Saturday, 14 October 2017

Carrot failure (again)

It seems we never have much luck with carrots. Our carrots this year were grown in just coir. In previous years we've tried soil, compost, sand and various combinations in between. We thought that keeping it loose and free from the normal rich mix you'd expect in a growing medium, that we'd get something different. But alas we ended up with the same branching a splits that we've had in previous years.

Hopefully though, they'll taste just as good.

The Corn that we pulled last week has been sitting in a large tub in the greenhouse. I was hoping that they'd start to dry out. Bad move. Looks like the mould and the wood lice have started to move in. So instead we opted to pull all the outer leaves off and take the cobs home to dry in the kitchen. Apart from those which were not fully formed or a bit scrappy. They'll be offered to the chickens.

These make some pretty damn good popcorn. But I also am going to try making cornmeal for baking cornbread.

And finally the time of the courgettes is coming to an end. There are still a few last little ones growing, but the leaves are definitely past their best. Perhaps one more week before they all get culled.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Death to sweetcorn

Well it looks like once again we missed the optimum point for harvesting the sweetcorn to enjoy it's delicious ripeness directly. But not all is lost.

First our small forest of corn stalks needs to be felled.

Now in permaculture principles, nothing goes to waste. First and foremost is obtain a yield. So we have a whole load of corn.

Now most of this seems to be past it's best for how people eat the traditional corn on the cob. But these make perfect popcorn. Even more so, as a baker, I can make corn-meal out of them for baking corn bread and muffins. Something I'm very eager to try.

Next we have the stalks.

These have been put in the greenhouse to dry out over the next few months. They will be used for feeding the Ghillie Kettle.

Finally there are a whole load of leaves and the tops of the stalks.

Some will be composted, but most will be used as mulch on the new beds which I will be making over the winter time.

Whilst I was clearing the corn, the Wife was collecting the last of the tomatoes. The stalks may have died, but the fruits were small and sweet, just bursting with flavour.

And finally, the two weeks we've been away have just flown by... but the courgettes just kept on coming.

So much so that I've kind of lost track of the real numbers. So now I'm down to reasonable guesswork. We're certainly doing a lot more than last year on numbers, but then again we have twice as many plants. We really wanted to do Butternut Squash, but of the 6 plants we put out, only 1 came up with a true squash. The others were in fact, courgettes.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Guess I'm going to be giving stuff away at the office again.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Tomatoes, Apples, Chutneys and Jams

The Tomatoes are on their last legs. The leaves are starting to curl up and the green toms have just been sitting there for a couple of weeks and not turned red.

Time to pick and consider chutney.

But of course you cannot have a decent chutney without apples. We haven't had a decent crop this year. Well decent as in quantity anyway. The quality is top notch. Very few have got maggots in them. Perhaps it was worthwhile putting out that Codling Moth trap. Certainly they are very sweet and juicy. We need a few for the Jam (Blackberries have been in the freezer for a month) and the chutney.

The courgettes on the new mound at the back of the plot seem to be over.

There are a few newish leaves and flowers so they may yet offer up some goodies. But to ones at the front of the plot, and the Butternut Squash seem to still be charging along. I expect many more from them.
So we piled some of the toms, apples, courgettes and such into the big bucket to take home.

We've left some of the toms still in place in the hope that they may mature during the week. But I think it's doubtful.

As I work from home two days a week, I can nip to the plot in the evenings. So last Thursday when we went we had a visitor. A reasonably friendly chap who we call "Ben". Short for Bent Tail, because he seems to have a damaged tail.

He thanked us for the remnants of the courgette cake by leaving a deposit. All adds to the compost I suppose. Though it goes for the new compost bin which won't be used until 2019.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

So this evening I made 8.5 jars of Blackberry and Apple Jam.
2kg Blackberries
5 large sweet apples.
2kg sugar.
The Blackberries were frozen, so it was simply a case of throwing them in a large pot on a high heat. As the thawed and the juice started flowing, throw in the sugar. I used 1kg normal and 1kg of Jam sugar. Grated up the apples and let it simmer for a while., When the froth had dissipated and the temperature was 104C, then it was decanted into washed clean jars that had spent the time sitting in the oven at 100C. Sorted.

Tomorrow I'll do chutney.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Honey and Jams and stuff

Just a quick visit to the plot today, chiefly because I arranged to pick up some honey.

I also grabbed a few ripe tomatoes, dared to try a sweetcorn cob, and of course courgettes (they just keep on coming). I was also given an aubergine and pepper and some Sloe Jam.

This is the great thing about an allotment community. If you have too much of a glut of things then give them away to friends and neighbours. You'll get gifts in return. Barter was the original form of trade.

Meanwhile at home, I have a couple of kilos of blackberries in the freezer. Really have to get some apples from the tree and start making some jam. And I also have a can of make-your-own marmalade which I really ought to do as well. I foresee and extended stint at the cooker in the not too distant future.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Produce show

Now I'm never one for the prettiest veg, heaviest this, longest that. Veg grows in all-sorts of shapes and sizes. It's this so called supermarket mentality which gets a lot of veg thrown out because it doesn't look right and people won't buy it. That to me is plain stupid.

The end result of veg is to eat it. So I prefer categories that allow you to show that. So I only entered two categories. Bread and Cakes. And to go with the alliteration, Courgette Cake and Beetroot Bread.
The Courgette Cake I've done before. Unfortunately though, it didn't come up to the standard of those who entered various cup cakes and layer cakes.

The Beetroot Bread though was nice and pink. Although oddly the insides, once cut, was just a normal colour. Just a nice pink crust.
Anyway, it tasted of a faint beetroot flavour and it came second... out of two entries.

Not much actually doing on the plot today though. Mostly it was spent sheltering in the greenhouse from the torrential thunder storm that rolled through.

But at least we hit over 100 courgettes during the week. I suspect there will be more tomorrow though.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Complicated Compost

I still have the compost pile to sort out from last week. So out with the sieve and fork and a time to dig through the year's worth of stuff.

However down at the bottom there were some nasty surprises. The first nastiness was an egg. Well there were plenty of eggshells (that I really should have smashed up better before adding to the compost). No, I mean a real egg. One which had been buried for a year. As you can imagine when the fork went through it there was a loud pop... and a stink that made me stand upwind for the rest of the digging.

Secondly I have a little complaint about "compost bags". I used Sainsbury's Compost Bags for my compost caddie, and then, when full, they were dumped into the compost bin. They've been in there for over a year, so you'd expect them to have decomposed. No. They haven't.

The packet says that they're made of potato starch. Well OK, I've got a couple of potatoes that are still relatively whole in the compost, but these bags are somewhat disappointing. Do you use compost bags at all? How do you find them?

Meanwhile the Wife is ripping out some of the weeds (and flower stems) from one arm of her raised flower bed.

So it can get a nice load of freshly sieved compost.

And I bought 20m of weed membrane to cover the extension to the plot. I'll build the beds to go in here over the winter time so they'll be ready to use next spring.

Meanwhile... courgettes. Ugh, don't they ever stop?

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Monday, 28 August 2017

Sunny Bank Holiday

It seems that Sunny Days like busses. You wait ages for one and then three come along at once. It even brought out the rampant sex at the allotment.

So this Bank Holiday saw me down the plot wilting in the heat as I try to get the un-managed parts of the plot into action. Hiding behind the sunflowers and sweetcorn is a section of weed membrane being held down by spare pallet wood, potato bags and strawberry towers.

Time to pull it up and make space for a couple of new beds. Well needless to say that I ended up too damn exhausted in the heat to be able to do much. I built another of my stackable beds, dug out the now baked clay and installed the compost bin into the bed, ready for it to spend next year being the host to all of the composting.

Once in place the new bed will be surrounded with wood chips and gradually filled with decent soil to replace the clay.
Meanwhile the weed membrane has now shifted to the side where I will have to build a path alongside my plot. There never has been a path between plots 30 and 31. Same as there never has been paths between 28 and 29. But the Committee has said that I have to build one and in return they will allow me to use the small off-cut of that once was plot 31 which is now available due to the newly build woodchip and manure bays. I'm not going to complain about that since I effectively go from 5 rods to 6 rods.

The old compost bin was opened up and a start made on shifting some of the lesser composted material over. It's turned into some really good stuff, despite my usual method of completely ignoring it.

Many people go on about how you should turn and aerate compost to get the best out of it. Fine. That works if you really want to turn over your compost fast or make huge amounts of it. I find that simply having two compost bins on the plot works just as well and you can simply leave it to get on with it and do it's thing. The worms and wood lice love it in there. The only problem is that it takes an age to sift out the uncomposting material. Something which is hard to do in this heat so I kind of gave up and decided that I'd be better off at home in the cool which a nice chilled cider in hand.

But I do have to take "George" home with me to be kept on top of the kitchen cupboards ready for being turned into seeds next year.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Monday, 21 August 2017

How do you know when Sweetcorn is ready?

I'm now at the same dilemma as last year. How can I tell when the Sweetcorn is ready?

There are some who say that it's when the tassels turn brown. Well on some they started brown!
Then there are those who say that it's when the tassels stop being sticky. Some of the new tassels are already not sticky. The rain washed any "stickiness" off them.
There are those who say that you have to pick a cob and test it. That's all very well if you have a field full and can risk losing some of your crop for testing.

I just wish that there was a simple way of finding out.

Meanwhile, the grapes are starting to fill out.

And we upended one of our potato bags to a an extremely disappointing harvest. This is the total of our Red Russets.

Considering that the pallet board is a mere 4 inches across, those 7 spuds are minuscule. Maybe the late frost did more harm to them than we anticipated. Anyway, not all is lost. We do have a few other bags where there is still plenty of foliage. So hopefully we can get some spuds.

But I'd still like to know about the sweetcorn. Or maybe I should just leave them on the stalks to harden and settle for making popcorn.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Doing a runner

Not me. I don't run. But elsewhere on the plots things are running away.

The Strawberries seem intent on conquering the world but spreading themselves around (much to the delight of the Wife who has already potted on a load of runners).

Then there are the Tomatoes which are sprouting six ways to Monday. They got a major haircut anyway, because although there are plenty of flowers, some of which have set, the toms are not ripening fast enough. So cutting down on foliage means that the plant doesn't have to worry about growing, and there is more sunshine available to ripen the fruits that have set.

And of course, the courgettes are trying to escape as well. They're sending out runners everywhere, but fortunately they're still plagued by fruit.

Mind you, I don't want to move them too much. Because underneath the runner above (look at the top right area) there is a small plastic tray. And Mr Ribbit has made himself at home.

Well Ribbit can help himself to as many slugs as he likes. There's plenty to go around.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Sun, rain, sun, rain

Seems that the weather is a little mixed up at the moment. When we went to the plot about midday it was nice and sunny, but that soon changed for an hour with an absolute downpour. After hiding in the greenhouses to avoid the dampness (used the time to clean the insides of the glass) we emerged into brilliant sunshine again.

Mind you, it did mean that we didn't have to water outside. But the Toms and Chillies in the greenhouse we in need of watering.

There are nice buzzy bees all over the flowers at the plot. The Artichoke is once again inundated.

The Cosmos is in full bloom (excuse the shadow).

And the mini-sunflowers at the front are falling over because of the amount of blooms.

But no butterflies. OK, I tell a lie, we did see the odd cabbage white. But nothing else. Maybe the rain chased them away? There has definitely been a marked decline in butterfly numbers over the past few years. This does not bode well.

But we do have a few extra flowers in one of our strawberry beds. And no, I don't mean strawberries. The bed seems to have picked up a few invaders. How many intruders can you count?

Tomato (top right), Foxgloves (top left), Chinese Lantern (Bottom), Wild Flower (Middle left), Dock (Bottom left).

And the courgettes are still flowering too.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

How do you eat yours?

Courgettes are coming thick and fast now. There is no stopping them.

And the sweetcorn are starting to set. We have our first tasselled corns appearing. We're going to have to keep an eye on them, unlike last year when we completely missed our chance because we were a little too late.
A far cry from where we thought we wouldn't be having any at all this year.

The tomatoes are now starting to produce in earnest as well. They are somewhat crowding the new greenhouse.

But our poor beans are not doing so well. They never really recovered from the slug damage they got earlier in the year.

We have now gained a small extension to our plot. The plot next to us (plot 31) has been partially converted to bays to contain manure and woodchips. The remainder has been converted into two smaller 3.5 rod plots with a little awkward spot (less than a rod) alongside the bays. This small bit is our new addition.
I think for the time being we're just going to cover it to keep the weeds down and build some beds over winter. Although I suspect this might be an ideal spot for next years courgette mound.

On the subject of which...
The 2017 Courgette Tally:

So how do you keep on top of your supply? What recipes do you use? Here are two of our current quick courgette cookups. Three if you count my old cake recipe.

Recipe 1.
Bring a portion of pasta to the boil and set aside to cook. I use Penne or Fusilli (Rotini).
Fry up some onions and garlic in a little vegetable oil in a large pan/wok.
Add diced courgette and fry for a little while.
Add tuna (or mince).
Add a tomato pasta sauce.
Combine with the pasta and serve.

Obviously there is a lot of scope for variants. I usually mix in chillies to make it a little spicy. I use tuna, but you could add quorn (for the vegetarians), seafood (prawns, mussels etc. for the pescatarians) or minced meat (for the carnivores). Even better if the tomato sauce is home made from your own tomatoes.

Recipe 2.
This one is a firm favourite of ours.
Bring some spaghetti to the boil and set aside (similar to above).
Fry off a few diced onions in a little oil.
Add salmon chunks.
Add a small tub of Philadelphia cheese.
Stir in a handful of chives and black pepper.
Combine with the spaghetti and serve.

So how do you eat your courgette glut?

Saturday, 22 July 2017


We've had a little bit of rain over the past few days. Some places more than others. So we carefully checked the weather report before walking to the plot this morning.

I say walking, it's about 2 miles away and we usually drive there. But now the car has failed it's MoT. It needs about £1,400 of repairs on a car worth about £200. So now we're carless, which means we have to be careful what we take too and from the plot. Since we've had a bit of rain it's time for wellies. And breakfast. And kitchen waste. It all adds up.

Anyway, the plot is looking pretty good.

The sweetcorn is starting to put forth flowers at the top... which means that somewhere down below there should be some corns forming. But I can't seen anything at present, but there are a few lumps on the stems.

The Cape Gooseberries are also doing well(ish). Notice the ones at the back, compared to the ones in the front. Huge difference. The ones in the front were put in there after the onions were pulled at the start of July. But there don't seem to have done very well. I guess they don't like onions.

Meanwhile in the second greenhouse, there is lots of promise from the tomatoes. But unfortunately not much in the way of immediate production.

Oh, and the courgettes are still pumping them out like crazy. Been giving them away at the office and to neighbours.

The 2017 Courgette Tally:

Didn't really get much of a harvest today though. Been getting more throughout the week.

And the Star Flowers just keep on coming. There are little seed spikes that are left after the flowers have moved on. Guess the Wife will be gathering those for next year.

Going back to the rain. The weather report said that it would be raining in the afternoon. And there are dark clouds gathering on the horizon. Well lets just say that dark clouds can travel faster than us. We were about 5 mins away from home when it started absolutely throwing it down. Needless to say, we were drenched by the time we made it back. Guess it's time to start looking for a new car.