Lawnmower holiday

There are tons of peas and beans in the garden so I made a classic green soup for lunch, with some added watercress from the pond:

20190721_134259[1]

Earlier in the week I made a classic summer pudding:

20190716_224500[1]

It was duly guzzled by my various visiting young people.

It’s lovely to have all this wonderful fruit and vegetables but all these gluts are causing a bit of crisis at the allotment. The warm wet weather of the last few weeks has caused a massive growth spurt among the onions, strawberries, peas, beans and courgettes, which is great. But is has also caused enormous growth of grass and weeds, which, combined with our faithful allotment push mower having a breakdown, has meant that things are getting a little out of control. The mower has gone to the mower hospital to see if it can be tempted back to life but what to do about the grass? The solution was to take my ancient, but almost wholly reliable, lawnmower from the house along to the plot (for more on the history of this beast see here and here):

20190721_141715[1]

Part of its realiability comes from its ancient metal parts which make it much heavier than its younger partly plastic cousin. It was too heavy to take on the bike but it was quite easy to get it to the allotment, just by pushing it along the street, if you discount the funny looks from passers by. But then I am often to be seen carrying odd things along the road to and from the allotment. It did a stalwart job of dealing with the overgrown grass and clover and will stay at the allotment for a short holiday until its modern friend is feeling better.

lawnmower

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberries, onions, peas, cats but no unicorns yet

Lots happening in the garden and the allotment just now. The back hedge is still growing happily. You may remember that last year I promised flowers and bees, butterflies, bunnies and possibly unicorns – see here Well we have the bees and the butterflies and the flowers. I haven’t seen any bunnies or unicorns yet, but we do have flowers:

20190622_073741

and a rather a splendid cat, adorning the the space where the conifers used to be:

20190621_092651

I’m sure the unicorns will come in due course.  Meanwhile the peas are beginning to flower:

20190622_07370120190622_122502Those are the Norli peas and the stunning Carouby de Mausaune. Even more exciting, the Salmon pink heritage peas, which I saved seed from last year, are about to produce their astonishing pink flowers which bunch together at the top of the plant:

20190623_192038[1]Chelsea has taken an interest in the peas and particularly in the strings holding them up. Here she is lurking behind the pea stakes, ready to pounce:

20190623_092713.jpgDown at the allotment, the peas are not doing so well. They were started rather later and they are struggling in the battle of the slugs and snails. But I am ever optimistic. We did a great grass cutting and weeding today and were rewarded with the wonderful onions, here hanging up to dry in the kitchen:

20190623_185705

and the first allotment strawberries, which will not keep long before they are demolished:

20190623_185721

 

Frog season

I’ve been busy this weekend and not much gardening done, other than a frenetic couple of hours on Saturday evening, hacking back overgrown grass and weeds at the allotment. Still, there are signs of summer finally arriving. I harvested the first few strawberries from the allotment and the frogs have reappeared in the garden pond. They come out late in the evening and stick their little noses in the air, hoping to catch insects I suppose.

20190616_224028.jpg

20190617_215957.jpg

June is finally meeting my expectations

Juggling rainbows

It’s May and should  be the time to get lots of things going in the garden but the last week has been too nippy for me to dare put very much outside or even out to the seed palace.  The tomatoes are taking over the windowsill inside and I haven’t yet sown any courgettes, marrows or runner beans. I could get going with digging my runner bean trench but the raised bed identified for the beans is still full of onions which are not quite ready to harvest. That’s the trouble with rotating vegetables round a few raised beds.

However, at the allotment there is a little more room for manouvre . The allotment onions are also doing very well:

20190505_160930

There is currently no queue to take their place and a separate bed has been identified for the runner beans and peas so I got out the spade, soaked some newspapers in a bucket and got the the bean trench going. I’ll sow the beans in containers at home and take them along to plant out in a few weeks. For details of how I dig my bean trenches, see here.

20190505_160912

I usually plant rainbow chard in the middle of the runner beans as they seem to survive ok over the summer under the shade of the beans, slumber a little over the winter and the spring to life in the spring.

Last year’s gardens rainbows have just put on a growth spurt:

We had a visitor to entertain for tea tonight. Another veteran gardener who appreciates a home grown meal. There’s not much in the garden or allotment at the moment, other than the chard, rhubarb and some spicy salad leaves:

20190505_192110

So rainbow curry it had to be. Rainbow curry is a make-it-up-as-you-go-along dish, requiring nothing other than colourful vegetables and some spices. (Don’t add the rhubarb though. It is much better used as a pudding.  For details of an unsuccessful rhubarb curry, see here) Here’s what I did tonight.

Rainbow curry

  • A good armful of rainbow chard
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Spices as preferred: ginger, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds usually – add chilli if you like it hot
  • 3-4 potatoes
  • a handful of spicy salad leaves
  1. Scrub the potatoes, chop into rough chunks and parboil till just tender
  2. Wash the rainbow chard very well to remove any visiting wildlife
  3. Separate the stalks from the greeny bits
  4. Heat the spices in a large frying pan
  5. Add a splash of oil
  6. Throw in the chopped onion, garlic, and rainbow chard stalks
  7. Stir fry for 5-10 mins
  8. Add the parboiled potatoes
  9. Meanwhile, cut up the green bits of chard into manageable bits and bring through the boil in the potato water and leave to strain
  10. Once all the frying vegetables have cooked 10 mins or so, add the cooked chard
  11. Just before serving, add some chopped spicy green salad leaves

20190505_192212It got a little overcooked so not as colourful as it should have been but it tasted fine. Serve with rice, nan bread, chutney, or whatever other extras you have in the fridge.

There’s still quite a lot of chard to come and the spicy salad is looking very promising. What’s more, I’ve got next year’s rainbows started and ready to plant out when it gets a little warmer and once I’ve cleared the raised bed with the onions in it:

20190505_192028

 

Spaghetti junction

Did you know that spaghetti grows underground? Nor did I until I found a vast network of it underneath the strawberry patch at the allotment:

20190416_161827[1]Actually, it’s not spaghetti, these are couch grass roots and they form a vast underground network right across our allotment. It is hard not to admire their tenacity but today, their bid for world domination has been thwarted, slightly. The strawberries are looking a little happier, although I can spy a few green shoots of spaghetti still sticking up amongst them:

20190416_161833[1]

It was a surprisingly satisfying way to spend an afternoon away from the cares of the day job, helped by a flask of tea, some sandwiches and beautiful birdsong:

20190416_145448[1]

As a special treat, the single broad bean plant that survived the winter has produced flowers:

20190416_172600[1]Isn’t nature astonishing?

Sunshine and rainbows

Despite a busy weekend, I found some time for the allotment this afternoon. We surveyed the plot again and now have our plan down in writing. There is blossom on the plum tree and birds flying all round the plot. Our overwintered onions are doing well and we are still harvesting purple sprouting broccoli and some baby kale.  The autumn sown broad beans have been almost completely hopeless: old seed, pests? We’re not sure why but one brave little plant has survived:

20190324_160136This should give us lovely beans in early summer. We sowed a whole lot more today to keep it company. In between the rows, I sowed some saved seeds from the magnificent radish ‘purple plum’:

20190105_141021

I’ll see whether they are any better at producing radishes in the allotment than they are in the garden but, if not, we, and the bees, can always enjoy the flowers:

wp_20180617_10_27_33_pro

Meanwhile, back at the house,  my tomato seeds have germinated and are now queuing up on the windowsill, waiting for the warmth so that they can go out to the seed palace in a couple of months (oh dear – sown too soon again).

There was a cold wind alongside the sunshine and some icy showers. This late wintry combination brought us a rainbow, lighting up the trees:

20190324_173019

The season  is really beginning.

 

Plotting

I made it along to the allotment today, for the first time in a few weeks. Time and weather has been against me. It’s just a little too early to plant anything, so today we did some more weeding to try and keep on top of the couch grass and surveyed our plot, looking forward to good things to come. Meanwhile the overwintering onions are looking mighty fine and the daffodils are in full bloom

20190317_160455

20190317_160640.jpg

Some brave nasturtiums have appeared beside the compost bins, ready to race all over them in the summer:

20190317_160612

Back at the garden, my first salads have germinated in the seed palace

20190314_080555

and the pigeons have eaten all my broccoli. Inside, I have my first germinated tomatoes and potatoes are chitting nicely in an absent musician’s bedroom.

The gardening season is truly underway

Reclaiming Paradise awards 2018

WP_20180915_15_48_20_Pro.jpg

As the old year rolls on and we venture into 2019, it’s award season at Reclaiming Paradise. In a year of weather extremes and personal complications, we celebrate all that is great, good or frankly unsuccessful in my garden and allotment. This year I  cracked a bone in my arm, helped my mother move house, acquired a second cat and was overcome with day job commitments. But the garden, the allotment and the blog bring me joy, and the Reclaiming Paradise awards help me to celebrate that with you. Here are the award categories:

Most impressive garden developments; Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge; Most extreme weather; Most successful vegetables; Most unsuccessful vegetables; Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit; Most unsuccessful recipe; Best use of garden produce; Most colourful vegetable;  Most awe-inspiring wildlife; Best cats.

Scroll down to find the winners:

Most impressive garden developments

This was the year that I finally got round to having the conifers and the giant sycamore removed from the garden. This was done, not by me, but by professional tree surgeons and a professional stump remover. It was expensive but necessary. The space left behind enabled me to have a go at creating a garden bench and several raised beds:

of which the bench was fun at best and hopeless at worst while the raised beds produced bumper cucumber and tomato crops. I still have plans to do more with the space left by the conifers but they were thwarted by the broken bone and other commitments.

The winner in this category, however, is the allotment, for which I got a key in February, moved my wellies and gardening gloves into the shed, observed flooding in April, found a use for my 25 year old hoe and entered a bumper crop of vegetables into the allotment show, winning a few prizes but it was the growing that mattered, not the winning:

Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge

This award goes to the footballs and other useful items which emerged during the giant conifer hedge removal:

WP_20180415_19_31_07_Pro

Most extreme weather

For 2018 we must reinstate the most extreme weather award, with the Beast from the East providing Bella with many photo opportunities:

and an unexpected use for a cow shaped boot scraper as a ‘cowometer’ to allow me to see the increasing depth of snow on the pond:

The impressive snow was followed by equally impressive ice on the pond in early April:

Most successful vegetables

Reclaiming Paradise is all about growing vegetables. As always there were several contenders, including courgettes and marrows:

which were very impressive, even though not enough to win any prizes at the allotment show. The peas were beautiful and very productive both in the garden and the allotment:

but they will qualify for another award, as we will see.

The amazingly hot summer certainly helped the cucumbers to flourish in their newly built raised bed/cucumber frame:

But the outright winners have to be the tomatoes:

which started slowly but then flourished in the hot sun and continued into November. They provided enough surplus to make soup which we were still enjoying in December.

Most unsuccessful vegetables

You may be beginning to believe that my fingers are so green that everything flourishes in my garden. Not so. My biggest disappointments this year were the onions, which I sowed in newspaper tubes in early spring and transported to the allotment:

They succumbed to the drought. A few of them made it but most did not. These, I admit, were meant to be autumn sown and I was taking a chance with them. We were compensated by a very successful crop of ordinary spring sown onions in the bed beside them. I learned something about how not to sow onions.

Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit

The fig tree produced some fruit for the first time ever:

WP_20180804_09_42_56_Pro[1]I suppose I knew they would never get any bigger than peas but a gardener is ever hopeful. A close contender for this award was the cherry, of which there was only one, and it got snaffled by a passing bird between this photograph and going back to pick it:

WP_20180630_11_19_37_Pro

Most unsuccessful recipe

While dwelling on the year’s failures, I think the rhubarb curry was probably the least successful of my cooking experiments. On the other hand, the rhubarb did win a prize at the allotment show, and was very successful in cakes, crumbles and jam:

WP_20180915_14_35_19_Pro

Best use of garden produce

The summer gluts nearly overwhelmed us but we were assisted by visiting musicians, who moved in for the summer and helped to cook and eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. We made cakes and stews, soups, jam, chutney, pickle:

We made a wonderful Christmas Day smoothie, lemon curd (although not from the garden), a very successful summer pudding:

but the winner, out of these many, has to be the musicians’ giant stuffed marrow, so huge that it overflowed the serving dish and had to go in the oven at an angle :

giant marrow

Most colourful vegetables

The Reclaiming Paradise awards always include a most colourful vegetable prize. The purple radishes again produced lovely flowers but no radishes and the Swiss chard continued to provide rainbows:

For the third year running, however, the award goes to the peas:

with which I am now so besotted that I have saved the seed of the salmon pink and may need to venture into other varieties as well next year.

Most awe-inspiring wildlife

The annual awards cannot pass without an award for wildlife in the garden and allotment. This year we have outright winners. As well as the bees, robins, snails, foxes, ladybirds and other creatures, we had a multitude of frogs, congregating in the pond during the heatwave:

and bringing us joy.

Best cats

Finally, 2018 brought a second cat into the garden. Chelsea helped to build a pond in my mother’s garden but then moved in with us, leaving the pond to new owners and new cats. I won’t let her and Bella compete for this award as they have enough to fight about already. So the best cats award goes to them both for being awesome and in the hope that they will learn to share in 2019:

20181208_164641.jpg

So that’s the awards for this year. Much has been missed off but it is nice to look back and see what has happened in the garden and allotment over the year. Happy and productive gardening and best wishes for peace and happiness to all my followers for 2019.

Christmas at the allotment

Family commitments caused me to fall a little behind with the advent calendar but here are the last three photos. On the 22nd of December I spotted this Wintersweet’s tiny flowers in the sunshine. This shrub has only every flowered once, last year, when it produced one flower. This year it seems to have finally matured

20181222_105317

Only two flowers in this photo but there are at least a dozen on the plant.

On the 23rd I spent the whole day doing my ‘annual’ housework and didn’t get out until after dark, so the photo for that day was rather enigmatic. There was a bit of light in the sky and it was rather beautiful but hard to capture.

20181223_164731

Christmas Eve brought a beautiful frost,  showing up the loveliness of these self-seeded teasels. Much nicer than anything that you spray with silver paint:

20181224_114427

I was fortunate to get out to the allotment to harvest my long-awaited Brussels sprouts, the single plant to have survived from my seed sowing earlier in the year:

20181224_121011

The allotment was lovely and frosty and I was joined by the resident robin, posing festively on the apple tree:

20181224_121542

So we had home grown sprouts on Christmas Day. Other home grown offerings included the holly on the Christmas pudding:

20181225_104147

rosemary and thyme in the roast potatoes, and a specially made Christmas smoothie. A few days earlier I had found a prodigal apple, lurking in the undergrowth in the garden. It survived the winter and was untouched by vermin or slugs so was added to the Christmas smoothie:20181222_145224But the stars of the show were the award winning autumn raspberries, which I had been keeping for the occasion:

20181225_131210

Belated Happy Christmas to all my readers.

Emergency carrots and a strange use for sprouts

There’s been very little done in the garden or allotment these past few weeks (by me anyway) and very little interesting cooking either.  But today we got the Christmas puddings made. My mother, now living much nearer to me, came over to help. The pudding recipe  has long family roots and, although I have been making my own puddings for decades now, my mother is the true expert  I thought I had been clever and got all the ingredients prepared but, at the last moment, noticed we had no carrots. Carrots in Christmas pudding? Essential apparently. I asked Mum if we could just add extra apples, or maybe a beetroot from the allotment. ‘No’ and ‘No’. Sadly we have no home grown carrots so I sent a senior assistant out on an emergency carrot hunt while we steeped the dried fruit in alcohol -‘I would just empty the whole bottle in, No point in leaving a tiny bit’. By the time the emergency carrot arrived the fruit was well steeped. Then came the ritual of everybody in the household contributing to stirring the pudding.  Good luck apparently and necessary that everyone makes a wish while doing so. We managed to round up one mother, two middle generation and one son while the other son contributed virtually by phone. Wishes were made but not disclosed – that would break the spell. Then the puddings  were put on to boil (we split the humungous amount of mixture between two pudding basins). Several hours later,  my Christmas preparations were complete.

20181202_203251[1]I may succumb to further preparations over the next few weeks but I always feel that, as long as we have a pudding, nothing else really matters.

Although spurned as a pudding ingredient the allotment beetroot went in a rather good beetroot, turnip and sprout curry. It doesn’t sound too good but actually it was. The sprouts were a bit of an afterthought. The recipe required peas but there were none.  I found the sprouts in the freezer and threw them in instead. Surprisingly it worked. The secret to this particular curry, however,  is the addition of fresh mint right at the end. I went out in the rain to harvest the mint and felt, for just a few minutes, as if balance might have returned to my life.

20181202_212925[1]