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

Arrivederci Amalfi part two: Growing

Back to Amalfi we go. There are a few things to bear in mind about this mountainous, coastal part of Italy. 1; There’s not a lot of industry and therefore not much money swilling around. 2; It takes hours to get anywhere; that’s the joy of mountains. 3; It’s surprisingly densely populated, with villages clinging to the cliffs.

What do you do if you live in a place such as this? Well you grow all your own food of course. It’s not a lifestyle choice as it is in the UK, it’s just obvious. It’s been obvious for centuries. In Pompeii, archaeologists have replanted fields of vines using ancient Roman planting schemes and they looks exactly the same as any vines you’d see these days, 2000 years later.

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Pillars at Pompeii. Archaeologists have replanted vines here based on the original layout.

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Archaeology for the masses. Photo of people taking photos at Pompeii.

Some things are different now though. The Romans would not have had tomatoes, courgette, potatoes, corn or chillies, all of which came to Europe from South America in the 16th century or thereabouts. In Agerola, the cluster of cliffside villages where we stayed, every property was surrounded by rows upon rows of tomatoes. I can only imagine the industrial efforts required into turning this lot into passata for the winter.

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Tomatoes on the agriturismo, a crop that was of course not known to the Romans. Here they are grown between two strings to support the growing vine.

As well as the ubiquitous tomatoes, everyone grows grapes, potato, maize, beans and fruit of some description.

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Grapes are grown across trellis made from local chestnut wood. There are three benefits: the vine can spread as it will, the grapes can drop down for easy pickings (and to reduce the risk of mildew) and the leaves provide canopy shade for whatever grows below. Ingenious.

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Fruit is everywhere. As well as peaches, apricots, strawberries and pears, we spied these mulberries.

Further down the cliff is where the famous Amalfi lemons are found. Their renown is justified: these are the biggest, narliest, most fragrant citrus you are likely to find.

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The famous Amalfi lemons are grown on steep terraced banks, often covered with netting to protect from strong winds.

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Or maybe the nets are just to deter thieving tourists!

Up in the mountains, the air is scented with herbs: sage, mint, rocket and most of all, oregano.

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In Provence they have the wild thyme and rosemary of the garrigue… In Campagnia, they have wild rocket, oregano, sage and mint.

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Despite the heat, the wildflowers are not dissimilar to those found in an English June summer. I found these on Capri.

We ended the trip with the Walk of the Gods, a cliff-side trek that descends 600m from a country village to the seaside resort of Positano.

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End of the road

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Path of the Gods, a fitting climax for any birthday.

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