Monday, May 31

Harvesting from the freezer

Last week it started to feel more like spring. The trouble is that meteorological spring comes to an end this week, so spring has been late in arriving but I guess it's better late than never. The question is, of course, how long will the better weather last. It's been good to experience some warmth from the sun.

Of course, we did have some rain thrown into the mix, but we also had some rain-free days.
We all had our hair cut last week, including Ruby. Ruby is the only one willing to model her new hair cut.

She had a summer cut, in the hope that the predicted better weather would actually arrive. She did need a coat one day but for the rest of the week it was fortunate that she had said goodbye to her thick woolly sweater.

We spent a couple of afternoons at the allotment. On Monday, I started to plant up a new strawberry bed. I planted three varieties, Christine, Malwina and Albion (the freebies from Thompson and Morgan). The bed will be filled up when I manage to root some runners from the Sweetheart and Elsanta plants that are growing well in the old strawberry bed.
I also planted a second batch of broad beans - Masterpiece Green Longpod. The first batch is now flowering so we have fingers crossed that this year we will have a harvest.
Martyn, weeded the early brassica bed. We're pleased with how they are coming along. Unlike the brassica seedlings in the greenhouse that are just not thriving at all.
There's no sign of any of the peas that we sowed a couple of weeks ago - we're guessing that something has made a meal of the seeds. The only consolation is that others on our site are having the same problems so our lack of success this year is by no means unique. It's some comfort to know that we are not alone.

The jury is still out on the carrots and parsnips. There are signs of germination but it is too early to tell how successful the sowings have been.
Last year, our cold frame skeleton blew over on a couple of occasions, so this year, Martyn has hammered some shortened fence posts into each corner and tied the struts of the cold frame to it. This is really just used as a giant cloche and, later,  will be home to some tomato plants.

Saturday was our second afternoon at the allotment.  Martyn was horrified to note how quickly the grass had grown since last being cut.  He tried to ignore the grass and planted out our new dahlias. 
The older dahlias, planted last week, have been ravaged by, what we think was, a combined army of slugs and wood pigeons. The new dahlias have been covered with enviromesh to at least give protection from the pigeons. Unfortunately, this will not keep the slugs at bay but maybe the drier conditions will cut down on their nightly forays.

We have empty beds that need to be turned over but the soil is still wet and sticky. I wonder how long it will be before the pendulum swings and it becomes too dry. Oh for hitting that sweet spot when conditions are just right.

We paid, what has become, our weekly visit to Nostell, where I was happy to note that all four cygnets are still fit and well. They are just beginning to develop their long necks.
During the summer months, cattle graze in the parkland. This means that electric fences are erected in some areas. As a result, we have to make sure that Ruby keeps well away from the wires. I must find out whether the electricity is on permanently or only when cattle are in the enclosure.

Some fields are permanently fenced and, as dogs and cattle don't mix, we have to check whether livestock is in a field before entering. Dogs on leads are allowed in areas where cattle are grazing but, there are warnings that the cows could turn nasty if they feel threatened. Dog walkers have been killed by charging cows so it's not worth the risk.
This group were safely behind an electric fence. Some seemed to prefer browsing the trees than the grass. I wonder whether any will evolve long giraffe-like necks.
The cow parsley and speedwell growing in the hedgerows make a perfect combination.

As well as spending a couple of afternoons on the plot, we had a couple of afternoons working in the garden.

One major task is the continuation of the restyling of a flower border. The photos below on the left shows the part that was completed a couple of years ago which is now populated by mature plants. The next part used to be a shrub border which has now been cleared and which we are gradually planting up with perennials.
Many of the plants are either still growing on in the greenhouse or have yet to arrive but I planted some that were garden ready.

Some plants don't need a courier service and arrive on their own. Two such plants are the allium below that is growing in the lawn, on the edge of the fern bed. It's not a good choice of location, as it runs the risk of being cut down by the mower. The aquliegias have made a better choice, and have been growing at the base of a palm for some years now. Strangely I have never planted white aquilegias but they are pretty.
Patio pots containing summer displays have been overwintering in the greenhouse. Some years plants survive and other years they don't. This year quite a lot of the plants made it through the winter. The pots containing spring bulbs have been set aside and the summer pots have been brought out and tidied up. Some will need a few additional plants which hopefully I can source from our greenhouse.
I can't write a blog post at this time of year without featuring a rhubarb harvest. We did pull quite a lot. Some was intended for my sister but we forgot to take it for her, so we now have several tubs of rhubarb compote for freezing. We picked two varieties, one was Early Timperley and the other was a red stemmed variety. We're not sure which variety it is, as we have moved crowns around, but we did have at least two red varieties, Raspberry Red and Giant Grooveless Crimson so it is probably one of those two. The red varieties produce a pinkier sauce or compote.
We may not have much to harvest fresh from the plot, but we still have plenty to 'harvest' from the freezer.

On Monday, I made a vegetable pie that used some of our frozen leeks and parsnips. Instead of a pastry lid, I made a cheesy scone topping. I'm afraid that I forgot to take a photo.

Friday, I used some of our frozen squash to make a vegetable tagine that I served with an apricot and almond quinoa.

Sunday I used some of our frozen French beans in a Chicken risotto.
Anyway fingers are crossed for a continuation of our friendlier, warmer, drier weather. 'Til next week, stay safe and well.

This week I'm going to sneak into Dave’s Harvest Monday collection of posts over at Our Happy Acres where no doubt others will show off a much more prolific harvest than ours.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Monday, May 24

Is it really May?

Last week was another week when it was hard to believe that it was May. If you visit Martyn's blog, you will have read that this May has been our wettest since Martyn started keeping records twelve years ago. May has also been the coldest, in fact, according to national records it could turn out to be the coldest for twenty years.

Given these facts, it is hardly surprising that we are well behind schedule on the allotment and in the garden. We have had brief glimpses of what May should look and feel like, but the threat of rain is never far away. Maybe if we had free draining sandy soil we could have had a better chance of keeping on top of things, but our soil is a heavy clay, which at the moment is cold and soggy so it's a different story.

It was my birthday on Monday so we decided on a day out at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park which I devoted a post to earlier.

Tuesday we had one of those rare dry afternoons so we headed for the allotment.

As our visits have not been as regular as in previous years, any plant growth between visits is more noticeable. It was heartening to see that the brassicas were looking very healthy and had grown well. No need for us to water them this year.

Both onion and shallot sets were growing well.
Last year our broad beans were a total failure, but this year despite the weather, it looks more promising. The plants have attracted the attention of the pea and bean weevils. I've yet to actually see a weevil, but most years the leaves of many of our broad bean and pea plants are distinctly notched where the weevils have had a nibble. As long as the plants keep growing well they usually ride out the attack. It's only when growth is really slow that the plants suffer.

Our potatoes have been really slow to push through the soil but at last some are making an effort.

Our existing strawberry bed is in its third year and due to be replaced. One variety though - Sweetheart - is growing really well and is full of flowers. The bees have noticed this too. I think these plants may have earned a reprieve or at least I'll make sure that I take some runners off them to grow on some new plants.

The bees were taking advantage of the spells of dry weather and browsing any available flowers and not just the strawberries.
The aim on Tuesday was to erect a frame and plant out sweet peas.
This was achieved and we also managed some tidying up, including clearing out one of the spent brassica beds. This now needs to dry out so that the soil can be turned over.

Of course we couldn't leave the allotment without pulling some stems of rhubarb.
Thursday, we decided to brave the showers and head for Nostell.  Martyn and I stuck to the pathways so we could keep our feet relatively dry. Ruby, however, ran through puddles and nuzzled in the wet grass so was wet through when we made it back to the car. 
Nostell has now been transformed into a different world. The trees have leafed up, and the understory has grown. 
The trees are beginning to flower ...
... and the hedgerows have turned white as the hawthorn is now in full flower.

The waterfall that links the lake to another on higher ground has far more water flowing courtesy of all the rain.

The photo below on the top left shows that the temporary lake, that had been a feature throughout the winter months but which had completely dried up, is now reestablishing itself.
In the wooded area several large puddles, or what could be described as ponds have been created. Some bluebells are now growing under water and the larger of the expanses of water had attracted a pair of mallards. If you click to enlarge the photos you will be able to spot them.
The male swan that was involved in the drama described in the previous week’s post was keeping close to his family. Whilst the cygnets swam with mum, dad kept guard at the edge of the lake. Knowing how aggressive he could be we made sure that we kept our distance.

Sunday was a fine afternoon so we spent time at the allotment where I cleared the remaining spent brassica bed whilst, Martyn strimmed the grass. We managed a bit of general tidying too so things looked much more presentable when we left.
We are hoping that the forecasted better weather actually arrives later this week then maybe we can start our gardening year in earnest. Fingers crossed, meanwhile as always stay safe and well.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Thursday, May 20

Birthday Treat

It was my birthday on Monday. I'm not going to tell you which one as I don't really believe it myself. How can time pass so quickly? 

Usually we go out for a meal to celebrate birthdays but that has been off the calendar for the last couple of birthdays. The restaurants opened on Monday, so we could have booked a table, but neither of us feel ready for that leap of faith yet.

Instead we booked a day out at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park taking some sandwiches with us for our lunch.

Pre-Covid we visited the park at least once a month. We did manage a visit between lockdowns, when the park was allowed to briefly open, but a lot of things have changed since our last visit. To start with, the location of the entrance has moved and the park has almost doubled in area. This has allowed space for new animal residents, some of which we managed to see.

The first newbies that we saw was a pack of bush dogs. They are housed in a new Atlantic Forest area.
Also housed in this area are a pair of maned wolves. These look like foxes on stilts and run like horses. They were still indoors when we first arrived but were out and about when we passed again on the way back to the exit.
A couple of tapirs, the third new residents, in this area remained indoors so we have yet to 'meet' them.

The next area we came to was the Himalayan Pass where we had our best view yet of the red pandas. Although not newcomers the pandas are usually hidden up in the trees, but they had just been given a new supply of bamboo and so were busy feeding.
Moving on to the Ethiopian section, the gelada monkeys were busily performing their morning grooming activities. One in particular seemed to be ecstatic
Hyenas are also housed in this area but so far they have alluded us. During lockdown two cubs were born but we have not yet seem any of the family of four.

For much of the day we were sheltering under umbrellas so we didn't take as many photos as usual. After sifting through the 190 taken, I've ending up with 88. Usually my photo count is into the hundreds.

Since our last visit two polar bears have gone off to another location for breeding purposes, but three more young males have arrived so Nobby, the remaining polar bear, has three new companions. I'd just about sorted out which bear was which but now I'm back to square one. I'm pretty sure that the one picture below, is a newcomer but I've no idea which one. There again, Nobby will have grown quite a bit since we last saw him.
There are always lots of gulls and magpies, on the lookout for scraps, hanging around but the bears seem to have no interest in them.

The rhinos seemed not to mind the weather.

As we wandered around the park, the lions were being very vocal but of course, when we headed their way, they were doing what lions seem to like most - snoozing!

Before heading home, we did daringly have a cappuccino and a piece of carrot cake in the under cover, outdoor area of the cafe inside the park. Martyn said that I couldn't have a birthday without cake. Translated this meant that he would like one.

All in all despite the weather we had an enjoyable, Covid safe, day out and we still have plenty of animals to spot that so far have alluded us.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett

Monday, May 17

A dramatic week

The weather gods must have read my post last week and decided to up the ante. I stated that we hadn't had any real downpours - well we have now. Tuesday night the floodgates opened and sent a deluge. We weren't just treated to heavy rain. We  also had a hailstorm complete with thunder and lightning. I've always assumed that thunderstorms were a feature of warm, humid conditions but we certainly haven't had anything of the sort so I guess that my assumption is unfounded.

It seems that the weather is about a month out of step. We had March winds in April and April showers have been nudged into May. Will June be a kind month  and be gentle on the belated May flowers?

On Monday, we managed an afternoon on the allotment.

During the time that we were there, we sowed four varieties of carrots - some Sweet Candle, Romance, Flakee and Amsterdam Forcing.

The carrot bed was covered with enviromesh to give protection from carrot root fly. This seems to be the only protection method that works for us.

We also sowed parsnip seeds. This year we are growing two varieties, Gladiator that we have grown for several years, and Palace which is new to us. Two seeds were sown at each station and will be thinned out later if gemination is as good as hoped for.

The old dahlia tubers that had been overwintered in the plot greenhouse were planted, so we just hope that we won't be subjected to any frosts. 

On Tuesday we managed part of an afternoon at the allotment, we had to leave earlier than intended as - surprise, surprise - it started to rain. The intention was to sow our first batch of Onward peas and to erect a frame for the sweet peas behind the dahlias. We managed to sow the peas but the rain - and other commitments - put paid to the plan to erect the sweet pea frame. Even when it is not actually raining everywhere is soggy and wet so there was no more outdoor gardening for the rest of the week.

In the garden greenhouse we have plenty 'going on'. Martyn keeps an online diary of all our sowing and planting, which is here if you are interested.

All the pots that are destined to provide our summer interest on the patio, are still waiting in the greenhouse but will have to come out soon to make way for the tomato plants.

We managed our, what has turned out to be, weekly visit to Nostell where more drama was unfolding.

At one end of the lake, a couple of swans were sitting on nests, and everything was tranquil. At the other end of the lake Canada geese were indulging in very noisy courtship displays.

There was then something that sounded a bit like a helicopter taking off. We realised the sound was the beating of the wings of a very angry swan heading across the lake towards the geese. The ones on the lake were cleared off and then the swan headed for the edge of the lake to clear off the goose strutting about there.
There followed a chase across the lake with spray being whipped up in all directions.

While all this action was taking place at one end of the lake, the reason for the swans aggression was at the other end of the lake where the mother swan was feeding with her flock of cygnets. I do wonder why cygnets were referred to as ugly ducklings - they certainly are not ugly. The photos can be viewed larger if clicked on but they are not as clear as I would like as I had to react quickly. The birds were moving at speed and everything kicked off so suddenly giving me no time to change my camera settings.

The mallards snoozed, seemingly oblivious of the high drama. The swan didn’t seem to be at all interested in them.

The bluebells at Nostell, just keep getting better and better. Last week we noticed some white bells scattered amongst the blue ones.

As well as bluebells, there are carpets of dandelions interspersed with buttercups and daisies.

I'm just happy that this mass of seed heads is nowhere near our allotment.

Last week, we had one meal that featured our home grown vegetables. Leeks from the freezer went into a chicken and leek crumble.
This was served with some cauliflower that was retrieved from our brassica bed. It was past its best but too good for composting. We managed two meals out of this gathering.
Of course the week wouldn’t be complete without us harvesting a few sticks of rhubarb, which was stewed and added to either our morning porridge or to yoghurt.
Finally, I've bought a new gadget. It's similar to a potato peeler but instead of peeling it cuts vegetables such as carrots into julienne strips. It's much easier than the fiddly job of cutting strips by hand and nicer than grated carrot that I’ve been adding to coleslaw.
I think that we have had enough rain for a while now, so if the weather gods really do read this post, can you please turn off the tap for a while and let our soil recover enough so we can get on with some planting? Oh and can we please have some warmer weather so our plants can thrive?

If you are stuck indoors you may like to watch the video that Martyn took at Nostell last week which features Ruby having fun. She enjoyed watching the video too!

As always stay safe and well.

It’s not a great harvest again but it’s the best that we could do. I’m sure other contributors to Dave’s Harvest Monday over at Our Happy Acres have much more to show off.

Copyright: Original post from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments author S Garrett