Monday, 29 October 2012

A Blaze of Autumn

Today has been a beautiful Autumn day. As it is also half-term, we decided to go for a long walk. We set off along Conishead beach aiming for the woods at Conishead Priory.

Although a little muddy, the woods were spectacular. Theo, my middle son (trailing behind everyone else in the pic above), loves these woods. He particularly loves coming in Spring and spotting the snowdrops peeping through the frozen ground.

We spotted this huge fungus growing at the bottom of a tree.

I loved the texture of this bark. I am a bit ashamed to say that I don't know what the tree was.

Whenever we walk through the wood Theo and Finn always make a beeline for this old tree trunk.

The wood was adorned with the most colourful carpet of leaves. I couldn't help but think about all the leaf mould I could make!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

In which I am awash with pumpkins!

I have been so busy in the last month I have had no time to update my blog. However, I am now (hopefully) back. This is just one of my 8, yes 8, pumpkins. I love growing pumpkins, and I very much missed my pumpkin patch when I didn't grow them last year. I love the way they trail off, rambling across the allotment. I especially  love finding one that has managed to hide itself deep within the foliage on another crop (I found one such pumpkin among the sweetcorn this year).

I usually grow pumpkins to eat, bar one that is sacrificed for Halloween, however after being utterly inspired by the huge pumpkin grown this year by Matron of the lovely blog Down at the Allotment, next year I may set aside one pumpkin plant to see if I can also grow a Cinderella!

So, what am I going to do with my 8 pumpkins? As mentioned above, one is earmarked for Halloween, however I am not entirely sure what I will do with the rest. I made a head start today by chopping one of them up and adding half of it to my Autumn allotment broth, which as its name suggests, is a mixture of all the things I have from the allotment at the moment - pumpkin, carrots, onion, a chili, potato, and kale (green curly, and cavolo nero). I will roast the other half tomorrow to go with the veggie roast dinner I am hoping to make. 

I have found that pumpkin freezes well. In Autumn and Winter I like making root vegetable casseroles (great to make in a slow cooker) and its super easy to get a bag of diced pumpkin out of the freezer and add it to the pot. Of course, there is also pumpkin soup, which I usually make once or twice. I have never had pumpkin pie. I've just never fancied it. Maybe one day I will give it a go! If you have a surplus of pumpkins Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book has a number of recipes to keep you busy.

I do love Autumn. It's about the only time of year that I really appreciate orange. I couldn't resist taking a picture of this beautiful tree in the grounds of my elder boys' school. Maybe the super intense colours this year are due to all the rain we've had!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Back from the Sunny South

I'm back from Kent, and now that the children are back at school (yay!) I might have some time to write something. Even though the nights are getting darker and the mornings are definitely getting chillier, there is still plenty going on at the allotment - runner beans, courgettes, pumpkins, sweet peas, and carrots are still going strong. However, I thought I would post some of my pictures of my in-laws garden. As you can see they are lucky enough to have their own Kent Cob tree, which faithfully produces an abundance of cob nuts (a particularly yummy type of hazelnut) each year. In my local supermarket cob nuts cost about £8 kg. We are lucky to get loads for nothing. The best thing about it is that you don't have to do anything except harvest them!

They also have a damson (Prunus domestica) tree. I'm not at all jealous, honest. I have kept some of the stones and was thinking of attempting to grow one of my own, however I have read that they don't start bearing fruit until they are about 15 years old.

Lastly, they also have an apple tree, although I don' know what variety. I really wish I had a nice big garden to grow trees in. Oh well, maybe one day.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Harvest steps up... just in time for me going away

I am currently on my holidays in Kent, the so-called Garden of England. I drove down on Thursday and before I left I visited the allotment. Somewhat to my dismay I found that production appeared to have stepped up a gear. I harvested cabbage, far too many courgettes (for the first time this year I had a glut!), runner beans, carrots, cucumbers, and peppers.

I am away until September, and it is a pretty bad time to be away. I share allotment duties with my Dad and he is also going to be away for a week. So now I am paranoid that I will come home to find my courgettes all turned into marrows and that the beans and sweet peas (which are finally covered in flowers) will have tired at not being picked and will have given up growing. I asked my Dad to strip the beans and courgettes of everything before he goes away in the hope of keeping things going as I am sure we are going to get an Indian Summer (fingers crossed)!!

As I left my blackberries looked like they were at the beginnings of being ready. This is the first time we have had blackberries. Amazingly this is a 2-year-old bush, it is huge, and is loaded with big juicy berries. Theo has been eyeing them up for ages, so I am hoping that the birds won't have had them all by the time we get back.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Pumpkin's Progress

Look at my pumpkin. I can't believe how much it has grown in the last few days - it has almost doubled in size. I am so pleased as several of my pumpkins rotted for some reason. I wonder how big it will be by next week? This weekend is forecast to be hot and sunny, so hopefully the heat will spur it on.

The issue I was having with my pumpkins and courgettes rotting from the flower end seems to have resolved itself. Although nowhere near as prolific last year, my yummy Lebanese courgette is starting to thrive - with 4 budding courgettes growing on one stem of the plant!

In my quest to keep the children occupied we went for a long walk to our local beach today. It's a 1 hour walk from the nearest road, which means you almost always have it to yourself. How lucky are we? Anyway, while we were there I spotted this lovely plant...

I thought this plant was so pretty. I guessed that it was some kind of sea thistle, however after a bit of research tonight I found out that it is sea holly (Eryngium maritimum). It is protected as it is classed as endangered. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries its roots were widely harvested as they were thought to be an aphrodisiac. According to Plants For a Future its leaves and roots are edible.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Potato Woes

So, this year we got blight. We've never been bothered by it before, but this year it struck us in mid-July. As soon as we realised what it was we cut them back, hoping that the potatoes beneath the ground would be ok, and that they would have had enough time to grow into nice big potatoes.

I dug up the Desiree crop first. So far so good, it wasn't great, but it wasn't a disaster either. The yield was reasonable, but the potatoes were on the small side.

Then I moved on to my favourite potatoes - Pink Fir Apples. I really love Pink Fir Apple potatoes. I have to say that I was gutted. Lots and lots of potatoes, but all of them were really tiny. The top picture shows my biggest Pink Fir Apple, the bottom shows the average size. :-( Really, really disappointed. Out of my whole crop I think I have enough to make enough mash potato for the 5 of us. I was still eating my Pink Fir Apples from 2011 in late Spring of this year. That definitely won't be happening this time around.

By now I really felt like going home, however it was still sunny so I thought I'd move on to the Kestrel crop. Not the best yield, but most of the potatoes were nice and big, unfortunately every one of them has split. I think this is weird because it hasn't affected any of my other potatoes. 

The thing about this somewhat disastrous harvest was that it made me realise just how lucky we are. For our ancestors who largely relied on the food they grew to survive, 2012 would have proved a very perilous year. Hopefully, 2013 will be better.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Carrots a Roaring Success (For Once)

After all the doom and gloom of this year something has cheered me up - carrots. For the last two years our attempts at growing carrots have failed dismally, however this year they have been a real success story. I like them in the same way that I like potatoes, in that you don't know what you're getting until you pull them up! 

These are the first courgettes I have picked this year. My plants are  way behind last year, much smaller, and not producing much in the way of anything. I'm also having a problem with the ends of the Lebanese courgettes (on the left) and my pumpkins going rotten. I don't know why this is happening and its something I've never encountered before. I've already lost 2 of my pumpkins and 1 courgette. With the courgettes I am trying to get round it by picking them when they are pretty small, however I obviously can't do this with the pumpkins. 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Runner Beans at Last

Getting to the allotment in the school holidays is not proving easy. To complicate matters it never seems to do much more than rain recently. Anyway, I managed to squeeze in a brief visit yesterday, and was delighted to find that in my absence a couple of baby runner beans have appeared. Yes, there is only two or three, but hey its better than none. By this time of year the runner beans are usually a dense mass of foliage, this year they are sparse and very see-through. I don't think 2012 will be a year where I get fed up of picking/eating runner beans.

This is one of my baby pumpkins. I have two pumpkin plants this year, each of which have undergone an impressive growth spurt in the last week or so. I have three or four pumpkins on each plant (however one went rotten/got eaten by something). I am not going to pull some of them off as I don't want to grow a monster pumpkin this year. Last time I did that I managed to drop one and it rolled into the greenhouse breaking it! The courgettes have finally got some decent sized courgettes on them and I think I might actually be able to pick some tomorrow.

On a different note, we went for a lovely long walk yesterday. The children were superpleased to find some wild raspberries (below), I have never seen one before so I was quite pleased as well. I didn't get to try one though as they ate them all.

Monday, 16 July 2012

In Which I Made Lots of Jam...

As you can see, I have been busy making jam. In the end I made redcurrant, blackcurrant, and gooseberry (in that order). For the redcurrant I used normal sugar and it does look a little runny (although it did set on the cold plate test). I don't know whether that was because of the sugar or because it was my first attempt at making jam.

Because I thought the redcurrant looked runny I decided to use 1/2 jam sugar and 1/2 normal sugar for the blackcurrant and gooseberry jam. I weighed the fruit, simply added just under the equivalent weight in sugar, and did lots of stirring. I was pleased that I didn't buy a maslin pan, as it really isn't necessary. Although I was pleased that I bought a jam thermometer as I think my first attempts at jam making might have been a bit disastrous without it! 

So, I am now the proud owner of 3 jars of redcurrant jam, 5 jars of blackcurrant jam, and 3 jars of gooseberry jam. Next on my list is damson jam.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Picking Fruit for Jam and Signs of Growth

I've picked my fruit for my jam. Now I just have to make it. I am hoping to get time for my first ventures in jam making sometime tomorrow. I have just over 1 kg of gooseberries, 1 kg of blackcurrants, and 0.5 kg of redcurrants.

Finally, there are some signs of growth down on the allotment. One of my Lebanese courgette plants finally has a courgette growing on it. This probably means that in a couple of weeks I will be writing a post saying how sick I am of eating Lebanese courgettes!

You can't beat a pumpkin patch. This is my first pumpkin to appear this year. I didn't grow pumpkins last year and missed them rambling over the plot. This year I have two plants.

My white cabbages are finally starting to get it together as well (although something does seem to be eating them). The red cabbages seem a bit behind.

This little honeybee was enjoying my lavender late this afternoon. I'm off to bed now. I need to have lots of energy tomorrow to tire my children out and hopefully get them to sleep relatively early, so that I can get on with my jam making tomorrow night!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Strawberries at Last

At last, some strawberries that haven't been ruined by the rain or sabotaged by slugs! I admit that it's not the biggest harvest in the world, and I won't be making strawberry jam this year, but hey it's better than nothing. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Beginning Jam Making

Ooh, all my jam making things have arrived! I bought a jam thermometer, funnel, jam strainer, and a couple of jam jars (I also have a stash of recycled ones). I didn't buy a maslin. To be honest I had never even heard of a maslin until last week. I thought they were a bit expensive, plus do you really need one? Maybe I will buy one next year if my jam turns out to be very successful.

So, what jam should I make? Strawberry jam is my favourite, however the rain and the slugs have put paid to that idea. We have lots of gooseberries, blackcurrants, and redcurrants. I'm not too sure about gooseberry jam. This leaves me with the currants. So, blackcurrant jam, redcurrant jam, or mixed currant jam? I have until Thursday (weather permitting) to make my mind up!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Two Days of Sunshine and Two Tomatoes

We have been very lucky recently here in the South Lakes. On Thursday it was sunny and I was able to weed around the raspberries and harvest the shallots, and yesterday it was also sunny and we were able to harvest our first tomatoes. All two of them. Which, were promptly eaten by Theo (kindly modelling them above).

The sunshine seems to have given the fruit plants a bit of a boost. We have been awash with raspberries and gooseberries, the loganberries are beginning to ripen, as are the blueberries (at last). Unfortunately, the strawberries have not faired well this year, there are loads of them but because of the excess rain they seem to have either gone yucky or been devoured by slugs :-( I am a bit upset at this because I was really hoping to make some strawberry jam this year.

This is one of my Lebanese courgettes. Like most things, they have been slow growing this year. I grew these for the first time last year and they are the best courgettes to grow, ever! Last year I had tons and tons of courgettes off one plant, and they are so tasty. This year I sowed seeds for three plants, three weeks apart, in a hope to extend my harvesting season. Fingers crossed they are going to undergo a growing spurt soon.

It was even sunny enough on Thursday for the Livingstone Daisy's (Mesembryanthemum - meaning "midday flowering") to bother opening up! 

This is about 50% of our shallot harvest this year. I dug these up on Thursday and they are currently drying. At least these seem to have avoided any rain-issues. Unfortunately the potatoes look like being a different story. The Sharpe's Express first early's were pretty successful but we dug up some Arran Pilot yesterday and the yield was really disappointing - about 5 potatoes per plant. I don't think we'll be growing them next year.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Calabrese, Perpetual Spinach, Peppers, and Summer Berries

It's got to that great time of year when I can visit the allotment and pick a whole bunch of things for dinner. To go with my Sharpe's Express first early's that we harvested last weekend I got some calabrese...

...some perpetual spinach...

...some green sweet peppers...

...and last, but certainly not least, raspberries, loganberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, and gooseberries! There was only a handful of ripe loganberries, but in the last few days the raspberries have come out in force, which was surprising since it has done nothing but rain for weeks. 

This year I am absolutely determined not to let the vast majority of the gooseberries and currants go to waste and am going to attempt to make some jam. My first attempt at jam making will no doubt appear in a post sometime soon :)

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Finally...the First of the First Early Harvests!

It's been a long time coming, but this weekend was a momentous occasion as it marked the first potato harvest of the year. I think this is the latest first early harvest ever for us. Why so late? For some reason the first early's this year did not flower. Our second earlies and maincrop potatoes flowered ages and ages ago, so we waited patiently for the flowers to appear but not a single one did. I would like to blame the weather, but all the other potato plants flowered, and they are much bigger, so I really don't know.

Anyway, we took the plunge and dug a few Sharpes Express plants up, this was the yield from 3 plants. To be honest, I was really pleased as compared with all the other potatoes we have growing this year, these were the least impressive looking. I cooked them for 15-20 minutes and they were lovely :)  Sometime over the next week or so we will have to dig up some of the other first early's we have growing this year (Pentland Javelin and Arran Pilot) and see if they have been as successful. The other varieties we are growing are Wilja and Kestrel (second early's), and Desiree and Pink Fir Apple (maincrop). I love Pink Fir Apple potatoes! This year we have stuck to "old favourite" varieties. Last year I tried some of the heritage variety Mr Little's Yelthom Gypsy, they were really expensive to buy and I got barely enough potatoes for a meal for 2 from about 6 plants. I was really disappointed.

Fresh mint to go with the potatoes.

I also use the mint to make fresh mint tea in my Turkish teapot (çaydanlık). When I pick the mint I put it in a glass of water to keep it fresh for when I want to use it. The normal advice for making mint tea is to add sugar or honey to sweeten it. I don't do this as it is sweet enough already! All you need to do is to put the mint leaves in water, bring it to the boil, and let it brew for 5 minutes or so. If you want you can also add a teabag (black or green) to the mix, but I don't do that either.