Favourite fresh tomato pasta

It’s 1st September which means that officially summer is over, but (I think) it’s now that the season reaches its peak. Evidence: the hot yellow of sunflowers and sweetcorn; an abundance of autumn raspberries and gnarly tomatoes; armfuls of garish dahlias and in-your-face chrysanthemums. Plus there’s still warm sunshine, as enjoyed by this new visitor to the back garden.

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We’ve got a new regular foxy visitor to the back garden

The other thing about the tail-end of August and start of September is that the entire world is on holiday, meaning that work calms down. I officially finished for maternity leave yesterday (not that I like it; it’s a difficult thing, passing one’s hard-earned contracts onto other people) and Matt’s finally found time to build a new worktop for the utility room alongside other, more creative, projects.

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Matt’s been making an Arts & Crafts-inspired mirror using a disc of Ruskin pottery

My focus for the next week or two needs to be dialling down Professional Brain and ramping up Home Brain. Time and again I’ve seen my friends go through this as they approach birth – the need to prepare for the shift in identity that comes with motherhood. The allotment might just be a helpful tool to help stay grounded.

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Proof! The sunflowers have finally thrived!

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First in-your-face chrysanthemums

I picked a few kilos of hot-red Fiorentina tomatoes this week, now piled up in an orange wicker basket in the kitchen. Together with the smooth red toms that arrived from my Mum’s greenhouse, it’s (hurray!) tomato glut time! I’ve been cooking up passata for the freezer, but my favourite recipe for these home-grown toms is to enjoy them barely cooked and tossed with pasta, brimming with basil and garlic, a dish so simple that I hesitate to call it a recipe.

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Allotment harvest basket…

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…and the same from my Mum’s veg patch

I only make this when I have really good, fragrant, fresh tomatoes that have never seen the inside of a fridge. It takes 10 minutes from start to finish.

Fresh tomato pasta, to feed one:

Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil and add a fistful of spaghetti. Whilst the pasta is cooking, roughly dice 6 or 7 fat, red, ripe tomatoes, and smash and chop 1 or 2 cloves of garlic.

Warm a decent glug of olive oil in a frying pan and gently warm the garlic through. Once the fragrance rises, slide in the tomatoes and cook over a low heat for a scant five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

As soon as the spaghetti reaches the al dente stage, use tongs to transfer it directly to the tomatoes and add a ladle or two of cooking water to the pan. Toss together and cook for a further minute, so that the pasta, tomatoes and water emulsify and become one. You’ll know this point when you see it.

Finally, toss through a handful of ripped basil and serve with heaps of parmesan.

Optional extras: fresh red chilli, black olives, fresh hot rocket, baby spinach and king prawns are all good with this.

Harvesting: Tomatoes, chard, rocket, beet spinach, baby cavolo nero, frills of hex, runner beans, green beans, pattypan, courgette, raspberries (loads), sunflowers, first chrysanthemums, cosmos.
Gratefully received from Mum’s veg patch: LOADS of sweetcorn, more tomatoes, carrots, peppers, dahlias
Cooking and freezing: Passata, heaps of raspberries and sweetcorn

Runner beans with tomatoes

Autumn is in the air. It’s not yet 7am but I’ve been awake for hours, it being impossible to sleep with a child kicking against the lungs as if pushing off from the edge of a swimming pool. Outside is that light mist of early autumn; warm, damp, grey. (Although some of the greyness might be related to our filthy windows.)

Every year I note that autumn really begins in August, and every year it still come as a surprise. For several seasons we’ve had a wet, disappointing late summer, then come September things perk up with weeks of warm sunshine. I don’t mind this in the slightest, for it means GREAT things for my pumpkins. This year I’ve managed, with no effort on my part, to grow at least five whoppers that will hopefully ripen into jazzy stripes of orange and green.

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We’ve about 5 of these, as big as a basketball. Hopefully they’ll turn into jazzy orange and green stripes.

Late summer is marked with shades of red and orange. The nasturtiums are rampant, climbing up the sweet pea netting better than the sweet peas ever did. They give welcome colour to salads but are also covered in the happy hum of pollinating insects. Over in the raspberry patch, the gentle beginning has given way to abundance – and the fruit is delicious, sweet and tart and floral and luscious. At this rate, we’re going to need a bigger freezer.

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Nasturtiums add welcome hot colour to salads

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The raspberry harvest has started in earnest…we’re going to need a bigger freezer.

Joy of joy, the sunflower harvest has begun! This year we have mainly bright yellow and dark brown heads, jolly as ever. I always think it is a miracle that a seed so small can produce plants as epic as this.

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And lo! The sunflowers beat the 7-foot mark!

But the stalwart of the moment is the runner bean. I’ve blogged before that our beans have not done well this year; they had a good sulk at being parched during May and June. But the runners are doing OK and on balance, I’d rather have a small crop that lasts a long time than be inundated with foot-long beans that are as tough as shoe leather. I pick them young, maybe 15cm long, and many of them have been munched raw, straight from the plant, whilst I wander up to the water butt. (Incidentally raw runner beans are delicious, as written about far more eloquently than I could manage in this article by Stephen Harris in the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/recipes/transform-runner-beans-summer-just-slice-add-salt-lime/)

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Runner bean flowers

This week has seen the first of our, admittedly modest, tomato harvest. I try hard with my toms and they never do brilliantly, but I will always persevere because homegrown tomatoes are The Best Thing Ever. Put some freshly picked runners with some home-grown tomatoes, and you have the makings of a perfect late summer supper.

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First (modest) haul of tomatoes including the ugly but wonderful Fiorentina

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Mid-August pickings

Runner beans with tomatoes

I first came across this idea in one of the River Cottage books and, interest piqued, did a bit of research. Turns out that the fresh-green-beans-braised-with-fresh-tomatoes theme can be found in most of my French cookbooks and is a classic dish. This is a great way of serving up runner or stick beans; use fresh, ripe tomatoes if you can and do not stint with either the olive oil or the garlic. The beans lose their vivid green colour, but so be it.

Extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

At least two fat cloves of garlic, more if you like it garlicky

About 500g runner beans, topped, tailed and sliced

About 1kg fresh tomatoes, chopped. I leave the skins on but you can remove them if you prefer. You could also use a can of tomatoes if the fresh ones are no good.

Small cup of water

Salt and pepper

Put a good glug of oil into a deep frying pan or casserole, and soften the onion over a medium heat. Add the garlic and fry for a scant few seconds, until the aroma rises, then quickly add the beans and tomatoes. If you have watery tomatoes you may not need to add any liquid, but if the mixture looks dry then add a few tablespoons of water. Season well with salt and pepper, pop the lid on, and leave to putter on a medium heat for 30 minutes. Stir every now and then and add a drop more water if it looks dry. Serve when the beans are tender.

This is great on its own with hunks of bread but can also be an accompaniment to sausages, chops and fish.

Harvesting: Rocket, chard, beet spinach, frills of hex, baby cavolo nero, runner beans, aubergine, first tomatoes, courgette, patty pan, raspberries, sunflowers, nasturtiums, zinnia, cosmos, cornflower, marigolds.
Cooking: Plum, peach and blueberry crumble. Roast beef-rib with yorkshires and creamy chard. Raspberries served with fridge-cold thick cream, honey and amaretti biscuits.
Visited: Ludlow, to stock up with good meat and cheese. Ate a brilliant ham hock and leek pie at the Church Inn.

Spring, sprung

Spring has undeniably sprung and not a moment too soon. Birmingham is now awash with yellow daffodils, on roadsides and in parks, and the early morning birdsong has picked up: there’s less of it here than in the country, but it’s a comfort nonetheless. If you know where to look, now’s the time to fill your boots with lush wild garlic. Forage for it now whilst the leaves are still tender and young, and it will bring a vibrant freshness to anything that you care to eat it with.

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Now’s the time to search for emerald green wild garlic

Encouraged by the weekend’s sunshine, but daunted at the amount of work that would need doing, I headed down to the allotment for what is only the third or fourth visit since Christmas. The greenhouse is surviving on a wing and a prayer: one gust of wind and it will be off, flying away as if trying out for the opening sequence of The Wizard of Oz. The grass is shaggy and long, there are tufty weeds emerging where they shouldn’t and the ground looks hard and cold….but on balance, it’s not in too bad a state at all. Nothing that a few hours of remedial carpentry (Matt) and grass strimming (me) can’t fix.

Plus there are still goodies to harvest. I planted this purple sprouting broccoli last April and it spent the summer covered in whitefly, but the winter chill has done its work. It’s now tall and lush, and cropping well – I’m not convinced that it warrants taking up a full eleven months of growing space, but it is good to be picking veg in the traditionally hungry-month of March.

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PSB ready for harvesting

I’ve been working out the growing plan for 2017 and the first planting – a set of healthy broad beans – has now gone in.

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This year’s allotment plan

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Broad beans ready for planting out

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First allotment planting of the year!

Back home in the ‘potting shed’ (i.e. the sun room/conservatory/junk room at the back of the kitchen) I’ve set up a temporary set of rickety tables and old newspaper, ready for seed sowing. Over the next few weeks I’ll get the 50-odd varieties of flowers and veg seeds going but for now it’s the turn of the tomatoes: the round yellow golden boy, the beefy fiorentino and a plum variety for passata.

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Inside, it’s time to sow tomatoes

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Hopefully Schofield will give them moral support

There’s also been a day of graft in the garden, though not by me. My folks came on Sunday armed with three David Austin roses for the new border (Gertrude Jekyll, Claire Austin and Mary Rose) and a host of alliums, which I’ve now supplemented with lavender Hidcote and some gorgeous white foxgloves. In a few weeks time we’ll have shades of pink, white and purple, hopefully giving way in the summer to dashing dahlias and cosmos. Spring: sprung.

Planted out: Broad beans
Sowed: Tomatoes
Potted on: Summer-sown marigolds & nigella
Harvested: PSB, Russian kale

Gardening with the enemy

I picked the first tomatoes yesterday. It should be a cause of celebration…but I had to resignedly chuck half of the ripe ones out. The reason? Caterpillars and rot. This summer has been terrible for the toms: it’s been too cold to get them really, flavourfully ripe; the temperature fluctuations have led to blossom-end rot on all the passatta varieties, and even more irritatingly, creepy-crawlies have been getting fat on my produce. They’re not just eating the leaves mind, but are setting up home in the actual tomatoes themselves. Who wants to pop a cherry tom in their mouth and get a surprise crunch of caterpillar? Not me!

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Tell-tale caterpillar poo. I’ve picked off about 10 caterpillars in the last week but the damage is done – who knew that caterpillars liked to eat tomatoes?!

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On the top, all is well…

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…but the bottom tells a different story

I’ve also got an issue with splitting, particularly on the Black Krim and Plum Cherry types. I think this is down to over-watering, or inconsistent heat. On the plus-side, there are still loads of green fruits so if we get a few weeks of heat then the later-ripening tomatoes might come good.

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If they’ve not been eaten, or rotted, then they’ve split

The courgettes, on the other hand, are unstoppable. This week we’ve had courgette risotto, courgettes on toast, courgettes in pasta – I’ve yet to make courgette cake, but it’s a possibility. The climbing courgette Tromboncino (actually a variety of butternut squash) are not climbing particularly brilliantly, but the fruits are setting well. They look like creeping sea-monsters! I’m going to let them get big and then store them over-winter for cold-weather cooking.

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But we do have sea-monster squash! (Real name: Tromboncino)

The early blueberries got nibbled by a bird but we do finally have a crop, and the autumn raspberries are beginning to think about doing their thing. I’ve turned them into my blueberry crumble cake, lovely served warm with a dollop of thick cream.

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First blueberries, first tomatoes, first autumn raspberries – and yet more courgette!

Harvesting: Tomatoes, courgette, first blueberries, first autumn raspberries, chard, beet spinach, sweetpeas, sunflowers, cosmos
Planted out: Chicory, lettuce reine du glace, chard lucilus, Russian red kale
Sowed: Turnips

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

September pickings

Summer comes late to a Birmingham allotment, the first flowers not really blooming until June. They are white, pale and gentle: cosmos, foxglove, sweet-pea, forget-me-not. Then the season slips to autumn and WHAM BAM! Colour is everywhere! The sunflowers blaze and the blueberries turn a majestic russet; there are golden tomatoes, green peppers, red raspberries and purple beans. Not to be outdone, the artichoke still lures drunk bees to its violet spikes.

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There are still drunk bees on the artichoke flowers

The colours of the autumn flowers work together incredibly well, but it’s due to luck rather than judgment. The yellow, red and orange dahlias contrast against the peach calendula, in turn providing foil for the sunflowers.

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Sunshine yellow dahlias

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One of the last calendula

Speaking of sunflowers…they’re proving themselves to be showy madams. I think there are six different varieties – can’t quite remember – and the more I pick, the more they keep coming. The issue now is height: the best blooms are a foot taller than I can reach.

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The sunflowers, frankly, are showing off

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And they’re beyond reach. This is as tall as I go!

Truth be told, I’m getting a little bored of these late summer flowers (I know, it’s a terrible thing to say). Eyes now are on the crysanthemums, which hint at blooming daily but then never quite get around to it.

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The crysanths are thinking about putting on a show

The beans are starting to fade now, or at least the purple ones are. I’ve purposefully left a load of pods on the vine to fatten up, the beans inside perfect for winter soups and stews. Meanwhile, I discovered yesterday that one borlotti plant made it through the slug assault! We have pods, slim and mottled with pink, which in a month or so will be full of marbled borlottis.

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Swelling bean pods amidst autumnal leaves

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Joy! One borlotti plant made it through and now there are pods

Next to the beans I’ve allowed the bishop’s flower (or ammi) to fade, its seed heads just as pretty as the white fluff of flower.

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Flower head and seed head coexist on the ammi

Speaking of fading: the berries are long gone, but the blueberry delivers again with a show-stopping storm of autumn colour.

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Blazing blueberry bush

I’ve been forgetting that the allotment is meant to be about harvesting, and harvesting things to eat at that. The hops are nearly ready to come down (Matt’s in charge of that bit), and that favourite autumn delight – corn – has come up trumps. 18 ears are ready to cut!

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The hops are ready to harvest

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So too the corn, 18 ears and counting

The fennel started life with promise but has now had a hissy fit and bolted. I’ll pull it nonetheless, it’s anise flavour will come in useful somewhere in the kitchen.

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The fennel is deeply unimpressed with the weather and has bolted

The chicory I thinned the other week has relaxed into itself and started to hearten up. I love the flicks of purple, as if a paintbrush has been splattered over the leaves.

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Chicory is heartening up

The chard deserves a special medal for longevity. I planted this row back in March and it’s a bit hole-y now – that’s the slugs for you – but it’s still cropping and tender. The spinach will make it through to winter and, under cover, the mustard leaves and cavalo nero are relatively intact.

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The chard is still going strong, despite slug damage

The raspberries keep coming and, weather permitting, will do so for a few more weeks I expect.

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Luscious autumn raspberries

Amidst the loot, there are the interlopers. I couldn’t bring myself to shift this weed, which has seeded itself under a brick – no soil required.

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This brave plant has rooted itself under a brick on top of plastic. No soil here. It gets marks for perseverance.

I harvest carrots (wonky but tasty), leeks, beans, tomatoes, chillies, courgettes, sunflowers and dahlias, a trug which brightens a grey September day.

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Straight leeks, wonky carrots

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Colourful pickings

Harvesting: Beans, chillies, courgettes, raspberries, tomatoes, chard, corns, carrots, leeks, dahlias, sunflowers, cosmos, last calendula

Planted under cover: chard, kale, mustard spinach, winter lettuce

Into the greenhouse

Anyone who saw Gardener’s World last week would have heard Monty Don lamenting his tomatoes. (It made a change from talk of the box blight, from which he is still reeling 18 months after it reared his head). Monty’s tomatoes have been struggling: they are splitting, failing to ripen and, worse of all, not tasting as good as they should.

Well Monty, I hear you. Apparently we can blame the massive temperate fluctuations of August for the splitting, and generally it’s been cool which affects the fruit’s ability to ripen. Oh to be a farmer in Amalfi, who never have such issues.

Monty’s advice was to defoliate the tomatoes completely, which makes it sound like they need horticultural Immac. He has a point, however, so I’ve removed most of the leaves from mine and re-jigged the greenhouse to allow a bit of air movement.

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The over-full greenhouse

I tried some new tomato varieties this year, all from Seeds of Italy: I figure that the Italians know a few things about tomatoes. The real reason I grow tomatoes is to make vats of passata, perfect for bolognese and stews throughout the winter.

The cherry plums are massively prolific, perhaps too much so: as you can see, there’s still alot of green that needs to turn to red.

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Cherry plums: highly productive but the taste is so-so

This year I re-planted marmande, a good all-rounder, and tried golden boy, which as its name suggest, ripens to a golden yellow. The best for passata though is the gnarled ugly-looking fiorenta, which you can see poking up at the bottom of this picture. Its water content is low, so the tomato flavour when baked becomes wonderfully intense.

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Marmande (left) and golden boy (right): fewer fruits, good taste, but I wonder if they’ll all make it to ripeness. Spot the ridged fiorentina at the bottom.

The chillies have been ignored all summer but have done well for it. The three plants are groaning with fruit, all of it still green, and doubtless super super hot.

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Cayenne peppers, still skinny: literally, in that they’re all skin and no flesh. Suspect they will be SUPER HOT too. There’s a red fiorentina tomato in the background, the best for passata.

The peppers too have done OK for being ignored, although I think we’ll have to content ourselves with green rather than red. I might fry them until soft then serve them up with corn, chilli and a dollop of sour cream for a Mexican-themed supper.

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Green peppers, knobbly but pretty

Success now depends on some heat. After August’s rains, let’s hope for an Indian Summer come September. Because if not, God help us, I’ll be forced to make green tomato chutney.

Thinking ahead

My time and attention has been sucked into a brochure-shaped vortex. It’s like that when you work on festivals. Rather like the pain of childbirth (so I’m told), you forget the intensity of concentration and negotiation and emails and headaches (both literal and metaphorical), start work on a new one, then fall into the rabbit hole once more until it’s all over and you emerge back into the light blinking. To organise an arts festival requires at least eight hands spinning 80 plates. There are perks to brochure creation though: I get to be pernickety about the placing of commas and apostrophes, and designers feed me fish-finger sandwiches and key lime pie.

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Key lime pie whilst brochure editing

It’s at these times when the allotment is a god-send: after a full-on day, the knowledge that I have to go and water the tomatoes gives a bit of structure, makes me step away from the computer. Fresh air blows a hole through the most hideous of bad heads. In these late afternoon wanderings, I’ve been spotting season’s changing: Autumn is rearing its head.

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Plumping blackberries

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Swelling hips

At the weekend, the fruit farm had the first plums and apples of the season. The plums gave off that particularly plummy-smell, at once sweet and spicy and vaguely rotting, but in a good way. The wasps buzzed around hoping for their next meal.

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The first plums are ready

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So too the first apples

On the allotment, our dahlias are out and that pesky artichoke has come good with particularly brilliant flowers. The bees dive into the purple spikes and get drunk on pollen, sloping around-and-around on their bellies in a satisfied stupor.

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Our first zingy lemon meringue dahlia

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Artichoke shows its punk credentials

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First tomato from the greenhouse

I’ve been thinking about my winter culinary wardrobe. The cavalo nero seedlings are plump and healthy, the thinnings great when wilted into chunky courgettes.

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Cavalo nero thinnings, lovely wilted with hot salty courgettes

Those rubbish corns were ripped out to make space for the cavalo nero, which I’ll plant out in a couple of weeks. Next to them I’ve put in more chard and spring onions, and in seed-trays I’ve sowed winter lettuce, mustard mix, mustard-spinach and red Russian kale. Fingers crossed for a decent crop to take us through the cold months.

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Winter lettuce, mustard, mustard-spinach & red Russian kale

Sowed: Winter lettuce, mustard mix, mustard-spinach, Red Russian kale, white stemmed chard, spring onion

Harvesting: Sunflowers, sweetpeas, calendula, green and purple beans, spinach, chard, red Russian kale, courgettes, blueberries, raspberries, first tomato

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