Sweet peas are made of this

I know it’s wrong to wish one’s life away, but my goodness, this winter now needs to be over. We’re still waiting on the mortgage confirmation, Matt faces a week or more of juggling work with moving his workshop, we’ve both been laid low with February colds: altogether life feels more than a little UGH. I’ve succumbed to buying bunches of spring flowers to brighten things up.

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Daffodils brighten up the flat

What with my mind being a fugg of viral infection, I’ve been struggling to summons up any excitement for the new growing season, but time marches along and it’s seed buying time. A huge envelope arrived on Saturday with my Sarah Raven order, a heady mix of scented flowers for cutting, all the usual veg and a few left-field choices (squash that grows up a trellis anyone?). In fact, there are now so many seeds that I’m uncertain where on earth I will find room to propagate them all.

Alas the sweet peas that I sowed back in the autumn have taken a bit of sun damage. They’ve been hanging out in the greenhouse, survived the harder frosts easily but have faltered at lack of water (I’ve ignored them for the last two weeks). All being well they’ll recover but I’ve planted up a new tray just in case.

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Second sowing of sweet peas take up residence on the windowsill

I’ve also started off my tomatoes, five varieties this year in 36 plugs, though I only have room for 12 plants in the greenhouse. There’s two passata varieties here, plus a red plum cherry, a yellow round and black krim, a huge black traditional type.

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First tomato sowing: five varieties, 36 plugs

Part of the issue with waiting on this mortgage decision is that I feel in limbo, irrationally unwilling to spend any cash until our future looks more certain. And so whilst I’ve splashed out on seeds, I can’t bring myself to buy new pots and trays and am making do with battered old things that really should be in the recycling. Reuse, repair, recycle: it’s an attitude that suits the allotment. But perhaps I should succumb and at least get some proper labels….not sure that these post-it notes will last the distance.

Sowed: new sweet peas (seeds from sweet pea man), broad beans, tomatoes

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

Black banana cake

The sweet peas are up. I don’t think the bathroom windowsill is really the best place to keep them (the cat has definitely nibbled at least one of them) but currently it is the only option.

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Bathroom peas

Speaking of the cat…Gertie had the snip last week. She’s now sporting a directional haircut (i.e. a shaved patch) but is otherwise seemingly none the wiser. She still enjoys sitting directly on my head so can’t be that cross with her fate.

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Butter wouldn’t melt

There’s been no allotmenting for the past few weeks, me being a fair-weather gardener. But the seed catalogues are here and I’ve been circling the cima di rapa, tomatoes and cosmos, thinking of the new season. Matt’s plotting ways to achieve straight parsnips (not joking). Underneath the concrete skies of a February city, the abundance of summer is hard to imagine…but the yearning for sunshine is strong. I’ve been gawping at Mediterranean cookbooks, as if it might be possible to absorb the bright light of whitewashed villages by osmosis. It isn’t of course.

There’s been a lot of baking on Notes from the Veg Patch of late: in February, it’s the kind of cooking I need. This black banana cake is one of the best everyday baking recipes, and uses up dead fruit in the process. The blacker and deader the bananas, the better your cake will be.

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Black bananas – perfect for baking

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