Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas!


... I'll be back as soon as it's thawed.

Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2010 to all my followers!

m.p.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Alliaceae in place and hibernated ladybirds too

Yesterday I spent another four hours at the allotment, and I finally planted all the Alliaceae: garlic Vallelado (plus two species Neil gave me), onion Shakespeare, shallot Vigarmor.

I have never seen so many hibernated ladybirds; actually I had never seen any in the previous two winters, so I guess that is a very good sign - they were all native as well.

The ones below were in my compost heap, but I found another four while digging - I picked three and put them on the pallets around the compost heap, for shelter, one I lost in the undergrowth. Frankly, that has put me off digging a little bit, and clearing the plot does not feel too good at this time of the year either. Obviously it is confirmed to me that native ladybirds like messy long grass and weeds - a habitat that is increasingly lost.


Will have to figure out how to keep an area in the plot that is messy enough, even when it's not by mistake like this year. This is in the interest of nature and also of my gardening finances: a pack with 25 ladybirds against aphids' infestation sells for £20+!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

I made it!

I came up with the almost-perfect sage focaccia recipe, I tried it twice and both time it was good, so I can share it: was fairly easy!

Step 1: make the dough

Anything from 350gr organic flour, I mix it with a handful of wholemeal as well, a pinch of salt or two, yeast (1 teaspoon fast action yeast), enough lukewarm water, added a bit at a time, so that the dough does not become too sticky and impossile to take from your hands. It must be elastic but not wet. After kneading for around 10 mins, make a ball, cover and leave in a warm place (I leave it on the hob while the oven warms up below).

Step 2: raising

Leave to raise for a minimum of half an hour to two hours. Chop a handful of sage in the meantime, in tiny fragments and soak in extravirgine olive oil. Halfway through raising (depends how much you leave it) mix the sage and oil with the dough - it will be a bit squishy-squashy, but you make the ball again and leave to finish rising. Turn on the oven to 7 at least half an hour in advance.

Step 3: place in the oven

Find a heavy rectangular oven tray with low sides, oil it with extravergin olive oil, spread the dough with your hands, cover with more oil, sprinkle with salt and pierce here and there with a tootpick or a fork.

Step 4: cook

Cook for half an hour or so, until lightly brown. The perfect focaccia has oil-filled 'dimples'. And I managed to get some: delicious!


Updated 15 Aug 2012 with improved recipe

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Sage

The other day when I covered my herb patch I had to cut back the biggest plants, among which sage.



In my experience, when it does not die a short while after planting, a sage bush is very prolific, and so mine has been. I have dried and saved a good few leaves, more than I will ever need in one year already, so I decided to take the latest crop to the office. When a colleague said: "And how I use it?" I thought I would make a post about sage.

From a quick research online, it turns out the genus Salvia belongs to the mint family (Labiatae or Lamiaceae). Salvia comes from the Latin for "to save", to represent the belief in the medicinal properties of the herb. Several saying go back to the Middle Ages, and there is apparently an English proverb that goes: "He that would live for aye, Must eat Sage in May".

Some of the properties attributed to sage are:
  • memory enhancer,
  • mouth & teeth care (I remember being told as a child to rub a sage leaf on my teeth to whiten them),
  • loosening mucus,
  • reducing perspiration,
  • anti inflammatory.
Too much sage oil may cause epilepsy, if I understood it right, and sage is not to be taken during pregnancy and breasfeeding.
For culinary purposes it seems to be used mainly in Italy nowadays.
Sage is used to flavour chicken and pork, in stuffing i.e. Sage and onion, and in the typical Roman recipe saltimbocca alla romana (veal with Parma ham).
Fresh sage is used to make a sauce for tortellini or gnocchi burro e salvia: melting some butter in a pan with the sage leaves (without stir frying too long or burning the butter); finish with some grated parmesan. The same sauce can be put on tagliolini or tagliatelle (egg noodles), with or without some finely chopped walnuts. These are very quick and tasty recipes.

And how could I forget sage focaccia one of the most delicious recipes of the Genoese cuisine, which I have not been able to replicate so far (but I will try again, maybe tonight).

Garden Organic also suggest to try sage flowers in pesto, salads, soups and with fish dishes. They have a milder taste than the sage leaf.
And you, do you have any recipes to help use up my sage?

Monday, 7 December 2009

Finally some sun!

It was sunny yesterday and, despite the mud, I managed to do a few things, like covering the herb patch (oregano still flowering) and sow some salad in the greenhouse, where the chillies are still holding on to their flower buds. I also transplanted the last brassica seedlings: a task long overdue.


The rocket I sowed a couple of weeks ago has germinated, and the strawberries are on their way to ripening. My leek seedling are still growing too.

Very oddly, there was a bumblebee out and foraging on my borage and, in a neighbour's plot, two broadbean plants stood vigorous and in flower. Beside being the wettest period on record, it is still fairly warm, and plants (and insects) are obviously being tricked into thinking it might be spring already.

But there are signs the cold is coming: the nasturtiums were all gone and the celery sported freeze burn on the edges.

Still too wet for garlic & onions, I'm afraid; however, I will have to plant them soon before the soil goes hard.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Roots

I have done my first revision table for plant organs: starting from the bottom I chose the root, one of the vegetative organs (together with stem and leaf) as opposed to reproductive organs (flower, seed and fruit).

Very proud of having managed, when I spilled my tea on it (it's time to go to bed, but I wanted to finish at least one organ!) - it's ok, not much damage.

The way I organised it is a summary of: function, drawing of structure (with great help from an online one), organ parts, non-standard characteristics and any types or adaptations in which the organ presents itself.


Will I have rememberd the most important things? There's so much!

One thing I had no idea about and found interesting is that there are root tubers and stem tubers, both are adaptations of an organ for food storage, and they enable the plant to survive in winter under cover of the soil, but a stem tuber is a stem with buds & all... the potato is a stem tuber and the 'eyes' are its buds. The sweet potato instead is a root tuber.

Tiredness, GM, knowledge wisdom and innovation

Some three weeks ago I drafted the post below. I was reluctant to publish it, as I do not like to address a serious topic lightly, and my blog is meant to be about my allotment, anyway. However, after two years of gardening and now with the horticulture course, my knowledge of organic gardening is influencing other areas of my life.

Although the post is still half thought through, and three years have passed since I read the book I mention (so my memory might be selective), I have decided to post it all the same - A friend has been recently just about saved by the latest medical technology from a life-threatening medical condition brought about by an innovative drug. I see a parallel with my previous post, as pharmaceutical and biotech are both industries of disproportionate power, and relying on rapid innovation.

I wish we all had more time to stop and think more.

Comments anyone?
---

I am very tired after a few stressful weeks, and the weather at the weekend does not allow me to exercise on the allotment, so - beside not having much to talk about - all my leftover physical energy goes straight into worry-power: very unproductive.

And what I am becoming very concerned about, without having the energy to study the topic in more scientifical detail, is what I put into my mouth.

I stopped drinking milk in the office as it is not organic, and am considering cutting on the Indian takeaway and the sushi place where, when I asked: "Is the soya GM?" they looked at me as if I was asking them to solve a differential equation... The problem seems humongous and I do not want to become a campaigning fanatic: I believe in balance and skepticism... but I also feel strongly about this. The science of genetics is so new, and yet we dare mess with genes that took thousands of year to arrange themselves as they are...

It is the idea of the "silent invasion" that irks me most: the lack of control, the idea that money means power and power results in someone else making decisions for me. That I have tiny power to influence. And that the techniques of persuasion are used on both sides to make their case more appealing, rather than debating the truth. The truth...

Musing on the idea of the pressure for innovation that comes from the need of big corporations to make money, new money with new products, useful or not, healthy or not.

My profession before gardening is knowledge management, and the theorists of KM have gone through a lot of talk about knowledge and wisdom, and more recently knowledge and innovation (to put some ROI behind the theory, I guess). Most assume that knowledge leads to innovation, but I will never forget a book by a Swedish KM guru (and an economist to boot): the most 'alternative' and 'environmentalist' of KM books "Treading lightly" by E. Sveiby. I had to reflect on this book more than usual, as I was writing a review. It did puzzle me, but the more I thought of the topic, I was fascinated. It seemed to imply that wisdom (seen as conserving) may be in conflict with innovation (seen as leap of change), although they are also linked in complex ways - the book analyses stories from an Australian aboriginal society and the supposedly underlying culture - knowledge is linked with wisdom more than innovation.

It does make some sense. Knowledge is based on your experience, it comes from trying and failing and succeeding, through your coming to terms with reality. It takes time to acquire. What about innovation? Although commonly defined as ideas that do work in practice, the world moves so fast from one innovation to the other, there is no time to reflect: what does actually work in practice? Are unwanted consequences considered? And there are a wealth of political and economical considerations connected to the furthering of innovation, that might influence the reflection...

Maybe I am getting old, but I start to think that life is going too fast, and unsustainably so. I wish there was time to stop and think more.
---

BTW I went back on Sveiby's website to have a look, and he seems to have written an article that is spookily relevant to my thoughts on the dark side of innovation (pro-innovation bias). Did not have time to read it yet myself, but it's printed, and in my bag.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Catching up with my gardening related activities

I am slowly catching up with my gardening related activities: the allotment, my horticulture course and the blog.

Today I made a big order at Garden Organic: some seeds (but not too many, as you know my collection is of a size it might save the world from famine already), the fantastic aluminium tubes and connecting balls (the cage I made for my brassica is successfully keeping the birds off, it is sturdy and easy access), gloves (which never seem to last much) and a few other bits and bobs.

The charity seems to be struggling, and they are not the only ones, as the Soil Association have also been asking for more money lately. So I hope the oder was a little help.

Another thing that I did and got me a bit of excitement back (after the last three very weak weeks) is enrolling in the Garden Organic experiments 2010. There are four:
  • compost as a growing medium;
  • growing tree spinach;
  • surveying butterflies;
  • slug barriers (which I most definitely would love to do)

and I signed up for three as it seems most appropriate for a horticulture student - I left the one on compost as I do not feel confident enough of my composting skills yet, and similarly I left the one about helping the University of Plymouth on a study on invertebrates in compost heaps.

Tonight I promise I will sit down and make a graph of all the plants' organs. I keep procrastinating on this, as is seems an unwieldy, enormous task, but it's no good: I am falling behind with my study schedule!

Studying science after some 20 years of humanities only is trying, and weird. On one side it is very schematic and logical as you would expect, but unexpectedly to me so many things are not known - i.e. the taxonomy of plants keeps changing as more knowledge is acquired: Kew magazine this month mentioned one such re-classification of plants based on DNA research has just completed.

It's fascinating, though, to learn more about such an important resource for humankind as plants are. It set me thinking again about nature and ecosystems versus science and technology and human ambitions. Maybe I will write more about it.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Setting an example

Finally, this weekend was decent enough to go to the allotment and I didn't take any chances: husband made me packed lunch and I stayed from morning to sunset, 6 hours.

How good that was! Did not seem to do a lot though.

I finished clearing and transplanting the strawberry runners (there's a handful of strawberries still ripening: amazing!), managed to sow the broad beans, picked all the remaining tomatoes in the greenhouse (a couple of plants were still flowering!) and made a bed for salad with the leftover compost... then I uprooted a maple tree that was in the middle of the path, as I thought it worthwhile to set an example for my neighbours, who have more than one to remove. ;p

The garlic remains yet unplanted, but the salad I sowed under fleece the last time seems to have germinated. I am pretty amazed that two days to December and everything still flowering (including borage, nasturtium and lavender at home).

Did not manage to pick anything apart from the tomatoes, but Paul gave me some leeks, and I am going to make risotto with them: slurp!

Recipe: slice the leeks, stir fry in olive oil (and a little butter if you wish) until soft, then add risotto rice and sprinkle with white wine. When slightly toasted add vegetable stock (2-3 times the amount of rice). Finish with some grated parmesan as soon as the hob is turned off.

I have to study, and the muscle pain tonight is very conducive to sitting on the sofa with a book!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Miserable weather

Another weekend of miserable weather has gone, and my stored onions are rotting already.

Not much to say.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Allotment roast for dinner

I had a roast with my own potatoes (after a laborious cleaning of all the slugs' and varied other holes) and turnip Rapa Bianca Lodigiana... the only non-allotment ingredient was sweet potato from my vegbox.
It is always very rewarding when you can cook most of a meal with your own stuff.

A little sowing today

Despite the mud, I decided to sow some rocket and salad under fleece in front of the greenhouse where the sun reflecting on the panels should make the area warmer.

It was too waterclogged to try and sow garlic or onions, and I made a call to delay broadbeans at least another week. Instead, I cleared another couple of beds and planted the chrysanthemums that had overspent their time in pots and last year's bulbs, the ones I did not like in my garden at home.

Inside the greenhouse, the tomatoes are still growing and ripening, even though more and more are getting mildew. The cucumber is sadly no more, and I will have to plant the artichoke from the pot as it is starting to suffer.

Such a pity it gets dark really quickly.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Another week goes without sowing

Not the best year for my sowing, isn't it?

But I managed a couple of hours on Saturday and cleared another bed, on one side of the greenhouse, which I will use for winter salad and maybe my one artichoke.

Study is progressing: I am now on fruits. There are plenty of new terms to learn, and I desperately need some time to sit down and make tables and graphs, as it seem that's how I learn best.

For example, I learned this morning that the strawberry is a false fruit, as the flesh does not come from the ovary but from the receptacle. The actual fruit of the strawberry plant are the little beige seeds you can spot on the surface, dry fruits of the type achenes.

Just occurred now that, besides my graphs and tables, I may make special plant cards for the most significant examples...

-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Doom and gloom?!?

I have no pumpkin to show you for Halloween. Just some more or less ripe tomatoes, a handful of raspberries and a good amount of spinach beet. And a pretty un-spooky picture of the plot at sunset.

Moreover, I am afraid I am not in too good a mood to write either: stressful times with the builders at home, and I had to spend my week nights writing recorded letters in reply to their bullying.

After studying the flower *yes, I mean the flower stamen pistils and all* in the library this morning while it rained, I went to the allotment this afternoon as soon as the sun came out, all eager and hopeful for a relaxing time.

My first sight as I passed through the allotment's gate was a child running around my plot and suddenly disappearing. You have to know that my allotment is sunk, the path being some twenty centimetres above it. That was not a good omen. When I came close, the reason for the disappearance was clear: my blooming neighbour, whose party the child belonged to, had as usual left all his blooming stuff in the path and the blooming kid had fallen in my plot, leaving a nice footprint in my leeks' bed. Not only that, but his blooming mother took my plot for the blooming path and just felt free to use it to walk in.

You might have understood I WAS FURIOUS - but a select few may also appreciate my sense of humour. So furious was I, that I thought the time was come finally to tell Keith it was unbelievably annoying that he treated my allotment as his service area. He had the cheek to rebut that he did not know I was coming and mutter he has to pick his crops (what that implies in terms of how he moves around when I am not there I cannot quite bear to think)... I was too angry to utter anything sensible so I kept quiet. I should have told him that he was supposed to use the space on his plot to move around, leaving some walking and working space around the beds. I should have said that if I had walked on his blooming beds he would not be blooming happy, would he?

We were talking just last week with Nikki and Tom about people who take a lot of liberties, even as crop-damaging as walking dogs on seed-beds, with other allotment holder's plots.

Anyway, I just gave up sowing my broadbeans (which was the plan for today), and demarcated the boundary with a line instead. I will have to buy a thick and colourful rope as some other people did (wonder why ;-p). There is a naval shop near my office, come to think of it.

After that, my sowing mood had gone, so I cleaned the shed from top to bottom. It was relaxing in a way, I had a good time after all, and I made sure there were no rats in the shed, which was \ fear.

But I could have done without that just today. Maybe the weather will keep tomorrow... tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

When duty calls...

... you cannot stay on the allotment all day, especially if duty calls from down a drain, the one that collects kitchen + washing machine...

Nonetheless I managed to spend 3+ hours on the plot, which now looks amazingly tidier.

Unfortunately I did not sow any seeds: I find it takes a certain mood setting and preparation for me to start a sowing job; digging comes much more naturally to me when I have just scraps of time.

But I did a fair amount of work, so I am pleased.

I tried the smell test on the currant's cutting I planted last week, and it must be redcurrant as there is no smell from the leaves. I have continued filling the bed with more strawberry runners, and had to dig a new one for raspberries, which I also filled.

The garlic bed is ready for planting and there is also an extra one behind the vines, where spinach beet (Chenopodiaceae family) was growing as self seeded plants.

When it comes to rotation, I still do not know by heart the four-year scheme, let me have a look.

... > A Solanacee, Cucurbitacee > B Papillonaceae, Alliaceae >
C Brassicaceae, Poaceae > D Chenopodiaceae, Apiaceae > ...

It seems Solanaceae or night shades, and Cucurbitaceae or pumpkin family come after Chenopodiaceae: all things that can only be sown from spring onwards. I may use the bed for some salad over winter (with the exception of rocket, mizuna and other orientals which are Brassicaceae, salad is in fact outside the rotation), but I am not sure that it is sunny enough up there.

Cropwise, the leek seedlings seem to be growing, but they are still just seedlings as you can see: nearly invisible. The brassica (shush, just in case any slugs listen in) seem to be doing well and I am still getting fairly ripe tomatoes - albeit very small ones - and raspberries. I also picked three half empty cobs, whose other half was delicious.

A full week to go to the next allotment time.
My study should keep me busy in the meantime, and the town library supplies interesting related readings.


The edifying closing thought of today I take from an RHS book on pruning I read last week:
pruning is not generally done in autumn, as this is the time of the year when most fungal spores are in the air, making it the period in which the pruning wound is at greatest risk of an infection that can be lethal. 
Never thought of that, but makes sense after learning that leaves have breathing pores on the underside of the blade, so as to avoid spores landing on them and getting in.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Great autumn day!

Had a great time on Sunday when I spent most of the day on the plot.

The weather got increasingly better during the day and it was warm. So much so that tomatoes are still ripening, and there's still plenty of flowers: blue borage, cascades of orange nasturtiums, tiny white thyme flowers, yellow coreopsis, even one calendula bud. And pretty strangely, in the greenhouse, tomatoes and chillies are still flowering. And there are a couple of strawberries, that I found clearing one of the old beds.

Soft fruits were, in fact, the main task of the day: making a new bed where to plant my new blueberry Earlyblue and the strawberry runners. The new blueberry is now in its home, and I transplanted the old one (Top Hat) as well. With just one type of strawberries - Judibell - I filled half of the space: they did not crop but made tons of healthy vigorous runners. I also transplanted all the new gooseberries: Captivator - purchased, a cutting from my heavy cropper (pre-existed me at the allotment so I have no clue what it was) and a self seeded plant I found clearing the kiwi fruit bed. I added a currant cutting to fill up the space (not sure which currant - red or black - and I forgot to try the smell test: blackcurrant leaves, if rubbed, smell like the berries). It does look fantastic, I must say, especially as it is near the shed, which I cleared of the old fence panels I had propped against it. Nice and tidy (almost) now.

Unfortunately I did not do any sowing, but started covering the herbs bed, with the fennel plant. The rich aniseed smell of the chopped stems stopped fellow allotment holders in their path as they were leaving, so I decided to make good use of them tied in bundles in my cupboards. Not sure if the smell is going to last but it was worth a try.

It was dark already, and, after quickly throwing some fleece on the last outdoor tomatoes, I had to make my way home. Not before taking a picture for the record of my 'masterpiece' in the fading light, though.

Tired I was, and happy.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Did it freeze this week?

Following a forecast of freezing I braved the night on Monday to cover up my aubergine (40 cm of stem, 5 leaves and a flower is all I got this year) to try and preserve it for next year's cropping.

I also retrieved my half-used packets of seed to complete my stocktaking, and I am pleased to say that it is now done: not counting the seed I saved from peppers & pumpinks of Riverford origin but counting the perennial plants, I have c 240 species in stock, which means 20 a month to sow! ;p I am not buying as many seeds as I used to nowadays, though, which is an improvement.

Found another task for the weekend as well: cover the herbs as it's almost November! The herb bed is the first thing I created at the allotment in Sep 2007, and I must say it is thriving, with only 2 plants lost: one thyme and one chamomile.

Compost piles & bin still need some adjusting, and I want to test the compostability of a plastic cup they gave me at the shop below the office. It would be great if it really worked: I am hating plastic more and more, although it's difficult to think of life without it.

Study-wise is not going too bad, although I am finding the course books a bit confusing, so I need extra research to clarify many points and square the circle, so to speak. YouTube and the Internet helped a lot, as well as the Capon's book I mentioned last week.

I am now on the topic of tissues, and it is fascinating to understand how plants are made and work inside.

A curious fact: aubergines contain nicotine (source Wikipedia). Fancy smoking an aubergine... how to demystify the addiction! Sorry, I'm being facetious now :)

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, 12 October 2009

Stocktaking once again

Stocktaking: seeds and produce, and plants cells

Making the most of a weekend in the house, I started my annual seed stocktaking. It takes a lot of time and I have not learned to use it in the most effective way for my planning, but I think it is worthwhile to persist.

Unfortunately this year I have been very bad at recording crops and produce. I only know that I made 22kg of potatoes (half compared to last year), a bucketful of onions & shallots (of unspecified weight), more garlic than last year but still not enough for my consumption, more than enough spinach beet, some broadbeans (enough to store some freezed but less than last year), plenty of strawberries, just enough raspberries, too many gooseberries. And some turnips, courgettes and beetroots. Plus a couple of salads' worth of ripe tomatoes (many more than last year), two cucumbers and a negligible amount of beans. And and let's not forget a bonus of damsons from the hedge at home. Not very specific, uh?

It has been a very different year from last year, in terms of weather and my time availability, so it is difficult to draw general lessons. Certainly I have had success in growing a greater variety of crops, and I seem to have a better grasp of the seedling process (although there seem to be a stage beyond which many of them don't seem to grow any further and sooner or later perish).

Well, there are still seeds to sow and things to do this year. Let's hope next weekend nothing goes wrong. For a start, I am planning to cover my only aubergine and try to keep it for another year, if it survives the winter. There's my blueberry and artichoke to plant, and all the chrysanthemums I bought to cover the ground over winter, although some green manure can still be sown: Hungarian grazing rye is at the limit of sowing time, but field beans are still ok. And then broadbeans are ready and garlic, although Paolo at Seeds of Italy thinks it's still too early to plant it this year, because of the good weather.

And I will leave you with the edifying thought that potatoes are tetraploids (they have four sets of chromosomes instead of two as 'normal' plants have) and the mentioned chrysantemums have six sets - not clear yet how and why, but you will have understood that my current chapter in the course is cells growth and reproduction.
Here is my beautiful (copied) drawing of a plant cell.

-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, 8 October 2009

KO: not digging but the flu!

It seems my headache on Sunday might not have been caused solely by digging, but by some virus, as it turned out I'm having the flu this week.

I'm writing in one of my few waking moments, which means, in turns, that I am not making much progress on my first horticulture lesson, which is about plant classification and nomenclature.

I will attach to this post a graph of the plant kingdom (when I get round to finish it), in the meantime I'll leave you with a quote from Shakespeare, cited in B.Capon's Botany for Gardeners:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Alas it rings so true while trying to memorize plant variants on a headache!

P.S. As you can see, my graph is a bit of a battlefield and took one week to put together (in my present condition), but I think I have captured most of the concepts that needed capturing... Oh, no, just realised I have forgotten something: a list of the 6 plant's features: chlorophyll, roots, leaves, stems, flowers, seeds.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Ah yes... first weekend I am really back!

Although there is still a good amount of clearing to be done, it must be said that native ladybirds seem to like my weeds. Today I found two: one in my untidy compost pile and another one on a patch full of stones and overgrown with comfrey. Unforturnately I also found 2 Harlequin on my beans, but on the boundary of my neighbour's plot - a thoroughly clean plot - I found 4 Harlequin adults and 3 larvae. Does that mean anything?
At the bottom of my compost pile I also found a bumblebee, whose burrow I inadvertently demolished (thinking it looked more the size of a mouse's).

Well the untidy compost heap is gone: I have finally got round to build one with pallets - only two sides are final, but it works anyway and I put all my organic waste into it, while I wait for the plastic one to arrive, and to build the other one (you always need at least two, one filled and breaking down into compost, the other one filling).
I have also cleared the stony patch and the humongous comfrey roots, so that I can plant my soft fruits all together in neat rows at the top of the allotment where it's a bit wetter and you can't grow much else.

Unfortunately I did not manage to do anything else, like planting my artichoke, or the blueberry, or any of the October seeds...

... but I did measure the plot, and it's most definitely not 250m2, in fact it is 36m x 4.5m.

I do wish days were longer, committments fewer and my energies enough to spend all the time at the allotment! I digged my way to a headache tonight, although the exercise feels good anyway. And the plot is visibly better for it.

P.S. for those of you who read my posts over the summer, when I was mentioning potatoes growing in the compost heap, I can confirm that 4 little potatoes came out, and very nice ones to boot!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Clocking up, admin and maths

I popped in last night to water the one artichoke I bought on holidays and the tomatoes in the greenhouse.

The brassicas are doing well, and so are the tomatoes, still ripening. My leek seedling seem to have caught, but they are still the size of tiny grass blades - not sure we will have any leeks this winter. The celery also looks too small, will have to try one. I tried the sweetcorn, which looked ok, but actually had nearly empty cobs: possibly too little water during growth. Amazing how after 40+ days of uninterrupted rain, we have not had a drop of rain for the next 40+ days...

Rats disposed of have gone up to 9 adults (10 since last winter) + litter of 5. Butter is great to lure them into the cage, although it takes longer than smelly cheese.

Later today or tomorrow I will go back and get some decent work done.

Price for the pole has gone up to £2.20 + £ 1.50 for water connection... how big is my plot? I was pretty sure it was 4.5 but the bill calls it 10.7 poles instead. It surely cannot be 250m2 (as it is 4.5m by 32m at most). Not that it's very expensive, but I could do with some more land, if I'm paying for it anyway :)

Oh, and my horticultural books have arrived, and I joined the local library in search of more gardening books! Starts to feel exciting!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Loyal visitors and inexperienced hostesses

I had a look at the blog stats for the last year, since I started.

193 visitors have flicked through these pages, over 540 visits. 1.11% of my visitors (which means 2 people, if my maths doesn't fail me) have come back more than 100 times! Now, it's not my husband for sure, and it should not be me, as the stats are supposed to exclude my IP address.

What shall I say? I would have never thought when I started that I could write something to keep someone's interest for so long, and it really means that you followed me from the very beginning (as I published just over 100 posts). So thank you, thank you for your loyalty: you know who you are, you two! And there is another 15.56% of you (30 people says my calculator) that is making it to 100 times, having crossed the treshold of 50.

Studying horticulture should provide me with some more topics to talk about over the next year, but the the pressure to please my audience is getting strong now!!! ;p

The next step in the development of the blog should be interaction, I guess... it is true that I have always considered gardening as my stress relief and solitary pleasure, but it is equally true that I really enjoyed talking organic farming with Neil at Bangors (we also made a video, which we'll be publishing on YouTube at some stage). So if any of you readers feel like chipping in at any time, feel free and welcome... if you can bear with my inexperience as a hostess, that is.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Horticulture

In order to learn more about my beloved hobby, I have been thinking for a while to study some horticulture.

Here in the UK the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has extablished nationally recognised certifications, starting at Level 2 -which I am told is the equivalent of A levels - up to the master degree's level. You can study for these certification on distance learning, with colleges offering learning material and tutoring, followed by proprietary RHS exams (which you may decide not to take). I am told students generally take 10-15 months to prepare the material, and I decided to give it a go. There's nothing organic about it but hey ho, it's a start: I guess plants are plants... or maybe not? We'll see...

It has been a bit difficult to select colleges: from an horticultural outsider's perspective they looked all more or less the same, nothing validated one over the other, and prices varied - sometimes considerably. Luckily I got some expert advice from Garden Organic - I have to thank Sally for her very sweet email and really sound suggestions!

Out of a list of three colleges, my final choice went to the Horticultural Correspondence College. I have just signed up: wish me luck!


BTW, I have noticed with great pleasure that there are a few ladybirds at my allotment - and they are mostly native 7-spot as you can see (picture taken on Sunday morning)! Only one Harlequin to be seen.

Monday, 28 September 2009

First weekend of autumn

I wish I could say I spent the whole of my weekend - in splendid weather - at the allotment. However, that would be too good, wouldn't it? In fact, despite the fantastic weather I spent most if the two days indoor. The two hours I've been on the plot, though, have given much satisfaction.

I have to make an apology - the allotment manager got back to me in the end saying that manure was "organic". I was tempted to go with that, but I decided to leave it for this year and see how I fare on green manure and my own compost. Since it will take me a while to put together my recycled pallet compost heap, I have bought one of those plastic bins to use in the meantime.

And I stocked up in organic seeds. Talking of which, I noticed there are plenty you can start off at this time of the year, so I am getting organised with more shelf space in the greenhouse. That will hopefully keep out the thugs this winter as a desirable side effect.

In the meantime I planted a booster collection of brassicas, which I hope will do well under beautifully supported netting protection and with a sprinkling of slug pellets here and there). And transplanted the leek seedlings, which are - however - frightfully behind (if you have a magnifying glass you might see them just beyond the brassica bed, tiny green threads timidly emerging from wet soil).

In terms of crops, tomatoes San Marzano have been unexpectedly prolific, considering the little care, and they did ripen, so tonight I will have a delicious Caprese. Besides the all-year-round self-seeded spinach beet, still cropping though in decline are: courgettes, beans, raspberries. Sweetcorn is almost ready, but I am not sure about the hundreds of celery plants that look too small, but had not time to examine closely. And in theory there's still a bed of potatoes to dig out.

Won't get bored any time soon.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Organic seeds... & musings

Talking to Neil at Bangors, who is amazingly motivated as an organic producer, has made me reflect on my own beliefs and motivation.

So far, I have grown with organic methods, but not fussed too much about organic seeds. I have avoided any seeds which were treated with fungicide, and specifically bought organic seeds for those crops that are more at risk of GM: corn & soya (potatoes may be soon).

I am not a fan of GM - mainly as I am cynical of the human ability to discern between good and bad in the quest for progress, at least in the short term (examples of insecticides and asbestos may clarify what I mean). Therefore, I am wary of anything that is irreversible. And GM is in my opinion irreversible: pollen and seeds were specifically designed by nature to spread around as far and wide as possible - you cannot confine GM to test fields or any fields where such material is used. For the same reason, I find a bit dodgy any trademarks that go with GM seeds...
... and from a personal choice point of view I do not like at all that GM may well slip into my food without my knowledge (maybe it's because I am Italian and with food I have a special relationship).

Anyway, this is all very good in theory, but in practice it is quite difficult to live by the principles.

In my allotment, for example, I have no control on chemicals or other contaminating materials that may be used by my neighbours. At Riverford Farm they explained that you have to put some barrier between organic & non-organic fields, in terms of some metre's space and 'filter' hedges.

Another example - this is manure time. I have enquired with the allotment manager if we know of its quality: do they use GM food, chemicals or antibiotics at the farm it comes from? I think she simply ignored my email, and I can see why: why bother checking? Not very many care.

So I need some manure or organic compost to fill up the beds, but it would take a good deal of research to find a suitable supplier, without mentioning the logistics to the plot and the cost involved... This is just -after all- a hobby, and even my husband thinks it is a waste of my time, energy and money...

But the thought of Neil and his work is nagging at my conscience, so I decided I will do without manure, making the most of the green one and will count on my compost-heap-to-be for the rest.

And last night I have searched for organic seeds suppliers (I was pleasantly surprised at finding so many in the US!):
I want to steer clear of "fundamentalism" in any shape or form, but I think the way we live is hardly sustainable and often unhealthy: serious gardening, being so connected to nature & the seasons, brings it home strongly. So I will try and do a bit more this year: my crops may not end up organic anyway for external causes, but I want to support the effort made - often by small producers - to be more sustainable.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, 21 September 2009

Oh joys of the reaping season...

Basking in the lush aboundance of produce in the end-of-summer season...

Do you see how beautiful my three first-ever rapa bianca lodigiana specimen are? I have tried to grow that turnip for more than a year, and now it has come out (possibly because the weeds competed for attention of the slugs...) ... and the first ever ripe, red tomatoes? Grown in the open, not in the greenhouse!

Beans are still climbing profusely, surely as it has been very dry, and the potatoes you see are a representation of the 14kg I picked before going on holiday (there's more scattered around).

Rasperries are also cropping: there seems to be a second round of yellows on their way!

And I finally got around picking the nasturtiums... fancy a look at the salad I made with them ? - in case you were wondering ,the salad leaves are not mine, I did not manage to grow any this summer, but I could have a go with winter lettuce.

I am thinking of organic seeds next...

Saturday, 19 September 2009

A week's holiday

I have been on holiday last week, but my allotment was never far away from my mind.

We spent a few day in Bangors Organic B&B, where I learnt how to identify potato blight, and that the scab on my potatoes is innocuous.

Also, I tasted for the first time nasturtium (despite having grown it I did not pick it): both the flowers and the seedpods are very peppery, and Gill who cooks the produce of the farm deliciously uses them as capers.


Lying on a sunny Cornish beach was perfect to get finally round reading my book on preserving produce: you have to beware of 4 enemies! Enzymes break down the vegetable matter, starting as soon as it is picked. They are killed by heat and slowed down by cold, hence freezing. Fungi have their spores in the air, hence covering food. Bacteria (some of which may develop toxines, and who do not like either acidity or sweetness) and yeasts live on things, and the latter cause fermentation. Excellent book, easy to read and practical, with methods and recipes! I am now sure I have done something wrong with my jam - which came out very runny - although I am not sure if it was for either too little or too much sugar.

I also got hold of a little booklet on herbs, which goes by the rather unimaginative title of "The Herb Book" (by herb growers D. Fowler & S. Cuckson), also with recipes and methods to preserve them...

In a while it will be again that time of the year for reflection on the growing seasons, followed by planning, and I am sure all this new information will make my third year as an allotment holder even more rewarding, as I gradually develop an understanding of the bigger picture: Certainly I have learnt a lot in the last 24 months.
-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, 6 September 2009

I'm back, with ignorance and squeamishness

Back, I am! - Today, halfway through writing my last uni essay, I decided I had enough and wanted to go to the allotment, which I did, for three hours. This is how it looked when I arrived, and a lot of excitement in store!

It took me a while to get my head round where to start, especially as one of my gloves was gone: vandals have been coming in I know - but what's the point of stealing one spare glove?

Anyway, after loading the rat trap (I saw something moving behind the shed), I mucked about my compost-heap-to-be, wondering whether to burn the dry remains of all the vegetable matter I left uncovered, and decided there were too many spiders and ladybirds in it, that was not worth disturbing.

Then I moved on to the potatoes, as this is manure time, and you need space at the bottom of the allotment for the truck to unload it: potatoes were in the way so I decided to clear the bed.

With a determination to do it properly, despite my ungloved hand, I started pulling and digging: you have to be very careful as even the tiniest bit left in the soil will grow into a new plant - I am told that during the war they used to plant potato peel only. So I filled four different bags:

  • the healthy ones, for storing in hessian sack - quite a few, most big enough to use as jacket potatoes;
  • the fairly healthy but slightly damaged (by mice and slugs), to be used first;
  • the green ones and leftovers of mice and slug, to plant again next year (there's quite a few, at least 3kg I would say, and I have to keep them separate as they might rot);
  • the healthy but tiny ones, less than 1cm, to plant again next year.
I must say I was feeling uneasy - not only because the vandals might come back and I was alone on the grounds, but also for a general feeling of squeamishness.

To set the scene for what happened next, I have to tell you that a few days ago we had the roof man for a quote, and he mentioned that the lead used on roofs makes them unsuitable for water collection for vegetable watering, as there is a risk of poisoning. That set me thinking about all the risks & unhealthiness possibly hidden in the ground - an irrational fear, but still too fresh in my mind.

As I went on weeding behind the potato bed, while pulling some bindweed, I heard squeaking coming from underneath. What would you do if you heard squeaking from a hidden place in the middle of your vegetables? I panicked.

The squeaking continued and I was just thinking rats rats: the ones that ate my potatoes and might find very convenient to have a nest near them. In a one-gloved frenzy I uncovered a litter of five...
Shaken, afraid of mother bites and even more of rats proliferation, I picked the five little creatures and threw them away. Not a good feeling throwing away live things - especially as they look kind of cute even though they might be pests. But I really did not know what to: surely the mother would not want them after my picking them up; for a split second I though I might feed them and see what they came out to be exactly - mice or rats. Very soon afterwards I started thinking they might have been hedgehogs or other useful creatures, so I panicked even more.

I am stil a bit upset now, even after some research at home confirmed they must have been either mice or rats; actually very small: one to three days old, with grey hair coming out - hedgehogs would have bristles already.

Mice they may be but there's people keeping them as pets... what should I do next time that anything like this happens? What should I know? How do I identify creatures? What are the risks they might pose and any benefits?

My ignorance and squeamishness makes me realise that - despite my recent reprogramming as a nature-loving allotment holder who likes to muck around - I grew up in an environment where all sorts of creatures were considered a threat: insects as well as rodents (let alone bacteria...). I grew up in the 70's when DDT was sprayed on almost anything alive. I grew up in a society that considered working the land a backward thing, something modern people had left behind. And apparently my family back in Italy was not alone with a tendency to hypochondria...

However, even with all the excitement and moral reasoning, the plot looked much improved after I left, just before dusk - my hands trembling a little as I picked a couple of courgettes and some raspberries - I'm back!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Wanted! Dead or alive?

Anyone knows what this white wiggly worm is? Good or bad?


I am finding them all over the place at home: looked as if they were coming from the green bin and have been quickly invading the pots. The creature - less than 1 cm in lenght - is a very fast mover, seems to come out just before dusk, takes its own life in droves by drowning in any bucket or saucer that has water in it, seems to live just under the surface of the compost. Plants do not look damaged so far. The worm does not have a head, but moves thin side forward, (there's a black thread in the middle). The other side looks chopped, with some spikes.

Been squeezing as many as I can as a precautionary measure, but really have no idea what they are: are they ok or by taking pots to the allotment will I be incidentally starting an epidemic?

I had thought of earwigs larvae, but earwigs do not go through a larval stage...

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Dinner's ready!

Since I had such a rewarding crop tonight (despite the little effort I put on the allotment in the last few weeks), I decided to use the veg as fresh as possible and mixed most of them together in a last-of-summer pasta (you can recognise courgettes and flower, tomatoes green and red, beans - saved the cucumber though and, now I think of it, I should have used some onion for that deliciously mellowing texture, anyway...): here you go!

And I publish this only to tempt you in case you were thinking of getting an allotment yourselves :)

P.S. The one fig that looked a bit overripe was actually de-li-cious!

Beauty and the beast(s)

That is how I feel about the plot right now: there's plenty of things out: autumn raspberries, beans, a lonely soyabean from my experiment, tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, cucumbers, spinach beet, beetroot, turnips, celery, sweetcorn, figs, flowers...

But everything is covered in weeds and slugs (still have not managed to take the pellets here but I promise I will take pictures before getting rid of them!), the raspberries and one fig are just too ripe and the bees are taking advantage, the tomatoes crawling on the ground, the potatoes digged out by rats and half eaten, the sweetcorn invading the path, the beans in need of staking...

So beautiful and decadent and so horrible at the same time: it will take a lot of work to clean it back and the days are shortening quickly, so it will have to be a weekend job.

Rewarding crop, but still a full week of uni to go... so I had better go home now.


-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Aubergine

The allotment is a disaster, and it doesn't help seeing it after a shower when the fattest slugs I have ever seen are all happily out and about.

However, there was a single purple aubergine flower whose assertive beauty is such I cannot describe: I wish I had a camera with me, as I doubt the mobile phone's rendition will do it any justice.


-- Post From My iPhone

Veg veg everywhere

No news from the allotment as I have not been for a while; however - in what must have been a moment of genius in the dull haze of the brain I am living in at the moment - I decided that... if the mountain doesn't come to Mohammad, then... I would grow vegetables at home!

The idea came when I received my T&M cabbage plants and no way I would have made it to plant them at the allotment, so I rescued some leftover pots and compost and put them on the patio.

Then I thought: there may still be time to grow some leeks and pumpkins, if the weather keeps into October. So I sowed leeks in fruit punnets on the barbecue, and pumpkin seeds in a seed rack I had taken home from the allotment.

The weather has been fantastic of late, and the seedlings are all out now! We'll see if they make it in the next few weeks...

... Should be back at the allotment for good in a couple of weeks!

-- Post From My iPhone

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The ire of the (Anglo-)Italian

Some of you may remember the vicissitudes with ducks when I was still regularly visiting the allotment a few weeks ago. When I ended up fencing and covering in net my little pond supposedly to avoid damage to my neighbours' tasty (for the ducks that is) seedlings. With the result that no frogs have probably taken residence there (unlike at home where I now have 3).

I may also have mentioned the b****y buckets that someone had placed on the path in front of my allotment and the water tank. The ones that were in the way most of the time. And that - filled with stagnant water - were very likely to breed stinging insects of the mosquito family. The same buckets that have been smashed by vandals and nobody is throwing away, so I will have to do it next time I leave the allotment empty-handed.

Well, an email exchange with the allotment manager revealed that the above-mentioned buckets were placed conveniently in the way - obviously by some well-meaning naturalist - when the ducks were there. In fact I cannot but derive that they were FOR the ducks, rather than against them (unless anyone knows that buckets of water scare ducks away).

Fuming!

I was fuming for a handful of minutes. What was the point of complaining (albeit indirectly) about my pond's luring attraction to ducks and then having b****y buckets in the way!

Well, auntie always says that every head makes a little world of its own. And I am probably too eager to please, from my outsider's, immigrant position.

However, being now thoroughly Anglicized, or just too busy with my uni project, I calmed down pretty quickly and forgot about it.

Except now I've learnt, and will know better what to do with my pond next year! :)

-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Borage

It said on the packet that it was an annual, but it turns out it might end up a weed.

Some say its beautiful flowers are among the few blue comestibles in nature.

Borage oil is supposed to be good for PMS, skin diseases and a wealth of other ailments, as it is an excellent sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).

Wikipedia
Garden Organic
Thompson & Morgan
BBC Gardeners's World
Botanical.com

Leaves (although they contain a mildly toxic source) can be used in salads and soups, flowers also decorate salads (or Pimm's), and the plant in proximity of tomatoes improves their taste (but I have planted it in the asparagus bed, one of the few that were empty at the time...)

It is also called starflower, and it's growing beautifully... I do hope it's attracting insects (and not spoiling the asparagus) as I myself am not enjoying it at all, given that I barely had time to take this picture! It's one of the first things I will have to sort out once I'm back.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Pick of the day

After full 4 days, I got to water the tomatoes just in time before they keeled over. Looking at the bright side, I picked my fist cucumber ever, and my first courgette of the year.

But that's all folks: it was just another blitz visit!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

20 months' worth of work gone wild

Another blitz to water the tomatoes in the greenhouse has confirmed much depression, as weeds have won back all the ground they had lost through my painstaking work over the months.

I had to pick onions that were rotting because of the endless rain (must be a good 40 days now with little respite) and pull some mint and fennel (herb - spectacular bronze leaves and delicate flavour of aniseed, excellent with white meat fish, just dry and drop in the sizzling oil in the pan when needed) which were invading the path.

Tomatoes look fine though, and so does celery (and the weird garlic plant, but still have no pics). But my beautiful pumpkin plantlets have disappeared altogether...

Just over two weeks to my final uni project, then I will be back to my hobby, hopefully...

Friday, 31 July 2009

Wilderness

One of my pre-exam blitzs last night, it was so depressing to see the amount of weeds, slugs of all sizes, fading crops and very little to replace them - as you know I have not been sowing a lot lately and most of what I did sow was exterminated by draughts, slugs and earwigs.

But the courgettes are growing and so are cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet corns. Tomatoes I actually found in a better state than last time I saw them, and I got 6 plants of pumpkin that I managed to transplant.

And - there was another surprise, how amazing I always find the vegetable world... Garlic picking was long overdue, so I braced myself and stated digging wherever I saw a stump. Being tired and in a hurry I hadn't even changed so I was wearing cream trousers and shoes and was not in a position to do serious digging. I am sure I left something and hope I manage some time this weekend to check.

Anyway, I was digging underneath the wilted, rotting stumps, pulling them at the same time, when I saw something unexpected: looked like a bluebells seedhead but very close to the ground. Curious but not very patient I digged it out to check. It was just another garlic!

Above the head, squeezed out of it and just over the soil surface, a short plant made of little garlic cloves had developed. Last year most of the garlic plants had flowered, so I thought that seeds was the way garlic reproduced, but obviously not only that: if you leave your garlic too long it won't just go on growing underground: apparently it grows out of the soil again.

Writing about it it seems even more strange, maybe I dreamt about it, but I found other little cloves lying around... Will try to take a picture of the curious specimen which I re-planted.



P.S. far from perfect, as I just had my mobile with me, but there you go...

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

At the rescue... and on the hunt

It has been raining for a whole week, and I have been studying, so no allotment really, but I popped in tonight to water the tomatoes in the greenhouse.

I was in a hurry and went straight to the water butt; while I was waiting for the trickle of water to fill the can, I had a look behind the shed where I keep the rat trap as I do out of habit... to my amazament, there was something in it: a little blackbird. I had to look twice as my brain did not process that straight away. Anyway, I opened the cage and it was gone in no time, so I am pretty sure it was all right.

Quite how he managed to jump into the cage through the wire funnel at the entrance of the first chamber, and then jump on the flap that leads to the second chamber I cannot figure out, nor can I think of another reason why it went through all that rigmarole that is not curiosity - I have now left the cage open just in case...

On another note, you should have seen the amount and size of slugs on the plot today. I am sorry to say I am going to give up and start using pellets, albeit organic: the ferric phosphate ones. I do not particularly like the idea, and I will use them sparingly and in addition to other organic methods, but I have spent £60 in nematodes already - supposing it is any better to release in nature a parasite in big quantities than it is to use a chemical - and my investigations did not give me any reasons to think they are especially dangerous to any other form of wildlife than the target.

If you know of any fact-based reasons not to use them, please let me know, but I would like to eat some of my brassicas this year...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

End of the broadbean season

I had to pull the broadbeans out as they were wilting and anyway the season was over: I have made some 5kg which is less than last year despite planting double the amount, but still not a bad crop overall.

Some peas were also ready: it is such a pity I am not having time to plant beans as well...

Monday, 13 July 2009

Bumblebees HEART Leeks




-- Post From My iPhone

Proliferation of rats and gooseberries

Having decided for do-it-yourself disposal of the obnoxious rhodent, I enrolled my husband and we went - albeit reluctantly - on Friday night after work: to our surprise rats had multiplied overnight; to our relief, the operation was swift and dignified.

As we were there, I took the opportunity to pick some gooseberries: over 4 kg, and still counting...


... I made jam yesterday, had tried gooseberry fool last week and two friends took me some crumble they made with my little present of soft fruit. I even tried them fresh, as my neighbour vouched for their delicious taste: after a gluttony of this size I am inclined to avoid gooseberries for the rest of my life!!!

However, as I said, I have more to pick this year, and there will be even more next year, as I have cuttings from the current bush, and earlier this spring had bought an extra plant with purple berries. Friends and neighbours beware - they will come your way!!! Actually, I am going to the post office later on to send a nice little gift of jam to Italy! :)

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday, 10 July 2009

New rat, bigger one...

I went to have an overall check and to pick gooseberries, but did not manage to do much: there was a new rat trapped in the cage, and all my energies were drained by planning for disposal.

One useful thing I did though: as shallots grow in a bunch around the set you plant, they tend not to grow too big. So I tried pulling out a couple to make more space for the others to develop. I have also picked a couple of mono-clove garlic heads, not clear how they came to be.

The leek flowers are quite spectacular now that they are all in flower, purple spheres on their tall stems... and bumblebees seem to love them!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

So hot I was alone

It was really hot tonight, and I was alone, which meant that the water pressure was ok, and watering was not such a stressful job.

Really enjoyable after a full four days without gardening... I transplanted more tomatoes, some soya bean plants, weeded here and there, added a couple more humming lines, which seem to be working very well to protect the soft fruit and finally got to pick the first, huge gooseberries: I'm going to make gooseberry fool with them!

In the meantime, the red currant is almost ripe, and looks pretty stunning - I must say that many soft fruits that are pretty common here are unusual in Italy so there is much to learn on how to eat them as well as how to grow them.

Everything is growing reasonably well, all considered: the sweet pea I transplanted ages ago is finally flowering, courgettes are on their way and the sweetcorn is also slowly catching up. Celery is 20cm and strawberries are still cropping, although I have noticed that they do not taste as good when they are all red and ripe, as when they are a bit behind. Also, there are two figs as big as tennis table balls, and more seem to be coming out, which is really exciting!

Leek's flowers are in full bloom, and they seem to attract bumblebees, so in the end I am happy I left them there - and I can plant brassicas in between them anyway. In fact, I sowed kohl rabi, which I hope will come out, as I have tried some from Riverford's vegbox in a glorious roast with my first potatoes, and it's an interesting tasting turnip.

Till next time...

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Unexpected afternoon on the plot

Should have been in Switzerland for work but I had to cancel so I found myself with half a day of the weekend free for the allotment, perfect to catch up, and blimey there were things to do: where to start?

Maybe with the fascinating purple mangetout that are in season now, or the carrot seedlings timidly emerging, that I covered with fine netting.

Overall I spent the whole afternoon digging, weeding, picking, sowing, transplanting. It felt really good, it was such a long time since I managed to go at the weekend, and it did not feel like a was on duty but leisurely as it shoud be. I got knackered nonetheless.

I have now two beds cleared and ready for brassicas, and sowed it all over again: kohl rabi, cabbage, cavolo nero, caulifower. More sowing involved capers and beetroot.

As planned, I dug out the greenhouse potatoes (almost 2kg of them) and transplanted tomato seedlings in their place.

Fingers crossed for some strategic rain this week, which is forecasted to be hot and sultry.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Lesson learned the hard way

I went to water tonight, as tomorrow I am having a day off at Wimbledon and it is unlikely that I can make it over the weekend.

Gloom on the brassica patch is confirmed, but yesterday's poor soft fruit crop was just because it was the wrong day: I get enough red fruits for two portions every other day. To tell the truth, it's more than enough for two, and in just one week since their first appearance, raspberries seem to be overtaking strawberries in number.

The seedlings in the greenhouse are doing very well, even the soya bean is sprouting, although reliability of the seeds seems very low.

After I got over yesterday's horrible discovery on the brassica patch, I can npw say I have most definitely learnt to soak seedlings for a good while before doing anything with them. And possibly check the weather forecast, so as not to transplant anything before a scorching sunny day.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Is this the worst evening of the year?

Condolences accepted as 90% of the brassica seedlings transplanted yesterday have wilted away. I was so happy they looked healthy and strong...

To boot, I am bloody tired again and dragging myself home I tripped, so today's rather meager crop of strawberries and raspberries went crushing in the middle of the road.
-- Post From My iPhone

Satisfactory crops but tired me!!

Being that a good number of the people I know are collapsing with tiredness, including myself, I am not doing a lot at the allotment lately.

However, I am picking strawberry every other day, and on Friday night we got the first raspberry as well. Broadbeans are cropping, albeit not too heavily and so is spinach and beet. In a while we will have carrots and beans as well.

As it is quite sunny in England these days, I have to keep watering, which takes most of my time on the plot, especially as we get a severe water pressure problem when more than three people are watering together, which, incidentally, is the case every time I have to do it.

However, yesterday I spent three hours planting out and watering the brassica seedlings, and - as I have run out of space again - digging new small beds here and there where there's a bit more space along the paths: there's so much I should be planting now and it really bugs me that I do not have enough stamina to keep up with it: capers, kohl rabi, salad and pak choi, new leeks...


I dug out the old parsley in my search for space: today there's a complimentary bag for all my colleagues that want some!

Next step will be picking the potatoes in the greenhouse to make space for tomatoes: if I'm lucky I will manage to do it at the weekend. In the meantime, tonight I will have to go and water the seedlings - urgh.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The brassica bed is ready - once again

Cleared the weeds that had covered it once again, now that it's time to plant out.

Sowed some more carrots, as it seems that the previous batch are actually growing, then it was time to go, after picking today's strawberries and some spinach.

Wonder whether I shoud put plastic bags around the spinach flowers, to collect any seed that might develop: the plants are now 2m tall - there's plenty of them!

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, 15 June 2009

Is this the perfect evening of the year?

Everything that I sowed was out tonight: beans, sunflowers, tomatoes, borage, courgettes, all the brassicas... everything except soyabeans! And not only seeds had germinated, they were thriving, for example I had to transplant French beans that had grown more than 20cm!

Besides I picked 500gr strawberries and 700gr broadbeans.

And as I was leaving, it started raining. This must be the perfect evening for whoever hates watering, like I do.

Anyway, the broadbeans are not doing well at all compared to last year when I got 8kg: I have to keep in mind this autumn to plant many more, much closer, so that I have a better chance to get some.

WOW that's rain outside!

Time to cook dinner... by the way I have tried the elderflower cordial and it is not bad at all - here's the recipe I followed for 3 bottles:

1.35 kg sugar
1.15 l water
30 gr tartaric acid
2 oranges
2 limes
2 lemons
20 elderflower heads
Slice the citrus fruit into either a very big bowl (5l) or two smaller ones with the tartaric acid. Put the water and sugar on the hob, and keep stirring until it is melted. When the liquid starts boiling immerse the flowerheads (I have washed them before to take the insects etc), then bring to the boil again before taking off the hob. Pour in the bowl(s), stir well and leave for 24 hours, covering lightly. Then pour the concoction in sterilised bottles, through a muslin and a funnel. Seal and keep in the fridge. S.Raven (whose diary I took the recipe from) says it lasts for up to two months.

Friday, 12 June 2009

So happy I did a sowing tour-de-force last week...

... in fact, the cime are out already, so is the cabbage and some tomatoes! No sign of courgettes though.

I was too tired to stay, but I have picked another 200gr of strawberries and almost 1kg of broadbeans! There is quite a few holes (slugs?), though, possibly due to the fact that they grew slower than last year.

This weekend I will do another round of catching up, and taste the elderflower cordial, of which I got 3 bottles in the end.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

300gr delicious strawberries

For a combination of rain and chores I only managed to get to the allotment quickly once over the last week, but - oh mine - how good the strawberries were, and this time nothing less than a couple of handfuls!

Next time I go, the broadbeans will be ready to pick as well, and the potatoes are flowering, so they are on their way too.

Made elderflower cordial tonight for the first time ever: the moment in between the end of cooking and the tasting of your creation is always a bit of a leap into the unknown, but this time I am a bit uneasy as I have used tartaric acid for the first time. Anyway, if I survive the tasting I will share the recipe :)

Friday, 5 June 2009

Massive catchup

In the last three days I have been catching up for the whole of May, sowing as many seeds as possible before it's too late:
  • Sweetcorn
  • Courgettes
  • Beans
  • More tomato and chillies
  • More spinach

The kiwi plant is finally on the mend and putting out shoots, and broadbeans are on their way. But this is most definitely strawberries time, and I'm picking a handful every day. They taste as no shop strawberry: worth having an allotment for that alone!

On another note, I think I am running out of land, with potatoes taking up two beds and the greenhouse (and over my compost heap!) and another three beds taken up by alliaceae.


-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Nematodes survival efforts

Another evening spent watering on a trickle, as nematodes require wet soil to survive.

But I had a little more stamina, so I transplanted the self-blanching celery, which beat my record of tinyness of transplant, as the seedling were just a few millimiters. However, I decided that last time round celery grew better in the ground than in the tray.

I had a nice meal on my spinach and cime (complemented by some broccoli), and even went as far as to buy citric acid and a couple other antioxidants to stock up my larder: I will make elderflower cordial, and possibly try some of BBC James Wong's herbal remedies.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Of nematodes and grumpiness

Spent most or the afternoon watering in the nematodes, with water just a trickle from the tap as so many people were watering thirsty plots.

That certainly did not enhance my mood that was already tried by the thing that is increasingly driving me insane at the allotment: things left around in other people's way!

There's some for all tastes: plastic sheeting crumbled and left across the path to host slugs, cans of water at the bottom of the path, flapping nets in the middle of the path, rubbish thrown in the middle of what should be a path, and again netting rolls, sizeable plastic tunnels and even barbecues! All in the path!

I am not totally innocent as for example I have to leave a couple of pallets leaning against my shed and marginally in the way while finding the time to make use them. But all my neighbours seem to suffer from this spatial incontinence throughout the year, and particularly someone that I have figured out must have been an only child, considering the amount of space he takes up and the little consideration for the others (not only me!).

He is otherwise nice and even remembers my name, but I cannot help fuming when I see his stuff all over the place and I am afraid it shows when talking to him that I am so irritated (so Italian of me) even though I do not like to make a fuss and so avoid mentioning it (so very English!)... He must think I am a bit of a nutter!

Anyway, spinach is thriving and broadbeans are out, no sign of agretti but the nasturtium has beautiful red flowers. And the website must have been right about the gooseberries, as they have become so big... which also tells you that my humming line must be working and keeping the pigeons at bay!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

And I'm back

Horrified although not surprised to find more than 10 asparagus gone to seed, but picked the most delicious strawberry. And a little bag of goodies, mainly herbs.

Surprises multiply, with last year's cime di rapa growing in between tomatoes - just as well, as the ones I sowed more recently are tiny (10 cm as opposed to the 50-60 plants that I am used to from Italy), and already going to seed.

Major work ahead, watering nematodes in - did not have time today, just came to dispose of the obnoxious rats, really.

Friday, 29 May 2009

A weak week

Despite the lovely weather I did not manage to drag myself to the allotment, my stamina has failed me horribly this week!

Now I am a bit concerned, as nature won't wait for anyone, as is well known:
  • asparagus that I should be picking is going to seed

  • nematodes might well die in the fridge, and they are not cheap

  • the dead rats are rotting (why did they leave them there for me to bury in the first place?!?)

  • I have not planted anything in May, which will mean a 'hungry gap' in the middle of the season... In particular no salad at all

  • weeds will have regrown all over the place and grass will need serious mowing

  • it's a windy place over at the allotment and my pallets may have fallen onto something...

I've just managed to persuade myself that I must go there at least a couple of hours this weekend, no matter what!

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Rat disposal...

... I was told they are now dead, left for me to bury...

Anyone for helping?!? :/


-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Got two rats!

Not one but two, in the trap, they are little (some 15cm + tail) and look intelligent and afraid. They are sort of cute, I could keep them as pets if I did not know they are a health hazard and breed like rabbits! ;)


Well, they breed like mice, but so goes the Italian phrase...

Called the council to dispose of them. Hope the come before the astute little things manage to open the cage.

Apart from looking at them, fixing the window of the shed which I found broken, and moving pallets around, I did not have the stamina to do anything else.

Solanaceae not doing very well and all sunflowers have wilted in the greenhouse.

Raining today...

... Which is very good as I did not have any time even to check the allotment over the weekend.

The pallets have arrived for my compost heap, and so has the second batch of nematodes for slugs management.

And my goodness, it's June already at the end of this week!
-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Injuries, bobs, bits and thoughts

I got bitten all over the back and head by the mysterious evening insects, besides getting my hands stung by very aggresive nettles on the palm and little finger. Hand is swollen and numb, but it's my fault as I never use gloves: so I'll pull myself together now!

Had another go at sowing agretti: hope is nod dead yet, although this is the third time round.

I think I have a personal character issue with crop rotation: cannot quite bring myself to pull out self-seeded plants from previous years, when they grow for free without all the hassle of nursing them: potatoes are coming out all over the place, as well as spinach beet from the previous holder, and you know already of winter spinach and garlic...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

More surprises

... This post is a rewrite of the one that went lost in the ether that is the mobile network, so I will be brief...

I spent a fairly long night weeding a few beds, and found that the winter spinach I planted and thought had never come out, had in fact graced me with some leaves - albeit out of season - that I had for dinner.

Having then planted all the leftover potatoes I set myself the task of picking the last of the leeks, as most of them are going to seed after overwintering through a long fruitful season. Pulling something that looked like a thick clump of long grass, I was surprised to find in my hand a 'mysterious' type of alliaceae!


Although it does not have a wrapping skin around it, I came to the conclusion that it must be garlic from last year, either leftover or self-seeding! Neighbour Keith suggested that I split it into cloves and replant it, which did not seem like a bad idea. So out of 5 such clumps I left 3 in the ground, while I transplanted the split cloves of the other two.

End of surprises for tonight!