Vegetable of the Month!



Sweetcorn cobs straight off the plant are definitely a luxury. They are so sweet and juicy and there is a real excitement in pulling back the layers on an ear of corn to see the perfectly filled kernals underneath.

The sweetcorn we grow in our gardens and allotments is not the same as the corn growing in the farmers field! The corn grown in fields (maize) is grown as a grain whilst sweetcorn is a mutation of maize which enables it to have the high sugar content is has – hence the name ‘sweet corn’.

A short history of sweet corn

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Sweet corn is unique in that it does not exist naturally in the wild and is in fact human invention from crossing  two wild grasses. Sweet corn was originally from Central America, believed to have been created some 7000 years ago, and was a core part of the diets of the indigenous people of the time. The cultivation of sweetcorn grew through out the Americas, extending both North and South becoming a core component of the diet for indigenous peoples of the Americas.

European settlers were given this crop by native tribes of the Americas and soon became a favourite in the United States and Europe although was treated with some suspicion when first entering Europe.

Further breeding of sweet corn led to the vast number of cultivars we see today and leaps forward in science has allowed us to understand the mutations which have occurred that give us sweetcorn.

Why should we eat sweetcorn


So why should we eat sweet corn? Well despite it’s relatively high calorie content, it is a gluten free cereal and contains a fair amount of fibre. According to one site (, the fibre in our corn helps to nourish the friendly bacteria in our lower digestive tract. These bacteria produce short chain fatty acids which give an energy supply to the cells in our intestine not only allowing them to be healthy and function well but can also lower our risk of colon cancer.

Sweet corn contains no cholesterol and is also a good source of phyto-nutrients for the body as well as helping with blood sugar control in diabetics. It is a good source of B vitamins and vitamin C, all essential for healthy immune system!

How to grow sweetcorn

So now we know why we should eat it, how do we go about growing it?

Sweet corn is a tender crop and will be killed by frosts so it is best to either start your seeds off indoors or wait until the last frost in May to sow seed direct.

Another fact you need to know about sweetcorn is that it is a wind pollinated plant and to get good pollination you should plant sweetcorn in blocks rather than rows. These plants grow tall so, where possible, site them in a sheltered place so they are not broken by strong winds.

Sweetcorn like a well-draining nutritious soil, so it is always good to add some fertiliser or well rotted manure/compost to the soil. Sweet corn seed kernals can be sown directly by simply pushing the kernal into the soil where you want it to crop or can be sown indoors. If you are sowing indoors, sow into root trainers, toilet tubes or individual deep pots in April. Sweetcorn doesn’t like too much root disturbance  when it is transplanted so to minimise this root trainers or toilet roll tubes (which can be planted directly into the soil) works well. Fill the pots with a good multipurpose compost and push the kernal into the soil.

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Seedlings take about 14-21 days to emerge and should be grown on until the risk of frost has passed and then planted out into final growing position. Water consistently throughout the season and this is especially true during the time that male and female flowers are developing. Corn cobs which develop will have green fibres protruding from them called silks and when a cob is ready to be harvested, these silks will go a dark chocolate brown colour. To test ripeness, pull back the husks and pierce a kernal with your fingernail. If the liquid is a milky colour, it is ripe!

Sweetcorn doesn’t tend to suffer from many pests and diseases during it’s season unless you live somewhere where sweetcorn smut is prevalent – places with higher humidity. Thankfully, those of us in the UK don’t tend to have to worry about that! However, when your corn is ripe, you will not be the only one who wants to eat it! So will the rats! Protect your crops by putting up barriers to the rats and/or traps. (Two years running I have lost at least half my sweetcorn to these little blighters!)

Rat damage! (Image credit:

How to cook sweetcorn

If your sweet corn survives the rats and you get to harvest them, sweetcorn is very easy to cook. It should be cooked as close to harvesting as possible as it can lose its flavour quickly. If you have a lot at once, you can blanch the cobs for approximately 3 minutes, cool rapidly and freeze in packs of two for cooking later on.

If you want to eat the corn on the cob, you can either steam or boil it for 3-6 minutes depending on the size. You can also roast the cobs in the oven or on a barbecue which will take anywhere between 7-15 minutes depending on size.

If you want just the kernals, simply slice the kernals off the cob with a sharp knife keeping the blade as near to the cob core as possible and cook anyway you fancy.

Sweetcorn recipes

Mexican corn on the cob

mexican corn on cob

Corn Relish

corn relish

Corn and green bean cakes




Preserving the harvest: Part 1 – Freezing

If you grow your own food then you will invariably get gluts – too many courgettes, too many runners etc, it all seems to come at once. July, August and September are, for me, the months where I have never ending veg and not enough meals in the day to use them. For those things where the season is relatively short, tomatoes, strawberries etc I always want to find ways to preserve the season so I can enjoy them for longer. But at the end of the day we have a finite length of cropping time on our fruit and veg if we want to eat it fresh and if, like me, you try to eat as seasonally as possibly , you don’t want to be eating strawberries in winter, grown in Egypt!

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Image credit: BBC Good Food

Not only does knowing how to freeze veg benefit the home-grower with storing their harvests, it can benefit anyone who buys veg too. Knowing how to properly freeze fruit and veg means you can make you food last longer saving money on your food bills!

There are lots of different ways to store fruit and veg but this first article is just focusing on how to freeze your fruit and veg in the best way so that you can enjoy a little bit of summer even in the winter.

We are lucky that we live in today’s modern society where we have the advantage of being able to freeze things. Freezing produce is probably dependent on the amount of storage capacity you have. Those of us who have room for large chest freezers will be able to freeze more but some of us have tiny iceboxes at the top of our refrigerators so freezing would not be so much of an option and we may need to look at other methods of preserving and storing. One thing to consider, is that if you are aiming for better sustainability and to reduce your carbon footprint, running a large chest freezer is not always the best thing to do and will certainly increase your electricity consumption (unless you can make energy saving changes elsewhere to compensate!)

You can freeze most fruits and vegetables in my experience (there are a few exceptions) – it’s just about knowing how to freeze them properly. You should only freeze clean fruit and veg and they should be frozen when at their best i.e. when they are ripe. Don’t freeze veg that are past their best as the results may be less than desired. If I ever buy reduced veg that I want to freeze, I make sure the quality of the veg is still good.

Basically, the main technique you need to know about is open freezing. This is a process of laying out your fruit/vegetables individually on a baking sheet and putting them into the freezer to freeze individually. Once they are frozen you can then bag them up and put them back in the freezer. This process stops the fruit/vegetables from freezing together in a clump so you can then take out as much or as little as you want to use at a time. I still freeze some fruit in clumps, but this fruit is normally specifically used for cooking with, such as making jams or pies/crumbles where a large amount of fruit is cooked down.

Lay fruit out individually on baking parchment and place in freezer to free individually!

The next question to ask is whether you freeze your produce raw or you blanch it first. Mostly, for fruit you would freeze it raw but in some cases you may want to cook it first. I certainly stew apples and rhubarb and then pop it in a container and freeze it that way for using in crumbles during the winter months. Apples are one fruit that tends to go brown when you freeze it raw so it is best to cook it first and use it in desserts.

For fruits such as berries it is very easy to open freeze them. If you have larger fruits, top, tail, core, de-stone and cut up first and then lay them out on a baking sheet. I cut the tops off of strawberries and the quarter them as you can see in the picture below.

Strawberries have their tops cut off and are quartered, washed, patted dry and then layed out on a baking sheet for freezing.

You should also make sure you wash any fruit first but be sure you pat it dry before freezing otherwise you get lots of ice crystals forming. Fruit will go a bit mushy after defrosting but I love adding some frozen berries to my bran flakes in the morning. I just take out the fruit about 15 mins before I am going to eat it so it has softened slightly when I add the bran flakes and yoghurt!

Bananas are also good for freezing and frozen banana makes a delicious and healthy alternative to ice creams – just remember to take the skin off before freezing!

For vegetables, you will mostly blanch them before freezing. This is not always the case and some people prefer to just freeze everything raw – you will have to determine whats best for you! The main reason people blanch is that the temperature destroys enzymes that can degrade the quality of the vegetable. It helps the vegetable to retain flavour and colour. If you do blanch first, here is a link to an excellent guide to blanching times!

Blanching means to cook rapidly and you do this by heating a pan of boiling water on the stove. The water must be at a full rolling boil and then you quickly add in the veg. I have a timer nearby so I can start that as soon as the veg goes in. Once you have reached your allotted blanching time you then have to stop the cooking process which is achieved by rapidly cooling the veg. Before you start the whole process of preparing your veg and blanching it – you should place a bowl of cold water into the freezer to allow it to get really cold. Alternatively add ice cubes to a bowl of cold water to bring the temperature down. I have the reusable plastic ice cubes to cut down on my water usuage and I just add these to a bowl of cold water which I keep stored in the freezer whilst I am blanching. I strain the veg into a colander or sieve and then immediately dump the veg into the cold water which will stop the cooking process. You can then strain the water off and turn out the veg onto some kitchen roll and thoroughly pat the veg dry! (Remember you can compost down this used kitchen roll so don’t let anything go to waste!) All you then do is open freeze and then pop into freezer bags.

There is one other way to freeze your fruit and veg and that is to process it first for later addition to meals. Tomatoes are a good example of this, as one of the things I make with tomatoes is passata. Passata freezes well and is a good way of using up a glut. They can simply be added to any tomato based sauce you are making. For beetroot, I cook it and then puree it which can then be added to cakes and desserts and courgettes can be grated up and then frozen into ice cube trays. I then add these ice cubes of grated courgettes to cakes and scones etc.

There are some exceptions to the general rules above. Some fruit and veg can’t be frozen; cucumbers generally don’t freeze well (see pic below) and neither does lettuce, beansprouts and radishes. They have a high water content and when this freezes the ice crystals that form inside the cells destroy the structure and you are just left with mush when you defrost them.

Image credit: International produce training

Potatoes are a veg I have had trouble freezing with. In my experience, they easily turn to mush if frozen in the ways described above. I once tried to make frozen chips, cut the potatoes into thin fries, blanched them and froze them. When we got them out to cook with, they went black! Essentially, I find that potatoes should be cooked fully and then frozen and the best results so far are when blanching/cooking with oil, especially if making chips, wedges or hash browns. Mashed potato can easily be frozen as it is cooked and processed first.

To be honest, if you store potatoes correctly then you should never need to freeze them so I  only freeze if I am making chips, hash browns or wedges in advance and want to save time on the day of eating! From information found on the web, most people suggest that you can freeze from blanching but I have had difficulty with this – although I could just be doing it wrong! (If anyone has any more tips on freezing potatoes or potato products then I would love to here from you!)

I have found that knowing how to freeze fruit and veg properly means I can make my shopping last longer too. If I buy some veg and I don’t use it all or have bought it because it was reduced, then I can easily freeze it and use it at a later date rather than having to buy fresh every time – it saves a bit of money too!

I hope you have found this article useful and helps you to make the most of you fruit and veg gluts! If you want to find out more about freezing your produce then check out these links below:


July Recipes!

Sorry this post is a little late in coming but here are my July Recipes!

With my fridge overflowing with a delicious abundance of vegetables, I have been on the look out for any recipe that packs a good veg punch.

Earlier this month I mad a cheesy veg pasta bake where I literally threw in any veg that I could from my fridge. It is a relatively simply recipe but highly nutritious and great served with a crispy salad and any left overs can be frozen for a quick meal another night. I use reduced fat cheddar on this as when the cheese melts it is less greasy!

Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake



  • 200g dried penne pasta (you can use more or less depending on the size of your baking dish)
  • Tomato passata with garlic and herbs (you can always make your own with the passata recipe below – just add the garlic and herbs!)
  • Vegetable stock pot
  • Low fat cooking spray
  • red onion, roughly chopped*
  • courgette, roughly chopped*
  • pepper, roughly chopped*
  • sweetcorn*
  • broad beans*
  • salt and pepper
  • Grated reduced fat cheddar cheese

*Use as much or as little of the suggested veg as you want or substitute with any other veg you may have in the fridge/freezer cupboards.

Pre-heat the oven at 200°C. Spray a roasting tin with low fat cooking spray and add the onions, courgette, pepper and sweetcorn. Spray the top of the veg with the low fat cooking spray and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 25 mins. To a saucepan, add the passata, 100ml of water and the veg stock pot and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let it reduce whilst the other veg is cooking. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions, drain and then put back into the saucepan. Add the thickened sauce and the cooked veg to the pasta and stir to make sure it is thoroughly mixed. Season to taste and then pour into an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle over as much or as little of the cheddar cheese and pop in the oven until the cheese is bubbling and starting to turn golden brown. Serve hot with a crispy salad.


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Also, this month I had another go at making my own ketchup. Whilst this wasn’t made with my own tomatoes as they are not ready yet, I did come across a lot of reduced packets of cherry tomatoes for 19p each in the co-op! How could I resist! My last attempt at making ketchup was too peppery and a touch too acidic but this batch was much nicer and I think the fresh cherry tomatoes were the key (instead of tinned chopped tomatoes)!

The first part of this recipe involves making a passata so if you are not a ketchup fan, this is an easy way to make a passata if you have a glut or any leftover tomatoes to use which can then be stored in the freezer until needed!

Tomato Passata

  • Tomatoes
  • Salt

Chop your tomatoes up and put into a a saucepan, making sure you scrape any juice on your chopping board into the pan too. Add a good pinch of salt, sprinkling it over the tomatoes and mix with a spoon. Leave for about ten minutes. The salt acts to draw liquid out of the tomatoes which the tomatoes will then cook in. Turn on the heat to low to begin with until the tomatoes start to heat up (the low heat stops them burning or sticking to the bottom of the saucepan at the beginning). Once a decent amount of liquid can be seen at the bottom of the saucepan, the heat can be turned up and the tomatoes can be left to cook into their own juices. Cook the tomatoes until they have turned into liquid. The amount of time this takes depends on the amount of tomatoes you added.

Once the tomatoes have been cooked into a liquid, there will be a few lumps remaining, pour into a blender and blend for about a minute just to mulch up the last of the lumps. Put a sieve over a bowl and pour the blended tomatoes through the sieve. Using a spatula or back of a tablespoon push the tomatoes through the sieve until all you are left with are the seeds and some tomato skins in the sieve. Discard this. The tomato passata is what is left in the bowl. This an be poured into containers and frozen until needed.

Tomato Ketchup


This is a version of a slimming world ketchup that uses sweetener to reduce the calories. You can use sugar if you prefer.

  • 400g tomato passata
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp  celery salt
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper (you can add up to 1 tsp depending on your tastes)
  • 2 tbsp sweetener (you can use sugar if you prefer)
  • 125ml red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce 

Put the all ketchup ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil.  You may have to whisk the ketchup briefly to break up any mustard powder lumps. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should thicken. Once cooked and the right consistency, pour into sterilised jars or bottles and store in the fridge.

(To make this with chopped tomatoes, also add 1/2 onion chopped and a garlic clove instead of garlic salt and once cooked, whiz up in a blender and then pour through a sieve before storing)

One meal I have also enjoyed a lot at the moment is Quick Chicken Jambalaya which is a recipe from my Slimming World recipe book. The great thing I like about it is that you can chuck in as much veg as you want which is especially useful if I have a lot to get through. I have written out the recipe in the book but have indicated where I have changed things. If you want to make it more exciting, you can also throw some chorizo or spicy sausage into it too!

Quick Chicken Jambalaya



  • low calorie cooking spray
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, cut into small chunks
  • 350g dried long-grain rice
  • 1 litre of boiling chicken stock
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp fried parsley
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1/4 tsp tabasco sauce (or any hot pepper sauce – I use worcestershire sauce if I don’t want the heat)
  • 1 bottled roasted red pepper in brine, drained (I sometimes use pickled peppers)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 300g frozen mixed vegetables (or any fresh veg you have lying around)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fresh parsley to garnish

Spray a large, deep non-stick frying pan with low calorie cooking spray and place over a high heat. Add the onion, garlic and chicken and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.

Add all the remaining ingredients to the pan and season well. Bring to the boil then cover the pan and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until the stocked is almost absorbed and the rice is tender.

Serve scattered with parsley.


July 2016!

This month was off to a great start with some lovely sunny days and warm temperatures. Everything on the allotment is growing well and we are really starting to harvest things now.

We have been harvesting lettuce and cucumbers all month long and it has been really nice to enjoy a salad that I have grown myself for lunch everyday (my waistline thanks me for it too!). The broad beans have been coming thick and fast, so fast that I have been freezing some away for the winter. The strawberries continued to produce massive yields and again these have also been frozen away as I couldn’t eat them fast enough. Other fruit we have harvested include raspberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. The blackcurrant yield is the best we have had so far although it is still quite small. I am hoping that over the next few years the yields will grow! We have also had masses of Tenderstem broccoli and calabrese, again some frozen away for the winter, but have decided not to do the Tenderstem again as it quickly flowers in this weather!

 have also harvested a few potatoes, pulling the plants up as and when we need them. All the first earlies have come up and we have dug up half of our second earlies. We have also enjoyed some nice chantenay carrots. Onions have been dug up and are drying in the shed – 157 in total!

Other than harvesting we have been getting on with my list of jobs too. The first weekend of July, my dad came up and installed some nice new water butts on plot 1 and 3. There is currently only one butt per plot but I hope to add to this over the next few months so that we can make the most of the winter rains!

We have been slowly taken most of the non-combustible rubbish to the local tip. We have done this over several trips but have now mostly cleared this rubbish (just a couple more trips to go!). We have also made a small dent on the combustible pile, burning the bindweed and other nasty weeds. Hopefully by the time September come the plies of rubbish will be completely gone and we can concentrate on the polytunnel.

In the second weekend of July, we transplanted the leeks to their final growing positions. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of leek rust on the seedlings so I am not sure how they will fair but I did pick the biggest and least rust covered seedlings to ‘puddle in’. We now have 74 leeks growing on plot 2 with the rest of them being burnt so as to not further spread the rust spores and on 25 of the plants we have placed black pipe around them to get longer blanched stems. It will be interesting to see if they turn out better than the ones without pipe.


Finally after probably two years, we have  a functional carrot bed. Those of you who regularly read this blog will know that we finally erected the carrot bed a few months ago, well now we have filled it with a mixture of sand, seed compost and multipurpose compost. It is about 1/3 full which is enough to grow some decent carrots in for now but we will fill it up some more next season. I have sown four varieties of carrots, which I know is a little late, but seedlings are poking their heads through so hopefully we shall get some carrots to enjoy over the winter!

We have continued work on the herb garden as well, adding some nice new herbs and plants, a bench, and archway and a clematis to grow up said archway. We have also been pulling up the wild strawberries as they have gotten a little out of control It will take a while for the perennial herbs to really get established so I will be filling the gaps with some annual flowers to attract the bees and butterflies. Last weekend we also installed a bird feeding station to attract wild birds to the plots!

The cherry and plum tree both got a nice haircut and am hoping will be a little more re-invigorated for it!


The strawberries have come to an end in the last week and so the job of clearing and trimming has begun in the strawberry bed. I have dug up a considerable number of runners that have been allowed to set down roots and they have been potted on in troughs ready for setting up a new strawberry bed. About four ‘Elsanta’ plants died – I think from the lack of rain – so they have been replaced with some ‘Cambridge favourite’ runners. Half the bed is done – just need to get on with the other half!

One side of the bed is done – now onto the other half!

Other than these jobs, it has been a constant stream of weeding, mowing and tending to plants, with breaks to sit by the pond and look at all the life that has inhabited our pond. A rather large frog has taken up residence in the pond and we have also spied several little frogs too! Exciting times! We also have two resident pond snails, water boatmen and thousand of tiny little creatures swimming around – don’t know what they are!  Bees are in abundance and I can tell that we are still being visited by Peter Rabbit as the barley straw is regularly being dug up!

Can you see the frog? We counted at least ten frogs in our allotment over the last weekend!
Water level is quite low and a lot of the pond liner is visible!

Unfortunately, with little rain over the last couple of weeks, the pond level had gotten quite low. I thought it would be a good idea to do some rain dances to get the water flowing (my neighbours where looking at me rather strangely!)…and it worked! The last few days have been nice and wet, watering my plants and topping up the pond!!

'Well, when I've tried everything and it still hasn't rained, I wash the car.'

Jobs for August

August can be an exciting month as those greenhouse crops should really be starting to be ready. The tomatoes should be ripening and the peppers and aubergines growing! However, whilst I am periodically checking the ripening of my greenhouse crops, I do have a few jobs that I want to do this month!

Raise/Line the strawberry bed with wood.

Grass is constantly encroaching on the strawberry bed and the line of my bed is no longer straight and orderly. This is a problem with most of the beds and I will need to devise effective barriers to prevent the grass and weeds from claiming back what we have spent so long on producing! So, as the strawberry bed is one of the smallest – we thought we would started there and will be outlining the bed with wood!

Would like to give the strawberry bed a neater appearance by ‘raising’ it!

Clear the rest of the herb garden

Half the herb garden is covered with wild strawberries and they need removing. I am absolutely sure they will be back in no time at all but we do need to clear them temporarily so we can get the rest of our herbs planted. It is quite a thick mat of strawberries so is no mean feat to get rid of them!

Strawberries on the right need to be removed!

Continue burning and removing the waste piles at the bottom of the garden.

Sam will be continuing on with burning any waste that can be burnt and we will remove any left over non-combustibles to the tip! We will also need to start clearing the site ready for our new polytunnel!

Buy the polytunnel!

I would love to get the polytunnel erected before the windy autumn and winter set in and August/ beginning of September will be the best time to do that so I need to get a jiggy on and buy the polytunnel. I think I’ll be needing to get the tape measure out…

Sow green manure

The onions have been harvested, the second early bed is slowly being emptied and the broad beans will not be far behind so to make sure we get a good structure into the beds, improve soil and to prevent weeds, I will be digging over the beds and sowing green manure seeds. This time, however, I won’t be digging in the green manure in February, we will dig in approximately Oct/Nov and then pile on rotted manure on top of that. The beds will then be covered over the winter and left to the worms!

We used green manure in the beds last year…

Prune the Apple and Pear tree

Both the apple and pear tree are really odd shapes and most of the apples on the tree look black and diseased – not good – so I will be giving them a trim this month to encourage fruiting spurs and get a better shape as well as removing the diseased fruit. This will only be a light trim as the main prune will come in the winter!

And as ever…general maintenance of the plots. Just need to keep mowing, weeding, trimming and watering!

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to my Blog!


1 year ago yesterday I started this blog and posted my first post! Since then this blog has become quite a part of my life and I have really enjoyed sharing my allotment journey, my quest for self-sufficiency and better sustainability and my other hobbies with you!

It’s incredible to look back over the many posts in the last year and see how the allotment has changed and how my views on sustainability and self-sufficiency have been challenged and have changed!

Development of a wild life pond!

Recycling, Re-using and Re-purposing: Toilet roll tubes and egg cartons

A Finished Allotment? – Plot 1

2015 – A review!

Harvest Time!

In this last year, I have posted 60 posts, had 492 number of visitors and 1001 views on my blog. My most viewed post is my first one – an introduction to me and why I started this blog.

What has really blown my mind is the range at which my blog has reached. This blog has been viewed in 28 countries, everywhere from the United Kingdom and the USA to Vietnam, Egypt, Australia and the Indonesia!


I hope I continue on with this blog for a while yet and that those of you who follow this blog or pop in from time to time enjoy it too!