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Winter on the Allotment

Hello

Although Winter is still with us, Spring is beginning to show herself through the snowdrops, daffodils, and crocus pushing through the soil and flowering – oh and not forgetting the first signs of edibles – wild garlic!  I’ve been busy most weekends on my plot, digging over beds, preparing them with manure, and building new – wonky raised beds.

I take lots of photographs of the plot so I can reflect on my progress, particularly the things I’ve planted.  I fretted throughout January because the garlic I planted before Christmas wasn’t showing, but over the last week the green shoots have grown by about 5 cm.

I’ve not started sowing seeds yet but I thought I would share some photographs from the plot.

14 January 2017

14 January 2017

4 February 2017

Perfect Spring-like day 4 February 2017

First wild garlic

First wild garlic

18 February 2017

New ‘wonky’ raised beds 18 February 2017

Garlic 18 February 2017

Hope in the form of garlic shoots 18 February 2017

Snow drops

Snow drops

19 February 2017

More raided beds required but running out of wood 19 February 2017

19 February 2017

19 February 2017

19 February 2017

How did your allotments fair after storm Doris?  On first inspection I was overjoyed to see my greenhouse was still standing, but then I noticed everything was not quite as it should seem.  It appears Doris – the love – pushed the front of the greenhouse, which exploded (or that’s what the debris looked like) three panes of glass from the rear.  One piece of glass was on the neighbours plot 3-4 meters away.

Happy allotmenting

J x

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November on the Allotment

Its November already and although its the time to start planning for next season on the allotment, there is still a variety of produce to be harvested, including kale, chard, beetroot, and cabbage.  On Sunday I was chatting with someone about growing potatoes in bags, and the next minute I was holding a handful of perfect spuds – not one had been nibbled!  The willingness of allotment holders to share their produce with you is a wonderful example of community spirit.

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I also share my produce with slugs and woodlice!  These multi-coloured beetroots are covered in deep craters but are still edible. I very happy they survived the slug invasion, as they were wonderfully sweet and earthy when roasted with garlic.

fullsizeoutput_1641I set myself one task this weekend, to plant garlic.  It was bitterly cold, and the first time  I’ve felt icy cold in a long while, it was glorious! I really like to be outside as much as possible during the darker month.  Being office bound Monday to Friday I’m desperate to be outside on the weekends – rain or shine.

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Even though I’ve reduced the size of my plot, I’ve still laid it out to incorporate a four stage crop rotation.  This weekend I prepared the first of the raised beds to include alliums and roots.  I filled it with  a rich compost and manure mix, and planted out 24 White Solent garlic cloves and 6 Elephant garlic cloves.  The White Solent were planted 15 cm apart, in rows 30 cm apart (each row included 5 cloves).  The Elephant garlic was planted 2 to a row, 30 cm apart as they are much larger. Job done!

The next few weekends I am going to be busy having a social life – ha – so I am not going to get much of a chance to visit the allotment.  I’m hoping for some rain – and lots of frost to help the garlic grow.

Hope you are enjoying this tine of year as much as I am.

Elderberry and rose hip cordial (with brambles and raspberries)

I think its no coincidence that in Autumn the hedgerows are laden with fruits either high in Vitamin C such as rose hips or have anti-viral properties like elderberry.  Elderberries and rose hips are old school DIY perfect timing for the cold and flu season.

There are so many great recipes to be found online.  I have made a number of versions, including an Elderberry Rob by Sarah from a Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife.

Some tips

  1. When foraging avoid plants growing alongside roads with heavy traffic, or fields which have been sprayed.  I went for a short wander into the countryside yesterday and a couple of the fields, and surrounding hedges were covered in what looked like lime powder.  Some of my favourite elderberry trees can be found in the middle of brambly overgrown suburban wilderness – good, boots, thick jeans required.
  2. Another super important thing to mention is only pick a plant if you are 100% sure you have identified it correctly.  There are lots of great field guides out there – and many good guides on line.  If you are not sure, you can order most herbs dried – although the downside is the cost.
  3. Only pick what you need!

Elderberry and rose hip cordial (with brambles and raspberries)

Ingredients

  • Elderberries (fresh, frozen or dried can be used)
  • Rose hips
  • Brambles and raspberries
  • Water
  • Knuckle of fresh ginger
  • Cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 cloves
  • Other spices – I included turmeric in this batch (experiment!), but I have also used thyme, rosemary.
  • Honey
  • Brandy

Method

Many recipes call for 1kg of mixed elderberries and rose hips, but this makes way way too much syrup for me.  The method I was taught was a large handful of both.  I have used about 500g of fruit.

WARNING:Elderberry juice stains – wear an apron!

  • Wash the rose hips and roughly slice.  Wear gloves as the hairs can irritate the skin (remember itching power!!).  If you don’t want to slice them, pop them in the pan whole, and after they have softened bash them with a masher!
  • Remove the stems, and any green elderberries, and add these to the pan.
  • For 500g fruit I added a litre of water.
  • Add all spices, and bring to the boil.
  • Simmer with the lid on for an hour.
  • Let the mix cool, and strain through a jelly bag.  If not using a jelly bag, double up your muslin – you don’t want any of those rose hip hairs coming through.
  • If the fruit is cool enough give the jelly bag a good squeeze – wear gloves if you don’t want purple hands.
  • Measure the liquid.  For every pint of liquid add 350g of honey.
  • Let the honey dissolve then bring to the boil for 10 minutes.  Once off the boil add about 1/4 pint of brandy.
  • Transfer liquid to sterilised bottles, leave to cool, then label and date.

I take this by the tablespoon 2-3 times a day when I start to feel a cold coming on – but remember it has alcohol in it.  I think its also nice with some soda water.fullsizeoutput_163d

 

Hawthorn Ketchup

Hawthorn is one of my favourite trees, full of magic, and history.  These ones grow alongside the Rae in South Birmingham, and belonged to a long lost a field boundary.  I have collected hawthorn berries, also known as haws, from these trees for a number of years now but this is the first time I have made haw ketchup.

There are plenty of recipes for hawthorn ketchup found online, some with added spices, and others such as this one by Monica Shaw, are much simpler.

I’ve plumped for this one from allrecipies, which included aromatic spices, such as allspice, cloves and rich sweet dates, and muscavado sugar.

Ingredients

  • 500g hawthorn berries
  • 300ml apple cider vinegar
  • 300ml water
  • 110g pitted dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch cloves
  • 1 pinch allspice
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 280g soft brown muscovado sugar

Method

  • Remove the stalks from the hawthorn berries, and wash.  Drain and dry before popping them in a large pan.
  • Add to the pan the vinegar, water, dates and the spices.  Let simmer over a low heat for an hour.
  • Transfer the mixture to a jelly bag, and let the liquid strain through.  Once cooled and squeeze out any additional juice.  You can also scrape the pulp through a sieve, which adds extra umpfh to the sauce!
  • Add the lemon juice and sugar to the juice and bring to the mixture to the boil. Stir constantly for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer ketchup to sterilised bottles/jars and seal straight away.

I am going to leave my ketchup a few months to let the vinegar mellow.  If I had bottles I would have used them, but jars should be ok – although this sauce is quite runny, I am very happy with my first homemade ketchup!

October on the allotment

October is finally here which means I am eager to get ready for the next growing season, including putting some money aside to pay the rent!  I can’t believe another year as an allotment holder has flown by so quickly.

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September harvest

It’s been a mixed growing year with it’s fair share of failures and occasional successes.  A week ago I picked my first courgettes and summer squash.  Although they are still growing, I am not hopeful they will get beyond finger size.

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Rainbow chard and mixed beets were a favourite this year

It’s with a heavy heart and a logical brain that I’ve decided to scale back to half a plot. A full plot proved too much work for me.  Whilst others may manage a full plot working full-time, I’ve found it a little overwhelming.  I am also easily distracted and have a few other hobbies I want to pursue on my weekends 😉

I would advise any newbie allotmenteer to start with half a plot rather than a full one.  Allotments are often larger than most gardens and more earth + less lawn = lots of work  and a lot of weeding!  Although clearing a bed of weeds can be very therapeutic, it can also be disheartening when (not if) the weeds win.  Half a plot is more manageable for the weekend gardener, and you can still get a huge variety of fresh produce (which I will hopefully illustrate) with some smart planting.  I’ve been an allotment holder now for a few years, and I have seen lots of newbies take on a large plot, spend weeks digging, and then never return!  It just doesn’t make sence.  I think people lose heart, when they realise how much work is required.

Luckily my allotment neighbour was also thinking of down-sizing so I managed to persuade him to take over the other half of my plot.  We are going to split the allotment lengthways, keeping the sheds at the bottom in an attempt to hold back the brambles which grow beyond the fence.  Having the full length works as there is a central path.  It also meant I didn’t have to move my compost bins, which would have been backbreaking work.

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New herb bed, which will offer a little shade for the greenhouse

In preparation for downsizing I’ve moved my herb bed, and all the perennials I wanted to keep such as globe artichokes, strawberries and gooseberries.  My raspberries struggled after my last move, so I will buy some new plants in the spring.  I’m not sure its the best time of year to be moving plants, but I’ve tried my best to bed them in before any frosts take hold.

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Beds built with a lump hammer – didn’t work so well!

img_5021Unfortunately in my eagerness to move a blackcurrant bush I accidentally destroyed the home of this mouse, and killed one of its babies! The mouse, ignoring me, desperately searched for its babies.  I really hope they didn’t all die.  I wrapped the dead mouse in a leaf and buried it in the herb bed, and left the bush to one side whilst the mouse found a safer place to be.  So much for mindfulness whilst gardening.  It has reminded me that I share this space with others, and need to tread/dig more carefully from now on.

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New herb bed

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Moving full-grown plants did have one advantage.  It allowed me to plan the spacing of each plant as well as the overall structure of the bed.  In the old bed some herbs, such as hyssop and thyme fought for space alongside plants such as sage, and St John’s Wort.

I can’t wait until next summer to see each herb in flower.  Most of these herbs were chosen for their medicinal benefits – although I’ve not really used them much for that purpose, I’ve always intended to do so.  Weeding an aromatic herb bed is a joyous experience.

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Evening Primrose grows anywhere it wants to which is ok by me

Next weekend I will build another raised bed, and move over the last of the plants.  Heres to a another year of growing my own fruit and veg 🙂

February’s wind blows cold

Last week I was reminded what its like to be cold, so cold, only a hot bath can remedy it.  Sometimes I leave home blinded by the cosy warmth of central heating, and the promise of a warm sun, forgetting its February, and 1 degree celsius with a sharp wind.  On the way to the allotment I’m usually loaded up like a packhorse, rucksack with a flask of tea, and sandwiches, a small bag containing seeds, bulbs, notebooks, and other bits I like to carry back and forth, and a weeks worth of kitchen peelings for the compost.  By the time I have walked the 10 minute journey I am usually quite toasty.  But on an exposed site, and a harsh wind, this toasty feeling does not last long.

The allotment can feel quite daunting when you are a solo gardener.  I can see all the beds which need digging over, the flower beds which need overhauling, and the weeding, so much weeding.  Not forgetting the seeds, and bulbs which need planting.  Sometimes I don’t know where to start.  It can be tempting to get distracted, and try to do EVERYTHING, but I’ve started to give myself a break and now aim to dig over one small bed or half a large bed, a little weeding – this time of year I’m attempting to prevent the spread of buttercup, which seems to grow as soon as you turn your back on it – although it is pretty, so I do tend to forgive it.  This way I leave the plot feeling I have achieved something, and I can go away and plan what needs to be done the following week.

Last weekend I cultivated a raised bed in preparation for root vegetables – carrots first, followed by lots of beetroot.  I bought some horse manure compost, and raked in a full bag*.  In the corner of the bed, was a lovely crop of nettle.  It was doing its best to creep across the earth, and take over.  I like nettle, it makes a great tea feed for vegetables, and it’s also an awesome medicinal herb and superfood.  I harvested the best tips to eat, and put them to one side, I popped some in a bucket with water, and dug out a decent chunk and replanted it in my special nettle herb bed.  It always makes me chuckle when I dig up a weed and transplant it.  It’s important to know which wild plants are useful, such as nettle, plantain, dock and dandelion – although the latter two I wont transplant – I have quite enough already, and don’t wish to spread them further.

Lots of things are growing, which always give you hope.  The garlic I planted in December is starting to make strong shoots, the rhubarb I replanted last week seems to be happy in its new home, and many of my herbs, such as St John’s Wort are starting to peek up through the soil.

On the way home I noticed signs of Spring all around me.  I was particularly happy to see leaves growing on the elder, and look forward to foraging for elderflower in the spring.  Heres to next weekend, and hopefully warmer weather.

Jo-Ann

*I’ve subsequently realised my error with the manure, I should have done it months ago!

 

Dark days, Jerusalem artichokes and beetroot

Working outside when the skies are grey and the wind is blowing can be a real tonic.  The last few weeks I am back into the gentle pattern of spending my weekends on the allotment, and it feels like a huge weight has lifted off my shoulders.

Although the mild wet winter has meant I am a bit behind with digging, and preparing beds for this year’s crops, I’m not too worried.  Now my hands are in the earth, and I have mud on my boots, I can start to make sense of what I want to do.

I also have some wonderful things ready to harvest at the moment, including beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, leeks, chard, purple sprouting broccoli, and some forgotten potatoes.

Through these dark days of winter it is wonderful feeling to find fresh flavours, and richly coloured foods growing on the plot.  I enjoyed cooking the following recipes over the past few weeks, and I am keen to share.

Winter Harvest

Late summer I was given a bag of Jerusalem artichoke tubers.  They were thrust into my hand – ‘I don’t want these, once you plant them, you can never get rid of them…plus they make you fart!’.  Well I’m not really one to turn down free allotment produce (unless its parsnips), so I was more than happy to accept this gift.  I planted three tubers in the fruit bed, alongside the globe artichokes.  As I do not rotate the fruit bed, their location will be as permanent as I am on this plot!

As I mentioned, I hadn’t been to the allotment for a few months, and was feeling pretty disheartened with the poor results of 2015’s growing season, so when I remembered there were still edibles on the plot it perked me right up again!

Jerusalem artichokes with miso butter

  • 600 g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 2 garlic loves, peeled and halved
  • olive oil
  • 2 tbsp white miso (I bought mine from M&S)
  • 2 tbsp very soft butter or coconut oil
  • 2 tsp black or white sesame seeds

To cook

Peel and chop the artichokes, and place in bowl of water with half squeeze lemon – this will stop them tuning black.  Heat the oil and add the artichokes, and garlic. Fry the artichokes and garlic gently for a minute, then cover and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes.  Give the pan a little shake once or twice. When the artichokes are tender, but still firm – they can quickly turn to mush, take the lid off and turn up the heat so they can brown.  Mix the miso with the melted butter or coconut oil, and add to the artichokes and garlic.  Shake the pan again and season.  Just before serving sprinkle the over the sesame seeds.  This recipe works well if you wish to half it.

This recipe was from Olive Magazine.

Beetroot and caraway seed cake

I’ve been rather slow picking the beetroot this year, so I still have 5-6 plants in the ground.  I thought they would be too earthy to bake in a cake, but it turns out they are still edible.

This recipe for Beetroot and caraway seed loaf cake, is from the magazine The Simple Things.  I adapted the recipe slightly, by reducing some of the ingredients.  I used 125g sugar, and 125g butter.  I always try to reduce the sugar in cakes, and this time I thought I would see what happened when I reduced the amount of butter, as the recipe called for ground almonds, which have a natural oil content.  I also reduced the amount of caraway seed to 1 tsp, caraway is quite a strong taste, and the first time I made this, I felt it was a little much.  I roasted the beetroot, as I thought this might make it sweeter, I then pureed it in a blender, to make the mixture more pink, although my cake was not as pink as the one in the recipe – I need to puree a little more next time!

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I have. Jo-Ann x

Follow the links in the text above for the original recipes

A bag of soot and some borolotti beans

Oh look an old post I forgot to publish!

Back in the autumn we were lucky enough to experience a few hazy dry days working on the allotment, before the grey, wet winter kicked in!

My Dad and I  – well mainly Dad  – finally constructed my secondhand allotment greenhouse.  Its 6 x 8, so quite large, and will be a vast improvement on my old plastic covered frame which served me well for the last two years (since writing this – the old plastic greenhouse vanished during the gales last year).

To food and soot…

My parents always think I never have enough food in the house when they visit, so they bring extra food – just in case!  I’m not complaining, especially when its Dad’s home-grown borolotti beans, or Mum’s home-made tomato chutney, but this trip they also bought a bag of soot from their freshly cleaned chimney.  Soot is a good slug deterrent apparently – something I am always in need of!

Anyway back to those borolotti beans!  My bean harvest was pretty poor this year.  I imagined jars of dried beans lining my shelves, but after numerous failed attempts to get them started, I gave up.  Dad’s fresh beans sat patiently in the fridge waiting to be turned into something amazing, and were at risk of heading back up north at the end of their stay.  The last time these flavourful beans came to visit, we ate minestrone soup with garlic rubbed toast 3 days on the trot!  The destiny of these beans however, was to become Greek baked beans.  Sadly I used the last of my tomatoes on some hastily made bruschetta, so I bought these brutes from the Bull Ring veg market.

I have a kitchen the size of a postage stamp – so group cooking is not really an option, but Dad humoured me whilst I tried to photograph him at work.  Especially when I asked him mid-tomato chop if I could turn the light off!  The end result (although slightly caught!) was very delicious.  I can’t wait to cook this with my beans next year!

The first days of Autumn

A friend and I took a gentle walk into the country other day.  We enjoyed the sense of freedom you can find in being just a little bit lost.  Within an hour we’d left behind suburbia and found ourselves crossing field boundaries, and waterways, walking along winding single track lanes, and letting the landscape be our guide.

I collected handfuls of wild fruits which were growing abundantly in the hedgerows.  i plan to use these for winter syrups, jams and pies.  It’s a particularly good year for elderberries, haws, and sloes.  Next weekend I will head out here again and collect haws, and brambles.

Short crust pie with wild apples and brambles

For this recipe I followed a basic sweet short crust pastry recipe, but instead of plain white flour I used 80% white, and 20% spelt flour. I also used golden castor sugar instead of icing sugar.  I didn’t get a chance to identify the two varieties of apple I collected on our walk. They were quite small and very sharp, so I sprinkled some Demerara sugar over the top, to take the edge off their sharpness.  The pie cooked well, although next time I will make more pastry, and use more fruit, as this pie dish is quite large.  The pie was delicious and the sweet/sharp balance was perfect – mirroring the cooler/hazy days of autumn.  I will definitely make it again next weekend.

 

Lincolnshire potato cheesecake

I love to cook but I have a terrible habit of not reading recipes properly.  This potato cheesecake is a case in point.  Not only did I read it as potato pie, I also assumed it was savory!  All I can say is, its been a long week, and my enthusiasm for a potato based pie got the better of me.

I came across this recipe when reading about seasonal traditions associated with harvest and August.  I like the idea of celebrating and giving thanks for this year’s crops.  Although it has been a tough year as many of my crops have failed – peas, and broad beans in particular, or are very far behind due to the cold dry weather, the potato crop has been relatively successful.  I planted a short row of Swift 1st early, which proved to be lovely steamed or roasted.  The potatoes in this recipe were gifted from my friend’s mum and dad – who appropriately live in Lincolnshire.

So this little cheesecake/pie was made to give thanks for all the vegetables that I have successfully grown, and hopefully will continue to grow, as well as to all the home-grown fruit and vegetables people have shared with me.  Many thanks xx

Recipe

  • Short crust pastry to cover 8 inch flan tin
  • 8 oz hot potatoes
  • salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  •  4 oz soft butter
  • 3 oz castor sugar
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • Grated rind and juice of a lemon

Boil potatoes and put to one side.  Heat oven to 200 C / 180 C fan.  Sieve potatoes into bowl, add to this the butter, lemon juice and rind, sugar, and beaten eggs.  Mix ingredients together until forms a batter like constancy.  The recipe originally called for 4 oz of sugar, and I reduced it to 3 oz – I would be tempted to reduce it further as it was still quite sweet.  Line an 8 inch flan dish with rolled out shortcrust pastry, pierce base with a fork, and pour in the mixture.  Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the batter is set.  Serve this lovely lemony cheesecake with cream, or creme fresh

Enjoy