Thursday, June 29, 2006

I might not get time to update this tonight or for a couple of days. Pat is home tonight and we are off to water some things up the lottie - only had that little shower Monday morning, and no rain forecast until a least Tuesday and that is not certain.

The tomato plant leaves are curling under so emergency water called for!

Son, daughter in law, and baby coming tomorrow for the weekend too! So looks like a busy time.

If I don't fit in a post or two on here - you will have plenty to read on Sunday night.

Have a great weekend.

Best wishes

Allotment Lady

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Colourful surprises up the allotment today

I decided to take things a bit easier today, as I spent a lot of time up the allotment yesterday and weather is scorching hot here still with not a glimmer of hope of any rain in the next 5 days (that is as far as they forecast with any sort of accuracy!)

So a little bit of harvesting and a lot of looking was called for.

As usual, the first stop is to let the girls out – and as is usual lately, just the one egg from Adelaide untouched and the shell of a white egg! No point in dwelling on it – I love them dearly and they run to me when I call, talking to me, and following me about – KoKKo, Adelaide and Ginger are really obedient in all ways even going back in their run at lock up time without me having to throw anything in to entice them.

I did a bit of weeding at home yesterday evening – the gravel patio, so I had a large trug of annual weeds for the horse manure compost heap, and another big one of chicken litter – a really good mixture I am creating for next year, with layers of vegetable matter, shredded paper, and all sorts.

So off I went to the fruit cage to pick some more red currants which should have ripened in the last few days – and I was not disappointed.

The bushes were dripping with them, and what a glorious sight. I filled up a big bowl and another container, not expecting so many – I had top stop picking them when they were both full, so there are more to be picked tomorrow.

They reminded me of those long dangly earrings - but the currants look better than those.

It does take ages picking them though – and preparing them – but you don’t see them in the shops these days, so it is worth it.

Whilst on my hands and knees and behind one bush I had another lovely surprise………

And more to come during the course I was picking there.

Look, the blackcurrants are starting to ripen – so I shall be kept busy the next few weeks jam making or preparing them and freezing them, as I think that I might not have enough hours in the day to cope with my harvest – but I am not complaining, I am so very happy as it is my first proper fruit crop.

So the fruit cage harvest turned out to be (after preparation) 5lbs of redcurrants and a full punnet of strawberries – I discovered some more later after the photo was taken.

Talking of currants - the whole length of my plot is littered with the rabbits calling card. Everywhere, I have never seen so many rabbits and it is in broad daylight and not at dawn or dusk! Nightmare!

As I put my fruit harvest in my car, an elderly chap who had 2 plots up near the end with the grown up son stopped to talk. I only usually see him at a distance as he usually is in a pickup truck with his son, so we wave as he either goes past or across the field.

He was telling me that he is 74 bless him. They have tractors and all manner of things. The son does all that sort of work now though, understandably, on the plot. When I was first up there, he told me that a few years previous he had bought a rotorvator which cost over three thousand pounds. They don’t keep it up there, but the son brings it when he wants to use it on the back of his pickup. It is a beautiful machine and I have not seen one like it. It goes through the soil like butter and has so many gadgets and gears, you’d almost need a pilot’s licence I should think, to use it. Something else to put on my list if Pat wins the lottery – and a gardener to drive it! I thought at the time what an enormous expense, as the only time they use it is on their plots, and the only things they grew were broad beans and potatoes.

This year though, they are growing runner beans, onions, shallots, as well as their broad beans and potatoes.

He was telling me that he had 10 rows, 150 feet long of broad beans, and he leaves two of those rows for seed for next year. His son has 8 rows of broad beans – and he said that they eat them themselves and don’t sell them! I have forgotten how many rows of potatoes exactly, but they had the same amount of rows as me, and where as mine are 25 feet long, theirs are 150 feet long – and he reckons that they run out by October, so they buy them when the farmers dig theirs up then!

He doesn’t do much any more he says – except pick the broad beans, and now and again dig up a root of potatoes. He said that he was having some of the broad beans for tea as his wife was doing fish and chips for lunch. Wednesday is her baking day he said, and she makes sausage rolls, jam tarts, cakes, and pies to last the week. She told him that as he was so fat that he shouldn’t eat so much, but he said that he wasn’t going to cut down, he enjoys his food, and that he is 74 so he doesn’t see the point. I jokingly said that he should mention to his wife that if she didn’t make all those sausage rolls, etc it might put temptation out of his way! He toddled off down the track, so I decided to pick some broad beans myself – and ended up with a carrier bag full – another 12 lbs to be shelled. But not tonight, and not by me! I have redcurrant jelly to get started on.

Where there were gaps in my broad bean row where the plants had either been eaten, trampled or did not recover from the frost and snow etc. I stuck in a bean – a bit late, but I had them spare anyway. Imagine my surprise when I saw that not only did they germinate, but they have grown lush and tall and are in flower – with only a couple of showers of rain!

You might have noticed that you have not seen any photos lately of my flower beds down that end after the broad beans. There is a good reason for that – they are looking rather sad. You may remember that the rabbits really tucked into the plants. The irises put on a good show and are now putting on a lot more ‘leaf’, the asparagus patch looks really healthy with the ferns now one big block. I sprinkled 30 packets of annual seeds after I weeded one bed and since then we have had just a couple of light showers of rain. The weeds are appearing and I am in a dilemma as to what to do. At the moment the weeds are manageable – not big yet but getting more plentiful – so do I dig it all over when the weather permits as it is like concrete at the moment – and by doing so it will look neat and tidy with the remaining perennials that survived the onslaughts. Or do I leave it in the vain hope that some of the flower seeds will sprout up quickly if we get some rain, and remove the weeds then when the annuals are recognizable? Don’t know yet.

None of the chrysanthemums grew. There are rows of sticks which I left in, in the vain hope that they would sprout – but they never did, despite the fact that I prepared the sites they were being planted by barrowing in 10 loads of well rotted manure. Dug it over well, and it was wet when I did it and also for a few days so they got well watered in. My friend who had about 50 of them, and is an excellent gardener, did not have any success either. An old farmer friend of hers said that they have to have some green on them when you plant them otherwise they will not grow – seems he was right, but I wish we had know a few months ago.

I noticed that there were some large gooseberries on the bushes, even though I have picked pounds of them. Some of the branches were so weighed down they were resting on the ground – so I used my last carrier bag to pick some of those – not all of them as by now I had been up there almost three hours and I was worn out!

So I called my three little friends and they trotted back home and into the run, packed up and locked up and just as I was getting into the car I got a call from my husband to say that he was home – good timing huh?

One last thing - a spot the difference.............

I took a photo of this struggling Atlantic Giant pumpkin plant the day before yesterday (26th)and got another surprise today - nature is incredible. I think that it is going to survive.

And again - since yesterday - a new variety of courgettes that I am trying out this year.

Melon courgettes - I am looking forward to my first mised courgette meal next week hopefully.

I thought that I might water the climbing beans and squash up the allotment nearest the water tank - but I am too tired - so I prepared all the redcurrants and started the proccess of making redcurrant jelly. More of that tomorrow though.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sea bass or pigeon pie - now which shall I have today?

I’m feeling a tad bit self conscious now – with so many people visiting my site! I wonder what everyone thinks of me?

Still as I am Allotment Lady in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere – I guess that is doesn’t really matter!

So – what have I been up to today then?

Up the allotment earlier than usual – I wanted to check up on the chickens, and to let them free range earlier – and longer.

So, there I was, walking down my well worn path to the top end by the field and I had to stop and take a second look when I saw this…………………..

I ran back to my car to get my camera – yes, here you see a bird in flight – there were two actually, but I could only capture one as they were so quick.

Nowt unusual about seeing a couple of pigeons flying around the allotment? – (They are often sitting in a row on the electricity wire that goes across our
field, just waiting for me to go, so that they can fly down and eat the seeds or plants that I have been working on.)

But these two pigeons are different – they were both flying in my netted tent area where I am growing the peas and tomatoes. Actually they were both noshing on my pea rows, and only took flight when I walked past.

So after letting out the chooks, and throwing away the empty egg shell that was in the chicken run – I went back to sort out the pigeons.

How they got in is a mystery, but I had to catch them to get them out.

Daft birds do not go out a wide open exit that you make for them – instead they fly down to the ground and head butt the net!

Old Geoff had turned up and was on his plot so I called across to see if he wanted a pigeon pie!

I caught this one first – I gently picked it up and untangled it from the net. I decided to take its photo – a bit difficult getting a camera out of its case with one hand and trying to aim it in the direction of the pigeon in the other – hence the not perfect photos!

I then released it to live another day.

The next one had got wedged in the corner of the net, so I had more of a job to untangle it.

I took its mug shot too, then let if free.

Geoff said he was surprised that I didn’t wring their necks! But I told him that I had their mug shots on file – and two strikes and they are out!

I then set too, repairing the damage they had caused and put into place extra protection around one side of the tent near the bottom – I think that a rabbit might have got itself caught up a bit in the netting where the parsnips are, so I have covered it with wind protector fabric so that it won’t happen again hopefully. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had not visited today. I think that I would have found to very very fat, but dead pigeons tomorrow!

I then got side tracked and spent over and hour in the netted area checking every tomato plant. Pricking off the side shoots that had grown since last week, and tying up each one, as they had all grown a few inches.

"Ground control to Major Tom"

I know that it is absolutley silly, but when I was on my knees tending to each tomato plant (71) and weeding, the silly songs that went through my head were -

'You say tomato and I say tomarto, you say potato, and I say potarto.......' It is way before my time and I only know the chorus. It drove me mad.

Then when I found my first tomatoes on a plant, I thought 'Houston - we have a tomato!' Then David Bowie's - Ground control to Major Tom was the next song that went around my brain. LOL At least I own up to silly thoughts, I bet some of you have them too.

I am really pleased with the tomato plants progress. They have developed thick strong stems and a number of them have flowers on them already. Tough love out in the wide world having to fend for themselves, seems to have worked better than being pampered and watered at home. My ones in the lean-to, and in the garden are real weedy compared to those up the allotment which really surprised me.

Next there were the ones outside to do – then I got side tracked and started inspecting the squash.

Here is my 'Black Beauty' - not very black, but is going to definitely be a beauty, look at all those baby ones on the way. That was a great surprise.

Another - unamed bush variety - I must check that label today - I never noticed it when I was on my knees but just did when I looked at the photo.

I saw the weeds amongst the shallots next to the squash and wondered if the little shower we had had loosened the ground enough for me to dig them out with a trowel – and it had mainly, so I did those rows.

Then wheeling the barrow back with the weeds in, I decided to have a go at weeding between each onion in the rows – which I did on hands and knees. I was only going to do one double row, then go home. But you know how it is, I was at the opposite end to the wheelbarrow, so thought that I might as well do the next double row, then I could tip the trug of weeds into it instead of walking there.

Once there, I was thinking of other things and found myself half way up the next row, then, despite my knees, and back screaming at me, I thought that I might as well go back again – along the next double row to be back at the wheel barrow.

I don't weed to make the plot look pretty - it is an absolute necessity as I have found in the past that you can only grow a good crop - either of weeds or food. The weeds really take all the moisture out of the ground, and as we get so little rain, I need it to nourish my food for the next year. I invest so much time in things like these onions, as they are going to last us through to next spring or even next years crop with a bit of luck.

It was a slow walk down to the bottom with the barrow now full of weeds to be dumped in the compost bin behind the meadow. I called the girls and filled up their hopper and in they ran – happily. I collected Adelaide’s lovely dark brown, and intact egg, locked them up, and headed back to my shed, collecting fork, spade, hoe and trowel en route.

By the time I got home – rather worn out (understatement) it was 2pm! How I found the energy to cook lunch of sea bass cooked in one of last summer’s tomato sauces, steamed mange tout, and newly dug potatoes with mint, I do not know. But it looked good and fresh, went down a treat, and after a shower, and back into feminine lady mode, with blow dried hair, smelling of Chanel and not pig farm, I rewarded myself with a choc ice on a stick.

What a good life I am so lucky to have!
Hi everyone – did I sound like a grumpy old woman when I mentioned the weeds. Apologies if it came across that way – when I was typing it, it wasn’t ‘saying’ it that way.

Since I have been up there before this current season, I have been unlucky inasmuch as the plots either side of me and four of five along from me have been full of weeds, not tiny weeds but over an acre of weeds as tall as me – and even taller. Really mean and tough weeds. So much so that I have had clouds of thistles seeds blow across from all directions like snow – also dock, and other seeds that I don’t even know the name of. My plot was like it too when I took it over, plus it was covered in so much rubbish hidden in the forest of weeds, and about 40 or so full sized carpets, rubber and so much else. So it has been and still is one long battle to keep on top of them (weeds). There must be millions of seeds over the plots and they grow really quickly and if you don’t get them when they are a foot high their roots grow down so deeply that it is a real job to dig them up. Hence my excitement at the news that all those plots were going to be taken over by ‘keen’ gardeners. So I thought all my Christmases had come at once.

I do understand that a couple of them work and of course everyone can’t and wouldn’t even want to spend as much time up the allotment as I do – I’m bonkers!!!!

But I did think that maybe they might spend a couple of hours during the week after work as we have had such lovely weather and so little rain – and that maybe I would see some of them at the weekend now and again. And hopefully learn something from them, exchange tips. That’s all.

My next door plot holder Mike and his wife work and I see them now and again, and they have strimmed all their weeds and it looks great. I have helped out and Pat too, and we always encourage them and praise them on the good job they are doing. Ditto anyone else I see. Mike is just going to cultivate a small patch this year, and strim or mow the rest to keep it under control. Then next year when he is retired, he will cut out beds and grass it the same as me - or just have one great big grassed area.

There will always be plots with tall weeds – that is the nature of our allotments – they are huge, and whilst they can be split into two or three, people who have had them for years are reluctant to share – ‘why should they when they have had them for so long, often passed down from a relative’. They are so cheap too, so naturally they think it is worth it – even if it is only used to store tractors etc.

But this year is the best that I have ever seen them. Maybe the past two years, and now in my third season, that I have been there, and have been getting my plot in order, might have had a bit of an impact on the men up my end? It could be male pride that some ‘up top’ are cultivating theirs more this year, as I now see that some bean supports are up for the first time! If an ‘old’ woman on her own can do it….. LOL

I just had a wander up the track yesterday for a break and noticed the plots – and just wondered why they looked ‘abandoned’ again, after looking great when they were all ploughed. – Just something to write about as well too I guess.

There is lots to write about of my exploits today though - but it might have to be tomorrow now!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fighting the good fight - but it is a tough battle against all the pests and elements

After sorting out the bantams first thing, I just couldn’t sit still for long and did my usual trip to see the Norfolk lasses and collect the eggs.

Today there was just one – and a half eaten egg.

The picture is a bit blurred I am afraid. I put it outside their area to photo it and it was raining and my hand was shaking - in temper? No!
I just don’t know why this is happening. They free range when I am up there, and you know how many hours I spend up there each day. They have plenty of room in their extended run, have the best layers mash ‘on tap’ every day and I always make sure that they have enough for six rather than three hens. They have oyster shell mixed in with it too, and are on a grassy meadow, so can scratch for more grit in the soil. Not very grateful are they for all the care and attention I lavish on them.

I thought that I would move their run again. It gets moved every other day, but it has never been facing the way it is, so perhaps they do not like the view. (Joke).

As the rain had stopped I decided to take some photos first and walk around my little ‘estate’.

The view that greets me when I open my car door - my neighbours plot - and his dog had left a visiting card on my lawn - even I can tell the difference between rabbit dropping and a dog's LOL

Still it is better than last year at the moment - live and let live hey?

I took a few photos of the track end of the allotment so that you could see my tidy and nettle free shed end. This is after four hours work - if you had see it before!

We have a permanent fight with nettles and allsorts of weeds encroaching our plot, but I just have to get on with it - and cut and chop - it is a never ending battle.

I will no longer get stung when I go to get water from my tank at the side of it. One of the water butts on top of the pallets has water in, and with a tap on the bottom it is just the right height for me to fill up the buckets and watering cans. (I wonder if Pat can be persuaded to refill it for me next time he is up there). No chance I reckon.

The butts will be repositioned over the winter and next spring I will put a couple of cold frames on the pallets so that I have a 'green house' to grow things in.

The rain has certainly freshened up the plot, and it smelt wonderful.

This is my last ditch effort to protect my squashes and climbing beans from rabbits, and pests, and a terrier who will not name and shame as it isn't her fault that she is a tearaway!

Hopefully squashes will be racing away after this.

Here are ones further down the plot.

They have been somewhat distressed in the hot arid weather, and my pathetic watering is not a patch on a good downpour.

The plastic bell is there for protection – the Atlantic Giant, got chewed by the rabbits and now has a lot to do to live up to it’s name.

Within minutes of taking off the bell, a bee appeared and pollinated the single flower – which means that I should at least get one pumpkin – with luck.

After almost three years in the waiting, here is a photo of my first crop of Jostaberries. I have three bushes all from cuttings, and they are just about to ripen by the look of them.

They look like a gooseberry when they are green and like a blackcurrant now they are ripening. I tasted one and it is too early as they are still hard. I would dearly love to make Jostaberry jam!

Another little marvel in the tiny blackberry I bought in the autumn. There was only a couple of inches of stalk on it in spring, so I protected it with a wooden bottomless pot, and it has grown.

It is thornless, but the label does not have the named variety – just says Blackberry £5.

I am taking a chance now that it is bigger and removing the protection so that it can ‘go mad’ if it wishes. I never watered it once, since the initial one when planted, but it had a very good helping of rotted manure around it so that seems to have done the trick.

It too has some flowers on it, so I may get some berries – about 10 – but with all the birds about they might get this years ones before me – but not next year – it will be netted!

Looking into the net tent, I spied some lovely mange tout ready to be picked, and once inside I discovered there were lots.

So I picked 1 ¼lb and we had them steamed for 6 minutes and they were fantastic. You really should grow them if you haven’t done so before. I also gathered up some sorrel and steamed that for two minutes and they looked really pretty on the plate. There were a few new potatoes left from yesterday, so I dry roasted them with a sprinkle of garlic and chives on top, and added some of last years tomatoes that I froze whole. I popped them in the same dish and the potatoes and cooked them from frozen – and it worked a treat. They were not all water and no taste – but were as if I had just picked them and roasted them – a real surprise that! The meal was completed with a breast of chicken baked in a parcel with fresh tarragon and oregano from the garden – a pretty little feast!

But I have leaped forward quite a few hours!

I took a walk up the track to look at the other plots, from afar, not walking on them you understand – it wouldn’t seem right to do that if the person wasn’t there.

The other two new comers whose plots were ploughed, and then later deep cultivated looked a real treat and without a weed in sight a couple of months ago. I had high hopes when a new shed appeared on one of them too – very posh.

The one next to the ‘posh shed’ who was named ‘The Scientist’ not in jest but because the person who called him that thinks that he really is, has been a bit of a let down. I was so looking forward to seeing all the plans that he had come to fruition – but it hasn’t happened yet. His plot and ‘posh shed’s, looked like they had been sown with the ‘clover’ that he mentioned using, that would ‘suppress all the weeds, and you just plant through it’. I really looked forward to seeing it happen, and the beds ‘like mine’ with grassed paths, and different fruits and vegetables.

There was a sea of white, which only I noticed, as no-one else has, they just think it has been left and is full of weeds! Whilst the clover if that what it is, is now going to seed, the usual red seeded stems of dock weed rise above it, so too some parsnip seed heads that appear every year, and others are appearing too. I really and truly hoped it would be wonderful and that I could learn a lot and put it into practice. So I am feeling a bit disappointed.

‘The Scientist’ and his wife, haven’t even cleared out the debris in the shed, nor the brambles and weeds at the track end of the plot. In winter, it was bare, with just a hint of brambles, but now they have gone rampant. They will have a nice crop of berries on them, for the birds though, as they will be the only ones able to reach them without being stung by nettles.

‘Posh Shed’ which is shared by two brothers and their wives. (I have only seen them a couple of times a while ago, and no one knows their names, so I will have to call them ‘Posh Shed’.

They didn’t appear until late spring, and did a lot of looking and talking one day – I waved – but didn’t get a wave back at the time, they were deep in conversation over a roll up. The weeds were starting to appear at the time. They made a start and put down slabs for the shed. Banged in bits of wood and put lines along for the rows of potatoes, which they duly planted. Then no-one saw them again. Someone erected the gorgeous shed – but no-one saw it happen. I did see them putting up some canes for runner beans – and Mike, next to me saw one of the chaps a couple of weeks ago, who said that the rabbits had eaten his runner beans – and they haven’t been back since. And the weeds are growing, and it will soon be hard to find the crops!

I hope that the people are all right – it has a bit of a ‘Marie Celeste’ feeling about it at times. I had visions of people up there at weekends or evenings – all working companionably alongside in their own allotments. Perhaps a cheery wave and a greeting and maybe a bit of a chat and encouragement etc.

If this is the first time you have seem my blog - perhaps at this stage I had better tell you that it is 330 feet long and 33 feet wide - in the middle of nowhere with not facilities!

But I do love it so - even though I sometimes feel that I am the only one on the planet!

What do you do on a wet Monday?

You haven't seen much of my lovely London Ladies lately have you - so for those of you who enjoy my chickens - and bantams in particular - here are some photos that I took today of them - in the rain. Something to do on a wet Monday.

You rarely see all three girls together these days and Dilly on the left and Freckles on the right, spend most of their time sitting indoors being broody and grumpy.

They make really weird growling type noises when they are in this mood and poor old Pumpkin gets the heave ho in no uncertain terms.

She shrieks at the top of her voice - calling me. I shout out "shush", or "quiet", from the conservatory window, but she doesn't be quiet until I go in and sort out the pecking order. Pat often comes to find me to tell me that Pumpkin is shouting for me !
I go out there to shuffle the girls around so that Pumpkin gets a look in - on this occassion it is Freckles that is 'put out' by my unwelcome interference.

Freckles get sorted and Dilly complains

Peace and harmony

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sunday, 25 June 2006

It is the day that England are playing in the world cup – and so many things are going on in the villages around here and one event just on the edge of our village. It is such a shame that they all clash – I hope that it does not affect their attendance.

This morning I decided that I would have a day off. I didn’t sleep too well, and woke up feeling weak and lethargic and the shingles were showing off again for some reason. (To much work and not enough play I guess).

But after breakfast and a bit of a rest for an hour, I figured that I would be tempted to do a bit as I go up to let my girls out anyway and to collect their eggs, change their water, and top up their food if it needs it.

Pat fancied helping me to tidy up some wood and junk accumulated by the side of the shed. It was ‘inherited’ from all the rubbish and junk that was on the plot when I took it over. We cleared so much and made so many trips to the tip and the bonfire that we got a neighbouring plot holder to light and take care of for us (as I was worried as it was taller than all of us, and really huge) burnt for 5 days non stop. There were 40 or so room sized lumps of carpet, wood, cupboards, you name it – it was dumped on it!

There was just still some remaining bits of wood, that have turned up when clearing the bottom end of the plot, but we just have not had time to sort it – so that is what we did today. We also totally cleared along a corrugated fence line, (that the previous tenant of the plot next door had left for years), so we decided to clear the high stinging nettles the other side of it, as it seemed pointless just doing ‘our’ side. Our neighbour should be pleased next time he visits as he can strim it easily from now on.

The difference it has made is amazing. We still have some oddments of wood that we need to burn – but it is too risky this time of year, and after a drought, it would only take one spark or a piece floating in the wind to set a field alight. So we have put is somewhere safely until it is safe to burn it – probably Autumn after a wet spell.

Where the pumpkins and climbing beans are up the end nearest the track, I have used some of the oddments of wood to make a large ‘raised’ bed. Well at the moment it is and enclosure to keep the rabbits off the beans and courgettes and pumpkins, and will become ‘raised’ when it gets compost and well rotted manure put on it in the coming years.

We just have one more area to ‘attack’ and that is behind the fruit cage, which I tamed and laid plastic down to kill the weeds there, and I laid all the lengths of pipe and metal there out of sight out of mind. Now that I am ‘on top of things’ I can spare some time to completely get rid of the remaining stuff. So that is our next job, when Pat gets some time – to sort out the bits of pipe and iron and load the car up, together with a broken lawn mower, and take it all down the tip – not local unfortunately – but once that is gone it will be shipshape with no odd corners of bits stored ‘just in case they are useful’ any more.

My motto is, if it has not been used in a year then it has to go. (But I don’t usually apply it to my craft things – there have to be some exceptions to the rules).
On my next trip – tomorrow if it is not raining torrentially (as if!), then I will take my camera with me. Just to record for myself how good it looks now all the junk is sorted.

Those of you that are lucky enough to have council run allotments, with car parks, paths, fences and water, and of course a sales shed and a committee, will probably be horror struck to see my ‘tidy’ corner. But if you saw most, if not all of the other plots on my site, you would be quite amazed how tidy mine is in comparison.

It really is fascinating what you see on old ‘traditional’ type allotments in the countryside. I rather like them, with their higgledy piggledy sheds and paths, abandoned tools stuck in the row of potatoes where they owner had dug up a few plants the day before. Chairs plonked in the middle of a plot where the owner stopped to have a drink and admire his work. Each plot is different and has a story to tell, and each tenant is a character – I like that – it makes it interesting.

On the other hand I do like to see the uniformity of other sites when I read other blogs, and have to confess envy at times to those with water on tap, woodchips, manure, and compost delivered by the ton to their sites. And to have an allotment community shed where you can hire out equipment, and buy things cost price almost must be heaven.

But for now I am content in the knowledge that between us Pat and me spent 8 hours on the plot today, and achieved so much – even though it was mainly removing inherited junk.

The chickens laid 2 eggs for me to collect, and had a wonderful time playing and chasing insects, dust bathing and sunbathing today – and happily went into their run when I called them. The like it when I move it to another place too, as they get longer grass to eat and play in – they’d make good lawn mowers if only they could work in a straight line.

There are more redcurrants waiting to be picked, more broad beans, and more gooseberries, so there is always something to do if you get yourself an allotment, you will never be bored that is for sure!

Time for bed…………………….

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A little splatter of rain.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

I got all excited when I got up to see a little splatter of rain on the windows, but alas not enough to fill a thimble - but I am off out to sow some beans to replace those that got eaten.

I tried the rhubarb leaves tip - about spreading them around to deter the slugs, but I do not have a definite result to give you. It was so hot that the leaves dried up and shrivelled in a matter of days - but I do use them as mulch on the beds to keep the weeds down.

I am off to try something new. I am going to cut up a rhubarb stalk and drop a piece into each hole that I plant the seeds - and see if that makes any difference - once they show I will then do the rhubarb leaf trick again - a double whammy might deter the slugs - but will it keep the rabbits off - no chance - so it will be back to plastic milk bottles over them for that!

Bovey Belle Left me comment on my frozen fruit photo page regarding making jam in the microwave. Yes please BB as I have halogen rings on my hob too, and would love to make use of my microwave which only gets used to hotting up my bedtime milk in the winter, and lately softening my home made butter. (I hang my head in shame)

So useful ideas of making the most of the microwave would be a good thing!

Back later - off I go to sow.


As usual it was only my intention to let the chickens out up the allotment and to spend a few minutes sowing some beans seeds. In fact I was so confident that I would not be there long, that Pat came with me, so that we could drop of our stash of glass bottles in the recycling bin enroute (well in a circular route around the village.) Luckily I suggested he brought his newspaper so that he could sit and read and top up his tan for the short time I would be up there!

After letting the chickens out and giving them a treat of apple an pear cores and a ‘bolted’ lettuce, I collected their eggs – 2 enormous ones, so big that the lid to the egg box would not close.

The courgette plants that were tiny, at last are starting to grow. The watering once every few days, and the mulch of grass cuttings seem to be working at last.

Another view on the long walk from the chicken meadow - so far so good, it is not a pretty sight, but it is detering the rabbits and the parsnip survivors are growing nicely now, so too the carrots under fleece.

The peas and mange tout in the netted tent are growing without any watering help from me. How they do it on the little rain we have had I do not know.

The tomato plants next to them are faring well too. They are not lush with leaves as they would be if they had rain, but they are surviving and one even has a little tomato on it - a bit early though.

The onions and potatoes are doing fine - one onion was about to go to seed, so I pulled it up and we had it for lunch - let that be a warning to the others who will suffer the same fate it they don't hang on a bit longer to get bigger.

Here are the Colleen potatoes that I dug up yesterday - just two plants and a heavy crop from each. Again in these dry drought conditions it is wonderful - and amazing.

Colleen - No.1.

Colleen - No.2. plant

The usual view over the 'gate'

Walking back to the car I spotted one or two weeds in the raised beds that I had missed yesterday – they were well hidden amongst the rows of salad leaves, so out came the kneeling pads on went the sun hat and old shirt, and off I went with trowel, hoe and box with seeds in.

You would not have thought that we had had rain half an hour earlier – there was not even a smidgeon on a leaf or chair – maybe it was only over our part of the village that the little shower had occurred?

I set about on my hands and knees wheedling out the sneaky weed seedlings that escaped me yesterday.

Have you ever noticed that the weeds growing next to any particular crop tend to look very much like the crop? I notice it a lot. I seem to get bindweed seedlings, growing amongst or next to beans. The bindweed, when in its infancy looks like a dwarf bean, with a single stem and then stems going off it as it gets bigger – on the look out for somewhere to climb up. Fern type weeds grow amongst the carrot seedlings and it is not until they are taller that they are distinguishable from the carrots – and so on.

Once the stray weeds were taken out, I thought that I might as well sow another crop or two in the gaps where the lettuces and salads leaves had been, but were now eaten - by us this time.

So in between the sorrel and the chard I sowed two rows of carrots. On the other side of the chard in the gap, I have sown corn salad – two rows – then spinach – two rows.

And still have room for more sowings of mixed salads at fortnightly intervals to keep us and visitors in salads all through the summer.

I then moved on to the next bed – which looks bare in the photo – and I only include this so that in weeks to come you can see the transformation (fingers crossed of course).

If the forefront you can see some more sorrel, and behind that the dwarf beans that survived, and on the right three different varieties of onions that I have left to go to seed in order to harvest the seeds for next year. (An experiment)

In rows behind I sowed haricot beans and yellow dwarf beans, and green dwarf beans – with a third of the bed still to be sown with another crop. It should look very pretty and colourful over the summer. I have had to net it to keep the birds off, so that the seeds get a chance to germinate and grow on a bit.

It was getting rather hot and past lunchtime by then. Pat had resigned himself to sitting in the car with his newspaper and was doing the crossword puzzle. I asked why he had the windows closed and was not sitting outside – he said that it stank of pig ****. I must be immune to the smell up there as I hadn’t even noticed!!!

He was forced to open the windows a bit and the tilted ‘sunroof’ as he was rather hot, bless him.

I was feeling rather guilty by this time, and decided to just plant up some runner bean seeds, in the gaps where the rabbits had got them. Just for good measure I planted four or five around each cane, having made holes with my dibber, filled them with water, and dropped the bean seeds in the hole. As I was doing it, I, of course, weeded any little seedling that had been daft enough to pop their head through the mulch or set them selves in the soil, so the time went on. When finished – 12 canes, so a minimum of 48 seeds instead of the 2 to a cane, were all planted. I then finished it off with a barrow load of horse manure around the newly planted seeds to deter the rabbits.

We had been up there for two hours!

Home to salmon and a huge salad of home grown lettuces and leaves and herbs – shame it is too early for tomatoes and all my cucumber plants got eaten first time around. Still the new potatoes made up for it though.

It was after lunch, when I went to the garage for some lettuce leaves for the banties, that I noticed a brown paper bag on the worktop in there. I had a feeling of foreboding, and my heart sank.

The reason being that for the first time I bought my broad bean and runner bean Enorma loose from a shop in town. Yes you have guessed it. They were both in plain brown paper bags – and the broad beans I bought last autumn and the runners this year. Yes I do know that they look different, I have been growing them long enough, but the beans this time were coated in pink to deter the mice. I only decided to try them this once after loosing so many to mice, rats, and other rodents. The broad beans were very small, I recall, when I planted them last year – but they have produced a really good crop despite their setbacks which have been well documented here.

So – I have spent an hour carefully planting broad beans next to the runner bean canes – all that effort for nothing.

I now have found a bag of pink runner beans, which look exactly like the pink broad beans and are the same size!

It is not a big problem as I will just pull out the broad beans if they germinate, and will plant the runner beans another day – hopefully tomorrow morning. It is just so annoying.

I have planted other varieties of climbing beans – organic ones – I was just tempted out of desperation to grow some early broad and runner beans that might escape some of the pests.

The moral of this tale is – stick to the organic ones – even if you do lose most of them.

That is why I have a big plot and grow far more than I need – figuring that if I grow three times as much as I need at least a third should survive to feed us, the rest being at the mercy of the weather and pests.

Sometimes I get gluts – which is great!

Off to put my feet up.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Late night musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'No, of course not' I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A question for those of you who grow sweet potatoes.

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

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

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

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

Frozen Fruit so far

16 pounds of gooseberries, 5 pounds of red currants, 12 pounds of rhubarb plus 10%

Here is some of the fruit that I have frozen so far over the last few days.

Each bag is weighed so that I have the right amount of fruit to make jams, chutneys, marmalades, etc. Or else I can use it in pies, crumbles, sponges, sauces, jellies - the list is endless.

If you use frozen fruit to make preserves you have to add on 10% therefore each bag has at least 1lb 2oz in it - more in some cases.

It doesn't look much for hours of work does it?

Anyone who tells you that it is a piece of cake to be self sufficient in fruit and vegetables are not telling the truth. It is hard work no matter how many time saving tricks you know.

But when I am feeling worn out, my fingers stinging from being pricked from gooseberry bush thorns, my finger and thumb sore from 'topping and tailing', my back and legs aching from standing and bending. I remind myself how wonderful it is in the midst of a long cold miserable winter - to open the freezer and have a wealth of summer foods - or to open the cupboard and see a 'treasure' of brightly jewel coloured jams and preserves, which remind me of long hot summer days - and for some reason I forget the sore hands and back and bones!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I Love Thursdays

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Yesterday I spent a great deal of time at home – I have a garden to look after here, my willow arch needed pruning too, I made bread and lots of other goodies, and in the evening went up the allotment, with the help of under gardener, watered the tomatoes and pumpkins, cucumber and courgettes. I also disbudded the tomato plants and tied them higher up the stakes as they had grown – all of which took an hour and a half.

Today I spent four hours up there – harvesting mainly. Redcurrants, rhubarb, gooseberries, and a few strawberries for tea.

Tonight I have been cutting them up, or topping and tailing those that needed doing and spending hours picking of each little red currant, weighing and vacuum packing them, and I have just got another pound or two to do, and to pop into the freezer.

I am whacked! I also rotorvated an area of Mikes allotment to cheer him up and give him a bit of encouragement. He has some onions and leeks he wants to plant.

Tomorrow I will take some photos and put on here so you can see why I am so busy.

Must dash and finish off the last of the goosegogs – then a wonderful shower, feet up, and rest before bed.....

Oh I forgot to mention why I love Thursdays - its our wicked 'junk food' day or our equivalent.

Home made oven wedges with our own potatoes, two wonderful eggs from the chooks, and rare breed bacon and my home made sausages (Firecrackers today) made from rare breed pork.

And 'the golfer' had his absolutely best round of golf he has ever played in his life today.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Weeds, weeds, weeds,

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Today I spent three and a half hours up my allotment in the hot sunny weather. But I am covered from top to toe, my face is always plastered with factor 50 sun lotion and I wear a floppy white sun hat, gloves, and sun glasses!

I was tempted to get one of the farm hands to take a photo of me – as I looked like a scarecrow – but had second thoughts!!!

It looks ever more likely that we are going to have another dry summer this year with very little rainfall in these parts. We are one of the driest counties in the UK in the East of England, but the past few years have been drier than ever. The little rain that is forecast this week is going to miss us yet again, so my crops will have to fend for themselves.

With that in mind, my task today was to weed the runner bean frame, and to mulch it to help preserve any rainfall that we do get.

It doesn’t look like a lot of work – but bear in mind the row is 30 feet long, and I have to do it all on my hands and knees with a trowel. The ground in like concrete, and it was really hard work getting out the deep rooted weeds that have sprung up.

This is what it looked like before. All the fencing has to come down first.

This is when I was part way through mulching it.

The inevitable ‘after’ photo.

You will see that there are lots of gaps which I will have to fill. The rabbits and birds and mice all have their share of the seeds and the baby plants, -oh and the slugs too. Some of them are making a remarkable recovery; some of them are stunted and destined to be dwarf beans by the look of it. It does look a bit ‘Heath Robinson’ I know, but I just have to put up temporary fencing to keep all the pests off to give the plants a fighting chance to reach maturity.

The next job I did was to weed the salad raised bed – and I picked salads for us and for my neighbour who has just come out of hospital having had a hip replacement. I made up an organic veggie box as a welcome home surprise and dug up some potatoes and picked some broad beans – his wife was very surprised and delighted.

Now that we have cleared the fruit cage, I can get to the red currants that are ripening, and further along are black, and white currants, strawberries, loganberry, raspberries, and another gooseberry bush.

I am looking forward to my fruit harvests this year. I also have jostaberries, blackberry (its first year so probably no berries), and a cross between a blackberry and a boysenberry plant (again its first year too). More currants and more raspberries, autumn and summer fruiting. I think that I will have to designate a freezer just for the fruits.

Now that I have the vacuum packing machine, everything will take up much less space, thank goodness, and you can clearly see what is inside the bags – so no more boxes or labelling.

Remember the devastated carrot and parsnip crops that I had to re-sow and cover to keep the rabbits off. Some of the original seedling that were just stalks have re-grown.



Just to finish – this is what over 6lb of broad beans look like in a huge washing bowl. We had some for lunch today, boiled with mint until they were very soft, newly dug up potatoes, and bunny burgers that I made in the winter, seasoned with a game herbs.

Now you know why my dearest has to wait for me to come home – I have to dip up or pick our lunch!

I have also made a nice rhubarb crumble – but didn’t have time to make the loaf of bread – must do it tomorrow!

My total time up the allotment this season so far are 174 ¾ hours, and other half has spent 50 hours. There is still lots to do though!