Sunday 26 April 2009

Just about managed...

Crop updates, wildlife status

... to transplant all the celery (3 evenings it took), most tomatoes, aubergines and chillies before my energies abandoned me on Sunday.

The last time I saw them the transplanted seedlings were doing well, and cima di rapa was three days old.

The grass is in a phase of amazing growth so I had to clear all the paths, which took a lot of exercise with my hand tools: shears and mower!

Asparagus is up to 6 spears but haven't picked it yet.

Have not seen rat after he outsmarted me by burrowing underneath the trap, eating the bait. Ducks keep their distance. Wildlife corner still deserted, but got some lacewing attractant. Watching out for declining numbers of slugs. Bitten all over by water-hovering flying insects.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Something new happening every day

Crop updates

The big news is that I was happily weeding when I could not believe my eyes: asparagus were out (pretty sure there was nothing there on Sunday!) and already some 10 cm tall.

Also, the cima di rapa I sowed on Sunday was out with tiny cotyledons - it still amazes me how any big plant can grow out of such tiny seedlings. Hope the nematodes work quickly to save them from slugs, as I am looking forward to my orecchiette in 40 days (that was the growing time advertised on the packet, they are the express cime, as opposed to the 60 days ones).

I sowed salsify (sooo curious as I had never heard of such plant) and sweetcorn.

Chillies, tomatoes and aubergines are definitely out and strawberries are flowering.

Started the thing that worried me the most: transplanting the celery seedlings. If it goes wrong I will be so disappointed as I am putting a lot of expectations in this veg! But cannot wait: I am pressed to acclimatize them outside before I am not around for some days and they would not survive in the greenhouse (temperature now rising to around 50 C).

A succesful transplant has been performed with mangetouts: came out in less than one week so that was quick, and transplanting from loo rolls was definitely easy and no disturbance to the roots.

Parsley is thriving and so is the self-seeded spinach beet, which reminds me that Sarah my colleague has planted the raspberries in her pots with some success, as they have put out shoots straight away. This is the season...

Sunday 19 April 2009

Everything falling into place...

Crop updates, the exhausting job of applying nematodes, cooking from produce

Most or the seedlings are doing great, with the exception or salad, which has been exterminated in whatever form I planted it, the rapa bianca - ditto - and the beheaded sunflower cotyledons. Celery is making tiny three-lobed leaves, spinach is growing and even some of the oldest chilli I planted has come out of dormancy against any predictions.

Both redcurrant and gooseberry are flowering and the buds on the vines are so big that they cannot but burst open soon. The fig has put out a tiny fruit and strawberries are flowering. So is rhubarb, though, which means I will have to intervene soon, not to waste the plant's energy into a bloom.

This is definitely a very rewarding time, but also the time of the year when the struggle with weeds starts: dandilions, creeping buttercup, binding weed, and the thorny thing: what's- its-name...

I spent the best part of my time watering nematodes on the ground, bed by bed: I hope this will have some results, despite running short of the parasites at 2/3 of the plot - should start to work in 1 week if the soil keeps moist.

With the parsley, I have tried to make some salsa verde. Not from the recipe I linked a while ago, though - I asked my auntie. Very simple: breadcrumbs drenched in White wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar and salt. Finely chopped parsley (do not leave too long as I am told it gets dark in colour), mix and add oil to cover. It's in the fridge to absorb the flavour...

Friday 17 April 2009

Nematodes arrived!

Wildlife on the plot

My nematodes [microscopic white wormlike parasites of the slug] arrived yesterday: death to slugs! They are sitting in the fridge right now, ready for action.

Next step will be to deal with woodlice as I seem to have a problem with them in the greenhouse: all my sunflower cotyledons have been beheaded. I read a while ago that boiling water poured on them works a treat, but that's not very convenient on the allotment.

No success with the rat, but ducks seem to be gone for good.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday 13 April 2009

Not too bad compared to last year!

Crop and picnic updates.

Although I am not going to the allotment as much as would be necessary at this time of year, I must say that - compared to last year when I was doing up the house at the same time - I am more or less on schedule.

Celery is growing, same for aubergine and spinach, carrot was planted today, tomato and chilli are on their way...

March and April have gone in a whiff, though, and I could have planted so much more!
To pick up from the recipe post the other day: the prawns were delicious in their oil, lemon, chilli and parsley dressing... and in a recession mood I also used the leftover dressing to cook clams risotto: slurp! The sage focaccia was nowhere near the original, but it wasn't bad either so everybody was happy with it, washed down with Pimm's. Even if we had to eat indoor, as the weather was grey and drizzly throughout the holidays.

I have picked some more parsley to try the salsa verde: I have never made it, although I am quite clear what the taste should be so hopefully I can put it together. Will let you know if the recipe was ok.

Saturday 11 April 2009

In praise of parsley and the 'trita prezzemolo'

Preparing for Easter picnic, parsley and the 'trita prezzemolo', crop updates.

Tomorrow we are going for a picnic with friends, and I have offered to take some antipasti, sage focaccia and Pimm's.

Incursion into the allotment required to get: mint, sage and parsley.

While I was there I noticed that the rain of the last two day has had a great effect as every green thing is now greener: the buds on the vines are bigger, the broadbeans and mint have grown visibly - quite conveniently for my purpose - and the first chilli has germinated.

Chillies: I hope this year they grow big and plenty, as I use so many. However, for tomorrow I had to buy some at the shop as I wanted to dress some prawns with oil, lemon, chilli and parsley.

And here I will sing the praise of parsley (flat leaf), and the 'trita prezzemolo', possibly the third most important tool in my kitchen after kettle and moka.

You will probably all know that whole parsley leaves taste hardly of anything, especially if thawed, but for some reason if you chop the parsley it will keep its flavour longer and despite freezing. Well, the 'trita prezzemolo' is the Italian answer to this herbal issue.

Although every time I thus chop parsley I cannot but think of the Italian saying "to be like parsley" meaning to turn up everywhere, impossible to get rid of (as is chopped parsley), this herb is said to have several medicinal properties, so I was happy to produce another two tupperwares' full after dressing the prawns. I love the flavour and should definitely use more.

Mixed with garlic it is excellent on stir-fried mushrooms, perfect for seafood dishes, and you can also make a soup (chicken stock, soupe rice, 1 garlic clove - add a couple of pinches of frozen parsley in the last three minutes of cooking). Riverford meat boxes also gives a recipe for salsa verde for eggs and boiled meat.

Tomorrow morning I will improvise the sage focaccia, which is a speciality of the Liguria region in Italy. Never really done before (except for a test dough yesterday), but want to try with both dried and fresh sage, to see whether I manage to get the perfect flavour... or at least as close as possible to the original - which is GORGEOUS!

Happy Easter to those who celebrate.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Planting more seeds

Crop updates, bumblebees & rats.

I see the rat every day now. When I arrive, he runs from underneath my shed towards a pile of rubbish that is behind it.

Afraid that he might have digged a hole in the floor and let himself in, I cleared everything but there's no sign of holes. After that, I was ready to start planting... however, I was distracted by a buzzing sound.

Bumblebees. All the holes I have been finding around the plot, which I thought were of rodent's doing, must be bumblebee hidings! I saw a big, wobbly bumblebee reopening one such hole under my wildlife station, which had crumbled on itself, probably because of the rain. Amazing how he managed to munch himself into the soil. And the buzzing sound kept coming at me from all around me, so - I guess - more holes... never noticed before, possibly they like the texture of the soil due to the best March weather in ages (at least according to Guy of Riverford in his newsletter).

I planted more broadbeans as the overwintering Aquadulce Claudia this year had a disappointing germination rate (only twenty-one plants in a whole bed), some peas, mangetout, more nasturtium and some sweetcornm before I ran out of daylight.

Someone from across the plot shouted at me something on the lines of: "This is too early to leave!" The other day neighbour Tony suggested they put flashlights on for me.

Anyway, I have saved some raspberry plants in water to take to my colleague Sarah, who is willing to give it a go on her balcony in London. Moreover, I have plenty of beautiful, fragrant mint: anyone not catered for their summer Pimm's yet?

Manure is done!

Wildlife and crop updates.

The ducks were back... The persistent, defiant creatures had passed through my layers of fencing with relative ease, so I had to put netting down to the level of ground, which means that frogs cannot go in either. Anyway, the war is now on!

Rat still resisting the temptation of my smelly food. I will be here waiting patiently...

Last night I finished spreading the manure - in one less day then expected and I also managed to plant my potatoes. Here is the final view of a cleared allotment!

Next steps will be planting new seeds, as I have done nothing for the last two weeks. A bit worried what I will do at the end of the month when I am not around for a little while.

Some tomatoes are coming out but not the chillies. I was reading the other day that you may inadvertently trigger seeds dormancy if the conditions of growing are not right. Must check thoroughly.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Spuds planted (half of them!)

Crop updates.

I took my "extraterrestrial" chitted potatoes from the kitchen and carried them to London and back today hoping that the weather would keep so that I could plant them, which I did; half of them that is, because I ran out of space.

So I spent the rest of the time working on the manure: another two evenings and it will all be levelled and spread, and I will be able to plant the rest of the potatoes, some corn (today I figured out its place) and the sunflowers.

Did I tell you that the rat scared the daylights out of me running around in the weekend? I saw it again tonight, but the trap is set and I added more smells in the form of a overripe strawberry and blue cheese rinds. Finger crossed.

The ducks are still around but not on my plot, it seems, as the pond plants are regrowing.

While in the greenhouse the seedlings are still fine, except for the rapa bianca lodigiana seedlings, which are being eaten by slugs or some other creature, and the tomatoes and chillies which are not out yet, a surprise came from the wines: they were not dead!!! Some timid growth appeared that is most definitely buds!

Monday 6 April 2009

Always in a bit of a hurry...

... I have not taken my camera with me lately, but everything is coming back to life and it's fresh green, or colourful and fragranced! I love walking around and smelling fragrances in the air!

Yesterday I had friends with me: we popped in quickly at the allotment and had some fun picking leeks - the earth is so compacted they snapped broken!

Tonight after work I just had enough time to
  • reinforce my pond's barriers (there were suspiciuos floating leaves severed from the water plants),
  • water the seedling (which are all doing fine) just in case it is going to rain for the next three days and I can't access the greenhouse, and
  • pick my first crop of rhubarb: 5 stalks. They smelled beautifully when I took them off. However, the leaves were already open, so I hope I did not leave them too long and I am going to poison myself with oxalic acid.
I'm making compote, my favourite, with brown sugar and a squeezed lemon: it's bubbling away right now...

Saturday 4 April 2009

Seedlings are unforgiving

Quick crop update.

With a cold and a temperature, I still had to run down to the allotment as it was two days since my last visit and seedlings are unforgiving...

... celery, in fact, was already wilting in patches: I made it just in time. Nasturtium is out, aubergines, sunflower and chamomile are doing very well and so is spinach, but no sign of chillies, tomatoes, spinach beet or agretti yet.

Lovely spring day today.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

What a great weather today!

Crop updates, the pleasures of gardening.

I came to the UK almost 4 years ago.

Before that, had anyone told me that I would dream of spending an hour or so shovelling shit after a stressful day at work, or that having slipped with my work shoes in the above mentioned - I would feel all the better for it and arrive at home singing so loud: 'Sara, svegliati e primavera' (Sara wake up, it's spring, an Italian pop song of the 70s) that I surprised my husband, I would probably have believed them. Nor would I have believed anyone telling me I would wake up of my own accord one hour before necessary to be able to sneak out of work early...

I do sympathise with both foreigners and locals that do not see much of a fascination in gardening! However, it worked magic on me...

So many things happen at this time of year, and today it was really warm and sunny to boot!

Watering seedlings every day is having an effect: the aubergines that I thought dead have timidly emerged - completely unexpected - and a closer look revealed that the spring-planted broad beans Express have come out with almost 100% reliability. Besides, most of the soft fruits are putting out fresh green leaves.

The manure is almost all spread and the ducks have not been back!

'Saaaara, svegliati e' primaveera... Saaaara sono le sette e tu devi andare a scuooola... ooooh Saaara...'