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, January 27, 2009

First Signs of Spring?

The days are surely getting longer now. The first shoots of my rhubarb have started to show their heads above ground. My main rhubarb patch is now 3 years old and is growing bigger and stronger day by day. I have mulched my main rhubarb patch with 4 or 5 inches of well matured horse manure compost. This little chap below is a second patch that I am trying to get rid of at the moment. I think I will try forcing this crown of rhubarb. You can only really force rhubarb crowns after they are well established because it puts quite a strain on the plant. The trick is to exclude all light from the growing sticks so that they are sweeter and more tender. I have a large flowerpot I think I will use, unless I can find an unwanted black dustbin!
I have taken the opportunity in the last few weeks to prune and tie back my thorny fruit. Above you can see the blackberries now pruned and tied back to a makeshift fence. Actually it was a space next to the shed where my dog kept escaping!! Thought I would make it a bit more of a challenge for him now!! Despite wearing thick gloves and several layers of clothing, I still managed to get an impressive collection of 'war wounds' - these plants are nasty!!
Above are my raspberries, complete with mulch of well rotted manure. These have thrown out so many new canes it is important to cut out the spindly shoots and try to keep them under control. Here I started with 2 early varieties, 2 mid varieties and 2 Autumn varieties so I have a good long season. Not forgetting that the Autumn fruiting raspberries have to be cut to the ground each Winter because they fruit on the current years' canes! I have a feeling that 2009 is going to be a great year for raspberries - they just love the cold Winters! fingers crossed.
Finally the loganberries. These are really rampant, and despite the plant only being 3 years old now, has produced 8 or 9 good strong shoots that I have tied back in a fan shape against a fence.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Desert Island Plant Challenge

Here's a question for you! If you were hypothetically marooned on a desert island, which three plants would you take with you? A fantastic challenge posed at Shirls Gardenwatch blog. Well, of course they would have to be edible. Matron doesn't do flowers - you can't eat flowers! I would have to have an apple tree. There is no happier place for me than in a pregnant apple orchard in Autumn just surrounded by nature's abundance.
Leeks are an old and faithful friend! Leeks are there for you when all other less hardy souls have perished! No garden should be without leeks, and no desert island should be either! Ted Junior and Ted Senior agree!
I am just bowled over by this pumpkin Rouge Vif D'Etamps. A stunning colour, an abundant flesh which keeps for months (I have just finished my last one!) and I can always imagine in my darker moments on this desert island that I am Cinderella and my pumpkin is about to take me to the ball!!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winter Storage

It was such a good Summer for apples last year, I am still checking these Bramleys which I have stored in the garage. They need cold and dark, along with a good circulation of air. Here you can see that I found some wonderful plastic trays in a garden center - just perfect for the job! Another storage success were these Winter squash. On the left was an acorn squash 'Table Queen' and on the right was 'Delicata' which is also known as a sweet potato squash. Both of them had a wonderful firm sweet texture. I have several more of each of these and they are wonderful keepers! Many thanks to Petunias Garden who gave me these seeds during a visit to Washington State in 2007.
I saved some of my smaller shallots 'Pikant' from last year's harvest. They kept wonderfully well hung up in a dry shed in this sack - actually it's one of my late Father's string vests with the bottom sown up!! perfect for the job.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Beginnings

A Day of firsts today!
And I planted my first veggies in the greenhouse too! I promise to preserve, protect and defend my veggies from all pests.... both foreign and domestic!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Food Yards!

This is the most perfect way to demonstrate our delight in cooking home grown veggies.
Step 1. boil your water Step 2. go down the garden and decide what you want to eat - in this case my early PSB 'Rudolph'
Step 3. cut your broccoli heads. You can see here that there are plenty of side shoots ready to come on.
Just so fresh and clean this time of year.
Step 4. take back into the kitchen and steam for 5 minutes. This really was the most tender broccoli you could imagine. Taste was out of this world. When you think of the food which is flown here from Argentina and Peru... how about the end of your own garden?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville oranges are only available in the shops here in Britain for about 6 weeks in January and February. They are much too acid to be eaten as a fruit, but of course, they make wonderful marmalade. The orange pith is quite rich in pectin, and so are the pips! The skin and pith itself takes quite a few hours of cooking to tenderize them enough for eating. What I tend to do is to soak the oranges in water for at least 24hours prior to preparation and cooking. This assists in tenderizing the flesh, it also starts to release the pectin from the oranges which is so crucial for the setting.
Don't forget the pips! you will see that when they have soaked in water overnight that there will be a pectin jelly surrounding them as the pectin starts to release. There are so many methods of making marmalade but I prefer not to waste a single bit.
I usually cut off the rind with a knife or a peeler and chop these into whole lengths which will add to a good texture and shape. I separate out the pips and put them into a muslin bag during cooking, and I chop up the orange flesh too. I have started liquidizing the rest of the pith and adding that to the cooking mixture. Boil all this liquid for several hours with some added lemon juice. Acid helps to release the pectin into the liquid. When this has all boiled down for several hours this is when I remove the bag with the pips then add the sugar.
I have never found any published cooking times at all helpful! It might say boil it for 10 minutes but it can take hours depending on how much pectin you have to make a good set. Personally I find that pouring some liquid onto a frozen plate and allowing it to set for 10 minutes is the best guide to when it is cooked. 2 pounds of Seville oranges, 4 pints water, 2 pounds sugar, 2 lemons.
Can anyone tell me if Seville oranges are allowed, grown or used in the USA? All the marmalade I have ever tasted over there is always made with sweet oranges.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Cookery Year

I must share with you a family secret. I most highly recommend this book to you. I have been using this book since it was first published in the early 1970s. Quite simply it is a fantastic cookery book, Readers Digest 'The Cookery Year' is a comprehensive guide to food. Month by month the book will tell you which food is in season and give excellent recipes for almost every classic dish you have ever heard about. February for example, will give you a number of different marmalade recipes - useful because I have just bought a large bag of Seville oranges!!
Beautiful illustrations and information about every single fruit, vegetable, meat, poultry, game, fish and cheese complete with preparation and cooking instructions.
If you don't know your entrecote from your fore-rib, your shank from your knuckle or your rump from your elbow.. this book will show you.
There are still a few second hand books available on Amazon (at a price!!phew!) Matron suggests that you snap one up. Indispensable for those of us that like to eat food in season and grow our own! Has anyone come across it?

The Multi Coloured Tomato Show!

It seems that the colour I am really lacking on my patch this year is red! Chocolate Cherry, Sungold, Ildi and Great Wall of China provide this display.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Cold is Good!

Here in England we have been below freezing for most of the time for the past few weeks. As gardeners we should be glad of it! Frost and freezing are a crucial part of the gardening calendar and have beneficial results for your plants and your soil. Many British fruit varieties need a period of hard frost in order to develop fruit buds for the following year. At the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale I learnt that apple trees for example need a certain number of days when the temperature falls below freezing in order to properly develop the buds for next year. Raspberries grow best when they are exposed to a hard frost during Winter (just think why they grow so well in Scotland). Blackcurrants are another fruit which needs a good hard frost to develop fruit for next year.
Some of the best strawberries I have ever tasted were from Norway! Strawberry crowns too need to be exposed to the frost, as do rhubarb crowns.
Just think of your soil as well! Water crystals in the soil will expand and break up your clods of earth and hard soil and will vastly improve its texture. You will notice this if you have dug and turned over your soil already and leave it to the elements over Winter.
So enjoy the cold! Wrap up warm and go down the garden and if you are unable to dig or work, then just think of all the good that freezing weather will do to your plants and to your soil. And besides which... it is much easier to see a black dog in the garden when it is covered in snow!