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

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer Pickling

One of my favourite pickles to make this time of year is Piccalilli. The ingredients will be found in plenty on your allotments this time of year. It takes a little bit of preparation but the results are well worth it. You will need 6lb of assorted chopped vegetables which may include; cauliflower, beans, carrots, corn, marrow or courgette, pumpkin, onions. Soak all these chopped vegetables in salted water (brine) overnight. When you're ready to make the pickle, rinse and drain the veggies. You will need 3 pints of white vinegar, to which you add 6 teaspoons of mustard powder, 2 teaspoons of ground ginger and 9oz sugar. Bring the vinegar up to the boil then add the veggies and simmer for 20 minutes. Lift out the veggies from the vinegar and pack them into warm, sterilized jars.
Put 4 teaspoons of ground turmeric and 2 tablespoons of plain flour in a bowl and mix with some cold water to a paste. Gradually add spoonfulls of the hot vinegar until all the flour is blended. Mix the paste into the hot vinegar and boil to thicken for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot sauce over the veggies in the jars. Agitate the jars gently to get rid of air bubbles. Seal the lids. This is ready for use immediately, but will keep for ages. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Week in the Life of a Tomato

Saturday Sunday
Saturday Teatime!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Growing Bananas in London

My banana plant has gone great guns this year. It was a Birthday prezzie back in April. This variety is Musa Basjoo or the Japanese banana. It is supposed to be one of the hardiest banana plants, and the root and stem will survive the British Winter if it is protected with a layer of straw or some other insulating material. This one is already about 7 foot tall. There are already about a dozen small shoots coming from the base of the plant.
It looks as if I shall have to cut off all these small shoots, but it seems a waste to throw them away. I will probably end up potting them up and giving them away or taking them to the church fete!!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Squashes and Pumpkins

The pumpkins seem to be maturing early this year. This is one of my Rouge Vif D'Etamps pumpkins. I hope it will darken slightly to a rich ginger colour.
Here I am 'curing' the skin. When they are just picked the skins are still quite soft and you will be able to make an indent with the slightest touch of a fingernail. These will be left in a bright sunny place for a few weeks to harden the skin. They should ripen and mature which will help them keep for longer.
Here are my shallots Pikant. They are beautifully firm and luckily I managed to harvest them and dry them off before this spate of awful wet weather - mid August and it's dreadful here. These shallots are wonderfully sound if a bit small.
Here is one of my Yellow Straightneck squashes. I have been picking them at courgette size all Summer but I let this one get a bit bigger. A firmer creamier texture in my mind, a bit temperamental to grow, but I bought the seeds in the USA so perhaps they are not completely happy in the UK climate.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Family Apple Trees

Two years ago I bought two 'Family Apple Trees' from Ken Muir. These were both on a dwarfing rootstock and each have three varieties of eating apples grafted on to it. Last year I did not let it bear fruit, thinking it would be better to let the young tree put its energy into establishing growth - I was right. It has been a great year for 5 out of the 6 varieties. Gala
James Grieve
Lord Lambourne

Friday, August 15, 2008

Summer Treats

I started harvesting my sweet corn this week. Quite hard to tell when it is perfectly ripe, in fact I usually open a few inches of the top of the husk and push fingernail into a cob. If milky white fluid comes out it is ready. If it is dry then it has gone over a bit. I made sure that I boiled a saucepan of water before I went to pick the sweetcorn so it was as fresh as could be. The taste was heavenly!!
I moved up a league this week in the fight against pests on my brassicas! Despite every precaution the leaves had been eaten by caterpillars quite badly. I thought I had hand searched the leaves quite enough times - so I purchased 4 stout stakes from Wisley last week and made a more sturdy enclosure. Also planted are a row of Hispi and January King cabbages too.
You simply must try making this wonderful Summer soup! I discovered a recipe on a recent trip to Warsaw, Poland where it is a National institution! You can make Barszch by blitzing together cooked beetroot, yoghurt, grated peeled cucumber, milk, lemon juice, fresh dill and salt and pepper. It is supposed to be chilled in a fridge to allow the flavours to develop and you serve it poured over a hard boiled egg!! I am addicted!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Matron's Vegetable Olympics!

Welcome to the vegetable olympics! It was raining all day today, so as I could not go out onto the veggie patch I sat indoors and got creative! It is a really great thing to eat as many different coloured fruit and veggies every day, and this time of year there is plenty to choose from.
In the spirit of the olympics.. can you think of any of your veggies which are FASTER, HIGHER OR STRONGER than any others? Answers please.

Friday, August 08, 2008

One of my Favourite Places

I went to the RHS Gardens at Wisley, Surrey today. This time of year the fruit orchard is one of my most favourite places to be. Thousands of varieties of apples and plums, a real treasure chest of English fruit growing. There is an old apple tree here which can be traced back to a cutting taken from Sir Isaac Newton's original apple tree. Yes that know.. the gravity thing....
Elsewhere in the gardens there is a maize maze. On display here are scarecrows which were made by schoolchildren for a competition at the Hampton Court flower show a couple of weeks ago. A great display.
But we had more important business on our minds. SCRUMPING!! Some of the earlier varieties of plums and gages were just so perfectly ripe, it would have been criminal not to sample them. Acres and acres of different varieties of fruit. Juicy, succulent, sweet.. dripping down your chin sweet actually.
We sampled to our heart's content.
We definitely got our 5 portions of fruit and veg today!
I must return in a couple more weeks to sample the later varieties which were not quite ripe yet. One of my all time favourite plums (not pictured here) is called Thames Gage. If you ever are in the market to buy a plum tree, please consider this one. Huge, peach sized yellow fruit with a pink speckling over it, and as sweet as sweet can be. I'll be back.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Garden Mysteries..

Can anyone help me and identify this plant please? It was given to me as a tiny seedling by a friend who planted the seeds out of a packet which should have been purple de Milpa tomatillos... which it obviously isn't. Clearly it is related to celery. The leaves taste of celery but in a very aromatic, possibly citrus way. The stalks are completely round and not celery shaped. I am thinking perhaps it might be Parcel, or Hamburgh parsley, or some kind of leaf celery. Any thoughts?
Another mystery to solve. Last year I saved some seed from a Sungold cherry tomato. These are an F1 hybrid so I was expecting something slightly different, but... they will not ripen! They have sat in this green/gold state for about 5 weeks now. All other tomatoes around them in the greenhouse are ripening fine. I have even picked about a dozen and sat them in the kitchen among all the other ripening tomatoes for about 4 weeks .... they do not ripen!! They still taste green, why are they not ripening.. anyone?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Planting for Autumn

I'm trying to get in the habit of planting seeds continually every month instead of one big rush in April and May. Most of the Summer favourites are past their best in late August but there is still plenty of warmth and daylight to keep an extra crop going till much later. Today I planted my leek seedlings. They are only about the width of a piece of spaghetti but leek seedlings are quite sturdy and easy to handle. I have given these seedlings a bit of a hair cut with scissors so as to minimize the stress of transplanting. I have a rich clay soil which was manured for my potatoes. They should do well here, and you cannot overwater leeks!
All different sorts of beans are cropping well now. The purple climbing bean Blauhilde is one of my favourites, as is the green flat bean Eden. The runner beans Enorma are just starting to crop heavily too. I try to pick them while small and don't let them get old and stringy... but as all gardeners will know... they have a habit of hiding in the foliage and when you think you have picked them all there is always some monster hiding behind a leaf!
Speaking of second crops, I sowed a second crop of runner bean Enorma a few weeks ago to see how they would do. So far so good, and they are loving this wet and humid weather.
Here is one of my squash Bush Delicata which was given to me by Petunias Garden during a visit to Seattle last year. The plant has a really dense, compact bush habit and looks really healthy. Lots of squash are developing.
Speaking of squash, here is my Yellow Squash Pie. I have relations who were born and brought up in Alabama, this is a Summer favourite in the South.
1 cup (8oz) of yellow squash, steamed and mashed roughly
1oz melted butter
6oz sugar
4 eggs beaten
lemon essence or vanilla essence (you choose)
1 tablespoon flour
9" pie crust
pinch of salt
Mix all the ingredients together well, it will be quite sloppy. Pour into the pie crust and bake at 200C till done..I made it between 20-30 mins.. but keep checking. Serve cold..if you can wait that long...I can't!!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Saving Seeds

This year more than ever, I have been remembering to make the effort to save my own seed for next year. I set aside two plants from my beautiful crimson flowered broad beans, and left them to go to seed. Now I have a couple of hundred seeds and I'd love to share some.
Just look at the difference in my beautiful Rouge vif D'Etamps pumpkins! Just a couple of days after I had publicly complained about their progress.. they started making an effort. Well done boys! keep it up. I gently turned them over and stood them upright so that their beautiful squat shape will not be spoiled. They should ripen to a lovely ginger colour.
Courgettes are in full flood at the moment. Pictured here along with the green Defender courgette are some of my yellow straightneck squash from the USA. I have a relation who was born and brought up in Alabama and she used to make 'yellow squash pie' - I feel duty bound to keep up the family tradition.
I lifted my shallots Pikant a couple of days ago when they were still nice and dry. I have left them to dry completely in a shed and will tidy them up in a few days. Not particularly big, but very sound and there are loads of them!
Another of my beautiful beefsteak tomato Country Taste was ready today. They are so delicious I like to eat them with nothing on..... ooooh Matron!
Finally, another interesting cloud over the sky in Hillingdon today. I think this one is known as a Mackerel Sky but is really Cirrocumulus undulatus if you're interested you could always visit the Cloud Appreciation Society and have a look at their stunning photos.