Sunday 28 February 2010

Digging under the rain

What a day: I started digging at 11 and was not done before 6!

It was very satisfactory physical work - was shattered when I got home (man who saw me on my way said: "Keep going!" and burst out laughing it was so obvious that if I stopped I wouldn't start again!!!) and went to sleep at 9, but it felt really good.

As it was raining in showers quite a lot of the time, I managed to sow some more seeds, but otherwise the soil was surprisingly not too muddy, so by the end of the day I had
  • marked the boundary of half the plot,
  • digged and covered my potato bed, so the soil will get warm early,
  • digged in compost in a very compacted bed that is going to be my chilli bed, and covered it as well.
I hope the compost I have used to sow the seeds will work out fine: looks a bit too rough and I am worried that the woody bits migh mould and affect the seeds. I have bough some organic and peat-free today for the rest of the sowing.

Today I also stocked up on clip top kilner jars on sales, ready for my jam-making in a few months. A few weeks ago I got the River Cottage preserves book, together with another book on keeping the harvest (which is very US focussed but interesting). Now I only need hubby to help me put up shelves in the kitchen, or I won't have enough space for any preserved produce :)

P.S. One of the neighbour's had cut back his share of bushes to make the path walkable - even though he did not uproot them, so they will be back in the summer - which is a tiny step forward. And tomorrow I am going to post my challenge to the notification letter.

Monday 22 February 2010

The big scare

Talking of a lot to do in terms of digging and clearing, I came home tonight to find a letter from the council: first warning, they will take my allotment away if I do not fix the path.

How the hell could that be, wonder I, when it was Yours Truly in the first place to ask the council and the allotment manager to help me deal with path clearing from tree stumps & other rubbish on the neighbours' side? You all know I have cleared my own side's stumps to set a good example at the time!

Will they really take away my plot, with all the nightmarish consequences to my well being and peace of mind I dread?!?

Anyway, turns out it was my own complaint that caused a letter to be sent to all allotments bordering on the path, par condicio debitorum...

While wondering whether it would be fair to contest it to the council - for fairness to my record - I do however appreciate the manager bringing up the issue - and hope this procedure will finally rid us of stumps, soft fruits canes (which I have cleared myself the year before last), plastic sheeting and other neighbourly rubbish.

So that I cannot be faulted in any possible way, I will also dig along the whole of the boundary so that a clear line shows: Sarah seemed to think it would define the path better than my plastic line, which however is going to stay, as an obstacle to careless visitors and crapping dogs.

A parcel was waiting together with the obnoxious letter: my potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. Besides, I have to plant in the allotment the blackberries from the pots, before it's March and too late. Got my work cut out for me this coming weekend.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Sowing the seeds of love...

Braving the snow showers on this Valentine's weekend I decided sowing could not wait any longer and had to be done today. Tomorrow is going to snow more than today, and next week I will not be able to make it to the allotment, so it was basically now or never for several seeds, as February whizzes away, and March won't be much better, until BST at the end of the month will finally give me some more allotment time.

The greenhouse was a cosy 0-10°C, the propagators clean and the seeds ready - in envelopes grouped by month during my stock taking last autumn - so it was easy to do a lot in a short space of time. Only glitch, I could not find any organic compost when I went to the shops.

In any case, a few flowers, tomatoes & tomatillos, sweet pepper, radish, celery and cardoon have started their new season's journey today, all under cover and sealed in plastic bags where extra warmth was needed.

There's still so much to do outside in terms of digging and clearing, I really hope we get a spell of good weather shortly.

In the meantime, I will go back to my study, where I have done good progress. Leaves and flowers are almost done, only seeds to go before I can tackle the paper!

Monday 8 February 2010

Ready, steady... no!

On Saturday I spent the whole day clearing, cleaning and disinfecting the greenhouse - one of the messiest jobs of the year - ready to sow for spring.

Having taken a day off, as today it was meant to be sunny, I was raring to go... but not only it's not sunny, IT'S actually SNOWING!

While on the plot over the weekend, I met a very sweet lady, Jean, in her 70s and from Zimbabwe who, having gardened all her life, told me that my cabbages and cauliflowers willnot grow because I was too late planting them (which is very true). She suggests I compost everything and start all over again. Hard to take in, really, as I realize that it will be so easy falling behind again this year, having only the weekends (and not all of them) to work on the allotment. Darkness this week did not come until a quarter to 6, but there's still so long to go before I will be able to work in the evenings after work.

It is a bit discouraging, but - instead of moaning - I will try spending the rest of the day on my botany book, to finish it and write the first paper (yes, I fell behind on that as well).

Just to end this brief post on a happier note, I will say that - digging under the greenhouse bench - I found a few garlic cloves growing, from seed that I had carelessly left in there two years ago... I split them and planted in the greenhouse bed: let's see if they produce a small crop.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

I love my beetroot!

Last summer for the first time I planted beetroot (Beta vulgaris). It was not a great success as slugs got at them at a time when I was not free to care for them much, but I managed to pick a couple, and the leaves are still growing in the bed.

In my previous life in Italy I had always seen beetroot only packaged, never fresh: I liked it anyway, but the sweet taste was nauseating after a while, so you could only eat a little if well dosed with olive oil and vinegar.

In the UK, I first tasted beetroot as a drink at the garden centre cafe, and it tasted lovely. Then I found beetroots in my vegbox and finally I started buying them purposefully a couple of months ago. I had always boiled them before, so I had not realized their potential. But then I started dicing them to roast and stir fry with (sweet) potato, pumpkin, carrot and turnips, and yesterday I had a revelation when using them for pasta sauce. My goodness it was divine ...

Here's the recipe (for 3 people): very quick to make, it takes just the time for the water to boil on the hob and the pasta to cook (less than half an hour).

BLOODY GOOD PASTA (we named it after its colour)
1 small yellow onion
1 small aubergine
1 big beetroot
350gr plain passata di pomodoro
1 spoon dried oregano
Extra virgin olive oil q.b.
350 gr pasta (i.e. maccheroni or penne)

Finely chop the onion and dice the aubergine (some slice the aubergine, cover in salt and leave it to shed water before using it) and the peeled beetroot - the beetroot's bits should be half the size of the aubergine's.

Big pan with water on the hob, unsalted (takes a litre of water per 100gr pasta otherwise will be hard inside and soft outside). A spoonful salt needs adding when the water boils first and then the pasta when it starts boiling again. While the water warms up, put enough oil in a flat non-stick pan to cover the bottom with a thin layer. Cook the onion on low until soft then add the beetroot and the aubergine (be careful as this will absorb the oil quickly, add a little bit if necessary). When the veg is soft, add the passata and oregano and simmer until the pasta is cooked (or the mixture going dry if the sauce is ready first). Drain the pasta, leaving a couple of spoonfuls of the cooking water, throw in the sauce and sauté!

Well, well, February is sowing time for aubergines (under cover) and in one month it will be beetroot's time. I have four species for this year:
  • Dobbies Purple, organic;
  • Globe Boro F1;
  • Red Ace F1;
  • Bull's Blood, organic, plants (I thought I would have an emergency backup);

and the bed I had left out of my drawing is perfect to host them. Look forward to beetroot pasta with my own veg!

Beetroot is supposed to be a very healthy vegetable as well; on the BBC website I found an introduction to beetroot that looks very comprehensive.