Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Perfect carrots and our first potatoes of the season

On Saturday I gave some TLC to the plants at the allotment.  I went around deheading and tidying, pollinating and removing dead bits.  I deheaded the flowers in my Dad's memorial garden and removed a few slugs which were hiding underneath the slate edging - the slugs had completely decimated the 2 yellow chrysanthemum plants down to stubs, so I pulled these out to make more room for the daisies and chives.

There's one Atlantic Giant pumpkin in the greenhouse getting bigger, it's about the about the size of a small football now and a pale yellow colour.  Some baby pumpkins in the greenhouse have rotted and fallen off - there's definitely a problem with bees not being able to get in and pollinate them, I'm trying my best to hand pollinate then but I'm obviously not doing as well as the bees would.

One of the Rocket pumpkins outdoors is coming on nicely, and has a few pumpkins on it already.

Chris did some more work on the new raised bed.  He also dug up the row of first earlies, and we got a tub full of small to medium sized spuds.  A couple had rotted but, all in all, they were a great success.  Here's the first few we pulled out:

We pulled up 3 carrots and these had done really well too - we thought they might be small or forked, but they were about 5 inches long and perfectly formed.  I picked our one and only cauliflower as it was starting to turn purple in the sunlight.   I also picked the first of the broad beans.

The courgettes are getting huge - we can't give them away fast enough.

The onions have swelled a lot but their stems haven't toppled over yet.

The broad beans are getting bigger and I picked our first harvest.

We had all the allotment produce for tea on Saturday.  I made a lovely cheese sauce to go with the cauliflower (which turned white again once it was cooked), and we had carrots, broad beans, potatoes and red onion gravy.  Chris had some gammon with his.  It was delicious, and tasted even better knowing that we'd grown it all ourselves (apart from the gammon of course).

On Sunday morning we had a quick look around the flea market and I bought some cabbage and swede seeds from Wilkinsons.  They've have reduced all their seeds to half price, but it must have happened in the last couple of weeks as their stocks were getting low, so I missed out on some bargains there.

In the afternoon I planted out the lettuce and beetroot seedlings that I sowed the other week, and I sowed some more radish and spring onion seeds.  I picked my first successful crop of spring onions.  They're lovely, fresh and crisp with a strong flavour.  Miles better than the shop bought ones.  I had them on a sandwich with some cheese spread - mmmmm.

I took about 7 very stinky bags of rotting weeds to the tip on Sunday - we need to find a better way to deal with this kind of waste, taking stuff to the garden waste section of the tip isn't the right thing to do, but our compost bins need sorting out and relocating.  It's on my 'to do' list.

In the greenhouse at my Mum's the aubergines are coming on well.  Both my Mum and Chris don't like them though, so it looks like I'll have a lot of them to get through unless I can find someone else who likes them too.  Why does noone like aubergine?!  The melon in the greenhouse is swelling.  And I've a couple of small watermelons about the size of ping pong balls.  I harvested the first yellow tomato, and the little Sungold cherry toms are coming continuously now, and are lovely and tasty, but there are still no large red ones.  The weather has been very wet and there's not been much sun, which is what I think the tomatoes need in order to ripen.

A few chillies are starting to appear now.  The peaches are blushed but I tried to pull them away from the plant but they didn't come away easily - so I'll try again on Wednesday night.

On Sunday night I started knitted some booties for Stef and Jo's baby.  And I watched some crap telly (it's the Virgin HD+ box's fault)!

On Tuesday night I harvested all the garlic in the bottom greenhouse, I was worried it might begin to rot so it was time to get it picked.  There's about 30 bulbs, so that will keep us in garlic until next year, as I don't think we'll use much more than 2 bulbs per month.

Finally, Chris spotted something on Google Earth that made us both feel strange.  The Google camera captured my Dad on his way back from the allotment last year before he got ill, his face has been blurred out but it's definitely him.  It felt weird looking at him and the camera has captured 2 or 3 shots of him as it drove down the road.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Photography at the permaculture project

The 'Knitting Mochimochi' book arrived off Amazon on Thursday - it's alright, but I won't be rushing to make any of the patterns.  Amigurumi is best with crochet and I don't think those type of toys knit up very well.  So overall only a 3 out of 5 for this book.

After waiting in all day, and just as I'd given up hope of the delivery arriving, at 5.30pm our new Virgin HD+ box finally came.  This means we can watch some HD channels as well as being able to record TV.  It's all set up and is very easy to use.  I've already programmed it to record our favourite stuff.

On Saturday we went to Pennington Flash with Chris's brother Dennis, as it was Dennis's 40th birthday on Sunday and we went over to drop off his card and present.  Pennington Flash is a lake/nature reserve near to Bolton.  Dennis is a keen birdwatcher and there are lots of hides to watch wildlife from.  We saw some jays, I narrowly missed seeing a woodpecker, and we saw lots of finches too (greenfinches, bullfinches, chaffinches).  We just missed seeing a kingfisher as well.  It's a great place to go birdwatching.  Afterwards we visited Chris's Mum.

On Sunday I weeded under the tomatoes (with my new onion hoe - which works very well but is also very sharp!) and I weeded the top greenhouse (which is swarming with ants).  I feel like I'm more or less on top of the weeding now - but not for long, they'll soon be back.  Stef and Jo came to pick some fruit and veg and Jo breast fed her baby in the top greenhouse.

I picked lots of gooseberries and made a gooseberry crunble.  I topped and tailed the gooseberries first, then sprinkled them with sugar before covering them with a crumble topping (using the recipe from Delia's Complete Cookery Course book).  There was a lot of juice in the gooseberries so maybe I should have cooked them in a pan first before draining some of the liquid off.

I booked the day off work on Monday and went to a free 'Photography in your garden' course at the Offshoots permaculture project in Burnley.  A professional photographer ran the course and we got to spend an hour in the Offshoots garden taking photos.  There was a little competition at the end and my photos were chosen as the winner!  Here are some of the photos I took:

Offshoots had a great technique for keeping their cucumbers and squashes under control - they suspended wide netting from the ceiling to floor and kept the plants behind the nets - it certainly stops the curcubits from rambling all over the place.

Afterwards I decided to have a look around Towneley Hall, as Offshoots is based within Towneley Hall's gardens.

There was a freaky display of pearly queens and kings costumes.

Some cool knitted tea cosies.

As well as a recreation of a Victorian kitchen.

Which leads me nicely onto my next item...

The Victorian Kitchen Garden/Victorian Flower Garden/Victorian Kitchen (3 series) DVD had arrived off Amazon when I got home from the course, so I made the most of the rest of my day off and settled down to watch a few episodes.  It's an old series (80s or 90s) but it's very informative and I'm enjoying seeing how the Victorians grew fruit and veg, many of which were new to them, such as melon and peaches.  There's about 9 hours to watch altogether so it should keep me busy for a while.  A highly recommended DVD (it was pricey though at £26).

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The big watering can in the sky goes on strike

It was time to wage war on the weeds before they took over the allotment and smothered the crops.  I had a mega two day weeding session on Saturday and Sunday, and the plot looks a lot tidier.

Hopefully the plants will benefit now that they're not competing with the weeds, especially as water is very limited, now that the big watering can in the sky has gone on strike, and the hosepipe ban came into force on Friday.  On Thursday night Chris filled up as many containers as he could and made the most of our last night with a hosepipe.  Apparently the ban could last into next year as it's been one of the driest years for a long time.  Climate change!!!

I planted out the leeks into the new raised bed.

We've got some tasty looking lettuce.

The sunflower has flowered.

It won't be long before the peaches are ripe.

The first melon has appeared.

We've got a few marrows already.

The courgettes are coming thick and fast, and I picked another two on Sunday.

Despite Chris assuring me that he doesn't like courgettes, I asked him to give them a chance, and followed a recipe from Mary Berry's Complete Cookbook for Italian Stuffed Courgettes.  This was hollowed out courgettes stuffed with fried courgette, tomato, onion and basil filling and topped with chopped capers and melted cheese.  I enjoyed them, but Chris didn't really give them a chance, and just picked the cheese off the top.

For pudding I made rhubarb crumble (fresh off the plot too), and also following one of Mary Berry's recipes (like a normal crumble but made with self-raising wholemeal flour).  Admittedly the rhubarb could have done with a bit more sugar, as it was very tart, but it still tasted lovely and I had a big portion served with custard.

The sweetcorn is thriving and people can't seem to believe how big the plants are.

There's one baby pumpkin growing so far, it's about the size of a tennis ball.  I fed the squashes with some tomato feed to encourage more female flowers, and I'm hand pollinating any that appear.

There's a few baby aubergines on the plants in the greenhouse at home.

Some of the Sungold cherry tomatoes have started to go red so I ate a couple and they tasted spot on.

The cucumbers and melons just keep getting bigger.

So do the tomatoes.

I picked a vase of sweet peas for my Mum who was just back from her holiday.

We've been to view some premises for the shop.   Over £4500 has been raised in shares so far, so it's looking promising that we'll get things off the ground.  

My Revo Pico Radiostation digital/internet radio came on Friday.  I've mostly been listening to BBC 6 Music which is a great station, with none of that commercial rubbish that I can't stand (like Beyonce and Robbie Williams - aaaarrrgh!).  I caught the end of Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Session and he played some great tracks including one called Om by Alan Watts - which I really need to listen to again.  Jarvis makes a great DJ, he's got the perfect voice for it.

I've been craving macaroni cheese all week, so I made this for Friday night's tea.  I opted for the Cotes du Rhone Villages wine, because it's not too pricey and I know I like it.

It was the first meeting of the allotment association on Sunday.  This coincided with plot holder Christina's birthday party.  It wasn't the most well run meeting, as we didn't talk about the allotment association at all, but somehow I still got nominated as secretary.  We did manage to have a nice buffet though and Lynne baked 2 delicious sponge cakes, which may well have been the tastiest Victoria sponges I've ever had.  She uses Delia's recipe and Stork baking spread.

We picked an onion and had a cheese and onion butty down on the plot - very tasty.

On Sunday night I mustered up the energy to give the front and back gardens a thorough water and seaweed feed, and I deheaded all the flowers and tied up the sweet peas which are more than halfway up the fence now.  The garden needs more attention next week, but this was all I had time for this weekend.

Congratulations to our friends Stef and Jo who had a baby girl last week called Ember.  Baby and mum are doing well.  I need to finish knitting the hat for the baby.

I've ordered a Virgin + HD box and it's due to arrive this Friday.  This means we can pick up some HD TV channels, as well as being able to record programmes onto the box.  So we should always have a back up of things we want to watch, rather that just having to watch whatever's on.  It's only costing me a fiver a month extra, so it seems good value.

My new onion hoe and torch arrived from Amazon on Monday night.  I'm hoping the onion hoe will make it easier to weed under the tomatoes, and the torch will help when I'm out in the dark searching for slugs.

My latest book purchase is 'The Permaculture Way'.  I went to visit the permaculture project at Offshoots in Burnley last year and I was really impressed, and I think the ethos of living in a self sufficient way is going to become more and more important in the future.  So I hope this book will help me learn more about designing a lifestyle that follows the principles of permaculture.

Well, I bit the bullet, and I've applied for the Foundation Degree in Ecology and Conservation Management.  I posted my application last week and I'm waiting for them to get back to me to let me know if I've been accepted.  I'm desperate to go back to college and learn something new to improve my career prospects, and this course seems like the best way forward for me.  I'll let you know what they say!

And finally, how cool is this?  The global doomsday seed vault http://www.croptrust.org/main/arcticseedvault.php?itemid=211

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Gladioli all over!

It must be summer because the shops are selling gladioli.  I love these flowers and they're only available in July and August.  We planted some bulbs in the garden last year, and they've popped up again this year, they're not ready to flower yet though.

My little purple Vauxhall Corsa, who I fondly refer to as Maud, passed it's MOT test on Friday, and thankfully it only cost £80, which was I was glad about, because I didn't fancy forking out a fortune on car repairs.  Well done Maud, 15 years old but still going strong.

Friday's red wine was a Spanish Rioja called 'Faustino V Reserva'.  It was a bit more expensive than what I usually pay, it had a dry aftertaste, but I prefer an oakier, smooth flavour, which this lacked.  I'm still favouring the Campo Riejo Gran Reserva, that was soooo smooth.

Chris finished off the new raised bed at the alloment, so this needed filling up with compost.  I thought 4 x 40 litre bags would be plenty, but when I emptied them into the bed they hardly made a difference, so I had to go back to the shop and buy another 6 bags!  The bags were really heavy, and I nearly hurt my back carrying them from the car to the allotment (Chris came to help with the last 6 bags).  The raised bed is nearly full now, but, due to the rain, I didn't get chance to plant out the leeks into the new bed, but they're ready to go in once the weather improves.  Whenever it rains I feel a sense of relief that nature has done my watering for me, rather than me having to go around everything with my watering can.

The most expensive of my Dad's amateur radios sold on Sunday and a man came from Blackpool to collect it.  We've still a few more things to get rid of including a massive spiky aerial on my Mum's shed roof.  My Dad never did things by halves, especially when it came to his hobbies, he always had to have the best of everything equipment wise.  I'm glad the majority of items have now been sold, as it seemed like an impossible task when I first comtemplated listing them on eBay, not knowing a thing about 'ham radio'.

I harvested the first garlic on Saturday.  The leaves on about 6 plants had turned brown and flopped over, so I picked these and left them in the greenhouse to dry out.  They're pretty big bulbs and I'm very happy with how they've turned out.   I can't wait to cook something with them.  Next year, I'll plant a lot more in the hope that we'll become self-sufficient in garlic (and the same for onions, too).

I also picked 2 beetroots and boiled them for an hour, and we had them with a salad for our tea.  They were good but I think I prefer them pickled.

Some of the sweetcorn is touching the roof in the greenhouse, it's taller than me now, and it makes me smile when I think back to when I initially planted it into the border soil and how I was worried about if it was going to take to its new home.  It won't be long before I'm boiling up some freshly picked cobs in the pan.  Believe me, home grown sweetcorn, cooked straight after picking, is a totally different kettle of fish to supermarket sweetcorn.  It's so much more tender and sweet.  That's why I've grown about 15 plants this year!  Plus it's a very easy vegetable to grow under glass.

The sweetcorn's tassles have appeared.

The pumpkins are going crazy, they obviously love being in the greenhouse.  I went round with a brush pollinating the flowers to ensure the fruits set.

The courgettes and marrows have formed and the plants are beginning to spread out and fill the rough patch.  Already the fruits are around 4 inches long, so they certainly don't waste any time.

Chris sowed some cornflower seeds a few months back and the plants have just flowered.

The peaches keep getting bigger, but they haven't much colour yet.

The lady on the plot next to ours has a really cool ferny plant.  I don't know what it is though.

The plants in my Dad's memorial garden are getting bigger.

At home, I picked 4 huge cucumbers from the greenhouse.  The aubergines have flowered so I hand pollinated these, and some of the chillies have started to flower too.

I pinched out some of the side shoots on the cucumbers and melons, as they were getting out of control.

No red tomatoes yet, but I can see one of the sungold cherry tomatoes is starting to go orange, so not long now.

Once the first crop is ready, I'll roast some in the oven with brown sugar, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Then I'll serve this with cold mozarella balls, salad leaves and sliced french baguette.  It's totally delicious, and I've not made it for ages so that it's even more special when I make it with my homegrown toms.

We went to the flea market on Sunday morning, I didn't buy anything, but I got a parasol for our new outdoor dining table, which we didn't get chance to try out because of the rain.

Then I took my Mum to see my Grandma, as my Mum's car exhaust is broken, and she's going away on holiday to Cornwall tomorrow.

I must admit I'm disappointed with myself.  I didn't go to the open morning at the college on Saturday.  I don't know why, but I didn't.  Maybe it isn't the course for me after all.  I wish I knew what was the course for me.  I just want to do a qualification that will allow me to be happy in my work and earn more, then I can afford a nicer house with a bigger garden.

On Monday night Chris's dad, brother and aunty came to visit us, and we took them to the allotment for a look around.

On Tuesday evening I started off a Borrowdale Tea Bread (from Mary Berry's Baking Bible).  The fruit in the cake needs soaking in tea overnight, so I got things started ready to finish baking on Wednesday night.  The recipe made 2 loaves and I've frozen one.  It was very moist and lovely served with butter and a nice cuppa tea.   Mmmm.