Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge This week Cee says to show her something small
Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge This week Cee says to show her something small
April and sowing and growing are very much on this English gardener’s mind. So far it’s been too cold to think of putting much in the ground, but impatience inevitably triumphs over common sense. In the last few days I have given in to inclinations to plant some first early potatoes. I’m trying a new technique as suggested by TV gardener Monty Don, growing them in a raised bed, and popped into a deep layer of compost a foot or so apart. But after I’d done it, I grew worried about the poor little tubers being subjected to Siberian icy blasts, and covered the bed in horticultural fleece. Now it’s down to ‘wait and see’.
Otherwise, it’s been mostly ‘housekeeping’ chores at the allotment: the first mowing of paths, turning compost heaps, edging beds, putting up climbing bean and pea canes, weeding, sowing stuff in the polytunnel. And dreaming of delicious produce to come.
Here are some crops I grew earlier, and all eaten long ago:
And of course the allotment plots don’t feed only us humans. Most of the gardeners grow flowers too – i.e. besides the flowering fruit and vegetables. And there are always plenty of flowering weeds on the abandoned plots, and so therefore lots to keep the bees, bugs and butterflies well fed. Deliciousness all round then.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
This week Patti at #Lens-Artists asks us to show her ‘delicious’.
January can be a dreary time up at the allotment: cold claggy soil, weedy peripheries, bare trees and a general sense of neglect and of plots too long abandoned. And yet…and yet…when I slip-slide around my raised beds I find there is still plenty to harvest: leeks, parsnips, Tuscan kale, Swiss chard. The slugs have even left us some carrots (the voracious little gastropods are especially fond of the sweet and stubby rooted Paris Market variety), but I manage to find a bunch that have not been too gobbled.
There are also some golden beetroot to pluck, some as big as turnips. From the outside they do not look too promising – over-weathered and their skins suggesting woodiness within. But to my surprise, they are still good – delicious chopped into cubes and roasted till they start to caramelize, and even better with added quartered onions (Sturon still going strong from the summer cropping) and cloves of garlic kept in their papery jackets (so they can be popped out later, if squidgily, and accompanied by much finger licking).
Down by the raspberry bed, the purple sprouting plants, long nurtured through the summer drought and now wrapped in netting against pigeon attack, are looking stout and lush-leaved. I see that they are beginning to yield, and manage to find half a dozen fat florets. Hopefully, the plants will keep cropping now into the spring.
And then as I make for home with my muddy bag filled with veggies, I spot the marigolds (Calendula officinalis). There they are, back in flower after their December lull, and making their own sunshine on a dull and chilly day. I feel a bit guilty about picking them, but then I think some sunshine on the kitchen table would be a cheering sight for He Who Is Presently Coughing His Socks Off. And of course a scatter of petals, therapeutic little entities that they are, would be just the garnish for a dish of roasted golden beetroot.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
I’ve not taken you to the allotment lately. It’s been hard work all summer doing the watering, protecting crops from scorching and defending the brassicas from butterfly onslaught. But just look what cropped up this week. (And yes we have eaten it).
You have to watch cauliflowers. They can sneak up on you. One moment nothing but a bunch of leaves, the next a big head enough for two. If you miss the moment of readiness, they can soon be spoiled by grazing earwigs – the rotters.
With this year’s prolonged drought there have been a few losses and some so-so results. The broad beans and peas struggled fitfully. The runner bean seeds did not want to germinate. The strawberries started off well, then fainted. Some of the greens went grey with white fly and other nasties. The sweet peas went to seed as soon they flowered, then were attacked by aphids and had to be chopped. The French beans, though plentiful, were unusually stringy right from the get-go. And the runner beans are only now appearing at a manageable rate, this with the drop in temperature.
The courgettes, on the other hand, simply galloped away and are still producing. This I do not understand as they like to be watered well, and I have not watered them well, though they did have plenty of compost to grow in. We’ve also had good raspberries, beetroot, carrots, onions, a few squashes, and Swiss Chard which has grown itself. The borlotti and butter beans and leeks look to be doing pretty well, and we’ve had tomatoes and mini cucumbers from the polytunnel. The star success is the sweet corn, both the crop from the seedlings I bought in, and the Lark variety I grew myself. Round of applause for the Lark please even if it isn’t pink…
And we have asters, which are amazingly pink. I used to think I did not like them, but after last year’s gift from fellow allotmenteer, Siegfried, when he appeared on my plot with armfuls of them, I have been quite won over and decided to grow them too. Some of them come with their own crab spiders.
Lately heavy labouring on the Farrell allotment plots has been taking precedence over blogging. Tasks have included sowing, weeding, mulching, path mowing, plot edging, erecting pea and bean sticks, planting out the broad bean seedlings (long pod, crimson flowered and the Sutton varieties), beetroot (golden, boltardy and cylindrical), cauliflower, broccoli and pea seedlings.
I have also recycled several builder’s pallets (rescued from the communal bonfire heap) to make two new compost bins, and to extend an existing one into a double-bay effort. And I have been gathering comfrey, grass cuttings, shredded cardboard, household peelings and whatever greenery I can crop from neighbours’ neglected plots to feed the bins. I am aiming for mega-quantities of compost come the autumn so I can give all the raised beds a deep protective layer that will hopefully prevent the soil from turning into concrete over the winter, which is what happened to any exposed surface this year.
In the polytunnel over-wintered lambs lettuce, Chinese mustards, leeks, Russian and Tuscan kale are being eaten and/or cleared to make way for the tomatoes, peppers and the single cucumber plant that I managed to germinate. All in all, it feels like a gardening marathon, but doubtless it will (mostly) be worth it. And one good thing about being up at the allotment at this time of year is the chance of taking sunset photographs of the town on the way home.
First though evidence of the labours:
And now we’ve got the gardening done, more early evening shots around town as I head home; views from south through east to north-east:
Well, it’s hardly been gardening weather – far too wet; not at all like our good old winters where on fine, cold days you could pile on the gardening togs, balaclava and all, get out your trusty spade and dig the allotment, naturally always standing on a plank as you went so as not to compact the soil.
I actually like digging, though I’m trying to wean myself off the practice (as many of you who come here will know) opting instead for the no-dig approach which relies on raised beds and the annual autumn application of compost. Around 2 inches worth says no-dig guru, Charles Dowding, and only on the surface (he has lots of useful videos on You Tube and grows parsnips and carrots the size of cruise missiles).
The only problem with this approach is you need loads and loads of compost, and despite my having a dozen assorted piles, bins and bays of decomposing garden waste, I never seem to have enough garden-ready stuff at the right time. I also completely forgot about the autumn application as I had left my brain in the olive groves of Kalamata back in October. Drat! However, it did return briefly in December to remember to gather leaves for making leaf mould, and it’s probably not too late to go out and gather more if only it weren’t raining, and Wenlock’s likely byways a sea of slithery Silurian mud.
We also had more snow in January, but not the glistening, Snow-Queeny landscapes of December, but the dank and dreary sort followed by more rain, which soon washed it away. Except that when I went up to the allotment on Monday I was surprised to find heaps of it lurking along the sides of the polytunnels. Oh no! I remembered the old wives’ tale which says that when snow remains we can expect further falls to carry it away. Hmph. A curse on old wives for being so doomy. We’ve done snow. Now we want spring!
But then the odd thing about that is, along with our snow and frost we have also had spring, or at least if the pot marigolds are anything to go by. These are self-seeded annuals that grow hither and thither around my plot, and not even being buried for a week under December’s snow drifts stopped them flowering. When the snow receded they emerged full-on, like floral headlights, though their stems were somewhat misshapen from the burying. As anyone would be.
Anyway, here are some views of the allotment taken on Monday. I’m including some of my compost heaps – not a pretty sight, I know, but they bring joy to this gardener’s heart. Also of my parsnips, which as you will see were exceedingly hard to extract from the mud. They are also nowhere near the size of Charles Dowding’s cruise missiles, nor as perfectly formed. But then as the shed-building man who lives in my house says, who needs parsnips that big? A vaguely existentialist enquiry to which I find there is no answer…
For those who haven’t caught up yet, Su Leslie is now our very excellent host for The Changing Seasons monthly challenge, having taken over from our former very excellent host Max at Cardinal Guzman (btw fantastic ski-ing video at Max’s blog). We have thus shifted across the globe from Norway to New Zealand. Please pop over to Su’s place to see her and other bloggers’ monthly round up from their corners of the world. And please join in. The ‘rules’ are simple.
Over the past few days the butterflies have been feasting on the allotment buddleia bushes. From top down we have: Red Admiral, Comma, and Small Tortoiseshell. In the teasels we have assorted bumbles:
This morning when I arrived at the plot, there were insects everywhere. It was also very hot, so I was glad to take a break from sieving compost and wander round, capturing some of the busy foragers. Having had a nice little play with my Canon Ixus, I then went back to work. I harvested my onions, hung them in the sun to dry, watered the polytunnel jungle, fought the tomato vegetation into submission, discovered a neat little cauliflower out in the raised beds, picked French beans, courgettes, plucked a few beetroot to make borsch and a lettuce for our neighbours, sowed some golden beetroot, carrots and Florence fennel, then staggered home across the field whither I arrived a very dishevelled and grubby person. Back at the homestead, he who is building a shed in the back garden had erected the fourth wall to his edifice, or at least the framework for same. And having laboured all morning and well beyond lunchtime, we then retreated to the cool of the kitchen for a restoring cup of tea. And there you have it, Monday chez Farrell – overheated but happy.
Am linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk which (as ever) is totally fabulous this week. Please trot over there for a longer walk than mine to the allotment, and also for some very lovely candlelit scenes around the streets of Lagoa.
Next to my excitement in turning over a well-rotted compost heap, comes the joyous anticipation of lifting the first potatoes. Will they have grown well? Will the slugs and other pests have got in there first and had a feast? But no. Here they are – somewhat irregular in shape due to the long, long dry spell with only two or three rain showers to spur them on – lovely Belle de Fontenay.
This is an heirloom variety introduced in France in 1885. Pale yellow, firm, waxy – ideal for steaming or boiling, their flavour apparently improving with keeping , although I cannot verify that bit as we generally eat as I dig. And as well as arriving early, these pommes de terre have other obliging qualities. They don’t mind what kind of soil they are grown in, and they seem to love my allotment, which given its unyielding soil, is a huge plus.
This year I planted most of the potatoes on the ground I’d covered with several inches of partially rotted compost back in the autumn. I also sprinkled in some biochar and fish, blood and bone meal before planting in April. This was a half and half no-dig enterprise, in as much as the overwintering compost cover saved me from having to dig over the whole plot as I would have done in the past. I didn’t dig trenches either, just a row of holes, one for each potato.
The ultimate no-dig method would be to simply bury the spuds by hand in the compost layer, thereafter adding more compost to earth them up. But then that requires an awful lot of compost.
Anyway, compromise is everything when it comes to allotment gardening.
The spuds in the photo were delicious, steamed and shared last night with good friends from Buffalo, Jack and Kathy, who come each year like swallows to spend the summer in Wenlock. Also on the menu was Chicken Hymettus (recipe below), and also from the allotment, finely sliced greens (Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, beet leaves, Greyhound cabbage), Onward peas, lightly steamed, and served with a walnut and parsley pesto sauce.
Hymettus Chicken (serves 4)
chicken portions cut in half if large – I used thighs as they were
limes – juice and zest of 3 (or 2 lemons)
saffron strands – a good pinch
oil and butter for frying
honey – 2 tablespoons preferably light and runny though I used gooey dark African
thyme – 2 teaspoons fresh chopped/ 1 level teaspoon dried
mint – 2 tablespoons chopped
salt and pepper
almonds flaked – a handful
Prick skin of chicken pieces, place in shallow dish and pour over lime juice and zest. Marinate in the fridge for 1-2 days, turning meat occasionally.
When ready to cook, put saffron in a cup and add 4 tablespoons boiling water and leave for 20 mins.
Lift chicken from marinade with slotted spoon and fry in butter and oil till golden brown all over.
Strain saffron and mix liquid with honey and the remaining marinade. Pour over chicken, add thyme (I actually used Greek oregano), half the mint, and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Toast the almond flakes and to serve, sprinkle over the dish with the rest of the mint.
This recipe works well cooked a day in advance and then reheated.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
Here is my path to the allotment. I’m a bit fixated on it, and have been snapping it at different seasons. I like the way colour has leached from the grasses.
The allotment looks bleak at this time of year, not improved by the fact that many of us are untidy allotmenteers. There’s all sorts of unsightly takataka lying about – things that might come in handy for something, sometime. I’m guilty of it myself, and of course when you take on a plot, you inherit your predecessor’s junk. I’m gradually whittling mine down.
There are also jobs I haven’t done – edging the beds, giving the paths a final mow while I had the chance. But I did sow my mustard at just the right time and now have an impressive crop.
I’m growing it both as a cover crop and a green manure. If we have a hard winter it will probably be frosted and die down by itself. For now it’s still growing, and if it survives till spring I’ll cut it down and probably just let it rot on the soil surface. With green manures it is usual to dig them in before they flower. But I’m beginning to have second thoughts about digging, much as I enjoy wielding my grandfather’s sharp bladed spade.
For years I’ve known (vaguely) about No Dig Organic Gardening, just as I’ve long known that mulching crops produces sturdier, tastier produce that needs little watering. But it has taken a while for the penny to completely drop.
No dig cultivation is not simply about saving labour. It’s about protecting and nourishing the soil. And since today is World Soil Day, there can be no better moment to think about this totally essential, life protecting, life enhancing substance. If our soil is degraded and low in nutrients, then our food is not giving us the nutrition we need to stay strong and healthy. M.S. Swaminathan, India’s ‘Father of Green Revolution’ calls this ‘hidden hunger’. Paradoxically, we suffer from it even in rich countries where we eat all day, and it contributes to (and some would say lies at the root of) much chronic disease.
Soil anaemia also breeds human anaemia. Micronutrient deficiency in the soil results in micronutrient malnutrition in people, since crops grown on such soils tend to be deficient in the nutrients needed to fight hidden hunger…Managing our soil and water resources in a sustainable and equitable manner needs a new political vision.
All my gardening life I have tended towards the traditional notion that digging the soil well, weeding, and adding plentiful compost is a ‘good thing’. Yet after 8 years of digging, weeding and forking in compost on my allotment plot, I’m seeing only marginal improvements in the soil: i.e. it’s a little better than it was.
In dry weather the soil surface still turns brick-hard, which in turn constricts plant growth, (and in some cases ‘bonsais’ the plants) making then weak and susceptible to pests. I then have to do a massive amount of watering which is not ideal either; it discourages the plants from rooting deeply.
Also every time you slice through the soil with a spade you disturb the complex community of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes that support vibrant plant growth.
Better, then, to thickly pile shredded garden waste over the entire soil surface, and allow a microenvironment to establish underneath. The mulch gradually breaks down as all the matter is digested and re-digested, creating a nutrient rich, moisture retaining medium.
I now realize I need to cultivate a cohort of jobbing domestic gardeners who will let me have their shredded garden waste rather than taking it to the recycling centre. In the meantime I decided on a little experiment.
Lacking the necessary quantities of gardeners and their shreddings, I spent three hours hours yesterday digging out my partially rotted compost bin, and spreading it several inches deep over four square metres of exposed soil. It was a messy process after days of downpours. But it’s amazing what lengths this writer will go to to avoid writing the novel.
The trouble is, rooting around in one’s compost heaps, turning stuff over, redistributing it, tends to be rather more satisfying than staring at the computer screen and straining one’s brain to dig out the right words.
I’ve also been making simple ‘silos’ out of chicken wire, to collect the leaves and so make leaf mould. This will take a year or two, but I might try and speed the process up next year by adding in some grass mowings. The resulting dark compost is just the stuff for seed sowing, so hopefully there will be some in spring 2017.
And I’ve been busy in the polytunnel. The summer’s ludicrous tomato forest is long gone and the last of the fruit turned into soup, sauce and chilli tomato jam. Now all has been raked over and planted with winter salad stuff – Chinese mustard, chard, pak choi, purslane, perennial rocket, lamb’s lettuce, Russian kale. I also have some parsley in there, onions, garlic, leeks and a bucket each of carrots and Florence fennel. The fennel probably won’t grow much, but we can eat the feathery leaves.
And just in case we do have the promised hard winter, I already have the fleece ready to lay over the young plants. Last year was pretty mild, and I found that once I put fleece over everything, the plants continued to grow, if only a little. I also have two small water butts filled to the brim and stationed inside. Their presence is supposed to provide a slight increase in temperature within the polytunnel. They are also handy when the allotment water supply is switched off for the winter.
Meanwhile, out on the plot, there are still lots of crops to harvest – carrots, leeks, kale, small amounts of perennial spinach, and cauliflowers. The Brussels sprouts, cabbages, purple sprouting and Romanesco broccoli are all coming along. The field beans have sprouted, likewise the overwintering Radar onions.
I know I am very lucky to have my allotment. But everyone can do some gardening, even if you only have a bucket. In fact a bucket is great for growing carrots. Lack of space need not be an obstacle. A single raised bed of one square metre, topped with layers of mulch can be intensively cultivated with leafy crops. And remember, there’s no need to dig it. Also mucking around close to soil is good for lifting the spirits. Scientists have discovered it gives off some kind of anti-depressant molecules.
All of which is to say:
SOIL – WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. HEAL IT, AND WE HEAL OURSELVES AND THE GENERATIONS TO COME.
HAPPY WORLD SOIL DAY!
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Up at the allotment my teepee of sweet peas has been flowering since June. Twice I have thought they were over, and thought of pulling them up. But here they are (photographed yesterday) still budding and blooming, and it’s nearly November. The sky is pretty impressive too.
In fact there’s a lot going on on my plot. My cabbages and Brussels sprouts have grown another six inches in the last few days, and are fighting their way out of their protective enviromesh. The leeks are fat and juicy, and the courgettes are still (just) producing a few fruits. The new strawberry bed is finished, the asparagus mulched, and the over-wintering onions and field beans are in, and sprouting. And, most exciting – to me at least – I have created two huge new compost heaps. Next up, is leaf collection to make leaf mould. It’s a slow process, but worth doing for seed compost. This week on BBC Gardeners World, Monty Don, told me to gather every single leaf because they are so precious. So I shall.
Because if ever I heard a mega-tactic to avoid writing, then this is it. Sorry, can’t write the novel. Must pick up leaves – one at a time.
Actually, I have been writing, though not the novel. Two short stories completed in the last few weeks. In fact today it’s far too wet to go out leaf collecting. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll take a leaf from the sweet peas’ book, and go and grow the masterwork.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Nature needs Nurture
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