Sunday, 27 January 2013

Spuds, seeds and sunshine

The start of this weekend saw snow still laying on the ground but thankfully the extra coating that had been threatened by  our much maligned forecasters didn't appear so t'other half and I actually managed a "Day Out". Now a "Day Out" in our lives deserves capitals because they are quite rare - usually we plan or express a possibility of doing something not connected to home or work only to have something go wrong and plans change. This weekend it didn't :)
Spuds, Glorious Spuds!
So off we went to the wonderful Garden Organic Potato Day - okay so connected to the lotty but it wasn't at the plot and it involved a little journey so definitely gets to count as a Day Out :) After a dip into the Seed Swap area - and yes we did come away with a few packets but our resolve held and we gave more than we took so felt quite virtuous-  we then explored the potato marquee.  This little treasure house was a revelation, dozens of varieties under one roof, many of which were completely new to us. Of course, we came away with a great selection of seed spuds - two first earlies - our usual suspects the Pentland Javelin and new to us Winston, second early Wilja which is a change from Kestrel for us and for maincrops, 2 different blight-resistant Sarpo varieties from the Sarvari Trust, Mira and Blue Danube. Now if you haven't heard about the work of the wonderful folk at Sarvari please follow the link - and if you grow maincrop potatoes please consider Sarpos - they are GM free, resistant to the dreaded blight and if the ones we tasted are anything to go by they are truly tasty spuds.  The team from Sarvari gave a really interesting talk about their work and deserve much more support than they currently get.

Once we 'd finished in the potato tent we explored the gardens - still covered in icy snow they gave us a useful peek at what thrived or at least survived the winter - the main one being Chard or Silverbeet as I've heard it called and also something called Portuguese Cabbage which will require some investigation. We'll certainly be looking to plant Silverbeet at our plot this coming year as our usual perpetual spinach and other brassicas really didn't like the super soggy summer & autumn we had followed closely by a freezing January and we've missed our greens this winter.

Sole Surviving Kale plant
So that's another allotment area planned and ideas for a few others gathered, all that remains is the work so here's hoping for some dry weekends to come as this one has given us a real feeling of a new season to look forward to.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Bringing back the colour

This week it snowed, and as is usual for this county a proper covering of the dreaded white stuff has closed schools & caused chaos across the country. More importantly it's buried my plants, frozen the pond and made any work up the plot impossible for the time-being. So as I looked out on to a snow covered garden over the weekend my thoughts have turned to the importance of flowers. I love flowers - in the garden, around the allotment and of course, in the house. They feed the pollinators, help drive away unwanted pests from our food crops and cheer the soul.

This is why over the last few years we have grown them in increasing numbers - not just the traditional companions of nasturtiums and calendula but also tulips and daffodils, sweet williams and cornflowers, penstemons and sweet peas, sunflowers and cosmos. A seasonal succession of colour and scent which not only brings untold numbers of bees and butterflies to the plot but also means that I don't have to rely on imported hot-house grown blooms to brighten my home or synthetic fragrances to scent it.

Now what to grow this year? This week was also my birthday and the OH has given me the gift of flower seeds for this year's garden, so to add to my saved seeds of Cosmos, Calendula, Blue Cornflowers and Sweet Williams we now have Candytuft, Sunflowers, Knautia, Black Cornflowers, Didiscus, Sweet Peas, Cerinthe and Scabious all chosen from the wonderful Higgledy Garden website. So it may be dark, cold and white outside but like Leo Lionni's little mouse Frederick  I'll dream and tell tales of colours until the light returns and we can begin sowing again.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Banishing the Winter Blues

After a December of flooding, flu and other obstacles we finally managed a trip to my £40-a-year therapist this morning. The skies were blue, the puddles frozen and the ground so hard it crunched beneath our feet but boy was it glorious :)

Now I'm a pretty sedentary creature by nature but one thing I have come to realise over the last few years is if I don't get outside and feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and get dirt under my finger nails on a regular basis then I become a lousy human being and a real misery to live with. The allotment has become my refuge, a plot that not only feeds the body but feeds the soul too. So this morning we began tending it in earnest. Whilst the buzzards keened overhead and the blue tits, blackbirds and robins supervised we pruned the apple trees. Beginning with removing the dead and diseased and moving on to the crossing and awkwardly positioned limbs, we then freed them from the encroaching brambles and nettles and checked them over ready for the new year's growing season.

Whilst the big cookers are now a bit smaller and this year will give a reduced crop hopefully they will be a bit healthier going into the future and the little cox-like eater will have a bit more room to breath. I know how it feels.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Planning in the dark

With the weather set to take a chilly turn this weekend and the days just too short to risk sowing anything yet most of our plotting will need to be of the mental kind for a while longer. So what do we have and what do we need?

We're exceptionally lucky and have an allotment plot that is about 150ft long by about 35ft wide giving us plenty of room for the standards plus a few experiments.

After five years we have a range of well-established fruit that was already on the plot when we took it on plus other varieties we've popped in.

Dreaming of Summer
 The old ladies include gooseberries - although I've no idea of the variety they make a wonderful pinky-amber coloured jam; blackcurrants - again these are mostly of unknown varieties but unsurprisingly they also make a lovely jam which is much loved by my mum-outlaw; 2 old cooking apples and 2 eaters including a pretty pink-tinged early variety that's quite sweet to taste and a little Cox-like tree that's a bit tarter on the the tongue; a crab apple that we tend to leave for the tweeters; a very decrepit greengage and a rather beaten up plum that we keep trying to rejuvenate without much luck but due to their age and sheer staying power deserve lots of respect plus some hedgerows filled with blackcurrants and bullaces that supplement the cultivated crops wonderfully.
Hubble Bubble.....wild plum (bullace) and apple jam

In addition we have a range of raspberries that always seem to thrive where we don't want them and struggle a tad where we do, an enormous bully of a whitecurrant that is more useful as a hedge than anything else, several hazels that have been acquired from friends and freecycle but have yet to produce any useful nuts (at least that we've managed to get to before the wildlife) and a couple of blueberries that haven't really thrived but we can't quite bring ourselves to give up on. Finally there are the strawberries but after the year we've just had they are all about ready to be replaced so there we are that's the first item on this year's shopping plan. Musing aloud- sorry carefully thought out planning -really does work :)

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New beginnings

As we move beyond the shortest day my thoughts begin to turn to the new growing season and what it may bring. Last year had it's ups and downs, the beans thrived and we have enough in store to see us through the winter and on into spring but the roots, brassicae and squashes did next to nothing and for the first year since we began growing our own we had no pumpkins, winter squashes or greens to get us through the dark. The shock of buying both butternut squash and brussels sprouts for our celebrations emphasised just how much our plot usually saves us.Thanks to our wonderful little dehydrator we managed to save enough onions, leeks and garlic to continue creating stews, soups and pasta sauces until the new year harvests come in - left to their own devices the combined perils of leaf miner and rot would have confined them to the compost heap long before December. The tomatoes succumbed to the dreaded blight - great for the Garden Organic trial we were conducting not so good for the freezer stores. The potatoes were harvested before blight got them but they are starting to sprout now so will need to be used up soon.
So what to grow this year? Planning is half the fun of growing - the anticipation of that first broad bean risotto or pea snacked straight from the pod not to mention the delight of that first bunch of home grown flowers to brighten the house. Seed stores need to be sorted, varieties need to be chosen, new-to-us crops decided upon (last year we tried out wheat for the first time) and spaces cleared. Which brings me to the blog - a late starter but the aim is to record what we grow, how much we harvest and what we do with it, mostly for our own interest but maybe for others too.