Wednesday 31 March 2010

It's BST!

Suddenly the anxiety of having to do everything in the weekend because the week is off-limit was gone: British Summer Time! It was more relaxing doing what I have done for the last couple of months: digging and sowing, knowing that I will be able to go back evening after evening. Except if the weather is rubbish all the time as it has been since...

I am still very divided about the ducks: when I caught them mating in the pond I found it sweet, but when they came back later I shooshed them away and they went to lie on a neighbour's black polithene sheet, as they have done all of last year.

My spawn at home was doing very well with almost-tadpoles wriggling inside the eggs of one of the clumps but then something happened and they may be dying, a feathery white fungus feeding on the decaying matter.

Finally tonight I finished and sent the first paper of my horticulture course.

Long weekend approaching, lots of gardening is going to be on the menu, but of late I am not too inspired about writing, as I do not seem to be able to find an interesting enough angle to what I do: after all gardening implies the same rituals to be repeated year after year after year...

Sunday 21 March 2010

Guess who's back!

It's March 21st and definitely the start of spring: ladybirds busily hurrying about (all natives too!), the amazing green of new leaves just out of buds, spawn in the pond (at home) and... the mallards are back, three of them (at the allotment)!

I love those three ducks, they are so beautiful when they lazily pull themselves out of the water, or walk in. Neighbours might worry that they eat their vegetables (that's the first thing my auntie said when I mentioned them) but I have done some research and here's what the WWT says:

"Mallards are dabbling ducks and are usually seen looking for the leaves, shoots and seeds of water-based plants. When these are submerged, the ducks up-end yet it has been known for Mallards to graze grasses, including cereal plants, as well as to deliberately shake vegetation to loosen any seeds and invertebrates that were out of reach. Mallards will also eat insects and their larvae, small fish and when the need arises, will even eat small mammals. Their tolerance of people has allowed them to make the most of any food that is freely given."

so they are more likely to be the reason why no frogs have taken residence in the allotment pond than to cause any damage with the veg.

And talking of frogs, last week was a hard one: as it rained for the first time since the good weather, all the frogs came out to breed and just down the road it was a massacre: I counted 9 killed, 1 wounded and in distress - very very unpleasant images are still at the back of my mind.

I had no idea I was so keen on frogs, but now I do, and this morning, when I spotted spawn in my home pond (which is tiny), I decided to dig another one and make a log pile, so that more of the slimy creatures can come and stay in my garden.

Over the week I learned other facts about them: they do not eat for the whole of the breeding time and they can drown while mating! Frogs have an urge to go back to the pond they were born into, so the few I rescued from the road were probably back shorly after I released them. In the UK there is a charity that monitors amphibian & reptiles.

Anyway, I finished long after dark, and the mother frog watched me closely all the time - I had never seen her so exposed before, usually they hide under vegetation.

At the allotment, I did up two beds, and sowed some seeds:
  • beetroot
  • agretti (I am trying again, never managed before)
  • hollyhock
  • thyme
  • thai basil
and a few had started to come out
  • cardoon
  • chamomile lawn
  • and some peas and tomatoes were on the point of...
The leeks have self-seeded massively, and are growing fast, so I am considering keeping the bed for one more season - they seem healthy, but that means I will have to make space somewhere for the cardoon next week, as it will be ready to transplant.

It was great to be out in the sun, and although probably tomorrow I won't be able to move a single muscle, it was a great way to spend the first day of spring.

Monday 15 March 2010

So good and so frustrating!

As I said last week everything is tidy and ready to burst into life, and it's so good to look at and enjoy, except it's NOT under control! This is the time of the year when all the gardening chores start to compete for my time, at home and the allotment, and I still have only the weekends to tackle them.

This weekend it was mostly the turn of my garden at home, where I planted some more bulbs, spring and summer ones. I found some tiny lovely irises - purple, that go very well with the plain yellow of dwarf daffodils. And I will give another go to lilies (the first time round they were decimated by slugs & snails...)

Then at the allotment I only managed to dig half a small bed.
My rotation plan tells me that - apart from where I already planted (alliaceae, Jerusalem artichokes & broadbeans, besides soft fruits & asparagus, and last year's leek seedlings that are still apparently growing) and the potato & chilli beds weeded and covered - I currently have no clear beds to plant anything in the ground, so I can only sow in the greenhouse. This is a most inconvenient situation, as you can imagine, as there are at least a couple of vegs that I could sow in the ground now.

Which means that I fell behind once again: 8 beds still need weeding and clearing! I hope I manage by Easter...

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday 12 March 2010

My March gardening day

Yesterday, with sunny weather forecast, I decided to take the day off to garden.

It was actually cold and grey, but my order of trees had arrived, so I had to clean the pots and transplant my new lemon, olive and lime trees. In my collection of old Italian favourites, which started last year with the fig tree, only the persimmon is now missing, which I am going to order shortly - I will try and grow it in a pot for the first few years, as I do not have the space in my garden right now. I love kaki fruit, and you need only one plant as the fruit is parthenocarpic (it grows without fertilisation of the flower). Oh, and uva fragola, what we call "American" grapes whose correct English name is actually Concord and that its Latin name is Vitis lambrusca - you can suck or squeeze the grapes out of their skins: delicious... But that will have to wait, although I see that Seeds of Italy sell that too and I am sooo tempted...

Anyway, then I went to the allotment and planted the Jerusalem artichokes, besides clearing another of the soft fruits bed. There's much digging and clearing still to be done, and one of my magazine suggests the clearing work should be completed by the end of the month.

As a bonus for going out in the miserable weather, I found a very strange twisting leaf, apparently from a bulb, growing on the path among all sorts of rubble. I pulled it out and transplanted it in a place where it will not be trodden upon: the bulb is orange, starts oval but grows to a funny irregular shape and is all wrinkly, never seen before. Hope it's not a weed. Certainly it looks stunning.

And at home I found an envelope with my Garden Organic experiments waiting for me. I will grow lettuce within protection of an anti-slug cardboard barrier, a spinach tree and look out for butterflies on flowers.

Now let me go and finish my flower and seeds summaries for the horticulture assignment.

Sunday 7 March 2010

DIY on the plot

Today I spent another great afternoon, on a delightfully sunny day, at the allotment.

There is not much to talk about, really, but it was great fun as I increased the size of the asparagus bed to plant the new ones I got last week - the hickory axe and the recycled fence panels from my garden are coming so handy on the plot: the new bed is much more solid and nice looking than before, and hopefully the asparagus will thrive!

I then decided where to plant the Jerusalem artichokes, on the side of a couple of shortish beds. I digged a small bed, just enough for the 5 or so tubers I've got, and built a wooden support for the plants, which can grow as tall as 2.5 m.

Jerusalem artichoke is actually a type of sunflower, whose tuber (a stem tuber, like a potato) tastes like an artichoke. They show a weedy behaviour, so they are always grown on the same spot. The tuber, which I read is a good source of iron, should be planted in early spring in well conditioned soil. I hope when I plant them in the next couple of weeks they like the spot I chose for them!


You may have noticed that I have not mentioned study for a while... I will try to make the next post on that, and to write my paper this week.

Saturday 6 March 2010

The broadbeans are out! (reprise)

What a tangible sign of spring when the broadbeans are out once again! For a moment I thought it was some horrible weed, as I could not recognise the shape of the shoots. But it's definitely broadbeans, and I will probably manage to find space for sowing some more.

This must be one of the best times of the year at the allotment as the plot is relatively tidy and everything is ready to burst into life again...

Some of the seedlings in the greenhouse seemed to be out already (0-35C inside over the last week) but did not have time to check in detail as I spent all the afternoon digging to clear the raspberry bed.

Onions and garlic are also out and found plenty of onion clumps (and some potatoes, really healthy) among the soft fruit stumps, so tomorrow I will have to transplant them, together with some new asparagus I bought last week. I will also find a place for the Jerusalem artichoke and hopefully de-fleece the herbs.

Monday 1 March 2010

Beetroot & chocolate muffins

I am chasing my recent enthusiasm for beetroot, so last week I tried a beetroot gratin at restaurant Konstam in London* that turned out to be delicious: slightly smokey in flavour, it seemed to consist of thinly sliced beetroot, red onion and cream.

And this weekend I tried beetroot and chocolate muffins. Well, it was really beetroot and cocoa. Found a few recipes online that all resembled each other (i.e. BBC, Delia) but had to adapt as I did not have any corn oil.

So, for 10 muffins I used:
  • 300 gr flour
  • 75 gr cocoa
  • 4 tsp yeast
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 125 ml extravirgin olive oil
  • 250 ml double cream
  • 100 gr caster sugar
  • 300 gr beetroot steamed until tender, peeled and mashed
  • vanilla qb
cooked 35 mins on gas 6.

My husband seemed to like them (he wrote me an email this morning just to say!) but I am not completely convinced. Tomorrow I will try another one :). Somehow I believe it would taste better if I used chocolate chunks instead of cocoa powder - I'll try next time.

It's almost time to sow both beetroot and aubergines - in the meantime, to keep the recipe fresh in my mind, tomorrow I will cook again my Bloody Good Pasta. Why not, I will try to improvise a gratin next time. And, should I ever ran out of beetroot recipes, I have found a website that seems to have quite a few, interesting ones!

* If you were looking for the place, you won't find it any more: one thing that drives me nuts since I move to the UK, all the decent food places, locally sourced and organic, close down within the year... there is something wrong with the food-scape here... :(