Wednesday 30 June 2010

Summer Sights, and the River Ver

We rushed to the allotment early this morning to beat the heat, and got loads and loads of weeding done and the patch dug for the everlasting cauliflowers, which I will plant out at the next opportunity. When the weeds are clear the plot really looks pretty good - this is definitely our best year so far.

The asparagus ferns are looking really lush now, with the petunias flowering beneath. The ferns are covered in tiny flowers and it's pretty funny watching the huge bumblebees trying to get inside them!

The swedes look like they're doing well down there.

The runner bean flowers are opening.

The leeks are weed-free again and thriving.

We were surprised to find a few raspberries appearing on our new raspberry canes! I thought we wouldn't get any fruit until next year!

And we have our first sunflower, albeit a very small one.

I can't wait to try these summer crookneck squash. You eat them like courgettes, but they are supposed to have an even better flavour. Anyone else tried them?

As you can see, the plot is looking good - even... dare I say it... tidy and organised!

We took a slightly different route home today, just out of curiosity. The river Ver runs along one side of our allotment site, and we followed it. The path runs most of the way through town, along a strip of woodland between streets and back gardens, and it was rather pleasant. I can't believe I've lived here 30 years, had my allotment for four, and I've never been along here before!

The Ver is not a big or impressive river these days - it's only a few inches deep in many places - but it's our river and we like it. I guess it must have been much more significant once upon a time, when people first settled here and the Roman city was built and so on. It still makes itself known from time to time in no uncertain terms when it reverts to its original course and floods the allotments!

Not all of the river is hidden away - here it flows under a main road and we walk past this pretty scene all the time. At the moment there are mounds and mounds of water forget-me-nots on the bank.

And look what else was hiding in the reeds right by the edge of the road!

At this point we would have rejoined our usual route home, but we decided to keep walking along the river into the park. These are more familiar scenes; I love walking in the park and am so lucky to have it on my doorstep!

The lake was man-made in the early thirties, and the Ver carefully routed along one side of it (on the right of the picture).

There are dozens of varieties of ducks and geese here - and when we come here regularly enough it's lovely to see them raising their new families each year! Last spring and summer I made a point of walking through nearly every day, and became quite familiar with each little clan and where it lived and how it was doing.

On the way out of the park is this octagonal pub, reputed to be the oldest pub in Britain, although there are other contenders. We were going to stop for lunch but decided to save our money for this evening... That's a whole nother blog...

The wording on this sign outside always makes me giggle!

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Courgette Couscous

We brought the monster courgette home yesterday and turned it into a light and lovely veggie supper - well, half of it anyway. I still don't know how it got so fat so fast.

I think we caught it just before 'too big' - it still tasted delish and wasn't too watery or seedy.

The recipe is a variation on a Jamie Oliver favourite, adapted to make the vegetables the stars, and was just perfect eaten al fresco on a hot summer evening.

Lemon Courgette Couscous with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
(serves two)
  • Cut four tomatoes in half, season, sprinkle with mixed herbs, poke a couple of slices of garlic into each piece and drizzle with oil. Place in the oven to slow roast at about 120C for about an hour and a half (or longer, really, but hey - I was getting hungry!).
  • Cut a red onion or two into wedges, toss in oil, and place them in the oven too for the last 45 mins or so of roasting.
  • Dice the courgette and fry in a little oil, with a generous glug of lemon juice and some seasoning, for about 5 mins or until softening round the edges but still al dente.
  • Off the heat, add 100g of couscous to the courgettes, along with enough boiling water to cover, a knob of butter, and another generous glug of lemon juice. Stir, cover, and let the couscous do its thing. (I take a rather relaxed approach to couscous and just keep adding water if I want it wetter, or pop it back on a low heat if I want it dryer.)
  • When couscous is ready, fluff up with a fork and serve with the tomatoes and onions on top.

Monday 28 June 2010

All is Well (almost)

Yes; despite a little neglect during this hot weather, all is well on the allotment, and everything's coming along nicely. We gave everything a good watering (hopefully enough to help it withstand a little more neglect this week...) and picked our biggest strawberry harvest yet - almost enough to feed us both!

This little square of the plot in particular made me smile. The courgettes and crookneck squash are looking really lush, there are a couple of volunteer sunflowers doing really well, which I am looking forward to seeing flower, and at the back the first runner beans are shooting up their obelisks.

The beans are starting to flower too, and don't they look fab?

I got even more excited when I took a closer look at the courgettes: this one is nearly big enough to feed us.

And then I uncovered this one on the other plant!

I don't know how it managed to get so huge with so little water, when on the same plant two other baby courgettes have started to wither and rot. I'll never understand plants. All I know is that I know nothing.

The hot weather seems to have another casualty too - this one in the home garden. This tomato plant hasn't been very happy at all, even though I water it every day.

Yesterday I sat it in a bucket of water to make sure the deeper roots got a good soaking, and it seemed to perk up a bit, but today when I went to see it it had completely flopped over! I tied it to a cane, quick, and maybe that's all it needed, or maybe I'm overthinking this and the clue is in the name of the variety; 'Sub Arctic Plenty'. Maybe this is just the wrong summer to grow tomatoes bred for British weather!

Sunday 27 June 2010


I'm really enjoying these 'Jetfire' lillies we bought from J Parker's a couple of years back. They're struggling a bit in the rather shallow beds and pots they're in, but the colours are still fabulous. Everything else in home garden is green at the moment so they're a really welcome sight!

The weather has been stiflingly hot all week and I'm sure I haven't watered the plot nearly enough - today we're going down there to catch up and I'm a bit worried about what I will find!

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Note to Self

Note to self: Just because there are 1500 lettuce seeds in a pack, doesn't mean you have to grow 1500 lettuces.

You don't eat that much lettuce. You just don't.

No. You won't.

These are the little gems growing on the allotment. There are more in the home garden. Many, many more. So far, one bagful has gone to waste, and several bagfuls have gone to friends and family. Thank goodness for friends and family!

But I just haven't been able to use them fast enough, and now some of the most cramped ones are starting to get some mildewy-looking disease. Doh. Station-sowing next year and no excuses.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

The weekend's work

This weekend saw even more flowers appearing on the allotment; the borage and the potatoes are flowering, which means baby spuds soon! Yum!

We did a ton of weeding on Sunday, particularly clearing the carrots and onions again. A lot of my onion leaves have been looking yellow for some time now. Dryness or disease? I have pulled out a few with white rot but the remaining ones are all firmly rooted and seem otherwise healthy.

And I decided to plant out our diminutive butternut squash (in the space where slugs felled a pumpkin plant) to see if a change of soil and a bit more space would encourage it to DO SOMETHING.

We found these eggs on a leaf while weeding - anyone know what they are? I'm thinking shield bug. I hate finding things like this and not knowing whether to destroy them or tuck them carefully next to the nearest colony of aphids...

And we watched this newly-emerged tortoiseshell butterfly drying his wings...

...before climbing the compost bin to take off for the first time.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Friday 18 June 2010

Flowers and Fruits

Aah, June. The warm weather, the heavy showers, the mild nights. It's always June when everything goes crazy on the plot, the weeds take over, and we run out of steam. It's always June when I abandon the blog.

Not this June.

I don't know why so many things are so behind this year (I could blame the cold winter and late spring, but I see on other blogs that many other people are not so affected) but they are certainly getting a move on now.

The first tomato flowers are opening...

The peas are finally flowering...

The broad beans are starting to appear...

The french beans are getting ready to flower...

And we have our first tiny cucumber beginning to swell...

Our first tiny courgette...

And our first tiny pumpkin...

I have finally harvested enough strawberries to call a snack, not just a nibble - though not from the plot where frost nipped the flowers, but from this tub in the garden...

The sorrel flowers look beautiful, even if I am a bit bitter about not having any leaf now...

And the bees are loving the comfrey, as well as all the veg flowers and nasturtiums dotted about the plot...

Aah, June.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Spinach Gnocchi

I first saw it this recipe on Oliver Rowe's 'Urban Chef' programme a few years back, and rediscovered it saved in my computer documents recently! Oliver set out to open a restaurant in London sourcing its ingredients only from inside the M25, and it was a really interesting series, although I do remember watching the bit about the mushroom farm under a motorway and being more than a little concerned about environmental pollutants...

Anyway, this recipe was somewhat more time consuming and fussy than most dinners I make, and I had a small issue with the consistency of the mixture, but it tasted so, so good - really rich and indulgent and classy. Will definitely make again. Not too often though - it's packed with vast amounts of cheese, butter and cream!

Spinach Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce
(serves two)
  • Steam 250g spinach, refresh in cold water, and squeeze the water out. Do not rush this step - get your hands in there and make sure it's as dry as you can get it!
  • Chop the spinach finely, then add to a pan with 15g butter and 150g ricotta cheese over a lowish heat. Let everything soften and mix it together well.
  • Take it off the heat, add 50g parmesan, an egg and 2 tbsps flour, and season.
  • Spread the mixture out on a plate and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

  • Meanwhile, finely chop 250g mushrooms, a couple of shallots and a couple of cloves of garlic.
  • Fry the shallots and garlic gently in 15g butter of butter until soft, then add the mushrooms and seasoning, and stir in.
  • Add 75ml white wine, increase the heat, and simmer a few minutes.
  • Then add 100ml double cream and a pinch of nutmeg. Leave simmering gently while you make the gnocchi...
  • With generously floured hands, mould the spinach mixture into tablespoon-sized dumplings and set them on a floured plate. (This is where I started running into trouble - the mixture was much too wet to work with easily. My immediate thought was that there should be more flour in the mix, but in retrospect I probably just didn't drain that spinach well enough!)
  • Place the dumplings, in batches, into boiling water for 3-4 minutes until they rise to the surface. Then lift them out with a slotted spoon and place on an oiled baking tray.

  • When they're all cooked, drizzle a little melted butter over the dumplings, sprinkle with parmesan, and place under a hot grill. (I had to reshape mine somewhat at this stage too, but hopefully if your mixture isn't so sloppy they will hold together better!)
  • When they brown on top, remove from the grill and serve with the mushroom sauce on top. I recommend some crusty bread to mop up with as well!
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