the ground and there’s a small picking left.  We planted the broad beans in waves in 2009, but didn’t gain from it.  Because they freeze so beautifully, we now plant them all as early as possible and harvest them in one go.  That way, we can free up the bed and get a late crop of something else.  This year, flushed with success, it will be more peas.

Broccoli head

Broccoli triumph

Picking was essential on Saturday as we had a day trip to Portsmouth planned for Sunday.  Needless to say the family expect us to arrive accompanied by a week’s supply of fresh vegetables!

Our little granddaughter is veggie mad, which is a great attribute for a 2 years and 3 month old tot.  They have a small amount of veg in their garden and she is very excited about growing her own.  Much to her delight, their courgette plants produced two courgettes ready to pick … secretly grown here and transported to Portsmouth, and laid on the ground when her attention was diverted!  We are looking forward to their visit next month when she can dig up the potatoes she helped plant in February.  But I digress.

Onward peas

Just a few peas

The biggest mission was of course … the peas.  I know I keep on about them, but we have never had peas like it before.  We always pick the peas last and prepare them as soon as we get home, either cooking them to reheat later or blanching them for the freezer.  After an hour or so, peas start to turn their sugar into starch, so they are best within a short time of picking.  This was a bit optimistic … it took us more than half an hour (and two aching backs) just to pick them all!

Both the French and runner beans are in flower, the courgettes are getting going, and the Greyhound cabbage are fantastic.  We’ve had no more critter attacks on the broccoli and I’m delighted to say, we have given up buying veg now for the duration.

Harvest from allotment

Most of Saturday's harvest!

We won’t mention the two hours of podding and blanching on Saturday, but all in all, it was very satisfying allotment day.  And that’s what it is all about!

A bit of a stink at the allotments this weekend!

July 6, 2011

Hands up who thought I meant trouble was brewing at the William Fowler Allotments in Chipping Norton?  Sorry to disappoint, but the ‘stink’ was of our own making.  With the cabbage white butterflies starting to appear and look longingly at our brassicas, it was time to spray with the noxious rhubarb jollop.  

We’ve made ‘comfrey cordial’ this year for the first time and we were warned it ponged at bit.  Well it is positively aromatic by comparison to the rhubarb leaf solution.  Needless to say it’s a job we do just before leaving, but it is gratifying to see the butterflies circling and quickly changing their minds!

Our allotment experience this weekend was low-key.  The weeds were under control, there was nothing to plant, so we enjoyed some leisurely R & R while pottering in the sunshine.

Onward peas

An abundance of peas

It was a red-letter day on the picking front when we harvested the first of our peas.  I love peas! It’s a family thing as my daughters and granddaughters share my passion.  But this year our peas look good enough and plentiful enough to grace the front of a seed packet.  I’m not sure what we can attribute the results to. Could it be they were planted straight in the ground?  Are the Onward variety more suited to our soil, or are they benefiting from the lashings of organic chicken poo pellets?  I don’t know, but whatever the reason, we have the best crop of peas ever.

When we used to grow a few veggies in our back garden, we never realised what a constant battle growing your own really is.  I don’t know how commercial growers, particularly the organic ones, make a living.  Each time we foil one pest or problem, another comes along to take its place.

This week was the turn of the broccoli (calabrese to be precise).  We have never been successful with broccoli, normally getting one tiny flower which opens and goes to seed before getting any bigger.  In accordance with my zero tolerance policy this year (if it doesn’t work we don’t grow it), it was the broccoli’s last chance.

mouse damage to broccoli

Best broccoli and nibbled broccoli!

Perhaps like the peas, it has enjoyed the poo pellets, but this year we have proper broccoli!  At least we did until something started eating it.  We ruled out birds – even using the netting as a trampoline wouldn’t give them access.  The only answer we can come with is mice and / or voles.  We know they are there in abundance, but for the past three years we’ve rubbed along together.  But perhaps we will need to think about some measure of control … or pick all the broccoli when it’s still too small to matter! On the plus side, we did manage to get at least one decent head which escaped the rodent attack.

To end this week’s log – another success story.  Our Autumn Gold raspberries, which don’t know one season from another, are going mad.  Having picked a good couple of pounds of them, it was time for the first jam making of the season.  Now we don’t actually eat jam, but the family are always willing to help us out.

Golden raspberry jam really is delicious, but it’s a bit of a culture shock.  Raspberry jam is of course traditionally red – so having raspberry flavour from something which resembles apricot really doesn’t add up!  I’ve added our seedless raspberry jam recipe to our blog here, so you can try it for yourself.  Enjoy!

Mr Neat & Mr Tidy’s Allotment

June 28, 2011

With hot weather forecast, we were up at our Chipping Norton allotment at 8am on Saturday.  Our uncertain weather conditions meant we were hoping the fog and drizzle would pass, and it certainly did.  By 10am it was sweltering!

David was on strimming duty this week.  The edges of the plot were in dire need of a hair cut.  My mission, as usual for this time of the year, involved the ongoing battle of the weeds.  By the time we went home, our allotment was pristine and did indeed look like an example from a Mr Men storybook.

mange tout

First mange tout of the season

I love this time of year on the allotment.  On the other hand, I don’t enjoy this time of year in the kitchen.  When we’re almost ready to start reaping the benefits, I begrudge having to buy vegetables.  However, soon we will soon be in full production, and this week saw the first of the mange tout arrive on the table.

We are more measured with mange tout sowings than we were before.  Having discovered they are pretty horrible frozen and getting heartily sick of them for breakfast, dinner and tea, we now have successive sowings throughout the season.  Reuzensuiker mange tout are prolific croppers!

Young calabrese

Baby calabrese

Our biggest highlight this weekend was the discovery of baby calabrese heads.  We are not good at calabrese!  They generally get to the size of ping-pong balls and start to go to seed.  Of course we’ve experienced this excitement before (several times), but never fail to be filled with optimism at this time of year.  If you are a calabrese guru, please leave a comment if you have any idea what we might be doing wrong!

The first Bunyard Exhibition broad beans and Onward peas are expected to deliver next weekend, and our Greyhound cabbage are forming hearts.  The perpetual spinach is growing like mad, and we have more lettuce than two people and dog can manage.  And of course, the dog of course isn’t big on salad anyway!  So in a couple of weeks I’m expecting to be allotment and kitchen happy.

Don’t forget the calabrese advice – we badly need it.


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