Thursday 28 August 2008

Squashes - not so good

We grew a few squashes, 4 I think in different beds and they have all taken off well as plants- big and leafy, and have had to be cut back a couple of times. They're 'Avalon F1 hybrid' and they aren't making any squashes. There are loads of flowers all over the show but no veg and they really ought to be plumping up now and looking, well, good enough to eat, which was the objective. Nothing though, not a sign of even the smallest, most pathetic squash.

We have done something wrong here I think, wrong conditions, weather (can't be blamed for that), have we fed them the wrong stuff, too much of it, or not enough? This is one set of plants that have disheartened me. I saw someone else's plot - they had a big squash growing away merrily and I wish them well, I do, but what about ours? Squash is lovely and we eat lots of it in the winter, which let's face it, is just there, lerking around the corner. Darn it, we're going to have to go to bleedin' Tesco for them aren't we. I don't want to talk about it anymore.....


I think now would be a good time to mention our little row of beetroots. There's only 3 left, so I took photos of them last night in situ before we eat them all. I was extremely wary when we bought our 'Boltardy' seeds, you see to me Beetroot is that stinky pickled stuff in jars that comes out on special family dinners, especailly Christmas, and it sits there (sometimes crinkle cut) beside the pickled other stuff and it all smells. It smells bad and everyone else loves it and puts it on their plate and you have to pass it round and the smell is everywhere!!

(By the way, that's our own potatoes, runner beans and beetroot there, you know, just a wee bit proud.)

Anyway growning them was fun and rewarding - because, well they grew and looked like beetroots and such. We picked the 1st one and boiled it at home - okay; the 2nd we roasted on the bbq - okay again. BUT THEN Andrew came up with an amazing plan - BROWN SAUCE! Oh, my goodness, it sound bad, maybe worse than bad, but it is oh so good. I mean, really good. I am a beetroot convert - the fresh stuff that is, thon other pickled, be-jarred supermarket stuff could never be made again and I would rejoice.

I urge you, look not over the humble beetroot, but grow it next year in great quanities, as I intend to do. Pluck it, wash it, boil it and cover it in Brown sauce, you will thank me. Honest. Plus, the tender baby leaves are lovely in a salad. You just can't go wrong.

Slugs and Snails and catepillars...

It's not often I get near any of the bugs on our plot; Andrew is very effective at 'disposing' of them - he is in fact generally, a heartless bug killer. But yesterday in our front garden I noticed a snail (which is still alive somewhere) and had a thought... Maybe I'm mad, but in Paris people pay good money to eat these delightful, slimy, squidgy things and I'm no expert but are snails not slugs with fancy shells on their backs??? My idea therefore is an EU initiative wherein allotment holders can gather up their slugs, ship them off to Paris as 'food' and make a profit out of the blighters. Et voila, dinner, Escargots, and you don't even need to hoke them out of their fiddly shells.

On the other hand there is something delicious in seeing this...
Dead. Gone. Succumbed to the lovely blue pellet on the soil.

Slug : "What is that? it's a pretty colour, I wonder does it taste nice, ummm, no!

Carrie: "Ha ha! Got you, you blighter".

Don't judge me!!

Ohhhh, we found this cool caterpillar. We have no idea what it is but it was so weird and special to us that even Andrew was persuaded to let it live, though in the hedgerow, not in our plot. Look at it up close - there's hairs and red bits and a horn thing. Cool!

All the other cabbage white caterpillars that we have had, never got a chance to be photographed and viewed by the world - Andrew, need I say more?

On a really positive note, we have millions of worms on our plot, no need for a photo of them, we all know what a worm looks like, eh? Some of them are so big! I choose to believe that if you cut one in half (accidentally!) it turns into two worms and I won't hear anyone say otherwise.

We also found a lot of ladybirds everywhere, they did a fantastic job on the green aphids etc and they're so pretty. It had been a while since I'd seen one, now they're all over the place. This is interesting, a ladybird larvae, I'd never seen one of these before. This picture was taken way back in June by the way, so I'm sure he's all grown up by now.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Around the allotments - a guide to Scarecrows and Sunflowers

We have neither a Scarecrow or sunflowers this year, so I have sneakily dandered about our Field (A) and into Field B.

So scarecrows then, there's a few, the penultimate one really scared me, honestly, how sad!, the last one made me laugh. Zoom into the face!


We love them, but never thought of growing them - it reminds us both of Blue Peter and basically just seeing how tall you can get yours to grow. We now have a new appreciation - using them as wind breakers!! Our plots are very windy indeed and we noticed that this plot just below us was more sheltered, due apparently only to these majestic plants. Billy's plot at the far side has them too, only they are much shorter and act as a hedge-like system, only very beautiful at the same time. Goodness could it also be considered a crop of some sort ?- sunflower seeds are ever so yummy (I used to eat my guinea pigs' seeds!).

What's up Doc? and such

Usually you are advised not to plant Carrots in new beds with lots of new manure and compost; they are said to fork. Until today we laughed in the face of this, but the last laugh is on us. We've been plucking our 'Autumn King 2' variety every now and then over the past few weeks and they're all been brilliant. Today we picked two, the first was a delightful, beautifully proportioned carrot, the second was equally loved, don't get me wrong, but, it was VERY forked indeed. Still tasty in our gorgeous dinner, et voila.......

Our dinner tonight - couscous with our own carrots, runner beans, turnips, and peas.!
So, I have already spoken of our carrots, runner beans and turnips (so peppery and lovely) now we come to the peas. There were only a few ready today, but they looked so good and, well neither of us have much patience - so we harvested some to throw into our dinner, at the end.

Goodness, I love frozen green peas, but these were so unbelievably fresh and sweet, they just popped in the mouth, they were like sweeties. The variety we chose this year (1st we've ever grown them anyway) was 'Hurst Greenshaft'. We did get some mildew but quite frankly that doesn't harm the peas and is just cosmetic - I just picked off the displeasing mildewed leaves. (We had some extra, so I grew them up a little obelisk in my flower triangle and they're doing well too.) Andrew loves to pick them off the plant and eat them whilst 'working', lucky he's very generous and I get some too, each time.

Total wash out!

Yesterday was bloomin' terrible weather wise. We decided to nip down to the plot cos we want to try and get a crop of turnips, scallions and Pak Choi in one of the old potato beds before winter. We did manage to buy the Pak Choi in our very local nursery 'Sunnybank' (it's just 2 minutes away from the allotment fields), and have a good natter as usual (they're so friendly and helpful there). But when we got to our shed we had to settle for a wee cup of coffee and gave everything a good coat of looking at, out the window.

Neeps and Tatties

On Friday night we went down for a wee check and a bit of weeding. It was lovely again and quiet - maybe everyone else has crazy social lives! We bagged up some of those potatoes, some for ourselves, some for family and a bag for Andrew's work colleagues (especially Paul - of the oak flooring/cold frame). We also lifted a couple of little Turnips (Purple Top Milan) for Mamma G. She was delighted - we grew them for her really, she loves Turnips.

We also, finally (shameful) met and spoke to Tracy. She got her plot long after us, the previous owner had a change of heart, so she's way behind. It really hasn't been helped by the atrocious weather and other commitments cropping up over various weekends. She was so downhearted, I hope she holds on in their and next year will be more fruitful for her.

Andrew also planted out the Parsley (Plain Leaved 2) I had sown in modules. We have had no luck whatsoever with herbs (apart from mint), so we aren't really holding that much hope for these either, I just wanted to try - we had the seeds anyway, free with a magazine. They have at least germinated and have 2 or 3 true leaves each, so that's a start. It's just so annoying when you end up buying herbs to go with your dinner, and think damn, we ought to have our own - wonder what have we being doing wrong?

Thursday 21 August 2008

Potatoes, again

Also last night, we dug up the rest of our Maris Piper potatoes. It was so much fun, I felt like a treasure hunter (geeky I know, but true). There were some whoppers but generally they were all a good size. We worked out that the totally disgusting mushy one in the middle was the original seed potato, thank goodness I was wearing gloves, some were so gross and squidgy I would hate to have touched them with my bare hands - yuck. It's right what they say about them breaking up the soil, tough I think all the digging and furtling around to get them all out helps a bit.

We put them all on the floor of the shed to dry out and then I guess we'll have to decide what to do with them all. We aren't much of a potato couple! Of course there are a million things to be done with the humble potato, and we're Irish for goodness sake so we ought to know. If only my grandmother (Nana) was still alive.

Lettuces and spinach

We have had immense good fortune with both lettuces and perpetual spinach in our 1st year. Andrew took the seed box back down to the shed last night, so I don't have the packets here to tell you the names - I'll get them soon.
Update: the lettuces are a mixture of many types - From one packet we have Leaf Salad (lettuce mixed) and the other is Red Salad Bowl.

The lettuces came as a mixture of three different ones, cut and come again, I think they were free with some magazine or other. My goodness the amount of money saved in growing you own is brilliant. I would buy about two bags of mixed lettuce in Tesco a week (£1.25 approx each), and these plants just keep on giving. We actually planted a couple too many, so last night a red lollo rosso? was just plucked straight up and brought home. It looks like a wedding bouquet...

This is our favourite variety, you'd often see Andrew walking around the allotment, supposedly working, but really eating leaves straight off the plants. The other varieties, I swear, look just like the ones from the Peter Rabbit books.

The perpetual spinach is my wee secret joy, I love spinach and when in Barcelona a few years ago, had a dish (many times) of chicken with steamed spinach, prunes, pine nuts and balsamic vinegar. So good and my first experience of the ingredient (were it wasn't boiled to bits). I don't eat much red meat so it's great for the iron levels too, good in sandwiches and lovely stir fried. Oh, I could sing it's praises. Don't forget, if you're harvesting some for a meal, cut loads, it wilts away to nothing whilst cooking. I've noticed some other people put up seasonal recipes on their sites, good to look at. (All the cookery programmes have websites now too).

This picture is a basket full of the stuff - Spinach (Leaf Beet) plus one carrot and the lettuce perched on the side.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Overview of our wee slice of Eden

I have just been told on the phone that my blog needs a wee overview picture - everything has been close ups so far. I think that is a sound idea so, here's a few to get you in the frame of things. They're from 24th July so everything has changed a bit but...
First is a photo of the plot from behind, our shed (and bench) to the next shed is all ours. On the left is my area of grasses, flowers and extra lettuce and peas bed. It was supposed to be a wild flower meadow, on a very small scale, but none of the seeds did anything. (The photo of these triangles is from last week, very pleased with results this time round.)

These two are from the other end. The first shows the black membrane covered turf stack - a bed for our pumpkins - waste not, want not. The second is taken with me standing on dead space (we have ideas for it!) and the other side of the plot down to the cold frame and shed.

This is the central path, taken from the bench.
Update of the two in the middle - 20th August, the right hand side (pumpkins have grown!) and left hand side (including the shameful waste land area this time)

Ronnie's outdoor cucumber triumph

Ronnie is a good friend (to everyone) down at the allotments, he loves a chat,his family is dead nice and he's enthusiastic - there ever day. He decided, somewhat on a whim, to grow cucumbers outside (they were a hardy variety, the name of which I have no idea) and it has been a success! So much so that we were presented with a whopper yesterday when we were down. It's the biggest I've seen! (Must take pic...)

Back on Home Turf

We'd only been away for a few days but there was work to done alright when we got back. Andrew had taken the Tuesday off as well, as we didn't get home until very late, so we went to the allotment for a while in the later afternoon.

First thing we noticed is that the darn blight has effected lots of people's potatoes and tomatoes. It's upsetting. But, if like us (read down below) you cut off the leaves of the potatoes plants; the crop below is fine. Cut back early though, the blight spreads all over the place. Not too sure if there is any hope for the tomatoes in the same situation.

The terrible weather had also allowed the mushrooms in the compost (free from the council) to grow like crazy. It took about an hour to get rid of them all, though we all know there's a million others in there just waiting for me. Pity they weren't edible, we've had a mighty crop.

Had to get rid of the broad bean plants too, chocolate spot, I think it's called - the top leaves were all curled up and well, looked like they had lots of chocolate coloured spots on them. We cut them all down and harvested what there was, even the pods that looked brown had perfectly healthy beans inside.

Got rid of the coriander plants too, just because they were plain wick!

Lastly Andrew turned and mixed the compost - it looks great and now the mixture fills one of our bins to the brim. Who would have thought I'd get excited by compost?!! I suppose the knowledge that in autumn we won't have to buy lots of bags of the stuff is part of it. Always nice to safe a few quid, eh?

Dinner was a lot of broad beans, runner beans and some beetroot, with a little bread. The perfect detox after the pain au chocolat and croissants etc of recent days.

Wee trip to Paris

It was my birthday on the 17th and the wonderful Hubby took me to Paris for a few days to celebrate - it was wonderful and we missed all the terrible weather and flooding here in good old Northern Ireland at the same time. Rub it in there, eh?

Whilst there we were struck by the fruit and veg and how good it was - fresh , good quality and readily available in even in tiny convenience shops. Also it makes you think - most of the residents there live in apartments and gorgeous though they are, it leaves little room for growing plants and especially vegetables. But they do it, they use the space they have to the best effect. Geraniums are everywhere, on little balconies and we even noticed 'allotments in a box' being sold - these ones are mainly soft fruits...

On the 1st evening we had a delicious meal of lamb leg chops and green beans with a olive oil (eek, it my have been butter) infused with thyme. So simple but cooked to perfection. Good grief, we are definitely growing french green beans next year - total converts.

Friday 15 August 2008

Runner Beans

As I said last night our gorgeous risotto also had runner beans in it, yum. We grew the variety 'Enorma' and they live up to their name! I would definitely have to recommend these, even if you have a little area in the back garden - they grow up poles (we made wigwams) so they don't take too much space, the flowers are a beautiful crimson colour and the harvest is bountiful to say the least.

We planted out some we had grown in modules in May, around a bamboo cane wigwam, 6 canes - 6 plants on the outside. We also planted 6 more seeds (which are so pretty) on the inside of each cane - thus having an amazing display of 12 plants per pyramid. They have been constantly giving beans - BIG ones as the name suggests since July and look set to continue well into September if not October. We have a glut of them, (the more you pick the more they produce) but they are so nice and it's fun to give something so long and tasty to family; the plants themselves are a talking point with every visitor.

Really, I urge you to get some for next year, for the allotment or home. They are lovely steamed with a little olive oil, or butter if you're my Mother-in -Law (hehe) or in the wonderous risotto that my husband makes. There's probably loads you can do with them but I'm no cook.

I forgot to take a photo of said yummy risotto - but here is one to full that void for now, they're only wee in this pic, I'll have to update it.....

Let's get down to business

Broad Beans

Note the time people, I can't sleep and thank god for blogging....

We had a delicious risotto for dinner yesterday with our own broad beans and runner beans in it, as well as other yummy stuff. So, I thought it was about time I started writing about actual growing, harvesting and eating stuff from our plot.

The Broad Beans we grew were Masterpiece Green Longpod and they were/are brilliant. They were started off in modules and then when ready, I planted them out - 3 rows of 4 plants each. (We also gave some left over to Bill at the far end of the field - he wasn't there at the time and we later saw that his father Bobby had planted them in his own plot, cheeky!) As they grew we erected some simple supports out of bamboo canes and string; it seems to have done the trick.

The only problem we had with them was Green Aphids, Andrew can easily kill any nasty bug, I can't, but found that the soapy water spray was an excellent solution (excuse the pun) in effectively annihilating the blighters for me. Other than that the only problems have come from the wind burn - our site is very open to the elements - and the abundance of produce! That was easy though, they freeze really well, we LOVE them and our family has taken some off our hands too. Oh and tasty tip - pinched out growing tips are yum, so green, if that makes sense, stick them in your salad. Now Tesco doesn't sell that wee treat.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Well whilst we're on the subject of Maggie..

Maggie's view of the Allotment

Maggie has been very active in the start up and management of our plot. Let's face it, according to Luke (4 yrs) in the plot next to us, it's her plot in the first place. She sniffs everything and likes to have a wee taster of any successful produce, all from the comfort of her little spot by the shed, where she has to be tied up like, well, some sort of animal!!

Anywho, here's Maggie at the start; checking out the quality of the soil and consulting Andrew on the plan. And beside that, here she is at the plot's sign - doesn't she look proud?!

Mainly she holds the general over seers role - pretty much a yes man (girl) and isn't really bothered. She is a great attraction to the plot and everyone seems to love her, a wee pat on the head or a tickle behind the ear will make her your friend for life. Add to that a whole load of very unexpected and in Maggie's case, very much loved presents from Mark and Charlene who have the ajoining half plot A24(b) and she'd do anything for you. Well sit at least, she's not so good at tricks or indeed, gardening.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Let's be happy again

This ought to do it......

I'm angry!!!!!

Yes, I'm angry and i don't do anger very well at all - it's not good for my high blood pressure. But damn it (yes i swore) I just went out and bought the local paper (for 85p) to find that our glorious Allotment Opening Day was reduced to a mere page of photos. This you may think doesn't sound bad, and to a certain extent it isn't; many groups held open days and fundraisers over the past week it seems, therefore a page of photos dedicated to Eden Allotments is good. BUT not when you see it.....It's all photos of kids with their (albeit cute) faces painted and not 1 photo of an allotment, not even a single vegetable or piece of fruit in sight. The wonderful red ribbon cutting I spoke of is not even captured (thank goodness you have me on hand at these things).

Okay so I know there are terrible, heartbreaking wars and famines and unspeakable acts inhumanity going on everywhere as I write/as you read, but this was important to me.

For the last 10 years (actually my whole life in varying degrees) I have suffered chronic depression, anxiety and a severe lack of self-esteem. I am crippled by it. The Allotments have been a quite literal life saver. We all know about the wonderful advantages of being out in the open air, watching our own produce grow and meeting like minded people (dare i say friends) not to mention the benefits to body and purse in growing and eating one's own fruit and veg. But do not underestimate the profound benefits a scheme like this has on mental well being. I'm nervous going down there but I am proud of what we have achieved and the in roads I personally have made. I want people to know more about the Allotments and to benefit, in whatever ways, from them. I just know I have. Okay maybe my cup overflowth, i just wish the local rag felt the same as me, even a wee bit.

Rant over. I feel better now......

Monday 11 August 2008

The very beginning...


The allotments were first brought to our attention in an article placed in the Carrickfergus Borough Magazine 'Compass' (issue 16); a pretty good quarterly. Once my Husband saw this, he was on the phone and e-mail to the Head of the Parks and Countryside Section- Stephen Daye. After filling in an application form on-line, we received an anxiously waited for conformation letter on the 14th April - we had an Allotment - A24(a); a half plot. It is 13 x 6.5 meters sq and costing a mere £35 to rent per year. We were very happy.

I think it was that day, or before that let's be honest, that we visited the site off the Beltoy Road. The Allotments were, a field, just a plain old field....

As you can see there were some mown lines to delineate the plots but that was it, eek! It looked so big. In this picture, apart from my shadow, Andrew is over by our plot if you can see him, hehe. Follow my shadow and go left a bit, that's A24(a). On the other hand you can click on the photo and see it large scale.
It's funny looking back now, that the council hoped there would 'be a good response and [they expected] to have all 36 places filled' by the end of April. There are at least 96 plots (including whole, half and quarters) now and more are planned. We already have a Field B and C and there are talks about a Field D being given over to Allotment-ing in the near future.

Anyway, it wasn't long before we got our key to the main gate (with complemetary Key ring) and we were able to get started. Many plot holders decided to take advantage of the free ploughing that the council had arranged for us. Have to say it was done very well, however, Andrew and I decided to do a raised bed system instead. So with trusty spades and forks (and some sexy new wellies) we got started on some back breaking work - of course there was moral support from Maggie our dog. During this stage everyone, apart from being knackered all the time, lost a good wee bit of extra weight and with some lovely weather, we got allotment tans, ie: our arms were tanned from t-shirt sleeve to glove. It took a good long time before the beds were dug out, framed with wood and bulked up with soil and compost but it was worth the effort I think.

May was mainly all about digging and more digging and more digging. We also met some really nice fellow allotmenteers and started to plant fruit bushes and sow seeds. We encountered problems with water availability, especially as it was a gorgeous month - rain free. Though water taps were installed we had to resort to other methods, as there was a problem with the mains, a valve or something (I'm a girl, I didn't pay enough attention). We were lucky in that there was/is a stream beside the plot which was a life saver for a long time, then towards the end of the month, the council delivered water regularly by bowser (is that the right word?). It was a constant source of grumbling yarns with other people and friendships were made over quiet moaning sessions (so not a bad time really when we look back).

Apart from that the only interesting thing was the arrival of our lovely shed. Sheds were slowly popping up all over the 2 fields at this stage, which was good as that glorious weather was beginning to become temperamental. We got ours from Castle Sheds, only a little one but bought for us by Mamma G and big thanks go out to her. An allotment plot just has no soul without a shed - I think. I even made curtains for it.

June and July

Should be enough to say that from here we were basically just growing a lot of veg - potatoes, broad beans, runner beans, spinach, lettuces, radishes, peas, scallions, chillis, sweetcorn, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, squashes, pumpkins and broccoli. We did try a few herbs but not much luck, apart from the mint which as everyone knows- is harder to kill than grow. I did think ahead and it's in a pot.

One or two things we did accomplish- was the guttering system and water butt round the shed and Andrew made a soild oak cold frame, with thanks to Paul whose misfortune with a nice wooden floor was our gain.

By the way the water issue is fixed now - hoorah! Though most of us have invested in a water butt, from various places (though the council sold some for £10 at the Open day which was great, we have one, in the photo up there).

Well that's you up-to-date enough, the blog will start properly from now...