Thursday, 29 September 2011

Down To Earth

From this photo of my allotment garden you would think that everything was ship-shape.  Veg in straight rows, green manure in vacant soil, hardly any weeds.  Well you would be wrong, but I'm not going to show you the bad bits.

The squash patch is a right old mess, I have cut back a lot of leaves that suffered from mildew, there are loads of weeds that have grown underneath that I couldn't get to when they were in full swing.  My raspberries are all bowed down with the weight of raspberries - I don't have them growing attached to wires like you are supposed to - mine are more free spirits.  The sweet pea patch has all gone brown and crisp and the sunflowers are all leaning dangerously because they haven't been staked.

I never said I was a perfect gardener and at this time of year I was right.  Resolutions for next year - none, because I know me - I am what I am and there's no changing me now.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Greenhouse Blues

Motto - leaving the greenhouse door open all day is an invitation for butterflies to devastate your Pak Choi.

Not a pretty site - and not much use any more!
How can this Cucumber plant
which is going mouldy
and completely dead at the bottom
keep on producing cucumbers
On the bright side
the container carrots are doing well
and so are the dwarf Runner Beans
but the tumbler toms have had their day
these are definitely finished
but on the bright side the lettuce in the old tomato growbags
are doing just fine
so there you have it
the good and the bad in my greenhouse
no wonder I have the
greenhouse blues

How are your greenhouse crops faring?

Monday, 26 September 2011

Autumn Veggie Round Up

It wont be long now before all the courgettes and squashes are harvested - the foliage is dying back or getting mildewed - whilst we were away we visited the local allotments to have a nosey. (Talk about coals to Newcastle)  I love allotment sites don't you?  There were even sheep kept on one allotment!  Anyway, one plot had all the pumpkins lying on bare soil with no greenery left whatsoever, I presume the allotment holder had done that so as to ripen them - I think they were still attached to the root.  So I have started to cut away all the surplus foliage - I am surprised at how many weeds were lurking beneath
There are still plenty of Gold Rush Courgettes to harvest on three plants -

And the Patty Pan Squash are still producing (sorry about the blurred photo but I didn't have my reading glasses with me, so I can't judge the distance very well - blind old bat).

The early morning sun was lovely and shone on the Purple Sprouting Broccoli, highlighting is beautifully

The Savoy Cabbage is beginning to heart up blurrily

And the January King Cabbage even more blurrily - oh dear - note to self - take your glasses with you next time!
This is a bit clearer picture of the Red Cabbage which has been given a good seeing-to by caterpillars, but the heart is okay and slowly getting bigger - I'm sure it should have been ready by now, but the weather has held it back - I found a good recipe for Braised Red Cabbage on another website but can't remember which - so I am looking forward to eating it - eventually.
The Curly Kale has been left alone by the caterpillars -

as has the Scarlet Kale (looks more like purple to me - oh well)

and finally, we have Leeks - I have been pulling them small, but there are plenty left to see me through the winter.  All in all, I am reasonably chuffed with the progress of everything, and as long as there are no major disasters, we should have cabbage coming out of our ears!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

A Happy Homecoming

After a week of being away I was a little apprehensive about what I would find at the allotment.  To my amazement everything was tickety-boo, if not a little scruffy looking.  The runner beans have finished now, there are still a few courgettes and squash growing away, but the courgette leaves have mildew, and don't look very attractive.  But, other than that, the brassicas are still going strong, and the cutting patch still has zinnias and rudbeckia, cosmos and marigolds for picking.

The sunflowers are still standing, despite no staking during the gales, and no water for weeks.  The biggest surprise was the raspberries
there weren't that many when I left but the branches were bowed down with them on my return.  So all is not gloom and doom as I expected.  The raised beds at home, however, are not in such a good state.  The soil is very free draining and doesn't hold water that well, and the plants seem to have suffered from it, sadly. 

Since I have been home I have given everything a good soaking, trying to keep it all going a little longer.  The squash I grew in a pot has a tiny 'ping-pong' sized fruit on it, so I may as well give up on that, the french beans that I planted in a container, for a late crop, has dozens of tomato plants growing in it (I used some of my compost mixed in with the soil, so I presume that is where the tomato plants have come from).  The swede plants have been attacked by something or other and the leaves are practically non-existant.  The only plants that are thriving are the spring onions.

So, on reflection, it hasn't necessarily been a happy homecoming after all.  So I offer myself a piece of advice - don't go on holiday, you never know what you will find on your return.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Second Sowings - Seeds of Doubt

A few weeks ago I did a little bit of succession sowing - a small row of spinach beet - a few french beans, dwarf runner beans in pots and sweet peppers (the carrots were demolished as soon as they popped through the soil).
If you look at the bottom of the picture (just at the side of my welly) you can see small beans forming - the question is - will they grow to full size before the frosts hit.
The dwarf runner beans are growing well (I brought them into the greenhouse when the gales hit us) and they are thriving.  The beans are a bit curlier than normal runners but as long as they are edible I don't mind,  So they have extended the bean season quite nicely
The late sowing of sweet peppers has been more successful than those grown earlier in the year - I am really pleased with the results.  And finally,
The notorious Butternut Squash (I have never grown one that is the same shape as the ones on the seed packet) - it is starting to ripen, but I think I will now have to cut the foliage away a bit and raise it, so it can catch any of the meagre sunshine we may get during the next month.
How are your late sowings doing?
All in all, my late sowings have been reasonably successful.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Cracking Courgette

At last the wind has finally dropped and all is back to normal.  It is a beautiful autumn morning and I was able to get my bicycle out once more for my morning ride to the allotment.

The garden has surived the hurricane quite well, although things are leaning and flattened, especially in the squash and courgette patch.

It is practically impossible to see what is growing in there or to pull the weeds that have grown under the plants, they will just have to wait till I clear the patch.  But I did find this huge(ish) courgette that I will turn into soup, as it is just about the right weight.  This is Pru Leith's recipe which I have used for years, and it is delicious.  The secret to its unique taste is the juice of a lemon right at the end which lifts it out of the ordinary.

Courgette soup with parmesan and crisp proscuitto
olive oil, 1 clove crushed garlic, 750g courgettes, 1 litre chicken stock, 1tbsp fresh thyme, 6 slices proscuitto, 55g parmesan, shaved, juice of 2 lemons, and seasoning.

  1. heat the olive oil, add the garlic and sweat for a minute, add courgettes and sweat for 10 mins.
  2. Add chicken stock and thyme bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes until courgettes soft. Season
  3. Liquidise soup and return to pan
  4. Grill proscuitto until crisp and chop into small pieces
  5. Reheat soup and stir in lemon juice. Serve with proscuitto and parmesan sprinkled on top
(I use streaky bacon mainly as proscuitto is not usually on my shopping list).

In winter I have soup for my lunch most days, made from vegetables from the garden.  In the late 70's I found a little book which cost 40p, which has every conceivable soup recipe ever thought of.  The book is now falling to bits, the pages are yellow and food stained, but it is indispensable in my 'soup kitchen'.

(check out my latest post on

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Fruits of My Labour

I love it when a plan comes together - Ratatouille on a plate (well almost).  As the summer season draws to a close these are the veggies that have almost finished - farewell till next year.  On the other hand I still have leeks, carrots, cabbages, kale, sprouts and purple sprouting broc to look forward to.  Is there no end to the delights in store - be still my beating heart.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Crunchy Cabbages and Crispy Apples

The Apples on my two small trees are slowly ripening and hanging grimly on through these gales we are having, they are nameless - I sent for them from a newspaper advert - and originally started growing them in containers, keeping the roots trimmed back every year.  But I got fed up of watering them, so planted them out in the garden.  This is the first year I have really had fruit of any quantity so I am dead chuffed.  The top one looks as if it may be a 'Braeburn' type and the other a 'Golden Delicious' - I really ought to get an apple identification book - but I'm not too fussed, as long as they taste alright.

I have another apple tree in the orchard part of the allotment which definitely is a 'Golden Delicious'.  The tree has become huge and pruning it only seems to make it grow huger (is that a word).  So this year, after the leaves have fallen I am going to go armed with a saw and take it down to a reachable level.  The apples suffer from 'bitter pit' which leaves brown marks on the skin - I think that this was due to my chickens droppings giving the roots too much neat nitrogen (that's just my theory), but now I don't keep chickens, hopefully they will improve (I feed them to the blackbirds in winter and they don't mind what they look like).

As for the Cabbages, well, they are doing splendidly, with not much caterpillar/slug damage and the nets have kept the birds off.  But yesterday, when I was slicing one for Sunday lunch, a whole host of earwigs trotted out from between the leaves.  That is the worst thing about fresh veg - you never know what is lurking beneath.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Tasty Tomatoes

I am relishing the fact that my outdoor Sungold Tomatoes are still pushing out fruit.  They aren't in a sheltered spot and the foliage is looking pretty tatty now but there are plenty of tomatoes to keep picking which is quite remarkable, due to the fact that I keep forgetting to water them.  Three plants are growing in a trough and two are in the ground.  They have the most delicious taste, very different to ordinary toms, very sweet.  If I had to grow only one type, then this would be the one.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Runner Beans are Still Standing

I am pleased to report that the Runner Beans have survived the gales and are still upright.  They were listing to port the day before but managed to hang on.  I know other gardeners have had trouble with toppling wigwams and burnt foliage, but as you can see, because mine are sheltered by a hedgerow, they don't look too bad.  There aren't many beans left to pick now, but it has been a good season, after a slow start.
The Brussel Sprouts have also survived and are standing tall.  I never do very well with them usually, but this year there has hardly been any caterpillar damage, and so far the sprouts are firm but small.  I have had problems with the sprouts bursting in previous years and becoming soft and loose, so we shall have to see how they progress through the winter.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Courgettes and Raspberries Just Keep On Coming

The recent bout of showery weather has meant the Courgettes  have been revitalised and they are sending out plenty more fruits.  They had slowed to a standstill, which was fine by me, as it meant I could catch up with the excess that had accumulated.

The Gold Rush variety always produce much more fruit than the green varieties and them seem slower to mature, never reaching the proportions of a whale if left on the plant. Alas, I find them a little tasteless, which is a shame, as they look so colourful when cooked and mixed in a Ratatouille or something.  The original packet of seeds I have been using for a number of years, is now empty, so I am wondering whether it is worth just sticking to the green ones in future.

The Raspberries have begun fruiting again.  They are the same plants that produced in early summer.  I cut back the old stems after fruiting and they begin the cycle again.  Two crops from the same plant - a bargain - does this happen for anyone else, or is it my plants that have this particular habit.

The fruits that are forming are quite large and a little sweeter than the earlier ones.  I never water them even in dry spells but always mulch them with manure over the winter.  Perhaps that is the secret.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The View From The Roof of The Shed

The other day I decided to finish picking the last of the Damsons from the top of the tree, but this meant climbing on to the garden shed roof.  With this blog in mind I took the camera up with me, together with baskets to hold the fruit and secateurs, to do a bit of pruning at the same time. 

Because I have my allotment for all the veg that takes up a lot of room, I use these beds for the produce that needs a bit more attention, lettuce, radish, garlic, spring onions etc.  The rest of the space is used for spares, the odd cabbage, chives, beetroot and any spare corner for flowers; California poppies and Pinks, plus herbs.  It is astonishing just how much can be grown in such a small space with a bit of planning and squeezing in.  The compost bins are on the left next to the dahlia cutting patch and the old hen run is on the right, where I store my bicycle and a few cloches and canes.  Beyond that is the cold frame where I harden off tender veg. 

Apple  and plum trees, plus soft fruit and strawberries are also planted randomly in this area.  So you see, you don't need a large garden to keep yourself in fresh produce, this small area plus a few containers of potatoes, manages to feed the two of us almost all year round.

This is the view from the roof of the shed facing west, looking towards my raised beds, not quite as full of veggies as they were, but still productive.  The beds are just the right size to take small greenhouse cloches in early spring to protect the new seedlings from 'cat attack'. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

Magic Mushrooms

I had a feeling that yesterday would be a good day to go mushroom hunting.  We have had a few showers and a lot of sunshine, perfect conditions for emerging mushrooms.  Basket in hand I had a wander around the field that backs on to my garden.  And there they were, a patch of Horse Mushrooms.  I can't tell you what a thrill it is to find them.    I shall make mushroom soup with some (I have given some to my friend), slice and freeze others, and the rest:-
These are Field Mushrooms
I had on toast for lunch.  The taste of mushrooms on toast is my absolute, absolute, favourite.  Between one year and the next I forget just how much I love the taste.  Shop bought mushrooms just do not compare, I make oohing and aahing noises between every mouthful.  If you have never eaten fresh mushrooms from the field, then you just do not know what you are missing. 

I suggest you put your wellies on right now and go foraging.  There are Chanterelle to be found in woodland right until November, and Ceps or Edible Boletus predominantly found in Beech woods, around the margins, Giant Puffballs in meadows and pastures, Field Mushrooms in all grassy places and, of course, Horse Mushrooms.  Care should be taken with these, if you cut the stem and it turns yellow, they should not be eaten. 

Of course, care must be taken with any mushroom - positive identification is a must.  Oh I forgot to mention Blewitts these are also edible, they are sort of rubbery in appearance with a blue tinge.  All of the above are absolutely delicious, and I look forward to the season every year.  My heart beats that little bit faster when I find them - and as for eating, well, you know how I feel about that.  Ecstatic that's what.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

The season for perpetual Spinach and Chard is almost over and the plants are starting to go to seed.  The picture above shows Rainbow Chard, which comes in at least half a dozen colours, from pale pink through to yellow, orange, and deep red.  I often plant it in the flower borders as it gives a real shot of colour and is very decorative.  If you cut the seed heads off you will still get small amounts of leaves throughout the winter, but when spring comes it sends up more seeds heads and the plants should be pulled and new seed sown.

This, and Spinach, are important leaf crops in the cottage garden, and have been in use since the 16th century, but with Chard you have the added benefit of being able to use the stems separately as a vegetable, as well as the leaf.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Greenhouse Versatility

I love my greenhouse.  I use it for all sorts of things, not just for growing tomatoes.  It is my refuge.  When the weather is too bad  to be out of doors, I can spend a few hours sowing seeds, transplanting, tidying up, watering.  I even used to have a rattan armchair in there, for reading the Sunday papers.  It is my equivalent of having a garden hideaway.  In fact, the only reason I wanted to buy this house was because the greenhouse was already there.  The previous occupants hadn't exactly placed it in the best position in the garden, but I was blowed if I was going to move it for aesthetic reasons, so it stayed where it was.  We have never lost a pane of glass in gale force winds, mainly because it is sheltered by a huge Willow tree, which incidentally, brushes all the 'Cool Glass' off the greenhouse roof, with its long branches. 

I use it for storage of winter vegetables and tender plants and grow winter lettuce in grow bags, which withstand everything that winter can throw at them.  So you see my greenhouse is vital to my gardening operation, I couldn't manage without it.

I have plenty of space in there now the Tomato plants have been taken down.  Let me take you for a tour:-
At ground level I have containers of Rocket, Pak Choi and Salad Leaves, then Carrots and Dwarf beans in pots.
On the shelves I have Coriander and Flat Leaf Pasrsley, Geraniums and Chilli Peppers
Beans drying, Beetroot awaiting attention, Onions and Apples

Tomatoes ripening, courgettes and Sage cuttings taking root  - all confirming that it is a hive of activity, all year round.

What goes on in your greenhouse - could you live without it?

Friday, 2 September 2011

Preserving The Flavour

Beetroot Chutney (photo courtesy of Country Living)
 This is a good way to use up a glut of Beetroot if you have too much at the height of the season.  There are various other ways you could use it perhaps in a Beetroot and Cheese Bake where you layer cooked beetroot, potatoes and onions with parsley and cover with a cheese sauce.  Or chopped onion, shredded beetroot with a mild vinegar and a bit of sugar or diced with orange rind and orange juice seasoned with paprika and sugar or simply pickled.

If you are interested, here is the recipe for Beetroot Chutney.
3lb raw beetroot, peeled and grated, 2lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped, 1lb onions skinned and chopped, 1lb seedless raisins, 2.1/2 pints malt vinegar, 2.1/2lb sugar, 2 tsp ground ginger and the juice of 1 lemon.
Place all ingredients in a preserving pan and bring to boil.  Simmer gently for about 2.1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until no excess liquid remains and the mixture is thick.  Spoon chutney into pre-heated jars and cover with vinegar proof tops.

Just out of interest - after my Fruit Vinegar post the other day I found these two bottles in a charity shop which I thought would be ideal for decanting the vinegar in to.

Perfect - don't you think!
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