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


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

Aldeburgh Food Festival, Snape Maltings, Suffolk 24-26 Sept 2010

A somewhat belated post following a great weekend at the Aldeburgh Food Festival at Snape.

The layout was different this year with more stands outside and more demonstrations and other events. The weather was pretty terrible particularly on the Saturday afternoon  but I was lucky enough to see some fantastic cooking and  demonstration  from Gerald King, the Butcher from  the Suffolk Food Halls in Ipswich . I learned more about brazing steak ( three types from the shoulder blade plus chuck and skirt) than  I realised was possible.

Gerald also demonstrates for The Suffolk Safari who has a stand and were cooking up foraged fungi for passers by.

Gerald the butcher
Suffolk Safari with puffballs
The main marquee had some great producers including an newly started business The Suffolk Providore
who have sources some fantastic local food and will deliver to your door- if you are in  North East Suffolk.
Sheila Dillon from The Food Programme on BBC R4 chaired a lively discussion (she is in the yellow top, below)

The cookery demonstrations I enjoyed the most were from Galton Blackiston from Morston Hall

Galton Blackison doing his demo with foam
and by far the most entertaining Thomasina Miers of  Wahaca who really brightened up a very damp afternoon.
Tommi Miers entertaining the crowds
A mention for  the exceptional food available to eat and try.
I had an excellent veal burger from local rose veal supplied by the Suffolk Food Halls in very trying circumstances
If I had had room I would also have bought the great Fish and Chips  from the award winning The Fish Hut.
A final word about a great development in primary school education is that Suffolk County Council are encouraging schools to grow their own as part of the curriculum and participate in cooking as well.

Fungi forage

This autumn has been the best for many years and I have been careful to gather the species I know and love to eat. The fields around St Albans were full of field mushrooms this year in late August and September, I have gathered many, and still have some of the smaller ones in the freezer – they do defrost well and will go into a stir fry or stew. In the same fields we have been lucky to have a number of giant and other smaller puffballs, surprisingly they are slightly harder to spot as they seem to like to appear under the hedges.

This Giant puffball was fried in butter until golden brown and eaten with poached egg.

My sons school has given me official forager status (with no liability on their part) and they have a great collection of fungi appearing. The most tasty has been the parasol which appeared in great abundance.

Out in the woods in mid August I spotted some oyster mushrooms high in a tree. I eat some fried in butter with garlic but the rest were riddled with maggots which proved very entertaining..

Just a note of caution- please check and double check any fungi you are going to eat, it is very easy to make a mistake and this can be fatal. I use at least two books and stick to a very limited group of edibles but even then check all the characteristics.

The book I find the most useful is: Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1

Recipe for pointy cabbage

This works with any cabbage leaves but spring or pointy work well as does January King.

You will need one pointy cabbage ( the central bits not the thick leaves), one garlic clove ( a segment) crushed, about 50 grams thinly sliced chorizo or about 3 cms of Hungarian spicy sausage (Waitrose)- chopped up into small cubes – about 3 mm square

Wash and slice the cabbage into thin strips, if it has a thick vein – cut this out and just use the leafy bits.  Heat some oil in a Wok or large saucepan, I use olive oil but any will do. Add the chorizo or spicy sausage and quickly stir fry- the pan will start smoking and the meat will crisp up.  Add some crushed sliced garlic- about one segments per cabbage and quickly stir, before it turns brown add all the chopped washed cabbage. Take care as the water on the cabbage will cause the oil to spit.  Stir for one to two minutes until the cabbage has wilted a bit. I like my cabbage quite crunchy but if you like it softer then keep in in the pan for a bit longer. Add a small amount or ground pepper and serve. It goes well with buttered new potatoes, roast potatoes or on its own.  As a variation start by frying an onion until it is nearly soft then follow the recipe.

Vegetarians or those without the spicy meats needed can just use a chilli, thinly sliced with or without seeds if you want hot or not so hot.

Chippings and fences

The Parish Council ground staff have been busy. All the clippings from the hedges bushes they have been pruning have been chipped and our very weedy access path has now been well and truly mulched. The problem is that it made my end allotment look rather odd- with no definable edge. Luckily one of my allotment neighbours has some spare wire which was just long enough to fence in the side open to the path. I am now on the scrounge for more wire for both ends. The post are not as upright as they could be as we are on a hill and I found it very difficult to keep things completely true. Still it all is secure and forms a nice border.

Courgettes and runner beans a plenty;  lettuces, carrots and shallots all doing well. My first potatoes have been dug and eaten- about 10kg from the 5 plants growing between the legs of the runner bean plants

I have also planted some Cavalo Nero for the winter- on of my favourites. It is protected by another of my net cloches. I could not bring myself to remove the regrown Tom thumb lettuce which has stated to sprout again.

What to do with the produce?

Here are some simple recipes that I have been using over the last few weeks with the allotment harvest.
Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos before I ate the food. I suppose this proves how great it was.
All these recipes are for two people and can be scaled up. If I have inadvertently borrowed your recipe, please let me know and I will give full credit.

1. Stuffed Courgette  flowers based on a recipe from the River Cottage Handbook No 4 Veg Patch

Slowly fry until softened but not brown a finely chopped onion then add
3-4 small courgettes, cut into small pieces, salt and cook until soft. Add to the softened mixture a small clove of crushed garlic and cook for a minute or so.  Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool a little.
Make a batter of  about 100 ml cold fizzy water, 75 g flour – I use 00 Italian white plain flour as it is very fine and can be mixed with the water easily, add a pinch of salt and the yolk of an egg, beat with a whisk until a fine smooth batter like emulsion paint.- refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Carefully part fill a deep pan with frying oil – I use olive oil but groundnut would work. A deep fat fryer would also work.  Heat the oil to around 180c – Watch it and take care not to set fire to anything or spill it.

While the oil is heating – do keep watching the oil during this to avoid setting fire to the Kitchen! Using courgette flowers (either the male ones or any that were on the end of the courgettes themselves), gently spoon in the fried courgette and onion mixture and lightly twist the petal tips to close the flower. Once all the flowers have been filled  ( 6-10 depending on the size of courgette), take the batter, whisk then dip each stuffed flower in the batter and immediately add to the hot oil. Only cook 2-3 at a time. They will be golden in about a minute, remove onto kitchen towel to drain and put in the next three flowers until the are all cooked. Put on a serving place, lightly  sprinkle with salt and serve

2. Spicy green beans
This is a quick and tasty way to use all those runner or french beans

Take a handful of beans- around 200grams, top and tail, then chop up to around 3cms long. French beans can be left whole if you prefer. Heat some olive oil in a pan or wok and when hot put in the beans and quickly stir. Add 1 teaspoon of ground cumin seed and 1/2 tea spoon of hot paprika – smoked works best.
Stir and add a crushed and chopped clove of garlic. The garlic and spices will coat the beans. After about a minute, add some tomatoes, either finely chopped fresh or tinned or passata. Just enough to coat the beans- around 100 grams. Cook until the beans are as soft as you want and the tomato is a paste.

3. Stuffed marrow or overlarge courgette.

Quantities vary with the size of the marrow but I used this amount for a marrow that was about 35 cms long and two courgettes which were each about  25 cms

Heat some olive oil in a pan or wok and add a finely chopped onion, turn down the heat and cook until the onion is soft- about 15-20 mins.  Add  about 200gms of mince- lamb, pork or beef  and cook until brown. Vegetarians can add finely chopped mushroom instead of the meat.  when cooked remover from the heat  and add around 100 gms of bread crumbs and  if you have it  a good handful of fresh origano and parsley. The mix in an egg , stir together.

Cut off the ends of the marrow and slice horizontallly down the middle. Scoop out the seeds and the stringy bits around the seeds.  Using a larg preferally low lipped dish or tin, loosly line with foil which should be oiled or buttered on the inside ( for you to put the marrow on).
Fill the cavity of both halves of the marrow with stuffing and smooth down. put the two halves together and tie around with cotton string. put onto the buttered foil and make the foil into an envelope loosley around the marrow. Put in the oven at 180 C for around an hour until the marrow is soft and the juices have started to run into the bottom of the foil.

To serve, carefuly remove the marrow from the foil onto a serving plate, cut the string and remove and cut the marrow in rounds each with some suffing inside. Eat with new potatoes or rice.

If you have any left over, refrigerate for up to 2 days.   Slice up in rounds and lay in a gratin dish. cover in chopped tomato or passata and grate a thick layer of cheese over the top. Bake in oven  for around 30 mins at 200 until the cheese has melted and browned. If it take too long put under the grill to finish off. Most hard cheeses will work. I tend to use Cheddar.

4. Lebanese Moussaka
This is very tasty and does not have any cheese or dairy based sauce.

Cut up one medium sized aubergine, first in half  then into slices- you should be able to get 6-8 slices per aubergine.  Heat some olive or groundnut oil in a saucepan or deep fat fyer until it is 180 C. Fry the aubergine until goldern brown- it is best to do 3- 4 slices at a time and then drain on kitchen paper.
Chop up one onion and fry in a pan until soft then add two crushed, chopped cloves of garlic and 3/4 of a can of tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Line a gratin dish with the aubergine, then cover with cooked chickpeas – I use a tin of brown chick peas. Cover the chickpeas with the tomato, onion and garlic mixture and finally cover with thin slices of tomato, drizzel with olive oil and a light twist of salt and pepper and put in the oven at 180 C for around an hour but check after 40 minutes to ensure that it has not dried out. The Tomatoes on top should be soft and beginning to brown and everything else should be soft and succulent. Can be eaten hot, warm or cold.

>Allotment 17- more harvest and lots of weeding

>The last few weeks have been spent digging up comfrey, nettles and thistles which seem to grow as you watch. With such dry weather watering has been necessary every evening, which is fun to do but is playing havoc with my work shoes.

I have been harvesting lots of courgettes and runner beans, load of lettuce, radish and red chard and one or two more exotics such as kohl rabi, aubergine and two very small globe artichokes.

>Great allotment ideas from the Eden Project


The Eden Project is a wonderful resource for gardeners and those interested in plant use, production and development. They have many great ideas that can be used domestically an on an allotment or as above just to make the flower boarder look stunning In this case a mixture of Alliumns and Globe Artichokes with climbing beans growing in patches will give great structure to your borders.
One of the most interesting areas was the Global Gardening area- here are how they keep their slugs at bay
Below are two different ways to create  arches for growing climbers such as cucumbers, gourds or even beans. The first photo is of two painted concrete reinforcing mesh sheets which has been bent into an ‘s’ shape and overlapped on the top – square on it is keyhole shaped.  
The other arch is made from pleached trees joined by bamboo poles- a spectacular but somewhat permanent arch.

A close up of the gourds growing up the trees is below complete with some useful signage ideas.
Some of the more interesting things being grown included cucumbers, Okra and chilies 
Although the area of the world garden was small it had a lot of plant and was full of produce.
There were also various ways of scaring the birds- child not included!

In the tropical dome the Malaysian house had a ‘typical’ garden with beans and other food growing much like an allotment.
Finally there was rice growing in the tropical dome- I could not resist a photo!