Thursday, 24 December 2009

Solstice Week

Where do you begin when you have left it so long? That uncomfortable feeling you get when you have left a promised call, email or letter in the back of your mind longer than was socially acceptable and the embarrassment/uncomfortable feeling you have which stops you from picking up the pieces and saying I’m sorry.

The blog, amongst many things has not been kept up to date for some time now. The plot is still there albeit under several centimetres of snow. Dormant, sleeping – but still providing tasty pickings of Brussels sprouts, Swede, leeks and cabbage on my weekly amble up to the patch.

For now, Nature has taken back the site; Foxes stealthily eying the fattened woodpigeons who have massed in numbers and swoop down from the bare trees to scratch out a meal on the naïve or lazy toilers un-netted brassica. Robins follow in the hope you will provide some much needed fat. Slowworms, toads and frogs take refuge in the warmer sanctuary of the composts. The low lying sun casts blue-grey shadows throughout the site, affording only hazy, almost insignificant light during the week of the winter solstice.

Spare a thought for the wildlife that reside in this place and rely on meagre pickings during these fallow months. Anything cooked and appropriate that might otherwise be binned in your household would make a welcome meal to our plots permanent residents.

With that I wish you good health and a bountiful 2010. One life, make it count!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Onion Harvest and Navarin D'agneau

Its been a bit busy this last week. My contract at work has been extended until the end of the year which is reassuring. Being a freelancer its always a bit daunting as you enter the last weeks of your contract as to whether it will be renewed or you will be told that your services are no longer required. Fortunately for me I havent been without work since I left a permenant post several years ago and took a gamble on going solo. Nows not the time to ask for a rise though, just count your blessings that you havent become a victim of the resession. So high five, I'm surviving thus far.

My parents are also on their UK tour, currently performing child-minding and the likes around our house for several days so we went to the Science Museum in Kensington, lunch in Belgos and Hamleys on Saturday and Bowling on Sunday. Quite a weekend and as much as I love my lotty, it was a great couple of days out and a pleasant change from the norm.

Anyroads - Over on the plot the onions had tipping over by the score suggesting that they had given up on bulb development and were finally ready, they were planted on september the 16th last year. So as I popped over last week I pulled a couple, then some more and just kept going until I had a mountain of red, yellow and white onions. Glorious fat bulbs of the yellows and whites. The Reds were satisfactory but by no means show winners. The shallots were also ready so up they came too. I struggled to get them all into the boot of my car and the smell from several hundred freshly dug aliums lingers to this day. When I got the back home I let them dry off for a few days outside. I stuffed them into the gaps of the trellis in our fence to keep them off the ground. Then after a few days rain beckoned so I cut some lengths of cable and hung them in the garage to continue curing. About thirty of the onions had developed "Fat neck" which happens when the central stem of the onion develops a flower head. Lot of people throw them straight onto the compost heap and don't eat them. I say thats a ridiculous reason to throw them, you just need to eat them or make preserves as soon as possible before the central stem begins to brown and eventually rot. These ones have been cut back of their foliage and are being used as a priority.

I Popped over to the plot quickly again on Saturday evening to show my mum the progress. We had dinner planned for Sunday so we got busy filling up a swag bag.

Firstly I pulled a big Kos Lettuce which was actually for Saturdays supper, it was a little bit past its best so quite a few of the outer leaves were composted. we then grabbed several beetroots. These where the first beets I had taken this year. They came out of the ground nice and easily, partly becasue they have been growing in a raised be but also because of the rain these last few days. I have to say that these were much taster than last years. We shredded them through the roto slicer and nearly fainted when my wife, with her life long abhorance of beetroot tried a bit at the dinner table and proceeded to put some on her plate and finished the lot. The variety I'm growing are the ones with the white flesh and pink rings inside. Maybe it was the colour that put her off, I tend to think it was the over abundance of pickled beets on the canteen menu at school.

Then I moved onto the broad beans. These are the over wintered ones which are short podded and contain 4-6 beans in each. After that my mum picked a couple of small pots of strawberries, most of them made it home but wheres the fun in growing strawberries if you can't eat them straight from the plant?

The early Nantes carrots have been ransacked a lot of late. That day was no exception as we pulled another thirty or so of them. Then the peas......Oh my god the peas........I have only had a tasters of these so far, last years peas where very mealy so it was a joy to snap them off and munch on several pods right there and then, about eighty pods still made it into the swag bag - so sweat I could live on these for weeks.

Max has been growing turnips and had given me the all clear to bring some home too so ten beautiful purple topped specimens were taken out of his plot and added to the haul.

Lastly I thought I'd show off my first earlies to my mum so took out the trusty fork and dug into a pile with some Pixie first earlies. It was dissapointing to only find six or so worthy spuds for the swag bag. They are pretty though with little pink eyes. I will give these a few more weeks as the Maris bards and home guard seem to be doing so much better. Presides I had about a kilo at home from the previous visit so I resisted temptation to dig any more.

So what do you do with all these spring vegetables I wondered. Well my mother in law had the perfect recipe and at the risk of upsetting 50 million French people I will impart with one of their old skool favourite recipes named Navarin d'agneau - Spring lamb stew to most of us. Its a delicous mix of spring vegetables at their very best and brings out the very best in lamb.

Serves - Too much for six hungry adults

1.5 KG Lamb Diced - Large n chunky - big is better
4 Medium Onions (sliced fairly chunky - think one centimetre)
4 tbl spoons of Plain Flower
1/3 bottle of dry white wine
1 Bouquet Garni
50 Grams of Butter
80 Podded peas
40 Podded broad beans
500 grams of New Carrots - Topped and tailed in skins - Chopped in half or three
500 grams of New Potatoes - washed in their skins - chopped in half if larger than an egg
500 grams of Turnips - Topped and tailed, peeled - same size as potatoes
6 white rooted small beetroot (optional) -Topped and tailed, peeled- same size as potatoes
Salt and Pepper.

This works great in a big heavy casarole - Everyone went back for seconds and it went down a storm with some home made bread cut up into doorsteps to mop up the sauce.

Add half the flour into the pan and throw in the cut lamb and cover the lamb as best you can with the flour. Then add the four chopped onions into the pan and add the rest of the flour.

Turn on the heat on the hob to HIGH and add the butter - Brown off the meat for several minutes turning regulary to ensure the onions do not burn. (Its normal to see brown at the bas of the pan, its the flour, lambs fat and butter).

Add two large glasses of wine, then the bouqet garni and then add water so that the liquids are a tad above the level of the meat and onions.

Cover and simmer for forty minutes.

Add Carrots, Potatoes, Turnips, Beetroot and another wine glass of Water. Salt and pepper as liked.

Cover and simmer for thirty minutes.

You can turn it off now if you have pre-prepared this. Or if you are eating straight away. Add the peas and beans. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat - let it stand for five minutes and give it a good stir.

Repeat stirring "genty does it" after another five minutes and serve in deep plates with bread and the remainder of the wine.

Just the trick for a Sunday that was ten degrees celcius less than the previous week.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

High point/Low Point

Rob from A plot too far wished me a happy anniversary and asked me what were the high/low points during my first year attempting to turn dirt and seeds into something fit for the dinner table.

The Highs really outweighed the lows although there were a few; I had to think harder to include them to balance out the post.

High point/low point

High Point: Kids Got involved in the sowing, growing and harvesting which opened their eyes and filled their bellies with the freshest veg money cant buy and only a hop skip and jump (into a puddle) away from our family home kept them active and more importantly away from the play station and television.

Low point: Kids had a theory of why plant one seed when one hundred would be more fun. The carrots were a disaster as was the early salad sowings I didn't thin out too much either. The carrots came out in tangled clods looked like a banshees hand and were impossible to clean or eat unfortunately.

High point: Learning from mistakes was invaluable from planting spacing (see above) to calculating cropping times for follow on crops and grouping of vegetable types so that you can concentrate on a bed knowing all the plants need the same treatment. This year has been much more rewarding already and nothing has died (yet).

Low point: Grew three Aubergines outdoors and cropped one "bitter" aubergine. Haven’t bothered this year. May try them in the green house next year but they are off the food factory floor for 2009.

High point: Eating Sunday Roast with my parents with every single veg including Potatoes, Sweet corn, Cabbages, Swede, Peas and of course the courgettes which I took my own body weight home in Last Autumn.

Low point: Not netting up my Purple sprouting broccoli and finding it razored by the mauling pigeons and having to rely on handouts from kind plot holders to taste what I was missing.

High point: Taking in a fantastic evening over the plot with Michael and shooting dead several fat pigeons from their vantage points in the oak trees. We prepared them on the spot and had a barbeque of pigeon breast, courgettes onions and sweet corn. They eat our veg, we eat them.

Low point: Having prized marrow and produce pinched. They always took the best that I had and it annoyed me to think it was probably fellow plot holders rather than kids. The oiks that do occasionally cause a bit of hassle are more intent on destruction of property and kicking your veg about than pinching it.

High point: health and well being has been improved no end. With a farmers tan and losing a bit of weight I feel better now than I had for years.

Low point: Shed being broken into and kids tools being burnt in the shed was a "bad day". Fortunately I shrugged it off and bought some replacements so to the idiots who did it. I’m over it and you're still losers most likely doing community service by now……parp.

High point: Kindness in these times from complete strangers is a rare occurrence. Not on the allotment though. Far from it, I have seen sincerity; kindness and fellowship flourish into friendships in a short space of time. My boy’s love it too as there are so many kids to play with.

Low point: Weeds. Do they ever give up? I watched the gardener’s world and uktv gardening programmes in disbelief as they potter around doing the planting, potting up and designing. Not once have I seen them in a situation where they have left the kitchen garden for a split second to find half the plot has been swamped in Fat hen, dandelions, couch grass and bind weed.

High point: Seeing James happy as a kid with a box of matches with his new toy. Scorching up the weeds and his paths with a flamethrower.

Low Point: Driving up to my plot after several days of torrential rain only to get the car stuck in a rut and having to walk home and get the wife and mother in law up to help me tow it out. This caused a stupid argument over my stupid actions. Needless to say I apologised and no longer drive in the bog.

High point: Coming home from summer holidays to find that several plot holders had been kindly watering for me whilst I was away and the whole garden looking fantastic.

Low point: Spending several months looking after the pumpkin plant only for them to get a few nicks taken out of them and going mouldy. Still I had one decent one and you can only eat so much.

High Point: Appreciating the seasonal changes with every passing day leading up to the summer equinox through to the stillness of its winter opposite. With the exception of the bitter February it was always a pleasure to be in the open experiencing with new eyes the changing of the seasons.

Low Point: Tomato Blight - It’s a bitch.

Friday, 22 May 2009

First anniversary

A year ago today I popped into the council offices and picked up two keys, signed a contract and handed over less money that I spend on a night out to the cinema.

Today - looking back to a year ago my life has improved and I'm happier for it.

Heres looking forward, not back to the next year. #

Chin Chin

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

May Cazaux Time

It was a wonderful May evening and I have misplaced the keys to my shed. Not wanting to miss out on this fine spring sunset. I grabbed the camera and snapped away.

Heres a few pictures. The rest can be located here.

The flowers smell so sweety-sweet. Hello gardner, nice to meet. Berries are my favourite thing. Birds and flowers, it must be Spring.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four,
five potato, six potato, seven potato more.
Icha bacha, soda cracker,
Icha bacha boo.
Icha bacha, soda cracker, out goes Y-O-U!

I always eat my peas with honey;
I've done it all my life.
They do taste kind of funny
but It keeps them on my knife.

There was a young man from Prestatyn,
Who fancied he ought to learn Latin,
He said; 'I shall speak,
Of my hatred of leek,
But the Welsh don't have words to put that in.'

Sit while I sing you a fanciful song,
Which tells of the cabbage's lore.
It's not that exciting and not very long,
For the cabbage is often a bore.

How best to picture this much-maligned fruit
That has troubled the wisest of sages?
It is leafy and green and yet looks rather cute
When it's squashed in a book with large pages.

Fitted with wheels on its sides, it becomes
The most truly extraordinary car.
And when covered in tinsel and circled by plums,
It resembles a rather small star.

The cabbage was never the smartest of fruits,
But its uses outnumber its brains.
The leaves can be used to make edible suits,
And the stalk for unblocking the drains.

I hope you have learned of the cabbage's way,
And recall it if salads are bleak.
But now you should leave, for I fear, if you stay,
I will tell you the tale of the leek.

My Uncle Lionel
Is a spinach leaf,
The iron'll do you good
Boil him up for half a day
He'll taste like mashed up wood.

Beans, broad, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot!
Beans, broad, they are good for your heart.
The more you eat, the more you fart.
The more you fart, the more you eat,
The more you sit on the toilet seat!

Hot Corn, cold corn, bring along the demijohn
Hot Corn, cold corn, bring along the demijohn
Hot Corn, cold corn, bring along the demijohn
Fair thee well, uncle Bill, see you in the morning
Yes sir

They fell in love, then they married
A tomato bouquet she carried
Tomatoes cooked to perfection
Were served up at the reception
As they drove off they were showered
...Not with tomatoes but flowers!

Si tu me miras
Watching the sunset
Si tu me miras
Taking a picture
Of the sunset

Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green,
Strawberries sweeter than any I've seen
Beetroot purple and onions white:
All grow steadily day and night.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The miricalgrow of life.

I'm expecting babies very shortly.

Isn’t it amazing that after nine months and several billion cells splitting, us human beans are able to make a mini us's.

Two eyes for watching television, two hands for playing play station, two feet for kicking people with on a Saturday night after drinking twenty pints of Stella. A mouth to swear with and ears to stick I-pod headphones in. Such is the miracle of reproduction and adolesance in our glorious twenty fist century thug land.

Only the other day I was in my local corner shop, three kids walked in and racially insulted the owner. Demanded he sell them Cigarettes and alcohol. I was happy to see Petre the owner flash his bat at them and practically threw them out.

Crikey - what has the world come to I thought? I must be getting old! Petre told me not to worry; he gets it all the time.

As I left the shop I thought to myself that When I was a kid back in the early eighties. We would have never in our wildest dreams done something like that, no way. We would have created a distraction and quietly just pinched a sherbet dip. No need for the insults.

I’m going off on one.....Back to the subject.

My babies by contrast have been ten months in making, it’s been a long and difficult conception, and in only a couple of weeks, I'm going to eat them with a cheesy béchamel.

Whoohoo, yep, I'm talking about my beloved brassica. Last night I made a very happy discovery - My Cauliflowers are finally heading up.

A few weeks back I blogged about these, so won’t repeat my self too much about the efforts involved.
I was considering giving up on them as my patience was running thin, and I need some space to plant out my gherkins. However, after much discussion about them with fellow plot holders, about these huge plants with nothing to show for them after so long, A few suggested that I might cut off a few of the outer leaves to stimulate/shock them a little bit.

Hesitant at first, because you are told they dislike conditions anything short of perfect. I decided to test this suggestion, and cut three to four mammoth leaves from a few of them. Michael keeps chickens and happily took these for them to peck on.

Any roads - A week later and I have half a dozen "farmer Fists" sized heads. The are very tightly packed and I am quietly confident that these are going to be beauties.

I picked off and disposed of several snails and bugs lurking in the bed. Looks like snail season has begun. Hosed them in Comfrey tea and threw in some blood and bones to the mix.

Another sight that brought a smile to my face, and will have my boys going mental do-lally is that we have a dozen strawberries turning from lime green to pink. Oh yes. Vanilla Ice-cream has been added to the shopping list.

The salad days are well and truly here now with Kos lettuce, sweet cut and come again, mountains of fresh spinach, radishes, basil, beet leaf, lambs lettuce, all year round salad and spring onions.

Turnips and Kohlrabi are beginning to fatten up nicely. I’m looking forward to a tagine couscous by my wife with these.

The over wintered onions, shallots and the not too rusty garlic continue to fatten up. What am I going to do with 200 onions? Maybe I'll take a load as a gift to Petre as payback for all those missing sherbet dips. He didn't escape the courgette glut last year and always asks my how my garden grows.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Garlic’s- R- us t

As mentioned in a previous post the Garlic I planted last year was a mixture of heads purchased on a week’s holiday to Provence - France, plus a gift from my parents who live in sunny Spain. The holidays a distant memory now, but the Garlic plants, which until now have looked a picture of health, have served to remind me of that fantastic family break.

They where planted in the middle of September last year in the bed I had used to grow Maris Peer Second early potato’s and another bed that was used to grow Broad beans. Can’t remember the type of broad beans that they where as they where shop bought plants.

The soil is in good shape! The cultivation of the potato’s and the added compost and sharp sand for added drainage for both beds has changed the structure of the soil remarkably for the better.

We have had a stinking cold winter, but dry by all accounts which by most internet references suggests ideal conditions for getting the garlic off to a flying start and providing the conditions that are needed to split the bulb into several cloves rather than one large onion like bulb.

I haven't watered them directly this year, which should be fine as there is plenty of moisture below surface. So my question is what could have encouraged them to develop early signs of Garlic rust?

Spacing certainly isn't the issue as I have followed the 10 centimetre on rule and added a bit more for good luck

Could it be that the fat cloves of garlic which I planted were infected with this fungal infection and I should heed every seed sellers advice and only use certified virus free stock? I hope not.

Could it be that the water tank just up from me broke a few weeks ago pouring water through my plot for days on end caused the fungal infection?

Or maybe everybody that grows garlic suffers from rust and I'm rantign for nothing. I know Peter and a couple halfway down grew it last year and both theirs developed rust too but we had a very soggy spring in 2008 so I put it down to moist conditions, but maybe there’s more to it.

This is one of the painful moments of keeping a plot, the disappointment and realisment (yankism) that something you have had high hopes for is going to shit.

This is an extract from the most useful page I found whilst googling that answers most of these questions.

Puccinia allii (or rusty garlic): This fungus has caused major epidemics in California and some losses in Arizona. California isolates did not infect leek, shallot or elephant garlic. However, P. allii in Europe is extremely damaging on leek.

This fungus may over winter on dead plant material, in soil, or on wild hosts. When seed cloves collected from rust-infected garlic plants were planted in studies by the University of California, none of the plants that grew from these cloves developed rust (Counts out the infected bulb theory).

The rust is autoecious and same-season re-infection by urediospores is common. Severe losses are reported when excessive rain, fog, or irrigation are present (Looks like the water-tank maintenance fault then).

Highest infection rates occur at cool temperatures (50-59° F) and 100% relative humidity. Temperatures below 50° F and above 75° F inhibit the disease.

Symptoms: Initial symptoms include small white to yellow flecks and spots. The spots enlarge and become oval to elongate or diamond shaped and take on an orange cast as uredia develop. Later in the season, black oval to elongate telia develop. These telia may or may not break through the epidermis. Telia of a related species, P. asparagi, found occasionally on onion, tend to be dark brown rather than black. Heavily infected plants have an orange cast, outer leaves may yellow and wither prematurely, and bulb size may be reduced.

No resistant garlic lines have been identified.

More to the point, what can you do about it?

Organic control:

Nada, nil, zilch. You can try cutting back infested leaves which will have an impact on the size of the end product but it won't cure it. - I was hoping nature had the answer. Sounds like athlete’s foot for Garlic! Maybe I'll get some talcum powder and put clean socks on them daily......

Chemical control:

Dithane F-45 Rainshield at 2.4 quarts/A on a 7-day interval. The addition of a Latron surfactant will improve performance. Do not apply more than 24 quarts/A/crop or apply to exposed bulbs. Do not apply within 7 days of harvest. 24-hr re-entry.
Manex at 1.6 to 2.4 quarts/A on a 7-day interval. Do not apply more than 24 quarts/A/season or apply to exposed bulbs. Do not apply within 7 days of harvest. 24-hr re-entry.

Quadris at 6 to 12 fl oz/A on a 7- to 14-day interval. Do not apply more than one (1) foliar application of Quadris or other Group 11 fungicide before alternating with a different mode of action. Do not apply more than1.5 lb a.i./A per season of azoxystrobin-containing products. May be applied the day of harvest. 4-hr re-entry.

So this leaves me with four options, one of which I deplore as it uses a non-organic approach.

1) Napalm them with a cocktail of Dithane/Manex/Quadris - Not even sure if this stuff is available to average Jo – Occasional allotment gardener. Sounds more like the makings of a Molotov bomb than an answer to my problems.

Verdict: B"$%^ks to that, Id rather eat a creamed slug sandwich.

Who in their right mind would treat their crop with this poison? To me it’s like saying I have a sore throat and somebody advising you to drink turpentine as that’s what they give camels in Morocco after they have travelled through a sand storm. Sure your sore throat will go away, but you liver will pack up and you may get stomach cancer but what the hell, if its good enough for them camels why not give it a go?

Don’t believe me? Check this out on the Chinese grower’s choice Dithane.

2) Dig them up and consign them to a bonfire.

Verdict: To early to tell how bad its going to get.

3) Cut all the affected leaves off and hope for the best

Verdict: I want fat bulbs, cut the plant cut the chances of a decent crop and they won’t store.

4) Do nothing, leave them be and possibly mulch with potash -Bonfire soot and hope for the best. The chances are it will have little effect on the final crop other than reducing the size of the bulbs slightly and you won’t be able to braid them.

Verdict: Do nothing – Live in Hope – Stop stressing – Cazaux Likes.

The question is…..What would the infamous garlic farm on the Isle of Wight do in a situation like this?

Your advice would be very much appreciated.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Homegrown corn on the cob is out of this world

Hands up who has ever grown Sweet corn and rushed home with a bunch of fat ears, ripping off the outer layers on route to expose ten inch yellow hand grenades, perfectly formed without a missing corn or a weevil in sight?

I have, it took me 23 minutes to get up and back from my plot, rip off half a dozen little beauties and back home again to a big old pan I started boiling before I sat off. I ripped off the outer leaves and threw them all in the steaming pot as quick as possible to get the sweetest corn that literally no amount of money can buy you from any market in the world.

This was the highlight of 2008's season; I can't recall anything that I grew last year that had the "Oh My God! Pat yourself on the back farmer - you've just cultivated sex on a cob" factor as I munched through three of them, butter dripping from my chin and an Ice cold beer. Max was just as impressed although he's six and had to settle with a soft drink, I think this was the day we both developed the obsession with corn on the cob.

On that 6th September 2008, I made a promise to myself to grow more than the 16 plants I had experimented with, and this year I will be hoping to beat the 23 minute bar.

Why is it so important to get them from plot to Cocotte in the fastest time possible? Well, it is because the natural sugars that are in sweet corns begin to turn into starch from the moment you pick them. You could do a taste test to compare that within just two hours, there is a marked difference with the taste that most people, especially sweet teeth would notice.

Leave it another day and 60% of the natural sugars that exist may have turned leaving you a very different product from your food factory.

The same can be said of peas, that's why many people adore the frozen variety as the farms scoop up the entire plants, shell them and fast freeze them within a matter of hours to capture the sweet flavours, but find the peas to pod from your local supermarkets and vegetable stalls quiet mealy.

Growing sweet corn is a doddle.

I Started by buying root trainers or you could use toilet rolls three weeks back, then placed a single seed into each cell filled with general compost, planting 64 in total. Then I take a pencil and push them gently into the compost, cover with a bit more compost and drench them with warm water from the kitchen sink. Pop a lid on your sowings and leave for a week or so.

After a week or so you should find most of your sweet corn has popped up and you can take the lid off and drench them once again in Luke warm water but leave the lid off this time.

Wait another week and they should be six inches tall and if you are feeling confident that we are going to have the hottest summer in living history then you can prepare to plant them out now.

You can prepare the plot for them by digging deep and incorporating as much organic material as possible. I personally dumped four bags of horse muck and a couple of barrow loads of home brew compost. Then I borrowed James Mantis and tilled the area and piled it up so the bed was raised above the natural level of the plot. I cover the area with gardener’s membrane and slit holes every 18 inches (40cm) leaving 22 Inches between rows so you can sent you kids in to pick them.

From the 64 I planted I was happy with 63 that germinated.

Last weekend I planted five rows of nine plants, I have held back four in-case a few don’t take and gave the remaining thirteen to Bob, he gives me way too much stuff so it was great to repay the compliment. I think he was happy as he was still chitting his corn (Something I don’t bother with).

According to many threads you can plant closer than this but in doing so you run the risk of reducing the yield. At these distances you should expect 1.5 (Average) cobs over your crop so I’m going to be eating plenty come August with a bit of luck and some supercharged summer days.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Cauliflower rant.

Im back from holidays in Mexico - Its been a couple of weeks - Time for a post.

In about a month’s time, I'm hoping for a return on my investment of time and efforts with the over wintered cauliflower experiment. They are looking very healthy now but with these vegetables being particularly fussy and the odds stacked against you in many respects, you can only do what you can do and wait several months before you find out if you did it well or you ended up with a sweaty sponge of minuscule proportions.

Growing the humble Cauliflower it’s kind of like going to war as a Spartan. Death or Glory. Actually is nothing like that at all as Cauliflowers can't throw spears and don’t look menacing enough to be considered a warrior race. But in essence - You either fail miserably or glory in your marvellous achievements’.

Mine have been in the ground since August last year. I started them from seed in June. I have watched patiently, weeded regularly and protected the bed with a "ring of Steel" to fend off early sabotage attempts by feathered brassica jihadists.

Throughout the winter I watched over the caulis wondering "what’s the point of this over wintering ball hocks". They just sat there without much sign of growth, which then ground to a complete halt whilst being battered by cold harsh frosts, snow and no sun light.

One gave up the ghost and popped its clogs two days before Christmas. It was like loosing a family member. Its death cannot be explained. It looked in good health a week before hand, I found it keeled over looking rather slimy so I pulled it out and buried it in the bean trench so at least some good will come of it - for the beans at least. Not that I'm in the habit of burying family members in my bean trench so it wasn't really like a family member really at all, more like a pet goldfish or something I wouldn't think twice about lobbing in the bean trench if it died.

Then as the frosts rescinded, the surviving brood have had treats of blood and bone meal, well rotted manure and rain water from my butt (water). I have even given them a dose of diluted seaweed concentrate which is like a natural anabolic steroid for hungry plants.

Now the weather is warming and some serious growth has begun again, a new wave of lesser attacks have begun.

I have kept the white fly at bay with soapy water spray to clog up the little bastards breathing ducts. Snails and slugs found in the bed have been skewered onto a length of garden twine and their shrivelled remains hung up to ward off theirs friend and family.

Any outer yellowing leaves and the little suckers that sometimes grow at the base have been removed.

There doesn’t seem to be any advice in any of the publicised growing guides that I own so I have consulted Soilmans thread as he also loves the good fight that is the cultivation of Cauliflowers.

Hoeing this little bed is off limits, it's regularly hand weeded to ensure that all the available nutrients are available to my crop, and does not become a feast for the weeds which have gotten into full swing too now.

You can’t compare foreign imported shop bought mass produced long term vegegatbles that'll only cost you seventy pence from the non organic section of a billion pound a week supermarket. Home grown cauliflower is not easy, it can be a pain in the proverbials to avoid the pigeon attacks, adverse weather conditions, slugs and snails and if you don’t get their fussy little requirements’ just right, or forget to pick them on just the right day you still end up with a stinky - yellow - tennis ball sized - loose headed - crap end product.

Get it right on the other hand and you have bragging rights over your fellow farmers and gain respect from the old guard over the plots as you strap your gigantic beast like vegetables to the roof rack of your car and parade it around town playing bagpipe music from your cd player with all your windows down and a pair of ray bans on with one hand waving at the admiring onlookers.

Mine by contrast to Tesco’s perfectly formed jolly foreigners are 100% British and 100% organic.
There will be zero food miles in carting them home (Apart from the victory parade). Even if they taste like a cocktail of horse shit and seaweed and look like they have fallen out of the back end of a bison's bum they are going to get eaten.

So unlike the 65% of vegetables grown that never even reach your dinner plate there will have been a point to their existence.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

If at first you don't suck-seed.

A month ago I was wondering if the growing season would ever begin, now it seems to be getting ahead of me. Greenhouse is cooking on Gas now after the disaster a few weeks back.

First of the 64 sweet corns and 80 borlotti beans poked their heads up from the root trainers yesterday.

27 of the 32 Courgette seeds have germinated. These are from self saved seed from last season’s bumper courgette gluts. A few of them were left to get to monster proportions. The seed was saved for this years planting. They are really nice with a cold one toasted in the oven too with the smallest amount of oil and salt.

8 Market more Cuke's and 12 Dwarf beans have smashed through the soil in their recycled coffee cup pots

50 - OMG - 50 Pepper plants have germinated. It looks like a near on 100% germination rate. I'm going to have to find the time to prick these out and pot then into a root trainer before Sunday.

96 Blue Lake Climbing French beans planted last night.

80 Musselburgh Leeks have been pricked out into three large pots filled with quality compost which will be taken up the plot because space or lack of it is becoming a real issue

A friend has offered the use of his greenhouse in exchange for some of the extras. I tend over plant expecting only fifty percent germination rates but at this rate there’s going to be plenty of happy potholders’ come the seedling swap up the plot in early May.

Last year was my first and I was chuffed to bits that so many people kindly donated their extras to me. Along with paying silly money from garden centres for plug plants. It was the only way I was able to make the plot productive I hope to be able to reciprocate those gifts this year and help out some of the recent joiners who are frantically digging over their newly acquired starter plots.

Have you seen how expensive the veg is in the commercial garden centres this year? £1.99 buys you four spindly broad beans or six peas at home base - Incredible when for the same price, you could have bought a pint of broad bean seed from the Suffolk potato fair in February, that’s around a hundred and fifty seeds. The crop you get from four plants would probably cost you the same to buy the beans in a supermarket in the first place. They are taking the royal piss if you ask me.

I may ask the grounds man Bob if I can rent the road that was marked between me and my neighbour.

Like a lot of intentions on the plot, the road never got going, as the width was miscalculated. It’s too narrow to use without driving over my raised beds "Which has happened several times - grrrr". Not this year though, railway Steve gave me a length of steel track which is going to be buried into the corner that gets the worst of it.

Let’s see if they like driving into that instead. I will paint a bright colour so it’s clearly visible though.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Normandy Weekend

We travelled to Normandy, France last weekend to see my wife’s family. The house we stayed in is her uncles, and I love it. It’s a Norman Farm house with several Hectares of land. The house itself dates back four hundred years with huge French oak beams and just oozes old charm. It has a brick fireplace and a bread oven to its side which makes you feel so comfortable in the chilly evenings. Outside the kids were fascinated with Jean-Marc’s three horses, cows, Chickens and rabbits. I was equally impressed with his Cave filled with wine and Calvados.

The best thing about France in my opinion though is not their fantastic wine or cheese. It's their roads. If you love driving then you would appreciate the French motorways which are not crowded. People don't drive in the middle lane creating road rage and the fast lane is just a pleasure to open up and give your motor a good workout. You are allowed to drive at 80 mph which means 90 mph and they have huge signs telling you that there will be a speed camera before you approach it. The only problem is that you pay for the pleasure with regular tolls, I'm not sure, but I don’t think you pay road tax if you are a resident in France so it would equal itself out as you pay when you use the infrastructure. You may even save a few quid if you don’t use the motorways that often.

We went into town to a Carrefour supermarket on Saturday morning. I went to the gardening aisle and was a little disappointed with the selection of seed available. I had to get something though and opted for some Mange tout, Onions and triumph de Farcy French beans. One thing I did notice is that the packets contain double the quantity than you get for the same price in England. I didn't have the opportunity to go to a garden centre as we were committed to seeing the family.

We arrived home around five o’clock on Sunday, I popped over to the plot for a quick peek. It always amazes me that even in the space of three days you see a marked difference in your veg.

The Radishes are quite visible now and the foliage has grown enough to cover the small drills I made a few weeks back. All the little spring onions have grown to about four centimetres and the Nantes early carrots have pushed through nicely. Soilman was happy to see his carrots had germinated under a cloche. I didn't use one and they have still come through although they are not as big as his so I think they would have liked a bit more heat.

I was surprised too, to see that the first early potatoes in one of my larger raised beds have begun to poke through the soil. I thought I had planted them a bit deep and they would have taken another couple of weeks but the weather has been kind since mid March so that has probably helped them along the way.

The Cauliflowers I over wintered are doing well now. I don’t think it will be too long before they begin to form their heads.

I have figured out what I sowed in my mystery raised bed now. I drilled several rows in a moment of seed frenzy three weeks back and forgot to label them up. There’s a row of Lambs lettuce, four rows of spinach and a couple of rows of beetroot. All of it has germinated in some fashion and the first true leaves on the spinach are beginning to form.

Lastly I noticed that the broad beans have begun to set white flowers which hopefully means that my over wintered experiments have by in large been successful. A few fellow plot holders had grown various brassicas over winter and they have bolted as soon as the weather turned milder.

So off I went home to check out the progress on the greenhouse seedlings;

Kohlrabi - Developing second sets of true leaves - will be ready to plant out at the weekend hopefully.

Tomato's - Only five plants have survived after the disaster - Four of them are doing well, the seed wouldn't budge from the last one for weeks and it tiny.

French Beans - One has germinated - Only planted last week.

Salads - All have germinated - Will have to give some away as I over planted.

Leeks - Look Crap after being smashed up. Have sown some more.

Peppers - over thirty have germinated over the weekend.

Calabrese - again thirty have germinated over the weekend.

Cabbage spitfire - Looks great, these are developing their first true leaves, ones near the windows of the green house looked parched but they will recover. Took lid off now.

Bortolli Beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, courgettes - Nothing yet only planted last week.

Basil - Growing slowly.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

March Picture Gallary

Peggy suggested that I should post some pictures.

I agreed it was about time I remembered to take the camera.
So heres a few snaps from this afternoons bolt up to the plot to pick up my seed box.
Its all a bit brown on the plot - I'm sooo looking forward to seeing my scratch of a patch become an oasis of green.

Nature sticks it to my Food factory.

So like any other day, I return from work last night after a long slog, hoping to kick back and relax before the next instalment of Groundhog Day, the elements provided a nasty surprise for me when I got home.

Apparently the wind picked up yesterday afternoon, and during the course of the evening it caught hold of my little greenhouse and tossed it about for a while. There was no damage as such to the greenhouse but inside was a whole different story.

The Staging at the back of the greenhouse had been knocked for six and along with it the majority of my seedlings that were coming on a treat. They had been upturned in their pots and scattered all over the floor.

To say I was major league peeved off would be any understatement. I’ve lost all my salads, Sage, Thyme and Tomatoes (except a few tomato's on a windowsill indoors). I managed to save about half of the kohlrabi and some of the basil looked salvable.

Thankfully the leeks were ok; they had been on the bottom shelf and managed to avoid natures little rabbit punch to the solar plexus.

I went into salvage mode, repotted the Basil, firmed down the few kohlrabi that survived the assault and threw the rest into a large sack for the local recycling centre.

The survivors got special treatment last night and spent the night in the comfort of my house. My wife must have felt pity for me because she didn't complain about the uninvited guests and I got a hug which cheered me up.

Lessons Learned: No point in crying over spilled milk. I'm going to move the greenhouse into another location and bolt it down so securely, that even if we get a storm of biblical proportions my greenhouse will remain a safe haven for the seeds I'll be sowing this evening. Just for that Mother Nature, I'll not be recycling for a week.

Friday, 20 March 2009

In less that on hour Spring will have arrived.

A monumental event occurs for all budding gardeners and vegetable plot holders on this day.

The vernal equinox occurs this morning. As the sun crosses the celestial equator at 11:43 GMT we will officially be in real spring. Not the meteorological spring which marks the seasons by dividing the seasons into four tidy three month periods but REAL SPRING.......

This has the old stomach butterflies’ whipping up a frenzy providing a moment of anticipation for me.

The greenhouse is alive with the emerging seeds that have been carefully planted over time since February including Kohlrabi, Early peas, Leeks, the first salads, Tomatoes, peppers, Sweet Basil and spitfire cabbage.

I can begin to think about Brussels Sprouts, Calabrese, next years sprouting broccoli, Dwarf French beans, Paris silver skin onions, cape gooseberries and so many more of the seeds that have been burning to escape from their foil wrapped imprisonment.

Over on the plot, the Kelvedon early peas are beginning to emerge, Radishes are showing their true leaves and have been thinned out. The early Nantes carrots are beginning to poke their feathered foliage through the soil.

Only three more weeks to go until my favourite day of the year. The day we get our evenings back and we finally get to spend a little time pottering around after work.

Happy Days!!!

Monday, 16 March 2009

So it’s been a month since I last posted.

So what’s been going down on the plot since the big thaw?

Well, for a start I now have a lovely new machine called a rotivator. It’s a 5.5 hp beast.

During the winter months I have been hand digging with what felt like no end in sight. Pulling out bramble clumps and perennial weeds from the new section of my plot and digging over the existing parts and adding in my home made compost and bags of well rotted manure.

A couple of weeks ago I removed the carpets that covered three of my raised beds. I have added some seaweed granulised fertiliser into these and have begun this years planting.

I raked over and hoe drilled several rows into one of the raised beds in preparation for the first sowings of the year. Into which I have sown four rows of French breakfast radish - Do the French eat radishes for breakfast? Three rows of Nantes Early Carrots and a couple of rows of White Lisbon spring onions. These are all quick croppers, chosen on purpose so that I can use the bed again in June for something else.

The following week I prepared a second bed in the same way as the first and have sown true spinach, some corn salad and bolt-hardy beetroots.

The over wintered Onions, Garlic and Shallots are growing big guns. Fantastic green leaves and the Shallots are showing several shoots on most of the plantings. The drainage I worked hard in achieving by adding several sacks of sand and the bitter cold weather looks like it will reward me with a bountiful crop in early summer.

The over wintered Cauliflowers are putting on new growth now too. I have several of these. It was hard to believe they would ever get going again after watching them just sit there without any sign of getting bigger since lat last year. The pigeons began their assault on them in December so they are all netted up now and have make a remarkable recovery.

I have planted out a row of Autumn Bliss raspberries, two red currant and two black currants in a section which has been given over to fruits. I have ordered three blue berry bushes which should arrive this week. Will probably sink some large containers in the fruit area to grow the blueberries in. They need a highly acidic soil to really get going and I don’t think I could modify and maintain my soil down to a ph level of 4.5 very easily.

The Summer Strawberry bed has settled down from the digging up and replanting late last year. It was a real mess with all manner of weeds and grass. The Plants set dozens of runners to so I though the best approach was to dig them up, add muck, and plants them back through gardeners membrane and provide a mulch of wood chip to make it look nicer and to hold the membrane in place.

On the 8th of March I planted twenty or so well chitted tubers of Maris Bard, Home guard and another I forget the name of. These went into the third raised bed. When they begin to poke through the soil I’m going to mulch up with straw and other organic materials.

That same week I also dug a narrow trench and planted a hundred or so early peas.

I went over on Sunday this week and gave the rotivator a good working out, or rather it pulled me around for an hour. I'm happy that I first dug the plot over taking out the majority of the roots and weeds as these machines have a bad reputation for turning your weed problem into all out weed warfare by chopping up perennials into thousands of pieces which in turn each grow into a new weed.

The over wintered broad beans were a bit of a hit and miss. It’s my fault really, I hoed the bed just before the killer weather that we had and the loosened soil allowed the ground frost to get at the roots. I probably lost half of them. I grew some space fillers in the greenhouse at home and got them planted in

I have given my Sons a raised bed to do what they want with. Max planted four broad beans I had left over; he has replanted some Rainbow chard for another of my beds. He managed to pinch one of my potato seeds so that went in too. He also planted several sun flower seeds. I had to prise my seed box from his hands as he was about to empty out several thousand carrot seeds in there too. I'll give him a hand next week so he doesn’t repeat last years over seeding.

So it’s been a while and I hadn't blogged for a month because I thought I had nothing to write. Then you get it out of you and you realise that quite a bit has gone on really. Won’t leave it so long next time.

Happy Gardening - Spring is finally in the air.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Mr Potato Head

I'm Going to the East Anglia potato fair tomorrow. I feel like i'm 7 years old and its Christmas eve.

Dear potato Santa,

Iv'e been a very good boy, please can I have the following for valentines day?

Love Cazaux.

Name Type Qty
Amorosa First Early 6
Accord First Early 6
Riviera Frst Early 6
Maris Bard First Early 12
Maris Peer Second Early 12
Wilja Second Early 12
Anya Second Early 12
Pixie Second Early 12
Mayan Gold Early Maincrop 12
Desiree Early Maincrop 12
Galactica Early Maincrop 6
Sarpo Mira Late Maincrop 12
Sarpo Axona Late Maincrop 12
Golden Wonder Late Maincrop 12

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Fresh snow Rulz

We have had some incredible weather here in Essex over the last few days. I couldn't wait to get out and about in it. You don't see this every day, so we wasn't about to let it go to waste.
Here's a picture of my eldest son who has been with me on many weekends getting this scratch of land usable. Max was really excited to be knee deep in the lovely fresh snow instead of dirt. He was especially happy I was not digging or working on the plot so we could concentrate on the important things like throwing snow at each other, rolling snowballs into huge boulders and leaving them on the paths to melt, in say a June..... he he he - chuckles...

Looks like I'll be on the sidelines for a couple of weeks whilst this lot melts and the soil becomes workable. Hope this dosn't kill the broadbeans, they were the winter "experiment" - under the waterbottles to the left. Surely the garlic, overwintering onions and shallots will be loving this?

I wouldn't want to be at the bottom end when all this begins to melt as they will be flooded for a while.

My plot is right at the top of this amazing landscape, we had great fun with a closely fought snowball fight on the way down and had giggle.

In the winter you dont see the foxes roaming the streets like you do in the summer

They retreat to places like this.

Check out Mr fox halfway up the path.

Sorry, can't say that they are my favourite animal in the world, they turn out your bins and crap on your driveway for ten months of the year. I won't mention the pet rabbit meets hungry fox tragedy of 1999.

As much as they get a bad press from me and so many others, I hope he finds some food and is not too displaced by all the snow so he can live to crap another day.

Friday, 30 January 2009


A close friends partner has given me 15 tubers of the Maris Bard first eary potato. Thanks a lot.
I was going to grow a couple of varieties of lovely new potatos this year so I'll only need to look for one other other when I visit the Suffolk and Essex seed fair in a couple of weeks time.

My wife Steph thinks I'm joking when I told her we are going the potato fair on the 14th February. I'll post some pictures of that romantic date later on next month.

She dosn't really enjoy working in the garden, but prefer's me gardening to gargling beer down the booza and she happily tucked into pretty much all the veg I came home with last year. I'll slowly work on her gardening phobia. Hopefully, she'll evolve into the keen assistant to me, head gardener by the time that I retire in twenty five years or so.

I'm blinking rambling again -

No I never ever ever do a thing about the weather, because the weather never ever does a thing for me.

Being English, I have a mild obsession with the weather. Have to say that I'm at odds as to what we can expect here for the next ten days.

On the weather front. One update, you are looking at two weeks of sunshine and cold but wind free days. (My favourite digging conditions) then on the very next forecast it changed to snow starting on Sunday which will drag and continue into the end of next week.

So you cross check this with the internet sites such as, the BBC and to find that between them it says it might be sunny, or it could rain, or we may have snow, or just overcast with some fog. We have French television in our house so I also watch the Tv1's "Meteo" to gauge the weather in Calais, which is often more accurate than the UK forecasts for some reason.

Saturday seems to be the best shot for some decent digging weather. The rest of the week will be a rainy, sunny, snowy, foggy, dry, damp, windy, calm, bitter, mild one.

So wrap up warm, don’t forget the sun cream for the sunny bits, Chap Stick for the snowy/frosty bits and a torch to find your way home in the fog. Incredible!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Garden life - The elevator pitch

Go figure? Last week my wife agreed that I could get a small, inexpensive polycarbonate green house for the garden, I was more excited when it arrived by courier the next day than when we took home a brand new BMW from the showroom a couple of years ago. That’s pretty weird by any accounts isn’t it? So I am asking myself the question why an aluminium frame with cheap plastic windows could do that?

I mean in my teenage years what I wanted changed every five minutes. Gardening was a chore you did to tap your parents up for some cash to go out somewhere. Gardens were for playing football, sneaky cigarettes and putting tents up in.

In my twenties I wanted a career path, to get on the housing ladder and to drive a nice car – the sort I bought would have been beyond my wildest dreams. Gardens were still a chore but you could enjoy social barbeques and the nice old couple would pop their heads over the fence and hand over a paper bag of home grown tomatoes and runner beans - Half went in the bin, not appreciating the care and attention that old Mr "whats-hisname" provided his plants to be able to give them to me.

In my thirties I have slowly woken up to the fact that I will not be a famous sports-star or the next Richard Branson - Infact I am pretty crap at most sports and I'd rather eat a dog shit sandwich than go to the gym.

I don’t know what made me apply for a plot, it just happened, I picked up the phone without really reading "The new Hype" or watching the endless celebrity chef's and household favourite gardeners programs - it just happened. It just so happened to be the best thing I did last year.

A lot of people won’t understand, fair enough, each to their own. In my pursuit of happiness I have found something that I am pretty good at, is dirt cheap (sorry), and allows me to spend quality time with my boys without the distractions of modern technology.

It's much healthier than watching somebody else do it on the idiot box, I'm fitter than I have been in ages without stepping into a gym or pounding a treadmill, and have experienced my first harvests - some good, others not so good. But the experience has been a wholly enjoyable one.

Maybe I'm just getting too much fresh air these days. Note to me: Stop ebaying gardening products.

Or Maybe when Barrack Obama takes over the Western world, it seems fitting that the most famous phrase from the United States Declaration of Independence rings true to me today . "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ".

- Now thats possibly what its all about, I could have picked up the fishing bug, or Golf, or bowling or hunting with rifles but this hobby clicked first and it makes me happy. Cars to me are things you use to get from A to B in. (And loading up the boot with well rotted Horse muck).

Monday, 19 January 2009

Mid January Plot Progress

My new starter plot is slowly beginning to resemble a pile of dirt, which is exactly what I want it to look like, ready for the mass of spud planting I plan for March/April.

There are so many brambles on this new plot! I am having to alternate my digging styles to slowly clear the plot of this evil perennial weed and its good friends, the equally undesirable bell-bind and couch-grass.

I now remember exactly why I wasn't too fussed that I gave this third back to the Council when they said they had an oversubscribed waiting list. The oddball couple who took it over gave up without so much as clearing a metre but they did leave me several dozen empty cans of lager and wine to dispose of - bless them. So I decided to take it back on when their tenancy was terminated.

The rest of the plot is dug over composted/mucked/limed as and where it was needed, so I am ready of sorts for springs planting bonanza.

The new bit is around ten by ten yards. So far I have filled fifteen or more wheel barrows of the dreaded bramble roots, couch grass and bind weed roots and hidden them along an unused and overgrown border of the site, but that's only a third of my plot done. I have put some back breaking efforts in an attempt to level out this third. The bottom corner was sunken and the top part of it raised, so that by just walking the ten yards width the low point was half a yard lower than the highest point. Its still not flat by any means, but its a lot better. There's only so much topsoil you can move from the top end other wise my plot would level out at the point of the subsoil.

I have dug my fork in deep and turned the the middle thirds topsoil upside-down, removing some of the roots but not concentrating on this too much. I'm hoping that when I start re-digging this third that it will be much easier to separate the topsoil from the roots, so as to avoid removing too much precious soil as they are removed. Its seemed easier on a little bit I tested on Saturday.

Just like when I began last may, it looked like an impossible task. But every time I manage to get my trusty fork out I make a little dent, on Saturday I got the impression that progress was finally being made.

Friday, 9 January 2009

New years reading tragedy

this year my parents bought me this book for Christmas.
I was really enjoying reading it on the way to and from work. Then on Wednesday evening as I was getting off the train at Leigh, it slipped out of my hands and fell down the gap and landed (opened) on the track. I watched in horror as the train began to move slowly. It thudded every couple of seconds as the wheels and several hundred tonnes of steel and passenger ran it over, then again, and again twenty or so more times until finally the train cleared the platform.

I jumped down and retrieved my gift. It was split in half and the pages on the second half of the book looked as though it had been passed through a shredder so I had to chuck it in the bin.

I was gutted. Will have to pop down to Waterstones and pick up another.