Second Sowings

I emptied my potato bin today. I planted 2 tubers of maincrop 'Sarpo Mira' back in the Spring. I planted them at the bottom of a black plastic dustbin. Every few weeks I would earth them up until the soil reached the top of the bin. More tubers grow from the stems all the way up to the top. You can only do this with maincrop potatoes and not earlies. Had quite a good crop.
I filled the bin back up to the top, added a few extra ingredients to re-fertilize. I planted a courgette 'Defender' in its place. The first courgette plants are now about 6foot across and in full flow at the moment, they will slow down in a few weeks' time and start to fade. I rekon we will have warm weather right up till October or November, so I have taken a chance on a second crop. I have also just planted out a second sowing of dwarf bean, they will produce beans right up till the first frosts. I have planted a second sowing of greenhouse cucumbers which will be producing fruit when the others are fading away. I planted some perpetual spinach seeds today as well. Don't just think of Spring as the time to sow your seeds. Plan for a mild Autumn too.

My beetroot 'Detroit' are making superb pickings of golf ball sized beetroots at the moment. The small ones are just bite sized, but my favourite way of eating larger beetroot is to cook them, grate them into a bowl when cool, then spoon horseradish sauce over them. This is a traditional dish in Eastern Europe and Poland. Believe me... these two flavours were born to go with each other. Give it a try, you won't be sorry.

Vitelotte Potato

I dug up some of my black potatoes Vitelotte today. Blog readers can look back at my post of February 24th this year to see that I bought just 3 tubers of these French potato variety (also known as Black Truffle) on a trip to Borough Market. These have a similar taste, texture and appearance to the pink fir apple varieties. The colour 'bleeds' from the raw tubers in the same way that beetroot do. You must watch your hands and clothing for stains! When cooked they keep a wonderful dark purple colour, although the cooking water was a very bright green, turquoise colour! Taste is delicious, slightly waxy.

Vermont Cranberry Beans

At last, with the assistance of fellow bloggers I have identified my beans! Last Autumn I "liberated" some beans from the vegetable garden at the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon. The resulting plants I grew this year have now almost certainly been identified. The Vermont Cranberry bean (phaseolus vulgaris) also known in Italy as Borlotti bean, is an old time American heirloom variety dating back to the 1700s. Popular in New England as either a fresh green bean, or a dry bean which is said to be the most wonderful type for baking or in soups. It is still one of the most popular shelling bean in the USA.
I researched the name on the internet, and found a website which is exclusively dedicated to this American institution. There are literally hundreds of heirloom varieties of beans, some of which are: Coon bean, Greasy Grits, Lazy Housewife, Dragon Tongue Bean, Dog Bean (must get some of those!), Tongues of fire, and painted pony.
If left on the plant to dry out, these Vermont beans are the dried type most people know. However, harvest them a few weeks earlier when the beans have formed in the pod but are still moist, you will taste them at their nutty best. Fresh shelled beans are creamy and sweet. They should be boiled for 30-60 minutes with garlic and herbs (not salt) until tender. I've never eaten beans this way before. I don't have enough plants this year, but will save seed and might have enough next year.

My Wooden Trug

I had hoped to save this topic for the middle of Winter, when there is little to blog about. The subject has been raised however, the previous blog illustrates my functional plastic trug.
This one is a real antique! I bought it a few years ago in an antique market in Fulham. I just love the real rustic functionality of it. In fact, any item which has been used and loved for many years has more charm, in my mind, than one which is perfect. This is real old fashioned craftsmanship. Down on the allotment, this is just the tool for the job.
As you can see there is a bit of damage which I will set about repairing. I have a discarded fence panel at the end of my garden, so I will cannibalize a piece of panel, sand it down to the right shape and try to make a good 'rustic' repair. I gave it a coat of preservative today, which should give it a few more years' useful life. Story continues.....

My First Butternut Squash

I saw this chap sitting on a wall today. Peacock butterflies are some of the most beautiful common English butterflies around. Thank heavens for digital cameras, though - this was the best of quite a few taken!
I have to keep on top of picking the beans at the moment. Almost every day there are more and more to pick. Every gardener knows about those 'invisible beans' , you know when you have gone over the plant with a fine tooth comb, and there it is right in front of you and you missed it all along. Runner beans have a way of hiding, don't they? I have grown quite a few runner bean varieties this year. The best of the bunch in my opinion are: Blauhilde, Eden and Enorma. You can keep the rest, coloured flowers and all ! Well, I bit the bullet today and picked my first butternut squash. There are plenty to come, in fact the whole plant seems to be just female flowers. The others on the plant will not grow much until I take this big one away as the plant puts all its energy into the largest one.

Fruits of the Field

Well, everything is swelling day by day at the moment. Despite the news of floods over the country, Hillingdon is in somewhat of a dry area. I still have to water and feed several times a week... until today. The heavens opened, the thunder and lightening frightened the dog, and the allotment had a well needed drink! These Tomatillo plants really protest in dry weather.
My butternut squash is just ripening. The vines on this plant stretch out about 20 feet across the garden. There are many small developing squashes, but they will not swell until I cut this big one off because it is taking all the energy from the plant right now.
I am allowing my courgettes to get a little bigger now that the plant has reached its full size. On smaller plants I rarely let them get beyond 5" because it stresses the plant to produce a fruit on a tiny plant. Right now my Defender courgette bush is about 7ft across and doing wonderfully.
The Tagetes marigolds are looking wonderful as well. These do need to be dead-headed frequently but they should keep pests and diseases away from most fruit and veg. Blog readers will know that I do not do flowers..... (you can't eat flowers).

Saving Seed

Not the best of photographs, however this is the variety of dwarf bean which I "Liberated" from George Washington's home at Mount Vernon last Autumn whilst in the USA. A label next to them said Poinciana, but I'm not sure that's a bean variety - unless anyone can shed some light on them. I have decided to name the variety 'Mount Vernon' , it has a pale pod with pink spots. I have 4 plants this year, one of which I will leave for seed.

Another example of my lighthandedness... a few years ago at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, in Cornwall, I liberated a dried dwarf bean from their compost heap. This is a lovely purple variety called 'Royalty'. Each year I save my own seed and it is a wonderful reminder of a great holiday.

I must urge blog readers to have a go at saving your own seed. Saves oodles of money and gives immense satisfaction.

Yesterday I took seed from my Norwegian lettuce plant. I bought seeds right up in Northern Norway last June. The lettuces are very hardy, and stand well over the Winter. It had grown up into a 4foot tall stalk with yellow flowers. What a fiddle taking seeds from a lettuce plant !! Imagine a dandelion clock... then go down to about 2mm in size and there you have it. Still, with a wet finger and a magnifying glass I whiled away a couple of hours. Where else could you have so much fun?

Strawberry maintenance!

Look what a difference just 2 weeks makes in the life of your strawberry plants. After they have finished fruiting they must be completely pruned right down to the stumps in order to let the new growth start. The photo below was from my blog on 30th June, just 14 days ago.

A little nitrogen feed will encourage them to form new growth to nourish the crown for next year's crop. I leave my strawberries out during the Winter, sometimes protecting them with straw. Next Spring, tidy up the dying leaves and hey presto! It all happens again! Magic!

Giant figs!

I must confess straight away that I didn't actually grow these giant figs. I have been keeping an eye on these fig trees for a number of years now, they are in a public place near where I live and they are tended every now and then by the council. What I can never figure out, is that nobody apart from me ever picks them. I must assume that the majority of the British (Hillingdon) public do not recognize them for what they are.

I have been keeping an eye on these and noticed recently they were turning brown (ripe). These are most probably the variety 'Brown Turkey' which grows well in our climate. Yesterday I picked about two dozen of these ripe figs, with the promise of dozens more yet to ripen. I've never seen anything like it ! For certain, any British supermarket would reject them.

Which brings me onto a pet subject. UK supermarkets reject any produce from growers which is oversize, undersize, wrong shape, too straight, too curly, wrong colour, know the stuff. Esther Rantzen used to show them on 'That's Life'. I was remembering the fun I had as a child picking up the naughty-shaped vegetables.. mis-shapen tomatoes, forked carrots, nobbly potatoes - taking them home and displaying them in the kitchen, perhaps drawing a face on them.

Please can any blog readers photograph their nobbly or naughty veg, and post them on your blog. Let's all have a laugh and remember our childhood!

Making compost

I got loads done today! You must all know the feeling when you are down on the allotment and time just flies by. One minute you are doing one thing, then you see another that needs doing, something else that needs pruning, picking, feeding, watering... and so on and so forth. Before you know where you are it is afternoon!

The compost heap always has to be turned regularly. I had done some weeding and had cut down some broad beans, some raspberry canes and a load of chicweed. I have a plentiful supply of fresh, hot horse manure from Ealing riding stables on Gunnersbury Lane, so I just mix in all my green stuff including grass clippings and turn it all round with a fork and then heap it back up into my newly built compost bin. These are wooden pallets from a German motorcycle importer (BMW) and they are built like things used to be built in this country !! The compost heap is hot hot hot at the moment, I must make an effort to track down a compost thermometer. Has anyone used one? Are they worth buying?

Please don't ask me what I use the bucket for..

Everything's Growing!

Almost every day things are growing and ripening. That is one of the joys of growing your own veg, you can go down to the allotment and something has changed since yesterday. These 'Tigerella' tomatoes were a freebie with Grow Your own magazine this Spring. They are so lovely to look at. Awaits the taste test.
My runner bean hedge is taking over the world right now! With all this rain and sunshine over the past few weeks, the bean wigwams are about 8 or 9ft tall. I have about 8 different varieties of climbing beans. These 'Eden' are clearly the first to reach edible size. They have a lovely creamy white flower, these beans appear to be a smooth flat bean. First one has been eaten! completely stringless and very tender.
This butternut squash has been romping away! Every day it gets bigger and bigger. I have been foliar feeding all my squashes and pumpkins this year, following the advice of the vegetable growing guru Medwyn Williams. I still have some liquid manure left, from my stinging nettle soup.. I have been feeding the leaves with a very dilute mixture. Quite hard in the current conditions because it rains about 10 times a day at the moment!

Summer Pudding!

It's that wonderful time of year when all the soft fruit seems to be ripening all at once. The blueberries lend themselves to just snacking in the garden as they seem to ripen about one berry per day. Blueberry bushes require at least one other blueberry bush in order to pollinate its flowers. If you have one blueberry bush on its own, the chances are that it is not doing well.
Raspberries are a fantastic gourmet treat! I have a small selection of Spring, Summer and Autumn fruiting plants and I look forward to more treats. You must keep your raspberries well watered, well mulched particularly in the hot Summer. Raspberries do much better in Scotland because it's cooler and wetter up there!

Loganberries are an extremely prolific crop. Not as popular as the other Summer fruit as they are quite tart or sharp if eaten raw. They are wonderful just lightly cooked with sugar. My favourite thing to do is to make a 'loganberry fool' with a mixture of cream and gelatine.

Blackcurrants seem to come all at once. If left to become properly black they need very little sugar at all, but I do not have a sweet tooth - you may like to sweeten them. When I was a little girl I loved to make a lovely sweet sorbet using the blackcurrant leaves. Just boil up a handful of leaves and make a thick sugar syrup, and freeze it. It is divine - try it!

My pheromone trap has kept nearly all the codling moths out of my plum trees this year. Not a very big crop, but the individual plums this year are huge. Just starting to ripen in the last few days, they are so sweet and juicy. You will never get anything like this in the supermarket.
Sadly, I do not have any photos of my gooseberry 'Invicta' - I have had about a dozen very sweet ripe fruit this year. Again, you will never buy a sweet, ripe gooseberry in the supermarkets. They pick them unripe for stewing.
Finally, all of the above will be finding their way into an English Summer Pudding in the next few days. Take a 2 pint deep pudding bowl and line it thickly with thick sliced white bread, custs cut off. Overlap the bread so there are no gaps. Lightly stew a selection of Summer fruit, NO WATER, just fruit and sugar. Cook in a saucepan or microwave till soft and allow to cool. Pour the fruit into the bread-lined bowl and then top with a layer of bread. Weight this down with a plate on top, and leave in the fridge for at least 24hours (48 is better). You will find that the juice soaks into the bread, and the starch in the bread thickens the juice. Turn out onto a plate and eat with cream.

The Big Pig Manure Debate!

Yesterday I visited a smallholding in Bedfordshire. I have found a fantastic source of fresh chicken, pork and lamb. I know where the animals were kept, I know the place they were killed and I met their parents.... I visited a shed full of Berkshire piglets yesterday, and behind the shed was an eye watering HUGE pile of well rotted stable manure from pigs. The farmer was only too delighted at the thought of getting rid of some of it. Living in London, I cannot get enough of it.

Here's the dilemma. My Sister said that pig manure isn't really suitable for gardens because pigs are omnivores, they eat proteins and the manure is not the same as horses and cows who are vegetarian. Apparently these pigs are free to wander round a field and their diet is supplemented with "pellets". Can anyone shed some light on this mucky matter?