Down on the Allotment

Matron grows vegetables and fruit in a courtyard garden. Which edibles will tolerate less than ideal growing conditions. Discovering how veggies can grow in partial shade.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Growing Up

 So this is the South Facing wall in my small courtyard veggie garden.  To make the most of the available space I allow climbing veggies to make their own space up against the wall.
 Up until just a couple of weeks ago my runner beans were not doing well at all.   Then we had quite a bit of rain and they have set really well now.  Runner beans need wet conditions for the flowers to set.  Better late than never!  These beans just wind their own way up among the squash and tomatoes.
 Meanwhile on the patio, these beefsteak tomatoes have done well in a growbag, a ring culture pot and some support frames.  As yet unaffected by blight.
 Every gardener should experiment.  I took a chance in making a really late sowing of courgette seeds.  There is still some warm weather around and these seem to be coming along nicely.  When my main plants slow down in a couple of weeks, I might have some more doing nicely.
 These Joe's long Cayenne chillis are starting to ripen.  I really love these!  Just the right amount of heat for my taste, and just two plants are so prolific they provide all I need for freezing or drying.
These Uchiki Kuri squashes were also climbing up my wall.  I have left them on this sunny shelf outdoors to cure the skin.  If the skin is dried well in the sunshine they keep much longer through the Winter - assuming you don't eat them!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Blight Watch!

 I spotted this on my tomato plant today!  A sure sign that the plant is affected with blight.   Tomato blight  strikes in warm, wet conditions.   These conditions are right for the spread of the disease.  There must be two consecutive days with a minimum temperature of 10degrees C, AND each day has at least six hours with a relative humidity at 90%.  This period of time is known as the 'Hutton Criteria'    You can subscribe to a free warning service by the Met Office known as Blight Watch  where you will be notified when the Hutton Criteria is met,
 The only thing you can do is good housekeeping at this stage.  Remove all affected leaves and destroy them. Don't put them in your garden compost or you will be spreading the disease. If tomatoes are ripe then pick them and use them quickly.
 Don't spread the disease further by watering the whole plant, just the soil and the roots if you must water.  The tomatoes will be fine to eat as normal, but the fruit may develop brown marks as well if left to be affected.
 Meanwhile on the plot, a couple of my Joe's Long Cayenne chilli have started to ripen.
 I am doing a little bit of trial and error here.  A few weeks ago I planted a second planting of courgettes and cucumbers.  It may work or it may not.   As long as the weather stays warm well into September (it may well do) then just as my first crop is getting old and tired, then I may just have a couple of new plants to give me a bit more of a crop into Autumn.  If I don't.. then nothing lost... just a couple of seeds.
Here is one of my second crop cucumber plants ready to climb up a warm, South facing brick wall.  Let's see what happens!

Friday, July 28, 2017

More Pickings

 One of my favourite courgettes is Romanesco from Seeds of Italy.  It is a really healthy and prolific plant and goes on right till the end of the Season.  I'm picking them daily at the moment.

This Romanesco courgette plant is a good 5 feet across and very healthy.  Early Spring I dug in a good bag of well rotted manure into this small area of soil.  All the veggies growing in this bed and up the South facing brick wall have done well.
 Flower set from my Runner beans has been pretty bad during the dry weather, but these climbing French Beans Blauhilde are always a hit.  Climbing up the wall, between the tomatoes, squash and cucumbers finding their own way on this South Facing jungle wall.  Pretty too!
 Another climbing veg is this climbing Courgette Black Forest.  When you have little space in a courtyard garden, you can fit more in by growing upwards!
 Not such good news on my climbing Cucumber Femspot.  Poor little baby cucumber is covered in green aphids.  Actually this whole plant never looked happy and predators more often get a hold on plants that are not happy in the first place.   I might just cut my losses and get rid of the plant and use the precious space for something else.
 I love these Joe's Long Cayenne Chillis.  Large crops of large red chillis, just from a couple of plants I can grow enough for a year's supply of dried chilli flakes!  Matron is pleased that this one is nearly 12 inches long!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

July Pickings

 I love these Uchiki Kuri squash!  They are small enough to be able to harvest and eat without too much waste.  They are a lovely Winter keeper if you ripen the skins well in Autumn. They taste great!... and they are small enough to climb up a trellis or up a wall.  Here I have my small South facing wall where I climb lots of different veggies together.
 I love trying new varieties, this one is a Delizia cucumber.  Really lovely thin skin and a beautiful texture and flavour.  Quite prolific too!  Growing up against my South facing wall jungle!
 Sungold is my favourite tomato!  The best flavour of all and a really good, strong plant.  Worth the extra money to pay for F1 seeds, but these plants grow up to 10 feet tall if you let them!
 The only down side to Sungold is that they do tend to split if you don't pick them when ripe.  A sudden shower of rain when they are ripe is enough to swell and split the skins.  I do pick them straight away after this because the fruit flies tend to gather around them.
 The Alicante tomatoes are just starting to ripen too.  Growing in planting bags with metal supports for the canes, you can grow tomatoes like this almost anywhere.
The best news of all is that Daisy doesn't seem to like eating tomatoes! So I get them all to myself! Yaay!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts - part 3

 The brined walnuts have been drying for a few days now and they have turned dark brown or black.
 The recipe says 4 pints of malt vinegar, but I find the finished product is much too acid for my taste so I would recomment 3 pints of vinegar and 1 pint of water.    Theres 1lb of brown sugar, grated fresh ginger, teaspoon of ground allspice, teaspoon of ground clove, teaspoon cinnamon and I added a tablespoon of molasses just to make it tasty!
 To be honest, the finished article relies almost completely on the spices, vinegar and sugar for flavour so if you want to experiment with other spices then have a go.
 Simmer the walnuts in the vinegar for about 15 minutes.  They will be soft, then you lift them out and pack them into wide mouthed jars.
 Strain the spices out of the vinegar if you like, or leave them in - it is just a matter of taste.  Pour the spiced vinegar over the walnuts and seal the jars. 
I'm going to leave these for a couple of weeks before tasting them, I'll let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show - Part 2

 One of the highlights at Hampton Court was the display from Seeds of Italy.  Here you can see the most wonderful 'Kitchen Garden' - literally a garden in a kitchen!  RHS Awarded Paolo and the team a well deserved Silver Gilt medal for this display.
 Have you ever grown chick peas?  Not so common here in the UK, but I wouldn't mind giving them a go now that I have seen them growing.   Actually you can buy fresh chick peas like this in Asian Supermarkets here in West London, I wonder if I might try growing some from those? hmmmm
 Everything on display was beautifully presented, look at this Chicory on the counter top.
 Here is a great example of companion planting, the nasturtiums are grown with the Cavalo Nero, black kale.  Some pests may be diverted on to the nasturtium leaves and not eat the kale!  In any event, it makes for a wonderful choice of colours here in the kitchen garden.
 Plants on display here in the Seeds of Italy kitchen garden were grown by young adults with autism and other learning disabilities working at a social enterprise in North Yorkshire. 
I just love the selection of seeds from Seeds of Italy.  Really generous packets of seeds, with a mouthwatering range of varieties to try.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Hampton Court Flower Show - Part 1

 I was so thrilled to get a ticket for this years Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.  Particularly this year as edible plants and veggies had such a high profile!  One of the best displays in my mind was from Pennard Plants.  A really lovely variety of different and unusual veggies wonderfully displayed.
 I've tried growing Wasabi in my garden, it is still soldiering on, but this specimen really gives me something to aim for.  Grown for its root which has a really strong horseradish flavour, you can also eat the leaves in a salad.   Wasabi grows in wet, gravel beds in shady conditions in Japan.  I have grown mine in a pot underneath a dripping tap against a North facing wall.  It seems to do OK there.  This is really inspiring, I can't wait for the next Pennard Plants catalogue next year!
 It is always good when you can put on an attractive display in your garden or on your allotment.  These Purple Podded Peas do just that!  Really easy to grow, with attractive purple flowers that the bees just love! 
 Now... the highlight of most people's experience at the Hampton Court Palace Flower show may have been one of the show gardens. NOT ME! - my highlight was to see that Pennard Plants have been bulking up their supply of purple sweet potato slips so that they will be on sale for the first time next year in their Spring 2018 season.   I have fallen in love with this unusual veggie!   If you do a word search at the top of my blog you will see the previous posts I have written about them.  They are amazing!  Go on - give them a try next year! 
And just look at these miniature patio tomatoes!  Inspiring for someone who has very little space to grow a tomato plant on a sunny windowsill, a balcony just in a pot.  This display by Pennard Plants was inspiring for so many reasons!... More to follow!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts Part 3

 This is quite a long process but let's see if it is worth the effort.   So these green walnuts have been in brine for 2 weeks now.  Brine was changed once a week ago.  Drain the walnuts and lay them out on a tray.
 They should be air dried in a warm place for 3 to 5 days until they are completely dry and have turned black.  The irony is now, that in the UK we have just had a week of amazing sunshine and heat - which is now gone as heavy rain is expected later today for a few days.  I will have to find somewhere where the mice (or Labradors) don't get at them.  Perhaps the airing cupboard.
Do still be careful when handling the walnuts, the juice will stain badly so please wear gloves.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts - part 2

So my green walnuts have been soaking in brine for a week, and now I am draining them and soaking them in a clean brine solution for another week.  You can see already that parts of the walnuts are already turning black.  Again, this black dye that comes out of the walnuts really does stain, so please wear gloves when handling them.  Next stage happens in one more week.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts - Part 1

 For a number of years now I have been intending to do this but have never managed to get around to Pickling Walnuts.  One of the main reasons is that the window of opportunity is quite small.  The green or unripe walnuts have to be just the right size, but in only a couple of weeks the hard shell will begin to form inside the green outer layer and you cannot pickle them. 
 So early this morning I managed to find a walnut tree that was low enough to reach.  I picked a couple of pounds, about half a carrier bag full.  One unexpected thing was the perfume coming from the tree and the walnuts as I picked them.  Hard to explain, but it was a wonderful, floral fragrance almost a cross between Jasmine and spinach!... Really lovely actually!
 This is what the inside of a green walnut looks like.  It is recommended that you push a needle into the walnut just to check that the hard nut shell has not formed.  You will not be able to use them if it has formed - obviously!   I washed them thoroughly and gently topped and tailed them - cutting off any stems, stalks so they are tidy and smooth.
 You MUST wear gloves when cutting and handling green walnuts.  There is a juice which comes out of them which is bright yellow in colour, but this is used as a dye!!!  Your hands will turn dark brown or black if you get this juice on them.  I used a small desert fork to prick a series of holes into each walnut, the liquid sometimes squirts out!  You can feel that each one does not have a shell forming, and it enables the brine solution to penetrate each walnut fully.
I made about 4 pints of brine using 200g salt.  The pricked green walnuts will be left in this first brine solution for ONE WEEK!  Then they will be drained, and placed in another clean brine for ANOTHER WEEK!.. so I will update you when I am ready to proceed with the next stage.