More seed sowing

Apparently it’s Easter, the herald of spring, but with the freezing cold lashing wind and concrete skies it is difficult to believe this. The daffodils are just beginning to bloom in Birmingham, which feels late to me – a quick check from my photos tells me that this time last year we were enjoying impressive displays of yellow. But we must be positive and so, once the baby is in bed, I am decorating the fireplace with kitsch Easter decorations along with vases of deep purple tulips masked with clouds of gypsophillia (to continue the kitsch theme).

Easter kitsch on the fireplace

The garden is just beginning to show signs of life. We came back from Cornwall to see the snow had finally melted, uncovering a pot of deep purple Iris, and today I see that the buzzing yellow forsythia is thinking about making its presence known.

Iris reticulata survived being buried in a foot of snow

The allotment has been ignored for months. Pretty much since October really. There is a pallet of manure to spread, bark to mulch the raspberries with, and two massive plots to fork over. (Finding time to do this with an attention-seeking six month old is a challenge.) I pulled back the black plastic a few inches to find that Matt’s hops are pushing up their first tentative shoots, blanched white and pink with the lack of light.

First tiny pink hop shoots are showing through

And so I retreat to my seed sowing area at the back of the house to get a few trays started. Last year I made a mental note to keep it simple this season – just two or three courgette plants, a few rows of flowers. Make life easy on yourself Stallard! That was my plan. No chance. I have managed to plant 36 sunflower pots. 36! But it’s still so cold that germination is far from guaranteed: the sweet peas that I started off in February have got about a 40% success rate and the tomatoes are not looking promising at all.

February’s sowing of sweet peas has yielded a 40% germination rate

An added complication this year is the challenge of growing a few stems for our wedding in September. If I had done this two years ago I would have been ALL OVER this challenge, but my life is pretty full now and frankly I can’t deal with the pressure. So I have recruited my super-skilled and super-talented Mum and cousin Sue to be lead gardeners and florists. They will grow and style the bulk of the wedding flowers, with my veg patch (flower patch?) as a back-up, which is much more meaningful to me than buying in a load of blooms that have been hot-housed in Holland. To that end, I will start off the reliable cosmos a little later this year, and will re-sow some of the other cut flowers, in the hope that we’ll still have good specimens by the end of September.

The seed ‘library’ is actually a few biscuit tins saved from Christmases past. I’ll hold off sowing the cosmos for a few weeks.

Last weekend’s sowing: sunflowers, beans, courgette, chard, zinnia, fennel, dill.

Sowing: Sunflowers, zinnia, dill, fennel, viola heartsease, tomatoes, runner beans, string beans, French beans, borlotti beans, courgette, custard squash, chard, lettuce quatre saisons, salad rocket, winter salad mix, radish.

Eating: M&S hot cross buns and simnel cake. Bellini made with Ella’s Kitchen peach puree (i.e. baby food) and cava.

Cooking: Baby food, which is then rejected. Vexingly, he is mostly interested in bread and simnel cake.

Wishing I was cooking: All the usual Easter treats such as Easter biscuits, a filthy chocolate sponge, chocolate crispy cakes with mini eggs, grilled lamb, various Greek veggie dishes (which to me are very Easter-y) such as spanakopita and briam. But with Matt working all the time and a baby demanding attention there is little point/opportunity.

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Bengali egg curry

Finally, our dahlias have come into their own. Labyrinth is particularly showy, with massive dinner-plate sized heads in sunset pink shades. Picked with the hot pink zinnia, they give a late summer holiday vibe to the vase.

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Dahlia and zinnia in sunset shades

Meanwhile the aubergines are ripe for picking, their glossy black skins looking beautiful against the red and yellow bowl of tomatoes.

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Greenhouse tomatoes and aubergines, looking gorgeous

It’s not just me who is harvesting: Matt carried out a late-night mission to remove the hopolisk, catching the hop corns at their perfect ripeness. He now has several trays of papery hops drying in his workshop and the pungent “aroma” is filling the room. (For the uninitiated, hops and cannabis are part of the same family. They both stink.) You actually need a bare handful of hops to make a good quantity of beer, so the fate of all these beauties remains unknown.

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Matt’s hops are now drying in the workshop

But enough of all the growing; let’s do some eating. Last weekend our friend Tune came round to cook up an Indian feast; Tune’s from Calcutta and is the most reliable source of proper Bengali home-cooking.

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Tune, our star guest chef!

Star of our Sunday vegetarian menu was this egg curry. EGG CURRY? Yes I know that sounds weird, but it’s dead good. Apparently back home in Calcutta egg curry is a regular ‘kiddie tea’, in the way that we might get beans on toast, and this makes sense: it’s inexpensive, full of protein and fibre, not too spicy and very straightforward. It does take a bit of time to make, of course, but none of the stages are too strenuous. Most importantly, it tastes great. Why can’t we get food like this in the local ‘Indian’ restaurants?

First, toss a few hard boiled eggs and diced potato in salt and turmeric.

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Toss hardboiled eggs and diced potatoes in salt and turmeric

The eggs are fryed in a splash of vegetable oil, in a wok or karahi. They will go vaguely crispy on the outside, which gives a nice texture to the finished dish and also helps to firm them up a little. Once the eggs are browned, the potatoes are treated the same way and cooked until half-done, then set both to one side whilst we make the sauce.

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Fry the eggs in a little vegetable oil

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Do the same with the spuds until they are half cooked

Next we need to get a couple of onions and whizz them up in the food processor to a proper puree. Sizzle some ground cumin, coriander and chilli powder in the pan, then dump in the onion mix along with garlic, ginger and bay leaves. Next is the important bit: it needs cooking down down down and can’t be rushed – it needs at least 15 minutes before we get to the next stage. Keep the heat low and give it a stir every now and then.

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Fry onion puree with garlic, ginger, bay and spices

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It needs to be REALLY cooked down, so don’t rush it. 15 minutes later, it looks like this.

Once the onions are heavily reduced, add a few chopped tomatoes (tinned is fine) and once again we have to reduce and cook it down. This lengthy pre-cooking stage helps turn the curry from a raw, runny, watery mess to a deeply flavoured, rich delight. Cook the mixture down until the oil begins to separate from the puree – it may take another 10 minutes or more.

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Add a few tomatoes and cook down even further, until the oil separates

Once the base sauce is ready, return the eggs and potatoes to the pan along with a splash of water, gently stir to combine, then cook through until the potatoes are soft.

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Put the eggs and potatoes back, along with a splash of water

And that is it! Simply finished with a sprinkle of coriander, then serve with rice or roti and a side vegetable or two.

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Cook the potatoes through and add chopped coriander to finish

Egg curry is one of the best vegetarian dishes you’ll find. The eggs have a firm yet creamy texture, the potatoes give substance and the onion-tomato sauce manages to be light, rich and comforting all at the same time. We enjoyed ours along with sag paneer (with home-grown spinach), rice, roti and an awesome salad made from sprouted mong beans – but that’s a recipe for another day.

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Egg curry, served with steamed rice and sag paneer

Bengali egg curry

Serves 4. Recipe courtesy Tune Roy.

8 hardboiled eggs

1 large floury potato, peeled and diced into sizeable chunks

large pinch salt

1 tsp turmeric

2 large onions

large ‘thumb’ of ginger

3 large garlic cloves

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 small tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground chilli, or to taste (leave it out if you don’t like heat)

2 bay leaves

2 large tomatoes, diced, or about 200g tinned chopped tomatoes

water

Coriander leaf, to finish

vegetable oil, for frying

Toss the eggs and potatoes with the turmeric and salt. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or karahi, then fry the eggs over a medium heat until they are golden and vaguely crisp. Remove the eggs. Fry the potatoes in the same oil over a low heat until they are half cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove the potatoes and set to one side. There’s no need to wash the pan out.

Whizz the onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor until you reach a very fine puree (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your machine).

On a low heat, fry the cumin, coriander and chilli for a few seconds, then add the onion mixture to the pan. Add the bay leaves. Cook down on a low heat for about 15 minutes, until thick and heavily reduced. Add the tomatoes and cook down again for 10 to 15 minutes, until the oil separates from the vegetable mixture. It will look darker and may begin to stick to the pan.

Add the eggs and potatoes back to the pan with a splash of water, stir to combine and cook on a low heat until the potatoes are cooked through, around 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to cover the eggs but loose enough to scoop with some bread, so add more water as you need to get the right consistency. Finish with chopped coriander leaf.

June on the allotment

I made it to the allotment yesterday, mid-migraine, for the first time in 10 days. What with the house-moving and a (currently) insane work schedule, there’s been no time for the veg patch. In my absence we’ve had warm weather plus a monsoon rain of biblical proportions – and the baby plants have LOVED it.

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First of my mum’s broad beans

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Mine will take a few weeks yet before they’re ready. The rain has made the leaves filthy and they’ve had insect damage, but we’ll get a good crop.

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Three attempts later, we have carrot seedlings!

The tulips have all gone now, their black and orange tones replaced with the delicate purples and pinks of the alliums and foxgloves. The bees are lapping up the nectar greedily.

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The monster alliums

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Foxgloves are gloriously weird

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Pretty pale apricot foxglove

The heat has brought along the soft fruit; we have fat strawberries, redcurrants and blueberries just waiting to ripen. And as for the hops – they are heading to the heavens.

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First strawberries are ripening

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The hops on an early June evening

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Glorious sweetpeas

As I left my allotment neighbour Alex turned up, looking cool-as-you-like with her powder blue vespa and leathers.

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My allotment neighbour Alex turned up with her very cool blue vespa

This weekend is marked in the diary as MOVING HOUSE. So hopefully, when the boxes are moved and the wardrobes are dismantled and re-mantled (is that a word?), normal service will resume on Veg Patch.

Planted Out: Sweetcorn, leeks, zinnia, verbena, grand green beans

October pickings

The proper autumn harvest has begun. I was in Stratford upon Avon last week for work and popped to Charlecote Plants on the way back, which is essentially a wooden shack next to a National Trust property. Don’t be fooled though, for the shack is home to treasure. Charlecote are known for their October display of  squash and visitors are welcomed by mountains of knobbly, gnarly, stripy, weird, wonderful veggies.

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The squash display at Charlecote, Warwickshire

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Custard squash!

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If I’d have known, I’d have flogged my gourds for £6 a basket

Squash aside, the produce here is brilliantly good. I picked up golden beets, local red cabbage, russet spring onions and admired the baskets of princely quince and cobnuts. The carrots, which are the same variety as we “grow”, made me sick with envy.

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Exquisite rainbow carrots at Charlecote…

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…and the less-than-exquisite ones from our allotment

Yesterday marked a momentous day at Veg Patch: the pulling of the first parsnip! What’s more, it actually looked like a parsnip! Nothing can beat that spicy earthy scent of a freshly dug ‘snip, though in truth they need a bit more time in the soil to bulk out.

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First parsnip of the year with all it’s gnarly perfumed glory

The leeks are ready now but they’ve been affected by a rot of some kind, and the outer leaves are beginning to disintegrate. Can leeks be frozen? Something to look up. The onions, meanwhile, have been drying out for the past fortnight, making the most of the unseasonably warm September.

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Onions are drying beautifully

We missed the optimal moment for the hop harvest; they’re no good for beer now. But they are pretty enough so perhaps will have a second life as a decoration somewhere, though preferably not in my kitchen as the papery petals shed everywhere and generally make a right mess.

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Hops: too far gone for beer now, but still pretty enough

The sunflowers are now fading, though the bees are still drinking their fill of nectar.  The prize for October colour goes to the crysanths, now blooming with incredibly long-lived stems. I love the clash of orange, purple and pink: it seems the essence of autumn in a vase.

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Can’t get enough of these fiery shades

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The cosmos is still holding firm

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This beauty has come up out of nowhere

So we have an autumn harvest. No brassicas (yet, but I live in hope), so I’ve taken to stealing cavalo nero from my mother’s veg patch. Blanched then tossed in olive oil and garlic, it lifts a plate of roasted roots to new dimensions. Autumn is definitely here.

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A car boot of booty

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Elegant stems of cavalo nero

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Harvest of season’s change

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Gourds, squash, dahlia, crysanths: autumnal table display

Harvest: Dahlia, cosmos, crysanths, leeks, carrots, parsnip, courgette, chard, spinach, last tomatoes, last chillies

Sunburn and black kale

I received third degree sunburn on Saturday. Sunburn! My attention was focused on digging out weeds from the soft fruit patch and as a result I didn’t realise that my skin was getting toasted. Raspberry and blackberry canes, perfect rosettes of dandelion and (worst of all) a carpet of buttercups; they’d all set up home and needed to be evicted. I’ve planted autumn cyclamen in their place for some colour.

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Autumn cyclamen

I also cut out a load of prickly tormenting briars from the raspberries. I’m pondering the future of these raspberries: they fruit well, but they’re unruly and need taking in hand. They’re now coming into ripeness but the bees still hover and hum in their search for nectar.

Meanwhile, a harvest, albeit an inedible one: more ornamental gourds, this time yellow and green, slightly gnarled, and rather wonderful.

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Bi-colour gourd

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The gourd pile

The hops have started to fatten out in the past week, the flowers setting first at the very top and working their way down. They’re green now but will ripen into golden papery pods.

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Hop flowers are forming

The cavalo nero have now been planted out, though they didn’t take kindly to Saturday’s soaring temperatures and are a bit floppy in the picture. I’ve made a temporary bird cage from netting and canes, but need to get something more permanent in place. Left alone, this lot would be devoured overnight.

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Black kale – cavalo nero – hopefully they’ll perk up a bit

Meanwhile, the blueberries are in full swing, as are the purple beans. Late summer harvests.

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Saturday’s harvest

Tidied up: hacked out raspberry briars, pulled weeds in the soft-fruit, pruned the blackcurrants

Planted out: Cyclamen, cavalo nero

Harvesting: green and purple beans, tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries, courgette, gourds, chard, lettuce, spinach, beets, sweet peas, sunflowers, dahlias, last on the bishop’s flower and calendula

The early August allotment

The allotment’s been a little neglected of late, partly due to work, partly due to holidays, partly due to the rainy dully weather. But a visit to Kent at the weekend (of which more in a further post) has shamed me into action: I’ve seen beautifully tended veg patches, weed-free and neat, and return with a few ideas that I will pinch for next year. In our absence, the weeds have grown tall and errant raspberries and blackberries are attempting to set up home where they shouldn’t. I spent two hours in the drizzle yesterday yanking them up, both mystified and impressed with their persistence.

This year’s crop feels less bounteous than last year. Perhaps we had beginner’s luck, or perhaps it’s just not as warm. The cutting garden (which I will now pretentiously call it) is, however, a persistent delight. I’ve been picking sweet peas, bishop’s flower and lavender for several weeks, now joined by love-in-a-mist, cosmos, marigolds, the early dahlias and the most exquisite sunflowers. They leave their pollen over the kitchen table and give Gertie plenty of entertainment as she spots escaping earwigs.

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The sunflowers are out and proud

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I’ve been picking these jewel coloured posies for the last month or so

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The marigolds and bishops flower give colour to the veg patch

The ornamental gourds have given great ground cover but now threaten to take over. I’ve mercilessly ripped out the two least-pretty gourds – productive but pointless. In their place go a few butternut squash seeds just to see if they will grow this late in the season. If they don’t, no matter.

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The gourds threaten to take over

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Bi-colour gourd

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Yesterday’s gourd haul. I’ll leave these to season and then they’ll turn into an early autumn table decoration.

The hops have grown so bushy and weighty that they broke their wooden support last week; the entire hopolisk had to be taken down, repaired and re-assembled. The smallest of flowers are now starting to set so I think we’ll be looking to harvest in mid- to late- September. I discover daily that hop leaves are abrasive, leaving cuts and grazes on any exposed flesh they touch.

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The hops are outgrowing the hopolisk

Down in the greens patch, the Red Russian kale and salad bowl lettuce are starting to fade but the chard, sorrel and beets are still green and luscious. And actually, the winter lettuce (not pictured) is still croppable, though I’m now using it to support netting for the cima di rapa. Some of these will have to come up over the next few weeks to make room for winter greens.

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The kale and lettuce is starting to fade (background) but chard and beet tops are still cropping well (foreground)

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The beets and our first teeny tiny wonky carrot

The sweetcorn are proof that the gardener cannot control everything: the Seeds of Italy corn are tall and strong, whilst the Thompson and Morgan corn are weedy and struggling. The two varieties are right next to each other and were planted out at the same time.

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The disappointing corns…

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…and the good corns

Speaking of struggling, it’s not a great year for beans. I don’t think any of the borlotti have made it, but the purple French beans are now cropping and we’ll also get a few green French beans.

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Purple beans

The tomatoes got a long overdue haircut yesterday. They have been getting a daily water and weekly feed, but really they needed weekly thinning and trimming. Instead of being tall and lean, the plants are squat and fat – but there is still good fruit set. Not much sign of ripening yet, with the weather being so cool.

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In the greenhouse, good fruit set but it’s all still green

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First hint of red on the tomatoes

The three chilli plants are creating so much fruit I could set up stall in the Birmingham markets. These are cayenne but they look like those terrifying chillies you see in Indian supermarkets; I think the cool weather has prevented them from plumping up.

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One of the terrifying chillies

Over the next week I’m going to give the spring onions another go, seeing if planting at this time will make any difference to their persistent failure. The last blackcurrants need harvesting and the first blueberries and autumn raspberries are shouting for attention. Then it’s time to think ahead to autumn and winter, sowing spicy mustard salad and chard, and planting out the cavalo nero seedlings. For now – I’m off to make beetroot humous.

Ripped out: gourds, lots of weeds, lots of stray raspberry and blackberry shoots, dead-heading the flowers

Harvesting: lettuce, sorrel, rocket, red russian kale, chard, courgette, gourd, beets, first carrot, sunflowers, cosmos, sweet peas, love-in-a-mist, dahlia, bishop’s flower, marigold, last blackcurrants, first raspberries, first blueberries

Sowed: late butternut squash

June Bobby broad-bean salad

What a difference a few weeks makes. At the start of June, with a chill remaining in the air, I was despairing of ever getting a crop of anything. But now – the pictures tell the story.

First up the tomatoes. My Dad told me that I’d caused them un-necessary stress (he often says that about his children) but maybe a bit of pressure early in life did them good, for they are now enormous and bear fruit.

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Greenhouse on 9 June

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Greenhouse on 21 June; everything has pretty much doubled in size

Outside, the lettuce, spinach, chard and beets were teeny tiny at the start of June. Now, the lettuce have hearts and I am gifting bags of greens to anyone polite enough to say they’d like some.

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The greens patch on 9 June…

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…and on 27 June. Actual proper lettuces!

On the other side of the patch, the artichoke and hops are trying to out-do each other with bolshy behaviour. The hops are taller, but the artichoke has the edge when it comes to statuesque elegance.

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The artichoke now reaches top of the (un-used) fruit cage

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Hops to the top of the hopolisk

Newly fashionable, the crysanths have been planted out  with the hope of long-lived stems for cutting later in the year. They nestle alongside the leeks and onions; autumn bounty.

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Crysanths and leeks out and proud in the summer sun

For now though it’s season’s pickings. Sweet peas and love in a mist; rocket and lettuce and spinach; redcurrants and (nearly) blackcurrants.

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Nigella in bloom – love in a mist

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Redcurrant dripping in fruit, glistening like glass beads

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Late June pickings

It’s not all unbridled success. I’ve had to ditch the cavalo nero and purple sprouting broccoli seedings, both neglected for too long, and half the climbing beans are a write off.

Speaking of beans, the first bobby beans are now to be found in Worcestershire farm shops; Matt claims they are Not A Real Thing and are actually French beans. But I’ve always known these super-long green pods as bobby beans. A Worcestershire oddity? Perhaps. Try them blanched and then tossed with savoury, herby, parmesan-y cream for a lovely side-dish. If bobby beans are Not A Real Thing where you live, this is also good with broad beans, French beans, runner beans and peas.

June bobby broad-bean salad 

Beans, sufficient for your dinner (bobby, broad, runner, French or peas)

Double cream

Chopped herbs, about 1 tablespoon. Soft ones are best; consider hyssop, savoury, tarragon, thyme, oregano.

Garlic – 1 fat clove, bashed and peeled but left whole

Salt and pepper

Parmesan

Lemon juice, to taste

First, trim your beans (I’ve used a handful of bobby beans and some sweet baby broad beans from the allotment). Blanch them in boiling water until just soft, then refresh under the cold tap.

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Blanch the beans and rinse under cold water

Meanwhile, warm a good splash of double cream in a wide pan with a smashed clove of garlic (leave it whole) and a handful of chopped soft herbs. I’ve used hyssop, tarragon, thyme and oregano. Savoury would also be good. Leave it to stand for a few minutes for the flavours to mingle, then remove the garlic.

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Warm garlic and herbs with cream

Finally, add the beans to the herby cream and toss the lot together, season with salt and pepper, and warm it all through over a low heat. Serve topped with lots of parmesan and perhaps a splash of lemon juice.

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Toss it all together, top with parmesan and slurp up the goodness

Planted out: leeks, crysanths

Picking: lettuce, spinach, sorrel, edible flowers, broad beans, strawberries, herbs, sweet peas, pinks

Chucked out: PSB and cavalo nero seedlings

Other jobs: Started feeding the tomatoes

The early June allotment

Overnight, the weather turns. The gales are a distant memory and suddenly there are endless blue skies, the hum of insects and the lightest of breezes.

I made my first elderflower cordial of the season this week, using the earliest of Malvern Hills blooms. Truth be told, I’m not that happy about the result – it’s too ‘green’ – so will leave it for another week or two before rustling up another batch.

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Earliest elderflowers in bloom

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First harvest in evening sun

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Wildflowers in the hedgerow

It’s at this time of year that the allotment is most cruel. Whilst gardeners fling open their doors for visitors, be it through the Yellow Book or through village open gardens (of which there seem to be hundreds during June), on the veg patch there is little to show. Actually, worse than that, things are actively either dying, being zapped by wind / birds / foxes or threaten to be overtaken by grass and weeds. Twice this week I’ve visited full of vim for the tasks at hand – and twice I’ve left depressed with the slow progress and failures. For example:

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Exhibit 1: borlotti seedling totally decimated by unknown pest

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Exhibit 2: Despite forking out for all that bark, the raspberries and blueberries are studded with grass and buttercups

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Exhibit 3: The pigeon has got fat on my red kale seedlings. I am leaving them in to see if they regenerate.

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Exhibit 4: French bean seedling suffering, and a few have died. Cause is unknown but might be wind damage.

Also – not pictured – one of the gourds has been completely snapped off at the stem, either by the strong wind or, more probably, by the fox. On a similar note, the chrysanthemum seedlings arrived this week and one was instantly taken by the wind, causing all the growing stems to break off. I’ve potted it up anyway in the hope that it might send out new shoots.

I am told that set-backs are inevitable. But in professional life, failure is hard to take, so why should downtime pursuits be any different? Perhaps there is a lesson there to be learnt. The yogis have a phrase, Ishvarapranidhana, which loosely translates as ‘surrendering to grace’. In other words, if we stop trying to control every last thing then * shock horror! * the world will keep on turning and all will be well. We might even be surprised at the good things that result. I’ll try and keep that in mind.

For all my carping, there are good things happening. Matt’s hops are now 12 feet tall, towering over the beans and the greens in a display of vivacity. We’ve a few broad beans ready for picking, and the lettuces are brilliant. (They are marketed as winter lettuce mind, so the fact that they are at their best now, in June, doesn’t bode well. I’ll gloss over that bit).

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The hopolisk in full glory

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Broad beans near ready for harvest

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Onions and shallots fattening nicely

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Artichoke has once again turned into a monster plant

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Blackcurrants swelling in the sun

There are buds on the nigella and cosmos, and the foxgloves that I sowed from seed last year are nearing perfection. The sweet peas are not good, only a few inches tall. Perhaps this is normal? I have no idea. The carrots and parsnips have come on a few centimetres this week, which I will take as a major victory.

In the greenhouse, the tomatoes are growing with vigour and a few are in flower. So I try to have patience and hope that the graft will all come good in the end.

Planted out: More cosmos, sweetcorn, sweetpeas

Sowed: Fennel (indoors), sorrel (direct)

Potted on: Chillies, basil

Urban decay

Neither of us had to be anywhere until mid-morning today so I bullied Matt out of bed to do some urgent allotment work: the hopolisk is no more.

The hops should have been harvested about a month ago if we were actually going to use them for beer – apparently there is a perfect time with the active chemicals are at their most potent. Matt was killing himself with work last month so it didn’t happen, and there was no way that I was messing around with a 10ft+ metal pole. But no need to waste them: decorating rooms with hops is a fine country tradition at harvest time and I’m happy to continue that tradition, even if we are in the city.

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End of the hopolisk

Taking down the hopolisk seems to me to be a ritual activity marking the end of the season. I’ve not done any maintenance of the land for about two or three weeks and in that time, autumnal die-back has set in. The earth is sodden and heavy, flower heads rotten from days of rain. But I think there is beauty within the decay.

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Striking autumn colour on the blueberries

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Dahlia heads turned rotten

Everything needs digging up and stripping back, manuring and tidying, ready for the winter sleep. But there is still harvesting to be done and today, it’s the squash. We’ve got 15 of them, gnarled, striped and brilliant. I am like a kid with excitement over these squash.

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Turks turban ready for harvesting

One of the (many) problems with living in a flat is lack of space to deal with the harvest. So the squash got scrubbed in the bath and are now drying on the spare bed alongside those borlotti beans. Meanwhile the hops have gone up, and the kitchen  smells like a brewery. A satisfying few hours work.

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Turks turban scrubbed in the bath

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Hops dried in the kitchen

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Borlotti beans drying on the spare bed

Harvested: Turks turban and last summer squash, hops, last borlotti beans

The last day of summer

It’s the last day of August today, which to me is the last day of summer. I spent three hours doing the jobs that I’ve been putting off for a few weeks whilst the weather has been so miserable – namely, weeding. Sodding weeds. They get everywhere. Fat hen, thistle, grass, butter-cup, loads more that I can’t identify…we have them all and they are virulent. The violas which I grew from seed back in March have come up, now exhausted after their long season of colour. And the foxgloves have gone in, to hopefully acclimatise for next summer.

The best solution for weeds is total ground cover – just starve them out. The squash are doing an excellent job of that, only 10 weeks old and already threatening to take over the entire neighbourhood. These are Turks Turban and I’m hoping that they get sufficiently gnarled and weird-looking in time for Halloween. There are 9 plants, and around 3 fruit per plant….that’s a lot of squash.

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Squash weed control

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Baby Turks Turban

Only one of the fennel seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago has made it up. I think it’s the bit of land they were planted on – we only had one successful carrot from that patch too. Not much you can do with only one carrot. However I think this little seedling needs saving and so it got its own little covering to stop it being gobbled by the pigeons.

Speaking of being cosseted, the greenhouse tomatoes are proving to be – if I’m honest – a bit of a disappointment. The fruits all seem to be ailed with one of four conditions:

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Issue 1: Blossom-end rot. I thought I’d got rid of all these but obviously not. You could stick your finger in this brown patch and it would come out covered in gunk.

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Issue 2: Scarring. I think this is due to the variety but not sure…it could just be another example of being High Maintenance.

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Issue 3: Splitting. Apparently this is something to do with heat and/or water. Also known as Definitely Being High Maintenance.

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Issue 4: Being gobbled by unknown creatures

I don’t think there’s much I can do now about the first three issues, but I can the last one. The creature in question left a trail of poo which led me to discover its identity (caterpillar) and hiding den (under a leaf). It got chucked onto next door’s strawberries (is that bad?) to survive another day in the Palace of Pigeons.

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Poo! On my tomatoes!

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The culprit. That’s a lot of poo for something so small.

But on the bright side, we’re not far off a hop harvest. Matt’s threatening to put these in the freezer (he’ll be lucky, there’s no room what with all the raspberries) but I think they’d make a good kitchen decoration. God only knows if they will actually ever get turned into beer.

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Flowers nearly at harvesting stage

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Challenger hop has nearly made it to the top of the hopolisk

Took up: violas, marigolds

Seedlings protected: fennel, cima di rapa, spring onions, chard, spinach

Planted out: foxgloves

Harvested: patty-pan, the Spring spring onions, tomatoes