Autumn round- up – a bumper fruit year

IMG_0610

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

Advertisements

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……

Getting going on the Allotment

Having spent as many dry days as possible over the winter, putting in fencing and gates and digging over nearly all the plot I am now ready for spring. So far I have planted some broad beans and some winter lettuce which are growing well under cover. I have put in some pea seeds which have not done anything – they were only put in a week ago, some are under fleece and some under a cage to stop the pigeons.

I have decided to keep one leek going and see if I can grow another crop from the seeds – something of an experiment.  My globe artichokes are beginning to sprout but it looks as though around half ( 3) have been killed by the early and harsh winter. I will have to wait a month or so more to be sure.

The Medlar and Quince trees, planted in big buried pots are sprouting as are my red and white currents and gooseberries. The vines are still asleep.

The only crop apart from purple spouting and Calvo Nero from last year is rhubarb, my forcer has enabled a couple of crumbles worth. Very tasty. I am going to use the last bits as a sharp sauce for slow roast pork belly.

Having done a brief Twitter survey on seed potato planting, I have decided to wait  a couple more weeks, the nights are still cold and I guess we will have some heavy frosts in April.  I am warming up the soil under black plastic sheets which look horrid but should do the job.

At home the window sill and polytunnel are  full of tomato  and chilli seedlings. Also courgettes, aubergines and climbing  beans of various types in root trainers. I am hoping to plant runners and french beans across the full width of the allotments with an archway over the path.  Around the arch I want to try cucumbers and small squash.

I am very keen to get on with everything but feel the weather still has a few tricks to play before we can really get going.

Mindless vandalism

I have been shocked that some of my neighbouring allotments have been badly vandalised. The plot which won one of the prizes last year and is a real inspiration to us all was broken into, the cages and gate smashed and the bean posts bend and broken. The allotment next to me had its gate smashed and the top of the tool box hacked into. My own plot is furthest from the main gate and the path and was not damaged although I do have a hoe which was thrown away by the vandals and I will return to the neighbours. I find it very difficult to understand why anyone would take even the smallest bit of pleasure from undoing someones very hard work. There cannot be any reason to cause such damage. We have all formed a local Allotment Watch group and although we hope this is a one-off we will have a few more people on the look out in future.

Vandalised bean poles

Broken cages and fence at the allotment Feb 2011

January Catch-up

It seems ages since I managed to add anything to the blog even though there has not been much to do in the garden and allotment. The kitchen has been very busy cooking up all the veg that is still in the freezer or in the garage. Time seems to have evaporated with the daylight.

I will try to do a bit of a catch-up.

December as many will remember was extremely snowy and cold. It was pretty difficult to get anywhere and the leek and sprouts were frozen into the ground.  The birds were having a hard time but at least there are still berries around and a lot of people are feeding with extra food.

I finally got around to fencing off the whole allotment, to start with as best I could as the ground was too hard to dig. Since the thaw, I have managed to bury the mesh and build what I hope will prove to be a rabbit proof gate from broken pallets. It is looking quite professional.

I managed to dig some leeks and also the few potatoes given to me by one of the neighbours and grown under a cold frame. We had ‘new’ potatoes in the first week of January.

My seeds are all bought and I have two new fruit  trees coming  in late January- a medlar and a quince. I am looking forward to putting them in.

I have managed to tidying up the garden and looking at my various pots, I was astonished to discovered the one of the pots with Duke of York red potatoes still had some sound potatoes and I was able to harvest 750 grams which went really well roasted with root veg and chicken. These potatoes have survived temperatures of down to -12C. They were in big pots and surrounded by compost but it is still a surprise they were not mush.

On a sad note the farmer in the field behind has pulled up our two hedges. I am not sure why as the field and hedges were a haven for wildlife and the field has not been used for crops or grazing for many years.

Winter allotment work

>Temperature is -2c and bright and sunny. Sunday is the only day I have time to work on the allotment. Last time I visited I found a rabbit under one if my cages. So now I have to put in a proper fence all round. On arrival I discovered that my kale has been stripped by birds. So it will have to go under a cage again.
The ground is so hard that to dig a suitable trench for the fence I needed a lump hammer to break up the frosted clay . Two hours later and I put the back fence in but ran out of daylight for a proper job on the front. So I have tacked an unburied piece of wire across the front as a temporary barrier. The rabbits will not be able to get under as the ground is too hard for them to dig.
It is too cold to harvest anything but I hope the kale grows back.

What to do with that halloween pumpkin?

>

If you are as lucky as we were and your nice allotment neighbour gives you a good tasty but big and orange pumpkin you might like to try this.

1. Only carve the pumpkin on the morning of Halloween this is tricky if like me you have a 10 year old son who wants All Hallows to be a day and night long event. Oh, make sure you draw the shapes with  a non-toxic and washable pen!

2. Do light a candle in it but put holes in the top to stop too much internal cooking.

3. Once you have scooped out the seeds and other slimy stringy stuff , pick out the seeds (or ask someone to do it for you- a useful job for the very keen Halloweener)

4. Allow the sweet fest for trick or treating to take place

5. As soon as is safe, blow out the candle and put the pumpkin in a cool place – e.g. the garage.

6. Next day slice the pumpkin into segments- you can throw away the ‘face’ if you are squeamish or vegetarian ( i.e.don’t eat anything with a face’)

7. Set the oven to 180 C and put the segments of pumpkin onto a roasting tray, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper and dried crumbled chillies. Roast, flesh side up, until very soft – to help it along part way through score the flesh in a grid patten (about 1 cm square). This can take up to an hour but is usually around 40 minutes

7. Take the roasting tray out of the oven and allow to cool sufficiently to handle.

8. Scoop the flesh from the skin of the punpkin and put into a bowl.

9.  This can be used for many dishes
i) as an additive to risotto- heat through, and stir in to the rice just before the rice is cooked.
ii) add to cubed cooked potatoes, put in a baking dish with enough water or stock to give aound 5 millimeters of liquid in the bottom of the cover in grated cheese, Add breadcrumbs to the top and bake in the oven at 190 C until golden brown – about 30 minutes but do watch it. You can use cheese sauce instead of the grated cheese and stock for a more succulent dish.
iii) make soup- fry some onions in a large saucepan or stock pan until soft but not browned ( about 20mins on a low heat), add the cooled pumpkin and enough stock to cover the pumpkin with about 2cm of liquid above the flesh. Add a bay leaf and heat to boiling and then simmer for 10  minutes, add salt to taste, more chillies if you like the heat/ spice then take out the bay leaf and blitz with a hand blender or in a liquidiser – taking care not to burn yourself. If you want a thicker soup add cooked potatoes and blitz again.

10. With the seeds, arrange them on a flat oven tray, sprinkle with salt and if you like dried chili or paprika or pepper then sprinkle with olive oil and put in an oven at around 200C for 10-15 minutes. Test to see if they are crisp when eaten.  Once slightly brown and crisp allow to cool a little then use as a very health snack. You can rejuvenate the crispness by putting a handful into a small dish and microwaving on full for about 15 -20 seconds. This will warm them and crisp them up again
Enjoy