Down on the Allotment

What's happening down on the allotment? An intimate account of a passionate veggie grower.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The National Fruit Collection

It has been a few years since I last visited the National Fruit Collection in Brogdale, Kent.
I found myself there today taking a quick detour from setting up my Blackdog DNA trade stand a few miles away at the Kent County Showground.  Acres and acres of fruit trees, thousands of different varieties.
Just the right time of year for apples, but there are also national collections of nut trees, plums, cherries, pears as well as soft fruit.
A small railway exists around the site to transport picked fruit in boxes into the warehouses and shops.  The real purpose of the site is to research and preserve old varieties from extinction, so the actual production of fruit is secondary here.
and tucked away in a few acres in the corner of the site is the National collection of Quince trees!
Such a beautiful fruit to look at, less common nowadays but lots of different varieties come in all shapes and colours.
and in a corner of the quince orchard was the medlar orchard.  Heaven on earth!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Green Tomato Chutney

 So what do you do with a big tray of green tomatoes that will turn blighty in a few days?
 Green tomato chutney of course.  Chop and sweat 1lb of green tomatoes, 1lb of onions, 1lb of cooking apples with some salt for about 20 minutes.
 Then add 1 pint of malt vinegar, 2lbs brown sugar, 100grams dried fruit, and a selection of whichever spices you like.  I put in cloves, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, 1 whole chilli, ginger powder.. any of those really.
 Gently simmer with the lid off and stir to stop the bottom from burning or sticking.
 I never pay attention to cooking times because you have to wait till it is thick and most of the excess water has evaporated.
 cool slightly and pour into warmed sterilized jars.
 It says to keep for a month to mature.... hell no!
Ready straight away!  Yum!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Dreaded Blight

 Just a few days ago I was eagerly awaiting the ripening of these lovely Golden Jubilee Tomatoes and they looked great.
 I turn my back for just a few days and the signs of tomato blight are obvious.
 The growing season has been so warm recently, that the combination of warmth and moisture for a short period of time can be ideal conditions for blight.  Further details about blight can be found on this useful Blightwatch website.
 The only thing to do is to quickly harvest all the tomatoes whether ripe or not, and carefully pull up and destroy all infected plants.  Home compost is not suitable, this will just spread the disease.  Council green waste is OK because they have hot heaps which will destroy pathogens. 
So now I have a big tray of green tomatoes.  Some will ripen, but most will become blighted soon.  Time to make some green tomato chutney methinks!

Sunday, September 07, 2014


 I cut down my giant Swiss Chard plants this week.  They were about 10 foot tall and had gone to seed.  Just look what happened when I left a few inches of stem in the ground.  I will have fresh leaves all through  Winter now!
 and after picking one of my Queensland Blue squash, a new one has formed at the end of the vine.
 cutting back one half of my mint has forced them into forming new, fresh mint leaves. I left the other half fot the time being because the bees just love the purple mint flowers.
 Again, I picked my Delicata squash a few days ago, and as soon as I did a couple of lovely new squashes appear.  Different hormones and chemicals are produced in a plant when it doesn't have mature fruit to feed. Just think of picking sweet peas.. keep picking and more will be produced. Stop - and they will all go to seed and stop flowering.
This was the courgette plant that had its growing tip eaten off by a slug in April.  4 or 5 different growing points developed in its place!  I've kept this well fed and watered and I now have a giant Black Forest Climbing Courgette! This is just one plant!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Winter Squash

This little squash Delicata is another of my all time favourites.  I have Paula to thank at Petunia's Garden blog to thank for introducing me to this little gem.
Also known as the 'Sweet Potato Squash' this has a wonderful dry, sweet texture and comes in a handy meal size.  It is a good keeper too, I have picked these squash to cure out in the sun for a couple of weeks.  Exposure to the sun and to the elements after picking will harden the skin and allow it to store for longer in the  Winter months.
Elsewhere on the plot my Queensland Blue squash have very different appearances on three different plants from the same seed packet.  The photo above shows these typical square shoulders that are a feature of this variety.
The shape is slightly different on another plant.  Squash are notorious for cross-pollinating with other varieties, I tend to buy packets of seed if I can.. This next one is different as well.
The third plant has produced a silvery squash that looks more like a Crown Prince.  I'm sure they will all be delicious.
Meanwhile back at the garlic chives, the honey bees are just loving these flowers.  I'm definitely going to make an effort to plant more bee-friendly flowers in my veggie garden.
I wonder if this honey is going to taste of garlic?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Matron's Tomato Heaven

 Tomatoes are finally ripening down on the allotment. These Roman beefsteak tomatoes 'Pantano' look wonderful. I think I will pick and taste tomorrow.
 My clear favourite tomato of all time is Sungold. The taste is head and shoulders above anything else. Well worth the extra expense to buy F1 seeds each year.
 A really good do-er for a late beefsteak tomato is Golden Jubilee. These ripen to a glorious yellow and taste wonderful. They look spectacular when sliced on a plate with red beefsteak tomatoes.
 Meanwhile... I am still waiting for these Indigo Rose tomatoes to ripen.  I contacted Suttons Seeds recently when they were taking their time to ripen.  Their reply was to make sure the tomatoes had full sun... Well, I stripped the lower leaves of the plant, they get South facing, full sun all day..
weeks of full sun and they still won't ripen! Apart from growing the vines upside down.. I guess I'll have to wait. I think the skins might get a bit hard by then. Disappointing so far.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Favourite Place

 I made my annual pilgrimage to my favourite place this week.  There is something very special about walking through the Fruit Field at RHS Wisley. Hundreds of apple varieties to see.
 Varieties you have heard of, and many more that are unknown. Truly a feast for the eyes.
 Doesn't this make your mouth water?  Plenty of windfalls to examine!  Really interesting to compare different tastes of different varieties.
 Then on to the model vegetable garden. Despite using a pheromone trap to lure leek moths, even the Royal Horticultural Society can't avoid leek moth damage. This is a worrying development, I love growing leeks, they are a Winter staple. My crop have been badly damaged. Other than completely netting the whole crop there seems to be no cure for this problem.
 and reassuring to see that they have slugs too!  If the best gardeners struggle with this problem then I don't feel so bad about mine now.
 Their hundred weight pumpkins are looking good, grown on wooden pallets.
 I came back with an idea I have been mulling over for a while.  Several places in the vegetable garden there were rows of flowers for pollinating insects. A row of Lavender  to encourage the bees to pollinate the squash and pumpkins.
A row of borage flowers to bring the bees on to the strawberries and the rest of the veggie patch.  I might just give this a go!

Friday, August 22, 2014


 These new Indigo Rose black tomatoes look quite stunning!
 I was imagining that they would really be a dark purple, but I must admit this is a really good black colour.
 The trouble is.. they are taking ages to ripen.  I contacted the seed company Suttons about this two-tone effect and they informed me that it must have direct sunlight - so remove the lower leaves on the plant.
 ... which I did weeks ago. These are in full sun, South facing with lower leaves taken off.. apart from growing them upside down, I don't know what to do to ripen the bottom half... just wait I suppose.
 Meanwhile these yellow beans from Seeds of Italy are simply stunning!
 These are Meraviglia di Venezia, a flat, yellow climbing bean that is a really good cropper, it has lovely attractive bright green leaves and they are lovely to look at.
 The best thing of all is that there is absolutely no stringiness, fur, or anything fibrous about these at all. They taste wonderful too. Definitely a keeper!
 I'm afraid I have found the opposite of these Aeron Vale purple star runner beans.  They ripen to this wonderful purple colour from green.
Even as a young green bean I find these were tough and stringy. I picked a few while they were still quite small and green but there weren't that many.... Still... it's great to experiment with wonderful new varieties!