Monday, 15 January 2018

Harvest Monday - mid January already

In last week's post I mentioned that some of my sweet dumpling squashes had started looking a bit oozy, so I'd roasted them up. Well, not long after, a couple of the blue kuri were going a bit mouldy on the outside - I didn't have time to cook them up, so instead I cubed them for the freezer, ready to use another time.
Whilst I'm on squashes, we used up the final chunk of the mega green squash in some yummy pasties made by Jan, which also included caramalised red onion (grown on the allotment from sets last year). I have one medium sized green squash left, which I'll probably crack into next, and which will then leave just two acorn squashes and three sweet dumplings (that I'll keep a close eye on for any mould developing - well that's my intention anyway, whether that actually happens is another matter!).
I had a couple of hours on the allotment on Friday, before it got too cold. We'd got some cardboard boxes that a nearby supermarket kindly let us take, so I flattened them out and laid them over a couple of my grassy paths (weighed down with bits of wood from my old raised beds), to cut out the light and help kill off the couch grass - I have quite a lot of paths, which take time to manage and also the couch grass creeps in to the beds from them, so I'm gradually getting rid of the smaller ones but keeping a main network through the plot. Mind you, it takes a surprising amount of cardboard, so I'll be making several visits to the supermarket.
I also made some harvests whilst I was at the plot - kale, chard, corn salad and this unidentified brassica. It grew out of some compost I'd used as mulch around a fruit tree, and is a big plant now, and as I'm not sure what it'll develop in to I thought we may as well eat some of the massive leaves.
They've got quite a full flavour, we had some tonight along with the kale as a side dish to home made falafels. It was a bit of a mish-mash meal - literally - mashed potatoes (grown on the allotment), some leftover red cabbage with chestnuts (foraged in autumn), and some gherkins I grew / preserved a few years ago. There are several jars that I'd forgotten about in a kitchen cupboard - they were a bit of an experiment as usually I ferment gherkins, but this time just used cold cider vinegar and spices. They're actually surprisingly good, a bit soft but lovely flavour, sweet and sour despite not adding any sugar.
The corn salad was nice too, a welcome addition to lunchtime sarnies. I tend to pick a few plants at a time and then prep them altogether, keeping the washed leaves in a covered bowl in the fridge - it saves faff each time you want to use them. I'd planned on getting some more from the plot today but it's been too rainy, bah.

I've been hoping to order my seeds for this year but apparently the main catalogue doesn't come out until the end of January - usually I order my seeds in Autumn (from the Organic Gardening Catalogue) so I've been very tardy this season. Still, it's a bit early for me to be sowing anything, so I'm not too worried, apart from whether the seed potatoes I want will be in stock by then. Some people like to start their chilli and onion seeds off around now but that's mainly if they have a heat source and 'grow lights' to support the early seedlings, which otherwise would get leggy in the weak winter light. I usually sow my tomatoes and peppers around mid-February and will try and do the same this year too.


Thanks for reading this week - apologies about the poor photos, the light in the house is not good for evening pics! I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted this month by Michelle at From Seed to Table.


Monday, 8 January 2018

Harvest Monday - a new year

....but first a quick look at the end of 2017, as I had an unplanned gap in blog posts (not for any particular reason, they just didn't happen, and time flies).
So of my friends had a lovely candlelit wedding on the winter solstice. She asked me to bring along a dish for the reception and I thought it would be nice to make it completely from homegrown goodies. I made a winter salad with roasted butternut squash, red onion and garlic plus home-sprouted lentils and boiled beetroot. I'd made loads so there was enough for us to keep some, and it was quite good heated up too.
We were here in Norwich on Christmas Day and whilst needing to use up some bought veggies before heading off to visit family the next day, it was nice to include homegrown goodies too. So in the morning we nipped to the allotment to lift a few leeks for the chestnut pie filling. Funnily enough there was no-one else on the allotments, huh. The chestnuts were ones I'd foraged for in October and previously roasted and frozen, which made things easier. And of course we had roastie potatoes. Jan made the pie pastry top, a lovely buttery flavour, mmm.
Last week I noticed that a few of the sweet dumpling squashes had started to ooze a bit from their skin, so it was a good excuse to cook them up.
The first batch I roasted straight, with just a little oil. I'd ummed and ah'd about how large to cut the pieces, and in the end decided to just cut them along the indentations, which meant they didn't take too long to roast.
For the second batch I added some small onions which I'd brought back from the allotment shed, and also sprinkled a few homemade/grown chilli flakes.
The squashes have a very sweet flavour, so a little chilli kick adds a bit of diversity.
It's been handy having some pre-roasted squash in the fridge, which can just be added to various dishes like this risotto Jan made. We've also had a curried rice dish, one with pasta and one with bulgar wheat.
On Friday I went to the allotment briefly to stock up on a few veggies - the leeks are growing slowly but surely, and by harvesting alternate leeks it means the ones inbetween have more space to grow-on.
I have a couple of dwarf curly kale plants and picked these leaves from one of them (Jan used them in the yummy risotto).
And I have quite a few Nero kale plants, so whilst the leaves aren't huge, if I pick enough of them it makes a reasonable harvest. I try and pick from different plants each time to allow the others to grow-on inbetween. I was also going to pick some mizuna but thought we probably wouldn't use it up quickly so decided to save that for another day. I'm hedging my bets a bit and leaving the mizuna and one kale bed uncovered - the strong winds keeps blowing the covers off, despite weighing them down, and the kale plants are actually getting squashed by the supports, so fingers crossed the pigeons don't decide to have a meal of them.
Back at home I still have winter salad leaves growing in the lean-to greenhouse. Including some lovely sweet rocket -
And juicy winter purslane - it's pretty amazing how well this stuff grows back after each harvest. I have a few pots (using the old tomato compost, complete with tomato plant roots still in situ, probably breaking down and feeding the purslane), so again I can harvest from different plants each time. Hmm I have a quandary though - usually I sow some peas around now to harvest Spring shoots, but all my pots have salad in. Ooh, what to do?

Back down at the allotment, I had a good few hours yesterday in the sun (yes....sun!), mainly pruning a big old buddliea (to encourage new growth) and moving a stack of timber that had been near a couple of my rotational beds, and had been a source of hidey places for slugs, snails and woodlice. I don't use much timber on the plot anymore but it's still handy every now and then, so the stack is now further away from any annual plants. I also want to get on with clearing more of the weedy beds (which actually includes a lot of self-sown rainbow chard) and around the fruit bushes, then spreading compost or leafmould on top. I aim to disturb the soil as little as possible, so in some cases the clearance will just involve snipping the plants off at ground level and leaving the roots to decompose in place. I also want to lay cardboard to kill off some of the grass paths (too much hassle to keep cutting them all, plus the couch grass encroaches from them). So that's my plans for the next couple of months, plus no doubt getting side-tracked by many other things along the way. How about you?


Ooh, one other thing, I've just signed up to My Harvest - a study by Sheffield University into different aspects of allotmenting throughout the year, including how many hours spent there, physical inputs, harvests etc, recorded in a diary. I thought it would help improve my record keeping as at the moment I only really record quantity / timing of seeds sown. They're still looking for participants if anyone else is interested.


Thanks for reading this week, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday, this month kindly hosted by Michelle at From Seed to Table.


Monday, 11 December 2017

Harvest Monday - wintery

I've seen so many photos of lovely snowy scenes over the last couple of days but here in Norwich it's been cold, heavy rain (with a tiny bit of sleet). We're not jealous at all, nuh uh. But it's definitely the weather for warming stews and one morning last week I set up a slow-cooker meal, including a couple of small squashes (cubed), chard and rosemary from the allotment, plus carrots, lentils and a tin of tomatoes. We had it with mashed potato (potatoes stored in the shed). It's nice coming home to a ready-cooked meal, I seem to lose enthusiasm in the evenings at this time of year. And there were enough leftovers for the next day too.
Today I made something similar, using one end of my remaining mega green butternut squash but added curry powder for a bit of spice instead of the rosemary.
The flesh colour isn't as deeply orange as the previous squash but it tasted alright. These squashes do seem to be quite watery though, as you can see with it seeping out after cutting.
And throughout the week we've been continuing to have salad leaves from the lean-to in our sandwiches, like this sweet rocket and winter purslane, plus green lentils which I sprout in a jar on the kitchen windowsill. I sometimes feel like this is a bit samey each week but then remind myself that we're still eating homegrown salad in December, which isn't bad going.
There's a small wood not too far away from us, which we walked down to last week to snip off some bits of holly and ivy - these grow prolifically in the wood so worry not, we're not depriving the local wildlife at all (and we saw a song thrush in a tree on the edge of the wood, which was lovely). So I made us a Christmas wreath for the front door - I have a solid metal ring (which was actually a plant support) that I re-use every year and twist the holly and ivy stems around it...tah dah....

Actually the photo isn't very good, it was at an angle so the wreath doesn't look properly round, but I was rushing to take it during a brief dry moment. Well, it looks a tad uneven too, so I might stick a bit more foliage in if I get round to it. I'll try and get a better photo next time. Maybe with a bit of snow ha.


Oh and some good news is that Norwich Farmshare (who I mentioned the other week) have been successful in their crowdfunding campaign, so can get cracking on developing their new CSA (community supported agriculture) site in the city, hooray.


That's me for the week, I hope you're all getting on okay where you are. I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.


Monday, 4 December 2017

Harvest Monday - surviving the frost

It's been very frosty here in Norwich recently, and we even had sleet and snow the other day. So I haven't been to the allotment much, it's too damp to get on with things like weeding. But I did nip down there this morning to harvest some goodies....first up is the mizuna, which doesn't seem to have minded the frost at all. I have a few plants (sown at home in plugs and planted out in the area I had some maincrop potatoes), so I just harvested the larger outer leaves, leaving the rest to grow on.
The chard doesn't mind frost much either. The stems on these are quite vibrant, nice to brighten up winter dishes.
The Nero kale is also ignoring the frost, with its dark leaves. There seems to be less whitefly around since the temperatures have dropped so that's a bonus too.
I picked a bit of rosemary to make a cleansing tea .....although it's early in the Christmas season I already feel like I'm overdoing the sugary foods (and not being as active because of the weather), so a refreshing tea is very welcome (and very easy - just snip off a couple of inches, pop it in a mug and pour in boiling water, then leave to infuse for a couple of minutes (I find if its left too long the tea has a bitter flavour).
We were going round a friend's to eat the other day, so I decided to take roasted beetroot. I have some beets stored in the front shed but thought it probably best to use up the ones still outside in the backgarden. They roasted up nicely with a few cloves of garlic, yum. I also mixed in a handful of winter purslane leaves from the lean-to (not pictured).
On the puddings side, I already had a tub of stewed fruit in the fridge (blackberry, raspberry, gooseberry and apple mix), which we have on our muesli in the mornings, so I made a cake batter and mixed in a good dollop of the fruit. It created a sort of raspberry ripple effect and was pretty tasty, though the cakes did sink after I took them out the oven. I'm sure there's a scientific reason for that...anyone know? Here they are before baking (I didn't get an after shot).
On a completely different tack, we needed a quick dinner the other day, so had some curried rice and additional veggies from the freezer, including some red pepper for a bit of colour. It ended up being a bit like a risotto, not bad.
Talking of peppers, I used up last week's fresh pepper in sandwiches, along with sweet rocket from the lean-to and homemade chutney.
After eating loads of almonds last week I felt bad for ignoring my hazel nuts, so cracked a load open and toasted them in the oven (when it was on for some other baking too).
The skin flakes off after they've been toasted, which makes them even tastier....mmmm.

Today we made a non-edible harvest...holly and ivy trimmings from a nearby wood, which I'll make into a Christmas wreath - photos to follow. And I have another 'harvest' this week too, if the weather holds out - bagging up a load of lovely well-rotted horse poo to take to the allotment. Not sure which one I'm most excited about (yes let's face it, it's the horse poo).


Thanks for reading, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres. Head over there to see what other people have been harvesting too.


Monday, 27 November 2017

Harvest Monday and a trip to Spain

So, I was away last week visiting my sister in very sunny Spain (more of that later). On returning, I was happy to find that the first of my mega green butternut squashes was still ok (we'd eaten about 2/3 of it but left the last 1/3 in the kitchen, with the cut end covered over. The cut end was fine - it was a section still of solid flesh rather than a seedy bit. I cut off a few rings and made a curry which lasted 3 meals for the two of us, not bad. But that then exposed the seedy bit, which is quite liquidy and would rot quickly.
So last night I roasted it in chunks with rosemary, red onion and garlic. This is the actual colour, I haven't edited it...very orange.
Towards the end I added some kale that I'd harvested yesterday at the plot (there was a cold wind blowing down there and I didn't hang around very long).
It's really good..The butternut squash has a very sweet flavour, though some liquid does come out during roasting. Anyway I ate a load last night and we had some of it today for lunch. I chopped and cooked a potato first to add and make into a kind of soupy stew. Oh, and also added some fresh leaves of winter purslane from the lean-to, there's a couple poking out in the photo below. Jan's got a cold and I thought a hot lunch with extra vitamin C from the purslane might help (spoiler hasn't!).
Also, a bit of an unseasonal harvest yesterday - a couple of aubergines and a red pepper from the lean-to greenhouse. They haven't seemed to suffer too much with the cold temperatures but as we've been getting some heavy frosts this week I thought I'd pick them before they were past it. I roasted the two aubergines (in a separate dish to the squash) with some tasted lovely but didn't look so good. Also, I caught naughty minxie cat on the worktop, licking the dish (after I'd eaten some), so I'm not sure if she was licking the aubergine or the oil, or both...whatever the case I'm a bit reluctant to eat the rest! I haven't used the pepper yet...I forgot today so maybe tomorrow.
One of my sisters lives in southern's so hot there - too hot for me in the summer, so we visit in the autumn. It's actually still pretty hot during the day but cooler at night. They have some land with almond trees, and this year harvested about four sacks of nuts....and so I didn't feel too guilty at cracking my way through a bucket load to bring home. It was lovely waking up and heading straight out to my nut-cracking station. People seem to have their preferred method of opening the nuts, and mine is sitting across a low wall, with a large stone with a groove in it (for the nut to nestle in), then give it a couple of taps with a stone.
My method definitely improved over the week and I managed to get most of the nuts out whole, quite a satisfying job. In fact I virtually had to be dragged to the car on our last day, getting in a final few cracks to leave some nuts ready for my sister to munch on.
This was the view from my nut-cracking station...not bad, not bad.
Back at home we're making steady progress through the nuts, I don't think they'll last us very long (I should've got up earlier each day). They're delicious on they're own raw, but even better dry toasted in a pan, and even better better mixed with a bit of honey, pinch of salt and chilli powder then toasted in the oven. I made some of these last night but they didn't make it into a photo.
I don't like to sit around too much on holiday, so if we weren't out for the day I made myself useful on the land. They have a swale (on-contour ditch for spreading out rain water) with planting pits dotted along. You can just make out a pit in the pic below.
There was a flush of wild plant growth this year after some rain, which led to masses of wild rocket germinating, so we've been clearing the dead dry plant material (grows up to about knee height) and adding it into the swale, to help absorb any rain when it does eventually come (the area is a semi-desert with very low rainfall). Within the pits they'd had broad beans, which actually did really well, they'd eaten loads fresh and I found loads more dried beans for saving. I podded them whilst sat at each pit, to chuck a few beans back in and see if they do anything over winter. I also added the dead stems and pods back into each pit, again to add organic matter.
I had some help from Beth dog. She wasn't in the way at all.
The area my sister lives (Almeria) is really diverse. A large proportion is semi-desert mountains, but we visited the Rio del Agua, which because of the water is much more lush. Unfortunately though, the whole area is suffering from over-abstraction, one of the main reasons being that the new extensive olive plantations require irrigating. As a result, the huge aquifer is rapidly depleting. We bumped into a guy who's been meeting with UN to explain the effect it's having on the ecology and people...what an inspiring man.
We also visited a botanic garden, set in the area of an abandoned gold mining town. I'm always a sucker for a veggie plot, so enjoyed seeing what they were up to. Incredibly, because of the super-long growing season in almeria they even had some new-ish plantings of potatoes, tomatoes (growing up the frames) and broad beans.
Potatoes with toms in the background.
Broad beans.
The gardens were lovely to wander around and earlier in the year would be full of colour. As it's Autumn, there was a lot of green, though still lots to enjoy. I particularly liked all the carob trees, with pods dripping down.
We had a day birdwatching in the salt lake area adjacent to the coast. As well as some cool bird spots (including flamingo and black winged stilt) there was an unexpected site....
A herd of goats coming along the beach!
Jan and I really loved the goats, they have such nice faces. We've seen them in the mountains before but not along the beach. And some started following us instead of the goat herd, so his dog had to come round them up. (I'm sure he wouldn't have noticed if we took one or two home). As well as being kept for the milk and meat, the goats in this area are taken around to graze the scrub down and reduce the fire risk.
We had such a good break, it was a bit of a culture shock to get back to a busy city that's gearing up for (dare I say) Christmas. So I'll end with a couple of reminders of the peaceful countryside there - the walking route through to their nearest town....
And a beautiful cove down on the coast...sigh.

Thanks for reading this week, I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Out Happy Acres.