Monday, 30 May 2016

Rhubarb Chutney

Time for something new, not tried this recipe before, but with quite a lot of rhubarb to get through, it seems like a good idea! 

In Yorkshire, an area between Leeds and Wakefield is known as the "Rhubarb Triangle"
The rhubarb in the allotment was originally a root cut off one winter from some from my mum's plant, which is from the same type of soil just outside the designated EU area - that being said there was a forcing shed near their house. 

Anyway, what you will need to make approximately 2-3 jars of chutney is:

1kg rhubarb, washed, peeled and diced. 
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into small pieces
Pickling spice (usually obtainable in small jars from the supermarket where all the other jars of herbs and spices are)
200ml pickling vinegar
400g sugar
1 small lemon (I used two really small ones from the Meyer lemon tree we have)
1 small piece of ginger root, peeled and chopped up small. (if you want to have a bit of fizz on your tongue, try a small piece of raw ginger!)
First step is to wash, peel and chop up the rhubarb, sometimes you can just peel it straight off with your fingers, but sometimes you can - pointing away from you - pare the skin off as if you were whittling a piece of wood. Dice up and place in a large saucepan. De-seed and chop up the lemon roughly. 
Then peel and chop up the onion and add to the pan. (note I actually made two 500g batches of chutney, one with onion and one without)


Peel and chop up the ginger and weigh out the sugar, and measure out the vinegar. Note that I have used a mixture of dark brown and white sugar but all it does is vary the colour of the chutney.


Add all the ingredients to the pan, and then boil up and simmer until everything goes mushy. Then, using a potato masher, mash up all the mixture and then boil up until the vinegar has reduced and the chutney is rather sticky and clingy. 

Then spoon into sterilized jars - it's easier using a funnel on top of the jar, seal and allow to cool before labelling up.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Spring Blossom

It's been a late start this year, not least because of the late April snow! But now, although the weather isn't too brilliant, everything's catching up and there's plenty to do.

But first, it is such a joy to see the blossom on the fruit trees, and such a challenge to protect it from late frosts like we had at the end of April/start of May! We keep a number of clear plastic sheets and bags at the allotment which can cover up the minarette fruit trees, the strawberries and the grape vine in the event that a frost is forecast.

This is the blossom on the Falstaff apple tree that is trained against the rear fence of the allotment.

The following link shows the apples that come from it, along with ones from the Chivers Delight and Gala.

This is a close up of a blossom flower on the Chivers Delight apple tree. We try to keep the trees around 6ft tall, although the damson seems to have decided it wants to be a grown up damson tree rather than a minarette but we keep it under control!

This is a close up of a blueberry blossom. We have three blueberries and after a slow couple of years after which we changed compost (ericaceous) and now all three bushes have loads of blossom and we hope for more than the single jar of jam this year!

Now planted in the allotment are peas, sweetcorn, cabbages, a couple of courgettes, onions, parsnips and potatoes. Still being eaten from last season's crops are the last of the purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and new season asparagus.

Close up of a purple sprouting broccoli head. This needs to be picked, any later and it will go into flower heads and then beautiful yellow flowers which actually provide a useful source for bees, butterflies and other insects early on before other flowers are available.

The difficulty every year with the sprouting broccoli is that it is in what becomes the following year's potato patch (we have four rotating beds), and in general it is a struggle to find space for all the potatoes until the broccoli has finished! In fact, this year all the potatoes are in and the purple broccoli has only just finished in late May!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Welcome back!

The more observant among you may have noticed that there hasn't been a blog update for some considerable time! I have though been keeping up to my Twitter account @cashandcarrots

Main crop at the moment is parsnips, which are now starting to go a little woody inside but the outside of them is fine still for eating - parsnip chips done in a chip pan (observing all usual precautions for deep frying of course!) are delicious! They also roast very well.

There's some sprouting broccoli, and a few leeks, and a few remaining onions in store with the odd garlic left and a few potatoes keeps turning up as the ground is being dug over for this growing season.

Thoughts turn to Spring now, and what to plant where and what to sow. Due to increased work commitments, this year we're going to have to concentrate on what can be done on a mostly fire and forget basis.

Good crops for the time-limited vegetable grower:

I will assume you will wish to regularly weed and water your crops!

Onion sets - weed, dig over and prepare ground with some compost, and plant onion sets in rows or blocks. Weed occasionally - this has to be done by hand to avoid damaging the bulbs, but other than that just harvert come July-August. Or earlier if you overwinter some Japanese ones - this works at 54 north here in the UK, they can survive harsh winter weather.

Potatoes - weed and dig over ground, and put in plenty of organic matter - compost, manure etc into long trenches running north-south if possible. Plant potato sets over several weeks. Earth up the rows once planted and then again when there's plenty of foliage or when a late frost is forecast. Spray the main crop with Bordeaux Mixture (or for the less organically inclined Dithane) fortnightly from mid June - earlies are usually harvested well before blight comes. Blight can be a problem anywhere in the country. Dig up as necessary and eat or store. Don't dig up and eat for at least a week after spraying - I usually work out what I am going to eat for the next fortnight - dig those up and spray the rest.

Fruit bushes - dig a big hole twice as deep as you think you need in late autumn or winter (up to late Feb). Put plenty of manure and compost into the hole and then plant a minarette apply/damson/plum/pear tree or blackcurrant or raspberry (or other berry) bush. All fruit bushes can be ordered in a dormant state over the cold season. Water in. Follow pruning instructions and mulch with well rotted manure or compost a couple fo times a year. May need to use Diphane for such as black spot fungus - hate having to use it but it is the only thing that deals with it as far as I know.

Beetroot - dig over and prepare ground with compost. Plant beetroot seeds about 6-8 inches apart. Harvest!

Broccoli - either calebrese or shooting broccoli is pretty much plant into big plug pots, wait until large enouhg to withstand slugs (6-8 inches) and plant out into a dug over and composted bed about 18-24 inches apart. Use a non-harmful slug deterrent as necessary. Harvest!

Beans also are pretty much plant in pots, pot out when large enough to survive slugs - plant into manured bed around a cane or metal wigwam or other frame. Tie them in if necessary and then wait to harvest the beans!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Crop Protection

At some point many crops need protection from birds or insects or from the weather/sunshine etc

I dislike using soft plastic or nylon mesh nets as birds can easily get caught in them, in fact I rescued a blackbird from underneath someone else's the other week. However, more sturdy metal mesh can be used to protect against birds or cabbage white butterflies as slow below:

This mesh is approx 10ft long and arranged in a triangular prism so that it can allow plants to grow tall underneath as necessary.

This photo shows it protecting our lettuces, which we found are a tasty treat for House Sparrows, in fact they tell their friends and all have quite a party nibbling them down to a stump if unprotected. Interestingly, this behaviour has only been noticed in the past couple of years, maybe they just got away with it before then, or maybe their tastes have changed.....

Now, it is over the blueberries as Blackbirds and thrushes will gobble the lot if left unprotected!

Some of our allotment neighbours have a problem with pigeons going after cabbages, however this only seems to be in the more "open" allotments, ours has hedges around and I think that it is the enclosed nature of the allotment that pigeons do not like - in fact I have seen pigeons sitting on the fence at the back, having a nosy and then ignoring our cabbages in favour of ones in a more open allotment!

As is said in this earlier post disguising crops by planting flowers in amongst them is a good idea, and I have also found that garlic and onions in with carrots will help reduce carrot flies (the best defence is height!), some people use very small knit mesh or fleece. Garlic barrier spray works well on peas and beans and damsons to some extent.

Flowers in the Allotment

When people find out that I have an allotment, quite often they say, "You must be a really keen gardener!"
The answer to that is that I spend a lot of time growing vegetables but am not knowledgable in the slightest about flowers! (apart from the obvious ones like knowing what a daffodil looks like!)

However, flowers can play a very useful part in the allotment, both to attract pollenators and also to act as diversions from or indeed mask vegetables from the nasties that might want to eat or lay eggs on them.

Marigolds (Tagetes)

Marigolds are said to be able to deter aphids, attract some pollenators and the Tagetes Minuta variety (not shown) has been researched and shown to be able to clear ground of persistent weeds.

Ours now self seed and live down near the far end of the allotment, which this year is around the onions, carrots, leeks, garlic and parsnips.


The nasturtiums are going mad! This is the top end of the allotment near the gate, and this is what greeted us in the middle of the pea and bean patch after we had come back from holiday.

Some people eat nasturtium leaves, battered or fried apparently. Can't say I have tried, or indeed want to try this myself but the rabbit we used to have liked them!

The do seem to attract blackfly, so act as a diversionary plant for beans, especially broad beans which can be prone to them. (A tip with broad beans is to remote the growing tip once enough beans have set and it is tall enough as required)

Again ours self seed.


Cosmos are good for attracting butterflies and also the seeds at the end of season are attractive eating for bird.

These are planted around the carrot tyre stacks to hide the black tyres.


Quite apart from the fun of growing tall sunflowers, and their general attractiveness, the seeds of these can be collected in Autumn to put in bird feeders or indeed give to some small pet animals.
Alternatively leave on the plant for Goldfinches and other birds to peck at in situ.

They do suck up a lot of water and create shade so ensure that there's a bit of space around them, don't try to grow other vegetables too close. That being said the shade is good to stop cauliflower heads going yellow and lettuces from going to seed in the strong summer sunshine.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Weeding peas

Weeding peas is a fiddly job! Peas need plenty of water but of course that encourages the weeds as well. In the gap between rows, hoeing is possible if you are careful but otherwise it is a hands and knees job!
Be very careful, peas at this stage, just flowering and producing the first peas, can be uprooted very easily and peas will often try and use the nearest object, e.g. a weed,  for support instead of all those pea sticks collected over previous months.
I have found that, despite getting dirt up fingernails and on hands, it is better to dispense with gardening gloves in order to pick out the weeds from in amongst the peas.

This year has been cold for them, the earliest pods did survive the frost but went a bit of a funny colour, but now there's plenty of pea flowers and pods forming. CDs on strings have also been used as a defence against sparrows looking for a nice bit of greenery to munch!

Monday, 18 May 2015

What's going on at the allotment - part 2

Despite the slow start, there is quite a lot of activity in the allotment and most of it is under cultivation. Eats at the moment are the very last of the leeks - they are getting a bit tough and the ends are swelling up into bulbs, a small bit of asparagus - picked very sparingly this year so as not to weaken the plant in the 3rd year of growth, some rhubarb and some broccoli.

 These are the overwintered onions and garlic.

Overwintered onions - sometimes called Japanese onions - are planted in September as sets and are hardy enough to stand even the coldest winters we get here.

There are 4 garlic plants among these. I planted a whole bulb's worth of them so I don't know what's happened to the others.......

These will be ready towards the end of June.

One of the garlics will be saved until next year, however you can just go to the supermarket, buy a garlic bulb, break it up, peel the papery skin off and plant! That's what we did when we first got the allotment!

Here are the strawberries, flowering with one or two very small strawberries forming.

In autumn last year, I dug out all the strawberry plants and runners, and gave the bed a really good weed, getting rid of as much of the invasive couch grass as possible. Then, putting in plenty of manure and compost, the best plants and runners (including some from the window box at home) went back in and certainly looking at them now it was worth the effort!

Blackcurrants - these seem to grow more and more currants every year, which is good providing you have an infinite freezer and an lifetime's supply of Kilner Jars!

They are turned into jam (along with the raspberries, blackberries, rhubarb, some of the apples and the occasional blueberry!),

 and preserved in vodka!