Thursday 31 October 2013

The Allotment Planner

I was asked if I would like to review a new book which is about to be released, The Allotment Planner: More Than 200 Ways To Enjoy Your Plot Month By Month by Matthew Appleby, and I jumped at the chance.

I've had allotment planners in the past and was expecting something along the same lines, a book divided in to monthly sections with guidelines on what to sow when, and what you should be doing on your plot at a particular time. This book does have those features but so much more besides.

There is an introduction by Alys Fowler, and as she says, "Just don't - whatever you do - leave this book at home: it's one to sit in the allotment shed". I believe this is true, it's got a nice sturdy hardback cover and the attached elastic ensures that the book remains closed. Essentials if it's going to withstand being used on an allotment site.

Each monthly section gives details of what to sow and what to harvest as well as providing space to jot down any notes. There are also gardening quotes from famous people such as Frances Hodgson Burnett, Iggy Pop, Jane Austen and Thomas Jefferson to name but a few.

The thing which I love most about this book are the ideas to really get the most from your allotment and make it more than just a place to grow food. There's projects entitled Dinner On Your Plot, Aim High With Sunflowers, Create Your Own Buzz and Create A Haven For Birds as well as many more.

So many people take on an allotment only to give it up after a season or two because they find it too much work. Making the time spent on your allotment fun and enjoyable could really help with this issue.

There's some lovely photography in the book too which illustrates the projects very well.

This is a book I can see myself dipping in to quite a bit over winter while I'm waiting for the new gardening season to start. It should give me some good ideas for next year.

If you'd like to have a copy of this book yourself, the publishers, Aurum Publishing Group, are offering one as a giveaway prize. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post before twelve noon on Sunday the 10th of November 2013, after which, a name will be drawn at random. Please note that this giveaway is open to UK/EU only and that I will be passing on the winner's name and address details to the publishing company in order for them to send out your prize.

To order The Allotment Planner at the discounted price of £12.00 including p&p* (RRP: £14.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG34. 

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to: 
Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department, 
Littlehampton Book Services, 
PO Box 4264, 
Worthing, West Sussex 
BN13 3RB. 

Please quote the offer code APG34 and include your name and address details. 

*UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Vegetable Medley

I've been using up my tomatoes and peppers and anything else that's come home from the allotment with me, in vegetable medleys. In with the tomatoes and peppers, I've used courgette, squash, onion, shallot, potato and mushroom. The only thing that wasn't home grown was the mushroom. All I do is add a little oil to the roasting dish then chop up all the veggies and toss them in. If I'm using potatoes, I parboil them first before adding them. Then I add a little black pepper before giving everything a good stir in the oil. It takes about thirty to forty minutes to roast, with the occasional stir, and is absolutely delicious. It's so easy and makes a delicious meal in its own right or as an accompaniment to another dish. I've eaten it as a meal on its own, a side dish, stirred through pasta and on Sunday evening, I ate it with a couple of slices of toast which was delicious. I've made so many batches that my freezer is now jam packed, but its so easy to just tip it out and warm it up in the oven. I'll be having a taste of summer throughout winter.

I've decided which squash I will be growing next year. I called in to the allotment shed on Saturday morning and picked up a seed catalogue. The allotment asssociation have a seed scheme, so I get a discount if I order through them from Kings Seeds. I've chosen Autumn Crown which is the same shape as Crown Prince but has the colour and sweet taste of a butternut type squash. It was bred specifically for the UK climate, including the North of England, so I hope it does well. The second type I've chosen is Little Gem Rolet which is a smaller variety. It only grows to cricket ball size and has a dark green skin. This is supposed to be a heavy cropper and early to mature, so I'm hoping that this one does well for me too.

I hope that everyone came through the storm without any damage. We were very lucky here, the wind got up on Sunday but then died down again and we had some heavy rain from the early hours of yesterday morning until about lunch time, but that was it. I know not everyone was as fortunate, but I hope that any damage you did suffer was minimal.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Green Shield Bug

I found this little fellow on my Crimson Leaved peach tree. It's only during the last few years that I've become aware of the Green Shield Bug, though one variety is native to Britain and its occurence is widespread. There is also a non-native variety now in Britain which was found in London in 2003. It arrived from elsewhere in Europe. The native variety doesn't cause harm to plants, though the non-native ones can cause damage to some vegetable, especially beans, though it isn't yet established enough to be classed as a pest. They're sometimes called Stink Bugs as if they're threatened, some species emit a smelly liquid. Lovely!

I've finally got round to repotting the dwarf apple and plum trees which I bought last year. I've used plastic containers rather than terracotta ones as terracotta tends to dry out quicker. Plenty of crocks were placed in the bottom of the containers to help with drainage, as well as providing a bit of weight to help the pots stay upright in windy weather. I used John Innes No.3 compost, which doesn't dry out as quickly as multi purpose, though I did mix a little multi purpose in with it. I didn't get any fruit from the trees this year but I'm hoping that I might manage something next year.

The wind is starting to get up here, though the forecast isn't as bad as it is for some parts of the country over the next day or two. I hope everyone stays safe in the approaching storms.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Off Colour

I've finally harvested my squash. Not a huge harvest by any means, but more than I got last year. I grew Crown Prince which are the two at the back and Queensland Blue, the small one at the front. I'm not sure, but I don't think they've ripened, they don't seem to be the colour that I think they should be. I couldn't have left them on the plants in any case, I'm sure they'd be prone to rotting in the wet weather we're now experiencing. The question is, will they ripen off the plant? Next year, I'd like to get more plants in the ground to get a bigger harvest as squash is a vegetable which we all enjoy, and it's something which can be stored and eaten in the winter months. This year, I had two plants of each variety, but only one of each produced anything.

The green tomatoes which were taken from the plants and left on the conservatory windowsill have just about all ripened now. I've had a few which rotted, but the majority have come good. I've been able to supply my mum and dad with another good batch and I've got plenty left for myself. There's just a few still waiting to fully ripen, but then that will be the last of this year's tomatoes.

Today is the brightest it's been all week. We've had some really dull and dingy days this week with plenty of rain thrown in for good measure. I've heard that storms are heading this way next week so I think it's time to batten down the hatches.

Monday 21 October 2013

They've Had Their Time

I picked all the remaining peppers off the plants yesterday. I figure they've had their time to ripen now, it's not often we're getting to see the sun, so it's highly unlikely that this lot will ripen outdoors. There were a couple of nice sized red ones but all these green ones will lie on the conservatory window sill in the hope that they'll ripen. I'm not sure if I can eat them green, I don't suppose they'll be as sweet if they're not red. I didn't bother with the smaller fruits, I just collected any which were a good size. My peppers have actually done really well this year. I started off with five plants of Corno di Torro Rosso but one broke, and from the four remaining plants I've had a steady supply of ripe peppers. The plants were started off in the greenhouse but eventually moved outdoors when the plants grew really large.

Another crop which has done really well are the cucumbers. I grew three varieties but Mini Munch is the one which has done the best. They've just about given up the ghost now, so they've also been cleared. I'm going to have a tuna and cucumber sandwich for lunch today and savour the taste of that very last cucumber of the season.

Hubby managed to get the grass cut yesterday, it had grown so long and I feared we wouldn't have chance to cut it again before winter sets in. It was a little wet still, but I'm really glad he managed to get it done as it's pouring down with rain again today. I'm sure that will be the last cut of the year.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Blog Of The Month - October

This year, I'm dedicating one post each month to Blog Of The Month. This is where I feature a blog I'm enjoying reading. Some blogs will be new to me, others may be blogs I've been reading for a while. I hope that by doing this, I can introduce some of my readers to other, interesting blogs, though I know that some of you will already read the blogs I feature.

My Blog Of The Month for October is a little different to the ones I've featured previously as it's written by two people and covers a range of subjects. Jenny and Joe, a married couple who live in south-east Wales, write The Urban Cottage. They share their lives with four chickens, Lemon, Pepper, Fizzy and Frog and there are plenty of posts which are devoted to them.

The posts are always interesting whatever the subject, but I particularly like how each one is categorised so that if you're only interested in one aspect of the blog, you can easily bring up those particular posts by clicking on the categories in the sidebar, Crafts, Garden, Food, DIY and Chickens. There's also an About Us section if you're nosey like me and want to know more about them.

Jenny and Joe have lived in their house a little over a year, but they've devoted lots of time to the garden, which was overgrown, and are now reaping the rewards as they're harvesting their own veggies. They've also planted more fruit trees to grow alongside the plum, apple and pear trees that they inherited.

Do pop over and visit Jenny and Joe on their blog if you haven't already done so, it's such an interesting blog that you won't be disappointed. Don't forget to tell them that I sent you.

Monday 14 October 2013

A Bumper Crop

I emptied out the last of my potato containers yesterday and this is what I found, seven pounds of lovely Arran Pilots. These were grown from three tubers, the container they were planted in is quite large, I only usually put one or two tubers in the containers, depending on its size. These are a first early variety, but they're quite happy to be left in the container until needed, and as you can see, they do put on some growth, and I've discovered that they're lovely chpped and deep fried. Naughty but nice.

Unfortunately, I don't think my Christmas potato experiment is going to work this year. I planted some tubers in containers hoping that they'd get a good start while the weather was still warm. I had intended to move them in to the greenhouse at a later date to give them some protection, and then harvest them in time for Christmas dinner. They got to the point where the foliage was just starting to poke through the compost but nothing's happened since. I think they may have started rotting, and if nothing else happens by the weekend, I think I'd better have a little feel around and see what I find. It's a shame, but I've had mixed results in the past trying to grow potatoes for Christmas.

I'm pleased to see my little Robin Redbreast back in the garden. Robins are here all year round but its quite rare that I see him in the garden during the summer months. In winter, he's here all the time. Not today though, all the birds are taking cover from the rain and I don't blame them one bit, it's pouring down.

Thursday 10 October 2013

The Final Harvest

Having heard the weather forecast for this week, colder temperatures and little sunshine, I decided to clear the tomato plants. As you can see, there was quite a lot of fruit still left to harvest in various stages of ripeness. They've been put in trays on the windowsill in the conservatory where they can make the most of any sunshine we get. They don't usually take long to ripen this way. The outdoor plants have now been removed but I haven't got round to sorting out the plants in the greenhouse yet, that's a job at the top of my to do list. My San Marzanos have been quite disappointing, very slow to ripen and not a huge harvest from them, so I'm going to give them a miss next year. The rest of the varieties have done really well, it's been my best tomato year yet.

I'm still getting harvests from the allotment, beans, courgettes and there's the squash to bring home the next time I'm there. The Queensland Blue have been disappointing, they've produced a couple of fruit but too late in the season to reach maturity. There should be a couple of Crown Prince from one plant, though one of them is rather small. The other Crown Prince plant hasn't produced anything at all. Next year, I'd like to get lots more squash plants in as they're a vegetable we all enjoy, and they'll store over winter too.

The weather forecasters were right about the temperatures dropping, it's definitely on the chilly side now. One thing I hate about autumn is the number of spiders taking cover inside the house. I'm really not very good with spiders at all, and the huge one which decided to run around the kitchen floor yesterday morning scared me half to death. Mind you, so did the one which climbed the room curtains a couple of days earlier. I've read about leaving conkers around the house, it's supposed to deter spiders, I really must give it a go.

Monday 7 October 2013

Salvia For October

This year, I'm taking the late Geoff Hamilton's advice and visiting a nursery each month with a view to buying a plant which is in flower for my garden. Doing this should ensure that I have something blooming in my garden every month of the year.

When I visited the garden centre this weekend, there were lots of plants flowering, but when I looked at the information supplied with each plant, I discovered that many of them were blooming out of season and their usual flowering time was as early as spring to early summer. I had to look quite hard to find something that was and should be flowering now. I came away with this lovely salvia nemorosa Ostfriesland. It was the beautiful colour which caught my eye, such an intense violet blue.

Again, I've gone for a plant which is attractive to wildlife, both bees and butterflies are attracted to it, so it should help the bees at a time when lots of plants are winding down.

It is clump forming and has a compact, bushy habit. It's a perennial and is hardy so it should go on providing some much needed late colour in my garden.

Friday 4 October 2013

Trimmed And Tidied

The sweetcorn which I showed in my last post looked so much nicer once they'd been trimmed and tidied, in fact, they don't look half bad. It just goes to show how things can be spruced up. As I said in my last post, they've been blanched and frozen for future use, though I doubt they'll last very long, there aren't many of them. Sweetcorn is one veg I will persevere with as home grown tastes so much nicer than shop bought. This is because the sugar in the cobs start to turn to starch as soon as they're harvested, so the sooner they're cooked after harvesting, the better. I like to eat my corn on the cob but the kernels can be removed and eaten that way too.

I'm really pleased to see my crocosmia flowering. I've had the plant for a number of years, and although the leaves have looked really healthy, it's never flowered before. I'm not sure of the variety, I know some can become a bit of a thug, so I hope it's going to behave itself.

We've had some miserable weather over the last few days, torrential rain on Wednesday, dull and damp yesterday, and so far today it's grey and drizzling. I'm hoping that we're going to get some nicer weather over the weekend as I want to get the garden sorted out. I think it's about time I pulled out the tomato plants, they're looking well past their best now, and the green tomatoes which are left can be ripened indoors. They've definitely done their job for me this year.
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