There are two long-abandoned plots next to mine at the Wenlock allotments. On recent late-day visits to my polytunnel, the sun still hot, I’ve found this allotment cat (one of several feral felines who haunt the place) stretched out between two dismantled shed panels. The pose says it all: absolute bliss.
Here’s its sibling. Both cats seem to make a living on the allotment. In fact I think they were born here and don’t seem to belong to anyone. I dare say there are plenty of rodents to hunt. And now I think about it, there are certainly fewer birds foraging on the plots. In the winter, one or other sleeps in my polytunnel.
And here’s another regular prowler, doing a good little leopard imitation:
I confess there are times when I think growing our own vegetables is more trouble than it’s worth. On the other hand, I’d be sorry not to have my two allotment plots, though I am thinking of sub-letting a portion of one of them come March. This is mostly because the beds on my newer polytunnel plot are now in a more useable condition after several seasons’ composting. The Wenlock Silurian soil is very challenging, and it’s only taken me a decade and a half to get it to a state where it’s possibly more friable than claggy. Endemic pests are also a problem in community gardens, and especially in situations where plot holders’ early enthusiasm gives way to garden neglect and finally abandonment.
Anyway this last season has had its high points, sweet corn being one of them. We ate the last cobs yesterday, out of a crop of three or four dozen. Doing one’s own growing also means being able to have vegetables that are otherwise only available in tins: e.g. borlotti beans. And then having the polytunnel means that once the tomato and cucumber harvest is over (and that’s been tremendous this year too) I can bring on assorted kales, herbs, lettuces, spinach, endives and mustards for salads over the winter months.
Other successes this year are the raspberries – summer and autumn, strawberries, peas, courgettes, runner and broad beans, beetroot, cauliflowers, carrots, potatoes, onions and pointy cabbages. There are leeks, parsnips, fat winter cabbage, sprouting broccoli, and hopefully butter beans still to come. The squashes were a bit of a failure: two undersized Chioggia efforts, though I did turn one of them into some very good spicy soup today.
As ever with gardening, as one gathers in and eats the produce, so one is ever plotting the next seasons’ sowing, planting and eating.
It comes with added red tailed bee bum, and so the mystery is revealed…a globe artichoke flower, or rather an artichoke inflorescence since each part is an individual small flower. There were several valiant stabs at it, but Jude and Izzie were the first to guess correctly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.