Thursday, 27 August 2009

feast or famine!!

Well, it looks like we're gonna need a bigger freezer! We've found we're in the position where we have to start thinking about how to manage a glut of vegetables. All of our broccoli and cauliflower came to fruition at the same time more or less, far too much for us to eat fresh so I've broken out the freezer bags and got to blanching and freezing our veg for eating over the coming weeks. Next year we can resolve this problem by 1)Buying another freezer! and 2) sowing successionally from early in the season right through with a number of different varieties of veg, not just the one or two. Unfortunately due to getting the plot very late in the season, we couldn't do that this year, but next year we will begin sowing in early February and continue through the season so we should hopefully begin harvesting from May onwards right up until Winter.

Our sprouts are really trying to burst out of their cage of netting and you can see the beginnings of little sprouts forming at the intersection between the leaves and main stem. I have high hopes for out brussels sprouts this year, they seem to be growing healthy and tall, with no sign of any diseases or deficiency, so heres hoping for homegrown sprouts for christmas dinner. This picture was taken the weekend before last, and since then they have started to push the netting right up and look packed underneath.

Our onions are finally bulbing up a little. We sowed them around the 26th April and so far they haven't exactly thrived, probably due to the poor soil, and the leaves have grown relatively small in comparison with everyone elses, with slightly yellowing tips but other than that they have faired ok. Many other peoples onions up on the allotments have bolted and gone to seed and I'm wondering perhaps we did the right thing not manuring the onion beds that late in the season. Yes the growth hasn't been as lush as some other peoples onions, but they haven't bolted or gone to seed and seem to be bulbing up now. The veg growing books I have recommend a growing time of 22 weeks for onions growing from sets which would mean we are pretty much right on schedule to have our onions ready by the end of september. If too much manure is added too late in the season onions can bolt and go to seed as they grow too quickly in the rich manure. I believe the general rule is you manure in the Autumn and lime in the late Winter so this year we will manure the beds around October or November, allow the winter weather to break it down and settle the nutrients into the soil and then come January or early February, we will lime the beds we didn't do this year. Hopefully between this and growing as much of our veg as possible through weed suppressing membrane next year, and successional sowing, we should have even more success with our veg next year.

Our sweet corn is finally putting out male flowers, I'm hoping its not too late in the season to get cobs, (I suspect it may be!) but the seed pack did say harvest from end of September to October so theres still hope yet. The sweetcorn has shot up and looks tall, strong and healthy.

Now that our broccoli and cauliflower is pretty much done, the next thing we are looking forward to is our cabbages. We had one pointed cabbage and one savoy ready for picking and another 15 or so cabbages we hope will be ready over the coming weeks. Unfortunately I sense another glut coming on and I'm not quite sure cabbage takes to freezing as well as cauliflower and broccoli so any ideas on what to do with excess cabbage? Answers on a postcard please! (or in the comments section.)

Our pumkins are making a break for freedom!! I definately underestimated quite how much pumkins spread out. Our plants are putting out vines all over the place! here you can see one of them making a B line for the sweetcorn. The traditional native American Indian way of companion planting is to plant pumkins, sweetcorn and beans together and I can certainly see the pumpkins have an affinity or affection for the corn. This vine is about 6 feet long and is budding with new flowers. Traditionally the pumpkins are grown around the base of the sweetcorn which suppresses weed growth due to the enourmous pumpkin foliage. Beans are planted around the base of the sweetcorn and use the height of the corn to climb up and the flowers from the bean plants attract bees and insects to pollinate the flowers of the pumpkins. So the three veg, or holy trinity, all help each other out and there you have it! Companion planting at its theory..!! We'll try this way of planting next year and see how it works. In the meantime with our pumpkins making a break for freedom we just do our best and hope for pumpkins at halloween. Below you can see one plant edging towards the sweetcorn, and another climbing through the deer fencing trying to escape towards the river!!

Thursday, 20 August 2009


Not only the name of one of my favourite vegetarian/vegan cafes in Dublin city, but also the glorious scene we arrived to at plot 103 last weekend. Our broccoli, cauliflowers, more beans, peas and another courgette were ready for harvest!

Our chard bright lights was looking delightfully colourful and I really hope it tastes as good as it looks!

I'm not quite sure but I think we may have the first pumpkins showing a hint they they are going to turn up on plot 103 for halloween.

However celebrations weren't to begin just yet. We had a look at our potato bed and in the space of a week all the plants had deteriorated drastically with confirmed blight. Once it strikes unfortunately theres not much you can do but try and prevent the blight spreading to the tubers in the ground and rotting the potatoes. So we cut down the foliage to ground level, earthed the mounds up and I dug up 2 of the plants to see if there was any hope of salvaging some spuds. The roosters are small but thankfully no sign of blight in most so we'll leave them in the ground for another week and then just harvest what we can of them. Unfortunately with the foliage cut back there is no possibility of the spuds getting any bigger so the best we can hope for is baby roosters. It would seem that most peoples potatoes on the allotments succumbed to blight including William the allotment guru who generously gave us a rather large bag of his spuds, british queens. (Thanks William, they were very tasty!!)

Overall not a bad haul at all though up in plot 103. This is the beautiful table full of food we managed to harvest and provided us with plenty of veg for the week. The broccoli and cauliflower went into a very tasty broccoli and cauliflower gratin and tasted absolutely fantastic. For the first time we discovered just how cauliflower is supposed to taste and it was surprisingly different from the shops, not quite so bitter and much sweeter. The heads are small but his is probably due to the lack of manure in the soil this year and can be fixed for next season. I loved it before but now!!! I'm an addict!

Finally I had plenty of opportunities to continue my rehabilitation programme to eliminate my fear of butterflies. The plot was crawling in them!!! There are so many up there now we are very glad we put nets over our brassicas, but even so one or two still managed to get in as we found a couple of stray caterpillars in the broccoli (thankfully before I cooked them!!) theres nothing worse than enjoying the wonderful taste of home grown food only to look down on your plate and see half a caterpillar!! So heres a picture of one of the butterflies sunning itself on one of our marigolds around the pea and bean bed. I have to say, with so many butterfies flitting about I have definately begun to run slightly less, I didn't really have much choice, if I ran away from one of the fluttering monsters I ended up running into another 2 of them dancing in the air so in the end I just gave up running and closed my eyes momentarily instead. I think my rehab plan is working!!!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Making progress!!

There were definate signs of progress at the weekend up on plot 103. Our sprouts are starting to grow tall with thick stems and will need the nets raised soon.

We had hoped to have these sprouts for christmas, but I'm wondering if we might not see them sooner.
Our cabbages are hearting up nicely and this one was ready to take home with the rest of the weekends bountiful harvest comprising of, yes more baby carrots and more beans which were all absolutely delicious.

Our corn is growing nice and tall and looks quite healthy. We would hope to see cobs around the end of september or so.

We were met with a bit of a surprise when we inspected our raspberry canes. It would appear our raspberries were not quite happy with their performance this year and have begun flowering again to give it another go. Hopefully this will mean we might have some autumn raspberries aswell as the small few we got in June.

Our brassica bed was hiding a little secret among the weeds and overcrowded cabbage and cauliflower. I gently pulled apart some of the leaves on our cauliflowers only to reveal these cricket ball sized heads looking tight and unblemished. I'll wait a bit to see if they get bigger before picking and keep and eye out in case the head splits before harvest. Hopefully we should be harvesting some over the next 2 weeks or so.

We had a rather scary visitor to plot 103 as we continued to wage our war on weeds. This guy was a good inch and a half long and got us thinking, hmmmmm I'm not sure this thing belongs here!!!! and that massive sting type barb looks absolutely terrifying....but I crept close enough for a picture anyway. I did some research to find out what it is and it turns out its a great horntailed wasp!!! Particularly large, and very mean looking, but apparently relatively harmless and quite common in Ireland where the female lays her eggs in wood using that enourmous stinger like barb, which is not in fact a sting at all.

Unfortunately it appears that our rooster potatoes may have blight. These were not sprayed and we found that some leaves had these brown blotches which seemed to go through to the underside of the leaf. I will post the photo up and ask the good people in the gardenplansireland forum if this is well and truly blight and if so, can our spuds be saved if we cut down the foliage early and hope that the tubers continue to develop for a while to an edible size.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A Summer Bounty!

We were quite naughty last weekend and abandoned plot 103 to enjoy a weekend in Co. Cork surfing in Inchydoney! Thankfully the weather picked up on Saturday and we had a fantastic day learning to surf, a new hobby I think we will definately keep up. We're already looking at wetsuits! On Monday evening we went up to plot 103 to see what if anything was available to harvest as last week our beans were forming and in order to keep the plants producing, beans and peas must be picked regularly, otherwise the plants think they've done their job and produced seed and will die off. Our peas are forming well although not quite ready to pick yet. 2 pods were nearly ready and we couldn't resist picking them and eating the peas straight from the pod like sweets, they were absolutely gorgeous and I am in danger of never eating another cooked pea again.
To our delight we found our calabrese (broccoli) plants are forming nice tight heads which will hopefully be ready over the next couple of weeks for harvesting.

Our courgettes have finally started to produce female flowers and one small courgette was ready for picking. Courgettes are supposed to be sweeter, tastier and best picked when only as thick as your finger or a little bigger making this one perfect. Its hard to find courgettes in the shops at this size as they are usually left to get bigger on the plants which makes more watery and a bit less flavoursome. This one was perfect and full of flavour. I'm looking forward to more of these over the coming weeks.

We thinned the carrots, again, but this time we were rewarded with proper baby carrots from our rows of Autumn king, yellowstone and chantennay. We left the carrots thinned to a spacing of 1 inch or so between them so that we could thin them gradually to their final 3 inch spacing by picking and eating the thinnings as baby carrots, that way we don't waste any and get a bigger harvest. Hopefully by the time they are thinned to their final spacings they will be full sized. We should regularly be in baby carrots from now on.

Our beans have been a success!!! After all our troubles with them the beans are producing plenty with more later sowings yet to come. We picked a small bag full and these ones were absolutely gorgeous blanched along with the baby carrots and stir fried in some olive oil and garlic. Thankfully we managed to escape the dreaded carrot fly also in spite of the failure of our carrot fly barrier. Not a single root was tunneled or damaged and they grew straight and strong with a flavour that was unlike any shop bought carrot you will ever get. The flavour was almost overpowering and deliciously carroty!! This was todays summer bounty!

Our chilli plants on the balcony are also laden with chillies now ripe for the picking and I've been using them for the past two weeks. I've been cooking a huge amount of indian food, which I love! due to the abundance of chillies to use some up however we've had to take a break from it this week due to certain..em.......episodes of ....well flatulence really.....human beings are definately not meant to eat that many onions, chillies and spices...ahem..
Nevertheless they are a true success and so easy to grow I'm doing a chilli list for next year. Martin, the allotment owner is considering getting some polytunnels on the site which will come in very useful next year as I intend to grow a few different varieties including this years successful apache chillies. The apache chillies are extremely tasty, and you really get a nice chilli flavour from them but they are not particularly hot and I do like a good bit of heat in chillies. So next year I'll try and grow some other varieties such as thai birds eye type chillies and cayennes along with some others if the polytunnels come through. My tomatos have also begun putting out fruit in abundance and I'm hoping for a bumper crop at the end of the summer. Lets hope it keeps on coming...