Saturday, 13 November 2010


Well, I've been busy with other things lately and these pictures are a few weeks old now, but I'll show you them anyway.

This is some of our squash harvest, picked on the 19th September. Hopefully everyone will recognise the round orange one. The green ones are 'Burgess Buttercup', the yellow curly ones are 'Summer Crookneck' and the heart shaped ones are my favourite - and longwinded - 'Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato' squash. Since that day we've picked another one pumpkin and five Thelma Sanders!

Bit disappointed with the turnout, really - the Thelma Sanders were amazingly productive as always, but we usually get many more pumpkins and I'd hoped for more Burgess Buttercups, but most of them rotted on the vines. And the Butternut squashes are conspicuous by their absence... Good job we harvested when we did, too - we just beat a couple of very early frosts:

We laid our harvest out on the carpet by the back door where they'd get plenty of sun to finish ripening them and 'cure' the skins, and here we learnt a brand new lesson. Don't store squashes on the blossom end. With their blossom-ends to the floor and unable to dry out, both the Burgess Buttercup squashes quickly went mouldy. Doh!

The Summer Crookneck squashes haven't lasted long either - at least, the knobbly ones haven't. The smoother skinned ones are still hanging in there. Must make an effort to finish them soon... Although I'm afraid I find them rather uninspiring. The flesh inside is so thin they hardly seem worth it - I think we will make sure to eat them all at courgette-stage next year. How do you eat yours?

Now, check this baby out:

I have to report that no, we didn't grow this 64lb monster. It was donated to Sainsbury's by another local grower for a competition, and they were going to chuck it out afterwards! Needless to say, we couldn't allow that. So we have planned a 'Pumpkin Party', and we're going to see how many different things we can make from it. More on that in a week or two!

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Well, I have learned to make pickle, chutney and jam this year. I thought I'd top it off by learning to make a good old-fashioned double-crust pie. I bought Angela Boggiano's lovely book "Pie" months ago and have been meaning to try it out, and with leeks finally reaching a decent size on the allotment, her chicken, leek and tarragon pie seemed perfect!

I found a set of individual pie dishes in our local charity shop and used those, instead of making one big pie like the recipe suggests. And of course, I made a few other changes too...

Chicken, Leek and Tarragon Pie
(serves four)
  • Place a 1.5kg chicken in a large saucepan with a chopped onion, a chopped carrot, a tsp or two of tarragon, black pepper and a big pinch of celery salt. Add enough water to cover, bring to the boil, and simmer for 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. (Actually, I had a pack of diced chicken to use up so I put that in instead - and it was much quicker too.)
  • Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool.
  • Continue to simmer the stock, until it is reduced by half.
  • Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil and a knob of butter in a pan, add a small chopped onion and two chopped leeks, and saute gently until soft. At this point I added a big handful of sliced mushrooms too.
  • Turn the heat up high, add 150ml wine and cook until reduced by half. Stir in 2 tbsps flour and mix in very well.
  • Pour in 150ml cream and 150ml of the stock, and a splash of lemon juice. Season to taste.
  • Shred the chicken into small pieces and stir into the sauce mixture along with another tsp of tarragon.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Now line your pie dish(es). I confess I bought my pastry, and chose puff rather than shortcrust as recommended - I love puff pastry! Leave a little overhang round the edge on the bottom crust, and don't forget to cut round your dish for the top piece before you fill it!
  • Fill the pie with the chicken mixture, brush round the top edge with beaten egg and lay the lid in place. Crimp the edges together with your fingers to seal, then trim any excess away and brush the top with more beaten egg to glaze.
  • Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden.

Wow! Not bad for a first-timer, huh? The flavour of this pie was soooo good - the wine and cream and lemon and tarragon really make it something special. And what made the meal even better was that I served a load of other NomeGrown goodies with it too - roast potatoes of course, and I took the NomeGrown onions and carrots from the stock and added garlic, chard and peas for a delicious medley of vegetables on the side.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Tomatoes - a summary

The tomato season has almost drawn to a close here, now blight has killed off all my plants but two, and those left are struggling to ripen fruit in the worsening weather. But having enjoyed the most successful tomato crop ever, and since I never told you the results of my seedsaving experiment, I thought I'd give a quick rundown of the varieties I grew.

From left to right we have 'Hundreds and Thousands' (self-sown), 'Red Cherry', 'Gardener's Delight', 'Angelle' (seeds saved), 'Moneymaker' and 'Sub-Arctic Plenty'.

The 'Hundreds and Thousands' have a slight tendency to be thick-skinned, but are so deliciously sweet, so productive and so easy to grow that I will certainly grow some more next year, if I can get them to self sow again.

The 'Red Cherry' have always been the quickest plants to grow for me, but having finally had a decent sample of the fruit this year, I don't think I'll bother with them again. The skins are very thick and they're not as tasty as some others.

The 'Gardener's Delight' again suffered from thick skins. Maybe it's my soil or something - does anyone else have this problem? They are delicious and have a touch more acid than any other variety I've grown, and so are good for salads or sandwiches where you don't want too much sweetness.

The 'Angelle' (also pictured below) are from the seeds I saved from a supermarket tomato. They have come pretty true to type and are absolutely delicious, not to mention incredibly easy to grow, with few leaves, and the last ones to go down with blight! The crop wasn't huge, but I could easily grow more plants in a small space since the foliage is so sparse. I will certainly be sowing the rest of my saved seeds next year!

'Moneymaker' were very pleasing, with thick flesh and a delicious flavour, and pretty productive, although they were the first to get the dreaded blight and I ended up putting most of the fruit - still green - in chutney. I'd like to give them another try, but if they are susceptible by nature to blight maybe it's not worth it outdoors...

'Sub-Arctic Plenty' were the biggest surprise. The plant always looked rather sickly but the fruits were huge - up to 100g each - and soooo tasty! They did not live up to their '45 days from seed to harvest' claim - far from it - but they're definitely another variety I will grow again next year.

Do you grow tomatoes outdoors? I'd love to hear what varieties work well for you.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Green Tomato Chutney

Remember the huge bowl of green tomatoes we picked when our tomato plants began succumbing to blight a few weeks ago? We are now enjoying them in a lovely green tomato chutney - especially delicious with cheese - the recipe for which I found in Thane Prince's book 'Jams and Chutneys: Preserving the Harvest', and, of course, tweaked a bit.

Green Tomato Chutney
  • Chop 1kg green tomatoes, 375g onions and 250g cooking apples.
  • Place in a large pan with 300ml cider vinegar and simmer for about 30 minutes until soft.
  • Add 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves, and ginger and chilli to taste. The recipe used fresh but I didn't have any, so I guessed at 2 tsps mild chilli powder and 2 tsps dried ginger.
  • Add 1 tsp salt and 250g sugar, simmer very gently until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat and simmer for a further 30-40 minutes until reduced and thick. Mind the bottom doesn't burn!
  • Pour into hot sterilised jars (sterilise jars by washing well then placing them in a cold oven, heating it to 140C, then turning the heat off. Boil the lids/rubber rings in a pan of water for a few minutes), seal and label.
Who'd have thought making chutney would be so easy!?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A Day Without Learning is a Day Wasted

This is how our allotment looks at the moment:

Gah! But don't be fooled; it's not all nettles and fat hen. There's asparagus, cauliflowers, broccoli, calabrese, herbs, leeks, swedes, strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, runner beans, beetroots and all manner of courgettey squashy things in there too. And check out those sunflowers!

This past week we've dug up most of our potatoes. It's not a very impressive harvest - I guess those late frosts did more damage than we thought - but they'll keep us going for a while, and I suspect there are a few more more deep ones to be found when we have time to dig over the patch a second time.

We also brought home our apple harvest; three times what we had last year! Although one as you can see has been munched by a maggot.

And we brought home our garlic too; thirteen small but lovely bulbs. One of them had gone to flower, and what a funny creature! At the top of the flower stem was a bunch of tiny garlic cloves, exactly the same as the ones that form bunched together in the ground! Who knew? I'd never have guessed they grow cloves both at the bottom and at the top of the plant!

Well, you learn something new every day!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

King of the North

A rather grand name for a vegetable, but then my 'King of the North' peppers (seeds from Real Seeds) are indeed performing rather grandly, despite a weak start, and have given us another NomeGrown first.

Small but perfectly formed, and one of perhaps twenty or more on three plants. It smelled lovely - so sweet and fresh - but, like my cucumbers, tasted rather bitter. Not too bitter, but still a shame. I must make sure this doesn't happen next year. Somehow...

I chopped this one up with some mushrooms and tomatoes and turned it into a veggie and cheese omelette for supper. Yum!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Nome makes Chutney

My Nanna used to make the most incredible beetroot chutney. Whenever we went to her house I always hoped it would be on the lunch table, and ever since those days I've tried every beetroot chutney I've seen, looking for one as good. I've always been disappointed. So when I started growing my own vegetables, I promised myself that one day I'd have a go at making my own beetroot chutney, and this year we've finally produced enough beetroots to give it a go!

I found a recipe by Rick Stein (in fact it's been pinned to my noticeboard for a couple of years now) and edited it a little (I don't like raisins!). Unlike my courgette pickle, I decided to bottle it up properly this time so it would keep for a good long time, so I headed out to a specialist kitchen shop to get some jars. There are so many different types, I didn't know where to start! I ended up buying a selection, so I could find out which ones I preferred for next time! In the end, I reused a couple of old jars I found at home as well.

Beetroot Chutney

  • Peel and coarsely shred 900g beetroot, 450g onions and 675g apples. (The original recipe said cooking apples but I used ordinary eating apples.) I used the julienne blade on my mandolin.
  • Place into a heavy-based pan with 2 tbsps ground ginger, 1 tbsp mustard powder, 1 or 2 tsps chilli powder, 900g granulated sugar, 40g salt, 1.2 litres malt vinegar and the juice of a lemon.
  • Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer gently, UNCOVERED, for about two hours, until it's well reduced and quite thick. (I missed the 'uncovered' part at first, and then had to simmer for much longer to reduce it!)
  • Meanwhile, sterilise jars by washing well then placing them in a cold oven, heating it to 140C, then turning the heat off. Boil the lids/rubber rings in a pan of water for a few minutes.
  • Spoon the warm chutney into the warm jars, seal, and label.
Having heard how messy dealing with raw beetroot can be, I carefully made sure I had everything I needed to hand, wore black, rolled up my sleeves and prepared it in the sink. But I really don't know what all the fuss is about! My plastic mandolin came through the experience unstained, as did my worksurfaces, my hands and everything else.

The verdict? Well, I don't know if it's quite as good as Nanna's, but oh it's good. I've been eating loads of it in ham sandwiches. A teeny bit too sweet perhaps, but that probably serves me right for using the wrong kind of apples. I will certainly be making it again next year. In fact, there are still a few beetroots in the ground to use this year too...

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Blasted Blight

Yup, it got us in the end. I've been convincing myself for weeks that the black marks on a few tomato leaves were nothing to worry about, since the rest of the plant looked so healthy.

But today I found this:

And this!

Only one plant has bitten the dust so far, although I'm considering destroying the one next to it, which was in contact with it. It has a few leaf marks but no other signs yet. And I harvested nearly a kilo of green tomatoes from the infected plant, which I'm hoping to use somehow. As you can see, we're getting plenty of ripe tomatoes now from our nine (now eight) plants.

Look at this - isn't it the weirdest looking tomato plant you've seen?

This is the Sub-Arctic Plenty, which has always looked sickly but has lovely large round ripe fruits. It's virtually blue! I've no idea what's wrong with it. I dunno - maybe it's supposed to look like this...?

Friday, 3 September 2010

Bobby Seeds, and a Break in Brighton

Aaaah, we've just returned from a few days in Brighton - a wedding anniversary treat.

We only chose it because it's cheap and easy to get to by train from here, but with a wide choice of bars and cafes right on the beach, and a maze of arty crafty gifty shops to rival Camden market and Glastonbury festival put together, what a perfect place to spend a few days shopping and relaxing! The highlights for me as always (after the exceptional company, of course) were the eating places.

We treated ourselves to far too many full English breakfasts, a three course meal at Jamie's Italian, a huuuuge spread of Spanish tapas, and lobster on the seafront while the sun set. Bliss.

Anyway, now to something more gardening-related.

I've mentioned a few times before how I've searched long and hard for 'Moneta' cucumber seeds these last few years to no avail. Well, on my latest search, after our 'Wautoma' turned out terribly bitter (they got worse and worse as they went along, whatever I did - bleugh!) I found some - and found an interesting new seed supplier at the same time.

Bobby Seeds is based in Germany, and stocks hundreds of rare and unusual varieties, particularly of tomatoes and curcubits. I was so excited I went ahead and ordered my 'Moneta' seeds straight away ready for next year! Prices are in Euros, but checking out via Paypal makes payment very easy, and seeds and postage are pretty cheap. Watch out for some dodgy German-English translations though... I urge all who like to try something different to give it a look!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Supersized Stuffed Courgette

Aah, oversized courgettes. They'll always be inevitable for those of us whose plants are not in our own back gardens. And for those of us who go on holiday. They may be seedy. They may be watery. But they're certainly not useless.

We brought home this whopper last weekend, which weighed in at a massive 3.5kg/7.8lbs! Surely the biggest we've grown yet!

Nope, I couldn't even hold it up in one hand to take the photo - I had to rest it on my knee too.

I stuffed it and it fed the family nearly twice over - not bad! I'll include my recipe here, but it's extremely flexible really. Chuck in whatever you've got!

Stuffed (Giant) Courgette:
serves many
  • Cut the courgette in half lengthwise and scoop the seeds out. Season generously, sprinkle with mild chilli powder and paprika and rub with garlic oil.
  • Place in a 180C oven for 15-20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, fry a chopped onion until soft.
  • Add a chopped yellow courgette, a chopped red pepper, and a big pinch of paprika and chilli, and cook until soft.
  • Add chopped mushrooms, a can of chopped tomatoes and a big splurge of tomato puree. Simmer a few minutes.
  • Add two cans red kidney beans or similar and a pinch of basil. Simmer.
  • Take the courgette halves out of the oven and tip away any liquid that's accumulated in them. Spoon in the vegetable mixture.
  • Whiz two bread crusts and some cheddar in a food processor. Top the courgette halves with the crumbs.
  • Return to the oven and bake for... well, I lost count actually. I think it was about 40 minutes. Until the courgette flesh is soft.
  • Serve with buttery potatoes.
It was yummy, and I think it could have been even yummier with the addition of some chopped sausage too. The courgette skin was a bit tough, but easily discarded. Maybe next time I'll peel them.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Onions and... Garlic!

This is our onion and shallot harvest. Well, most of it - there were a few onions still putting some effort in, which we thought we'd leave in the ground a bit longer. We lost a fair few to white rot, and a lot of them are still quite small, but well, we've had worse.

And the really good news is... we've actually managed to produce some garlic this year too!

All right, they could be bigger, but I think they did quite well considering the forest of weeds that has swamped them for most of the summer. And they smell sooooo gooood. When are you supposed to harvest garlic? I forget. There are plenty more where these came from!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Summer Crookneck Squash

I had nearly given up on our 'Summer Crookneck' squash - one of the plants was producing tons of tiny fruits that rotted at just a couple of inches long, and the other hadn't shown any sign of even thinking about flowering. But somehow ignoring them for a couple of weeks seems to have done the trick.

I'm not sure I can bear to eat it - I think it's beautiful! Good job we've got a dozen more, and still more coming! This has obviously reached 'squash' stage - the skin is thick and hard - but we ate a smaller, more tender one today just like a courgette. And the best thing is, these have become useful just as the regular courgettes have started to dry up. Hurrah!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Beetroots - and an imposter!

Today we harvested beetroots! This is another NomeGrown first - previous attempts have yielded beetroots too small to be worth the hassle of preparing them. Some of these, on the other hand, might even be too big and woody!

Can you spot the odd one out? I'm guessing there was a stray seed in the pack, but heck if I know what it is. The leaves are the same as beetroot leaves (though taller), but with white veins instead of red.

Answers on a postcard please!

UPDATE: A bit of poking around on Google reveals that it's not uncommon for a white root or two to pop up in a line of Boltardy beetroots - which mine are. BUT... they are usually still beetroot shaped. Weird...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Tomato Update

Last night I received my first email alert from the free 'Blightwatch' service, telling me that we were experiencing a 'full Smith period' situation - i.e. the temperature and the humidity in my area was just right for blight over two consecutive days - and out I rushed and sprayed my tomatoes with a 50% milk spray, which is supposed to help protect the plants. This is by far my most successful year for outdoor tomatoes yet - I'd hate to see them take a turn for the worse now. What a great service!

Remember when I saved seeds from my favourite supermarket tomatoes and planted some? Check these out:

They are looking pretty true to type so far - although the proof will be in the tasting... The plant is rather unusual - incredibly sparse and easy to manage!

Two years ago I grew a few 'Hundreds and Thousands' tomato plants which I bought from Suttons, and the following year I found a few had self-sown around the place in various pots. Since I didn't have a very good gardening year last year, I basically ignored the plants... And this year they were popping up everywhere in my garden! The sprawling plant below is one of these 'second generation' volunteers, and just like its grandparents it has literally hundreds of tiny tomatoes ripening, and hundreds more flowers on the way! I will have to make sure more self-seed for next year!

This 'Sub-Arctic' tomato plant has always looked rather sickly and has a lot of yellow leaves, but it is still bearing a couple of dozen good-sized fruits.

So much for 45 days from sowing to harvest though - this was sown way back in March!

We also have two 'Red Cherry' plants, two 'Moneymaker' and two 'Gardener's Delight'. I always go on about how Red Cherry seem to perform best for me (despite ultimate total tomato failure!), and sure enough they have been the first to ripen!

Red Cherry:


Gardener's Delight:

All right, I know; you know what tomatoes look like. But this is very exciting for me!

This is also the first year I've had any real success with chillies and peppers (fingers crossed - haven't actually eaten any yet). Here are my first green 'King of the North' peppers.

And here are my beautiful Jalapeno chillies.

Anyone know why they're turning black in some places?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

New home, new Nome

Sorry the blog has been so quiet lately - what with moving house and settling in and holidays and work and the usual flurry of summertime social engagements, there hasn't been much time spare to spend at the allotment. Hopefully it doesn't matter too much; it's that time of year when most things there are just sort of getting on with it. Must go and pick some runner beans though...

There are plenty of exciting things going on in the pots in the garden however, and I promise a full update tomorrow. After all, I'm going to have a lot more time on my hands from now on...

Moving to my parents' house has given me the opportunity to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I have left my job. Don't get me wrong - it was a perfectly decent job; interesting and varied and something I was good at. But something I have become incredibly bored with, and certainly not something I could see myself still doing in say ten, twenty years time. (And for a company that was making life increasingly miserable, but I won't get into that.)

Of course, we moved here to save up some money, and I won't be saving money if I'm not working. I have been promised a few casual shifts at my old place of work and at another theatre down the road, I have signed up for occasional TV extra work with my wannabe-actress sister, I plan to try to sell some crafty things (things I used to love doing but really haven't had time for since I first got a 'proper job'), and most of all... most of all I hope to set up as a freelance proofreader and editor. I'm one of those annoying people who always spots mistakes in written material, who always corrects things on the office whiteboard, and who everyone comes to when they don't know how to spell something, so I feel I have a pretty good natural talent for it, and I'm taking a home-study course (I would have finished long ago if it wasn't for the extremely poor customer service of the company I'm taking it with) to get me started. If I can be successful working from home, then I can keep pursuing the dream (you know; smallholding, strawbale house, eco-campsite) wherever we end up, and even while I'm spending the other half of my life behaving like a crazy hippie!

A whole fresh start! Suddenly earning money is an adventure instead of a sentence! I am finding it by turns ludicrously exciting and utterly terrifying. But my family are right behind me, I'm raring to go, and I've already made some really good contacts.

Look out world, here I come...

And if anyone ever needs the services of a proofreader, you know where to find me!

Saturday, 7 August 2010


We have been enjoying the first of our cucumbers this week!

I love the smell of fresh cucumber, and Nome-grown smells even sweeter!

Since we don't have a greenhouse, we've always been a bit limited when it comes to cucumbers (and tomatoes). These are 'Wautoma' - an American variety I got from the Real Seed Catalogue - which are very productive even outdoors (we have seven more cukes this size already!). But even though they are advertised as 'bitter-free', I'm finding the skins very tough and bitter and have to cut them off, which is a real shame. I wonder if there's anything I can do to get rid of this bitterness - maybe more feeding?

The first year I grew veg, I grew some free cucumber 'Moneta' seeds that came with a magazine and they were absolutely AMAZING. Huge, juicy, fragrant, delicious and prolific. But I have never been able to find the seeds again since! The search goes on...

Monday, 2 August 2010

Chatsworth Gardens

Please excuse the long silence - I have been enjoying a lovely week away in the Peak District with friends!

I must confess I find the Peaks a little underwhelming when compared to certain other spots in Britain, but I can't complain; it's great to get away, and there's nothing like a good dose of countryside.
The weather was rather grey all week, and as a result my photos are rather grey too, but I will give you a rundown of some of the highlights anyway - the most relevant of which is our visit to Chatsworth House and Gardens.

Visting gardens has never previously been 'my thing', and I wouldn't have gone if the rest of the group hadn't suggested it - they mainly wanted to see the house. Eddie and I bought a gardens-only ticket, however, and there was still plenty to fill the day!

The highlights of the gardens for me were the hundreds of statues and carvings at every turn, such as here in the rose garden...

...and the numerous water features, from this simple but picturesque 'trough waterfall' hidden away in the woods... the cleverly engineered 'willow tree fountain', which at first glance looks like a real tree but is really made entirely of metal pipes... the 'cascade'; a man-made waterfall of sorts, where water flows endlessly down a series of differently-shaped and -sized steps...

...and finally this incredible gravity-fed fountain. No pumps here; just the pressure of a water source far above on the hilltop. The fountain plays here at only about a third of its maximum height! Now that's impressive!

Of course, I did enjoy the planting too. I particularly liked this purple-themed bed (sorry; the colours didn't come out too well in the photos).

And does anyone know what these yellow flowers are? I loved them - they stand 3-5ft high, and are just the right mix of rustic and sculptural.

They were everywhere, and particularly set off the rocky areas. And the bees loved them too!

Of course the real point of interest for us was the kitchen garden, on a rather steeply sloping site right at the top of the estate. Everything looked fantastic, and I kept wanting to reach out and pick things!

Most crops are planted in a sort of wagon wheel pattern, with rows emanating from a single point in the middle of each bed, and different types of crops planted side by side seemingly at random; lettuces next to courgettes next to carrots next to peas next to herbs next to onions next to potatoes next to brassicas next to peppers and so on and on and on!

There are a few more traditional rows too; see beetroots on the left below and parsnips on the right(ish), with all kinds of brassicas caged beyond. And what's that in the middle?

I studied them for a while and I swear, they look exactly like some kind of gigantic dandelions! What on earth are they?!

I was pleased to see plenty of companion flowers about as well; nasturtiums everywhere and whole beds of borage - like here next to the runner beans.

Also on display were the rather grand old greenhouses, full of ripening tomatoes and melons supported in nets.

And more cold frames than you could shake a spade at!

And how's this for an industrial-sized bird scarer? It rotates slowly in the middle of the garden, casting bright reflections in all directions. And to think the rest of us have to make do with CDs on strings...

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