Saturday, 2 February 2019

A Whiter Shade of Pale

A mostly grey January has moved on to a white February. We had snowfall literally all day yesterday. That really doesn't happen often in West Berkshire, so it was very exciting. We had more than 16cm of snow by the end of the day.
I didn't want to risk the 25 mile journey to work (lucky I didn't as the roads became the usual mess) so I worked from home, keeping a close eye out the window with much repetition of the phrase "It's still snowing!".
Finally I'd worked enough hours so Jamie and I went for a walk through the Winter Wonderland... the allotment, obviously. Crossing the slippery bridge over the part-frozen canal. All the ducks were hiding somewhere.
Passing by the Corn Exchange with the clock looking a bit special with its covering of snow
and along snow-filled roads to the allotment site.
We had to clear snow so that we could open the allotment gates and when we got to our plot we had to knock lots of snow off our polytunnel and netted cages.
Our plots look tidier with a blanket of snow on them!
Luckily there wasn't much damage but the squashes in the greenhouse are looking less edible than they did last week - I think they've finally succumbed to the cold.
And our poor broad beans ☹️ We knew they'd grown too much over the thus far mild Winter and we thought they'd get frost damage, but this was a bit extreme. At least half of the plants were squashed flat under that heavy weight of snow. There's a slim chance that they may re-grow - we'll see...
Look at all these goldfinches! They were flying around the allotment all the while - shame they didn't turn out for the Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend. And, do you know what a flock of goldfinches is called? A charm! Isn't that pretty? There were probably about 30 birds and one kestrel keeping close watch.
We didn't sit down....(!) but it was nice to trudge through the crunchy snow and release a pheasant that was stuck in someone's brassica cage...
With frozen fingers we walked home past other frozen people and children with very rosy cheeks pulling sledges. Such a lot of fun - if you don't need to travel.
And I wanted to share my photo, from January 31st at 7:30am. That's Venus on the left of the moon and Jupiter on the right - they were so bright (much brighter than this photo shows) in the clear morning sky, quite beautiful.
And the song title - Procol Harum of course, aah sing-a-long everyone :-)

Tuesday, 29 January 2019


Last weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. It was a wet day on Saturday, so we didn't visit the plot but Sunday I was showing a new plotholder around so I got to the site at about 12:30.
It was an extremely windy day, but the sun was shining much of the time. I sat in the doorway of the polytunnel, with my flask of hot coffee and big camera, so that I could zoom in on any birds who decided to show up.
The numbers weren't huge, but this is what I saw:
4 x Robins
2 x Dunnocks
2 x Magpies
1 x Wren
2 x Wood Pigeon
1 x Chaffinch
1 x Great Tit
1 x Fieldfare (very exciting that he turned up!)
This is the Fieldfare - they're the same size as a thrush (in the same family). Unfortunately it stayed amongst the branches which blocked my view rather - but I could see enough for identification purposes (we initially thought it was a Redwing).

The magpies and pigeons weren't unexpected!
And we like to see the dunnocks.
I couldn't get any more photos. I showed our newest plotholder around and once he'd selected his plot I returned home to make carrot and leek soup (added a bit too much chilli powder, cough cough!). Very tasty though.
This photo is mostly to show off my funky new cutlery
I picked more leeks than intended because they look a bit ropey at the root end. I'm not sure whether I put the fork through them or if it's bug damage - but there was plenty left after I chopped that off. The HoneyBoat squash is for dinner this week.
I know I like the Honeyboat but I think the Crown Prince was probably the most tasty squash I've had this year. I had two delicious lunchtime salads with cold roasted squash and Peppadew sweet peppers.
I struggled to find a song for today's post, but opted for this one by Beth Orton (no-one's written a song called Fieldfare, unfortunately!)

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Prince

Two visits to the plot this weekend. It was quite chilly but no horrible wind and today was one of the brighter days that we've so far had this January so we actually sat down, with a coffee in my pretty flask which I got for Christmas (Thanks Cathy!), to plan and listen to the birds.
Showing off my fancy nail varnish
There are too many robins in our hedge; they're all getting very stroppy with each other - you may not be able to see too well in this photo, but I assure you, three is definitely a crowd!
Yesterday we collected the frame for a new cage that we're having on Plot3 this year. Geoff, our outgoing HAHA chairman, is moving away so kindly offered us the cage at a bargain price. We just need to work out how to put it together now :-) It's about 2mx4m and tall enough that we can walk in it - which should mean that we look after our brassicas a bit better.
Our purple sprouting broccoli have been sprouting for several weeks but the effort of getting access to the plants means that we haven't eaten any yet - what a waste! They are so delicious. Yesterday I chopped back the flowering tips so they should produce some more tasty buds for us to actually eat this time.
It was a very wet day yesterday and the ground was so soggy we didn't hang round for long, but the walk back home was quite pleasant, as all the catkins and snowdrops are out and are so pretty.
Today we've planned a few things and I cleared a few bits and put green/brown waste into the compost bins. There's masses to do, but when the sky is blue and the birds are singing their little hearts out sometimes you just have to sit and listen - the ash tree by our plot was alive with song (I think it was goldfinches).
Now we're home and I'm cooking soup - with about a quarter of the Crown Prince squash that's been stored in the greenhouse all Winter.
I'll have to take some excess chunks to work but I am intending to have roast squash for dinner tomorrow. It's flavoured with leek, a little chilli, garlic powder and multi-coloured peppercorns from Tenerife.
I left it cooking long enough so that the squash completely softened, no need to blitz it - I just squashed the squash. I made too much, what a shame, I've had to eat a bowl of it now - yum yum :-) I've just remembered how I had to throw away my last Crown Prince soup - I roasted it that time. This time it really is delicious.
The song is by Madness and obviously is about the squash. I haven't decided if I'm growing big squash again this year...we'll see.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Taste it

Another visit to the plot this afternoon where we didn't achieve anything - it's just too grey to want to stay outside, although it wasn't too cold or wet.

I spoke to Roger, a fellow plotholder, and he's decided to take on another two plots - he and his family are excellent growers and are happy to take on a couple of plots which have horsetail growing on them. Our plot 3 has this stubborn, but interesting, pre-historic weed, but it can be contained with regular digging - we've found.
Field horsetail - young
Not my photo
We have less empty plots than people on the waiting list now (although we're just at renewal month, so that may change). It's great for us to have a waiting list, as we sadly still live with the threat of a short lease hanging over us.

Jamie and I picked a few vegetables for a couple of meals and I'm making soup for lunches. Jamie's going to make one of our favourites: leek and quorn (chicken-style) in a cheese sauce with mashed potato topping. He's also intending to make bubble and squeak (potato and sprout) patties. We were very pleased to see how long the leeks have grown - it seems I must have puddled them in pretty deep as there is a lovely long bit of blanching on them.

My soup is celeriac and leek. Mmmm, I so love the smell of celeriac.

I've used half a stock cube, lots of pepper and some of this seaweed (Kelp) seasoning from Ebb Tides - a Christmas gift from my sister who lives in Devon. Lucky we're just about to have dinner otherwise there may not be much soup left for my lunches next week!

The allotment site had a delivery this weekend - that should be encouragement enough for us to actually do some digging next weekend... hmm, we'll see what the weather is doing at that point...
£1 per wheelbarrow-load to plotholders - what a bargain!
So to the song title...a little bit of INXS - nice. Well I couldn't resist a taste of the soup. The kale has been revitalised, from dry, and has given an extra dimension to the soup - a little bit of chew to each spoonful! Delicious!

Sunday, 6 January 2019

We Started Nothing

Back to work last Wednesday for me. I was glad that it was a short week; it was such a struggle getting up early. The weather finally turned cold with some frost and I thought today was going to be awful, but it was actually quite pleasant on the plot this afternoon - though I didn't stay long.
Altocumulus clouds

I only visited to show a new plotholder around and pick a few carrots. The sun didn't show itself, but as you can see, the clouds were interesting and there were quite a few plotholders busying themselves with clearing and tidying their plots. I found this in the greenhouse - some little mouse or vole showing off to a prospective mate, perhaps? I know they like to pull leaves down to conceal the entrance, but this feather isn't a very good concealer!

Our plots look a mess, but it's nice to see some new growth - our Spring bulbs are pushing through in all the pots.
The garlic is looking happy.
The broad beans are much taller than we intended them to be at this stage - the weather has been so mild that they've just kept on growing in their mesh cage.
One of the rhubarb plants is showing signs of life but the other two are still in hibernation.
Meanwhile the weeds and grass are continuing to grow...

I did a tiny bit of clearing and put some kitchen waste and dried out stems into the compost bins. At least two of the bins have tunnels leading in through the bottom; presumably for rats, though I stirred the contents up a bit and nothing leaped out at me - thank goodness!
I brought the Honeyboat squash home as I may use that later in the week. I thought I'd check whether the black-skinned turnips are still edible - they look good on the outside, but...

No good for eating - so that's a shame. They'll be more rat-food, I mean, compost.
The song title is by The Ting Tings and it's true, but we really must start soon!
Happy New Year and thank you for reading - this is our 10th year on the allotment, so I hope it's a good one!