Saturday, 28 August 2010

Morning Glory

A day in the life of a Morning Glory flower (photos taken at 7 am, 8 am, 3 pm, 7 pm and 10 pm).
(They only bloom for one day).

Plum Jam

Two or three days ago I stole some plums off a neglected allotment and made some plum jam. I needed to make some fast because I've entered the stoned fruit jam class in the Garden Show next weekend. I was hoping to buy some plums by the side of the road on my way back from the Dauntsey car boot sale, like I did last year, but that house is up for sale and there has been no sign of the little girl's stall.

I'd had my eye on these plums for a while - they are beautiful purple ones, with a blue bloom. So had a lot of other people, including the Allotment Officer and the Site Rep! But I got there first, and just in time, because they were dropping on to the ground. It was drizzling, and I had my baseball cap on and my hood up, just in case I was spotted!

The recipe for plum jam is very simple: 1lb plums to 1lb sugar. But I managed to burn mine. Marguerite Patten suggests you put 4-5 tablespoons water per ilb plums into the preserving pan. I put in only 5 tablespoons water to 2 lbs plums, and I think that's why the jam burned. Plus I was using a thermometer which wasn't doing its job. I have trouble on my cooker at getting the jam to the right temperature, because the big rings are at the back, and the small ones at the front aren't powerful enough (that's not all that's wrong with my cooker, but I did get it for virtually nothing, and at least it works, unlike some my mother had when I was growing up). But anyhow, the jam tasted all right. Whether it will win a prize or not is another matter. We shall see.


I made some chutney this week - the first I've ever made. I wasn't brought up with chutney - the nearest we came to it was Branston pickle. But I remember every year at the school Harvest Festival children bringing in jars of horrible green muck and thinking I would never in a million years eat such a thing. What a surprise it was, then, to find that my chutney was absolutely delicious!

The recipe is as follows, and is taken from Marguerite Patten's Jams, Preserves and Chutneys Handbook in the Basic Basics series (ISBN 1902304721):

Autumn Chutney

1lb each of cooking apples and marrows, peeled and chopped
1.5 lbs onions, peeled and finely chopped
1lb tomatoes, skinned and chopped (I tried green, but they were impossible to skin, so I ended up using red)
1.25 pints vinegar (brown or white)
2 teasps pickling spices, tied in muslin (I used about four tablespoons!)
2 garlic cloves, put whole in the muslin with the spices (I only used one)
1lb sugar (I used demerara, but Marguerite Patten suggests dark brown)
1lb raisins

Prepare the raw fruit and veg. Put the chopped onions into the preserving pan with half the vinegar and the spices and garlic tied in muslin. Bring to the boil and simmer 15 mins. Add the rest of the raw fruit and veg and the remainder of the vinegar and cook gently until the fruits are soft. Add the sugar and stir over a low heat until dissolved. Add the raisins. Cook steadily until the chutney has the consistency of thick jam. Remove the muslin bag, and spoon the chutney while hot into hot, sterilized jars. Seal down.

Marguerite Patten's recipe calls for a pound each of plums and pears, plus half a pound of blackberries. I went to Shrivenham Fete today and met someone who was selling Autumn Chutney made to this recipe, with the plums but without the blackberries. If anything, it tasted even better than mine, and it had a better colour (pinkish, as opposed to brown).

I could eat a whole jar of this chutney in a few days, but because I'm still on a diet, I have to ration myself to half a teaspoon a day. I think you appreciate the taste even more when you're only allowed a tiny bit. My strawberry and blackcurrant jams are a case in point. I don't know what amount I will allow myself when I have finally reached my target weight - but that's another subject. Apart from the fact that I am eating so many vegetables now that there is no way I am still losing weight like I did in the summer, when there was nothing to do but dig and sweat.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Helena, plot 37

This is Helena. She's Dutch, and so is her bike. She has plot 37, but she says she's giving it up. Her daughter has plot 3 (?), but her shed was burnt down, and she was lucky that her chickens in the chicken houses survived. So Helena says she no longer feels secure or good about being down there. She is taking her tools home, because she's decided to concentrate her efforts on her garden at home. I think it's terribly sad that the vandals have won in this case.

More gifts

These are just one day's exchange. The beetroot are from the man on plot 43 (?). I can't remember what variety they are, but it's something that describes its enormous size. He gave me three giants, which filled my preserving pan, and had to be boiled for over an hour. I pickled them all, but now have practically no jars left, and no spiced vinegar. I'm not sure whether they'll taste as good as the small ones - we shall see. It made me feel very Russian, peeling and slicing these huge monsters. I could imagine living on them throughout the winter.

The bucket of plums was from Joe, as I said. And the white currants were from Helena (plot 37).

Tomaso's gifts

Tomaso said as he passed today, "Do you want some broccoli plants?" He gave me some last year, and they were very productive and very good. So although it was raining and I was trying to get a patch dug before my bladder gave out, I followed him to his allotment. On the way, he said, "You're not frightened of me, are you?" (He's about four foot tall and over 90). "Because people will gossip if they see you with me and say you are my girlfriend!"
After showing me round (again), he pulled up some broccoli plants, and then offered me some fennel plants too. I don't really like fennel all that much, but it looks impressive, and I thought if I put it up the top in the bit that I've just cleared, the Italians would praise me as they passed. Besides, it's all food, and food is sacred. So I said yes, and he carefully counted out ten plants. He put them in a sugar bag, saying he'd been making jam from his plums, then handed me another bag and told me to look inside. Inside was this circular twist of bread which I think he said his daughter "who has the shop" had made. It was a bit dried out, but it tasted delicious: it was flavoured with fennel seeds and salt. As I was starving by then, because it was nearly tea-time, it was very welcome.
As I left to go back to my allotment, Tomaso gave me a hug and said, "You are like my wife and my daughter!"

Thursday, 19 August 2010


The harvest is in full swing at the moment, with not a spare moment, and far too much for one person to eat. This is just one day's haul. The plums are from Joe's tree. I picked enough, saying I would pick some more in a couple of days' time and make jam, because I was going to London the next day. But Joe picked another bucket-full and gave them to me, saying I could make jam when I got back. When I got back, most of them were rotten, so I had to chuck them away. For jam, fruit needs to be freshly picked. These plums aren't like commercial plums - they go off within hours.

The tomatoes are from Joe too. The peas, runner beans, French beans, onions and cucumber are from my allotment. I have so many beans now I don't know what to do with them. I tried freezing them, but they became completely inedible - a mushy, tasteless mess - so I threw all the ones I'd frozen away. I've tried freezing some without blanching them, as Angelina suggested (she indicated slicing them in four, then added, "then mette in freezee"). The peas, on the other hand, taste fine after being frozen. These are Onward peas - I don't know when I sowed them: it was late, though, and the result was a brilliant crop without a single weevil.

Blackberry syrup

This is the Blackberry & Apple syrup I made a few days ago. It contains about a pound of blackberries, a large cooking apple and a couple of small eating apples (leave those out next time - they don't mush down as quickly as cooking apples, and as a result you overboil the blackberries, which destroys the flavour). Cook and strain as for jelly, but then heat the juice with sugar (8-12 oz per pint of juice) for as short a time as possible (bring to the boil and simmer until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved), then put into sterilized bottles.

Finding suitable bottles was the hardest part. You need glass bottles with metal tops - most bottles have plastic caps nowadays. Only the more expensive drinks have metal tops. This was a lovely bottle but I just couldn't get the label off, no matter how I tried. The label seems to be made of plastic, not paper - God knows what it's stuck on with.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Blight weather

Just as the tomatoes are starting to ripen, the weather has changed, and is now perfect blight weather - wet, drizzly and warm. Already my neighbours on plot 60 have had to uproots some of their tomatoes, and so has Chris on 61 and 63. He says he got those plants from the Italians, and thinks my neighbours did too (these are plum tomatoes we're talking about). I was offered some, but had enough of my own, so didn't take any. Some of Joe's tomatoes have black spots on them, and I noticed little spots on the very few of mine that are already ripe.

For two years we have all lost our tomato crop to blight. The last two years there was dreadful cold, damp weather all summer. It probably doesn't help that the Italians do not scrupulously destroy any blighted tomatoes, but often leave them lying about on the ground. Thank goodness tomatoes are only a minor proportion of my crop. I feel really sorry for the Italians, who always grow rows and rows of them. I knew I shouldn't have bought that tomato puree maker: I knew at the time that it was a hostage to fortune.

Pickling gherkins

I've already pickled one gherkin, and today I'm pickling some more. The first lot blow your head off: intense salt and intense spicy vinegar. I'm trying a milder version this time, though I doubt if it will be much milder.
First of all, you soak the gherkin slices in a cold wet brine overnight. The brine consists of 2 oz salt dissolved in 1 pint water. The salt must be pure sea or rock salt, i.e. not contaminated with anti-caking agent.
Next day, rinse very well and leave to drain. Pack into cold sterilised jars, cover with spiced vinegar, and seal.
Last time, I simmered the gherkins in the brine for 10 minutes. As a result, they went too soft. This time, I am going to add some sugar in the hope that this will make them more palatable.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The cucumber...swelling to greatness

The bloody cucumbers are swelling a bit too much, if you ask me. The cry on the allotment is "Do you want a cucumber?" "Have you enough cucumbers?" Yes thanks, billions of the buggers. And when they swell to greatness, the seeds become too apparent. However, my cucumbers are delicious: Burpless Tasty Green; unlike some of the nasty bitter things I grew last year. I tried to explain to some of the Italians what an F1 hybrid was, and that you couldn't use the seeds next year (they grow the majority of their crops from saved seed), but they did not believe me. They make me feel guilty and extravagant about my lust for novelty, and my desire to buy new seeds every year.

Freezing carrots

I have started freezing my carrots today. I have 2 and a half rows left: this photo represents about 2 foot of one of the rows, so I've got my work cut out. After scrubbing them, scraping them and slicing them, you blanch them for 3 to 5 minutes, then freeze. It will be worth it, I sigh to myself, just you wait, when you're tucking into boiled beef and carrots on a cold, miserable November evening.

Pickling beetroot

I pickled the last of my beetroot today. This represents the last half a row (I had two) of Boltardy. I've already eaten loads of boiled beetroot and have made inroads on the beetroot already pickled. I love the way it makes potato go a fabulous purple colour, and this particular blend of pickling spices results in a very sweet spiced vinegar.
To make the spiced vinegar, tie the following spices in muslin: a 2" stick of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 teaspoons allspice berries, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, 2-3 bay leaves. Place spices and vinegar in a basin (covered with foil) over a saucepan of water. Bring the water to the boil, then remove from the heat. Set aside 2-3 hours for the spices to steep in the warm vinegar. Remove the spices and pour the vinegar back into the original bottles, label and keep till needed.
To pickle beetroot, boil the beetroot whole for 45 minutes. Peel. Slice and pack into sterilised jars. Pour over cold spiced vinegar, seal and label.

Salvation Army allotment

This is the state of my former allotment yesterday. The residents of Booth House Salvation Army Hostel have come down here approximately twice this year. On the first occasion, they spent the afternoon breaking up the wood from the old shed and transferred it to the bottom of the allotment, where they intend to burn it (local householders beware!). On the last, they dug the hole behind the pile of wood. It is supposed to be a pond. As for the rest, while they have put a luxurious shed on the plot and filled it with cheap but new tools, they have done NOTHING else, yes NOTHING AT ALL! Allotment Officer, take note and GET RID!

(Mind you, the wood has been very useful for lighting my bonfires).

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A typical day down the allotment

A typical day down the allotment - go down in a bad mood because I don't feel like digging. Get stuck in, then am distracted by a stray dog on the allotment. It is a big black thing with no collar and it looks as if it has bulldog blood in it. It is drooling and barking and running round everywhere.

I yell at it and start to chase it, but of course, it's useless trying to chase a dog. I chuck stones at it but it thinks I'm throwing sticks for it to catch, and in any case, I'm a useless shot. I hate dogs and I'd be quite happy to hit it with a stone or to shoot it if guns were allowed on the allotments (such is the fury evinced by irresponsible dog owners). I chase it up near the gate and notice a female allotment holder on her plot with her (grand?)child. The woman is more scared of the dog than the child, but refuses to show it. She is scared the child will approach the dog.

She opens the gate and I continue to chase, but the dog goes the other way. Whoever owns it is keeping a low profile, but I'm sure they can hear me shout and see me throw stones (half the reason I'm doing it). Eventually the bloody thing disappears, and the woman and I console eachother and let off steam.

I go back to my digging, fired up with adrenalin, and finish my allotted 4 rows. Somebody leaves the gate open, and just after I've shut it, someone else comes in in a pick-up and leaves it open. A woman has walked in at the same time, and I go up to her to tick her off, but it's nothing to do with her, and anyhow she's new, and has come to look at the plot they've offered her. I take her to see it. It's awful. And the annoying thing is, she saw it in May when it was manageable, but the Allotment Officer say she couldn't go on it until the council had flailed it. They still haven't done so. Meanwhile, she has not received the offer letters sent out, so nearly misses out altogether.

I show her some decent plots she might be able to get her hands on, and she leaves. She's meeting the Allotment Officer on Monday, so should be able to arrange something then.

I finish spraying my sprouts and broccoli - only one caterpillar so far, but at least two batches of eggs. On my way home, I give prints of the photos I have taken to one of the sisters (Anita), who seems to be pleased with them. I feel much better now, and go home to a huge dinner of ham omelette, runner beans, potatoes, tomatoes, pickled beetroot, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, feta and olives. There is even some blackberry and apple juice left from jelly-making to pour over my fruit and yogurt for afters.

French beans

My French beans (variety Purple Queen) have produced pods really quickly, so now I am starting to freeze batches of them. They are a glorious colour (and have attracted much curious attention from passing Italians because they are at the top of my plot in the bit I am just clearing). They turn green when cooked.

They need to be blanched for 2-3 minutes before freezing - any more and they would go soggy. So far, my new freezer has been brilliant, though I tend to forget to turn it on to fast freeze a few hours before freezing, then back on to normal after. But it seems to make no difference for small amounts. Blanching and freezing are very quick once you've got the hang of them; at this time of year, what with the French beans and the runner beans all beaning at the same time, it's almost a daily task. I'm going to start freezing my carrots, too, tomorrow. Thank goodness I've no work on at the moment.

(I know that saucepan looks revolting, but you don't have to eat anything I cook in it. I had it as a wedding present in 1975, and unlike anything they make now, really has lived up to its lifetime guarantee. It's cast iron, made by Colorcast, and was given me by my mum).

Tomato puree maker

I've bought a tomato puree maker from the Italian shop in Beatrice Street. Joe uses a machine like this to puree his tomatoes every year ready for bottling, though I don't know if his is a red plastic one. It cost me just under £19. Apparently, it spits out the pips and skin. We shall see. So far, I've only had about five ripe tomatoes, but if we get no blight this year, I should get a decent crop.

What is it?

Someone gave me this plant, and told me it was a courgette. It isn't, clearly. But what is it? I don't know. I will have to wait and find out. I hope it's not a boring old marrow. I am rather hoping it's a melon, but I doubt it.

Morning Glory

My Morning Glory has flowered at long last. I thought it never would. They are the most exquisite flowers, such a delicate blue, well worth the trouble.

I have more outside my house, twining with the vine. They are doing better, and should make a good show when they flower.

Making blackberry and apple (bramble) jelly

I have made two batches of blackberry and apple jelly already, even though it's only early August. Because of the dry weather and sunshine, the blackberries are really good this year. I picked the ones on my allotment, then decided to fill the punnet with ones from the perimeter of the site. I got them home, weighed them, and found I had only 1lb, and the recipe called for 2lbs, so next day, I went to Small Pickards Field, which used to be allotments (and where Joe and Angelo and lots of others had plots before they were chucked off). They closed Small Pickards Field because some TV personality decided to build eco-friendly houses on the site, and Swindon Council, great lovers of gimmicks, fell for it. The houses never materialised.
When I got there, I found the gate padlocked and temporary fencing blocking all the gaps. Why? What harm was there in leaving the field accessible to children, and to adults who want to pick blackberries? But there has been a campaign to designate the site a village green, so I guess our stupid council didn't want to take any risks.
However, I made my way down the fence, and when I went through the woods by the stream to join the cycle path, I found a way into the field behind Small Pickards Field, and there were plenty of untouched blackberry bushes there, so I could easily fill my second punnet. (I got rained on at the same time, the first rain for ages, but it was too light to do much).
Anyhow, I had decided to make jelly, because wild blackberries are often full of crap, including maggots. I'd bought some cooking apples, and put one of those chopped up into the pan with 2lbs blackberries, well washed, and a quarter of a pint of water. You don't need to peel or core the apples: in fact, it's better if you don't because the pectin is in the peel. Then I simmered them until the apples were soft and I could mash them down with a potato masher.
One of the hard parts of making jelly is rigging up the jelly bag. I had some muslin I bought in Malmesbury a year ago, so I tied string to the corners of a large square of it, and hung it over my laundry basket, with a mixing bowl underneath it to catch the juice. Then you leave it to drip for at least a couple of hours. You must never squeeze it, because that makes the jelly cloudy.
When you've done that, you measure out 1lb of sugar to each pint of juice (this recipe gives approx. 1 pint of juice). Then you make it as you would jam by boiling till it sets. Then comes the hard part - getting it in those jars before it cools and without the scum. I did not succeed on either attempt, but the second was better than the first, so I guess it just takes lots of practice. But the jelly must be poured hot if you want a clear, consistent jelly. This recipe makes about 1.5 jars, so have a small jar ready in case there isn't sufficient for two big ones (you should do that anyway - I always have a small jar ready for the dregs, which I keep in my cupboard to taste occasionally, because I'm on a diet and am not eating bread and jam till after the Garden Show in September).

Chinese vegetables

These are growing on the Chinese girl's plot. One seems to be some sort of cucumber. The other, I haven't got a clue.

Potatoes and carrots

These are Chantenay Red Cored carrots and Edgecote Purple 2nd early potatoes.

My carrots have done marvellously well this year. I covered them with fleece until they were bursting out of it, and it has been so dry there have been no slugs. I have never been able to grow carrots before, but this year they are enormous.
The Edgecote Purple potatoes, though pretty, explode when cooked. If you could keep them from doing that, they would be lovely - perhaps steam them. I've finished them now, though.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Angelina's back!

Anglelina's back, and when I went past last night she was in histrionics about the marrows. "He hasn't been watering them!" she said. "He has!" I insisted. "I have the photo to prove it!" I doubt if she understood the last bit. Should I print her off a copy to prove it and get him out of the dog house?

(Angelina is one of three Italian women who won't allow me to photograph her, sadly. But I shall keep trying).


This is Domenico, Joe's son. He comes down almost daily in this dry weather to carry water from the trough on my allotment to the barrels on Joe's.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The communal allotment, Plot 45

Another case of watch this space, because I think this is going to change a lot and very rapidly.

Simon's given up!!!

As I was passing on my way to steal some wood from the Salvation Army allotment to light my bonfire, I asked Big John what had happened to Simon (Plots 68 & 69). I haven't seen him for ages and his plots are completely neglected. Now Simon really would win a competition for neatest English allotment, so I was beginning to think he must have had an accident with a chainsaw or something (God forbid: he's a tree surgeon). John said he had given up and wasn't coming back. I was aghast. It's not as if he has far to come - his house backs on to his plot. I know his wife had another baby recently, and has gone back to work, so I suppose he must just be too busy. But I'd never have expected Simon of all people to give up his allotment. I am shocked.

Carmela, Plot 336

This is Carmela. She is related to someone on the right hand side as you walk from my allotment to the top gate - Joe, I think she said (but which one?). She has three sons and two daughters (or was it the other way round?). One of her sons, Mario, runs the Fabbio Restaurant in Regent Circus. She says he uses her courgettes in the restaurant.
She comes from Filadelfia, like Tomaso, and is going there for three weeks on holiday next week. She says she no longer has any family there, but she has a house and friends, and her friends take her to the beach every day. I said, wasn't it too hot at this time of year, and she said, no, it's high up so it's cool and breezy.

The Shed, Chapter 83

I wrote to my oldest friend, Steve, mentioning the shed, and he wrote back to say "I would love to help you with your shed. I have the tools and have plenty of experience putting them up and making repairs. Perhaps I could arrange to come down sometime over summer to give you a hand."
I wrote back telling him I was about to offer my hand in marriage to the man who mended my shed for me (except that this would probably put them off); I also offered to pay to put him up in a B & B for the duration of operations. But alas, he texted me back to say "I think that the best time for me to work on your shed would be in September. It would be easier for me with the school holidays over and the weather is still good then. It will be cooler too."
Is he getting cold feet? I hope not. I might battle on alone - men have offered to mend my shed before and fallen by the wayside, and although I've made a start, it is far from watertight. I can't do anything with the bottom end of my allotment until the shed issue is sorted out - no chicken huts, no grape trellises, just brambles (but the blackberries are already ripening and they are stonkers after all the sun we've been having). Watch this space.

Derek, Plots 41 & 42

This is Derek. I think his plots (41 & 41) are strong contenders for the prize of best kept English allotment. Earlier this year he had some splendid asparagus (see behind him in photo).


This is Gwillym, one of Taffy's sons. He reminds me of my brother David who, from an early age was capable of many practical feats: I saw Gwillym laying out the flower beds on the communal plot with a piece of string, some posts and a hammer on his own one evening. Taffy's kids take a full part in looking after the chickens and working on the allotment: I often see one cycling by with the allotment key dangling round his neck on his way to feeding the chickens. This is how childhood should be spent, out in the open air doing things, learning about food and nature and how to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. This is the sort of childhood I and my brothers and sisters had (perhaps it's the Welsh background - my father was born not far from where Taffy comes from).

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Taffy, Plots 24 & 25

This is Mark Rothwell, aka Taffy, the allotment rep for the bottom half of Pickards Field. Since starting on his plots last year, he and his family have brought a huge amount of enthusiasm and innovation to the site. I think it was they who introduced the first chickens to the allotments (he has three in the ark in the picture), and their surveillance has transformed the bottom end from the no-go area it once was to a thriving community. Now, with the Allotment Officer's consent, they have started a communal plot (Plot 45), on which they have started to install flowers, a seating area and a barbeque area. The idea is for people to sit around and have a beer and a chat after work is done. Taffy's our very dedicated allotment rep, and because of him I've just decided to carry on as rep for my end, having thrown in the towel a few months ago.

Ted and Jan Smith, Plot 44

This is Ted and Jan Smith on Plot 44. They have had their plot less than a year and have it all under cultivation. They had a plot down the bottom but it got burnt out, so they asked to be moved to this one further up.
I remarked on how well they'd done, saying that I was still clearing mine. "But there's two of you," I said. "One and a half," said Ted, and I thought he was making a joke at his wife's expense. But he said he was the "half" because he had a bad chest, and Jan did all the digging. She had dug out all the couch grass when they got the plot, coming down through the winter to do so. They live quite a way away too, which is why they've brought their lunch. "It's all right on a day like this," said Ted, "but not so nice in the middle of winter, when it's freezing cold and you're huddling in the shed for warmth. The cold affects my chest and I find it hard to breathe." He used to be a bricklayer.

Tomatoes with curling leaves

Following on from the last post, here are my Tigerella tomatoes looking a bit sorry for themselves. Joe told me I put too much Bordeaux Mixture on them. I don't know whether the leaves are curling because of that, or whether it's the start of the dreaded blight.

Spraying my potatoes

Today I sprayed my maincrop potatoes with Bordeaux Mixture against potato blight. So far, there's been little sign of it, but this is the time it strikes. Ted Smith (Plot 44) was telling me today that for blight to thrive it requires the Smith factor: a certain degree of humidity and a certain temperature. So far this year it hasn't had that combination. It has been incredibly dry for the last month at least, and what rain there has been seems to have passed Swindon by altogether. But that could all change overnight.

The Sainsbury Sisters, Plot 50

These two women took over plot 50 last year (I think) and have done marvellously. I don't know their names, but I think of them as the Sainsbury Sisters because one of them arrives in a Sainsbury's uniform. I don't even know if they're sisters - they don't look it. They are of the "Good Life"* class of gardener, who usually come in with great ambitions, dig a few yards, put a sheet of plastic down and that's that; only this time, they stuck with it.
*That's what the old man on Plot 88 calls them - he's seen them come and go in his time (he lives in a house backing on to his plot).
(Later: they are sisters. The one on the left is Christina (Tina for short); the other is Anita).


This is one of the raspberry plants given me by Shirley. They survived a winter with their feet in the water because it was so wet and I'd planted them right on the edge of the allotment where there is a dip and the clay is very close to the surface. Now they are prey to the bindweed that takes advantage of Joe's fence to lurk and grab. The raspberries themselves are coming off at rate of about one a day, but this is the first year, and I think they may be meant to fruit in the autumn anyway. I'm always surprised when I eat one though how much flavour and the essence of raspberry you can get from just one fruit. I'm hoping there'll be enough for jam next year.

Marjoram or oregano?

This massive marjoram plant got out of hand when it flowered under my strawberry netting and threatened to burst out. Now the strawberries are finished, I've uncovered it so that the bees can enjoy it.
I don't know whether it's marjoram or oregano, or whether in fact they are the same thing.

Joe's straw hat

A lot of the Italian men have lovely straw hats which they wear in hot weather. This is Joe's.

Veronica, Plot 361

This is Rafelli's wife, Veronica, tying her tomatoes.


This is one of my gherkin plants, and my one and only gherkin. I have five or six plants, which I bought at Dauntsey car boot sale, all with tiny tiny gherkins on them, which I hope to pickle when they are big enough. But I don't know what you can do with just one gherkin.
Later. I gave Joe my first gherkin. He told me you can eat them raw in salads. Later still. I tried it. They are horrid.


This is Deanna. I don't know what number her plot is because none of the plots in her row has a number. It is close to the gate at the bottom end of the site. She lives in the house by the gate, so she hasn't got far to walk, and she cultivated a lot of her plot with a mini-rotovator which worked on electricity, with a long extension lead running from her house.
I think she started last year, and she has done quite well for her first year. She seems to know what she's doing, but the eye-opener talking to her was her knowledge of food and cookery. I gave her some cabbage plants earlier on this year, and she wants to make sauerkraut out of them. This involves steeping the cabbage in a crock with salt and pressing a lid down as the cabbagey mixture sinks. She has also pickled her courgettes.
I was curious about her name and she said her grandmother came over from America, and that she has got numerous relations on the east coast of America. She wants to go there next year to visit them.

Angelina's on holiday

Angelina has gone on holiday for a few weeks to Italy. She went in November last year, but this year she had to go in the summer. Her son has been keeping her plot watered for her through the dry spell and using some of the veg, but her marrows have gone mad, and she has got dozens of them, and all the plants have grown together, so that if you try to pick the marrows your hands will get scratched on the prickles (marrow leaves can be nasty and prickly).

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Shed

I took Greg down the allotment to see if I could persuade him to help me mend the shed. He took one look at it and laughed, and like all the other men so far who I've asked, said I'd be better off buying a new one. I intend to prove them all wrong, and shall damn well fix it myself.

Cucumber and Marigolds

I had my first cucumber this week. I have grown Burpless Tasty Green this year, a huge improvement on last year's bog standard ridge, and on shop bought cucumbers for that matter.

They grow to a good size and are very sweet, with thin skins.

The Marigolds are an Afro-French F1 Hybrid from Suttons called F1 Hybrid Super Double Mix. I grew them to ward off greenfly, etc., but all they seem to be doing (apart from looking ornamental) is crowding out the tomatoes.

My allotment yesterday

This is how the allotment is looking at the moment. I have at last started digging the bit at the top by the tank, much to the delight of all my neighbours. It's quite easy to dig at the moment, because the soil is so dry it just falls off the weed roots. I've transplanted a lot of French bean plants there, and Tomaso gave me some broccoli, which I've put there too (under the hoops). I'm not sure what kind of broccoli it is. He gave me some Calabrese last year, which was wonderful, but I'm not sure if this is the same. The leaves are long and narrow, like an Italian vegetable called (in my seed catalogue) Nero di Toscana Precoce.