Tag Archives: food

Never Ending Harvest

26 Sep

Since taking on our scrubby corner of paradise 4 years ago the constant questions from friends, family and anyone vaguely interested has always been ‘Have you noticed your food bills have gone down since taking on an allotment.’ The answer has always been a resolute no, not in the slightest. The cost of buying equipment, seeds, manure, compost and other allotment kit has always far outweighed the occasional £2 shaved off a shop because I don’t need to buy any spuds that week.

However this year had anyone asked me (no one did this year, perhaps they me too brash in previous years) my answer would have been do you know what, yes I think I have probably saved about a tenner each shop since July, so plentiful has the harvest been this year.

This in itself led to more spending – so often the way – my slightly lower food bills fooled me into thinking I could now afford an organic veg box to supplement my harvest and now I am signed up to the veg box scheme I’m confident that will go on long after any savings can be felt.

I made some raised beds at home this year and from them I have had a constant supply of courgettes, cherry toms and lettuce, loads of lettuce. I haven’t bought any bagged lettuce all summer. This has become so ingrained that even my husband remembers to go out to the garden with scissors rather than buy more lettuce when there’s none in the fridge.

At the plot itself I have had a constant supply of cucumbers, potatoes, more tomatoes and now our apple tree is finally giving us our first harvest, three years after we planted it.

The cherry tree, blueberry bush and gooseberry bush were all rather disappointing but still I am pleasantly surprised that it’s been such a good year given that I have hardly been there – something else always crops up. Something else I enjoy a lot less, like reading work emails, or keeping up with governor related stuff or having a driving lesson.

The crops are all done now, alas there is no such thing as a never ending harvest but it’s been a good summer on the plot and growing veg at home was good for ensuring things got harvested regularly while I am so busy. I spent 2 hours at my plot this morning and, just as the weather gets cold and winter draws in, I realised I really should go there more often. Perhaps next year.

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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!

Strip 3 – done!

17 Sep

I’ve got so much to sort out at the moment. Training at work, schemes of work for my new classes and I am trying to launch my new career as a mindfulness teacher on top of the usual mayhem of kids, chores and social stuff. So going to the allotment now feels a bit of a guilty pleasure and as for writing this blog – I really don’t have time but I am slightly addicted!

I arrived bright and early at the plot this morning, straight after drop off and peeled back the last bit of strip 3 to be dug.

Strip 3

The last uncultivated bit of strip 3!

It was weedy and undulating but very easy to dig. More weed roots needed clearing than the other half and I lost count of the broken shards of glass I had to pull out along with metal bolts and tent pegs. With the exception of a conversation with a plot neighbour about tomato blight, I worked solidly on it for more than two hours feeling pleasantly surprised when I realised I was going to finish the job today.

Strip 3 done

Strip 3 done!

It was with a huge sense of achievement that, after hoeing it down and sprinkling more organic poultry manure on it, I covered it back over knowing it is as good as ready for next season.

Sadly during the dig I discovered that having a big sheet of membrane in situ for months means lots of creatures had made their homes beneath it and my digging disrupted their lives. I feel no great shame at the snails and slugs that I threw onto the dump but on Thursday I saw a terrified twitching field mouse fleeing for it’s life. Today I discovered it’s straw filled little nest and hoped it had found a nice new home. When I’d told the kids about this mouse sighting they both looked worried and one asked if I’d put it in the slug trap. Today I also spotted a slow worm and possibly its eggs. Sadly the fork (and me wielding it) had chopped it’s tail off, it slid off bleeding. I hope it survives but I was filled with the feeling that gardening can be a harsh business for wild creatures.

Once the heavy digging was done I picked some tomatoes and then in the interests of science I decided I would try the latest tip I’ve heard for making them go from green to red – putting them in a paper bag with some already ripe tomatoes and leaving them for a week. The key here is not to put them in the fridge but leave them at room temperature.

strip 3 green toms in bag

Let’s see how they look next week!

Back at home I checked out the winter stores – I have a lot of very small potatoes left (I have used all the big ones already) and I have a whole drawer of shallots. OK it will probably only shave off a couple of quid from the weekly shop but I feel more confident I will doggedly get back all the money – £300 at the last approximation – we have so far sunk into this growing your own veg lark. It just might take me into my retirement to do it. I am hoping there will be a lot less heavy digging to do by that stage!

strip 3 winter store

Shallots and small spuds a plenty.

Birthday Blog

8 Sep

It is one year since I set this little blog up and since I did my first entry. OK so it then sat dormant for another four months, so don’t be surprised if I do another birthdayish blog in February when the real work started. But anyway for now this is the one year anniversary of getting this thing started.

What I have learnt over a year:

  • Setting up a blog about the escapades of a pair of hapless allotment keepers did not guarantee any digging would actually get done. It stayed an overgrown mess for a long time after my drunken decision to tackle the plot.

012

What our plot looked like this time last year

  • Writing the word ‘allotment’ every Friday in my diary was the visual reminder I needed to get me down there regularly.
  • This led to my great revelation that (a lot like meditation or doing yoga) while I viewed going to the plot as yet another chore it was always going to be a battle. Once I loved being there it was much easier, the word ‘allotment’ is no longer required in my diary. I go there any time I can.

Birthday blog

What the plot looks like now

  • Planting seeds is not enough, you have to protect your crops as best you can. This has meant some unpalatable battles with slugs and much purchasing of netting and copper tape. We’ve even made the world’s smallest scarecrow!

birthday blog 2

My peppers slug proofed with copper tape and egg shells sprinkled around them.

  • Pumpkins are a great plant to grow with kids.  Yes they have pretty much taken over the entire plot but we are going to have so much fun come Halloween!

birthday blog 4

Pumpkins going ever so slightly orange

  • You are not stuck with the crap soil you start with. It is cloddy and clay like round us but having added much organic poultry manure, compost and plant food I can already see it changing. It is crumbly and easier to dig.  And my blueberry bush which was very sickly a few weeks ago has perked up with a bit of ericaceous compost and feed being introduced to it’s little corner of the plot. Once our home made compost gets going this will be even cheaper and easier to do.

birthday blog 3

Blueberry bush looking better

  • Having an allotment is even better than having a pet dog. It gives you an excuse to get out of the house whatever the weather but repays you with crops. I can’t say this year’s harvest has been that bountiful. But we’ve grown stuff that we’ve eaten, we have made the plot our own and so far we have not received the much feared threat-of-eviction letter. That was far more than we hoped for a year ago, when I decided to finally tackle the plot.

A mid summer sort out

10 Aug

My list of things to do goes beyond the plot. I have been toying with the idea of colouring my hair with henna for a while and today I had the necessary components to actually do this – the hubby was around to take the kids out for an adventure, I had bought some organic henna on line which was delivered this week and most importantly I have had so much family time it did not seem an extravagance to devote two and half hours to hair.

Girly stuff does not often happen in my house it has to be said and my daughter’s reaction on seeing my admittedly now rather orange hair was to burst into tears despite being excited about a mummy with different hair. ‘Why isn’t it more orange?’ she finally managed to ask, so at least she wasn’t being gingerist. The packet says allow a few days before disliking as it takes a while to settle and oxidise apparently. So for now I reserve judgement but let’s just say my first thoughts on seeing my new red hair, coupled with an old student t-shirt I was wearing to protect against splatters, was that I looked as though I should be working in a pub in Camden. Absolutely nothing wrong with that look I’m just not sure I can pull it off aged 42 and living in small town suburbia.

Bored of my youngest asking when my orange hair would go away, I decided to take myself and my new fiery mane to the plot, where hair and glamour are the last things on anyone’s mind.

I pottered and covered more weedy areas in membrane – my philosophy being why wait till the weeds are three foot tall?

More membrane to choke off the weeds

Covering up more weeds before they choke off my tomatoes

I tidied the tomato plants and added more cane to support what now feels like a small jungle. I planted the remains of the plants from Uncle Arthur: leeks and cabbages. I also re-potted my pepper seedlings, struggling to separate the twin plants I planted two together for fear of killing them with clumsiness.

Container grown stuff

Cabbages planted into a container

Peppers and Bs sunflower

Re potted peppers and a sunflower plant

The last few things to do was give the plants a bit of plant food, peruse to see what else might need doing tomorrow, pull up some pesky vine weed, wash some now empty seedling trays ready for next time, add my left over seed potatoes to the compost, re-sprinkle grass seed and get a shot of the biggest pumpkin so far. It looks like each plant can produce up to ten pumpkins and currently I have six thriving plants, so I guess I better get some pumpkin recipes at the ready.

pumpkin growing

Growing at an alarming rate!

Finally I had my flask of tea and tried to meditate for three minutes only to be interrupted by a plot neighbour. When I heard what he had to say I didn’t mind the interruption. He came over and said he admired what I had done with my plot, an accolade I had not expected. I happily carried some green tomatoes and two dinky cucumbers home and had forgotten all about my morning spent henna-ing my hair. That was until my youngest shouted by way of greeting, ‘Mummy why is your hair still orange?’ as I walked into the kitchen.

Summer fun

26 Jul

OK so my mission this week was to get some stuff done on the plot and entertain the kids at the same time. As it was a beautiful day I packed a picnic, lathered everyone up with sun cream and set off round about when the midday sun gets fiercest. On arrival I unveiled my latest pound shop purchase to keep them entertained – a pair of plastic squirty bottles and once filled they happily pottered around squirting all the plants and each other. I showed my eldest her now out of control pumpkin plant which is making a bid for fruit corner.

pumpkin out of control

No one told me pumpkins took up this much space!

I also showed them my one and only cauliflower to make it from a seed. After keeping a very close eye on the brassicas to find out exactly how a cauliflower grows I was surprised to stumble upon a fully formed one in my raised bed. Both kids instantly said yes mummy, but we don’t have to eat it do we?

cauliflower

My one cauliflower!

After a leisurely picnic we finally got around to making a much promised scarecrow which was followed by several choruses of the dingle dangle scarecrow song for good measure.

b D and scarecrow

The world’s smallest scarecrow?

I hadn’t realised it would be quite so small but they seemed delighted with it, asking if it would come alive after dark. My youngest stood amongst the ailing potato plants for ten minutes pretending to be a fellow scarecrow. So far so entertained.

herb garden going to seed

Herb garden going to seed.

I can’t say I got an awful lot done other than water, plant some more beetroot and make the dinky scarecrow but it was a nice summer holiday activity. A change from the garden or the park, coming up close to nature – they spotted bugs and birds and as the picnic was hungrily consumed I remembered this was a little slice of my imagined plot rather than the harsh reality of weeding in the midday sun. We could just be at the plot without needing to do anything much. The potato plants looked even worse and so the one time I did pick up a digging fork was to see what was going on underneath the ground. They probably weren’t the most bountiful potato plants to ever be harvested but from three plants I got half a bag’s worth of spuds. I set the kids up with one final task – washing them – as I tried to level the ground off and pulled up what weeds I could.

spuds and beetroot

Plot grown spuds and a beetroot.

On arrival home I thought about an article I read recently (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/jul/13/no-freedom-play-outside-children) that said some kids spend as little as 4% of their time outside compared to our grannies’ generation who were free to roam a fifty mile radius. I guess the plot is my way of giving them a bit more of the outdoors, to feel connected to the food they eat even though until the tomatoes and cucumbers come to fruition, there is very little chance of getting them to actually eat any of it besides the spuds.