Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Weeding (will it ever end)

The definition of a weed is any plant that is, in our opinion growing in the wrong place.

I honestly thought that come October the weeds would have stopped growing or at least slowed down, we have not weeded for a while and the weeds are smothering the soil. I'm not sure if this is usual,or if it's because of the mild weather we had recently. Whatever the case, I don't like it.

I am sort of tempted to spray something poisonous to get rid of them, I know that some of my fellow 'allotmenteers' embark on chemical warfare, but I will of course resist.  Organic growing isn't something that I really thought about,  but I have never used weed killer because it does not feel right. I want to try and do what comes naturally.

I do have an excellent tool for the job however, the Cape cod weeder.  It's a fantastic little device, it looks like little scythe.  The tool cuts the weeds below the surface on the forward and back stroke, I also turn it on it's side and with the point, nick out the weeds that have grown right next to the precious plants.
It does not come cheap however, I paid £17.99.  It's a De Witt tool and therefore extremely well made, and it was worth every penny as it makes short work of unwanted greenery, and does a really thorough job.

Cape Cod Weeder

However I am still on the look out for a long handled weeding tool.  My friend said that she'd heard about something called a Swedish Hoe, so I Googled it.  This proved not to be a good idea as things of a dubious Swedish nature appeared.  If I had been looking for a hot tub with a Swedish lady my search would have been over immediately. Having inserted garden into the search, the response to Swedish Garden hoe was not much better, displaying only Dutch garden tools.  Friend rang up in a panic, said she'd got it wrong, it was a Hula Hoe (I didn’t choose to delve into why she got it wrong).
I have located one but it only has a short handle so I will have to be patient.

Job done (until the next time)

Weeding is quite therapeutic.  I think it is about seeing what needs doing, working methodically and looking back at what you've accomplished, even though it won't last.
And whilst you work listening to the birds singing, the leaves rustling and the occasional thud of an apple falling to the ground , today I had a Blackbird as a companion, a happy opportunist waiting for a juicy worm.
Even better than that I had my husband with me helping, and making tea.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Fragrant Pear Chutney.

We have a plethora of Pears on the allotment, and I hate the the sight of them fallen and rotting on the ground, the waste of such a delicious fruit really upsets me so I have been determined to use as many as I can.

Behind our plot is a communal area with Apple, Pear, Plum and Walnut trees. Having already gleaned the Damsons and made Jam, and with my freezer bursting with cooking apples I set to task to find a perfect pear formula.

I quickly rejected my Grandmother's recipes for Baked Pears, as it took over six hours of slow baking and I get very nervous of old recipes that say “allow 1 pound of sugar loaf”.

I am also mindful of being thrifty so I really want to use only what I have in the larder so having gathered my stores and plundered my spices I have made a Pear Chutney.

Fragrant Pear Chutney

1.5kg Pears
425g Onions
450g Tomatoes
250g Raisins
5-6 Peppercorns
600g Demerara Sugar
100g Brown sugar
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp Ground Ginger
750ml Cider Vinegar


Peel, core and chop the pears into sugar-lump sized cubes (I got a little bored so the latter ones were a little larger, but it didn't matter)
Peel and chop the onions 425g was 2 onions
Slice the tomatoes
Chop the raisins

Put all of the above in a large heavy bottomed saucepan I used a preserving pan, simmer gently, and stir at intervals so the bottom doesn't catch, which will affect the taste. Simmer until the fruit and veg has softened.
Wrap the peppercorns in a bit of muslin and tie to make a little pouch and add to the mixture with the rest of the ingredients.
Simmer the chutney, and stir at regular intervals, for 2-3 hours,the chutney will thicken and darken.
When you are ready to decant, remove the peppercorn pouch, (obviously) and pot up the chutney in sterilised jars.

To Sterilise the jars wash and rinse them and place them in the oven at 160 c for 10-15 mins and boil the lids.
For Chutney always use vinegar proof lids that are non corrosive.
Store in a cool dark place and leave to mature for 2-3 months.
I have named it thus because the gorgeous aroma filled the house, it was slightly Chistmassy.

Chutney is usually better when left to mature but I have to confess that this tastes good already.  It certainly passed the taste test with my friend and master blogger Fiona http://www.cottagesmallholder.com

Now I have to work out what to do with the rest of the pears !

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Beetroot (Warning: some viewers may find some scenes disturbing)

The Beetroot is ready for harvesting, and we have rather a lot of it. This is because when I sowed the seeds, I used most of the packet, and  wrongly assuming most of them wouldn't grow, so when they did I didn't have the heart to thin them. Nevertheless they are all a good size.
Having gathered my crop I went home to prepare them.

Cut away the leaves with 3 cm of stalk and the roots remaining . Wash the beetroot under cold running water.I use my pressure cooker which I love, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook a large batch. I know people are nervous of pressure cookers, so if you prefer to boil, put the beetroot in a saucepan of cold water bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 1-2 hours. This will depend on the size of the beetroot.

There is a somewhat earthy smell during and after cooking the beetroot, to avoid this you can wrap each one in foil and bake them in the oven at 400°F/200°C Gas mark 6 they take can take 2-3 hours but no smell.Whilst warm remove the skin, I always use latex gloves, so the process takes the appearance of a medical procedure, so please excuse the gruesome photographs, but it is so simple this way and less messy and rather satisfying.

Once cooked you can do with them what you will. I am pickling some and making a Jelly with the rest.

Sweet Pickled Beetroot
1 kg of cooked Beetroot 
1 Litre of vinegar it can be pickling but I think cider is nicer.
6 tablespoons of sugar Heat the vinegar and add the sugar, keep stirring till the sugar has dissolved.Make sure you have sterilised jars ready. (I sterilise mine by putting them on a hot cycle in the dishwasher).
Put slices of beetroot in the jars and cover them with the vinegar.Seal with the Lid straight away.I kept some of the small beets and left them whole, placed them in a jar poured over the vinegar.
Label and date.

The next recipe is so simple but is delicious with cold meats or Cheese. My Aunt would always bring this over on Boxing Day.

Aunt Shirley's Beetroot and Raspberry Jelly.

1 Raspberry jelly 2 tsp caster sugar 1 lb 450g) cooked and diced beetroot.
Quarter pint/142ml Cider vinegar
Dissolve jelly in half pint water plus sugar. Add vinegar and diced beetroot.
Leave to set. Keep in fridge.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

But you can't eat Freesias, can you ?

The idea when I got the allotment was not only to grow vegetables, but to grow flowers for cutting, and although I wish we'd gone for 10 rods rather than 5 (that's another story), I am still determined to make space for beautiful blooms.

I had already made an area for Sweet Williams and Wallflowers, they have been in for sometime, and are well established and flourishing.

Deciding what else to grow was made easy by the fact that whilst browsing the online seed catalogue, I noticed that some of my favourite flowers were in the sale.

Lily of the Valley is a flower ,and fragrance that I have always loved, but have had limited success with growing it at home, so perhaps I will have more luck at the allotment. My Grandmother used to call it the May Lily so I'm assuming that is the flowering month.

I have also chosen Ornamental Alliums, Superglobe, and Drumstick. A mixture of medium to tall alliums with large globe shaped heads, which should flower from May to June.

Last but by no means least, Freesias. I love their scent and have planted 40 mixed colours.  I've never grown them before so have high hopes. ( By the way did you know that Freesia flowers are 'zygomorphic' which
 means that they grow along one side if the stem in a single plane.)

Whilst planting, Ray sauntered down to our plot to see what progress we had made, Ray has 15 well farmed rods, and grows just about everything from cabbages and beans to blueberries and peanuts.
As he cast an expert eye over our patch he asked what I was sowing? “Alliums and Freesias”I told him. “But you can't eat Freesias, can you?
I reassured him that I was also planting Lily of the Valley which is really a herb, a small consolation.

As virtuous as growing your own food is, growing flowers feeds my soul.