Friday, 25 July 2008

My First Cucumber!!!

Ladeez and Gennelmen - it gives me great pleasure, and no small amount of pride, to be able to introduce to you, my very first ever homegrown cucumber [drumroll]

Ta-Dah!! I decided that today was the day that the cucumber was big enough to be harvested and to commemorate the occasion, I've taken a couple of photographs so I can remember what it looked like after I've eaten it. So, for example, here it is reclining gently on the handrail of the bridge that leads to my garden.

Then I decided it did need something to compare it with so that you, gentle reader, might have some idea of the humungous size it had achieved, so here it is, sitting next to Sylvester, our slightly-
average cat who just happened to be there at the time I had the camera in my hand so was roped in to act as a ruler.

I also noticed at the plopment today that the tassels have started appearing on my developing sweetcorn cobs, so that means I have to start watering them all from now until harvesting. And one or two of the Broad Bean plants have started putting out shoots from the base - I dunno what that's all about but I'm inclined to leave them to see what happens, and if I get extra additional unexpected bonus beans, then so much the better!

I put in a few more Winter Spinach plants, so there's seven gone in now where some Pentland Javelin spuds have come out, and I think I'm going to investigate sowing Spring Cabbage for overwintering, to be eaten next May or thereabouts. Oh, and I must just tell you, we ate those gnarly carrots last night and the taste was almost overpowering!! It was like eating solid Essence of Carrot - intense wasn't the word. I've never eaten homegrown carrots fresh out of the ground before and it was just astonishing, frankly. So I'm definitely sowing more of those babies, you betcha!

Finally, by way of a change, I caught my 2.5 cats sitting companionably on the bridge this afternoon and, as it so rarely happens, I took a picture and am posting it here for your delectation. The black cat is Damian, my 0.5 boy - he spends half his time with us and the rest at his other house, 3 doors down. Then in the middle being sociable and facing the camera is Sylvester, and finally, closest to us but facing away is Pepper. They all say 'hello', by the way.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Anyone want any beans......?

Okay, those of you who know more about these sort of things than I have been very kind in not sending me emails pointing and laughing at the 'measly' 2 pounds of beans I picked last week. Because this morning, dear reader, I filled a carrier bag with the blighters and weighed them when I got home - 4lbs 10oz or 2086 grams. Oh. Dear. Lord. Fortunately the lady who owns the horses where I go riding says she'll have some, and I can feed a family of 5 down the road (except they're off to Tenerife on Thursday for 2 weeks) but that still leaves me with far more than I need. The upside is that it would have cost me £13.45 to buy that many beans at Sainsburys, although I'd want sectioning if I did...

The freezer bit of my fridge/freezer is a couple of large drawers but it's not vast so I've been pondering the old-fashioned way of preserving foodstuffs, by bottling or, as they call it in America (even though it uses jars) 'canning'. Apparently, if done correctly, stuff in jars can last for up to 15 months just sitting on shelves in your pantry (if you're lucky enough to have one) or, as in my case, the garage. It's still a very popular way of buying vegetables on the Continent. I can remember being quite surprised the first time I visited relatives in Holland and seeing glass jars of carrots and peas that had been bought from the supermarket.

Apart from the ridiculous bean situation, what else is happening at the plopment? Well, I decided to pull up some carrots and was genuinely thrilled there was actually enough to eat. And because I hadn't thinned them, they've all grown around each other and sprouted extra limbs and just gone generally gnarly! You wouldn't find those in the supermarket! Apparently our site is quite bad for Carrot Root Fly so I'm just hoping that these haven't been affected. Since I planted these guys, way back in April, I've planted at least 50 more carrot seedlings each 2 or 3 inches away from its neighbour so hopefully I'll get 'proper' straight carrots a bit later on.

The monster cucumber just goes from strength to strength! I'm having to tie the plants further up the bamboo cane wigwam almost every time I go as they're starting to sprawl somewhat. There are plenty other little tiny cucumbers forming so I've got my fingers crossed that we actually get to eat some of them this summer.

I'm digging up more of my First Early potatoes - Pentland Javelin. I'm not sure I'll bother with them next year, the yield per plant doesn't seem to be particularly high, they don't really have a lot of flavour and they don't seem to like being cut into quarters and boiled very much - they fall apart too quickly and the skin comes off. So I'm a little disappointed, to be honest, but at least I know now for next year. I've still got Second Earlies - Maris Peer (or Piper, can't remember which!) and Main Crop Desirees so it's not as if I'm going to be lacking in spuds this year! Where the Pentland Javelins have come out, I'm putting in Winter Spinach seedlings, and I've still got Swiss Chard sprouting at home which can go in when the rest of the potatoes come out.

That's about it for now - the Swifts are still squealing wildly around my head and I've never seen so many Cabbage White butterflies in one place before, all signs that Mother Nature is doing her thang for which we all must be eternally grateful.

Till next time, this is Kaz signing off saying "be most excellent to each other".

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

....Gods, what a monster......

I was dahn the plopment this morning, doing the usual, weeding, clearing a bit more land for the forthcoming Winter Spinach and Swiss Chard plants, when I decided to pick some beans. I'm growing Climbing French Beans (variety: Cobra - the same that whatsisname off Gardener's World is growing at his allotment, but I put mine in first....Joe Swift, that's him). A few plants have grown to the top of the poles but the majority are still clustering at around knee-height.

"There'll be just a few, " thought I, "I can use a few tonight and blanch then freeze the rest". Readers, what a sad, deluded fool I was to think such naive thoughts. I couldn't believe how many there were! So I decided that, when I got them home, I'd weigh them. As you can see, I put them in my biggest mixing bowl and stuck them on the scales (remembering to weigh the empty bowl first and zero it) and, amazingly, there are just over 2lbs of beans, or 933 grams for you more modern types. I checked with Sainsburys online to see how much they're selling their organic beans for and they're currently charging £6.45 a kilo. That means there's six quid's worth of French Beans in that bowl alone. God only knows, though, what I'm going to do with all the beans that are going to be coming - I've spawned a monster!!

Another candidate for the category of 'monster' is this cucumber - this is the same one that I pictured just six days ago and you can see how much bigger it's grown! I really hope it works properly as I adore cucumber. The plants are starting to sprawl across the ground a bit now so I'm having to tie them up to the bamboo wigwam in the hope that the developing cucumbers grow straight down. Unfortunately they do seem to be popular with Whitefly and I'm not sure how much damage they'll do - I think Google will be my friend in this and I'll research it in a bit.

It was a lovely day at the site today - the swifts have started swooping and screeching again after a gap of about a fortnight. They'll be gone by August so I'm wondering if the adults are now flying around with the fledglings, getting their muscles working and building up their strength for the monumental flight soon back to Africa. I'll really miss them when they've gone, they were joyfully chasing each other no higher than about 10 feet above my head today. It occurred to me that there were very few pictures of the rest of the site on my blog, so, the first one here is a view taken from beside my shed looking up the pathway. I'm about three-quarters of the way down the site which is nearly 5 acres in total - it's really quite big as you can see, and surrounded by houses on all four sides. A bit open, though, so it can get windy, but lovely nonetheless.

Facing the other way, down the path, immediately next to my plopment is a small car parking area - which you can see in the picture - then more allotments. There are others on the other side of the road but I didn't photograph those as the batteries in my camera were playing up then! C and M have the allotment with the white metal chairs and table, at which they hold parties on sunny Saturday evenings! How terribly civilised....

Some of you may wish to know what the plot next door to mine now looks like - this is the one, you may recall, that I was envious of earlier in the year because it's so neatly laid out with raised beds. Well, this is it now, and I have to say that, if nothing else, the sunflowers are magnificent!

Finally, a general shot from the end of my plopment looking back towards the shed and pathway. Please note the fantastic genuine 1970s parasol - my parents-in-law never throw anything away and to them I am particularly grateful for letting me have this fantasy in yellow and brown to sit beneath while resting my weary bones and deciding what to weed next. It has been a total life-saver this summer, so thanks Desmond and Minnie!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

It's NOT a monsoon, okay?

According to the BBC, yesterday's downpour was absolutely not a monsoon although, apparently, some of the more populist newspapers were calling it such. According to The People Who Know About These Sort Of Things (i.e., proper scientists), 'monsoons' only occur in the Indian Subcontinent and although, as in this case, the term is frequently misused to describe heavy rain, it actually refers to the seasonal reversal of wind direction. So all we had was a month's worth of rain in one 24 hour period. And, boy, didn't it feel like it?!

I decided that I really ought to check out the plopment and see if everything was still there. I haven't been posting much because, frankly, I don't think it's all that interesting for you guys to read that I cut some lettuce for my tea, did some weeding and decided to stake my tomatoes as they were getting a bit tall and being blown over by the wind at our exposed site. But an update is a bit overdue.

I went down to the site for a couple of hours today just after lunch and, thankfully, everything was still there and thriving happily, so let me put up some piccies:

First off, here are the tomatoes which, as you can see, have now been staked! These eleven plants were given to me by a friend who didn't know what they were (other than tomatoes), i.e., whether they were bush or ... er ... the other kind (what are they called? you know, the ones that grow tall?) Anyway, I stuck them in the ground, did that business of removing the side shoots (when I remembered) and they seem to be happy enough. There are flowers and everything now. When the fruits start forming, I'll have to remember to start feeding them. After taking this picture I weeded out the encroaching couch grass that you can see at the bottom of the picture - b***** stuff....

Growing just behind the tomatoes are my outdoor indoor cucumbers. These are Telegraph cucumber plants which are, ideally, meant to be grown indoors but I'm trying them outdoors and I'm surprised at how well they're doing. They've thoroughly enjoyed the recent wet weather and there are a handful of little baby cucumbers coming along on both plants. I had to tie them further up the bamboo poles so that they don't trail on the ground and the plants and stems are really hairy and feel like they should sting but don't - bizarre. You can also see one of the cucumbers coming along nicely.

The onions are doing very well although apparently there's been an outbreak of Downy Mildew on some plots further up the site. I had a look at mine today and I'm not sure if they've contracted this or not. I'll need to keep a close eye on them because I'm very proud of my onions this year. The close up picture shows how large they've grown in comparison to an ordinary trowel. I think I'm going to have to start harvesting some soon...

So, what next? I'm growing Climbing French Beans (var: Cobra) up poles this year (I prefer french beans to runners which get stringy) and even though most of the plants are nowhere near the top of the poles yet, I've started harvesting some damn fine looking beans. Last year, before I had the plopment, and for several years before I had been growing French Beans in a couple of huge pots at home and last year had barely a pound of beans from them in total all summer. I think I've picked around a pound of beans just today so this all bodes well! Yum!

Just at the bottom right of the bean plant picture, you can see the Red Cabbages, so here's a better picture of the six biggest ones. I have some others growing in the brassica patch but they're much smaller so should mature a bit later in the year.

Also in the brassica patch are my gorgeous Curly Kale. I have been cooking a fabulous pasta recipe using garlic, bacon and Curly Kale so decided to grow it rather than buy the pre-shredded bagged stuff from the supermarket. My veg book (the Hessayon one) said that Kale was one of the easiest vegetables to grow and I can say it's been simple - just put the seed in a pot and it grows! I think we're going to be able to start harvesting a few leaves very soon, so I may well have to sow a few more seeds to get plants to see us through winter. You can't really tell from the picture (because it's been taken looking down on the plants and through the netting) but they're actually about a foot tall).

The sweetcorn is doing its sweetcorny thing, with each plant getting bigger and taller at different rates! When the wind is blowing through them they have that lovely rustly tall grass sound. Fingers crossed that I get some decent cobs out of them.

Finally, despite the wind and the cold, my little red pepper plants are still hanging on in there and starting to put out flowers which, hopefully, will turn into luscious sweet red peppers. Actually, I've already decided that if they don't work this year I shall persevere with them next year, perhaps finding different ways to grow them because (a) I like them and (b) they're so blimmin' expensive in the shops - I mean, 69p each!! - that's it's worth keeping going until I get it right!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Dog Days of Summer have arrived!

I thought today was the last day of June until my husband sent me a text saying, "Pinch, punch, First of the month, no returns!!" ('cos we're grownups now, innit) but I have to concede (...mutter, grumble...) that, in this case at least, he's absolutely right - 1 July it is. June seems to have flown by and, indeed, I seem to have been a bit tardy with my blogging but that doesn't mean I've not been down the plopment slogging my guts out darn near every single day (honest!). I mean, the weather's been so good lately that you can't ignore it - the weeds don't stop growing just because you fancy having a day off.

As a complete aside, I found out today why the hottest months of the summer are called (by some folk, but not me, I just call them July, August and September) 'Dog Days'. Apparently they're named after the dog star, Sirius. Starting about 3 July Sirius rises and sets in conjunction with the Sun. In Ancient Egypt, Sirius was the Nile Star and its rising signalled the flooding of the Nile. The name Sirius has two possible origins. It may come from the Egyptian word for Nile, or from the Greek seirios, meaning 'scorching'. The Romans called it 'Canicula'. Believing the star drove men and dogs mad, a brown dog was sacrificed to pacify it at the time of the blazing hot days of summer (when the star rose) which were called 'Caniculares' - it is this Latin word that was translated in the 16th century to 'Dog Days'. So there you are, bet you didn't know that!

Anyhoo, to return to what's going on at the plopment - you may recall that I planted four sweet red pepper plants against the shed. I've now decided to turn that into a small herb garden as well, bordered on the two short sides by lavender to form a sort of windbreak (when they get bigger of course). So last weekend The Husband and I ventured into Guildford to find that the Guildford Festival was running. When I lived in Guildford I always used to love dawdling amongst the craft stalls that go up and down the cobbled High Street during the Festival so I insisted that I had to have a decent perusal. The Husband, being a bloke of course, ran off to a bookshop. I eventually found myself at the herb stall. They've been coming for years and grow literally hundreds of varieties of herbs in the Surrey Hills and it's always tricky deciding what to get. In the end I got French Sorrel (which tastes like uncooked Bramley Apple), Broad Leaved Sorrel (which has a sharp, slightly lemony tang), Coriander, Sweet Basil and Garlic Chives. I got just one of each and planted them in front of the red peppers. Let's see how they go.

Apart from that, I've been mainly clearing more ground, weeding and watering. So here are a few pictures for you to see what's going on. Firstly, this is the lettuce patch - aren't the colours retina-searing? I love that bright lime green of the Salad Bowl. I've been smart (for once) and done proper successional planting so that there should be enough to last the summer. I'm also growing a handful of Wild Rocket (the dark green plants in the picture) a few red crinkly Lollo Rossa lettuces as well (just out of frame on the left). This is where Cynthia (R.I.P.) used to live. No sign of her I'm afraid, I think she's gone to the great Toybox in the sky.

What else? The sweetcorn are marvellous - I've barely watered them and they've just taken care of themselves. I hope we get a decent batch of cobs from them.

And I'm extremely pleased with how well the Telegraph Cucumbers are doing outdoors - see, here's a little cucumber! (Sorry it's a bit out of focus but you can see how enormous it is!)

This is just a general shot of the plopment, facing up the hill rather than towards my shed for a change. You can see that I have, once again, extended the brassica cage and I've still got Swede busily germinating in the plastic-house at home that will need to go in there, so it'll get bigger yet!

And - finally - one of The Husband, taking a well-earned rest after doing an hour's weeding of the potatoes for me - bless!