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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Heritage Seed Bank in Svalbard

Stories in the news this week of scientists building an underground vault in the frozen arctic archipelago of Spitzbergen, Norway. Millions of precious seed varieties kept in permanently frozen conditions at about -20degrees. Excellent idea.
So I thought you might like to see what Svalbard looks like...
When I went up there in 2006...
600 miles from the North Pole. Take a closer look at my profile picture too!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Mushrooms!

I got quite a shock when I opened the cupboard in the living room today! I have been checking my chestnut mushrooms daily and until today they had been making steady progress. Since yesterday however, they have doubled in size! Quite amazing! Am going to have mushrooms on toast tomorrow tea time.
Another amazing bargain today. I was wondering through Wilkinsons having a look in their gardening section when I spotted these gooseberry bushes for just £2.00 each. They look like 2 year olds, nice shape, lots of shoots (a bit pale but they had been in a box for a while). I bought 2 yellow and one red. The gormless girl at the checkout looked at the box and asked, "Is them onions?"... Sigh!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Success at Last!

Finally, after many attempts at growing my own mushrooms I appear to be making progress at last! These are chestnut mushrooms and it looks as if there will be many more coming in the next few weeks. The taste of freshly picked mushrooms does not compare to anything you will buy from a store anywhere. Awaits the taste test, lightly fried on plain buttered toast.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Matron's Ted-blog

Always at a loss as to how to keep a blog interesting during the quiet season down on the allotment, I thought I would join in with Jayne at Country Cottage Chic and post some pictures of Teddy Senior and Teddy Junior to join in with her Teddy blogs!
Here you can see Ted Senior hiding in the undergrowth behind my globe artichokes. Ted Senior was born in 1922 and he belonged to my late Father.
Here you can see my three best boys! Buddy didn't want to be left out of the fun so decided to investigate what was going on.
Teddy Junior is mine! He was born in 1963 and squeaks if you hit a round lump in his tummy! Here they are together investigating the last of my Leeks.
All this was too much like thirsty work for Ted Senior who decided to go for a drink of water, but fell in the can! He's not too steady on his feet these days!
Ted Junior investigates the shallots 'pikant' which have been planted in modules in the greenhouse. They have already started to root and shoot well, they will be planted out soon.
Teddy Senior checks the progress of my purple podded peas.

Both the boys enjoyed a change of scenery today! Back to the shelf in the bedroom!

Friday, February 22, 2008

A very sad day

These are three beautiful black poplar trees which have been a feature of my veggie plot for at least the last 30 years. The trees themselves must have been at least 60 or 70 years old. The local blackbirds and thrushes sit on the highest branch and their song carries for miles. On quiet Summer days you can just listen to the sound of the wind in the trees. Wonderful!
They have been well maintained over the years with skillful tree surgery, pollarded every few years..until now.
The current owners of the back garden in which they are situated have purchased the rear part of the neighbouring back gardens - is it called landgrabbing? - and now have planning permission to build several large houses. I was under the impression that these trees had a preservation order upon them, I telephoned the council planning department while the workmen were doing their job - in order to try to save these beautiful trees. The reply was that 'the tree department aren't in today'.
So 24 hours later....
They were gone.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Prezzie from the Postman

Phew! my seed potatoes finally arrived in the post today. I ordered them through the Thompson & Morgan catalogue ages ago. My frequent complaint about buying seed potatoes is that they come in huge quantities. Fortunately I have a gardening buddy with whom I have swapped some tubers. I now have a nice variety - Rocket, Vitelotte, Nicola, Red Duke of York and International Kidney. All chitting in the shed.
Making good progress in the greenhouse are my Purple Podded Peas, a heritage variety which apparently grow very tall. I will prepare a large wigwam for them!
Still digging up the Jerusalem artichokes at the moment. They are almost impossible to eradicate once you have planted them. They are quite brittle as well, so when you are digging them up they snap into little pieces at the slightest pressure. Difficult to clean properly, but taste divine!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bargain of the Week!

Strolling through Woolies today I couldn't resist this bargain. Growmore is a good, basic plant fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 7:7:7 let me explain. N = Nitrogen , P = Phosphorus (pentoxide), K = Potassium. These are the 3 main nutrients needed for plant growth. You will see these ratios on most proprietary fertilizers. Growmore indicates that there is 7% Nitrogen, 7% Phosphorus and 7% Potassium. You may see higher values in fertilizers for different uses, for example a high potash fertilizer is used in products such as tomato food (tomorite) the NPK shown on the packet will be formulated to provide exactly what they need 4:4:8. Growmore was introduced during World War 2 as 'National Growmore' when everyone 'dug for victory'
Good news on the mushroom front!! Just one week after sowing the mushroom kit - there are signs of life! A white mould growing on the surface casing. Excitement abounds. Watch this space.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Found in my Compost Heap!

These two are permanent residents of my compost heap! I put 3 layers of carpet offcuts and a plastic sheet on top of my heap in the Winter to keep it protected, these two frogs have found a home between the layers! What sensible creatures they are! Plenty of protection from the elements, and copious quantities of snails, slugs and worms to eat. I really positive sign to me that despite my use of slug pellets occasionally, I have a reasonably healthy garden. They are slightly different colours - I wonder if they are male and female?? I wonder how they are going to celebrate St Valentines Day? hmmm
I took advantage of a beautiful sunny day this week to pot up a couple of my strawberry plants into a pot in the greenhouse. Hopefully I will have an ultra-early crop of fresh strawberries. Those of us that grow our own will appreciate the taste of anything that is JUST that little bit earlier than the rest. I have also planted a couple of ultra early 'Rocket' seed potatoes in the greenhouse as well. The sunny days are almost warm inside the greenhouse, but the nights are still well below freezing. Roll on Spring!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Unusual Fruit & Veg

Such a wide range of fruit and veg offered for sale at my recent trip to Borough Market. I found these Australian finger limes for sale. Has anyone seen them before? Any Aussie blog readers out there know anything about them? I am amazed at the infinite variety in nature.
I mentioned in a previous blog that Borough Market is right next door to Southwark Cathedral. A lovely place to sit and have lunch whils admiring the gargoyles!

Many beautiful displays of fresh fruit, veg and fungi.
You don't see this quality at Sainsbury's or Tesco. All I miss is the convenience.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What's in the Greenhouse?

My shallots arrived in the post yesterday! I chose the variety 'Pikant' they are a round, pink type which are said to be prolific. It is a bit too early to plant them out in the open yet, they might just sit there and rot for a few weeks. Instead I am giving them a few weeks' start in an unheated greenhouse sat in modules. This will enable them to get some roots down in safety.

In the same way I started off some 'Crimson flowered Broad Bean' a heritage variety I seed swapped with Celia from Purple Podded Peas. I read a review on Daughter of the Soil, they sound wonderful, can't wait to see them. I will find them a prominent place in the garden.

I have had excellent germination with my tomato seeds this year. I sow them individually in small modules for potting up later. This year I have sown Sungold, Moneymaker, Supersweet100, Jubilee.

I bought a packet of Country Taste F1 hybrid this week in the shop at Wisley. A bit pricey at £2.99 for only 6 seeds! A new variety for this year in the Thompson & Morgan catalogue. I wonder which varieties they crossed to come up with this one? Anyone know? Supposed to be able to grow GIANT beefsteak tomatoes in the greenhouse. If I trim the trusses down to 2 or 3 flowers, maybe I'll grow a WHOPPER!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Living without Supermarkets

Blog readers will know that I am giving up shopping in supermarkets for Lent. Just three days into the challenge I am shopping at local stores, finding local producers and shopping at markets. Today I visited Borough Market in London. The market is situated underneath the railway at London Bridge station, right next to Southwark Cathedral. You can see the windows of the houses in the background of this photo. This was used for the location filming of one of the Harry Potter films, it was the setting for 'Diagonalley' - next time you watch the film look for it. Wonderful, fresh produce can be bought here and it is getting a well deserved reputation as a 'foodie heaven'. You will usually see a camera crew somewhere round the market.
Fishmongers and butchers sell the best quality produce and such variety you will see nowhere else. Today I bought half a pigs head and some pigs trotters! My Mum grew up not far from here during the Second World War, and she was thrilled when I presented her with her favourite comfort food. Pigs head and trotters are used to make 'brawn'.

Lots of city types come to Borough Market to buy lunch. Perhaps a toasted 'Raclette' cheese sandwich from Switzerland, Spanish chorizo sausage in a ciabatta roll, and ostrich burger - yes ostrich burger!, Lebanese felafal with tabbouleh salad, or perhaps just a good old fashioned English pie and mash. You won't go hungry at Borough Market and there are plenty of free samples to keep the wolf from the door as well!
So, am I missing those tasteless tomatoes from Sainsburys? Those pale, pathetic chickens from Tesco?
Er... no.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A visit to Wisley

Today I visited the RHS garden at Wisley in Surrey. One of the reasons I enjoy my RHS membership is for the wonderful plant centre at the entrance to the gardens. Here I found an excellent selection of seed potatoes. My only complaint about them was that they were sold in such large quantities! I don't have space to grow many, so I like to buy a small selection of different varieties. I did, however, find a small packet of first earlies called Rocket. I grew these last year, they are described in the catalogue as 'ultra early' so these are the ones which I grow in a black bag in the greenhouse for an early, early treat.
The other reason I enjoy my membership of the RHS is to visit the model vegetable garden year round, and compare it to my own. This time of year is what gardeners refer to as 'the hungry gap' - there being little to harvest. These brussels sprout sticks were still in the ground, they looked like a strange plant from another planet!

In one corner of their potager was this lovely rhubarb forcing pot. Beautifully handcrafted by the Yorkshire flowerpot company. I have not yet attempted to force any of my rhubarb. My crowns are only a year old, and forcing rhubarb puts such a strain on the plant that it is only really suitable to do to older, stronger plants. Maybe in a couple of years time when I have more plants I might try it, but not yet.

Blog readers might remember my unsuccessful foray into the world of growing my own mushrooms earlier in the season last year. I thought I would give it a go again, this time with a kit in a box. The box comes with a bag of mushroom compost, with the spawn already impregnated in it, and a bag of compost as top casing layer. Please await update in 6 days (that is what it says on the box) fingers crossed this time!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

What are you giving up for Lent?

Next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras or Pancake Day. This is the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Whether you are a believer or not it is traditional and a worthwhile exercise to 'give up' something for Lent.

For the past few years I have given up shopping in big supermarkets for Lent. I take the opportunity to empty my store cupboard, take something from the freezer, use local shops and markets, and try to find local producers and growers and patronize local growers. I really detest what the big supermarkets are doing to our environment and how they abuse British farmers. There is a really useful website at Bigbarn where you just put in your local UK postcode and they will show you all the local producers, farms and shops near you. It is not meant to be easy, I saved many hundreds of pounds over the 40 days. Would anyone like to join me?