Thursday, 31 January 2013

Tomatoes That I Will Hopefully Grow in 2013

Tomatoes are my favourite food. Every since I was little I have eaten lots and lots of tomatoes. In our first season on the allotment back in 2011 we attempted to grow greenhouse and outdoor tomatoes. It appeared the outdoor ones were not too fond of our lovely Lake District weather, so last year we didn't even bother with any outdoor tomatoes and just stuck to growing well-known varieties (Gardener's Delight, Sungold, Ailsa Craig) in the greenhouse. 

This year I wanted to try growing a few new varieties, but I hadn't really thought much about it. I visited Wilkinson's on a quest to see if I could find some Lebanese courgette seeds, which I did. My prized Lebanese courgette seeds were only available in a multipack and there was 3-for-2 offer on seed packs so I decided to also get a tomato multipack and a sunflower multipack. So, this year I will hopefully be growing:
  • Orange Berry
  • Costoluto Fiorentino
  • Red Pear
  • San Marzano
  • Lldi
  • Tigerella

I've had San Marzano tomatoes before, and they are very tasty, however I am particularly looking forward to growing the tigerella. I'm not quite sure how I will manage to fit all of these into our little greenhouse. They are all suitable for growing both outside and in the greenhouse. So if the weather cooperates this year and provides us with a lovely hot and long summer I could maybe make use of all my seeds!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A New Toy!

I am very lucky to have been able to get a new camera, what's more I am even more lucky to have been able to get something I have wanted for about 20 years - a macro lens. The weather wasn't cooperating with my plans today so I just had a play with it indoors. The light was far from great and I really need to spend a couple of weeks getting to grips with it, however I am hoping that I will be able to get some super closeup pictures at the allotment this year.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Decisions, Decisions...

The weather has not been allotment-friendly of late. We had a lot of snow on Friday, which had turned to slush by Saturday, and now we have the delights of heavy rain and gales. Anyway, I thought it was best to start thinking about what to grow this year. Potatoes first....last year we grew, Sharpe's Express, Pentland Javelin, Pink Fir Apple, Kestrel, and Désirée.

The Sharpe's Express (above) and Pentland Javelin did well. Then disaster struck and we got blight (Potato Woes), so we had to move fast and dig everything up. The Désirée (above) did OK, but not fantastic as the potatoes were all on the small side. However, as you can see below the Kestrel and Pink Fir Apple crops were pretty disastrous.

So, what should I grow this year? After much umming and arring I plumped for Belana (first early), Shetland Black (second early), and Sarpo Mira (maincrop). I chose the Belana as I fancied growing a first early that I hadn't grown before, the Shetland Black because I like attempting to grow something unusual (and I thought the kids might be a little intrigued by their appearance), and the Sarpo Mira purely because of the fact that they are resistant to the evils of blight (as you may guess I am not feeling too optimistic about the weather this year!). 

I will probably end up growing some other varieties also. Despite an extrememly disappointing harvest in 2012, my Pink Fir Apple's gave me a really good crop in 2011 and I love their odd shape and their nutty flavour. On the recommendation of Flighty over at Flighty's Plot I may also have a go at growing Vales Emerald as I have never grown them before.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Fun in the Snow

No digging could be done at the allotment this weekend as the ground was frozen solid. We had no snow, which was a great disappointment to the children, so we set off to higher ground to see if we could find some...

As you can see, we did! Just fifteen minutes drive in the car and we found enough snow for Finn to throw a few snowballs about. Finn really wanted to build a snowman, however after a few minutes in the snow he decided that his feet were too cold and went to sit in the car, leaving Ethan, my Mum and Dad, and myself to do all the hard work.

I think this is the smallest snowman I have ever made, however there wasn't really enough snow. Ethan wanted to go sledging but there wasn't enough for that. I'm really hoping we get at least one good snowfall this winter. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Winter Leek Soup

Unless you are exceptionally organised, there is little to harvest from the allotment in January. Unfortunately, the cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli I did plant in hope of eating throughout the 'hungry gap' got eaten by the slugs. Last year was a very good year for slugs, and as the weather was so mild until the last week or so, they were still on the rampage in January - I spotted one only the other week eating my newly sprouted rhubarb leaves. Anyway, one thing that most people do have to harvest at this time of year is leeks, and a great thing to make with leeks is leek soup. I make two different leek soups 'winter leek soup'  and 'summer leek soup'. As we are currently in the depths of winter I am making winter leek soup today.

When I first began making leek soup I used a recipe from Delia's Smith's Vegetarian Collection, however I have refined it over the years by adding extra ingredients - in the case of my winter version Cavolo nero, curly kale, and peas. The recipe below will make 6 large bowls of delicious soup. 
  1. Trim and wash 6-8 leeks (depending on their size.) Cut the leeks into half lengthways, then chop finely and wash thoroughly. Cutting the leeks into half first will enable you to give them a really good wash.
  2. Dice 1 large onion.
  3. Wash and chop 4 green curly kale leaves and 4 Cavolo nero leaves (you can use kale only if you don't grow Cavolo nero).
  4. Wash and dice 1 large potato or 2-3 small potatoes - I prefer to leave the skin on as they are a rich source of nutrients.
  5. Gently melt 1 oz (25 g) butter in a large pan and add all the ingredients, stirring to ensure they are all coated with butter. 
  6. Add one large cup of frozen peas to the pan and stir again.
  7. Season with plenty of salt and black pepper, put the lid on, turn the heat down as low as it will go, and leave the ingredients to 'sweat' for 15 minutes or so.
  8. Add 300 ml semi-skimmed milk, and 1 litre of vegetable stock to the pan. Add a little water if needed (there should be enough liquid to nearly cover all the vegetables). Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Blend and serve.
  9. If you are a vegan simply swap the butter for 1 tbsp of vegetable oil, swap the milk for unsweetened soy milk.

It is often recommended to serve leek soup with a swirl of cream or crème fraîche, however I don't do that. Sometimes I add a little grated mature cheddar cheese, although it is delicious without!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Daffodils, Leeks, and a Frosty Morning Walk

I finally got around to digging up a few of my leeks. These are destined for my winter leek soup. I think I will probably dig up the remaining 20 or so this week also. It is strange, many of the leeks at other plots on the allotment threw up a flower long before Christmas, however ours haven't done that yet, which is good news.

Last Friday I spotted a bag of 30 mixed daffodils reduced in Asda to £1.25. As you can see some of them had already sprouted. I know its a bit of a gamble, but I really would like to see the plot looking a bit more cheery at this time of year. So, in the ground they have gone. Fingers crossed I will have some lovely yellow daffodils come early March.

The runner beans are moving to a new part of the plot this year. My Dad has been busy preparing the bean trench and uncovered 2 of these boulders, in total we have now discovered 3 huge stones. The one he discovered last year took 3 people to lift it!

It was such a gorgeous day today I went for a walk up a local hill called the Hoad. There was a dusting of snow on the top. The sheep seemed to be enjoying their breakfast!

There was a good covering of snow on Coniston Old Man and the Furness Fells...

I love Winter when it's like this! A month or so of bright blue skies, frost, and a little dusting of snow would cheer me up no end. I hope the weather stays like this until Spring. #pleasenomorerain!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Yet More Signs of Life

My plot seems a little ahead of itself this year. Last week I noticed that the rhubarb had made a surprise early-January appearance. Then I read that Colin at the recycled gardener had noticed that his rhubarb and his chives were showing signs of growth. It wasn't raining today so I decided to inspect my chives to find out if there were any signs of life...

...which indeed there were. However, what's more, my  loganberry and three blueberry bushes are also in bud.

Gosh, I think they are all going to be in for a big surprise this weekend! Anyway, before the supposed big chill sets in I am off to the allotment tomorrow afternoon (weather permitting) to harvest my leeks. A job that I should of done ages ago :)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Allotment + Knitting = Knitted Vegetables

I'm keeping myself busy by knitting at the moment. At the moment I'm knitting Easter eggs, however I would like to have a go at knitting some vegetables and flowers. Look what I found while looking for inspiration...

These fantastic knitted/crocheted vegetables were made by Japanese designer Itoamika Jungjung, and are actually made to wear! I can't find out anything else about Jungjung, she/he (I'm guessing she) does have a website but there is only a few logos on it at the moment. Anyway, I think she has done an amazing job. I like the beetroot the best.

Unfortunately my abilities with the needles aren't quite up to this standard. Maybe one day...

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bye Bye Christmas...Hello Spring

By the time twelfth night came I was well and truly sick of Christmas. So, I decided to de-Christmas the house and go and buy some Spring flowers. I got some lovely daffodils and narcissi and put them in my new jug. I know we still have quite some weeks to go until Spring arrives good and proper (71 days in fact), but I am hoping that my wishful thinking will get me through the remaining dark nights.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

In Which the Rhubarb Makes a Somewhat Early Appearance

Look what I discovered peeping through the soil when I visited the allotment yesterday - rhubarb (when I zoomed into this pic I also noticed the presence of a pesky slug in the underside of the unfurling leaf, which has no doubt already my new rhubarb shoots). 

What's more, another plotholder at my site has rhubarb stalks that are already 4-5 inches long. Gosh! Is it just me or is this super-early? I admit that the prospect of making rhubarb crumble, or even better rhubarb vodka, in January is cheering me up a little!

As you can see, otherwise the plot is looking a little miserable and not much is going on, except...

...the garlic is busy growing, and...

...we have plenty of  Cavolo nero and green curly kale to keep us from getting hungry during the 'hungry gap'. I really like kale, plus it is one of the best things you can eat to keeps your eyes healthy. I often add it to soups. There are some interesting kale recipes at the Discover Kale website.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Allotment Year! Yay!

I haven't posted for ages :( I have unintentionally neglected my blog since the Autumn, why? I got ill in late October, which culminated in the removal of my appendix. This left me unable to do much for quite a while and what with a major backlog of work, the downright nasty weather (my house escaped major flooding by just a few feet - I feel very lucky), and the onset of all things Christmas, the allotment has been left abandoned by me. 

Anyway, my enforced downtime gave me some time to think about what to grow next year. This year the pumpkins were a great success - I grew 8 of them on 2 plants and they all reached a good size. Inspired by Matron at Down on the Allotment I did think about attempting to grow a monster-sized pumpkin, but after a bit of thought decided against it as I've enjoyed eating my way through my little pumpkins. Plus, I don't really fancy attempting to move - or even worse chop up - a huge pumpkin. My youngest son saw a picture of Turk's turban squash in a gardening magazine and couldn't believe that they were real, so I thought I would give them a go. 

On the squash front, I am also going to give spaghetti squash a go, however I am unsure whether or not to try growing butternut squash again as it was a total disaster last season.

Squash Vegetable Spaghetti Seeds

So, what else am I going to grow? I couldn't resist the mixed aubergine below as they looked so enticing on the seed packet. I'm not quite sure how I will squeeze them into the greenhouse but I will try!

Aubergine Mixed Seeds

Other than these seeds, and buying 3 more raspberry plants. I haven't thought much about the coming season. I am just hoping that the weather will be better this year. It was a beautiful sunny day today so hopefully that is a good omen for the rest of the year!