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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Strawberry Jam

 It has to be done!  This time of year the strawberries are right in season, fresh, ripe and reasonably inexpensive.  Not the easiest of jam to make because they are very low in pectin and acid - the two crucial ingredients for a good set.
 I used Jam Sugar.  Equal quantities of strawberries and jam sugar.  This sugar already has apple pectin and citric acid added.  I also added the juice of a couple of lemons just to be sure.  Leave the strawberries in the sugar for 24 hours with nothing else added.
 Next day, the sugar will have drawn out lots of juice from he strawberries and released what little pectin there was in the strawberries.  No water has been added at all, this juice is just from the strawberries.   I then mashed about a third of the strawberries with a potato masher - just to give the jam a bit more consistency.
 The jam must reach 102 degrees C to achieve a set.  I usually ignore any written cooking times because different fruit, levels of pectin and acid vary so much it is impossible to say 10 minutes or 2 hours. 
 I always do it this way.  Put a clean plate in the freezer for 5 minutes to get cold.  Drop a teaspoon of jam on the plate and put back in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool.  The above photo is not set yet.
 You will keep having to repeat this process every few minutes or so until the jam begins to set. You can see here it wrinkles when I draw my finger through. Don't forget the jam will continue to cook just a few minutes longer when you turn off the heat and cool it for 10 minutes.
I sterilized these jars in the oven, and made sure they were still warm when I poured the warm jam into the jars.  I sealed the lids immediately so that as the hot air cools inside the top of the jar, a vacuum is formed.  Bon apetite!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Can You Dig It?

I just laughed my socks off when someone lent me a CD of comedy songs called Can You Dig It?  An amazing comedy talent here, songs written about growing your own. I can't recommend this highly enough.  If you want to listen to their adventures about Derek the Evil Pigeon... get yourself a copy!

Friday, June 27, 2014

London Clay Soil

 These runner beans Aeron Purple Star are enjoying the warm weather. I make sure they are well watered and that the flowers are sprayed regularly to help the flowers to set.  In warm, dry weather runner beans need rain to help set the flowers so a regular mist or light spray can help this.
 My first tiny courgette is starting to develop on the plant. I love these Black Forest Climbing courgettes. I grow them up a trellis to save space. Always a good do-er.
 In the greenhouse my Italian melon cucumbers are beginning to climb up the trellis. They are growing several inches each day now.
 These are little Sweet Potato cuttings that I managed to take last Autumn. I kept the cuttings in a glass of water on the windowsill all Winter, then potted them up in the greenhouse. This variety Beauregard does well in the UK climate.  Now looking good and the soil has warmed up so they went out yesterday.
 Now here comes the challenge!  I have never been able to grow carrots successfully.  I love fresh carrots, and Leo loves them too.  I have very hard London Clay soil here and carrot roots need an open, light, sandy soil to put down long tap roots.
 In this hard London clay the carrot roots just cannot go down. I end up with badly mis-shapen and forked carrots. I have been digging this plot for more than 30 years and despite regular additions of compost and organic matter it is still like digging through cannon balls of clay sometimes.
 Digging, weeding, removing stones and the addition of some sand to loosen up the soil just means I am gardening on hard tennis ball lumps of clay covered in sand!
 Even using a sieve just puts a small crust on top of the soil and these little golf balls of hard concreted clay are impossible to break. I have been watering this patch for several days to try to make it easier to work but it is just so hard still.
So I managed a small patch of reasonable seed bed. Left uncovered the neighbourhood cats would just dig it up and use it as a toilet! grrrrrr! So here is my attempt at some Autumn King carrots.  Let the battle commence!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Easy Irrigation

 It is always a worry in Summer that plants suffer from uneven watering. Either too much or too little. With this simple irrigation kit I have no more worries.  You can attach one end either to a standard Hozelock fitting or into a water reservoir or tank.
 I'm not particularly practical minded, but this really was a doddle.  Fitting these little T-shaped junctions into the plastic hose exactly where I want the water to drip.
 Just cut the hose and fit a junction right at the base of any plant.
 Then I attached it to the stick holding up each of my tomato plants.
In only 10 minutes I have the whole row of tomatoes safely irrigated all Summer.Really is a case of Easy Watering - it is so simple.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Today's Harvest

It is coming thick and fast down on the allotment at the moment.  These lovely new potatoes were dug today. Left - Epicure.. I couldn't believe the size of these two when I dug them up! still tender and waxy new potatoes when cooked. Middle - Red Duke of York, fantastic flavour. Right - Vanessa, a very good first early potato but not as good a flavour as the other two. Bon apetite!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hotting up

 The super long day length and warm days at the moment is bringing everything on in leaps and bounds.  I overwintered some Swiss Chard, and let it grow up to flower for the bees...
 These plants are about 8 or 9 feet tall and about to flower!  Always well worth leaving some of your veggies to go to flower for the bees. I have seen they particularly like Parsnips, Leeks and Broccoli.
 Meanwhile I'm trying to grow Oca for the first time this year.  A small tuber like a Jerusalem Artichoke.  I am growing some tubers in a black plastic dustbin. Nice and warm soil in there, I just keep it well fed and watered.
 Meanwhile my Aeron Vale Purple Star runner beans are running!  Some have been cut off by the snails and slugs, but most plants are vigorous and healthy. This is a purple Runner Bean bred specially by Gwilym at Aeron Vale Allotments.  I am looking forward to seeing these, my heavy, wet London clay should suit them well.
 Despite being chewed to smithereens by the sawfly, there are still some decent Invicta Gooseberries ripening on the bushes.  I leave them to ripen properly and they are the sweetest, gourmet treat ever. Pick them early and you might as well strip walpaper with them!
 I am particularly excited to see how these cucumbers develop.  Two varieties from Seeds of Italy, they are both 'melon cucumbers' one from Arbruzzo and the other from Manduria.  So far, the red spider mites appear to have been kept at bay with my natural predators. 
 Broad beans are just perfect and ready to eat at the moment.  I never have problems with Aquadulce Claudia, a great variety.
I planted my outdoor tomatoes today.  Varieties this year include, Indigo Rose, Harlequin, Chocolate Cherry, Sungold, Golden Jubilee and Pantano.  The latter, Pantano is a Roman Beefsteak variety from Seeds of Italy.   Full steam ahead!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Epicure New Potatoes

One of the highlights of the Allotment year is the first harvest of new potatoes.  This variety is Epicure, a traditional old Ayrshire potato.  Definitely my favourite variety of all time. Round shaped, deep eyes, the most brilliant flavour ever! Bon appetite!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pesky Pests!

My allotment is being munched to death at the moment - but I'm not the one doing the munching!  My lovely Runner Beans are being shredded. I've never seen damage this bad and this quickly before!  Other climbing beans have been destroyed right down to the ground.  This warm, wet Winter has been heaven for pesky pests.
 Someone has been munching my potato leaves too!  and I thought potato leaves were poisonous - they are being decimated.  The warm, wet weather has also meant there is a blight warning too.
 My lovely Black Forest climbing courgette has had the leaves and the growing point nibbled out too! grrrr.  Only a few weeks ago I bought a big pack of nematode worms which I applied to the soil correctly and kept moist as directed.  It doesn't seem to have done any good, the slugs and snails are worse than I have seen in years.
 Not just slugs, but the gooseberry sawflies have been munching their way through the foliage too.  Just in a couple of days they have reduced the plant to sticks!  I've had a close look to see if I could pick some off but see nothing! grrrrr!
 and... early this Spring I fumigated my greenhouse with a sulphur candle to kill pests in the greenhouse, particularly the red spider mites which had been a bad problem in previous years... and they are back nibbling sandy spots on my greenhouse cucumbers already. Grrrrrr!
 So let's have another go at garden friendly pest remedies before I resort to sprays. I bought a packet of Phytoseiulus Persimilis, a predator which eats red spider mites. Let's see what happens here.  I just hope these work.  I am REALLY looking forward to these special melon cucumbers from Seeds of Italy.
The Phytoseiulus are attached to this vermiculite which is tipped on to the leaves in the greenhouse.  The eggs hatch in 7 days and start munching the red spider mites.  You can see the damage to this young cucumber leaf already and the plant only has 3 leaves!  It is one long battle this year!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Leo the Labrador

 Leo is getting on in years now. Fourteen years young and still going strong.  His front end loves to chase wood pigeons and cats away from the allotment, but his back legs sometimes don't get the message in time!
 Arthritis slows him down a bit these days, but he follows me everywhere!  Down the end of the garden he plods down with me and finds something to do!
 Always looking for a free lunch, he is the perfect gardening companion.
Despite having nice, clean drinking water in the house... he still prefers to drink from the rainwater butt!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

First New Potatoes

 I planted one first early seed potato in a pot in the greenhouse.
 The variety Vanessa is a first early.
 I had a little poke around the surface of the pot today and to my surprise I found a decent sized potato. 
 I couldn't believe that so soon I could have such a lovely little treat.  There is nothing in the world quite like your own, first early new potatoes.
 Mother nature also had it in mind that fresh mint should also be available at just the right time.
 Just a run under the tap was all it took to clean these up. No scrubbing.
Just 20 minutes of steaming under fresh mint and these were ready for a knob of butter.  Perfect!