Friday, 22 April 2011


Hmmm... blog may be being somewhat neglected lately, but not at the expense of our fruit and veg.

Sometimes I worry that I've overly focussed on the pheasant, but couldn't help laughing (repeatedly - after all, you gotta take your laughs where you can find them) at it being utterly distracted by the sight of itself in some mirrors that someone has leant up against their shed - the stupid thing spent a good couple of hours pecking at it's reflection last weekend - not sure whether it was misplaced masculine agression at a supposed rival for the females affections, or pure & absolute vanity and self-love. But hour after hour, it was peck peck peck peck peck. Mwah!!

Excitingly, I have a stuffed pheasant in a case borrowed from my local museum school loan collection currently sitting up in my studio at the moment, about to become an oil painting for me to permanently enjoy (or if I don't like the resultant painting and I'm not too ashamed at the outcome, may offer it to my allotment shop to cheer up their blank walls).

What's new, is that last autumn we aquired another half-plot.  I chose one at the neglected end of the site - no-one is anywhere near us, so brilliant for occasional bbqs and beers (unlike our older half-plot, surrounded on both sides by energetic semi-retired plot-workers with beautiful straight rows of perfectly marshalled (and frankly, larger & more perfect looking specimens than mine) veg, so generally, the original plot is just too overlooked to just stop, sit back, and just enjoy the great outdoors. But the downside of the new plot is that it's surrounded by neglected plots and woodland, so everytime I approach it down the quiet paths spade in hand, a dozen pigeons flap off in a panic. But fine by me - that's where most of the least-attractive-to-winged-rodent root veg have gone so far this year - onions, garlic, shallots, potatoes and parsnip.  And anything else is being netted, Oh, and slightly disheartening to me weeding, is that the slightest breeze carried wafts of weeds and dandelion seeds on every breath of wind, but hey ho - small price to pay for relaxing & enjoying the great outdoors. And seeing as how the neglected plots are unlikely to be re-let till next Oct/Nov, I may take advantage of the surrounding space and guerilla plant some of my pumpkins - at least it'd keep the weeds down.

We have rhubarb and purple sprouting broccoli coming out of our ears at the moment... as is the asparagus, but as this is only year 2 on 2-year old crowns, we are being very good at licking our lips and leaving that alone for just one more year. Can't remember the proverb about being patient, but I'm sure spending several years waiting for an asparagus crop is a good example.

 Gosh - it's all just too exciting once again!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Return of the Unpleasant Pheasant

I sowed 60 aquadulce broad beans back in early January.

Ever so gently nurtured them on windowsills.

Very carefully hardened them off in the cold-frame at home.

With love, braved the mud, and planted them all out in neat rows at the allotment.

Only to see them decimated this week by the resident pesky allotment pheasant.

And for what? The darn thing doesn't even eat the shoots - just idiotically pulls them up in the hope of the odd worm maybe, if it's very very lucky, making an appearance.

Wanton vandalism that leaves me dreaming of shooting the darn pest....

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Spring And I Are Nearly Sprung

Like many things I like to grow, I've been quietly hibernating since last Autumn.

Well, by that, I don't mean literally gorging myself, hiding in a cave, slowing my heartbeat and going into a semi-comotose state while simultaneously devouring my fat reserves (now that part, I wish).

No, I mean I've just been plodding along through the depths of winter, getting up 6am in the dark, working dawn to dusk in the much-maligned public sector, coming home again at 6pm in the dark, spending the evenings munching on (probably more than I care to admit to) packets of Bombay Mix and downing (probably more than I care to admit to) glasses of red wine in front of (probably more than I care to admit to) way too much TV. Talking of which, increasingly throwing (probably more than I care to admit to) my slippers at said TV at the rot and nonsense spewing from assorted politicians mouths, in a middle-eastern fashion of disdain or disgust.

Yeah, specifically, anytime David Cameron, Nick Clegg or  George Osbourne try to justify any of the drastic public sector cuts they are making. Anything that impacts on or damages the arts, museums or libraries is of particular significance and importance to me at the moment.

But on a more personal note, for the last few months, it seems that weekends have been all about about catching up on housework or DIY.

But as the month of February marches on, I'm feeling the sap rising once again, and along with the urge to haul myself back down to the gym, there is the need to start planting seeds again and get things growing. But equally I feel the urge to get my arty expressive juices flowing once again.

This year I have a second new half-plot to develop on the allotment (though it's been too wet and muddy since November to be able to do much yet). But more importantly, thanks to completed DIY projects at home I've finally been able to turn a room over to become an art studio.

I cannot begin to express what an utter joy this is....  it's been about 16 years since I last had a dedicated space to make art - a space that isn't really normally a kitchen or living room, so needs everything tidying away at the end of a painting or drawing session.

To get myself back into the regular habit of drawing and painting (so yes, I confess to spending several weeks so far looking at the room with a great deal of trepidation and a not a small amount of fear, noodling about in my "studio", pretty much terrified of all the clean paint brushes and white paper and blank canvasses I've lined up) I'm determined to spend some time in there every single day drawing or painting anything at all - anything just to get the creative sap flowing again. To get going again after what amounts to several years of doing very little creative work (bar this blog which I started last year to kick-start myself drawing again), I've promised myself I will spend at least 30 minutes a day in there doing something/anything creative.

Obviously, I have more time at the weekends.  I bought myself an assortment of yellow flowers this week to paint, so I've been struggling with that today. I quickly realised that it really is almost impossible to paint sumflowers without referencing Van Gogh. But his work is always such a pleasure to look at (I had been reading about him recently, which might've influenced my choice in flowers?) so I got some books of his work out and couldn't but help making the sunflowers I was trying to paint even more Van Gogh-y in style than than the painting was going to be anyway. But his work is such complete joy to look at, and a real challenge to even attempt to emulate.

But besides all of this, seeing as how March and April are the key months for getting seedlings going, I'm just duty bound to end up drawing and sketching these...

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Denuded Parsnips

It's just a little bit early perhaps (as we haven't had any frost yet, and I know frost improves the sweetness) but I've been eyeing up the parsnip bed for a number of weeks now, so I thought it was time to give one a go. Gently scraping away the earth around the tip of the roots, I spied one that looked enormous. So thought I'd lift it. It's been very wet lately, so in my minds eye, I pictured myself gently tugging, and up it'd come.

Oh bugger.

Just like a lizard will lose it's tail to escape predators, my parsnips have an inbuilt defence to greedy people like me, I discovered that it will shed it's greenery.

Scratch my head a bit, and out comes the fork.
Gently as I can, I fork all around the parsnip, loosening it's grip on the soil. Then I start to apply upward pressure, slowly does it....

Oh bugger.

Hear an onimous wet crunchy cracking sound, and know I've broken the root.

So finally I resort to digging it out by hand.

I manage to get out the top half.  What's left behind looks split and damaged by my efforts to fork it out, and is left behind, as if I try to dig it out I'll disturb it's neighbours.

It's huuuuuuge! If I'd got the whole thing out I reckon it would've been a 2-footer. Can't help thinking it looks a bit like a coy denuded squid. It looks nothing like the parsnips our allotment neighbour produces - he spends days rotivating and sifting his root beds, till the soil is a fine tilth. We just chucked the seeds in to our stoney flinty soil and hoped for the best.

Right now, I just wish computers had smellovision so you could get a whiff of the strong sweet perfumed smell of freshly dug-up parsnip.

And I know I need to do some research & come up with a better method for lifting the rest over the next few months...

Sunday, 26 September 2010


Our Marina di Chioggia pumpkins, which've been spreading their tendrils all over the back half of the plot are finally about ready to pick.  All these might be better left on the plants for a few more weeks, but gangs of teens have been seen climbing the fence and roaming the site, last week smashing a load of pumpkins, so thought best to harvest ours this weekend.

We had 2 plants on the go, one planted in the soil and one in the manure pile. The manurey plant has been much more productive, giving us 4 pumpkins that are between 5 and 12 lb each so will use that trick again next year if I can get hold of another truck load of manure. The one planted in soil gave us 3 fruits between 4 and 5 lbs each. We tried the first one last night - sliced and gently fried in butter this one tasted amazing - like a cross between pumpkin, chestnuts and chicken flavoured crisps.

Butternut squashes plant gave us about 7 fruits, so looking forward to trying those.

And we left the last 2 trombonchino squashes on the plant till the skin yellowed and hardened (the rest we ate as green courgette fresh fruits), so should be able to store those for a while. Yum.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Birds versus Cats

For the past seven years, thanks to the threatening presence of the cat next door, birds visiting our back garden have been a very rare treat indeed. But quite frankly, our next-door neighbour owned the ugliest tom-cat in the world.

He (the cat, not the neighbour) used to squat on our back garden wall and stare at us in a beefy threatening way until we dropped eye contact and sidled off furtively back into our kitchen in a diminuitive manner. He was the kind of cat that just looked like he smelt funny (I say this as a cat-lover). Sometimes, if I felt a bit cavalier and derring-do I'd pet him till he purred and rolled over to invite a belly-tickle, which oddly enough, I always declined with a "Ummm, uh, yeah, errr, thanks, but no thanks, ewwww". And I always felt the need to immediately wash my hands afterwards.

So, birds were a rare treat. Oh, except of course for the herring gulls squawking from nearby roof-tops who thankfully never visited the garden, though would always seem to make a special flyover visit just to crap on any bed-linen I might have dared hang outside to dry. Sheets to a seagull are obviously like red rags to a bull.

Last year, sadly, the bruiser (still talking about the ugly cat) moved on to the cattery in the sky. I think in the end my neighbour was somewhat relieved to see him go - he only ever came indoors to poo on his carpets (the cat that is, not my neighbour).

Since then I've spent a fair amount of time, money and effort over the past year making my garden bird-friendly. A carefully selected bird table, bird treats, nuts, fatballs, you name it, I had it. Nothing happened for weeks. Then months passed. But finally, they flocked. Blue tits, sparrows, wrens, robins, the impressive looking red-legged partridge. I can't say I relished the daily visits by the idiotic wood-pigeon - bird of fat body and tiny brain that would perch on the roof of the bird-table and seemed unable to figure out how to get to the seeds on the table below. But when it finally did figure it out it'd stay and scoff the lot.

I specially welcomed the gardeners friends, blackbirds and thrushes, who came and hung out daily hopping in and out and round all the containers and pots, dining on all the spiders and snails. My heros. Specially on the spider-munching front.

But it's all over now. Another set of neighbours have bought two kittens. Like I said, I love cats, so I'm quite  pleased to have them visiting our house and garden. Though now it's strictly supervised house-access only, after the recent muddy-paws-all-over-the-bathroom incident.

But I'm very sorry to find that the birds no longer feel safe to visit. Can't think why.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Mooning Sunflower

All of our tomato plants are keeling over from blight. I got away with it last year, but not this time. Perhaps we were too greedy with a dozen different varieties growing, so we had a total of 24 plants on the go. There are sprays you can use, but although not overly fussy about the food I buy from shops, I do try not to spray the food I'm growing myself with chemicals. Ignorance is bliss, in other words.

Some tomatoes ripened before the blight struck or are ones that we've caught early when plants were only just beginning to keel over. These have been placed in a fruit bowl packed with bananas, the ethylene gas from the bananas helping our toms to ripen. Though we do need to keep a close eye on these, as some do rot thanks to the dastardly blight.

But we've too many to save, so the remainder are being made into green tomato chutney. We've cooked up about 6 kilos so far, using 3 different recipes. I reckon I need to cut down the remainder of the plants tomorrow, and think we'll salvage another 4 or so kilos for yet more chutney.

Tomatoes. Looked forward to them all summer. Got very excited about the first pickings, and enjoyed the first few plates made up of lots of varieties. But now I'm bored of them already (oops - did I say that out loud?). I really wanted to eat them back in the height of summer, with leafy salads. Now the weather is starting to cool, I'm eyeing up all the comfort foods. Hey ho. Guess I need a greenhouse so I can start them off earlier in the year.

I've also been roasting the last of the sumer squashes & marrows, and cooking them up with some minced lamb & bechamel sauce & making them up into lasagnes stored in the freezer, to take to work for lunch. And we're still picking runner & borlotti beans a couple of times a week - most of these are bagged up in the freezer to eat later this winter.

I've just got to share with you a picture of the most amazing sunflower that's on the route into the allotment site, so it cheerfully greets all arrivees. It's a mutant double-headed sunflower. Now, just what does that remind you of?