Monday, August 31, 2009
It is, in essence, a couple of pounds of runner beans, a pound & a half of onion, a pint & a half of vinegar & a pound & a half of brown/demerara sugar, with some turmeric, mustard & cornflour to thicken.
It's all potted up, and will be ready to try in a month's time.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
First things first, however – as I parked the car up by the club house I saw Sheila (at the top) in the distance & walked up to say thank you again for the courgette chutney recipe.
She showed me her brassicas, neatly covered over with netting, & when I said that the netting I’d bought is great, but not wide enough, she said, ‘oh, I found that too, so I took two pieces & stitched them together at the side hems using twine & a safety pin as a needle.’ Brilliant!
I mulled this over as I walked down to the plot, but then realised that the huge piece of 4m by 8m netting that I’d bought last winter was back in the shed – novice neighbour Jody has been using it to protect his peas all summer, but now he’s taken them down, the netting is free again.
Firstly, I cleared away the final PEAS (ne plus ultra) – if I was pushed to choose just one pea variety, it would be this one, as even when the pods have been massive, the peas are still not mealy – & the BROAD BEANS (barry plot 19, crimson flowered & witkiem manita), saving the pods of all of these as I went. I’ve kept the sweet peas in situ for the time being, although they are coming to the end of their run too.
Then I picked RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot & essex bb) & FRENCH BEANS (barlotti jody & purple giant), a couple of COURGETTE (yellow golden & all green bush) & another CUCUMBER (burpless tasty green f1).
After going up to the clubhouse for a chat with the Saturday old boys at lunchtime, there was no postponing the moment any longer & the netting had to be tackled. It took bloody ages & about three goes, but I am now happy that the netting over the brassica bed is now both tall enough & comprehensive in coverage.
Once home with my bag of swag from the plot, I set about the courgette chutney – all ingredients are combined & are steeping for a day before being simmered & put into jars.
Meanwhile, I racked off the gooseberry & rhubarb wine that I started a couple of months ago – it remains stubbornly less than clear with a slight sediment at the bottom, so racking it can’t do any harm & might encourage further clearing.
I took the opportunity to measure the SG (994, giving a 13% strength) & to have a taste. It tasted dreadful, & not at all fruity – rather like the celery wine, in fact. I would say that it has either been tainted by the feared vinegar fly, or it needs de-gassing – so when I put it back into the clean demijohn & gave it a ferocious shaking up, & I’ll see if it tastes the better for it, or whether the wine is doomed…
Friday, August 28, 2009
"Do take the jar," she invited, "I'll not be here to collect it." I didn't need asking twice, I must say - & very, very fine it is too.
Of course, I need to have enough courgettes to make courgette chutney, so tonight I went with mum to the Hill to see what has been growing over the last few days.
Whilst looking out for COURGETTES (all green & golden yellow), I picked a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless) & picked an enormous quantity of RUNNER BEANS (essex bb & reg next plot), & FRENCH BEANS (barlotti jody).
So now, I think I have enough for both runner bean and courgette chutney - & this weekend I'll be putting my pinny on & getting the maslin pan out...
Thursday, August 27, 2009
It's coming to the time of year for evaluation of what's worked well & what to do more (or less) of next time round & of course, there's plenty of things to think about.
I have to say that cucumber will be on the 'must do' list for sure - this surprises me a bit, but the two plants growing have been no trouble at all & the cucumbers taste so much better than shop bought!
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I contented myself with a mountain of dinner which included courgette, red onion, garlic, french beans, runner beans & radish all homegrown & picked fresh.
And I started thinking about how low my grocery bills are at the moment, as I'm using meat as an accompaniment rather than the focus of meals, which I am finding a bit radical, actually...
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I think that maybe a screw standing just proud of the top of each of the vertical stakes, & one towards the bottom of each stake facing outwards will provide hook points for the netting, but I'm not sure about the bed ends unless I can fashion 'hospital corners' out of the surplus netting - which sounds rather ambitious.
Whatever I do will be an improvement on what I did last night, anyway.
Netting conundrums apart, tonight I gave the redcurrant wine a good ol' stir & strained it into a couple of demijohns - both of which are chuckling away through the airlocks.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Although the weather was lovely to cycle to the Hill, & I'd been to Wilko to buy a pack of pond netting (more robust & manageable than flimsy pea netting) at lunchtime, I had real problems in making an adequate netting cover to protect the brassicas.
I put balls-on-sticks into the ground roughly level, then Jason (behind retired Maureen) was on hand to hold the netting down over the whole caboodle whilst I trying various stick-lowering and brick/board combinations to hold the edges down.
All the while I was very aware that a couple of the cabbages were pushed sideways against the edges of the netting, and the only way to stretch the netting over the whole width was to severely limit the vertical aspirations of one of the brussels sprouts.
One look at neighbour Ted's brassica cage when I'd done the best I could with what I'd got confirmed that (a) the supports are too low and (b) the netting is inadequate.
To add insult to injury, Jason pointed out two three clusters of caterpillars making merry under the netting, until I evicted them.So Saturday's job will be to recycle the pea frame braces which are about 4' long as vertical supports, with bamboo canes as horizontal supports, and the shed will be open in order to buy netting sufficient to cover the entire site, should I so wish.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
A bit of a shame, actually, as I remembered at about 8pm - just as it was getting too dark to do anything about it - that yesterday I'd had to pick caterpillars off the valiant brussels sprouts plants (which have survived against the odds), & I had thought to go an either find some netting from the garage, or buy a length from the store shed and then cover the bed.
Messing about with netting is just about my least favourite job in the world, but if I want to enjoy brussels sprouts rather than fattening up the caterpillar population, I'd better get on with it.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
No matter - I went to the Hill with the aim of taking down some more PEAS (hsl gladstone & newick) & dismantling the frame. This I did, then transplanted four CABBAGES (kilaton) to the other end of the bed, which meant that I could shorten this bed - another step towards the goal of creating beds at that side of the plot for permanent crops.
Potager Chrissie came by, collecting barrowloads of manure from the skip for some of her cleared areas, and admired the SQUASH (olive) - one fruit of which is getting too heavy to lift and is a couple of foot in length.
Frankly, I have no idea what I will do with this. In fact, this squash is becoming rather a celebrity as retired Maureen, John Badger at the bottom & returning allotmenteer Christine & husband Mike all joined Chrissie on the path to admire it with me.
"What's this meeting?", asked Reg-next-plot, as he came up too - eventually the assembled dispersed I chatted with Reg about the club, and the tallest sunflower comptetion (there's one sunflower at about 12' apparently - mines about 9' at a guess) & this & that, & he gave me a perfect cylindrical beetroot ("it's the same girth all the way down - great for pickling as it all fits in the jar!").
I turned to beds b1 & b2 where the potatoes were, gave them a quick rake over then sowed rows of green manure 6" apart - the germination was pretty poor with this seed last year, so I laid it on fairly thickly.
Then I wielded the fork and grubbed up another of the gooseberry bushes - I noticed that neighbour Ted appears to have had the same sort of thoughts as me with regard to gooseberries (his and mine being back-to-back at plot borders) & it looks like he's replaced his bushes with a thornless variety & I must investigate this further. I have no quarrel with gooseberries, but they seem to have an exceedingly spikey quarrel with me!I then picked a couple of potions of RUNNER BEANS (reg next plot & essex bb) & the ever faithful FRENCH BEAN (barlotti jody).
I went up for a chat with the Saturday Old Boys in the clubhouse where we had a discussion about the blight resistant tomatoes that Bill is growing. The usefulness of this conversation was tempered somewhat as Bill could not recall names of the varietes in question, & he's not actually tasted any of the three varieties grown yet - however they haven't sucumbed to blight, so that's something.
And then a very entertaining chat with cheery Brian & Pauline & came home to google 'what to do with giant squash'...
Friday, August 21, 2009
The redcurrants had a warm through in a pan in order to release the juice & were then mashed up with a potato masher & bunged in with the sugar & a gallon of water and a teaspoon of pectolase.
Twenty-four hours later, it's ready for a teaspoon of yeast nutrient & a teaspoon of yeast, & it will sit, fizzing, for five days before being strained off into a demijohn for fermenting out.
How much more interesting would my chemistry lessons have been at school if we had learned his sort of thing - although I guess that even I can see the pitfalls of teaching 30 fifteen year olds the chemical reaction necessary to turn sugar into alcohol....
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I've added slightly more sugar to this one batch - aiming for a starting SG of 1100 - which I hope won't be too high (if it's too high i.e. too sugary, the yeast can have trouble getting going) but the apple wine is still going like a good 'un and that had a higher SG, so I should be ok.
The upshot will either be a sweeter wine, or a stronger wine - I've noticed that most of my wines ferment out to a final SG of about 990, stopping working once all the sugar has been used up, I supose, so depending on the start SG, the alcohol content is about 12 - 13%, and the wine a medium-dry.
Now I'm experimenting a little more, it's made me wonder whether if I aim for this higher SG to start with, will the wine still come out at an SG of 990 (same level of medium-dryness), but have a higher alcohol content, or will the wine stop fermenting before the SG drops below 1.000, giving a similar alcohol content as I'm getting at the moment, but be a bit sweeter?
Quite a fun experiment, this one!
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The tiny plants that looked so lost a couple of months ago when planted out are making a serious bid for world domination. The plan was to cut back all the runners to a viable squash - it is too late in the season for new setting squash to ripen, I think - thus making the bed somewhat less unruly.
The plan worked - to a degree. I was quite ruthless in chopping & composting any number of buckets of wild growth and immature fruits (this despite Jason (behind retired Maureen) passing by with cries of 'squash murderer' & shrieking 'don't let me die ....ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!'), although when I stood back to admire my evening's work, I don't appear to have touched the surface...
Undeterred, I picked a portion of RUNNER BEANS (reg-next-plot) & a COURGETTE (yellow golden), & cut some sweetpeas. Jason redeemed himself with passing by with a handful of delicious raspberries - which is something else to aim on the plot for next year...
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The SG on bottling is 990, meaning that the final strength is just over 13.5%.
It tastes pretty fruity too – even with bearing in mind that it needs to mature for a few months.
The freezer is stacked out with redcurrants still, so tonight I’ve fished another 3lb out to defrost to start the next batch…
Monday, August 17, 2009
It was a lot easier to empty this one than the other – it was just a case of undoing a couple of wire ties & taking off the front pallet. It was even easier to empty out & ferry in the big bucket to bed a2 (which will be spuds next year) as Jason (behind retired Maureen) had come up to chat about this & that & was press-ganged into giving me a hand with the heavy bucket.
Once the bin was reassembled, I started to fill it again with grass & flower cuttings from the front of the plot, bolting swiss chard, & the rather satisfying addition of one of the gooseberry bushes – which was much easier to dig up with the fork than I thought.
I picked a few RUNNER BEANS (reg next plot), a COURGETTE (green bush), a LETTUCE (little gem), a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless) & some sweetpeas before watering the prize pumpkin with a disgustingly smelly comfrey feed, before making my less than fragrant way home…
Sunday, August 16, 2009
So I've been keeping an close eye on this year's crop so that I can get them off the tree for me to eat, & this afternoon on my daily 'plum squeeze' rounds, testing for ripeness, I decided that they are just about ready.
No photo, as I have scoffed the half dozen or so that I picked - I just have to decide whether to harvest the lot now - about 30 more, I'd guess (it's only a little tree) - even though some will be under-ripe & sit them in the fruit bowl, or leave them on the tree & play a game of chicken with the squirrel...
Saturday, August 15, 2009
The first job was to dig up the rest of the POTATOES (rooster), which look pretty blemish free. I’ve added these to the ones previously dug & now have a big brown sack that I can lift, but not easily.
Secondly, I stripped the remaining pea pods from the PEAS (Lancashire lad & robinson), composted the plants & took the frame down.
Thirdly, I picked a heap of FRENCH BEANS (barlotti jody) – these are a bit of a mystery bean in that they are labelled as barlotti, but don’t look anything like any of the other barlottis that I have grown. They are about 10” long, slim green round pods with beans which are small & black when dried – & they are string free, even when large, & they are very, very prolific.
I also cut a CUCUMBER (burpless), a medium sized SQUASH (red kuri) & a couple of COURGETTES (all green & yellow golden), picked some sweetpeas & did a little weeding – as everything is going crackers – before nipping up to the clubhouse to have a quick chat about the show with the Saturday Old Boys, & then home for a late lunch.
Friday, August 14, 2009
We did do well with the Best Site in Birmingham (no personal credit claimed as I wasn’t even able to be in attendance for the big Tidy Up on site a few weeks ago. I was part of the big Tidy Up last year – & we came second, so what does that tell us?)
I went & picked sweet peas at the Hill with mum this evening – how prolific these have been! I’ve not given them much attention, but they’ve kept going for weeks now.
We also picked some RUNNER BEANS (essex bb) & FRENCH BEANS (barlotti jody) for her to take home.
Meanwhile, the apple wine has had it’s time going mad in the bucket, so tonight I strained out the lemon rind (& odd stray apple chunk) & whipped it into a dj to continue fermenting. My efficiency did not stretch to measuring the SG, however, so it will now sit in its murky gloom until racking when I’ll check to see if the sugary mixture has turned into a nice sweet wine, or something to knock yer fillings out…
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Back home I pared off the yellow rind & squeezed the juice of the lemon, then strained the apples, added the lemon rind & juice, dissolved the 2 1/2 lbs of sugar and added yeast & nutrient.
I measured the SG, which at 1.120 is rather high - the wine will either end up being rather sweet, or rather strong!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I didn't realise quite what I was letting myself in for, but humped all the bags in the car, said thank you, & went off to do some sums as to how many lots of 6lbs-of-apples-per-gallon-of-wine I have.
Quite a lot, as it happens, so I got the first batch underway tonight by chopping & simmered apples in a gallon of water in the maslin pan as per instructions, but then hit a snag in that the next step is to strain onto a couple of pounds of sugar & lemon rind - I have the sugar, but no lemon, so the whole chopped simmered apple caboodle is still in the pan waiting for the shops to open tomorrow.
Meanwhile I made a trip to the Hill in order to pick some FRENCH BEANS (triomphe de farcy & emperor of russia) & the first of the RUNNER BEANS (essex bb) & then to wield the secateurs rather more rigourously on the front of the plot.
I achieved a huge bucketful of cuttings (which I have no room for on the compost heap), loads of grumpy bees who said 'oi! I was using those flowers!' & the overall effect of a very bad haircut but at least now I could get to the bolting swiss chard to cut & bin some of that, & to gain access to the courgettes - a couple of which are rather more marrow like in appearance.
I guess that it's courgette wine, next stop?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
However my ambitions for this evening only extended to picking a great bunch of sweetpeas & wielding the secateurs to try to get the front of the plot into some sort of order (limited success here - need more ruthlessness next time).
I hadn't got very far before Rhubarb & Mrs Brian came down, and we had a chat about the Show. I congratulated them on a good first year for their entries, although Brian said ruefully, "yeah, but the rhubarb didn't do any good!"
Jason (behind retired Maureen) came by too, so we turned to the serious business of discussing our various entries - successes & failures - the judges & the day itself, before Jason had a look at how our prize pumpkin is getting on, & then had a good look round marvelling at all the different bean varieties growing up the frame - I'll get him growing heritage varieties yet!
Monday, August 10, 2009
After home grown lettuce & cucumber in a sandwich for lunch, I had a choice of varieties of potatoes to go with my lamb chops this evening (cooked with red onion & garlic), then peas, two types of French bean, courgette (yellow or green), cabbage from Reg-next-plot, carrots & broad beans (from Paul by the gate).
Of course, I didn't eat all that lot - I'd be the size of a house - but what fabulous variety!
Sunday, August 09, 2009
This included the small yield from the potatoes-in-a-bag which I emptied out yesterday with Reg-next-plot & novice neighbour Jody (Helen cruelly helpless with laughter for many, many minutes) & once composed, they left to leave me to dig up the carrots, pull rhubarb, cut the cucumbers, chose a lettuce & cut sweetpeas.
I put those entries in then went home to collect the rest of the prepared items, then back for a concentrated hour staging everything ready for the off. Phew!
With Julie (second best plot)’s husband Phil running a barbecue, the sun shining, & the bar open, the judges were left to get on with it – I sat on the grass in the sun & chatted with Jane & family, other friends & relatives dropping by, fellow plotholders & I even saw someone who was in my class at school & I haven’t seen for some twenty five years.
Once we got the word that the judging had finished, it was time to see what the judges had made of the entries.
I headed first to the Domestic classes with mum & Helen, & we came out with honours pretty even – no prizes for any of our jam, but mum with a 2nd for her tayberry jelly, Helen beating me into 2nd place with her fruit cake, mum picking up a 1st for her plain cake & I defended my marble cake crown. I was very pleased with a 1st with a jar of beetroot & Jerusalem artichoke chutney.
As far as the flower classes went – if wasn’t a huge surprise to be unplaced with my nine sweetpeas – or, indeed, with the geranium plant. In fact, my geranium was particularly notable as being the only plant in the whole class without a single flower in evidence - mine here at the front, far right in the pic.
Better news with the veg classes – my last minute inclusion of three pointy peppers in the Collection paid off handsomely with a 2nd, beating both Reg & Jason (behind retired Maureen) – the two to beat by far. Hurrah!
I was delighted with a 1st for my peas, & dwarf beans along with the lettuce class, & a handful of 2nd prizes for the coloured potatoes, onions (sets), shallots, an odd shaped carrot, & a creditable 3rd for my carrots. A really good haul all round!
Jane’s two did well in the children’s classes too – a couple of 1st & 2nd places – & it was great to see Rhubarb Brian with a clutch awards, & returning allotmenteer Christine picking up a basketful of prizes, including Best Exhibit in Show for her cherry tomatoes – she’s one to challenge Reg & Jason for the cups in years to come…
With all backslapping done with (I ended up with 5 'firsts', 6 'seconds' & a 'third' out of 20 entries), & everything packed away it was back to mum’s with Helen to divi up cake, jams, pickles & veg & to pick over the highs & lows – what a great day!
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Having deliberately ignored the plot all week (so I didn't inadvertantly eat any show winners), I now had the pick of the bounty to enter for the show – & with Reg-next-plot & novice neighbour Jody as company I had a pick of the PEAS (ne plus ultra) – which are stretching the boundaries of acceptable show quality somewhat – & also a heap of FRENCH BEANS (empress of russia & polish) which look fine.
I've also decided to show half a dozen SPRING ONIONS (white lisbon), as although they have bulbed significantly at the bottom (Julie said "oh - white lisbon, bulbing at the bottom? mine look like that too!") I notice that Sainsbury's sell 'large bulbing spring onion' which look very similar to mine, so in they go.
Jody was busy sorting out knee-high weeds & digging up his potatoes, so I joined him in digging up some of mine - a row of POTATOES (rooster) & all four rows of POTATOES (pentland dell) - the latter a huge disappointment in terms of yield, all four rows being just about the same weight as the one row of rooster.
Chatting to Jody, not only has he been away for a couple of weeks, prior to that toddler H has been very poorly in hospital – a real worry – so his plot is understandably not how he'd like it.
"I'd no idea," I said, "do shout up if you are ever in a spot like that again, not being able to get to the plot for any reason. You know we'd all muck in to keep the plot ticking over, & with a family crisis you can do without worrying about the state of your plot!"
Just before I went home I tipped out the contents of the spuds-in-a-growbag bag – not exactly a yield to be proud of if we're honest – lets hope for better things tomorrow...
Friday, August 07, 2009
And that's it.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
I had a slight crisis with the shallots earlier - I know that I haven't got very many good ones to make up a plate of ten, but when I'd finished trimming & tying them to get them ready, I found that I only have nine plus a runty one.
Must have a rummage in the basket to try to find a tenth that will look a bit more the part. I know that these aren't show winners, however I don't want them to be embarrassing either...
On a different note, I was looking at the achocha plant earlier admiring the fruit, when it struck me that I could enter three of them in the collection Class 1 - which says 'any other vegetable not in the schedule, no more than three of each'. However, given that I suspect only about three other people at the Hill have even heard of achocha, it might be an exoticsism too far for the judges.
I'll think about it.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
First I racked the redcurrant wine – the fermentation has slowed right down, & it has starting to clear. It’s measuring an SG of 990 – but it tastes a bit sharp, so I gently added another ounce of sugar.
It’ll probably ferment just a bit more, fed by the added sugar, but at that SG, not very much, & the left over sugar will sweeten the wine.
Then I picked out the white potatoes for the show – I couldn’t make my mind up between the wilja or the larger lady cristl, so I picked 5 of each & washed & wrapped them along with the selected garlic bulbs & the coloured potatoes which I picked out yesterday.
They all look equally quite good, so I’ll have to take a second opinion nearer the weekend…
Monday, August 03, 2009
That's one-&-a-bit classes down, & then there's just the five white potatoes to choose, three onions from sets, seven dwarf beans, ten shallots, one lettuce, one cucumber, three rhubarb sticks; & then there's the 'maybe' classes which I haven't decided on yet...
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Reg-next-plot came up as I was digging up the potatoes, & he gave me an excellent lesson in preparing the potatoes for the Show. “Pick the most even – look you’ve plenty that are the same – & gently wash them with a sponge or cotton wool, being careful not to break the skin, then wrap them individually in newspaper,” he advised.
Cheery Brian & Pauline stopped by with a trug of goodies. “We’ve rescued our French beans from the weeds,” beamed Pauline, holding up rather a large specimen, “but they look a bit big, so I hope they are all right”. I said that she could always shell them & eat the beans on their own, if they’re woody, & off they went.
As I set about cutting down the PEAS (stephens) to take the pods home for drying & shelling, Jane & E arrived with a friend & her daughter. Jane showed them around the site – they chatted to John Badger from the bottom for some while then they came back up to the clubhouse to pick up a show schedule duly enthused for next weekend.
Happy with the potatoes, peas, I picked some sweetpeas & cut a couple of sizeable COURGETTES (all green bush), I then set about sorted out the side of the plot. This was less successful in that even with two huge buckets of weeds, a considerable number of scratches from the gooseberry bushes, & a great deal of puffing & panting whilst clod turning, the area is still looking like a very roughly ploughed field.
A work in progress, I think.
Saturday, August 01, 2009
I put my time to good use, though & made my fruit cake for the show. As it happens, I'm going head-to-head this year with big sis Helen in this class - I suspect she'll take the honours, but we'll see...
The fruit has been soaking in a cocktail of whiskey, sherry & drambuie (it would have been whiskey as per the recipe, but I ran out, and ended up with a slosh of whatever was to hand...) for a day or so - the smell as it was cooking in the oven was superb!
I had the customary 'is it cooked through' dither - it doesn't help that the handwritten-on-a-post-it-note recipe lists the ingredients, but no method; & the oven temp, but no cooking time...