More Fresh Fruit

You should have seen my suitcase on the way back from holiday (for you American folks - that's a 'vacation'!) Never mind, you should go to the DEFRA website and look up your personal allowances of which sort of food you can bring back to the UK and which you cannot. Generally speaking the EU is one big happy family.

Anyway, back to the photo. I wish to take you on a journey to the Azores. These are a group of small volcanic islands way down into the mid Atlantic. It is my intention to visit there within the next few years, to walk the volcanic mountains and to visit the pineapple plantations. Here you can see a ripe Azores pineapple which was for sale in Madeira. It would only be a few days after picking, hence it was picked RIPE. It has now been eaten! It was heavenly.

Five a Day!

One of the things I look forward to doing when I visit Madeira is eating really ripe, locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. Here is the self-assembled fruit bowl in my hotel room last week. The difference between this sort of produce, and that which has been picked unripe, refrigerated for months, flown to a foreign country.. and sold in a supermarket, is vast! If you have ever smelled the perfume of a really ripe guava, or a ripe passion fruit you will know what I mean.

How do we expect young people, and adults to eat their five fruit and veg per day when we sell such crap in our supermarkets! Any sort of fresh produce if it is just picked and perfectly ripe is a heavenly treat. I was reminded of this when, on Christmas day I went down to the allotment and dug up the leeks and parsnips for Christmas dinner. I could smell these vegetables as I was digging them out of the ground!

By the way, the green fruit that looks like a pine cone is a delicious fruit from the plant Monsteria - known as 'Swiss cheese plant'. It tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana. I have forgotten the name of this fruit - can anyone help?

Pointsettia Trees

Now back to gloomy old England after a couple of warm sunny days on the island of Madeira. Here the pointsettia plants grow as trees! I am hoping to dig my own parsnips, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes for Christmas lunch. The turkey is marinading in Nigella's special mix out in the garage. God bless us every one!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

Seasons greetings to all my blog readers! I've just returned from a short break in the sunshine. This morning I was lying out in the sun next to a swimming pool! This evening... well.. I'm back here. Buddy was pleased to see me, here he is getting into the festive spirit!

On the Twelfth day of Christmas ..

On the twelfth day of Christmas my allotment gave to me .. Twelve pages thumbing ..
Eleven pipes a lagging ..
Ten loads of leafmould ..
Nine Morris dancing ..
Eight spades a sharpening ..
Seven songs a swinging ..
Six leeks a laying ..
Five purple beans
Four growing herbs ..
Three French pommes ..
Two dirty gloves ..
and a
Moth trap in a plum tree!

Hope you've enjoyed this last few days of fun Down on the Allotment! Seems like it's just a pile of dead leaves all over the place at the moment, so little daylight to do anything out there. Anyway, I'm flying off to the sunny island of Madeira later today for a few days of bright sunshine! Baxoon!

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas ..

On the Eleventh day of Christmas my allotment gave to me .. ***Eleven pipes a freezing!***

At this time of year it is a wise precaution to empty and store your hosepipes and protect your outdoor water taps. I have used some pipe lagging left over from the plumber, but you can add some protection to prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting.

On the Tenth day of Christmas ..

On the Tenth day of Christmas my allotment gave to me .. Ten Loads of Leafmould!

Is it me, or are there more leaves about this year than usual? Fallen leaves can be a problem as far as making compost is concerned. When you make good compost it should be a mixture of fresh green nitrogenous matter, and dead, brown matter which contains carbon. Just dead leaves on their own will take about 2 years to rot down into useable leafmould. I can't wait that long! A good tip would be to lay the dead leaves over your lawn and run the lawnmower over them. You will then have a mixture of green and brown - and it helps that the mower has chewed up the leaves a bit, this will speed up the process!

On the Ninth day of Christmas ..

On the Ninth Day of Christmas my allotment gave to me .. Nine Morris Dancing!

Oh gosh! I'm really struggling for rhymes! As I have lots of blog readers all over the world I thought I would introduce you to an ancient English tradition - that of Morris Dancing. A 'side' of Morris men get together during the English Summer (usually outside the local pub) and dance old traditional English dances. One member of the side traditionally has a dried inflated balloon made of a pig's bladder (you with me so far?) and he acts 'the fool'. After dancing (with bells on their legs) they retire inside the pub where they sing bawdy old English folk songs. The more beer you buy them ... er.. the more traditional the songs become. Pictured here are the Ampthill Morris men from Bedfordshire, dancing last year outside their local pub. Cheers boys!

On the Eighth day of Christmas ..

On the Eighth day of Christmas my allotment gave to me ... Eight spades a sharpening!

Take advantage of a lull in the growing period to look after your equipment! I always admire a gardener who has lovely shiny equipment... You must keep all your tools in good working order.. Sharpen your hoes, your spades and your scythes. Are your tools in good working order?

Well, you try to find something that rhymes with milking !!

On the Seventh Day of Christmas..

On the Seventh day of Christmas my allotment gave to me .. Seven songs a swinging !

Gosh! I had to think hard before making this one up! it's getting more difficult! Anyway - there are so many of these free music and film CDs given away in newspapers that these are not hard to come by. They make excellent bird scarers! Tied up in the garden over your precious brassicas over winter will frighten the pigeons away!

On the Sixth Day of Christmas ..

On the Sixth day of Christmas my allotment gave to me .. Six Leeks a laying.

Leeks are one of the few veggies that I am digging right now. My old reliable crop. Only people who grow their own veggies can understand the wonderful aroma of fresh leeks dug from the ground! This year I placed loo rolls over the stem to blanch just an extra few inches, and it has made all the difference. The leeks are much cleaner and do not have so much soil in between the leaves that makes cleaning them so much easier. Last night I had a big hearty bowl full of cock-a-leekie soup! Winter is not all bad, but I could do with some more daylight please.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas..

On the Fifth day of Christmas my allotment gave to me ..
Five Purple Beans!

These Purple Hyacinth Beans were much better than expected this year. I took some seeds from my Sister's house in Virginia last Autumn, they were growing outside up some steps to the front door. They produce stunning purple flowers and these vivid purple pods in the Autumn. I beleive they are edible but have not tried them.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas..

On the fourth day of Christmas my Allotment gave to me...

Four Growing Herbs!..
Even this time of year there are still fresh herbs to be had from the garden. I find that my rosemary, thyme and parsley are hardy throughout the Winter. The potted basil was planted at the end of Summer in the greenhouse. It hasn't grown much but is still very much alive on the kitchen windowsill.

On the Third Day of Christmas

On the Third Day of Christmas my Allotment gave to me... Three French Pommes!

These were some of the wonderful varieties of Apples I found at the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, near Faversham, Kent. These were an old French variety called 'Pomme Noir' Well worth a day visit during the fruit season, thousands of old English Apple varieties some of which are unique to each English county.

On the Second Day of Christmas

On the Second day of Christmas, my allotment gave to me... Two Dirty Gloves!

These have been some of the best gardening gloves I have ever owned! As you can see they are a little past their best, I need a new pair. These are chamois leather, they are hard wearing and extremely comfortable and flexible. I suppose it would be a fitting end for them if they were to end up on the compost heap. Farewell old friends.

On the First Day of Christmas...

On the first day of Christmas my allotment gave to me....... A MOTH TRAP IN A PLUM TREE!

What an excellent gadget this was. An environmentally friendly gizmo that stops you getting maggots in your plums and apples. Hang one of these in your fruit tree and you will really see (and taste) the difference.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for Matron's Twelve Days of Christmas!

Growing Mushrooms Week 10

Blog readers will remember that 10 weeks ago I sowed a box full of rotted manure with mushroom spawn. Everything was done as the packet instructed, and mushrooms were to be expected after 10-12 weeks. After 2 or 3 weeks there were definite signs of white mould underneath the top soil...
Sadly after 10 weeks there is no sign of anything, not a dicky bird. I am thinking perhaps the garage might be a bit cool, but it is right up against the house wall. I think I will find a place indoors and bring the temperature up a bit. Any advice anyone?

Finally, I have been impressed with the lovely green vigour of my Winter salad leaves, spinach and Swiss Chard. Behind my back however, someone has been giving them an extra nitrogen feed... thanks Buddy!

Dividing Rhubarb

This is the time of year when you can divide your rhubarb crowns. It is a good thing to do to your rhubarb anyway about every 5 years or so. The crowns can get a bit overcrowded and lacking in vigour. Just dig up the dormant crowns at this time of year and slice them into pieces of about 4 or 5" across, making sure you have a bud at the top of each. Re-plant these crowns with plenty of well rotted manure. Most people put manure on their rhubarb, I do not.... I prefer custard!

Many thanks to Scarecrow who emailed me last week to let me know that my veggie blog was included in a 'Top of the Blogs' feature in The Grauniad last week. Thanks must also go to my blog readers who inspire me every day. When I started this blog I really didn't think I had much to say!!

Sweet Things

There are a whole range of sweet tasting products which you can use to sweeten your food besides sugar. For centuries people have been tapping the sap of birch trees, yes! birch trees for a sugary water which is boiled down to make birch syrup.
And our old favourite maple syrup. The sap of the maple tree is tapped to bring us this wonderfully woody, sweet nectar. You can also find maple sugar some places, particularly in Canada where the industry is vibrant. I prefer to use a spoonful of maple sugar rather than real sugar if I have the opportunity. The fruit sugar fructose has a longer molecule structure than ordinary sugar which makes it a healthy alternative for people who are watching their glycaemic index - or following a GI diet.

This was a product I bring home from Madeira when I get the chance. It is just plain ordinary sugar cane molasses, or here in England we refer to it as treacle.

We cannot forget our old favourite, honey. I grew up on an allotment and one of my hobbies as a child was beekeeping. In fact, I was the only girl guide in Hanwell to have her beekeepers badge! (I am so proud). Did you know that folklore has it that if you eat honey which was made from bees which live near to you, it can lessen the effects of hay fever? Apparently it innoculates you with a dose of pollen from the nearby flowers. Is that true?

Matron is Back!

Matron is back from her trip to Seattle. Funny people those Americans! they even have drive-thru espresso huts. What a brilliant idea for tired drivers. As you can see from the sign, I took advantage of the 'Special Sticky Bun Latte' 16oz. Doesn't taste remotely like coffee, more like a sickly sweet milkshake.

Buddy was thrilled to see me back! He was trembling all over, and gave my glasses a good clean in the process.
Whilst in the Western part of Washington State, it was my extreme pleasure to make contact with a fellow garden blogger Petunia. We met up and I was able to have a look at her pumpkin patch. Here we are together admiring one of her spectacular pumpkins, Rouge vif d'Etamps. Generously, and in time-honoured gardening tradition - she gave me some seeds to plant in my garden next year. Thank you. By the way, she looks nothing like the picture on her profile!

Going Away

I'm going to the USA tomorrow for a short break. Staying with a good friend in Tacoma, Washington. - You know ? the place with the wobbly bridge? Buddy will be fine with Mum, I have arranged for him to be taken for walkies and I have left him one of my old, smelly Tshirts to sleep with !!

Home grown salad in November

I ate some home grown salad today! I have been ripening the last of my heritage tomatoes 'Jubilee' on a windowsill for a couple of weeks along with my last two greenhouse cucumbers. Blogging is a great way to measure important dates in the gardening year, I ate my first ripe tomato on June 18th this year. That almost makes for a full 6 months of eating tomatoes fresh from the garden! Now it will just be the ghastly, tasteless supermarket tomatoes for the next 6 months.

More about Sugar Beet

I was driving down a country lane in Lincolnshire a couple of days ago, I spotted a huge pile of several tons of sugar beet beside the road and in true Matron fashion I liberated one for scientific reasons..... As a result of some wonderful comments in a previous post in my quest to find out all about sugar beet, a strange coincidence occured this morning. Here you can see the texture of the inside is very similar to beetroot.
I am currently studying for a change of career, and I am going to work as a dog behaviourist when I am qualified. My current area of study is in nutrition and stress in dogs. I have been going through the ingredients labels of several brands of complete dog food. Lo and behold this morning, several times I came across "derivatives of vegetable origin" marked on the ingredient list. One of the brands of complete dog food actually labelled this as "dried beet pulp". Many previous comments have referred to their use as animal fodder, and here it is a bi-product of the sugar refining industry and is sold to pet food companies as a filler for fido-food.

Jerusalem Artichokes

These were some of my Jerusalem artichokes a couple of weeks ago. I haven't dug any up yet, the foliage has just about died down now, but I think it is better to wait till after they have had a frost on them. Like parsnips, the sugar level and the taste generally is much better after a frost. I just love them! But they have a very complex carbohydrate structure which makes them an excellent food source, but they are famous for giving you wind!
Here was one of my last cucumbers in the greenhouse just before I cut back all the growth. These were from a second sowing of seed in about August, just when the first crop were at their best. I must grow some small varieties next year in the greenhouse, I think there is one called 'Pepita' or something like that. Can anyone recommend a smooth skinned, mini greenhouse cucumber variety?

Eating Dandelion Leaves!

I've been gadding about all over the place over the last few days! Earlier this week I took a day-trip to France to do some supermarket shopping. I just love the variety and quality of the products on display there, and not just the superb veggies for sale. I just had to take a photo (above) of the blanched dandelion leaves for sale. I didn't buy any, and I'm kicking myself now, I love to try new things. Has anyone eaten dandelion leaves? blanched or not?
Another delight always on sale in any French supermarket is what they call "Pot au Feu" a large bag full of vegetables in order to make soups, stocks and stews. Probably about 5 or 6 pounds of Winter vegetables along with a fresh bouquet garni. Nothing illustrates my idea of kitchen heaven in Winter as making a lovely thick vegetable soup!

Above picture was taken in a field in Lincolnshire yesterday. 3 guesses?
It's sugar beet. I visit relatives in Lincolnshire on a regular basis and always see trucks full of these going along the country roads this time of year. Sugar beet is a relative of the swede (I think Americans call them rutabaga?). Commercially grown to manufacture down and refine into sugar. Has anyone ever eaten one? How do you prepare them? are they edible? Can I grow one? where do I get seeds? Matron wants to know!

Welcome to Matron's Squashblog

Squashblog has been published today. It seems that because I started the draft document on 27th October, that is where it is!... see below and enjoy!

A celebration of colour!

What an amazing variety of colour, shape and size!
Bring me your sugar baby, your yellow straightneck, your crown prince. Bring me your spaghetti squash, your tromboncino, your patty pan... and I will include them in Matron's Squashblog on Tuesday 30th October.

Many thanks to DaVikka for sending me some photos from last year's pumpkin festival at Kew Gardens.

Welcome to Matron's Squashblog!

Welcome to Matron's Squashblog. Many thanks to all of you who contributed, I have posted them below with a link to your blog. I hope you enjoyed my contribution above, he's got a face only a Mother could love, hasn't he?

The origins of Hallowe'en date back over 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). This festival, which means the end of Summer, celebrated the end of harvest and the beginning of the Celtic new year on November 1st. All Saints' Day is said to fall on this day when souls walked the Earth. In early Christian tradition souls were released from purgatory for 48 hours on All Hallow's Eve. Spooky!

Here is a contribution from Hels Blogspot quite an amazing feat when you consider that she has only a small window box and a balcony in her flat. What a gal ! Here you can see she has attempted yet again, to spell out her name in pumpkins.... better luck next time Hel !

Here is a row of little soldiers from Petunias-garden in Western Washington, what a wonderful example of the variety in size shape and colour.

I can't claim credit for this picture! It was taken by DaVikka at Mogblog. There was a pumpkin and squash exhibition at Kew Gardens last year. Missed it. Incidentally, I have found a great website for interesting seeds, and a particularly good selection of pumpkins and squashes at Seeds of Italy so give it a look!

Thanks to Stan, my blog-mentor at Naive Zebra, for this contribution. I was given an answer when I asked the question, "What happened to the other eyebrow?" - can you guess what the answer was?

I really hoped that someone would send me a photo of one of these! Thanks to Judith at everything in the gardens rosie for her contribution! I think this is an Italian squash Tromba de Albegna - it is supposed to taste supberb. Has anyone tried it? It looks like you might be able to break into a car with it !

What a stunning display from Magic Cochin at purple podded peas. I marvel at the amazing variety of pumpkins and squashes we can grow here. I wonder which one tastes the best? Which one is Humpty Dumpty, I wonder...

Here's a scarey offering from Jim at plot48. I wonder if this method could be used as a sort of night time scarecrow to keep the cats and pigeons off my patch. Hmmm

Here is an interesting shaped offering from Billie Jean at bjs allotment. Always a good idea to give them a comfortable layer underneath, to prevent damage as they grow. Otherwise they might end up just like Matron's pumpkin!

Here is a wonderful coloured pumpkin from Anita at ein-stueck-garten . These are such a rich amber colour, makes the mouth water.