Down on the Allotment

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bees and Broccoli

 Regular readers will know that 'Matron does not do flowers' but there are exceptions to every rule.  It is becoming increasingly important to encourage bees and pollinating insects, so I always leave some of my veggies to go to flower.  The bees just adore these Broccoli flowers.  Just leaving 4 or 5 plants to go to flower with the last little florets creates a whole row of thousands of lovely flowers.  You can do the same with most veggies.  Leeks and Parsnips do particularly well in flower.
 Meanwhile my Gooseberry Invicta bushes are showing signs of life too.
 and my potatoes are up too!  The soil has been warming up nicely over the past few weeks, and although Good Friday is traditionally the time to plant potatoes, Easter has been late this year so I popped them in a few weeks ago.  Did you know that a traditional way that farmers used to test if the soil was warmed up was to pull down their trousers and sit their bare bottom on the soil to see how warm it was!  You will be glad to know I don't do that!   We've had some lovely rain this weekend, so they are going great guns at the moment.  This little one is Red Duke of York.
 Peas planted in toilet rolls are well away now.  I need to plant them out because the root systems are now coming out the bottom of the tray.
Tomato seedlings are doing well too.  Mainly in the greenhouse, but I take them outside during warm days to gradually start the hardening off process.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Warming up

A bright sunny day today in London. Still not quite warm enough but Leo and I have been out in the garden all day!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Try something new

I visited my favourite Asian supermarket yesterday. I live in West London and the suburb of Southall has been the home of people from the Indian sub continent.  I decided to look into some of the fresh veggies that I see on sale there. This is what I found.
 You must know about Scotch Bonnet peppers. Very hot, colourful and used widely.
 Many of the fresh ingredients are seasonal, these are Chana - or fresh chick peas.
 Little pea pods containing just two peas. These look like fun!
 Yellow limes are known by many names in different places. Also known as Mexican Lime, Persian Limes, West Indian Lime, Bartenders Lime and Key Lime.  Smaller than other limes and about the size of a golf ball. Make them into delicious Key Lime pie!
 So how about some Dudhi - Indian melon. Widely grown around Asia, when bigger they become a Calabash or bottle gourd.  Peel, de-seed and cook as a vegetable.

 Karela are known as the Bitter meon. Widely grown around Asia, but not bitter when young and green. de-seed and cook.
 Papdi Val, known by many different names, Surati beans, Lablab beans, or Hyacinth Beans. Seasonal fresh beans that look like pea pods. Some information suggests that the beans inside are not good to eat, and others give recipes for Surati beans.  These young green pods are cooked and eaten.
 These are Tindora cucumbers. Common in Indian cooking and widely used around Asia. The Ivy gourd is an invasive grower and a weed pest in many countries. Fast growing they climb up and choke the light from trees. Sometimes known as 'Gentlemans Toes!!'  They have a bland taste and are chopped and eaten with spices.
 These are Turia, or Ridge gourd when small, but you might know them as a Loofah! Yes that very same bathroom sponge for scratching your back!  Here they are picked and eaten young when small and green.
 This is fresh Haldi - or Turmeric. Related to the ginger family, but did you know you can get either yellow or white turmeric?
and finally Aubergines - they come in different colours but these white Aubergines will help you understand why they are also known as Eggplant!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Pricking out

 I spent a pleasant afternoon pricking out these little tomato seedlings.  The first two leaves are seed leaves. Then, when the next two true leaves start to show I like to transplant them while they are still small.  Only handling by the leaves and NEVER holding the stem, I potted these up right up to the top of the stem so just the leaves were showing.  This means that more roots will form along the stem giving the plant a bigger root system to help it to grow.
 I always need lots of new plant labels this time of year, so I made my own.  This is a 4pint plastic milk bottle.
 Makes dozens of plant labels.
Meanwhile, under a dripping tap on a North facing wall, my Wasabi plant is really enjoying life at the moment.  Putting on lots of strong, green leaves.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Green Shoots

 I feel it in my bones that it is the right time to start sowing seeds!  The soil is gradually warming up and the days are getting longer.  Time to turn to my old friend Mr Wilkinson to provide some basic seeds to sow.  How about this HUGE packet of Hurst Green Shaft peas?
 I've been saving toilet rolls for months now!  Peas do like to have a long root run, so planting the seeds inside a toilet roll will encourage them to start to grow downwards! They can be planted out with the cardboard around them.
 Meanwhile in the greenhouse my little tomato seeds are making good progress. Started off in a heated propagator to germinate, these are looking good.
 I know it is quite late to plant garlic, but I found a French garlic bulb in the kitchen that had started to sprout.  Since this picture was taken 2 days ago, they have doubled in size.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained!  I might get something out of these later in the season, let's see.
My friend Mr Wilkinson has come up trumps again, Broad Beans Aquadulce Claudia are up and running. I will take these outside to harden off and plant out.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Matron Strikes Gold!

I was out digging in the garden over the weekend when I struk gold!  Who would have thought it?  There I was minding my own business, weeding my suburban allotment in West London when...

Lo and behold I caught something glinting in my dark London clay soil!  So, gold pan in hand (I just found one in the potting shed..) I headed for the water butt to do some more panning.  Nugget after nugget they just kept coming. 
I'd better not tell anyone, look what happend in the Klondike... there was a gold rush!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Edible Garden Show

 More from the Edible Garden Show at Alexandra Palace this weekend. One of the attractions for me was to visit this iconic building in North London in Muswell Hill. I always wanted to go.
 Included in the range of subjects around Edible Gardens was keeping chickens! Lots of chicken stuff there, and quite a few hens, cockerels and a few turkeys in cages.
 This watering system took my interest for a while.  It is powered by a solar pump connected to an automatic watering system.  Great fun!
 An interesting range of pop-up plastic cloches and greenhouses.
 and my favourite find of the day was from Brandy Carr Nurseries in Wakefield, Yorkshire.
 You can grow your own Liquorice plants!!!  Completely hardy, it grows up in Yorkshire quite happily. I am going to find a muddy corner somewhere on my patch to grow Liquorice!!  What fun!
This looked interesting on the Suttons Seeds stand. Not only did they sell grafted tomato plants (that's good varieties grafted on to strong rootstocks)  but they had double stemmed plants, and even 2 varieties grafted on to one rootstock... that's like they do with fruit trees!   I didn't buy one, but I could sure pinch out and prune my own tomato plants to grow with two stems! Simples!

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Perfect Day

 I had quite a remarkable day today.  I went to visit the Edible Garden Show which is on this weekend at Alexandra Palace in North London.  High up on Muswell Hill, that tall antenna is where most of us in North and West London used to get our TV signals from.  More from the show in the next post.
 But they knew I was coming.. so invited a selection of Royalty and celebrity just to make it interesting.  HRH The Prince of Wales arrived the same time I did (we came in separate cars) to have a look around.
 Once inside, it was then apparent that the BBC were recording Gardeners' Question Time at this show.
 So, James Wong, Pippa Greenwood, Bob Flowerdew and Christine Walkden, lined up to meet Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
 So I floated into a side hall at Alexandra Palace and sat down.. a strange man with a beard appeared before us, but when he opened his mouth there was no mistaking the familiar voice of Eric Robson. Isn't it strange that listening to BBC Radio 4 Gardeners' Question Time for most of my life, his voice is so familiar yet his face is not.  Today was a real treat for me.
On the panel today, Chris Beardshaw, Bunny Guinness and Bob (Saint Bob) Flowerdew.  This episode is going out next Friday 5th April and repeated on Sunday 6th April.  Getting to see Saint Bob in the flesh was a real treat, and another tick on my 'Bucket List'. So for now it's 'Goodbye and Good Gardening'

Thursday, March 27, 2014

There is such a close relationship  between growing your own fruit and vegetables, and cooking and eating them in your own kitchen.  I was very keen recently to give a short interview to Womans Weekly magazine about blogging, eating and cooking.  Sadly I have never been into knitting or sewing so they left that bit out!

 Even now, in late March I still have quite a few of these Queensland blue and Crown Prince squash keeping nicely on a warm windowsill.   This picture below is actually a cross between these two varieties.
 This type of Southern hemisphere Winter Squash have a low moisture content and a lovely, thick waxy skin to help give it a long shelf life... or windowsill life.  So long as it remains warm and dry I have kept them for more than a year like this.
 So when Womans Weekly asked me to share a recipe, I thought back to when I made the Original Pumpkin pie recepie.  When the first settlers arrived in the New World it is known that the first pumpkin pie was known as a Norfolk Millions Pie which was only a slight variation on what we know today.  The term 'millions' may have either referred to the fact that pumpkins were highly prolific, or pumpkins were slightly different then and resembled Melons a bit more than they do nowadays.
If some pumpkins can keep on my windowsill for a year, then they must have survived the journey from the Old World to the New World all those years ago.

Monday, March 24, 2014

New Shoots

 I am beginning to plant some tomato seeds in the heated propagator in the greenhouse. One variety I am looking forward to seeing is this new Indigo Rose black tomato.  I wonder if they are truly as black as the photo on the packet suggests, or if it is really just a dark purple. We shall see.
 It is just so exciting to see the growing season beginning again.
These little tomato seedlings are germinating quite well. Varieties here are Harlequin, chocolate cherry, Sungold, Golden Jubilee, Gardeners Delight.  Roll on Summer!