September 2016

We managed to get some work done in the first weekend in September and the last weekend but both Sam and I have been travelling a lot this month so the allotment has unfortunately had to take a back seat. This has led to much anxiety! I have been imagining coming back to a frost damaged plot with all my veg rotting away. Melodramatic I know but it seems that the temperature is holding for now even if it has turned grey and miserable!

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So this month we have dug over the broad bean bed and divided it into two smaller more manageable beds. All we need now is to dig in some organic matter ready for the garlic, onions and shallots. Main crop potatoes were harvested! We lost about a third to mice, slugs and sunshine but the remaining two thirds (7 buckets and a compost bag full) will be plenty to last until next year (maybe a little too many – might have to reduce the number of plants next year!) Excitingly, I dug up one of the sweet potato plants to see if anything was developing and if they were ready to be harvested. I was rewarded with two sweet potatoes, a large one and a small one, which will duly be roasted and enjoyed with some pan-fried sea bream! I have decided to wait for another two weeks (weather dependent) before harvesting the rest. This is my first time with sweet potatoes so don’t really know when they right time for harvesting is?

We started tidying up plot 3 by digging over the smaller bean bed near the shed and sowing some green manure which will be cut down just before adding well-rotted manure reading for our drying beans next year. We also tidied up the herb garden. The left hand bed was weeded and spring bulbs were planted. We then dug over the right hand bed, planted some hydrangeas and heather and the spring bulbs. In November time, we will move the globe artichoke to this bed as well.

I have cleared the flower beds around the pond, removing all the weeds and spent annuals. I planted daffodils, tulips and fritillaria bulbs for the spring. I think I may have accidentally killed the ‘Bleeding Heart’ plant. If it doesn’t come back next spring then I shall by a new one!

We have been slowly picking our drying beans as they have been drying on the plant. I have just about managed to get them all picked except for the borlotti beans which are still  not mature enough yet. Hopefully they will get picked before the weather turns too cold and wet! In other news, the butternut squash have really come along! I was worried I wouldn’t get any this year or that the few developing would get hit by the frost before they could ripen but they seem to be ripening well so at least we will have a few squash this year! I have already harvested 4 pumpkins and 2 uchiki kuri which are curing on window sills as we speak!

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We have also tidied up the compost area by  put some pallets on the front of each bin – thanks Susan for giving us the pallets – this stops the compost from spilling out and stops the seating area from looking unkempt!

It was my birthday this month (21 again!) and I got some wonderful presents for the allotment. My favourite was the hedgehog hogitat from Sam. We will be putting this in the allotment, putting a bit of hay in it and collecting up some dried leaves for any hedgehog that wants to come and stay. All the advice I have seen so far suggests putting out some food like cat food but there are a few cats that roam the allotment and I am concerned that a) the cats will eat it and b) the cats will scare the hedgehogs away! I am also slightly concerned about the rats eating the food too!

Other birthday presents include a wheelbarrow, digging fork, rake, root trainers, gardening gloves…. everything an allotmenteer needs!

Now that we are moving in to October, the amount of time we spend at the allotment will start to reduce, most likely because the weather will keep us away although we still have plenty of jobs to get on with!

Hope your September has been fruitful/vegful!

 

 

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September Recipes – Making Mincemeat and Christmas Cake

I haven’t done much cooking this month as I have mostly been away but I am trying to be super prepared for Christmas this year! Gift lists have been drawn up, Christmas day veggies in the ground and growing nicely and I have been making my homemade mincemeat and Christmas Cake so I thought I’d share with you my recipes for these Christmas goodies so that if you want to have a go – you have plenty of time to get them made!

Mincemeat

I make mincemeat early because I like to give it time for the flavours to meld together in the jar! I also use rum instead of brandy for my mincemeat. I don’t like the taste of alcohol but if I have to use it I generally prefer to use rum (this comes from my love of rum truffles!) My recipe is based on Delia Smith’s recipe but have changed the method slightly and added a few extra ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 450g apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
  • 50g flaked almonds, roughly chopped
  • 4 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 100ml rum
  • 225g shredded suet
  • 350g raisins
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 225g candied peel
  • 50g glace cherries, chopped into small pieces
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • juice of 2 oranges

Start by combining the raisins, currants and sultanas in a bowl. Pour over the rum, orange juice and add the zest and juice of the lemon. Mix together thoroughly.

Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave the dried fruit to soak in the liquid for 1 hour.

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Meanwhile, mix the shredded suet, candied peel, glace cherries, spices, almonds and sugar in a bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Once the dried fruit has been soaking for an hour, chop the apples and add the the ingredients together mixing thoroughly. If you chop the apples to early they can go brown very quickly so I prefer to chop them just before they need to go into the mincemeat. You know the mincemeat is thoroughly mixed as the sugar will dissolve into the liquid and all the ingredients should be evenly coated.

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Pack the mincemeat into hot sterilised glass jars and store in a cool dry place until needed.

I will share my mince pie recipe with you nearer Christmas!

Christmas cake

My Christmas cake recipe is a recipe from Mary Berry and can be found here. Again I have substituted the brandy for rum!

Ingredients:

  • 175g raisins
  • 350g natural glacé cherries, halved, rinsed, and thoroughly dried
  • 500g 2oz currants
  • 350g sultanas
  • 150ml rum, plus extra for feeding
  • 2 oranges, zest only
  • 250g butter, softened
  • 250g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 free-range eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp black treacle
  • 75g blanched almonds, chopped
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1½ tsp mixed spice

Place all the dried fruit, including the cherries, into a large mixing bowl.

 

Pour over the rum and stir in the orange zest. Cover with clingfilm. Mary suggests leaving to soak for three days but I left it for 5 days. Ensure you stir daily

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Grease and line a 23cm deep, round tin with a double layer of greased greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 140C.

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Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and almonds into a very large bowl and beat well . Add the flour and ground spice and mix thoroughly until blended. Stir in the soaked fruit.

Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.

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Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for about 3-4 hours (Mary suggests longer but I think you should check it regularly), or until the cake feels firm to the touch and is a rich golden brown. Check after two hours, and if the cake is a perfect colour, cover with foil. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.

 

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When cool, pierce the cake at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little extra rum. Wrap the completely cold cake in a double layer of grease-proof paper and store in an air tight container for up to three months, feeding at intervals with more rum. I store mine under the bed!

I shall ice and decorate the cake a few days before Xmas and will post an update then!

August recipes

The month of August has been a bit of a lazy month when it comes to cooking! I haven’t put much effort in and to be honest it has mainly been baked potatoes!

Jacket Potatoes!

We have had some absolute stonkers when it comes to potatoes this year. We haven’t had a high yield of second early potatoes but the ones we did get (that weren’t speared with a fork) were very large. As we have been enjoying jacket potato quite a a lot for the last month I thought I’d share with you our top five baked potato fillings. They are quite simple but classically delicious!

1. Tuna, sweetcorn and mayo

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Image credit: Tesco.com

This is Sam’s favourite – he has this every time! He simply combines a tin of tuna with two tbsps of extra light mayo and two tbsps of sweetcorn. Simple!

2. Beans and Cheese

This is my favourite filling and you can use any beans you want whether its baked beans or a five bean chilli. Just add the beans, sprinkle some cheese on top and serve your JP with a crispy salad!

If I am using baked beans, sometimes I like to spice it up a little and will add some paprika or Worcestershire sauce. If I am making a five bean chilli, quite simply drain one or two cans of five bean salad (can easily get these from Tesco and most supermarkets) and tip into a saucepan with some passata with garlic and herbs. The add one or half a sachet of fajita seasoning depending on how many tins of beans you have opened. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes making sure all the beans are tender and then serve over your JP!

3. Sausage and roast veg

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Image credit: waitrose.com

This is essentially a quick ratatouille-esque meal. Simply chop up the veg you want to use and put it into an oven tray that has been sprayed with a low calorie cooking spray. I use a combination of white and red onions, pepper, courgette, tomatoes, sweetcorn, green beans and aubergine but you can add anything to this. Season the veg well and cook in the oven for 15 minutes at 200C. Take out the tray and check the veg which should have softened, then add 2 tbsps of passata to the tray and thoroughly mix the veg. If your passata doesn’t have herbs in, you can sprinkle some dried herbs overs the veg. Cook for another 15-20 minutes and add to your JP. Add some lovely juicy sausages from your local butcher or if you are vegetarian or looking for a low calorie alternative try Quorn sausages! You can cook them separately or add them to the roast veg pan!

4. Lentil Ragu/Beef ragu/Bolognese

I use this filling if I have made spaghetti bolognese and have some bolognese left over. It’s a great way to use up that last little bit rather than throwing it away. Sometimes I replace the beef in my bolognese with lentils for a healthier vegetarian version.

You can find a good bolognese recipe here.

5. Prawn Marie Rose

I love prawn marie rose as a filling and it is very simple to make. The Marie Rose sauce is made by combining equal amounts ketchup and extra light mayonnaise (2tbsp of each is sufficient for 1 pack of fresh prawns but you can add more if you prefer it to be a bit more saucy!) Mix together well and then add a sprinkling of paprika (or cayenne pepper if you prefer a bit of heat). Mix with the prawns and serve atop your JP!

Houmous!

I also have had a large number of runner beans from my few plants and have been trying to find ways to use them so decided to have a go at making runner bean houmous – which turned out quite nicely! This is a low fat healthy version if, like me, you are trying to eat healthy!

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Runner bean houmous:

Ingredients:

  • 400g can chickpeas, drained
  • 200g (or more if you like) runner beans, cut into chunks
  • 2 tbsp 0% fat natural yoghurt (you can use normal or low fat if you prefer)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt

Firstly, put the runner beans in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat the runner beans on high until boiling, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are nice and tender. Remove from the heat, drain and then pat dry the runners beans with kitchen towel. (Boiling the runner beans first allows the beans to take on some water which, when added to the blender, gives the houmous a good consistency). Add the chickpeas, runner beans, garlic and natural yogurt to a food processor or blender and blend until it is smooth. Tip the contents into a bowl and mix in the lemon juice. Add salt to taste.

 

 

Jobs for September

I love September, I think it’s my favourite month – not only because it is my birthday this month – but because there is a real beauty in it. The days are getting noticeably shorter and slightly colder yet we still get some lovely sun! The leaves on the trees are staring to colour and turn golden and you can really feel the change happening all around you. I get quite excited because it reminds me that it won’t be long until Christmas and then after that our new growing season starts yet the days have not got cold enough to be grumpy about it! I really enjoy taking stock of everything I have achieved over the summer, my successes and failures and also getting down and dirty by digging everything over ready to start anew in the spring!

However, I don’t have time to be idly sitting by watching the seasons! Due to not much getting done in August, my September job list is quite long. What with my birthday , mini break to Cornwall and a work trip away for a week I don’t imagine that I will be getting many of these jobs done. But I can always try!

1. Strawberry bed

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Strawberry bed needs some serious TLC!

The strawberry bed needs clearing again! Although I started it, the weeds have run rampant through the patch. After ‘Gardener’s World’ two weeks ago and Monty advising us to tidy up the strawberries this is top of my to-do list. I may get one more good harvest out of these plants before I rotate to new plants so it will be a good idea to get them tidy and looking good before the winter sets in!

2. Clear the right side bed of the herb garden

This was supposed to be done in August but we didn’t get round to it. Also, the ground is exceptionally hard and I am hoping for a good bit of rain to soften the ground before I attempt to dig it over. I have a few plants I want/need to get into the bed soonish so it will be a job I need to get on with!

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Right side of the herb garden needs digging over!

3. Finish digging over unused beds.

Both the summer onion bed and the broad bean bed are finished with and need digging over. The broad bean bed will also need some well rotted manure incorporated into it as soon as possible as we will be planting garlic, winter onions and winter shallots (all of which need to be bought this month) in it end of October/beginning of November. The summer onion bed and the raised potato bed will have green manure sown in them to get some well needed nutrients into the ground!

As I am a little late posting this, Sam and I have already dug over the broad bean bed and divided it into two smaller beds ready for the alliums.

4. Polytunnel

We still need to finish clearing the area for the polytunnel, buy the polytunnel and put up the polytunnel and I don’t fancy doing this in the throes of winter so if we don’t manage to get this done by the end of September, it will be shelved until next year.

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Polytunnel space needs clearing! It actually looks tidier than it did!

5. Fruit cages

Both fruit cages need weeding. Whilst I tidied up and weeded the raspberries, the currants, blueberries and gooseberries all need seeing to. I will also put down a good mulch to suppress any remaining weeds this season.

Sam very kindly took a day off work and did some work on Plot 1 and has already cleared the gooseberry and blueberry cage! Just the currants to go!

6. Potato beds

The maincrop potatoes will need harvesting this month and the beds will need digging over. We will also line another one of these beds with wood this month (if we have the time and money)

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Maincrop potatoes need harvesting and the ground dug over.

7. Tidy up the pond beds

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All the annuals need removing and some more perennials put in for next year.

The annual flowers are coming to an end and are starting to look scruffy. Whilst I started weeding and planting up one side of the pond beds last month, the rest will need to come up this month. I will also take that opportunity to put in some spring and summer bulbs for next years flower display and move the Echinacea and Hostas I have at home to these beds.

I’ll still be harvesting away, the drying beans are mostly ready so will be picking all of these, runner beans are still cropping and I have cabbages a plenty! The squash and pumpkins are ripening and I look forward to the first frosts so that my parsnips get that lovely sweetness!

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Drying beans are nearly ready for all those delicious soups and stews!

Have a good September everyone!

 

August 2016!

I have spent less time down the allotment than I would have liked this month but other responsibilities have come first.

The worst thing to happen this month is that my tomatoes all got blight!…Again! The plants were a lot less crowded than last year and I tried to make sure there was good air circulation but still the blight came! I had lots of lovely green tomatoes and managed to get about 5 ripe ones. Wasn’t sure what to do about the green ones as I still have a mass of green tomato chutney from last year which is yet to be eaten so put them in bowls in a sunny spot at home and placed some bananas next to them in the hope that they would ripen. Thankfully, so far, it’s working! I think I will be left with some green tomatoes but not as many as first thought and surprisingly, none of them started to rot from the blight which goes to show that things can be saved! I started with three bowls of green tomatoes and now have just one bowl left to ripen. The fruits are not as sweet as if ripened on the vine but still nice enough for using in passata.

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Very ripe bananas next to my ripening tomatoes and my first Uchiki kuri squash!

The second worst thing this month was that the rats got to the sweetcorn again! What annoys me the most is that they tore half of it down and didn’t even eat the cobs!!! I thought I still had time to erect barriers to stop them getting at the corn but my timing was off again! I did manage to harvest a few cobs that looked ready but on removing the husks, could see they were perhaps a week off. Some were not to bad though! Mostly the corn kernals had not developed as well as I would have liked and I assume this is down to bad pollination.

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Rat damage to the sweetcorn!

The tower of runner beans became the ‘leaning tower of beansa’ over the month until a strong wind finally knocked it flat – my fault for not making sure the supports were sturdy enough! The plants still appear to be alive  so will leave them as is and continue to pick the runners which are cropping aplenty.

Moving on from this, the old broad bean and pea plants were cleared away and the bed has been partially dug over ready for the garlic and winter onions to be planted in October/November (Some dog or cat has left a nice little smelly present for me on the soil – not impressed!). The weeds have already started poking up again so will need to have another go over! The second early potato bed had the rest of the potatoes dug up and then was dug over.

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The fallen tower of runner beans
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Broad bean bed has started to be dug over for garlic in the autumn

The inside of the fruit cage has, once again, been half cleared of bindweed, the raspberries have been thinned and tied in to their supports. The currant side of the fruit cage has not been treated with as much tender loving care but will be one of my first jobs of September!  The grape has grown very well this year and I am hoping that it will survive the winter and give me a few bunches of grapes next year!

We also got a move on with starting to clear the new polytunnel area. We completely cut back all the raspberries and removed all the long dead grass, gave the grass paths a serious mowing and start to dig through the mound that had piled up. Weeds went into the incinerator and the soil has gone into the compost bin for use next year. There is still a lot more to clear but it is looking a lot better than it did. I have priced up some polytunnels and have decided what we need. I am all ready to click the buy button but we want to make sure the area is cleared first and we don’t want a dismantled expensive polytunnel lying around the allotment for anyone to pinch!

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Raspberry bed on plot 3 has been cleared

We have had some visitors in the form of cabbage white caterpillars! They were promptly removed from the brussel srpouts and left on the bird feeder! Luckily no lasting damage has been done! And on the subject of pests, my aubergines are finally starting to crop, forming the loveliest little aubergines but the damn slugs keep nibbling them! The three resident frogs in the polytunnel are not doing their jobs! Although I’ll let them off as the slugs that are around are bigger than the frogs (I think they are mutant slugs!).

I didn’t manage to line the strawberry bed with wood as I didn’t have time to finish weeding the strawberries (I’m terrible for starting a job and not finishing!). We did line the potato bed instead! It’s now ready and waiting for some organic matter to be dug in!

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Potato bed has been raised!

I didn’t have the time to clear the herb garden so will move that onto the to-do list for September! I also didn’t get time to prune the apple and pear so will now have to leave it until the winter.

We have switched into clearing mode now, clearing away the old plants and get ready for the new. Whilst there is still plenty to  harvest, we are only four months away from a new season and we need to get ready! I have had a good old sort out of my seed tins, throwing away anything that didn’t work last year or is too out of date! I get a lot of seeds from gardening magazines that I don’t end up using so have sorted through these and will be giving them away to friends/family/strangers in the street for them to use instead!

And not to be beaten in the gardening game, my Dad decided that he was going to cultivate some plastic in his garden! Here where the results!

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My Dad’s back garden!

Yes those are gorillas and yes everything is fake!

Have a good September everyone!