Sunday 23 November 2008

A good Saturday morning

Crop updates, pumpkin recipes

Sunny day: hooray! Chilly morning, still a very pleasant couple of hours I spent at the allotment.

Duly planted the mushrooms beneath the glasshouse bench, working the granules in the manure and covering with damp newspaper. In ten day or so the spawn should start to form.
The broad beans have also found their way into their winter bed and I have tidied up the asparagus patch, whose containing wall had bent to 45 degrees with weight (much less difficult than expected!).

Weeds were cleared out of my "fancy" patch in front of the greenhouse door, where I planted lavender and bulbs around an existing gooseberry bush. While clearing, I was pleasantly surprised to find 3 oregano plants, which I cannot quite explain (Is oregano a UK wild plant? I doubt it... Did my predecessor scatter any seeds? Maybe... Did my plants - which are in a totally different place - spread seeds that far? Mhhhh) . Anyway, I transplanted one in the greenhouse and mulched around the other two: let's see if they live through the winter!

Found some onion sets left from last year: most had wilted but some seem fine, so I will have a go at them next week. I also bought more raspberries and strawberries (last years' 15 plants, the runners I have transplanted and the new plants should ensure enough supply for next year!).

Tonight I need to cook pumpkin, as the three I got from the allotment are starting to go off around the slugs' holes. I have found two recipes.

Sam's Pumpkin Pie (from the HSL Catalogue 2008)

Short crust pastry in a flan dish (1.5 cups of flours, 0.3 cups of cold water, I cup fat)
1 cup sugar
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp allspice
0.5 tsp ginger powder
4 eggs
500 gr evaporated milk
3 cups of pumpkin puree (from roasted pumpkin, details to your imagination)

Bake at 210C for 1/4 hour then turn down to 175C for another 3/4 to 1 hour until an inserted knife comes out cleanly.

This pie should take me through the week at lunchtime.
The other recipe, my auntie from Italy dictated on the phone (not sure where she found it, possibly the Silver Spoon).

Pumpkin Gratin

800 g pumpkin
2 potatoes
2 eggs
1 cup cream (in Italy cream does not translate exactly on the types available here, I generally use double cream though)
1 spoon flour (in Italy 00 is the default)
Parmesan cheese, grated
salt, pepper

Steam or boil the pumpkin and potatoes and then mix with the rest. Cook for 20 minutes until golden (does not specify temperature, auntie's guess is 175C).

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Lazily, tiredly browsing the web after work and before dinner

Erratic thoughts while chilling out, allotment beds map

Not so long ago Thompson & Morgan updated their website, and although this is a purely commercial site and not specifically dealing with organic, they have included a little interesting content - on the other hand they have ended up messing up the online order form considerably, and you never seem to know exactly what you will pay.

Anyway, I find useful the "What to plant this month" page, which gives me ideas for last-minute planting (being a compulsive buyer of greenery). Also, I find that you often get extra information on the plant from the website cards that is not on the seed packet, and keep telling myself that I should go back and read it before planting - but that is too time consuming so I never do. Having the information grouped by month has slightly increased my chance to read it , i.e. when I receive the newsletter - beware: they do send quite a lot of paper and email, which is quite annoying, but obviously it does them good because they keep sending more.

The Seeds of Italy newsletter, which I received as well, has also a little bit of suggestions on what to plant in the coming month (and they are more sparing with information): I did not realise you could plant some peas at this time of the year, so much to learn for me yet!

Back to the T&M newsletter, I followed it through tonight and had a lazy look around so I noticed a "Gardening Hints and Tips" section. Some areas were fairly easy to read - such as the 'Germination guide' and the 'Growing potatoes' page - I will print it out for taking to the allotment.

There are also pages on geraniums but I did not find any information on overwintering them, which I am quite keen to do as last year I managed to grow only 1 of 5 seeds of my Summer Shower Mix and the plant was really beautiful (unlike most of the varieties that are sold as plants). I still hope to save my lonely plant, despite the fact that it got frostbite when it snowed last month.

More allotment-wise, I have almost done preparing my beds map to plan next year's planting. I will post it when it is ready.

Sunday 16 November 2008

I do best on the allotment when not under time pressure

Crop updates, autumn cleanup, cooking

Unlike my student and business life, I seem to do better when I am not pressured for time on the allotment. Yesterday I had a great time preparing the mushroom bed in the greenhouse (apparently mushrooms do best on horse manure under the greenhouse bench, so I have prepared them a nice pile of it), planting garlic and covering up the herbs.

I did not feel as I was firefighting and I have done quite a lot, clearing up a nettle patch that I will need to use up and throwing away rubbish that had been there for one year. Herbs were trimmed and covered with fleece so they are ready for any frost that may be coming.

Planted garlic even though the soil was not at its best, while broadbeans are still waiting - hoped to do it today, I actually digged in the green manure in the bed in preparation, but it is b****y raining again! It is very hard this year with such weather: is it just me or was last year actually much better?

Did you know that mint's roots smell of mint? :) They have outsmarted my containing plastic sheets and have anchored fast in the ground. I managed to take some out to plant in the greenhouse just in case the plant outside does not make it, and had enough to share some with the neighbours.

I ended up making another Torta Pasqualina with 650gr of beet that was still growing! And, following up from last week: I had the borlotti beans cooked in tomato sauce and served with polenta: I was not overexcited about them but my husband did seem appreciative.

I am curious to see what will come of the mushrooms when I finally manage to plant them - I have stocked up on newspapers, as you need to cover the spawn with wet ones. If it does not rain too much I may pop in later today and have a go at it.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Finally back!

Allotments abroad, clearing up, crop updates, encouraging wildlife.

This week I have been travelling to Switzerland and I must say my allotment holder soul was struck by a view from the train just outside Zuerich. Not considering the numerous chicken pens which made me think of the mountain village I used to spend my holidays and - more recently - weekends in in Italy (which I am sort of missing), I was surprised to see an allotment site over which, flapping in the wind, were flags from several countries. What a curious idea - I was thinking - when the train went past another one exactly the same. Obviously it is a tradition, and it felt good to see different nationalities so openly celebrated together in the close community of the allotments.

Anyway, back to England, this weekend I finally managed a visit to my allotment after more than two weeks.

To start with, everything looked horrible and I felt so disheartened. The snow had damaged the Borlotti beans and the sweetcorn, and most plants were either dead or dying, with the exception of the green manure Phacelia which is doing pretty well. It is really annoying to find out that the only thing than one would hope to be exterminated by snow - slugs - have instead survived pretty well, indeed so well that it would not be inappropriate to think of the plot as Slug Central.

Although the weather was not particularly exciting, it did not rain, and I managed to clear everything up and dig the half bed that I will need to plant the garlic as soon as the ground is not waterlogged, hopefully next weekend.

I guess I cannot complain. I have picked four pumpkins in the end, three of which should be ripe according to the rule that a pumpkin is ripe if it resists puncturing by fingernail.
Also, I got 15 corn cobs, which are eatable albeit a bit starchy from staying so long on the plant. And 300gr of Borlotti beans - very little considering how many pods were on the plants before the freeze, but it is better than nothing, isn't it? I will try them tomorrow.

Despite the overnight rain I managed to go again this afternoon, when it felt much better compared with yesterday, probably because it looked cleaner. As it started drizzling, I decided to clear up the greenhouse so that I can plant something inside: salad and mushrooms for example. It was a proficuous time: I managed to make everything neat and tidy, which was needed as there were signs of mice. Finding some chitted potatoes in a paper bag, which I must have brought over some time ago, I planted them inside, just to see what happens. It is not the wisest of ideas, as I had to plant them in compost that had previously hosted my blighted tomatoes, but I decided to give it a try anyway. I also planted some tulip bulbs and erected a trellis to protect and train my fig tree on.

In terms of socialising, it was good to meet the angel neighbour who felled the obnoxious tree at the top of the plot. While we were on the topic, and since he did not need his logs and wanted to burn them, I asked if I could have some myself.
I will use them to start building my little "nature reserve" housing block. I have seen a great picture of one in "The Organic Way", the magazine that comes with the Garden Organic subscription. It consists of 6 pallets in a pile, filled in between with logs, hollow pipes, bricks, straw and rolled cloth: I want one!

Sunday 2 November 2008

Another weekend without allotment

I have not been away from the allotment so long since I got it last year, but yesterday I felt pretty awful and today I have had to catch up on housework.

Really counting on next weekend: garlic and broadbeans are waiting to be planted before the ground is too hard. I have found a leaflet on crop rotation and - between that and the instructions on my (very useful) book - I figured out that both my garlic and the broadbeans are going to go where the tomatoes were this year.

Time to go now, I have to prepare for the week ahead...