Down on the Allotment

Matron grows vegetables and fruit in a Hampshire garden. I've been growing veggies since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Some traditional varieties and old favourites as well as new ideas. I share my garden with my allotment assistant Daisy the Labrador. On Twitter as @MatronsVeggies

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Nitrogen Nodules

For some reason the word 'Nodules' makes me giggle... can't think why. Today I cleared away my first lot of broad beans. I just got so excited when I pulled up the whole plant and saw hundreds of nitrogen nodules attached to the root system.

All leguminous plants are nitrogen fixers. The legume family is peas and beans. These plants have the ability to take nitrogen out of the atmosphere and out of the food and soil and make these little white nodules which are choc-full of nitrogen. Be sure when pulling up legumes to look for these nodules and scrape them off the roots and back on to the soil. Better still, chop off the stalk at ground level and leave the roots to rot. This is a great, natural way to improve your soil.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Buddy and the Beans

He hasn't quite mastered the art of walking on the paths yet! so supervision is the name of the game when Buddy comes down to the allotment. Here he is admiring my dwarf beans. I have planted some purple 'Royalty' (I liberated some seed pods from the compost heap at the Lost Gardens of Heligan a few years ago). The other beans are a white and pink variety 'Poinciana' (Which I liberated from George Washington's garden at Mount Vernon last year)
Runner beans are racing away. You can never overwater runner beans. These are different coloured flowers, peach, yellow, white, red and purple. You can just about see they are underplanted with French marigolds.

After my success last year with my first crop of sweet potatoes, I managed to overwinter some cuttings from last year's crop. Here growing in a pot in the greenhouse. I will have to give it something to climb up.

I just love the silver mottled markings on these courgette plants. I grow 'Defender' as they seem to be resistant to mosaic virus and they are extremely heavy cropping. I ate my first courgettes yesterday.

Beetroots 'Detroit' and 'Perfect' are coming along nicely. These are just about golfball size and ready for thinning out. Growing these varieties for the first time this year. Up till now just out of habit, I had always grown 'Boltardy' till I read that there are much, much better varieties. Let's see!

Monday, June 18, 2007

My First Tomato

Another first down on the allotment today. My first ripe tomato. Unexpectedly this 'Gardener's Delight' was first to the finishing post. It was a photo finish with 'Harlequin' who is a few days behind. Tasted divine! I do believe I am a whole month earlier than last year!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Asparagus Peas

Well, today was the result of my taste test on these Asparagus peas which I was growing for the first time this year. They have attractive scarlet flowers which are followed by these winged pods. They are supposed to taste like asparagus! Hmmmm.. I picked about a dozen and steamed them (still squealing) for about 3 minutes. Not unpleasant, reminded me of savoy cabbage. Won't grow them again, but might recommend them for an attractive flower border.
Blog readers might recognize this as my plum codling moth pheromone trap. The little rubber thingy in the centre of this sticky paper gives off the female "come and get it boys" pheromone. Those poor little male codling moths fly right in there with their little tentacles erect... and stick to the sticky stuff. Here is the trap I put in 6 weeks ago. The pheromone capsule lasts about that long and I replaced them with a fresh one today. It really works! Last year there were hardly any maggots in my plums. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Trip to RHS Wisley

I decided on the spur of the moment this morning to visit the RHS Garden at Wisley in Surrey. I have been an RHS member for a number of years which allows me to visit any time, free of charge. Over the past years I have watched the construction of the bicentennial glasshouse. Imagine my sheer delight to see a noticeboard on entering the garden which read "The new glasshouse will open to the public on Friday 15th June at 10am " We were among the first ever to step inside this glasshouse!
This was the desert zone, filled with various succulents and cacti. I was thrilled to see a King Protea in full flower.

The humid tropical zone complete with waterfall, and a stunning display of Oriental lillies grown specially for the opening of the glasshouse. In fact as we entered the glasshouse, they were giving away vouchers to redeem at the shop for a free packet of lilly bulbs to celebrate the opening.
Of course, the point of my visit was to visit the model vegetable garden (because you can't eat flowers!) A number of the crops were being grown under mulches of some description or another. These onions grown through black plastic. Courgettes being grown through black weed-suppressing membrane and tomatoes being grown through a jute mat. To my delight I was able to corner one of the Wisley staff and talk technical stuff and ask questions about veggie growing. She was awesome! A real expert who knew her stuff. What a delight.

Finally, this was the first display upon entering the RHS Garden. This space reserved for formal bedding, was used last year for a spectacular sempervivum clock. This Summer I was amazed to find this mosaic pattern planted up entirely with........lettuce !!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Amazing tomatoes!

Just look at the lower truss on this tomato variety called 'Ildi' A couple have set fruit, I wonder whether the plant or its cane could support so many tomatoes! Let's wait and see. On the subject of tomatoes, a great tip from Bob Flowerdew on Gardeners' Question Time this week was to hang a banana skin up next to your green tomatoes and this produces a ripening hormone which will turn your tomatoes red faster. Apparently lots of commercial growers use this method to bring their crop forward. I have used this technique before in my fruit bowl at home, after having bought some goddam awful fruit that will not ripen. Let's give this a go.

All hail Saint Bob !

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Queens Market

Yesterday I went on a long tube journey right the way across London. From the farthest West on the Metropolitan line at Uxbridge, right to the farthest East on the District line at Upminster. I've never been that far East before, I nearly had a nose bleed!

It struck me on the journey how many allotments I passed on the long 3 hour journey. About every mile or so there was an allotment next to the railway line. Bums in the air all over the place! it was a fantastic sight to see. There are lots of us out there. Does anyone know the reason why allotments are found alongside railway lines? I grew up on an allotment in Boston Manor, just next to the Picadilly line towards Osterley and where the M4 goes under the tube line. Think of me next time you drive past.

Anyway, back to East London. I most highly recommend you take a trip to Queens Market (see web link) which is just next to Upton Park tube station on the District Line. This covered market is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9am to 6pm and the variety of fruit and veg, meat and fish is a stunning sight to see. London Borough of Newham has a high immigrant population and therefore the market caters for everyone! I LOVE MARKETS! Piles of Scotch Bonnet chilli, mountains of okra, bundles of calalloo, plantain, edoes, breadfruit, not to mention the butchers shop selling goat meat, alongside anonymous bags of chopped meat marked 'curry meat'....??? Beef tripe, cows feet, boiling chickens, real mutton, smoked sheeps heads (they looked at me as I walked past...I'm sure) boxes of ripe mangoes, huge foot long papaya... really, really cheap prices, fantastic sights, sounds and smells. I love living in London.

This is, in my mind, the equal of Borough Market. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Fruitful day on the Allotment

One thing led to another today. You know how you just lose track of time when you are on the allotment. I had a fantastic day. I gave my thyme a severe hair cut today, as many herbaceous perennials have already put on a great deal of green growth this Spring. Now is the time to take advantage of the soft green growth that herbs make. Thyme is my favourite herb, and I grow lots of it amongs various veggies as an aromatic pest deterrent. After snipping and washing it it is now in my dehydrator for a few hours. A wonderful piece of equipment bought in the USA which has pride of place in the 'gadgetarium' at home.

I am rapidly running out of space, so I started to dig up another row of potatoes. I was thrilled with the results, the red ones are 'Red Duke of York' and the others are 'Rocket'. Awaits the taste test, but I have sadly eaten the last of my 'Epicure' new potatoes which, in my mind, can never be surpassed for flavour.

Finally the soft fruit is also starting to ripen, these loganberries have had a massive spurt of growth this year, having planted a new plant only 2 years ago. They fruit on last year's growth and there were 4 shoots which are producing fruit this year. At present there are 7 very strong green shoots for next year. Loganberries are quite sharp when raw, but make fantastic...well anything... when cooked. Coulis, fool, yoghurt, crumble, stewed, jam,.....

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Further to my post of April 12th this year, here are my Tomatillo plants. From the picture on the previous post, you can see that they are green tomato shaped fruits inside a husk which is not unlike the paper husk you get round a physallis. These are more common in the USA, particularly where Mexican food is sold. Most often they are used in a green salsa with perhaps coriander, onion and chilli. Hard to describe the taste; they are not acid but a pleasant green vegetable flavour... I have seen them grown over here at the model vegetable garden at RHS Wisley. They do tolerably well in our climate, though they can do better with some protection. Here I have grown them up against a South facing wall. Has anyone grown tomatillo here?

Friday, June 08, 2007

The fruits of Spring

A few weeks ago I took a trip down to Tiverton for the day to meet a friend at Blundells school. On the way there I had an hour to spare so I took a short detour to Cheddar. Having sampled the excellent cheese, and scrumpy.... I visited a local village shop to purchase some clotted cream. Outside this village shop were a few veggie plants, so as a memorable souvenir I bought a 'Butternut Squash'. This is incredibly early and the bush is now covered with little squashes. It also looks at this early stage as if they are all female flowers too! I've not grown butternut before. Looks promising.
Everything seems to be getting bigger day by day at the moment. Lots of the tomatoes have set and are progressing well. Here is one of my 'Tigerella' tomatoes which I am trying for the first time this year. Even as young fruitlets they are beautiful, but the proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating. The packet said they are prolific and resistant to greenback.
PS. I've now got broadband!! pictures took a fraction of the time to upload to blogger. Hooray!

I don't do flowers!

I must make it clear that this is a 'veggies only' blogspot, however... I couldn't resist showing you a picture I took last week in Madeira. This is a King Protea, one of my favourite flowers. I remember collecting stamps when I was a wee little girl, and the stamps from South Africa had one of these featured on them. I have loved them ever since.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Harlequin tomatoes

Again this year my Harlequin tomatoes have been the first, by far, to set and produce fruit. This is useful to know when planning a successional season, ie. so that you can have veggies ready for the longest period possible. These Harlequin seed were saved from last year's crop. Last year this variety was new to T&M and was on the front cover of their veggie catalogue. A packet of only 6 or 7 seeds cost me about £2.99 !! This year from about a hundred saved from only a couple of last year's tomatoes - for nothing. It really is worth saving your own seed. Having said that, not all vegetable varieties will come true to type. Squashes and pumpkins will cross pollinate with any likely partner (without wearing a condom!) and if you save seed this way you may not get what you expect. Cucumbers are the same, as are runner beans. Plant a long line of different varieties of runner bean and if you save the seed produced, you will probably create a hybrid variety - which might be interesting.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Asparagus Pea

I like to try something new on the allotment every so often. Asparagus pea had often intrigued me so I planted some seeds this Spring. I have not heard great things about them but decided to give them a try for myself. The pods are supposed to be winged, and you are supposed to pick them very small, about 4cm long and steam them. They are supposed to taste of asparagus. I read about them recently and one grower stated that you must have a vivid imagination when you think that they taste of asparagus! At present their one redeeming feature is these lovely scarlet flowers! Has anyone tried growing asparagus pea? Was it worth it?

Elsewhere on the allotment, my 2 disappointing rows of carrots have failed miserably. Not only did I get only half a row out of each packet, in total only 6 carrots have germinated in both rows! The seed was definitely in date, (from T&M) I suppose they are temperamental like parsnip seeds. Anyway, I have sowed 2 more rows of Detroit 2 and Perfect 3 beetroot. I love beetroot! (My Uncle Charlie was sent home from Palestine during the war because they thought he had dysentery... actually he had been eating beetroots!!)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Trip to Madeira

I've just come back from a wonderful short break on the island of Madeira. All round the countryside you will find Madeirans growing their own fruit and veg on a little patch of rich volcanic soil, clinging to steep hillsides. The sheer variety of fruit and vegetables is tremendous. There are hundreds of varieties of familiar fruit and vegetables, most of which are on sale at the market in Funchal (above). The second picture is of 'cherry guavas' bite sized guavas which were delicious. The Madeirans have a farmers co-operative so that if you only grow a few bananas in your own back garden, you can still sell them to earn a living. Sweet potatoes are grown year round by most people. The name of the island's capital is Funchal, which is Portugese for fennel which is also grown here.
When I go on holiday I visit the DEFRA website and establish what my personal import legislation states I am able to bring back into the UK. From the EEC, apparently, we are all one big happy family and there are few regulations on which fresh fruit, veg and flowers you can bring back to the UK ... so I did !