Down on the Allotment

What's happening down on the allotment? An intimate account of a passionate veggie grower.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Phew! What a Scorcher!

London is sweltering in the heat today! At 4pm it was still 88 degrees F. It must have been hotter at mid day. I don't look forward to travelling to work on the London Underground tomorrow! Meanwhile back on the plot, these International Kidney new potatoes are enjoying the rain that we had last night. There have been a few thunderstorms of late and the potatoes are just perfect at the moment. I am trying to dig them up fast because if they get much bigger and older they won't be the same.
A word of warning though. If this warm, wet weather continues we might be heading for another dreadful attack of blight!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Picking Raspberries

Will these raspberries never stop? I've been out every day for a week and picked every single ripe raspberry and still the next day I am doing it all over again! Absolutely brilliant! Anyway, here is another effort in my online veggie show. You've got until July 14th to send me your entries to Matrons Worldwide Veggie Show 2009. Don't forget there will also be a Judge's Discretionary award for causing me to smile!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Six of the Best!

I have never entered any kind of vegetable show! My joy is in the growing and especially in the eating. Since I have been pondering the idea of Matrons Worldwide Veggie Show 2009 I have been getting an idea of what competitive growers might feel. These are some of the first Sungold tomatoes this year. You might be tempted to straighten bent beans! You might get out a cloth to add shine to your tomatoes! Certainly in order to get 6 fruit or veg as evenly matched for size, shape and colour - you may have to grow quite a collection in order to choose.

Please don't take Matron's veggie show that seriously! Send me something to salivate or something to make me smile. There will be GOLD, SILVER and BRONZE awards, but variety is the spice of life!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Matron's Worldwide Veggie Show 2009

I hadn't realized just how difficult it is to get 6 veggies all the same size, shape and colour! I have been having a few trial runs to enter my own online Veggie Show! These are Black Forest climbing courgette. Please email me your entries by 14th July and I will include them in Matron's Worldwide Veggie Show 2009. I will be awarding a GOLD , SILVER , and BRONZE award, along with Matron's special Judge's Discretionary award for making me smile!

Join Matron's Worldwide Veggie Show!

I am asking fellow bloggers to submit entries into Matron's Worldwide Veggie Show 2009. You might not have the time or the inclination to submit a plate of your best fruit or veggies to your local county show, but can you spare a few minutes to send me a photo of your best harvest?

Take a picture of 6 items which should be of uniform shape, size and colour. Display them on a plate or line them up on a bench and take a photo for me! Please let me know which variety they are! Email your entries to me. As this is a worldwide show, I would particularly welcome entries from far-flung and exotic places! but if you are in USA, OZ, India, Suffolk or Yorkshire... I am looking forward to your entries too!

I will be posting them along with a link to your blog, and judging them by 14th July, the winner will be the contribution which makes me salivate the most! Matron's decision is final!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Pudding!

According to my calendar, it is officially Summer now! The soft fruit is in full production at the moment and has to be picked daily. This seems like the perfect opportunity to make a Summer pudding. Here I have strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries. Just line a pudding basin with sliced white bread, heat the fruit with some sugar in the microwave until softened. When you pour all this into the basin, the juice will be soaked up by the bread. Leave this to cool and soak in the fridge with a weighted plate on top for a minimum of 24hours, 48 would be better.
Serve with cream!
More news about my Yard Long Beans. You will remember that my first planting in May did not germinate at all. My second sowing in the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago was more successful. I sent an email to the seed supplier Dobies, to ask if in their opinion these would grow outside in the British climate. I received a short reply stating that they should be able to grow outside.
I have planted these outside now, with a little protection from some cloches. Some internet research has revealed that these really are a sub-tropical plant grown in Asia and the Far East. By all accounts they can be temperamental and are prone to keeling over at the first sign of a chill! The red ones, Red Noodle Bean is even more temperamental. I will be happy if I can just get them to grow a bit more.
Thrilled if I can actually get some yard long beans from them!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Day at the County Show

Surely one of the highlights of the Summer has to be the County Show! Wherever you are in the world there will be a Summer fete or County fair? This weekend was the Middlesex Show. Let me take you on a whistlestop tour of something quintessentially English...
Here are the lovely ladies from the Hillingdon Allotment and Horticultural Federation.
The South of England Flyball association had some competitions too! For those that don't know, this is a sort of doggy relay race involving tennis balls!
And Matron was able to indulge her passion for riding in helecopters - yes! I'm mad about helecopters. This is what my home town looks like from the air!
The Old Fashioned Pudding Company were there - how many non-English of you out there knows what a 'Spotted Dick' looks like? eh?
There was a wonderful display of vintage cars and tractors.
A very fierce lady tried to force me into joining the Womens Institute!
The local beekeepers association was there too!
And of course, the highlight must be...drumroll.... the South of England Hamster Show!
Is your county fair just as much fun?

Bulgarian Giant Leeks

I am only growing two varieties of potatoes this year. I planted these from green tubers which I collected last year as the ones I didn't want to eat. They seem to have made perfectly good seed potatoes. The International Kidney are my early new potatoes - I am digging them now and they are a beautiful waxy potato. These flowers here are from my others Sarpo Axona. I chose this variety because I was blighted quite badly last Summer, and this is one of the new varieties which is resistant to blight. Interesting flowers - I don't think I have ever seen so many flowers on a potato before. I think I will snip them all off with scissors, I don't want the plant putting energy into flowers and seeds. My New Zealand spinach has an interesting growing habit. Here you can see the plants have started to creep along the ground. I understand this plant just sprawls and provides rampant ground cover throughout the Summer. Haven't picked any yet, not big enough.
I planted out some of my leeks today. Don't leek seedlings grow so slowly? These and my other variety Musselburgh have been in pots for months now, they just slowly creep along. This one here is Bulgarian Giant. I saw a picture in a catalogue and couldn't resist. Apparently the shafts might get to 3 feet in length.
I will provide lots of well rotted manure and lots of water throughout the Summer and let's see if I end up with a Bulgarian giant! Has anyone grown them before?
They should take off in a couple of weeks time!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First New Potatoes

Another yardstick moment in the gardening calendar is the date you dig up your first new potatoes of the year. These International Kidney were planted in a compost bag in the greenhouse, especially for an early crop. These are quite a bit bigger than I had expected, so I will give my outdoor crop an exploratory dig tomorrow. June is one of the most productive times on the allotment, you can see my haul from today's foraging.
Bon appetite!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Yard Long Beans

I planted a first sowing of Yard Long Beans direct in the soil in the middle of May. Unfortunately, germination was non-existent! I don't know if it was too hot, too cold, too dry or too wet - it was OK for the rest of my beans but not these. Anyway, a second sowing in modules in the greenhouse has been 100%. I also have some precious ruby red yard long beans which I am particularly looking forward to growing as I obtained them in a seed swap with the Seattle garden bloggers group 'SAGBUTT' (Seattle Area Garden Bloggers United to Talk) My climbing courgette Black Forest is going great guns at the moment as well. These were a good do-er for me last year, they climbed up a trellis all Summer long and were extremely productive.
Meanwhile in the greenhouse, these Ildi tomatoes have the most amazing display of trusses. There are probably more than about a hundred little yellow cherry tomatoes on each truss. Like little golden sweeties!
Meanwhile, below, these Great Wall of China tomatoes have an interesting habit too. They seem to have a truss of fruit every two set of leaves which is quite unusual.
Finally, there was a bit of storm activity over North and East London today, which I missed. I did see these storm clouds gathering in the Eastern sky over London this afternoon. This is an angry cumulonimbus cloud. If you are interested in different types of cloud formations, then why not click on the Cloud Appreciation Society website and go find some more.
Actually it looked a bit more dramatic in real life!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Have you seen the Painted Lady?

I have read reports this Spring that we are to expect a huge number of Painted Lady butterflies in the UK this Summer. Apparently they migrate from Africa to Northern Europe each year and there are supposed to be millions on their way now. Yesterday I saw 4 of them just on my lavender flowers alone! Has anyone else seen large numbers in the UK yet? and where are you? Another sort of insect, in the garden is the plum maggot moth. Below you can see that I have hung out a pheromone lure in my plum tree. The little rubber thingy in the centre is impregnated with female plum moth sex hormones!! The poor male moths fly in there thinking that they are going to get lucky... and they stick to the sticky paper! This prevents them from laying eggs in my lovely plums.
Couldn't resist another photo of my Golden Sweet pea and my Purple Podded pea, they are in full production at the moment! Glorious.
This was my first raspberry, it ripened yesterday and I ate it straight from the bush! Today I had two more ripen, but one of them was half eaten by a blackbird. Naively I thought that perhaps these London blackbirds might not know what a raspberry was.... and perhaps they might leave them alone. Wrong! tomorrow I will cover them in a big sheet of fleece!
One more point, I have started the habit of leaving just one or two vegetables from each crop to go to seed each year. The broccoli flowers early in the year were a real magnet for the bees who were climbing all over the yellow flowers. Here you can see that I left a parsnip 'Hollow Crown' to go to seed from last year. Already it is 7ft tall and covered in yellow flower buds. If you have just a little bit of space, it seems to me that they prefer vegetable flowers to flower flowers... or am I just a little bit biased?
Spare a thought for your pollinating insects and just leave somehting for them!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Visit to Gipsy House

Today I visited Gipsy House, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. The National Gardens Scheme opens public and private gardens to the general public for charity just once a year. Gipsy House was the home of the late Roald Dahl, and it is still the home of his widow Felicity Dahl. This is a spectacular English country garden.
First port of call, naturally, was to the compost heap! It did not disappoint!
Next came Roald's rhubarb. The gardener there told me that it was a shame that most of it did not get eaten. I suggested that they could sell bunches of it to the public who were entering the garden!
In the front corner of the garden this Gipsy caravan had been bought and restored by Roald himself.
In the walled vegetable garden there was a greenhouse in which was an espalier nectarine tree. I have never seen a nectarine growing in the UK before.
Right next to it in the greenhouse was this espalier pruned peach tree. I wonder if this peach will grow up to be a Giant Peach??
This was the most wonderful walled fruit and vegetable garden. It was a series of raised beds made from railway sleepers which were edged by well maintained step-over apple and pear trees, and fan trained and espalier trained fruit trees on the walls.
At the end of the garden path which was covered in a pleached lime tree walkway, was Roald Dahls garden shed. In this building he would write for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. He closed the curtains so that nothing could disturb him, and he always stopped just when things were getting interesting so that he was motivated to come back and continue.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Thinning Gooseberries

This has been the best year ever for my soft fruit and especially the gooseberries. This is a 4 year old plant of the variety 'Invicta' and you can see that the fruit is much too close together to grow a decent sized berry. I have thinned out the fruit today so that there was a good sized berry about every 2" on the branch. This will result in large, sweet, delicious gooseberries in about a month.
Even though these thinnings are small and very acid, they are perfect for cooking and still have the most wonderful flavour. It seems to me that the acid in a fruit is what gives it a great flavour.
Just a bit of a fiddly job 'top and tailing' them. With a pair of scissors you snip off the stalk and the flower end.
So this afternoon at tea time, I enjoyed a bowl full of gooseberry crumble with cream! Ahhhhhh!

Monday, June 08, 2009

My First Tomato

This is one of the pinpoint moments in a gardener's year - the first ripe tomato. This is a Sungold tomato in the greenhouse. The Sub Arctic Plenty are extremely disappointing, I was expecting them to be a clear winner, but no. I will wait a few more days to get really ripe, then will just pop it in my mouth, straight from the plant. Another failure in the garden, were my first sowing of Yard Long Beans. I was particularly anticipating this one in the allotment, and also some beautiful red coloured yard long beans. I think they have rotted in the soil. I planted them more than 3 weeks ago and only 2 have come up. I have therefore planted a second sowing in modules in the greenhouse, fingers crossed.
Other beans in the greenhouse are Royalty, Lazy Housewife and Dog Beans. The latter I am thrilled to have received in a swap with Gintonio from Jardim con Gatos in Portugal. The Lazy Housewife beans I obtained from a heritage company in the USA. They are a very old English variety I saw growing at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.
Well, you may remember my confession on February 14th, about my obsession with collecting tomato varieties 'My Affair with the Love Apple' - well it has occured to me that I also have a dirty little secret when it comes to curcurbits! I just can't help but collect squashes, pumpkins and cucumbers. I wish I had the space to grow more, but I don't. They are also such rampant cross pollinators that I dare not save seed. Some of my favourites are:
Yellow Straightneck - from the USA, a yellow courgette-type
Queensland Blue - fantastic Winter keeper with blue skin and a deep orange flesh
Rouge vif D'Etamps - traditional Cinderella pumpkin with vivid dark ginger skin
Black Forest - climbing courgette, excellent climber and good producer.
Defender - courgette, my stalwart which is resistant to the dreaded mosaic virus.
Delicata - a small squash with flesh similar to a sweet potato, another good Winter keeper
You see below my Defender courgette growing in a black plastic dustbin.
I enjoy growing something different and unusual, here is one of my Tomatillos. A relative in the tomato family which is grown in Mexico. Makes fantastic salsa!
Gosh, did we have rain at the weekend? or did we have rain at the weekend?
Claps of thunder on Saturday morning and good solid rain for hours. Just look at my potatoes below. They are stood bold upright now, they just loved it. I am growing Jersey Royal (International Kidney) and Sarpo Mira, a blight resistant late crop.
Now I can sit back and watch everything growing! Unfortunately that means the weeds as well. Sigh!

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