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.

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.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Coming Along Nicely

 These lovely long days are bringing on everything in my courtyard garden.  This Tayberry is starting to ripen now.  A Tayberry is a cross between a Raspberry and a Blackberry.  I am eating these every day straight from the plant so that the birds don't get  there before me.
 Without the aid of a greenhouse these Sungold cherry tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.  These really are one of the best tasting tomatoes.  Even though they are an F1 variety and seeds can be costly, they really are worth it.
 This little cucumber Carmen , is growing bigger by the day. There is a cucumber on every single leaf joint so if I can keep it well fed and watered it is going to be quite prolific.
 I have a Morello cherry tree up against the West facing brick wall of the house.  I have bought some netting to cover them.  The will start to ripen to a dark purple almost black colour soon.  Must get a move on and get all that netting up.
 Still early days yet but this bush courgette Romanesco is just beginning to show.   Again, a really prolific bush variety from Seeds of Italy.   Experience as well as trial and error have shown me which varieties of fruit and veggies grow well for me in my own situation.
In between the tomato plants in the grow bags I have planted quite a few clumps of Genovese Basil.   These make good companion plants as well as making a tasty accompaniment to tomato!
Romanesco Courgettes do well in this South facing container up against a brick wall.  As long as they are fed and watered, they will do well here.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

How to Make Elderflower Cordial

Elderflowers are everywhere at the moment!  It does seem to be a good year for them and you can see these fragrant flowers almost everywhere.

So now is the time, and the season is quite short, to make elderflower cordial.  It is really simple.
 You will need about 30 or so flower heads.  Snip the heads off with a pair of scisors leaving the minimum single stem on the plant.  I picked mine early morning after overnight rain so they were fairly clean.   Take them home in a carrier bag, then leave them out on a tray for a while to let any live critters walk out.  Gently wash the heads if you need to, don't worry about the odd critter left, they will be strained out.
 Boil 3 pints of water and pour over 2lbs white sugar in a saucepan.  Stir until the sugar has disolved.  Take 5 lemons, peel the zest off and strain the juice which you will set aside.  Chop up the lemon pith and everything else and put in the sugar mix.
 Place the elderflower heads into the sugar and lemon mix and give them a stir to mix.  Cover and leave overnight for the flavour to develop.   Overnight when the mixture has cooled, then add all the lemon juice and 2 spoons of citric acid.  This helps preserve the cordial a bit longer and give it a good flavour. Stir in the citric acid until it has disolved in the syrup.

 Strain the juice through a sieve and a muslin.  You can use a jelly bag, or even some coffee filter paper if you like.  You just need to strain out the flowers and perhaps some of the pollen to make the syrup a bit clearer.
Sterilise some bottles with boiling water and store the cordial in the fridge.  It will last a couple of weeks.  Dilute it to taste and enjoy!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Oxford Covered Market

Last week I had a spare day and decided to make a visit to the Oxford Covered Market.  I love this traditional old market filled with produce of every imaginable kind.  The greengrocers here has such a wonderful display.
 Many different varieties and colours of carrots and beetroot on sale.  Makes a lovely change from the aenemic plastic vegetables in supermarkets.
 and the pie shop! Lunchtime was bekoning and there was every kind of pie imaginable here,
 and speaking of colours, white asparagus locally grown in the Wye valley.
 Purple asparagus...
and green asparagus too.  Nothing beats fresh veggies in season does it?

And one of the other reasons I went to visit Oxford was to visit Christ Church College.  One of the most beautiful of all the Oxford colleges.  But that wasn't the only reason...

The old staircase at Christ Church College was used during the filming of the Harry Potter films.  You might recognise this as it was the main staircase in Hogwarts School!   But on the day I visited it was just teeming with Muggles!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Planting Out

 You have to make your own decisions as to when you think all risk of frost is over.  A few weeks ago I planted out just two of my tomato plants in a calculated risk.  This is my first Sungold tomato.  This week in London it is predicted to get up to 30 degrees so I have just planted out the rest of my tender veggies! They wouldn't do well in pots this week.
 Making the best use of a small space involves companion planting, I grow climbing Blauhilde beans up walls, and up other plants and veggies. These are a lovely purple French bean, and very prolific.
 I use these lovely planters to grow up a South facing wall.  To the left is a climbing courgette Black Forest - one of my all time favourites. To the right is a Romanesco courgette  a bush variety from Seeds of Italy. Both very prolific and very healthy.
 Growing in a partially shaded West facing wall up against the house is this Morello Cherry.  Fruit has set well and I am keeping it well watered because soil under brick walls tends to be quite dry even in wet weather.  I am off to the garden centre today to buy some netting so that the blackbirds don't eat them all!
 These vegetable planters are double the depth of a traditional growbag and I have had good success with tomatoes here.  The cane support frames are really good here.
These large pots have the bottom cut out down into the grow bag.  This is a 'ring culture' which provides extra root space for growth, restricts the feeding roots at the top of the soil so that the plant grows tall, and the tap roots go down into the bag looking for water. Feed the top, water the bottom.  These are Joe's Long cayenne chillis.  A large plant with very long chillis reaching 12" or more.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Hardening off

 You can't be sure that the risk of frost is over yet, but you have to make your own decisions.  Space in the greenhouse or under cover is limited.  This is a Swiss Chard plant I sowed from seed one year ago.  It overwintered in the garden and has really come to life.  These can be perennial if you look after them. I had one in my last garden for a number of years, it just kept coming up.  Actually I prefer Swiss Chard to spinach.  The white ones tend to be bigger and healthier, but the other colours are beautiful too.
 I am gradually hardening off my cucumber, courgette and squash plants.  In a small courtyard garden where space is at a premium, my plan is to grow upwards!  Climbing plants can make the most of a South facing brick wall.  Climbing courgette Black Forest is one of m all time favourites.  Small Winter squash Uchiki Kuri can climb up a wall or up a sturdy tripod.  Cucumber Delizia will climb up a wall too.   I usually companion plant some climbing beans around them too.  Climbing bean Blauhilde is a 'good do-er' and provides great colour too.
 I grew these Joe's Long cayenne chilli from seed.  Really prolific, producing lots of long chillis, usually around 9" long on a large plant which is about 4 foot tall.  They do need an early start as they are slow growers.  I planted these back in February and have them under a growlight indoors.  Gradually hardening off outside on mild days, the movement of the gentle breeze outside develops stronger stems.  Plants grown indoors on a windowsill will get spindly and soft if you don't keep them moving.
 Morello cherries can grow almost anywhere,even against a North facing wall.  So to make best use of my small space, I planted this against the house which is a West facing wall.  Looks like it has set well and little cherries are beginning to appear.  Brick walls can be dry so I am making sure it is well watered as the fruit grows.
So against my East facing shed wall I have my soft fruit.  Rhubarb, raspberries and a Tayberry can do without full sun all the time, so as long as I keep this bit well watered and fed it is doing well.  Daisy is becoming interested in the bees which are pollinating the flowers. Watch out or you will get stung Daisy!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pottering on

 We've been enjoying the long weekend in the garden.  Whilst you can't really be sure there will not be any overnight frosts at the moment, things need potting on and everything is growing so quickly with the lengthening daylight hours.
 In my small courtyard garden there is precious little gardening space, so in a sunny part of the garden I use these large growbags, which are double the size of the small ones and just right for growing frut and veg.  I bought these frames last year and they fit 3 bamboo canes so that tomato plants can grow upright.
 I am taking a bit of a risk planting these two tomato plants outside at this time of year but they were getting so pot bound that I decided to give it a go.  I can cover them in a fleece if I think they are in danger.  I am using a plastic flowerpot with the bottom cut out.  This is called a 'ring culture' - it restricts the smaller growth roots at the top of the root system while the longer tap roots which collect water go down into the growbag.  It also increases the amount of soil available in a small space.  You feed the top, and water the bottom. Left is a Sungold tomato and right is a Chocolate cherry tomato.
Last year I grew new potatoes in a plastic growbag.  Well, actually I was a bit lazy last year and didn't get around to clearing up the bag and compost after I had harvested most of them.  So, you can see that these last few potatoes have sprouted up as volunteers!  This is my favourite variety Epicure.  I will make sure I top dress with some compost so that there are plenty of nutrients in this compost because it was used last year and potatoes are greedy feeders.  I will make sure they are well fed and watered.  The little potatoes survived the Winter very well.  
Just a few days ago I decided to plant a few squash seeds.  It is recommended that you plant 2 or 3 seeds in a pot and then choose the strongest plant to pot on.  Well you can clearly see the reason for this - on the left side are my Uchiki Kuri squash seeds.  One of the 3 is growing strongly, one is a little mis-shapen and still quite strong, and the 3rd is tiny and unhealthy.  Do not be tempted to mollycoddle this little seeding!  However much you try to nurse it back to life it will never do well and it will be a waste of time and space.  Chuck it out!   The pot on the right side are amazingly strong and healthy!  Romanesco courgettes from Seeds of Italy.  All germinated in just 2 days, coming along really strongly.  Time for potting on this weekend methinks!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Pear Tree Pollination

 Last year I bought an espalier Williams pear tree.  It grows in my small London courtyard garden in a pot, but really needs a pollination partner to properly set fruit.  So a couple of weeks ago I took it for a little pollination holiday to my Sister's allotment where she has a Conference pear tree.  They were in flower at the same time so it looks like a good match.  
 You can cross pollinate with another variety in the same, or adjoining, pollination groups.  Basically, as long as the trees are in flower at the same time, it can cross pollinate.  So my Williams pear is a B group pollinator, and is in flower at the same time with this Conference which is an A group.  Confused?  This handy guide explains it better.
 So it looks as if I have a fairly good fruit set now, so my little tree was carefully brought back home yesterday.  Williams is partially self-fertile but as long as there is another compatible pear tree within a few gardens, the bees will do the hard work.
 Now safely back home and settled down in the garden again.
Watch out for night time frosts!  We might be having warm days at the moment, and my tomato plants are really doing well - but I think I will bring them inside tonight just to be sure.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hedgerow Foraging

This time of year in the vegetable garden is known as the 'hungry gap'  just when most of your Winter veggies are finishing and the Spring harvest is just getting going there is little fresh greenery to choose from.  Now is a good time to look to the hedgerows!  It is fairly well known that you can pick and eat stinging nettles, but what else is there?  Did you know you can pick and eat hop shoots? 
 You can pick hop shoots at this early time of Spring because they are still tender and green.  Much later and they will be a bit too chewy.  Just take the very tip of the hop shoots, no more than about 5" - which is probably down to the 2nd leaf joint.  If you pick too much then the darker coloured stems are a little bit tacky (like the weed old man's beard, or sticky willy....)
 One nice portion fits into a small handful like this.
 On holiday in Venice a couple of years ago I saw this local delicacy for sale in the Rialto Market. In Italy it is known as Bruscandoli, they chop it up and eat it as a vegetable, or traditionally in a Bruscandoli Risotto.  Sold in bunches on the market for onl a few short weeks at this time of year.
So I gently simmered it in water for about 5 minutes and served with butter.  This really was lovely!  A tasty green vegetable dish which tastes somewhere between spinach and asparagus.  Highly recommended!