Saturday, December 30, 2006

Old low light

The days are starting to lengthen but it will be some time before there is more useable brightness for working the plot. The quality of the light in these short days is hazy and low but rather beautiful when filtering though the bare arterial branches of the trees in the local park.

We have been on some great walks this Christmas which has made me take in the beauty of the season. These photos were taken on the side of Blencathra in the Lake District. It's the simple things that make me happy; the rusty ferns, bright berries and mosses covering the dry stone walls.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ho, Ho, Hoe... and a bottle of jerusalem artichoke soup!?!

This is the first year that we have provided vegetables for the Christmas table. Admittedly the purple sprouts were not far off the size of peas but hey - it's a start. They are going to be stir fried with pine nuts and veggie bacon as a side dish. We did get a good harvest of jerusalem artichokes though which have been paired up with carrots and are on their way to becoming soup for tomorrow. Yum.

Here's the recipie for the soup which is from Delia's Veggie book -

Serves 6-8

1lb (450 g) Carrots
1lb 8 oz (700 g) Jerusalem artichokes
3 celery stalks
3 oz (75 g) butter
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2½ pints (1.5 litres) hot stock
salt and pepper

To garnish:
2-3 tablespoons crème fraîche
fresh flat-leaf parsley

You will also need a large saucepan with the capacity of about 6 pints

Start by peeling and de-knobbling the artichokes and, as you peel them, cut them into rough chunks and place them in a bowl of cold, salted water to prevent them from discolouring. Then scrape the carrots and slice them into largish chunks. Next, use the potato peeler to pare off any stringy bits from the celery and then roughly chop it.

Now melt the butter in the saucepan and soften the onion and celery in it for 5 minutes, keeping the heat fairly low. Then drain the artichokes and add them to the pan, along with the carrots. Add some salt and keep the heat very low, put a lid on and let the vegetables sweat for 10 minutes to release their juices. After that, pour in the stock, stir well, put the lid back on and simmer very gently for a further 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Now allow the soup to cool a little, then blend it in batches (a large bowl to put each batch in is helpful here). Taste to check the seasoning and re-heat the soup very gently until it just comes to simmering point.

Serve it in hot bowls, garnishing each one with a swirl of crème fraîche and a few parsley leaves.

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2007!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A bit blowy

At this time of year the Christmas catalogues are full of gift ideas for the greenfingered. Their suggestions give the impression that gardening is the twee and cosy pastime of gentle folk – watering cans in the shapes of ducks and snails, floral clogs, gently scented Lily of the Valley hand creams and tartan topped wellies. However, as anyone who was out and about this weekend can testify, gardening at this time of year is not for the faint-hearted. It was blowing a gale on the allotment; the shed door was flapping and the broccoli and sprouts were bent at right-angles. Only a couple of hardy souls were working their plots and when the rain started to pelt it down we all called it a day. There are, of course, rewards for the effort as I reflected when sat by the fire tucking into a vegetable bake with home-grown leeks, beetroot and chard.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Trying to see things

Hands up – the allotment has been neglected of late. At least the grow rate of weeds has slowed so that the plot is not so much overgrown as shabby looking. While I meant to do some work there this weekend I ended up making a mad dash round different gallery spaces in Liverpool trying to see as much of the Biennial as I could before it closed. Caught some good shows both in the ‘official’ Biennial and the Independents including a video piece and map reflecting on allotmenteering in the city. To try and stick with the gardening theme (however tangential) pictured here are two works featuring things that you could indeed find on an allotment. The first is a forlorn looking sofa growing mushrooms by Richard Hughes and below is a scale model of the Three Gorges Dam in China by Weng Peijun made from blown eggshells.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Golden brown

It is a beautiful time of year. The trees are shedding their autumn decorations and the streets are littered with heapings of browns and golds. The plot is in transition, moving from the high productivity of summer to the winter slow down. The last few days have ushered in the change. Frost has cut down the late producing courgettes and the nasturtiums are lying lifelessly in the borders. The chard has survived for now but I don’t fancy its chances. But even now the promise of Spring is in the soil: the onions are sprouting and the purple-sprouting broccoli is flourishing. Time to work on clearing some more space for planting next year…

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Out and about

Dark evenings and busy weekends have kept me away from gardening of late but today was bright and sunny which tempted me outside. Finally planted the radicchio (Rossa Di Teviso) which has been languishing in the cold frame. The slugs ate all of the young plants that I planted out weeks ago so I’m hoping that beer traps will keep them at bay this time. I had a pair of robins for company which were quick to spot the worms and chafer grubs unearthed before the garlic went in. Came home with a bag full of runner beans and a couple of courgettes. It’s amazing still to be harvesting courgettes in late October.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006





Took these pictures a couple of weeks ago but forgot to upload them 'til now...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Big Chill

The evenings are shortening and the nights are getting colder. The frogs on the plot have taken to hiding under the black weed suppressant to keep warm. There was a warning of ground frost last night so I tucked the spinach and chard up in a layer of fleece. Last year the frost got there first and all the chard was killed off overnight. Things are slowing down on the plot but some plants are still producing well - picked a bag of runner beans, baby marrow, spinach and some remaining pumpkins. Nevertheless, it's clear the beds are starting to empty out for winter...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Many hands...

Yay! We had help today as a couple of friends volunteered to have a ‘green gym’ day down on the allotment. The weather unfortunately was pretty terrible but we braved the downpours in a spirit of dogged enthusiasm. Buddleia was cut back, shrubs tamed (for now), weeds yanked out, Jerusalem Artichokes cut down to size and bare ground covered over. Broadcast a liberal handful of Winter Tares over the ground where the onions were grown this year. It is rather late to be attempting to sow a green manure but we’ll see how it goes…

Monday, September 25, 2006

Keep on running...

The nights are shortening and you can begin to detect that cool stillness of autumn in the air now. Having said that we have had some beautifully warm days this September too.

We dug out our maincrop potatoes yesterday and harvested chard and a swelling yellow courgette which was a couple of days off marrow proportions. The plot needs some attention but a couple of our friends have volunteered (been strong-armed in) to help us next weekend which will make a difference.

This is the first time I have grown beans and am really impressed by how quickly they have climbed the bamboo canes and started producing. These are ‘Enorma’ runner beans.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Shall we dance?

The back yard is busy with spiders. Fat female garden spiders have been squatting in the centre of their webs billowed by the wind while their male counterparts are spinning their yarns.

As The Guardian noted yesterday favourable weather conditions have meant that numbers of arachnids are up nationally. It’s enough to give you the heebee-jeebees.

September is spider mating season and these two were caught on camera as they shook their legs and webs in what looked like a rather complicated courtship dance.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Today’s weather seemed to give the lie to the onset of autumn but the deepening orange coats of these pumpkins signal otherwise. The skins have changed from a shiny lemon to a dull orange which means, I think, that they are ready for the pot. These are destined for a risotto. As you can see the courgette plants have finally gone into full production mode – a little late in the season but I’m not complaining…

Saturday, September 09, 2006


My two passion flower plants have only managed to produce one flower between them this year. The petals on this unfurled themselves this morning. Not sure what the issue is - perhaps I should have pruned the plants back after flowering last year or potted them on to a larger pot? Anyway, here's a piccie of the flower today.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Day Tripper

Took at trip to Ryton Organic Gardens in Coventry today. Lack of time meant we only managed to walk around half of the 30 gardens they have on the grounds. The range of flowers, fruits and vegetables has given us lots of inspiration for next year though I think it will be quite some time before our plot looks quite so organised.

Pictured here are the paper husks of chinese lanterns and the autumnal orange of the Uchiki Kuri.

As you can see the bees loved these garlic chives growing in the allotment garden. There were lots of weird and wonderful vegetable varieties growing including Red Elephant carrots and Red Russian kale which is sorely tempting me to join the Heritage Seed Library. Came away with yet more seed packets and lots of plans.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Reviewing the situation

A busy holiday weekend has meant that the plot has been neglected. I took a quick walk around tonight to see how things are. There is lots of sorting out to be done – branches, brambles and weeds to tame as well as pruning and clipping of the hedges and shrubs. Must try harder… The dying evening light brought out the drama of this courgette flower. The recent heavy rain has filled the upturned plastic lid and so the frogs are back bathing again.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

It's looking promising...

The outdoor cherry tomatoes sown in February are starting to ripen. Turn your back for one day and the plants sprout about ten more branches and flowers rather than putting their effort into the fruit. But we now have some clusters of small green tomaotes and some of turning a nice shade of yellow.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


The sky brightened and we had a lovely warm evening which meant there were quite a few people working on their plots tonight. Our neighbours had two newly hatched chicks to show us – so cute! The pumpkins are finally starting to swell. These are Jack-Be-Little fruits. The butternut squash plant still shows no sign of fruiting but is producing lots of male flowers. Most of the courgette plants – which were really productive last year – have also been slow to develop. I have given them some seaweed feed so fingers crossed they will start to produce more.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A fistful of onions

All of the onions have now died down and are ready to lift. They have not swelled to a great size – partly because they were planted quite closely but also because I wasn’t very attentive in weeding around them. I also didn’t water them as I understand you are not supposed to water onions – but perhaps with all the dry weather we have had I should have ignored this. The taste anyhow is really good. Thanks goes to an allotment neighbour who generously gave us several flowerpots full of onion sets in the Spring after she ordered too many.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


We have had heavy rain over the past few days which has meant that the slugs and snails have been on walkabout. This is all that remains of a patch where we had butterhead and romanian lettuce growing. Notice that they have left the weeds well alone. They had also gobbled all of the fristina, aruba and raddiccio elsewhere on the plot. One thing I have learned is that lollo rossa is not the first choice for a discerning slug.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I've been growing green and purple basil this year but one of the plants just can't make up its mind which it is.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Blackberry parade

Despite choping up and wrenching out as many blackberry roots as we had strength for last year some of the wild brambles have recolonised corners of the plot. They have also been sneaking their tendrils under the cover of the potato plants and artichokes with the hope of gaining more ground. Honestly, give them an inch... Anyway, the bees have loved the flowers and now these jewelled berries are ripe for picking. Not enough for a pot of jam but they will certainly make a few apple and blackberry crumbles.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Salad Days

Our first salad bowl of the year – a mixture of fristina, aruba and lollo rossa. Unlike the salad bags I often pick up from the supermarket, these leaves actually have taste. They haven’t been sprayed with anything and were on our plates within an hour from being cut so tasted really fresh. As these are all cut-and-come-again leaves I’m looking forward to more salads over the next few weeks.

Growing lettuce has made me give some real thought to the contents and cost of bagged salads. There have been a number of articles about this in recent years. Last year The Observer investigated the treatment and air miles of an average shopping bag. It discussed how ‘the insecticides acephate and cypermethrin, and the fungicides dicloran and iprodione are routinely used on salad crops’ which are also washed in chlorinated water before being packed and transported. There’s another good article about the contents of bagged salad by Felicity Lawrence on the Ecologist website. Amongst other things she discusses the lower nutritional value of salad leaves that have been picked a number of days before reaching the consumer but which appear ‘fresh’ due to refrigeration and gasses pumped into the plastic ‘pillows’ we buy.

Food for thought indeed…

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Things I didn’t know…

potatoes can grow fruit!

A spot of weeding revealed these two fruits growing on one of the potato stalks. The fruits look like unripened cherry tomatoes and have a similar structure and aroma of tomato when sliced in half. This is true potato seed though I understand that it is not often used for growing. It is much easier and reliable to grow from so-called ‘seed’ potatoes. However tempting they might look the high concentration of solanine in the fruits makes them poisonous. Not all potatoes produce such seed but these developed from an early maincrop variety named Valor.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Here comes the summer

The heat was relentless today. Only managed about an hour and a half and then had to go for some shelter. The heat got a bit too much even for this bumble bee who decided to take the weight off this wings and have a bit of a kip after all that nectar foraging.

Picked our first courgette of the season and pulled up a bunch of beetroot that had been growing in a clump. One of the real rewards from the allotment is the sense of continuity and growth. Watching the cycle of plants as they emerge from seed, take strength and produce. At any point it seems something is poking up its first leaves, another is coming into flower while something else is going to seed. The trick is to work with these cycles and learn how to time sowing so that you don’t end up with a glut or a gap. Can’t say that I have cracked that one yet but I am beginning to get the idea.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Everything is cropping really well just now. Each trip to the plot results in something to take home which is a great motivator. This week we have returned with first earlies, shallots, onions, chard, beetroot, garlic and the last of the early peas. On Friday I picked a pot full of ripe raspberries which were pureed into raspberry water ice following a simple recipe in The Observer. The result was a zingy and refreshing desert – great with a few chopped strawberries and a dollop of cream. You can find the recipe at:,,1808665,00.html

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Hot, Hot, Heat

Phew, wot a scorcher! It was far too hot to do any gardening today. Just a quick trip down to the allotment this evening for a spot of watering. The chard and lettuces were looking somewhat tired and emotional with all the sunshine. Picked as many peas as I could find and then took them home to make a risotto with lots of parmesan and a good glug of wine.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A first

I dug up my first potatoes today! These first earlies were planted at the beginning of April. Some of the plants started to yellow last week and I thought that this must be lack of water or pest attack. However my allotment neighbour explained that it probably indicated the potatoes were ready to harvest. He was, of course, right. The variety is Maris Bard.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Lifted the garlic that was planted in November. The plants seem to have responded well to the cold winter we had combined with the sunny days over recent weeks. A few of the bulbs were affected by rot but most were sound. We roasted a couple of bulbs along with some aubergine, tomatoes, courgettes and crumbly cheese. Delicious.

The sunny weather meant that plot was buzzing with beneficial insects. The bees were attracted by all the poppies, comfrey and brambles that are in flower. The ladybirds were doing sterling work on the aphid population and a self-sown coriander plant which has come into flower was attracting lots of hover fly attention.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Allotment Shopping

After a week away from the plot I squeezed in a quick trip to see how things are growing. The grass is long and the weeds are back to business but between all that the crops are flourishing. I picked my first Romanesco broccoli which had miraculously hearted up since my last visit to the plot. I planted the broccoli last autumn and the local slug population ate most of the plants then but a couple managed to make it into summer. I picked my first handful of peas which are doing really well (give or take a few nibbles from mice). I also couldn’t resist pulling up a bunch of shallots. I should really have left them longer but temptation got to me. There is a lot of work to be done but coming home with a bag full of allotment shopping is a really good incentive.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Rogue plants

I have got to dispute that old adage that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. This is far too neutral a statement about a group of plants that are resourceful, persistent, survivors. They are not really just like other plants, certainly not like plants that one usually tries to grow. Vegetables need some care and attention, watering and feeding, earthing up and thinning out. They don’t always grow and, if they do, they don’t always survive as slugs, snails and dry spells sometimes get the better of them. Weeds aren’t like that. Weeds multiply unbidden, self seed abundantly, regenerate from tiny root fragments. They are opportunists. I guess what I am saying is that I have a certain admiration for them. When you garden organically you get familiar with them. Having said all that this evening was spent strimming, digging and generally hacking the things back in the hope of reclaiming a bit of land for those delicate vegetables.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pleasant surprise

Went down to the plot this evening for a quick half hour of tidying up. Wandered past the peas which I planted last month and have kinda ignored since. I had heard that peas are difficult to grow organically and had mentally given up on them. As a result they were half-heartedly growing up the couple of short supports that were available but were generally lolling around on the ground. Any road up turns out they had actually made a go of it and I was delighted to find that there were several pods ripening. Ticked myself off for neglecting the poor buggers and they now have a hastily erected cane wigwam to climb up. I shall report back…

Saturday, June 10, 2006

slugs and snails and lots of mare's tail

Last year when I took over the entirely overgrown and weed infested plot I decided that, when the whole thing was under some sort of control, I would have a ‘wild’ section of long grass to encourage frogs to hang out. This was rather foolhardy as in essence the whole plot is still very much on the wild side with the exception of a few beds that have stuff growing in them. Anyway the local frogs have appreciated the idea and have colonised an upturned waterbutt lid. There were a couple of tiny frogs in there tonight along with a few adults. Let’s hope they’re hungry because there sure are a lot of slugs and snails around for them to eat.