Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Keystone Cops

I didn't really pay much attention to bees before I got the allotment. Well, apart from runnning away from them in a terribly girlish fashion if they got too close. Now, I've become really fascinated. There are a couple of hives on the lottie so the plants get visited by quite a few different types of honey and bumble bees. I still don't know one type from the next but I'm learning.

We are really dependent on bees for our food and yet tend to take their function for granted. Bees are what is known as a 'keystone species' as so many other organisms are dependent on them doing their job of pollination. Recent media stories about bees deserting their hives in the US have shown us just how much we rely on these critters for what we eat. The Horniman museum in London opened an exhibition this month called 'Every Third Mouthful' focussing on just this topic. I've pasted the blurb below and I hope to get down for a visit as it runs until May next year.

'This fascinating exhibition, which amalgamates science and art, from the assertion that ‘Every third mouthful of food we eat is dependent upon the unmanaged pollination services of bees’. Peter Chatwin and Pamela Martin have created a series of works that explore this internationally important subject, highlighting the importance of biodiversity upon our food supply, and the uncertain future as bee numbers diminish globally.'

Saturday, November 17, 2007

And so to bed

It has been an age since I last updated the blog. Work on the allotment seems to mostly consist of digging these days which is not the most inspiring work to write about. The beds are overgrown and weedy, so I'm trying to knock them into shape before everything starts growing quickly again. Planted some Solent Wight garlic today and cut back an invading mass of brambles and the tall stems of nettles which were growing between them. The autumn planted onions are just beginning to sprout and the phacelia sown as a green manure a few weeks ago is starting to give a bit of cover. Not sure if I need to protect the onions with fleece or if they are hardy enough to withstand dropping temperatures but I've left them to their own devices for now.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Caught between a rock...

Like Melanie over at Beansprouts we decided to go for a 'lower impact' holiday this year and took the ferry over to Ireland instead of jetting off somewhere. But, once we were over there, we went on a bit of a road trip so I don't think we are going to win any green awards with all that diesel consumption.

Part of our trip took in The Burren in County Clare which is a remarkable piece of landscape with huge exposed 'pavements' of limestone. There is a great variety of plantlife growing in-between the cracks and fissures in the stone. They seem to respond well to the warm moist air that flows over them and the light and heat reflected from the rock.

As I was walking across I spotted this self-sown sea spinach, a relative of chard, growing healthily away. That's nature for you, I couldn't get the stuff to take root this year, but there it was thriving away without anyone to tend to it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Time to harvest some of the home grown goodies. The tomatoes are starting to ripen and looking promising. Tomatoes don't last long in our house so I've been looking forward to these. The yellow cherry Mirabel plants have been slow to come into flower so we will have to see how they get on over the next few weeks.
The Charlotte potatoes have been a great success - with no signs of damage - unlike the earlier Maris Bard tatties which were attacked by eel worms and wireworms. I'll definitely give these another go next year.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

No Fun

Can someone please have a word? All this rain has meant that I have hardly visited the plot. There are trays of plants in the cold frame waiting to be set out while plants on the allotment are going a bit haywire with precious little sun and only a daily shower to look forward to. Still, things aren't all that bad up north compared to the nightmare flood conditions in the rest of the country. Having spent 13 hours on the motorway on Friday because of the flooding of the M5 I have had a brief taster of what really heavy rain can do.

The forecast for the rest of the summer from the Met Office doesn't offer much hope for sunny days ahead: 'Indications for the remainder of summer favour average or drier than average conditions over central and southern Europe and wetter than average over parts of northern Europe. This suggests that in the UK a trend towards average rainfall is more likely for southern regions, while average or above average rainfall is more likely in the north.'

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A walk on the wild side

The rainiest June on record has meant that the lottie has been tending to itself of late. Yesterday, a brief break in the weather allowed a trip out to check what the garden has been up to. The onions seem to have responded to the wet weather pretty well and are looking a good size even though crowded by weeds. Last year I planted too closely, didn’t water them and they ended up as tiddlers. The shallots and courgettes are looking sorry for themselves but the broad beans and potatoes have lapped up the water and some of the tatties are whoppers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Broad bean risotto

Despite the attack of several thousand blackfly, the broad beans have developed well. I have only ever eaten frozen broad beans, which I thought were pretty good, but the taste of them fresh is quite sublime. They are really juicy and not at all meally as they can get when a little more mature. I used them in a risotto with some of the Feltham First peas. It tasted great so here is the recipe:

Vegetable stock
50g butter
olive oil
2 leeks
275g arborio rice
fresh broad beans
fresh peas
Clove of garlic
Handful of fresh mint
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Put the stock in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Then turn down the heat and keep it on a very low simmer.

Heat the butter and a dash of oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the sliced leeks and cook for 1-2 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and stir well.

Add the rice and sir, using a wooden spoon, until the grains are well coated and glistening (about a minute). Add some stock (you could add a glass of wine now if you wish) and stir until absorbed.

Add the stock a ladel at a time and stir 'til absorbed. After 10 mins add the broad beans and peas. Continue to add the stock at intervals as before until the rice is tender (aboat 18-20 mins).

Grate in some parmesan, season and add the chopped mint. Mix well and remove from heat. Let it rest for a couple of minutes then spoon into bowls and add some more Parmesan to finish.

Rust never sleeps

The garlic has been severely affected by rust this year so I pulled it all up yesterday. The bulbs themselves seem unaffected but I understand that I will need to use the garlic 'wet' rather than allowing it to dry for storage. Luckily the onions and shallots growing nearby seem to be unaffected and are fattening up nicely with all the wet weather we are having.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Upside Down

The ups...
Home grown peas are so sweet that I am trying to grow sucessional crops this year. The First Felham peas are producing well and the second sowing of Balmoral peas are now in flower. I've just sown some more so hopefully this will see us through the summer. The potato plants are looking healthy and some have come into flower. Now is the time to water them in order to help the tubers swell - especially as the weather is so hot.

And the downs...
The broad beans are starting to fatten up although the blackfly have really got hold and, even through the plants have attracted a good number of ladybirds, I think it is a losing battle. Things are also not looking so good with the brassicas - I planted out some kale and calebrese a couple of weeks ago but something has stripped all the leaves off them - I'm guessing it might be birds so have netted them and hope they might recover. Oh yeah and as I was striding about watering the potatoes I went and squashed my only courgette plant that was doing really well.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Restless Legs

The comfrey is in bloom and the bees can't keep away. Chopped some down today as an activator for the compost heap which is full to the brim with the woody remains for the purple sprouting broccoli.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pinky Blue

After all the rain this week the plants have gone into overdrive. Sunshine today meant I spent a few hours on the lottie which is looking pretty unkempt - truth be told. Planted out some kale and calabrese and earthed up the potatoes which are growing really well. The purple sprouting broccoli has all gone into flower so will need to make room for the beetroots and spinach that are to follow. The flowers are rather beautiful in their own right and the bumble bees were all over them.

The early peas are developing and I ate my first ones straight from the pod today - sooo sweet. It will be a week or so though before there are enough to cook with.

The first pea flowers were pure white but those further up are a pink and burgundy shade. Wondered if this could this be cross pollination with the broad beans growing alongside?

Spotted these peacock butterfly caterpillars munching their way though the nettles in the borders.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Introducing the Liverpool Beetles

I'm not sure what the collective term for ladybirds is but those of the seven spot variety have been hanging out and sunning themselves on the verges of the allotment.

Meanwhile, on the broadbeans, the ants have have been active for the past couple of weeks tending to the blackfly, carrying them to the tender recesses of the bean tips and using them as 'cattle' for their sticky productions. I'll have to try squirting them with water as all of this does not make for healthy plants. In the meantime I hope our spotted friends are hungry as dinner is ready.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The tree and the bee

I love this time of year, the summer ahead of us and everything starting to grow again now that the weather has warmed. The trees in the local park are just plain pretty right now with clouds of pink and white blossom.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

New order

My friend Emma has just taken on a quarter plot so we pitched in to give a hand clearing the ground. Luckily the land wasn't too overgrown but just in need of a bit of weeding. Pulled out a barrow load of grass roots and mare's tail while plans were made for growing onions, potatoes, peas and beans. Happy gardening Emma!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Something nasty in the woodshed…

Well not actually in the woodshed but lurking under the weed suppressant fabric to be exact. The spring sunshine coaxed me out yesterday to do a bit of digging. I dug over one of the beds and planted out the broad bean seedlings that have been growing fast and furious in the cold frame. In went some sweet peas too. Didn’t get a chance to harden them off first so hope they’ll do ok. Anyway, as I was turning over the soil I chanced upon not one but three New Zealand Flatworms. There have been warnings about these on the allotment notice-board for some months but it was a bit disheartening to see them thriving on the plot. Garden Organic explain these worms like to hide under things and so the fabric has been a boon. Trouble is they also like to chomp their way through earthworms which isn’t so good. As Head Burro argues sometimes garden pests are just evil and must be seen off – in the case of flatworms their recommended mode of dispatch seems to be by squashing, burning or submersion in salt water.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Now you see it, now you don't...

Should you have the mind to you can send off for ‘a superb 32-page full colour booklet crammed with information on how to attract birds to your garden’ produced by the RSPB. Alternatively, you could just try growing purple sprouting broccoli. It takes a whole year, I’ll say that again for emphasis, a whole year to grow psb. The plants on the plot have been doing really well: tall stems, lots of leaves and shoots and then came the birds… At this rate I won’t get to eat any of it. I’ve wrapped and netted it as best I can but the wind keeps unwrapping it like a packed lunch for our feathered friends…

In the hope that you might have more luck with your crop here is a recipe for psb and pasta from the BBC:

Preparation time less than 30 mins
Cooking time 10 to 30 mins

1kg/2¼lb purple sprouting broccoli
1 medium sized fresh red chilli (not too hot)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small tin of anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
good quality olive oil
350g/12oz pasta fusilli, oriecchiette, penne rigate or conchiglie are the most suitable shapes
parmesan or hard pecorino cheese to grate
salt and pepper

1. Put a large pan of water on to boil with a little salt.
2. Trim the outer leaves and woody stalks from the broccoli, you will lose at least half the vegetables by this process. Wash the good bits and chop into 1cm/½in sections. Cut the chilli in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds and the attached pith. Chop the chilli flesh, the garlic and the anchovies finely. In another large pan warm 4tbsp/60ml/2fl oz of olive oil over a medium flame and add the chilli, garlic and anchovies. Sweat these for a minute or so and add the broccoli, season with a little salt and pepper, then continue to cook gently whilst the pasta boils.
3. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and stir immediately. Cook until just tender with a little bit of resistance to the bite (al dente). This could take anything between 7 and 12 minutes depending on the type of pasta you choose (orecchiette is the slowest and incidentally the absolutely authentic type for this dish).
4. Grate 4tbsp of the cheese and reserve. After the pasta has been cooking for 5 minutes transfer a small ladle of the cooking water to the broccoli. Keeping over a high heat, add another 2 tbsp/30ml/1fl oz of oil and add the cheese. Toss and serve immediately.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Rhubarb Rhubarb

The rhubarb beds are revealing themselves again with the first leaves unfolding in a concertina of crinkles. Can’t wait for the first pickings. I didn’t eat enough of this last year.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Getting diggy with it

Back in October I sowed a few handfuls of Winter Tares as a green manure. Despite the late sowing, the plants sprouted well and have been growing away all winter. My jury was out on whether this would work as a weed suppressant as well as a soil conditioner – but it seems to have faired well on both counts. There were only a few clumps of grass in amongst the plants so I think I try this again this year. Dug it all in and then sat back with a nice cuppa. This is what Sundays should be about.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Legs Eleven

In my enthusiasm to see something growing again I have filled up the window sills with seedlings. But, like MTP, I’ve found that warm rooms might make plants poke their leaves up in super quick time but they also encourage them to grow into leggy young things. While the lettuce seedlings have now flopped over completely, the peas and broad beans are fairing somewhat better. Still, I think it’s best to treat ‘em mean. In a kill or cure kind of fashion I’ve banished them all to the cold frame.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Just a sprinkle

Sunday, January 28, 2007

White light

January is such a bare month that I can't wait until I am back to planting seeds. It has been weeks and weeks since I have done any real work on the plot. As Dan Pearson discussed today in The Observer, the sight of a clump of snowdrops is a welcome sight right now that life is beginning to stir again.