Sunday, 30 May 2010

First Strawberry!

We shared the first sweet and delicious strawberry today! All by itself, as no others are starting to ripen yet!

Nom nom nom.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Two Gruesome Discoveries

While digging a particularly overgrown part of the pumpkin patch during the week, Eddie found another wasp nest, this time complete with wriggling squirming larvae inside!

Eeeew, they made my skin crawl!

And I came across this lying casually in the middle of the raspberry patch:

It is furry and it has claws. It's four or five centimetres long. No blood to be seen. A rabbit foot perhaps? I am sure there are no rabbits on our site - we'd know by the widespread destruction, surely! Did someone just drop their lucky charm? Right in the middle of our raspberry patch?? The mind boggles...

Also thought I'd quickly point you in the direction of this BBC news article (NOT a gruesome discovery!), which reports on how Brits are growing more and more veg over flowers. In 2005, seed sales were around 60% flowers and 40% vegetables, while in 2009 sales were a massive 70% vegetables and just 30% flowers! Good stuff!

Friday, 28 May 2010


Another big task this week has been to build a cage over the strawberries to protect the fruit from birds, since my first strawberry is ripening rapidly!

I must also buy some straw very soon for mulch. I invested in these plastic mulch mats which were cheap in Wilkinsons, but they curl up in the rain, blow away in the wind, and do a sterling job of collecting as much soil as possible under and around the strawberries, when they should be keeping the fruits OFF the soil! They will be going in the bin.

Anyway, back to the cage.

We wanted to make it a kind of self-contained single unit, that we could just tilt up and lean on the compost bins or next-plot's fruit cage when we wanted to get at the strawberries instead of messing about pegging netting to the ground, which always involves battling with weeds, losing pegs, tearing the net and so on.

So I bought these 'build-a-balls', which looked simple and effective enough and are highly reviewed pretty much everywhere...

But am I the only person that thinks they're rubbish?

If you're going to invest £40+ in the made-to-measure aluminium tubes to construct your cage, I'm sure they work just fine, but don't go naively thinking you can just use any old garden canes to build with these, like the picture and the catalogues and the websites all SAY you can. I've got a lot of canes on my plot. A LOT. And could I find eight whose ends - both ends - fitted in the build-a-ball holes? No siree.

We got our cage built in the end, after much trial and error, sawing and carving of ends, and cursing, but it's not as sturdy as it should be and several of the joints keep popping apart and will need some kind of additional fixing. No More Nails in each hole, perhaps. Or electrical tape. Aaah, the things you can do with electrical tape. Next time I will save the cash and just join the canes with electrical tape instead.

And don't even get me started on how much fun it was to tie the bird netting onto the bottom canes with string all the way round...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


As promised, here's a rundown of some of the things we've been up to on the plot over the last seven days!

The main task has been to clear and dig the pumpkin patch - which is actually three of our square beds. These grew completely wild last year and were covered in nettles, creeping buttercups and teasels, and the year before that they suffered from tomato blight (the far square) and onion white rot (the near square) and had diseased plant matter left on them. (Careless I know. Must do better...) Because of this, we didn't want to put any of the weeds and soil from here into the compost, so we think we've solved the problem by clearing and digging two of the squares and piling all the organic matter onto the farthest bed, hotbed style.

I think I'll cover it in black plastic too, to try to stop anything in there growing, and I'll plant some of the pumpkins and squashes through the plastic into pockets of fresh compost. Hopefully the hungry squashes will enjoy the extra nourishment, and by the end of the year everything will have composted nicely and the disease will be pretty much dealt with by the lovely composting microbes. What do you reckon?

Everything's been enjoying the sun; myself included. The comfrey is bursting into flower, which the bees are loving.

And the broad beans are flowering too, even though they're less than a foot high! What's that all about? Can plants this small really bear that many beans??

The salad greens are coming on really well, and are due some thinning.

The near bed contains spinach and little gem lettuce. The far one has, from left to right, some rather pathetic red spring onions, three little rows of head lettuces and lollo rossa, some patchy beetroot, some very enthusiastic and very crowded radishes, and lots of green spring onions.

But the warm weather has brought these little blighters out too:

Since I started growing petunias under my asparagus, I've hardly seen any asparagus beetles, and certainly never had any eggs laid on my crop. This year there are quite a few about, and quite a lot of eggs too, so I squished as many eggs as I could, quickly weeded the bed again and planted out this year's petunias.

They usually hate being planted out, but these ones are settling in very well and are untouched by slugs too, which is a first! And do you see the row of sunflowers at the back of the bed? They are rather frostbitten, poor things, but I think they will pull through.

While I was weeding the asparagus bed I found a lot of these:

Has the asparagus self-sown? Or is this some weed I haven't seen before? They were all over the strawberry bed six foot away as well!

I've also planted out my runner beans. Well, all five of them. Only five out of 25+ seeds germinated - the rest rotted in the pots! So I have direct-sown some more.

I bought these obelisks a couple of years back to try to train cucumbers and trailing squashes up. It didn't really work, but I couldn't just get rid of them so now I'm using them for beans. On the top and left of this picture you can just about see my courgettes and crookneck squash as well, thriving in their new outdoor homes.

These perennial sweet peas are planted out right next to the compost bin to grow up and over it throughout the summer. I will pin some strings or mesh to the front of the bin to help them, and hopefully they'll die down in time for messing about with compost over the autumn and winter, then come back up next year. Well, that's the idea anyway. I'm not very familiar with sweet peas so I'm looking forward to seeing how they grow. And if it doesn't work there will be plenty of self-sown nasturtiums around, as always, to step in.

Have you seen this moth?

Having taken a pretty keen interest in wildlife as a kid, I'm always surprised to see an insect I've never come across before. Does anyone know what this rather lovely moth is, enjoying the view from the top of my mint?

Of course, I know you'll probably tell me it's the blighter that destroys my peas in their pods or produces those wormy green grubs I keep finding in my soil, but it's good to know the enemy too...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Back online!

Remember what it was like before we had the internet? How we used to sit down at a set time to watch the news and weather? When we had to walk into town to check our bank accounts? When we referred to heavy dictionaries and encylopedias or went to the library to find things out? When mail order meant filling in a paper form, writing a cheque and buying a stamp? It's insane how much we rely on it now! Writing blogs, reading blogs, buying things, online banking, checking weather and news reports, checking emails, doing business, buying more things, sending things back, and looking up information of all kinds. How do I get a tick off the cat? Why are my shallot leaves turning yellow? (Really - why?) Who's that bloke in that film? How do I prepare monkfish? Where are the seeds in a pineapple? If it doesn't have seeds it isn't a fruit so what is it? You know the sort of thing.

We've had no internet connection - and not a lot of TV signal - since my last post nearly a week ago and BOY, life has been strange. (I'm not really sure why it's back right now in fact, since the engineer is supposed to be coming to fix it tomorrow...)

Doesn't mean we haven't been busy on the plot though, despite scorching temperatures (can you believe those nasty frosts were less than two weeks ago??) - and even though we probably spent as long standing in the shade of the nearest tree sipping cider as we did working. Lots has gone on and I promise I'll post a proper update Thursday night if not tomorrow. Expect a long one!

And look up the pineapple thing. I thought it was pretty interesting.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


I have taken the plunge. The courgettes - two Black Beauty and two Summer Crookneck Squash - are now planted out on the plot.

The other squashes will follow just as soon as we can get the last bed dug. They are covered in buds and raring to go!

Yesterday I also weeded the swedes, and constructed this rather nifty cage to keep the pigeons off. Sadly it won't keep the flea beetles off, and the poor things are looking rather nibbled.

We got the raspberries weeded too, with a little help from a friend. Nice to see they're putting on some good growth. Today I'm going to plant out the rest of the sunflowers between them, I think. I'll put some nasturtiums here too, as ground cover.

The pond is still looking a nasty shade of green, although the new plants are settling in nicely and the water violet is spreading already.

Next thing to try is reducing the amount of sunlight the pond gets - that should reduce the algae. When the herb plants around the pond get bigger they will cast their shadows on the water, but for now the whole thing is rather exposed. And the frogs prefer the shade too:

So for now I have erected this rather unattractive sunshade out of a sheet of black plastic, which will shade a large portion of the pond for a large portion of the day. I don't really know if it will be enough - I've heard of people covering their whole pond with a sheet to get rid of algae - but I don't want to shade the plants too much.

And finally, I see our mysterious digger has dug another mysterious hole.

There are three like this in the strawberry bed, right where it was dug last year when there were beans here! I can't imagine what he's digging for, nor why he always digs in the same places.

A little TLC for the strawberry bed is my next task, I think. It needs a good weeding before mulching with straw and netting it for the fruiting season...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Everlasting Cauliflowers!

I know I said I'd had the last of the mail-order plants for this year...

I know I said I wasn't going to grow brassicas this year as they're too much hassle...

I know I said I wouldn't even think about growing cauliflowers until I'd had some success with broccoli...

I know there's no space for anything else on the plot...

But Victoriana Nursery went and sent me a catalogue with my herb order, and I went and read it, and look what arrived in the post this morning:

I am unspeakably excited!

Has anyone else grown these before?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Poor Pond

The pond has been looking pretty unhealthy lately, and nothing seems to be perking it up. Not sunshine, not rain, not tadpoles. I had a feel about in the water and found NO oxygenating weed at all! So off I rushed to the nearest pond centre and bought a big bunch of Elodea and a couple of new marginal plants to replace the water mint I pulled out in the winter. Well, I say replace, but actually the mint seems to have taken up residence in the rootball of the sweet flag and the iris, so I guess now there's no getting rid of it. However, the shuffle has left the pond looking pretty empty, so this water violet (another oxygenator) and water forget-me-not should fill the gap nicely.

It's been a few days now and the water still looks a lurid green colour. Maybe it needs a bit more time...

I'm pleased to say I emailed Mr Fothergill's about the mistake with my leek seedlings order, and they called me within 24 hours to offer to send the correct ones. They should be here within a few days. So I suppose I will let them off this time!

I stupidly let a seedtray of purslane dry out and die over the weekend, and have had to start it again. That's what happens when I put plants on windowsills of rooms I don't use often! Doh! Other seedlings in the house and garden are doing pretty well. The pumpkins and courgettes are dying to get out of their pots, and I think I may indulge them this week; we have several very mild nights forecast and the weather seems to be on the up at last.

The rain kept us off the plot over the weekend, but we're hoping to make some serious progress tomorrow in getting the last patch dug and some more weeding done. There's some kind of greenfly-plague going on around here at the moment - they've been drifting through town in massive swarms for the past few days - so I will go to the plot armed with soap spray I think!

Thursday, 13 May 2010


The green bits you see in the photo below are weeds. The dead-looking frostbitten brown bits - they're our potatoes.

This has never happened before, and I've never taken any precautions before. Just goes to show, I think, how early our last frost truly must be. Usually. The damage is not too bad - we've earthed up again to cover the tops and I'm hoping the plants will recover. If there's anything else I can do to help them, someone please let me know!

I read somewhere that frost could be a risk to our strawberry flowers too, but thankfully they seem unharmed. However, the asparagus is another story. We had planned an asparagus dinner for tonight, but all the spears are mushy and bad. This has never happened before either, and I've NEVER read that asparagus needed frost protection!

Frost trouble aside, we had quite a productive day of sowing and planting today. I have finally decided to invest in materials for a brassica cage. The flea beetles, pigeons and butterflies round here are enough to put anyone off, but hopefully with a little expense on some decent protection, we may have our first broccoli this year! Hurrah!

So I got busy sowing:
5 x White Sprouting Broccoli
5 x Purple Sprouting Broccoli 'Rudolph'
10 x Broccoli 'Ironman F1' - a summer/autumn variety
and some more marigolds

I have some spring cabbage I must remember to sow in July too. Cauliflower and brussels sprouts can wait until I've got my confidence back!

The last of my mail-order plants for the year came today as well. Winter Savory (right) and Chamomile (left) for the herb garden, as well as a couple of others I will go into detail about some other time...

They are now planted out happily in the herb garden.

And here are my leeks, fresh from Mr Fothergill's since I didn't sow any in time:

It was supposed to be 30 Carlton F1 - a summer/autumn variety - and 30 Sultan F1 - a hardy winter-standing variety - but instead they sent me 60 Carlton. I have been messed around by plant mail-order companies more times than I can count now - I keep saying I'm going to stop using them but I never do...

I planted them out anyway - well, most of them - and they will have to do their best. They're in four rows of 13, about 6 inches apart. To plant leeks you dib a 6" deep hole (I use the handle of my hoe) and just drop the seedling in and water it. You don't fill the holes in - just leave them to get filled up with leek! That way the stems stay white in the darkness underground, and they don't get too clogged up with dirt between the leaves. It always feels like a lazy way to plant - I love it!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The weeding begins...

The hail and freezing rain showers have eased off again, and we've managed to get some good weeding done over the last couple of days. Yesterday I weeded and earthed-up the potatoes (a tricky task in such small beds), and Eddie made a good start on the onions and carrots.

That onion/carrot/parsnip bed is a nightmare - there are loads of potatoes popping up! And there was me thinking last year's potato harvest was a disaster - looks like we just couldn't find them! But it's good to see, under all the weeds, that the carrot seedlings and the parsnip seedlings are coming up nicely.

Today I dug over another of the flower-beds too. This is where we planted the volunteer hazelnut tree last month, which is doing well, and I have planted some borage seedlings here too. I think I will seed the rest with poached-egg plant and marigolds, and plant out another bee-balm.

Gosh; look how weedy the raspberries are already, on the right! Must turn my attention there soon... I am painfully aware that this is just the very beginning of the weeding season...

The 'red spur' apple tree is in full blossom now, and it's gorgeous:

Makes me wonder if there's something wrong with this one; 'gold spur':

Remember my wasp trouble last week? I have removed a new wasp nest almost every day since - she just wouldn't give up. But today I finally caught and killed the wasp. I felt pretty bad about it, actually, but sometimes it's us or them, right?

Anyway, it allowed me to finish giving the bench a clear-out and tidy. We have no shed so this is where we keep everything. Trouble is, 'ventilated' also means 'damp' and 'lets all the bugs in', so we recently bought a couple of plastic boxes to make our lives easier. A big one for the trowels, other hand tools, gloves, string and other gardening essentials; and a small one for tissues, sun cream, wet wipes and plasters. No more will spiders nest in my tissue box! No more will ants infest my favourite gloves!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Rained off. Potted on.

Activity on the allotment was rained off (well, hailed off) today despite my best intentions. Instead I stayed in the relative safety of my garden and potted on some tomatoes and Jalapeno peppers, from the tiny cells they started in into larger pots. It's probably long overdue. I hate potting on - it's so fiddly.

Four Gardener's Delight, two Moneymaker, two Red Cherry, one Sub-Arctic Plenty and two Jalapeno. There are more plants still in their original cells, but I won't have space for more than this. I will try to find new homes for the leftovers!

I was pleased today to see action from the Butternut squash seeds at last, and the King of the North peppers are popping up finally too. Hurrah!

And I thinned the rocket, mustard and cress which was sown outdoors on 23rd March - some 6 or 7 weeks ago. We ate it in this funky little salad with our lasagne tonight, with some slivers of red spring onions I sowed last year in a pot and forgot about, a few sweet little (supermarket) tomatoes, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Fabulous.

One of the reasons I nearly gave the allotment up last year was because I was so rubbish at actually eating what I'd grown. So much was just going to waste! But this year, I'm challenging myself to eat Nomegrown produce as often as possible, and I'll be recording that here too. Maybe if I focus more on what I get out of the allotment, I won't lose enthusiasm so readily for what I need to put in!

Nome makes her first omelette

So here I am, thirty years old, a cooking enthusiast since my teens. Would you believe I've never made an omelette before? Good job I've watched a lot of Saturday Kitchen...

This is how I did it.
(serves 1)
  • Cut 3 or 4 asparagus spears diagonally into small pieces (about 1cm) and plunge into boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
  • Beat two eggs together. Add salt and black pepper (and just a splash of cream since I had some on hand). Beat together well.
  • Put a non-stick pan on a high heat. When it's hot, add a knob of butter and sizzle the asparagus in it for half a minute or so, then chuck in the egg mixture and and shake it to spread it round the whole pan.
  • When the egg is almost set and the bottom is golden-brown (about 1 minute), fold one third of the omelette over, then fold the middle section over, so that you're rolling it over itself into a kind of flat tube with the edges tucked under. Brown on that side too, and serve with buttered toast.
It was fab. The asparagus still had a good bit of crunch which was lovely with the creamy egg and hot black pepper. I will be making a lot more omelettes!

I had planned to spend today on the plot, finishing preparing the courgette bed and weeding the onions and potatoes, but the weather is looking pretty grim. The sun comes out for ten minutes, then it suddenly goes dark and hails for ten minutes, then the sun comes out for ten minutes... It sort of looks set to improve though; I think I will brave it in a while...

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Salmon with Sorrel Sauce

To my shame, I've had a sorrel plant flourishing in my herb patch for I-don't-know-how-long now and I only just took a taste a couple of weeks back, when I was tidying up the patch and got curious.

What a delightful flavour! All sweet and tangy and lemony!

The plant isn't looking too great at the moment, as it's sheltering a whole clan of snails I haven't been able to shift and all the leaves are dotted with little holes. But today I cut the whole lot back (it's supposed to regrow quickly several times a year like this), picked out all the snails, and selected the best leaves for a new recipe...

This is from James Martin Digs Deep (yes, I do watch a lot of cooking TV...), although as always I altered it a little...

Salmon with Sorrel Sauce
(serves 2)

  • Season salmon fillets and fry both sides in a little butter and oil.
  • Finely chop a few spring onions and two garlic cloves. Saute in a little butter over a medium heat for a few minutes.
  • Add 50ml white wine, 50ml cream and 150ml stock (I used vegetable stock). Add 100g frozen peas, 1 tbsp lemon juice and seasoning. Bring to the boil.
  • Remove from the heat, then add a big handful of chopped sorrel. (The sorrel really doesn't want cooking more than this, or it will go brown and bitter.)
  • Spoon the sauce onto a plate and serve the salmon on top.

I served it with new potatoes (not Nomegrown yet!) and asparagus.

Twas delicious, but not sorrely enough for me. The flavour really was fantastic and I wanted more! Next time I will use much more sorrel, and might try pureeing the sauce to make it thicker and clingier - as it was it was very thin and brothy, with peas and bits of leaf in. In fact, I can't wait to try it again!
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