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.

Friday, April 15, 2016

April Showers

 I am really pleased with my new growlight.  These Joe's Long Chillis were started off in a heated propagator under a growlight back in early February.  The long day length and bright light for 12 hours a day means they have done really well.  I am starting to harden these off during warm days outside in a protected wallhouse.  The gentle movement of the breeze helps to harden the stems and stalks so they are less fragile and ready to go outside next month.  This morning there was a lovely gentle rain so I put all my seedlings outside to get a good soak.  Have you noticed how much happier your plants look when they have been watered in the rain like this, compared to a slosh of tapwater from a watering can?
 These are Romanesco Courgettes from Italy.  They really love the warmth of the growlight and they are putting on a new leaf practically every day.  I've not grown this variety before but they are one of the tastiest varieties around.  Typically in Italy they are sold with the flower attached like these here. I saw these a few weeks ago in a market in Florence.  They have a ridge along the length of the courgette.
Taste is one of the main reasons in my opinion to grow any particular variety of fruit or vegetable.  Now that I have a sheltered courtyard garden, these should do well against a South facing wall.
 Another Italian variety from Seeds of Italy are these wonderful beefsteak tomatoes Pantano.  I have grown these before, they are superb!
 and an old favourite of mine here are these Royalty purple dwarf beans.  About 13 years ago I 'liberated' just one or two seeds from the compost heap at the Secret Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.  These are a really lovely old heritage varitey which is a 'good do-er'
 Just a few of these Early Purple Wight garlic plants should do well in a pot against a sunny South facing wall too.  Container gardening should work well as long as you know the aspect of the garden, which is South facing, and how much direct sunlight on each part of the garden throughout the day.
Speaking of growing for taste - my Epicure potatoes have just started to come up in these potato grow bags.  I grew these as a child XXXX years ago, and for my money this is the best tasting potato you will find.  Must be careful though, there are still night frosts around so I will keep these earthed up and covered until all danger of frost is past.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Hardening Off

 This is the first year in my new veggie garden.  I took some Rhubarb crowns from my old allotment, it looks as if they are quite happy in their new home.  I won't take any stalks this year because I should let them develop a nice new root system and settle down before I pick a crop... well maybe just one or two if no one is looking!
 Just to fill the space in my vegetable planters I have filled the gaps with some Lollo Rosso lettuces.  This part of the veggie growing year is known as 'The Hungry Gap' just when Winter crops have finished and before Summer crops start.
 I was given this 4 tier growhouse about 10 years ago as a gift but never used it.  So yesterday I decided to assemble it to help harden off some of the seedlings I have growing in my propagator under a grow light.
 Happy with this one!  The shelves are removable so that I can grow taller plants inside later on in the year. Meanwhile some little plants will be happy to harden off in here.
Just during the sunny day time I bring out my Joe's Long Chilli plants.  Nice and healthy looking under the grow light, but need to harden off slowly.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fruits of the Earth

 Just one more post from the Central Market in Florence, then I will get back to the real world in my own garden.  Just perfect tomatoes are these Costoluto beefsteak tomatoes. This was my lunchtime of choice in Florence, with some fresh buffalo mozzarella, olive ciabatta and a bottle of chianti! Cheers!
 Europeans seem to have a like of slightly under ripe tomatoes. This is something you hardly ever see in the UK.  Cuore di Bue literally refers to the shape Ox heart tomatoes. Another wonderful beefsteak.
 How could I resist Italian salami and prosciutto! I was in heaven!Salami flavoured with fennel, or truffle, paprika or anything you could imagine it was gorgeous!
 Fresh olive bread every day on the market. I never went hungry. Rustic freshly baked ciabatta was on my picnic menu every day, especially dipped in truffle flavoured olive oil.
 Another highlight of my trip was to go out in the  Tuscan countryside about 50 miles from Florence to Savini Tartufi - I went out into the forest to search for truffles!
 Luca (the human) and Bilba (the dog) took me out for a couple of hours hunting for truffles.  Bilba rushed around with her nose to the ground searching for the smell of a buried truffle.  When she found one she started to dig at the ground to alert Luca.  This buried treasure is found about 3 inches below the surface, usually near the root of a tree.
 This time of year the type of truffle is a blanchetto or a small white truffle.  There are different seasons for different types of truffles all year round. We managed to find 6 truffles in a couple of hours. Definitely the highlight of my trip!
apart from the truffle lunch on my return... truffle anti pasti, truffle pasta, truffle desert and truffle chocolate to finish! A true Truffle Experience! 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sicilian Lemons

 Whilst in the Florence fruit and vegetable market I could not help notice these wonderful Sicilian Lemons. 
 Really fresh and wonderfully fragrant I bought a few back home with me.  I am planning to use them to make something special to take advantage of the flavour. Perhaps a bottle of home made Limoncello liqueur, or a special baked lemon pudding.
 But I will also have a go at growing a few little plants from these pips.  But on doing a little research about the best way of germinating lemon pips I came across something amazing and interesting.  Lemon pips are not the same as lemon seeds.

So gently you start at the pointed end of the pip and peel back the outer layer of the pip to uncover the lemon seed.  Germination of these seeds will be much quicker and much more reliable as the outer covering would normally have to rot away and open up to help the seed germinate.  You can see these lemon seeds here.
 So I have potted some up in some seed compost in a heated propagator. Let's see what happens.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Trip to Florence

 Regular readers will know about my passion for visiting markets when travelling around the world.  I have just come back from a short trip to Florence. In Italy there is little separation between growing your own food and eating it!  In fact I was hard pressed to find any supermarket food at all. Everything was fresh and local. Such a pride in displaying their produce it was a joy to see.
The Mercato Centrale is Europe's largest covered food hall opened in 1874.  Built on 2 levels this just had to be one of my priorities. Lunch and evening meal every day was purchased here. Fresh olive bread, fresh mozzarella, beefsteak tomatoes and a bottle of Chianti!
 Many Italian courgettes (known as zucchine) are sold with their flowers still on.  In fact, you can buy the flowers on their own to deep fry in batter.  So many different varieties of each vegetable on sale here, so much choice of fresh food I could not help but salivate!
 Globe artichokes are sold in different sizes, colours and forms, whole like this or smaller and sold with the leaves peeled back, just with the inner hearts.
 This local variety of variegated lettuce was very attractive - in fact I wonder if it was a type of chicory.  I could just love to make a fresh salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar! Perfecto!
Oh... and there was some art too! ;-)

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Sad News

 Some sad news.  I lost my lovely Leo yesterday.  A perfect gardening companion.
 He was already 11 years old when we rehomed him from Battersea rescue. He had arthritis in his elbows but he had already stolen the hearts of the staff at Battersea. I was lucky to get him.
 His legs were quite stiff and his mobility was not good, but 16 years old is a phenomenal age for a Labrador!  Yesterday morning it was apparent he had a stroke ovenight and was unable to get up.  He went to sleep peacefully after having scoffed a big handful of meaty treats at the vet surgery! Happy Boy!
RIP Sweet Boy. Leo Morris January 2000 - March 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Raised Beds and Growbags

 Matron's got her Mojo back!  A trip to the garden centre to get some soil based compost for a number of raised beds.
 After lots of searching for appropriate containers to grow veggies I found these vegetable planters on the RHS website shop.  A strong fabric liner with drainage holes, and a lovely willow woven surround.  I can see veggies being very happy in these planters.
 Filled them up with a mixture of this soil based compost with a thick layer of leafmould and garden compost down in the middle to help retain moisture.
 Shade has always been the issue in my new veggie garden.  You can see here the left side of the picture is South facing, but you can see where the shade is.  Remember this is only February and the sun will get higher as the season progresses.  Fruit and veggies which produce above the ground like tomatoes, chillis, courgettes and pumpkins need full sun.  I will place them on the left side against this South facing wall.
 Leafy vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli and lettuce can take an amount of shade,  as can root vegetables like beetroot, carrots and potato.  I can find some space against East or West facing walls to place these crops that can tolerate some shade.
 This Tayberry seems to be settling down well after the move from my old allotment.  Up against a West facing wall it should do well.  Raspberries and other soft fruit can also tolerate some shade, but they need to be kept fairly moist and do not like to dry out. I will have to be careful here because areas next to a wall tend to be quite dry.
I also took a few crowns of Rhubarb from my old allotment.  It has been a very warm Winter here in the UK and this started to shoot up last November!  I will feed it and not take any crop from it this year, allowing it to settle down and develop a root system.  This is also against a West facing wall, I will have to be careful not to allow it to dry out.  Matron has found her Mojo again!
Overnight update - Neighbourhood cats have decided to use my lovely new vegetable planters as their toilet!! Big holes dug and soil spread everywhere!  Grrrrrr

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Purple Sweet Potatoes

 Here's something different.  I first came across these Purple Sweet Potatoes when I had family visiting Hawaii.  Known originally as Okinawa sweet potato (from Japan) they seem to be gaining in popularity.  Sold in the USA as 'Stokes' purple, it is now available at Waitrose as a Stokes Sweet Potato.  I found these at my local Chinese supermarket, they are seasonally available between September and March.
 They maintain this amazing colour when cooked, and contain the same chemicals as found in blueberries,  blackberries and other purple fruit and vegetables 'anthocyanins'  You can use this sweet potato when cooked for an amazing range of brightly coloured dishes, cakes, muffins, ice cream or just mashed as a veggie.  They have a dry, firm texture and a lovely sweet flavour which I think tastes like sweet chestnuts.   They are delicious!
 So, this recipe from Hawaii is the most delicioius thing you can imagine, and if you can get hold of some sweet potatoes I highly recommend you google for 'Okinawa Purple Sweet Potato Haupia Pie'  The 'Haupia' refers to the sweet coconut milk topping that goes on top.

I cooked the sweet potato in the microwave then mashed it - just look at this amazing colour! You then make a sweet topping with sugar and evaporated milk, and spread it over the top of a macademia nut shortbread that you have already baked! (see all these great Hawaiian foods!)
 Bake in an oven gently till the sweet potato topping is just cooked.  This mixture is a little bit like a pumpkin pie mixture.  When it is completely cold you make a thick coconut sauce with a tin of coconut milk, sugar and cornflour.  Pour this thick sauce over the top of the sweet potato topping and allow to cool completely.
I am quite a foodie, and enjoy growing and cooking all sorts of fruit and veggies, but this has to be one of the tastiest things I have made!  If you can get hold of some purple sweet potatoes, then you must make this!  It tastes amazing!...  Now I am going to see if I can grow some shoots on the remaining sweet potatoes and try to grow some in my garden!..

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?