Matron's 2010 Review

What a wonderful year it has been! So many great memories and successes Down on the Allotment. Hard pressed to pick just a few of the highlights, but thank you all for staying with me. The first seeds of 2011 have been sown now, and the days are finally getting longer. It was at the end of September that so many of you sent pictures for Matron's Dogblog. I really enjoyed sharing all your doggy garden helpers.
And in August I had the privilege of meeting Peggy from Organic Growing Pains when I visited Cobh in Ireland for a short trip. Peggy showed me round her neck of the woods, here we are digging spuds on her amazing allotment. Thank you Peggy for a wonderful day!
I particularly enjoyed seed swapping with bloggers out there. I like to grow some unusual vegetables, and this hairy cucumber was an old heirloom variety passed down from family to family in Bari, Italy.
And of course, the Salmon flowered peas.
And this memorable photo of the Trombocino or Tromba D'Albegna squash. Matron is particularly proud of this one!
May I wish you all a fruitful and fertile New Year!

First Sowings

There are many traditional planting dates for seeds and tubers throughout the growing year on the allotment. One such tradition is that of sowing your onion seeds on Christmas Day. Well, I was busy cooking Christmas dinner on the 25th, so the sowing of my Bedfordshire Champion onion seeds has had to wait till now.
I always try to do something new each year, try a new variety or grow something unusual. I have never managed to get around to planting onion seeds till now so I thought I'd give it a go. Most often I grow onions from sets, but I thought I'd give this a go.
This is supposed to be a show variety, and a good old fashioned English favourite, so I'll see if they come to anything.
Must let you all know that my Brussels Sprout 'Bosworth' had the most wonderful flavour! Really fresh and sweet. Highly recommended.

Matron's Christmas Dinner

I have never grown Brussels Sprouts until this year. These are an F1 hybrid called 'Bosworth' I really didn't give them any special treatment at all. I just planted them, and firmed them in with a boot and left them to themselves.
Not bad at all!
I had loosened the soil a couple of weeks ago so that when I came to dig up my leeks it was just fine, even covered in snow I had no trouble at all. These are an F1 hybrid called 'Oarsman'
The size of the shaft is really very good, the taste is wonderful, but the tops are not completely hardy. They just feel a little soft to me. I might go back to Musselburgh next year, as I only got about 40 seeds in the packet. F1 hybrids are just too darn expensive!
And finally, my Christmas potato was bought in a little flowerpot a few months ago, I thought I'd give it a go. Well, light levels have been very poor in the last few months, and I kept them in the greenhouse, then latterly in the living room next to the patio door to protect from frost. They died back just a couple of weeks ago... but.......
Ta - daaaaa! Matron is very pleased! Fresh New Potatoes on Christmas Day!
Wishing all you bloggers out there, a tasty Christmas! from Matron & Buddy! xxxx

Another Book Review

Well, there are only so many photos a girl can post of her brussels sprouts covered in snow. Not a lot happening on the allotment at the moment. I thought I would share this gem with you. If you want a complete, comprehensive, informative guide to every fruit you have ever heard of (and some you haven't) then I recommend this most highly. If you want to tell the difference between a Kumquat and a Loquat, a Sorb or a Medlar. This is the book for you. Jane Grigson includes recipes and traditional dishes for these fruit. I am definitely going to try making some Qunice Gin.....

Book Review - Soil Mates

From time to time I get emails from various organisations asking if I want to advertise their product on my blog. Until now I have turned them all down... until now. I was asked to review a copy of this new book, 'Soil Mates' - Companion Planting for Your Vegetable Garden by Sara Alway. A beautifully produced little book telling a romantic story of why 'Miss Carrot' finds Mr 'Well Built Onion' exceedingly attractive! I loved the idea of companion planting. Which plants love the close proximity of others, and finding out why they can benefit each other and how. I've known that planting chives and onions next to a row of carrots deters the carrot root fly, but I had no idea that romance was involved!
This wonderfully illustrated book is written like a 'dating agency' for veggies listing turn-ons and turn-offs and describing each pairing as a 'love match'. In the current state of the world it is useful to know how to protect your edibles from pests and diseases without resorting to sprays. I was fascinated to read through this book enjoying the illustrations, but one question kept cropping up time after time. Why?
Perhaps it is my scientific mind, but I was just itching for some scientific or chemical details of why these particular plants benefit each other. The idea of a romantic pairing is fun to read, but I really could have done with a couple of sentences on 'the science bit'. Having said all that, If you know someone who is starting out in the veggie growing world, after pointing out Matron's blog to them, you could do worse than point them in the direction of Quirk Books where they will be able to buy a copy for £10.99.

Santa's Little Helper

Oh! the indignity of it! Poor Buddy was forced to pose for Christmas pictures yet again! But patiently he sat there waiting till the ordeal was over. (Well, at least he didn't have to wear a false beard this year)

Frost Hardy?

I went outside today to dig up one of my 'Oarsman' leeks for lunch. I was disappointed to see that they do not appear to be as frost hardy as I would like. Here in West London we've only had half an inch of snow and it has been a few degrees below freezing for about a week. I'm sure that my old favourite 'Musselburgh' would have fared better. It was also my intention to loosen the soil around any veggies that I intend to dig up for Christmas. It looks as if this freezing weather from Siberia is set to stay for quite a few weeks. I took the opportunity to dig down under the leeks and just leave them loose in the soil. I suggest if you are intending to dig parsnips, carrots or anything else for Christmas.. you do the same.
Having said all that, these 'Oarsman' leeks have a lovely thick shaft which has not been damaged by the frost too much. The taste was superb. Just one of these leeks was enough for 3 people! - that's hungry, veggie-eating people to boot!
I can clearly see the benefits here of buying expensive F1 hybrid seed for this variety, but all things considered - I'll stick to Musselburgh next year. One of the main reasons I grow leeks is that they are a fantastic standby all Winter long. When everything else has deserted the patch - leeks are there for you!
These hardy Winter cos lettuce are ready to be planted out into growbags in the greenhouse. They will grow slowly, but next February or March they will be romping away.
No such problems with my Brussels sprouts 'Bosworth'. I cut the tops of last week, and the leaves are drooping a bit in this frost, but they are protecting the sprouts which look right on schedule for the 25th!

Making Medlar Jelly

I found a medlar tree a while back in the Summer, I have been looking forward to the opportunity of making medlar jelly for the first time. History has recorded that the medlar has been given the nickname of 'dogs bottom' because of the appearance of the flower end of the fruit!Medlars are an unusual fruit, the tree is related to a rose, and I suppose these might be described as looking rather like giant rosehips. The medlars have to be 'bletted' before they are ready to use. This means to over ripen, and even to soften with frost until the insides are soft and brown.
I just cut each one in half and covered a panful with some water and the juice and rind of a lemon. Acid is needed to help the pectin set. Bring to the boil until soft. I think I would describe the taste as sort of apple like, some vanilla, but some acid. Rather like tamarind taste. They are rich in pectin, so make an easy jelly.
Strained the cooked medlars through a jelly bag and left overnight to drain. One pound of sugar was added to one pint of medlar juice (just the same as crabapple jelly). It doesn't take much cooking at all. Matron has a strange sense of humour, so the jars were labelled as below!
What a glorious colour!

Bishop's Kiss!

I obtained these unusual chilli plants as tiny seedlings back in the Summer. Although they had been planted very late, I was determined to see if I could get them to grow and produce seed for next year. These are called 'Bishop's Kiss' chillis. A relative of a similar shaped variety known as 'Friar's Hat' or Bishop's Hat chilli. I didn't think they would ripen before the end of the season so a few weeks ago I brought them inside onto a sunny windowsill - and hey presto! One of these plants will be making its way into the posession of a certain Church of England Bishop who needs cheering up at the moment!
Just a month to go before Christmas so today I cut off the tops of my Brussels Sprouts 'Bosworth'. They are looking good for my Christmas Dinner, and I hope that cutting the tops off will give them a bit of a boost just in time!
Christmas new potato is surviving in a large pot sat in a heated propagator in the greenhouse. We've had a few sharp frosts so far, this seems to be keeping it alive and growing. A bit of an experiment, but we shall see.... on the 25th December!
I chopped up one of my lovely Queensland Blue pumpkins today. Just such an amazing colour, texture and taste. By far, the best Winter squash I grow. Sweet, dry and tasty. I made a pumpkin pie this afternoon... fresh home grown pumpkin, fresh home made pastry, fresh home milled pumpkin pie spices.
Turkey is defrosting as we speak. For those of you who aren't American, or don't know any Americans... it is Thanksgiving tomorrow. To those of you who are, or who do... Happy Thanksgiving!

Food Glorious Food!

Let's face it. Why do I grow veggies? To eat it, of course. So here is an edited version of my historical / culinary experience in Rome. Italians just love their fresh fruit and veggies. Not only that, but their fresh bread, meat, salami, fish and cheese too. In 5 days I didn't see a single large supermarket, instead there were daily fresh markets all over town. These tomatoes were sitting in the Campo di Fiori market yesterday morning!!
Emperor Claudius is here just to get you in the mood of ancient Rome!
Orchards of olive trees were laden with olives. Matron managed to purchase a couple of litres of locally produced, freshly squeezed, extra virgin olive oil from Tivoli!
These globe artichokes were everywhere! I adore artichokes. Did you know that they are supposed to have cholesterol reducing, blood pressure lowering properties?
And who could resist home cured, fresh Parma ham or prosciuto sliced off the joint right in front of your eyes? I couldn't!
Apparently fresh olives are much too bitter to eat straight from the tree so they have to be salted in brine for about 3 weeks before they are edible. Matron has purchased a couple of pounds of fresh, large black olives and will be putting this to the test!
The sights and sounds of a vibrant local market are out of this world! This market was only 5 minutes walk from my hotel. Each morning before breakfast I would purchase provisions for my daily picnic and evening meal..... beefsteak tomato, buffalo mozzarella, ciabatta bread, fresh oranges... to sit in the Roman forum at mid day and break open such a feast!!
Courgettes are sold with their flowers still attached. One of the local delilcacies is deep fried courgette flowers. The male flowers are sold fresh in bunches to eat! I must try this next year with my curcurbit flowers!
This time of year the fresh porcini mushrooms (known in France as cepes) are in season. Freshly picked each day and brought to market. This is the king of all edible mushrooms in my opinion. If not sold fresh, they are sliced and dried and sold as dried mushrooms. The scent is incredible. Eat them fresh on a pizza? Make mushroom rizotto? Chop them and grill them with garlic on some ciabatta?.. Matron was in heaven for sure!

When in Rome...

Matron can't stop smiling here in Rome. Italians just LOVE their fresh fruit and veg markets here! Just 5 minutes from the hotel is the most amazing market ever. It is not just the olive oil that makes them live longer! They love their fresh veggies. Posted for the first time via blackberry.

A Short Break!

Matron is away from the plot for a couple of days. Off to Rome to visit the sights. Perhaps I could bring back a Gladiator or two... back soon.

Hot Stuff!

Have you noticed all these little grey plastic objects dropping on your soil and on the roads and pavements? I picked these up from our road in about 10 minutes while I was taking Buddy out for a quick walkies. I think these are the little plastic containers inside a firework that hold the sparks and colours you see when a rocket explodes in the sky. It worries me therefore that I keep finding these in my soil, and all over the place. There must be billions of them, they will not compost, nor rot down. They will be there forever. Does anyone care?
More hot stuff. I have loads and loads of horseradish at the moment. Now is the time of year to dig it up, so I have been thinning out some of my patches. This goes down into the soil very deeply and it is almost impossible to get rid of if you don't like it. I love horseradish so this will be very carefully prepared to make sauce. Watch this space!
You might remember a few weeks ago I brought my Scotch Bonnet chillis into the house on a windowsill to ripen. Well, I can't eat all this number all at once. These are some of the hottest chillis you can grow, so I decided to preserve them by drying them.
One of my favourite toys is this dehydrator. It took quite a while to dry these chillis, in the end I had to snip the bottom of each chilli open with a pair of scissors to allow the warm air to penetrate and dry the insides as well.
And the finished product is completely dry and will be stored in a glass jar until needed.

Christmas Dinner!

I've been trying hard this year to fill the 'hungry gap' - that's the time in Winter and early Spring when there is precious little in the edible garden. One of the focuses of my attention is growing some veggies for my Christmas Dinner! Not sure what variety these cabbage plants are. I was in a bit of a rush so bought some seedlings at my local garden centre a few weeks ago. These were labelled.....'cabbage' .. helpfully! No idea what variety they are, but I hope they will stand through the Winter and give me some edibles in Spring!
Fortunately I do know that this Purple Sprouting Broccoli is the ultra early variety 'Rudolph'. It has done well for me over the years and crops for ages. Fingers crossed I might get some purple florets showing in time for December 25th...
I am just so excited at my first attempt growing Brussels Sprouts. I did some research back in Spring and decided on a new F1 hybrid variety 'Bosworth'. You can see the lower leaves have started dying back, dropping and leaving a beautiful stalk. They are well on course for gracing my table on Christmas Day!
I was clearing up and digging over a spot today when I found a couple of lost potato plants! I think these were my first early 'Rocket'. Still completely OK, despite the awfully dry Spring and Summer. I might try a late variety next year, I have always loved Pink Fir Apple....mmm!
You might remember a few weeks ago I bought a tiny little plant in a pot which was labelled 'Christmas Potato' - well it seems to be doing very well in the greenhouse. I think the seed potatoes have been specially prepared to fool them into thinking it is Spring. Just one stem, I have been potting it up every couple of weeks and there really are little potatoes under there! Potatoes are greedy feeders so I might make some compost tea feed for it. Fingers crossed I will be eating fresh, new potatoes on Christmas Day too!
Finally, a thrilling success! I had a bumper crop of courgettes this Summer, and one of the things I did was pickle a few jars. I found a proprietary Kosher Dill Pickle mix (which is just sugar, salt, dill and spices I think) salted and rinsed the sliced courgettes and poured over the hot spiced vinegar. They are sensational!!!! Still crunchy and completely wonderful! No more problems with gluts of courgettes in the future! I have just one more jar left (I ate a whole jar today!) I'm not sure if they will still be here at Christmas...