Down on the Allotment

Matron grows vegetables and fruit in a courtyard garden. Which edibles will tolerate less than ideal growing conditions. Discovering how veggies can grow in partial shade.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts - part 3

 The brined walnuts have been drying for a few days now and they have turned dark brown or black.
 The recipe says 4 pints of malt vinegar, but I find the finished product is much too acid for my taste so I would recomment 3 pints of vinegar and 1 pint of water.    Theres 1lb of brown sugar, grated fresh ginger, teaspoon of ground allspice, teaspoon of ground clove, teaspoon cinnamon and I added a tablespoon of molasses just to make it tasty!
 To be honest, the finished article relies almost completely on the spices, vinegar and sugar for flavour so if you want to experiment with other spices then have a go.
 Simmer the walnuts in the vinegar for about 15 minutes.  They will be soft, then you lift them out and pack them into wide mouthed jars.
 Strain the spices out of the vinegar if you like, or leave them in - it is just a matter of taste.  Pour the spiced vinegar over the walnuts and seal the jars. 
I'm going to leave these for a couple of weeks before tasting them, I'll let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show - Part 2

 One of the highlights at Hampton Court was the display from Seeds of Italy.  Here you can see the most wonderful 'Kitchen Garden' - literally a garden in a kitchen!  RHS Awarded Paolo and the team a well deserved Silver Gilt medal for this display.
 Have you ever grown chick peas?  Not so common here in the UK, but I wouldn't mind giving them a go now that I have seen them growing.   Actually you can buy fresh chick peas like this in Asian Supermarkets here in West London, I wonder if I might try growing some from those? hmmmm
 Everything on display was beautifully presented, look at this Chicory on the counter top.
 Here is a great example of companion planting, the nasturtiums are grown with the Cavalo Nero, black kale.  Some pests may be diverted on to the nasturtium leaves and not eat the kale!  In any event, it makes for a wonderful choice of colours here in the kitchen garden.
 Plants on display here in the Seeds of Italy kitchen garden were grown by young adults with autism and other learning disabilities working at a social enterprise in North Yorkshire. 
I just love the selection of seeds from Seeds of Italy.  Really generous packets of seeds, with a mouthwatering range of varieties to try.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Hampton Court Flower Show - Part 1

 I was so thrilled to get a ticket for this years Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.  Particularly this year as edible plants and veggies had such a high profile!  One of the best displays in my mind was from Pennard Plants.  A really lovely variety of different and unusual veggies wonderfully displayed.
 I've tried growing Wasabi in my garden, it is still soldiering on, but this specimen really gives me something to aim for.  Grown for its root which has a really strong horseradish flavour, you can also eat the leaves in a salad.   Wasabi grows in wet, gravel beds in shady conditions in Japan.  I have grown mine in a pot underneath a dripping tap against a North facing wall.  It seems to do OK there.  This is really inspiring, I can't wait for the next Pennard Plants catalogue next year!
 It is always good when you can put on an attractive display in your garden or on your allotment.  These Purple Podded Peas do just that!  Really easy to grow, with attractive purple flowers that the bees just love! 
 Now... the highlight of most people's experience at the Hampton Court Palace Flower show may have been one of the show gardens. NOT ME! - my highlight was to see that Pennard Plants have been bulking up their supply of purple sweet potato slips so that they will be on sale for the first time next year in their Spring 2018 season.   I have fallen in love with this unusual veggie!   If you do a word search at the top of my blog you will see the previous posts I have written about them.  They are amazing!  Go on - give them a try next year! 
And just look at these miniature patio tomatoes!  Inspiring for someone who has very little space to grow a tomato plant on a sunny windowsill, a balcony just in a pot.  This display by Pennard Plants was inspiring for so many reasons!... More to follow!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts Part 3

 This is quite a long process but let's see if it is worth the effort.   So these green walnuts have been in brine for 2 weeks now.  Brine was changed once a week ago.  Drain the walnuts and lay them out on a tray.
 They should be air dried in a warm place for 3 to 5 days until they are completely dry and have turned black.  The irony is now, that in the UK we have just had a week of amazing sunshine and heat - which is now gone as heavy rain is expected later today for a few days.  I will have to find somewhere where the mice (or Labradors) don't get at them.  Perhaps the airing cupboard.
Do still be careful when handling the walnuts, the juice will stain badly so please wear gloves.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts - part 2

So my green walnuts have been soaking in brine for a week, and now I am draining them and soaking them in a clean brine solution for another week.  You can see already that parts of the walnuts are already turning black.  Again, this black dye that comes out of the walnuts really does stain, so please wear gloves when handling them.  Next stage happens in one more week.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How to Pickle Walnuts - Part 1

 For a number of years now I have been intending to do this but have never managed to get around to Pickling Walnuts.  One of the main reasons is that the window of opportunity is quite small.  The green or unripe walnuts have to be just the right size, but in only a couple of weeks the hard shell will begin to form inside the green outer layer and you cannot pickle them. 
 So early this morning I managed to find a walnut tree that was low enough to reach.  I picked a couple of pounds, about half a carrier bag full.  One unexpected thing was the perfume coming from the tree and the walnuts as I picked them.  Hard to explain, but it was a wonderful, floral fragrance almost a cross between Jasmine and spinach!... Really lovely actually!
 This is what the inside of a green walnut looks like.  It is recommended that you push a needle into the walnut just to check that the hard nut shell has not formed.  You will not be able to use them if it has formed - obviously!   I washed them thoroughly and gently topped and tailed them - cutting off any stems, stalks so they are tidy and smooth.
 You MUST wear gloves when cutting and handling green walnuts.  There is a juice which comes out of them which is bright yellow in colour, but this is used as a dye!!!  Your hands will turn dark brown or black if you get this juice on them.  I used a small desert fork to prick a series of holes into each walnut, the liquid sometimes squirts out!  You can feel that each one does not have a shell forming, and it enables the brine solution to penetrate each walnut fully.
I made about 4 pints of brine using 200g salt.  The pricked green walnuts will be left in this first brine solution for ONE WEEK!  Then they will be drained, and placed in another clean brine for ANOTHER WEEK!.. so I will update you when I am ready to proceed with the next stage.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Coming Along Nicely

 These lovely long days are bringing on everything in my courtyard garden.  This Tayberry is starting to ripen now.  A Tayberry is a cross between a Raspberry and a Blackberry.  I am eating these every day straight from the plant so that the birds don't get  there before me.
 Without the aid of a greenhouse these Sungold cherry tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.  These really are one of the best tasting tomatoes.  Even though they are an F1 variety and seeds can be costly, they really are worth it.
 This little cucumber Carmen , is growing bigger by the day. There is a cucumber on every single leaf joint so if I can keep it well fed and watered it is going to be quite prolific.
 I have a Morello cherry tree up against the West facing brick wall of the house.  I have bought some netting to cover them.  The will start to ripen to a dark purple almost black colour soon.  Must get a move on and get all that netting up.
 Still early days yet but this bush courgette Romanesco is just beginning to show.   Again, a really prolific bush variety from Seeds of Italy.   Experience as well as trial and error have shown me which varieties of fruit and veggies grow well for me in my own situation.
In between the tomato plants in the grow bags I have planted quite a few clumps of Genovese Basil.   These make good companion plants as well as making a tasty accompaniment to tomato!
Romanesco Courgettes do well in this South facing container up against a brick wall.  As long as they are fed and watered, they will do well here.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

How to Make Elderflower Cordial

Elderflowers are everywhere at the moment!  It does seem to be a good year for them and you can see these fragrant flowers almost everywhere.

So now is the time, and the season is quite short, to make elderflower cordial.  It is really simple.
 You will need about 30 or so flower heads.  Snip the heads off with a pair of scisors leaving the minimum single stem on the plant.  I picked mine early morning after overnight rain so they were fairly clean.   Take them home in a carrier bag, then leave them out on a tray for a while to let any live critters walk out.  Gently wash the heads if you need to, don't worry about the odd critter left, they will be strained out.
 Boil 3 pints of water and pour over 2lbs white sugar in a saucepan.  Stir until the sugar has disolved.  Take 5 lemons, peel the zest off and strain the juice which you will set aside.  Chop up the lemon pith and everything else and put in the sugar mix.
 Place the elderflower heads into the sugar and lemon mix and give them a stir to mix.  Cover and leave overnight for the flavour to develop.   Overnight when the mixture has cooled, then add all the lemon juice and 2 spoons of citric acid.  This helps preserve the cordial a bit longer and give it a good flavour. Stir in the citric acid until it has disolved in the syrup.

 Strain the juice through a sieve and a muslin.  You can use a jelly bag, or even some coffee filter paper if you like.  You just need to strain out the flowers and perhaps some of the pollen to make the syrup a bit clearer.
Sterilise some bottles with boiling water and store the cordial in the fridge.  It will last a couple of weeks.  Dilute it to taste and enjoy!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Oxford Covered Market

Last week I had a spare day and decided to make a visit to the Oxford Covered Market.  I love this traditional old market filled with produce of every imaginable kind.  The greengrocers here has such a wonderful display.
 Many different varieties and colours of carrots and beetroot on sale.  Makes a lovely change from the aenemic plastic vegetables in supermarkets.
 and the pie shop! Lunchtime was bekoning and there was every kind of pie imaginable here,
 and speaking of colours, white asparagus locally grown in the Wye valley.
 Purple asparagus...
and green asparagus too.  Nothing beats fresh veggies in season does it?

And one of the other reasons I went to visit Oxford was to visit Christ Church College.  One of the most beautiful of all the Oxford colleges.  But that wasn't the only reason...

The old staircase at Christ Church College was used during the filming of the Harry Potter films.  You might recognise this as it was the main staircase in Hogwarts School!   But on the day I visited it was just teeming with Muggles!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Planting Out

 You have to make your own decisions as to when you think all risk of frost is over.  A few weeks ago I planted out just two of my tomato plants in a calculated risk.  This is my first Sungold tomato.  This week in London it is predicted to get up to 30 degrees so I have just planted out the rest of my tender veggies! They wouldn't do well in pots this week.
 Making the best use of a small space involves companion planting, I grow climbing Blauhilde beans up walls, and up other plants and veggies. These are a lovely purple French bean, and very prolific.
 I use these lovely planters to grow up a South facing wall.  To the left is a climbing courgette Black Forest - one of my all time favourites. To the right is a Romanesco courgette  a bush variety from Seeds of Italy. Both very prolific and very healthy.
 Growing in a partially shaded West facing wall up against the house is this Morello Cherry.  Fruit has set well and I am keeping it well watered because soil under brick walls tends to be quite dry even in wet weather.  I am off to the garden centre today to buy some netting so that the blackbirds don't eat them all!
 These vegetable planters are double the depth of a traditional growbag and I have had good success with tomatoes here.  The cane support frames are really good here.
These large pots have the bottom cut out down into the grow bag.  This is a 'ring culture' which provides extra root space for growth, restricts the feeding roots at the top of the soil so that the plant grows tall, and the tap roots go down into the bag looking for water. Feed the top, water the bottom.  These are Joe's Long cayenne chillis.  A large plant with very long chillis reaching 12" or more.