Monday, July 24, 2006

Hot, humid, but a wonderful day

We had a little downpour in the night – but by morning you would never have known that we had, with dry paths and foliage.

Resting up a bit today, and reading up more ideas for jams – unusual ones for a change – but a task for a cooler day.

Up the allotment I have been growing on a courgette into a marrow, with a view to using it in a recipe I had found for a marrow jam – hence me spending an hour getting carried away browsing through my recipe books.

I have also been looking up recipes for chutney – although we don’t really eat much at present, mainly because I have not really tried any other than the Christmas ones; I thought that if I make them myself and know exactly what is going into them, preferably mostly my produce, I will be more tempted to eat them. I have found wonderfully colourful recipes for all sorts of pickles too, including one for runner or French beans – I am going to have a go at that. I found it a couple of years ago, printed it off, and kept it for future use.

This Friday, I am going on a flower arranging workshop, and have been doing a bit of research for that too. We are going to make ‘Something completely different’ which sounds like either fun or a trial. I have so missed going to the workshops, but now that the shingles is definitely on its way out and I can drive longer distances now without being in considerable pain, I will be going out and about more.

It is sometimes nice to have half a day of doing not much, especially in this humid heat.

When it cools down a tad bit we are off up the allotment to let the girls have a nice scratch around as the rain must surely have ensured more goodies will be lurking on the plants or in the soil for the girls.

And that is precisely what I did.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Today, after a sleepless night (due to the high humidity levels) I was up early, so before breakfast we went up to let the girls out. There was plenty of activity going on, on the farm as usual, and some of the pigs were going to the abattoir –makes me shiver just thinking about it. They do not spend much time on this planet, poor things, hence my not eating any pork unless it comes from Paula’s rare breeds – they get the very best life, and care, and are treated like pets not just a commodity.

I think that all the foxes have been taken care of, but if there were any stray ones, they steer clear of the farm especially when there is so much ‘traffic’ and noise, so I know that the girls will be fine.

Back home for breakfast and then off up the allotment to mow the lawns and paths. The chickens were just sunbathing, but soon came running when I called them, then followed me around whilst I took a tour of my plot. I took lots of photos today – but when I went to download them I found that I had not put the memory card in – it was still in my printer. Hey Ho.

The onions are ripening and turning golden, I am thinking of pulling them right out of the ground to that they get really golden all over. The poor squash, courgette, and pumpkin plants looked flat – but hopefully it is the heat of the day and they perk up tonight.

The runner beans – White Lady – are really starting to do well with some nice long ones developing – but I did not pick them today, that is an early morning job when they will be more turgid. I have a nice bunch of yellow dwarf haricot beans to use first.

I want to pick the pea pods off the ‘sacrificial’ row – but as we had a downpour Saturday in the night, I am going to leave it until tomorrow when it is hot and sunny, so ensure that they are really dry, in case I don’t get time to process them as I have an appointment in the afternoon.

The tomatoes are still holding their own, with a cluster of nice red ones ready to pick on a little bushy plant – but again, no time for that today, as I needed to get the mower out. Not a job for a hot day – and I have been putting it off for a cooler day - but one hasn’t arrived so it had to be done.

Where I sowed new grass seed this year – it has failed miserably and some weeds have taken hold. The path that I sowed in the spring that was looking nice – has been burned to a crisp, but the paths that I sowed last year, and have had time to establish over winter, looked lush and green – so too the meadow. The rest of the lawned areas were looking rather parched, but with a weed or two here and there, which got the chop. I cut the paths and lawns on a high setting to prevent them dieing back in the hot sun, but you do get the odd weed spring up that way.

It took me almost three hours to get the lot done, but I did the sensible thing and sat in the only bit of shade – right down by the field – and the girls joined me too.

For some reason they are fascinated by my green wellies, and spend ages pecking at them. They also peck all the bits of grass off my trousers – almost like they are grooming me – but Ginger took it a bit too far when she pecked at my green long sleeved shirt and got a bit over enthusiastic and started taking a beak full and trying to pull it off. I crossed my legs at my ankles and they all started cleaning the bottom of my boots for me. Finally satisfied that I was as clean as I would get, they sat in front of my and preened themselves before laying down, closing their eyes and having a doze in the shade. Shame the photos didn’t come out!

When I got up they did too, and I left them pecking bits of grass – they like the seed heads off the top I noticed and the amount they consumed in the five minutes I stood watching them really amazed me. They had over five hours roaming today, and when I called them they ran straight into their run, and were happy to peck around in there – especially as I had moved it to a fresh part of the meadow with nice lush grass. But not too long, as I know that can harbour bugs.
The grass cuttings I used as mulch, and it really does the trick – the secret is to put it on thickly though and to add layers when the grass cuttings have rotted. I pulled up a few weeds that managed to poke through those areas.

The flower beds have been a disaster in some aspects – the 30 packets of annual flower seeds failed to germinate or if they did the seedlings were burnt up. Those beds need weeding – but not in this heat. The iris plants love being baked so they will be brilliant next year, and even bigger clumps. The phormiums are loving the dry weather too, so lots of plant material for autumn and winter flower arrangements.

I took a photo of the one surviving achillea, that the rabbits did their best to kill, but it survived anyway and is now is flower. A lovely shade of yellow – will get some photos tomorrow! I will pick some of those for my workshop on Friday. The roses are struggling, and have flowered, but not enough or of good quality to use – but they are only two years old from cuttings and with the drought it is not a surprise. The tall Rudbeckia is at last just starting to flower, but again, not ready for me to pick for their seed heads yet, but something to look forward too later.

The best way to treat the flower beds, I have now decided, is to cram as much as I possibly can into them, so that there is less space for the weeds. I do that at home, but thought I would give the plants lots of space to develop – but realise that you have to grow things differently up there with different conditions to take into account. I already have my eye on quite a few perennials in my gardens here that are big and can be divided and transplanted up the allotment in the autumn.

Walking back through plot making my way to the shed, it was nice to take the time to have a close look at things. For example, the broad bean seeds I sowed really really late, and just as an afterthought in the gaps that were left by the ones that failed in the winter, and also because I just happened to have them and didn’t want to waste them – have grown into fine plants, without a single black fly – far too late for those – and I had a nice second crop to pick – the podding of which I will assign to Pat.

The thick mulch of wet horse manure that I covered the rhubarb and gooseberry bed with, is now bone dry – to a crisp – didn’t take long for that to happen, and proves that the rainfall was not even enough to dampen the mulch.

The gooseberry bushes, now having done their job, are starting to look a bit tired, their leaves turning a darker green and beginning to look a bit dry.

Further up, the summer raspberries are all but finished, those left are for the birds, but the autumn fruiting bushes are really lush – amazing in the drought.

I wondered why I scarcely got a strawberry from the ones in the fruit cage, especially as there were some green ones earlier on. On my walk back I noticed why. We made the cage with builders pallets all around from wind protection, and I covered it with green wind break material. I noticed today that a hole had been made – rabbit size – at the front. It is only material so quite easy for a rabbit to do. So it is perfect for a young rabbit to use it for an entrance and exit, as the gap is at a corner join, hence the gap in the side of the pallet. I can see that I will have to think up something better to keep them out in the future.

More lettuce have bolted overnight, so more for the chickens, but still plenty for us. I did sow some more rows, but they have not materialised, so perhaps I will have to sow more and keep them watered.

I left the plot very tired but happy. The mown lawns and pathways really look great – but chaos reigns one more on the allotments all around me. They seem to have been abandoned yet again.

When I was sitting in the shade ‘chilling’ out with the girls playing at my feet, and birds in the trees behind me, I was almost in a trance watching the thistle seeds swirling up and around on the heat thermals on all the plots either side my little oasis. I sat there thinking. ‘What am I doing all this mowing and weeding for – I don’t stand a hope in a h*** of ever winning the battle.’ There are literally thousands and thousands of waist high weeds as far as the eye can see on each side of me, and all sorts of seeds blow across.

I know why I do it though. For the exercise, for the satisfaction of growing things, especially food and fruit, for the joy of being in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a bench looking out onto acres of golden barley gently swaying in the breeze – (sadly without a poppy or a weed in it as they get sprayed) – for the pleasure, just for me, of seeing it neat and tidy and cared for as best I can, even though there are weeds in the flower beds, and the utter feeling of peace and contentment with my chickens at my feet, bees buzzing on the achillea flowers, and though still caring about the troubles of the world, having. and appreciating, that I am so lucky to be where I am – for that moment – and making the most of it.

I hope that you have that experience too – it is something to really treasure.


  1. yes you are right. most of the people in thoese places have been save from death by modern med. i would rather be dead. you picture of the squash shows your kitchen facuet, it looks so sturdy. you should see what they sell us. they are pop metal and only last a few years then have to be replaced. i tried to post early on your site and could not so will try again. hope you had a good day.

  2. Karen8:37 am

    Many years ago I bought a book called ' The Complete Book of Home Preserving by Mary Norwak'. It is full of jams and preserves of all types of things which you never even knew that you would even want to preserve. It is a really good book, maybe they will have it in a local library.

    Also temperature wise here, we are on 'Red Alert'. Supposed to be heading towards the 40's like in 2003. Still no rain.

  3. Are you a chutney fan AL?
    As we have 2 crab apple trees I always make chutney ready for the village harvest auction.
    Last year I did some pickled peaches which were to die for!
    I will root out the recipes and post them in my blog!


  4. Karen - thanks for that, I will see if I can order it from the library. We are on a weather warning alert too - have been for almost a week now, with this unrelenting heat.

    We all probably get so much rain later in the summer that we will be wistly thinking how nice the sunshine was!

    MrsN - yes please if you do find the recipes that would be great. I like things that are tried and tested.

    We are having the courgette burgers again - Pat keeps asking for them, they were so good.

  5. BTW I think I should have probably explained that apparently courgette cake/loaf is supposed to be a bit like carrot cake.

    I only have one decent courgette on my plant, the others have recently shrivelled up at the flower end. I'm obviously doing something wrong - any advice?

    Also my one gooseberry bush (which is new)has caterpillars which I pick off regularly and mildew. Now you can understand why I don't have an allotment, but just love reading about yours!
    Redwitch x

  6. Karen2:38 pm

    I am currently making courgette bread using a ciabatta bread mix which I picked up yesterday.

    Caterpillars on gooseberries !!! - I have never heard of that before. I shall have to look it up on the web.

  7. While you are there Karen, can you find out what animal eats lovely big raw onions! Grrrrrr

    I guessed that the courgette loaf was a bit like a cake - Redwitch, and I might save doing it until my grandaugher and cousin come to stay on Sunday.

  8. Karen8:00 pm

    Have made the courgette loaf, very nice and moist, but a bit salty despite rinsing the courgettes. Would recommend eating it with a good strong meat. We had Vaudoise sausage.

    It is Gooseberry sawfly on the gooseberries. As for the onions, going back to the web. What animal WOULD eat raw onioins ?

  9. Karen8:41 pm

    Well that was interesting, looking up what animals eat onions. Basically none but after reading this whatever did eat it may not be too well. The things one can learn on the www.

  10. Karen - what a sweetie you are. I was only joking about you looking up what animals eat onions.

    I hope that it was the rabbits - after reading the link.

    Old Geoff seems to think that I might be a munjack deer - they are the size of a large dog say a German Shepherd dog.

    Well they only ate a quarter of the bulb, or a few layers - but about 20 or so bulbs. They or it must be pretty daft going along the rows and sampling some of each. You would think if it didn't like one then it certainly wouldn't like the others.

  11. Thanks for identifying the gooseberry sawfly Karen, I shall certainly be looking that up and how to treat it. I don't mind sharing with little creatures but the poor bush has hardly had chance to get going!

    I think I have enough Sungold tomatoes, a courgette and some aubergine in my garden to make a small ratatouille! I'm so chuffed :)

    (Sorry about the onions AL - nightmare when something nibbles a bit from each! So greedy!)

  12. Redwitch - use soapy water on the caterpillars. They don'tusually do any lasting damage. I thought that they only ate the leaves. If they are eating the gooseberries give them a splash and they will soon disappear.

    Great news about your ratatouille. You can make it with all sorts of things so if you have more of one thing than another - or are missing the aubergine as I am, then just make it up leaving out what you haven't got or substitute other things.

    The vegetable mix also tastes lovely if you add some pesto sauce to it and roast it.

  13. Yes, they were on the leaves - no gooseberries yet as it is a new bush this year. In fact it's more like 3 sticks at the moment!

    I will try the soapy water and the pesto and roasting suggestion that sounds scrummy :)

    (Hope you are taking it easy in the heat and not overdoing things. It's even hot and sunny here in Wales!)

  14. Molly6:28 pm

    So glad you are feeling less pain from the shingles, although at your worst you are still more energetic than many people I know who are far younger than you.
    Here's a zucchini (aka courgette/marrow) chutney recipe I'm looking forward to trying this year:

  15. Thanks for your kind words Molly. I took a look at the link - and a very interesting chutney recipe. I just love the glass jars in the photos.

    I am still deciding whether to try chutneys. I have made a couple of jars, but am not sure if they would be a hit with those people that like sweet pickle - although they must be similar.

    I could always label them sweet pickle I suppose - they might not notice!

    We had a power cut a while ago, so have been doing other things.

    You must let me know how you get on. Will you be bottling it an boiling it the same way.

    Most chutney recipes I have looked up in cookery books cook the chutney, and put it into cooled sterilised jars and seal them.

  16. Yes, I'll put it up the same way I do jams and pickle relish--hot pack into sterilized jars and seal them up. I'm not a big chutney fan, myself, except as an accompaniment to grilled pork and lamb chops.

    I have also substituted zucchini for cucumber in cucumber relish recipes and it comes out, if anything, even tastier that way. Of course most of the flavor is from the spices anyway.


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