Tag Archives: tomatoes

Getting (re)started

4 Mar

So a week or two has passed since I last visited the plot and made my list of things to do. Since then it has vanished from my list of priorities. I was all ready to go for a run today but ended up carrying my kids safety helmets which was enough of an excuse to ditch the run and amble to the plot instead.

getting started 3

As I arrived in the early morning dazzling sunshine I had mild regret over two things: I didn’t bring my shades and I was wearing my running shoes and not my wellies. Within two minutes of walking to our plot the early morning dew had soaked through my running shoes, giving me damp foot, a condition I was very familiar with before buying my new wellies.

getting started 2

But it wasn’t all bad. Arriving so early in the morning meant I saw mist steaming up off the plot, it looked alive. Smoking. Despite the neglect and lack of doing much towards my to do list, it’s all still looking in good shape but I do need to get going on the weeding and the grass path making (once again).

getting started 4

And I need to plant the cheap Aldi trees, one thing we have managed to do in the last month, scared they would sell out for another year and we’d be left doing expensive mail order trees. They are residing in the shed awaiting planting. I marked out where they will go and covered the patches with membrane over a year ago so it shouldn’t be too hard a job to plant them soon. I just need to wear my wellies and commit to spending an hour or two there.

getting started 1

The other thing I did today, inspired by several friends who have already started growing all their seedlings indoors or under cloches, was start planting indoors ready for April and May. I planted several seedling trays with carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. While I was at it I also planted some coriander, tired of paying for it when I could just farm my own again.

getting started

And on many trips to the shed as I potted away I spotted further proof that this is all much needed, albeit brief, allotment attention. Spring is just around the corner.


Yule blog

30 Dec

Slightly belatedly, terrible internet access over the festive period has meant no sly checking of Facebook (a good thing) but also my Yule blog got postponed.

The allotment often feels like a distant memory these days, I was starting to forget it’s very existence until the renewal email dropped in my inbox a week ago. The rent has gone up to £18 this year, still a snip for us small holders but I imagine people with maximum rods will notice the increase more acutely.

I had visions of the plot allowing me to do some kind of home spun Christmas thing this year: a vision of organic hampers and chutneys. The reality was in fact  all I actually managed  was a jar of plot pickle to my nearest and dearest as well as buying the usual presents.

plot picklePlot pickle gifts!

I also contributed to the vat of sprouts my mum cooks every Christmas day, though we didn’t quite grow enough to stop her from buying any, it worked out at roughly a third of the sprouts on the yule table were home grown.

Me and the kids ventured down the plot just before they broke up, my youngest coughing and wheezing and me feeling guilty at having dragged them there after school. But it was a quick job, I picked the sprouts as they ran around giggling at the fact it was almost dark at 3.30 and we were on the plot once again.

chilly more sprouts

Sprouts in situ

Once home they looked a slightly manky slug eaten batch and yes that probably is a small pest you can see nestling amongst them. And I may have mentioned before I am not even that keen on them anyway, I just kind of felt obliged to grow brasicas because that is what allotmenteers grow. I usually only allow 3 on my plate on the big day itself!

picked sprouts

My sprout booty!

One other unexpected deferred fruit of our labour was a pear found lurking in a forgotten corner of a drawer. Again not a bountiful crop but a pear we had grown none the less which I snapped as the hubby peeled it for posterity. It was bitter and rather wrinkled but it was our pear!

ken peeling pear

Here’s to more pears and sprouts and veg in general next year!

Happy winterval and a healthy 2014!

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!



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.

The arrival of autumn

11 Sep

Let’s face it: we were all in denial last week, there was sunshine, the kids didn’t need coats as they walked into school. I really thought (and this is admittedly rather greedy given the beautiful summer we have had) we were due for an Indian summer. I thought we’d get another 3 weeks at least of glorious sunshine.

Fast forward to this week and the slippers have been dug out along with chunky knit jumpers. I wore my wellies (yes still sporting the crap pink festi wellies with holes) for the first time in months today. A nearby neighbour asked me what I was planning to do today and I ummed and then said digging I suppose.

There hasn’t really been that much to do of late. A bit of light weeding, a bit of harvesting, a bit of giving the plants their feed. Re-potting or planting seedlings. But in terms of great allotment projects, like building beds, making paths and sorting out fruit corner, I haven’t had to face anything for ages. Hence my visits down to the plot have been sunny and enjoyable all summer.

But there is still a lot to do. A third of the plot has been covered in membrane since February. We agreed to leave it, let the weeds die and then tackle it in autumn. Today as I walked the kids to school wearing woolly hats, I knew autumn had well and truly arrived. It was time to peel back the membrane and face some digging.

digging b4

This is what strip 3 looked like at 9.30am

I did my usual wobbling about, lamenting the fact there were quite a few people around to witness my crap digging. I watered the earth and pulled out the last remaining ghost weeds. I only unpeeled a small section at first but once I got going I remembered what hard but slightly pleasant work it is – working on something completely new and fresh.


Strip 3 at 11.30am, about 30% is now dug

I pulled up more weeds as I went along and then tried to level it off with a hoe before sprinkling poultry manure on it and re-covering it. I am not taking any chances – it will stay under wraps till April, I am just getting it ready for then.

After all that hard work I rewarded myself by picking some more tomatoes and tidying up herb garden.

Digging harvest

At last I don’t have to buy any tomatoes this week!

digging herbs

Herb garden – the safest place to grow lettuce away from all the slugs!

Finally as I was administering feed to Dylan’s ailing pumpkin plant I noticed we may even get some home grown fruit this year. The tree I have been calling an apple tree is most definitely a pear tree and it looks like we may get one pear each!

digging pears

So autumn is definitely here. It’s time to clear away the old plants, harvest what you can and most of all dig! Before the ground starts freezing and your fingers go numb.

Going on a bug hunt

24 Aug

Another week and more time spent away from the plot. The last time I was there was Monday night. I had gone on a mercy mission to save my tomatoes from up ending, saying to the hubby I would be forty minutes at most. He gave me a wry smile and I realised that my forty minutes down the plot are always nearer an hour and a half at least. Once there I find it difficult to leave. Even if it’s raining it seems so calming and welcome after a busy week with the kids.

The hubby was right to wear that wry smile. My plot forty minutes are a reverse version of the counsellor’s hour. In my defence it takes ten minutes to walk there and back so maybe I do only do forty minutes’ work I just forget about the journey time. An hour and a half later and I am trapped in plot, it has got so dark I cannot see the numbers on the combination lock. Thank goodness for the illuminating mobile phone in my pocket.

The tomatoes were now, I felt, securely tethered. I had used 3 bits of bamboo, creating a tripod like structure and watered the poles in so they would set and not wobble. I then got sucked into the whole pruning all the useless bits on the tomato plants and that took me up to dusk. Finally I remembered I needed to add ericaceous compost to my ailing blueberry bush which was why I ended up leaving the plot in darkness. It was calm there at night but also a little spooky.

Today, five days, a trip to Brighton and a fourth birthday party later, what would I find? Firstly as the name of this post suggests, I found a  whole lot of bugs. The plot was wet and muddy and entirely different from when I had left it. It smelt different and seemed a little gloomy, giving me a feel that autumn is only round the corner. And the bugs! Oh my they were out in force today.

My first job was to remove the caterpillars from the brassicas. This, it has to be said, was not my finest hour spent on the plot. Wet, grubby, up close and personal with a whole lot of caterpillar juice – I can think of better ways of spending a Saturday afternoon.

Going on bug hunt caterpillars

One of the many caterpillar colonies I found today.

I peeled them off each leaf, sometimes three or four at a time. Being as gentle as I could. Reminding myself that today’s caterpillar is tomorrow’s butterfly but to my horror I witnessed the smaller ones literally bursting on impact, green ooze coming out of their wee heads. I tried removing whole leaves rather than killing them but the small ones did not fair well. I found puddles of caterpillar wee or droppings, I don’t know what it was but wherever they were found, nearby was a pool of slimy green liquid with lumps. I had to get right in amongst the brassicas, searching for more caterpillars and then the stench of wet cabbage reminded me I do not even like cabbage, sprouts or cauliflower that much.

Going on bug hunt slug in brassicas

My brassicas have turned into the best bug hotel going.

During my accidental slaughter of the caterpillars I also chanced upon countless fat slugs. Much more robust creatures they also got thrown in the weed bucket alongside their more delicate cousins, ready for delivery to the allotment dump. I found one that looked almost the size of a small vole as it nestled in my gloved hand.

Going on bug hunt mega slug

No wonder my sprouting broccoli is looking a bit lame!

In the interests of being fair to that slug I have to say I do have quite small hands but still, I picked off half a dozen over fed beasts of a similar size. My gloves were now soaked with caterpillar juice and slug slime so I was grateful the next thing on the to do list was weed the pumpkin patch. My bug hunt wasn’t over though as I soon discovered whilst pulling up the weeds that two small pumpkins have now also fallen to the voracious appetite of these slimy blighters.

Going on bug hunt slug pumpkin

It didn’t just eat my pumpkin, it fell asleep there too!

But my return after almost a week was not all bugs and ravaged plants. The grass seed in fruit corner is growing at last, if very patchily.

Going on bug hunt fruit corenr

Looking less like a grave!

I scattered more grass seed on the bare patches and went to check out the tomatoes. The home made bamboo tripods have held them in place over the windy week. I cut off more excess leaves, being as brutal as I could muster. And then I noticed the best thing of all. After weeks I finally have two reddish tomatoes. I left them on the vine, having heard the red ones give off chemicals that help the others turn red. I just hope none of the countless remaining bugs I may have missed on my bug hunt get to eat them before I do.

Going on bug hunt red toms

Hurrah – I have two red tomatoes!


4 Aug

Nothing stays the same on the allotment for long, even my attitude to harvesting is radically different from a couple of weeks ago. At first I felt the need to have a near ceremonial attachment to any piece of edible stuff picked and taken home yet now, a few weeks on, I am hastily picking what I can and chucking it in an old carrier bag to carry home.

Today’s crop included potatoes, beetroot, cucumber and a huge courgette. I have recently learnt how to make courgette cake and I suspect it might become a regular this summer. It feels strange writing about success instead of the never ending drudgery of weeding.


Today’s pickings!

The summer holidays have really been getting in the way of all the work I need to do, the digging, the weeding, the sorting. But I don’t feel too guilty or resentful, there is relief almost as I shrug my shoulders and think, the kids are around all day everyday, how much can I really do?

Today I managed a few hours, the first proper visit for a week. I was dazzled by the lawn I had planted and amazed to see a small pumpkin forming.

baby pumpkin

A baby pumpkin!

Also this harvesting takes time. The potatoes need to be pulled up, the patch they are growing on then requires weeding and levelling before the sun bakes it into non compliance. I tackled a bit of that this morning, making way for the next lot of stuff to go in – a second load of plants and seedlings from my uncle Arthur. May they bring me as much luck as the last lot.

potato patch b4

Potato patch before

pot patch after


As the forecast was dry I sprayed the remaining stubborn weeds that dwell nowhere near anything currently growing with a bit of weed killer. I have done this once before and always with a heavy heart. But when even membrane won’t hold the onslaught back I feel I need a quick cut to manageability.

The whole plot with membrane

The whole plot, hopefully some of those weedy borders may lessen after my toxic squirt fest

And finally a friend told me this week that tomato plants need a bit of trimming every now and then. Any branches that have no buds or flowers on them have to go in a cull that will help sustain what tomatoes there already are ripen and continue growing. So I snipped and trimmed. Timidly at first as it seems almost wrong to butcher what I have nurtured so carefully for months but after a while I got into the monotony of searching out duff branches and soon became ruthless, even though I have always shied away from the idea of survival of the fittest and all that. The tomato plants were a jungle and they needed taming, someone had to do it. It still didn’t quite feel right and induced reminiscent memories of a tales of the unexpected episode in which a bloke invented a machine which allowed plants to be heard screaming when their owners cut them down. Maybe at times I am just a bit too soft to be a gardener.

tomatoe plants after trimming

My tamed tomato plants.