Friday, September 16, 2005

Life is too short........a Trail of Tears ending in a bumper harvest of free food.

This morning started that way. I had 8lbs of very small damsons to stone. I was up around 6am working on them. They were so tiny, not much bigger than cherries and the stones just refused to part company with the flesh.

After half an hour I decided that it would be better to cook them first and pick the stones out afterwards. This was no better and I spent the whole morning doing it. After three hours I had a ‘Life is too short’ moment. By lunch time I gave up, having got 5lb of flesh and juice out of them - some of which I will probably turn into Damson and apple jam, and the remainder will be frozen in pie or crumble or winter pudding size portions. The remainder with stones in have already been started on - we had some with fresh raspberries and yoghurt, a nice contast of flavours and textures.

Pat had gone out bowling, so I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon up the lottie. I loaded up the car with the plants I bought yesterday, and set off as dark clouds loomed ominously overhead. I just had time to unload when the heavens opened. I sat it out, for 10 minutes then decided to go for it. >

It was great to be out in the fresh air, it was a really windy day and cold too. I planted the shrubs along the bottom fence and split up the grasses and planted them in between. I had created a new border and it looks really nice. The aim is to form a barrier to keep the rabbits out; the roots of the shrubs and grasses to knit into the fence anchoring it to the ground to prevent the little perishers from scrabbling under it even though I buried it.

Next I thought I would weed the big flower beds which are at least four feet wide and thirty feet long, just as the rain started to pour again. I made a quick 100 yard dash to my car and got drenched. It only lasted 5 minutes before I could continue. I filled up the wheelbarrow twice with weeds, it is amazing how quickly they grow, but it was very satisfying to be able to dig out docks and thistles in their entirety with the roots intact. Already this years seeds blown from neighbouring allotments have set and started to grow, even in the mowings mulch!

It is amazing what you find and see when you are on your hands and knees weeding. I found some Oriental poppy seedlings, and after the weeds were cleared I saw that the iris tubers had actually grown new pointed leaves some up to a foot tall already, really lush and blue green. Further along the bed, on the sedum, I saw a grass hopper, the first one that I had seen since I was a child. It wasn’t green as I remembered as the one I saw all those years ago; this one was creamy coloured with dark brown markings. It was beautiful. I was careful not to frighten it as I weeded and it stayed there a long time even though it was raining. I think that it must mean that I am attracting the insects, at least I hope so.

I have sown an organic green manure mixture of all sorts of grasses and wild flowers – it is a two year programme, whereby you sow the mixture, and the birds, bees, and insects are attracted to it. You can leave it to flower, or cut it like a lawn. It needs to grow for two years before you can dig it into the ground; it has nitrogen fixing properties etc.

I used it to keep the weeds down and with the idea of smothering the perennial weeds in time, with the option of mowing it to create a lawn or if it all got too much, I would be able to leave it to grow like a meadow. It has grown a lovely lush and thick lawn with different clovers etc in it, and this is without any watering by me. It has grown about three inches in the past week with the rain, so I might leave it this time of year and let the cold weather kill it off.

It is great to see so many worms now, with almost every trowel full of soil that I dug over, and the molehills, whilst making big bald patches in my new grass paths, and further up in the fruit cage the big mounds raising the membrane are easily trodden down. I read that there are usually an average of 1 mole in an acre, and our field of 18 allotments totalling four and an half acres, so there are not too many – mind you if they all decide to spend their lives on my allotment, I might feel differently if they create havoc.

There was no time to do the caterpillar safari, other more pressing jobs to be done in between cloud bursts. I noticed one or two big caterpillars so I really must pick them off tomorrow.

I thinned out some of the ‘Fly A Way’ carrots. They are not as prolific as the Keratin variety, and the carrots were smaller and not as thick, although they were both sown at the same time. I much prefer the Keratin for quality, taste, texture and size. But it is worth trying different varieties isn't it.

By 5pm I was soaked and tired, but just as I was taking everything to the car, in the wheel barrow, I passed the tomato bed and just could not leave without picking a bag full. These are still orange, but they will soon ripen in the conservatory. The peppers had also got big enough to cook, so I picked lots of those.

There were some lovely squashes so I just had to pick those before I went home, and amongst them the peppers that were hidden by the courgettes leaves have done surprisingly well, and they need picking too, but torrential rain prevented me today. Something to look forward to for tomorrow.

A combination of the cold and windy day and the overnight drop in temperatures meant that lots more leaves had fallen from the runner beans, exposing more bean pods. I thought that I had finished the Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, but amazingly I got another couple of pounds or so off them - having had a huge harvest from a small amount of beans - and all free food as I saved the seeds from last year.

If I had room for only one bean, then this is the one I would pick. Not a runner bean, or a French bean, but this one which is virtually stringless, very prolific in all weather conditions, and if you leave some beans on the plants to fatten up and dry, you can save the beans inside the pod to either use in stews or as seeds for next year. They tasted lovely in stews and casseroles too.

I saved loads of beans last year and gave packets of them away to friends, as gifts with planting and cooking instructions, and the story of the Cherokee Indians. All those who received them got a good crop and were thrilled with them. One of my friends grew them in her polytunnel and it gets so hot, but she had a prolific and very early crop. Mine just get left to the elements. I figured that the Cherokees did not have the luxury of running water, location, plant protection or choice of soil so even I should be able to grow them - and for the second year running they have surpassed my expectations.

We are forecast frost, so I hope that I have not made a bad decision by leaving the peppers and the green tomatoes overnight!

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