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

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jerusalem Artichokes

I dug my first crop of Jerusalem Artichokes today.Jerusalem artichokes can be a really invasive pest in the garden. They are impossible to get rid of, so even if you do want to grow them it is advisable to plant them next to a fence or in a forgotten corner of your patch. You can happily forget them and they will come up year after year and get bigger and stronger - or at least they do in my London garden.
The name Jerusalem artichokes does not come from the place, but from the fact that they are closely related to sunflowers, the name in European languages for this is Girasole - literally - Gira - to gyrate or turn and the word soleil - the sun... to turn towards the sun. You will notice the flowers start in the morning turned towards the East and in the afternoon towards the West.
To cook arthchokes, they need to be thoroughly cleaned first. This can be difficult due to their nobbly shape. This variety I grow - Fuseau, is supposed to be one of the least nobbliest but still you have to scrub for a while to get them clean. I steam them till cooked and then peel the skin off them when they are cool enough to handle. Serve with melted butter. You can also make a heavenly soup with artichokes, in which case you need not peel them, just pour the cooked artichokes into a blender with vegetable stock. Now this brings me to another point about Jerusalem artichokes... they give you wind! Not just any old slight rumbling, but full blown Olympic gold medal flatulence!! They have a very complex carbohydrate structure which takes a lot of digesting in your intestines. This makes them an ideal food for diabetics (who don't mind the side effects). I just love fartichokes... any way I can prepare and eat them, I do. Hours of harmless fun afterwards with close friends and family!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reading material

It is the catalogue season again! Almost daily a new seed catalogue for 2009 pops through the letterbox. A special area of interest for next year for me will be the huge numbers of new and old tomato varieties. It seems that so many varieties are coming to us from Eastern Europe and from much colder climates. I think next year I will have a go at growing one of the black, purple or chocolate coloured varieties. Black Krim and Black Russian spring to mind. I do insist on flavour being the primary objective. Can anyone recommend a really tasty black/purple/brown tomato?
On the subject, I have posted a few more tomato varieties found at West Dean Gardens.
All shapes and sizes.
All different colours and textures.
If only I had room to try them all !
I think I am becoming addicted to growing tomatoes! If this doesn't give you your fix, then perhaps a couple of websites might satisfy your cravings. Try and These are websites in the USA, but perhaps I might find a way.......

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Visit to Veggie Heaven

I made a trip today to West Dean Gardens near Chichester, Sussex. Here you will find the most amazing series of walled gardens, including this walled vegetable garden.
A dazzling display of late Autumn colour and regimental tidiness. Highly recommended for a day out if you are down that way.
Fruit trees in the walled fruit garden have been trained in amazing shapes.
Just look at the height of these ordinary tomatoes just grown in a pot in the greenhouse. Must be up to 15ft tall.
West Dean is host to the famous "Totally Tomato Show" and the "Chilli Fiesta" each year so there are just so many varieties of tomatoes and chillis to choose from.

I particularly liked this chilli named "Whippet's Tail".. I think I might start collecting veggies which are named after dogs. I know of "Dog Bean" does anyone know of any others I might look out for?
More Chillis. Thousands of varieties in the greenhouse left over from their "Chilli Fiesa"

The famous "Friars Hat" chilli.
And just next door to West Dean is a must-see attraction the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is a collection of preserved, re-located and restored ancient rural buildings. Many are from the 15th century and onwards. Barns, cottages, sawmills, blacksmiths, lovingly restored. If you have a foreign visitor to England, and you want to entertain them, I can think of no better place. To my friend Debbie... I say "This is on your list!"
A 15th Century country cottage... what the Americans might call "Really Old!!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Day out at Wisley

Scrump - Brit colloq. steal (fruit) from an orchard or garden .....oh dear! that doesn't sound good.

Matron and Stan went to RHS Garden at Wisley today. There is an Autumn festival on this weekend, if you get a chance I can recommend it. If you have an apple tree in your garden and it is unidentified, well now is your chance to take some samples to the experts and have it identified for free. Normally there is a charge of £16 for non-members! Of course we went scrumping in the orchard! Such wonderful varieties "Pomeroy of Somerset" and "Winter Banana" to name but a couple. To see more of our adventures have a look at the Flickr set on Stan's Blog.
While we were there I took a walk on the wild side, to my surprise found a treasure chest of sweet chestnuts which the squirrels have not found yet! These will be roasted and enjoyed very shortly.
Meanwhile back on the ranch, Matron has picked the last batch of Bramley apples from the tree. This is just the final batch, there are pounds and pounds. An idea came to me at Wisley today, on a stand selling pickles and chutneys I sampled some "mulled wine chuntney" hmmmm!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bramley Apples

What a fantastic year for Bramley Apples! So many of mine are beginning to fall off the tree that it is time to pick them and store them. I only had to hold each apple and twist very gently and they were all just so ready to come off the tree that only a little breeze or a frost would have them all spoiled. Bramleys are the most famous British cooking apples. A bit too sharp to eat, but fantastic flavour for cooking. There is a British fruit grower Ken Muir who offers for sale cuttings from the original apple tree which is still alive in a garden in Nottinghamshire. This tree was planted from a pip in about 1805 and is still going strong. What an interesting piece of history. I have picked mine now and I keep them spread on a mesh tray in the dark garage. Dark and cold is the secret for keeping apples...... now what to do with them all?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ruth's Pumpkin Soup

So you have too much pumpkin and you don't know what to do with it all? Well, you might like to try making a traditional West Indian pumpkin soup which is made all over the Caribbean and is known universally as 'Saturday Soup' at this point I must give thanks to DaVikka for looking after my chillis while I was on holiday. Apparently she prayed every day that they might live! - or perhaps that if they did die... they would come back to life again!! This is actually more like a stew, and I would make it in the slow cooker and leave all the flavours to meld together. You will need:
2lbs pumpkin (diced), 1 scotch bonnet chilli (leave whole DO NOT CHOP), 3 spring onions chopped, 2 garlic cloves chopped, 1tsp dried thyme, 2 carrots, 3 sweet potatoes, 3 potatoes, 1 plantain.
Chop all the veggies (except the chilli...don't chop the chilli) and cover with water. You can season the water with salt and black pepper, and either a Maggi stock cube or preferably try to locate a packet of authentic Jamaican pumpkin soup mix or cock soup mix (yes, that's cock soup). Towards the end of the cooking you can make the 'dumplings' which go into the soup. These are ribbons of dough about 3" long made with plain flour and water, they will thicken the soup.

I just love these homely, authentic dishes that warm the cockles of your heart. At this point I must also thank Ruth, for inspiration. She must be OK because Buddy likes her too! xxx

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hot Stuff!

It was only out of curiosity that I planted some seeds from a Scotch Bonnet chilli that I bought in a West Indian shop back in Spring. Despite the miserable Summer I think they have done OK. I still haven't had the opportunity to 'test' them yet... will let you know.
Cut open one of my pumpkins today. Such a lovely firm texture and a great taste. I made a batch of pumpkin soup last night... totally wonderful!
Another mystery in the garden this year. This is not such a good picture but my broccoli 'Rudolph' has reached 5foot tall and is still growing! I cannot work it out! I use the same variety I do every year, and by October or November they might be a healthy 2ft tall by Winter. The only suggestion is that; 1. we have had a very wet Summer. 2. I put lots of manure in that spot last year for the pumpkin patch. 3. I planted them a couple of weeks earlier this year. 4. all of the above! Can't wait for next April...
Finally, just look at the progress my pineapple has made since I bought a small cutting back from the Azores in June this year. After visiting a pineapple plantation over there I gained a few tips on cultivation. Heat, Heat and more Heat. Will have to leave a heated propagator on during Winter.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Before the First Frosts..

I am so pleased with my pumpkins Rouge Vif D'Etamps. Every day the colour just gets darker and darker.
Just one pepper in the greenhouse, quite a few peppers on it, they are juicy and so sweet.
I made a second, later planting of runner beans Enorma, and they are still going strong well into October now. Make the most of it till the first frost comes.
I have a crop of borlotti-type beans still waiting for some sun to ripen them. These are from an old heritage variety I 'liberated' from George Washington's heritage vegetable garden at Mount Vernon, Virginia a couple of years ago. I think the variety is Vermont Cranberry.
Only a few courgettes left on the bush Defender variety. This really is very resistant to mosaic virus I used to suffer until I switched to this one. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

More from the New World

I have been intrigued by the varieties of tomatoes which grow in such a cold climate in Quebec, so I have done a little bit of googling. In the 1960s a plant breeder called Roger Doucet created some new varieties of tomatoes especially for the cold climate in Quebec where there are only 4 months without frost. These varieties are able to withstand colder temperatures in Spring. There were a number of new varieties created such as Ledoux, Canabec and Rosabec. I have brought one of these large beefsteak tomatoes home with me from the market, so will be saving seed to try next year.
I also went to visit a maple syrup factory in Canada. Here you can see that a simple tap is inserted into a Canadian Sugar Maple tree for just 6 weeks in Spring and the watery sap is extracted into these buckets. This sap is boiled down and reduced to make syrup. The statistics vary according to all our tour guides, but it takes about 40 litres of tree sap to make 1 litre of syrup. That's just about what one tree produces in the Spring.

The most frequently found local squash variety found in Canada appeared to be this dark green variety. So interesting to see fruit and vegetables which can grow in such a short season.

I couldn't resist taking a photo of this street furniture. Residents in Norfolk, Rhode Island are quite rightly encouraged to pick up after their doggies by taking one of these free MUTT MITTS from a dispenser in the high street!