Purple on the plot: bean flowers

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Aren’t they amazing! I was astonished this week when I saw the colour of this year’s field bean blossom. They’ve never turned out like this before.

The beans were sown back in October and the plants were around six inches (15cm) tall when winter struck. I was surprised how well they survived the recurring frosts.

Once they start flowering, they often put on a growth spur which means staking may soon be required. One year they grew nearly as tall as me. But in any event, by early summer each plant will produce a mass of small pods with miniature broad (fava) beans inside.

They are usually grown by farmers for animal feed. They also make good winter cover to protect the soil, dug in the following season as green manure. This is done before flowering. Which means NO BEANS. Which would be a shame. They are delicious (if you like broad beans) and make a very tasty version of humus. Also good for the Tex-Mex refried beans approach. But for now we can just admire the extraordinary flowers. I’m only sorry I can’t pass on their wonderful scent.

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Life in Colour: Purple

Six Word Saturday

Alien Life Forms At The Allotment?

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Well this does look pretty weird, doesn’t it. On the other hand it’s the only evidence of major growth  on my allotment plots just now. And the only photo-worthy sign that I’ve actually been toiling away up there.

Naturally, seasoned gardeners will immediately recognise what’s going on here, though my method was a bit unorthodox. Forced rhubarb. Back in the winter when the shoots were first sprouting, this despite many rounds of frost, I had the notion of putting a spare compost bin over the clump. It has worked very well, producing very long pink juicy stems that cook in an eye’s blink. Delicious simmered in fresh-squeezed orange juice, sweetened with runny honey and some star anise. Then served with Greek yogurt. Just the thing for a bright breakfast start to the day.

Bright Square #29

April evening bright, cold and clear

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Gosh, but the April air is chilly here in Wenlock, even when the sun shines and distracts us. I gather it’s all the fault of the North Atlantic Oscillation which has dropped into negative zones and is drawing cold air from an unusually frigid Arctic. The weather people say there’s more cold air to come so it looks like spring, here in the northern hemisphere, might be late this year.

I took these photos from the kitchen door the other evening. As ever, the teasels up in the guerrilla garden continue to catch my eye, and I’m putting off cutting them down. At this time of year the garden-over-the-fence does not look promising. Very flat and wintered. But then it’s also just the moment to discourage some of the more tenacious weeds which are popping up there – couch grass and ground elder in particular. Except now the allotment plot is calling and that’s where all my effort is being deployed. So many compost heaps to turn over, and bins to turn out in hopes finding enough of something useful to spread on the raised beds.

Climbing peas and broad beans have been started off in pots, the onions and the first early Swift potatoes are in the ground, and it’s time to start clearing the polytunnel of winter greens to make space for the tomato and cucumber plants which are presently in the conservatory at home, along with trays of cabbage and cauli and perennial flower seedlings. They will all need hardening off, but not yet.

And there we have a problem. He-who-binds-books-in-winter-and-lives-in-my-house is now set on the outdoor pursuit of dismantling said conservatory (which though presently useful to this gardener, we both agree is hateful) and erecting in its place against our other back door, a lean-to greenhouse whose parts are presently lying in boxes in our sitting room.

It’s one of those projects that will be wonderful when done, but the getting there is fraught with many acts of plant juggling, issues of meteorological conflict and potential domestic unrest between gardener and demolition man. Prickly times ahead. I will  keep you informed.

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Bright Square #15

Apple Tumble?

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My allotment chum Phoebe had pushed this pile of windfalls under the field hedge so the wildlife could tuck in and be sheltered. I spotted them other day, spilling through the undergrowth into the field, and instantly thought of the Andrew Wyeth water colour ‘Frosted Apples’. I didn’t have a camera with me that day, and anyway the light was poor, but I caught them instead a couple of days ago, the afternoon sunshine tumbling after them.

Windfalls

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I took these photos on Sunday afternoon in a fit of late-day sunshine. These are the allotment apple trees,  their produce free for anyone to pick. The only problem this year was the crops were so plentiful, and the October winds so fierce, that most of the apples were blown off their stems and into bruising piles. And then there are only so many apple crumbles and pies you can eat if you do not wish to expand to fill one’s particular lockdown premises and so be inextricable by the time we, along with our personal resident viral-bacterial populations, are liberated to the wide world. In the meantime the wildlife of the creeping, pecking sort has a plentiful store to graze on, which in turn serves as a timely reminder that there usually is a positive side to most situations; someone benefits.

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Passing thought: the chair in real life is a weathered sage green plastic effort, one of a pair that sat outside my polytunnel for years before I donated them to the communal apple-tree-tea-break-zone. It’s strange it looks so white and also unfocused in these photos; something oddly reflective going on here.

Season Of Leaves

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As a Halloween ‘babe’ (I use the term retrospectively) one might expect a new broomstick for one’s birthday (and actually a good old fashioned witches’ besom would be quite useful) but this year I received a very smart leaf rake – pale ash handle topped by the most elegant splay of shiny stainless steel tines. In fact the new rake is so artily attractive, I was rather  reluctant to take it up to the allotment.

But then yesterday, it being sunnily fine after recent gales and deluges, and with signs of copious leaf fall everywhere, the need to gather the makings for next year’s leaf mould overcame me. Armed with two big bags and rake I set off across the field, intent on making a start on clearing the lane beside the allotment where, the day before, I had swished through a sea of field maple leaves.

And then just as I was leaving the house I grabbed the camera too, switched it to monochrome mode. I remembered that Jude at Travel Words had set us a photo assignment to look for patterns in black and white. So here are the results of killing two birds with one stone. I also have two very full leaf ‘silos’ on my allotment plot.

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2020 Photo Challenge #44  Jude gives us lots of pointers and some striking examples of black and white composition.

Hands Up! Who Knows What This Flower Is?

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A Novel Perspective?

Well it is rather spectacular, isn’t it – for a potato. The variety is Blue Danube and the spuds when I dig them up will be a deep purply-mauvy colour. I’ve not grown them for a few years, but I seem to remember the skins are quite robust (hopefully resistant to slugs) and that inside, the flesh is very white and dry and so they are great for roasting. Which also makes me think they will be just right for the Greek treatment:  the addition of water, olive oil (3 parts water to 1 part oil), lots of lemon juice, seasoning and oregano to the roasting tin and a good hour’s cooking.

Usually the potatoes are ready to harvest when the flowers have died down. I’m thinking I might not be able to wait that long.

Square Perspectives #28

Musk Mallow Monday & Communing With Bees

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This morning I took my grumpiness to the allotment in hopes of leaving it there. This plan did not altogether work, though I did have a very lively chat with Phoebe, the allotment’s star maker-and-mender of abandoned plots. At the time she was hauling a grass mower over a rough bank that she’s been busy clearing, and going at it with all the vigour that supposed a new career in all-in wrestling might be appropriate.

She turned off the mower and we talked of how the world used to be, and no longer was. And I said how nice the green chairs were, placed by her under two reclaimed old apple trees; chairs I had donated to the cause last week because I’d inherited them with my polytunnel and never sat on them there, not in four-plus years. They are only plastic, but pleasingly weathered, and now, re-sited, offer new possibilities for sitting in a quiet and shady spot. Phoebe said she’d been eating her sandwiches there.

I told her I was feeling very cross, and had spent a couple of hours simply faffing about. This included scrumping gooseberries on an overgrown plot. I never used to care for them but the fruit on these abandoned bushes is now claret coloured, almost black when fully ripe; sweet enough to eat straight from the stem. I’m thinking of a luscious gooseberry fool or a wine infused jelly.

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I also spent some time with the bees and butterflies. All annoyances are forgotten while one watches them. It’s akin to meditation. The bumble bees were literally bathing head-to-toe in the pollen of the musk mallow. This is a wild plant that insists on growing in front of my shed door. I’ve cut it down to the roots once, and transplanted a residual shred of it to a less annoying location where it is now also thriving; but the mother plant has come back with a vengeance. And since it’s such a hit with the bees, it had better stay for now.

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A focused perspective – making a bee-line

 

Square Perspective #20

Tales Of Second Breakfasts ~ Well If It’s Good Enough For Hobbits…

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This strawberry was yesterday’s first breakfast, eaten at around 5.45 a.m. when the early morning sun was already flooding the allotment with the beginnings of a heat wave. I don’t usually go gardening at this extraordinary hour; nor certainly feel like eating breakfast, but the weather people divined the day would be hot, so I left the house at 5.15, set on opening the polytunnel doors in hopes of creating some through ventilation. I also wanted to do a spot of emergency watering and mulching – the young sweet corn especially, but before that could happen the strawberry plot beckoned, and who was I to refuse this sunny mouthful of deliciousness. Or indeed the next several.

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Then I was distracted by the climbing peas. The day before, Lord Leicester had not been ready to pick, but suddenly he was. (It’s always problematical working out if a pod is actually full of grown-up peas: much gentle squeezing along the row).  Of course it was necessary to test the contents, so a pea course followed the fruit course (and I can report that they too were very juicy). Then I spent the next twenty minutes picking peas. There was quite a haul for a first picking. Good show, milord!

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After that it was time for some proper work, the intended watering and mulching, the chopping of garden refuse for the compost bins. Next came an interlude of enviromesh wrestling, this with the aim of ensuring that the red cabbages and Tuscan kale were well protected from Cabbage White butterflies – their cohorts now conspicuously abroad from a recent hatching. This job is always an enormous faff (finding enough tent pegs, checking the hoops are tall enough to give the crops room, and the mesh wide enough in both dimensions to cover them while leaving sufficient all-round margin for a complete brassica lock-down). I always have to put myself on notice to get this done, even though I know it’s utterly worth doing.

A reward for objective accomplished was to check if there were any new potatoes ready. I have to say this is ever one of the most exciting activities of the gardening year – rootling under a potato plant to see what’s what. Given our rainless spring I wasn’t expecting much of a crop from the first earlies, but here they are:  Pentland Javelin and just enough of them for two:

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As the morning grew ever warmer, the church clock struck the hours, and sounds of domestic awakening along nearby Southfield Road drifted over the allotment hedge. Now and then I would look up to see that another gardener had arrived quietly on their plot. Somehow people move about differently in the early morning: something slightly mesmeric as they go about their tasks; almost as if they are treading quietly on the grass paths: not wanting to disturb or be disturbed.

I chatted briefly with my plot neighbour when he arrived to fill his water butts, and we talked of the sample results from the soil test he had arranged on our mutual plots: very alkaline; very high in organic matter; but soil verging on the ‘very (as in too) heavy’. Action needed: lots of sand and potash to be added. He said how pleased he was discover that potential fertility was high. And I remembered that we should have known this, despite our often paltry crop results. This quarter of Much Wenlock where the allotment lies has been known as the Wheatlands for centuries, and still the crop is grown here, despite the heavy ground.

And soon five hours had passed, by which time I was very hungry for something other than peas and strawberries, and desperate for a mug of tea. Home then across Townsend Meadow where at 9.15 the present-day wheat already had a dreamy, heat-hazy air. As I go, I think not only of a second breakfast, but how very pleased Graham will be when I show him the spuds.

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Sticking To The Plot ~ And The Comfort Of Gardeners

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Hurrah! We’ve had rain after weeks without a drop, and at last the nightly allotment watering duty is on hold. It’s a big relief. Throughout May and early June I was spending at least an hour each evening pounding the plot paths, a watering can in each hand, making trip after trip to the water tank, this in a bid to keep newly planted beans, beetroot and greens going strong.

And it’s not only that the effort of hand watering is hard work and bothersome. Somehow it’s also an activity fraught with dilemmas. Because you know very well you can never can give plants what they actually need. It’s all too hit and miss. And then once you start, you need to keep on, and so there’s the problem that plants won’t get their roots down and establish themselves strongly, and in fact this year I’ve been trying not to water too much, relying on mulching wherever I can. Also watering in dry weather tends to compact the soil, which can be a problem around lettuce and carrot seedlings. And so yes, there are many moments when you think aren’t there better ways to spend one’s time.

But then the cropping starts, and when you can devour fresh picked artichokes, the leaf ends well doused in hot garlic butter, or tuck into lightly steamed broad beans served with salsa verde made from garden herbs, or gobble sun-warmed strawberries straight from the plant, or munch on a freshly pulled baby carrot, it’s obvious. It is not only worth it; there IS nothing better.

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And so I can report that all on the plot is presently going (roughly) to plan. With the advent of rain last week came the planting out of leeks, sweet corn and assorted caulis and cabbages, Cherokee climbing beans, dwarf French beans, courgettes and squashes. Potatoes have been earthed up, and compost bins emptied and replenished with scavenged vegetation. Butter and runner beans that had been planted out earlier but then had to be sheltered from gale force winds have had their protective covers removed and the climbing pea and seedling asparagus beds have been mulched.

So now for some photos:

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Climbing peas Lord Leicester and Alderman bringing up the rear; Belle de Fontenay potatoes centre; in the raised beds: seedling clumps of perennial leeks (Russian variety), kohlrabi and cabbage left foreground, and a rather poor showing of parsnips to the right.

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As pretty as a pea flower? This one is called Champion, another old variety of climbing pea.

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Verbascum and the butter bean canes. I have quite a few flowering plants dotted about my two plots. They attract pollinators for one thing, but also make up for some of the unsightly bins and pest protection devices. Pot marigolds grow themselves where they please; likewise the Nigella, and now it seems the wild moon daisies are intent on taking over the place. Behind them are the onion beds netted with enviromesh against allium beetle.

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The header poppies are not mine though. They have just appeared in a new wild flower plot in the allotment orchard. Fellow allotmenteers, Phoebe, Siegfried and Ian have been working hard for over a year to reclaim this area of neglected fruit trees for everyone to enjoy, this on top of working their own plots. They are an all round horticultural tour de force, and I think myself very lucky that our lockdown regime has allowed allotment going. Over the past weeks I have been able to see them there and so, more or less social-distanced of course, tap into their positive gardening energies. It would be churlish not to pass some of them on.

So here are more views of the poppies and the reclaimed orchard.

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