Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Love is ...............

Sunday’s weather was not conducive to working up the allotment, so I spent the day doing big cook-ups of produce for freezing, and browsing through seed catalogues debating what to order for next year.

Monday I was able to spend a few hours doing work that hardly notices, like digging out flower beds, making gateways, weeding, and planting more cuttings and 10 January King cabbages, and protected them with plastic milk bottles to keep the pigeons off them. Whilst I was doing that I had a Hitchcock moment when pigeons were queuing up on the telephone wires that go across the field where my lottie is, and I heard a cacophony of crows really squawking – really eerie especially as I was on my own up there as usual. Still some colour up the lottie - a beautiful Sedum head.

I was also able to finally seed the proposed grass path 100 feet long and 4 feet wide which took me quite a time. I finished off picking more beans and cut all the remaining green tomatoes, three carrier bags plus a big bowl full too which weighed a staggering 25 lbs. I even blanched and froze the 6lbs of mixed beans, no wonder I felt so tired the following day. I needed to get so much done because (a) we were once again forecast rain, and (b) I had a trip to the physio first thing the next day.

Tuesday. Gosh the physio really put me through it, and I was glad that I took painkillers before I went. I felt really sick when I came out. Apparently I need an injection onto the tendon which is in the middle where the arm is attached to the shoulder socket. Sounds like fun – not – and I still need lots of work on my back and neck, so an ongoing project there then. At least I am getting treatment, so no complaints from me. More colour Rudbeckia - lovely seedheads for flower arranging!

Luckily Pat came with me as we needed to collect the lawnmower from Thetford. The little one that is. The chap said that it had a high mileage on it, and that the back wheels were a little splayed (Pat didn’t tell him that it is used up the lottie), he did advise us that it would be burnt out within two years, so we shall have to use it at home where we have a lot less lawn! Pat took a leisurely drive through the back lanes of the countryside home, and I got to look out of the window at the scenery, which was a novelty being a driver myself. I had a rest for half an hour or so before cooking lunch – yet another concoction of mine using 8 different vegetables I have grown and some herbs, and some cooked chicken added at the end.

Whilst it was cooking, Sheila’s daughter Tracy who manages Harrods (our village shop) called by with some strawberry runners that were destined for the compost heap, but I got in first. She stayed for a chat for half an hour which was nice, and I not only caught up on all the news, but as gardeners we exchanged information and tips as well.

After lunch I decided to take some painkillers and go up the lottie to plant the newly dug up runners. I also had about 40 little baby ones growing in pots – I did have more but the squirrels kept digging up the plants and putting walnuts in – as mentioned in a previous blog.

It turned out to be a lovely sunny afternoon, and as usual I had the whole field to myself. It was so warm that I was working in short sleeves – the first time this year, as I can’t risk being burnt in the summer sunshine.

I prepared three trenches about 25 feet long and filled them with pig manure, then planted all the plants. Tracy had given me 25 which she had pulled straight from the ground so I had to get them in quickly. The next two rows of 25 were ones I had grown in pots and other runners that I had grown in a nursery bed.

But by this time I was totally worn out after spending another three hours working and there were dark grey clouds looming menacingly overhead and I had lots to pack away. I didn’t leave before I harvested 2 cucumbers, lots of red and green Lollo Rosso lettuce leaves, some raspberries, and some French and runner beans. Pat phoned me just as I was leaving and the first spots of rain began to fall. We had a heavy downfall which would have watered the plants in beautifully for me, so that was handy.

Today, Wednesday, more painkillers and more sunshine, not to be wasted sitting indoors, and the rain is definitely coming later.

Another 4 hours working, this time digging up some strawberry plants out of the fruit cage which needed moving out of the shadow of the raspberries which grew bigger than I anticipated – something else I have now learnt on this huge learning curve I am on! Digging a trench and filling it with a barrow load of pig manure, and planting out another 25 strawberries – I now have a total of 100, so that should guarantee me a good crop next year shouldn’t it???

I took up the membrane in half of the fruit cage and rotorvated that and spread three barrows full of manure in there, and retuned the membrane to its previous position. Just then Tim came by to fix on the blade to our old lawnmower! Yippee! So rather than pack up and go home as was my intention, and with the threat of rain, I just had to mow all the lawns – which took ages.
I had to start with it on its highest setting (5) then go over it time and time again until I got it down to setting 2. It was all I could do to muster the energy to pack up everything and put my little rotovator in the boot of my car. Just as I was leaving to come home, Patrick phoned to say that he was back from golf, and that lunch would be ready in 15 minutes……Love is!

I had time for a quick shower and sat down to bangers and mash, French and runner beans, onions, carrots, and onion gravy, and it tasted sooo good!! All the hard work of growing your own pays off.

We have just stored 25lb of green tomatoes in a chest of drawers in the shed to ripen. I still can’t quite believe what an incredible amount of crops I have grown this, my second growing season. – Off for tea – home made raspberry and apple crumble made with jumbo oats and flaked almonds in the crumble. And it is raining!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Trench warfare against the rabbits

I am sitting here feeling really tired after a busy day at the allotment. The weather was lovely and sunny, with intermittent cloud, but no wind, so I wanted to make the most of it as rain is forecast for tomorrow and Monday.

After spending yesterday afternoon flower arranging, I collected all the cut off rose stems that people were throwing in the bin, and some of the discarded foliage stems. As I do not have a pew in my home I have hung it up in the hall, there are long trailing bits of ivy and purple spray carnations. If I get cuttings from these wonderful roses I shall be over the moon. They smell heavenly which is rare in a purchased bunch of roses from a supermarket!

Now is the time for hardwood cuttings,and the ladies were only too pleaed for me to take them.

I needed to create somewhere to put them, so decided at the bottom of the allotment where I am establishing a garden, seemed the logical place. Firstly I had to make it rabbit proof – easily said than done.

Out came my trusty little Mantis Tiller, and I spent an hour or so rotovating a border in front of the bank by the hedge that runs alongside the field. I decided that in order to give my cuttings a chance of survival, I must make it rabbit proof; I dug a trench the whole width. Next I hammered in some metal posts, to support sheets of corrugated iron which I put in the trench and backfilled with soil both sides and added more posts. This took me all morning.

This afternoon I did the same along the side. I used the tiller to create a border edge, and then added a barrow load of pig manure to the border where the cuttings were to go. This was covered in black plastic to suppress the weeds, then each cutting was re-cut, dipped in hormone powder and pushed into the plastic. In two years time I should have lots of rose bushes and shrubs – hopefully, for flower arranging.

It is amazing how much time it took, but it will be worth it if it keeps the rabbits out, and ends up as beautiful as I envisage. It all looks a bit Heath Robinson, and bare, but when the shrubs grow next year they will hide the fencing. As you have to remember that we are in a field in the countryside and the allotments are not like the ones you have in the towns, with neat pathways. There are restrictions on doing anything permanent like that - as much as I would like to have a proper wooden fence and permanent paths etc, but everything has to be temporary that can be taken down and removed easily, hence the short posts just hammered in.

Pat gave the elder tree its third No.1. haircut this year, as it had almost obscured the shed door making it difficult for me to prise it open.

We finished up by digging up parsnips, and carrots for the Sunday roast, and picking Cherokee beans, and another icecream tub of raspberries, some of which we had for tea mixed with necterines and yoghurt.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Seven hours of sheer bliss

What a wonderful day I have had. Pat was in a golf tournament all day, and it gave me the opportunity to spend the whole day up the lottie. What a joy.

It is only a mile away, and so I expect that this sounds silly, but it is a different world when you are in a field on your own or with the occasional plot holder working in the distance, and exchanging a cheery ‘Hello’ or a wave it they are out of earshot.

My home is in a peaceful area, with lovely neighbours, and actually it is quieter in my garden than it is up the lottie, but it is a different atmosphere when you are not surrounded with boundaries.

I made myself a boxed lunch of all my organic salads, tomatoes, cucumber, seeds etc. for a picnic at the bottom of my plot next to the field. I packed the newspaper, a pen, a book, - thinking that I might relax and read – no chance!

I filled up the boot of my little car with my Mantis Tiller, a shrub and a chrysanthemum which I wanted to plant, and some grass seed.

When I arrived I had the whole place to myself. I took up an offer of some free iris and asparagus plants and headed off with my wheelbarrow to dig them up – or rather to hack them out of the solid ground. I dug up three asparagus plants which are a few years old, so I may get some spears next year. There were lots of plants there, some were huge, but I did not want to be greedy. I have some baby asparagus grown from seed. Some planted in March which have now grown quite bushy and some planted a few weeks ago which are little wispy things so I should have a succession of asparagus at different stages in the next few years.

We have an asparagus farm in the next village where I usually buy it by the bag full, so didn’t really intend growing any, but had a few seeds, and you know how it is. So if they don’t grow well enough to eat, then I can use the ferns for flower arranging – they are attractive plants.

So after spending a couple of hours digging up plants, splitting the irises and replanting, I turned my attention to the very bottom end, and got side tracked. I rotorvated a new flower border in front of where I have started a willow fence, with a view to hiding the chicken wire until the willow gets growing. I shall fill it with perennials that I will propagate from those in my garden.

I envisage a hot border, of yellows, oranges and reds, so will plant it up with day lilies, yellow and orange varieties, yellow Achilleas, and orange and red crocosmias, they will look lovely with the green background of the willow.

I cut a gap in the chicken wire which separates the vegetable plots from the bottom end which was all rough ground until I cleared it and tamed it. This will enable me at last to walk the length of the plot on a lawn pathway rather than walking along the outside of the fenced area to get to the big compost bin at the end. – Just in case my neighbouring plot holder doesn’t go ahead and grass his area. I am becoming a dab and at putting up fences, building cages and compost bins etc. They will be calling me Heath Robinson soon.

To make a gateway I had to cut through the chicken wire with a pair of pliers! (all I had in my shed), then had to hammer in some posts (wooden table legs) so that I had something into which to slot the sheet of corrugated iron - the only means of deterring the rabbits, as they don't usually burrow underneath them for some reason. I had to cut through some black membrane and dig up some plants, rotovate a pathway and seed it. That took me quite a while, but it does look good and I got a great sense of achievement when it was finished. I took some hardwood cuttings from a cornus and planted those, and then stopped for a very late lunch!

I rotovated at least a 100ft length of pathways about 4ft wide, and grassed half of them before running out of grass seed. Doh. There was no way I was going to do a 14 mile round trip to the nearest town to get some grass seed, so after doing all the preparation I abandoned the rest of that job. And sat and admired my handiwork.

In the summer I bought a blackberry/boysenberry cross. I am not sure if it has the vigour and habits of a blackberry so am a bit concerned as to the place I have planted it, so am contemplating moving it to the bottom end in front of the hedge –just in case, but if I do it will be a haven for the rabbits who love to have their burrows underneath them. Decisions, decisions.

During the process of all my rotovating, I managed to get caught up in a chicken wire fence, and get a few stones caught up in the tines – which is inevitable now and again. –The stones that is, not the fence, which was a piece that had been buried underground as a rabbit defence. In ordinary circumstances it would have been a total nightmare untangling a rotorvator from wire netting, but all I had to do was to remove the tine and hey presto easy peasy. Brilliant.

The day just whizzed by, and before I knew it was after 4pm. By the time I packed everything up, picked some more tomatoes, green beans, cucumber, and squash it was 5pm. The plot holder who is moving, came up to have a look around and to help herself to produce – in exchange for the irises and asparagus – and strawberry plants when I get the time to prepare the bed for them.

7 hours – the longest that I have worked up the lottie in one day this year, and I loved every aching minute of it!

A leisurely browse and a new discovery

Wednesday 21st was a typical misty moisty Autumnal morning, so I decided to whiz up the lottie early just for a look, as it was physio day today. By 9am the mist was burning off and the sun was warm on my back. So out came the camera to make the most of it.

The first thing I saw was the church tower through the trees in the distance, I don’t remember noticing that before. Maybe a tree has been felled so that we have a clear tunnel view of it. It serves as a lovely reminder that although it seems that I am miles away from anywhere, only a mile away is the heart of the village.

It was surprising to see that more tomatoes have ripened and as I am typing this I can smell all 5lb of them simmering with lots of other goodies that I have grown, in a pepper pesto sauce. That will probably be the last batch this year, as I can’t imagine the rest ripening even with the aid of a banana.

The soil looked so soft and light where I used the Mantis Tiller, so I am going to prepare another grass path as rain is forecast big time for Friday. It is a great feeling to have conquered such a big plot in this my second season, and to be in a position to make proper sections with grass paths. Already now, I am thinking that maybe I should use the ‘garden’ that I am developing right at the end for raising more flowers, plants, veggies, or fruit. It is great to be able to enjoy it all now that the season is winding down, even the caterpillar population seems to be dwindling, and the brassicas tent is looking healthy.

A couple who have had half a plot are moving soon, and they have told me that I can help myself to the flag irises, and some strawberries (if there are any remaining, as they have invited everyone to help themselves), and also to some asparagus plants. I have let them have a free run of my lottie and to help themselves to any crops that they want to pick. They had expected to have moved a lot sooner than now, so did not grow much. It is so nice to be able to exchange or give away home grown food, people do appreciate it. I wish I had some fruit trees, I would love to pick and store apples in particular. I think it must have been a bad year, as there are not the usual boxes of windfall apples outside houses around the village.

I bought some hooks from the builders yard on the outskirts of the village, and late this afternoon, we screwed them into the roof beams in the garage to hang up the sacks of potatoes, after I had spent a pleasant hour or two, going through them again, and re-checking that they were in good condition for storage. I am really happy with the varieties I grew this year, particularly as we had drought conditions.

I grew Orla and Colleen early potatoes, Milva, Valor and Robinta (red) early main crop, and Cara as my late main crop. All but Cara were blight resistant, but I did not have any signs of blight in any of them. Non of the early had any damage of any description, some of the Valor got nibbled by rabbits and deer, and some of the Robinta and Cara had holes in them but are still edible. The sizes of the early potatoes were fairly uniform, but the Robinta ranged from tiny to large, and the Cara were predominantly medium to large, in fact I have got two sacks full of really large ones for baked jacket potatoes. Grown without any help from me, apart from keeping them weed free, I am amazed at the yields per little seed plant.

I thought that you might like to see another of my funny plants - I stopped to pick lettuce, tomatoes, and a cucumber for lunch and came across this cucumber! I hadn't noticed it under all the leaves. When tiny it had obviously started poking through the fence but still managed to swell!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A dead body in the raspberry patch - Death by natural causes or murder?

We had to make a quick trip to London today, and drove through drizzle, heavy rain, and finally sunshine. When we returned home, rather tired, I thought that I would be sat in an armchair for the rest of the day, but I soon recovered, put the Mantis in the boot and headed off to the lottie.

Overnight there had been a death, which saddened me, I found a little mole deceased. It was in perfect condition and looked like it was lying on the grass mulch in the middle of a row of raspberries sunbathing, poor thing. I don't know how large they grow, but this one was as long as the palm of my hand so it might have been a baby. It was a total mystery how it came to be there as there was no mole hill next to it. Was it murder or did it expire due to natural causes? There is not so much as a slug pellet on my allotment, let alone any toxins of any nature. Maybe it was death by gluttony, at least I hope so, then at least it would have been a happy passing.

I couldn't dwell on it for long as I had work to do. The idea was to edge the grass paths I made, then I changed my mind and put the tillers on the Mantis to prepare another path next to the gooseberries, rhubarb, and big compost bin - to stop people from walking all over the area that I have rotovated. Friends and visitors just walk across bare patches of land to get to where they want to go (whilst I inwardly cringe as I had spent hours weeding or rotovating the land and did not want the soil compacted!) If you are not a gardener you are not expected to know these things, so more grass paths across the plot to join up with those along the length seemed the logical solution.

The little Mantis is so easy to start after starting mowers and big rotovators. My shoulder hardly noticed it. It took me a bit of getting used to walking backwards and the light weight of it, but once I had mastered that it was pure joy. The fine tilth it produced after I had used it to to weed, just needed raking to remove the stones. Then the silly walk several times up and down in my walking boots, a light rake, sow the grass seeds, and job done. It took a fraction of the time it takes me usually.

Feeling more confident I decided to weed between the plants in the remaining bed that needed doing, the largest 10ft wide by 30ft. This proved a bit more of a challenge as some of the plants were close together, and I had to get to grips with the speed control. Not a bad effort though.
Despite only half filling the petrol tank there was still some left, and as the instructions say to empty the tank, I did not want to pollute my soil, so kept going, and going, and going, until I had virtually finished the potato plot. In the end I left it ticking over to run out as I needed to pick the Autumn fruiting raspberries for tea and time was running out - and at last the petrol did.

It was great to just fold down the handles, put the rotovator in the wheel barrow along with everything else, and put it in the car boot and come home.

Muck, muck, glorious muck - nothing quite like it!

Monday I managed to spend two hours up to my knees in muck! Now I am sure that you do not want to see photos.

It was a very rewarding task wheeling barrow loads of pig and horse manure and spreading it to mulch the rhubarb, gooseberry bushes, raspberries, and baby black currant cuttings, in the knowledge that next year I should have bumper crops - and it didn't smell in the slightest.

When I returned home there was a nice surprise awaiting me - my little Mantis Tiller had arrived. As I spend 80% of my time weeding, I decided to plunder my piggy bank, and buy myself one, - to save some wear and tear on my back and knees and to give me time for other things.

I couldn't wait to open the box and assemble it, which was much easier than I expected. The hardest bit is reading the manual through from front to back first, when you just want to get on out there and play with it. I got my chance to play, using the lawn edger in our back garden. Perhaps I should have practised up the allotment first, but my maiden drive didn't go too badly, and it is certainly light.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Sunday - The Day of Rest

The chap that was going to cut our inherited conifer hedge at home has hurt his back so my plan (yes I know) was to cut it Sunday morning as we were promised sunshine. Somehow it ended up in Newcastle where on of our son's live (the sunshine, that is not the hedge).

As the hedge was still wet from an overnight drop of rain, I spent the whole morning continuing my search for damson stones before making Damson jam. Pat only wanted me to make 2 jars on the logic that we would not eat any more during winter. It took just a long to make two as it would have to make six.

Still, the remainder were put to good use. I added chunks of apples, and pears, and simmered gently for a short while. When it was cooled I added lots of frozen raspberries, and whole strawberries - all from my very first crop, mixed it all up and froze it in containers to make crumbles, pies, and puddings.
We had the leftovers that were not enough to freeze in a container, covered in yoghurt for tea.

3.30pm I dragged Pat reluctantly away from the T.V. to help me with the hedges. He was the collector of trimmings I was the trimmer. I managed 30ft O.K. dispite my protesting back and shoulder. I then started on the 100ft length, I had to trim some plants so that Pat could lay the sheet of plastic to collect the rubbish.

Oops, for the first time in my life it nicked the cable somehow which had got hidden in the ground foliage I was cutting. We bandaged it with black tape, but my better judgement prevailed and I gave it up as a bad job. It was not meant to be.

That gave me the opportunity to dig up and pot up a Dierama for my friend Sheila and divide yet more the Stipa Gigantica var. golden oats, to give to her too.

I now have to order a new lead, and find another man that does not charge the earth to trim the total of 150 feet of the hedge that is left - and along the top too.

At least it gave me time to update the blog.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Saturday 17th September – Cook, Pollard and Play

The day dawned wet and not sunny as the forecast had been, so I cheered up the day by spending a few hours cooking up a big batch of my version of a Moroccan spiced vegetable dish (which I have printed on a separate blog page). It is so nice in the winter to be able to just go to the freezer and pull out a precooked meal, and the beauty of a basic sauce is that you can add extra ingredients and it tastes totally different every time.

Whilst that was cooking I got Patrick on veggie duty and he peeled the surplus of parsnips and carrots thinnings which I sliced up and blanched and froze. My freezer is getting well stocked for the winter and it is very rewarding lifting the lid and seeing labelled carrier bags full to the brim with portion sized bags of every vegetable and fruit that I have grown.

There was a glimpse of sun just after lunch so I needed no further invitation to don my old gardening clothes and head off to my allotment with a big bucket of all the veggie peelings for the compost bins. I was there just a few minutes and it rained, but not heavily enough to deter me.

I loaded up the wheel barrow with everything I would need as I intended to work down the bottom end. I spread the peelings between the three plastic compost bins and noticed worms right at the top of the bins in the horse manure that I use in layers to encourage the vegetation to rot down quicker.

As usual I was all alone, and in the distance on the track I saw a rabbit hopping about, so I made sure to pull across my sheet of corrugated iron that serves as a gate to my main vegetable growing area. As it was so quiet and peaceful I did not want the rabbits sneaking in amongst the remainder of my vegetables and being closed in to feast on my crops!

My first task was to pollard the willow tree that I grew from a small stick that I used initially to peg down a strip of membrane.18 months later it has grown to 15 feet!

I cut off all the branches leaving the main stem intact to re-grow. I used these to secure the low chicken wire fence that is a boundary marking between my plot and the those next to me that are not being worked at the moment. The rabbits are burrowing under the fence and it is looking like the M25 with all the rabbit traffic lanes, so I thought that I would make a living fence and secure the chicken wire at the same time. I spaced the branches out and pushed them into the ground anchoring the fence. The tops I interwove like a willow hand rail. It looks a bit puny at the moment, but next year, with a bit of luck, the cuttings will have rooted deterring the rabbits as they scrape under the wire, the stems would have sprouted branches which will be interwoven to make a living and solid fence which I can pollard to any height I want. This area is where I am just starting to develop as a garden in which to relax, so the willow fence, will provide a windbreak and a natural barrier. I made a willow arch in my garden a couple of years ago, and it has taken root, and thickened up and withstands everything the weather throws at it, including winds that tear down fences and tree branches.
I weeded another of my wide flower beds and the difference it made was remarkable, the weeds grew so quickly after the rain. The tiny cardoon seedling I planted in July is beginning to look really sculptural, next year it will grow to six feet tall, with beautiful flowers. The silver foliage shows up wonderfully against the sedum now turning pink, and the deep red persicaras that have silver markings on them. The blue green spikes on the flag iris cuttings complement the spiky leaves of the cardoon which make a lovely tapestry of textures an colour in the sunshine. At the end of the same bed, are lavendars in different shades of blue still flowering and the lush feathery foliage of asparagas.

At a time when the allotments are starting to look tatty with dying leaves and weeks appearing, it is nice to have an area of beauty as a contrast.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew – Bulk Recipe

To make a smaller quantity just divide the ingredients by 2 or 4. The spices are the main measurements to get right The vegetable weights do not have to be too specific, best to use more rather than less though.

This is the basis for so many different meals – both vegetarian and meat dishes. A ‘must have’ in your freezer for all occasions.

Ingredients – Vegetables, spices, water.
12lb or more of mixed vegetables + onions and peppers
As an example here is the list I used today just because they were surplus to requirements, that I harvested yesterday, you can use pumpkins, potatoes, apples……….

6lb tomatoes
4 onions
2lb green beans climbing beans
2lb butternut squash and courgettes
Odd bits of parsnips and carrots
5 roasted red peppers
10oz dried apricots


1 level table spoon of turmeric

2 level dessert spoons each of
Ground Cumin
Ground Coriander

1 level dessert spoon of Ground Black Pepper
1 level teaspoon cayenne

Cup or two of water.

Place a glug or two of oil in the base of an appropriate size pan, on a medium heat on the hob. Soften the onions, add the tomatoes and gradually add the rest of the veggies, stir gently to mix all ingredients together. Add the list of spices. Stir well to incorporate evenly. Add a cup of water and stir well, but gently. Cook until all veggies are soft and add another cup of water if needed.

Spices – keep to the measurements above at first you can always add more if you like it spicy. This is meant to be in a concentrated form to freeze, so will taste hot. (I used heaped spoons full, but we like it hot and peppery). Adding water and other ingredients when defrosted dilutes the strength of the spices.
The picture shows the texture of the mix, ready to be frozen, before the mug of water was added. Two large portions weighing 1lb 4oz in total. We ate it for lunch with a wild and brown rice mixture. The different colours and textures make it really attractive to eat.
When defrosted add a mug of water per 2 servings of mixture.

Use this as the basic ingredients and add to these when creating a meal. It is great as a vegetable curry or a base for a mixed curry, add a banana or apple.

Amongst the things I add (in combinations or individually) after thawing are:
A tin of chick peas, chicken, rabbit, lamb, pork, sausages, fish, prawns, potatoes, pumpkin, apples….. the list is endless.

To make it a bit more authentic I add a handful of flaked almonds, just before serving, to the mix, to add a nice texture and crunch. I decorate with chopped fresh mint to serve.

Serve with wild, brown, or basmati rice. With couscous topped with mint or jacket potatoes, or good old mash.

This made 10 bags each weighing 1lb 4oz – (you get juices evaporating in cooking from the tomatoes)

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!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Soaked through to my skin, but it was worth it for a bargain

Here in Norfolk we are having torrential rain, real stair rods of rain, so the weather forecast was right to a certain extent, it arrived earlier and there is more of it. Do I mind? Not a bit. This enforced day of ‘rest’ is good.

It enabled me to go on a 20 mile each way trip to Thetford to take the little mower in for repair, and by coincidence the dealership was located within a garden centre. Joy oh joy. Pat went off for a cup of tea, and I headed out into the heavy downpour to look at the plants and shrubs. It is not often I get to visit a garden centre, although I have visited a couple of nurseries this year and a huge Garden Centre in Wisbech as an aside on a trip with the Flower Club in the summer.

The rain was so heavy that I could hardly see, but I spotted a sign in the distance that said REDUCTIONS and made a bee line for it. My intention was to buy some soft fruit, but all they had were a few grape vines and one fig tree! So I spent some time looking at what was on offer in the reductions corner.

The plants were ones that had finished flowering, so there was nothing wrong with them. The looked a bit sad and soaked, but there was lots of choice. I invested in some for the allotment, part of which I am turning into a garden – at the bottom end next to the field, with those spectacular views.

I bought a Stipa Gigantica – a beautiful grass with tall arching stems of a golden colour that have wonderful seed pods along the end which make it droop downwards like a fishing rod. I might be able to split it, and have one for the garden at home.

I bought the most beautiful Silver Buddleia, which has white balled flowers – and will look glorious both in the sunshine and in dull weather, and of course the butterflies will love it. I should be able to propagate that from a cutting, if it works then free plants! It is very attractive and not a bit like the common purple buddleia.

Next to go into the trolley was a Cornus Alba, to add to my dogwood collection (now a total of three!) As the name suggests it has variegated cream and green foliage with lovely deep red stems. The cornus is a shrub with beautiful coloured stems and is wonderful for winter colour, and great in flower arrangements, particularly at Christmas. I got a big plant, so can definitely take hardwood cuttings from that.

A Eucalyptus Gunnii was my next great find, the only one there. With gorgeous pale blue leaves, like pennies; in pairs all along the stem. I shall dig up the the Eucaplytus from my front garden and replace it with this one. The transplanted one will make a lovely specimen plant in my allotment garden, and I can cut as much off it as I like. It is the more common, highly aromatic variety, with red stems, and drooping branches. It grows very quickly and you have to keep it cut to produce the smaller leaves.

My last purchase was a big pot of a blue grass with broad leaves – I am not going out into the rain to look at the label. It grows up to 8 feet tall with lovely oat-like long lasting stems. It has some stems coming out of the sides, so that will get split into several plants. All these for £15. It makes a change for me to buy shrubs and grasses, as I usually choose plants that we can eat!

Apart from growing vegetables, I love flowers and flower arranging – as well as lots of other hobbies,- and by growing flowers and shrubs I hope to not only create an area of beauty, but also to attract lots of the pollinating insects to my vegetables.

So back to the rain, which is still battering down on the conservatory roof as I type. It is a welcome friend that will soak the ground and allow me to create a flower border more easily, and I am already eyeing up some of my garden perennials that I might be able to divide and move. A project in the making for next year, and many to come, God Willing! I like a challenge.

There was a surprise on my door step when I got home. A bag of damsons, a gift from a neighbour who had been given so many by a relative that they couldn’t cope with any more. Anyone have any good recipes for damsons?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Mow-terway Maintenance

It was physio day today, and the sun was shining so you can guess where I would rather have been.

On the positive side friends of ours called around whilst I was being manipulated,and stayed till I returned home. Richard, my mechanical miracle man, came round to see if he could resuscitate my 6 month old mower. You have probably gathered by now that filling it up with oil and petrol is the limit of our expertise - but what can you expect - I am a beginner, but I will soon learn.

Pat had been using the little one, and it no longer was self driven! It also refused to start - even with my gentle encouragement it would not perform. I topped up the oil and checked the petrol, left it a week, no go. Geoff up the lottie had a go, and even he couldn't start it and he is good at that.

Richard took one look at it and spotted what was wrong. The lead that comes from the engine to the spark plug had been fitted wrongly during manufacture. Instead of being slotted into a purpose moulded groove in the cover, it had been crushed in it and was almost cut in half! It was a wonder that it had worked at all. Richard taped it up for safety and loosened the cover screw and slotted it into the correct place. It started up first pull and roared off like a Ferrari!

The downside to buying things from the web, is that you do not have a shop to go back to, but in this case it probably wouldn't have helped anyway,it is covered by the manufacturer's warranty - just got to find the nearest one in Norfolk, a bit of a journey no doubt. But there is always an upside isn't there. I took a couple of pain killers and this evening and was able to get Pat to load the mower in the boot and I was able to mow my three new grass paths, something I have been hankering to do for a couple of weeks now. I think that they look very good considering the grass seed has not been down long, and that we have had a total of three days rain since I sowed it. There were also three molehills in the paths, but I do not mind too much. When I first got the allotment I did not see a worm for 10 months, but since all my work and soil preparation they are starting to come back - and enough to tempt the moles so that is a very good sign. After an hour of lawn mowing - I needed to go over the paths several times, - dusk had set in, so I picked a few autumn raspberries and happily headed off home. But not before taking a closer inspection of the flower beds. I had propagated some flag irises earlier in the summer, using the edge tubers, and cutting off the foliage to a couple of inches. I planted them with just their roots snuggled in the soil, and the rabbits kept pulling them up and a couple of them have been nibbled. With almost no rain, they just stayed dormant, and I rather thought that I had lost them, but today when I took a closer look, the leaves have taken on a lovely green colour - they looked rather brown last time I saw them. It is amazing what a huge difference that a couple of showers of rain make. And next year they will look stunning. It is good to take photos, when the allotment looks good and bad, so that you have some before and after photos for comparisons. It is amazing how quickly you can forget one year to the next.

Rain is forecast for tomorrow and Friday so I have to make the most of every bright day, and being able to spend just a hour up there this evening makes my spirit soar!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ploughing and Pumpkins

Another sunny day, what a wonderful treat, and another was awaiting me up the lottie. Here is the photo to prove it! All the rubbish is down the bottom, so a big bonfire will be had no doubt, but I am thrilled that the weeds have gone for this year.

I got my rotorvator out to see if the time spent locked in the shed had done it any good. It was still a bit reluctant to start, and when it did get going, it went on strike when I attempted to flatten out some of the plough grooves in readiness for the grass seed. A chap walking his dog along the public footpath through the farm shouted over the hedge that it sounded like I needed to fill it up with petrol, and was the tank empty. I must look really dopey if he thought that I was trying to run it on an empty tank. Apparently he services gardening machines so knows what he is talking about. Interestingly he never offered to come and help me! The rotorvator was full up with petrol and oil. I just think that there might have been a bit of dirt of something in the carburettor that made it play up. I left it where it was in disgrace and went to check on the caterpillars and removed yet more eggs. It’s amazing at the volume of eggs a little white butterfly can lay from one day to the next.

I decided to give my machine one last chance, and it worked. I shouted at Pat to move the wheel barrow out of the way (he was dumping grass cuttings etc) and I charged through the gap at full pelt – didn’t want to risk it conking out again.

I rotorvated where the onions had been (only about 12ft x 30ft), but it meant that I could cover it up to stop the weeds growing. I will probably remove the plastic when we get the frost, just to add some pig and horse manure, and then cover it up again, to let the worms help me out with the work. The potatoes are going there next year, so I want to make it rich for them.

I saw on John Harrison’s allotment page, (see link) that he uses 4pt milk bottles as weights for fleece. What a good idea. I use them for all sorts of things, collars to keep the birds and rabbits off young plants, as jugs to transport my flowers when flower arranging, and I use them as flower pots – the square bottoms are much better than the round flower pots because they do not fall over and you can fit more in a box or tray.

My husband groaned when I told that I wanted to save still more, but this time with their lids. I am going to fill up lots to see if they will weight down the netting and also big sheets of plastic that I use to cover the soil. Usually I use lumps of wood or old pipes which look rather ugly and are heavy for me to carry around, and then there is the storage of course. But milk bottles, filled with rainwater from my water tanks, will make good weights, and when finished with I can just use the contents to water my plants – excellent!

Our site is very windy all year around as it is an open field, and more so in the winter when there is not the lightest shelter from the hedges or trees. Everything has to be tied down, including the wheel barrows! After my rotorvating success on that plot, I took it down to where the potatoes had been, with the intention of doing that site, which is about 50ft by 30ft, and then I was going to spread some manure and cover that up for the winter – taking advantage of the lovely sunny day. Unfortunately the soil was too soft so I had to abandon that idea.
The new grass paths need mowing for their first time, but as two of the mowers are broken and the other an old electric machine, I have to just wait patiently. I don’t really want to risk using a strimmer on it in case it pulls the grass out by the roots.

It is amazing how quickly two hours pass, so I checked on the Cherokee beans and managed to pick another 2lbs, and Pat picked almost 7lb of tomatoes. I laid out the pumpkins in the sunshine. Not bad from the small patch I had, and considering they were only watered for the first few days they were planted, I think they have done well.
When I looked at John Harrison’s web site yesterday morning to read his diary, there were photos of his produce table on his plot, with pumpkins, butternut squash and lovely marrows. In the evening when I was looking up something on another of his pages, I saw that he had made a late diary entry; a thief had been at work, and had stolen produce, including his harvest on his table. How mean is that. It takes so much time, effort, hard work, and dedication to get the produce to grow from the seed stage and if you are lucky to the harvest stage. Hours of work, I would be gutted if it happened to me.

It made me think back to what was involved to get the pumpkins that I have got – and they are not a patch on John’s.

I bought the compost and packets of seeds, not all of which germinated. I then had to pick out the strongest, and pot them on, keeping them warm and not over watered. They had to be acclimatised for a week or so before they could be planted out, and then I had to cover them with bell cloches as we had a late frost in May. Before all that though the work started last year on the soil. It was dug over several times and the weeds dug out, then it was covered for over nine months. I rotorvated it, dug in manure and all summer kept it mulched and weed free. It would be heart breaking to have them stolen.

Let’s hope that the thief on his site is shamed by his or her actions and does not do it again.

I have spent the afternoon freezing the Cherokee beans, and I have made another batch of spicy tomato sauce. I had run out of ground coriander, so just used cumin and chilli powder but I added some roasted red peppers – improvisation – that’s the fun of cooking. It has had the taste test by Pat and got the thumbs up again, and once it is cooled it will be in the freezer this evening.

Won’t be able to move after I have been pulled about by the physio tomorrow, so I am not expecting to go up the allotment until Thursday – but you never know.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The day started with a cauldron of food and ended with a pot of Ashes - Great!

Today did not turn out to plan - so what's new?

The idea was to do a bit of cooking then spend the afternoon up the allotment. I needed to try out the rotorvator, maybe after a few days rest it might decide to work properly!

I harvested so much stuff yesterday that I had to do something with it. The solution was obvious, a big cook up.

Carrot, Parsnip and Potato Mash.

To be truthful,it was supposed to be just carrot and parsnip mash, see recipes on my link to 'brilliant allotment web page', but somehow I got distracted by a phone call, and completely lost the plot!

I started off alright, peeling the carrots and parsnips and cutting them into chunks to be boiled in a little water - I did 1.5kg of those. Then for some reason I added potatoes, 3kg cut into chunks, and which necessitated in adding more water. At this point I went back to the web page to check the recipe only to find that potatoes were not mentioned. Doh!

Still,I had no intention of letting a little thing like 3kg of potatoes faze me! Especially as it took me so long to peel them!

When they were all cooked, I strained off the water, added half a cup of skimmed milk - that was all we had till Pat got back from golf, I then added some virgin olive oil, lots of freshly ground pepper and some salt to taste. Stirred it all up, mashed it to a lovely creamy texture, leaving a few small lumps of carrot and parsnip. I also added a bit more oil and a bit of reserved cooking water. It looked a lovely colour, and I tried some with our roast lunch. I put some in a dish and popped it in the oven for a few minutes to brown the top! Yummy.

I now have 24 generous portions in the freezer some of which are destined for my younger son's freezer!

In the next few days I will be thinning a row of Flyaway carrots, and some Tender and True parsnips, so John's recipe will be used for those. Watch this space!

It was late afternoon, and a friend visited that I hadn't seen for a while, so a couple of hours spent doing nothing, chatting in the garden made a lovely change, and then I simply had to join Pat to see England make those final runs to win the Ashes.

Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day, I've got a beautiful feeling, Everything's going my way!

Yesterday, Sunday, I awoke to a grey drizzly day, but I really needed to go up the allotment on my regular caterpillar safari. Missing a day due to the rain had me wondering if they were chomping rampantly through the leaves. The first thing I did when I arrived was a quick walk down to the cage to look through the netting. And to my amazement I could not see many at all. But I was under no illusion that as the leaves were dripping with raindrops, and it was drizzling lightly, the caterpillars might be lurking underneath in the dry.

After loading up my wheelbarrow with all the things I needed, and had to take (one of the first lessons I learnt having got a 330 ft plot, is that if you don’t take everything or as much as you can with you in the wheelbarrow, you soon get tired walking up and down fetching odd things.

First stop the broccoli cage, best to get the worst back breaking job out of the way. It is a bit of a palaver lifting off the heavy plank of wood anchoring the trailing netting, necessary to keep all the birds etc out, but once done, at least I can stand upright in the cage. Not that I get much chance as I am on my hands and knees or bending over, picking the caterpillars off and inspecting the leaves on both sides. But joy oh joy, there really were a lot less, in fact I didn’t even pick off a hundred. I am not going to crack open the champagne just yet, in case the heavy rain the day before had something to do with it. I cleared up all the dead and yellowing leaves and firmed the plants in a bit, the ground was sodden, so I would be limited as to what I could do on the rest of the site.

Having finished that job, and feeling somewhat elated, I went further up to harvest more Cherokee climbing beans – another 8lb. It still amazes me how long it takes to do something like that!

En route I bent to pull up some young thistles, which was quite a novelty. Not the thistle part, but the fact that the soil was so wet that I actually could pull the little ones up root and all. I then decided to see if the carrots would pull up. They and the parsnips had been set like concrete into the ground, and a pick axe would have been needed to shift them sooner. They needed thinning out too.

I started on the carrots, and picked out the largest ones – probably the wrong way to do it, but I decided that the carrots were a good size and did not want them to get too big in case they got tough. I just thinned one row and got a carrier bag full – of them vertically in it with their feather leaves attached. The variety Keratine, are a very deep orange, almost red, in colour, with a lovely long root. When I pulled the first carrot, it slipped out of the ground with a very satisfying sloop noise and the carroty smell was just divine and so very strong.

It gave me the opportunity to do some hand weeding as I went along the rows.

Next I thinned one row of parsnips, and I was pleasantly surprised at the huge size of them. So again I picked out the largest ones leaving the smaller to grow. We have stony ground, so some of them had distorted shapes.
I picked one very large one, only to discover when I washed it that it was two, in a compromising position.

I harvested a carrier bag full to the top of parsnips, it was really heavy to lift. I had two wheel barrow loads of the tops leaves and annual weeds to put into the compost bins. I have threet next to the long horse manure bin I made alongside the fruit cage. I layered the leaves with layers of horse manure to accelerate the decomposing. Now it might seem a weird thing to say, but the horse manure smelt of a summer’s day in a field. A lovely warm and pleasant smell of hay and sunshine; which rather surprised me so that job turned out to be a pleasant one!

By this time the back was complaining – so I decided to finish up for the day. Then I remembered to have a look to see if I had any raspberries, which I did, enough for tea, with yoghurt perhaps.

Just then K my neighbour with the tractor turned up so we had a friendly chat, and I complimented him on his work with the tractor, and he was really pleased with all the photos I took him on it. Then his parents arrived whilst I was picking some runner beans - the crop nearest my shed. So I ended up chatting to them, and gave them a bag of runner beans, half the Cherokee harvest, ditto the carrots and a pile of parsnips, and a cucumber. I hadn’t seen K’s dad for months, when I was harvesting some lettuces and gave him some at the time. He and his wife were very complimentary about my allotment, saying how neat it was etc, and said that I put the others to shame. They asked me questions about all the different things that I was growing, and I was able to gently broach the subject about clearing the weeds alongside my bit. They were very understanding, and he immediately asked K to clear right along the edge, but K said that he couldn’t because of all the junk there, so his dad cleared it, and was going to get K to plough it before they left. Yippee

They explained that their son was not really interested in growing anything, but just playing around on his machines, which I knew, and I said that I understood, that is why I had not nagged him about the weeds. He also said that he was going to get his son to grass the top end, like I had so that he could park his things on his side, and that he would get him to put a path right down alongside mine. I can’t describe how elated I felt to hear that. The lad has always been friendly and pleasant when I have seen him, but he was hardly up there, hence the overgrown plot. But if they do sow the grass, it will make so much difference, and if the lad wants to practice ploughing that is fine by me as it means that there won’t be many weeds.

By this tine I had been up there for almost four hours so headed off home, but before I left, I made sure to thank the parents for encouraging their son to clear the weeds, and I told them that I really appreciated it.

When I got home, I was soaking wet, covered in mud, but beaming with joy. I think that it is always best to be nice to people, you may have to be patient, but it works in the end. I just had time to tell Pat all my news about the produce and the plot next to mine, before he went off to play bowls – the last outdoor match of the season.

After unpacking the car etc., I sat in the conservatory feasting on a huge plate of salad leaves, sweet Tom Thumb tomatoes, herbs, cucumber, and beet all of which I had grown - BLISS

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cooking up a sunshine feast for winter - Recipe Spicy Tomato Sauce

It has been pouring with rain all day, but you will not hear me complaining as it is badly needed. It has given me the chance to rustle up some recipes for John’s new recipe page (see Brilliant allotment link).

I have been having a bumper crop of tomatoes – my first – so I am making the most of them.
Roasted with Basil
One way of using them is to roast the tomatoes cut in half and placed in rows (cut side up)in a big roasting tin/s season with freshly ground black pepper, add basil (fresh is best but dried is good as well) dribble over olive oil, and cook at 200c, or 180c in a fan oven. Times very, so just check on them after 15 minutes. I like them to have released some of their juices, but to have not gone to mush. I then freeze them in bags, in quantities that I would use – about 8oz, 250grms. They make a perfect base for pasta dishes, and everything that uses tomatoes in cooking – I am sure that you can come up with lots of uses yourself. without me listing them all. If you need some suggestions just email me from the comment box at the bottom of page. usually wait until I have about 10lb so can use all the shelves in the oven.


Another way I have used them is to make lots of variations of Ratatouille. Using the tomatoes as the base ingredient, I vary the rest of the ingredient combinations by using fresh sliced, or sliced roasted red peppers (£1.86 a large jar from Lidls, enough for many batches). I add courgettes, aubergines, cucumbers, squashes, onions, garlic, herbs, olive oil, but don’t measure any of them, I just add them until it looks lovely and colourful. So each batch gets a different flavour. Cooked in roasting tins at 200c or 180c fan oven – you can use tinned tomatoes or a combination of both - just experiment, its fun.

When you eat mainly free range chicken and fish meals, it is nice to liven them up a bit, so today I experimented and conjured up the following recipe. It came about because I had another batch of 5lb of tomatoes, and I wanted to use up the basket of little red and white onions that were too small to tie up in a batch, but I couldn’t bear to throw them away and waste them.

Spicy Tomato Cooking Sauce – Bulk Recipe

1lb of mixed variety onions, sliced.
4 big cloves of garlic chopped and then crushed with a knife
4lb of tomatoes – roughly quartered or chopped depending on size
6 tsp ground cumin
6 tsp ground coriander
6 large pinches of chilli powder
250 grms Pessata or 4 tbsp of tomato puree

In a jam making big pan put the oil, onions, and garlic cooking them until just soft. Add the tomatoes and cook them until they start looking mushy, then add the cumin, coriander and chilli powder, sprinkling it over and stirring well, lastly add the Pessata (I had run out of tomato puree, which I was going to use to thicken it, but it doens't matter which you use.) Cook it so that it is gently simmering for about half an hour in total until it is a lovely thick creamy texture. Some of the onions I left thicker to give it a bit of bite.

I left it to cool and have packed it in labelled containers to freeze.

Note: If you are not sure how spicy you would like it, add 4 teaspoons each of the cumin and coriander and 4 pinches of chilli powder, allow the spices to infuse (5 mins), then taste. My husband reckons my recipe is mild to medium, but to my taste buds it is medium!

Spicy Tomato Cooking Sauce - 2 – 4 portions depending on your appetite.

4oz onion – more doesn’t matter – sliced
1 big clove garlic
1lb tomatoes or 14oz can
1 tbsp tomato puree or 3tbsp of pessata
1 tsp of ground cumin and 1 tsp ground coriander, and large pinch of chilli powder. Adjust to taste.
Cook as previous recipe, but in a large frying pan

This is the meal we had for lunch. It was made with fresh tomatoes and all sorts of onions. I added chunks of boned chicken thigh pieces at the same time that I added the tomatoes, and left it to gently simmer for 25 minutes - the time it took to cook the brown rice that we had with it. It was a substantial, and filling meal - gorgeous my husband said - I think he was talking about the meal!

Seriously though, this spicy tomato sauce will work well with chicken, pork, fish, vegetables, pasta, prawns, jacket potatoes, can be used as a side dish or main ingredient. I am going to cook another batch and add runner beans cut in 1/4" pieces.

Friday, September 09, 2005

William, Tufty, Spiky and Ring Culture

It was just TOO hot to go up the lottie today, and apart from caterpillar picking, the harvesting could wait.

I spent a couple of hours working at home. Firstly my favourite job (not) was pricking out Sweet William seedlings into pots. I saved the seeds from this year’s plants and still have more seeds that I can gather from them. I am always amazed when seeds gathered from my flowers actually grow. I have found that putting a few in a pot, rather than singly, is the best way to do it as it ensures that at least you get one to grow successfully, and more is a bonus and they can be divided up later. It is rather a time consuming job, but has to be done!

Once finished I took them to the side of the garage where I put my seedlings – so positioned to remind me to water them. I took time to exam the strawberry cuttings and saw that a number of them had not taken, and some had dips in the middle of the pots. This I blamed on rabbits – the poor maligned little things.

When I started emptying the compost out of those posts I discovered these……….
I should have guessed. We have seen the grey squirrels in abundance in the garden carrying them in their mouths and Pat has seen a squirrel carrying one in each hand! They are busily burying them everywhere as usual; in the raised beds, the lawn, the big pots, in fact everywhere they can think of. And I spend a lot of time cursing them when I wrestle with all the walnut tree seedlings that appear in the hedge, the lawns, the raised beds….. yes you get the picture.

Squirrels do not remember where they bury the walnuts, they do so haphazardly and if they bury enough they randomly find them in the spring – I am convinced of it. It is a bit of a cheek to pull out my strawberry cuttings and stick big walnuts in the pots and then cover them up as if nothing had happened. Still I might plant one at the end of the allotment and see what happens. How long do you have to wait before you get nuts, I wonder…..?
Now this is a visitor I like in my garden in the evenings. We usually have a hedgehog or two, this one is a baby and to give you an idea of its size the green dish is about 5 inches across and the height is about 2 inches at most, and the little thing could just about get its tongue over the edge to lap the water. The food on the ground is Spiky hedgehog food. Just a few pennies from the pet shop, and contains all the right things that a hedgehog can eat.

Family and friends laugh when they see me growing vegetables amongst my flowers, but although an allotment is lovely, you just can’t beat popping out into the garden and picking a lettuce or herbs or salad leaves or even tomatoes – on impulse can you. In my raised flower beds I grew not only herbs but different varieties of lettuce (all eaten now), and salad leaves too. Nice to nibble on goodies as you do the gardening. I had a wasted space behind a bit of trellis by the fence, so I tried out a bit of ring culture with tomatoes – but outside. Take a pot, cut off the bottom, put it in a tray of gravel (the book said absorbent matting made for the purpose but it was a bit costly), plant up pot. Water from below, and feed into the pot. This has been very successful, as the rain when I had it filled up the gravel tray so I didn’t have to water, and when there was no rain, a fill up of water from the butt lasted three days at least before I needed to water them again. The ones up the allotment are far better without any attention, but it is nice to experiment and make use of odd gaps – and I grab a ripe warm tomato every time I walk past – heavenly.

Better than chocolate – well almost.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

On the defence - tough work

Doesn't this Sedum look nice. I noticed today that it is just changing from green to pink. It turns a really bright pink. It seems to like the hot and sunny conditions up the allotment as it trebled its size from a cutting this year.

I went up the lottie at 11am to take down my fence between mine and K’s plot . Boy was it hard work. The photos I took of him came out well, so I have printed them off and left them for him with an encouraging note on how good the plot is looking now, and offering our help if he decides to have a grass pathway as was his original intention, so that he can drive his tractor right down the bottom end.

It took me an hour and a half to untangle all the thug weeds to extricate the chain- link fencing – well 30 feet of it, and I was shattered. Once I heard the school children out for lunch I came home for mine, which I had cooking on low in the oven. It is so nice when you are worn out to just be able to sit down to eat. All home grown food of course, and a local free range chicken – well pieces of it which I had jointed and frozen.

I picked my very first green peppers – well they are a pale green variety almost white, still small, but I could not resist any longer. I also picked a couple of the chocolate ones. The former we had on our salad last night and they were so sweet. I grew peppers as an experiment, as I do not have a green house so took the gamble that they would grow and mature and ripen outside. I think that with hindsight they would have got bigger if I watered them regularly rather than leaving them to the mercy of the elements, but again the pig manure preparation seems to have bode well for them and the tomatoes.

I am keeping in the shade and will return this evening to finish the fence and if I have the energy to do today’s caterpillar safari.

John, (see ‘Brilliant Allotment’ link,) is harvesting his pumpkins and squash so I think that I might cut my pumpkins too. Last year I left them until October and some got really huge, but tasty. It is hard to cut and freeze them when they get too big – but mine still tasted delicious.

Pat and I spent another hour or so this evening finishing off the job I started and muscle man got out the remaining posts that defeated me. I didn’t have the energy to caterpillar hunt, so instead I picked some more tomatoes, another 5lbs. They are the best tomatoes I have ever grown both for taste and quantity, so I shall definitely plant them outside again. I was rather concerned about blight getting to them, but I needn’t have worried. I have lost a few that had a little hole in them from some insect or other, and one of two had dark patches on the side, but there have not been many.

The leaves on the hedgerow at the bottom are starting to change colour and fall and there are a bumper crop of bright red berries on the hawthorn, so that should please the birds this winter. It is hard to think that Autumn is starting when it is still 74f.

John was writing in one of his diaries about Japanese onions, and when I went to buy some grass seed, I saw some sets, so bought 500 grms for £1.20, so I thought I would take a gamble. I also bought some broad bean seeds which I hope to over winter. All mine failed last year, but I am going to give it another shot. I did get a crop from the spring planted ones, but as I have the room I thought I would try again.

Pat and I have just finished blanching and freezing 8lb of runner beans tonight. It is a good feeling squirreling away our harvest for the winter.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bumper harvest of vegetables and caterpillars

Is it just me being daft or does anyone else get withdrawal symptoms when they can’t get up to their allotment?

For two days, I have not been able to just nip up there even to dump compost, so I was chomping at the bit to go there this morning to see what’s been occurring. First thing I noticed is that another chap has got himself a tractor, he and his brother share 2+ plots and they usually get another allotment holder to do theirs. There are just a few plots now that do not have tractors, me included. BUT, those which have their land done with a tractor, have to rotorvate ASAP after ploughing as the ground sets to concrete if you have a dry and windy day, making it almost impossible to work the deep grooves. The other disadvantage is that you have to have the whole site clear, no fences or permanent structures in the way (although some of the guys have greenhouses and sheds right down the bottom ends). They mainly grow just potatoes, some brassicas and sometimes broad and runner beans, but suffer terribly from rabbit damage etc because they only put up temporary fencing mainly to keep the pigeons out. They also leave the weeds to grow up around their produce which deter the rabbits to some extent.

I like to grow lots of things in smaller quantities as there are just the two of us at home now the kids have long since flown the nest. So it is easier for me to tackle bit by bit. Hence my three raised and protected beds, fruit cage, rabbit proofed (so far) fenced off main vegetable growing area, and a fenced off area for flowers and things that rabbits don’t really bother about. I don’t have the strength or energy to put up and take down lots of fencing each year. It is lovely to see all the different sorts of tractors, and I do feel rather envious when they just plough up all the weeds etc every year leaving a blank canvas – and it only takes them an hour! Still I am getting lots of exercise doing it my way.

Today was sunny and windy day, and I went without a definite plan of action, which is just as well. Once there, and after a quick chat to Geoff, the phone rang, which made me jump as it only rings when Pat phones to say that he is back from golf and it is going home time for me!

I then decided to harvest first – like a warm up session at the gym before you get into the hard work. (Now that is a joke). Although I picked the runner beans clean of any of edible size, a couple of days ago, lo and behold there were some that needed picking and we still haven’t had any rain, so they must be living off the pig muck trench underneath them. I picked a carrier bag full, and that must have taken getting on for an hour as I was on my hands and knees putting my arm through the protective fencing at the bottom as well as picking from the top. After that I noticed that there were more ripened tomatoes again after just two days, and when I weighed them when I came home there was 9.5lbs of those. They are at this moment bagged up and in the fridge awaiting transfer to the freezer. I roasted them with basil and black pepper and a touch of olive oil – they taste yummy as we had some for lunch.

At that point I decided to go and have a look at the broccoli, but when passing the other bean row, I got such a lovely surprise. I noticed that the leaves were falling from the runner beans which did not perform well (my fault entirely, lack of water and lack of a deep trench before planting). What the leaves did reveal though was the Cherokee climbing beans had survived and grown up very late behind them, and had a wonderful crop. I picked a carrier bag full of those and they weighed in at over 4lb. These beans are delicious and I grew them for the first time last year, and got a mammoth crop. We had a wet June and a wet August so that was the reason. This year it has been dry all the time. The beans are slim and small and you just nip off the top that is attached to the stem, so not stringing, slicing or top and tailing. These have been blanched etc and are bagged up in the freezer. The runner beans will have to wait until morning as I am tired out – but happily so.

That done, it was lunchtime by then. The children are back at school and their happy voices carry over the field behind the allotments, so I can tell the time by them, no need for a watch, which I don’t have anyway.

Time for the caterpillar safari. Now I did not expect to find any or maybe just a few, as several times now I have religiously sprayed all the plants and picked off the caterpillars. Monty Don’s suggestion of spraying with salt water was less effective than soapy water! I was mortified to see that in just two days there were horrid caterpillars on the plants again. I stopped counting at two hundred – and those were the biggies that I could pick up. It is so soul destroying that I feel like leaving them to it. I sprayed yet again, and took off those I could, shook off those I could, and picked off any eggs that the butterflies had laid. I really don’t think that I can do this every day until October. But on the other hand I have invested so much time and energy on them all the summer that it would be silly to stop now. Watch this space.
I was so worn out that I packed up to go home, after 3 and a half hours. I did take some photos of the flowers at the bottom of the lottie to remind me of how it looks this year, as next year it should be a riot. So I took time to just wander and examine the flowers on the crocosmias, delphiniums, persicaras, lavenders, roses, Achilleas, and a lovely little peachy spiked dahlia that I forgot all about.

It was nice to end the day on a high note.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Lovely Cara, but mutinous machinery- the photos won't load

We needed to get the late main crop potatoes up. The variety is Cara, and I grew them so successfully last year that I decided to grow them again, and although we have had drought conditions all summer, they have still grown a very good crop, which I have sorted into large ones for baked jacket potatoes, medium ones for roasting or mashing and smaller ones to eat first, and they have been stored in potato sacks and will he hung up in the garage over winter. All the potato crops have exceeded my expectations, so I will grow some of each next year and try out two different varieties of main crop. It was hot and hard work digging them all up, as the ground was so hard. Pat dug and I scrabbled about in the soil picking them and sorting them. We dug up any weed roots that we discovered so I had lots to dispose of – but not in the compost bins of course.

Today (Sunday) I spent most of the day up there and took lunch. Once again my plans – which I shall abandon, making in future, did not go to plan. The rotorvator decided to go on strike – it started happily but decided it did not like doing more than a row which was very frustrating, so I have to get that looked at too. Yes I did top it up with oil and it had plenty of petrol, but I topped that up too whilst I was at it.

I decided to check the broccoli cage as I read Monty Don’s article in yesterday’s Daily Mail magazine, on methods of controlling pests. His suggestion for caterpillars was to try salt water, or pick them off every single day. I tried a salt water spray with a squirt of washing up liquid to help it adhere. Watch this space for the results. I went in Arnold Schwarzenegger style, with pump action. I rinsed out an old pump sprayer I had, and used that. It was quicker, but still back breaking, but I am winning the battle – I think. I won’t be able check them for the next two days unfortunately. I weeded as always, there is a never ending supply of those, but I have invested in a Mantis Tiller which I hope to receive in the next week. Looking at my diary, at least 80% of my time is spent weeding, so I am hoping it will be money well spent and enable me to weed or hoe with it in between rows, and you get a free lawn edger too, so that will come in very handy as I have to create edges to all the lawn paths that I am creating, so hopefully it will save me a lot of backache.

A nice surprise was to see that my neighbouring plot holder went up there last night and had another go on his tractor – this is the result of about an hours work in total with a tractor and cultivator – if only I had one of those. It has dragged off all the surface weeds but the roots of the perennial thugs are still there and will resurface next year. But doesn’t it look great?

I cleared out all the debris in the fruit cage, cutting all the leaves and runners off the strawberries, and making sure that there were not dead leaves that might attract disease.

Geoff has left his weeds growing around his brassicas and they seem to have deterred the butterflies as he has done nothing to his and they are not as damaged as mine. But the weed seeds will drop and grow next year – so there is a trade off I guess.

Now that the season is ending there are big gaps of empty space, which I am not sure how to handle. I think that it might be too late to sow an organic green manure, and it will take too much plastic to cover it all up. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Scuppered plans, with a happy ending

Phew another really hot day, but I was up the lottie by 10.30am and had several jobs in mind.

The first was to mow the new grass paths near the flower beds, that have come on thick and fast. There are a few weeds amongst the grass and mowing should sort them.

When Pat and I were there on Wednesday he mowed a couple of the larger areas for me –and left unsupervised he did not do as I asked but did as he pleased. I had asked him to mow the lawn on a number 3 setting for most of the area and up the top end by the pig shed, higher on number 4 as it is very uneven.

I was walking back when I heard this terrible noise and saw that the mower was vibrating badly. I rushed up to Pat and got him to stop it. It really sounded rough, and there was obviously a big problem with it. Pat eventually conceded that he had mowed everything on the shortest cut number 1, not only hitting a few stones, and shaving the top off the uneven bits, but also he mowed a chunk of iron, when the mower started making the noise, but he carried on until he finished the lawn! He means well, bless him, and he thought that if he cut it on the shortest setting, it wouldn't need doing again for a longer period. Consequently when I got the mower out today, it not only vibrated, but oil was shooting out too, so I did an emergency stop. Luckily Tim was passing on the track and stopped for a chat. He had a look at it, and took it away to try and see what was wrong. The bad news is that it is damaged beyond repair, needs a new engine, new blades, and something else (can’t remember the technical stuff). Pat was very philosophical about it when I told him, and said it was his fault and we would have to get another one! I bought a little one for using up the allotment, which Pat used, and that one is no longer working at the minute, (mowing stones etc,) the belt has come off and it won't start. I think Pat’s mowing days will be over in future – maybe that is his subtle way of getting out of the job!

So my first plan was scuppered.

Next on the agenda was to have another go at hoeing in the broccoli cage – you will remember that each time I have gone to do it I have been waylaid by caterpillars and today was no exception. On Monday I spent three and a half hours spraying the leaves and picking off caterpillars, I was therefore dispondent to see that there were yet more on the leaves. Not as many as before, but still plentiful. So this time I tried a different tactic. I shook each plant, and the caterpillars fell off onto the soil. The ones large enough to pick up, I put in a bucket of water, and the small ones on the ground I just rubbed the soil with my gloved hand like you would polish the floor, and it got rid of them. This all took half the time of the previous method, so I was able to get the hoeing and weeding done at last, and it looks brilliant. When or if I get to eat all those broccoli spears I shall savour every single one, and will freeze those we can’t eat, I have worked so long and hard for this crop.

I finished up by picking some cucumbers, and half a carrier bag of runner beans. By this time it was 2.30pm so my other jobs had to wait until this evening.

5.30pm I was up there again, Pat was off playing bowls, so it gave me the opportunity to do some more work. I was cutting the leaves back on the tomato plants again, to let the sun get to all of them, when my neighbouring allotment holder turned up and parked his motor bike on my lawn.

I popped my head up to say hello and he asked if it was O.K. to park there – I of course said it was, so long as he did something for me – and that was to get rid of all the weeds growing on his allotment along my fence. I also said that I would take some photos of him and let him have some copies. Here are a couple of the photos I took. Click on them to enlarge for a better look. So hopefully soon I might get my wish and have no weeds alongside my allotment and I can sow that grass path all the way down to the bottom. I finally finished at sunset, having picked lots of tomatoes and more courgettes - so you can guess what I will be cooking for the freezer tomorrow. And I was thrilled to find that one of the pepper plants is ripening. It is a chocolate variety that I tried this year. Pretty and unusual.
1. If at first you don't succeed - try and try again - (Caterpillars)
2. It is not wise to plant up a 4ft wide raised bed with leeks around the perimeter, courgette plants one end and pepper plants up the other. Looks pretty and well spaced out in the Spring but now the courgettes swamp the lot!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Rain didn't stop play - it was the heat

This was the crafty photo that Pat took yesterday, which wouldn't load - you can now see why! Lucky I had not yet got his old floppy white cricket hat and long sleeve shirt on which is my 'uniform' for allotment gardening brilliant for scaring the pigeons whilst I am working!

How come everyone got thunderstorms and rain last night and today, and we didn't get a drip. My sons who live in different parts of England, always think that I am telling stories when we repeatedly miss the rain.

I had hoped for a sprinkling at least as I have seedlings to go in, but it was far too hot for us to venture up there today, and the seedlings would have fried.

It did mean that I was finally forced to pot up some strawberry runners that have been sitting in a trug of water for a week. But some had sprouted roots, so that was an unexpected result! I potted up about 30, - a late fruiting variety,(I'll find out the name of them and add it to the site). I also potted up 70 a few weeks ago, for the proper strawberry bed I am preparing for next year. It is amazing how many new plants you can get from investing in a few plants to start with. Any surplus will go to the Garden Club to raise funds.

This learning curve that I am on - well I added another item to it today.

I decided to make another batch of ratatouille. I used onions, tomatoes, courgettes, all of which I grew myself and a jar of roasted peppers and an aubergine. I just chop them all up and put them in roasting tins, with a generous helping of black pepper. If you are not watching your waist a sprinkling of olive oil is very nice too, but it is just as tasty and slimming too if you leave it out. It was whilst I was cutting up the courgettes, (different varieties), that I noticed that two of them were a different colour and shape. I had inadvertantly let a few get bigger than usual, but I hadn't found that made much of a difference to the taste in the past; I just peel the skin off if it has thickened.

The skin was a pale green on the two that I was talking about - and I thought they were the white variety that I grew last year (you never get white skins) and the inside was a different texture and pale orange, swede colour. It was only when I tasted a bit raw, that I discovered that they were butternut squashes. They were that shape, but not peanut coloured like the ones you get in the shop. They somehow got mixed up in amongst the courgettes. I added them to the mix and the result was really tasty. So I now know that you can eat immature pumpkins and they taste fine. I must look them up on the internet, and see how big I should let them grow, and how long I should leave them to ripen, they will never turn a peanut brown though however hot it is.

Note for future reference - be careful about labelling!

I bagged up and froze 7lbs of very colourful ratatouille which will have to be renamed Summer Roasted vegetables.