Wednesday, 22 July 2009

New challenge for the pigeons and some splendiferous sunflowers

Today the two of us spent a very useful and pleasurable day at the allotment.
Paul made a huge new cage to keep the woodpigeons away from the new brussels sprouts bed.
The cage I made last year wasn't tall or wide enough for plants to develop fully. This new model is taller than me, which is possibly a little too far in the other direction! Let's see if the brussels plants take advantage of their luxurious new height allowance; now that would be a good crop!
If the cage should prove overcapacious, perhaps we could plant some fruit bushes next year; blackcurrant redcurrant and raspberry would be good.

Meanwhile I thinned out the autumn cauliflowers, cutting down a couple of sunflowers as I went; transplanted winter leeks and brussels sprouts into two beds, dug over after the broad beans were pulled out; harvested potatoes and picked french beans and runners; found the first couple of sweetcorn cobs starting to swell; put elastic bands around the celery; and enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee sitting next to the Jerusalem artichokes and looking over the lush three sisters bed. It's looking good!
Lastly I watered everything, as despite frequent showers this week, the soil was really dry and thirsty by this afternoon.
I know I look as if I'm trying to hide behind the beanpole in this picture - this would be futile at the best of times. But I was actually just picking runner beans.
Have I mentioned how splendiferous the sunflowers are this season? Here are a few for your pleasure.
The tallest are now about 7 feet high. Bill has the highest plant on our site - one bloom must be at least eight foot tall - but I have the most prolifically flowering.
I have picked nearly forty blooms over the past three weeks, not including today's dozen (after these photos were taken). They are a delight and a pleasure.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Space and light a fine judgement

I was surprised to find that my first harvest of parsnips was in September last year, since we dug up the first three of the season last weekend.
The large one was wonderful with roast beef on Sunday, the others we enjoyed boiled with grilled noisettes of lamb on Monday evening. All accompanied by the first carrots, some French beans and potatoes gathered from the allotment.
Last year's first row of parsnips was planted too closely with Jerusalem artichokes, and had to compete for their light and water. But I wouldn't have expected it to make two months difference to their growth. I only put the seeds in at the end of April, and the packet said harvest from October! But the flavour of these young roots was really good.
The Cherokee climbing French beans are producing really well - long slender pods (up to 6 inches), also of delicious flavour. I made two sowings of them, the second in a three sisters bed with sweetcorn and squash, so we should have a continuous crop through August and September. I feel uncertain about this as I may have overcrowded the second sowing. I thought as it was a deep bed I could plant more intensely but nearly all the seeds and beans which I planted directly, came up. The Burgess Buttercup squash plants are also taking up much more space than other varieties planted in different beds, so I hope they will fruit well. It is a fine judgement to make best use of limited space in order to generate the maximum crop from the light water and soil nutrients available!
The dwarf French beans, Black Valentine and May Bean have been picked over the past couple of weeks. As I mixed them together in the bed I can't tell which is which unless I allow them to mature, when the beans will be different colours. We compared them for flavour with the Cherokees immediately after picking and found all very similar -delicious, but nothing to choose between them.
I'm pleased to report that the runner beans have staged a recovery, the few plants that grew well initially are being caught up by the stragglers, so perhaps we will have worthwhile amounts of my favourite crop after all.
Still waiting for our first ripe tomato with keen anticipation. We have already enjoyed a few courgette Tondo di Piacenza - a wonderful variety that produces rotund fruits like little tennis balls, good sauteed or mixed into paellas and pasta sauces.
July is such a lovely month for gardening here - the hard work of the early season gives way to more leisurely watering and weeding, sitting and looking and of course the rewards of eating freshest produce. It almost seems a shame to go on holiday!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Gardeners Bloom Day July 2009

First up from my garden for today is Black-eyed Susan, a delightful flowering climber here in the UK. I don't know the Latin name for ours, do you? Apparently, Black-eyed Susan is a different plant, Rudbeckia hirta, in the US. Have a look at Carol's May Dreams Garden to see her version, and find out how you can join in with GBD and connect with other gardeners around the world.

I've posted my pics from a different programme this time and don't seem to be able to mix in words and pictures in the same way as usual. Still I hope you will enjoy this edited selection from my garden this morning.

HPNX6122 HPNX6126 HPNX6130 HPNX6136 HPNX6148 HPNX6152 HPNX6154

Friday, 10 July 2009

First summer pudding

My sister Annie is throwing a party to celebrate her fortieth brithday this weekend, so I offered to make a summer pudding - her favourite dessert at this time of year. I'm afraid we've eaten all the raspberries from the garden. The blackberries in Nonsuch Park aren't quite ripe, and those on the border of the allotment too few, so I had to buy soft fruit in the supermarket, adding in ripe cherries and strawberries left over from earlier this week. But I did make the white loaf to line the bowl!
The fruit smelled delicious as it was poaching this evening in a few tablespoons of brandy and sugar, with the juice of half a lemon to sharpen it and keep the colours of the fruit bright. Teh purple red juice soaked into the bread in no time, and I pressed it down in the bowl with a close fitting lid, to help it all conglomerate together. When we eat it with cream tomorrow evening, it really will feel as if summer is here - no matter what the weather!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Fantastic first earlies

Earlier this season I confessed that I couldn't understand why my fellow gardeners devote so much allotment space to the humble spud. They're just potatoes, for goodness sake and they don't cost very much in the shops. And I proudly announced that I'd only planted about six as I had other, pricier veg in mind.
And then, this week, I've harvested the first early potatoes, and god they're delicious. Also much easier to prepare than those I've been buying; the skins are very thin and scrubbed off almost as soon as I looked at them in the sink!
I served them boiled with mint for the Bad Girls Book Club on Saturday evening, we had some leftovers cold for Sunday lunch, then fried the rest with onions, some sweet potato, garlic and tarragon for Monday dinner. We've boiled the remaining few for dinner again tonight and tomorrow.
We aren't a family who normally eat spuds every day, and we dislike boiled spuds the rest of the year, but these are so well flavoured, so moist and soft textured, just needing a little butter to feel like a real treat enjoyed by us all. And absolutely amazing value - I only harvested two plants, getting about 5lbs in all. It is little short of a miracle that six or seven weeks in the ground can turn one potato into so much nutritious and tasty food!
We've also had the first dwarf French beans this weekend and handfuls of peas, from the Kent Blue variety as well as Victorian Purple. The VPs tasted better 10 days ago; the KBs, which podded later, are sweeter now. Completely different in their growth habits, the KBs are only about three foot tall while the VPs have shot above six. KBs have very nobbly little pods, moulding the peas tightly within like rows of baby teeth about to erupt, while VP pods are more classically crescent shaped, with just the suggestion of curvaceous peas within.
Our climbing French beans are just beginning to flower, so I expect some for our table by the end of the week, especially after the cooler nights and plentiful showers of rain overnight and today. The first sowing of Black Cherokee look particularly promising. We need them to be good. The runners are struggling this year thanks to blackfly, which seem completely uninterested in the nasturtiums in the presence of juicy sweet runner bean stems!
Lastly our salads are continuing to yield well, a couple of the plants have followed the rocket into seed but the others, which we've kept picking regularly, are developing more flavour as the season progresses. Bronze Arrowhead is picking particularly well. And we have lots of green tomatoes, so lets hope the weather warms up again to ripen them off!

Tragic demise of an organic allotment...

Once upon a time there was an allotment gardener. He commuted all week to a job he enjoyed, writing about gardening, and he had a lovely young family. He struggled to juggle these responsibilities with maintaining his allotment.
His plot was on a small but beautiful site surrounded on three sides by willows and other large trees. A waiting list was kept as a matter of policy, to help protect it from housing development, which was a great threat to many allotment sites during that time.
The council also had a very strict rule, that all plots on this site must be cultivated. This rule was partly designed to stop people on the waiting list from complaining that they hadn't got an allotment and that some tenants didn't appreciate theirs and look after them properly, and that life wasn't fair. But the rule was also policed to some extent by other tenants on the site, some of whom had gardened there for very many years. They contributed conscientiously to tasks that helped keep the site in good order, such as clearing blackberries from boundaries, trimming paths, pruning back the willow trees and calling the council when there were rats to be got rid of, and they felt much happier when all of the allotments were neat and tidy.
So when this man struggled to maintain his allotment alongside his demanding job and beautiful children, the council was informed. After some discussions, it was agreed to divide his plot in two, so that he had something more manageable in at least one area of his life.
So this is how I was allocated my half plot. I have been very glad that my neighbour reluctantly agreed to accept a half plot all those years ago, so that I too could have a manageable space to enjoy.
My neighbour tenant and I have been amicable, and we have seen several others come and go from the site during our tenancy. There was the woman whose father-in-law came over from Ireland for a week's holiday and cleared and dug her plot over for her. She planted it up and left, returning from the middle of the summer to harvest the food. One season she enjoyed lots of time down there with her new baby and toddler, during her maternity leave. She loved the gardening, but gave up her plot when she returned to work the following year.
An older tenant, who'd had a plot for years, struggled due to health problems over his two last summers, the weeds getting ever more prolific, the digging more of a struggle. Another woman came and enjoyed her plot for a season. The following summer her mother was very ill and her daughter had a baby. That year she couldn't fit in family support, allotment and essential full time job, so she was thrown off. I met her a few months later and she was quite angry that she hadn't been allowed to keep it after so long on the waiting list.
Another tenant, a wonderful veg gardener, had his cataracts done, and he was out of action for a year. He returned to his two full size plots, but voluntarily gave up one of them a couple of years later as he and his wife were no longer able to eat or give away everything he grew. Now he grows lots of evening primrose, a beautiful sight when watering in the evening.
Through all these sagas, my neighbour and I have managed to do sufficient labour to be allowed to stay. We're both quite green minded, organic (as far as we can) and have produced small amounts of delicious veg, which generally keep us motivated. He had a patch of weeds covering a third of the plot with signs, "slow worms live here" and a dustbin lid or two, while I had some old blackcurrant bushes, weedy and overgrown, providing shelter for blackbirds and sparrows, and the occasional resting place for a fox family.
For a couple of seasons, a friend helped him by clearing and gardening the back end of his plot, creating a deep bed and growing runner beans, and this was the point when we actually started to make headway in our annual Battle with the Hop Vine, which grew over leylandii from a neighbouring garden and choked the far end of our two half plots. He would bring free samples of different veg varieties to try, and would usually be found on Sunday mornings with one or two of his boys, pottering about and growing stuff.
But this year I haven't seen my organic neighbour and apart from a cutting down of the weedpatch and a rough trim of the shared path very early in the season, his plot hasn't been cultivated at all. There has been a great crop of parsnip seeds and artichoke flowers, and the bellbine and wild grasses have looked wonderful, but no one on the site appeared to have heard a word from him. And as we've never exchanged phone numbers, I had no way of finding out what was going on.
And then, early last week I arrived to do some watering and his whole plot had been cleared. The deep beds, the compost heap, all made from scavenged and recycled wood gathered over the years - everything had been pulled up or broken down and piled in a heap in one corner, over the formerly flourishing rhubarb patch. It was really shocking.
My neighbour Bill on the other side said a woman had been down with her mother and done it all over the weekend.
I met her on Saturday. She's dynamic, has spare time at present as her photography business is a little quiet, hasn't grown veg before but is full of energy and enthusiasm. "My long term objective is to open a restaurant, so this is a great opportunity for me to start with the food." She lives across the road from my organic neighbour, who has had an operation on his wrist and so can't do anything on his allotment this year. She's offered to help him out, and he's accepted gladly, giving her a free hand to do what she likes with it this year; she has even suggested putting a shed at the far end and having a small lawn.
It must be a great load off his mind that someone will look after his plot for this season, so he can return next year to something cultivated and not lose his tenancy. But I can't help wondering if he really expected her to clear everything off the plot and put down weedkiller? The old slow worm patch is looking very browned off this week, despite the plentiful rain over the weekend.