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, August 30, 2011

Ripening Colours

Fruit and vegetables seem to be just hanging around waiting for some sunshine to ripen them at the moment. It seems to have been dull cloud, rain showers and brief flashes of sunshine for weeks now. These crabapples however, have decided to start ripening. I love this early flash of pale pink. These will ripen to dark red.
My Bishop's Kiss chillis are mostly green and still slow to ripen, this one is heading the field. Others will follow when the sun comes out.
These lovely yellow tomatoes are Ildi. Large bunches of grape sized fruit ripen to bright yellow. A lovely taste too. Heavy yields make this a regular in Matron's garden.
Apples have done well this year, particularly since I thinned out the small apples to single fruit. These Egremont Russet apples are huge and perfect.
My experiment growing sugar cane has been a great success! I sawed up a length of sugar cane into 7 inch sections and lay them on their side in a warm, sandy compost. They have done so well this year that I have just transferred them into a black dustbin for the rest of the Summer. Not completely hardy but I can probably find a way to protect them over Winter.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I have a few nice pumpkins growing on my patch at the moment. The one shown above is Crown Prince. I just love these blue skinned pumpkins, they have the most wonderful dark orange flesh which is firm and sweet.
Queensland Blue pumpkin has to be one of my favourites. I remember growing this variety when I was a child on my Father's allotment. We had family links to Australia and New Zealand and these varieties thrive in the Southern hemisphere where the daylight is just a bit brighter than it is here. Not the easiest to grow here in a dull Summer, but well worth the effort.
And these little beauties are a recent discovery to me. It was Paula at Petunia's Garden that gave me one of these to bring home from a holiday in Washington State. These are a perfect size for 2 people, they have a wonderful firm, sweet texture. These are also known as a sweet potato squash because of the dark orange flesh inside. And these are a brilliant Winter keeper! Again, can be temperamental in the British climate and not as productive as I would like, but well worth the effort.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Variety is the Spice of Life

All my apples are ripening at least a month early this year. I have two family fruit trees, each with 3 varieties grafted on to the root stock. Although some of the labels have gone astray now, these windfalls include, Discovery, Lord Lambourne, Sunset and Egremont Russett. A Great show this year!
Tomatoes are looking great too. Ildi, Black Cherry and Gardener's Delight.
I am still picking a few of these lovely new Delizia F1 cucumbers. Just the right size for one meal, no half cucumbers lurking in the fridge for days. This is fresh and juicy just when you want it. Variety is the Spice of Life!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ups and Downs

Tomatoes are in full swing at the moment. The dark plum tomatoes are the Japanese Black Trifele tomato, one of the stars of my plot this year, a wonderful new tomato for me. The others are the black cherry tomato - one of the best flavours ever, the yellow one Ildi - thousands of them! and the small reds are Gardeners Delight.
Now this picture above is what I expect Gardeners Delight tomato to look like. Double strands of smallish but not cherry sized tomatoes. This picture was from my 2010 crop.
And this year all of my Gardeners Delight tomatoes have sort of reverted back to bunches of smaller cherry tomatoes.Perhaps I used a different seed packet, perhaps it was older seed, or perhaps it was my own saved seed. Anyway, this is quite different from the tomato last year. Not unpleasant but I wouldn't have chosen to grow one like this.
Stop press news! There are now 4 lovely shoots on my turmeric pot in the greenhouse! I'm keeping it warm and moist. Looking good!
My garlic chives are just setting flower at the moment. The bees love them! These lovely white flowers always produce masses of seed heads. The plant itself is a very healthy, hardy perennial.
Another dilemma on Matron's patch this year. I have several very healthy and very large Mexican Tomatillo plants. I have grown them many times before, but this time, despite lots of apparent pollination from the bees, none of them have set any fruit. I would have thought that tomatillo would be like tomatoes in that they were self fertile. My tomatillo plants are quite a distance apart from each other, I wonder if they would have pollinated each other if they were closer together. Hmmmmm. Any ideas?
I planted my leek seedlings just a week or so ago. They are romping away, thanks to a generous downpour of rain and a thick layer of cut grass mulch!

Monday, August 15, 2011

All Things Pink!

I dug up just one plant of my late maincrop Pink Fir Apple potatoes. An amazing yield! one plant filled this plastic seed tray! Fairly knobbly, and some of the tubers resemble the shape of Jerusalem Artichokes. This can make them a bit difficult to clean and prepare, but there is a cross breed potato called Anya which is less knobbly. It is a cross between pink fir apple and Desiree. You can see Anya for sale in the supermarkets.
The catalogues state that this variety as a late maincrop is ready in October! Well, like many crops this year it appears to be 2 months early! The plant growth above the ground has been approaching 4ft tall and I had to stake them in order to prevent them falling over and covering other crops. We've had some good sunshine and some good rain this season, it is a good year for potatoes for me.
The taste and texture are simply amazing! A really firm, waxy potato with an amazing flavour. These are headed for a potato salad today!
Whilst weeding, I also uncovered a monster beetroot! This was growing among my long, Cylindra beetroot. Perhaps it was a stray seed! I think I am going to try pickling beetroot, I think I will invent pickled beetroot in horseradish vinegar... how does that sound?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Matron's Pickled Onions

I came by a large sack of pickling onions in a farmers shop recently. I have always adored pickled onions, as a child I remember a big 2 gallon stone jar with a cork stopper in the corner of the kitchen. There was no limit to the amount of pickled onions I could eat, there still isn't!
Anyway, here's how I do it; Pour boiling water over the onions and leave to soften the skins for about 2 minutes, then rinse with cold water a couple of times and drain. The skins will come off easily then! Put in a bowl and salt them for 24hours.
Rinse off the salt quickly under a running tap then drain and dry with a cloth. I pack them into jars and then I can measure how much vinegar it will take to fill the jars. Then tip the measured vinegar into a saucepan 2 parts vinegar 1 part water, pickling spice and a couple of ounces of sugar. You won't taste the sugar but it takes the nasty acid taste from the liquid.
Gently pour the boiling vinegar over the onions, small bits at a time so you don't crack the glass. I do it through a sieve to take out most of the pickling spice but I leave a spoonful in the jar anyway. I decorate and flavour with a bay leaf and a couple of dried chillis. Should be ready in a few months.
Next subject. Brilliant success with courgettes grown under a black plastic mulch, but the ground is a little drier than usual. I try to keep up with the watering, but the inevitable powdery mildew has taken a hold a bit earlier than usual this year. There is not much you can do about it. Some people say you can hold it back a bit spraying with a water/milk mix. It is unsightly and a nuisance. I expect you all have it!
Salford Black Beans are swelling up nicely. As I am saving seed this year, the plant stops producing young beans when you leave some to go to seed. If I had kept picking the young beans then they would keep producing (plant hormones) I hope to have some seeds to continue next year.
More pictures of Leo enjoying himself at hydrotherapy last week!
My exceptionally clever Niece took these pictures with her new super dooper Canon EOS 18million pixel camera. I was never that clever! (but she can't make pickled onions like I can!)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Planning Ahead

I pulled a few of these cylindra beetroot today. I seem to do much better with this shape than the traditional round beetroot for some reason. Very pleased with these!
I decided to do a bit of successional planting today. Most of the Summer crops at the moment will be finished in a month or so, and there is plenty of daylight and warmth right into October and even November some years. I planted a few more cucumber seeds, just to see if I could get a late crop. An experiment really, but there will be plenty of room in the greenhouse.
A successional planting of peas usually works right the way through the season. Here I have some I planted a month ago, and another row of seeds planted today. Let's see what happens.
It will be nice to have some Winter Density lettuce in the greenhouse right the way through till Spring. Lettuce like it fairly cool to germinate so this pot will be staying out of the greenhouse in the shade for a while. Hopefully one or two of these will survive in a growbag.
These leeks have been growing in a pot for a while now. I planted them out and gave the tops a haircut, just before a big shower of rain came down this afternoon. Excellent.
You might remember that the Dim Sum Gardener very kindly sent me some fresh turmeric to grow in my greenhouse a while back.
Very pleased to say that two healthy shoots have now popped up, and some nice root growth in the pot too. I love to experiment.
And my sugar cane is about 3ft tall now and quite sturdy. All in all, quite a successful experiment. The task ahead is to get them through the Winter!


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Buddy Morris Memorial Veggie Garden!

This picture was taken just a year ago! My lovely Buddy did enjoy eating his veggies around my patch, so this year I decided to grow a variety of 'Black' veggies in his name. A fitting memorial.
Courgette Black Beauty. Buddy adored eating cooked courgettes, he was a very calm and placid fellow, but he got a wild look in his eye if you were eating courgettes!
Shetland Black maincrop potatoes. Interesting to look at, fun to grow, but they fell apart on cooking and the taste was bland.
Japanese Black Trifele Tomato. A wonderful taste and extremely prolific. A wonderful discovery.
Croatian Black Bean. A climbing bean, beautiful mauve flowers. I think these are going to mature a month or so later than my other beans. Very useful to have a succession. Tender and tasty.
Salford Black Runner Bean. A bit of an iffy start, poor germination, but I am harvesting oodles of runner beans now from just 4 plants. Lovely and tender, great taste. I will be sure to keep seeds from these.
Blackberries, originally a wild pest at the end of the garden, now harnessed as a prolific fruit crop. Pruned quite heavily last year and has paid dividends. Huge, sweet blackberries this year.
Well, you can't win them all! Learning from failures is just as important. This was Cavalo Nero or Tuscan Black Kale. Looking pretty awful at the moment, hopefully will recover over the Winter and might give me some lovely tasty leaves next year. Damn those butterflies.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Too many Courgettes?

A very common complaint this time of year is that courgettes (or Zucchinni as Americans call them!) just grow too darn fast! I know that 3 days ago I picked a whole trugfull, and today I picked another whole trugfull! Anyway, these pictured above are Black Beauty courgettes. Another part of my Buddy Morris veggie garden!
And these slightly lighter colour are my old favourite Defender courgettes. I like them because they are incredibly prolific and resistant to mosaic virus. So what am I going to do with all these lovely veggies?
I am pickling them! just sliced and salted for a few hours to take away some of the excess moisture, then rinse and dry them. The removal of some of the moisture enables the spiced vinegar to penetrate and keep them nice and crisp when they are pickled.
Pack them into sterilized jars. I found a great Kosher Dill Pickle mix in the USA, basically it is sugar, salt and spices. You know that lovely taste you get with dill pickles? These are heavenly!
I think here in the UK it is hard to find, but I will go exploring in some Jewish areas of North London, like Golders Green. They are sure to sell it there.
But while I was sitting outside preparing my courgettes... a thief sneaked up beside me...
He ate the whole thing!!