Monday, 31 August 2009

Stage 1 of Jigsaw completed !

Welcome back for the promised update ! As you can clearly see, the first stage, i.e. putting the Greenhouse frame together, has been completed. It was a bit of a struggle - perhaps I should have helped take it down in the first place! Obviously with something this old, a lot of the bolts were rusted solid, and there are a fair few bolts missing too. That said, I'm impressed by how sturdy it is, and that's without the weight of the glass too. I think the next step will be to buy and fit the missing bolts, and then secure the unit to a wooden base. This base will then be securely staked to the ground. In siting it here, I have the benefit of protection from the wind on two sides, and it's also fairly hidden from view.

This second pic gives a clearer idea of just how much land we now have to deal with! It's a mammoth undertaking, but I'm sure we've made the right decision. 450 Sq yards of land sounds like a hell of a lot, but then you have to remember that we managed 300 sq yards in our first year!
Time for a well earned rest now, and maybe a cup of tea!!

Take care all, and pop back soon for more updates from the plot.


We've got a Greenhouse!

Welcome back once again! Crikey you're saying - another blog entry already ? Well, this morning I was given this Greenhouse for my plot. To enable easier transportation, it was split into the sections as per the photo. All in all, it's not in bad condition - should do us well. The glass is 95% ok, one pane got broken in transit, and there were a few missing already, but these can easily be replaced at a later date. Just popped home for a bite to eat, then it's back to the plot to sort this jigsaw out!

I was also given this selection of hand tools, all of which are gratefully received. Among them is a draw hoe, dutch hoe, small spade, loppers, pick axe etc, again all will be useful at some point. These were supplied in a water butt.

Can i just say thanks to Roy, Kye & Ian for their help in moving this lot, as well as a Big Thank you for donating it all as well.

Thats all for now folks, but pop back soon to see if the jigsaw fits together !!


Sunday, 30 August 2009

Wow - Pumpkins!

Welcome back to Reads Allotment Retreat. As regular readers will know, earlier in the year we were given some Squash plants. The majority of the plants did not have labels, so were planted "blindly" with a view to sitting back and waiting for whatever might come along. Well, thanks to Stephen at Victoriana Nurseries who kindly donated these plants, we now have about half a dozen pumpkins (v.Racer) growing away happily in what was otherwise an empty patch of ground. The ground had actually been home to our First Early spuds (v.Rocket) and after they were harvested, the ground looked rather bare. Now at least we have a plan for future spud beds!
Some of the other plants donated turned out to be "Turks Turban" squashes, and we now have 3 of these growing away merrily. We thought about harvesting some today, but we are not sure when they peak - in terms of size - and would be grateful if someone can shed some light on this!

We also found that we have a couple of Yellow Courgettes growing (Zucchini?) and this monster was harvested today to go with our Sunday roast !
Whilst at the plot we also started the Borlotti bean harvest off, we have loads and loads to get through, but we will get them a little at a time, as the beans need to be thoroughly dried before being stored away. The ones we picked today were 99% dry already, but a lot of the pods still on the plant are a long way off yet.

The Butternut Squash (v.Hunter) are going great at the moment too. The seeds for this were free from the BBC Dig-In promotion on CBeebies, so anything growing here is a bonus! The plants were started off in 3" pots before being transferred to their growing position - on top of the compost heap. Growing alongside these we have another variety - Waltham cross - which is also doing well.

The runner beans have not fared brilliantly this year - due mostly I guess to inadequate ground preparation! A lesson that has now been well and truly learnt! The good news however, is that there is a somewhat late flourish going on, and there's now an abundance of new flowers. Look carefully and you'll see the Bee's in attendance too! All we really really need now, is a few days of rain.

As you can see in this picture, work has been progressing on the new allotment. These 2 beds have been what I call half dug, i.e. I have lifted the top 4" and simply turned it over. I then layered some well rotted manure across them, to encourage some worm activity. This compost will then be dug in later in the year, and then left to settle over the winter. Tomorrow, I will be collecting my new greenhouse, that has kindly been donated by a friend. It's a 6' x 7' item, and we are looking forward to it's arrival.

And as this second picture shows, we still have a mammoth task ahead of us in preparing the rest of the plot! Wish us luck eh !

That's about it for today, hope you have had a good read.

See you all soon,


Friday, 28 August 2009

Foraging for food!

Welcome back to the Reads Allotment Retreat blog. I'd love to be bringing you an update with pictures from the plot, but it's been a hectic week to say the least and thus far we've not managed to get there yet! However, today we had one of those lovely summer days that you normally dream of in the depths of winter. I finished work at 7.00am this morning, and after a few hours kip we all went out in search of some free fruit. I'd read a snippet about a local plum orchard on another blog "Eight by six Gardening" and managed to contact the author to confirm the location.(Don't worry Amanda - your secret's safe with me!). We set off in glorious sunshine early afternoon, and we were eventually (no sat nav!!!) greeted by the sight of about 50 plum tree's growing in an open park. It's hard to believe we've lived just down the road - so to speak - for 3 years, and not known this was even there! Most of the tree's are pretty old and established, but there are plenty of newly planted specimens too. The tree's were laden with fruit, and within about 15 mins we had filled this 10 litre bowl to overflowing. Obviously I sampled some as I picked them, but the vast majority made it home to meet their fate - jam jars! Once we were done with the plum picking, Jen & Ruby eagerly set off for the swings, leaving me to explore the hedgerows further. I managed to find and pick about 2 lb's of Damsons, as well as about 1/2 lb of Blackberries. We'll be back for more of the latter as and when they ripen up! Just up the road from this secret location is a nice little farm shop. We called in for our usual: 2 dozen medium F/R eggs (£2.40), and picked up some Braeburn Apples (£1.50 for 2kg) and some Conference Pears (£1.20 for a Kilo). Ruby loves this place - buy her a little bag of chicken feed and she's off ! Next stop Tesco for cooking apples, then home to peruse our swag.
Purely by coincidence, our postman delivered 2 books today that I had ordered for Jen:

Jams and Chutneys: Preserving the Harvest, Over 150 Recipes (Hardback) By (author) Thane Prince
ISBN 13: 9781405329545
"This title lets you return to the good life. It offers information on all you need to know to make sweet and savoury preserves in an irresistible package, and preserve your harvest and create amazing jams, chutneys or preserves out of fruit, vegetables and even flowers from your garden. It comes with over 150 easy-to-follow recipes for making long-lasting sweet and savoury preserves to enjoy or give as a welcome present. It features a combination of traditional recipes, plus plenty of inspiring new ideas, and shows how to get the best from your ingredients, with clear guidance on all the equipment and techniques you'll need for making wonderful jams, jellies, marmalades, pickles, chutneys and relishes.You can pick up key cooking techniques from step-by-step sequences including identifying the perfect point of ripeness for different recipes, checking setting points and potting safely. It is perfect if you want to know how to preserve gluts in your fruit and vegetable produce, or for aspiring jam-makers and cooks".
Order from . Postage is free in UK.

Pickles, Relishes and Chutneys: Step-by-step Recipes for Home Preserving (Hardback) By (author) Catherine Atkinson
ISBN 13: 9781845432843
"This comprehensive guide opens with a history of preserving and pickling, which provides an insight into the traditional techniques and local delicacies. Practical advice and information about techniques, equipment and choosing the best ingredients follow in the authoritative and wide-ranging introduction, which is followed by the heart of the book: over 75 recipes covering every kind of chutney, pickle and condiment. Explore accompaniments to meats and poultry, from traditional basics, such as Horseradish or Mint Sauce, to modern flavours, such as Roasted Red Pepper and Chilli Ketchup or Cranberry and Red Onion Relish. Accompany seafood with Lemongrass and Ginger Jelly or serve oysters with Bloody Mary Relish. With its wonderful photography and comprehensive and exciting recipe list, this is the perfect source book for every cook who wishes to know more about chutneys and pickles. Catherine Atkinson is a trained Cordon Bleu cook who has worked in a number of restaurants including the Roux Brothers' patisseries. She also worked as Deputy Cookery Editor on Woman's Weekly magazine". Again, ordered from the Book Depository.

Now as I sit here typing, the 2 lbs of Damson's are nearly Jam, and smell delicious. The rain is thundering down outside - lovely - watering the plot for me in my absence.
Sunday I hope to get my greenhouse, that has been donated by a work colleague. It's an old 6' x 7' one, but in pretty good condition. It will need a base preparing and re-assembling on site, but will be well used. Can't wait!

That's about it for now, but please come back soon for more updates from the plot.

Take care all, and enjoy your plots and gardens.


Monday, 24 August 2009

Saturday, 22 August 2009

It's been a busy week.....

and we've been busy! As you can see, Ruby is proudly displaying our latest Marrow from the plot. These have grown really well, 4 now from 2 plants, and there's more growing too - maybe 2 more on the stronger plant which will be ready in the next week or so. As I type, Jen is preparing a Marrow Jam, which looks and smells delicious. (Recipe from the Allotment Growers Cookbook ISBN 978-0-276-44260-5). This has been a truly great cookbook this year, and we've tried loads of dishes from it. Well worth the money, in our opinion. Whilst the jam prep is underway, we're cooking up a feast of home grown veg for tea! I've been charged with cooking the pan fried potato's (v. Maris Peer), whilst Jen is roasting some beans( Scarlet Emperor, Purple French & Dwarf Yellow French, together with some toms, yellow zuchinni, green courgettes, and some onions from the plot. The sausages - I have to be honest - are from Aldi's!. Cant wait to tuck into this lot.

Not content with the amount of work our 10 Rod plot gives us, we have taken on another 5 Rod plot adjacent to ours. This is the space we originally wanted to plant our tree's on, and to be honest - we've wanted it for a while. Now we have got it (in writing from the society) we can spend some of our time now cutting beds into the unloved soil, and stealing a march on next years preparations! We have also got a good supply of Free manure now from a local stables, and will be using this to dress the beds, before we cover them with mulching cloth. They'll be left like this for the worms to do their work, before being dug over late autumn.
One thing we need to start soon, is listing what we are going to grow, and perhaps more importantly where, for next year. We've had some successes, as well as some failures, and need to focus and plan ahead. Watch this space for an annual review and forward planner.

That's all for now, but pop back soon for more updates from the plots.

Take care all,


Thursday, 13 August 2009

Blackberry & Apple Jam - yum!

Less than 24 hours after collecting just over a pound of Blackberries from the allotment, we now have 3 more jars of yummy jam. When we got home we "acquired" some apples from our neighbours tree, and hey presto - jam! Our store cupboard is looking good, plenty of supplies. Can't wait for the cold mornings in the depth of winter, and being able to spread summer fruit jam on thick buttered toast. The jars - by the way - are from Colorlites.

That's all for now, see you all soon.


Wednesday, 12 August 2009

I love it !

Isn't it great being able to just nip up to the plot and grab a handful of veg for dinner! It's a great feeling, it's like this massive store cupboard we can go to just when we need to ! Wifey is cooking up a treat tonight, and my tum is rumbling in anticipation! The runners are cropping very well this year, whilst the french beans seem to be struggling just a little. Next year we are planning to prepare the ground better, with the addition of plenty of horse manure, which we we are starting to stockpile at the plot.
On the way out the gate from the allotment, we couldn't resist stopping to pick these Blackberries that were growing wild in the hedgerow. Now then, are we thinking jam, or maybe a crumble? Time to lean over the fence at home and scrump some apples!

Hopefully this week, we'll be able to grab some more manure for the plot, as well as spend a bit of time watering and weeding the plot.

Hope you are all enjoying your plots, and harvesting wonderful fresh grown veg.

Take care all, we'll see you soon.


Friday, 7 August 2009

Todays harvests & weeks update

Welcome back to our allotment retreat, where today we were greeted by the sight of our newly transplanted Rhubarb (v.Victoria) plant. As you can clearly see, it's loving it's new home, and sending up new shoots all the time. It's really encouraging to see such good growth, and together with the 2 crowns at home, should mean bumper harvests for the next few years. I know it takes up a lot of space on the plot, but in my opinion its a good sacrifice. This year we have experimented a bit with it - Rhubarb & Ginger jam etc, and then there's the possibility of wine too!

Today we harvested yet more veg. We have been getting a bag full every now and again! The spuds (v.Nadine) are the 2nd earlies, and we plan to leave them in the ground until we need them. This will continue unless we get a bout of wet weather, which may lead to slug damage. We are also now getting a good crop of Runner Beans(v.Scarlet Emperor), as well as the Purple Podded Climbing French beans. The latter are causing quite a stir at the plot - there's a well trodden path to our plot from other plotholders, keen to investigate this "new" crop! The Climbing French beans are also just starting to crop. Lovely!

We have more Marrows on the way too. This specimen now about 8" long and 4" diameter, and there's about 4 more starting off on the same plant! Yummy. In line with the experimenting(above) we are now thinking of Marrow Preserve. That's making my mouth water just thinking about it!

The second marrow plant next the the one above, is adorned with more large flowers, a beautiful sight and more promise of things to come. This has been our first year growing marrows - and even then its by accident - as the plants we purchased as "Courgette" were indeed Marrow! Oh well, we're not complaining!

The Butternut Squashes (v.Waltham Cross) that we planted atop our compost heap are also growing really well. This pic shows the 1st fruit starting to form, and there's plenty more buds too. It's all quite exciting, as we patiently wait to see what will / won't grow!

The plant's that were donated by Stephen at Victoriana Nurseries, are also growing on well. Several of the plants are producing fruit, all about the size of tennis balls at the moment. Considering how late these were planted, they are doing really well. There's also a couple of Courgette (Zucchini) plants which have fruit on them, and a sole Cantaloupe Melon plant. The latter is adorned with flowers but no fruit at the moment.

We have recently found a source of free manure, which we have started transporting to the allotment. At the moment we are spreading it over the beds that contained our second early spuds. Over the next few months we will get as much as we can and use it to improve our soil structure. Rather than "digging" it in, we plan to just mulch the surface with it, and let the worms do the work! The manure is all fairly well rotted down already, it doesn't even smell much! Just wish I had a towbar and a trailer!

That's it for today folks. Hope you've all enjoyed our update, and we look forward to welcoming you back to our allotment retreat soon.

Take care all and enjoy your plots.


Monday, 3 August 2009

We're jamming. . . . .

Welcome back to our allotment retreat. Two updates in one day - Crikey!As detailed earlier , I set off this morning to forage for some more free fruit. Armed with a couple of cloth bags, i never imagined that i would collect what is probably 20 pounds of yellows, And 20 pounds of reds! The bag pictured here is a "Tesco Bag for Life" , and its about 6" deep with fruit! Probably about an hours worth of picking. There were a lot of fellow foragers there today, one guy in his late seventies telling me he's been collecting this fruit there for more than 20 years!
This bag(Iceland version) is also about 6" deep with fruit. There was a greater demand for these, and I had to jostle with others to get a good spot. I found one after a short break, and collected this haul in about 30 minutes. The branches were literally overloaded with fruit. After nipping in to town to buy sugar, and a couple of other treats for wifey, we headed home to the stove. Thats the royal "we" of course. Jen made a 5lb batch from the yellow plums first, as these are the most ripe. The aroma was sheer bliss as they boiled on the stove, and the finished jam was a lovely golden yellow in colour.

When buying the sugar, we found good old Tate & Lyle granulated at 80p per Kilo in Wilkinson's, that's the cheapest we have found. Let me know if it can be bought cheaper - we need rather a lot!

Wilkinson's have also started their seed sale, and we picked up all these packs at half price. These will be stored away for next years planting, the plan of which is forming in our minds !

Thats all for now, but pop back soon to find out what else we concoct with our haul of free fruit!

Take care all, and enjoy your gardening.


More Free Food!

Welcome back to our allotment retreat blog. Yesterday we popped out for a walk with the sole intention of finding & picking some Blackberries, with a view to making a nice pudding for dinner today. In true Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal tradition, we stumbled upon more than we had bargained for. Having already found one site full of Cherry Plum tree's, we hardly expected to find even more, but were pleasantly surprised to find about a dozen tree's within a stone's throw (no pun intended) from our front door! All the tree's are heavily laden with delicious small fruits, and there are approx 3 varieties to choose from. The tree's are on "Common" land which in my opinion makes them ideal for picking. There was evidence that other people have been doing the same, and we intend to gather some more today. As for recipe's, a quick internet search revealed more ideas than you can poke a stick at. All we need to do now, is accumulate a load of empty jam jars! Maybe an ad in a local shop window will suffice ?
A couple of recipe's that caught our eyes were for Plum Chutney - that sounds nice.

That's it for now, but pop back soon for more updates on our free food foraging, as well as more from the plot.

Take care all,


Saturday, 1 August 2009

1st August - And what a haul!

Welcome back to our allotment retreat, where we are enjoying the fruits of our labour once again! After a quick visit to the plot today we came away with this bumper harvest. We cant lay claim to the courgettes - they were a gift from a fellow plotholder - he grew so many he's been eating them every day for weeks! The marrow is our second this year and the plants are still flourishing. We picked a good handful of Runner Beans, French Beans and Purple podded french beans. Only a couple of Pea pods - but they are soooo tasty ! Finally we dug the first of our Second Earlies(v.Nadine). We'll be conjuring up some lovely home grown veg to go with our Hake Fillets for tea! Yum.
Our Butternut Squash plants are also going well. No sign of any fruits yet, but buds galore on the 4 plants that are planted atop our compost heap. The flower in this pic looks to have a fruit developing underneath, all we need now is some sunny weather to help it grow on a bit.
The mixed bag of plants that we were given are also doing very well, considering they've only been in the ground about ten days:

This one appears to be Zucchini - you can just see the yellow fruit starting to form.

Not sure what this one is either, but something is growing !! Unfortunately, the majority of the plants that Stephen gave us were without labels, so we'll just have to wait and see. We can't thank Victoriana Nurseries enough, and can't find enough superlatives to describe their nursery. Maybe we can show how grateful we are by buying a bit more from them next year!

Our newly located Rhubarb crown is going great guns too, obviously liking it's new growing position. Won't be enough growth to harvest this year, but we're hoping for bumper harvests in years to come.

Our first attempt at growing Borlotti Beans is proving to be a great success. Faced as we were today with a multitude of beans, we need to read up a bit before we harvest them. The plan was to grow them for drying, with a view to using the dried beans in winter stews and casseroles, but we are now thinking they could be picked to eat as "runners" - maybe one of our readers can advise us on this ?

On the way back from the plot, we stopped off at a newly discovered site (being vague on purpose!) and picked approx 10 pounds of these lovely Cherry Plums. As I sit here typing, wifey is busy preparing the first 5lb batch of jam - yummy yum. We already have about 4 jars in the larder from a previous picking a couple of weeks ago. If you could smell the fruit now as it gently boils on the stove . . . . oh, you can't ! Oh well!!

That's about it for now. Hope you are enjoying the growing and gardening, and also hope that you will pop back soon for more updates.

Till then, take care all.