Spring 2019, warm then so cold

I am writing this in May, the coldest May for 178 years, which followed a very warm April and in Suffolk at least, pretty dry January and February.

All this  unexpected cold is very unfortunate as I was planning to do a lot in the garden over the early May bank holiday.  Still the cold has inspried me to look at my wild life cameras and to write about our veg, bees and Moorhen.

Fruit and Veg

No pretty pictures at the moment but I have weeded and planted the veg patch. I leave it to weed over during the winter so spring is always a bit back-breaking.  We have broad beans, rocket, red chicory and lettuces growing well (but slowly).  The winter cabbage has now sprouted and we have eaten much before it actually flowered. Now the hens have the luxury of finishing it off.

We have just started to get wonderful Asparagus and Globe Artichokes both my favorities and only worth eating fresh from the garden and in season (at least in my mind).  The strawberry bed is flowering up so I hope we will get a bumper crop this year. The orchard has had wonderful blossom on all the trees, I wonder if the cold will prevent much of it turning to fruit.

Bees

I am on a beekeepers register so if you have a swam and live nearby you can call me up and I will come and try to deal with it. The oil seed rape in the area and very warm April has caused the bees to get a bit cramped and some decided to decamp off to new accommodation. I caught my own swam and got a new hive ready, oddly be the evening the swam had largely gone. Having checked my hive, it would seem that they may have gone back home!  Both hives were full of bees, I now have two supers on and was hoping to take off the first lot of honey in early May ( that was before it went so cold). As luck would have it just as I was settling down after teh dissapointment of missing my swarm, the phone rang and someone in a nearby village wanted me to collect their swarm. They were keen I took it away immediately so I could not leave it in the skep until the late evening. Still I managed to get most of the bees into the Skep and wrapped it in a sheet then put it in the back of the car and drove it home. I let the bees have a small opening until around 7pm when I ‘walked’ them into the hive I had prepared ealier. See pictures one hour apart.

This is the first time I have successfully done this, the bees have stayed and I am feeding them with sugar solution until they build up the wax frames and can find and store enough of their own food ( probably once it warms up).

Deer

Fallow deer captured by wildlife cam

Fallow deer captured by wildlife cam

We are surrounded by field and woodland, their are Munjac and Fallow Deer about. Normally we don’t see them closeby and hardly ever in the garden although I do have the veg patch surrounded by a 6 foot chickenwire fences to stop the deer eating all the tasty produce.

This year must have been a particularily bumper year for deer, We have had  a couple of Fallow Deer munching on the hedge behind the kitchen and one in our small copse.

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The did trample the electric fence around the hens but have only done this once so I hope they learned to avoid it in future.

The wildlife cam has also shown night visits from a large male Fallow Deer,  a fox  and some Munjac. It is difficult to believe how busy the garden is at night.

Moorhen

Every year we have a Moorhen nest on our pond, some years she manages to raise her chicks and other years they are eaten by cats, foxes, rooks or magpies.

This year there are three chicks all fluffy pom-poms at the moment. Mother Moorhen has been leading them over the grass and feeding them as she goes- it is a lovely sight.

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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

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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

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……