Friday 29 May 2009

A good strawberry crop

I am going to stick my neck out a bit and predict we are heading for a good strawberry crop. We transferred all the strawberries into the fruit cage in the late winter and they are doing very well.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Beech nuts

On Sunday we walked over to Sunniside Park in search of beech trees. I am after an autumn supply of beech nuts. These can be used for roasting, in cooking or pressed for oil. We found some mature trees that look like they will carpet the ground in the autumn. This is only the start of the search however. We need a very large supply for teh quantity we need for our autumn plans. We'll be checking out woodland in the Derwent Valley soon as well.

Wednesday 20 May 2009


Last year's gooseberry crop was a bit disappointing. We have some bushes planted on the allotment and a few in the back garden in London. The biggest bush is in the neighbouring allotment to our. That allotment belongs to our friend Glenys and we sort of look after it for her. I checked out the allotment bushes over the weekend and it looked like a good crop. I am currently down in London and have just checked out what's growing in our garden there. Again, the gooseberry crop looks good.

My favourite use for gooseberries is in elderflower and gooseberry jam. Watch out for my making this in a few weeks.
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Monday 18 May 2009

Opening up bed 4

One task we are determined to do this year is open up bed 4 to cultivation. This is the largest bed on the allotment and we have already been using one border along the edge of it to grow lavender. It was rotovated last year, along with the other beds that are now in cultivation (leaving a third of the allotment still to sort out). We did not however get round to using it and as a result, it rapidly grew its own crop of grass and weeds.

Earlier this year I tried an experiment to kill the grass and weeds by smothering them with a thick layer of manure. This does seem to have worked though there were a large number of horsetails that grew through. I extracted all of them this weekend and then started to dig the patch. Given the size of bed 4, this is going to take some time. Nevertheless, at last the job is underway.

We have a number of sweet corn seedlings growing in the greenhouse. They will go onto bed 4. We will update you on other crops to go there shortly.

Meanwhile, I paid a visit to Dad's allotment on Saturday. His is in Marley Hill, the next village along the road from Sunniside. I don't often get to Dad's plot but I was struck by the size of it. It is only about a fifth the size of ours. So I count ourselves lucky to have such a large allotment. It does of course mean more work it required, especially as we are restroing it from a derelict condition.
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Sunday 17 May 2009

Roasted rhubarb abd ginger with yoghurt

More rhubarb picked on the allotment this afternoon. It was then roasted with ginger and sugar, allowed to cool and then added to plain yoghurt. Very pleasant.

The recipe is from the Guardian this week. Another triumph for Delia Smith.
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Saturday 16 May 2009

Stuck in the greenhouse in a storm

We have discovered another benefit of having a greenhouse: shelter! I was weeding bed 4 a few minutes ago and then suddenly the skies opened and the rains came down! So a headed for the greenhouse where I am now.

At least the allotment gets a welcome watering, though it did so yesterday as well. And the water butts will get filled up as well.

So, I thought I would take this opportunity to give you a blog tour of the greenhouse.

Pumpkin seeds were planted on 10th but not get germinating. We have 6 seeds planted. Apparently, once they are growing and planted out, they use up lots of water, so we're only doing a small number.

29 sweet corn seeds were planted a couple of weeks ago and there are doing very well.

I repotted the tomatoes last week so no further news on them. Likewise the peppers and aubergines.

5 cucumbers are growing well. One tray of celeriac is doing well. Coriander seeds are planted but doiing nothing yet.

So greenhouse news generally is good.
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Thursday 14 May 2009

What's growing in a park in London

My London home is in Upper Norwood. There is a park nearby - south Norwood - which I have only visited once before. I had always intended going back to see what wild foods are growing there. I am down in London this week so I took the opportunity tonight to visit the park, complete with a picnic. And I found the following growing there: plums, nettles, hawthorn, oak, brambles, rose, elder, raspberries, rowan and wild parsley.

I think I will be making some return visits.
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Wednesday 13 May 2009

Greenhouse update

This is just a short update and by no means comprehensive on where we are with the greenhouse. Much of what we planted earlier this year as seeds has already been planted out: red cabbages, sweet peas, brussel sprouts, gherkins and courgettes.

There is still plenty in the greenhouse. The nasturtiums above were planted as seeds and they have all germinated. These are being grown not for display but as food. The leaves and flowers can be eaten and the seeds can be pickled, a bit like capers.

We have also bought pepper, tomatoe and aubergine seedlings (the peppers are pictured above). These will all remain in the greenhouse, as will the cucumbers we have grown from seeds.

Also growing from seeds are sweet corn. They will be planted out, and will go onto bed 4 (most of which has not yet been dug over - that is a big job coming up.)

A nearly self-sufficient meal

We got a mushroom kit a few weeks ago and have been growing mushrooms in the wardrobe of the spare bedroom in the house in Sunniside. The first crop is pictured above. We picked them on Sunday.

We have also been through the entire contents of the freezer to work out what we have and plan how to use it. The space will be needed soon as more crops come in from the allotment. Though we are mainly (but not entirely) vegetarian, when faced with the large quantity of bacon and sausages we found in the freezer, more meat than usual has gone on the agenda.
Sunday morning breakfast was bacon and home grown mushrooms. Sunday evening dinner was toad-in-the-hole. It did not just include sausages. We put the rest of the mushrooms in and the remaining onions from the batch Dad grew last year. In addition, we had an unexpected crop of chard, found growing on the allotment.

First crop from the allotment

On Sunday we picked the first crop from the allotment - 3kg of rhubarb. There's plenty more rhubarb to be picked, probably this coming weekend. Sunday evening pudding was rhubarb and custard!

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Update on vegetable beds

Beds 1 and 2 are now progressing well. Both were in use last year so this year we have rotated the crops. Bed 1 has peas and broad beans, chard, carrots, parsnips and garlic. All seem to be doing well.

There were two different garlic bulbs planted. The above was winter garlic, planted last November. The second was an early spring planted bulb. Both sets are doing well and, according to the books we have read, should be harvested at the same time in July.

Peas above and broad beans below, both on bed 1. The broad beans were a success last year, the peas less so.

Over on bed 2 and the onions (pictured below) are coming along in leaps and bounds. Last year onions were a success. We are growing trebble the quantity this year.

Also on bed 2 are leeks (not much sign of activity but we are keeping our fingers crossed), beetroot, runner beans and gherkins with a few sweet peas added to attract bees.
Bringing bed 3 into use was a must-do job this year. It is now in full operation. The soil was a good quality so we did not add manure. The bed is now sporting red cabbage, brussel sprouts (being planted by David above), gherkins and sweet peas.

David on bed 3, above. Two years ago this whole area was buried underneath brambles.

Allotment update no 4 May 2009

My latest video about how we are restoring the allotment in Sunniside. This covers April and early May.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Opening up bed 3

Bed 3 is the strip of land between the fruitcage and the greenhouse. It may have been a raised bed in the distant past, though we can't be sure. At each corner there were metre long iron stakes drilled into the ground. Digging them out took some effort!

David dug over the bed so I can't claim the credit for the hard graft here. The red cabbages we planted as seeds in the greenhouse have been planted onto this bed though we have a number left over which will have to go up to Dad's allotment. the rest of the bed will be used for brussel sprouts.

Anyway, it is another milestone reached. Bed 3 now in use.

Doing a runner

This was taken on Sunday after I finished planting the runner beans on bed 2. We created 3 wigwams, each with 10 canes and 2 beans to each cane. The runner bean crop last year was a failure for us. Like growing the potatoes, we blundered into it poorly prepared and planted too late. This time we are being much better prepared.

We planted sone sweet pea seeds in the greenhouse a few weeks ago and these have been planted next to the canes as well. The idea is that we attract more bees to help pollination.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Round up

Given it is the start of the month (well, just after!) Now seems a good time to review where we are with our progress towards self-sufficiency.

As it is spring, the wild seasonal crops are the first to become available. So spring wild leaf salads have been on the menu and will continue to be until the season is over. A number of different leaves have been used: bramble, dandelion, hawthorn, willowherb, wild parsley and dock. Coming up soon will be havel and beech leaves. The drawback at the moment is that the dressings are made from goods purchased in the supermarket, especially olive oil and oranges. I am working on alternatives though these won't come to fruition (if at all) in most cases til the autumn. The main hurdle to overcome is the need for our own oil. Beech and hazel nuts provide possible alternatives in the autumn but it means getting a press. I am planning to use rosehip syrup as part of a salad dressing. We have some from last year.

The jam making season has begun though the first batch of jam was made for someone else with their produced! Over the weekend, David made rhubarb abd ginger jam for a colleague using her rhubarb. However, rhubarb will be the first produce to be cropped from the allotment this weekend.

April has been a seed planting month on the allotment and having the greenhouse is now clearly paying dividends. I am so pleased we completed its construction in the winter. We are now at the point where we are planting out seedlings - red cabbage and brussel sprouts. Others will follow.

Meanwhile, various beds were used for direct seed planting.

Bed One is now fully used for peas, broad beans, chard, carrots, parsnips and garlic.

Bed 2 has been partly used for onions, leeks and beetroot. Over the weekend I planted runner beans and the remaining spaces are to be used for gherkins and courgettes which are ready in the greenhouse.

Bed 3 is being opened up for the first time. It sits between the greenhouse and fruitcage. It is where the red cabbage and brussel sprouts are going.

Bed 4 is only in partial use at the moment, mainly for flowers. We need to do some work on it but the intention is to use if for winter crops.

Bed 5 is now fully in use with rhubarb, raspberries, potatoes and horse radish(though it shows no signs of growing yet). There are also 4 fruit trees: plum, apple, peach and nectarine. The first 2 were put in last year and have blossomed well. The other two were from my sister earlier this year and she wasn't sure if they would come to much. We are still living in hope.

Elsewhere on the allotment, the potato bags next to the greenhouse are showing signs of life. One third of the allotment however still remains in its original derelict state. The big job is to get that ready for cultivation.

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