Top Crop ~ The Big Cauliflower Ambush

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Many may not know this, but cauliflowers are the sneakiest vegetables – not to say the most covert in their growing habits. You may watch over them for months – from plantlet module to big leafy crown; you may peer frequently into their tight green hearts, even peel back a few leaves, and there will not be the smallest signs of a cauli. Then one day – last Monday to be exact -THIS HAPPENS!

I was just leaving the allotment polytunnel after my usual late-day visit, and thought I caught a glimpse of curd in the corner bed. When I pulled back the monster leaves there is was,  the size of a football and utterly perfect. How could I not have noticed it sooner? Did it grow overnight like Jack’s beanstalk?

I don’t usually grow cauliflowers in my polytunnel, but back in the autumn when I bought the modules, I had three weedy ones left over from my outside planting, and thought I’d try them under cover. When I go up to the allotment today there may well be two more like this.

The problem with cauliflowers’ sneaky habits when grown outdoors is that by the time you discover curds big enough to harvest, more often than not they have already been found by slugs and earwigs (also sneaky) and been well nibbled under the cover of leafiness.

Anyway, I guess a lot of you might not find cauliflowers especially appealing. But there are many approaches besides the usual cauliflower cheese. Grated raw and briefly sauteed in oil it makes a good rice substitute. Steamed and pureed cauli is also delicious (spot of cream and chopped herbs added). And the whole head can be sliced into 1” thick steaks, given a good olive oiling/seasoning, and roasted in a hot oven for 35 mins, turning after 20mins. I also tried this the other day with celeriac and it was brilliant served with a mushroom strogonoff sauce. I’m thinking one of the polytunnel caulis might be in for similar treatment this evening.

The next photo is just to give you an ideal of the scale of leaf disguise adopted by this paricular cauli. I had to peel off masses take this portrait, and rather wished I had some livestock to feed them too i.e. rather than the compost bin microbes.

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Square Tops #23

The Changing Seasons ~ March 2020

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Here we are – a week and a half of home confinement, and I’m thinking Much Wenlock is a pretty nice place to be if one has to live under the lockdown regime. People in the town are trying very hard and with good humour to stick to the strictures of ‘no mingling’, and of course it’s not too hard to do where the population is small and there is plenty of space.

But I can’t help thinking where this will leave us – once the panic abates. Much will have changed; possibly for the foreseeable future. Coming out of isolation may prove a challenge for many. One thing is certain, we must not lose faith in our fellows. We must restore confidence in society in all senses and not keep seeing neighbours and all other humans as vectors of disease, particularly one that has been so badly presented in the often excruciatingly salacious mass media fear-fest.

In the meantime, I am still allowed to walk across the field to my allotment. There are many signs of new growth there despite days of icy winds. The artichoke plants, Swiss chard, over-wintered cauliflower plants, and sprouting broccoli are looking vigorous. There are a few leeks left to eat, assorted salad greens in the polytunnel, and I’ve planted out most of my broad bean seedlings. At home the conservatory is chock-a-block with young pea plants. The spuds are also well chitted and I’m hoping that it will be warm enough in the coming week to get some in the ground.

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And despite the cold, there have also been some amazing-light interludes – ethereal sunshine that opens eyes and mind and spirit in elevating ways. And of course the star of my March snaps has to be the red-legged partridge that arrived so surprisingly on our shed roof the other morning and then launched into full cry for the benefit of any other partridges out there. Coooo-eeeee! For those who missed that post, here’s a reprise along with other views from Wenlock in these stay-at-home days.

The Changing Seasons ~ March 2020

Hilltop Cloud

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I spotted this little cloud the other day as I was crossing Townsend Meadow on the way to the allotment. And though it has no obvious silver lining, it does seem an optimistic little entity. Very buoyant.

 

Onwards and upwards, everyone!

Square Tops #2 A big non-mingling hug to Becky for setting us off on this topping mission to keep spirits up every day in April. Follow the link to join in. Square offerings only.

 

The Changing Seasons ~ August And The Turn Of The Year

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There’s been a sense of autumn happening all month. The wheat harvest began extra early, some weeks ago in fact, then stalled during heavy rain, then started up again, the combines’ drone resounding from the hills around the town. But over the hedge behind the house the crop remains uncut, though it received its chemical drench last week, the mega-tractor leaving great tracks of smashed crop as it sprayed – a herbicide no doubt. It’s not my wheat of course, but somehow I find this a disturbing sight, though quickly suppose there must be a ready reckoner knack for weighing up the benefit of bad weed removal over good crop loss. Now it is raining again and by yesterday the ears that were pale ochre had acquired a coppery glow. At this rate the grains will take a lot of drying out, and we’ll be hearing the grain driers’ drone instead. When activated, they go all night. Or that’s my impression.

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But as to the autumnal feelings, the lime trees have a lot to answer for. After magnificent flushes of tiny green blossoms that filled the byways with delicious scent, the flowers’ seed wings have fallen everywhere in drifts, filling the gutters, strewing the Linden Walk like so much sea litter,  and thereby also doing a very good impression of autumn leaves before we’re ready for them.

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We’ve had high summer intervals too, days when the garden has been filled with blossoms, bees and butterflies, and especially Painted Ladies which have appeared in huge numbers this year, apparently on a reproductive a high in a ten-year cycle. There have been lots of Gatekeeper butterflies too, and Peacocks and Tortoiseshells and Commas. Also Cabbage Whites, which I’m not at all keen on, since no vegetable defence system seems secure against the breeding imperative. The guerrilla garden over the fence has been spectacular, and the garden within very pleasing, if unruly.

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At the allotment all the gardeners are heavily into ‘harvest home’ mode – baskets of runner beans, courgettes, tomatoes and potatoes being gathered, armfuls of dahlias, asters and gladioli borne home to share with friends and neighbours. The place is alive with pollinators of every kind, flocks of Gatekeepers and Painted Ladies on the abandoned plots where teasels, verbena and oregano are running rampant among the weeds; lots of bees in my butter bean blossoms and courgette flowers too.

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So all in all, things in Wenlock have been pretty good this August, and we are very lucky to be here. The weather may be weird, our democratic system such as it is coming apart at the seams, no one really knowing what Brexit will mean, but Rip Van Winkle Land is alive and well, and just to prove it, here’s a somnolent evening view of the town from the allotment.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: August 2019

Crown Prince Finally Gets The Chop

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He’s been sitting on the kitchen cupboard all winter, and I’d grown used to his being there; rather forgotten that he might be eaten. Then last week I did remember. Soup. We need more soup! It was quite a tussle breaking into him, and then I found a quarter of him was more than enough for a big pan of spicy squash and onion concoction with added tub of  tomato ‘stock’ from the freezer. The soup did us for two lunches, the first day topped with plain yogurt and rye bread croutons, the next with homemade walnut-parsley-garlic pesto and toast.

The rest of the squash has been consigned to the fridge, there awaiting more souping and roasting (perhaps with dates, soy sauce, lime juice and onions). All hearty winter food.

But then, the thing is, when I first broke into him after much battling with my largest knife, and the two halves finally fell apart on the counter top, out whooshed the scent of summer. And I was transported, and all without the need for white mice magicked into coach horses by passing fairy godmothers. I was back. Those weeks and weeks of long hot days (with all that hauling of water about the allotment and (not the least of it) tending to his highness). And then I thought, well now, it will soon be time to sow more Crown Princes, seeds kept and dried from a princeling eaten back in December. And finally I thought so this is the essence of things, the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting, of being nourished and the pleasure of simply being. And that made me feel very happy. It’s amazing how much mileage there is in a pumpkin. Thank you, Crown Prince, for your great beneficence.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday

Unusual Perspectives Up At The Allotment

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English allotments are too often rackety sorts of places, and ours on Southfield Road is far from beautiful. The accumulations of tat on some neglected plots go back decades – broken glass, old bricks, shreds of plastic, rusting tools. Bit by bit they are being tidied up, the detritus carted off to the tip, aka the local recycling and waste disposal centre, this being done by one or two good souls who have more than enough to do on their own plots. But despite the overall unloveliness of the place, it does provide some interesting visual moments. The top photo was taken last spring – damson blossom and barbed wire with distant ash tree.

And here are some more views taken on my camera’s monochrome setting. A touch surreal I’m thinking:

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Cee’s Black & White Challenge ~ unusual perspective

December’s Changing Seasons ~ All Of Them Except Winter

This wintery looking hedge is on the lane to Downs Mill, though it was a mild afternoon when I took this photo, more like spring. The hazel catkins along the field path by the house have been thinking much the same, their tassels opening to the late December sun. Out in the garden the Dyer’s Chamomile (grown from seed last summer) is still flowering, as are pink and coral hesperanthus and hardy geraniums. None of them seem to have been bothered by the few mornings’ frost we had earlier in the month.

Otherwise, there have been a couple of gales, lots of murk with fog and too much rain, but also blue-sky days too, and so far little sign of winter as we once knew it. Up at the allotment the Swiss Chard is having yet another flush of juicy leaves and the pot marigolds have started to flower again, their petals adding a zing of colour to green salads. And in the fields all round the winter wheat is zooming up.

 

The Changing Seasons ~ December