Friday, June 23, 2006

Late night musings

Well today up the allotment will be of no interest to you as we spent three hours each weeding. It wasn't like the weeding that you see in television programmes where the presenter sticks a fork or spade in soft brown soil and the weed just comes up (obviously the soil has been brought in for all their programmes and the plot alread dug over save for a weed or two. Cynical I know).

I could have done with sledge hammer to get through my soil up the plot. After weeks without any rain to speak of, the soil is set like concrete. How on earth the potatoes have managed to grow is beyond me. Without any piped water on our field of allotments, the plants have to 'get on with it' and are watered by the gods.

The old tank that collects the winter rain that falls rather haphazardly onto the old pig hut that serves as my shed, manages to hit the bit of old guttering and fill up the first tank, and what misses that hits the second one behind that. With lots of rain I did have a couple of full tanks.

The heat evaporates it of course, but I do have some that I use in emergencies when the tomatoes are flagging. They get a bit of a drink one or twice at week at most, but it is such hard and backbreaking work dipping the watering cans into green sludgy water, heaving them into a wheel barrow - 4 watering cans full a most - and by the time I have walked about 150 feet to where the tomatoes are a good third of what was in the cans is in the wheel barrow. It is quite a task I can tell you - so I am still hoping and praying that we get some rain - but still none is forecast for this area.

I try and give my courgettes and pumpkins and squashes a drink every couple of days too if I can, just to keep them alive, and they have started to repay my by growing.

I have done my best for my plants - all of them - by digging in lots of manure over the winter and more at planting time - but even well rotted muck dries out before long.

It never ceases to amaze me though, that seeds germinate and grow even though they are not watered. I have rows of peas that are growing, some dwarf beans - O.K. not many - about half a dozen have grown so far. The lettuces and salads never got watered and only a couple have bolted for which the chickens and bantams were very grateful.

The strawberries that survived are trying their best to grow and produce fruit and I have had a few, but sadly some of the fruits on the plants that the moment are lovely and red - and hard!

Luckily Pat, my husband, was with me today, as I had a bit of 'excitement' and needed his help!

He was weeding the end of a raised bed for me, and I was weeding about 100 feet further down. Hoeing was out of the question, although I did try, but with rock hard soil it was hard work and not achieving much. On hands and knees with a trowel, my usual method to save my back, was useless, my 'ladies' spade bounced off and the fork was little better, with me having to jump up and down on it like a pogo stick just to get a couple of inches into the ground.

I don't have many weeds, you understand, but the ones I do have I like to get when they are small or else they manage to grow into thugs even without rain, and if near any crops they take all the moisture out of the ground. So after soldering on for over and hour, and not achieving as much as I hoped, I decided to get out my little mantis tiller and give it a go between the rows of peas that are in the netted 'tent' affair that protect them and the tomato plants from flying pests of the bird variety and four legged ones.

It is quite a task to get inside the 'tent' as extreme measures have to be taken as my four legged pests are exceeding clever. So all the net is weighed down with heavy scaffold boards or heavy lengths of pipe.

Wishing that I had been built with the muscles of Geoff Capes (for those too young to know and those from overseas, he was the strongest man in Britain, and was Great Britain's shot putt champion, who had the strength and muscles of Goliath - was a famous budgerigar breeder!), I have to bend my knees like a weight lifter and inch the end of the heavy plank off so that I can pull up the net and tie it up. So far so good.

That done, I set about with the tiller. It bounced about a bit, but as I have dug in this area so many times it was easier and soon it started to do it's work. As I got to the end of one row, there must have been a bit of netting buried in the soil (as this side I never enter by and it has not been moved since last summer.)

Before I knew it, the little petrol tiller took off vertically and ran up the netting like a cat up a curtain taking the netting as it went. It was such a shock and so quick that it was at eye level when I switched it off. I was then holding with every bit of strength I had, supporting a machine above my shoulders, full of petrol with a hot engine and with no way that I could untangle it or get it to the ground.

I called out to Pat, and he ambled along bless him, until I said, hurry up, this is an emergency. He was asking what was up, and trying to do a running commentary whilst every muscle in my body was screaming with the strain was not easy. I then told him to come into the netted area to help me, but I suppose the panicked a bit as he ran around the outside - and was at the back - even though the place we always enter by was open! The he ran around the front but was outside and opposite me, until I got him to come on my side to take the weight!

I didn't even have the strength left to laugh as I usually do in such situations. He held the machine whilst I went the other side and quickly removed the pin that holds the sharp 'wheels' or 'tines' and I was quickly able to remove these so that he could put the machine down. It then took me a while to untangle the them from the net!

I do get in some pickles up there sometimes! No harm done - I didn't step on one pea or tomato plant!

I gave up trying to do any more rows in there after that. I will just wait for some rain to soften the ground - whenever it decides to rain.

Old Geoff came up to me the other day when I was just packing up to go home, and said to me, 'Do you reckon that you are the best gardener up here?'

'No, of course not' I said.

'Well I do,' he replied. 'Who do you think is best then?'

I said that I thought the ones further down past his, who have all the rotorvators. Their two plots have rows of potatoes and they rotorvate between the rows so it looks neat, and they also grow some cabbages in the same way.

Geoff said, that I was the best gardener as I was the only one who grew such a wide variety of things. The others grow the same every year, usually potatoes and cabbages, and broadbeans all in rows which are either rotorvated between and the actual rows of plants left to grow with a neat row or weeds. Sometimes they grow some marrows and runner beans but that is it.

Geoff grows lots and lots of potatoes, onions, corn usually - which he will again this year as I gave him a big packet of seeds as I didn't want them. He also grows dozens, and dozens of runner bean plants, I counted 100 in just one row last year, and buys leek plants that he grows too. He also has a few other bits here and there that people give him, likes sweet williams. Trouble is his plot and everything on it often gets over run with bindweed over the course of the summer. He uses a rotorvator a lot too, but leaves the weeds to grow around a lot of things - but he is in his 70's, bless him.

He chatted to Pat today, whilst I was doing something and wanted to know what was going into an area of the raised bed that Pat had cleared. He didn't now of course so called me so that I could tell him.

He again said that he was amazed at the range of things that I grow and how much I harvest. He also said that if at this time of year, you do not have something to take home everyday that you have grown, then you are not a good gardener. (After yesterday's harvest along, I reckon I must be doing something right!)

And when I thought back, I have been taking things home for weeks, apart from the chicken eggs that is! I also still have lots more that need picking, some of which I am leaving on purpose.

There have been lots of comments left lately and I really do appreciate them all very much. I do read all your blogs, but can't always leave comments, though I do try too.

To answer some of the comments here............

I pick all the gooseberries green that I intend to use in preserves,and jams etc as you get the best tasting jam that way, and a spectacular colour too, and a higher pectin rate.

I have left one gooseberry bush intact for the berries to ripen and some on all of the others so that when we get rain they will swell and ripen too.

The vacuum packer machine is a Foodsaver 550, and I bought it from Best Direct which I found by using a search engine and checking them out. There was the same maching cheaper with another company, but it came from Europe, the transaction was in Euros, so I was not sure of the actual amount that would be taken, as it would depend on the exchange rate on the day I guess, also they gave you a plug adapter depending on which country in Europe you were.

I have found somewhere where you can get the bags cheaper too, and have just taken delivery of some more - I will need them for the summer harvesting that I will be freezing, as well as all the meals, sauces etc.

I really do use it a lot, and whereas before I used a lot of plastic boxes to store things in the freezer, they took up a lot of room, whereas apart from the obvious benefits of vacuum packing to proctect the contents and keep them at their optimum 'goodness' for longer, they are taking up a lot less room in the freezer.

The redcurrants I am so very pleased with as you just can't seem to buy them in the shops fresh - and I can now appreciate why. They take ages to pick and are so fragile too. The best way to freeze those is to open freezen them on trays then pack lossely. The ones that I have already picked and frozen are destined for preserves etc, so did not need to be frozen individually. Any that will be used for decoration with be though. There are still quite a few on the bushes.

Nature is very thoughtful at times, I was thinking whilst on my knees picking the currants and gooseberries. They do not all ripen at once, nor are they all the same size at once, so they don't all have to be picked at once thank goodness.

The blackcurrant bushes are just about to ripen, just a few are starting to turn from green to a darker colour, another week or two and they will be ready; I so love blackcurrant jam.

The Jostaberries are still green and as I grew them from 4 inch cutting and do not have a clue how they will colour up, I am really exicted about those. I am guess that they will be black.

The loganberry desperately needs some rain to swell the fruits. This is its second year, and it has grown quite quickly - I gave it a good prune overwinter. They are so juicy and look like large dark raspberries but elongated in shape.

I planted a blackberry - thornless - and it is very small, but has a few flowers on it, this its first year. I also planted in a pot at home a blueberry bush and it has 12 berries on it - again this is its first year.

I never got around to taking any photos today - but will try tomorrow. When we finally came home at 3pm, there was lunch to cook, and later I remembered the buttermilk in the fridge which I extracted when I made butter a couple of days ago, so I made a batch of scones with it - and they turned out great. Some plain and some with sultanas and caster sugar. Some will be heading for the freezer, or else we won't stop eating them!

A question for those of you who grow sweet potatoes.

I have two little sweet potato slips that I am growing in large pots as I wish to nurture them rather than put them up the allotment to fend for themselves.

One was broken, so it is not as tall as the other, but is growing nicely. The biggest one is getting tall and I wondered, does it grown vertically like a climbing bean and need support, or does it like to trail?

Time for bed methinks. Another day up the lottie tomorrow - well part of a day.

Have a good weekend all, and thanks for popping by to my blog


  1. Steve - Kettering2:32 am

    I often read your 'writings' with great interest. You not only provide my amatuer knowledge with handy little tips but you're a great source of inspiration!!!!

    I just wanted to say thanks for the time you spend keeping us all informed...... it is much appreciated.

  2. Hi Steve from Kettering

    Thanks for popping by to say hello, it is so nice to get comments whatever they are - I know that people are reading my drivel then, and it makes it worthwhile.

    I don't usually, conciously write 'tips', as I do not presume to know much, I just bumble along in my own way!

    I will try and remember to add tips though!

    Another night owl? Or shift worker?

    Off for a bit more pottering.

  3. Thanks for the "Foodsaver 550" info.. will follow it up.


  4. sweet potato vines that i saw grow along the grown but my mother in law had one in the house that she let grow around the wall of course she had help it get started.


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