a glut of garlic

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Garlic harvest – 4 June 2020.

Yesterday we got around to lifting the garlic from their growing bed – the very last area in the allotment that we can cultivate for summer crops.  This shot shows the full harvest on-site, with flowering calendula growing on the garden path, and nasturtium visible on the other side of the path.

The garlic patch was planted on 9 November 2019, and we had stopped watering the patch by mid-May, which was largely hot and dry (with a short cold snap).

It is recommended to stop watering garlic two weeks before harvesting to allow the skin of the garlic bulb to start to ‘cure’ or dry out and become papery.

After removing from the earth you need to lay out the plants with bulbs on a wooden board in a dry space.

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Giant Garlic (4 June 2020)

Our harvest comprises two types of garlic – the French Germidour (soft-necked), which are small and purple tinged, as well as two Giant Garlic.  According to the variety information both these types of garlic are quite ‘mild’ but nevertheless the scent as we lifted them from the ground was heady and powerful.

Last year we left them out on a plank of wood in the open air at a time when it was fairly certain not to rain.  This year we are able to lay them out onto the wooden work space in the growing shed, so safely away from curiosity of foxes, squirrels and other hungry locals.

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Germidour French soft-necked garlic.

Because we’d stopped watering, lifting the garlic was surprisingly difficult work, with the earth hard-baked clay that was hard as concrete.

Despite having a sore shoulder, the big guy got to work right away, and turned over the new bed and broke down all the hard clumps.

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Garlic in the growing shed.

In the end this was accomplished by putting all the really big clumps into a green waste bag and stomping on it – a Malink technique that results in fine crumbly ground.

The bed now holds the remaining lettuces, ready for harvesting themselves, and so we can start to plan on what to plant in there.  We have new seed for dwarf beans and we could do more peas and try runner beans again…  Or direct-seed some kohlrabi and turnip? Or maybe more salad?  I also have some seed trays of sprouting broccoli, so they would be good contenders if the seeds are viable…  And we also have the cuttings from the tomato plants which could usefully be planted-in somewhere…

Yesterday I started more direct-sown seeds.  I gave up on two rows of seeds that have failed to come up in the raised strawberry bed.

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Former garlic bed, ready for new sowings and plants.

There’s a single section in that larger strawberry bed where I’ve got a row of Swiss chard seeded.

I’d also earlier in late April/early May seeded rows of beet and orange calendula, but neither was showing signs of life…

So into those previous rows I turned over the ground, added a bit of soft bagged compost, watered and then re-seeded with Pak Choi and a single side row of Italian spinach.

The tops of the line of seeds sown was covered with soft bagged compost.  This gives seedlings a better chance than growing through thick chunks of clay, and is a good way to improve the overall soil texture and composition of the bed over time.

CIMG8319The Pak Choi seeds are dated to 2022 but I’m not sure about the viability of the Italian Spinach.  Only time will tell, but hopefully these come up.  The Swiss Chard seedlings are doing well – I should probably thin these out soon.

In addition to the garlic harvest we also took home with us a lettuce and small green zucchini.

There was also more delicious early-summer fruit – a collection of red raspberry, yellow raspberry, and large juicy loganberries.  Yum!

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A little female Reed Bunting showed up immediately after Malink turned over the old garlic bed to prepare it for the next crops, and made her own harvest in worms.

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Before departing entirely we dropped in on M’s plot and gave all the plants a splash of water.  It was cool and dark with grey skies which threatened to rain, but I felt it in my bones as false.  It would not rain.  And so we watered.  (And it did not rain, though there was a brief shower of a mere two or three minutes just after mid-day the next day).

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Sweet Peas in flower on a neighbouring allotment plot.

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Plant Alert – a new citizen science project

Plant alert is a new citizen science project aimed directly at gardeners to help spot potentially invasive species.  It was launched on 1 June by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), in conjunction with Coventry University Department of Agroecology, Water and Resilience.

Invasive non-native plants can cause major problems for native biodiversity, ecosystems, infrastructure, as well as to our urban environments and human health. The most notorious of these in the UK is Japanese Knotweed.

Sadly, most invasive plants were introduced as ornamental garden plants but then escaped into the wider environment.  Gardeners therefore have a big part to play and are being asked to report plants that they notice spread wildly and difficult to control.

So why not do your part?  See their Plant_Alert_Flyer for more information or go directly to the Plant Alert Survey.  Reporting your findings is easy and can be done anonymously.

You can also take a look at their live survey results thus far when you visit the Results page.  This is a list of invasive plants that have been reported by other citizen science respondents from around the country.  Results are updated every few minutes.

Unfortunately their results page does not include photographs of the plants, but if you’re really determined you can always cut & paste the plant names to search image results online.

 

 

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PS: 3 June is World Bicycle Day!

CIMG8255Today marks the United Nations’ annual celebration of World Bicycle Day.

We find that the best bikes have racks and baskets – all the better to carry our garden equipment to and from the plot.

This is my ‘workhorse’ bike – bought at Decathlon over 15 years ago for about 100 squids and still using the original tires.

She’s an urban bike with only 7 gears and heavy enough to be unattractive to bike thieves!  Love the workhorse!

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Our bicycles at the allotment.

For work commuting (in the days when I used to ride to work before the furlough & coronavirus lockdown) I used the ‘filly’ which is a mountain bike with front shocks and many more gears, which are useful to get up the big hill at the end of the ride home.

The big guy’s a bike guy too – and much more than me truth be told.

He’s got a whole collection of bicycles, each loved for different aspects and qualities.  And is truly a magician at fixing and tuning them up.

According to the UN, World Bicycle Day:

  • Encourages Member States to devote particular attention to the bicycle in cross-cutting development strategies and to include the bicycle in international, regional, national and subnational development policies and programmes;
  • Encourages Member States to improve road safety and integrate it into sustainable mobility and transport infrastructure planning and design, in particular through policies and measures to actively protect and promote pedestrian safety and cycling mobility, with a view to broader health outcomes, particularly the prevention of injuries and non-communicable diseases;
  • Encourages stakeholders to emphasize and advance the use of the bicycle as a means of fostering sustainable development, strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people, promoting health, preventing disease, promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace;
  • Encourages Member States to adopt best practices and means to promote the bicycle among all members of society, and in this regard welcomes initiatives to organize bicycle rides at the national and local levels as a means of strengthening physical and mental health and well-being and developing a culture of cycling in society.

Happy World Bicycle Day everyone!  And hey!  If you think your local authorities can do more to support and encourage cycling, why not take a moment to (a) find out who your local government councillors and officials are; (b) send them an email encouraging better provision of cycling infrastructure.

You might also like this short film dedicated to a public art work by Ai Wei Wei, which features many different bicycle frames.  I saw a portion of this sculpture with my own two eyes when Wei Wei had a large solo exhibition at London’s Royal Academy a few years back…

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triple duty day & meeting father frog

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New shed thermometer on the outside.

Tuesday was another hot dry day in London, with temperatures in the mid-twenties.  We’ve been speculating about the temperatures inside our growing shed.  Our allotment neighbour R has a thermometer in his shed and told us on Monday that temperatures inside his shed was 36ºC!!

So after our first session of the day – working with the woods volunteers – we broke for a brief lunch then went down to Kentish Town to pick up a thermometer or two for our own shed.

The big dude bought two big thermometers – one for inside the shed, and the other outside (in the shade).  And in the meantime, the seeds I started yesterday were left outside in the ‘nursery’ area (shady spot behind our massive stand of blackberries).  Seeds started include sprouting broccoli and kohl rabi.  Go seeds go!

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Logans & Roses.  (1 June 2020)

Up at the plot the strawberries are almost done and the leaves were going crinkly from lack of watering, so we gave them a splash and hopefully the remaining berries don’t rot off.

But the loganberries, planted in front of the rose arbour, are coming into their prime, making that whole corner a riot of various red tones.

Malink harvested berries while I puttered in the seed shed and found one berry that had twinned and looked heart-shaped.  Sweet!

And I’ve been delighted with the way everything’s growing – despite set backs with the seed trays.  Poor results with bean and pea seeds – and I’ll have to start more.  But we have had some successes with seeds.  We started from seed a tray of hollyhock – the seeds were collected in Antwerp when we were there for a Luka Bloom concert last year.  They should flower a deep pink/ fuchsia colour.  The plant from which the seeds came towered seven or eight feet tall and was growing in the grounds of the church that stood outside our rented room.

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Brick path in the woods by the compost bins, which was dissembled after being torn apart by neighbourhood children and toddlers. It remained in place for six days before being destroyed.  They are now all moved to the meadow.

The plan is to transplant these to the back patch wildflower area in the middle of the lawn.  (Newly defined by blond bricks which were removed from the woods because children in the neighbourhood had taken to playing with the bricks, making trip hazards on the pathways. I decided to remove all the loose bricks from the woods, and trundled them all by wheelbarrow from woods to the back patch first thing in the morning yesterday.)  So in truth I was on four major missions yesterday: meadow/bricks; woods; our plot; M’s plot.  Whewf what a day!)

We also have six or so seeded sunflower plants which I’ve potted up but need planting out somewhere.  I’ve not decided where…  We have almost no more space on our own plot.  We could plant the sunflowers into M’s beds…  Or perhaps add them to the back patch?  Not sure..  still thinking…

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Mysterious blend lilies poking out from the earth. (2 June 2020)

The other flower development is the emergence of the lily bulbs I planted on 23 March.  The first growth was poking out at the start of this week.

Again, this is a bit of an experiment (albeit poorly controlled), as both sets of lilies were planted at the same time and given the same amount of water and care.  One is in a plastic pot, and the other in a terracotta pot.  It looks like plastic is winning as there are healthy plants emerging in the plastic pot, whereas there’s not much sign of life in the terracotta pot.  But one major variable here is that they are different types of lily so maybe the other pot’s lilies (asiatic lily – stargazer) are slower growing?  We shall see….

An amazing feature of these emergent lilies is that the small plants already show flower heads!  You would imagine they take time to develop, but the flower tips are there on the small plants, just needing to expand and grow.

CIMG8080And so it goes.  Our plot is pretty much complete – we’ve even cracked the summer shower project and have a working watering can / summer shower set up at the top of the plot – so there’s not much to do these days but do things like install thermometers, and harvest and water the crops that are growing.  We harvested yet another delicious red lettuce which provided us our main meal last night: a simple salad of leaves, store bought vine tomatoes and grilled halloumi, with a dijon, apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing.  Super-yum!  (So yummy that the big guy is now talking about digging out the strawberry beds to expand the salad beds, which really says a lot as he’s been loving the berries).

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Father Frog in the pond (2 June 2020)

Having not much gardening and digging to do suits the big guy just fine as we’ve been working very hard and it’s nice to take a break from all the back breaking work.

There were new delights to behold – including a surprise appearance in the froglet/newt pond of father frog.  He’s an impressively handsome character who seems to like burrowing in the soft silt at the bottom of the shallow pond.  Super dude watched the frog come up to the water’s edge for a breather, and then descend to the murky depths several times.

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Scene of a crime.  Froglet skeletal remains at the bottom of the pond – post tadpole feeding frenzy. (1 June 2020)

Not much sign of the many little froglets that were in the pond in numbers only a few days ago.  Yesterday we only spotted four or five…

We’re hoping they were taking cover under the ivy and well away from their marauding tadpole siblings.  It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, for sure, but mother nature can be brutal and the drama in the frog pond sure makes the point.  Yikes!

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Little chirper in the trees above the newt pond. A Coal Tit.(2 June 2020)

But we had visual confirmation on the newts and all three newts were spotted healthy and happy, unmolested and frolicking, in the pond waters yesterday.  Very happy about that as we’d be sore and very sad if anything bad happened to our beloved family of newts.

There were birds aplenty – including this handsome chirper – but no sign for days and days of our trusty robin.  Not sure where king of the plot has gone….  Busy with fledglings maybe?

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Female Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly at the plot. (2 June 2020)

The other flying marvel who caught our eye was this gorgeous dragonfly, which we identified as a female Black-tailed Skimmer.

This photo shows the amazing detail of the wings – so intricately wrought! Awesome.

We hung out a bit and then went down to M’s plot to plant in her winter squashes and the overflow summer squashes and my one pumpkin plant, from our plot.  (In the photo below the pumpkin is the plant closest to the green watering can, whereas M’s winter squashes were planted above, into the beds close to the red watering can)

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M’s plot planted with winter & summer squash. (2 June 2020)

We’d met M earlier in the morning to collect her plants – two winter squash (butternut).

She’s also started some purple sweet potato, but these were delicate and have not yet been planted.

She very kindly gave the big guy a hot pepper plant that she’d started from seed.  It’s tiny and delicate and resting in the hot house (aka allotment growing shed).   As we worked many people walked by and asked of M, so we’re collecting well-wishes and sending them back to her.

After planting up at M’s we were dripping in sweat, so went to rest for a bit in the peaceful shade under our umbrella before heading home.

Our other bottom allotment neighbour wished us farewell – he’s heading out of country to see his folks back home.  Super-dude offered to water his patch when he goes.  Oh my!  We’re going to be stretched, watering so many allotment plots, as well as our own flower gardens in the back patch and the woods to the side of the building.  Just as well we’re both on furlough and have time on our hands.

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Haulage on the overground tracks. (2 June 2020)

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It’s Pride Month: Train with logo ‘Every Love Matters’ in rainbow colours. (2 June 2020)

What the overground train mumbled as it rumbled by: “June is Every Love Matters month.  Black lives matter.  We all matter.  Every day, no matter the month.  Love the days.  Love one another.  So say I.  Grumble, grumble, grumble, clickety-clack.”

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salad days (but not like you’d think)

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Curly red lettuce, ready to harvest. (30 May 2020)

Inspired by the crispy, fresh tastiness of our garden grown red curly lettuces, which have provided us two delicious main meals in the past week, I decided to dedicate a little bit of time to ensuring we have a steady harvest of tasty leaves throughout the summer.

About two weeks ago I started some seeds in a tray in the growing shed, and have now planted those tiny tender seedlings out into the soft new manure-rich soil of the new raised bed.

Into the front of the new raised bed are sunk two large pots of green-fruiting zucchini (from which we’ve already eaten three tiny zucchini) and so, under the shade and with the water overflow from the squash, are sheltered some lettuce.

Let’s hope they survive the eventual onslaught of slugs.

CIMG8181The little seedlings were started with ‘Tom Thumb lettuce’ seeds, which can be grown from February to August.

As these did well I also started new trays of lettuce seed of these, as well as a tray of Cos lettuce.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if they all came up and grew!?  I hope so.

Another bonus that came to us from the garbage was a new wicker growing basket.  The day before I’d spied a wicker laundry basket beside cardboard boxes outside a ground floor flat.  Even though my magpie instincts urged me to saunter over and retrieve it then and there, it was still right on someone’s doorway and that didn’t seem the right thing to do.  So the next day I of course cast my eyes down the doorways, but the basket was gone.  I decided to take the chance that it had been placed in the building’s locked rubbish room, so took a detour from unlocking my bike and went to quickly check the garbage room.  And there it was – in fairly good shape, looking almost new, with a few chunks of weave missing on one side.  So scooped it up and brought it straight to the allotment.

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New wicker basket planted with Tom Thumb Lettuce, 31 May 2020.

After being lined with black horticultural fleece and filled with bagged potting soil, I watered it thoroughly (until water ran out the bottom) and then let drain for a few minutes before direct-seededing some more Tom Thumb lettuce.

Lettuce plants are not as a rule deep rooted, so are perfect candidates for growing baskets and pots. I’m so pleased with this new basket.  It’s cute as a picture and fits perfectly into the far end of the brick path.  It’s quite small so that even full of soil it’s not too heavy to be easily moved to a shadier or sunnier spot if needs be.  Magic!

I’m also very happy that the Tom Thumb lettuce seeds have proved themselves viable.  I’m going to keep sowing until the packet runs out.

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Comma butterfly on the garlic plants. 31 May 2020.

In this respect the Cos lettuce that I seeded into trays is more like a test batch – hopefully they germinate.  Only time will tell.

I’m also not sure at this point whether to have lettuce seed trays in the shed, which is now hot and humid so could be too hot for cool loving lettuce.  Don’t know.

Must continue to experiment and may start a tray of Cos seed that I leave outside the shed as a control to compare with the shed-grown trays.

All of which assumes that the seeds are viable – a first step of which we are uncertain…

On verra!

There was interest and high drama with the wildlife yesterday.  Butterflies flitted on the warm summer breeze, and the garlic bed was visited by a handsome Comma butterfly.  A large dragonfly flew by on patrol, zooming at height over the allotment plots.  Birds chirped and all seemed serene and idyllic.  A perfectly peaceful summer’s day…

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Comma butterfly (underwing) on the garlic patch. 31 May 2020.

And then we took a look in the pond.  It was all a bit brutal, to be honest.  There was a cluster of large tadpoles at the bottom of the waters, hoarding around and savaging at something – like miniature sharks on a feeding frenzy.

On closer inspection we realised with some degree of horror that what they were eating was a tiny, perfectly formed frog.  Yikes! Their whole little tadpole heads were moving up and down, a bit like Pacman if you’re old enough to remember that computer game.  Chomping, chomping, all of them swimming around, circling, chomping.  I could only think of a frenzied shark attack – albeit in miniature.

Flying frogs from above!  Was it murder?  Tadpole cannibalism of their older silbings?  Or maybe that little frog had been sick or poorly, and was now being consumed by his siblings in mother nature’s remorseless ‘waste-not, want-not’ ways?  Who could know?

What we could clearly see was that there were noticeably less larvae in the water – and had commented only a day or so ago that we hoped they weren’t running out of food…

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Froglet with tail (31 May 2020)

Looking around, we spied many tiny, perfectly formed but fully alive froglets.

They are a marvel to behold – perfect in their juvenile miniature form.

Many had already shed their tails, but some had vestigial tails.

At least now these little froglets can hop and shimmy up the side of the pond and get out of the water, to escape their hungry younger siblings.

The newts were also active, and thankfully more peaceful than life at the bottom of the tadpole pond.  It’s lovely to see the newts swimming freely in the pond, so sinuous and graceful when they move.  We’ve seen three at once – two larger newts and a much smaller little dude that the big dude has nicknamed Sir Isaac Newt, Jr.

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Palmate newt at bottom of pond; tiny frog swimming above.  (31 May 2020)

 

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Four tiny froglets take refuge at the edge of the pond. (31 May 2020)

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tapdancing tadpoles

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Tadpole with perfectly formed legs and feet. (30 May 2020)

And all of a sudden, the day, she came.  And then the tadpoles had legs.

Perfectly formed but infinitely tiny back legs.

These ones will be toads or frogs – we hear that on newts it is the front legs that develop first…

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Larger perspective in a relatively tiny space: back legs on tadpole. (30 May 2020)

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The tadpoles like my newly installed underwater pebble ‘beach’ (30 May 2020).  Today I added three more pebbles.  And so it goes…

Go tadpoles go!  (Ribbit)

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forward thinking: garlic & gooseberries

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Gooseberry ripening.  (30 May 2020)

There are two impending harvests that loom on the horizon: our Germidor soft-necked and Giant Garlic, and also the gooseberries.

The garlic bed is sorely needed as a growing space, and we stopped watering that patch a week ago.  Even if the bulbs are small, they will have had a good growing season having been planted in the autumn.  Small and mighty’s just fine with us.

And the gooseberries are slowing turning from green and hard looking to a more welcoming rosy tone.  Hhhhmmnn…

Gooseberries beckon crumbles, tart pies, and jams.  As for the garlic, maybe we should do some herbed oils…

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Garlic patch, late May 2020.

Peter Lawrence’s The Allotment Cookbook recommends making herbed oils to extend the harvest of early summer herbs, including rosemary and thyme – both favourites in our kitchen.

Each of the two oils (rosemary and thyme) also calls for fresh garlic – so no better time than just after our garlic harvest to make some flavoured oils.

We can make extras to share with Michelob and the rest of the gang – maybe to gift as Christmas presents or somesuch?  Anyway, must add two large tins of olive oil to the list for our next big shop.

Lawrence’s recipe for two bottles of herbed oil: take “a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, washed; 2 cloves garlic, peeled; a few strands of unwaxed orange zest; 1 litre extra-virgin olive oil; a few strands of unwaxed lemon zest.” … [Use sprigs that have been air dried for a few days]  “Poke a few sprigs of rosemary, a garlic clove and the strands of orange zest into a sterlised bottled, then fill with half the olive oil” [eg fill this bottle with 500 ml of the 1 litre of olive oil called for in his recipe].  “In the other bottle pack the thyme sprigs, a garlic clove and a few strands of lemon zest and fill with the remaining oil.  Seal tightly.  Store in a cool place.  After a week the oils will be ready to use.  (Peter Lawrence’s The Allotment Cookbook, p.32)

We could also do some pre-prepared garlic butter, and add other herbs into this such as finely chopped chives, garlic chives, parsley etc.  That way we’d be half-way there to making fresh and super-tasty garlic bread whenever the whim takes us.  And we could also add the savory garlic butter to a base of onions when preparing soups and other sauces – or fish!

And then, of course, there’s the classic spaghetti aglio e olio, which essentially is pan fried garlic (taking care not to burn it!), over cooked spaghetti, sprinkled with bread crumbs to help adherence, then liberally sprinkled with finely grated parmesan.  You can add sprinkles of hot chili pepper (not to my tastes), or chopped flat leafed parsley (to which I can only say yes, yes, yes!). Having my beloved late Uncle John make this – a proud Canadian paisano – was always a very special treat and a delicious memory. 

Yum, yum and Yum!

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Potted winter savory on the strawberry stairs. (30 May 2020)

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Milan Purple Top Turnip in growing trough (beside potted lemon tree). (30 May 2020)

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Pea bed doing perfectly. (30 May 2020)

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Thai Basil re-potted to top terrace (30 May 2020)

 

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ready… steady…. Jam!

It’s ‘On Your Marks!’ season in the gardens, that much is for sure.  Everything’s exploding and the growing shed is near enough empty…  The sole survivors in there are the seeded Thai basil, now ready to be potted-up-and-out, a tray of parsley seed (still mainly bare earth, with one tiny shoot showing), and the cuttings from the tomatoes.  There are a few potted-up squashes too, and the pumpkin – which will have to go down to M’s plot.  That’s our objective today: start more seeds in our shack and also get on with turning over the ground and preparing to plant-up M’s growing spaces.

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Felicity Fiacre, through the rose arbour. (29 May 2020)

Yesterday I planted into the new thin bottom bed two of the zucchino squashes – think white flying saucers of deliciousness! – interspersing them with the seeded Tuscan Kale (Calvero Nero).

The squash grow low and the calvero nero will one day tower tall as a sprouting broccoli, which is to say up to a height of four feet or more and take two square feet of space in all directions.  The squash will be short-growing seasonal crops, whereas the calvero nero is a commitment plant – one that will be with you in your garden for about 18 months or so, and really come into their best for harvesting after their first year.

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The new growing bed with calvero nero and zucchinos.  Corn plants with sunflowers, in front. (30 May 2020) 

I’m hoping it will be a good marriage of plants.

This is a totally new growing space that I’m excited about.  The new bed was created when I got fed up with the poor performance of the two plastic troughs that were tucked in between the raised planter and the wooden lattice guard that marks the line where the earth disappears and there’s a bathtub pond full of frogs and papyrus about three feet down.

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Red lettuce patch at the top of the garlic bed.  These delicious lettuce have provided us with two dinners in a row.  A huge success!  Have to experiment in future with cut & come-again types of lettuce. (30 May 2020)

Making the mistake of stepping over this line could be fatal, so we put in the lattice, and in the gap between the two I’d placed two long plastic trough planters.  It seemed, when we first got started on our plot two years ago, a good use of space for an awkward spot.  I had laid some plastic (re-used from bags of soil and manure) under the pots to discourage weeds, but the trays were always drying out, the plants no more than weeds and the odd straggly calendula or self-seeded blue-flowering forget-me-not, and the weeds both under and within the troughs were persistent and hard to control.  Awkward, unsightly and totally unproductive, in other words.

So I got the idea of using a bit of wood left over from the new gooseberry raised bed made from reclaimed bed boards, and the big guy got to work and made it in a flash.  Magic!

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Bees busy on the blackberry bloom.  (29 May 2020)

Now this space will be super-productive and much easier to use.  We filled it with a half bag of manure and also fresh garden compost.  The plants had been sunk into the new plot for a few days to harden off (and also to test whether the whole area would be deluged with slugs and snails), but it all looked good so yesterday we took the final plunge and put the plants in.  I can’t believe how large it is compared to the measly amount of growing space provided by the plastic planters.  I think it’s going to work out great!

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Zucchino, potted (30 May 2020)

An added bonus is that the plastic trough planters will be useful for starter plants in the growing shed.

When not in use I can tuck them under the platform, out of sight and under our feet without being under our feet so to speak.

And so again, we have the marvels of the moveable feast.

It all turns ’round in most wonderful ways.

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Making jam (29 May 2020)

As we were winding down we harvested one of the curly-leafed red lettuces, along with winter savory, thyme, creeping marjoram.

There were six small radish too, and the first very tiny but perfectly formed green zucchini.  Oh yes, and more strawberries, along with a handful of yellow raspberries and loganberries.  Raspberries and loganberries are just starting to become ripe, whereas it’s been strawberry season for a month and we’ve got a glut of various harvests in tubs in the fridge.  Which leads to only one thing to do: make jam.

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Strawberry jam (with raspberry & loganberries). (29 May 2020)

And so the labours of the allotment truck home with us and set-up camp in the kitchen.  The work’s never done, but geesh, it’s a real delight when you reap the rewards.  Garden grown strawberry jam.  Oh my!  I left one jar open to be eaten tout suite and another I covered in melted paraffin wax, so we can enjoy the flavour of early summer much later into the year.

All told we had just under 1 kilo of strawberries, to which I added the juice of two lemons, and about 700 grams of white caster sugar.  That’s all it takes, plus time and heat.  Having a jam thermometer is a big help, but my experience is it’s best to go by instinct, as previous jams cooked to the rule of the thermometer ended up being just a bit too thick.

And while I made jam, the big guy constructed a lovely garden-fresh salad from our harvested lettuce and herbs, with radish, tiny zucchini and some store-bought tomatoes, into which he added sections of grilled sausage.  Yum!

Lovely day, from start to end.  Hurrah!

 

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triple duty day

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Our fairy tale clock tower against blue summer skies. (28 May 2020)

Yesterday was one of those gorgeous sunny days.  The morning sky was clear blue with not a cloud in sight.  Full sun, hot but not too hot as there was a lovely gentle summer breeze.  By the afternoon there was  a light cloud cover to stop the sun from being too incinerating.

The day started gently – I went down to the back back to carry on with weeding and watering the perennial flower beds.

The beautiful blue bearded iris are almost done flowering, but I removed spent flowerheads to extend what flowers remain.   Roses were deadheaded, and I gave the corner by the railway path a thorough watering and weeding.  The two daisies in the shady bed under the cherry were well watered – I will have to dig these out and plant them in a sunnier position, as they are not doing as well as they did last year and probably do need a sunnier, hotter site.

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Poppies in flower near the developing Asiatic Lily.  Feverfew in background. (28 May 2020)

Other plants were doing better in the dappled shad, including some self-seeded poppies have come into flower – delightful additions that arrived without any work from us.

Not sure how they arrived to our patch – possibly in bird droppings?  But never mind their provenance – they are welcome newcomers to our flower beds.

Poppy flowers are papery thin and very delicate.  They don’t last long, but are lovely and wonderful and, like California poppy, will freely self-seed, so in time there will be more and more poppies.  Yippee!

In fact, at the allotment the friendly chap in the plot below us has a patch of large papery poppies, and he’s given us free reign to collect seed heads from once they’ve matured.

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Patch of poppies at our neighbour’s allotment.  (28 May 2020)

So more poppies to come….  These ones are like the poppies we had in my childhood gardens, so powerfully stoked with fond memories and nostalgia. Can’t wait to get some of these beauties going in our back patch flower beds!

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Heuchera bed in flower under the cherry tree, with cane crane guarding. (28 May 2020)

While I puttered, watering, weeding, pruning, trimming, tending… the big dude went to the woods area and took care of the new flower bed under the “new” oak tree.  Our neighbourhood pal and his little dog Millicent dropped by for a visit – keeping 2 metre distances – and provided some seedlings he’d started on his balcony: some hot chili seedlings and parsley.  I have to repot the seedlings and return to him some of the plants.  In return we gifted him with a jar of our homemade rhubarb & strawberry jam; he’s not normally a jam guy, but said he’d enjoy using the jam to top up his morning yoghurt.

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Nigella with bees on the plot (28 May 2020)

After our morning back patch/woods session we broke for a quick lunch break, then went back out to the allotment after visiting Michelob & D to hand over gifts and collect the bagged soil that they had kindly added to a larger order he made at a garden centre.  Yesterday was D’s birthday, so she and Michelob received a bigger jar of the jam, and also two garden-grown globe artichokes.

And so, with two large bags of soil on the big guy’s bike rack, and with my back rack full of bricks, we headed up to our plots for a second work session.

After watering and fussing on our patch I decided to head down the path and look in on M’s patch, which we’d made a start on weeding and tending in her absence, but where much more work remains to be done.  So three plots tended in one day.  Epic.

Ms M’s been in touch to say her squash are ready to be collected, and we will probably go over to pick up her starter plants at the beginning of next week.  She also has some sweet potato started, and we’ll experiment with those as well.  I’ve never grown sweet potato so it will be a learning experience that I look forward to.

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Felicity Fiacre guards our plot – which is now pretty much full up with plants and no spare growing spaces. (28 May 2020)

Much as I love it, I have to admit it’s hard work – with the clay beds baked solid in the sun and the weeds well and truly established in strength – but we’re making slow, steady progress.  The urgency for getting more done is reinforced by the fact that we’ve almost completely run out of growing space on our own patch.  The only open space is the middle patch which presently is planted with garlic.  We stopped watering the garlic plants last week, and will be able to harvest this crop (along with the two giant garlic plants) by the end of next week.

On it goes!

 

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overnight magic

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Loganberries coming to maturity. (27 May 2020)

Another hot, dry day in London.  The drought continues and no rain in sight for days.  CNN reported it was 26°C in London today, but when we arrived it felt more like 34°C ; I had trickles of sweat running down my back simply standing still.  But the combination of heat and sun (in conjunction with our ministrations and daily watering) has done wonders for the plants.

Sometime between yesterday late afternoon, when we left the plot, and this morning, when we arrived back, something truly magical happened.

Almost immediately upon arrival I espied ripe and ripening yellow raspberries – already there and ready to eat!  I’d hardly expected to see unripe berries, let alone ripe and ready-to-eat raspberries!  Wow!  We harvested a small handful and had a snack right there and then.

The loganberries at the front of the rose arbour are swelling to perfection and turning rosy – one or two looked almost ripe enough to eat!  But we left them for another day.

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Zucchini (with ripening gooseberry behind). (27 May 2020)

The zucchini have exploded into flower, with real little zucchinis already formed – will pick them soon for an early harvest.  This will also encourage further flowering, which in turn means more fruiting and more frequent harvests.

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Green tomatoes seem to have appeared overnight.  (27 May 2020)

And then, as all this change and growth and coming to maturity was not enough, to my astonishment I noticed a new overnight development on the tomatoes!  Small (but not that small) green tomatoes hanging from the plant.  And it’s not even June yet!  Incroyable!

I regret that we didn’t get to M’s plot today.  I thought we might get to it, but I got lost in time up at ours, and also had to shoot back to the flat for the online weekly work briefing.  (Best to keep up to date with things, even though I’ve been furloughed during these quiet apocalypse coronavirus days, weeks and months.)

In some sense, lately time has felt static.  But then – like last night – huge changes happen all of a sudden.  In a blink of an eye.  Change.  Development.  Growth.  Irretrievable time – no going back.

Hope Jahren makes this point when she writes about seeds in her book Lab Girl .  Jahren makes the totally logical but all the same starkly startling statement that each seed has one and only one chance.  Every individual seed must choose well their moment of germination.  That moment is a moment and it counts a lot: they only have one chance.

And so too with all the stages of a plant’s life – these bushes, vines, branches bear flowers first, each in their own form, shape, colour and scent, which in turn, at a precise click of time moving forward, transforms to a fruit – again as various as fruits can be.

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Ladybird on an out-of-this-world looking Nigella blossom. (27 May 2020)

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European Hoverfly (Eupeodes corollae) on Nigella blossom with holly. (27 May 2020)

Anyway, despite sticky-static time up at the plot, we still manage to accomplish quite a bit on every visit.

Today on top of the usual watering and weeding (and nature photography), we planted-in the last of the large tomato plants.  Its pot had been sunk straight into the tomato plot, with a temporary stake, so we had to untie the stake and then transplant into a prepared hole that was enriched with a good few scoops of the rotted manure.  We re-installed the stake and then tied it back in and watered well.

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Hoverfly on Love-in-a-Mist. (27 May 2020)

A wood panel that we retrieved a few weeks ago from the rubbish was staked and secured in front of a large squash planted in a large growing tub, to help ensure it doesn’t get jostled and tumble down the hill into the allotment plot below us.  The panel looks quite cute – like a little gate – and had been the head/foot board of a small child’s crib someone had dissembled and thrown to the sidewalk.

With luck the squash vine will grow and be supported on this small wooden panel, which also helps keep the fruits off the ground and therefore less likely to be damaged by slugs and other creepy crawlies.

We enjoyed the present bloom, including the love-in-a-mist which truly is loved by all pollinators – bees, hoverflies, butterflies – the lot!  (We’re brought a pot of nigella seed we’d collected from last year’s flowers from the allotment and are planning to scatter these into the new mid-lawn meadow/ wildflower patch.)

I also planted two seeded sunflowers into individual terracotta pots.  This way I can move them around if they outgrow their location.  I seeded many different types of sunflowers – some taller than others.  So on verra.

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Hanging baskets over the compost heap.

We’d also brought up the hanging baskets I’d had squirrelled away for years – more stuff saved from landfill.  I think I got them from Michelob years ago – someone else in the village was wanting to get rid of them.  Brand new, mind you.  So I tucked them away with all the rest of my useful hoarding like the old mirrors and glass shelving that’s become essential equipment in the growing shed.

I confess I’m not naturally a fan of hanging baskets – partly because they are simply not suitable to a publicly accessible woods garden, and also because I prefer to sink my pots into the earth by an inch or more to ensure they don’t totally dry out.  But we had them on hand and the Malink was keen to get them up and hanging.

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Sea holly  making a steady come-back (27 May 2020)

So he cut some of the black horticultural fabric to line the pots, and filled with the new bagged potting soil.  He prepared two pots.  After watering well I planted into each pot a started white zucchino plant.

These produce small white coloured squashes which look a little like flying saucers. I just know that the big guy’s going to love them!

Squash grow like a vine so should be good with hanging down (or growing up along the chain hanging supports).

I had thought to add nasturtium seeds to the hanging baskets, but after rummaging around found that I have run out of nasturtium seeds.  So into one of the pots I added some old sweet pea seeds – you just never know whether an old seed is still a good seed until you sink it in soil and water and tend it for a fortnight or more…

An added bonus to the new hanging baskets is their location: we’ve got them hanging off branches of the holly tree and hanging over the compost heap.  This means that all the dripping overflow of water from watering the pots will drip down into the otherwise bone dry compost pile.

In truth, I’m not sure these little white flying saucer squashes will get sufficient sunshine hanging as they do in the shade of the holly tree, but we’ll wait, watch and see how it goes.

Like the potted sunflowers, at least hanging baskets can be moved if we need to.  Or, alternatively, we can take them down, transplant the squashes into proper growing beds, and replant the baskets with something else.  And besides, the strawberries, once they finish fruiting, will start to set out runners, and so in time we can cut the new runners and sink these into the side panels of the hanging baskets to create hanging strawberry baskets!  Oh my, ain’t it grand!  Everything’s a moveable feast – plants, bricks, equipment, you name it!

Speaking of strawberries and feasts… we made strawberry & rhubarb jam last night.  Simple and delicious.  Just weigh your cleaned and chopped fruit (in more or less equal measures), then top with an equivalent combined weight with granulated sugar (which I reduced marginally) and add the juice of two squeezed lemons.  Tie up the lemon pips in cooking muslin and suspend this into the jam for pectin.  Bring to a rolling boil and cook until it reaches jam consistency.  And voilà!  You have jam!

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Prepping to make Strawberry & Rhubarb Jam. (26 May 2020)

Anyway, jam-making was yesterday.  Back to today’s activities, in addition to all the other little things we accomplished, the big dude also managed to re-lay the stairs at the top near where the remedial water repairs had taken place.  The wooden ‘bridge’ was removed and he relaid two large paving stones with bricks below.  The whole thing is now solid and secure – no more wobbly or tipping paving slabs.  It’s all solid and firm now.

And in the growing shed, the Thai basil that we seeded is doing well and soon will be ready to pot-up – maybe into a terracotta planter.  (We have two short terracotta window planters which will soon be empty when we harvest the remaining radish.)

The tray of sunflower seeds are all coming up and need to be planted tomorrow or the next day – all the more reason to get going on M’s!

No sign of the flat leafed parsley seeds that I seeded mid-May, but I’m trying to be patient and I keep watering the flat of soil.  I recall from the three rather weakly seedlings that I do have from an earlier seeding that parsley took a really long time to shown any signs of life.

Patience is worth it.  And it’s a lesson I’m still learning.  I’d given up on some earlier pots and then dumped all the trays back into a bucket to re-use when I did the rose cuttings.  Now there are squashes growing in the rose cuttings!  They might be pumpkins, so I’m going to repot and separate the rose from the squash seedling very soon.

I’ve also got more seeds to have a go with, including some small mild peppers, broccoli, more calvero nero, Brussel sprouts, and cucumbers.  And packets of seeds for direct seeding too – but that must wait until either we get a grip on the beds at M’s plot, or harvest and turn over and re-sow the garlic plot.

And more brick paths to lay… more river stones to collect for the newt pond…

Oh my!  I love it!  Can’t wait to get started on the next little projects tomorrow.

Especially as the harvest season is well and truly started – we’ll harvest strawberries, raspberries, the first zucchini, a curly red lettuce…

Yum!

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Harvesting Globe Artichokes this weekend.

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Globe Artichokes in garlic butter.  What an exquisite feast!

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