Knowing Our Onions…

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…and a fine piece of domestic cooperation: Sturon onions grown by me in allotment raised beds, then neatly strung up by he-who-builds-sheds, though only after an online refresher course on how to do it. Anyway this is the sum of my onion crop, organically produced, planted out as sets in March and harvested at the beginning of August. You could call it pandemic produce, though I’d rather not, as at present it appears to be wholly disease free.

Sturon onions anyway are supposed to be good keepers. On the other hand, onion consumption in the Farrell household is so considerable, they will probably not last long. A field full would better cover a year’s culinary requirements. Still, when we’ve eaten these, there will be the leek crop to start on. That should see us through to spring when hopefully the world will not be so demented.

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Lens-Artists: Creativity in the time of covid   This week Tina at Travels and Trifles has set the challenge. Please go and see her very lovely photos.

Thought For The Day: Even An Ant May Cast A Shadow

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Friday evening at the allotment: the ant and the artichoke.

Please visit Thom at Writing Prompts and Practice for the true story behind this photo: 

‘Be strong, be brave, and cast a big shadow.’

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Close-ups

The Changing Seasons ~ And So Many Of Them In June

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I’ve read, just the other day in fact, that rain and dew drops caught in the leaves of Lady’s Mantle were much sought after by alchemists. They called them ‘moon water’, a deemed essential ingredient in the making of the philosopher’s stone, which in turn would change base metal into gold.

This plant’s transformative powers are also suggested in the old common name alkmelych  (alchemy) and preserved too in its botanical name Alchemilla vulgaris. Today medical herbalists prescribe it as a gynaecological tonic, in particular for balancing menopausal symptoms or resolving irregular menstrual cycles. The leaves and flowers are made into an infusion.

Anyway, the reason I mention this and indeed took the header photo is down to those big juicy drops. They mark the most transforming-transformative element of the month of June: RAIN. After a long dry spring, many weeks wherein our stolid Silurian soils set hard as concrete round limp and fainting plant life, we have finally had some good downpours; some of them quite torrential (as in stair rod assaults). We have also had hail and thunder. And in between, some over-heated sun-soaked days that made us think we had gone to the Mediterranean (while blissfully saved the airport check-in). But now, as the month comes to a close, the weather is more like late September – wind, drizzle, coolness and gloom. The allotment cabbage plots are happy though: just their kind of climate.

Surprisingly the dry spell has not noticeably curtailed production. Already garden harvest time is in full swing: peas, beetroot, lettuce, first potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, courgettes and broad beans. We’ve also had so many globe artichokes this year, I’ve had to prepare them en masse as hearts, braising them in olive oil and garlic. They can be eaten hot or cold.

As one crop finishes, so there is ground to clear, which means planning for the mid to late summer sowing and planting. Still lots to think about then. Mostly I’m thinking about fennel, various kinds of endives/chicories, carrots and spinach.

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Around the town the paths and lanes, and especially the Linden Walk have been drenched in lime flower scent. It is astonishing how these tiny green-gold, dusty looking  inflorescences  can produce such a heady perfume. They do of course have highly sedative properties  and should only be used with great care. No harm in some heavy sniffing though – as one passes by.

Early one morning, during the hot spell, I was doing just that, on my way to visit Windmill Hill. At 7 a.m. the sun was lighting up a lime tree by the children’s playground; the warmed perfume stopped me in my tracks: honeysuckle tempered with strains of citrus. Aaah!  Up on Windmill Hill there were however distinct signs of the recent drought. June is the time of the annual orchid count. It was corona-ed this year of course, but anyway, there were only a few pyramidal orchids to be seen there. Hopefully their little tubers have not been totally desiccated and are saving themselves for more salubrious conditions next year. (Aren’t we all). Even the Lady’s Bedstraw was struggling to bloom. Usually the hillside below the windmill is a mass of limestone meadow flowers in early summer. There were at least some very handsome musk thistles.

Another noteworthy wildlife sighting this month has been the large number of scarlet tiger moths about the place. Soon there will be a lot more if the scene in our back garden flowerbed is anything to go by. At rest they are not always so immediately noticeable: cream and amber spots on black. But in flight there are flashes of scarlet ‘skirts’ as they dart by. Very fetching.

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The Changing Seasons: June 2020  Please visit Su who hosts this challenge – not only for her lovely photos, but also for a very delicious soup recipe.

P.S. Cannot fathom this new system or how to put galleries where I want them. Hmph!

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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World Bee Day Today 20th May

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I’ve written lots about bees on this blog, and I guess most people who come here know how important they are to human existence; their overall busy bee-ness and the way they pollinate flowers that produce so much of our fruit, nuts and veg. So to celebrate bees here’s a gallery of snaps taken in the garden and up at the allotment. All, with the exception of the blue cornflower shot taken last month, are from the archive. At the moment the bees are zooming round too fast to have their pictures taken. Anyway more power to their pollinating…

 

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United Nations World Bee Day

Magic Bean Flowers!

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Well they have to be don’t they – magic that is – sporting such snazzy attire. These are the flowers of Field Beans Vicia faba, the same species as Broad Beans. They are usually grown in the UK as animal fodder or a green manure – the latter being sown in autumn and then dug in prior to flowering in the spring. This seems a huge waste to me. The beans produced are less than half the size of their bigger culinary cousins, but the plants are prolific with bundles of pods per stem. In fact (as with Broad Beans) you can harvest the young pods and steam them whole. If you leave the pods on the stem too long the beans can become a bit floury, but then they are excellent for soup. The young beans (Field or Broad) also make their own tasty version of guacamole (I have tried it out on foodie chums who thought it delicious), though it’s a bit fiddly as you need to steam the beans and then remove their outer pale shell before blitzing the green innards with olive oil, garlic, lime and herbs. There’s a recipe HERE.

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Bees of course love bean flowers however they come. And of course for us humans they have the most alluring fragrance. When I was taking this photo I also noticed the flowers lower down the stem had already been pollinated and were forming tiny pods. So the bean feast will not be long in coming. In the meantime you can also lightly steam the plants’ growing tips as a green vegetable. It’s anyway advisable to pinch them off about now to discourage blackfly assaults, so they may as well be added to the supper menu. Magic all round then.

And here are some with purple striped petals:

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Of Sunset Quince Blossom And Haphazard Tree Creation

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I almost missed the quince blossom this year, and had to look hard for a few surviving flowers. These were caught two evenings ago in the allotment orchard. I have my own quince tree of course – though scarcely even a treelet as yet. It’s out in the guerrilla garden behind the old privy sheds. Two autumns ago fellow allotmenteer Siegfried gave me several large quinces from the allotment tree. I duly made quince jelly with them and must have saved some of the pips. These I apparently put in a pot of compost and then forgot about them. The pot was outside all winter, buried under another pot. Then last spring when I was tidying up I lifted the top pot and found five tiny plants underneath – ID then unknown. They looked interesting though – i.e. not like weeds, so I kept them. And then I remembered. Quince offspring!

Apart from the one I’ve planted out, I’ve found a good home for another with a chum who says it is thriving, but I still have three small trees in pots. If the mother tree is anything to go by (and it hasn’t been grafted onto dwarf rootstock), then the offspring should not grow too big. Maybe some more guerrilla planting is called for. My treelet is currently ringed by a crowd of columbine heavies, so it’s hard to spot. Anyway, here’s a photo:

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And here’s the mother tree:

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Randomized gardening can be so rewarding.

Backlight: Big Tree, Little Tree

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I take  photos of this tree line more often than is necessary. It needs lots of zoom (the hill is on the other side of the town) but it’s a view I see when I’m up at the allotment. Or rather it’s a view I see when I’m leaving the allotment, and turn at the last moment to check what the light is doing over in the Callaughton quarter of Much Wenlock. This version was taken on the last day of November. The large tree is probably an ash, its undercarriage laden with ivy. I’m guessing the small tree is a hawthorn, similary clothed. It’s a feature of our trees around Wenlock Edge – their trunks and branches hung in ivy.

January Light #9

June On The Plot ~ Before The Rain

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This year it’s been a case of less blogging and more digging. And yes – to those of you who follow my gardening pursuits – I have not forgotten that for ages I have been trying to follow the tenets of ‘no dig’ gardening. I really do want to, and in spirit at least I hang on to Charles ‘no dig’ Dowding’s every soily crumb of wisdom. But the big thing is he gardens in Somerset in the mild south west; he does not garden on the side of Wenlock Edge where the land comprises 400 million-year-old Silurian clag that sets like cement at the slightest opportunity and does so even when you’ve piled on the compost.

In fact all the usual things that gardeners add to heavy soil to improve drainage – sand, grit, well rotted manure, lime – are grist to its mill. It seems to suck them up and then sets harder still. Clearly those decomposing  residues of fossil tropical sea bed – crinoids, trilobites, giant scorpions, volcanic ash and all – must contain something  very, very sticky – some geologically ancient equivalent of super glue I should think.

In other words, the chances of my making enough compost to apply each autumn across both my half-plots and to the appropriate depth that might make an actual difference to the soil are extremely unlikely.  Instead, and by way of cutting coat to suit cloth, I eke out the compost I do have, putting it only in the spots where I intend to plant, and rarely attempting to cover an entire bed. Also, given the challenging nature of the soil (and its slowness to warm up), I rarely sow directly in the ground, but germinate most things in individual pots or trays.

The first photo shows the result. On the left are climbing peas (currently half grown height-wise). This is a heritage variety called Ne Plus Ultra – sown three or four seeds to a 4” pot in February and planted out around the end of March. I’ve not grown it before (it was recommended, if not rediscovered during the making of the 1980s Victorian  Kitchen Garden TV series), and I’m looking forward to the results given its show-off ‘cannot  be bettered’ claim.

I’m also thinking that my head gardener grandfather, Charles Ashford, who as a boy underwent the full Victorian stately pile/hierarchical gardening apprenticeship, would have been very familiar with this variety and also with Alderman, the other main crop climbing pea I’m growing this year. One of the advantages of these old varieties is that they produce pods gently over the whole summer season, whereas the modern short cultivars crop at one go and need to be sown in succession if you want to extend their season.

Pea growing tip: peas germinate really well in compost filled lengths of plastic guttering (no need to add drainage holes but water in just enough to keep the sowing medium moist). When it’s time to plant out, and the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, slide the lot (wheesh!) into a shallow trench, draw soil round, firm in and water; protect from birds and provide small sticks for them to climb up. This sowing method of course foils seed-plundering mice and pigeons, and gives the plants a head start.  And if you are growing modern pea cultivars, it makes successional planting easier to sort out – e.g. you can sow, say, a metre length or two of guttering at two-weekly intervals. IMG_1999

But back to the top photo. On the right you can just see the runner bean bed. These plants were germinated in small pots and a couple of weeks ago planted into the remains of an overwintered compost heap. (The other half of the heap had been spread along the Ne Plus Ultra bed prior to planting).  Runner bean plants always struggle to begin with, no matter how healthy the seedlings. The allotment harbours some leaf-chewing pest that is not a mollusc. So far, and most annoyingly, the culprit has not been identified by he who is a plant pathologist and lives in my house – but every year it has a good go at everyone’s freshly planted out runners. You just have to hope they’ll grow through the setback. They usually do. Again I’m trying a new-to-me heritage variety. It’s called Liberty and has a reputation for producing large and succulent pods. Its seeds when I came to sow them were surprisingly enormous, and I’m secretly expecting multiple versions of Jack’s beanstalk. So if I suddenly disappear from this blog, you’ll know where I’ve gone. Or at least how I’ve gone.

Elsewhere on the plot the broad beans, strawberries and three different sorts of globe artichoke are beginning to crop and are proving delicious; beetroot seeds of many varieties are sprouting, including an old Gallic sort called Crapaudine which is French for Madame Toad. Parsnips, sugar pod peas, mixed lettuce, young cabbage plants and potatoes are looking sturdy though the cauliflower plantlets are definitely struggling and I have no idea why, nor what is causing some of the onions to start going to seed. Another unidentified pest is nibbling the tough leaves of the celeriac seedlings but not enough (so far) to kill them. Bought-in leek and sweet corn plugs are settling down, as are the ridge cucumbers and squashes. In the polytunnel the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are growing well – so far.

Meanwhile in our corner of Shropshire we now have a week and more of April-Showers-In-June to look forward to. Gardening is on hold, though in anticipation of resuming same I’m most grateful to the volunteer footpath people. On Thursday evening they brush-cut the field path, thereby providing me with a large quantity of unexpected compost makings – or they will be when I can get out there to rake them up. This kindness also means that when it is fine enough to next visit the allotment, I won’t arrive with rising damp and knees soaked through by overgrown vegetation. So thank you Strimmer Man. You did a good job.

Here’s the freshly cut path before the rains moved in. You can just  see the polytunnel tops over the far hedge:

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And here are more Thursday evening shots of Farrell half-plots one and two which are in separate places due to my wanting one with a polytunnel on it:

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell