29 December 2010

You can never have too many books!

Santa was somewhat late delivering this year as our youngest was still awake until not long before 1am. She then woke up again at 4.09am. Oh yes, 4.09am! Her brother woke at around 5.30am. The neighbours got up at 6am. And finally ours woke up and got up at 7am. Mrs D and I drank a lot of coffee that day.

Despite spending most of the morning in the kitchen (and over-cooking the turkey - cry), we all had a great day and shared lots of lovely presents. I'd already had a blackcurrant bush delivered (Titania from Ken Muir), which is still being kept alive in the kitchen with regular 'baths' in the sink! The 'library' was increased with a number of fruit books:

Nigel Slater's Tender: Volume II, A cook's guide to the fruit garden

'The Apple Book' by Rosie Sanders

RHS 'Growing Fruit (Royal Horticultural Society's Encyclopaedia of Practical Gardening)
' by Harry Baker (retired Fruit Officer at RHS Wisley)

'How to Grow Orchard Fruit' by Richard Bird and Kate Whiteman

You may have noticed a bit of a theme! Following on that I also received a 'Aluminium 3in1 Apple Peeler Corer Slicer Suction Stand - which is amazingly addictive!

Is that a thaw I see?
That white stuff seems to be disappearing and we've finally turned off the heating (for at least some of the day), so I'm hoping the soil will also have defrosted enough to get the blackcurrant in the ground and salvage the brassicas under the collapsed netting. Before the next lot of snow strikes...

23 December 2010

If I'd wanted frozen veg...

... I'd have gone to the supermarket!

Sadly this extended cold spell has meant frozen soil for ages now - I forget quite how long, but it's getting quite boring not being able to do anything down on the plot. Unfortunately the frost got my potatoes stored in the outhouse, not hugely surprising given how cold it's been but it was a sad day today having to buy potatoes in the local fruit and veg shop for Christmas dinner.

There's some sprouts in there somewhere

However the sprouts have survived the snow and frosts. The snow brought the netting down and I don't think the purple sprouting broccoli is going to survive. [Cry] The sprouts are frost solid though and it was oh so cold picking them. Thought I'd pick them a couple of days early to let them defrost! I was going to get some 'reserve' sprouts from the fruit and veg shop in case my frozen ones aren't so good, but all the ones in the shop were frozen from when they been picked in the field too.

The snow down on the plot had formed some great flakes/crystals too:

I'm keen to get some above freezing temperatures as I'm desperately trying to keep a new blackcurrant bush alive inside the house before I can plant it out anywhere. It's currently living in the kitchen still in the bag being regularly watered, but it really needs to get planted. Somewhere. Anywhere.

Finally, from the less grumpy cat of Sheffield:

Happy Christmas!

17 November 2010

Baby, it's cold outside!

1.22pm on Tuesday afternoon up on plot no. 2

15 November 2010

New bed!

The front of plot no. 2 has always been a bit of a mess and despite having other intentions I ended up sorting this out. Which was probably no bad thing!

It all started when I took the kids to Wildlife Watch Group on Saturday morning. One of their tasks for the morning was to clear the leaves from the path. To be honest it was never going to be a goer with just 4 kids this month and that many leaves, but not one to miss trick like this I acquired a dozen bags of leaves.

So after taking the kids home and picking up the car to take the leaves to the plot, I needed somewhere to put them. Which was how I started tidying up the front of the plot. Anyhow, many roots of bind weed later, the remains of what appeared to be a compost heap (bonus find!), some carpet and edging the bed this is what it ended up like:

Spot the leaves in plastic bags by the hedge

I then covered this over with some weed fabric whilst I think what to put there. At the moment I'm thinking the rhubarb may go in there as I think it's looking a bit tired where it is and desperately needs dividing.

Further up the plot, this is the sorry state on an apple tree that is suffering from not having been staked when it was planted and then having fruited very heavily this year.

I think it's going to have to have a serious prune this year at the very least to see if it can be salvaged.

As an interesting side note after much discussion about what variety the tree is, Bob from the plot opposite bumped into the people who originally planted it. According to them, they bought it as a Bramley...

9 November 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

It's that time of year when there are plenty of leaves around on the ground, so time to stock up and start making next years leaf mould! Now many garden writers obviously live in the leafy countryside and never see a car. I only the other hand live in a city so inevitably end up picking them up from the side of a road that has many, many cars passing along it each day - completely against the advice of these rural-based writers. I figure any leaf mould is better than none, and it's probably nothing compared to the crap kicked out here in the days when we had industry (and no clean air act) - there's a reason why the stone on our house is black!

So after collecting 10 bin bags full I figured I'd better empty out the old stuff:

Black Gold!
It's not fully rotted down, but it's great to add as a mulch to the beds, and I put it over the bed where the old blackcurrants were and then covered it over with weed fabric. I can't decide what to put in this new bed at the moment so covering it over will give me more time to decide. Maybe some more strawberries?
All tucked up for winter
Having emptied out the remainder of last years leaves, it was time to put in this years. Only after emptying the builder sacks I put them in, I discovered they'd excluded the light very well from the soil they were on. So I dug out the remaining roots (mainly nettles) and added a couple of buckets of compost from the compost heap to this area.
Blackcurrants here?
I'm thinking I might put some blackcurrants in here, maybe some Titania? Any recommendations?

I moved the leaf sacks to the other side of the  bath and put the leaves I have gathered in them. I also use Biotal Compost Maker with them which is supposed to help them break down quicker. And whilst it looks like a complete mess here at the top of the plot, this is a vast improvement to how it was at the start of the day! The plot slopes quite steeply here so is quite difficult to walk along here so I have leveled this part of the path past the leaves and generally got rid of a lot of the weeds

There's a path here, honest!

Finally the first Brussels of the 'season' were ready and eaten for tea, the first Brussels I've successfully grown:
And very nice they were too!

1 November 2010

There's a buzz about allotments

I popped down to plot no. 1 this week to plant some garlic, tulips and alliums. Having ordered the tulips and alliums a while back I'd been putting off planting them as I wasn't sure where to put them. A quick inspection of the bulbs showed why keeping them in the warmest room in the house isn't the best idea ever... It also helped to sort out where they were going pretty quickly!

I also arranged to meet Gary, a fellow plot holder, down there to hand over some apples and the Association hedge cutters. Gary's also the bee keeper down on site, and when I wandered over to his plot he was inspecting his hives having treated them for varroa mites.

Now I've been around the hives a fair bit, and even seen them when they were swarming earlier in the year so I wasn't too bothered about being around a few metres away. Well until he got to the new hive he'd been given after it had been abandoned...       

Opening up

Not looking great

They're not happy!

What you, the reader, can not see if that (a) only one of us is suited and booted for bee inspections - and it's not me! - and (b) I'm getting further away as I take these photos. They weren't a happy bunch in this new hive and the inspection didn't last long before we both ended up at the other end of the plot with angry bees following. Only one of us got stung though and it just goes to show that wearing the full bee suit, veil and gloves doesn't always help!

26 October 2010

An obsession...?

So what do you do the day after finding out what your apples are? Go and pick some apples of course!

So accompanied by my crack apple picking team (aka the kids) we set off for the plot, via the local fruit and veg shop to pick up some more plastic trays. I grabbed five trays, thinking I'd stock up on some whilst there were some there. We get to the plot and I ask the team how many should we take to fill up - "all of them of course!"

Unfortunately it was another cold day and it wasn't long before we were regretting leaving the gloves at home.

"Dad, I'm cold"

The kids worked on a system where the oldest picked them and the youngest put them in the trays for him, which worked quite well until they were both too cold to pick apples.

I'm copying these teeth when we do the pumpkin carving!

Fortunately by this stage we'd picked the 5 trays of apples - about 150 ish apples - so it was time to leave. With plenty of apples still left on the trees.

At home, Mrs D was busy peeling and coring as many apples as she could fit into out largest saucepan for another batch of apples sauce destined for the freezer, from the 'ugly' pile - those that weren't likely to keep. I started giving the 'good' apples a quick wipe and the kids set to work wrapping them in newspaper so they could go into storage.

After they were placed in their various boxes I then took them to the 'store room'. One of the advantages to living in an old terraced house is the old outhouse (aka outside toilet). Having removed the toilet a number of years back now (thanks Dad!) it functions as our general store room which at the moment is over run with apples (over 250 now), couple of sacks of potatoes and a couple of nets of onions.
That bike's not coming out any time soon!
The pumpkins Mum and Dad grew for us are arriving this week too. Despite pointing out the price of the Crown Prince in Waitrose there are few takers so I said we'd have what ever is left. I may regret this...

Blog changes
Some of you may have noticed a few changes with the layout to the blog. I've just been playing with a few things, adding and taking away different things. Hopefully all for the better. Now I just have to go and index all my previous posts... Hard to believe I spend most of my days playing with metadata and indexing isn't it!

23 October 2010

And the answer is....

... Belle de Boskoop! Probably.

For those of you wondering what I'm on about, I took the family to RHS Harlow Carr today for their Taste of Autumn event. On what proved to be the coldest day of the autumn so far (aka bloody freezing!), the kids were amused by the monster trail and seemed not to notice the cold, whilst Mrs D and I found a sheltered spot and drank hot soup.

The monster trail just happened to take us via the apple identification greenhouse being carried out by the Northern Fruit Group. After filling in some paperwork to let them know everything I knew about the apple - it didn't take long to fill in! - the first suggestion was Belle de Boskoop. After various consultations with books and a comparison with the ones on display it was agreed that this was what it probably was. Despite the fact it didn't look much like the one they had on display, mine being far redder.

Northern Fruit Group version
My version of Belle de Boskoop

Still they seemed impressed with my apples and said it would be good to graft some trees from them as mine are very red and appeared to be a good apple, so place your orders now!

After a bit of searching once I got home, apparently they're somewhat sort after and much more common in mainland Europe, having originated in Holland. They also make a very good apple pie - which I will selflessly be making and eating, purely in the interests of research of course - store very well, mellowing around Christmas time to make them edible as an 'eater'. Which is what I was hoping for and well worth looking after those in storage!

The apple display was good, with a wonderful smell and they even had some apples for sale - we declined.

After the kids finished the monster trail we headed for Betty's Tea Shop (the branch at the Gardens), took one look at the queue, bought a couple of cakes to keep the kids happy and headed home, with the heater on to defrost. Sadly there seemed to be far more people in the Tea Shop than the Gardens.

21 October 2010

It's an allotment blog, what were you expecting?

You just can't beat picture of soil!
This is where my strawberries used to be and has now been properly dug over with some leaves, the remains of a bag of manure and the remains of a bag of rockdust added to the soil - as seen above! Now just have to decide what to put here...?

Confused Strawberries

Over at the freshly weeded (honestly!) new strawberry bed - OK I still need to sort the runners out - they're happily flowering away??? So I moved a bit closer to get a photo and was a little surprised to see strawberries!

Can't see them ripening up now though - LOL.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen...

The apple challenge continues - the challenge being to use as many apples as possible in as many different meals as possible. Apples crumble was a big hit - although it would have been better with toffee as well (according to my son's friend) - but sausage and bean casserole (with sneaky bits of apple), not so good. But that was more to do with the sausages to be honest. Slabs of apples sauce are in the freezer - it doesn't take much cooking for them to turn to sauce - but the biggest hit to date (with the kids) has been apple fruit leather.

After a quick cook on the hob, followed by a quick blitz with the blender, it only needed the 20 hours or so in the oven...

I'm thinking maybe the mixture was a bit too liquid when it went in the oven? But it turned out OK in the end and the kids both took some into school to show their respective classes and give some away. The remaining 'sheet' rolls up quite nicely and should store in the fridge for a while yet - certainly longer than it's going to last!

I'm dragging the rest of the family off to the RHS Harlow Carr 'Taste of Autumn' event this weekend - waiting to see which day looks best on the weather forecast first - to reveal all on the apple tree, with luck. Speaking of which, picked another 50 or so the other day, still plenty left... Currently storing the good ones on top of the wardrobe and in the outhouse, may need to find more room soon!

14 October 2010

Apples, apples, apples

Why do I have two plots on two different sites? It's a question I'm often asked and one I wonder about myself at times. But this is the time of year when I remember why: apples.

It's reached mid-October and I was beginning to worry about my apples on plot no. 2 going 'walkabout'. So I thought I'd pick one or two. Or 150 or so. And after giving another 30+ away I'd say I've probably got as many again still to pick.

They're still a bit reluctant to come away from the tree even this late in the year, but when they get home they undergo careful inspection and are separated into the good and ugly - the bad already having being left on the compost heap.

The Good
 The good I'm giving a quick clean and then wrapping them individually in newspaper and storing them in trays.

The bad are hanging around waiting to be used up in whatever recipes we can find - the 'bad' are those with any blemishes on that probably won't keep so well. We're going to be busy this weekend!

The Ugly

So far on the list of recipes are: oatmeal, apple and cinnamon cookies, spiced apple chutney and apple fruit leather. Any further suggestions gratefully received. This is the point where my planned apple press would have come in handy, but alas finances didn't allow for that this year.

Still none the wiser as to what they are but we're off to Harlow Carr on either 23 or 24 October when (hopefully!) all will be revealed.

Farewell to the strawberries

After 4 years, I decided I'd pushed my luck far enough and dug up my original strawberry plants.

Fortunately I'd used some of last years runners to establish a new bed earlier this year, so it wasn't such a painful task. The only problem is I had two rows of two different varieties of strawberries where I knew which was which. Unfortunately I wasn't so careful when I planted up my runners...

Truth be told I got a little distracted with the usual allotment problem: chatting. As a result it wasn't the comprehensive digging job I'd hoped it was going to be, but in my defence the soil was a bit too heavy to be digging anyway.

There's not an awful lot left on the plot now, due to poor planning and planting on my plant but the Brussels are doing well - better than I've ever grown them before. Unfortantely something appears to be eating them though. It can't be pigeons or pheasants this time though due to enough netting over them to cover half the site and it's well pegged down. The only things I can think is mice?