Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Alotment Update

It's proving to be a busy week so far, this post was supposed to be online Monday morning but time simply got away from me, we're also off on holiday on Friday for a week so there's a million and one things that need doing in preparation for that.

Before all that however there was last weekend and what a scorching Sunday is was too. finally a chance to cut the grass after what seemed to have been a couple of weeks of daily showers. As well as that there was chance to spend a few hours up at the allotment getting caught up on all the weeding after all the rain.

It wasn't actually as bad as it could have been, half an hour with the hoe and it was looking pretty good again. All the crops seem to have come on leaps and bounds too with all the wet warmth we've had. It's got to that time of year when, as you can see from the above picture, everything looks full of life and its hard at first glance to see the order amongst the chaos of fresh green growth.

The parsnips are looking amazing, loads of healthy growth up top that, with any luck, means similar is going on below the surface.

The maincrop potato's are looking great too. It's the first time we've managed to grow 'proper' rows of healthy looking plants (other years have always looks a bit bedraggled and higldy-pigldy) so fingers crossed for a bumper harvest. We've also started eating our first earlies over the last week or so. They taste really good but I was a tad disappointed with the yield, perhaps the second earlies will be better when we get to them.

We also finally got some beans in the ground thanks to a friend at work who supplied us with her left overs. Taking up the space left by the garlic the dwarf french beans in the front of this pic went in on Sunday and seem to have survived despite being really pot bound while the runner beans at the back of the pic are perhaps looking a little weak and wobbly at the moment after their re-homing, fingers crossed they pick up soon.

The corn has put on a growth spurt over the last week or so and seems to be back to its best  after sulking a little when it was first transplanted. The courgettes too are just starting to produce (just in time for us to go on holiday, d'oh!).

The Oca seem to have survived the transplanting process, they got a bit damaged by the wind when they first went out and looked a bit sickly but now they seem to have settled in and are thriving.

We've also got our winter brasicas all planted out and netted over so fingers crossed for some lovely veg ready for Christmas. The netting is a bit cobbled together but it seems to be serving the purpose at the moment. The real test will be when the ground inside needs weeding...

In the fruit cage the blueberries are finally starting to ripen as well, fingers crossed they don't all do it in the next week or so and end up spoiled on the bush when we get home.

All in all things seem to be going really well this year, it's by far the most in control we've been since we started the allotment. It'd be good to get another few hours tidying under our belts before we go away but generally we're very happy with things for once.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Surprise Jostaberry Jam

You many remember those large gooseberry bushes on our allotment that we covered rather haphazardly in green netting a couple of weeks ago. Well it turns out they aren't gooseberry bushes after all, they're Jostaberry's instead!

I'd assumed that because the fruit looked gooseberry'esq (well, red gooseberries anyway) as did the leaves on the bushes that they were indeed gooseberries. It was only when browsing through a seed catalogue that dropped through the door that I saw a Jostaberry plant for sale. Advertised as a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry its fruit looked just like ours but it was the fact that the catalogue said the bush was thorn-less, just like ours, that really made me wonder. A quick bit of internet research later and it seemed we'd been wrong all this time, they were Jostaberry bushes.

Anyway, now we knew what they actually were it was time to do something with some of them so we popped up to the plant and picked a bowl full to make some jam with. I love making jam, its so easy and the result is always so tasty it's the perfect way to preserve any soft fruit glut.

We had about 600g of fruit which we topped and tailed before softening them in a large pan for a few minutes. We then added 600g of sugar (I assumed since both blackcurrants and gooseberrys have high pectin levels that Jostaberry would too so just used regular granulated sugar rather than jam making sugar) and let it melt while stirring over a medium heat. 

Once the sugar had all melted (I tent to sample a bit from a teaspoon and see if you can still feel any grainy'ness from the sugar in your mouth) we whacked the heat up to the max, put a lid on, and let it come to a rolling boil for about 15 minutes. 

We then tested to see if it had reached setting point by putting a small sample on a saucer that had been kept nice and cold in the freezer and pushing a finger into it to see if the surface wrinkled. It did, so off the heat came the pan and we gave it a stir to get rid of the surface bubbles. We then left it to stand for another ten minutes or so before pouring it into freshly sterilised jam jars and sealing.

Having cooled overnight now the jam has all set beautifully and, as we found out at breakfast, tastes lovely. Different to both blackcurrant and gooseberry but with hints of both, defiantly something we'll be making again.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Salad crops ahoy

Since the weather has decided that rain is very much the order of the week so far our attentions turn to the contents of the greenhouse once again. We've not really blogged about it for a while but it's been keeping us in salad greens for the last few weeks now as the mixed leaves and rocket have sprung on amazingly.

The container carrots we were experimenting with have also done well. They're not very wide but they're a decent length and taste lovely and sweet, perfect for salads in fact.

The cucumbers too have been doing really well, we've already eaten about five of them and there are loads more almost ready for picking. They're about half the length of your normal shop bought ones which is the perfect size for the two of us, we'll be growing these again next year for sure.

The first tomatoes are also ripening. We had our first proper meal from the Golden Nugget plant last night and there are a load more that look less than a week away from being ready to eat.

The Red Cherry isn't far behind either as you can see.

The African Horned Cucumbers are growing well but have no signs of fruit yet, the single Oca plant I held back from the allotment seems to be growing well in its pot and there's a teeny tiny fruit or two on the Cherry Bomb chili plant too.

All being well we'll get back up the allotment one night after work to check on things, then its fingers crossed the weather improves so we can have the barbecue we're planning for Saturday.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Blackcurrant liqueur

We picked the rest of our blackcurrants yesterday. We don't have loads this year as the bushes had spent the last couple of years submerged in weeds and the colapsed netted tunnel that stood where the new fruit cage now resides. All being well next year the crop will be much improved but this year we had to find something to do with our less then impressive harvest. Step forward Blackcurrant liqueur!

We made some Sloe Gin and Blackberry Vodka last year and they turned out yummy so all being well this'll be a great additioon to the homemade liqueur shelf.

First you need a jar, we used a large chutney jar we had spare, we then sterilised it using some homebrew sterilising mixture but you could just as easily do it the old fashioned way by washing it then drying it in a hot oven if thats easier.

Once that's done we simply add the currants (we froze them first like we did the sloe's last year to weaken the skins) and some sugar and then cover them with vodka and give it all a shake. You don't need to worry too much about removing all the tops and tails from the currants because in a couple of months you'll be straining the whole mix into a bottle to remove the fruit and prepare it for drinking.

Exact quantities are a bit vague, we had about 300g of blackcurrants, 70cl of cheapy vodka (don't waste the good stuff) and the sugar was about 200g. The plan is to taste in a couple of months and add any extra sugar as needed as this seemed better than overdoing it and making it too sweet. Ideally we perhaps wanted a higher fruit to vodka mix but we went with what we had and if it ends up not blackcurrant'y enough then we'll know for next year.

It'll need another shake every day for the next week or so to help dissolve the sugar then it's into the cupboard for a couple of months to allow the fruits to impart their flavour.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Garlic harvested and very late beans

The arrival of the rain over the last week or so seems to have kept us off the allotment for a while, we've been so used to lovely dry weather it's been hard to fancy a trip up there under dark clouds and the prospect of imminent drizzle. 

However, last night was sunny so we got our backsides in gear and popped up for an hour or so after work slightly worried about what we'd find. Thankfully while the weed perfect weather had caused quite a few to raise their heads it wasn't too bad and will only take half an hour with a hoe to return it to some sense of order.

That wasn't the task of the evening though, we were there to harvest the garlic and plant some runner beans. This was our first proper attempt at over wintered garlic and I have to say I've been quite impressed with it. Every plant survived the snow and while a few of the bulbs were a little on the small side most had swelled up beautifully. In the end we harvested about thirty bulbs most of which then got strung up in the spare room to dry when we got home. 

We also finally got some runner beans in the ground. We'd kind of given up on growing any this year as we simply never planted any, however, when a kind soul at work had a few plants spare I jumped at the chance of giving them a home. Even then they'd been sat in the greenhouse for a week patiently waiting to be planted out so it was great to finally get them off my conscience and into the allotment.

A couple had got quite tall so I've tied them to their canes in the hope they'll work out what to do once they realise they've now got something to grow against.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Spaghetti Squash

Amazingly we're still eating through last years squash and last night we had the first of our spaghetti squash. We'd been kind of putting off trying one of these as we weren't quite sure how to cook it, silly really but we had so many other squash to eat these just got put to the back of the queue a tad. Anyway, a bit of research later we took the plunge last night.

First up you wash the squash then prick it a number of times with a fork to stop it exploding when you cook it (although there was a little part of me that did wonder just how explody a squash could be...). Then you pop it in the oven for an hour at 200 degrees till it's cooked through.

When it's done you chop it in half and scoop out the pips etc. Then taking a fork you simply 'fluff' up the inside and it magically falls apart into spaghetti style strands.

Unlike a lot of other squash it doesn't have a very distinct flavour, it's not bland as such but it does need some seasoning and a sauce to improve it. We ate it with the same kind of homemade spicy tomato based sauce we use for pasta dishes and it went really well.

What it lacks in flavour it more than makes up for in character though, in fact we kinda wish we'd grown more of them this year now.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Catching back up

We managed to spend about four hours up at the allotment on Saturday in the sun which was lovely. Most of that time was spent weeding and tidying which meant a lot of the more jobby jobs didn't really get done. Despite that it was time well spent as the plot needed a bit of love after all the fruit cage related excitement of the last couple of weeks.

We did get a couple of things done worth reporting however. This year’s squash plants made it into their final homes. Most went into half of the spring brassica bed now that it'd mostly clear and the last couple went in with the sweetcorn in a kind of experimental Two Sisters approach (there's a traditional companion planting system called Three Sisters that involves planting squash, beans and sweetcorn together). Hopefully the sprawling nature of the squash plants will help keep the weeds down around the base of the sweetcorn.

We also made an attempt to save this year’s gooseberry harvest. When we took over the plot there were a couple of small gooseberry bushes along one of the sides. They didn't fruit the first year but since then they've grown huge despite our neglect. The problem is, since they started producing, we've lost each harvest to the birds who seem amazingly adept at stripping the bushes the nano-second the fruit turns ripe.

So, this year, now the fruit is starting to turn red (they seem to both be red gooseberries which is a nice change) we thought we'd take some of the netting we'd removed from the old fruit tunnel and try and cover the bushes up as best we can in the hope it'll deter the birds. It looks a bit makeshift, and we left the branches that were growing our the other side of the fence or the birds to have, but it should do the job. We hope.

Saturday afternoon we happened to be driving past the Gloucester branch of Focus which was holding a closing down sale so we popped in. It felt a little vulture like to be picking over the bones of a business gone into administration like this but we did find a couple of things to bring home with us. Most interesting was this nice big heated propagator.

I've wanted one of these for the last couple of years to enable me to start off chillies and peppers etc mega early so it’s nice to have one at last and it'll mean the seed sowing bug can take hold even earlier next year.

We also found a sorry looking whitecurrant bush that looked like it hadn't been watered for a week and was on its last legs. Taking pity on it we bought it and took it straight up to the allotment and planted it out in the fruit cage. Popping up there tonight on the way home it seems to be settling in well and looks a million times healthier already.

I'm not really sure what you do with whitecurrants but it’s nice to save something that was pretty much destined for the rubbish heap.

Friday, 3 June 2011


Hmmmm look what I found while watering the greenhouse last night... An ants nest poking through some spring onions!

In fact there were three of the blighters the more I looked around. How rude! I've got some ant powder that I could put down but I'm not sure it's safe so close to food crops. Does anyone know the best way of getting rid of them?

Other than that, the greenhouse is looking great, full to bursting yet actually semi-organised which is a first for us. I'll do a proper update at the weekend as work is calling...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Quick update...

Just a quick update today, we managed to get the weed suppressing fabric down last night. Weighed it down with the paving slabs we got from Freecycle a couple of months ago and the tubs but it does still need some kind of pegs in it to keep really flat and 'floor like'. It does look better now though I think.

Tonight we'll start catching up on all the jobs we didn't get done at the weekend while we were building it... Never stops does it!