Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Yearly Archive: 2009

Sweet Peas – Lathyrus Odoratus – 2009

 

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Although it is a bit late I am going to chit some saved Sweet Pea seeds and set them in the lean to for overwintering in the hope of some early plants for next season. The seeds are mixed as it would have been impossible to separate the varieties when collecting them. 2009 was a terrible year for us for Sweet Peas but 2008 was great so let’s hope next year will be another good one.

Sweet Pea – Delicate Pleasures

Here are sweet peas on tip-toe for a flight with wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white,

And taper fingers catching at all things  to bind them all about with tiny rings

Keats

 

Late Autumn Harvest

We surprised even ourselves when we came home with two trays of goodies on our last visit to the plots. I gathered a few tomatoes from the lean to and have left the plants intact as they have quite a bit of fruit still green. I don’t suppose they will ripen but we will give them a chance. The last of the cucumber had shrivelled so those plants are ready to come down.

We brought home three cabbages, a Savoy and a Ballhead plus one red for pickling. One of the sprout plants had fallen over so we pulled it and harvested the sprouts. They were quite small but made a tasty meal. Brussel sprouts are a great source of vitamins A, C, and K. They contain iron, fibre, potassium, and B vitamins. They also contain folate, protein, and beta-carotene. Next I pulled four leeks which were ready to eat and a few sticks of Chard. The surprise find was a beautiful if small Romanesco. We are bringing the pumpkins home one at a time as they are heavy and they should make some tasty soup for us over the Winter with the left over flesh and seeds going to the chickens and ducks.

The Fruit Cage

I spoke too soon when I said there would be no work involved as the fruit cage was up and running. Three of the uprights have snapped off at ground level. My brother Roy has bought some metal rods to strengthen the posts so that will be the first job on our next visit. We have also decided to dismantle the old sprout cage and clear up the bed ready for the rotovator. I am determined to keep all the brassicas in the tunnels next year. The framework on the bean trench has now been dismantled and all the old plants taken down. We will build the new one in the Spring ready for May planting.

Planning for Next Season 2010

We have had some ups and downs this season and got to the point of almost giving up. Mostly because of lack of time and other committments. However I am now thinking about trying to do better next year. I am planning to have a think about what to grow and what to leave out. Some crops seem to need a lot of work for little return and may be cheaper to buy.

Onions is one crop I plan to leave out next year. I can buy a large bag of cooking onions for about £2 so breaking my back planting out onion sets seems a bad idea not to mention the cost of buying the sets in the first place. The crop is also uncertain with the onion fly rife on the site.

Potatoes is another crop that I am changing the rules about. I shall buy only first early seed potatoes and only grow in bags. I am thinking of sticking with Charlotte as they are tasty and reliable.

Runner Beans are easy to grow and soon lead to a glut and a full freezer. Changes this year will include building a new framework as ours was inherited and is now falling down. We plan to grow less plants and to change the frame structure from an upright double frame to a single sloping frame which will allow the beans to hang down. I also plan to grow my Sweet Pea plants amongst the beans next year. I have plenty of saved seeds so no costs involved there.

bean white lady

 Broad Beans is a no no next year. Though a satisfying crop and easy to grow we don’t need to grow more until we have eaten those in the freezer.

Carrots are cheap to buy but fun to grow and not much trouble and I have loads of seeds still to use so no cost involved. The ones grown in the carrot bin were the most successful all season but the ones in the ground only good early in the season. The Autumn King came up diseased and were disappointing.

 

Parsnips are vegetables that we love the taste of but don’t seem to have much success with. I may have a go with a tall blue plastic bin which we have been using as a compost bin. It needs some drainage holes put in and then filling with sand and compost. Again these are quite cheap to buy so I shan’t bother to plant loads in the ground only to lose them. I have read that fresh seeds every year is best so I may be splashing out on new seeds. Maybe 19p from Netto.

Soft Fruit – One of our resounding successes this season has been the soft fruit grown in our new fruit cage. We worked very hard on building the cage this year.  We had loads of strawberries; red, pink and black currants; red, yellow and green gooseberries and black berries. We shall need to clear up, cut back the plants and feed the soil in the Spring but on the whole I am looking forward to lots more fruit next year with a fraction of the work. I still have fruit in the freezer to use over the Winter. The Rhubarb is in its own bed and looks after itself really. I have tidied it up and covered it with straw to over winter.

Tunnels/ Brassicas/ Peas  We have two tunnels, one on each plot, which need tidying up and rotovating. I think I shall erect a low trellis along the sides of both of them to grow peas. They are both used to grow brassicas throughout the season. More thought will be needed about spreading the planting of the brassicas next year to fully utilise the tunnels without having to erect smaller cages for plants left over. Maybe rather than ordering loads from Marshalls we could just buy a few at a time from the local nursery.

Beetroot is an easy crop to grow and we usually grow them in succession in any odd spaces we have available. I still have seeds left and so shall use them up. We have Detroit and Woden which have both been good this year.

Courgette is another plant that is easy to grow and we have a raised bed which we always use for them. We need to top up the compost with plenty of organic matter over the Winter. This year although we planted five plants only one reached maturity. We still had more than enough courgettes to eat.

Autumn 2009

It seems that September has gone by without a mention on my weblog. It was a warm dry month and lots of time was spent in the garden at home. As far as the allotments go we visited to harvest tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage and did some weeding and tidying but not enough time was spent there I’m afraid.

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It is now one week into October and the weather is still mild with some sunshine and so far not much rain. The pumpkins have suffered from the lack of water and aren’t so good this year. The butternut squash is almost non existant unfortunately so that is disappointing. The runner beans were prolific but also not as good as last year because of the lack of rain.

We have blown our savings and bought a car. Not a new one, a 2002 registration Jaguar, but have kept the Rover so I will have my own transport and we can also use the old one for allotment visits.

 

At six weeks old the runner ducks have grown at a terrific pace and now stand well above all the others in the garden. They are lovely creatures, very shy and quiet. All the ducks are now living together in one shed. The old gardening shed that I cleaned out, treated and adapted for them. I am looking forward to seeing the first egg from the new girls.

Frank The Duck

Frank The DuckThe Runner Ducks hatched this weekend. Out of six eggs we got three beautiful ducklings. It looks like two girls and a boy, Libbie named the two girls Honey and Treacle and we decided on Francis Drake for the boy, Frank for short, in honour of our good friend and neighbour at the allotment.

We spent a good two hours at the plots on Sunday and came home with a good harvest of potatoes, beans, cucumbers, cauliflowers, cabbages, courgette and tomatoes.  An enormous amount of weeds were pulled but we still came away having run out of time and knowing we had much more weeding to do. Everything was very dry and this afternoon we are having a welcome shower of rain. I am sure the plants will be getting a much needed drink.

 

Pumpkin Pie

Made my first ever pumpkin pies this morning using just a quarter of a largish pumpkin. I did a search for a recipe as I had no idea what went into it apart from pumpkin and pastry. I used a block of frozen shortcrust pastry and lined two tart dishes. I pureed the pumpkin and added ginger and brown sugar. When the mixture was cooled I added four small beaten eggs and half a tin of condensed milk and poured the mixture into the pastry case. They took 50 minutes to cook and do look like they should. I will report on taste later. Update – add a lemon or more spices next time as it was quite bland.

Signs of Autumn

We spent a couple of hours at the plots this afternoon. The weather was warm and sunny and the ground was workable so we did a lot of weeding. Still back breaking work but easier than when the ground is dry or heavy with rain. Rob dug up a few rows of potatoes and we emptied three bags too so we came back with quite a haul. They seem ok as far as the Blight is concerned so lets hope they store ok. This evening I cooked some Charlotte and they were very good.

cucumber carmen

We cut another cucumber from the Carmen plant and though they are few and far between the quality of them is brilliant. We also cut one of the Butterhead lettuce. Pity the tomatoes are still not big or red enough to eat. The outdoor tomatoes seem to be getting the first signs of Blight with the young fruit turning black. Very sad. The runner beans were loaded and I picked a large box full as well as giving Frank and his wife quite a few as his were a bit late going in and are only just starting to produce. I pulled a few of the Rainbow carrots too. There seem to be plenty of snails, earwigs and wood lice having a go at everything, especially the brassicas and the white fly is starting to show itself again. We brought home a couple of cabbages and found one that was so nibbled we had to throw it on to the compost heap. The pumpkin plants are rampant and covered in yellow globes of varying sizes and are a reminder that Autumn will soon be here.

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Blight Warning Blues 2009

Today we have received a warning of Blight in our area. As Rob is working all day today we wont be able to get down to the plots to rescue the potatoes and tomatoes. The weather today is dry and sunny for a change. The past few weeks have been miserable with loads of torrential rain which is not too bad for the allotment but terrible for the back garden as it sits on clay and the water just collects and takes ages to dry out so keeping the chickens and ducks clean has been an ongoing slog. After Saturday Rob has two weeks off work so we shall be able to catch up on jobs at home and at the plots. It will be mostly harvesting and weeding and getting the beds ready for the Winter. We have quite a few brassicas coming along nicely to harvest now and hopefully over the Winter. The runner beans are producing like mad and we have beetroot and carrots to harvest too. The last time we were down there we saw a row of lettuce which will probably be ready by the weekend.

Rhubarb

There is a lot of Rhubarb ready to pull and I think we shall be giving some away as I am running out of freezer space. I have made Rhubarb jam and a couple of crumbles already. However it is very tasty and I think another crumble is on the cards for tonight.

I think we have come to the conclusion that working the allotments is hard work and that everything seems to come at once. Whether an extra freezer is the answer or getting rid of one of the plots next year. It is probably just bad organisation on our part. At the moment it seems like its all or nothing as far as produce goes. Oh dear I think this Blight warning as put me into a negative mood.

Currants – Black, Red and Pink

The currants have done really well this year and I have frozen quite a lot ready to use in the winter months. Last night I made jam with red, black and pink and although the jars are an assortment of previously used ones it all looks very colourful and tastes wonderful. I think I shall make an effort next year and get some nice jars from Wares of Knutsford especially for the job.

currants

This is the first year that I have made red and pink currant jelly and I am very pleased with the taste of both. Last year was the first year of the bushes and we only had enough for mixed fruit and ice cream a couple of times. They are both very pretty bushes and looked beautiful hung with multiple strings of bright jewel like fruit.

 

 

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When the fruit first turns red or white it is not yet fully ripe, so harvest only once it has sweetened. It is simplest to cut the bunches of fruit, called strigs, using scissors. The fruit can be stored in the fridge for a week or two after picking. Alternatively, freeze the fruit or preserve it.