Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Indian Summer in Essex

It was a fantastic weekend in South East Essex, the mornings had a thick dew settled on the grass in my back garden and the sky was a picture perfect hazy blue without a cloud in sight. There was no wind either. My wife wants to decorate our living room so she set off early for the day to look at furniture shops and the like with our littlest one. I had Max for the day and he wanted to go up to the plot.

We took my mother in laws little Peugeot because I needed to get some manure from a scary old house up in Eastwood that sells the good stuff which is a couple of years old and cheap. Just 50p gets you a big sack of Shit. I crammed eight sacks into the boot and on the back seat "Sorry Belle mere". I'd never met the owner of the house before because you take what you need, and then pay on a trust basis by putting the change into his porch. But just as we was leaving today a silver haired guy in his sixties stopped to say hello that turned out to be the guy who sell's the manure. He told me he had loads and loads of it and would deliver if we wanted fifty bags or more at a time. That'll be useful in the future as it’s not really a good idea to load your car up with horse shit, especially when it’s not your own car.

We popped into the garden centre whilst in Eastwood where we found some found some radicchio and more purple sprouting broccoli - Yum; I'll have over two dozen of these for next spring.

Back in the car and over to the plot. On the way the radio the DJ was banging on about the Indian summer and how nice the weekend was, he got it all wrong with the Indian bit though as he was referring to India and how lucky all those Indians where.

In fact the Indian summer relates to the North American Indians who used the cooler but dry and hazy late summer months to harden of their squash and dry their beans and maize.

Over at the plot Max opened the gates and raced me to the top where our plot is, I followed up in the manure filled car very slowly so that he won - again!

There were a few children about and Max went to catch up with one of his friends.

I hadn't seen Keith for quite some time and he was there pottering around, we had a chat for a while. Keith had been to a local timber merchant where he buys up the seconds in decking for his raised beds. The merchant had a load of bits and bobs of wooden frames and the like which they delivered to the plot next to his. It was a free for all and I took several useful lengths to make netting cages. Gave Keith one of my Swedes for his Sunday roast and a packet of turnip seeds I had spare. Not sure if they will be any good this time of the year but he'll plant em any roads.

On to my plot and I thinned out my turnips a little more as the packet said one every ten centimetres or so, I have them at about every six to eight now so I will thin out once more when the time is right.

Then I Cut down a load of the strawberry growth and potted some of the runners. I may actually dig them all up and replant them in the same box but with the gardeners membrane spread about and holes cut into it for the plants, but not for now.

A few of the Garlic and onion sets had begun to sprout. Amazing considering I only planted them a week ago. These all got a good soaking and onto the beans which I am leaving on now for shelling and seed saving for casseroles and next years planting. Shirley grew way too many for her own needs and kindly gave me a bunch of beans for Sunday’s dinner.

Max and I planted out the Radicchio and we gave Shirley a couple of them to try. To be honest I have no Idea what its going to taste like so I will Google it and find some recipes that use it to get an Idea. We dug over the area and dumped two sacks of the manure into the area where three of my courgette plants have bit the dust, mixed it all up a bit and dug them in.

I'm down to just four courgette plants now and two of them are about to croak it. I will put them out of their misery once they have given me four last courgettes. It’s a bit sad really. I only have two left in the veg box and as much as we ate these this summer, we never once complained of having them three times a week.

The cucumbers seen better days too! There are two left on the vine so I fed the plant and keep it well watered in the hope they will grow larger than the gherkin size that they are at present.

We checked on the Squash and Pumpkin. The squash has been a little bit of a disappointment as we only have one decent sized fruit developed and a few little ones about the size of a can of pop but still green. The pumpkin has provided three basketball sized fruits. We ate one a month or so back. I knocked up Pumpkin Ravioli which totally destroyed my kitchen but was very nice and then I made soup with the other half which was lovely too. Another is on a shelf in my garage and the last one is on the vine.

We picked up some broccoli. I had harvested all the main Calabrese heads already but left the plants in which was a good idea because we now get lots of small spears appearing all the time. I don’t know why but one the purple sprouting broccoli’s has started budding too so we bagged this up for lunch.

The second batches of peas have a couple dozen pods forming and a load of flowers. I was giving these a soak when Bob and his wife came up to say hello. I showed Bob about the plot. He and his wife liked the sprouts and Swedes which made me happy because Bob's a bit of a farmer in my eyes. His wife (another Shirley) asked if it was not too late for the peas and salads I had shown them. I thought about this a moment and replied that it maybe but my expectations are now zero so If I have to dig up four mini lettuces for one meal or only manage one plate of peas from my entire row then I would be happy because I would have grown it.

Afternoon was becoming evening so we picked all the tools up and packed them into the shed. Took out the watering can and soaked the back of the plot with all the winter veg and made our way home for a sneaky Indian summer’s barbeque and the last of the courgettes.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Tour of my plot

I remembered to pick up the camera at the weekend. Here's a few snaps of my plot over on Leigh on Sea Allotments in Essex. I would have taken more but the battery ran short so this is it for now. You should be able to click on the images to enlarge.

Up at the back of the plot I have a pumpkin and squash, two rows of calabrese (Broccoli), a row of celeriac, another row of celery and a couple of rows of leeks. The brocolli has been very tasty, my kids love it. Shame though as I have taken the first heads back to the house and the secondary headlings are not growing too quick. They will soon become compost fodder.

I haven't eaten any of the celeriac yet but the roots are fattening up nicely. I have only ever eaten this once on holiday in Italy this year and am really looking forward to digging some of this up for a lux mash.

One of my celeries was pinched last week, I hope it was a stringy one.

The leeks are growing nicely now after a slow start.

Here's one of the Raised beds in the middle of my plot.

At the back there you can see some runner beans loving the sun. If you look closely to the left of the beans you can see a sick looking plant, thats a salad I have left to bolt and hopefully I'll get some seed of that in a few weeks as its finished flowering.

In front of that I have a whole bunch of Swiss Chard. here are two varieties growing. My wife can't stand the stuff but I love it. It's gone down very well with the kids and work colleages too.

On the bottom right you can make out some broad beans. They are starting to rust in the picture. I pulled them out ten minutes later and bagged the last crop of beans for tonights dinner.

The empty spot in the bottom left was my beetroots which I pulled a couple of weeks back. The ones I havent eaten or given away have been pickled for christmas. I have planted some regular spinach in the void left by the beetroots and broadbeans.

Heres a snap from the front of the plot. They are making a site road next to my left, I'm not to fussed about the road but some twit keeps running over that raised bed with my salads in it.

As you can see I'm surrounded by unkempt plots. I'm not to fussed about the family behind me giving up because they made Wayne and Waynetta slob look like model citizens but It does p1ss me off a little when the council won't alow me to take on another plot due to the waiting list. "A load of twoddle if you ask me". They havent done anything to make these people clean up their mess and I'm having to maintain boundaries that aren't mine just to make it safe for my kids.

The courgette's are slowing down now. They have been amazing this year, a little too rampant for us to keep up with them for just our family. I have lost a couple of plants due to high winds and mildew in the last week but we still get enough, and a few extras for neighbors and friends. Here's a picture of one fattening up, it'll stay on there until I have managed to eat the dozen or so in the veg box at home.

My wife went to France a month or so to go shopping in Calais. She bought me whiskey, wine and some turnip seeds. What a gal.

Heres the onions, shallots and a row of garlic covered in a mulch of seaweed. not much to look at for the moment but this is going to provide all we need for the entire family if the pigeons don't keep pulling them out that is.

This Tyre looks like it came from a bus of some large vehicle. Its big and full of kitchen herbs. The gnome's named "grow-bag", he smells. Grow-bag's a right lazy sod - always sleeping off the night before.

I have two of these tyres found in an old unmaintained part of the site. They weighed a tonne when I found them as they, were filled with weeds, hardcore and topsoil. I like them mostly because they were free, they help contain evasive mint etc and they are pretty comfortable seats too.

I have another one I grow spicy salad/stir-fry leaves and I melon which is a healthy enough plant but hasn't done much except produce walnut size fruits before dropping them.

Some french beans ready for picking.

A late crop of peas, just beginning to flower tucked into the corner of my garlic bed.

Here's my brussell sprouts, a few weeds about around here I know but I have a job, wife and kids too you know so these little monsters have been spared.....For now at least. They are doing really well to though and some of the little cabbages are almost ready for the pan. We love sprouts so these are probably staying strictly in the family, even my wife has been asking if they are ready so they had better be good. A nice chap named gardener Pete gave them to me and I negleted them in their starter plugs for weeks so I hope it didn't stunt them too much.

Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Vampires beware

Well All the Alliums are now in. Sunday morning was fantastic. There was little to no wind and the sun was shining

I began with the big strip I used for my potatoes and sweet corn. This area had been fully prepared a few days back and was ready for planting.

I drove several one foot long garden canes into the ground and doubled this up at the opposite end of the strip to make some rows. Then I searched the shed for about twenty minutes for my garden string. After twenty minutes of opening boxes and falling over stuff my son had left laying around I finally found it.

I tied the string to the corner cane and worked down then sideways to the next one and then up again. Repeated this until the end. I barely had enough to complete the job but it looked nice.

Using a bit of birch branch for a dibber, I whacked in the lot. A hundred and fifty onions, Fifty Shallots and thirty Garlic Cloves.

I didn't finish there either. I drove in another sixty garlic cloves into the raised beds that I had the tomatoes in.

I rinsed out and then threw all the seaweed over the top of these new plantings and spread it out as best I could, feathers, shells and all.

Luvvly Jubbly.

When I returned on Tuesday the seaweed had dried out and something had pulled out several of the bulbs. I replanted them where I could but now have half a dozen Garlic bulbs to plant but don’t know where they came from. I'll keep hold of them until I can see some growth and use them to plug the holes.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Ripping out the old and planting the new.

The potato strip and corn bed were both empty. I re-dug them both over to a forks depth, removing any stones and the odd white weed and tuber. Breaking it up was really easy mainly due to the amount of compost and mulch I had been using when growing the potatoes and sweet corn. But also because potatoes are a good crop to naturally improve your soil too "so I read". When I had completed the digging I threw four bags of sharp sand over the top and then another four big sacks of composted manure over the top of the sand. This was all raked up and down the strip until it was well broken up.

With all the tomato plants cut out I got to work on those two raised beds. Each one was dug over. I only had one bag of the manure left so I threw that and half a bag of compost into one of the beds, I have a late row of peas growing in that one so was careful not to disturb them. The other one didn't look like I needed to put anything in so I just dug it over.

That done, the front of my plot looked a bit empty but it was nice to see it all tidy again. There’s something charming about a prepared area.

I had offered to look after our boys and some kids of friends of our on Saturday morning. We hit the park for an hour and then went down to Chalkwell beach. The kids had a great time and I bagged up several bin liners of seaweed to use for mulching.

The kids were picked up after lunch and I went over to a garden centre in Eastwood to have a look about. They had onion sets which are supposed to be more reliable than seeds and are earlier to harvest apparently. So I picked up the following;

50 Senshyu Yellow
A Japanese over-wintering variety, reliably producing a heavy crop of semi-globe-shaped, straw-coloured bulbs of excellent quality, which should be ready to harvest in early July. The young growth can also be used as Spring Onions

50 Radar
A very popular over-wintered onion which gives superb pale to mid brown skinned onions from mid July. The round bulbs have firm flesh with a delicious mild taste and will keep well until autumn. Green bulbs can be pulled from the garden from late May.

50 Red Electric
An Early harvesting red with excellent flavour. Produces a symmetrical, globed shaped bulb. Can be planted autumn or spring

50 Shallot Jermor
The very best for flavour, Jermor is a true French long type, bred in the southern Rhone valley. The copper skinned bulbs have a crisp, pink flesh, tinged white.

I also picked up a couple of salad plugs; I can’t remember the names right now so will update the blog when I have made a note of them.

We bought a load of Garlic in Provence on a holiday visit to a market in July and my parents brought some back with them from Spain. When we got home from the garden centre my eldest Max and I carefully peeled maybe a dozen of these into single cloves and bagged up the biggest cloves for planting out. I'm not sure of the names but they sure are big cloves. I had around eighty cloves in total and a load of spare bulbs to give away.

I popped over the the plot in the afternoon but had little time so I dumped the seaweed behind the shed and put the onions, shallots and Garlic into the shed for safe keeping.

I planted out the Salads into the Raised bed that had nothing added to it, handed out the spare Garlic bulbs to a few people who were up the site and went home.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Tomatoes – Cazaux’s Ten Commandments

The tomato plants are now down to one Sungold and a couple of Alicante. The rest having been struck down by the blight or spent of fruit.

I’m going to chop these down this weekend too.

Still I have had it good for a first year and many lessons learned. Must have had several kilos of delicious tommies so I will use what I have learned next year to improve the soil, spacing and general growing conditions.

1) Tomato plants need a lot of support; they need a good solid foundation. Especially when the fruits set as I learnt "the hard way". Next year I will separate the bush and vine types. For the vines I will create a structure similar to a runner bean system with solid supports at the end and in the middle. Around this I intend to use canes and lots of string to get some tension into the structure. This has to be done before you plant them or your tomato plants will look like a game of kerplunk come harvest.

2) I got the spacing all wrong too. With twelve plants planted four by four I don’t think it let enough air circulate inside the foliage which presented a few problems. The first being the plants grew so thick in foliage that I couldn't get into them to keep the side shoots pinched out which seriously restricted the air flow. My plants also grew over, into and around each other. I'm sure I could have avoided the transition of blight if they had been more generously spaced out. Next year I will be using the P=30-36" R=30-36" recommendation. I may even give them a little more.

3) Don’t bother with Beefsteak - This ain't the Mediterranean and I'm growing outdoors. Who was I kidding?

4) Pre-prepare the ground incorporating plenty of organic material a few weeks before you intend to plant out. This wont is a problem as I have about a half a tonne of rotting compost and more, lots more, to come.

5) Investing in the adjustable plant ties is a good idea. I have them now. I began tying with bits of string and that plastic coated metal but they cut into the stems as the plants grew. Also know your central growing stem from the branches. I mistakenly tied up the wrong bit on a few plants.

6) Keep on top of the side shoot removal. I wasn't and I think this was half the problem with the contamination. I know how to do it now. Don't be afraid to remove trusts after the fifth has set. How many tomatoes can you reasonably expect from one plant anyhow? This does not apply to Sungold. Just let them keep going. Don’t rip the shoots out; they should be pinched out to avoid stem damage. You can remove the branches below the lowest trust and any non productive ones. They make great compost as long as they are not diseased.

7) Mulch the plants with grass cuttings, newspaper shredding and compost to retain moisture and encourage stronger root development. Thankfully I did this and it probably was he difference between the crop I managed to harvest and having nothing at all due to high winds that kept snapping the cane supports.

8) Feed Feed Feed - Make a nettle tea or comfrey or buy tomorite if you must. When watering or feeding you should avoid the foliage (especially in the evenings) as the leaves may stay wet all night which encourages disease.

9) Chemical Warfare (Optional) - Once the disease has appeared the plants should be sprayed with mancozeb (Bio Dithane 945). Copper fungicides (Bordeaux mixture, Murphy Traditional Copper Fungicide) can also be used, but tend to harden the foliage and are best applied later in the season. Neither mancozeb nor copper is labelled for leaf mould control, but both are labelled for control of tomato blight, and if used as directed for this disease should give some control.

10) If the plant continues to deteriorate, destroy it before it spreads. You still have other plants, don’t become attached to them. They are not pets. You will not go to tomato hell. Encourage other plot holders to do the same. Too many lazy buggers on site who have left their rotting festering plants to keel over brought this problem about in the first place.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Ahoy me Blighty

It’s such a shame about the UK Weather. Tomatoes have finally shown blight.

“A small miracle it’s only just happened really considering the downpours we've had the last month”. I'm lucky enough to live in one of the drier parts of the country. Still looking out of my window you would not think it was. Until of course you read the paper or watch the news and thank the gnomes that its not too bad here compared to the rest of these isles.

I have lost a beefsteak plant to blight completely. All the stems where blackening, the leaves mottled and the fruits had decided to rot. So this year’s beefsteak harvest was two (Which I ate, in my shed, while dodging another downpour). I cut the beefsteak plant at the base and hurled it rotten tommies and all into the non compostable bin. They will go into the household rubbish. Don’t want to put them in the recycling bags as I figure they may end up somebody else’s blightened compost if I do that. It’s a shame about the beefsteaks as this was the variety my wife was most interested in to make those "tomato au farce" which are so popular in France.

It’s not all bad though.

The other plants have had little damage so far and I have been careful in removing any foliage that looked suspect as soon as I have seen it. I have also removed any baby fruits now not as I'm sure that even if the blight does not take hold they are stopping the sized fruits from ripening. They are still being fed the nettle tea I made a couple of times a week even if it is raining all the time.

I have had a couple of kilos of the little sun gold cherries which are like sweets without the conscience. I used a bag of them last week to make a fresh pasta sauce with one of my onions, a couple of cloves of the Provencal garlic and basil from my planted herbs. The sauce went really well with the homemade pumpkin ravioli. Its not a difficult dinner technically but time consuming with the pasta making and rolling, the pumpkin roasting and filling preparation, the cutting out and all the washing up it made. I had no complaints when it came to the eating so I was happy.

Another half kilo of them went to work which I put into a bowl for people to snack on.

The rest are on the kitchen windowsill waiting to be munched.

The Alicante variety has been fantastic. They are a good size. Very tasty as they are, in salads and were used in the chicken dinner the other night.

Being a little a little over cautious maybe, I have been cropping them when they start to turn pink and then finishing them off outside on a covered window ledge by my garage.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Wheres the sunlight gone

Crap, the Summers over isn't it

I came home from work today and sat down to one of my favourite dinners. Poulet Basques which homes from the deepest corners of the South West of France. A place where they regularly burn Estate Agents but know a thing or two about food.

Ingredients : fresh chicken with giblets weighing about 1.5kg cut into 8 pieces
225gm pork chops cut into small chunks
25 gm butter
olive oil
900 gm fresh ripe tomatoes skinned and quartered (from the allotment if you haven't been struck down by the bloody blight)
2 lrg green peppers de-seeded and cut into strips
225gm Wild mushrooms. (From the forests unless you know little about fungus then its probably best to buy from them)
150ml chicken stock
3 cloves of garlic crushed
some Thyme
Salt n pepper

Method : Preheat oven to gas mark 6 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Heat the butter and the oil together in a large flameproof casserole. When it is hot saute the pieces of chicken and pork together until they are golden. Do this in 2 batches if there isn't enough room. Pour off the excess fat then return the first batch to the casserole and add the stock garlic thyme salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste. Bring everything to simmering point then transfer the casserole to the oven cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes add the tomatoes peppers and mushrooms to the casserole and cook for a further 40 minutes reducing the heat to gas mark 4 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Like all food. This is good served with whiskey or large quantities of Ricard.

Any roads, after dinner I popped over the plot to pick some beans for tomorrow.

I took the spot light to avoid standing in Fox Shit.

Whilst the beans were looking handsome probably because of all the sewage openly floating around England, some t@sser had taken my Marrows and pinched half my sweetcorn.

I'm in a foul mood....


Stringy Beans

My parents stayed with us a couple of weeks back. On their last day we had a Sunday Roast.

The joint was a fantastic Rib roast of beef. Twenty six quids English pounds of organically reared South country beef rib roast from Waitrose.

It was sealed in flour, pepper, cracked mustard, celery salts and other bits and bobs I felt like throwing into my pestle at the time.

This was the first time I have amassed enough veg from the plot for the entire dinner.

We had a Courgette roasted in olive oil and seasoned (Marrow sized).
A Cauliflower and blanched Cabbage.
Roasted Marris Peers
French beans and Runners

Every thing except the runners was really tasty. I hadn't a clue how to prepare them so I hadn't chopped the stringy bits off.

After telling Shirley this she surprised me with a gift of a bean shredder, it basically removes the stringy bit and slices em up into thin strips in one go. I had the demo and it looks like it will do the job nicely. I dug up a Swede as a thank you. Swede is one of my favourite veg and mine are fantastic.

Souper hero's

A couple of photos of my boys;
Squash head.

and his loyal sidekick "The Courgette crusader".

UFO - Unidentified Foraging Object.

Can anybody tell me what this unidentified mushroom may be?

I had looked through my book and searched t'internet but have come up with no conclusive identifiation.

Found in forest/woodlands in South east Essex on September 6, 2008.

Habitat: Oak and chestnut trees around. Growing on soil covered with your standard braken and leafmold

Has mottled top side a bit like tiger bread. Underside had a spongey greeny orange colour.

Smells like....erm a mushroom.
I found several of them about twenty metres from a small trickle stream that runs through the woods. They were not anywhere else.

Quite a few of then had bitemarks taken out of them. Not sure if it was the slug or the foxes but I didnt see any foxes climbing trees or white gloved badgers doing big box little box so if anybody can help me I would be most appreciative before I try licking one.

Quite a few of then had bitemarks taken out of them. Not sure if it was the slug or the foxes but I didnt see any foxes climbing trees or any white gloved badgers with a whistle doing big box little box so if anybody can help me I would be most appreciative before I try licking one.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Jungle Fever

The long drive home from our holidays really zapped me. After spending so much time on the motorways we arrive home on Saturday the 2nd August in the evening. I needed to stretch my legs so thought I would pop over just for two minutes mind to the plot.
Bob was at the gates. He had offered to do a bit of watering while I was away and I thanked him. He told me that he'd helped himself to a few courgettes while I was away. No problem I said.

Michael's kids came running down the hill. "We've been watering your plot while you was away" Thanks kids. We had some courgettes said Grace.

I kept walking up and bumped into Shirley. Ooh she said. Ive been watering your plot for you, Its been really hot over here. By the way, I've had a few courgettes.

Although they were not all up the site I later found that Keith, Mick, James, Trevor, Eugine and Mark all said the same. They had all watered my plot and all of them had helped themselves to a few courgettes.

So as I walked the last 30 metres to my plot I thought I would be three foot under water and have several spent courgette plants.

I was wrong again. The place looked like a tropical Jungle. The corn had grown to six foot. The beans had twined around the cane supports and were nearly reaching the tops. Tomato plants were laden with fluorescent fruits, some of the sun golds where beginning to ripen but they had also got so heavy they they had snapped their support canes and I was going to have a job on in fixing them up. The beautiful potato plants had all fallen over - I thought this meant they were dying. The cabbages where perfect specimens the size of bowling balls. My eyes bulged with amazement.

Sadly half of my caulis had bolted, these we going to have to be composted.
At the back of the plot I could not really see much for all the weeds. I was going to have to sort this out asap.

The biggest surprise of all though was those damn courgette plants. I was wrong again about having none left. but these weren't courgettes - these were blinking marrows. Chris had been cutting them to keep the plants producing and they were layed out in a row. Twenty or so, huge! On every plant there was still more growing by the second.
I packed these up into a couple of builders bags I had from some split compost bags I had bought. They weighed a tonne. Well not quite but after nearly breaking my back dragging them back home I weighed them in at 42 kilos. That's about six stone I think.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Holidays are great aren't they!

Quality time to spend with you family is really quite precious in this hectic age of ours. Italian Ice-cream - Simply one of mankind’s best creations! We went to Tuscany for a week and then onto Provence in the south of France. The car journey was long but we had plenty of breaks and the kids had the portable DVD player in the back for distraction.

We visited San Giminiano, Sienna and Como. I adore the North of Italy. There was a Market in Como where I found a stall selling Bortolli Bean Seed. Naturally I bagged some.

The second week in Opio Provence was great too. I picked up a couple of kilos of fat garlic. No idea what the name was but thought it would be nice to plant some and hand some out to the people on the allotment.

Two weeks just never seems long enough.

I dreamed of the allotment the first three nights wondering what state it would be in when I got back.........After a week it was all but forgotten. Holidays are great aren't they!

Can we drag the UK over the the left of Italy. Theres a big gap there. Im sure we could fit.

Courgette Bonanza

I didn't think it was humanly possibly to grow too many courgettes. We are a family who love em on the barbeque seasoned and oiled, my mother in laws ratatouille is to die for. They bake well, soup and sauce well.

Well I was wrong.

Not at the beginning mind you. I watched impatiently as the first flowers developed. Then to my great excitement the odd fruit became finger sized. And then rotted.

More came, More Rotted. Something was wrong. I was disheartened to say the least.

I removed the mulch of manure and replaced with a mixture of compost, sand and grass cuttings.

Bob showed me how to "Sex em up" as he called it. Bob's a left handed, slightly dyslexic East ender who moved out just like me. Double plot - old school - no boxes. Bob also gets on really well with Michael but loves ribbing him about his girly boxed plot. (I like Michaels plot by the way) he's got fruit trees.

Any roads I’m off track so - "We sexed em up real well” this involves pulling off a male flower, ripping off the petals and what you have left on the stalk is the flower equivalent of the erhem Harris. Then you gently pull open the female flower (the one with the fruit) and give it a jolly good jab with the male.

In doing so I created a monster, several of them.

The plants kicked into Food Factory mode almost over night.

I was picking them in the evenings. Every four days each plant the planned would provide beautiful small fruits with the most amazing flowers, taking them home and showing the family my perfect specimens. We were happy to add these to our daily meals.

But then they changed gear and each plant (Yes I planted several of them) had between two courgettes pumping out every four days.

Then I read some growing guide about courgettes and it suggested feeding them every couple of weeks with a standard tomato feed.

Can't do any harm I thought so in went one cap full as recommended and one for luck.

The next week I took home thirty four courgettes. No sooner had I picked them the next set would start to jump into action, the plant would grow a couple of inches, set new leaves and several new flowers would form. They all but gave up producing male flowers after that and I have not looked back.

Neighbours started getting courgettes, fellow allotment holders, family, friends and work colleagues. I was walking home one day and was waiting for the traffic to provide the gap I needed to cross the road. "Nice Courgettes" said an elderly gentleman on a mobility scooter. He had the lot.

It wasn't that we weren't eating any ourselves. On no. If you are what you eat my entire family should have been British racing green. We were off on Holiday towards the end of July and I was damned if they were going in the compost bin.

I had begun taking home the larger broad beans too now along with cabbage and caulis. The potato plants were beautiful with purple and white flowers. The herb bed had filled out. Salads were coming into their own and being welcomed by the family. The French dwarf beans were being picked young. The runners were running. The beats were swelling.

I felt like a proper farmer I did.

Managed to keep on top of the courgettes and handed them out to various victims the Friday before we went on our family holiday.

Breathing, living and a lot of planting Early July

Isn’t there a saying along the lines of if you are lonely get a dog, if you want to be truly happy get a garden?

My garden belongs to my children but the allotment, well that’s all mine. Since getting my plot I have become quite attached to it.

Breathing is a pleasure over there, the air in London is rotten by comparison. On site you can take in the sea air which rolls up from the Estuary - mixed in to that the perfumes of sweet peas, wild flowers and thousands of fresh plants.

I love being the first to get there on the weekend mornings so as to have the place for myself for a while before you hear the gates grate open down the bottom and people begin to trickle in.

The exercise has put me back into shape; I’m always on the move doing something or another. I hardly watch the telly; it’s an utter waste of time when I do.

It’s true what other blogger’s have said. It’s a place where you generally get the best out of people. Kindness community and respect are in abundance. Although sometimes you want that precious hour or so to do something, even if it’s just to clear your head from the shit day you’ve had at work and it takes you forty-five minutes to reach your plot because everyone and his dog or cat wants a bit of banter. I still haven’t worked out the technique of waving or nodding and moving on and because I’m a generally a chatty kind of fellow I know I probably cut into peoples golden hour by engaging them sometimes too.

My kids love coming over although. The site has a lot of parents who bring their children and they soon group up and explore the wild garden and orchard. There’s a small frog pond which my boys really like. The place feels safe and I’m happy to let them walk about just as long as they are well mannered and report back every so often. I have had lots of compliments on their behaviour, which makes me a proud dad.

Onto the food front; well everything is looking fantastic. I finally reached the back of my plot and planted two rows of calabrese, two rows of leeks and right at the back I have a pumpkin and squash.

To the other corner at the back I had been given an abundance of freebies. Two further rows of Leeks went in. Some more courgette and marrow plants were dug in. Brussels sprouts, Broccoli and Swede.

I have three sweet pepper plants and two aubergines.


It seems the spell checker is not a fan of calabrese.

Marcus Golding

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Stuck in the Mud June.

During Mid June it seemed as though we were destined for a fantastic summer. Two weeks had passed without any rain of note, everything was growing nicely, the courgette plants and tomatoes were showing their first flowers. The potatoes had shown their first signs of haulm and I was busy preparing the area for the carrots and parsnips. I had been given a tray of Swede and some purple broccoli so had busied myself with watering, weeding and digging over a new part of the plot to accommodate these lovely gifts.

I had just about managed to plant these tasty goodies when the skies opened..........and they stayed open........
Several days of continued rain put the skids on the digging front but being the supercharged newbie that I was I would venture over at the moment the rain stopped long enough for me to do something constructive.

It was on one of these gaps in the deluge that I had the bright idea to take up the household composting materials in the little Peugeot I have. But no sooner than I had emptied the bags into the composter it started to bolt down again. I ran back to the car and revved the engine and was off.....for about two metres.......then the car stopped.......and sank.

I had to go home and bring reinforcements. My wife and mother in law came with me but no amount of my mother in laws revving while I pushed would budge it. In fact, it sank further.

Sooty soaked passed us, saw the situation and seemed to mock our attempts

So back to the house to find a rope. But all I could find was telephone cable. I braided this until it was several times in depth and tied the Peugeot to the other motor. The cable snapped and with it my patience. Thirty minutes later the rain had stopped but my rant had not.

This is when I met Eugene. He came strolling up the allotment as my wife was in her way to halford to buy us some proper rope. Eugene saw our desperation and came to the rescue by digging out some rope from his plot. Thankfully the rope held and the car was free.

An important lesson was learned that night and I will only ever venture up the plot if the ground is dry and even then only if I really really need to take it with me.

Two nights later I was up the plot again (by foot) and I could here Eugene chuckling to himself. Somebody else had got stuck in the mud. This time it was my turn to help so I scooted home and picked up the beast and the newly purchased tow rope. We freed the van from the rut and had the thanks of Michael. Michael was left to reverse the rest of the way down the plot and we thought he had gone. But he had only managed forty or so metres and had done it again so we got him out a second time.

Michael, Eugene and I still laugh at this. You live and learn.

Shaping up

Cabbages & Cauliflowers went into my third and fourth beds respectively. A thin line of Florence fennel accompanied the Caulis. In amongst the Cabbage and tomato plants went a load of tine salads which my eldest had carefully planted.

I dug out (For the third time) a narrow strip of just shy of 2 metres by 5 metres. This was then supplemented with several bags of Wicks compost. Narrow trenches were cut into the strip width ways and my son and I plonked a load of Marris Peer seeds into the trenches before filling them back up.

There was still a gap left at the end as I only had enough for about three metres so in the gap we tightly planted the sweet corn we had raised a few weeks earlier and constructed a wigwam for the beans.

I had got to know quite a few more people by now. A couple named Barbara and Allen gave me more bean plants and so I returned the favour this time by donating some of the Swiss chard we had raised and some potato seed.

All the beans from home and the freebies were planted against the wigwam.

The tomatoes where putting on a good amount of growth so the support was changed to two foot canes and they where tied in. Barbara showed me how to keep them in check and half the plants seemed to disappear as we removed the side shoots. She also pointed out that I had tied in some of the branches instead of the central growth. Still they didn’t look too bad to me. And I was happy with the flowering.

Another two boxes were constructed and into on went four Defender F1 Courgette plants and a Spanish cucumber plant in the middle (Thanks again Barbara). Into the other went a dozen or so Strawberry plants.

We had a couple of deliveries where we could help ourselves to free fresh manure and the builders palates that everyone seems happy to use in constructing the must have compost pile.

I already had a small compost bin that I had salvaged together from an old broken plastic jobby. We have been collecting all the organic kitchen waste, garden cuttings and I have been collecting up all the free news papers that are handed out in London whilst at work. The bin was getting full so I would have to make something bigger shortly.

Three more beds where constructed. Into one went the beetroots, more salads, a bunch of radishes and the Chard. Into the next went some spring onions with the intention of growing more cabbage and caulis. The final one was lined with gardener’s membrane and filled with pebbles. The intention is to build this area into cold frame beds.

I stepped onto the bathroom scales. I had lost six kilos in weight in as many weeks. For the first time in a couple of years I noticed that my face had thinned out and I comfortable got into a pair of jeans I had never really felt like wearing because the tummy bulge meant the jeans got pushed down below the bulge and then the jean bottoms always got caught under my shoes as a walked. Stick that on your running machine LA fitness.

Not only that - everything on the plot was growing nicely and I could see the transformation taking place.

A Small Miracle - Bleedin thousands of em

I had mentioned earlier that I had planted out some seed of my own into the starter plugs. Well on a fine Sunny Saturday at the beginning of June we sat on the lawn of the back garden and did just that with my elder son.

We peeled the green plastic trays apart and filled each compartment with the expensive potting compost.

The packets of seed that we had collected were a mixture of things we either really wanted to eat or took our fancy when we had scanned the seed sections at a couple of local garden centres.

In went a packet of sweet corn. My boy was good at this one. Big seeds one per pot...No problem.
Then Swiss Chard described by some as Spinach on Steroids, some green hearting Salads, a pack of French Dwarf beans, Parsnip seeds thinly and Beetroots.

Finally I had a pack of a thousand carrot seeds. We opened the packet and started drilling three to four seeds in each tiny pug. Then the phone rang and so I left my boy to carry on while I spoke to some Bangalore call centre from npower or some other company. I don’t know how you handle these calls but I like to let them speak, go through their pitch, get them to explain things in great detail so as to make the call last for 20 minutes or more and then say you're not interested. Put the phone down and break into an evil laugh.

My boy was in the garden drowning one of the seed trays with a 10 litre watering can. "I’ve finished the Carrots dad" hmmmmmm..... He had upped the number of seeds per plug by a few hundred each. You gotta love a six year old.

Back to the Future May 2008

I'm backtracking somewhat to bring my diary back up to date.

As I have mentioned. May was mainly digging, sifting and building the shed.

I also began to feverishly plant seeds into trays, and because it is my first season I have cheated slightly and purchased some plug plants to help me along.

I decided on a mixture of raised beds and direct planting. The first four raised beds I made were squares of 1.6m. The frames where built on the grassy paths that run both sides of my plot. These were then heaved into place, battened down and levelled as well as I could. Each box was then supplemented with three 90 litre bags of wicks compost which I found to be the cheapest I could find at four bags for a tenner. The compost was then dug into the boxes to mix with the topsoil I had cultivated.

I planted three varieties of tomato plants; these were Alicante, Sun gold, and beefsteak. Tiny little plants staked to the flimsiest foot long cane supports you can buy at your local garden centre.

Into the next bed went some broad bean seed. I could not recall ever eating these before. A quick internet search told me they were highly regarded by some when young and have a history of some 6000 plus years of cultivation.

Being the new kid on the block meant meeting lots of other people. I had been working flat out for weeks during every moment of my spare time and my beginner’s enthusiasm was being noticed by "the others".

First there was Shirley. She turned out to be the Allotment society’s financial representative. Shirley has been on the site and her father before her for decades. She looks after an adopted cat named Sooty. The cat lives on the site and when every body had left in the evenings and I toiled away until the light faded I would often see Sooty with a prize field mouse or whatnot.

I met Keith who had begun at the beginning of the year. He has a half plot with raised beds and had done exceptionally well. With his salads, cabbages, potatoes and everything clearly well established I was impressed with his efforts. Keith gave me a paper bag with some dried peas in which I accepted gratefully. My first gift. Planted into the bed next to the broad beans that very same Day.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The good Fight

♫ Dig, dig, dig goes the shovel.

♫ Fork, fork, fork goes the….er fork.

♫ Tap, Tap, Tap goes the h – h – h- hammer.

♫ Have a beer, Tidy up, Shut the gates.

The weeds declared me a tyrant as I swept through my land cleansing it of unwanted tribes.

I murdered the couch grass, slaughtered the brambles and snapped the necks off the bind weed and hacked it back to it mother root and char grilled her for good measure.

They gave nearly as well as they got with their cunning operation Annie Lennox.

The rake deserted me – Just as well I said, I don’t want anybody on my team who is not 110% committed.

During one rain swept Sunday, fortifications went up in the form of a B&Q shed. Then I dug in on the one time nettle strong hold and posted my allied forces, Tomatoes.