Down on the Allotment

Matron grows vegetables and fruit in a courtyard garden. Which edibles will tolerate less than ideal growing conditions. Discovering how veggies can grow in partial shade.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My New Grow Light

 January is much too early to start sowing most seeds, even in a heated propagator they don't really thrive.  Chillis however, do need a longer growing season in the UK where we don't have enough light or heat to give them the best.   So I have bought a very basic grow light.  The bulb is specially selected to be multi spectrum light, containing the right sort of wave lengths to mimic real sunlight.
I will make a foil reflector to go around the heated propagator just to take advantage of all the light I can.  I might grow a few early herbs, lettuce and quick crops just to see how it does.  Any suggestions?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What Not to Grow

 I like to try different varieties each year, you never know what is going to work and I try to step out of my comfort zone.  In 2014 I saw an advert for this Indigo Rose black tomato and thought it looked amazing.  Well it does LOOK amazing and that's all in my opinion.  Even in South facing, direct sunlight all season long, the underside did not ripen.  Some of the smaller tomatoes did eventually ripen but they tasted of nothing!... actually they tasted of cotton wool. So I won't be growing these again.
 I had seen Yard Long Beans in some of my Asian grocers in London. The idea of a yard long bean sounded great! I managed to germinate these seeds in a heated propagator, and plant some small plants outside in late Summer, but they came to nothing.  I think these need a really hot climate, and even in a hot Summer we don't have the light or the heat to grow these well.  Has anyone grown these? I won't grow these again.
I had always wanted to grow Asparagus Pea - so a few years ago I did.  A pea pod that tastes of asparagus sounded like a really great thing to grow.  Well, these little pods are only about an inch long, they are not prolific, they are stringy.. and you need a whole big patch of them just to get a handful to cook. And guess what? - they don't taste of asparagus.  Nice colourful flowers!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Morello Cherry Tree

 My new shady garden has its challenges, but there are quite a few fruit and veggies that can tolerate growing conditions which are less than ideal.  The Morello Cherry is one of these.  It can survive against a North facing wall and is also very hardy.  These are sour cherries which ripen to a near black colour, they can be used for pies, jams and cherry brandy.
 This tree has quite a few nice side shoots so I may train it up against a brick wall.  It is on a semi-dwarfing rootstock which means it will probably reach a height of about 10feet tall.  Ideal for a small garden.
 I have a corner space on my patio which is North West facing.  It will get quite a bit of sunshine in the morning up against the brickwork of the house.  A hole here goes down into soil so this should do fairly well, and also restrict too much growth as long as I make sure it is well watered.  Soil underneath brickwork like this can get dry.
So I look forward to a crop of cherries round about August time.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

January Rhubarb

 This has been one of the warmest Winters I can remember.  It doesn't seem right that on some December and January days I have been outside in short sleeves!  My rhubarb is a bit confused too!  I took a couple of crowns of rhubarb from my old allotment last Autumn and planted them here in my shaded fruit and veggie garden.  As a newly planted crown, I will not be taking a harvest for a couple of years until it gets well established.  Give it time to put down a good root system in its new home.  Well I suppose a couple of sticks in late Spring won't hurt.
 Time to check up on my bags of leaf mould.  The warm Winter has helped the decomposition of this leafmould too.
Stacked up in a corner of the garden, this mixture of grass clippings and chopped leaves will compost well.  The warmth has really helped this process too.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How to Dry Chillis

 These are the last few chillis that I have been ripening.  Now that we have just had our first frost of the year here in London, I brought these inside to dry. The two varieties I have here are Joe's Long and the wonderful Spaghetti Chillis.
 Chillis have a shiny, waxy coating that makes it difficult to dry them without access to the inside of the fruit. It is much easier to just snip open the chillis with a pair of scissors in order to speed up the drying process.
 So I lined them up on a baking the very bottom of the oven at the coolest setting.  I had a gas temperature which showed 1/2 at the start of the dial.  So leave them at the bottom of the oven to dry out.  This may take several hours.
 When they are completely dry they will be crispy. What a gorgeous ruby colour.
 If they are not completely dry it will be difficult to dry to a chilli powder and it will not store well. If it is at all damp it will deteriorate and go mouldy in storage.
 So I snipped them into a coffee grinder
and this natural chilli powder should last me a little while. Actually I have developed a bit of a chilli habit.. so I add it to most things nowadays.

Friday, November 20, 2015

How to Compost Leaves

 It is that time of year when you see piles of fallen leaves blowing around.  You can make good compost from them, but it is not quite as straightforward.  If you just pile up bags of dry, brown leaves then it really won't work.  Tree roots go deep into the ground and consequently they draw up all sorts of beneficial nutrients and minerals into the leaves, but the nutrients are not easily broken down without a knowledge of decomposition.  Like all compost you have to have a mixture of brown (carbon) and green ( nitrogen), as well as water and air.
 So the ideal way of collecting leaves is to put them on the lawn and then run a lawnmower over them.  Brown leaves have a woody substance called lignins, this makes them hard and woody and quite difficult to break down.  So if  you scrunch or chop the leaves with a lawn mower AND add fresh green grass clippings this is an ideal start for composting.  If you don't have any grass clippings this time of year then you can mix leaves with fresh horse manure to add nitrogen.
 I piled mine in some heavy duty bags, making sure they are well ventilated and moistened.  I will leave them in a shady corner of the garden all Winter and see if the worms can help turn it into compost.
Here's some I made earlier!   Looking forward to building my new raised beds next Spring.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Syrup

 Here's a lovely seasonal idea for using up extra pumpkin that you might have left over at home.  Those very expensive spice syrups that you get in your coffee are just so easy to make.  Here's an idea about how to make your own Pumpkin Spice Syrup.  You will need an equal quantity of sugar and water. So start with 1 cup of sugar (you can use brown sugar for additional taste), 1 cup water. Very gently bring the sugar to disolve over a gentle heat then add Cinnamon sticks, cloves, ground ginger and ground nutmeg. These are the traditional spices for pumpkin pie.  I then also added star anise and some vanilla extract.
 Just let it simmer very slowly for about 5 minutes until the spices have infused into the syrup.  I did find that ground spices work better here but you can use whole spices as well.  Add 2 tablespoons of cooked pumpkin puree and very slowly simmer for a few more minutes.
 This will be quite a thick and sticky mixture, but leave it to cool just a little but it must still be hot when you pour it into a jelly bag to strain the syrup out.
 The syrup doesn't come out easily and you will have to squeeze the bag gently to get most of the syrup out.  I don't think you will manage to get it all out, it is quite difficult so be happy with getting just most of it out.
This syrup tastes amazing! Use it to flavour your coffee, pour on pancakes, ice cream, stewed apple, porridge... anything you like. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

 I had quite a few of these Joe's Long Cayenne chillis to use up.  The wonderful thing about growing this variety is the sheer volume of chillis produced on each plant.  These chillis didn't get quite enough light or heat this growing year so they are not super hot, but just warm enough to keep the cold out!  I thought I would share this Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce recipe.
 1" of peeled and chopped ginger root, 1 small red pepper, 1/2 cup white or cider vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 tabs fish sauce, 2 tabs sherry, 3 cloves garlic, 1 tab cornflour.  I used about this quantity of chillis as shown in the picture, but you can estimate by volume how much you want to use.
That's what the recipe said, but you can substitute fish sauce for light soy sauce, sherry for something like madeira or port, I used jam sugar for just a little extra pectin.  I also used arrowroot instead of cornflour for thickening.
 A food processor or chopper is really necessary to chop the chilli, ginger, garlic and pepper quite finely. I used some of the fish sauce to help it blend smoothly.
 Add the vinegar, sugar and other liquids and bring to a gentle boil for about 5 mins, stirring just to gently cook through the peppers and chilli.  Thin the cornflour with a little cold water and then add gradually to the chilli mix until you get the thickness you desire.  I prefer it to still pour out of the bottle, but you may prefer a thicker set like jelly or jam - its up to you.
    Pour into sterilized jars, close the top lightly and then steam the bottles in a bath of simmering water with the lid on for another 30 minutes in a large saucepan and then tighten up the lids before cooling.  This will help sterilize the sauce so it keeps for much longer.
This quantity only makes about 2 or 3 small jars, so you can double up the ingredients for more. Experiment with different types of chilli, this one isn't as hot as it might be but it is perfect for me.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Colossal Leeks

 I've been drying out a leek seed head from one of my Heritage leeks 'Colossal'.  Not many of this variety around nowadays,  in fact, it is in need of preservation at the Heritage Seed Library. I love letting leeks go on for a second year, and when they flower the bees just love them!  I love to let quite a few veggies go to flower to encourage the pollinating insects, and all of the onion family are a favourite.
 So I cut this seed head just before I left my old garden and brought it home with me to dry out thoroughly.
 You can see that each little flower on the head dries to a seed pod which contains 3 or 4 tiny little black seeds.
 Now I understand why some seed is just so expensive!  In this case I can't think of a mechanical way to separate the chaff from the seed.  Since most commercial seed sold in the UK is grown and produced abroad (mostly China) I assume they employ cheap labour to do what I spent yesterday afternoon doing!
So I have quite a good quantity of this 'Colossal' heritage leek seed to give away.  It needs sharing so this old variety is not lost forever.  It is a brilliant, healthy leek that stands well over Autumn and Winter.  If you want some seed, then please contact me via email giving me your name and address and I will send you some!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My New Veggie Garden

 I started clearing one of my old raised beds today.  Digging out all the shrubs and flowers except this old blackcurrant bush.  I am going to prune and train it up against this South facing wall.  I brought with me from my old allotment about a dozen bags of soil which I spread out in this bed.
 I did manage to bring some Swiss Chard seedings with me, so I hope to plant them out in a sheltered spot.  Swiss Chard and other leaf crops are one veggie that can tolerate some shade in a growing patch so they should do well here.
 I also brought some mint with me.  I will find a large pot or raised bed so that it does not spread.
 I cut my Joe's Long Chilli plants from my old greenhouse, They are not quite ripe yet, so I have hung them over my balcony rails and they are beginning to ripen in the sunshine now.
 I also found a passenger in one of the bags of soil I brought from my old garden.  This smooth newt had been hiding in the clay soil. They are one of the most common newts in the UK. They eat worms, spiders, slugs and other critters so there will be lots for it to eat here.
My garden backs on to a small river, so it will be really at home in the undergrowth here.  As I was releasing it on the river bank I noticed this beautiful orange underside.