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.

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.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Matron's New Garden

 Only 2 more days to go before I say goodbye to my old patch.  Fear not! I am starting a new challenge.  I have transplanted some fruit plants into my new courtyard garden, where I can grow fruit and veg that will tolerate a little bit of shade.  I dug up some Rhubarb crowns from my old garden - normally you wait until Winter dormancy to do this, but the leaves had already died back on some of these crowns so I hope they will like their new home.
 Ditto this Tayberry that I planted just 3 years ago as a small plant.  This Tayberry put on some amazing growth throughout the Summer so I pruned it back a bit and took these two leaders for transplanting.  A Tayberry is a fairly new cross between a Blackberry and a Raspberry.  It will tolerate a little bit of shade so I can train it up this brick wall.  I hope this transplant works, I couldn't bear to leave it behind so it was dug up and replanted within a couple of hours.
 I also took some raspberry canes from my old patch too.  I hope they will be happy in this raised bed.  If the shock of transplanting isn't too much, then I can provide ideal conditions for them.  So, Rhubarb crowns on the left, raspberry centre and tayberry on the right.
It was a magnificent harvest of my family fruit trees!  I picked these apples yesterday, hope to store some of the best ones, and eat and juice the others.  Onwards and upwards!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Matron Lives!

 We're still here!!  Leo and I have been clearing up and saying goodbye to my allotment patch, but sadly after 35 years on this site I am moving on.  But I have come up with an exciting plan!  Matron is moving her patch to a new and exciting venture.  Matron Lives! More details in the next few days.
 I have been lovingly tending this soil and adding organic matter for 35 years so I have decided to bring some of the garden with me - a garden transplant!  This is gorgeous soil, and whilst repairing a broken raised bed there was about a ton of soil to distribute and tidy up before the new tenants come in next week.
 So I am bagging up some of the soil, complete with all the wiggly worms, into some strong rubble bags and bringing it to my new garden.  I will be revealing my new project in the next couple of days. I just cannot bear to think what it would be like without growing my own veggies.  Tending a plot and getting your hands dirty in the soil is one of my greatest pleasures - second only to eating what I grow!
So, I'm emptying the greenhouse and starting afresh on another new adventure.  Only 6 days to go now!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Final Harvest

 This will be one of the final posts from my current location.  After nearly 35 years on the same patch of land I am having to move elsewhere.  The pumpkins weren't great this year.  These Rouge Vif D'Etamps pumpkins should have been much bigger. Don't know why.
 I grew melons for the first time this year.  These are a small variety grown outdoors called Minnesota Midget.  I'm just waiting a little longer for them to fully ripen.  Just a little press on the end of the melon to see if it is ripening, and a little sniff to see if I can smell the perfume.  Fingers crossed.
 Chillis are ripening nicely in the greenhouse.  These are some of my Joe's Long Cayenne peppers.
 Another variety I grew is these Spaghetti Chilli.  These are fun!
 I grew these Giraffe Sunflowers to try to attract bees and pollinating insects to my patch.  Hopefully in the weeks ahead the birds will get something out of them too!
 Tomatoes are looking good this year, no problems with tomato blight, it has been fairly dry, but I'll keep a lookout.
Regular blog readers will like to see another picture of Leo.  My garden assistant is 15 and a half years old and still plods down to the allotment with me. What a brilliant garden companion!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

August on the Plot

 These last few memories are going to be precious. This is one of my Country Taste beefsteak tomatoes. Really lovely, smooth tomatoes.  Coming along nicely.
 These Gardeners Delight tomatoes always seem to grow in a double string of pearls. Just perfect for one mouthful!
 Meanwhile, in the greenhouse these Joe's Long chillis are weighting down the branches of the plant.  I'm getting near to the time when I will measure them to find my longest chilli to enter into the Guinness World record attempt.
 Just a small one here, this is a variety of Pumpkin Rouge Vif D'Etamps which turns a gorgeous Autumnal, dark orange colour.
And for the first time, I am growing melons!  Minnesota Midget melons are a small variety which have a short growing season, so they seem to be doing OK outdoors here in the UK.

Everything just seems more precious than usual at the moment.  I am savouring every last minute of the joy of growing fruit and veggies.  In the next few weeks I will have to say goodbye to more than 30 years on this patch... I'm coming up with an alternative plan... so Matron is not going away...