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.

Lincolnshire Sky

Lincolnshire Sky