Tuesday, 31 July 2012


We pickled the shallots. They filled two large jars and two small ones. The shallots felt quite soft when we removed them from the brine so they should soak up the vinegar nicely.
We didn't do anything fancy - just used Sarson's pickling vinegar. Though we did add some dried chillies to two of the jars. We weren't sure how hot they'd be - we were given them by my sister a couple of years ago - but judging by the pain when I touched my eye later in the evening(!) I think they may be hot hot hot!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

It's pickling time!

We nipped up the plot this afternoon, managing to avoid some serious showers, just to pick some bits for tonight and tomorrow. Tonight Jamie's making mash with the chopin potatoes and we're having our first crop of french beans with some broad beans and a quorn fricasee-type thing with one of our onions - great to be using four home-grown ingredients. And tomorrow I'm making a tofu, potato, carrot and onion layered dish with 3 home-growns - yum! The other bits are for salady lunches for a couple of days.
Includes first courgette, onions, carrots and green beans
When we got back home we prepared all the shallots for pickling - we should get four small jars and two larger ones. Some of the shallots were a bit dodgy, particularly where water had gone down the stems where the shallots had flowered.

When we'd finished peeling them we put them in strong brine (using hot water dissolve the salt) and they'll stay there until tomorrow or Tuesday when they get put into their sterilised jars till Christmas. The purpose of the brine is to remove water from the onions so that there's less water to dilute the vinegar once they're pickling thus getting crunchier onions - I still don't quite get how the water is removed when they're soaked in water, but it apparently works by osmosis... fair enough!
Onions in brine to remove water

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Potatoes and beans

We had a couple of hours on the plot today. It was pretty sunny and warm still, though it's meant to be cooling down significantly with rain on the way - sad to say, we do actually need it!
We pulled our first chopin potatoes - I say pulled, we always excavate them. Can't bear it when we chop into one so definitely can't use a fork to lift them like some people do! The chopins are lovely looking white potatoes which are apparently good to use for mashing and even for roasting. We got about 1kg from one plant and I delved underneath the next plant to pull a couple of extra spuds from there.
We also picked our first beetroot - haven't had a lovely fresh beetroot for months; we've still got some pickled ones from last year at home. Also picked some more broad beans to have in a curry tonight. The broad bean pods look like the beans should be big but we're finding, as others are at Marsh Lane, that the beans aren't filling out much. We have to squeeze each pod to check what's in there before picking - there are still plenty left on the plants.

We took our bucketful of shallots home for pickling tomorrow as they've had time to dry out in the lovely sunshine this week.

I sowed a row of purple kohl rabi - they were really tasty when we tried some before but they are a favourite of slugs and pollen beetle so we've put a cover over them..

And I spotted this little moth - I took a photo of a very similar looking one in May. I am not absolutely certain, but I think they're related but different varieties of mint moth. This one appears to be Pyrausta purpuralis whereas I think the one in May was Pyrausta aurata - from what I've seen on the UK Moths website.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Not so blue but still hot

Yes, today was a little cooler with cloudy skies much of the time, but it still got incredibly hot when doing anything other than sitting! I dug over the patch where we'd taken the shallots and decided not to take on any of Plot 8 (though of course Jamie did some before flaking out).
I did some weeding - all around the onions, which are Santero F1. They're downy mildew resistant and have proved to be worthy of the title as they're looking good compared to a lot of other onions on site (including some of our salad onions).

Also weeded inside the mesh cloche where we planted a row of turnips and a row of radish - the turnips were devoured by pollen beetles and slugs but the radishes got away with it. Some are big and VERY pepper - I have some salad lunches planned for next week.
Our little cucumber won't quite be ready for that but it's getting there!

Jamie cut the haulms off all the Chopin potatoes because blight has got to them - probably due to all the slug damage.
Here are some pics of some of the other potatoes which are flowering at the moment - they're very pretty.
Kestrel flowersCongo flowers
And finally, we saw this busy little bee on our calendula - shame he wasn't on our beans, but still good to see on the plot!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Another hot BBQ day

Another brilliant day for a barbecue, not quite as hot as yesterday but still way above average at about 28°!
I took this photo by attaching the camera to a 8-foot bamboo and then setting the 12 second timer before holding it high above my head - it looks really high up doesn't it? It makes for a good bird's eye view of the plots :-)
Overhead shot of our plots
We puddled our leeks in and put the Shallot cage over them as some protection against leek moth.
We had to do quite a lot of watering - although it's still damp under the surface we want our veggies, which are just fruiting, to have as much water as possible. The water poured into the leeks holes soon drained away.
Puddling in the leeks

Big Butterfly Count 2012

I did the butterfly count for Butterfly Conservation in the afternoon - it was easy to find 15 minutes and a sunny spot. I decided to do it at the top of site, outside the allotment boundary where there's a bit of wild ground with lovely long grass and some tall weeds. I didn't think 'allotment' fitted any of the other descriptions very well - it's a bit different from a garden, so I went with the easy option and chose 'field'.
By the allotment entrance
The butterflies are different varieties from what we see on the plot. There were no Red Admirals, of which we've seen lots this year, peacocks or tortoiseshells and not so many cabbage whites (which we've been chasing off our cabbages all week).
Here's what I recorded:
  2 x Green-veined White - I'm sure they were this type of white because of the greeny-closed wings
  7 x Ringlet
  2 x Meadow Brown
  3 x Marbled White
I only managed to snap the Ringlet butterfly. All the others were flitting around far too quickly - I got quite a few blurred brown blobs!
Ringlet butterfly

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Phew! What a scorcher!

What a perfect week to have booked leave!
It was another sweltering day - we didn't go to the plot until the evening. Walking through town was lovely, felt like being abroad with such warm air. Look at the temperature at 7pm, and look at the record-breaking day! The thermometer is hung in the shade so imagine what it would have been in the sun!!

Jamie dug the area in the potato quarter which is where we're going to put the leeks in - they're getting quite big in their modules now so are ready to go really. Far more sensible digging as the sun went down!
I planted the rhubarb, looks a bit pathetic with just its one leaf, but it has a healthy bud and roots so should be ok. I planted it level with the surface. Most websites say to plant below the surface but Terry, who gave us the plant, assured us this is the correct way to dealing with it - hope he's right!
We stayed for a bit of slug-chucking and bat-hunting then went home. We're expecting another hot day tomorrow - so barbecue on standby!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Another blue sky day!

We did a morning a session of weeding and digging then went home for a few hours. By 10:30 the temperature had already reached 26° in the shade, of which there is very little at Marsh Lane. We went back up in the afternoon and by then the temp was 31° phew!
I found a tiny bit of shade behind the runner beans!
I planted the petit pois plants which Jamie had sown in the root trainers - 8 out of 12 germinated. I also transplanted the fennel directly into the herb garden so hopefully it will grow enough for some soup!
Found this little bug - it must be a shield bug but I don't know what sort yet - but still haven't done my butterfly count. The cabbage whites are desperately trying to get at our cabbages, which the slugs are already loving!!
As we were leaving this lone swallow was singing very happily on the overhead cables - there were lots of them sweeping the air today.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Happy Birthday...to me!

What a fantastic day! Blue sky all day long. We had a very lazy time on the plot - barbecue, sangria and beer - work wouldn't have been possible even if we'd wanted to (far too hot).
We started at about 11am, had a wander and a paddle in the river along from the marsh in the afternoon - sad to say I had to escape from the sun for a bit, just too much with no shade - my silly-looking hat didn't help much!
We went home at about 6pm then back up the plot for dusk and bat-detecting. There weren't many around, which was suprising as there were loads of moths on the air. But when we got our torch out we could see slugs and massive snails everywhere!! There were loads of little slugs inside most of our netted areas :-( That's the trouble with netting up to protect; it doesn't let the predators in to clear up... what we need is a pet hedgehog!
New moon
When we walked back under the railway bridge there were more bats than we saw by the plot - they were swooping under the bridge taking the moths that were hanging round the street light. They are lovely to see, but couldn't get any snaps of them.

Uh-oh! Jamie broke our fork!

Jamie is still digging, but snapped the fork! Plot 8 really is proving to be hard work and there's still more to dig...
I put some asters in where Jamie dug compost in today.

It was a fabulous sunny day so I had no intention of digging, but I did do a lot of weeding.
At least now we can leave the weeds to dry out so they don't just replant themselves!

Our shallots are drying out nicely in the warm temperature and there are lots of bees around - but also quite a few butterflies, so they'll start laying eggs soon I expect.

I'm intending to do the big butterfly count - just 15 minutes. Haven't decided whether to do it from our plot or at the top of the allotments where there is tall grass and lots of butterflies - is that cheating??

I chopped back the chives and thyme which had got a bit huge and planted a Greek Oregano which I bought yesterday at the AONB event. I realise I've erred regarding the fennel - I was thinking that I would just be using the leaves.... not sure I'll get a bit fennel output in a pot... well, I'll have another go next year instead and just use the leaves as a bit of flavouring this year.
We got a nice harvest of broad beans to have for dinner along with the last of the potatoes we pulled last week and some chives to have in the melted butter - yum!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Yay! The jetstream has shifted!

At last the jetstream is where it should have been for the last few weeks so the sun was shining and it was lovely and warm! See http://www.netweather.tv/index.cgi?action=jetstream%3Bsess%3D

We helped out at Hungerford Town Hall in the morning for the AONB 40th anniversary where HAHA had a stand and then we went to the plot for a few hours. AONB gave Marsh Lane the grant for digging the borehole - actually had to use it today to water the celeriac, that's the first time for a while!
We pulled the shallots as the tops had mostly died back - as the weather is meant to stay lovely and dry for the next week it should be perfect for drying the shallots out prior to pickling. We laid them out on the old fireguard we have on the plot - look at that lot!

There were lots of slugs and slug eggs in amongst the shallots. We've left the area open so hopefully the frog and weather will deal with clearing up - I managed to get this photo of a mother feeding her chick, unfortunately they definitely prefer worms to slugs though :-(
Slugs and eggs
I sowed a double row of broad beans on plot 8 where we'd dug some manure into the ground a couple of weeks ago. Jamie fed the tomato plants and mowed the grass which is growing like mad and looks good but isn't really the best type of path because of the work it generates - also there's only so much grass that you want in your compost bin.
And...hooray! Our first courgette is showing - shouldn't be long before I'm getting rid of the glut at work :-)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Good Housekeeping Magazine

About a month ago I was emailed out of the blue by the Assistant Features Editor of Good Housekeeping! What a surprise that was - I'm not a subscriber, though of course I've read the magazine in waiting rooms over the years!
Anyway, she wondered whether she could interview me about our allotment for a feature about happiness - well our plots certainly do make us happy (most of the time!)  :-)

So, yesterday I went to Studio G at Snap UK in Hackney, London for my photo shoot! I'd had to give them my clothes/shoe size so was expecting to be togged in some sort of Laura Ashley dress and wellingtons or possibly dungarees and a straw hat! In fact they wanted a more elegant style...

I tried on 6 or 7 different outfits and then had my hair done and make up applied by people from HMS Creative so I barely recognised myself! Then I went through to the studio for the photos to be taken by Colin Bell. He took a lot of photos with me wearing two of the chosen outfits - really quite embarrassing with about 7 people looking on! My smile was beginning to break and posing doesn't come naturally but apparently they got some shots they were happy with.

So, now it's just a case of waiting for the November issue of Good Housekeeping to come out - can't wait, but I think I'll leave the modelling to other people in future!!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

First full trug of goodies this year

Very pleased to have taken this trugful of food home today - our first broad beans of the year. At last! I can only just remember how tasty they are!!
We pulled two potato plants - 800grams of Belana and just over 1kg of Orla - we're going to bake some of the larger ones tomorrow. All the other salady bits will be perfect for my lunch over the next couple of days. Now this is the bonus of having an allotment that I love :-)
Unfortunately the little turnips were brown inside so they went straight into the compost and one of the radishes didn't make it out of the kitchen as I couldn't resist - phew! - it was a little hot!!
Tiny tomatoes
Our first (very) little tomatoes are showing on the plants and we have beans on our dwarf french - should be ready for next weekend I reckon along with the beetroot which are bulbing up nicely now.

Jamie sowed Peewee 65 petit pois in the root trainer modules last week (7th July) and they're just peeping through the soil now. They're waiting in our net cloche along with the leeks - which still aren't 'pencil width' but are getting quite big... We've just about pulled all the potatoes to make room for them on the potato quarter now, so weather-permitting we'll get them puddled in over the next couple of weeks.
Peas & leeks in waiting

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Slugs, Weeds and a Frog

Jamie found this frog beside our brassica cage! Lovely - I love frogs :-) I popped it in a nearby pond, but hopefully it'll keep visiting our plot - there's certainly plenty for it to eat!
Little froggy!
Slugs have even developed an appetite for potato leaves this year - and look at our poor pepper! That was the one I took the photo of at the end of June :-(
The weeds have had a field day! They aren't very tall but they're everywhere.
Unweeded row (on the right!)
At least you can see where we've been and after taking this pic the other row of celeriac was also cleared. I found this information about celeriac before I bought our plants so surely it should be the perfect year for it!!

"Water it like mad. If you’re flooded, and the fire brigade evacuate you, sneak back during the
night to water your celeriac, even if it is under a foot of water. It will never have too
much water. Then water it again."

The onions are looking good, hopefully the mildew resistance is working as we've seen it elsewhere on site. We watered the spring onions with some epson salts as the leaves are yellowing a bit - they need the extra magnesium. Whereas the shallots are yellowing and dying back so they'll be ready to pull soon and then we need to find somewhere to dry them off prior to pickling..
There is a distinct lack of insect life on the plot, hardly  a butterfly in sight. These are the first black fly we've seen this year - these are being farmed by the ants! Still undecided as to whether the ants are going to help reduce or cause more blackfly to breed. We'll wait and see - slightly ashamed to say that they're not on our beans so not our problem at present :-)
Red Ants and Blackfly
We pulled the sickly potato (it's a kestrel), there were just 3 tiny tubers. It's the only kestrel plant that's in trouble, the others have very healthy haulms.
Sickly Kestrel
Healthy Kestrels
The runner beans have finally reached the top of the canes and there are a few flowers. There were a couple of bees working them today when the rain stayed off for a bit so hopefully we'll get some beans.