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, May 18, 2016

Growing Purple Sweet Potatoes

 I just love these!  I first heard about these purple sweet potatoes from a family member who lives in Hawaii.  They knew them as the Okinawa sweet potato (originally from Japan). This purple sweet potato was well known in Hawaii for making purple sweet potato pie - which is a little like our pumpkin pie.  I managed to find some in a Chinese supermarket in London, but I think they are really catching on here in the UK and you can find them in Waitrose as 'Stokes' purple sweet potato but they are seasonal and you can really only find them up till the end of April.
 Now these Japanese Okinawa purple sweet potatoes are being bred as 'Stokes' purple sweet potatoes and grown in the USA alongside their usual crop of sweet potatoes.  When you peel them they are just an amazing colour.  The cooked texture is quite dry with a high fibre content.  As with many other purple veggies they have a higher anthocyanin content.
 I usually steam them in a bag in the microwave so they don't lose too much taste and colour into cooking water. They have a wonderful, sweet flavour and really make a wonderful pumpkin pie, or just as an unusual vegetable to serve with a roast dinner.  You could steam and then fry these slices of purple sweet potato.
 and it keeps its colour even when cooked.  I can most highly recommend trying some of these if you find them.  Some sweet potatoes have different skin colours but have a white or orange flesh, so make sure you find these purple ones. They are well worth the effort to source them.
And finally I have a couple of small purple sweet potatoes that have started to sprout!  I am going to try growing some slips.  These do NOT grow like ordinary potatoes, they are a completely different family of plants.  These sweet potatoes are related to bindweed or the columbine family.  They propagate from vegetative shoots or slips and not by planting a tuber.  I will keep you updated with my progress, but I will keep these shoots growing a bit bigger before planting them. More to follow.


 There have been some lovely, warm days here in my West London garden.  Most of my veggies are now grown in large containers against a South facing wall.  This Romanesco has sent up this first little courgette and flower.  One of my first edibles in this new courtyard garden.
 This other Romanesco courgette is sharing a container with a couple of Joe's Long Chilli up against this brick wall. Things are growing at a rate of knots at the moment, these lovely, long days are making such a difference.
 Some lovely warm, rain earlier this week helped my Aquadulce Claudia broad beans to shoot up about a foot in just a couple of days.
 These Royalty dwarf beans are planted at the edge of the veg planter so they hang down on this South facing planter. Beans and courgettes are good companion plants and frequently do well together.  I have also just planted some Blauhilde climbing French beans against the climbing courgette Black Forest.  They can climb up the trellis together.
 I am really pleased with these potatoes planted in a plastic veg bag.  I have given them a handful of chicken manure every so often when I earthed them up, and lots of leafmould and compost as well as lots of water.  These should be ready in a couple of weeks. One bag of Epicure and one bag of Rocket potatoes.
I am really pleased with my new Williams pear tree.  I bought it in flower, in a container a couple of weeks ago at a Summer show.  Then I read that it really needed another pollinator so I took it for a 'play date' with my Sister's Conference pear tree.  This has worked really well and I have a good fruit set!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Planting Out

 This is the first growing season in my new courtyard allotment garden.  This weeks weather forecast looks like it is going to heat up, so I have started planting out some of my tender veggies.  These are a dwarf bean called 'Royalty'  way back in about 2003 I 'liberated' a couple of dry beans from the compost heap at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.  A beautiful purple bean that I have kept going over the years. I have let them tumble out over the edge of my planter.
 This South facing planter gets sun most of the day so I have planted a couple of climbing courgettes 'Black Forest' up the trellis on the wall.  These have been a brilliant variety for a garden with limited space.  Growing UP is a good use of space.
 I have been hardening off these courgette plants over the past couple of weeks, but there should be enough warmth in the soil now to get going now.
 I need to provide support for my veggies, so I have been setting up vine eyes and wire supports along the brickwork.  I can tie in sticks, trellis or any plant supports here.  A South facing wall should provide lots of heat for tomatoes, chillis and cucumbers.
 Some Hurst Greenshaft peas in a large planter supported with a tall wigwam of canes and a few peasticks.
The Epicure and Rocket new potatoes are doing really well in these planting bags.  Every few days I earthed up the shoots with a bit more compost so as to protect the potato from some overnight frosts. My garden here is quite sheltered and the warmth of the brickwork seems to have protected them quite well.

Friday, April 15, 2016

April Showers

 I am really pleased with my new growlight.  These Joe's Long Chillis were started off in a heated propagator under a growlight back in early February.  The long day length and bright light for 12 hours a day means they have done really well.  I am starting to harden these off during warm days outside in a protected wallhouse.  The gentle movement of the breeze helps to harden the stems and stalks so they are less fragile and ready to go outside next month.  This morning there was a lovely gentle rain so I put all my seedlings outside to get a good soak.  Have you noticed how much happier your plants look when they have been watered in the rain like this, compared to a slosh of tapwater from a watering can?
 These are Romanesco Courgettes from Italy.  They really love the warmth of the growlight and they are putting on a new leaf practically every day.  I've not grown this variety before but they are one of the tastiest varieties around.  Typically in Italy they are sold with the flower attached like these here. I saw these a few weeks ago in a market in Florence.  They have a ridge along the length of the courgette.
Taste is one of the main reasons in my opinion to grow any particular variety of fruit or vegetable.  Now that I have a sheltered courtyard garden, these should do well against a South facing wall.
 Another Italian variety from Seeds of Italy are these wonderful beefsteak tomatoes Pantano.  I have grown these before, they are superb!
 and an old favourite of mine here are these Royalty purple dwarf beans.  About 13 years ago I 'liberated' just one or two seeds from the compost heap at the Secret Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.  These are a really lovely old heritage varitey which is a 'good do-er'
 Just a few of these Early Purple Wight garlic plants should do well in a pot against a sunny South facing wall too.  Container gardening should work well as long as you know the aspect of the garden, which is South facing, and how much direct sunlight on each part of the garden throughout the day.
Speaking of growing for taste - my Epicure potatoes have just started to come up in these potato grow bags.  I grew these as a child XXXX years ago, and for my money this is the best tasting potato you will find.  Must be careful though, there are still night frosts around so I will keep these earthed up and covered until all danger of frost is past.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Hardening Off

 This is the first year in my new veggie garden.  I took some Rhubarb crowns from my old allotment, it looks as if they are quite happy in their new home.  I won't take any stalks this year because I should let them develop a nice new root system and settle down before I pick a crop... well maybe just one or two if no one is looking!
 Just to fill the space in my vegetable planters I have filled the gaps with some Lollo Rosso lettuces.  This part of the veggie growing year is known as 'The Hungry Gap' just when Winter crops have finished and before Summer crops start.
 I was given this 4 tier growhouse about 10 years ago as a gift but never used it.  So yesterday I decided to assemble it to help harden off some of the seedlings I have growing in my propagator under a grow light.
 Happy with this one!  The shelves are removable so that I can grow taller plants inside later on in the year. Meanwhile some little plants will be happy to harden off in here.
Just during the sunny day time I bring out my Joe's Long Chilli plants.  Nice and healthy looking under the grow light, but need to harden off slowly.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fruits of the Earth

 Just one more post from the Central Market in Florence, then I will get back to the real world in my own garden.  Just perfect tomatoes are these Costoluto beefsteak tomatoes. This was my lunchtime of choice in Florence, with some fresh buffalo mozzarella, olive ciabatta and a bottle of chianti! Cheers!
 Europeans seem to have a like of slightly under ripe tomatoes. This is something you hardly ever see in the UK.  Cuore di Bue literally refers to the shape Ox heart tomatoes. Another wonderful beefsteak.
 How could I resist Italian salami and prosciutto! I was in heaven!Salami flavoured with fennel, or truffle, paprika or anything you could imagine it was gorgeous!
 Fresh olive bread every day on the market. I never went hungry. Rustic freshly baked ciabatta was on my picnic menu every day, especially dipped in truffle flavoured olive oil.
 Another highlight of my trip was to go out in the  Tuscan countryside about 50 miles from Florence to Savini Tartufi - I went out into the forest to search for truffles!
 Luca (the human) and Bilba (the dog) took me out for a couple of hours hunting for truffles.  Bilba rushed around with her nose to the ground searching for the smell of a buried truffle.  When she found one she started to dig at the ground to alert Luca.  This buried treasure is found about 3 inches below the surface, usually near the root of a tree.
 This time of year the type of truffle is a blanchetto or a small white truffle.  There are different seasons for different types of truffles all year round. We managed to find 6 truffles in a couple of hours. Definitely the highlight of my trip!
apart from the truffle lunch on my return... truffle anti pasti, truffle pasta, truffle desert and truffle chocolate to finish! A true Truffle Experience! 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sicilian Lemons

 Whilst in the Florence fruit and vegetable market I could not help notice these wonderful Sicilian Lemons. 
 Really fresh and wonderfully fragrant I bought a few back home with me.  I am planning to use them to make something special to take advantage of the flavour. Perhaps a bottle of home made Limoncello liqueur, or a special baked lemon pudding.
 But I will also have a go at growing a few little plants from these pips.  But on doing a little research about the best way of germinating lemon pips I came across something amazing and interesting.  Lemon pips are not the same as lemon seeds.

So gently you start at the pointed end of the pip and peel back the outer layer of the pip to uncover the lemon seed.  Germination of these seeds will be much quicker and much more reliable as the outer covering would normally have to rot away and open up to help the seed germinate.  You can see these lemon seeds here.
 So I have potted some up in some seed compost in a heated propagator. Let's see what happens.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Trip to Florence

 Regular readers will know about my passion for visiting markets when travelling around the world.  I have just come back from a short trip to Florence. In Italy there is little separation between growing your own food and eating it!  In fact I was hard pressed to find any supermarket food at all. Everything was fresh and local. Such a pride in displaying their produce it was a joy to see.
The Mercato Centrale is Europe's largest covered food hall opened in 1874.  Built on 2 levels this just had to be one of my priorities. Lunch and evening meal every day was purchased here. Fresh olive bread, fresh mozzarella, beefsteak tomatoes and a bottle of Chianti!
 Many Italian courgettes (known as zucchine) are sold with their flowers still on.  In fact, you can buy the flowers on their own to deep fry in batter.  So many different varieties of each vegetable on sale here, so much choice of fresh food I could not help but salivate!
 Globe artichokes are sold in different sizes, colours and forms, whole like this or smaller and sold with the leaves peeled back, just with the inner hearts.
 This local variety of variegated lettuce was very attractive - in fact I wonder if it was a type of chicory.  I could just love to make a fresh salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar! Perfecto!
Oh... and there was some art too! ;-)

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Sad News

 Some sad news.  I lost my lovely Leo yesterday.  A perfect gardening companion.
 He was already 11 years old when we rehomed him from Battersea rescue. He had arthritis in his elbows but he had already stolen the hearts of the staff at Battersea. I was lucky to get him.
 His legs were quite stiff and his mobility was not good, but 16 years old is a phenomenal age for a Labrador!  Yesterday morning it was apparent he had a stroke ovenight and was unable to get up.  He went to sleep peacefully after having scoffed a big handful of meaty treats at the vet surgery! Happy Boy!
RIP Sweet Boy. Leo Morris January 2000 - March 2016