Category Archives: loldeantimber

Bank holiday blooms #gdnbloggers

I went to the allotment, thinking that I might be able to pull up the dead grass that has been lying around. That after yesterday, I might be able to continue, even if I did feel as though I had allotment ouchies all over the shop. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts and all over. It is however the sort of ouch you get from having exercised, and isn’t the flaming hot, cayenne pepper hot pain that comes from stress and anxiety. Off I went, and then I got distracted by the roses. Standing there and all pretty like.

 

I am very surprised by how strongly the roses have started off this year. In the space of ten days-perhaps less-I have collected three differently sized bouquets. I love my roses; they are low maintenance in my view, and yield a wonderful harvest without my having to fuss over them. I do feed them from time to time-when I remember-but otherwise, I then to coo over them, and enjoy them as cut flowers.

There have been many instances where I have described the beautiful zingy fresh lemon smell that wafts around the top part of the plot. That is probably the closest, human, verbose way of describing it, other than heavenly and ineffable. On the plot, there are thirty something rose bushes, making the one half resemble a rose garden. When the glads get going, there are is a riot of colour across the plot that breaks up the green. I feel that they are pretty, and whilst not edible, they have a wonderful aesthetic value as cut flowers. Each and every time that I take a bouquet home, I do wonder just how much they would have cost had I bought them. These are not diddy bouquets, and the roses are not the perfect Disn*y beauty and the beast sort. Some are dainty,  others are fuzzy, fluffy and sprawl all over.

Alas, the bank holiday ends; I got soaked through and need a cuppa. Several, I think. I was glad really, to  have had a good day on the plot yesterday. There is still stuff to do, grass to be cleared and seeds to be sown directly; will get to that all eventually. For now, I am going to get a cuppa, and try to choose which colouring book that I want to play with.

Plot experiments abound! #gdnbloggers

Since I have yet to play with the preserving pan and make jam, jellies and chutneys, I have been looking for experiments do. It doesn’t help that I have a lower than expected courgette threshold.

This week, I have considered two things.

  1. ooh, dehydrator; could do home made chilli powder
  2. And hold on, you have a home brew kit that you have yet to christen.

But first, let’s look at what is actually working on the plot.

Plot tomatoes are sprawling, having absorbed a fair bit of sunshine and have sent out lots of yellow flowers. It is quite easy then to spot the red smudge of tomatoes as they turn red beneath the foliage. I somewhat revel in the going red, as with previous experience I have had to ripen tomatoes at home. The raspberries are a combination of polka, a well established set of canes and newly planted ones. Above, you will see that the trug is rather full. Contained in that trug was coriander and fenugreek from Mum’s half plot and my mint. I still have mint to harvest actually, it really is very productive.

And at last! The plot glads are coming through. It does feel a little delayed in happening, but I have spotted two of the blooms breaking up the green tomato foliage. I do rather like the purple ones. Though somewhere on the plot are black ones, and I’ve never seen those in bloom before.

Now, I said something about experiments.

The experiments are two fold. In the first instance, I decided to find  dehydrator. Primarily as I fancied dehydrating chillies for chilli powder. However, we also have lots of mint and fenugreek. These were the first things to go in, as well as some garlic, red habaneros and also some mango. Garlic, didn’t go so well; perhaps I should have sliced it a little thinner. Ir’s still usable, just very very dry. Red Habaneros, had me sneezing and took over a day to dehydrate. These were shop bought though, from a local Indian supermarket and were effectively a pilot study should I actually get a few chillies from the poly tunnel. The mango was also shop bought, and was a collection of under ripe fruit that I wanted to make mango powder. I use mango powder for chutneys, it has further uses in Indian Cuisine. Again, an experiment; as it took two dozen mangoes to get 100g powder. I shall be reflecting further on the merits of garlic and mango dehydration. What did work well, and took hardly any time at all, was the drying of the herbs. I was rather pleasantly surprised by how green the powdered fenugreek was.

Then there is the second experiment. The rather boozy one.

First thing first, I have parental consent (There are people who will huff and puff at this, I assure you; as an activity that a bollywood young lady ought not to do. So let’s make clear, that :: blows raspberries::  Beyond that, not my roof, there are still agreed understandings). I am old enough-yes, I am-to imbibe it, and I’m not distilling anything. Look, there are far worse hobbies, and with less palatable outcomes. With the parental consent, comes the first refusal of quality control and production management.

(I had actually decanted a year old steeping of Cherry brandy actually, as Pop’s wondered where my experiments had gone from the pantry; so it’s not as though the experiments have noses turned up at them. Was a case of “Punam, you had bottles of gooseberry gin, where did they go?” You’ll have to imagine it being said in Punjanbi).

strawberryferment
Fermenting strawberries

As you may already be aware, I dislike strawberries. However, the strawberry God was kind this year and blessed us with with pounds of the things. All frozen, they were waiting for their fate to be decided. With the preserving mojo a little off kilter, I wasn’t too sure about what to do with them. Then I remembered that I had a brewing kit, yet to be christened, and a second hand wine making book. Not to mention, some rather lovely Grape Family members who are rather experienced home brewers. (My immense and heartfelt thanks to these lovelies who have been so supportive in getting my experiments of the ground.)

It just had to be done really.

Fruit was defrosted and the kit actioned. There was a bit of drama this morning, as it became apparent that we were having a ‘Jaws’ moment.

We needed a bigger bucket.

Over night, as expected there was fermentation; happens when you add yeast, sugar and water. I awoke to the smell of fruity boozy-ness, and found myself fighting strawberries off with a plastic spoon. All in an attempt to not make a mess of the carpet in the garage.

Needless to say, we have found a bigger bucket. There is just over five litres of liquid in there. A demijohn is at the ready, to decant the must in the next few days. This is my first foray in proper home brewing, so you can imagine the nervousness, and the first of a list. But first, let’s get this one done.

Experiments. Always the best way to learn.

(Sat here, it is impossible to avoid the waft of fermenting strawberries.)

Hello, Sunshine, where have you been?

tomato

If you ask my Mum, the tomatoes have been looking routinely quite sad. They needed watering, and they were cheered up with doses of haitch two oh as and when required. What was more important, was sunshine. Sunshine, which has been somewhat absent and has finally turned up. And very welcome it is too, as it has kick started and renewed feelings of optimism as far as the allotment is concerned. According to the weather people, the sunshine is going to be around for a while; a week at least. With that in mind, the tomatoes have been sent outside to the path in Dad’s garden to start the process of hardening off. Unlike last year, where the tomatoes were all grown under cover; these are going to be outdoors and in raised beds or open ground. Currently they are all having a strop in pots, and I am hoping that if the plants sun bathe for the next few days that I can then take them to the allotment and bury them a bit deeper. The appearance of yellow flashes, tomato flowers, suggests that these all need to get a wiggle on and fairly soon.

This year’s cohort of chillies are the current room mates of the tomatoes, and will also need to be removed to the poly tunnel and be potted up. There are chillies here that are supposed to be small and stumpy, as it were, and those who are supposed to grow tall and abundant. I did sort them out into two groups to make the sorting out easier. The taller chillies will be potted up into large flower buckets, whereas the smaller ones are going to put into pots as they are not expected to take up a huge amount of room. In the last few weeks, the chillies have rather had something of a grow spurt and on time. In the next four weeks they will grow further before being moved to the poly tunnel. Having been sown a little late doesn’t appear to  have to knocked them too much.

With the chillies hitting a stride, there are also emerging seedlings. Recently sown cucumbers and squashes have started to come through. With the frost window remaining open until the next May bank holiday, both of these have got four weeks to grow and become more robust.  In my experience, squashes grow very quickly; you sometimes have to re-pot them to key up. I am hoping that with the four week window they are suitably sized for planting out once that they have been hardened off. With the cucumbers, I do intend for these to be planted and grown outside. I have previously grown crystal lemon outside and harvested a crop.

Seedlings are sat on the sidelines, mean making crumble. Last year I was able to harvest trugs full of apples and these were then frozen alongside some plums. Today has been spent making a plum and apple crumble. The second in four days!

With the crop of a previous year being used up, we can look to the future crop. A walk to the plot meant finding cherry and apple Blossom. The two cherry trees, Sylvia and Morello, are new additions to the plot; so it was rather heartening to see white buds n the Morello, but a lovely white bloom-just the one!-on the Sylvia tree. I wasn’t expecting to see any blossom on them this year, so I am really quite surprised to see blossom. I did check on the Concorde pear, that appears to have taken the frost on the chin, and is still looking frilly. The darling peach tree does still have a couple of deep pink blooms, there had been half a dozen; I did fleece at one point only for the wind to disagree with the shrouding.

The otherwise heavy clay of the allotment has had a chance to dry out. This has been to the relief to the heritage garlic that Marshalls were kind enough to provide for the plot. Garlic is wonderfully resilient, and is actually doing quite well given how much rain it has suffered. There are no signs yet of any bolting, and the ground is weed free so the bulbs should be making the most of the nutrients available from the clay.  The foliage is still very green and leafy, and with another eight weeks to go there is still a lot of growing to be done.

heritagemarshall

I do like it when the post person delivers something that you’ve been hotly anticipating. Copies of ‘Sow Grow and Eat’ landed on our doormat and rather made my day. My thanks to the fabulous Howard-(the artist who once sunk spuds, remember him?) for having put the cover together. You will also spot that the Loldeantimber trug is now something of a cover star, it also appears in the book. Given how the trug is used so much on the plot, it was definitely going to end up in the book.

2015; Bollywood Gardener and beyond

As a year of two halves, 2015 has been somewhat interesting but different. The first half of the year involved having the best of intentions. Seeds were sown, I had half a plan as to what I wanted to achieve. No different to what I might have done in previous years, I was going to use all my knowledge and experience to make  things better, bigger and more efficient. Then came July, 2015 became incredibly busy and in the tail end; I am only just recovering from a very hectic six months.

Let’s take the first six months, where by the growing season is starting. Plans are afoot, the world is full of promise. We are hoping to have a good year.

Tomatoes, chillies and aubergine were the focus of the first three months. Makings sure that the seeds were sown, that these germinated and the plants pampered. Pampered, as so many valuable lessons had been learned as to how they might be successful. It was touch and go for a while in the early stages. Half baked chillies and tomatoes can be a very scaring and intimidating experience, when you let them be in a hot room or poly tunnel. There were even aphids and bugs that needed to be dealt with.

In July, I hosted a workshop during the annual conference of the Association of teachers of Psychology. I spoke about horticulture and mental health, the benefits that teachers might gain for both themselves and their students. I had asked my Psychology colleagues to sow sunflowers in the Spring and also encouraged conference delegates to do the same in giving them seeds that were kindly donated by the information point. It was also at this point, that I finished the Level 3 Certificate in Counselling studies.

Then came the summer, with lots and lots of growing!

No one year will be the same as the preceding or following. Yet this year felt different. There was just something palpably different that made growing more of a challenge ad something beyond me being busy with work and studies. Last year, I remember being ankle deep in tomatoes, green ones; but there were lots of them. This year,I had a foliage, and not a lot of fruits. Positioned in the poly tunnel, the crop was meant to do well. Even the chillies appeared to have struggled this year. Whilst the poly tunnel seemed to have been filled with triffids, there was a muted level of success. Aubergines did themselves no favours once again. I must say every year that I will not sow them. I finally have proof that I might be better off without them. Lovely plants, the occasional flower; but diddly squat fruit even if the poly tunnel was a bit damp and sweaty.

And note the gadget! The apple one. Having acquired all of those apples from a plot neighbour (they were not scrumped, I had consent!) that was an investment and a half. Saved me hours. The home brew kit is still waiting in the wings. untested this year, maybe it will be used in the growing seasons to come. There were a number of pickles and preserves. The preserving pan was rather busy this year, even though the produce was a bit hit and miss.

With the plot ticking along, and the blog growing. Something else also happened. I had been lucky enough to write guest blog posts for WRG, via the fabulous Michael Perry. This was and still is one of the most valuable writing experiences that I have ever had. This actually triggered something more complex and more challenging than I first realised. Over the summer, the winner of the Big Allotment Challenge Rob Smith had written a short book.  One of my fellow counselling students, L.A.Cotton, had also burst onto the young adult contemporary genre (She’s epic, tell her I sent you) with phenomenal success.

These three things combined spurred me to be courageous and write something myself. June and July were turning points, and I remembered sending a message to both my sisters; saying that I wanted to write an ebook, and I would try and get it out by Christmas. That was it, I was going to do it.

Having written as mentioned previously, the guest blogs for WRG , one of them was about the Indian Inspiration on the plot. I think Michael Perry used the words ‘Bollywood Gardener’ or something similar, and I adopted the hashtag! This inadvertently became the start of the book. I wrote in a way I can only describe as feverish. I have the same frame of mind when writing the blogs, to be honest; and it’s part of the blog life. The book however was different in that this was thousands of words and trying to bring the assorted elements of the blog together. There was a lot of things that I wanted to include in my budget of 25, 000 words. I had a notebook-my blog book actually, the one that I take to the plot-and a pen. Scribbling ensued, and it’s hard to read my writing anyway. So when it’s all in very hurried, that doesn’t help with typing.

What I ended up with was ‘Playing with Plant Pots: Tales from the allotment’. Plus it was well before Christmas!

 

With a bright yellow front cover, you cannot miss it!

I am going to be naturally very biased, and say that I like my book. However, that is genuine. I like to share it, because I do honestly believe in my book. You might, for example, have writers out there, who will promote their books; but not necessarily believe in their own work. You know if you don’t blow your own trumpet, it’s difficult to get others to do the same.

Standing in the kitchen, leafing through my own book was rather surreal. My name was on a book, that I had crafted. Then there was the few hours that it was at number one. A fellow independent writer informed me of that happening, and that made my day, I tell you! I am determined to get back to the slot.

Then there was the swag. The merchandise. Again, this sounds likes trumpeting! Petal, the horticultural Obbit, has always been the online avatar of the blog. A registered trademark, she’s face (other than mine!) of the blog and social media presence.

 

As you will have read, this year may have been different to others; but it has not been quiet. So much has gone one, it’s no wonder that the tail end of the year is slower and more reflective. If it had all been plain sailing, there would have been very little learned, very little documented in the blog, and very little left to reflect upon.

For now, my only plan is try and sow chillies at some point, and plant my fruit trees when they arrive. I haven’t really thought about anyhing beyond that.

I thank you, for having accompanied me on the 2015 journey; and look forward to the one starting in the new year.

Happy new year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer to September: Changes

Whilst many of my teaching colleagues will be returning to school, I have a few weeks before I do. This means that my attention is taken up with the plot, and recuperating before the new academic school year starts.

Some of the plot has been wonderfully abundant. Other parts less so. Whilst the tomatoes are five foot leafy triffids, there hasn’t been a great deal of fruit. What fruit I do have, is being placed upon a light and warm window sill to ripen. The raspberries were very hit and miss, and I think the same is to be said of Blackberries. I have harvested a few blackberries, but there doesn’t seem to be as much as previously seen.  This time last year, I had harvested a great deal of plums. Despite what the a picture above might suggest, that is a fraction of what last years bounty was. The above plums have been stoned and frozen for use in the autumn.

The squashes are quite abundant, and today I have been chopping courgettes and squashes that are most likely going to be turned into chutney.  You can see a baby butternut, a bit developmentally delayed; I think this primarily because of the erratic conditions this year.

Chillies have been very good in that lessons have been learned. I am very proud to have had a handful of orange habaneros. I have been desired such a crop for years! Whilst the plants are small, I cannot say that they haven’t been plentiful. These are after all, a very potent chilli. I had to wear gloves whilst chopping, as a preventative health and safey measure. The hungarian hot wax-the label is wrong- are fantastically productive, and the orange pumpkin chillies are a really nice surprise. They have ripened incredibly quickly. As eve the cayenne chillies are doing well as well.

As well as the plums, I have apples to play with. These were donated by a plot neighbour. Again, like the plums, these have been chopped and frozen to be used over the autumn.