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:

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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:

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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’:

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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:

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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:

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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

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

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

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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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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 :

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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:

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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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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

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

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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:

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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.

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Saving seeds

Despite today’s rain, I went along to the allotment this afternoon to see what was up. The apples have now all been harvested though there are several bags sitting waiting to be consumed. The courgettes are still coming slowly, there are handfuls of raspberries each week and there are winter brassicas waiting their turn. But most of the harvesting is now over. So today I planted some autumn onion sets and overwintering broad beans.  I did take a photo:

WP_20181007_16_43_58_Pro[1]That’s an onion bed with anti-bunny wire netting.  I admit it’s not very exciting but it excites me to think that next year’s onion crop is lurking beneath the soil and that there are broad beans in the bed next to it. There’s nothing like thinking about next year’s crop to get you through a damp dreary Sunday.. unless it’s looking at seeds:

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These are my saved seeds from the pink pea plant. This was a heritage variety – Pea Salmon Pink – which I originally picked up at a seed swap event a couple of years ago. They have lovely flowers and a very unusual growing habit, with the peas all growing at the top of the plant. Oh and the bees seem to like them too:

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You can’t buy these beauties and I was worrying about what would happen when I ran out of seeds, so decided to try and save some. Those in the picture are the result. I’ve dried them out carefully on a sunny windowsill and put them away in a labelled envelope. While I was at it, I saved some sweet pea seeds too. Crossed fingers they will grow ok next year. Now that is almost more exciting than sowing next year’s beans and onions.

..it’s not just winning, it’s about taking part

..really.  It was the allotment annual show on Saturday.  I thought I’d better enter some of our plentiful produce, although I wasn’t expecting any prizes.  I entered:

courgettes and runner beans, apples and rhubarb, raspberries, some not quite ripe yet tomatoes and a big vase of flowers. I knew the rules were all about perfection and submitting identical specimens. I had checked with the organisers whether unripe tomatoes would count – they said ‘no’ but thought I’d try anyway.  We could have entered our monstrous marrow, if only it hadn’t been carved, stuffed and eaten by musicians a few weeks ago, or possibly some of the stunning peas, but they have all gone now

 

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It was all about joining in though, so I did my best with what we had. I was delighted that we won three prizes!

My first ever allotment prizes.  I was a little chuffed. Then I brought all the vegetables that hadn’t won any prizes home and the musicians turned them into an allotment feast:

WP_20180915_13_02_23_ProIt was a very satisfying day.  Really it was about taking part but we will be proud to have those rosettes adorning our shed until next year.

 

Allotment harvest

I was along at the allotment this afternoon to bring home a harvest. Up until now, I’ve tended to bring home a few vegetables at a time but today it felt like a real harvest. In preparation, I took my bike along. I still can’t actually cycle though the arm is improving every day but I knew that I could walk with the bike and it would act as a handy pack horse.  As usual, I forgot to take any photographs of the vegetables but we collected up a huge pile of potatoes, almost all of the onions, two huge bags of apples (a branch had collapsed off one of the trees – they are not quite ripe but should be cookable), three more marrows, six courgettes, six white turnips some runner beans and a handful of autumn fruiting raspberries.  Here are a couple of photos of the allotment from a few weeks ago when the peas and beans and potatoes were in full growth:

We shared our spoils between us. My share fitted nicely in the panniers of my bike:WP_20180819_17_14_50_Pro (1).jpgenabling me to get a very heavy load home.  We had the turnips in white sauce for tea. I’m going to have to organise a jam and pickle making session for the marrows and apples soon but haven’t quite found the time.

At the allotment, I had leant my bike against the compost bin – it has to go somewhere – and while my back was turned, a family of ladybirds moved onto the bag I had brought for the potatoes – along with some less pleasant blackfly:

WP_20180819_17_02_03_Pro.jpgI was tempted to bring the ladybirds home, but moved them all onto the marrow plants instead to continue their blackfly munching.  We also spotted a huge frog in the compost bin. Something rather larger – we don’t really want to know what – has been helping itself to some of our broad beans and leaving plum stones lying about but it is good to know that there is at least some helpful wildlife on the plot.

The trouble with

.. courgettes is that they grow into marrows. We’ve had a bumper crop on the allotment this year and I’ve been struggling to keep up. My allotment keeper friend is not very keen on the big guys so I said would deal with them. Only, I didn’t get along to the plot for a few days and they grew even bigger and I couldn’t carry them all with my dodgy arm. I did get several home eventually. Fortunately my house has been taken over by a bunch of enthusiastic and hungry musicians (nothing to do with the Edinburgh Festival, just one of those things that happens when your young people grow up). They insisted on taking the most monstrous marrow and cooking it whole:

giant marrow(plates for scale, it didn’t even fit in our biggest casserole dish). In fact they cooked two marrows: the monster, which was stuffed with practically everything from the store cupboard plus some cheese, and its baby sister, which was created as a vegan version, with same miscellaneous filling but no cheese. These fed several hungry musicians, plus a few of us oldies for tea one night and the leftovers were turned into a rather good soup which fed us all the next day too.

You may not have spotted from the photo above, that the outside of the marrow was also tastefully decorated  to make it look like a bus – close up of windows here:

wp_20180815_21_59_06_pro.jpgThis was inspired, we think, by  The Trouble with Grandad by Babette Cole, a much loved favourite from when the musicians were much smaller. Fortunately we still have a copy so were able to remind ourselves of this glorious gardening story. I won’t give a way any plot spoilers, but lets just say that it features a similar giant vegetable which is not dissimilar to  our bus marrow.

Well done, young people for your creative efforts. Meanwhile, here is what is still waiting in the kitchen to be attended to (just saying):

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I’ll get the pickle making juices flowing soon. I won’t be pickling the cucumbers though. They have been equally majestic, if rather more restrained in size,  this year:

WP_20180811_12_31_42_Pro (1)The cucumber plant in my cucumber frame has escaped out of its raised bed and started climbing up the hedge at the back of the garden:

wp_20180818_11_16_05_pro.jpgWonderful. But these are best just eaten raw in salads, or even straight from the plant as a mid-morning snack.