Thursday, 22 December 2011

Just when you thought it was time for a rest

Just when you thought it was time for a rest, a Gardeners' World email pops up and reminds you that there are still jobs you can be getting on with this week. So yes, I now realise that my autumn raspberry canes do, of course, need to be chopped down to ground level. At some point during his Christmas visit my Dad will remind me that yes, the apple trees need pruning (I will have the secateurs ready to put into his hands whenever he does as I am still a bit clueless about pruning).

And apparently it is time to start sowing chilli seeds. Who would have though it?

There is also the pleasure of planning for next year to look forward to, pouring over seed choices whether in catalogues or on-line.

As well as the veg, I do want to pay a little more attention to colour in my garden at home next year.

I had a look through some of the photos I have taken this year which have inspired me. Needless to say, these were not taken in my garden but at Belton House. I have some baby lavender plants on the go, however, which I hope might help me get a bit closer to this ideal next year.

There are also some work/life balance decisions to make which might leave me with less cash to splash on garden purchases, but more time to grow, nurture, watch and enjoy during 2012. Now that sounds like a plan!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Time to hang up the gardening gloves until New Year

Visits to the allotment are becoming rarer and shorter as winter gets into full swing. I made a flying visit on Monday but only managed about half an hour before my fingers turned numb and it started raining, upon which I beat a hasty retreat.
However, the jobs are mainly done. The perpetual spinach has continued to grow so I took a final picking of beautiful, bright green young leaves, before a further drop in temperature turns them to slime. I say "a final picking" but am wondering just how "perpetual" it is. When I dug out the roots of last year's crop in the spring the roots were immense. Would they have re-grown if I had left them? I might just experiment this year and leave them in a bit longer (with a sowing of new plants as back-up).
The spinach leaves I picked are tender enough to use for salad but I only seem to want warm food at the moment. They served us well in a high-speed beef and noodle stir fry on Monday night. It had to be quick: I was at Zumba until half-past seven so Monday night suppers are speedy affairs.
Rick Stein had a lovely series last year which featured lots of dishes from places like Thailand and Malaysia. I watched enough of them to realise that there is a Holy Trinity of flavours (fish sauce, lime juice and sugar) which will lift dishes such as this into something fabulous. Rick Stein raved about palm sugar but I never got around to buying this, and in any case we already have about 10 different kinds of sugars, honey, syrups and so on at any one time. This time I skipped the sugar altogether and opted for a spoonful of Jolly Jon's Soon-to-be-World-Famous Chilli Jam which combines a hit of chilli with the required sweetness. Fantastic and just what was needed on a cold December night.
So, the spinach is picked, we have white and one red cabbage remaining in the ground which can look after themselves, and there is nothing that needs to be done to the sprouts except leave them to be improved by the frosts and then pick them for Christmas. It might just about be time to hang up the gardening gloves until New Year.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Thieving B***ards!

I'm sorry there is no photo to liven things up this time, but I can't take a photo of my wheelbarrow because it has been nicked!
Yes that's right, stolen from the allotment. Can only assume it is one of these scrap metal thefts I keep hearing about.
And lo! The Chancellor's Autumn Statement has today announced that the Government will invest £5 million to set up a nationwide taskforce to target metal thieves and scrap metal dealers who illegally trade in stolen metal. How about that for finger-on-the-button save-the-economy thinking!! Must vote Tory next time (not!)
But in the meantime, once I have calmed down this does open up the opportunity to buy a pretty pink plastic wheelbarrow, don't you think? I have been eyeing these for a while but couldn't really justify it. I mean, who needs two wheelbarrows? Now I am barrow-less (if you are reading, Santa) please can I have one of those?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Freezer Roulette: a Family Tradition

In the rush to get produce picked, prepped, and eaten during the summer a number of dishes found their way into the freezer unlabelled. So on Friday night we found ourselves playing roulette of the "is it a chilli or a bolognese?" variety. Cue all sorts of angst from Him Indoors about how to pick an appropriate wine to go with it.

It turned out to be neither: it was actually a dish I had made with the glut of runner beans and tomatoes, livened up with chunks of chorizo.

Such lax freezer management is a bit of a family trait. My Mum used to make fabulous pies of all varieties when I was little: fruit, meat, sweet, savoury, but rarely labelled. She claimed to be able to identify the filling by some mysterious combination of vents in the pastry lid. One for steak and kidney and two for black currant maybe...but I remember at least one occasion when the system failed and the golden pastry crust split to reveal a meat pie where pudding should have been. Delia Smith would not have been impressed.

It is clearly more sensible to label the contents of the freezer than rely on guesswork, but rarely as entertaining.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

For Daffo-Dylan

Today the girls and I planted daffodils together in the garden.

Our lovely first dog Dylan died last spring when the daffs were in full bloom. Through our sadness we talked lots about all our happy memories of him, and how we wanted to remember him. The girls decided that they wanted to remember him by planting daffodils. They talked about it so much they even started referring to him as Daffo-Dylan.

There had been a number of Welsh connections during his life, so this suggestion seemed fitting. Amongst those connections was a dashing Welsh flag neckerchief that he used to wear when he came with us to the pub, although here he is modelling it on the beach. A Welsh beach, naturally.

If the bulbs survive the attentions of our current dog (whose appetite for things in the garden knows no bounds) then we will have lots of daffs to remind us of Dylan next spring.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

More daylight hours urgently required

My time at the allotment is squeezed into whatever is left after the demands of everything else have been met: children, work, walking the dog, social life (if I had one…).  As the evenings get shorter, daylight hours at the weekend become ever more precious. Last Sunday we all went for a lovely walk to enjoy the autumn colour. Unusually, it was a great success. The dog behaved, the kids didn't whine and responded well to bribes of Halloween Horrors gingerbread biscuits (thank you Sainsbury's!) and the weather was kind to us.

As enjoyable as this was, by the time we had completed the walk, eaten lunch, and sorted out whatever else was on the family "must do" list it was already too dark to think about either the garden or the lottie.

I am extra-conscious of time passing at this time of year. All too quickly the opportunity to do things has passed. I never did to sow or buy any spring cabbages, for example, and now I suspect it really is too late (although I would be pleased to hear from anyone who thinks I may still be in with a chance and knows of somewhere that still has plants available).

Other jobs on the seasonal gardening list include:
     Clean the greenhouse
     Check what seeds I have (and are still in date) to make sure I don't buy any I don't need
     Empty remaining pots
     Plant daffs (oh dear – probably should have done that by now…)
     A good tidy up in the front garden – the last of the purple cabbages are looking distinctly tired now, and the courgette plant should have found its way to the compost heap weeks ago.
     Sow broad beans – or maybe I will leave that till after the worst of the weather this year?
     Transplant new growth to create a second row of raspberry canes.

That lot will easily fill whatever spare time I have until at least the end of November, I should think. How on earth some people manage to be talking about Christmas preparations already is beyond me!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Thoughts slowly turn to winter

I've been reading reports that a serious drop in temperature is likely within the next two weeks or so, so I have started to think about protecting or moving anything which is likely to be damaged by severe cold. Last year, although it had done fabulously well earlier in the year the perpetual spinach turned to slime when the really cold weather started, and potatoes stored in the garage also suffered badly.

So I have already started picking the remaining spinach leaves. Last night I made a huge pan of chicken and spinach saag which just kept growing and growing. Very nice and lots for the freezer. Spinach soup will be coming up next as there is still loads to pick. Regarding potatoes, Him Indoors is less than impressed with my plans to bring the remaining stocks inside. This will require a very radical rethink of our limited under-the-stairs storage cupboard which is already packed to the rafters. It will also mean we need to be 100% sure that we don't bring any unwelcome vermin in from the garage with them. However, I can't think where else to store them.
And a brief update on yesterday's post: hats off to Thompson and Morgan for a prompt response to my emailed complaint. They got off to a bit of a false start by promising to send me a new pack of garlic. Garlic? It was the onions which were rotten, not the garlic. Anyhow that little misunderstanding was quickly cleared up and they have promised me that a new batch of onions will be delivered. Not a refund, admittedly, but it was the onions I wanted in the first place. So as long as they turn up (before the snow does) I'll be happy.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Rotten onions

At long last I managed to spend some time at the allotment yesterday to plant my onions and garlic. But alas, all was not well as a significant proportion of the Electric Onions delivered recently were rotten. Many more were already soft and clearly starting to rot. There were just about enough to plant 1 row on the lottie but the rest went straight into the compost bin.
They were part of an order from Thompson and Morgan. I have never had any problems before with any of the orders I have placed with them. I have asked for a refund. Let's see if I get my money back…


Friday, 28 October 2011

Progress (at last) at secret saffron location!

I had almost given up hope that the saffron crocuses which I planted on the allotment would come to anything, but look what I found this week! After many fruitless inspections I was reluctantly concluding that they must have rotted or been eaten (there were a number of suspicious, rat-sized holes nearby…). I had left this patch of ground pretty much undisturbed as I wasn't really sure what the emerging leaves were going to look like, and suddenly there it was, in all its glory. My first Saffron Crocus.
Sadly I was not there in the pre-dawn darkness, armed with a pair of tweezers to extract the stamen before the sun rose. That, I understand, is the correct harvesting technique for these beauties. But I did very carefully weed around it and I can report that there are a number of others which are about to flower. Now all that remains is to harvest, collect and dry our very own Lincolnshire Saffron.
I will let you know when I have made my first million!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Easton Walled Garden

We had a lovely day at Easton Walled Gardens at the weekend: 12 acres of 'lost' gardens in a beautiful valley in Lincolnshire, between Grantham and Stamford. The gardens have been restored and there are walks, meadows, roses, a kitchen garden supplying the tearoom, and a cottage garden.

Sweet Peas are a particular focus. Whilst it is a bit late in the season now they grow and collect the seed from around 60 varieties. I feel that a return visit in the height of summer to see and smell them at their best will be a must.
This is a place where children are actively encouraged to play, and there is lots for them to do. Half-term activities included a Fairy and Acorns Trail (we didn't do terribly well, but as you can see, we did find one on the Potting Shed door). A particular favourite was Pumpkin Rolling down the steep, terraced slopes into the Lower Garden. This was great fun even for those whose pumpkins split, leading to automatic disqualification.
Details of these activities and lots more are on their website at
Well worth a visit!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Black gold

Things are slowing down at the lottie and there is less to do. It is time to reap the rewards from a year of composting.
On a recent visit the wind was cold and biting, so it wasn't much fun. I was there to turn and hopefully empty the compost from our two bins: one black, plastic, tardis-shaped bin, and one open wooden bin. Nearly all of the contents of the plastic bin was ready, and there was a good 12 inches or so of good compost at the bottom of the open wooden bin too. Digging that lot out and distributing it around the plot felt like a pretty good workout!
We stopped composting in the garden a few years ago as we had a bit of a rat problem, but it is a palaver hauling everying down to the lottie. We could also do with some compost to improve the soil in our garden. I am hoping to try out a tumbling composter at home in the hope that a sealed unit won't attract vermin. I like the idea of wormeries but haven't had one before since I gather that they don't work during the winter. Maybe now I have the greenhouse I could move a wormery in there during the colder months?
Intriguingly, I have also just been reading about a snailery which works along similar principles to a wormery and gets the little blighters working for you rather than against you. Now that would be an alternative to my inescapable chamber of death (the subject of a previous post)! I will have to investigate.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


On my last visit to the lottie I picked what will probably turn out to be the last of the runner beans. Once the weather cooled down they really slowed their production but it felt pretty good to be still gathering them in October.
This is the first time I have grown runners. My neighbour, Catherine, used to share her surplus with us in previous years.  Knowing that she liked them, I was pleased to be able to share some of this year's crop with her in turn.
Sadly, Catherine died suddenly last week after a stroke. It has been very strange not seeing her popping in and out, putting her very elderly neighbour's bin out, fetching her newspaper and so on. Her funeral is next week. I hope to be able to go, and I suspect I will think of her when gathering next year's beans. Insha'Allah.

Friday, 21 October 2011


We have had our first frosts so my youngest daughter is itching to go and pick some sprouts. "Have we got some?" enquired Him Indoors. Clearly he wasn't there when they were planted, weeded and watered all through spring and summer! It did not feel like sprout season last weekend as I really do associate them with winter. I'm not sure I will be able to deflect her much longer though!
It would be a shame not to indulge her on this one: she is genuinely excited about the prospect of the first sprouts for dinner and it makes a nice change from being pestered for sweets and chewing gum. It can be a half-term activity to go and pick some.

 # ends

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Yes, that's me. Gutted. After all that work, there is some pesky animal eating the allotment produce which I have stored in the garage.
I first noticed that one of the apples had been nibbled, and threw it out thinking that I had simply made a mistake in storing one without noticing that the birds had got at it. Then on Friday there was a second apple with a chunk missing. Him Indoors then checked through the sacks of potatoes (I wasn't brave enough, fearing that there might be a rat lurking at the bottom of one of them!) 3 of the varieties are fine but something has been having a good old munch on the Pink Firs.
I always plant on the basis of "one for me; one for the wildlife" and I take it as read that things are vulnerable and will be eaten by all manner of creatures whilst growing at the lottie. However, I had naively thought that once stored in the garage they would be safe as long as they didn't rot.
From now on I will be allowing the dog (a terrier) to roam much more freely in the garage and will even encourage next door's cats in (although not at the same time, obviously) in the interests of pest control. Bloody vermin!

Friday, 7 October 2011

And here comes Caspar

Just when you thought you had enough to do, what with the job, the kids, the garden and the lottie, someone has the bright idea of getting a dog.
Actually, that someone was me. Him Indoors queried whether it really was sensible to have another hound following the death of our wonderful first dog, Dylan. And what I actually said was: "If we have reached the stage where we are too busy to have a dog, then something has to give". Dangerous talk, readers! But come on: it's the old live to work or work to live arguement, isn't it?

Move forward a few weeks and skip over a few heart-breaking trips to local dog rescues, and we found Caspar.

He is a Lakeland Terrier/Jack Russell cross but most of the time he looks more like a sheep. He has driven us nuts at times (especially when he kept doing mammoth wees on the kitchen floor); he has removed every single plant label from the pots in my garden and he has eaten nearly as much of the fruit grown in the garden as I have (see Plum Bonanza for just one example).

He hates the allotment as he has to be tied up down there. So that's another time-saving idea (walk the dog to the allotment and combine the two tasks) which has failed. But he is a great little dog: good fun, lively at times but really mellow with the kids.

Here he is guarding some broad beans, back in early summer. At last, some garden produce which he does not want to eat!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Unseasonal madness

What madness was it that found me and my two daughters in the shoe department of a large local store yesterday morning, buying winter boots?

As all parents know, a promise is a promise. And this one was made last week when it seemed that Autumn had well and truly arrived. Clad in shorts and vests because of the crazy temperatures outside,  the girls paraded up and down trying on a succession of knee-high, fur lined, leather winter boots. Sadly there are no photos so you will just have to trust me readers: they looked like a pair of mini-rock chicks off to Glastonbury.
Despite the sweltering temperatures this week I have been unable to ignore the fact that my garden is looking a bit sorry for itself. As the flowers of summer faded there were some distinct gaps, with only Rosa Sister Elizabeth and some verbena providing any colour.

As beautiful as they are, it wasn't quite enough.
So I took myself off to the garden centre as well as the shoe department, for a seasonal fix. There wasn't a huge choice but I found a few things I am missing from previous gardens.
I spent the afternoon planting Sedum "Autumn Joy", 3 Japanese Anemones "September Charm", and Crocosmia "Babylon" and "Lucifer".
These are planted and things are looking better already. As for the children's boots, I think they will be staying in their boxes until the temperature returns to something more like normal.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Beans Meanz...Anyone who wants them!

The runner bean glut is starting to wear thin. We are enjoying eating them but after an hour and a half of preparation on Monday night I really had seen enough of them. I am no longer cooking them up into tasty dishes for freezing: instead they are going straight into the freezer and I have my fingers crossed that they don't turn into green slime.
I have given lots to friends and neighbours and the girls will be taking a bag each to harvest festival. And still they keep cropping! Any takers?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Costa del...Lincolnshire?

I've always said I'm not a great fan of the east coast but Sunday may well have changed my mind. I neglected both the garden and allotment (again) and went with family and dog to Anderby Creek, on the Lincolnshire Coast.
We had a beautiful day: the beach is a vast expanse of clean, white sand; the sea was warm; the sun shone and was helped along by a lovely southerly breeze. There are dunes to play in and, believe it or not, the UK's only Cloud Bar (click on the link for details, and here for some great photos which are much better than the ones I took on my phone: thanks and all credit due to danielweiresq's photostream). The girls got into their swimsuits and played in the water for a while. Had I taken my swimsuit too I think I may well have joined them. Dangerous talk for late September, I know!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Self-sufficient. For a while at least

We are at that happy time of year when we are briefly self-sufficient in fruit and veg. It feels good and I feel that I made the right choice in keeping the lottie. There have been lots of times when I have struggled to keep up with things but I guess anything worthwhile requires a bit of effort.
Over the course of the year we have enjoyed lots of lovely things to eat. I'm sorry if this seems self-satisfied, but I couldn't resist a tally:

Grown in the garden:
Not just in the little patch shown in the photo here, but also in pots, in the back garden, in the ground and up trees and trellises too...
Apples - from our two traditional Lincolnshire heritage trees
Victoria Plums
Tomatoes - took ages to ripen but finally abundant
Spring onions - still going strong
Salad leaves
Blackcurrants - just a few as I have just one young plant
Red cabbage
Strawberries - those the dog didn't eat!
Sugar-snap peas - grown in pots. A great success.
Herbs: mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and basil.

From the lottie:
Onions - now all plaited and hanging in the garage
Garlic - ditto
Purple sprouting broccoli - just starting
White cabbage
Fine green beans
Broad beans
Runner beans
Almost ripe: pumkins
And coming soon...sprouts.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Hubba Bubba Bonding

I had a fab time with my oldest daughter on Saturday afternoon. Against my better judgement I had allowed her to buy bubble gum with her pocket money for the first time. She has only ever had chewing gum once or twice, never bubble gum, and she was desperate to try it.
But of course she didn't know how to blow bubbles and her efforts were highly entertaining. She nearly spat it out right out on the pavement once or twice in her efforts to form a bubble. It is years and years since I had the stuff or blew a bubble gum bubble and I was no help whatsoever. So I ended up having a piece of cola flavoured bubble gum (yuk) so that I could (a) demonstrate and (b) try to explain how to do it. We both wound up back at home practicing in front of the mirror, barely able to keep a straight face.
All very good natured and great fun. I'm just glad I didn't bump into anyone I know whilst demonstrating my bubble blowing technique. And no, there isn't a photo!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Poor little fella

Alongside the masses of beans, raspberries and spinach on my allotment when I returned from holiday, I made a rather gruesome discovery.
Some poor wee creature had got stuck in the spout of my watering can and had perished there. I always leave the can with the spout pointing downwards having figured that if I leave it upright it will fill with water in heavy rain and something could get stuck inside and drown. It never occured to me that something would scuttle down the spout and get stuck...
Now before anyone starts muttering about this having overtones of dodgy sexual practices, let me just say that I was more than a little upset by his or her demise. And call me a wimp but it wasn't very nice having the shock of finding it.
I know that there are rats and mice all over the place down at the plot (I keep finding little tunnels including one straight out of the bottom of my compost bin). However, we have done some internet research based upon its colourings and its teeth (no, it didn't leave any dental records but its jaws flopped open when I dropped the watering can in shock) and we reckon it was a vole. All a bit sad really. 
I have thought twice about posting this since it isn't very cheerful. However, it does reflect the reality of allotment life, if nothing else.
Look away now if you are easily upset.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Beanz Meanz Mine!

As is probably obvious from the lack of posts, I have been away on holiday. I returned at the weekend to an allotment groaning with produce.
Whilst we were away, kind neighbours watered tomato plants and salad leaves which are growing in my garden at home. I had also introduced them to the lottie and encouraged them to help themselves to anything they fancied whilst I was away, as the raspberries were at their peak, the beans were beginning to crop and the spinach just goes on and on.
They assure me that they took all they wanted but even so I picked and either cooked or froze 2.7 kilos of French beans at the weekend. I also prepared and cooked a similar weight of runner beans. Since everyone tells me that these don’t freeze very well in their natural state I did these in a garlicky and well-reduced tomato sauce.
We ate some of the runner beans in sauce on Monday evening and they were lovely. They have also been delicious simply dressed in a very good extra virgin olive oil with sea salt and freshly-milled black pepper.
Alongside this epic beans marathon was 7 loads (and still counting) of post-holiday washing and finding all the uniforms etc for the kids to return to school on Monday.
All this, needless to say, took ages and I was busy complaining to anyone within earshot that I was feeling exhausted despite having had a lovely 2 week holiday. But this is my crop from my lottie. What am I doing it for, if not to be able to return home overflowing with organically-grown and freshly-picked food to put on the table? In the words of Mrs Doyle from Father Ted: “Maybe I like the agony”.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Blackcurrant sorbet

IN addition to the produce from my own garden and allotment I am also lucky enough to receive soft fruit from my parents' garden in Devon. They grow far more gooseberries and currants than they can use themselves so Mum is always looking for a home for it. Him Indoors has laid down the law a few times to limit the amount I take (I think that had something to do with not being able to close the freezer door on a number of occasions) but I am allowed to accept the occasional donation.
The challenge at present is finding things to do with it which do not involve putting them in cakes and puddings as we have been consuming rather too much of these lately! At the weekend I decided to have a go at making blackcurrant sorbet. Yes, I know sorbet is still a pudding and full of sugar but it is fat-free so that's ok, right?.
Well it turned out to be a bit of a palaver since the currants had to be stewed, then blended in a food processor, then sieved (and we only have a tiddly domestic sieve so that part took ages and required the help of hubby and oldest daughter whilst I got on with the evening meal). In the end I risked the kids' wrath by halting proceedings at that stage, leaving the resulting puree to be frozen into the final sorbet on Monday evening. The girls went to bed bribed with chocolate for pudding and the promise of sorbet for tea on Monday after school, which they duly got and it was gorgeous. I daresay there was even a bit of Vitamin C in it too.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Plum bonanza

We have had a huge crop of delicious Victoria Plums from the tree in our garden this year.
Unfortunately the dog has developed a liking for them and as you can imagine they have played havoc with his digestive system: messy business! We have to do a sweep of the garden to remove windfalls before letting him out - or deal with the consequences.
They are so good fresh that I was reluctant to do anything else with them, and I really did not have time anyway this week. I have been at loss to know what to do with them all and have been virtually begging friends and neighbours to take them off me.
Eventually, having been assured by a couple of people that they freeze well I have started to put them in the freezer. So in the depths of winter I will be able to recapture the flavours and smells of summer by making plum chutney, jam, and crumble.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Weird and wonderful

I had some fabulous shapes in the Pink Fir potatoes I harvested this week. Just look at these: almost worth an "Ooh er missus"!
I chose this variety as we often used to receive them in our organic veg box from Woodlands Farm (in the days before we had the lottie obviously) and they were always great.
I harvested them following the local advice to "Always lift your tates before the end of August or the slugs will get them". I have learned not to ignore such pearls of wisdom.
I am guessing that if I had left them another couple of weeks they might have separated out into individual tubers. Anyone know if this is the case?

A new Spice Trade

Having been kindly given 4 saffron crocus bulbs (yes, the real thing) by my friend and colleague Jon Whowell, I have a little experiment underway at the lottie. They were planted on 8th August and I have my fingers crossed. 
I would never have thought of it myself but now I have the bulbs it has become quite compelling. They are carefully marked and labelled so I don't forget where they are. This would not be a good crop to strim to death. And let's hope they escape the attentions of the Phantom Weeder (see my post of Monday 27th June for more about him or her!)
Of course, I realise that 4 bulbs will not produce much of a crop, but it is a start. Wikipedia tells me that one fresh-picked flower yields an average 30mg (0.03g) of fresh saffron or 7mg (0.007g) of dried saffron. Still, from little acorns, and all that…They will either love the soil at the allotment or hate it. As with all gardening and growing, only time will tell.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Successful gardening with children - for a change. Hurray!

Having previously bemoaned my failure to garden successfully with children I am pleased to report that I have cracked it in the past week – once or twice at least.

I have had a couple of really enjoyable afternoons at the lottie with my oldest daughter, harvesting potatoes and picking raspberries.

Working together along a row of potatoes was great. I have not watered the tates at all during this long drought (reserving any precious water that I take to the lottie for more vulnerable leafier crops such as spinach and newly-planted purple-sprouting broccoli. The tates have had to look after themselves. As such the earth was so dry that we could simply brush it aside with our hands to reveal the crop underneath. This had lots of the factors that are likely to win around a 7 year old – it was tactile and immediate with a sense of unearthing buried treasure: in short, a real wow factor. She squealed with excitement as we unearthed kilo after kilo of whoppers!

Topping this off by picking raspberries and eating them on the hoof also went down well. My autumn raspberries are in their third year now and are doing fantastically well. Again, I haven’t watered them at all but the fruit is wonderful.
Much as I love strawberries, I maintain that nothing beats the flavour of freshly-picked raspberries. Unless of course you take them home and make them straight into raspberry jelly. Now there’s an idea to get the kids excited!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Children and allotments

We started off with the idea that the lottie would be a whole-family activity - in one of those misguided, knit-your-own-sandals sort of moments.
When we were simply clearing the plot it worked quite well. At that stage the girls were so young that they were happy enough just grubbing around in the mud. We made them a make-shift sandpit to play in and installed a cheap barbecue with the idea of spending long hours as a happy family working and playing together. 

It was always a challenge, though. In the absence of clear boundaries the little people seemed to have great difficulty knowing where to walk. They would seemingly be happily engaged in some harmless activity but all too often I would turn around to find them wandering across a neighbour’s plot (and seedlings), not meaning to do any harm but effectively flattening everything in their wake. 
The rose-tinted spectacles didn’t last long, particularly in light of the distinct lack of facilities at our allotments. There is no water supply, which obviously also means no toilets. Not much of a problem for the male allotment-holders, more of a challenge for us women and a distinct problem for little ones. Yes, we could have taken a potty with us but we were trying to move on from all that. We made the mistake of dangling my youngest daughter over the compost bin to have a wee during one early visit. She thought this was great fun and suddenly needed a wee each time she came to the allotment with me. This quickly got tiresome (and tiring as she got bigger and heavier to lift) but at the age of only 3 her cries of “But I really really need a wee” were ignored at my peril!

No water also means no hand-washing facilities. So the idea of happy family lunches wasn’t easily reconciled with Mummy’s hand-washing fixation (not an unreasonable obsession when we were all elbow-deep in freshly-manured soil, I still maintain).
The girls made a fantastic scarecrow with help from the in-laws and this helped maintain their interest for a while. Taking advice from others including my own parents, we also provided them with their own small plot, complete with child-friendly and easy to handle seeds like radish and beetroot plus pretty Love-in-a-Mist. Again, this was initially a great success but they quickly lost interest and it just turned into somewhere else for me to weed.

Over time, of course, the more I wanted to go the allotment, the less the girls wanted to come too. They decided it was boring, and I decided that actually, I prefer going on my own. I now limit their visits to the “big wins” such as the fabulous pumpkin my daughter grew last year (well ok, she sowed the seed and I then did everything else) or the current favourite: raspberries to pick and eat on the hoof.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cathy's Inescapable Chamber of Death

The cabbages in my previous post were a rare example of the successful combination of childcare and gardening. The dreaded cabbage white moth got the better of my regular inspections last week. One of the girls spotted caterpillars and, armed with a jam-jar each, they happily spent half an hour collecting them up. They think they were making a home for the little critters and carefully filled the jars with grass and leaves to eat. I haven't told them yet, but as soon as they went to bed the caterpillars were dispatched to my slug and snail solution (or "Cathy's Inescapable Chamber of Death" as it is labelled. Doesn't my husband have a nice turn of phrase?). Said chamber is a large plastic box filled with a strong solution of salt water. Salty enough to finish unwanted visitors off quickly, and without any inherent threat to other wildlife - unlike slug pellets which I will never, ever use. All topped off with a nice, tight-fitting lid to thwart any potential escapees. Sorted.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Practical as well as beautiful?

As mentioned in a previous post I have been attempting to incorporate veg in my garden at home - particularly those which benefit from more regular watering than is possible down at the plot. I have French Beans climing up a tree, and  my favourite red poppies sharing a large pot with some beautiful purple leaved Brussel Sprout plants kindly given to me by a friend.

There were some early wins and unexpected benefits from this approach. My initial attempts to grow strawberries in large pots in the back garden looked as though they were going to be disastrous when the dog developed a taste for the fruit. However, moving the pots into the front garden got over that problem and meant that the regular patrols by next door's cats kept the birds away. No need for a fruit cage there!

My garden is a reasonable size but not huge, so a regular veg plot was out of the question. It has been much more a case of thinking about what I can squeeze into the existing beds and borders - including the front garden. I hope my neighbours have been won around by my choice of cabbages in the front. I'm hopeless at marking and/or remembering exactly what I have planted but the cabbages in question have a beautiful grey-green leaf tinged with a deep pink. Delicately fringed with a row of spring onions which have done really well, and with two lovely pink roses behind (see the photo below) I think it has looked really pretty. If the neighbours still have doubts I will bring them round with gifts of the surplus cabbages which are now ready to lift.

Summer recipies for cabbage?
So keen was I to experiment with what would grow that I didn’t really stop to consider when they would mature, and what we would do with 12 enormous cabbages in the height of summer. But of course there is a limit to the amount of cabbage you want to eat in July and August. I have come up with a few summery recipies. It was lovely flash fried with olive oil then dressed with lemon juice and mint. And given the colour of this particular cabbage it makes a really pretty pink coleslaw. With two little girls what could be better? However, additional recipes for cabbage in summer would be gratefully received as I have another 10 cabbages to go!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Beautiful beans

Just look at the gorgeous scarlet flowers on these runner beans. Who cares that they were planted late. So what if there are no beans yet. They are beautiful.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Too busy to blog!

I must apologise for the recent lack of posts to this blog. I was off work last week looking after the kids and simply did not have time! Isn't that ironic.
I wanted to have a fun but relaxed week with the girls, aiming for enjoyable but simple things to do that did not involve spending hours in the car. Fish and chips in the park one day was a big hit, and swimming was as popular as ever. Family bike rides and walks with the dog also featured quite heavily. 
I think I did manage to get to the allotment once, but we were just too busy doing things to blog about it. Which I guess is how it should be. However, I am not SuperMum and the kids were, quite frankly, a pain in the neck at times. Is it ok to admit that? By Wednesday they had ground me down to such an extent that I was fantasising about PGL! Did you know they take children from as young as seven? Our seven year old still seems a bit young for this to be a suitable option at the moment but I certainly checked them out on-line and made a note for future years!
I am pleased to report that my karma is slowly returning to normal and Him Indoors is in charge at home this week. I am back at work for a rest.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

My last precious Monday for a while

The school holidays are fast approaching and with them the realisation that I have had my last precious Monday for 6 whole weeks.

Mondays are what makes my world tick. For Mondays are the days I "do not work". Mondays are for bike rides, for putting in the hours at the allotment (without feeling that I am neglecting my family) and for baking bread. They are my time, the days I Get Things Done. 
On Mondays I remember how very, very lucky I am. Lucky to live in the lovely Lincolnshire countryside and to have the time and health to enjoy it. Lucky to have an allotment and to have a family to grow and cook food for. Lucky to have direct access to a network of almost traffic-free lanes through which to cycle. And lucky to be able to choose not to work full-time (though 30 hours a week feels like plenty, thanks very much).

Mondays are for: writing my blog and walking the dog; and reading the Sunday newspaper which I often do not manage to pick up until then. They are for uploading photos and catching up with friends. They are for occasionally getting into town for a spot of nice shopping (not food shopping!). And always, always counting my blessings.

I hope this does not sound smug. It isn't intended to and in fact Mondays are also days when I work bloody hard. Bringing things back down to earth, it is not unusual for me to get three loads of washing done on a Monday in-between everything else, and I am frequently hobbling around in need of a massage or some physio after over-doing the digging at the lottie. So it isn't all sunshine and roses, but my Mondays are always special.

Whilst I will be taking some holiday from work during the summer that will be family time. I am planning some lovely things to do and will also make sure the girls get some pure and simple chill-out time. But there is unlikely to be any such luxury for me since as we all know, keeping children happy becomes a fulltime job in itself.

I will be fine, of course. And we will all have lots of fun. But I know how very much I will miss my Mondays and how much I will be looking forward to September 5th.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Charting the passage of time at Belton House

I love the National Trust's wonderful Belton House. We are lucky to live close enough to visit many times a year, and visit we do. We have never been to any of the big events which are hosted there, even though they must feature amongst the highlights of Lincolnshire's events.
We've also never bothered all that much with the actual house - as stunning as it is -  except on the odd occasion when we have been caught out in wet weather. If anything, there never seems to be time left once we have done all the other essentials of each visit - for me the gardens, for the kids the adventure playground, and a picnic. And don't forget the shop (especially now they have the garden and plant centre) and a walk around the lake if anyone has any energy left.

No - for us Belton House is simply a fantastic Day Out.

There are some aspects which the girls love but which I don't tend to let them do every time. This includes the miniature train ride and an ice-cream stop. Don't I sound like a mean old misery! It's just that we seem to cram enough calories and expenditure into each visit without doing these aswell.

They also love the Discovery Centre, which I must admit makes my heart sink (although that is entirely a result of my limitations and not the fault of the Discovery Centre which most children really seem to enjoy). I have come to accept that there are aspects of parenting and creativity which I enjoy and do well (such as cooking with my children and feeding them well, nurturing their love of reading with visits to the library and story-telling sessions) and there are others at which I am completely useless. Top of the latter list is Art & Craft. I am officially Not Interested and would much rather leave that to someone else so we can spend our precious time together doing things which we all enjoy.

If I get the chance I love to have a potter around the gardens on my own. The lavender inspires me every time. We were there under a rather heavy, grey sky on our most recent visit but it still looked beautiful.

This summer the adventure playground makes me all too aware of how quickly the girls are growing up. When I first started taking them there they were 2 and 3 years old and they needed lots of help with things. The big slides were a particularly scary adventure needing Mum's helping hand to steady them. This gave me an excuse to go on aswell, of course. I used to have great fun (and a bit of a work out too as I helped them over and under things)! Now, at 6 and 7 there is nothing that they need any assistance with and I am starting to feel a bit redundant. I suppose this is a taste of things to come: useful preparation for their increasing sense of independance. I just didn't expect it to start this soon.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

To pea or not to pea? I know it's corny but that is the question...

When I took on my allotment I was very clear that I would only be growing the vegetables which I enjoy eating. Top of that list (as it has been since my childhood) is the humble pea. Nothing, I thought, would persuade me otherwise.

The Old Guard at the lottie - the older men who have been gardening for years - grunted non-commitally at this or raised their eyebrows whilst muttering about the many and varied challenges of pea-husbandry. One fellow grower Jeff (who has since proved himself to be a useful advisor on many aspects of veg growing) went further, citing the need to feed them, keep them well watered, net them to keep the birds off, and pick regularly to prevent running to seed, concluding: "Seems alot of bother to me, just to put a few peas on your plate".

Not to be detered I ploughed on, not yet realising the value of Jeff's words of wisdom! In that first season peas were amongst the first seeds I bought, and they were allocated the first ground to be cleared. They were sowed and germinated. And then they disappeared. So I re-sowed and they germinated and eventually some plants got going. But boy did they struggle! I think in the end I only actually managed to pick about half-a-dozen pods and I have never bothered since.

This year, though, like many other growers before me I have decided that mange-tout or sugar-snap peas are the next best thing. (Thanks, Mum, for the tip!) I am growing them in pots in the garden. They are hooked up to an automatic watering system (no such luxuries available at the lottie...) so are getting regular, even, measured irrigation and they are loving it.
As ever, I have made mistakes - principally not giving them tall enough canes to support them. So the plants have had an almightly collapse which Him Indoors is non-too-impressed with (he does like a tidy garden - it is surprising that we get on at all!). But they have provided a plentiful supply of lovely, sweet, crisp pods as well as pea-shoots which taste even more like fresh peas than the real thing. We have enjoyed the pods raw in salads or just on their own as a snack, as well as in stir-fries and noodle dishes.

The kids think they are great and are almost as happy with a handful of these as they are with crisps and sweets. In their next menu appearance the pods will be a base for a fragrant South Indian style coconut curry flavoured with ginger, cardomom, cumin and corriander - perhaps a large enough batch to save some for the freezer. Imagine what a treat it would be to eat the flavours of high summer in the depths of winter. Sounds good to me!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Ride'em Cowboy! But what will the neighbours think?

We are lucky enough to have lovely neighbours, but I suspect they may have started to wonder about my sanity. Last night I could be seen hanging from an upstairs bathroom window waving a strange blue lasso around much in the manner of a wannabe cowboy, all in the interest of watering.
Before you ask, I too was unsure about the spelling of "lasso". "Lassoo" or even "lassoe" seems much more likely. Such were my doubts that I have consulted not one but two dictionaries, and "lasso" it is.
The lasso in question is a 15m length of hosepipe connected to a clever little handpump which I use to extract the contents of my daughters' bath (once they have finished with it, naturally), which in turn is used to water the garden. They think we avoid soap and bubble bath as it triggers eczema, and whilst that is true it also helps avoid soapy-tasting vegetables!
The hand-pump is a simple low-tech device with nothing that can possibly go wrong. I bought it last year but it has really come into its own this spring and summer. My original technique was to haul it up to the bathroom window on the end of a long piece of twine but it was forever getting stuck or wrapped around things on the ascent. So now I keep the whole lot upstairs and sling it out (pausing to check first that I am not about to knock out any passers-by). Being a person of relatively small stature this entails balancing on some pipework behind the loo in order to get my head and shoulders out of the window so that I can check my aim and get a good swing.
So if you are reading, dear neighbours: I'm not trying to throw myself out and no, I haven't lost the plot. I'm just trying to water it.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

No parenting awards today

Well I won’t be winning any parenting awards from the youngest today: today is her school trip and unfortunately she was the only child who arrived in school uniform. Do you think I can get away with: “Well why didn’t you read the note? It isn’t my school trip...”
I had the car all loaded up with strawberry plants and water, ready for a morning at the lottie after dropping the little people off when my plans were delayed by unscheduled requirements to (a) wash the dog after he rolled in something disgusting during our walk this morning; and (b) hang around whilst a new washing machine was installed. Keith, the guy who came to do it, turned out to be a real star who did exactly what he said he would do, when he said he would do it. So it has been a morning well spent after all.  
As I couldn’t get to the lottie I did some garden jobs instead. I’m experimenting with how I can use the vertical space in the garden more effectively, to incorporate more edible produce. Window boxes and things on walls require a bit too much DIY for us (not our strong point!). I am already attempting to grow climbing beans up a tree trunk (well you can do it with a clematis so why not?) and runner beans on a trellis vacated by a beautiful but unidentified white flowering climbing plant which did not survive the winter. The beans may actually be the other way around but the dog pinched all of the labels out of the pots: we will find out which is which eventually...
Spurred on by the fabulous “5-a-day” garden seen in the TV coverage of last week’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, and Monty Don planting a pumpkin at the base of a wigwam of very strong canes, I squeezed one of my own pumpkins in at the base of another trellis alongside some purple sprouting broccoli. Can’t wait to see if it works or not!
With the intention of going to the allotment after lunch I left the plants in the car with all of the doors and boot open throughout all this. Am tempted to tell the neighbours I have decided to take it off the road and use it as a second greenhouse. They are already looking a bit worried about my decision to grow cabbages in the front garden so they may well believe it!

I also baked some bread, having found a new use for greenhouse: it is a fantastic place for proving bread dough and quicker than taking the dough upstairs to the airing cupboard. I may have failed to get my kids to school correctly dressed but they will have homemade bread for tea.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Where did the weekend go?

It is Sunday evening and fair to say that the lottie has been a little neglected this weekend. I went down briefly to pick beans for lunch on Saturday but that's about it. Yesterday passed in a blur of children's swimming lessons, birthday parties, doing the garden at home and chores.
Today has been family time. We decided to go strawberry picking which was just great. Apologies are probably due to the good people of Syston Farm as I suspect we ate our body weight in strawberries and raspberries whilst we were there. The picking was fabulous, particularly the strawbs which were so plentiful you barely needed to move from wherever you started picking. We were simply surrounded by masses and masses of perfectly ripe fruit. It won't last long so I think we timed it just right: a lucky guess.
We ate some for dessert after a rather late lunch, accompanied by hazlenut meringue (or "remangs" as the girls called them when they were little). There will be more for breakfast: what a treat. I will pop a few into my youngest daughter's packed lunch as a surprise on her school trip tomorrow. And I suspect there may be jam-making required with whatever remains.
After lunch the children disappeared out to play, which normally ends up in World War 3 or an injury. This time they wound up "helping" our next door neighbour with his pruning. My ears were pinned back for the sounds of the inevitable squabbling which would indicate that it was time to go and rescue the poor guy, but strangely all was quiet. No fighting, no whining, no squeeling or screaming or tearing around like a pair of banshees. After a while I decided I ought to pop round to check everyone was still actually alive, and found them totally absorbed in the task at hand armed with a pair of secateurs each! As they are only 6 and 7 there is no way on this earth I would ever have trusted them with secateurs but they were working hard, concentrating and being careful. And (note to self) they were really enjoying being trusted.
Observing the success of this approach and resolving to let them do more I announced later on that it was DIY sandwiches for supper and even let them have a go slicing the loaf with the breadknife! I won't be doing that again in a hurry as it nearly ended up turning into an episode of "Casualty", but the rest of the experiment worked well enough.
As for the lottie, it won't have suffered too much from my neglect as it has poured with rain this afternoon, and I have all day tomorrow free to tend it. Tasks for Monday include moving my own strawberry plants which have finished fruiting from the large pots in which they have been growing and which I need for other things. The original plan had been to plant the strawberries either side of my garden path but that had to be abandonned when we discovered that the new dog is more than a little partial to them. So they will be moving down to the plot until I decide what to do with them.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Broad Bean Season

Broad bean season is well and truly upon us at last.
I did wonder if would ever happen this year. My autumn sowings started beautifully and helped me through the melancholy time – that sense of the year ending and time passing with which I always struggle. Sadly, though, they did not survive being buried under a blanket of snow which felt as though it lasted pretty much from the end of November to mid-January. When it finally thawed my brave beans were nowhere to be seen. Exactly the same had happened the previous year so my faith in autumn sowings is a little shaken.
I have heard tell that you should sow beans on Boxing Day. The theory is that they get the benefit of an early start but haven’t actually broken through the surface of the soil until winter is pretty much over, and are, therefore, protected from the worst of the weather. An interesting idea: I may experiment this year.
So I had to start again with spring sowings which this year coincided with one of the driest springs on record. They did fine at first but I was a little slow to realise just how dry conditions were. By the time I did start watering regularly at the lottie my beans were really struggling. The plants are much shorter than they normally are and, whilst they are cropping I am not picking anywhere near as many as in previous years.

But the bottom line is, they are cropping and this is one of my favourite times of year. One of the unwritten laws in my head dictates that they should only be picked and prepared on a warm, lazy afternoon or evening (the sort of day when even the dog has collapsed in a heap). The podding process is  preferably accompanied by a glass of something chilled. On this occasion I spent a lovely half hour spend podding them with the help of my two little girls: a calm and peaceful activity which I can remember doing with my mother in my own childhood.

Broad beans form the basis of many a simple supper, teaming fantastically well with garlic and mint which are both also at their best around now.
And somehow they just seem to say: “summer’s here”.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

That's Amore!

Oh the joy of getting to Friday and realising someone else is cooking tonight! Such was my lot on Friday, 24th June at That's Amore Italian Family Kitchen's first "Guestorestro Evening". Hosted by Karen and Marco Migliore in their own home, I hope it will be the first of many.
Much as I love cooking there are occasions when the week has been long, the inspiration has been lacking, and the cupboard looks a bit too bare for comfort. This was just such an occasion so it was a great relief when I remembered about our dinner date. I had booked with no small amount of curiousity: wouldn’t it feel a bit strange being a paid guest in someone’s home? And what if the other guests were, well, a bit odd?
I need not have worried. Karen and Marco were welcoming and relaxed, greeting the six guests with a glass of chilled prosecco with fresh strawberries. The four-course menu was delicious: anti-pasti, bruschetta with tomatoes and capers picked by Marco’s family in Sicily, a wonderful pork dish with more than a hint of fennel accompanied by artichokes and broad beans (apologies to Karen and Marco: I cannot remember what it was called), and to finish a choice of coffee or lemon flavour granita with a slosh of the same flavour liqueur.

The food was fabulous, the company good fun and the evening was a sociable, enjoyable change from the norm. I have to confess that Karen (one half of That’s Amore) is a friend of mine so I may be a teensy bit biased, but I am already looking forward to the next one!

Lincolnshire Sky

Lincolnshire Sky