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.

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What to do with that halloween pumpkin?

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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