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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Trip to Slovenia

 Just a couple of weeks ago I made a short trip to Slovenia.  Stayed here in Ljubljana, the most amazing city.  In fact Lublijana was awarded the Green Capital of Europe in 2016.  Recycling everywhere in the city centre, cars are prohibited from the old historic centre and most areas are pedestrian and bicycle only.    This wonderful street market is open 7 days a week, all year round.
Local restaurants sell dishes inspired by local food which is in season!  How wonderful is that?  Living a green life and eating local food is the norm here!
Here, the market stalls at the moment have individual local people who have harvested their own crops and brought them to market.  Ladies here go out into the forests to pick mushrooms like these wonderful ceps here.
One of the local specialties in Eastern Slovenia is Pumpkin Seed Oil.  You can buy it toasted or raw.  This is so delicious, if you ever get to try it I most highly recommend it.   The first course of many restaurants here is local bread dipped in pumpkin seed oil.
Oh... and there is this!  Prekmurska Gibanica  - layers of filo pastry, apples, poppy seeds, walnuts and curd cheese.   I enjoyed this several times, actually not sickly sweet like so many deserts but just natural sweetness from the apples and a little icing sugar on top.
Driving through the countryside in Slovenia you could see walnut trees everywhere.  So again in the local market people harvested and sold their own fresh walnuts.  I couldn't resist these!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Matron Goes Nuts!


One of my favourite places this time of year is the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent.  They hold a staggering collection of fruit varieties.  Not just apples, but pears, quinces, plums, apricots and nuts.
 Really well worth a visit to stroll through the orchards and see the variety of fruit held there, but for the wonderful fruit shop where you can buy freshly picked fruit from the orchard there.  You will not be able to buy some of these varieties anywhere else.

 Just look at these Bambinella miniature pears!  You would think they would be hard and tasteless just looking at them, they are about an inch round and look almost ornamental.... but

 What a revelation! really sweet and juicy! The most wonderful pear variety.  If you can get your hands on them then they come highly recommended. Wow!
 As I was backing my car into the car park there I could hear cracking underneath the tyres of my car.  I had come across part of the national collection of nuts!  Kentish cob nuts, or hazel nuts are a real feature of this county and they appeared to be suffering from an absence of squirrels!
 So fortunately I had a few spare bags in my pocket (as every good dog owner should have..) and came home with a wonderful bag of hazel nuts.  There is something very fresh and very different about fresh hazelnuts when you compare them to the dry old things you buy in the supermarkets.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Growing Up

 So this is the South Facing wall in my small courtyard veggie garden.  To make the most of the available space I allow climbing veggies to make their own space up against the wall.
 Up until just a couple of weeks ago my runner beans were not doing well at all.   Then we had quite a bit of rain and they have set really well now.  Runner beans need wet conditions for the flowers to set.  Better late than never!  These beans just wind their own way up among the squash and tomatoes.
 Meanwhile on the patio, these beefsteak tomatoes have done well in a growbag, a ring culture pot and some support frames.  As yet unaffected by blight.
 Every gardener should experiment.  I took a chance in making a really late sowing of courgette seeds.  There is still some warm weather around and these seem to be coming along nicely.  When my main plants slow down in a couple of weeks, I might have some more doing nicely.
 These Joe's long Cayenne chillis are starting to ripen.  I really love these!  Just the right amount of heat for my taste, and just two plants are so prolific they provide all I need for freezing or drying.
These Uchiki Kuri squashes were also climbing up my wall.  I have left them on this sunny shelf outdoors to cure the skin.  If the skin is dried well in the sunshine they keep much longer through the Winter - assuming you don't eat them!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Blight Watch!

 I spotted this on my tomato plant today!  A sure sign that the plant is affected with blight.   Tomato blight  strikes in warm, wet conditions.   These conditions are right for the spread of the disease.  There must be two consecutive days with a minimum temperature of 10degrees C, AND each day has at least six hours with a relative humidity at 90%.  This period of time is known as the 'Hutton Criteria'    You can subscribe to a free warning service by the Met Office known as Blight Watch  where you will be notified when the Hutton Criteria is met,
 The only thing you can do is good housekeeping at this stage.  Remove all affected leaves and destroy them. Don't put them in your garden compost or you will be spreading the disease. If tomatoes are ripe then pick them and use them quickly.
 Don't spread the disease further by watering the whole plant, just the soil and the roots if you must water.  The tomatoes will be fine to eat as normal, but the fruit may develop brown marks as well if left to be affected.
 Meanwhile on the plot, a couple of my Joe's Long Cayenne chilli have started to ripen.
 I am doing a little bit of trial and error here.  A few weeks ago I planted a second planting of courgettes and cucumbers.  It may work or it may not.   As long as the weather stays warm well into September (it may well do) then just as my first crop is getting old and tired, then I may just have a couple of new plants to give me a bit more of a crop into Autumn.  If I don't.. then nothing lost... just a couple of seeds.
Here is one of my second crop cucumber plants ready to climb up a warm, South facing brick wall.  Let's see what happens!

Friday, July 28, 2017

More Pickings

 One of my favourite courgettes is Romanesco from Seeds of Italy.  It is a really healthy and prolific plant and goes on right till the end of the Season.  I'm picking them daily at the moment.


This Romanesco courgette plant is a good 5 feet across and very healthy.  Early Spring I dug in a good bag of well rotted manure into this small area of soil.  All the veggies growing in this bed and up the South facing brick wall have done well.
 Flower set from my Runner beans has been pretty bad during the dry weather, but these climbing French Beans Blauhilde are always a hit.  Climbing up the wall, between the tomatoes, squash and cucumbers finding their own way on this South Facing jungle wall.  Pretty too!
 Another climbing veg is this climbing Courgette Black Forest.  When you have little space in a courtyard garden, you can fit more in by growing upwards!
 Not such good news on my climbing Cucumber Femspot.  Poor little baby cucumber is covered in green aphids.  Actually this whole plant never looked happy and predators more often get a hold on plants that are not happy in the first place.   I might just cut my losses and get rid of the plant and use the precious space for something else.
 I love these Joe's Long Cayenne Chillis.  Large crops of large red chillis, just from a couple of plants I can grow enough for a year's supply of dried chilli flakes!  Matron is pleased that this one is nearly 12 inches long!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

July Pickings

 I love these Uchiki Kuri squash!  They are small enough to be able to harvest and eat without too much waste.  They are a lovely Winter keeper if you ripen the skins well in Autumn. They taste great!... and they are small enough to climb up a trellis or up a wall.  Here I have my small South facing wall where I climb lots of different veggies together.
 I love trying new varieties, this one is a Delizia cucumber.  Really lovely thin skin and a beautiful texture and flavour.  Quite prolific too!  Growing up against my South facing wall jungle!
 Sungold is my favourite tomato!  The best flavour of all and a really good, strong plant.  Worth the extra money to pay for F1 seeds, but these plants grow up to 10 feet tall if you let them!
 The only down side to Sungold is that they do tend to split if you don't pick them when ripe.  A sudden shower of rain when they are ripe is enough to swell and split the skins.  I do pick them straight away after this because the fruit flies tend to gather around them.
 The Alicante tomatoes are just starting to ripen too.  Growing in planting bags with metal supports for the canes, you can grow tomatoes like this almost anywhere.
The best news of all is that Daisy doesn't seem to like eating tomatoes! So I get them all to myself! Yaay!

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!

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