More rain, more cold, more winter

Winter veg

Winter veg, Leeks, Jerusalem Artichokes and Oca

Thankfully we are not near to any flood plains or bursting rivers. I really feel for those who have been inundated. Way back in 1968 my parents house was flooded with sewerage ridden river water. It took a long time to sort out and was very unpleasant for us and our neighbours. The allotment is on the side of a hill so relatively safe from the water. Even so the ground is very wet and I am trying to avoid walking on it as the structure will be ruined. We are still picking chard, lambs lettuce, cabbages and digging up Jerusalem artichokes and lovely turnips. I have found that peeling, par-boiling and roasting the artichokes seems to reduce the ‘windy’ effect of these wonderful tubers. Although it might just mean we are all getting used to them. In addition the Oca did well due to the long autumn with little frost and we still have some leeks growing.
I put onions sets and garlic corms into the ground in November and they seem to be shooting. I am a bit surprised that they have not rotted away. This month (February) I need to prune the raspberries as they are supposed to be autumn fruiting and do a general tidying up but I will have to wait until the gales and wet weather has abated a bit. I managed to re-wood chip the path but that has really been all since before Christmas.

Autumn round- up – a bumper fruit year


Blackberries on the allotment

As usual the summer has rushed by and I have not done anything much to the blog .

All in all the year turned out very well for fruit and veg but it was the fruit which did the best, my blackberries are still producing fruit well into October and so are the wonderful Autumn Treasure raspberries which have fruited from June and are still going strong. Black, white and red currents have also done well. The strawberries (both standard and ‘wild’) have been wonderful and I still have some in the freezer to make more jam.

Black currents flourishing

Blackcurrents flourishing

Wild strawberries
Wild strawberries

Talking of Jam, I have made something around 24Kg of jam and jelly. It has been a great pleasure using my French copper jam pan, which spreads the heat wonderfully and reduced the risk of burning. I make juice for jelly in a steam juicer. This save the messing about of using Jelly bag and allowing the juice to drip through over night. The steam extracts the juice and this can be added to the sugar immediately then heated to setting point. Remember to use pectin for those fruits which are low in this essential setting aid.

Summertime on the allotment

Summertime on the allotment

After the very cold spring, I did not have high hopes for the vegetables but I was surprised, the potatoes, Blue Edzell, Mayan Gold and Kestral all did well although the Mayan gold did wither a bit early on as you can see from the foreground of the photo. However the tubers of all the potatoes were fine and should last me the Winter. Slugs did quite a bit of damage just before harvest so I had to cook and mash a few kilos for the freezer. I tend to just use a potato ricer and freeze the resulting fairly dry mash. Then when I want to use it, I defrost and add butter, milk and seasoning. Of all the three varieties  Blue Edzell looks the strangest  as it is very dark purple  and Kestral had the best yield. Mayan gold did poorest but has the best taste.

The cabbages have done well  but I have had to keep them covered all summer to prevent both cabbage white caterpillars and maurading pigeons from taking all the leaves.

Peas and sweet corn

Peas, sweet corn with rainbow chard and seeding sweet cicely, beans in the background

The beans, runner and climbing french, took a long time to get going. I planted them when I thought it was warmer and protected them from the wind with fleece but they took a long time to grow and flower. The crop has been manageable and I have frozen a lot for winter – I slice with a wonderful Australian Krisk bean slicer, blanche in boiling water for 30 secs, then in to cold water, pat dry and freeze.

Rainbow chard is yielding well and should be useful for most of winter. The peas were again attacked by moth larvae but we had several good meals from those  the  moth left.

Onions and garlic all seemed to do well but since harvesting I have noticed that for some reason, the onions are rotting in storage. The garlic is holding up well and so are the shallots and both will  last through the winter . Other successes are the patty pan squash, the round courgettes and finally, I have just cut the Turban squash, one vine has yielded two large squash – I look forward to cooking them later in the winter, roasted, as soup and in a curry.

Turban squash

Turban squash

Rain, Rain, Cold, Wind

March 2013-snow in the woods

I cannot really understand how the winter has been so miserable for so long. I like cold dry weather but incessant damp cold is miserable. The allotment has been blown about, rained on and frozen for so long that I am surprised anything is still growing. So far my winter planted onions and garlic are just showing. The overwintering leeks have just been harvested and the purple sprouting and other brassicas have been eaten by the pigeons as both the bird scarer and cage were blown over. My potatoes are starting to chit and I hope to get them in over Easter but with the ground so cold I may have to wait. Let’s hope we get some sun soon.

Slow veg in the wettest summer ever….ever

Verdant July in the allotment

I have been putting off posting about the trials and tribulations of my allotment this year as I was hoping that the rain would stop for long enough for me to do more than emergency weeding, slug killing and  a little harvesting.

The spring / summer growing period started well, a few dry sunny days and in with the onions and a second lot of broad beans to support winter planted ones. My bird of prey bird scarer made from a bin bag, some support sticks and wire has worked well and kept the pigeons away.  The rhubarb forcer  did its thing and we had some wonderful metallic red rhubarb for jam and for compot.

Then it rained and was cold and rained more on than off for the rest of the summer ( well so far to mid July). The  weeds, especially the comfry, went mad and grew overnight filling up all available space.

In the few dry spells potatoes ( Anya and Miro Sapho) were planted and seem to be doing well. More onions sets  were put  in spring to complement the winter planted ones  and these are also growing as are leeks from seed and garlic.

The broad beans did well , the early planted and later ones ( all Sutton) flowered together and I now have a couple of large freezer bags of beans after having eaten a lot stir fried with garlic and butter. Sweet and delicious.

The garlic has had to be harvested early due to rust but the bulbs seem fine and the bulbs not be eaten are  now drying out on chicken wire under the garden table. I hope the rust will not affect my onions or leeks.

The winter planted white onions all collapsed in early July and are now somewhat optimistically drying on the garden table until I have room to put them where the garlic currently is.

Onions ‘drying’

The strawberries looked very promising, lots of flowers and a good covering of leaves. unfortunately with all the rain, the slugs have got to the fruit quicker than I have and most of the crop has been eaten.  However, some fruit was saved together with some black, white and redcurrents. Enough for a small bowl for two.

The globe artichokes are also doing well and provide a bit of a barrier along the fence beyond which the Comfry is king. I have taken to havesting the the globes early when just larger than a golfball and smaller than a tennis ball. These can be steamed or boiled for about 4 – 5 minutes then the outer leaves striped off and if small the pointy end of ther remaining leaves cut off with scissors. The whole head is split in half and any fluffy choke gently removed with a teaspoon the rest can be eaten with melted butter or in a warm oil and vinagar dressing. Larger heads can have all leaves and choke removed after cooking leaving the rubber ring shaped heart which will freeze or can be used as above or in salads or in risotto.

Globe artichokes braving the weather

I hope that the weather improves over the coming month at least so I have enough time to get rid of the weeds!

The planting scheme 2012

In praise of allotments

While I am busy sorting out planting for 2012 I thought I should share this link to my Ruralism blog. It is an article I wrote on allotments first published in September 2011 in the Church Times.

And meanwhile in the polytunnel…

I have a small polytunnel where I hoped to sprout  seeds, pot on and take cuttings as well as grow fantastic tomatoes, Chillies and other less hardy veg.

This year has been the first full year of production. Apart from taking off, blowing over a 6 ft fence and landing in my neighbour’s garden the polytunnel has been very well-behaved.

Over the summer it has been full of ripening tomatoes of various shapes and size and some great chillies.

Tomatoes and chillies - still in use in November

I have made a lot of tomato pasta sauce with onions, sweated down in lots of olive oil, garlic and the tomatoes chopped and reduced to a thick sauce with fresh thyme added to some pots for good measure. All this was sealed in hot sterilised jars and should keep for the winter.

The problems have stated in November. When mice got a taste for chillies and have stripped most of the slower plants which were just ripening off. Such a shame.  I am sorry to say  that so far the traps have accounted for 7 of the pests, sorry they cannot go in the pot- they will be highly spicy.

To add to the problems  there are a number of worn patches in the cover and although tape seems to do the trick, it won’t be long before the cover is mostly tape.  One year does not really seem long enough for it to last.

I hope to use the polytunnel over the winter with extra insulation from bubble wrap to bring on some winter veg. Lets hope it does not disintegrate before the spring.

A look back from a hot November

The allotment has been hard work this autumn. The combination of warmth and wet has really benefitted the weeds and the slugs. Other problems have included the dreaded Onion fly which caused my lovingly grown leeks to ‘melt’ . I managed to save the white tips and have stir -fried these and frozen for later use.

Leeks damaged by onion fly larvae

An onion fly larva about 8mm long

Mid October gave me a chance to plant my garlic,  sprouts and asian walking onions ( grown from seeds) into the allotment. It took until mid November for me to find the time to plant the onion sets ( by which time some had started to sprout). Does ‘chitting’ onions help or hinder the final crop?

Halloween brough the best crop of pumpkins and squash I have ever had , most are in store and being slowly used for soup. I like to roast them in segments with olive oil and dry chilli flakes  then scrape out the flesh into some softened onions, add stock or water and this year I am adding the borlotti and french beans that have been podded and boiled until tender.  Really hearty and tasty.

One of the many great pumpkins

Another wonderful squash - Turban squash

The beans – about 5kg were harvested from the last of the bean pods

Borlotti and french beans- for beefing up the soup

The largest pumpkin was selected by my son for Halloween creative carving  many visiting ghouls and witches were impressed!

Home grown Halloween pumpkin

While all this spooky work was going on my new sprout plants were devastated by slugs  and so we will have to have cabbage for Christmas.

Buckingham Nurseries have kindly replaced the Medlar tree which died last year so I have planted this out, carefully following the instructions and hope that it can establish itself as well as the quince tree has done.   Otter Farm has sent through my Szechuan pepper  tree. I am looking forward to seeing it seed over the next few years.

For reference here are the plans for the allotment in 2011 20a sits next to 20b to make a nice rectangular patch with a path down the middle.

Plot 20 A plan 2011

Plot 20B plan 2011

Now on with the weeding……


Since last winter I have been on the lookout for the puffball season. In early spring I found evidence of a great number of puffballs which were by then rotten and had I hoped spread their spores far and wide. The puffball season has been around late September but this year ( 2011) it arrived early. Luckily I have been keeping an eye out for these football sized fungi for a few weeks. Walking the dog is a good excuse for a bit of fungi hunting and on 4th September I saw hidden under the hedge the tell-tale white shapes. There were 20 or 30 fresh puffballs. I took three. They have been sliced and fried in butter or olive oil with salt and pepper and frozen for the future. I will stir-fry with garlic and chilli and serve with pasta, or just have with my occasional egg and bacon breakfast.

Fresh puffballs ready for cooking

Next on my list are parasol mushrooms and the less easy to identify horse and field mushrooms. Take care and double check anything you find. If in doubt don’t eat it.

Whatever Happened to the Summer?

I cannot believe that it is now mid-September and I have not written up the trials and tribulations of cultivation since June. I can only claim that work on the allotment had to take priority over writing about it.

Although the weather from July onwards has been rather mixed with a lot of heavy rain and then warm days, it has been good for growing. The weeds in particular have loved the weather. I returned from a fortnights holiday in Normandy to find that the path had been completely buried in comfrey. It took over three hours to clear but at least generated a lot of mulch for the beans and courgettes.

The other problem with the weather was that the courgettes grew into marrows before your eyes. I took the precaution  of cutting all the small courgettes before my holiday  but on my return discovered some of the best ‘marrows’ I have ever seen. The plants took a long time to recover from this largess but are still producing sweet, small and tasty produce.

Courgettes doing well

From courgette to marrow in two wet weeks

The other debilitating effect of the damp and warm weather has been on the potatoes. Blight is almost inevitable and I had to take the foliage off the plants somewhat earlier than I would have liked. The potatoes are ridged up and appear undamaged. They are now sitting in jute sacks in the garage. I should have enough to last well into next spring if all goes well.

Onions  and garlic has  been very successful this year the earlier plantings were harvested in late june and the spring planting of onions in august. Both crops did well . The spring planted onions were put in groups of  five , something suggested by the Eden Project, and all five grew with a range of different final sizes. I have four big netting bags full or both red and white onions and hope to be able to use them well into next year.

Spring planted onions grown from sets in groups of five

Drying off the onions and shallots

Lettuces planted as ‘cut and come again’ have grown into full large plants and those we have not managed to eat are starting to bolt. I am already planting out winter lettuce so we will have something  of the autumn.

The mammoth bean run I put up has worked very well with a combination of borlotti and climbing french green and black ( blue) beans) the freezer is already full and I have experimented with pickling some of the glut.

Black beans - they go green when cooked!

Borlotti beans, great whole when small and podded beans when left to mature


Other notable successes were the artichokes both globe and Jerusalem. The globe have been planted down one fence with the intention of using the to suppress weeds and have something nice to eat. The Jerusalem have done very well and need cutting back so I can dig up the corms. I will leave some so we have a crop next year.

Globe Artichokes, even in the first year still have edible flower heads

Jerusalem Artichoke plants- I am looking forward to the corms or are they tubers?


I have been amazed that I managed ad few aubergines and lots of outdoor cucumbers  even though it has not been very warm or sunny.

Cucumbers growing up the bean arch


Aubergines still going strong if a bit damaged by wind and slugs

For the Autumn we aready have leeks and pumpkins growing on. I am looking forward to Halloween and using my own home grown pumpkin this year

Leeks on their way to give us a winter feast


Halloween is only a month away and the pumpkins are colouring up nicely


A final word should go to my companion plans- the nasturtiums have come on very well, lots of different flowers, all very tasty and they seemed to keep the cabbage whites of my cabbages ( together with the netting).


Nasturtiums brighten up the allotment, are very tasty ( you can eat the flower, leaves and seedpods. They also act as sacrificial plants to reduce pests on the veg.




Allotment catch up

Overwintered onions coming good in the warm dry spring

Since I last posted the weather has turned from fairly unrelenting heat and wind to unrelenting rain and wind. There was hardly a day from March to the end of May when we had any rain .  This meant all my plants needed watering every day and even then the climbing beans  planted out a bit early ( in April)  suffered from being battered by the wind and will take a lot of catching up. 

The allotment at the end of April 2011

After consulting with my Twitter chums, I finally planted my early potatoes in the first week of April, the variety is Epicure.

Epicure early potatoes, looking good in mid May

There was no frost from then on and they have grown well. However the warm damp weather since June has caused an outbreak of blight on the allotment and I am busy digging up the tubers to save them.

Epicure early potatoes not looking so great after the hot damp weather

The main crop  was planted on 25 April  and although they are not badly affected yet but it is only a matter of time.

Peas and more onions/shallots were planted in early April and are doing well. We have been eating the peas as mangetout  for a couple of week. They are wonderful stir fried with garlic in olive oil. I usually slice them first so the are about a cm wide each and all cook at the same time.

Courgettes nice striped zucchini were planted at the same time as the main crop but under polyethylene cloches and have done well. The first few were harvested  on 25th of May and we have been eating them pretty much each night since.

Also planted around the same time  were Corn on the Cob plants, some donated and other sprouted by me,  salad mix ( again under a fleece cover).

In early june I have planted more courgettes, squashes, cucumbers and aubergine plants.

Wonderful courgettes

I finally finished the path and the fruit is flourishing. Strawberries, tayberries, red, white and black currents have all come at once.

June fruit from the allotment

The salads are also doing well, enough mixed leaves for a good salad each night and some full lettuces ready for picking.

TheTelegraph and a Radio 4 Food Program were featuring perennial food. I have since put in Jerusalem Artichokes to complement the Globe artichoke and am growing some Egyptian walking onions from seed. The rhubarb has been extended with another variety and I hope to try a Szechuan pepper tree and Oca next year  from Otter Farm. I have also planted day lilies which apparently make good eating. I gather some people may be allergic and that normal lilies are poisonous so do take care.

Lastly, some sad news, my Medlar tree failed to establish and sprout, the nice people from Buckingham Nurseries have agreed to replace it. The Quince is doing very well.

The failed Medlar


Mid June in the allotment