This Week’s Harvest – 2017, Week 17

There has been a couple of weeks with no harvests but this week I harvested another large amount of rhubarb. The plants were getting out of control so I need to give them a good tidy up. Quite a few stalks went in the bin as they were quite spongy  but I took home a massive 5.6kg of rhubarb. About 3kg will be given out to the Slimming World group (if they want it) and the other 2.6 kg have been stewed and some frozen away for making a variety of desserts.

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Rhubarb for the SW group!

More excitingly, I harvested my first batch of radishes. I think they look absolutely delicious and I can’t wait to put them into a salad. 85g of scarlet globe radishes!

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Homegrown radishes for my salad!
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What to do this April!

April is a busy time for most gardeners and allotmenteers! The sowing season is upon us and with Easter happening this month, there is also the tradition of planting out your chitted potatoes over the Easter Weekend!

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Chitted potatoes ready to be planted!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

The sowing season is upon us and if your ground is not ready and prepared for your new sowings and plants then it really is time to get a move on!

Sowing:

  • Peas and Broad beans can be sown now. These will crop a little later than those that were sown in the Autumn or back in February. French beans (dwarf or climbing) can be started this month too but better off indoors as if sown outdoors you will have to watch out for those sneaky frosts!
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Peas can be sown now!
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot, parsnips, salsify, scorzonera, turnips and carrots can be sown this month. For successional crops of carrots and beetroot sow every three-four weeks.
  • Salads leaves such as land cress, chard, spinach and lettuces can be sown now ready for those delicious summer salads
  • Brassicas can be sown outdoors into a well-prepared seed bed or where they are to crop including early season calabrese, late cropping sprouts, kale, cauliflowers, and summer/winter cabbage. Sprouting broccoli should be started now too. It needs to be sown approximately a year before it is due to be harvested.
  • Leeks should be sown by the end of this month and spring onions can be sown successionally every two to three weeks to give you a continuous supply.

Planting:

  • If you have always wanted to have an asparagus bed, then now is the time to start one. Remember not to harvest in the first couple of years and only take a few in the third, after that you will have asparagus to enjoy year after year!
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Start an asparagus bed now!
  • Spring-planting onions and shallots can be planted out now.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can be planted out in April. They produce beautiful sunflower type flowers throughout the summer and earthy sweet tubers in the winter
  • Second early and maincrop potatoes can be planted out now. Traditionally, they are planted out on the Easter Saturday (which has now passed) but if you are a little behind, not to worry, they will soon catch up if you are a few weeks late.

April firmly sits in the hungry gap but that doesn’t mean you can’t have offerings in the garden.

Harvesting:

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  • If you already have an asparagus bed you can start harvesting from around St George’s day up until the Summer solstice.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Any remaining winter savoy cabbages, cauliflowers and leeks should be harvested this month to make way for new crops and Sprouting broccoli and spring cabbage is in full swing during the month of April
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can harvest these for a delicious salad along with any new sowings or radishes, leef beet/chard, spinach and other salad leaves that may be ready now.
  • Rhubarb should be cropping well throughout April.

 

Jobs on the plot

April is busy, busy, busy what with all the sowing and planting but be sure to remember the other jobs that might need doing:

  • Hoe off any weeds that appear in your vegetable beds. The days are longer and the temperatures are warmer which means weeds will be growing quickly. Control weeds whilst they are still small and before they flower and set seed.
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Hoe off young weeds now before they have a chance to set seed!
  • Pests can often start to appear this month especially aphids. These pests should be controlled and removed in whatever way you see fit (chemical, biological or mechanical) before their numbers get too great.
  • Support your legumes! Build bean and pea frames to support your pea and bean sowings that you will make this month. Bean frames can be bought from many retailers or you can make your own from hazel sticks or bamboo canes.
  • Watch out for those frosts! Keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and if it looks like the temperature is going to plummet over night then bring tender plants in or protect them with fleece.
  • In the fruit garden, feed blueberries with a liquid feed or mulch with ericaceous compost to help get them off to a great start. Grape vines and kiwi fruit should also be fed and mulched with general garden compost or well-rotted manure. Keep an eye out for any fruit tree pests and deal with them quickly remembering not spray chemical controls on trees in blossom.
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Mulch blueberries with ericaceous compost!
  • Train and tie in blackberries against a fence or using a wire support system. Mulch thickly around blackberries and raspberries.
  • Clear out polytunnels and greenhouse to make sure there is room for new sow plants. Also make sure you are removing any dead or diseased foliage so that rots can’t spread.
  • If you have planted first early potatoes in a polytunnel or grow bags then make sure to earth up the foliage as it grows..
  • Thin out young seedlings to make sure that plants have room to grow and aren’t competing with one another for food and light.
  • You still have time to trim and tidy up any perennial herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage.

Indoor jobs

  • If you have tomatoes growing indoors or in a greenhouse, don’t let them get pot bound. Make sure you transplant the tomatoes into a bigger pot ready for planting out in May.
  • If some of your seeds have been unsuccessful then take a trip to your local garden centre and buy some replacement plug plants.

 

April Recipe

Creamy Chicken with Asparagus and Tarragon (from BBC GoodFood)

chicken and asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 500g baby new potato, halved
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • small bunch tarragon
  • 175g asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 tbsp reduced-fat crème fraîche

 

Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 8-10 mins until tender, then drain and keep warm in the pan. Season the chicken with ground black pepper. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Gently fry the chicken with the onion and garlic for 5 mins until both are lightly browned. Turn over the chicken once and stir the onion regularly.

Pour over the stock, add 2 sprigs of tarragon and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 mins, then turn the chicken, add the asparagus and cook for 3 mins more. Chop the remaining tarragon.

 

Stir the crème fraîche and tarragon into the pan with the chicken and heat through, stirring, for a few secs. Serve with the new potatoes

I hope you all have a good April and for those of you who will be celebrating the religious holidays, Happy Easter, Happy Passover or just Happy Holidays!

Vegetable of the Month!

April – Rhubarb

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Rhubarb is technically a vegetable as we eat the lovely pink stalks but we use it in cooking like a fruit. It is a great fruit (or vegetable) and is ready to harvest at a time when there is no other fruit available.

A short history of rhubarb

Rhubarb is thought to date back to as early as 2700 BC in China where it was originally used as for its medicinal properties. From China, rhubarb was taken to Europe most likely for trade and was even written about by Marco Polo.

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Rhubarb wasn’t eaten as food until the 18th century. Image credit: BBC Good Food

It was until the late 18th century that rhubarb was written about as a food source, where it appeared in recipes for pies and tarts much like how we use rhubarb today. From Europe, rhubarb also made it across the Atlantic ocean to the Americas and was in popular use by the early 19th century.

In the UK, forced rhubarb production dates back to the 1800s by many small farmers and growers. Forced rhubarb production became much more extensive towards the late 19th and early 20th century especially in a 30 square mile area in Yorkshire (between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield) which became known as the Rhubarb triangle. After the second world war, rhubarb popularity declined due to the availability of more exotic fruits.

Why should we eat Rhubarb?

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When we talk about eating rhubarb we are talking about the stalks of the plant. You can’t eat the leaves of Rhubarb as they are toxic. This is due to the high levels of oxalic acid which is nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidneys). Oxalic acid is still present in the stalks but in much lower quantities so is not harmful but does contribute to the sour acidic taste of raw rhubarb stalks.

However, there are health benefits to eating rhubarb. The vegetable contains a lot of water so is only 21 calories per 100g. They are a good source of fibre and an excellent source of vitamin K which is vital for proper clotting of the blood and has been shown in studies to have a neuro-protective effect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It also contains a good source of Vitamin C as well as being a source of calcium and manganese.

How to grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is relatively easy plant to grow and care for. In my own experience, it is not massively demanding.

Plants are normally bought from suppliers as crowns. Dormant or bare-root crowns can be planted in Autumn and early spring whilst pot grown crowns can be planted at any time.

The ground should be prepared before planting by thoroughly weeding and working in organic matter such as compost and/or well-rotted manure. Dig a hole where the rhubarb will be positioned, and if bare root, spread the roots out in the hole with the crown just poking above the top. Back fill the hole with compost and soil and firmly press the soil around the base. If the plant is pot-grown then dig a hole slightly bigger but not deeper than the pot and transplant the crown into the hole. Back-fill and press the soil firmly down around the base. Water the plant well and continue to water it to help it get established.

The rhubarb should be left to grow and you shouldn’t take any stalks from the plant in the first year. If you do this will weaken the crown and it won’t establish well. If left alone, the plant will grow and produce food and energy which will be stored in the crown. In the second year, it is best to also leave the plant alone but if you just can’t wait then taking a few sticks shouldn’t hurt it too much. In the third year you can start to harvest more and by the fourth you can crop it continuously form March until the end of June taking up to half of the stems. Never pick all the stems from the plant, always leave some behind. From July onwards, you should leave the plant alone to recover and build up energy stores once again in its crown.

Every year, the crown should be mulched well with organic matter before the buds begin to open. The plant is susceptible to hard frosts and will lose it’s foliage over the winter. Remove dead leaves so they don’t rot on the crown.

You can force rhubarb to give you an earlier crop but this will sap the crown of its energy so once you have harvested the forced stalks you should leave it alone for the rest of the year and you shouldn’t force it again for another three years.

Forcing is relatively simple. You cover the crown with a large bucket or forcing jar in January to ensure that no light is reaching the plant. Any hole is pots should be covered with brisks or stones. The stalks and leaves will grow long searching for the light and you will be rewarded with tender pink stems which are typically ready three weeks before the normal harvesting season.

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Rhubarb has been forced by covering with a large container and a rock to cover the drainage hole.

Harvesting rhubarb is very simple. Pull the stems from the base of the plant by pulling and twisting. Don’t cut the stalks off as this can leave a wound were disease and infection can set in. Cut of the leaves and put them in your compost bin. Then take home your lovely rhubarb stalks!

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Some lovely forced rhubarb which has been harvested!

Rhubarb problems

Rhubarb doesn’t have many problems but do watch out for pests such as slugs, snails and aphids. Slugs and snails don’t tend to go for mature rhubarb plants but may attack young seedlings (if you grow from seed). The other problem to watch out for is crown rot. You can avoid this by maintaining good hygiene practices such as clearing up dead leaves and stalks promptly, harvesting stalks properly and when mulching don’t cover the crown as this can aid the onset of rot, mulch around the crown and avoid letting the mulch touch the crown.

How to cook rhubarb

Rhubarb is definately much better cooked with sugar. The sugar mellows the acid taste of the rhubarb. Rhubarb can be baked, poached or stewed and can be made into a variety of sauces, compotes, pies, tarts and crumbles. It can also be used in jams and chutneys.

  • To bake rhubarb cut it into chunks, scatter with sugar, cover with foil and bake in a medium oven for about 15 minutes until soft.
  • To poach rhubarb cut into sticks, scatter with sugar, add a splash of water and simmer gently for 8 minutes until soft and longer to cook it to a puree or compote.
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Poaching rhubarb with sugar.

Rhubarb recipes

Rhubarb and Custard cake

rhubarb and custard cake

Rhubarb Tatin

rhubarb-tatin

Rhubarb and Date chutney

rhubarb and date chutney

Rhubarb Fool Trifle

rhubarb fool trifle

References

What to do this March!

March is my second favourite time of year! To me, the new season is finally here and the likelihood of me being able to get outside on the allotment is higher! Birds are flying around making their nests and the tadpoles are hatching! It is also time to start sowing (mainly indoors) and planting!

But as exciting as all that is, it also marks the start of the hungry gap! Harvests are dwindling (I myself am down to leeks and rhubarb) and we have a couple of months to wait until we get the new season peas, broad beans and the first of the strawberries! Now is the time to plan for the hungry gap next year by making sure that those essential crops are included in your allotment/garden plan!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

Sowing is really starting to get underway now especially under cover. Frosts  are still likely so tender plants will still have to wait and even the semi-hardy varieties may suffer if there is a particularly cold snap!

  • Tomatoes can be sown this month. Sow them indoors so that they get a head start for the season. Tomatoes that will be planted outdoors won’t be planted outside possibly until mid-May but sowing now means you will have big strong plants ready for planting.
  • Peas and broad beans can be sown now outside. Remember to check your soil conditions before planting outside as peas and beans can rot in waterlogged soil and hungry mice will be on the look out so cover them with netting or chicken wire to stop those pesky rodents! If in doubt, sow indoors and transplant when seedlings are strong!
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Sow peas but watch out for those pesky mice!
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots can be sown this month.
  • Salads and lettuces can be sown now to help fill the hungry gap in April/May. If you are sowing outside seeds may take longer to germinate in cold weather. Spinach and chard can also be sown outside now.
  • Brassicas such as summer cabbage and cauliflowers can be sown now and if you are thinking about the winter and hungry gap harvests you can sow Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli and kale.
  • Next winters leeks can be sown now in a seed bed and in a few months they can be lifted and transplanted to their final positions.
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Leeks can be sown in a seed bed!

 

In March we can start thinking about planting tuberous plants and some fruits.

  • Plant strawberry plants now and there is still time to plant bare-rooted  raspberry canes.
  • Onion sets can be planted out towards the end of the month or they can be started off in trays of compost now and planted out later in April. Watch out for birds who will pull the sets up!
  • You can plant new rhubarb crowns now but you won’t be able to harvest the fruity stalks for the first year and only sparingly in the second year to allow the plant to build up energy! The same goes for asparagus crowns if you are thinking about starting an asparagus bed. Asparagus is an excellent hungry gap crop!
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Asparagus crowns can be planted now if you want to start an asparagus bed!
  • First early potatoes that have been chitting can certainly be planted now and second earlies towards the end of the month. Watch out for frosts and make sure any foliage is covered up to avoid frost damage.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can also be planted towards the end of the month for those lovely sweet tubers in the winter.

Although we are heading into the hungry gap, March still offers a few delectables which can be harvested from the garden.

  • Brussels sprouts may still be cropping if you planted late seaon varieties but will be finishing this month
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Spring cabbages, cauliflowers and Sprouting broccoli can be harvested now.
  • Leeks are still in abundance in my allotment but you will want to get your leeks lifted soon as they will start to flower soon.
  • Parsnips that are still in the ground can be harvested. Once the weather starts to warm up, the root will start to put all that sweet goodness into producing flowers and seed so don’t forget to eat them!
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can still harvest these for a delicious salad.
  • If you force rhubarb then you will be harvesting these delicious pink stems now!
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Leeks and forced rhubarb can be harvested now!

Jobs on the plot

March is a busy month with Spring getting into full swing. When you are not admiring the daffodils and crocuses there are plenty of jobs to get done around the plot!

  • As I have already mentioned, harvest your winter veg. Many winter veg are biennials and will start to put their energy into flowering as Spring advances. You will also find you need the room for spring-cleaning crops!
  • If you can sow crops now then weeds can grow now! Start as you mentioned to go on by keeping your beds weed free! Getting weeds out when they are young will stop problems getting too big later in the year! Also get the ‘volunteer’ potatoes out now, those small tubers that have been accidentally left in the bed. If left, they will could disturb rows of newly sown seedlings. They also carry the risk of spreading blight if left.
  • If you have established strawberry beds then they are likely to need some attention now. Give them a good haircut getting rid of any dead and browning leaves. Clear any weeds from the bed and to protect the plants from slugs and further weeds, you can invest in strawberry mats which you can place around the crown.
  • Give perennial herbs a good tidy up as well, sage and rosemary can be given a trim and mint and chive clumps can be divided and re-planted. Now is also a good time to plant out any new hardy perennial herbs.
  • If you can, empty a compost bin ready for the season ahead. The season is likely to generate a large amount of garden waste which will fit down into a nutritious hummus for your plants. Spread the compost made from last year’s waste over your beds either as a mulch or in preparation for new plants.
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Empty a compost bin for the year ahead!
  • Give any perennial herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables a good mulch and top dressing of fertiliser to help them for the coming season.
  • If you have a peach tree that is currently in flower, you can aid fruit set by hand pollinating the flowers. The cold weather can lead to lack of pollinating insects so for a good harvest you can use a soft paint brush to gently brush the flowers when they are fully open.

Indoor jobs

Although we are moving back outside for a the new season there is still plenty of indoor sowing that can be done, whether that is in your house or your greenhouse so on those rainy days you can still be getting something done!

March Recipe

Rhubarb and Apple crumble 

Ingredients:

  • 750g forced rhubarb, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices.
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 85g butter, cut into cubes
  • 140g plain flour
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g Demerara sugar

Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan and heat on a low heat. Stir the rhubarb occasionally and cook for 15-20mins. Pre-heat the oven at 200°c

Whilst the rhubarb is cooking, make the crumble topping. Combine the butter and flour in a bowl and rub the butter and flour together to form fine bread crumbs. Once all the butter and flour is combined mix in the rolled oats, flaked almonds and half the sugar and put to one side.

 

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Once the rhubarb has cooked but is still holding its shape, take off the heat. Layer half the apple slices along the bottom of a oven proof dish. Lay half the rhubarb mixture over the apple and then repeat with the rest of the apple and rhubarb. Spread the crumble topping over the rhubarb and apple layers. Finally, sprinkle the last half of the sugar evenly over the top of the crumble.

Bake the crumble in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the rhubarb mixture is bubbling. Serve hot with custard of ice cream.

I hope March brings good weather for you all and we all get the opportunity to get outside and into that fresh spring air!

This Week’s Harvest – week 10, 2017

Another week, another post about harvesting rhubarb and leeks! It is literally all I have in the allotment (I apologise if I bore you – its the best way for me to keep track of what I am harvesting)!

So I harvested 1.25kg of leeks this week, all to go in the freezer to use of the summer, and 1.27kg of forced rhubarb, which will also be stewed and frozen into two batches for crumble or pie another time!

That is it for the forced rhubarb now as will let the crown rest for the remainder of the year. My other (non-forced) rhubarb crowns are growing quite well and I will soon be inundated with rhubarb and not enough ideas with what to do with it!

I am also acutely aware that other than the leeks, which will be cleared this coming weekend, I don’t have anything else to harvest in the allotment! Now is the time to plan so that this time next year my allotment will still be producing plenty!

This Week’s Harvest – 2017, week 9

This week I have continued to harvest some leeks to go in the freezer and have had another crop from my forced rhubarb!

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We harvested 900g of rhubarb this week which went into a lovely rhubarb crumble again!

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And we harvested 820g of leeks, 4 of which were given to Sam’s mum which was a lovely accompaniment to the trout dinner that she served us yesterday!

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February 2017!

This month started off reasonably well with a lovely bright sunny albeit cold day down the allotment. Sam and I got to work on plot 1 removing our old rotten seed bed ready to replace it with a nice new one. The seed bed was made of an old bookcase which was broken and we decided to make as much use of it as possible instead of chucking it down the tip.

We also took down the fence between our half plot and the other half plot as we have agreed to take on the back plot. Sam want to keep bees there and I want to have some lovely flower beds and nice little area of nature.

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Taken on the back half of the plot!

All the parsnips were harvested and both the parsnip bed and carrot bed were prepped ready for seed to be sown in the coming weeks. I also had time to weed the flower bed and discovered an abundance of bulbs were coming to life.

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All the bulbs are coming up!

I mulched the rhubarb bed and cut off some pieces off one rhubarb crown as a few friends wanted a plant or two. The last of the brassica beds were dug over and covered ready for the beans to go in this year. We also managed to create quite a pile of rubbish so a trip to the tip will be in order!

Luckily we achieved quite a bit on plot 1 that weekend because the following weekend we had to stay inside. It was cold and snowing so apart from feeding the birds nothing got done on the allotment. I was also in the throes of a cold and feeling rotten so decided to rest!

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Still made it down to feed the birds!

Fast forward to the weekend of the 18th and I was back out in force on the allotment. Sam built the new seed bed which looks rather good and I got to work trying to tame the back half of the plot. Two things I learnt: a) the lawn mower is broken and b) you can’t tackle 125 square meters with an battery powered strimmer! Garden fail!

So I settled for spreading more bark chip on the paths to keep those pesky weeds at bay and I had a good weeding session in the pond beds so they are all ready for planting to get that luscious spring colour. I hope this year to get a few more herbaceous perennials in the border.

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Pond beds have been weeded!

Some of you reading this post may already know what happened the following weekend. A phone call from the allotment officer led to the discovery that my shed had been killed by Storm Doris!

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Dead Shed!

Luckily I don’t think we lost any of the contents of the shed although a few things were broken! I am glad we had another shed on plot 1 where we could put all our stuff. So the Sunday was spent dismantling the bulk of he shed and burning it! I created a pretty awesome fire – it was so good that I started inviting other people to burning their garden waste on it!

I also made the discovery that the frogs are back and breeding and have left a lovely blob of frog spawn in my pond! I am hoping that more frogs will breed in the pond but it is always positive to know that you have created a lovely environment that animals can call their home!

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The frogs are back!

I did not finish tidying the strawberry like I had planned but hey whats new there! There is always March…

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One day I will finish this!

I hope that Storm Doris didn’t cause too much destruction to your plot and am wishing you a happy Spring!

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This Week’s Harvest – 2017, week 7

An exciting weekend at the allotment, the first fruit harvest of 2017! I have forced some rhubarb and enjoyed my first pickings this week – a decent 350g!

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These lovely pink stems were used straight away in a delicious rhubarb and apple crumble and I have to say the rhubarb tasted fantastic!

What to do this February!

I find February to be a month full of anticipation! Anticipation for all the things to come and an impatience to get started. It is very much an in-between time where it is not quite warm or light enough to sow yet we are starting to prepare none the less. As I am writing this, it is snowing outside my window which shows that winter still holds us firmly in its grip! I have not yet had much opportunity to visit the allotment as the biting cold keeps me at home! However, as the month moves on it will start to warm up and there will be plenty to do!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

Now is a time when we should be preparing for the sowing season which will hit hard and fast in March and April. Some things can be sown in February especially those greenhouse crops that need a longer season.

  • Chilli peppers, sweet peppers and greenhouse tomatoes can be started this month but do check the instructions on your seed packet as some tomatoes are best left until March. For best results, I start mine off in a heated propagator placed in a room that gets the most light.
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Sweet pepper seeds have been sown in a heated propagator.
  • Early peas and broad beans can be sown now to get a early crop in May. Remember to check your soil conditions before planting outside as peas and beans can rot in waterlogged soil and hungry mice will be on the look out. If in doubt, sow indoors and transplant when the soil conditions are better.
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots can be sown this month for early crops
  • Hardy salads and lettuces can be sown now to help fill the hungry gap in April/May!
  • Some brassicas can be started in February too including early season Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli and some cabbages.
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Some seeds can be sown in February.

You still have time to replenishing, replacing or extending your fruit garden.

  • Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes now whilst it is still cold before the leaf and flower buds open in the spring.
  • Bare rooted strawberry runners and raspberry canes can be planted now.

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  • You still have this (extremely cold) month to plant garlic cloves if conditions are dry. Don’t plant cloves when it is wet otherwise they will rot in the ground.
  • February also offers the chance to get shallots in the ground if you didn’t have a chance in Autumn.
  • You still have time to start forcing rhubarb. Simply cover the clump with a large bucket, pot or bin. Excluding the light, forces them into growth.
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Cover rhubarb with a bucket, barrel or pot to force the stems into growth.

Although we are marching steadily towards the hungry gap, February still offers a good harvest from the allotment or garden.

  • Brussels sprouts may still be cropping if you planted late seaon varieties and may continue to crop into March.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Kale, winter savoy cabbages and Sprouting broccoli can be harvested
  • Leeks are still in abundance in my allotment and are a perfect vegetable for warming soups and stews at this time of year.
  • Parsnips that are still in the ground can be harvested. Once the weather starts to warm up, the root will start to put all that sweet goodness into producing flowers and seed so don’t forget to eat them!
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Parsnips and leeks can be harvested this month!
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can harvest these for a delicious winter salad.

Jobs on the plot

February can be a busy months in terms of preparation for the sowing season so there are a good few things that you can do around the plot to get ready.

  • Gather all your sowing materials together. Make sure you have plenty of labels, pots, seed trays etc. Also make sure your pots have been cleaned out to prevent the transmission of pests and diseases.
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Gather sowing materials together ready for the sowing season.
  • Buy in seed and potting composts, vermiculite, perlite, fertilisers etc for sowing both in and outdoors.
  • Prepare your soil ready for planting by raking over beds that had organic matter added in over the winter. You can add a general fertiliser by scattering it evenly over the surface and raking in. In beds where you are growing brassicas you can apply lime to raise the pH of the soil and keep it neutral or slightly alkaline. You can cover soil back up if you wish to help warm the soil and prevent winter rains from leaching the nutrients from the soil.
  • It is also worthwhile to sort and tidy your shed and sharpen your tools ready for the new season!
  • In the fruit garden, it is not to late to do winter pruning. Make sure apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, autumn raspberries and blueberries are given a good prune to encourage new shoots and keep their shape.
  • Give any perennial herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables a good mulch and top dressing of fertiliser to help them for the coming season.
  • Check over polytunnels and greenhouse to make sure they are in tip top condition and haven’t suffered from the winter conditions. Repair any glass and make sure the glass is clean to let maximum light in.
  • If you have a polytunnel, then you can try planting a few early potatoes to help extend the season. You may have to cover with fleece if night time temperatures are forecast to be low.
  • Some early flowering fruits such as apricots, peaches and nectarines may need their blooms to be protected from the cold and frost. Where possible move trees to a protected location and cover with fleece overnight. Remember to remove the fleece during the day to allow pollinating insects to do their job.
  • If you start any early outdoor sowings of carrots, peas or other crops they may benefit from the protection of cloches or winter fleece to keep the cold off.
  • If you grow chives, established clumps can be dug up, split and replanted to increase your stock.
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Any chive clumps that are emerging can be split now to increase your stock!

Indoor jobs

There is also plenty of jobs to do indoors to prepare for the coming season.

  • There is still time to sort through seed tins and discard any old and out of date packets of seed. Out of date packets of seed will have unreliable germination. Best to get in new, fresh seed.
  • If you have bought your seed potatoes then now is the time to start chitting. Pop the potatoes in the egg cartons with the eyes facing up and place in a cool, light location such as a windowsill. You will soon see little shoots sprouting from the tuber. If you haven’t bought your potatoes then now is a good time to do so.
  • Plenty of seeds can be sown indoors at this time of year (see list above). I have a tray tidy where I do all my sowing and potting indoors as I am not lucky enough to have a greenhouse.
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I use a tray tidy to do all my indoor sowing

February Recipe

Saffron and Leek Risotto (Serves 4)

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Ingredients

  • 40g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 280g risotto rice
  • 1 tsp crumbled saffron threads
  • 1.2 litres simmering vegetable stock
  • 115g freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Melt 1 tbsp of butter with the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft. Add the rice and mix to coat in the oil and butter. Cook until the grains are translucent. Dissolve the saffron in 4 tbsps of hot stock and add to the rice. Add the remaining stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is creamy. Season with salt and pepper

Meanwhile, stir fry the sliced leeks in a tsp of butter in a frying pan until softened and starting to crisp slightly. Be careful not to burn the leeks.

Remove the risotto from the heat and add the remaining butter. Mix well, then stir in the parmesan until it melts. Add the leeks and then season with lemon juice, adding a small squeeze and tasting as you go. Serve immediately.

I hope keep warm in February and that your just as excited as I am about the coming season!

January 2017!

It’s a miracle – I have finally started on sorting out the strawberry bed on plot 2! For those of you who have read my previous posts you will know that I have been meaning to get this job done for the last 4 months! Well I finally started! To be far the work you can see in the picture below was started at the beginning of January and I haven’t done anything since but that is because the ground has been either too wet or too frozen to work (at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!)

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Started the strawberry bed!

The large pear tree has been pruned this month. The tree had gotten out of shape and I cut off about a third of the main branches to try and restore the tree to the right shape. The centre of the tree is still a bit congested but I am conscientious of the fact that I have already taken away a good number of branches  and don’t want to take away too much in one go!

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The shed on plot 1 was given a good clearing out. All the dust and debris has been swept up and everything arranged neatly in the shed! All our tools were given a thorough cleaning and all our shears, loppers and secateurs were sent away for sharpening. The guy who did it did a wonderful job removing nearly all of the rust! Apologies for the fuzzy photo – it was raining and my regular cameraman had to ‘work’!

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Shed is nice and tidy and all the tools have been cleaned and sharpened!

I also managed to plant up two new strawberry beds which will eventually replace the big strawberry bed on plot 2. The new beds have been planted up with ‘Cambridge favourite’ and ‘Lucy’.  A large barrel has been put over one of the rhubarb clumps so that we will have some delicious forced rhubarb in the next few weeks!

Other than that, as I said before it has been rather cold and wet and the ground has either been frozen or sodden so I have only ventured to the allotment to feed the birds. Mr Robin has become quite reliant on our supply of food so I make sure that we get down there once a week to feed him. I even treated him to some mealworms this weeks!

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Feeding Mr Robin!

We had to do some checking on the autumn sown broad beans though as we were quite worried about them after the cold weather we had.

Luckily, they have mostly managed to survive! Some have  frost damage like the plant in the picture above but I am hoping they will recover whilst approximately 20% have completely died. I did cover with fleece to begin with but the plants started pushing against the fleece and this made the frost damage worse so decided to do away with the fleece. Hopefully this is the end to the seriously cold weather and we can look forward to slightly warmer temperatures!

I did, however, manage to do some sneaking sowing of some red cabbage seeds yesterday. Probably a bit early but I just can’t help myself! I can’t wait for the sowing season to begin (I am getting a bit fed up of leeks, parsnips and squash!)

Hope you had a good January and you all stayed nice and warm!