Coming Home From The Allotment ~ The Priory Ruins At Sunset

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:

P1050500

P1050893

P1050563

P1050565

P1050895

P1050733

P1050568

Daily Post: Place in the World

The Changing Seasons ~ Snow and Marigolds In January

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…

 

The Changing Seasons

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.

Butterflies In The Buddleia, Bees In The Teasels And All’s Well At The Allotment

IMG_5571

IMG_5418

IMG_5437

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:

IMG_5552

IMG_5545

IMG_5395

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.

First Allotment Spuds ~ Belle de Fontenay

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

Six Word Saturday

World Soil Day & December at the allotment

100_8168

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.

100_8136

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.

M.S. Swaminathan

100_7997

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.

100_8138

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.

100_8139

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

Climate change before my eyes? Sweet Peas on 28 October

100_7878

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.

100_7871

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

#Cee’sFlowerOfTheDay

Life, the universe and everything: all is (extra)ordinary

100_7579

I whinged a lot during the year about this and that at the allotment – too much wind, too much rain, not enough rain, not enough sun, too many slugs, an invasion of dandelions and buttercups, too little compost, but even so – yes, even so – I have had a magnificent harvest, and it has made us, along with a few friends and relatives, and many of Graham’s workmates very happy.

Excess runner beans have been recycled into a surprisingly delicious piccalilli-type chutney; cherry tomatoes have become tomato chilli jam, or Chillied Out Tom, as Graham named it when making the labels. I’ve made only a few pots of ordinary jam since we do try not to eat much sugar – raspberry, strawberry, damson, and we have a freezer full of field (fava) beans that I’ve discovered convert into the most delicious bean hummus if, after cooking, you relieve them of their skins, and add lemon juice and garlic.

Today, over half way through October, and I am still picking peas, carrots, beetroot and courgettes, and the last of the summer lettuce. Then there are the winter crops coming on: various kales, leeks, caulis, cabbages and Brussels sprouts. This week, too, I’ve been making a new strawberry bed, planting out Elsanta, and Alice varieties, and ordering a few Flamenco which are ever-bearers – fruiting from spring to the first frosts. Then there were overwintering onions to put in, Radar, being a reliable variety, and also garlic beds to make.

I have routed the tomato jungle from the polytunnel apart from a few plants, and it’s a relief to see some space. While I was doing this I came nose to nose with a large toad, which was very pleasing, once we’d got over being scared of each other. Eat more slugs, please toad. I’ve planted out the tunnel’s raised beds with winter salad stuff including purslane, winter lettuce, bunching onions, chard and lamb’s lettuce. I’ve sown a few seeds in there too, just to see what will happen – some herbs, rocket, and various Chinese leaves and mustards. As it gets cooler I will cover those that emerge with fleece.

Otherwise, it’s been all systems go, tidying the plot. This afternoon I was taking down the runner beans and their canes, and digging over the bed, but I was doing it to the heady scent of sweet peas that are lingering on. I also have some jewel coloured nasturtiums growing in the corner of the polytunnel. They smell delicious whenever I open the door, and of course you can eat every part of them – flowers, leaves and seeds, so I’m hoping they’ll keep going into the winter.

There’s just so much to be grateful for in this extraordinary world of ours, though we’d do well to nurture it a bit more so it can continue to nurture us.

100_6937

(Extra)ordinary

Love and voyeurism among the thistles, and then some freshly dug potatoes

100_6369

This snapping of bugs is all Ark’s fault at A Tale Unfolds. For some time now he’s been showing us insect life in his South African garden. Then on Friday he set me a challenge to beat his dandelion with four bugs. So here I give you a ménage à trois with some longhorn beetles, caught on my way to the allotment, and as I was actually trying to capture some bee shots. I reckon it trumps Ark’s dandelion, and indeed his jackal flies, on grounds of raciness.

100_6373

But now here is the close up shot I really wanted to show you, and the reason why I was headed  for the allotment: my first main crop potatoes just released from the earth. These are Desirée, organically grown and most desirable, not only for looks and flavour, but for general resistance to drought, bugs and slugs:

100_6378

Close Up

Dandelion Globe: It’s A Small World

100_6105

Things are often small, up-close and entomological over at Ark’s place in South Africa. He’s always leading me up his garden path to take a look  at crab spiders and such like. At least that is his story, and I’m sticking to it. Now he’s led me to Kenneth McMillan’s blog where there are more close-up bugs, this time of the Canadian variety. That is to say in his latest post, Kenneth has a very fine shot of a Bald-faced Hornet heading for the cotoneaster.

I gather that fennel has been featuring in Ark’s and Kenneth’s recent photographic exchanges, but I have no bugs in my fennel, or even bats. Instead, as I was traipsing up the bean field to the allotment,  I caught these very tiny beetles in a dandelion clock. And since Ark said we could join in with the bug shoot, this is my effort. I hope I am not expected to know what these tiny insects are. They are rather cute though.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Bouquet of Barbed Wire

100_6175

I keep going back to photograph this  well crowned fence post. It is on the boundary between the allotments and the bean field. I first caught sight of it back in the spring when I was out using my Lumix on ‘dramatic  monochrome’ setting. Then it was surrounded by drifts of Queen Ann’s Lace. Now the dying grasses have a nostalgic end-of-season look, and all before summer has hit its stride. But either way, spring or summer, colour or black and white, I find myself captivated by the image. I cannot say why.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This post was inspired by Jithin at PhoTrablogger and his challenge: Mundane Monday #16 in which he urges to go out and find beauty in the ordinary things around us.