Archive | October, 2013

Things to do with pumpkins and beetroot at half term

31 Oct

Having an allotment is a lot like being a loyal organic veg box consumer. I remember those heady pre-childcare-sucking-up -most-of-my-wages-North-London days, when I had spare cash for lovely lifestyle choices such as a weekly able and cole box, and near all organic food in my trolley when I frequented the supermarket. Happy days. It did mean though there were points when I had to get very creative with my culinary skills. When kohl rabi or chard was in season I would be googling the best ways to dispose of, I mean eat them.

And so it is with an allotment. You find yourself growing things you would never put in your trolley at the supermarket and then when they are ready you have a large number to get creative with. Like beetroot. I don’t think I have ever knowingly bought a beetroot. It did appear a few times in my organic veg box but after tiring of it I made it one of my permanent do-not-give-me-ever items.

I currently have half a strip’s worth of pumpkins and beetroot to use up. The first thing of course is give them away. Courtesy of Halloween I have been able to palm off a few pumpkins although the second phase crop are quite stunted and still green so they do not make the most impressive things to carve.

The hubby carved one of the better ones last night, the whole kitchen smelt of pumpkin which was not an unpleasant aroma. I had expected there to be lots of left over flesh and had a pumpkin curry recipe ready but all he salvaged was the seeds.

half term pumkins

A carved one and two decorated ones

In the interests of letting nothing go to waste I saved the seeds, some will be dried out for planting next time.

half term seeds

Future seeds

The remaining I roasted for about 20 minutes. The resulting roasted seeds can be snacked on or added to muesli, cakes or bread.

half term roasted seeds half term

Roasted pumpkin seeds – easy and tasty

So seeds used up I moved on to beetroot. I have been trying to get the kids to eat beetroot since the first crop back in June. I have made beetroot soup (their response: yuck, we want tinned tomato soup), beetroot mash (Me: it’s fun, it’s pink! Them: double yuck). Experiences such as these are enough to make me understand why so many parents reach for the turkey twizzlers – it’s the easiest option and we all want the little beggars to eat at the end of the day, cos a hungry child is no fun at all.

A friend, on hearing me lament this beetroot avoidance, suggested beetroot pancakes and bingo! Success at last. It was far easier than soup: just added steamed pulverised beetroot to basic pancake mix and cook. Serve with honey.

half term pancake half term 2

At last something beetrooty the kids will eat

Encouraged by this recent success today we made chocolate and beetroot cake and cupcakes. The end product looked edible. We’d roasted 3 small beetroot and then scooped out the flesh and blended before adding to a bog standard cake recipe with two dessert spoons of drinking chocolate. I don’t think it’d win an award but I had my second beetroot triumph in a week. The kids happily ate them. The lesson probably being children will eat any vegetable going, just add sugar.

half term  cakes

Beetroot and chocolate cupcakes and loaf

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Cosy feet

29 Oct

A storm similar to that of the famous 1987 hurricane was meant to be coming our way this week. Happily it wasn’t as bad as feared and the power cut we endured only lasted 12 hours. Yesterday was spent figuring out where I had left candles and matches and going slightly stir crazy without the magic power of TV and DVDs to help quell the kids’ boredom. So today felt the perfect day for a trip to the plot to stretch legs, get some air and assess any wind related damage.

In some ways I am quite a negative person – I often expect the worst and am frequently pleasantly surprised. I expected to find no shed so when I saw my shed still in tact I was so delighted that my storm damaged bed of brassicas barely registered.

To be fair I am not sure they were ever going to produce anything. I planted them way back in March I think and still not a hint of broccoli could be seen. Is that normal for sprouting broccoli? They looked a bit like mini palm trees by the end – four feet tall, lots of foliage, no broccoli or anything edible, after seven months. Maybe the seeds were duff.

cosy feet storm damage

Windswept brassicas

I uprooted the worst hit plants and propped another one up with a cane – I will give it another month to see if anything might come to fruition. As always I was surprised at the lack of sentiment I felt as I tossed the much nurtured plants into the plot dump. I was already planning what to plant next once they have all finally been cleared. They just feel like they have overstayed their welcome somewhat and have given me nothing in return.

Luckily the edible border, which I have finished for now, is so stumpy it was unaffected by the bluster of the week. I surveyed the rest of the plot and gathered what had been scattered – a plastic chair had gone next door, my wind chime was tangled up in the beetroot patch and my seedling trays were scattered far and wide.

cosy feet edible border

Edible border undamaged

There was also the painstaking task of untangling the netting that had protected the brassicas from hungry birds for the umpteenth time. Once that was done we planted raised bed three – a new edition to the plot, made out of plastic lawn edging that cost two quid, with garlic, onions and broad beans. Apparently the more frost garlic endures the bigger the bulbs.

cosy feet whole plot

Raised bed 3 – a budget bed made of plastic bordering

Once that was done we stopped for hot chocolate and biscuits – the highlight of any trip to the plot  as far as my kids are concerned. I realised as we sat there in the afternoon sun I had not thought of my cold damp feet because for once they were neither cold nor damp. My new boots have finally arrived from a well known outdoor shop and this was their first outing to the plot. I had vowed I would get sensible, sober green wellies that befit my age and status as a keen forty-something allotmenteer. Gone are the days of faddy fashion wellies. But then an email from a well known outdoor shop popped up in my inbox and they had such cute, silly wellies for 15 quid (in the sale, reduced from 25), I could not resist getting more of the same – pink but – for a bit of a twist – with geese on them. I am a such a sucker, but at the moment they are doing the  job.

cosy feet

Behold: my new boots!

In a bit of a pickle

23 Oct

Before my tomatoes succumbed to tomato blight I had hundreds of green tomatoes. I was warned by various plot neighbours that blight was doing the rounds so I did pick quite a few before the plants died. Some turned red, some went mouldy as they waited to go red and some stayed stubbornly green.

A few week’s ago in a bid to use all that I’ve harvested I googled ‘green tomato chutney’ and found a simple recipe to follow. The end result is quite sweet but very edible. I stuck to the recipe below but made my own pickling vinegar by using normal malt vinegar and adding mustard and coriander seeds. Be warned though your entire house will stink of boiled vinegar for several days after making this or any chutney, so not one to do immediately before a dinner party.

Step 1: Chop your green tomatoes and onions and leave to soak over night in a big bowl with salt

pickle 1

Step 2: Make your own pickling vinegar by boiling malt vinegar with mustard and coriander seeds, crushed garlic and ginger tied in a muslin sachet.

pickle 2

Step 3: Peel and chop up a load of apples

pickles 3

Step 4: Remove the muslin spice pouch from vinegar and add all ingredients and raisins and cook for several hours. (Your house will start to really smell of eau de vinegar at this stage!)

pickle 4

Step 5: Put your clean jars and whatever else you’ll use in the oven for 10 minutes to sterilise

Pickle 5

Step 6: Once the pickle looks right jar it in your sterilised jars. Stores for a year apparently!

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2865/green-tomato-chutney

 

Things I have accidentally killed, part 1

18 Oct

As an ex-veggie the title of this post gives me no pleasure. Even though I am earning a reputation as a beast terminator amongst my nearest and dearest this title doe not sit well.

The weather is turning against the gardener. There is a sense of the last chance saloon on the plot. Both times I’ve managed to go this week there were more people around than I would usually see on a summer’s day. Everyone seems to be frantically digging knowing soon it will all be frozen solid, unmovable and fingers will be too chilled to work efficiently.

I’d bought a couple more fruit bushes this week and decided I would plant them and then focus on my next raised bed and get my garlic and onions started before the big freeze. I planted my redcurrant bush and raspberry cane after soaking the roots for the recommended hour. I mixed in bonemeal, I watered them in and then fenced them off with pound shop white fencing.

accidentally killed edible border

My edible border with grass path

Next it was time to pick the next pumpkin – a rather stunted greenish thing but the plant, like previous ones, was now undeniably dead so picking it and digging over it’s plot was the next task.

accidentally killed this wks pumpkin

A dinky pumpkin

All of this was being done in my holey wellies, on which an update is required. I went to the welly shop, the only place in my small town I could think might sell wellies, I had walked past the shelves filled with all manner of boots on so many occasions but when I rocked up clutching a tenner at the weekend the lady said they had run out. So I am still gardening wearing plastic bags on my feet under fast degrading plastic until I can think of somewhere else to buy some cheap wellies.

The next task was sort out the slug traps. I had not looked at them for weeks. I had sort of ignored them in a passive aggressive slug killing kind of way. They were overflowing and stank. It was almost gip inducing sloshing out the watery beer and fishing out the dead bodies. The whole thing has actually killed my love of real ale, every time I smell beer I now think: dead slugs rather than: good times ahead.

accidentally killed dead frog

Poor dead frog

I gasped as I pulled out the tiny little dead frog that had died amongst the molluscs.  This blog title then formed in my head as I recalled the other victims of my gardening – the mouse and her nest, the slow worm I accidentally stabbed whilst digging. She turned up a week later, stiff and undeniably not alive. I could no longer pretend that maybe slow worms’ tails grow back. Take it from me – they don’t.

accidentally killed slow worm deceased

Poor dead slow worm

This is how we get our food though, by digging, or getting someone else to dig on our behalf. By defending crops against pests. I read in The Observer that there is a new scary slug on the block – the Spanish slug that may soon be on the rampage. It breeds faster and can munch happily on excrement. A scary prospect is if it mates with native slugs and can then survive frosts, then there would be some hybrid robo-slug munching through my brassicas. I guess a bit of wildlife collateral damage and having to drink wine from now on is a small price to pay if it helps the fight against the Spanish slug. At least that is what I plan to tell myself as the guilt kicks in.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/12/invasion-killer-slugs-you-can-help

Optimism about autumn

11 Oct

In the spirit of mindfully having gratitude for what you have and also somewhat inspired by my sunnier natured hubby who proclaimed autumn to be his favourite season, I have been thinking about what I like about autumn. So here goes: I have finally switched on the heating and the house feels all cosy when I come in from the plot. Yesterday I gave the kids their first hot chocolate of autumn and they cupped their cold hands round it and happily slurped.

The colours on the leaves, of course. The prospect of storing pumpkins in my shed – come a zombie apocalypse I shall dine on pumpkin (if I can get to shed without being got at). And everyone keeps giving me apples. I have bags of the things, I even turned some down today.

I admit I have now some what exhausted my list in the reasons-to-be-cheerful-even-though-winter-is-just-round-the-corner thought experiment. One glaring omission to that list is that I have still been able to visit the plot in between showers. The bad news is this recent wet weather has made me face the fact that my pink festival wellies are not long for this earth.

optimism welly

Holey to say the least

Optimism

I am reduced to doing this!

That is not the sock of an old-school tramp but instead is mine. this is the palava I have to go through every time I go to the plot. I wrap my sock in a plastic bag and then put on the holey wellies. This for once isn’t miserliness that has made me do this, I just keep forgetting to go to a welly shop. How often does one need to visit a place that sells wellies in a lifetime? I cannot say I have ever bought a pair besides the pink festi wellies that were bought at a festi during predictable inclement British weather.

My first job today at the plot was to rearrange the netting that had blown off during all this blowy weather we’ve been having. I inspected the grass paths I sprinkled with pound shop grass seed and was pleasantly surprised by the progress.

Optimism grass path

I have a new path

Then I decided it would be a good day to harvest my second batch of beetroot.

optimism beetroot optimism beetroot leaves

I left the roots out to dry and added the leaves to the compost

Once the beetroots were gone I dug the area where they had been, applied manure and covered it with more membrane. It was the last scrap of membrane from a very long roll I’d bought online more than a year ago. It started to rain so I gathered up the beetroot and stood in the shed for a while. As I looked out I realised my plot is now more covered with membrane than it ever has been but in the spirit of optimism I tried to ponder the extent to which there would be far fewer weeds to tackle come spring, rather than lamenting the ruined aesthetics of membrane as-far-as-the-eye-can-see.

optimism more membrane

More of the black stuff!

Progress

3 Oct

September absolutely flew by. I was back at work, I was trying to get a mindfulness class started and the kids were settling into their new lives at school. The plot doesn’t know or care about this and of course those weeds keep growing. I set myself some ridiculous goals for September – dig strip 3, plant fruit bushes, make some grass seed paths. True to my dyslexic always-over-stretching-myself self, I knew some of this simply wouldn’t get done. This blog got dropped for a week or two but that didn’t mean I wasn’t still there digging, be it sporadically!

So let’s do the bad news first. My tomato plants succumbed to blight just as they were going red! We did manage to get about two week’s worth of tomatoes before they were blighted but still, it wasn’t a happy moment up rooting these plants I had nurtured since March and chucking them in the plot dump to be burned.

progress toms

Blighted!

A second thing to die was my youngest’s pumpkin plant. I was there at the weekend, it looked fine. I returned on Tuesday to see that the plant had withered so much it was almost invisible and all that remained were two dinky pumpkins, not yet orange being circled by hungry slugs. I gathered up the withered plant, salvaged the pumpkins and they now reside on my window sill. I am not sure if they will turn orange in the same way tomatoes turn red.

progress pumpkins

Diddy pumpkins!

But aside from these two setbacks things are good on the plot. My oldest’s pumpkins are thriving, huge and turning orange. This of course has provoked a bit of sibling rivalry. My attempt to appease all (you have a dinky one of his and we’ll give him a big orange one of yours) was flatly refused by the eldest who can spot a bad deal when she sees one!

progress

Proper pumpkins!

My courgette plant – the one constant all summer – really is the gift that keeps giving. I have picked another 3 courgettes this week and there’s more on the way if slugs or frost don’t get them first.

progress courgettes

Courgettes still growing.

I can’t say I have had an awful lot of luck with my brassicas but I was amazed to see that after months of growing I can now see some distinct looking brussels on the way – maybe in time for Christmas?

progress sprouts

Sprouts! At last a brassica I’ve planted has grown!

And that digging, the bane of any reluctant gardener’s life, that was really making my hands hurt a few weeks ago and so I slowed down the pace, has come on in leaps and bounds. I still have a small corner yet to dig but I have finished my first grass path and started my second one.

progress path 1

My first grass path!

progress paths

Strip 3 – flatter and the starting to take shape

OK so my one concern is the grass seed has all come from a pound shop in Harlesden. Even as I was buying it there was a sensible voice inside me (being ignored as my sensible voice often is) screaming go to Wilko. So we shall see, I might get another blog entry out of lamenting my foolish stinginess!